Thursday, May 18, 2017

1 - Bartholomew Makes a Decision

There once was a young man named Bartholomew who was far too young to be on his own, but there he was. Being a little unsure of himself, he could not always tell when people were being sincere or when people were trying to take advantage of him. But when he knew what he wanted to do, that was what he did.

One evening, while enjoying Dionne Warwick songs and his favorite evening meal of fresh hot corn on the cob, apple red onion marmalade, beans and some kale, one of his twelve telephones rang.

Hello,” said Bartholomew.

Hello sir, how are you this evening?” asked the voice on Bartholomew’s cellular telephone.

I am well. Who am I talking to?” asked Bartholomew in return.

My name is Gerald. Can I ask you how the siding is on your house?”

Before Bartholomew could answer, Gerald continued, “Did you know that there are some excellent advantages to having vinyl siding on your home, from increased insulation, thus reducing your heating bill, to additional security from adverse weather, thus reducing your insurance costs? We all could use a little more money in our pockets, couldn’t we? I know I could. Couldn’t you, sir?”

Bartholomew didn’t want to answer. He wanted to get back to his corn, marmalade, beans and kale before they got too cold or too warm or too wilty. But it was true that he could use more money in his pocket, and it sounded like vinyl siding would do the trick. Bartholomew tried to imagine the amount of money he would save on his heating bill.

Compared to most people, Bartholomew did not have a lot of money or possessions. He did own a house, but it was modest - just big enough for him and his cat, Oliver. He did have furniture and household items he inherited from his parents. He did have twelve phones, eight toasters and three televisions (non-digital). All of these items were on sale when he bought them and each was a good deal that saved him money but, somehow, he always felt poorer once he purchased them. Many of these items no longer worked. In general, Bartholomew was happy with his life and what he had was enough for him. Yet this offer seemed, for some reason, very compelling.

Of course, I would love to have extra money in my pocket,” said Bartholomew. Before Gerald could continue, Bartholomew added, “Does the siding come in different colors, because, although I like my house, I always thought I would want my house to be blue – dark blue. It is just something I have always wanted and if I were to buy siding, I think I would want it dark blue.”

Yesssss, sir! We do have a dark blue siding. I tell you what, sir…uhm, what is your name, sir?”

My name is Bartholomew,” said Bartholomew

I tell you what, Bartholomew. I’ll come over, look at your house and give you an estimate. If you like, we could start siding your house and start saving money tomorrow! How does that sound Bart?”
My name is Bartholomew.”
“Sorry, I meant Bartholomew. I hope there is no offense,” said Gerald, barely concealing his insincerity.

“None taken,” said Bartholomew as he scratched his chin, a little bit annoyed.

“If you’re home, I’ll come over right now and start saving you money,” said Gerald.

“Yes, I’m home now, but…” Bartholomew did not finish his sentence before there was a knock on his door.

Bartholomew was annoyed that he was on the telephone, which was distracting him from his favorite music and his lovely meal, and now he also had to answer the door. His parents had both been good cooks and stressed the importance of good healthy food and slowing down to enjoy dinner. Bartholomew was not yet a good cook, but he at least tried to take his time while eating. He sighed, “Wait a minute,” into the telephone and got up to answer the door.

Oliver raced to the door before Bartholomew. With his back arched and his hair on end, Oliver hissed at what was waiting on the front stoop. To Bartholomew’s surprise, when he opened the door, Gerald was waiting with his telephone to his ear.

Hello, Bartholomew,” said Gerald into the telephone and to Bartholomew’s face.

Hello, Gerald,” said Bartholomew as he hung-up his phone. “I’m glad you are so prompt, but I really want to…”

Grabbing some political literature off Bartholomew’s doorknob and entering the house, Gerald said, “This will only take but a minute,” and he twitched his mustache from side to side. He handed Bartholomew the literature, which Bartholomew noticed was in support of Mayor Dick and Senator Jane.

This is a small house. I am sure it won’t take too much siding to cover it. It probably will only take a day or two at most to complete the job,” said Gerald. He wrote some scribbley words and numbers on a piece of paper. Then he stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth, squinted his eyes and looked into the air - as if he was thinking. He scribbled down more words and numbers. Then, out of his pocket, he pulled a tape measure for measuring Bartholomew’s house. Gerald ran pell-mell around the outside of the house, jumping up here, crouching down there and stretching his arms and the tape measure as far as he could. Bartholomew followed him, observing this strange man who wore overalls with the lower half of one leg missing over a plaid shirt with one long sleeve and one short.

As they came to the back yard, Bartholomew looked up at his family oak tree that had been planted by his great grandfather. The giant oak tree was a hundred and fifty years old and its gnarled branches spread out over his whole back yard and over parts of his neighbor’s yards, too. Bartholomew and his whole family were proud of this tree.

