I am taking time away from the blog to be with my family and friends during the Christmas season. On Monday, Jan. 4 I will return with new adventures of Bessie’s Boys, updates on my wife’s journey in Cancer Chronicles and my suggestions for New Year resolutions. May everyone have giggles, good food and lots of hugs and kisses.
The Alhambra dining hall was brightly lit by ornate chandeliers that evening, and the courtiers were laughing loudly, trying to pretend Phillip did not have them all scared out of their wits. In the middle of the room were elaborately garbed Gypsy gentlemen playing violins as voluptuous Gypsy girls twirled around the room in wild abandon. King Phillip dribbled wine from the corner of his mouth as he hooted and clapped his boney old hands.
“Minstrels! More Minstrels!”
Maria, well aware her life depended on giving the appearance of having a good time, smiled and forced herself to giggle every few minutes.
Eventually the fiddlers and dancers finished their act, bowed deeply to the King and trotted out of the room. Entering as they exited were Rodney, his face smeared with a tree bark unguent to make him look swarthier and earrings to make him look Gypsier, and Alice, who made her peasant blouse and short skirt look pretty good. Rodney began to strum a mandolin while Alice danced with more abandon than one would expect from an uptight English maiden.
“Mon dieu!” Maria gasped as Rodney approached the King’s table.
Phillip’s head turned sharply. “I beg your pardon?”
“Oh. Well. I—I—yi, yi,“ Maria sputtered, returning to her Spanish accent.
“Perhaps the young lady is not accustomed to seeing men wearing earrings,” Rodney offered in mangled Slavic tones. “But let me assure the young lady I mean her no harm.”
Trying to hide a smile, she replied, “Oh no, it isn’t that. It’s just that—I’ve never seen such a lovely mandolin. I have a special fondness for mandolins.”
“Oh really?” Phillip’s eyebrows rose in anticipation. “I must show you my private collection of mandolins.”
“When?” she asked politely.
“As soon as I can get one.”
“Dirty old man,” emanated from beneath Maria’s dress.
She firmly knocked her knees together.
“And now, minstrel, regale us with a tune.” Phillip leaned over to whisper to Maria, “I hope it has dirty lyrics.”
Rodney’s face went blank for a moment until Alice bumped him with her hip. “As you wish, your Majesty.” He began strumming clumsily and sang in a mish-mash of a Slavic monotone. “Oh, love with a Spanish lady can be a dangerous thing….”
Alice resumed her twirling and bumped into the table right in front of Phillip who ogled her and licked his lips. Frightened she spun toward the center of the room.
“They love you for a while and then toss you aside….”
Never having a keen sense of direction, Alice bumped into the head table again, this time in front of Maria. Only a moment passed before they recognized each other, and their eyes blazed with indignation.
“You!” Alice hissed.
“What are you doing here?” Maria slipped into her German accent for the question.
Alice did not answer but rather chose to spin away.
“Their dancing black eyes can enthrall you, and their red lips can maul you….”
Losing her balance, Alice fell and slid under the royal table, wound up face to face with Clarence under Maria’s gown.
“I beg your pardon? I don’t believe I’ve made the acquaintance of any maidens of the Gypsy persuasion.”
(Author’s note: History correctly tells us the ethnic group generally labelled Gypsy has a long honorable cultural tradition. We acknowledge that this group has been treated unfairly and cruelly under various despotic regimes. Having given due respect, we remind readers this is a burlesque satire and not to be taken seriously.)
“Clarence! It’s me! “Alice!”
“What are you up to?”
Clarence glanced upward, formulating a reply, but before he could reply, Rodney grabbed Alice by her feet and yanked her back onto the open floor. As he swished around here, Rodney finished his song.
“Yes, love with a Spanish lady can be a dangerous thing.”
Rodney bowed to the applause, but Alice stormed out of the banquet hall in a huff.
“What a sad song,” Maria commented with a sigh.
“Yeah, real sad,” Phillip added. “No dirty lyrics.”
“Surely you don’t believe that of Spanish ladies, do you, minstrel?” Maria asked.
“I don’t know.” His large soulful eyes pleaded with her.
“Where did that little Gypsy dancer go?” The King craned his head to look around the hall. “She was a real looker.”
