Archive for July, 2019

Release

Monday, July 29th, 2019

release

They are fly fishing in the Applegate River together, standing in waist-deep water, facing downstream, their lines parallel in the fast-moving flow.

Fred has fished for steelhead in this river for thirty years—the ripples on the water’s surface giving him a detailed picture of the submerged topography, each ripple a syllable in the talk of the torrent.

Tom is visiting from a city far to the south in California. He fishes with some bitterness, mourning the shortness of his stay in Oregon. Maybe I’ll have another big success one day and buy some land up here. Build a little house. Write poetry. Stand in the river whenever I want.

Now a massive steelhead takes Tom’s fly, her voracious hunger overriding her sense of what is real and what is fake.

“Yes!” shouts Fred, grinning at his old friend. “I knew you’d get the first one.”

“Wow! He’s big,” say Tom, playing the fish a bit too zealously.

“She,” says Fred, knowing this to be the female’s dance, a frantic darting mixed with desperate leaps—anything to save her eggs. “You can let her run. No snags all the way to the bend.”

Tom begins to weep.

“You okay?” asks Fred, surprised by his friend’s tears.

“Take my pole,” says Tom, wading through the torrent to Fred. “I can’t do this.”

“No,” says Fred, recoiling. “You hooked her, you play her.”

“But I don’t want to kill her,” he sobs seven years old, playing on a creek, hopping from stone to stone, lost in a fantasy of being an Indian, going around a bend and coming upon a man drowning kittens.

“You don’t have to kill her,” says Fred, touching his friend’s hand. “Just play her and then let her go.”

“Just play her,” says Tom, excited by the ferocity of the steelhead’s will to live. “And then let her go.”

“Yep,” says Fred, nodding. “And while you’re doing that, I’ll make coffee.” He studies Tom’s line for a moment. “I give you a good fifteen minutes to get her close.”

“A good fifteen minutes,” says Tom, watching his friend clamber up the bank. To play a big fish on a lovely river on a lovely planet. Not a bad incarnation.

So he plays her and the scent of coffee fills the air and the river sings her song.

At last the beautiful silver fish rises to the surface and allows Tom to draw her near.

“Oh my friend,” he whispers, unhooking the barb from the fish’s mouth. “Please don’t die.”

She hesitates to leave, not understanding she is free until he touches her and says, “Go on now. Go.”

fin

Mean Mister Leo

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Django

Leo had become, as it were, the telephone through which the humans spoke to one another. He was a large, lazy cat with yellow eyes and a dull gray coat. Save for a few funny tumbles as a kitten, Leo had done very little with any of his nine lives. He had never mated with anything and never killed anything larger than a moth. Yet to Alan and Elizabeth Warrington, he was the most important person in the world.

Alan was seventy. He was tall, and like a bean too long on the vine, had developed a curve in his posture so he loomed over whatever or whomever he happened to be standing near. His face was surprisingly chubby for a man so thin, and he had short white hair, though not in abundance.

Elizabeth, Alan’s junior by three years, was tall, too, with narrow shoulders, wide hips, and large breasts. She kept her gray hair short and refused to put on a dress. She wore slacks, baggy sweaters, and loafers the year round, except in July when she wore sandals; and for someone who sneered as much as she did she was remarkably pretty.

Indeed, her dreadful sneer only subsided when she was sleeping and when she spoke to Leo. Yes, when she spoke to the cat, her sneer would vanish and a melancholic smile would claim her face, staying until she turned away from her pet.

Alan called the cat You, and spoke to him like a gangster. “So it’s You, is it? We’ll see about that, wise guy,” he would say, giving Leo a quick rough massage that would send the little beast into ecstasies of purring and drooling.

Elizabeth called the cat Silly Boy or Mean Mister Leo. She usually spoke baby talk to him, but would occasionally resort to a deep rumbling voice full of mock horror at some impropriety the old cat couldn’t possibly have committed. “Oh you Mean Mister Leo,” she would say, holding the cat in her arms like a baby. “Did you rob that bank? You silliest of silly boys!” And then she would bury her face in his chest.

