STONES UNDER THE SNOW
She used to sit on her Grandpa’s knee and he’d hold her so tight like she was the only person in the world that ever mattered.
Whatever the payment was to get on his knee, tears or frowns, when she was up there she felt safe.
Nothing could ever hurt her there.
She would run her hand through his thick white hair and giggle at the little bumps on his head.
“Old age,” he’d say.
“They’re stones under the snow. Grandpa,” then she’d laugh ‘till it hurt.
Although she grew and married and had children, whenever anything was bothering her she’d go to where her Grandpa rested and talk awhile and she’d feel things were good again.
One Christmas, as she knelt on the ground, the snow came down and covered her Grandpa’s grave.
Her Grandson, who had been waiting, came to see what was wrong, she said “Why nothing’s wrong, honey, I’m just looking at the stones under the snow.”
And as he walked back down the hill, he could hear his Grandma laughing out loud as if she was hurting.
BALLAD OF THE QUIET MAN
He said nothing, not a word ever passed his lips,
He just sat in the peace and quiet with a Mona Lisa smile,
One cold day the Angry People passed his way
All shouting about this and that and the other
They stopped and asked the quiet man if he was angry too
He said not a word and the Angry People liked that
“This man is so angry about this and that and the other, he is seething with rage”.
They shook his hand and on they went.
Then one summer’s evening the sad folks were passing by
They looked at the quiet man and then sat beside him
“This man is mourning, this man says nothing but the sadness shows upon his face”.
They wept beside the quiet man then walked on down the road
On an afternoon like any other a stupid man was walking through as he was lost
He asked the quiet man the way to town and when he didn’t reply
The stupid man smiled and said, "I see you are as stupid as I am. ‘Tis better to say nothing and not look the fool.”
The stupid man wished his stupid brother well and continued to be lost.
Just before the start of autumn, some happy people were running and jumping and came to rest next to the quiet man
“Look here,” one shouted .”This man is so happy that he smiles in his contentment.”
And the people all cheered and carried him shoulder high down the lane towards the town.
This happened to the quiet man more than he would have liked and once again he had to walk all the way back home.
PEAR BLOSSOM HIGHWAY
PEAR BLOSSOM HIGHWAY
The moments that existed between the lights being turned off and the walk to bed were his to own for the briefest of times.
They were an echo from the edge of a life; one that was now long gone. There had been a time when all he needed to think about was his own selfish needs but now he had the wife and kids.
They were his life now, his total life.
He doused the fire and closed the window against the night air. He could smell the rain coming from the west and he knew, for certain, that tomorrow would be a good day.
He went to his grandfather’s old tobacco box and took out the creased photo. It was safe in there – the box was on top of a cupboard and the kids never touched it. His wife knew that was his safe place and never looked in.
He couldn’t remember when he first seen it, I mean really seen it - probably in some old magazine which smelled of damp and sat on a wonky table in the dentist’s surgery. He hadn’t really known who Hockney was, just some painter from the Yorkshire coast and anyway art was for other people, certainly not for the likes of him.
People talked on the television about paintings and photos in words that his grandfather would have called ‘flowery’. There was no place for flowery in his life thank you very much, that was for those and such as those – although he never really understood what that meant.
But this one work of Hockney’s really got to him. It was called the Pear Blossom Highway and for whatever crazy reason the universe had as a purpose, it genuinely sang to him.
It floated his boat and that was a much a surprise to him as it was to anyone. I mean, apart from his lovely family, the only other thing that made him happy was football. He knew who played for whom and who scored what, just like his grandfather had taught him (as would have his father if he’d lived long enough to get to know him).
So in the twilight, he sat looking at the photo and seeing himself standing by the side of the road and for no reason other than he could, he wished to himself that he was there right there in the Californian heat.
By the morning his secret life was shut away in the box and he was back to taking the family dog, Rufus, for his morning pee, ruffling the kids’ hair, kissing his darling wife and fighting for a place on the road into town.
He wasn’t unhappy and no one could say that about him and think it was the truth, but his dream of standing on Pear Blossom Highway propped up his struggles against sadness when it came to visit.
