New York City, December 1963
I remember fighting a rather lonely wind as I crossed Central Park on that particular Wednesday before Christmas; an old faded newspaper flapped in the breeze against a wooden seat but I could still make out the headline: ‘JFK Dead’. They would be coming soon, those wise men from the east, the Beatles with their new English beat music. Perhaps we could stop grieving and begin to move on. I clambered up the hill, crossed Central Park West sliding in to 72nd Street and as I passed the Dakota building, a cold chill made me pull my coat in tight.
“Fourteen…………fifteen……………sixteen” He stopped counting because the soldier had stopped walking. The soldier turned and the boy started to count again. Once more the gap was sixteen seconds, or at least sixteen of the boy’s counts. That’s all the time he had. Sixteen seconds between life and death. Off to the right were two builders, placing bricks upon bricks, and not paying much attention to anyone. None of this was his fault, all he had done was make his usual weekend trip to see his Grandmother in eastern Berlin and now, in front of him, was a wall stopping his return.
Another Walk In The Park
It was one of those bright yellow days; not quite Winter and not quite Spring as I lit my last cigarette (after all it was 1951 and smoking didn’t give you cancer back then). I noticed as I walked across the park how the rain tasted sweet, as if someone had seeded it with sugar. In the distance, I could hear a dog howling, as the wind carried its cries off towards Columbus Circle – there it drowned among the squeals of the speeding taxi cabs. “Read it!” You’d said. So I sat, opened your manuscript, and began ‘On The Road’.
Where The Citizens Are…
When they set it all up – they knew what they were doing. They called it ‘The Sewer’ and that was all it was used for. Of course the Proles thought they were expressing outrage, revolution even, but really they were only pissing in the wind. No world order changed because of it – nothing changed because of it. Only the belief from the Proles that they were doing something worthy. They called it many things – Twitter, Facebook, EyeLook but all the Proles achieved was to let those upstairs – the masters – know who were the troublemakers and where they slept.
Last Walks – A Final Breath of Air
He had made the excuse to the staff that he wanted a cigarette. After his father had died his mother had no longer allowed smoking in the house. Now she was gone and only the family dynasty was left. He could smoke wherever he wanted; after all it was his empire now. The truth was, he just wanted five more minutes with his own company. Things would never be the same when he walked back in there and the person, he was, who he had become, would be lost and swallowed up in world that would take all of him.
Last Walks – Three Out of Four
They were waiting for him at the end of the jetty. The boat had been in trouble when the storm had risen out of nowhere. They had sent out a Mayday a few hours earlier. By the time the rescue team had got to them only one had been found alive. The other three had gone overboard and their bodies picked up. There had been four kids out there in the bay and each of them had been sailing all their lives. Now three were gone, but which three? And as he walked, he prayed that it wasn’t his son.
Last Walks – Lost and Found
It was the woman from the society who had contacted him. Although if he was being honest, he had thought about doing it when he was about eighteen years old. Not long after that he had joined the army and it had all gone from his mind. So when he got the phone call to say they’d found her and that she wanted to speak to him, he decided he had nothing to lose and perhaps a mother to gain. One who had left him when she was only sixteen, in an orphanage. He took a deep breath and knocked.
Last Walks – Feeling Like A Million
If he got to the end of the street without seeing another person then he’d tell her, for sure. I mean, she deserved to know that he’d won 100 million on the lottery. Hadn’t she brought up his kids? Their kids. Hadn’t she stuck by him when things were tough? But then he’d forgiven her when she’d run away to Myrtle Beach with that pastor. And this morning, hadn’t she called him a worthless individual? Still, she’d improved, she didn’t hit him much anymore. He was just at the end of the street when he met Mrs Tully. Shame. 🙂
Last Walks – Paris 1940
There was still the smell of cigars on her coat as she took that one last walk. The dinner party at the little bistro in Neuilly had been everything she’d hoped it would be. Somewhere over by the woods she could hear a wind chime; its one last defiance in playing a pretty tune. They would be here soon and it was the reason they had all departed early. The army was on the outskirts of Paris and soon she would no longer be welcome in her city. There was a distant cry of ‘Vive La France’ and she wept.
