11,041 vagabonds plus:
the second thousand years
"Oh for the love of Mike, what the hell is he doing in there"? He pounded on the bathroom door again, harder and more towards the middle. "'He's in the Powder Room,' you said".
"Ok. But can you blame him"?, she retorted in a screeching high-pitch.
"Yes. I can blame him", he replied softly and stiffly.
"But he hasn't gone in at least a thousand years"!
"Well, I'm a little buzzed myself", she answered clutching her head with both hands. He looked at her sideways and noticed for the first time she was gray with a coating of dust.
"Petrified bric-a-brac. Carved clay", he continued sweating profusely, "Chiseled quarry slab.."
"I know", she cried, "he hasn't got any clothes".
He wedged his mouth close to the door jam and spoke kindly, a bit shaky:
"Please. We'll give you clothes. Sir? Your Emperorship"?
the train ride
The whistle of a train afar is an instrument of loneliness. Attempting to recreate its song with a harmonica is close, but you only succeed in another lonely waterlogged cowboy lament. Just as miserable is the whine of a droning loud-mouthed salesman in your compartment coach reeling off his statistical life story.
The Writer loves the thought of the railroad under his feet. It reminds him of his youth, the memory of the train line running by just a stones throw across the pasture of the family farm. The Heartland rails of his dreams. And the best scenario where the lines upon his sketchbook wander best.
"But what could I do? The girdle is on its way to oblivion"! the loud-mouth asks in a brief unanswerable question to suck in more air.
"I don't care", the Writer answers under his breath, lowering his hat over his eyebrows.
"Well there's no need to be rude. Did you hear what I said? What are you writing there anyway"?
The Writer stops and peers out the window. It is raining now, and he's thinking of the past, the butternut grove, the weeping willows. He smiles and is lonely for Tess, and the last time he held her softly up to the final call for all aboard.
"I say there"!
He raises his hat revealing magpie black eyes and looks into the eyes of the man.
"Have you heard of Vladimir Nabokov?" he asks, without raising his voice. "I didn't think so. He once said the writer's job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them. If you promise me to remain quiet, I will not chase you and heave rocks at you".
It's all lies what they claim. They talk all lies about her dark-eyed sullenness. They say her forced smile confirmed madness. Sure it was forced. That's a proper greeting for the cold unforgiving townsfolk I'd say.
I moved her from the cemetery back to behind her little cottage. By that moss wall. Tell no one. Out front the overgrown grass is in uneven clumps now. Azalea tree blossoms of rose pink have coated the yard with a fragrant cover. It's quite beautiful.
In back she had the small man-made pond. I should say woman-made. "I troweled it carefully by hand", she whispered behind me as I was admiring it one Sunday. A reflecting pool of sorts that bottle-necked into a runaway creek. "The fish just knew the way", she laughed.
She asked if I could take the masonry bit and demolish the moss-laden low wall. I told her it was charming, the soft lime-green stone complimented the black cottage, and to let it settle there forever. I turned to her and she was looking at me, eyebrows raised, her eyes not meeting mine, but at my forehead. She seemed pleased at the suggestion, and to have gained my trust, and shortly afterwards is when she revealed who's reflection she'd witnessed amongst the fish. Actually, she recounted, the fish moved to one side out of the way, and she saw Him.
"A Love lost in war". Her eyes filled with tears then and she looked away. "Don't tell anyone. His arms outstretched, he begs me to come". I hesitated, and she waited patiently. "They'll think me mad", her voice cracking.
"Of course you're mad. You're a poet, remember"? A string of white doves fluttered over us. We both watched. "My daughter has your collection in reach by her nightstand to keep her company in travel".
She liked that. No forced smile. But Life was just too hard, and she died so young. One moonless night I buried her next to the wall. You ask me with your teeth clinched if I've seen her. Yes, I've seen her reflection in the quiet pond, arms crossed...at peace.
painting by Daria Petrilli
the majestic tree
"I know what...who you are".
I spoke just above a whisper, my heart pounding, the morning woods silent, yet my shaky voice carried. A limb of the magnificent tree started, rustled briefly, and was motionless once more.
"And I know you can hear me". I took one step closer and looked up as though searching for eyes.
"Your primary roots are majestic...still".
A breeze rode in from the white-fenced pasture, only a few leaves of the reluctant mighty tree rustled.