Once he was done, Gerald shoved a piece of paper at Bartholomew and said, “This is how much it will cost. It’s the best price you’ll find. I am sure you’ll be happy with it and we can start tomorrow, if you like.”

Bartholomew looked at the piece of paper and could not understand a single thing that was written on it. There were numbers and words and what looked like a mayonnaise stain, but none of the scratchings connected into anything he understood.

Gerald shifted in his overalls slightly and then said, “I’m sure you can see what a good deal this is, Bartholomew.”

Oh yes,” said Bartholomew, not wanting to let on that he didn’t understand anything on the paper.

Gooood!” said Gerald as he twitched his mustache again.

If you could just sign it on the bottom, Bartholomew, then my crews can get started saving you money,” said Gerald.

Bartholomew didn’t feel good about signing the paper but, being a trustworthy soul and not knowing what else to do, he signed it.

Gerald smiled a greasy kind of smile and said, “Thank you.”

Bartholomew felt somehow that he had done something wrong. He wasn’t sure what, but he did not feel right.

Well, poor Bartholomew had a crew of fifteen workers, including three of Gerald’s sons, siding his house for the next two weeks. When they were done, his yard was nothing but mud littered with nails, the lowest branch of the beloved family oak tree was snapped off, the siding was pastel orange and, for some reason, his front doorknob was missing! Whenever he protested to Gerald, Gerald would point to the bottom or the back of the piece of paper Bartholomew had signed, where there was a bunch of small scribbles. Gerald would begin, “It says right here…” and then Bartholomew would shake inside because he felt that he really had done something wrong when he signed that paper.

By the time the project was over and Gerald was long gone, Bartholomew, who until now, did not have much, had even less. He was so poor, for the next month he could only eat one of his favorite items at a meal instead of three or four. One day, while succumbing to a cheap meal at the Donkey Burger restaurant, Bartholomew decided that maybe he couldn’t trust his own decision making abilities and he needed to find some friends to help him.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mark Granlund

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

2 - Gerald Teaches a Life Lesson

One day Gerald assured himself that his three sons, Xavier, Khua and Mo, had benefited greatly over the years from his wisdom and deep insights about life. The result of his example surely would mean his sons would become successful. He also assumed that his only daughter, Geraldine, would, because of his example, find a man successful like himself. Yet, he realized, because he was so busy trying to cheat people out of their money and because he didn’t like children, he had never spoken to them directly about the important things in life. He decided he would begin to take a more direct route of sharing his life’s lessons with his children on occasion, when it struck him. And, at this moment in time, it was striking him.

He found the boys with The Nanny in the parlor. The boys were too old to have a nanny, but Gerald was too pre-occupied to notice these things.

Xavier, Khua, Mo! Come over here!” commanded Gerald.

The boys rushed over to his side because, since Gerald so seldom spoke to them, they figured it was important when he did.

Now boys,” Gerald began, “Have a seat. I think it is time I tell you something important, something that, when you are older, you will thank me for. This world isn’t a easy…this world is not easy a place…It’s not easy, in this world, to be successful like me. It takes a certain attitude, a certain resolve.”

The boys leaned in closer.

Gerald adjusted his sea foam colored tie and continued.

I have worked hard my whole life to get where I am. I’m not proud of everything I have done, but I haven’t ever really done anything wrong. I want to share with you something my father, your grandfather, (rest his soul) told me when I was your age. He shared this with me just before he died and it has been one of the keys to my success.”

The boys leaned in even closer.

Xavier, Khua, Mo, if you ever find yourselves on a deserted island with one other person and there is only enough food for one of you, you will have to kill that other person.”

The boys sat quiet for some time pondering what they had just been told. Finally, Xavier raised his hand. His father nodded at him to speak.

So, if we find ourselves on a deserted island with another person, and there is only enough food for one person, you want the three of us to kill this other person?”

No, not the three of you, just the one of you,” answered Gerald, a little annoyed.

Like, which one?” asked Khua.

Which one what?” asked Gerald

Which one of us should, like, kill this other person?”

The one of you on the island, of course!” answered their father.

But aren’t we all on the island?” asked Mo.

No, no, no,” cried Gerald as he ran his hand through his thinning hair. “Just one of you is on the island with one other person. Then, in order to survive you will have to kill that other person.”

But what if that other person is Mo?” asked Xavier.

Because, like, if it’s one of these two,” Khua said pointing at his brothers, “I would rather kill Xavier. Can I choose who I’m on the island with?”

Gerald turned away in frustration. “NO! You are not on the island together. There’s just one of you and one other person!”

