Before the Fall of Abigail ©


In the beginning it was only the eyes, then it was the warts, but the warts came last and it was the warts that made it difficult. It was troublesome to look into her eyes, as troublesome as it was to look into the sun, but the warts and the sun were things you knew were there, and both were things your eyes avoided. It was natural to look away from the sun or to shield your eyes from its glare, it was expected and thought nothing of, but to avert your eyes from the sadness and fear in her eyes or to shield your glance from hers was thought to be, at first, unnatural and ill-mannered. But it was a necessary reaction. Nothing else could be done. Instinct was to look away. In time, the sadness and fear in her eyes was replaced by confidence, and the confidence was as vulgar and troublesome as the obscene tone her personality had taken.

She was neither Catholic nor religious, so later, after the fear, the wide collared nun’s habit she began favoring was as mysterious as the other changes in Abigail and could only have been a mockery to God.

I forget when she started the candle lighting. It was a subtle change in Abigail; one I hadn’t noticed before it became an obsession with her. She said it was to keep the evil things away. But that was in the beginning, when she was afraid.

Soon after I discovered her obsession with the candles, I found her one evening in her room, sitting on the edge of her bed, in the amber light of a candle which she cradled in her palms. She was rocking herself and whispering repeatedly, “Dear Lord, lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.” Abigail kept the lights out in her room but always a candle was lit. She said it was the only way, and she was afraid then.
When Abigail was no longer afraid and the warts had come in like organic pebbles, she began walking through the low growing ferns and into the forest beyond the house. At first she would stay away for hours, then days. Now she returns only to creep around the yard like an animal or feral beast. A footpath is worn lifeless where she pads about after dark.

Before the fall of Abigail, when things made sense and nights were pleasant, a lit candle meant one thing only – that a candle had been lit. Now it means a thing that is deeper and darker than any I have ever known is near. Why I should sit here in this darkness and invite the evil in I do not know, but still I do it. I sit here now, warts and all, with my hands balled and clasped in my lap, rocking, fighting temptation to extinguish my good candle.

I miss Abigail the way a crying child is missed after the child is sent away to school or the way the sun is missed on a dreary day and realize now, when the sun was bright and high in the sky, I paid it no attention.

I know horror, now that things are bleak, and Abigail is lost to darkness. Oh how I wish I did not know such terror, but I believe there is a wicked thing here in this darkness, and that I must go to it – to be with Abigail.

The Lilies are for His Children ©


Going into the winter months was always worrisome. It was nothing to brood about or to torment oneself over, but now that the snow had come, the old man understood it was to stay for a long while, and it was both worrisome and unwelcome.

The man was ready for the frozen weather ahead. He had pitched enough wood against the back of the house to last until Spring. The wood was piled high next to the door and was covered with a tarp to protect it from the rain that came before the snow. The man always felt sad about burning the wood. He did not feel guilty, only sad – sad because the wood was a thing he had gathered when the weather was nice, and burning the wood made him feel as if he were destroying part of the warm season. He enjoyed the weather then, when it was warm, and wanted to remember it, but not destroy it.

The man did not like the cold cheerless winters, it made his heart ache and his joints stiffen. Also, he was unable to enjoy his garden when the cold months came, and he found it increasingly difficult to visit his children when there was snow.

When the snow came, the hilly path to the children was too icy to climb without the high risk of slipping. Because of this grave concern, the man stayed safely indoors with his heavy books and looked out and thought about what it would be like to be warm again.

When the weather is warm, the man will visit his children, but not before it is mild and the snow has thawed from the path and washed down the incline and into his garden. In the Spring, the man will climb the hilly path to visit his children. He will take with him white and spotless lilies that grow along the back of the vegetable garden. The man will group together two bouquets of lilies and loosely tie the lilies with colored ribbon. The man will take the lilies and leave one bunch each to his children on the hilltop.

In the Spring, when it is warmer, the lilies he will take will be those that seemingly have always grown along the back of the vegetable garden. The lilies grow large and white along the back – the vegetables grow in the front and are more accessible. The lilies are not planted along the rear because they are less important, but because the vegetables are for the living, and the lilies are for his children.

