The sulk syndrome

Recently, the AFP (American Family Physician) carried an article submitted by Dr. K.. The doctor’s full name is withheld at this time at Dr. K.’s request. The article reports findings gathered by Dr. K. over thirty years. If the doctor’s facts and analysis prove accurate, they may change medicine’s approach to many treatments and cures, particularly those in which the patient requires pain medication. Given the recent spate of celebrity deaths associated with painkillers this discovery should be heaped with accolades.

Dr. K.’s S.U.L.K. stands for Stiff Upper Lip as discovered by, himself, Dr. K. He reports it to be a condition most often associated with persons of English heritage, particularly those born and raised in England. The sulk is manifested by a paralyzed upper lip. The reader can experience a similar paralysis by placing a thumb firmly upon their upper lip; thereafter, it will be found that, any attempt to smile, frown, or experience emotion, associated with facial expression, is thwarted. As an aside, the irony that a person who is sulking has a like facial expression may, or may not, have been Dr. K.’s intent when he coined the acronym.

According to Dr. K.’s research results, persons with sulk syndrome report pain and discomfort on a reduced, completely different scale from the public at large. Where most patients might rank pain as a seven or eight on a scale of one to ten the sulk syndrome patient generally says, “I’m fine.” When pressed to use the pain schedule those with sulk report a two, or maximum three on the same scale.

In summary, Dr. K. finds that sulk syndrome persons tend to suffer less and recover faster from bacterial ailments and surgeries than their counterparts with normal upper lip function. He, therefore, postulates that the upper lip has a unique role in contributing to recovery and proposes that all patients experiencing chronic pain, undergoing surgery, taking courses of antibiotics or undergoing cancer treatment, first be given a facial Botox injection to induce sulk syndrome upper lip paralysis.

 

Rowan – a short story

In 2000, the fraternities at Belmont College voted Rowan their pledge of the year. At the time, everyone was pleased by the election, although many were surprised when Rowan failed to turn up to accept the award. This failure aroused the fraternity boys’ interest. Talk flowed freely as they looked about and tried to identify who this person was. They soon realized that, for most of them; Rowan was just a name. Many freely admitted that they had voted for “Rowan” because of the importance implied by this singular name. Some of them felt sure that they had heard the name at a frat gathering and even suspected that they may have met Rowan. Further investigation revealed that one group, the ill-defined bible-study fraternity, had placed the name on the ballot. Thereafter, the other fraternity boys determined that this group knew Rowan and that Rowan was a genuine person. Over time the surprising revelation quickly spread that Rowan was not a male fraternity pledge; in fact, Rowan was not even a student at Belmont College.

The pledged students could only have been more surprised if Rowan had attended the awards ceremony. Their masculine sensitivities would have been sorely taxed by her diminutive figure, in the form of an elderly woman with a full head of flowing red hair and clad in swirling clothing. The floral pattern of her skirt, matching blouse and flamboyant jewelry would have contrasted with their grubby casual tees and worn blue jeans as much as her age and sex contrasted with their youthful masculinity. It was best that they came to acknowledge the mystery of her election through a slow process of word of mouth and rumor so that the event painlessly passed into the mystique of their fraternity history.

Her election can be explained by the fact that three of the bible-study fraternity boys lived in her basement. She was lax in her rules and opened up her home to the group so that they held meetings in her living room while she, generously, served pizza and cookies. She explained her approach to her tenants with the words, “I love to surround myself with young men!” On their side, the boys put her name on the ballot because, for them, she represented the mainstay which held them together.

If the fraternity boys had got to know Rowan through narration of some of the events from her life, they would have realized that her election was a fortuitous endorsement of everything to which they espoused. Rowan’s entire life was full of drama, as she exuded joy and laced all she did with a touch of unconventionality. She was an artistic, fun-loving, free spirit; an adult who never lost the innocence of youth and the ability to make stupid mistakes and to recover from them with vigor. Unquestionably she was the perfect choice for the pledge of the year.

Thirty-five years before her nomination and election as Belmont College’s 2000 fraternity pledge of the year Rowan, herself, attended a small college. She was enrolled in a General Arts degree with the ostensibly normal goal of becoming a school teacher. As soon as she arrived on campus away from the confines of her family, she opened her eyes the world and embraced a hippie-like life of unconventionality. She became vegetarian, smoked pot and opted for a lifestyle which demonstrated to her fellow students, and herself, that she saw all men as equal.

When she met Eugene Blanc, a handsome young black scholar from Houston, Texas, it was inevitable that she fell in love. Eugene responded to her impulsive free spirit and returned her love with passion. Gradually, they settled into a routine in which they did everything together, even enjoying the stir that their presence made when they visited their families. Neither side’s kinfolk approved of their liaison. Both families, while protesting support for civil rights equality and racial integration, couldn’t accept that their family might be linked to a family of another ethnicity. After the 1967, Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in their ruling on Loving vs. Virginia, Rowan and Eugene saw an opportunity to advance their relationship. In 1969, they got married at a wedding chapel on the side of the Galveston freeway. Neither of their families was invited to, nor attended the event.

It would be good if this narrative could report that Rowan and Eugene lived happily ever after, but then, perhaps Rowan might not have made it to fraternity pledge of the year in 2000.  After graduation, they enjoyed a brief period of happiness working in positions in large oil-related corporations in Houston. They lived in a small rented apartment in Forster’s Pond just inside the Loop at the Galleria and attempted to dissolve into the cultural melee of the rapidly growing city. Unfortunately the prejudices of corporate American unsettled Eugene and he became increasingly irrational and disturbed. He took to the bottle, and one early Saturday morning drove headlong into a tree close to their apartment. He was killed instantly.

Rowan bounced back from the sadness of losing Eugene and moved to Austin. She accepted a position at IBM, bought a house and settled into a new life. She met the Ghanaian, Bastos, in the IBM cafeteria. He wooed her by showering her with attention in the form of conventional courtship paraphernalia such as flowers, chocolates and expensive dates. Although Rowan shunned traditional mores, she enjoyed Bastos’ attention. Within a few months, she invited him to move in with her. He was a perfect companion and continued his pursuit with his apparently undivided devotion.

After six months, Bastos told Rowan that he needed to return to Ghana and proposed she accompany him as his wife. Rowan suggested a trip to another Wedding Chapel, but Bastos was lovingly emphatic that they should be married by an Imam in true muslin tradition. Although he had not previously discussed his beliefs with Rowan, he now told her that his sincerest hope was that, over time, perhaps in Ghana, she would convert to Islam so that they could spend eternity together. Rowan found his suggestion flatteringly loving and told him that she also wished to be with him through eternity. In preparation for their life-changing move, Bastos persuaded Rowan to liquidate her assets and to sell off her possessions and to give him the proceeds; for, he told her, this would enable her to make a proper transition to Ghana as his wife. Rowan willingly complied.

