February Rain

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I don’t think I’ll live through this,

He told his friend as they watched the cold rain

Glisten under the oversized fluorescents outside the window.

What?

Life.

A car pulled up to the service island dinging the bell.

His friend pulled on gloves and headed for the door.

May there never come a time when you say that with relief

Instead of dread, he said with a wink as he ducked out into the weather.

The Boy Called Circo

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The drip pot vibrated at a boil on the stovetop.

“Gramma, can I have a coffee?”

She poured it, burnt thick and black, into a shallow cup and pushed the sugar toward him. He fiddled with the spoon that was formed with a small spout on the end as if dumping a spoonful of sugar into a cup was somehow old fashioned. She liked the new things, his Gramma. Even if she horded them all in her little garage apartment across the patio from the family’s grand house.

His name was actually Tomasso or Tommy to those outside his neighborhood, but since he never left the neighborhood as a child it didn’t matter. His given name didn’t matter either as his great grandfather had renamed him.

“Why did Pap-pap call me Circo?”

“Oh he used to laugh when you around. You was always run-you was always jump-you…”searching for the word “….tumble around the yard like in a circus! He laugh and laugh. Said you like a Circo. ‘Circus’. So he call you Circo.”

“I wished he would have called me Tommy-like my name. Everybody calls me Circo now.”

“Every cat in the alley named Tom. You Circo. Better.”

“Some people laugh…like Circo is a joke.”

“They laugh at you, you stop them, huh? You know how to make them stop laugh.”

He waved away her pointing finger. “Alright. It’s alright…”He shifted away from where the .38 dug into his thick waist.

“Who you gone see today?”

“Vinnie, and Joe up on the hill. Then Robert and Shack”. Shack Moran’s real name was Jacques from his French mother. Once he was out of the house he thought life would be much easier as “Shack” so Jacques Moran ceased to be. Until that morning in the not too distant future when a dead body was fished out of the river near the mill outflow pipe. All the reporters then called him “Jacques” in a formal rolling pronunciation and nobody knew who they were talking about. Except for Circo. He knew.

“Circo. You wanna eat?”

“No Gram…” The little man slid off of the chair and looked out the window at the house trying to see if anyone was watching. It was too bright outside-made spying into dark windows impossible. He had parked two alleys away and walked though yards so nobody passing would see his car. But there was only one way in-up the front steps that anyone who was looking from the house could see. He could picture his mother at the kitchen table, smoking and watching her door-keeping track of who came and went. Couldn’t do anything about it now. He was here-and he had to leave.

It wasn’t until they found Shack dead in the river that people began to call him Tommy.

In Praise of the Small…

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Cause some days there’s naught to do but sit on the river in the rain

“When this twentieth century of ours became obsessed with a passion for mere size, what was lost sight of was the ancient wisdom that the emotions have their own standards of judgment and their own sense of scale. In the emotional world a small thing can touch the heart and the imagination every bit as much as something impressively gigantic; a fine phrase is as good as an epic, and a small brook in the quiet of a wood can have its say with a voice more profound than the thunder of any cataract. Who would live happily in the country must be wisely prepared to take great pleasure in little things.

Country living is a pageant of Nature and the year; it can no more stay fixed than a movement in music, and as the seasons pass, they enrich life far more with little things than with great, with remembered moments rather than the slower hours. A gold and scarlet leaf floating solitary on the clear, black water of the morning rain barrel can catch the emotion of a whole season, and chimney smoke blowing across the winter moon can be a symbol of all that is mysterious in human life.”

-Henry Beston from “Northern Farm”

Lifted from brainpickings.org

Sweet James – The Letter

Our story started here

“Dear James”, it began…”I trust you remember our previous dealings, if not fondly, at least warmly enough to continue reading. I’ve heard (yes, one can never travel far enough to out-distance tales of home!) that you are currently without engagement. If that is true (and if it’s not I’ll have to give my sources a good talking to!) I have need of a man with your considerable talents and temperament. The man that I entrusted with the responsibility of the grounds at Goosington…”

James snorted and almost lost a mouthful of Scotch. He couldn’t believe she hadn’t changed the name of that pile of bricks. Around town they simply called it ‘The Manor’, ‘The Manse’ or the less charitable ‘Duck Town’…’The Asylum’…the names went on.

