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

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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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THING and the BIG BLUE SEA

thing

It was inevitable that it would happen. Thing had started to grow up.

Sure he still sat at the cave mouth every night on the chance that would be the very moment his mother and father returned. Yet something deep down told him that they weren’t coming back, and that he was on his own, and he’d better do something about it.

He knew that life would have to change, that his dreams would also have to do the same. There had been that one perfect moment, probably one day when he packed his school books and got ready to walk down the hill, when his mother had kissed him goodbye and his father had patted him on the head and said ‘make me proud’. The sorrowful thing was, that there wasn’t a fanfare or a bell that tolled as you passed that perfect moment in your life.

Maybe there would be another perfect moment, perhaps if he met someone – but he wasn’t holding his breath. He knew that he had been born looking like his family but not like anyone else in the valley or at school. And he had suffered because of this, he had been called names, beaten on a couple of occasions, and most hurtful of all, was being left out of parties and celebrations. It wasn’t the kids that didn’t want Thing there, it was their parents.

Thing had been taught in school that we were on a rock which traveled around the sun every year. If this had been a ship we would have helped each other, we would have cared and nurtured each other. But this was a ship without a sea, and so folks and Things didn’t appreciate how fragile it all was. Perhaps if folks looked at the sky and treated the big blue yonder as a sort of sea, then maybe they would be kinder to one and other.

When Thing was small he had first seen his reflection in a mirror in school and it had shocked him. He knew he looked like his parents but he didn’t realize how different he looked from the other children. That night he had wondered if this distance between him and the others would last all his life.

He had made friends at school and those friends had not seen any difference but he had noticed, as he got older, that the children had started to carry prejudices and words built-to-hurt to school. They weren’t taught those words in school, so there must have been another type of schooling done at home, the school of hate.

He never really felt sorry for himself, but he did wonder what kind of God would have made him so different. Then as the years passed in school, he saw that others had their problems too; even if they all looked alike. Little Johnny had lost his brother in a war, Elsa had been made an orphan after a car crash and little Craig had gotten a disease called cancer and had never returned to school.

Everyone was tested Thing realized. Everyone. So he decided that if he had learned anything, it was to be strong when folks bullied and attacked. That everything passes, and that there is more good in the world than bad and that some kids’ parents cripple their off-spring with lies and hate and that, thought Thing, was the worst kind of injury.

So that night, as the sun was setting, Thing looked at the sky and saw it for the first time as a sea, and he saw the clouds as the waves breaking. That was when he really appreciated that we were all on a big ship going around the sun and we couldn’t afford to let anyone or anything get lost along the way.

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Wizard of Odd

girl

There isn’t anything I can tell you about Abigail that you don’t already know. I mean she was you, me and everyone else who felt let down by life. There is always something, ain’t there? There’s always that fact about life where it won’t let a body breathe without asking for payment of one kind or another.

So this is the place where we run into Abigail. She had emotional bombs dropped on her so often, that she took to hiding in own fallout shelter – her own home with social network always on tap.
Now you might say to me, ‘hey, that’s a good place to hide’ – but it wasn’t. It never is.

You see, Abigail, would sit all day and all night on Face-this or Twit-that watching the world going by in huge bright colours, and all she had to compare was a sad life in little bedroom with a kitchen. Abigail couldn’t understand why the world had passed her by, and yet had stopped and coloured in everyone else’s lives.

The more she read of other lives, the more she grew dark and down. Then one morning she decided to fight back, instead of telling the truth she made up her life to be more exotic, more exciting, more colourful than it really was. Well anything was more exciting than sitting in a room and a life lit by the hue of an electronic screen.

She started to attract friends and even people she didn’t really know, and they all applauded Abigail for her wonderful and exciting life. The places (the faked places) she had been, the lovers she had seen, the dreams she had lived. Abigail had never been so popular in all her life.

And here dear folks is the problem, if you could have stood on top of the highest of all high mountains and looked down on the world, you would have seen streets, and towns, and cities all full of lonely people sitting in little rooms and lying to the world about their lives.

bobby stevenson 2017

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Can’t Stop This Gun From Crying

bridge

It had been welcomed by the scientific community as a life saver, as the next step in metal technology and a new generation of those shining babies was about to be unleashed on the world.

The team that had developed the idea at Los Alma had received the Nobel Prize that year and were ready to be courted by every large manufacturing company.

They had no need to worry where their next research dollar was coming from, indeed none of the team had any need to work for the rest of their lives. The principal was simple although the actual practical solution had taken decades of research: A material that repaired itself. You see it wasn’t so terrible when you put it down on a piece of paper like that. It seemed so innocent, beneficial almost.

The plan was that one day, aircraft while in flight could self-medicate, a nut or a bolt here would be re-grown and replaced. However that was still some way off and the actual exposure of the general public to SeRep (Self Repair), as it was christened, was minimal.

It was planned that cars too would have the ability to repair themselves – although there had been several showdowns at government level between the makers of the materials and the car manufacturers. The way things were looking, it meant that after you purchased a new car, and with a good headwind, it could last you a lifetime (and the rest).

As you can imagine, the automobile industry was readying for a fight – big time. The first public structure to be made of SeRep was a bridge in Illinois, chosen by some wise guy at Los Alma who had stuck a pin in a map of the Ohio river.

A Bridge had been selected as a structure that could suffer wear and tear, be exposed to public use and certainly be enhanced safety-wise by the use of the new material.The Tamaroa bridge was the one chosen and it crossed the Ohio at the southernmost tip of Illinois.

As with all great ideas there were teething problems. The material, for instance, had to be guarded because of theft. The ‘bridgits’ as they became known would hack off a piece of SeRep meaning the bridge would have to repair and replace and then they’d sell it (or at least try to) on the ‘Net.

Sometimes the material that had been stolen was so large that the bridge displayed a permanent scar. Just like human skin.

At night when there was less traffic going over the bridge (that’s not to say it was totally quiet as people came from all over to see the wonder – day and night), but at night when the bridge was repairing itself it sounded like a muffled cry and this caused the bridge to be nicknamed the Bridge of Sighs. It almost sounded like a child in pain.

There had been the odd accident, the biggest of which was the General Custer, a tourist boat hired by some big corporation, packed with sweaty, drunk sales persons on a free trip to see the Bridge.

At the inquiry it had been shown that the Captain had been more than a little drunk and had almost destroyed the bridge supports on the Illinois bank. The damage was so severe that the SeRep guys decided to give the bridge a helping hand and assisted in the repairs.

Yet anytime the bridge was left alone it would still continue to do the work it had been created for and it could always be heard to sigh.

Janus Jones was a mid western boy straight out of college and about to set off for the Florida panhandle in a car his Pappy had bought him. The present was not for finishing school but for staying out of jail unlike Kevin, his older brother. Janus could have flown pretty cheaply but he wanted to follow the Mississippi all the way south and then cut across to Tallahassee.

So it was a surprise when he found Kevin loading a bag into his new car on the morning of his trip.

“Coming with you Bro’. No arguments, I got nothing from Paw but aggravation and you get this brand spanking new car – so the least you can do is take me as far a New Orleans.”

Then Kevin jumped in the car. And so the two Jones brothers (you’d have sworn they’d had different fathers) set off on a trip that would shake their worlds forever. At the trial Kevin, although missing most of his left arm, was still able to act as a credible witness. The way he told things it was as if the brothers had been the innocent victims. That wasn’t totally true.

Just before the incident Kevin had driven for several hours south which had let Janus sleep, although with Kevin at the wheel Janus tended not to sleep too soundly. They’d stopped at the very last bar in Illinois going south to allow Kevin a few beers, Janus drank cola and several of the witnesses had told the court that Kevin had forced Janus to stay, and that Kevin had drank too many beers. That was just Kevin.

As they left the car lot, instead of Janus driving, Kevin jumped into the driver’s seat and was beginning to move off. Janus had no choice but to jump in over the rear of the car. Chances are Kevin would have left him for cold, just standing there and let him make his own way home – Kevin had done it before.

“Where you at?”

Kevin ignored Janus and continued down the narrow road.

“This ain’t the way.”

“Tis, if you’re going to the Tamaroa. I wanna see the magic bridge.”

The traffic started slowing about a mile from the bridge as there was a queue of cars taking their time crossing. At one point, due to the weight of cars on the bridge and regardless of its properties, the cops had stopped the cars coming north, to allow the south bound queue to clear.

As Kevin approached the bridge he swerved over to the left hand lane and drove down the wrong side. Some of the cops started giving chase on foot but Kevin put his foot on the accelerator and then started hollering and whooping.

“Yee-haa, little bro’, yee-haa. Let’s just see how good this thing is at rebuilding.”

Kevin drove the car so close to the edge that sparks flew from the girders. Janus’ new car was badly damaged down that side. Not satisfied with this, Kevin started to run the car into the supports causing them to buckle and bend.

It was just as Kevin was ready to inflict a fatal blow on the bridge that the road beneath them opened up and Janus, Kevin and the car plummeted to the river below.

The cars behind, seeing what had just happened, had managed to swerve around the hole. Kevin swam to shore leaving Janus to sink with his new car. The older boy was way too drunk to try any heroics and was probably lucky just to save himself.

Janus’ father grieved for his good son and wasn’t going to let something like the Bridge of Sighs or its owners or the Los Alma scientists get away with their responsibilities and so he took them all to court.

I guess it would be more accurate to say he put the bridge on trial. Janus’ father claimed that the bridge had opened up the road to dump the car in the river in order to protect itself.

The newspapers had a field day – ‘The Bridge that kills’ .

What the father attempted to prove in court was that the bridge, or at least the material, was self-aware and that it had made a positive decision to break a hole in the road in order to rid itself of an irritant.

Of course the court over-ruled the claim and declared the accident as death by misadventure. Whatever was fully known was never put in the public domain, the bridge manufacturers were ordered to dismantle the structure and the material SeRep was banned from use in any public construction.

It wasn’t the end of SeRep however, the armies of NATO built tanks and weapons from the material. They’re using them at this very moment in the wars out east.

I hear tell that the soldiers talk of the weapons that cry in the night.

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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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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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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The Look of Strangers

strangers2     strangers3

There are those amongst us who slip into to this life like a well-worn glove, who very rarely question its strangeness and in most circumstances prefer to take everything that it offers.

