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”

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.

MANGO MEMORIES

Although they found the community zip line broken the children and their grandparents chatted happily and waved sticks during their pedestrian descent. The path meandered down a mountainside overlooking a dark Honduran tropical jungle ravine. They were content for the hot mid-day sun diminished jungle terrors of large predator snakes, raucous bird song, and howling monkeys. At a turn, they came upon a wild mango tree. They gathered ripe fruit. At home the grandmother prepared it, and they ate.

The following day they were back shaking branches to gather more fruit. The mango aroma mingled pleasantly with the musty dampness of the jungle. This was Eden. Occupants in an overlooking residence came outside and stood in a gawking row, as though they considered gathering mangoes a forbidden activity. The fresh crop was taken home, peeled, prepared and consumed. All was well.

Three days later, the grandmother began to scratch an annoying, supposed, insect bite on her jaw. A couple of days later, it was swollen and spread across her face. It progressively proliferated; neck, chest, arms, legs, a veritable itchy red mess. She analyzed the last week in an attempt to identify something unusual, – a cause of this allergic reaction. Then she hit upon it – the mango.

Dr Google helped. Yes, mangoes contain Urushiol in their skins. This is the same allergen found in poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac as well as traces in pistachios and cashews. Grandmother’s problem was a prolonged exposure, including residues lurking on clothing and jewelry. We conclude this story with a praise for steroids and time, which work their combined magic in dispelling itchy eruptions. We add grandmother’s suspicion of a minor biblical error for the tropical Eden forbidden fruit is, surely, the mango not the apple.

Time – a poem by LEMS

The other day I was  going through some of my father’s old papers and came across this poem which my mother, LEMS (Lucy Edith Mary Stansfeld, wrote. It was dedicated to him. It appears to have been written in 1968 shortly before she died. I  find it beautiful and moving, worth of being shared. I regret that I didn’t know that she was writing at that time so that I could have discussed it with her.

My purse is nearly empty – this my pain,
to eek the few base coins that still remain.
How prodigal the shining gold I spent
thoughtless, thriftless, and incontinent
And there is none on whom to blame my loss,
this was no crock-of-gold to turn to dross,
But amply and sufficient from my birth
what I have wasted could supply this dearth.
TIME is the currency, DEATH the empty purse
few had more coin, and few have used it worse.
Tip in my hand my last poor pence, weigh my finds,
open my palm to look again – the brightness blinds!
All that was scant and dirty, base and old,
the alchemy of love has turned to gold!

Ski Romance

Amie loved skiing. She was always passionate about her loves, and this one began when she was in elementary school. It intensified every year. When she graduated from high school, her parents suggested that she take a ‘gap’ year to pander to her appetite for the slopes and to help her forget her high-school sweet-heart who ditched her after prom. Her parents managed to get her a waitress position including accommodation, in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Amie arrived in Colorado in mid-September. She had never visited the State in the fall and was greeted by a land of color instead of the white wonderland of winter. She immediately texted her best friend, Betty.

“Hey, Bets, Wish you were here. It’s beautiful. Bet you’ve never seen aspen in their fall color. Pic attached, It’s better than that Nat Geo article Mrs. X made us study last year. So much gold; and the silver bark adds to the image. All this haloed by giant rock outcroppings and dark evergreens. Even though it is too early for snow I’m off to inspect the slopes on Sunday – hope that it swarms with unattached handsome men. LOL, A.”

As planned Amie took the Sunday gondola up to the lowest ski lodge and staging area. Although she was accustomed to ski lifts, she found the ride scary. She kept thinking about a dramatic rescue which and been shown on national TV in which a passenger moved down the open wires to rescue a boy hanging by his back-pack. The support system struck her as precarious – one small connector between gondola and cables and a fifty-foot plunge to the slopes below.

She was relieved when she arrived at the top and walked briskly through the building to view the slopes beyond. A grassy green carpet surrounded by brilliantly colored trees spread out from the building. Visitors dawdled on a paved veranda at the top of the swale and gazed at a sole moose. The magnificent animal, with his head of multi-pointed antlers and large hanging dewlap under his chin pawed the ground and returned his audience’s stare. A park ranger stood between the animal and the spectators making sure that no-one got too close. Cameras snapped wildly. Amie overheard the ranger explaining to a group of boys that the moose is the most dangerous animal in Colorado. Unlike the black bear that avoids people, the moose is fearless and will charge at random. When it ambled sedately into the trees, the ranger waved his hand and allowed visitors to walk across the swath of green to a pedestrian trail leading up the mountain.

