Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Stories From The Camp

1.You’re probably asking how I first met her, and I would have to say that it was around sometime in the late 1940s; down in the boon docks.

She’d been born in Mainz, Germany on January 1st, 1900 and had seen more than her fair share of everything in this life.

She was a Jew, and a proud one and, as you can probably guess, watched most of her family disappear into concentration camps.

She was feeding the birds by the docks that day. I remember it was a warm sultry afternoon in New York.

I asked if I could help and she said sure, I could. I had some coffee and we sat and shared it, sitting on an old crate. She had an almost permanent smile on her face, as if to say, I’m happy world, just get used to it.

Boy did we talk. I told her about my family who lived upstate and how my great uncle helped invent the automobile.

“You must be very proud,” she said in a thick German accent.

Sure I was, I told her, sure I was. And her grin became a huge smile.

I asked her about her own family, and she said that there weren’t no one left.

“All gone,” and then she nodded her head as if to say into the showers of those camps.

“All of them?” I asked.

“Yah,” and then she took another sip of her very cold coffee.

“Where were you?” I asked.

And she told me she had been there too, along with her three brothers, three sisters and her mother and father.

“At the end, there was only me,” she said sadly.

So I asked her, how or why she survived.

“Only the good Lord knows that one,” she said.

Then she told me how she got through those days of death and hatred. She said that she would close her eyes for one minute every day. One minute when things were getting really bad and she would remember who she was. It was as simple as that.

“Just close your eyes and recite your name and then remember who and what you are. Some things or someone in the universe went to a lot of trouble to get you here. Just think of that.”

It was just as the sun was on its last legs that she said she must get back home, and that it had been very nice talking to me.

Here’s the funny bit  - every day after that I did the very same thing. One minute with my eyes closed just to remember who I was.

I have to tell you, it’s got me through a lot of life’s stuff.

2.The clanking of the train as it went over the gaps in the rail made him think of home. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the horse and carts passing outside the family home in the west of town.

Oh, those days of endless sunshine and hope. Everyone was friendly.
Everyone shared. Everyone was in and out of each other’s homes. My son did this, my daughter has achieved that – my, hasn’t your youngest grown. They were the best of days.

He would come home from school and there was his mother sitting at the table, smiling, as only she could. No matter how bad the day had been, that smile would melt away any pain and discomfort. Those were the best of times. No doubt about it.

His father had taught him to help those who needed it, without complaint.

“And I want you, my boy, to do a good deed each and every day without telling anyone about it. Promise?”

And he crossed his heart and hoped to die that he would do it – and he had, as best he could. There was no point in thinking of them all over again – for that would be praising himself for his good deeds.

So why was what he was about to do the most selfish thing he had ever done in his life? How had he got to this point?

Perhaps in every good deed is the seed of its own destruction.

He had seen the boy from across the street many times. Now and again he had nodded or even, on occasion, said good morning. The boy and his family had intrigued him greatly. Although they seemed to be very well off for this part of town, they never ever smiled. It had taken him a while to work out what it was that had bothered him about the boy and his people. They didn’t laugh. How strange, he thought. Perhaps, money doesn’t make you happy after all.

Then one night as he as staring through the window, he saw that the boy was being whipped by his father. It was severe, but as far as he could see, the boy did not appear to show any pain on his face. He just held the side of the kitchen table tightly and gritted his teeth.

He saw the boy the next evening, standing alone watching the carriages pass by and for the first time he spoke properly to him.

“Would you care for a chocolate?”

The boy looked at him suspiciously, then smiled and said thank you. And as quick as the smile came, it went in again and the boy’s face grew dark. It wasn’t until a week later that he saw the boy standing on the corner of the street and he was sobbing. He said good afternoon to him but the boy turned his face away. He asked the boy how he was doing and the boy grunted that he was okay but could he go away and leave him alone. However this was his good deed for the day and he wanted to help the boy. He gave him his handkerchief that his mother ironed for him every day. The boy eventually took it and wiped the blood from the mark on his face. The boy said thank you then wandered off home.