Ghana proved to be an uncanny revelation for Rowan. When they arrived in Accra, Bastos changed; gone was the attentive suitor, now he was the autocratic businessman and head of a household. This was when Rowan discovered that she arrived in the role as one of four wives. She quickly tired of this life and expressed a desire to return home to the United States. Bastos had her money, and tiring of her emotional outbursts, was ready for her to leave. One fine day he escorted her to the American Embassy and left her to contact her family for money and to undertake the long process of returning to the USA.

After her return to the United States and the annulment of her marriage with Bastos, Rowan needed a clean start. She returned to her roots, bought a home near Belmont College, and accepted a position as a librarian in a local library. She wholeheartedly reunited with her relatives who were delighted to welcome her back into their midst. She settled into the place of her youth, and soon took up with an ex-boyfriend from her teens, a six-foot-six white guy named Phil. Now story has it that Phil was a part – time pimp; which may explain why Rowan had difficulty keeping him in line. One evening he drove off in her second car for a night out on the town. Rowan was fun-loving enough to resent his leaving her at home but, after two failed marriages, acknowledged that sometimes a man needs to go out with the boys.

When Phil failed to return by eleven Rowan was irate. She was so angry that she revved up her second car and roared into town looking for him. She drove past his two favorite bars. At both, she failed to see her car in the parking lot. Just as she was leaving the second lot, she saw one of Phil’s friends. She stopped and questioned the slightly intoxicated man and managed to discover that Phil was probably at Sandy’s house on Elm Street.

Rowan drove to Elm Street and spotted her car parked at the curb. She drove slowly past peering up at the adjacent house. Behind the curtains of one of the illuminated windows, she distinctly saw two figures locked in an embrace. She drove around the block and returned. The two figures were still there; by now, she was so filled with wrath that she accelerated and rammed her own car parked at the curb. There was a loud crunch of broken metal, and her car’s engine quit. In the ensuing silence, she screamed into the darkness,

“That serves him right. That’ll teach him. By the time that he finds a way home, I’ll have his possessions on the doorstep!”

She got out of her car, crossed the street, and walked up to a house with a light on. She rang the doorbell.

“Good evening,” she said, her eyes flashing with anger, her voice steely calm, “May I use your telephone? I need to report a hit-and-run!”

No fraternity boy could have done better. Belmont College was right to award Rowan their Pledge of the Year.

 

The Job Offer – a short story

Jennifer and her daughter sat on the coffee house terrace under a flowering crêpe myrtle tree. Jennifer was still trembling. Her daughter lent across the table and patted her hand, a gesture which Jennifer accepted as loving support. She smiled weakly, enjoying this moment of closeness, although she wasn’t yet ready for confidences. She looked out over the terrace hoping to see their waiter,

“I could use that cup of tea.”

“I’m sure they won’t be long.” Her daughter also scanned the terrace and soothingly continued, “Meanwhile, Mom, lean back, breathe deeply, and take in the sweet smell of crêpe myrtle blossom.”

Jennifer obeyed, and as she relaxed she heard the sounds of the city, the muffled whirr of traffic, the voices of other patrons talking to each other, and the intrusive sound of grackles squawking. These ordinary reminders of everyday life, combined with the presence of her daughter, calmed and reassured her.

By the time that their tea arrived, Jennifer had regained her self-control. She took the pot and poured. The tea was served unusually hot for America, and so they both added milk to cool it down. Instead of holding her cup by its handle, as was her norm, Jennifer cradled it in her hands as though the warmth could give her additional comfort. She sipped slowly enjoying the distinctive flavor of Rooibos with its earthy herbal aroma.

“I think that the interview went well. They are going to offer me a partnership.”

“That’s great Mom. So, why are you nervous and edgy? Didn’t you always aspire to become a principal somewhere?” She paused and stared at her mother and then continued, “But there’s something else isn’t there?”

Jennifer looked at her daughter and wondered how one so young could be so perceptive. She didn’t answer the question; instead, she evaded with additional information about the prospects.

“A partnership. Yes, you are right; I’ve always wanted to be a firm leader – it’s just marvelous! I wish that my father were still alive for this would have made him so proud!”

“So you should be elated Mom; but you’re not are you?”

A Grackle alighted on the back of a chair at an adjacent table. His feathers gleamed black/blue in the sunlight. He fanned his tail and looked at their table with his tiny eyes. Jennifer’s daughter clapped her hands, and he flew away. Jennifer took another sip of tea and dunked a cookie before continuing,

“The money is fantastic. If you include the expected annual profit distribution in conjunction with the salary, it will be double what I make now. That’s more than our family needs, but it would be nice.”

“So much money, they must think a lot of you Mom.”

“Yes, I think they do. Up until now, I have excelled at my job. I’ve always loved what I do and know that I am good at it. The problem is, they want me to go into operations, and I’m not sure that this is my forte. I might not be able to deliver what they want.”

“Oh come on Mom, aren’t you underestimating yourself?”

“Maybe…… If it were straightforward it might be okay, but I have a premonition that their corporate culture doesn’t align with mine. It seems to me that the upper management, of which I would be a part, is too remote from the rest of the staff. It’s as though the fantastic money is accomplished through shortchanging everyone else.”

“But Mom, won’t that be the challenge. Won’t that be how you will be able to help?”

“I’d like to think so, but I suspect otherwise. I’ll be the outside newcomer, thrust between a bunch of old boys who have been together for years and who love their perks and profits. In fact, they bring me in order to increase profits, and I doubt that they will see this as being accomplished by investing in higher salaries, new computers, and state-of the-art software.”

“If their corporate culture is manipulative, or you feel it to be unprofessional, then maybe you should turn down their offer.”

“Yes, I should.’ Jennifer gazed at the Grackle who had returned to the adjacent table; she sighed, “The other argument against taking the position is that it will require a weekly 200 mile commute and two residences until your father can join me. The distance apart is going to be hard. I keep wondering if the prestige and money justify it.”

Jennifer threw the Grackle a piece of cookie and watched it eat before continuing, “To put it bluntly,” she glanced around to make sure that no-one was within earshot, “if there was a devil, I’d say that he concocted this offer. It is sugarcoated in money. I know that it appeals to my greed and pride. Perhaps I am being asked to sell my soul.”

“If you feel like that Mom, DON’T DO IT!” Jennifer’s daughter clapped her hands again, and the Grackle flew off. She repeated, “Don’t do it Mom, trust your instincts!”

