Archive for October, 2010


Down in a Hole

by mdjb

What else should I be? If not a climber, shall I turn to drugs, smoke myself into a stupor, or finish off the last of that ancient liquor in the rosewood cabinet? I’m down in a hole, and although, I’ve dug myself a comfortable niche, the atmosphere is stifling.
It smells bad, here, really bad. To my nose, it smells like so much rancid meat and sour milk. I’m no connoisseur of smells, but I know the difference between an odor and a fragrance.
Like as not, things have changed for the better, but the evidence implies otherwise. The wife and kid kept my mind off how much was lacking in my life, until they themselves went missing.
Teen-aged parents stayed closer in spirit to their offspring than the fogies who waited until they were successfully situated in careers before starting families, but that did not give them the edge in raising an ethical, social-minded generation of thinkers. My son was doltish, and my wife told me I was always too serious.
The spirit of those times was more funk than zeitgeist.
On a table in the hall sits an unsealed letter. I had been hoping my son would read it before he went out that autumn day, but wearing an old flannel shirt, he came into my study, and asked me for a hundred dollars. How was I to know that was the last I would see of him, and that his mother would soon leave to be with the woman she claimed was the true love of her life?
I don’t know how to use a stove, and so I barbecue everything, but I’m beginning to think all this stuff has passed its use-by date.


Thinking in Chorus

by mdjb

A butter knife would have to do. One makes use of what comes to hand when traveling so far from home. Eighty-year old Alice Hargreaves, visiting New York for the first and only time, opened and read the several letters, and they warmed her heart. She would never have sold the manuscript if times had not come hardest upon her. She had thought losing two sons in the Great War was Fate at her most pernicious, but then after Reginald’s passing, Cuffnells, her beloved homestead became an albatross. Where would she have been had it not been for Sotheby’s fetching four times the price she had expected on the script? That day she had cried into her black handkerchief, and not joyless tears of mourning, rather those of the mixed emotions of pressure lifting and the weight of solitude coming on, but a solitude with which she could reckon.
She regretted auctioning off that story, written expressly for and about her. Still, she would never have come to New York to celebrate what was being celebrated as the author’s centennial, had she not sold it, and were it not through the kindness of Mr. Johnson in bringing her over to witness the proceedings at Columbia University. Nor would she have met Peter Pan, or rather the man who had been the boy who inspired his creation. In a way she thought the two of them had become immortal. She felt in shaking his hand, it was as if two angels had crossed paths.
She did not hold the thought for long, however, as she was more humble than that. God was in the details. She had been merely a player.
Was Mr. Dodgson there in the chair beside the writing table? She feared turning to verify, although she felt his presence so strongly. Why would his ghost be here in New York on the Long Island? To see if the Americans had done right by his hundredth?
She sipped some coffee without making a sound. Brackish stuff it was compared to English tea, and another thing she put down to what she might never have experienced under prior circumstances. The bitter taste it left on her tongue remained without any regret on her part for having waited so long.
As she laid the last of the encouraging letters down, and caught sight of the gleaming butter knife, she realized how her life was shining once again; perhaps not so brightly as it had when she was a child enraptured at Mr Dodgson’s knee, listening to him talking about six impossible things being believed before breakfast, yet, nonetheless Alice Hargreaves, nee Liddell emanated a luster that declared there were no cobwebs on her past, and in truth, there never had been. Through all her tribulations, she had remained golden-haired Alice, who had journeyed underground, and seen life on the other side of the mirror. She did not doubt that much of her good fortune stemmed from knowledge gained on those journeys, so richly imagined by the man whose spirit continued to haunt her.


“Be Prepared”

by mdjb

Trust me, it’s not what you think. Wally-boy did not wet his pants. Well, not in that way. He spilled the wine on himself as he greedily gurgled away more than his share.
Jenky, who was last in line, was so pissed the bottle was practically empty when it came to him that he tossed it, bag and all, into the street, smashing the bottle into a thousand tiny fragments. He then whispered to Stendhal, who had taken only a small sip himself, “Remember when I told you we shouldn’t have invited Wally-boy to come in on this with us? He does this kind of thing all the time.”
Stendhal said, “Huh?” He had been interrupted in his reverie of the days when his Mamen used to leave a glass of milk and a couple of biscuits wrapped in a napkin on the bureau for him to find in the morning before she rose from her bed. And what brought that memory to mind? He had watched the droplets of cheap red spilling off Wally-boy’s chin and recalled the time the old boozer had asked him, “Don’t you leave a can of beer or something beside the bed, in case you wake up thirsty in the middle of the night?”
“No. I don’t,” Stendhal had answered the query.
“I do,” Wally-boy had replied. “You see, I used to be a Boy Scout. That’s how I got my nickname.”


Almost There

by mdjb

I turned thirteen that summer. One morning in June, my father caught me spreading his Barbasol on my face as if preparing to shave, and I would have, had he not stopped me and made me wash the lather off.
Looking in the bathroom mirror, he said to me, “You don’t know what a bother it is to have to shave every day. With any luck you won’t get your first whiskers until after you turn fifteen, and when you do, believe me, you won’t want to shave them off. Now go get dressed, and hurry it up. Your mother is waiting to take you over to Grandma’s.”
I looked into his eyes in the mirror and I thought he could tell that I was disappointed and a little embarrassed at being caught trying to act like an adult because he turned me to face him and extended his hand to shake mine and said, “Don’t be in such a rush to grow up, Mick. Please, for my sake. You already have in so many ways.”
I remember that although I felt resentful he would request something like that, I, nonetheless, shook his hand and told him I loved him.
On his way out to work, while Mom was preparing a bowl of cereal, I saw my father tip his invisible hat to the faceless boy in the painting over the mantel. That painting by Grandpa, done in the last year before his illness did him in, had hung in that same spot throughout my childhood, and even though my father had stopped wearing a hat, he still made the salutary gesture every morning.
Mom had promised we would eat at the IHOP after visiting Grandma. So, later, sitting in her living room, and with only some cornflakes in me, my stomach started rumbling. The green tea Grandma always served us on these visits didn’t help any, and my mother grimaced at me as if I were purposely acting common. I tried to distract myself, hoping my hunger would follow suit, by looking around at all the knick-knacks Grandma had collected over the years, and my roving eyes inevitably came to rest on the golden urn of Grandpa’s ashes that were enshrined on a little table in a dark corner of the room.
I remember thinking then for the first time that it was odd she kept none of his paintings in that room. There was one of a faceless little girl in the hallway, but the rest must have been stored or hung in her bedroom, which I had never been in. Then I caught her looking at me, and felt a strangeness creep through me, stronger than my hunger pangs. It was as if she knew what I was thinking. I could see a gleam in her old eyes that spoke of understanding, almost as if she were apologizing to me for having learned of her deepest, darkest secret for which she felt guilty harboring.
She said to my mother, “They grow up so fast these days, don’t they?”
And Mom, after putting down her teacup, and delicately patting her lips with her handkerchief, said, “Yes, they do, Mam. Jack was saying to me just this morning Mick is almost there.”
“Almost there?” Grandma repeated, no longer looking at me, nor at Mom. “That’s a funny way of putting it.”
“Yes, I thought so, too,” said my mother, carefully folding her handkerchief so the traces of lipstick would not mark the things inside as she returned it to her handbag.
I remember thinking, she always does that, always folds it that way. My mother was such a careful person.
That summer I must have realized hundreds of things that had always been happening around me beyond my notice, but all of that awareness was ahead of me. On that June morning, in my grandmother’s spotless living room, the only thing with which I was concerned was trying to squelch the rumblings in my stomach, and dreaming of a big stack of pancakes.