The next day the boy’s father, the one who liked to hit his son, came to his door to return the handkerchief. The man looked at the signs on the wall and said:

“You are…..?” Then the father spat on the ground and ripped the handkerchief up.

In the middle of the night they came for his mother, his father and himself. As they led them away, he could see the boy’s father looking from the window and smiling.

They had been on the train about two days when the wooden slat had opened up at the side. It was only big enough for him to get through, no matter how hard he wished it, his mother and father could never squeeze through that hole.

They told him he had to go and that he had to go as soon as the train slowed. His father pushed his son through the hole.

And that is why he jumped from the train - leaving everyone he loved aboard and on their way to Auschwitz.

3.Everyone called him Papa - that was how he was known in our part of the square. ‘Papa, the storyteller’, to give him his full, well-deserved title.
Whether the stories were as old as the hills, or maybe Papa himself, or even little ditties he made up on the spot; they were always the same thing, they were wonderful and they took us away from our own lives.

“Gather around children, gather around, push-up close to one another, I don’t want to have to shout,” he would say with the biggest grin I had ever seen.

We would all push in to the front, and in doing so, keep each other warm and for a few minutes we would forget where we were and get wrapped up in the warmth and colours of Papa’s stories.

They were as rich as cream, and as light as feathers. They made us laugh, always they made us laugh – that was the one and only rule of Papa: “these stories, my little blessed ones are to make you all happy in there,” and that is when he would point to his heart.

There are times in your life when something so terrible happens that you push it to the back of your mind. Then in the morning, when you awake, you are happy for the merest of seconds before you remember whatever it is you have experienced.

And so it was with Papa’s stories, when they were done, and only when they were done, I would suddenly remember where I was and immediately feel sad again.

It was the same for us all.
I remember Papa’s last story as if it were yesterday.

“Come close my little kinder. Closer still, we don’t want those others to hear our precious little stories,” and then we would all sit as close as our little frail bodies would allow.
“Can you all hear me?” and he’d put a hand to his ear.

“Yes!” we would all whisper.

“Then I shall begin. Once upon a long ago, there was a little child, a little strong boy by the name of Joseph.”

“That is my name,” said Joseph, who sat next to me, proudly.

“So it is, and much like you he was full of life itself. And this little strong boy decided to help the oldest woman who lived in their village. For they all lived in the highest of highest mountains and each of them had to help the other. The town was two days ride away and so everyone needed everyone else. The little boy knocked on the old lady’s door. He was nervous - for it was told that she was a witch. At first she shouted ‘go away’ because through the years, she had been tormented by some. But the little boy persisted and knocked the door again. This time the old lady, who some say was as old as the moon itself - opened the door. ‘What do you want?’ she asked and the little boy explained that he wanted to help. At first she was unsure but as she asked the boy to do more and more tasks, he seemed to enjoy all of it. ‘Why are you helping me?’ she asked. And the little boy explained that he had been taught that helping others was the only way to live. And so the boy came and helped the old lady, day after day, week after week. Then one day, the old lady said she would reward the little boy, who said it didn’t really matter as helping the lady was all that counted. But she insisted and she told him to close his eyes and in doing so, he could go anywhere he wanted. And sure enough, he closed his eyes and the next thing he knew, he was standing on top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Now children I want you to do the same,” Papa said to us all.

And sure enough we all kept her eyes tight closed and imagined the greatest of all places to be; and while we were doing this, the guards were waiting on Papa outside the hut and then they marched him to the showers.

We only found this out a little later.

Like the rest who took that walk, Papa never returned, but like the little boy, I still close my eyes and wish of somewhere else.

bobby stevenson 2015

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Last Cowboy (the start)

His spring and summer were now only dust on the bonfires of life, and as he looked out at the horizon, he knew more and more that it would no longer stretch on forever.
He had been young and vital once, and his dreams would have powered a city, but the lamps had dulled, and the curtains were drawn and it was going to be time up, one way or another.

Age had brought with it forgetfulness, and pains, and failing sight but he still felt each morning that he had to get up and show the universe that it should continue to invest in him – at least for one more day.

