He forced me to eat haggis!

He Forced Me to Eat Haggis!
by
Parsnips Poindexter,
Food Editor to
“The Dogpatch Cuisinier Internationale”

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o ‘fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!
— Robert Burns (1786)

Damn Robert Burns! Yes! Does that shock you? Well, there’s a reason. Many of you probably ask yourselves daily how I became food editor for “The Dogpatch Cuisinier Internationale”. Those of you who do not may skip this column and wait to find out what’s happened to professional wrestling in my soon-to-be published “A Chef of Haute Cuisine Looks at What’s Not So Haute in the Ring.” That said, you may be surprised to know that I owe my culinary talents to none other than Robert Burns, and as a result of a peculiarly disgusting rite that is every bit as repugnant as what those idiots in “Survivor” subject themselves to. I almost resist relating this, because it certainly does nothing to whet the appetite, nor, I wager, will it fulfill the gustatory demands of many of my readers.

In my girlish years traveling abroad, I had the opportunity to visit the birthplace of my great-great-great grandfather, a Christian minister by the name of Hugh McCleery. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1795, a contemporary of Walter Scott, Dugald Stewart, James Mackintosh, Robert Owen, Henry Raeburn, and James Mill, people we have all come to venerate and revere, I’m sure. In his 25th year, Hugh McCleery evidently had had enough of Bonnie Scotland. He made his way to America to seek fame and fortune, where, I’m to presume, he intended to bring into the fold of the church many lost souls, of which America teamed then, as it does now. He settled in Sharon, Pennsylvania, married his wife Margurite Monks five years later, and before passing on fifteen years after that, sired eight children, whose names and progeny do not interest us here.

It was in late January, while ferreting out my ancestral roots there in Scotland, that I chanced to be invited to a celebration of Burns Night with the locals of a village called Mauchline, about 30 miles south of Glasgow. Now, Burns Night falls on January 25th, when Scotland’s greatest poet Robert Burns was born. And herein lies the rub. You see, Robert Burns, who seems to have spewed odes all over the place under any circumstance—possibly because his public demanded it of him, I don’t know—was invited one evening to dine at the home of a cabinet-maker friend of his by the name of John Morrison, who lived, it should be mentioned, in Mauchline, one of Burns’ frequent haunts. It was at John Morrison’s table that Burns could not resist to let fly yet another extemporaneous bit of poetry, which later formed the last stanza of his immortal “Address to a Haggis,” which is quoted at the beginning of this column.

So far so good, you might say. And a fat lot you know, I might say. Well, being fresh out of college at the time and madly in love with everything and anything Burnsian—for, after all, Burns has been described as the ‘greatest poet that ever sprung from the bosom of the people’, and I was people and I did have a bosom—I naturally assumed that if the Bard of Scotland had addressed “a Haggis,” it would only be fitting that I partake of this excellent Lallans cuisine. All the more so that the earliest recipe for Haggis appeared in Susanna Maciver’s Cookery and Pastry in 1787, only a year after “Address to a Haggis” was first published. And here I was, in no less the very town where Robert Burns monumentalized haggis.

I sat down to table with the revelers of this cheery town on Burns Night. Piled before me was cock-a-leekie, roastit beef, tipsy laird, Dunlop cheese, and a plate of “most excellent” Haggis with tatties-an’-neeps. Had it not been for the fact that all eyes were upon me, wild horses would not have forced me to lay hold to that ghastly dish. But there I was, representing America, for God’s sake, and so, with beads of sweat rolling down my forehead in the deep of winter, I downed the whole mess… and smiled. Afterwards, I politely excused myself, moseyed outside with the greatest of dignity, and proceeded to lose my cookies o’er an acre o’ Scotland’s finest lowlands.

