11,041 vagabonds plus:
how it was
It was a Sunday, as I recall. Holmes kindly offered the extra soft bed as we arrived at Baker Street the previous night in a heavy mist seemingly coming up from the saturated ground. Mrs. Hudson had hot soup and a silver container of scalding black coffee ready for these cold bones, bless her sweet heart. Holmes did not eat, instead curled in his favorite chair in the dark, smoking and watching the smoke rise. I knew well enough not to interrupt his tortured thoughts, so I retired quietly.
In the morning I was awakened briefly by the repetitive creaking in the hallway from pacing footsteps upon the wooden floor. And then there was a sliver of candle light, the door bursting open.
I sat bolt upright, clearing cobwebs from my eyes and mouth.
'Holmes! What's wrong?'
'Bring your revolver!'
There I stood in my bedclothes at about half past seven, blue steel gun cocked, Holmes hiding out of sight at the window behind the curtain, fearful.
'Watson! They are after me.' He could barely speak now, a hopeless wisp of his former voice, chest heaving in and out, gesturing for me to come to the window.
I looked sleepy-eyed down into the blue morning mist. It was quiet, except a poultry wagon, with the insignia, Moriarty's Fine Poultry and Vegetables, had lost a wheel and had spilled its contents into the street. A happy, patient dog, tail wagging, was devouring the spilled contents. My friend looked deathly pale as I turned to him.
'Those chickens, Watson. Running across the street over and over and over again. They are after me. Mean devils!'
'Calm yourself, Holmes,' I pleaded kindly. 'There are no chickens. Sit over here, old fellow.'
Then it dawned on me. As Holmes was hunched over, shivering, I walked over to the desk. Yes, it was there. The dreaded empty syringe. I grabbed his arm for close inspection.
'Oh, my dear Holmes. My dear Holmes.'
This is how it was, occurring in various forms, in the darkest shadows of his life. The greatest man in London, I would like for it to be known, despite these shadows, was a rather splendid and fine fellow.
art by Adolphe Valette
"And what did you learn in art class today, my dear".
"Well, it's....kind of hard to explain, yet simple". She was hesitant.
He looked over the top of the newspaper. "What"?
She cleared her throat. "It was how to express movement in painting, as in a windswept horizon".
"Oh". He was buried behind the sports section once more.
"You see", she continued, "the teacher is rather eccentric".
"They all seem to be", he mumbled.
"Do you want me to show you"?
"By all means", oozing sarcasm from behind the box scores.
"Like this". She stood noisily. He dropped the paper. She underscored with hand movements. "You tack a canvas to the wall. You put one brush in one hand, and grip a second tight in the other, and..". She pirouetted, arms outstretched, a sight to behold for a brief few seconds, losing her balance and taking out a table lamp. The cat sought high ground. "Like that", she said breathlessly. "You let the paint splatter, the streaks upon the blank white canvas denoting motion".
"Oh, that's just marvelous", he countered dully. He hurried to the Help Wanted page then, seeking nights, although he already was gainfully employed.
photo by Francesca Woodman
Mirrored heart oblique
brief solitaire reflection
closer than real life
Lone contented heart
Snow showers melted away
No troubled forecast
Charing Cross Road (1937)
by Wolfgang Suschitzky
"Don't feed the hand that bites you".
"That makes no sense, but the endearment is noted".
"That's all I'm saying". He looked away. His mouth was dry.
"Beware of tempting shiny apples". His heart raced in confusion. She appeared calm, heartsick inside, and when he looked back at her standing on the train platform, a chilled breeze from one end to the other caught her up, hair falling in her eyes. But she was smiling.
She remembered the first time she saw him. Her car conked out on a lonely stretch of highway. And he was out standing in a field, perfectly still like a scarecrow holding a pole, an ax for clearing brush near is feet. During college break he worked as a surveyors helper. It was his job not to move much. It was the story of his life up to then. He was out there in the field wearing a long coat, and it reminded her of a shepherd meditating and tending to sheep.
She walked towards him calling, "I'm stranded. Can you help me"? Turning his head under the hoodie, being careful not to shift the pole to turn the future road into a concave pond, he saw the girl in those same black jeans and converse shoes walking towards him. She was close now, and she repeated the question breathlessly. He let the pole keel over and walked away with her forever. The bulldozer drivers will just have to wing it. That was love.
"You dropped your pole", she reminisced on the platform.