Last Walks – A Street
Both he and the Sun rose early in those days. An empty street and a full life lay in front of him and the potential tasted so sweet; anything and everything was possible. The smell of rain on the sidewalk lifted his spirits even higher. It made him feel like running but instead he just stood and looked up at the apartment where his life had changed in the last few hours. It was his final walk alone and nothing would ever be the same. It was as beautiful as they said it would be, he had fallen in love.
Last Walks – A Farewell
He had never meant it to happen, they would have to be clear on that point. It had been an accident, a grade one accident, pure and simple. He hadn’t seen her step out of the trees but then maybe he’d been driving a little too fast, only a little mind, not enough to have done all that damage. And no, don’t insult him, of course he hadn’t been drinking, a beer and that didn’t count. It had been Harry’s farewell and he was expected to be sociable. He sadly wondered what his father would have said about it all.
Last Walks – East Germany 1962
Her brother had disappeared into the army and had never returned, so when her mother had finally shut her lost eyes, she felt that maybe it was time for her to have a life. To find a husband and if it wasn’t too late (although she thought it probably was) to raise a family. That was the plan and so she found it hard to understand why she was taking the old road out-of-town that morning in ’62. She was going to try to go over the Wall into the West. There, she heard, the sun always shone.
Glasgow, Scotland 1960
He kept saying it over and over to himself as he lay in bed: “6”, “0”.
The numbers felt exciting on his tongue as he said it. 1960 was a new age, and it had just started and everything was possible.
It was Sunday afternoon and the sun shone straight into his room, not helping his hangover. He’d just finished his National Service and the whole decade lay ahead of him. He wanted to go to college, maybe Glasgow University and study English. But that could wait, at least until his head stopped hurting.
He turned over carefully and smiled.
Moving – California
I swear on a whole stack of the Good Book, that Pa just walked in one day in ‘37 and said we were all going to California. Ma didn’t even question it, so I guess she knew it was coming. Pa bought an old truck from Halo James and stuck a house on top of it. He then told us seven kids that we were to be ready to go by sun up the next morning. Pa had been bringing home little or no food in those days and he said that going west would be the answer to everything.
Moving – Chicago
When Steven, my older brother, won a whole heap of money from somewhere that we ain’t too sure of, he bought this crazy automobile and then said that we all going on a trip. After our parents died, Steve promised to take care of us all, so one day he said that we were off to Chicago where he’d got a job as a tax man for some guy called Al Capone. He was taking his favorite gal, Sally who was working in a speakeasy and needed somewhere to roll her stockings down (I don’t know what that means either).
Moving – The Other Side of The Desert
He was known in the neighborhood as Captain Fantastic on account that he was always doing amazing things. So when he invited everyone in the Big House to cross the desert in his Big Palloosa, we all jumped at the chance. He was going to squeeze all six of us into his palace on wheels. He slept in a big bed on the top and boy could he snore. We kept cool on the real hot days by standing in our shorts and keepin’ all the windows open. Last I heard he got buried in it, a few years back.
Americana – 1880 I found the name on a map when I was a child in Scotland and it came to my mind that was where I was going to someday; Wabash, Indiana. I was 17 when I got there and I found work on the new Presbyterian Church after I told them about my religious folks back home. One evening, Mr Charles Brush asked that we all meet him at the Courthouse. That was the night that sunshine came to the city. When he switched on his electrical lights, the darkness turned to-day; we were the first city, anywhere.
Americana – 1969 It was early evening in Strasburg and the July heat was still causing him suffocation. It took all of the energy he had just to lay still. He counted to ten and then he stood, somehow lifting the window that opened on to South Decatur Street. After hearing someone on the sidewalk shout that Neil Armstrong was just about to step on the Moon, he switched on the hotel TV. He noticed at the window was the face of a little Amish kid smiling in wonder at his television and at a world one-quarter of a million miles away.
Americana – 1976 Everything was red, white and blue except perhaps for the little crazy man who was singing a Beatles’ song: Eight Days a Week. Suzie lay in the warm air listening to the excitement carried in the voices of others and waiting for the fireworks to explode over her city. There was something small and comforting about DC, yet it represented everything that was big in the world. The rockets rose with all the colors and splendors of the universe and were reflected in the mirror of the Potomac. Her country was 200 years old and she couldn’t stop the tears.
