Archive for the 'fiction' Category

Water

Babe Danube loved water. Not because of his name, not really. He was from Midland, Texas, where water was something you use to water the golf course. There was a man-made lake stocked with trout on the outskirts of town, but it was not much to write home about.
He was born Ted Wilson, but his mom changed her and his name when she got divorced. The lawyer told her go ahead, pick any name you want, you don’t have to go back to your maiden name if you don’t want to. So he became Barnaby Danube, and then Babe Danube, and that one stuck.
He grew up thinking about water, about the absence of water, about the flat brown landscape and the relentless distance. He moved to Seattle eventually, where he got a job doing telephone surveys. He swam whenever he could, and went crabbing in the northerly regions of Puget Sound. Eventually, he settled in a small community near the Maury Island Nature Preserve, and he worked from his little mildewed cabin, making phone calls and sending in data for collection. In that small town, he learned about fish, and environmental preservation, and sea lions. He learned to talk by script on the phone, and he learned to watch as the fishing boats came in and went out again.
Babe was a small man, shorter than most in Washington State, and his hair grew in a perpetual cowlick. The locals at Maury Island thought he must be a bit off, but really, he was just short, with a Texas accent. This was enough, at that time, to make him different.
One day, as he was swimming not too far off shore, he came alongside a kayak, and inside the kayak was a woman who was crying. “Why you crying?” he asked her, floating alongside her in the water.
“No reason, just go away,” she said. She blew her nose.
“No, really,” he said, paddling alongside of her, wishing he was taller, or maybe had more hair.
“Where on earth are you from?” she said, and she did not seem pleased.
“Midland, Texas,” he said, and he looked ashamed. Hard not to, to tell the truth.
“Well, Midland,” she said, “That’s an interesting accent, but go away.” He blushed and felt mad and sad, and he swam away.
From that day on, he worked on accents at his job as a telephone surveyor. Southern (easy), east coast, Bombay, Beijing, Barcelona. He got a bit alphabetical in his approach, but after just a few months he could switch to most major world accents (in English), and that made him feel taller, with more hair.
Every day, he went to the shore and he swam. He watched the population of Maury Island swell, and he switched accents and he watched. “Who loves what?” he asked himself, and he picked a handful of accents that made people friendly, or hostile, desirous or confiding.
It was true that he was looking for love, he was looking for voice, he was looking for someone to see and hear him as something other than Babe Danube from Midland, Texas. This did eventually pay off.
He was swimming one day in the Sound when he met a young lady who was bobbing along in an inflatable dragon floatie. “Nice floatie,” he said in his best Canadian accent.
“Thanks,’ she said. “I like it too. I got another one, out there on the beach, it you want to borrow.”
He did want to borrow. He floated with Jolene, from Fine Pick, Wisconsin, and they talked really a lot. About fish, and lakes, and the Gates compound back there in Seattle, and they spoke in accents. She could do Minnesota (easy), Scotland, the Phillipines, and she was just practicing L.A.-speak the day they met. It was awesome. On their first official date, she ordered an iced coffee, and he ordered an iced tea. “No,” she said. “Maybe chai.” But she smiled.
They may have had a happily ever after with each other, or maybe with someone else. Babe couldn’t say for sure, what with all those accents. They talked so much, and there was so much water all around them.

Root Story

Garrett Yampa Cody was born in a root cellar in Golden, Colorado, and died in an underground bunker in Deming, New Mexico. There were rumors that grew up around him, but what was clear was that his blue eyes were more Cody than Ute, and that he had a taste for gold, being underground, and fire.

Tuberculosis killed more people than silver bullets did in that old west, no matter what you might hear. The trains carried men, women and children, weak and sick, to sanitoriums in the dry desert, down near the Mexican border. That was usually men, women and children with some money or property, but one year, in the town of Golden, a dozen poor locals boarded the train headed south to Deming, where the Army Air Force Base had been recently converted from military quarters to a Catholic sanitorium. Garrett Cody was on that train, 14 years old. He carried a small bag of Indian Head ten dollar gold coins in a leather pouch strapped inside his waistband.

“I can unlock any door, anywhere” he told one person. “I have a bag of gold from my father,” he told another. “My father is Buffalo Bill Cody,” to a third. He swaggered and swayed, coughing and arrogant, through the chuffing train, until his fellow passengers had each heard some version of his history, his adventures, and he’d been established as a liar and a braggart.