What if the other person is their mother?” asked The Nanny who was still in the room.

In unison, all three boys answered, “I wouldn’t kill Mom! Dad, don’t make us kill Mom!”

NO! NO!,” Gerald yelled, turning red, “Your mothers are not on the island!” Gerald said this because all three boys have a different mother. “LOOK! There are only two people on the deserted island, one of you and someone you have never met before! It is a stranger you are going to have to kill!”

The boys were quiet again, pondering what their father was telling them. After awhile, Mo raised his hand.

Yes, Mo,” Gerald said.

Um, so there’s only going to be enough dessert for one?”

Gerald couldn’t control himself and, in a rage, grabbed his own shirt with both hands and pulled, popping all of the buttons. The boys ducked the projectiles.


Now, the boys were very quiet, their eyes wide and their mouths open. Even The Nanny stopped what she was doing and looked horrified.

Gerald glared at them for a moment and then asked, “WHAT?”

Xavier hesitated, afraid to ask the question but even more afraid of the answer he might hear. “Have you ever killed someone, dad?”

Before their father could answer, Khua interrupted in a cautious quiet voice, “Yeah, you didn’t, like, kill Grandpa, did you?”

Gerald’s eyes grew big, his nostrils flared and the hair on his head straightened out like knives. If he had a heart, it would have had an attack.

In a very low growling voice, he answered, “No, I have not killed Grandpa. No, I have not killed anyone – directly. And, yes, sometimes I think I want to kill the three of you.” Spit was dripping from his lower lip as he pointed his trembling finger at them. “You boys had better toughen up. Nobody’s going to help you in this world…not even me.”  And with that Gerald turned and strode out of the room like a mass of smoldering coal with legs. 
The boys again sat quiet for awhile, pondering what their father had told them.

The Nanny slowly approached them. “Boys, can we agree that if you ever are stranded on a deserted island with me or Geraldine that we wouldn’t kill each other?”

We wouldn’t want to kill you, The Nanny,” they said in unison.

Yeah, maybe we could just, like, eat less,” said Khua.

Maybe, we could also work together to find more food until we get rescued,” offered The Nanny.

If it’s only, like, bananas and cocoanuts, you can, like, have it all,” said Khua.

Xavier said nothing but looked at the doorway where he last saw his father. He looked at the family crest above the fireplace, and then he got up to go be by himself in his room. The Nanny watched him leave with concern in her heart.

What’s a deserted island?” asked Mo.

Written by Mark Granlund Illustrations by Matt Wells

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

3 - Geraldine

Geraldine was standing behind Bartholomew at an ATM machine. She saw him remove quite a bit of money from the machine and stuff it into the pocket of his plaid shorts. She decided she wanted to know him better. She followed Bartholomew to a nearby restaurant with tables and chairs on the sidewalk and live music wafting from inside. She sat down at the same table with him.

Hello,” said Geraldine, “How are you today?”

Oh…hello,” said Bartholomew, a little shocked to see that someone had sat at the table with him.

Do you mind if I eat with you? You just look so interesting and kind, I thought it would be sorta nice to share some food.” Geraldine said this while blushing a little and batting her eyes.

Now, with most women, being so forward as to sit at a table with a stranger would not be necessary to get a man’s attention. But Geraldine was the most unattractive young woman in the whole city and had become accustomed to being quite forward with men she wanted to get to know.

Bartholomew did not answer right away. He wasn’t sure about eating food with Geraldine. Bartholomew was turned off. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the numerous large pimples on her face, the cavernous nostrils of her upturned nose with whatever was in them plainly visible to the world (and today there was quite a lot to see), the crooked discolored teeth, the huge yellow eyes or the dirty bushy hair that looked like it would jump off her head if it wasn’t attached. Maybe it was the words of the song coming from the restaurant, “…life ain’t worth living if you’re living for mistakes, it ain’t worth living at all…” Or maybe it was the strange, low-level feeling inside that she was not here to be kind to him. But, Bartholomew, being a polite and kind young man, couldn’t see a good reason to say no, so he said “Yes, well, I would enjoy your company.”

When the food arrived, (Bartholomew ordered organic creamed corn, avocado salad and lingonberry juice) Geraldine leaned in toward Bartholomew and said:

You really are nice looking. I mean you are attractive, but you also look like someone who is nice to people.”

Bartholomew blushed a little. He was not used to young women telling him he was attractive. But he had to agree that he was kind to people. It was one of Bartholomew’s strengths that he always tried to be polite and kind.

Thank you,” he said, “you are so kind to say so.”

Well,” responded Geraldine, “I am as kind as I am pretty.” She spread her lips into a wide smile that engulfed her face and showed even more crooked teeth. She also let out what was meant to be a cute little giggle, which sounded more like a snort that ended with an odd nausea-inducing gurgle.

