Posts Tagged ‘slipstream’

Little Booper Grows Up

July 20, 2018

 

 

Little Booper was mostly a big boy now. After many relapses, he was finally potty trained, mostly. He went to kindergarten and could stay there all day, most days, without trying to run home. And he could spread his own peanut butter and jelly, mostly on the bread.

“Charlie,” Stephanie said, “Our Little Booper has stopped being a baby.”

“Finally!” Charlie replied. Charlie looked over thoughtfully at Little Booper, his face and hands smeared golden brown and grape.

Before Little Booper was born, Stephanie had worked at the circulation desk of the local library. Once she had Little Booper, she needed work she could do at home. So she began making cloth dolls to sell on the Internet. When one of her doll ideas went wrong or a doll wouldn’t sell, she would give it to Little Booper.

Little Booper lined his dolls up in opposing camps at either end of the sofa and gave them old wooden spoons to serve as guns. The dolls with the biggest and darkest eyes were the leaders. To begin with the two armies would shoot at each other from a distance. Then one of the leaders stood up and cried “Charge!” The two armies came together in hand-to-hand combat, grappling with each other and trying to bayonet each other with the handles of their spoons. Many fell struggling together on the floor until they collapsed in death or exhaustion. But the next morning, all rose to fight again.

Little Booper’s dad worked all day prepping used cars at a Ford dealership. Then Dad had a second job in the evening stocking for the Stop & Shop grocery. Between the two jobs, Charlie would hurry home for supper. When he left for his second job, he would look over at Little Booper playing with his dolls and spoons. He saw the dolls all paired up, embracing, and carrying spoons. At first it looked like a dance party at a cooking class. Then he looked closely at the dolls twisted up together on the floor and poking each other with spoons. Charlie’s eyebrows crinkled. He looked over at Stephanie, reading in her chair, and cleared his throat. He tried to say something but couldn’t form any words. So he went off to work at the Stop & Shop.

For a while Little Booper loved to position soldier dolls all over his Big Wheel with their spoons aiming ahead. He would push the Big Wheel to the turn of the wheelchair ramp where it went from the family’s porch straight down into the driveway in front of their duplex. And he would fix the wheel to point straight ahead. After he had set the other dolls up on the driveway, he would push the Big Wheel. The army leader would cry “Charge!” and the soldiers would all ride down to attack the dolls below.

Then one windy day, while Little Booper was setting up the target dolls, he heard the leader cry “Charge!” Little Booper froze with surprise. Before he could recover, the Big Wheel army came charging down the ramp behind him. The Big Wheel hit him hard. Little Booper felt the leader’s wooden spoon poke painfully into his butt. When Little Booper’s dad got home from the dealership, Mom told Dad the funny story of one of Little Booper’s dolls poking him in the butt. Dad’s lips moved and some strange muffled noises came out.

“Don’t worry,” Mom reassured Dad. “Little Booper wasn’t really hurt. It’s nothing he needs to see the doctor about.” Dad didn’t eat much supper, and then he went to work.

After the Big Wheel attacked him, Little Booper was afraid to go near it. He disarmed all his doll soldiers and locked all their wooden spoons in a toy box. He still loved to line up his dolls for inspection, but Little Booper had experienced the grim reality of war. It changed him to discover that the toys surrounding him could be hostile toward him, and he never again felt comfortable in his world.

The next day Little Booper’s dad decided to enroll him in tee-ball. Little Booper went a few times. He liked hitting at the ball, even though he usually missed. But he panicked when the ball was batted at him. The ball would grow larger and larger as it approached and he could see a face forming out of the seams of the ball. And then he recognized the large eyes of an army leader watching him. Little Booper ran away screaming. It was too much like the charge of the Big Wheel.

About the time Little Booper started T-ball, he also started to worry about his nightly bath. At one time Little Booper had liked his bath. Then he slipped in the tub, fell on his butt and pooped the water. Little Booper’s mom was not happy. “Booper! You’re a big boy. Aren’t you potty trained yet!” Her big, dark eyes grew narrow and intent.

Little Booper started to be afraid of his bath. As soon as his mom left him alone, he would panic about what might happen, jump out of the tub, splashing water over the side, and run dripping through the duplex to hide in his closet.

