Painting by the Numbers

“Mr. Schallockbach, you need a hobby,” proclaimed Doctor Stanislau Fastbinder, tapping his patient on the knee with a rubber mallet for emphasis. Schallockbach’s knee-jerk reflex countered with middling fanfare.

Schallockbach turned his head from his right patella toward his physician. “I already have a hobby, Doctor.”

Dr. Fastbinder seemed surprised. “Indeed? May I ask what kind of hobby?”

“I read.”

“Read? Phaw! That’s not a hobby. Reading is the cognitive process of understanding a written linguistic message. No wonder your mono-synaptic response is so meh.”

Schallockbach smiled benignly. “Doctor, we both know very well, and you most certainly better than I, that bouncing your hammer on my knee has no connection at all with either my brain or my hobbies. A ‘hobby’, by definition, is an auxiliary or spare-time activity, a pursuit, an avocation. In my book, reading fits that definition to a tee, thank you very much.”

“A hobby, sir, is using your hands, your feet, your body toward a creative enterprise.”

“But Doctor, by reading I am doing something with my hands. Turning pages.”

“Hogwash! Not at all a creative enterprise! It’s an automatic response to forward you on with whatever you’re reading. Nothing at all creative about that, unless of course it stirs the mind. But that’s irrelevant here. What I’m more interested in is stirring the physical aspect of your case. You need to exercise more. You’re a mess. Look at you! Physical activity, man! Physical activity! Don’t you have some other muscle-flexing hobby bending, turning, twisting, chuffing, where you are creating, engendering, bringing about something?”

Schallockbach widened his eyes. “However do you mean? It sounds as though you wish for me to set about procreating willy-nilly like a canine in heat.”

“No! No, no! That’s not what I meant! Dammit, I mean a pastime, like . . . like golf, photography, stamp-collecting, bird-watching, archery, jogging, bee keeping, flower arranging, pottery, quilting, painting . . . .”

“Ah, well, there you go, then,” retorted Schallockbach smugly. “I do have a hobby after all, a noble one even, if you won’t accept reading as sufficient.”

The physician stared at him with mistrust. “You do?”

“Most definitely, Doctor. I believe it fits your definition, although most of what you’ve just suggested as hobbies don’t do a terrible lot toward ramping up muscle tone, I must say.”

Dr. Fastbinder waved his hand dismissively. “They’re just light examples. I don’t picture whaling or sumo wrestling in your category of exercise just now. Baby steps, sir, baby steps. So, then, what, pray tell, is this noble hobby you allude to and practice?”

Schallockbach smirked. “Painting. I paint.”

“Painting?” Dr. Fastbinder cried out in astonishment. “You paint? Really? You mean paint-paint? As in pictures . . . not walls and ceilings? Nothing wrong with painting walls and ceilings, mind you. It too is a wonderful physical activity, after all—in fact probably even better for you—though not usually regarded as a hobby that sparks the imagination along with the body.”

“I don’t see why not. But, yes. Paint-paint. Pictures, not walls.”

“My-my-my! Well, what can I say, then? Capital, my good fellow! I’m simultaneously impressed—nay, floored!—and allayed. Fresh air, arms and legs in motion, sound mental attitude . . . If you keep that up on a regular basis, I would say with a certain degree of confidence that this may start you on your way to recovery.”

“Indeed? Well, I’m certainly relieved to hear it.”

“I’m convinced that having an active hobby can be key to one’s convalescence from your kind of ailment. Ah, Mr. Schallockbach? If you wouldn’t mind, I should be most pleased if at your next appointment you might show me one of your paintings.”

“You would? Well, Doctor, if you really wish to see one, I would be more than delighted. In fact, flattered.”

“Then it’s settled.”

A week later…

“Ah, my dear Mr. Schallockbach, welcome!” cried Dr. Fastbinder with renewed enthusiasm upon seeing again his patient, for whom he had aforetime very nearly lost all hope for. “Goodness me! Is it possible that I see you are ruddier and more healthy-looking than the last time you were here? Excellent.”

“As a matter of fact, Doctor, thanks to you I do feel ruddier and more healthy-looking than the last time I was here. And I think you’ll be pleased to find that my knee-jerk reflex has improved markedly as well.”

Dr. Fastbinder beamed. “Wonderful! Let’s just check you out then.”

Schallockbach nodded with a returned smile, but raised a hand. “Uh, Doctor, before we get on with that, however, I just wanted to show you, if I may, some of my recent paintings.”

Dr. Fastbinder pooched his lips, frowning in question. “Paintings? . . . Ah, yes! Yes, of course! How could I have forgotten? You brought some with you?”

