Friday, December 4, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

The branches tangle where they enter the water. From the bank, the old tree digs its toes into the silting mud and maintains. Under the water, within the tangle of branches, and, lower, where catfish pack themselves into the rooted system of caves, there is astounding life. There are galaxies and worlds. The air above the water is whipped to a froth by kingfishers and ospreys. Jays and red-winged black birds. There is a hatch on, and the excitable fish will rise to the banquet when the sun sets it right. There is a crunching through the earth from earthworms and beetles and armies of ants. In the dry grass beside the calm pool, a rattlesnake slumbers. Lizards thrash through piles of dry leaves and vultures fan the sun into alternate bands of light and shadow as they cross the sun, never flying too close. The wax that holds their wings stays strong. No hubris for the vultures. The breezes lift the caps of the flowers and bees flit between bursts of color, collecting gold. The water gurgles and dances its way, kissing everything it touches. This is the place that is waiting for you. Will always wait. This is providence. 

28 comments:

  1. The pictures these words birthed in my head are amazing! Thank you!!!

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    1. The details are never obtrusive in their richness. So deftly painted, and I was transported by the last six words to someplace I don't even know, other than it's fucking good. I was there, brother.

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    2. Gorgeous... I heard and felt and saw it all. Thank you for sharing providence, and for painting it so well.

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    3. Also, "No Hubris for the Vultures" would be a delightful title for a collection of stories. Just sayin'.

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    4. I love this. So vivid. I love the image of the old trees digging their toes into the bank.

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  2. My family has a sick-ish sense of humor.

    Curious Friends: I used to make shrunken apple heads that looked like some of my snootier "friends." I would line them up on the top shelf of my bathroom medicine cabinet.

    I could always tell by the shriek if a Nosey Nora was snooping.

    Family Relations: I never knew my Dad's sister-in-law didn't like my mother until after the divorce. Auntie gave him a kitchen witch that looked just like my Mom.

    Oddly enough, my Mom was the one that introduced her to Dad's brother so they must have been good friends at some point.

    On Fire: The only funny fire story I know. As a teen, I had chores. No workee, no play, no allowance. Laundry was my big chore. So many things can go wrong with laundry. Mixing colors also mixes lint, and it don't stay on the cloth it came from. Add bleach to the wrong or mixed colors? Disaster. Dad was an exacting task master; folding, ironing, and putting away was a military operation.

    Saturday morning, laundry done. Dad, bro, and I go off to a local canyon stream. Bro & I & friends hike & play. Dad & friend's Dad park their asses at the Bar.

    A few hours later we return home to a 3 foot pile of debris in the driveway and my divorced Mom's car at the curb. Unknown to us, the really bad shocks I'd been getting from the clothes dryer signaled a serious short, that proceeded to set the house on fire after we left.

    Mom approaches to declare that the recently departed Fire Investigator determined that the fire started at the clothes dryer electrical outlet.

    Quaking, I prepare for the ass reaming I'm sure is coming.

    Instead, my Dad bursts into song. "I don't want to set the world on fire; I just want to start a flame in your house."

    First time I was ever grateful he was a drunk.

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    1. Wow, what gifts! and yes, even drunks have their blessings. Thanks for sharing!

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    2. Is it wrong to say I enjoyed reading this? Great stories.

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  3. he showed up every afternoon in the town square, her guitar and amp ready to display her bona fides, ready to dazzle. She used to hear god’s whisper but no longer.

    She was an auburn beauty, which was incidental, but her gathered ponytail and her classical vulpine face were assets, however the music came.

    Yes, pretty hurts, but goddamn, it still had such currency.

    “Pretty lady, I won’t rain on your parade, but this isn’t the place for you.”

    The wolf had appeared from shadows beneath the chapel roof and the market awnings, and he smiled through tumultuous teeth and tried to dam his drool. Oh, he was hungry.

    “The skies are clear and this isn’t my parade, Mr. Wolf,” she said. “This is a way station, and I come from elsewhere, but here I sing my truth.”

    “Don’t push me, woman.”

    “I won’t. Instead I’ll make my music.”

