Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Donna Is A Precious Thing

Once upon a time there was a boy and girl named Donna and Dan, respectively. Certainly in this unisex age she might have been named Dan, and he, Donna, but not in this story. So if you know a guy named Donna and a girl named Dan, please don’t confuse them with the people in this tale, or it might not make any sense to you at all.

Now Donna, the girl in case anyone skimmed over the last part or read it and didn’t understand how it could possibly be that a girl had a girl’s name and not a boy’s, wasn’t very nice to Dan. He liked her, Dan did, but she, Donna, thought he, Dan, was a geek; and she believed with all her heart, not to mention her hormoney like things, she deserved a bad boy with manners in spite of the fact that oftentimes bad boys, even with manners, are just plain bad*. (* See: Jesse James. No, the present day biker guy not the old timey bank robber; though sure, the latter was a bad boy too but unlike the Jesse James I mean at least he had one redeeming quality... he never broke Sandra Bullocks' heart) In fact one time, on a hot summer’s day, when a light breeze was blowing and her auburn hair glinted, except for the black roots which more thrummed, Donna found a hornet’s nest hanging from her mother’s eave, and stood above it on the roof of her house waiting for little Dan to walk past on his way to school; and wouldn’t you know (well, I suppose you wouldn’t and that’s why you’re reading this) she took a big stick and whacked the nest away from her mother’s eave and right on top of Dan, the boy.

As Dan was being smothered by angry wasps, Donna just laughed and shouted “now like somebody else Mister cuz I’m waiting for someone special!” And while he screamed, and flailed, and shouted back “I don’t care what you do, you’re the girl named Donna for me!”, she left him there all covered in lumps and honey.

Another time, later in the summer after Dan’s welts had subsided to the point that he could leave his hospital bed and get around, with the help of a guide dog, since his eyes were still swollen shut, she, Donna, did another mean thing.

It was a dreary and rainy day, and Dan, and Weebly the guide dog, were just standing on the corner just down the street from Donna’s house, doing nothing really, though secretly Dan thought it was a good place to do nothing since he could be within aura range of his true love (based on the idea that her aura was about the size of a small mushroom cloud). Donna, the object of unwanted attentions, was suddenly seen marching from her front porch carrying something that trailed a long rope of some kind, or so it seemed. When she reached Dan, the geek, she, while looking askance, said “here, hold this for me would ya?” and handed Dan a medium sized personal hair dryer sporting two heat options and three fan speeds; and then she marched back toward her home, entered the porch, then the house, and slammed the front door shut.

Dan wasn’t sure what to think, except for the fact that he could now tell the “rope” was not a rope at all but an electrical cord. “Maybe she wants to take a shower and then dry her hair out here where I’m standing because she thinks drying her hair is a tedious chore and doing it in my company would be, while not overwhelmingly pleasant, at least slightly less than completely maddening.”

But Dan had guessed wrong. Within the time it took for him to come up with that very long, though quite eloquent sentence, Donna had plugged the electrical cord into her mother’s house’s living room’s west wall, upper socket, and Dan had only a few moments to admire how strong a wind blew from the obviously powerful hair dryer before it shocked him into submission.

As the ambulance drove away with a now convulsing Dan, Donna, who had returned to the scene of her meanness, yelled after the vehicle, “I mean it geek! Better boys want me, and I will climb over you to get to them!”

It was a few weeks before Dan had regained the use of the majority of his mind and body, and at that very moment, when he’d discovered he could pat his head and rub his stomach at the same time without his mother holding one of his hands and doing the motions for him as if he didn’t notice, that he finally came to the conclusion that creating a relationship with Donna, as amazingly sweet, robust, sensual, financially sound, joy filled,  acrobatic, linguistic, merrimental and stuff his dreams made their future together out to be, was just too much like work; and he was only a boy still after all, so work was the furthest thing from his mind, right after bathing and taking out the garbage.

It was hard to give up on a premonition like that, happiness being a brass ring he knew he must reach out for in order to experience, but five times already, three of which I skipped over because the story’s already long and I’m only a few prompts in so far, he had been burned, sometimes literally, by the woman he’d been “called*” to marry one day (*Donna had called him once, but as soon as he answered she screamed “Crap! Not you! Wrong number!” and hung up… and that was the sign he’d been waiting for), and nobody had even seen the time she’d pushed over the city zoo’s piranha fish tank on him so he wasn’t even counting that, even though that’d make six times actually.

