Crocodile Tears

SD 16

 

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. The tight spring frightens the crocodile and he sits quietly in his cage. But as the record goes round, the spring loosens up and 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 can 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 gets tired of digging, he drives the spade into the ground and leaves it standing by the hole. When his father comes home after work, it’s dark and he doesn’t see the hole but he does see the spade. So he doesn’t fall in to the shaft of the coal-mine that goes all the way down to Australia. No free trip to the Antipodes for that lucky dad. He beats the boy for that, for digging that hole. Then he beats him again for lying: the hole doesn’t go to Australia. Australia is too far away and the angle is all wrong. The boy laughs when he sees that his dad doesn’t know where Australia is.

         “Ha-ha,” he laughs and his dad beats 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, beatings that arrive without warning: hail and thunder from a sunny summer sky.

         “Well, you’re not laughing now,” his father announces.     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 rattles like an old farmer’s cart whose iron-rimmed wheels have not been greased. The veins stand out in his father’s cheeks as the old man 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 who goes into the bar in Belfast and asks the barkeep if they serve Protestants. Or is it the one in which the Protestant goes into the bar and ask the barkeep if they serve Catholics … anyway … one night, the boy has a dream and it goes 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 croc and boy walk down the street to the Kiddy’s Soda Fountain on the corner.  When the boy walks in with the croc, the waitress raises her eyebrows and opens her mouth.

         “Do you serve grownups 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.

Double Trouble

PEI + bockle 2008 025

 

Double Trouble

“I’ll need some ID,” the guy selling Fred a new cell phone said. “Something with a photo on. May I see your driving license?”

“Of course,” Fred pulled out his driver’s license.

The salesman took it, glanced at the picture, walked over to the computer, and started to type in numbers. Fred watched him as he nonchalantly punched the keys. Then Fred saw him stiffen and straighten up as he held the license up to the light, double-checked it, and frowned.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the salesman said, looking very sad. “This license has expired. It’s more than two years out of date.”

“You’re joking,” Fred said

“No sir,” the salesman replied. “This license expired two and a half years ago.”

He handed it back to Fred who also checked it with care. At first, the figures seemed blurred. Fred took out his glasses and put them on.

“You’re right,” Fred said. “It is out of date. I must have the new one in here somewhere.”

He started to rummage through all the plastic cards in his wallet. But there was no new driving license.

“I must have left it at home,” Fred muttered.
“They usually shred the old licenses,” the salesman smiled. “They never let you keep them. You must have forgotten to renew.”

Fred placed his hands on the cell-phone counter, looked down, and saw his face mirrored in the shiny plastic. He gazed into his own eyes and they looked back at him. Then his mind flashed back two and a half years.

He had just been through the biopsy, a messy, painful, and unnerving affair, and the results had come back positive.

The urologist demanded a new battery of tests: X-rays, bone scans, blood tests, MRI’s, examinations, more examinations, questionnaires, discussions about possible forms of treatment …

The different treatments were set out like food in a self-serve restaurant and, like the strange foreign foods that Fred liked to try without knowing exactly what they were, their names meant nothing to him.

Then there was the travel: out on the road between his little place in the country and the major cancer hospitals in the province with an examination here, and a consultation over there. All the medical staff he encountered were kind and helpful and the suggestions they offered were sound. The winter road conditions complicated matters, though, and twice he was forced to cancel appointments because of road conditions.

Then, a week or so after the MRI, the allergic reactions set in and, over a three week period he lost all the skin, first off his hands, and then off his feet. He watched the skin bubble, then he saw it go very dry, and then it just flaked off. He remembered getting out of the shower one morning, drying his feet, and staring down at the little pile of flaked-off skin that had come away with the towel.

A little later on, came the injections, the tablets, and that was before the start of radiation treatment …

Now, two and a half years later, Fred’s driving license, the one that should have been renewed on his birthday, had expired. He remembered that birthday well. He lay on his side in the hospital and the specialist drove that first needle into his buttock … what a birthday present. And now, two and a half years later, he had another special gift from that birthday, an expired driving license.

He thanked the cell-phone salesman, put his expired driving license back in his wallet, and said how sorry he was that he would be unable to purchase the cell-phone at this time.

Early the next morning, Fred went down to the Driving License Renewal Center to discover his fate.

The lady on the counter was most sympathetic. She listened to his story and told him not to worry.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It happens all the time. But I’m afraid you’ll need to take all the tests again, including the road test. That’s the law. I’ll need to see some documentation. A photo ID is preferable. Do you have your birth certificate or your passport with you?”

Fred nodded. He had checked online to see what he needed and had brought all the right documents. He handed the passport over.

The lady behind the counter took the passport, opened it, and looked up at Fred with a sad little smile.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “You are in double trouble. Your passport has expired as well.”

