Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tabby After Her Bath

Tabby had a bath this afternoon. Here she is in her robe with the little yellow ducky on front. Her favorite shampoo is Suave Tropical Coconut.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Still She Haunts Me by Katie Roiphe

After reading Melanie Benjamin's novel "Alice I Have Been" my curiosity about Lewis Carroll and the mysteries and complexities of his relationship with his child-muse, Alice Liddell, was even more aroused, so I decided to read this earlier novel upon the same subject.

Charles Dodgson (the real name of Lewis Carroll) was a shy stuttering twenty-four-year-old mathematics don at Oxford when he met and fell under the spell of four-year-old Alice Liddell, a dark-haired tomboy, and asked to photograph her. Mr. Dodgson had a passion for taking photographs of little girls, some unclothed and in vaguely erotic poses that disturb even our jaded modern eyes.

To amuse and please Alice, he created the fantastical, nonsensical stories that would eventually become his immortal works of children's literature "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through The Looking Glass."

But when Alice was eleven their friendship was suddenly terminated by Alice's parents and the reason to this day remains unknown. This novel attempts to provide it and explain the peculiar and disturbing relationship between the artist and his muse.

Overall, this is a fascinating psychological drama about obsession, jealousy, and desire, and the emotional turmoil they all cause. The author wonderfully conveys, through her depiction of Lewis Carroll, the pain of trying to hold onto something you can't keep and the sense of relief that comes when it's over and you have let go, either because your grip is forcibly broken, slips, or you just let go. It is the tragic story of a troubled man trying to hold onto his muse, even after he cannot accept that she has grown up, by immortalizing her and making her larger than life in his books as an eternal child, trapping her in a persona and binding her to a fame she can never escape. I also found her portrayal of Alice intriguing, the little girl is aware in her own way of the unique power she has over her admirer and sometimes wields it cruelly, thus increasing his torment and confusion.

Those who may be interested in reading this book but are concerned about the depictions of pedophilia, can, in my opinion, safely read this novel, although in its pages Lewis Carroll grapples with his desire for Alice, this is not a sexually explicit book, his agony plays out in his head and heart rather than in physical acts. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to those who enjoyed the recent novel by Melanie Benjamin, "Alice I Have Been," as this novel gives a different view of the story.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Boy In The Box The Unsolved Case of America's Unknown Child by David Stout

One of the saddest stories in all the unsolved mysteries of the world is that of The Boy In The Box, America's Unknown Child. On February 25, 1957 the bruised and battered blanket-wrapped nude body of a malnourished thirty pound little boy, aged somewhere between four and six years old, was found stuffed in a cardboard box with a J.C. Penney's label, thrown away in the rubbish-strewn woods of Fox Chase, Philadelphia. Ever since that day, investigators, both official and armchair criminologists, have been trying to give justice and a name to this child. Some of the original detectives assigned to the case, like Rem Bristow, of the medical examiner's office, never gave up and spent most of their adult lives relentlessly pursuing every clue no matter how far-fetched or unlikely.

This is a case where no one can say more should have been done. This unknown child has touched people's hearts from the start and not a stone has been left unturned to try to solve this mystery. There were door-to-door searches, hospital birth records were meticulously combed through trying to match the boy's footprints with those taken of newborns, schools, both public and private, for healthy children as well as the mentally challenged, were searched and all pupils accounted for, as well as children placed in foster homes, orphanages, and other institutions by the welfare system, immigration records were also searched, and detectives followed up leads about families who led a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place in search of work. Detectives even talked to children playing in schoolyards and playgrounds to ask if any of their little playmates were missing. There were marks on the boy's body indicative of intravenous insertions or, since some were in the groin area, a hernia operation is also a possibility, and a diagnostic dye had been injected into one of his eyes, so doctors and nurses were questioned in the hope that someone would remember this little boy. There was a massive media campaign to identify him, posters and flyers were everywhere, flyers were even mailed out with gas and electric bills, the child's corpse was even dressed up in typical schoolboy clothes donated by one of the detective's and photographed sitting upright in the hope that this would jog someone's memory. A deathmask was even made using a new dental plastic instead of the standard plaster of Paris so that even after the child was buried they would still have a three-dimensional likeness of his face. Since the child's hair was hacked off very crudely, either just before or after death as strands of it still adhered to his naked body, some have even speculated that the reason he remains unidentified is that, for whatever reason, he was raised as a girl, and cutting off his hair was a deliberate act to make identification more difficult so sketches of what he might have looked like as a girl were made, albeit later in the case instead of near the start. The remains were even exhumed in 1998 and DNA extracted. All to no avail. The mystery remains unsolved to this day.

This is the first book to fully chronicle the mystery, and it is a heartbreaking and riveting read I recommend to anyone interested in true crime and unsolved mysteries.

There is also a website dedicated to this case, though updates are infrequent as "time is the enemy" in a case like this where anyone who might have known this little boy's name is advancing in years and may even already be dead. This site is connected to investigators still dedicated to solving this case and any information can be submitted to them there.

