Chapter 12: My First Friend

12

My First Friend

When I entered the public life of public school, I noticeably became a loner—that kid at the edge of the playground studying her shoes or walking back and forth on the periphery as if in some invisible cage. The first friend I ever made on my own was Ouida St. John.  We were in the same mathematics class and shared the distinction of being the only students in the class who had only a rudimentary clue about the subject matter no matter how hard we worked on our homework.  Somehow we migrated—perhaps the teacher migrated us—to the back of the room, and as long as we were quiet there, the teacher, who had openly given up on us, let us do as we pleased.  So we passed notes—Ouida’s were almost impossible to decipher—or, when other students were engaged in noisy math games, we chatted without fear of getting black marks for conduct.

Ouida was the most fascinating person I had ever seen.  She had red hair that was so thick that it was often matted—now that I think about it, she looked like an uncoifed and otherwise unkempt Little Orphan Annie.  She had large eyes that were the color green that you sometimes see in opals.  She lived on the Gold Coast, an isolated and impoverished area of town near the river—when we had to drive through the Gold Coast, Matu always made us check to see if our doors were locked.  And if that wasn’t enough to make her an impressive character, for I thought of her as living a kind of frontier life, I learned also that her mother did not make her bathe every day and brushed her hair for exactly two minutes and then stopped whether it was tangled or lopsided or not.  But what made her most impressive was that her father had once seen the devil in the family bathroom.

Ouida was rather blasé about the devil, but she was afraid of all domestic animals, especially dogs, and thus extremely impressed that I had a dog named Wolf.  I could have told her that Wolf was so extremely gentle and good-natured and smart that he had practically been my nanny, and since he was very old in dog years by then, he didn’t even get around very well anymore.  However, I was desirous of impressing Ouida, and in my first foray into outright lying, I told her that Wolf had killed my parents when I was a baby and had raised me in the woods until I was five years old and a band of gypsies found me and took me to Matu to raise.

I didn’t want to let on that her father’s sighting of the devil was extremely thrillingly scary to me, so I stretched out my questions about the event, nonchalantly asking how tall the devil was (about three feet), what color he was (the color of cooked crab), and how he behaved (he just stood there and shimmied).  I suppose that she was doing the same thing, for her questions about my life with Wolf always cropped up a bit too casually. At any rate, I wanted to keep close to Ouida in case the devil showed up again and had something to say this time.  After pestering Matu about it for weeks, I was allowed—probably because Matu was distracted–to invite Ouida home with me after school.

As we gangled up the walkway to the house, Matu stepped out to greet us and looked as if she had been slapped.  But Matu could regain her composure more quickly than most and smiled at Ouida and welcomed her. Quida was careless and managed to knock several things over within a few minutes of entering the house.  She took one look at Wolf and screamed bloody murder, which sent Wolf up to my room where I later found him under the bed.  When Matu gave us a snack at the kitchen table, Ouida chewed with her mouth open, smacked her food, and wiped her mouth with her forearm.  Later she reared back and let out a long, multifaceted belch followed by a sigh of satisfaction.  These things—which only added to her mystique and my admiration—must have driven Matu wild.  I noticed that when Matu was leaving us to our “tea” she raised her hands head high, palms inward and slightly shook them.  I had no idea what that might signify, though I was to learn what it signified thoroughly and at length later that evening.

