Jimmy the Wrist [Repost]

 

accordion_on_the_beach

Bernard’s mother was the accordion player in an ethnic folk band. They called themselves the Charlie Manson Quartet, and played for dances and weddings in Legion and Elk halls up and down the valley.

Of course, this was years and years before the Charles Manson family committed bloody murder in California. Bernard remembered guitarist Charlie Manson as the most benevolent kind of year-round Santa Claus, with his premature white hair and trimmed beard. Except when he drank, which was actually rare, he was a jolly trickster, who made charming but suggestive jokes in between songs, told the most ridiculous tall tales about fishing in the lakelands, and played Chinese Checkers with a fierce competitiveness.

The other band members were Harry Porter, the bass guitarist, and Jimmy “The Wrist” Corcoran, so named because he drummed a full spring wedding season with his left wrist in a cast. Bernard wasn’t sure the wrist ever healed properly, but the fracture never seemed to affect his drumming, which was odd. Or maybe he just wasn’t a very good drummer.

Jimmy was kicked out of the band after The Incident, and they never replaced him, using a small electronic rhythm device instead, which turned out to be a good thing because they could sell the van and just go from gig to gig in Harry’s massive old Lincoln, which had room for the three of them and their instruments. They became the Charlie Manson Trio.

Bernard’s mother was a pretty brunette, with doe-like brown eyes and a shy demeanour, though she really was, Bernard remembered, a crackerjack— smart, funny, and talented. She could play any kind of keyboard fluently and had a low, sweet singing voice.

She loved the water and Bernard remembered many summer afternoons at the beach, he digging in the sand for creatures— clams, mussels, burrowing sea bugs of all kinds —which he put in a big plastic washing tub filled with sand and water. Sometimes he waded on the shore in search of painted turtles, but didn’t put them in his washtub aquarium anymore because one young turtle ate all his collected clams. He brought them to his mother to be duly admired, and released them again.

Sometimes at the beach his mother read books from the library, sometimes chatted with Bernard about his collection, but mostly she liked to lean back in the blue and yellow strapped lounger in her swimsuit, and feel the sun. He remembered her humming, tunes the band played for people to dance to, or little patches of songs that she made up.

Bernard remembered one day, filled with the lazy sounds of waves lapping the shore, seagulls squawking overhead, his mother humming. The sunlight shimmered behind her, and he saw another, larger silhouette appear alongside.

“Hi Bernie,” said Jimmy The Wrist, waving stiffly. “Why don’t you go play in the water or somethin’?” Jimmy had a funny part in his hair, too close to the centre, which made him look a bit like Jimmy Olsen from the comics.

Bernie turned to his mother, who sat up in her lounge chair and ruffled his sandy hair.

“See if you can find another turtle — you can show Jimmy,” she said to her son.

People always looked strange on the beach when they were fully clothed; awkward and out of place. Jimmy wore a starched white shirt, open at the collar, and a pair of grey slacks with a belt. His shoes were polished black leather and fastened with shoelaces.

Jimmy joined Bernard’s mother on the lounger, perching on the edge, while Bernard waded ankle deep in the cool water. He hadn’t learned to swim yet, and wasn’t allowed to go any deeper.

All was well until Bernard heard loud voices. “No, I’m not!” his mother shouted. Bernard froze, and then he saw Jimmy stand up and slap his mother hard across the face. She screamed and Bernard started to propel himself from the shore towards them.

Before he reached his mother, before the blonde couple down the beach or the man at the concession stand up by the parking lot could react, a seagull, a raggedy old grey and white seagull, flew straight into Jimmy’s face.

It flew in with its beak and claws out, tearing up Jimmy’s clean-shaven face and neatly-parted hair. It fluttered its broad wings and flew away. There was blood.

Jimmy flailed around blindly, and Bernard’s mother put a towel into his hand, Bernard’s towel that had the Superman crest on it.

Jimmy was gasping and crying, the towel pressed to his face. Bernard reached his mother just as the young couple did, and she clasped his hand tightly, her other hand on her cheek. The man at the concession stand then arrived with a heavyset man in uniform, who, after talking in low tones to Bernard’s mother and the young couple, invited Jimmy to come along with him. No one seemed in a great hurry to tend to Jimmy’s wounds, but he was quiet now, and walked away with the officer silently, subdued.