Little Booper’s mom bought him a big rubber ducky to protect him and help keep him in the tub. “Ducky will stay with you, Little Booper, and watch you.” Little Booper looked up and saw his mother’s dark eyes watching at him. Then he looked down and saw Ducky’s large dark eyes intent upon him. “Now, Ducky, you watch Little Booper and be sure he doesn’t leave the tub.” And the toy did help. Little Booper stayed longer in the tub and played cautiously with his ducky.

Ducky was a passive toy while the water was still. It just floated on the surface. But when the water moved, Ducky’s long, hard rubber bill would open and close. And if you squeezed Ducky, he would also quack.

After Little Booper quit T-ball, he relaxed and asked Mom to help him make judo outfits for his dolls so they could train in the martial arts. Dad came home and saw Little Booper dressing his dolls in pajamas and setting them up to face each other in pairs. When Little Booper looked up, he saw his dad’s eyes wide open, watching him. That was when Dad decided to enroll Little Booper in soccer.

Preschool soccer was better than tee-ball. The movements of the ball were terrifyingly unpredictable and when it came at him a huge intent face began to appear. But Little Booper could run behind the herd to avoid getting kicked or hit with the ball. If he let someone else get the ball, he was pretty safe.

Then one day in the bath Little Booper’s soap slipped out of his hands and fell onto the floor. When he stood up to get it, he heard Ducky quack behind him. Odd, since Ducky hadn’t been squeezed. Little Booper had to step half out of the tub to reach the soap and when he stepped back in, he felt Ducky’s bill close hard on his bottom.

After the soap incident, Little Booper no longer smiled when mom placed Ducky in his bath water and went back to her work. And Ducky no longer floated aimlessly around the tub. Ducky stayed between Little Booper and the open side, facing Little Booper, with his bill opening and closing, watching. If Little Booper even moved a leg, Ducky would quack.

Little Booper tried “I’m not dirty tonight, Mommy,” and then he tried hiding at bath time. But Mom would fetch Little Booper’s “beloved” Ducky and squeeze it for him until its quacks drove him into the tub.

As Little Booper sat in the tub with Ducky, his fear grew, and his panic, until he would bolt for the edge. Ducky always caught him, biting hard on his legs, arms or bottoms. From the time Little Booper woke up, he dreaded the inevitably approaching bath hour. He replayed its horrors in his dreams.

Little Booper stayed longer in his bath, which meant his mom could work. So Mom loved Rubber Ducky and made great displays of affection toward it. She noticed Little Booper’s bruises and cautioned him not to play so rough at soccer, but she never noticed how hard and sharp the edges of Ducky’s bill were.

One day Mom decided to clean out some old duffel bags dad had in the garage and find out if Dad still wanted that junk. He had never opened the bags since they were married.

When Dad came home for supper, Mom and Little Booper were waiting with the opened bags.

“Oh well,” said Dad, “I don’t need most of this stuff.” But his eyes lit up when he looked into one bag. “Wow!” he said, “It’s my old gigging rig!”

The rig consisted of three three-foot lengths of aluminum pole, one of which had three barbed steel prongs. The three pieces of pole screwed together and the back piece had a strap. There was also a miner’s headlamp.

“I would go out at night and wade into a stream with the headlamp on. I would move slowly until I got close enough to a bullfrog or succor and then I’d spear him quick as I could! It’s not as easy as you think. The water refracts the light so the fish or frog under water isn’t really where you see him.”

“You’d spear a frog?”

“Yes, Stephanie! . . . You know what? When we finally make that trip down home, Aunt Loretta can teach you to cook frog legs!”

Mom looked oddly at Dad.

“It will be great for Little Booper,” Dad reassured her. “When he’s a little older, the two of us can go gigging together at night.”

“Charlie! Little Booper’s afraid of water. And he could get swept downstream!”

“I’ll be there, Steph. And he won’t have to wade. I’ll borrow a jon boat with lights. We’ll gig in comfort. It will be a great experience for Little Booper.”

After Dad left for his night job, Little Booper followed Mom out to the garage and watched her hide Dad’s gigging gear out of sight.

That night’s bath was the worst yet. When Little Booper finally panicked and jumped from the tub, he slipped and fell back in. Ducky got between his legs and grabbed his boyhood for an extra hard bite. Little Booper was too shocked to scream but he saw stars, a clear night’s sky of them.

The next day while Mom was working, Little Booper went out to the garage and dug out the pronged section of the gigging spear. He hid it behind the towel shelving in the bathroom.

