Prompt: Prudent

View of Budapest at Night

When Hungary was still under Soviet rule, my friend Bethany and I paid a visit to her family members as part of a backpacking trip in Europe.

We had very little information about the country and virtually no one spoke English (and our Hungarian vocabulary was limited to the word “good” —, pronounced “yo”, which we mistakenly thought meant “yes”. ).

Bethany’s distant aunts and uncles and cousins mostly lived in a Budapest suburb, and they duly showed us the sights of that most impressive and grand city. Saint Stephen’s Basilica and many historic plazas and works of architecture. At one point an uncle took us to a wonderful lookout with a sweeping view of the Danube River, the lights of the bridges and upon its shore twinkling as the sun started to set, and told us a long and emotional tale, introducing us to the river as if it were a long-lost lover. Of course we had no inkling of the meaning of anything he said, but his speech brought tears to our eyes.

We visited other relatives who lived deep in the countryside, where you took a magazine on your visit to the outhouse, and not to keep up with the latest trends. A massive sow shared space with the outhouse. This was the largest pig I have ever seen (still) and I think now how unfair it was that she was in such close proximity to a human waste dump. She would hardly get the best impression of her captors, and no doubt had little respect for them, even when they emptied the slop can for her dining pleasure.

These rural family members were round— very fat in that jolly way that some people have. This was because their diet revolved about potatoes, white bread, and lard. Dinner might be mashed potatoes, fresh-baked bread with lard to spread upon it, cabbage, and a small piece of mutton.

They had a movie night in this country village, and Bethany and I attended the outdoor showing of a movie, perhaps a romantic comedy, not in English, as we sat in folding chairs under the stars. After the film the younger people of the village crowded around us as we walked back to the farm. They were excited and enthusiastic, and so were we, and I don’t know why. By this time, however, being clueless was my constant state, and it was rather relaxing.

Back at our base in Budapest, a young, rather dour “cousin”, Anna, offered to take us to a kind of club one night. Armed military personnel continuously stopped all of us on the street and in the club itself and asked for ID. Anna was extremely nervous when this happened. Anyway, it turned out Anna was a bit of a slut, since all the guys knew her and she was thrilled that the excuse of taking Bethany and I out for a little excursion gave her an opportunity to flirt and make out and make plans for future rendezvous. We thought Anna was pretty wonderful.

One night towards the end of our visit, we watched the news on television with Bethany’s “uncle” and one of the lead stories was coverage of a military parade in Moscow. Thousands of soldiers, hundreds of tanks, and a bold display of bombs and possibly nuclear weapons paraded before the crowds lining the streets. Bethany’s uncle pointed to the weapons on the screen, and said to us, complete with hand gestures: “USA… boom!”

USA… boom! This was the one bit of comprehensible conversation we had with anyone in Hungary. Of course times have changed. We now have wise and prudent governance in both America and Russia.*

USA… boom!

*As of April 3, 2017, no we don’t.


Digitally Inclined

Prompt: Ten


Charlie Parsons slept in until ten, so didn’t hear the knock on the door. The post office had neatly place a doorknob notice outside Charlie’s house, with only a few blank spaces scribbled in by the delivery person: Parsons, 1010 Worth (meaning Charlie’s address, 1010 Worthington), Parcel, and Pick up After 4.

He had no idea who the package was from or how big it was, not to mention what it was. He hadn’t ordered anything from Amazon, Cheffy Chef, or Sears, not recently, and it wasn’t his birthday for another four months.

But a visit to Gill at the post office was always a most pleasant diversion. She was pretty, though her looks were startling to Charlie— he had not previously been a big freckle fan— and she always looked one in the eye, in a warm and welcoming way.

Gill had a nasty cold; the freckles on her nose were an alarming shade of purple, and her welcoming eyes seeped moisture, but Charlie refrained from scolding her about spreading germs. It was too late for that. She fetched his package with a smile. It was small and Charlie’s name and address were printed out on a label, with no return address visible. When she set it in front of her on the counter, she hesitated. “What’s that?” she said, her voice hoarse.


“Ticking, Charlie!”

So that’s how the post office was emptied and the RCMP turned up. Charlie wouldn’t leave, and his friend, Constable Horowitz, couldn’t bring himself to force him to leave, so Charlie observed from a short distance behind a helmet with a protective screen.

“Seriously, Glen?” Charlie said, as the officers poked at the package, took pictures of it, and managed crowd control, as about half a dozen people had gathered outside. The constable ignored him. Charlie could hear the ticking sound. Surely modern terrorists were digitally inclined? But, Glen said wisely, you never know.

They’d asked Lionel, the post office delivery man, if he had noticed anything suspicious about the package or noticed the ticking. He said he had noticed, and concluded the contents of the package contained a clock, which, since Charlie hadn’t answered the door that morning, he thought was pretty appropriate.

A form resembling a man, covered head to foot in padding, boots, moon gloves, and a thick helmet, used a tool resembling a scalpel, which slid silkily through the craft paper and tape, revealing a white box.

He gently lifted up the lid of the box.

Inside was an alarm clock, resting in red tissue paper. There were no wires or other devices in the box. Glen told everyone to stand down. Only the eyes of the human being hidden behind the layers of padding could be seen, and those eyes looked vaguely disappointed.

Charlie took off his own helmet and approached Glen, who, with gloved hands, was examining the clock. It was white, with a white face and silver clangers. “Battery operated, alarm set to go at ten pm but not turned on.”

“Where do you even buy one of those things?” asked Charlie.

Glen shrugged. “You know what? This is a serious offence.” He looked up at Charlie. “What’s it mean? What’s the joke?”

“I honestly don’t— hey what else is in the box?”

A piece of paper that looked like it was torn out of a magazine had been tucked in under the clock. It was a coupon for two dollars off a pair of HeatMe! sport socks. Glen held it up and Charlie took a closer look.

According to the print next to the page number, the coupon had been torn out of the February issue of Ice Fishers’ Digest.