They finished their tea, hugged and parted. Jennifer’s daughter left to return to her classes at the University while Jennifer went to her car for her 200 mile drive home. She slipped in a Book on Tape into the player “The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde. She listened to the narration and settled into an aura of peace as she watched the road peel away. At the end of the first chapter, the tape gave a hiccup and stopped. This had happened before, Jennifer knew that this time it had quit for good.

When she stopped for gas, a black raven flew down and sat on the gas pump. It cocked its head and eyed Jennifer. She spoke to it

“You can see that I need a new car,” she said, “I need that good pay in that new position to enable me to get one. It isn’t immoral for principals to take disproportionately high compensation out of a firm. Principals guide firms; they earn it. If I have to commute 200 miles a week, I’ll need a spiffy new car. That’s not greed that’s practicality! Is it prideful to want to succeed? No, it is a logical conclusion, a reward for hard work.”

The raven nodded its head in apparent agreement. When Jennifer reached home, she met her husband with a kiss and the words,

“They offered, and I’m going to accept.”

The devil laughed as he watched Jennifer head for several years of acute unhappiness.

 

  

The worm – a short story

Tina’s father had business at Durham University and took Tina and her mother with him. While he was engaged with the University Tina, and her mother went sightseeing. Tina’s mother bravely drove a rented car and soon became an expert at navigating on the left side of the road. One day, they visited Penshaw Monument[1] with its commanding location at the top of a hill. They scrambled up the monument’s steep stairs enjoy the view and afterward walked in the surrounding park.

It was unusually dry that summer; the ground was parched and even the weeds looked distressed. When Tina saw an odd-looking, desiccated, worm lying upon the ground, she deduced it to be dehydrated and almost dead. She had always been interested in fauna, and so she picked it up. When she looked at it carefully she realized that it had a distinctive head with eyes and mouth and nine tiny holes on each side of its head. She had never seen anything like this before, and so she slipped it into her bottle of distilled water. The water appeared to revive the worm, and it wiggled around in the bottle and looked at her. Later, when she and her mother ate their picnic lunch, Tina pushed a few crumbs from her sandwich into the bottle. The worm devoured the crumbs, and it seemed to Tina that it was thanking her, by the way, that it shook its head and waved its tail. Her mother watched in disbelief,

“Tina dear, please dispose of that disgusting wriggling thing.”

“But Mama,” Tina pleaded, “I feel a rapport with Wormy. I think that he communicates with me. Poor thing he is all alone. I think that we need to find out more about his genus.”

Tina’s mother looked at her daughter; she had picked up on the fact that Tina had already given her ‘Wormy’ sex by referring to him, as ‘he’ rather than ‘it’. Later, back at their Bed and Breakfast, Tina found nothing similar to the worm on the Internet. She learnt a great deal about worms, eels, salamanders and lampreys. She read worms don’t have eyes, and now knew that her ‘Wormy’ was not a worm. The next day at lunch at a pub in Durham City a kindly gentleman, hugging a frothy pint of beer, laughed at Tina’s worm and suggested that it might be a descendent of the Lambton worm. He launched into a quick summary of this piece of folklore.

One Sunday morning young John Lampton, son of the local Earl of Lambton, skipped church and went fishing in the River Wear. On his way, an old personage warned that nothing good would come to him for his truancy. The only thing he snared was a slimy worm, which was so disgusted him that, on his way home, he threw it down a local well. Time went on, and John Lambton matured and left County Durham to join a crusade. He was gone seven years. When he returned he found his father’s estate in ruins. The entire countryside was being terrorized by an enormous worm which ate livestock, milked cows and even took the occasional child. John was deduced that this worm was the worm that he had thrown down the well. Many had unsuccessfully tried to kill it, for it appeared to have magical powers and could reconstruct itself when cut into pieces. John took counsel and commissioned armor with outward pointing knives. He met the Dragon in the River Wear. It attacked him by wrapping its body around him like a boa constrictor. The tighter it squeezed; the deeper the knives severed its body. As it was cut up, each piece was washed away by the river current before it could reconnect. The worm was dead. John had been warned that, after he dispatched the worm, he must kill the first living creature that greeted him. He had instructed his father that this should be his dog; unfortunately, his father was so excited that he forgot to release the dog and ran to hug his son. John did not kill his father, resulting in a curse that succeeding generations of Lamptons would not die in their beds.

Of course, everyone agreed that the tale of the Lambton worm was just a tale. They ordered more beer and joked to reinforce their collective belief in a carefully nurtured local legend. Tina was as convinced as everyone and was not about to kill her Wormy. She did entertain a modicum of fear tinged with foreboding meaning, and knew that she was not going to release it into a well or any other body of water in County Durham.

Tina decided to give Wormy a better name, because she knew that ‘Wormy’ was both inaccurate and conveyed the wrong connotation. As they walked back to their B and B from the pub, she hit upon calling him ‘LW’. ‘L’ as a reminder of Penshaw and the Lambton lands where he was found and ‘W’ for worm as a reminder that this is what everyone originally assumed him to be. When it was time to return home in Austin Texas Tina wrapped LW in wet towels and a Ziploc bag and carried him in her suitcase. When she got home, she placed him in her tropical fish tank.

LW appeared to like the fish tank. Every day when Tina fed the fish, he came up to the surface and ate with them. The fish took their food with apparent indifference. LW ate his while looking directly into Tina’s eyes. She was sure that he was communicating with her. She watched him grow bigger, and wondered how large he was going to get. By December, LW was several inches long and began to eat the other fish. He started with the tetra and progressed to the larger fish finishing off with the algae eater. Tina tried giving more food fish food, but this did not appear to stem his appetite. Tina’s mother told her that the LW had to go. By now, Tina was convinced that she and LW could communicate and that when he winked at her; he was telling her that he needed a larger body of water.

Tina’s father suggested that they release LW into Tina’s grandparents’ decorative backyard fishpond. He would be fed when the fish were fed, and Tina could see him when she visited them. Tina discovered that if she stood at the edge of the pond and rubbed two rounded stones together, periodically tapping them, LW would come and lift his head out of the water and greet her. Tina took to placing her hand near him when he rose above the surface of the water, and he would put his head in her palm and rub against her skin. She understood this to be his expression of love. As time passed LW grew bigger. When he was a couple of feet long he slowly devoured the Koi in the pond, then he took to making nocturnal excursions from the water to consume frogs and any local domestic cats who came by. The neighborhood assumed that the cats were being attacked by coyotes, until they realized that the coyotes were also gone. Again LW communicated as he wiggled his head back and forth against her hand. He told her that he needed a larger body of water.

