By the time I get up, the gloves are really off and the sparring has begun in earnest. I hear angry, raised voices, walk downstairs to the kitchen, and a hush falls on the room. Knife-edge glances slice their menacing ways through the thickening atmosphere. Time for boxing: on my left, in the blue corner, my mother, smoking what is probably her second packet of the day. A thin haze of grey smoke escapes from her bruised lips and a cloud of exhaled fumes crowns her head with a murky halo. On my right, in the red corner, my father. White-faced, hungover yet again, truly into the spirits of Christmas. He breathes heavily, like a Boxer Dog in the mid-summer dog-days, snoring and snorting at a bitch in heat. In the middle, my grandfather, the referee. He is keeping the combatants apart, creating a tiny breathing space so the true Spirit of Christmas can disentangle itself from those false Christmas Spirits and bring peace to earth again for at least sixty seconds between each round. I look around the heaving, seething, threshing silence of a room where conversation has suddenly ceased. The fire is burning merrily. Beside it, tongs, poker, and small shovel stand to attention. On the hearthstone, the little red brush, with its long handle lies in ambush. This is what my father uses to beat me when he can’t be bothered to take off his leather belt. Scorch marks from the hot coal fire sear the handle and back of the little red brush. I threw it on the fire one day, hoping to see the end of it. Of course, it was rescued from the flames, resurrected, and I got beaten for that act of rebellion too. “It’s all your fault!” My father breaks the silence, pointing at me. His red-rimmed eyes blazing with a sudden and renewed anger. He starts to rise, but my grandfather steps between us. “Go and see your granny,” grandpa tells me. “She’s in the kitchen. Go now!” He points to the kitchen door. I run a gauntlet of staring eyes and go to my gran. As I shut the door behind me, voices rise higher in the room I have just left. Boxing Day, indeed. The gloves are off. The battle has begun again. My grandfather has evacuated me from no-boy’s-land and, for a moment, I am no longer trapped in the mud-filled, cratered, shell-holes between the trenches, the uncut barbed-wire barriers, the poached-egg eyes peering through periscopes and spying on me from the parental and priestly parapets above the wooden duck-boards that line the floor on the far side of the room and keep the enemies’ feet clear of mud and water.
I guess if she were a boy she’d be a Lolly Laddy, or a Loblolly Laddy, depending on the circumstances. Did this one at 4:00 am when I was non compus mentis, whatever that means at that time of the morning. Just trying to keep from falling downstairs, I guess. I love the colors: violet for tranquility, red for strength and energy, yellow for clarity, and blue for feeling blue at that time of the morning.
I suppose, if I were Rimbaud, I would be able to write letters instead of colors. Alas, now I no longer know where to hang these things: I am running out of wall space. And frames. And nails. “A nail, a nail, my kingdom for a nail”… Richard III aka the Hunchback of Loblolly Alley. Mind you, I think his nail was detached from the shoe that fell from his horse. “To lose one horse is a tragedy. To lose two is careless.” Oscar Wilde on parenting.
I love the sparkles though. We have several sparklers and we keep them for the sad times when the world needs brightening, as it does all too often nowadays. The seasons roll on. The year is trickling by. I have decided to sleep under my duvet. It is certainly warm under there and the Teddy Bears really appreciate it. They want to hibernate, but I refuse to let them. If I let them hibernate the cat will be up on the bed, and we can’t have that, can we? Not me, and definitely not the bears. And here’s why not: Teddies or Cats? Click and you’ll find the answer. Or maybe you won’t. So try clicking here: Teddy Bears FFS. Oh dear, I think there’s a typo there: a Teddy Bear Typo. Never mind. I am sure you won’t mind.
I wouldn’t go down to the woods today, if I were you. And I think you know why! You shouldn’t go alone, either. But if you venture out, think twice about taking your teddies. They might run away to join the picnic and leave you all alone with the Night Bumps, the acorn throwers, the wild folk, and the Wood Chuck wood-chuckers.