“Sometimes a person doesn’t know who to trust.” Rodney’s face went puppy dog on her.
“You have nothing to fear from Spanish ladies,” she replied sweetly.
“Bah! I never trust Spanish ladies!” Phillip announced gruffly.
Fluttering her black lace fan, Maria added, “You have nothing to fear from this Spanish lady.”
“Of course,” the King continued, “I don’t trust any woman, no matter what country she’s from.”
Maria extended her hand to Rodney and pursed her lips. “Fell free to call on me for any assistance.”
“Come to think of it,” Phillip revealed, mostly to himself, “I don’t trust anyone, male or female.”
“Thank you.” Grinning, Rodney bowed to kiss her pretty fingers. “I will.”
“Oh hell, there are times I don’t even trust myself.” The King was about to add to his soliloquy when he heard a familiar cough from the back of the hall. When he looked up he saw Steppingstone peeking in the door, his hand covering his mouth.
“I’d love to hear another song,” Maria purred.
“No!” Phillip erupted.
“Does my singing offend you, scum—I mean, Sire?” Rodney asked.
“No, no. It’s just—just I’ve got affairs of state to attend to. Excuse me.” With that, the King scurried out of the hall, followed by a small crowd of sycophants.
Maria and Rodney, did not notice, because they were too busy making love with their eyes.
Bump in the road.
My wife loved going Christmas shopping by herself. She spent an evening wrapping presents to send to our daughter and her family. She kept saying how much fun it was. The next morning she could hardly drag herself out of bed. Besides being extremely tired, she also was dizzy as she stood. Coincidentally her appointment with her cancer specialist was that day. The doctor said the mastectomy scars were healing nicely, but her blood pressure was 90 over something and a finger prick blood test showed her blood sugar was low. Neither was good but not alarming. No treatment was prescribed.
A few days later she went to her general practitioner. I drove her and she sat in a wheelchair as I pushed her into the doctor’s office. He noticed her ears were filled with wax which, he said, would cause the dizziness. He gave her sweet oil to apply to her ear canals. He concurred with the other doctor that the blood sugar level was borderline abnormal but he didn’t prescribe anything either. Also, he gave her a stool sample kit. Just because cancer has disappeared in one part of the body doesn’t mean it can’t re-emerge somewhere else.
Her appetite has been off, which is not good. She has lost enough weight already. Other Christmas preparations have been put on hold. And preparing for Christmas is her favorite activity of the year. I brought sushi home for dinner tonight. She ate that better than anything else in the last few days. And she’s standing more easily now.
A short trip after Christmas has also been put on a back burner. But we’re not dismissing the plans yet. She has another week to regain strength and vitality before thinking in terms of cancelling it.
Life is fragile. Never take it for granted. But never give up either.
King Phillip’s private office at the Alhambra was cluttered with charts and maps. The spindly, balding monarch, dressed properly in black with only the slightest hint of ancient white lace peeking from his sleeves and collar, sat impatiently at the head of a long ebony table as lords, ministers and generals chattered about the impending invasion of England by their invincible Armada. Vacacabeza, recently returned from the British court with his comely ward Maria, sat like a cat at Phillip’s side, ready to pounce on any opportunity to be ingratiatingly supportive. The King’s eyes rolled in boredom as a general—which one he did not know because the current turnover of military commanders was so brisk the old ruler could not keep up with them—droned on, listing a massive supplies for the invasion which they sincerely believed would change the course of history.
“…four hundred thirty-one guns, fourteen thousand barrels of wine—“
“—Fourteen thousand barrels of wine?” Phillip interrupted. “Where the hell are they going, an invasion or an orgy?”
“An invasion, Sire,” Vacacabeza explained in sycophantic tones that made the King shudder.
“Very well.” He paused to consider having his minister burned at the stake that afternoon just so he wouldn’t have to listen to his mewling mouth, but decided against it. He needed all the firewood available for the impending war. “Proceed.”
The general continued in his dreadful monotone, “Eleven million pounds of biscuits—“
A commotion in the courtyard below drew Phillip’s attention. He heard tambourines clanging, mandolins strumming and people laughing and singing. Didn’t they know they were in Spain, and the King took a dim view of happiness? With great difficulty, he stood and tottered over to the window.