For several days, Tin worried about LW’s need for more space, and then she hit on a solution. She told him to leave the pond in the dead of night and to make his way across the Greenbelt behind her grand-parent’s house to a small stream. He was to follow the stream until it came to a much larger neighborhood lake. She told him to keep himself hidden at all times; explaining that if anyone saw him, they were bound to do him harm. She reassured him with the promise that she would meet him at the lake in three days.

When Tina arrived at the lake, it looked as it always looked, and she thought that she must have lost her friend. She followed the path around to a place where she was hidden from view by the other park users. She took out her stones and rubbed them together and tapped them. Immediately she saw a ripple in the water moving towards her. It was LW. He lifted his head out of the water and extended his red tongue to wrap it gently around her legs. She giggled, and lent down scratched the back of his head. Again, time passed, and as it did LW continued to grow. At first, no one noticed that the duck and geese population of the pond was decreasing. By the time that they, and all the fish and turtles had disappeared, LW was over twelve feet long and beginning to have trouble remaining concealed.

A string of emails flowed around the Travis Country neighborhood. Each offered a speculation on why the pond wildlife was disappearing. In response to their concerns, the neighborhood park committee called in an environmental expert to test the water. To everyone’s relief, the expert reported that the water was well within the normal range. The report advised that the depopulation must have another explanation and recommended that a close watch be given to the pond so that the true explanation could be uncovered.

Tina communicated their findings to LW. She told him that she feared for his safety, especially as he was obliged to go on nocturnal foraging trips. They both agreed on the need for a larger body of water. Tina told LW to leave the lake and to follow the stream that connected it to the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and from thence to follow Barton Creek to where it fed into Town Lake. Tina herself was about to enroll in the University of Texas to study biology and vowed to take an apartment on the south side of Town Lake close to the new South-side boardwalk so that she, and LW could commune daily.

A week later when the pink light of dawn was caressing the waters of the lake and illuminating the bridges against still dark waters Tina walked along the south bank. Then when no-one was around, she slipped underneath one of the support piers of the boardwalk. She squatted beside the waters and rubbed her stones together periodically tapping them. After a few minutes, LW appeared. He arose from the water and placed his head in her lap. She stroked his scaly skin and scratched his neck.

LW told Tina that it had taken him several days to travel down Barton Creek. The problem was that Barton Creek periodically went underground rushing through deep limestone caves too tight for LW to navigate. This had meant that he had had to follow the dry surface Creek bed with its limestone boulders. During the day, he hid among the lush foliage of the Creek’s ravine only able to take brief naps due to the large number of bicyclists and people walking along the Creek banks. He went on to tell her that he liked the Lake; it teamed with fish, and he was optimistic for this to be his final home.

Again, time passed and LW grew relentlessly.  He gradually ate all the fish, ducks, swans, herons and turtles (he told Tina back he didn’t like turtles much). He began taking foraging trips away from the lake. They both knew that it was time for another move. This time the only waters Tina could think of was the Gulf of Mexico. She explained to LW that if he slipped over the Town Lake dam he could follow the Colorado River all the way to the coast. She warned him that seawater is saline, and brought a sample from her university lab for him to taste. He told her that he was sure that he could survive in salt water. He confessed to her that he had begun to feel an urge to return to his place of birth.

By now, LW was over fifty feet long. He put his head on Tina’s lap and listened to her as she gave her instructions,

“The route down the Colorado River will be long and exhausting.  The river winds its way across the plane to the ocean; it has frequent turns and switch-backs, but if you persist, I assure you that it eventually empties into the ocean.’

LW wiggled with excitement and assured Tina that he would be patient.

“Now LW, you know that you will have to travel by night. I warn you that if you are spotted, we shall never see each other again. Indeed, I dread thinking what might happen. Either you will be killed outright and your body hauled off for scientific research, or you will be stunned and kept in a cage or small tank while you are being gawked at, prodded, and studied.”

LW flailed about, waving his tail in the water to indicate his understanding, and a light-hearted  mood.

“No LW, listen to me; this is not a laughing matter. You must always be discreet and unseen. When you get to the ocean, that’s when the water becomes salty. You will be confronted by a barrier island. Follow the island to the south and you will find an opening to the vast ocean beyond.”

Tina sighed and looked out over the calm waters of Town Lake. She scratched LW’s head and stroked his scales placing her finger gently on each of his nine holes on either side of his head. LW rolled his eyes in an indication of extreme pleasure.

“OK, once you are in the ocean; you will be free. Eat and go where you please. You may find companions in the ocean deeps. However, if you do decide to return to the coast near where I found you; and I assure you it’s a very long way; I’ll be there. I shall be there for three or four days on either side of next year’s summer solstice. Now listen carefully. The River Wear empties into the cold North Sea at a place called Sunderland. There are two breakwaters around the mouth of the river. North of the North Breakwater is a sandy beach. The beach is bracketed on the North by a cliff of rocks and to the south by the Breakwater. I shall wait on the beach.”

That morning Tina and LW remained together longer than usual while each wondered whether they would ever see each other again. When the pounding of joggers on the boardwalk overhead began to intrude upon their communion, Tina rose and looked at him with tears in her eyes,

“Good-bye, have a good Journey. I hope to see you next June; if not, I shall always treasure my memory of you. You’re the best. ”

******

The following June 19 Tina sat at dawn, as promised, on the County Durham beach. She rubbed her stones together and tapped them as hard as she could. A cold wind blew across the sands, and she shivered. All morning she waited but nothing arose out of the pounding surf. The following day she took a red balloon and rug with her. She wrapped herself in the rug, tied the balloon to her wrist and persistently rubbed and tapped her stones. When the beach began to fill up with other people, she left. It rained on June 21; Tina wrapped herself in a red Macintosh and sat upon the beach rubbing and tapping her stones. This time her persistence was rewarded, and she saw LW drifting towards the shore shrouded in a mantel of seaweed. She waded into the water and touched him. They both felt a thrill of reconnection. It didn’t take long for Tina to realize that LW was not himself. He told her that the saltwater was killing him. Tina cried. LW swirled his tail gently around her and reassured her that he was content. She came to understand that he was hermaphrodite and had produced a sack of eggs. He carried them in his mouth and opened that cavity and using his red tongue, gently pushed the sack into Tina’s hands.

“What do you want me to do with your eggs? I can’t take them back to Austin. It would be their death.’

LW waved his tail and then Tina understood. LW had an innate dream of deep clear waters somewhere to the North of the landmass on which they now stood. It was a place where his eggs could hatch and grow without human intervention. At first, Tina could not think where such a place should be, but as she stood there shivering in the cold water, she remembered the stories of the Loch Ness monster and knew where LW’s eggs had to go.

