Mrs Frank Millet ("Lily", nee Elizabeth Merrill) John Singer Sargent -- American painter 1885-1886) via Wikipedia
Continuing the Archie & Frank series based on Jacopo della Queria's book The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy...
Check out Jacopo's works here:
Raps at the door startled Archie. He lay his book flat on the end table, cursing himself for forgetting a proper bookmark. He glanced toward Frank’s closed door.
Archie hoped the visitor’s knocks did not disturb his beloved painter. Frank was finally shrugging off malaise. He’d kissed Archie quickly, dismissing him with a playful shove after breakfast. Frank had closed his door, and presumably was throwing paint around even now.
Archie tip toed past Frank’s door and down the hall. The visitor did not share Archie’s concern. Three forceful tat a taps rang through the foyer. He lunged the final feet to the door, throwing it open before another percussive set could echo throughout the house.
The visitor stared up at him from under the brim of her cloak. He stared down at her. She cleared her throat. Manners lovingly drilled into him from his mother saved him. It was muscle memory that made him say, “How may I help you?” when what he was thinking was What in blazes are you doing on my porch, you she-devil?
“I’m here to see my husband.” She said. “I thought you were in Italy?” Archie said, stepping back as she forced herself past him. “Pardon me. I meant to say, is the family well?”
She spun on her heel as he shut the door. She jabbed a finger into his chest. “You tell me. Is my family well?”
Archie winced. “May I get you some tea?”
She flounced down the hall. “No, you could offer to get my husband.”
Archie rushed after her. “He’s painting!”
“Ha! He’s painting! Did you know that is what he used to tell me when he met his other lovers?
That he was painting?” Her chest heaved as she flung open one door and then the next. “Afraid of what you might find, Archibald? He’s painting.”
Frank’s door swung open. “In this case, I am painting, Lily.”
Lily froze, her flushed face rapidly losing colour. Archie dove forward to slip his arm around her. She shrugged him off. She took a step forward.
Frank took a step backward.
“Where. Is. My. Anniversary. Present.” She said, her voice barely a whisper. Archie took several steps backwards, then turned and shut the door behind him.
Frank let out a sigh. He studied the wood grain of the door, the golden knob. There was a thin line of light coming through the space between the door and floor. Minutes passed before he forced himself to look up at his wife.
“I’m the mother of your children,” she said. She blinked, but tears slipped down her face anyways. Frank slid his gaze back to the thin space of light under the door. Archie was so much better with people.
“Do you want to sit in the garden for awhile?” Frank murmured. Lily liked flowers. Maybe she could be coaxed into a conversation about the proper soil for roses.
“Yes.” She sniffled.
They settled across from one another in the garden, under hanging ivy. The long green fingers dripped down towards them, casting latticed shadows across their faces. Frank watched the light play along Lily’s pale skin, shimmering dots like boiling water in a kettle until a cloud overhead dissolved them.
“I missed you.” He said. She dipped her head, saying nothing. He studied the fine lines etched into her lovely skin, the places time had claimed as its own while he wasn’t paying attention. His chest ached for her loveliness, not just the gleam of her hair as it turned silver, but the kindness she had extended to so many people through out their lives. He tried to be kind, but he was not Archie. He was not Lily. And they loved him, the both of them.
His eyes burned as he contemplated that love. Surely undeserved, the love of even one person of their calibre, but he had been blessed twice. Such blessings always come with their own responsibilities.
Frank leaned forward. He lifted his hand to reach her, but she didn’t look up. He dropped his hand.
Birds chirped. The trees and the wind danced with one another. Lily was silent.
Archie appeared and just as silently disappeared, leaving behind a tea service. Frank poured two cups of tea. He held out a cup to Lily, and mercifully, she finally looked up at him and took it.
“Lily, I-” he began, having no idea where his apology might take him. “Wait.” She held up one palm. He pressed his lips together.
“Do you remember when I was ill… oh, it must be twenty years ago now… but anyhow. I was sick and you carried me to the garden. We sat out there all morning, and you scolded me. Scolded me! You told me I had to get better.”
Frank leaned forward, daring to scoop up her free hand. “Yes, I remember.”
