The Boy

It had been one of those hot airless days on the South Dakota prairie when the air shimmered in hazy distance. The boy, stood staring across the land. He searched for evidence of the world beyond the place where he stood. There was nothing to see, for the land was flat and stretched in three directions swallowed by intermingled fields of six-foot-high corn and grain rippling like waves on the ocean. He gazed longest to the east for it represented his physical outlet to the fascinating world beyond. He shook his head as he remembered their neighbor’s ferocious dog who always attacked their car as they drove past. Distance on three sides and a dog on the fourth effectively isolated him from the outer world. Even at six-years-old this precocious child longed for the excitements that he believed to be waiting for him beyond the farm.

For some time, he held his position. He had watched his father return from the fields and hoped that he would soon emerge to take a trip to town. He thought that this might be possible for the previous night he had lain in his attic bed of their tiny homestead listening to his parent’s animated discussion. They spoke in a low German dialect which their ancestors had brought with them, first during a hundred-year sojourn in Russia courtesy of Catherine the Great, and subsequently in this their new home in America. He knew that his parents discussed their financial woes – the fact that they were always one payment away from losing their farm. Sometimes the discussion resulted in a drive to town to talk to the local banker. Even after his parents had gone to sleep the boy had remained awake worrying about their future and listening to the distant roar of trucks trundling down US16 somewhere to the north west and to an occasional train clanking into the distance.

Now, as he waited in the farmyard surrounded by geese, he thought about taking another dip in the farm’s stock pond where he could cool off and was teaching himself to swim. He did so by walking toward the earth dam until he became submerged and had to move his arms in an instinctive dog paddle. He was about to put his plan in action when his father came out of the house and strode toward his car. The boy ran up,

“Take me with you! Pleeeeeeeease.”

His father, a slender dark-haired man, was clean shaven except for a small pencil moustache. Like his son, he wore one-piece overalls. He always went to the bank wearing work clothes with a tasteful smatter of manure on one of the legs. He told his son that he did this as a message to their banker that he was a hard-working man. He turned to look at his pleading son letting his face crinkle into a gentle smile.

“All right, yes, hop in.”

The boy climbed into the passenger seat. As they drove, he put his hand out of the window to lie on the wind swooping up and down like an airplane. He withdrew it when they passed the dog’s house. The dog ran at them barking and attempting to nip the car’s tires. Once beyond the dog, the boy became increasingly animated, for he was now in the mysterious fascinating world outside the oasis of their farm. They stopped on Main Street; the boy knew the routine. His father visited the bank while he waited outside. Today was different for, parked in the center of Main Street, were two travel busses. The painted signs on their sides announced them to be housing a traveling display of wax statues of World War II leaders. A queue of people stood outside waiting their turn to walk through the display. The boy was smart enough not to ask his father about visiting the exhibition before the bank visit. He waited patiently until his father emerged. When he did, he looked happy and the boy took his callused hand,

“Dad, may we visit, Please.”

They walked slowly through the exhibits, and as they did so the boy’s father told him about each person. They began with their present President, Dwight D Eisenhower, and continued with the exhibit’s entourage of World War II leaders. The figures included: Adolf Hitler; Joseph Stalin; Winston Churchill; Benito Mussolini; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Harry S Truman; Hirohito, Douglas Mac Arthur; Hideki Tojo; and others. The visitors moved slowly past the display. The wax statues were so realistic that none of the visitors would have been surprised if one of them had stepped off their dais and joined them as they walked through. People lingered longest in front of Adolf Hitler’s figure. The boy’s father told him that Hitler had committed suicide when Berlin was taken and that his body was never found.

The boy studied Hitler with his pencil moustache and then looked at his father. When he saw them standing side by side in the subdued light of the bus, he discovered a startling resemblance. Could it be, he thought, that the outside world had already invaded the isolation of the farm? Could it be that the isolation is intentional? Could it be, he thought, that he was the only one who knew that his kindly, German-speaking father, with his distinctive pencil moustache, the man who had a hard time making the farm pay, was really Adolf Hitler in hiding?