It was after that never-to-be-forgotten experience that I found my true calling. Crisis and calamity do that to a person. Thanks to my traumatic initiation to haggis, I put aside all former aspirations of becoming a medical internist, then and there determined to consecrate instead the rest of my life to the preparation and promotion of foods that showed far greater promise than what I had been obliged to knock down that January 25th in Mauchline, Scotland, a night that shall live in infamy. It should not have happened to an innocent such as I. For how was I to know that haggis was a boiled pudding made from sheep’s stomach, pinhead oatmeal, sheep’s pluck (heart, lung, and liver), and kidney suet! But, dammit, Burns had eulogized it. And, in effect, he forced me to eat it! I shall never forgive him.

Note: “He Forced Me to Eat Haggis!” was originally published in Message in a Fortune Cookie
by Steve Pulley
copyright©2004
Posted in Stories | Leave a comment

Backscratcher

backscratcherThere was a young belle of old Natchez
Who ripped all her garments to patchez.
When comment arose
On the state of her clothes
She drawled, When Ah itches, Ah scratchez.
–Ogden Nash–

We live in a world filled with new marvels of technology every day. And yet sometimes, there’s nothing more marvelous than a good old backscratcher. It’s no secret of my predilection for a good old excoriation of the dorsum, whether by fingernails or tool, when the prickle, the tickle puts me in a fickle pickle and calls for immediate tending. We need not call upon Siri or Cortana to counsel us. A(n) haptic sensation demands to be addressed with all expediency, and damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Be it human nails for relieving itches, plastic, wood, whalebone, tortoiseshell, horn, cane, bamboo, ivory, baleen, narwhal tusks, or unicorn horn, all are a boon and mercy to the antsy back.

My father, God bless his soul, was mush when anyone applied fingers to his spine.

“Lower your claws, laddie,” he’d tell me, and I would comply. “Take the money!” he would then holler in ecstasy.

It’s no secret that he deeded the house to me upon his demise, dear man.

&&&

Note: My father once remarked that when he was a child, and long before the invention of the television and what technologically came afterward in the world, his family for entertainment would gather standing in a circle and scratch one another’s respective back.

Posted in Anecdotes, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Unusual Pets . . . and Their Peculiar Owners

unusualpets

Jerry Sweetlips

I may as well admit it now and get it over with: I am not a pet person. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like pets. I like them fine—I even love some of them  . . . just as long as they aren’t mine. You may interpret this as shirking my petric responsibilities, where for many, according to American ethical thinking, owning a domesticated animal is virtually a civic duty if you are to be regarded as a dependable human being. I mean, do you have any idea what it cost me to acquire a Visa card without a pooch or a kitty as reliable proof of creditworthiness? I thought not.

At first I thought that this might be a genetic thing . . . not having a pet. As I recollect, I never once saw a pet in my mother’s old family photos, not even a duck (ducks came later). As for my father’s side of the family, I can only remember one pet for which he expressed any special affection, a German Shepherd named Jerry Sweetlips.

He . . . my father, that is . . . was wont to recount that as a lad in his mid or late teens in Denver, Colorado, his family during the winter months would warm themselves using a coal-burning stove. This was sometime in the early 1920s. Once the coal was exhausted, it would be carted to the back yard and deposited in a large, shallow ash pit. One day, Jerry Sweetlips, evidently a frisky albeit careless dog in those days, leaped into the pit, not realizing that there were still hot embers buried in the ashes, and severely burned his front legs. My dad, much distraught, sought to cure his poor dog by applying a salve he’d found in the family medicine cabinet to the burnt legs which he thought would help, wrapping the legs afterwards in clean cloth rags. What he did not know, however, was that the liniment only exacerbated the dog’s wounds, increasing its agony. My dad sat with Jerry Sweetlips, commiserating over the animal’s misery, the two crying together all the night long. To both their relief, Jerry Sweetlips survived the cure, but because his right front leg had been burned more severely than the left, for several days afterward he limped about like a peg-legged pirate. Eventually, Jerry healed completely with no further complications. From time to time, however, my dad would would ask his dog, “So, Jerry, how’s your leg today?” And Jerry Sweetlips, ever seeking sympathy and a kind word, would gamely begin to limp again on that leg, while my dad would pat him and scratch him behind the ears and say, “Oh, you poor, poor dog.” Jerry really ate that stuff up. Over time, however, when my dad might ask, “Jerry, how’s that bum leg of yours doing?”, Jerry would often respond by limping on the left one, having long forgotten that it had been the right leg he’d limped on originally.

