THE BIG STICKY
It was three weeks before Christmas. She was hugging me so tightly. Oh, I felt good. I said to her, “I have a sack of goodies for you and I’m coming down your chimney. Right….NOW!”
Mrs. Befana Natale giggled and, Oh, I felt so good and then she gasped and then I awoke and my pajamas crotch was wet and sticky. I was eight years old. I was horrified. I thought I had peed in my bed.
With dutiful humiliation I got out of bed and I walked into my parents’ bedroom and confessed, “I peed in my bed.”
My mom sat up on her arm and gestured for me to approach. She examined my pajamas crotch and touched it. She then turned to my dad and mumbled something. I thought I heard my dad say something about ‘The Big Sticky’. My mom slapped his arm.
They both started laughing.
I started to cry and my mom took my hand and said, “You did not pee. This is something that happens to every little boy.”
I wiped my eyes and asked skeptically, “Really?”
My mom answered, “Yes, really. It means you are growing up normally. Your dad will talk to you in the morning, OK, sweetie? There is nothing wrong. I mean it.”
In the morning my dad came into my room and told me, “Pip,” he always called me Pip because that was some boy in a book that he liked, called Great Expectorations I thought. It was weird but he said the word with such affection that it was OK with me when he said, “Pip, as a boy is becoming a man he changes. Remember how you were afraid when you started to get your hair…down there?”
I grinned sheepishly and said, “I tried to cut them off.”
My dad said wryly, “Yes, with my nail scissors.”
I said, “You told me you used them to trim your nose hairs.”
We both laughed.
My dad thought a moment and then he asked me, “Do you remember what you were dreaming about when this happened?”
I said matter-of-factly, “Mrs. Befana Natale.”
My dad nodded and I thought I heard him say, “I’ve had that dream, too,” but when I asked him what he had said he told me, “Nothing, nothing. Anyway, when a boy is becoming a man,” and then I could tell he was reciting, “God has a great plan for mommies and daddies to make babies. He designed them differently so they fit together like a puzzle. The sperm comes out of a daddy’s penis and swims inside the mommy’s body till it reaches the egg.”
I must have looked puzzled because my dad then said, “When a boy is growing up sometimes the sperm comes out too soon, at night, when you are dreaming.”
I asked, “Did your sperms ever come out too soon?”
My dad laughed, “Oh, yeah. And mommies are not too happy about that, either.”
I asked, “But you said it was alright…”
My dad realized the repercussions of his little private joke and he amended quickly, “Everything is OK. Don’t you worry about anything. This will be our own family business, OK, Pip?”
I wasn’t sure what I was agreeing to but at least I wasn’t in trouble.
The beautiful Mrs. Befana Natale was one of our neighbors. She was the mom of my friend Guy and his sister Karol. And also she was the Den Mother of our neighborhood Cub Scout Den of six boys.
Mrs. Befana Natale’s husband was at home bedridden with cancer. At the time I only knew what my mom had told me: Mr. Natale was ill. One time I went to the bathroom at her house and I passed the bedroom where Mr. Natale was lying in his bed. His eyes were closed. He looked like the molded effigy that was lying on the tomb of the Black Prince in Canterbury Cathedral that I saw on the History Channel.
I remember one day my mom was fuming over an article in the local paper that showed Mrs. Befana Natale swinging a bat at a little league game and my mom was reading out loud about what a good mom Mrs. Befana Natale was. My mom thought it was scandalous because Mrs. Befana Natale’s two children, Guy and his sister Karol, often came over to my house and asked me to invite them for lunch because their mom was not at home. My mom was certain that Mrs. Befana Natale was having an affair with the fellow who wrote the newspaper article.
Our Cub Scout Den met on weekends at either the United Methodist Church (my dad was raised Methodist, or at least sat in a Methodist church) or the Christian Science Church (my mom was raised Christian Scientist, a feminist take on Christianity ahead of its time) or at Mrs. Befana Natale’s home in the evening. We all preferred Mrs. Befana Natale’s house because she made real Italian spaghetti for all of us.
Mrs. Befana Natale would wink at us and say, “I make it with wine.”
It was three weeks before Christmas and our Cub Scout Den which we called The Spirit Bears was supposed to come up with some charity event of our Den’s own choosing.
Standing before us in her dining room as we slurped the last of our spaghetti, Mrs. Befana Natale held up the Merit Badge Series booklet and she was saying with enthusiasm, “Here is the Cub Scout Citizenship in the Community merit badge that you all will be eligible for.”
The merit badge was a round stitch-work patch that depicted a squat silver building with a black door between two black windows and with a tall pointy roof and that made it all look to me like a cartoon clown-face with hat but it was supposed to be a church.
Guy snickered behind me, “It looks like a boner.”
The church was between two square buildings with black doors and no windows and red roofs.
And there was no cross on the pointy building that was supposed to be a church.
Mrs. Befana Natale asked of us, “Boys, gentlemen. As we talked about last week, our Cub Scout Pack 555 is going to hold a charity event at the Mall. All Dens will participate. What ideas did you all think of to help a charity?”
Phil said, “We can collect cans of kosher food for poor Jews.”
Travis tisked, “Phil, there aren’t any poor Jews, you yutz! Mrs. Natale, how about selling wrought-iron Christmas lamps? My dad can get them really cheap in Tijuana. We could put those colored Catholic candles in them.”
Michael said confidently, “My band could play and attract donations.”
