Monday, April 28, 2014

I'm back, but not doing A To Z anymore.

After my brief break -- details are on Thinking The Lions -- I'm back posting but I'm stopping the A To Z challenge. I'll put new stuff up soon, but here's a classic story I wrote that I thought got insufficient attention the first time I posted it. Because it's longer, I've got a link where you can download it free.

Moon Mow Me Cheerios:

Want to read this story offline? CLICK HERE to download it for free on Scribd.

From outside the house, through the window, the little boy watched.

Inside the house, his mother sat on the edge of his bed, still unchanged, still.  She held her fingers to her chin, and stared off into space.  Her mouth quivered.  She put her face into her hands, sobbing.

The little boy ran away.



This time, the next time, there was already snow, but he did not shiver or even feel the cold. He knew he was supposed to feel cold, but he didn’t, and he thought that must be because of the car, and the box, and the crying.  He wished he could feel cold.  When he could feel cold, he hadn’t wanted to, but now that he couldn’t, he missed it, a little. 

This was all so new.

He crept through the backyard again, as he had a few months before, when the leaves were still green and there were still leaves on the trees and the grass still needed to be mowed.  His feet slogged through the snow, only a few inches, and he didn’t notice when it got into his shoes and didn’t notice that it didn’t melt in his shoes.

He rubbed the fingers of his right hand into the palm of his left hand, a nervous habit, like making a Time Out sign.

He was seven, and would always be.

There were only dim lights on in the house, even though it wasn’t that late he thought.  He would know if he could see the kitchen clock.

Quietly, he walked across the patio, warily glancing at the back door.  Nobody would come out it, he thought, but he wasn’t sure.

Below the kitchen window: he stood on tiptoe and tried to pull himself up.

His fingers slipped off, and one tore off entirely, falling onto the snow, where it landed, the torn end down, the fingernail – grown a little – pointing at him.

He picked it up, curiously. He hadn’t known that could happen.

He wondered what he should do with it and, coming up with no answer, he put it in his pocket.

He hadn’t wanted to come here, because he felt as though he understood what had happened, that he was no longer welcome here, or wouldn’t be, but finally he couldn’t resist it any more.

He pushed a patio chair, the metal white chairs that the sat on in the summer, grilling hot dogs on the grill that now had an inch of snow on its rounded metal top.  He pushed the chair to below the kitchen window, the legs of the chair leaving trails in the snow.  He didn’t worry about that.  Hesitantly, so slowly he could almost not be seen moving in the gathering gloom of the night, the slowly descending dusk enveloping the backyard, obscuring the trees he’d crept through.  

With his 7 fingers, he gripped the edge of the windowsill and slowly peeked above it.  He could see into the kitchen, where there was only a small light on over the far counter.  The kitchen had dirty dishes in it, only a few, but that shocked him.  He’d never seen dishes left to sit in the sink before, couldn’t remember that ever happening.

He stared at the kitchen table.  The chairs, four of them, were pushed up against it tightly.  The tablecloth, green and white checkered, hung down and bunched up on the seat of one chair.  On the kitchen table was a truck.  His truck!  The dump truck, the one that automatically dumped when you pushed a button on the side and made loud revving noises when you pushed it.

He got down off the chair again and sat down on the snow, staring up at the window, wishing he could just ring the doorbell and be brought in from the cold he did not feel.

A muted voice inside.

He pushed himself back against the wall of the house, curled his legs up against his chest, and hunched his head down.  The light snow flickering around him as it fell he thought (he hoped) covered him up.

The voice almost couldn’t be heard.

Mumblre-mrgbhaprmumble” it said.

It was deep.  Low. Loud, without being shouty.

He turned his head to listen to the wall, ear up against the cold aluminum siding.

It did not help.

From farther in the house he heard a voice back, softer, sadder, harder to make out.

somethingsomethingsomething” that voice said.

He wondered what they were really saying and sat there in the dim twilight until he realized that was all the conversation there was going to be, and then he got up and ran back to the woods.

