She didn’t have a name . She didn’t want one. Names were what people called you. If she didn’t have a name she would just ignore them. That way they wouldn’t see her. She would finally be what she always wanted to be. She would be invisible.
She tried to get invisible when she sang the song. She tried to sound like the organ on television. The sound that made her want to disappear.. She kept working on it. Some day it would work if she just kept trying. That’s what Mr. Roger’s said to do with a problem, “To just keep trying” He said if you really want to learn to do something to just keep trying. Then he would smile. She really wanted to be invisible. She kept singing the organ song and trying to turn invisible.
The snow was gone. It disappeared. It was a chilly, breezy, morning but she played outside anyway. She found a corner by the back door that was protected from wind and crouched low to the sidewalk.. The chalk was as wide as her hand. She used a piece of newspaper so her hand wouldn’t get all full of chalk. That might make the dragon mad.
The dryer vent next to the window was puffing out it’s sickening sweet breath. It was a dragon. It was down there in the laundry room. It wanted to trick you with that breath. It smelled sweet, at first, but then…when it got close, it wasn’t sweet at all. It smelled like anger and hate. It was full of wet sprays of spit.
The smell came from a bottle where the dragon lived. It lived in clear bottle on a high shelf. It never got dusty like the other bottles. It took a lot of liquid to make dragon breath. It never stayed full for long. It was usually only half full by the time the sound came on the TV. The liquid was clear. You couldn’t see any dragon in it. It was invisible. Just like she wanted to be.
She sang the song and made the mark. She kept checking her reflection in the basement window to see if she had turned yet. She was very sad. She was still there. She wasn’t invisible. She used the pure white chalk because it was most like the glass that played the organ. It was the dragon song. The dragon needed the song just like the bad smell in the bottle. Time was running out. It was leaking, falling. Days and lies…days and lies.
She sang louder and pushed down hard on the chalk. It had to work this time. Please Mr. Rogers. Help. Please.
The back door was opening. The dragon saw her. She wasn’t invisible
When Steward Moore stepped out of Willy St. Grocery Co op, he’d forgotten winter; an accomplishment because this one had become a curse. The people of Madison, Wisconsin had their full share this year. They joined in the chorus of complaint as winter wore on…and…on.
In this northern clime February was the month that spanned the life of George Burns and Methuselah combined. Oh yeah, it was long. Those with disposable income disposed of it to get out. Steward was a high school teacher and among the financially indisposed, who were stuck with there own slushy thoughts; “Cold builds character” or “All those yuppie wimps just can’t take it”.
But at this moment and for whatever reason, Steward had managed to forget that the sleet which had been falling most of the afternoon might just turn to ice at the drop of a hat.
He walked outside.
It was ice now.
Steward’s heels left the ground in a upward arc from hell, as adrenaline shot up from his bowels to his hair ends. His arms moved to save his head thus pitching the bag in his hand upward and backward.
In the next split second he was sprawled to the deck, the bag came down on his chin, and the recipe for tonight’s stir fry was written in 3D on ice: 1 cup rice, 1/2 pound frozen crab meat flaked, and six eggs well beaten. One of the eggs was a gelatinous expression on his face.
Everyone who had witnessed the Humpty Dumpty ice ballet rushed to see if the poor creature had survived with any promise of walking, speaking, or thinking again.
He was fine. Oh, he had a sore left rear-end bone, whatever it was called. But he’d been lucky. The Co op had been generous and replenished his stirred but not fried dinner free of charge.
Now that he was safe at home with his wok simmering hot over a burner, he wished he had a video of the scene for the “World’s Funniest”. Maybe the fall was a “just dessert”; punishment from the sleet gods. Maybe it was because of her.
Truth is; he really didn’t shop at a natural food store because of health. He drank too much beer and had only quit cigarettes two months ago. No. It was more childish, immature, and embarrassing and had nothing to do with whole living or good health. It was because he had a crush, was infatuated with, and in a deep, secret love with the woman in the produce department.
It was one of those silly fly-by-night fantasies -a trip of the imagination that wants to strip us of our normally tight fisted grasp of reality, our common sense, and moral dignity. Where do they come from? These fantasies. Huh? Why? From a dream? Our forgotten past? A past life? The future? Whatever the source, his recent need for organic produce was just an illusory adventure and well on the sane side of his control.