I don’t know if I should append this, seeing as how it reveals what some might regard as a marginally macabre side to our family, but my dad and his younger brother George — my uncle-to-be 20 or so years into the future — on occasion liked to tease this long-suffering dog in somewhat the following way: One brother would sit on the living room sofa, while the other in a chair opposite. The unwary dog might be minding his own business lying between them on the rug, ostensibly dreaming of cat stew.

“Jerry, you poor, decrepit, flea-bitten cuss,” would call out my uncle, his voice sweet as treacle. “Sidle on over here so’s I can commiserate with your canine woes properly and scratch yer itches.”

Jerry Sweetlips, evidently forgetting previous similar set-ups, would awaken, flap his Teutonic herding tail gamely on the living room rug, and mosey over, presumably to be pampered by this charitable young man with all the humanitarian visage of St. Francis of Assisi. But as soon as Jerry reached my uncle, things went contrary to the poor dog’s expectations.

“Why you miserable cur,” would snarl my uncle. “How dare you come near me, you low-down, measly, mangy, horse-faced mongrel! Why, if I hadn’t more important things to do today, I’d beat you with a broomstick. Get away from me!”

Poor Jerry would then back away, aghast and trembling from this terrifying outburst. At which time my father-to-be would then come to his rescue.

“What! How can you treat our faithful comrade this way? Brother, have you not an ounce of shame, a jot of pity? Here, Jerry, come on over to me, boon companion, and let us speak you and I together of old times chasing cats and pilfering picnic meals from the neighbors and sweets from the candy jar. That’s it, boy, come stretch out your tired bones here upon my lap where we can properly palaver.”

Jerry encouraged by such tender words of affection, would then head his way . . . only to suddenly receive the same opprobrium from my father that he’d received from my uncle. The two would hence go back and forth in like manner until Jerry Sweetlips finally wised to their nefarious shenanigans and refused to budge from his supine position on the living room rug. Unable to get further response from the dog beyond a whine or a warning growl, the two would then proceed to employ the same technique on their innocent four-year-old nephew Carl.

So you don’t think too ill of my ancestors who in later years turned out to be thoroughly genial people, albeit a tad weird, you must understand that back in the 1920s there were precious few entertainments and diversions for teenagers such as we have today to occupy our idle hours. Aside from listening to the radio at night or picking a fight with somebody after school, a boy had little else to do for fun other than tease the dog or a younger relative. As a matter of fact, my dad said with a certain amount of pride that as a kid some of his best brawls were after Sunday School. So, be a little empathetic.

As for pets that I was more directly affiliated with, years later after my dad married my mom and eventually produced three children, we had an Irish Terrier, three ducks, and a Manx cat.

My sister, at the age of five accidentally killed my brother’s and my ducks by asphyxiation, not yet aware that ducks do not fare well enclosed in an airtight box. My mother condoled our broken hearts and admonished our lust for revenge (i.e., the life of our sister in exchange, or at least her surviving duck), and said that she gave the two birds a proper Christian funeral, showing us their eternal resting place, two small mounds of earth in the back yard. We were still desolated, but there was nothing to be done. To assuage our grief, that evening and for the rest of the week, my mother served delicious roast chicken for dinner, something of a treat back then when mutton, rabbit, liver, and beets were our usual fare. Many years later I asked her about those alleged chickens, always a bit suspicious that she hadn’t been entirely on the up and up with us about them. Feeling that I, now well into adulthood, could bear the truth, she finally confessed that they were our ducks. I think it was the only time she had ever lied to us.

“We were poor back then,” she justified, “and I’ll be darned if I was going to waste two perfectly good birds by burying them.”

I nodded in agreement, but still felt a bit of a pang for her pragmatic deception.