 

 

The Waiting Room – a short story

In the clinic waiting room the air-conditioning hums creating enough background noise to mask individual clicks of cell phones. It is a large room about thirty by sixty. The ceiling height is emphasized by the absence of a suspended ceiling; instead, there are floating acoustical panels and light fixtures accentuated by a black painted abyss of ducts, structure and conduit. The entry wall has tall glass windows overlooking a parking lot. It is hot outside. The room’s occupants are thankful that the air conditioning is so efficient and are scattered along the teal and blue seats on the room’s perimeter and around an ellipse-shaped island of seats in the middle. Most are occupied by their illuminated screens shrouded in internet anonymity. In a state-run psychiatric clinic like this the unpaying patients hesitate to look at anyone else long enough to make eye contact.

An emaciated, tall, elderly, lady with scrawny hair sits awkwardly in her chair, she has her mouth open and stares vacantly ahead. Occasionally the young man three vacant chairs away from her shakes his dread locks and surreptitiously glances at her before returning to his phone. An overweight mother with a toddler sits opposite. The child is absorbed by his game, but she is nervous and twists her hands together; she scans the room with unseeing eyes. Along the opposite wall sits, a heavily tattooed youth sitting next to a woman with manicured nails who appears be her mother: both are engrossed in their phone displays. The staff sit behind protective sliding glass windows on the innermost wall. At regular intervals, the door to the clinics opens and a nurse emerges to either usher a patient out or to call another to their appointment. “John, Lisa, Sue’ the names sound familial and friendly.

A man enters. He is talking to himself or to anyone who cares to listen. His voice is loud, all glance up from their pacifiers. He strides to the reception and bellows at the receptionist. When he turns, he shouts,

“I need my pills; they’ve lost my appointment. They are incompetent!” He rambles on with something about this being the only country in the world where healthcare isn’t free. The occupants in the room all squirm each hoping that he won’t come near or address them individually.

He mounts a chair beside a lady in a black tee and jeans on one of the center seats. She looks at him giving the impression that she is interested. He sits on the arm of the chair and takes off his red baseball cap. His head is partially bald with a 2” mohawk-like plume down the middle. He runs his fingers through his hair. He tells everyone,

“I cut my own hair.”

As he replaces his cap, he scans the room and continues his monologue,

” I have insomnia. I didn’t sleep last night. Been up since three.”

He jumps off the seat and paces, holding forth in a tirade of incomprehensible words including a recognizable quote from Shakespeare. He goes to the window and regales the receptions who sits behind her unopened window. He hitches up his shorts, takes off his cap, waves it around, returns it to his head, and remounts the chair next to the lady in black. She says something to him and he calms a little to respond. Then he is up again and exits into the parking lot with the words,

“I’m just a crazy guy!”

The lady in black remarks,

“You are right about that!” other adds,

“Yes, indeed!”

The cone of silence in the room is smashed. The expectant patients test their individual responses to this dynamic. They become a friendly group and ask one another questions and talk to eachother. Someone asks the lady in black,

“Are you with him?” She responds,

“No, I talk to him to try to calm him. To be polite. I hoped to make him sit down.”

Then he is back storming around the room talking about what his dog likes to eat in the morning. The lady in black remarks,

“I also have a dog. He’s a Jack Russel.”

A nurse emerges and calls his name. He strides up to her with the announcement,

“I’m jumping the line, Any one care?”

“No, they nod in unison, go ahead!”

While he is gone the patients continue to talk to each other and the lady in black strikes up a discussion about dogs with the man opposite her. She moves to the chair adjacent to his and their conversation intensifies; apparently, he is also a dog owner. Just as the room begins to relax the man comes out of the treatment door. He appears calmer, waves his red cap and strides resolutely outside.

As he exits the first police car arrives, then a second. Each discharges a pair of officers in blue uniforms, bullet proof vests, and arrays of combat weaponry strapped around their ample waists. Another can be seen to have appeared behind the reception area glass talking to the receptionists. Fifteen minutes slip by but the man does not reappear. The police evaporate.

The waiting room rapidly resumes its earlier silence ruled by the hum of air conditioning and gentle taps on cell phones.

Cuckoo

I’ve been on sabbatical writing essays unsuitable for this blog and so I offer this 500 word “flash fiction” to prove that I am still alive and well! I hope that you enjoy it.

