Infancy

I was told two things about my birth by my parents. First, that I was born with dark, curly hair which so pleased my father that he went round and boasted of it to all his friends. When he returned to the hospital the second day, my hair had become light brown and straight. The first disappointment.

I was also told that when I was born, I seemed to be ill, so a nurse took me away from my mother. Apparently there was then a change of shift or some such interruption because, after some time, my mother asked about me and no one knew where I was. The nurse had gone. They searched for quite a while, and only after some hours they found me alone in a stainless steel tub. And I was ill — I had, by then, my second day, somehow caught chicken pox. There must have been other little stories around my birth, but this is all I ever heard, and I heard it over and over. And chicken pox was just the beginning. I became the favourite rest stop on the disease freeway for many years.

This may have had something to do with what my mother revealed only many years later. When she was pregnant with me — her first child, at nearly 39 years old — her doctor espoused a trend current at the time that held that women should only gain a very small amount of weight when pregnant, the weight of the baby and placenta, maybe ten pounds. So he had my mother on a diet of lettuce and tomatoes for the last few months of her pregnancy and, by god, it worked! My mother, normal weight 105 lbs, weighed 112 when I was born.

I used to wonder, many years later, if my birth was a trick played on my father by my mother. At the time of my birth in the 1940s, my mother was well past the allowable child bearing age when I was born; my father was 42 and I was their first and only child. I think that my father probably didn’t want children at all but my mother did; as she approached the Last Chance Saloon, I felt she must have got pregnant without my father’s immediate knowledge or permission. It certainly seemed that way later.

It always is surprising to me that people take so much unshared to the grave. Members of my family must have known so much about me, about my parents’ life, but they’re all gone now and very determinedy took almost all the secrets with them. The things I know are, of course, all derived from what others told me, mostly my mother, some from my father, some from my aunts and uncles.

But my very own earliest memory dates back to somewhere around the age of three. I remember being in a playpen and looking out through the bars at my parents’ two dogs, Zeb and Tango. Zeb, my father’s, was a Pit Bull Terrier, and was sleeping under the coffee table. Tango, my mother’s old Airedale, had crept up onto the couch, where he was not supposed to be. All three of us heard my parents’ steps coming up the stairs to our flat. There were two businesses on the ground floor: my mother’s beauty shop and a bar called The Clam Pot, where they had been. Tango jumped down from the couch and immediately pretended to be asleep on the floor. My father came in, walked over to the couch and felt it with his hand. He knew instantly that the dog had been on it, it was warm to the touch and there were dog hairs — and the dog corroborated it by looking terribly guilty. Dogs are such patsies. My father got very angry, yelling and hitting Tango; I started crying, afraid that Tango was being hurt. My father was angry with me too, for crying, and my mother came in and took me into another room. Tango lived to sleep through another day, but both dogs died before I had much chance to know them well. Like I did with Zeke, the Pit Bull we got when I was five.

Friday Fictioneer 100 Word Story #5: Trout Fishing in America

Trout Fishing in America

The elegance of fishing: knee deep in the verge of a stream, tracking variations of current, faster here, slower there, ripples behind rocks coming together like ducktails, eyeing bubbles rising in pools, the deepest part, dark and cool, where you would shelter if you were the fish. That’s the real connection, more profound than any technique, casting your mind out, like the line.

There’s joy in the technique too. The snaking line doubling and tripling itself above you, landing perfectly at the end of the riffle, its digital fly moving inexorably into the magnetic field of the engineered fish. Strike.

Dream House #16 – Carlos

Dream House, part 16 – Carlos Repuesto de la Tabla

Carol and Lailah awoke to the early morning light streaming into their room, accompanied by the sound of little birds warbling in the wood beyond the window next to their bed. “Mmngh… “ Lailah yawned and stretched her arms, arching her back. She felt like she had been asleep for days, but now the mists of sleep were dispersing to reveal a clear vision of the musty old room and the sunny day taking place outside the window. Carol stirred next to her, waking a bit more slowly, but to just as clear a mind.

G’morning, baby,” Lailah leaned over her, smiling. “You awake? I’m starving! How about you? Wanna go out to breakfast? I think there’s a diner here in town.” She slid out of bed and opened the front window, letting a light breeze and the smell of the sea blow in.

