Stuck in a Phone Booth

stuckinaphoneboothSarah Witherfork is glued, as usual, to her smart phone, and to such a degree that she’s crossed three intersections without looking up once to see why so many horns are honking and people swearing epithets. Life outside of the electronic device virtually does not exist for her unless somebody seizes the tool and runs with it. Her parents have quite forgotten what her face looks like . . . only the top of her head and a little bit of nose. It is a wonder to her mother that the girl can actually find her repasts on the kitchen table during breakfast, lunch and dinner. The beginnings of conversation are never consummated because Sarah, so enraptured with the beeps, burps, squeaks, whistles, and other cutesy inane sounds emitting from her phone, not to mention constant interruptions from callers and texters which demand her immediate and undivided attention, rarely has more opportunity or inclination to emit more than a few grunts in reply to her family’s queries and comments at mealtime.

It must also be noted that Sarah is not fully aware that her father has not only forgotten what her face looks like, but that he has been dead for a week and a half, victim of a texting hit-and-run driver in a Maserati and that his ashes currently remain guarded within a medium-size urn in the den, which at a later date will serve as nutrients for a small tree to be planted in the back yard. Though the girl does in effect attend her father’s funeral, the whole time she has her eyes glued to a small receiver in her hand the size of a playing card, and so the proceedings around her are perceived only as a vague blur of forms dressed in black moving to and fro.

Sarah to her credit, however, does at least continue to mumble “I’m home”, an oddly infrangible habit learned as a small girl before the advent of smart phones, each time she arrives from wherever she has been, inexplicably unscathed by all the perils threatening her outside in her constant state of autopilot.

“Sarah, I think you need to take stock of yourself. A bit of self-reflection.”

“Umm? Can you hold that thought, Mom? Something important is going on down at The Dog Kennel that I need to address. Shirley just messaged me.” The Dog Kennel is a local hangout for people of Sarah’s ilk whose electronic devices have become their surrogate boon companions.

Sarah does not wait for a response, but with fingers and thumbs furiously working the touch screen of her device, she walks in the direction of her bedroom without looking up and by some miracle does not manage to walk into a wall or a door jam.

It should further be observed that Sarah’s mother, the mourning Telluria Witherfork (née Trundle), not finding in her daughter a companion in her grief, has taken to talking to the girl in put on Swahili to see if she pays the least attention to her at all. Evidently she does not. It is of no use to attempt a conversation beyond a few monosyllables with Sarah, because she is rarely a part of the physical world anymore or, for that matter, the spiritual world . . . only somewhere in the digital cloud between and with others of her ilk.

And then comes the evening that Telluria receives a phone call on her land line.

“Hello?”

“Mom?”

“I’m sorry, who is it?”

“Me, Sarah.”

“Sarah? Sarah who?”

“Your daughter Sarah.”

“Really? Well, this is a pleasant surprise. I think this is the first time you’ve ever called me, dear. Oh, my, look at the hour. Shouldn’t you be home by now?”

“Mom, listen. I haven’t much time and this is my last quarter.”

“Your last quarter? I don’t think I understand.”

“Mom, listen to me!”

“I’m listening, darling.”

“I . . . I’m sort of stuck.”

“Stuck? Stuck where? Are you all right?”

“No, I’m not all right! I’m stuck in a telephone booth.”

“I’m sorry? Did you say a telephone booth?”

“Well, yes . . . I-I’m sort of stuck inside one.”

“What on earth are you doing in a telephone booth? I didn’t even know the things still existed.”

“Neither did I, but here I am in one of them and I can’t get out.”

“But why did you get into one in the first place?”

“It was a prank by some friends. At first I thought it was funny, but then the jerks left me inside and split, taking my cell phone with them. I can’t figure out how to get out, and there’s not a soul around who can help me. You’re my last resort.”

“Oh? You mean one of the old school who still remembers phone booths?”

“Yeah, I guess. Listen, Mom, could you kinda hurry? I don’t have another coin to prolong this. It’s a miracle that I even have a coin. I just need your wise counsels so I can get out of here.”

“Certainly, dear. What exactly seems to be the problem.”

“The booth door, Mom. How the hell does it open?”

Telluria Witherfork paused a moment to think, and then laughed.

“What’s so funny, Mom?”

“No, nothing, honey. Do you see a handle on the middle of the door?”