However, not all Night Bumps are nasty and this is a baby Winking Night Bump caught by the camera, or was it the paint brush, in the act of winking. I’d have written ‘red-handed’ but not all Night Bumps have hands. Some are just wormy squirmy wrigglers. And they can be the worst.
This isn’t what he really looks like, or is it a she? I cannot tell the difference. Well, not until they bump and grind anyway. Then they are like dentists’ drills. Sharp ones, blunt ones. Keeps you awake all night, they does, just thinking about ’em.
I don’t know what happened to the photo of the painting. But we all knows all about that too, don’t we, oh faithful followers of this faithless blog that sometimes arrives and sometimes doesn’t. Oh dear. Just look what happens when you look into the sunset. https://rogermoorepoet.com/2021/10/08/into-the-sunset/ It gets all distorted. Maybe I’ll have to have another go with the camera. A camera, a camera, my Night Bump for a camera. Or should that be ‘a camera for my Night Bump’.
Oh dear. This is getting out of hand. I’d better call for Blueberry. Oh, I forgot. He’s having his Sunday Siesta. No Nasty Night Bumps in action on a Sunday Afternoon, even if it is raining.
Now that’s a bit different. Well, shiver me timbers. And I bet I can do better than that. “Pieces of silver! Pieces of eight!” And all hands to the Naval Volunteer. Ship-shape and Bristol Fashion down on the docks that are no longer docks, not down by St. Mary’s on the Quay. “Aye aye, skipper.” And look out for that black patch. Whisky is the life of man. But rum rules at the Admiral Benbow. And everyone must eventually pay on the nails. Unless they gets dispensation from the Green ‘Un on a Satterday Nite. But watch out for those wheelbarrows tumbling down Christmas Steps during Rag Week. And thee must bist recall: it’s never safe in this aerial, especially under a tiny little ‘aat that like.
The crocodile lives in the wind-up gramophone. The gramophone lives in the top room of the house. The boy winds up the gramophone with a long brass handle, round and round, till the spring is tight. A tight spring frightens the crocodile and he sits quietly in his cage. But as the record goes round and the spring loosens up, the crocodile roars and demands to be freed. He’s the Jack that wants to jump out of the box. His long-term dream is to eat up the witch who looks out of the window and watches the boy as he plays in the yard. Last week the boy decided to dig. He picked up a spade and dug a deep hole that went all the way down to his cousin in Australia. The little dog laughed and joined in the fun, scraping with his front paws and throwing earth out between his back legs like happy dogs do. The witch in the window cackled with laughter and the rooks in the rookery rose up in a cloud and cawed in reply. Only the boy is able to see the witch and he only sees her when she sits in the window. But he knows she wanders through the house, and the air goes cold when she enters and exits the rooms, especially when she brushes past the boy and sweeps his skin with her long, black gown. When the boy got tired of digging, he drove the spade into the ground and left it standing by the hole. When his father came home it was well after dark. He didn’t see the hole but he saw the spade. So he didn’t fall in to the shaft of the coal-mine that went down to Australia. No free trip to the Antipodes for that unlucky dad. He beat the boy for that, for digging that hole. Then he beat him again for lying because the hole didn’t go to Australia. Australia was too far away and the angle was wrong. The boy laughed when he saw that his dad didn’t know where Australia was. “Ha-ha,” he laughed. And his dad beat him again, this time for laughing. Sometimes at night the boy can hear rats running through his bedroom walls. They scuttle and scuffle as they hunt through the guttering. The crocodile growls from time to time in that upstairs room. The witch cackles with laughter. The boy puts his head under the blankets and cries himself to sleep. Sometimes he wishes the crocodile would come and eat up his dad. But he loves his dad like the dog loves his dad even though his dad beats both the boy and the dog. Sudden beatings, they are, that arrive without warning: hail and thunder from a sunny summer sky. “Well, you’re not laughing now,” his father announces as he beats him one more time. “A beating a day keeps disobedience away. There will be no disobedience in this house.” When the father beats the boy, the dog cowers beneath a chair. The boy hears the crocodile growl and smiles through the tears as he wipes salt water from