Bernard’s mother knelt in the sand and enveloped Bernie in her arms. He could feel her breathing heavily, and feel the heat from the cheek that had been so forcefully struck. She hugged him tightly, and he looked over her shoulder at Jimmy and the officer in the parking lot as the officer opened a white car door and Jimmy bent to get inside. Just before his bloody face disappeared into the back seat, the old seagull returned, circled, and shit on the top of Jimmy’s head.

“We’ll get you a new towel,” Bernard’s mother, unseeing, whispered in his ear.

 


  • Original Prompt: Beach, May 5, 2016
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Devotion [Repost]

Prompt: Time

fish

My given name is Adolph G. Zenith, though my friends always called me Zen. The “G” means nothing; my parents merely thought it gave my name more gravitas, and lacked the imagination and time, I suppose, to find a suitably, equally formidable middle name to compliment “Adolph”, and that also started with G, George, Gregory, Gerald notwithstanding. So Adolph G. Zenith it was.

You might have heard of the Zenith family. We were frequently in the news for a groundbreaking campaign for science- and bible-backed eugenics. My parents were large, powerful people who tried to live as they preached: god-fearing, white-proud, “true” Christians. Both were tall and muscular, infused with presence and charisma. Hopes for me, their son, were high.

I was not even remotely a formidable child. Instead I was plagued by allergies, was asthmatic, was very thin with delicate skin prone to dryness and sunburn, and had sparse, ash brown hair. Hardly the model Aryan boy my parents so vehemently wished for.

We travelled the country, and sometimes ventured overseas, attending rallies where my father spoke for hours at a time, sometimes replaced by my mother when he needed a drink or a bathroom break, and I was to stand proudly behind him with his “stage staff”, looking young and strong in a blue slacks and a white shirt and a blue blazer.

While preaching, my father would often take his jacket off, revealing a short-sleeved shirt, and loosen his tie, to demonstrate that he was a man of the people, sweating, passionate, and powerful; but I was not permitted to remove the blazer no matter what the temperature, because shoulder pads were sewn into the jacket, without which I would look like the underweight, bony, fragile child I was. More than once my mother had to hustle me off the stage before I fainted in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.

They tried to bulk me up with red meat, which I was fed at least twice a day; and some fruit juices which they heard were “cleansing”, but except for potatoes there was not much in the way of vegetables set before me because they personally did not find them appealing. Nothing in my diet seemed to change my core appearance. I was not a poster child for their movement and never would be.

I grew up under a cloud of palpable disappointment, a daily routine of sighs, eye rolls, impatient instruction, and whispered, disapproving comments. I could read at an early age, and was good at spelling, and had a knack for model building and climbing trees, but not at running, swimming, aerobic exercise, weight-lifting, growing tall and blonde, or understanding or explaining the philosophy of race purity and pride.

My father was not averse to a good whack across my temple with a meaty, open hand if I transgressed, sometimes knocking me to the floor. “It’s for your own good,” my mother would say, as if I didn’t know.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the dogma or the philosophy of my father’s speeches. I developed an ability to completely tune out whatever came out of my parents’ mouths, possibly as a defence mechanism, since they often brutally smothered or slandered things that were important to me, like my love of rock and roll, my satanic curiosity about parapsychology, my devotion to fishing, and my friend René. To survive long evenings on the stage, to avoid a wallop across the head, to attempt to build a core that I recognized as me, I would zone out and travel in my mind, float across oceans, relive kind moments, play scenes from films in my head, try and communicate with René across the miles.

As a teenager, I was able to worm out of many of the stage performances, if not the sermons and some of the prominent, televised protest marches. I was still thin and unthreatening, but I was quick and newly certain that everything my parents did and said was wrong, as teenagers are, except that I felt righteous and outraged and on the side of the true god.

Zenith was not our real name. Father had it officially changed when he learned his heritage. “I’m not a Jew,” he said, “not even close, it’s passed down through the mother, my mother was not a Jew.”

