Category Archives: Stories

Bessie’s Boys Chapter Six

Previously, Elizabeth I had trouble getting to court on time.Hero for all occasions Rodney Broadshoulders discovers there’s a spy in the court. Elizabeth learns the Aquamarine Pigeon has sunk. Rodney sneaks into court and promptly falls in lust with Maria.
An attendant opened the dining hall door and bowed.
“Ah, here we are!” Elizabeth announced with relish. She took Maria’s hand. “Come, my dear. You shall sit next to me and tell me all about your heritage.”
The Queen nodded with grace to the courtiers who had been waiting for her Majesty to arrive so they could begin to chow down. Attendants with large trays of assorted meats and fruits began circulating through the room. Elizabeth sat in the middle with Maria on one side and Robin on the other. Vacacabeza took the chair on the other side of his ward which miffed Rodney to no end. He had to settle for sitting next to Robin which placed him on the far side of the table from his newly beloved. How inconvenient.
(Author’s note: How the person beneath Maria’s gown situated himself under the skirt and the table is left to the imagination of the reader. One must only assume he was a skilled contortionist and therefore very popular with the young ladies.)
Dogs roamed the dining hall looking for bits of fallen food. They must have been pure-bred dogs; after all, this was the royal court and mongrels would have been prohibited.
Elizabeth picked a grape and tossed it in her mouth. “So tell me about your grandparents. I am intrigued.”
Maria began to speak in a French accent. “One grandparent came from Paris. Rumor had it that she had been a Gypsy hiding in Notre Dame Cathedral when she was saved from the gallows by my grandfather, who was a heroic knight visiting from Granada.” She looked at the trays and asked in a Spanish accent, “By the way, where are the refried beans?”
“Oh no!” There went that voice again.
“From there they escaped to the Bordeaux region,” she resumed her French lilt. “Where they grew grapes and trained dogs to sniff out truffles. I think that’s where I gained my taste for wine.”
Rodney leaned as far as he could without coming in between Robin and his roasted half a turkey. “I think I’m in love.”
Robin stuck a drum stick in Rodney’s mouth.
“The other grandmother was supposed to be the love child of Martin Luther and a nun, but we have no birth records to confirm this.” She continued her family history in a clipped German accent. “She was raised by a brew meister and his hausfrau in Munich.”
Rodney spit out his drumstick and threw it on the floor. “Does that mean you like beer too?”
A large, rather lean dog snatched the drumstick and began to trot toward the other end of the table. When he passed Maria, a hand from beneath her dress reached out to snatch it. The dog began to growl and pull away, trying to keep his dinner. The mysterious hand tugged back with just as much vigor, causing Maria’s chair to joggle about precariously.
“My English grandfather was reputed to be a famous painter on his way to Cleves when he stopped in for a beer where my grandmother was a serving wench. After he had finished his portrait of the Cleves princess, he came back through Munich, married my grandmother and took her to England with him.” She paused, her eyes widened and her hand went to her mouth. “Oh,” she said in crisp English, “perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned that.”
“Don’t be so nervous, my dear,” Elizabeth reassured her. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.” She wrinkled her brow as she concentrated on Maria’s chitty-chitty bang bang chair. “You’re as jumpy as a frog.”
The voice beneath her dress sighed in resignation. “Oh, all right. You can have it.”
The drumstick slid out, and the dog trotted away with it in triumphant. At that time, the chair settled down, and Maria was able to continue.
“I was born after your coronation, and my father brought me frequently to the English court,” she said in her proper English accent. “It was at this time my father became friends with Senor Vacacabeza, who in his capacity as the Spanish ambassador came to the English court frequently. I have many fond memories of my parents, but when I was twelve they both died of small pox. Senor Vacacabeza, as a friend of my family, agreed to be my guardian.”
“How kind of you, senor.” Elizabeth nodded toward the ambassador and smiled in approval.
“It was nothing,” Vacacabeza replied with a shrug. “Any good Spaniard would have done the same.”
Maria looked at him with curiosity and asked in her Spanish accent, “Then why was I in a Catalan monastery for five years?”
“Well,” he began picking his words with care, “you hadn’t developed your—your personality yet.”
“And I see she has a very well developed personality.” Robin had a licentious leer on his face.
Elizabeth took a pear—not one of her favorite fruits—and stuck it in Robin’s mouth.
“I wouldn’t mind escorting your well-developed personality around town tonight,” Rodney said, without sounding half as perverted as Robin had sounded in his observations. Perhaps it was his youth.
Robin took the pear out of his mouth and stuck it in Rodney’s. He spit it out so he could display his boyishly charming smile.
The hand reached out from under Maria’s dress to grab the pear. Much loud munching ensued.
“You escort my ward?” Vacacabeza bristled. “Over my dead body!”
Rodney grabbed a large carving knife and stabbed a leg of mutton. “That happens to be my specialty!”
Elizabeth stood in all her imperious glory, which caused everyone else to leap up.
“Broadshoulders!”
“The journey was fatiguing, and the meal filling.” The ambassador yawned to defuse the tense situation. “It is time to retire to our chambers.”
Si.” Maria continued her Spanish lilt. “It is time for my siesta.”
“I hope she didn’t eat any of those beans,” the disembodied voice said.
Courtiers were beginning to accustom themselves to the strange emanations from beneath Maria’s dress and therefore ignored the comment.
“I must be refreshed for tea time!” Maria announced as a proper English lady.
Elizabeth nodded and turned for the door. “I shall see you then, my dear.”
Maria curtsied. “Thank you, your Majesty.” One look at Rodney brought the French brogue out of her. “Your name is Broadshoulders. How appropriate.”