He went back to the letter. “…the responsibility of the grounds at Goosington has fled. As far as I can tell from here he’s completely run off-absconded with the money left him for the rebuilding of the docks and gone. As to the money, I say ‘Pish!’ but my concern is for the grounds. I trust you remember the gardens and lawns that are so dear to me. I don’t know what state of disrepair the place has been left in or what he has been doing in the six months that I’ve been gone. Indeed, two of the house staff are gone as well and I have to assume that they were in some sort of cahoots! But no matter now. Mrs. Fortescue-who I’m sure you’ll remember-is still there (though I might have a little chat with her upon my return.)”

He leaned back and drained the glass. Mrs. Fortescue. Of course he remembered her. Handsome woman-not young but not old either. She had seemed frozen forever near the top of her forties but in truth could be 10 years younger or older.  He remembered her dancing green eyes and glistening dark hair with only streaked with gray falling in waves to her shoulders. The idea of Caitlin Milan “having a little chat with her” truly gave him pause.

“There is no phone at the villa where I’m currently ensconced”, the letter continued. “Telegraph is down in the town (where I never go) and the post takes forever. Thus we have no time for back and forth correspondence. I will assume that you have accepted my proposal and as soon as you finish your coffee (see, I remember you can’t abide tea!) you will go straightaway to Goosington…”

He chuckled sotto voce like a boy in back of class, “Goosington….”

“…and begin to set the place to right.”

His eyes scanned to the bottom of the page where he found what he was looking for. He glanced at the sum and thought it appropriate-generous even-for the work he imagined having to do. But then he read the line more carefully and realized she had quoted a weekly rate. He would earn this sum times three or four if she took a month coming home?! “Sweet sweat!” he proclaimed.

“You okay over there, James?” Mrs. Sully asked.

“Oh, yes. Very much okay.” He said drilling through the last paragraph.

“Mrs. Fortescue will have an envelope for you with working capital. You will stay in the boat house-the small one, below the main house. It’s compact but has the advantage of being closed to the weather. More a house than boat house. I’ve enclosed a task list that I’d like you to review. Get back to me on the status of these projects by week’s end. Needn’t wait for me. Not for approval. Just get on with it and keep me informed…”

He was so engrossed in the letter and the list that he didn’t notice Mrs. Sully until she was at his elbow. Before he could look up the bottle floated into his vision and settled above his empty glass.

“Just half, Mrs. Sully…”

The woman made a big show of a gasp. “Are ye dying, Sweet James?”

“It seems I have an engagement at Goosington.”

“Ye mean Honkington?” she mocked.

“And it looks as if I might be leaving you.”

“Welp”, she shrugged. “Nothing for me now but to sell the place.”

“You’ll miss me”, he teased lifting his glass.

“More the pitty-pat of little tart feet”, she said sliding back to her perch.

(To be continued)

Pretty James- The Engagement

It would turn out to be an odd engagement that, unsurprisingly, began with an odd interview. The first entreaty came from Caitlin Milan herself in a letter delivered in person by knobby-kneed Mr. Caine the postmaster, directly to Mrs. Sully’s boarding house.

“Good Morning Mrs. Sully”, he sing-songed from behind a walrus mustache sparse enough to resemble nothing so much as a waterfall in drought. “I’ve a missive for James. From Tuscany!” he held up the letter as if just now finding it in his hand. “In Italy.”

Virginia Scully’s glowering squint penetrated the suspended webbing of cigar smoke that encircled her head in the dead air. “I know where’s Tuscany”, she said. “You mook”, she thought. “Leave it here-I’ll put it in his box”. To close the transaction she picked the smoldering cigar from the tea saucer and inhaled deeply.

“Uh…” Mr. Caine dawdled. “I’m sure it’s an important notice. Do you know when he’ll be….”

She looked back at him, shocked he was still in the room. As she opened her mouth to speak, smoke seemed to billow from every open orifice. “There’s twelve boxes here Mr. Caine-twelve boarders who gets their mail through me. All manner of letters, missives and messages. Father’s dying. Mother’s dying. Babies born. Babies dying. Weddings. Divorces. Fortunes made, fortunes lost. All important-all getting to who gots to get them. You can leave it Mr. Caine. It will be attended to.” She popped the cigar back into her mouth.

The little man had begun skittering back toward the door. “Of course, Mrs. Sully. Not for me to tell you how to do your work. I’ll leave it with you…” And he was out the door. She had no sooner settled in for another prodigious huff on her cigar when she was distracted by the clattering of heavy, if tiny, feet on the stairs behind her. Knowing who it was, she continued her smoke without looking back.

“Ewww-I can smell that all the way up in the room” said the florid little brunette. The girl, in her early twenties, was slightly plump and had grown at least a half size beyond the red dress she was trying get one more season out of.

