“On the third night, the earth took a different approach. Instead of causing another disaster, the earth produced a bounty of its rich resources — food, fuel, and shelter. See how my riches allow humanity to survive the worst that the other elements may bring, boasted the earth.
“Fire, on the fourth night, took yet another strategy. Rather than spreading itself in wild contagions, fire decided that it’s absence would make a far greater threat to humanity. So fire for one night removed itself from the land, leaving humanity cold and afraid. See how humanity calls out to me in their need, boasted fire.
“The air was given the first night, for a reason which has unfortunately been lost to antiquity,” my mother explained, in an obvious attempt to suppress my question. “And on that first night, tornados tore through the land, uprooting homes and sending humanity scurrying for cover. See how I have obliterated all of man’s achievements! the air boasted at the end of that first night.”
“Water went next, but its plan to flood the land on that second night was thwarted by the air, which did not permit rain to fall, and the earth, which fortified its river banks and sea shores. You cannot allow this interference!, so water complained to the Sun, yet the Sun replied — yes, dear, the Sun could still talk even though it was sleeping — that no rules had been made against such actions. May I assume, then, that alliances are permitted as well? asked water, and when the Sun said yes, water and fire made a pact not to interfere with each other’s plans. Water then removed heat from the land, causing fearsome ice to form on humanity’s roads, crops to spoil, livestock to die. See how I have taken away humanity’s ability to survive, boasted the water at the end of that second night.”
I interrupted my mother at that point in her story. I told her that, even though I was just a kid, I knew enough about science to know that the sun was a star, and Earth a planet, and like all planets the Earth rotated around the sun, which meant the sun never really went to sleep like she said in her story. I then asked if the Sun was so smart then why did it need to stage a silly competition in order to figure out which element was the strongest, and by the way, what did any of this have to do with winter?
My mother closed her eyes a moment, then reopened them slowly and spoke softly. “You’ve asked me three questions. I am glad for your first, for it shows that you do not completely trust storytellers — no, the sun does not sleep, my little scientist. But when I finish this tale, you may learn that there are truths in stories that cannot be expressed by science. Your second question demonstrates your impatience, for it will be clear by story’s end why the Sun’s competition is necessary. And your third question — ‘what does any of this have to do with winter?’ — speaks to your lack of faith.”
I reminded my mother that she had praised me for not trusting storytellers before so why was she questioning my lack of faith now. She frowned, and said “Johnny Carson’s on in ten minutes, kid. You wanna hear the rest of this story, or not?” She tossled my head, which made me laugh, and she continued.
Resuming her normal tone, my mother continued, “The argument among the elements was felt throughout creation — wind stirred up the oceans, fire swept through the lands and clouded the air, rivers overflowed their banks. Humanity, driven to desperation by the devastation, cried out to the Sun for deliverance, and the Sun showed mercy on humanity and spoke to each of the elements. ‘If you will agree to cease your hostilities,’ the Sun decreed, ‘I will agree to judge a competition between you. If you will accept my decision as final, I shall determine which of you elements is the mightiest.’ The elements agreed that the Sun, whose light shines equally on all, would be the best to judge such a contest, which the Sun set down as this: on each of the next four nights, while the sun slept, one element would be allowed to show its power. After the fourth night, the Sun would determine which element had shown the most power.”
One bitterly cold February evening when I was child, I asked my mother as she was putting me to bed why winter was so harsh. She smiled, tucked the thick blankets under my chin (we turned the thermostat down low in the evening to save money), and asked, “Would you like to hear a story my uncle told me many years ago, when I was a child, a story of how winter began?” Yes, I said.
“Do you know the four elements?” she asked, and I replied that I did — earth, air, water, and fire.
“Which of these are the most powerful?” she asked me. I told her I was not sure, and she smiled. “Well, if you were to ask the elements which was the most powerful, you would get the same reply from each — It is I, of course,” my mother said, lowering her tone and lifting her hand in imitation of the elemental voices.
His kiss felt like an explosion, his desire for her releasing after months of suppression, his energy unleashing upon her. He kissed violently, slobbering his lips and thrusting his tongue deep into her mouth — no thought of technique, just energy and enthusiasm.
Bernie pushed yellow foam blocks aside until he was face to face with Annie, who smiled with nervous excitement. He hesitated a moment, then Annie touched his left shoulder, pulled him gently towards her. Bernie reached down, and kissed her lips, swiftly and gently as if they were hot to the touch, and pulled back, pushing against the foam blocks to lift himself up. Annie sat up suddenly, causing Bernie to sit back a moment. He then lunged at her, plunging her deeper into the pit, their lips locked and limbs embraced in an awkward, enthusiastic embrace.
Ah, you gotta love the Furies. “And now my lungs are blown with abundant and with wearisome work, mankilling.” Legend has it that at the initial performance of Aeschylus’ play, their site was so fearsome that a pregnant woman in the audience suffered a miscarriage and died. Theirs is a poetic language of violence and terror, and there are few more terrifying figures in literature. Yet there’s a point to their terror — the fear they generate in men is meant to be a constraint on pride and criminal thought. “Men’s illusions in their pride under the sky melt down, and are diminished into the ground, gone before the onset of our black robes.”
They probably don’t generate as much critical attention as the Furies or the other main characters, but you gotta feel for the citizens who are called by Athena to serve on the jury. They’re verdict on Orestes’ killing of Clytamnestra is a choice between the Furies and the gods Apollo and Athena. Which is worse — risking the violent wrath of the ancient, vindictive Kindly Ones, or the disapproval of the young, powerful dieties? Aeschylus gives the jury a break by having them split their vote evenly, leaving Athena to intervene divinely and spare Orestes. For me it’s all a little too neat at the end, Athena appeasing the Furies by giving them a seat of honor in her city, but it’s the language of the Furies that I’ll always love about this piece. “There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart’s controls.”
“So why did you join the fencing team?” asked the Coach.
Bernie shrugged. “Not really sure. I just did.”
“If you don’t mind me saying, I hear that from you a lot,” said the Coach. “You make decisions, without thinking about the reason why you’re making those decisions. You don’t think things through. I worry about you, Bernie — that’s not good.”
“Just going with the flow, Coach. Doing what seems right. Is that so bad?”
“Nah, lot of the time that works out just fine. But there comes a time when you have to decide, this is what I want to do. You figure out what it is you want in life, and you go for it. That part about figuring out what you want — that’s what’s missing.”
Bernie looked silently at the Coach a moment. He then looked to the side, and laughed. “You know what the issue is? I don’t know what I want — but I sure as heck know what I don’t want. That’s what motivates me, getting away, staying away, from the things I know I don’t want.”
Bernie looked down at Annie, lying sprawled with a wide grin on top of the grey and yellow blocks of foam. He then dropped Annie’s coat, pulled off his own swiftly, and leapt awkwardly into the pit to Annie’s laughter. Annie sat up and tossed a torn foam block with large divots at Bernie, who gave a cry of mock indignation, then stood up and tossed several blocks at Annie. Annie squealed and began crawling to the edge of pit, and Bernie leapt to tackle her.