Time Flies

friends

One morning when Olivia was still half asleep, she heard her Grandma talking to her Grandpa all about things that fly. At least she thought that was what they were talking about because the last thing she heard her Grandpa say was…

“…It’s funny how time flies.”

Then Grandpa headed out the door hollerin’ and laughin’ to himself, so hard that he was sneezing all the way down the path.

“Serves the old goat right,” said Grandma.

“It sure does,” said Olivia without any real idea what she was talking about.

Olivia had made a note to herself that when she got to school she’d ask her teacher about Time and why it flew about the place. However she didn’t reckon on meeting with Smiling Joe, first. This was the boy who knew everything about everything and all the rest there was to know.

“Can I walk with you to school, Missy?” Asked Joe.

“Sure,” said Olivia, who secretly liked Joe. “What cha been doing?”

“Down the creek, Missy, trying to catch me a big old fella’ by the name of Captain.”

As well as knowing everything about everything, Joe was also the best fisherman this side of the Hill. Well, that was according to Joe, at least.

Olivia looked around but couldn’t see any fish.

“Heck, I’m savin’ catchin’ the Captain for another day.” Then Joe whistled a little tune that Olivia liked and they walked on to school together.

“Joe, can I ask you a question?” Asked Olivia.

“If I don’t know the answer then it ain’t worth knowing,” said Joe, kinda confidently.

So Olivia asked him if Time really did fly and Joe told her that it surely did and if you sat on the Old Creek Road, the one that led out-of-town……

“….And were real patient, then eventually you’d see Time flying passed you real fast.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

Olivia was pleased with that answer and started to whistle Joe’s little tune as they walked on to school together.The end of the week couldn’t come fast enough for Olivia and so, on Saturday around lunchtime, she headed down to the Old Creek Road and sat down and waited on Time flying passed her.

An hour passed, except it seemed like forever to Olivia – when suddenly Herbert, the dog from Asker’s Farm, came wandering along the road.

“What cha doing?” Asked Herbert.

“Ain’t it obvious, I’m waiting on Time flying passed,” said a very important Olivia.

“You are? It does?” Asked a bewildered Herbert. “Then mind if I wait too?”

“Don’t mind if you do,” said Olivia.

So Herbert sat beside Olivia, really excited about the arrival of Time.
While they were waiting, Herbert and Olivia talked about this and that, for Olivia knew a lot about this and that. They were having a real good time when Scrimpy The Ass, from the next town over, also happened to be walking passed.

“What cha doing?” Asked Scrimpy The Ass.

“Why we’re waiting on Time flying passed.”

“Well I never,” exclaimed Scrimpy. “Mind if I join you guys?”

And both Olivia and Herbert said they’d be delighted if Scrimpy joined them. So Scrimpy sat down and waited.

The whole time the three of them were talking about this and that, since it seemed Scrimpy was quite knowledgeable about this and that as well.

The afternoon grew old and it was time to go home, and since Olivia had such a great time with her new pals, Herbert and Scrimpy, she’d forgotten about waiting for Time to fly.

“Perhaps we can do this again next Saturday?” Asked Herbert.

And they all agreed that it sounded like a great plan and so that is what they did.

 

bobby stevenson 2015

 

 

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Waving At Trains

train2

Before we drifted into the dark times, long before then; when the sun still shone on human faces and made them smile – those years were the greatest days of our lives.

In later times we feasted on those cherished memories, hungering for stories and thoughts of back when life was a joy, an ecstasy even. Visitors would come and go from our little huts but not before they told a tale or two of the way life had been. We fed them, they told us stories.

Perhaps many of them lied, perhaps in the re-telling of the stories, they lost their core and became other things, richer things, things to hold and play with – stories that had lost their truths along the way but had started out as well-meaning.
We would sit around the fires and tell of the long gone times – and when one person mentioned the old days, like some chant or prayer, folks would repeat it – ”the old days,” they would say – like saying it often enough might bring those times back.

But they never would.

We never tired of hearing the same stories, and each time a little twist or change to the end would bring an appreciation around the group in the form of a murmur or a little laugh.

“Tell us the story of your railway family,” they would ask me.
And so, for the umpteenth time that month I would sit and tell them the story.

“My family lived by a railway track in an old house that had once belonged to a signalman. In the days before the darkness my father would sit out on the old wooden seat and wave as the trains passed. Before long my parents had children – me and my brother and three sisters, and each of us would join our father waving at the trains as they travelled by our house. He called us the ‘railway children’, just like the old book that had once stood on his shelf beside his bed.

“When the darkness came and the trains no longer travelled along the tracks, my father would still get us to sit as a family and wave at non-existent trains. He would describe them in the greatest of details. ‘Look,’ he would say. ‘There are people waving back, the lady with the green hat, see how she waves at us? Look at the little boy laughing as he plays with his toys.’ And I could see them in my head, all the people he talked about who rode upon the imaginary trains that passed us by.

“When my father took his last train journey, we still kept up the joy of sitting on the wooden bench and waving at the trains. Each of us would take it in turn to describe some passenger who was waving from the window. You might think my father was a little mad in what he had us do, but I tell you this, it kept us together and it kept us sane, and it made us think of the old days.

“The old days,” repeated the others who hung on my every word.

“Those times were like having water. You always assume that it will be there until it dies off or runs out. Then you can never quench your thirst.”

And I guess there must be many folks around the lands who carry out these little games just like the ones we play.

Games to remind them of long ago, games to remind them of their humanity, and games to remind us all what we have lost and how easily we let it slip through our fingers.

The old days.

 

bobby stevenson 2015

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Where We Met

British-Library-reading-r-011

They had met in the reading room of the British Library. One blue set of eyes met with another set of gray and the rest, as they say, is history.

She was probably a little older than him, and she was half way through her doctorate in Greek Civilization (and its impact on social structures). He was a mathematician who was studying for his masters, but who had always wanted to write books for children.

They had spent months not talking, and there were months of stolen looks and of conscious ignoring. An outsider might have thought that their behavior was more that of a teenage couple.

What had finally broken the ice was when he knocked a book on to the hallowed floor of the reading room, causing a resounding ripple wave of noise to circulate. This made her jump and she let out a little scream. Only a little one mind, but enough to cause murmurs of disapproval growing as a wave in the opposite direction.

He had mouthed the word, ‘sorry’ to her and she’d constructed a little smile on her face, as if to say, it was fine.

Later that day, they literally bumped into each other when she was returning from the café and he was off for a breath of fresh air.

“Sorry about that…you know….earlier….the noise,” he said, but was thinking how much easier things were in your head. How much simpler it was to imagine situations without the actual physicality of the other person standing right in front of you.

She thought he seemed kind, and cute and was hoping he would ask her for a coffee, or something, anything – even although she had just drunk a large latte.

And he did ask her, and that was also, as they say, history.

They spent several months of courting, always in between their hectic studying. It wasn’t until all of that was complete that they decide to get married.

There wasn’t much money between them and so they managed to rent a small studio apartment on the Holloway Road. He took several jobs, one of which was cleaning at the British Library during the night. He would come home, sleep for three hours and then rush off to work in a small company in the east of London.

They tried for children but it seemed that they wouldn’t be blessed, and in a way, it would have been hard for all three of them to live in such a small space.

“Perhaps next year,” he would tell her, then kiss her.

The third anniversary of their meeting in the British Library (to be more accurate, the first time they actually spoke – as neither of them could agree when they had first noticed each other) was going to be in ten days and he had something very special up his sleeve.

It had taken a lot of planning but it helped where he worked. The bosses at the Library weren’t too happy about cleaners messing about with stuff, but still he managed it.

Either life is random or it is not. Perhaps when your time is up, it is up, or maybe it is just a freak incident after all. Either way, the morning of the day of the end was just like any other.

He got up and walked down Holloway Road towards the Tube station. Perhaps if he had known this was his last day, he would have looked more closely at the little things: the faces of people, the flowers in a window, or the child who smiled at him. We are never so lucky to have that luxury, so when he crossed the road, there was a million things on his mind other than the London bus which killed him.

She remembered the young police woman who came to the door. She had a sergeant with her. The woman had asked her to sit and she sat down and watched their lips move. The person who stood up a few hours later as the room was growing dark was never going to be the same person again.

She was too torn to even cry. Her heart had been broken into a million pieces.

A week later, a week of tablets, relations, more tablets, not sleeping, tears, and drink, a letter arrived.

It was from him. An anniversary card to say how much he loved her and how much he looked forward to growing old with her. For a moment she had almost forgotten he was gone. It was like that every morning, a few seconds of happiness before the reality kicked her in the face.

At the end of the card (and after all his kisses) was a book reference, one from the British Library.

That morning she went to the library and requested the book, there was nothing special about it, except she suddenly remembered it was the book he had knocked from the table all that time ago. In the back of the book was a card, in his writing which said, ‘I love you’.

On the other side of the card was another reference for another book, the one she had been reading the day he had said ‘sorry’ for the first time.

And on this card, he told a small story of his life before and after meeting her. There was another book reference at the end this card. In all he had left messages in twenty books and together they made up a story of his life with her.

She sat there, in the reading room, too scared to cry and trying hard to breathe. It was – she thought – better to have loved and lost, than to have never known him.

She walked up Euston Road, and the sunshine bleached her heart a little. If life was random, she decided, then anything was possible. And she smiled at that.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Idle in 100 Words

In that long, ago summer, the city was like an inferno, there were ain’t no place to cool your heels. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the heat’s fault, at least not directly. It’s just that I had come back from a war, and all those devils were still aggravating on my shoulders.  I checked my pockets and I counted 53 bucks and 17 cents; not enough to change the world, perhaps, but maybe enough to change mine. I jumped in the first cab I could find and headed to Idlewild airport; I just needed to be happy again.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Goodlands

town

Everyone knows where Goodlands is.

It’s not too far from where you’ve been and not too close to where you’re going. It’s the kinda place where you find what you’re looking for, one way or another.

And so it was on that Saturday, “Jalopy Saturday” as the Sheriff called it. “Always frightening those damned horses, what with all their tooting, and smoking and noise of those infernal combustible engines.”

Saturday was one of those days when The Big Man upstairs had painted the sky an azure blue from one horizon to the other.
“Hey, it feels good to be alive,” said folks to each other. Well not in so many words but in their looks and smiles, each knew what the other meant.

As you perambulated up the boardwalk, waving to friends and neighbors, you could smell the cooking and baking coming from Mrs Lent’s open window. It sure did make the nose feel that it had a reason for living on those kind of days. That was followed by the sweet sound of musical tunes which lifted the spirit, coming from the old Bakelite radio that sat in Mrs Well’s front room. I tell you that radio always smelled as if it was just about to burst into flames. It never did, because things like that just didn’t happen in Goodlands.
Saturday was the day that the pastor made his weekly trip to the bakery on the corner of Cherry Street and Chew Avenue. I’m thinking that calling Chew an avenue, was a name too far for the founding fathers, ‘cause it barely stretched from here to there.

For some peculiar reason of which I have no understanding, everyone in Goodlands would go to their front door on a fine Saturday morning and wish the pastor all the best on his trip to Sankie’s Bakery. Then, when he’d filled his arms with enough bread to feed a biblical crowd, he’d turn around and walk back up to the church with all the folks still standing at their front doors wishing the pastor well with his meal.

If you didn’t know Goodlands, you’d probably think they’d all gone Johnny Sidebar (he was the man who really discovered electricity but fried his brains before he had a chance to tell the world and ran out of Goodlands and into the Birkmire Desert. He was never, ever seen again). Although some folks tell of lonely howling that can be heard on Moonboys road on a quiet night.
Like they good folks say, you don’t have to be crazy to live here, but it really does help.

Old Sheriff James was out on his porch, rocking and rolling on his chair, shaking his head at the way the jalopies were careering around town.
“Never had such stupidity in my day,” he’d sigh. “A man knew where he was with a horse.”

Now don’t get me wrong with the picture I’m painting here. The sheriff was a good man, sure enough. He was just coming to the end of his time on this earth and new-fangled stuff always looks out of focus to each of us who have lived high on the hog in earlier times. We all have our season, and the sheriff’s was nudging up against winter. His leaves were falling from his tree and he knew there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Sure it was sad in its way, but everyone had to make way for what was to come, and life made sure that happened by making folks uncomfortable in the newness of things.

The ‘old days’ wasn’t really a place, it was a way of thinking, of doing, a place where everyone thought that manners and morals had been better. Things weren’t really getting worse in Goodlands, just different.
No one, and I mean no one, came to this town and wished they hadn’t. It had a sap in its veins and it was a sap that oozed happiness and sunshine.

You see there are some folks who think that such places don’t really exist, but they do I tell you. Everything you see in a town has been a dream once in a head, and if you can dream nicely, then Goodlands is what occurs.
Now I don’t want you to say to me that I’ve been sitting too long out in the sun, ‘cause I ain’t. I think that if you’re passing one day, you need to come to Goodlands and have a look at the pastor or the sheriff and you’ll say, hey, kid you were right. This is the happiest town this side of the mirror.

I said that everyone gets what they need in Goodlands, but that don’t mean, it’s what they want. You can come to Goodlands and get advice that you weren’t keen on hearing. No sir, but it will be a truth that you needed to hear. Something that puts you on a straight path for the rest of your journey.
That was the funny thing about Goodlands, no one remembered just why they came to the town in the first place but they were all pleased that they had.

Now I ain’t saying the place was magical or anything, far be it from me to be the crazy one but there were little miracles that popped up here and there, enough to make you go – ‘well, I’ll be………’.

‘Cause that was the thing, no one came to a bad end in Goodlands. There was no hospital and the doctor used to spend most of his days playing cards with the sheriff. People only left Goodlands in two ways; either they had decided that they were in the right mind to move on to somewhere else, or they just got plum tired and decided it was time to close their eyes.

Seriously. Old Man Peters, last June watched the pastor and his bread for one last time, then just said, “I’m ready” and closed his eyes. The doctor, who was holding a straight flush, came over said, “yep, he’s gone,” and then went back to his cards. Now, he wasn’t being mean or anything, he just knew that Old Man Peters had chosen that time as his end time and that he was ready to leave.

Sometimes your eyes just get tired of seeing everything and everyone and when you’re tired of Goodlands, (as a wise man once said), you’re tired of living.
The big miracle on that Jalopy Saturday was when little Susie Cartwwright wandered away from her mother and walked on to Main Street. Desmond, the painter, couldn’t see her and would have probably knocked little Susie into a million pieces with his bright red jalopy – but like I say, no one dies in Goodlands, not unless they want to.

It was like this, as the pastor was wandering back up the street with his arms full of the warmest, freshest bread, he saw the danger that little Susie was in and threw a stick of that French type bread. It hit Desmond right between the eyes and stopped him in his tracks. Little Susie’s mother, grabbed that little girl by the hand and pulled her back on to the boardwalk.
Susie’s mother thanked the pastor but as he says, “It’s all part of the plan, Mam, all part of the plan.”

And you know what, he just might be right.
On those warm, endless summer evenings, just as the sun is turning blood orange and the insects are starting to sing, you can stand in the middle of the street and look up at all the open windows. Friends shouting to friends in apartments across from each other.

“How’s life Mabel?”

“Why, just deevine, thanks for asking, Melanie.”
Music and smells, and arguments, and love, all flowing out of the windows into the street and making you feel warm, somehow. But why take my word for it, why don’t you come down some night and listen?

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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My Pal, Thing

Long after Thing had departed the valley, and long, long after those who were his kin had disappeared; a woman came calling on me, one oppressive day in May. Her name was Esther Williams, and she apologized for the way the sweat stains on her clothes had made her appearance look disheveled.

“It was a long train ride from the District,” she said, and by the ‘District’, I knew she meant Washington, D.C.

She was a pleasant woman, of about forty, red hair, a lip-sticked face and she seemed to always have a notebook in her hand, or at least nearby. Miss Williams, as she asked me to call her, was a features editor and reporter on The Washington Post, and she was researching an article on Thing and his ilk.

“Where they came from, where they went to, and why they disappeared,” was her remit, she told me.

I told her that I hadn’t realized they had all gone.

“Oh sure, there ain’t been one seen, since…,” she looked at her notes, “since 1953.”

So I guess she was right, Thing and his crew had gone off somewhere better, maybe they were hiding out in the woods, waiting on us to become kinder folks – heck, I don’t know.

“You were close to one,” she stated – or maybe she was just askin’ – I ain’t too sure what she was getting at, to be honest.

I simply nodded.

“So?” She said.

“What do ya want to know?” I asked.

“Everything,” she said. “Everything.”

I told her how I was a grand pappy now, and how I wish my kids and their kids had gotten to know someone like Thing.

“He was the best,” I told her. “The kindest, most caring, individual I ever did know.”

“I met him one day, when he was sitting by the road, on the way back up to his cave. He was in my class at school, but I guess I hadn’t got around to talkin’ to him. Some of the older kids had been throwin’ rocks at him and one had hit him on the head.”

She asked what had caused the kids to throw stones at Thing, and I told her, most probably their parents.

“Kids ain’t born with hate in their heart. No, that kind of thing is taught at home and it goes deep, real deep. Anyway, I cleaned up his wound and he thanked me and he walked off towards his home. You know the funny thing is, I went to one of those school reunions a while back and all those stone-throwers were sitting at the one table. All of them proud – a table of bullies – and by the looks of them, they hadn’t learned a thing. I guess hate knows its own,” I told her.

Then the reporter asked me, if anything had changed in the general attitude to Thing. Had he changed? Had we changed? I told her that I didn’t think it was Thing’s place to change.

“He was just who he was. The way he was made.”

We did get a young teacher once, came to the school. She didn’t last long, on account that her, and some of the staff didn’t get on. She taught us all about tolerance, or at least she tried. Some didn’t want to hear what she was saying – I guess being deaf to certain words is another skill that some folks are taught at home. The teacher’s name was Miss Walker, I think I might have been in love with her. I think most of the class were. I could never work out if she was for religion or against, but she used to quote the Bible some. One day when Thing came to school after gettin’ a beatin’ by a few of the older boys, Miss Walker slammed a book so hard on her table that Jessica Smith fell off her seat (I think she may have been nappin’). She said that pickin’ on folks was wrong and especially when they looked different from what you saw in a mirror. She told us that some of the greatest devils had the sweetest of faces. Then she read from the Bible, especially the bit about the sixth day – the day when God had created all the land based creatures and when man was formed. That was when she wrote on the board:

We are all children of The Sixth Day.

She said, that whether we believed in the word of God or not, there was a lesson to be learned there. We were all created equal. Tommy Rogers said that his daddy said that kind of talk was for Commies and he walked out of the class.

But I noticed a change after that day. Some folks took some time from their lessons to talk to Thing and I saw him smiling for the first time in all his days at school. Sure there were still the stone-throwers, but they found other targets for a time – although they mostly picked on anything their folks had told them was different. Maybe they were just behavin’ the way they were made, and they had no choice either. Yet I still think – you can see badness for what it is.

So this reporter, Esther Williams, thanked me for my time and for the delicious iced-tea I had served her and said she’d let me know when the article was being published in the Post.

They never did find any more of Thing’s kind of people. I hope they didn’t get wiped out by our hate, and that maybe, just maybe, they are hiding out in the woods waiting for us to become better humans.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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The Woman Who Died Among The Chickens

The way I was told it – was that she died in among the chickens.

I mean that’s what they said. Apparently, her hair had been matted with chicken crap – I kid you not. She had raised these little critters from the egg and this was the way they wished her a goodbye.

In the end, it was only the chickens and my Aunt Claudia who did say a fond farewell to her. I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the burial, even although she was my grandma. My ma and pa, and my twin sisters all stayed away from her funeral.

I was six years of age when she died in among her animals – that must have been about late ’49. My grandma had celebrated her 80th birthday that year by jiving to the big bands. She had never been so alive; she was always in the best of health, always had the biggest of grins.

Then life turned up, the way it does, to crap in her water.

It seems that some guy from a New York newspaper had come looking for her. Something to do with all those years ago in Austria. Something she hadn’t told none of us about.

You see my grandma had been a nurse all that time ago in that faraway country. When she’d come to New York City she’d tried other kinds of work, but in the end she went back to nursing. That’s where she met my grandpa, the day he checked in with a broken arm. They fell in love, got married and moved to Queens.

Yet anytime, anyone asked about the old country, she’d sigh, then smile, and then tell us all that she’d take everyone there one day. It never happened of course. Apart from my Aunt Claudia, who moved to Trenton, no one ever left NYC.

But this guy, this reporter, was real persistent like, saying that my grandma would have to tell her story, or otherwise he’d tell it the way he knew.

I remember she locked herself in the shed out in the yard on one of those days he came to call. She shouted to me that I was to tell the man that my grandma wasn’t in. And that is exactly what I did.

I said,” my grandma told me to tell you she ain’t in.”

He just shrugged his shoulders and went back to sitting in his automobile that sat outside in the street. The photo is the one he took and I kept.

She never helped him with the tale, so he printed his own version of the story. It seems that there was a woman back in Braunau am Inn, in 1889 who had trouble having a baby, and that the baby nearly died. The one who saved the child was a nurse by the name of Annette Eichrodt (my grandma’s maiden name).

Seems the life she saved was a baby boy by the name of Adolf Hitler. The way I see it, she was only doing her job.

I wasn’t allowed to go and see my grandma after that, and I guess it all got too much for her. Not long after the story was printed, she took a heart attack and died, like I say, among the chickens.

The photograph is all I got left.

 

Bobby stevenson 2017

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The Secret of Life

boy

He wondered if maybe everyone else in the world knew the answer to it the question, and that perhaps he had been in the restroom when they were all being told.

He couldn’t see why everyone else was able to smile, walk and talk at the same time and he found it impossible.

Life was stupid, and sad, and basically it got him down. He saw the kids in school who all seemed to be able to cope with things. Now and again, he imagined he saw a look in another person’s eyes that said – I don’t understand this either – but if he looked again, it normally had gone away and he thought that perhaps he had only imagined it.

So one Friday morning, he decided that he wasn’t going to bed that night until he found out the secret of life. Was there a book they had all read, and he hadn’t seen? Were there classes he could go to that would tell him everything he needed to know?

The first person he met in the hall was his Grandfather.

“Granddad, what is the secret of life?”

And his grandfather thought carefully, scratched his beard, and then smiled.

“The secret, my little special boy, is to tell everyone what they want to hear. I tell your Grandma she looks lovely everyday of her life. I tell you you’re good at football.”

“But I ain’t good at football, Granddad.”

“Who says? Not me.”

And his grandfather walked away whistling to himself.

The boy went down to the kitchen where his mother was making breakfast for him.

“Sit down, little one,” she says to her son.

“Ma?”

“Yup?”

“What is the secret of life?”

She thought for a while and then looked up at the ceiling. The boy looked at the ceiling too, to see if there was something his mother was reading – but there wasn’t anything. Just a big stain from where his grandfather had let the bath overfill, last Christmas.

She ruffled her son’s hair.

“What’s got you in this mood?”

“Just wondering, I guess.”

“Well let me see. The secret of life is to get up every morning even when you don’t want to. When you know there are folks depending on you, that’s what makes you jump right out of bed.”

“And that’s it?”

“That’s it.”

His dad walked with the boy down to the school bus.

“Dad, what is the secret of life?”

“Is this a school project you were supposed to do?” Asked his father.

“Nope, just wondering.”

“Well ain’t my boy growing up.” So his dad thought for a while and looked up at the sky. The boy looked up too, to see if there was writing in the clouds, but there wasn’t.

“Well son, the secret of life is to do what your Mom says.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

Later in the morning, his teacher, Miss Sycamore was teaching about the Arctic Circle. She asked the class if there were any questions.

The boy put his hand in the air, and when Miss Sycamore, pointed to him, he asked:

“Miss Sycamore, what is the secret of life?”

All the kids looked at the boy, who had gone a little red in the face.

“That’s a strange question for a lesson about the frozen north. Let me see.”

And like all the adults, she looked at the roof too, as if she was getting some sort of inspiration.

“The secret of life is to do your homework, wash every day and pray every night. Yep, that’s it for sure.”

The boy thought that maybe this was more to do with Miss Sycamore, than the secret of life.

That night as he lay in bed, he realized that everyone had a different secret for the way they dealt with life.

Just like Miss Sycamore, the secret seemed to be to do with what made you happy. But what, thought the boy, if what made you happy, didn’t make other people happy?

So he got down by the side of his bed and started praying.

His older brother, who he shared a room, started whispering real loud.

“What you doing?”

“Praying.”

“At this time of night?”

“Is there a good time?”

“Yep, never. What’s got your goat?”

“I want to know the secret of life.”

“The secret, little brother, is to keep your mouth shut so you won’t get beaten up.”

And with that his brother rolled over and went back to dreaming of being a big baseball star.

The boy clasped his hands again and started praying.

“Dear God, if you could tell me the secret of life, that would be really good. Amen.”

With that the boy jumped back into bed and fell asleep.

It was in the morning, at breakfast, as he looked around the kitchen. There was his Mom cooking, as she always did, and like she always did, she looked over and blew him a kiss. There was his grandfather and brother arguing about some sport thing or other, and both of them tussled the boy’s hair as they passed.

Then it struck him; wasn’t the secret of life just to appreciate what you had? There was always something good in a life, and sure there were lots of bad things.

But one good thing, sunk a thousand bad ones, and the boy smiled all the way to the bus stop.

All the way.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Old Man and The Moonshine Automobile

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The last thing my grandfather said to me was: “remember that old automobile is yours, Johnny”.

And here I was, picking the hottest day of the summer of 1950 to travel by bus from a small town on the Hudson, down to Princeton. He and my grandmother had moved to Jersey just after they had got married in 1902. They had one son, my father, and a beautiful life which stretched across an ever-changing century.

My grandfather had worked as a backroom boy at Princeton University, helping the great and the good setup, and take down, their experimentation and he had always loved it. Full stop.

His two hobbies were to do with tinkering about with things: their house in Mercer Street and any old automobiles. His pride and joy was a 1940s Ford Coupe, otherwise known as the ‘Moonshiner or Rum Runner’s Car’.

It had a huge area in the back to transport illegal Hooch (usually in mason jugs) and was the favourite of the folks in the Appalachian Mountains to beat the Revenue Agents.

On that warm afternoon, my final leg of the trip was a bus journey from New York City down Route One. The bus dropped me off on the other side off the canal; the one which separated the hallowed halls of the university and the ‘ordinary folks’ of New Jersey.

I had walked across the canal bridge many a time on the way to see my grandparents and had always loved the walk up to Mercer Street.

Princeton is a beautiful little town. There can be no denying it. Right there in the middle of New Jersey is a glorious little settlement which takes in the children of America and makes them great (or at least polishes up their greatness).

It was late in the day by the time I opened up the door to my grandparent’s little house. This was the first time I had come down here and the house was empty.

My grandmother always had a light at the window and when she died just before the war, my grandfather couldn’t seemed to be bothered to keep it lit.

The furniture and the photos were still in the rooms as if they would come running in the room at any minute, and tell me there was a hot meal waiting on the table.

It is sad when those you have loved move on, but I wouldn’t have swapped a day of the time I spent with them. There is a price for everything in this life and sadness at the end is just one of those things.

I decided I would just spend one more night at the house I loved so much and would drive back to the Catskills the following morning.

I woke early as I was desperate to see how the car looked as it had been dark by the time I had taken the cover off of it. As I looked out the window there was a little old man looking at the Ford as if he wanted to buy it, or something.

“It’s not for sale, just in case you’re wondering,” I told him.

He said he knew and that he’d been a friend of my grandpa’s.

“So you must be Yonny?” He said, in a foreign accent. “Your grand pappy told me so much about you. I shall miss him.”

The old man, who insisted I call him Al, invited me into his home for a coffee and breakfast.

“If you are driving so far north today, you will need some vitamins and protein inside of you.” Then he slapped me on the head and laughed.

“Come in, come in,” he said in a friendly manner.

To be honest, I thought he looked a bit like Father Christmas and when I told him, he almost wet himself laughing.

“Just like your grand pappy, he had the same thoughts as you.”

As we ate an excellent breakfast, he told me that he worked at Princeton too, and that my grandfather had helped him in his experiments.

“He was a sheenius,” he said in his weird accent.

“A genius?” I asked him.

“Quite so,quite so.”

After we had finished, he asked if I could take him once around the block for old time’s sake. As we drove down Mercer Street all he did was grin.

“What are you going to do with your life?” He asked me. I told him I wanted to study English and he just nodded.

“Imagination, my boy, is so much more important than knowledge,” and then he smiled at me.

As I drove him back to his home, he said something I will always remember:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. Above all, be happy.”

It didn’t really sink in back then, but it was something I carried with me. It was only a few years later when I saw his photo in the Kingston newspaper. The little old man, Al, had just died.

