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The Birthday Song(s)

January 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , ,

I often listen to music while I’m writing, and it’s nearly always to one of my two favorite college radio stations: WPRB in Princeton, NJ, or KVCU in Boulder, CO. No Spotify or Pandora for me. 

The other day the DJ Dana K from WPRB decided to celebrate her birthday by playing during her two-hour show songs only from the year she was born. What a cool idea, I thought. I’d never looked back at songs that way. And since this post is the closest to my birthday month—I won’t be posting in February because my slot falls on the 30th of the month—I am going to do that look-back here.

To give the range more breadth than Dana K did, I expanded my research (thank you, Google) beyond my birth year to all years that are decades for it—so, all years that end in the same digit. I discovered, though, that, like any best-of list, what’s “best” is in the eye of the beholder. Since I don’t currently listen to top-40 radio, those that floated to the top of the online lists were not often ones I would choose to play (or remember fondly).

I did see some favorites, but many other popular hits did not register high on my interest gauge. 

I was delighted to find that both “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Suede and “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone were on the list. I am a big fan of the film Guardians of the Galaxy, and those two songs are part of the much-played soundtrack. “Jolene” by Dolly Parton is on the list; I also love Jack White’s version of the song, which came out 30 years later, on the White Stripes’ Under Blackpool Lights.

“Beeswing” by Richard Thompson was not a top-40 hit on the lists, but it’s a stunning song-story on Mirror Blue by one of my favorite singer-songwriters. “Crown of Love,” from the debut album by Arcade Fire, is another on the timeline that swept me away. And I was happy to discover that “Say It Ain’t So” on Weezer‘s Blue Album fit my time parameter; the song speaks to a topic that’s personal for me. 

There are many other songs I could mention. Instead, I’ll just slip on my ear buds, crank up the volume, and get back to writing my next story.

Some of Dianna’s Books

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Rite of Fir

December 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , , , , ,

Twig stood silent in the silver light of the full moon, listening to the rustle of mice or maybe voles in the dried grasses and brown leaves around her. No snow yet, but with the crystal clarity of the December night sky slowly being consumed by the advancing clouds, it was likely by morning.

Dipping into the deep shadows of the trees, she walked quickly back to the cabin. The stack of wood on the porch should be enough to last through the storm. 

In the smaller of the two bedrooms, Kayla lay asleep, snoring softly. Twig closed the door to the room and brought in more wood from the porch for the fire. 

picture of a bridge in a snowy forest

It was nearly midnight, and Charlie had yet to show up. Just like him, to promise and not deliver. 

Twig decided to wait up in case he texted that he was lost. From the cabinet near the kitchen, she took out twine, cloth ribbon and glue. She’d make a köknar, for the season, even if just for their short stay. Her grandmother had taught her how when she was nine, and Twig had made one every year since then. One day she would show Kayla how to make her own.

She set her supplies on the coffee table and sat cross-legged on the rag rug to begin her work. The bough of balsam fir she’d cut in the afternoon wasn’t exactly the right shape, but Grandma Pati said any shape would work if you looked at it from the right perspective. That was true for many things in life, Twig knew. Like her own situation. 

Likewise, the story of the köknar could be appreciated from different angles, depending on the weaver of the tale. It was a talisman of good luck. Or it represented winter, with the needles and twine standing in for ice and the thread of family and friendship. Or the red cloth ribbon spoke of the new buds of spring, still months away. The version Twig preferred was that the köknar whispered an alluring call to the sun, inviting it to stay aloft a few minutes longer each day.

By the time she heard Charlie’s SUV outside, she had finished the form. When she opened the cabin door to welcome him, the clearing was covered in fresh snow, the flakes still falling thickly. She hung her creation on the nail she’d driven in last year, their first year in that place, free finally from a past that was better forgotten.

Charlie slipped a strap over his shoulder and grabbed the handle of another suitcase. The falling snow turned his head white and speckled his beard.

