Friday, May 18, 2007

The Dying Light Of Afternoon

One of my favorite things to do as a child was to walk through an empty house, a silence as deep as any church, and search through my parents' bedroom for clues to their lives. I had no ability for directness in my soul so this had to suffice. The more I knew, the more I couldn't understand and the secrets of the house fell hard around me. I could fathom a surface and an undercurrent and the two were not the same. It was in their lives I understood that there were splits, compromises, and betrayals, loneliness so deep that nothing would fill them, and a lot of truly wretched poetry written in the seventies and given as gift books that were full of deep meaning about life and love. I can still remember a particularly awful line from Javan, a poet/pilot/artist whose books I still see in the stores from time to time -- This is a Red Letter day of love, magic, feeling. What, I thought at the time, does that shit mean? And damned if I still don't know.
When I was five, a boy at school rocked me so hard that I fell out of the chair and hit my head on the floor. My teacher pinned a note onto my pink turtleneck telling my parents what happened and to watch for signs of a concussion. I tucked the note underneath my sweater to hide it, fearing I would catch hell for what someone else had done to me. All though dinner, the note crinkled against my skin while I tried to pretend it wasn’t there. It was a strange sensation, hiding something so close to my chest in front of everyone. It never occurred to me that I could take it off. I didn't have a secret room yet, but I would. I knew that meant you'd grown up. I can still picture going through my parents' things in the dying light of afternoon, before everyone returned and I became a child again, adept at pretending that everything was fine and unlike everyone else, I had nothing to hide.
Michelle's Spell of Day
"I don't need a psychiatrist; I need a man." Marilyn Monroe
Cocktail Hour
Drinking movie suggestion: My Aim Is True Elvis Costello
Benedictions and Maledictions
Congratulations to my beloved Pistons for last night's victory over Chicago! Happy Friday!


JAM said...

My take on the "red letter" thing is that in many Bibles, Jesus' words are in red, mainly as a reminder of the blood sacrifice he made of himself. To me when someone says "red letter", pain and suffering is involved somehow. Just my $0.02.

TV Guide said...

Sixteen more days until the last day of the Sopranos!

Tony Soprano said...

When I was a kid I would play catch a lot with my Uncle Junior. One time he threw the ball at me and beaned me and then he says, "Heads up!". This was the same uncle who shot and almost killed me. In a way it was a weird foreshadowing of what was to come. I hope you don't fall out of anymore chairs, Michelle, and thanks for all your support of the Sopranos. --Tony

Short bus and special said...

We want the Grouchies! We wants the Grouchies, We want the Grouchie! ect...

Charles Gramlich said...

You have a great ability to capture things from the mind/ perspective of a child. Wish I could do that.

the walking man said...

Thank god you were not in Catholic school. every piece of paper that was ever sent home from St. Francis de Sales was expected to be signed by a parent and returned to the penguin who issued it. In ninth grade, as i have said many times, I was failing algebra so the penguin at midterm sent a dreaded green slip home. Except she mistakenly put my brother Doug's name on it instead of mine.

My father a great believer in being a smart ass instead of a dumb ass wrote "I hit him in the head with a 2x4 and changed his name to Mark" I don't know if it affected my F at all but I know the penguin didn't think it funny, her red face didn't match her blue habit at all.

This is the only truly humorous thing I can remember about my father having done for me. Within a week after trying to tutor me in algebra the great engineer and summer semester professor at Purdue University, hit me for real and said "You're too Goddamn stupid to go to school, so you better learn how to work."

I was luckier than you Michelle I found my hiding place years before this incident, but I did learn how to work, and with the exception of four years of on the road training, paid taxes from age 14 to 46, with the last eleven of those years from two full time jobs.

I remember also doing the same thing looking through the secrets of my parents lives but there were none.

All I ever found was the vodka bottles the old man had hidden away in case he needed more when he got home from work. Sometimes one of my sisters would stumble on to one and empty it and fill it with water.

Not me, I just left it be, not because I was afraid of his anger by then he was smaller than me; but I had to go to work an didn't have time for trifling bullshit like that.

Erik Donald France said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Malnurtured Snay said...

What?! Jesus, can you imagine a teacher doing that today? She'd get in a lot of trouble for not notifying the parents in, like, a reliable manner.

raymond hemingway, esq. said...

My body feels numb, yet I have the sensation of being ripped in half by a secret seem in my body that I did not know existed. I'm skidding through time's filthy slush and detritus, yet I still haven't left this cold, damp spot, on the floor of this dark room built for a purpose I wish to disbelieve.

If I were being bitten to death by vermin right now, I wouldn't know it until I was dead--then your guess is as good as mine weather I wold know it at all, having spoken with Jesus about the turns I chose in my life, or if I would finally be aloud to sleep forever.