His daughter, his one and only little girl and her crummy husband, had found him, Jake, standing in car park looking for his automobile. The truth was Jake had walked there, the car was still safely lying in his garage.

It was his daughter who had made him go for the appointment to the clinic. She was a lovely woman – the doctor- and perhaps in other circumstances, they could have become friends. But it had been down to the woman to tell Jake (and his daughter and her crummy husband) that he had Alzheimer’s. And that was the goddamn beginning and end to it.

For the first few days it felt like he’d been hit by one of those Ford trucks, he’d always wanted to drive. Nothing seemed to fit into his world anymore and everything seemed to hurt.

Then one night in the second week he was watching some TV show where they were talking about dreams and how to live them. A middle-aged woman from a square state in the mid-west said her plan had been to write down all the childhood wishes that she had hoped for and maybe try and find them. The doctors had told her that she had cancer with an outlook of six months.

Was that more comforting than Jake’s diagnoses of ‘maybe years, maybe not’?

So that night when there was too much going on in Jake’s head, he got up and sat looking at the dawn and wrote what he had really wanted to do with his life.

Being a coal-miner had never been a plan of his – it had been force fed to him by a family that worried about most things and had wanted to see their family settle.

Jake had settled with a wife and two kids. His son was in the army and had returned home less and less until all Jake got was a phone call at Christmas. His daughter stayed close but he wasn’t ready for a home just yet, or for losing his independence.

His wife, Betty, God rest her soul, had taken a long time to fight the cancer and, in the end, had lost. But what a trooper – she had given that cancer a run for its money and no mistake. He missed her every second, of every minute, of every day. But at least he had gotten to know her and he took that blessing to bed with him every night.

So as Jake was sitting watching the orange sun start to invade his little porch, he wrote down the dreams he had as a kid and all of them, and I mean all of them, were all related to one thing – him, Jake Sheeny being a cowboy.

And right there and then Jake made his Goddamn mind up that he was going to sell his house (or maybe rent it out, he wasn’t too sure), sell his car, which he seemed to forget all the time, and buy a big damn horse and ride the highways as a cowboy.

Leastways until the darkness eventually overcame him – but until that day, which as the doctor said could be years, he was going go on the ride of his life.

And over the next few stories, I’m going to tell you about Jake, and how he joins a circus, and how he finds laughter, and perhaps the best friends a man can ever find – and most of all he finds love again.

The Last Cowboy will be here waiting when you’re ready. 

bobby stevenson 2015 

On Shoreham Hills

On Shoreham Hills,

I sat a thousand years,
And watched the seasons change
Like fields, from green, to brown, to white.
And on those hills,
I saw the Norse arrive and change the way of things,
Our lives belonged to others now.

On Shoreham Hills,
I watched as paths were walked a
Hundred million times, which turned to
Roads, and streets and lanes,
The poor, the plagued were taken in
And healed and fed, and given up
To God’s own grace.

On Shoreham Hills,
I saw the wooden structures changed to stone
And homes were built to hold those hearts
That felt this secret valley
Theirs to keep.

I sat beside, as William Blake did spy Jerusalem
Among the waters of the Darent streams,
Forever caught by Samuel Palmer’s paints.

Then one fine day, the smoke appeared of rail and train
And in our hearts, we knew those hills were not for only us.
I lifted eyes to watch the Zeppelin raids on London Town,
Replaced by Messerschmitt and Spitfire trails.

The buildings rose, as did the streets
Our village grew to meet the age.

I sat on Shoreham Hills, a thousand years
To watch it comfort and console,
And as I watched the sun arise,
I hoped to sit a thousand more.

The Song: Video of Shoreham Rose - The Song.

bobby stevenson 2015   

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A Notebook in a Church...Days 1 and 2

Friday 10th July

Maybe I should start at the very beginning then perhaps if someone finds this, it will all make more sense. That is, if what has just happened can make sense - to anyone. 

I live (lived) in a beautiful village in the south-east of England. I don’t want to be any more exact than that, just in case they find this.