Later on, when I was about 10 years old, our Irish Terrier died of accidental poisoning. She had eaten some castor bean that my folks had used as a fertilizer in the yard, not knowing then that it was a very deadly poison for both humans and animals. Hers was a horrible death, and I inconsolable, for she was a wonderful pet. I was so affected by this loss, and in such a terrible and dreadful manner for her to die, that I lost all desire to have another pet. It was too painful. When she was later replaced by George, our female Manx cat (named after . . . and by . . . the same uncle who taunted Jerry Sweetlips and nephew Carl), I broke out in hives. I discovered I was allergic to cats.

George—the cat, not my uncle—was a skittish beast, and probably as a result also her claim to fame. Being a Manx cat, George had no tail. Manx cats originated on the Isle of Man, which, according to Google Maps, ” . . . is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. It’s known for its rugged coastline, medieval castles and rural landscape, rising to a mountainous center. In the capital, Douglas, the Manx Museum traces the island’s Celtic and Viking heritage. The Isle of Man TT is a major annual cross-country motorcycle race around the island.” They make no mention of Manx cats, however. You have to go to Wikipedia for that information (at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_cat ). There’s an accompanying photo of a Manx cat which is almost identical to that of George. The Wiki article mentions Manx cats’ elongated hind legs, which makes them extraordinary jumpers, and very adept at hunting rodents. George, being, as mentioned, a skittish cat, whenever startled would jump straight up at an enormous height. George, however, was dispossessed of the remarkable feline ability to right herself on four feet in a fall, and so while she could jump higher than I was at the time tall, she generally would land on anything but her four feet, more often than not on her head. She was also not in any way adept at hunting rodents, judging from the dearth of corpses.

Turning to South America a dozen years later, I married into a Bolivian family that owned an orange tom cat and a brown and black female dog which was a cross between a Beagle and a Dachshund and looked like a sawed-off Doberman. The cat, whose name was Otto, spent most of its nights prowling the neighborhood in search of a fight, and return home in the morning looking like it had gotten the very worst of the scrap. It never came into our house, and I suspected that it was more feral than domesticated. One day, Otto did not return home, and after two weeks we gave it up for lost or dead. But then he suddenly reappeared, only he looked like he had nearly drowned in somebody’s oil barrel. My wife and our maid, both wisely protected from cat claws and teeth by long rubber gloves that reached past their elbows, washed the poor animal the best they could, cleaning away as much of the gunk from its body as possible. But I think the indignity of being exposed to warm water, soap and a scrub brush was too mortifying for Otto to endure, for the very next day he disappeared, never to be seen again.

Our dog lasted for a number of years, and was really a lovely little animal. However, she yearned to live indoors, while I yearned for her to remain outdoors. My wife and stepchildren didn’t mind in the least for her to be inside the house, but I was of a different stripe. Every time I would send her packing outdoors, she would figure out a way to sneak back inside. It became a game between us that entertained my family enormously. She was a pretty smart dog, though, probably smarter than I, for she would wait until I left the house to go to work, and then cleverly with paw and snout open the screen door to our kitchen and spend the day inside. When she heard the squeaky gate in the patio open, she knew I was on my way home, and she would tear outside, the screen door slamming loudly. When I would round the corner of the house, there she would be, sitting sedately outside, a halo of angelic innocence floating above her floppy ears, though with a smug look on her face. When she finally passed on from an incurable liver disease to that Great Kennel in the Sky, it was right in front of me while I was tending the garden. And it gripped my heart like I least expected. A week or so later, I dreamt of her gazing upon me with her sad, sad eyes, and I woke up weeping, lamenting too late that I’d not allowed her to stay indoors with us.