The image at the top of this post is the original poster showing the child's face as well as a man's blue corduroy cap that was found at the scene, which may be a clue or may have nothing at all to do with it; it could have blown off a passing motorist's head or been lost when someone was dumping junk as that area of the woods was a popular dumping ground. I apologize if anyone finds my including this image offensive, I can well understand, it hurts my heart every time I see this child's battered face, but due to the nature of this case, I felt compelled to include it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Afflicted Girls A Novel of Salem by Suzy Witten

This novel of the Salem witchcraft hysteria and subsequent trials centers around two orphans. If everything were black and white instead of shades of grey, Abigail Williams would be the darkness and her traveling companion Mercy Lewis would be the light. But things are never that simple, and there are many shades of grey between black and white, and both characters are complex and well-developed. First there is mercurial, brazen and lusty, self-interested, attention-seeking, grudge-accumulating Abigail. Then there is good and kind, quiet, pretty, self-educated Mercy, harboring shameful secrets she hopes to keep buried, and longing for love and a better life filled with books and learning.

On their journey to Salem Village to serve in the household of Abigail's uncle, the Reverend Parris, a coach accident brings two young men to their rescue--Ben Nurse a humble farmer, a grandson of the venerable and well-loved and respected midwife Rebecca Nurse, and his profligate and rich friend Joseph Putnam. In mere minutes desires spring to life and are either returned or scorned that will play a crucial part in things to come.

Though a Puritan community, Salem Village could be the prototype for Peyton Place. Litigation and lawsuits, greed, lust for flesh and revenge, gold and property all simmer just below the prim Puritan exterior of Salem. From the pulpit greedy Reverend Parris, who cares more about his tithes than the well-being of his parishioners, thunders about the wrath of God rather than His love and mercy. The local doctor uses his position to molest young women right under their parents' noses. And Goody Osborne, a lonely, crippled, home-bound invalid pays her Irish manservant to share her bed, just to feel the warmth of another body and the touch of a man's hands again. And there is Bridget Bishop the buxom tavern proprietress who in her scarlet bodice stands out like a neon sign among the muted grays, blacks, and browns of the rest and inspires many a wet dream in the boys and men, she is a wise woman, who knowledge of herbs and spells, healing and white magic, a woman who believes in doing no harm lest it come back to you. And Tituba and John Indian, Reverend Parris' slaves from Barbados, who keep silent but know all.

But it is the desires of the two newly arrived orphans, not the town's residents, that will cause quiet little Salem to boil over like a witch's cauldron. Abby lusts for her Uncle the Reverend Parris and Mercy pines for Joseph Putnam, a man who, though his eyes say he desires her, is above her station and already promised to the daughter of local gentry. Befriended by Bridget Bishop, Mercy resorts to a love charm to try to win him.

Abby's eyes are also opened to the supernatural when she spies Tituba dancing in wild, erotic abandon in the woods late one night after ingesting Jimson Weed, also known as Datura, and The Devil's Trumpet. Another night, thinking to catch Tituba again, she sees Mercy bury a mandrake root carved in her beloved's likeness in the graveyard and blackmails her into teaching her what she knows of charms and spells. Abigail steals some little red cakes Tituba baked, auguring cakes, she calls them, and brings them to a picnic with Mercy, to which she also invites a simple-witted farmboy and some other girls of the village. The cakes contain Jimson Weed and all who eat them suffer illness and spells of a kind that will be mistaken for demonic. And a name mumbled by an innocent child being questioned while in this state leads to the first of many arrests. And more follow as the girls and villagers find it is a marvelous way to get out of daily chores and exact revenge on one's enemies.

As the quiet voice of reason, Mercy Lewis is ignored, as is Bridget Bishop, when she tries to help. Both are denounced as witches and imprisoned. And the hysteria and fear continues to mount, whipped along by the attention-seeking antics of Abby. Basking in self-importance and the attention of her uncle, for whom she lusts, she becomes the witch-finder and healer extraordinaire and is seen as a martyr because of her suffering.

The scenes where the accused witches are driven to the gallows on Danver's Hill, and their final moments of life, are truly heartrending and moved me to tears.

This is a book meant to be contemplated and savored. although some readers may find it slow to reach the reach the action I urge anyone who might feel this way to stick with it, I have been reading book about the Salem Witchcraft Trials since I first heard of them as a little girl, and this novel stands out as one of the best on the subject I have ever read.

Love of Seven Dolls by Paul Gallico

The Love of Seven Dolls the story of Mouche, a scrawny, beaten down girl from the Provinces, who comes up to Paris looking for a better life, but finds only harshness and brutality. She is a stagestruck girl hoping to find stardom, but in reality has no talent, she can't dance, can't sing, and a skin and bones appearance that leads one theatrical manager to call her "that little plucked chicken." She has no appeal to the men either in the audience or behind the curtains, even those who would normally leap at the chance to take advantage of a naive and vulnerable girl don't want her.

Finally Mouche has to face reality. She has three choices--starvation, prostitution, or death. She opts for the latter, but as she is about to throw herself in the Seine a voice speaks to her out of the darkness.