His name was Albert Einstein.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Fireman

wanderer

In the early days of the next war, a story arose, an urban legend, about a person they called the Fireman. He had been given that name because of the stories of him putting out fires which had spontaneously erupted in the Mohawk Valley; that was the night that the mushroom cloud had first appeared over Stone City, a place about fifty miles away. Lit the whole goddamn sky.
Having never really believed that all of this would happen, folks hadn’t paid much attention to warnings about radiation – what was lethal and what to watch out for. So most people stayed indoors – not realizing that it was already too late for most of them.
The Fireman rode from cellar to cave to a hole in the ground, bringing medicines, and water, and news to anyone who needed him. Folks talked about him in hushed tones, except on the days when they hoped he would visit. On those days, their little living area was swept clean and the best of what few things they had would be offered to the great man. Folks couldn’t sit still on those days, from what I’ve been told.
The Fireman would sit and talk and feel good in himself, what with shaking another human’s hand. It was the one thing that the Fireman missed more than anything – human contact.
As more of the souls succumbed to the radiation sickness, there was less news to pass around. So the Fireman started to invent stories, not out of badness but to keep the folks he visited in a positive frame of mind. If the country was to rebuild itself, then straight, good, honest thinking would be what would get them on their feet.
Folks loved to hear all his stories.
“So they’re rebuilding Stone City?” They would say.
“Jeez, hear that Ma? We might be vacationing in the city next year.”
But the Ma he was talking to, was lying in a dark room being sick for one final time in her life.
Now here’s the bit where I’m going to stretch your belief systems. From what I was told, the Fireman did keep people holding on to their dreams – because in the end that was the only the thing they had worth keeping.
And some folks did survive – and a few of those probably thanks to the Fireman.
Some dark hearts say, he never really existed, that he was a figment and all.
I tell you – that ain’t true and I’m going to go looking for him. I’m gonna find out where he came from, where he went to, and when I get the truth, I’m going to let you know just the minute I hear it.
God Bless the Fireman, that’s what I say, God Bless him.
bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Our Home by the Railroad

If I’m being real honest, the house wasn’t as grand as you see it now. Back then it was built with love, sweat and tears and over the longest of times; if I’m guessing, I’d probably say nearer seven years than six. Christopher Lawson made his money from a store in town – one that he and his wife lived above – and one, that he had promised her, that they would escape from one day when they would move out into the countryside.

She had grand ideas about her home, and Christopher spent every spare hour in helping to build her dream. When he wasn’t at the house, he was at the store and this all eventually took its toll. At the age of thirty-seven, Mr Lawson raised a hammer for the very last time – just before his heart gave in. His wife (after a decent amount of time) moved back out East and married, a Philadelphian, by the name of Jeremiah Cruvitz.

That was when the house fell into the possession of my great, great-grandfather and I have to tell you, it has stayed in the family ever since. The house wasn’t built beside the railroad, rather the other way around. By the time the trains came our way, my grandfather had made the building fancier, with more bedrooms to accommodate his growing family. My great, great grandparents had visited New Orleans one hot summer and decided they wanted their house to reflect the same ‘tasteful elegance’.

The first big train that passed our house, and I’m reading my great, great grandfather’s diary here, was one bringing the soldiers from the war down south back to their homes in the north. Man, these guys were hollering and singing and hanging from the train. It had been a long few years and now they were all going back to their kin folks. President Lincoln had defeated the succession and slavery was gone. The sad thing is, that only a few weeks later, my family were standing by the railroad as the body of our greatest president went rolling by.

There were happy times, too. One summer, in 1893, there was a knock at the door real early in the morning. Heck, from what I hear the sun even didn’t even have time to get its pyjamas off – it was that early. One of my family answered the door,for a man with the longest and curliest moustache in the world, to say: “Could ya spare some water for my elephant?”.

Seems the train taking the animals to the Chicago World’s Fair had broken down about a quarter-mile from our house, and the animals were all getting thirsty. What a day that was for my folks. In the end, they held their own private circus in our garden, then the show folks slept in the barn and some on the kitchen floor. In the morning, their train was good to go and they were off on their way to Chicago.

Two more World Wars came and went, and guns and soldiers were shipped to the east coast (or the west, as happened in the second war).

For a long-time afterwards trains kinda fell out of fashion, although you’d still get the two-mile-long cargo caravans. It stayed very much that way until the late 1960s, when we all went down to the tracks, dipped our heads and watched as the train carrying Robert Kennedy passed by the house on the way to Washington DC.

Passenger trains came back into service again, and folks started to pass our house. Some would take the time to wave, while others were busy on their computers and all.

Late in 2018, trains started heading towards New York and Philadelphia with armaments of all shapes and sizes; tanks, rockets, landing crafts, you name it, the trains carried it.

It was only a few months after those trains passed that we saw the flash in the sky – long way off my daddy said – but we could still feel the wind all the same.

Ain’t no trains been passed the house in a mighty long time, no trains at all – speaking of which, we ain’t seen another human in all that time, either.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

shoreham rose

 

At The Top Of Things

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I want to tell you about my world. What happened. Why we are, where we are. Perhaps as a warning, perhaps as a lesson, or maybe just to get all those strange things clearer in my own head. Whatever the reason, it might be worth you taking a few minutes, because I can guarantee that while you are reading this, they will be watching.

In my place, where I live or, more properly, where I lived, we looked in all the wrong places. So maybe we were paranoid, but you must understand we had every right to be. We had been at war for a thousand years with every permutation of neighbour. We fought the rich, the poor, the religious, the black, the white, the red, and the yellow. In fact, we fought wars for every, and any, reason. It was the way we were built, it was in the core of us, in our blood.

We fought each other because all we saw were the differences.

And yet, looking back, we weren’t so different after all. We all inhabited the same planet, had the same biology, but just kept different Gods and idols – different ways to nail us to this little rock of ours. When you live next to someone, you see their faults, their little ways, their selfishness. Yet if you stand at the end of a street, you can see more than that, you can see our similarities. The further you are from something, or someone, or a problem, the clearer you can see it.

So perhaps that is why they chose to live up there.

While we watching our borders, scanning the horizons for refugees, for immigrants – the others were watching us. We were looking in all the wrong places.

All the wrong places.

Take a moment to stop reading this and look up. If it’s only the roof then look out of the window, and see the highest of the buildings out there. It was the one place they knew we wouldn’t look – none of us ever look up.

While we were fighting each other, brother against brother, sister against mother, they moved in to the tops of things.

Look up while striding a city street and you will notice that on the pinnacle of any building are empty rooms – or at least they appear empty. If you are in a town, or a village or a hamlet, look around you – there will be empty rooms hidden at the top of things.

That was where they lived. Up there was where they bred, where they planned, where they gained strength, and where they could look out on us and see our weaknesses, see our faults, but most of all see their victory coming.

Now you’re asking about where they came from. Who knows? My belief is they weren’t from this place, or any place we knew of. Perhaps they had always been here. Perhaps they came in the night. Perhaps they had been underground for millennia.

Yet, they watched and waited, waited and watched. Until the time when we were so busy fighting each other, that we never noticed them take over everything. They brought us to our knees – we were destroyed.

So take this as a warning. As you walk down a street, be it busy, be it ever so quiet, they will be watching you. They will – I know.

Watching from all the rooms at top of things, from all the empty attics, from all the little garrets, and turrets, and lonely corridors. Don’t think they aren’t there, because they are.

Have you never been alone in a room and heard a scrapping, or a scratching up there? You thought it was a mouse, or a rat, or trapped bird. No – it is indeed them, waiting for you all to be looking the other way.

Then they will come.

Take it from me, I know.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

shoreham rose

 

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The Cave

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They had been used a very long time ago – long before the long winter, longer even than the oldest soul in the tunnels could remember. There had been a war once, not like the last war but one that had lasted for years. People had sheltered in these chalk caves that lay below the towns of what was once known as Kent.

Down here, they had shared food, stories, and most importantly, the company of each other. Chalk was easy to dig out without sophisticated tools, and so there were traces of people who had sought shelter here for millennia. Those hiding from the Romans, the Celts, Anglo Saxons, Normans, Vikings, and the French.

Tunnels had been created to join forts above which stood on guard against Napoleon and his armies. A man could get lost down here and never return.

When the long winter had first appeared, no one had been sure what had happened. The skies had grown dark and it had snowed in July. Little by little, those who could not keep warm headed for the tunnels. It was easy to enter at first but soon, those folks who had built dwellings were unwilling to share with the newcomers. It seemed the fears from above followed them all into the depths.

As well as their misgivings, they had also brought down their possessions, photos, clothes, electronic readers, phones, televisions – some even brought books. But whatever had caused the long winter, it had also stopped anything electrical or electronic from functioning. Some saw this as sign from God that his children had strayed too far from the fold. The books and papers that they had brought were eventually burned in order to keep the caves and tunnels warm. When those too, dried up, there were hunting parties sent into the upper world to fetch wood. Some went and returned, many never came back. There were stories of cannibalism and slavery in the upper lands but no one was sure if these were only to control the movement of the tunnel souls. Those who did return would talk of lands devoid of animals and birds.

In the western sector was an old soul, by the name of Travis and like everyone else, had been born in the tunnels. When his father was sent to the dark place where souls were laid to rest – his dying wish was that Travis take care of their greatest possession – a book, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. It had been this book that Travis had been taught to read and write by his father, just as his father before him. It was their family secret.

Travis had read the book several hundred times until he could recite the whole thing by heart. It was one night in the late period of that year when a friend had suggested that Travis tell his group the Christmas Carol story. Many had never heard such an amazing tale before and there were those who had tears in their eyes, and everyone cheered at the ending.

Travis started to move through caves and tunnels telling each group the story of A Christmas Carol. One day, one of the younger members of his family suggested that he tell another story by the wonderful Charles Dickens and that was when Travis had trouble.

He decided to tell those who waited a new story which he had created in his head- but written in the same style and in the same era as Dickens. He called the first story, The Broadstairs Man in memory of his great, great-grandfather, who had apparently lived in such a place above their heads.

To his surprise, the crowds roared and cheered at the story as if it had been written by Mister Dickens, himself.

Over the years, Travis wrote many stories using the name Charles Dickens and when he finally was taken to the dark place to have his last sleep, someone inscribed, ‘Travis, Storyteller’ in the wall above.

And the hundred and one stories which Travis wrote under the name of Dickens, lived through the great winter and for many years beyond.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Legend of Little River

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It was always the strangest of little towns, neither being a 100 miles from somewhere or a 100 from anywhere else. Folks mostly found it by accident is what I’m saying, no one ever really went looking for it. It was like a large hole in a road on a dark night – you just kind of just fell into it.

That’s not to say that once you got there you were disappointed or anything – it was just that Little River was the last town you visited before falling off the end of the world.

The war of the north against the south had taken place a little ways down the road – neither the soldiers nor the shelling had ever really troubled the little town. In case you folks ain’t too sure where that little town resides – well it’s in South Carolina – just over the border from its northerly sister. Folks would pass it on the way to Charleston or up to Raleigh and never know, nor care, that the place existed.

It would have probably stayed that way had it not been for a family from New York state traveling back home in their huge automobile. They had been vacationing (as they say nowadays) in that great state of Georgia and had decided to take their time traveling north.

Some ways outside of Myrtle Beach, the old car started to jump and shudder like it was trying to do a dance of something. It finally gave up just outside of Little River – God bless its well-polished over-worked engine.

The father of the family, a mister Logan Berry (yep, he’d heard them all) had walked a short distance to a store to use the telephone and call for help.

“They are saying they will be here when they arrive,” said Mister Berry on his return.

“Whatever does that mean?” Asked his wife and, as usual, Logan just shrugged his shoulders, because he’d found that shrugging your shoulder never got a man misunderstood. Folks just interpreted it to mean whatever they wanted.

“Well if that’s their answer, then that’s their answer,” said his wife as if they all understood what was happening. Although to be fair to everyone concerned, Misses Berry wasn’t the happiest woman in the world. She had a frown on her that could melt cheese.

Mister Berry sat on the edge of his automobile entertaining his family with a harmonica which, I should say, he always carried with him. His darling wife thought it a common thing to play and had dearly wished that he had learned to play the violin or something that was in keeping with their station as a family of some wealth and distinction in Albany.

The family had a little girl called Amy and a boy, a year or so older, called Eugene. Now ‘Gene and Amy loved nothing better than to dance to their daddy’s music – and here they were skipping, and hollering, and jumping like the poor Albany kids would do. Misses Berry just tutted and shook her head.

The family had a little dog called Hoover (just like the dam) who also liked the sound of the harmonica as it meant he was let loose to jump and bark with the rest of his kin.  It was in the middle of a toe-tapping tune that a large truck heading north, tooted as it passed, causing little Hoover to shoot off into the woods next to the road. This pleased Misses Berry as it meant that they could call a halt to the family looking common and instead go searching for their little dog.

They all split up, even although the mother had insisted that Amy stay close to ‘Gene –  and that was why on that summer’s evening, Amy Berry found herself walking down the old dirt road to Little River.

She thought she heard a rustling from the undergrowth and shouted out ‘Hoover’ at quite a noise. “Hoover,” she shouted. “Hoover”.

It was just then that a soldier, or at least that’s what Amy thought he was, jumped out of the bushes and told her to keep quiet.

Amy asked why she should be quiet when she was looking for her little lost dog.

“’Cause they is all around, that’s ‘cause.”

“Who is all around?” Asked Amy.

“Why, the enemy,” said the soldier. “The enemy”.

And with that he ducked down and signaled to Amy to do the same.

“I will not,” said Amy. “My mom told me never to listen to boys ‘cause they is stupid”.

Amy had been on this Earth twelve summers and the soldier couldn’t have been much older than her. Except for maybe his eyes, they seemed as old as time and gave the impression they were looking out on a different world.

When the soldier was satisfied that the enemy weren’t nearby, he stood and introduced himself to the young girl.

“Ma name is Zachary James, and I bid you a hello.”

Amy gave him a strange look on account of his strange way of talking.

“How old are you?” Asked Amy.

“I ain’t too sure but I was born in Charleston on a Monday in 1848. Wettest day ever there was, my Ma said.”

“Why if you ain’t the most stupidest kid, I ever did meet. 1848? That would make you…”

And Amy started counting on her fingers but soon run out of them.

“Well I do believe the year is now 1863, at least it was the last time I was home. Ain’t nothin’ tellin’ me it’s anythin’ else,” he said, defiantly.

Amy thought he might be a bit crazy and decided not to upset him anymore. She felt she’d need to get on looking for her little ‘Hoover’ and to just ignore the stupid boy pretending to be a soldier.

“I’m just going to go on looking for my little dog, if you don’t mind,” said Amy.

“Is this him?” Asked Zach.

And sure enough when Amy looked over, there was Zach holding little Hoover.  Amy couldn’t thank Zach enough, except when it came to handing over the dog.

“I wants a kiss,” said Zach.

Amy shuddered at the thought, but decided it was a fair reward for getting the dog back.

When she’d kissed Zach, she wiped her lips with the back of her hands. Zach was grinning from ear to ear.

“Now let me grant you a wish,” he said, curiously.

Amy asked him what he meant and Zach told her that she could wish for anything in the world. She thought about this and that and then the idea sparked.

“I wish that my mother was the happiest person in the world.”

“Sure?”

“Sure,” said Amy.

“Then it’s done.”

Amy turned to shield her eyes from the sun and when she looked again, Zach had gone.

Amy held tightly onto little Hoover as she made her way back to the road. It was what she saw when she got there that she gave her the biggest of surprises. Her father was kissing a younger woman, who was most definitely not her mother.

Her father looked up and smiled at Amy.

“Hey, great you got the dog.”

Amy looked around. “Where Mom?”

Her father and the younger woman looked at each other and laughed.

“Stop with the joking.”

“I ain’t joking,” said Amy.

“You know your mother and I split up years ago and she went to live with that rich guy in New York.

From what I hear she’s mighty happy.”

I guess you got to be real careful what you wish for.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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One Night, in 1949

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I guess it would be inaccurate to say that the day started with the sun rising, ‘cause it didn’t. They day started under the moonlight, up on the Greendowner Hills. It was early on in 1949 and folks were still trying to get things back in order after the big one. People had started travelling again and that’s exactly what Sean McCoy had done. He’d come in to town to hear the word of the Lord from a young guy called Billy Graham.

Yet in the middle of the night, and a mile or so out-of-town, a leak had started from the Pauxanatent Dam. The water had crossed the road, undermining the poles carrying the electricity into town. It was only a matter of time before the supply would be cut, but no one knew that yet.

Sean had saved up his money and had decided to stay at the one hotel on the main street, that way he’d be rested for the meeting in the big tent out on the edge of town. His mom gave him another 75 cents for an emergency.

Also coming into town on a bus was a man who was just passing through. He was on his way to Washington D.C. to have a meeting with his state senator. The man on the bus was called Archibald McAllister and he ran a gang down in his part of the country. He was used to dressing up in white sheets and scaring the folks who lived in the area.

Seeing that he had a day or so to play with, Archibald thought it was wiser to stay at the hotel in town rather than ride straight on to D.C. and pay the prices that those thieves were asking up there.

These were two different types of men. Archibald thought life was all about appearances and Sean knew it had more to do with what was in a man’s heart.

When Archibald got to town, he found that because of the Prayer Meeting, there wasn’t room to be had, leastways not in the ‘classier’ hotels. So against his better judgement, and telling himself it was only for one night, he took a room in the worst hotel, at the wrong end of town.

Sometime between sundown and midnight, the leak from the dam became a river and that river brought the poles with the telephone lines and the electricity crashing to the road.

Archibald had brought with him a bottle of bourbon whiskey to make the time go faster, and to kill the pain of being on the road. He was just finishing the last of the bottle when the lights went dark in the cheapest hotel in town and as he said:
“You gets what you pay for in this life.”

But what he didn’t know was that the lights were down all over town. Archibald struggled to get up from his bed, and when he succeeded, he tried to light a candle which was sitting in a drawer by the bed. Whatever went wrong – no one could rightly say – but the next thing was, Sean heard the screaming of a man’s voice coming from the room next door.

Sean felt his way out of his own door and shouldered open Archibald’s door (who had locked his on account of the kind of hotel he was in). Sean felt his way to the window where there was a vase of flowers and threw the jug of water over Archibald, before wrapping him in the bedclothes. Archibald was moaning but Sean felt that he’d doused the fire in good time. Sean tried to find a doctor but given the chaos that the darkness had brought, he walked back to Archibald’s room and sat with him. He ripped up what he could of the sheets and made bandages. He kept getting water from the sink to help Archibald with his thirst.

Archibald came around some, and started to talk to Sean. In the dark it was hard to imagine what each other looked like. Sean said he would stay with him until it got light and then he’d try and fetch a doctor. Archibald thanked him and said that if he was ever down Charleston way, then he was to be sure to look him up.

When dawn broke, and Archibald was sleeping, Sean left his patient and went looking for the doctor. He sent the doctor to Archibald’s room and in the meantime, Sean packed his case as he had to get back home for work.

The doctor said the Archibald would be better at the hospital and helped him get ready. The doctor would take him in his car.
As the doctor and Archibald left the hotel door, Sean was still sitting waiting on his bus. Archibald seeing that there was a black man in his way asked the doctor to help him to cross the street.

The doctor was just about to tell Archibald who the man was, but by then the Sean had stepped on the bus and was on his way back home.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Noises In The Sky

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Separately they would have amounted to nothing more than a curiosity, but together, well, that was a different matter. Together they spelled the change of everything that was known.

For years there had been reports of humming noises from the skies, sometimes it sounded like distant thunder, other times it was more like a ‘heavenly organ’ – as one pastor from Minnesota had described the phenomenon to a local TV station.

Then there were the strange lights – at the start, they were never close enough together for anyone to find a pattern in them. But one woman eventually did – she was a professor of logic at a north-eastern university – she realised their increase and intensity was following a logical path and it might look as if there was an intelligence behind it.

They called her, The God Woman. Most western governments did their best to destroy her quietly and slowly and they nearly succeeded – except for one thing, the skies were growing noisier and brighter. The Americans and the British tried to blame it on extreme weather conditions, but gradually those who looked to the skies knew that something else was happening – a change was coming.

The higher mammals had sat on a little rock for millennia and had explained everything away in stories of darkness and light; Gods and monsters were all you needed to keep you stuck to a rock circling the Sun and not to question why.

The Sun would burn out in so many years, the universe would collapse in a certain time in the future, life would go on forever. That was what they told themselves – just like monkeys locked in a pitch-black cellar – guessing what was in the dark and feeling safer in the process.

But there was something else out there, something stronger than a god or science – the universe itself. It was this that had decided to bring things into being, and it was this that had decided to destroy and move on.

The noises in the skies was the universe singing to itself, getting ready to end what it had made, and no monkey (or human – it’s your call) could scream at the heavens with crosses and icons and try to make it understand.

It was the beginning of the end.

Video:

Noises in the sky  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCAgmtB4j7w)

 

bobby stevenson 2017
photo  http://home.bt.com/news/odd-news/mysterious-fiery-flash-illuminates-the-night-sky-11363944659350

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A Child Of Atlantis

The house was built to be admired. It had even outshone the new hotel that stood only a few yards away on the corner of Main Street. The town of Kingston was growing up fast, sitting pretty and, above all, ready for the fast approaching twentieth century.

Andrew had been born here on the edge of the Catskills, unlike the rest of his family who had originally hailed from Lansdale, Pennsylvania.They had made their money in retail around the Market East area of Philadelphia, launching their grand store in the opening weeks of the American Civil War. Most of the brothers and sisters had built villas around the Schuylkill River but Edward, Andrew’s father, had decided to sell his share of the claustrophobic business and move to the Hudson valley in New York State.

Edward continued to work in the trade by investing his money in, and running, The Fifth Avenue Emporium in Manhattan. Each morning, he would ride the train from Kingston into the Grand Central Depot and each evening, after making more dollars than he could ever possibly need, would return home again. If he was being honest, Edward lived for those return train journeys, smoking his cigar and reading his journal as the evening sun set on the shimmering Hudson River.

Edward’s eldest son, Brett, was currently attending West Point Military Academy and each night, as the train passed nearby, the proud father would give a small salute. His middle son, Michael, was studying, as had all the family, at The University of Pennsylvania and it was his hope that Michael would follow in his father’s money making footsteps.

His youngest son, Andrew, was born only a year after the family had moved north and was still to blossom into a creature that Edward could mould. As for Isabel, his devoted wife, he was pleased to report that both of them still found each other’s company attractive.

Andrew didn’t attend any of the schools in Kingston, instead his father had engaged a tutor to ensure that all the educational needs, which Andrew required, were carried out at home. There was also a nanny on hand, in case Andrew was in need of a woman’s touch; his father thoroughly satisfied himself that he had thought of every possible need and want for his youngest son.

When the boy required some fresh air and outdoor pursuits, Edward would take his son hunting up into the hills around Woodstock where Edward would stand behind his son helping him to aim the rifle and pull the trigger. What Edward couldn’t see was that Andrew had his eyes closed almost constantly and detested the thought of killing another living creature.

The head of one of Andrew’s ‘kills’ was stuffed and mounted and put in pride of place in the trophy room of that house which stood on the hill and was built to be admired.

One day Edward took Andrew into the study to give him his birthday present.

“But my birthday is not for another two weeks, Papa.”

“I know that son, but your mother and I will be travelling on that day, so we thought you should get your present sooner rather than later. You see, that is how much we love you.”

Andrew could tell by the gun-shaped wrapping, what the present was and he wasn’t disappointed.

“You don’t look too happy son?”

“No Papa, I like it. Thank you Sir”

Edward tussled Andrew’s hair and sent him on his way, adding “We can go shooting together when I return”

Edward and Isabel were planning to attend The Chicago World’s Fair and would miss their youngest son’s birthday. Edward explained to Isabel, in terms that she would understand, that their son Andrew would have many more birthdays but the World’s Fair only came along once in a generation. Edward felt his wife understood and was happy to comply.

Andrew watched the carriage pull away from the house as his parents left for the rail road station and on to Chicago. No one had asked Andrew, but he would have loved to have gone to the World’s Fair. He was now in his tenth year and no one had ever asked Andrew what would make him happy.

Andrew loved reading and his current passion was Woodstock by Sir Walter Scott. He had taken the book, with his father’s permission, from the family library believing it to be an adventure story about the little town that lay in the Catskills. Instead, it turned out to be an exciting story about the English Civil War and with the family away the library was all his, so he planned to read Ivanhoe, by the same author, next.

One stormy Sunday, and co-incidentally Andrew’s birthday, the nanny was called away to Highland to attend to her mother who was dying. She had given Andrew little thought as she assumed the tutor would be on hand and anyway, she needed to travel the fifteen miles south as soon as possible. The tutor was indeed at home, but had confined himself to bed with a severe cold having been warned by Edward that should he ever be ill, he should separate himself from the family at the earliest opportunity. Not wanting to have the parents come home to find young Andrew the subject of a tutorial infection, he had remained in his top floor bedroom.

On the wall of the family library, on the side which was forever in the shadows, there hung several photographs taken of Edward and his hunting trophies. One such photograph was of him on Slide Mountain just after he had ambushed and killed a particularly old deer.

His father had never taken Andrew as far as Slide Mountain, which according to the tutor, was the highest in the Catskills. It had gained its name from a landslide in the early 1800s which had left the mountain with a large wound near its summit. Andrew’s father was always referring to his own elder brother, Charles, as Slide due to the heavy head injury he had picked up at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Andrew decided that since no one was going to ask him, he’d make his own happiness on his birthday and take himself off to Slide Mountain. So on the afternoon of the stormy Sunday, Andrew took some bread and cheese and placed them in an old satchel. He considered taking his birthday present, just in case of wild animals, but decided against it and condemned the rifle to remain in the cellar.

The gentle climb out of Kingston and up towards Hurley was easier than Andrew expected but then he didn’t have the prospect of shooting an animal to look forward to. Once at the top, Andrew could see both Overlook and Slide mountains in all their glorious splendour.

Andrew and his father regularly climbed the trail to Overlook but it was always busy with grown-ups and even more annoying, according to Edward, were the new hotels rising up all over the mountain. So Andrew decided to walk straight on and head towards Slide.

He might be just a kid, but he wasn’t stupid and if there was one thing his father’s hunting trips had taught him was that he had to keep a watch out for wildlife; for his sake and theirs. Copperhead snakes especially as they were mean. He had only gone a further mile or so, when Andrew heard a rustling sound out to his left, he was hoping it wasn’t hunters or Andrew would be in real trouble. He stopped and held his breath and realised that the sound was following him in parallel.

Andrew wanted to cry out but he knew that this would cause more trouble than it was worth, so he decided to be a man and head towards the noise. Whatever it was, this thing was quite large and it sounded in trouble.

Andrew squatted down and slowly pulled back the vegetation, only to see a black bear cub staring straight back at him. They were both very surprised at the sight of each other which caused Andrew to fall flat on his back and although Andrew knew little about bears, he was surprised that the bear didn’t make his attack. Andrew quickly crawled back a few yards and then stood up, it was then he noticed that the bear cub’s leg was stuck fast in a rock crevice and the poor animal couldn’t move.

So one abandoned child decided to help another abandoned child – I mean, he just couldn’t leave the bear out there to die, now could he? His father had told him that if a bear threatened, he should not make any eye contact and to back off as quickly and as quietly as possible but, hey, this was a small bear, just like him.

Andrew found a fallen tree and used it to ease the stone which was holding the cub’s leg, just enough that  it was able to free its leg and run for a few yards. It then turned and growled which Andrew had assumed was its way of saying ‘thank you’. Except it wasn’t, it was calling on its mother who was approaching.

“Don’t run, don’t make eye contact, don’t run, don’t make eye contact” was all that Andrew kept saying over and over to himself. He backed away towards a sturdy tree which was nearby, and was just about to climb it when a soft voice spoke from behind it.

“Don’t climb the tree” whispered the woman, “you’ll only get yourself trapped, stay perfectly still and look at the ground. Don’t even scratch your nose. If you understand me, breathe a little heavier”

Andrew took a long breath. “Good” whispered the caring voice. “Now don’t be alarmed little one but I’m going to pick you up and run some, only a short distance.”

‘Don’t run, don’t run’ was still going through Andrew’s mind, when all of a sudden two large arms came around the tree and lifted him off his feet. He could hear the bear growling and starting to move towards him. Andrew was almost hanging upside down from the gigantic woman’s arms and he could see the bear closing in when all of a sudden he was in a small room with a door and no windows. The gigantic woman threw Andrew in the corner then placed a large piece of wood across the door. The woman signalled to Andrew to be quiet, which he did to such an extent that he almost stopped breathing.

After a few minutes of listening at the door the woman, relaxed, took a deep breath and whispered “She’s gone” then said “Hi, my name’s Mary”

“Andrew”

“Good to meet you Andrew, you sure did have a close one today, someone up there must be looking out for ya. When it’s clear, we can head up back to my cabin and get you cleaned up”

And that is what they did. Mary kept an ever watchful eye out for anything else, as she and Andrew walked to higher ground, arriving at the homely cabin with the smoke coming out of the chimney. In that little hour, Andrew was probably shown more care and love than he’d been shown in all his short life.

The food that Mary served up was easily the tastiest that he had ever put in his mouth, and he loved the way she whistled while she was cooking and serving the meal.

“When we’re done, we can talk about what you were doing up in these woods alone. Ain’t you got a ma and pa?”Andrew nodded that he had and then continued eating.

When he’d finished, Andrew told Mary about his mother and father and their trip to Chicago.

“…And this being your birthday and all? If you was mine, I wouldn’t leave you”

Suddenly Andrew wished Mary was his mother. So he told her about his brothers, the ones who were always away from home, the nanny and her dying mother and the tutor in his room.

“You poor little orphan, you sure is a sad one. Come over here and let Mary hug the life out of you. Come on now.”

So the biggest woman in Andrew’s short life did indeed hug the life out of him, then she set him down by her side, always keeping one arm safely around him, and she told him a story.

“You see Andrew…can I call you Andy?” and the boy nodded “Well Andy, you’re a lot like me, you’re one of the others. My mother was one of the others and so was her father”

And she went on to tell Andrew about the others, how a very long time ago there was a land call Atlantis, and in that land lived the good people. These were the ones who created music, poetry, painting, dancing and would express love in so many kind and decent ways.

