Thursday, 4 July 2013

Jumping Off Of Five Stories

(oldies)

1. A Brilliant Life (Martin)

Martin was a man.

That was the best and the worst of it. He lived in room that served as his bedroom and sometimes as his kitchen. He had no friends to speak of but then he had no enemies either.

His parents, Fred and Annie had had high hopes for their boy. They had fought so hard to have a child that when Martin finally did arrive, he was their moon and stars and sun.

He had a good heart and some might say he had the best of hearts. 
He tried to be strong for himself and his family and he made sure he smiled every day but he did find, as we all do, that there are people in this world who won’t let a soul breathe. He didn’t judge them too harshly as they had their own reasons. He would simply let the world get him down for a while, pull the covers over his head then after a sleep he’d feel better once again.

Martin had had his dreams of course. He’d wanted to be a professional footballer then he’d wanted to be a famous actor and other times he’d wanted to sing in front of a million people. After his mother’s death he’d wished he’d been the person who had found the cure for cancer.

Martin never became any of those things, not because he lacked talent but because he felt there were better people than him. Those who knew how good they were, those were the ones that deserved success.

He dreamed of love and being loved but it never came to be or at least he may have had his eyes closed as it was passing. He watched his school friends grow and marry and have children and he wished them well and just sometimes as he sat in the park and saw the parents and their children play, he wished that he was them.  

Now don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t jealous, not for a second because the world shared out its good and bad and with his parents Martin had had the best of all worlds.

Sometimes he wished that he’d had a brother or sister, just someone to visit at Christmas. To have nieces or nephews that he could buy presents and birthday gifts.

Martin saw every single day as a bonus. He wasn’t lonely and he wasn’t a loner, he just felt people had better things to do with their time than talk to him.

But he watched the world and he saw the people and their troubles and without letting anyone know he would try and help.

When he had a little drop of extra coins in his life, he would put the money in an envelope and leave it on the step of some deserving door; the lady whose husband who’d left her alone, the child who needed an operation, the man who just wanted a day away from the house.

Martin wasn’t a saint, not by any stretch of the imagination. Martin had hurt people and he’d wasted opportunities and most importantly he’d wasted time. 

Because we all have our own ideas of what sin is, but to Martin wasting time was up there with the big ones.

He sent Christmas and Valentine cards to the lonely souls in the street. He sent postcards to the old lady who, like him, had no family. She probably didn’t know who or where it came from but the important thing was that someone had written to her.  

You see none of what he did was ever big but it mattered to the people he helped.

This world is awash with lonely souls and to someone like Martin who could appreciate that point, he felt it was his place to do something about it.

Martin’s gone now and I’m not sure if he moved or just closed his eyes for the last time.

No one really noticed that there was no longer a light on in Martin’s house but they did notice there were no longer little gifts on the door step, or that cards were no longer being sent.

Martin had accepted that what he had been given in his life, was his life and he had used it all in the best way he could.

He sometimes smiled, he sometimes cried and he nearly always laughed.

It had been a life that only he knew, it had been unique to him and it had been a brilliant one.


2. Me And Buzz And Filmin' 

Buzz always wanted to be a movie star and so from a real young age, he got to practising. Not with anything sensible like acting, that would have been too clever, no – he got practising with signing his autograph.

“You got to start somewhere” was what he told me.

When people on Main Street saw Buzz coming their way they used to cross over just to avoid him. Buzz put it down to folks being overwhelmed with his natural good looks.

If ya didn’t avoid him, before you knew it, Buzz would be staring into your face and asking if you wanted his autograph. Everyone and I mean everyone in town, had several copies of Buzz’s signature.
I remember seeing the minister walking to church one Sunday morning with Buzz’s writing on that white bit of the collar they wear. How Buzz got it there, God only knows (and he probably does).

“I’m a good looking kid and if they don’t want me to act in their movies, then they don’t know what they’re missing.”

One Saturday Buzz decided he’d do just that – show them what they were missing, that is. That weekend the weather was real toasting and Buzz got me to borrow (borrow without askin’) my granddaddy’s movie camera.

“I kinda see myself as a cowboy, don’t ya think?”  I just nodded, hell it was best to just go along with anything Buzz said.