“What’s going on down there?” he asked as he beheld colorfully costumed individuals jump from equally colorful wagons, providing a spontaneous concert for the gathering crowd.
Vacacabeza hurried to Phillip’s side and peered over the old man’s hunched shoulder. “Gypsies, Sire. They’re dancing, singing—“
“I can see that,” he interrupted irritably. “Who let them in?”
“You did, Sire, to entertain at the banquet tonight.”
“Have them entertain at the banquet tonight?” Phillip hated being old. His memory was shot.
A rare licentious smile appeared as he licked his lips. “I hope they know songs with dirty lyrics.”
He looked out the window again, scanning the crowd to spot some beautiful maidens. His eyes focused on Maria who was walking through the crowd. Every few steps she stumbled a bit.
“I see your ward returned with you. Good.”
“Yes, Sire. She does have a well-developed personality, doesn’t she?”
Phillip frowned briefly as he watched Maria stagger again. “Seems a bit awkward of late, though. Like she’s walking with a pig between her legs.”
“No, Sire, I hadn’t.”
“Well, that will all change when she gets something else between her legs, eh?” The King laughed evilly.
“Yes, Sire.” Vacacabeza’s eyes widened when he realized what his sovereign had just said. “What, Sire?”
“Oh, Sire.” Vacacabeza’s hand went to his throat. “Sure, sir—I mean, Sire.”
“Tell her I’ll see her in the garden in an hour,” Phillip ordered, giving his ambassador a wary once-over.
Vacacabeza bowed deeply. “Yes, Sire.”
“And be sure to keep the gardener out!” The king licked his lips licentiously.
Exactly one hour later Phillip paced among the rose bushes when Maria appeared, still walking like she had a pig between her legs. He could not help but rush toward her.
“Ah! My dear! Come closer so I can see if the damp climate of England spoiled your beauty.”
“As you wish, Sire.” Maria was smart. She knew to use only the Spanish accent around the King, although it did take quite a bit of concentration. Stopping in front of Phillip, she curtsied, bending over enough to allow her sovereign to examine her elegant décolletage.
“Just as beautiful as ever.” He took her hand and patted it. “Tell me, how did you endure your sojourn on that accursed isle?”
“I enjoyed it very much, your Majesty.”
Phillip raised a thin gray eyebrow. “I shall have my physician bleed you. You must be ill.”
Startled by the King’s remark, Maria pulled her hand away, taking a step backwards, right into a rose bush. A thorny branch found its way under her skirt, which resulted in a muffled cry emanating from between her legs. She tried to pretend she didn’t hear it which was difficult because the unseen force under her dress moved away from the rose bush, dragging her along. Unfortunately, the unseen force careened into another rose bush which resulted into tortured moan.
“My dear young lady, it appears as though you are about to suffer an emotional breakdown.” He paused to allow his indignation to reach its highest righteous level. “Those damn English!”
“Oh no, your Majesty, I feel just fine. And everyone in England treated me warmly.”
The unseen force jerked her back in the other direction. Maria smiled graciously and concentrated on pleasing the King of Spain.
“Even that Englishwoman?” he asked contemptuously.
“You mean Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen?”
“Hah!” Phillip spat in derision. “That’s a laugh. She sleeps around with everyone else but refuses to marry me. After all, I am her former brother-in-law.”
Maria stepped toward Phillip to escape the clutches of the rose bush branches. A soft sigh emanated from below.
“I am sure that’s not true.”
“No, it is. I married her sister. Ugh. What a dried up old prune.”
“Oh, I know that part is true. What I doubt is that Elizabeth, as you put it, sleeps around.”
He narrowed his eyes and gave her a glare worthy of the Inquisition. “Are you sure you haven’t changed your loyalties?”
“Sire! I am the ward of one of your ambassadors!”
“I suppose so. But I can’t help but think you’re up to something.”
Maria adjusted her dress and gave the King her most sincere doe-eyed expression. “No, your Majesty. I’m not up to anything.”
Phillip took her hand and walked her out of the garden. “Good. I want you by my side at the banquet tonight. Gypsies will be singing songs with dirty lyrics!”
“Oh no!” a muffled voice called out. “More beans!”
“I beg your pardon?”
Maria blushed. “Nothing, your Majesty. Just a small case of gas.”