Bessie’s Boys Chapter One

Dear Readers, Considering the troubling times in which we find ourselves, I thought the next novel I serialize should be trivial, whimsical and a wee bit naughty. You have been warned. It takes place in the court of Queen Elizabeth right before the invasion of the Armada.
Here it was one o’clock in the afternoon, and Queen Elizabeth was still in the sack at Hampton Court. What in heaven’s name was wrong with her? Yes, we know she was getting on in years, but surely she was not that debilitated. Echoing through the great halls were trills from long trumpets blown by snappily dressed pages. Next was the crack of a bejeweled walking stick, still nothing stirred beneath the royal bedcovers.
“Hear ye! Hear ye! Make ready for Elizabeth of England, the virgin queen!” Sir Hillary Steppingstone bellowed forth in his most courtly voice.
Finally, Elizabeth popped her head out from under the sheets and satin coverlets, her graying hair all askew and her makeup shot to hell.
“Oh damn!” the old broad growled as she slid from the bed, grabbed her royal regalia and began wrestling into it.
Another gray head appeared from beneath the queenly sheets.
“Time for court? How time flies when you’re having fun,” quipped the Earl of Leicester, affectionately known as Robin by his platonic sweetheart, Elizabeth, the virgin Queen.
(Author’s Note: Oh hell, they were doing it. Everyone knew they were doing it. The only thing that kept them from making it legal was that Elizabeth didn’t want Robin to think he would be king if they married.)
“Shut up and help me dress!”
This was not an attractive sight—two slightly overweight naked bodies fumbling around with several layers of brocaded garments. Of course, they had to concentrate on Elizabeth getting her act together first. She was queen and terribly temperamental, though no one dared mention to her face that she was indeed a drama queen.
“My wig! I’m not leaving the room without my wig! Everyone still thinks I’m a redhead!”
“Hah!” Robin guffawed.
Elizabeth would have slapped him for his insolence, but they were running behind schedule. She examined herself in the long mirror and tried to smooth out the wrinkles in her gown. Robin tried to place her crown on her head. She snatched it away.
“Leave the crown to me! For God’s sake put your pants on!” She cocked her head when she heard another trumpet blast. “Forget the shirt! Put on the doublet, and let’s go!”
Elizabeth led the way, bursting through the bed chamber doors and down the long corridor to the reception hall. Two ladies-in-waiting were knocked on their bums by the doors but quickly recovered to scamper after the Queen and her Robin, who was still trying to button his pants. She was having problems with her headgear.
“Hell, I can’t get this crown straight!”
“Slow down, Bessie!” Robin pleaded.
The royal assemblage scooted down the hall with such aplomb none of them noticed that in an alcove two middle-aged gentleman, Sir Wilfred Boniface and Alfonso de Vacacabeza, were in a confidential conference.
“Shh!” Boniface held up a finger to Vacacabeza who was in the middle of a whispered discourse. As the royal entourage came closer he pushed the Spaniard behind a tapestry. After the queen and company were well down the way, Boniface returned his attention to his Spanish friend. “So. We are in agreement?”
Si. We are in agreement,” Vacacabeza whispered from behind the drapery.
(Author’s Note: The tapestry’s needlework depicted Henry V’s victory at Agincourt, but who cares about that? We’re talking about sex and intrigue here.)
In the next alcove down, in fact, right outside the reception hall doors, was Mistress Maria Fleurette Hortense Hildegarde de Horenhausen, an extremely tall maiden whose beauty was a mixture of the dark mystery of Spain, the sultry sauciness of France, the forthright bold chin of the Germans, and a prim turn of lip of England. As the queen and others passed a muffled belch came from beneath her flowing gown.
“Bless you,” she said in a proper English accent.
“Thank you,” a male voice replied from the location of the belch.
Por nada.” Maria’s Spanish was as impeccable as her English.
“How gracious of you,” the male voice from beneath her dress said.
Merci.” Her French was equally impressive.
“By the way, could you skip the refried beans at dinner?”
Nein.” And her German was most aggressive.
(Author’s Note: Maria’s language switches without warning or reason. You’ll get used to it.)
Once outside the reception hall, Elizabeth waved at two guards at the door to open the doors. Just as they crossed the threshold, Robin stepped on Elizabeth’s gown, sending her sprawling on the marble floor. He then fell on top of her, still trying to button his satin trousers. Courtiers, who lined the aisle from the door to the throne, stifled giggles without much success. This sort of thing happened all the time in the last few years and had become a major entertainment among the upper crust of London, even more popular than the plays of William Shakespeare. This was due, in part, because the Queen’s shenanigans were sans the dense dialogue of Willie boy.
(Author’s Note: Serious historians fail to note that Elizabeth had several pet names for the playwright including, but not limited to, the following: Willie boy, her little Willie, her big Billy, her silly Willie and just her Bill, an ordinary guy. The last one never caught on and therefore rarely used.)
“Not now, Robin!” she ordered.
“Ah, the last button!” he exclaimed.
“Get off me!”
Robin jumped to his feet, his fingers running back over the button holes with efficiency to make sure they were all secured. “Oh. So sorry.”
“Wait ‘til I get my scepter. Then you’ll behave.” The queen struggled to her feet. At the last moment, Robin tried to help but she slapped his hands away. Another blast from the trumpets made her jump. “Damn, why do those horns have to be so loud? I’m not deaf, you know.”
Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth composed herself and began her slow walk to the throne, smiling, waving and nodding at the court visitors of the day. She glanced at Robin. “That does it,” she whispered. “No more brunch.”
“But I love your buttered buns,” he whined.
Between gritted teeth she hissed, “Robin, if you weren’t so good between the sheets I’d have you beheaded.”
“Sorry, Bessie.”
“Dignity, we must have dignity.”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
Elizabeth looked his way, her eyes drifted down to Robin’s trousers and moaned. “You still have three open button holes on your pants.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Robin pulled his fur coat across his front. It was a rather ordinary coat made of a dull brown rabbit skin. Elizabeth did not approve of anyone having snappier duds than her.