To be fair, there was a time when Donna was nice to Dan. After his father had barricaded himself in the house and shot it out with the police, who finally used dogs to break through the windows and drag his bleeding, vulgarity frothing self outside so they could rough him up like they did to Rodney King that time in LA, and then put the handcuffs on too tight, shove him into the back of a squad car after banging his head on the door jamb, pretending that they had warned him to “watch your head” but really they didn’t, and then Dan was just kinda standing outside his house kinda sniveling, watching the ambulance take his mom away to be treated for contusions caused by bad boy disease, Donna walked up to Dan and handed him a rat tail file and a recipe for chocolate cake; just in case he might want to help dad out.

But in the end, Donna was just too damned mean to Dan. He might have been fine with the occasional rap upside the head with a two by four, or being pushed off the curb into traffic, so long as he had time to brace himself before he got hit; but that hair dryer thing was just too much. He was through!

Meanwhile, Donna found herself a bad boy with manners; Dick. Now you’d think it was the author’s doing that he was named Dick, as what else would you name a bad boy, but in fact, his parents had thought of naming him Richard but hated the idea of their son being called “little Ritchie Rich” by their neighbors, even though they weren’t rich but only fans of a certain comic book, so they named the child Dick, because they had their heart set on Richard so firmly they couldn’t come up with anything but a variation on the theme. (Luckily, he hadn’t been born a girl or she might have been named Dicklet, or Dickley or something)

Anyway, Dick would ignore Donna properly, and humiliate her in public now and then. Donna fell head over heels. He was cute, strong, violent, vulgar, a real ass… how could she not love him?! He surely was all man, not like that geek Dan, whose name rhymed with man, but other than that was not in any way, in Donna’s mind at least, mannish.

One fine day Dick was riding around with his friends shouting bad words, though within complimentary phrases, about female body parts to girls that happened to be walking down the sidewalk near Donna’s house, when Donna spotted Dick, ran from her house, stood on the curb and posed in a non geeky, but not too sensuous fashion, as she was too young for that really and her mother would have kicked her ass had she seen her lifting up her skirt or something.

Dick’s friend’s car drew close and she waved at him, then put two fingers in her mouth and whistled so loud Dick’s friend’s car’s headlights cracked. Dick was immediately smitten. What guy wouldn’t want a chick that would not only obviously put out, but could crack glass by only blowing through her puckered lips!

"I gotta have you!" He said.

"I just knew it!" she replied, to herself really, and to her image of Dan who in her mind was standing there all geeky like and looking sad so she stuck out her tongue at him, as if to whistle, only not.

Of course, Donna and Dick, or Dick and Donna if you’re not afraid of being suspected of being a misogynist, started dating, in that high school bad boy with manners, smart girl except for her absolutely ridiculous taste in boys kinda way. He’d grab her butt whenever he could, she’d slap his hand away with mock malice, mostly so the kids that saw them didn’t start calling her a slut and she’d have to kick all their asses which would not only take time, but leave her bruised and quite uncomfortable when rolling around on the back seat floor of Dick’s friend’s car with Dick.

But soon, Dick’s little secret presented itself. No, it’s not the secret you might think, once adding up dating and high school and bad boy and the name Dick, which I tried to explain was not an inference but only a poor choice by his creative as a tree stump parents; it’s another secret altogether so wipe that grin off your face.

See, Dick, the bad boy, was addicted to night time cough medicine! Donna might have been able to tell by his smelling like black licorice all the time, or by the fact that he’d excuse himself to go to the bathroom just after making out and he’d come back all woozy and stuff, and she knew it wasn’t because her kissing was all that good because she’d only practiced on her doll Mrs. Bltzflk so she was pretty sure she hadn’t really gotten the hang of it yet, not to mention the time their braces got hooked together, but that’s another story. I say she MIGHT have been able to tell, except she never had seen Dick, the bad boy’s pupils!  His eyes were hidden underneath really thick, dark glasses all the time, and whenever she asked if he had a hard time seeing he got all defensive and said “NO! I wear thick glasses because I’m very sensitive to the sun’s viewsta rays and so I need fifty layers of protection! My eyesight is perfect, just like anyone else’s!”

The reality is, Dick was a closet campfire sniffer, a malady that affects young punks throughout suburban America, wherever the city councils have, in their lust for absolute power taken it upon themselves to allow residents little teeny weeny campfires on which to cook s’mores and tell ghost stories and cuddle up to the dog when no one’s looking. Dick, like many aimless young men, would sneak from back yard to back yard, planting his face not five feet above the smoldering ashes of someone’s conflagrated yard waste, breathing in huge snootfulls of the wafting smudge, trying to remember what it was like in his former life when he chased dinosaurs with big sticks and dragged women by the hair. It seemed so basic, the need to be a man, yet it was so difficult unless one was reminded of exactly what that meant.