To end this petulent story (forgive the pun), a word should also be said of Oqolón (sounds a bit like oh-go-lone), the progeny of our above-mentioned pooch of highborn Anglo-Teutonic pedigree. He was, on the other hand, the result of an ill-conceived (again, forgive the pun) whoop-de-doo with our next-door neighbor’s dog of baseborn mongrel lineage. While his mother was smart, Oqolón was hopelessly pea-brained. But that was not because we named him Oqolón. That was because of his appetite. Oqolón is a Quechua word meaning glutton, and this dog was capable of eating anything, and lots of it. With one peculiar reserve, however. He would flat out refuse to touch his meals unless and until one of us would go out in the back yard where his food dish was located and begin to water the garden in his presence. Yes, water the garden. Only then would Ogie eat [we called him Ogie for short]. Thus began a war of wills.

“Ogie, here’s your dinner,” we would announce as sweet as sunshine to an animal with the intelligence on par with a door knob.

Ogie would first give a startled jump like someone had just hurled a brickbat at him. This reaction would incense us, because no one had ever once raised a hand against the beast, much less a brickbat. He would eye his food plate warily as though it had been laced with strychnine, then cast a fishy glare at whoever had brought out the concoction. If said person retired to the house without further ado, Ogie would summarily spurn the meal and wander about the yard looking sulky and betrayed. The following morning when any of us checked outside, Ogie’s food remained untasted.

“Too bad, Ogie,” we’d admonish. “That’s all you’re getting until you clean your plate.”

In the afternoon, we’d find the dish still untouched, now drying out and attracting ants.

“It’s your call, you silly dog!” we’d insist.

Ogie’d favor us with a look somewhere between woebegone and wilful.

When evening came and the plate still sat as before, we were at once outraged and concerned that the damn dog continued to carry on its stubborn hunger strike. Dire threats, shaking fists, and frightful expletives invariably ensued, but without the least result. The dog would not budge. In the end, ignominiously routed, one of us would begrudgingly unwind the garden hose, continue muttering imprecations, turn on the water and begin sprinkling the lawn and flowers. And Ogie, thus inspired, would happily leap to his food and wolf it down without pause, no matter how old, base, insect-infested, and dried-out the meal.

It’s a terrible thing to be bested and shamed by a canine village idiot. This is why today I am not a pet person.

Steve Pulley
1/5/2017

Posted in Anecdotes | 2 Comments

Pejorative in 100 Words

pejorativein100words

“Swear to me in pejoratives!” he begged, a supplicating grimace upon his brow.”
“Nay, my sweet, I shall reply to thee with meliorations,” she countered with a bow.
“Dyslogistically, then, at least,” wept he, pounding on a table.
“Alas, darling mine, thou knowest I am alone unable.”
“A malediction, a vile imprecation, a curse, a loathing execration!”
“My lord, to thee only abnegation.”
“Ye, gods! Hast thou not an ounce of pity?”
“How could I? Thou art compassionate and witty.”
He ground his teeth, he tore his hair.
She forswore another pejorative gritty
And kissed her outwitted love with flair.

Steve Pulley
1/1/2017
Note to readers: This was the challenge: to write a 100-word story or poem that employed the word “pejorative”. I had originally considered titling this piece “Damned Latin Words!”
Posted in Poems | 2 Comments

Morning Coffee

morningcoffeeAs a child, sitting at breakfast table adjacent to my father, I watched fascinated as he poured a small amount of half-and-half into the center of his cup of steaming black coffee. The creamy liquid would at first disappear into the depths of the coffee, then, seconds later, slowly resurface in delicate arabesque streams which then interplayed with one another in enthralling magical eddies. My father would always wait until it settled before he slipped in a teaspoon to give his morning coffee a porcelain-clinking stir. I do not know if he did this for my pleasure or for his own, but nonetheless it all seemed like a swirling choreography show prepared each day just for me.

Steve Pulley
11/26/2016
Posted in Anecdotes | 4 Comments

Margaret Welch

margaretwelchMargaret Welch squelched a belch,
squelched a belch did she.
Not being Welsh,
no Celtic belch
had she to squelch,
therefore she belched
in anglice.