Because they had not mixed with any other beings, they believed that this was how life was meant to be lived, that each of us should always love and care for one another. But then, and remember this was still a very long time ago, the land of Atlantis arose in steam and fire and the ground below their feet began to break apart. Some swam, others took to the hills while some built small rafts and put to sea. As they looked back from their little boats they could see the land of their home disappear below the waves.

Some of the good and brave survived and reached the lands we know of today but because they did not want to frighten those they had come to know, they dressed and lived as the strangers did. They married and had children – they fell in love with those they lived amongst and through the families they passed on the life force of the Atlantis people.

Not everyone was lucky enough to claim such heritage, but once in a generation a child would appear who had all the properties of Atlantis. They would be kind and loving, although they would be rarely understood. They would go out into the world and although they would be alone, they would do great things because they knew that they were children of Atlantis and they would never forget.

“When I saw you, Andy, I knew straight away you were one of those children”

“For sure?”

“For sure, little one”

So Mary took Andrew’s hand and led him back across the valley, up over the ridge and down to the house that was built to be admired.

As for Andrew, he displayed all the goodness that Mary had told him about. When he had finished college as a doctor, he travelled to Africa and looked after the sick and the poor.

And never, for one second, did he ever feel alone again because he knew he was a child of Atlantis and that was a good thing.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man Who Knew Where Love Was Hidden

flatiron

There had always been wars. Even in the times of love and hope, there was always a reason to kill.

From the 17th century onwards, wars got more complex: families fought families, brother against brother, rich against poor.

If you were to ask when love started dying, it was probably at the dawn of the 20th century. For that was when Captain James Sandford, a man who had seen too many battles, began to notice the increasing coldness in hearts, and the dullness growing in people’s eyes.

It was only little things at first. Small, insignificant things. A gentleman giving a beggar a farthing instead of a penny. A landowner hitting a servant twice instead of the usual once. Even the poor were not exempt; folks stole more from other poor souls and yet they could still sleep at night.

So, it was, in the year of our Lord, 1903 that Captain Sandford decided to do something about it. From his travels in Afghanistan, he has spoken to medicine men, men who had talked with the Yeti (at least, that is what they claimed). In the years that James visited their homes high in the mountains, they taught him magic and sorcery (at least, that is what he claimed).

But the greatest of all tricks was the dilution of love into a potion. One so strong, that it could stop wars in an instant. The medicine men called it ‘God’s Tears’.

In the Spring and Summer of 1903, the Captain travelled the world, catching the tears of children for their mother, and the laughter of friendship, and the sweat of one lover for another. After diluting the liquid, he placed it in a large bottle, and placed this container in the highest building that he could find.

That was at the top of the Flat Iron Building in New York City.

As 1903, became 1904, and then 1905, the world grew darker and colder and soon the world was at war. All wars are bad, but this was an evil war which believed that humans were divisible into the great, the good and the dispensable.

There were more wars that century which became more about what the enemy were – about religion, about race, about the destruction of people.

And so, the world came to the 21st century and by then love was a scarce commodity. Soon love would be no more.

The problem was that our Captain James had fought one more war in France in 1916 and had fallen there, never to return.

And with him, he took the secret of God’s Tears to his grave. But somewhere out there, perhaps hidden on top of the Flat Iron building, there is a safe which contains a bottle where all the love in the world is stored – waiting to be uncorked.

It just needs to be found.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Nelle and Tru (For Harper Lee)

kids

 

“I hate going outside, I absolutely hate it, hate it, hate it,” said Nelle to the sad-looking boy standing at the porch door.
“You’ve gotta come, ya just gotta,” said the boy.

“P…l….e…a….s…e!” He said in one of those elongated ways, that folks from town always used. This was Alabama and the way people talked could be used as a weapon, as well as a way into your heart.
“If the sun is too hot, I ain’t coming,” said Nelle.
“When is it never too hot?” Asked the boy.
“Oh you,” shouted Nelle and then stamped her feet. “If you weren’t my best friend, Tru, I would surely hit you in the face.”
“No ya wouldn’t,” said Tru, calmly.
“No I wouldn’t,” added Nelle sheepishly.
“So you coming?”
“Looks like I ain’t got no other choice.”

Tru and Nelle had been friends since they were embryos. The first one born probably waited on the other to arrive. They were close as any two souls could be. Nelle loved Tru’s bouncy hair and Tru loved the fact that Nelle didn’t realise she was a girl.

The place they were heading was over on the other side of town, a place her father, Amasa, had told her never to go near. Her mother, on the other hand didn’t care, she never cared about anything Nelle or Tru got up to. Or anything her father did, either.

“How did you know it was there?” Nelle asked her pal.
“I heard two boys talking about it as I passed the old café, said he’d been there for some days.”
“I guess he must be stinking by now,” said Nelle in a boyish way that Tru admired.

On the way there, Tru had stopped to get a big stick, not to protect himself with, but so he would be able to jab the body when they got there.
Before Tru had called on Nelle he’d already had a peek at the body. All he had seen were the feet but the smell told you that someone was lying dead.

“There he is,” said Tru, pointing at where he’d seen the feet but Tru was looking in another direction – just in case – although he wasn’t quite sure what it was he might see if he looked directly at the body.
“Well I’ll be,” shouted Nelle excitedly. “If it ain’t a dead man.”

And sure enough, that is exactly what it was. Nelle walked right over to the body just as a wave of decomposing flesh hit her nose. Undeterred, she covered her face with her bottom of her shirt and went in for a closer look.

“Can’t say if he’s a black man or whether the sun just roasted him,” she said.

Tru told her that he heard it was a black man who had been chased out of the next town over on account he’d been cheating. Nelle asked Tru what he’d been cheating at, was it playing cards or something? Tru hadn’t heard the rest of the conversation from the boys but he was sure that they had mentioned something about someone’s wife.

“He’d been cheating at cards with someone’s wife,” said Nelle, nodding her head as if she’d got to the core of the mystery. Not wanting to show any fear, Nelle crawled over and turned the body over. Half of the man’s face had been eaten or bashed in, neither of them were sure. What they were sure of was, that both were just as fascinated by the dead man as each other.

“You think it’s weird that I think dead people are worth looking at?” Asked Tru.
“Nope, ‘cause I was thinking just the same. Dead folks are worth looking at,” said Nelle.
“You kids should be at school,” said the man behind them blocking out the sun.
“It’s Saturday,” said Nelle and Tru together.
“Still, dead bodies ain’t no place for kids,” said the man who turned out to be a policeman.
“Where you from?” Asked the cop.

And Nelle and Tru told him they came from way over the other side of town.
“What’s your names, so I can inform your folks, and no lies mind, you’ll only make it worse if you do,” said the man.
“Mine’s, Nelle Harper Lee,” said the girl.
“And mine’s Truman Capote,” said the boy.
“Well skoot,” said the cop. “And don’t let me catch you round this way again, ya hear me?”

By then Nelle and Tru had wandered off looking for another adventure, but the picture in their heads of the dead black man stayed with them for a long time after.

bobby stevenson 2017

capoteharper

 

 

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Me and Buzz and Skinny Dippin’

towere

What can you say about your bestest pal in this whole wide world, when he gets arrested for being nake-it in the middle of town? ‘Not much’, is what the judge said.

“You were standing there, in front of the preacher and his good wife, nake-it as the day you were born. What have you got to say for yourself?”

Buzz was thinking that because of his natural good looks and the ‘great body he’d been given by God’, that the sight of his nake-it-ness probably overwhelmed the townsfolk.

“I guess I’m just too damn pretty to be walkin’ about with no britches on.”

Well that did it, the judge said that Buzz was to knock every door in town and apologize for standin’ in front of them like the day he was born.

One or two of them said they had missed the whole darn thing and could Buzz step inside to their homes and stand nake-it for them so that they could be just as upset as the rest of the townsfolk. The stupid thing is, I think Buzz did it.

You see, the summer that Buzz wanted to start Skinny-dippin’ just happened to be the summer when all the creeks dried up. Sometimes Buzz can be a truly crazy person and maybe, just maybe, he had chosen that summer so he could complain about the bone-dry creeks. It’s what he does.

Anyhoo, there weren’t no water in the creeks to go skinny dippin’, so that was when Buzz suggested that we might use the water tower which stood next to Mrs McGonigal’s Eatin’ Room and Entertainments. I asked the grown ups what kinda ‘entertainment’ that Mrs McGonigal laid on but they always changed the subject and one time, the preacher nearly choked on his biscuits and gravy. So I stopped askin’.

The water tower was higher than the church clock – so you can see it was pretty high and you had to climb up a real shaky ladder. Buzz suggested on the mornin’ of one extra hot day that we should get up real early and climb the tower, that way no one would see us and we could stay up there all day. The Sheriff had said it was agin’ the law to go swimmin’ in the tower on account that it was the water that folks used for drinkin’ and such and also because Cross-Eyed Larry had pee’d in it one time.

So we did what Buzz said and sneaked up the ladder real early. It was real hot, so that the water didn’t cool us down that much – but boy it was fun, especially being nake-it and all.

Inside the tower there was a small ledge and if you crawled up to it, you could jump and dive and do just about everything into the water. Back flips and front flips and such.

Of course we couldn’t come down until it got dark, so I guess me and Buzz did pee in the water, now and again’. I’m just sayin’, is all.

Late in the afternoon we could hear a band coming down the street, apparently the preacher’s wife had organized a parade for her son, ‘cause he’d memorized the whole of the Good Book or somethin’. I ain’t critizing but a whole parade. I mean.

Anyway, me and Buzz decided to jump from the ledge together and somehow we hit the bottom of the water tower real hard and kinda went through the tower. And where we’d made holes, well the water kinda started leaking through, and we could hear the screams from those getting wet below us.

Then I looked at Buzz and he looked at me and that was the last thing we did before we both fell through the tower and landed nake-it right in front of the townsfolk. Buzz managed to land on top of the preacher’s boy which had the preachers wife shoutin’ and hollerin’ about how these nake-it boys had killed her beautiful son.

You’re saying, I suppose, that I forgot to mention about me being nake-it and all – and what happened to me, exactly?

Well, I told the preacher that I had been trying to baptize Buzz on account of his bad ways an’ all, and that with the creeks being dry, the water tower was the only place to do it – don’t ask me where that all came from – I ain’t got a clue. Anyhoo, for some reason they let me go and decided that Buzz was the guilty one.

Go figure.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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A House

house2

I hear tell that the house is still there, still standing like. Leastways I heard that was the truth of it a few years ago from a sickly ginger-headed woman who had been passing the little cove. Said it was “the sweetest little shack she ever did see, and she didn’t mind who knew it”.

I still miss the place, the way I miss cigarettes. I forget for a time and then wish I was right back there, feeling good, feeling human again they way I used to feel.

The days when you are a teenager and the hormones are fighting and kicking their way around your body and for the first time (and perhaps the only time) you feel alive – I mean really alive. Music blows your brains out, the thought of nakedness makes your tongue run drier than a desert and you stutter and fret over the smallest of things. Then some days you feel as if you are standing taller than a mountain, I kid you not and you feel you could take on the world. Then someone sounds a whistle and your hormones go touring around your blood stream again and you are lost, good and simple. Tempers and anger and you don’t have the slightest clue why – just that it’s good to shout at someone, anyone.

Those were the years when I knew that house. The lost years, the days of wine and roses when Ma painted flowers and Pa would go missing for weeks at a time.

Crazed Boy was one of my friends, heck who am I kidding? He was my only friend, still is – in that I carry the stone he gave me just before he went to ‘Nam and never came back. He turned me on to dirty music, black music my Gran called it, but we never listened to the elders – we just rocked and rolled until the sun came down and even then we’d light a fire on the beach and keep going sometimes until the morning.

When I think of that house, when I think of those years, I can still smell the ozone that drifted in off the sea and somehow kept me company. Everything smelled of the sea and you only really noticed that fact when you drifted into town and things started to smell of smoke.

Those were the electric years, the times when I felt that I had a million volts wired to my spine and I tell you what – I would give anything to feel that way again.

No one lived in the place for years afterwards. Some say it was haunted but I remember I drifted down that way one November, a couple of years later – it was easy to break in – and I saw that some of the Pastor’s blood sparkled on the walls. Even after all that time.

Boy who would have thought that one head full of blood would have made such a mess? He put the gun under his chin and told me and my Ma that he thought God had given up on him and then he splattered his head right across the gramophone and our only two books: one of them ironically being the Bible.

Apparently he was now in a better place, when I asked was that Detroit, my Ma slapped me so hard that my head bounced off the wall and I wasn’t sure if the blood was mine or the Pastor’s. She apologized later but said I had a way of talkin’ that got folks crazy like. I wondered if maybe I had made the Pastor shoot himself in the head.

It wasn’t long after that things started to go wrong with the family. Like we had been cursed by the shooting. My Ma died of a weak heart – so the Doctor said. My father was jailed for robbing a drug store in Woko County. My brother and I were taken into care and then we were split up. I never did see my brother again. I have been told that he made it good in the oil down in Texas. I hope that’s true, I really do. So if you happen to walk down by the cove some empty sunny day, and you see the house, just keeping on walking. It ain’t healthy to stick around.
bobby stevenson 2017

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Me and Buzz and the Geetars

guitarman_by-randymoberg

One night over by Cripple Creek when Buzz was working as a Bus Boy in Mama Leone’s Fish Factory, I went by to see how things were doing.

That place was dead, I mean real dead, I mean as dead as Jimmy Manson wanting to play quarterback after that photo of him dressed as Shirley Temple went around the team; that dead.

“S’up?” I said to old Buzz.

Buzz just looked real bored, he’d heard the door open thought it was a customer and then he had to find out it was only me. Okay, he was happy to see me an’ all but I sure wasn’t going to tip him, not like a real boney fidey customer would.

“I need money,” says Buzz to me as if that was news to anyone. “I mean real money, I wanna start a musical band with geetars and stuff.” Well that was the first I’d heard of Buzz and the geetar thing. Sometimes it is hard just to keep up with his ideas, he has so many, then he gets tired from having all these thoughts and he just goes to sleep. That’s the way it was back then, Buzz sleeping even in the middle of the day.

“You’ll be in the band too,” he says to me as if I could play something. But let’s just say it out here and now, Buzz didn’t know the first thing about any musical instrument – so who was going to play what in the band – was just a moot point.

“Buzz, we can’t play anything,” I says to him stating the obvious.

“Didn’t stop the big New York bands,” he says right back at me.

“I think, you’ll find it did, Buzz,” I says to him.

Just then the Mayor and his latest lil’ girlfriend sashayed  in to try some of Mama Leone’s fish and that was the end of our talk, especially since the Mayor was well-known as a BT in eating circles (a big tipper).

Buzz never mentioned nothin’ about the band again – least ways not for a while until the night we were sharing a soda at the railway tunnel and he says ‘I’ve bought a geetar.”

Well you could have run me over with the next cargo train bound for the coast, I was that shocked.

“You what?” I had to be sure I had heard what I had heard.

So he said he’d not really bought a guitar but found it in a dump truck right behind the old jazz club on Washington Avenue.

“Musta cost a pretty penny, that’s for sure, Hawkeye,” said Buzz. I asked him who Hawkeye was and he said:

“Why that’s your new name in the band,” he says to me without even a hint of joking in his voice.

“Hawkeye?”

“Yup and mine is Running Wolf,” he said with a, ‘I thought all this up myself’, smile on his face.

“You say some stooped things, Buzz but that has got to be the stoopidist in the history of stooopid things and that saying somethin’.”

Buzz told me if I didn’t like it that I could ‘skedaddle’ as there were plenty more fish in the sea (I guess he had been working at Mama Leone’s a little too long) and that I had never shown any signs of being a geetar player anyhoo.

So we parted pretty badly that night with me shouting “Run away, Running Wolf” and thinking it was clever at the time when it was just plain embarrassing.

The next time I saw Buzz was a couple of weeks later when he was playing his geetar on the corner of Vine and Stanford. There was one string on the geetar and he was pluckin’ it within an inch of its life. He was singing real loud to make up for the lack of music. When I say singing…..well I reckon you can work that out for yourselves.

I looked in the hat he’d placed on the sidewalk and it had a 5 bits already in it.

“Buzz,” I said.

“What?” he said.

“Who gave you the 5 bits?” I asked.

Then he looked real red in the face and I knew he’d put it there himself and it was most likely a tip from the Mayor or his latest lil’ girlfriend.

“How’s things?” I asked.

“Not good, not good at all,” he said with a real sad face. “People just keep walking by.”

So right there and then I decided to help my bestest pal in the whole world and did a lil’ monkey dance to accompany the song. Before you knows it, all the folks in town were throwing money in the hat and shouting ‘dance monkey boy, dance.”

By sundown we’d made nearly a dollar, a whole dollar just for dancin’ and singing.

As we walked up towards Cripple Creek I asked Buzz what we should do with the money and he said: “it’s going in my fund to help when I run for President of these, here United States.”

I reckon he probably will and all.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee bobby

painting: guitarman_by-randymoberg

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ME and BUZZ and THE ALIEN ABDUCTION

buzz2

He got the cops to call me instead of his Ma. She had said if he was arrested one more time that he would have to sleep in the town dump ‘cause she was washing her hands of him. Buzz knew she’d never do that but still – he didn’t want to take the chance, so I get woken by a call a 3.22 in the morning. I kid you not.

The cop at the desk looks at me as if I’m just as stupid as Buzz.

“He’s in the back and I think you know where to go.”

The truth is, I did know where to go – over the years, me and Buzz both had cooling off time in the room at the back. It was never for anything serious but then that’s what happens in small towns, the cops throw you in the back room to keep you out of the road of your Ma and Pa.

Buzz’s face was deep purple, I mean deep grape purple by the time I got to the room and there was some cowboy counting: ‘1001..‘1002’…’1003’…. I need to tell you at this point that Buzz was hand-standing against the wall and he was betting with the other kids in the jail that he could stay up the longest.

“Another ten seconds and you’re the champion of Duchess County jail,” shouted the cowboy. Who would have thought then – that would be the exact second when Buzz passed out? I mean he just lay there all dead to the world. I looked at the cowboy who looked at the other kids in the cell he’d been betting with.

“Act of God,” called the cowboy.

“What cha sayin’?” said the skinny little kid with bad skin.

“I’m sayin’, it’s an act of God.”

“And?” asked the mean kid with the tattoos. “And I want you to think real careful before you answer.”

Then the mean kid punched his palm with his fist followed by a real evil smile. I always wondered were these kids born with evil mean smiles or did they practice hard at it?

Buzz was coming around to opening his eyes as the cowboy was handing back the green stuff to the other kids.

By the time Buzz could stand, the rest of the kids had been released. He stuck his arm around my neck and I carried him out of the cop store.

Buzz didn’t want to go home, not yet, leastways not until he got a story together that his Ma would believe. She was like the secret police or somethin’, I mean that woman could smell a lie at spittin’ distance with her eyes closed – and boy did Buzz’s Ma know how to spit. When she was younger, she’d been the Tri-county spittin’ Champion. There were cups on her smoking table and she was real proud of them.

Every birthday party whether she was asked or not, she would chew some baccy then spit the whole caboodle across the room into a vase which was always sat next to her Grandma’s urn.

The back wall had brown stains where she’d been practisin’. When she got the baccy in the vase she’d give a chuckle then spit the rest of her goo into the fire, and after it sizzled she’d declare it the best birthday party ever.

You can kinda see where Buzz got his craziness from.

But I’m floatin’ away from the story here – so where were we? Oh, yeh, so Buzz comes back to my place and I asks him:

“What was you in for this time?”

“It’s a long story,” he says to me. It always is.

So I sit down knowin’ I’m gonna regret askin’ but I can’t help myself but before I can ask him for more, he’s already started the story…

“You remember, Becky Weiss?” asks Buzz.

I think I do but I ain’t sure, so I just kinda shrug my shoulder.

“Yeh, you do. She was the red-headed kid who claimed she’d been abducted by aliens.”

Then I remembered that Becky Weiss. She got pregnant at 15 and told everyone the father was a creature from Saturn who took her against her will in the middle of the night. When the kid was born it was the spittin’ image of Frank Dunbar from the farm down by the lake, I think her story kinda fell apart at that point.

“She’s got 5 kids now, claims the man from Saturn visits her every full moon and every year she gets pregnant. Well I met her tonight and guess what, she was askin’ ‘bout you.”

“Me?” Jeez until five minutes ago I could even remember who Becky Weiss was.

“Yeh, she asked what had happened to my cute bud.”

The blood-shot straight through the top of my head.

“She didn’t?”

“Did too. Anyhoo, that ain’t the story. When I first see her, she’s carrying some groceries and they spill over onto the sidewalk. So I stop and I help a lady in distress. Then I sees who it is, well I saw that tattoo of Jimmy Carter on the back of her neck first and I knew it was her.”

“Becky?” I said.

“Buzz? Is that really you?”

So Buzz tells me that he and Becky got quickly to talking ‘bout things and what had happened to her since her first alien abduction; nothing much, apparently, ‘cept for the other alien abductions. You gotta wonder if Becky was a prize in some lottery for aliens? I mean, these space creatures travel way across the Milky Way just to meet Becky Weiss?

Yep, it’s got me puzzlin’ as well, bro’. I ain’t questionin’ anythin’, just wonderin’ that’s all.

“So we’re talking and there’s nothin’ else you understand, just talking,” says Buzz.

“I hear ya,” I say.

“Then there’s a knocking on the window of Becky’s place.”

“So what?” I ask.

“She says that it might be the alien comin’ a callin’. Now I don’t know about you but I ain’t one to be abducted by no alien.”

“So what did you do?”

Jeez this story was starting to get excitin’, ‘though I’d never tell Buzz that.

“Well I just punched the alien straight in the face, no whys or wherefores, you understand don’t cha?”

I nodded my head that I did but I don’t think I really did.

“So….,” and I knew I was gonna regret asking, “what happened next?”

Then Buzz got real upset and said that the alien had called the cops because of the fact that the spaceman had been hit straight in his antenna.

“I didn’t know aliens could call the cops,” I said, genuinely.

And apparently neither did Buzz.

Now here’s the thing, it was only years later when I was attending the funeral of Becky Andrews (once known as Becky Weiss) that I found out that some of the boys of the town used to dress up as aliens to have their own sweet way with Becky. You hear what I’m sayin’, don’t cha?

Just so’s you know, Buzz told his Ma he’d fallen asleep at my place and she seemed happy with that.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Time of Storms

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I was trying to think back to what year all of this took place, and I guess I would be right in saying that Hank Williams was still alive and so it must have been sometime in the winter of ’49.

I remember that year ‘cause my daddy was always singing Mister Williams’ song, ‘My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It’ and then he’d wink at me, jump on Blue (his horse) and so go out riding to check on the stallions.

It had been an unseasonable few months, what with snow one day, then humid heat the next. Pastor Rick had suggested that perhaps his boss had gone off on vacation and had forgotten to set the thermostat: it brought a few laughs in church that Sunday.

Sometimes my daddy didn’t come home for a few sunsets, but it never worried anyone, ‘cause we always knew he’d have pitched up in some canyon or other and made himself a bed for the night.

But when it became a week, then we knew there must have been trouble, and my mom told me and my brothers to saddle up and go out looking for my daddy.

He’d been overdue before – once he was out for four days but he’d been caught in an unexpected snow storm, which had laid him up in the Last Hole cave – the one that lay at the end of Crimson Valley.

When he returned from that trip he had looked real fine – said he lived off of snow water and anything that was stupid enough to crawl across him in the cave. So by telling you this, I wanted to say that we weren’t too concerned about my father, we knew he could take care of himself.

Half way up Crimson Valley, me and my brothers split up and I went to the west, while Jake and Tom went north and east. I had only been riding an hour or so when I saw a horse just standing still and looking towards me. My first thought was that it was one of the stallions which had got lost from his kin, but as I got closer I could see it was Blue.

Blue, my daddy’s pride and joy, was wandering the valley and I started to think that maybe something wasn’t right. I tried to follow Blue’s tracks back a-ways but they led to a dead-end where the sand had got whipped up by some storm or other and had covered his trail. So you know what I did? I tried to comfort myself by singing my daddy’s favorite song. I could see Blue’s ears prick up as he knew what I was getting at, I guess he was missing him too.

Probably about five miles to north of where I was, I could see the sky darkening and decided to head for Aloopa’s cave just to lie there until it blew over. We made it by only a few minutes and as the snow storm whipped up real strong, my horse and Blue started to spook some. I took them to the back of the cave where I lit a fire and managed to brew a strong, thick black cup of coffee.

I must have been real tired ‘cause the next thing I know the Sheriff is kicking at my heels and telling me to wake. Can I say right here and now that I wished he had left me sleeping, ‘cause what he told me brought the cave crashing down on my head. They had found my daddy on the old Wisco Trail – no idea what he was doing up there but he had been shot straight through the head.

The Sheriff had found my brothers and told them the story and suggested they head back home and give my mom the news, he told them that he would go looking for me. The Sheriff guessed it was some stranger or another who had seen a man on his own with some money and had taken his chance.

I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t taken Blue, as a horse like that was worth something in these parts. The Sheriff just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘who knows?’.

There were more storms that winter and it was up to me and my brothers to keep our homestead going. We always knew we’d have to take care of the place sooner or later – it was just that none of us had hit the age of twenty by then, although I gotta say we worked hard and we got through the bad stuff. My mom was never the same after my daddy’s death, she used to sit and stare out of the window like she was just waiting for him to ride up to the door. It was only a couple of years later that she went to join my daddy – ‘a broken heart’ was what Pastor Rick called it and I guess he was right.

My brothers married local girls and moved away, ‘cause the farm and horses couldn’t really support the three of us. They decided that I should take the homestead being the youngest and still unmarried. If I was being truthful, I would say that they were just sorry at the sight of the lands where my daddy died.

The year that Kennedy got shot, I got to marrying a local girl. She was the daughter of the Sheriff who had found me that day in the cave. Although he wasn’t the easiest of men (at least in my company) his beautiful daughter made me feel like I was ten feet tall and the happiest man in the world.

The Sheriff died a few years later and left his home to his daughter and me (and our two kids). It lay on a beautiful little spot by the River Jordan that joined up with the Missouri a further ways down the stream.

I remember I was looking through her daddy’s papers when I came across a letter with my name on the envelope. Seemed a strange thing to do, but I opened it and read it. 

‘My Dear Son-in-law I have to say I am as happy as a grasshopper that you married my daughter and gave me such fine grandchildren. I hope you all have many years of love and hope in this home. Since you’re reading this, then I must have gone to meet my maker and I know he’ll have a few things to say to me when I get there. You see I did a terrible thing and I ain’t asking for forgiveness, I’m just telling it, how it is. It was me, I shot your father. I had been making some money by running some goods into the Apache settlement up the Waco Trail. Your daddy found me one day and we got into an argument. I didn’t mean to kill him, you must believe me. My first thought was to hide the body, but I thought of you, your brothers and your ma being tormented ‘cause they didn’t know. So I went looking for you boys and told you the news. I took from you the most precious thing in your life and so I gave to you the most precious thing in mine. Don’t let the sins of the father fall on the daughter – your wife. She knew nothing of anything. I can only say again how truly sorry I am, and I probably won’t see you in the afterlife, as I guess I’ll be dancing to Old Nick’s tune. All the best and with much regret.’
bobby stevenson 2017

photo:  http://www.99volo.com 

 

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The Doll

woman

I can’t honestly remember who first called her, ‘The Doll’. If memory serves me well (and it usually doesn’t) I think it was her Aunt May

“You, young‘un, are the sweetest, kindest little doll, I ever did see,” she’d say, then kiss her on the lips.

So the name stuck, and although she had two more sisters (just as sweet), she was the one always called The Doll.

When she was a kid, she’d watch ‘I Dream of Jeanie’ on the television which stood in the corner of the lounge, and was never really looked at by anyone else in the family. This is probably where she got the taste for the thing that would drive her on in later years – fame.

It was all she could think of, to be as famous as Marilyn, or to be as well-dressed as Jackie. But her family weren’t the wealthiest in town, so she had to think of a way to get up there, to get her to the top.

In High School, she started ‘putting-out’ for the quarter-backs, who would take her to a party and have their way with her. The only time she would be mentioned again, was in the locker room, when they were having a show of hands on who had been there.

Somewhere along the way, she started dating the geeks, usually the ones who lived up in Lovell Drive (where the mansions were) and whose daddies ran the local industries. Their families were normally pleased to see that their sons could get a girl like her. But soon some of the parents realised that she was just working her way along the drive, and the invitations stopped.

She got what she was wishing for – kind of – when she was pointed at in school, but not in a good way. At home, she’d walk in the front door, smile and laugh through gritted teeth. If she made it to the end of a family meal, she’d then go upstairs and cry her heart away into the middle of the night.

She couldn’t understand where she was going wrong. All she wanted to happen was for folks to notice her.

In college, she started to grow into a real beauty and some of the best of the men would ask her out on a date. But they didn’t make her happy, because they couldn’t make her famous.

She started going to parties where she knew the better looking kids hung out. Many times she’d just sneak in and given how good she looked – she’d find that she’d quickly fit in. But she’d always leave her personality behind at home, and so she didn’t make the impression she felt she was due.

She thought she might be an actress and got herself an agent (not the best of men) who got her parts in stage plays, and ‘walk-ons’ in b-movies. Still, it got her a write-up in the local paper and that made her feel good about herself.

She dated a couple of older actors whom she’d met on set, and who were on the slide – acting wise. One treated her well, but wasn’t into a physical relationship, the other had a lot of money and took upon himself to beat her badly on several occasions.

It was the same week that she was released from hospital with another broken bone that she decided to head for Hollywood and the big time. She met him the first day she arrived.