his eyes. “Are you laughing at me? I’ll make you laugh on the other side of your face,” the father taunts the son and beats him again. The crocodile growls. The old witch cackles. The rooks in the rookery rise up in the air and the father’s hair stands up on end like it does when lightning lights up the sky, and thunder rolls its drums, and the sky’s wheels rattle like an old warrior’s chariot whose wheels have not been greased. The veins stand out in his father’s cheeks as the old man once more raises his hand to the boy. The old man tells the same old jokes again and again. The boy must always remember to laugh at them as if he had never heard them before. If he doesn’t laugh, his father gets angry. Some of the jokes are good, and the boy likes the one about the Catholic with the pet crocodile who goes into a bar in Belfast and asks the barkeep if they serve Protestants. ‘Of course we do,’ says the barkeep. ‘Good,’ says the man. ‘I’ll have a pint of bitter for myself and a Protestant for the crocodile.’ Or is it the one in which the Protestant goes into the bar and ask the barkeep if they serve Catholics … anyway … whatever … one night, the boy dreams and it happens like this. The crocodile escapes from the gramophone. The witch hands the boy a leash and a collar and between them they restrain the crocodile. “Walkies?” says the boy. The crocodile nods his head and crocodile and boy walk down the street to the Kiddy’s Soda Fountain on the corner. When the boy walks in with the crocodile, the waitress raises her eyebrows and opens her mouth. “Do you serve grown ups in here?” the little boy asks her. “Of course we do,” says the waitress. “Good. I’ll have a glass of Dandelion & Burdock for myself and a grown-up for the crocodile. Please.” The witch says grace, the boy sips his Dandelion & Burdock, and they all shed crocodile tears as the boy’s pet crocodile chomps on the fast-disappearing body of the boy’s dad. Next morning, the boy wakes up. The witch and the crocodile are sitting on his bed. “I had a funny dream last night,” says the boy. The witch cackles. The crocodile burps, then sheds crocodile tears. The boy starts to laugh. He laughs until he cries and then the witch sheds crocodile tears too.
Pepe’s bar was at the top of a steep, cobbled street, on the left-hand side. When we got there, it was crowded with men, mostly fishermen off the North Atlantic ships that cross the sea to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The men stay away for weeks at a time, and when they get back home, they too have a huge thirst, large and curious appetites, and money with which to indulge them. We all pushed our way into Pepe’s bar to join the crowd. “Phew! Let’s get out of here. The place stinks of fish!” “We can’t go without drinking something. You know what Pepe’s like.” “Let’s share a porrón.” And a porrón of red wine duly appeared. The porrón is designed for a small boat in the open sea. It is a glass flask of variable size, holding half a litre or a litre of bright red wine, depending upon the number of people drinking from it. It has a wide funnel at one end through which the wine enters and a thin spout at the other through which the wine exits in a fine ruby jet which the experts shoot directly into their mouths; done with skill, no lips ever touch the flask which circulates from hand to hand amidst cries of appreciation for the skilled and jeers for the careless (and the educational tourists, like me, here to learn about the language and the culture) who suddenly choke and cough as they squirt a red stream of wine up their noses and onto face, shirt, and tie. By dint of hard work, some of it done in the bath tub at home while nobody is watching, I can manage a porrón in the quiet confines of the bar; but I still don’t know how I would fare, out at sea, in an open, wind-swept boat. I was soon going to find out.
Timothy heard his older brothers moving from room to room, searching for him. He knew they would find him but for now he had found refuge beneath his grandfather’s double bed. It was dark under there in that sepulchral space. He had placed his grandfather’s enormous Royal Doulton chamber pot between himself and the door so that the dog would not pick up his scent, run to his hiding place, and lay the Judas lick upon his cheek.
His grandfather had forgotten to empty the chamber pot. Dark urine splashed on Timothy’s hands and sleeves as he squeezed behind the giant china pot that overwhelmed his nose fills with his grandfather’s nocturnal vapors.
The voices got louder as his brothers climbed the stairs and approached the bedrooms on the upper floor.