Guy said, “Yeah. Someone could donate some talent to your band.”
Ricky, who was the singer in Michael’s band, was also the Den diplomat and he interceded saying, “Spirit Bears! Let everyone have their ideas without criticizing. Maybe we can do more than one person’s idea for the event.”
Mrs. Befana Natale said, “That’s all…good. But what else? What can we do to make people say ‘Those Spirit Bears really shine!’?”
My friend Guy nudged me and said to everyone, “Poop has a great idea (he called me Poop for a while after he heard my dad call me Pip).”
Mrs. Befana Natale said firmly with a disapproving scowl, “Guy Gianni Natale, not nice. I’ve told you.”
I hissed, “Knock it off!”
Guy continued, saying, “Poop told me that we could charge admission to his Rocket Ship.”
My Rocket Ship.
My Uncle Donald had been a fighter pilot. After his war he became an aerospace engineer (there is no such thing as a “rocket scientist”). He stayed with us while he was in college. He used to tease my mom and ask her to cook his two eggs in two separate pans.
For fun he built me this cool Rocket Ship in our backyard out of plywood and scrap boards. It was a big cylinder on its side that you could enter into and stand up if you hunched over a little bit and it had wooden “seats” for six passengers (you sat on your butt on the floor with a wooden backrest and your legs outstretched). But there was also a bulkhead divider and a pointed cockpit nosecone for two people. There was a curvy door that opened and closed in the side so you could get in but the only window was cut out on the “pilot’s” side. Inside it could get really dark and my uncle built a holder in the cockpit for a disc player and it played a disc that he recorded that played jet engine sounds and electronic noises. It was really cool. We played in it a lot, all of us. It was my ticket to friendship in the neighborhood.
I protested, saying, “There is no way we can get my Rocket Ship to the Mall.”
Mrs. Befana Natale was like Superwoman. She could get anything done that she wanted to get done. She always found some man who was willing to help her.
My dad agreed with the plan, reminding my mom that it was Christmas and that it was for the Cub Scouts and that it was for charity.
My Rocket Ship got raised and carried on a flat-bed by a tow-truck driver who was a friend of Mrs. Befana Natale. They placed my Rocket Ship in the big Mall center, conspicuously in the middle of the big hub where the different Mall hallways met.
Mike said, “What a great place to get our band noticed.”
Mrs. Befana Natale would only allow Ricky and Mike to perform as a duo (since they were the only members of their band The Fedz who were in the Cub Scouts) and they could only perform with acoustic guitars.
Mrs. Befana Natale had given Mike and Ricky a final admonishment, “Sing only Christmas Carols or songs of the Spirit Bears. Do not sing any of your, your… songs I’ve overheard like Shit Pâté.”
Guy laughed and said to Mike and Ricky, “What are you going to call yourselves now? You can’t still call yourselves The Fedz. The Fedz is a rap-rock band.”
Travis sneered, “You can call yourselves The Bear Asses.”
Phil laughed, “No. The Two Bear Ass Cheeks.”
Mrs. Befana Natale clapped her hand and announced, “You are all going to recite The Scout Promise!” and Mrs. Befana Natale lead us all fervently:
On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
Then Mrs. Befana Natale called out, “What is the Scout Law?” and she prompted us saying, “We are all…”
Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.
And while we were all reciting, Guy was murmuring alongside me so I could hear him as he tried to make me crack up:
Lazy, Horny, Noisy, Rude, Greedy, Smelly…
My Rocket Ship was a big hit at the charity event. All the kids oohed-and-ahhed. We charged 50 cents per “ride”.
There was a rival Den of Cub Scouts led by Mr. Kooty. Mr. Kooty was a parole officer and he had formed a Den with troubled kids. The Den called themselves The Chupacabras. We all were afraid of The Chupacabras. Because we all were afraid of them we all hated them. We secretly called them The Kooties. But no one made fun of Mr. Kooty’s name where he could hear of it.
Toward the end of the day The Chupacabras came over to my Rocket Ship.
One of the The Chupacabras said to us, “You turkeys did OK. Can we check out your Rocket Ship?”
We couldn’t refuse and anyway they were just pushing past us already to go inside.
After their “ride” they said, “Thanks, turkeys,” and they hustled away smirking and laughing to themselves.
When I looked inside my Rocket Ship I saw that two of the seats had been broken flat and there was a gash kicked into one side of the fuselage.
My eyes filled with tears and I turned around and there was Mrs. Befana Natale.
I started to bawl intensely, “Those fuckers wrecked my Rocket Ship!”
Mrs. Befana Natale glanced inside the Rocket Ship and then as I cried shamelessly she said to me, “Oh, no. Don’t cry. I’m going to take this to Mr. Kooty. Those brats are toast. Don’t cry.”
Then Mrs. Santina Kurtz was hugging me tightly. My face was between her breasts. She was so soft. She smelled so good. She felt so firm against my crotch. Oh, I felt so good.
Oh, no, NO!
Mrs. Santina Kurtz suddenly held me at arm’s length away by my shoulders . She looked down quickly at my crotch.
Then Mrs. Santina Kurtz covered her mouth to keep herself from laughing out loud.
In memory of Mrs. Gina Beck.
Thanks for EVERYTHING.
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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS
I am Ángel Nagual. I will be a man soon. My village, Campo de la Estrella (Field of the Star), was once a Spanish Misión (Mission) before the break with Spain a generation ago. The Spanish priests were persecuted after the revolution. My village now keeps our own faith in our own homes.
