Archive for family

White Matter

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2012 by javedbabar

Sammy poked his head around the door. “Yes, Doctor? You wanted to see me?”

Dr Bungawalla looked up from his desk but said nothing. There was something bothering him. Then he said, “Yes, yes. Please come in. How long are you with us for, altogether? Ah good, a month. So you go back to school in September? Perfect.” He pushed his chair away from the desk, pulled it back in, and shuffled papers.

“I was wondering if you would help me with a project. I think we can complete it in four weeks. It is not something mentioned on the internship documents; it’s more of a personal project. It will be helpful research to me.”

Dr Bungawalla had been the village doctor for forty years. Sammy recalled his always being nice to him, especially as a child, giving him snacks and sweeties, even pop. Good job he had become a doctor not a dentist!

Sammy nodded to indicate he would help. When someone’s just lost his wife, you should do everything you can for him.

“Oh good. I’m sure you know that the brain is composed of grey matter. Well, did you know that there is also white matter? It’s lipid tissue veined with capillaries; actually pinkish, but let’s not worry about that. It was previously thought to be passive tissue but now we know that its main function is to transmit signals, acting as a sort of relay, consolidating communication between different brain regions. It has an important role in processing and cognition; it plays a role in both our function and dysfunction.”

Sammy nodded along and said, “Is white matter your special area of interest?”

“Yes it is. Specifically, there are areas called White Matter Hyperintensities which show up as bright signals on MRI images. No, they are not really dangerous; like most things, they are essentially neutral, and it depends on what you do with them.”

“Can I take a seat?” said Sammy.

“Ah, yes, yes. So sorry, I was going to stand up but then forgot. Please take a seat.” Dr Bungawalla explained his strange request to Sammy. It seemed like a good way to spend his month here. They would both learn something useful.

For the first week, Sammy ate a Mediterranean diet. He stocked up with fruit, vegetables, fish, grains, nuts, and olives, and drank strong coffee and smoked cigarettes. Dr Bungawalla scanned his brain with the EMU (Electromagnetic Medical Unit), and recorded the changes. His chief interest was in the effect of olives; olive wood had been used in Greece to make statues of gods. There must be a reason for that.

The second week, Sammy ate pulses, macaroni, rice, beef and pickles. This Egyptian diet had fortified the builders of the Pyramids and Sphinx. Dr Bungawalla was especially engaged with the nourishment provided by lentils; these tiny seeds were a source of total nourishment. He saw that Sammy’s Hyperintensities had decreased in volume.

The third week, Sammy consumed an Indian diet. He added plenty of coriander, cumin, chilli, turmeric, garam masala, mustard seeds, salt and pepper to his meals. He also ate curds and sweet fried pastries. The chilli made him sweat and activated other nutrients he’d consumed. Spice fires the soul. Dr Bungawalla saw that this diet was boosting his antibodies, with no detrimental effects on Hyperintensities.

The fourth week Sammy ate Chinese food. He ate mostly vegetables and rice with a wide variety of meats, including pork stomach and trotters, beef brain and tongue, chicken gizzard and feet, and snake guts and heart, all washed down with pearl green tea. Dr Bungawalla saw a reduction in the volume of Hyperintensities. After further examination, he saw that it was not caused by food; it was caused by pearl green tea, which calmed the spirit and created fluidity. From now on Dr Bungawalla would drink this tea in the hope of slowing down his Alzheimer’s’ Disease.

Dr Bungawalla never assumed that modern medicine was best. He believed one should try traditional cures, beginning with your daily food. Hyperintensity Volume was a marker of small vessel damage in the brain, a reduction of which leads to a reduction of strokes and cognitive decline. But he also knew that it wasn’t just diet. There were associated memories encoded in White Matter, those of family joviality. Any of the diets that Sami had tried – Mediterranean, Egyptian, Indian or Chinese – would help Dr Bungawalla if rather than eating alone each night, he could share them with someone.

Crazy Garden

Posted in Mystical Experience, Unknown, World Myths with tags , , , , , on April 3, 2012 by javedbabar

Yvonne’s parents were really busy. They worked full-time and were only at home in the mornings and evenings, and at weekends just stayed in bed. They loved her of course but they never had time for her. They were always like this, having sort of given up in the world.

Yvonne did her share of washing, cooking, and cleaning, and the garden was completely her domain. Mum and dad wanted to pave it over. “Honey, it’s too much to manage,” they’d said. “Imagine how much time we’d save if it was maintenance-free?” She recalled pulling the worst face ever. “We could have some flowerpots if you like. And think about your own sports yard – to play whatever you want.”

“What would I play by myself?” she’d said.

Her mum had turned away, about to cry. He dad had flashed anger but quickly controlled it. He’d said, “Whatever you want, honey. Play whatever you want.”