They spent the next half-hour eating and in a conversation that can be best described as awkward, inconsistent and uncomfortable. Each time Bartholomew began to talk, especially the times when he would begin to share something about himself, Geraldine would interrupt him with a story or comment of her own. But, at the beginning or the end of each comment or story, Geraldine would compliment Bartholomew. In this manner, like an unaware frog slowly being boiled to death, Bartholomew fell in love.

By the end of the meal Bartholomew was so happy to have found someone who saw the best in him that he didn’t even notice when Geraldine let him pay for her raw hamburger and limp, greasy fries. _______________________________________________________
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mark Granlund

Monday, May 15, 2017

4 - Uncle Jeffrey the Violinist

          When Bartholomew’s parents died, his Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine offered to take Bartholomew into their home. When Bartholomew decided to stay in his parents’ house and live on his own, Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine took it upon themselves to act as his guardians and advisers. Bartholomew was thankful for this and at the same time found it disconcerting. There are some very rare situations when a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, and this is what happened with Bartholomew’s parents and Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine. Uncle Jeffrey was Bartholomew’s father’s younger brother and Aunt Josephine was Bartholomew’s mother’s younger sister. To make matters even more difficult for Bartholomew, and the main reason why he did not want to live with Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine, was that each set of siblings looked very similar. So, when Bartholomew would talk with Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine, he felt as if he was talking to an odd and unconvincing imitation of his parents.

          Although it was difficult at times to be around his Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey, Bartholomew had a soft spot for his Uncle Jeffrey because of a story he had heard about him from his father. Both Bartholomew’s father and Uncle Jeffrey lost their own father when Uncle Jeffrey was six years old. This, of course, was devastating for both brothers, as the loss of a parent is, but Uncle Jeffrey lost a father twice.

           About the time his father died, Uncle Jeffrey was showing a great natural talent for the violin and had started taking lessons from a gentleman named Master Czoza. Master Czoza had taken Uncle Jeffrey under his wing and Uncle Jeffrey focused his grief from his father’s death into his violin playing.

           Uncle Jeffrey,” Master Czoza would say, “you must pull the bow straight across the strings, do not pull it like a teeter-totter! Now, try again, fifty times. Give me a C with a straight strong pull on the bow. DO NOT ARC. Now go.”

           Uncle Jeffrey did his best to please Master Czoza. He never talked back, he never wavered.

           As the years went by Uncle Jeffrey became a young impresario giving concerts at more and more impressive venues. Yet, Master Czoza was never satisfied with Uncle Jeffrey’s playing. One day, Master Czoza addressed Uncle Jeffrey.

           Uncle Jeffrey, you have been studying violin with me for twelve years now. Have I taught you to love your violin?”

           "Yes,” Uncle Jeffrey answered.

           “No, you cannot love your violin. It is your tool; it is your slave. It is there for you to shape into beauty, for you to mold it into an expression of love. Do not love your violin. Make your violin into something youlove.”

           Uncle Jeffrey stared at him.

           “Do you understand?”

           “No,” said Uncle Jeffrey.

           “My son, you are a great talent. You can play a violin like few your age. You are even better than I was at your age,” Master Czoza said looking into Uncle Jeffrey’s eyes. He then turned away and said, “Your future could be unlimited if you begin to play from deep within yourself. Technically, you can master anything-- given enough time.”

          “Are you ready for the challenge of your life?” he asked in his calm but strong voice.

Uncle Jeffrey said nothing. He hesitated and then nodded his head.

Master Czoza strode over to his piano and pulled sheet music off the top of a tipping stack of papers and books. He handed it to Uncle Jeffrey.

This sonatina is from a little known composer from the late 18th Century. I have no doubt you will probably be able to play the notes without fail after three tries. It will not be technically challenging for you. But, if you can make it into something that expresses your most inner self, it will reach into the souls of all who hear it and give to them what they most desire. You will know you have played this piece rightly when you see me cry. And believe me, Uncle Jeffrey, I have not cried in a very, very long time.”

Over the next several weeks, Uncle Jeffrey played nothing else. The song ran through his head every minute of the day. Twice a week, he would go to Master Czoza’s studio and play the sonatina. Two months had passed, and Master Czoza had nothing but derision for Uncle Jeffrey. He called Uncle Jeffrey names like “lumpy fingers,” “bow man, row man,” and a few things too harsh to repeat.

Uncle Jeffrey kept at the song as summer turned into fall and fall into winter. He stopped performing for audiences and soon had no desire to play any other song but this one great challenge. Those who heard him play could find nothing wrong with the song and said it was quite beautiful. But Master Czoza still would not release Uncle Jeffrey from his quest.

