Short Stories 

 

 

 

Thursday
Nov202014

Short Stories by Robert Wexelblatt, Mark Heydon, and William Blome

 

Petite Suite Cybenétique

By Robert Wexelblatt

 

1. Écriture à Nègre:  Basse-Danse en Do Dièse pour Flûte, Hautbois et Orchestre à Cordes—Mystérieuse et Aléatoire

 

            The first post to turn up on Charles’ blog after his fatal heart attack was long, practically an essay, and nothing like the financial analyses he posted prior to becoming defunct. The only reason I had pulled up his blog was because I missed Charles.  I wanted to read something familiar, to hear again that prudent voice of his.  Also, I wondered if his children had already taken it down.  Charles was only fifty-four so I was unprepared and supposed he must be too.  His death ripped a hole in what I’d thought of as the unbreakable fabric of my life.  We had been seeing each other for nearly two years.  He was the lonely long-term divorcé and I, to use an outmoded term, was the self-sufficient spinster.  We got along well; we both had plenty of money.  He wanted to marry while I wasn’t sure; I was deferring a decision.

            The blog post could be read as about dying; it even suggests that meaning. In fact, in my grief and astonishment, that’s just how I first read it—Charles telling me about dying.  I thought he had composed it in advance, like a will, then somehow arranged for it to pop up on his blog in case he should die.  In that case, perhaps the infarction hadn’t taken him as much by surprise as it did me.  It really felt as if Charles had written from the grave about his feelings on getting there.  When I got a grip I saw how absurd that was.  The post didn’t sound the least bit like Charles.  Nevertheless, there it was on wallstreetowl.blogspot.com, just four days after the funeral. I read it a second time and saw that it wasn’t necessarily about dying:

 

       The great moments ought to be experienced immediately, without reflection.  Falling in love, achieved ambition, childbirth, dying. It seems wrong to grasp that one’s life is at a turning-point in medias res, as it turns.  In my opinion, insight ought to be held back until later; understanding should come in a state of tranquil retrospection.  Otherwise one’s realizations are suspiciously dramatic, as in the case of Oedipus.  Aristotle insists that, in the best dramas, the protagonist and the audience should all experience anagnorisis and peripeteia simultaneously, recognition coinciding with reversal.  By the Fates, she really was old enough to be my mother!  And that obnoxious old man on the road was my dad which means the kids are my siblings.  Wow!  This works perfectly on stage, but is that how things should go in life?

       Too much consciousness of its significance can’t help but divorce you from an event.  The sincerity of whatever you’re feeling is subverted, even if that feeling’s as profound as any you’ll ever have.  When you’re aware in the middle of the earthquake that your life is taking a turn you’re already starting to live in the aftermath.  The crucial moment vanishes in the new condition which, for weal or woe, it’s initiated.  You’ve set the future in motion just by thinking of it.

       Well, perhaps I’m wrong and acute self-consciousness on the grand occasions isn’t at all unusual.  After all, a turning-point is just that, a point in the Euclidean sense.  It occupies no space—that is, it has no duration.  As it happens it’s over.  I suppose that if we do get around to retrospection, when we begin to look back over our lives the way a critic does a novel, then the turning-point takes on mass, appearing to loom and last.  Even if we’re aware of the actual velocity of the transition we can’t help extending it, letting it swell up like a bruise.  I suppose it’s for the same reason that Pharaoh’s image was bulked up to dwarf all the dancing girls, ministers, warriors, and flute-players.  What’s important has to look big, and what’s decisive must have taken some time to unfold.  So the moment of turning isn’t really a moment at all; it sticks out its chest and rises above the millions on either side which, as we look back, seem merely to lead up to it and then away.  One falls in love, loses a limb, strikes it rich, catches a disease, loses everything on one bet, buys a Porsche, becomes a father, a widow, is fatally attacked by one’s own heart.  Something begins and life’s comic; something ends and it’s tragic.

 

            Charles never indulged in anything resembling this sort of reflection.  In fact, that’s putting it mildly.  As regards inward matters, if he had any, he was parsimonious with insights.  He always seemed content with platitudes, at ease with emotional clichés.  Love your children, defend your country, fear God but don’t talk about any of it.  Charles’ professional advice was similarly conservative: study up, diversify, take prudent risks, don’t let the overhead grow too large.  He respected his fellow citizens, treated women with courtesy, and was congenially dull.  Well, I’d had enough imaginative men in my life, even a couple of Deep Thinkers.  Stolidity was one of the things I liked most about Charles. A brick wall may be flat and uninteresting, but you know you can lean on it if you need to.  I thought Charles was a bit dense, but just enough and in the right places.  His world was the outer one, the one that’s full of business and politics, of numbers that are always prices.  In this domain he could be inspired, perhaps even original, for all I know.  His blog had a lot of followers.  He was regularly hired by plutocrats who presumably listened to him. 

            Charles had been a widower for six years when Cecilia and Harold Schirmer contrived to introduce us at a dîner à quatre.  The Schirmers are nice people, and, as we both pretended to resent their interference and presumption, Charles and I hit it off.  It was what you’d call an arrangement, I suppose.  I’d never married and never intended to.  I had my own career and my own money. I’d gone through enough men—and enough with them—so, with some relief, I’d considered all that over with.  But Charles proved an excellent companion.  He worked awfully hard at convincing me to wed.  Once, in a fit of unaccustomed humor, he projected a PowerPoint presentation on my bedroom wall, laying out the tax benefits. 

 

            The second posthumous blog entry was much shorter but still stranger, just this snatch of detached dialogue:

 

- Stop playing with your phone and look at me.

- You’re lying.

- Lying?  Why do you think that?

- Because I know you.  That’s why.

- Oh, nobody really knows anybody else.

- An unoriginal defense and a clumsy attempt to change the subject.

- But true nonetheless.

- No, not true at all.  You always overestimate the uniqueness of people, especially when it’s convenient.

- So then, not true—but also not a lie?

- Knowing’s not the same as loving.

- Okay.  One has to choose either knowing or loving, if you say so.  In that case I choose loving—but how can you really love what isn’t unique?

- Like me?

- Oh, you!  Nobody’s like you.

- That’s just what I mean!

 

            I wondered whether I should notify Charles’ son and daughter about these posts.  What happens to a blog when the blogger dies?  Does it pass to his heirs, along with the family silver and the treasury bonds?  Could one of them have taken it over?  I didn’t believe it. Philip’s even more sober-sided and conventional than Charles was.  And I was sure it couldn’t be Elena either, though I’d only met her the one time.  Anyway, in my opinion the voice was definitely a man’s.  Besides, even from Charles’ indulgent accounts of his daughter, you could tell she was a silly young woman.  She had gone off to some college in Southern California, dropped out her sophomore year, and stayed on in Santa Something, working in restaurants.  According to her fond but truthful father, Elena’s chief interests were yoga, the slow food movement, and husband-hunting. She was hardly likely to have written the jaded Francophilic/phobic sonnet that turned up next under the title “Mondanité,” which I had to look up (it refers to “social life” of the haute variety):

 

I left the party just as it began,

before it could disappoint, dissipate

the guests’ sang-froid, before it got so late

the maquillage and amour-propre ran.