************************************

He had a place where he sat whenever he wasn’t someplace else.

He didn’t sleep, not really, but he could sometimes… turn off, maybe?

It was by a tree.

And a pond, sort of.

Right now, the pond was still frozen.

It was, he knew, getting warmer, but warm wasn’t something he really had anymore.

***********************************

The road:

There wasn’t even a spot there, anymore.

He stood just off to the side of the street, outside of the circle of light formed by the streetlight.

The sidewalk: there.

The yellow lines: there.

The car: not there anymore.

He looked across the street at the house where only one light was one, up on the second level.

He wanted to go across the street and ring the bell.  He looked down at his hands: the finger that he would use to ring the bell with was still in his pocket.  It had never grown back. He’d hoped it would, but he guessed that kind of thing didn’t happen to him.

He wondered what he should do next.

*********************************************

Last year, they had had a barbecue but this year they did not unless he was wrong about the day? Maybe he was wrong about the day.  It was hard to keep track of day and days and month and months.

The pond was not frozen. It was still and deep and murky with algae, everything everything growing growing.

He sat by the tree and looked at his things:

key, he’d found on the path. He didn’t know what it opened or locked.

His finger, which he always kept in his pocket so a squirrel wouldn’t take it.

His shoes, which were falling apart and he couldn’t wear anymore.

He looked at his feet, no shoes on them. The soles were black and rough and, he saw, there was a thorn poking into the sole of the foot, one he had not realized was there.  He pulled it out, gingerly, but he hadn’t needed to: there was no blood and if he hadn’t felt it go in, he wouldn’t feel it go out.

He’d hoped they would have a barbecue because he thought maybe that if he could go back it would be then.

But he was starting to realize that he was not going back.

***************************

The hot dogs would have been ready in 10 minutes.

The lemonade was already cold.

There were potato chips, three kinds!, on the table!

And corn on the cob.

He was bouncing the tennis ball, higher and higher, on the driveway. He wondered if he could bounce it onto the roof, then catch it.

He could.

Once.

Twice.

The third time, he backed up to the edge of the driveway and caught the ball and he NEVER. LEFT. THE. YARD.
Just like the rules.

But the dog across the street ran out of its yard and the car that was coming to their barbecue, to their house, where there was lemonade and almost hot dogs and three kinds of potato chips! Swerved to miss the dog.

*************************************

You don’t expect, when things end, for them to begin again, so when they do, that can be more confusing than hopeful.

For one thing, not everything begins again. Just some things do.

************************************

He comes as often as he thinks he can: a powerful feeling inside him makes him want to come here, to peer out of the bushes and creep up to the house and touch the aluminum siding and look at the patio table where the rust is painted over by…

…and to look in the windows, sure, and to hold his hand by the doorknob, wanting to test it, wanting to see if it would open, if he could pull the door open and go inside and walk upstairs on the carpet, turn the corner and see the bedroom with the Star Wars comforter…

…and to be warm, and cozy, and have a nightlight, instead of the moon, and a bookshelf instead of a tree branch and books instead of pinecones and the cat instead of sometimes a fox or porcupine stumbling across him…

…but there is a part of him, too, that says No, and knows that none of that can ever happen, and those two parts pull at him and he never touches the door.

Instead, he just looks: the barbecue day long gone and the leaves are a little yellow, again, is that two? Or three? Two or three… fall it was, the words are harder to think sometimes.

He hasn’t talked to anyone in so long!

He tries to think the words, now, in the late evening of a night in August, even though he doesn’t know it is August, he tries to think of words he might say.

“Mooon,” he manages to say.

It was not what he had been thinking. He tries again.

Moon,” he says again.

He looks up at the moon, angrily.

He closes his eyes.

He remembers the woman, sitting on the bed, crying.  He remembers as hard as he can, thinking as ferociously as possible, and the only images he can call up are the woman crying on the bed as he watches through the window.

Moon,” he whispers sadly to himself.