The breeze woke Carol the rest of the way and she too realized she was hungry. And hungry to be outside in that cool air, amongst trees, sand and sea. And out of the house. She jumped out of bed too, surprising Lailah with her sudden energy. Carol, who had slept in her t-shirt — she couldn’t even remember going to bed — found her carryall bag and pulled out some fresh clothes, quickly slipping into her jeans and clean dark brown t-shirt. She looked at her watch. “It’s not quite nine; I better go down and tell Mrs. Anvers not to make us breakfast.” She slipped her sandals on and sped downstairs, calling back “Get dressed Lai; I wanna go out soon!”

Lailah, bemused by Carol’s alacrity, found the clothes she had worn yesterday folded neatly on a chair, no doubt by Mrs Anvers; it wasn’t Carol’s style. Lailah dressed, like Carol, in jeans and t-shirt, hers a black 49ers T with “San Francisco” across the front. She wasn’t a football fan, but it was the only tasteful 49er shirt she’d ever seen, so she felt compelled to buy it; the red logo looked good with her hair. When she got downstairs she found Carol and Mrs Anvers in the kitchen talking. There were pans on the stove and eggs set out, but nothing had been cooked. She smiled and murmured a “good morning” at Mrs Anvers who asked her how she was feeling. “Oh, I seem to be just fine, Mrs Anvers. Thank you so much for taking care of me. I don’t know what came over me…”

I expect it was nothing, dear. Sometimes we just wander into places that might bring up past associations that can be a bit overwhelming. I know you don’t know the house, but you did know Martin Easkot, and he was very tied to this house, you know.”

Carol, slightly too loudly, interjected. “Lai, we better get a move on, we don’t want to miss breakfast!” She did not want to hear the house mentioned.

The girls walked into town, really just a collection of buildings that lined the Coast Highway. They walked along the shoulder of the two lane road, heading toward the Seaview Cafe while a procession of Sunday motorcyclists, mostly on Harley Davidsons, rumbled by. The Seaview was a one storey, flat roofed, weatherworn blue-grey building between the highway and the beach. It was the size and shape of a large house trailer, but had big plate glass windows on the sea side and an open door that led to a small deck with tables.

The deck was full, but they found a table inside, sat, and perused the large plastic menus. After a few minutes, a scruffy, middle-aged fellow in worn jeans and a faded, orange and blue striped T-shirt came to their table and asked what they’d like. “Ooh, coffee, please, for both of us. Mugs. We need it!” Carol waid.

Been partying a bit, have ya? he asked with a sly smile.

No, no, “ said Lailah, “we just had a… difficult night’s sleep.”

Where are ya stayin’? At the Dunes Motel? Saturday nights there can be bad” he laughed.

No, we were at the Easkot House” offered Carol.

The Easkot House — what were you doin’ there? Nobody stays there, least not since I been livin’ here. And I been here quite a a few years.” He seemed disturbed by this news, and Carole decided it would be best to end that conversation just as Lailah began to answer.

Oh, I’m the new…” Carole kicked her under the table and interrupted.

I’ll have the heuvos rancheros — if they’re good.” She smiled sweetly up at him then quickly turned to Lailah “And you, darling?” She wanted him to think about anything but the Easkot House. She just had a feeling.

Uh, yes, I’ll have the Garden Omelette with wheat toast” Lailah offered, and the waiter left.

The coffee was surprisingly good, the mugs big and hefty, and Lailah and Carol relaxed into conversation about yesterday, the house, and it’s inhabitants.

Lailah began. “Carol, what happened yesterday? I mean, I feel fine right now but…”

Yeah, I know, it was like you were allergic to something. Or maybe, like Mrs Anvers said, you have some connection to this house through Martin Easkot.”

But I hardly knew him!”

Well, maybe he knew you then,”

But what happened while I was asleep?” Lailah asked.

Well, it’s hard to say. First you had a dream, strange, like a waking, sleepwalking dream. I was downstairs with Mrs Anvers when we heard you shouting. When we got up there you were trying to climb out the front window, but you thought it was a door, a door apparently into another room that you really, really wanted to get into. Anyway, we got you back in bed and back to sleep.”

God, I don’t remember any of that!”

But wait, there’s more” laughed Carol, imitating a late night TV commercial.

Don’t tell me, a pack of Ginsu knives…”

No, but more sleepwalking and dreaming. You came downstairs like some zombie, saying you were being called outside. Summoned, you said.”