That night Little Booper went without protest to his bath. And he sat perfectly still while Ducky watched him suspiciously. Little Booper felt unnaturally calm. Then at just the right moment, he bolted from the bath and grabbed the gigging spear from behind the shelving. He turned to see Ducky’s large eyes coming over the side of the tub after him.

Little Booper gave a war cry that froze his mother at her sewing machine. Then he stabbed Ducky back into the tub. Again and again he stabbed the quacking monster until all three prongs went through the plastic tub and nailed Ducky to the bottom. Bubbles came up from the impaled creature and Little Booper saw the water around Ducky briefly turn a deep red. Then it was clear. And Ducky was no more than a ruined toy.

At first Little Booper’s mom was hysterical. This was much worse than Little Booper pooping in the bath. But for Little Booper it was a glory. He knew that slaying Ducky had taken all the courage he had. And he knew that in some way he had become a man.

By the time Charlie came home, it had all become Dad’s fault, Dad with his stories about gigging fish and frogs.

They had to replace the tub. And Little Booper was banned from access to any sharp objects, ever. They even put a lock on the knife drawer.

Oddly, Little Booper was happy. He went back to playing with his dolls but he also tried actually playing soccer. For the first time he took the ball, and by the end of the next game he scored his first goal. But the memory of Ducky still frightened him during his nightly baths. He again started running for his closet.

Then one night, a couple weeks after the gigging, Dad came home from his second job with a surprise. Booper was already sleeping peacefully in bed.

“You know, Steph, Little Booper has been really good during the last two weeks.”

“Except for his baths.”

“Exactly. So I have bought him another bath toy to replace the duck.”

Stephanie looked expectantly at Charlie.

Charlie’s eyes lit up with delight. “Just look at this!”  

He ran water in the sink and lifted a large floating dragon out of the bag. It had battery-powered eyes that flashed red when it was set in the water and toothed jaws that opened and closed when the water moved.

“And listen to its roar!”

“Oh, thank you, Charlie!” said Mom, her big dark eyes drinking in the new toy. “This dragon is perfect!  Little Booper will never jump out of his bath again.”

 

Copyright © 2018 by Michael B. Smetzer

 

Dad and Dorky Mike go fishing. Smetzer family photo.

Dad and Dorky Mike go fishing. Smetzer family photo.

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Counting Down the Clock: A New Year’s Story of Magical Darkness

June 11, 2017

 

As the new kid at work, Tom would have to turn on the pumps and open the Standard Oil station at 7 a.m. on New Year’s Day — after he shoveled tonight’s snow from around the pump islands.  So he had left his fiancée Kathy at her house earlier that evening. With the snowstorm moving in, Kathy would have to celebrate New Year’s Eve in her parents’ home. Tom ushered in 1965 alone, at 11 p.m. Chicago time, on his couch, by watching Guy Lombardo and his orchestra perform live at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.

As Tom listened to the orchestra play “Auld Lang Syne,” he sipped ginger ale in the comfort of his one-bedroom rented bungalow. Although the snowstorm had begun gusting outside, the gaiety on his television enhanced his optimism about the coming year. Tom was just half a year out of high school, but the station’s owner was already planning to make him assistant manager next month when Bob left for Paris Island and his basic training in the Marines. For Tom, it would be the next step into the future of his dreams.

By 3 a.m., a blizzard had developed, but Tom was in bed dreaming that he was walking out to check the mailbox by the road. In reality, the county plow had sheared off his mailbox at 1 a.m. It was now buried in a snow bank somewhere between its stump and the state highway. But in Tom’s dream, he had just painted the box white and planted marigolds around it. It was a good dream. Tom liked getting mail, even junk mail. Little greetings, he thought, from his fellow Americans and the Free World.

Tom rolled onto his back. As the vision of his mailbox faded, Tom’s eyes opened. Then they opened wider. A 10-gauge shotgun was pointing into his face. At its other end in the shadows stood a shape like a man. Tom wanted to sit up but the bore was only inches from his eyes. He imagined the long tube running back to the poised shell. The end sight glistened in the dark. A bony left hand appeared with a wind-up timer clock and placed it on the night stand.

“When the alarm sounds, you will die.”

The voice sounded brittle and dry, like leaves scuttering along a sidewalk. Tom stared at the luminous numbers and hands. The timer was set for four minutes. A long finger reached out  and pressed a switch. The clock began ticking. Tom watched the second hand hop happily around the clock’s face.

