Show Don’t Tell

IMG_0141.JPG

 

A barber shop quartet, four of them, singing in unison, spring birds at a feeder, early morning sparrows at a jug of milk, abandoned by the milkman on the doorstep.

Except they were none of that. How could they be? They were four brothers, torn apart at birth. They never knew each other, never sang together, never embraced each other, never held each other in their arms. How could they have done so? The first one was stillborn. The second one survived for a while, but struggled to live, succumbed, and drifted away. The third one lived, marked for life by the scars on his forehead where they dragged him from the womb. The fourth one stopped struggling in the seventh month, but the mother carried him to term, even though she knew he was dead.

She carried them, blessed them, gave them all names, and buried three of them. They were her babies and she never got over their loss. Oh, she survived physically, but mentally she was destroyed.

The priests wanted to know what sins she had committed for God to be so angry with her that He destroyed the fruit of her womb. She had no answer. Some refused to bless her. Others ignored her completely. A few used her sorrows to drag the survivor into the tangled web of the church. “He has been spared. He will be one of us,” they said, and rejoiced at the potential strengthening of their celibate ranks.

Three of her children were ever before her. But the fourth lodged like an albatross on her shoulders and hung like a crucifix round her neck. She could never see him clearly. How could she? He was rarely before her eyes, never in the range of her sight. She tried to mold him like putty, but like water or sand, he slipped through her fingers.

Her husband hated him. Was he the father? It’s a wise man knows his father, or his son. Yet they looked alike. But no, they never thought alike, or walked alike. Nor moved in the same circles.

The father, a gambler, had borrowed a large sum of money and placed it with a bookie, betting that this third son would never live and that his death would make his father’s fortune, if the child was indeed a product of the seed his father deposited in his wife’s child bank.

The father lost his bet. The son lived. The father hated him every day of his life.  A rich man he would have been, if … if only … and the scars of that lost bet raged ragged on his face as the father cursed the doctor who had pulled his  son, if he was his son, alive and struggling from the womb.

If he was his son … a strong man, magnificently muscled , it was not his fault, never his fault, it was the fault of that worthless woman, the woman who had carried his seed, if it was his seed, the woman who carried his other three sons, and never brought them alive into this world …

The ostrich sees danger, and buries his head in the sand. The son sees danger and learns to run. The wife sees danger and  learns to suffer, to be beaten, to be abused, to be the victim because yes, she is filled with guilt, and how could it be otherwise, when the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, so weak that it cannot give birth and eventually takes to the black holes of victimization, of alcoholism, and eventually of oblivion.

And the son learned to hide, to make himself invisible, never to be there, never to accept responsibility, never to sit at the desk when the buck was about to stop anywhere nearby, never to be blamed … never to turn down the solace to be found in the darkest depths of those same bottles that finally destroyed the woman he loved, who was also his mother.

Instructor’s Comments:

Rewrite.
Next time, show don’t tell.
Minimally acceptable.

D

 

 

 

SNAFU 2

IMG_0167.JPG

 

SNAFU 2

            I drive to the hospital through falling snow. No wheel-chair parking when I get there. Damn. Not a walking-stick person hobbling towards a car in a wheel-chair space and nobody sitting in a car, exercising the engine, reverse lights glowing. That means  a normal parking spot. Unless I drive round again and take a second look. I do just that. SFA. Nothing doing. The usual SNAFU.

            I drive to the normal person’s lot, stop at the gate, lower the window, stick my arm out, but I can’t reach the button that will give me a ticket and raise the barrier. Behind me, the impatient parkers are a nose away from my rear bumper. Nothing doing. Arms too short. I open the door. Seat belt holds me back. Someone toots. I undo the seat belt. Lean out. Push button. Take ticket. Ticket falls onto ground. The gate opens. I get out of car. Slip on ice. Fall to knees. Cling on to car door with one hand. Grab for ticket with other. More people toot. I give them a one finger salute. Fall back into car. Finally drive through gate.

“Round and round and round I goes.
Where will I park? No one knows.”

