The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep…

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This is just a bit of fun, really! Oh, and quite long again, so bring sandwiches.

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“There were tales told of a girl, in the days before imagining, when wild people lived deep in the wild wood, and wild deer danced in sunlit glades. It is said those blessed by the sight of this girl described an apparition so beautiful the raindrops about her turned to diamonds as they fell. They spoke of auburn hair, of a dress gossamer-white that flowed about her graceful limbs as freely as the waters of a mountain stream; and light would shine in their eyes at just the memory of her. It was said that old men from their beds could see her, and young men riding by on their steeds might desire her, but she was of the faery people, and none may touch her if they wished to live.

“Those were old tales. This was long, long ago.”

Anna poked experimentally at a willow frond. “You make it sound so real. I thought I could see her for a moment there, among the trees.”

“If you see her, she will bring you good fortune.” Callum replied.

“But not if I touch her.” Anna wound the frond about her finger.

“No. You must never touch her.”

“I won’t, then – if I see her. What was her name?”

Callum watched Anna as she walked before him, and he thought her as beautiful as any spirit of the woods. “Legend had it that her name was a riddle. Whosoever solved it would marry her.”

“Ah, so there’s a story, isn’t there?” Anna called back over her shoulder. “What happened to her?”

“These are old, old tales. Some say she passed as all the faeries did, into the Land of the Forgotten. Others that she still walks here, among these trees, but will only appear to a very few who are specially blessed. Me, I like the story most often told, in those far gone days, of a young man from Halverton.”

Callum stopped talking, lost for a moment in his rapture of Anna. She turned to see the far-off look in his eyes and laughed her music, saying: “Go on, then! Who was this ‘young man from Halverton’?”

“Halverton was just a village in those days, not the town it is now. A collection of mean peasant huts huddled in the river valley, fearful of the wild wood; but it was a place where the river might be crossed, so there was a living for a few.

“According to legend a tyrannical merchant controlled the only route across the river, taking tolls from all who used it. This merchant made a slave of a young man, working him all hours of night and day, then getting drunk and beating him mercilessly.

“Now one morning, gathering firewood for his master in the deep dark forest this young man he met with the faery. When she saw the blood that evidenced his beating she took pity on him. She led him to her home deep in the forest, where she cared for him, healing his wounds. There they fell in love. They made a home together in the root bole of an old oak tree, and its ancient roots wrapped them in their warm embrace. And so they lived, in happiness.”

“He must have solved the riddle?”

“I suppose.” Callum smiled. “Or maybe she cheated and told him her name. It’s only a story!”

“Oh, but it’s so sweet!” Anna enthused. “Happy ever after, Callum. Isn’t that sweet?”

“Well, not so happy, no.”

“Now, Callum! Don’t spoil the story!” Together, Callum and Anna stood at a place where their path divided into two; one of which would lead across open fields, the other into the cool shade of the trees.

“Which way?” Anna asked.

“You choose.” Callum said, but he held his breath while she made her choice.

Anna grinned meaningfully, deciding. “Let’s hide in the deep dark forest, Callum. Perhaps we can find an oak tree, do you think?” She took his hand. Then, as they strolled together on their new path into the darker recesses of the wood, she said: “Why not a happy ending?”

Callum did not reply at once, for the moment Anna placed her cool hand in his he forgot everything that had gone before. Her presence, her soft breathing next to him, the way dappled sunlight found its way through the treetops to play in her hair enraptured him, and all else was lost.  At last, when they were already far from the open light of day, he said: “There was a king who ruled this land. Although he was a fair, just ruler, so too was he powerful and hot-blooded.

“For many years, years before the slave-boy met her, this king had heard tales, brought to him by his courtiers, of the forest maiden. His palace echoed to accounts of her loveliness, and he was determined to take her in marriage.

“He sent his courtiers to the forest to find her; but even if they saw her once in a while, they could never get close enough to capture her. Oh, they tried. They contrived to bind her with nets, they dug pits that they covered with leaves, they laid traps; but she was wise in forest ways, and nothing that was made by man could hold her.”

“She was meant to be free.” Anna murmured, half to herself. “It’s so quiet in here, isn’t it? So peaceful. I can picture her, you know, Callum? I can feel her close to me.”

Callum smiled. “Can you? Could it be possible you are one of the blessed? But first you must hear the end of the legend.

