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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author‟s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is completely coincidental.
Other stories by Daniel Finneran are available at: http://scribd.com/nostromo10
A Children‟s Story
A Children’s Story
He was a big man, and, like many men of his age, emitted from him would be the occasional growl -- it might have started as a grunt, or a groan, but seemed to come to a coda-like end with more of a growl. And, somehow, as if with the sound and image being flawlessly matched in an old movie, where you weren‟t sure it was going to be so, it seemed to make sense. Sometimes there was that, occasional, difficulty getting out of a chair. The walking with the concerted, now near-shuffle, gate. Though he had not spent four straight years manning an anti-aircraft gun on a destroyer in the Pacific from ‟41 through ‟44 to have to indulge the various medical, and otherwise, opinions of his own children as to how best deal with the physical concerns now there before, and with, him.
He leaned in over the morning paper, shaking his head. „Unbelievable,‟ he said. „Unbelievable.‟ His wife knew this was a prompt, so, while barely looking up, „What is it, Dear.‟ „The amounts of money these people make. With these children‟s books. This Trevor Pottfield, and all these flying brooms, or whatever; these actors; some woman that used to be in a bikini in Sports Illustrated. These people make a lot of money.‟ „Yes they do, Dear. Yes they do.‟ He shook his head. He had come of age before the entire world had decided it had to go to college to be someone, or get anywhere, and had raised, and educated, to a remarkably successful degree, his children (nurse, architect, educator), while working as a salesman for ARAM -- American Register and Adding Machines. They owned their house, they were comfortable -- but a few more dollars. A few more dollars a month, and it seemed things would be -- well…And with the medical issues, there were just…-- sometimes it was complicated. „A lot,‟ he said, once again. This something of a low, guttural, almost Germanic growl. As if protecting his den, in the Black Forest. „Hmmm,‟ he said. His wife, who still, because of the advantages of bone structure, was handsome, rose. (When, now and then, she was told she resembled one of the former First Ladies, she would laugh, and say, „Well, same hairdresser.‟) And soon was heading out the door for errands. Leaving Nick within that echo chamber of the retired American male with fading physical propensities -- his own home, at Dear God, 9:10 AM. (There was a time when
A Children‟s Story
he would have already been long on the road, and one or two sales visits already in the books by this time.) He ambled about the house, settled in to read one of his news-magazines, put, very briefly, the TV-cable news on, thought about going down to his workshop, but, lately, the back; the feet. It just didn‟t seem like the sort of thing to be doing that day. Two days later, at dinner. (The past two days had been thinking -- I wrote up my sales reports. Wrote up business letters. Had to figure out sales strategies; I mean, how hard can it be? Some monster, a few scared kids, a fairy godmother. How hard can it be?) „If you can, Sweetheart, could you ask June, to bring a few of her old kids‟ books over, if it‟s okay. We only have a few left. I just want to take a look at a few. Maybe tell her we want to give some to a friend or something. -- We can still lie to them when we need to, can‟t we?‟ Lorna thought. „I think we can. I think God will understand.‟ „I have a hunch he will, also.‟ „Children‟s books?‟ „Why not. I‟m not dead yet. I just don‟t know what the heck to write about. Maybe kids that should mind their own business when your back is bothering you. Or grandkids that don‟t shake the hands of grownups anymore. But, anyway. Thought maybe you can help me out, Dear. Figure out what to write about.‟ She thought again. „Hmm. Well, you know what Ernest Hemingway said.‟ „No. This fish is excellent by the way -- what did he say?‟ „It‟s non-farm, and fresh, they say. From the natural place. -- Believe me, sweetheart, it was on sale,‟ she said, before he could respond in some manner. „I just go
in there now and then. I can see why people go in, though. It has, well, it has some nice things. Though I don‟t know how anyone can do all their shopping there. -- Anyway -he said, “Write what you know.”‟ So write what you know. I think that should be your approach.‟ „Just one agreement, okay.‟ „What.‟ „Don‟t tell the kids. There‟ll be fifty how-to books in here, some old friend of theirs from college, calling with advice. Just don‟t tell the kids. Deal? I‟m just telling you because, well, it‟s still pretty hard to keep things hidden from you.‟ „Even the mistresses?‟ He smiled and wiped his mouth with a linen napkin: „Days gone by, my Dear. Days gone by.‟ Grimm‟s Fairytales „And don‟t you wish, my Dear. And don‟t you wish.‟ The next day, in the morning, he read through the five children‟s books still in the house, while sipping his coffee. Sitting at the side-table, next to the back picture window. Through the woods was the ball field, and track, that served the middle school. They were even, Dear God, going to put that silly Youth Center or whatever it was, in that field, and ruin the whole thing. Thank God -- thus far -- that hasn‟t gone through. He finished reading about a „mushroom center disaster‟ and a family called „the stupids‟ -- times had changed -- and the other books. He thought of the tales of his youth. Hansel and Gretel, and Goldilocks and the Old Woman and the Shoe. He had to admit he liked those better. Some of these were okay, and some of the artwork really was first-rate, but he, as he remembered them, he liked the old ones, the Grimm-types, better.
