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.”
“Prove it.”
“I don’t have to prove anything.”
“I think it is because you can’t do it.”
“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.”
“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. 

Her Two Ralphs ©

Ralph is a most acrimonious and disagreeable man. His rude and self-absorbed attitude is aggressive and coarse and his personality is charged with unpleasantries. He is ill-natured and terse – and he hates the color green. He is jaundiced and bitter and his acerbity is tiresome and offensive. In point, although Ralph is angry and indignant, he hasn’t always been unlikeable, and he was even loved – once.

Ralph Ellison drives a delivery truck for Buck’s Hardware Store. Ralph delivers paint and home-repair products to Buck’s larger accounts. Occasionally Ralph delivers items to homes where he signs a delivery sheet and leaves the items just inside an open garage. If the garage is closed or if it is raining, Ralph is likely not to leave the items – not for the sake of the items, but because leaving the items means getting himself wet or because some level of effort will have to be considered in order to leave the items in a dry spot. Ralph has never been one to excel in such industrious undertakings as effort. To Ralph, consider means attempt, and attempt means effort. So Ralph leaps to a conclusion that he views logical – that to have considered, means to have given his best effort – and so all of Ralph’s considerations fall short of completion.

Ralph lives alone with a goldfish also named Ralph. Buck says that that alone is enough to make a man cranky, but Buck doesn’t know Ralph’s wife bought him the goldfish. Besides, thinks Ralph, how is it that Buck thinks living alone with a goldfish named Ralph is enough to make a man cranky. It may be enough to make a man lonely, regards Ralph, but not cranky. Unless of course, Ralph wonders, if being lonely is a thing that makes a man cranky. But whether Ralph was lonely first or cranky first is undetermined.

Ralph’s wife bought them each a goldfish. His wife bought two bowls and filled them each with goldfish-water for the fish. Ralph’s wife called the water goldfish-water, and although Ralph thought his wife somewhat juvenile, he still thought her sweet and he smiled when she referred to the water in the goldfish bowls as goldfish-water. Ralph’s wife bought the two goldfish and put one each beside each of their beds. Ralph’s wife put her goldfish on her night-table and named it Ralph. Her two Ralphs she would say. She put the other goldfish on Ralph’s night-table and suggested Ralph name the goldfish whatever he liked. Ralph named his goldfish after his wife. Ralph’s wife was pleased that Ralph was thoughtful enough to name the goldfish after her. Ralph had considered other names but concluded that his considering other names meant he had put forth taxing effort and that if it pleased his wife to have a goldfish named after her, then so be it. Ralph suspected his wife had slyly suggested he give the goldfish her name anyway, and that was secretly settlement enough for Ralph.

Now Ralph sleeps alone – his wife having passed only a few days after his goldfish passed. Ralph sleeps alone beside his late wife’s bed and beside a goldfish she affectionately named Ralph. Ralph eats his meals alone, watches television alone and drives a delivery truck alone. For the most part Ralph prefers to be alone and he prefers also to be left alone, so these things are no matter, but no one – not even Ralph – prefers to be lonely.

In the mornings, before he is off to drive his delivery truck, Ralph thinks of his wife as he sprinkles delicate goldfish flakes into Ralph’s goldfish-water. Feeding the goldfish was something Ralph’s wife never failed to do. She fed the goldfish every morning and spoke to them in her fragile, yet sure tone – a tone that Ralph thought to be quite musical. Ralph, in his taciturn and incomplete way, neglected to mention to his wife how lovely he thought her voice. But Ralph, in his best effort to tell his wife, now speaks that sentiment to his goldfish.

On his days off from his delivery job, Ralph likes to sit in the shade of the trees outside his house. When a light breeze blows through the green leaves, Ralph pretends sometimes it is his wife’s voice he hears. The leaves whisper to one another with such a quiet sigh, that Ralph can easily be forgiven for confusing the soft breath of a breeze with that of  his wife’s easy words.

Some days Ralph takes his goldfish outside with him. Ralph likes to do this because it’s what his wife would do. She would bring the two goldfish outside and put them together in the same bowl. She was content sitting silently with Ralph and the goldfish. She admired the way blue sky and green leaves reflected colorful wrinkles in the goldfish-water. Ralph imagines what it would be like to still have his wife and her goldfish. He imagines it would be nice, and decides also, that maybe the color green isn’t so bad after all.