Laying here, a torn and useless ragdoll of a man, I'm still foreign lands, fighting the Germans, the Austrians, the trench rats and the feeling that death was yawning with its chlorine tainted breath drifting into my nostrils.


I'm at home, waking for mom's call to breakfast, the smell of bacon and potpourri welcoming me back to a gray little house shined down upon by the light of the world. It looked beautiful, at least on the outside.


When I was young, my father would tell me stories about when he and his own father would go fishing on Lake Huron, just north of the old light house by the rocks, and Thomas Edison's childhood home in Port Huron. They are building a bridge to Canada, now, just north of there, pilings and concrete caissons being jammed into the earth's bones as we speak. And why? What good ever came from Canada?

The thing with these fishing stories was they were never about the biggest fish or the one that got away, they were never contained anything like camaraderie or a sense of peace or even getting drunk and forgetting to bait your line. Other people tell those stories.

Father only told stories about being in a boat wreck when he himself was four years old. Or he would talk about feeling miserable in the rain latter. He would talk about how he wanted to throw up from the thought of impaling a worm on a hook, or even a small minnow. The minnow, especially, fixated his eyes in a far of stare filled with loathing of the past. He stared off and would tell me about how the best place to hook one was through a spot just over their eyes, a perfect spot that would miss the brain, but be secured by the bone of it's little skull. He would ask me, "would you like to be hooked through the eyes, Nick?" or, "how would you like to be fed to something bigger than you?"

Of course the thought of a hook through my skull horrified me—I was four years old. But I'd heard it too often. I'd tell him that I would like it. I wanted to be spit on a hook. I shook my head up and down in childish pre-affirmation of an idea I didn't think would come to pass, but that brand of positive thinking never worked with him, or anyone else. If I bothered him too much about the subject, I would get hit. But sometimes I didn't care about that.

I was young, but beginning to understand that there was always a price to pay if you wanted something really bad. Even if that price is metal ripping through your head, or being used as twitching bait for a monster.


When I woke, I ran downstairs as fast as I could, skipping over the broken steps that I knew by heart, on my way down to the breakfast table I knew mother had set.

Bacon and eggs were on. It was a weekend day and I was starving; the rich smell of country breakfast helped not in the least. I felt like I had slept forever.

But when I got to the kitchen, I noticed that the smell was closer to burning bacon and eggs.

My mother sat in the floor, sobbing quietly. She looked up in time for me to see her round normally cheerful face collapse with a sob ripping through her body. Several sheets of paper were splayed in front of her. It took me a moment to realize we were not alone.

A man wearing a long black coat and black framed glasses sat in my father's chair, sipping coffee and looking at me as though he could see my every secret and didn't care for them in the least. I had no idea who he was, but he would tell me.

Soon, I would know more than I could ever have wanted to know.


I was in bed and could not see anything, or even move. I was not at home, that much was apperant by the fuzzy noise of people near by, and the steril smell of rubbing alcohol and iodine that made me think of a hospital. I tried to speak, but my voice was broken, raw thunder, echoing inside my skull.

My head was being crushed under the tread of a tank. Of that, I was certain.

It felt that way, for a while to come. I could see nothing, and it took a day or two to realize my face was bandaged, and my arms and legs restrained. Light glowed reddish and many starred behind my tight veil of gause. Spasms tremmored through the muscles of my legs, from time to time I would feel my stomach tighten as if it would pull itself apart from the strain.

A week later, and this passed. One morning, a nurse pulled the bandages from my eyes and I closed them imediatly to the blinding sunlight pouring in through a window.

"The hero returns to the world. But not so fast..." she trailed off into a laugh that made me feel embarassed over my helpless condition. My arms and legs were still restrained, though the tremors had subsided to small, occasional twitches.

"Do you even remember what you did? What you were a part of? The Germans concentrated on your unit's position long enough to drop their gaurd. The front was pushed back three miles!"

I barely knew what she was talking about.

"You are a hero, Nick" she said. I still could not see her, but felt her nearness with my own aura. "And lucky. Your doctor said the shrappnel should have killed you, but it must have missed anything importnant. It's still in there, if you were wondering. But you should be all right and live a long life without too many complications..." She kept talking for a second, but I wasn't listening anymore. I felt a prick in the skin of my arm as she told me to hold still. A wave of numbness began to pulsate within me. I was blinded by light. I was slipping into being deaf and dumb. The numbness turned to rain falling on my soul, quenching it after the flame.

What I did keep hearing was the word 'hero', over and over. I didn't then feel like a hero, nor would I ever. She laughed and kissed my cheek before she walked away from me. My sight was returning, but only by the barest increments. Slowly, I began to realize what exactly I was:

A worm in uniform; a minnow hooked through the head for god and country and a three mile stretch of blasted and scarred no man's land.


They were marrried in June, my mother and the coroner. My father had been shot and killed as he was walking home from a bar the night before the coroner visited our house, my mom would latter tell me. The gunman fled to Canada and was never found.

