They embrace sweet youth, challenging adolescence, painful young adulthood, satisfactory marriage, erratic parenting, and the surprises of old age. A new thought surfaces. Live a life, then learn what it was all about.
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Short Stories in a Fictional Life
By Dick Snyder
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Dick Snyder
All rights reserved.
Black to Light
At first there was nothingness. In time, there were sensations. It was the gurgling that first appealed to him, a soft washy kind of movement that let his body sway, even as it remained smoothly coated in the liquid around him. Sound resonated through it in powerful, tempered rhythm. Warm and fed, he did nothing to keep his body temperature normal. He flourished in this, the best of places, and when it ended, he wanted nothing more than to return. What else could one really long for? Had it been up to him, his tactile experiences would have remained as they had been, then recorded, repeated and renewed with every month, each passing year.
And yet, there came a day when the gurgling suddenly changed. Pressures around him strengthened and within hours he transitioned from the haven that heaven must surely have meant for him to emerge into a cold, wet space, without attachment, noticing that he needed air to breathe and wishing somehow that his pre-existence could become his default placement.
Of the concept of life, he had none. Of the need to struggle to maintain functions essential to his sense of well-being he was now fully aware. Pain became a new acquaintance, as did hunger, cold, dampness and most amazingly of all, a recognizable need for some person outside his body to care for his new range of senses.
Being fed, dried, cleaned, warmed, touched ... all in their time and moment ... came as close as he might have hoped to recreating that state of existential satisfaction where the past remained black, the future unimagined, and life unfolded in time fully concealed. Still, there was the loss of that liquid balm, that comforting solution that bathed him, floated him, kept him connected to all that he needed and let him enjoy his occasional twists and turns with passive resistance and gentle support. Wherever that place where he once felt safe, he wanted to return.
His first opportunity came when he learned that he had mobility, that in an odd but effective way he could move his body from place to place. Unsure at first, his curiosity ... something he brought with him into the cold ... led him to explore crawling, standing, lurching, walking. It worked, and within a brief time he was mobile, on the move looking for newness, wearying, returning to sleep and the embraces that kept him warm, dry and fed.
The automobile stopped and he was set down upon the sand by parental hands. He looked about, saw liquid lapping a dozen paces from his feet and remembered the comfort, warmth and complete satisfaction it provided to him. He walked right in.
A colder liquid than he remembered, but supportive, it lifted his weight, invited him to return to that better place, and he walked until the steps were not there and he floated briefly, but with a new sensation ... fear. This liquid denied him air. He splashed for breath, looked for it, could not find it, and then abruptly, far more abruptly than his last departure from liquid life, a hand lifted him gently from the water. It held him and the face imprinted itself. Father saved him. Mother gave him life, but father saved him. To them he made full commitment. If there were a path to the gurgling, a safe way to find security and an open-ended peace, it was through them. He would listen.
The bond that he found in each, father and mother, was an essential, intimate part of his every day, and soon, of his nights. What greater bliss could he have than sleeping between his parents, security on one side, love on the other. It worked for one night and the next, but on the third night, as he passed through the bathroom to their bedroom door, focusing on his natural placement, he found a barrier. A locked door! He turned, went back and circled through the kitchen and living room to the other bedroom entry. Unmovable! He went back to the bathroom door. He pounded and kicked, cried aloud for them to let him in, screamed for them to let him return to the security of their nest, let him become safe, sound, loved and well attended.
No answer. In an inkling he recognized that what he thought he possessed had disappeared. It might be provided from time to time in portions that were reassuring, but would it be there unconditionally? Could he be sure? How often might it need to be reaffirmed? He would never again be without doubt. Life presented itself and launched him into its stream that night just as surely as his journey from the womb seemed to be irreversible. He took note.
Mother, the one who loved him, fed him, taught him, also disciplined him. Red pepper on the tongue for saying a bad word. Slap on the butt for misbehavior. She socialized him with playdates, a kind of trial separation he decided, but one which he grew to enjoy.
When something called tonsils had to be removed, she taught him a strategy for crisis. "Listen to me, Walt" she said, "When the doctor puts a mask over your nose, and pours some ether on it, it will smell bad. You will not want to breathe it, but trust me, take deep breathes. If you fight it, you will be more sick after the operation. Accept it and you will find it is not so bad."
He took that breath, committed to her words. He trusted that this invasion of his body would be over soon and that his path to balanced equanimity would resume unaltered. A loose tooth changed the outcome. But then, he thought, new teeth appeared in his mouth regularly. What need had he for one just lost? But where did it go hiding?