“You asked me who would take care of an old, decrepit artist if I gave out on you.” Lily squeezed his hand lightly, and then let it go. “We didn’t need to worry about that.”
“Do you worry about being taken care of? I promise you, you will never go wanting.” He said.
Lily raised her eyebrows at him. “Is that right? You of all people know there are various things to want.”
“I’m sorry. We can go to the country if you’d-”
She cut him off with a shake of her head. “I was angry. I wanted to be the only one.” She paused, sipping. “I knew about your lovers before, but I thought it was alright as long as you didn’t love them.”
It was his turn to avoid her gaze.
“I was angry all the way here, thinking about why I am not enough for you. Our whole marriage… I was not enough. I loved you. Love you.” She corrected. “No one tells you love is a complicated mess.”
“No, Frank, I don’t need apologies. I just want us to be honest. We’ve earned that, haven’t we?” Lily nodded her head in agreement with herself. “I thought the whole time it was about me. But it never was.”
They sat in silence, each lost in thought. Lily poured herself another cup of tea.
“It was Archie all along.” Lily said.
“What?” Frank said, confused.
“Archie sent me the anniversary gifts, not you.”
“I’m… I’ve been terrible. I just assumed you were getting along fine when I’m out of town.”
Lily laughed. It started quietly, but it turned into the full throated laugh that had first got his attention all those years ago. “When you’re out of town…” she wiped her eyes. “You are something. Well, in the spirit of honesty, Sam and I have been exchanging letters since his wife died.”
“Sam? Sam Clemens?” Frank asked.
“I knew you would think it odd.”
“Everything about you is a bit odd. But that’s what I like about you.” He teased.
“I’m going to see him.” She confessed.
“You don’t need my permission.” Frank smiled.
“I know. But… I wanted you to know.”
“Because you’re angry?”
They embraced on the steps, and Frank tucked a loose strand of her hair back into her hood. “You’ll come see me again before you leave town, won’t you?”
Lily smiled up at him. “Yes. You are my dearest friend, even though you annoy me so.”
“We’ll get you an anniversary present,” Frank promised.
“I’d like that.”
Archie was in the hall when Frank came back inside. “You were spying!” Frank said. He clutched his chest in mock horror.
“Of course I was spying!”
Frank pulled on his mustache. “Why have you bought Lily anniversary presents?”
“She’s the mother of your children.” Archie said, as if that settled things. “I can’t believe I forgot this year. I’ve been so busy, but I feel terrible.”
“I feel terrible. I’m her husband.” Frank said.
“Alright. You feel terrible. I’m going to pour a whiskey. Do you want one?”
“It’s my goddamn anniversary. Fill my cup.”
Lieutenant Archibald Butt in 1909, Wikipedia
I wrote this fun bit of fiction on a lark after listening to The Railsplitter Podcast. Jacopo della Quercia, the author of The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy challenged the audience to write something using his characters. I fell in love with Archie Butt in his story... so behold! A short tale from my imagination:
“You’re having nightmares again, aren’t you?” Archie peered over Francis’ shoulder. Splashes of red decorated the canvas, the edges drying thick and black like a wound attempting to heal. “Another painting I won’t be showing.” Francis sighed, and then stepped back into Archie’s embrace.
“Neat deflection.” Archie said.
They stood awhile gazing at the paint, each lost in their own private hells. War was like that, no matter how close a soldier was to another, each would be an island alone in a sea of memory. The waves would rise up. The drowning would begin, and it would be up to each man to paddle to the surface of time. To skim back the oiled surface, to bravely insert oneself into the present.
The piercing cry of a tea kettle made them both jump. Francis clutched his chest for a second, and then howled in laughter. Archie covered his smile with his hand, and then gave it up. “Tea?” he sputtered.
The two men settled themselves on the veranda. Archie poured as his mother had often done for him, and Francis closed his eyes. He listened to the gentle waterfall as the hot water made its way into his cup. He focused on the breeze lifting his hair off his forehead. He even appreciated the slight pinch in his leg from pressing it too hard in the back of his chair.
Once the tea hit his tongue, everything was as it should be again. Almost. “Archie.” Francis leaned forward, resisting the urge to scoop up his friend’s hand. Every once in a while someone would amble by, and while Francis could give a fig what others thought at this point, Archie cared. Archie cared about so many things, and so deeply. It was terrifying at times, how much he cared. How does one ever deserve such regard?
