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Foray into Children’s Lit

6 Apr

Tobias Theophrastus Bombastus von Hobbins IV sat on a park bench by the water. He stroked his enormous beard with his enormous hand. He reached into his beard and took out a handful of crumbs, throwing them at the ducks in the pond. The ducks gobbled the crumbs, and waddled toward him for more. He reached into his beard and threw more crumbs. His stomach growled.

“Time for lunch,” he said to himself. Tobias reached again and took out a cucumber sandwich covered in plastic. He unwrapped it and nibbled daintily at the crustless lunch. The ducks looked up at him.

“Quack,” they said.

“None for you,” he said to them, mouth full of chewed up cucumber and white bread.

“Quack,” they said again, waddling off.

Tobias finished his sandwich and dusted his hands off. Slowly, he lifted himself from the bench.

“Oof,” he said.

He walked down the lane, whistling to himself. He was happy. Today he would buy a didjeridoo. He walked out of the park to the music shop. The bells chimed when closed the door behind him.

“Hello,” said the shopkeeper, wearing thick, goggle-like glasses.

“Hullo!” Tobias said brightly.

“May I help you?”

“Are you in the habit of selling didjeridoos?”

“A whointhewhatnow?” The shopkeeper scratched his bald shiny head.

“A didjeridoo?” Tobias put one fist on top of the other and pressed them against his mouth, trying to imitate the noise.

“Oh, a triangle,” said the shopkeeper. He held out a small metal triangle and struck it with a metal stick. It clinked.

“No–”

“Yes, that’s exactly what you need.”

“But–”

The shopkeeper rang up the triangle. Tobias could not argue with the shopkeeper, it was not in his nature. He bought the triangle. He walked down the street, shoulders slumped, clinking his triangle. He clinked back to the park, clinking at the ducks.

“Quack,” they said to him.

Clink, he went, before putting the triangle away in his beard. Tobias sighed. He heaved a heavy, deep sigh. He stroked his beard, and sighed once more, with gusto.

“Hmmmm,” he said, reaching back into his beard. Heaving (again) he pulled out a long tube. He blew on the tube.

“Quack,” said the ducks.

“Bbwo wo woo wooow wo,” blew Tobias Theophrastus Bombastus von Hobbins IV on his didjeridoo.

(This character was salvaged from a much longer story I’d written several years ago that crashed and burned. Maybe one day I’ll be able to salvage more, or at least do something else with him.)

snippet: The Anniversary

16 Mar

Luda smoothed the shirt on the hanger and hung it in the closet. Her eyes lingered on no particular spot there, just her family’s clothing bunched together, a row of hangers clutching a pole: her husband’s good suit, her good dress, and little Mia’s weekend outfit and alternate school uniform, all hanging limp. It was early afternoon but the clouds outside were so dense and full with rain that it felt much later. She sighed and closed the door.

The sounds of the youngest school children began wafting up through the large concrete yard, through the open window in the kitchen. Luda put the kettle on and cut a slice of bread, spread goose fat on it and waited for Mia. She had started first grade a week ago and no longer required her mother’s company.

Luda adjusted the pins in her hair and wiped her hands on her apron. The door unlatched and there was Mia, her red hair wild and bow askew, red-cheeked and breathless.

“Hello little devil,” Luda said. She resisted the urge to scoop her up and give her kisses. “Come here and have a snack.”

Mia shut the door and went to the table. Luda poured her some tea and Mia swung her legs as she chewed on the black bread. She chattered about her day between bites and Luda reminded her to swallow before opening her mouth to speak. Mia finished her snack in silence (still swinging her legs) and Luda adjusted her bow.

A few hours later Matei came home. Matei was a tailor. He shared a shop with another tailor and he often brought home his work, which Luda helped with. Usually they would exchange a kiss and have a quiet dinner before setting down to work. They would sit side-by-side, mending and altering, taking turns at their major investment, the Singer.

Today, however, was the fifth anniversary. Luda could not look at Matei. She looked above him, beside him, at his forehead, his nose (growing a hump beneath his square glasses), at his ears. She looked at the corners of the kitchen, her fork, her spoon, her soup, the table. She wondered if he noticed this behavior, and its steady yearly recurrence. If he did, he had the tact not to say anything. The tact or the fear. She wasn’t sure. She worried that he knew and did not say, but perhaps he knew that she thought he knew.

After dinner Luda checked on Mia’s homework and put her to bed on the cot in the living room. Then she went into the bedroom and lay down. She stared into the darkness and listened to the stuttering of the Singer. She listened to the rhythm of Matei’s work, as well as the silences, and wondered if in those pauses, he was looking up, staring at no particular point on the wall and thinking of her. She smiled at this image, then put her hands on her belly and cried.

snippet: Luda

10 Mar

In the narrow, sherbet room there is one wall with floor-to-ceiling shelving. The shelves are filled not with books but yarns, threads, ribbons, and lace, in descending order of frequency. The colors cooled by the light bouncing off the walls. A painting of Luda hangs on the opposite wall, above the twin bed. The faint blue and purple shadows in the folds of her flesh.

“If it tastes good, it’s kosher,” was her motto. And this was manifested in her, and the portrait continues to manifest it.

In her final years, the seamstress lived in this sewing room, though she didn’t do much sewing anymore. She simply beamed at the wall of threads and admired the woolen yarn and the half-completed rug on the loom by the window. Her daughter had tried weaving in her unemployed days, but was now too busy at IBM to have “productive leisure time.”

Luda would sit on the bed with her hands on her knees and listen to the son-in-law mend curtains on the sewing machine, or do other odds and ends. What a handy boy.

Few people came to the funeral. They’d either died or were stuck in Romania. A few letters of condolence arrived in thin airmail envelopes. They had a short service at the cemetery and the rabbi gave a generic speech based on the five minute pre-funeral interview. A flock of honking geese flew up as rocks were strewn in the grave and the small party (daughter, with baby on hip, her husband, and me, the neighbor) got into the Subaru and drove back to Brooklyn.

Her daughter Mia invited me in after the service. I had made a pot of cholent before the funeral. I lived next door and occasionally swapped stories with Luda in her better days. She’d told me about her life, her sewing and her cooking. She made cholent with bacon fat. So I finally tried the sacrilegious recipe in her honor. It worked well with the meat and the beans, added a smoky flavor.

Mia was sitting on the floor of Luda’s old room when I arrived. The baby was waddling around, banging at the loom and babbling to it. Her husband was in the dining/living room, arranging flowers.

“That’s it, then,” Mia said, as I stood in the doorway.

“She’s in a better place,” I said, dreading all the clichés and wishing for something better. I barely knew Mia. “I’m so sorry.”

Mia grabbed at her boy and swung him into her lap. He squeaked with joy.

“I wish she had come over more, I so enjoyed her stories,” I said. “We always talked of knitting together. I didn’t realize how much yarn she had!”

“She used to make beautiful things.”

“I can imagine.”

The afternoon light threw a muted orange triangle on half of Mia’s face. She had her mother’s roundness and hearty build, but her eyes were darker and stronger. Her hair was red but I’d only known Luda’s stark white.

“Sit down,” said Mia.

Her husband brought in some plates of cholent. I started for the bed, hesitated, then opted for the floor, beside Mia. Luda looked on, above us. The cholent was thick and not very hot, just the right warmth. We ate in silence.

(Maybe part of a larger work. Then again, maybe not.)

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