Into my village one late afternoon walked a poor man with his woman holding a child. My father, Patecatl , met these strangers outside of the old Capilla (Chapel). The red tiles of that Capilla were molded and baked by my people when they were slaves.
The man says to my father, “I am José Jacobeo. This is my wife María.”
Patecatl, my father, observes, “This is a hard road to travel on foot with a woman and a child.”
The man, José, says, “It is a hard road even with a horse. Our horse was killed by a puma.”
The woman, María, speaks up into the conversation of men, saying, “God, himself, compels our journey.”
My father says wryly, “Do you flee your God?”
José glances over his shoulder and he says, “God is our strength.”
María says urgently, “We flee Poncio Pilato.”
My father is surprised and then he smiles, saying, “Poncio Pilato is only a story that bandidos tell to their children when they are disobedient.”
The child in María’s arms begins to cry.
My father leans over the child and he whispers sweetly, “My name is Patecatl, little one. What is your name?”
María says, “We have named him Jesus.”
My father raises his eyes to María’s gaze.
José says, “For protection.”
María pleads, “We need a place to rest.”
My father reflects upon their fear and their supplication and he says finally, “Of course. Of course. The old Church is used for our livestock, but the altar stage is free and clean. Please. You are welcome to stay as long as you feel you must.”
Then my father turns to me and says, “Ángel, see to our guests, please.”
I lead José and María with their child Jesus into the old Church. The sheep and the goats stir in the straw. Chickens roost in the rafters and up on the old cast-iron arañas de luces (literally, spiders of lights, chandeliers). On the altar stage I spread clean straw for them. I leave them a basket for Jesus and a clay jar of water upon the altar. María places little Jesus into the basket upon a mound of straw. She covers her face. José comes to her side and holds her in a comforting embrace. I leave them to their privacy.
I return to my father in our room in the old Capilla. I ask him, “Father, who is Poncio Pilato?”
My father shakes his head slowly and says, “Poncio Pilato is a legend among the mestizos (half-breeds). He is a demon bandido, the saint of outlaws.”
I ask, “Is he like Yaotl (Aztec god, Sewer of Discord)?”
My father grimaces and says, “No. No, Yaotl rewards the valiant even as he is the patron of discord. Poncio Pilato is like the Spaniard’s Devil, or should I say, like the Devil’s son,” then my father snorts, “ …like the Spanish priests.”
I finally ask, “Why would Poncio Pilato chase two poor people and their child?”
My father answers me with a patient smile, saying, “He wouldn’t,” and then he offers me in consolation, “Unless they have something he wants.” Then my father pauses and he says to himself, “Or they have taken something from him.”
The sunset is blood red and my father observes, “There is a dust storm to the West.”
We hear a scream. It is María!
My father and I run from the Capilla onto the altar stage. There José is restraining María who reaches screaming toward the child in the basket upon the altar.
My father hollers, “What is wrong…?” but in that instant we see the scorpions!
An army of black scorpions is scaling the altar, climbing onto the child’s basket. The scorpions halt their advance in a halo radiating around the child Jesus. The innocent child is enchanted by his wiggling visitors and he laughs with delight and he reaches for the nearest scorpions. The scorpions raise their claws but they remain just out of the reach of Jesus.
Suddenly a voice rumbles from the road outside the Church, calling, “María!”
María now faints to the floor in the embrace of José.
My father hisses, “Wait here!” but I follow him out of the Church to the road.
There are horsemen shuffling on the dark road. A man rides forward. He is enormous. I gasp when I realize that under his sombrero he is wearing an Aztec sacrificial mask of jade mosaic. The plaster eyes stare relentlessly.
My father composes himself and asks, “What do you want from my poor village?”
The enormous horseman leans forward and says, “I want what is owed to me, priest. I am Poncio Pilato.”
My father holds his composure and replies, “I am not a priest. I am Patecatl, the medicine man. What do we possess that is owed to Poncio Pilato?”
Poncio Pilato answers saying, “The child.”
My father asks boldly, “How is that innocent child ‘owed’ to you?”
Then the other horsemen ride forward ominously. Poncio Pilato points to each rider as they come to his side.
Poncio Pilato says, “This is Despiadado.”
I realize in horror that his eyes are sewn shut.
Poncio Pilato says, “This is Avaricio.”
I see that instead of eyes there are gold coins in his eye sockets.
Poncio Pilato says, “This is Lujurio.”
I see that his mouth is elongated like a horse and his lips are enormous and his tongue hangs out.”
Poncio Pilato concludes stating, “The child is Lujurio’s. He was enticed by the nun María in her daydream as she pretended to pray,” and Poncio Pilato scoffs, saying, “She was a willing virgin.”
Behind us I hear José exclaim, “Then it is all true!”
My father and I turn to see José supporting the unconscious María.
José ponders out loud, “María said it was a miraculous conception. She was afraid. She came to me for protection. I, I was in love with her before she became a nun. I didn’t believe her, but I didn’t care. I still loved her. But it is all as she told me!”
Poncio Pilato laughs coarsely and says, “I have heard this story somewhere before!”
María regains consciousness enough to mutter, “What will you do with my child?”