I ain’t sure where Buzz got the gun from, but I do remember a story a while back about Buzz’s uncle Joshua who was thrown in jail for holding up a burger joint. Somehow the store owner convinced his uncle Joshua to take some French fries and a soda rather than the contents of the money drawer. Still, he went to jail all the same. I don’t remember any gun being used but I guess that’s where Buzz got it.

Buzz wanted me to be the baddy and the plan was for me to walk down Main Street and pretend to call him out; cussing and saying he was a coward. Then Buzz would come out of the saloon (it was really Mrs Bat’s Craft Shop) and challenge me to a shoot out in the street.

I was the one that was to get shot; Buzz felt that a man about to make his mark in the movies shouldn’t take the bullet.

I guess you should really check if a gun is loaded or not.

I’m just saying, as it would have saved a lot of trouble. I’ve never seen a grown man being shot in the bee-hind before but Samuel Brooks hollered and screamed like the world was coming to an end. It was only a bullet in the butt, what was the big problem?

Mrs Brooks wanted to hang Buzz right there and then, the way they did with her Daddy years back. I guess two people don’t make a lynch mob, but it scared the hell out of me all the same.

Buzz was hauled in front of Judge Pickering and folks were telling me that Buzz would probably get the electric chair or something. At the time (I was young then) I thought giving someone an electric chair was a real strange thing to do. Where would ya keep it?

Anyway a lot of people were saying that Buzz came from a real bad family, didn’t he have an uncle who’d stolen diamonds?

Funny, how French fries get exaggerated like that.

Anyways, I had filmed the whole thing and we were allowed to show it in court. The judge said it was okay to show a movie. Some folks brought in popcorn. From the movie, you could see that as Buzz was pulling the trigger, he shut his eyes and didn’t really mean to hit anyone. At the end of the movie some of Buzz’s family started clapping – so Buzz got up and took  a bow. Which I have to say was pretty cool. Buzz started waving, movie star like, to the folks upstairs in the gallery.

As I left the courthouse that day, I saw Buzz up at the bench giving Judge Pickering his autograph.



3. Rockets (My Grandmother In A Spacesuit)

My name is Annie and when I was nine I didn’t have too many friends except my Grandmother who always wanted to be an astronaut. 

She said that my Mother had come along and put an end to that dream, thank you very much for asking - but I hadn’t asked.

I didn’t quite understand how or why my Mother had stopped her being an astronaut but my Grandmother was not one to talk crazy like, so I went along with her story. It had something to do with my Granddad turning my Grandmother’s head with all that kissing nonsense and such like and her being in the family way, thank you very much. 

It didn’t stop me and her always talking about being astronauts and we would look at the maps of the sky and choose which of the planets we would visit first. My Grandmother was going to Jupiter and I was very definitely a Saturn girl.

When I was nine I used to think that my Grandmother smelt a bit funny which I thought was because she was in training and eating special astronaut food. 

One evening, when I was safely sitting on her knee and after she had put a large log on the fire, she told me how she had always dreamed of going to the stars. 
“One November afternoon my parents, your great Grandparents Annie, took my brother and me to see a film at a little tea room down Duchess Street, mind you that street’s all gone now, got bombed in the war and they had to pull the whole lot down.

“By day it sold the most wonderful cakes in the world but in the evening, well then it became a wonderland. Mister Guitolli would hang a white sheet on the wall and then show films from a projector which he turned by hand. He never charged anyone a farthing but at the interval Mrs Guitolli would sell some of that day’s stale cakes for a half penny each. 

“Sometimes, if he had had a hard day, he would turn the projector very slowly and every one would stamp their feet to get him to speed up. Sometimes he would just fall asleep and the film would stop, then smoke would start rising from the projector and people would run out of the cake shop, screaming. They knew it wasn’t a real fire but to us it was the only chance we ever got to scream in front of grown-ups.

“On the days that Mrs Guitolli was in a good mood and kissed Mister Guitolli on the cheek in front of everyone, well those were the days that the people in the films would move very fast as Mister Guitolli wanted to finish early. My Mother never did tell me why he was in so much of a hurry.” Then my Grandmother coughed, cleared her throat and continued.

