Sunday, November 22, 2015

One Day in November in Pennsylvania 1963

It was 52-years ago today in a two-room schoolhouse in Glasgow, Pennsylvania just after lunch, and when an indoor recess ended. There was a telephone on the wall in what we called the, "cloak room," at the back of the room. It was for hanging up your coats, and putting your arctics, or rubbers, as they called your boots that slipped over your shoes. None of us wore cloaks, as this was Pennsylvania, not Transylvania, and arctics were a little out of reach for me. Rubbers took on a whole new meaning later on, so people quit referring to boots as rubbers. It created too much snickering when someone would say, "Hey, don't forget your rubbers."
I can't remember if it was the practicing of addition or penmanship that day, or if it was time to break out the Dick and Jane readers. We were busy enough doing something though that it was quiet enough that when the phone rang, which was rare, every eye in the class room followed our teacher's walk as she went to answer it. She disappeared through the doorway of the cloakroom, and her voice was muffled. It was a short call.
She returned and stood in front of the class, and adjusted her silvery, horn rimmed, glasses. Her finger moved to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye, and then she spoke. "Children, John F. Kennedy was assassinated."
Someone asked her what that meant, and she said, he had been shot. My twin sister sat behind me and the girl across the aisle from her began crying. My sister looked at her and asked her, "Was that your Dad?" My sister wasn't big on current events.
There was great discussion about what would they do to the man when they caught him, and a lot of questions you'd expect to hear from a classroom of first, second, and third graders all crammed in one room. We got an early dismissal that day in the hills. It brought the country together for a few days. We felt united in our sorrow in the United States of America. It lasted awhile. Maybe too long. So, they gave us the Warren Report to straighten things out and get to the bottom of it all. It really didn't unite anyone, either. So they gave us a war, in a place called Vietnam.

Hey if you want to read my stuff, go here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Books about Christmas by Ronnie Ray Jenkins

It's getting to be that time of year again, and reading is such an important  part of Christmas. At least it used to be.

There is nothing more special than the look on the face of a child, tucked in bed, and listening to a story about Christmas.  I've penned quite a few in my writing career, and I'd like to share them with you and your family. So, today please take a look at several of them available. I am quoted for saying, "When reading dies, the imagination soon follows." I believe that.

We  need now,  more than ever to bring reading back, open the doors of our children's imagination, and let them use their creative minds to imagination places and characters, and smells, and sounds without it being on a screen. That's too easy. If you can see it already, then it has been made for you. If you have to make it up inside your head, it then becomes your own rendition.

Every mind is different, and every story a writer tells you is seen by the reader as they wish to see it. One story read, by one-hundred different people will give you one-hundred different takes on it. It is what makes us unique, and it is what creates thinking minds.                

So, that said, please visit Books by Ronnie Ray Jenkins

Some suggestions for Christmas for the kids are, Christmas Stories, A Collection, and The Christmas Dog.

There's  a lot of other great reading available  for adults who just want to sit back with a good book during the mad Christmas rush, too. The Flynn City Egg Man Series, and the best selling, The Flowers of Reminiscence, to name a few.

Thanks for supporting reading, folks.

Ronnie Ray Jenkins

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Biblical Ass and Frisbee

Things were quite a bit different in Clearcreek, than they are today. We were doing things that would land you in the slammer now, but considering our ages, well maybe juvenile detention. I assure you though, not one single one of us from Clearcreek ended up in either the big house or the little house.

Sometimes, you would have sooner been sent off to Alcatraz than to deal with the wrath and paying the price for being stupid. Hell for a few years, I actually thought, “ass,” was some kind of Biblical last name passed on down through generations, and given to every kid that lived in Clearcreek. The houses were pretty close together, and there were only fourteen of them, small and with tiny yards jutted up against spoil piles left by the coal companies. So, it was easy to hear some parent yelling at their kid. On a good day, it sounded something like this:

“What the hell is that smell? I told you not to use that coal bucket for frogs, you jack-ass!”