Nora

Hello, Jerry. My name is Nora.
The voice came through distinctly even as the anesthesia coursed through my veins. I was enduring another colonoscopy.
“Do I know you?”
I don’t think so. I died before you were born.
“Oh yes, you’re Aunt Crazy’s daughter.”
Please don’t call her that. She’s much more pleasant now that she doesn’t have to lug her body around.
“You’re not here to escort me to the other side, are you?”
There is no other side. We’re all here, except some of us have bodies. The rest of us are spirits, free to go or do anything we like. It’s divine.
“So nobody’s unpleasant on the other—I mean, what do you call it?
Life. You must pay closer attention. There’s life with bodies and life without bodies.
“So no body’s unpleasant without a body?
No one. Being mean and nasty can take up so much room in a body there’s no space left for anything else.
“So when mean and nasty people die—“
Poof, all gone.
“So are you here to help me dump this body?”
No. I’m just here to chat. I love to chat.
“Why haven’t you chatted with me before?”
How do you know I haven’t?
“Oh.”
A lot of us are around you all the time but you don’t know it.
“Then why aren’t they saying anything?”
They don’t want to be rude. It’s my turn to talk.
“Why do they like to be around me?”
You’re funny. I thought you knew that.
“Some people think I am. Others say I’m just silly.”
Oh, they’re just the mean and nasty ones. They don’t count.
“So how can you be a female if you don’t have a body?”
Who says I’m female?
“Well, your name is Nora.”
Nora is a nice name. Why does it have to be male or female?
“Come to think of it, it doesn’t.”
That’s what I said.
“Who named you Nora?”
I did.
“When did you do that?”
Long ago. Time doesn’t mean anything without a body.
“So have I always been Jerry?”
Do you want to be?
“I don’t know.”
Take your time.
“I thought time didn’t mean anything.”
It doesn’t. That’s why you can take all the time you want.
“So how did Aunt Crazy—I mean your mother–know to name you Nora?”
I suggested it to her while she was dreaming.
“Does she know that you influenced her to name you Nora?”
Why would she want to know that?
“I guess out of curiosity.”
No.
“Why?”
Why indeed. Sometimes I’m the mother. Sometimes she’s the father. What difference does it make?
“Didn’t you like having a body?
After a while it doesn’t matter. I think bodies are a nuisance. But I know people who loved having bodies. To each his own.
“I don’t understand.”
I know. Don’t worry about it. Just be funny. You’re good at that.
Before I could ask another question, a nurse whispered, “It’s time to wake up. The procedure went fine. Clean as a whistle. You can go home soon.”
“Is your name Nora?” I asked her.
“No,” she replied.
“Do you like the name Nora?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t have time to talk.”
“Of course you don’t. You’re not Nora.”