With each stroke of the bow, Uncle Jeffrey began to imagine Master Czoza beginning to cry; water gathering on his lower eyelid and then pouring over the dam and streaking down his cheeks. He knew there would be no noise when Master Czoza cried. It would be a deep seated stirring that would rise silently to the surface to erupt into nothing more than maybe a drop or two - maybe a quiver of the lip. As small a response as that would seem to some, Uncle Jeffrey dedicated his life to it.

One day, while playing the counterpoint in his sonatina, images of Master Czoza came to him. Master Czoza was not crying in these imaginings, but a smile slowly wriggled its way across his lips and it seemed he was about to laugh. Master Czoza did not laugh often, but when he did, Uncle Jeffrey knew that his master was pleased with him. Uncle Jeffrey’s father came to mind. He loved his father and missed him greatly, but during this challenge he had thought seldom of him. While he was thinking about his father, the counterpoint he was playing suddenly took on a life that Uncle Jeffrey had never imagined. He played the same notes he had always played but it sounded like a completely new and different song. Uncle Jeffrey became very excited and ran off to Master Czoza’s studio.

Master Czoza sat in silence, as he normally did after hearing the sonatina. But this time a smile slowly wriggled across his lips.

You are getting somewhere, Uncle Jeffrey. I am very pleased. I am not about to cry, but I am very pleased.”

The next few weeks saw Uncle Jeffrey happier than he had been since his father’s death. Since that sad loss at age six, Uncle Jeffrey was not one to talk much about his father. But now he began to talk with his brother, Bartholomew’s father, about their father. He began to laugh about memories, he began to cry because his heart was broken, and he began to want to be happy.

Each week Master Czoza began to smile bigger and even started to laugh. When Uncle Jeffrey played the sonatina the room filled with brightness and levity. The sun shone stronger, colors seemed brighter, smells seemed more aromatic and food-- even small morsels-- became full of flavor.

One day, after a particularly good performance for Master Czoza, Uncle Jeffrey said, “I do think I have become a most excellent violin player. I owe all of this to you Master Czoza.” He bowed, took Master Czoza’s hand and kissed it in reverence.

Master Czoza slowly removed his hand from Uncle Jeffrey’s lips.

Yes, Uncle Jeffrey, you have become quite excellent. You will make people happy with your music. Have you tried to play any other pieces lately?” Master Czoza asked.

No, I have dedicated myself to this sonatina you have set before me.”

With that, Uncle Jeffrey picked up his violin and began to play from memory a concerto by Mozart. The room swirled with brilliance and Uncle Jeffrey had the sense that even the immortal Mozart would be pleased with his performance.

Master Czoza was applauding.

Yes, yes. That was remarkable. Very splendid. You are to be greatly admired, Uncle Jeffrey. But, if I may correct you, I did not give you a task. I gave you a challenge, and that challenge is still unfulfilled.

But why should I seek to make you cry if I can make you laugh and smile? Are you so cynical that you cannot see the value in this?” Uncle Jeffrey ignored a twinge of regret in his bones for acting arrogantly toward Master Czoza.

There certainly is great value in making people smile and laugh. But the greatest tragedy and the greatest comedy both end in the same place: tears. I have enjoyed your growth and the brilliance you exhibit, but my eyes and my soul are as dry as the Gobi.”

Master Czoza raised his hands to hold Uncle Jeffrey’s face.

My son, I hope one day you will make me cry. I do not care if it is because I feel a great joy in my heart or because I feel a great tragedy. If you can reach into my soul and release my burden, you will have given my soul what it most needs. You still have one more lesson to learn, my son, and this lesson is even harder than what you have learned this past year and a half.”

Uncle Jeffrey went home angry that night. He had brought such joy to Master Czoza yet the teacher had such disregard for Uncle Jeffrey’s talent. He wasn’t going to spend another year and a half under the tutelage of this malcontented fiddle player. He stayed up much of the night planning to leave Master Czoza and planning to play for audiences who would love his talent. His audiences would dance and sing and laugh to his music. Everyone would be happy and thankful to Uncle Jeffrey for making life so much more enjoyable. He decided never to play that silly little sonatina again. He finally fell asleep with the sound of the cheering crowds playing in his head.

The sun was well up by the time Uncle Jeffrey’s mother knocked on his door to tell him that during the night Master Czoza had died. Uncle Jeffrey said nothing.

Arrangements were made for Master Czoza’s funeral and Uncle Jeffrey was nothing but stunned silence during the days that intervened. Master Czoza had no family, but there were innumerable people whom he had taught over the years and the people he knew from his own days of being a performer. Hundreds of people would attend and, although he was only nineteen years old, Uncle Jeffrey was asked to say something at the funeral. Uncle Jeffrey was in such shock that he had agreed to this without thinking about what he should say.