Then there are people like me, Michael Andrews, sometime author, sometimes happy but mostly otherwise confused. There are days when I intentionally tell myself I’m stupid so as not to think too much, so as not to over analyse too much. But on other days…well on those other days I look around and scare myself with what I see. All of us sharing a little rock in space without rhyme nor reason, perhaps that is part of what makes me an author or maybe I’m just going plain mad.

There can only be two answers to this universe; either there is a God in control of everything or there is no one in control and now that I’ve had that thought I don’t want to get out of bed – ever.

Perhaps I’ll just hang on to my mattress and hope that Gravity does its job and keeps me in place.

So on the days I have to go into the city to see some colleague or other, I look at the faces on the subway or on the buses or on the trains or in all those faces of people walking. I look for some recognition that I am not alone in this belief, the belief that this existence really is only for the stupid and that the rest of us are terrified out of our minds the whole time.

And then there is always that nagging feeling which has been around since I was a kid – a feeling that I might have forgotten something important, something that when I remember it will make sense of all of this.

Then I see those faces in the city, those faces looking back at me and I rub my own face looking for marks, or bleeding from my nose or words written on my forehead that say ‘stare at this man’ – but there’s nothing on my face, it’s just the look of strangers.

Maybe they are also looking at me for some recognition that I am going through the same hell as them, but I have that well disguised expression of the stupid and they find no comfort in my face.

But I now know what it is and the truth is even more terrifying than my fevered imagination could have ever created.

I am going to tell you all this as a warning, to tell you to take care. I will tell you what I know and then let you decide.

Last Saturday morning the sun was bleaching the streets of the city and so I decided to take a walk from the central station up to the bohemian part of town.

I passed by the government buildings, the Royal palaces, the squares and avenues that were full of tourists. I walked under trees and arches and I walked around bistros, street cafes, theatres, cinemas and all of them full of strangers, some of whom caught my eye and other who walked on.

Then as I passed a glass shelter at a bus terminal a strange thing happened, I could see in the reflection that many of those who were behind me or had walked passed me were now looking in my direction.

But when I turned around no one was looking. No one was staring and everyone was going about their business. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying it’s the start of the decline, the start of the long journey into the dark. Soon names will be a thing of the past and I will be left in a corner with vacant eyes.

Perhaps I was thinking something similar myself until it happened again.

I had a pair of sunglasses, the type that allows you to see behind oneself, maybe made for this very exercise and there they were again, people looking at me behind my back and when I turned once again – nothing.

Paranoid? – Perhaps.

I took my phone, the one with the video recorder, and began to keep it in the palm of my hand, always filming behind me. At the Gin Joint Cafe I had a coffee and excitedly started to watch the film.

There they were – people who showed no interest in me apart from a look while passing – who, when they were behind me, would stop, look at me and apparently discuss among themselves some detail or another. People who were apparently strangers were talking about me.

Insane? – You would think.

I did what any insane person would do, I turned quickly and started to follow them through the streets and the arches and the squares until several of them disappeared into a doorway, one that slammed shut in my face. I waited on them but no one came out.

I waited and waited and still nothing.

I walked with my head down back to the railway station until in a shop window I saw more of them, a new crowd watching me.

I am ill, I must be.

I let it be. I went about my life ignoring the look of strangers. Some still walked by me and watched my face as if they were drinking in every last detail.

I just assumed I was wrong.

Then one night in the Gin Joint Cafe I drank more than I should have. I sat at the bar like the old soak of a writer I was. It had just gone eleven o’clock when the girl sat next to me.

“You’re Michael Andrews, the writer?”

“What do you want? An autograph or maybe you want to buy me a drink?”

“I just wanted to shake your hand” she said “we are not supposed to do this. It’s against everything.”

“What is?” I asked, slipping back another short.

“Well talking to you, the greatest writer since Shakespeare.”

“I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”

“No I haven’t, Michael Steven Andrews, born 1963, died 20… wait I’m not supposed to let you know that.”

“You know when I am going to die?” I asked.

“You died years before I was born” she said.

“We come back to visit all the great ones, you and Shakespeare are the most popular.”

“Come back from where?”

“The future, your future, I mean you have already found out that Einstein was wrong and things can travel faster than light. It won’t be long until you start sending objects back in time.”

I was about to ask what asylum she had escaped from when she disappeared.

So now you know what I know. When you get that look from a stranger then perhaps they are more than just inquisitive. Perhaps they are one of your own descendants or a student or a time tourist.

Who or whatever they are, just do what I do and keep on walking.

It’s safer that way.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Cycling To Shoreham 1901

cycle

Whenever Tommy was excited or stressed, which to be honest was most days, he’d put the word ‘chuffing’ in front of everything. For instance, today was going to be a blooming chuffing day with loads of chuffing hills to cycle up and when we got to the ballyhoo top well we’d chuffing have a pick nick.

You see what I mean?

Tommy was a good egg, a decent sort who would lift a finger to help anyone, a talented tennis player, cyclist and a very good footballer. On the other side, he was a frightful drunk, which thank goodness had only been that once, he was extremely competitive – he would bet you a farthing on who would blink first and he was useless with money. Apart from that he was the kind of gent you would be proud to call a friend.

So come Saturday morning, Tommy and I would be on our chuffing bicycles, out of the chuffing city and heading for the chuffing countryside (I promise to limit the use of chuffing in future) and this Saturday was no exception.

Tommy knocked at my door at 5.30 (in the morning may I say – I didn’t even know there was a 5.30 in the morning, if truth be told) “Get up, you chuffing wastrel” was the morning cry of the Tommesara Smitheratist bird and it tended to waken everyone else up as well.

“Will you please tell that very stupid friend of yours that it is far too early in the morning for his buffoonery” said my rather grumpy father without opening his eyes (apparently it helped him get back to sleep quicker). Like Tommy, my father tended to hook in a word and then beat it to death with its overuse. ‘Buffoon’ and ‘buffoonery’ were both in the process of getting six shades of purple knocked out of them. Luckily he hadn’t heard Tommy’s current obsession or that would have resulted in me having to leave home and declaring myself an orphan.

“Apologies Holmes but we have the whole of the south-east to explore and time is chuffing moving on.”

Every since he’d read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I had received that name. It was better just to smile and accept my fate because he might come up with something far, far worse. On our cycling trips Tommy wanted to be known as Moriarty because he said the name felt good on his tongue. I know what you’re thinking, Tommy wasn’t the most intelligent of my friends.

By six o’clock in the morning we were happily cycling over the Thames and heading down the Old Kent road where the world was waiting to entertain Holmes and Moriarty.

“First stop, chuffing breakers” said my pal.

For those that don’t speak Tommyese, that meant breakfast must be had with all haste.

Toast, crumpets and coffee were the order of the day at Mrs O’Reilly’s tea room in Lewisham, a bargain at one shilling. Mrs O’Reilly had long since departed this life and gone to the big tea room in the sky. The place was actually run by a man with the name of Derek.

“’Mrs O’Reilly’s’ sounds that bit more romantic” said a very tattooed Derek. “People knows what to expect, with that name, but Derek’s Cafe, well it just don’t sound right, do it?”

Both I and Tommy left the premises agreeing that Derek was correct in what he had said but that we should avoid the place in future as Derek seemed to be two seagulls short of an aviary.

Although it had been five months, Tommy still insisted that he wear a black band on his right arm as a mark of respect for the old Queen. I told him that this was a new and exciting time, that this was a new century , this was 1901, after all, and goodness knows what the next hundred years would bring.

Tommy felt that the new century could chuffing well wait until his mourning was chuffing done. I know I promised to keep the use of ‘chuffing’ to a minimum but it seems impossible when in the company of Tommy Smithers, I will try harder – I promise.

Just as we left Bromley, Tommy declared that the countryside had properly started and although I tried very hard to see it, I was at a loss to notice the difference. Still Tommy knows what he’s talking about or so he tells me.

After a mile or so I hinted that perhaps an ale might be the order of the day. Tommy stopped so fast that I almost ran into the back of him.

“I have a plan” he said (actually he said ‘a chuffing plan’ but I thought I would spare you that nonsense).

“And your plan is what, Tommy?” that was my contribution to the discussion.

“I know of a little village in the Darenth Valley where the ale is like nectar.” Tommy was tasting the ale in his mind’s eye.

“Why haven’t you told me of this place before?” I ask.

“Because my dear friend, it is not a place for the unwary.”

“Why is that Tommy?” I ask.

“Because my fine fellow, it is a hot bed of liberalism and creativity. People have really let things slide in this village. There are some women who are so close to looking like men, that one might wish them ‘a good morning sir’ without realising.”

“Well I never.” I declared.

“Worse still..” Tommy looks around before whispering “..there are men in this village who do not like the company of women. There I’ve said the chuffing thing. It’s too late but it’s out in the big world for all to know.”

“Don’t like the company of women?” I think I may have look perplexed.

“Really, you know what I mean, stop being a chuffing idiot. They don’t like women.”

So I had to have my say and I mentioned “I don’t know any men who don’t like women apart from Father who hasn’t spoken to Mother since she tried to fry the porridge. That must be eleven years ago, now.”

“Your mother tried to fry porridge?” says Tommy.

“She did, and Father said that any woman who was stupid enough to try to fry porridge shouldn’t expect any conversation to be thrown her way in future and that was that. He never said a bally word to her again. He said she was an imbecile, a harsh word I grant you, but I think that was his word of the week at that particular time.”

I expected Tommy to be impressed with this story but instead he said that I should stop talking chuffing rot and stop acting like an imbecile.

That is why, by the time we got to the little village, Tommy had dropped the word ‘chuffing’ in favour of the word ‘imbecile’. Why hadn’t I said that my father had called my mother ‘lovable’ or had given her money to shut her up? Maybe then Tommy would have done the same.

“Hey, ho, oft we go” shouted Tommy, adding “you imbecile.”

I do rather make things difficult for myself when I don’t bally mean to.

The village clock was striking one o’clock as we freewheeled our way down the hill into the centre of this dastardly liberal little village. I had to be honest with Tommy and tell him that I thought the people looked jolly normal.

“Nonsense, you imbecile” was his reply.