My Wedding Anniversary

For my forty-ninth wedding anniversary this year I watched The Nutcracker ballet on cable television.
My wife died a few years ago and ever since my son has joined me in some sort of celebration, but he’s a corrections officer at a local prison, and he had to work that night. The Nutcracker was from Prague, so I thought what the heck.
The ballet wasn’t one of my wife’s favorite but she did like the music. The toymaker with the patch over one eye creeped her out. She hated the little brother who breaks the nutcracker. And she didn’t like the mouse king and his minions who wreaked havoc until the mended nutcracker defeated them.
But the Prague production was different. Instead of a sinister-looking toy maker, Father Christmas handed out the presents. Clara, the little girl, got a giant plush mouse. Her brother—I still don’t know his name—got a giant pair of nutcrackers. Not a wooden soldier with a funny-looking mouth, but a nutcracker like you might have in your kitchen drawer to crack nuts. He was still mean and tried to hit Clara’s cute mouse with his nutcracker. The party finally ended, and the parents put Clara and her brother to bed. Instead of the mouse king showing up, the devil shows up to steal Clara’s mouse. The brother bonked the devil on the head. The devil ran off to catch a train to who knows where. Clara and her brother became best friends and spent the rest of the ballet having fun with giant snowflakes, Christmas ornaments and all sorts of other fun-loving creatures.
I kept thinking about how much my wife would have liked this version. Then I remembered I’m a storyteller and I can have anything I want happen in my story. So this is my story:
My wife and I sat on the sofa channel surfing trying to find something to watch on our anniversary night. We had take-out delivered from the neighborhood Greek restaurant and all we lacked was something to watch. I clicked on this one cable network and The Nutcracker was coming on. (This is my story so I get to control the clickit, which is what my wife called the remote control.) At first she didn’t want to watch it but finally decided it was better than an old John Wayne movie. I watched her reaction as the story unfolded, and she lit up like a Christmas tree when Clara hugged her brother. A couple who were supposed to be their parents danced romantic pas de deux
It was the best wedding anniversary we’d had in a long time. Then I remembered it was just a story I made up. But it was the best story I’ve made up about our wedding anniversary since I had to make up stories about our anniversary. I think she would have liked it too.

