The Calf-Skin Notebook with Rose-Colored Lines
by Ute Carson
The STORYTELLER, A Writer's Magazine, Oct, Nov, Dec 2006
Fossil Creek Publishing

Experiences may be forgotten but they are never lost. The unconscious, our curious guide, stores them forever. Sometimes memories sink into shallow waters, other times they sleep deep underground. We live our lives largely on the surface. Then one day when we least expect it, one or another experience is released from slumber and we remember.


Lately, I had come to my weekly writers' meetings complaining,

"I'm all out of fresh ideas."

"Try hypnosis," my friend Lisa suggested one evening. "It did wonders for me."

I took her advice. The next day I made an appointment at Tranquil Thymes with Lady Fatima, a hypnotist whose psychic powers are legendary. I was struck by the flaming red hair that streamed behind her like a comet and by her corpulence which she claimed protected her from too much empathy.

Lady Fatima told me in a deep, rumbling voice,

"Make yourself comfortable."

She gently pushed me onto an overstuffed moss-green sofa. I was already drowsy with anticipation when I sank into its soft folds. It was as if I were putting down roots. Then Lady Fatima told me to close my eyes and turn inward. Soon her incantations soothed and relaxed my body and mind and I drifted into an altered state of consciousness as easily as when I went to sleep at night.

"Now imagine three houses, Maya." She spoke directly to me. "One is the House of Knowledge, another the House of Silence, the last one the House of Healing. Go into one and remember."

I did not hesitate but followed an urgent inner tug toward the House of Knowledge, a silvery, transparent glass temple.

"How long have you been writing?" my internal guide asked once I was seated on a cool marble bench in the center of the temple. Sunrays spilled through a skylight onto the crown of my raised head.


"Who inspired you?"

"Many people. But I have forgotten most of their names."

"How did you get started?"

"I don't know."

I was often asked that question. But though I had sifted through my memory for the answer, I always came up empty.

Then suddenly, with a whiff of magic, I was transported back to my childhood in Germany and I found myself in a classroom, probably third grade.

Wooden desks with scratched and ink-spotted retractable tops, were lined up in rows, children's heads moved from left to right over open books, golden pigtails bounced off ruddy necks and fingers traced the words. The idle hand had to be placed next to the book, on the side of the desk, into a groove worn hollow by past pupils. I knew I'd be scolded if I cupped my chin in my palm.

A lady, dressed like all German middle-aged ladies in the late 1940s, wore a cheerless blue suit with a frilly white blouse buttoned all the way up to her throat. Her shoes were a sensible dark color with square, plump heels. She smelled a bit of leather and shoe polish, with a sprinkle of K├Âlnisch Wasser mixed in. Her hair was parted in the middle, exposing a line of pale scalp and gathered in a bun. I can't remember if she wore any make-up other than lipstick, poppy-red, the same kind my mother used to touch up her mouth. Whenever my teacher turned to write on the blackboard I noticed the seams of her hose zigzagging up the back of her calves like bulging, menacing veins.

Each day our pencils made tapping sounds on smoky-gray sheets of black-lined paper like woodpeckers attacking a tree. We worked hard at writing sentences and subtracting numbers. Then as predictable as the hourly striking of the school clock, our efforts ended. And we were rewarded with a story.

Before starting, our teacher smoothed the pleats of her skirt with her right hand, lifted her slender hips one at a time onto her desk, and faced us. Both of her legs dangled just off the ground, one longer than the other, the ankles crossed like scissors. Then she slipped the heels of her shoes from her feet, a daring gesture. I had never seen a lady do that.

"Children," she would say in a hushed, lilting voice, "Give me a hint, anything, a frog, a leaf, your papa."

"A nose, a crocodile, a pumpkin," we giggled.

Then the words poured out of her mouth like the ink from the blue fountain-pens that we were allowed to practice with on Fridays only. Magically, our teacher wove the story around our promptings. Without ever breaking the flow of words she also entrusted something to the soft-skin notebook she balanced on her left thigh, something she kept to herself, something mysterious.

I was sitting in the front row and one day I leaned forward so close that her words tickled my hair. That's when I glimpsed the rose-colored lines. My teacher blew on them, now topped with her words. Afterwards she screwed the top back on her shiny black fountain-pen. I wondered why hers was black and ours were blue.

At the end of a week, a month, a year when her stories were patched together in a quilt-like pattern, she would start a new notebook.

Slowly, I opened my eyes. Lady Fatima stood silently, observing me. Her hair was still a wild tussle and her flowered dress touched the tops of her feet. She smoothed out her dress with gentle strokes like silky caresses and, leaning against the wall, slipped out of her left sandal. The gestures seemed curiously familiar. Just then her voice reached me as if coming out of a dense fog. She instructed me, "Go back to sleep at once." Again I slipped into a trance as if sinking into warm, soothing water. And suddenly, with a click, my grade school teacher's name sprang to mind: Frau Klinck. But her name was just a tag. I felt again the strain in my scribbling fingers as I sat on a hard, marred desk chair, setting tiresome letters and numbers down on paper. And then a quickening joy seeped into my heart as Frau Klinck treated us to our daily story. Her voice traveled through the air like a current, and as before I drank in every word, absorbed every image, followed the storyline and mulled over its meaning.

That day, after school, I didn't linger at the gurgling brook to set my papers asail, but hurried home. It had come to me.

"Mutti," I panted, barely through the door, "I want to tell stories like Frau Klinck."

Then I confessed that I had craned my neck during story time until I could spy into the book Frau Klinck was holding.

"Mutti," I whispered excitedly, "The notebook's lines were pink!"

My mother, my wondrous witch with a magic wand, listened but said nothing.

The next day I dawdled after school, as was my usual way. But when I got home, there on the kitchen table was my very own soft calf-skin notebook.

I cradled it in my hands and stroked the cover front and back. It was so pleasing to touch. Then I thumbed through the pages to see if it had rose-colored lines like my teacher's. It did! I sighed happily, took out my blue fountain-pen, the one I was only allowed to use on Fridays, and wrote on the first line: Maya Halle - Writer.

One raindrop follows another until it becomes falling water. As I unlocked the memory of my German grade school days, I began to conjure up the atmosphere upon first entering the imaginary world of stories, and the ideas began to flow. "Give me a hint, a frog, a leaf, your papa." I had all the fresh ideas I needed.

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