As a result, Dick’s lungs rebelled, and before he’d begun his love affair with artificially fruit flavored medicinal goo, he would suffer long and painful coughing jags at the worst possible times; like when he would try and explain to his mom that the magazines under his bed were not what they seemed but only anthropology research, or when he was telling Officer Beatem that the car he was driving was borrowed from his good friends at whatever the name was on the plaque that was plastered on the driver’s door and not stolen like the police obviously thought, or worse yet, when he’d finally talked his English teacher Mrs. Kudoz into, well you know, and he had his head, well, down there.  “Too little time, too many campfires” he would tell his friends when teased about messing up his big chance, but then, Darwin Delmont told him about the secret of non prescription cough stopper, and once and for all, he freed himself of the humiliating side effect of the therapy known to millions of sub-scientists as “Primal Steam.”

Luckily, before Dick was caught by his family and friends and forced to go on a reality show for being a generic sedating antihistamine junky, Donna followed him into the bathroom one night after he’d excused himself from a particularly unusual bout of kissing, one during which he’d held his breath most of the time claiming he had the hiccups when she knew it was probably… another woman… she saw him swigging from the plastic bottle of doom and forced him to tell her the entire story, from gender incapacity to multisymptom relief!

“No more” she whispered as he puked into the nearest toilet because being honest had always made him ill, even as a child, like when his mom had made him say “I love you mommy” and he’d spit up all over her blouse. In spite of the vomit stains on his nice new Levi jacket, and the sudden snap of nasal drip he would suffer for years to come, he would always thank good mistress Donna for curing him of being a patsy to Big Drug.

A few months later, after Donna had become preggers and Dick had left the country claiming the Sultan of Beejeebers had called and requested an audience immediately and he didn’t know how long he’d be gone but it surely wouldn’t be more than a decade or two, a giant spider attacked the city where Donna and Dan and Dick, or at least until he left Dick, lived, and for some strange reason the great big hairy thing just kept shuffling over toward Donna’s house. Nobody really knew why the predatory invertebrate mesothelae seemed to be aiming to do harm to the little house on Hempberry hill, but as an avowed and processed arachnophobe, Donna, upon hearing the speculation, locked herself in her mom’s house’s basement and wouldn’t come out, except when a little teeny spider, in anticipation of its fifty foot cousin’s arrival began to sing “ding dong the witch is dead” after which Donna fled upstairs to the living room closet and grabbed her Doc Martens, ran back down and squashed the little gloater before he could utter another chorus.

Though nobody feared the Corruptifornia State Militia when they came to town to try and rid it of its recent unwelcome visitor, they might have had they known that the budget for training these valuable soldiers had been spent by injudicious governmental agencies from the Cream Clotting Council to the Shovel Handle Weight Bearing Testing Committee, and the boys were so badly educated that they incinerated the entire city save Dan’s house, Donna’s house, and the Sonic Drive In where most of them stopped to get a burger before they began spider hunting, cuz, as Commander Shitzengiggles put it, “Aracnocide is hard work, and my boys need a healthy breakfast before shovin’ some tarantula’s 6 legs up its butt!”

To everyone’s relief, the spider stopped, surveying the carnage around him and wondering what the hell was wrong with humans, when Dan appeared on the scene. Dan had studied spiders. In fact, Dan had a few pet spiders. Dan was secretly, a spider geek!

Stepping to the fore, as you always want to speak to a fifty foot spider from the front and never the rear, Dan began the question the monster in spiderese, a language he learned while cooing at his pet spiders who got tired of the baby talk and one day had been so fed up that they just taught him the damn language in hopes he’d quit doing that coochie coo thing.

“So, how’s it going” Dan asked.

“Not bad” the spider said; “you?”

“Oh I’m great, except that I have this constant itch in my crotch that doctors tell me has something to do with having once been overloaded with hornet venom. Well and there’s that nagging pain I get…”

The spider raised two of his legs to his gaping maw and shushed. “Yea yea” he said, “I get it. Life’s a bitch. So, whatdya want?”

“Well” said Dan, marveling at the spider’s agility and manners, though the two aren’t related really but just happen to have struck him at the same time, “I was kinda wondering why you were goin over to Donna’s house? Is there some fifty foot cricket hiding in her garage maybe? Gosh, I hope you’re not thinking of doing Donna any harm because I’d have to stop you.”

“Actually” said the spider, “I’d heard there was this evil B-word that lived in the neighborhood, and since bugs are a little small for me if you get my drift, I thought I’d wrap me up a few days drinkin and be on my way, if you get my drift.”

Dan pondered the spider’s words. It was obvious spiders weren’t very creative, unless it was just some cultural thing that made it permissible to be repetitive.

“Oh, you wouldn’t want to web her sir” Dan replied at last, once clearing his throat and then swallowing a few times because he’d recently smoked the roach of a joint his mother had nearly finished and he had cottonmouth something awful, “her blood is poison! I know, trust me! She head butted me one time but missed her target a little and nearly broke her nose so she bled on me and I got the worst hives you’ve ever seen!”

