For the Birds

 

A couple sits on a balcony overlooking New York City. They are eating their breakfast. A pigeon is on the balcony’s ledge looking at the couple. The couple are looking at the pigeon.

Carla, the bird, says, “Okay, guys. Here’s your agenda for today.”

“Joe, I can’t believe we are taking orders from a bird.”

“Jill, this bird has made me a fortune. Before Carla here, I was bankrupt. Carla comes into my life and within weeks I am rolling in dough.”

“Okay, guys. Here’s the plan.”

“I don’t know, Joe. Seems real stupid to me. Don’t you know your own mind?”

“Of course, I know my own mind.”

“Hey, guys. Listen up.”

“Joe, it don’t seem like you do.”

“Jill, I can make my own decisions. It’s just that Carla does a much better job. She doesn’t let things get in the way.”

“Guys, you want me to leave. I’ll do it, you know.”

“Jill, you got to quit doubting my decisions.”

Carla up and flaps away.

“And my decision is to follow Carla. By the way, have you seen Carla this morning?”

Cabbage

Why did she have to raise cabbage? Anything but cabbage. Charles hated cabbage, and she knew he hated it.

Since they were married for the past twenty years, Helene had been obsessed with cabbage. Just try it this way, she said time and again. This way or that way was never going to work for him. He hated cabbage.

“Charles,” she said to him a number of times, “the rabbits are eating my cabbage.”

“Good,” Charles responded. “Now you don’t get to force it into me.”

“You know you would love my cabbage strudel if you would give it the old college try.” Just the thought of cabbage strudel about drove Charles insane.

He gave murder some thought over the years. No judge would convict Charles. “Your Honor,” he would say, “you will understand when you hear the circumstances of my crime. You will have no reason to convict me of the murder of my wife.”

After the judge heard his plea, he would immediately release Charles. “Justifiable homicide. No man could live with the persecution Charles has lived with for twenty years.”

This was Charles’ reasoning for some years, but no more. The country had gone cabbage crazy. It was becoming harder and harder to find a restaurant, a tavern or a friend who did not serve a cabbage dish with every meal.

Finally a solution came to Charles. A one way ticket to America. He had heard that America was a savage country where men and women ate only meat. America, everybody claimed, was a barbarous place.

The westward voyage was such a comfort. Not one meal on the menu offered cabbage. The ship passed the Statue of Liberty with its promised freedom from the tyranny of cabbage. As the ship moved into its berth at the port of New York, Charles smiled his broadest smile. He had turned his back on the religious persecution of his home country’s love of cabbage. Before him stood a cabbage-free life.

The ship docked. Charles gathered up his bags and headed into the city. His plan was to follow Horace Greeley’s advice of “Go West, Young Man.” Soon he would be on a train to California. First he must try a meal at one of New York’s finest restaurants.

Charles opened the menu and read. He just about vomitted. It seemed America’s finest restaurants too had embraced the contagion. Before him were offerings of cabbage and potatoes, cabbage rolls, boil-that-cabbage-down, cabbage stew and cabbage burgers. Cabbage mania had struck America when Charles wasn’t looking.

On and on the cabbage dishes ran until he came to the final offering. “Cabbage strudel topped with a dab of vanilla ice cream.” It was named, of all things, Cabbage a la Helene.

Prompt: A Dog Named Bob.

How could I resist this prompt The Daily Post: You have 20 minutes to write a post that includes the words mailbox, bluejay, plate, syrup, and ink. And one more detail… the story must include a dog named Bob. Here goes:

Bob, my cocker spaniel, ran out to the mailbox, carrying his bluejay buddy, Feistus, on his back. He opened the mailbox and ink poured out. It was as sticky as that plate of syrup he got into yesterday.

Short Story Wednesday: R J and Euterpe

Short Story Prompt: “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Headlights streamed through the bedroom curtains and hit R J in the eyes. He shook the sleep from his eyes, then turned to the woman at his side on the bed.

“Clara,” he said, then louder. “Clara.”

The pickup stopped in the driveway outside.

“What?” she said, angry at being woken from her dream.

“I thought you said that your husband would be out of town all week.”

The headlights went off.

“Oh, shit. R J, you gotta get out of here.”

R J was already out of the bed and in his pants. He grabbed his shirt and his shoes. He leaned over and kissed her thick brown lips. “Be seeing you.”

He shoved the window up and threw his clothes out into the back yard. Halfway through the bedroom window, he remembered Euterpe. He ran across the room and picked the guitar up. The front door opened just as R J went through the window.

He heard Clara call out to her man, “That you, Hon?”

The husband called from the living room, “Who else you expectin’?”

“You, baby,” Clara said.

R J had his shirt and shoes on. He sneaked past the side of the house and then headed out to the street. Before he knew it, he was three blocks away and out of danger. He checked his watch by the streetlight. It was still early. Only ten p.m. He had enough time to make the appointment he had been offered. He shrugged his shoulders with a why-not and headed on out toward the countryside.

