Intro to Skinny Longhead

You would think that people would learn a lesson, but the Bone Macaws were not the lesson-learning kind, so when little Jimmi Macaw picked a fight with Skinny Longhead, it was purely the result of lessons not learned. Most everyone agreed he’d have it coming, whatever it was that came. He called her out in the middle of English class. He stood right up at his desk while teacher Williams was still talking and he looked right at Skinny Longhead and said, in the least crackly voice he could muster,

“Skinny Longhead, I am calling you out.”

The other children in the room snickered nervously, and teacher Williams cleared her throat and said “ahem” but Skinny Longhead merely whipped her yellow ponytail around and snarled viciously,

“I hear you,” she said.

She paused a moment for effect and then added, softly,

“Now sit the fuck down Jimmi and I’ll whip your ass later.”

“Skinny Longhead!” teacher Williams nearly shouted. “Language!”

Skinny Longhead laughed out loud watching Jimmi quake a little before sitting back down in the row beside her.

“Now class,” teacher Williams continued, “Let us continue with our lesson. Where were we?”

“Whipping his ass later,” Joudy Smallbird said and all the children snickered again.

“Romeo, Romeo,” teacher Williams corrected her. “We were talking about the word “wherefore” and what it means in the context Juliet uses it.”

“Wherefore she going to whip his ass real good,” said Antic Monsoon-Feeder, as always eager to get in on the misbehavior.

“He’s going to learn a lesson for sure this time,” Rosary Alders added.

Teacher Williams sighed. She knew very well that Jimmi Macaw was not going to learn any lesson, not now and not ever. The Bone Macaws were not the lesson-learning kind.

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45,000 Lawns

When I was five years old I wanted to have a life’s work. I didn’t know what that meant. I just overheard my mother use that phrase. She said it as if it was something very valuable, something not many people possessed, only the very lucky few. She said she was not one of those people. As far as she could tell, she would spend the rest of her days doing other people’s laundry and taking out their trash. So I asked her, if you could have a life’s work, what would it be? She thought about it for a moment, and then said, you know? I can’t think of anything!

I was not happy with that answer. I was only five, and didn’t have much experience with the world, so I couldn’t think of anything either, but I decided right then and there to make it my mission to have a life’s work. I locked myself in my room and told myself I couldn’t have another pretzel until I’d thought of a life’s work of my own, and since I loved pretzels more than anything, you can tell I was really serious. I stared at the walls of my room. I stared at the floor. I stared at my toys. I looked out the window. That was when I had my big idea.

Lawns.

I grew up in a small city in the mid-west where everybody had a lawn, even the poorest of the poor had a small patch of something in their back yard, maybe it was only weeds, and maybe it was mostly broken cement, but they counted. Even my mom’s sorry excuse for a backyard counted for a lawn. I looked at that patch of dirt and dandelions and I said to myself, George? (my name is George). You are going to make that lawn count if it’s the last thing you do. But no, I said to myself. Not make the lawn count. Count the lawn! That’s the thing. I was going to count the lawns, every last lawn I ever encountered for as long as I lived.

I did not originally have a target number in mind. I thought maybe there were about a hundred lawns in the world, and at the time, one hundred was the biggest number I knew. I didn’t hesitate. I was never a dawdler. I ran right down the stairs and raced outside and stared counting lawns.

It wasn’t enough to see them. I had to physically occupy them in one way or another, even if only for an instant. That’s how I came upon the strategy of “one step, one vote”. I ran up and down the street, “tagging” every lawn in the neighborhood with either my right or my left foot (never both). I soon got quite carried away, so carried away in fact that by the time I counted my forty-fifth lawn I was already blocks from home and had no idea where I was.

When the police woman found me all I could tell her was that my name was George, and that my house had the sorriest excuse for a lawn, and that my mother did not possess a life’s work whatsoever. I don’t know how they ever tracked her down, but they did.

Of course I never told her what I was up to, not then, and not ever, not even when I graduated from high school some eleven thousand, two hundred and eighteen lawns later, and not when I graduated from law school, where I studied property law and amassed a total of twenty six thousand four hundred and ninety lawns by the time I passed the state bar. Somehow I knew it was nothing to be particularly proud of, especially on those occasions when my life’s work got me into trouble.

I was something of an expert on trespassing by then, but even experts make mistakes.

Still I kept my secret, even under severe cross-examination and throughout the lost years I spent in prison when I stepped on no lawns at all. I can promise you that the first thing I did on my release was begin to make up for all that time. I racked up hundreds more within my first few months of freedom.

I became a connoisseur of lawn treading. I began to resist the urge to stomp on every mere patch, reserving the right to refuse steps for lawns that didn’t measure up to my increasingly lofty standards. Now my lawns were required to be cared for, to be respected if not always treasured. My lawns deserved a degree of dignity. Somewhere in the back of my mind, a figure had begun to take shape, the number 45,000 began appearing in my dreams and randomly occurring to me even during daylight hours. Perhaps it was a shadow, a reflection of those early forty-five, the first I had counted before I got lost and had sat down by the side of the road, sobbing and miserable and certain I was doomed forever.

Now, as I approached the numinous integer, I applied my standards ever more rigorously, until there was hardly a lawn that qualified for my attention. I stalled out in the mid forty-four thousands, and for an entire sixteen months I stepped on nary a lawn. Finally I decided to break through this blockage, this self-inflicted obstacle barricading me from the achievement of my life’s work, and I resolved to trod on every lawn until I reached that sacred figure and that once I did, my journey would be complete. Only then could I rest.

So you see, your honor, that’s what I was doing in Mrs. Jenkins backyard on the evening of the 27th. I was certainly not attempting to break into her house, and of course I always wear all black when I go out counting lawns. Doesn’t everyone?