When we drove Ouida home, I could probably have heard Matu grinding her teeth if I had not been sitting in the backseat so thoroughly engaged in a discussion with Ouida about the offspring of humans who had mated with bears and foxes and the recent abduction by aliens of one of her neighbors.  (Ouida was a regular font of things such as these).  As we drove up a narrow muddy potholed road to her house, her mother stepped out onto the sagging porch, and while I saw a glamorous exotic woman, Matu, I’m sure, saw a disheveled painted whore.  Ouida got out of the car with her heavy book bag and her mother shouted, “Where the fuck have you been you little bitch?!”  I was so unaccustomed to hearing such language that I leaned up toward Matu and asked, “Is she talking in French?”  But even as the question left my lips, I didn’t need to know the words to understand their attitude and intent, and I was gripped with fear that Ouida’s mother might hit her or knock her down.  She didn’t (although, Ouida reported to me, she did both several times later).  Instead she walked up to the car, grinning with a big fuchsia-pink mouth and gray teeth and said to Matu, “Why, Miz Ridley, I didn’t know my girl’s with you.  I worry so when she’s not home to do her chores.”  Matu muttered something—I thought perhaps she was speaking in French—and the woman nodded and headed back to where Ouida was waving from the porch, and we slowly pulled away.  When we got onto the main road, Matu began to drive much faster than I had ever seen her drive before.  She was also in a rare state for her: speechlessness.  I wondered how, if Ouida in fact had not told her mother where she would be, her mother knew Matu’s name.

Matu and I had several rounds about whether I could go to Ouida’s house or Ouida could return to mine.  Nothing she could say about Ouida’s parents or where Ouida lived could impeach the character of my friend in my eyes.  And Matu didn’t have the high moral ground on this one either.  She was caught between her notions of social hierarchy and propriety and “breeding”– after all, the laudatory phrase “well bred” carries with it the notion that the only excuse for bad manners and bad thoughts is congenital defect–and her ostensible belief in the things we were taught about social equality in church, where we were told that Jesus loves the little children of the world red and yellow black and white, and in school, where we learned that all men are created equal.  Matu couldn’t quite find a way to reconcile these things to my satisfaction, and I was as stubborn as she was, thought not as practiced at it.

What could Matu do?  If she thwarted our friendship, she would have to defend her actions in ways that directly conflicted with the moral standards she proclaimed to adhere to.  If she allowed our friendship to develop in its own way, Ouida and I might tire of each other as we grew and changed, but Matu would have thought that improbable.  She knew that my affections were true and strong and all the stronger for being seldom bestowed.  No, she would have thought it most probable that Ouida would be more and more in our lives—birthdays, holidays, perhaps even vacations—and that it would then become her duty to teach Ouida proper manners and so forth and thus, in effect, by letting me be friends with Ouida, she would have yet another child to raise.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter in this case, although conflicts of this nature would repeatedly rise up as the years passed.  Matu was freed from whatever quandary she was caught in when Ouida’s mother was found stabbed in a motel and Ouida was whisked off by a distant relative to live in another state.  We corresponded a few times, and I treasured every belabored and smudged letter.  But my fascination with Quida could not withstand distance—particularly distance from the site of the sighting of Satan—and I never knew what became of her, nor she me.

ooo

 

 

© 2021

 

Mind-the-Blanks 1

. . . a story to play with–the story emerges from what the reader’s mind does with the blanks when the reader is reading. No rules–it’s playtime.

The Couple

Two people, time, places, words, police . . .

Even before they were seated at __________, they started __________. They __________ about __________, but they both knew that what they were really __________ about was __________.

As usual, __________ claimed that __________, was __________. Then __________ claimed that that claim was totally __________ because __________ had actually __________.

“Don’t start,” __________ said and added, as usual, “Why do you always __________.”

And __________, as usual, responded by pointing out that __________ was the one who always __________. (And __________ never could resist adding that __________ was also __________.)

As usual, they were getting __________, and people nearby were __________. But what did they care? As far as they were concerned, they were __________, and other people were just __________. They never thought of themselves separately or together as __________ which, of course, was part of the problem whenever they __________.

The year before __________ had been in __________ for __________. During that time, __________ had __________, and __________ had never forgiven __________ for __________. In fact, __________ thought that __________ could not be __________ enough for __________ and started __________ every time they __________.

“Don’t think you can go on __________,” __________ said almost daily.

And __________ usually responded by saying, “I wish I were still __________ so you would just __________ about this and let me __________.”

And then __________ usually, sometimes rather too __________, said, “__________   __________.”

And so they had reached a kind of __________ when __________ found out that __________ had __________. The thought of this was so __________ that __________ could not __________ and instead of __________ proceeded to __________ at every opportunity, and such opportunities abounded because __________ simply refused to __________.