Seven-year-old Mary walked reluctantly to the piano. When she got there, she averted her eyes, and she turned to catch a glimpse of the last of pair of her class mates holding hands and walking, crocodile style, off to recess. How she hated this part of the music lesson when Miss Grey attempted to address her musical ineptitude. She didn’t know what ‘tone deafness’ was but had overheard her teacher discussing this with her mother. She began to feel hot and put one hand up to her neck to twist a stray lock of hair. She dearly wanted to suck her thumb but knew that this was forbidden.

“Come closer dear,” said Miss Grey as she put her hand on Mary’s shoulder.

“I’m going to play two notes, and I want you to sing along cuc-koo’, ‘cuc-koo’.” Mary gave Miss Grey a distressed blank look, for in her embarrassment at being singled out again,, she didn’t understand what was wanted.

“Let’s try – cuc–koo, cuc–koo” urged Miss Grey accompanying the words with notes on the piano. She chose the octave above middle and gently tapped G followed by C to accompany her singing; G-C, G-C; cuc-koo, cuc-koo.

Mary panicked and said, “Cuckoo. Cuckoo,” in a monotone child’s voice.

“No dear,” urged her teacher, that’s what you did last week. ‘sing the notes, can’t you hear the difference?” ‘She demonstrated “Cuc-koo, cuc-koo.”

But Mary didn’t get it even though she could hear the tone change she was far too flustered and frightened to do anything more than murmur, “Cuckoo, cuckoo”. She knew that when someone was referred to as being cuckoo it meant that they were very silly. Did all this mean that she was silly, did Miss Grey want her to chime like a cuckoo clock to announce her stupidity? Again, she gave a monotone “cuckoo, cuckoo.”

After a few additional attempts, Miss Grey escorted Mary back to her school room to join the other children. Here she relaxed and happily joined in the mathematics lesson.

When school was out Mary overheard her teacher explaining her deficit to her mother. She feared a reprimand and, feigning ignorance, skipped ahead as they walked home. Their route passed up a steep lane overhung by chestnut trees laden with spring blooms standing candle-like erect. They both paused when they heard the distinct call of a common European Cuckoo. They looked up but couldn’t see the bird among the profuse chestnut leaves.

“Do you hear the cuckoo? said her mother “they are active this time of year looking for nests to put their eggs in. They are known as brood parasites because they are able to trick other birds smaller than themselves into raising their chicks.

When the Cuckoo called again Mary’s mother responded with a laugh as she mimicked the bird. “cuc-koo, cuc-koo”. “Do you think that the bird understands my voice?” she asked.

Mary paused and then, feeling joyfully uplifted, joined her mother and bird in perfect mimicry, “cuc-koo, cuc-koo”

JURASSIC REVISITED a short story

Susan unlocked the door and stooped as she entered to avoid hitting her head. At seven feet, she was nick-named “shorty” for she was the shortest person in her group. She felt secure here and was glad that they had chosen this house with its high ceilings and robust construction. She placed her basket on the floor and called, “I’m home” as she removed her hat and outer clothing, which completely cocooned her and shielded her from the sun’s UV rays. Then she took up her basket and made her way to the kitchen where she placed the basket containing three large eggs that she had found on the counter. She thought that they were chicken eggs, but it was hard to tell as chickens were now the size of ostriches, and their large eggs could be confused with those of the larger reptiles roaming the land. Her spoils unloaded; Susan hurried into the main room to join the other five residents of the house sitting in a circle before a crackling radio.

“Did I miss anything?” she asked.

“They just announced that this is to be the last transmission.”

“So why the silence, surely there is no-one to put on commercials?”

“Something happened!”

Susan reached over and gently twiddled the knob. The radio emitted static and then they heard a voice,

“Today is momentous because it is the fiftieth anniversary of the first sun spot emitting X2X as observed by University of Texas astrology student Tony Clearwell. It is also to be the day of our last transmission. We ask that you copy and save this record for the future. We hope that one such copy will be found, possibly even a million years henceforth, a mere ripple in the 4.5 million years of the earth’s existence. It will help to explain the demise of our failed humanoid culture.”