“At last, the king grew angry. He sent his herald to the forest with a proclamation, that the faery girl was to be his bride and she was to go to him, by his command. He was king, after all. He was not to be disobeyed.”

“Oh no! What happened?”

“The faery girl emerged from the forest; something so unexpected and amazing all who saw her were frozen to the spot, because this was the first, the only time anyone from the outer world would hear her speak. In a voice as soft and as pure as a thousand caroling bells she told the royal party she was wed already, and the lonely slave-boy was her husband. She would never come to the king.”

“So the king wasn’t happy?”

“He was furious! He sent soldiers to arrest her, but they were lowly paid and not as courageous as the courtiers. They had heard it was fatal to touch her so they didn’t look very hard before they told the king she could not be found. Now the king himself, who ruled by divine right, was not so fearful of her touch, or troubled by faery riddles, but he was wary of the forest people, and he had long sought an excuse to drive them out. So in his passion he swore if he could not possess the faery girl no-one would. He accused the forest people of hiding the girl and ordered their forest to be razed to the ground.

“They set fire to the forest?”

“They came with torches in the first light of dawn. They set fires along the forest edge and by sunset all the trees were well alight. They say a thousand woodland people died. Those who survived scattered and fled. But Nature is stronger than any king, and they were not gone for long.”

“The girl, Callum! What happened to the girl? Oh, stop. I already know.”

“Yes, she died in the fire. It was said she never left the old oak that gave her shelter, but curled up with her lover in her arms beneath its mighty trunk and waited for the fire to come. When the forest people returned they discovered two bodies lying there, and left them while they conjured the rebirth of the forest with their magical husbandry. With time, the greenwood swallowed up the faery girl, and so she rests. For a while her memory died with her.”

Anna had walked a few paces in front of Callum so she might hide her face from him, in case her tears spilled. “Only for a while?”

“Of course. Isn’t it always so? When one legend dies another is born? This one tells how the faery girl wore a ring as symbol of her love, which she kept with her when she died. Well, many claim to have found her ring as they walked through the forest, but none could recover it, for the legend says she holds it on her finger until one person of true virtue passes by, and only if they are as pure of mind as she will she release the ring into their care.”

“You mean, like the sword in the stone thing. Like King Arthur?”

“Yes. And here the riddle story comes in again. Whoever lifts the ring will learn the answer. They will learn her name and the power it gives.” Seeing Anna’s wide-eyed look, Callum laughed. “It is only a legend.” He assured her gently. “There are thousands of old folk-tales like it in early history. One version even says that if someone evil tries to pick the ring up, the faery will drag them down into the earth with her. Like I said – only a legend.”

“Wow!” The pair walked together silently for a while, lost in their thoughts, and they walked deeper and deeper into the wood.

Anna said: “What if…?” And she stopped.

“What if?” Callum questioned her with his eyes, but she was staring at something far off among the trees. “What, Anna?”

“Callum, what sort of tree is that?”

Callum tried to follow the direction of her stare, towards the knarled old tree that stood perhaps a hundred yards ahead of them. “That? I believe it’s an oak. Why?”

“Because there’s something shining – there in the leaves at the bottom of it.”

“Oh, Anna! I’m sorry I told you now! It’s a folk tale – a story!”

But Anna was running. “No! No, it isn’t. I can see it. I can see it, Callum!”

Laughing, Callum ran in pursuit, but she was a young hind, fast and light of foot beyond his means to catch her. He only did so when she had stopped before the old tree.

“Callum, this is the tree. I know it. I can feel it!”

Callum tried to catch his breath. “It’s certainly old.”

“She died here. She’s laying here, the faery girl! And this…” Anna stooped to brush away leaves from the forest floor: “Callum – oh, Callum – this must be her ring.”

Together, they stared down at a ring of gold all but buried in the black soil, its single stone flashing in rivulets of sunlight from the canopy of trees above their head.

“Could it be you?” Callum murmured, overcome. “Could you be the one to take the ring from her?”

“Well, it’s certainly a very beautiful ring, but I’m not worthy of it.” Anna said. “I hate to break this to you, Callum, but my soul really isn’t that pure.”

“It is in my eyes.” Callum said. “At least you should try.”

“No. Should I?”

“Yes. But as you do it, say a prayer for the faery girl. I don’t know. Maybe she will hear you. Maybe you’re about to solve the riddle at last.”