            Vast car park. Not a parking spot in sight. On the third circuit, someone un-parks right in front of me. I drive straight in to the vacated spot. Too fast. Car skids on ice. Oh no! Close, but no contact. Thank God. I’ve now got a spot about 100 metres from the hospital entrance. 100 metres. I used to run that distance in 10.07 seconds. With snow underfoot, even with my stick, I’ll be lucky to walk it in under five minutes. Drat. I am already late for my appointment.

            I hobble to the foot of the steps and arrive there just as two large women, faces covered and dressed in voluminous head to foot robes start to walk down. They are arm in arm and enormous. One has a hand on the right-hand rail, the other a hand on the left. Together they take up the whole stairway. I wait for them to descend the twelve steps. They start to descend, then stop three steps from the bottom and engage in animated conversation. “He also serves who only stands and waits.” And waits. And waits. When they finish talking, they descend the final steps and the one on the right swings her arm and shoulder, nearly knocking me down. I lurch forward, grab the hand-rail to save myself from falling, and move slowly upwards. I hold the rail in my left hand, my stick in my right, and climb one step at a time, always the right leg first. Heart thumps in chest. Arteries surge. My head pounds. 12-11-10 … 3-2-1 …zero. I am at the top. I’ve made it.

            I start to cross the road. Half-ton hell bent to park in now vacant wheel-chair spot nearly runs me over. I recoil. Start to fall. Get a grip with my stick. Lurch a little. And salute the driver. He doesn’t even turn his head. Bastard. Balance regained, I get to the hospital door. Young boy holds it open for me. “Thank you,” I say. “You’re welcome, grandpa,” he smiles. I hobble down the hall. Punch a simpler machine to get my number. Wayne Gretzky. Number 99. My luck has changed. The board shows #98. I am next.

            Humorless, the lady who calls my number. Bad-tempered. Cold her little cabin. “Hello, bonjour,” she says and I reply in French. Grim glance. Speaks to me in English. Goes through the gears. “Have you fasted?” “No.” “Why not?” “They didn’t tell me to.” It’s here on the computer,” she stabs the screen with an angry digit. “It wasn’t on my piece of paper.” She checks the paper, sniffs, and tut-tuts. “You should have fasted.” My middle finger itches. “Can you pee in a bottle?” “I can try.” “Try hard.” “Wouldn’t it be better if I tried soft?” I get vicious, filthy look. “None of that or I’ll call the supervisor.” I read out loud the notice on her desk: Do not place samples on counter. “What do you think I am?” I ask. “A travelling salesman?” “Eh? What’s that?” “Nothing,” I mutter. She rumbles round, produces the usual plastic bottle and a see-through bag. “We need a sample. You know how to take a urine test?” “Of course I do, I studied all last night, didn’t I?” She grunts. I grunt back. I pick up my papers and my little gifts. And off I go to perform pee-pee.

            The stalls are empty. I walk right into one. Hang stick on door. Free hands. Open bottle. Strain. Nothing. Man comes in whistling and washes hands. Running water. Miraculous. Pee-pee flows. Bottle overflows and I soak hands and fly. Shit. Well at least I don’t have to perform that trick. Yet. No plastic potty and accouterments this time round. I grab stick. Move to the washbasin. Wash hands. Go to door. Press the automatic door button. The door doesn’t open. I pull again, harder. Nothing. I hang my stick and my bottle on the automatic door button and pull the door with both hands …

“Doors marked ‘Pull’ reduce the speed,
of those who ‘Push’ before they read.”

            The man on the other side of the door stops pulling and pushes hard, very hard, just as I pull, hard, very hard. Door flies open. I topple over backwards, hit my head on the floor, and see multiple stars. I have just enough time to wish I’d brought my plastic potty before my world turns smelly, then black.

On The Outside Looking In

 

IMG_0192.JPG

 

Billy was walking home on his own. As usual. The church party was awful. As usual. Lots of trumped up noise and artificial gaiety.

The priest had made the boys sit in a circle on the floor, legs crossed. Then he put a bar of chocolate in the middle of the circle. He walked around the group and whispered the name of an animal secretly, he loved secrets, to each one.  Then he explained the game to them.