“You got to be kidding me, you actually were using a tin coffee can lid opened with a can opener for a Frisbee? Why, I can’t believe that, you dumb-ass. That could cut someone’s arm off.”

A few minutes later up the path at another house.

“Get your ass in here. Oh, what do you mean you got your hand cut catching a sharp coffee can lid? Who was the stupid ass that came up with that one?”

Then there were the warnings or list of rules before my mother or dad went out anywhere.

“While we’re gone, I don’t want anyone messing with the gas in the can, it’s for the mower, and there’s not that much.” Then, my Dad would add, “And don’t be playing with any of those wooden kitchen matches, there aren’t that many left.” It wasn’t so much that I could blow myself sky high as it was saving and being frugal with stuff.

Now, when I was a kid, and I combined what I was NOT supposed to do, along with my new found knowledge from Mrs. Kleinmeyers’ sixth grade studies about the downfalls of Amazon natives using a technique known as slash and burn to clear land, well. 

Did you know that you can light a kitchen match with just the friction of your thumbnail? You can, just don’t get a sizzling chunk of the white tipped phosphorous lodged under your nail. It’s a memory you won’t easily let go.

Anyway, back to being a jack ass. As soon as the car pulled out, I headed for the gas can and matches. They were only going to the little store over in Beaver Valley, a few miles away.  I had a good twenty minute window of opportunity, maybe longer, especially if Mom ordered up some chipped ham. With the taillights out of sight, I crossed the road with gas can in hand and clenching a handful of those wooden matches. There was a field of dry goldenrod between one of the houses that fell down long ago, and a very old, kind, Polish woman who lived alone. She deserved a favor. I’d take out that nasty goldenrod, and by God, she’d have the nicest yard in town.

Fortunately for me, some helpers came along, my twin sister, and my niece. I posted my niece up by the road. Her job was lookout. You could hear the old, green, Dodge Dart push-button automatic before you every saw its gnarly grill.

“Keep an eye out,” I said, as I dribbled a glorious line of good old leaded gasoline at the edge of the field of goldenrod. If I had been liming yard lines on a football field, I’d have been hired on the spot. I shook the can at the end of my fire line, and decided I could get away with splashing a little more, heck, who would even know.

I called for my twin sister and told her to stand below me at the end of the line of gasoline, I’d handle the top. It was a swath of goldenrod to her about fifteen yards. “Are you ready?” I yelled down to her. She smiled broadly, and nodded her page boy hair cut. I think I yelled something like, “Bombs away,” but I can’t remember. I struck the kitchen match on the sole of my shoe, and tossed it on the line of gas.

“It’s like a fuse on the Wild, Wild, West,” I said with a shrill of delight. I shuddered with joy.
That’s about the time the wind kicked up. Man, did you ever see dried golden rod and those seed tops, they go off, buddy. I mean you could have tied rolls of caps to those brown, dry reeds holding up those heads. Oh, and the sparks, it was like the  Fourth of July all over again.
Then we saw it, the flames were out of control, and the wind was pushing it all right toward the old woman’s house.

“You jackass,” my sister screamed.

“Leave your post, Robin,” I screamed to the look out.

We tore off our jackets and managed somehow to get the fire out, because the wind that whipped up, actually died down as quick as it came. Half of the field was gone, and we stood with ashes on our faces and gray and white powder on our shoes up to our ankles.

Then I heard it, just as the last wisps of smoke rose up from the warm earth. The Dodge was coming. The car slowed, and my parent’s heads turned in tandem, slow and staring. Then, the car sped up, they hadn’t noticed. I couldn’t believe it, they never saw a thing. I grabbed the gas can, and tucked the wooden matches in the pocket of my jeans to return them back to the box that sat on the top of the old gas stove. They wouldn’t miss one.

That night, I kept checking across the road to make sure that the fire really was out. It was, and it never turned into a lawn either. It turned right back into a goldenrod field. I was a dumb ass for thinking otherwise. I yelled in the living room to my Dad,

 “Do you want me to open up that coffee you got over at the store?” I already was clenching the can-opener in my hand.