"Can you talk?"
"I can". It was elderly, a strong harmonious chorus. For any street performance you would have dropped a coin into a cup. "Why do you come to me?"
"A dream brought me". I moved closer. Moss was saturated into the bark on all sides like a late spring knitted sweater.
"I know of your dream, my friend".
I smiled in my complete surprise. "And I know of yours".
"The movie...all those years ago".
"Yes, well, the girl liked me. I was fond of her". Two limbs trembled. "And the Tin Man too".
Silence. The breeze faded. I circled the tree slowly, yet stumbled on spiny roots.
"Won't you tell me"?, I pleaded.
What appeared to be a glistening slug was oozing out of a knot on the north side.
"You are NOT a weeping willow"! I regretted immediately the scold in my tone.
"I'm sorry", I said, stepping back, arms outstretched.
"They gave the part to a man in a tree costume. A..tree...COSTUME"! All the limbs swayed for a few moments. In the stillness afterwards I thought I detected a deep all-expiring sigh from the green leaves. I struggled for the right words.
"May I sketch you"? I asked with my eyebrows raised. I held up my compact leather-bound sketchbook, but decided quickly not to exhibit the yellow wooded pencil.
"I'd be honored".
A few minutes later I noticed a small gathering of bluebirds settling into the treetop.
Petergate, with a view of York Minster, York, UK photo by Tess Kincaid
"You take the wrong turn and look what it gets you. Narrow road to the ministry". Bells began to peel the misty air of York, too loud to hear conversation. "It's only the lunch bell, soon a crazed male secretary, one eye spinning faster than the other, you've seen them in their tight collars, will push and shove to get first in line for their tea and cakes".
"You think they're off to tea and cake?"
He glared at him. I just said that drowned in bells, he thought.
It was quiet after the last stinging echo.
"Speaking of wrong turns - did I ever tell you about Porky Mcdougall back in the States? Back, lets' see, yeah, nineteen twenty-three". He laughed.
"No, I don't believe so". He scratched his chin to appear smart.
"Porky just about became president".
"You don't mean it".
"Granddad recounted this twice-told tale dozens of times".
"What happened"? They stood at the end of a long slumping line to Tea.
"Ok. Harding get's a bad batch of chili and he explodes. A million miles away, in little sleepy Vermont late at night, somewhere out on a darkened farm with no electricity, Cal is curled asleep, cobwebs holding him down in bed. The local judge, perhaps the mayor and constable along for the ride, speed out into the moonlit night in a flivver. Nobody remembers the way, or they can't agree on the route. They ease over a splintered bridge and take a wrong turn. All those farmhouses look the same anyways to those tight collars, red-eyed like these clowns in front of us". The man in front of them turns and glares down his nose and quickly blinks his disgust. "So, they pretend they're high and mighty sure as they stop in front of Porky's farmhouse. Two of them are pounding on the front door around two A.M., screaming, 'Harding is dead, we're here to swear you in'! Confusion, people hollering and sweatin', dogs barking, fingers scorched whilst attempting to light candles. The constable drags fetched, sleeping-capped Porky down the narrow staircase, tie his spatula hand to the bible, oaths a poppin'. Poor terrified Porky". He shook his head, laughing. "Poor, helpless, Porky. Took him a half hour to convince them he wasn't Coolidge, and they still didn't believe him".
"You don't say". He rubbed his chin and narrowed his eyes for full effect.
"Of course Gramps mumbled a lot. Just like you". He looked around and scowled. "I hate tea".
"You want me out"? She shuddered. It was more of a man's tub, chilled and unwelcoming, even filled with sudsy hot water.
"No. Take your time. We've got all the time in the world". She could tell he said it through gritted teeth, hidden beyond the door.
She threw the washcloth against the tile. Squinting, she observed water seeping out, escaping between tile and the settled edge of the porcelain. She smiled and spoke firmly, secured by her own Walther P38 pistol under her folded pink bathrobe, smuggled easily past a puffy-eyed guard.
"There's a leak in your thousand-year bathtub, Adolph".
"That's not funny", he would end up saying, those famous last words. Sitting in lukewarm water, she would freeze, the sound of struggling from the other side of the bathroom door, shots fired, yelling and cursing, booted feet running away, ultimately retreating deeper into the dark winter forest. And then silence. Moments later an American Soldier peeked around the door as she was standing, toweling off. Her eyes widened.