Sometimes he didn’t bother with the photo, like the days when they’d take the family to the beach – amongst all the screaming and shouting, he’d close his eyes and feel the warm winds blowing along the Highway and the smell of the desert air. Okay, it wasn’t real desert but it was a lot more desert than he could see at home.
One day he’d found a book about the Pear Blossom Highway and it seems it was called the death road. Some of the good folks from LA would use it as an alternative route to the Inland Empire and then they’d drive as if they’d been set free from unseen restraint, speeding and hollering all the way home. And as he read the words, in his mind he was driving along the road with the top down, music on the radio and the biggest goddamn smile on his lips.
He found his life was a hungry beast and never satisfied. It ate up time when he was busy, it devoured seconds, hours, days and weeks as he was looking somewhere else. Even in his quiet time, life sucked up every spare second. Before he knew it, the kids had grown, his belly had grown, he and the wife had grown in opposite directions and he was no nearer getting to the Highway.
So he did something he would never have considered a few years earlier. He kept some of his wages back from the family. Not much but enough. He stuck it in the box that sat on top of the cupboard and he called it the emergency fund but he knew it was never going to be used in an emergency. It’s just that he couldn’t admit that to himself right at that moment.
When the boss offered him more work but on the other side of the county, his guilt made him take the offer; the kids needed new clothes and none of them had had a holiday in several years.
His eldest daughter was getting interested in boys and she wanted the latest fashions. So every Sunday evening he would pack the car and head off, returning on a Friday night when the rest of the family was asleep. But it wasn’t just his daughter who was dressing up, he noticed new dresses turning up in his wife’s closet. She wasn’t wearing them for him at the weekend, so who?
He started to put a little extra money every week in the box on top of the cupboard. He reckoned it was up to a few hundred by the start of the summer. One day when the time was right he was going to use some of the emergency fund and it was going to take him all the way to Pear Blossom Highway.
One Friday evening in mid July when he got back home, the house was in its usual darkness, yet given the warmth in the air the windows were tight shut. He didn’t bother turning on the lights, instead he took down the box to look at the photo and that’s all there was - the photo and a note.
He turned the lamp on and read the letter.
‘I’ve taken the kids and the money you thought I didn’t know about. I’ll be in touch.’
Now that he was on his own most of the week, life didn’t seem that hungry any more - there was always time kick around somewhere, unused. Sure he got to see the kids every second weekend but it meant a five hundred mile round trip and yes, they were always happy to see each other.
Over a burger they’d talk about how their mother had a new daddy, Eric.
Yeh they liked, Eric he was a good guy apparently.
So he decided the only way to use up the time was to work seven days a week, which, when he thought about it was a good thing. It meant he could send a few hundred more for the kids and still put some money in the emergency box.
He worked the winter, saw the kids from time to time (but not like before) and worked some more. Come the spring, he got a call from his ex wife. She was getting married and although she would like to invite him, she didn’t think it was on the cards but she wondered if he could send some more money for the kids to buy clothes for the wedding.
So he took the money from the emergency box and sent it to his ex-wife.
Apart from the odd woman he’d pick up in bar from time to time, his nights and his bed were cold and lonely. It worried him that he’d be hitting forty soon and he’s still not seen much of the world.
One Saturday morning, he took his truck to a garage in town and sold it for a couple of thousand and then went straight to the agents and booked a flight to Los Angeles in the great state of California.
As you’re reading this, he’s standing next to the Pear Blossom Highway and feeling the warm air in his hair and wearing a smile that may just crack his face.
THE DOG WHO LOVED TO DRIVE
It was New Year’s Day, 1913 and Andrew was bored. Everyone in the house was sleeping off the after effects of the Ball which his parents insisted on holding every year.
This meant that no one would be driving the motor car that day and this made Andrew smile. All he needed was to rev the old beast up, find Buster and then the two of them could be off to the seaside.
Buster wasn’t just Andrew’s dog, he was his best pal and was probably much cleverer than the boy but Buster wasn’t one to brag.
Andrew sat Buster in the driving seat as he pushed the car silently out of the stables and under the nose of Reynolds – the little man who looked after everything mechanical for the big house.