A Children‟s Story
He puttered -- he knew, when he was puttering, he was joining that misplaced legion of men, over 75, that, now and then, unsure of what to do next, found themselves puttering. He then ventured out, in the Crown Vic, purchased a pack of legal pads, a few of those pens, with the nice grip he liked, and there, with November almost upon them, about three days now from the end of Daylight Saving, began. Three days later: „Now, Hon, you won‟t laugh will you. But I want to you to read the beginning. See what you think.‟ „Really. You‟re going to let me in on it.‟ „Sure -- if you have any good ideas I‟ll even mention you in the Acknowledgements. Though I was thinking of writing, in the Acknowledgements, “I have no one to acknowledge, I wrote the whole damn thing myself.”‟ „Even if I have one good idea, you can keep me out of the Acknowledgements. Though I don‟t think they would allow “damn” at the beginning of a children‟s book.‟ „From what I can gather, reading some of this stuff, that‟s lighthearted fare.‟ She shook her head, then reached for the legal pad. „Okay, Dear, I will read. I‟ll be back in a minute.‟ „Where are you going?‟ „If I‟m reading someone‟s work I don‟t like someone there next to me, breathing down my neck.‟ „You‟ve done this a lot?‟ „There are things you don‟t know, Sweetheart. Things you just don‟t know.‟ He just shook his head. Even now there were times he really didn‟t know whether or not she was kidding.
She walked into the kitchen -- like so many homes, probably 90% of the home‟s serious concerns were addressed at the kitchen table -- poured herself a cup of coffee, moved the newspaper to the center of the kitchen table, sat, and read.
The Bear and the Books
There was a bear once. He had a toothache, and so was now in a bad mood. (His dentist was always telling him he was drinking too much honey, but he would just nod, and smile, and then get out of that office as quickly as possible. Bears make terrible dentists. Their paws are too big.) He was walking through the forest, seeing all around him, the birds, the squirrels, the foxes, so many of which had written down stories, about what they did in the forest, about how things worked in the forest, about who -- what a sham -- was so kind in the forest, and then sold the stories to the Humans. (There was a beaver that did most of the artwork. Very temperamental. People would be waiting for their artwork, and he would be out in the middle of a dam, saying he would get to them when the dam was ready.) This did not make him happy. He was a very large bear, and a long time ago, when the forest had been attacked, he had fought the other bears, and the coyotes, and others that had attacked, and so now had a bad back, and his hips were stiff. (Never mind getting into bear dentistry; sometimes, he‟d look at his teeth, and think, Me and George Washington. Same dentist).