“Yeah, go ahead,” he yelled back from the room.

I smiled, tomorrow… Frisbee.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

The Old Wool Coat

The church sat back away from a narrow alley in a town that seemed sprinkled with small houses on the side of a hill. It was a small building with a cracked sidewalk dividing a lawn filled with rises and dips. The sidewalk carried the scars of Pennsylvania winter weather and the heat of summer repeated over seasons, and could have been used in a science class to teach the effects of physical weathering. Wobbly steel railing painted with black enamel on either side of five cement steps led to double doors, painted white and peeling. It was as much of a country church as any church in America back in the late sixties, but it was the two people standing outside greeting the small congregation that taught me the most important lesson of all, and it had to do with something as simple as an old wool coat.

Elmer and Hazel, were a couple, he was the preacher, and she, his wife. They were the real deal. They traveled twice a day up over a mountain in an old car to preach some sense into us kids. They were the kindest people I ever knew. They sold no magical spring water, and their audience was small. They helped those less fortunate when in fact they were just as unfortunate. It didn’t matter. He was a rotund man with a white mustache if my memory serves me, and she was a shorter woman who often wore a blouse, and skirt, and gold-rimmed glasses. She would sit in a pew at the front, as he spoke from his place behind a simple and plain podium. I don’t remember a lot of what he spoke about, but whatever it was it seemed to have a glorious effect on the people. I know a lot of his words were about being good, and doing good things.

I spent a lot of time looking at an old wooden display behind him on the wall. It was dark brown wood, with slats of numbers in yellowish-gold that could be slid in and out. It showed last Sunday’s attendance number, and last Sunday’s offering. They both were in the low, low, double digits. Today, I wonder how the two of them got by on what came out of the collection plates. Today, you see evangelists making millions of dollars, selling books on how to get right with God, and putting on rallies with all the trappings of a rock show. One of them recently reported to police, the theft of 750,000-dollars from a briefcase hidden under his bed in his mansion in Texas. Give me that old time religion folks, it was cheap. I have seen them in white designer suits curing ailments, and others who hock miracle spring water with claims if you order it, money will come your way. I sure wished I could have had some back then, I would have helped Rev. Elmer and his wife get some gas, and maybe with enough left over that they could have stopped for a late supper at some diner. Beware of wolves in sheep clothing; I think he preached about that one time. Now, I know what he meant.

Once, he came to our house on a chilly day, just before fall gave way to winter. He stayed only long enough to leave a gray-plaid thick heavy coat with a fur collar for me. It was donated to the church, I am sure. He thought of me, though. Me. I wore that coat like it came out of Macy’s in New York City. It was a bit small, but I didn’t care, I squirmed into it. It kept me warm. It did the trick. It accomplished what he set out to do without great fanfare, without a big show, without asking for anything in return. It taught a ten-year-old kid in a company house what the gift of giving was about. It taught me never to turn a blind eye to those who have less. It remains an integral part of my soul, and my being, and I have carried that lesson with me for a lifetime. One simple act, one gesture, and he didn’t have to paint it with a long sermon, or the threat of going to hell, or anything. He just gave.

I went to that church off and on until I hit my teen years, but I heard he still preached. I never got to thank him or his wife for that lesson. I’m thanking them now. I wish I could go to the old spring down by the railroad tracks and give them some real miracle spring water, and bring them back on this Earth, they weren’t done. I know they believed there was so much more good work to do, and in the scheme of things, their time was fleeting, but brother, they touched the hearts of many. I did get my chance once before I left the church to give something, that Christmas after the coat, they always drew names. I reached into the box, and to my surprise, I picked Hazel’s name. I bought her a bottle of some perfume from the Newberry’s Five-and-Ten in Coalport. I can see it to this day. A clear octagonal bottle with a lid, on the lid, sat an elf whose legs and arms were made from Christmas green pipe cleaners, and his pointed hat hung crooked from his Styrofoam elf face. That Christmas when we exchanged our gifts in that tiny church, and I looked up at her with my scrubbed clean face, and black curls wet down, I shyly handed her the wrapped present.