    And she did that. Splashes of half or quarter melodies, staccato squalls merging into dreamscape, arpeggios traipsing on ramparts of crenelated chords, spiralling into the darkest of wells and spinning into meadowlark updrafts. Distortion like the most shattered of mirrors, hot liquid globules and elastic spans of glass, a glittering haze of misted diamond. Her thumb like a hammer conjuring bass notes, rhythmic and sundry as coitus, her arachnid fingers a blur as lacquered nails plucked and glissandoed reflected layers of overlapping melody. And above it soared her voice, like the great mountain condor, effortless and buoyed by thermals.

    The townsfolk gathered and grew in numbers, and they sometimes sang snippets that only augmented her song, and children danced, and then their mothers, and then, looking sheepish between themselves, their fathers.

    The wolf was humbled, reduced, his snout a wilted thing, his ears flat, the luxuriance of his tail now tucked.

    “Mr. Wolf, I won’t stay. I’ve done what I came for, and it’s always time to move on. What will you do?”

    Cupping the town in its rough hands was a landscape of clear streams and falls, forests dappled by light and deer, skies that paraded like blue and white and grey ticker tape, crags and flats and the quiet eternal song of the land.

    The wolf, who recognized the good as well, knew all this and loved it, but he felt thwarted. Her cello nape, her downy hollows, her female scent itself a taunt, and though he knew he was wrong, he let himself down.

    “I will eat you; it’s how I’m made. It’s what I am. And you, my chestnut fawn, were made for this too.”

    She sighed while she packed her instruments. Something in the faraway hills echoed and crackled like an exhaled nightmare. She wished she could love the wolf and receive his love in turn.

    “You will do what you were made to do, Mr. Wolf. But you are not emblematic of your kind.”

    The wolf was puzzled. He didn’t know what emblematic meant. And while he crunched her words like marrow from the bones of a lover, spurned and sickly as the plague-struck, the townsfolk moved in silence with their clubs and knives and systematically dismembered him, and hearing his last furious yowl she cried as she left town, her hardware hunched like a stigma on her back, the neck of her guitar a phallus, her keening cry a screech of covid grief in the spent and airless afternoon.

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    1. It missed the opening capital S, lol.

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    2. Freudian typo of covid for corvid too. Apologies. I really should edit more strenuously, lol.

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    3. Ah, a beautiful tale of what's in our nature. Sometimes it's beautiful, sometimes it's vile, but always balance finds itself. A well told tale, my friend. And corvid grief is a delightful phrase. I'm glad to see you nurture your gift with words.

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    4. Oh, this is gorgeous. The paragraph about the music she plays especially took my breath. Thank you.

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    5. Thanks, both of you! And yes, Leland, that was my hope, that I could capture the beauty and the vileness as we contain both and everything in between!

      And Laurie, your feedback hit home because in that paragraph particularly I debated whether to let the handbrake fully off, so to speak, and decided to go for it, so thank you for that!

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  4. There is a particular time, near midnight on Christmas Eve, when all people, at least those who are not accustomed to seeing hallucinatory visions, go inside and spend time with their loved ones, or ones they pretend to love.

    A small number of those familiar with things that can’t happen, but do, and things others consider monsters and frightening remain. A still smaller number find themselves outside a marble building in Manhattan, and two of that small number are friendly monsters themselves.

    “Pat, you awake?” grumbles one.

    “How many times do I have to tell you I hate being called Pat?”

    “What kind of name is ‘Patience,’ anyway? For a guy, for a lion.”

    “Do I call you Fort? No, I respectfully call you Fortitude. Fortitude the Asshole.”

    Fortitude growled quietly as he stretched out in a most feline way. “Let’s not fight. We get one night a year, where we can smell the... hey, does the air smell funny to you?”

    Patience stuck his leonine nose into the air and inhaled deeply. “Yeah, a little less exhaust fumey, I think.”

    Fortitude looked down from his pedestal at an inebriated passerby. Strictly speaking, not passing by, as he was lying flat on his back, looking up at where there ought to be stars if the city lights weren’t so bright.

    “Hey, you there! What’s up with the air?”

    “Mmmmmm hmmm rona.”

    Patience, exhibiting a lack of the quality for which he was named, shouted, “Speak up, you besotted vulgarian!”

    “‘S the virus. People are s’posed to be staying home more.”

    Fortitude turned his head toward Patience. “Just like the flu, back in 1918. Remember that? We were young then.”