A Children‟s Story
He had raised cubs, and they were helping in the forest, and had sent them to Den Design School, and Bear Health Care School, and one to one of those Bear Covered-All-in-Ivy Colleges, even though he had never gone to these sorts of schools. When he was a cub, you just picked up stuff here and there. And now all these silly birds, and foxes, with the big nests, and dens, and „help‟ with the chicks and little foxes, as they were being raised. (He could never remember what they called little foxes; pains in neck, he would sometimes say.) So he had an idea -- I will write about the forest. But there are so many of the books written by other animals. So had another idea… And soon, he had taken all the books for children from the local Human bookstore, and the local Human library. How he delighted in this. Outsmarting their locks, eating the snacks they had in cabinets, and taking all the books. So, soon, they would only have his book. Ahh, yes. These silly birds, and the squirrels. Talk about PR. A squirrel, as everyone knows -- it‟s even on the Human‟s TVs, on their commercials -- is just a huge rat. And there, all over town, the pop-up picture book -- The Squirrel that Built a Bridge. As if a Squirrel could build a bridge. His Den now filled with Human books, and all the Humans atwitter -what will the children read? What will they do? And the bear laughed and laughed at this. That he, now, had all the books for the Human children. But now, he had to come up with his own book.
He then saw how sad the children were, he thought about turning himself in, and selling his story to Bear Weekly, that followed the bears in the movies and bears that had broken the law and abandoned their cubs and were always doing stupid things. Then his lawyer -- a wolverine, who had moved to this forest from a forest out near Michigan -- explained he could not profit from his own crime. So, he began. There in his den, his tooth and back aching, winter coming on, and knowing -- though she would never say -- that Momma Bear -- she would -- well, maybe a Den with a few more nice things. Some honey pots, from Stump, Branch, and Dam. Maybe, a few days down at Elysian Fields, where the berries are heaped on your plate in the morning, and where the fish jump right up onto your plate in the afternoon. -* * *
She put the pages down, somewhat thrown off. She was not sure why, but she had been moved by what she had read. Shocked almost. She was, almost speechless. (Rare for her, she knew her friends would say.) She knew, though, that he would want a response, and she sat and thought for almost five minutes. She then walked down the hall, into the TV room, where he was clicking through the cable-news channels, and he was reading American Investor’s Business Weekly. He looked up, and he wasn‟t sure what to say. He seemed, almost embarrassed (he was a man very much of his generation). „I like it, Dear. I do.‟
A Children‟s Story
He looked up slightly, a bit more, over his half-cut reading glasses. „I think -- the only advice I have -- “Write what you know.” I think that that has carried you so far.‟ He looked to the TV, nodded his head up and down a bit, and said, „Okay. Write what you know. Sounds good, Dear. Sounds good. Dinner soon?‟ „Pasta and a few -- just a few sausages -- and, broccoli,‟ she said. He rolled his eyes. „Though I‟m heading out tomorrow. Some more of that fish?‟ „If it‟s not too expen…-- yes, I think that sounds good. Sounds good,‟ he said. There was silence for a beat, and he breathed in, indicating something more was coming (like all older couples, just the slightest change in breathing, or inflection, or even the slight twisting of an arm, or leg, one way or the other, could immediately be interpreted). „What is it, Dear?‟ she said. „I was just thinking -- don‟t want to get myself in trouble, ya know. June,‟ he said, speaking about their daughter, the nurse. „She gave me that sort of crazy book. About that monster, or whatever, From the Wolf book, or whatever.‟ She stood, leaning on the door frame, for a moment thinking -- Monster, from the „Wolf book‟? Then it hit her. „You mean that book, Grendel. From Beowolf. That she gave you for Christmas.‟ „Right. -- I hope some of my stuff didn‟t come from there. I guess I‟ll have to show it to her. Or talk to Wayne, I suppose he knows about these things,‟ referring to their son, who was the educator, at a local private school.