The truth was that she didn’t want to play anything by herself. She wanted another sister. One that didn’t disappear.

Yvonne went into the garden daily. It was only a patch of lawn edged with some rosebushes, daffodils, and tulips, but she’d done a nice job of planting. She loved being involved with nature. It seemed magical that things just grew out of the ground. Mrs. Murdoch called over the fence, “How is Lucerne’s most promising young gardener?”

“Very well thank you. How is Lucerne’s hardest working gardener?”

Mrs. Murdoch lived by herself and didn’t go to work. How she paid her bills no one knew. She had made an amazing little world in her garden, and devoted her time to tending it. It wasn’t a big space – the same as Yvonne’s, about thirty feet square – but she had transformed it into something extraordinary. She was always out in her garden, come rain or shine, cutting, pruning, planting, and singing. There was a tall fence right around it, so Yvonne couldn’t see her when they chatted outdoors. She only ever saw her from above, peering down from her sister’s room. It made her sad to go there, but it was worth it to see her neighbour’s garden.

At its centre was a rough brick well with a pointy slate roof, reached by walking around a circular labyrinth made of stones. There were two prominent fruit trees, one with golden shining apples, and the other with what appeared to be black and white blossoms. There was a wall of metal mirrors on one side – had she had a TV makeover? – and a tiny bog on the other, always enveloped in mist. One corner held a rockery with many fluffy mosses, and the other was filled with spiders’ webs. A glass globe dangled from one corner of the house, with a luminous surface like oil spilled on the road, and on the other corner was a spiral metal drill spinning with the wind. There were bird, squirrel, and hummingbird feeders. A red-roofed, white shed seemed like home to the white statues placed around the garden. It was hard for Yvonne to note their features from high up, but she could see they were wearing angelic robes. A nice change from gnomes.

Her dad said, “Why would someone go to all that trouble to make something just for themselves? Something they never shared. It seems selfish to me.”

Her mum said, “She’s a good gardener, she’s probably had horticultural training, or landscape design. But she just does it for her own pleasure.”

“What’s wrong with that?” said Yvonne. “Shouldn’t we make ourselves happy?”

“That would be a fine thing,” said her mum. As soon as I’m back from work, and have cooked dinner, done the laundry, changed the sheets, and washed up, I’ll get right on it. I’ll make myself happy.”

Yvonne saw she was raw, and said, “Sorry mum.” Her mum turned away, and Yvonne knew she was crying again. Her dad hugged her mum, and then hugged Yvonne.

There was a huge storm that night – thunder, lightning, and drumming rain so loud that Yvonne woke up. From her room she saw her own modest garden – the rosebushes were bending, and tulip and daffodil stems had snapped. How sad. She wondered about the garden next door. She crept into her sister’s bedroom to see.

Mrs. Murdoch’s garden was going crazy. The golden apples were shaking and flying off; black and white blossoms floated into the sky; the rough stone well cranked, and the labyrinth’s stones rearranged themselves; mirrors flashed back bolts of lightning, which lit up mists arising from the bog; the mossy rockery had become a little Niagara; the spidery corner held raindrops like jewellery; the glass globe reflected all of this; the spiral drill spun furiously; bird, squirrel, and hummingbird feeders swung violently, dispensing seeds, nuts, and sweet squirts; red tiles flew off the shed roof.

Suddenly the storm stopped. The house door opened and Mrs. Murdoch walked out. She smiled up at Yvonne and waved. She had a beautiful face. Yvonne waved back. Mrs. Murdoch beckoned her down. Yvonne felt compelled to go. Mrs. Murdoch opened a small gate and let her into the garden. Despite its disorder, it seemed beautiful and wonderful. Too late Yvonne realized that the statue next to her was familiar. Mrs. Murdoch touched Yvonne on the head and she joined her sister, asleep in a witch’s garden. Mrs. Murdoch was pleased with her dozen adopted children. They were better off here than with parents too busy to care for them. She would tend them instead.

Space Spuds

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village, Organic Farming, Unknown with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2012 by javedbabar

“What’s in the safe?” said Dimpy (Dimples) to Mrs. Roseman. “I’ve meant to ask you for ages but never got around to it.”

“Oh, nothing much,” said Mrs. Roseman, her white curls bobbing as she shook her head. “You’ve got enough on your plate with the little baby. Don’t you worry about it.”

It annoyed Dimpy when people told her not to worry about stuff that she wasn’t worried about. It was the same when people said “You’ll be ok” or “You’ll think of something.” Yes she would! She was a single mother fending for herself. Dimpy would always think of something and be ok, and had no time to worry, and even less time to listen to people who told her not to!

This Director’s job was the worst-paid job she’d ever had, but beggars can’t be choosers. She’d needed a job, and this was the only provincial museum recruiting. The local potato industry was booming, driven by their patented Space Spuds: blue Saturn Spuds and golden Solar Spuds. Great product differentiation had saved this otherwise struggling industry, this town, and importantly, this museum. She said, “I’m not worried Mrs. Roseman, just curious.”