Poncio Pilato leans forward and says quietly, “The child belongs to me now,” and then he laughs, “You were a good hen, but this huevo (egg) belongs to me. Me costo un huevo (literally, it cost me an egg, it cost me a hell of a lot)!
My father speaks up, “Poncio, tiene huevos (do you have balls) enough to wager?”
Poncio Pilato sits erect in his saddle and his horse snorts and stamps.
My father continues, “I wager that you have no power over the child Jesus since he is truly innocent. I wager that your minions, such as the scorpions, can not harm him because his blood is half evil.”
Poncio Pilato growls, saying, “Be careful with your last words, medicine man.”
My father is unafraid, saying, “Only María can give the child to you willingly. Am I right? All you can do is terrorize us into forcing María to yield him to you,” and my father turns toward María and stares.
María is dashed sober by my father’s implications, and she cries, “No! No, no!” and she pushes herself away from José’s loving grasp. She runs stumbling back into the Church. José cries, “María!” and regaining his balance he runs after her.
I look to my father and he turns to me and says, “Stay where you are.”
I hear María screaming. I hear José wailing.
My father says again, sternly, “Stay.”
I then see José stumbling back out of the Church and he falls to his knees before my father, wailing and pulling his hair, crying, “María is dead! She has thrown herself upon the altar and the scorpions devour her! María! What have you done? María! What have you done, Patecatl?”
My father turns back to Poncio Pilato who grumbles, “Medicine man, you are as ruthless as Despiadado.”
My father replies, “But my eyes are sewn open. Only sacrifice defeats evil. Only sacrifice is holy. We own nothing in this world except our will.”
I am transfixed by the words, by the will of my father.
José grovels inconsolable in the dust.
But another rider approaches from the darkness. I stumble backwards. It is María! Or what was once María.
Upon a horse the color of ash sits an apparition of María. From her eye sockets flow two springs of tears. She joins the horsemen of Poncio Pilato.
Poncio Pilato pronounces, “Her name shall be Lacrimosa,” and he turns to my father and says slyly, “You are very generous with the souls of others.”
My father replies, “Poncio Pilato, you do not have their souls. You have only their sins.”
And then Poncio Pilato and his horsemen rode away with the wind.
My father welcomed José to stay on with our village, but José was too heartbroken to remain for long. José left Jesus with my father and my father made me Jesus’s keeper. Jesus is a little brother to me now and I worry all the time about his fate.
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He was small and wiry and had curly white hair and infinitely blue eyes. He was in his early 60’s. He was known as Harding “Hard On” Miller. He washed dishes at The Driftwood coffee shop and restaurant a few blocks from the ocean in this little seaside village of Cambria.
The owner of The Driftwood, named Robert, with big sad sympathetic eyes, had hired Harding one morning over coffee after listening to Harding’s unabashed story. Harding was living out of a truck down in the beach parking lot.
This morning here at the front counter Robert was handing to Harding a colorful envelope and Harding was oddly upset. Harding set the tray of dirty dishes down on the counter and grabbed the letter from Robert’s hand. Robert winced at that but maintained his sympathetic ear.
Harding fretted, “What the f.. Hell? I can’t believe it. Again! What is going on?”
Robert said softly, “It’s a Christmas greeting card, Harding. What is wrong with that? Who is it from?”
“That is exactly the question! I don’t know. There is never a return address and the stamp is always cancelled from the same town I’m in, no matter where I go! If I didn’t know better I’d think I was schizo and writing to myself for company! My parole officer sure ain’t doin’ it.”
Harding lowered his voice suddenly and glanced at the two cops, a male cop and a female cop sitting at the other end of the counter. The male cop was eyeing the ocean vista obliviously. His female partner was silently interrogating her face in the black coffee. Harding continued in a whisper that he thought was secure but which resonated off of the shiny hardwood counter and the big window in this nearly empty restaurant.
“Even when I was in prison, I would get a card every holiday, every birthday, no signature, no return address, just a hand-printed ‘Thank you. You are missed’ always at the bottom of every card. Is that weird or what?”
“Weird,” agreed Robert. “But really kind of nice. So what is the big deal?”
“It is creepy. It’s like I’m being stalked. I’ve spent enough time with people looking over my shoulder for one lifetime.” He glanced at the two cops again. They were both turned away. He thought they were both looking out the big window, but the woman was now watching Harding in the reflection while her partner’s eyes were setting sail for that bank of fog on the horizon.
Harding picked up the tray of dirty dishes and walked back to his washer station, setting the tray down on the stainless steel table. He then lifted from the tray a half-empty bottle of ale that some fisherman had left that morning. The young cook called to him, “Hey, ‘Hard On’, what’s happening?” That bottle, in Harding’s hand, was now a serious parole violation, but Harding walked in a trance with the Christmas greeting card, out the back door and he finally sat down to overlook the reedy creek that sauntered toward the ocean.
Harding stared at the Christmas greeting card. And with a first splash of ale down his throat, some shiny memories were uncovered. He was suddenly thinking about that evening at Comozzi’s Saloon, right up the street in the village, twenty-six years ago.
Twenty-six years ago, sitting at the bar had been this slender red-head with the most shamrock-emerald eyes. Harding had looked around for the guy she must certainly have been with, but he saw no one qualified. He sat beside her at the empty bar and asked, “Anyone claim this seat?”
She smiled, looking up at Harding’s reflection in the big bar mirror, “He’s not here.”