She’d bumped into him as he was carrying a cup of steaming hot coffee. It burned and hurt, but she didn’t complain because she recognized him as a runner who had just won several gold medals in the Olympics. He looked good too, and she liked what she saw. They looked great together.

Within a month, she had moved in with him up in the Hills and she began to get photographed; some of them even made it into the magazines.

She could deal with his anger rages, as long as she kept getting her face seen about town. Sometimes she cried in the bath, sometimes she didn’t. She was where she was, because she wanted to be.

He told the police that the gun had gone off accidentally. It had been the one he had used in the movie, ‘The Silent Soldier’. He had been showing some close friends the gun at his mansion, and when they’d left he’d only pointed at her as a joke. He didn’t know (swear to God) it was loaded.

So in the end she got to be famous – especially at his court case when her face was splashed around the world. As the judge said in the summing up: “sometimes you got to be careful what you wish for”.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Moving (100 word stories)

move1California

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.

 

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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).

 

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The Other Side of The Mojave

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.

 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Skiing In Central Park

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I don’t think there was a precise time when you could say that they actually met; instead it would be more accurate to say that they rubbed against each other’s lives from the moment they were born.

Kitty and Jethro were born in the same week to families who lived next door to each other. They grew up together, sat in the same school rooms, and had the same good and bad teachers.

When one of them missed school due to ill-health, the other couldn’t rest until they were back together.

It was inevitable that one day they would start to see each other in a differing light. One evening Jethro looked at Kitty and saw, not a little friend who needed to be rescued, but a beautiful young girl who needed to be held. And one summer’s day, instead of a little boy who always needed his nose wiped or his tears dried, Kitty saw a strong upstanding boy who she could think of perhaps marrying, one day.

Jethro spent a long time away in the army when the government felt that he was needed, and in those times apart (it seems strange to anyone who has not experienced it) she fell more in love with him than she could put into words.

Their wedding was in the little chapel just north of the town’s river and everyone turned up – it was said that the sheriff allowed his prisoners to also attend and even ‘though the sheriff got real drunk that night, the prisoners locked themselves up, afterwards.

The two love birds settled down to a life in the little town that was by-passed by all the main roads, and there they got on with the business of living.

When no kids turned up, Kitty went to the doctor and found that she and Jethro just weren’t compatible – had it been with someone else both might have had children, but not in this combination. Kitty knew things could have been done to help them but they both decided that if that was the way things were, then they just get on with it.

Not having younger ones to worry about, meant they got to see a lot of the country. They drove north, south, east, and west and loved every single minute of every single day in each other’s company.

There was one crazy dream that they both shared (Kitty thinks she first read about it in a book) and it was their wish to go skiing in Central Park in New York City. Neither of them had ever been in another country but this seemed the perfect reason to go. They knew there were only the smallest of hills in the park but that didn’t put either of them off – not one bit.

Every winter they would talk about going to New York, and then before they knew it, another year had passed. They were in their sixties when Jethro started to get ill, and it meant that Kitty spent more and more time looking after him. It wasn’t a chore, she just worried about her little boy who had once lived next door to her.

One winter, just before the start of December, Jethro shut his eyes for the last time. When Kitty found herself brave enough, she started to sort out Jethro’s things. In an old jacket she found details about a savings account in the little bank at the top of street.

When she went into the bank, the young man behind the counter said:

“So you’re going skiing in New York, then?”

Kitty asked him what he meant and he told her that every week, Jethro had put a little money into the skiing account and that one day, he told him, Jethro and his wife were going to go skiing in Central Park.

Kitty counted the money and there was enough to get her to fly to New York and a little over to help a young family who lived next door.

When she got to New York it was September, in fact the hottest month since records began – so skiing was out the question. That night she sat in her hotel room and talked to Jethro as she always did, and after telling him she hoped he was well where ever he was, she mentioned the lack of snow. It was just then that a TV show came on about the Guggenheim Museum in New York and it gave her an idea.

The next day she took a cab to the museum where the security man at the door looked in her bag – she told him ‘they were for her grandkids’, so he wished her a nice visit and Kitty went on her way.

When she looked up it was just as she had hoped – the inside of the Guggenheim was a path which descended from the top of the building to the bottom, in circles.

She got on an elevator to the top floor, took out her new roller-skates and before anyone could stop her, she shot down the Guggenheim path at several miles per hour.

“Can you see me, Jethro?” Kitty shouted, “can you see what I’m doing?”

And then she laughed and giggled and screamed all the way to the bottom of the path.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man From Biloxi

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The first time I seen him was on 8th Avenue, that must have been around early ’51. I mean he was a street man and all, so he played his music a little, he begged for a few cents, and above all, he survived.

I remember the first time I spoke to him, I bought him a steaming cup of java coffee, and he just smiled, licked his lips and played a tune to thank me. ‘Man that felt good’, he said to me – I was thinking just the same thing about his playing.

He had journeyed up from Biloxi at the end of the war and had wanted to join a jazz band up in Harlem – but when he got there, the streets were full of sharp suits and trumpets, seems everyone wanted a piece of the action. So he did what he always did, he took his chances elsewhere – and this time he put down in mid-town Manhattan.

The trumpet he carried was real old and had a huge dent on one side. He told me that he’d taken it with him when he went to fight old Hitler and a bullet had hit his trumpet (instead of him) and that was why he was standing in front of me today playing one of his beautiful tunes.

I just believed him – I mean what was the point of saying it wasn’t so?

I never knew where he lived or laid his head, seems that I never got around to asking. Sometimes he’d be playing and sometimes he’d be flapping his gums about some point or another with the folks who took time to talk to him.

Some days, he’d be sitting in that old coffee bar – the one that used to stand on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen. I’d nod and he’d call me over and introduce me to his latest friend. Sometimes, it was a writer called Jack Kerouac, or a strange little man out of Wyoming, name of Jackson Pollock.

One night, my friend, the man who played the trumpet on 8th Avenue, took me to a night club just north of Central Park. I can’t recall who was playing but as we sat down at a table, my bud introduced me to Miles Davis. Man I had always wanted to meet this cat, but the soul who sat in front of me was drained of life, he was solid gone. This genius was as low as anyone could be. He kept trying to find anyone in the club who could provide him with a little something to get him back on his feet. It was only later I realised that he meant drugs.

The Christmas of 1951 was a real freezer as I recall. The snow just lay on the streets and folks dealt with it best they could. My youngest, Albert, slid while trying to cross a street and a bus ran over his leg. I had only turned my back to see where my daughter was, when the accident happened.

My boy had struck his head on the way down, and things didn’t look good. Not good at all. The doctor said that we should prepare for the worst. How your life can change in an instant – I mean, you got to hold on to everything and enjoy it.

At the hospital I walked to the window to get some air, and as I opened it I could hear the sweet sound of a trumpet’s notes floating in the night. Sure enough, across the street, was my pal playing for my son and my family. His way of saying ‘I’m here for you, buddy’.

Jeez, I ain’t one for letting the tears run down my face but between the trouble with my boy and the kindness of my friend, I felt real churned up inside – all sad like.

The last time I saw my pal was in the summer of 1952. Albert had made a full recovery and we’d gone for a walk in Central Park. I remember that day so well as it was over a 100 degrees and folks were falling down all over the place.

Me and Albert had been sitting up on one of the rocks when I could just make out a tune that my bud was known to play on the avenue. I knew it had to be him and I wanted to find my friend and show him how well Albert had done in recovering.

“Albert, this is my pal who played the night you had your accident.”

The two of them shook hands, and Albert said a funny thing. He said that he had remembered the tune and that he could hear it even although he was in a coma.

“I kept reaching for the tune, guess that’s what brought me around,” and with that Albert smiled.

My pal told me he was leaving New York and was glad we had met that day. He was going back down to the City of Biloxi and see what life had to offer down there.

I hugged my pal and promised I’d look him up whenever I was down that way.

We never did meet again, but one day in the post  a package turned up addressed to Albert. It was a trumpet, left to my son in a will, from a man in Biloxi.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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Broken

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Every morning Andy would count to ten before he got out of his warm forgiving bed and while he was waiting, he’d usually count his luck as well.

He’d always been the type of soul who walked the line on the lucky side but he had to accept that things happened to you when you were forty-seven years old. The way the radio sounded quieter in one ear than it did in the other, so he was going deaf as well as losing his ability to see words clearly.

The news station annoyed him to the same degree as it ever did. Why he listened to it was anyone’s guess. All they did was try their best to wipe the smile from his face: sick economy, rising unemployment, new terrorism – why did they never try looking at the positive for a change? Tell a good story about families who were working hard to save their kids. He knew why – because it didn’t make news.

He was becoming sick of it all, fighting every day for each and every step. Yet like millions of others across the land, he would get up and start his day with the best will in the world that he could muster. He’d grit his teeth like all the other dads and just get on with it.

Most of his life was a habit but it was a habit that he wrapped around himself like a warm blanket. God help him if it ever disappeared, his wife Sara and the kids were the only reason he’d got up.

He loved his wife the way that you do after twenty-five years of marriage, more than ever and less than before. She was his sun, his moon, his stars and his major pain in the butt from time to time. And the kids? Well the kids were part of him, sure they had their moments but jeez they had made this world bearable and they were his breath.

So he got out of bed on the count of ten like he did every day and he slid his feet across the floor like he did every day, and he shaved and showered like he did every day. He had a cup of coffee like he did every day – except for one thing, this wasn’t every day.

______

Sara very rarely stirred from her bed until he had got up. Every day it was the same, she could almost hear his brain counting to ten. But up he’d get without fail. He’d never had a day’s illness except maybe that time when they had just moved to this house, to this area and that must have been nearly twenty years or so.

He was a good man and she loved him, truly loved him – she’d never looked at another in all that time. She knew how he was feeling and what he was thinking even if he was clear over the other side of the county. It was that close, it was that much love.

He was a decent father to their kids, never a harsh word to say to any of them and yet they kept in check. They were good kids and they would make good parents themselves, everyone said so.

So why did she feel so lost? Like she was drowning, when all this was everything she dreamed of. It wasn’t the menopause, that had been and gone and she’d coped with it all. There was an empty ache at the core and it wouldn’t go away – no matter how hard she tried.

_______

What can you say about a child who’s been murdered? The year it happened was the year that Tommy joined the Police force, it would be more correct to say because it happened is why he joined. Twenty years later and no one had been caught not even a hint. Sure there had been talk and names mentioned, some having to leave to avoid the whispers, but there had never been good solid evidence to point the finger at anyone.

The police had interviewed almost every male in the town at the time but either the Police were incompetent or the killer was very clever.

Tommy had watched the victim’s family disintegrate, that was the only word to describe it: disintegration.

The girl’s mother and father no longer lived together and even the same town wasn’t big enough, perhaps seeing each other brought back the horror of that night.

The night she went missing, the night that the girl’s mother knew she was dead. Before the Police had informed the family, before the body was found, before even her husband had grown worried about Tracey being late. A mother knows and she felt her daughter saying goodbye inside. That was what she told the Police the next day. The mother had even been a suspect at one point but like all other leads she had been not considered a serious contender.

Back then Tommy was just a guy, plain and simple, and the night that Tracey went missing he helped along with all the others. He searched the undergrowth, the garages, down by the old canal and at the side of the once used rail track.

Poor Tracey’s little battered body had been found a couple of miles from where Tommy had been looking. He wasn’t sure if he’d wanted to be the one to find her or not.

______

We separated about two years after the death. For better or worse we’d promised each other at the Church but they hadn’t mentioned anything about your own beautiful little girl being taken. That was the worst of the worst no one could get you through that.

My darling daughter, my little one who I had read to, cried with, laughed with, run with, wiped her nose and her bum had gone.

I and her mother supported each other for as long as anyone humanly could – but the heart scars don’t show up, not at first anyway. They seep through the skin and poison everything around them, they seep into laughter and birthdays. They taint the very kindness of people. Until you grudge everyone their happiness. The fact that the world continues to turn makes your head literally spin.

I think the hatred started with the people on TV. They still made jokes, they still acted in plays, still read the news, still sung their songs. All I wanted was one of them to stop and speak through the screen:

“I am so sorry Mister and Mrs Andrews, on your loss”

But they didn’t they just kept on singing.

Then one night I looked over at my wife and thought – why didn’t they take you and leave her and I knew I was finished.

______

Tracey was my friend and now I don’t sleep so good. My mother says not to worry as it’s only bed sheets. You can always wash bed sheets she says, but I feel embarrassed.

Tracey was my pal and now I don’t go out. Not because I’m scared, just because I don’t want to.

Tracey was my best buddy and I cry most nights.

______

My name is Andy and every morning I count to ten before I get up and then I count my luck.

They haven’t caught me yet.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

photo: http://www.classic105.com

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Liberty Falls

motor home

 

Liberty Falls (how we got there)

You tell me why they called him Curly ’cause I’m sure I don’t know – anyhoo, me and ‘Curly’ decided that the Wild West was waiting on us and that was where we were headed.

He’d built the motor-home over a couple of winters when we’d been stuck ‘cause of the snow. It had really started out as something to make us all smile and jeez if it didn’t end up as an actual motor-home that you could drive and all.

The first time we took the darned thing out for a drive to see if the wheels would fall off, the cops stopped us twice. Second time they just said ‘you again’ and they left us alone after that.

We could get a distance of about fifty miles with a full tank of gas but sometimes we had to get out and push. We decided to call her the Corndog and she was christened with a well past its date bottle of cola.

So there was Curly, Corndog and me and we pointed the motor-home out in the direction of the setting sun.

It was sure cold at night and there was a lot of howling from the dogs on the prairies but apart from that, it was the smartest little home this side of the Smoky Mountains.

Curly drew a line with a pen that took us from where we were to where we were going – which happened to be Albuquerque. I wanted to go to El Paso but Curly won the game of cards and we were going where he had decided.

The big problem was that the line crossed mountains and rivers and places where roads didn’t necessarily go, but still an adventure is an adventure and that was what we were on.

We each took turns at driving, although Corndog was more likely to go where it wanted –  rather than you guiding the thing. The steering wheel was really just there as a suggestion than anything else.

The first time we stopped for more than a couple of hours was in the little village of Sudsville ( I kid you not). I asked the lady, who ran the grocery store, where they got the name of Sudsville, and she took a deep breath, making me move in to hear something spectacular and that was when she said ‘why don’t you outsiders just mind your own beeswax’.

Never did get to the bottom of it but we stayed there for two days, almost put down roots. And if it hadn’t been for Curly’s loud midnight snoring we might not have been run out-of-town and coulda been there to this day.

Still if it had been meant we would have known about it.

The next town was really a few houses and a café and it was called Liberty Falls. I have to tell you right here and now that I fell in love with the place the moment we drove old Corndog into the middle of town.

Liberty Falls is one of those places you read about and dream of finding and darn it, if we didn’t just run into the best place I have ever been.

Everyone was friendly and said ‘howdee’ and everyone wore a cowboy hat, and the men took their hats off for the ladies and said things like ‘mornin’ mam’ and the ladies all giggled and stuff.

After a spell of rain I saw one man from Liberty Falls take off his coat and spread it across a pool of water so that a lady wouldn’t get her feet wet. Just like in the movies.

Talking of which – and this is where our story really starts – Curly suggested that we stayed for a while and I wasn’t one to say no. The problem was we needed a way to make some money and that was when Curly suggested that we turn Corndog into a small movie theatre.

If we put all our stuff outside we could get 6 seats in there and a white sheet as a screen and we could charge maybe 50 cents a pop.Our problem was where to get a projector and some movies and that was where the Mayor of Liberty Falls helped us out.

He was an old movie fan and his basement was full of real old movies and his Daddy had left a projector out in the barn. With a little bit of spit and polish we had our first movie showing on the last Friday of the month.

Problem was it proved to be too darn popular and they were queuing up outside the door.Curly said he’d wished he’d made them tickets 75 cents instead and I heard him shout ‘darn’.

But I gotta go and make the popcorn for them movie folks, so I’ll write some more tomorrow.

Take care from Curly, Corndog and Me.

gone

Liberty Falls (and why we stayed)

One morning, I stretched my arms almost up to heaven with the biggest son-of-my-gun yawn this side of the delta. We had been showing movies late into the night and I was dog gone tired. Anyhoo, as I’m stretching I look across and there’s Curly and the Mayor in what I’d call secret looking talks.

After he’d finished with the Mayor, he moseyed over to where me and Corndog were waiting, and Curly had the stupidest smile on his face (I mean more than usual).
“Spill ,” I said to him straight-like.
“What?” He says all innocent-like.
“What ya mean, ‘what’? I mean what?” I tells him firmly.

Curly had been mighty frisky lately on account that he was courtin’ the sheriff’s daughter, by the name of Eileen (that was the daughter’s name not the sheriff’s). These days he had a grin on his face from sun up to last thing at night (I wouldn’t be surprised if Curly had said to me that we weren’t going any further cause he’d found the woman he wanted to marry, but he hadn’t said no such thing, as yet).

I twisted Curly’s ear to get some kinda answer from him and can I just tell you folks at home, not to follow my example, ‘cause twisting ears can lead to all sorts of problems – it ain’t to be recommended. No way. My great-grandmother twisted my great uncle’s ear and it fell off, or so the story goes in our family; ‘One-Eared Jacky’ he was known as, until the day he died (when a truck coming from his non-ear side flattened him good and proper – never heard it, didn’t stand a chance). So don’t go messing with any ears, is all I’m saying.
“Okay, I’ll tell you, I’ll tell,” howled Curly and I let go of his ear. “The Mayor wants to know if we want a copy of ‘Gone With The Wind’. Says he arrested a kid a while back with all sorts of movies in his basement. And we can have it for nothing.”
“So what’s the catch?” I ask him ready to twist his ear again.

“No catch, apparently this is the original film and it’s six hours long. He suggested…”
“Who suggested?” I ask, kind of dubious, like.
“The Mayor……..,” and right there I could see the two of them had been cookin’ up somethin’ between themselves.
“You think, me and the Mayor have been cooking something up between us? Don’t you?” Said Curly straight at me.
“No,” I lied. “I trust you.”
“Well we kinda did,” he confessed. “But it ain’t bad. He suggested that we show two hours a night of the movie. You know, in three parts. Folks who see the first bit will want to come back. So we charge them a buck a time, 75 cents for us and 25 cents for the Mayor. Three bucks to see the whole movie.”

Three bucks!“ I yelled, real high like.

So Curly says that folks don’t need to see it three nights in a row, that we could show parts 1,2 and 3 at different times over the next few weeks and people could pick and choose when they came to see the movie.
You’d think that would be simple enough, wouldn’t you? What the heck could go wrong?

Well let me state right here and now, that part one of Gone With The Wind was a triumph. Folks loved it. They were crying and laughing and crying and hollering and we showed it three times in the one night.
The problem started when we showed parts two and three. You see some folks saw the three parts real quick, where as others wanted to take their time and see it over a few weeks.

And that’s when the blackmailing started.
Apparently Jake Windsor got up in church on the first Sunday after he’d seen all three parts of the movie and swore to God, that if they didn’t give him the contents of the collection tray, he would tell the rest of the congregation the end of the movie – so help him God.
Well Pastor Fisher didn’t want to know the end and insisted the collection was turned over to Jake.
People in bars started demanding money with threats – that if they weren’t bought a beer they’d tell what happened in parts 2 or 3 (delete where applicable).
Anyhoo, the sheriff suggested that we show the whole movie every night until everyone in town and those out on the Lost Prairies had seen the whole movie, fair and square.

That seemed to work okay and we all got our money. Jake Windsor was sentenced to sit through the whole movie night after night until he got sick of it. Except he didn’t, he used to follow people to the washroom and then threaten them that if they didn’t give him a buck, he’d tell them the end.

Sometimes it’s hard to win with some folks.
Frankly my dear……… 🙂

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Titanic in New York City – Annie’s Story

ship1

Wednesday April 17th, 1912 Pier 60. NY,NY.

She was born with the name, Annie Constantine and from the age of nine, she had worked tirelessly as a kitchen maid in a large house on the south coast of England.

Annie could not settle for a life in service – she gracefully rose at 4am and fell into bed at midnight, but she told herself this was not going to be forever. She had bigger ideas, she knew was going to go to the new world one day and nothing was going to stop her.

By the time she was eighteen, she had two proposals of marriage (both rejected), and two lovers who came from the overlords who lived in the floors above.

Annie had a photo of New York City pinned to the wall of the little room she shared with two other girls.

She had heard Lord Carnforth, her employer, talk about a great ship that both he and his wife were sailing aboard to the United States: The Titanic. When that name tickled her ears she knew it was destiny, she had waited for this very moment. Annie had saved her meagre wages and at last she could afford a third class ticket – one way, of course. She got one of the footmen, whom she trusted, to purchase a ticket for her while he was on a visit to his family in Southampton.

Apart from the footman, no one else knew of her plan. So on the morning before the Titanic was due to depart for New York, she packed a small valise and headed down the back path, never to return.

For her, the voyage, although being celebrated around the world, was one of monotony; the truth was she couldn’t wait to get started in her new country, to begin her new life.

She had been in contact with an old friend, Sarah, who had met a ‘Yankee’ while she was appearing on the music hall in London’s Haymarket. Sarah had married her gentleman caller and they had both moved into a small apartment in Harlem.

Sarah was there to meet and greet her friend, and all the way on the trolley north, Sarah talked non-stop about her new life in a great city. Annie didn’t hear most of it, as she could not help herself but constantly look at the wondrous views from the window of the trolley; it was 1912 and Annie Constantine was at the centre of the new world.

The plan was for Annie to live with Sarah until she could stand on her own two feet. However this plan fell apart.  After three days Annie was working harder than ever, cooking for Sara and her ‘Yankee’. Cleaning, and fetching the groceries, she was more exhausted than she had been at the big house.

So once again, Annie got up early one morning, took several dollars from her Sarah’s saving’s box (Annie reckoned she had earned it, but swore to replace it one day) and took a train west.

Within in a month, she found herself at the end of the line, and decided that she would settle in California and see how things went. In the sun and far from the drudgery of a maid’s work, she blossomed into a beauty. This didn’t go unnoticed, especially with one, Max Sennett who had opened up the Keystone Movie Company.

Annie had to be honest, the first couple of one-reelers she made as the heroine were terrible, but Max had faith in her and it paid off. By the following year, Annie was the studio’s number one star and had started to work with a young English actor by the name of Charlie Chaplin.

Annie couldn’t see Charlie’s little tramp character having any sort of appeal and subsequently, Charlie was dismissed and returned to England to work in a factory – he never made another movie.

By 1920, Annie (now named Ann Silver) was the biggest light in the firmament and was commanding several thousand dollars a movie. She married for the fourth time in 1925, having given birth to two sons and two daughters by her previous three husbands.

In 1929, it was decided that Ann’s movie, ‘The Little Honey Girl’ would be the first talking picture – it had been a choice between her and Al Jolson’s ’The Jazz Singer’ but Ann’s looks and popularity won the day. Ann’s voice seduced the crowds once again, and in even more numbers.

When she married for a sixth time, she built a little house on the island of Catalina, a few miles off the California coast. It was while she was sailing there one afternoon, that her ship (which she had named The Titanic after the one which had brought her to a new life) sank with all hands. Her body was never recovered. 

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Remembering Disneyland

The window’s opened an inch just to let the room breathe a little as the rusting setting sun is just perching on the trees across the way and peeking into my window, hitting the oleander full on. The perfume hits my nose and pinches my sadness, ‘hey kid, this is why you walk and talk, get over yourself’. A seabird screeches for a partner somewhere in the outer banks, and just then I can smell the sea, a little sour as it worms its way by stealth into the room.

Upstairs, Mrs Hack plays her husband’s jazz records and for a few minutes she can forget that he went to ‘Nam in ’65 and never came home. Oh, the sweetness of the dulling of the senses.

Across the street, as the dusk drops down bringing with it all those things which it’s known for, some kids leave the ice cream parlor screaming and hollering and remembering their almost perfect day at Disneyland, ‘if only Josey hadn’t thrown up over me’ shouts the nervous one whose eyes gave up the ghost a while back.

And so I sit and pour a drink as the sun packs up and finally leaves the room and a steel chill hits my stomach and I wonder why in all those years, I never got to go to Disneyland.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

Strange Day

moon

November 22.

The strangest goddamn thing ever, and I mean ever, happened to me this morning. Jeez, my hand is still shaking as I write this even although the boss told me ‘no notes, no traces, no records’ but hey, it’s only one little bitty diary.

I had got up this morning, had breakfast and kissed my wife and prepared myself for what I was going to do, today. ‘Change the world for the better’ is what the boss said to me. So last night I double checked everything and the equipment was all ready. I’d taken it out to the Plains last weekend to make sure everything was A, okay. It was.

So I took all I needed up to the top floor and waited. I kind of guessed it would be a long wait but I was ready. ‘You’re the man’ as my boss told me last week.

Jeez, I nearly died when those folks turned up right behind me. I kid you not. One minute I was alone, the next they were standing right beside me. I didn’t even get a chance to reach for the rifle.

“Did you do this on your own?” Asked the man with the grey suit.

I asked him what he meant. I mean were they Feds or what?

Some guy shouts in a strange voice that they weren’t meant to get involved, that they would have to abort the trip and everyone was to return. Sounds crazy? That’s what I thought. When I got myself together I started to chase after them as the disappeared around the corner. Then I felt real weird and blacked out.

When I came to, I heard one of them say that I would have to be dropped off later. A kind blonde haired girl, a bit like Marilyn offered me a drink, smelled like coffee but I turned it down.

She asked me how I was doing and I said fine, she said that we’d need to wait till the bomb had gone off before we would return to get me home.

I know this is going to sound crazy, if anyone reads this – but she said they were time travelers, that they were on a tour of the big ones: The Crucifixion, First Man on The Moon (I’m tellin’ you that’s what she said), The start of World War 3 in 2012 – apparently a dirty bomb went off in….no, I’m going to stop there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you and the Assassination of the President – J.F.K. and that was why they were visiting me. I asked her how she knew and she said she was from the future and that she knew everything about me including Jack Ruby. Wow, my blood ran cold when she said that name – how did she know the Boss?

She said that I would be given a drug or something to make me forget so she could ask me anything. ‘Did I work alone?’ – I asked her what she meant. Did I shoot JFK on my own? I haven’t done it yet, I told her. Well are you working alone? I told her of course I’m not, I am only up in the Depository to make sure there are no loose ends. There are two guys down on that grassy knoll that will do the shooting.

She seemed real puzzled at that. She left me for a while but  she returned after she’d seen the city blown sky-high. She told me that the world would be at war within hours. She had been crying. She’d been on this type of tour before but never to Dallas or to the bombing.

I’ve no idea what went wrong but if they did give me a drug to make me forget it didn’t work ‘cause next thing I know I’m waking up in the Depository again and I’m wondering if I had taken a stroke or something. Anyway, things are back to normal, as I write this the time is 11.40am and the President is late.

bobby stevenson 2017
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Me and Buzz and The Beard

FRIENDS

I kinda wish someone had warned me about the day that Buzz decided to grow a beard. I met him on the way to school and he kept pointing to his face and sayin’ ‘huh’, ‘yeh’ and then nodding, real stupid like, then he would finish off with a ‘wow’ and click his fingers. He asked me what I thought and I just said, ‘yeh’ back to him but I had no idea what my pal was talkin’ about – not that there was anythin’ strange about that.

When we entered Titanic’s class, Buzz just winked at her, and pointed to his face (just in case you don’t know, we called her Titanic ‘cause we reckoned she was the iceberg that sunk that ship).

You should have seen the look on Titanic’s face, I mean you would have thought Buzz had just hit her. No one and I mean no one, winked at that teacher. Still, the newly bearded Buzz probably thought that he was a gift to the ladies.

I tried to get a real close look at Buzz’s face when we were supposed to be writing something about what we’d done at the weekend. But I couldn’t understand what particular growth he was talkin’ about.

“My beard,” said Buzz.

“Your what?”

“Looky here,” and Buzz pointed to a small hair under his nose (it may have even been growing out of his nose) and another single lonely hair under his lip. I have to tell you here and now (although I’d never tell Buzz) that my Grandma had more hair on her face than he did.

After school, we wandered down to the ice cream parlour and everyone we passed would get a ‘howdee’ from Buzz in a real low manly voice, and then he’d kinda point at his face. Most folks in town already thought Buzz was nuttier than a squirrel’s you know what.

At the parlour, Buzz pushed the door open the way his daddy would have done (that is if his daddy hadn’t disappeared all those years ago).

“Well, whatcha know? Buzz has got a beard.” I ain’t sure how Mister Trueman knew an’ all, but he seemed mighty impressed with Buzz’s facial stuff.

Buzz musta floated 10 feet up in the air when Mister Trueman said that and when he placed the ice cream in front of us, he said, “That’ll be three bits.”

“Ain’t it usually two bits,” I asked.

“Sure,” said Mister Trueman , “usually that’s the price – but now that Buzz is a man, that’s double for him.” Then he winked at me and I could see he thought the same about Buzz’s beard as I did. Buzz just said “Pay the man,” in a real deep voice like it was natural to be charged as an adult. I just gave Mister T, two bits like I usually did and he didn’t say nuthin’.

On the way home, Buzz stuck his chin in the Pastor’s face, and the Sherriff’s, and the Shelley Twins’ (who just ran off screamin’). Buzz looked at me as if to say, if you got it, you don’t ever lose it.

At school the next day, Titanic made announcement in class that none of her pupils were to go stickin’ their faces in any of the important folks’ faces around town. Everyone in the class looked at Buzz but he didn’t seem to know what the teacher meant.

