Pianissimo

Pianissimo


            You sit at the piano, my old piano, still extant in my father’s house, yet soon to be given away, though we don’t know that yet. It’s an upright, iron-frame Bechstein, a piano that I was given when I was the same age as you are now. Handel’s Largo, the Harmonious Blacksmith, hours and hours of scales. They locked me in the front room, my mum and dad, and there I stayed for an hour, two hours, or more. I came to hate music. As soon as I could, I gave up the piano, I rejected piano practice, I turned my face away from the discipline of the lock up.
            Now, I listen to you. Your untaught fingers tickle the black keys, then the white keys, one after another. You are six years old. You’ve never had a lesson, but you have music in your blood and some residual instinct latches on to rhythm and sound. Your fingers are long and supple and your touch is light, so much lighter than mine used to be, and now, on the deep bass notes of the left hand, your stronger hand, you pound away, awakening the dark ghosts of soul music that pour through my memories awakening echoes in this piano.
            I think of you as a jazz musician. Thelonius Monk, perhaps, a tinkle here, a light touch there, now a chord or two, inexplicable, and who would want to explain. It is a joy to sit here, to see your smile of absolute absorption. Mood music you call it, and today your moods are as dark as the shadows that tug at my heart, and as light as the sunlight that floats through the windows and makes the dust motes sparkle. It also frames a halo round your head. You hum to yourself as the morning sunshine fragments into colored gems and you sculpt your rainbow of sound.
            “Stop that noise. You’re driving me mad,” your grandfather, my father, stumbles into the room. He has taken his last cigarette out of the packet and the white cylinder hangs down from his lips, like an extraneous chalk outcrop hanging from the lip of an errant teacher. He pats his pockets. “Where are my matches? Has anyone seen my matches?”
            “They’re on the table in the kitchen,” I reply. “Where you always put them.”
            “I thought I left them in here,” my father leans on his stick then turns and stumbles out of the living room and into the kitchen.
            You hop off the piano stool, take the matches from your pocket, and carefully place them on the arm of your grandfather’s favorite chair.
            “Sssssh!” you say, putting a finger on your lips. Then you skip back to the piano and start playing pianissimo on high notes that float like tiny raindrops of sound produced by miniscule angels.          
            Your grandfather returns, glances round the room, spots the match box, and pounces upon it, a caged tiger finally served his red meat.
            “That’s funny,” he mutters. “They weren’t there a moment ago.” He takes out a match, strikes it, lights up his cigarette, inhales a lungful of smoke, then exhales it in a great locomotive puff of cloud. He grimaces at you through a haze of smoke.
            “There’s nice music you’re playing.”
            Your young lungs, unaccustomed to a house of smokers, can’t cope with this thin, grey, choking cigarette waste. You stop playing, put a hand over your mouth, and start to gag.

Listen to the Podcast here:
Pianissimo

Crocodile Tears

Crocodile Tears

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.

Teddy Bears’ Nit-Pick

Teddy Bears’ Nit-Pick
Friday Fiction
27 August 2021

           

            “So, Teddy, how did we all end up in here like this?”

“Kicked him out, she did, just like that, Freddy. Told him to sleep in the spare bedroom. She couldn’t take it any more. She couldn’t sleep. He had to go.  It was the diuretic that did it, mind, the diuretic.
            After the radiation treatment, they gave him hormone injections, told him he’d put on ten to fifteen per cent of his current body weight, but not to worry. It was quite natural. It was the hormones, see?
            He told me all about it. Told me how he used to stand on the bathroom scales without a care in his heart. Watched his weight rise, five per cent, ten per cent, fifteen per cent. When he reached twenty per cent, he started to worry. Swollen ankles. Swollen knees.
            At twenty-five per cent, he was really worried. Socks no longer fitted. Couldn’t put on his shoes. Couldn’t bend to tie his laces. Had to wear sandals and slip-ons.
            At thirty per cent, he started to cry. He told me he was ugly, so ugly. He was down to one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals that fitted. He went to the pharmacy. The pharmacist took one look at his feet and gave him a long list of Latin names. Told him he’d need a prescription, from his doctor, to get pressure socks, and medical shoes that would help him walk.
            ‘It’s the feet, see, the feet,’ the pharmacist told him. ‘Once they start to swell, you’re in big trouble. There’s nothing we can do. Go see your doctor.’
            ‘I’ve seen the doctor.’
            ‘Go see him again.’
            So he did. Told me he broke down crying when he entered the surgery.
            ‘I’m down to one pair of shoes. You’ve got to do something, doc.’
            So the doctor wrote him out a prescription for pressure socks, medical shoes, appointment with a psycho-something, attendance at a clinic, everything the doc thought he needed. Then, just as he was about to leave, the doc stopped him.
            ‘Hang on a sec,’ doc said. Sat at the desk. Checked the computer. Wrote out another prescription. ‘New tablets,’ he said. ‘Take these brown ones. Stop taking those white ones.’
            He went away happy. Stopped at the pharmacy. Got the new pills. Went home. Took them. And straight away started to pee. Told me he’d peed all day and then I watched him as he peed all night. Every 15 minutes. That’s when the missus kicked him out of bed.
            ‘Go. Sleep in the spare room,’ she said. ‘You’re peeing every fifteen minutes. I can’t sleep anymore. I can’t stand it. And take that teddy bear with you.’
            So he went. Grabbed me, his faithful Teddy Bear, tucked me under his arm, and we went to the spare room with its cold, lonely bed. Except he had me, his Ted.
            Lost four pound that first night. Twelve pound the first week. Twenty pound the first month.
            ‘Ted,’ he said to me one morning, ‘I feel good. Time for us to go back to the old bed.’
            We tried. But the missus wouldn’t let us back in.
            He’s looking pretty good now. Back down to ten per cent body weight up. Says he can live with that. Likes sleeping with all his Teddy bears he tells me. Says we don’t snore. Unlike that missus of his.
            It’s the first anniversary next week. He told me to gather all the bears, Rosie, and Blanche, and you, and Blueberry, and Basil of course. And that French bear, Pierre.
            ‘We’re going to have a midnight dormitory feast and a Teddy Bears’ Nit-Pick.’
            Sorry Fred, I don’t know what the missus is going to say about that.”