"I lost my job", he laughed quietly. They were quiet afterwards, until a booming voice out of tinny speakers above may or may not have called the end.
They both looked at those speakers as they were still fizzing static, then silent.
She was close to him now. "What was that about shiny apples"?
He pulled her close like only a shy man can do and kissed her.
There was this swing, a kind of gigantic rocking horse, down at the bloody-knee cement playground. Toby was twelve, and the new kid. He was fine, a sweet boy, but to the kids he even smelled different. Had to keep his distance, especially from the cruel girls. They called him snotty. Only because he was gentlemanly enough to have his very own handkerchief with the letter T in silver. They say there's a photo somewhere of the boy, off to one side at the school playground's infamous swing, by himself. It breaks your heart.
He got shoved a lot in the first weeks of the school year. The tears from the shoving were worse than any shin scrapes. He told no one. If you were passing through by the fence surrounding the crumbling cement school you heard the children's laughter, a mix of screams of daring terror, a rise of the two rear legs of the rocking horse swing leaving the ground, and ultimate choking laughter. Toby could see their heaving breaths on cold days. He stood alone, blew a soft stream of breath, following its swirling ghost-white mist.
Someone must've got word to his parents, for next Christmas he received his very own rocking horse. At twelve he was too big. He stood back from the torn wrapping paper. The paper had floating Santa heads looking right at him, no matter what angle he peered, Santa was giving him the raspberry with that little orange tongue. Bargain basement color off-centered Christmas paper. Toby said nothing, but his mother saw the streaking silent tears as he ran up to his room. She stood at the foot of the stairs, detecting the quietly latching lock-free bedroom door above.
He tried it once next morning when nobody was around. It was out at the curb waiting for the garbage cattle train. Sitting right next to a open box with some of those creased decapitated Santa heads. The horse was made of hard plastic, mounted on a wooden stand, one huge silver spring for support. The bottom of his hard shoes, knees slightly flexed, walked the horse as he was saddle bound. The tightly wound spring creaked. The horse went blubba blubba blubba. He rode out the dusty trail down his street and over some roof tops for a reward, six-shooters afire and smoking hot, seeking the asthmatic bank robbers.
photo by Tess
Time stops in a crowd where I feel alone. People become bumper poles. Bells in the distance halt in mid chorus. The first notion is to pick pockets of bulging wallets from the frozen statues, uncork tight wedding bands, even fill my pocket with inexpensive satsumas from the tilted basket in front of the Magpie market. But I stand still watching my breath, imagining being back home in front of the fire with you instead. Sure, I could pawn the loot and buy that ticket. Returning to the simple little gift of being alone with you. The smell of your hair. Your pale blue eyes. Slow sleigh rides and your smile on Sunday. I miss you. The proprietor is moving again and is yelling for the constable. Ah, the satsumas were too small to juggle anyway. Dear old England has clearly started once more.
You. Just look at you. Only one ever to have his cake and eat it too. A Magpie of all creatures great and small and worthless.
That's my cake. I throw my shoe at you. And yet the fragile caged noble canary expires in the coal mine. Real purpose there.
Go ahead. Eat. Hope you hear the canary ghost sing with every bite. Know that you always have to look over your shoulder for bad days ahead. If you did have a shoulder.
I throw my other shoe at you.
painting by Rubens Peale
the perfect day
She felt a...a presence. A chill in a hot kitchen, and she looked up from the stove, eggs sputtering. She turned and saw the cat licking its front left paw with three quick swiveling head dives. Wiping her hands on the faded apron of apples, oranges and Home Sweet Home, she took one step towards the black and white, his elegant coat ruffled during the dumbwaiters rocky and squeaky plummet. A continuous hollow-sounding draft swept out of the entrance by his tail.
"Close that door! Well"? she asked, suspicious and impatient.
"402 change. The distinguished three-chinned gentleman wants scrambled eggs instead. 206 skipped out during the night. The same bed-sheet-rope-out-the-window number. 234 has no hot water, and I might add(undetectable throat clearing) at this time the gap in the baseboard behind the desk-top writing table has widened. Mouse One easier in-and-out".
"Same one what"?
He licked his other front paw once, then twice. The kitchen still had a salmon scent. He liked that. Wished he still had some stuck to the roof of his mouth from last evenings supper. The cook gripped the spatula tighter.
"Yeah. He's mine. I'll get him. One day".
He looked up directly into her eyes. For the first time ever he noticed they were green like his own. He denoted a hint of tenderness as she looked away.