And then runs away again.

*******************************************

It was so dark at first and cold and it hurt!

*******************************************

This time, for sure, he will go up and knock.  He has watched, from the back of the back yard, leaning against the large tree trunk, hands not feeling the cold, sharp edges of the bark, bare feet blue unfeeling in the snow, his eyes wide, as the car pulls in, slipping a little on the slight slope of the driveway in the icy sleetish snow that is falling.

He has watched all day long, as …

… as the lights were put up, ladders and bundles of wire and some cursing, sure, and a wreath on the door and breath in the air, clouds of breath blowing away in the bright sun twinkling off the blue cloudless sky and refracting down onto the thin crusty snow that fell last night, blue scarf and red hat and puffy mittens and ski vest and the plastic Santa waving from near the yardlight.

…as the car pulled out and the day clouded over, as the car came back, an hour (?) maybe later, as it swerved a little around and they got out and the tree tied to the top of the car was pulled down and taken in to the garage where once he had a bike.

His pants were tattered and torn and wet and cold and he stood there, watching lights in the house come on, in different rooms, each light not exactly like the others:

The family room: orange-y and soft, books and comfortable chairs.

The kitchen: yellow and clean: smelling like lemons and meatloaf.

The living room: formal and white. Don’t play in there that’s for company.

Through the back window he sees the dark bulk of the tree stood up, wiggling back and forth as it is put in its stand, he barely remembers this task, then he sees people moving back and forth, stringing things around, the tree is pulled a bit, it is pushed a bit, and after what must be a very long time but he hardly notices, the tree is brilliantly lit with colored lights that blink slowly on and off in hypnotic patterns.

He stands all night behind his own tree trunk, staring at it.  Just before dawn, he creeps across the backyard, which is otherwise untrammeled by anything since the snowfall ended.  

He does not know that snow will come again before they wake up, and they will not see the footprints, dragged and stumbled and staggered, across the yard to the side of the house, where a strand of lights from an evergreen bush is stolen and taken back through the backyard, through the woods, to a pond that is frozen over again, and hung raggedly on a small shrub.

Moon,” he will say, wondering how he can get his lights to work, as he lays on his side and stares at them.

************************************

It is so dark and he cannot feel anything and he is in a box! A box! A box he is boxed up he pushes and scrabbles and claws and pushes more and scrambles and suddenly the box is open and he sits up.

A room.

A dark room full of other boxes and shapes and things and no people.

He remembers the tennis ball.  The three kinds of potato chips.  The car sound!

He looks around.

It is dark and nobody is here and this is not his home.

He climbs down from the box and feels the floor, cold and tiled, as though it is something his feet are being told about from memory.  He does not know it, but already things are receding from him, the tide of life pulling back to leave him stranded here, unable to rejoin.

The door is unlocked.

He pulls at the doorknob and opens it into a dark hallway.  He is dressed up: he is wearing his Sunday-school clothes, the nice shoes and the nice pants and the clip-on tie.

It doesn’t itch, for the first time, ever.

(In his mind, he knows this is wrong but pushes it aside.  Complications are for when you are older, which he will never be.)

He walks down the quiet hallway, wondering where everybody went.

Where are Mom?

Where are Dad?

When is home?

******************************************

One day, there are flowers growing between the back yard and the tree trunk where he hides.  One day, the yard is green and growing again and needs to be… mowed!

Mow,” he says quietly to himself, almost no air passing through his throat.  He knows the word isn’t quite the one he wants.

One day, the yard has a picnic table in it again, and the tablecloth and it is the red-and-white checked one. That day there is a grill and there are hot dogs and there is lemonade and there are potato chips! He doesn’t know how many kinds. 