Lungs weren't really necessary in that first place where fluids balanced all and he had no need to work at anything. But in this new world, he needed to use them unimpeded by restraint of any kind. There the tooth decided to reside, well outside its natural placement, and so for the first time he felt a new kind of warmth, a temperature that made his head perspire and his body weak, not the buoyant ease of floating, but the ache of muscle crying out for recovery.
Again, his mother counseled. "They are going to put you to sleep, send a tube down into your lung and remove that nasty tooth. Follow what the doctors say. It will not be painful. You will get well." He was learning to accept the inevitable.
Again, he took that leap of faith, and in the middle of the rescue of his lungs, he awoke, tubes in his mouth, just as mother had said, but he could not talk, could not breathe, could not move his arms, found himself bound to a fixed platform from which he had no strength to move. Taught to pray, he prayed for heaven, that place described to him as the buoyant, warm, haven from the world into which he had been placed, a pocket of love and equanimity that would last for eternity. There was nothing else to do.
He missed his journey. The doctors revisited his body, kept it safe and in time the tooth went looking for another home. He learned something. A father's hand could save him from a false journey into the liquid buoyance of lake water. There was security there. A mother's voice could counsel him into courage enough to meet the challenges presented by this world outside the safe fluids of her womb. There was love there. With parents, he believed that he could find his way. Over time, when that secure certainty disappeared and that unconditional love found its limits, he counselled himself that he would just have to find those twin essentials elsewhere ... until he returned to that place where all was unknown and he was simply buoyant.
July 31, 1945: The woman sat in the corner of the Greyhound Station with three youngsters in chairs beside her and two suitcases parked in front. Small, dark-haired and slender-boned, her image shrunk even more when measured against the luggage at her knees, and the way her eyes scanned the room told any casual viewer that she was clearly on edge. On a wartime journey with children in hand and her man waiting, she rose to book a bus to Little Rock.
She spoke to the three tykes in their chairs, "I'm going just across the room to buy our tickets. I want you to stay right where you are. Watch me, but don't leave your seat. Do you understand?" Ages seven, six and four, they nodded a vigorous yes, their faces mindful of a brood of chicks listening to every cluck of the hen.
She approached the clerk, asked for tickets to Albuquerque and directions on handling luggage. "Headed for New Mexico, eh?" he asked. "Gonna' be moving there with your family?" he nodded toward the children.
"No," the mother replied, "We're headed for Little Rock, but I was told to get tickets here for Albuquerque then buy passage for the rest of the trip once we got there. Schedules are unpredictable, I guess."
"Good thinking," he commented as he rolled out the thin, orange coupons and stamped them for each destination: Barstow, Flagstaff, Albuquerque. He handed her the string of paper permits, saying, "I can take your luggage now, and get it set up for storage on the bus." She walked to where the children were sitting, then took the two cases, one at a time, back to the clerk.
"Packing light?" he smiled.
"Well," she replied, "This will get us there and then we will see what we need next."
The clerk punched the tickets for the luggage, murmuring, "Right, I wouldn't do it any other way. Lot more humid in the South ... don't know what you need 'til you get there. Husband in Little Rock?"
"Yes," she said, "He's in the army at Camp Robinson, an MP, and I just decided that it was time to join him."
The clerk handed her the claim stubs, commenting, "You're doing the right thing ... no tellin' how long this war is going to go on. Bus should be leavin' in about 20 minutes."
She returned to the children. They had not uttered a peep and their faces held a bright-eyed silence, a by-product of awe. Their eyes flashed on people of different colors and ages, some in uniform, a few in field clothes, even a man with a tie. They heard unfamiliar conversations, a chatter of Spanish, the terse phrases of the fields, rolling syllables from black people, an occasional white drawl, the quiet murmur of a few educated travelers. They were all taking the bus together: new companions, new personalities, everything new.
Promptly at 6:00 a.m. the Greyhound pulled out of the station and headed for Barstow. As she unfolded her travel map, the mother quietly nodded agreement to what she had been told: "It's a 36 hour trip. No restrooms until you make stops. Kids get antsy. It's a long, long time for them to be on a bus." She had some ideas about keeping them engaged: crayons, books, cards, a few postcards that had pictures of where they might be traveling. But her best friend was the night when they might be lulled to sleep and she could get some rest.
On the highway the bus gradually found its rhythm. Quiet talk surfaced among the passengers. The oldest boy seemed well absorbed by the scenery. The youngest, a girl, just stayed close to her mother while the other boy spent time watching the strange new faces. They were quiet as fawns following silent instructions. Miles disappeared as the wheels kept rolling.
Dark when the bus stopped in Albuquerque, most passengers disembarked, and the mother roused the children, took them into the depot to use the bathrooms again and bought her second set of tickets. She waited patiently in line while they awakened to yet more strange sounds, new smells and heavy, smoke-filled air. She asked the agent where she might find her luggage and transfer it to the next bus. He pointed over his shoulder to a collection of suitcases. "You'll find yours in that pile."