“A handle? Oh, you mean that metal thingy?”

“That’s it. Just grip it and pull it toward you. That’ll open the door.”

“Toward me? I’ve been trying to push the dumb door all along.”

“I’m sure you have.”

“Oh, hey! It works! Thanks a bunch, Mom! Love you!”

“I love you too, darling. I wish some day you’d come back to me.”

“What do you mean? I see you every day.”

Steve Pulley
3/15/2017

Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

Smile for the Camera

smileforthecameraA nighttime dialogue…

“Smile for the camera,”

“Why should I?”

“Because I have a gun, that’s why.”

“And that’s supposed to make me smile?”

“Let’s call it an incentive.”

“I’m smiling.”

Click…click…click-click-click…clickclickclickclick.

“My smile is growing a little forced…just so you know.”

“Okay, I’m done with the camera. You can stop smiling now.”

“Thank you. Why so many photos?”

“I like your smile.”

“Thank you, but it was a smile under duress, not a natural smile.”

“I happen to like duressed smiles.”

“I see. In other words, smiles with gritted teeth.”

“You have a wonderful duressed smile. What’s not to love about it?”

“Thank you. Can I go home now?”

“In a minute. I haven’t finished robbing you. Actually, I haven’t even started robbing you. Hand over your wallet.”

“I don’t have a wallet.”

“You don’t have a wallet?”

“No. I forgot and left it at home.”

“Really?”

“Sorry.”

“Well, that’s annoying. I’d had my heart set on it.”

“At least you have my picture.”

“Mmm, that’s true.”

“And my duressed smile to remember me by.”

“True…true.”

“Can I please go home now? My wife is going to raise hell when she finds out that I didn’t do the shopping for her.”

“Because you forgot your wallet.”

“Exactly. She’ll be more put out by that than by me being mugged in a dark alley.”

“You think so?”

“Of course she will. There are mouths to feed at home, and our two kids are like rapacious Great White sharks. Hungry is not an adequate synonym in their vocabulary for their appetites.”

“You really have got it hard, haven’t you?”

“Tell me about it.”

“Uh, I don’t suppose if I go over with you and explain things, that will soften your wife up.”

“Not a chance. In fact, she’ll think you’re in collusion with me to excuse my senior moment, and she might raise hell with you as well for being my accomplice. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, trust me.”

“Jeez. Well, what the hell. Go on, beat it you poor devil.”

“Thanks very much, but it doesn’t really solve my problem at home.”

“Listen, pal, if you think I’m going to do your grocery shopping for you just to get you off the hook, you can forget it.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. Uh, by the way, before I go, I wanted to ask why you wanted me to smile for your camera.”

“Oh, that? Well, it’s kind of a hobby of mine. Seems kind of a shame to stick up somebody and then not have a memento of the occasion other than a bit of cash that you’re going to forget after you’ve spent it.”

“I see. Well, I guess that makes sense…sort of.”

“What’s more, yours will have the distinction of being my first failed mugging.”

“I’m honored.”

“Go in peace, brother. Oh, and kind regards to your wife and kids.”

Steve Pulley
3/12/2017

Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

Hambre del Alma

hambredelalma

Alfonsina Storni (1892-1938)

I originally thought to write a story based on the poem “Hambre del alma“, and this piece started out as one, as you will notice below, but then I quickly realized that it first required a little background research and study, plus a little playing around of my own, which instead resulted in the following:

There was this Argentine poet, Alfonsina Storni, considered one of the most important Argentine and Latin-American poets of the modernist period.¹ I knew nothing of her existence until one day a vacationing niece of mine from Mar del Plata (Argentina’s top beach resort town), on her departure left behind a copy of one of Storni’s works, in which I found a poem, “Hambre del alma“. In the original Spanish it goes like this:

Hambre del alma

Ahora quiero amar algo lejano . . .   
Algún hombre divino
Que sea como un ave por lo dulce,
Que haya habido mujeres infinitas
Y sepa de otras tierras, y florezca
La palabra en sus labios perfumada:
Suerte de selva virgen bajo el viento . . .

Y quiero amarlo ahora. Esta tarde.

Although I speak a fair amount of Spanish and much enjoyed the flow of Storni’s style, I still sought out an English translation for comparison, and found a couple on the Internet. Neither was perfect, but how often can a translation be truly faithful to the original? One expressed it this way:

Hunger of the Soul

Right now I want to love something far away . . .
Some fantastic man
Who is birdlike in his sweetness
Who has had untold women
And knows other soils, and on
His lips bloom scented words:
A kind of virgin wood beneath the wind . . .