“Where is he now, drat him?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll find him.”
“And then he’ll be for it.”
“I’ll beat him with the little red brush they use for cleaning the fireplace.”
“That will teach him.”
Timothy was familiar with those threats, especially the little red brush.
He remembered the fox the hounds killed at his feet, one sunny morning a year before. He cycled down the lane outside his family’s summer cottage. The fox limped along the side of the lane, saw the boy on his bike, but too tired to run from him, continued limping in the roadway. Timothy got off his bike, leaned it against the rough stone country wall, and watched the fox. Its tail, speckled with mud, dragged behind its low-slung body, sweeping the ground. Timothy observed the twigs and thorns protruding from its black-tipped orange redness.
Timothy walked towards the fox. It tried to move away from the boy but collapsed and lay at the edge of the lane, flanks heaving, tongue lolling out through the white strings of thick foam that choked the muzzle and streaked saliva on the forequarters.
The hounds came from nowhere, an incoming, barking tide that rounded the corner and rushed towards Timothy who froze with a fright that pressed him against the wall. Sun-warmed stone jutted sharp edges into his back. As he stood there, unable to move, a rough hand came over the wall and grabbed him by the shoulder. He felt himself hauled upwards. The flint points dug into his back and he yelped as the firm hand drew him over the top of the wall to safety.
“Get out of there, you stupid boy, or the hounds will have you.”
Timothy hid his face in the farmer’s rough homespun shirt. He shuddered as the dogs bayed and growled and scrapped and scratched. Then the fox, it must have been the fox, let out a high-pitched yap and whine and the pack gargled itself into a drooling, slobbering sort of silence. The farmer pushed Timothy’s face away from his shoulder and forced his head towards the spot where the hounds, on the other side of the protective barrier, rubbed their ears into the dead fox’s torn and bloodied body.
“That’s what they’d have done to you, my boy. Never come between a pack and its kill.”
Timothy watched a member of the hunt staff pull a knife from his jacket. The foxhunters broke into cheers and howls of pleasure when the man severed the fox’s brush and held it on high. The farmer thrust Timothy towards the Master of Hounds.
“Here, blood him, Master, he was in at the kill.”
The Master of Hounds opened his mouth to flash a smile filled with pointed, foxhound teeth. He stooped, dipped his fingers in the still warm fox blood, and streaked a smear across the boy’s face.
“There,” he said,” you’re blooded now. One of us, eh what?”
The mingled scents of fox and hound and blood and death and urine and feces made a heady mixture and Timothy started to hyperventilate. His breath came hard in his throat and, as he struggled to breathe, tears rolled down his cheeks.
Timothy feels safe in his secret hiding place beneath his grandfather’s bed. He can hear his brothers’ taunts and calls as they search for him, but they haven’t found him yet. Sticks and stones may break my bones, he whispers, but names will never hurt me. But names do hurt. Tiny Tim they call him and ask him where he hides his crutch. I don’t limp, Timothy once replied. When he said that, one of his brothers, Big Billy, kicked Timothy as hard as he could with the toe of his boot, just above the ankle. Timothy screamed with pain. You’ll limp now, said Big Billy, and his other brothers found the joke so funny that they all called kicked Tiny Tim at every opportunity. Limp, Timmy, limp, they chanted as they chased him round, limpTiny Tim, Tiny Timmy.
“He’s not up here,” one of his brothers called out.
“Must be out in the garden, the coward, we’ll have to hunt out there for him,” another replied.
“Can’t run, can’t hide,” said Big Billy. “Get the dog, we’ll track him down.”
The voices finally faded. Protected by the barrier of his grandfather’s cold but intimate body waste, Timothy curled up like a fox in his den and fell asleep. He dreamed of the proud brush of a tail flying in the wind, of a warm stone wall, drenched in sunlight, and of a farmer’s strong, all-protecting arm.