The funeral arrived and the cathedral was full. There were many dignitaries and some of the finest classical musicians from around the world. Many people were crying as the priest and some of Master Czoza’s friends talked about what a great and inspiring man Master Czoza was. Just before the funeral, Uncle Jeffrey realized he would not survive giving a speech about his master, his friend-- his second father. He decided to play something on his violin. He felt unprepared as he knew he could make people laugh and smile, but that was not what was needed here. He decided to do his best with a piece by Brahms he hadn’t played in a few years.

Walking to the podium, the solemn crowd suddenly seemed large – very large. Uncle Jeffrey hadn’t played in front of a crowd in over a year. He closed his eyes and lifted his violin to his chin hoping he could get through this without embarrassing himself as Master Czoza’s most promising student. He imagined Master Czoza laughing at him as he began the Brahms song. The bow seemed to drag heavily along the strings. His fingers seemed too thick for the neck of the violin. Lost in his grief at having failed Master Czoza’s challenge and at having lost a “father” twice while still young, Uncle Jeffrey did not notice that halfway through the prelude the song turned on a c-sharp into a different tune. The bow began to flow smoothly on the strings and Uncle Jeffrey’s fingers loosened as he began to play the sonatina.

Uncle Jeffrey’s broken heart began to spew forth memories of his father and Master Czoza. Tears began to gather on his lower eyelid and then poured over the dam and streaked down his cheeks. The people who were listening became silent. They had never heard anything so beautiful. The musicians sat stunned. The congregation listened to the point of tears. Everyone was transfixed on Uncle Jeffrey as the notes of the sonatina swirled through their hearts and souls. As his fingers and bow moved over the body of the violin, it did not produce a single sound. The music, this simple short sonata which Uncle Jeffrey had burned into his heart, was now coming from him, not the violin. With each breath, in cascaded the deep loss his soul had felt all these years and that he would feel for the rest of his life. With each fingering and pull of his bow expelled an immortal hope for wholeness. Uncle Jeffrey played on, not fully realizing that it was notes of the sonatina expressing his most inner self.

Up near the ceiling, floated Master Czoza’s soul. He was not smiling or laughing. He was crying. His tears fell one each on each person’s soul in rhythm to the sonatina. As Uncle Jeffrey began to close the song, Master Czoza came to stand in front of him. He wiped away Uncle Jeffrey’s tears. He held Uncle Jeffrey’s head in his hands and as one of Master Czoza’s tears fell on him, he said to him, “Congratulations, my son, you have completed the challenge. Your father is so proud of you.”

With that, Master Czoza evaporated.

Following this incident, Bartholomew’s Uncle Jeffrey could not play the violin without the grief of his losses overwhelming him. He played less and less, and eventually he put the violin in the closet and played for no one.

                                 *               *              *

In the brief period between his parent’s deaths and their funeral, Bartholomew did stay with Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine. Late one night he woke from a bad dream. While trying to fall back to sleep, he thought he heard someone crying and quietly playing a violin.

Written by Mark Granlund
Illustration by Martha Iserman

Sunday, May 14, 2017

5 - Bartholomew and Geraldine

          Bartholomew and Geraldine had been dating each other for two weeks when Bartholomew asked her to come to his house for dinner and meet Oliver, his cat. Oliver felt he was responsible for Bartholomew since Bartholomew was so young and without his parents. When his parents had died, which was only two years earlier, he inherited the house, including Oliver. He had been just two weeks away from his eighteenth birthday when his parents died. By the time everything got sorted out by Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey, Bartholomew had turned eighteen-- old enough to inherit the house and live on his own if he wanted. If it hadn’t been for Oliver, Bartholomew had no idea how he would have survived the last two years. If it hadn’t been for Bartholomew, Oliver knew exactly how he would have survived. 
          Oliver knew something important was about to happen the way Bartholomew was dashing about, cleaning and cooking. Oliver walked over to Bartholomew and rubbed against his legs.

          “Oh, Oliver!” said a startled Bartholomew. He bent down and rubbed Oliver’s back.

          “Oh, Oliver, why do I feel like something bad is about to happen, like I am going to do something wrong – screw everything up? I wish this feeling would go away.”

          “Maybe it is because you are trying to cook—not one of your more successful skills,” answered Oliver with a purr.

          “I wish I knew better how to cook. Well, I can’t burn beet and bean sprout sandwiches and salad. And I just have to warm up the organic roasted parsnip soup. As long as I watch that closely I should be okay,” said Bartholomew.

           Oliver purred, “Well, it is not the most difficult, or the tastiest, but it should be sufficient.”