A week ago, we had the village fete, with all its usual sunshine, and games and I remember thinking to myself what a perfect place to live. Old misery-guts ran the whole show, moaning, as he usually did, about everything. Yet the fete always seemed to take place and, in the end, would always manage to be better than the year before.

The village has one great pub called The Winston Churchill, which supplies the drinks on the day of the fete. There’s a stall for strawberries, one selling flowers, another for support of the local drama society and one where Mrs Laud tells peoples’ fortunes for a small donation to the church. Oh, yes and there’s a church which you’ll see is very important – but I’ll get to that.

It’s a friendly little place where everyone knows everyone else, and where everyone knows secrets (or say they do) about the rest of the village. I think the village works on the premise that everyone has at least one secret they would rather keep to themselves. If people don’t know what it is, the kind folks of the village will make one up. Not much different, I would imagine, from anywhere else in this glorious land.

I think I am going to use this notebook to record two things. The first is to record what is happening right now to the place where I live and the second is to recall stories about the great, the good and the downright stupid who have lived in the place since I came to stay here – which must be about 20 years ago; time flies.

I discovered it by accident. I just happened to be driving along the high road when I saw a sign for the village and fell in love with the place immediately. It’s that type of place – the kind of village you only find once in a lifetime.
The first sign of anything unusual was the ‘phones going dead – any and every ‘phone, it seemed. Sometimes this happened in a small village. Sometimes it snowed and we’d be cut off for a day or two. I mean, it’s only 20 miles from London but you can still be isolated down here.

I had gone down to the Winston to see if anyone else had the same problem. The owner, Annie, told one of her staff to turn on the television to see if there was any news. And guess what? That was only showing a blank screen with the odd spark every so often.

“Maybe some transmitter’s down,” said Annie in her usual re-assuring way.
“What transmitter?” Asked old Jake, who questioned everyone and everything.
“How should I know, Jake, just sit there and sup your beer,” she scolded which was quickly followed by a smile.
“It’s them Russians,” scowled Jake. “Probably marched through Ukraine all the way to London, like as not.”
The rest of us gave Jake a smile, the way we always gave Jake a smile.

It was just before seven that someone mentioned they hadn’t heard any trains that afternoon and I quickly realised they were correct, I couldn’t recall hearing the London train pass either.
“Maybe someone should ring the church bells, let the village folks know that it’s seven o’clock,” said Annie.

I mentioned that people could just look at their watches or clocks but as Jake pointed out they had all stopped, too.

So when the rest of them in the Winston looked at me, I knew I had been volunteered to go and ring the bells. I had messed about with bell-ringing once upon a time.

I walked into a beautiful summer’s evening. The village has no street lighting (although that’s common around these parts and won’t give a clue as to where we are) – and as I walked up the street I could see through windows families sitting down together, maybe for the first time without the television invading their evening meals.

As I crossed the street to go through the church gate, I noticed the last house suddenly go dark inside. At the time I didn’t think much about it, until I tried the switches in the church hall and every one of them failed to work.
I had climbed up to the church tower many a time to look at the bells (eight in all) – so accomplishing this in the dark wasn’t a hardship.

I pulled my way carefully up the iron-rung ladders and balanced my way across the narrow beam which took me to a small platform on the other side of the tower. There was only enough room for one man or woman up there. The bells were looking okay and standing up, so I thought I’d go down a start ringing down one of them.

That was when I heard the noise. I wasn’t sure who or what it was, but it sounded like a train on the rails was in trouble. Then I heard men shouting. Perhaps a train had crashed into a transmitter or something and knocked everything out.

I climbed the last ladder (which took a person up to the very top of the church tower) to have a better look. I don’t know what made me hesitate - most probably my fear of heights - but I decided not to stand but look through one of the holes in the brick which let rain water out.

I remember once, when I was making a parachute jump up in Scotland, my brain had decided to take a back seat – it’s the only way I can describe it – and it felt as I plummeted to the ground, that I was watching a movie and all this wasn’t happening to me.  