Harding thought to himself she didn’t say “I have a boyfriend (get lost!)” and he then said, “I’m Harding”
The two of them lost track of how many rounds they bought each other that fateful evening as they poured out each other’s lives. Harding remembered the pressure of his buried pain being released into those deeply forgiving emerald eyes of hers as they had talked.
“All I ever wanted was for my father to be proud of me.
My father was a pilot in World War Two. He flew a Liberator in daylight bombing raids over Germany. His best friend was his co-pilot. Half of those guys were shot down.
He met my mother while she was dating his best friend. When my father and his best friend played baseball between missions my father would just keep looking over at her and she would just keep looking over at him. They were married near the end of the war. He lost touch with his best friend.
My father was always my hero. But he was never happy with me. My mother was always the life of the family holidays, but even she thought I couldn’t do anything right
I was always in trouble.
My father had become the pastor at our church and also the head of my youth group and he was respected by everyone in the community. But he would laugh at my answers to questions during Bible class. He would make me put my nose into a chalk circle on the blackboard and wear a dunce cap. When I wanted to play Church football, he sneered at me that I was too small. Besides, he would say, don’t grow up to be one of those low-life athletes. When I signed-up for Church football anyway, he would never come to a game. One day I was doing really good: I made two touchdowns, and we needed one more to win. Suddenly there was my father holding a clipboard. I asked him what he was doing there and he said he was now the Assistant Coach!
He benched me and let some lousy guy “have his fair turn”. We lost. I was so furious I quit the team. And then he would always mock me in front of everybody for that, for being “a quitter”.
The worst was one day in the garage when I found an old trunk of stuff from my father’s pilot days. There was a picture of my father’s flight crew with his best friend and him in the middle. I had never seen a picture of his best friend. His best friend was a tough looking little guy and…and… I had his best friend’s eyes.
My father caught me and snatched the picture and hit me; really pounded me, telling me to stay out of his things. I left home and joined the Marines that week.”
Harding and Shauna finally took their bottles of beer outside of Comozzi’s and headed down to a spot near the creek.
They were making love when Shauna’s boyfriend found them
The boyfriend’s crew commenced beating Harding while the boyfriend dragged Shauna up the bank, cuffing her repeatedly with the back of his hand. They left Harding crumpled and crying “Leave her alone!”
But a few minutes later Harding came up behind them in the street outside Comozzi’s. The boyfriend was harshly restraining Shauna and growling between his teeth how he was going to smash her face. As the boyfriend turned around, Harding, bloodied and limping, shoved a broken beer bottle into the boyfriend’s throat. Shauna screamed and the boyfriend’s crew now swiftly beat and kicked Harding unconscious.
The circumstances were not important to the court. Harding had come back with “deadly intent” and, after a half-hearted presentation by his court-appointed lawyer, Harding was convicted of Attempted Murder. He was sentenced to 25 years.
He never heard from Shauna again.
Harding’s family then all but disowned him. He never saw them or heard from them again. His friends vanished.
But about ten years later he began to get the greeting cards for his birthdays and holidays.
His parents both died while he was in prison. When he was paroled he was a stranger in a strange land. He had the small inheritance left to him from his religious parents. He bought a pick-up truck with a camper shell and eventually landed in the parking lot of the Cambria beach.
All that time the mysterious greeting cards had followed him with every move.
Twenty-six years later, as Harding sat there, bottle in hand, overlooking the reedy creek sharing his memories, a shadow fell upon him. Harding started from his reverie and turned around. He reflexively but futilely dropped the ale bottle.
Standing there was the female cop.
Harding, even as he plummeted into despair, noticed the eyes of the female cop. They were as infinitely blue as his own eyes.
The female cop spoke softly, “Hello, Harding,” then she showed a hesitant smile, saying, “Father. Dad,… I’m your daughter. My name is Deirdre.”
“Daughter…?” His mouth fell open. Harding arose.
“I sent you that greeting card. I sent them all. Do you remember Shauna? She is my mother. She told me your story when I could finally understand, when I was about ten years old. She made me promise not to tell you anything. She thought that she had hurt you enough. She was ashamed. So I secretly wrote birthday and holiday cards to you in prison. When I became a cop I could always find out where you were.”
Harding was speechless, blinking and moving his lips.
Deirdre took a deep breath, “Dad, you have a little granddaughter. And she has your eyes…”
Harding put his hand against the side of his face, “Granddaughter…?”
“Dad, my husband Brian and I want you to come live with us. Even if it’s only for awhile.”
Harding lowered his hand from his jaw, “Can I ask you: where is Shauna?”
Deirdre tightened her lips and said haltingly, “She, she died… She died…”
And tears filled both worlds of infinitely blue eyes.
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In all the facets of his eyes, with Meadow of the Valley burning green,
The rolling colors up and down the hillside shined, petted by the wind.
Galahad the Grasshopper did thus not need to dream,
Offering to Aesop Ant, in passing, morsels of a leaf that he did love,
From high atop the towering weed, from where his heart did leap,
Called Galahad to him below, “Hey, can you stop, Aesop, my friend, and watch the spring in beauty burn?”
Aesop Ant replied, “Well, meadows do that sort of thing”, and tilting head from toil’s burn,
“You will find the Meadow is not always green,
And what is real is dreadful preparation. Somehow does the worst upon us always leap.”
Appalled at Aesop’s rude philosophy, cried Galahad into the wind:
“What of Love?”