Americana – 1930 Hotel Nevada stood at the corner of Fremont Street; he’d driven out west in ’29 when things got real tough back home. His plan was to head for California where they were making Talking movies. The problem was that he’d stopped off in this one horse town, run up a liquor bill and was working fourteen hours a day to pay off the debt. Jake, who worked in the Hotel Apache, had asked to pull their greenbacks and invest in a small casino but he had to say ‘no’. Who was going to come to a place like Las Vegas?
Americana – 1948 From that little room in the cold-water apartment you could smell Harlem. The top window being stuck open with the paint that was probably put on around the time of Pearl Harbor. Cooking smells danced in along with thumps and arguments from far off places.I decided that I needed fresh air and I headed down to 8Th avenue where the folks were drinking canned-heat and digging the sex and the sax. In the dark corner of one coffee shop was Ginsberg and Kerouac talking ‘bout this and that and not seeing anything of the outside world; God bless 1948.
Americana – 1950 The day after he buried his mother, he sat suppin’ on a scalding mug of Java and listening to the World Series on the radio. He didn’t have a plan yet, ‘cept that he’d packed a small bag the night before just in case they chased him from the house. When he’d finished, he picked up the keys to Bill’s old Plymouth then threw his stuff in the rear seat and set off along route 30.He had one final stare from up on the ridge. Tomorrow he’d be in Ohio and everything was gonna change.
Americana – 1940 The air tasted different; fresher even – perhaps sweeter. Stan was about to drive himself and his dad to Princeton where he was eager to study aeroplanes. He drove passed his old high school and the Baptist church, passed Mary Sweeney’s home and passed the cemetery where Steve lay (although he would always carry him inside). The sun shone all the way to New Jersey and both of them wished his mom had been here to see her boy. If the war in Europe didn’t spread to the US then a brave new world would lie ahead for him.
Americana – 1966 Somewhere between Woodstock and Bearsville there had been an accident, he was sure of that fact. He was sitting on the wooden steps in Tinker Street waiting on the New York City bus. He liked to watch who got on and who got off. Someone said that it might have been a motorcycle crash and that you-know-who had been involved. What kinda played with his head is that he was almost sure he had seen you-know-who driving passed in a VW about fifteen minutes earlier going in the opposite direction. But this was Woodstock and to hell with the truth.
Americana – 1954 Her Daddy says she ain’t to come back into the house until she asks the Lord for forgiveness and that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon given that she ain’t done nothing wrong. The runt, he called, and that hurt real bad. She can see her Mom praying at the window and wishing her youngest would just say the things her husband wants to hear and then they could all get on with their lives. One day she is gonna keep on walking but until then she ain’t gonna listen to no old man tell her she can’t dance to Elvis.
Americana – 1943 She remembers the days of them walking passed each other and the excitement of being in the same room. The nerves when standing next to him in the canteen and the things she meant to say but never did; cursing herself that she never took the opportunity to start a conversation. Then she got moved and only saw him across the courtyard from time to time, finally one day he just disappeared. Even although his work meant he didn’t have to go overseas, she’d heard he’d signed up and was somewhere in the Pacific. She could only wait on him.
Americana – 2013 If you close your eyes real tight and then do nothin’ but listen you can hear them. I swear to you, cross my heart and may Jesus never talk to me again. Go on, do it, real tight now and no peekin’. Listen. You can hear Annie squealing as she plays on the sidewalk; she used to live in that soup store across the street with her grandpa. She ran away the day he got took to hospital and then there’s Eddie chasin’ after his dog he called ‘Spots even ‘though it ain’t got any. They’re all gone now. Shame.
and finally…The Boy Who Told Stories.
That harsh winter came without warning, which meant that we spent so much of our time indoors. I knew him as the man who gave away money. He was a friend of the family and, as such, was always in our home.
“Tell me another story”, he would say, and I had those stories by the hundreds. “Ask the boy”, my father would tell folks, “He can conjure up such wonderful worlds”.
I always wondered what happened to the man. I hear tell that he left his family and went to London; imagine that, our Mister Shakespeare in London Town.
bobby stevenson 2016
photo @ flickriver.com “Glasgow Tenement by Billy McDonald”