“Burnt down the post office in Golden when I was 12,” he said to Ben Fine, who sat next to him on the train. Ben turned away, looking at a newspaper that was no more than a month old. He tried again. “Got the gold from my father. I’m going to stay in the bunkers, he told me.” Ben stood up and walked to the other end of the car.

Down around Farmington, Garrett disappeared, and the train continued south without him. A series of small brush fires and minor catastrophes followed him from town to town. He stopped at every military base from Farmington to Las Cruces, locating and unlocking a cool underground bunker on the perimeter of each base. He slept well in the deep protected darkness.

News travels slow on the Camino Real, even now with the telephone wires and radios and paved roads spreading in all directions. Back then, word still traveled mostly by horseback and stage, and he’d started a dozen or more fires by the time his reputation for lying was replaced by his reputation as an arsonist and a thief. It was Ben Fine who put those pieces together.

New Mexican statehood was still fairly new, the Mexican Revolution was raging, and boundaries were unstable. The people of that time and place were rough and unaware of much outside of their own dry, brittle landscape. Ben was a journalist from Akron, Ohio, unfit for service in the war overseas, assigned to cover news of changes throughout the region. Ben assumed that he would die on assignment, in an iron lung perhaps, or a long row of hospital beds, or by scorpion, snake or lightning. He did not expect to be waylaid by the tiny bastard son of Buffalo Bill Cody.

They met in a trading post in Socorro, NM. By then, Garrett’s reputation for fire was well known, and Ben had been sending stories by wire to the Akron Gazette, and selling fictionalized serial versions of Garrett’s crimes to a small publishing house in Dallas. The trading post in Socorro had the El Paso Times, and in the back of the store, a recent copy of the Wild West Weekly. This was in the hands of Garrett Cody, who was holding a pickle in one hand and the Weekly in the other.

“Good afternoon, Garrett,” Ben said, hands in his pockets. “How’s your father been?”

“Hey, Ben,” said the boy. “You tell me, you got all the stories right here, what I can tell.” He waved the weekly at Ben. He coughed, and coughed again. Ben looked at him, saw that he was sicker now than he’d been a few months back, and he made a decision.

“Come on down to Deming with me, then, we’ll spend some time together, you tell me stories, I’ll write them down.” He nodded at Garrett, paid for the El Paso Times and the pickle. They set out together the next morning.

At the Holy Cross sanitorium, the quiet sister nurse gave them leave to stay in AAFB Bunker #1E. By day, they soaked in the hot springs, rested and smoked, told stories, wrote some down. They watched the young ladies and matrons sicken and die, they read the news of Pancho Villa and the Battle of Columbus. They coughed and bought horses. They rode the horses south, away from the sanitorium and toward Columbus. They stopped for the night, made a fire, smoked a little more, and just as they were falling asleep in the jittering brilliant starlight, the remainders of the Battle of Columbus caught up with them. Ben was killed, and the horses were taken. Garrett, small, quick and savvy, slipped away.

He turned back, toward the Holy Cross, not sure now what else to do. He walked near the road, not on it. He came to a windmill, passed a watering trough. He coughed, and he staggered. He cried for the first time. He came to a house, with a barn and a corral. He set the house on fire. He came to the outskirts of the sanitorium. He found what he wanted, a heavy metal door, planted face-up in the ground, the metal plate labeled “AAFB – Bunker #12S”. He unlocked the door, and went inside. He lit a match. The underground bunker was filled with canned goods, some bibles, water, and fuel. He lit a lamp. He lit the bibles. He bolted the door from the inside.