A Farewell to Ernest ©


They spelled Ernest wrong

 

 

In the mornings I would go down to the café for coffee where the girl knew my face and knew I took the coffee black. Hadley and Bumby slept late in those days, but later, after Bumby woke, he and Hadley would come down to join me and we would breakfast in the café and watch the pink tourists glow and carry their things out to the beach. From our room in the hotel next to the café we could look down onto the tables beneath the trees in the courtyard outside the café. Our room was on the third floor and looked out over the gray ocean. The ocean was always gray in that part of the country, but the gray made the blue sky that much richer. In the late afternoons Hadley and I would sit on the balcony outside our room and watch the same, now reddened, middle-aged tourists with their fat-bellied children struggle inland with their family’s vacation supplies in tow. They loaded their surplus into steaming station wagons parked below us in the hotel’s parking spaces. In these late afternoons, Bumby would nap on the bed in the room. Hadley would read in the chair next to mine on the balcony. Sometimes she would read a magazine or open my mail that came into the hotel. I would often write and drink Armagnac poured over iced water. The girl from the café would bring the Armagnac up after I phoned down and asked for her by name. Maybe her name was Marita. I don’t remember her name now, but I knew it then, and I remember liking it. I drank the Armagnac for my health but it did not hurt the writing either. If, while opening the mail, Hadley found a check, she would playfully toss it onto my writing and smile with pride. She would tell me again how proud she was of me and how glad she was for us and for all the money coming in. The checks would always have been deposited already but Hadley liked to think of the checks as trophies that signified an accomplishment. My latest book was in its second printing and an advance had come for the next book. I had a good feeling about my next book. The publisher liked it as well, but it is always difficult to predict how well a book will sell. It is always best to think about such things as little as can be allowed. But it is not always easy to think infrequently of a nice dream. Hadley liked to think the money would last forever, but I knew it could not and I had to start writing again. The short stories came easiest, but in those days, writing the stories made me feel like a whore to the literature. Now I see that it is the short story that is my craft and the novel is best left to better writers such as James and Scott. It was always better to compliment another writer in your own writing, because to compliment another writer in person was considered an insult. We still went under the system, then, that praise to the face was open disgrace. Maybe that has changed with a new generation, but that is the way it was with our lost one.

I no longer have Hadley or Bumby, but I still have the writing and the drinks. Some days I have more drinks than I have writing, but Catherine is understanding. I tell her easy reading is damn hard writing. She laughs. Catherine laughs easily and often. Some days I think I love her, some days I know I do not. Catherine is wise to this and to this she is also understanding. She tells me she loves me and says it is not because I am a writer that she is with me. I believe her. But it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t. Maybe some day I will write about the garden of Eden Catherine and I live in; a garden where it is only the two of us, one loving the other, the other unloved. Although this is mostly untrue, it is how I will write it, because I must write what I know. I know I can never be lonely with Catherine. No matter how cold and rainy the weather is outside, each morning the spring in Catherine’s eyes beats back the cold rain so that it seems it will never arrive. It is unnatural to think the rains will never come, and frightening to think that Catherine’s love may someday fail and let the cold rains come close. When the rains finally come in, I understand it will be because I have failed her. I would stop the rain if I could, but I can not. Someday I am likely to let the cold winter rain destroy our garden. Until then, I still have Catherine, my writing and my drinks – Catherine has no one. Afterwards, I too will have no one and Catherine will have, for what it is worth, only my writings.

Attic ©


In the thick night I hear it scurry across the attic floor above my bed. It is a small light-footed sound, but I can easily hear it when all else is quiet. I hear it gnawing in dark hollow nooks. When it scampers about and its tiny claws brush against my attic floor, I have visions of boot-sized beetles scuttering in the pitch-black dust overhead. If the effort were not so great at those dead hours, I would light a lantern and march wearily up to the attic. But I know how hopelessly impossible it must be to corner a rodent by lantern light.
Last night, in the heavy darkness, the gnawing drove me to such frustration that I foolishly ripped back the bedclothes and pounded the ceiling with an old walking cane that belonged to my father. I stomped about the room in the darkness stabbing the ceiling with the rubbered tip of the cane. The gnawing continued calmly – I angrily desisted. As day broke, I was able to see each place I punched the ceiling with the cane. The rubber tip of the cane has left black, half-circular marks all about the ceiling. The black grins stare down mockingly, taunting me.
I draft these notes with pen to paper and realize now – now that the calming light of morning shines – how similar is the sound of my pen’s scratching to that of the tiny talons in the dark.
I have set tiny traps made from small slats of pine wood and primed them with cheese. The traps were designed in such a way that when an unsuspecting rodent releases a trip that is baited, a spring-loaded lever slams down with tremendous force, crushing the rodent’s skull and killing it instantly. I have set many traps in my attic – but I have retrieved none. Upon each subsequent visit to my attic, in the days that followed, the traps were not to be found. I imagine that perhaps each trap latched onto its victim in some unfortunate way, and was dragged away.

I believe I may have misjudged the creature. Upon a closer listen, I believe the beast in the attic is large, perhaps a squirrel. And it darts about excitedly. Silent and still one moment, then dashing forward quickly the next, the way a cat may pounce upon its prey. Then it is silent again for hours.