A half hour later he left the town behind him, making his way down the dark country road. The night was dark, no stars and no moon. Only the blacktopped road guided his feet.

R J came upon a bit of a forest. He stepped into the trees. If things were dark on the roadway, they were even darker among the trees. What was he doing? He didn’t need nobody to help him play Sweet Euterpe. He played that guitar just fine.

As he progressed, the oaks and the pines turned gnarly. They gave him the willies, that feeling they were trying to reach out and grab him and squeeze the dickens out of him. It was as if the forest was haunted. There were owls. There were the cries of wolves in the distance. Each of R J’s steps crunched something that didn’t sound quite like leaves. He was not about to reach down and feel the undergrowth. He advanced quickly, pushing back branches and vines that hesitated his progress. Without warning, he stumbled into a clearing. He dropped the case holding Euterpe to the ground.

It was not just any kind of old clearing. This was a clearing where the four winds met. This was a clearing where wizards were known to gather. This was a clearing where the supernatural and the natural encounter each other. This was a clearing where magic was done, and black magic at that.

R J advanced into the clearing, and he saw that the moon and the stars had come out of their closet. In the center of the clearing, four roads met. The road to the north, the road to the east, the road to the south, the road to the west. It was as if they were the four rivers out of Eden.

At the meeting place of the four was a giant stump, a stump as old as the world may have been. Upon the stomp sat a beautiful woman. She wore a long dress of the whitest and purest satin. Her golden hair fell down around her body. The glow pouring from her face put the light of the moon to shame.

“R J, what you expectin’?” she asked from her place on that stomp. “The devil?”

“Y-y-y-yes.” His teeth chattered with fear. It was that kind of fear that came from the preachers when they stormed their congregations with visions of hell. He’d heard their sermons many a time and he knew all the way down to his toes that he didn’t want none of that hell.

“Do I look like an Old Scratch? Do I look like Satan?”

“N-n-no, ma’am.”

“‘Course I do not. I want you to know I have had my eye on you a long time. The way you play Miss Euterpe there. Well, it’s like you play like that Orpheus who lived a long time ago. He played so good, he got Mr. Hades hisself to surrender Orpheus’ one-and-only Eurydice.”

He turned to look back to see where he dropped his Sweet Euterpe. It was not at the edge of the clearing. He looked down at his feet. There at the side of his right foot was the guitar out of its case and lying flat on the earth.

“Come and show me how you can play the beauty,” the woman’s voice beckoned him to the stomp.

R J did not hesitate. Any chance to show his stuff and he was ready. Euterpe flew out of the case and into his hands. He strode to the stomp. The woman offered him a place to sit beside her. He accepted.

Euterpe rested on R J’s lap and under his right arm, ready for the music about to be. Her master’s left fingers turned the tuning pegs a few notches, then the fingers made a run down the fret and toward the rosette and they returned to the center of the fret. It was then that the fingers on his right hand began their dance on the strings of the guitar. The fingers on the strings above the fret turned wild. The woman watched, her eyes growing larger than the moon. It was the midnight hour and R J was bewitching the witch.

She jumped off the stomp and her feet took her round and round, her hands cavorting above her body. The music grew wilder and wilder. Her dance too grew as wild as the wildest of things.The dress dropped to the ground.

Deep into the night R J played, his music frenzied, then dropped into a softness like a feather falling slow and peaceful-like to the grass below. The sound landed easily to a finale. The woman capitulated, surrendering to the gravity that held her to the earth. She lay exhausted on the ground, laughing, ecstatically laughing. She had been right to choose R J,  and this was the night to choose him.

Naked, she rose from the earth and walked to the Orpheus before her. She reached into the stomp and drew out a chalice and a dagger. The dagger’s blade pricked her finger and red blood dropped into the cup. She raised dagger and cup to the sky, then chanted the words of an ancient tongue.

Lowering the cup, she offered it to R J. “Drink, drink, my brother,” her voice commanded.

R J took the chalice and greedily quaffed down the nectar, draining the cup of its liquid. He went to return it to the woman. But she was gone. The moon was gone. The stars were gone. The clearing was gone. The chalice was gone from his hand. He was sitting on the side of the road, Euterpe on his lap.

R J did the only thing he knew how to do. That night and into the dawn, he soothed the sweetest blues out of his Euterpe ever heard by man or beast.

Short Story Wednesday: The Existentialist Wife

Short Story Prompt: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

“It’s life itself that makes us die, Tom,” I remembered Marsha saying to me this morning after she called me into the kitchen. I looked into her hazel eyes. She was about to cry.