Then she would put the cat down and Alan would take Leo in his arms and say, “I have to go to the bank today, You. And if I find a list on the counter, I’ll go to the grocery store, too.”

And this was how the Warringtons communicated with each other for eleven years. No one else knew; and it was amazing how easily this was accomplished. Thousands of games of Bridge were played with friends, dozens of guests were entertained, and the Warrington children and grandchildren came to visit week after week, year after year, yet no one ever suspected that Elizabeth and Alan no longer spoke to each other.

Elizabeth couldn’t remember her last direct conversation with her husband. But for Alan, that long ago verbal exchange was so vivid, so charged with emotion, it might have happened yesterday.

They had just gotten home from a lingerie fashion show at a local seafood restaurant. Alan had enjoyed the show, Elizabeth had not. She had, however, enjoyed quantities of champagne and was quite drunk and amorous. Alan, aroused by the lingerie models said, “Those gals were sure cute, weren’t they, Liza?”

To which Elizabeth replied, “A lot you could do about it.”

She tossed the comment off without thinking, but her words hit Alan with the force of a train, their implication stunning him. Elizabeth moved into the kitchen to look for something sweet in the freezer. Alan collapsed on the sofa, choking with rage. Elizabeth returned with a bowl of ice cream and found Alan petting Leo. She approached her husband, put a hand on his knee and said, “Wanna have some fun, sweetie?”

To which Alan replied, “I will never speak to you again.”

“Aw come on, honey,” she cooed. She thought he was teasing. She thought he wanted her to seduce him. “Don’t be mean to mama.”

But Alan wouldn’t look at her. Instead, he glared at the cat and said, “What are you looking at, You?”

And so for eleven years they talked through Leo, transmuting messages meant for each other into things they said to their cat.

Elizabeth’s saying, “A lot you could do about it” may have precipitated the end of their speaking to each other, but those words were not the deeper cause of their rift. Something else had happened a few years before in the midst of a mutual emotional decline. Elizabeth had taken a lover for a few months, her affair barely disrupting the routine of their life. There were a few extra meetings of one auxiliary or another and Alan had never known; and he had always known.

So when Elizabeth said, “A lot you could do about it,” years after her last act of adultery, Alan felt himself being compared, the crime exposed, a punishment necessary.

And what better way to punish a person who loves to talk, lives to talk, than to take away her sounding board, her echo of forty years? What better way to punish infidelity in such a person than to become verbally unfaithful to them, and to remain so, year after year, which is what Alan chose to do, except the gun fired both ways and he was as wounded as she.

Then one morning Leo died. They came upon the body simultaneously, Alan entering the living room from the kitchen, Elizabeth coming from the bedroom. Leo lay on the orange plaid sofa, taut with death, his eyes crossed, his tongue protruding slightly.

Alan grimaced and went to the corpse. Elizabeth clutched her throat, closed her eyes and turned away. Alan confirmed the obvious by placing his hand on the cat’s chest. Elizabeth crossed the room and sat in her blue plaid armchair. Alan remained looming over the corpse, unsure of what to do. His impulse was to put Leo’s body in a plastic bag and put the bag in the garbage can. But maybe Elizabeth would prefer a backyard burial?

“Oh you Mean Mister Leo,” said Elizabeth, pouting. “What a silly thing to do, you silly boy. Now we’ll have to put you in a plastic bag and send you off to the sanitary landfill.”

And so the body was disposed of, but so, as it were, was the telephone. The Warringtons sat in silent terror, overwhelmed by the desperate loneliness their hapless cat had kept at bay for so many years.

Then the actual telephone rang.

Elizabeth snatched it off the table beside her, grimaced at Alan, and cried, “Oh Sandra, oh you dear, you must be psychic. The worst, the very worst thing has happened. Dear Leo just died. Yes, just now. Oh, I know. He was so precious, so good, so… yes, yes, Alan is very sad, too. We just don’t know what to do.”

The phone call over, Elizabeth did battle with her sneer while Alan crossed and uncrossed his legs and picked at his cuticles. Elizabeth cleared her throat several times. Alan coughed. And then, inspired by the same impulse, they began to speak.