    Patience flicked his tail. “Huh, you’d think they’d learn.”

    “Hey, you guys are the lions!” The drunkard’s eyes were wide open.

    Fortitude yawned. “Think we ought give the guy an A in biology, Pat?”

    Patience snickered, and then winked at the man.

    “Bbbb-but you’re alive!”

    Now Patience yawned. “Yep, for one night only. All sorts of magical things happen on Christmas Eve.”

    “Magic, huh? Can you make rabbits come out of hats? Make the Statue of Liberty disappear?”

    “Kid stuff. We do serious magic.” Fortitude rolled on his back, nearly falling off his pedestal.

    “Yeah? Like what?”

    “Like taking you to mysterious lands. Like time travel. Like letting you talk to dead people and people who never even lived.”

    The man sneered. “Yeah, right. I may be drunk but I’m not a fool.”

    “Waddya think, Pat? Should we show him?”

    “I dunno, Fort. Pearls before swine and all of that. And anyway, we’re wasting time. There’s a lioness in the Bronx zoo I heard about.”

    “Aw, this’ll only take a minute. Touch my paw, human. Go on.”

    “You promise not to kill me?”

    “Naw, I’m a friendly lion. Like in the Chronicles of Narnia.”

    “What’s that?”

    Fort sighed. “You’ve never heard of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?”

    “Speak English, I tell ya. Whoever heard of a foreign lion anyway.”

    “You gonna touch my paw or not?”

    Patience and Fortitude watched the grubby man struggle to stand, then stretch to touch his dirty hand to Fortitude’s paw.

    There was a flash of light and both lions and the human were somewhere deep in the stacks of the New York Public Library.

    The man fell back against shelves of books behind him. Not out of fear, for alcohol had dissolved any fear he ought to have felt, but because Patience was licking his face with a very rough tongue.

    “There. Your face is a little cleaner now.”

    “What is this place?”

    “Go on, you’ve never been in the library?”

    The man looked down and whispered, “I can’t read.”

    Patience and Fortitude stared at the man and then at each other.

    “Should we?” they asked in unison.

    “We should,” they answered together.

    “I guess the zoo can wait till next year.”

    “What are you going to do to me?”

    “Relax,” said Patience. “You’re too skinny to eat.”

    Patience and Fortitude lifted their right front paws and placed them on the man’s shoulders.

    [continued in first comment]

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    1. [continued]



      “Close your eyes. Powerful magic is not good for the eyes,” Fortitude warned.

      “Okay, you can open them,” said Patience a second later.

      The man looked around. “Magic, huh? It’s all the same. No strange places, no dead people, it’s...”

      “Look at the spines of the books,” said Patience.

      The man’s eyes grew wide.

      “They’re words. You understand them now.”

      “C. S. Lewis. Lion. Witch. Wardrobe. Chronicles. What did you do to me?”

      “Gave you a little of the magic you should have had all along.”

      The man lovingly touched the books on the shelves, and took one down. He opened it. And he began reading aloud to himself.

      Through a window, the two lions saw the sky grow light.

      “Damn, another year gone by. We’d better get back in place,” whispered Fortitude.

      “Next year, no good deeds. They take too much time,” grumbled Patience.

      And as the sun rose, the shiny tan coats of two lions turned to pink Tennessee marble, and a gentle snow fell, and the morning was a little brighter as a man entered the realm of Narnia, through the magic of reading.

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    2. Interesting we both went with fables this week. Also, I learned something new about the lions outside the library. But most of all, I love how you express the genuine magic of reading and storytelling, how it's both time machine and psychic vehicle, that someone in another time and another place can scratch marks on a surface and we can come along in some faraway place and time and know their thoughts and hear their story. I love this, Leland.

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    3. Oh, this is so wonderful, Leland. I smiled all the way through it. Thank you for that. I often wondered what those lions were thinking. And lovely to read your words again.!

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    4. Thanks! it's fun to play again!

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  5. Never in a million years, would I have thought I would someday be wrestling a seven-year-old’s hair into an acceptable level of neat confinement. But then I never figured Jen might die before I did. I never expected our daughter Melissa to have a baby by “that guy.” Never dreamed that child would become my day job and one of my only reasons to get up each morning, once I retired.