At night, __________ often dreamed that __________ and awoke to discover that __________. Of course, __________ thought that __________ was responsible for __________. But what bothered __________ the most was __________ failure to __________ when the opportunity arose.

For months, early (too early) every morning, __________ sat in the __________ looking at __________ and thinking __________had really __________ things up this time.

And so it was that things got so __________ that __________ began to devise __________ plans to __________ with __________ even though, as any sensible person would know, __________ would never __________ and any attempt to __________ would only __________ the __________.

Later on (but probably not later enough), when __________ was being __________ by the police in a rather __________ manner, __________ would put on a __________ face and assert that __________ was in fact __________ and had been attempting to __________ the __________ when it __________. Of course, __________ didn’t believe that __________ had __________, but played along with __________ hoping for __________ that was never __________.

And never would be.

Never Can Tell

Natl Archv Ranger Daughter Axe mod 3

A man with an axe and a girl, a forest ranger and his daughter, he seems focused on the axe, she’s looking on in that polite but hanging-back-in-your-mind way that kids look on when adults are making you look at something and never telling you why they want you to or why you have to sit there and be still until whatever it is they’re not really explaining to you is over, I just came out here because Mama wants me to ask if he wants coffee in a thermos, those tadpoles down in the creek yesterday hope they’re still there wonder if they’re frogs yet, maybe he’s working his way around to saying something about me scaring the bejesus out of Yaya last night, really shouldn’t have done that, wood feels good on my feet, warm, smooth, why is he all closed up over that thing like he’s glued to it or like it might fly off on its own if he doesn’t wrangle it down or something?

He’s working on the axe in an acting-ordinary kind of way, but he’s a little wound up, he’s trying to figure out how to say what he has to tell her, but every way he runs it by in his head it’s just too Continue reading

Tend

flagstaff protected night sky nasa fin tend 2 cmpr

Nothing much has changed since you’ve been gone.

We’ve still been unable to locate the source of that relentless banging and drilling noise. Current theories in the Moonlight Bar, the place from whence all theories emanate, are that it’s a collective hallucination or a broadcast from some ubiquitous and invisible truck or car from out of town or outer space.

As usual the move from one speculation to another causes some kind of spooky resonance that makes all prior speculation seem true so by the time speculation begins to look like explanation what prompted the speculation in the first place is so far removed as to be unrecognizable.

Tourists still come ashore and shuffle glumly to the mounds where they think the temples were. They complain about the heat as if we created it and they want to chastise us for poor climate design, or, more like, for living in a place where they think it’s too hot for better sorts of persons such as themselves to live.

Still, sometimes some one of them will flourish in our climate and will stay behind, belonging here as we do because they don’t belong anywhere else–like you did when you loved us, if you ever really loved us. If you did.

Shortly after you left, the factory shut down, the company’s buildings and our fields were still smoldering as they sailed away. Perhaps they feared we’d somehow fashion ourselves into rivals with the sticks and broken rakes they left behind. Now we tend weeds and water stones, so even though the baas is gone, the baas is still here.

Last week the bishop manifested in our little town to tell us that we bring our troubles on ourselves, that our current sad state is some kind of delayed aftermath of original sin and a multitude of subsequent transgressions and maybe even more recent transgressions yet to be brought to light.

Late at night when everyone’s asleep so deep you cannot even see them in their beds, I wander the beach. Out there alone, I am my own continent, I lie down on the sand and look up, and imagine I am some amorphous massless creature wandering forever through cold space, yearning for another lonely creature, maybe a mate.

We looked for you everywhere, how could you leave us everyone said, surely you’d never leave us, you must have drowned in the sea, you must have been snatched up and carried away by some fearsome beast from the forest, you must have been abducted by the aliens. I’m the only one who knows you took your clothes and my cash.

Don’t think even for a minute that I can’t sleep without you or that I still wonder where you are or that I wonder if wherever you are you look up at night and see the same stars I see.

I don’t.