Pepe’s Bar

Pepe’s Bar

Friday Fiction

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.

Patience

Thursday Thoughts
Patience

Patients must be patient.
The waiting-room
is where the doctor
makes them wait.

My father waited, patiently,
to see the specialist.
At the stroke of noon,
nurse told the waiting patients
not to wait patiently
and to all go home.

“Come back next week,” nurse said.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“The doctor,” she said,
“has a very important meeting.”

I hurried for a taxi.
My father on his Zimmer
followed slowly behind.
On the hospital steps
I met the doctor.

“Damnation!” he said,
into his cell phone.
“I’m going to be late
for that appointment.
I’ve left my golf clubs behind.”

Thursday Thoughts: I remember that day well. My father was due to visit the hospital for his appointment with the stroke specialist. I wanted to drive him there, but he insisted on waiting for the old folks’ ambulance. It was due at 9:00 am and his appointment was for 10:30 am. We waited patiently, watching the hands on the clock moving slowly round. 9:00 > 9:15 > 9:30 > 9:45. “I can drive you,” I said. My father shook his head: “If I don’t take the ambulance, they won’t come to pick me up again. They’ll say I have other means of transport.”

The ambulance / ambwlans (in Welsh) arrived just before 10:00 and dad was sure they’d make his appointment time. Except there were still empty seats and that meant more passengers to pick up. Used to the system, my father waited patiently while I got more and more frustrated. Finally, the ambulance was full and we made our way to the hospital, getting there about 10:45. “Run,” my father said, thrusting his appointment papers at me, “tell the nurse I’m on my way.” Run I did. When I got to the waiting room, I found it full of people with never a chair for my father to sit on. When he arrived, a younger patient offered him his seat and he flopped down into it.

Names rang out. Patients disappeared. Some returned to the waiting room, then walked out. Some didn’t return. At 11:15 my father demanded tea. I got him a cup. At 11:30, a man stood up and started to preach to his captive audience. “Does that every week,” dad muttered in my ear. “He’s mad.” “You can’t take it with you,” the preacher thundered. “There aren’t any pockets in shrouds.” People fiddled and looked uncomfortable. Most had teacups perched precariously on saucers, and some rattled them, whether in applause or anguish, I still don’t know.

Then at noon the nurse appeared and announced what you have read above. “Dr. XXX’s patients: you can all go now. Dr. XXX has an important appointment. Come back next week.” My dad pushed me. “Run,” he said. “Get a taxi. They’ll all be wanting one and by the time I get there there’ll be none left.” That was the only visit I made with my father to that particular hospital. I had so many questions to ask that specialist, but, alas, I never met him.

What I did learn was that patients must learn patience. Hospitals, like airlines, run to their own schedules. A sign should be placed above every hospital door. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Just a thought, nothing more. The delays in all our medical systems, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, have been disastrous for many people, especially the old. Missed appointments. Delayed and cancelled treatment. Long waits and delays. The medical staff have been placed in such stressful conditions. Many are finding it difficult to cope with their inability to fulfill their desires to help their patients. Many are so stressed out. Two of my own doctors have cried when talking to me. I think of it as Covid Collateral Damage, CCD, just like the Colony Collapse Disorder that wiped out our bee population a few years back. Now we are the bees and hospitals and nursing homes are the hives.

Looking back, that morning spent waiting with my father, was a lesson in what old age has in store for us Golden Oldies as we age. Patience: as patients, we must learn patience. And remember, as Bette Davis once said “Old age is not for cissies.” And those are my thoughts for today!