“You’re here,” she said. Her shoulders relaxed. The weekend would be good after all. 

“The interstate’s a mess,” he said, reaching the porch and setting down his bags. “No cell service. I was afraid I’d have to pull off and spend the night and then come the rest of the way tomorrow. Kayla’s asleep?” 

She nodded. His embrace pulled her tight and she felt him shiver slightly. “You’re cold. Get inside. I’ve kept the fire up, knowing you’d show up soon.”

He paused at the doorway, staring at the köknar. “You made one.” His voice held wonder, and Twig felt her eyes smart. He’d watched her fashion one last winter, asking questions, holding a knot in place while she glued. 

“I did. Just this evening.”

Charlie picked up his bags and smiled at her. “Then we’re safe.” 

As she shut the door after him, Twig briefly touched the woven bough. “Do your best,” she whispered.

Some of Dianna’s Books

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November 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , , ,
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Armed with an LED light array half its length, the robotic sub maneuvered closer to the vestimentiferan colony. 

“Hundreds and hundreds of them, it looks like,” Dr. Parish said. “Can you get any nearer?”

“Trying,” Angela said, and sighed in frustration. “The rocky terrain around the vents is tricky. I’m afraid of hitting a jagged outcropping and damaging Deep Fin. We can record from here, and I can boost the magnification. That’s safer.”

“You are now the one in charge of this project?” Dr. Parish said.

Angela said nothing, knowing it was futile to argue with Parish. Besides, she was the pro at controlling the sub unit. Inept at fine controls, Parish nearly crashed it the first few times they had sent it out, and he finally acknowledged that she would be the permanent “pilot.”

She turned on recorder and increased the zoom. At least two meters in length, the tube worms formed dense clumps of slender white cylinders, their deep red gills protruding from the tops. White crabs and other vent creatures clung to the colony like baubles on a giant bracelet.

Parish sighed. “I’d love to spend all of our allotted time on these.”

“But the unit only has about forty-five more minutes before it runs out of battery,” Angela finished. 

While the worm colony drew their attention, it was the vents with their bubbling, superheated water they were more interested in. 

“Go ahead then,” Parish said.

They sat side by side in the control booth aboard the Searcher research vessel in the Pacific. The day was calm, a counterpoint to the excitement Angela felt at finally getting to examine the vents—even if via robotic sub. She had to keep Parish on track. He often drifted, like a boat in a swift current without an anchor.

Slowly, with a delicate tuning of the controls, Angela moved the sub to the vent they had marked on their map. It had formed within the last year, since they had last examined the area, and was remarkable for its size. The monitor registered a rapid warming of the water as the sub inched closer to it. 

Angela, intent on the vent itself, was startled at Parish’s sudden intake of breath. 

“What the hell was that?” he shouted, making Angela jump.

“Where?” She concentrated on maintaining the sub’s location. “On the screen?” When she glanced at him, his eyes were wide, alarmed.

“A figure, but it couldn’t be,” he said. 

She had seen nothing but the rough terrain the sub was navigating. No time to be studying anything else. 

“We’ll run it back later,” she said. Parish must have imagined whatever he thought he saw. “Figure—are you talking human?”

Parish ran a hand over his buzz cut. “It couldn’t be. The pressure down there is like a trash compactor on steroids. But what was it?”

Sensing that Parish was no longer interested in exploring the vents, Angela moved the sub out of harm’s way, slipping back from the rocky outcroppings. “Let’s hold here for a few minutes. I’ll keep a sweep going, and maybe it’ll show up again.” While I’m watching.

“Sure, sure.” Then he fell silent, studying the screen intently.

Angela continued panning the light array across the field of vision. The worm colony lay a dozen meters away, and the rest of the view was the profound darkness of the deep.

A shiver ran down Angela’s spine. He’d probably seen a fish, some odd-ball creature with surprising appendages.

The screen shimmered with momentary static, and when it cleared, she was staring at a face—a human-like face—only centimeters from the sub’s camera. 