“Oh, it’s just some old potatoes,” said Mrs. Roseman. She became rigid, but her white curls continued to bounce. “I mean some old machinery from Peru, where potatoes come from.”

“Really, that’s fascinating. From Peru? May I see it?”

Mrs. Roseman was still rigid, but her eyes were moving rapidly, and her white curls ending their motions. “Or maybe it’s from Pakistan, where you come from. So you already know what it looks like.”

“Really, from Pakistan?” said Dimpy. “I had no idea.” Mrs. Roseman seemed very nervous. Dimpy wondered why. “Look I’m Museum Director, and should know the resources we have available. This could make a great exhibit, even anchor a show. We could get a feature in the City Sun.” Mrs. Roseman had moved between Dimpy and the safe. “Do you have the keys?”

“I’m not sure where they are right now,” said Mrs. Roseman.

“Well who would know where they are – another trustee?”

“Yes, yes, another trustee. I will ask them at the monthly meeting.”

The monthly meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, but nobody was there when Dimpy arrived. She called Mrs. Roseman. “Where is everybody? The meeting was planned for 7pm.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. We moved the meeting to Monday. Didn’t Mr. Roseman call you?”

“No, your husband did not call me. Why did you move the meeting?”

“Oh, it was unavoidable. The trustees had clashes.” Dimpy wondered what clashes these dinosaurs had. Their average age must be a hundred. Maybe their hip-replacements were double-booked with prize bingo, or polishing their walking frames impacted a retelling of the Great Flood of ‘45. “But I asked about the safe for you. I was mistaken. It’s not machinery from Peru or Pakistan. Its private items held for the Old Families. It’s not things to show or feature.”

“Private items like what?” said Dimpy. “Do you mean valuable items?”

“Yes, very valuable things. That’s why we keep them locked up.”

“Well, I need to see those things, Mrs. Roseman.” The line went quiet. “Mrs. Roseman, are you there?”

“Yes, I’m here. Sorry, my hearing’s not what it was. They are private things. Why do you need to see them?”

“I’m legally responsible for their safety,” said Dimpy. “I must ensure that insurance documents are in order. If anything were to happen to those items, we would not be covered for their loss.” So irresponsible, thought Dimpy. This wasn’t the Guggenheim, she knew, but come on! Keeping personal stuff in the museum safe!

“Nothing will happen to them here,” said Mrs. Roseman. “Don’t you worry about it.”

“Mrs. Roseman, I am worried about it! We need to discuss this matter further. Will you be in tomorrow as usual? Ok, good. Please come and see me at 10 am.”

Mrs. Roseman did not appear the next morning. She also didn’t answer her phone. She appeared the day after, looking unsettled. She couldn’t look Dimpy in the eye when speaking with her. “I spoke with the Old Families about the situation,” she said. “It seems the private items were returned by the previous trustees, for the reasons you mentioned.”

“But haven’t you been a trustee for twenty years?”

Mrs. Roseman looked down. “Oh, I was in hospital last summer. It must have been then.”

“But I was here,” said Dimpy. “Nobody told me.”

“I think you were on holiday. Anyway, there’s only museum cash in there now. The Treasurer accounts for it. So don’t worry about it!”

Mrs. Roseman!” shouted Dimpy. “Please stop telling me what not to worry about! You have made me very worried indeed! I am the Museum Director – top of the food chain – and the buck stops with me. Please ensure that keys to this safe are on my desk tomorrow morning at ten.”

Dimpy had a rare date that night. Single mothers with young children had their work cut out. He was pretty hot, and said he’d like to see her again. She smiled as she drove home… Hang on! There were lights on at the museum. Who was in there at this time?

She quietly entered the back office. Mr and Mrs Roseman had the safe door open. Mr Roseman walked towards her with a hammer but Mrs Roseman called him back. She said, “No love, it’s time she knew.” Then she said to Dimpy, “A hundred years ago we had some very special visitors. Only the Old Families know. They sought permission to extract pumice – vital for their wellbeing – from Mt. Negra. In return they gave us their seed potatoes. The old timers were not trained marketers like you. They simply named the Space Spuds by their provenance – Saturn Spuds and Solar Spuds. The original seeds are kept in this safe. The Old Families take cuttings from them yearly, using each scraping to create a new culture. This is Lucerne Museum’s secret, and now it is also yours. Assuming of course that you love your daughter. Who’s her babysitter tonight? Joanne Millman? That sounds like an Old Family name to me.”