“One day Annie I saw the most marvellous film, The Journey to The Moon, the one where the rocket lands right in the eye of the Moon’s face. Everyone was laughing but I felt sorry for the Moon and made up my mind that I would go there and apologise for what had happened to his eye.” 

Sadly nothing much happened to my Grandmother and her dream for many, many years, not until the very day of her fiftieth birthday on April the 12th, 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

My Grandmother decided two things that day: 1 – fifty was no age, no age at all, and fifty year old people could still go to the Moon and 2 – if anything happened to Granddad, God forbid, she would marry Yuri. There was a time when she more inclined to John Glenn, the first American in space than Yuri, but in the end the Russian won her heart. He was her first Cosmonaut and that was that.

My Grandmother said that every day she would check the newspapers looking for an advert that would state ‘Have you ever considered being an Astronaut or Cosmonaut? Then telephone the following number .....” but she never did find it, “Must have been on one of the days I didn’t buy a  newspaper.”  she said.

She always wondered, considering the amount of people she had told about her dream, why the rocket folks hadn’t actually contacted her. “I mean”, she said “wouldn’t it be better having a really enthusiastic astronaut than a reluctant one?” 

She even wrote to the Russian Embassy who invited her to tea one afternoon and told her that the waiting list to be a cosmonaut was so long that she would be a hundred and twenty years old by the time they got to her. She had to agree that one hundred and twenty was a good age but mentioned that if her name did come up, then could they contact her anyway? The man said he’d put her name down on the list straight away and sent her home with a signed photo of Yuri that said ‘To my comrade’.

Apollo eight was the next big milestone in my Grandmother’s life and that was the one that got me interested.
In March of ’68 Yuri died in a tragic accident and my Grandmother went into a mild sort of mourning. Other people were twisting to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones but my Grandmother had all the heroes she needed in one man and now he was gone. My Grandfather used to be jealous of a person he had never met and would refer to him as ‘that bloody communist’ but after Yuri Gagarin’s death, and I’m ashamed to say it, my Grandfather started to whistle. It led me to wonder if he hadn’t had Yuri bumped off.  

My Grandmother gave me a poster of the crew of Apollo Eight to hang on my wall, I still remember their names: the commander was Frank F Borman the 2nd, James A Lovell Junior was the Command Module Pilot and William A Anders, the Lunar Module Pilot. 

I always wondered what happened to Frank Borman, the 1st and James Lovell Senior, were they lost in space somewhere?  

In those days, the launching of a rocket was the most important thing in the world – at least to me. Every television channel would cover it and very clever people with extremely large foreheads would discuss it for hours on end. We would sit with bowls of popcorn and devour every delicious second of the programmes and when the talking got boring, Grandmother would test me on all the people who had ever been in space. 

We had a happy Christmas and we made it extra so, because my Father was off to Singapore in the New Year to work for several months. My Mother and I moved in with Grandmother in order to provide company for us all and I was more than delighted. 

Apollo 9 was a bit of a strange one and never really went anywhere, there was lots of talk of trying out modules but to be really cross-my-heart-honest, I found it boring. 

The next trip was really exciting, the guys were going to go to the Moon and try everything except land. I thought it was a shame and so did my Grandmother “Why couldn’t they just let them land on the Moon for five minutes?” she said, but it wasn’t to be and they all had to come home again. 

In July 1969, me, my Mother and my Grandmother all went out to Singapore to see my Father and we had the best time ever. It was a truly amazing place and it was there we got to see Neil Armstrong on television, not just land on the Moon but actually walk on it. It was brilliant. 

My Grandmother and I sat there holding our breaths as Commander Neil put his foot on the Moon’s surface. My Father said he thought that his foot would go right through and he’d get stuck but then I caught him winking at my Mother - my Father, not Neil Armstrong. 

I remember the day I asked my Grandmother who the first man to walk on the Moon was and she said “where dear?” and I have to tell you, I thought that was a funny thing to say. “Too late” I said, “It was Neil Armstrong”.
“Who dear?” 

Then I heard she’d fallen down the stairs which I was sure was due to her Astronaut training. She was very hard on herself. 