Mother was married three months later to the very messenger of death who brought news of his passing.


It wasn't so bad. Being thought of as a hero. There were glasses of brandy and long walks with one of the many nurses out into the rare feilds of remaining trees in this foreign land. Yellow flowers spotted with red dots like blood sprouted up here and there to remind evryone of the cost of this land.

And there was my new friend, born of flowers and refined through the ages, since the time of Alexander and before. This friend could be a pain to find, but had a great talent. A needle, a turnocate and a spare hand were all you needed to meet this friend. His name was Morphine and he met me in the hospital, as I suffered silently. At first, though, I thought I had met God, so I told him all of my secrets in one night, gave him the keys to my soul and smiled until I awoke.

Slowly, I would realize I had been mistaken.


I often asked my mother's new husband about fishing, but he said he had never been before. He said he was a distant couzen of the Astor familly and nobody in high society would ever touch a worm, let alone be on a boat with one.

He was a coroner and was busy with the business of death, its cloying smell imbeded in his clothes, part of his person. But he also owned a farm that raised chickens and slaughtered them.

When I was 10 years old, my mother first made me work there. I was given an easy job: pushing the congealed blood pockets from the crevasses of chicken thighs. "This part will make you sick if you eat it", the old slaughter house floor manager said. "If you don't do a good job, Hiram and your momma said I could whoop you a good one until you did learn it good."

Hiram. Momma. Niether of them were names I knew the persons by. But in this case, they were being used as the names of God himself, over my flesh.

I would be beaten six times that first week, and not once did the coroner or mother ask me what the bruises on my face where from, or why. They only told me to be quiet at the meal table, as we dine in the presence of the Lord.


It was so tight on my arm, I thought every vein would burst with firey, pounding blood. I tied it in a loose knot and picked up the surynge. Into my blood flowed the river of numbing deceit, of beautiful oblivion--my new wife, my life and soul.

My new god.


There wasn't anywhere to hid but in the mud, in the ground with the rats in the trenches. I had been unable to hear above the din for quite some time, but didn't need that partucular faculty.

I looked up at the horizon. The Germans looked like little gray ants as the mobilized their offensive. Machine guns barked death, and the chlorinous breath of the boatman of souls filled all of our bodies with nauseating dread.

I lifted my rifle. I would fire one bullet, then reload. How could I make a difference. I took aim at the machine gun nest, just over the muzzle flash I was aiming. Then over a rise, like a storm raging in from the sea, came a hardened face in grey uniform. He was only ten yards from me and more were behind him. He held his gum out in front of him, like an extension of his hands, pointing at everything he looked at.

The bullet wound he recieved looked like a third eye sprouting from his forehead. My gun was empty, and I still felt no difference had been made.

Artillery shells exploded around us. The only warning, a screaming second--it was all that told living that they would soon be no more on the earth.


"Wake up, hero."

A booted foot kicked me in the side, sending me into an instinctive fetal position. I opened my eyes. I was on the cold stone floor of this small room, bars hemming me in. Above me, the uniformed worm who kicked me smiled, his badge gleaming with little help from the dim lights behind him.

"Stand up," he said, holding his boot in the ready position of a football punter.

I tried to stand, but fell from shaking limbs. I needed to talk to god, to gather the numbness to my heart, but that was over.


His boot slammed into my side again, and I felt a rib or two pop in sympathy. I doubled over on my knees. "Well, what did you expect. That we would be nice to you for killing your father?"

"He's not my father," I barely said this above a whisper, through the fire burning my sides, my entire body, my mind, my soul. They felt like the first words I had spoken in weeks--they were, actually. I wondered who my voice was, it sounded so strange and raspy in the dead quiet of the basement cell.

The officer didn't care. He looked down at me, like a young boy looking at a bug he just crushed to death with his god-like foot.

"You think you're in pain now? Just wait until tonight, dope fiend."

He slammed the door to my cell, spit through the bars onto me and walked down what sounded like a very long corridor, a tunnel that I could imagine a light shining from. But I could only imagine it. Really, there was no light at all, except for the last traces left in my heart.

In the distance, echoing down the corridor, I here one last door slam closed. I had been torn, not quite in half, but mortally enough. There was nothing left but me, the pain, and a place where god once was.

a quiet prayer from a pizza man said...

whatever demon possessed me to write this, let him begone!

Until I need him after work, tonight after 1:00 am. Then it can have my soul for just a bit longer.

God, don't let the demon do a thing except help me to write out my horror. Otherwise, I don't consort with demons. That would be bad.

lost sheep said...

what do youn think for a title, m?
I'm shaking from endorphines and have to drive soon. Anyone can chime in, if they like.

Ernest Carver said...

yes, I write this thing in that tiny little box, all in one sitting. That should explain the "big fat suck" quality that it has.

Susan Miller said...

Sweet innocence.