Time Not Money

(Author’s Note: I have a naughty side that exposes itself from time to time. Please overlook any perceived negativity about any person or institution. Sometimes it’s better to laugh than be offended. If you don’t think it’s funny, then I do most humbly apologize for that.)
Jessica Louise Antwerp sat in her front parlor fanning herself. Her grandson William Andrew Antwerp was late for his weekly visit, and she was aggravated..
She didn’t understand why she continued this ritual every Saturday morning. Most weeks her carefully planned brunch was for naught since he entered the local seminary. He always had some excuse involving an in-depth dissertation on the first chapter of Second Thessalonians or translating Revelations from its original Greek into Latin and then into Elizabethan English.
Any moment she expected a polite knock at the door from the grocer’s assistant who would be delivering a box of chocolates or a bouquet with a note, “So sorry to miss brunch, Grandma. Preparing to become God’s servant consumes all my time. You know you’ve always been my best friend. Love, Bill Andy.”
Jessica sniffed at the thought of the all-too-frequent last-minute gifts. She did not particularly like chocolates and generally she ended up giving them to the neighbor children. The benefit of her generosity was they had stopped stomping through her flower beds. And since the flowers in her beds were now in abundance she saw no need in William sending her ill-kept flowers from a store.
She had not been his best friend since he discovered girls at age thirteen. Under threat of being excluded from her will, William had continued his weekly visits through his public school education. Jessica could tell by the way he looked around the room and nervous laughter that he would have rather been somewhere else.
Jessica spent most of the Saturday brunch during William’s teen-aged years lecturing him on the importance of duty to family, God and the United States of America. William always nodded enthusiastically, but she doubted his sincerity.
“And for Heaven’s sake, forbid anyone from calling you Bill Andy. It sounds like you were raised among the cows on the High Plains. Your name is William Andrew.” After a pause she added, “The fourth. We have a long history of respectability and tasteful display of personal wealth in this community, and you have an obligation to continue that tradition.”
William’s warm smile never wavered. However his marks in school and disturbing reports on disquieting hijinks led Jessica to believe he was on the road to a life of dissolution. Therefore, upon her grandson’s high school graduation, Jessica summoned him and his parents to her parlor.
“It is obvious that you, William III, have failed as a father and as a result I am taking charge of William’s higher education. I shall enroll the young man in the local seminary to prepare for a life of service to the Lord.” She turned to stare into her grandson’s eyes. “You will learn discipline. You have a shocking lack of follow through in your endeavors, and the seminary will remedy that.”
A light tap at the door roused her from her troubled thoughts. She expected to see the delivery boy, but instead it was William Andrew, dressed in his best Sunday suit and with hat in hand. Jessica noticed his eyes were red and puffy.
“Grandmother,” he began contritely, “I wish to apologize for my recent irresponsible behavior. It was foolish of me to assume an expenditure of cash would make up for the lack of my presence at Saturday brunch. As of now, that conduct will cease. I will no longer spend money on you, but rather spend my time with you every week at brunch. I hope this meets with your approval.”
Jessica’s eyes glistened in triumph. “It certainly does.”
“That’s great.” He beamed. “Because I’ve decided to spend all my allowance on Lula Belle down at the cat house. We did it four times without stopping last night.” Bill Andy patted his grandma on the head. “So you were wrong when you said I didn’t have any follow through.”

A Fawn’s First Encounter with That Strange Creature Called a Human

A week or so ago around dusk I looked out my patio door to see a deer wander by. This, in itself, wasn’t unusual because I live in the woods. Since the last of my dogs crossed the rainbow bridge, I have no pets to feel honor bound to bark away deer. I smiled in admiration of the doe’s sleek body. When her fawn emerged from the trees, I lost my composure.
“Ooh! Aah! Aww!” My adoration was too loud and not in keeping with the dignity a 72-year-old man. I stood and went to the glass door. “Ooh! Aah! Aww!”
The fawn was small, and its spots were bright white and sat with distinction on its tiny back. It jerked its little head and stared my way. The mother continued her grazing a few moments longer before she looked my way too. I’m sure a ridiculous grin spread across my face. I imagined the conversation going on between them.
Mama, what is that?
It’s a human, dear. Now eat your greens.
Didn’t you say we should be afraid of humans?
Well, there are dangerous humans and silly ones that we ignore.
How do you know this isn’t a dangerous one, Mama?
Dangerous humans have things called guns which they shoot at us. But they live in these big boxes with their children, and they don’t shoot their guns around children while they are playing.
I don’t understand.
I’ll explain it to you when you’re older. Eat your greens.
But that human is showing his teeth. Don’t animals show their teeth when they’re angry?
Humans are a different kind of animal. They show their teeth when they are happy. Don’t worry about it.
What if he tries to bite me?
He’s not going to bite you. If he wanted to hurt you he’d use his gun, and you can see he isn’t holding anything. Now eat your greens. Don’t you want to grow up big and strong like your father?
And he’s looking at me really strange. He’s creeping me out. I’m going to hide in the woods.

The fawn scampered away and disappeared among the scrub brush and trees. The doe stared at me. I’m sure she was furious because I kept her baby from eating his greens. She followed her offspring into the woods.
I was sorry my grinning kept the fawn from eating his greens. After all, I’m only human.

