Sunday, October 02, 2005

Happy October and Little Death, Part I

October is here, though the desert is cloudless today. We can tell it's autumn though, because instead of swimming, Orion and I sit with our feet in the pool and wait for the bats to come out every evening. It's no subsitute for crunchy leaves and crisp breezes, but it's what we have.

I'm still ratting it up for a few more days. Thanks so much for all the orders!

I thought I'd bring in October by sharing with you a story I wrote for a Desert Post Weekly project couple of years ago. It's a good way to slip into the season, as the desert does, with just a hint of a breeze. By the end of the month, things will be very different.

Here's the first half of "Little Death":

Jacob opened his eyes. The stain on his bedroom ceiling swam into focus, familiar as his own reflection. He identified sounds from downstairs; a television, the vacuum cleaner, Leslie calling that hateful cat, “Miss – seee ---spiz-spiz-spiz-spiz,” like air leaking from a wet hose. Damned irritating.
What was that smell? He wondered. Cake? No, cookies, baking in the oven. Jacob sighed, remembering. Oh, damn it t’hell. It’s f’ing Halloween. Leslie would be in a festive fever. His daughter attacked every occasion with a veritable arsenal of phoof and garnish. There would be racket all day; pumpkins carved, pies baked, Steve teetering like Wile-E-Coyote on that rickety ladder hanging bed-sheet ghosts and paper spiders. Then, after dark, stupid parties and Trick or Treat.

Halloween is for the dead. Another sigh escaped, chased by a wide yawn. Jacob stretched his bony arms up over his head and dropped them onto the bed, then turned to address the photo of his late wife on the bedside table. “Emma, why the Sam Hill am I still here and not you? You loved this Halloween crap.” He sat up, eased his feet into his slippers, then planted his hands on his knees and unfolded like a rusty jackknife.

“Trick or Treat,” he grumbled, shuffling into his bathroom.

He twisted the hot tap and watched the hand in the mirror rub still icy water over the grizzled face staring back at him.

In his mind’s ear he could hear Tom saying, “You’re a bitter old coot, Jacob Rabold.” Tom had been Jacob’s neighbor for thirty years and had called him a bitter old coot for at least twenty of them.

“Screw you, Tom, “ said Jacob in his gruff morning voice. He spat in the sink and splashed more water over his face.

“Dried up old fools, all of us,” muttered the face in the mirror.

Jacob swished his razor in the now hot water filling the basin. Bingo, he thought, bake sales, time-killers for the dead-in-waiting. And now, that damned old Nora in a crossing guard uniform!

“Ha!” he said aloud, lathering his scant beard, “…looks like a wrinkled shirt on a bent old hanger, she does.”

All of them. All of us. Skeletons waiting to be let out of our skins. We old farts are nothing but spectators. Just ghosts, watching the living.

“That’s right, Tom, old boy. I’m bitter,” he said, rubbing a towel over his face, “I’ve had enough!”

If he had the guts, Jacob would end it today. Right now. It wouldn’t be so hard. Not for the first time, he reached out and pulled at the edge of the mirror. With a soft click, it swung open to reveal neatly sorted pharmaceuticals---sufficient for a variety of tidy deaths.

But…Emma. He clicked the door shut. Damn that woman—she’d made him give his word. She’d known that he would hate growing old—would hate it so much he’d rather be dead. So she’d made him make that promise. Emma had believed in fate. Emma had believed in souls.

But, I could do it, he thought, buttoning his shirt.

I could, he thought, buckling his belt.

“I could,” he said quietly. He reached toward the medicine cabinet once again, then froze. A cold thrill of dread buzzed in his gut. Hairs rose on the back of his neck…Sometimes, Death taps us on the shoulder… The room seemed too bright. Jacob gripped the sink.

“Emma?”, he whispered softly into the still air.


Reality fell like a curtain. Jimmy, small even for a boy of seven, was peering intently at his grandfather. He wore his Halloween costume over his pajamas.

“What are you supposed to be?” Jacob said hoarsely, still shaken, “A bear?”

“I’m an Ewok!” Jimmy proclaimed, suddenly kinetic, jumping and twirling about. “Ewok, Ewok!!” He giggled. “Mommy says come down to breakfast.”

Jimmy reached up and grasped his grandfather’s cool, brittle fingers. Jacob looked about nervously. Guilt, he reasoned, playing tricks on me. He wondered why he might feel especially guilty about his suicidal musings today. He shrugged it off and followed his teddy-bear grandson downstairs, but not without a glance back over his shoulder. A fire burned in the den’s fireplace. Outside, the wind plucked at a few stubborn leaves. The rest carpeted the lawn. Dead, dry, brittle. Across the street, old Tom Greeson raked contentedly. Fool, Jacob thought. With a grimace, he lowered himself into his worn club chair and clicked to CNN.

