Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cotton Head

After my maudlin personal piece last week, I’d like to turn back to a short story for this post.

Cotton Head was beef; I was sweetmeat. We shouldn’t have meshed, but we did…. right from the day his family moved in next door when I was eight. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him walk out of his house with a fielder’s glove in his fist while wearing a fuzzy, snow white cap in the middle of summer. He spotted me right off and marched across their yard to invade ours, letting me see he wasn’t wearing a cap at all. He had white hair that looked exactly like a bunch of cotton balls glued to his head. I’m sure I gawked.
“Hi, I’m James,” he said. “But everybody calls me Cotton Head, so you can too. You wanna toss the ball?”
“Uh, Henry, but I’m Hank to most folks. Except my grandmother. I don’t have a ball.”
“I do. Let’s go.”
As bad as I was at tossing a softball, I was worse at catching it. That should have been that, but he was back the next day proclaiming we were going arrowhead hunting. So I climbed on my Red Ryder and pedaled alongside him to a field near where he used to live. Cotton claimed he’d found lots of worked flint there, especially after a rain. Worked flint. That was his name for artifacts. To give the devil his due, he located three. Heck, I even found one. After that, he adopted me as his best friend.
In a way, we complimented one another. He was physical and dragged me to ball games and picnics and dances and places I’d never go on my own. I was cerebral and made sure he got decent grades through the years. He was bright but lazy intellectually. Me? Physically uncoordinated and clumsy. But he never let that get in the way of being his buddy. I had my first date with a girl for one simple reason. He wanted to double, which meant I had to have a date. Pearl Manchester filled that role, and I have to admit I enjoyed myself
In high school, he discovered wrestling while I found the debating club. I always went to his matches. He came to one of my debates and later said “Way to kick ass, Hank.” He never showed up again. He was a popular, outgoing guy, but he always made sure I was involved in whatever he was doing. He made me a part of the “in gang” at school, even if it was by osmosis.

I remember the day—the exact moment—the revelation came. We were sitting on a bench outside the schoolhouse after last class when Marcie Sue walked up, leaned against Cotton’s back, and ran the fingers of one hand through his hair.
I’ll swear, I can’t keep my hands off your weird head.” She cooed the words rather than spoke them.
Something slammed me hard in the chest and my stomach bounced on the ground. That’s the way it seemed, anyway. While I sat semi-stunned on that hard bench, it came to me what had happened. Jealousy snuck up and walloped me cross-eyed. Why couldn’t I do that intimate thing she’d done? He was my BFF, not hers. Great gobs of green gorilla grunt! I was in love with the guy.
After that, I was scared of Cotton Head. That’s not right. More like worried I’d slip up and reveal myself. I thought about—dreamed about—letting him know how I felt. Couldn’t. Guys didn’t think about guys like that in our little town. Maybe in the big cities where nobody knew anyone and didn’t care what neighbors thought about them. But not here where everyone knew everyone else.
I tried hard to make sure my feelings didn’t show, and I must have done a good job because life went on like always. But something happened the summer after graduation before we left for college. I was all torn up because he was going to one university on a wrestling scholarship while my scholastic one aimed me toward another. Our last summer together.
We were horsing around at his house, him showing me wrestling holds and me relishing the body contact. Of course, he pinned me without any trouble at all, and once as he sat on top of me while holding my arms above my head, he must have understood what was going on. He licked his lips sorta nervous like and fixed me with a long, brown-eyed stare. He'd started to say something when we heard the front door open. His mother was back from shopping.
Cotton came up off me—too fast. Like he was feeling guilty. He bounded out of the room to carry in bags of groceries from the car for his mom. I trailed along to help him with a hollow feeling in my gut because I knew things had somehow changed. He wouldn’t meet my eyes as we worked emptying the bags and putting away the groceries. Ten times I opened my mouth to mention what had happened, and ten times I failed. Chickened out.
We finished the summer as we always had. Best friends. Neither temptation nor opportunity reared its head again. We no longer wrestled. I’ve always wondered how my life would have changed had Mrs. Biggerstaff not come home when she did that day.

If you turn nostalgic for a moment and recall your own youth, you will doubtless call up moments like these. I daresay we all hd them.

I’d be pleased to hear from you at dontravis


Next post: 6:00 a.m. on Thursday.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Betty Blue

It’s that time of year again. Regular readers know this is my “blue quarter.” My late wife Betty died of pneumonia on February 12, 2009, and our wedding anniversary would have been on April 8 of that year. Sandwiched in between is March 13, her birthday. These three months are my blue period. It gets a little easier as time tolls, but it never quite goes away. This year, I’d like to mark the events with an attempt at some “poetic prose.” (Forgive me, poets, everywhere.)