Now I sit on this bus on my way to work, wondering what she meant when she said that to me. We had just eaten our usual breakfast, oatmeal and melon, coffee and orange juice, with our six-year-old daughter Emma, the pride and joy of our years together. Then Marsha stood up and said to me, “Can I see you in the kitchen?” In the kitchen, she said, “It’s life itself that makes us die.” She’d never said anything like that before.  All I could do was respond with a “What?” and enfold her petite body in my arms, not knowing what else I could do.

Then she disappeared back into the dining room. I was left there to wrestle with philosophy, a philosophy that somehow seemed to sit somewhere close to the existentialism I studied in college. Why all of a sudden this Sartrean absurdism from Marsha, my wife for twenty years who had given me a beautiful, brown-eyed, brunette Emma after the barren years. A wife with a joyfulness in her soul that I had never seen in anyone else.

Why such a statement?  Could it be?  Oh, no.  It couldn’t be?  Marsha was more in love with life than anyone I had ever met.

Here I sit on this city bus and study the woman in the black Moslem veil and wonder why Marsha said those words to me in the kitchen. That kitchen which seemed to have a life of its own when she was in it. That kitchen where she loved to cook. What marvelous soufflés and quiches and crepes she made. Wonder if that veiled woman is a good cook.

What was Marsha contemplating when she spoke those words to me, “It’s life itself that makes us die.”  I am not sure if I’ll ever know.

Lately she’s been on a Iris Murdoch, Virginia Woolf kick.  We saw the movies “Iris” and “The Hours.” Nicole Kidman’s perfect portrayal of the writer and Judi Dench’s performance of the philosopher moved her.  I couldn’t believe the tears Marsha shed. She doesn’t cry at movies, but she cried at those.  They inspired her and made her want more of both, so now she lies in bed and reads first “Mrs. Dalloway”, then “The Bell”, then back to “Mrs. Dalloway”  just before going to sleep. I wish she’d get back to her Jane Austen and all her nineteenth-century sunniness and leave these writers behind.  Pretty soon she’ll be reading “The Bell Jar” by that Sylvia Plath and I’ll have to send her away. I don’t want to do that. How could I ever do that?  What would Emma and I do without her?

Wonder what that woman in the veil thinks about all this American stuff. Wonder if she misses her desert home? Now there I go making an assumption. Maybe she’s not from some desert place. How has she adjusted to this western modernism we all have to deal with? Wonder if she’s ever seen “Iris” or “The Hours”?

I know I could use a bit of a nineteenth century air. Everything was so much simpler then. Britannia ruled the waves and manifest destiny and all that. Choices were so much better. Do I go west or do I stay here in this dead-end job at the bank? Now we have to deal with 9/11 and Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria and Iran. I am just so sick of it. Maybe Marsha is sick of it too.

Hmmm….It’s life itself that makes us die. When you think about it, that is true.  We’ve all become so deadly serious about everything.  Wonder if that young black man sitting there behind the woman in the veil is so serious about things.  He looks like he’s got plenty of time to sober up. If I were his age, I know I wouldn’t have a serious bone in my body. But Martha says that I am always so impractically realistic.

Always serious.  She is the light-hearted one.  Will I now have to be the light-hearted one while she becomes the serious one?  That might be a lot of fun.  I’d go dancing, always wanted to be a dancer, learn to yodel. Hmmm. Maybe Emma would learn to yodel too.

That woman across from the black veiled woman looks so unhappy. Worried.  Do I look anxious?  Do I always worry?  Seems to work out that anxiety is my friend.

There she sits in an orange blouse and blue jeans and sneakers and she’s worrying.  Let’s call her Jean. Maybe Jean has a son in Afghanistan, or a daughter. Could be she just got fired. Could be her husband hits her.  How can he do that? She looks so worn down by life. She’s probably only in her early forties. She looks sixty. Reminds me of a saying that Jesus had. What is it that Father Brennan quotes? The poor will be with you always. Then he would say that is no excuse. That doesn’t get us off the hook.

I am so glad Martha converted. Now she’s more regular at Mass than I am, always takes Emma with her. I find some comfort in that. But I can’t seem to find any consolation in the Eucharist anymore. It’s all bread to me. Maybe it is true that it’s life itself that makes us die. Where did my childhood faith go?

Wonder what the guy at the back of the bus with the mustache and the Yankees hat would think about that.  Wonder if he is happy.  He looks happy.  Looks like he’s got the world on a string, as he gazes out the window.  Not a worry in his head.

Wonder if Martha is worried about Emma and what the doctor said. Emma is so fragile, always has been. After all she was a preemie, almost a month early, and oh so tiny. Why do we have to have more tests? Don’t those doctors know anything?

Wonder what that black woman in the seat with the young girl beside her, looks like her daughter, would think if the doctor told her that the girl needed to have more tests?

Well, it looks like I am coming to my stop.

I pull the cord. The bus drops me off at the corner for another day here in paradise. Another day in the big city. Another day of work. Perhaps it is true. Perhaps it is life itself that makes us die.  Just perhaps.