[1] The Penshaw Monument in County Durham is a half-sized size scale replica of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.  It is a folly built in 1844 in memory of John Lambton. It was given to the British nation in 1939.

 

The Brothers – a short story

Mother lives in a small wood-frame house in one of the older neighborhoods of East Austin. My brother, Goeff, and I grew up there. I remember it as a place where people watch out for each other, and gather in the street to discuss the looming specter of gentrification. When we were young, we played in the street, and our neighbors sat on their front porches in the cool of the evening and waved to those passing by. Even now, 40 years later, the neighborhood still retains some of its friendliness. Mother says that was why she will never leave.

Mother looks healthy for her age even though she walks with a slight limp. Each time I visit I notice small indicators that her age is catching up with her. A minor blood clot blinded her in one eye; her poor hands are crippled by arthritis, and she is deaf enough to need a hearing aid. Of course, she doesn’t have a hearing aid which often makes communications difficult. I don’t think that she is lonely because she has her white cat Fluffy. Personally, I don’t like cats, and I hate Fluffy. I can never recall a time when Mother didn’t have Fluffy, or one of her predecessors, perched on her lap taking a place where I wished to be.

Apparently Mother’s neighbor, Alice who lives across the street, is the first to notice that something was amiss. The house is dark; newspapers pile up on the drive, and mail begins to overflow the mailbox. When I go there she meets me and tells me her story.  She has clearly already repeated it many times. To my surprise, she doesn’t ask me in but chooses to tell me her, oft repeated story, as we stand on her porch. She is agitated and closes her eyes from time to time as if she is attempting to relive her adventure.

“I approached Molly’s front door cautiously. I paused, to admire her geraniums and lantana blooming profusely on either side of her stoop. I rang the doorbell and getting no reply; I knocked. Still no reply; I called,

‘Hello, Molly, …Anyone home?’

I turned the door knob; the door wasn’t locked. I entered, and shouted,

‘Hello, Molly, …Anyone home?’

“I was getting anxious, but continued my search. Fluffy, your Ma’s cat, rubbed herself against my jeans, I could see white cat hair being deposited on them. The house had an ominous eerie feeling. It smelt vacant; I kept shouting,

‘Hello, Molly, …Anyone home?’

I didn’t wish to intrude but when I saw no one in the neat and tidy kitchen where a half drunk cup of tea stood on the table, I become more concerned and passed quickly to the master bedroom, still calling as I went,

‘Hello, Molly, …Anyone home?’”

At this point, in her narration Alice pauses, dabs her eyes and looks at me. I nod to reassure her that I wish her to finish her story. She sighs and continues,

“I saw her lying curled up on the bed. Of course, when I entered the house, I suspected something like this. I’ve seen death before, it has an odor, or presence, which emanates and pervades the air long before the, once live, body starts to decompose. Even with this ominous tell-tail warning, I wasn’t sure. I stepped up to the bed and touched her outstretched hand.  It was cold. For a few moments, the universe seemed to stand still. Fluffy jumped onto the  bed and started to mewl. That was the end for me; I grabbed Fluffy in my arms and left as quickly as possible. Of course, I called 911 and then your brother, Goeff.”

It pains me that she called Goeff rather than me; after all, I am local and Goeff isn’t. I may be the younger son, but surely proximity counts for something. I am angry and hurt on top of the sadness at Mother’s death. I want to shake Alice. I ask,

“Why didn’t you call me; I’m local after all?”

“Simple, you never gave me your contact information; Geoff did.”

I dislike her response. It is another example of how Geoff always does the right thing. I wonder how he manages. Alice offers to take in Fluffy and I agree. I secretly hope that she will be a nuisance and keep Alice on her side of the street. I retreat to Mother’s house and turn on the television; I need time to face what has happened.

********

It is amazing how quickly Goeff arrives fresh from the airport. He is pulsating with energy. He turns off the television, clears up my mess in the kitchen and opens beers for us both. We sit at the kitchen table and discuss what to do next. Soon we begin a systematic dismantling of their Mother’s possessions.

We rummage through Mother’s papers and find her Will. No surprise here except Goeff is the executor not me. Actually, I am hurt, not surprised – goody-goody Goeff, always the preferred one. It turns out that there is little estate. Mother’s house which we estimate is worth $400,000 has a $300,000 reverse mortgage against it. We uncover $100,000 in investments. We discuss what to do. I tell Geoff that I want the house. I tell him it’s for sentimental reasons and because my present apartment is so awful. He nods as though he understands but I know that he doesn’t. After all I suspect that he has all the money he needs while I am up to my ears in credit card debt and need some easy cash. Goeff must suspect my financial straits because he says that he understands about the house but says that the math just doesn’t work. I know that he is right. So, when he suggests that I take the $100,000 cash, I agree. He says that he will pay off the mortgage and either keep the house or sell it to recoup his $100,000.  I hate it but agree. What else can I do with my credit rating?

We sort through Mother’s things agreeing as we go which things each of us will keep and which things we will dispose of by; garage sale, charity, or estate sale. I smart when we get to the photograph albums. There are three covering Goeff’s first year of life while my whole childhood is stuffed into one album in which most of the photographs are loose.

The kitchen and garage take forever but when they are cleared, we think that we have finished until Goeff suggests that we check the attic. It is a cramped space. We know that Mother didn’t like climbing the access ladder; and so, we assume it to be empty. It is almost so except for an old suitcase of our Father’s, a portfolio of etchings which he collected years ago and a box of his clothes. The suitcase is tattered and goes to charity, the clothes moth eaten with the elastic rotted by the heat; we trash them. We sit at the kitchen table and look at the etchings. They are black, or sepia, and white on scrappy pieces of paper. We recall how much Father loved these images of old buildings, of animals and of ancient people in old-fashioned clothing. I don’t want to keep any of them,

“Throw them out.”

“No,” says Goeff as he fondles the ancient paper, “Father was no fool, if he liked them so much they may be too good to toss. If it is okay with you, I’ll take them back with me. You never know they might be worth something.” I acquiesce. I marvel at Goeff’s persistence.

********

My birthday rolls around on April 1st and I find a letter in my mail box. The return address on the envelope is Goeff’s. I hold it up to the light and deduce that it is a birthday card. That Geoff always sends a birthday card every year, but as I am still seething with anger and jealousy, I place the envelope on my kitchen counter among my other papers. Perhaps I’ll open it one day but now my birthday makes me feel too dejected to do so.