After a weekend of Buzz lookin’ in every window in town and checkin’ himself out, Buzz turned up at school with a real dark growth under his nose. He looked like one of those bad guys in the movie who tie ladies to the rail tracks. When I got up close I could see he’d just painted it on his face and I had to laugh so hard, that I couldn’t stop. The tears were runnin’ down my face and as usual I thought I might wet my pants.

Buzz just winked at me, as ‘though nuthin’ was wrong. Titanic looked at Buzz and shook her head, I guess she had more important problems to deal with. I gotta say ‘though, it was a real hot that day and it weren’t long before Buzz beard started headin’ south. The next time I looked at him, I’m sure I did pee myself that time. His beard was kinda escapin’ from his face.

That night I took one of my paw’s old shavin’ razors and wrapped it up like it was new. The next day, I told Buzz that my paw had wanted him to have it, on account of him being a man and all.

So Buzz started shaving and we all got some peace.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Me and Buzz and Girls

love

I remember the first time that Buzz fell in love. It was with a pretty girl called Sally Watson. Buzz had just hit thirteen years of age and his hormones were fit to be tied. I mean those things were running around his body and making him feel all sorts of things – good and bad.

Sally Watson and her family had blown in from Minnesota the previous month and had caused  ructions all along Main Street, one way and another.

Her father had come to our little part of the world to ‘help his career’ – apparently he was a banker or something. Sally’s mother was the kind of woman who’d step on you to get somewhere else – I don’t mean to talk unkindly of the woman but she was real mean and ambitious. So Buzz hanging about their door wasn’t the kind of thing they were looking for. I reckon if Mister Watson had got it into his head to buy a gun then Buzz would be picking the pellets out of his bee-hind. I kid you not.

“I have just seen the most beautiful girl in the world,” was what he said that Wednesday.

“Who?”

“She’s a vision,” said Buzz. Let me tell you with a hand on my heart that Buzz never, ever said things like that before the hormones went crazy like.

“Who?”

Buzz shrugged his shoulders, ate a couple of my mom’s cookies and then remembered he was in love and a gave out a huge sigh.

“I am in love,” he said after lying down on my sofa.

“I hope it ain’t catchin’,” I said, not wanting to have to lie on people’s sofas or anythin’.

“She’s an angel.”

“Who?” I said again, remembering that he hadn’t told me nothin’.

“That new girl, the one whose family have moved into number seventeen, the house at the top of the hill, the one nearest Heaven,” he said. I kid you not, that’s what he said. Buzz, newly turned thirteen and he’s talking like….well a crazy kid.

I asked him if he had swallowed somethin’ real bad and Buzz said that it was just the breath of love. My stomach nearly dumped my breakfast on the sofa beside Buzz ‘cause that kind of talk makes a man feel kinda sick. I kid you not.

I left Buzz on the sofa to get better and went and played Cowboys and Injuns with the Hardy Twins who were only twelve and immune from love.

The next day I was walking to the Harper’s place, up on Indian Ridge and I spots Buzz sitting outside the Watson’s house, doing nothing else but looking at their windows with his hands under his chin and sighing. No idea why he kept sighing but he seemed to like it.

“You okay?” I asked.

He just nodded his head and wouldn’t turn to look at me, he just kept on looking at the house.

“She’s in there. My angel,” said Buzz.

It was then that Mister Watson stormed out the house and came up to me, real angry like.

“Are you related to this lunatic?” Mister Watson screamed, putting his face so close to mine that I could see the hairs up his nose.

“No sir, he’s my best friend in the whole world.”

“Do you know that friend of yours has been sitting outside our house all night,” said Mister Watson.

“I did not sir, but surely he ain’t causing trouble?” I said.

“You’d think? At least not until your lunatic friend started singing at 3 in the morning, at the top of his voice. What have you got to say to that?” Man was he angry.

I said that I didn’t know that Buzz could sing and that was when Mister Watson started chasin’ me down the hill. That man could run fast when he was angry.

The following morning I just happen to be looking out of my bedroom window getting ready for church when I saw Buzz getting chased up Main Street by Mister Watson in his Sunday best. Mister Watson that is, Buzz didn’t have a Sunday best.

I reckon the path of true love ain’t that easy as that English guy said, or maybe it was the Bible, I ain’t too sure.

I didn’t really see Buzz over the next two weeks, except when he was being chased by Mister Watson. I hung out with the rest of the town’s kids who were all safe from this love thing.

I remember that warm Saturday evening down by the stream, I saw Buzz sitting under the large Southern Magnolia. I thought he was laughin’ but he wasn’t, as I got closer I sees that he was cryin’ real hard.

“What’s up?”

“She loves another.”

“Who?”

“Sally Watson. She says she loves Jesus and she ain’t got time for me,” said Buzz, who was real heartbroken.

“What you gonna do?” I asked.

And he told me that he hadn’t a darned clue what he was going to do as there was no way he could compete with Jesus.

I guess he got that one right. The next day he came around to my place to eat all our food, like he usually did, but he looked a darned sight happier.

I asked him if he had decided what to do about Sally Watson and he said:

“Who?”

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The First Thing

Later in life, Thing would look back on those early years and wonder.

Wonder if the perfect moment of his life was back then, and if that was true – was the perfect moment the happiest?

That isn’t to say, there aren’t perfect times later in life and in some cases, it may be that a person is older when that perfect moment arises. But there are other pivotal points: your first real kiss, holding your child, going on honeymoon with your love, or being told that the x-ray was clear – but that isn’t the perfection I am referring to, I am talking about those few seconds, or minutes, or hours when all the stars are aligning at the same time and all of them are shinning directly at you.

To be honest, Thing’s perfect moment did happen back then. It came when he had circled the Sun six times, and with a few weeks left over. Thing’s mother and father had decided to take their son to see the school that Thing would be attending when the new semester began. He was the first of his kind at the school, and it was complicated by the fact that Thing hadn’t spent much time in human company. To say, as parents, that they were nervous about their child’s future was probably an understatement.

The plan was to introduce Thing to the Principal of the school and for that person, man or woman – but most definitely human – to show little Thing around the building. This exercise allowed the kids to be that little bit less stressed on their first day.

Normally several children were taken on the grand tour at a time, but because Thing was a Thing and not a person (their words, not mine) he was to be interviewed and given the tour on his own.

It turned out that the Principal was a woman, a rather large woman, by the name of Mrs Schwartz. She had a pleasant way about her, and a very deep and loud laugh. Any kind of laugh is a good noise, and so it was with the lady – she was the very essence of kindness itself.

She explained that Thing was to be their first Thing in the school, but that other schools in the county had their share of Things, and that the William Penn Elementary school was very excited at the prospect of their first Thing. Indeed, Thing was to be welcomed with open arms.

His teacher would be a young woman by the name of Edith Fallen and that she was the best of the best. Both Thing’s parents seemed to relax a little at this news.

Thing and his family were taken on a tour of the school, and at every turn there seemed to be a very great possibility of exciting work to do in the school. Thing’s cave was safe and warm but this building was full of every wonderful idea under the sun.

It was that day, that hour, that minute as Thing left to walk down the mountain-side to go to school for the very first time, that his life solidified.  Thing insisted on walking to school himself – although, his father walked a little way behind him to keep an eye on him.

Before that, however, his father and mother stood at the door of the cave and waved off their little treasure. As Thing looked back at the warmth and safety of those standing at the cave, and his own excitement at a new world just beginning – it was then, right at that split second, that Thing passed his life’s perfect moment. He wouldn’t know it at the time – but later, much later, he would come to realize that life would never ever be so perfect again.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

The Perfect Seconds

face

It has been said that a man dies twice. Once, when his heart stops beating, and the second time, when his name is mentioned for the very last time.

It was that final point which obsessed him, especially now – when he thought of what he was going to face. The plain, raw, truth of it all.

The only anti-dote he had for his problems was sleep, and that had served him well. His father used to look life-tired and then he would mumble: ‘sleep it is a blessed thing’. He didn’t know where his father had taken the quote from, but he was right – it was the panacea for all ills.

In his sleep, he could dream and be who or whatever he chose. That was where most of his writing ideas had been born – all in the middle of his sleeping imagination.  Some days he would awake with a full story formed in his head, and it was those stories that he would live on – for in there was the real him. All those stories contained some sliver of his DNA. That is what he should be remembered for – not on what he had said.

Writing took time – spoken words were cheap.

But it had been his spoken word that had placed him in the situation he was now in. One didn’t criticize the State and hope to live to tell the tale.

Yet he would forget all of that when he was asleep. And when he would wake up, he’d hide in those precious first few seconds: ‘the perfect seconds’, he called them – when his brain was still in the half-light of sleep, and he could not remember how the world really was.

It was soon broken by that grinding thought – that one which reminded you of who had died, or who was ill, or who you owed money to – the thought that delivered all the problems in your life in one sickening blow. That was when the world would shake you awake – but for those few golden seconds when a human being first becomes conscious in the morning, those seconds were the very, very best. You remembered nothing of your existence. A little piece of paradise before being tainted by the shadows.

The man was now fully awake and those precious, perfect seconds were long gone. He could distinctly hear the crackling in the background as they powered up the electric chair.

There was a thump as they threw the switch to test the beast. It quietly hummed a little tune.

As he looked up at the damp roof, he knew that sleep would be his soon – for eternity.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Me and Buzz and Flyin’

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The first time that me and Buzz attempted to fly, Buzz broke his arm in two places: in the yard and on the driveway. Yeh, Buzz didn’t think that joke was funny either. Now you’re going back to read it again in case you missed something ‘cause you didn’t think it was so funny.

The truth of the matter is that Buzz’s arm was good and busted all because he tried to fly from the roof of my house to the roof of Mister Huckerby’s.

Mister H was the man who ate children or so the story went. We’d tried to have a look in his windows but he always kept all his curtains closed except for the attic windows and they were too high to get at, unless you got on to his roof.

“I know what I’ll do, I’ll fly” was Buzz’s suggestion, with a real proud look on his face. He had thought of it all by himself.

“You’ll fly to the top of Mister H’s house?”

“Yep!”

“What you gonna use, a jet pack?”

“Nope, I’ve already thought of this. I’ll find a place that’s higher than the Child-eater’s and I glide over and land on his roof.”

If Buzz really thought about this all by himself then I’m sure the world is coming to an end or he ain’t tellin’ the whole truth. He’s probably seen the whole thing on Scooby Doo or something.

There never was any proof that Mister H was actually eating any kids on account that no one had disappeared or anything but that didn’t stop the stories. You know how it is? You get the rep for eating kids and it just doesn’t go away. I mean Buzz has got a rep for being really stupid but I have to tell you, he worked really hard at that rep and deserves it.

I’m making this all sound as if Buzz had come up with an idea that was as reliable as the day is long. To be honest he had several other really bad ideas. Last Easter, he tried to climb up the pipes to Mister H’s roof but there was a bird’s nest about three-quarter ways up and those little kiddy birds started peckin’ at Buzz’s face. You know Buzz hates anyone touchin’ his face so he tried to shoo them away and that’s when he let go. Luckily he fell into a bush and didn’t do any real damage although the pipe was hanging at a weird angle.

Around June time, Buzz tried to lasso a rope around one of Mister H’s chimneys. He got the rope on to one of the corner ones – the kind that crash to the ground real hard when you pull on them, especially with a boy and a rope hanging off them.

You could say Buzz escaped with his life, which is more than can be said for Mister Huckerby’s pride and joy, his car. It was all smashed up. I think he thinks that the street was hit with a tornado that day.

I guess I never really asked Buzz until just now what he was going to do when he landed on the roof. Was he gonna rescue the kids? Or what?

“I’m gonna look in that attic window.”

“Then what?”

“Not sure.”

Buzz strapped a kite to each arm and he reckoned this was gonna let him glide from our roof and across the street.

“Even if you do make his roof Buzz, how are you gonna get down?”

“Fly.”

Ain’t it just dandy how the world and even the laws of physics belong to the really stupid?

“Fine” I said, but by which I meant so many other things.

Buzz wanted me to stand at the front of my house when he did eventually jump. I’ve no idea what he expected me to do – catch him?

“You can help me…” he shouted.

“Navigate?” I shouted back.

“Give me directions” he shouted.

Then Buzz stood at the edge of the roof and started flappin’ his arms and I tell you, I nearly let some pee out, I laughed so hard. He just looked completely stupid. Like a bird that had its behind set alight.

He counted down and shouted that I should count with him.

“10,9,8….” He was still flappin’ and I was still keeping my legs crossed in case I pee’d again.

Then we got to zero and he jumped and what do ya know? He kinda glided, not as far as Mister H’s roof but to the tree in front of his house. That was where Buzz got stuck until we called the fire engine folks over at Toolaville. I think some of them tried to stop from laughing as well. I could see tears running down the Chief’s face.

It took us about 3 hours to free him and his wings and he was fine – surprisingly.

As for the broken arm, it was as he crossed the street and into my driveway that he stood on the skateboard and that’s when it happened. He broke his arm on the drive way, got up and then stood on the skateboard again and broke his arm again in my yard.

I swear to the almighty I had to run all the way to the toilet as I nearly pee’d myself again, what with all that laughin’.

bobby stevenson 2016

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The House of Laughter and Crying

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Now I ain’t saying this story is true, but I ain’t saying it’s a lie neither – mainly ‘cause I don’t want to be sued by any of you folks out there. I am just saying that it is, what it is. If you push me on it, I’ll just have to say that it’s the rabid memory of an old man, and leave it at that.

So let me start the story by telling you about the house.

From the outside, it weren’t nothing special, just a little old place built in the early 1820s to show the folks of the town just how well, Samuel P. Northbody was doing in his business. However, Samuel spent so long accruing money that he never got to finding love (except the love of the dollar, that is) and so the house fell into disrepair for a time when Mr. Northbody went to where rich people go after they die. I heard some folks say that place was New Jersey, but I’m thinking that’s just plain cruel.

Apart from the occasional snake, the house wasn’t visited by anything or anyone in particular until a crowd of soldiers hid in the house for two weeks. That would be during the Civil War of these United States when brother fought brother.

Now I ain’t too sure if the soldiers were Northerners returning home, or Southerners going in the opposite direction, but whoever they were, they took to hiding while the other side was camped right outside – I kid you not. How they never got caught,well only the big man in the sky knows the answer to that. Folks only found out they’d been there, ‘cause one of the soldiers (and by soldier, I mean a fifteen-year-old boy) had left a notebook behind.

Now here’s where things start to take a crazy turn. It was said that John Wilkes Booth hid out in the house after he shot (and killed) President Lincoln. Booth had broken his leg when jumping from Lincoln’s box at the theatre on to the stage. Booth then got some help from a Doctor Mudd, who never told the authorities about the killer’s whereabouts. I reckon that’s why some folks say ‘your name is Mudd’, even to these days.

Apparently Booth hid in the house for three days and nights, while the army folks were looking up and down the land trying to catch him.

I thinking that maybe there is something about this house that makes it a sanctuary for a person – and not necessarily for the good souls, either.

But the story I want to tell you is a lot later than that last one. This story took place in the late 1970s, when I was living in the house after it became a sort of hotel. It was known, locally, as Mrs Johnstone Home for Businessmen (guess she wasn’t thinking there might be business women too). We folks around here had always known it as the ‘House of Laughter and Crying’, and I ain’t exactly sure why that was.

I had been helping out my uncle build a barn, a big one out by the creek, and earning some money before I went off to college. My uncle was sleeping under the sky and my Ma, thought it better if I slept in a real bed every night, so that’s how I came to be at Mrs Johnstone’s.

But it was the man who lived in room 7, on the top floor, who used to get my curiosity excited. He never mixed with the other guests (even although sometimes that would only be me). He ate in his room, and I never really saw him coming or going.

I could tell by the way as he passed my room, and rubbed against the wall outside that he was a large built man. Probably ‘fat’ would have been a better description.

He would sometimes sing to himself as he left to go to the kitchen, or on his return to his room, and I could swear to you that it was…………………now I know this sounds real stupid like, but it sounded to me like someone impersonating Elvis.

He was real good at it, too. You’d almost think it was him. One night after I heard him singing his way to the kitchen, I hid in the cleaner’s store at the end of the corridor ‘cause I knew that if I opened the door a little I would be able to see his face.

I waited and waited. Man, it was a long time, but then I heard his heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. I heard him walk along the corridor and so I pushed the door a little, but that was when the brushes fell on top of me, which made me let out a yell and fell out the door.

I landed at the feet of the man, and I swear to you when I looked up it was………Elvis.

Elvis himself, as I live and breathe. Now remember that this is in the year 1978 and the man was apparently long dead. So if it was him – I have to ask myself, what was he doing in a little house on the corner of a street, in a little town? If it wasn’t him, then I have to apologise for all the craziness that I’ve put down on these pages.

But I swear to you, on my Grandma’s Bible, that I’m sure it was him.

The man stepped over me and continued upstairs, singing. I knew, that he knew that I knew who he was, and it so it came as no surprise, that when I went up to knock his door in the morning – the door swung open and the room was empty.

“Checked out, real early. Around 5am,” said Mrs Johnstone.

There you have it – not much of a story, I grant you, but it’s had me thinking all these years.

I’ll leave it with you, and you can make of it what you will.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Saturday Afternoon on the Floor

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From up here, with the window open, all I can do is lay on the floor and stare at the roof. I’m trying to guess what the avenue looks like – I’m kidding, right? I mean I’ve walked it enough times to know, I just mean I’m wondering what it looks like by smell alone – at this precise moment.

There’s a warm wind blowing in from the East River – okay, I’m guessing again. There’s a warm wind carrying the smell of salt water and I’m thinking it’s coming from over there. I can smell warm bagels coming up from Jacob’s Bakery. The room is filled with the sound of horns – taxi horns, automobile horns, police sirens. It’s all happening down there. Down there on Times Square.

There’s the occasional burst of a gasoline smell as the traffic piles up, all heading up town; all going places, something I ain’t doing on account of lying here on this bare floor.

It ain’t cool – at least it was cooler, earlier – but it ain’t now, not with the sun burning in through the window and making me feel uncomfortable. Real uncomfortable.

I can almost taste the salt water taffy as the smell crawls up from the candy store on the corner. You can buy everything there. I mean everything; and not all of it legal.

I hear some cab driver cussing at another one – it’s all to do with one guy taking the other guy’s parking. Every time the noise drops a little I can hear that trumpet player playing the same tune he plays every Saturday. Same music, same place. I guess it keeps him happy. I sometimes give him a dime if I have some in my pocket. He always says the same thing, ‘Thank you, kindly’. This kid has a real Southern drawl about the way he talks. Don’t know much else about him.

A few minutes later a fire truck crosses the square, and it’s pretty insistent about getting to where it wants to go. From what I can make out, all the other traffic has stopped to let it past. New York is like that, real obliging. Sometimes.

Now and again, I can feel my eyes wanting to close. I’m starting to get real tired, guess it’s to do with being on this floor.

I hear Mrs Sheer from two-fifteen singing her hymns as she climbs the stairs with all the Bibles she didn’t sell.

Through the wall, Henry, the old guy, is playing some 78s and giggling every now and then. He’ll be smoking one of his special cigarettes – it always seems to make him laugh. It’s good to hear.

I can feel the warmth of the liquid running under my shirt. Funny thing is – it don’t smell much. I guess it will later. I start singing a song my mother sang to me when she would sit me on her knee and smile – probably the biggest smile in the world.

It might be the last song I sing.

Guess I’ll be seeing my family sooner than I expected.

I wish I knew what I had done, I really do. All I did was what I always do on a Saturday afternoon. Sit on the ledge of the window, legs hanging over 15 stories below. There I would watch life passing by in the greatest city in the world. Man, it was the greatest sight in the world.

I’m guessing it was bullet, ‘cause I fell back into the apartment real quick, like someone had punched me. I’m guessing it was some crazy guy, somewhere. Probably didn’t even know me. Probably didn’t even know why he did what he did. The city is full of them.

I can feel the blood covering the floor, all sticky like. At least I won’t need to clean the damn stuff up. The Cops will do that.

Kinda feeling tired.

I’m just gonna close my eyes a little now. I’m still singing that song, I can almost hear my ma singing it with me: “Baa, baa, black sheep have you any wool? Yes, sir, ye……”

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

That Perfect Moment

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When I was a kid, my whole world was Hell’s Kitchen. Heck, it was my whole universe too – because that part of New York City was all I needed, and to be honest it was all I ever wanted.

I was about ten years old when my brother, Archie took the photo. He had swapped one of his medal from the war for a color camera. He said it was worth it but my daddy thought he was a fool.

“You can’t eat the medal, Pa. So, what am I supposed to do with it?” Archie would say when my father tutted or cussed every time he saw the camera.

I guess he was right.

Jeez, in just writing this down I’ve just had a sad wave come over me – I’m realizing how much I miss my brother. Wishing he could come back from that place he went to, but it’s a one way ticket. That’s the bad part.

Anyways, the three girls at the back of the photo are my sisters, then there’s my cousin Irene, who you can’t see and standing next to her is Mary-Lou her best friend.

That photo was taken in that real hot summer of 1950, and everyone on our street tried their best to keep cool. I did it the only way I knew how, using the hydrant like my brother and my pa, had done before me.

Usually my eldest sister, Becky, would give me a dime for keeping them watered down, but since she found me smoking one of my brother’s cigarettes in the back yard, she was blackmailing me into doing everything.

“See if I don’t tell Pa about your smoking and all, see if I don’t”.

I couldn’t take the chance, so I had to believe her, which meant a Saturday watering was theirs for free.1950 was a lifetime ago, and I can still smell those summer days in the best city in the world.

A couple of years after the photo was taken, Mary-Lou and Irene moved into a cold-water apartment down near Washington Square. My Ma said she thought it strange that they never had any gentlemen callers around their place – but me, I like to think that the two of them were happy in their own company. Weren’t no one’s business, anyhow.

Becky went off and married a guy from the navy and they ended up living in Alaska. She keeps saying she’ll make it down one day, but I haven’t laid eyes on her in over fifty years.

My other two sisters followed my brother to that undiscovered country, and I guess I miss them all just as much.

I hung around the city doing all kinds of work, until one night I walked into a bar and heard a kid singing and then my life changed. The boy was Robert Zimmerman, and he could speak for a thousand angels. The way he used words ain’t worth thinking about. He changed his name to Dylan – after the poet – and I held on to his coat tails and followed him to the Catskills, where I still live today.

If you’ve read my writing, then you know that I’m always harping on about the perfect moments in your life. The real problem is you never get to realize what they are, until they are gone. Now ain’t that the kicker?

But that photo, that color photo taken on a camera worth a man’s medal, was probably the most perfect moment of my life – everyone I knew was laughing and healthy and as for me – well I was going to live forever.

bobby stevenson 2017

The Last House on the Island

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My family used to live on an island, except it ain’t there anymore. Now I don’t mean my family – they’re all kicking and rocking in other places. I mean the island disappeared. Sunk.

Way, way back, in the 1600s, my family came over to the New World, and my great-great-great-great (you get the picture, it was a long time ago) grandfather saw this little island in Chesapeake Bay and said that was as far as he was going. Now from what I hear tell, everyone was saying to him that the mainland was only over the bay and then they’d be home and dry (so to speak). But he wasn’t having none of it – he said that he was staying right there on the island and no one, not even the good Lord himself was gonna move him.

That’s how my family came to live on the little island in the bay. Within a few years, some of the folks from the mainland came over because of all the fighting with the Injuns – and they settled and soon there was a few good farms on that island. The folks didn’t really need for anything.

Things went good until the Brits showed up. Said that the American people were getting a bit too high and mighty for the King’s liking, and what with not paying taxes and stuff – well we had it coming to us. My family told them that we’d all come from over there, but that wasn’t good enough for them and they burned all the houses down, arrested the kith and kin and put them in a prison in Charleston, South Carolina.

When the Redcoats got sent packing, my family moved back there and started all over again. When the Brits came back to burn down Washington DC in the early 1800s, my family were ready for them and turned them back. This time our houses stayed standing.

During the two great wars there were soldiers and marines stationed on the island just in case some foreigner should try to make it up the Potomac and get the President.

No one ever came.

And all went well right through that century, until the floods came. The sea-level started rising and the houses started getting flooded real bad. One by one, as the water level rose, folks took their families and their farming to higher places, like West Virginia.

We stayed – ours was the last house on the island. The very last.

As my family died off, they had to bury them over on the mainland, but me, I refused to go. I sat at the window of my old place and looked out on the bay that we all loved and cared for. Except it was coming to take back its own.

I’m writing this in the house and they say they are coming to tear it down tomorrow. I’m only hoping that the good Lord sees fit to take me while my home is still here.

Yours, John Wakefield, Holland Island, Chesapeake Bay.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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The Boy Who Was Grounded Forever

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Nobody believed him.

Not then, not now, not ever, it seemed. He knew he wasn’t lying but then maybe it was all in his head. Maybe he was going the same way his grandmother had gone. She had started talking with people that Jimmy couldn’t see. People who wore dark things and sat in dark corners of his grandmother’s room.

Maybe they were there as well. I mean if his story was true, then why couldn’t his grandmother be telling the truth?

All he had been doing was taking, Harry, his dog, for a walk. They had been up at Creekmore Ridge, Harry had done what he needed to do, and then him and Jimmy ran back down the hill as fast as the two of them possibly could. Harry barked – it was his way of saying that he was with his best pal and the world was good.

They had just come around the back of the old miner’s shack when, Jimmy – and he swears on the Bible that the next bit is true – when Jimmy feels all weird and dizzy. Like he’s going to be sick, and then fall over – the way he felt when his uncle had given him that glass of hooch to drink. Jimmy had crashed out back then, and all his uncle had done was laugh. He’d said that if Jimmy told anyone, no one would believe him, as he was a kid, and uncles are uncles (as if that explained everything).

Jimmy should have known something was wrong ‘cause Harry had started barking the minute they came close to the hut. Jimmy thought it was just probably an old tramp – ‘cause sometimes they slept in the shack between rain storms. But when Jimmy looked through the wooden panels – he saw nothing.

“Be quiet there, Harry,” whispered Jimmy.

But Harry just kept on barking and barking. Then Harry ran away and he had never done anything like that before.

Suddenly Jimmy was floating – floating higher and higher and all the time he was feeling mighty dizzy. Mighty dizzy, indeed.

Then he passed out. The funny thing was, when he came to, he could hear folks talking in English. The crazy dude, with the eyes on either side of his head, told Jimmy that he would hear them speak in his own language.

Jimmy thought that maybe he’d tripped and bumped his head and that all of this was just a stupid dream. When the other dude with the eyes on the side of his head too, leaned over Jimmy and squeezed his nose real hard, Jimmy let out a scream. This told him all he wanted to know that he wasn’t in a dream. Dreams didn’t usually hurt that bad.

The strange folks asked Jimmy to sing a song and all he could think of was Happy Birthday, as he’d sang it to his little brother only last week.

The dudes smiled at him and then turned their heads to the side. Jimmy wanted to know if Harry was here, too, but the weird guys just ignored his question.

Another one of them came over with a tube of some sort and pressed it against Jimmy’s arm. That was when he passed out. The next thing he knows, it’s morning and he’s been sleeping up at the miner’s hut.

When he opens his eyes, standing over him is none other than his pa, who’s real mad. His pa grabs Jimmy by the collar and hauls him up.

He’s shouting about this and that, how his mother has been up all night believing the worst has happened to her boy. Jimmy thinks to himself that being abducted by aliens probably isn’t one of the things, his ma thought about.

It’s when his father says that Jimmy is grounded for the rest of his life, that he feels he has to tell him what really happened.

And that is why Jimmy has been grounded for two lifetimes.

Apparently that story was a bunch of old crock and if that was the best he could come up with, then he wasn’t any son of his pa’s.

So Jimmy’s thinking maybe his uncle did slip some hooch into Jimmy’s glass of milk – the drink he always had before taking Harry for a walk.

He guessed that since he was to be grounded in his room for two lifetimes, then he’d have a lot of time to think.

It was then that Jimmy’s life changed. He had decided he better check his half-drunk glass of milk beside his bed for hooch when a weird thing happened – the glass of milk appeared next to him on the table. Like it had been transported or something on Star Trek or whatever.

Jimmy sniffed the milk and it was okay – or maybe his uncle had been making hooch that don’t smell of nothing. He took a sip and nothing much happened – just good plain milk.

Jimmy looked around his room to see if there was something else he wanted – sure enough, he saw his comic book, and wished he could read it. It happened again, this time it was the book which appeared in front of Jimmy.

“Well, if that ain’t the weirdest,” said Jimmy.

His pa must have heard him, ‘cause he knocked on the door and shouted something about, Jimmy better not be enjoying himself, on account of him thinking hard about lying and stuff to his pa.

Jimmy wished his pa could just be quiet and perhaps be outside in the rain.

When Jimmy looked out the window, there was his pa standing in his pyjamas getting soaking wet in the rain.

Jimmy couldn’t help but laugh. Then it struck him that Jimmy hadn’t seen Harry since the previous night. So Jimmy thought about Harry being in his bedroom and sure enough Harry appeared sitting next to the boy.

Harry barked and Jimmy was sure that Harry was smiling, cause the next thing Jimmy knows, is that Harry and him are outside, going for a walk.

“Did you just do that? ‘Cause I don’t remember thinking that we should go for a walk.”

Jimmy looks at Harry and realizes the Harry can do the things that he can do. Every time Jimmy wishes himself back in his room, Harry wishes Jimmy out for a walk.

“Well, I’ll be,” thought Jimmy. This is going to be trouble.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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A Love Story: Zeppelins Over America

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Elizabeth’s Story

It had only been a day since my world had changed.