“As promised.”

“Capital! May I?”

“Indeed you may.”

Schallockbach produced a 20- by 16-inch tablet and handed it over. Dr. Fastbinder flipped several pages slowly, then looked at Schallockbach blankly.

“But . . . but what’s this?”

Schallockbach gave his doctor a queer look. “What’s what? What do you mean?”

“This! These!” The doctor turned the tablet toward his patient.

“Why, they’re my paintings, of course.”

“Well, yes, that may very well be, but . . . .”

“You don’t like them?”

“Well . . . yes, yes, I do like them just fine; in fact, they’re actually quite lovely. But . . . but, they’re by the numbers.”

“Ah, so you noticed! Yes, that is correct.”

“But this isn’t what I had in mind at all.”

“It isn’t?”

“No. Where is it that you paint? Don’t you paint outdoors?”

“No, why on earth would I? I paint at home, naturally. Is there a problem?”

Dr. Fastbinder glanced at the top picture of the collection, then back at his patient. “Yes, of course there’s a problem! The problem is, where’s the exercise?”

“I don’t think I understand.”

“Tell me again . . . you paint these where?”

“Like I said, Doctor: at home, on a table . . . in my den. Why?”

“Mr. Schallockbach, by chance do you cross your legs and rest your elbows on said table in your den while painting?”

“Why, yes, as a matter of fact I do. How on earth did you know?”

“Sir, how does that differ from flipping pages in a book?”

Schallockbach sniffed. “Well, I suppose it depends upon your point of view, of course, but I’d say plenty, actually.”

“Plenty, eh. And how so?”

“First off, I don’t rest my elbows on any surface when I read. Usually I’m flat on my back
. . . with a couple of pillows behind my head. I read a lot in bed or on the living room sofa. Oh, occasionally I’ll lie on my side, so I suppose that one arm is resting on the mattress or cushion. To be honest, though, I do tend to rest my hands, wrists, and elbows on the kitchen table when I’m doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles. But never while I’m painting! Elbows only, right hand poised inches above the table, I swear!”

Dr. Fastbinder glared at the man. “Mr. Schallockbach, are you pulling my leg?”

“Perish the thought, Doctor!”

“Very well. Then I can only conclude that you’re an idiot and incapable of getting the point.”

“I am?”

“That is my distinct impression. You’ve completely ignored my advice. I’m telling you that you need to exercise your entire body, not just your eyeballs and the tips of your thumb and forefinger compressed against a brush. Trust me, Mr. Schallockbach, painting by the numbers virtually inert within the home just doesn’t hack it for what ails your body . . . and I’m now suspecting your intelligence as well.”

“A-a-ah . . . . Well, what do you recommend then?”

“You’re sure you don’t have any other hobbies potentially of interest that would take you outdoors on a regular basis?”

Schallockbach stared ahead. “I’m afraid not, Doctor.”

“Then, sir, I unwaveringly recommend that you gather up your painting book in your left hand and your paint brush in the left post haste and run like hell out of my office before I kick you out, you bloody twit, because I am done with you! Good day!”

Steve Pulley
3/28/2017

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A Flash in the Sky

flashintheskyQuinn Feherty was certain that the flash in the sky was an alien spacecraft. Quinn Feherty was certain about a lot of things, more often than not proven wrong in every way. But the flash in the sky seemed to be the real deal this time. He’d long expected aliens. In fact, he’d often had dreams in which aliens of every ilk announced to him: “Quinn, old bean, we’re on our way. You’re going to have a jolly good time, count on it.”

Quinn thought it queer that they’d so often use the English expression “old bean” in their REM communications with him, when he regarded himself as American as apple pie, baseball, spoon bread, baked beans, and the corncob pipe. He had never once been in England nor, upon inquiry, had his father, his grandfather, not even his great-grandfather. In truth, while Quinn was a fine, respectable Irish name, Feherty, on the other hand, turned out to be an English surname after all, though according to Internet sites that record such stuff, it was the 1,687,490th most common name in the whole world—so obscure, in fact, that only 52 people in all of England still called it their own. It therefore astonished him to think that there were even so many fewer Fehertys in the United States that websites did not even bother to record their numbers. Quinn had never been referred to as “old bean” before. He’d even asked his aging dad if he had ever been called “old bean”, and his father had asked him what on earth “old bean” meant. Old age can sometimes erase a good deal of common knowledge, thought Quinn.