“You…” said Alan, but that was all he could manage. The word hung in the air, a questionable thing. Was he speaking to Elizabeth or intoning the dead animal’s nickname?

“I…” said Elizabeth, gripping her knees. “I… I don’t…”

“You…” he said again.

“We have been…” she began.

“A long time,” he said wistfully.

“Yes,” she said, relaxing a little.

“I think you should be sorry,” he said, fighting his tears.

“I am,” she replied, unable to overcome her sneer. “I am. I am. But a man should…”

“Should what?” asked Alan, squinting fiercely at his wife.

“Well… I waited for you to touch me,” she said, her eyes wide with fright. “You were the one who stopped everything.”

Alan smiled demonically and lurched to his feet. “So you did mean it,” he growled. “All these years, you meant it.”

“Meant what?” she cried, shrinking into her chair.

“We’ll see about that, you,” he said, turning away from her.

And then he was gone, the house reverberating with his slam.

“Oh God,” said Elizabeth, covering her mouth with both hands. “Oh God.”

She sat completely still for several minutes, caught in the grip of a memory of when she was a teenager and caught the curtains in the living room on fire while she was smoking pot with a friend, and how her mother would never forgive her. Never.

Finally she roused herself and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea. Then she called her daughter and told her the news of Leo’s death.

“Your father is very upset,” she said, clutching the phone with both hands. “Maybe you could come over. It would be wonderful if you could.”

Her daughter said she couldn’t possibly get over there until tomorrow.

Elizabeth tried to think of who else to call, and while flipping through the address book, she imagined Alan at a pawn shop, buying a gun. Then she imagined her daughter arriving the next day and finding their bodies—Alan having killed himself after he killed her.

But after she played this double death scenario in her mind a few times, she began to think he might not kill himself after he killed her, and that made her furious. To think that he would murder her and then go on living!

“What a self-righteous bastard,” she said, turning off the flame under the whistling kettle and going in search of a weapon.

Three hours passed. Elizabeth waited in the living room. She played a record she hadn’t listened to in twenty years. Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter. A butcher knife lay on the arm of her chair. In the middle of ’S Wonderful, she heard the familiar jangling of Alan’s keys in the lock. She grasped the knife and prepared to lunge.

The door swung open, and there, toddling over the threshold, was a tiny tabby kitten with piercingly blue eyes. Then Alan came in holding another kitten, a luxurious brown.

“I couldn’t decide which,” he said quietly. “So I got both.”

Elizabeth dropped the knife and swooped down on the tabby. “Oh you silliest of silly little kittens,” she said, nuzzling the baby cat.

“You,” said Alan, nuzzling the brown.

Then he set the kitten down and embraced Elizabeth; and she initiated the first kiss.

            ∆

The kittens explored the house, searching for the cat whose scent was everywhere.

     fin

Meet the Musicians

Monday, July 15th, 2019

sunflower center

Mrs. Musician, Irish through and through, her short silvery gray hair adorned with a just-picked pink rose, espies Mr. Musician at the far end of their bountiful garden—a quarter acre of vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit trees, and berry bushes surrounding a deep pond—an urban Eden they share with tortoises, frogs, fish, and a robust population of songbirds and lizards.

A handsome man with brilliant green eyes, his wiry hair mostly gray now, Mr. Musician is on his knees, thinning baby carrots. He and Mrs. Musician have become excellent gardeners since they retired from performing seven years ago—carrots, garlic, potatoes, apples, and raspberries their especial specialties.

“Darling,” calls Mrs. Musician, wishing her husband wouldn’t wear his good black corduroy slacks when he mucks about in the dirt, “there’s someone named Murdoch here to see us. Says we know him. He looks familiar, though not pleasantly so, if you catch my drift.”

“Of course we know him,” says Mr. Musician, his accent vaguely Latvian on this fine sunny morning. “And though we are unanimous in declaring him a wonderful person, we wish he would go away.”