Chemotherapy can clean out your sinuses. I wouldn’t recommend it as a primary tool to fight sinusitis, but it seems to be an unexpected side benefit for cancer treatment.
My wife has always been tortured by allergies of all sorts. Our first home was in Kingsport, TN, which had an Eastman film plant and a paper processing plant. A true Kingsporter could take a whiff of air at the beginning of the day and tell by the disgusting odor which way the wind was blowing. If you smelled photographic chemicals then the wind was blowing from the Eastman plant. If you smelled rotten eggs then the wind was moving over the paper factory. Neither did her sinuses any good.
When we moved to Texas she had a reprieve until she adapted to the pollen of cedars and other Texas plants which spread their love through the air. Finally we ended up in Florida, and don’t get her started about the powers of mold which comes in all shapes, colors and varieties.
She developed this hacking cough which never went away, which was particularly distressing if we were watching a mystery on television. Just as the detective would say, “And the murderer is…” my wife would cough. It wasn’t so bad when she coughed just as they announced Miss America because the winner’s hands flew to her face and she started crying. Anyone could see that.
Last week wife she drove herself to her allergist whom she had not seen since she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The drive takes an hour, but it was worth it. He told her that her sinus cavities were the healthiest he had ever seen in her. The doctor cautioned her to return immediately if the old symptoms started cropping up again.
All we need now is for the last of the redness to fade away, and we can start planning our victory trips.
And for the first time in I don’t know how long, I can finally hear the detective reveal who done it.
Who done it? My wife. The toughest broad ever. That’s film noir language for “I love her.”
Three fir trees on the edge of the forest were chatting one morning in early December.
A huge fellow, about twenty feet tall and wide at the base, ruffled his limbs. “I don’t know what you two guys are planning for Christmas but I expect to be center of attention downtown this year. Oh yeah, on the square overseeing the Christmas parade. Anybody who is anybody will be there with their kids watching the parade pass in front of me. I’ll be lit to the max with lights and a star on top.”
“That’s nothing,” a ten footer with lush green boughs replied. “I mean, if you go for that common man scene where they let absolutely everyone near you, I suppose that’s okay. As for myself, I’m selective about my company. Not saying I’m better than anyone else, but let’s just say I have discerning taste. I’m winding up in the grand foyer of a millionaire’s mansion, decorated with only the most expensive ornaments and lights. I’m talking Waterford crystal here, and I’ve got the branches to hold them.”
The third tree, not more than three feet tall and with scrawny limbs, just stood there without much to say.
“What about you, junior? What do you expect to be doing on Christmas morning? Brunching with the chipmunks?” The middle-sized tree blurted forth a forced ha-ha-ha. A nice baritone but shallow as could be.
“Now, now,” the largest tree chided. “We shouldn’t make fun of our inferiors. We all can’t be the best, most important Christmas trees in town. Not even second best, like you who will be charming to a small group but not as the official town tree.”
The littlest tree felt like he was about to ooze sap out of sadness but knew it wouldn’t do any good. The other trees were right. Who would want him except for kindling for the fire? He wasn’t big enough to make a decent Yule log.
Just at that time a caravan of cars leading a large tractor-trailer truck pulled up in front of the three trees. A group of important-looking dignitaries crawled from their cars and circled the largest tree as the crew pulled its equipment from the truck.
“Oh, yes, I think this one will do fine,” a large bald man announced as though he was thoroughly practiced at making important decisions.
“Oh yes, Mr. Mayor, this one will be more than fine.” The others standing next to him quickly agreed with him.
The crew started its chain saw, chopped the fir down and laid it on the flatbed truck.
“See you never, suckers!” the biggest tree called as the municipal procession disappeared.
“Commoner!” the middle-sized tree replied.
A couple of hours passed before a long limousine with shaded windows rolled up to the two remaining firs. A chauffeur jumped from the driver’s seat and opened the door for a couple elegantly dressed in fur and leather. The woman, with her artificially colored blonde hair piled on her head, sipped from a champagne glass, while the man fixated on his cell phone.
“Oh, Maxim,” the woman cooed. “You did a wonderful job scouting out the most beautiful tree in the forest.” She ran her fingers across the chauffeur’s broad shoulders. “Of course, you do everything well.” She turned to the man on the phone. “So, what do you think Joey? Is it big enough for our grand staircase?”