Comment: I have written several versions of this story, some longer, some much shorter, some in the first person singular, some in the second person. In all of them, the word-play on the little red brush (fox and fireplace) is paramount. This particular version occurs in my short story collection, Nobody’s Child available on line. Sometimes a story will not leave me alone. It wanders around, takes slightly different twists and turns, and new images and scenes emerge, as they do in this particular piece. Alas, I didn’t have a photo of a fox, so I used a photo of three plump pigeons hiding, you might even say ‘cowering away’, from a hungry hawk circling overhead while they hid in a crack in a wall in Avila, Spain. It always surprises me to know how many people (and animals) flee from what Robbie Burns called “man’s inhumanity to man”.
“I left her by the gate to the Beaver Pond at 2:38. It takes her twenty minutes to walk around the circuit. I always check my watch. Then I know when I can expect her back. In exactly eight minutes, she comes out of the woods and I can see her at the end of the boardwalk. I park the car in a spot from which I can watch her and wave to her. Today, I didn’t see her come out of the woods. It’s the radiation for prostate cancer … it’s left my bowels weak. I had to go to the bathroom … so I turned the car engine on … it was 2:44 … about two minutes before she was due to appear on the boardwalk … yesterday, a Great Blue Heron stood fishing in the pond … he flew when he saw her … a great crack of the wings … but today, the heron wasn’t there … just ducks … they flapped their wings, stood on the water, you know, the way they do, and scattered from the spot where she should have appeared … she walks very quietly, tip-toe, you know … she likes watching the heron and the ducks … she doesn’t like to frighten them … I don’t know what to think … I had to go … it was urgent … so I turned the car around and drove to the nearest bathroom … about one hundred yards away … I was in there … I don’t know … about five minutes … I didn’t check my watch … it’s dark in there … no electricity …besides, between hobbling on my sticks, praying to God to help me to hold on, opening and closing the door, struggling to get my pants down without soiling them …and then I drove back to the picnic tables … and waited … and waited …and she never appeared. I haven’t seen her since … she’s gone missing … I fear the worst … “
On the other end of the phone, a long silence, some heavy breathing, then:
“We’ll file a missing person’s report.”
“You will find her, won’t you? I love her, you know. I must find her. I want to know what’s happened … ” the old man wiped the corner of his right eye with the knuckle of the index finger of his left hand. He coughed and cleared his throat.
“Twenty years younger than you, you said?”
“Yes,” the old man nodded.
“Well, sir: we’ve already started our investigation. We’ll do our best to find her. We’ll contact you as soon as anything turns up.”
The police officer put down the phone and the circuit clicked out.
“What the hell you gonna do?”
“Not me … us.”
“Okay … us then … well … what the hell we gonna do?”
“You tell me. We got her on video. She walked out the other exit, by the park HQ, straight into the arms of the Deputy Police Commissioner. She’s twenty years younger than her husband and her husband’s got the sort of cancer that’s killed his sex life. Cancer? And the Deputy Commissioner’s the one who’s waiting for her? What the hell do you think we’re gonna do?”
Comment The Beaver Pond at Mactaquac is a beautiful place to be, all year round. We love it in summer and fall and Anne Stillwell-Leblanc (< click on link for website) has captured the stillness and silence of the place in the above engraving. As I have become less mobile, so I have sent Clare cantering around the pond to enjoy the beauty we used to enjoy together. Meanwhile, I sit in the car and watch for Clare’s regular appearances through the trees and on the footbridge. As I sit, I write. Sometimes it is journal style, sometimes poetry, and occasionally a short story, like this one.
I cover my face with a white mask of soap and carve intricate patterns with the razor.