“Oh, stop it! I have to try, though, don’t I?” Hesitantly, and trying to drive all thoughts of avarice from her mind, Anna crouched beside the ring. With shaking fingers she grasped the gold band gently, making a prayer as Callum had suggested, right from the very essence of her being, a prayer of hope and love. So, so carefully, she pulled the ring upwards.

The soil released it.

Anna held it there, for seconds, for a minute perhaps, disbelieving. When at last she found her feet, the ring nestled in the palm of her hand as though that was where it had always belonged.

“Oh, Callum! It’s so lovely!”

“Almost as lovely as the hand that holds it.”

“But how do I find the answer to the riddle? How do I learn her name?” Anna cried. Then: “Wait! There’s something written on the inside of the band. It’s so small I can hardly read it. It says…”

“What does it say?” Callum prompted.

Anna squinted to pick out the words. “It says: ‘Anna’.”

“It says, ‘Anna with love’!” Then, as the truth dawned, she glared at him in mock fury.

“Callum, you bastard!”

Callum grinned. “I am, aren’t I? Anna, will you marry me?”

#

© Frederick Anderson 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

Mother’s Day – A Matter of Family Values

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In my country, we have Mothering Sunday.   That’s today.

It’s the fourth Sunday in Lent, if anyone is interested in the jigsaw puzzle of the St. John of the ladderChristian calendar, and it remembers St. John of the Ladder, or St. John Climacus (Climacus – climb – ladder; gettit?  Don’t you just love Latin?).  It was once called Laetare Sunday, and is variously still known as Refreshment Sunday or Rose Sunday.  The latter because, apparently, of a golden rose traditionally sent by the Pope to Christian sovereigns.  Why?  Because Wikipedia says so, that’s why.

These days, Christian sovereigns are probably sick of an ever-growing stack of golden roses:  the pot in the royal throne room (the one just beneath the self-portrait of George W. Bush) is likely to be over-brimming with the things.   As for refreshment Sunday, that’s intended to mean refreshment of religious vows, rather than setting up a canteen in the vestry – or so I’m told.  Anyway, moving on.

In secular terms, as our beloved Archbishop is fond of saying, Mothering Sunday has simply become Mother’s Day, and though its origins are different to the American version, the essence of the festival is much the same.

It’s the day the chickens come home to roost.

For our grown-up chickens have a duty that must be fulfilled.  Our door must be visited, flowers must be presented, platitudes offered.

“Sorry, I know it’s not much this year, Mum.  We’re seriously short of money. What with the alterations to the house, the new Jacuzzi and Amanda’s kitchen makeover, there’s not much left to go round.”

“You’ll be planning your budget really carefully, then?”

“Yes.  That’s what the weekend in Florence was all about.  Just sitting down in a nice Trattoria with some wine and talking it over.”

‘I don’t suppose the 5K your father lent you entered your thinking?’  No, that’s a question that remains unasked; more because you fear the answer, than the risk of killing the conversation.

As for ourselves, we are past the age when we have mothers of our own, so Mother’s Day represents no major digression from our usual Sabbath routine.  Were we church-goers it might mean a service in a church where the faithful have made a bit of an effort:  a few flowers, some of what only a Christian congregation can call ‘gaiety’.  As it is, all we have to sacrifice is our sleep.  Rising at the crack of dawn is strongly advisable, because the progeny will be queuing at the end of the road waiting for sunrise.

The first knock comes at seven am.

“Hello Dad – not too early, is it?”

“My, those flowers look nice.”  (The all-night garage always raises its act for Mother’s Day).

The next knock comes at eight-thirty.

“Hello, Mummy, you look a bit pale.  Are you ailing?”

“Lack of sleep, dear.  My, those flowers look nice.”  (Discretion demands you conceal the first bouquet because the second one is likely to be identical).

By ten o’clock the fog of children will have dispersed and life will have returned to normal.   A day of creative flower-arranging beckons while we try to analyze our success-rating with our offspring (tricky, this one:  do we regard the very earliest arrival as the most ardent, or simply the one who wants to get the onerous event over soonest?)  and express our admiration for the innate sense of timing involved.  The earlier visitor will always contrive to be gone before the second arrives, because they do not ‘get on’ with one another.

