R J and Euterpe

Robert Johnson’s birthday is on Sunday, May 8th. Happy birthday, RJ.

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 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.”

R J 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.

Y2K

Y2K. You remember it, don’t you? I know I do. It was before all sorts of hell broke out in the twenty-first century.

One moment, December 31, 1999 at 23:59:59, everything’s a-okay. Next, January 1, 2000 at 00:00:01, it’s not.

At 11:59:59 pm, you’re kissing your partner of thirty years. Then click, the clock turns to midnight, and you were kissing a stranger. They looked the same. They had the same voice, sure. But They were not the kisser your partner was before midnight. Not by a long shot. She was a stranger.

Most of you didn’t try to find out what happened. You were afraid that you might be going over to the dark side or losing your mind. Or maybe you were just afraid. Some of you did ask, “Did this happen to you?” When asked, most people looked at you a little strange. But there were a few that admitted it. Yes, they felt that it did.

The thing is that it happened to almost half of the earth’s population. To both the 99% and the 1%. You would have thought that it would have been on the news since it happened to so many. It wasn’t. Most wanted to ignore it and get on with their lives. They accepted that maybe, just maybe, it was they who were the ones that were off.

Of course, there were those who thought it was a religious experience. That indeed the Messiah had come to claim his people and you weren’t one of them. That Jesus had returned. That Krishna made an appearance.

So what really happened? Were you on drugs or was that a bad case of Hawaiian punch you drank? Or was it the Rapture and you got stuck with some sinner-replacement for that wonderful partner you’d fallen in love with at eighteen?

Well, Uncle Bardie has news for you. Now I must tell each and everyone of you that it is a secret, and that is secret with a capital CRET. And, yes, a little se. That’s shhhhh in some language. I am not sure which. So please, oh, pretty please with sugar on it, keep it on the q.t,

I spent a couple of days in the 24th dimension last night and I narrowly escaped. But here I am to reveal the Revelation. To give you the Inside Dope. Are you ready? Of course, you are ready, You wouldn’t be reading this far if you weren’t.

It’s The Immortals. Yep, them guys. Or should I say Guys. You see, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Even farther than Darth Vadar Land and the Death Star, it was at the Beginning. Yes, that Beginning. Big Bang and All. At that moment before wrist watches and cuckoo clocks and Big Bens and atomic clocks and grandfather clocks. Even before sun dials. At that moment, The Immortals worried.

What did They worry about? The Immortals worried that they would become extremely bored. There would be a sameness to things. People born. People graduate from high school. People die. And that was all. They thought about the Sims. You know how you put the Sims on cruise control. You come back a month or so later, they are Sims doing Sims things. They are not doing Halo things or Minecraft things. They are doing Sims things. They are doing exactly the same things they did when you put them on cruise. We all know how boring that can be.

Well, that was what The Immortals were facing. Since this was well before Halo and World of Warcraft and Mine Craft, they had to think outside the Box. They put their Immortal heads together and they thunk and they thunk. Immortals do that a lot. Finally they had a plan. We could call it Plan 9 from Outer Space but I think that has been taken.

So here was The Plan. Once every millennium, millennium is Latin for millennium, you know, once every millennium, they would create a fluctuation in the Time Continuum. As each new millennium comes into existence at 00:00:00, half the souls on earth are zapped from their bodies. They are frozen in limbo for a millennium. Those souls are replaced by souls from a previous millennium. Since the new millennium may need more souls than those of a previous millennium, souls are split into multiples. So you may end up with a partner who is a piece of Cleopatra soul. And it might not even be the sexy Cleo you get. You may get the bossy Cleo, or the suicidal Cleo. Or even worse. The Cleo who likes to play with snakes. I don’t know about you but I don’t care much for snakes.

So there you have it. One moment you’re with your best bud, the next you’re with Genghis Khan. He wants to rape and pillage, pillage and rape something bad. And you know what that spells. The Music Man said it best. “It spells trouble. That starts with t and rhymes with p and that stands for pool.”

So get out your pool cue. It could be a very long millennium.

Binge-worthy

I prefer movies to tv shows. But occasionally I strike gold with a tv series. “Lonesome Dove,” “The Sopranos,” “NYPD Blue,” “Deadwood,” HBO’s “Rome.” And now “Downton Abbey.” And when I watched these, it was like reading a great novel.

For six seasons, PBS gave us an updated version of “Upstairs Downstairs.” Only this one was in a great house in the country. While “Upstairs Downstairs” covered the twenty-seven years from 1903 to 1930, the “Downton Abbey” years are 1912 to 1926. But both series have one thing in common, the tremendous changes in British society and how its people, including the aristocracy, had to adapt. Throughout the series, the devastation of World War One, the changing role for women, and the new job opportunities for the working class will play an important part in the story of Downtown Abbey.

“Downton Abbey” is a family story with all the challenges, conflicts and triumphs that families have. Though there is an upstairs and a downstairs, we come to see that downstairs is as much a part of the family as upstairs.