“Yeah. Sure. Whatever.” The man didn’t look up from his phone. “Max, cut it down.”
The chauffeur cut down the middle-sized tree, carefully tied it to the top of the limousine and they got into the car to drive away.
“Good luck, shrimp! You’ll need it!” the tree called out as the car disappeared around the bend.
At the end of the day, the sky darkened, and a small old car rambled up to the small tree and stopped. Three small children poured out of the back seat and ran to the little tree.
“Oh, daddy, this one will be perfect!” they sang as a chorus.
“That’s good,” a young man in ragged overalls said. “Anything bigger wouldn’t have fit in the car.”
A wispy haired young woman came around the car. “Stand back, children. I don’t want you close when your daddy starts using that axe.”
“Oh, Mommy, you worry too much,” one of the children said with a laugh.
On Christmas Eve, everyone in town gathered on the square to watch the Christmas parade and ooh and ah over the beautiful lit giant tree. Floats rolled by, and the people on them pointed and shouted at the town’s big Christmas tree. Bands with drummers, tubas and more marched past. Each one made the tree feel prouder and prouder.
On Christmas Eve night, elegantly dressed couples gathered in the millionaire’s mansion and oohed and awed over the beautifully decorated tree by the grand staircase. They all drank champagne and nibbled on appetizers served on a silver tray by Maxim who also turned out to be the butler. The ladies in their lovely gowns asked the millionaire’s wife when they were leaving for their estate in the Bahamas.
“Midnight,” she replied. “We always spend Christmas day in the Bahamas. It’s our family tradition.”
Also on Christmas Eve night, across town in a small wooden house, the family decorated the little tree which they placed on a table in the corner of the living room. The room smelled delicious from the freshly popped corn which they strung and hung on the tree. The children kept busy coloring, cutting and hanging the new ornaments on the little tree. The room was alive with the constant giggling of the children, and the little tree decided this wasn’t a bad place to be.
The next morning, everyone in town was home, opening presents and enjoying Christmas dinner with family and friends. The large tree downtown had already been forgotten. It kept hoping to hear another oom pa pa coming down the street but it didn’t. The enormous fir shivered first from the cold wind and then from the loneliness. It couldn’t decide which was worse.
In the millionaire’s mansion, everything was dark and still. All the elegantly dressed people were gone. Numbing silence replaced the insincere wishes for a happy holiday season. The middle-sized tree decided all that Waterford crystal was making its branches droop. Not even Maxim was there.
Meanwhile, in the small house across town, the family gathered around the tree to open presents. The children tore away wrapping paper to see new socks and underwear and hugged their parents gratefully for it. Then they cooked their modest Christmas feast and settled back around the tree with their plates in their laps and ate every bite of it.
Now you tell me. Which was the grandest Christmas tree of all?
Alice was about to retire to her chambers when she paused to reflect on her recent romantic adventure with Clarence. Her eyes glistened with excitement. Hearing footsteps behind her, she turned with apprehension to see who was approaching her. It was Maria.
“Oh, you startled me.” Alice graciously curtsied.
“I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” Maria intoned in her most mannerly English.
“No, we haven’t.” Alice decided she would not reveal any personal information spontaneously to this dark stranger.
“I am Maria Fleurette Hortense Hildegarde de Horenhausen,” she continued in cool English. “I am the ward of the Spanish ambassador.”
Deciding Maria’s credentials were credible, Alice smiled slightly and replied, “I am Alice Wrenn, an attendant in the court of Queen Elizabeth.”
“I hope we can become fast friends.” There was just enough iciness in Maria’s clipped English announcement to make it faintly unreliable.
“That would be nice, but unlikely, since you’ll soon return to Spain with the ambassador.” Alice raised her eyebrow slightly in cynicism.
“But I have plans to stay in England.”
“Just today I met one of the great warriors of England, and we fell instantly and madly in love.”
“Oh really?” Alice repeated. “I’m engages to one of the great warriors of England.”
The night air just became chillier.
Elizabeth and Robin strolled, hand in hand, around the throne.
“Ah, I feel so refreshed,” Bessie cooed.