Wow, I must have been having real B-movie nightmares.”

Oh, you were, all right. And you were crying, but Mrs Anvers gave you something and Alexander carried you back to bed, voila, here we are!”

Yes, eating! Back to our normal state. This is delish, but sleeping for 12 hours, then eating this huge breakfast… I’m going to have to get some exercise. Fancy a run on the beach after breakfast?

Carol, never much for the exercise thing, was now glad she’d worn sandals. “Aw, no, baby, got the wrong shoes on. But you go ahead. After we have another coffee.”

Lailah smiled at her, then asked “What about you? What did you do all that time I was sleeping and dreaming?

Carol paused, thinking. “Well, I’m not exactly sure. I fell asleep too, downstairs, and I had dreams too. But I don’t really remember them.  In fact, I don’t even know how I got to bed… But I do remember some things. Mrs Anvers was there, and Alexander, and there was this owl outside that was really bothering me. It was incessant, that hooting. Then there was something else, it had to do with that… but I can’t remember. I do know, though, that we both seem to have some connection to this house. and I don’t think it’s the same connection, and that I just completely do not understand.  There is certainly more to know about it.  But it’s your house, babe, and you can do what you want with it! So when in doubt, decorate!”

Boy, I’ll say! I’d really like to get rid of those big heavy drapes in the bedroom.”

They finished their coffee, paid the bill, and strolled out to the beach. The sun was high, the little breeze kept it from sweltering, clouds dotted the sky, small groups of people dotted the beach. They were at the south end of the beach that extended north a couple of miles. The waves weren’t big, but there quite a few surfers out.

Are you gonna run?” Carol asked. “It might be a little warm with jeans and a t-shirt on, but at least you’ve got running shoes on.”

Lailah laughed. “Oh, absolutely. Maybe I’ll run into a cute surfer boy along the way! And if I get too warm, I can take my shirt off; my bra looks enough like a bathing suit top.”

Well, in that case, I’m sure you’ll find a guy” Carol responded acerbically. “I think I could just drink coffee all day. Don’t bring a boy home unless he wants to carry boxes. And then leave. Not too sure about that house yet and I’d like to keep sleeping together if you don’t mind, but I don’t think I’m ready for a threesome.”

Carol left Lailah doing stretches and made her way back to the Seaview for that coffee.

 


Smells

Smells stay with you the longest. They bookend your life: when you become old, smells that invaded you when you were very young, before speech, reappear. Every once in a while, a breeze from my memory wafts the smell of my mother’s beauty shop to me: the chemicals, sweet, steamy, warm that I smelled when my mother put me to nap in the back room. The musty smell of the crocheted afghan that I lay on survives, and the sweet smell of our dogs coming in wet. They are what remains of the first three years of my life.


Friday Fictioneer 100 Word Story #4

Christmas Tree

 These humans, how stupid. They come to look at me, their children prancing around them like a pack of pink hairless dogs. Until they see me. Ooh, it’s scrawny, we can’t get that one! And the male, apologising to his spawn: we can’t afford a big one. Ha! Do they think I want to be chosen? Do they think I want to be garlanded with shiny objects, strips of plastic and their painful electric wires? But they do choose me, out of his economy and her pity. Her pity!  I’m soon dead anyway, severed, by them, from my roots.

Attacked by a Killer Octopus — in my House!

Attacked by a Killer Octopus — in my House!

My father loved fishing in the ocean. When I was about 4, he built a 14-foot rowboat that he took out as far as the Farallon Islands, 26 miles off the coast California. One day he unintentionally caught an octopus and left it in the kitchen sink where it remained, alive. Fascinated, I climbed up on a chair to examine this sea monster in the sink. For some reason, having surely to do with being six or seven years old, I licked one of the octopus’ tentacles, covered with suckers as they are. And it attached itself to my tongue! I could not get it off. I was terrified! What if it pulled me into its beaky mouth and ate me?

My friend Billy was with me and, equally terrified, went for help. First my mother came but, pulling as hard my sore tongue could stand, she still could not get the thing off.  I thought I was going to die there. Then my dad came home.  He cut the tentacle from the octopus and when it was severed, the sucker released its grip on my tongue and I was free. Three hours in the grip of a sea monster, but I was saved! I don’t remember if we ate the octopus, but I hope we did.