The voice belongs to Carrot Top, a red-haired leprechaun puppet, one of the stars of a street carnival. He coaxes the despondent girl over and engages her in conversation and introduces her to his fellow puppets: Gigi , a spoiled blonde beauty, Reynardo, a sly red fox, Alifanfaron, a gentle, slow-witted giant, Dr. Duclos, a pompous British penguin wearing a pince-nez, Madame Muscat an opinionated old woman, and Monsieur Nicholas, a kindly old toymaker. These are the seven dolls of the title and Mouche, captivated by all these dear and diverse little personalities, forgets her own woes and talks to them like a trusting child, as if they were real people not puppets. This charms the passersby and Mouche is invited to join the troupe. The act goes on to become a popular novelty act that moves off the street into theatres.

But she has to contend with the master puppeteer the tyrannical Capitaine Coq, a.k.a. Michel Peyrot, a cold, cynical, cruel, emotionally-scarred man who has never known or shown love in his life. He hates innocence in anyone or anything and is driven to destroy it whenever he encounters it. Thus, this naive little waif who so enchants his audiences, becomes a prime target, and he comes, drunk and brutal, into the room where she is sleeping after a show and rapes her, taking her virginity without a kind word or caress.

But Mouche remains pure of heart, and when the act is booked into a theatre she attracts the honorable attention of a handsome acrobat and must decide whether to marry him or stay with her beloved puppets and find out whether Capitaine Coq can be redeemed by love.

If all this sounds like a dark, tawdry version of a charming film from the 1950s called "Lili" starring Leslie Caron you are absolutely correct--this novella was indeed the inspiration for that lovely film.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

What Is Left The Daughter by Howard Norman

This powerful novel of love and hate, obsession, and the candle of hope shining a tentative light through the dark night of despair takes place largely in the anxious, feverish years of World War 2. It takes the form of a long letter written by Wyatt Hillyer in 1967 to the now adult daughter he barely knows.

Obsession has left two ugly scars on Wyatt's life. When he was seventeen his father and mother both committed suicide the same evening by jumping off separate bridges in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Though they no longer loved each other, both Mr. and Mrs. Hillyer had fallen in love with their beautiful next-door-neighbor, a switchboard operator and aspiring actress.

In the wake of the scandal generated by this "Sordid Love Triangle" Wyatt left Halifax to live in a quiet small town with his Aunt Constance and Uncle Donald and their daughter, the "ravishing" Tilda. But under their roof an obsession of a darker, uglier sort rears its ugly head. Uncle Donald becomes increasingly obsessed with the war news, specifically the German U-Boat attacks in the Atlantic. And when Tilda falls in love with and marries a German student, Hans Mohring--a genuinely good German who left his homeland with his family when Hitler came to power and could not have served in the army even if he had wanted to due to a heart condition--innocent Hans becomes the face of the enemy to Donald as well as other locals. When Constance is killed when the ferry she is traveling on is torpedoed by a German U-Boat Donald goes mad with grief and murders Hans and Donald, half in shock an stunned into obedience, helps his uncle dispose of the body.

Donald is sent to prison for life, but Wyatt, as an accessory, is given a lighter sentence. After he is released, there is a tense truce between him and the cousin he has always been in love with. And, one night, they come together and a child is conceived, the daughter Wyatt will address his letter to.

I read this book in a single day. Though Wyatt is a rather unemotional narrator, the story is nonetheless gripping from start to end. I was particularly haunted by the prejudices and abuses genuinely good and innocent people suffered during the war years just because they were from Germany. One scene in particular affected me. A man who operates a record store and gives Hans discounts in exchange for German lessons is overhead speaking German by a Canadian soldier browsing in the shop, the soldier, mistakenly believing the shop owner is a German, later returns to the shop with others and savagely beats this man and destroys his shop.

Though this novel was given to me by the publisher to review and not one of my own personal selections, I am so glad I was asked to do so as this is a book I might otherwise not have chosen and thus would have missed out on a very thought-provoking bittersweet book about the power of love and hate.

Just a closing note regarding content, those who might be concerned by the love triangle between Wyatt's parents and their beautiful neighbor, which leads to the double suicide, need have no concerns about sexual content; this is not a graphic, "hot" or "juicy" read. This book is written as a letter from a man to his daughter, so there are no descriptions of sexual encounters. Wyatt even draws a discreet veil over the one night he spent with the love of his life, Tilda, that resulted in the birth of his second great love, their daughter, Marlais.

An Old Short Story: Bittersweet Tapestry by Brandy Purdy

This is a short story, a fairytale of sorts, I wrote a few years ago, I just found it again going through some old discs and thought I would share it.

Bittersweet Tapestry by Brandy Purdy

A long time ago, in a castle of golden stone perched high upon the cliffs above a tempestuous turquoise sea, lived a Princess named Charlotte. She was a quiet, timid girl who, because of her shyness, many mistakenly thought haughty and aloof. Charlotte was the chatelaine of the castle, and while her father tended to the business of the kingdom her quiet footsteps echoed softly upon the stairs and flagstone floors as she went about her duties, supervising the cooks and laundresses, the buttery and larder, hiring and attending to the petty squabbles of the servants, and checking the accounts.