I sat by the window, opening it a little. The cold air of the lounge was refreshing after the stale air of the cabin. It had been slightly more than a day since I’d left Los Angeles.

A lot of peoples’ lives had changed – after all nineteen twenty-nine was a year of changes, a year when the world turned upside down for so many. A year when broken souls jumped from city buildings, when money was lost and scattered to the four winds; I was one of the lucky ones, my family had money.

We came from a little town on the river Hudson in New York State, a place where many influential folks had put down roots. Sure, we all made money in the city but we spent it in the country. We’d been there as a family since 1777. We were the elite, the privately schooled, Harvard educated elite and didn’t we know it.

Papa had felt I was becoming bored at home and had sent me on a trip around the world, primarily, I guessed, to meet a future husband.

I had done as my father had wished and travelled the world but I had done so in a matter of days on the newest mode of transport, an airship, the Graf Zeppelin. I was in Germany by the time Papa had found out, naturally he’d sent someone from the American Embassy to intercept me but to no avail, when I didn’t want to be found I could disappear.

I had flown the Atlantic, over Europe, taken in the vastness of the Siberian wastelands, spent a wonderful time in Japan and then crossed the Pacific Ocean. I was on top of the world in every sense.

I’d first met Samuel in Berlin where he was working for an American bank and was mainly involved in investments.

“Money, my dearest, is what I am all about.”

I can’t remember when he started calling me my dearest but I do

believe it wasn’t long after we met.

My current thoughts were interrupted by a steward bringing me a welcome cup of coffee. The service aboard the airship was done with all the usual German efficiency and style. I took a moment to look below, there lay the vast plains of America and even at this height I could smell the wheat fields. I would recommend a flight in an airship to anyone. It is both thrilling and breathtaking. If I have to grumble, and it is only a small one, it is the fact that there is a strict no smoking rule. Something to do with the explosive gas we have on board.

But, as I say, it is only a tiniest of complaints.

After our crossing from New York to Berlin, the airship was taken into the hanger for a complete inspection and repair before we set out to take on the rest of the world. That was when I fell in love with Samuel and him with me. It was an easy place to fall in love, Berlin and Samuel was an easy person to love.

When it was time for me to leave, Samuel and I had already made plans for us to meet up in New York for the holidays. So it was a complete surprise when we landed in Los Angeles that I found there was a telegram awaiting me in my hotel along with a package. The telegram said only ‘Please marry me, love Samuel’ and the package contained a diamond engagement ring sent from a Los Angeles’ jewellers. There was a note with the ring that said ‘don’t give me an answer until we meet in December’.

I had to have another look at the ring. I had tried it on my finger in the privacy of the cabin but I would not wear it publicly until Samuel placed it on my finger, himself. And, yes, of course I was going to say ‘yes’.

There must have been a gust of wind as the steward opened the lounge door from the corridor, because, all of a sudden, the diamond ring, still in its box, blew out of the window and dropped to the earth below.

Joshua and Jennifer’s Story

They had never spent that long away from each other’s company. Josh was nineteen and so was the love of his heart, Jen. They had grown up next to each other, gone to school together and now they both worked in Mister Finnegan’s grocery store. Josh was the floor manager and this meant that he enjoyed talking to folks whereas Jen was the accountant. At least, that’s what Mister Finnegan called her. Mainly, she just counted the money and put it in jute bags. Mister Finnegan was the one to take it to the bank as he trusted no one in this life.

“Don’t take on so, it ain’t personal, it’s just I’ve been burned too many times.”

So he had – and too many times to go into any detail here – but let’s just say that he had just cause for his stubborn attitude.

One warm and balmy September afternoon, Josh’s father’s entered the store. Now Josh knew exactly what that meant, his father had just been released from jail in Montrose County and was looking for money.

“I know what you’re thinking boy and you’d be wrong, I ain’t looking for money and don’t go think I am. I’m just here to say ‘howdee’ and see how you’re doing.”

Josh knew they’d be more to his father’s visit than a ‘hello’ but he was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now at the same time every day, which happened to be around noon time,Mister Finnegan would take the previous day’s takings to the bank – having slept with the bag under his pillow the night before.

During these absences, Josh and Jen would take this chance to have some food together and talk about the day’s woes and anything funny that had happened to them.

It was while the two of them were talking about this and that, that Josh’s father took the opportunity to help himself to all the money in the wooden drawer.

“Where’s my Pa?” Asked Josh when him and Jen had finished talking.

Jen shrugged her shoulders, as she hadn’t seen him leave. It was just then that Mister

Finnegan returned to find out he’d been robbed.

Now he wasn’t blaming Josh or Jen for the theft but they had been on watch when the crime occurred and he had no option but to let the two of them go.

No matter how much Josh pleaded or Jen wept there was no changing Mister Finnegan’s decision.

So Josh did what he always did when he tried to cheer up Jen and took her for a walk by the river, the great and beautiful Mississippi.

“I reckon we should move somewhere my father can’t find us.” Said, Josh.

Jen just smiled and kissed them.

It was then that the miracle happened, right out of the sky as if it had come from Heaven above. It almost hit Josh on the way down and when he picked up the box, he found it contained a diamond engagement ring.

He took this as a sign from the Almighty and got down on one knee and asked Jen to marry him, right there and then.

Without hesitation, she said yes.
bobby stevenson 2016

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That Gregory Peck Incident

greg

She’d been living in the city long enough to remember to call an elevator – the lift, and the place where she was standing right now was a bookshop not a store.

London was a million miles away from northern Virginia but home was where God had placed her whereas this big city was her current choice in life.

She had been born in the town of Herndon, right under the flight path to Dulles airport. That was when the place was little more than an oversized village, but now each of the towns had grown to touch the next  until there were buildings all the way to the Potomac river and into Washington itself.

Nancy had never really seen D.C. as a city, to her it was just another small town where everyone knew everyone else. She had worked in administration at William and Mary College in Williamsburg but when her mother remarried and moved out, Nancy needed more money and took a job at Georgetown University. It was a bit more traveling but boy was it worth it.

Although Washington had always been on her doorstep, it was only when she started working there that she appreciated how beautiful the place was. Her father had been employed in the tax offices on Pennsylvania Avenue and at weekends the last thing he wanted to do was take the family back into the city. So for a long time she remained ignorant of what it had to offer.

Her father was many years older than her mother and died when Nancy was still relatively young. Eventually her mother married another government official and moved a few miles away to Great Falls, a more upmarket estate on the edge of the Potomac. Nancy very rarely visited her mother until her second husband also passed away and then she found herself visiting on a weekly basis.

Nancy and her mother grew closer during those years, walking in the Great Falls Park everyday and watching the great and the good of Washington riding their horses through the woods. When her mother began to lose her battle with ill-health, Nancy sold own her flat and moved in with her. She eventually gave up her job to nurse her mother full-time and over the next three and a half years she did so, until her mother quietly passed away.

Nancy found herself with no family to speak of, no partner, no job and very few friends who weren’t married – in fact nothing but a huge empty house overlooking a river. It was then that the idea came to her to sell up and travel the world. There would be enough money from the sale to keep her comfortable for a few years.

What she didn’t expect was to arrive at her first stop on the itinerary and stay there.

Eighteen months she had been in London and now she was employed at a branch of a well-known American magazine. Someone she had known at Georgetown had recommended her, one quick interview and the job was hers.

The work was hard, the hours were long and initially, to Nancy, it seemed that the city was indifferent to most. Unlike D.C. she felt that no one really knew anyone in London or for that matter really cared whether they did or not.

She had rented a decent sized apartment   (or flat as she now called it) just off of Kensington High Street. Her wages as a personal assistant would have never covered the cost of her living there alone, so until she decided what her next move was, she subsidized the rent with her own savings.

The folks in the office were mostly from back home and would socialize on occasion; the 4th of July, Christmas holidays, Hanukkah and New Years. She had hooked up with a couple of boyfriends but nothing to make her stay. If she was being honest with herself, she had been already thinking of moving on to Paris or to Prague. She had been to check out both places over several weekends and liked what she saw. Air travel within Europe was so cheap these days that almost anywhere was within easy and inexpensive reach.

Her office was in a prestigious building on Piccadilly which meant at lunchtime she could take in art galleries, sunbathe in Trafalgar Square, see the movers and shakers in Downing Street, or just take a wander through the West End and people watch.

She’d developed an odd little hobby, one that she would most definitely keep to herself. In D.C. there were never that many interesting buildings with elevators, at least not ones which were open to the public. So when she came to London she was fascinated with riding in lifts, something she had loved since she was a kid.  Nancy felt that if something was meant to be then it would happen, so when she discovered an interesting building with a lift, she would take it and get out on the top floor.

It always led her to some adventure or another but she was wary that one day it might get her into trouble – it never did; she played ‘Elevator Lottery’ and she always won.

On this particular day she was in her favorite bookshop, at the far end of Piccadilly, looking at nothing in particular yet at the same time watching the British at leisure. She noticed something she had never seen before – a lift over in a dark corner of the shop. There was no point in resisting as she was determined to find out what on the floors above.

She pressed the call button and when the doors opened, she stepped inside discovering it was empty. She then selected the highest number – ten – and pressed it. Sometimes it was nothing more than the administration floor full of accountants and managers and on those occasions she would make her excuses and take the stairs down. Even under these circumstances she would find forgotten floors.

The doors opened at the top and delivered her into the most charming of tea rooms, one that was open to the public but, by the looks of it, was a well-kept secret. This was a place for those who knew. The tables by the window had the most marvelous views of Westminster , Pall Mall and the parks.

Some sat at tables reading their latest purchases, some wrote on computers, some talked to lovers while holding hands. Nancy couldn’t understand why in all the months she had been working in London no one had told her of this place. Perhaps if you stumbled upon the tea rooms it was because you felt it was meant and there was no need to make its existence widely known to those who were not so deserving of such a prize.

Nancy took the last table for two beside the window and ordered a pot of Earl Grey tea and two scones. These arrived at her table very quickly and were delivered with a glass of water which she appreciated. She looked around the room and saw contentment on the faces of her fellow tea drinkers and made a mental note that she too would keep this place a secret.  As she bit into the crumbling scone she realized just how British she was becoming.

“May I?”

His question pulled her away from her thoughts.

Her eyes met a well dressed man in his twenties, who had a kind face and who was looking around as if to say, this is the last seat in the room.  It wasn’t of course but it was easier to join another single soul than push into a table of three or four.

“Of course, please sit.”

He pulled the other chair from under the table and sat.

“You’re American?”

“Virginian.”

“How splendid, I’ve been there, a wonderful State.”

He passed his hand above her cup and took in the aroma, “Earl Grey?”

“Mmm”

“Waiter, same please.”

She had loved the first scone but didn’t dare lift the second until his also had arrived. People couldn’t help it and were usually unaware of it but when only one person was eating, the other one at the table normally watched as their companion ate every mouthful. It was what we humans did.

When his tea and scones arrived they both got stuck in.  Nancy told that him this was all part of her world tour, that was if she ever left London. He told her that his name was Alfred and that he worked in public relations.

“Sometimes I just walk away for a shirt while, when it all gets too much. I find this a nice place to think, to get things clear in my head.” He said.

She smiled and felt as if she recognized his face, perhaps from television but was too afraid to mention it.

When they had finished their tea, he asked if she would like a walk or as he put it ‘a perambulation’ which she laughed at and he seemed to enjoy.  They walked down Lower Regent Street and across Pall Mall, down the stairs and into St James’ Park.

By this time the sun was shining and the park was awash with wild life, they sat on the grass and watched the world going by.

“I never get a chance like this.”

“What to sit in the park?” asked Nancy.

“I suppose, I am always busy and if not, someone always finds something for me to do.”

And talking of working , Nancy suddenly realized that she had to get back to work.

“If you must” he said, sadly.

“Oh, I must, I must.” And she wished him well giving him a kiss on both cheeks. Yes she was becoming European.

“Perhaps if you are ever in the tea room again, we might meet.”

“Perhaps” said Nancy.

And with that Nancy walked back towards Piccadilly even though she was sure he was still staring .

As she was perambulating  up Lower Regent Street, she realized that she did indeed hope she would meet him again in that secret tea room.

Twice a week she went back for several weeks but he never turned up.

Then one afternoon, as she sat down for her usual Earl Grey and scones, she started reading an early evening newspaper that had been left on the table and there he was in a photo on the front page.

Prince Alfred off to Afghanistan, it continued, the Queen’s grandson is off to fight for his country…..

Now there was a story to tell one day.

She took the stairs back down to the ground floor and went to the film section where she bought a copy of Roman Holiday – that one where Gregory Peck plays an American journalist who runs into a beautiful girl who happens to be a princess.

That night she poured a glass of wine, watched the movie and felt, for the first time in a very long time, that everything was going to be okay.

bobby stevenson 2016

 

 

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My Uncle Bertrand’s Dream

broadwaysaratogasprings1900

The year we moved from the 1800s to the 1900s, was the year that my Uncle Bertrand came to town. That man was larger as life and twice as bold.

He’d made all his money in some venture in Morocco, Africa, at least that’s what they said about him – you could never tell about my uncle what was true and what wasn’t.

Except maybe that he was the kindest man who ever walked the face of the Earth. When I was down, and maybe crying, he’d find me in the back yard – he’d say:

“Robert, there are more good things in this world than bad, and there are more good people than wicked ones,” then he’d pat me on the head and smile, one of his famous smiles. That usually did it for me, and I could feel a little warmth coming back to my heart. Man, my Uncle Bertrand was good.

I ain’t sure if you can see the picture and all, but if you can – my uncle is the gentleman standing proudly next to his horseless jalopy, in front of our house. It was the only carriage in Saratoga Springs, and he’d steered it all the way up from New York City. Just in case you’re asking, the picture was taken by my good pal, David Kodak, who was always experimenting with things like that. He was going to be a scientist one day.

As for my uncle Bertrand, he was scared of nothing.

“As long as I’m breathing, my fine young nephew, I will keep on making things happen. Many times, I’ll fail, but a man who ain’t failed, ain’t lived.”

Amen to that, I say.

Then one day it happened. One sunny day, when the world was warming right through to my bones, my uncle Bertrand called at our house, and asked if it was okay to take the ‘young rascal’ – that being me – on an adventure. My mother said it was fine as long as I was back by dark and we didn’t go in that ‘godless contraption’ of his.

The thing is we did. I sat in that machine, like I was the king of everything. Man, it felt good, and my uncle steered and steered all the way to the Niagara Falls.

I mean the actual ‘Falls’ – we had lived in Saratoga Springs for ever and no one had ever taken me to see the Falls. Man they were a sight, I can tell you.

“Let’s take a walk,” said uncle.

And we walked right to the very edge of the waterfall.

“Taste that,” he said, grinning.

I wasn’t sure what it was I was supposed to taste, but I nodded any way.

“That’s the taste of freedom, and that is what is so great about living. Anyone can almost do anything and I plan to do that.”

So I asked him what he meant and he pointed out there, to the Falls.

“That,” he said. “That’s where freedom lies, I’m going to walk across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.”

Well, if I had thought about what my Uncle Bertrand was going to say, it would not have been that, I can tell you.

So at least once a month, me and my uncle would head out to the Falls and we’d sit there and smell the freedom. And me and him would look at each other and we would understand what all this freedom meant.

One day, my uncle said to me, “Robert, I want you to promise me that if you ever have a dream, then you chase it, and chase it and beat it down until it’s got no choice but to do your bidding. Then you sit on the back of that beast and you ride it for all it’s worth. No point in being alive, otherwise. All those folks who died a long time ago and just move about until it’s official.”

That day I promised him.

It was a train that killed him, in the end.

Some cargo train from Ohio, caught my uncle and his jalopy when it got stuck on the rails at a crossing. ‘Never stood a chance’, the Sheriff said. The train just kept on riding the rails, not knowing that they’d brought my uncle down. Still, it was a kind of adventurous way to go. He would have approved, I know he would have.

So I’m writing this story in 1925 and I’ve been overseas. I’ve been to Belgium and I’ve watched people die in wars.

And maybe we all heave dreams, and maybe most of them do die or get suffocated by life. And sometimes – well sometimes, maybe you pick up another man’s dreams and carry them on.

And that’s why today I am getting ready to walk across the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Maybe I’ll make and maybe I won’t but at least I’ll have tried.

I mean, what’s the point of being alive?

bobby stevenson 2017

The Blue Way River Hotel

You know it ain’t a hotel, right? I mean let’s get that out-of-the-way from the start. Some punk years ago called it the Blue Way River Hotel as a joke and the name kinda stuck. It was a place that people stayed – some for longer than they maybe wanted to. Now, I guess you’re thinking it’s a prison or something like that. Well it ain’t and to be real truthful, it was simply the local nuthouse. Even that’s too simple an explanation for it – it was a lot of things over the hundred years that it stood in its own ugly way at the corner of Rose and Juniper.

At the start of the last century it had been used to hide people away, those who’d transgressed against the good book, if you get my drift. Then when the boys came back from fighting in Europe it had been where the ‘weak-minded’ were locked up (their words, not mine).

When a man got to looking at another man in a special way, he was taken into the Blue Way River Hotel and his brains were fried, or drugged within an inch of his life. Never changed anyone, well except that the light would be on in their heads but no one would be home.

It became a strip joint a few years ago, not that there weren’t any more people in need of a stay at the Blue Way River Hotel, just that those who run this goddamn country felt it would be better (and cheaper) if the folks could find their healing among their own (and we all know how that ended up).

But the time I want to tell you about is way long ago when people had gramophones, the good old days when it rained in winter and the sun shone in the summer. And folks respected teachers and doctors and cops. That time.

In those days, my granddaddy was a cab driver in the town – the only cab driver in town.

Let me stop you there and explain a little. The town had been going through hard times, real hard times. The Wilson’s Woodwork store had long since gone and the small factory that built ‘superior autos for superior gents’ had moved somewhere back West. People were just flat broke, although everyone tried to help everyone else, there was less and less of things to go around.

My granddaddy’s main work was to drive the town council to meetings in places far away, so that the good old boys could have a drink. Then granddaddy would drive them all home again. Sometimes he’d take the odd person to the airfield a few miles to the North. You couldn’t go anywhere real exciting from that place but it had a twice-weekly flight to the State capital and from there you could catch a seat to the big world. When my grandma was a young woman she had worked at the airfield canteen and that was where she met my granddaddy. She called him ‘Earl’ on account that he drank only Earl Grey tea and over time her name for him name stuck. His real name was Albert but somehow that sank under the weight of Earl.

They dated and fell in love and it was as quick and as simple as that. Until the day my grandma died, they were never more than a few miles or a day apart.

Now things started to get difficult for everyone in town – well every honest soul in town, that is – there were some who profited out of others misery but I’ll let the good Lord take care of them. Anyhoo, my granddaddy is starting to get less and less work and has to make ends meet by working shifts at Carter’s Emporium over on 5th.

Then my grandma took sick and it cost him everything and in the end the sickness took her away. It broke him, broke him right down the middle. He tried everything to keep going but everywhere he turned life would trip him up just because it could, I guess. His debts were growing and he had less and less to eat. So he came up with a plan. One sunny day in June he drove his taxi to the door of the Blue Way River Hotel and with the engine still running, he just got up and checked himself into that little sanctuary for the crazies (his words, not mine). Now let me tell you good and proper, he wasn’t crazy, leastways not in the way that folks are these days. He was just tired, good and simple and decided that he could hide out in the Blue Way until better days came along. He wondered why it hadn’t occurred to him before, and as he was walking up to the door, he just kept chuckling to himself.

Now how do you go to the local nuthouse and convince them that you’re in need of help?

So as he walked into the place, he shouted ‘Honey, I’m home’. I kid you not. Seems that was enough. There were whispers from the nurses about his wife passing away and his company in trouble – it’s a wonder, said one, that he wasn’t in earlier. And as my granddaddy was taking his obligatory shower, he was wondering the same.

Now I’m going to tell you exactly as it was told to me. When my granddaddy got in there, there weren’t more than two poor souls who really needed the place. The rest, about twelve people, were in there hiding for the same reasons as my granddaddy. The nuthouse really was a hotel. Now don’t look all disgusted. People need to eat and keep warm and that seemed like the only place in town to do it. However there was a little matter which my granddaddy found out early on – how do you convince the folks that you are in need of shelter ‘cause your mind is drifting, yet hold on to your sanity?

Some suckers got found out and were thrown out and told not to come back until they were really in need. Others walked a real fine line between this world and the crazy one – and one or two of them tipped into permanent madness. But my granddaddy hung on to his wits and survived in that place.

He told me a whole load of stories and I’m going to share them with you if you’ll let me. And don’t think they’re all depressing and stuff. Those folks in there lived and I mean lived every day.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man on the Third Floor

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You can make of this story what you want. You can throw it in the fire and see if I care. All I want to do is lay down the things the way they happened, and then you can make up your own minds. I guess with stuff of this nature, maybe your mind is already made up anyway. Still I reckon you might like to read it all just the same.

Where to start?
Oh yeah – up near the old sports’ track there used to be a collection of buildings. All had about fifteen floors and all of them falling apart.

The kids who lived there were never allowed to play on the sports field, and so they would make do with a little square in the middle of the buildings.

It was here that most of the kids from the area grew up: where they made friends, where they learned the rules of all sorts of things, including life. But one aspect in particular was always a little on the strange side. If anyone was playing a team sport, say football and a disagreement arose, then the kids would say ‘ask the man on the third floor’. They said he was a lonely old guy, who had been damaged by the war, and who spent his days watching the kids from his apartment all the way up there.

“What cha say old man, was that a penalty or not?” And after a few moments someone, usually one of the kids, would shout ‘thanks’, and they would get on with the game.

I tell you this because I used to play in that square. Started around the time I was ten or so. One real hot day we were playing football and Mitch fouled young George in a real bad way.

George looked up at the third floor and asked what the old man thought. Apparently it was a foul against Mitch – I say apparently, ‘cause all the kids who I was playing with, seemed to hear him, but I got to be honest, I heard nothing.
Things like that happened all summer – the man on the third floor would make a judgement call and everyone went along with it. I just wish I could hear what he had said – just once.

The real serious thing that happened, came about in a strange way. We’d stopped for a break as we had all worked up a big thirst. That was when Mitch shouted to the man that he needed his help. I asked him what help but he told me to stay out of it. Apparently Mitch had found young George, well how can I put this? Lying down with Mitch’s sister in a sexual way and Mitch wasn’t too pleased. See, since his granddaddy had passed, Mitch was the man of the house and he wasn’t going to let something like that happen under his roof.

“What should I do about young George, here?” Mitch shouted to the man in the apartment on the third floor.
“What’s that you say? Are you sure? Okay, if that’s what you say.”
And with that Mitch drew out a knife and stabbed young George right in the heart. I mean one minute young George was having his young face warmed by the sun and the next, he was a cold as an arctic summer.

Everyone seemed to think the judgement was fair since it had come from the man on the third floor and so the rest of the guys prepared to move young George’s body out of the square.
Someone shouted up about where they should move the body and apparently they received an answer, ‘cause a couple of them shouted ‘thanks’ to the man and nodded their heads.

The whole gang helped lift away George’s body and when they asked me, I said I had to get home as my Mama was waiting. My friends accepted this and they all moved off lifting the body with them.
When it got quiet, I decided that I had to do it and go and visit the man on the third floor.

The stairs up were dark, I mean real devil dark. I got to say I wasn’t looking forward to all this. Some of the guys said, no one goes near the third floor, ‘cause anyone who does never comes back. I was willing to take that risk.
When I got to the door, I knocked – but there was no answer. Then I noticed the door could open.
“Hello,” I shouted as I pushed the door.
And do you know what I found in the apartment?
Nothing, that’s what I found. The place didn’t look as if it had been lived in for years. So who were the kids getting their instructions from?

Beats me.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Once Upon A Time In New York City

Walk In New York - New York Vintage - Life Magazine - Blackout 1977

I guess I’d been running ever since I’d left San Antonio; maybe it’s a universal truth that we’re all running from something, or maybe to something. Who knows? Who cares?

Back then, back in that hot summer of 1977, I’d been looking for work all the way from Savannah, Georgia down to Texas. I’d found some work but it usually dried up quickly and I’d be back on that Trailways bus before you could say ‘adios amigos’.

My daddy ran from something when I was about 4 years old — us.

My mother told me, that my daddy felt that me and her had ‘trapped him’, and so he’d left one morning without saying goodbye. After that, my mother read the newspapers like her life depended on it. Scanning for words, like ‘Georgia man found dead’, ’Georgia man caught robbing bank’, she wasn’t real clear about what she was looking for, but she felt that my daddy was sure to have a bad finish to his living.

We never did hear from him again, but I guess he left me one thing – the ability to keep running.

Being a life-runner don’t make you a bad person, no sir-eee, but it don’t make you a good man either. I mean, folks are just getting to know you (and you, them) when you’re off like a flare from the sun, just ‘cause it’s all getting too close for comfort. There’s not enough space between you and the other soul breathing down your neck. It ain’t right, I’m telling you here and now, I know it ain’t right – but sometimes a man just can’t help himself.

That’s what had happened in San Antonio, I’d been working as a guide at the Alamo – telling them folks all about their heroes and trying to stop them looking towards the Woolworth store that stood across the street – seeing as it kind of killed the atmosphere for them tourists. Still, they all seemed to tip well and I was stashing away a good few greenbacks. I even bought myself one of those new-fangled portable tape players and one of the new music tapes – Fleetwood Macs’ Rumours. Man, I never got tired of those songs – they were like gold, pure and simple.

But you see, I had met someone in San Antonio and they were talking about me and them settling down and moving into an apartment together.  So me being me, I took that as a signal that it was my time to be shaking and moving down the highway and, just like my daddy, I left with the new dawn and without ever saying goodbye.

Okay, so I had issues. Tell me one soul on this planet who ain’t got any? Living is so weird and unnatural that not to have any issues would be a sign of something wrong in your heart and head.

I took the bus as far as Jacksonville, Florida and then I shot straight up past my own city of Savannah. Man that killed me, ‘cause it is such a beautiful place, but I just didn’t want to see any of my old life. I had the chance to look around as the bus drivers switched over  but in the end I just grabbed a coffee and kept on heading north.

Do you ever sometimes feel that things happen to you just at the right time? Strange, ain’t it? But sometimes you can’t argue them facts into the dust. Some days are made for you and you can’t dismiss them.

That humid Wednesday in July was one of those days. I had changed buses at Myrtle Beach and then took the one that was heading for New York City. Man, that bus got real hot and sticky – a stinky humid hot. When all life is pushed together in those conditions, you’ve got to go some to love your fellow-man.

It was a truly beautiful evening as the bus rode up 8th avenue where the whole world and their brothers and sisters were out on the streets of Manhattan, playing music, laughing, smiling, taking time out of their troubled lives to party. It was good to be alive, and all I could think about was about getting me some of that Manhattan clam chowder.

The bus had only pulled into the Port Authority when it happened. The whole world went dark. Not just the bus, not just the bus terminal, but whole damned world as far as anyone could see (or not). Pitch black. No two other words could describe it. Pitch. Black.

Some guy up front of the bus lit one of those fuel driven cigarette lighters – man the smell of that thing, it ain’t good. A couple of minutes later and the bus driver had got the bus lights working and we could see again.

At least, we could see inside the bus, but outside man – it was like the end of everything.

The driver was saying things like ‘calm down folks, it ain’t the end of the world’, but as the old woman next to me said, ‘how did he know it wasn’t’. The driver took a step off of the bus and disappeared into the dark. The rest of us passengers were grumbling about how we were going to get our luggage out from the bus hold.

I heard a woman screaming somewhere out there that her dog had escaped from her. Some guy shouted that he’d been mugged. It might not be the end of the world but it sure felt like it.

I guess it was a different city back then, folks didn’t look you straight in the eye – it felt as if it was everyone was out for themselves. Of course, things have changed since that day in September  (you know the one I mean), folks take time with others now, but in 1977 well it was dog-eat-dog world. Maybe I’m being unkind to the city – but as a guy from the south, it was the way it looked to me.

The man on the bus with the lighter had managed to open the door for the luggage and had started throwing everyone’s stuff on to the ground. In the dim light I saw my bag flying passed my shoulder, so I grabbed it and head off into what? I wasn’t too sure.

I heard a kid further up 8th Avenue say that the aliens had landed and he and his ma were going into hiding. Most folks were just shadows and silhouettes. Some had lit fires down alley ways. A young woman was screaming for someone to help her, ‘cause her elderly mother was stuck in an elevator and she needed to get her to hospital.

I decided to head up towards Central Park – it might be safer, it might not. I could hear the sirens of police cars, ambulances and fire-trucks from all over Manhattan.

Some woman ran passed me and shouted that a power-station had blown up somewhere and that the whole of the city was broken. I guess she might be right. Maybe the lights would come back on, maybe they wouldn’t. Up ahead of me I heard the noise of a window being smashed. Turned out it was a store that sold all those electrical things, TVs, radios and the rest. There were people pushing passed me with their arms full of robbed stuff.

As I passed the window of the store, I could see the lit ends of cigarettes moving around the place like fire-flies. Next thing I know, some big guy has grabbed me by the throat and has me shoved up against a wall.

“Your money!”

That was all he said, then someone else called out that the cop cars were heading our way and he let me go, then the man disappeared into the night. Me, still keeping hold of my money.

I walked up towards Columbus Circle – folks had parked cars on the sidewalks with the headlights aimed straight into the stores. It was a chaos and people were just helping themselves.