What then, if anything, does Mothers Day signify – for us, the ex-parents, the holders of the torch everyone is waiting so eagerly for us to put down?  Enjoyment of a traditional family day when those we withstood for eighteen or so childhood years return to haunt us, briefly; or merely another clutter of cards, a few more needlessly sacrificed trees?   Or something in between?   Do the fruits of our loins observe the tradition because they want to, because they feel that need to reconnect to their roots, or rather through a desire to check that we haven’t sold the Ming vase that sits in their half of the will?

It is hard to give answers.  A wise owl on one shoulder might express the opinion 0wl 1owl 2that there are too many days in a year when family is meant to honor its obligations to its adjacent generation, whilst the wise owl on the other might claim that family unity is the cement that binds society together, and therefore cannot be reinforced too much.  (At which point I might remind myself that certain Sicilian families of recent history were very strong on the use of cement in resolving family issues).

My solution?  I accept what I cannot change.  I do not seek the answers.  After all, these shoulders are big enough for two owls:  why put one in a position where it has to peck the eyes out of the other – and which owl would win?

Which of our prodigal children will stay long enough to convince us they are happy to be here? Who will listen rapturously as we regale them with  details of our IBS symptoms, or try to persuade them to join our line-dancing class?  Who might even stay to lunch?

Ah well, tick the diary for another year.  Then cast forward to their next return to the fold – about a week after my birthday, perhaps.

New Chouhdary Bus Service in the rural areas of Punjab

frederick anderson:

A lovely reblog from Saima Qureshi. This is a bus I have to ride one day. Saima paints a picture with her words that is so vivid I almost feel I am on it already!

Originally posted on Saima Qureshi:

busDon’t get surprised if you see a large bus with all its doors and windows wide open. A conductor will be hanging, in fact swinging in the entrance door hawking for the passengers to a particular direction. Spitting his paan all around, this eagle-eyed man will be observing, monitoring, and accommodating the travelers at the same time. Abuses can frequently come out of his mouth while he addresses the drivers and other administrative staff in the bus or the people involved

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Slow growth

frederick anderson:

From Simon Kindt’s blog, this is as close as you can get to a perfect capture, I think…

Originally posted on Simon Kindt:

O PAINTING

It will have been months since you’ve written
anything that matters, on a day you’ll think yourself
to be a fat and slowing story, or another sinking stone.
You’ll wake and read someone else’s poem
about angels and bombs and how, on detonation,
a thing will weigh precisely nothing. You’ll think
of how a flame, viewed correctly, can appear
to be a flower birthed from air. And you, your hands
all full of mud, will think your bones have turned
to hardwood, will think of white ants in your blood,
will think your joints could crack and bleed out sap –
all this until your daughter, who woke an hour before you,
holds a flower out to you and says she wants to dance.
And as you haul your dogwood bones up off the floor
you’ll wonder if you’ve somehow caught alight,
if you’re both a kind of slow explosion,
as you and she, both dancing now,
don’t seem to weigh…

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Christian?

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I have never known whether or not I could write poetry, so this category may remain impoverished, or short-lived, if my followers are honest in their opinion. But there are times when verse seems to help express a need. This is one such time:

Christian

Christian, where were you in the sun time
When our feet tramped hard on beaten clay?
Where were you when the militia came
To sweep our land of the planted seed
And take our hopes away?

Where were you in those squalid aisles
Of spoil and waste that seeped with death
Between the tents and junkyard piles
You forced us to reside beneath?
Did you weep as you passed by?

Where were you when the trader came
To knock upon our rusted door?
Our daughter’s price – two bags of rice,
And though we will never see her more,
Do you know the man he sold her to?

Where were you when the warlord spoke
With the lead you sold him from the guns
You gave in the name of foreign aid?
Or when cholera took my wife and sons
And laid them in a nameless grave?

Were you in your church then, praying on those contrite knees?
Thanking God for giving you your life of Christian ease?
Or were you at your keyboard posting your donation
Your ten percent of pittance, of holy absolution,
Making your down payment on real estate in heaven:
Is that where you were?

To you I know I am nothing more
Than some problem on a distant shore.
You care not for my extremity
As I, bereft of all once dear to me,
Seek my fortune in some leaking boat
And a last dream. At least, it matters not –
Until that boat, that dream survives the ocean’s roar
And brings me, penniless supplicant, to your door.

Then, true and loving Christian man – where will you be?