Mow,” he says, as the backdoor opens, but it is…

It is…

… he watches as the hot dogs are put on the grill, the heat shimmer rising above the grill, and as the hot dogs are pushed around.  He watches from his tree, kneeling on knees that are now as much bone as they are flesh, knees that do not feel the knobby, rough roots that grind into them and wear away the ligaments that do not hold the knees together, anyway: whatever is keeping him here is not ligaments, not that he knows what ligaments are.  He kneels and watches as cars pull up in front and people get out, as they walk around the backyard and are handed shiny wet cans of beers and sodas, as they drink large bright cheery glasses of yellow lemonade, as they take platefuls of potato chips and hot dogs.

He crawls a bit forward, on his belly.  A spider walks up a blade of grass and onto his hand and then onto his arm and then onto his face, all without him paying any attention.  There are people and kids and kids and people, all  in the backyard and he could go walk up to them if he wanted!

Mow,” he whispers, knowing that it is not right, but it is close.

He knows, too, that they would not turn to him with hugs and lemonade and tears and potato chips.  The spider sits on his lips as he does not breath and just watches. 

Mow,” he says, and then the backdoor opens and out walks:

Mow,” he says louder, wishing he knew the real word!

She is tired and pale and has messed-up hair a little but is smiling and puffy faced and she carries a little bundle of blankets that she shows to everyone.

They all smile at it and hug her.

**************************************

The pond ripples when he throws the pinecones into it, which he does, over and over.  He throws them in and then walks into the pond and gets them out and throws them in again.  He is wet, he is dry, he is wet, he is dry, he is waist-deep in still water filled with murky mud and reflecting the light of the…

”Me,” he says, sure that is not right but close.

…he is on the side of the pond throwing pinecones in, he is next to the tree where he takes his finger out of what is left of his pocket and looks at it and then throws it into the pond, but then regrets that and wades in and feels around trying to find it but cannot, and spends the rest of the night staring up at the stars until the sun comes up and then he goes for a walk around the woods because he never sleeps, ever, and if you asked him, he would not be able to tell you that he does not sleep because he does not know, anymore, what sleep was.

Me,” he would say to you, if you ever got close enough to him to ask him anything.  But he knows better, by now.

*************************************

Creeping creeping creeping up to the edge of the house up to the patio up to the chair the chair close enough carry it softly over to the edge of the window climb up on it he only has six fingers a pinky finger is missing now when did that happen he is looking just barely into the kitchen window and there are three at the kitchen table one of them is little, little little little smiling and throwing little round cereals

Cheerios,” he whispers,

Around and they are laughing and smiling and he looks at all three of them and settles on her and tries and tries and tries and comes up with:

Cheerios.”

Running back through the yard wanting to cry.

***************************************************

The porcupine no longer is afraid of him.  It might be the same one that was there the first night when he stopped walking.  It ran away that time and he stopped at the edge of the pond, at the very edge of where he knew things, at the edge of where he had ever been, and sat down by the tree, watching the waddling porcupine scuttle off into the dark, afraid of him, and now it wasn’t anymore, it just wandered up to him and past him and off into the dark, not bothering with him.

He petted it, sometimes.

It didn’t hurt.

It was there, now.

He petted it.

Cheerios,” he told it.  That wasn’t right.

Moon,” he told it. 

That wasn’t right, either.  But it was closer.

******************************************

There were train tracks not far away from the pond and the tree and sometimes he heard the sounds of the trains and finally this one day he heard the train coming and he got up and walked towards it, straight through the pond which came up only to his chest and he pushed through the sloggy parts and then through the woods which were mostly pine trees, soft brown needles matting the dirt path, pinecones dotting the ground here and there, the trunks of trees shooting straight up in the sparse moonlight, ten, eleven feet before branches started, and he heard and felt the rumbling of the train get deeper, stronger, more powerful as he got closer, felt that all before he saw it.

He was two feet away from the colossal thunder of the massive hulks trundling by, the vibrations pulsating through him in a way that he had not imagined could happen anymore, his whole body finally vibrating with energy that had not been there in so long.  He put his hands on his face and smiled, enjoying the simulation of what had once been real.

Moon!” he yelled.

Me!” he yelled.