“I’m going to be black and blue for a week,” Robin groused.
“Don’t be a sissy.” The Queen turned to behold the brilliant full moon from the window. “No matter how much you please me, Robin, I cannot help but be disturbed by the news of a traitor in my court.”
He joined her. “Do you think young Broadshoulders can find out who it is?”
“If he can’t, perhaps Clarence Flippertigibbit can.”
Robin wrinkled his sweaty brow. “You’re sending him to Spain, too?”
Back in the hall way, the two young damsels circled each other as though about to engage in combat.
“What a coincidence.” Maria switched to a German accent. “Are you sure he is a great warrior?”
Alice lifted her tiny chin. “My fiancé is held in highest regard by Queen Elizabeth herself.”
“Then are you certain of the engagement?” There was a hard German nastiness to Maria’s question.
“Are you implying my fiancé is unfaithful?” Her petite nostrils flared. “My hero is a gentleman without equal.”
“”I’m sure he is.” Spitefulness slid into Maria’s English inflection. The more I consider the facts, I’m sure we’re not talking about the same man. My love’s heroic dimensions would frighten you.”
“My fiancé has heroic dimensions, and they don’t frighten me at all.”
“Of course, of course. We shall all get together for an evening of lively conversation when my love returns from his secret mission to Spain.
Back in the throne room, Robin continued, “And if by some chance the spy was Broadshoulders’ father, young Flippertigibbit will discover that.”
“Yes,” Elizabeth replied, “unfortunately, I cannot trust anyone. Also, the chances of either of them or both being discovered by Phillip and burned at the stake are high. Perhaps one of them can escape.”
“Yes,” Robin agreed, “the stakes are high.”
Alice’s mouth fell open at Maria’s comment. “Did you say secret mission to Spain?”
“My fiancé leaves tonight on a secret mission to Spain also.” Her hand went to her small but impressive bosom.
“My lover is under direct orders from the Queen herself.” Maria stretched herself to her full height.
“My fiancé received his command from her Majesty.”
“Why would Elizabeth send two great warriors on a secret mission to Spain at the same time?” Maria asked in impeccable English.
“I have no earthly idea.”
“—there is only one great warrior!” Alice interrupted.
Each young woman began to steam at the prospect that they were both being seduced by the same gallant hero in Queen Elizabeth’s court.
“And then I’ll kill him!” Her determination was expressed with a frighteningly German threat.
“Not if I get to him first!” Her face turned cherry tomato red.
Both maidens turned for their rooms but bumped into each other instead.
“Out of my way!” Maria demanded in an imperious German tone.
“Cram it, Kraut!” Alice dropped all pretense of being the perfect English lady.
Elizabeth and Robin nestled under the royal linens in her private chamber.
“Not a pretty decision you had to make there, Bessie old girl.”
“No. The life of a Virgin Queen is difficult.”
Robin guffawed but stopped quickly to cough when he saw Elizabeth’s piercing glare.
“Awfully drafty in these old castles,” he mumbled.
“Oh, shut up and kiss me.”
Please excuse me while I have a minor nervous breakdown.
My wife just walked into the room wearing a smart red pantsuit with a stunning red and black headscarf and announced she was driving herself to a couple of stores to do some Christmas shopping.
Mind you, she has just been through six months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and six weeks of radiation. It’s not that I don’t trust her driving. I can fall asleep as she drives us on a family vacation with no problem. I just thought she might want the scars on her chest to stop hurting before she resumed solo driving.
I did not even try to stop her because after 44 years of marriage I know not to attempt the impossible. So, even as I am writing this, she is going up and down the aisles of a crowded store and humming Jingle Bells. This, I have to admit, is preferable to what she has been enduring since last March.
She has a follow up doctor’s appointment in a couple of weeks. And she’s in the process of planning for us to spend a few days between Christmas and New Years at DisneyWorld.
That reminds me of the Super Bowl when an announcer asks the winner quarterback, “You’ve just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do next?”
Only with my wife, the question is, “You’ve just kicked cancer’s butt! What are you going to do next?” Her reply would be, “I’m going Christmas shopping!”
Note: This addendum was written two hours later, and my wife has returned from shopping. No problems with the traffic. She had fun. The pain ain’t anything she can’t handle.
I’m so proud of her!