“You have Jew blood,” I said, using the only phrase I knew, which now makes me cringe.

I was sixteen, and about to be kicked out of the house. He had confiscated my cellphone and laptop in order to confirm that I had not been communicating with undesirable people, and that I had no porn nor access to porn. I was angry; but more painful than the anger was the loneliness I felt without being able to text René or visit the forums that connected me to a greater world

“I have no Jew blood,” my father said, and his face flushed, and his eyes darkened. I tensed and flexed, ready to dodge a blow.

“Nothing wrong with Grampa’s blood,” I said defiantly. Grampa was a grumpy old thing, dead six years, but he was kind to me, and never hit me but once.

“You’re an ignorant fool, always have been,” said my father.

“Thanks,” I said, and instinctively ducked. For the first time, my father’s hand missed my face. He looked startled, and I felt a surge of power and confidence. This was new to me.

But I was not quick enough to avoid the next blow, which was a closed fist against my upper cheek. I fell to the floor.

“Respect,” my father said.

From the floor, I said the most hurtful thing I could think of: “Grampa’s blood is in you, you are a Jew.”

My father kicked my shoulder, hard, and I fell on my back.

He spoke to me then, in a dangerously low voice, about how the “Jew blood” had been flushed from his system, pint by pint, and he was pure, but somehow bad blood had infected me, his son. I’d heard this before, though hadn’t thought he meant it literally, which he had.

“I’m a Jew,” I said. “Thanks to you.”

He kicked my in the mouth, ostensibly to silence me, and that’s when my mother appeared from upstairs, and saw the beating had been taken too far, and banished me to my room without checking where the blood was coming from.

I didn’t ever get my phone or laptop back. And yes, I’d been communicating with undesirable people and looking at porn, so chances are I would have been booted out anyway.

Ten years later, in Portland, Oregon, I met a girl name Addy, and changed my name to Ted (short for Teddy, short for her nickname for me, “Teddy Bear”) Rickman (a family name on my Grandpa’s side), and was able to renew my friendship with René before he died.

As far as I know, my parents never tried to contact me or see what became of me. They continued touring for a while, then settled down with a congregation in a town called Green Falls, which they hoped (according to an obscure news article I found) to convert to an all-white, all Christian community. I heard nothing more, nor do I look anymore.

I supposed I was erased from their lives, and no longer inhabited their consciousness or their memories. They had the kind of minds that could exclude anything painful or conflicting or unpleasant.

I don’t have that kind of mind.

I think of them daily.


  • Original Prompt: Inhabit, August 25, 2017

Plea Deal

Prompt: Viral


Dear Wednesday,

Today’s casual prompt is “viral”, which represents a trend that is deeply, intensely boring to me. I am truly tired of seeing YouTube videos on our nightly TV newscast, for example. A baby bear in a toddler’s plastic pool: viral! But important or a complete waste of brain cells?

I’ve come to the conclusion that my head is full to capacity. When new stuff enters, old stuff leaks out. I love baby bears, but that 50 second video (the likes of which I’ve seen 3,487 times) just squeezed out my memory of what I wore on my first day of school. Bloody hell!

So I scroll more aggressively when I’m looking at my news feed or reading news sources online. Do I really need to know what disturbing truth lies behind a C-list celebrity’s haircut? Or where the bodies were discovered in a murder case I’ve never heard about and is completely irrelevant to my life? Or which new study will give me the definitive forever answer to the question: “Is coffee good for you or killing you slowly?”

So welcome, Looking out the Real Window at Real Random things, like seagulls pecking at a dead fish on the beach. Good-bye viral videos, except for kitten ones, which never get old.

Only tangentially related to the prompt, but related to technology, are the first two of this small collection of favourite cartoons:

cartoon mick-stevens-hey-get-back-here-new-yorker-cartoon

cartoon technology ruin

And the art of the deal…

cartoon trump plea deal


 

A plea deal is a type of deal. Yes, yes it is.

Have a wonderful day and week!

~~FP

Hot

Prompt: Memory

woman damaged_Fotor

Leep awoke, feeling too hot. He’d had that dream again. The too hot dream.