As I crossed the Circle to the Park, I heard a gunshot come from over to my right – near some hotel or other. Somebody shouted ‘You ain’t coming in here’ and there was the sound of another gun shot. That night Manhattan had turned into crazy town.

Central Park was just Central Park. As I walked in the pitch black hoping not to hit or fall from anything, I could hear folks singing up ahead. Down below me I could hear a couple having sex. Not sure what kind of couple it was.

Over at the area they call the ‘Sheep Meadow’, I could see a few bonfires burning. I wasn’t sure if the noises were folks fighting or partying.

Then a thought went through my head – one about where all this running really gets you. It gets you very lost and in deep trouble. I was only thinking that way for a minute or two when a soft voice carried over from the darkness.

“Hi there,” she said.

And stepping out from the shadows, into the fire light, was a face that belonged to an angel.

“Wanna join us?”, asked the face and then she pointed to a group of about 10 people sitting around a fire.

I didn’t get a chance to reply as she’d already started to walk back towards the bonfire.

As I sat down I could hear a couple on the other side of the fire talking about all this being the end of the world.

“There’s gonna be blood sacrifice before this night is out,” said the man’s voice.

“I think we should pray,” said a younger girl’s voice.

“For what?” Shouted an old man.

“For forgiveness,” said the girl.

“Bull shit,” said the man, who was getting angrier. “Every time something bad happens to anyone, you lot blame the way we live”.

Then the angel face spoke up and asked me who I was and where I had been going before the darkness fell. So I told her – and them – my story,  and in the dark and with all the words out there, my life sounded pretty pathetic.

Just then a gunshot sounded out somewhere across the park.

“It’s getting like the wild west round here,” said a kid.

Inside I had to agree and as the minutes ticked on, there was chaos growing everywhere.

The sirens grew louder, and the gunshots more frequent. A gang, who must have looted a store, ran past us, laughing, all with music systems under their arms. A few seconds later some cops almost ran through our fire while chasing them.

More and more bonfires grew up around the park as folks tried to find some safety in a place where night-time was normally the enemy.

Usually no one came here in the dark, unless they were looking for something that could only be done in the blackness. You hear what I’m saying. Tonight ‘though, it was the safest place (if anywhere was safe) in a city at war.

For a long time, our little gang, talked and talked, and in the talking we all realized that – yeah, we really were pretty much the same – same fears – same hopes – same dreams. These were folks who would have never mixed in the normal day-to-day, but tonight they found themselves clinging to a lifeboat in a park.

At some point I fell asleep, for the next thing I knew it was the sun rising and warming the end of my nose. We had made it through the night and next to the dying embers of our fire a young couple huddled together.

Most of the folks I had talked to had disappeared into the night. I had shared intimate thoughts with people whom I had never met before, whose faces I had never actually seen, and who I would never talk to again.

I walked over towards the East side and all I could see was the scars of the mayhem from the dark night. Somewhere out there someone was brewing coffee and I was going to find them.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Me and Buzz and Soccer and Filmin’

FRIENDS

1.Soccer

One of the other times that Buzz had a mid-life crisis was that summer when his first hair grew out of his chin. You would have thought that he was Fu Man Choo or somethin’.

He’s tellin’ me he ain’t decided if he’s gonna let it grow into a full beard, or trim it using his Paw’s old razor. The one his Paw left him before he ran away with the dancer.

“Now that I’m grown and a man,” that’s what he said to me, with a straight face – a face with one hair growin’ out of it.

“Now that I’m a man, I’m gonna look after my Maw. Keep her good, in her old age.”

Well you know me and peeing myself, I had to run behind a bush before I wet ma pants good.

What he was tellin’ me, was that he was ready for a career as a matinée idol – that’s his very words and I’m not sure if Buzz knew what they meant.

So the time had come that he’d have to look after his face on account it was gonna be his main source of income. He said he wasn’t sure if it was fair to let a face like that be blown up big in a movie theater ‘cause everyone would pass out.

Of course when he’s tellin’ me this I’m still behind the bush just in case I need to go again, real fast.

That was why Buzz had a mid-life crisis over the weekend and decided he was too old and too pretty to play football at school and that was when Mr Fairbanks, suggested he should join the school soccer team, instead.

“It’ll save your good-lookin’ face, Buzz,” said Mr Fairbanks, who then nudged another teacher and they both walked off as if they were gonna pee themselves too.

Of course just playin’ soccer wasn’t good enough for Buzz, he had to be a

‘strike……er’ – now, the reason I’ve said it that way is because that’s the way that Buzz said it. I thought I could hear a funny accent in there but I assumed Buzz was practisin’ for his movies.

I didn’t see Buzz until two days later and by then he was talkin’ real funny like. I’m thinkin’ to myself, I’ve heard this funny talk before and sure enough I remember – right in the middle of the night, I shout out, ‘Mary Poppins’. Buzz sounded like Dick Van Dyke in that movie.

Buzz has decided that if he’s gonna be any good at soccer he had to talk with an English accent. Since Buzz ain’t ever heard one except in movies and stuff, I’ve got to say he wasn’t that good.

When our teacher said ‘Good mornin’ class’, instead of sayin’ good morning back, Buzz said, ‘All right, guv’nor and a fine mornin’ it be’.

I didn’t know whether to just give up and pee myself there and then or run to the restroom.

“Shall I see you, little urchin at dinner time as I’m looking forward to me pie and chips, guv’nor.” That’s what he said to me with his one hair chinned face.

“I’m playin’ me soccer game this afternoon, me old mate. Will you be comin’ to see me?”

They had to take me to the nurse’s room – I kid you not – as I had gone into hysterical collapse, least ways that’s what the doctor said. Apparently I had a real bad shock.

Buzz never ever got a game of soccer, they picked Alexander as the striker and she was a girl.

“Stupid game,” said Buzz – all American, like.

 

2.Filmin’

Buzz always wanted to be a movie star and so from a real young age, he got to practising. Not with anything sensible like acting, that would have been too clever, no – he got practising with signing his autograph.

“You got to start somewhere” was what he told me.

When people on Main Street saw Buzz coming their way they used to cross over just to avoid him. Buzz put it down to folks being overwhelmed with his natural good looks.

If ya didn’t avoid him, before you knew it, Buzz would be staring into your face and asking if you wanted his autograph. Everyone and I mean everyone in town, had several copies of Buzz’s signature.

I remember seeing the minister walking to church one Sunday morning with Buzz’s writing on that white bit of the collar they wear. How Buzz got it there, God only knows (and he probably does).

“I’m a good-looking kid and if they don’t want me to act in their movies, then they don’t know what they’re missing.”

One Saturday Buzz decided he’d do just that – show them what they were missing, that is. That weekend the weather was real toasting and Buzz got me to borrow (borrow without askin’) my granddaddy’s movie camera.

“I kinda see myself as a cowboy, don’t ya think?”  I just nodded, hell it was best to just go along with anything Buzz said.

I ain’t sure where Buzz got the gun from, but I do remember a story a while back about Buzz’s uncle Joshua who was thrown in jail for holding up a burger joint. Somehow the store owner convinced his uncle Joshua to take some French fries and a soda rather than the contents of the money drawer. Still, he went to jail all the same. I don’t remember any gun being used but I guess that’s where Buzz got it.

Buzz wanted me to be the baddy and the plan was for me to walk down Main Street and pretend to call him out; cussing and saying he was a coward. Then Buzz would come out of the saloon (it was really Mrs Bat’s Craft Shop) and challenge me to a shoot out in the street.

I was the one that was to get shot; Buzz felt that a man about to make his mark in the movies shouldn’t take the bullet.

I guess you should really check if a gun is loaded or not.

I’m just saying, as it would have saved a lot of trouble. I’ve never seen a grown man being shot in the bee-hind before but Samuel Brooks hollered and screamed like the world was coming to an end. It was only a bullet in the butt, what was the big problem?

Mrs Brooks wanted to hang Buzz right there and then, the way they did with her Daddy years back. I guess two people don’t make a lynch mob, but it scared the hell out of me all the same.

Buzz was hauled in front of Judge Pickering and folks were telling me that Buzz would probably get the electric chair or something. At the time (I was young then) I thought giving someone an electric chair was a real strange thing to do. Where would ya keep it?

Anyway a lot of people were saying that Buzz came from a real bad family, didn’t he have an uncle who’d stolen diamonds?

Funny, how French fries get exaggerated like that.

Anyways, I had filmed the whole thing and we were allowed to show it in court. The judge said it was okay to show a movie. Some folks brought in popcorn. From the movie, you could see that as Buzz was pulling the trigger, he shut his eyes and didn’t really mean to hit anyone. At the end of the movie some of Buzz’s family started clapping – so Buzz got up and took  a bow. Which I have to say was pretty cool. Buzz started waving, movie star like, to the folks upstairs in the gallery.
As I left the courthouse that day, I saw Buzz up at the bench giving Judge Pickering his autograph.

bobby stevenson 2015

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Me and Buzz and the Candy Thief

FRIENDS

I’m sittin’ here writin’ and thinkin’ ‘bout all of the stupid, stupidest things that Buzz has ever done in his life and I gotta tell you folks, I’m kinda spoiled for choice. There weren’t a day that went by, that Buzz didn’t show us all how far you could go in the stupid stakes. The great thing about him was that he never, ever cared nor worried what folks thought of him, and why should he? Everyone, and I mean everyone, has got too much to hide when it comes to being stupid.

This particular story started way back in the spring of Buzz’ fourteenth year on this planet. There was the usual troubles with the Halfpenny Gang who lived on the other side of the tracks – those kids were real mean and it took someone like me and Buzz to kinda put things right and show those guys the error of their ways.

But one Saturday morning Beccy Foreplane had just walked out of Crazy Joe’s Candy Store with a sack full of the sweetest candy you ever did taste (gotta say, Crazy Joe made the bestest candy in the world) when all of a sudden some masked kid runs up to her and snatches the candy from right under her nose (and I mean literally – Beccy had a habit of tryin’ to shove candy up her nose – but I’ll leave that particular story for another day).

Well, I kid you not, I could hear Beccy’s squealin’ from the other side of town – she was that loud. When Beccy’s Pa heard the story, he put up a reward of a ride on his horse and a shot from his pistol. I know, it’s kinda crazy like, but they were different times back then, and I gotta say a ride on a horse and a shot at an old tin can were pretty fancy stuff to us kids.

No one found the culprit. Some said he was six feet tall and some said he was three feet tall. No one was real sure if it was a boy or a girl on account that the culprit was wearin’ a Charlie Chaplin mask.

Nothin’ much happened until the following week, when Chastity Tompkins got her chocolate candy bar stole from right out her pocket. Same description – he was either real tall or real small and he looked like Charlie Chaplin. This time Crazy Joe put up a reward of all the candy you could eat for a week (except for the chocolate covered ones – he drew a line at that). Things were getting’ real messy down at this store and he wanted to do somethin’ about it.

That was when Buzz had this real stupid idea. He was excited about the rewards being offered – the free candy, the horse and the shot and stuff and decided he’d catch the candy thief.I knew it was real stupid to ask him how he was gonna do it, but I did and sure enough he told me. So I’m tellin’ you now.

Buzz decided that the crook only stole candy from girls – so they weren’t no use us buying candy and leaving Crazy Joe’s. So Buzz decided that one of us (that being me) would dress up as a girl and leave the store with a sack full of the stuff.

When I went into the store, Buzz said I was to talk in a real high voice. I thought I was doin’ okay until Crazy Joe said, ‘Mornin’ boy – what can I get you?’

He didn’t even ask why I was dressed as a girl, and I ain’t sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Anyhoo, I stood outside the store talkin’ in a real high way, sayin’ things like, ‘Mmm, this is sure some real tasty candy’, and all I could hear was Buzz (who was hiding behind a bush) shoutin’ ‘make it louder’.

“Well I do declare, little ol’ me is sure gonna enjoy this candy.”
Nothin’ happened, except my Ma walked passed me and wish me a good mornin’. Now was she talkin’ to me? You know I worried about that for a long time.

After about an hour or so, and folks comin’ and goin’ and wishin’ me well and even sayin’ my name, I kinda thought that enough was enough.

Buzz said that I was too ugly to be a girl and that him, with his good looks, would probably pass better as a girl. So we swapped the dress and Buzz (who did look a bit like Beccy) walked out of Crazy Joe’s sayin’ that he was all alone and carryin’ a bag of candy.

Nothin’ happened again. Well when I say nothin’, somethin’ did happen. Buzz’s Ma was walking on the other side of Main Street and Buzz just shot his hand up and shouted ‘Hi Ma’.

That was when Buzz’s Ma kinda went crazy and walked into the middle of the street and got hit by a horse. Turns out she wasn’t that badly hurt, but there she was lying in the middle of the street and her eldest, bestest son was tryin’ to bring her around, dressed as a girl.

I remember I saw Mrs Sloan walking passed and sayin’ somethin’ about how that family had real problems since their daddy left.

We never caught the culprit and we never got no reward and Buzz had to do a lot of explaining to his Ma.
I still wonder, to this day, if my Ma knew it was me.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Moving Rocks

moving-rocks

Willie wiped his brow and looked out at the desert. There had been stories as far back as the dawn of time about the desert, the Moonboy Hills and those stones.

It had been said that when the stones started to move the end was coming. Willie always wondered what end these folks were talking about. He had been too long in the saddle to really care about such things now. There were names and places that he had started to forget and well, his end was probably coming sooner rather than later.

Willie guessed there must be a right time for everything.

He remembered when he was a boy and that first evening he’d ridden up into the Moonboys. He’d been arguing with his paw about some nonsense or other. Taking off with his old horse General had seemed the easiest way to resolve things. The first two nights had been lonely and cold, boy could it get cold up there.

On the third night he’d taken shelter in a cave and managed to light a fire. That was when he saw them – the weird carvings on the far wall.

When he’d asked around town about them, one of those clever college guys had talked about the pre-Clovis people being responsible but Will had no idea what he was going on about. The Professor had asked if Will could take him to the exact place where he’d seen the carvings but Will wasn’t too keen. He just said he’d forgotten. Anyhow Willie felt it went a lot deeper and darker than those Clovis folks, there was something strange about those signs and that was the truth.

Funny thing to tell, he’d never actually shown anyone other than his own family the location of the carvings. In his teenage years Willie had spent a lot of time up in the hills worrying and thinking about one thing or another.

Girls, money, work, you name it he always took his problems ‘to the cave’.

When he met Sarah he’d stopped going up there. Then, when the kids had come along, he’d take them up one by one on his horse to show them the pictures. But they had all grown up and moved away and no one apart from his youngest Brad had kept up any interest in the place.

Recently after Sarah’s death he’d found himself coming back to the place more and more, to think over his life. Things didn’t feel so lonely up there. The kids and their children very rarely came visiting anymore and he’d usually see the clan at some Christmas get-together, then nothing until the following year.

Willie didn’t mind saying it, he was as lonely as hell and wondering if it was time he should be moving on. Life was for the young and he would tell you, he hated getting old. It hurt in every sense of the word. He was tired and it was as plain and simple as that.

Then a couple of weeks ago the stories had started circulating around the place. Over at Jacob’s Rock and in Wall Fire Alley there had been folks talking about the stones, they were moving, sometimes as much as several feet in a night.

Over in Kent County a minister had called it the end of days. He’d seen the stones moving with his own eyes, may God strike him down if he was lying.

Some folks from the big city came and took photos of the stones and they were kind of thinking that the locals were up to no good, perhaps moving them in the middle of the night. But as the good folks of the Moonboys had seen, there were no footprints near the stones. No rope marks. No way, anyone or, anything could have been involved.

Sixty years before the stones started moving when Willie was still a teenager, he had taken a rubbing of the cave carvings. He was sure he still had them somewhere.

After a barrel load of searching one stormy afternoon, he’d found them in the attic, three clear images of the carvings.

The first image was of little rocks sitting on a plain. In the second, the rocks had changed position and they all seemed to have moved or been moved in the same direction. On the third there was a figure that someone in antiquity had attempted to erase from the carving by rubbing over the image with something rough.

It had never made any sense to Willie except there was something peaceful about the carvings and the cave. There was no doubt about it there was a connection between the story that these carvings were telling and the rocks moving.

Willie decided he’d go out to Lazy Boy Canyon and have a look for himself. He’d go at night when the desert was a lot cooler then he’d catch the stones as the sun came up.

He pitched his old tent by an overhang that helped him get some shelter from the frost. He tried as best he could to get some sleep but this wasn’t a night for it.

Just after two in the morning he could hear a scraping not too far from the tent, he guessed it was just another lonely animal out looking for company or food.

He rested a while but around four in the morning the sun rose over the top of the Moonboys and caused the tent to heat up real bad. Willie felt the only place to go was outside and anyway he was eager to see the stones.

Sure enough, there they were, streaks of sand behind them like they had been moving on their own.

Surely that couldn’t have been what he’d heard in the dark of night?

Willie walked over to the rock and all of a sudden he felt a peace come down on him like he’d never felt before.

He bent down and touched the rock and smiled.

A few days later they found the tent but nothing was ever found of Willie.

There was one strange thing that only the wild animals would have seen, the rock that Willie had touched had moved forwards a few feet.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

“it was stalking time for the Moonboys……..”

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Just Keep Swimming

dory1

“I know all of this is crazy
Every last crazy second of it
And I know that there have been bad times
And good times, and times that it hurts so bad that
You feel as if your heart has stopped.
But there has been laughter too, and friendship
And all the silent victories.
And love, most importantly, love.
No matter what form it has taken.
So yeh, I know it’s crazy,
What with all of this going on
And no reason for any of it,
Yet I’m going give it a try for another day
Just to see what happens and to just keep swimming.”

bobby stevenson 2016

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You, kill me.

American-Diner

She was the kinda gal who sashayed where ever she went. Always sashaying and flicking those hips from side to side. She was the best mover in town, everyone said so. Even the Reverend Gascoin, who was a sort of expert in these delicate things.

He enjoyed having opinions on worldly stuff, as long as his boss up above didn’t get to hear about it. I kinda think that the Rev didn’t really understand the Bible.

As for the gal, who was called Helen, she worked at the Teddy Coffee Shop; it was named after President Roosevelt. One day his automobile had a flat tire and he stopped in for a strong, black treacle drink. He apparently said it was the goddamn best cuppa coffee he had ever drunk. Had them serve it at his funeral, I heard. Not sure how true that is, either.

Still you gotta go with what you hear and make your own mind up. Them’s the rules.

The café was on a muddy, bumpy road just off the thruway, and the only folks that visited it, were there ‘cause it was accidental. But then the founding father probably took a wrong turn and just decided to stay.

The railway came through in ’86 – 1886 that is and folded thirty years later when the main investor, one General Wade took all the monies and disappeared to Bolivia, or at least that’s the story. Like I say, you can pick and choose what you believe of this short story.

So you’re gonna ask what was so unusual about Helen, the gal who liked to sashay? And you’d be correct to ask the question, ‘cause it’s an interesting one.

You see Helen was my grandmother and on her deathbed she told me a story. When she’d finished, she took one final guttural breath and kissed me and then the world goodbye.

And so I am gonna tell you the story exactly as she told it to me and you can make your own mind up:

“I was working in the Teddy on that particular day, the day when the two gentlemen came to call. It was unusual as we normally had only one customer at a time. But hey, you gotta take the money where you can get it. They didn’t arrive together which made me think that they were trying to have a meet without anyone else over-hearing, if you get what I’m saying. The both asked me what was the special for the day and I told them it was the mac and cheese. They both seemed happy with that. One of them was a real good-looking man with a New England way of talking and when I walked across the floor, he mentioned that I had a nice real way of moving. I took that on board with both hands, I’ll tell ya. The other was a dark, strange-looking fellow, who seemed to be keeping one eye on the door.

I was wiping the counter and that was when I heard the conversation they were having. And this is where I swear it got strange. The good-looking man said that it was true that he was dying of cancer or something. I couldn’t quite hear as they would stop talking when I got close. I couldn’t keep asking if they wanted more coffee as it was starting to look strange. That was when the other asked when he would do it.

It seemed that one man was dying and he wanted the other, a hit man, to shoot the dying man, and that he’d get well paid. He just wasn’t to tell him when it would happen. ‘Let it be a surprise’, the good-looking man said with a grin.

I remember they left a big tip and shook hands, then they drove off in separate cars and in different directions. It was only when I read the papers a few weeks later, that I realised that one of them was the president, and the other was some guy who shot him from a book depository.”

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Lives in 100 words

New York City, December 1963

Central2

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.

 

Going Home

wall

“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

road

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…

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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

Breath

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

rain-photography-15

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

aberdeen

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

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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

Paris

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

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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

road

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

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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

glasgow

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

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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

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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

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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….

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

1934 Fremont Street looking East

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?

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

chris
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.

 

lady

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.

 

mainstreet

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.

 

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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”

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Me and Buzz and the Madman

FRIENDS

That day started like any other Saturday.

My Grandma was washin’ the back of my neck with all my family lookin’ on. When she got into rubbin’ real hard I would turn my neck a little so that I could see out the window. That morning was just like any other, Jake Van De Bergh was getting chased up Main Street by another angry husband. You’d have thought he’d have run out of married ladies by now. When my Grandma let my ears go, I met Buzz down at the corner of Lincoln Street.

Buzz was holdin’ something, which turned out to be his Maw’s curtains from her best room – it was called the ‘best room’ ‘cause Buzz wasn’t allowed anywhere near it. No sir-ee.

Apparently Buzz had to get the curtains back home before his Maw returned from Johnstown at sundown, or Buzz’s Maw would skin him like a desert rat. Now I know he ain’t tellin’ the whole truth ‘cause he’s used them curtains before and his Maw didn’t even see they were missin’.

Apparently Buzz had found a book with superheroes in it and that was what we were gonna be, this here Saturday.

I gotta say, at first, I kinda felt stupid with the cape around my neck but it started to feel good and I could see what Buzz was up talkin’ about.

We were just about to begin fightin’ crime when all of a sudden Jake Van De Bergh comes rushin’ around the corner and shoved me and Buzz into the Ice Cream & Sarsaparilla Café.

The minute we were through the doors, Jake shouts,
“Help me boys, keep this mad man out.” And by madman he means a mad husband – but like I say, it was just another Saturday in town. I hear tell that Jake has a wife of his own but that she don’t mind if he runs after other women on account that he really annoys her and has bad breath. Least ways that’s what Becky told me in school.

So there’s me, Buzz and Jake trying to hold the madman from breaking down the door. Every time he charges at the door, we move forward some and then we’d push back and then it starts all over again.

Crazy Eddie, who ran the café, was getting real worried about a madman getting’ loose in a Sarsaparilla store, and so he helped hold the door, too.

For a moment it all went real quiet and Jake was about to say that the madman had probably given up, when I turn my neck the way I do and look out of the window to see that the madman has gone all the way across the street to the Chip and Shoulder hardware store.

I was just about to tell them that the madman was gonna take the longest run ever in the whole world when the he burst through the door throwing me, Jake, Crazy Eddie and Buzz out-of-the-way and got his head well and truly stuck in the Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream machine.

“I’m tuck,” was all the madman could holler.“I’m really, really, really tuck.”
“I think he means he’s stuck,” said Crazy Eddie.
“Tat’s what I said,” hollered the Raspberry Ripple madman.

Buzz threw his cape around his back and decided it was the right time that me and him were superheroes.I pulled the man’s left leg and Buzz pulled the man’s right one.

“Tat hurts.”
“Sorry,” I shouted.
“Wot?” The madman hollered back.

It was no use, the man’s head wasn’t going anywhere and he was complainin’ that he was getting brain freeze. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

“There’s nothing for it, I’ll need to call Stupid Larry,” Crazy Eddie said sadly, ‘cause apparently Stupid Larry wasn’t the cheapest in town, but he was sure good at getting’ people out of holes. When Buzz’s Maw fell down that Main Street drain and got stuck good, Stupid Larry got her out of there in two shakes of a lambs tail, although he did charge her fifty bucks.

When Stupid Larry saw the madman’s predicament, he looked at it one way, “Mmmm,” he said. Then he looked at it another way “Ohhh,” he said, shakin’ his head. Then he kinda crawled around in on all fours, “tut,tut,” he said. Now some of the less kind folks in town used to say that all this walking around the problem wasn’t exactly necessary and it was only to make you think that Stupid Larry was givin’ you your money’s worth.

“Nope, we’re going to have to get him back to my workshop and cut him out.”

So Stupid Larry unhooked and unscrewed the ice cream machine with more show than a magician, I kid you not. Once we’d bumped it down the stairs, Jake and Crazy Eddie pushed it up the street, with me holding one leg and Buzz the other. Stupid Larry ran ahead to get his workshop all fired up.

When we were just passing the courthouse, the wife of the madman came over to Jake and asked him how he was doing and had he seen her husband. She didn’t think to ask about the pair of legs that were sticking out of the ice cream machine. Jake said, he couldn’t help her and he was sorry but he was real busy and if she didn’t mind they’d like to be off real quick. Kinda trying to pretend that he didn’t really know her and all.

When Stupid Larry started using the torch to cut open the machine, Crazy Eddie kept saying “This is gonna cost you, mark my words, cost ya good,” to Jake. To be honest I don’t think that kinda talk helps much.

Anyways, when Stupid Larry got the bottom off the machine, the madman’s face was frozen stiff, I kid you not.

Buzz was sure that the madman was dead, but Crazy Eddie gave the madman the kiss of life by blowing into his mouth. He said it wasn’t the first time that someone had got stuck in his machines, last time it was the pineapple caramel. Crazy Eddie also said that the Raspberry Ripple did taste real good even if it was on another man’s lips.

The next time I saw the madman he was sitting in church with his wife and his face was Raspberry Ripple Red. The curtains were a real mess, so Buzz told his Maw that someone must have broken into the house and stolen them.

She believed him.
bobby stevenson 2017

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The Man In The Moon

maninmoon

Those who drove past that particular stretch of road would have caught a glimpse of what they thought was a dead animal; it was dead alright, but it was no animal. It was the body of Eugene Cairns, the victim of a driver who also thought he’d hit an animal and therefore didn’t bother to stop.

These old dark roads hide many things and they helped to hide ‘Gene in his final days.

He first came to Scotland when he was young man who worked as a sailor at the American Base on the Holy Loch. Many young Americans came to this part of the world and many left with Scottish women in tow. They took the girls as wives – some stayed in the US and some came home.

Eugene and Irene were happy with their life lived out in Northern Virginia. They raised two kids, a boy and a girl and nothing could wreck this all American family.

Sometime in the mid-1960s Gene was asked to apply for training with the Apollo mission. He had proved himself in conflict, and in peace time and had shown himself to be of the right stuff. Was he interested in being considered for a moon landing?
Of course he was, who wouldn’t be?

Every time they threw an obstacle in front of him, he would jump over it and be a stronger man for it.

Then one day he came home with the news that he was in the shortlist for a trip to the moon. Irene didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry, but she knew that it was everything he talked and possibly dreamt about. So through a false smile she told him that she and the kids gave their blessing. She had to gamble on giving her consent rather than living with a man who would always have had ‘what-might-have-been’ written across his soul.

Irene sent out one version of Eugene Cairns to the moon and received a very different soul on his return. He had been debriefed on all the side-effects that were caused by a trip into outer-space (least ways, that’s what he called it when he was a kid) but somehow the folks who knew, who really knew, what it was like to leave the Earth and see your home from a quarter of a million miles away all kept quiet.

Some of those guys who came back saw God out there and returned as Evangelical disciples. Others saw the fragility of the Earth and started campaigns to halt the destruction of that little pearl they witnessed from space.

But for Gene, it had been the colours out there. They had been too bright and when he had returned home he had no way of explaining what that meant.

It was the same for everyone, when you returned from vacation you would show your friends and family the photos of the trip. But it was only in your head that you could see and smell the place for real. So loving families tended to smile convincingly and throw in little comments about how nice the place was, but they were secretly hoping that was the last photo. The difference was, everyone vacationed on Earth – at least there was some commonality in it all. But Gene had no way to describe what he had actually seen or felt out there – to anyone.They had no idea what it was to hang in a tin can and head towards the moon.

The first summer after his return Irene suggested it would be nice if they took a vacation back to her home in the West Highlands of Scotland. To keep the peace, he agreed and they sailed from New York to Greenock in June.

All Irene’s family wanted a piece of Gene. The All American Hero was celebrated everywhere he went. Even the provost of the little town on the west coast, held a procession for the astronaut. They bought him drinks, they bought him many drinks and Gene found that he liked the way the alcohol made him feel. The booze toned down the colours in his head and he could feel like a human again. Some nights when he was on his fifth or sixth whisky, he would start to doubt that he had ever been out there.

At the start of August, Irene suggested that they head home and that was when Gene came up with a plan. He would like to spend a few more weeks in the Highlands and Irene could go back to see the kids. He’d return soon enough.

Irene reluctantly agreed and happily Gene went back to his old hunting grounds from the Holy Loch days. When he was stationed at the submarine base on the Clyde, he used to spend his weekends cycling up Loch Fyne, staying a night at Inveraray, then pushing on to Glencoe and Fort William.
Apart from marrying Irene, it was the happiest time of his life.

He rented a small cottage just outside Bridge of Orchy and spent many a day hiking up and down some of the West Highland Way: a popular walk from Glasgow to Fort William.

There was a small hotel about a mile from his cottage and every night he would walk there and walk back – with several whiskies drunk in between.

He would tell the locals about his time in space and that would get him a few more drinks. After a while people grew bored with his stories and began to wonder if he wasn’t just making it all up.
Irene kept asking when he was coming home and each time he gave the same answer, ‘probably next week – probably’.

