My Calendar of Tales, With Apologies to @NeilHimself

My Calendar of Tales, With Apologies to @NeilHimself

I got the inspiration for this post from Neil Gaiman’s Calendar of Tales. I’m shamelessly ripping off his wonderful idea in the hope that I can overcome the writer’s block that has afflicted me for several weeks. I’ve come up with a question for each month, and used it as the starting point for a little story. I know very well that my writing is not in the same class as his — he’s an author I admire very much — so I’m not trying to emulate him. This is just taking an idea and running with it. I don’t know where it will end up but I’m sure it’ll be fun getting there.

Why does January have two faces?

I didn’t ask to be here. OK, I might have put myself forward but I never actually asked for the job outright. I mean, why should I? I was perfectly happy the way things were. The ancien regime. The old boys’ club. Let sleeping dogs lie, don’t rock the boat and all that.

I press the flesh, smile, kiss the air beside their cheeks. “Darling, it’s so wonderful to see you here!”

What the goddam’ hell were they thinking? As if I need to ask; they let the new girl have a go. If it works out then it was their good idea; if it doesn’t then she takes the fall and catches all the shit. The bastards never accepted me, I was never one of them. A smile to your face and a knife in your back. They think I’m just a figurehead: a pretty face to catch the eye while they carry on as usual behind the scenes. Just shows how little they know me. Oh hell, it’s time to step up and make my speech.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here on this auspicious day to witness the relaunch, nay, rebirth of the oldest firm in the land. I’d like to thank the board for appointing me, and to say what a pleasure it has been to work with them in the lead-up to this moment. With such a fine body of men behind me I’m certain that I can lead you all from success to success…”

Why is February the shortest month?

Long ago when the world was young and the old gods still held sway, the Moon Goddess had much influence in the lives of men, and even more so in the lives of women. While men made note of her cycle and the tides of the sea, measuring their lives by it, women had a more intimate connexion. The men were jealous of this, fearing that it gave women power over the regular order of nature, and so they conspired against the goddess, aiming to break her hold over the passage of time itself.

The day was long in coming. It took many years for the men to build a foundation of belief. First they fostered the idea that physical strength and prowess in battle was the ultimate achievement. Then they argued that this was a necessary quality for leadership, rising to occupy all the positions of power among the many tribes. At last they solidified their positions by casting shame on the women, telling them that their menstruation was dirty rather than a natural process of cleansing and renewal.

And finally they imposed their will on time itself, breaking the link between the calendar and the cycles of the moon by casting ill omens on the number thirteen and taking apart the thirteenth month, spreading its days among the other months. But February alone was left as it was, a single appeasement to the moon goddess just in case she retained some power. A single token of the fear and guilt they still felt, for in their hearts they knew that they needed the women they had so callously denigrated and robbed of status.

What made March so fickle?

March was the highlight of the year book, the one who was clearly going places. Captain of the football team — star quarterback no less! — and a model cadet officer. It was no surprise when he went up to West Point and his father proudly spoke of him as carrying on the family’s proud martial tradition.

Mars was an intelligent, sensitive young man with a strong sense of duty and respect for family, church and truth. He graduated among the top in his class and was soon posted overseas on active duty as a wet-behind-the-ears Second Lieutenant.

There, in Iraq, was where things began to fall apart. His unit had gone in alongside other nations’ troops following almost unanimous international agreement that condemned the invasion of Kuwait. Surely there was no question that they were on the side of right? Then why did the people they had liberated appear at best indifferent and at worst distrustful and antagonistic towards him and his men?

For such a decisive, fast-moving campaign it lacked any real sense of victory. The enemy had merely been pushed back and the choking black smoke from the burning oil wells told of the destruction they had left behind them.

His doubts began then, but it was only when he returned some years later as a Captain and saw how little changed even after toppling the dictator that they took root in earnest and made him question his calling. When his posting finally ended and he returned home he resigned his commission.

He was haunted each night by the remembered looks on the faces of the Iraqi civilians he was supposed to be protecting: they had not wanted him there, occupying their country. His unshakable belief that he was part of a force for good in the world had crumbled into dust, lost among the countless grains of sand in that desert land.

He was left without a purpose, his moral compass adrift. Nothing else could stir his interest, the passionate fire of his youth had burned out leaving only cold ashes. He spent his days drifting, unable to commit to any course of action or stick with any one task for more than a few days. A tortured soul, once so dedicated to upholding justice and now disillusioned and dissolute, tainted and broken by the harsh realities of life.

What’s the connexion between April and fools?

Don’t get me wrong, that April’s a lovely girl, but as for her taste in men? Don’t get me started! You remember her back in school, yeah? She took history because of that boy, what was his name? Dale? Or Dane? Doesn’t matter. My point is, she only took that class so she would be there with him and what happened? Two dates and then he dumped her for that senior, Chrissy. Even bought himself a new suit for the prom. And we all know he never got to wear it because Chrissy’d been two-timing him all along with that jock. I guess at least she wasn’t showing yet when he walked her up the aisle.