           Bartholomew put the soup on the stove over a low flame and set the table. He walked into the living room, grabbed newspapers, magazines and some books that were lying on the furniture. He picked up some socks from the floor and threw everything in the closet. He turned on some Dionne Warwick music. Oliver followed Bartholomew around the house.

           “Oh, Oliver, I haven’t told you, but I have been seeing someone for the last two weeks. Her name is Geraldine. She is a very nice woman who really likes me. She will be here for dinner in about ten minutes.”

           Oliver froze mid-step. Bartholomew sat down on the sofa.

           “Come here, Oliver,” Bartholomew said as he patted the sofa cushion. Oliver jumped up on the back of the sofa and buried his head against Bartholomew’s.

           “How come you didn’t tell me earlier? You know I like to know what is going on with you. You know I am responsible for you – purrrrrrrrr.”

           “I wish my parents were here,” said Bartholomew. He sank further back into the sofa.

           Oliver said nothing and climbed down into Bartholomew’s lap. He let Bartholomew rub his back, which made them both feel better. Oliver was settling in for a long back rub when suddenly all of his senses went on alert. He stood up in Bartholomew’s lap, his back arched. He looked at the door and let out a low growl and a hiss. 
           “Bartholomew, there is something out there! Something dangerous! Something unnatural! We should go hide in the closet.”

           The door bell rang. Bartholomew stood up, dumping Oliver onto the floor.

           “No Bartholomew, don’t answer it!”

           “What’s wrong with you Oliver? Stop your hissing,” said Bartholomew as he walked to the door.

           Oliver hid behind the edge of the sofa where he would be available, if needed, to protect Bartholomew.

           The door opened and there stood what Oliver thought was a true-to-life monster. He bolted towards the door, “NO BARTHOLOMEW! STAND BACK! I WILL SAVE YOU!”

           “OLIVER!” yelled Bartholomew as he closed the door on Geraldine. “Don’t make me put you in the bedroom! Now you behave for Geraldine.” Bartholomew opened the door again.

           “I am so sorry. I don’t know why my cat is acting so strange. Come on in Geraldine.”

           “Thank you, Bartholomew,” Geraldine replied with a smile and a very wet peck on his cheek.

           After Bartholomew closed the door, he turned to show Geraldine to the dining room and found Oliver backed into a corner, his fur on end.

           “Now stop it!” said Bartholomew to Oliver.

           Geraldine smiled at Oliver. “That’s surprising. Most pussies like me,” said Geraldine.

I don’t know what’s got into him,” excused Bartholomew.

Geraldine and Bartholomew moved to the kitchen to make sandwiches and salad. Oliver found it difficult to relax. He decided he needed to be in a safer place, but nearby. He jumped up onto a chair and then to the top of the china hutch. He lay quietly up there, watching, waiting in case he would have to strike.

Bartholomew and Geraldine entered the dining room and put their salad and sandwiches on the table.
So is this like the appetizers or some kind of California thing?” Geraldine asked as she looked doubtfully at the food on her plate.

Bartholomew said nothing but walked over to the hutch, opened a door and pulled out a gift for Geraldine.

Here, Geraldine. Here is a gift for you.”

Geraldine’s yellow eyes grew large and her hands immediately reached for it.

Oh, Sweetypie, you didn’t have to get me anything,” Geraldine said without taking her eyes off the gift. She quickly removed the wrapping.

Ohhhhhh!” Geraldine squealed when she saw a box from a jewelry store.

Oh, Baby, YOU are so sweet,” she said with a great big smile.

She opened up the box. Oliver stuck his head out from the top of the hutch to see what Bartholomew had bought her.

Aaaahhhh!” Geraldine screamed. “Oh, I love them! I love you! How did you know? These are so precious,” Geraldine said as she held the large gold earrings up to her ears and looked at her reflection in the glass door of the hutch.

How did I know?!” Bartholomew asked. “You only talked about them for twenty minutes the other day, but I figured if that’s what my baby wants, that’s what my baby gets.”

Oliver’s hair stood on end and his claws dug into the top of the hutch. He knew Bartholomew shouldn’t be spending that much money on someone as monstrous as Geraldine.

Come here, Baby,” Geraldine said to Bartholomew. “I am going to give you the biggest kiss.” Bartholomew and Geraldine stood with arms wrapped around each other and they kissed. Oliver could not bear to watch. It was a long, loud and sloppy kiss. Not only was Oliver mad, now he was repulsed.

Mmmm, you taste so good,” said Geraldine. “You know what I wanna do with you now, Bart?”

