YALMP

This is YALMP: Yet Another Lazy Man’s Post. Sometimes, you do what you must to meet deadlines, even self-imposed ones. Case in point, this post.

First, a funny email header I saw:

clown

Hard to believe there’s room for any more clowns in corporate America.


Second, this being a writing blog, here’s a short story I wrote several years ago. I already published it in my other blog, Limping in the Light, before this blog was begun. Rather than copy it into this space, here are three links, each to a part of the story.

6 Hours

Part one

Part two

Part three

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas!

The Shoeshine (Part 3)

[The conclusion of a Haitian shoeshine’s story, begun here and continued in the previous post. Based on a minor character introduced in my book, A Slippery Land.]

The long line of customers at the mission was a mixed blessing. He was running so late, he decided to skip his usual next stop, Toussaint L’Ouverture Airport. No one would miss him there, where mobs swarmed the arriving passengers, grabbing luggage and asking for payment in return, offering rides on tap-taps, or simply begging for American dollars from any blans emerging from the sweltering terminal. Having been at this most of their lives, they knew the blans were probably charity workers already in a giving spirit. The shoeshine usually had to battle those beggars for position. He didn’t hold them a grudge knowing he was only one shoeshine box away from joining them. He didn’t need the reminder.

Cité Soleil

Cité Soleil

Proceeding to his next stop, he made sure to cut a wide swath around his old neighborhood of Cité Soleil. Although he’d arrived at an uneasy peace in his own heart regarding his old life there, he knew of others in that slum who would not be inclined to extend the same grace to him. He wasn’t proud of the life he’d led there or the things he’d done, some of which would follow him to his grave. While he was embroiled in those transgressions, he’d rationalized away his misdeeds, telling himself that he only did what he needed to do to survive and get out of the slum. He did get out of the slum, to be sure, but Cité Soleil was never completely out of him.

His next stop was part of his penance. A home had been established for a group of elderly men and women who had somehow survived the ravages of life in Haiti—the storms, the violence, and the final insult: the earthquake. His own actions had prevented some young men from ever having the chance to reach that age. Any of the residents who brought shoes to him would have them shined at no charge.

The old men whose shoes he shined knew that what he did was not free. A price had already been paid. They sensed in him the same turmoil they recognized in themselves. They had been young, too. A few had served as enforcers for the Duvaliers. Some younger residents were former activists in Fanmi Lavalas. On the streets years ago, they might have battled one another to the death. Age had allayed the differences weapons could not. The ideals of youth died long before their own bodies did.

The shoeshine had no political affiliations or inclinations. With the disappearance of his family, he’d become a one-man party with no representation in government he was aware of. He’d seen enough elections to prevent him putting any faith in that process.

The last shoe buffed to a sheen rarely seen on any other object in Haiti, he bade ovwa to the old men.

His last hope for customers was outside the church. A few harried congregants always neglected to shine their shoes. Seeing the gleam of other’s footwear would drive them to the shoeshine in a desperate attempt to prepare their outfits for an appearance before God, even if their souls still harbored pain and guilt. Something could be done about the shoes, at least.

The man wasn’t comfortable around the church. He kept as great a distance from the building as possible without endangering his business. He still believed in God, but his regard for His servants crumbled when his wife fell under the seductive power of the pastor. Other than tending the shoes of the people entering the building, he’d had nothing to do with the church since then.

A cemetery in the Haitian countryside.

          A cemetery in the Haitian countryside.

A stop at the church was always emotionally draining for him. He needed to rest before he returned home. On the way was a cemetery where he knew he could find quiet. He settled on a stone, hoping it didn’t mark the finally resting place of some poor soul. In his box he found the little treats the kids at the mission house had left him. He took one out and examined it. The colors on the packaging alone mesmerized him. What kind of country had these colorful goods in such quantity that mere children were giving them away? America was a dream. He knew distant relatives who had moved there. He tried to imagine their lives in a place where food was so abundant and opportunity lurked everywhere. How much better his life might be in such an environment, he couldn’t even begin to imagine.