Yet I was the host; I’d bought the booze

they’d swill until, all their inhibitions

drowned, they’d take up bizarre positions,

launch arguments no one could win or lose.

Soon they’d start staring meaningly then flirt

sans vergogne, sucking in a gut, hiking up a skirt.

Toujours l’amour, le discours, le bon esprit,

scoring points or simply scoring,

all using the toilet, a few making free

with my bed.  Hélas, mes amis, how boring.

 

            No, somebody else had to be behind these entries, so nearly meaningful and yet apparently random.  They would have puzzled Charles’ faithful readers as much as me.  But were there any readers besides me?  Philip had considerately posted a death and termination notice, bordered in black, along with an abbreviated version of the tedious eulogy in which he had included not a single anecdote about his father.  So, the blog had been closed down; it was kaput—except that, evidently, it wasn’t. Was it possible for someone to appropriate wallstreetowl?  Could the name already have been recycled?  But would anyone posting such things choose such a name, including strange sonnets and abrupt dialogues that had nothing remotely to do with finance, like this one:

 

- The contrary of every truth is likewise true.  An adolescent opinion, you’ll say, or that of somebody who’s lived too long. But still there’s something to it, isn’t there?  We’re all in it together and we’re all alone.  Art satisfies our rage for order and disrupts the dull repetitions of quotidian routine.  The rainy weather’s bad for picnics and also good for the garden.  There’s dark in lightness and a ray of brightness in the darkest night. Mother night.

- So when you say you love me, you’re also saying you hate me?

- Naturally, sweetheart.  Don’t tell me you’d prefer me to ignore you, for your lover to be one of those lukewarm types God spits out.

 

            I took to checking the blog every morning as soon as I got to work and every evening the moment I got home.  It was a bit like recapitulating the schedule of phone calls Charles and I had made to each other in those first months.  It was ludicrous but I couldn’t shake the idea that these posts were meant for me, including bits of doggerel like this:

 

Pretty’s regular, flawless, fresh,

Clear of eye and tight of flesh.

Beauty’s rather more complex,

Like aged wine or mature sex.

 

            Fantasy’s often humdrum, second-hand.  I pictured my phantom blogger looking like a man out of some old commercial for Old Spice, say, or Arrow Shirts, prepossessing and somewhere between forty and fifty, lively, tall, fit, with graying temples.  I made up a little fantasy about him noticing me with Charles on some occasion; perhaps we’d even been introduced and he couldn’t get me out of his mind.  Then he’d guessed I’d check Charles’ blog and somehow got control of it.  I know that fantasy’s cheap and far outstrips data; no doubt that’s just what it’s for.  I pulled myself up and reminded myself about the hard-headed career woman who hires and fires and hasn’t any time to waste on metaphysics.  Dreaming up my phantom Arrow Shirt Man was no better than imagining dead Charles had turned into a ghost writer.

            Nevertheless, one night, in a weak and sentimental moment, I sent this message to Charles’ old email account.  I expected it to bounce back.  I think I hoped it would.

 

I miss you, Charles.  I miss the tennis and the way you smelled;  I miss bed.  I even miss the country club and your dull golf stories. I miss Sunday brunch and falling asleep in front of Cary Grant movies.  Remember our plan to go to Africa?  I miss looking forward to Africa.

 

But the email didn’t bounce back.  The next day I received a reply, unsigned.

 

Let’s go to Africa.  It’ll be hot and different.  We’ll check out the gazelles, the lions and the zebras.  Don’t you long to see a herd of wildebeests?  We’ll sit under the stars and re-read ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’  And then—off to Paris. What do you say? How about it?  Can you get away?

 

After midnight and a whisky, I wrote my response:

 

One gets used to everything.  People give up what causes more pain than pleasure—even what provokes quite a lot of pleasure.  I can live alone, truly alone. For me, intimacy has always been optional. I’m accustomed to solitude; it feels normal.

 

Two mornings later came this email:

 

If you’ve had bad luck with men maybe it’s because you asked for too little to suit them.  You think you asked for too much, when, in fact, you asked for next to nothing.  Next to nothing, which is how you live and sleep, isn’t it?  Wouldn’t you prefer, well, next to something?

 

I replied with one final email written in the chilly light of an overcast Saturday morning:

 

Forgive me.  It’s discourteous to turn down any gift.  Yet politeness is far from the highest of virtues; sometimes it’s no virtue whatsoever, all shell and no nut.  What we feel is usually what we imagine we ought to feel.  A gift flatters our vanity by making us feel we’re worthy of it.  Sincerity’s only to be found in the present.  As I said, I can live alone, happily, truly alone.  I’m at home with it now.  I don’t want mystery.

 

So, whoever you are, no more dreams of Africa, no reveries of Paris, no more blog posts or emails, please.  Not for now, at least.  I’m sincerely sorry. 

 

     Go away.

 

            I declared an end.  That was two weeks ago.  All the same, now and then, after an exasperating commute or when it’s too early for bed, I check out wallstreetowl.blogspot.com.  Sometimes I feel I’m peering over the frontier into an undiscovered country, in Africa perhaps; but at others I feel I’m looking back into a pleasant land from which I’ve foolishly banished myself.

 

 

2. Chambre d’Écho: Poème Monotone pour des Instruments Limités à une Seule Clé – Obsessionnel et Résolument Malsain

 

Hariolus:  In 1987 Edmond de Rothschild organized the World Conservation Bank to assume Third World debt in exchange for land.  The cover was ecological altruism; but of course the real aim of Rothschild & Associates is to buy up 30% of the earth’s land mass.

 

Freeman21: IMF is in total sync with that WCB plan.  Their version’s called the Structural Adjustment Program, a splendidly bland euphemism in my opinion. The idea’s that governments of countries in hopeless debt (thanks to the IMF, of course) sell off their national assets, including arable land, at discounted prices to big, Western corporations.  It’s easy and, no doubt, pretty cheap to bribe officials to approve these sales.  It’s thanks to this SAP that you get countries with starving populations exporting cash crops. Brazil, for instance.  You see how it works?

 

Hariolus:  Anybody with one eye and half a brain can see.  It all fits.  BTW, you catch Lycurgus’ post last week on Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s role in the WB and IMF?