While the transmission droned on with statistics, facts and figures to be saved for the future, Susan let her mind wander. She remembered her grandmother reminiscing, about Tony Clearwell, in her faint old voice. The matriarch told about the ridicule that his first observations had received. She spoke of the acceleration of global warming and the rising of the seas. She ridiculed the 2019 prediction by some of the collapse of humanity within a decade. She always concluded with a comment that farmers were the first to observe the curiosity that all living things were getting bigger. Susan remembered her happiness in the thought, which she took to her grave, that global warming was a blessing.

Susan remembered that her mother shared this belief until it became obvious that things were not OK. She told her daughter,

“At first scientists explained the unnatural growth as being a positive result of   global warming with its prolonged warmer growing seasons and increased rainfall. The unprecedented growth of all living things, exposed to sunlight, including humans, quickly became problematic and stimulated scientists to look twice. We now know that Tony Clearwell’s X2X, a previously undiscovered UV ray, promotes rapid, almost uncontrolled growth in both flora and fauna. Scientists suggest that this X2X UV light is what created the Jurassic age, and killed the dinosaur age when transmission ceased.”

Susan sighed as she thought about the accelerated Darwinian way that dramatically enlarged reptiles, insects and the general spectrum of fauna were adapting to their enlarged bodies and the rapidly growing flora. No one had yet seen a facsimile of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but she imagined that it was just a question of time.

SPRING – a poem

At  present I am preoccupied with visiting grandchildren and so I dug up this poem, written in the early 1970s when I lived in London, and edited now in 2019. Grandchildren can’t relate to this time before even thier parents were born, the senitments are universal so I hope that some of my readers may enjoy it.

I am a child of the night,
City born and thrust
Into the darkness,
Of faceless urban millions,
Sharing stereotyped desires,
And mass-media emotions,
Predicted and predictable. 

But, today I was free.
For today I saw the sun shine,
A warm spring sun,
It dried the ground,
It nuzzled nature to action,
Even as I was excited, delighted,
My heart uplifted by the globe.

Then joyful, I sang,
Forgetting the gray city,
Forgetting the tubes and fumes,
Forgetting humanity, my heritage,
And like the March hare,
Madly exulted in the sun,
My heart worshipped a pagan God.

Leslie a short story

At present I am reading short stories in Amy Hempel’s new collection “Sing to It.” In these stories most of her polished prose is in first person and reads as a stream of compelling, and of-times surprising consciousness. At first, I was confused by her style but after reading a few of the stories I tuned in and let her messages haunt. I can’t duplicate her style but admit some influence and offer this purely fictional tale for your comments.

My routine is simple. I rise before the sun, don an attractive tracksuit and run. I adopt a three-mile circuit. I warm up on the short distance down the west side of Shoal Creek to the park at fifteenth. Here I cross and turn to run up the east side of the Creek where the trial is located next to Lamar and is lit by street lights. Then, at a mile and a half, when the sun has risen, I turn left across a bridge and take the path on the west side of the Creek. I enjoy the dappled sunlit path, the green trees, the earthy smell of the ground, the bird song, and the gurgle of the water in the Creek. In one place, the path opens up, and I pause to take in the magnificence of nature. I do some jumping jacks while staring at the way that the morning sun highlights the Creek. I promise myself that one day, I’ll return with watercolors and easel to paint this beautiful scene. Invigorated, I climb the bank to my apartment, shower, put on an attractive blouse and business suit, and drive my short commute to work.

On the way, I stop at my favorite coffee shop for a sweetened café latte. There are two baristas. From the way that they interact with each other, I assume that they are close. Jose, the taller of the two, always serves me. He must see me in the parking lot for, when I enter, he has my order ready. We exchange pleasantries. One spectacularly beautiful morning I tell him that I had an invigorating run along Shoal Creek that morning.

He asks: “Did you see Leslie?”

I tell him that the route is generally deserted. He comments that Leslie visits the coffee shop each morning with an identical order to mine. We both laugh, then I turn half expecting to see Leslie, instead I see a car entering the lot with the favorite Austin bumper sticker. It reads: “Keep Austin Weird.”

I turn back to Jose and remark, “That Leslie, as a confirmed cross dresser, is well invested in keeping Austin weird.” Jose agrees with me.