Not that April was bothered by then. She’d gotten involved with Dwayne who seemed like a nice enough guy. Son of the preacher at the local Baptist church. I remember how she’d talk about him, how he was such a gent. And she was sure he was a virgin when they had their first kiss. He’d just dropped her home and walked her to the door, and she took the chance, put her arms around his neck and planted one right on his lips. He never showed for their next date, avoided her at school, wouldn’t return her calls. Then we found out his pa had sent him away to some camp to “cure” him of being gay. Seems April was just a cover and he’d also been seeing some boy from the next town over.

Anyway, third time’s the charm, right? Senior year and she’s been going steady with Donnie — what was it with her and D’s? — for nearly a year. Boy do I remember him! One word: hot. Not the brightest spark but with a bod like that who cares, right? Yeah, I know. A bit of common sense would’ve helped. I mean, how does anybody get into that kind of mess by accident? So that was the end of April and Donnie.

You heard from her, like, recently? I kinda lost touch after her third divorce…

Do you want to be May Queen?

This is a true story: I went to a Ball once. Not just a dance but a proper, capital-B Ball: a May Ball. Gowns and diamonds, black tie for the gents. It was a real classy affair at one of the Cambridge colleges at the end of term. And boy did I feel out of place!

I recall looking at all those young women in their elegant finery and wishing I could look like that just for one night: to be belle of the ball instead of a scruffy social outcast wearing parent’s hand-me-downs. It’s not that I particularly wanted to have the attention, to be admired by onlookers (well, I admit, I did want to receive attention from a certain quarter but that’s by the bye as she wasn’t there that night). I did however envy their easy comfort in their intercourse with others: I have never had that skill.

Anyhow, now I have a degree of self-confidence that my younger self lacked and I would like the opportunity to step out at such a social event. Back then there were countless events I might choose to attend if I had only possessed the means and state of mind. Now I have the means but there are no balls.

What was June like as a child?

There once was a princess. That’s how these things usually start. There’s some princess and she’s the victim of manipulation by nefarious powers until she’s rescued by the brave prince and lives happily ever after. It makes a nice story even if it’s a bit light on realism or even morality. And you don’t get much in the way of role models. I guess that’s because these are just stories. To be perfectly blunt they’re not true.

This one might not be true either, but then again who knows? As old as I am I wasn’t there and neither were you. What’s truth anyway? An inconvenience that gets in the way of a ripping narrative, that’s what. I’m not saying this story isn’t true, mind you. It could be true. I’d like it to be…

There once was a princess and she was admired far and wide for her beauty and warm nature. She lived in a verdant kingdom where the people lived long, happy lives, secure in the knowledge that their king had always protected them from any and all threats to their way of life.

June wasn’t some empty-headed, vacuous puppet to be paraded before the people at state functions. From the start her father, the king, had involved her in the affairs of state as was only fitting for the one who would one day succeed him. As a result she was wise to the factions and underground currents at court: what use was an heiress to the throne who had no understanding of politics?

I have mentioned her warm nature: that was certainly the case, but she was no fool and as much as she appreciated the attentions of her many royal suitors, she could plainly see that they saw her only as their key to gaining control over the kingdom for their own ends.

Her father became disappointed at the self-serving nature of the string of prospective sons-in-law. He discussed the problem at length with June and between them they devised a test to, as it were, weed out the undesirables. It certainly  had the desired effect: instead of being unable to walk down from the castle to the market without tripping over at least ten hopeful candidates, June found that the stream reduced, first to a mere trickle and then stopped completely.

After some months of this her gratitude at the success of their scheme paled somewhat and she began to wonder whether they might have been a trifle strict in their criteria. She spoke to her father and he reassured her that she would eventually find someone worthy of her, one who harbored no selfish motives.

And so it transpired. On the eve of her twentieth birthday the castle was visited by a traveling troupe of minstrels from a distant land. These foreigners knew little of the kingdom and simply offered to entertain the king in exchange for leave to remain in the land for some time. A fair offer that was granted without hesitation.

The following day the troupe formed part of the festivities in celebration of June’s birthday. One of the minstrels, who had a talent for improvisation, composed a lay in honor of the princess. Despite having never even heard of her before the previous day, this minstrel had prodigious insight, empathy and powers of observation, and had conceived a lyrical masterpiece that spoke directly to her soul.

June sought to speak to this minstrel after the performance, and discovered somebody with whom she was perfectly in tune. Through sheer accident — no fairy godmothers interfering in the natural progression of events — she had encountered her soul mate. They talked long into the night and over the following nights, and when it came time for the troupe to travel on this one minstrel stayed behind as companion to the princess.

They never did marry: the queen (as she became) did not feel the need of any piece of paper given the depth and strength of their existing union of spirit. And the two of them remained true to the end, ruling side by side as equals and giving lie to those who said that two queens could not live under the same roof.

Where does July go in winter?

Jules, like his famous Roman namesake, got about a bit. World traveler, jet-setter. And all he had to do in exchange was pen a few words about his experiences along the way. Sounded like the ideal job, especially to an under-employed college graduate faced with the sudden reality of his student loan and the paucity of decent-paying positions for writers, even ones with a degree to their name.