He knew from reading P.G. Wodehouse “Wooster and Jeeves” collections that Bertie Wooster used the expression often and haphazardly in greeting friends, acquaintances, even total strangers, and that it seemed roughly equivalent to the current American greeting, “dude”. How “old bean”—today a thoroughly obsolete and corny Britishism—had slipped into extraterrestrial vocabulary, Quinn could conceive of no explanation.

Quinn could neither make hide nor hair of “you’re going to have a jolly good time”, which also sounded suspiciously British.

The evening finally came when Quinn, peering upward, saw the flash in the sky, and he knew that the aliens of his dreams had arrived. He clasped his hands in excitement and awaited breathlessly the promised jolly good time.

Whatever that meant.

Steve Pulley
3/26/2017

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The Sasquatch Princess of Cayuga County

I wish to preface this narrative with a bit of local background. First off, and for those who are unaware that there is, in fact, a Cayuga County, it lies on the northwestern side of the State of New York and borders Lake Ontario. It was once territory of the Iroquois. One of the communities in Cayuga County is Sterling, a small town of a little more than 3,000 inhabitants, on State Route 104A, a mere two and a half miles away from Lake Ontario, as the crow flies. Running through Sterling is Sterling Creek, which flows into The Pond, a small lake separated from Lake Ontario by a narrow ridge, and located in Fair Haven State Park. About a half mile south-southeast of Sterling and just east of Sterling Creek, there is a heavily forested, little-traveled area, and legend has it that therein resides the Sasquatch Princess of Cayuga County.

I say “legend has it”, simply because nobody has ever been able to corroborate with solid evidence the actual existence of the Sasquatch Princess, only tales coming from hikers lost in the woods with no cameras, or with cameras that mysteriously malfunctioned and were devoid of photographs, who purportedly have either seen her or have come in physical contact with her—à la Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There have also been similar claims of sighting her much further south, in the Bear Swamp State Park, but because Bear Swamp is heavily traveled by hikers, bikers, campers, fishermen, hunters, trappers, snowmobiliers, and cross-country skiers and snowshoers, it has been hotly argued by Sasquashing purists that the Princess wouldn’t be caught dead in such human traffic, and that such supposed brushes with her or her kind are no more than cock-and-bull stories, prevarications and bare-faced lies cooked up to wow the folks back home.

In spite of the fact that there’ve been 29 alleged sightings of a Sasquatch in Cayuga County between 1975 and 2013*—none of them in the neighborhood of Sterling-and a total of 103 in the entire State of New York during the same time span, that any Sasquatches would be found in Cayuga County—or that matter, anywhere in New York State—still seems a stretch of the imagination, since the large majority of sightings in this country come out of Washington State, Oregon, California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas, where it’s common knowledge that these are saturated with fruit cakes of every nature and kind.

All that said, one fine day here I am, a fellow from rival state New Jersey, who hears through the grapevine that there is an annual month-and-a-half-long Renaissance Festival in Sterling, New York, Saturdays and Sundays, in July and August. The brochure claimed:

“Merriment awaits at the
Pub Sing, Wench Auction,
and Trial & Dunke

“What to expect while deep in the woods, in the town of Warwick, England? Better to ask yourself, what not to expect? The antics, while often merry, are unpredictable at best. Those who come for finely crafted wares are often overtaken by the thrill of the knights’ fiery joust.

“And many, seeking to revel in a fine ale, all too often become smitten by the generous young wenches, only to return again and again.

“Step into the realm of 1585 Warwick, England and live an unexpected adventure of your very own.”**

In narrating this personal experience, I am obliged to remain anonymous, principally due to my public position and the notoriety that my story would almost certainly incur as a consequence, and also because I am the shy, retiring type by nature. I’ll only say this: I am, and I am what I am. As such, I shall assume the alias of Keith Badeau—”Keith” being a Scottish name, probably derived from a Celtic word meaning “forest, wood,” and which nicely fits in tune with where I ended up, and “Badeau” being a French surname derived from a byname for Parisians who admire anything extravagant . . . also befitting the nature of my weakness for Renaissance festivals. I should probably clarify as well that this “Keith Badeau” is neither of Scottish nor French lineage, in case speculators were to trace my true identity thus through one of the several ancestry services on the Internet. You would be wasting your time.

Now, I for one, did not believe for an instant that there ever was such a thing as a Sasquatch. In all these years, NASA has not reported one single sighting from their many satellites orbiting our planet. Conspiracy theorists think differently, of course. Whatever the case, I now must posit the following: modesty aside, why would a fine fellow such as myself, and of recognized caliber and integrity—scion of illustrious heritage from the great state of New Jersey, which, I might interject, and in the spirit of open disclosure, has only a paltry 62 Sasquatch sightings under its belt in the last 40 years, none of which have yet been proven—stoop to favor the state of New York, it’s arch rival, of so stupendous a find? Exactly. The mere idea seems outrageous.