Charlotte’s mother had died long ago, and when she paused to stare up at the portrait of that strong-willed but physically frail woman whose neck appeared too weak to support the weight of her golden crown, Charlotte often felt as if she were staring at a stranger. It was with sadness, and a mighty surge of guilt, that she realized that she could no longer remember her mother’s voice, and, without that portrait to remind her, her memory of her face would be blurred almost to blindness.
When she was not occupied with the running of the castle and attending balls and banquets as every princess must, Charlotte could inevitably be found sitting on the window-seat in her bedchamber with her head bent over her tapestry frame. From time to time she would pause to caress or playfully dangle a string for her cat and smile at the way the black and gray stripes upon that happy, contented feline’s brow resembled lines of worry. More often than not, Charlotte would find herself rubbing her own face in the exact same spot as her cat’s was marked—her forehead, just above the bridge of her nose—and everyday she expected her mirror to show her that indelible lines had indeed become etched in the porcelain-pale skin.

Charlotte was long past the age when a girl, especially a princess, should be married, and though he was reluctant to let his chatelaine go, which would necessitate all the bother and expense of engaging a housekeeper, and mayhap trying out several before a worthy candidate was found, her father the King had at long last arranged a betrothal with Prince Colin, the second son of the ruler of the kingdom beyond the forest. But Charlotte did not want to marry Colin. His portrait, unveiled before her with a flourish by an effusive mustachioed ambassador, sparked no fire in her heart or sensual stirrings in her secret parts. Instead, when she thought of marrying anyone or gazed at the solid and dependable Prince’s likeness she felt overwhelmed by uncertainty and fear as if she had been cast out into the wild blue-green sea outside and was drowning.

Though she told no one—it would not be proper and if known it would be the scandal of the kingdom—Charlotte’s heart belonged to Duncan, the surly-tempered, smoldering-eyed, dark-haired stable-hand who curry-combed, saddled, and exercised her father’s splendid stallions from faraway, exotic Araby. When she rode he sometimes attended her, stooping to cup his hands around her dainty foot and boost her into the saddle, and lifting her down again after her ride, his strong, work-roughened hands clasping her waist. And as he lowered her, her body would brush against his, so close she could smell the beer upon his breath and see the faint sparse hairs that joined his dark brows across the bridge of his nose, her nipples would harden as they grazed his leather jerkin, and her pulses would race, and when her feet touched the ground she would stagger a bit as if she were about to swoon and he would catch hold of her arm and ask if she were unwell. Blushing furiously, she would always claim to be overcome by exertion and the heat and would hurriedly excuse herself, to go to her room and lie down.

Leaning from a window overlooking the courtyard one day as she paused for a breath of fresh, salty sea air during her daily rounds, she had seen him oh so gently caress with his big, strong, work-calloused, sun-browned hand, the cheek of a milkmaid. That feather-light touch, vicariously witnessed and envied, sent shivers tingling up and down Charlotte’s spine. And what grief she felt when the tomb-cold truth sank in! Duncan, though he was as far below her in rank as the highest castle turret towering above the waves, he—and the thrill of his touch—was beyond her reach! She could have jewels and silken gowns, books meticulous crafted, illuminated and embellished, by the finest artisans, exotic songbirds with gaudy rainbow plumage, and a pond stocked with rare, shimmering-scaled fish of silver and gold, and if she were so minded she could ride out reclining upon a velvet cushioned litter carried by four strong, handsome footman in peacock blue velvet livery, or side-saddle upon one of her father’s rare hot-blooded, stamping-hoofed horses from distant Araby, but the one thing she could never have was the only thing she really wanted—Duncan. And when she watched the servant girls flirting freely with him, coyly batting their eyes and swishing their skirts to show a bit of ankle, she felt such rage and jealousy she wanted to wring their necks like the kitchen boy did the chickens before they were plucked and roasted for the royal table. No one would ever know how much she wanted to be that girl, that most fortunate of milkmaids, even with the skin of her neck chafed raw and red, and her shoulders brawny as a man’s, from carrying the yoke with the full pails of milk, and her back that ached like a screaming banshee every night. Never would that girl know, and if she did she would not understand, that a princess envied her, and in a space shorter than the time it takes a heart to beat would gladly have switched places with her and exchanged her silken slippers for the milkmaid’s clunky wooden sabots.

Since she was a little girl poised on the brink of womanhood, Charlotte had been laboring upon a grand project. As was the custom with every highborn maiden in the land, she must work until the very eve of her wedding upon a large tapestry that would grace the wall of the banquet hall of the castle where she would live with her husband, which, if she married Prince Colin, would be this very castle. Being a second son—and not heir to his own kingdom unless some tragedy befell his older brother before he sired a male heir—Prince Colin would take up residence here and become King when Charlotte’s father exchanged his mortal kingdom for a heavenly one or lost the wit to govern wisely. The fact that Charlotte need never leave her childhood home was the most comforting thing about this marriage, though it was not enough to quench the flames in her heart that still burned for Duncan.