Francis shook off his own feelings of stupid inadequacy. “Did you consider what I said?”
Archie set his tea cup down, and then carefully stirred in sugar. He picked up a spoon and meticulously worked at the lump of sugar. A bird fluttered in the yard, and Francis turned from the depressing sight of Archie and his sugar.
Birds just dove in and took the worm. Then they flew away to shit on the eaves of splendid houses, or whatever birds did. Archie was not a bird. Much too hard working. Francis rested his chin in his hand. He was a bird. He hadn’t completed a painting in months. He’d gotten too distracted by shit on the eaves.
“Hello!” a great bear of a man came barreling up the walk way. He had a muffin in one hand, and waved a sheet of paper in the other. He stuffed the muffin into his mouth whole, and blueberry crumbs rained down. The birds gave up on worms and dive bombed the President.
Archie flew out of his seat to assist him, but Taft had already dispersed the birds with a muffin-spittled roar. The President bounded up the remaining steps, knocking a potted plant over in the process. He sank into one of the dainty iron wrought chairs. “I really ought to buy you a new table set for the veranda. I don’t know how you two live like this.”
“Let me get you a cup of tea,” Archie said. He hurried into the house. Taft helped himself to a biscuit off of Francis’ plate. “Lovely day, isn’t it.” Taft leaned back, balancing his chair on two protesting legs. Francis hoped the thin metal held. He watched his biscuit make its journey into Taft’s mouth. It was just as well. He’d noticed his stomach was getting a bit soft. Francis prided himself on being fit. Taft…
Well. When one was as strong as a bear, what was a little extra padding for the winter? And if Archie’s worried pacing throughout the night were any indication, Taft needed his reserves. There would be no hibernation for the leader of the great Republican party.
Archie returned with a cup. He poured a healthy amount of tea for Taft, and once again took up his spoon. “How can I help you?”
Taft slurped his tea, then smacked his lips in satisfaction. “You just did. Marvelous tea, Archie. Truly, you are gifted.”
“My mother made the best tea.” Archie clinked his spoon along the bottom of his cup. Francis suppressed a sigh. Archie loved reminiscing about his beloved mother when he was in good spirits, but when he was in low spirits he practically lived in daydreams of his boyhood. Not that Francis had any room for complaints. He’d wasted three tubes of perfectly good vermilion paint so far this month. What a sorry pair of fellows they were.
Taft brushed biscuit and blueberry crumbs off his rather splendid mustache and leaned forward. “Archie, I know this has been a horrible time for you. Nellie, Francis, and I have been-“He broke off and rubbed his calf. “Francis! Why’d you kick me? Watch yourself. Where was I? Ah…” Taft produced the paper he’d been waving on his way up the walk.
“You know I would never intentionally make you pick between me and that… that… Teddy.” Taft spit out the word like a curse. Archie took the paper from Taft. “I know you wouldn’t.”
“Well, we all think it would do you some good to take a leave of absence.” Taft said.
Archie let out a strangled cough. “A leave of absence! Did I do something wrong?”
“Of course not! You just… Francis thinks…Ouch!” Taft glared at Francis.
“When is the last time you had a vacation?” Francis asked, though he knew full well the answer.
“It has been some time. Very well, if this is what you feel I should do, I will.” Archie spoke with precise formality.
“Oh, don’t be like that. It’s because we love you, Archie! We all just want you to take some time for yourself. Go fishing or whatever you’d like. You could go visit Tesla! I hear Twain is there now.” Taft cajoled. “You could sit in the middle of an electric storm while listening to the latest tale Twain is working on. Then come back and tell us all about it when the Primaries start.”
Francis forced down another swallow of tea. It was cold.
Taft shrugged at Archie’s silence. The sound of Archie’s spoon rang like an omen to Francis. “You going to eat that?” Taft asked even as he lifted Archie’s biscuit into his mouth.
The President chewed with his eyes closed in happiness. Francis wished he’d kicked him harder. Minutes passed. Birds. Spoon. Taft’s chewing and slurping.