Leslie breezed in, smelling of cinnamon. “Breakfast, Dad,” she kissed the top of his head.

“I’ll take mine in here,” he said.

“Come and eat with us, Dad,” Leslie tried again.

“I’ll take my tray, thank you,” he said to the television. He sensed she was no longer behind his chair, but added anyway, “and plenty of salt.”

“Trick or Treat!” Jimmy was suddenly there, crouched at Jacob’s knee.

“Now, what?” Jacob grumbled.

“Mommy says we’ll need sweaters,” Jimmy said.

Jacob groaned inwardly, thinking of the coming evening. He’d spend an hour or more trudging up and down the neighborhood streets, standing in the cold air with his aching knuckles shoved deep in his pockets, watching Jimmy scamper to each door. The neighbors would gush over the boy, with courteous nods to the old man who used to be Jacob Rabold. Jimmy would yelp in delight each time some tidbit plunked into his pail, or the moon poked through the clouds, or the wind swirled the leaves. Jimmy was overjoyed by every detail of his world. Wait a few years, boy, ‘till you see what a tawdry sham it all is…

“Jimmy, come have breakfast,” Leslie called from the kitchen.

Steve walked in, wiping his hands. “Morning, Dad.”

“Humph,” Jacob grunted without a glance at his son-in-law.

With a single graceful movement, Jimmy stood and put his small hand on Jacob’s knee. He looked solemnly into his grandfather’s eyes for a long moment, then scampered toward the kitchen.

Jacob was unnerved. Why would the boy look at him that way? The medicine cabinet loomed. He swiped his handkerchief over his face as if to erase the memory.
Jacob had never paid much attention to his grandson. Back when he had a career, before his health failed him, he never had time for children. Now he lacked the patience. These days kids (and most adults) were warned off by his bitter demeanor. But not Jimmy. No matter how gruff his grandfather looked or sounded, Jimmy sought out his company.
Jacob stared at the television. Youth is wasted on the young. First we don’t know our butts from holes in the ground, then we’re dragged around by our loins like idiots. Just biology, telling us to make more stinking humans. By the time we figure out a thing or two we’re falling apart. No wonder old people are pissed off.

The fire crackled and the TV voices blended with the sounds from the kitchen. But Jacob wasn’t lulled. Something was stirred up inside him.

Halloween is for the dead.

His unease grew. He flipped channels and paced at the window, glancing over his shoulder now and then. He wandered about the house until he came to Jimmy’s room. The boy sat cross-legged on the floor, his back to the door, speaking earnestly to an assembly of plastic dinosaurs. An aquarium bubbled in the corner. The room was a startling explosion of stuff. As Jacob’s austere room reflected his own dry outlook, this room was a mirror of the boy. It overflowed with souvenirs of his adventures.
Planes, planets and a pterodactyl hung on wires from the ceiling. Movie posters papered the walls. The desk was buried under a globe, a glowing computer monitor, an ant farm and stacks of books. Roller skates, award ribbons, and a baseball glove hung from a rack. Rocks and shells lined the windowsills and more books crammed the shelves. Jacob blinked. There, among the papers pinned to Jimmy’s cork board was a drawing that grabbed and held Jacob’s eye. Two simple figures held hands. The taller figure had a straight slash for a mouth and dots for eyes, outlined in red rectangles—Jacob’s glasses. The little figure’s face was deliberately obscured by black crayon strokes. It held something in its other hand. A flag? Jacob leaned closer. No, a scythe. Again, the prickling chill, the vertigo. He tore his eyes away to look at his grandson who, no longer busy at his dinosaurs, sat very, very still.


jordan's mom said...

...And an amazing, liquor-colored October to you, too (clarets, merlots, some ports and a scotch or two). Good story. More, please...

Derek Ash said...

That was just plain ookie.

I want more too, please.

Here's one for you:

While I’m Dreaming

Someone’s screaming while I’m dreaming.
And it’s getting hard to sleep.

Someone’s screaming while I’m dreaming.
And it’s giving me the creeps.

Someone’s screaming while I’m dreaming.
With a voice that’s high and hoarse.

Someone’s screaming while I’m dreaming.
It’s upsetting me of course.

Someone’s screaming while I’m dreaming.
With my eyes shut, I can’t see…

Someone’s screaming while I’m dreaming.
And I’m worried that it’s me.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I like it. We better not have to wait too long for the rest!!!

Liked yours also RRNN, thanks for sharing!