Outside a gust of snow rattled his bedroom window. A mistake? Tom thought. The wrong house?

“Are you sure you want me?”

Tom told the shadow his name and address. The figure held steady.

Something will change, Tom thought. It always does in a dream. Nothing changed. The clock ticked loudly. “What have I done?” he thought. “I live a quiet life. I work hard. What have I done to anyone?”

“Sir,” he asked, “why do I have to die?”

Inside the room’s silence Tom heard only the ticking. And outside the wind.

Tom had expected to marry Kathy in June and then have three children. He had expected to become station manager, then find a better job. He had expected to win his personal War on Poverty, to enjoy life in the Great Society that President Johnson had promised. His old age he had expected to be comfortable with many grandchildren. Tom had expected a future.

Two minutes left.

Tom studied the figure holding the gun, but all he could see was a silhouette. A tall figure with a top hat and hair coming out the sides. A tight coat. A beard. In the dark he could see no details of the face. No depth. The shape seemed flat as a poster, except for the arms on the shotgun pointing at him. Tom smelled gun oil. He heard the blizzard swirl against his walls.

The clock ticked on.

Tom had never really considered his death. He had only graduated from high school in June. He had just turned eighteen in December. His parents were still alive, his grandparents. It didn’t make sense that Tom should die before them. To be killed now, for no apparent reason . . . Why was this old man taking his future?

Twenty seconds left.

The figure pulled back the hammer. Tom pushed his head deeper into his pillow.

Seventeen seconds.

But to Tom the ticks now seemed uneven and farther apart.

Fifteen seconds.

Tom tried again to imagine himself back into his dream. The image of his mailbox would not come. He tried to visualize the station where he worked. He tried to picture Kathy dancing at sock hops in the gym, Kathy dressed up for the prom. He tried to hear again the music of Guy Lombardo and before that the comforting voice of Walter Cronkite on the evening news, analyzing the old year’s developments in Vietnam.

Twelve seconds.

The ticks became maddeningly slow, and erratic. Tom thought his mind must be racing. He expected to see his whole life pass in a formal goodbye. Tom was disappointed. He could picture nothing. No people. No places. No scenes from his life. He could not imagine his mother’s face, Kathy’s expression when he had proposed, his family’s trailer in the woods, his friends from high school. All he could see was the bore of the shotgun moving closer, almost resting on his nose. He could feel its cold.

Four seconds.

Silence. Another tick.

Three seconds.

A longer silence. Tick.

Two seconds.

Then . . . He stared at the clock and realized it had stopped. Yes, it seemed completely stopped. Tom watched the figure but the shadow did not move. Poised but frozen, like the hands on the clock.

“Why doesn’t he kill me now?” Tom thought. “Can’t he see the clock has stopped?” Tick. Tom looked at the clock.

Only one second left!

Tom stopped breathing. His throat tightened. The second left on the clock glowed suspended in the dark. Tom’s life clung like a drop to the blade of the second hand. Hanging between a past he could not recall and the instant of his death.  

Outside his bungalow, the blizzard screamed. Gust upon gust rattled the snow-pasted windows in their frames.

The slightest jar and the clock could tick. The wind. A plow out on the road. His breathing. He feared the beating of his heart.

Tom abandoned the people and places of his life. He abandoned his future. Nothing mattered beyond that last second of time. Tom wanted no one, nothing. He was totally alert. Totally fixed in space and time. Totally alive inside the terror of his impending death.

Only Tom’s eyes moved about the room, returning again and again to the luminous face of the clock.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer

 

Discussion

“Counting Down the Clock” began as a dream in the early 1970’s. It was a nightmare of fear and entrapment, of unexpected, untimely, and inescapable death. But as I wrote and revised the story, a contrast developed between the mundane realism of the setting and the horror of the intrusion. Eventually I realized that the feelings in the dream were bound up with the Vietnam War and the enlistment posters and parodies of Uncle Sam that were everywhere at that time.

The story is allegory, magical realism, horror, slipstream, or just a really bad trip, man. And, yes, I know, it took me 45 years to get it done. If it is done.

 

Detail from "Moon Night" - acrylic painting on wood by Mike Smetzer

Detail from “Moon Night” – acrylic painting on wood by Mike Smetzer

Joe Bought a Truck

May 24, 2017

 

Joe’s new truck was one tall ride!
Ram 1500 Sport.
V-8, 8-speed transmission.
Blue-streak-pearlcoat exterior.
Brand new!
With the biggest mud tires the dealer could fit.