To distract himself from such dreams, which tended to induce more despair than hope, he scanned the area where he sat. Each time he encountered the large, impressive monuments in the cemetery, he was amazed. Ornate wrought iron designs adorned intricately poured concrete structures. Many dwarfed his own home. It made him laugh to himself to think he might have to die to improve his living conditions.

Nothing was new under the Haitian sun. After consuming half the gritty, bland American bar, he wrapped the rest up and stuffed it back into his box. He rose and turned his back on the cemetery, ready to make his way home. In his imagination, his wife and son awaited him.

The author in Cité Soleil.

The author in Cité Soleil.

The Shoeshine (Part 2)

[A Haitian shoeshines story, continued from the previous post.]

shoes

His first stop after roaming along his own street was the orphanage, not because it was a likely spot to find customers, but simply because it was the nearest large building. Occasionally, the people who owned the orphanage would be there. Clean shoes lent them an air of credibility, or so they felt.

The shoeshine had come to know many of the children in the orphanage over the years. He’d even met some of their parents, whose inability to feed and house them had forced them to turn their little ones over to the care of this institution. The children were fed and housed, but whether they were truly cared for was another question, the answer to which saddened him.

He wondered how he would have handled the situation if his son had survived the quake but the boy’s mother had still perished. Could he have given up the only child he would ever have? Against his will, he had anyway. The memory of the little boy was so vivid, he swore he felt the child’s breath whenever a stealth breeze caught him by surprise. The man had never shed a tear for the boy since he died, although he remembered crying over him constantly while he was still with him. He cried as the boy slept, when he played, and when he sat on the roof of their home staring over the city, never knowing what thoughts passed through the child’s mind. Were they the same as his own? Where were those thoughts now?

No customers emerged from the orphanage so the shoeshine moved on.

His hopes for a good return from the mission house were high. He’d seen evidence of a team of young people from the US staying there. The Americans always carried plenty of cash. While he only charged his fellow Haitians a few gourdes, he could easily ask an American dollar for each pair of shoes from the blans. It was rare that their shoes actually needed cleaning, packed away as they had been in luggage few Haitians could afford. It was an unspoken agreement of a metaphysical transaction. They would give up what to them was worthless to clean not their footwear but their consciences.

His English was limited to the few expressions required to accomplish the deal. “One dollar.” “Two shoes.” “Thank you.” Few of the team members made an effort to expand communications, so he appreciated all that much more the ones who did. They would approach him with smiles and ask in their American accents, “Konben?” A few would actually try to bargain with him. While he went along with the game and didn’t begrudge them their amusement, it annoyed him all the same.

The teens had come to help build a school. He appreciated the Americans’ misguided attempts at assistance, but he’d known more than one construction worker who had lost their jobs to visiting American kids. Despite the fact that one Haitian worker could accomplish as much in an hour as a team of American youths could do in a day, they kept coming like some invading force, taking opportunity captive.

The house was alive with activity. Through the screened windows, the shoeshine saw the teens scurrying back and forth, exhibiting the same degree of purpose as that shown by the ants that crisscrossed the walls of the building with no apparent goal.

One white face glanced out from a hole in a wall and saw him. A young girl who couldn’t have been more than fifteen approached him. She held out a bag in her hand. With a shining smile, she told him, “Kado.” A conflict of fear and gratitude contorted his face as he took the gift. Looking inside, he saw a brand new tin of black polish. His smile of more gaps than teeth was sincere, but he couldn’t help thinking of the man he usually bought his polish from. This was one less bit of income his friend would receive. He felt bad, but wasn’t about to turn down this meager windfall.

Most of the kids just left their shoes on the steps with a dollar in one of them. A couple had bits of food, strange, colorfully wrapped bars of nuts and grains flecked with bits of chocolate. He would make the most of those scraps. One bar could be made to last for two meals if money or food were scarce, as they often were. There was no telling when the next team might arrive carrying more free goods.