She never did tell me she was going to Astronaut Training Camp, my Father did. I asked him whether my Grandmother had found the advert in the paper and he said that she had and that they had accepted her. So I was pleased but I really wished she had told me herself.

Then one day my Father looked really sad and told me that I had to be brave and I said I was. He said that his Mother, my Grandmother, had gone to live on the Moon and I said stop talking crazy like as Apollo Twelve wasn’t due to take off for some months. He told me that she had been sent on a secret mission and that I was to tell no one. I never did. 

When I was nine years of age my Grandmother went to the Moon and didn’t come back.

She will soon and I bet she’s building a rocket even now.


4. A Strange Story 

November 22.

The strangest goddamn thing ever, and I mean ever, happened to me this morning. Jeez, my hand is still shaking as I write this even although the boss told me ‘no notes, no traces, no records’ but hey, it’s only one little bitty diary.

I had got up this morning, had breakfast and kissed my wife and prepared myself for what I was going to do, today. ‘Change the world for the better’ is what the boss said to me. So last night I double checked everything and the equipment was all ready. I’d taken it out to the Plains last weekend to make sure everything was A, okay. It was.

So I took all I needed up to the top floor and waited. I kind of guessed it would be a long wait but I was ready. ‘You’re the man’ as my boss told me last week.

Jeez, I nearly died when those folks turned up right behind me. I kid you not. One minute I was alone, the next they were standing right beside me. I didn’t even get a chance to reach for the rifle.

“Did you do this on your own?” Asked the man with the grey suit.
I asked him what he meant. I mean were they Feds or what?

Some guy shouts in a strange voice that they weren’t meant to get involved, that they would have to abort the trip and everyone was to return. Sounds crazy? That’s what I thought. When I got myself together I started to chase after them as the disappeared around the corner. Then I felt real weird and blacked out.

When I came to, I heard one of them say that I would have to be dropped off later. A kind blonde haired girl, a bit like Marilyn offered me a drink, smelled like coffee but I turned it down.

She asked me how I was doing and I said fine, she said that we’d need to wait till the bomb had gone off before we would return to get me home.

I know this is going to sound crazy, if anyone reads this – but she said they were time travellers, that they were on a tour of the big ones: The Crucifixion, First Man on The Moon (I’m tellin’ you that’s what she said), The start of World War 3 in 2012 – apparently a dirty bomb went off in….no, I’m going to stop there you wouldn’t believe me if I told you and the Assassination of the President – J.F.K. and that was why they were visiting me. I asked her how she knew and she said she was from the future and that she knew everything about me including Jack Ruby. Wow, my blood ran cold when she said that name – how did she know the Boss?

She said that I would be given a drug or something to make me forget so she could ask me anything. ‘Did I work alone?’ – I asked her what she meant. Did I shoot JFK on my own? I haven’t done it yet, I told her. Well are you working alone? I told her of course I’m not, I am only up in the Depository to make sure there are no loose ends. There are two guys down on that grassy knoll that will do the shooting.

She seemed real puzzled at that. She left me for a while but  she returned after she’d seen the city blown sky high. She told me that the world would be at war within hours. She had been crying. She’d been on this type of tour before but never to Dallas or to the bombing.

I’ve no idea what went wrong but if they did give me a drug to make me forget it didn’t work ‘cause next thing I know I’m waking up in the Depository again and I’m wondering if I had taken a stroke or something. Anyway, things are back to normal, as I write this the time is 11.40am and the President is late.


5. The Look Of Strangers

There are those amongst us who slip into to this life like a well worn glove, who very rarely question its strangeness and in most circumstances prefer to take everything that it offers.

Then there are people like me, Michael Andrews, sometime author, sometimes happy but mostly otherwise confused. There are days when I intentionally tell myself I’m stupid so as not to think too much, so as not to over analyse too much. But on other days...well on those other days I look around and scare myself with what I see. All of us sharing a little rock in space without rhyme nor reason, perhaps that is part of what makes me an author or maybe I’m just going plain mad.

There can only be two answers to this universe; either there is a God in control of everything or there is no one in control and now that I’ve had that thought I don’t want to get out of bed - ever.