His musings of fantasy were broken by the real sound of ice crystals being blown against his kitchen window. The sound was more like the sizzle of sand tossed by a devil from a cold hell than frozen water.
The sleet had really hit the old fan for Steward Moore this year. It wasn’t just the short, dark days, the suffocating cold, and the frozen tundra stretching for miles across his small front yard. Hell, that was just Madison, Wisconsin; at this time of year, residents are tempted to break fluorescent tubes or release the freon from their air conditioners to encourage and exacerbate global warming.
No. It wasn’t the eternal nature of the Wisconsin winter alone. He had lived in this part of the world most of his life where the harsh elements surrounding either side of the solstice could bring on a sort of benign depression; a friendly kind of “low” to be respected and understood; an emotional state to be treated like a unwanted guest; the kind of guest that would leave if the Green Bay Packers made a reasonably good showing when they played Dallas or after a day trip to one of the ever expanding “indoor” water parks in Wisconsin Dells.
Steward had experienced benign depression before. So he knew when the guest was staying too long. What was happening now was different. He was moving off the edge of good luck and benign depression. He could be well on his way to the other kind; the malignant kind.
They say that bad luck comes in threes, but then, so do stop and go lights, and pawn shop balls, but he knew the triad of his current funk; the ternary of things that had changed this year.
The first thing: he had turned forty this last summer. The same people who say “bad luck comes in threes” also say “life begins at forty”.
Well, Steward had burst forth from the warm, thirty-nine-year-old womb for his new beginning on June 23, but really hadn’t felt the slap of the re awakening until this winter. That was when a funny little thought occurred to him like never before. He could die. When you start looking at “biting the big one” as a real possibility you also begin to wonder what the heck you’ve been doing in all that time; all those years before the of image: “Biting the big one” became more of a threat then a concept. Which lead to ….
The second thing: He had been teaching high school for fifteen years. He was an English teacher at East High School, in room 207 all… that… time.
He was a patched together hippie who had wanted to be a teacher for as long as he could remember. He didn’t care about making money. He knew he was going to change the world.
A few years down the road he felt was going to change “Education”.
Not long after, he though he might be able change “the way English is taught”.
Now, he might have liked to change what hell he had “thought” he’d been doing for the past fifteen years.
Then there was the hardest thing: The third thing: this was the first winter he had been without his five-year-old son Matt.
He had been divorced from Abbey for three years and that was going just fine other than losing or gaining half of what was supposed to have been the both of yours in the first place other than that it was going just fine. He still was able to be a part of Matt’s life; take him to karate, cub scouts, and struggle to sleep during his many sleep overs.
When Abbey had fallen in love with another man, even though he was a former mutual friend, that was okay. Steward could honestly say that he wished them the best.
It was last summer near the time when “his life began” when they decided to move to Maine and take Matt with them since she had primary custody. Then things were not alright at all anymore. Somehow some part of his heart must have gotten loaded by mistake in the packing. He would never forget the moment when he hugged Matt for the last time: just before his little boy pulled away in a Ryder rental truck. To this day some part of his vision still blurred before the closed rear door of big yellow trucks.
Time to eat. Break the cycle.
As he moved, his sore left bun forced a wince of pain. He went to the kitchen to uncover the dinner that had nearly cost him his life or at least his left bun. The clanking sound of pan being uncovered was always one beat ahead of the scratching at the door. That would be Max. The Max dog. A bone colored Chow Chow.
“C’mon in, Max”, as he opened the door.
Now, one the thing about a Chow is, they trot. Another is they are covered in fur. No, they ARE fur. It is only after examining the fur for some time that you even find the dog. Bouncing fur balls.
Max bounced in displaying his deep purple tongue. (Another Chow thing).
“You wait till I’m done.”
Max cocked his head as if to say, “Why?”.
Max was sort of the fulcrum on which Steward’s teetering struggle between benign and malignant depression had come to rest. A fury fulcrum, but a fulcrum, nonetheless.
Max was sort of understudy for Matt’s first dog. Matt had named the dog Ivy for his own “child’s” reason. Shortly after Matt left for Maine, Ivy escaped in pursuit of a rabbit. He was run over and died instantly.