Finally, Taft pushed back his chair. “Lovely tea, Archie. Just wonderful. Oh!” he reached his hand into his coat and produced a sealed envelope. He tossed it on a plate that formerly held biscuits.
“What now? You’ve decided to make my leave of absence permanent?” Archie asked, casting his gaze up at his friend and Commander in Chief. “Oh, stop it. It’s a vacation. And well deserved! I wanted a vacation, too, but Nellie said I haven’t earned one.” Taft shook his head fondly.
“That is a letter I would like you to give Pope Pius. I simply have to thank him for elevating three Americans to the rank of cardinal! It’s extraordinary.” The President’s eyes sparkled in excitement. “I knew you wouldn’t like this vacation… So… You see? Not just anyone could represent me to the Pope! I need you, friend, I just want you to sleep more.”
Archie grinned. “Thank you! I can do that.”
Taft launched himself down the steps. He almost tripped over the potted plant lying on its side. “You two should hire a groundskeeper! Someone could get hurt!”
Francis and Archie exchanged a look. “We’ll think about it.” Archie waved.
They gathered the tea things, and quietly took them to the kitchen. Francis took in Archie’s relaxed shoulders. The second letter had gone a long way towards repairing the initial damage, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet.
“Don’t do that.” Archie said, gazing out the window above the sink.
Francis grimaced. “You needed a break, and you’d never admit it.”
“Don’t do it again.”
“Alright. I’m sorry. Your job, your call.”
Archie turned, and gave a faint smile. “You apologized. You must be pretty tired yourself.”
“I am. What do you think I should do about my latest disaster?”
The men walked back to Francis’ work room. They stood in companionable silence, arms clasped round one another.
“I have an idea.” Archie said.
“I was hoping.”
Francis gasped. He laughed. He shook his head.
He turned and kissed his lover.
“Archie, you’re inspired!”
Archie waved the letter. “Thank Taft.”
You can read my latest article about home school, My First Time With Shakespeare,
on Jonny Scaramanga's blog Leaving Fundamentalism here.
I first published Bright Needles March 19, 2014 as an ebook. Soon it will be available as a paperback!
Special thanks goes to Assaph Mehr, who designed & formatted Bright Needles for print. He also made the raining needles gif!
Here is a picture of the copyright page:
Assaph also happens to be the author of Murder in Absentia, one of my favourite books. I did a book review of his book about a year ago.
In response to this article:
Hilary Mantel: Women writers must stop falsely empowering female characters in history by
If it is fiction, write whatever you want. Add an empowered female with a freaking airship and call her Joan of Arc.
With NON-FICTION, I hope that the historian has done their research and just lays out the facts.... But historians are human too, with their own stories oozing onto the pages of history they are passionate about. You can read about the same event and get a totally different result based on the historian's interpretation.
In closing, use your brain. If you see that a book is based on a historical event and you want the "real story", start your non- fiction nose dive.
I hope to never turn into the sort of person who feels they need to tell others what they should write.
Of course, this is coming from someone currently crafting a fantasy novel with the Fates, some demons, and Lucrezia Borgia. No one tells me I can't have her. Oh, the Borgias in my book are not real. While I did research on them, much of what I am writing I made up completely.
I'll empower whoever I feel like, because that's the fantasy I have. Sweet, sweet empowerment.
This book is AWESOME. Beginning with the title, clever wordplay shines throughout. Then the characters... We have William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Francis Bacon set against political intrigue with romance and adventure on every page. Will is a spy in this novel, complete with a set of appropriately clever gear to get him out of fixes. There is a conspiracy of witches rising throughout Europe! Will is writing MacBeth!
My favourite character is Marlowe, hands down. There was a bit in the book where he was whining for coffee and I found myself mimicking him in empathy. I immediately made coffee, and was glad to turn the page and read Marlowe got his brew as well.
Reading this book sent me on a research spiral of fun, aided by the author's amazing footnotes and list of research books in the back. I will be spending a lot of time jumping down these rabbit holes of history, and I owe it all to Jacopo della Quercia. Many thanks.
photo credit: wikipedia
I was in my bathroom when the first rattle sounded. It was so loud. I peered down the hallway, confused. The door was shaking as someone on the other side tried to force it open. I whirled around. I decided if this person was successful in breaking down my illusion of safety, I would fight. All that I had in close reach was my small exacto knife. The blade was probably dull from cutting out pictures for collages. I decided I would stab it in the intruder's neck.