I watched her old fingers as she unwrapped it, and my eyes were locked on her as I held my breath. She was genuinely excited with the frugal thing, and you could have sworn it was a bottle of Chanel. She gave me a hug and thanked me, and I’m betting you, ten to one, it didn’t lie in a drawer somewhere. I imagined her using it, even though their special occasions were probably sparse and few between. I know one thing though; I’ll never forget her hug that day. It made me feel proud, and embarrassed at the same time. The best thing about it all was, I got her name. Now, you might wonder why that would be a big deal. Well, it taught me another thing from him and her, that prayers can be answered. I prayed before my fingers ever went into that box, that I would get her name. I wanted to give them something back.

Today, I can only honor them with this story for they are both gone, but it is for them for their quiet teachings that I will carry with me, forever.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jennifer Lawrence Takes in Laundry to Make Ends Meet. Hunger Games Star Hungry for More.

Sexism is out of control in Hollywood folks, and Jennifer Lawrence has had enough it. Poor Lawrence, who grew up as the daughter of a father who owned a construction firm and a mother who owned a day camp business managed to crawl out of that abject poverty to hold the title as Hollywood's highest paid actress. Excuse me...I'm wiping the tears, here. 
The latest financial crisis to hit poor Miss Lawrence  was that as of August 2015 according to Forbes,  she only banked 52-million dollars for the year. How horrific that must be. I'm praying that she can get by on that. 
There is a wage gap in Hollywood. There's wage gaps all over the freaking planet, people. There has been since the beginning of time, and it's wrong. If either gender are qualified doing the same work, then pay them equally. That's only fair.
Here's what's not fair:
Crying poor and wanting more when you make 52-million dollars a year. You want to be a mouthpiece for rights, and have the venue to do it, do it for something this dying planet really needs. Help the down-trodden who don't make 52-cents a day seeking out scraps of anything.  There are men who go into the depths of hell to dig coal that powers generating plants all over the world. They are not acting, they are actually sweating, and when the roof falls on them, it's not some special effect, they really get crushed to death.
How about all those mothers praying that their kids have something to eat so their  babies make it through another day without the gnawing tugging of hunger in their little bellies?  Their tears are real, they don't have to get into their character to pull it off. Take a look at the shivering man next to the grate in some city with cardboard as his mattress. That palsied body didn't start with the crack of clapperboard and some director yelling, "ACTION." No, he's shivering because he's cold and has no place to go.
How about the father who works in the fast food place for minimum wage, and he hopes to God, he will get a few extra hours in a shift, so he can get enough gas to get to work the next day in his junker of a car? I know, how about that school teacher in that poor district trying to keep thirty kids interested in a dog-eared copy of an old classic because there isn't enough money for newer books. Worse yet, how about some teacher shielding her students behind a locked door while some crazed gunman roams the halls. She huddles with them, shushing them with a finger to her lips, and hopes to God, they don't notice that she too, is scared out of her wits.  No acting, there, and no shooting that scene over. 
Oh, my, Miss Lawrence, there really are people out there in this world like that. It's not one big movie set, it's real life, and you can't prepare for it in some cozy trailer waiting to be called to say your lines. Nope. It's real, very real. There's a gap alright. A huge chasm between very lucky and privileged people like yourself and those much less fortunate. Remember, one thing, acting is just that, the ability to portray a character for entertainment purposes. Nothing more, and nothing less. In the end, as with all of us, the footlights dim, and the curtain falls, yet the old adage remains, you can't take it with you. 
When it comes to equal pay for equal work, how about the next time, you keep it real. Like maybe, get out there and fight for better pay for the hard working people who make your life a whole lot easier, like nurses, caretakers, waitresses, coal miners, just to name a few of the those human beings who keep things rolling before you even see the morning sun rising. Hollywood is not real, and they don't call it Tinseltown for nothing. Be thankful for your big break, there are many waiting for their break to come. Whatever you do, please don't break a nail taking in laundry to help you make ends meet. 
 Here's some books to read as I celebrate poverty because folks, it's here to stay. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Ape and the Stone

Thirty-million years ago, along a river bank somewhere in Tanzania, it all started with one single stone, and an ape. It continues on today, and we, considered, intelligent above all life, have learned little from the past.

