Habib’s English teacher, Mr. Bell, was one of the smallest members of the teaching staff, even on a Monday; however, he had a reputation for rousing sleeping students by slamming a large book onto their desk and shouting, “Tired students die more easily!”
The first time Habib saw him do this, he thought, ~Bellicose Bell bellows by the beastly boy below.~ Unaware that it had expired, Habib attempted to write a story that did not infringe the patent on plots. Skipping the specification and figures, his claims read:
1. A story comprising at least one plot device selected from the group consisting of: boy meets girl, stranger comes to town, boy loses girl, hero goes on a journey, boy regains girl, and man hunts whale.
2. The story of claim 1 in which Hamlet’s father’s ghost sets off an unfortunate chain of events.
An abstract of Habib’s story would read along the lines of, “Stranger comes to town where he meets girl and boy. Girl and boy lose stranger but his ghost sends them whale hunting for their fathers.”
Mister Bell’s response was scribbled obliquely across the bottom in red pen, “Obvious. I anticipated the ending, as have many before me. Your grammar and spelling is atroceous.” For good measure he had added his initials with a florid swirl. It was an illegible signature, but it wasn’t Kurtz, it appeared to say, “Jesus.”
Mary was half asleep when they came into her room. The hands–floating in the air—white on white—touching, prodding, poking, groping. Different hands than the ones in her dream. Those hands were soft and gentle with a sweet smell and soft song. Those hands fed her, held her, calmed her, and rushed away the demon of her dream. The black demon. The spitting dog with long pointy teeth and matted hair–forever chasing, snarling, and snapping at her, running away when the soothing hands came.
The new hands pinch and prick—hurting Mary. Then more hands, rough and strong—shifting and lifting—Mary levitating then quickly landing. Rolling–overhead lights flicker through her drowsy eyelids. Pushing through swinging doors, white turns to green. Cold metal, rubber and glass hum their greetings as the doors flap, flap, flap. Machines tower over her—glinting, glowing, and glowering. Grabbing hands lift Mary. She stiffens at the rush of cool air across her naked bum. The shock of cold greased metal on her backside brings Mary out of her stupor. Fight! Struggle! Scream! Arms and legs are strapped but Mary shakes her head—no, no. The hands stop her head still and hold firm while straps are fitted and she is silenced with the mask of black rubber.
“Breathe,” the hands tell her. “Breathe deep and count slowly. It will be over soon. Count backwards with me—20, 19, 18, 17, 16…”
The black dog is growling, jumping and snapping at a toy hanging by the door. Mary is hot and thirsty under the scorching sun. She wants the shade of the front porch but the dog is there. The amber light of the desert sun is unforgiving and there are no trees or structures. Just the house–dry, dark, decaying–with shingles missing, windows broken, and porch leaning—all askew. Mary must run–hide but something keeps her still, looking closely at the dog and at the house. She slowly traces the path to the front porch as the dog continues to jump and snap at its prize—just out of reach. Mary is thankful the dog is not after her but wonders what could distract it so. Stepping out of the hot sun and on to the porch, her vision clears and she sees the thing occupying the dog. The unbelievable sight of it fills her sick with fear and revulsion–she starts to retch and turn away. For what Mary thought was a toy, is a hand—a human hand–a soft and gentle hand—dismembered and swaying in the hot breeze–hanging by a rope around its wrist.
Mary turns her head and vomits into the crescent shaped metal bowl. Blood and bile stare back at her and she tries to cry out. Her throat is sore and dry–all she can do is whimper and moan. Tears fall and the hands come to her—white on white. The soft gentle hands hold the cup with the straw and place a wet cloth on her head. The hands soothe, encourage and make promises of ice cream and Jell-O. Mary sleeps.
The front cover will include text that has been torn from all sorts of places: a phrase from a newspaper headline, a word from a Sears catalogue, two letters scavenged from a shoe box, one from a Subway napkin, and three more trimmed from Auntie Linda’s Christmas card. That’s all as it should be, because that’s pretty much how the book is being written. Here are several fragments taped together and masquerading as the opening of a short story:
Once upon a time there lived a king and queen who were as forgettable as all the other kings and queens who had lived since time began. On Saturday, April 7, the queen agreed to join the king for a ride in his dingy along the mighty River Cole. Max Smith turned to watch the launching, gliding in sharp prowed silence with the blades of his single skull brushing the still surface of the Cole like the feet of a water spider below the rowlocks on their riggers. His widow’s peak and run-away mustache completed the skinny antithesis of what one would expect of a champion rower. He had taken gold in the cup races back in October, and yet he looked every pound a weakling as he nodded silent recognition to Habib.
With mock formality, Habib greeted Nichaline, “Good morrow, young miss. I trust she fares well.”
She replied with a very low bow, “Good morrow to the sailor. Neptune be praised that he is returned unharmed.”
“They found better meat, so they didn’t eat me, said the sausage.”
“What courage,” replied the butcher’s daughter.
“Right it is,” he answered, and with the oars steadying the dingy at the bank, and Max Smith’s little dog, Montmorency, unhappy and deeply suspicious atop the Five Arches Bridge, into it she stepped and out they shot on to the waters which, for the next seventy minutes, were to be their home.
Within a few hundred yards Habib was perturbed by the silence. He put on his touch-of-Bronowski accent and gave a speech on hydrodynamics and hull design, “Where do vee get this combination of laminar und turbulent flow? Frum the deepest depths of skience, Nichaline.”
“You’re German, is that why you’re all toasted?”
“I’m half English and half Indian.”
“I though you were a Paki.”
Habib, who had heard far worse far too often, casually replied, “Dad got here before partition. Always called himself Indian.”
“So, which half is Indian?” Nichaline asked, with either surprising facial control or surprising dumbdom.
“Everything from the waist down.”
She became less high spirited, more edgy, ill at ease. Applying steady and splashless strokes, Habib moved them up the river. It was wrapped in a delicate grey haze with a mud brown undertone, like a dirty thought struggling for words through a mist of racing hearts. Turbid waters dodged under the Highfield Road Bridge, threatening to give up a face or a waving arm through its dull murk–a murky depth that suggested drowned creatures, or staring corpses, white from bleeding in some ponded shell hole on the Western front.
In an attempt to defuse the racial shell that threatened the stability of their boat, Habib explained the Troy two to the one-hundred theory. This was his name for the principle that for any modern individual to have been the product of matings between unrelated humans since the siege of Troy, there would have to have been two to the power of one hundred humans alive at that time: a figure that dwarfs the total number of humans that have ever lived. Thus, he concluded, we are all related or highly inbred, “an interesting dilemma for those who support wars against those of different races.”
A Writer’s Group,
With a blog?
What? Really? These Things happen???
Yes. The 21st century comes up with some crazy details and ideas.
It’s fun. I like living in this time.
We have information thrown at us from every angle of every day and unless we’re out in a field we’re bombarded by it. So, if we’re bombarded, why not add to the bombardment, and create more of a shell shock for those of us unwise to the glory of ear plugs?
The days here as of late have been beautiful. Sunny, warm, no rain. Light breeze. Perfect for gardening, being outside, going to the ball game, havin a bbq! The days lengthen, and we enjoy them for the deep of winter is not as fun as it seems.
I learned yesterday that Robins listen to the ground, and hear the worms before they reach and grab it from its dirt abode. How amazing is that?
I’m pretty excited. I think I got the start of the next Great American Novel brewing. And a collection of short stories are sure to be along as well. In the meantime, go find the lilacs and smell them. They’re almost done blooming.