Betty Blue

Shades of blue are ever important to my life
Hazy indigoed mountain silhouettes
Robin’s egg skies
Aegean oceans
Turquoise stones
Sapphire rings
Teal eyes

The death of my wife in 2009
Brought my “blue quarter”
The cold slate of February which took her away
Warm azure of March on the day of her birth
Somber cobalt of April, our anniversary
These are the shades of my “Betty blue,”
A different palette altogether

Thank you for indulging me in my annual descent into depression. After eight years, it’s becoming easier, but I do tend to think of her more often over these three months, relishing what was good about our time together and suffering through the difficult twelve weeks of her end time.

I’d be pleased to hear from you at

As always, thanks for being a reader.


Next post: 6:00 a.m. on Thursday.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

FIDELIS, part two.

Readership looked pretty good last week. That’s encouraging.

Today, we get the second part of the story about Alice determined to land a hunky, handsome guy with the dodgy name of Fidelis Proctor Greenhouse. As Alice noted last week, the name might sound like a gaseous old windbag, but the physical being sure didn’t look the part. We begin as F. P. picks her up at her dorm for a night trip to a remote spot where light pollution isn’t bad. She’s baited him with a false interest in astronomy.
Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
FIDELIS (Part 2)
F. P. sat looking relaxed in an overstuffed chair when I came downstairs at five-thirty sharp. He was as delicious as ever in canvas trousers with zipped and buttoned pockets everywhere but on his fly.He promptly sent me back upstairs for a heavier coat, gloves, and a stretch cap that would cover my ears.
His vehicle was a Jeep with bucket seats, so that put an end to my hope of snuggling on the drive. He monopolized the trip west on I-25 and south on State Road 14 by explaining that local astronomy clubs used the area where we were heading to watch meteor showers because the hills blocked most of the ambient light from the city.
“The best ones are the Perseids,” he said. “That’s the most popular shower because it appears in August of each year when the weather is nice. It produces a rate of 50 to 75 shower members per hour at the maximum.”
“Shower members? You mean shooting stars?”
“Actually, they’re particles released from a comet called 109P/Swift-Tuttle when it returns to the inner solar system. They’re called Perseids because they originate from the area of the sky near the constellation of Perseus.”
“So no shooting stars.”
“None of them are stars. If stars took off like meteors, it would create a helluva calamity. These are just small chunks of rock and ice that comets shed during travel.”
“The Geminids are usually the strongest meteor showers of the year. And the most colorful. They come in December, usually starting before midnight. They’re cool.”
“I’d wager they’re cold.” My pitiful attempt at humor was lost on him.
The light was fading fast—along with my enthusiasm for the project—by the time we reached the parking area. After that, I followed him through the gathering gloom up hill after hill, through one grove of trees and across another meadow until he finally reached his destination, a large meadow rapidly becoming as dark as the closet back home where I used to lock my little brother.
By the aid of his flashlight—and the one he’d given me to light my way—we found a log to sit down on. About time. I was ready for a rest. And the log was perfect for snuggling.
My mistake. Instead of cuddling, I got a lecture on the Usids, the Orionids, the Lyrids, and a whole host of meteor showers. Apparently, they arrived on an established schedule to titillate astronomers and send them running to the darkest spots they can find.
Once he ground down on that subject, I gave him a little prompt to get him to put his arm around my shoulders.
“I’m cold.”
He jumped to his feet. “Let’s move around some. That’ll warm you up.” Then he took out a light laser and flashed it into the sky. It seemed to reach all the way to the stars. He moved it to point out the five stars making up the constellation called Cassiopeia.
I snorted through my nose. “Doesn’t look like a beautiful queen. Looks like a big stretched out M.”
“During the winter. But later in the year, it’ll turn on its back and look like a W.”
“It takes a bushel of imagination to turn that into a voluptuous woman.”
“I guess they had a bushel full back then.” He then pointed out each of her five stars, naming Schedar—which he said was sometimes spelled Shedar or Shedir—as the Alpha star. He droned on about how this was a circumpolar constellation. That meant, I gathered, it was visible from the northern hemisphere year-round, tumbling endlessly from an M to a W to whatever the hell it looked like when it was standing on its ends.
Romantic, Cassiopeia was not. At least to me. I was freezing my butt off in the blackest place on earth while the hunkiest man I could picture either in my dreams or in reality, wandered around prattling endlessly about stars and constellations and Greek and Roman mythology. Finally, I stopped dead in my tracks.
“I wanna go home.”
He turned, spearing me with his flashlight. “What?”
“I’m cold. I’m miserable, I don’t give a damn about astronomy, and I want to go home.”
I could see nothing except the bright light turned in my direction, but I imagined his eyes rendered wide and his mouth slack that someone actually said those words out loud. That prompted me to add the final nail to the coffin of my starry-eyed dreams.
“Fidelis Proctor Greenhouse, I don’t care if you are only twenty-year-old, you’re a gaseous old windbag without a clue to what’s going on around you.”
I guess I’m lucky he didn’t fade away into the night and abandon me to my fate. I had no idea which way was north or south. The only direction I could identify was up… where Queen Cassiopeia stared coldly down upon me. Was she disappointed, too?