To be continued…

The Night I Woke Up (Part 3)

[They say (correctly) that writing is rewriting. The current exercise is reinforcing that precept in a most humbling manner as I dash off this stream-of-consciousness true story from my youth. I’m already inclined to change much of it, including the title, were I given the chance. But I don’t have the chance. That’s part of the excitement of this challenge. What I write is what you and I get, for better or worse. So now we continue into the unknown and unchanged…

When last we saw our intrepid prepubescent protagonist (me), he was standing alone, “shaking the dew off the lily” (as Donald Miller so colorfully put it)  in a bright white box in the middle of the dark, unfriendly world of Florida swampland. As we left him, he was hearing the sound of footsteps coming from outside the bathroom window.]

Without question, what I was hearing were footsteps. There was no mistaking the rhythmic sounds of the crunching of yard debris underfoot. Worse, those sounds were most assuredly coming from outside. The house itself was completely devoid of movement and sound. As exposed as I was, I didn’t want to so much as twitch. But I had to. Those steps were getting louder and, by an inference even my underdeveloped mind could make, closer.

Crunch… crunch… crunch…

To minimize movement and draw less attention to myself, I dropped straight to the soiled tile floor in front of the toilet. The footsteps, seemingly drawn inexorably to the only light within a quarter mile or so – the bathroom window through which I was on display for all to see – continued without changing stride. Only the volume changed, increasing as the footfalls drew nearer.

Crunch… crunch… crunch…

My only hope was that I hadn’t been seen yet. Crouching on the floor in plain sight of the window above the bathtub on the opposite side of the room, I wouldn’t be out of view for long. The footsteps not only continued, they were without question following a beeline path to the little aquarium of light in which I dwelt. I’d soon be on display once more.

Crunch… crunch… crunch…

I pondered my next move. I could simply reach up, open the door, and sneak back to the relative safety of my guest bed. In retrospect, that might very well have been the prudent choice. Instead, pursuing a strategy that is best filed under the heading of, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” I slunk across the floor and into the bathtub. By cowering there, I would be out of the line of sight of anyone or anything looking in that window, which was now directly above me.

Crunch… crunch… crunch…

There I sat trying to merge with the cast iron of the tub. The footsteps continued relentlessly and mercilessly toward that window, as if whatever was making them sensed my presence there. They grew louder and louder and closer and closer until at last …crunch… they ceased. They could go no further. They had reached the exterior side of the wall at which I crouched.

I was separated by a few inches of flimsy shingles and sheathing from something that for unknown reasons had emerged from the murky blackness behind my aunt’s house and pounded a path dead straight toward the room in which I was exposed. Shivering with fear, I listened. The living sounds of night were gone, the insects possibly as frightened as I was.

I heard nothing… except the labored breathing coming through the open window a couple of feet above my head.

To be continued…

bathroom1

Frog Pond Skater

This week is all trivia, all the time. Thus, my time for writing is severely constricted. To save time, I’m reposting something that first appeared on my other blog nearly five years ago.

This short story was written several more years before I first posted it.  I’ll give the same disclaimer I did then: If you think it stinks, we can all pretend I’ve become a better writer since.

The story is called “Frog Pond Skater”.

frog-pond


A Childe Hassam sunset descended upon Boston Common, the surrounding towers outlined in a golden haze.  She approached the skating rink – already overflowing with rosy-cheeked children struggling to stay erect while socially-challenged teens fell in each other’s paths – with a poise that was well studied but forced, already wearing thin even at her young age.  She seemed to be chased through the gate, leaving her three dollars with the attendant and barely acknowledging the greeting that came from within the badly weathered booth.

Some of the youngest skaters saw her arrival and chirped with glee in anticipation.  Not a few muffled laughs were also mixed in but if she heard them, she didn’t let on.  Her fingers laced her skates with the deftness and care of a surgeon.  She left her shoes at the rink’s gate.  Though they would be unattended, she never gave another thought to their safety.  There was no tentative step as her left skate hit the ice.  Where others tiptoed to a safe starting place, her first motion was a perfect glide already in synch with the whirlpool of skaters that had begun at ten that morning and would continue unceasing but endlessly changing for several more hours.