This was the same feeling, as I looked through the hole in the church tower, I could see tanks – the military sort – followed by soldiers with guns. I could just make out their shouting and it wasn’t any language I had heard before.
The village was being invaded. I could see from the tower, the same uniformed men coming in from both sides of the High Street.

As the tanks turned the corner into the street below the church, several of the soldiers broke off and ran to the doors of the houses, kicking them in.
I saw the Smith family, who lived in the first cottage, being dragged out and made to kneel in the middle of the road.

That was when I felt my world changed on its axis. The Smith’s eldest son got up to challenge one of the soldiers and another of them shot the boy dead.
I fell back on to the floor of the tower and started to shake. Maybe they were making a television programme? Something I hadn’t heard about. When I had pulled myself together a little I had another look. The rest of the Smiths were being marched at gun point down the street, Mrs Smith was being forcibly removed from the body of her dead son.

My next thought was that maybe the Smiths were terrorists but that too was cut short when I saw more families being forced onto their knees in the street.
What the hell was happening to my world? This group of people, whoever they were, were rounding up the whole village. I heard some of them kick in the church door below me. There was more shouting in this strange language as they knocked over furniture in the church.

I could hear someone try to climb the iron ladders – they were coming up for me. I made myself as small as possible and pushed my body into the corner of the tower.

It sounded as if one of the soldiers was helping the other up the ladder. I waited on them finding me.

Suddenly the soldier fell from the ladder and must have landed on the other because I could hear them argue – whatever the language was.
This must have deterred them because I saw them run out of the church and back on to the street. I stayed hidden until the sky was pitch black and only the stars above me.

I was desperate for some water and decided as I hadn’t heard anything for a long time that I might try to find something to drink.

I held my breath and lowered myself down to the middle platform – I put my ear to the floor but I could hear nothing. I descended into the church and it was totally black, although I could feel chairs and tables lying upside down.

I knew the bell ringers kept some bottled water at the back of the church and guessing where I was, I crawled towards the rear wall.
I located the cabinet and found three bottles of the stuff. I drank that first bottle in one go and it was just as I wiped the corner of my mouth that I heard the church door open. 

Saturday 11th July
I had slept badly in the church tower resting my head against one of the larger bells. The young girl, who couldn't have been more than nine or ten, lay hidden in a little cove at the western end of the attic. 

Her name was Elise and she had managed to hide herself in an outhouse at her home. She had heard her family being dragged out the door by some people she couldn't see. 

"I heard my mother call my name and then my mother shouted 'coming Elise'," this is what she shouts when we play hide and seek and she wants me to hide.  
"So I didn't make a sound, or move."

Elise had waited for several hours before she made a move. Her home, she said, had been left with furniture and books scattered all over the house. Her father had always told her that if she couldn't find her family she was to go to the church as she would be safe there. So that is what she had indeed done. 

Elise was as mystified as me. We live in what is known as one of the most beautiful spots in the country, and possibly the quietest, and safest, and yet within a matter of hours all of that has changed.

She was a brave little soul, perhaps braver than me and here we were, the two of us lost.

Just after dawn I heard the sound of a gun being fired in the hills above the village. Normally, I would associate it with a farmer killing some vermin or other – but then the strange thought crossed my mind that it might be the vermin shooting the farmer – whoever the vermin were; I was still unclear who was actually carrying all this out.

When it became light enough to make out certain landmarks, I managed to get to a position in the church tower which let me see much of the surrounding area - without giving away my presence (I hoped). Once or twice, I heard small vehicles coming and going on the High Road. I had the thought that perhaps those responsible had considered this part of the village cleared of all people and that maybe they were no longer showing any interest in the church.

I saw a dark figure making their way along Church Street towards me, keeping mostly to the shadows. I also noticed that there was a large gap between the shadows in front of the Old Post Office and those in the car-park of the Winston Churchill. It meant whoever this was would be exposed for some amount of time.

When they ran from the safety of the first building, I saw it was that of a man – known to us as the president of the Parish Council, Thom Drey, whose family had lived in the village for generations.