It was more a memory than a dream because Leep did remember it, it was real, that sharp fragment from a life he had mostly forgotten. But he couldn’t understand why it played on a loop in his dreams, over and over.

He was a boy, sitting on a chair behind a floor to ceiling plastic curtain. The curtain was white with a pattern of solid red circles struck through by solid red lines. The pattern made Leep uneasy— it felt unfinished, wrong, hostile, and it was all he had to look at.

But the coffee finished percolating. He heard the silence. So he stood, pulled the curtain aside and went to the counter where he unplugged the pot.

A woman sat at a formica-topped table. The table was edged with shiny, ridged chrome, and the pattern on the top was sky blue with white starbursts. She wore a starched white dress with sensible white shoes, badly scuffed and starting to wear at the heel.

The pot was heavy for a boy, but Leep was careful. He poured steaming coffee into the white porcelain cup set before the woman. She took a sip.

“Too hot,” she said.

And Leep awakened in the dark. He got out of bed, took his gun out of the side table drawer, and went into the hallway. He put his navy blue nylon jacket with the hood over his black pyjamas, pulled on his boots, and stuffed a dark woollen scarf into a pocket.

And he walked, in that perfect deep abandoned silence, through streets and alleyways and across parks, until his legs ached and he found himself in the parking lot of the hospital. He wrapped the scarf around his mouth and nose so only his eyes showed, and waited until a lone nurse, in a pink pantsuit with navy blue piping, emerged from the glowing light of the hospital’s east entrance and approached the row of parked cars.

He crept out from the shadows as she reached into her handbag for the keys to her car, a grey Toyota.

“Give me your wallet,” he said, as usual. “I have a gun.”

She was in her forties, plump, with frizzy ash blonde hair. She was Theresa, Anthony’s daughter, and Leep had helped her get her father home one day when he’d passed out on the bus stop bench. He hadn’t known she was a nurse.

She looked startled, but they all did.

She said, “Leep, is that you?”

Leep took the gun out of his pocket and pointed it at her. “No,” he said. What was he going to say? “Hey, how’s the old man?”

She had forty-five dollars in her wallet, and in the clear plastic slot for a driver’s licence she instead had a picture of a boy, about twelve years old, staring out from under a red baseball cap.

Leep threw the wallet as hard as he could, towards the hospital entrance.

“Go get it,” he said.

When Theresa turned, Leep ran. He took the back alleys, crossed parks now damp with dew, through shadows of dim unlit streets until he reached his house.

He felt sweat trickle down his torso and prick the back of his neck.

Too hot.

Chandler’s Folly [Repost]

Prompt: Retrospective

bonfire-column_of_sparks_by_the_emerald_otter

It was my dog Plato that coaxed the shadow out from the depths of a dark, dense army of evergreen trees and into the flickering light of the bonfire.

Plato barked and whined with excitement but his tail also slowly wagged in a grand swishing movement, and I said quietly, “OK.” Plato took a few tentative steps, nose thrust forward, and someone emerged, hand first for the dog to sniff, like a child who’d been taught to do so by a careful parent.

It was a child who stepped forward. Young, with long hair like a girl, but scruffy, thin, and ragged. Plato sniffed, and then licked her hand. She lifted her head and looked at me with a blank, dead expression. It startled and confused me. Where was the curiosity, the relief, the fear— all the emotions I felt?

“He’s gentle,” I said to the girl. “You can pet him if you want.”

She fell to her knees, closed her eyes, and put her arms around Plato. He didn’t like hugs, but only squirmed a little.

“What’s your name?” I asked, as Plato had a quick taste of her cheek with his tongue.

“I don’t know,” she said. She stood again, and took a step backward.

“Would you like a hot dog?” I asked her.

She nodded and I went to the small table I’d set up beside the fire, where there was a cold, roasted hotdog, and some fresh ones that might take a few minutes to heat up. I figured she didn’t want to wait, so I gave her the cold, roasted one. She turned her back and ate it. I guess she ate it quickly and greedily. Someone taught this kid both manners and dog protocol. Who? I buttered a couple of hot dog buns and gave them to her, too.