Steve Pulley
11/23/2016
Posted in Poems | 2 Comments

Tetched by an Angel

tetchedbyanangelWe must conjecture a bit here. Naomi Pinestraw died during the night, but alleged angels from Realms on High in charge of new arrivals took a rather dim view of her track record through life, shook their corresponding azraelian heads, tsk-tsking in disapproval, and decided Naomi might need to brush up a little more on her flaws, failings and shortcomings before accepting her into Paradise. She had in effect flat-lined, and we may surmise that work-sapped physicians in attendance had succumbed to their own exhaustion and simply covered Naomi’s face with her bed sheet and wandered off to their rest area for a much-needed snooze, neglecting any further efforts to revive one whom in any case was a terminal patient, and leaving other hospital staff to handle things when they arrived for work in a few hours.

Whatever the case, Naomi awoke sometime later in the wee hours, pulled the sheet from her face, stared up at the ceiling for a moment, puzzled on the one hand that she’d apparently been returned to earth, or on the other that she’d been prematurely geared up for the cemetery. Unable to determine which for lack of any solid evidence either way—other than a hospital bed sheet—she swore a few choice epithets, got out of bed, recovered her belongings from her hospital room closet, dressed, and marched out in a huff.

“Where to?” asked an awaiting cab driver at the hospital entrance.

“Home,” she pronounced.

He extracted an address, and off they went. Neither was much in the mood for conversation at that hour, but about halfway through the ride Naomi cleared her voice.

“Excuse me, young man. May I ask your name?” she asked.

“Mike,” he replied, somewhat surprised that she’d now opened up.

“Good solid name, Mike. By chance do you often do pickups at the hospital?”

“Yeah, I kind of swing by there fairly regular.”

“Wonderful. Would you do me a favor? I don’t mean make a special trip. Only if you happen to be over there and feel so inclined.”

“If I can, sure.”

“Thank you. Here’s the deal, Mike: Should anyone at the hospital inquire whether you had by chance picked up a cadaverous-looking woman in her mid-fifties along about two-thirty a.m. this day, would it be too much to ask you to tell them that, yes, a lady of that description and who goes by the name of Naomi Pinestraw—and in something of a snit, you might add—did in effect ride in your cab, and assure them not to fret? She did not die after all, as they expected, or possibly hoped. Umm, now that I think of it, maybe they should fret, the rascals. But anyway . . . since she did not expire, she decided she no longer required their shoddy, overpriced services keeping her on life support and went home. Can you do that?”

Mike shot a glance at her through his rear-view mirror, then nodded with a smirk. “Yes, ma’am, I definitely can do that.”

“Thank you, Mike.”

“My pleasure.”

Through Mike, the hospital eventually tracked down Naomi and remonstrated her for not contacting them. She in turn remonstrated them right back for not verifying more carefully whether she was dead or not before chalking her up as ready for the meat wagon, and she had a good mind to sue the lot for neglect or dereliction of duty or ineptitude, or all three, if not for the fact that she wasn’t particularly inclined to waste what little life she might still have left to her in legal wrangles. Later in the day, notwithstanding, she returned for a checkup, where attending chagrined doctors found to their astonishment and dismay—and perhaps for some, to their regret—that she appeared to be in fine fettle.

“Things like this just don’t happen,” insisted Dr. Garland Grispak, the head physician. “It’s out of all bounds of medical science. You are not supposed to be alive, Mrs. Pinestraw. Both on-duty doctors as well as a nurse swore by all that’s holy—and, I might add, on their own respective mothers’ graves—that you were dead, dead, dead.”

“If that’s the case,” she retorted, “then what you see before you is a bona fide ghost, ghost, ghost. Dare I say yet another first for medical science out-of-boundedness?”

Grispak rubbed the back of his neck, gave Naomi a look, then another, and finally threw up his hands. “Your guess is as good as mine, Mrs. Pinestraw. It could be either, for all I know. But what counts is that our latest tests indicate that except for the weight loss you sustained during your illness, you are in better shape than most of the staff who took care of you so shabbily. I dare say in all likelihood you will outlive us all. So, go home and enjoy life.”

“I fully intend to just that,” she replied, arching a brow, and took her leave.