The door knob spun back and forth ninety degrees. I knew I didn't have much time now. I ran to the screen door. I wondered if someone was already on the other side. I gripped my blade so tight my fingers turned white. I opened the door. I ran.
I didn't own a cell phone. I didn't own a car. I pictured the nearby businesses. I just had to make it to one of them. I am not a runner.
The coffee shop employees were kind. They let me use their phone. I shakily dialed the police. I sat in the funky chairs with happy, oblivious people all around me as I waited. I envied them their illusions. I was bathed in fear. I did not let go of my exacto knife.
The police were kind to me as well. They went to my apartment while I waited. They looked for the intruder. But the intruder was gone. My things had been gone through. Nothing was taken. What were they looking for?
It was hard to be in my apartment that night. I pretended to myself that I would sleep. I lay down. I did not turn off the lights. I had spent the year preceding the door rattling squirreled away in my apartment. I didn't know anyone. I was living in a new city. I convinced myself that meant I was safe. Now I knew I had lied to myself.
Eventually I decided to be okay with the fear. It doesn't matter that I am not safe. Safety is never guaranteed. No matter what you do, even if you hide for a year in an apartment, someone can rattle your door. Live despite it, because nothing is certain. Leave the apartment.
There are kind strangers out there, willing to press a coffee into your hand despite your blade. There are kind strangers willing to go to your apartment to see if the monster is still there. They can't make you safe.
They can show you it is worth coming out despite the risks.
photo of Anaïs Chartschenko by Winter Hart
cross posted from Patheos Leaving Fundamentalism
Every time I apply for a job I have a pang of fear. Some jobs want to check your references. I am not afraid because I have a criminal history. I am afraid because my whole high school experience was a fraud. You see, I was home schooled. At first, I had big, thick text books with spines that smelled nice. I didn’t mind this as much, even though I was mostly left to my own devices to do my school work. I wanted to be smart. Discipline was not an issue. I wanted to go to college. I now see my naivety. I should have paid more attention when church members kindly informed me that college wasn’t for me or that god had other plans…
Before long, my mother had switched the whole curriculum up. I now was to do ACE which came in shockingly simplistic booklets, called PACEs. I was told it was much better, and I could work at my own pace. PACEs, get it? So for three years I stared at the PACEs, carefully filling in bubbles with my number two pencil. I can’t explain the boredom. I can’t explain the anger I felt with every depiction of a submissive woman making dinner. The curriculum featured multiple choice questions with only one right answer. There was no critical thinking involved.
I particularly hated the comic strips. I was in high school, and there was a cartoon man at the bottom of every page letting me know his thoughts on my obedience! There was always some moral to be found. Every subject was related back to the bible in the most annoying way.
Notice how the woman is in the kitchen drying the dishes, while the men have been out fixing stuff. In PACEs, women are always illustrated doing traditionally ‘feminine’ activities.
My sex education was a picture of a chicken and an egg. I suppose I did not need the chicken picture as I had already learned about the birds and the bees from upstanding members of the community who liked raping young girls.
I am sure that the isolating nature of the program helped make me even more vulnerable. I was so lonely. Most of the other homeschoolers I was around were younger than me. It was a much smaller pool to draw friends from than a traditional school. When an adult man decided he was my boyfriend, I was flattered. Even after he started abusing me, I made excuses to myself because I wanted to believe him when he said he loved me. His family was viewed favorably in the church, as was his behavior. This adult man was allowed to be baptized with me in the context of a relationship. I can’t imagine now, as an adult, condoning an illegal relationship. At the time I didn’t see it that way, but that is why there are laws regarding this; it is never okay for an adult man to be in a sexual relationship with a minor. Of course, this is making ACE a spoke on a wheel of issues that surround fundamentalism.
ACE’s emphasis on modesty contributes to a culture of victim blaming and rape apology.