_________________________
image: small detail from Astronomy Photo of the Day 06 April 2008: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap080416.html.

Face

We hope this friendliness will guarantee a future without details.

This is the part where we become not exactly friends, but friendly, or, rather, we enact friendliness. This enacting is some way of having a face for each other that is not the face we have for each other. That face doesn’t know what to do. Or, rather, that face knows things to do but those things are too unseemly or unruly to be done.

This face—the face of our friendliness–knows what to do because it knows nothing. It’s rather like the face one of us had when one of us found out, the open face with a door closing behind it, or the face that pulls some sort of amnesia along behind it, keeping its luggage with it at all times and not agreeing to carry something in it for a perfect stranger.

In retrospect, it’s astonishing how alike those faces are—the face of the one finding out, the face of the one being found out. Though, of course, the one being found out had been wearing that face for some time, a rather long time in fact.

This friendliness itself is a tacit agreement, a step-down, a pact without details. We hope this friendliness will guarantee a future without details.

If one of us thinks this friendliness is a truce, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us thinks it’s like let’s do lunch, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us in the future thinks help me move my furniture, one of us doesn’t understand. If one of us in the future thinks take care of the cat while I’m in the hospital, one of us doesn’t understand.

If one of us keeps mementos of a past us and the other one of us discovers the thumbed box, the thumbed photos, the thumbed postcard from twenty years ago, the lock of hair, that one, the discovering one, will be alarmed.

If one of us just happens to be passing by some trash receptacle in which the other of us has deposited, say, something that had formerly been valued—apparently valued—as a shared object—that perfectly good painting, for example–that one of us just passing by and just noticing might also be alarmed. This is why friendliness must be enacted in public where it will bear no resemblance to evisceration.

Violations of this friendliness will require the invocation of busy-ness and absence, so friendliness establishes busy-ness and absence in advance, a general kind of busy-ness and absence, a future state of things already beyond one’s control that insures the stateless state of the present.

The face of this friendliness is like a mirror that doesn’t reflect anything. It is something that cannot be studied or searched for anything other than its general look of interest or goodwill. It is the face from behind which one can say things like you poor thing how terrible! or that’s great news! that’s really wonderful!

It’s a face one thought oneself incapable of, there’s always so much cheerful sweeping up behind it.

Wet

Ito mer compr

A woman washes up on a lonely stretch of beach. The sun is barely up. Three men are passing by on their way to do some surf casting. She asks them what town they’re in, they look at her and quickly look away, she asks them for a drink of water and, of all things, a cigarette, they’ve got no time for female foolishness, they ignore her and walk on, their minds have gone on ahead to where they’re going.

Although the don’t-look-and-it-won’t-exist method of managing reality does sometimes work, in general, it’s just not good not to assist drowned women regardless of where they are or what they ask you for. If no kindness meets them on land, they are stuck there for years and years living again as ordinary women. More or less.

Give them wine, give them something to dry off with, be a friend, and they can go back to the water and you can go back to your life. But some men see a shitload of trouble when a woman suddenly rises up out of the sea. They don’t know what trouble is. Continue reading

Something to Love

The sadness of the family goes away when
you give up on your parents’ happiness.
Not far at first, it just moves in with
a family down the street–you see it
on their doorstep waiting for the dad
to get home. Kids at school think it’s your
cousin, looks kinda like you, you say
so what. Later it seems gone for good,
but then one day you’re riding in that
swaying endless station wagon, counting
phone poles and potholes and there it is:
looking all lonely, kicking weeds
in an empty lot. “Look, look!” your
mother hollers backing up and
looking back, and you see it
big as sunshine on her face:
she misses it, she misses that sadness,
she wishes it would come home.
Now you know that if it did,
she’d have something she could love.