She was as different from the rest of the skaters as she was a mystery to them.  What was this statuesque beauty with the perfect form and designer outfit doing amongst the tourists and assorted riffraff of the city?  Her subtly muscular body moved with the grace of light.  Those who were not in awe of her were trying to suppress an envy that was without pity.  In vain, women did their best to distract the attentions of their partners back to themselves.

The girl, oblivious to the stares and glares of the onlookers, made a couple of turns around the rink before, now fully warmed up, she headed for the eye of the skating storm.  Many of the children stopped their revolutions as well; this was the time they had been waiting for.

The girl paused in the center for a moment as if she didn’t wish to continue.  There seemed to be a struggle within her.  With a deep sigh of resignation, she threw her arms out and with a single move began a slow spin that increased in speed as she pulled her arms closer to her body.  A voice in her head screamed at her to go faster.  She must go faster if she was to get it right and faster she went.  Still, the axis of her spin never wavered and it seemed as if she was rooted to a single molecule of the ice.

The children, some of whom witnessed this sight every week, were no less impressed by it, their mouths open in naive adoration.  They were at least as amazed that she didn’t simply fly away like a missile or drill straight through the thin veneer of ice and the concrete slab beneath it, so fast was her turning.

She didn’t slow down as she gracefully raised and lowered her hands in perfect time.  Finally she threw her head back and extended her arms, reducing her speed to the point where her facial expression could once more be seen.  She wore the same joyless countenance that had clouded her face since she had arrived.  Most who observed it discounted it as nothing more than professional smugness, but if any took the time to look beneath the facade, her pain was evident.

The skater returned to the rotating mass of visitors, blending in as best she could.  Some of the children followed her, hoping to glean some of her magic.  They could see the muscles in her legs ripple under her tight leggings belying the ease with which she glided effortlessly over the ice.  Her movements were as smooth as the ice itself had been when it was first laid down, before it had been carved so violently by the hundreds of skaters who left their marks with their blades, hands, knees, and bottoms.  If it had occurred to her, she might have winced at the irony of this, if she considered how her life had once shined but was now also scarred, though much more permanently.

As if the thought itself threatened to invade her mind, she distracted herself by heading back to the rink’s center.  This time she didn’t hesitate before spreading her legs, toes pointing outward, leaning into the large circle she traced in the ice.  She leaned so far that the children thought that surely her defiance of the law of gravity would bring her face down onto the frozen surface.  When she straightened up, leaned back, and reversed the circle, the children sighed with relief.  Although they had seen her perform the maneuver many times, they watched her like they watched a much-loved movie, clinging to the suspense in spite of the fact that they knew the ending was a happy one.

The skater left the center stage as quickly and easily as she had entered it.  She may have been contemplating her next move or she may not have been thinking at all, but she never saw the teenage boy who was flailing his arms trying to keep from stumbling as he cut across the steady flow of skaters in the perpetual circle.

The boy was actually moving backward when he slammed into her broadside with his full weight.  Her legs came out completely from beneath her as she fell to her right.  She never had a chance to put her arms out to stop the fall and the side of her face hit the wooden fence that enclosed the rink.  The circle’s momentum never slowed.  A few of the people saw the girl fall but an hour didn’t pass at the Frog Pond without several such spills and they paid little attention.  The children were stunned.  The girl herself was stunned.  She hadn’t felt the cold of the ice on her skin in many years.  She sat for a long time as the pain began to overcome the initial shock.  She put her finger to her cheekbone and felt her warm blood as it slowly dripped down her face, mingling with the tear that was falling from her eye.  She had nothing to wipe her face with and she was not inclined to do so anyway.  Her body shuddered once and she lifted herself to her feet with great effort.

As she made her way to the exit, one little girl watched her slow progress and noiseless tears fell freely from the eyes that only seconds before were wide with wonder and delight.  The skater unlaced her skates with far less aplomb than she had tied them.  She put her shoes back on and as she walked slowly away, she never gave another thought to the safety of her skates, left unattended at the gate.