Fundamentalists taught me from a young age to be compliant at every turn. They taught me to fear the outside world. They taught me that men are always superior. They taught me that if something is shameful, shut the fuck up. Suffering is a virtue. I could suffer so much I deserved a cross. I took pride in how much I could take without crying. What else could I do? The adults had chosen this whole life style for me. The point of my homeschooling was to further isolate me from “worldly” things. I think that is true for a lot of homeschooled children. I don’t believe that parents should be able to make this choice for their children. Teachers have to go through years of college to learn how to educate. Why do we allow someone to control a child’s education simply because they could procreate? Every child deserves meaningful education. They deserve science and math. They deserve to learn social skills.
Fundamentalists truly believe it is their duty to teach that only their world view is relevant. Every other world view is wrong and anti-god. The only education that truly matters to them is Bible-related. Everything else is “of men” and not necessary. It is too bad that what is not necessary often includes science, world history, and sex education. My educator took it one step further – anything that disagreed with the brand of fundamentalism I was raised to believe in was blacked out with a marker. I later read about how the Taliban does that. I read about the publics’ outrage and thought, this happens right here. Society allows black markers to be used in limiting an already limited education! It is protected under a proud banner of religious freedom. Should religious freedom involve allowing children to be taught outrageous lies as truth?
Every member of a civilized society deserves the ability to fill out a job application without dread that the education chosen for them will come back to haunt them. They should be able to make an educated decision about whether they want to be cut off from society or not as adults. Exposing children to only one opinion robs them of the ability to learn how to make good decisions as adults. Trying to merge with society when you have been willfully ill prepared is fraught with difficulties. It also seems just plain wrong. When I did graduate, I took the paper my mother had printed to the local college. I tried to get a scholarship with my high marks. I was denied. They would not recognize my diploma as legitimate. I had taken no standardized tests, even the SATS. The years of scribbling feverishly in PACES meant nothing. It felt like god was laughing at me. I was again comforted by members of the church that as a woman, I didn’t need college anyway. Why, soon I would be bouncing a baby on either knee! Of course, no good christian boy my age would want me as I was damaged goods. An older man might be interested…. Of course, older men were always my problem.
photo credit: wikipedia
Cross posted from Patheos Leaving Fundamentalism
I walked into the youth chapel at the church. Something was different: there was a box of donuts on a folding table in the center of the room. All of us descended on it eagerly. There were some kids who had such strict parents that they did not get to eat sugar. They were the most deflated. I stared into the box, taking in donut after donut- glazed, creme filled, maple bar- all varieties with one common theme. A big bite had been taken from each one. Dejected, we slumped in our chairs. No one was willing to risk eating a communal donut. We had all been warned about the dangers of sharing food a million times over. We did not want herpes from a donut, no sir. We were adept at going with out. We had already gone without dancing (the prom), learning science, eating meat, reading novels, watching movies, or any of the long list of things that were not allowed.
The youth pastor finally entered the room like a Vegas magician, so proud of his show. I could tell he was really revving up for this one. He looked around the room, then focused his eyes on me. “Once you are touched, no one will want you. No one will marry you. No one wants to eat a donut that someone else already took a bite from. They throw it away.”
The other kids looked at me curiously. If they did not know, now they did. I was the donut. I was touched, I was impure, and he knew it. I was raped by someone the guy knew, and here he was telling me God thought I was a disposable tissue now in front of everyone. He went on and on about the virtues of virginity while I had that sensation of being swallowed by the floor.
His words began to melt together. I got up, and left the chapel. I did not return. I think that was the last time I went to the church.
I grew up. I met people who did not think that being a virgin was a prerequisite for being a good person. I told myself a million times that the metaphor was boring and stupid, but still, at night I would dream of it. I would feel unworthy. I would remember what he said in painful detail, and how he looked right at me in a room of teenagers to say it. It felt staged just to point out to the holy kids that I was not.
It speaks to the education on abstinence. If someone loses their hymen, we need to believe they still are worthy. Virginity as a commodity is foolish, and makes vulnerable people more so out of the shame society levels on them. Who wants to raise their hand in the chapel to say they are the donut?