What do you want to do to me, Gerald…deen?” replied Bartholomew

BART! Oliver couldn’t believe his ears. Bartholomew never lets anyone call him Bart. Why was Bartholomew so possessed by her? Why couldn’t he see how bad she was for him? Oliver peered over the side of the hutch to see the two of them still embracing, still kissing. Geraldine reached down and grabbed Bartholomew’s right hand and placed it on her breast. With her right hand she reached down and began to rub Bartholomew’s crotch.

MMMEEEEEOOOOOWWWWW!!!!!” Oliver leapt from the hutch, claws extended. He landed on Geraldine’s head and almost fell off, pulling all of Geraldine’s bushy hair with him.

OLIVER!” shouted Bartholomew.

Oliver tried to swat at Geraldine from on top of her head, but her hair was so full of knots and snags that his claws became entangled. Bartholomew tried to hold onto Geraldine so she wouldn’t fall over while also trying to grab Oliver. Geraldine grabbed onto Bartholomew’s belt and continued rubbing his crotch.

Geraldine,” cried Bartholomew over the loud meows and hisses coming from Oliver, “you have a cat attacking your head!”

Oh Bart, I want you so bad,” Geraldine said, barely audible above the sound of furniture moving and plates and glasses crashing.

Then the smoke alarm went off and Bartholomew and Oliver noticed the smell of burnt soup coming from the kitchen.

Oh no!” said Bartholomew as he tried to rush to the kitchen. But Geraldine had a strong grasp of his belt and her hand was still between his legs, so he fell to the floor.

Geraldine was on him in a second trying to undo his belt with a crazed cat in her hair, alarms going off and smoke starting to fill the room. Bartholomew threw her off, got to his feet, and ran to the kitchen. He grabbed the pot off the stove and threw it in the sink. He turned off the burner. He scrambled onto the counter and was reaching up to turn off the alarm when Geraldine grabbed Bartholomew around the legs - her face at the same level as his crotch. She murmured “Oh, Bart,” and buried her face into him.

Despite all of the chaos, Bartholomew suddenly had clarity. He calmly turned off the alarm. He reached down, grabbed Oliver around the stomach and helped him get his claws unstuck from Geraldine’s mass of hair. Bartholomew threw Oliver into the dining room. Oliver immediately resumed his station on top of the hutch.

Bartholomew looked down at Geraldine, who was licking the zipper on his jeans and making some kind of animal noises. He carefully moved Geraldine out of the way so he could get off the counter. She wrapped her arms around him and started kissing his neck.

Bartholomew pulled her close and whispered into her ear, “Geraldine, did you notice my cat attacking your head?”

Yes, I did,” Geraldine said in a pouty kind of baby voice. “And you were so bwave and stwong to come to my wescue. Let me reward you, Bart.”

Geraldine,” Bartholomew said, peeling her off one arm at a time, “my name is Bartholomew.”

But, but…,” said Geraldine.

Maybe we should have this dinner another time. I need to air out the house and calm down my cat. Then I need to clean up this mess. Let’s try this again later, okay?”

OK,” she said as she rubbed his nipples through his t-shirt. “You’re so smart. Where’s my earrings?”

She found them on the floor, picked them up and walked to the door. She turned and beckoned to Bartholomew with her finger. He walked over to her.

You call me. Maybe you can take me out for steak next time. Maybe see a show.” She gave him a peck on the cheek and walked out the door.

Bartholomew turned to witness a disaster site: dining room table and chairs knocked over, glasses, plates and food on the floor and smoke still hanging against the ceiling. He began to clean up, and then he heard Oliver on top of the hutch.

And you!” Bartholomew said. “You! What got in to you? Your behavior was totally insane. You are an insane cat!” Oliver leapt down and skulked over to the sofa.

After cleaning the dining room, Bartholomew finally sat down with Oliver. Bartholomew reached out his hand and began to pet him.

Purr - didn’t I warn you something dangerous was at the door? Why don’t you listen to me? You shouldn’t be seeing her. She is shallow, just wants you to spend money on her and is obviously in heat all the time.”

Oh, Oliver,” said Bartholomew. “Sometimes I am so confused. I know you don’t like her, but she calls me sweet names and says nice things about me all the time. And I don’t have anybody else. I’m twenty years old, and I am still a virgin. I know that’s not that bad, but I couldn’t even imagine being close to someone the last two years while I was dealing with my parents’ deaths. But now I want someone. I’m tired of being alone.”

Oliver flicked his tail and wrapped it around Bartholomew’s arm.

You have me,” he purred.

I’m so glad I have you Oliver. I don’t know what I would have done these last two years without you. But…you’re—you’re not a person. You’re not a girl.”

Oliver crawled into Bartholomew’s lap wishing to resume the backrub that was so rudely interrupted.

Well, we could have you spayed,” Oliver said cattily.


Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mary Esch