Aesop Ant just smiled and waved good-bye, “Good luck with Love, a Dream.”
A shadow fell on Galahad, and startled him from Aesop’s troubling Dream;
Above him saw a Butterfly alight upon the flower, wings a prism interceding for the sunlight’s burn.
“Sorry to disturb your dreaming. I am Bethanie.” She sipped the flower she did love.
“I am Galahad. It is a lovely day.” His armor never shone before so green.
And Bethanie enjoined, “I hid when I was just a silly little caterpillar, dreaming of the wind.
But now I raise my wings to me and into beauty soon shall leap!”
Into every facet of his eyes did Bethanie’s true beauty leap.
Galahad did nod with every movement of her wings, to hear as if he did thus deeply dream:
“But now is time to drink the world and spill no drop into the wind.”
Then suddenly was Galahad no longer happy; something in his eyes did burn.
Added Bethanie, “But, you are welcome to accompany my journey high above the green.”
Galahad restrained himself from leaping then and there, while saying “That, I would be sure to love.”
“Can you stay apace with me?” asked Bethanie, “No matter what you love?”
Galahad without restraint said, “Yes, I can. For I can glide the farthest of them all after I leap.”
“Then let us go while sun still shines and all the grass is green.”
Away from Galahad she fluttered like a dream.
Galahad leapt to the sky, and spread his wings to glide; to leap and glide until his legs did burn.
Down the valley to unseen horizon blew the wind.
Galahad did slowly fall apace, and finally descry not Bethanie in bygone wind.
Heart of his, a beating compass, blindly pointed love
Until the sun of that first day was no more seen to burn,
And from behind, a full moon crouched and into stars did leap.
Galahad now found himself beside a tiny creek that fell into a sandy pool, inviting him to dream.
Wearily he nibbled on a leaf, and heavy was his armor, fading green.
Far away, a Cricket choir chirping helped his spirit into slumber leap,
Rekindling desire, cherishing an unforgotten Dream.
Something cold did his way whisper, withering that Dream so green.
Waking up most suddenly from all he thought were memories still green
Galahad felt fiercely cold and bitten by the wind.
In all the facets of his eyes were tears that froze that former Dream
Of springtime months ago; Of Love.
Winter cold was gnawing now upon his heart, to death if he away could no more leap.
Beyond the gloaming garden, thence he knew not when he fell, he smelled a farmhouse fire burn.
Shivering, an ember in his heart did once more flare and burn,
Shining in all facets of his eyes, again so brightly green.
Into the wind,
Gliding for his unseen Love
With their waiting Dream,
Narrowly ajar, an open window, shining bright, perchance another dream,
Through which Galahad could see a lusty fire burn,
Embracing in the fireplace a sweet dry branch with love.
And near the windowsill in colored lights bestrewn, there stood a Christmas tree still green.
Galahad nudged through the open window, as it kept at bay the wind,
To the Christmas tree then did he leap.
Sailing to the crowning star where with that faithful leap,
Galahad, now warm beside a golden light that shined just like his Dream,
Without the wolfish winter wind,
Within him fever still did burn,
Glowing tarnished armor green.
Thus did he believe delirium brought Bethanie, in visions of his Love.
Galahad was sure that now he truly saw his Love;
All the facets of his eyes across the room did leap
Above the mantle, on the wall, inside a frame of green,
Where Bethanie, transfixed as mid-flight in a dream,
Held her wings outstretched, where interceding shadows race and burn,
Everlasting in a chambered replica of wind.
Then Galahad in flashing horror saw a pin was driven through her back, to hold her in imaginary wind.
He cried out as he leapt across the void to be beside his Love.
Tapping frantically on glass reflections in which shadows race and burn,
Slipped and fell he to the hearth. In paralyzed despair he watched for an eternity the hellish fire leap
Until the flames revealed his fate inside a final Dream.
Into the glowing ashes dipped he tattered wings that once were green.
With wings of fire, back up to the crucifixion chamber’s frame of green
Galahad did leap his last, to lie with Bethanie and immolate his Dream.
The mingled smoke did through the open window toward unseen horizon leap.
THE BALLAD OF HARRY PALMS
His life was sweet no more because
His job two years ago
Was lost in economic storm.
Now, he was out of dough.
The winter came to reap his shame,
Unwelcome as he was,
Within his daughter’s basement, where
“Apply for Santa Claus”,
His daughter and her boyfriend gnawed,
“You’ve got to pay some rent!”
“But, we are Jewish!” Harry kvetched.
Yet up the stairs he went
Into the hall and out the door.
The blizzard was a shock.
The once and future Harry Palms
Behind him heard the lock.
His breath condensed into his beard,
His cheeks with cold did burn.
He got onboard the empty bus
Some money for to earn.
He got out at the Shopping Mall;
The stores so gaily lit.
Before he could apply himself
He had to give a shit.
Beside the bathroom stalls he stopped
And saw two men a’kissing.
He grabbed their collars, banged their heads.
They beat him. Teeth a’missing,
Still Harry Palms had got the job
Of Santa Claus, First Shift.
“I guess my life is now complete”.
His pride he had to sift,
Like cat-box turds, beside his bed,
The night he set the clock
For five AM to catch the bus.
He couldn’t find his cock.
As Santa Claus he did preside
Above the World Toy™ scenes
For Children of Jerusalem,
Sponsored by Marines.
All day long the shoppers climbed
To leave their gifts of toys
And sit their children on his lap.