Amie followed the crowd. The wind was blowing up the mountainside through the trees. It roared like the sea as it swayed the evergreens. It rustled the stands of aspen whose brilliant golden-yellow leaves danced making a noise like rain upon water. Many of the leaves detached and floated onto the footpath and branches of the evergreens. Amie took photographs of this golden snow. By now, she was feeling tired and so, when she saw a bench next to the path, she sat down. She took a long drink from her water bottle, proud of herself in her knowledge that altitude adaptation requires the body to make more blood and needs extra water to do this. She took out her phone and texted a picture to Betty.

“It’s beautiful, would be even better if there were some beaus around! Feeling tired, must be the altitude. LOL, Amie”

She felt comfortable on her bench and watched other visitors walk by as they also enjoyed the well-used trail. She exchanged greetings with them and shared friendly comments on the beauty of the aspen. Gradually, she felt a presence next to her and turned to find that she was sharing her bench with an attractive young man of her own age. She deduced that she must have dozed off and not noticed his arrival.

“Hi,” he offered a gloved hand, “I’m Chas. I hope that you don’t mind sharing this bench with me.”

Sharing, heck no, Amie was happy to have him beside her, she shook his hand and murmured “Amie, pleased to meet you!”

They sat and chatted about the beauty of the fall colors. Then they joined the other visitors hiking up the path. Their conversation never lagged as they talked about skiing and their mutual expectations for the season. When they returned to the bench, they sat next to each-other. Chas took Amie’s hand in his. She already felt at ease with him and rested her head on his shoulder. She must have dozed off again for when she awoke he was gone.

That evening she called Betty and told her about the strange young man who had caused her heart to flutter. She described his tanned face, resolute stride, teasing blue eyes and gentle voice. During the following week, Amie worked learning the ropes of her waitress position and the layout of Steamboat Springs, all the while speculating about Chas and looking forward to Sunday, the only day the gondolas run in the pre-season. When it came she dressed carefully and took her ride.

This time the aspen stood bare and the golden landscape gone. The ground was bathed in a light cover of fresh snow. It silhouetted the bare aspen branches and coated the tops of the evergreen branches of green needles. Amie took photographs to text to Betty and her parents. She hiked up the path. She didn’t want to admit to herself that she was searching for Chas, although she knew that this was her purpose. He was nowhere to be seen. Each time that she saw a man she hurried to scrutinize his face hoping that one of them would turn out to be him. Disappointed, and tired by her exertion, she returned to her bench.

The cloudless sky was a brilliant blue and the sun shone warm melting the snow. She took out a book and began to read. She wasn’t sure when she first felt his presence, for it seemed to invade upon her gently. She turned and smiled. He put his arm around her,

“Been waiting long?”

“Not really,’ she lied ‘I’m glad that you came.”

“Me too.”

They conversed and walked up the path holding hands. She shared some of her innermost secrets with him and found him to be a sympathetic listener. He responded with stories about his youth but omitted to tell her why he was on the slopes. When they returned to the bench, and she cuddled up against his chest eventually dozing off. She awoke with a start as a park ranger shook her.

The sun, in a red sky, was setting behind the building to the west, and she realized that she was cold, very cold.

“It’s time to leave,” said the ranger “you don’t want to miss the last gondola.”

She looked into his friendly face and asked, “The young man who was with me. Did you see him?” The blank look on his face worried her. She went on, “He is tall, very good looking, and is wearing a navy-blue ski jacket and matching pants, both with hot pink stripes on the sides.

“Sounds like Chas!”

“Yes, yes,” she breathed with pleasure, “yes, that’s him, Chas.”

“You must’ve been dreaming. Chas is no longer with us.”

“But’ she stammered ‘he was here, beside me. Yes, what is more, he promised that he is going to ski with me when the slopes officially open.”

The ranger sighed, and touched Amie’s arm again, “My dear young lady. It’s been three years.” He raised his arms in exasperation, “You must remember, at the time it was all over the newspapers; our Olympic hopeful, Chas, died in an unfortunate skiing accident.”

Amie shook her head and turned away to disguise her clouded eyes. The ranger pressed on,

“Don’t you remember the story, just before his big jump he was spooked by a moose and landed wrong.’ He pointed at the bench,

“Look at the plaque on this bench, it carries his name. It was donated by his parents. You’re sitting on his memorial.”