Tuesday, April 15, 2014

TONY - Number 37 - 04/15/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

On a bright afternoon on one of the few sunny days after Christmas with the temperature above fifty, reaching for sixty in the sunshine, an old man sat alone wrapped in a blanket, silently  pondering the lonely forlornness of his life,  intermittently wondering what he might do to keep himself occupied. His wife of fifty-eight years had died in the fall, a bitter blow for which he supposed there would never be a cure. He had sold their home, taken a small one bedroom apartment where he cooked his meals, took his prescriptions and read a lot. He derived little pleasure from television, overwhelmed by the barrage of commercials and stupid sitcoms in which he found only disgust at all the sexual innuendoes.
     Tony, twelve years old with a fifteen-letter surname the old man couldn’t possibly pronounce, a talkative, precocious, kid as restless as a housefly, hurtled around the corner of the building at his usual reckless pace.  
     “Hi, Mr. Willis,” he yelled without stopping. The old man smiled, waved and searched for his place in the book on his lap when Tony reappeared with a dark green box that he set on the table.
     “Grandpa gave me this for Christmas.”
     Instantly, the old man awoke to memories of his childhood. At Tony’s age, so many years ago, his parents had given him an identical box, a game called CARGOES. He stared at the reincarnation of a memory in a tattered box bound with massive amounts of scotch tape. Before his unbelieving eyes lay a map of the world’s continents, oceans, and major seaports; a simple game in which players roll dice moving their “ships” along an intricate maze of sea-lanes, winning points for early arrival and suffering penalties for overdue shipments. Tony and the old man rolled the dice, taking a few turns each.
     “Grandpa gave me another present. Want to see it?”
   Tony vanished again, leaving the old fellow absorbed in memories of his youth. In an instant, Tony returned carrying a colorful box, six inches on all sides, each decorated with strange characters looking hither and yon with obvious delight. Tony set it on the table, the cover inscription written in a neat hand:

“To Tony, Christmas 2005, from Grandpa with a lifetime guarantee.”

     The empty box had a top, but no bottom. 
     “What is it?”
     “I’ll show you. Watch.”
    Tony removed the lid, looking skyward as if the wild-eyed creatures had escaped their prison, flown away and he among them, twisting and gyrating, coming to rest staring into Mr. Willis’ eyes.
     “You don’t know what it is, do you?” he said, showing a huge smile.
     “You’re no fun.”
     “Maybe, but tell me what it is.”
     “It’s a bottomless box of endless love.”
     He darted off, leaving the old man to wonder about the miracle of love.  Tony’s Grandpa had worked his magic, and Tony shared his love, leaving the old fellow with a glow in his heart he hadn’t felt since the funeral.
(500 words)

Small deeds done are better than big deeds planned ~ Peter Marshall

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

GEOFF - Number 36 - 04/08/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

Geoff did okay in grade school, A’s & B’s in the lower grades, gradually falling behind in high school to C’s & D’s, but he received his graduation diploma and a handshake from the superintendent. His advisors suggested technical school would be best, casting doubts on university acceptance, never mind the associated costs. His parents, he a janitor, she a cook could not provide financial assistance, suggested he set his sights a little lower. He found an opportunity as a shoe salesman in a department store, but in 1936 the store closed. With no prospects, he stood for hours in long bread lines, ever optimistic his time would come. And it did in a lavender blouse, multi-toned blue skirt and a red YWCA hostess name tag. Month by month mutual attraction induced pie in the sky talk, marriage maybe, even a family if they could find good-paying jobs. A few months before the baby came, they married.
     They named the boy Christopher after Christopher Columbus, a sort of half-hearted joke that he would be an omen opening a new world for his parents. Geoff enlisted in 1941, somehow survived service in the European theater and received an honorable discharge in 1946. Remembering the graduation handshake, with high school diploma in one hand and GI Bill of Rights in the other, he gained admittance to a small mid-western college, but flunked out the first year. Meanwhile, his wife and Chris had long ago gone home to her parents where no welcome-home mat awaited GI Geoff. In response to his inquiry about a reunion, he received a notice to initiate divorce proceedings on the grounds of financial insolvency. He had neither the desire nor the wherewithal to fight the proceedings, but he demanded equal time with Christopher Columbus that the court denied for the same reason. Thus, somewhere around age forty plus, Geoff joined the host of homeless skid-row bums begging for handouts, sleeping under highway overpasses, ceasing all attempts to find work, wandering aimlessly until somewhere in some hovel, sick, tired and hungry, he will die without a soul to mourn his passing, leaving no marker to evidence he ever existed in the United States of America. The best that can be said for him; he served his country in a time of war.
    Not a pretty story, is it? Not the kind of story we want to know about in this, the wealthiest country in the world save for a few trillion dollars of debt, run by a government in turmoil that is unable to improve our international ranking with respect to educational opportunities offered in our poverty-stricken, drug-invested, gun-toting inner cities.
     Something wrong, folks, something dreadfully wrong and the time to act is now. What can be done? Be you republican, democrat or independent, your vote counts. Challenge those who seek to represent you that the “Geoffs” of this nation be provided with education and taught trades and skills that they shall not perish un-noticed beneath a highway overpass.     