pontiac ad pontiacsonline bw flp fin

Something Like

way home sky crp rszd

where you were there were no final trains, the station
occupied by cruising thugs, a man with a big broom, a clock
you can hear ticking whenever there’s a hole in the noise,
the kind of place where there’s lots of pacing back and forth,
there’s a guy over in a corner throwing up, and you are
watching your hands, marveling at how still they are
when you are just quaking inside, and you look up and

see the dead friend you’ve seen several times since he died,
sometimes carrying a suitcase, just as he must have
on his way to that last plane, sometimes looking
straight at you, even smiling, before disappearing, crossing
a street you’re not crossing or getting on a train you’re
not getting on or just passing blithely by or through
someplace where you are like now, snap out of it

so which world was it you were in the night you unscrewed
the backs of every appliance in the apartment, only to discover
they had no inner workings, and that, moreover, electricity
was an illusion and small mammals were running all
major corporate-type entities– and it didn’t stop there,
the engine in your car was a cardboard mock-up
even a kid would find unconvincing

suddenly, there was no North Pole, a news flash that
disappeared into the flotsam and jetsam, news folk
reading tweets from all and sundry, the same tweets
a few beats ahead projected onto screens behind them and
also crawling across the bottom of the screen, like
maybe they’d mean something in triplicate, the world
contracted into a tiny place
where everything is exciting news, so nothing is exciting,
nothing is news, where all reference refers to itself,
where intention just gets worn out with iteration,
where anything not now this just doesn’t exist

and that’s not even to mention the funny fuel —you could
bathe in it and get high from it at the same time,
light your way down a hallway and torch your house,
such an all-purpose substance, making the stars all
wavy in the sky like that, so intoxicating you wanted
to become a machine just to have it inside you,
invisible too, woo

ok yeah, there were probably some things left in the world
to wonder or worry about, but we had ceased to care what they
might be which kept us safe from knowing what they were
in a way that not wanting to know would not have, since
not wanting to know things (as opposed to not giving a fuck)
always seems to bring them on, as if the emptiness of
the place where you could know things attracts anything that
will fill it up, and since good things skip through
your back yard or down your street only when
you are not home, what would probably fill up

that rather poorly patrolled place of not knowing would be
all kinds of random maybe even evil shit that you’d have to
leave the planet to get away from, or maybe even some random
something that you didn’t know you didn’t want to know
because you could not even imagine it or imagine what
not knowing it would involve because, for example, you are
now trekking or trudging or gliding on with it

yeah, getting away with it, something like life

The Secret Animal

bamboo rad crop - mod 3 cmcRichard Devroe became fascinated with little things when he was four years old and his parents died.  His Aunt Rebecca told him to sit quietly in the entryway of the house before the memorial service, and all he knew was that his mother and father had gone up into the air in an airplane and disappeared.  Sitting in a hard, dark chair, he vaguely construed the scene as one of waiting for his parents’ return despite what his aunt had told him.  She had said that they were “never coming back,” but waiting here alone like this, Richard began to take that as meaning that they were somehow invisible now, that they would come back but he might not know it.

He tried to recall his parents’ faces and hands.  He could almost conjure up the feeling of being spoken to and touched in a comforting way, not like now with Aunt Becca, whose perfunctory affection only momentarily reeled him in from wherever he was drifting.  His parents’ presence had always put him solidly in place in the world.  Now there was nothing but this chair drifting in a narrow room, and the experience of his own yearning to be elsewhere, where they were.  While the clock on the wall behind him clicked off an eternity of seconds, he stared at a shaft of sunlight that came in through the window in the door and made a small golden pool of light on the floor near him.  If his parents were invisible, they must be even smaller than the dancing motes of dust in that shaft of light.  Then Richard Devroe tried to wish himself as small as things would be if they were never coming back but nonetheless returned.

Though Aunt Rebecca was not cruel, she was extremely high-strung and self-involved and could thus be brutally dismissive, and she considered child-rearing a process of enforcing quiet, polite behavior.  Thus, in the months that followed Richard’s moment of enlightenment, he had plenty of time to meditate solemnly on modes of existence unavailable to the untrained eye.  Continue reading

Supernatural

dover fairy crop grainy midtn 2 tint 2

It started, as all such things purportedly start, on an otherwise ordinary day several weeks ago when someone’s border collie transformed—without warning—into a moderately good-looking man with whom that someone began spending all her time all over the house engaged in what the local paper referred to as “questionable activities” until someone discovered what was going on when she didn’t show up for work three days in a row (like, why did it take three days to start wondering) and a relative of hers who is a policeman was convinced, probably without very much encouragement, to kick open her locked back door and inspect the premises.