“Shall we tell him we’re unavailable?” she asks, her Irish accent shifting in the direction of Mr. Musician’s vaguely Latvian. “He seems harried though entirely bald.” She giggles. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

“Bald? Murdoch is bald? Gads. The red-haired giant sans locks. Time flies. Or he shaved his head. In any case… Murdoch.”

“Oh that Murdoch,” sys Mrs. Musician, who knew all along who Murdoch was. Is. “Of course. If we imagine red locks on the hairless dome, the Murdoch we used to know comes clear to us now.”

Mr. Musician sighs. He was so enjoying mucking about in the dirt, and now he can only think of Murdoch. “Tell him we’ll be in shortly. We’ll have coffee in the study. He drinks his black. I’ll take a splash of something white in mine.”

“We thought we were off coffee,” she says, frowning at her husband. “Didn’t we agree it makes us jittery and impatient?”

“That was before we had coffee with Murdoch,” says Mr. Musician, rising nimbly. “Thereafter we’re back on.”

“But we haven’t had coffee with Murdoch yet,” says Mrs. Musician, half-annoyed and half-amused by Mr. Musician’s tendency to comingle the present with the future. “And why should we go back on when we were so glad to be off?”

“Dear,” he says, suddenly beside her, though how he traversed twenty yards in a twinkling is beyond her, “we need the bitters.”

She thinks about this. No. She feels about this, and her feelings agree with Mr. Musician. “I’m not sure we have fresh beans. We haven’t had coffee in years.”

“Your prescient son Maxwell brought fresh beans yesterday,” says Mr. Musician, embracing his pleasantly plump wife. “We smell divine. What is that scent?”

“Mint,” she says, blushing attractively. “With a touch of cloves. We washed our hair this morning with mint-with-a-touch-of-cloves shampoo.”

“Poo, indeed,” says Mr. Musician, nibbling on Mrs. Musician’s delectable earlobe. “When we’re done with Murdoch, we’ll to bed. Yes?”

“Rogue,” she says, her voice dropping an octave. “We thought we’d never ask.”

Mr. Musician is a head taller than Mrs. Musician and most people would say he is slender rather than skinny. Size is tricky, though. For instance, Murdoch is a huge fellow, twice as big as Mr. Musician, yet were you to come upon Mr. Musician and Murdoch in Mr. Musician’s study you would feel certain that Mr. Musician was several times larger than Murdoch, which is also true, and that’s what we mean about size being tricky.

The Musicians have been married for thirty-eight years. Mrs. Musician was twenty-nine when they wed and she is soon to be sixty-eight. Mr. Musician is older than his wife, though how much older no one knows, not even Mr. Musician. Age can be as tricky as size. Nine out of nine people would surmise that Mr. and Mrs. Musician are the same age, which they are, though in strictly chronological geologic time they are years apart.

Mr. Musician’s spacious study sports a pale turquoise ceiling suspended fourteen-feet above a dark pecan floor. A gargantuan window looks out on a terra cotta terrazzo overhung by a massive oak tree, the silver-gray trunk of which resembles an abstract sculpture of a life-sized elephant.

Preceded by the scent of mint-with-a-touch-of-cloves shampoo, Mrs. Musician carries a large wooden tray into the study, the tray bearing three enormous white mugs brimming with coffee. She finds Mr. Musician in his black tuxedo, white shirt, burgundy bowtie, and green flip-flops, standing at the gargantuan window gazing out at the massive trunk of the overhanging oak. Is her husband, Mrs. Musician wonders, gazing at the oak or at the puffy white clouds in the cerulean sky? Or has the question posed to him just now by Murdoch thrown him into such a dense thicket of thought that he is seeing nothing?

What an attractive man thinks Mrs. Musician, smiling as she imagines gamboling with Mr. Musician as soon as they dispense with Murdoch. Mrs. Musician is wearing a billowy white blouse, a floor-length black skirt, red sandals, and a rhinestone tiara.