It was an unusually warm day for the ape wading across an endless field of very tall and green grass. In fact, much of Africa was nothing, but grass. There were pockets of tropical trees, with all the trappings of a jungle. Tall ferns, insects, vines, and smaller versions of him in the monkey family all made up the flora and fauna of the wood line along the river’s muddy banks. In his time, there were only three species of his kind, globally.

When he left the grassy savanna and stepped into the shadows of the jungle, he watched with coal black eyes set back in his face, his marble round eyes shielded by a thick and protruding brow of near-black and gray hair studied everything around him. A large dragonfly rose from a nearby swamp, and his ears caught the buzzing of its wings. He watched it light upon a wide-leaved flower then it rose like a helicopter straight up, and moved to land on the frond of a fern more than six-feet tall.  The ape lowered himself as if to hide from the monstrous insect, and when it was gone, he crouched making his way deeper into the jungle. His curled fists pushing into the damp soil of the forest floor left wide knuckle imprints and he appeared to pull his muscular body through the dense and lush vegetation. When he heard the other ape, he stopped to listen.

Sneaking low to the ground, his bowed legs carried him silently to a wide-trunked tree covered by vines with glossy leaves drooping, and he hid behind it to watch the other ape who sat on his haunches studying something with great attentiveness.  

Dappled light painted the ape with moving spots of sunlight yellow. In his hand, he held something the other ape hadn’t seen before. It was simply a stone, yet the watching ape furrowed his brow, and wondered why the ape’s fascination with the stone was so great. His envy grew. He wanted the stone. He wanted it even more when he heard the soft cooing of the ape, a signal of his enjoyment. He lowered himself beside the tree and peered one-eyed from around the thick vine to watch.

The ape rolled the softball size stone over in his hands. His lips puckered and he kissed the gray-white smooth rock and the spying ape by the tree could see the wet slobbered kisses upon the surface of it. Then, he watched with fascination as the ape threw the stone, and he hopped after it retrieving it and threw it again. A near hour passed of this game, and then the ape rubbed the stone upon the hair of his face, and cuddled it tight toward his broad chest with affection.

I must have the stone, thought the ape by the tree. It must be special. He had never seen a stone before, and he did not recognize the ape from the sparse and few others he sometimes joined up with in the jungle. He picked up a small stick, and turned it in his thick fingers, and crudely drew in the muddy soil at his feet pausing to cast furtive glances at the ape and stone. There was a time when the stick drawing was satisfying to him, but now it wasn’t enough to occupy him, and he would look up with angry eyes to watch the ape that now lay upon his back with the stone held in the grasp of his feet which he managed to acrobatically balance over his chest. Again, he cooed happily and the joyous noise burned the drawing ape's ears.

The furrowed brow of the ape by the tree furled and lowered until he squinted with a growing hatred and he seethed, for he desired the stone with all of his being. He snapped the twig in his fingers, and rose up charging toward the unsuspecting ape with the stone. In two large leaps he was able to grab the stone from the reclining ape, who wide-eyed never expected the skull crashing blow of the stone upon him. The feeling of want, and greed had manifested and it was too late, when the last blow struck him in the forehead. 

The ape panted and stepped back holding the bloody stone in his hand. He looked down upon the member of his own species who gargled out one last breath, and closed his eyes. Then, holding the stone, he walked off through the jungle toward the water of the river to wash the stone clean of the other ape’s blood. On the way, he paused a few times to hold up the stone and turn it over in his fingers. It didn’t seem so important to him now. There was no cooing, there was none of the joy, that just minutes ago he watched happening from his place by the tree. It seemed to have died, too. He ran fast toward the river wanting more than ever to clean the stone, and hide his sin. He wanted to dive into the river and just maybe cleanse his soul. He tore through the jungle, and skidded to a stop at the river’s edge.