A to B

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , , on March 3, 2012 by javedbabar

Camp A and Camp B were now established. It was strange how they had both sprung up at the same time, but without being connected. Rumours said that neither had gone through the proper process, scared by rumours of burial grounds, which if identified would end all construction. But they’d kept the in-joke. A stood for Apparition, said Camp A’s residents; Camp B’s dwellers said that B stood for Banshee. How the hell had he ended up here, Antoine wondered? What had he done to deserve this? And then he remembered.

He was legally obliged to mention his conviction, which tended to make him less attractive to employers. There was no escaping the fact that twelve years ago he had killed his boss. The boss was a mean son-of-a-bitch who had started the fight, and their fight had been fair, but Antoine should have stopped when it was clear that the issue was settled – by his bosses’ teeth being broken, and his lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the floor. There really was no need to smash his skull in with a fire extinguisher. But Antoine had been driven to a point beyond reason, and that’s why he could now only find jobs on the edge of the wilderness – a place he would always inhabit.

Out here things could be different though. Here was a convicted killer wearing a shirt and tie, in his air-conditioned office-trailer, having meetings with respectable people. He was only employed two days a week by the Village, and had to make best use of that time. One day was for fieldwork, the other for meetings. Today he was exploring options for connecting Camp Apparition to Camp Banshee with the three main interest groups.

His assistant Laurence was great at prepping. He could rely on her entirely. He wondered if she knew about his conviction. He reckoned that she did, but never mentioned it. What a pro. He was very lucky to have her. Why a sassy girl like that worked out in the bush though, he had no idea. At 11am she said, “The Lucerne Valley Merchant’s Association is here. They look like a fun bunch. Watch the one with two moustaches.”

“The one with two moustaches” turned out to be the grocery store owner. Antoine couldn’t help smirking when he walked in; he had a regular moustache, and a monobrow. Two moustaches. He said, “Merchants want the most direct route possible. Twenty kilometres of new road is not going to come cheap. We see the need to connect the two camps and are supportive. But as the biggest taxpayers in town, we want value for money. So we say built it straight, and build it cheap. Don’t drown us in more taxes.”

After lunch Laurence said, “Lucerne Valley Families First are here. I’m not sure why, but they seem to have brought their pet caterpillars.”

A group of people with fat sideburns walked in, and Antoine smirked again. That girl needs to behave herself, he thought, or she’ll get me into trouble. But he wondered when this hirsute fashion had started; was this Valley’s heritage Middle-Eastern?

A hefty lady was their spokesperson. She said, “We would like the road to take the scenic route between the two camps. If you run straight between them, you cross swampland and flood zone. You also skirt bluffs where bears and cougars have been spotted. So for the safety of our children especially – they’ll be on their bikes, or walking – we want the road to stick to higher areas away from the swamps and bluffs.”

At teatime Laurence said, “The Lucerne Valley Developers are here. They are very keen birders. Habitat will be their main concern.”

A group of men with beards and wigs walked in. This time Antoine could not help laughing. They were surprised at first, then angry. “What is the meaning of this?” said their chairman. “Is this a business meeting or a clown show?”

“I’m sorry,” said Antoine. “My assistant told me a joke earlier. It was a killer.”

“Well, do share it with us,” said the leader. “We like a good joke too.”

“I’m sorry, it’s a personal joke.” I will kill that girl, he thought; but only in a nice way.

“We Developers would like to see a network of roads. Not just a straight stretch between two armpits. We need roads to spread through the area, to create access to new neighbourhoods. A road from Camp A to Camp B will not attract anyone. People prefer eyesores out of sight. But a complex network will induce demand. That’s capitalism at its best, creating something from nothing.”

When everyone had gone, Antoine and Laurence put their heads together. Both were history buffs. They brainstormed the many types of roads in antiquity – dirt-tracks, flint-covered, stone-paved, corduroy-timbered, timber trackways, clay-brick-paved, Persian Royal Roads, Roman straight roads, Arab paved roads, and roads besides rivers, along which materials were hauled by horse-drawn boats. They discussed some related structures including bridges, tunnels, supports, junctions, crossings, interchanges, and toll roads, and of course the continuous right-of-way required.

Antoine suggested that he and Laurence use a fieldwork day to walk the proposed routes. They found the straight route involved much bushwhacking. The scenic route was easier, largely following animal tracks. A network could follow natural breaks and contours. But none of them felt right to Antoine. Was there anything else?

As dusk approached, they fell onto a pine forest track. There was a full moon tonight so they continued walking. Mushrooms grew profusely, and owls were hooting; wisps of blue light appeared and disappeared; someone had hung coloured glass balls at intervals; they heard rustling and whispering, and felt shadows. They had found an ancient corpse road, where bodies were transported from the Village to forest burial grounds. The Apparitions and Banshees were lonely here; they were long forgotten. They liked to see the living, especially those who were close to death themselves. This man they knew had killed someone, and the woman was here to avenge her father. They were pleased that company would be arriving soon.