Andrew’s father promised him his own motor car when it came to the time that he would go up to Oxford – until then he had to take every opportunity to teach himself the rudiments of driving. How hard could it be? I mean, Buster was steering the car along the drive and he was a dog.
Before they got to the big gates Andrew checked there was enough fuel to get them to the coast and back.
“Good man, Reynolds,” thought Andrew - Reynolds always kept the motor car in ship shape and ready for the off. All Andrew had to do was turn the crank and that would be that. The motor car spluttered into life, shaking and banging before it settled down and began purr like a big cat.
Andrew hopped in and made Buster sit in the passenger seat much to the dog’s annoyance. It was several minutes before the dog looked in Andrew’s direction again. Okay, so the dog was very clever and very friendly but it could get annoyed if it didn’t get its own way. Andrew knew how to bring Buster around by giving him a saucer of champagne – and not just any kind of champagne it had to be the 1893 and it had to be served at room temperature. Buster was a snob, as if I need to tell you.
It wasn’t long before they were on the road to the coast. Naturally being New Year’s Day, the road was empty of traffic with not even a horse to be seen.
The road was straight enough that Andrew felt confident to let Buster steer the car, Andrew worked all the other buttons and pedals.
Whether it was the late night or all the dancing at the Ball, sleep crept up on Andrew and he fell into a deep dream. Buster hadn’t noticed and wasn’t caring since he was driving a human car and it felt great.
As they drove through the next town, a Mrs Styler of Heyham High Street looked out her window to see one of those new fangled motor cars being driven by a dog and a man (who looked unconscious) in the other seat. She was going to mention it to her husband when she decided that he was already looking for an excuse to get her locked up and this would be the perfect gift for him, so she went back to bed and lay down in a darkened room.
Somewhere just outside of town the car ran out of fuel and Buster guided it to the side of the road. He then started to bark at Andrew.
Okay Andrew would have heard it as barking but to Buster it sounded as if he was telling his lazy friend to fill up the car with more fuel.
After what seemed a very long time (which in dog’s years was probably quite true) Buster decided to fill up the car with fuel himself; a farmer who was in field nearby saw this and decided that he had been working too hard and for the first time in his life went home early.
Once again Buster barked and barked but he couldn’t get Andrew to waken so being a very self reliant dog, it decided to turn the crank handle itself. With Andrew’s hands and feet still on the buttons and such like, the motor car suddenly moved off on its own. It shot down the coast road with Buster running behind barking that someone should try and stop the human motor car.
The Reverend Dunlop was opening his church doors when he saw a motor car driving down the road with the driver asleep and a dog running behind barking. He smiled to himself and continued with his work.
Just as the motor car entered town, Buster managed to jump back on board and turned the car along the coast road. Buster knew he couldn’t stop the car so his only options were to drive it into the sea, or let it run out of fuel, or try and turn the motor car around and head for home.
Just then, Buster noticed a large house with many dogs and bitches running around the garden. He turned the motor car into the drive and as the car laboured up the hill, he invited the others to jump aboard. As he drove the car out of the grounds there must have been nearly twenty dogs and bitches sitting in the motor car. Two of them were on top of the sleeping Andrew.
Buster continued along the coast and at the big pier, the car once again ran out of fuel. Leaving the sleeping Andrew in the car, Buster and his pals spent several hours running along the beach and stealing food when the humans weren’t looking.
All too quickly the sun started to go down and so Buster filled the car with the last of the fuel, and got several of his pals to turn the crank.
After a very satisfying day, Buster drove back through the dogs’ home, dropping off his friends.
It was dark when the car reached home and as Buster had no way of stopping it, he drove the car into the garage hoping the something would bring it to a halt. Actually the car burst through the back wall and continued across the lawn but by this time Buster had already jumped off.
Reynolds found a very confused Andrew several miles away in the forest where the motor car had eventually run out of fuel by that time Buster was fast asleep and dreaming of his next adventure.
Bobby @ AMAZON.COM Bobby @ AMAZON CO UK
Bobby @ AMAZON.COM Bobby @ AMAZON CO UK