We could never afford a wonder like that.
But my brother Joe went down to Foxwoods
and he won. He won big!
So, being a man, and being single,
he bought this truck.

I said, “You could have bought
a lot of ho’s with that money.”
“Think harder, Bro,” he said.
“I bought the Ram.
Now the sluts will jump in for free.
I can drive the girls and the truck!”

To begin with Joe couldn’t really handle
the girls or the truck.
His ego was just this pale little thing
about the size of a baby mouse.
It slept quietly inside a Big Mac wrapper
stuffed between our seats.

What with all the near collisions,
I can’t say I even noticed it the first two days.
But Joe was right about the sluts.
His best play was to park the Ram near
where some muffins in tights would pass.

Then chat them up from inside the cab.
He looked like a cowboy, as long as he
didn’t try to move the truck.
Soon he was helping girls into the cab
and taking them for rides.

He got better at driving and chatting,
and sometimes,
if the girl didn’t know him,
he scored!
Joe’s ego was growing up now
and growing some thick hair
along with a visible pair of balls.

Joe had to take it out of the wrapper
and put it in the toolbox behind his seat.
Not like he had any tools.
By this time, I was no longer welcome,
except when we drove to work.

Still, when he needed recovery time
or when I was the one with gas money,
I got to ride along on his outings.
Sitting in that Ram was as near ecstasy
as you can get without a dealer.

The guys had to look up to us
‘cause we were cruising way above
their silly little rides.
When the sluts saw our stuff,
they couldn’t help giving
their booty a twerk or two.
Sweet ride! Sweet life!

Soon Joe really got to be the man.
He’d drive up next to one of our buds
lining up a slut in a Ranger or something.
The girl would look up
at Joe in his powerful Ram,
and that guy’s junk was toast!

Joe loved it!
But every time he pulled that stunt
his ego swelled inside the toolbox
and it wanted more.
I could hear it behind the seats, mumbling
and pounding on the inside of the box.

Then it started to talk,
and it talked loud!
Joe had to quiet it down with Captain Morgan
before he could pick up a slut.
Still, Joe was the man.

A lot of girlfriends took a ride in Joe’s Ram,
while their guys were at work.
Joe turned a bucket full of promise rings green.
Pretty soon none of our old buds would talk to us,
and Joe had to park next to the guard house at work.

One night Joe forgot to latch the toolbox.
His ego got loose in the cab.
By morning it had shed hair all over
and grown too big to get back in the box.
We had to let it ride between us
and try to pass it off as a lab.
Smelled like a badger!

With his ego out, Joe had to give up
poaching tights, except for Goths,
but he still loved to drive his Ram up beside
some guy with a slut.

Soon Joe’s ego needed more room in the cab.
Joe could hardly shift.
I was hanging out the passenger window.
People looked at us funny.
No one thought it was a lab.
More like a gorilla!

Even our family stopped talking to us.
And Joe’s ego just kept growing.
We moved it into the truck bed.
But we still couldn’t relax.
Joe’s ego growled and snapped
at us through the sliding window.
Couldn’t even pass it off as a bear!

Now when we pulled up next to a couple,
the girl would look up with big-eyed horror
at the three of us looking down.
Then she’d roll her window up.

Good thing we had heavy duty springs.
Joe liked this new power he had over people
and his ego kept growing.
The truck started banging at every dip in the road.

In the end, Joe’s ego took to leaning
against the tailgate,
which threw off the truck’s balance.
Joe could hardly steer.
The weight of all that ego was too much,
and Joe lost control.

It was early December and raining ice water.
The Ram flipped on a curve.
We found ourselves upside down in a ditch
with six feet of mud-flavored slushy over our heads.
We straight out lost the Ram
‘cause Joe could only afford liability.

Both of us ended up in the hospital
with cuts, bruises and serious hypothermia.
And we collected buckets full of towing bills,
ambulance bills, medical bills.
We couldn’t pay any of it!

Even worse, since we had lost our friends,
we had no way to get to work to make money,
except to walk!

On the other hand, we also lost Joe’s ego.
It shriveled up in that ice water like our testicles,
and it drowned right there under that Ram!
So, yeah, I guess we look like two losers
walking to work every day in the snow.
But at least we got back some peace of mind.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Michael B. Smetzer