His jaw opened, and his wide eyes looked. Before him lay tens of thousands of the very same stones as the one he held in his hand. He fell to his knees, and lowered his head in shame. The reeds along the river whispered in the wind, and he closed his eyes begging that the hungry tigers would come for him and devour his conscience.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Piano Man

If there was anything in the world that Horatio Plummer loved, he would tell you, it was playing the piano. The twenty-seven-year old, tall, olive-skinned, thin man spent more time during the day practicing his craft, than most people spent awake. There were times he would tinkle on the keys of his baby grand piano, until Mrs. Fletching would find her broom and knock on the ceiling to make him stop.
Sometimes, the chubby woman would run her fingers through her sparse white hair as if she were going mad. Why just today, she was subjected to nearly nine hours of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. She turned up the volume on her television set, and tried to drown him out with, "The Wheel of Fortune," her favorite show. She hadn’t been able to enjoy the program since she decided to rent the entire upstairs of her small house to Horatio.
She cupped her hands over her ears, and closed her eyes so tight that she saw dancing black spots behind her eyelids. Grabbing the edges of her long, wrinkled house dress, her old hands squeezed the life out of the pink fabric, and she wished it was his throat. Groaning, she lifted her heavy body up from the couch, and waddled to the kitchen. Grabbing the broom, she held it with both hands and poked the kitchen ceiling above Horatio’s piano room until her silvery, horn-rimmed glasses hung crooked. He was driving her nuts. So stark-raving mad, that her last poke made a ragged hole in the drywall above her head, and white powder sifted down on her wrinkled, old long face. She coughed and sputtered when the drifting powder of gypsum landed on her tongue and found its way to the back of her already dry throat. She tossed the broom on the kitchen floor, and rushed to the sink. In her attempt to fill the glass her dimpled elbow knocked a tray of ground meat to the floor.

            “Dammit, Horatio,” she coughed.

            He didn’t hear her. He was lost in the ivory keys. His eyes were closed, and he wore a long, black tailed tux. The tail hung over the bench-like wooden piano seat and he imagined he was playing Carnegie Hall. The tail moved like tail feathers on a scissor-tailed swallow perched on a wire as he tinkled the keys.

             A slow smile grew on his face, and his head nodded, and turned with the melody. His shining black hair caught the light from the window, and lay flat against his scalp, combed back and held in place like a helmet with some kind of greasy mousse. “They love me,” he whispered.

            He ended the sonata with a flourish of movement, his long thin fingers manicured to perfection were lily-white, and on the last note, he lifted up from the stool, turned toward the old recliner in the corner and bowed low and long. He blew kisses to his invisible audience, and playfully ducked imaginary  bouquets of roses thrown on the stage to him. He took one last bow, sliding the piano bench back from the polished instrument, and decided to take a break from his concert.

            On his way downstairs, he paused at a desk piled high with sheet music, old 33-records, and bottles of pills. He gasped with remembering, and talked to himself.

            “Sorry Maestro, I nearly forgot to take my “make me better,” pills, “I won’t let it happen again, I beg your forgiveness, Maestro.” Then his voice changed and he answered himself with a deeper voice, “Don’t worry, Mr. Plummer, you are the greatest pianist the world has ever heard, and next week, you will be playing at the Met.”  The Maestro was as invisible as mountain air, but to Horatio, it was as if he could see the conducting baton in the old man’s hands.

            “The Met?” Horatio’s eyes widened and he answered himself again playing two parts now, himself and the Maestro. His nimble fingers removed the cap from the pill bottle.

            “They love me. Don’t they, Maestro?”  He popped two of the pills into his mouth, and picked up a dirty glass of lukewarm water near the bottles and washed them down.