Notwithstanding, I am now obliged to forever expunge all former doubt and skepticism from my mind and heart. I categorically and unconditionally declare that there exist today, to quote from the Book of Genesis (6:4), “giants in the earth”, also known in those days as Nephilim, but in today’s vernacular: Sasquatch. Here, then, I summarize the particulars:

I—alias Keith Badeau—have had a weakness since adolescence for Renaissance fairs, festivals, fetes, and fiestas. One September day, on the weekend following my sixteenth birthday my father, as a present, treated me to my first such fair, the famous Lions Charity Renaissance Faire, in Lakewood, New Jersey, which promised patrons a step back to a time and atmosphere of a 16th century Europe and country fair, when romance and chivalry abounded, in a magical world where knights, dragons, pirates, and fairies played. I was instantly hooked, and over the passing years I made a point of visiting Renaissance fairs, not only in New Jersey, but beyond, wherever I traveled. Now, at the age of thirty-four (I’m not really 34, but revealing my true age might give away clues to my real identity), I had caught wind of yet another such fair: The Sterling Renaissance Festival in Cayuga County, during the weekends of all July and the first half of August. I checked my busy calendar and found to my delight that there were two weeks in the latter part of July where I was uncommitted to anything that would not wait. I could not resist. I contacted my agent that I would not be available for anything during those two weeks, no matter how pressing. I would be persona incognito and out of contact with anybody I knew. I even went so far as to leave my cellphone at home in Cedar Cove (a fictitious town in New Jersey). I packed my bags, hiking equipment, and accouterments, hopped aboard my jeep, and off I went. Since there were no hotels or motels in Sterling, site of the festival, I drove instead the 288-mile trip to Oswego, just a short hop from Sterling. Once checked in at the cheapest and least recommended inn of the town, thus optimizing my possibilities of anonymity—I really do abhor being recognized outside of my professional life—I headed on to Sterling. Though surely the catalyst of this narrative, it is all the same not specifically about the Sterling Renaissance Festival, per se. May it suffice to say, nonetheless, that the weekend there far exceeded my expectations and filled my heart with joy and imagination. I could not have asked for more, and I fully intend to visit it again in the future.

Since I had also intended this to serve as a much-needed vacation for the two weeks allotted me, I decided to do a little sight-seeing and hiking in and around Sterling, and then slowly work my way back home in New Jersey. It was while wandering about the town of Fair Haven, just west of Sterling, and talking with some of the older locals at one of the eateries that I first heard of the Sasquatch Princess of Cayuga County. At first I thought these geezers were just ribbing an out-of-towner, but they all seemed in such earnest that I finally decided that I might do a little exploring of my own, as a lark.

“According to Slim Jenkins,” remarked one octogenarian, “she was last seen off the side of the road a month ago, out behind the Sterling Highway Department garage, but only for a few seconds before she disappeared into the woods again.”

“Where’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, right across from the Tupelo Grove Bed and Breakfast. It’s the biggest building there, down the road a spell and just around the bend going north, oh, I’d say about a mile and a half from here.” The man pointed east.

“There’s a bed and breakfast? I thought the closest lodgings were in Oswego.”

“Nope. Betty Crawford opened up a B-and-B right there on Route 104A a couple of years ago, after her old man died.” The man raised an eyebrow after a moment. “Why? ‘You planning to stick around and pay her highness the princess a visit?”

I shrugged, eyed my new acquaintances, then grinned. “Maybe. I got time to kill.”

They all laughed.

Afterwards, I sat in my jeep for a good long while thinking, then said aloud, “Well, why the hell not?”, and drove the distance. Straight off I saw the tin-roofed garage in a large open space on the right side of the road, but I turned instead left onto a driveway directly across where a sign read “Tupelo Grove Bed and Breakfast”. I was welcomed by the proprietrix herself, Betty Crawford, a pleasant-looking, middle-aged woman who reminded me of a favorite aunt of mine. She informed me that there was one bedroom vacant, the other two still occupied by visitors to the Renaissance Festival. I found my room most accommodating.

Once installed, and informed by Mrs. Crawford that if I’d like lunch it would be served at 1:00 PM, I dressed myself in my hiking duds and set out in search of the furtive Sasquatch Princess. I crossed the road on foot to where the Sterling Highway Department garage stood. There were several workers there, and I asked their foreman if it would be okay for me to pass through the premises to hike around a bit in the woods beyond, explaining that I was staying at the B&B across the road.