“I cannot remember what animal name I bequeathed to each boy,” he said, staring at them, his eyes golden, like a fierce eagle’s, beneath bushy black eye-brows. “I will say the name of an animal until one of you, whoever it happens to be, hears his own secret animal name. When you hear that secret name, you must grab the chocolate bar before anyone else can get it. Understood?”

The boys all nodded and the mums and dads who had brought them to the party smiled in anticipation.

“Are you ready?” He watched the boys as they nodded and shouted “Alligator!”

Nobody moved.

“Elephant!” The boys shuffled forward, like inch worms, hands twitching, fingers flexing and grasping.

“Tiger!” A sigh from the boys, some of whom were already licking their lips.

“Lion!” One boy moved, but the priest shooed him away. “Sit down. I didn’t give the name lion to anyone.”

“M-m-mouse!” The boys heaved, a sea-wave about to crest and break.

“I do love this game,” said the priest to the parents. “And so do the boys, don’t you boys?”

“Yes father …”

“Monkey!” All the boys moved as one. Some crawled, some dived, some leaped to their feet and ran. A surging heap of boys writhed on the floor as the chocolate bar was torn apart and the long awaited fights ensued.

All the boys moved, except one. Billy just sat there.

“I said ‘Monkey’, Billy,” the priest frowned at the boy.

Billy nodded.

“When I say ‘Monkey’, you join in with the other boys and fight for the chocolate bar.”

Billy nodded again.

“Go now and have some fun. Join in the game.”

Billy shook his head.

“Why not, Billy?”

“It’s a stupid game. I won’t play it. I want to go home.” Billy stood up and walked out of the church. He turned at the door and saw the priest glaring at him while a mound of boys continued to scrummage on the floor.

As Billy walked, it started to snow. Not the pure white fluffy snow of a Merry Christmas, but the dodgy, slippery mixture of rain, snow, and ice pellets. Billy turned up the collar of his coat and, bowing his head, stuffed his hands into his pockets. He turned the corner onto the last street before his own and stopped.

A house. With a window lit up in the gathering dark. He drew closer, pressed his nose against the window and looked in. A Christmas tree, decorated with lights, candles, more decorations, a fire burning on the hearth, two cats before the fire, presents beneath the tree, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece. For a moment, Billy’s heart warmed up. Then he thought of his own house. Cold and drafty. No lights, no decorations. No fire. A snowflake settled on Billy’s heart and refused to melt.

When he got home, the house stood cold and empty. His parents were at work and the fire had gone out. Nothing was ready for Christmas. Billy sat at the table, took out his colouring book and began to draw the cartoon you see at the top of this page.

When his mother came home, he showed her his drawing.

“Very nice,” she said, barely glancing at it.

“But mum, you haven’t really looked.”

Billy’s mother stared at the picture again. This time, she saw the Christmas tree and the lights, the cats and the candles, the decorations and the presents. But she never noticed the little boy standing outside in the snow,  peering in through the window.

 

 

 

Bully Boy

img_01451.jpg

 

We asked several people round for estimates, five turned up. Estimates varied from $1,000 > $1,200 > $1,400 > $1,500 > $2,000. My friend, Bully Boy, came in at $2,000. I said no, “No thank you,” I thought most politely. But he wouldn’t go. He was a very large man, super aggressive, and towered over me.

“It’s the best deal you’ll get,” he told me. “I won’t take no for an answer.”

“You already have ‘no’ for an answer,” I told him. But he still wouldn’t go.

“Mind you,” he said. “We’ll do a good job. We’ll tear up this, and that. It will all cost money. But it will be worth it, when you sell the house. Sure, $2,000 is the initial price. but it may rise. $2,400, $2,500, maybe $3,000 … we won’t know until we see what needs doing.”

“No,” I said. “No thank you. No,” But he still wouldn’t go.

“Look,” he said. “Those other guys are cheap-skates. They won’t do a good job. Me and the boys, we’ll dig down till we find something, then we’ll repair it. You won’t regret it. We’ll do a real good job, me and my boys.”