Double Trouble appears in my short story collection Bistro 2,
also available on Amazon.

Bad Hair Day

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Bad Hair Day

          It all started when I rolled over at 4:00 am and heard the grandfather clock in the hall strike three. I double checked my watch with the alarm clock. It was definitely four o’clock. The grandfather clock, older than me, had to be wrong.

         I sat up in bed and blinked. The light of the telephone flashed on and off. Someone had left me a message. The message machine was downstairs along with the grandfather clock. No way I thought I’m not going down there, not even to kill two birds with one stone. I rolled back the other way, stuck my head under the blankets, and tried to go back to sleep. I could sense the flashing light, even if I couldn’t see it and the Westminster Chimes played false notes, sometimes one too short, sometimes one too many. I counted them instead of sheep and couldn’t fall asleep.

         At six o’clock, with the room in darkness save for that ever-flashing light, I struggled out of bed. I had dumped my dirty clothes in the laundry basket and I needed everything clean and fresh. I hobbled to the chest of drawers and pulled out clean socks and pants. Then I went to the clothes closet and took a clean shirt off the hanger. My pants went on more easily than usual and my shirt just slipped over my head. I hauled up my jeans and placed my first sock on the sock machine. It felt a bit awkward, but went on with no real problem. The same with the second sock.

         I removed my pocket flashlight from Teddy’s ear where I keep it overnight and tucked it into my shirt pocket. It fell to the floor. I checked my chest … no pocket. I noticed a bulge on the right hand side where no pocket should be … pocket … but inside the shirt. I reached up to the buttons and they too were inside the shirt. To hell with it I thought I can’t be bothered to change. I slipped my Birkenstocks on and felt a lump under my left foot. The heel had slipped under the arch. My sock machine had failed me. I checked the right foot. I could see the heel all right: it was in the middle of my foot just above the toes.

         By now I needed the en suite bathroom so I hobbled across to it. No flashlight in my non-existent pocket, not wishing to turn on the bathroom lights, I fumbled for a moment or two and then for a lot longer. Why, oh why, was there no Y-front to my Y-front pants? Ours not to reason why … and then before I could control myself it all happened. Clean pants and all.

         So, I turned on the light and checked myself out. Socks upside down? I took them off. Clean pants on back to front and twisted and now slightly more than damp? I took my jeans off and my pants with them. Shirt on inside out? Off with it and anyway, it was wetter than it should be and I knew I hadn’t been sweating that much. I looked at the clothes in their little pile on the floor and I kicked them as hard as I could.

         Of course, I stumbled and only saved myself from being part of the statistics of bathroom accidents by lurching for, and grabbing, the towel rail. It came away from the wall, towel and all. Luckily, I grasped the window ledge and kept my balance so I didn’t fall.

         I got into the shower, washed myself down, climbed out again, toweled myself dry, and climbed back into bed. I stuck the flash light into Teddy’s ear and then I took it out again. In a fit of pique, I hurled Teddy at the still-flashing telephone. Bull’s Eye … or should that be Teddy Bear’s Eye? Anyway, the darn thing stopped flashing and I was able to go back to sleep for about an hour.

         When I woke up the second time, I dressed very carefully. Socks with the heel in the right place, check! Y-fronts with the Y where I need it, check! Shirt the right side out, check! Go downstairs and erase the overnight message, check! Light stopped flashing, check!

         I limped to the IMac and turned it on. Then I opened my documents … I open my documents … I ope … but the error message keeps flashing across the screen. I can’t open my documents because I need a new app. The current app is no longer functional on the new system the IT men installed just yesterday. I abandon the IMac and go to the PC. I open the documents with no problem at all. I start to work on a poem and ERROR … ERROR … ERROR … Norton needs to be uninstalled and re-installed . URGENT … ERROR … ERROR …

         I shut down the PC and walk into the kitchen. The floor is wet and slippery. I think for a moment that, with the willing suspension of disbelief, I am really walking on water? But no, I’m not. Sad reality strikes again: the cat has thrown up and I’m skating on a hairball.

“My gran pappy told me there’d be days like these: ain’t nothing shaking but the leaves on the trees.” Eddy Cochrane.

Bad Hair Day was first published in Bistro. This collection of short fiction was one of three finalists in the 2017 NB book awards (prose). It is available on Amazon.