Perhaps I’ll just hang on to my mattress and hope that Gravity does its job and keeps me in place.

So on the days I have to go into the city to see some colleague or other, I look at the faces on the subway or on the buses or on the trains or in all those faces of people walking. I look for some recognition that I am not alone in this belief, the belief that this existence really is only for the stupid and that the rest of us are terrified out of our minds the whole time.

And then there is always that nagging feeling which has been around since I was a kid – a feeling that I might have forgotten something important, something that when I remember it will make sense of all of this.

Then I see those faces in the city, those faces looking back at me and I rub my own face looking for marks, or bleeding from my nose or words written on my forehead that say ‘stare at this man’ – but there’s nothing on my face, it’s just the look of strangers.

Maybe they are also looking at me for some recognition that I am going through the same hell as them, but I have that well disguised expression of the stupid and they find no comfort in my face.

But I now know what it is and the truth is even more terrifying than my fevered imagination could have ever created.

I am going to tell you all this as a warning, to tell you to take care. I will tell you what I know and then let you decide.

Last Saturday morning the sun was bleaching the streets of the city and so I decided to take a walk from the central station up to the bohemian part of town.

I passed by the government buildings, the Royal palaces, the squares and avenues that were full of tourists. I walked under trees and arches and I walked around bistros, street cafes, theatres, cinemas and all of them full of strangers, some of whom caught my eye and other who walked on.

Then as I passed a glass shelter at a bus terminal a strange thing happened, I could see in the reflection that many of those who were behind me or had walked passed me were now looking in my direction.   
But when I turned around no one was looking. No one was staring and everyone was going about their business. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying it’s the start of the decline, the start of the long journey into the dark. Soon names will be a thing of the past and I will be left in a corner with vacant eyes. 

Perhaps I was thinking something similar myself until it happened again.

I had a pair of sunglass, the type that allows you to see behind oneself, maybe made for this very exercise and there they were again, people looking at me behind my back and when I turned once again - nothing.

Paranoid? - Perhaps.

I took my phone, the one with the video recorder, and began to keep it in the palm of my hand, always filming behind me. At the Gin Joint Cafe I had a coffee and excitedly started to watch the film.

There they were - people who showed no interest in me apart from a look while passing – who, when they were behind me, would stop, look at me and apparently discuss amongst themselves some detail or another. People who were apparently strangers were talking about me.

Insane? - You would think.

I did what any insane person would do, I turned quickly and started to follow them through the streets and the arches and the squares until several of them disappeared into a doorway, one that slammed shut in my face. I waited on them but no one came out.

I waited and waited and still nothing.  

I walked with my head down back to the railway station until in a shop window I saw more of them, a new crowd watching me.

I am ill, I must be.

I let it be. I went about my life ignoring the look of strangers. Some still walked by me and watched my face as if they were drinking in every last detail.

I just assumed I was wrong.
Then one night in the Gin Joint Cafe I drank more than I should have. I sat at the bar like the old soak of a writer I was. It had just gone eleven o’clock when the girl sat next to me.

“You’re Michael Andrews, the writer?”

“What do you want? An autograph or maybe you want to buy me a drink?”

“I just wanted to shake your hand” she said “we are not supposed to do this. It’s against everything.”

“What is?” I asked, slipping back another short.

“Well talking to you, the greatest writer since Shakespeare.”

“I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else.”

“No I haven’t, Michael Steven Andrews, born 1963, died 20... wait I’m not supposed to let you know that.”

“You know when I am going to die?” I asked.

“You died years before I was born” she said.

“We come back to visit all the great ones, you and Shakespeare are the most popular.”

“Come back from where?”

“The future, your future, I mean you have already found out that Einstein was wrong and things can travel faster than light. It won’t be long until you start sending objects back in time.”

I was about to ask what asylum she had escaped from when she disappeared.

So now you know what I know. When you get that look from a stranger then perhaps they are more than just inquisitive. Perhaps they are one of your own descendants or a student or a time tourist.

Who or whatever they are, just do what I do and keep on walking.  

 It's safer that way.


bobby stevenson 2013 

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