He watched his hands tremble, actually mimicking what he felt, the intensity of the pounding from the outside world serving as a simulacra of what it once must have been like.

Mow!” he yelled.

He thought for the other one.

Cheerios!” he yelled.

From then on, whenever he heard the trains coming he ran, as much as he could run, legs that were barely legs anymore stumbling through brush and past fallen branches, arms waving wildly, held together by some dim magic that could never push him through this pale reflection of life into the real thing, head bobbing and jaw wagging.  “Moon Mow Me Cheerios!” he would yell in a slurred, ragged voice, and get there in time to stand as close to the wild stampede of iron ore, crude oil, boxcars full of sweaters, that raged and argued past him, the wind and noise and feel pulsating through him, nobody in the world seeing the tiny ragged figure of a little boy, fibrous arms raised to the sky, wild smile on his lips, eyes wide, gurgling his sentence over and over into the night, remembering.

***************************

She was his sister, although she never knew him and he never knew her, other than watching her walk in the backyard as a toddler, picking dandelions to make a bouquet.  He didn’t know the word sister and instead when he saw her whispered to himself:

Cheerios,”

The things of the house being farther and farther back in time, and he struggled now and then to remember anything about them. Sometimes he would watch for hours in the dark before remembering how he could go and climb on a chair and look in the window.  He was not any bigger, but

Cheerios” was bigger and


Moon?

… was not the same, she was different-colored, and though he knew moon was not it, he didn’t any longer feel the frustration when he couldn’t think of things.

He used to come more often but now he only came once in a while, to stand behind the tree trunk and look at them, usually in the early evening, when the twilight made it hard for everyone to see and he blended in, his skin the color of treebark now and his clothing almost a memory, too, he watched from behind his treetrunk for a while as the lights in the house came on and as Cheerios was brought inside by Moon who never left her alone in the yard.

Sometimes the car would pull up in the driveway, headlights briefly flashing over the tree trunk where he hid.

Once, the headlights had done that and then

… walking back  the brush, to the tree, and he had gone and run farther back into the woods, pushing through a thorn bush into the thicket and hiding there, skin torn off without him even noticing, a fly on his nostril, and the tree trunk had been examined and the man had looked back into the woods with a questioning look and later had come out with a flashlight and had knelt down by the tree trunk and had pressed his fingers into the dirt, and then had stared into the night for a long, long time, before turning off the flashlight and going back inside.

He had sat in his thorny hideout until he was sure that nobody was still there and then got out quietly and walked back to the tree trunk and looked where the fingers had been pressed down and there was a footprint there.

His footprint.  He carefully put his toes into it to match. It was his.

Then he pressed his small fingers, which never grew, into the outline of the fingerprints that had been set down next to his footprint.

**********************************
He could go underwater for as long as he wanted, but he did not like to do that.  It made him feel the opposite of the train, made him feel repressed, a word he would never know.  If you asked him how it felt to go under water, if you had talked to him, if he stayed around for you to find him, he would have told you Mow.

He used mow for all things that were not Moon. Or Cheerios. Or Me.

Moon and Cheerios were often in the backyard gathering fireflies.  That night, he caught one of his own, holding it in his hands, watching the light flicker on and off, and looking up to where Moon and Cheerios were putting their own catches in a jar on the table that once had held three kinds of potato chips!

He thought once Cheerios looked at him.  He held up the firefly for her to see, and then she looked away.  He let his firefly go.

**********************************

Me!” he howled into the night as the train roared by, close enough to touch, and he willed his mind to not notice that she was less and less often in the yard now, that she was bigger than him and he was not any bigger.

Me!” he whispered when the train was gone and he began the slow, quiet, muffled walk back to the pond, feet scuffling swaths through the pine needles, only now and then remembering that first frightened scamper from the box and the room to the woods.

Me!” he told himself, defiantly, picking up pinecones to throw in the pond over and over, as he sat, night after night after night by the tree.

And that is how it went.





1 comment:

Andrew Leon said...

I liked this story the first time, and I still like it.