“Ain’t no fences here, friend,” replied the foreman. “You’re free to go on in.”

“Thank you. By the way, should I be looking out for any dangerous critters over there?”

“Nah, it’s pretty safe. Just don’t fall into the creek yonder and catch cold or drown.”

“I’ll do my best to be careful.”

With that, I continued down a paved stretch of road behind the garage until it dead-ended about 180 yards further on. Thereafter it was through a wooded area for another hundred yards before I reached Sterling Creek. I decided to follow the creek south a bit, found at last a spot I could cross where the water was only ankle deep, and made my way to the other side. From there the woods grew thicker as I traveled south. In the distance I could hear farm animals lowing, squealing, and crowing, as well as a tractor or two, so I knew that if I did become lost, I would eventually find my way out by following their racket.

I had not walked more than ten minutes when I saw her. She was leaning against a tree, calmly paring her fingernails with a large knife. I heard a twig crack under one of my boots. I stood stock still. She looked up then and turned her head my way. My heart began to pound. She was at least as tall as former Chinese NBA basketball player Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets, but with far better curves. She was blanketed from head to toe in fur, but her face was bare and stunning. The Sasquatch Princess of Cayuga County.

She cocked her head to one side, then to the other, regarding me as though contemplating perhaps whether or not I might be a tasty morsel to consume. I was paralyzed. I could not move. Yes, yes, I know, a redundancy, but I was glued to the spot, petrified.

She left off her fingernails, pursed her lips, shook her head and sighed. She then lifted her right hand and wiggled her forefinger as though beckoning me. Surprised, I slowly lifted my own right hand and pointed to my chest, as if to say, “Who? Me?”. She nodded. “Yes, you.”

Well, I suppose these are such occasions when one either complies or runs like hell in the opposite direction. I certainly contemplated the latter, wiser inclination. Nonetheless, I’d come this far to find the Sasquatch Princess, hadn’t I, so it seemed absurd to chicken out now and flee for my life and then regret it for the rest of my days. Also, there was a bit of family pride involved here (or foolhardiness, depending on your point of view). According to another legend, no New Jersey Keith Badeau in recorded history had ever cut and run in the face of danger. I was not about to be the first. After all, I had a family reputation to defend. And so I slowly edged my way toward the giant creature. To be on the safe side, I opened my hands in front of me to show that I was unarmed and not a threat.

She waited for me to approach, regarding me with cautious curiosity. I felt as though I wasn’t the first standard human she’d encountered, but perhaps the first she’d allowed to come this close to her. In spite of her animal-like hirsuteness, her limpid face was surprisingly hominid, in fact exotically alluring to gaze upon, and shown no menace at all.

I stopped in front of her about five feet away, looked up, and awaited whatever fate might come. She gazed down at me for a moment, then slowly circumambulated me, sniffing the air at intervals, until she completed the round and faced me once again.

“Why are you here?” she asked evenly with a clear, distinct New England accent. Her contralto voice was pleasant, somewhat sultry.

I gasped, dumbfounded. It had never once occurred to me that she might actually speak a language, much less English. It almost seemed as though she could read my mind and sense my shock, because she grinned then.

“So, why are you here?” she repeated.

I sputtered a moment, gaping, then at last managed to stammer, “I-I wanted to meet you.”

“Why?”

“I-I don’t know. I was curious. Some men at a restaurant told me that you had been seen in this area. I didn’t believe them.”

“Then why did you seek me?”

“They were old men, and they spoke so earnestly that I thought it might be fun to come here to see the forest in any case.”

“What did they say about me?”

“Th-that you were the Sasquatch Princess of Cayuga County.”

“Princess?”

She smiled, then burst out laughing. I stared at her a moment in awe, and then joined her.

What more can I say? In the end, Sassy—that’s what I call her now—Sassy and I were secretly married by a very discreet and particularly near-sighted justice of the peace. I have removed myself from Cedar Cove (still a fictitious city in New Jersey) and established my business headquarters instead in an undisclosed town in Cayuga County, where I feel Sassy will be safe and more comfortable in an environment she’s familiar with. We now live on a shielded farm of our own. We are very happy together, but admittedly it’s a bit of a nuisance for me to have to climb up a ladder to be able to kiss my lovely furry princess … not that she can’t hoist me off the floor anytime she wants to plant me a resounding smooch. On the plus side, though, she’s wonderfully cuddly and keeps me warm and snug during the harsh winters here.

Steve Pulley
3/26/2017

Sources:
*http://www.bfro.net/GDB/state_listing.asp?state=ny
**http://www.sterlingfestival.com/

Posted in Stories | 4 Comments

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

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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

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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