I drive over to Mother’s place and park outside. The vacant house looks forlorn, the grass in the front long and un-kept. There was still no “For Sale” sign, which makes me wonder if Goeff has had a lapse in efficiency. Then it hits me, Goeff hasn’t been inefficient he has decided to keep the house for himself. Yep, he is keeping house that I so wanted. I know that he keeps it to spite me. I still have a front door key, and so I go inside. The empty rooms echo as I walk across the floor. I can almost feel the ghosts of the past whispering to me. That house ought to be mine. I am the one who should be living there. It crosses my mind that I don’t want anyone to enjoy this place, especially not Goeff. Over the next month, I make it a point to make a detour and go by every day on my way home. During that time, nothing changes except the house continues to beckon to me casting its spell.

Each visit I bring in miscellaneous flyers and papers, which have been delivered to the house. I place them on the kitchen counter next to a small stack of Goeff’s cards which he left on the counter. One day, I remember; it was May 1st, exactly a month after my birthday; I notice that we forgot to pack up Mother’s fancy toaster. It sits next to the pile of papers and winks at me. I decide to toast a couple of Goeff’s cards. It is good to see them burn. I take to toasting a couple of his cards each day. Each time they smolder and emanate a burnt paper smell along with a whiff of smoke. If I do more than four they give off a flame. Then, one day, about a week later, I place a few of the papers against the toaster, put in Goeff’s cards and push down the lever. I leave. I drive around the neighborhood and cannot resist returning to the fated street. When I see a small  plume of smoke seep from the roof, I feel a pang of regret and then a sense of justifiable release. I drive back to my apartment.

For the first time since Mother died I am at peace. I am almost happy. Tomorrow I’ll drive by again. I’m sure that Alice will call Goeff and give him the news. I go to my refrigerator, pour myself a beer and take up Goeff’s birthday card. I am now ready to open it.

“My dear brother;
Happy, Happy birthday.
Good news, Father was right; the etchings were valuable and included several unique originals. I managed to sell them for $700,000 bringing Mother’s total estate to $900,000, I delayed telling you this great news as I wanted to give you a very special birthday surprise. For this birthday, I have thrown in $50,000 of my own money so that I can now enclose the deeds to Mother’s house. It is yours.
Since you love the place so much my hope is that you are able to live there, but it is yours, so do what you want with it.
One caveat, I took temporary insurance out to cover it through April. Come May 1st it is your responsibility. You have a whole month to do it -please don’t forget; insurance is important.
No need to call, I know how much you hate the phone.
May the house bring you much happiness!
Your loving brother,
Goeff.”

 

 

 

The Big Meeting – a short story

Wendy sat in the hotel room nursing a cup of tea. The tea was warm and sweet. Its warmth was expected and comforting; its sweetness almost too much. Even Wendy, who was always watching her weight, didn’t know why she had stirred in three lumps.  Perhaps she did  it in an expression of hope, her secret hope that today she might see him. Now, as she drank, she regretted that inexcusable act of carefree whimsy. The tea gave her infinitely more pleasure than her view of her husband, Carl. He stood by the window and held the sheer curtain back with his right hand allowing a shaft of light to illuminate his profile of balding head and middle-aged paunch.  He turned and gazed at Wendy and gave a small cough, one of his habits which she disliked. She knew it to be an affectation, some form of implied humility; ironic when he entertained no such sentiment toward her.

“Ahem…. Hey, Wendy, the Sacriston Colliery[1] group just came into view; soon they’ll be crossing Elvet bridge. Isn’t that the mining village which interests you?”

His voice generally carried well; today over the ambient outside noise outside, she could detect his scorn, even though she could hardly make out his words.  She smiled at him interpreting his stare and look of derision; yes, he was admiring her trim figure, her glossy well-kept red hair and her elegant black pant suit, but the look was also ingrained with hatred. She shuddered as she deduced that had someone else been in the room he would have said,

“Look at Wendy! She’s so petty! She would have made someone a real good wife; if only she weren’t sterile.”

What made her smile was, not the predictability of the statement but the irony that it was a false accusation. She knew that Carl was the one who was sterile but couldn’t tell him. It had happened when she was eighteen, long before Carl’s time. A beautiful baby girl conceived in love. At the time, she believed herself to be abandoned by the baby’s father, and so was persuaded by her mother to give up her child for adoption. How she regretted that action, how she longed for just one meeting with the baby’s father, a time when she could punish him for his action in forsaking her and could tell him that she had stolen his child from them both as a form of revenge. Carl had got one thing right she was interested in the Sacriston Colliery for that was his colliery. She secretly hoped to be able to see him among that group of revelers.

She took one last gulp of tea and placed her cup and saucer on a side table and went to the second window in the room. She glanced out. She saw the crowds of happy people, the uniformed bands which were responsible for the noise and the colliery banners colorfully fluttering, held high on their frames. She sighed and put her hand up to shield her eyes hoping for a better view of the Sacriston banner. It was July 1971. They were in a hotel room overlooking Old Elvet in Durham City. The commotion outside was the annual celebration of “Durham Miner’s Gala[2]” referred to by some as “The Big Day” or “Big Meeting”. Carl had selected their room to place them in the epicenter of the festivities for each colliery stopped in the street before the hotel and played a salute to a selection of dignitaries assembled on a second-floor balcony overlooking the street. Carl aspired to be one of the celebrities on the balcony, but his role was more mundane. His contribution was to have assisted in writing the Labor inspired speech that his boss was to deliver to the crowds when they assembled on the Durham Racecourse on the flat grassy banks of the River Wear.

While Carl stood watching the procession, Wendy thought about the start of the parade which now attracted 300,000 people, seven times the normal population of Durham City. In the old days, this gala was the highlight of the miner’s lives. Their special day began before dawn with a march though their Colliery villages; starting at the pit head under the looming shaft lift wheel, through the streets lined with their small red-brick two-up, two-down row houses, the air, laden with the pungent smell of coal dust, stirred by their excitement.

Each parade was led by a uniformed band playing marching tunes on brass instruments and drums. Following the band came the colliery banner made of brightly-colored silk and hoisted high by two men holding either side of a wooden frame. Each was steadied by four guy ropes, two on either side. Behind the banner came the rest of the colliery; men, women and children.

After their local parade, the groups made their way to Durham to gather on the north end of Millburngate. From thence they progressed up The North Road to turn onto Framwellgate bridge with its magnificent view over the green shrouded  River Wear flowing gently around the promontory on which stood the ancient Norman castle and cathedral. Then they funneled up narrow cobbled Silver Street the buildings echoing their music and casting it upward to the sky. At the top of Silver Street, they opened up into the Market Place from whence they turned on to narrower  streets leading down to cross the river again on Elvet Bridge and thence with a slight jog to turn onto to Old Elvet to pause in front of the hotel before continuing on their way to the Racecourse.