“Since I own the place”, said Virginia Sully puffing like a locomotive, “and you’re only here by the hour, I’m comfortable saying I do as I please.”

“You should have more respect”, the young girl scolded her, “For respectable guests.”

“Find me one under this roof and I’ll lay on the respect like marmalade and honey.”

“Now you’re just being rude. I’ve a mind…”

Virginia Sully pointed the wet cigar butt at the girl. “I’m sure I’ve a large enough wooden spoon back in the kitchen to do the trick if you want to continue telling me what you’ve a mind to.”

“Good bye Mrs. Sully. Until next time.”

“I’ll try to hold my water.”

The young woman was no more out the door than the light dancing tread of James Cooke pattered down the stairs.

“Mrs. Sully-Did you frighten Millicent?”

“Is that her name now? I thought she was born Aileen.”

“That wouldn’t exactly fit her now, do you think?”

She pushed the envelope across the counter. “Letter for you. The pinhead brought it special.”

James looked at it. “Caitlin? From Tuscany?”

“In Italy, don’t you know? Pinhead thought you should know.”

He took a step toward the small round table at the window and stopped. “You wouldn’t have any coffee back there would you?” With elbow on the counter he assumed the pose that brought girls like Aileen Fennick home with him. Not a pose that Virginia Sully had any interest in.

“Don’t you even think of leaning in and giving me that smile, or that twinkle that all the gals fall for. And never while I have a weapon within reach-which I do-throw your hair back like one of those women in the shampoo commercials on the TV. Your dimples are lost on me, Pretty James.”

He smiled slyly. “You know I can’t abide tea.”

“Your failings and perversions are no concern of mine.” She paused long enough for James to begin turning toward the window table. “But I do have something here that you might abide.”

She pulled a bottle of Macallan from under the counter with a small glass that glinted in the sunshine.

“Ahhhh…” sighed James admiringly.

“I’ll pour”, she said filling the glass. “Make it last. The Mister left me some when he went on and I am on ration…” She winked and placed it back behind the counter.

He took the whiskey and the letter to the table by the window where sunlight flowed like maple syrup. He tore it open and began to read.

To be continued…

Lengthening Shadows

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I lit two candles with the wooden matches from the cigar shop. Even with the fog veiled moon hanging over the hill glowing through the windows, the room was dim. It would take a few weeks after daylight savings time to get decent light into my attic again. Two more candles helped.

A few stretches and a (premature) sun salutation and I was ready to begin my tai chi practice. There was no clock but I knew what time I climbed the bare wooden steps. I would have fifty minutes to do my forms-including the sword and cane which had recently been added.

The last conscious thought I had was the word “now…” trailing off to silence swallowed by a deep emptying exhale. As far as I could tell, the first-the short-form went well. It was my strongest having known it the longest. Sometimes, with my mind unavailable to keep track, my body would lose its place and I’d run over the same section again and again like a record needle stuck in a groove. That didn’t happen this morning. As far as I could tell.

In the space between the long form and the sword-when I had to break to pick up and unsheathe the weapon-I felt a little winded. Which was typically not the case in my tai chi practice. This was measured, deliberate, contemplative movement. If I wanted “winded” I go back to sparring or the bag.

My mind wandered to the book I was reading. Haruki Murakami’s writing is to be lingered over. It doesn’t come to you in the words-but in the spaces between. I think there is a notation in music that means “pause” or “breathe”. I can’t guarantee that because the only music class I ever had was in the fifth grade and barely remember. But pauses are as important as anything else. To make space. To allow for slow, total absorption. Lately I’ve been reading too fast; feeling my eyes flowing down the page, running like raindrops down a windshield.

Slow down. Outside the moon was dipping below the front hill but the morning was brightening as the sun rose over the tree line in back. Slow down…even saying it made my heart beat a little faster. Maybe I should masturbate, I said, startled to hear my voice. Living alone I found it sometimes difficult to separate thoughts from words and am surprised when the room echoes to silence after a thought.

I find self-gratification an excellent soporific-not as long lasting as Xanax or some other big-pharma concoction but on the plus side, doesn’t make me crave cold Chardonnay after an hour.

Downstairs the clock told me that all four forms had taken less than forty minutes. Was I running? I made a cup of strong coffee and sat in a chair in the dim house facing away from the sunrise.

“Are you going to work today?” my father asked from the next room.

“Go away”, I ordered. “No ghosts this morning.”

The shadows lengthened.