            “They adore you, absolutely adore you.” The bitter pills slid down his throat, and he set the glass down. He studied it, and moved it three times until it was covering the water ring left on the desk. He stepped back and studied it, and nodded his head with satisfaction that the bottom of the glass fit perfectly in the ring.

            “A round peg in a round hole,” he muttered to himself…three times over. He walked from the desk and paused at the piano. His fingers gently caressed the top of it, and he said, “I won’t be long, baby.” He bent down and kissed the black polished wood leaving his lips impressed upon it, and two fog marks where his large nose exhaled to steam up the gleaming black. He went downstairs.

            In the kitchen, he saw his landlady picking up the package of ground pork off the floor.

            “They attacked Pearl Harbor, did you hear?” She looked up at him, then straightened and placed the pack of meat on the kitchen counter. She shook her head.

            “Horatio, they attacked Pearl Harbor, seventy-four-years ago. I was two when that happened.” She studied his face, and asked him, “Did you take your medication, today?” The old lady knew when Horatio skipped his pills just by some of his outbursts that rarely made sense.

            Horatio nodded his head that he did.

            Her old eyes locked onto his brown eyes, and his moved with jerky movements from left to right. It reminded her, that she had to take her medication too. She turned from him and reached up to a cupboard above the sink. She hated taking the anti-depressants, but since her husband of more than fifty-years died two years ago, she just couldn’t shake the feelings of despair. Barely making it, she had to take Horatio in as a boarder. She plucked the pill bottle from the shelf, opened it, and tapped a pill into the palm of her hand.

            Her morning orange juice sat on the counter near the meat grinder, and she picked it up, slapped the pill onto her tongue, and swallowed it with a large gulp of the juice. It mixed with the after effects of the powdered drywall, and felt like paste going down her throat. She reached to set the glass back down and paused in mid-action when Horatio said, “The Maestro said I am playing at the Met, next week.”

            Mrs. Fletching simply played along with him. Sometimes it was best. Why just last week, he told her Billy Joel was stopping by to tune the piano.

            “That’s great news, Horatio.’ She set the glass down, and with shaking fingers brushed the hair back from her right ear. Sometimes, he scared the hell out of her. There were times she wished she hadn’t answered the door eight months ago, when she first ran the ad in the Chronicle for someone to rent the upstairs in the brick house on the corner lot on Cherry Street. The day he showed up, he seemed normal. He looked clean, and groomed, and when he told her he played piano, well, it was a welcome and comforting thought to her then. Music might just lift her out of her life of gloom. Now, she couldn’t wait until his year lease was up. She groaned, and told him there was a bowl of left over soup in the refrigerator, and that he could have it. First though, would he help her lift the heavy, electric meat grinder from the counter to the table?

            “Why sure, Mrs. Fletching,” he answered. 

            The large machine was on a heavy iron base, and together they grunted as they lifted.

            “Careful now,” she said. They sidestepped from the sink counter, to the table, and managed to set it down on the top of the large wooden table. She lowered her glasses and studied the old machine. She had made tens of thousands of links over the years with it. Her husband loved her homemade sausage, and so did the neighbors. They said many times, that she should sell it locally. It embarrassed her to be honored with such a request.

            Her eyes moved the frayed black cord of the machine, and she picked up the plug on the end of it, and pushed the prongs into the outlet.

            “Hold your ears, Horatio,” she said. She pressed the red button on the base and the grinder came to life. The noise of it startled Horatio, and he slapped the palms of his hand over his ears, and wailed loudly. Quickly, Mrs. Fletching pushed the button and the growling, loud machine sputtered to a stop.

            “Oh, stop it, you big baby. It’s not going to hurt you.”

            Horatio slid his hands from his ears, and his bottom lip quivered.

            “I don’t like that. Too loud. Horatio hates loud.”