(photo author’s own. Anais Chartschenko, Stuart Perrin, Kristina Jones)
I listened in rapt attention as he described in heart breaking detail the conditions in which he had found children. They lived in cages and were sold to traffickers for small sums of money by their parents. His eyes got teary, and so did mine. I was lucky enough to attend one of the many speaking engagements Stuart Perrin is appearing at to support his novel, “Little Sisters”. It’s a page-turner thriller of a book, with scenes from posh New York City to the hinterlands of Nepal, and the brothels of Mumbai. Three sisters are trafficked by their family with three very different results.
Months after I read the book and saw Stuart speak, I was still thinking of the children and his dedication to saving them. How did this man set out on a path that ultimately saved the lives of approximately 10,000 Nepalese children? I decided to ask him.
How did you initially become aware of child sex trafficking?
Before 1992, I knew nothing about the horrors of sex trafficking. I had been to India at least ten times; I’d driven past Falkland Road in Bombay (where the brothels are), but I only thought to myself it was another oddity of Indian culture; and never asked myself the question: how did these girls get to the brothels?
I had been opening meditation centers across the world at the time and I supported myself by running an art gallery in Manhattan. Several of my students asked me to start a center in Kathmandu, Nepal. What a great idea, I thought. So much of my life and spiritual education came from Asia. It would be a wonderful opportunity to give something back.
A few months later, my colleague and meditation student, Kristina Jones moved to Kathmandu to open a center. Not long after she arrived, she telephoned me in New York to say that she loved Kathmandu and found it wonderfully exotic, but had no idea how to spend her time when she wasn’t teaching. I promised her that something would come up; after all she was in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Two days later she called me back. She had gone to a UNWO (United Nations Women’s Organization) meeting in Kathmandu about sex trafficking. She had met a Nepalese doctor, Aruna Uprety, who told her of children being abducted and trafficked into sexual slavery. Girls between the ages of ten and fourteen years were bought by sex traffickers in the hinterlands of Nepal and sold to brothels on Falkland Road in Mumbai, India. These children were tortured and raped and forced to have sex with twenty men a day. They remained in the brothels until they became so AIDS- ridden that they were discarded like used tissues.
I said to Kristina, “This is our work. We have to help these children!”
What did you do to help in Nepal?
From 1992-1994, as President of the Bahini Foundation, I oversaw much of its operations. I stayed in close touch with Kris Jones whether I was traveling or in New York City. I tried to raise awareness in the United States about the horrific child trafficking situation in Nepal and India. I made a number of trips to Kathmandu and worked with Kris and the children in the safe house. To my dismay, at the time, the world was deaf and dumb. No one really cared. Most people just looked at me in disbelief that something like this was going on. Meanwhile over 200,000 Nepalese children were living in bondage, and at least 10,000 a year were being trafficked to Indian brothels.
Working with Dr. Aruna Uprety and RHEST, we first identified kids through offering free medical camps in remote villages and took referrals by police or teachers of families who were known to have trafficked their kids. We tried to convince their parents to put them in the RHEST safe house instead of selling them to traffickers. That was (and still is) challenging, because the poverty is so devastating. The average income for people living in the hinterlands of Nepal at that time was about $15 to $20 a year. Traffickers paid as little as $50 (the average wage of a teacher or policeman at that time) for a girl- and more if she was a virgin. The family was told that she would go to Bombay, Calcutta, or Delhi to “work.” No one in the village knew what the work would be, but they believed that the girl would be able to send money home. In addition, the family would no longer have to worry about having to raise a dowry for the girl.
We weren’t always successful, but the girls we were able to save were enrolled in local schools where they would be safe. We also welcomed women with children who had escaped from brothels in Mumbai. We had to remain vigilant to keep the girls from the clutches of sex traffickers even after we brought them to RHEST’s safe house.
On one occasion, Kris pretended to be a medical professional and went into the Falkland Road brothels to document the appalling conditions the girls lived in. Had the brothel owners known what Kristina was really up to, most likely they would have killed her.
In 1996, Kristina became ill. The pollution in Kathmandu was so bad she had begun to develop lung issues. I asked her to return to the United States for treatment. Dr. Aruna Uprety who ran RHEST (Rural Health and Educational Trust of Nepal) incorporated Bahini under the auspices of RHEST. Bahini was the first organization of its kind started in Nepal. About a year and a half ago, Aruna telephoned Kristina and I, and told us, that because we started the Bahini Foundation it saved the lives of about 10,000 Nepalese children.