"Ma'am?", she heard in an unusual drawl, perhaps a voice from somewhere in the deep south. "You about done?"
photo: Lee Miller in Adolf Hitler's bathtub, Munich 1945, by David E. Scherman
Amelia and Harold, a couple married twenty-eight years, on vacation in Fun City, entered a strange and ominous-stocked store.
It smelled of cheerful popcorn and grease.
"They have everything a person needs, I'm told", she boasted. She wasn't told. She read the small print from a creased brochure she held in both hands touting a cavernous clown mouth entrance built in the terrifying dark days of the Depression, 1931.
"Oh, that's just wonderful", Harold countered breathlessly with a sarcastic undertow.
She glared at him but he was pretending to be interested in a table full of one dollar unwrapped items.
She walked on a ways and turned back to her husband, the camera floating from a strap around his bulbous neck swinging like a pendulum, the man closely inspecting a squeaky squeeze toy for dogs that made no noise. He imagined it was built on a secret German Shepherd frequency. He could smell the air exiting the plastic toy, stale and rotten, shipped from China. He squeezed harder, but it just stunk more. He looked around but heard no dogs barking or charging towards him so he dropped it.
"Harold! What are you doing? Over here"!
"Yes, dear," he moaned.
"Look. They have devices to cure snoring".
"Just put a bowling ball on your chest why don't you", he said to himself.
"Look, Harold. Harold, look". She was pointing and talking loudly.
It was some sort of bed contraption with straps and levers. He looked closely, camera swinging in front of him, wondering where he might be able to fasten those straps, hoping at least one would be wide enough for her mouth.
A sales clerk in a blue jacket and pink tie smiling with yellow teeth and a white carnation in his pocket appeared and offered assistance.
"May I offer assistance?", he asked in a six dollar an hour monotone.
Amelia was startled and dropped the Fun City brochure.
"Do you have any bowling balls"?, Harold inquired as he took a picture of the man.
Scout took Boo along with us and we peeked in the window of the dark house at the end of the street and saw Miss Harper Lee at a desk under the orange light of a solitary lamp writing her book.
Then Scout motioned for us to move away from the window, scolding us like Boo and I were sneaking past a watchman, and that it was none of our business. She said if we disturbed Miss Harper Lee while she was busy writing that it would be just like killing a mockingbird.
Always remember. All ways. In the silent fluttering of the heart, in the slight detectable fluttering of a fragile moment, true joy in life blooms from the things we have no power over, nor ever plan.
dancing in the kitchen
One song after another wafted in, unnoticed, sandwiched in-between volume-cranked, dire notices of get rich quick spots. And then there was that one song, guitar chords, no words needed. He looked at her, but she already dropped the scrub brush and searched his eyes.
"Remember?", she mouthed silently. He nodded, smiling. They embraced right there in the kitchen, moving now, dancing.
"We danced to this for the first the time a mere ten minutes after you claimed to hate me with all your heart", he said, a bit too loud, lips moving like a ventriloquists at her ear, forehead to his shoulder, arm full of her wiggling waist.
"Shhh", she laughed. "Just shhhh, you". They were turning then in time, slower, one and two and three and four, and it reminded her of the cabin of their very own, puddles for a front yard, nestled beyond yellow and lime cottonwoods, the spring water brought up from the well he hauled in with two hands. That little battery radio. Alone and barefoot, close together, anything can happen.
photo by Eliott Erwitt
Mary and Robert Frank, Valencia, 1952
"What are you doing standing on those suitcases, dear"?
She looked down from her two Montgomery Wards matching travel cases. Two stiff suitcases that forever reminded her of a game show announcer sweatily telling loser contestants what consolation prizes they would haul home with them today.
"I'm changing the light-bulb in the chandelier", she deadpanned.
"You're leaving me, aren't you", he stated, hesitating to ask, no chandelier within miles.
She disbelievingly shook her head. "Watch out for flying glass". She jumped, trying to squeeze extra bulging possessions, kind of like forcing a thirty-seven waist into a mannequins thirty-two svelte fruit-of-the-looms. And she jumped again. He watched, hands wringing, naturally thinking of perhaps assisting. He was going to suggest to his wife that sitting, legs protruding outward, would result in the center of gravity producing the most downward force needed to fasten the snaps. He bit his lower lip.