As he came out into the light, a small armoured vehicle appeared from nowhere and shot him first in the legs and then in the chest. Some man in a khaki uniform jumped from the vehicle and dragged Thom by one leg - finishing off with two of them eventually throwing his body like an old dog in the back. I assumed from his motionless body that Thom was dead but as the jeep turned the corner in front of the church, Thom had one last go at upsetting the enemy and he appeared to try and hit the driver with a wrench. It was the last thing he did – I don’t want to go into too much detail here except to say, it wasn’t a pretty death.

I must have made quite a noise because it brought Elise up to the roof, and she could see I was upset. I tried to stop her looking over tower but it was in vain, and when she saw what had happened to Mr Drey, she let out a piercing scream. He had been her godfather.

As I pulled her down from view, I saw enough to know that the two soldiers had stopped what they were doing and were indeed heading towards the church.
What the hell was I going to do? Not only was I trying to look after myself but I had a young girl to protect as well. Leastways, that was how I had read the situation - but how wrong can one desperate person be?

Bobby Stevenson 2015 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Distant Season/One Day/Cold Fire/Blue Way River Hotel

The Montana Express was a wind that found its temperature somewhere around the northern end of Canada and then didn’t stop until it hit the Gulf. Our home was in its path, and so every April it would bring an unseasonable coldness to our valley which affected almost everyone and everything.

It was on one of those April days that the table was finally delivered. My grandfather had chosen the wood himself and it had taken several men two months to build. My grandfather wanted a table that could seat all of our family and especially on his birthday. Something which took place towards the end of the month.

“I want to see all my loved ones in the one place, is that too much to ask?” He would say to no one in particular.

But he was right, our family was spread far and wide: all of them farmers or ranchers. All of them doing okay but too busy to ever socialize with one and other. We’d normally meet briefly at the end of someone’s life or at the start of another – but otherwise, all points in between were just plain ignored. That is, until my grandfather declared his birthday a national holiday for the family.

“I don’t care what you’re all doin’. I want you to put aside whatever the hell it is you find so goddamn important, so’s we can all finally get together. Lord knows I ain’t got long left.”

And that, as they say, was that. Every April, 23rd we would meet around the big table and celebrate being a family. My grandfather would recite some Shakespeare (the English guy who wrote plays) and we would listen and not really understand but we’d clap and holler all the same when he was done. My grandfather had a biggest painting of the Englishman on his wall just ‘cause they shared the same birthday. My grandfather said that Shakespeare was a genius and I guess he was right.

That first April there were seventeen of us around the table. I guess we’d all forgotten just how much we really needed each other.

The following year two of my brothers and two of my uncles went off to Europe to fight in the war. So we set them a place at the table anyhow - just in case they turned up and were hungry and all.

One of my brothers, and one of my uncles didn’t come home in the end. They were buried in France - somewhere warm I hear where the Montana Express ain’t blowin’.

But we would still set the table for seventeen just so we could raise a glass to absent friends. When my boy was five he joined the table, and so did my sister’s kid. And we were seventeen again.

It was early in 1950 when grandfather left the table for the last time and he was shortly followed by grandmother. My eldest brother took the head seat and although we weren’t quite seventeen again we managed through.

As the years went on we tried to make April 23rd the Family Day. It didn’t matter where you were in the world, we’d always try to make it home to the big table. But my kids grew and married and didn’t really want to work on the land no more. One of my boys lived in Paris, France and another moved with his family to Nova Scotia.

Yet we always laid that table for seventeen.

When my wife’s place at the table went empty, I kind of lost the heart to keep it going. By this time I was the head of the table. Some years there were only four of us, but still we set the table for seventeen.

It was just before my 65th birthday that I took the heart attack. Man it was the worst pain I ever felt. They stuck me in the local hospital and I rested for the first time in my life. My boys came with their kids, and my nieces and nephews, and in the end when I got out of hospital there was about thirty of us all round that big table.

My eldest grandson asked why the table was only set for seventeen and I told him the story. He said that it should set for everyone in the family and I had to say I thought he was right. The table belongs to the living after all.