Two equally big louts climbed the back steps and knocked on the door. They opened it and let themselves in.

“How’re you doing, paw?”

“Great, kids, great. We’re just about to pen a deal here, aren’t we?” He thrust a piece of paper into my face, then put it on the table. “Just sign here.”

Bully Boy passed me a pen, almost stabbed me with it, and leaned over me as I bent to read the document.

“No,” I said. “No. I’m not signing this.”

“Why not? It’s the best deal you’ll get.”

Bully Boy and his sons crowded round me. I felt like I was standing at the bottom of a deep well and they shut out the light.

“Sign!”

“No.”

“I hate doing this … ” Bully Boy said, rolling up his sleeve to show an arm knotted with muscle and fat..

“Me too,” I said and whistled. My two Rottweilers came at a rush, stopped at my hand signal, and sat.

“Growl,” I said, and they rose as one and growled a deep, throaty, chuckly, mad-dog growl.

“Show your teeth,” I said and pointed at Bully Boy. The two dogs pulled back their lips, leering and drooling as only Rottweilers can.

Bully Boy and his sons vanished out the back door faster than they came in.

Now, your mission, should you choose to accept it: multiply those prices by ten (that’s thousands of dollars), multiply me by a thousand (there’s a lot of people in my situation out there), subtract my Rottweilers (not everyone my age has a trained guard dog, let alone two large, protective pets), and remember, I am a small man, seventy-eight years old, and this was a very large team of con artists.

You too will age and shrink. You may not have any pets. Your tablets may make you muddled. Now, if you live alone, like me, think about my story, and be scared … be very scared.

 

 

 

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.

Friends

img_0146-3

Friends

Strange things, friends. What are they exactly? And how do we make them?  In fact, do we make friends, or do we just grow together, like gardens or trees? Birds of a feather, they say, but our feathered friends are flighty and the snow-birds leave in the hard times only to return when the sun comes back. Fair-weather friends, then, and I have known a lot of those.

I turned to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, but all I could find under FRIENDS was a series of articles on TV shows, every episode, every actor, every friendship, every situation, but no discussion of what friendship actually meant. FRIENDSHIP: I looked that word up and the results were much more satisfying. The article ranged from a definition: ‘a mutual attraction among people’ to a series of academic studies about friendship in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and older adults. As we age, so our notions of friendship change. In addition, as we move from place to place, job to job, so our circles of friendship grow old, renew themselves, and gradually fade away. One study shows that in adulthood we rarely have more than two good, true friends. Our acquaintances are many, but our friends are few. Old age brings a different set of equations to bear and loneliness and isolation with the consequent absence of friends, all bring their own problems, including sickness and ill-health.

Empress 048

Here are some of my closest friends. Rosie is named after Rosie the Elephant in Bristol Zoo. Teddy is the Koala. Basil is the small one on the left with the pink ribbon. Chimney is the little one on the right with the orange skirt. Her name’s Chimney, but I call her Sweep. Don’t ask, I won’t tell. These friends summarize all the needs of friendship: they don’t beat me up, they listen when I talk, they don’t interrupt me, they nod silent agreement to my opinions, and they soak up my tears when I cry. They also keep me warm in bed at night. Well, Rosie and Teddy do anyway. These are not their real names, incidentally. Teddies, like cats, have secret names, and you cannot really call a teddy bear your friend until he or she has revealed that name to you. It may take years for that to happen. The speed or the slowness of the true name’s arrival has nothing to do with the success of the friendship.

IMG_0032

This is Princess Squiffy aka Vomit. She threw up beside my chair again yesterday and I am just not sure if that is a sign of friendship or not. At least she didn’t throw up in my chair, which is what she did last time my beloved was away visiting our daughter in Ottawa. So, how do your friends show their friendship? By sitting in silence and listening? By keeping you warm in bed at night? By throwing up in your chair? By presenting you with hairballs, so carefully formed and all gift-wrapped? I am not sure. I guess I’ll have to go back to Wikipedia and check it all out. In the meantime: here’s a picture of man’s best friend.

IMG_0139

I bet you weren’t expecting that!