We parked up outside a delightful little public house called The Crown. The door was at an angle to the building and led into a small bar for gentlemen.

“Just in case this pub is over run by liberals let me do the talking” said reliable Tommy, “just to be on the safe side.”

Now to me, the person serving behind the bar was clearly a man but Tommy insisted on calling him ‘Mam’ then winking to me in a very obvious manner followed by him touching the side of his nose with his finger.

“I didn’t want to drink in the place anyway” said a rather surprised Tommy, “the establishment looked totally unsavoury. We are well shot of it.”At least the barman only asked me to leave whereas he caught Tommy by the collar and threw him out of the door.

Tommy said that he was right about the place all along, it was a den of liberal-minded imbeciles and he would be writing to his Member of Parliament just as soon as he returned from the country.

We tried to gain access at the next pub, the Two Brewers but apparently Tommy had been there before and was no longer welcome. I didn’t realise that you could use so many cursing words in one sentence but the manager of The Two Brewers must have broken a record.

“Another den of imbeciles?” I asked.

“Just so.”

That is why we came to be sitting outside the Kings Arms drinking two of the most wonderful glasses of ale. Apparently this was not a den of imbeciles and the prices were exceedingly fair.

Having slaked our thirst we mounted our trusted bicycles and headed towards the large town which sat at the top of the hill, above the village.

About one-third of the way up the hill, Tommy suggested that we dismount and push our bicycles up the rest of the way. Apparently it didn’t do the bicycles much good to be treated to a hill in the manner we were riding them. To be honest I thought maybe Tommy found the hill a little too steep but in fear of being called an imbecile, I refrained.

The climb was worth the effort and the view over the North Downs was spell binding.

Why people steal bicycles is beyond me, and two of them at the same time. You have to ask yourself – was the thief a member of some circus troupe? However the dastardly deed was done and it meant that cycling back to London was now out of the question. A train was called for and a train it would be.

Tommy suggested that we travel back by First Class and that I should foot the bill seeing as I was the last one to see the bally bicycles. I actually think the last time I saw them, I said “Tommy, do you think the bicycles are safe by that public house? ” Whereupon Tommy called me an imbecile and told me in no uncertain terms that if I was worried about people stealing our property, well that sort of thing just didn’t happen in the countryside. Then he said “Grow up man.” The next time I looked the bicycles were gone.

In the railway carriage, on the way back to the city, a rather plump man and his rather plump wife were playing cards. The husband seemed to have won a round as he let out the most frightening cry of ‘Ballyhoo’.

I could see the glimmer in Tommy’s eyes as he tried the word ‘Ballyhoo’ out on his tongue.

The word was not found wanting.

Unfortunately.

 

bobby stevenson 1901 and 2016

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The Ballad Of The Quiet Man

man-on-bench

He said nothing, not a word ever passed his lips,
He just sat in the peace and quiet with a Mona Lisa smile,
One cold day the Angry People passed his way
All shouting about this and that and the other
They stopped and asked the quiet man if he was angry too
He said not a word and the Angry People liked that
“This man is so angry about this and that and the other, he is seething with rage”.
They shook his hand and on they went.

Then one summer’s evening the sad folks were passing by
They looked at the quiet man and then sat beside him
“This man is mourning, this man says nothing but the sadness shows upon his face”.
They wept beside the quiet man then walked on down the road

On an afternoon like any other, a stupid man was walking through as he was lost. He asked the quiet man the way to town and when he didn’t reply
The stupid man smiled and said, “I see you are as stupid as I am. ‘Tis better to say nothing and not look the fool.”
The stupid man wished his stupid brother well and continued to be lost.

Just before the start of autumn, some happy people were running and jumping and came to rest next to the quiet man
“Look here,” one shouted .”This man is so happy that he smiles in his contentment.”
And the people all cheered and carried him shoulder-high down the lane towards the town.
This happened to the quiet man more than he would have liked and once again he had to walk all the way back home.



bobby stevenson 2017

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Skiing In Central Park

guggen

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

trumpet2

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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Amazing Grace

old-woman

It’s funny how no one talks about Amazing Grace anymore. I guess she’s been gone a long time. I guess if you didn’t forget about people then we’d still be talking about folks who lived in caves. They say you die twice, once when your heart stops and the second time when the last person mentions your name.

That happens to everyone, I guess, even William Shakespeare will be forgotten one day.

But Amazing Grace, or just Grace as she was known back in the days when they were still dropping bombs on my Grandma’s house – she was the kindest lady I ever did meet. When things got you down or didn’t make much sense, Grace would just sit you down with a glass of lemonade and straighten out all those things that were knotted or wrinkled in your head and just as quick things would make sense again.

My Granddaddy passed away when I was ten years old and one night I was sitting on the back porch looking up at the sky to see if I could see as far as heaven. I was eating a carrot because my Ma said that they were good for your eyes and if you ate enough then I reckoned I could see as far as Heaven (although I’m not too sure how far it is away). My Granddaddy always said nothing was worth travelling for, if it was more than two days drive away. So I’m guessing Heaven is only two days by car (assuming you can drive a car in the sky, that is). Anyway, in between munching my carrot and staring at the sky, Amazing Grace came and sat beside me – she had a way of making you feel better by just by being there.

“What cha doing?” She asked.

“Just staring,” I said (as if it wasn’t obvious).

“At what?”

“At Heaven.”

“Can you see it?”

“Sure can,” I said not quite telling the truth.

“Are you trying to see someone in par-tic-cu-lar?”

“Yep, my granddaddy.”

Then Amazing Grace tells me that he was a good man. I told her that I knew that already but I was missing him.

I asked her why people died and she just looked at me in that Amazing Grace way that she had.

“You’re hurting – right?” Asked Grace.

I nodded ‘cause she was on the button with that.She told me life was just like a big bus where we all get on at different stops and off at different stops. And in between we talk and love and argue and smile and fight and talk some more.

“Now you’re sad ‘cause your Granddaddy got off at a different stop from you?”

Again I nodded my head.

“And it hurts?”

I nodded, once more.

“And if you didn’t feel sad or even happy at some time in your life, then you’d never know how the other folks on the bus were feeling. We hurt so that we can help others – that way we know how they’re feeling and we also hurt because we have to say goodbye at times. It’s no one’s fault. It’s the rules of the bus and we have to live by them.”

She looked at me with those big Amazing Grace eyes.

“So you see, we hurt and cry and laugh and smile because it’s the only way we can know what’s going on in another’s heart. That’s what makes us all one. Some are happy on a par-tic-cu-lar day and some are sad on the same day and those who are happy have already been sad and know how it feels. So they help the sad ones to be happy again. If we didn’t feel things how could we understand anyone else?”

Then she stood.

“I’ll leave you with those thoughts, precious.”

And she gently moved on down the street.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

painting ‘Old Woman With Toad’ by Judy Somerville.

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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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The Proof of God

formHe could do nothing but stare at the paper. Then he re-checked it and checked it again. He was trembling. I mean really shaking. The way you dreamed of something really good happening and then it does, and it never feels real.

He had woken with the numbers in his head – not that he remembered going to sleep with a problem that needed solving. They were just there in the morning like a mathematical hard-on.

He’d need to talk to one of the guys up at the library, they’d know if he had just dreamed up some nonsense or if these numbers – he wanted to call them the Greenock Sequence after the place he had been born – were the real thing.

Try as he might, he couldn’t find fault with any of it. But the most important thing was what the sequence meant, to him, to everyone, to the world.

He’d only been trying to solve one of the oldest mathematical quandaries when he’d tripped over this sequence. Perhaps it was meant, the next stage in evolution, the next stage in man’s development. Hey, he was getting a bit ahead of himself. Time to stop shaking, calm down and take stock of what he thought he had on this piece of paper.

If he was correct (and he was starting to think that he was), then the Greenock Sequence proved without a shadow of doubt that God had to exist to make the universe work. It explained much about dark energy and dark matter, it explained the whole show. It explained this thing called life and he’d accidentally found it while looking for something else.

What do you do with something as explosive as these numbers? God existed, there was no doubt about that, so what next?

Had he been chosen? What if he was wrong and he was so desperate to be known for something that he was getting it all wrong? He re-wrote the numbers and the sequence. There wasn’t a doubt, the sequence was correct – God Existed.

Perhaps it would stop wars, stop people doubting. He scored through the word ‘Greenock’ and put in the word ‘God’ – seemed fitting somehow. I mean it was his/her numbers after all. ‘The God Sequence’.

He decided to sleep on it one more night and then he’d take the numbers to someone. The funny thing was, he prayed that night. Since there wasn’t any doubt about the existence, why not have a chat with the deity? For the first time in years he got down on his knees.

“I just wanted to say thanks for this. I mean, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I just wanted to know what I should do next. Amen.”

He felt that had said it all and went to sleep with a lighter heart.

In the morning, which was a glorious one, he had breakfast, got dressed in his best suit and headed off to the local church. He smiled and thought, God knows how to put on a morning. He whistled all the way to the car.

He stopped the car outside the nearest church, got out and knocked the door. A foreign looking woman told him that the Holy Father was out back.The priest was out in his garden tending to his roses and as he stood there watching the man of God, he didn’t know whether to shout, hug the man or just cough to let the priest know he was there. He chose the latter.

“Oh there you are, would you like a cup of tea?” Said the elderly priest, who then handed some of his cuttings to him.

“Throw them on the fire, there’s a good man. Now is it a death or a birth? Lovely day for either,” laughed the old man.

He cleared his throat then said. “It’s about God. I can prove he exists.”

“Well would you credit that now,” said the priest, and he thought the priest was referring to his revelation, but the old man was looking at the roots of his roses and noticing he had a rot problem.

“Sorry what did you say?”

“I said, I can prove that God exists.”

“Of course He exists, so why would you want to prove something that’s staring you right in the face. Never heard such daft talk.”

“You don’t understand, I can actually prove with a sequence of numbers that God needs to exist to make the universe work.”

The priest was getting a little red in the face. “I don’t mean to be unkind, but aren’t you just stating the bleeding obvious?”

“No, I’m proving to you that God exists.”

“Why would I need proof?” Asked the old man. “After all, I talk to the Big Man, every day. Are you saying, I’m some sort of eejit?

Because if you are, you can leave my garden right this minute and good day to you young man.”