Hamlet Off Book

As eerie fog crept across the parapet of Elsinore Castle in Denmark of old, the king’s ghost disappeared in the darkness up stage right.
Prince Hamlet—dressed in his usual dreary black attire—and Horatio (author’s note: who cares how he’s dressed because he’s just a friend) stared at the receding figure, who died not a fortnight ago (author’s note: It might have been longer. What difference does it make?)
They pondered the message of the forlorn spirit—a tale of love, marriage, seduction, eating leftover food, and murder.
Hamlet sighed, “Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.” And then, out of nowhere, he broke into a bout of giggles.
“What ho, my lord,” Horatio responded, “what doth provoke this strange response?”
“It’s all the clichés,” Hamlet responded. “Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark. How many times have you heard that stale old chestnut?”
“Why, never, my lord, not since the words came trippingly off your tongue just now.”
“Thou dost pull my leg.” Hamlet couldn’t stop laughing. “And that sweets to the sweet? Why, the old broad’s talking about flowers not candy.”
Horatio glanced into the dark abyss of the theater auditorium. “Why, my lord, I have never heard those words spoken thusly before. Maybe in another couple of acts.”
“Oh, Hoorah-tee-oh, knock it off.” Prince Hamlet sounded less and less like himself.
“Remember, my lord, thine director repeatedly told thou mine name doth be spoken Horatio with a ‘sh’ sound in the middle.”
“But there isn’t a “sh” in the middle,” Hamlet doth protest too much.
“I dost think there’s going to be a lot of “sh” hit the middle of the fan quite soon.” Horatio’s voice carried nary a hint of irony.
“Thou dost take this frivolity too seriously.” Hamlet patted his shoulders. “Tis the dress rehearsal, nothing more.”
Horatio grabbed him and pushed him to the edge of the proscenium. “Look upon the darkness, Prince Hamlet. If thou dost study the void carefully, you will see eyes, hundreds of eyes that hath paid a pretty farthing to watch William Shakespeare’s greatest play performed in character, sans giggles, sans commentary, sans anything not written by the Bard himself.”
Hamlet paused, peered and nearly peed his pants.
“Alas, my poor acting career! I shall miss it well, Hoorah-te-oh.”
(Author’s note to devotees of Shakespeare: If this satire doth offend, I only meant to amuse you in this time of pandemic which I cannot defend. ‘Tis a trifle, which I shall print nevermore. I hope this will make amends. Oh, and I apologize for mixing in a little Poe. Come! Let us be friends!)

What I Think About While I’m On Quarantine Part

Having nothing better to do, I went through some old files and found this nostalgia piece I wrote in the early 1970s, about 50 years:

It was the world back then. A garden to be tilled, a home for rabbits and chickens and dogs. Oh yes, cats too.
That backyard was long and wider than I had the breath to run along its edges. But, of course, I was always a puny kid.
Half of it for many years was a garden—corn in the back, then okra, many rows of green beans, potatoes and tomatoes, then radishes, cabbage and onions. Sometimes a few petunias if my mother was in the mood. They made adequate trumpets, I recall.
To keep the garden alive during those scorching, drought-tinged Texas summers of the mid-fifties, my father and mother put the garden house at the end of a row and let it run.
Much to their chagrin, I often decided to dam up the works and create a lake, with branches seeping from one row to another. This also provided plenty of mud for various products like mud pies. It also substituted for blood for my re-enactment of the Saturday war movie.
Then my mother turned the hose on me before she allowed me in the house.
But the garden isn’t there anymore. Not since my mother died.
The other half of the yard was for play—with my dogs. I always had a couple; then when one was run over and killed—which seemed altogether too common an occurrence—I still had one.
They would chase me, nipping at my heels, until I would fall down and cover my head. They would lick at my neck and I would squeal with delight.
I learned the facts of life from the cats. Kittens were as common as the rain wasn’t in those days. I can think of no better education than the excitement of gingerly crawling under the house, softly calling out the mother cat’s name and have her return with a pleasant meow. As I crawled closer, she would proudly roll over to show me her babies, their eyes still closed. If I dared pick them up too much they would not be there the next day. The mother would move them.
My father built a hutch in the back and tried raising rabbits once. But that was a futile venture because he wanted to eat them, and I wanted them as pets. Bantam chickens were safer, we both agreed only to eat the eggs. One day, however, I came home to find dead chickens over all the yard. One of the dogs acted sheepishly. I cried and then decided to grant amnesty. The law of the backyard was based on mercy.
And the playhouse. I could never forget that. It began as one small room with tin Royal Crown Cola signs for sides and roof. That didn’t seem large enough so I added another room and a wooden roof and a second floor.
To celebrate the expansion I invited a friend over to spend the night in the house with my brother and me. We watched “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and drank a concoction of mine made of Nehi orange, grape and strawberry and Upper Ten.
Then we ventured out for the night. The sky was clear and the moon full. It was joyous. We danced and frolicked in our underwear at midnight. My friend’s shorts and monkeys on them. I teased him, but secretly I was envious.
Somehow two rooms and a second floor didn’t seem enough. I doubled the bottom, had more lumber for roofing and even had a perch on top of the second floor.
A few years later my interest waned, and my father wanted me to tear it down, but I didn’t have the heart. He relented and tore it down himself. At one point he pushed apart two main posts and bore a strange resemblance to Sampson, I thought.
Now I come home occasionally and the yard has changed. As I said, there is no garden. It is now an expanse of grass. I only vaguely spot where the rabbit hutch and the wonderful playhouse sat.
The only things that are the same are the honeysuckle vines and mimosa trees I planted for my mother many years ago. The trees are quite stout now.
It makes me feel old.
The smell of the honeysuckle is still sweet and brings back the memories, though. I have honeysuckle growing outside the door of the home I share with my wife and son. It makes me feel good.
I want a large yard for my son to have adventures in, to learn responsibility in, a nice place to grow up.
But this yard, for all the world events that transpired within its reaches, seems so small now.