And I want to love him right now. This afternoon.

While another translated it thus:

Hunger of the soul

Now I want to love something far . . .
Some divine man
Let him be like a sweet bird,
That there have been endless women
And knows of other lands, and flourish
The word on his lips perfumed:
Unforgettable wilderness under the wind . . .

And I want to love him now. This afternoon.

I, keen to give it a go myself, attempted something only slightly different:

Longings of the Soul

I now long to love something from afar . . .
Some divine man
Let him be birdlike in his sweetness
Have had countless women
Known other lands, and upon perfumed lips
the luck of virgin forest beneath the wind . . .

And I want to love him now. This very afternoon.

I read up a bit on Alfonsina Storni. Her life was something of a mess. But whose life isn’t at some point? Still, she wrote, and today those who speak Spanish can delight, be stirred by her words, even though she’s been long gone from our midst.

Coincidentally, I learned in my investigations that the words “hambre del alma” had also sparked the interest of another writer, this one a student at the College of Arts at Kent State University. In a thesis titled “Hambre del Alma: Nourishing the Hungry Soul”² she attached this interesting first footnote:

Hambre del alma is a Spanish language term used by scholar Clarissa Pinkola-Estés³ meaning ‘soul famine’ or ‘soul starvation.’ It is part of her analysis of a German-Magyar folktale entitled ‘The Little Red Shoes,’ and she broadens the definition to explain what happens to someone when they keep themselves from creating or are prevented from creating for too long: they try to fill their life with empty things, and are ultimately themselves left empty.”

I thought of changing the title of my English rendition from “Longings of the Soul” to Pinkola-Estés’s “soul famine” or “soul starvation”, but I decided to keep mine anyhow, which somehow feels more poetic to my mind than the more clinical-sounding “famine” and “starvation”, both of which leave me dry-tongued and ravenous. After all, Alfonsina Storni I understood often wrote more of passion and eroticism, and not so much of detached psychological science.

How very odd and yet exciting the threads that connect us all. And in this case, by hambre del alma. As it turned out, I never did write the story I’d intended. But don’t you see what fascinating, often tangent adventures where writing often leads us?

Steve Pulley
3/9/2017

___________________________________
¹https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfonsina_Storni
²Megan K. Tuttle, thesis , “Hambre del Alma: Nourishing the Hungry Soul”, December 2009. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/document/get/kent1258336622/inline
³Pinkola-Estés, Clarissa.  “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, New York: Ballantine, 1995.  227-228.

Posted in Other Writings | 1 Comment

Frankincense, Frankfurters, and Frankenstein

frankinsensefrankfurters&frankinsteinTeenager Frankie Freebody lived under the dark cloud of her surname. Her first name, Frankie (short, actually, for Francisca), was no help at all either. In fact, the combination of her first and last names only seemed to spawn a plethora of additional sobriquets—more specifically, street names—to wit: The Body, The Bod, Freebie, Freebod, Frankincense, Frankfurters, Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Bride, and so on, ad nauseum. Nobody but Frankie’s maternal grandmother (also her namesake) called her Francisca. It should be noted that nobody ever even thought, much less dared, to call Frankie’s grandmother anything but Francisca, or Mrs. or Señora Valenzuela. More to the point, however, Frankie forever rued the day that her mother married a man named Paul Freebody, a great-great-great-etc.-etc.-etc. grandson of Englishman Paule Freebody, who settled in Virginia in 1665.  It is said that the Saxon surname was first referenced in the 13th century when they held estates in that shire seated at East Grinstead.

“Who keeps stupid records like that, anyhow?” she’d demanded of her mother.

Mom rolled her eyes and sighed. “Your father, for one. And his father, and his father’s father, I would presume.”

“Can’t I change my last name?” whined Frankie. “I’m the laughing-stock of my class, you know.”

“Unless you get permission from your dad and me, I’m afraid you’ll have to bite the bullet and wait until you’re eighteen before you can legally change your name, darling.”

“And I guess that ain’t going to happen, is it?”

“Not by your father, it ain’t.”

“Aach! Didn’t he get teased at school?”