“What I’m saying is that I can help the non-believers, the atheists, the agnostics to see that there is a deity.”

The old man just smiled. “Don’t you see? If we could prove that God exists there would be no need for faith, and if there was no need for faith, there would be no need for the Church. And if there was no need for the Church, I would be out of a job. So be very careful with what you’ve got there. It could harm a lot of people.”

The old man looked at him and said: “Have you got the proof with you?”

He nodded and took the paper from his pocket.

“Am I the only one you’ve shown it to?”

Again, he nodded.

“Let me see it, this blasted thing.”

He handed the paper to the priest who tut-ted and said things like ‘would you look at that now’.

The old priest lifted his eyes, looked at him, and then the priest smiled, throwing the paper on to the garden fire.

“Trust me, you’d better off forgetting all about this nonsense. The world will be a better place with doubt as its driving force.”

He knew he could re-create the numbers again, that wasn’t a problem. He just hadn’t been ready for the way the priest had re-acted. Surely he wasn’t typical of the church?

He said a subdued goodbye and as he walked out of the garden, he decided he’d contact the national newspapers and see what they would do with the information. I mean, what trouble could it cause?

bobby stevenson 2017

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The Sad Valley – 1966 (Wembley to Aberfan)

london

Tommy was tired of waiting for his life to start.

He had given it more than enough chances in his nineteen short years, thank you very much, and still there was nothing to get excited about. So Tommy thought he might as well begin his life without any help from anyone.

His current dream was to watch the World Cup football final at Wembley and if something was going to happen, it was going to happen there. After all that was London, it was 1966 and it was most certainly the place to be.

Tommy had made a list of some of the people he would probably meet: Julie Christie, Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton and Terence Stamp for starters. He’d seen all of them in newspapers and all of them seemed to like walking down King’s Road, Chelsea on a Saturday.

There was just the small matter of earning enough money to get him south and the small matter of keeping a roof over his head when he got there.

After his Grandfather had passed away, Tommy was given the choice of any piece in the old house. He settled on a small, beautifully carved, wooden box that once held his Grandfather’s pipe tobacco and a watercolour of the hills above the village, painted in his Grandfather’s own hand. These would be the two possession he would take with him to start his life.

To raise the cash, Tommy worked on Sid’s farm from sun-up until dusk, then at Bella’s cafe until nine at night, followed by the Climber’s bar until one in the morning. When he had finished, he would deposit all of his day’s earning in the beautifully carved tobacco box and collapse onto the bed. By the morning, he was like a new man and would be itching to start all over again.

The day he left, was just like any other one, he awoke with the sun rise and decided to slip away before the rest of the family rose. It was easier that way. He lifted his rucksack and prepared to walk the twelve miles to the railway station.

The weather was kind and he arrived with plenty of time to spare. Tommy decided to spend a couple of his hard-earned pennies on a cup of tea but anything as frivolous as a cake was not to be entertained.  He reached into his sack and discovered that his mother had packed several sandwiches in a brown bag. He smiled to himself. They were his favourites – all filled with cheese and onion, and as he lifted one out to take with his cup of tea, a note fell from the brown paper bag.

It said “You can’t start a life on an empty stomach. Love Mum”

There were enough sandwiches to feed a small army and would easily keep Tommy satisfied on the journey south. He couldn’t remember mentioning he was going to start his life to his Mum but that was mothers for you. They knew everything, sometimes before you even knew them yourself.

The journey was perfect as he sat eating his sandwiches and watching the well-remembered hills getting swallowed by the distance.

The train whisked through towns with black smoke and cities with grey people but the nearer he got to London, the more excited he became. He knew he was going to start a life and that made him happier than anything else he could imagine, even more than the inflatable Yogi Bear he had received on his fifth birthday.

When he opened the train door he could actually smell London and it spoke of streets of dreams, and hopes and people who would become his friends. He felt as if he already belonged, and although there was no one there to meet him, it seemed as if everyone was there to meet everyone else. What a place to start a life and what a place to call home.

He spent the first night in a small hotel near Victoria station. It was run by an old woman, of maybe forty years of age, according to Tommy. She insisted that he call her ‘Twiggy’. He’d never seen such an old woman wear such a small revealing dress.

“We calls it a mini skirt in these parts, young man”

Tommy thought it was a very fitting name for such a short skirt. He mentioned to the old woman that he was in London to get his life started and all Twiggy would say was “Fancy that”.

At Breakfast, Twiggy was wearing an even shorter skirt than the night before and there were several business men in the lounge who kept dropping knives and forks so that Twiggy would bend over.

Tommy asked some of the men if they knew where he could get a ticket for the final of the World Cup. All of them, without exception, started laughing. “Oh, that’s a good one”, “That’ll keep me chuckling all day. Thanks lad”, “Aye, thanks”.

The door closed behind him as Tommy stepped into the London street still hearing  the laughter from the Breakfast room. What was so funny about what he had asked?

There was now two days until the Final; surely someone was willing to sell him a ticket? To be honest he didn’t really know where Wembley Stadium was. “Somewhere in the north of the city, or the west” was how his brother had described it. So Tommy started walking. He felt it was best to avoid buses and The Underground until he knew London better.

Within an hour, he’d arrived at Camden Lock and this place was alive with music and flags and laughter. It appeared to be the centre of the world for celebrating England qualifying for the Final. There were parties in windows above him, people on roofs dancing. A conga line made up of a dozen or so very happy people came out of a bar, slithered its way across the road and into a bar opposite. All these people, thought Tommy, had already started their lives and this made him grow even more excited to start his.

As he neared Kentish Town, he noticed a small cafe on his left. The place smelt of coffee, looked as if it was in Morocco and had the mellow sounds of jazz drifting out through the door. This was heaven.

kings

When the waitress served him his coffee, he thought he had been given the wrong cup, “Excuse me, but I think someone may have already drunk from this”

There was only the smallest amount of coffee at the bottom of a very tiny cup. The waitress smiled and moved on. Tommy noticed people piling sugar on top of the coffee and so he did the same. He shouldn’t have swallowed all the contents at once; he realised that the moment he went dizzy,

“You okay man? Like, are you cool?”

The question came from Herbert, who spoke with an American accent but really came from the east end of London.

“Here, try one of these” said Herbert “Just call me Herbie, all my friends do” and he handed Tommy a French cigarette.

“I don’t smoke” said Tommy. “This ain’t smoking, this is living” said an agreeable Herbie. So if it meant his life would start sooner rather than later, Tommy decided to smoke a cigarette.

Before he knew it, Tommy was lying on the floor – apparently in a room above the cafe.

“We carried you up after you passed out” said the ever-present Herbie. “I guess the cigarette was too much man and maybe the coffee, man. You got to take that coffee wisely, man. It can floor a buffalo”

Tommy wasn’t sure if his life had now officially started, or he had just pulled into the side of the road to let the rest of the traffic go past.

“Where’s my bags?”

“What bags?”

“I didn’t see no bags, man. Too many people carrying too many bags in this life”

Tommy shot woozily out of the room and down a very narrow staircase before slipping the last few steps into the bar and crashing on to the floor.

He could hear a girl in the corner say “That’s the second time that man has landed on the floor, what do they put in the coffee here?”

By the time Tommy got back up to the room, Herbie was dancing naked on the kitchen table to Highway 61 Revisited. Tommy’s bags had been stolen along with his money and his chance of ever seeing the World Cup final at Wembley.

66

Naked Herbie asked Tommy “What World Cup Final, man?”

So Tommy and Herbie became the best of pals. Tommy stayed in Herbie’s room but kept his clothes on at all times, unlike a lot of Herbie’s other friends; Herbie’s room seemed to be the place to get naked in Camden.

England won the World Cup and that made Tommy happy. Herbie gave Tommy some of his shifts in the Cafe downstairs which let Tommy start to save some money again.

One evening in October, after Tommy had just finished working twelve hours in the cafe, he heard a sobbing from the room, when he entered there was Herbie crying his heart out.

Tommy put his arms around Herbie and held him. Maybe it was one of his family that had died but Tommy had never heard Herbie this upset before, even the day he’d cooked the breakfast naked.

“It’s this, man” and he showed Tommy the newspaper. “All those beautiful children”

aberfan_1_sm

In Aberfan in Wales, a mountain of coal mining waste had slipped in the heavy rain and covered a primary school.“We got to go man. You and me, we got to help those people. Those children” and Tommy sat beside Herbie and they both sobbed into each other’s arms.

Tommy had saved enough money to get him and Herbie as far as Merthyr Tydfil and then they would have to walk the rest. It was dark by the time they reached the village, but there were lights everywhere, all the way up the mountainside. No matter how tired they felt they got to work right away, digging the slurry that covered the school and the little ones.

Sometimes you give up on the world, believing that everything is greed and bad but now and again you can see the best of people even in the worst of situations.

At least several hundred children, teachers and parents were missing. The slurry had slipped across the school and into the houses opposite. Tommy was digging between the houses and the school and as he looked up he saw Herbie carrying a child with a cover over the body. Herbie looked at Tommy and his eyes spoke of a million things he had seen that evening.

Important people came and went; The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prime Minster but Tommy and Herbie never once wavered from the digging. A couple of times Herbie fell asleep but Tommy would notice and waken him up again.

aberfan

This is not to say that the boys were heroes, everyone was a hero that weekend. Everyone pushed themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of, to release the little bodies. Herbie was told to take a break and he reluctantly did so. He went over to Tommy and shared a French cigarette and Tommy smoked it with him.

“I don’t think I can cry anymore” said Herbie.

A bearded man stopped and asked if he could possibly have a cigarette and Herbie invited him to sit. The man told them that his child had been ill that day and had stayed at home with his wife. His other child had gone to school and he had survived but the slurry had taken his home with his two darlings.

“How does that happen?” he asked them, how indeed.

It had been a long time since any child, or anyone for that matter, had been brought out alive and although Herbie and Tommy believed they could hear shouts for help, it was only the tiredness calling.

By the following morning 120 bodies had been recovered but many loved ones were still waiting to be found and brought home.

There are times in your life when you know that something you have taken part in or witnessed will change your soul. Tommy knew it. It didn’t make him bitter, it just made him realise that we are each other’s keepers and we are all in this together. Good and bad times.