    Yet here I was running a spiky brush through Mimi’s coarse, tightly curled hair, as she wriggled and whined that I hurt her when my brushing would slide and stop with the discovery of yet another snarl.

    “I’m sorry, Mimi. I’m trying not to hurt you, but your mother would kill me if I let you out of the house with your hair full of knots,“ I said as I worked the brush with my right hand and held onto my neat harvest of frizzled hair. The hair she inherited from her father, but her sweet little face was a café au lait version of her mother’s at her age.

    “I hate my stupid hair, Grandpa,” Mimi said as I finally contained most of the subject of her dismay with four twists of a hair band at the back of her head.

    As I withdrew my finger from that elastic mini-tourniquet, I said, “Now why on the world would you say that?”

    I know, at that moment I wasn’t too fond of her hair either. But it was the perfect crown to her angel face.

    “It’s just…just…all over the place. I hate it. I want hair like Taylor’s,” Mimi said.

    “Taylor?”

    “You know, Taylor. She’s the most beautiful girl in my class. Everybody loves her and she’s really nice and I want long straight, shiny blond hair like Taylor’s,” Mimi said with a defiant stamp of her foot on the floor that I felt through my slippers. Yes, I’m retired, so now I wear slippers, moccasins, around the house.

    “Mimi, everybody loves you, too. You’re sweet and smart and musical and you look just like my little girl, which means I think you’re absolutely beautiful,” I said with a touch of my hand on her chin. Which was sticky.

    “What the heck is on your face?” I asked her while I went to fetch a wet wipe from the white plastic container on the counter. She smiled. And that’s when I saw the brown stain on her tooth.

    “Fig Newtons, Grandpa. I traded with Taylor. She wanted my ‘Nilla Wafers.”

    “And when did you eat these Fig Newtons? You took your shower last night. I cleaned up the water after you were done.”

    “In bed. I snuck ‘em under my pillow. Some of the crumbs got kinda itchy, but I still slept okay.”

    “I see. Well, why don’t we both march to the bathroom and you can brush your teeth,” I said with a gentle hand on her warm little shoulder. Though I could see she was getting bigger every day.

    “Okay, but I still hate my hair. I want to be as beautiful as Taylor, beautiful like a flower,” Mimi said.

    “You already ARE beautiful. Here, let me load up your toothbrush. Now brush, and listen.”

    “Mmm-mummmph”

    “I know you think you’re not as ‘beautiful,’ as Taylor,” I said, emphasizing beautiful with air quotes. I’m sure they were wasted on a seven-year-old, but I was out of practice with that age. Boy, with Melissa at work, did I miss Jen (again) right then.

    “But sometimes beauty is more than only looks, of which you have plenty, little lady. There’s a city on the other side of the world called Singapore. And in Singapore is this stunningly beautiful park. EVERYBODY says it’s one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Now at the center of this beautiful park are these giant metal frames that look like trees. They’re made of twisted bars of steel that reach way up like redwoods and spread out at the top like another tree I’ll tell you about in a second.”

    Mimi spit into the sink and said, “Is this gonna be another long story, Grandpa?”
    (Continued)

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    1. “Keep brushing and listen. Now on these frames of metal trees, beautiful vines and flowers climb and grow. Just like the grapes do every year on Grandma’s arbor in the yard. But inside these phony trees that everyone says are so beautiful are these concrete towers, just like you’d see in Charlotte or Raleigh or even Washington. They aren’t beautiful but the beautiful phony trees cover that up,. Sometimes outside beauty isn’t the whole story about something. It’s just…outside.” I said, hoping I could get this next part through to her.

      “Uh huh.”

      “These metal trees branch out at the top something like a fig tree, the kind of tree that made the fruit in the sticky and sweet middle of your Newtons. You have to agree that a fig is a pretty sweet thing, right?”

      “Yeah, but…”

      “Well, did you know that the fig is the only fruit, sweet as it is, that doesn’t grow from a pretty blossom or flower first? Nope, the fig’s blossoms grow on the inside and help make it sweet and different in a very good way. Just like you. Beautiful, sweet and different from any other girl in the world. Except maybe your Mommy. Now rinse and spit,” I said.

      “Thbbbbb… But I don’t want to be different,” Mimi said.