She went back to her eggs. Shutting her eyes tight, she inhaled and let it out slow. Looking back over her right shoulder, the cat was waiting on the ledge.
"Well?" She barked it. Like that one dog he met once. He was shaken.
"I need today...tomorrow...off".
She turned, hands on hips.
"Fly on the lobby windowsill. Whole day affair".
Spatulas can fly if you have a good flexible wrist. Her throwing wrist was just marvelous.
good night, Dear Maureen
"It's this way", he said. "Take my hand". She did, noticing for not the first time her hand was buried.
"Up here. Close your eyes". She laughed silently.
In the clearing, in the mud, he brought her to a water-logged, dilapidated fence, over-sized for his grandfather's grandfather's ghostly horse and carriage that hauled a flimsy hope chest.
"Now", he whispered. Now she opened her eyes. And before her a wondrous vista for miles.
"This will be ours", he promised. "Dublin beyond the gate". She looked down and playfully twisted her left foot in the mud. "Ours"?
"If you will be mine". He looked to the horizon of rolling green fields and fertile farm land. She did not look.
"I will". He looked at her and her eyes were flooded. "Yes".
photo: The Peak District, wedged between Sheffield, Manchester and Derby.
the flower shop
Zuzu was born today. Petals provided here, all ways, but not from peonies. Not now. That is what she was aching to tell you. She has not conquered the english language, but she knows. She sits and she weeps quietly. Quiet as the rising sun. She'll never let anyone come close to her flowers. She's funny that way. Like Zazu Pitts funny, a quirky misfit funny. Peonie petals are for tossing anyway. What you want are the cushioning type. Roses maybe. Bed for the newborn. A crib for Zuzu. No. Not Zay-Zoo, it's Zoo-Zoo. But goodnight, Zazu Pitts wherever you are.
William Merritt Chase, 1897
White smoke foisted touch
Pierced pearl less black solitude
Forsaken lone heart
All you had to ask in town was if they found the lost girl and the curious devoured the details up to that moment. In the country beyond the meager small town lights is a place called Willow Manor. A recluse writer lives there. Don't go looking for it on any ancient map. The Poet set out leftovers wrapped in wax on the bottom step of the back wooden porch, and the girl would come in the nighttime and scurry silently away. That's one detail I let loose. There's one flash photo of the girl's lair the writer took in low light out beyond. I viewed it under a lamp one evening a month later as the two of us sat close in her library.
It was Sunday on a cold October day. I got her on the phone. She remembered me right away. I had restored the arch gate at the side arbor and she was pleased. So she talked to me a little. I asked about the lost girl, and she'd only tell me about the food left out. She was silent at first when I asked if I could come and see for myself. I detected a sigh in the bad signal between our phones. Then she said ok, but was adamant that the girl not be coaxed from her burrow. I promised, and she replied with a relieved sigh.
I parked my car out on the road about 100 yards from the Manor. Stealthily I walked through the gate and began my search, winding my way along a browning pebble path past the settling brook, crossing over the rotted bridge. It creaked mightily. I may ask her if I can restore the crumbling timber. I'd love to.
It was getting dark. I wanted to avoid using my torch, but I gave in. Mosquitoes bee-lined out of the poplars and certainly found me. They were furious and I just called the search off after a couple hours. I returned to cross the bridge. The girl was standing there half-way across blocking my retreat. She was so little, but looked to be in her twenties. Her hair was cut short by what appeared to be an uneven frantic hand. And her eyes were dark in the refracting light of my torch. She did not blink. She followed my hand as I reached into my pocket.
"You like pumpkin seeds"? I asked brokenly.
She held out both hands with pouting full lips. I told her my name but she had two cheek fulls of seed and didn't seem to hear.
"All gone", I said, and promised to bring more if she wanted. At that moment we both saw the light beam of a second torch closing in. It was coming from the Manor. The beam danced side to side, the October wind rising, making the tree branches moan in an arthritic hopelessness. The girl was frightened and hid behind me, clutching both my arms as though they were branches of a last resort to save her from going under.
"Who goes there"? I cried. My echo in the woods was not expected and I shivered.
"It is I", a woman responded. It was the poet. She was carrying a heavy coat folded over her arm.
"Put this on. You there", she ordered breathlessly to the girl. "It's going to be alright. And you", she said, looking at me,"the police just towed your car".
The girl released her grip. I hugged the poet.
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