Now every year they meet up and it’s laid out for everyone who makes it to the table. But they always leave two empty places just in case one of us who left the table a long time ago happens to drop by. 

2. One Day When You Least Expect It

The stand-up and be glorious thing about it is:
You’ll never know when or how it happens,
Never know what affect you’ve had,
Or who you’ve saved.
It might be the smile to a passing stranger,
Who was on their way to shout at someone -
A someone who would have driven home in an anger,
And didn’t see the person they knocked over.
Or a face on a train,
The one who was going to get off at the next lonely station
And jump.
But you helped them with their coat, or hat, or bag,
And they saw a warmth in life again.
Perhaps you held the door open for a soul who then
Held the door open for a stranger, who changed their minds
About pulling the trigger.
One day, when you least expect it,
You will change the world,
And you will probably never, even know.

3. Cold Fire 

So there was this crazy dude, I mean as crazy as a sack of cats. He’s singing some song by the Beatles and dancing, but not to the tune that’s coming out his mouth – no, to something else only he can hear.
After about thirty minutes of this and he stops, takes a real deep breath, then falls over – so I go and pick him up, really without thinking. He thanks me and says he wants to tell me story as a way of paying me back. I’m thinking to myself, this guy is like, on something and I ain’t sure if I want to hear any of his stories but he holds my arm real tight and insists. So we sit and he pants some, and spits some, and wheezes some, then looks at me right in the eyes and boy has he got a stare.
I want to tell you a story boy and I want you to listen real good.

So, I’m thinking what the h, another fifteen minutes ain’t gonna kill me, now is it?
And he tells me about this land where there were people, who lived and breathed and loved and hated and all the other things we humans do. Then one day out of the sky comes this weird light and it brings to earth the machines. I ask him what machines, and he just tells me to shut up and the crazy guy just continues with his story.

These machines started to take the form of humans, he says, and soon it was impossible to tell between the real bloods and the cold fires (as they called the newcomers). Except for one thing –their metal hearts - the cold fires couldn’t breathe – they didn’t need to see? I nodded in agreement with the guy, like I say he was crazy.  And because they didn’t breathe they didn’t catch diseases or get ill, and soon the metals, the cold fires were the majority and because they were jealous of the real bloods, ‘cause they couldn’t feel and cry and laugh and mean it – they wanted to get rid of them. So began the purge of the real bloods – sometimes the real bloods would be found hanging from trees. Sometimes they took their own lives. But they didn’t wipe them all out and sometimes real bloods were born and they went to school and mixed with the cold fires – except they couldn’t breathe or that would give the game away. Sometimes the kids would bully another kid and taunt him with the name of ‘real blood’ and the kid would cry and tell them he ain’t a breather, ‘cause everyone knows that breathing is wrong.
And these kids had to hold their breath most of their lives, except when they were with their own kind, or by themselves – which was a lot of the time.

Then the day came when the cold fires let the reins loose a little and real bloods were allowed to live together – and have children – although the cold fires thought is wasn’t right and prayed for the real bloods to their cold fire god. And although they might all live near each other, everyone knew that only cold fires were going to heaven and that real bloods would go to hell.
But the real bloods just smiled and laughed and cried just like they’d always done and they knew what set them apart was their warm hearts.

And that made them happy.
And that’s when I ask the crazy guy what happens next and he just turns to me and he says:

You got a heart – use it.

4. The Blue Way River Hotel

Pitched as a concept @ BAFTA, April 2013 under the title Wonderland.

The Blue Way River Hotel

You know it ain’t a hotel, right? I mean let’s get that out of the way from the start. Some punk years ago called it the Blue Way River Hotel as a joke and the name kinda stuck. It was a place that people stayed – some for longer than they maybe wanted to. Now, I guess you’re thinking it’s a prison or something like that. Well it ain’t and to be real truthful, it was simply the local nuthouse. Even that’s too simple an explanation for it – it was a lot of things over the hundred years that it stood in its own ugly way at the corner of Rose and Juniper.
At the start of the last century it had been used to hide people away, those who’d transgressed against the good book, if you get my drift. Then when the boys came back from fighting in Europe it had been where the ‘weak-minded’ were locked up (their words, not mine).