Water sound water

Standing in the shower and the pipes are clanking and singing. I think there is a plumber in my garage, banging his wrench against the hot water heater. I think there is a criminal hiding in the crawl space, tapping at the brass piping with his keys, trying to frighten me out.
Standing in the shower I can’t stand all these stranger noises. Children crying, cats coughing, the shimmering sound of lizards running through dry grass.
I can’t stand these stranger noises in my home’s old plumbing. I get out of the shower, dress and go to Walgreens, where I buy a waterproof hanging shower audio system with mp3 capability and I hang it on the soap rack and crank it up.
The throat singers shuffling on the mp3 are deep as a broken water main. The clicking African women are knocking on my door. The rhythmic thrust of Spanish dance spills hot water from an overflowing bucket.
I am wishing for deafness, I think I am wishing for deafness. Deafness or just simple silence. Maybe there is silence somewhere in the world still, just like there may be a place without light in this world still. There is mua, absence of light and sound, somewhere, maybe in the dark of the ocean, where the far off drum of plumbing and the streaming red tail lights are out of range. Only the distance vibration, the hum of earth itself.
Standing in the shower, time to sing the morning shower song. Deciding to decode the sounds. Drip drip drip, rain and the end of drought. Swish swish swish, the tail of a brown trout in a clear green stream. Rushsssh, the falling of water over some high cliff into the white foam.
After I won the lottery, I had the best time ever. I had all the dry erase boards and dry erase markers I could ever want. I had a house on the beach. I had a piano. I’m still having the best time ever, except for this thing with the plumbing and the sounds, the lights, the jumping of grasshoppers, the pop of frogs.
I won the lottery and then all things were possible, all possible things were possible, and then everything got so big, so bright. White boards, running water, running cars, runways and airports and I went traveling. In Barcelona, I decide that water is okay, water is good. There is no criminal intent in water, no malice. I have an affair with a Spaniard whose name I can’t pronounce, so I only call him God oh God. It’s a good affair, and the water is okay now, the sounds are okay and the waves even, the waves at the ocean are inviting, cool blue white Mediterranean sighs.
It’s hard to have things, to have things, and hard not to have things, not to have things. I go back then, to my house with its old plumbing, its sinister flow, and I paint it, every room, the colors of water. The oily iridescence of gulf coast water, the angry blue of deep sea, the muddy green of old shallow rivers, the bright peaceful blue of a lake in British Columbia. Once it is painted, I leave again, to Peru, where I feel light headed and the pyramids are so big, so big, and I take a room on the second floor at the back of a bar where the open sign flashes on and off on and off all day and the flashing light covers the sound of beach, of wind, of toilets and sinks. I stay there for three weeks, watching the open sign blink its indifference at me, and when I go back home again, my water colored house is perfect, blue green white shiny perfect.

Felipe II

Felipe II was the finest creator and destroyer of roadside attractions ever seen along Route 66 back in the day. Or roadside distractions, as he liked to call them.  Felipe had quick and changeable interests. The plastic reproduction of the redwood forest in Chloride, Arizona held his interest until it was two-thirds completed, and now it lies, a city of cracked and petrified plastic wood, with bumper stickers fading on the date shake shack – from the gulfstream waters to the Chloride forest – and the exit itself is a cluster of broken asphalt, a closed, possessive world. Felipe never looked back, it was said. Rumor had it there was no Felipe I, that’s what they said.

Felipe II wore a quirky wood band around his head, giving him the look of a suffering Christ with the figure of a Bob’s Big Boy. He did not tolerate philosophical discussions, but he did love time and the road itself.

“The older I become,” he told me the day we met – the only time we met – “the more connections I can make between time, experience and place.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Nothing, what the hell do you think I mean?” He said, and pulled out his map of California. Death Valley – good place for a dinosaur museum and ice skating rink. The Thing – it is whatever you want it to be. Wherever you want it to be. The roadside fruit stands, the tarantula meandering across the yellow lines, the shimmering road itself. That was time. I think that was time. To Felipe. Every crack in the road, every fissure, was another idea, another tumbleweed, another billboard. Every 100 miles a sign said “next gas 100 miles, stop here!” and we did. We bought copper bracelets and moccasins, postcards and ashtrays, plastic fish skeleton combs, mirrors with dead city logos embossed on the back.

Felipe II died in Flagstaff in 1982. His body was taken by Mexican bandits and laid out on the top of a flat red butte, and there he rejoined the earth, turning slowly into Felipe jerky, lines of his life spreading out on the hot surface, still visible even 30 years later. A faint tracing, like an old town, you can see it still, if you can find the way up.

 

The name of this piece is Susy made me write about sex

 Today is the day we discuss dental floss, sex and volunteerism. Pay attention; your licensure depends on your correct response to the quiz which follows this three hour training.

In front of you, you will find a small bag. Pick the bag up and open its contents onto the table. Very good. Read, follow the instructions, then wait.