Finding a Place of Our Own

frederick anderson:

Remember life before mains – electricity, plumbing, sanitation? When the 1950s emigration rush to Australia happened the British got a reputation for complaining. The ‘Whinging Poms’. A lot did run for home, but not Linda’s family…

Originally posted on Wangiwriter's Blog:

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We lived up at Avondale until the bridge job was finished, then went back to Reid Park. Mr A, the farmer who owned the property next to which we’d been living at Avondale, had taken a liking to Mum (she was quite beautiful). After we moved away, he started to come around to the caravan and pester her. We’d only been back at the park for about a month, but Dad immediately decided it was time to find a permanent and safe place for us to live. I think this was late 1955 or early 1956.

One day he drove off in his work truck to Albion Park Rail, about five miles south of Dapto. Albion Park Rail was then a little village on the Princes Highway, with the main town of Albion Park a couple of miles to the west in dairy country. It was so named because the railway…

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The Garden

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Catholic_monks_in_Jerusalem_2006“Will you be comfortable there, Father? Can I bring you a blanket?”

The novitiate is over-solicitous, as those fresh to the calling tend to be, and he tests Father Ignatius’s patience at times. “A blanket, indeed? Now that would be an indulgent sin, would it not? ” The old Abbot replies.“I wonder, Brother, would you ask Brother Thomas to come and see me when he is spared from his tasks? I would like him to sit with me for a while, if he can. Oh! (As the young brother moves to depart) And you might ask him to bring a blanket, should he be able.”

The novitiate fades into the green fog of the garden, leaving not a memory behind.

With a contented sigh Father Ignatius leans back on the hard timber bench while his rheumy eyes explore the mist, wandering among those vague splashes of colored flowers which are impressions on his palette of memory, remembered rather than seen. For he sees so little now. There is campion where Brother Paul will always plant it, already in bloom, a brave red slash along the bed before the wall, and there the meadow-sweet and flowering thyme, in softer more subtle hues. From the orchard on the hill a message comes, a gentle scent of apple blossom on the breeze – a breeze now chill to these old bones, though the sun is strong. And this is his garden, sight and scent, and this the hum of bees, and this, his world.

Left alone, his mind quickly fades to sleep. His breath cracks in his chest. Wafts of grey habit drift by, hither and thither, with greetings he scarcely hears.

“Good day to you, Father!”

“God bless you, Father!”

These, his children, some who will pause to touch his hand as they pass, some who will not. On the edge of rest he sighs in sorrow for them. Brother Thomas brings news often of the new King, so discontented with his Spanish Queen, whose dialogue with the Church is tainted by violence and hatred; and Thomas fears he would burn down this sanctified place. Father Ignatius makes a silent prayer for his King who, though god himself, needs his true God’s grace.

He has dozed awhile, has he not? The sun has dropped lower over the presbytery roof, casting its long shadow like a cloak across the grass. How long has he slept? Has he missed Vespers? Why has Brother Thomas not come for him? Some more pressing business, Father Ignatius suspects, for his good friend will soon be abbot in his place, an office he already conducts in all but name. Yet the bees still hum their own plainsong, and the birds’ jealous melodies of evening are scripture to eyes which can see the written word no more. So perhaps God will forgive him his omission this once? Father Ignatius settles his conscience with a word or two of prayer, and drifts.

Again? Has he yielded to sin and slept again?

I am cold.

“I am cold.” Father Ignatius says, but no words come. From deep within something is reaching for him, and someone stands behind him, someone he cannot feel or see. There is a roaring sound in his head like the surf he played upon in his youth, pounding and pounding. He sees himself, a child again. He sees the beach, and Marian whom he loved once, smiling her welcome, her skin fresh and shining in the salt spray.

A new journey has begun – a journey for which he has been preparing all his life.

Around Father Ignatius a mist is closing, a grey cloak that curls and swirls like speech, but has no sound. Yet there is sound. Voices: strange voices that speak in words he scarcely understands.

“Through here. Try this door.” A young man.

“You first!” A girl or a young woman, fearful.

A lance of light, stabbing, flickering! Suddenly, rapidly, they materialize before him. The young man bears the light in his hand. He is short-haired and beardless. The woman is dressed shamefully in just a loose vest and a strip of cloth about her hips. There, for a moment, Father Ignatius sees as though the veils of age have been entirely lifted, and the woman sees him too. Their eyes meet. She screams in horror. The young man drops the lance of light. Both figures turn, to be lost once more in the mist.