The tapestry itself presented a quandary. Though the background was all but complete, hundreds of exquisite millefleurs—a large cascading garden of flowers, songbirds, frolicking bunnies, little white lambs, and sly bushy-tailed orange foxes against a field of deep emerald green—Charlotte had no idea what to put in the foreground. The question haunted her night and day. It must be something large and impressive. Time was fleeing fast, the marriage day loomed, and though her hands were skilled and nimble with the needle, the void she must fill was vast and her nerves were becoming frayed with the knowledge that whatever design she chose to weave would forever after be on public display.

Meanwhile, Prince Colin did not neglect the gallant traditions of courtship. He visited her often, and though he was very kind and earnest in his desire to please her, Charlotte’s heart stubbornly refused to thaw for her intended bridegroom. He was not handsome like Duncan, true, but his heart was good, warm, loyal, and kind. He tried to engage her in conversation about the books she read, and he expressed genuine interest in her thoughts and preferences. He would sit on a tiny stool at her feet with her sewing basket on his lap and hand her the brightly colored embroidery silks or else regard her with unabashedly adoring eyes that made Charlotte’s heart race with trepidation that more than once caused her to prick her finger with the sharp silver needle. And each time Prince Colin would leap up and bind her injured finger in a fine snow-white handkerchief, then he would tilt her quivering chin up so she would look at him and smile tenderly and say, “Do you not yet know, Charlotte, that you have nothing to fear from me? Never would I hurt one hair upon your dear head.” But in reply Charlotte would only nod mutely and her tear-brimming eyes would dart away and look to the side or past this steadfast, dependable prince.

One day while Charlotte was walking in the castle gardens she heard lascivious squeals and laughter issuing from the dense and daunting hedge maze. A moment later a red-faced disheveled servant girl ran out. Seeing Charlotte with a straw basket filled with roses draped over her arm, the girl paused and dropped a quick, clumsy curtsy as she ran past her. A merry tune, whistled expertly, distant at first, but all the time drawing nearer, reached Charlotte’s ears. Moments later Duncan sauntered jauntily from the hedge maze, looking very pleased with himself, like Charlotte’s cat always did after it had caught a lizard or a mouse. He doffed his old cracked leather cap and swept Charlotte a deep bow as he had seen the court dandies do and then he turned and snapped a yellow rose, so sunny and vibrant, from its stem and offered it to her, and before the timid Princess could stammer her thanks, he was gone. Charlotte stood there, not daring to turn around, listening with straining ears to his whistling, growing fainter as the distance increased between them.
After the groom had returned to the stables, the Princess, reverently clutching her treasure to her heart, though taking great care not to crush its petals, returned to her palace.

There were so many women in his life, every week there seemed to be a different girl, but Charlotte was certain that was because he had yet to meet the right one, and, she was equally certain, that if she had the chance she would be the right one, the one whose devotion would never waver and from whom his attention would never wander. No one would ever love him as much as she did, if only he knew it! But she was a princess and dared not profess her love to a groom in her father’s stables. How the world would laugh! Perhaps even Duncan himself would laugh!

As she sat on her window-seat working on her tapestry, and occasionally lifting her head to gaze and sigh wistfully at the beautiful yellow rose in its slim fluted golden vase, Charlotte felt her cat brush against her full sky blue and pale rose silk skirts and heard its deep-throated, rumbling purr. As she reached down to stroke its back, arching high to meet her palm, Charlotte decided to make her beloved pet part of her tapestry. But it would not do for the centerpiece, something greater and grander than a cat was required for that, still, she would honor her cat with a prominent place.
It took many days for Charlotte to stitch the cat to her satisfaction. Twice she unpicked it, and nearly wept in frustration because her fingers could not seem to achieve the image she had in her mind. Many times she would call her cat to sit beside her and hold the colored threads up against its fur to match the hues of cream, white, black, grey, orange, and brown. And she studied it intently to copy the pattern of its markings exactly.

At last, with a great sigh of relief, Charlotte stood and stretched. The tapestry cat was complete. She looked round for her pet. How odd that the cat was not right there at her side, and she did not come racing, tail held high, when Charlotte called her. In a panic, Charlotte summoned her maid. No, she had not seen Milady’s cat. Soon a dozen servants were scouring the castle and gardens searching for Charlotte’s cat whilst she, weeping tears enough to fill a barrel, fruitlessly searched over and over again all the places she had searched before, beneath her bed, under her dressing table, behind the tall, silver mirror, but the cat was nowhere to be found. Days passed, and though hope continued to live in Charlotte’s heart, steadily it dwindled, and soon she must accept that her pet was never coming back. The old King, hating to see his daughter sunk so deep in grief, offered to buy her a new cat—After all, surely one cat was just as good as another!—and Prince Colin rode over from his father’s castle with four lively kittens in his saddlebags and implored her to pick one or take them all, whatever her dear heart desired. But Charlotte only shook her head as more tears welled up and flowed down her cheeks and turned away. And in her bed every night she cried herself to sleep.