(500 words)

We expect teachers to handle teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, and the failings of the family.  Then we expect them to educate our children.  ~ John Sculley

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CHARLIE - Number 35 - 04/01/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

Have you ever heard of Charlie Castor? No, of course you haven't because his contribution to United States geology has been overlooked. As a transplanted Canadian, I discovered a host of similar characters in the US: Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, for example, Great American heroes all, but what about Charlie? What did he do? 
     He became the foremost Canadian trapper when Parliament adopted the fur-bearing beavers as the national symbol of Canada. In need of a home for the beavers, Charlie set out to create a reservoir in the middle of Canada. He and his pet beast Orignal, an enormous moose, dragged the diggings southward creating a gigantic mountain of earth and rock. With winter coming on, they hurried to complete their task. Early in December, they broke through the last barrier; the Arctic Ocean cascaded into the hole. That night, the temperature dropped to fifty below. Arising in the morning, Charlie gaped at an astonishing sight; the water had frozen into a huge ice mass, moving inexorably southward, engulfing the mountain of debris from the excavation. Throughout that bitter winter, onward moved the ice, across the Dakotas, into Nebraska, leveling Kansas, until at last it came to rest over Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.
     In the spring the temperature rose, warm rains came, and the ice melted. In June, the last of the ice vanished and there stood the Ozark Mountains. Charlie and Orignal came south to evaluate how they might get their mountain back. Paul Bunyan and Betsy, hearing about the new geography, hurried north to investigate. The ensuing argument centered on the matter of proving the origin of the new mountains, Paul expressing doubt about Charlie's claim. In their urge to resolve the matter, they ascended the peaks and descended the valleys, turning over rocks and boulders, each underside bearing the distinct marking, "Made in Canada." The indisputable evidence clearly established the Ozark Mountains are of Canadian origin.
     Thus an international dilemma ensued; how would the US pay for this usurpation of territorial matter? The Louisiana Purchase set the precedent, so logically the Americans should pay for their acquisition of part of Canada. Protestations by Americans that they had neither ordered, nor did they want the mountains disturbing the tranquility of their mid-western plains, were to no avail since the Canadians simply responded, “In that case, please give them back.” The dispute rages on unresolved, even to the present day. With American politics in turmoil and  monumental national debt, payment for the Ozarks seems doubtful. Canadians are mobilizing! Not for war, but for an offensive to resolve this age-old problem. in view of the tarnished creditworthiness of America. With clear evidence of the justice of their claim, Canadians  have  opted to resolve this dispute once and for all, inviting an American delegation of political potentates, highbrow historians and eclectic economists to meet in the flatlands of Manitoba along the shores of Charlie's reservoir, now known as Hudson's Bay, to determine when the US will pay the bill.
(500 words)

In English, castor means beaver; orignal means moose 
~ Harper’s French - English Dictionary

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MARTHA - Number 34 - 03/25/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