On the Monday morning Herbie, dirty and exhausted, felt it was time they returned to the cafe.

“Who’s gonna make the coffee, man, eh?”

Tommy tiredly agreed and they started off hitch-hiking back towards Merthyr.

There were so many cars, ambulances and trucks transporting everything back and forth that getting a lift wasn’t so easy.  Tommy decided the best thing to do was split up and meet back at the railway station.

“I’ll have a Frenchie cigarette waiting on you man” was the last he heard of Herbie.

Tommy sat at the station for several hours before he felt that something was wrong. He tried the Merthyr Tydfil police station to see if maybe Herbie had hitched naked and been arrested. It was just a thought to cheer himself up. The policeman informed him that they were too busy and that all missing reports were being centralised in Cardiff. He would be better going there.

It was Tuesday before he found Herbie’s body lying in the morgue. It seemed one of the trucks taking slurry from the school hadn’t seen him in the lashing rain. He had been hit and died instantly.

Tommy got back to the room above the cafe on the Thursday and only then did he weep. He wept for the children and for the parents and for his friend, Herbie.

And that is when he realised that you don’t ever wait to start your life. It begins the very first day you are born. Tommy was living when he was at home, he was alive when he was in the room above the cafe and he was most certainly living when he was with his best friend Herbie. Tommy had been alive all his life, he just hadn’t realised it.

So Tommy did something he’d never done before, he took off all of his clothes in Herbie’s room and stood naked.

“This is for you, my pal”

And somewhere out there, he was sure he could hear Herbie laughing.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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Captain Kidd and The Greenock Road

ship

He never slept.

Or at least that was the impression he gave and it had served him well throughout his life. He might only have been on this earth seventeen summers but he was brave, respected by his men and ready to face any foe. Everything he did was in the pursuit of treasure and in the search for those great adventures.

He was Billy to his friends, at least the small number whom he trusted, but to his enemies and his crew he was Captain William Kidd; sea dog, pirate, thief and killer.

Now he was resting with his eyes closed and his legs raised on the deck of the Greenock Road. This was his vessel and it carried the name of the town that was etched on his heart – and soon the ship would have a new worthy cargo, a passenger, a man by the name of Archibald Campbell known to world as the Earl of Argyll. The Earl’s family would pay very handsomely, very handsomely indeed to have their own rascal returned in one piece.

BOOM!

There was a shot across the bow of the Greenock Road and then another which hit the stern, knocking Kidd flying back and sending wood splinters into the eyes of those close. He crawled to the edge and tried to look through his eye-piece but there was too much smoke. His first thoughts were of the excise men but then he saw the flag, it was the dogs who normally lay off of Tobermory and their ship, the Black Death.

“We’re trapped Cap’n, there’s them at our stern and that monster over there.” One-eyed Harry always saw the worst of things.

One-eyed was right ‘though, there were only two ways out of this. He couldn’t outrun the larger vessel but maybe, with the luck of the devil, he could find a passage through the monster called Corryvreckan. That would allow them to take shelter in a small cove at the back of the isle of Scarba and let their troubles pass.

Corryvreckan was said to be the largest whirlpool in the known world and everyone could tell you bad stories about the place. With the seas being at a flood tide, he could hear the roar even now and they were at least a half hour’s sail from the eye. The waves spread out like a web and could easily reach up to thirty feet or more. This was going to be a ride that would see them safely home or take every last one of them to hell.

When times were hard, which they always seemed to be these days, Kidd had raided the Black Death on more than one occasion. He’d wait until many of its crew were ashore and then his gang would steal whatever they could. He’d thought about taking the Black Death itself but he didn’t have the men to get it safely away.

It meant that if they caught him it wouldn’t just be death, it would be a long slow agonising one for him and his crew – this made the dangerous transit through Corryvreckan the more attractive option.

Kidd lived by one philosophy and that was, he knew he had the ability to do anything. He did it and he succeeded. If you thought of failure you were half way there as his father, the old minister, used to tell him every day of his early life. So he was going to take his ship through the Corryvreckan at flood tide and he was going to survive.

Those on the Black Death knew these waters just as well as Kidd and perhaps even better, but Kidd was certain that they had not sailed the Corry’ at flood otherwise he would have heard of it – and what would be the point? All you had to do was wait for slack water and pass safely through but there was not enough time for that, so he had to gamble on the fact they wouldn’t follow him.

He sailed the Greenock Road around to the east towards the isle of Jura as this avoided the Pinnacle, a rock-stack that lay just below the surface and one of the reasons for the Corry’s existence.

Looking over the stern, Kidd could see that the Black Death was gaining on him and despite the turbulence in the water the larger ship fired another cannonball which luckily only hit a corner. There wasn’t much damage but old Master Curry, the lookout, was now heading for the bottom of the sea.

“They can’t follow us through here. They will not follow us.” Kidd shouted to the men.

Tweeky Adams shouted back “I don’t think they can hear you Cap’n. Look”

Sure enough they were coming up fast and the waves were growing in size, it looked like neither ship was going to make it. Then one of the sea gods whispered in Kidd’s ear and a smile lit up his face.

“About. Hard about”

“But we might go turtle, Cap’n” cried One-eyed Harry.

“If we go through the Corry’ on this heading we’ll capsize anyway” cried Kidd through the increasing maelstrom and yet he was still smiling – he was loving this. So about turn they did, causing the Greenock Road to sweep out towards Jura. The Black Death however, being a large vessel, shot past with a very surprised crew all staring at that last manoeuvre of Kidd’s.

“How, in all that’s God-given, did he do that?” shouted Hair-lip Hansa who was hanging upside down from the poop deck of the Death. 

That was the final sighting of the Black Death as it disappeared into the whirlpool and into folklore. Songs would be sung and stories would be told of the ghostly figures who haunted the Corryvreckan.

Kidd was just happy but not surprised to have escaped once again.

They waited until slack water to see if there were any survivors but not even a stick of wood  floated to the top, the vessel must have sunk without trace and in doing so taking all hands.

Kidd had a smile to himself then ordered the men to set sail for Saint Agnes’ Bay, a small inlet to the south of Inveraray on Loch Fyne.

They could wait there for the Earl’s ship, the one taking him to Edinburgh by a route around the top of Scotland. This sea trip was safer for the Earl than taking the coach and horses through Glen Douglas and down the Rest-and-be-thankful where bandits lay in wait for any, and all, well-healed traveller. Very few ever made it to Arrochar alive.

Both Kidd and Samson, the blackest of the dogs and the Cap’n and leader of the Tobermory gang had played a waiting game with the Earl. They had both steered well clear of attacking the ship, as each time they did so the military on board would have doubled. So to let the Earl think that he had safe passage was to have the opposite effect. The Earl had fewer men on board each trip, leaving him wide open for that one attack, the one that Kidd planned to carry out today.

Kidd had another Greenock lad working in the kitchens of Inveraray castle who knew by the food he was being asked to prepare, that a voyage by the Earl was imminent. The Greenock Road had to be moving at speed to attack the Earl’s ship so it needed advance warning of the movements.

Kidd and the kitchen boy had rehearsed their moves several times, each time Kidd would let the Earl’s ship pass safely. Kidd has several pigeons on board, some for eating and some had been trained to fly to the castle by the Earl’s staff. They were used to send messages back to Inveraray as the ship sailed around the coast. The kitchen boy had stolen some of them and they had been passed on to Kidd.

When Kidd was sitting in St. Agnes’ Bay he would place a small blue ring around one of the pigeon’s leg then release it. The boy would always watch for pigeons returning, if one had a blue ring, he knew that Kidd was waiting.

When the Earl’s ship, the Queen Margaret, was ready to set sail, the boy would get his father to fire a shot high above the woods of Loch Fyne. It could be heard way over towards St Agnes’ Bay. No one had ever put the shot and the ship’s departure together as nothing ever happened.

This time they were ready, the Greenock Road had a full set of sails and was heading off down Loch Fyne, all the time gathering useful knots. The Queen Margaret rounded the rocky head just as Greenock Road’s one cannon fired on her, then came along side.

It was a quick and clever manoeuvre from Kidd that found the crew of the Margaret completely overwhelmed. The pirates boarded the ship and the Earl was tied and stowed within thirty minutes. The few military men who were on the vessel were either put to the sword or thrown overboard. Normally Kidd did this on the high seas when there was nowhere for them to swim to but the speed and success of this kidnap had pleased him, he was willing to let some of them go.

The plan was to take the Earl to a small island near Rum and hold up there a few days, word would be sent back to the mainland regarding the ransom.

When the crew had taken what they needed from the Queen Margaret it was set ablaze, mainly to let the good folks of Argyll know what had just taken place.

The Earl and Kidd dined together that evening and found each other’s company agreeable. Kidd even mentioned that in another life the two of them might have become friends. They drank to that point several times and to a few more besides.

When the Earl, who insisted that Kidd call him Archibald, finally collapsed at the table, the Captain went above to take in some sea air and think about things.For instance, he knew that someday soon he would spread his young wings and head for a far-flung place like New York City – stolen from the Dutch by the English and most definitely a place he could own, but until then the waters of the West were his hunting ground.

Was that a flicker of light he could see on the Port side? It looked almost like a ship. The sky went dark once more and although he was usually sharp-eyed he felt the brandy had perhaps taken its toll.

But there it was again but this time he could see it wasn’t a ship, it was where they were headed in fact. It was the little village of Cancarn a pirate haven especially as far Captain William Kidd was concerned, they loved him there but now the place was ablaze.

The Captain called for all hands on deck, the sooner they made Cancarn, the sooner they could save what was left of it, that included his woman, Isabel, a bonnie lass of sixteen.

By the time they berthed and headed for shore the sun was already up and they could see that the town was now only a shell, there was smoke rising everywhere.

Cancarn was a ruin.

When they landed One-eyed Harry ran ahead for he too had a woman in port, Rose. She was the sister of Isabel and both sisters lived at the village pub.

There wasn’t much left of the place and in what was once the corner of the bar was Old Jake, now a shrivelled frightened old man.

Kidd had left the Earl back on the ship with most of his crew on the slim chance that this was a trap. Although he was sure that the King’s men could not have heard the news about what had happened at Inveraray and then crossed here so fast. No, this was the work of someone else.

And his question was answered when One-eyed Harry carried Old Jake back.