What was your inspiration for “Little Sisters”, the novel?
The Bahini Foundation produced a three-minute promotional video, "My Name Is Gita” to raise money, which is still being shown on VTV in Hong Kong as a public service announcement. Kristina is an accomplished singer, and she sang a song in the video about a girl named Gita. After seeing the video, I knew the story needed to be told in a big way. The very idea that 200,000 children were being raped, tortured and forced to live in sexual slavery, and almost nothing was being done about it, made me sit down and write “Little Sisters.” The world had to know that this was going on. At first, I wanted to make a Hollywood film. I wrote a script, but no movie studio would touch it. “It’s too dark,” they said. I even considered making a documentary, but decided that was too dangerous. No brothel would allow us to film what really goes on. If we tried to do that, we’d probably get killed. I wrote “Little Sisters” as a novel because fiction was the only way I could render the truth and make it palatable for people to read. “Little Sisters” is a multicultural family story and a love story. The underlying dramatic theme is the horror of children being sold into sexual slavery. It shows how these children are transformed from innocent kids into sex slaves.
What are you currently doing as an activist?
My book, “Little Sisters” has been instrumental in setting up anti-human trafficking events in many cities throughout the United States. The whole point is to create awareness- to make people realize that this isn’t just a Nepalese and Indian problem. This is going on in just about every city in the United States. There are over 200,000 children being trafficked today in America and it’s a 32 billion dollar international business. I’ve done panels with members of the FBI, with police detectives that work in anti-human trafficking squads, and with heads of NGO’s working in the field at NYU and The Ethical Culture Society of New York City. I was recently given the pulpit to speak about anti-human trafficking at the Atkinson Memorial Church in Oregon, City, OR. There are two events coming up in Carmel, CA and one in Monterey, CA the last week of January. I‘ve been given the pulpit to speak about anti-human trafficking at the West Hills Universalist Unitarian Church in Portland. I will also be speaking to the Lion’s Club in Eugene, OR. Both of these events are the third week of February. In March I have two panel events in at Westchester County, NY public libraries. There will be a member of the FBI on one, a chief of Police, executives from NGO’s and someone from the D.A.’s office. In early April there will be a similar event at another Westchester County public library. Sometime, around the third week of April, there will be an all-day anti-human trafficking event at the First Universalist Unitarian Church in downtown Portland, OR. Besides Kristina and myself, the list of tentative speakers may include members of the U. S. Congress.
How does the situation in Portland, OR and the USA compare with Asia?
According to the Portland Police, the situation in Portland is very similar to what I speak about in my book “Little Sisters.” In my book they are called traffickers and Gharwalli’s (Madams). In Portland they are called pimps. Children in Portland are kidnapped, seduced, bought, and stolen off the streets. They are raped, tortured, brainwashed and forced to sleep with twenty men a day. The situation in the United States is just as horrific as the situation I speak about in “Little Sisters.” Two hundred thousand girls are presently living as sex slaves in this country.
How can people contribute to this important work?
By becoming aware that sexual slavery is one of the most heinous crimes on earth today (a crime that’s equal to the holocaust); by letting their congressmen know about this crime and demanding that something get done; by volunteering time and money to authentic agencies that are working diligently to end this problem; by attending events, reading books, and educating themselves in regard to human trafficking; by being outraged; by saying to themselves that children are the future of our world and they can’t be living out their childhood as sexual slaves; by recognizing that slavery is a larger industry today than it was in 1840, etc. etc.
Men also need to be encouraged to get involved. They make up the largest percentage of customers in the sex trafficking marketplace. This is not just a women’s issue. This is a human issue. By bringing men and women together to protect our children, we create a stronger future for everyone living on this planet.
Anais Chartschenko is a contributing author of Love Magick Anthology. She blogs at www.anaischartschenko.com
Stuart Perrin, an American spiritual master of Kundalini Yoga, is the author of many books including The Mystical Ferryboat, Leah, A Deeper Surrender: Notes on a Spiritual Life, Moving On: Finding Happiness in a Changed World, and Little Sisters. He writes at: http://www.stuartperrin.com/