 

Freeman21:  Jeez.  How many Rothschilds are there anyway?

 

Zorro47:  Enough.

 

Demosthenes3:  For two centuries that lot have been trying to take over everything.  In the IMF and WB they’ve finally found the right tools, especially that SAP.

 

Hariolus:  Every country that gets tangled up with the IMF/WB sooner or later finds itself with a crashed economy, a corrupt and dysfunctional government, riots—sometimes civil war.

 

Demosthenes3: Which is the plan.

 

Pitchfork10:  Goddamn Bretton Woods.  Europe and Asia hadn’t hardly quit smoldering when the big money moved in.

 

            After assessing Rudolf Burkushny, Dr. Pappenheim decided to make the task of writing about his illness the center of his new patient’s therapy.  This was, he determined, an instance of addiction rather than monomania.  Rudolf was resistant, as the exceptionally intelligent almost always are. Perhaps, mused the doctor, after checking out the chat room for himself, only intellectuals would succumb to such foolishness.

            “It’s not the IMF or the World Bank or even the Rothschilds,” he would have liked to explain to Rudolf.  “This hatred and fear are secondary to your need to believe there is an order to the world, even a wicked one.  Disappointment with life is the root. You might have ascribed this conspiracy to any powerful group, any prosperous minority.”  This he did not say, of course.  What he did say was this:  “Certain unhealthy conditions manifest themselves in a fashion that may feel like enlightenment. This disturbance proceeds from the inside, not the outside.  Look, you’re very bright, Mr. Burkushny—Rudolf, if I may.  And smart people like you aren’t easily satisfied.  Intellectuals have to think things through for themselves, the good ones at least.  One can point out how such people have lost their way; but, in the end, they have to find their way back for themselves.  To do so, one must free oneself from the tyranny of others’ opinions.  You need, in effect, to renew your liberal education. The liberal refers to the schooling of free individuals.  We don’t want merely to paint over the rust, do we?”

            “No,” Rudolf replied without affect.  Pappenheim’s fondness for the first-person plural was an irritating and all-too-obvious semantic tactic meant to induce pusillanimous submission and collaboration.

            “No, it isn’t.  What we want is for you to pull yourself up from the depths.  De profundis.”  The doctor, not satisfied with Latin, leaned back in his huge leather chair and smiled with anticipatory pleasure at speaking his native language, quoting his favorite poet.  “Es freue sich,  wer da atmet im rosigten Licht.  We need you to struggle, Rudolf, to hoist yourself out of the muck and back up into the light.  We want you to feel the relief of Schiller’s diver.  We want you also to rejoice up here in the roseate light.”

 

            Rudolf began his assigned task by quoting “The Mad Scientist” by Klaren Verheim, an essay dating from pre-digital days.

 

...the mad scientist succeeds in large measure simply because of his singleness of purpose, his exclusive and unhealthy concentration on the one matter he considers of supreme importance.  Possessed by this isolating fixation, he adopts the calculated indifference of one who is perpetually thinking of the same thing.  He is not a joiner.  Apart from a maimed assistant, perhaps, he is a solitary figure who feels for his most accomplished colleagues a scorn even greater than his contempt for non-scientists, whom he thinks of as “the masses.”  The mad scientist deems himself a supreme aristocrat, sole member of an elite class of one.  No democrat ever uses the word masses.

 

Rudolf Burkushny was a scientist himself, an electrical engineer.  A couple years before, a colleague had given him a copy of Verheim’s essay.  They were both fans of science fiction and he thought Rudolf would find it amusing if not insightful. Evidently, the piece had stuck in his mind. Perhaps this is why, when he sat down to write his assigned treatise about what his wife and doctor considered his madness, he recollected the essay and fished it out of his filing cabinet.  This was not because he fancied himself a mad scientist—mad scientists are all geniuses and he was not a genius—but because the essay opens by distinguishing between a mad scientist and a scientist who has merely gone mad.

 

The mad scientist does mad science, accomplishing marvels that, were he sane, might merit a Nobel prize.  A scientist who has merely gone mad, on the other hand, would no longer be doing science; he would be doing lunacy.  It hardly matters that he used to be a scientist because he has gone mad in the same way that an accountant or an insurance salesman might—indeed, they could share a ward.

 

            Dr. Pappenheim knew it would be counter-productive to push too hard.  He labored patiently and even subtly just to bring Rudolf to accept that he had perhaps gone a little mad.  He had laid out a strong, practical case pointing out the exasperation of his wife and family, how the members of the chat room had come to displace all other human contacts, his always harping on the same idea—in short, he reviewed all the indications of an obsession that had gone well beyond being a merely unwholesome hobby.  It was when the doctor used the phrase “always harping on the same idea” that Rudolf recalled the mad scientist essay, for Verheim had used the same weary metaphor.

            Rudolf’s involvement in the chat room had begun when Victor Karam, an acquaintance he had not seen since high school, sent him an email asking his opinion of the IMF and World Bank.  The email included, along with links to a dozen web sites, one to the chat room.  Karam explained that the exceptionally well informed people who met digitally all used pseudonyms and that he himself had adopted the handle Hariolus.  Rudolf looked up Hariolus and discovered that it is Latin for fortuneteller, soothsayer. 

            Initially, Rudolf was uninterested.  He replied to Victor (alias Hariolus) briefly but politely then ignored the email he immediately got in return.  But Karam persisted, sending more emails, more links and citations, until, to put an end to the matter, Rudolf decided to debunk his annoying old classmate’s circular arguments and dubious sources.  This effort elicited such lengthy and mocking ripostes that he felt compelled to reply to them as well.  In this way, little by little, he began to stay at the computer hour after hour, long after his exasperated and increasingly anxious wife went off to bed.  He entered the chat room, introduced by Karam as their own “devil’s advocate.”  Over the next week the sheer, relentless certainty of “Hariolus” and his crew began to work on Rudolf and he ended by himself becoming one of the obsessed, joining zealously in the mutual reinforcement. He took the name Zorro47 because, as a boy, he had admired Zorro’s swordsmanship, his sense of justice, his black outfit, and because he had just turned forty-seven.  It was only to save his marriage that he gave in to his wife’s ultimatum and consented to see Dr. Pappenheim.  The doctor was no fool.  Instead of ridiculing the preoccupation of Rudolf and his virtual friends, he posed questions like, “Do you ever wonder whether, if the IMF, the World Bank, and the Rothschilds are smart enough to manipulate the whole world, they ought to run it?” and “What would you do if you were suddenly made President of the World Bank or Director of the International Monetary Fund?”  And also this:  “What did you think of this old classmate of yours when you were at school together?  Did you like him?”