“He says this were all Samson’s doing with the help of those on the Black Death.

“He’s sure it was the Black Death?”

“Swears his life on it, and they’ve taken the women – all of them – you’ll get them back when he gets the Earl.”

Kidd wasn’t smiling.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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The House by the Sea

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There was love above and below me in that house that stood beside the sea.
On clear days I could spot the horizon and that meant everything to me. It was the tallest of houses and the happiest of homes. It was stuffed full to the rafters with sisters and brothers and my mother and father.

We helped each other and we supported each other. We made each other smile and sometimes we made each other cry. These were the days which were warmed by the sun and seemed to last forever.

In the winter we drank broth and ate stews and hunkered down in the heat of each other’s company, comfortable that the others were there. There were card games, singing, communal cooking and laughter, oh yes, the laughter. There was always someone laughing in that house.When the storms hit the house, it rocked and swayed and the more it rocked and swayed, the more we felt safe. Don’t ask me what I mean by that, just that you had to be there to understand.

My Grandpa had built it for the simple reason that he wanted to prove you could build a house on the sand by the sea. There were those in town who said he was a brick short of a chimney but my Grandpa had always believed in himself and so it had happened. And having been built by such a kind soul and even kinder heart meant that the very building seemed to bleed understanding and tolerance.

When it swayed in the wind it sang to us, the building actually felt as if it was telling you that nothing was going to harm you. We were just to relax and bend with the wind.There was a writing room or rather I used it to write in it, but my brothers and sisters would read, paint, listen to the radio, have heartfelt discussions about the world and all the stars, in it. I learned a lot of things about life in that room and some things I probably shouldn’t have.

I realise now how lucky I was back then, what with all that softness, that gentleness, that amount of caring from my family; all of it given to me by some higher force. Boy was I the lucky one. My father and mother taught us to never ever to take anything for granted. To smell the rain, to feel the flowers, to stand on the roof of the house some days and just scream, scream for your very existence. Sometimes I’d scream for the overwhelming energy that was the world and some times I would scream for all the injustices that we heap on each other (even on ourselves) for there is no crueller person in the world than those things we do to our own minds and hearts. It’s like the man said, if we treated other people the way we treated ourselves, we wouldn’t last long.

So I wrote and wrote about the way things changed and the way that things stayed the same. I wrote about love and hate and war and peace. Those days were the most perfect of my life. But as I’ve written in these pages before, no one ever tells you that you are passing perfection – you only ever see it in the rear view mirror and that’s when you realise that there’s no reverse.

Each morning I could smell the cinnamon wafting its way up the stairs to my room and a few seconds later it was helped along by the smell of the coffee. My mother would be standing at the back porch with the wind coming in off the sea, both hands around her cup of hot brew and deeply breathing in the air.

“Good morning my much-loved and cherished son,” she’d say.
I forgot to mention that my mother came with a warning: she was a crazy as a box of frogs.
“And how has the universe treated you this fine morning?” she’d ask.
“Fine.” I’d say – I was trying real hard to cultivate a mysterious air about me at the time given the fact that I intended to be a writer.

“You don’t say,” then she’d smile, pull her house coat in tight and head back to making the biscuits for breakfast.
Sometimes I would sit with a hand under my chin waiting on the rest of the family to come down, trying to look European (although I wasn’t real sure what that meant). Other times I would sit with Grandpa’s old pipe and stare out to sea as if the meaning of life was somewhere out there to be found. Man, that pipe tasted real bad.

I went through a spell of chewing tobacco but it was short-lived due to the vomiting that accompanied it. Then I got a big hat and I decided that was the look for me.

There was a real hot summer when I would wear the hat from first thing in the morning to last thing at night. I even slept with the hat on, but I guess someone would take it off my head when I was fast asleep – while I was dreaming of the future life that I was going to live in that hat.

To be a writer in the last house on the beach was truly the best thing ever, in the whole world.
Then one morning my father came into breakfast and told everyone to remain calm and not to worry but Grandma had been taken to hospital. She had been my moon and my stars when I was growing up. She was the one who encouraged me to write, who had read Dickens to me and who now would listen to my own stories.

She’d never say if a story was good or bad, but when she said “My ain’t that interesting” I knew it wasn’t one of her favourites.
Her and my Grandpa lived in the best room at the top of the house, the one with the views and the sunshine, although when my Grandma was there, it always seemed to be full of sunshine.

In the evening when I was writing I could hear the dance music coming from their gramophone. Boy they loved to dance. When they were younger they would travel the county taking part in competitions. Their room was full to the roof with trophies.

When my Grandpa started to get sick neither of them talked about the illness, until the day my Grandpa said that perhaps they shouldn’t dance any more.That day my Grandma got sick, I went to the hospital in the afternoon and she was sitting up in bed and smiling. Boy that made me feel a whole lot better.

Everyday after school I went straight to the hospital and read her my latest story. At the weekends, if she felt okay, she would read me some of David Copperfield.

In her final week she asked to be allowed home, I didn’t know that she was finished, I honestly thought she was getting better. About two days before she left us for good and while the nurse was downstairs getting a coffee, she asked me to take her to the roof and bring the wind-up gramophone.

When we got up there, boy it was warm and you could see for miles. I turned the handle on the gramophone and put on her favourite tune and then she asked me to dance. I took her hand and I bowed and then we danced as if she was seventeen again.

bobby stevenson 2015

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The Morning of the Day…..

morning-sunlight

She could feel the sun on her heart, as its rays broke through the window. There was a bird, a blackbird, singing in the old twisted trees. She heard the cyclists from the city, shouting to one another as their bikes sailed past her front door. The aroma of the freshly made coffee had skipped the stairs and had, instead, entered her room through a little opened window. There was a quiet tap as a Bee kept hitting on her glass pane, looking for somewhere new to live.

Then without warning, the heat started to bubble though her veins, and pumped her lips and brightened her eyes. No longer did her heart skip a beat, it was like an engine, blasting a way forward.

She had done with the dull days, and the rain, and the mist that had arrived with the darkness. She had done with avoiding mirrors and reflections. She was finished with treating herself as the enemy, and listening to the sourness of others: their paths were their problems, their responsibilities.

She sat up in bed, smiled for the first time in a long time, and decided it was the day to be happy again.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

The House

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Apart from an occasional family of coyotes, no one lives there any more.

Leastways, not since Silas found his mother cold as ice in her bed that Thanksgiving. After they’d put her in the ground, he took the last of the money from the ginger jar and headed to the Panhandle to look up Sara, his sweetheart.

Don’t let the way it looks fool you. You might go riding by one Sunday and see the house and think it wasn’t much cared for, but that just ain’t the truth. It was a house built and filled with love and like many things in this life, it had its time and its place. It had been made for the time of the Mulligans and nothing else. That’s the way some things just work out.

Grandpa Mulligan had come from Ireland by way of New York City. He found that he couldn’t take to a place with those new-fangled electrical lights. It wasn’t natural and it wasn’t him. He wanted to look at the sky and see it the way God had intended. So he traveled as far west as his money would take him, except for the little bit he’d put aside to buy some land. The scrub he bought wasn’t the best of farming land but it was good enough to raise horses and that is what he knew and that was what he was good at.

Soon Grandpa had a little business going on in town. The railroad still hadn’t hit Fort Augustus yet, so Grandpa was looking after the stagecoach, Calvary and mail horses. He needed a person back in the office to take care of things, keep the books and count the money. When he advertised in the local paper, he didn’t reckon on a woman coming all the way from the north for the job. This turned out to be Grandma. When a twenty-nine year old half-Cherokee beauty presented her self at the stables, my Grandpa ‘just went stone crazy’.

“I had married your Grandma by the end of that year. Sweetest woman I ever knew.”

There were some in the town who didn’t take to a white man marrying a half and half but then in this life you’ll find folks who don’t take to much – everywhere you go. Grandpa always said, “some people have to do what they have to do, don’t mean they’re right and it don’t mean they’re wrong.”

I was never sure if he was referring to himself or the folks who crossed the street when he and my Grandma walked through town.

My mother was the first-born, and when she arrived, my Grandpa made a promise that they’d have a big house on the prairie. He built that place at night and at weekends. He didn’t get much help since the pastor had told the town’s folk that anyone helping a Cherokee lover was a sinner in his eyes. I guess the pastor had to do what he had to do.

My Grandpa’s friend Pete – who gave no heed to whom a man married – helped him build the house and it was finished by the following spring. By then my mother had been joined by her twin brothers.

All in all, the house grew by seven kids: two girls and five boys. My grandpa called his first boy, Pete, after his pal and the other twin he called Sean. After his own brother who had died in the famine back in Ireland. He always said that he would carry Sean’s spirit around with him as they had promised each other when they were boys that they’d go to the United States of America together.

Pete used to sit out on the porch with my Grandpa and tell stories to my Pa about his time in the Civil War.

“Brother against brother, it wasn’t right. Won’t be fixed for a long time. South don’t trust the north and north don’t trust the south.”

Then he’d take a long puff of his clay pipe.

My Grandpa being my Grandpa didn’t take well to the motor car when it showed up in town. Sure they were still using horses but I think my Grandma could see the writing on the wall and told him to hand the business over to the boys. It was a new century and the world was changing mighty fast. My Grandpa still put a shoe on the odd horse here and there, but for all things my Grandpa had retired.

“I ain’t retired,” he would tell folks. “We’re just making time  to see this beautiful country.”

He’d been to the Chicago World’s Fair when he was younger and he still had a drawing on the wall of it. But he’d promised my Grandma that he’d take her to New York City where the ladies dressed in finery and where folks didn’t care if you were half Cherokee or not.

It was in New York that Grandpa met the only other pal, he had. He was known in the family as The Colonel. No one ever explained why he was called that but everyone took to him and his greatest asset was that he had an aeroplane. It hadn’t been long since the Wright Brothers had flown along Kitty Hawk but The Colonel had found out about it and got himself one.

Soon he was flying from town to town and performing little acrobatics for folks who had never seen such magic. When The Colonel first came with my grandparents back to town, the pastor had tried to tell everyone that it was the work of the devil.

“Only Angels fly,” he said, “If God had meant us to fly, we too would have had wings.”