To try to distract herself from grieving, Charlotte returned to her tapestry frame. After all, time would not stand still just because her cat had disappeared, and every day the wedding date drew nearer. But sometimes, when the need for the solace and silent devotion of an animal companion grew unbearable, she would walk down to the gardens where an ancient tortoise lived. No one knew quite how old it was; her father claimed it had been old even when he was a boy. Charlotte would sit on the grass beside it and feed it greens from the vegetable garden outside the palace kitchen. Ponderous and slow, but with an innate air of wisdom, it regarded her with knowing eyes as it chewed. Charlotte stroked the hard, age-scarred shell, and shed fresh tears over the memory of her cat’s soft fur. But she admired the tortoise, and so decided to include it in her tapestry to symbolize wisdom.

Again she took great pains to get every detail right. And again, as soon as she was done, and the last stitch had been sewn, the living subject vanished as if into thin air. No one could account for the tortoise’s disappearance; it had been there for so very long, indeed, no one in the castle or thereabouts could remember a time when it had not been there, making its home beside the stone wall that, though crumbling, was younger than the missing creature.

That night as she lay tossing and turning in her bed, Charlotte’s troubled mind made the connection between her tapestry and the disappearances. Surely it was just some strange coincidence, some silly, deluded fancy! Such notions were the work of superstitious minds, the kind that believed in witches, ghosts, and magic! But what if…She resolved to make a test the next day, it was the only way to prove herself wrong and quiet her nerves.

The yellow rose Duncan had given her was by now wilting badly, already she had issued a harsh reprimand—a rarity for shy, soft-spoken Charlotte—when she caught her maid on the verge of throwing it out and replacing it with a rose new and fresh in its full glory. Three petals, their edges brittle, curled, and brown, had already fallen onto the table, and when Charlotte risked a gentle caress to the remaining petals another fell to join them. Already, an idea was forming in Charlotte’s mind, it was ludicrous, but if it should be true…here was the means of preserving this sweet memory in all its beauty and mayhap of escaping the fate that others had ordained for her. And so she wove the yellow rose, not as it now was, but as it had been the day Duncan gave it to her, positioning it in such a way that it might either be part of the millefleurs or held in an invisible hand. If I dare, Charlotte thought, if I dare…

Before she made the last stitch Charlotte glanced over at the table to assure herself the rose was still there. Indeed, another petal had just drifted down to join the others. Satisfied, Charlotte bent her head over the tapestry frame to make the final stitch, and when she looked up again the rose was gone. The little gold vase was empty and the brittle petals had vanished too. She picked up the vase and peered inside and brushed her hand across the table’s smooth surface. Nothing! It was as if the rose had never been there. And when she questioned her maid the girl swore she had not touched it since Milady had forbidden her to.

Prince Colin came to visit the next day. He admired her tapestry and the way she had chosen to pay tribute to the beloved pets she had lost. What would he say if I were to tell him the truth? Charlotte wondered. Would he think me mad or a witch? He spoke of the future, the great things he had planned, his genuine love for the people who would someday be his subjects, and the reforms he had planned that would benefit them, and the laws he would make, that would make justice a thing for everyone, and not a commodity to be bought and sold. Justice should be blind and impartial, and not just for those who could afford to pay the judges rich bribes. And were not the modes of punishment overly harsh? Why must bodies be broken upon the rack or limbs torn asunder by wild horses? And, he spoke of their future, their life together as man and wife. He raised her hand to his lips and said he had not a doubt but that she would be the perfect wife and mother, and the most beloved and compassionate of queens.

At that moment, Duncan crossed the courtyard, and the beating of Charlotte’s heart drowned out Prince Colin’s words. He approached a servant girl and, propping an arm against the wall over her shoulder, he leaned forward, his body shielding hers, and whispered in her ear, and then…he kissed her.
Charlotte felt her heart squeeze tight within her chest and she gasped aloud and clutched her breast at the sharpness of the pain.

All concern, Prince Colin turned to her, but she brushed aside his hands and ran back inside the castle. At that moment she would have sold her soul to the Devil to be that servant girl, eternal damnation seemed a small price to pay to spend her mortal life with Duncan. To freely taste his lips, and enjoy his embrace.

The next morning she began working at a feverish pace, as long as the daylight endured, and even at night by candlelight until her eyes watered, reddened, and blurred with the strain, then she would fall into bed and sleep until the morning light came pouring in through the windows, then she would rise and resume her work again. Slowly the outline of a woman appeared, sitting upon the grass, her full skirts cushioning her like a cloud. Then the gown—a splendid gown—of dusky rose and mint green—it would have been Charlotte’s wedding gown had it not disappeared from the clothespress the instant the last stitch was made. Next came the lady herself—with her hair artfully arranged in a rose-festooned golden pompadour with a single long ringlet cascading over her left shoulder, large luminous sea green eyes with their fringe of dark lashes, porcelain skin with a delicate rosy blush to the cheeks, and pink lips. Then the choker and matching bracelets of pearls, each centered with a pink cameo. Her left hand lay in her lap while the right was upraised and bent, delicately clutching the stem of a single yellow rose. The night before her wedding day, all that was needed was one little finger, then all would be complete, and Charlotte would join her cat and the tortoise in the tapestry.