So there you have it. Alice now knows why no one ever has a second date with Fidelis Proctor Greenhouse. Let me know what you think of the story at Keep on reading, guys.


Next post: 6:00 a.m. on Thursday.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

FIDELIS, a short story in two parts

It’s good to be back on the Internet with my blog. Readership hasn’t built back to where it was when they shut me off on the 3rd of January, so tell everyone you know that I’m back.

This week we get a two-part short story told from a young woman’s point of view. Now folks, I don’t know the first thing about a college-age woman’s way of thinking, but I don’t think I mangled it too badly. So here we go. This one’s “name-centric,” too… as was Pheobe.
Courtesy of Wikipedia commons
Fidelis Proctor Greenhouse. Sounds like a gaseous old windbag, doesn’t he? He’s not. He’s a dreadful sexy, way handsome senior here at Loma Linda College. Beyond description. Black hair. Green eyes. Pouty lips. And as proportionally perfect as the Taj Mahal. And his skin! My Lord, I’d give up ice cream for a smooth, tawny complexion like his. The strange thing is that he doesn’t seem to date much.
“I’m going to land that,” I said to my friend Mindy as we stood on the front steps of the campus library when he strode by talking to a couple of other guys.
“You mean F. P. Greenhouse? Tell me you aren't serious, Alice," she said with raised eyebrows.
I nodded. “Yep. That’s the one.”
“Girlfriend, he’s poison. Everybody knows that.”
“I don’t. You saying he’s violent or something? He’s cruel? Stands up his dates? Drinks too much? He’s gay? What?”
“All I know is nobody who goes out with him once ever goes out with him again.”
Well, I will. You wait and see.”

It wasn’t easy. I found where he hid out in the library stacks to study and casually took a chair at the same table and laid out a big book called The Astronomy of the Bible: An Elementary Commentary on the Astronomical References of Holy Scripture by somebody named Maunder. I picked that one because I heard he had a rad interest in the subject… astronomy, that is. He noticed the book right away.
“You into astronomy or the bible?”
I smiled, exchanged introductions, and launched into my planned program of attack. “Both I guess. But astronomy’s the new interest. I saw a program on TV about it last night. Piqued my interest, I guess.”
He tapped my book with a forefinger. “Well, you picked a good reference.”
“I’ve never noticed anything about constellations in the bible before.”
“You’re kidding. They’re all over the place. Creation of the sky, the sun and the moon preside, creation’s vastness… all in Genesis. The Bethlehem Star in Numbers and Matthew. A warning against worshiping the sun and the moon in Deuteronomy, Dark stars in Job. References go on and on.”
“Wow, you know a lot about the bible.” I curled a blond tress around my forefinger. I’d seen it done on TV once, and it looked like a good “come-on.”
He laughed, revealing double rows of white teeth. “I know a lot about astronomy. Not so much about the bible, I’m afraid.”
I moved into stage two of my plan. “I’m so dumb about astrology. Everyone looks at the night sky and says there’s Orion and Aquarius and Cassiopia.”
“Cassiopeia”, he corrected. “The vain queen of Greek mythology who liked to brag about her beauty. She was the mother of Andromeda. And Andromeda’s a whole galaxy.”
“Anyway, when I look up at the stars, I just see a whole bunch, some bigger than others, some colored a little differently, but I sure don’t see shapes.”
“It takes a little imagination, I guess,” F. P. said.
“And a little instruction.”
Lo and behold—as my mother would say—he came right back and bit. “I can show you some of them.”
“Great. When?”
“I-I don’t know. Tonight? It’s supposed to be clear. Have to drive out to a place down off Highway 14 where most of the light pollution’s blocked.”
“I don’t mind a trip down Highway 14.”
He brightened. “Really? How about I pick you up around four-thirty? We want to be in place before it gets dark. Sundown will be around five-thirty, and we’ll have to do some walking to get to the top from the parking lot.”
“I guess so.” I hadn’t planned on that much of my day being devoted to star gazing. But if it got F. P. into my clutches, it was a good investment of time.
“Sure.” I told him to pick me up at my dorm and prepared to leave.
           “I’ll bring a spare flashlight,” he volunteered as I made my way through the stacks back into the main library.

It seems Alice has hooked F. P. Can she reel him in and land him? Let me know what you think at Keep on reading, guys.


Next post will be at 6:00 a.m. on Thursday.

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