He almost lost his poise
When three young Persian girls appeared
In line to visit him
Dressed like ornaments with jewels
And voices like a hymn.
“I am Sofa Kush” one spoke
“And these, my sisters, be
Avesta and Daeva”. Wise
Beyond her beauty she
Was dressed in gold, Avesta white,
And Daeva shaped in red.
The three of them leaned to his ears
And this is what they said:
Daeva: “Listen closely now,
To warn you we have come”.
Avesta: “Toys you gather here
Will harm Jerusalem”.
Said Sofa: “It’s the TNA”.
But Harry looked bemused.
“The Terror Net Alliances.
And we three stand accused
Of being traitors to our lords;
Mawlas, to whom we’re wives,
Will surely stone us three to death.
We offer you our lives:
Please help us save Jerusalem.
Allah’ cannot want this:
There are the toys that will explode
And open the Abyss.”
Poor Harry sat there so confused
Because their Sirens’ voice
Had spun enchanting arabesque
That left him with no choice
But to believe them; was he nuts?
They clearly were afraid
Of something that was going down
That wasn’t a charade.
He turned to find the host Marine
Did have his weapon drawn
And pointed at his geezer brains.
The three young girls were gone.
The mothers screamed and children ran
In chaos so appalling
The soldier had to drop his gun;
The Christmas Tree was falling
Onto his head. The needles rained
And stuck him in the eyes.
He fell down to his knees and screamed
Vile curses to incise
Whoever had pushed o’er the Tree.
He swore in Farsi tongue
To cut the heart of those who laughed:
Three Persian girls so young
They could not hide their merry laugh,
For they had done the deed
To no Marine: a terrorist
Who thought he could mislead.
Poor Harry Palms had tumbled back
And fallen from the lair
Of Santa Claus, onto the floor,
At circling stars to stare.
“You must arise and follow us”,
He heard the Angel say.
She looked a lot like Sofa Kush
And so he did obey.
Into the Manger Scene they fled
And lifted Baby Jesus.
A trap-door opened at their feet,
So down there Harry squeezes.
Below, past tense and present fear
A tunnel lead them out
The Service Exit Door. The girls
The parking lot did scout
As if they knew what should be, they
The World Toy™ truck did see
Without a guard nearby. Not luck:
Avesta had the key.
So off they went with reckless speed.
On, Daeva! Sofa Kush!
Avesta! And on, Harry Palms,
But watch your sorry tush!
“Where do we go?” did Harry cry.
He saw they were pursued
By someone in a Cadillac.
He was not in the mood!
His basement room seemed pretty good,
Retreating in his mind.
If he could just get out of this
He nevermore would find
A fault within his broken life.
It always can be worse!
To Harry, like the Bible’s Job,
Jehovah seemed adverse,
Because just then they overturned
The World Toy™ truck and smashed
Right through the lobby, where the staff
Of Trumpet Towers dashed.
A shroud of smoke concealed the four,
Untangled from debris.
Avesta, Daeva, Sofa Kush,
And Harry all did flee
Into the elevator car,
Penthouse Floor they keyed
To where the Persian girls did live.
It cost not chicken feed.
But suddenly their motion stopped,
The elevator dead
One floor below the penthouse suite.
They exited instead
And ran into the studio
Of KABL Radio.
The three girls knew the DJ well.
The DJ exhaled, “Whoa”.
Kid KABL Rock, as he was known,
Did listen to the girls
As he stared at Santa Claus,
His stoner mind in whorls.
He locked-up tight the studio
In record time, for then
Upon the door fell pounding fists
Of several angry men.
Kid KABL Rock was monitoring
The evening TV news
That pictured Harry (Santa Claus)
“Police uncovered clues
That Santa Claus had helpers who
Conspired to steal each toy
Donated for Jerusalem
Baseerah, Hebrew, Goy.”
The World Toy™ lawyers fed the news
And Sofa Kush just knew
They had to broadcast their own side
To rescue what was true.
Kid KABL Rock was ‘way ahead
And sat down at the mike
To spread the “Siege of Santa Claus”
Which children wouldn’t like.
The children listened everywhere
To hear their hero speak.
Kid KABL Rock laid down the scene
And it was getting bleak:
“Our door those men are battering down,
With force to hit home-runs.”
Kid KABL Rock beseeched the kids
To get their parent’s guns.
“Come up to Trumpet Towers, all!
To station KABL Rock!
Help us to save Santa Claus!”
He rallied them ad hoc.
Avesta cried “Time’s running out!”
But Daeva had a scheme,
“If Kid can hack the broadcast net
We can send a beam
That reaches to Jerusalem
Before they land those toys.”
Kid KABL Rock was on the case;
“His talent he employs”,
Said Sofa Kush, “to hack for fun
The broadcast net before.”
Avesta held a cell-phone high,
“I took my husband’s phone.
It has the code to detonate
The high-explosive bombs,
Before the children have to die
And grief consume their moms.”
But Harry saw the door give-in
And shatter to the floor
As men crashed through and aimed their guns
Upon the other four.
What happened next was like dream
As Harry leapt between
The gunmen and the other four,
Screaming, so obscene,
As bullets patted Harry Palms,
And so did Santa slay,
Avesta plugged the cell-phone in
Where Kid KABL did say,
As Sofa Kush a doll did throw
Toward a gunman’s face,
Avesta pushed the icon dial
And blew the coup de grace,
So fire ate alive those men
And ruptured in the lobby.