“Where are you from?”

“I don’t know.”

“How old are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you travelled far?” I asked. “Never mind, don’t answer.”

She slept in the tent with Plato, while I lay by the fire, wrapped up in a sleeping bag set on a thin foam mattress, and watched the stars move across the sky. I thought about how they still moved across the sky, even though life had all but ended on Earth, and about how they must have moved across the sky before the first squiggle of life struggled into being.

The following morning we walked to the mall, where we picked out some jeans and shirts and sweaters,  a coat with a hood (age 9-11 seemed to fit her best), toiletries, a carry-bag, and other necessities, then she cleaned up, and a fresh, clean, nameless child with shiny black hair walked back to the camp with Plato and me. She never spoke unless I asked her a question. So I asked her questions, though she had few answers, and got upset and frustrated. I realized it might take some time. It had taken me and Plato a bit of time to get used to the plague and everyone gone and being alone, too.

“You still can’t remember your name?” I asked.

She hesitated. “Folly.”

“Folly?”

She looked at me in silent despair. “I don’t know. I think so.”

“OK,” I said. “Would you like to come with us to the Grand Canyon?”

And so we all three crammed into the front of the red 1961 E-Type Jaguar convertible, Plato partly in her lap, and hit the open highway again. It wasn’t until we stopped at one of those gas station pantries to use the toilet and pick up some Cheezies and Snapple, that I idly looked at the big map and spotted a little town about seven miles from where we’d camped in the woods behind the big mall. The town was called Chandler’s Folly.

I decided to change our plans. The Grand Canyon wasn’t going anywhere.


The Garden

Prompt: Recreate

swing in park

“And what were you doing before you started running away?”

“I was on a swing, in the park beside the school,” said Folly.

“Where is the school?”

“Down past that traffic light,” she said.

I accelerated and we lurched forward on the little Yamaha TW we’d found leaning up against someone’s garage door. I wanted to get around quickly for this “game”, not lumber through town from inside a closed vehicle.

Every red light still triggered a stop impulse, but this time I didn’t even slow down. Folly was clinging to me tightly, her hands bunching the front of my down vest.

I saw the swings, and the small adventure playground, the soccer goalposts, and the tiny basketball court, all neatly laid out beside a sprawling one-story elementary school.

“I sat in that swing,” said Folly. “There was a puddle on the ground under it, and my feet got wet.”

“And before that?” I learned that Folly was more comfortable answering questions when we were not face to face. We slowed to a stop and but she did not release her grip on me. I could feel her cheek pressed against my back.

“I— “

“Folly, think now.”

“Everyone died,” she said. “I ran home! And they were dead, too.”

“Where? Which way is home?” This was as far as we’d ever gotten, and I felt it was our last chance to find Folly’s house and get her memories back.

She had the bad memories. The inside of her head was a once a safe garden, but the garden was now overgrown with thorns and weeds and their alien blooms, choking out the lilac and brilliant pinks of the hydrangea and the lime leaves of the ninebark, twining around her thin legs freezing her in place.

I could feel her trembling, and resisted the urge to comfort her. “Which way, Folly?”

“The lane, go down the lane.”

The lane was surfaced in gravel, which resisted and spit and almost caused me to lose control, but I slowed down and we passed by the leafy green back yards of homes that had once housed Folly’s neighbours and friends. She’d told me her house was yellow, and there was only one yellow house, at the end of the lane, on the corner.

“Go in the back way,” said Folly. We got off the bike and opened the gate, stepping into a tidy green garden with a mature ornamental cherry tree, masses of sumac starting to change color, and a small pup tent set up on the flat lawn.

“This is the way you went to school, and to the park?” I asked her.

She nodded. She was wearing a fleece hoodie that was too big for her and fit more like a dress, and denim leggings with rubber boots. Her hair was uncombed and tangled from the bike ride. She was deathly pale.

The gate had a rusted metal bell on it, that clanged when it was shut, no doubt meant as an alert for Folly’s mother or father. The lawn, once carefully tended grass, was now a ground cover of what looked like thyme.