 

            Rudolf concluded his assignment for Doctor Pappenheim with these paragraphs:

 

       Conspiracy theorists never imagine that they are themselves conspirators.  Thanks to the Internet, lonely people are readily seduced by groups who cleave to the idea of a malignly organized world, of conspiracies, but still more by finding the belonging their lives otherwise lack.  They eagerly nestle into the warmth of this community of the seduced.  The mad scientist is a loner, but these people revel in their solidarity and lap up their mutual approval.  They are not alone.  Indeed, that they are not alone in their fixation is to them the chief proof that they are not mad. 

       The Internet is a hothouse in which these micro-communities flourish, rather like mushrooms in a dark, humid cellar.  “We have the truth,” they perpetually assure one another.  “We alone—and together—possess the skeleton key that has unlocked the whole truth; we band of brothers see how the world is really set up and that it is a set up.  The others—the deluded, the ignorant, the naïve, the deniers—will find out in the end that we were right.”  And what profound satisfaction they take in anticipating this apocalyptic validation.

       One of our group went by the name Cassandra.  I naturally pictured Cassandra as a female, but of course you can never be sure online.  Anyway, her (or his) name was not well chosen.  The original Cassandra was as isolated by her prescience as the mad scientist is by his insanity.  Cassandra’s tragedy was not to be believed by anyone.  However, in the echo chamber of the chat room there are only believers.  All infidels are excluded—as I nearly was at first.  Could it have been the will to join in that drew me in, the promise of a secular communion?  Did I crave the relief people always feel when joining a mob, even an esoteric one that keeps telling itself it has the inside dope on reality?  I have begun to think there must have been some vacuum in me of which I was unaware until the chat room filled it.

       One can unite people in love only so long as there is someone else to receive the hate.  That is what your Freud wrote, Dr. Pappenheim. In the chatroom, those whom we hated we also, in a sense, respected.  The Rothschilds.  The international bankers.  The clever CEOs and scheming finance ministers.  They were the mad Faustian geniuses, not us.  We were only sheaves tightly bound to each other with the twisted twine of insight and revulsion.

 

            Dr. Pappenheim was thoroughly delighted with Rudolf’s essay and not a little pleased with himself for having thought of assigning him to write it.  In fact, this confession persuaded him of Burkushny’s recovery.  He never suspected that the night following their final session, as soon he was certain that his wife was fast asleep, Rudolf would tiptoe to his study and boot up.

 

Zorro47: Robert Zoellick, eleventh president of the World Bank:  “If leaders are serious about creating new global responsibilities or governance, let them start by modernizing multilateralism to empower the WTO, the IMF, and the World Bank Group to monitor national policies.”  Monitor national policies.  In other words, these institutions aim to so dominate national policy that the very idea ‘national’ will go the way of the giant tapir and the Irish elk.  

 

Hariolus: Welcome back, Zorro!  We missed you.

 

Zorro47:  Me, too.

 

Demosthenes3:  Any new thoughts while you were away?

 

Zorro47:  Nothing really new.  Well maybe this.  There’s a risk in focusing on one truth, even when it’s the most vital of all.  People don’t want you to wake them up, let alone to take action. It’s easier to dismiss you as an obsessive bore, a crank, a monomaniac. By rejecting you they can also dismiss the truth.  They certainly don’t want to hear that they’re puppets in a dreary show with an oppressive plot.  They don’t relish being told that their souls have been engineered.  They conflate a regard for their freedom with a blind faith that life is “random.”  And they’d rather not think about the insatiability of the powerful.  Even if you can get them to consider such things, it will be for only a short time, and usually only because of their personal resentment or desperation.  They enjoy blaming the wealthy for their misery; nevertheless, they don’t want to listen to the details of how the wealthy make common cause with the so-called democratic politicians who at election time know how to smile and flatter them, who call for a government “as decent, honest, and full of common sense as you are.”  Cassandra wasn’t entirely alone with her terrible certainty.  The gods knew she had the truth, though it did her no good.

 

Cassandra:  Muchos gracias, Zorro47.  I know where you’re coming from.

 

Hariolus:  Si. Bienvenida de nuevo, Señor Zorro. ¿Lo hemos dicho todos?

 

Pitchfork10:  Hey!  What’s with the damned Spanish?

 

Freeman21:  Down with fiat currency!  Down with the Federal Reserve, the IMF and the World Bank! Back to the gold standard!

 

Zorro47:  Oh, thanks.  It’s good to be able to really breathe again, up here in the roseate light.

 

 

3. Rapports Séxuels  Protégés:  Gigue Stérile pour Violon et Piano en Mi majeur, Défensive et Réticent

 

Darla:  I’ve never done this before.  I mean computer dating.  I don’t know whether to feel proud or myself or ashamed or what.  Are you a veteran?  It would really help me to know.

 

Tom:  I wouldn’t say veteran.  I’ve tried it a few times.

 

Darla:  Few means three, a couple means two.  More than three would be several. 

 

Tom:  Would more than three make me a veteran?

 

Darla:  Yes.

 

Tom:  Then I’m not a veteran.  Only twice. 

 

Darla:  Obviously, neither worked out.

 

Tom:  Well, that depends on what you mean by working out.  If it means lasting more than two excruciating hours, then no.

 

Darla:  So, didn’t work out then.

 

Tom:  Depends on what you mean by not working out.  There’s the let’s-call-the-whole-thing-off type of not working out and then there’s the Black Plague type.

 

Darla:  So, one Gershwin tune and one pandemic?  Yet here you are.  Were you the picky one or were they?

 

Tom:  Let’s just say some of us were too neurotic.

 

Darla:  You blame yourself?

 

Tom:  I always blame myself, especially for things that aren’t my fault.  I know that sounds contradictory but I’m like Walt Whitman, I contain multitudes.

 

Darla:  You read Whitman?

 

Tom:  Just the good bits.  But there are lots of them.  Do you like poetry?

 

Darla:  Yes.

 

Tom:  Do you read it or just write it?  So few seem to do both.

 

Darla:  You’ve got wit.  I’ll give you that.

 

Tom:  J’ai d’esprit!  Je suis le Wit Man!  Merci, mademoiselle.  Ceci n’est pas mal, oui?

 

Darla:  Non ou oui. C’est assez bon, je pense.  Honnêtement.

 

Tom:  Are we both Francophiles?

 

Darla:  The thing about la langue français is that I can’t take anything said in it seriously.  High school did that.

 

Tom:  Same here.  High school French. For our dictées Monsieur Teal used to play us De Gaulle’s speeches.  We all adored De Gaulle; the man spoke by millimeters.

 

Darla:  I thought this would be different.

 

Tom:  How?

 

Darla:  Oh, I don’t know.  I guess I supposed you’d be pushier.  And stupider.