            “Well good, then I know you won’t be messing with it when I go to the Frank’s Butcher Shop, I have to buy some more pork. Eat your soup, while I am gone.” The old woman slid past Horatio, grabbed a sweater from a hook near the back door, and her purse. She slid the sweater on and slipped the purse over her shoulder.

            “I’ll be back in twenty minutes,” she said, and went out the door. It screeched when she closed it. Horatio stood in the kitchen thinking. “The soup,” that’s what she said. He opened the refrigerator door, and cupped the large covered bowl with both hands. At the microwave, he took the lid off, and placed it inside. His finger played the timing pad like it was a piano, and he set it for three minutes. Suddenly, he turned around and with wide eyes, said, “They did what? “ His head shook violently as if centrifugal force could throw the words in his head out through his ears.

            “They cancelled, Horatio. The Met cancelled your concert.”

            “How dare they cancel on the great Horatio?” Horatio screamed.

            “They said you aren’t good enough.”

            “Maestro, but you promised I would play there.”

            “You’re a square peg, Horatio, you don’t fit. The Met is a round hole.”

            The microwave sounded a loud beep. It triggered anger in the mind of Horatio.

            “How dare they, and how dare you, Maestro.”  Horatio looked at the microwave and he pressed the button causing the door to open. He grabbed the bowl of soup with both hands and the glass bowl stuck to the palms of his hands. His beautiful hands seemed to melt on the hot glass.

            “Nooooooooo,” he screamed and he threw the bowl toward the sink. It crashed into the chrome spigot and soup splattered the counter, the short curtains covering the small window, and the bowl shattered into countless shards that tinkled and slid across the counter top and onto the floor.

            Horatio flipped his hands to study his red, skin-peeled and burning hands.

            “Look what you did, Maestro.” He pushed his hands out in the air to no one, yet the no one responded. His fingers appeared twisted, and gnarled.

            “Way to go, Horatio. You’ll probably never play piano again.”

            “I can fix them, Maestro, I know I can. They will get better.” Horatio’s face grew red with anger.

            “Put them in the finger fixer.”

            “The finger fixer?”

            “Yes, on the table, that machine. You’ll be as good as new.”

            Horatio walked to the table and looked at the meat grinder. The silver funnel at the top widened out bell-like. He flipped on the switch.

            “That’s it; you’ll be good as new in no time.”

            The old machine growled. Then it smiled. Then it begged in a voice that was soft and sweet. It reminded him of the kind nurse back in the asylum, the only one he would take his medication for when she asked.

            He watched the Maestro disappear before his eyes in a cloud of yellow. Then, Horatio put his fingers together as if he were praying. He plunged them deep into the wide opening of the meat grinder. He leaned forward and used the weight of his body until the worm screw ate at his flesh, bones, and tendons. Blood spurted from the top of the grinder, and at the outlet tube, his piano playing hands plopped like raw hamburger onto the kitchen table. He felt nothing. He pulled his forearms dripping with blood and ragged torn edges of his flesh hung from sharp bones that once were his wrists. His arms hung loose, stumps where his hands were just a minute ago.

            He trailed blood from the kitchen upstairs. Mrs. Fletching found him first, bent over the piano, his bloodied tux tails hanging limp. His white face rested on the black top of the piano, and his eyes were frozen open. She looked down at the stumps resting on the keys in pools of blood.  Eighty-eight keys were smeared with red as he tried to play his last song before he bled out, and died.

            The shocked old woman grabbed her chest, and stumbled backwards, and down the steps she tumbled. A neighbor found them when she happened by to buy some sausage. It was a tragic event, read the Chronicle’s headlines, the next day after the discovery. The only sound interrupting the peace that Mrs. Fletching wished for was broken by a rustling breeze that moved the curtains in the kitchen of the empty house and outside the place, the laughing children played in yards with anxious talk of Halloween. Leaves rustled, and the first fires of October took the chill from the land in houses lining the street. Somewhere, the distant notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata stroked softly over the town and it was almost as if it purred itself to sleep.

Happy Halloween and for more of Ronnie Ray, click the link below.