At twenty minutes to eight AM in Arkansas, my wife yells in an exasperated tone.
     “The telephone is ringing.”
     My ears are bad;  I scramble to the den, put my ear close to the instrument.
     “That's right,” I say, “ it’s ringing.”
     I hear her bellow as if at a great distance. “Answer it!”
    I lift the receiver. A voice greets me saying it is calling from Calgary. Ah! My nephew, Michael. He has not called me in fifty years; I expect bad news about his parents. I sink into a chair while we superficially discuss our health. I hear only half of what we say as I struggle to remember his wife’s name. I know it sounds like a boy’s name; Billie, Willie, Charlie. Good Lord! What is her name?
     He wants to buy one of my books.
     I scratch my head. He has two kids, I think.
     “No, I don’t believe you’ll have customs problems,” I explain.
     What is her name?
   I listen to a long story about writing a check in Canadian instead of American dollars resulting in negotiations that took a year to resolve. I’m sympathetic.
     Does he have two or three kids?
     “How’s the family?”
     He mentions Tom, his father. I notice how much he sounds like his mother.
     “Tom’s still in bed,” he says.
    Michael must be living with his parents, Has his marriage broken up?
    He changes the subject and talks of writing.
     “Joan wrote poetry,” he says.
     My, he sounds like his mother. I wish he’d mention his wife.
     “That’s nice,” I mumble.
     “Kathleen, too.”
     That’s not her name. I know it isn’t Kathleen.
     “She lives so far away, I don’t see her very often.”
     Is he divorced and Kathleen the new woman in his life?
     He wants to order my book. We talk about how to pay.
     “I don’t care,” I say. “Any way that suits you.”
     I ask for his address.
     In a bitter scoff, he says I have his address. 
     I have to think fast.
     “We lost our address book,” is the best I can do.
     He recites his address.
    The conversation stalls and I still don’t know his wife’s name or how many kids he has.        So I ask about Tom again and if he uses a cane.
   He talks about scar tissue in his lungs from radiation. I remember an operation on his mouth in childhood, but surely not radiation. I don’t think it existed then.
     “I’m down to a hundred pounds,” he says.
    A hundred pounds! The last picture I saw he was like a bull; five foot ten, weighing two hundred fifty. A hundred pounds! His bare bones must weigh more than that. He cannot sleep at night and recites myriad complaints beyond my comprehension.
     “Tom is going to the same doctor,” he says.
     The same as what; the guy who did the mouth operation? In Montreal fifty years ago!
     I sit bolt upright. Good Lord It’s not Michael.
     It’s his mother, Martha.
(500 words)

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't being said.
 ~ Author Unknown

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

CATHERINE - Number 33 - 03/18/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

Catherine Wells arrived in Begonia in 1931. Renowned as a reclusive woman, she shunned publicity. Women’s organizations hailed her books on corporate injustice as masterpieces, while governments and businesses decried her solutions. She  argued vociferously that every facet of American society discriminated against women, the unjust distribution of wealth being her primary concern. At the age of thirty-eight, she had left New York, but her fame brought curiosity. Why would a woman of such prominence come to a nondescript small mid-western town in Iowa?
     Rampant speculation preceded her arrival. Some supposed heart disease; others cancer. Perhaps simple exhaustion and mental distress could be the explanation, but nobody knew for certain. Unwelcome congratulatory well wishes and flower bouquets arrived. Pundits conjectured, while executives sighed with relief the woman who campaigned with the fervor of Carrie Nation had left the arena. The local paper wanted an interview, intending to publish an article of explanation. Begonia’s mayor planned a red-carpet greeting, which he canceled when she threatened to revoke her residency if such an event happened. By veiled threats and sweet talk, she convinced the media to cease pestering about her motives. In due course, she could walk the streets safe from reporters.
     The local residents, who billed and cooed during the first days after her arrival, became  a bigger problem than the media. She made her displeasure known by adopting a hostile attitude, not excessively offensive, but unequivocally clear. The rumblings in the background—who does she think she is—signified her success alienating the locals and quelling the furor. She gradually vanished from the national scene.
     Then she began to travel. As time passed, the frequency of her trips increased, as did the duration. Sometimes she disappeared for a week or two; other times only a few days. Curiosity was clamorous; speculation infectious. She did not discuss her affairs with anyone in Begonia, nor did she attend musical renditions by the local do-gooders who sang horribly and played worse. She detested musicians, storytellers, and prelates with their paper hats, preposterous tales and Sunday sermons. She ate her meals in private.
     Occasionally, a man wearing a straw boater arrived, always carrying a voluminous briefcase and a gold-headed cane. He and Mrs. Wells would retire to her quarters. At four or five, the man left, but not before several residents had noted his vehicle was the one often parked across from the rail station. Using a little deception, the mayor learned the man’s name was Tom Smith!
     “Tom Smith? Ha! Ha! Sure it’s not Billy Jones?”
    Whatever his name, he arrived on the early morning train and left on the six o’clock overnight express. No details came to light about the visitor’s address or company affiliation.
Between Mr. Smith’s visits, Mrs. Wells sometimes took the same early morning train to Chicago and returned from that city days or weeks later. The curiosity diminished, the jabbering stopped and Catherine packed her bags.
     After three years in Begonia, she left in a car driven by Mr. Smith.
(500 words)

We may be more lonely in the bright lights of fame and fortune
than in the privacy of nowhere.  ~ Anonymous