Almost as quickly as it appeared, the face vanished, and seconds later, the camera went offline.

“It was there, wasn’t it?” Angela whispered, more to herself than Parish. 

“I saw it,” Parish said. “We both saw it.”

Looking at the readouts from the sub’s controls, Angela felt sick. “We’ve lost more than the camera feed. All connection to Deep Fin has been severed. It’s gone.” And how many millions of dollars gone with it? She and Parish were responsible.

As if reading her mind, Parish clapped her on the back. “Yes, it’s a huge loss, but the flip side is, the world will be at our doorstep the minute we release the footage. Unbelievable. We’ll be heroes.”

Angela hoped he was right.

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What You See . . .

October 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , , , ,
Photo by Dirk Ribbler on Unsplash

After three sleepless nights, Damian had the bad luck to draw the early shift at Fitzy’s Diner. His eyes were slits as he broke egg after egg for omelets and poured round after round of batter for pancakes. 

“Hurry it up, Dame!” Fitzy shouted from the kitchen doorway. “This ain’t no five-star dive.” 

“Shove it,” Damian wanted to shout back. But he had rent and a late car payment earmarked for his next paycheck. He was six months clean, and Fitzy, with his sharp eyes and weasel nose, was looking for any excuse to send him back to the streets—or that’s the way it seemed to Damian, who could never move fast enough to please the boss.

When Fitzy slipped back through the swinging doors, Damian turned his focus to the griddle, scraping it for the next omelet. That’s when the spiders crawled out from behind the stovetop, into the pool of melted butter, and skated across the hot surface. Five of them—big, hairy, and long-legged, with eyes that stared him down. 

“Jesus,” Damian half-yelped. How is this possible, he thought. He hated spiders. Too many legs.

When he reached for the whisk, his hand brushed something moving. 

“Aaahh!” This time he yelled. More spiders covered the egg carton and spilled onto the work table.

No, no, no, his mind screamed. Could the hallucinations return even if he wasn’t using? 

“Dame?” It was Helena, on the morning wait staff. She stood in the doorway, concern etched on her face. “You okay?”

Quickly, Damian wiped the sheen of sweat from his face. “Yeah. Just burned myself,” he lied. “Stupid of me.”

She smiled and shook her head. “Be careful. We can’t lose you.” And she was gone, back out to the front counter.

With shaking hands, Damian surveyed the griddle and work tables. The spiders had multiplied, filling the entire stovetop. These couldn’t be real spiders—real arachnids couldn’t survive that heat, could they? Yet he could hear the minute scrape of their feet as they moved. 

He shut his eyes tightly, willing the hallucination to cease. I can’t lose this job.

The paranoia that had been his every waking moment—and often every moment of attempted sleep—had finally driven him to rehab. He could no longer live constantly looking over his shoulder. His counselor had assured him the effects of the inhalants he’d once craved had subsided for good—but maybe they’d been wrong.

The swinging doors squeaked, and he opened his eyes to Fitzy’s bark. “Where’s the short stack and ranchero special?” 

The spiders now covered the mixing bowl with its batter and the bacon Damian had planned to fry up next. He shuddered at the expanding multitude. 

Fitzy grabbed his shoulder, hard, and jerked. “Get moving or you’ll be moving on out of here.”

The spiders descended from the bank of overhead lights and dropped onto Fitzy’s head, swarming down his neck and onto his bare arms. Red welts from their bites began to swell.

After a moment of indecision, Damian removed his apron, hung it on its wall peg, and left the kitchen to Fitzy’s screams.

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Eye of the Beholder

September 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , ,
Photo by Kai Oberhäuser on Unsplash

Amy dipped her pen into the container of ink and added a few lines to the portrait of the white-haired man before her. Evaluating the results, she nodded slightly. Done. With a quick spray of sealer, she unfastened the paper from the holder and offered it to the patron.