"Why are you leaving me? The advance from the publisher could arrive any day now. Perhaps a thousand dollars, my dear", his voice quivering, fading at dollars.
She stepped down, looked at the open suitcases, hands on hips.
"Maybe they'll show up at the front door with balloons and a big old check". Sarcasm was oozing from her eyeballs. "A thousand dollars whoop-dee-doo".
She sat on the cases. He daringly grasped her ankles to try his theory, but she swung at him wildly missing before any snaps could have clicked shut. He put on his hat and coat, tucked in his scarf, and softly closed the door behind him.
The advance came just four days later. It was raining when he left his rented room, walking the seven blocks to the post office. He tore open the envelope standing by his open post office box, water dripping off his hat onto the huge black and white tiles. Inside was a crisp folded white letter and a blue certified check. The check was for one hundred thousand dollars. He read the paragraph three times that complemented his 'splendid idea' of the little misfit sparrow with the corrective goggles and backup parachute.
The rain had dissipated into a silver mist as he sat in a warm diner before a deluxe egg platter and hot black coffee. 'Whoop-dee-doo', echoed with every bite.
Photo by Elene Usdin
"Quick, in here. Do you see him"? Two women, Matilda and Tessy, entered a boutique out of a light drizzle in New York.
They were holding hands, the girls, and then tighter.
"Wait. Oh, yes, look, right across the way. Leaning, hat pulled down".
Their eyes shone, glistening, as in a chase, cornered and breath-catching.
"Not a place for a man. We're safe".
"I'm not so sure". And then they were laughing.
"Look at the choice. A hundred and one colors in lace hosiery." Her friend was not paying attention. "Still out there is he?"
She nodded. "He's crossed." Looking up at the ambient lights, "I love this place already".
They spoke French then. "He is an American".
"How can you tell?"
"At the bistro he was hiding behind an upside down menu".
The other giggled. "And now he has cornered us, Matilda", in mock over-melodramatic fright.
"He's shy", she said quietly, blushing, eyebrows raised in a slight frown.
"Oh look...they have pink hose just like the store name". She was serious. After awhile, when she was down on her knees scanning the bottom display of silk delights, she looked up and asked in English, "How do you know he's shy?"
The other went to the window and looked out, neck craning, at the man.
She spoke barely above a whisper, a slight shudder, cinching the scarf around her sleek Audrey Hepburn neck. "'round the corner I stopped and turned to him. We were face to face. He rolled his hat from hand to hand and looked down at the ground".
Her dearest was at her side now. She kissed her cheek. "Poor thing, he".
"No. They make the finest lovers".
"Shhh", as she tapped on the window.
the shop around the corner
photograph by Robert Doisneau
"Sure, I remember, of course I do. We won't talk about the frequent weeping. Not even the frequent miles, apart. I held you, and we kissed as our feet were still floating. Frequently. We traversed like magnetic pins zig-zagging on a map in a sweaty police squad room. Like 'I've got a hunch, captain - Cordon off this area, men, along this route is where the next kissing incident will occur. Mark my word - I've been a policeman for twenty-three years. I know'. Right up to our parting from the bus station. I think they announced our kiss over the loud speaker, squawking like adults in a Charlie Brown special."
She smiled and looked down at her shoes.
"I don't hear so good anyway when you're kissing me", she said, her eyes gleaming.
On another walk, in a year when time once stopped around half past three, they stood in the middle of the block in front of a jewelry store shining with pudding-colored lights. The displays looked tasty, and she licked her lips. He saw this and then he kissed her. People walked by with hunched shoulders in the rain. No gumshoes need apply.
photo of Molly's new toy by Elene Usdin
"Ok. Ok, mom, remember that one time. That one time the dog brought a dead sparrow into the house"?
"And daddy. Daddy got upset that Molly parked it right in his favorite chair and just sat by it. Kinda just stared at anybody that saw Molly sitting there. Remember"?
"Yeah". Nervous giggling.
"What about it, honey"?
"Well. Um. Molly just dragged something in the house, mom. But, mom, Molly didn't put it in any chair. So daddy won't be mad when he sees, right"?
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