“You know your father, Frankie. Stiff-upper-lip, gung-ho English heritage and all. He also was pretty good with his fists in those days.”

“Rats! What can I do?”

Frankie’s mother stroked her chin thoughtfully. “Umm, well, I suppose you could take up martial arts as an extra-curricular activity.”

“Mo-om!”

Steve Pulley
3/7/2017

Note: The title of this short piece came from a writers group prompt: “Write a story or poem about frankincense, frankfurters, and Frankenstein. Your piece can be funky and/or frank, and it should include a female character named Frankie and/or a male named Frank.”
Posted in Stories | 2 Comments

An Unconventional Wedding

anunconventionalweddingFreddie Bartholomew Pangborne surmised that his unexpected disorientation wasn’t simple amnesia when he found himself standing in what seemed a scene from a fusion sci-fi/reality TV drama series, beside a statuesque alien woman festooned in what could only be described as either party clothes or a wedding dress—alien woman as in a Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan of “Farscape” type alien woman: blue, but with hair, albeit dark purple. Her eyes sparkled gold, a glowing smile effused her full, rufescent lips. He glanced down and saw that he too was likewise formally attired, though in a suit oddly reminiscent of the regalia of Klingon Commander Worf, son of Mogh, from “Star Trek” fame. He also noted that they stood arm in arm, her azure left hand gently folded atop his right, which he observed was also peculiarly cyanotic. Yet another shock. She looked up at him, her radiant smile widening. He blinked back a couple of times, then proffered a tentative grin in return. He raised his head and saw that they were not alone, but surrounded by a moderate number of beings who, though each distinctive in their own way —and of variegated shade and color—also resembled the woman. A few joined in the smile, though among these there were a few who seemed somewhat more constrained in offering dimples. Could it be doubt or disapproval?

“How are we doing, my beloved?” she asked, giving his hand a squeeze. Freddie noticed her accent—a pleasant one,  albeit maybe a little on the broguish side, he thought. Be that as it may, she did not look the least Irish or Scottish. Certainly not in the traditional way. He also noted that she spoke, in fact, a very peculiar brand of English. Actually not at all English it suddenly dawned upon him, although he had no trouble understanding her.

He swallowed, then after a pause, turned slightly toward her and managed to breathe a soft reply. “Uh, well, I don’t rightly know. But . . . off hand, I think perhaps I may have stripped a gear.” The same language that she had spoken flowed effortlessly from his lips, much to his amazement.

She frowned slightly. “Stripped a gear?”

“Metaphorically speaking.” He looked about with evident discomfort, then back at the woman before him. “Ahem, may . . . may I have a word with you? In private?”

She gave him a mild look of inquiry. “What’s up?”

“Maybe nothing . . . though I wouldn’t quite count on it. Please?”

She released her hand from his. “Certainly, my love,” she said, now a trace of concern on her face. She turned then to the wedding guests, presenting them with a beaming smile. “Excuse us a moment, folks, won’t you? We’ll be right back. Just need to tweak a couple of buttons and a zipper.”

This produced a mild titter among a few. A stately-looking elderly woman stepped forward. “Is everything alright, dear?”

“Yes, yes, Mom,” she reassured her. “Just a minor glitch we need to take care of before the ceremony. Won’t take a minute. Keep our guests occupied until we get back, okay?”

She frowned slightly with displeasure, but nodded, turning then to the guests with a beaming smile of her own. Bride and groom retired from the buzz of mildly bemused crowd to a room down the hall, which Freddie found to apparently be the conservatory, although the plants embellishing the room were none that he could readily identify.

“What is it, darling?” she asked, closing the door behind them.

Pangborne took a deep breath. “Could you please tell me whether I’m dreaming, hallucinating, dead, or a stranger in a strange land?”

She smirked at first, thinking he might be teasing, but then saw his face was in earnest. “What do you mean? Is something wrong?”

“If I’m just having the most extraordinary dream of my life, then absolutely nothing at all. Otherwise, maybe something wrong big time.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“What I mean is, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know what we are doing.  Am I suffering a seizure?”

She arched her brows in surprise, then frowned, considered, then laughed. “Séafra, you’re such an awful tease! What ever are you talking about?”

Séafra?

“What I just said. I have no clue what I’m doing here. You and the, uh, people out there are a complete mystery to me. I feel like I am on some sort of psychedelic trip where nothing is real.”