 

Tom:  So, I have wit and don’t come across as pushy or stupid.  Be warned:  my amour-propre is swelling up like a wet telephone book.

 

Darla:  Well, everybody’s been called stupid at some time, but have you ever been called pushy?

 

Tom:  Not once.  Never.  I think to come off as really pushy you’ve got to be either too secure or the opposite.

 

Darla:  So you’re just insecure enough?

 

Tom:  Bingo.  As Ralph Freed asked, how about you?

 

Darla:  Ralph Freed?

 

Tom:  You know.  Lyricist.  I love New York in June. . . How about you?  How about you?

 

Darla:  Not stupid, at least not often.  Never pushy.  Never married.  Two long-term relationships.  So, in a couple a couple of times.

 

Tom:  Not a veteran then.  When did the second long-term relationship reach term?

 

Darla: We split up on Valentine’s Day.  How about you?

 

Tom:  Married for three years.  Divorced on Labor Day.  No kids or alimony either.  Not enough community property worth fighting over.  I got the Glenn Gould recordings and the busted vacuum cleaner.  She got the window box full of petunias and the bank account.

 

Darla:  So, you’re lonely?

 

Tom:  No.  I’m usually just alone.  I’ll admit that sometimes it may shade into loneliness.

 

Darla:  Shade into?

 

Tom:  You know.  At three in the morning.  Saturday nights.   Friday nights.  Tuesday afternoons.  On Wednesdays and Thursdays.  When eating turkey bacon or potatoes au gratin.  When watching reruns of ‘The West Wing’ or looking out the window.  But not usually.

 

Darla:  I know what you mean.

 

Tom:  Okay, time for a test.  Stones.  Dostoyevsky.  Vermeer.

 

Darla:  Yes, not always, and yes.  Now you:  Mahler, Emily Brontë, Matisse?

 

Tom:  Yes, not so much, yes.  How about Yeats?

 

Darla:  Oh, a big fat Yes to Yeats.

 

Tom:   

I heard an old religious man 

But yesternight declare

That he had found a text to prove

That only God, my dear,

Could love you for yourself alone

And not your yellow hair.

 

Do you have yellow hair?

 

Darla:  I can if I want.

 

Tom:  Touché.

 

Darla:  Well, what are we supposed to do now?

 

Tom:  You mean like make a date?

 

Darla:  I’m informed it’s the custom.

 

Tom:  I don’t know.   The meat/meet world’s pretty risky. You know, Black Death-wise.

 

Darla:  Hurricane Katrina-wise?  San Francisco earthquake-wise?

 

Tom:  Exactly.  I should know.  Remember, I’m nearly a veteran. 

 

Darla:  Then what?  Just this?

 

Tom:  Think of all we’d escape.

 

Darla:  You really mean just go on like this?

 

Tom:  All the disappointments.  The way I brush my teeth, for instance—it’s pretty disgusting.  I’ve been known to drink more than I should.  A couple of times—well, a few.  Sometimes I order pizza with garlic on it.  You might ask me to fix a faucet or something, and, to put it mildly, I’m not what you’d call handy.  Think of it.  No worrying about old underwear or whether there are any hairs in the bathtub.

 

Darla:  Ugh, and mornings.  You wouldn’t see me without my make-up or before I can get some caffeine into me.  You’d never have to meet my sister the New Age drug addict.

 

Tom:  See?

 

Darla:  So we go on like this, then?

 

Tom:  It’s begun well, don’t you think?  And, above all, it’s safe.

 

Darla:  Yes.  Positively hygienic.

 

Tom:  You wouldn’t have to wonder about how to get me out of your place or hear me snore or whether to pretend to laugh at my rotten jokes.  And consider this too, Mademoiselle:  if I never saw your yellow hair I might just love you for yourself alone.

 

Down From Cabin 8

By Mark Heydon

 

They called Jerry down from Cabin 8 not for why he did it but just because he did it, the pure viciousness of what he did.  And even before he found out that what he had done had been discovered and was already known by the small cabal of four adults and one child now sitting in the camp office, even before he had started his slow, dragging walk down through the camp towards the dust-brown building behind the pool, he’d already calculated that his chances of them letting him stay were no better than nothing.  He’d already begun thinking of how he could get away.  

Before Jerry arrived at the office, Peters, the camp administrator, announced loudly that there would be charges, that there had to be charges, that such charges had been handed down not by himself but by the extremity of the circumstances.  The girl was badly injured and she lay injured by the boy’s doing. The camp had likewise been stained, deeply, though he hoped not permanently and not publicly.  “We’re a Christian camp,” he said.  “We’re a Christian camp and we just don’t do those things here.”  He paused to look at each of them for confirmation before settling his eyes on the child sitting a few feet to his right.  “We are not those kind of people.”

Julie, a smallish, pony-tailed girl and the one child among them, glanced up at Peters and then looked expectantly back at the door.  She was the one who had found the girl lying on her bunk, had seen that the girl was barely breathing, and had immediately known that she should inform an adult that the injured girl, Kathy, looked as though she was very likely going to die right there at the end of the afternoon in her sleeping bag on her bed right inside the girls’ cabin if nobody did anything about her. Julie quickly ran from the suffering girl and rushed to fetch the camp nurse who, after a hurried run up the steep path, had seen the girl lying, cuddled tightly on her bed, and coughing but not tearing. (The nurse then told her to cry to try to let out the pain, to “give yourself room to scream if you’ve got to” as she turned around and told another girl—a girl who’d just wandered in from the pool and who was still standing inside her cold swimsuit, staring, letting a small bleed of water trickle down beneath her onto the bare plank floor—to stay there, to not move from that spot until she, the nurse, returned.) She then ran with Julie to the office to tell Peters and to gather ice and compresses and an extra blanket to begin the process of the girl’s recovery.  The nurse began, too, to form in her mind the long sentences of her righteous condemnation of the boy, Jerry. She had seen them together.  She’d suspected what had been going on.  There was likely going to be “more to this than meets the eye,” she said to Julie as they hurried back.

 Peters, himself, was sitting at the center of the five.  To his right were the camp nurse and the girl.  The girl’s counselor and the boy’s were to his left.  Each present had been allowed into the proceedings office by Peters’ quick figuring of who should know what had happened and how it had happened and, as best Peters had been able to figure out, how much the four were likely to say and how they were going to say it to anyone who might be required to hear.  As each of them arrived, he had repeated his demand for charges and then asked, after they’d all sat themselves down and sworn themselves to silence, asked nearly as loudly as the demand for charges, if “the sheriff-—has anyone called him yet?”  