Schooner’s Black Magic Pub ©

The men followed the path that led from the forest to the pub. One man carried a long cross-cut saw. The saw bounced on his shoulder as he walked. The men were noisy and could not hear the wampa sound of the saw as it sang and bent with the man’s steps. Other men followed and carried tar-stained axes in their pine-pitch imbrued hands. The men were woodcutters and knew of the pub from the talk of local lumbermen.

A wooden sign hung from two hooks above the front entrance. The sign read, in bold slanted letters, Schooner’s Black Magic Pub. Below those words, in smaller letters were the words, best frog legs in Louisiana. Tiny frog images decorated the sign. The frogs wore whimsical wizard-style hats and grinned at one another in a way that was more sinister than comical.

At the pub door, the men leaned their axes and, out of habit, stomped the dried river mud from their boots. The men went into the empty pub and pulled two of the long tables together. The men sat and ordered wine. A girl brought the wine in carafes and set the carafes on the long-planked tables in front of the men. The men ordered the frog legs and teased the girl obstreperously and made crude comments that made the girl uncomfortable. The girl did not raise her face but only set the wine out for the men. A boy brought cups made of pewter and placed one in front of each man.

The men were large and their conversation was loud. They were heavy and solid men with voices to match. They laughed together the way brothers laugh and they clapped one another on the shoulder. The men ate countless heaps of frog legs and when they finished drinking the wine the men asked for more carafes of the same wine. They did not know the name of the wine, so that is how they called for it – by ordering more of the same wine.

“Girl. Bring more wine.”
“Hey girl, the wine. Bring more wine for my friends.”
The girl left to get the wine. She went through an open door at the rear of the pub. The boy followed the girl through the door-opening. The girl returned carrying two carafes of the wine. The boy carried a third. The girl still did not raise her head, but eyed the boy through her loose hair. When the boy’s eyes met her’s she mouthed to the boy, “don’t do it.”
The boy only grinned at his sister and set the carafe on the long wooden table.
“What’s the problem boy?” A large man asked, “You carrying only one carafe of the wine, the girl carries two.”
“I sell frogs.” the boy said.
The man looked at the boy. The man had one cheek scrunched up so tightly his eye was nearly closed. He tilted his enormous head to one side in order to better attitudinize his puzzlement.
“You do what boy?”
“I sell frogs.”
“Don’t nobody here care that you sell frogs boy.”
“You will,” the boy said.
“Don’t get smart with me boy.” The man said.
“Stop it Tyler,” the girl said, “they don’t mean no harm.”
“Maybe not,” the boy said, “but they did start it – coming in here behaving like brutes.”
“They’re just having some fun,” the girl said.
“So am I,” Tyler said, “so am I.”
“But you always get carried away.” The girl said.
“Look at me boy,” the man’s voice boomed as he stood and towered over the boy, “do I look like I want to buy a frog boy?”
“No sir, I suppose not, but I didn’t ask if you wanted to buy a frog – I said I sell frogs.”
The man slammed his empty cup onto the table.
“That does it boy, I think it’s time I learned you a lesson.”
The other men stopped talking. They stopped eating the frog legs and looked at the boy and at their fuming friend.
“Please Tyler,” the girl pleaded, “we have too many already. Let them have their fun, they will leave soon.”
The boy shrugged in disinterest to both the man’s threat and to his sister’s pleas. The man grabbed the boy’s shirt collar and curled it into his fist. The boy blinked hard and held it. The timbers in the roof rumbled and moaned, the table shook violently across a vibrating floor. The men held tightly to the table and tried desperately to press it still with their massive palms. With their eyes wide and their cheeks quivering over their dropped jaws, the men watched in disbelief as their enormous friend was reduced to a common croaking bullfrog. The boy cupped the frog in his hands and dropped it into the pewter cup from which the man had been drinking. The boy turned to the other men who stood silently around the table. He held the cup above his head as if he were making a toast and said, “I sell frogs.”
The violent shaking started again. Men screamed.
Outside, the sun was setting below the Louisiana pines. Innumerable frogs began to sing a sad repetitive song of loneliness. The wooden sign above the door of Schooner’s Black Magic Pub squeaked as it swung slowly above a pile of fallen woodcutters’ axes.