Naval Gazing

Bistro Cartoon Naval Gazing

 

Naval Gazing

Of course I haven’t spelled it incorrectly. Just look at those three ships, not to mention the ‘bell-bottom blues’ jeans my alter ego wears in this apology for a selfie. And yes, of course, the protagonist is navel gazing, too. We all do it from time to time. We have to. We need to know who we are and what we are all about. As Cesar Vallejo wrote, a long time ago: “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no s锑there are setbacks in our lives, I don’t know.’ How do we deal with these sudden setbacks? That depends on each of us: our background, our culture, our ability to bounce back from nowhere and nothing to set ourselves upon the true path again. Man is stronger than he thinks he is, while woman is even stronger than man. Strength: it exists in many forms and holds many meanings. Sure, it means the amount of weight we can lift. But it also means the amount of weight and cares we can carry and how long we can carry them for. And that is where women are so strong.

Every so often, we must all navel gaze. We must look at ourselves, not in the mirror, but in the depths that live within us. I am in navel gazing mode right now. To a certain extent, I have lost my way and I feel very strongly I must find it again. So I sit and think and look inside myself and search and wait with great patience for the light to arrive and  enlighten me once more. It will come. I am sure of that.

Yesterday

Yesterday, a lovely lady read me
my biopsy results.

She poured a bitter drink
into a poisoned chalice
and offered it to me.

It was my personal Gethsemane,
a cup from which I was forced to drink.

I sat there in silence, sipping it in.
Darkness wrapped its shawl
around my shoulders.

‘Step by step,’ she cautioned me,
‘it’s like walking on stepping stones.’

I opened my eyes, but I could no longer see
the far side of the stream.

This poem opens my book A Cancer Chronicle (available on Amazon). It refers to the moment, three years ago, when my urologist confirmed that indeed I had prostate cancer and that, yes, it needed treatment. “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”. The cartoon, I hesitate to call it a painting, was completed on the ninth day of September, two months after my treatment ended. I sat in the kitchen at home, looking out at the mountain ash, watching the birds as they swarmed the tree in search of nutritious berries. Then I made the cartoon. I called it Naval Gazing. I might just as well have called it  “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”.

How we deal with  such golpes / setbacks / blows defines us as human beings. I have spent much time recently encouraging others, and they must all remain anonymous, to confront their demons, call them out, and overcome them in as fair a fight as is possible. Today, I too sit in the dark, watching the snow fall, watching the birds scurrying to and from in search of sustenance. I too am searching, once again, for meaning, for light, for the energy to continue. It will come. When it does, I will embrace it with both hands and start all over again, picking up life’s threads from where I left them. Then, once again, I will see the far side of the stream.

Yesterday is the opening poem in my book A Cancer Chronicle. It is available on Amazon.

Yesterday
audio recording

Corked

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Corked

Last Sunday, was it really only yesterday, I read at the open mic in Odd Sundays at Corked and welcomed my good friend Heather Browne, a former president of the WFNB,  back to Fredericton after a lengthy absence. I read two poems about Maritime writers, one of whom, Alistair MacLeod, I met for the first time, a long time ago, at Heather’s house. Such wonderful memories.

I am wearing the second scarf I bought in Oaxaca, Mexico. Hand made with natural dyes for all of the colors. Scarf: such a limited word. In Oaxaca it is a rebozo. It serves as a dance, a sling for carrying young babies, a cummerbund, a carrier bag (reusable), and also as a weapon, for it can be slipped over an antagonist’s head and drawn down behind the knees to throw the assailant to the ground.

Scarf, indeed. I am wearing one of my many rebozos. I knew the woman who wove this one, and the woman who picked the plants that she dried, ground, and turned into colors, and the man who herded the sheep, and the villager who sheared them, and the three old women who spun, measured, and cut the thread.

No sweat shop production this: a proud product of a flourishing village industry where everyone knows everyone else and goods are sold and exchanged at full and fair value. We have lost so much. I hope one day we will get some of it back.

Selfie with Tree

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Selfie with Tree

“Ah would some power the giftie gie us,
to see ourselves as others see.”

No problem: thanks to the power of the ubiquitous selfie, we can now see ourselves as others see us whenever we want to. Just look at that self-satisfied grin, that evil smirk of satisfaction glowing in the background. Even the tree is waving back as it floats underwater with the dolphin. And remember: “Le Dauphin n’est pas le Roi” even though he may be the King of all he surveys. Is this Déjà vu? Or is it a case of a revised version “through a lens, darkly?” I shall organize a referendum on the matter and send you the results at a later date.

Owl

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Owl

“The owl he was a wise old bird:
the less he spoke, the more he heard.

The more he heard, the less he spoke.
There never was such a wise old bloke.”

I feel a little bit like an owl. I am hearing so much, from all sides, and really have very little to say. If I publish poetry here, I cannot publish it elsewhere. Same goes with short stories. If I publish inconsequential nonsense, why would anyone read it. If I publish nothing, I am silenced. Am I therefore deemed wise?

What is the definition of a conundrum?
Someone.
Please?