Then one night, one clear night, as he was walking back to the cottage, he looked at the sky full of stars and realised in a split second what it was he had seen out there, and in a split second he understood everything. It was as clear as day. He now understood completely what life was about. He yelled at the sky and shouted ‘thank you’. The truck driver didn’t see Gene, and when he felt the bump, he thought it was just an animal and kept going towards Tyndrum.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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A 100 Word Walk

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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’.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Me and Buzz and Grooviness

beret

When me and Buzz were about 15 years old, Buzz turned to me one day and told me, straight in the eye like, that he had ‘an itchen’ for a hitchen’.

“Let’s hitch right across the country to… well, the end,” said Buzz not sure where the end of the country was.

“Then what?” I asked just to see what he’d say. “Why then we’ll come back again, groovy boy.”

The problem was that Buzz had started reading books, comics mostly, but there was one book in particular that he’d taken to – a book about being out on the road and discovering the real old tracks of this great country and it kind-a hit a nerve with old Buzz.

He started wearing a beret and calling everything and everyone ‘groovy’, something Mrs Mitchell, our teacher, didn’t take too kindly.

“Shakespeare isn’t groovy, Buzz. Now sit down and take that stupid hat off.”

No one could tell Buzz that Shakespeare wasn’t one of the grooviest beat-nicks to come out of England.

Buzz reckoned if we got to hitchhike at least 20 miles a day, then by the end of the year we’d be…….well, pretty far away from town. He got that right.

Buzz started to grow his hair real long and Pastor Simmons used to mention in his Sunday sermon about boys who looked like girls ‘cause of their hair and everyone in the congregation turned and looked at Buzz, who was sleeping with his beret over his eyes.

One morning at Sunday school, the teacher asked what word could describe Jesus and Buzz stuck his hand up right away. I was wishing that he wouldn’t say what he was going to say but he did.

He had to stand in front of the whole congregation the following Sunday and apologise to God for calling his son, groovy.

By the time the summer came, Me and Buzz were ready for the hitchen. Buzz couldn’t make up his mind which direction we should start to hitch. So one Thursday, he said we could decide by following the way the wind blew; however that day would have meant us hitchen right through Tasker’s slaughterhouse, into the Hotel La Boomba and finishing up at the school hall before we even got outta town.

Each day would come and each day Buzz couldn’t or wouldn’t decide which was the best direction outta town. It got so bad that it made me say somethin’ I didn’t wanna, but it had to be said.

“Are you sure you wanna go hitchen, Buzz?” There I said it right in his face.

“Are you crazeee?” He hollered but I knew Buzz and he said ‘crazeee’ a little too crazy like – which made me think he was hiding something.

“I ain’t crazy, Buzz, I don’t think you want to go a-hitchen.”

Then he came out with the truth – right there and then – and said he’d read a book called War of The Worlds and that he was thinking that maybe we could go to Mars instead.

I slapped my old pal on the back and said that sounded like a real good plan and as I looked back at his house I saw his maw in the back yard wearing Buzz’s old beret.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

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Strange Day

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November 22.

The strangest goddamn thing ever, and I mean ever, happened to me this morning. Jeez, my hand is still shaking as I write this even although the boss told me ‘no notes, no traces, no records’ but hey, it’s only one little bitty diary.

I had got up this morning, had breakfast and kissed my wife and prepared myself for what I was going to do, today. ‘Change the world for the better’ is what the boss said to me. So last night I double checked everything and the equipment was all ready. I’d taken it out to the Plains last weekend to make sure everything was A, okay. It was.

So I took all I needed up to the top floor and waited. I kind of guessed it would be a long wait but I was ready. ‘You’re the man’ as my boss told me last week.

Jeez, I nearly died when those folks turned up right behind me. I kid you not. One minute I was alone, the next they were standing right beside me. I didn’t even get a chance to reach for the rifle.

“Did you do this on your own?” Asked the man with the grey suit.

I asked him what he meant. I mean were they Feds or what?

Some guy shouts in a strange voice that they weren’t meant to get involved, that they would have to abort the trip and everyone was to return. Sounds crazy? That’s what I thought. When I got myself together I started to chase after them as the disappeared around the corner. Then I felt real weird and blacked out.

When I came to, I heard one of them say that I would have to be dropped off later. A kind blonde haired girl, a bit like Marilyn offered me a drink, smelled like coffee but I turned it down.

She asked me how I was doing and I said fine, she said that we’d need to wait till the bomb had gone off before we would return to get me home.

I know this is going to sound crazy, if anyone reads this – but she said they were time travelers, that they were on a tour of the big ones: The Crucifixion, First Man on The Moon (I’m tellin’ you that’s what she said), The start of World War 3 in 2021 – apparently a dirty bomb went off in….no, I’m going to stop there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you and the Assassination of the President – J.F.K. and that was why they were visiting me. I asked her how she knew and she said she was from the future and that she knew everything about me including Jack Ruby. Wow, my blood ran cold when she said that name – how did she know the Boss?

She said that I would be given a drug or something to make me forget so she could ask me anything. ‘Did I work alone?’ – I asked her what she meant. Did I shoot JFK on my own? I haven’t done it yet, I told her. Well are you working alone? I told her of course I’m not, I am only up in the Depository to make sure there are no loose ends. There are two guys down on that grassy knoll that will do the shooting.

She seemed real puzzled at that. She left me for a while but she returned after she’d seen the city blown sky-high. She told me that the world would be at war within hours. She had been crying. She’d been on this type of tour before but never to Dallas or to the bombing.

I’ve no idea what went wrong but if they did give me a drug to make me forget it didn’t work ‘cause next thing I know I’m waking up in the Depository again and I’m wondering if I had taken a stroke or something. Anyway, things are back to normal, as I write this the time is 11.40am and the President is late.

bobby stevenson 2017

 

Me and Buzz and Schnorteling and Elvis

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SCHNORTELING

I guess when Buzz first said that Schnorteling should be in the Olympics, I kinda found it hard to see. But Buzz is like Ma Hardy’s donkey, he can only carry one thing at a time and after a while I kinda had to agree with him.

When they write about Schnorteling, they’ll write about Mr Brewster’s Bakery and Gun Store – ‘cause really, that’s where it all started.

Me and Buzz were making short work of a couple of donuts and milkshakes at Mr Brewster’s. I was telling Buzz what I’d heard about Eddie Alabaster’s hair. Apparently after Eddie’s cat had set fire to the family’s wooden shack (at least that’s what Eddie said), his Ma had tried to put the flames out with a jug full of lemonade. While she was doing that, Eddie had tried to shave his own head. So when his Ma had finally let the shack burn to the ground, she’d come home to find Eddie looking like a kid who’d got his head caught in a door.

I could see Buzz had got real interested, ‘cause he’d stopped eating his donut midway.

“Well?” Asked Buzz.

Then I told him I met Eddie Alabaster at the pharmacy collecting his Ma’s nerve tablets and he was wearing one of his Ma’s wigs.

“Which one?” Asked Buzz, completely taken in by the story – so much so, that his mouth was open and I could see the other half of the donut.

I said the one she usually wore at Christmas. The one Eddie said she wore to keep Santa happy. There are lots of stories about Ma Alabaster and Santa, but that’ll keep for another day.

“You mean the one with the….no you say it,” he says to me, ‘cause Buzz wants to hear me say it.

“Eddie was wearing his Ma’s wig, with the…”.

“Not the blue one with the holly and ivy sticking out the top?”

Jumps in Buzz ‘cause he can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

I tell him it was the very one but some of the holly had fallen out, so you could see Eddie’s bald head in parts.

And that’s when it happened – when Buzz, Schnorteled. The milk and donuts shot out of his nose. I swear on a stack of somethings that it’s all true. Honest injun.

Mr Brewster told me and Buzz that we weren’t welcome in his store no more, and that we should have a good think about we’d just done. What we’d done is invent a new Olympic sport and that was good enough for me and Buzz.

Buzz came back to my place and we tried to make the milk and donuts come out his nose again; him eating, and me telling him the story about Eddie and his Ma’s wig.

Would you believe it? Nothing. Okay, Buzz almost choked and my Ma had to slap him on the back a few time before the donut shot across the kitchen and stuck to our wall. But nothing in the nose area. I kid you not.

Something real serious had to be done, so I packed some donuts and milk and took Buzz to sit outside Ma Alabaster’s place and wait for the Christmas-topped kid to show up.

We waited and we waited, but there was no Eddie or his Ma. Around sunset I suggested that we mosey on home but Buzz wanted to stay. Just then one of the neighbor’s came out on account that we looked mighty suspicious and we told her we were waiting on our friend, Eddie.

“You haven’t heard then?” She asked us.

I said ‘heard what?’ and she told us that Eddie was in Brimstone’s hospital on account that he’d been attacked by some birds that had tried to eat his head.

Well, that was it. Buzz’s donuts and milk shot right down his nose and over the lady’s shoes.

She shouted after us that she was gonna call the cops, but we hid for a while and nothing happened.

No one could deny that Buzz had just Schnorteled a world record of three feet and the rest.

And I could see the possibilities of Schnorteling for future generations, except that the next day when I asked Buzz about it, he was already talking about BumFizz being a sport to replace football.

Sometimes, I find it real hard to keep up with my pal.

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ELVIS

Buzz’s Ma would swear on a stack of Bibles that she knew Elvis Presley for real.  Perhaps it would take a sarsaparilla or two but soon she’d been tellin’ everyone how she and Elvis were as close as anyone could be.

Sometimes during one of her stories she’d just stop, look far away as if she was remembering something, have a chuckle to herself and then continue with the story.

I’d have given a week’s wages to know what she was thinking right there and then.

If you’ve been reading these little stories about me and Buzz, well you won’t need to walk too far to get to where I’m going with this one: yep, with all the talk Buzz decided that he was the love child of Elvis and his Ma.

“It makes sense. What with my good looks and talent and all. It’s the only explanation.”

Now I ain’t gonna rain on Buzz’s story and say he ain’t Elvis’ kid because nothin’ would surprise  me about Buzz and his family, all I’m sayin’ is that you gotta take things like that – real careful, otherwise you get in a whole heap of trouble.

Even when I was walking along Main Street with him, he’d just stop, sneer  then give out a ‘Uh-huh’ Elvis style  followed by a ‘Thank you, you’ve been a wonderful audience, you really have’, which was followed by another sneer. Then he would just continue talking as if the last two minutes hadn’t happened.

Buzz decided that he would make some money from his birthright by touring the county as ‘The Son of Elvis’ . Two things were real wrong with this – for a start, Buzz can’t sing ,note a note, not even if a Colt 45 was pointed at where his brain is supposed to live, and the other thing is, no one in the county wanted to annoy Elvis’ family (or more accurately get sued).

One day, he asked if I would be his Colonel Tom Parker and manage him.

“For what?”

“For pee-forming,” he said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him. “People need to know that there is a new, younger Elvis out there.”

“You?”

“Me.”

Now I swear, I didn’t say I would and I didn’t say I wouldn’t –  but some people take sayin’ nothin’ as if you’ve said you would. Next thing I know Buzz is tellin’ everyone in town that I’m his new hotshot manager and that I’m gonna make him a rock n’ roll star.

“Only a matter of time,” he’d say. “What with your brains and my good looks and talent, not to mention my daddy being….”

e’d learned to shut up about Elvis, just in case they took Buzz off to jail. Okay maybe it was me that said he’d go to prison if he kept claimin’ he was the son of Elvis but sometimes, I swear you gotta be cruel to be kind.

Still, it didn’t really stop Buzz. He’d sit talking to strangers and say to them that he couldn’t really tell them who his daddy was, then he’d put his fingers to his lips , say ‘shh’, sneer, and then he’d do that awful Elvis impersonation. I ain’t too sure that folks knew it was Elvis he was trying to impersonate, ‘cause I remember a couple walking away from Buzz and under his breath the man told his wife that Buzz was claiming to be the son of Bugs Bunny. Now that might not be too far from the truth, I tell ya.

At weekends, Buzz used to work as a bag boy at Winslow’s Grocery Store, the one that stands at the bottom of Creek Lane. He didn’t bag up like any normal person, oh no, what Buzz used to do was put everything in the bag while he stood in an Elvis pose: one knee bent , foot up with his toes touching the floor, and everything was placed in the bag with a full swing of the arm.

When he’d finished, he’d say ‘I thank you, my name is Buzz Presley and I’ll be here all week’. It used to scare some folks while it made others smile. Mrs Dalton gave him ten bucks ‘cause she thought he was touched. Her generation thought that a lot of people were touched. Hey, they might be right.

To be real honest, Mr Winslow was real pleased with Buzz and his packing ‘cause of the amount of extra folks that came for their groceries to his store. They all wanted their bags packed by the ‘crazy guy’.  Annie Black who had packed bags at the store since the war used to spend her  time just watching everyone queue up to get Buzz to do the packing. Mr
Winslow let her go the second week in February.

Just before Easter, I heard tell from the Reverend about some Elvis show  that was taking place two counties over.

“You know, I don’t approve of rock and rolly music,” said the Reverend. He always called it ‘rock and rolly’. “But it would be right and good if someone from this county went over there and whipped their asses.”

I was thinking that Reverends shouldn’t really talk like that but he did have a point. I just wasn’t sure if Buzz was the man to do it – that’s all.

“Where do I sign?” Asked Buzz when I told him.

“Don’t worry Buzz, I’ll take care of that, but what are you gonna sing?” I asked.

“Why, a song that my Daddy wrote for me,” said Buzz then went into a song that may or may not have been an Elvis song (or even just a song).

I filled out the form for him on account of the fact that Buzz was in hospital with something or other when Mrs Telford was teaching us all about writing and stuff.

“Name?”

“Buzz Presley”

I tried to talk him out of it, but he wasn’t having it and anyhoo maybe they wouldn’t put two and two together and make five, like Buzz had.

“Change that, I want Buzz Aaron Presley.”

“You can’t.”

“Can too.”

So that was what I put down on the entry form and just kept my fingers crossed that we wouldn’t get into trouble.

Me and Buzz hitched over to Ridge County with Buzz dressed as Elvis (like if Elvis had fallen out of an aeroplane). The last bus we caught from Hollington was full of Elvis impersonators and their carers.

Buzz loved it, he was jumping from seat to seat, talkin’ and singin’ (kinda) with other hopefuls and some had stories to tell about Elvis. One or two had seen him drive past them, others had heard him singin’ but mostly these folks on the bus were just out for a good time and they didn’t care who knew about it.

When we got into town there must have been about a couple of hundred Elvises, I kid you not: big ones, fat ones, skinny ones, girls dressed (and ladies) as the King. They way I looked at it, what harm were any of them doing?

The following day the contest started at noon and it sure was a long time of Elvis this and Elvis that – all dressed with the best of clothes. Then Buzz came up onstage, and the announcer said that this singer was all the way from Duchess County and his name was Buzz Aaron Presley.

That would have been okay if Buzz had mimed to the record, like we practiced, but he decided to do an introduction – how many times can you say to someone who there should be no introduction? – Anyway he told the crowd exactly what I  knew he was gonna say.

“I am the truly begotten son of Elvis Aaron Presley.”

Yep, I kid you not, that’s the way he said it alright, ‘the truly begotten son’ – what the h…, did that mean? There was a silence in the crowd as everyone’s jaws fell. Man, you could have heard a prison break twenty miles away. Then some kid at the back of the crowd shouted

‘I’m his son, too.’

“No you ain’t,” shouts Buzz.

“Sure am,” hollers back this kid.

“My Ma was real close to Elvis,” shouts Buzz.

“Well my Ma was Elvis.”

That’s what the weird kid at the back shouted. Everyone turned to look at him, then someone shouted ‘get him’ and the folks started chasing him. I took this opportunity to grab Buzz off the stage and force him to head for the bus station.

When we got back, Buzz’s Ma apologised and said she’d made a mistake it wasn’t Elvis Presley that she had been close to but Bob Hope.

Right there and then I could see a little light going on in Buzz’s head.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Two of the 100 word stories

amish

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.

tinker_street

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.

All the stories at Lives in 100 words

(https://thougthcontrol.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/lives-in-100-words/)

bobby stevenson 2016

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The Last Painting

painting

As the floods died away and returned to their mother streams

Leaving the skyscrapers dressed in coats of moulded green

High on the highest building was a room

Never touched by the storms and in there lay the most

Beautiful painting in the universe

For a time the spiders crawled across it, appreciating its

Bumps of oils,

Some nights a rat would scuttle across the floor and nibble at

The edge of the wooden frame: such wonderful tastes.

But the apes, who had stared at the heavens and had come down

From the trees, leaving painted finger prints in caves along

The way and who had then evolved into upright walkers

Built cities that scraped the skies

That kissed the clouds

Never knowing if their art and beauty came from the gods

Or from the blood

The apes had decorated their palaces with paintings

But the floods finally fell and the apes were long since taken

No life was left, no life at all

To look upon the last great painting

Like the falling tree in the empty forest

No sound, no beauty.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Zoot and Sandy and Thinking

elephant

Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were, without doubt, the best of pals in the whole wide world. They loved to sit by the river and watch time floating past their little seat.

Sandy was being particularly thoughtful that morning.

“What’s bothering you, buddy?” Asked Zoot the dog.

“Nothing much pal, nothing much. Just sitting here wondering, that’s all. It ain’t a crime, now is it?” Answered Sandy. “I was just considering if I could choose anything to be in the world, what it would be,” said the elephant.

“And what would you want to be?” Asked Zoot.

“I reckon I would like to have been the elephant in the room. Everyone would know you were there but no one would talk to you or about you. Seems a nice way to live.”

“I reckon, you’re right,” said the dog.

“Anything you thought about?” Asked Sandy.

Zoot considered this for a moment then said, “I would like to have been the dog with a bone that everyone seems to get excited about. You know when they say things like, ‘oh yes, Edward is like a dog with a bone’. Well, I should like to have been that dog.”

And for a few moments the two of them contemplated what their alternative lives could be like.

“I guess we’re just being plain stupid,” said Sandy.

“I guess we are,” agreed Zoot “But that’s the great thing about thinking, you can be or do anything you want. Dogs can be elephants, and elephants can be dogs and that’s pretty cool.”

“I think that is one of the greatest things about being an elephant – is the great many things I can think about,” said Sandy.

“And your great memory as well,” added Zoot and both chuckled at the irony of Sandy forgetting about his great memory.

“I guess when you’re made like an elephant and think like an elephant and are happy to be an elephant, then there ain’t anything greater in the world,” said Sandy proudly.

“Unless you weren’t an elephant but you wanted to be one,” added Zoot. “I still want to fly.”

“Dogs and elephants don’t fly,” said Sandy.

“Well not unless they stick them in an aeroplane,” said Zoot smugly.

“No, I mean I would really like to fly along with those birds out there,” said Sandy.

“Why?”

“To see what an elephant looks like from all that way up there,” he said smiling.

“Dogs ain’t meant to fly just like elephants ain’t meant to bark,” said Sandy.

“Unless the elephant has got a cold, and then they can really make a barking noise,” said Zoot.

“What if tied you to a kite and flew you up there?” Asked Sandy.

“And don’t let go?”

“And I promise not to let go,” replied Sandy.

“Then I think that might work,” said Zoot.

And so the pals promised that on the next windy day, Sandy would tie Zoot to the biggest kite he could find, and fly him around the beach.

And that is what they did – Zoot flew high above Sandy while attached to the kite, and said that an elephant just looked like an elephant even from up there. All the folks who watched said that Zoot had taken to flying like a dog with a bone. That made him happy.

No one mentioned the elephant on the beach who was holding the rope and refusing to let go, and that made Sandy happy too. He guessed that an elephant on the beach was probably just as good as an elephant in a room.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Me and Buzz and The End Of His Nose

bag

I don’t know when Buzz noticed the thing on the end of his nose. I had seen it that morning but didn’t want to tell my pal on account that he thought he was the best lookin’ guy walkin’ on the face of this, here, Earth. I kid you not. So when Becky Walters said in her usual way:

“You got a big red spot on the end of your nose, Buzz,” he kinda took it real bad, which makes me think he didn’t know it was there. I’m thinking how could he have missed it, I mean that thing was so big, it had it’s own gravitational system.

Buzz said nuthin’ and walked off home. Becky Walters looked real pleased with herself and said, “Did I say somethin’ wrong?”. Becky knew she’d said somethin’ wrong, I mean that’s all she is good at, on account of her Mom tellin’ everyone in town that her Becky was a Princess and all.

The next morning, I see Buzz – well I didn’t actually see him, but I knew it was Buzz ‘cause he was wearin’ the same jeans and shoes as yesterday. He had a big brown paper bag over his head and two holes cut out for eyes so he didn’t get hit by cars.

I kinda thought the brown paper bag might look even weirder than a big thing on the end of your nose, but I wasn’t so sure of that fact that I could tell Buzz to go naked in the head department. Apparently Buzz’s Ma had tried to fix the spot by stickin’ a needle in it and it had made it worse. Buzz’s Ma wasn’t real good at doctor stuff but it didn’t stop her makin’ up her own cures for everythin’.

When Buzz had a fever, she had made him lie down in a darkroom with a brick on his head. Apparently it was a cure that had been passed down thru the family. I’m thinkin’ craziness was the only thing that was passed down in that family.

Buzz told me to go round the corner where there weren’t no people to see his nose and he lifted the bag to show me what was happenin’ under there.

“Wow!” Was all I said.

Buzz wanted to know if that was a good ‘wow’ and I told him it was but I had to cross my legs on account that I thought I’d pee myself, ‘cause I wanted to laugh so bad. Buzz had a tomato on the end of his nose – I mean, a big red bright tomato. No kiddin’.

We kinda tried to pretend everythin’ was all right and neither Buzz nor me mentioned the paper bag. Some folks would shout at Buzz callin’ him names and stuff, but the bag was so thick that Buzz couldn’t hear nuthin’.

I decided since Buzz was my bested friend in the whole wide world I would wear a bag on my head as well. It was kinda cool.

Buzz’ Ma kept trying her medicine on his nose and every day he’d show me it and it wasn’t getting’ any better. I wondered if his nose might not eventually fall off, but I didn’t want to tell my pal on account that it ain’t somethin’ you want to tell a buddy.

One mornin’ Becky Walters was standin’ on the corner being a princess when she spotted Buzz  and me and our paper bags and I’m thinkin’ she’s gonna pee herself – but she didn’t.

“Why don’t ya paint a face on your bags,” she said and know what? I thought that was a great idea, too.

So Buzz and me went off to paint our bag faces but like everythin’ with Buzz it wasn’t straightforward. Next time I see him he’s dressed as a clown. Yep a big clown with big shoes and a white face and a big nose; I mean it was his own nose but it suited the clown face, I kid you not.

I thought the bag had been all right but I wasn’t following my pal down the clown face road.

It had been his Ma’s idea – she had thought why not just paint a face on her boy and be done with it, and maybe she had a point. At school I could see the teacher kinda lookin’ at him and shakin’ her head but she didn’t say nuthin’. She just went off and got all the other teachers in school to come to our class. And they all left, crossin’ their legs like they were gonna pee themselves, too.

Buzz’s Ma got arrested on the Friday for trying to cure the Sheriff’s daughter of her hiccups by making her stand on top of an auto-mobile. The Sheriff said she was just plain crazy and slung her in jail until the following Monday. The good thing about this was it let Buzz’s nose get a rest from his Ma and so it started to get better. By Monday, Buzz was ready to face the rest of town – just the way God had made him – and he went up to Becky Walters and gave her a big kiss, right there, on her lips.

She kinda giggled and swooned and I knew my Buzz was gonna be all right.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

“You’re Not From Around Here,Then?”

alien

Now I ain’t one to lie or even kid (if it comes to that), but sometimes a thing happens to you that’s so far out there that even your closest kin would swear you were talking with a crazy tongue in your head. But you all know me and you know I ain’t the lying sort, so you’re gonna have to come with me on this trip and take it for what it is – all true.

One night I was looking through my ol’ telescope at something or other – don’t you go believin’ Kathy Blue mind when she says I was tryin’ to see in her boudoir (that’s what she calls that dump of a room she stays in) – I wasn’t tryin’ to see in no boudoir, no sir I was looking at Venus and Mars as any curious scientist would be doing at that time of night with a telescope stuck to his eye. Now if you don’t believe me on that point then I do see much point on the two of us goin’ on – so if you’re of the sceptical disposition then I’ll say ‘howdee doo dee’ to you and bid you a good day.

Okay, so I’m guessing that if you’re still with me then you’re believin’ me and I thank you kindly, I truly do. The strange thing happened just after I located Mars (not a great feat I grant ya) when all of a sudden this light goes shooting across the sky and it was so bright that my telescope eye went kinda white for a long time. I thought I was havin’ a stroke, I kid you not. Then it all went black as black could be. I’m thinking to myself that this is probably a comet or somethin’ and once my eyes kinda returned to normal, I thought no more about it.

One night, it must have been about a week or so later, I’m out on the hills above town – and don’t go believin’ Kathy Blue if she tells you I was followin’ her or somethin’ ‘cause that’s just plain lyin’, that girl could win a medal in lyin’. It’s just that I like to go walkin’ in the hills and if she happens to be there too, then that’s just tough. At the time, I was tryin’ to walk in the opposite direction from Kathy Blue as she was shoutin’ at me, I mean, as if it was my fault we were both on the same hill. That was when I spotted the hut. When I say hut, it was more like a metal box, but hut will give you a good idea of its shape. It started to rain real hard and I ran to the box to get my head undercover. I was thinkin’ that it would just be me and a few wild beasts for company. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Inside the hut was a little boy or man or thing sitting in the corner. Now don’t go thinkin’ that it was like one of those sci-fi things where it’s bigger on the inside than it was outside – ‘cause it wasn’t – it was just the same size, inside and out. Now I’ve got that out the way, I’ll go on.

The man/boy/thing looked kinda startled and disappeared, then reappeared in another corner of the hut. I had to rub my eyes, I kid you not. I know what you’re thinkin’, don’t think I don’t, ‘cause I do. You’re thinkin’ that I’ve been sippin’ Aunt Fannie’s hooch again – well I ain’t and that’s a fact.

The man/boy/thing disappeared again and reappeared in another corner. By this time, I have to tell you friends, I was as crazy as a hornet in a jar. So I shouted to the thing to stay still or else (to be honest, I wasn’t sure what the else was).

Then it stopped, looked at me and I could see it was a small man who looked as scared as someone who had been caught in Kathy Blue’s front yard at midnight.

Now this is where you’re gonna have to trust me – I mean, really trust me – the little man said that he had crash landed on Earth and was trying to fix his ship so he could go home. To another planet. Or star. Or somewhere up there where Kathy Blue don’t go walking. So I asked him how he was doing and he said that the Hypo-diagonal drive unit was kaput and that he’d need to replace it. I asked could you get that local and he just smiled. He said he’d need to make it, but that the parts would be expensive and he didn’t have any Earth money.

You’re thinkin’ that he’s just a crazy man lookin’ for money but I ain’t never seen a crazy man disappear and reappear the way he did. I said I’d run home and see how much I could raise – ‘cause I don’t like the thought of a space man being lost so far from home, and he might just let me go with him and I’d get away from Kathy Blue once and for all.

I returned the next morning with all the money I had under the mattress and it weren’t much, I can tell you. Plus a couple of eggs and some bread. You know what he did? He ate the eggs – raw, I kid you not and the bread with the paper still around it. He told me that the money weren’t enough, it might get him past the moon but that would be it. He needed a lot more.

I told him I would go home and think about it and that night, when I was watching television with my granddaddy, it came to me.

If the spaceman could do that disappearing/appearing act on television then maybe he could make some real money. The television station we were watching had ‘So You Think You’ve Got Talent?’ on it and that was when it came to me. He could enter that stupid television show where stupid, stupid judges tell terrible lies about people who should be in hospital (least ways that’s what my grandaddy says) instead of which, they go on this show and try to play a ukulele while standing on their head. I kid you not.

So that is the plan and this is what we are gonna do. Me and the alien man are going to get him an audition on ‘So You Think You’ve Got Talent’.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

bobby stevenson 2017

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My Grandma’s Radio

radio

He delivered it, all pleased with himself, the night of the electrical storm which stretched all the way across three counties.

Old Jake had nothing else to give his sister, my grandmother, on her wedding day.

It lived proudly in the corner of the room and worked its way into being part of the family.

The night my father was born, my grandfather cranked it up to a full ten and couldn’t understand why the folks on the radio weren’t sharing in his joy.

The day my uncle died, I guess he was about seven years old, my grandmother couldn’t understand why the newscaster still kept talking as if nothing had happened. Didn’t they know? She wept.

When my grandfather went away to war, the radio was her friend, it was never off, it made the house seem busy, she said.

When the radio told my grandmother that her husband was coming home, she lifted her skirt and danced on the table when no one was looking.

That day, that black September day, in New York City when they flew the ‘planes into those buildings. Well that was the day we switched the radio off.

For good, we said.

When they cleared out my grandmother’s house, the radio was sent to the garage and that was where it stayed until I found it yesterday.

I’ve cleaned it up and changed its heart so it can play all the new tunes and talk about the new world – about the new joys and sadness.

I think it’s time I started listening again.

bobby stevenson 2016

 

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Short Lives (100 word stories)

New York City, December 1963

Central2

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.

 

Going Home

wall

“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

road

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…

Ad_Block_2

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

Breath

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

rain-photography-15

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

aberdeen

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

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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

Paris

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

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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

road

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

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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

glasgow

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

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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

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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

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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….

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light
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.

 

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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.

 

4th

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.

 

1934 Fremont Street looking East

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?

 

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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.

 

hotel

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.

 

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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.

 

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Americana – 1966  Somewhere between Woodsto