“You’re serious, then?”

“Absolutely. I don’t even know how I’m speaking this language.”

“What do you mean?”

“Listen.” He then quoted in English a limerick from Ogden Nash, the one that goes:

There was a young belle of old Natchez
Whose garments were always in patchez.
When comments arose
On the state of her clothes,
She replied, “When Ah itchez, Ah scratchez.”

“What in God’s name was that?”

Freddie attempted to translate it into her own language. He frowned.

“Mm, doesn’t rhyme at all this way, I’m afraid,” he said sadly.

She stared at him wide-eyed for a long moment. “Well, this may put a kibosh on our wedding plans today,” she said at last.

“We’re getting married?”

“That was the plan. You do see me before you in duds that aren’t exactly intended for any other practical purpose, do you not?”

Freddie nodded. She reached out and took his hands in hers. They were trembling.

“Tell me the truth. Are you getting cold feet at the eleventh hour? Is that what all this is?”

He noticed then that her hands were soft and warm, and just a shade electrifying. Freddie looked down at them, then back up at her face. Even though she was just about the most unlikely creature he’d thought he’d ever see, except perhaps in a sci-fi movie, he nonetheless felt strangely attracted to her.

“Ordinarily,” he said at last, “I would never even dream backing out of my own wedding . . .  But something has evidently occurred to me that may give us both pause.”

“In what way?”

“I won’t swear to it, but it’s quite possible that I’ve suddenly gone insane or am having some kind of exotic hallucination. Or maybe somebody spiked my drink? God is my witness, I do not know who you are. I don’t know how I’m speaking this language. I’ve never spoken or heard it before. Am I at a masquerade ball? A cosplay party?”

“What are you talking about? No, of course not. We are about to be married. Truly, you don’t know me? Are you feeling ill?”

“I truly, truly do not know you. I’m feeling very confused and not just a little frightened. And also . . . why is your skin sky blue?”

“What?” She glanced down at her hands. “It’s always been sky blue.”

“Really?” He paused to take that in. “Well, ahem, I confess that it looks absolutely stunning on you, and I assure you I don’t really care what the color of one’s skin is, but this is another first for me.”

“Seriously?”

“That’s right. The only time I’ve seen anyone with this color were those chaps performing in Las Vegas. But of course that was just makeup.”

“Las Vegas?”

“Yes. The Blue Man Group at the Luxor.”

She thought a moment, blinked furiously, mumbled something incoherent, then took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay. This is going to cause quite a row out there, but I think maybe we better postpone this shindig of ours until we can figure exactly what’s going on with you.”

Freddie saw her stricken face and swallowed. “I am so terribly sorry.”

“Not even close to what I’m feeling right now.”

He hesitated, mind racing over the bizarre circumstances and possible options for minimizing the catastrophe. Then he said, “Listen, maybe . . . maybe we should just go ahead with it and sort things out later. I don’t want you to be hurt or embarrassed because of me.”

She smiled grimly. “Either way it still potentially spells a disaster of some kind. But better we hold off now so we can study your . . . uh, condition, and then decide what to do about it. You stay put here, and I’ll tell my family and the other guests . . . ” She paused. “What? What the hell am I going to tell them? That the love of my life and my future husband has just this minute flipped his lid and suspects all of us are a bunch of extraterrestrials on the cusp of planetary invasion?”

“Wait, I never said that! Well . . . not exactly. Not aloud.”

Her eyes widened. “You mean that’s actually what you think?”

He swallowed, then nodded. “It did cross my mind, yes. You see, where I come from nobody is this color except in sci-fi movies or is not getting enough oxygen.”

“Where you come from. . . ? My God! This can’t be happening. Well, what do you suggest I tell everybody, then?”

“Wouldn’t indisposed do?”

She considered, then gave it a node. “Safer, I suppose, yes. Food poisoning? No, you haven’t had anything to eat yet. Um, maybe an allergic reaction to . . .  What are you allergic to?”

“I-I don’t know yet. I just got here. Hairy pets? An insect bite? Pollen?”

“Has to be something more exotic. I’ve never seen you sick. And you love animals and flowers.”

“I do?”

“You do. Okay, never mind. I’ll think of something.”

“Thank you.”

“Trouble is, there are a couple of doctors in the crowd, so I’ve got to be creative about your malady. Do not move from this room for any reason. In fact, just in case somebody unannounced pops in, you better lie down on that divan over there and look deathly ill.”