A month or so later, however, Naomi Pinestraw began to suffer what she initially thought to be hallucinations, but considering her recent and extraordinary resurrection from the dead, suspected they might also be visions. They came to her like mirages—fata morganas shimmering, not along a distant horizon as they sometimes do on blistering desert afternoons or in Hollywood outdoor extravaganzas, but close up, sometimes so close that she felt that if she were to reach out, she could catch hold of them.

Her allergist more pragmatically attributed these instead to the new medication he’d prescribed for her spring hay fever, and which had been known to exercise on occasion odd, but temporary side-effects on some patients. He told her to abide a few days to see if these went away on their own, but if they persevered he would prescribe something else.

Naomi acquiesced, though her misgivings persisted. True, aside from the visual aberrations, she felt otherwise fine physically. But what if it was not a hypersensitivity to the drug? Could it be instead some exotic brain disorder poised for irruption? Or perhaps a mental condition beginning to manifest itself? She wondered then if there might not be some well-guarded family secret of schizophrenia running in the Pinestraw ancestry? Her parents and grandparents had always been reserved when talking about family history, had they not? And now that she thought about it, had they not also always been a little on the flakey side themselves? Would she be that way now, too?

The visions, though tenuous, continued to surface, but they did not seem to affect her adversely other than simply show up from time to time in quiet moments to distract her and put her on edge. She likened these to the elusive dark matter in the universe that so puzzles astrophysicists, some inner dark matter that wanted out of its hole, but which she habitually shoved back down into some isolated root cellar of her mind whenever it poked its obscure tendrils into her conscious life. Were the mirages but those well-guarded cirrhuses now forcing their coiled way to the surface? She thought maybe her mixed metaphors were champing at the bit to expose themselves in more palpable ways, and she felt uneasy, if not afraid.

Then one afternoon, shortly after Naomi had risen from a brief nap on a lawn chair at the poolside next to her home, she again saw the mirage, this time approaching along the road adjacent to where she now stood. She waited for it with a sense of both apprehension and curiosity. At first wavy and diaphanous as before, it now slowly coalesced into the form of a creature resembling a human, but one that decidedly was not the kind of human she’d ever seen before. It was an androgynous-looking individual, neither decidedly male nor female, with iridescent scales instead of skin, and yet not quite serpentine. Naomi thought it something akin to one of those aliens out of a Star Trek movie set. But one of the good ones, she hoped, not out to annihilate her, Earth and all nearby surrounding planets, for it exhibited a pleasant, unassuming smile. Still, wonderment aside, she could not contain a certain degree of disquiet, unaware yet what its intentions were or what might lay ahead for herself. When it drew within a few feet from her, it stopped, and quietly regarded her.

Eyes wide, Naomi swallowed, but being Naomi Pinestraw stood her ground. She waited for it to address her, but when it remained silent, she cleared her voice and spoke. “Good afternoon,” she said, her voice wavering just a tittle uncharacteristically.”

“Good afternoon,” it replied, nodding.

When it offered nothing more, Naomi at last drew a breath, expecting an inevitable ‘follow me’, and asked, “May . . . may I ask if you have you come to take me away?”

“Take you away? Goodness, no,” it exclaimed. “It’s not in my job description.”

“No?”

“Absolutely not. I’m rather here to help keep you going for your intended lifespan.”

“Indeed? Well, that’s refreshing. Who are you?”

“I am Sut’ukullu Nuna.”

“Sue-too-cool-you New-nah?”

“Close enough.”

Naomi frowned. “That’s a rather odd name. You aren’t from these parts, I take it.”

“Obviously not,” it replied with good humor. “You are Naomi Pinestraw.”

Naomi raised her eyebrows. “Why, yes, I am. How did you know?”

“It’s my job to know.”

“Oh? How so?”

“I understand that you recently underwent what they sometimes refer to here as a ‘life-after-life’ experience.”

Naomi thought a moment, then shook her head. “Not entirely, no.”

“No?” It was the creature’s turn to look surprised.