Today I set a large cage in the attic. The trap is a cleverly designed device that is sure to win me this battle, and thus this war. This trap is a long wire cage, about an arm’s length long, from shoulder to fingertip. The trap is readied by placing a tempting treat at the rear of the cage where, as by design, the entering beast then steps its weight onto a trip, causing the front opening of the cage to bang shut – capturing the beast. I will sit up tonight, lantern ready, and wait for the crash of the cage door.

I checked the cage in the attic after I had a light breakfast. The cage was empty of bait and the trap remained unsprung. Either the beast was too light to trip the trap, or some other mystery is afoot.

Ha! I am quite the clever one. This evening, before the sun set low, I spread a generous amount of flour in the attic. The flour will be used to capture the prints of the beast, and then I shall know what I am dealing with and thus, how best to rid my attic of its nuisance. It looks as if a soft dusting of snow has fallen. And maybe it has. I was careful to spread the flour on the attic floor as I backed my way out – so as not to disturb the flour. The attic door is a small door, only five feet tall and little more than a foot wide. The door is in an upstairs bedroom. It is an unused bedroom that is directly above my own. I mention this only because I care to keep writing on the matter as I wait for some sudden movement overhead.

I have waited quite long enough and burned my candle low. I will retire disappointed this dull evening but I shall check the flour for prints in the morning.

I have awakened and relit my candle. I am sure I heard bumps in the attic and I would like to note it.
There! Surely I heard it again.
And so much flour on my hands and knees.

I fell asleep at my writing desk with my cheek pressed into my crossed forearms. The sun comes into my bedroom, it seems, from every window at once. Today there is no sun and there is a light rain. I slept later than I thought possible, especially in such an uncomfortable position as at the writing desk. I shall hold the gloomy day accountable for my late hour in rising, and – that I am quite pale with fatigue.

Can you imagine my state of startlement when I discovered the only tracks in the flour to be my own. I was quite sure I had spread the flour out before me and was careful to leave it unmarked as I backed my way from the attic. What a strange sight it was. My own boot prints turned round and round in the flour. Round and round and round. Whatever possessed me to behave so strangely – and have no memory of it. And the hand prints. What the dickens. Had I walked about on my hands as well? Had I made an oath to the devil? I am vexed and in need of rest. I will write more later.

Today I bought rodenticide. I will spread it about the attic and wait. I purchased a large supply as I believe the beast in the attic to be much larger than I had earlier considered. I believe the light-footed beast deceived me in the beginning. But worry not, I have the situation well in hand. And I shall not crack.

I spread the rodenticide evenly in the attic. I believe I let my emotions control my actions. You may think me mad, but it seems I have spread all the poison in the attic, sparing none. I spread much more, I am sure, than was necessary. But it is done.

I am writing less often. Words come with increasing reluctance.

What a wretched night. I slept poorly and have vomited nearly half the morning away.

The rodenticide in the attic is diminishing as rapidly as my sanity. But the beast. Ah yes, the beast in the attic, it crawls about incessantly. Quickly. Slowly. Darting about. Stopping. Day and night. Continually. Round and round and round it creeps.

I have nearly slept the day away. There is a chill, here in the attic.

I believe that man is shuffling about his room again. It is a small light-footed sound. If I stop creeping about and lie very still in the flour, I can easily hear him below. Sometimes I listen for hours. After dark has taken completely, I shall steal down and have a look. I shall pad about cautiously, as not to overcharge him with fear.

Take My Camel Dear ©


When Jesus asked his father whether He could borrow a donkey one morning, his father pointed out that he did not know whether he could trust his son with the donkey, reminding Jesus of that marriage in Cana last month where Jesus performed his cute little stunt – the one where He turned the water into wine. The entire wedding party fell into such a stupendous stupor that no one noticed when Jesus won every gold coin in the church by rolling a dreidel. It was one perfect round of spin-the-dreidel after another. No one even thought it odd. When Jesus was twelve He took his father’s best donkey without asking. This alone wouldn’t have been so bad, but Jesus lost the donkey in a bet with two Roman soldiers. Jesus misunderstood the bet and thought the soldiers meant something else by ass. Now the remaining soldier has two donkeys. This became a point of contention between Jesus and his father for quite some time.