The boy’s counselor, a thin, pock-marked faced twenty year old, the last to arrive and who sat down slowly and heavily in the remaining chair, the chair farthest from the door, leaned back and reminded Peters that there could be no formal charges because of his age.  Jerry was just fifteen, he said.  He was still considered a juvenile in the eyes of the law.

“Well, he shouldn't be,” Peters shouted just as the scrape of steps was heard outside on the porch. “Boy’s got to be held accountable, got to know what he’s done,” he spoke quickly and folded his arms with a shrug across his chest.

Jerry pushed open the screen door and stopped to let his eyes adjust to the shadows of the room.  The five of them, sitting facing him in the small arc of folding chairs, began to appear.  Kathy, of course, was not there.  

The doctor was on his way, someone said.  Jerry wasn’t quite sure who, a woman’s voice.  He thought he saw his counselor point to an empty chair in front of the group.  He heard a voice tell him, directly and sharply, to sit down.

“Why would you ever do such a thing?” one of the two woman blurted out before he'd even reached the chair and had a chance to seat himself.  That counselor, a girl who did not appear to be much older than Jerry but who Jerry judged was eighteen at least just because she was old enough to be a counselor and was, therefore, old enough to make decisions for her entire cabin, and who was also old enough, Jerry thought, to be put off by what he’d done while at the same time not old enough to understand what he, Jerry, was afraid of—had no idea what he needed them to understand and that was why a boy would do such a thing, why a fifteen year old Christian camper and son of a Christian pastor and son of the teachings of the Christ Jesus, Savior and Lord would kick with all the force he was able to direct into the sole of his canvas shoe into the abdomen of the girl and do so with such force as not only to kick her clean across the empty cabin floor but also on into near unconsciousness from pain and damage and (at her insistence) abandonment.

“Why?”  The female counselor again asked and looked away slowly from Jerry to Peters as if Peters should be asking the question and that his authority would make certain it would be asked and then finally be answered.  

Jerry sat.  He faced them, not three feet away, using only half his seat because he believed that he would not need to use the whole seat, that he would be leaving soon and quickly and that his place here by this office and this camp and these people had only moments left in it.  

He understood there was going to be no opening given to him for his own response, that his response was refused before he had even said it, that he was there to listen.  The best he could do for himself in front of this small spit of adults and one child would be to hold his silence and let them muster what they could of their anger and confusion and disrespect for any possible reason he might have for what he did. They would come, finally, to their own certain judgement and that would include his being sent home and the girl being sent to the hospital and the camp being left as near as it could to itself again.  He pushed his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans and waited.  

“Do you know what you have done?”  It was the girl counselor again.

It was a silly question, he thought.  He knew.  He had inserted himself into her breeding womb and conceived there what seemed to Jerry as something that must have interrupted the very will of God with the confound-it trouble of a small wad of flesh that he also knew he could not, not at fifteen, have been given the right by God nor father to create under heaven’s blue sky and that the creation of anything—animal, vegetable, or mineral, and, especially, animal—was a product of pure arrogance and pride and lust and in disobedience of that God under that shared by all except him, now, that blue sky.  

What he had done to the girl, therefore, was the only right thing for him to do.  And he wasn’t going to take back sin on what he’d done because what he’d done was not willful but what could be judged at best as a misunderstanding between him and that God.

And, moreover, he had done what she’d wanted him to do.

The girl, Kathy, had told him what he would have to do and why he would have to do it.  She had told him what the blow to her stomach would do for her and what it would do for her and for him.  She had said more but what had come to him had become a blur of words, a small verbal flood that had confused what he had managed to pull together in his own mind about girls his age and what they were capable of.  

“The child isn’t yours,” she told him.  It was another boy’s, as if that was to be a comfort to him to let him do what he would do two minutes later, but he didn’t know how that was to be a comfort to him.  He also knew she was lying.

And that she would lie to him was also impossible.  But the lie gave him courage and then when she had bullied him into it, when she told him what he had to do to her and after he had refused the first time she had said it and then she lied and he had then let her talk him into it and she had then told him what he had to do again and he had consented—he and she had consented both at the same time to the same solution—even then, he knew that their mutual conniving carried no weight of explanation with any of these people now sitting in front of him.  Consent supplied no moral value.

“She’ll be okay,” Peters was saying.  “You’re lucky.”  

“You could have killed her,” the counselor, Nick, said.  

The girl counselor frowned and shook her head.  “That’s not the point,” she said. “The point is why he did it.” She jerked her head up suddenly at Jerry and pointed her chin at his chest.  “The point is why it is that you think you had to suddenly …” she waited for the words to catch up to her thoughts “… assault that girl who was doing nothing but …” She left her question trail off into the trembling of her voice.

Nick sat up.  “You don’t suppose …” His voice softened, then he restarted. “You don’t suppose maybe she was … ?”

Peters looked up.  “What?”  Peters turned himself around full into the group.  

Nick slid farther into his chair.  “Maybe he wanted to terminate …” He stopped.

Peters’ eyes widened.  He turned to look at Jerry.  “The girl is pregnant?”

Jerry looked back at him.  He only had the girl’s word on it.  “Maybe,” he said.  “I don’t know.”

“Couldn’t be,” Judith said.  “How could… ?”

Peters interrupted.  “How much time does it take to find out, to discover you’re pregnant?”  He looked around the group, then turned to Nick.

“About the same time as…” Nick said but was interrupted by his own thoughts.  “You killing her… her child?”

“No,” the boy said sharply.  

The nurse asked, “What did she tell you?”

“No,” he said again, “none of it.”  

The nurse leaned forward in her chair.  “Who told you you could go around starting up human life inside someone’s stomach when you are not old enough to sit behind the wheel of a car-—any car-—to steer it and girl and baby towards a hospital, towards a doctor, towards a decent chance of survival?”

Jerry’s right leg began to bounce up and down.  He began to think without them, around them, other than them.  

“And then, of course, who told you you could stop that baby from being born?” the nurse shouted.

“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?” Kathy had said.  “That’s the point.  You got to stop the baby from being born because once that baby is here on this earth, it’s going to start looking around for how it got here.  It’s going to start snooping around for you a few years from now and want to know all about you and you know you can’t have someone or something wandering into your life, snooping around mostly because that future may not be something you—or it—will be comfortable showing off or sharing or even being proud of.  You can’t trust the future for goodness.”  

Jerry looked at the nurse.  “None of it.”

“What do you mean?” Nick asked and sat up.

“You can’t do that,” Jerry said. “Whatever you are thinking it’s over.  Her and me have taken care of it.  It’s all over.  I told you, we took care of it.  We worked it out and we both agreed and we took care of it.  So if you think you can’t understand or you can’t take what we decided that’s your problem and don’t go calling me down for what we decided because you got no more right than we do to figure out what to do.”  The words weren’t staying still in his stomach but coming right up through his mouth.  