Brother Thomas will discover Father Ignatius still seated in his customary place in the garden after Compline, as the last traces of evening fade. With the neglectfulness of youth his novitiate never gave him the ancient abbot’s message. Filled with remorse Brother Thomas will drop to his knees to give his old departed friend the Last Rites. As he does so, his knee will find something hard half-buried in the grass and he will pick up this object, a black cylinder. He will be amazed to discover that in response to his touch it will emit a piercing light.

© Frederick Anderson 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

The Rape of Innocence

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Mistakenly or not, I associate the word ‘innocence’ with childhood. The care-free faces of infancy are blank pages upon which the messages of life have yet to be written, and I cannot be happy if the first lines of care appear too soon. I believe the ten-year face should be that of a child, not a person in miniature. So when I hear that members of Ofsted, the authority responsible for educational standards in UK, are loitering in a playground with children of that age, asking them (allegedly) questions to test their knowledge of homosexuality and lesbianism, I worry.

Especially if they gauge the efficacy of a school by the answers they receive.

Now I have no quarrel with any form of sexual relationship between consenting partners, and I am not homophobic, but I do question the judgment of educators who are apparently so passionate about sex education that they feel it necessary to bombard our children with textbook John and Jane as soon as the poor little blighters get within range.

Whence springs this obsession with sex? Who are these people, burrowing and scrabbling away in the soft soil of childhood as they search for some kernel of perversion which will justify imposing their formulaic style of physical relationship? What is the real agenda here? And yes, I am suspicious; because in my experience those who show such inquisitive interest in this area do have an agenda of their own.

Why are so many hands raised in such horror at the thought that our children might be ‘exposed’ to porn, as though it was some death-ray that must destroy their lives? Why isn’t the same energy expended upon violent, increasingly realistic video games which display amoral values and cheapen life; or upon those who consider it valid to allow children to handle lethal weapons, or those who argue for the legalization of drugs?

Or those who manipulate child minds by advertising?

Or those who see the overwhelming evidence that social media is being misused, and turn away?

Somebody quantify for me, please, what actual damage is done to child minds by pornography? Emotive posturing aside, show me how many children become dangerous perverts because they saw a couple of films on line that were a little more than ‘educational’?

Then balance your result against – again, show me – those whose willingness to resort to gross, hideous violence is enhanced by exposure to violence on the screen; or those who, tragically, take lives (including their own) triggered by the ostracism, bullying and humiliation that can be inflicted so easily on Twitter, or Face Book, or…..?

The undeniable fact that we teach the wrong taboos to our children seems to indicate that the wrong people are doing the teaching. I would argue strongly that issues such as homosexuality must be discussed with the young, but not at ten years old.

If we must educate children in adult matters let’s expend the time instead on teaching them the hazards of grooming, how to deal with bullying, and how to preserve their privacy and their dignity online, in the playground, or in the streets. Easy enough to show a child of ten that the person who is so anxious they should become proficient in the use of weapons, or share personal information about themselves is not necessarily a good person.  There are clear guidelines that can be drawn if this is part of curriculum, rather than something sidestepped with a cautionary word or two after the event.

We have to be honest with ourselves. Curiosity is a part of growing: without it we would never learn anything. Children will find their way to knowledge we would often prefer to keep hidden, and we have to blame progress for opening a thousand new doors every day to the inquisitive mind. But we have to show courage in seeking out and dealing with the aggressive predators who use those doors to wreak destruction, whether their tool is religion, or the bullet, or blackmail.

Otherwise, leave the innocents alone. Trust them. They will find their way.

Birdie

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accordion-217567_640Birdie?  Yes, I knew Birdie.

The third house from the end, on our side of the street; that’s where Birdie lived, and had lived ever since I could remember.  He was a part of my growing up, someone I either met, saw or heard every day from my first walk to school right up to the time when I moved to the City.   Birdie was an institution, a fixture, a feature of the street.  If you wanted to sell your house to someone, you told them about Birdie.  He added color.  When friends came to supper, they asked about him.

“How’s Birdie these days?”

“Oh, fine.  Same as usual.”

Birdie played a piano accordion:  not well, but enthusiastically.  When you walked past, you’d suddenly find your steps being matched by a loud Souza march.  Looking up, you’d see Birdie’s grinning face at his window and his fingers flying across the keys as he belted the music out of that old squeeze-box, completely unashamed of the odd missed note.