      “Are you kidding? Do watch TV? These blond news bunnies all over the air are like dandelions in my crappy lawn. All pretty and yellow when they pop up, then BOOM, they turn into those white floating seed thingies that make you sneeze. And, by the way, dandelions are a weed.”

      “Are you saying Taylor’s a weed, Grandpa? That’s not a nice thing to say. Taylor’s my friend,” Mimi said. And I realized that my half-assed parable had merely served to pass the time that it took for her to focus on what made her my sweet girl.

      “Can you call Taylor’s mom and ask her if she can come over today? She’s got this new American Girl doll we can play with. It looks like her,“ Mimi said, half hopeful and a still a little down.

      “Of course. You tell her she can bring her doll over to play with yours.”

      “But I don’t have one. Mommy said maybe for Christmas.”

      “Mommy has yet to learn that Grandpa’s don’t need Christmas to spoil their granddaughters. C’mere,” I said, leading her into my little office space downstairs.”

      “Grandpas who don’t have too much to do sometimes just sit around and think what they can do to make their beautiful granddaughters happier. With Grandma gone, I needed help, so I enlisted the aid of Kendall here.” I pulled the box with the slick plastic window on its front from behind my desk and handed it to Mimi. Inside was one of those American Girl dolls, only this one had tight curly hair pulled back in two puffy pigtails and her pretty face was the color of Jen’s coffee, when I got it right. Sure it was for Christmas in three weeks, but now I could get her even more stuff.

      “Oh, Grandpa, she’s beautiful,” Mimi squealed.

      “Say that again.”

      “She’s beautiful, she looks just like…”

      “Yeah. You.”

      I think I got it right this time, Jen.

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    2. This is beautiful. And I suspect it's rooted in reality. Gorgeously told, my friend.

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    3. I love it too. And more fables and parables, stories about stories, as well as a beautiful message.

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    4. Ohhh.... Yes. So lovely, the message so perfect, the love so strong.

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  6. He recognized the entity by its odor—a blend of methane and alcohol. He tried to ignore the presence; maybe it would go away. A couple of times it had worked.

    This time, it didn’t.

    “What? I’m busy, here.” The stack of pardons wouldn’t sign themselves.

    He could swear it peered over his shoulder. “Stop breathing on me. It’s giving me the creeps. You smell like Rudy.”

    “Interesting,” it said, the voice reminding him of the mad scientist in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. “How often you pair the two of us together.”

    Ignore it and it will go away. Ignore it and it will go away. Ignore it and—

    “You’re pardoning that waste of human skin? I didn’t know you cared.”

    “Shut up.”

    “It will have repercussions.”

    “They got drugs for that. The best drugs.”

    “You say that now. You think you’re making light. But one day it will be dark.” He swore he felt cold fingers stroke his cheek and he shivered. “One day it will be dark and you’ll have to honor our bargain.”

    “Get out of here. I’ve kept up my end.”

    “Sadly, you have not. Would you like an enumeration of the many, many ways you have not lived up to the agreement you signed in your own blood?”

    He smirked. Little did that two-bit whatever-the-hell-it-was know that he’d penned that dotted line with Michael Cohen’s blood. The bastard had it coming.

    “I know what you did,” it said. “We have the receipts. It doesn’t make our bond any less real.”

    “Get lost,” he snarled. “Or I’ll turn my very powerful Secret Service agents on you.”

    The laughter froze his bowels. “As if they would save you from your fate, when so many times you callously put them in danger.”

    This has to be a dream, he thought. I’m dreaming. I mixed Adderol with the steroids again and I’m trapped in some damn twisted version of A Christmas Carol. I always hated that story. That Tiny Tim kid—what a loser. He blinked, blinked again. But he was still in the Oval, behind the Resolute desk.
    “Hope!” he yelled. “Hope, honey! A little help in here?”

    A feminine hand curled around the door. And in she walked.

    “Donald. We had a deal. I give you ten minutes to play president, and then Melania would take you out for ice cream.”

    As Hillary’s face swam into his vision, so did the voice of the entity.

    It said, “Time’s up.”

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    1. ohhhh.... dark and full of justice! Nicely done!

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    2. Ha ha, it made me laugh so hard in a fit of schadenfreude! So satisfying.

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