“You’d better go outside,” Peters said at last.  “Go out side.  We got to think what to do. You just go stand outside and wait.”

He went out.  He was surprised that it was already dark, that he had been inside for so long.  There was a new moon.  Several campers walked by.  They’d heard what had happened.  A couple, a tall girl holding the hand of a shorter and younger boy from Cabin 7 started walking towards him.  They stopped in front of him and the girl asked, “What’re they going to do to you?”

“I don’t think they know yet what they’re going to do,” he said.

“They going to send you home?”

“Maybe.  Probably.  I’m pretty sure they don’t want me here.”

“What more could they do?”

He shrugged.  In the darkness, with the light at his back, they just saw the outline of his shoulders move.  

“You know what I think they should do?”  The girl was looking directly at him, a narrow bit of light from the office behind him reflected off her eyes.  “I think they should just kick you in the stomach as hard as you kicked her.  That would serve you right and you’d be even.  Then you could stay.  Maybe you’d be crippled or something, but you’d be even.”

He wasn’t sure what she meant.  She tugged at the boy’s hand and the couple walked into the darkness.  

Jerry stood for a moment and listened to them whisper as they walked away, then he jumped off the step and ran as best he could through the darkness towards Cabin 4.

Kathy was lying on her side, her back to the wall, facing the dark row of bunk beds that lined the walls of the cabin.  A small bulb glowed harshly white from the center rafter.  The daytime debris of girls lay scattered about.  Damp swimming suits hung like intimate ornaments from the metal bed frames, rolled balls of socks lay under the beds, a towel and toothbrush that had been tossed carelessly at a bed lay on the floor.  There were no other girls in the cabin.  They’d been warned, he was sure, about Kathy and told to come back late and don’t make noise and don’t say anything to her.  Someone had spread a green sleeping bag over her.  She didn’t smile when he came in.  There were no signs on her face what she was thinking.  

She didn’t bother turning her head to look up at him when he came in.  He stopped next to the bed, being careful not to get too close.  He didn’t know how badly she was hurt and he was afraid he could make it worse just by getting too close.  

She looked pale in the light, as though she had the flu or some sickness that had caused the color of her face to recede into her skin.  Her eyes were dull.  He wasn’t sure she knew he was there.  Then she began to talk, slowly, as if she’d memorized what she was going to say.  

“What are you doing here?” It was a whisper.  He shoved his hands back into his front pockets and squatted down.

“They don’t want you around me,” she continued.  “They’re saying they don’t want you coming back to hurt me again.” She stopped saying anything for a moment. She still hadn’t looked at him.  He wasn’t sure she was breathing.  “What are you doing here?” she asked again.

He moved over closer to her and let his butt sit against the back of his legs.  His knees were up against his chest.  “Are you alright?” he asked.  It came out hoarsely, like he hadn’t been talking for a while.  

She nodded slightly.

“Can I get you anything?”

She didn’t move.  Then she rolled her head on her pillow, back and forth, twice.   There had been an older girl left to see to her, she whispered, another camper from a different cabin, but she’d gone off for a few minutes to get a book to read or something. She wasn’t sure.  It was hard for her to think, she said.  She thought the girl had gotten bored just sitting there watching her, and it had bothered her a little when the girl asked if she could go.  Kathy was a little scared and she’d liked having the girl around and at least seem a little sorry for her.  But she’d gone, saying she’d be right back. Kathy didn’t think she’d be back.

“You think … ?” Jerry started.

She knew what he was going to say, what he wanted to know.  She didn’t know. “It’s too soon,” she said.  “There’ll be blood, but there isn’t any—not yet.”

“Maybe I should …”

She struggled to roll away from him, towards the wall.  She was telling him to leave, he thought.  He couldn’t tell.  Maybe she was telling him she was tired and comfortable here with him watching her and she was both tired and hurting and he was supposed to stay and watch her while she healed since the girl was probably not coming back.  He couldn’t tell if he should go or stay.

He was looking at her back and his legs were beginning to cramp.  He stood up.

“You don’t want to talk,” he said.  He wasn’t surprised.  There was no point. There was no point to being surprised.  There was no point to talking.  “They’re sending me away, I think.”  He saw her head nod.  He started to touch her shoulder but pulled his hand back.  “Not because I want to.  They’ll send me home.  I can’t go home.”

She nodded again.

He shoved his hands into his pockets and waited, trying to figure out something more to say.  They wouldn’t see him leave and she wouldn’t see him go.  He would just be gone.  Everyone and everything could get back to normal.  Like it never happened. Like he’d never even been there.  They were ahead of him again, he thought, and he had to get them behind.

“Well,” he started to say.

“You’d better go,” she said.

He watched her breathe.  He wanted to tell her something more but there was nothing to say.  They’d come to the end of things to say.  He pulled his hands out of his pockets.  There was someone coming on the path.  He didn’t pause at the door but in one motion pushed it open and ran out.

 

The Fat Farmer

By William Blome

 

Sometime back, he and his daughter had thrown the farm open to tourists and others, customers who wanted to pull their own turnips and go home with a bag of fresh greens besides.  Soon after, his daughter overheard one of the visitors call him a “fat farmer.”  Now the daughter was quite good in graphic arts, a real star in her high school art classes, and so she designed some large signs for the place; several featured a directional arrow for staking in the ground along nearby major highways; she made one to hang over the entrance to the parking lot pasture.  All the signs featured fantastic fuchsia logos of him in huge overalls.  The farm’s walk-in business immediately jumped, and in practically no time, both he and the farm became known as The Fat Farmer. 

Now he realized he had always been a touchy bastard, easy to anger, slow to forget, eager to repay even the smallest slight.  The fact that his own flesh and blood was the cause of his smoldering bad temper over the signs and logos and the behind-his-back insults he knew were there aplenty each day they were open in no way watered down or mitigated his desire for revenge; nor did the increasing business that had come his way because of the advertising and branding afforded by the signs, and nor did the several related reasons he invented in his pique, such as his kid never having checked with him first before having the signs professionally made and actually deployed.

As he went about the thousand-and-one chores he had to do each week to maintain and prosper his farm, sad to say for both him and his daughter, thoughts of revenge kept seething, sprouting and flowering in his mind.  To be fair, the multiplicity of work he had to accomplish at first kept him from being obsessed about getting even with the girl, but it certainly grew close to being an obsession, for she seemed always near the center of his mind (even when he was sharpening the butcher knife he wielded at the dining room table to slice the roast beef thin, or as he twirled a paring knife to peel and dice turnips and potatoes).  By the time of first frost, as he lay in bed at night beneath the sheet and blanket he had to use now for the first time in several months, with his hands folded on top of the mound that was his paunch, he estimated he’d seriously sifted through some seventy different revenge motifs since the signs and logos had first appeared.  By Thanksgiving, however, he had narrowed it down to four.  And by the first Sunday of Advent, he was nightly exercising and working out, so to speak, the idea he’d selected, the revenge scenario he’d settled on.