Seven years down the line it was fair to say the luster had tarnished a bit. It wasn’t as if he ever had any say about where he went: it all depended on where his bosses wanted to spark interest among their customer base. He’d almost given up on his youthful dreams of becoming the next Great American Novelist, and yet he still persisted, working on his magnum opus through the winter months when his paid efforts were less in demand.

Dreams, however faded with time, are important, and in attempting to live his he found the strength to get through the cold, dark months.

Why is August so happy?

Happiness is so much more than just a state of mind. It’s a whole way of being, it shines out through every pore as if one had swallowed sunlight. There’s a secret to it, and August knew the secret.

It’s a matter — not a simple matter — of being in the right place and time, and the knowledge didn’t come easily. What that knowledge had cost August didn’t bear thinking about — so he didn’t think about it. That was part of the secret: cutting oneself off from the past.

It didn’t matter what had gone before. Every new day brought the promise of perfection, every new day was a fresh start with all the disappointments of the past sloughed off in the night, discarded and abandoned. He knew the right place because it was wherever he was, the right time because it was when he was there. It couldn’t be any other way: he knew he was simply the most important person in the world.

Ignorance is bliss.

Why is September my favorite month?

When I was a child summer lasted literally forever. Endless weeks to play in the sun, running through the woods and fields. In my memory it never rained. The blue skies with their occasional little fluffy clouds went on for ever and the world was all brightly colored. The climax of all this was September. The long summer nights and warm weather meant that the turning of the seasons wasn’t apparent until October brought the first fall chills and turned the leaves to flaming red and orange.

The September in my mind is one of happiness. Sitting on the green grass with its random outcroppings of white and yellow flowers, days of daisy chains and laughter. The structural beauty of trees reaching towards the heavens with their broad canopies, at once offering welcome shade and the fall of dappled sunlight on the undergrowth.

In September I was always wealthy beyond dreams; the richness of nature lifting my spirits until I felt I could soar with the swallows and other birds, released from the chains of gravity’s grip to embrace the third dimension. It made me feel that I could become so much more than this humble shell: it inspired fantasies of freedom and boundless possibility.

So it is September that holds that special place in my heart as the culmination of the many weeks of summer. And lastly — though not least — it is the month of my birth.

What color is October?

October was an artist and like all artists she had her own distinctive style. It wasn’t something that she had learned, toiling hour after hour in her studio, experimenting. No, it was something from within, something she had been born with. A personal affinity with the element in question, for October was a child of fire.

She would take the works of her predecessors and with bold strokes bring her own form of life to the scenes. Not without her critics, some would dismiss the personality she added as wanton destruction, killing the beauty of those works. She never apologized: she continued to express her nature through the changes she brought.

And for many the essential qualities of her infernal palette spoke of a final flourish, going out with a bang. They reveled in the flaming hues she brought to otherwise unremarkable scenes, setting the world on fire in a final cataclysmic orgasm. Not merely expressing but proclaiming from the highest tower the ecstasy of a final climactic outburst before the long sleep.

What’s the point of November?

She introduced herself. I remember that much. But I’m damned if I can recall her name. Or what she looked like for that matter. She was with her sisters, a round dozen of them in total. (A big family in this day and age.) Jan, the oldest, was white-haired and cold. Little February followed her everywhere, trotting along like a devoted puppy. March was prickly, had a real bite if you weren’t careful.

April was sweet and innocent, May a delight: truly radiant. Blooming if I might be so bold. June and July had that air you often see in twins of being two facets of the same gem. Golden-haired August strode through the gathering as if she owned the place with September, obvious to everyone except herself, aping her every action. October was a red-headed beauty with smoky eyes and a laugh that caught like the flames of her hair.

And then there was December, the baby, with her pale, almost translucent skin and delicate, waif-like form. But as for the other sister, I cannot bring to mind the slightest recollection.

Does December hate always coming last?

It’s late and we’re backstage at the event of the year. We’re so pleased to have December here with us. First, I’d like to say how honored we are that you agreed to this exclusive interview before you take to the stage for the final performance of this huge worldwide event. How did you feel when you were asked to headline?

D: It’s awesome! I mean, I’ve been going around for what seems like years now and to finally get a gig like this is just huge!

Did you feel like you’d never get a chance at something like this?

D: Oh god, yes. It’s like being that kid at school, the one who’s always last to get picked for the team. Like, I know what that’s like. I was that kid at school. Being in a band was the only thing that made me feel I was worth something. The only time anybody wanted to know me.

Do you think it’s funny that being last tonight is the top honor?

D: It’s kinda ironic, you know. I mean, I hated being last all through school and now here I am and being last is, like, top of the world. It means a helluva lot to be here tonight, to be top of the bill, star of the show! (laughs) Hard to believe, you know. But here I am, last up and the one they’ll all be talking about afterwards. Kinda cool, you know.

Thank you December, it’s been great talking to you! And now on with the show…

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