The Storm ©

Nick came in through the back door and stopped just inside the kitchen. Helen was standing over an open cookbook drying her hands with a towel. When Nick came in she dropped the towel next to the cookbook and went to help Nick with his coat. Nick stomped his feet in place. He looked down at his water-logged boots. Rain ran from the gutter of his fedora when his head bent downward.
“Sorry about your floor Helen,” Nick said.
“Nonsense, get in here. Let me help you with that.”
“Looks like it’s not letting up any time soon.”
“No, this is a bad one. Give me your coat and hat.”
Rain tore in sheets across the door opening. Nick stepped farther into the kitchen and pressed the door firm against the barking wind. Helen hung Nick’s coat over a chair to dry. The rain-soaked fedora she dropped into the lap of the chair.
“Thanks Helen —-.”
“If it’s made.”
“Won’t take a minute.”
“Don’t bother. Is your Pa about?”
“Down at the barn. Securing the horses I reckon. Wanna wait?”
“Nah, I better run down and give a hand. There’s something I need to talk to him ’bout anyway. How ’bout that coffee when I get back?”
Nick dressed in his coat and hat. His coat was heavy with rain. He waited before opening the door and facing the storm. Rain slashed against the windowpane, but it meant nothing to him. He stood at the door with his back to Helen and looked at the ring again. He smiled and pulled the door open. The ring felt right in his palm. The fedora felt cold on his head. Nick dropped the ring into his pocket and drew his collar up tight to his neck.
Helen put water on to boil.

Wilson’s Essex ©

Wilson’s Essex died silently, without warning, then groaned to a stop on the side of a lonely stretch of Route 66.

Dust settled around Wilson’s car to reveal an immense, rust colored landscape. Shadows stretched across the soundless desert as if reaching for a god that had long forgotten them. A gust of wind kicked sand against the Essex then tossed aside a tumbleweed in the distance. The air was dry. The ether was taciturn.

Wilson was damp with perspiration, and he was spitting expletives. The most foul language Wilson could assemble though, even at the worst of times, consisted of naming a few animals that could be found on ordinary dairy farms back east.

“Rats,” Wilson hissed between clenched teeth.
The ess in rats trailed off into the forlorn and desolate countryside like the hiss of a rattlesnake.

Wilson had never seen a rattlesnake, except in books, and once behind glass at the Museum of Science back home in Springfield Missouri.

Rattlesnakes, Wilson thought, surely must be plentiful here in Oklahoma.
Besides, where else if not here in this arid landscape would a rattlesnake wait.
Wait! What do you mean wait?
Nothing. I didn’t mean a thing. I was just thinking snakes hide is all.

Wilson pushed back at encroaching panic and turned the key on the dash. The engine under the hood only clicked as if someone were rapidly withdrawing a tongue from behind the front teeth.
The engine creaked and moaned as though it were under pressure. Engine parts ticked and popped at overlapping intervals like a broken metronome.

I’ll get out and have a look.
That’s it. Wilson thought. I’ll get out and open the hood.
But the snakes –
The hissing sibilations from the engine continued as Wilson opened his door to step out.
Oh yes – the snakes. Wilson shuddered.
They’re probably under the car.
They’re probably slithering and gathering in the shade of the car – their dusty bellies sliding over one another.
Dozens of them.
I can hear them.
Wilson slammed his door with such force that he nearly fell over into the passenger seat.
Try the key again, Wilson panicked.
Yes, Yes the key.
Wilson’s hand shook with growing hysteria as he turned the key clockwise and then counter clockwise and then back clockwise again. He got the same shame-on-you reply from the engine he had gotten before.
The clicking from the engine was now slower and more deliberate.
Wilson pounded his open palms against the Essex’s steering wheel.
Again Wilson! Again!
Nearly blind with panic Wilson hugged the steering wheel and tried the ignition once more.
The engine exploded to life  – Wilson roared with delight!

Working the car’s controls like a giddy girl turning straw into gold on a spinning wheel, Wilson maneuvered the car back onto the highway. Driving into a magnificent Oklahoma sunset, Wilson laughed out loud to convince himself he was never, even for a moment, afraid that a family of rattlesnakes might be gathering beneath the Essex.