Most people who lived in our street had attitudes where kids were concerned.  I blame that on Baz.  Baz was my mate, and we still communicated, if you know what I mean, right up to five years ago, although Baz had trouble with words of more than one syllable and he couldn’t spell even those.  Text-speak came as a lifeline to Baz.

Baz’s problem was existence.  His, I mean.  If he didn’t turn up, everything went fine.  When he did, nothing went fine.  Baz could make a discussion out of ‘hello’.  Baz could make an argument out of any discussion, and Baz’s arguments always ended up with Baz hitting someone. So most people in our street had attitudes where kids were concerned; because kids meant Baz, and Baz broke windows – and legs.

Now Birdie never shared those attitudes; somehow, when us kids went visiting Birdie, Baz would become as quiet as the mice we knew lived in Birdie’s kitchen, although they never came right out and admitted it.

Birdie loved kids – no, I don’t mean in some covert, perverse way – though if he had I don’t suppose we would have realized.  He somehow knew what we were tuned into, he could read our needs and fulfill our dreams in his inimitably simple way.  He was the one who discovered Baz’s love of magic tricks, so he spent a lot of trouble making boiled eggs appear behind Baz’s ears, and setting up the card tricks that always, always mystified my poor, really very susceptible friend.  Mara, he understood her love of fairy cakes, so every time Mara and I popped in the door, there’d be a plate of cakes somewhere about the place.

Mara’s girth underwent subtle expansion with the years.  Her parents could never figure out why, but I knew.

As for me, I was an absolute junky for science fiction – anything that could fly was a spaceship, and Captain Kirk was my all-time hero.   The first time he found out, Birdie stopped playing his accordion (he was halfway through ‘Danny Boy’, just at the ‘it’s I’ll be here’ bit) and took me by the shoulder.

“Feel that?”  His hand was gripping my collar bone.

“Nah.”  I said; then:  “Feel what?”

“The tingle, lad.  The vibration.”  And do you know, I thought I could, a bit.  Birdie’d do that to you.

“Whoa!  What’s that then, Birdie?”

“It’s the residual charge at the periphery of a force-field, lad!  There’s a very powerful anti-matter disturbance.”

“Wha’ – in here?”

“Yes, son, in here.  This house was built – wait for it – on the very edge of a time-space continuum!  Aye!”  Birdie struck a dramatic cord on his bass keys.

Humor him.  “Aw!  It’s close, is it?”

“Aye, very.  In a different dimension, mind you, but close.  No more than a couple of miles below us!”

“Why can’t we see it?”

“Because I keep it contained, lad: I have to!  There’s a worm-hole leads directly from this room!”

In spite of myself, I felt I was seeing Birdie’s room for the first time.  I looked everywhere, and a little, believing part of me wanted to see that worm-hole, even though I didn’t really know what it would look like.  “What happens if you step on it?”  I asked.

“Oh, I’d never do that!  And neither must you.  One touch and you’ll drop through into another universe!  You’ll never be seen again!”

“That’s not safe!”  Mara had been silent all this time, busy demolishing one of Birdie’s cakes, but one look at her told me Birdie had got her absolutely hooked.  She was standing staring at us with her frosting-smeared mouth open, and tears were rolling down her cheeks.

“Oh, it’s all right, lass!”  Birdie soothed.  “I told ye, I’ve got it contained.   That there table is right over the top of it.”

Saucer-eyed, Mara and I gazed at Birdie’s heavy old Victorian dining table.  A massive mahogany construction of prodigious proportions, it had been in the centre of the room for as long as I could remember.  In my recollection though, I had never before shown such interest in the stacks of wooden boxes jammed beneath it.  Crawling examination of Birdie’s worm-hole was not an option.

“You’ve never moved that table?” I challenged him. “Haven’t you ever wanted to see?”

“I daren’t, lad.”

“Scared you might fall in?”

“Scared what might come through from the other side, more like!  I’ve heard noises, lad.  I’ve heard them trying!   In the night-time they come.  Its a good job that table’s heavy as it is, mind.  They’d be through!”

“What – aliens?  Like, real aliens?”

“Must be, aye.”

Just then, Baz’s football thumped against the outside wall of the house, which was Baz’s usual way of announcing himself, and the spell was broken.  By the time I came to remind myself of Birdie’s science fiction tale, it had reduced to a pleasing exercise of the imagination; no more or less than all his other tales.