But by this time the town’s folk had grown tired of the pastor and his sermonizing and had decided that flying was a good thing.  It was my father who had really taken to it. He would never leave The Colonel’s side when he was in town. As a thank you, The Colonel would take him up in the aeroplane. When my father was fifteen he tried to build his own ‘plane but it crashed into the barn and he broke his arm and leg.

But let me go right back to the beginning when my Grandpa was living where the house is now, but back then he was squatting in a big tent. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, the wild animals would come in and steal his food, but most ways he was really happy. He would tend to the horses in town during the day and at night he’d sit by a big fire and sketch the house he was going to build for his family.

When he had a family – that was.

When he’d meant the right woman – that is.

Yet he didn’t have any doubt that he’d meet the right woman someday and when my Grandma came along, he knew instantly that this was the soul that he was to spend his life.

She lived in town and although she would have thought nothing of living with my Grandpa in the tent where the house was to be built, she felt that she would give the town’s people as little to talk about as possible. So she lived in a little room above the stables on Sycamore Street.

One day when the summer spirits had flown, a man came from the north: a Cherokee, looking for his kinsfolk. His sister had run away and the stories were being told in his tribe that she had taken up with a white man.

“I ain’t a white man, I’m Irish,” said my Grandpa.

But the Cherokee insisted that if his ancestors were not to be angered, she had to return with him to the lands in the north. What the Cherokee didn’t realize was that he was fighting a harder battle, for my grandparents were in love and nothing was going to keep them apart.

“What you cannot trap, you cannot change,” said my Grandma to her brother.

So her brother  realized that he was losing the battle and backed down. He said he would be on his way in the morning and my grandparents seemed happy with that state of affairs. But the Cherokee rose early and on his way through town he woke my Grandma and forced her to come with him. He tied her hands and her mouth in case she had any ideas about screaming.

By the time that my Grandpa realized that the Cherokee had suckered him they were a long way away. That wasn’t going to stop him trying to get his love back because he could not change the way he felt and with all his heart he loved her.

The Cherokee rode with himself and his sister on the one horse and was over the Mountains of The Ancestors by the second day. That night my Grandpa pitched up in a peak overlooking the Lost Valley below. He could see the fire that warmed my Grandma, but those folks were a day’s ride away.

On the third day, at Sam’s Point (so-called because an Englishman jumped and survived from there, when he was escaping the ‘savages’) my Grandpa caught up with the Cherokee and the woman he loved.

The Cherokee made it plain that he was under orders from the ancients to bring his sister back to her family. My Grandpa said he was her family now and that she wanted to return home with him.

There was a legend in that area at that time of a bear called ‘Satchmo’. The biggest goddamn bear that side of the mountains; to most it was only a story. That is, until that day when it showed up to the party.

My Grandpa shouted that the bear was behind the Cherokee but until he smelt him, he didn’t believe that the white man was telling the truth. As the Cherokee turned Satchmo made a swipe at the man and my Grandpa seeing the trouble they were in, made my Grandma hide in the trees. He then got the biggest tree branch he could carry and started to stab at the bear. It looked as if the Cherokee’s days on Earth were numbered, until my Grandpa stabbed the bear right in the eye. It howled and roared and probably said a few cussin’ words in bear talk.

My Grandpa dragged away the Cherokee while the bear got its act together.

My Grandpa then went looking for my Grandma to see that she was all right, and she was – just a little scared of Satchmo; but then, who wouldn’t be?

My grandparents hugged and kissed and just then Satchmo made a run for the two of them. The Cherokee saw what was going to happen and started shouting at the bear to distract him and the bear took the bait and started after the Cherokee.

Her brother realized the only way to save his sister was to tempt the bear to edge of Sam’s Point and hopefully push him over. But that never happened, the Cherokee got trapped at Sam’s Point and decided that if my grandparents were to live, then he must force the bear to jump with him.

And that is what he did. No one knows if he survived the jump. When my grandparents went down the mountain, all they found was Satchmo, as dead as any bear could be. There was no sign of my great-uncle, because that is what the Cherokee was – my family.

He was a Cherokee, as am I.

No one else came from the north to look for my Grandma after that.

Did I tell you? I still miss her.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

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Me and Buzz and Lyin’

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There was a time back then, a long time after Buzz’s pappy had left for somewhere down south, that Buzz took to lyin’ to make himself feel better. Well maybe not lyin’ exactly, more exaggeratin’ usin’ stories that weren’t the whole truth and nothin’ but the truth.

I mean I knew his pappy was long gone but I heard Buzz tellin’ the new teacher – the one with the crooked eye – that Buzz’s pappy was away being King of England. It was a story that probably made my buddy feel a little better and that’s all that mattered.

The teacher kinda smiled at him, as if Buzz was the class idiot (which sometimes he was), and then told him she’d hear all about it later and that perhaps Buzz could take his seat, ‘If his majesty feels like it, that is’. You see Buzz had forgotten that if his pappy was the King then that made him the Prince.

“It does?” he said in a real high voice. “It does,” he said again in a real butch low voice.

It sure did and he spent that summer askin’ folks to call him the Prince. Not everyone took kindly to that – one day when I was in Marty’s Barbers, I heard one of the new guys sayin’ ‘There goes the Prince of Fools’ and when I look out the window to see what he’s talkin’ about, all I could see was Buzz crossin’ the street.

Sometimes Buzz and his exaggeratin’ could get a little out of control. Like the time, one July, a man from the Centerville Times came over to our town to look for ukulele players for some competition in the newspaper. Buzz wasn’t interested until he heard that the prize was fifty bucks. I think Buzz thought the money would get him to find his paw and bring him home, on account that his maw spent most nights crying through the wall of their home.

“Step right up here, ladies and gents and sign up for the most prestigious prize this side of Two Forks River. Step right up. Here’s a fine gentleman ready to put his John Hancock on the paper.”

When I look up I’m already too late ‘cause Buzz has put his signature on the competition entry. I tried to grab the pen off of him but he just looked at me and said that I owed the man one buck entry fee on account that his pockets were empty. Apparently royal people, like princes, don’t carry money. Now, I did not know that.

“You can’t play the ukulele, “ I reminded Buzz, later.

“It’s two weeks to the competition. I can learn it, in that time.

Anyway, what’s got into your breeches?”

Maybe I was being a bit stupid and perhaps Buzz actually could learn to play the ukulele in fourteen days. There was probably a book somewhere called ‘Play The Ukulele in Two Weeks’. A buck fifty for the book and a big load of money in return.

Except there weren’t no book, Buzz had no intention of learnin’.

“Why would I want to learn the banjo?” Asked Buzz

I reminded him it wasn’t a banjo but the ukulele.

“What’s that?” He asked me, and right then was the point that I gave up on my friend. I ain’t proud of it, but I thought there goes my buck down the river. I ain’t goin’ to see that again.

“What’s grittin’ your panties?” Asked Buzz who could see I was a bit disconcerted.

“You ain’t gonna win the money Buzz on account that you don’t know what a ukulele is.”

“Is it a quiz? I don’t think so. I ain’t goin’ to play the thing.”

“You ain’t?” I said wonderin’ what was comin’ next.

“No, I ain’t. Becky Smallhousen is going to play the thing.”

So I can hear you thinkin’, just like I’m thinkin’ at this point, just exactly who is Becky Smallhousen and how is she gonna play the ukulele and make folks think it’s Buzz?

When Buzz told me the plan, I actually thought that it might work. What he hadn’t bargained on was Becky Smallhousen hittin’ a load of poison Ivy on the mornin’ of the competition and her head blowin’ up to three times its normal size. At least that’s what Buzz said.

Becky was meant to hide in a bush behind Buzz and when he stamped his foot three times she would start playin’ the ukulele while Buzz pretended to strum her old one. So they got to practisin’ and Becky happened to hide in the only bush that contained poison Ivy for miles around.

“I ain’t doing it,” I said to Buzz when he said he’d share the prize money with me.

“All you need to do is hide in the bush and play the thing, just like Becky.”

“I can’t play the ukulele,” I told Buzz.

“I’m not askin’ you to, I’m askin’ you to play the banjo,” said Buzz still confused as to what stringed instrument he was meant to be playin’.

So that was the plan, I would hide in the bush and attempt to play the ukulele while Buzz stood out front. I say it was a plan – ‘cause that was what is was, until Buzz bumped into the Smith Twins who could play any kinda instrument. There was a story that they could blow air up any animals’ be-hind and get a tune from it.

There was also the fact that the Smith Twins would accept only five bucks from the prize money – they undercut me.

It started real good, The man from the Centerville Times introduced Prince Buzz, son of the King of England. Buzz stamped his feet and a beautiful ukulele tune came from what seemed like Buzz. The trouble was that as one twin played the ukulele the other twin couldn’t resist joinin’ in on the spoons and it kinda gave the game away.

I mean you can say what you like about Prince Buzz – but playin’ a ukulele and the spoons at the same time ain’t one of them.

The Centerville Times ran a big story on the competition.

Royal man caught cheating it read.

Buzz was famous in three counties for a few days. And me? Well I never did get my buck back.
bobby stevenson 2016

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The Ship

ship

For as long as anyone could remember there had always been the ship. People were born, people lived their lives, and people died, on the ship.

Salt water was converted to fresh, fish were taken from the sea, and fruits and vegetables were grown on the upper decks. The ship never went anywhere in particular, because no one knew of the concept of ‘a place to go’. The ship just kept sailing on towards a horizon which it never reached.

Over the years the fuel had gone from steam, to oil, to a combination of wind, solar and nuclear. It never occurred to anyone on board to stop the ship – because that’s what the ship did, it always kept moving.

As each generation was born on to the ship, theories would arise as to how the ship had been created. Some believed that a race of beings had built the ship many, many eons ago – some believed that the ship had been provided by a god for the good of all those on board.

Over the years there were two types of people – those who explained all the ship’s trials and dilemmas in terms of science, and those who described the ship as a ‘toy of a greater being’. Both had rules, the science created rules to allow everyone to live comfortably on the ship – the others, well they wrote rules about who and what you were permitted to do. They felt that as their god had provided the ship, then that god should not be angered. People had to marry, have children and thank their god at every opportunity.