“No. Technically, I think you call it more of a life after death experience. According to the hospital, I died, yes. Or at least that’s what they claim. But it was as though I’d gone into a dreamless sleep. I had no conscious awareness of anything until I awoke with a sheet draped over my face. No light at the end of the tunnel, no one of God’s emissaries to meet me at the Pearly Gates, no one making a list, checking it twice…you know, seeing whether I’ve been naughty or nice? Nothing of that sort.”

“Ah…ha-ha, I see, I see! Then you think that perhaps it was instead a misdiagnosed cataleptic state you suffered, not death?”

“Call it what you will, but more than that, I’m saying I was most put out over the untimely face shroud.” She paused then, frowning. “But see here, if you are not the Angel of Death swinging low, coming for to carry me home, who the devil are you anyhow? Devil in the vernacular sense, I mean. And pardon me should I appear to be even more rude, but also . . . what the devil are you?”

The chameleon-like creature smiled brightly. “Ah, yes, of course. I am Sut’ukullu Nuna.”

“I believe you already informed of that.”

“I did. My full name, however, is Sut’ikullu Nuna Pinchi Llimp’isqa. In English, it would translate literally, I’m afraid, as, ahem, Lizard Spirit of Sparkly Colors . . . . To be honest, I personally favor Coruscant Polychromatic Lacertilian Angel, but you can call me Sparky, if you like.”

Naomi gaped at the creature. “You’re kidding.”

“No, no. Sparky’s fine. I don’t insist on honorifics. Actually, my friends call me Pinchi for short, but Sparky works, too.”

“Sparky.”

“Yes. It’s probably easier that way.”

“I see. And to what do I owe this honor?”

“Honor? Oh, I see. Umm, well, I guess in a nutshell, you could say I’m here to keep you from being run over by a runaway dump truck at a pedestrian crossing, falling down a flight of stairs, getting mugged by a gang of desperadoes, slitting your throat in a spate of despair, or by accident whilst opening a can of peas. That sort of thing.”

Naomi continued to gape. Sparky took that as a cue to continue.

“You see, Naomi. . . . I may call you Naomi instead of Mrs. Pinestraw, mightn’t I? After all, you’re going to call me Sparky.”

“I must be hallucinating.”

“Not in the least. This is all legit.”

“Why?”

“Why? Oh, you mean why all the protection? Well, it’s because you have a special mission to fulfill here on earth that is not my job to do, not to mention the fact that I can’t very well do it myself without creating a lot of public disorder, owing to the fact that my appearance would tend to distract folks too much.”

Naomi raised her head skywards, reminding herself that she was still standing outside under a blistering mid-summer afternoon sun seemingly chatting with a lizard-man, or a man-lizard, she wasn’t sure which took precedent.

“Heat stroke perhaps. . . ,” she mused. “I should probably go back inside where there’s some shade and lie down.”

“Shall I accompany you?”

She began to shuffle toward her house. “No . . . no, don’t bother yourself. I think I can still make it on my own.”

“I’m keen to help. That’s what I’m here for.”

“I appreciate it . . . ” She paused a moment. “Why am I talking to a delusion?”

“Not a delusion, madam, I assure you. I am Sparky, your Homolacertilian Angel.”

“You’re my what!” she exclaimed.

“Higher-ups assigned me the job,” it explained. “I had no choice.” It’s eyes lit up then. Literally. “Nay . . . ! I relish the challenge!”

Naomi turned away. “If you will forgive me, I’m going inside now and have myself a migraine.”

Her coruscant Homolacertilian Angel did not follow, but instead called out, “Yes, by all means do get some rest. We can talk later. But if you should need me at any time—any time at all, mind you—just call out ‘Sparky!’ and I’ll be on hand. I’m at your beck and call . . . twenty-four/seven.”

Naomi raised an apathetic hand goodbye, closed the front door behind her, and headed for the couch in her den. She plopped down and closed her eyes.

“No doubt about it,” she mumbled in despair. “I’m tetched by an angel.”

Steve Pulley
11/8/2016

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