I suppose our parents must have had ambivalent feelings about Birdie, even in those innocent, far-off days.  They enjoyed deriding his rough, untutored music, or making social capital out of his eccentric dress (he never wore socks, for example), or his untidy home.  When he ventured out into the street, which was rare, his loud, yellow check trousers prompted my Dad to call him Rupert, though I never found out why.  His brown cardigan had leather patches on the elbows, and holes everywhere else.

Mrs. Purberry from number 42, ‘Dunborrowin’, pronounced her usual verdict upon anyone who lived alone:  “What that man needs is a good woman.”  Others were less kind, but suffered his proclivities because his love of us kids gave us somewhere to go on wet afternoons when our Mums needed a ‘bit of peace’, so no-one would ignore him if they met him in the street, and no-one could ignore that piano-accordion when he began to play.

These are old memories.  As the years passed my friends and I grew out of that childhood wonderland at the third house from the end.  I confess, with sadness, how readily Birdie was forgotten.  Maybe others took our places to listen to Birdie’s playing, I can’t say for sure.  I went to University, Mara went to Art College and Baz went to jail.   The best part of twenty years passed before I chanced to ask my mother, on one of my occasional trips home from the City, about Birdie.

“Still wears those bloody awful trousers!”  She said cheerfully.  “And still playing that bloody awful squeeze-box of his.”  Then she added darkly:  “He’s married now, you know:  or at least, he says he is.”

“Birdie!  Married?”

“Well, let’s put it this way.  No-one in this street was invited to the wedding, if there was one.  But if you’re visiting, prepare yourself.  She’s a gorgeous girl!  Middle eastern, I think.  We all believe she’s a mail order bride.”

That was it!  I set off as soon as I decently could for the third house from the end.  The differences in the place were obvious; curtains in the windows, new paint, a gleaming blue car standing outside.

Birdie answered the door, looking a little older, maybe, but he had one of those faces that belied the years.  “Why, if it isn’t…  You took your time, lad.  I thought we’d lost you!  Come in, meet the wife!”

Admitted to that parlor where so many fantasies had been spawned, I absorbed the shock all grown-ups must accept when they return to the places they knew when they were young:  how small it was, how unlike the room I remembered.   The gargantuan table that had seemed so formidable was just a table, and it no longer dominated the centre of the room but was placed against the wall.  There was no sign of the wooden boxes.

“No worm-hole, then, Birdie?”

Was there just a brief hesitation before he laughed at me?  “Why no, we closed that up long ago!”

“I didn’t think you could.”  I answered lamely, feeling foolish.

“Terrible things, those wormholes!”

“Yes.”  I felt awkward, beginning to wish I hadn’t come.

“Here’s the wife!  Let’s have some tea!”

As she floated in through the door from the kitchen, I could see why my mother had guessed Birdie’s wife was Eurasian, though I knew instantly she was not.  Her skin was not quite olive in color, her height exceeded her husband’s, yet she was impossibly slender and elegant in build; almost wand-like.  Her greeting was augmented by a slow smile and she extended a hand to me.

“You’re meant to place it on your cheek.”  Birdie said.  “That’s how we greet each other.”

So I took her two-fingered hand in mine and her warmth coursed through me; the same warmth, I was sure, that gave her a soft green glow in the twilight of the curtained room.  “Hello.”  I said, as soon as I trusted myself to speak.  I raised those fingers to my cheek and the tingle, the vibration Birdie taught me to feel all those years ago flooded my being once more.

“So you did let someone through.”  I said.

“You’re right.  Just one.”  Birdie said.  “We can’t close worm-holes, but Araguaar can.”

#

© Frederick Anderson 2015.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content.

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A poem about pancakes by Dick Hercules

frederick anderson:

A tantalizingly brief insight into the mind of Diklitous Hercules…

Originally posted on waltbox:

dick hercules Mr. Hercules, as seen from “his good side”

Dear Readers,

Some of you may know that on occasion I do function as agent for other (ahem)…writers. At the behest of my client, Diklitous Phantasos Hercules, I somewhat reluctantly post the following. I wish it be known that it is not my choice to do so. Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions or concerns.

Yours,

Walt

Greetings to my legions of Lady Loves, and to my Manly Admirers! I am come to offer you a satisfying meal of words! These were etched on a hilltop in what was once Macedonia. I hope they mean as much to you as they do to me. They have been published elsewhere, so if you have read them before, I am sorry that you cannot enjoy them again like you did the first time. To those who are encountering them…

View original 62 more words

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