“But father,” Jesus said, “I must get to the temple by noon. I will not make wine. I swear to it. Please let me borrow a burro.”
“Tell me son, why is it so important that you make the temple by noon?”
“I am meeting friends there father, and there is a flea market.”
“A what market son?”
“A flea market father. There will be vendors.”
“And just what do these vendors sell son?”
“Everything father. Goats, sheep, sandals, really really tall walking staffs.”
“Will Judas be there?”
“I do not know father, probably.”
“You understand I do not approve of him?”
“Yes father.”
“There is something about him I do not like.”
“So can I take the donkey?”
“I think it best not son.”
“Ah gee whiz father.”
“Watch your tongue son.”
“Yes father.”
“Take my camel dear,” said Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from her animal.
“That is hardly the point,” said Jesus’ father to his sister.
“Ah Joseph, you are too hard on the boy. He is a good boy, so He likes to dabble a little in the dark arts, what of it.”
“Thank you Aunt Dot. Can I father?”
“Fine, ” said Joseph, “but be home in time to wash lentils.”
“And Jesus,” said Aunt Dot, “please do not turn my camel to dust only to show your friends you can make it live again. The camels are never the same afterwards.” 
“I promise Aunt Dot.”

When Jesus arrived at the temple, Peter, Paul and Mary were waiting for him at the main entrance.
“Nice ride,” said Mary.
“Yeah it’s Aunt Dot’s”
“Can I ride him?” Peter asked.
“Better  not,” Jesus said, “she’s funny about her camel.”
“Turn him to dust,” Paul said.
“I promised my aunt I would not.”
“I bet it’s because you can’t.”
“Can too.”
“Can not.”
“Can!”
“Prove it.”
“I don’t have to prove anything.”
“I think it is because you can’t do it.”
*POOF*
“There,” said Jesus.
The four friends stared at the empty place where the camel had stood moments before.
“Uh oh!” Jesus said.
“That’s a lizard,” Mary said.
“I can see its a lizard,” said Jesus.
“Why did you turn your aunt’s camel into a lizard?” Mary asked.
“I didn’t mean to,” Jesus said.
“I told you He couldn’t turn him to dust,” said Paul.
“I hope your aunt wants a lizard,” Peter said.
“I can fix it,” Jesus said.
But before Jesus or any of the others could react, the lizard darted away, through the entrance and into the temple. 

Peter, Paul, Mary and Jesus all stood dumbfounded before scrambling together after the lizard. They all four reached the entrance at the same time. The friends pushed and shoved one another through the jammed doorway, because that seemed to make more sense than going through one at a time.
Inside, Jesus asked, “Did anyone see where it went?”
“No Jesus, you know why?” Peter asked.
“No, why?”
“Because we were all stuck in the doorway at the same time genius.”
“Well you should have let me go through first.”
“Oh really Jesus, who died and made you king of the Jews?” said Paul.
“Come on,” Mary said, “let’s find Jesus’ camel, er.. well, lizard, that is.”

The temple was large, loud and crowded and any chance of finding the lizard was fading rapidly. People walked by alone and in groups. The people who walked by in groups did not watch for lizards as they stepped. And neither did the people who walked by alone.

“We have to get everyone out if we have any chance of finding the lizard,” Mary said.
“And how do you propose we do that,” asked Jesus.
“I don’t know,” Mary said, “you’re the Messiah. Haven’t you any ideas?”
“FIRE FIRE FIRE!” screamed Paul. “FIRE FIRE!”
“Oh Jesus,” Peter said.
“What?” asked Jesus
“Nothing – just an expression.”
“Oh.”
“Paul is right,” said Mary, “we have to get these people out.”
“Can you not just make another camel?” Peter asked.
“Aunt Dot will know. Don’t ask,” said Jesus.

Peter, Mary and Jesus joined Paul in screaming FIRE in the crowded temple. People ran in every direction at once. Jesus ran down the center aisle of the temple tipping tables and thrashing about madly searching for Aunt Dot’s camel that is a lizard. It took only a minute before the panicking people realized there was no fire. So they stopped panicking and watched Jesus tear through the center of the temple like a crazed fool. Even Peter, Paul and Mary stopped to watch as Jesus continued to destroy the temple and to scream FIRE! When Jesus realized He was the only one screaming FIRE, He stopped too. 
“Awkward,” Jesus whispered under his breath.
“That was  A W E S O M E,” Peter said.
“His father is going to be soooo mad,” Mary said.
“Fire,” Paul said with timidity, “fire.”

“I can explain,” Jesus said, “but I’d rather not.”

The people of the temple were angry at Jesus but Jesus assured them if they tore the temple down, He would rebuild it in three days. Then He left the temple in favor of the brutal desert sun. Outside, there in the dust was the lizard. Or at least it was a lizard. The friends agreed it probably did not matter whether it was the same lizard.  

The people tore down the temple, but Jesus did not return to rebuild it. Maybe He was speaking symbolically. Or He was grounded. Shrug.