When a man got to looking at another man in a special way, he was taken into the Blue Way River Hotel and his brains were fried, or drugged within an inch of his life. Never changed anyone, well except that the light would be on in their heads but no one would be home.

It became a strip joint a few years ago, not that there weren’t any more people in need of a stay at the Blue Way River Hotel, just that those who run this goddamn country felt it would be better (and cheaper) if the folks could find their healing among their own (and we all know how that ended up).
But the time I want to tell you about is way long ago when people had gramophones, the good old days when it rained in winter and the sun shone in the summer. And folks respected teachers and doctors and cops. That time.

In those days, my granddaddy was a cab driver in the town – the only cab driver in town.
Let me stop you there and explain a little. The town had been going through hard times, real hard times. The Wilson’s Woodwork store had long since gone and the small factory that built ‘superior autos for superior gents’ had moved somewhere back West. People were just flat broke, although everyone tried to help everyone else, there was less and less of things to go around.

My granddaddy main work was to drive the town council to meetings in places far away, so that the good old boys could have a drink. Then granddaddy would drive them all home again. Sometimes he’d take the odd person to the airfield a few miles to the North. You couldn’t go anywhere real exciting from that place but it had a twice-weekly flight to the State capital and from there you could catch a seat to the big world. When my grandma was a young woman she had worked at the airfield canteen and that was where she met my granddaddy. She called him ‘Earl’ on account that he drank only Earl Grey tea and over time her name for him name stuck. His real name was Albert but somehow that sank under the weight of Earl.

They dated and fell in love and it was as quick and as simple as that. Until the day my grandma died, they were never more than a few miles or a day apart.
Now things started to get difficult for everyone in town – well every honest soul in town, that is – there were some who profited out of other’s misery but I’ll let the good Lord take care of them. Anyhoo, my granddaddy is starting to get less and less work and has to make ends meet by working shifts at Carter’s Emporium over on 5th.

Then my grandma took sick and it cost him everything and in the end the sickness took her away. It broke him, broke him right down the middle. He tried everything to keep going but everywhere he turned life would trip him up just because it could, I guess. His debts were growing and he had less and less to eat. So he came up with a plan. One sunny day in June he drove his taxi to the door of the Blue Way River Hotel and with the engine still running, he just got up and checked himself into that little sanctuary for the crazies (his words, not mine). Now let me tell you good and proper, he wasn’t crazy, leastways not in the way that folks are these days. He was just tired, good and simple and decided that he could hide out in the Blue Way until better days came along. He wondered why it hadn’t occurred to him before, and as he was walking up to the door, he just kept chuckling to himself.

Now how do you go to the local nuthouse and convince them that you’re in need of help?

So as he walked into the place, he shouted ‘Honey, I’m home’. I kid you not. Seems that was enough. There was whispers from the nurses about his wife passing away and his company in trouble – it’s a wonder, said one, that he wasn’t in earlier. And as my granddaddy was taking his obligatory shower, he was wondering the same. 

Now I’m going to tell you exactly as it was told to me. When my granddaddy got in there, there weren’t more than two poor souls who really needed the place. The rest, about twelve people, were in their hiding for the same reasons as my granddaddy. The nuthouse really was a hotel. Now don’t look all disgusted. People need to eat and keep warm and that seemed like the only place in town to do it. However there was a little matter which my granddaddy found out early on – how do you convince the folks that you are in need of shelter ‘cause your mind is drifting, yet hold on to your sanity?
Some suckers got found out and were thrown out and told not to come back until they were really in need. Others walked a real fine line between this world and the crazy one – and one or two of them tipped into permanent madness. But my granddaddy hung on to his wits and survived in that place.

He told me a whole load of stories and I’m going to share them with you if you’ll let me. And don’t think they’re all depressing and stuff. Those folks in there lived and I mean lived every day.

bobby stevenson 2015