“Well gosh “said the spider, “that’s a shame. And I had my heart set on Donna for dinner. Know anyone who’s not so deadly?”

Dan smiled. “I do in fact. See his name’s Dick, and he is!” Dan went on to explain that Dick was not only a bad man for running out on his preggo gf, but was actually a geek pretending to be Fonzy behind coke-bottle thick shades!

“He’s juicy I hear”, said Dan; “not that I’d know personally of course” he added, rescuing his manhood from certain gossipy innuendo.

The fifty foot spider jotted down the directions to Dick’s new house, not in the Sultanate of Beejeebers at all but just on the other side of the railroad tracks from what used to be Marabelle’s Sudz and Snoozin, the laundromat that was one of the first buildings to have burned down when Sergeant Krakow ordered his men to fire on the monsters and they set fire to the washers, and he scuttled off to the east.

When word got to Donna that Dan had saved her malicious hide, she smiled, hideously, but a smile nevertheless.

“Dan” she crooned as he walked through the piles of rubble that once were her neighbor’s homes on the way to his own rubble strewn street, “Dan, I think I was wrong about you Dan” taking a cue from really old movies where the femme fatale repeats the freaking love interest’s name over and over ad nauseum.

“Shucks ma’am” he said in his best Clint Eastwood when he’s playing a good guy which isn’t very damned often so think real hard and you’ll get what I mean, “It weren’t nothing”. He nearly choked on the last line as it wasn’t proper grammar and Mrs. Kudoz, with whom he had just begun a satisfying relationship, would hand him his ass if she’d heard him talk like that.

“Was it… scary Dan?” she asked, continuing that annoying affectation as if she were never going to drop it.

“Well no Donna” Dan replied, dumping the Eastwood and trying more for a sophisticated man about town because to him it was second nature to be a geek, and geeks are very sophisticated, “I wasn’t scared at all! I just called upon my Boy Guides training in hand to hand combat, and I taught that spider to not mess with my acquaintances; even the ones who have, more times than I can count, done me grievous mental and bodily harm.”

“I heard you talked him out of it!”

“Well ok, I did, but only because the tongue is the geek’s weapon of choice!”

“Dan, hon, would you like to use that tongue on something besides spiders?” Donna’s bosom was heaving, like in those books they sell at the airport that somebody obviously buys or they wouldn’t be there.

“I’m afraid not Donna” Dan said almost reluctantly, but then he changed his mind and thought of it after the fact as having been firmly, “you see Donna, I’ve changed. You’re no longer the girl named Donna for me.

Donna watched as Dan picked his way through Mr. Jackson’s collapsed chimney and Sally Fockenwulfs kitchen utensils which had been the victims of a particularly egregious explosive screwup. She couldn’t help but feel she may have made a mistake so long ago, when at six she began to stick long hat pins into a wax replica of Mr. Dandrige the school principal and then at eight, the first time she noticed Dan looking at her so she broke his face. In serious reflection, she cried, and then, went back into her mom’s house to find the cleaning chemicals so she could make a bomb with which to kill Dan because NOBODY walked away from her like that!!!

The End

Monday, December 26, 2011

So What Do You Do Now

“So, what do you do now” he asked, doing the ‘well we’re standing next to each other so I suppose we need to converse’ thing that happens at family gatherings. It was the same question the same cousin had asked me four months ago at another genetic linkage soiree; the same question that was answered without hesitation and with hope that it would never be asked again.

There was a time when I enjoyed the query; when I could go on for some time about what I did, not because I did it but because “it” exists and “it” was kinda fascinating. Now? Hearing “What do you do now” is like having a rubber pipe shoved up my nose, it’s like discovering too late that my testicles have been crushed between my thick thighs while seated in that really uncomfortable chair, and knowing I have a half hour of nauseating recovery to suffer through.

“So what do you do now” he asks, as if he’s remotely interested in what I do if it’s not in some way networkable with what he does in a manner that might be financially beneficial for both of us.

I frown, then grimace slightly, trying to make it clear that I’d like to answer simply, then leave the topic to burn away in the flame of a stylish candle that happens to stand between us.

“I’m a laborer” I say; “I do labor.”

“So, what kind of labor do you do” he asks.

I think perhaps I should have avoided the subtlety of facial expressions and just shouted my aversion to the subject.