 

(the narrator would like to think that this story has been illustrated in the manner of the classic children’s book, Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millions_of_Cats)

Pink Salt Chronicles

I continue to find myself unexpectedly switching to a different timeline at the most unlikely moments. They are tricky things, these other worlds. You could hardly tell them apart if they did not give themselves away through subtle but unmistakable errors. I could provide an abundance of examples, but a couple of the most recent should suffice.

Case in point number one: Two days ago I was riding my bicycle in its highest gear – 21. I bought this bike more than a decade ago. It has always had twenty one gears; three on the left and seven on the right. I went to shift down as I was getting a little tired, and as I did I noticed the gear on the right went down from 8 to 7. Impossible. It never had eight on the right before but now I can clearly see the number 8. I just checked again. There are now 24 gears on this bicycle.

Case in point number two: Last week my wife and son brought a small shaker of pink salt to the kitchen table. What is this? I asked. Pink salt, they said. Now I know very well that in my original timeline there was never any such thing as “pink salt”, yet now my very own family is telling me there has always been pink salt. They tell me it’s also been a long-standing family tradition. Who are these people? They certainly look like my wife and son, and in every other respect they behave like them, but there has never been any such thing as pink salt. I would stake my very reputation on it if I had one.

It’s quite disturbing. The worst thing about all this is that nothing important ever seems to vary between these timelines. It is always trivialities. We still have war, greed, incompetence, racism, malice and misogyny. But now, I suppose, we are to be grateful for the sudden existence of deliberately mis-colored sodium. I won’t do it. I won’t comply. I will sit here and frown with dignity and purpose until the timeline shifts again. What will they think of next? Bread that’s served in slices?

Fragments from books that don’t exist: Graham Had a BMW

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Carmela believed in fate, a destiny that arrived on golden wings at the very moment you least expect it. This brilliant goddess wore out-dated garments that were never in style, but she somehow managed to pull it off every time. She was not much of a talker, preferring to announce her presence with flashes of insight and remarkably good posture. She would pose as if for the cameras and make some sort of disruptive statement such as “I thought he would never die” or “you look terrible in black, did you know that?” She was never very popular. In Carmela’s explicit imagination, fate wore low-cut blouses and had modeled for numerous tawdry book covers. She sang romantic melodies, had a fetish for turquoise lip gloss and smoked Virginia Slims. Carmela’s husband was sick to death of this stupid creature. He believed in a fate that swept things under the rug and kept its filthy mouth shut.

Fragments from books that don’t exist: The Sink at Night

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“But then I’ll have to be who I am,” Deletria said.

“I’d feel sorry for you,” Crimea replied, “if I really did, but I don’t. And I never will,” she added.

“You haven’t been nice to me since Ajax,” Deleteria said, and Crimea nodded.

“It’s true,” she smiled. “It’s been fun. Being nice to you was a thing, but now not so much.”

“I didn’t really like him,” Deletria said, as much to herself as to the former friend with whom she was waiting in line at the donut shop. It had been at least four months since they’d seen each other. The last time had been ugly. Crimea had torn up some papers she’d been working on and blamed it on Deletria, who had only remarked that the drawings looked like the work of a six-year old.

“I didn’t really like you,” Crimea told her. “Remember when you thought we were friends? We weren’t. We never were. I only put up with you because you knew him. Then you had to go and fuck him.”

“I wish,” Deletria said. “Dude couldn’t even get it up. I guess he was thinking about you the whole time.”

“I can help whoever’s next,” the cashier’s voice rang out. Deletria was whoever was next. She was glad to get the last word. She didn’t even hear Crimea’s bitter reply.

Fragments from books that don’t exist: Highchair of Doom

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In the early days of the 23rd century, nothing was left to the imagination. The planet had been re-carpeted as well as re-upholstered, and the effect was intentionally displeasing. One looked out of windows with caution, for the skies were filled with contraptions attracted by a glance, bio-mechanical bird-bots which would swoop down in a rush and smack themselves against the glass, leaving behind a rubbery residue of gloom as they slid down the several levels to the sea. Stilted towers tilted gradually, swaying with the tides in a gentleness that could easily be mistaken for a hopeless fate. Time depended on where the sun was, if and when it chose to appear. The moon and stars appeared more randomly since that debacle with the inter-galactic, bluetooth-connected light switch. Everyone was named in honor of long-since faded flowers. Rose Petrie III was no exception. She and her spouse-like creature (Hollyhock Wiltins) spent most of their time crouching in the corner. It was smoother over there. When the wind chose to blow, they listened to it hustle through the cracks and told each other imaginary secrets. Rose was determined to one day open that little door in the wall. She was convinced there still remained a single grain of sand in the cosmos somewhere. Why not here, she reasoned. If anything can happen, can nothing also happen?

Fragments from books that don’t exist: It Logged In

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“A mile is long when home is far away” (Curve – Coming Up Roses)

It was important to stay awake. That much was clear. The other rules were more obscure. Juliet Herrera kept one eye on the clock and another on the classroom door. She kept her third eye to herself. Any moment now the professor would enter, followed by several moments of no one daring even to breathe as she settled into her spot behind the podium and rustled through the stack of papers she always carried around and never actually looked at. Until that moment, she tried to remember to count the inhalations, holds and exhalations that would lead to a greater sense of calm. The truth was that any sense of calm at all would be a greater one. Juliet always expected the worst, and today the worst would be whatever happened next.

Professor Mulcahy was never late, and she was never early either. All the clocks in the school were set to her time. She was the tick and the tock and every student, every administrator, every other teacher, even the cooks and the janitors counted on it. It was not important that she was not exactly alive, at least not according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition. The door would open, and the apparition would appear, and the first who made the slightest sound or motion would be the next to  quietly evaporate and join the other Risen in the ether.