Downton Abbey is the home of Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), and his wife, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern). They live at Downton with their three daughters, Mary (Michelle Dockery), Edith (Laura Carmichael) and Sybil (Sybil). Downstairs are the butler, Carson (Jim Carter), the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan), the cook Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol). Daisy the cook’s maid (Sophie McShera) and the footman Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier). And watching over this household is the Dowager Violet Crawley, Lord Robert’s mother (Maggie Smith), just down the way.

In the opening season, Lord Robert learns that his heir lost his life on the Titanic. Since a woman cannot inherit the estate, Robert must find a distant relative for an heir. And it is preferable that Lady Mary marry this heir. Otherwise she will be out on her own with only small inheritance.

A crippled man, John Bates (Brendan Coyle), joins the household staff as his lordship’s valet. Thomas believes the job should be rightfully his. And he will do everything he can to bring Bates down.

Meanwhile the youngest daughter takes up with the new chauffeur (Allen Leech). Lady Edith, the middle daughter, seems to have trouble bursting out of her wallflower role. And Lady Mary resists all efforts to put her together with Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens).

Then comes World War One and Downton must do its part for King and Country.

As the seasons roll along, we come to care about these people and their problems as much as we would our own families. Then we’re finished with the six seasons and the movie and we’re finding ourselves longing for the good old days of Downton Abbey.

Near 500 words: TW and the three phases of his life

Episode 17 of The Writer.

TW (aka The Writer) divided his life into three phases: Before Cat, With Cat, After Cat. After Cat began when the vet, Dr. Helen Hatch, sat down beside him in the waiting room of the vet hospital.

Helen reached over and took TW’s hand, then she softly said, “I’m sorry.”

A pain shot through his body. He knew her next words. “Cat is dead.”

TW couldn’t breath. He passed out.

He woke up to see Helen kneeling over him, smelling salts in her hand. Her eyes had concern in them.

“Lorenzo, he’s awake. Help me get him off the floor.”

A tall Hispanic man reached down and lifted TW up and into a chair.

“Are you okay?” Helen asked.

TW nodded his head.

Helen nodded to Lorenzo that she’d take care of things. Lorenzo went back to the receptionist’s desk.

Helen knelt before TW. “I know how much you loved Cat, and how much Cat loved you. I am so sorry.”

Then she took her seat beside him. She rubbed his arm with her hand, trying her best to comfort him. “When you brought her in, I thought we might be able to do something. She’d already lost way too much blood.”

TW nodded his head, letting her know he understood.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I got home. The door was unlocked. Cat had left the house. She wouldn’t do that. Even if the door was wide open, she’d have stayed inside.”

Helen let go of his arm and leaned back in her chair.

“I don’t know,” he said, “what would have made her leave the house.”

“Has anything happened recently to make Cat think the house was unsafe?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Was she in any kind of danger that you know of?”

“No. Not that I know of.”

The hospital was quiet, except for two dogs barking in the background. TW and the vet sat side by side, looking at the back space of a wall across from them.

After five minutes or so, Helen broke the silence. “I’m sorry I misled you. I thought you understood we were just friends.”

“It was me, not you. I fooled myself.”

“How have you been?”

“The usual. The library keeps me busy. And Cat, of course.”

Then it hit him again. There was no more Cat. He swallowed hard.

“Do you need some water?”

“Yes, please.”

Helen stood up and went over to the water cooler and filled a paper cup with water. She handed the cup to TW, then sat back down beside him. The water went down cold and cleared his throat.

Recovered, he remembered what he had heard about Helen. “I heard you lost your baby?”

“About a year ago.”

“Are you okay?”

“Frank didn’t take it well. It was a boy. We have two girls, and he was so hoping. He fell apart. Now we’re getting a divorce.”

TW saw the tears running down her cheeks. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to her.

The room was quiet again.

Helen wiped the tears from her face, then passed the handkerchief back to him. Her face went back to vet’s face.

“There’s more to Cat’s death. Where Cat was bleeding, there was a small wound. Cat was sliced by a razor blade.”

Syria Song

A lyric for all the victims of the Syrian Civil War

In the history of the world
how could we expect boy or girl
slammed against a prison wall
and raped till they could not crawl.
A dozen men stand in line
to take a turn at their crime.
The victims’ blood on the brick,
their deaths were slow, never quick.

Was this Guernica?
Was this Hiroshima?
Hi ho, hi ho, It was Aleppo.
Hi, hi, ho.

In the history of the world
how could we expect boy or girl
to breathe air of toxic gas
’til they breathed their very last
when the bombs came crashing down
rattling streets with warlike sounds.
Terror, a name given that place,
a town left without a face.

Was this Guernica?
Was this Hiroshima?
Hi ho, hi ho, It was Aleppo.
Hi, hi, ho.

Bridge:
Oh, Mary. Oh, Mary,
hear your children cry.

In the history of the world
how could we expect boy or girl,
on the streets all rag and bone
with no place to call a home.
Children are now on the run
unwanted, met by the gun,
just another child of God
that the world has left to rot.

Was this Guernica?
Was this Hiroshima?
Hi ho, hi ho, It was Aleppo.
Hi, hi, ho.