When Steward carried the lifeless body home he had been nearly as devastated as when his own father had died. In that bleak moment he knew he was clutching the last living link to his son in his arms; something bigger, softer, and deeper had died than a dog named Ivy.
Steward knew his son’s love of the dog. He didn’t know how he would ever tell Matt that he was gone.
Next morning he called Ivy’s kennel and asked if the parents were there. They still were. In fact Mom was getting a little old and had just thrown her last litter with some difficulty; only three pups had survived. One was black, one was red, and the only male dog was bone…like Ivy. A gift from the “Chow”gods. The only brother Ivy would ever have.
Within twenty four hours Steward held the pup in his hands, while on the phone breaking the bad news to Matt, and then following it up with the good news in the pink squeaky sounds tracing over the lines. Mat named his new dog Max for a new “child’s” reason. He had been well suited to the Max handle ever since.
Max remained the fuzzy fulcrum of a soft connection to his boy named Matt.
As if on cue Max shot to his feet like he had nested on a hot rivet. The whip of motion broke Stew’s focus on the wok so he stirred some of the fry to the floor.
Something was very wrong. The crab rice was inches away from his dog’s hair-trigger nose. Max’s focus of sight and scent never shifted from the front door to the treat; not even a little.
A low registered growl some forty feet below hell churned up and out of the dog; a low register that castrated a bassoon. Stew had never heard it before. This was only the prefix for the most ear-splitting, bear bark of alarm ever witnessed in Max or any other dog; any other animal. Something was very wrong or his Max was about to seize.
Had his own mouth bled dry as a reaction to Max’s “Katie bar the door!” eruption or was it the thing itself? Then he knew it was the thing; whatever Max had known first, he was now just beginning know. He knew it like fear racing through him. Humans are just slower.
A loud shearing thump sounded outside of the house like a spear of hot shrapnel had fallen from a meteor or a chunk of the same shot by a hit-man from hell. Max had wadded up the half dozen throw rugs which separated him from the front door just like he always did when anyone was at the door. Then he stopped like he never did. If a dog could paint fear with his body; Max was doing just that. His coat spiked, his back arched, body cowered, in a final tableau of a charge to the finish or a run for your life. Yet, all was quiet after the initial clamor. Max held as though the devil himself wanted in to read the meter.
“S’ok, Max”. Steward said; it was the kind of thing he always told his pet to calm… himself.
He knew it was a lie. Steward didn’t think everything was “ok” on the other side of his front door. If he thought so, he would be doing what he usually did with bumps in the night. He would question and rationalize all the possibilities for logic in three dimensions and then investigate a safe and reasonable theory. But not this time. It wasn’t just one of the things that go thump in the night. He knew it was far more than the house settling, the water softener firing, or an attic squirrel practicing karate.
He knew deep inside something very wrong had happened; like he had just now awakened from one of those not rated nightmares with disease-like symptoms that left him in a cold sweat, feverish, trembling in cries and tears. They didn’t just go away in the reality of the 100 WATS of the bedroom light clarifying a sane world of flannel sheets, water glass and the clock on the bed-side table. No. They hung around; these nocturnal teachers of the darker curriculum to administer the big daddy of final exams prepared by the Grim Reaper; Oh yeah, they were hard questions. How could a nice person get into such an evil place? Huh? That was quite the sexual episode for a nice Christian like yourself. Why did you do that to your lover afterward? And Who was that chasing you? You have such a firm grasp on sanity do you? Than what are you afraid of? Why so vulnerable? Huh? The lights are on. You are safe. You’re in the ultimate ordinary of your bedroom. Why still frightened? Cause maybe that world really does exist somewhere; somewhere not so far away. ?Rub-a-dub-dub…there is the rub.
For the lucky and sane, real time returns things to ordinary; breathing back to normal. The ordeal can be dismissed. We say good-by to Wee Willy Winky and accept his little visit for what it really was; a nasty nightmare.
But what had just happened in Steward Moore’s front yard was still as fresh as new dug grave. It was more than some scratching from Mr.Winky . No. It wasn’t to be dismissed just yet. It was a feeling, a sensation, a warning that man and dog quake in fear to know.