Fifty years later, I have to admit the yard was not always that wonderful. In fact, some memories are best kept where they belong—in the past. And as for the yard seeming so small, to this old man the world has grown much too large.

What I Think About When I’m on Quarantine Part Four

My mind wanders back to Texas in the early fifties while on quarantine, and this story keeps rising to the surface. It’s been so long ago I don’t know how much of it is true, how much made up and how much true only in my heart. You’ll have to decide for me.

Holding a dozen red roses, I stepped inside the flapping, torn screen door and I saw that the roof was half gone, long vines growing through it. I hesitated a moment as I remembered the last time I stood there, sixty-five or more years ago.
This house sat at the bottom of a sloped pasture from our home. My little legs only took moments to scramble through the tall grasses and to mount the creaking wooden steps. I heard her voice.
“Baby boy! Git on in this house right now! I got some ice cold wallermelon for ya!”
Mary’s voice made me feel happy. Ma and pa were pleasant, but they were miserable like the weight of the world was about to weaken their knees, forcing them to the ground. Ma tried to find a smile and a gentle caress from time to time, but Pa never rose above a scowl and a menacing leer. I kinda felt sorry for Ma. She carried her sorrow around like a rough old wool blanket, but Pa scared me to death, like he was gonna pull back his fist and knock me from here to kingdom come. My brothers were on Pa’s side. They told me the only reason Mary liked me was because she just wanted to touch my white skin. Those mixed emotions made going to Mary’s little cabin across the way so exciting: her comforting manner and my fear that Pa would find out. For the longest spell I never understood why Pa and my brothers hated Mary.
“Now you come over here and sit on Mary’s lap so she can give you a big hug.”
When I walked across the room she noticed the dandelions I had picked along the way through the pasture.
“Why, is those for me, Baby Boy? Mary’s gonna have to give you a extra big slice of melon for those purty flowers.” She put her big brown arms around me and hugged. Mary smelled like fresh-baked cornbread.
Just then the screen door flew open. My father’s hulking frame blocked the sunlight trying to flood into the tiny dark room.
“JerDan! Didn’t I tell you never to come to Mary’s place again?”
Actually, he used another word in front of her name, but ever since that day I never felt right about using it. He grabbed me up under my armpit and jerked me toward the door. The dandelions fell from my hand. As he dragged me out the screen door and across the porch, I heard Mary calling.
“Baby Boy, ain’t ya gonna say good-bye to Mary? Baby Boy?”
And for the first time I heard her cry.
The next morning Ma told me Mary died over night and the ambulance had come for her body. I looked through our back door and across the pasture to see the men carry Mary’s body out on a stretcher. A bunch of black folks stood in the yard crying. I supposed they were her family.
All these years I thought Mary died because I had broken her heart, and the memories caused hot tears to run down my pale wrinkled cheeks. I didn’t bother to wipe them away. I just walked over to the spot where I had dropped the dandelions and placed a dozen red roses, putting on top of them a card that said:
“I’m sorry, Mary.”