As she leaned from her window, watching Prince Colin ride away, she whispered into the night. “You have a good heart, someday you will find someone worthy to share it with.” And down below in the stables the faint orange glow of a lantern told Charlotte that Duncan was within. She watched until the girl left, her hands brushing the straw from her skirt and hair, and tugging at her bodice, pulling it up to more modestly cover her breasts. A few moments later Duncan strolled out and, whistling and pacing around the courtyard, enjoyed a pipe before retiring for the night. When the lantern’s light went out and all was plunged into darkness, Charlotte closed the shutters and returned to her tapestry frame.

“I’ll be happier here,” she said as she made the final stitch.

No one ever knew what happened to Princess Charlotte. She vanished without a trace the night before her wedding day along with her wedding gown. They searched high and low, near and far, they poked and prodded the forest and scanned the shore and sea, not a stone was left unturned, but not a trace of Charlotte was ever found. The ambassadors even made inquiries abroad and a reward was offered for any information about her fate or whereabouts. Over the years there were rumors that her unhappy ghost haunted the castle corridors or wept and wailed in the forest’s dark heart or forlornly strolled the sands and stared morosely out to sea. Rumors of rape, murder, and kidnapping were rife, and nary a man who had known her escaped suspicion. Everyone had a theory that they were happy to tell over a tankard of ale by a warm fire in the local tavern. It was too much for the old King to take and he soon died of a broken heart. Since Charlotte was his only child and he had no heir, Prince Colin inherited the kingdom. And a year after Charlotte disappeared he married Princess Catherine, a dark-haired demure beauty fresh from a convent in her native Spain.

Charlotte’s tapestry was hung upon the wall in the corridor outside the banquet hall, as a tribute to her, while Queen Catherine’s tapestry, a splendid bestiary of curious and mythical beasts with a unicorn at the center, was given pride of place behind the royal table in the banquet hall. Many years passed, and, unbeknownst to them all, Charlotte watched them from her tapestry. She watched King Colin and Queen Catherine change from cordial partners in an arranged marriage to lovers dedicated and true. The Queen was devoted to her children, three beautiful dark-haired daughters, and four hale and hearty sons, broad-shouldered and sandy-haired like their father. Everyone loved her, though she ran the castle with a firm hand, she always had a smile and a kind word for everyone from the lowliest kitchen boy who wrung the chickens’ necks to the pastry chef from Paris who, with spun sugar and marzipan, was a true artiste. All her subjects loved her and for her charitable acts she was renowned. From time to time, Charlotte felt a twinge of bitterness and regret. “This could have been my life,” she would resentfully grumble to the tortoise and her cat.
“And this could have been my life too,” she would sigh as she watched the toll the years took on Duncan. Too much wine, made his belly sag and bulge and broadened his waist with great rolls of fat, there were bristles of gray in his increasingly unkempt beard, and it seemed the more time that passed the less he could be bothered with keeping it and his hair neatly trimmed. He stank of horses and his own sweat, and rarely bathed or bothered to change his shirt. Charlotte watched his women too. Over time the seemingly endless procession slowed to a trickle, and he spent more nights alone than he did with a warm wench in his bed. From the tapestry Charlotte learned why there had always been so many. She saw the trail of broken hearts he left behind him—though as his dark good looks faded these grew fewer—crushed like eggshells beneath a shoe. Then one day he was caught, like a rabbit in a snare. Joanna was her name, and her belly grew big and round with his child. He told her to be rid of it, and gave her the name of an old woman who lived in the woods, but she would not and instead sought the counsel of the castle chaplain. No other bridegroom in the history of marriage frowned so deeply or scowled so darkly as Duncan did when he spoke his vows. And it was all for naught, for in a few months Joanna’s womb bled out. But for the rest of her life Duncan would make her pay. Charlotte quickly lost count of all the black eyes and bruises, and every time Joanna opened her mouth, her lips more often than not split and swollen, she seemed to have less teeth.

“This too could have been my life, if God had seen fit to answer my prayers,” Charlotte said now with gratitude and remorse that she had loved and chosen so unwisely. Though she had her cat and the tortoise and loved them dearly, it was not enough. But, she could not bring herself to hate Queen Catherine. And, in time, she came to look upon herself as a sort of godmother to the royal children, watching them grow up and wishing she could soothe their woes and heartaches with kind words, hugs, and kisses. The daughters married away to other kingdoms. One son died of smallpox, another chose the priesthood, the other two remained, not rivals but the best of friends, within the kingdom, and when King Colin died peacefully in his sleep his eldest son Stephen became king and his brother Andrew his most trusted and able advisor. Queen Catherine retreated in her widow’s weeds to a nunnery and before she died took the veil. But long before that Duncan beat Joanna one time too many and she lay down with a fiercely aching head and never woke up. Duncan went out to the tavern that night to celebrate his liberation from the chains of matrimony, but he never came back. Servants passing in the corridor gossiped of a brawl—some said it was over cheating at cards others claimed it was about a whore—either way a knife was drawn and Duncan never came home.