Among the finalist notions he didn’t select were these: #1—Rolling over one of his daughter’s feet with his small tractor.  At first he liked this idea very much. It had just the right amount of severity to it.  But it eventually failed to make the cut primarily because of the driving skill required of him, and the just-right physical placement required of his daughter.  He reasoned that one shouldn’t have to be a Mario Andretti or a Jerome Robbins just to wreak a bit of revenge on one’s kith and kin.  #2—Referring out loud to his daughter (for any and all in earshot to hear) as Bucky Beaver, for he’d never paid to get her teeth straightened, and anyone looking at his daughter when he yelled out the Bucky Beaver epithet could easily do the math, so to speak, and immediately see where he was coming from.  But he junked this approach because it had about it more humor than he cared for.  And it really wasn’t severe or original enough either, being simply too much of a tit-for-tat gesture.  #3—Loosening the bolts in the overhead Fat Farmer sign she’d erected in the parking area, and attaching a trip-wire device to the sign such that when he tugged on the wire from his behind-an-oak-tree hiding place at a key moment, the sign would come crashing down and deal his daughter a glancing but heavy-enough blow on her shoulder, a hurt he estimated was sufficient to show his disgust, but not strong enough to permanently injure her.  But he eventually rejected this plan on grounds similar to the tractor caper: i.e., it would call for critical mechanical and timing skills on his part, skills that, again, he knew he didn’t really possess.

He finally settled on what he said to himself was the winning entry, what he pompously dubbed the metallic turnip initiative.  The chosen scheme had him first roaming in the turnip fields one night at one o’clock in the morning, flashlight in hand, digging and placing here and there in the rich soil two dozen full-sized metallic turnips.  He’d had them secretly molded and painted at a foundry miles away, and crafted in such a manner that he could attach the real stems of real green leaves to them, push them in the soil, and then spread and tamp down some dirt over the top to make them indistinguishable from the surrounding and genuine in-ground turnips.  When his daughter would lead the dumb-as-shit visitors out into the field to pick and pull fresh turnips, his metallic turnips would plop into their basket along with the real thing, and then he, the ever-thoughtful Fat Farmer, would play savior at the cash register when the customers filed by to weigh out and pay up before leaving.  He’d spot a metallic turnip, he’d dust it off and hold it high for all to see, and he’d then publicly and loudly berate his careless daughter for having failed to guard these good and decent customers from getting fake turnips in their bounty, iron turnips that could break teeth and shatter dental work in unsuspecting folks and their families. He would rant on that this terrible prospect was completely because of his daughter’s negligence to exercise even basic and rudimentary quality control and customer care.  He pictured this spectacle bringing his little girl to tears and hand-wringing anguish each time he enacted it, and thus his revenge would be continually assuaged.

But he had failed to reckon with the fact that the fucking foundry had done its work too well; the reality was that the painted iron turnips were way too difficult to spot at the checkout counter.  He soon began to worry about how many might be getting through and into the customers’ brown bags and actually going out into the world.  After about a week-and-a-half into his venture, he counted only nine decoys collected at the cash register. That meant, ideally, there had to be fifteen still out there in the fields, though his instinct told him that with the size of the walk-in traffic they’d been experiencing, the chances certainly were that less than fifteen were still left in the ground.  The chances are, he kept muttering to himself, there are none at all left in the ground; the chances are the phone will chime any minute now with the bourbon-smooth voice of some bastard lawyer on the other end, serving notice of an impending lawsuit about to come my way from a now-toothless client who had trusted herself or himself to the Fat Farmer’s produce and care.  Sadly and pathetically, he had to acknowledge that the only way to protect himself now and know for sure what his vulnerability was, was to roam the fields once again in the dark of night and attempt a physical inventory.

He chose a night four days after the day he deduced all this, because that was the soonest full-moon night, and, flashlight or no flashlight, he knew he needed all the help nature could give him as he paced row after row trying to locate the phony turnips.  As poor luck would have it, the full moon got obscured behind shuffling clouds, and there was a penetrating chill over the fields.  He knew at once the difficulty that lay ahead of him as he tried to remember if he had used any sort of geometrical pattern for planting the iron turnips in this ground when the fields had been full and the crop as-yet untouched, and he came to the frustrating conclusion that he had really placed them at random.  He soon came to picture himself as some angry wolverine, savagely clawing here and there for inedible prey and impossible larder.  But he gave the search effort nearly two hours’ time before he felt completely exhausted.  His tally for the night came to all of three iron turnips, and he raised his head and bellowed out to the hidden stars a scream of genuine agony.

It was shortly after his scream that, unbeknownst to him, a night hawk glided overhead and made three huge circling passes before coming back a fourth time and then diving like a fired projectile toward the tired and disgruntled Fat Farmer.  The bird hit him in the back of the neck with enough force to drop him to the earth, before the bird righted itself, came to its senses and flew away.  But the Fat Farmer lay face down and motionless for quite a while before he finally got enough consciousness back to press his hands into the ground and attempt to push himself up.  On his third effort he managed to right himself and stand up; at the same time, he shook his head vigorously to regain some clarity.  He knew something had whacked him with a terrific force, enough to knock him off his pins and open a gash in the back of his neck.  He held each hand in turn in the flashlight’s beam and saw lots of blood on his fingers from touching around his wounded upper back, and it was then that he began to reason it didn’t take a genius to know who was behind this.  Only she’s miscalculated, he thought, she’s miscalculated this time, because whatever it was she fired at me tonight, it failed to finish me off, it ain’t done me in.  I’m not done yet by a long shot.  And in the name of good, old-fashioned common sense, self-defense and righteousness, I’m taking action right now to make goddamn sure there will not be a next time.

He turned around defiantly, and with a great deal of swagger and bravado, he began to tramp out of the fields and head straight toward his daughter’s bedroom. However, he had temporarily forgotten about the three iron turnips he had come across and collected.  They now laid strewn out on the ground nearby, and as he increased steam and fury in his mad march home, he tripped over two of the fake turnips and crashed down  hard directly on top of the other.  His temple struck the iron fake with full force and at such an angle that the Fat Farmer’s days on earth were over in nearly an instant.  One final picture, however, flashed in his mind, the blip of an image he naturally had trouble identifying, though as he expired, he managed to see it as either his pink-and-seraphic daughter or something akin to a large, dark bird of prey.

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