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

SUEZ - Number 32 - 03/11/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

In the world of today scientific discoveries abound and that which has not yet been explained soon will be. But imagine if you had lived at the height of the ancient Greek culture, or even before that at the time of the Babylonian people. You would have believed in a flat world  and that you existed at the center of the universe. From time to time great torrents of water would pour from the sky accompanied by flames of fire able to kill and destroy, and other-worldly thunderous noises that might have been the gods at war somewhere. With no other explanation, Greek mythology developed the myths of the gods to explain the mysteries of these destructive events that could not otherwise be understood. Zeus, the superior god, a formidable figure who lived on Mount Olympus built a fortification of huge proportions to stave off the cold winds and blustery weather. A sign outside the maim entrance read "ZEUS - GOD OF GODS."
     Away on the other side of the world across the great ocean—now known as the Mediterranean Sea—lived the god of the desert peoples. For lack of a better name, we shall dub him the Pretender living among the Pyramids. He had the same powers as Zeus and could  spit down fire and set ground cover a flame, split palms with a single blow, and make the same thunderous noises, yet for reasons unknown he lacked the same respect as the great Greek god. Thus the Pretender in a fit of jealousy climbed Mount Olympus to slay Zeus and take over the world. As he neared the top on his deadly mission, he discovered a formidable enclosure bearing a sign with strange symbols he construed as the key to becoming potent. Like most of the Arab populace, he read from right to left as he copied the letters ever so carefully. Returning home, he climbed atop his pyramid in the sky and built an enclosure to rival Zeus’ abode with letters painted on the entrance gate exactly as he copied them. They read "SUEZ - DOG OF DOGS."
     As time passed none of the lessor gods paid the least homage to the Pretender. Had he done something wrong? He flooded the deserts, spit fire from on high and caused huge waves to wash upon the shore destroying the crops so all would go hungry, but it didn’t work. In a short time the Nile River became more fertile than ever, the trees thrived producing larger coconuts while the slaves built stronger pyramids in case he did it again.
     He must have missed something so he returned to Mount Olympus where he discovered Zeus possessed a magnificent chariot complete with a global positioning system, truly a cadillac of chariots. Carefully, the Pretender recorded the name before returning to his own domain and he has never been heard from since. Through all eternity he and his descendents  have failed to locate a chariot of equal grandeur bearing the name CALLIDAC.
(500 words)

Think left and think right and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!  ~ Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

NANCY - Number 31 - 03/04/2014

A literary sketch depicting a slice of life in 500 words or less.
Published weekly at 2PM each Tuesday.
To view the works of Stephen P. Byers visit www.booksbybyers.us

A sandy beach our playground, the shallows of the lake our source. Nancy and the boys  caught frogs, racing them across the sand, encouraging leaps and jumps with twigs, often accusing one another of violating the rule between pushing as opposed to nudging. Experience found the best capture to be a frog that reacted to tickling. In most cases tickling a frog with a small twig rarely impelled a jump, but finding those that did react could result in a win, depending on the skill of the tickler. Some frogs detested tickling, their reaction being enormous leaps in whatever direction they happen to face at the moment of tickle. Skillful owners tried to reserve the tickling technique for rare instants when the frog headed in the right direction, meaning towards the lake. 
     The good jumpers sometimes got so far off track, confusion arose as to ownership of a particular frog. Various attempts, like fastening numbers around their heads, never worked. Colored elastic bands created effective ID’s, but they, too, had a problem. If too tight on the leg, the frog’s leaping ability seemed impaired, while if too loose, the frog wiggled out of it. Nancy once put a red elastic band around a frog’s neck, bringing on what appeared to be asphyxiation, necessitating the immediate removal of the offending choker. No one ever produced evidence about the survival of the victim, his life span perhaps drastically reduced.
     When two tickled frogs happened to leap at the same instant when aligned with respect to each other, spectacular midair collisions occurred, owner identification obscured in the entangled wreckage. Having once learned this technique, it became a tricky defensive maneuver. Having nudged one’s frog to aim it at an opponent’s entry, a good tickle could induce various unexpected results, the most successful being a technical knockout, or at least a dazed frog eliminated from the contest. The attack involved a high-risk gamble since one could never be sure whose frog would suffer the more severe damage.
      The race started at the top of the beach, the winner the first to reach the water’s edge. The everlasting argument concerned whether big old fat frogs that could leap farther were better or worse than smaller ones that made two or three leaps to one by the large fellows. Public opinion favored the smaller guys, resulting in all contestants in the last race being fat and old, with no interest whatever in the proceedings, many disqualified for simply sitting still, making no effort whatever to comply with our vociferous encouragement, tickling and nudging to no avail, even pushing producing little effect.
    Swimming, diving, tennis, baseball, hide-and-seek, and an annual regatta filled our summer hours. We played out the joys of school-free vacations as days grew shorter and nights colder. All too soon, it ended. We waved good-bye on Labor Day and back to school we went 
     Gordy's letter came in last week's mail enclosing Nancy's obituary. What memories! What joys. What sorrows! Rest in peace. Nancy. 

(500 words)

The idea is to die young as late as possible. ~ Ashley Montagu