It’s amazing how much thought can be packed into a few split seconds. First I needed to consider why it was that I couldn’t just answer the question directly. I drive a truck for the distribution wing of a newspaper company; you’d think that would suffice. But no, it’s not entirely honest. I drive vans really, passenger vans; previously smashed and totaled passenger vans that have been repaired just enough to make them drivable, and have had the seats ripped out so they can carry freight, some sporting rust holes in the floors (to match those in the bodies) that one needs to cover with cardboard in winter so the tires don’t throw slush all over the cargo. Of course I’m not going to say all that, but ‘truck driver’ conjures an image that’s just flat out wrong so I can hardly blurt it out without explanation now can I?

Then of course comes the real possibility that saying I work delivering newspapers titles me “a paperboy”. One of the people I deliver to said that to me once. I’m surprised at how long it took me to beat him to death in my imagination. He was a big guy though; I suppose he would have to last a long time before my inevitable victory.

“So, what kind of labor do you do” he asks.

When I was a kid I was destined to be a nobody, like I’m sure, many of the neighbor kids who also had dads who would often tell them how worthless they were. I was certain I would be nothing right through high school which helped me in my decision to drop out and take my place in the sewer alongside the other rats in the maze a few months early. And then a few years later, oddly, things started changing. I was being paid slave wages as I had expected, but I’d fallen into jobs that made me look more important than I really was, like a rat with a bow tie maybe! And from those jobs to the next and then the next I began filling with all sorts of hot air, I became “worthy”, I was not only “respected” but in a case or two even “envied”. It was like a Godzilla movie! I was stomping around getting my own way doing whatever the hell I liked for as much money as I had ever seen in one place (except for the vault diving scenes in the Scrooge McDuck comics gramma R used to buy me for Christmas when I was little). Not only was I no longer a nobody, I had passed right through the anybody stage into somebodysville!

It was astounding! As jaded as I’d been since birth, as much as I despised myself, as depressingly realistically I viewed the world and my measly place in it, I started to think highly of myself. As much as I knew about propaganda and the effects of self-induced brainwashing, I soaped right up, put on my rose colored glasses and read my own press, believing every word of it. I was good. No, I was goddamn good! And I was paid a ton for it too! Well, a ton as weighed by a Tonka toy dump truck weigh station (truck sold separately), but that’s a ton in someone’s world!

And then stuff started changing again. People died and others bailed and some even left by the front door with the rest of my stuff in a moving van. My jobs became sillier and lighter-weight, my income wasted away, my press changed tone, once glorious, now hubris; and again, I believed every word. I have to admit the new words were far more comfortable, it was far easier to envision myself a fool than a fop.

Finally I arrived at the place I am today.

“So, what kind of labor do you do” he asks.

I want to say “I’m the guy that scrubs the toilets; I’m the shit shoveler you hear so much about, I’m the ditch digger, the man that scrapes the peeling paint off the bottom of rusty hulks in the befouled waters of dead river deltas. I’m one step up from the guy who cleans the inside of the dumpsters at McDonalds with a toothbrush and a squirt bottle filled with stale Coke!” But I don’t. I say as I always do....

“I’m a mule. I bend over like this and people put heavy crap on my back and then I carry it over there and then someone else slides it off my back just before I go back for more.”

I realize it might seem a bit harsh sounding so I say it in as light a voice as I can muster, even grinning at the end as if I were writing it and knew I should add a colon and left facing parentheses curve to display my not being as serious as it must seem, even though it is.

But I’m almost too late in any case because as I’m explaining my true calling he’s off talking to someone who really understands what he wants, a little commiseration. I have no commiseration to give. I’m more humiliated than challenged; way too introspective to conjure up a good fake fawning over stock market numbers or so and so’s fourth quarter sales figures. I don’t belong where I’m standing really, I have no place among these titans of industry, I am a slug in a garden of Brussel’s Sprouts, just chewing through leaves with no discernible purpose while they fatten up their cabbagy selves on fertilizer and sunshine.

I realize then that I’ve been awake since 4AM and feel as though I’m in a sensory deprivation suit, that tiny pieces of the flatbread I’m trying to chew are shooting out of my mouth at random moments, emulating the fits and starts of the first snowfall of the season, and that most of the few people that are looking at me at that moment are doing so with only the corner of a single eyeball each. And then it comes to me that I have once again shown myself to be the family nutcase, as is the custom.

I’m not sure how it got to be that I was so invested in what I do as opposed to who I am. Probably it was during the arc across the zenith of my success curve. The relief I must have felt to find that I wasn’t indeed totally worthless but only worthless part time, that I had fooled everyone who’d ever known me and excelled at something, that even my dad had to finally say “Geez you weren’t as stupid as I thought you were.”