Then an encampment of demons—membranous wings and leathery codpieces and brassieres, the whole bit—suddenly sprang up in the fields and pastures just outside town, alarming farmers who attempted to spray them away with huge hoses and failing in that took up their pitchforks—yes, pitchforks—and other rustic implements and attempted to no avail to chase them Continue reading

Nail the Tale

Seven Parts: I. How About a Smaller Weapon; II. That Intermittent Rewards Thing; III. The Badness of the Aftermath of Badness; IV. How About Some Women in a Cave; V. A Spy from the Man Tribe; VI. How About some Men in a Boat; VII. Evil Men-Like Creatures in Caves.
Seven characters in search of a story: Art, Bert, Cris, Dave, Eddie, Frankie, Greta. Plus one guy who texts through Part I and departs in Part II, and one totally absent character: Mikey, who may or may not be bringing lunch.
Around a table. Talking. Cross-talking. Talking over. They’ve been at this awhile. They’re getting hungry.

Part I: How About a Smaller Weapon?

Art: We can’t have a kid killing his mother with a machine gun.

Bert: OK. How about a smaller weapon?

Cris: I don’t think the weapon is what’s bothering him.

Bert: What? The mother part bugs you?

Dave: How about somebody else’s mother?

Eddie: Or an evil step-parent?

Frankie: An evil supernatural step-parent.

Eddie: Or maybe another relative? An evil supernatural cousin.

Frankie: Or an evil supernatural twin.

Greta: Or an accident?

Bert: Accidental killing. Dogs him around, makes him do things. Drinking, smoking, compensating.

Art: Nothing involving a machine gun is accidental.

Cris: Increasingly desperate and fucked-up compensating.

Eddie: Oooh. Same flashbacks over and over.

Greta: And over… What? I didn’t really say anything, I’m just writing down whatever you guys say.

Dave: What if flashbacks changed in slightly different ways until they became the story and the present ceased to exist because it was in the future?

Greta: Are you high? Continue reading

Haunt

They make you think you are dead. When you enter a room, nothing is happening, you speak and suddenly everyone lives in a world without sound. It’s almost corny like those movies in which ghosts don’t know they’re dead, daily life goes on, but people see right through you, you can holler or stamp your feet or try to flag somebody down, it doesn’t matter. Nothing can compensate for that, not even walking through walls, not such a neat trick when there’s nobody who will see you do it.

Other things seem smaller but take so much more doing—rattling things, opening cabinets, moving stuff around, all to no avail. Who’d have thought a tomb could be made from someone’s disregard. It somehow binds you to a spot—you’re not there, but you belong to the place, you don’t exist, but there you are, and there’s no place else for you.

You make a little chaos, but by now you’re frantic and pissed off—maybe you don’t, in fact, exist–and a little chaos isn’t as fulfilling as bringing the house down would be. You think. You will never be like the wind, known by its effects, though you could possibly be mistaken for the wind when you blow through a room. Someone can stand on top of you, but all you do is make them cold. Something you’d never expect in life, this shunning, this banishment, this invisibility.

On the other side of things, perhaps it’s hard to do, to pretend someone else doesn’t exist until you believe it or feel justified in believing it. But pretend absence inscribes a presence, the ghost you make goes with you wherever you go, even if you are always turning the petrified side of your heart toward it, it drains something of your life away. Thus this shunning becomes a kind of deathly binding.

You seek places where you won’t have to feel invisible–what a relief finally to occupy places where no one lingers: under beds, in closets, cupboards, attics. Living this underside kind of life does have its peaceful appeal. Still, it’s probably not as tricky as that implacable hostility that can deny what it is simply by making you disappear. All that spectral tapping while you are screaming I am here I’m alive I’m alive.