If you are having sex while thinking about your hair thinning, the hole in your underwear, or the box of chocolates that you stashed in the back of the laundry room to keep your partner from devouring it before you get even a single piece, this could be a sign of pending or actual sexual discontent. Try this simple exercise: stand in the middle of the room, alone, mostly naked and say to yourself loudly and firmly: “Sex. Sex and more sex. Sex and sex again. Different sex, changing sex, kinky sex, decorator sex,“  If, while standing there saying sex and so on, you suddenly think about cleaning products, lists, email, dental floss, licensure and volunteering, stop stop stop. Shake your head three times like a golden retriever coming out of a cold lake.  Now smile and stick your hands down your pants, if you are wearing any. Remember, you are completely alone. No one is going to see you or hear you. Shake your hips. Does your underwear fit? Are you easily distracted? Does anyone in your household leave the toilet seat up in spite of 30 years of reminders? Stop stop stop. Okay. Take the underwear off. They are too big anyway. Put on something more comfortable. A pair of socks, say, and nothing else. Stand in your living room wearing nothing but a pair of socks and say to yourself “Sex. Sex and more sex. Sex and kinky sex. Sex and deviant sex. Sex and law breaking. Sex and jaw breakers. Sex and sucking. Sex and red hots. Sex and sex and sex.” Okay. Now think about the lawnmower, the weed whacker, the rust stains in your bathtub, the continuously whining dog standing just outside the door. Stop stop stop.

Put your clothes back on and go scrub the bathroom, brush and floss your teeth and make some phone calls about volunteering and renewing your license. Leave the toilet seat up as a protest. See if anybody cares. Get some freezer burned pistachio ice cream out of the fridge and eat it in front of the whining dog standing at the window. Think about your budget. Think about your garden. Think about the roses, the rose hips leaning heavily against the window. Think about the grapes hanging full and ripe, think about the sweet pears and the sparrows rustling in their late afternoon dust bath. Think about the dark fertile earth, think about the warm smells of fruit, herb and flower rising and mingling in the afternoon breeze. Think about the sweet sleepy sounds of animals in the quiet heat of the day. Think about lying down, just for a minute. Think about listening. Listen. Smell. Look. Touch.

Camp

The tribe named me, so in courage I shall live. That’s what I said, and that’s what I meant. The grandmother said stop, stop, stop child, whatever the tribe named you is silent now. No language left, no names allowed in missionary schools and turning back on her I left like sand blown across dry miles to where I could keep my name without caution, without whisper, without fear.

Where I moved, west coast, Oregon near the Washington state line, there’s some Lakota, some Puyallup, some stragglers from the dry lands like me.  Dine. We got the same hello for each other, though, reaching the lips and turning the eyes away, yata-hey brother. Quiet people, some of us, out there silent with the clams and strong runners upstream or down, don’t matter. When I moved there, I won’t say the name of the town, cause history is full of shame, it was a settlement, just new built, for Japanese families, those same families that came across from who-knows-where on iron rails, iron horses, iron and blood carrying loss and history all across the country or all across the sea from where the sun is wide. Planting berries, flowers, gardens like poems. All pulled up or left behind. I can’t make a phone call; the switchboard is always closed. I am lonely with these lonely people, their language not mine and not the common language of outside the camp either.

Unless they get dented or rusted, tracks last a long time. Story tellers last a long time too. In the rounded huts of the Japanese settlement, I learned new words, genke desu, konichiwa, hottoitenka. They learned new words, too. The word for interment – camp;  food – chow; a meeting point for noses – spam, shit on a shingle, hash. Ugly words, yes – we could agree on these when we met in the open yard after meals, before lights out, all of us there for the interim. Interred for the interim, high fences, hard lights. Hiragana, good night, my temporary friend. Yá’át’ééh hiiłchi’į’ Good night, stranger, good night friend.

Atlas rolls his own

I lifted the world off his shoulders and said “Sit. Sit awhile.”

He sighed, he stretched, he said, “What? Now? Sit?”

“Yes, now.” I handed him a bag of tobacco and some zigzags and he sat down to roll.

“Stiff,” he said, stretching his neck and shoulders.

“Reap what you sew,” I said, sotto voce.  I am a font of wisdom.

“Uh? What’s that?” He was looking at me from under his eyebrows. Eyebrows that hadn’t been groomed since the azure seas of the Mediterranean were 15 degrees cooler than they are now. I handed him a ginger soda. He took a swig.

“Zippy,” he observed. Smacking his lips, he raised the bottle to his lips again.

“Wait, hang on,” He pulled his smart phone out of his cargo pocket and looked at it. Texting. Even the gods can’t get a break, I thought.

“Tales of woe. Harbingers of doom. Falsely attributed quotes. I have to go,” he told me. He handed me a cigarette and quickly rolled another one for himself. Lit it, smoked it down in two deep sucks, stood up, twisted his back, did a couple of squats.

“Sure you won’t just quit?” I asked. No answer. I lifted the world and set it on his waiting shoulders.


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