The plane above Jerusalem
Was hailing Abu Dhabi,
When in a super-nova blast
It blew to smithereens
And starred above, just like all those
Nativity night scenes.
I’m still the same Ravenna you knew. I still live here at the Asphodel Meadows apartments, right next to the commuter station.
From my ninth-floor apartment I can hear the station announcements. The synthetic voice generator announces, “If you need to talk we are here to listen. Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-(800)-784-2433.”
It has been months and it still hurts. Why did I re-read your good-bye letter? I had it hidden, buried it away.
I had not thought about you for a couple of days. For months I’ve thought about you every day. Then, for a few days I hadn’t, and I was feeling peace. Suddenly, my realization that I hadn’t thought about you frightened me. It was like awakening falling. I was letting go!
I had to see your words. I found your letter again. The pain revived in me the me I used to know.
Why am I still on social media? I have always been a loner. Alone online with imaginary friends.
Everything else in my life has been peripheral vision since I met you. The middle of my existence is now a torn void. I orbit a black hole.
I still must believe that loving you says something about me. I should smile.
So, I look down out of my apartment window. On the brick wall across in the alley, sprayed in a multicolored 3-D effect, are the words “DONKEY WORSHIP” next to the crucified human figure with a donkey head.
My life was aligning around you. My life is misaligned without my hope of you anymore.
How do I realign my life?
The act of writing is the only thing in my life where I get what I want. A happy ending.
Hell. I need to get out of here. Outside. Outside this mausoleum. My apartment smells like me. I need city air. Grab my bag.
My story characters are my real friends. I know, I know what you are thinking: Coo-coo! Coo-coo! I too hear the cuckoo clock. Coo-coo! Coo-coo!
Shuffle down the hall to the stairwell, nine floors deep.
The only thing that I ever knew for sure is that I love you. The same way that I would know that I was hit by a train.
My neighbors here by the stairwell are David and Rachel. They are virtuous, guiltless, damned, and living in poverty.
I was so convinced of my own personal divine providence that to awaken from such a dream was bitter. I spat out God.
On the eighth floor live the “working girls”, Cleo, Tristiana, and Paris. They tell me, “something good will have to happen”. However, every solution is the next problem.
On the seventh floor live the loud party doper dealers. They have a big Pit-bull inside to guard their door. Sometimes they chain that Pitt-bull in the hallway when a police car parks below.
I miss knowing your thoughts. My thoughts are always guarded but you are my warden. I have no one to whom I can turn in my prison cell.
On the sixth floor lives old Rolla, the fortune teller. She is nearly blind and makes you think that she is simpleminded. She is cruelly observant and unpredictability giddy. Yet from all over the building we come to her for advice.
If only I had never met you. I fill my dark vacuum with memories of you. Memories of you abide in me. And usually at times like these the memories of you talk to me.
On the fifth floor the neighbors are always fighting. The police have come frequently. One time, I heard it said that a four-year-old had been shot in the face while another neighbor was threatening the child’s mother.
When I reread your letter, I found for myself that feelings never die. That letter locks the tomb where my feelings have been buried alive.
On the fourth floor lives a militant atheist. When he sees me he always asks me if I’ve seen God. I say I’m not sure. My mind is a flaming tomb.
I believe in God, but we don’t get along.
On the third floor there used to live a strange quiet man called Mister Purdy. He had the most beautiful long haired female Afghan hound. He and that dog were inseparable. Mister Purdy killed his dog and committed suicide when people rumored how inseparable they really were.
There had been a cold rain the day before. Last night I made a little fire on the roof under the stars. I burned your letter. A billion billion fiery cosmic cataclysms led to us meeting. I want to be grateful for that, not bitter.
You are still a flame in my mind. Since our time together I am stumbling with my head on backwards. I have bumped into other guys and hurt them
On the second-floor lives Lelia. She has five children by five different fathers. Those men all abandoned her, alone and pregnant.
Yes, I crippled myself loving you. No, I’m sorry, that is not true. There is no one like you. That’s all. I was lucky to know you.
Here on the ground floor works the building manager. You have to bribe him, so he doesn’t harass you all the time and raise your rent.
I realize that I have been hurting other guys so that they would feel as badly as I do. It was cowardice. I have become a zombie, eating the hearts of other guys.
I am emotionally drained over you. But when I realized that I hadn’t thought about you for a few days, I felt sorrowful that you weren’t filling my mind. I should have been relieved, but I do not want to get over you. How sad is that? Pretty sad. Yes. Sadness that is pretty.
My love for you is the only thing I’ve known with certainty my entire life
I remember as a child sitting alone late at night in the big cushioned chair watching the bright Christmas tree. I remember the cozy happiness. I need a daddy God to comfort me. “Be brave, my little girl”.
Where does this all end?
It starts here.
I face the graffiti on the brick wall across in the alleyway. DONKEY WORSHIP. The tagger’s hand writes and moves on.
Follow me on down that alley.
I take a can of spray paint from my bag. My atomized love stains you onto the brick wall. I embroider the brick wall with you. I stroke your arms and legs from my memory. You are stubborn like a donkey. That’s why I give you a donkey’s head. I am just a stick figure behind you now, right? But I hold you like I’m your shadow. You know that I am your cross to bear but you are a stubborn fool.
Oh, why have you deserted me?