I arrive at the office and open it up for the day greeting the staff and my partners with a serene sense of wellbeing tinged with superiority. When the mayoral election comes around Leslie’s name is on the ballot. Leslie as mayor – now that would be weird. The winner is Kirk Watson for another term. I like him and admire the astute way that he brought the rampant city environmentalists and the needs of in-coming employers and their developers together.

His thesis was quite simple, “The environmentalists and business leaders have the same goals.”

His premise startled every one until he explained. The environmentalists wish to protect the green Austin amenities, such as the Barton Creek greenbelt, Shoal Creek, and Town Lake, to name a few; to do this, they need Council’s support and funds. The new comers and developers come because they wish to enjoy the green Austin amenities, such as the Barton Creek greenbelt, Shoal Creek, and Town Lake. They expand the tax base and bring funding for the environmentalists.

Everything evolves and so does my morning run. It begins with an appearance where the west trail comes to my favorite spot, the place where there is an opening commanding a view down the Creek. The man, yes of course, it is a man, is completely naked. He stands fifty feet from me obviously posing for my benefit. I pretend not to see but catch his actions as, he pees an impressive long arch into the Creek. I’m a little taken aback by his presence but not frightened. He is too far away, and I can run. I wonder if he is Leslie, who is known to camp somewhere along this Creek. I do ask myself why Leslie, who likes to be seen as a woman, should wish to assert masculinity to me. I calm myself by telling myself that this person, was caught by surprise, and is as startled as I am.

My office overlooks the street of the coffee shop and, beyond, the way into Shoal Creek. Late each morning Leslie appears calmly walking up the street. He, or should I say she, is perfectly clad in women’s clothing. A clean chin, how does one shave in the woods, full make-up, skirt and blouse, hose and the highest high heels, surely uncomfortable to walk in? To top it all I keep reminding myself that Leslie is enrolled as a mayoral candidate, yep, Austin weird.

Sometimes I meet others on the trail. It is rare. I greet each with a hearty “Good morning” glad that we are always passing. Leslie still appears from time to time, or I think that it is Leslie, always the same place, generally sparsely clad. Sometimes there is a wave of a hand. I respond raising my arm. Time passes, spring becomes summer and then Fall. It is still warm I wear a skimpy top and shorts. The dawn is getting later and my run through the woods is in half light. I begin to fear seeing the naked / sparsely clad one, because something has changed. I can’t put my finger on what, but my sixth sense tells me that things are different; I consider altering my route but don’t.

It is Friday the week before Thanksgiving, and my nemesis jumps out in front of my path. He holds something in his hand. It looks like a gun. I’ve never seen him this close. His chin is covered in stubble. I’m now convinced that he is not Leslie. He motions to me to step off the path into a stand of bushes. There’s a rug on the ground. He wants me to lie down. I am trembling. I must obey. There is a yell, and my assailant is attacked from behind; he drops the gun. Leslie yells,

“Go away you perverted creep. I’ve had my eye on you. You are not welcome. Go.”

Miraculously, my assailant runs off. Leslie picks up the gun and hands it to me. I feel stupid when I look at it and see that it is plastic. I am embarrassed to have been held up by a semi-naked man with a toy in his hand. Leslie gives me a smile and disappears.

I do not call the police for their presence would surely be a poor thank you to Leslie. At the coffee shop, I talk to Jose and arrange for free coffees for Leslie. I don’t explain why. I merely remark, “I’m keeping Austin weird!” Jose nods in approval

I make one additional change; I adopt a new run route around Town Lake.

CHAT WALKS a memoir

Today I post “Chat Walks” which is a short personal memoir. It is offered as a quick read to atone for my last two long “Bobby Shafto” posts.

Every summer we visited my maternal grandparents who lived in a small village south of London. Probably to get us out of the house, my grandmother frequently insisted that we accompany my Grandfather on his daily walk. This consisted of a ramble around the village green taken at a slow pace for he stopped to greet everyone we encountered. He was on first name basis with them all. Each exchange, true to the English, began with the weather and went on to hold his attention for several minutes. I named his walks his “Chat Walks.” The name stuck! Soon my grandmother took to rising from the breakfast table with the words, “Jimmy, time for your Chat Walk, take the grandchildren!”