Every Monday from my kitchen window, I watch the old hag next door wash her eight children in the old-time wringer washing machine. Once her children are clean, she attaches them by their hands to a clothes line to dry in the breeze. The children seemed to think it was all big fun during the warmer months, but this winter weather causes them to stiffen like boards.
As twilight approaches, she unpins her stiffened children and stacks one on top of the other in a wheelbarrow. With great effort, the old hag wheels her stack of kids to a cellar door and lugs them inside as one would surf boards. This might explain her need for all that firewood.
The eight kids next door love storms. Not just summer time, up-draft storms, but cold front storms that spawn tornadoes. Storms with lightning so powerful the fillings in your teeth rattle. At the height of storms, the kids rip off their clothes, grab long mettle objects, and dance around an aluminum lawn chair in which one of them sits stark naked.
Today, during a hellacious storm, a big ass bolt of lightning hit the kid sitting in the aluminum lawn chair--causing her to vanish in a thunderous flash of white. The surviving brothers and sisters began jumping around in a frenzy that would have put sharks to shame.
By the time camera crews arrived, the kids had settled down enough to tell their mother what had happened. Staring at the smoldering chair, the old hag told the reporter, "I've heard of things going up in smoke before, but this is ridiculous."
After four days of searching, my wife and I realized that one of the neighbor kids, or all seven of them, broke into our house and stole our beloved cat, Dax. (There used to be eight kids in their family, but one suffered an unusual death.)
Before leaving the house to go next door, I took a stiff drink, knowing that if I found Dax there, I'd be carrying him home in a bag.
As I feared, Dax was nailed to the side of their woodshed--two legs pointing east, two legs pointing west, the tail pointing to the ground, and Dax's head looking up at the gray November sky. To my back, I could hear the kids walk up and gather behind me. Without waiting for me to turn, one of the boys said, "With all the trouble we've caused in school and around here, we figured Christ might love us if we crucified something as big and sassy as your cat." Sensing that I was speechless, "Tickle," the youngest of the boys, asked if I'd like a crowbar, "--'Cause we nailed him up real good."
Nests start appearing in our tree, two and three at a time, shortly after the last leaves of November fall. I never see them being placed there, though I am sure it's the work of the kids next door.
The previous owner of our house is dead, so I don't know how long this ritual has been going on; but by late November, there will be over 100 empty bird nests in our tree.
On mornings that I notice a few more nests have been added during the night, I recall how Indians placed tokens on the ceremonial grave of Jeremiah Johnson for each brave he killed. I try to figure out whether it's something I am doing to earn all of these twig and grass trophies.
A month from now, a strong Arctic wind will knock all of the nests to the ground. As I work to clean the mess up, I'll see their faces watching me from their basement window. Although it would be a neighborly act, I'll not wave to them. I fear they might not wave back.
Today has been declared a snow day and the kids next door are lying flat on their backs in a large circle. With their legs spread wide, they touch their feet together--right foot touching left, left foot touching right--making a star-shaped flower. On some undetectable signal, they start waving their arms--making snow angels. After a while, their flower transforms into a dandelion gone to seed. When a gust of wind kicks up, they float up and over the partially frozen pond. This goes on all afternoon: flower, angels, dandelion, wind, flight. Only their mother--when she calls them in for dinner--can bring it to a stop.
The boy next door decided to spend the winter out-side. So not to freeze and explode like a bottle left too long in an ice box, he dug down and grafted his ankles to the roots of a near-by maple tree--allowing the fluids of his body to be sucked into the tree's root system as temperatures dropped.
During the late days of winter when sap was again running, buds began appearing on his gloveless fingers; and buckets, nailed to the maple tree nearest him, filled with a dark, thick fluid.
When his brothers and sisters boiled down all of the collected sap, they found the dark, thick sap most tasteful.
It was after the local department store closed that the stolen mannequins appeared at the edge of my neighbor's corn field. Each wore the uniform of an infamous military leader--Hitler, Tojo, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco--and stood in a knee-high mound of manure. I asked Ford if the mannequins were a form of protest, or maybe a variation on "Cadillac Farm" in Texas.
"Nope. At night they come alive and parade around my field--Hup...two...three... four--scaring the b'Jesus out of the crows who live in the woods over there."
"Hell, you'd think it was a tight-shoes Saturday night the way the march that goose step. Only thing keepin' 'em from world domination is all that manure."
"Ain't nobody gonna listen to a bunch of guys with shit on their feet."
-- W. P. Kinsella
My neighbor has buried his front yard under a foot of crushed limestone. The walk leading to the house has been covered with a Tiny blue plastic stream. A guy who looks like Richard Brautingan in waders is fly casting into the stream. But it can't be Richard Brautigan; Brautigan's dead. When I walk over to find out what Ford's up to, all he says is, "Richard Brautigan."
Ford, that's not Richard Brautigan.
"Go read the back of his shirt."
Ford, I don't care if it does say TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA, that's not Richard Brautigan.
Taking a closer look, I realize the guy trying to catch fish from the tiny blue plastic stream is W. P. Kinsella. Pissed that I recognize him, Kinsella throws down the fishing rod, picks up his bat and ball and goes home. The old hag, who's been observing events taking place from her porch, yells down to Ford, "I thought that young man's name was Shoeless Joe Jackson."
For several years, the folks next door have been collecting black and white TV's. They place one in every window of their two-story house. All the TV's are set to the same program that plays 24 hours a day. At night, a gray haze engulfs their house. During the day, the house is surrounded by dozens of mesmerized kids from throughout the neighborhood. Community leaders have hired a cult deprogrammer to rescue their sons and daughters, but even he enjoys the show.
Stories and fables that contain animals, especially Aesop's Fables, keep disappearing from my son's TREASURY OF LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN. My son knows that I have no answers for him, but each night he asks, "Dad, what happened to 'The Hare and the Tortoise,' what happened to 'The Kite, the Frog, and the Mouse,' what happened to 'The Dog in the Manger?'"
Time passes and more fables vanish: "The Wolf and the Crane," "The Leopard and the Fox," "The Old Hound." Then one night, while reading one of the few remaining fables, we hear a great commotion next door. Pulling back the curtain, we see my neighbor erecting a large sign that reads, AESOP'S ZOO, and scattered around his yard, white-washed pens containing all the missing animals.
A week ago, Saturday, Ford drove up in a full-size moving truck and set his family to the task of loading the contents of their home. It was a thing of beauty. Not only because those crazy-ass people would forever be out of our lives, but because their act of loading seemed to be an orchestrated dance.
All day--without exploding into the dysfunctional family we have come to know--they carried boxes, beds, bikes, couches, chairs, dressers, lamps, TV's, tables, that old wringer washing machine to the truck. "And that's the family," asked my wife, "who considers fist-fighting a form of bonding?"
Around supper time, Ford inched the loaded-down truck out of his drive and up the road. People throughout the allotment came out of their homes just to watch the truck disappear. For the first time in a half-generation, there was a feeling of calm returning to their lives.
But, before we could reach our doors, we heard the truck returning. And when it came to a stop, the back of the truck flew open--releasing seven kids who started yelling, "April fools! April fools!"
The universe has reached the limit of its expansion and time is in a state of collapse. By noon, it's the 1870s and steam locomotives pull into town loaded down with buffalo hides. Believing that by morning we'll be experiencing the fourth Ice Age, the old man next door buys 500 hides and spends his early adulthood nailing them to his house.
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