She reminded the children to keep holding hands and to follow her. She went to the cases, placed them one at a time next to bus #23, destination Little Rock. As she hauled the second case over, the driver noticed her and her tagalongs. She looked tired but resolved, and he knew that she had a long way to go.
He approached and said softly, "Maam, there's usually quite a crowd that goes from Albuquerque to Little Rock. Some get off in Oklahoma City, but most go on through. Seats get scarce when we board. Would you like to board the bus now with the children and be sure that you have seats. I'll put your luggage under the coach, and you'll be set for the rest of the trip."
She looked him in the eye, straightened her weary body and said politely, "That would be very nice. I would appreciate it very much." The brood followed her, and she followed the driver as they quietly left the depot and went to their bus. He stored the luggage under her watchful look, led them on board and found seats for the four of them, two by two on the left side of the aisle.
Twenty minutes later, the crowd boarded. Six people had to wait four hours and the next departure. The driver closed the door, let the engine rev up a bit, put it in gear, slowly pulled out of the depot and hit the open road. In a half hour, the children found their dreams again. At the stop in Amarillo, four people departed and the oldest boy took up some space at the very back of the bus. In the quiet, he lay down.
The engine purred just below his body, and as he maneuvered to rest he smelled the clean, cool scent of outside air leaking into the bus from a small hole just below the window. He relaxed and slept, dreaming that he soared on his own wings in the fresh starlit night above him. When little exclamations awakened him, he took a peak out the window. Lights glittered in Oklahoma City, a bright display after the many hours of darkness, and the boy stared a long time as the bus gradually approached, then immersed itself into the city.
It was a long stop. The mother treated them all to ice cream, and she made sure that the restrooms were clean and usable. Back on board they went on into the night. The sun rose before them and the Greyhound continued toward Little Rock, arriving finally at 3:00 p.m. and after some traffic maneuvers, pulled into the depot.
The woman grew increasingly excited, eyes brightening as they moved through the city. She adjusted her clothing, put on fresh lipstick and spit washed the children's faces. She had not seen her husband for six months, and a lot had happened: tonsillectomy for one boy, eye surgery for the other, a severe bout with chicken pox for the little girl. She could write about it all, and he could tell her how brave she was, and how much he missed her, but pen and paper could not substitute for breath and touch. Their letters rarely languished into the routine words of daily doings at a time of uncertain future.
War in Europe over, his next stop would be in the Pacific invading Japan. He joked that MP's only waded ashore to keep peace among American troops and doubted that he would be dealing with Japs. She was not so sure. At her core, she just felt that she had to be with him, whatever the accommodations, however long it might be, whatever might happen during the rest of the war. For now, they would take what time they could get.
The bus pulled into Little Rock station, and she saw him standing there, smiling, waving, welcoming. In uniform, walking to greet them, delivering security with every step, he pulled his five foot tall wife into his six foot body with arms that held her as might a clamp. Their kisses, full, long and breathless, said how much they were missed, and how intensely they might be resumed. Then, he turned toward the children, picked up the little girl and held her for a long time because she would not let go.
With his other arm he nestled the two boys next to him and made small talk about the trip. What did they like best? Did they meet new people? Did they behave themselves? Mother answered the last question, "They were just wonderful, all the way, all the time. They were so grown up. It was as good a trip as it could be, and we're here!"
Excerpted from Boomerang by Dick Snyder. Copyright © 2015 Dick Snyder. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Black to Light, 1,
Little Rock, 7,
Gaming Sister Agatha, 18,
Feed the Chickens, 28,
Saving Souls, 40,
Sorting Things Out, 48,
Manchild and Son, 55,
Looking for Love, 71,
The River, 88,
Speed Trap, 100,
Nice Girls, 112,
Conversation with a Cop, 119,
The Tijuana Jail, 128,
Tripped Up, 140,
California Leavin', 151,
Movin' On, 177,
Woody's World, 197,
A Knock on the Door, 206,
Gravity of the Situation, 218,
A Swig of Soup, 225,
Items to Take Camping, 233,
Splish Splash, 238,
It's the Horses of Course, 245,
A Soft Quiet Morning, 250,
Short Circuit, 258,
The Millenium, 269,
Let's Do Lunch, 273,
Three Little Pigs, 285,
Stain the Earth, 298,
A Walk in the Park, 322,
Hello Moe, 327,
The Last Cigarette, 340,
Advice for Old Men, 378,
Aim High, 385,
Pitter Pat, Pitter Pat, 389,