I suppose that’s it, that I’d jumped out of my goldfish bowl and swam in the ocean for a few days and then some shithead with a hook suckered me into biting on his bait and drew me right back into the bowl again only this time I’m older and missing more scales and I’m struggling to breath the dirty water without a filter and…

It should be fine. Like the piloting I’ve done I should be able to look at it and while knowing I’ll never fly again for various reasons, still thank the powers that be for blessing me with the opportunity to get off the ground for a couple years of my life. But instead I go through this internal diatribe whenever the topic comes up, I had it and lost it, I was now I’m not and like a ten year old I want to say “don’t look at me” as if others could in any way be responsible for the way I feel about myself.

Well, I’ve thought about it these past few days, and I know that someday, someone, perhaps the very same cousin at yet another family event will ask me “So what are you doing now” and I’ll once again need to answer. And I think I finally have the situation resolved. Maybe I’ve grown up at last, an amazing feat for a guy closing in on sixty. I’m not going to worry about it anymore, I am who I am, I do what I do, what is, is and I am no longer ashamed to simply tell the truth and be done with it.

“So, what do you do now” he’ll ask.

“I do brain transplants” I’ll say. “Yea, it’s a pretty exacting field but as it turned out within me was the perfect combination of genius and hand/eye coordination. Funny no one noticed my skill set until last year, but since then I’ve saved at least a thousand psychotics from toxic gray matter implosion, as we like to say in the trade…”

Monday, December 12, 2011

Not a Sound

If Boswell hadn’t taken it personally when moments after escaping his mother’s womb a strange man slapped him on the ass, perhaps things might have ended differently. You’d think it’d be impossible to remember that event, but when Boz would occasionally be “in the mood” to tell stories, he would describe that moment in the finest of detail. He would say the doctor’s name was Smirnoff. He’d heard a nurse say it, and “who could forget the name of your first bully.”

There was only one person in the world who’d heard that tale; Heather Marx. She was in fact one of the very few to ever hear the boy’s voice, and the last to hear him speak at all.

Heather and Boswell grew up neighbors in a well to do suburb of Chicago. Boz was not a happy child. He was prone to over reaction, tearing up at any raising of any nearby voice. His parents were kind folk, but exasperated.  By his twelfth birthday, they finally had stopped trying to develop their son into what they believed to be a “normal” child, and simply supported him as he was; “eccentric”, as his mom would explain to the neighbors, “like Vincent Van Gogh.”

Heather on the other hand was nearly always happy, and had skin like a shark’s; virtually impenetrable. By six she’d understood what most never grasp, that happiness is a choice, that it’s not circumstances but reactions that are important in life. She considered Boswell her mission shortly after they’d met, but he too was impenetrable; his shell was more a prison than a shield and try as she might, Heather could never find the key to his release. In her mind, that made her even more responsible for the boy’s wellbeing.

Shortly after Heather turned 13, her father was relocated by his employer to an office in Southern California. She and Boswell nearly had mutual heart attacks, decrying the probability that they would be eternally separated. But in a mighty swirl of serendipity, Heather’s father explained to Boz’s dad that his company was looking for others to work for them in their new office, and that he’d put in a good word for him if he liked the idea. He did, an application was made, a glowing reference was added and Bozwell’s dad was awarded a position. For quite some time thereafter, Boswell’s parents were even more patient with him than usual.

Being strangers in a new school drew Heather and Boz closer yet. They spent as much time as possible together, but as the year progressed Heather found additional friends elsewhere while Bozwell found himself a target of the school bullies. After his first bout with threatened violence, the boy took to hiding in stairwells and empty rooms until moments before he was expected in class, and then racing to his seat so as to avoid being verbally thrashed by his teachers for tardiness.

Heather understood; she always understood. Even as Bozwell grew more and more quiet she made clear that she would always be his friend, that she would always listen if he had anything to say. To prove her empathy she made sure to integrate Boz into her new clique, demanding only that he be treated graciously by any who wanted to call her a friend. The girls she’d met accepted Boz without question. The boys on the other hand did so grudgingly, and that false support became the focus of a serious obsession with self-doubt.
“They don’t care about me” he’d mutter under his breath each time he saw her enjoying someone else’s company; “maybe she doesn’t either. Maybe she never has. Maybe I’m just her little mascot.”

Of course there was a voice of reason as well, as self-pity is best served on a bed of misdirection. “God you moron, you’re pathetic. She’s only been sweet to you and now just because those other creeps fake friendship because they want to be around her so badly they’re willing to let you near them without kicking you, you’re going to blame your lot in life on Heather? Maybe you should just shuttup and let her live her life without an albatross.”

Bozwell started seeing Heather less and less as they grew into their new school. She was very unhappy about it, but had decided to allow Boz his space. He didn’t avoid her, always waved hello, nearly always smiled; but then he’d move on as if they were nothing beyond acquaintances and he’d given her just due.

The bullying continued, the mad dashes started further and further from the school campus and Bozwell became more and more withdrawn. By the end of their first year the boy had receded to near silence, just as Heather had become a fixture in the most popular circles.