She didn’t look in the pup tent on her way to the back porch, but I did. Inside was a rumpled tartan blanket and a flashlight.

Large-leafed ivy climbed the exterior walls of the house, drooping down over the doorway, which was probably not there the last time she was here.

It was unlocked. I let Folly lead the way, silent. This was her moment, her most important moment, and she had to face it alone and on her own terms. What could I do? A big stupid teenager who knew nothing of her family, her past, what she’d lost. I knew my own loss and I had some idea of what was churning around in her gut, but comfort could only come later.

The house was smaller than the one I grew up in, with the traditional separate, somewhat small rooms: kitchen, dining room, small formal living room, and a very untidy family room. On the floor and tables were boxed games, like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, open and the contents scattered about the room. There were towels, too, crumpled on the couch, and a bookcase with a full set of encyclopaedias, something I’d never seen before.

Folly picked up a towel and smelled it. She put it down again.

“I know my name now,” she said.

Leep Has Depth

Prompt: Pattern

Hawaii scene round

“What in hell are you wearing, Leep?” asked Deborah, when she looked up from the mixing bowl. She was using a hand mixer to bake a Duncan Hines cake. Leep had a fleeting moment of intense desire to lick the chocolate batter off the beaters. Something was burning. It was the oven preheating, and making the kitchen fragrant with burnt pizza sauce.

Deborah’s mother, Beth (or Lizzie, as Leep called her, in his head) wasn’t in the vicinity to chide her daughter for being rude, as she usually did when Deb made a thoughtless comment about Leep. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t used to it. Pretty well everyone at the mill did the same. Deborah’s dead husband, Vincent, used to make all kinds of comments. To be honest, Leep was never quite sure if they were joking around or what. You have to develop a thick skin when you are kind of quiet, like Leep.

Still, Leep could feel the roots of his hair grow hot. His face was probably red.

“It was a gift,” said Leep, immediately feeling he had betrayed his new editor, Amanda Thirsty, who had gifted the shirt to him when it was too small for her brother. Instead of tacitly admitting there was something wrong with the shirt and blaming Amanda, Leep should have stepped up and defended it. Was it too late?

“It’s vintage—“

“It’s godawful. What the fuck,” said Deborah. She might have been talking about the weather. It wasn’t important. She was just pointing it out; she didn’t care.

She put the mixer on a cutting board, and poured the batter from the bowl into two prepared, round cake tins.

The short-sleeved shirt was covered in images of waterfalls, flying fish, hibiscus, and something that looked like fat, green worms. Even Leep wasn’t sure what they were. It was not the kind of thing he usually wore. Maybe he wanted to show Deborah and Lizzie that he had depth. He didn’t just wear plain t-shirts and jackets. This was colourful and vintage. Amanda’s brother liked vintage things, and antiques and stuff. But in this case, if Leep really thought about it, maybe it wasn’t really too small. Maybe her brother hated the pattern, too.

“Oh my god, Leep!” said Lizzie as she suddenly stumbled into the kitchen and dropped two grocery bags onto the counter. “Crazy shirt! I love it. Reminds me of when Deb’s father and I were stationed in Hawaii.” She wore denim capris and a cropped white shirt. Her hair was pulled back in a rough ponytail, strands of hair stuck to a sweaty forehead. She took Leep’s breath away.

“It’s hideous,” said Deborah, careful setting the cake pans onto the rack in the oven.

“Deborah, you insist on being rude to Leep,” Lizzie said, and Leep blushed again. “Oooh, chocolate batter!” She scooped up both the mixer beaters and gave one to Leep. “Put the milk and butter away, would you Deb?” And she led Leep out onto the back patio, where they sat in plastic strapped lawn chairs and licked the batter.

“Does this remind you of your mother’s kitchen when you were a kid?” Lizzie asked. “You know when she baked… and later there would be icing to lick.”

“Oh sure,” Leep lied. He had the memory, but it wasn’t real. His mother had never baked a cake, or given her son a beater coated in chocolate batter. It didn’t taste quite as good as he had imagined, but it felt pretty nice pretending it did.