Wendy glanced at Carl. Her mouth was still frozen in her false smile. She walked to the door and put her hand on its knob. She had planned her get-away carefully and spoke meekly,

“Would you like to go down and join the crowd?”

He scoffed and shook his head as she knew that he would.

“Then, I think that I’ll go alone; just to get some air.” She said and slipped out.

She hadn’t expected the crowds to be so thick and found it hard to make her way against the general drift of people. She took off her suit jacket to expose her light green shirt thinking that this made her blend in better. The parade was temporarily stalled while a Scottish group, led by bag pipes, performed an Eightsome Reel in front of Carl’s hotel. Several of the bands, including the Sacriston Colliery played “The Bladen Races.’ Wendy knew the chorus and hummed the words to herself.

Ah me lads, ye shud only seen us gannin’,
We pass’d the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin’;
Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smiling faces,
Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races.

“We are indeed gannin” she thought, “not the Scotswood Road to be sure, but the Racecourse Road. It’s a different kind of race that today’s lads and lasses will see.”

Wendy walked behind  the Sacriston Colliery as they wove their way to the Racecourse. When they paused in front of the hotel, she looked up at the Carl’s window, the curtain hung across it, and he was not there. At the Racecourse, she sat upon the grass among the Sacriston followers. All the time she studied people’s faces looking for that one face that she longed to see. She watched one of the bandsmen drop off his instrument and thought that she recognized him. She watched him shed his uniform and don street clothing. He cut a good figure, strong and muscular; it made her heart palpitate, and she began to perspire. Just as she felt sufficiently in control of herself to approach him, she saw a young girl, with red hair, like her own, run to him and give him a hug. She turned away engulfed by jealousy. When she looked again they were gone. She turned to an old lady with wrinkled skin and bad teeth who sat next to her.

“Was that band’s man with the saxophone Peter?” she asked.

“Sure,” responded the old lady.

‘Do you know him?”

“Sure, know ’em all, that would that be our Peter “

“And the young woman with him, perhaps his wife?”

“Nah, no wife. You can’t be from around here, if you were, you’d know his story. ’Tis a sad one.”

Wendy hesitated before she answered, did she really wish to unearth a sad past? “I’m sort of local I grew up in Shincliffe; I might have even met Peter, oh so long ago at the Durham Ice Rink, but I don’t know his story. Could you tell me?”

The old woman turned and looked at Wendy but her eyes were dim, so she didn’t see Wendy’s tear-laden eyes, or how much she resembled the young woman with Peter.

“It’s like this; you see, years ago before the young ‘un was born Peter fell in love. He was totally consumed by his lassie and told all his buddies about it. He could think of nothing else except his love.” Th old woman paused as she twisted her wedding ring on her finger.

“After several months of blissful courtship, our Peter began to realize that his girlfriend’s mother disliked him intensely. He knew that her aversion was based on class snobbery, and that she felt that her well-educated daughter, whose father taught at the University, was far too good for a poor coal miner like himself. Too bad that wasn’t it?”

“I agree, so what happened?”

“He proposed, and when she accepted they agreed that the best thing that they could do was to elope to Gretna Green. Peter was to borrow a car so that they could drive north through Newcastle and then West through Hexham to Carlisle, and from thence to the Scottish border and Gretna Green. You see that was all they could do.”

“Yes, I see, so what went wrong?”

“Well, they planned to meet, packed and ready to go, one Friday night in the Durham marketplace. Peter arrived early and waited, and waited. She never came. The next day he attempted to contact her but his letters were unanswered, and he couldn’t get past her mother on the telephone. Then she disappeared.”

Wendy shook her head; this was impossible. She remembered. Hadn’t he called and left a message with her mother that he couldn’t make it? Hadn’t he said that he would be in touch, and then never did? What could’ve happened?

“But his daughter?  Where does she fit in?”

The old woman turned again to face her audience. It was seldom that anyone was so attentive to her stories. She was accustomed to people drifting away, but this woman clung to every word.

“The daughter, yes, the daughter is another strange story. She’s adopted you know. Originally, she was adopted by one of Peter’s friends and his wife. But then, as often happens, the young couple conceived. They had twins. They loved their adopted daughter but worried that with their limited miner’s salary, they would have a hard time bringing up three children so close in age. By now little Wendy was a canny wee thing with that marvelous head of red hair. Peter stepped in, said that Wendy reminded him of his one and only true love, and that he would love to become her parent and raise her.”

“And that’s what he did?”

“Yes, and I’ve never seen a man give a child so much love. He didn’t marry, though there’s many a girl ‘as would have had him. He says that he has been blessed by two loves in his life: and that’s the way he intends to keep it.”

[1] Colliery, a coal mine, it’s buildings etc. The Sacriston Colliery refers to the men and their families who work at, and live adjacent to, the coal mine or “pit” at Sacriston.

[2] Gala is pronounced “gerla” in County Durham.

An April Fool – a short story

Edith paused at the door. She could hear laughter inside. She knew what she would see when she opened it. Highlighted by the sun streaming through the window, she would see her classmates giggling together over a joke, or a secret, which they either wouldn’t or couldn’t share with her. She reached up to her chest and touched the tiny bump made by her silver Saint George medallion. It hung around her neck concealed under her uniform tunic and blouse next to her skin. She said a soft prayer to herself. “Saint George, be with me, help me face and fight my dragons!” The Saint George was new; her mother gave it to her to help her combat her feelings of hopeless rejection by her classmates. Her mother, a most practical and generally unspiritual person instructed Edith that when she felt threatened or unhappy she was to remember Saint George and to know that he was there to assist her in fighting her dragons. As she drew upon her strength to open the door, she heard the Durham Cathedral bells chiming nine am followed by bell ringing in the hall. Both heralded a call to class. Edith took a deep breath, clasped the cold door knob and, opened the door. The girls inside the room turned and stared at her. Katie, an attractive athletic blond, and unquestionably the most popular girl in the class, approached her. Katie was the oldest in the class as her eighth birthday was in September. She was tall for her age and towered over Edith, who was naturally small and was almost a year younger with a birthday in August. Katie came close and bent down so that Edith could feel her breath on her cheeks.

“Hey Edith” she said, “you’ve still got your breakfast on your face; it’s even on your blouse!” She giggled and turned to encourage the others to join in. Midst the ensuing laughter, Edith instinctively put her hand up to her face and then looked down at her blouse. Could she have had dirty hands and soiled her clothes when she felt for Saint George?