“That I can definitely do. As a matter of fact, I do feel a tad deathly ill just now.”

“Good. I’m on my way.” She started to turn.

“Wait!”

“What?”

“Something else occurred to me just now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean as a possible explanation.”

“And that would be?”

“Well, uh, your intended was somehow possessed.”

“Possessed?”

“Yes. By me.”

“By you?”

“Purely unintentional, I assure you!”

She gave him a terrible look. “Don’t you dare do anything weird—weirder—until I get back, do you hear?”

“I promise.”

“Possessed, indeed,” she snorted. “Do not move from this room until I get back.”

“You have my word, uh . . .” He paused. “By the way . . . what’s your name?”

“Seriously? You don’t even know my name?”

“Sorry.”

“Oh, my . . . . It’s Aurnia.”

“Aurnia. Mm. Nice name. As for me, I’m Freddie.”

“Freddie?” She arched an eyebrow. “Since when?”

“Since always. Why?”

“Why? . . . Well, just a few minutes ago it was Séafra.” She headed for the door. “Stay put. . . whoever-you-are.”

“Séafra? Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure!”

“Hmm. Well, if what you say is true, then I’m becoming more and more convinced that your Séafra has—why or how, I have no idea—definitely been taken over by me . . . Freddie Pangborne. Uh, Pangborne is my family name.”

She sputtered, rolled her eyes, then swirled from the room, slamming the door behind her.

Pangborne settled back on the sofa, letting his breath out slowly. He studied his skin.

“Definitely ‘Avatar’ blue,” he mused. “Maybe it was those mushrooms I picked up at the open market yesterday for my ratatouille that were off. No telling what they’ll pick these days. Ergo, I must be hallucinating all this.”

Several minutes passed, the door opened, and Aurnia was back, her breast heaving slightly, aureate eyes afire, sweat upon her brow. Pangborne sat up. She glowered at him.

“Ahem. How’d it go?” he asked.

“We’re getting married,” she growled.

“We are?”

“We are. I spoke to Mother before addressing our guests. Wise thing that I did.”

“Oh? How so?”

“Well, Mother said that you’d better be dead before we suspend this marriage. She isn’t about to suffer the colossal mortification, nor to blow twenty thousand Kalganids she’s spent on our wedding simply because you’re indisposed. In effect, she will not only disinherit me and send me packing without a dime, but will also have you arrested, sued, and thrown in the slammer for breach of promise. And woe betide you when you are set free.”

Pangborne raised his eyebrows. “Kalganids?”

“Twenty thousand. So, get on your feet, straighten up, and let us get hitched.”

Forsyth stood up. “You don’t mind?”

“Mind? Of course I mind! I thought I was marrying the man of my dreams. It wasn’t exactly my intention to wed a whacko instead, just in case you’re wondering. But Mother, though usually a tolerable sweetheart, at least in her own mind, doesn’t mess around when she gets riled. Or worse, bilked. She’ll follow through to the letter whatever she threatens. Count on both your legs being broken if we don’t go through with this. That’s just for starters. So, for both our own good we marry now and plot what to do afterward.”

Freddie gulped, then shook his head, thinking that if it were the damned mushrooms—it had to be those!—their effect would wear off eventually and life would get back to normal.

“Okay, I’m game with that. And who knows? Maybe your authentic Séafra will get this body of his back and all will be well with you, I’ll get back my own body and return home to Earth, safe and sound. And you and I, well, we’ll both probably laugh about all of this some day in the distant future. Well, at least I will, if you are a figment of my delusion.”

“Earth?”

“The planet I live on, yes.”

She stared at him, eyes pleading. “Séafra, I beg you . . . say you’re just pulling my leg, and this is no more than a monumental sophomoric, last-minute groom-before-tying-the-knot prank of yours.”

Freddie looked horrified. “Absolutely not! On your wedding day? Never! Why, it would be unforgivable!”

Aurnia heaved a sad sigh. “It would be, yes. But . . . but at this point I believe I might even forgive you . . . eventually.” She paused, searched his face one last time, saw no shred of hope, shrugged, and threw up her hands. “All right then, let’s do this.”

Freddie Pangborne nodded and offered her his arm, and they sashayed together through the open door.

Steve Pulley
3/2/2017

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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
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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.

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