… painted masks … death masks … the masks the priests wear in the pre-Columbian Oaxacan codices … the prisoner struggling … not yet fully understanding his fate … around him … animal masks … priest masks … the jaguar cult of the regiments … they strip him down … paint his body … arm him with flowers … place him on a pedestal … from there he will dance his last dance … fight his last fight .. his destiny … like the bull in the bull ring … to die bravely showing no fear … he strikes first with the flower … his opponents strike back … one by one … with their obsidian knives … each wound a flesh wound on legs and thighs … the heart pounds … the blood flows .. faster and faster … more flowers … more knives … more blood … until almost bloodless the prisoner weakens and stumbles … rough arms seize him by the arms and legs … they carry him to the sacrificial stone … bend him over it … chest exposed … and tear the living beating heart from the cavity the carve in his chest … the severed arms and legs bounce down the temple steps to the waiting crowds … tomorrow his spirit will return as a hummingbird … and dance around the sun … for now his torn heart sizzles in the sacrificial fire … a horse’s head … teeth bared … grins from the temple walls …
My razor, held like a flower, slips and I gash my lip. The slow blood seeps through the soap streaking my mask with faint shades of pink. I shiver and stare at my reflection in the mirror. It’s a very plain face with a nose slightly larger and more hooked than it ought to be. I think of it as the prow of a ship or a bird’s beak: an eagle perhaps. My nose is very much like the nose of the man who died in the flower dance. In spite of the warmth in the room, I shiver again.
Basil decided he liked beer, especially in small tins. The news says that many teddy bears have become addicted to alcohol in the course of the pandemic. What the Strolling Roans call Teddy’s little helper, or Basil’s in this case. I do hope he’s all right.
Basil swears he likes cats. “Look,” he says. “She’s reaching out to me.” I am worried that she’s coming to give him a nasty scratch. Am I worried? Of course I am. I thought Basil was a tee-tee-tee-total bear. I think he’s trying to break in.
Suddenly, I am not so sure. I think he has been talking, in secret, with one of my friends, whose name we will not mention. Couldn’t be him. How could he talk when … (comment removed by MI6, or equivalent).
Obsidian’s Edge started out as At the Edge of Obsidian and was the second volume in the Oaxacan Trilogy (Sun and Moon, At the Edge of Obsidian, Obsidian 22). When I republished it in Create Space (now Kindle / KDP) I rewrote the last two volumes and turned them into a single book, Obsidian’s Edge, so that the Oaxacan Trilogy is now a Oaxacan Duology. My apologies to those who are eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.
Early Morning in Oaxaca
… dream worlds circle outside my bedroom window … starry sky … two full moons floating, one real, one mirrored in the glass … inside the bedroom, tulips inscribe red gashes on white-washed walls … sharp fingernails scrape across paint, blood red shadows trickle down to the floor … … above the azotea, the temples of Monte Albán string out their sheets on the sky’s washing-line, glowing in the moonlight … against a background of granite and stucco, trenchant shadows sculpt dancers into grotesque, pipe-wire shapes as they struggle to escape their carved imprisonment … … priests in long black robes gape at the night sky. From their sanctuary in the observatory, they plot how they will persuade the people to believe the future they will foretell as night’s giant finger herds the wild-cat stars … … three young women walk at an angle up the temple steps … when they reach the top, a moonbeam holds them in its spotlight and they wax with the full moon’s beauty … the doorway to an unclosed grave opens its crocodile jaws and the three women descend the temple steps, ageing as they walk … at the temple’s foot, they enter the tomb’s dark mouth … an old man in a faded grey suit walks behind them … the grave swallows them all, burying them in the hidden depths beneath the mound … … dreams back themselves into a cul-de-sac, a wilderness of harsh black scars … an ancient Aztec god catches Rabbit by his ears and throws him against the second sun that sizzles in the sky … his sharp teeth burrow, burying themselves deep in the sun-fire’s light … the second sun loses its glow and turns into the moon’s cold stone … the rabbit’s skull simmers in the new moon’s dwindling pool … With a clicking of claws, knitting needles come together to pluck me outwards from my dreams and upwards towards death’s golden guillotine that floats in the sky. The moon sharpens its knife edge on the keening wind and sets my blood tingling. I want to be free, free from those nightmares, those nocturnal visions that rise up from the past and stalk me as I lie in bed. Drowsing, I long for the alarm clock to shuffle its pack of sleepless hours and to waken me with its piercing call as it tears me from these winding sheets, these grave clothes in which I lie. I wait for the sun to shine into my window.