“I, I didn’t know,” She stammered. “I’ll go to the bathroom.” She glanced at their mocking faces wishing that she could melt into the floor.

“April fool!” yelled the class in unison, “April fool.”

Their teacher came in. The girls stood to attention and greeted her, “Good morning Miss Harrison.” Miss Harrison led them in the Lord’s Prayer and then turned and wrote 1 April, 1953 in bold script on the top of the black chalk-board. Her white chalk made a familiar rasping sound as it passed over the dark surface of the board. Over the course of the morning’s instruction, Edith began to understand the significance of 1 April and that April fool was an acceptable custom reserved for April first. Katie told Miss Harrison that her dress was hitched at the back. Louise said that her mother had fallen and broken an arm. Miss Harrison merely smiled at each comment and told her class that she was not falling for their April fool’s antics.

Edith clutched her wooden desk and traced her finger over the carved initials on its surface. DH, who was DH, she mused. Why would whoever was the carver carve telltale initials on her desk? Edith did her best to concentrate but when Miss Harrison came to math facts, she let her mind wander. She was confident in arithmetic and knew that if she was called upon she would be able to respond without pause. How she wished that she could revert back to those three years spent in the cocoon of a one-room school. It was a place without cliques where the older children helped the younger ones, no-one teased, and there were no April fools. She thought of her teacher, Miss Woods, a tiny woman with wispy grey hair; tweed and long lanky cardigans. Edith, and her eleven or so classmates, thought her to be inconceivably old.

“Edith,” Miss Harrison turned her, she spoke kindly, “Edith, seven eights?”

“Fifty –six” Edith responded without hesitation.

She forced herself to bring her attention back to the present, and now she heard the clank of milk bottles in the hall outside alerting her that it was almost time for morning recess. Again, she mused of the past, her ‘old’ school and to the occasional sound of boy’s voices echoing in the hall outside their cozy room. She remembered how she and the other children always hushed at the sound. They imagined the “Big Boys” of Durham School, where their classroom was located, to be as big as their voices. The Big Boys were creatures almost inhuman in their mysterious, but infrequent comings and goings. Edith smiled to herself, what wouldn’t she give to have one of those Big Boys come to this room to April fool Katie?

Miss Harrison opened the classroom door. She told Zoe, whose desk was next to Edith’s, to distribute the milk bottles which stood in a crate outside. Edith held her bottle and peeled off the aluminum cap. She was glad that it was intact; sometimes they were torn by birds making the milk inside seem even more indigestible.  Edith disliked the milk, but she knew that she was required to drink this unlikely ‘gift’ from the government. She held the bottle up to her mouth and drank. When she finished she realized that the entire class was waiting for her. As they filed out into the hall and from thence outside Katie came up behind her and pinched her arm.

“You couldn’t have done that any slower; you fool.” She hissed. “You’re not only an April fool; you’re an everyday fool!” Katie might have gone on, but as they crowded into the sunshine of the gardens where they were to enjoy their morning recess Katie’s younger sister Kara came up and touched Katie’s hand. Katie’s sneer left her face supplanted by a loving smile. She paused and bent over her sister.

“Hey poppet[1],” she said, “you go and play with your friends. Be good.”

Recess was always held outside. There were no swings or slides in the gardens of their playground. They sloped down to a wall along the River Wear towpath. The children played Cowboys and Indians in the wooded area, ball on the lawns, and hop-scotch on the pressed dirt paths. Edith hated Cowboys and Indians as the unpopular girls got to be Indians, among them the lowest echelon was to be an Indian’s horse. She hated being a horse on the losing Indian side. Today was different, by an unspoken common agreement which Edith did not understand; they congregated along the steep dirt driveway which swept from the school gates down to the school’s main entrance. Generally, there was a member of the teaching staff on duty outside during recess but on this April 1st the girls were unsupervised.

It had rained during the night, and the undergrowth and trees along the narrow drive down to the main school building hung in luxuriant spender, their damp leaves and branches pendulant and laden with moisture, creating a pungent arcade of green. The air, fresh and clean brought the mantle of foliage into brilliant focus. The girls, from kindergarten up gathered along this driveway. Their children’s high pitched chatter drowned the incessant squawking of the rooks that inhabited the trees and were responsible for the white splotches on the ground below.  The excitement was because, in accordance with tradition, the sixth form[2] girls had managed to bring an old bicycle to school. This unlikely piece of equipment was retrieved from the bushes near the gate and used as a conveyance to hurtle down the vegetation and girl-lined narrow drive to come to a stop in front of the school main entrance.

Behind the main entrance, the staff sat in their cozy staff room drinking tea and making small talk. Of course, they knew what was going on outside but did not intervene.  Years ago when the tradition had begun they had rationalized that little harm could come from a bicycle, and a few happy sixth form girls enjoying April fools in front of the rest of the student body. What they might not have known was that the bicycle had no brakes and that the sixth formers rode three abreast their legs splayed out as they gathered momentum during their ride down the steep drive. On each trip, the entire student body clapped in unison. A couple of the staff peeped through their window to get a surreptitious view of the spectacle.

By the fourth pass the youngest children, including Kara were getting bored.  Edith stood near Kara on the south side of the drive, separated from the rest of her class on the north side. Just as the laden bicycle descended Kara decided to make a dash across the direct path of the bicycle to join her sister. She ran across the green-shrouded drive in front of the loaded brakeless bicycle. Edith didn’t think; she reacted. She ran behind Kara and pushed her out of harm’s way.  The effort slowed her down, and the tip of the bicycle handle bars caught her arm. She fell. The  bicycle and it’s three passengers fell on top of her. Her prostrate body made a cushion so that none of the sixth graders was hurt. It was different for Edith, she had no broken bones only cuts and bruises and an ego more damaged than by the humiliation of April fool jokes.

In the uproar which followed someone sagaciously managed to remove the bicycle and conceal it in the abundant green undergrowth, while the entire teaching staff erupted into the driveway.  Katie was by her side.

“You’re not hurt are you?’

Aided by the school nurse Katie encouraged Edith to get up. When Edith stood the nurse ushered her inside to tend to her grazed body. Edit was quiet and refused to cry. She insisted that she did not need her parents to pick her up. Her embarrassment was supreme; all she wanted was to do was to become invisible and hold Saint George in her hand. When she returned to class, Katie sat in Zoe’s desk. She passed a note to Edith. It read, “Cowboys and Indians after lunch? I want you on our team!”

[1] Poppet is a term of endearment used in North-East England.

[2] The 1953 UK lower and upper sixth forms are equivalent to the USA eleventh and twelfth grades.