Big Hand / Small Hand

Big Hand / Small Hand

It’s late in my life, with the big hand stuck on the nine, at a quarter to some thing, and the small hand twitching its red-tipped needle of blood. Yesterday, the breakdown van called for my body and towed me to the doctor’s. “Cough!” she said. “Say ninety-nine! Now cough again!” All the while, cold hands probed my unprotected body. Bottoms up? Thumbs down? It’s hard to see that the wine glass stands a quarter full when seventy five per cent of the wine has gone and the empty bottle lies drained on the operating table. I sit in front of the mirror and examine the palpitating heart they have torn from my chest. Flesh of my flesh, it beats in my hand like an executioner’s drum. I hear the tumbril drawing near. My colleagues sharpen their knitting needles. My lungs are twin balls of wool knotted tight in my chest.

Variants

Not one of us knows when the skeleton in the limelight will peel off her gloves, doff her hat, lay down her white cane and use us as fuels for a different kind of fire. Grief lurks in the bracelet’s silver snare of aging hair. We kick for a while and struggle at dawn’s bright edge, we creatures conditioned by time and its impossibilities. What possible redemptions unfurl their shadowy shapes at the water’s edge? A dream angel, this owl singing wide-eyed like a moribund swan bordering on that one great leap upwards, preparing to vanish into thin air. Some say a table awaits on an unseen shore; others that a rowing boat is tied to the river bank, ready for us to row ourselves across. Who knows? Yesterday’s horoscopes sprinkle butterflies of news as the snow wraps us all in the arcane blanket of each new beginning.

Comment: It’s been a strange week. In spite of all my resolutions, I missed my Wednesday Workshop and my Thursday Thoughts. Never mind: the latter weren’t very pleasant anyway. It has been pouring with rain again, and, as the WWI song says “Back to bread and water, as I have done before,” except in this case, it’s pills and needles, and I get the first shot on Tuesday. Nothing to worry about. I’ve been there before. It’s all preventative. But the body-clock is ticking away and I am getting no older and people around me are drifting slowly away. One of the players I used to coach at rugby, an excellent prop forward, went AWOL on Wednesday, MIA, and I read about his passing yesterday in the obituary column of the local newspaper. 18 years younger than me. He might be gone, but his memory lingers on, strongly for me. I have been thinking about him and his family and their tragic loss. My heart goes out to them and I offer my condolences, but what can one do, other than sympathize, celebrate a life well-led, and accept that all of us, poor creatures, are born to die. And if not now, when?

Little Red Brush

Little Red Brush

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, limp Tiny 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”.

Beaver Pond

Thank you, Anne Stillwell Leblanc

Beaver Pond

 “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?”

Fall: Beaver Pond

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.

Bistro Two is available online at
THIS LINK.

Masks

Mexican Mask depicting the ages of man.

Masks
Friday Fiction

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 Bear Packs

Basil Bear Packs

            “You promised.”

            “I know I did.”

            “Then take me with you. I’m only small. I’ll fit in a pocket.”

            “All right: go and pack.”

            “What shall I pack?”

            “Don’t ask me. I don’t know. I’ve never travelled with a teddy bear before.”

            The conference is a strange one. There are no women present and only one person of color. Nobody speaks to him. When he reads, I am the only one to hear his paper. It’s actually quite good.

            I move from that session to the next one. The man sitting beside me opens his briefcase and tells me to look inside. I do. He has two pistols in there.

“Are you packing?” he asks me.

     “No,” I reply. “But I packed to come here. So did my guardian.”

“Guardian?” the man raises his eyebrows. “That’s cool: a body guard, eh? You need to pack round here. But a body guard is great. Where are you going tonight?”

I tell him.

“That’s a dangerous area of town. You’d both better be packing if you go down there.”

“Thanks for the advice,” I nod to him. “Are you going to the reception?”

“Yup,” he smiles. “I’ll see you there. And don’t forget to pack.”

“Well, Basil,” I see when I get back to the hotel room. “It looks like you’ll be going out with me tonight.”

“That’s great,” little Basil gives me a big teddy bear smile.

When I get to the reception, my friend from earlier is there. He nods at me and smiles at the bulge on the left side of my jacket.

“Good to see you’re packing. Can I have a look?”

“Sure,” I say and open my coat. Basil sits up, opens his eyes, and gives him a little wave. The man’s mouth falls open. He stares at me, wild-eyed.

“Ain’t nobody gonna tackle a mad man who’s carrying a teddy bear,” I say. “Now that’s really packing.”

He walks to the bar, orders a double-double and swallows it, Ker-Splosh.

“That’s telling him,” says Basil, snuggling back down in the warm beneath my armpit. “Hi-ho, Silver: let’s go out and get those gangsters.”

Comment: For Tiffany who understands the important things on the brighter side of life.