His face crinkled into a smile. “My lord, you made me look charismatic, dear.” He stuffed a twenty into her tip jar and walked away with a bounce in his step.

It was just after one p.m. at the Art in the Park summer fair, and Amy ticked off her day’s productivity: Since the event opened at ten, she had sketched at least twenty people, and the queue of those waiting stretched toward the ice cream stand a hundred feet away.

“You are amazing,” gushed Beth, the fair organizer, sweeping past Amy on her rounds. “We’ll definitely want you back next year. I can’t believe the crowd.”

If I don’t burn out first, Amy thought. She had taken the gig at a friend’s urging, expecting to be bored with no clientele. Instead, she was giddy at the response. Old or young, tall or short, happy or glum, the people had flocked to the novelty of having their likeness drawn. A selfie on their phone was one thing; Amy guessed it was her unique perspective that was the attraction. Patron after patron had remarked, “You’ve zeroed in on the essence of me.”

“Next,” Amy called. Better keep the line moving while she still had the energy. 

A slender man with a shock of chocolate hair perched on the stool and looked at her. His eyes seemed like pools as dark as the ink she used. She tried to guess his age, but he could have been thirty or sixty.

“Hold that pose.” She dipped her pen into the liquid ebony and went to work. For each person she drew, so rapidly did the portraits come together, it was as though she was channeling directly from her eyes to her hands. But something was wrong with this one. The minutes ticked past, and the line of people fidgeted. She looked from the model to the paper and back. And once more, to check. 

What she had sketched bore no resemblance to the man on the stool. 

“What is that?”

The question from behind her shoulder made her jump. It was Beth, passing through again. With a quick grab, Amy crumpled the paper and dropped it into her makeshift trash bag. “My pen is acting up,” she lied. “I’ll just start over.”

Beth tsked sympathetically. “Take a break. You’ve been going nonstop.” Without pausing, she strode toward the queue. 

“Folks, our artist needs to give her hand a rest.” Beth’s tone was friendly but authoritative. “She’ll start up again in twenty minutes.”

A few people groaned, but no one challenged her. They drifted off to buy a hot dog or visit the crafter booths. The aroma of barbecue and wood smoke drifted in from the food trucks on the park perimeter.

Taking a deep breath, Amy turned to the patron still seated on the stool. She hesitated, then plunged ahead. “You’ll be first when I come back.” She closed the ink container and cleaned her nib with shaking hands, then shut her supply box with a click. 

She walked away from her portrait stand, pitched in the shade of a massive oak tree. Maybe the odd fellow with the wild mop of hair would move on, and she would not have to sketch him a second time. 

What had she drawn? She puzzled over the image, which was already fading from her memory, yet she could recall with ease the other faces she’d captured that day.

Fifteen minutes later, her shirt damp with sweat after wandering past the flea market tables and the used book tent, she was back at her easel. She relaxed to see that the stool was unoccupied, with the slim fellow nowhere nearby.

“Hey,” Beth called to her, hurrying over. “If you’re ready to start up again, I’ll make an announcement.”

“Sure.” Amy unscrewed the ink container, wiped her hands, and checked her nibs. 

“He left you this.” Beth held out a olive green sphere the size of an orange and etched with a pattern of dark lines that seemed to dance across the surface. “I don’t know what it is, but he said to tell you thanks.”

“Why?” Amy mused. The who was implicit. She turned the ball in her hand. Its coolness made her think of metal, but the exterior with its etching seemed organic, like a seed pod. “I didn’t finish his sketch.”

Beth shrugged. “He dug it out of your scrap bag. Didn’t seem to mind that it was wrinkled. I hope that was okay.”

Amy nodded. “Of course. It was his to take.” Although she could no longer recall what the fellow looked like or what she had drawn, she knew what to do with his gift. The answer floated into her head unbidden: a terracotta pot filled with rich, dark earth, daily sunshine, and regular watering, and the pod—because that’s what it indeed was—would sprout.

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