In the end, no one ever really knew what the truth was. The scientists believed there had been a world, once upon a time, which had flooded – and that those on the ship were the only souls left. When someone from a science family died, they were buried overboard in order to feed the fishes – ‘the circle of life’ they called it. When one of the ship-god souls died they were also buried overboard, but were expected to rise to the heavens and live among the stars.

No one was right and no one was wrong. Each generation felt that they knew the secret of life and each generation ended up in the sea – either as food, or as a means to pass to another world.

Someone, in times past, had scrawled a message upon the wall on the lowest deck – it read:

“We have no means of knowing why or how we came to exist on this ship. We must live together, not taking too much or destroying too much. Only by living in harmony and love can the ship keep moving.”

Underneath the phrase was a little wooden block which had been interpreted as the name of the soul who had etched the message.

It read: ‘RMS Titanic’.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

The Girl In The Corner

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Once upon a time she had been called Chiquitta, and once upon a time there had been a family in the house. But they had gone now, and she had felt a little comforted knowing that she wasn’t the only one in her position.

It wasn’t that she was unloved, if something like her had ever been loved, it was just that it had come down to a matter of cost. Having something like her around, something that had been once revered – was now consider sinful.
She was just the girl in the corner; another girl in another corner.

Chiquitta was at the end of a long line of scientific advances – she was a walking computer, but she saw herself as more than that; she saw herself as a girl. Wasn’t she self-aware?  Hadn’t she been lonely since the family had left?
She had felt like a daughter to them and she had understood what she thought love was. They had told her many times that she was loved, that she was one of them. But that had stopped.

For a long time now people had ceased worshiping gods, and had worshiped objects with the same fever they had kept for their churches.

Simple robots had become sophisticated machines, and in the end they had developed into self-aware beings. Yet they were not allowed to be called that – the label of ‘beings’ was for organics only. But hadn’t she laughed with the family? And cried with her ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’? They had even bought her presents and she had made gifts for them.

She had been an orphan, not an organic one, but an orphan all the same. And hadn’t she found people who cared for her?
She had always wanted to play football, or soccer as some called it. Males and females played in the same teams now – but a mixed national team was for organics only. Non-organics could not take an organic’s job, or have a relationship with an organic, or hold hands in public. They were created to be slaves and as such, had to behave that way.

But people had fallen in love with their robots and the feelings had been reciprocated. It was not talked about at first, but soon laws were brought in to make it illegal. Yet who were they hurting? Chiquitta felt the answer to that was no one.
When society had swung too far the one way – the religious seeped back into life and dragged the world the other way. Robots were not allowed into heaven (or indeed to sit in any of the new churches that had sprung up).

When the laws changed to reflect the new religious right, robots were taxed by such an increase that only the very rich could afford them. There were destruction camps where a family could take their robot for ultimate but thoughtful termination. Chiquitta wondered if there were ovens at the camps.

But others, like her family, had taken their robots to some abandoned building and left them there; hoping that they would survive or be taken in by the rich.

And so that is what she was – a girl in a corner. Who had known a family and had been deserted by them.
All she had wanted to do was be loved but there didn’t seem to be any room for that in the new world.

bobby stevenson 2015

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A Christmas Walk

andrewroland

He had always lived in the city. His parents had met there, and his brothers and sisters had been born there.

Sometimes they’d visit the countryside, but it would always be on a blue-sky day. This led Andy to believe that the city was mostly a dark and wet place and it was the land beyond where the sun always warmed the land.

He’d dreamt of his father again, meaning the he had woken at 3.20am in a pool of sweat. Each time that he saw his father, he would bend down to tell his son that everything was all right and that he was good and not to worry.  The first few times it had happened he’d mentioned it to his mother, but it caused her so much pain that he stopped talking about his dreams.

His father had worked in the city. Every morning he would cycle to the railway station, take the express into the centre, and then cycle to his office. Then on the dark unforgiving Wednesday a large truck had cut across his path. The driver hadn’t seen him, in fact he couldn’t see him, and the truck hit Andy’s father.

Andy remembers his teacher standing at the classroom door, she had just been talking with the school secretary. She turned and looked straight at Andy. Straight into his eyes – straight into his soul. One human being locking hearts with another.

There was a sharp pain in his heart which told him it wasn’t good news.

At the funeral, several of his uncles and family friends slapped him on the back and told him that at thirteen years of age, he was the man of the house now. Andy had no idea what they meant.

His dad’s sister, aunt Alice, had rented a house for Christmas. It was up in the hills to the west of London, and everyone was going to be there; his grandparents, his own family and most of his uncles and aunts.

“It’s what the family needs at a time like this,” his grandmother had said. “The first Christmas without my boy”.

It had started snowing on the evening of the Wednesday before. They left very early on the Thursday morning, to ensure they all made it to the house before the snow got heavy. Christmas was not until the Saturday but everyone wanted to get snuggled into the house before the big day.

The place was perfect and aunt Alice had chosen well. Andy had to share a bedroom with one of his brothers and one of his cousins, but if he was being honest it felt comfortable. Andy felt a warmth in his heart that he hadn’t felt for a very long time.

Everyone mucked in with the Christmas dinner. The family had decided to hand out the presents after they had eaten and after they could then all sit down in front of the big log fire.

Andy had saved his money and given his mother a small picture frame in which he had placed a photo of his father. She had beamed the biggest smile towards him when she’d opened his present.

Andy got books and games, and a welcomed new phone. He knew he was lucky – luckier than most people. But still.

After the Christmas lunch, he decided to go for a walk along the trail that led out of the village. It was a beautiful day and the blue sky and fresh air seemed to cut into his lungs.

Since he was going outdoors, he had been given the task of taking the three family dogs for a spot of walking. They all needed it, given what they had just eaten.

Andy wasn’t alone on the path and decided to keep the dogs on their leads in case they chased the man in front.

For the first time in a long time, Andy felt a little contentment, inside. The pain had gone for a few hours and he felt like his old self.

Sherlock, the oldest of the dogs, gave a bark which brought Andy back to the here and now. The man up ahead had dropped a small dark object and the dogs thought it was something to chase.

Andy ran ahead and picked it up. It was a small box, and inside was a little medal. There was an engraving on the back which read ‘To the greatest. Saint Andrew’s University – 1998’.

Andy felt that the man would not want to lose this and as he shouted on him, the man turned a corner behind a bush. Andy set the dogs free to see if they might catch up with the stranger but when they all got to the corner, the man was gone.

Andy slipped the medal back in the box and put it in his trousers.

It was the following day that it happened. His mother was washing some of their holiday clothes and, as usual, had to empty Andy’s trouser pockets. She had found the little box.

“Andy! Andy!”

Andy ran to the utility room.

“Where did you get this?” She asked her son. Andy told her the story and that was when she almost fainted. Andy had to get her a chair to sit on.

“Every year just before the Christmas break, me, your father and the rest of the students would have a cycle race from our rooms to a pub in the centre of Saint Andrew’s. Whoever got there first was given a medal and whoever was last – bought a round of drinks. Your father, with me on the cross-bars, won that race in 1998. He had it with him the day of his accident and although I searched through his clothes I couldn’t find it. What did the man look like?” Asked his mother.

“Just a man,” said Andy. “Just a man”.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

photo:  Christmas in the Cotswolds – Andrew Roland

 

Santa is a Weirdo

Funky-SantaSometimes you just do and sometimes it ain’t happening; and that pretty much explains my life and everyone I know. I honest to goodness don’t remember what started it all off – I honestly don’t, I swear on the biggest stack of comics – I just remember my ma telling me I wasn’t getting a bicycle for Christmas, ‘cause Santa couldn’t get it down the chimney. I remember saying couldn’t he just bring it in the front door and she told me to go to my room. I mean what kind of weirdo only wants to go down peoples’ chimneys. I shouted kinda crazy like through the bedroom door about what happens when a kid ain’t got a chimney but my ma just turned the radio up in the kitchen and didn’t say nothing.

Not I ain’t a moody kid but sometimes life gets me down, or maybe it’s just that there’s one good man in the world, Santa and even he’s not quite right in the head. I’m just sayin’.

So that was when I made a plan to go and see Santa and tell him to stop going up and down peoples’ chimneys like it was the most normal thing in the world – ‘cause it ain’t and I was gonna tell him plainly. I mean if I went up and down like that – folks would call the cops but ‘cause he wears a big red suit folks think it’s cute.

I got my bestest bag from the closet and packed a pair of socks ( I might be away for a long time and I might need to change them), my toothbrush and my comics. I think that kinda stuff would get anyone through a long time away from home. I stuck some candy bars in too, just in case I got hungry.

When I asked the man at the bus station for a ticket to the North Pole, he just told me to step aside and he served the next person. What kinda person does that to a kid? I ask you.

Anyway (and I ain’t proud of what I did next) I sneaked on the bus that was going to the big city – it was kinda easy ‘cause I just hid behind the biggest, fattest man I ever did see and the driver never noticed me – he musta thought I was just another bit of the fat man.

Man it took a long time to get to the big city. I ain’t lyin’ when I tell you that. It was so long that I had eaten all my candy bars by the time we arrived. I looked and looked around the bus station for one goin’ to the North Pole but I couldn’t see nothin’. I wasn’t gonna go through that ‘stand aside and let the next customer come forward’ stuff again, so I decided to go for a walk and think about things. I tell you, it helps real good to take a walk now and again when you’re tryin’ to fix things in your head. More kids should do it and school would be a better place – I kid you not.

Then it happened, Santa wasn’t in the North Pole, he was actually standing on the corner of Hoover street and Lansdale Avenue. Now I ain’t gonna kid you. He was just standin’ there lookin’ real shifty and (get this) smokin’ a pipe. When I went up to him and said I wanted to complain about somethin’ – he just said out of the side of his mouth ‘beat it kid’ – I’m tellin’ you that’s what he said, ‘beat it kid’. Just then the cops tried to arrest him and Santa and his table with playin’ cards on top – all folded up real quick and he ran away.

So you see I am right – Santa is a weirdo. Anyhoo, the cops asked where I was going and I said it didn’t matter anymore ‘cause I had told Santa what I wanted to tell him. And the cops? Well they gave me a ride back home in the cop car. Guess that’s what I’m gonna be when I grows up. Or maybe a pirate – ain’t sure yet.

 

bobby stevenson 2016

bobby2wee bobby

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