She remained leaning in, and nodded. „We‟ll get it straightened out. You just go on about it the way you are, and worry about that stuff later. I do think Wayne is probably the one to speak with.‟ He though, and then nodded, „Probably. Probably.‟ She started off back the hall, thinking to herself, He‟s been jotting a few things down on a legal pad for a few days, and now he‟s worried about where his inspiration is coming from. It‟s like he does think he‟s Hemingway. Another day or two, he‟ll be out back boxing. But, just let it play out, she said to herself. Just let it play out. They ate, slept, and she went out on the errands which, more and more -- quietly - she was doing more of. With his neck, trouble looking here-and-there, night vision problems, more and more his navy-blue, spotless, Crown Victoria sedan stayed planted in the garage. Sometimes he would look at it, and it somehow looked abandanded. On Friday Morning he resumed, pen, with the blue, ribbed, rubber grip he liked, in hand, legal pad before him, a beautiful November -- more like mid-October -- morning out there in the back yard, and all the trees. Filled with the colors of fall. Many leaves on the ground. He thought, he thought some more, and then began to write. Began what he had been thinking, the past few days, about writing. He wasn‟t sure about writing it, felt a little uneasy writing it (he was a man of his generation) but decided, this is what he would write:
A Children‟s Story
The Bear sat in his Den. A nice Den, but not enormous, like some of these Dens they had been building recently, and he thought, I am not a thief. I do not like, I have to admit, seeing the children unhappy. (The parents all mixed-up, bumping into each other, well, that really wasn‟t the worst thing was it. These Human parents.) So he decided he would put them all back. First though, he wrote his own story, and he had the beaver illustrate it. (The Beaver owed him. Some teenage Humans were bothering a recently built dam, and the Bear scared the bejeeses out of them. He saw on the news the Humans were even thinking of shooting him, the Bear. Like they could catch him.) His story was on how he had fought in some great battles, and come home, and only a salesman had won a fine Bearess. They had had children, and how he knew -- he just wished he could have gotten her a Den in Florida, for the winter, and seen the Bear Carvings, over in Florence, and the Bear Left Bank, in Paris, and maybe been able to spoil the grandcubs a little more. Because that‟s, sort of, what the Bearesses of her type did. He returned all the books. As if these new locks, and alarms could fool him, and slipped his book in with all the others. [Locks, and alarms, he knew, made by the Humans that, like so many of the younger bears in the forest, had never had to fight for the forest, and then had gone to Bear Graduate School and then bought Dens with mortgages that they couldn‟t --…well, why focus on the negative, when giving the Humans back their books.] Hoping someday one of the young Humans would read it. That would be neat, he thought. If someday, one of
the young Humans would read his story. [Probably, he thought, the Humans would like the illustrations best. The Beaver, what a prima donna.] He returned all the books, and returned to his Den, and there was Momma Bear. And his back ached, and his neck didn‟t work very well, and he needed his tooth fixed, but when he that saw she was in his Den, this made him happy. He wished, maybe, the Den was bigger, and that maybe someday they could see all those painting and carvings in Florence like she wanted to, that would‟ve made him happy, but he did know, that seeing Momma Bear in her Den, this is what made him happy. And just like Lou Gehrig said, a long time ago, It just might have made him the luckiest bear in forest.
-- The End --
He wrote it, put it away for a day, and then handed it to his wife in the afternoon. He stayed down in the TV room, looking over the sports page, and his American Investor’s Business Weekly, peering, intently through his reading glasses (he had to focus more and more to read), while she read it in the kitchen. She read the whole thing, and then she read it again. She did not want him to see him like this because -- when she had read the section about the Momma Bear…and then when she had read it, all, once again. She had -- always wanted to tell him some things -but they weren‟t the types to do that. And men, of his generation -- it just wasn‟t what they did. She wasn‟t sure what to say, after she had read it. She was relieved to hear him snoring, so she could delay her response.
A Children‟s Story
She began to prepare dinner. Steaming some vegetables, preparing a salad, and then taking from its wrapper some of this fresh cut salmon. Pink, and marbled with white lines, and it looked delicious. She put some pepper on it, and a few more spices, and prepared it for the oven. She was caught up in preparing everything, and then heard him again snoring. As he had gotten older, the snoring had gotten louder. Sometimes it disturbed her, but today …she just stood there, in the kitchen, for a moment listening. Because as he snored, he sounded just like a bear. A big huge bear protecting all of the forest. As if not a thing in the world could harm that forest from anything, as if, for one brief moment, all the world was safe, safe from any and all -- all the world, and then she opened the oven door, slipped the bake tray in the oven, and prepared the salmon for dinner.
-- END --
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