Decades passed, then centuries. Negligent servants left the windows open wide at the brightest part of the day and the deep rose of Charlotte’s gown faded to delicate pink, the gilt of her hair turned to silver, and Duncan’s rich, sunny yellow rose lost its vibrant hue and faded first to butter and finally to cream. The fires of Revolution swept the land. An angry mob bearing torches stormed the castle, wreaking havoc everywhere they went, and raiding the larders and wine cellar before they left taking the royal family with them, shackled with heavy chains and stark naked with their heads shaved to humiliate them. The throne toppled, there would be no more kings and queens, princes or princesses, and except for occasional looters and vagabond beggars the castle was abandoned and left to crumble. Bats, owls, rats, roaches, and black beetles, now made it their home. And in the darkness, growing ever more filthy, faded, and frayed from exposure to the elements, Charlotte waited, frozen in time, trapped in the tapestry she had chosen over real life and all its experiences both ordinary and extraordinary, terrible, humdrum, ecstatic, and pleasant. Never would she know the pleasing caress of a man’s hand or the weight of his body moving in sensual rhythm over hers. Nor would she know the agony of childbirth, so fast forgotten when the newborn baby was placed in its mothers arms to suckle at her breast, or the partnership of husband and wife, king and queen, working in tandem to try to forge a better world. Only as a flat picture formed of colored threads could she watch the children—another woman’s children that might have been hers—grow from infants to adults and marry and make offspring of their own. Nor would she know the grief of a beloved husband’s death, the black veils of widow’s weeds, and the silent, living tomb of a nunnery where a grieving wife and erstwhile queen waited to rejoin her beloved in the kingdom of Heaven. All of these things Charlotte could only experience vicariously.

Charlotte lost count of the years, then grubby, greedy hands snatched her from the wall. The tapestry was bunched up and shoved into a saddle bag. For a time it was used as a blanket under which a family of shivering peasants huddled for warmth. Charlotte’s faded form rippled with the motions of their bodies as they coupled nosily, humping and grunting and groaning beneath her, but mercifully behind her back. Blood, urine, and sperm joined the stains she already bore. Later the tapestry was draped over a table and several spots singed with circles when pots snatched from the fire were set upon it. Then a man came, the agent of a museum, looking for historical curiosities. He fell in love with Charlotte and took her away with him. With loving care, the craftsmen cleaned and patched her, devoting many years to restoring the tapestry to its former glory.

Charlotte now hangs on the wall of a small but prestigious museum in coastal France. She is one of its most cherished treasures. The guides never tire of telling her story, or as much of it as is known to them—the mysterious disappearance of Princess Charlotte and her wedding gown, and the subsequent fate of the kingdom and the tapestry, the abuse it endured, before it came into the hands of those who could appreciate its true beauty and worth. Everyday hundreds of people file past her, and Charlotte has a whole new succession of children and lovers to watch. Some only come once, others come again and again and she watches them mature from just out of the cradle to the edge of the grave. She watches them fall in love, fall apart, sometimes reunite, or forever go their separate ways. Some of them bring their children to visit her. But all of them have one thing in common, they all stop to linger before the Charlotte Tapestry to stand and stare, entranced, at the lady with the sad, wistful eyes and the bittersweet smile, and wonder what they would learn if she could only speak or if they could read her mind.

Buffalo Gals Women of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show by Chris Enss

For over thirty years Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show brought the myth of the Old West to rip roarin' real life for thousands of enthralled spectators with displays of sharpshooting, roping, riding, and reenactments of Indian battles and daring stagecoach robberies. Amongst the talented cowboys and Indians there were a number of women who, with bead and embroidered embellishments, brought a touch of femininity to the rough world of boots and buckskin and created the look still associated with cowgirls to this day.

This book is a collection of what I call "teaser biographies" that tell you just enough to make you want to know more In its pages readers are introduced to the likes of Giuseppina Morlacchi the tender-hearted and shy Italian prima ballerina who fell in love with rugged frontier scout Texas Jack. And May Manning Lillie who surprised her demur Quaker parents by deciding to become a bronco rider when the Wild West Show came to Philadelphia and she fell head over heels in love with Pawnee Bill. Mollie Moses the mistress of Buffalo Bill who could not quite capture his heart and convince him to leave his wife of twenty years,and died in brokenhearted squalor of complications from rat bites still treasuring his picture Hard-drinking, rough-living, tall tale spinning Calamity Jane who shunned feminine trappings for masculine attire instead. And Annie Oakley's rival, teenage sharpshooting sensation Lillian Smith who so impressed Queen Victoria that she asked to meet her after the show, a champion with the rifle Lilian was defeated by her own personal demons--the wrong men, alcohol, and weight gain. Loie Fuller, one of the pioneers of modern dance, who did fresh and innovative things with graceful movements, coloured lights, and swathes of billowing silk.And, of course, the greatest star of them all, "Little Sure Shot"herself, Annie Oakley who took her fame in stride and never let it go to her head or ruin her life. These are just a few highlights from this fascinating little book.

"Buffalo Gals" provides an intriguing introduction to the many talented female performers of the Old West. Though the focus of this book is restricted to women associated with Buffalo Bill's show, Ms. Enss has also penned a similar volume about the actresses who toured and brought a touch of glamour to the wild, rugged, and unruly western cities and mining towns, which I will be reviewing here in the near future.