Murdoch, huge and round and bald with a huge round face and a huge round nose and huge brown eyes, is wearing a burgundy turtleneck tucked into baggy brown trousers, his high-top tennis shoes red, his wonderfully round cheeks beaded with sweat. He sits sideways in a wooden throne of an armchair, tapping his right knee with the fingers of his right hand while chewing earnestly on the fingernails of his left hand. He does seem harried, though his face is blank.

“Coffee,” says Mrs. Musician, stating the obvious.

Murdoch takes one of the mugs in his huge round hands and gulps the scalding brew as a man dying of thirst would gulp a cup of cold water. “Delicious,” he says, returning the empty mug to the tray. “May I have another?”

“Please,” says Mrs. Musician, smiling perfunctorily. “I brought two for you and one for Mr. Musician.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” says Murdoch, chuckling as he takes hold of a second brimming mug. “Delicious. Italian? French? Hawaiian? Colombian?”

“The bag was labeled Etruscan Gold,” says Mrs. Musician, frowning in alarm as Murdoch downs the second mug in one prodigious gulp. “A gift from our son.”

“Maurice or Maxwell?” asks Murdoch, eyeing the last loaded mug. “May I?”

“Maxwell,” says Mrs. Musician, nodding acquiescence. “I’ll make another pot.”

“Did you say coffee?” says Mr. Musician, turning away from the window, a bewildered look on his angular face, his accent distinctly Cockney.

“Be just a minute, darling,” says Mrs. Musician, arching a telling eyebrow as Murdoch returns the third empty mug to the once-promising tray. “Demand got the better of supply.”

“Allow me to assist you,” says Mr. Musician, following his wife to the kitchen. “We’ll be right back, Murdoch. View of the oak especially elephantine this morning.”

“Is it?” says Murdoch, moving to the window. “I’d love some coffee. If it’s not too much of a bother.”

“Do you know what he just asked me?” whispers Mr. Musician, catching up to his wife as they cross the threshold into their lovely kitchen—late morning sunlight slanting through seven south-facing windows imparting a poignant ambience to the room of many blues.

“What is the secret of life?” she guesses, filling the grinder with golden brown coffee beans. “Were the three wise men really kings or wandering minstrels?”

“Guess again,” says Mr. Musician, popping one of the golden beans into his mouth and chewing thoughtfully.

“Why are the rich so greedy?” She spoons the grind into the steel filter and ignites a flame beneath the rotund little boiler, their coffee-making machine an ancient Italian contraption designed for making espresso over an open fire. “Is there life after death, the soul imperishable?”

“You’re getting warmer,” says Mr. Musician, popping a few more beans into his mouth. “Hints of chocolate.”

Mrs. Musician sighs, for she knows very well what Murdoch asked of them—Murdoch’s coming foretold in a vivid dream. “Can anyone be truly free if another is enslaved?”

Mr. Musician nods. “And?”

“Will we return to the fray?” says Mrs. Musician, kissing her husband’s cheek.

“That is the question,” says Mr. Musician, nodding solemnly. “Exactement.”

sunflower tendrils

Election

Monday, July 8th, 2019

election

The evidence against them was overwhelming.

We explained their crimes in simple terms.

Our facts were unassailable. We exposed

their villainy to the bright light of day

on hundreds of community radio stations

and dozens of progressive web sites.

We proposed innovative programs to

restore the environment, reverse global warming,

create millions and millions of new and meaningful jobs,

provide free education and healthcare for all,

and bring about a cultural renaissance.

 

They countered with a mesmerizing music video

featuring a catchy song about freedom and hope

and the dawning of a new tomorrow.

The song was performed by a gorgeous woman

wearing a diaphanous red, white, and blue gown

clinging to the curves of her exquisite body

as she and a rainbow coalition of beautiful young women

danced to the irresistible rhythm of the song,

their eyes sparkling with tears.

This music video was shown

to everyone everywhere

through every form of media

seventy-seven billion times.

 

The vote was not close.

cloud song

Monday, July 1st, 2019

view from the deck

 

who made that blue

so deeply blue?

 

who made those clouds go sailing by?

who wrote that music in the sky?

 

maybe she who made the blue

knew our eyes could hear her too