That summer Boz noted that it seemed whenever he had something to say it was judged to be stupid or thoughtless or, well, stupid. Granted, most of the people who accused him of saying stupid things were people Bozwell thought to be pretty stupid themselves, but somehow he’d find a way to crown them intelligent, even intellectual, if only in regards to what they thought of him and his obviously stupid prattle. Even his parents, who would never openly call him stupid, would berate him for his imperfect grammar. Boz knew, his parents thought he was an idiot too. So he resolved to never say another word aloud.

It was hard at first. Yet after a few months he found silence to his liking; no expectations, no badgering, no insults save the catcall “weirdo” but even that he grew to like. Weirdo was a badge of honor, it was recognition at least. He preferred “unique”, but he’d not say so aloud. The rest of the school though thought he was far from unique. Nuts, crackers, whacko and “mentally challenged” were the titles bestowed on him.

Heather would still make a point to assure him they were still friends and that she was still ready and willing to listen if ever he had something to say. She seemed to understand even this variation of “Bozwellian” behavior, a point that made Boz a tiny bit proud of himself, though upon thinking it he immediately buried the thought under piles of self-aggrandizement.

The high school years passed, as did Bozwell, barely. Heather graduated as well, with a 4.0 GPA. She was accepted into Berkeley as an engineering student. She had no idea that Bozwell had also been accepted into Berkely, as a custodian.  She saw him on her first class day, and was stunned to think he’d given up on his life.

One afternoon in the cafeteria Heather pulled Boz aside to tell him she was really concerned, that she really wanted to spend some time with him. Her parents were going out of town for the weekend and the house would be hers alone. Would he please come over so they could spend all day together like they used to?

Reluctantly he nodded. It was all he could offer.

That Saturday she was prepared for his silence. She did all the talking; though she gave him plenty of time to respond to each topic, never pressed him but only requested a nod on occasion.

There was though an uncomfortable minute or two, as Heather explained to Boz about a guy who was stalking her. Well no, she wasn’t certain, that’s why she hadn’t reported him to the campus police but it couldn’t be coincidence, could it? Well anyway…

Bozwell left Heather’s that night with mixed feelings. He was elated that they’d come together again, thrilled to think that she actually did care after all. He was also overcome with a sense of dread. He decided he would hang out in Heather’s neighborhood the following day, just to be certain, of … something.

That Sunday Bozwell was a shadow, skirting Heather’s parents’ home every hour from dawn to dusk seemingly without a soul noticing his vigilance.

It was well after dark when Bozwell saw Heather inside the house, turning on a few lights and padding around. She was safe, all was well, his paranoia was just that. He turned to go. And then a noise brought his gaze to the garden bed beneath her parents’ bedroom window. There was a man standing there, peering in.

The realization nearly knocked him to his knees. What would he do now? Shout? He tried, but nothing would come but air. Call the police? No phone! No voice! The police; the police station was only a few blocks away. He darted through the yard and into the street. Suddenly he slowed. What would he do when he got there? If he tried to drag a cop outside he’d surely be arrested, if he wrote a note and waved it around he’d be laughed at for sure. He had to confront the man on his own. But that thought scared him more than any other. It was one thing to suffer the poking and prodding of bullies who would go away once you’d met their demands, but to have an actual fight?

The image of Heather fighting off an attacker gave Boz a burst of adrenaline. He ran back to the window to make his stand, but the man was gone; the screen was on the ground in his place, and the window was wide open. The smashing of glass pushed him to scramble into the window where he tried to shout his friend’s name.

“Heather? Heather?” He screamed; frightened, angry, helpless. Not a sound left his lips but the shoosh of warm air. His silent scream though did seem to have an effect. A door opened and slammed, and then all was quiet.

Bozwell moved into the living room. There Heather lay, blood oozing from her throat which had been sliced to the spine by a shard of broken mirror. He warmed, began to sweat. He swore his blood was pooling right alongside hers. He sank to the floor and carefully slipped her nearly severed head into his lap and rocked her softly as in his mind he hummed a lullaby. All he could see was the face of an angel. Hours later when the police arrived to investigate the open window they found Bozwell still rocking, still staring into the eyes of his one and only friend. When asked what had happened, Bozwell did sincerely try to speak the truth, but couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

The investigation into the murder of Heather Nygard was swiftly completed. The prime suspect, Bozwell Valons uttered not a single word throughout the four weeks in progress; but an army of others spoke volumes, beginning with the Nygard’s neighbor who had seen Boz skulking about on the day of the killing. Then there were the old friends of Heather who spoke to Bozwell’s having always been someone who’d creeped them all out but of course they’d deferred to Heather’s kind heartedness.