What I Think About When I’m on Quarantine Part Three

I missed telling stories at Sweetfields Farm this spring because of the quarantine. I think they had a limited admission policy and required social distancing while going through the maze. When the earth stops trying to kill us all, I highly recommend taking the family out to the farm. It’s lots of fun. Sitting at home trying not to get sick, I recall all the interesting people I’ve told stories through the years. One particular group sticks in my mind.
There I was under my tent canopy telling stories at the farm as visitors went through the five-acre sunflower maze. A group of young adults came up and sat down.
They were in that delightful age between twenty and early thirties when no one could accurately tell how old they were. All of them were about the same height, had straight brown hair and wide friendly brown eyes. Their faces were a pleasant olive color with no blemishes. They could have been of Hispanic background, Italian or from the Middle East. They had pleasant smiles and impeccably clean white shirts and pants.
One young man, who acted as the leader, took out his smart phone.
“Do you tell your own stories or something else?” he asked, revealing perfectly straight white teeth.
“I tell stories I make up and sometimes I steal stories from people who have been dead for a long time. Right now I’m telling Native American legends.”
“I like to ask questions,” the leader said, holding up his phone, ready to punch the record button.
“Oh sure.” I was hoping they would notice I had a basket with a sign “Storytelling Fund.”
“How old are you?” he asked in an even, very respectful tone.
“I’m sixty-nine years old. I’ll be seventy in October.” I didn’t mind telling my age. I was proud to have made it to be an old man. Besides, if I were agreeable enough, maybe they’ll leave a dollar tip. I remembered when a dollar was still a lot of money.
“Where did you grow up?”
“In Gainesville, Texas, north of Dallas and Fort Worth. It was a small town.”
“What was it like growing up?”
For some reason, I decided to talk about legal discrimination in the South of the 1950s and 1960s. I described segregated schools, whites-only restrooms and colored water fountains.
“I was so young I thought black people were getting free Kool-Aid and we weren’t.”
All the lovely young people gently laughed. This was odd because when I had told that joke before, people acted like they didn’t get it or if they did get it they didn’t think it was funny.
I told them I was called a N-word lover because I didn’t understand why black kids had to go to separate schools.
The lovely ladies in the group wrinkled their brows and murmured in sympathy.
At that point I said I didn’t know why I decided to talk about the cultural situation back at that time. I usually tried not to say anything that could be interpreted as being political. If I upset anyone, they wouldn’t leave a tip and I needed the gas money to get home.
“That’s all right.” The leader nodded and smiled. “We like to learn things.”
I became aware of an awkward pause in the conversation. Since they enjoyed asking me questions, I thought I’d ask them a few things. “So, are you visiting from another country?”
“No, we live here,” he replied.
“Then you must be from Tampa Bay?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “Orlando.”
Okay, I told myself. Nobody from Orlando, which was in the middle of the state of Florida, would ever think of themselves as being a part of Tampa Bay any more than they would say they were from Cape Canaveral. It was at this time I officially became uncomfortable.
“Are you doing a college research project or something?”
“No, we just like to ask questions.”
“How nice.” I smiled, thinking of the many Twilight Zone episodes where strange new people in town just liked to ask questions.
How the hell do I get rid of these weirdos?
Maybe there was something wrong with me instead of them. Maybe I’ve watched too many Twilight Zone reruns. In either case, I felt it best to go into my usual spiel to prod visitors politely to move on.
“Thank you very much for dropping by and visiting with me. I hope you’ve enjoyed your day at Sweetfields Farm. Be sure to ride our tractor tricycles, shoot the potato cannon, play the water pump game and watch the pig races. You might also want to come back next October when we have the cornfield maze and pumpkin patch. I’ll be telling a new batch of stories then.”
The leader put away his cell phone. They stood and shook hands with me. Nice, firm, friendly handshakes from attractive young people with nice friendly smiles. They each put a dollar in my tip basket.
That night I told my son about my close encounter of the third kind as he was dressing for his night shift job. I asked him if I awoke in the middle of the night and found these young people dressed in white standing in an iridescent glow in the middle of my bedroom should I go with them to their spaceship.
“Sure,” he replied, “why not? But leave your credit card with me.”