By the time the case came to trial it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that this Bozwell boy was deranged and would need to be sentenced to an end by chemical stew.

Bozwell’s parents were devastated, and to show it they moved out of town well before the trial had ended, days after Mr. Valons was relieved of his duties at Nestwing Cable Company because his presence had proved too much a distraction to his coworkers.

Bozwell accepted his fate without a murmur. He deserved to die after all, were it not for his inaction, or cowardice, or whatever it was, Heather might still be alive. He did think about the fact that a killer would go free because of his allowing the execution of an innocent man, but that voice of reason was drowned out by those in his head that scoffed at the concept that he was “innocent”.

Bozwell Valons was executed on his birthday, August fifth. He couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

To the Hound's Ear

 (A 931 word non fiction on the subject: silence)

I am not ordinarily one to argue with science, but I do have my peeves, one being the theory that all human beings are related evolutionarily to simians. I happen to believe that while most of our kind bear genes that would not be out of place when compared to chimpanzees, a few of us more closely resemble the dog. Think upon your collegiate experience for example. Was there not at least one member of your “crew” that spent far too much energy scratching themselves? Did this person seem to not understand the word inappropriate? Haven’t you had at least one friend who would bark at the slightest of sounds, stand at the door panting until you came home, chase cars for fun or have sex only in the “doggie” position? You see my point. We are few, but we are with you.

Perhaps I’d never have recognized this phenomenon if I hadn’t come to identify and then understand my own specific dogginess. Yes, it is my contention we anomalies display only one of our ancestor’s traits; the scratcher merely scratches, those who howl at the moon, well, those that aren’t actually related to chimps and have simply gone insane, only howl at the moon and so on.

So what is my canine quirk you ask? I possess the ability to interpret sound at frequencies far above the human threshold. Put simply, I hear in silence.

I grant I can only prove this anecdotally; I am not a scientist but a very lightly educated man. Yet I am reasonably sure when you hear the stories that serve as the basis of my contention, I think you will agree that I am of the dogs indeed.

I only need to scry a face to hear the sounds. While peering at a young lover I will hear them say “I love you so deeply no words would serve to explain my adoration and so I will simply stare into your soul until you understand”. If it were a slightly introverted lover they would say the entire aforementioned quote, plus “I only hope that you’re not creeped out by my staring.” Were it a moderately paranoid, introverted lover they would unload all I’ve written before plus “and I hope you’re not creeped out that I thought you might be creeped out.”

I know; amazing isn’t it? There are times when I don’t even need to see a face to hear the words. From a rental agent I can hear “Of course I’m rejecting your application because you’re black; but if you think I’ll say so out loud rather than provide you and the ACLU a nebulous but totally defendable excuse, you’re not only inferior but crazy.”

Much of the time my dog-eared self finds this power a burden. It’s probably why I talk so much truth be told. The silence is often deafening. And sometimes, while the ability is absolute, the interpretation of what is received is lacking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen lips say “I love you” while what I hear is “I’ve never loved you and never will, but thanks for the hand up.” You’d think this talent a boon and yet I regularly find myself ignoring the audio while accepting the lip gloss (so to speak). Even having the facts in hand can’t solve every problem. (Were I able to fully connect my logical mind with my dogonality I might be able to develop quite a career as a biological lie detector, but as of this moment that combination is in the developmental stage)

I admit, it’s good to be privy to some of life’s noiseless chatter. For instance when my grandmother told me that she really wanted me to become the first American Pope without so much as opening her mouth much less making the sign of the cross, I was moved to tears. (Of course she was at the time hugging me so hard I thought the top of my head was going to pop off)(And that made me wonder if grandmas were the reason monks all had that “special” look)

I would also venture that when my wife mouths “I hate you” and what actually comes out is “no I don’t really, I’m just mad at you”, I get down on my paws and thank my genetic forbears that I was born a dog and not a monkey, so to speak.

There is though I must say in closing, one aspect to my endowment that always bothers me; that will make me wish I had been born an ape each time it happens. I call it the “Yes Conundrum.”

It generally appears in my relationships to female acquaintances, though to be sure there was one male I knew before his untimely death who would belong in the group I reference.

At times I’ve seen the face in question before hearing the sound; at others, I’ve only needed the silence at the other end of a telephone connection. The Yes Conundrum goes something like this:  

Yes, he beat me again.
Yes, I’m alright.
Yes, he cried.
Yes, he apologized.
Yes, he promised he’d never do it again.
Yes, I should leave.
Yes, I’m staying.
Yes, I am praying that you say nothing about this but only tell me once again you are my friend forever.

To eliminate this sound from my extended range, I would not only give up my canine talent, but my ears themselves. Well, except the last half of the last line. Those words I can deal with, spoken silently or aloud.