Tuesday, February 14, 2017

32 - Xavier Wants Something



Xavier wanted something, but what he wanted was unclear to him. Whatever it was he wanted he wanted it badly. Being a young man of action, this need drove him to scour his environment for opportunities to move him closer to his destination. But, not knowing what he truly wanted, he often took actions that brought him no joy, and only a short rush of excitement. Xavier was smart. If only he would have taken some time (maybe a day, maybe a year) to think about what he truly wanted, he might have figured it out. But his need for action and excitement always short-circuited his contemplation.

One sunny summer day, Xavier was walking along the railroad tracks, his hands in his pockets. The sound of a train engine arose behind him. It was a train loaded down with new automobiles on their way to dealers. The sides of the train cars were covered with a mesh so the automobiles would not get damaged by debris – or people like Xavier. Xavier fancied himself more athletic than he really was, and thought he could probably throw a rock right through some holes in the mesh and break a window of one of the new cars.

Xavier picked up one of the many rocks in the rail bed that seemed to him the right size. He waited a moment while judging the speed of the train and then let it fly. The rock ricocheted off the mesh and landed again in the rail bed. Xavier threw another rock. This time he threw it harder. Same result. The third rock he threw madder. Same result. His lack of positive results got him down. The fourth rock he threw sadder. Same result. Then a switch flipped inside Xavier and he threw rock after rock at the cars as he became enraged. Same result. The train passed and Xavier, feeling depressed, disgusted and disdainful continued to walk the rails with his hands in his pockets.

A rush of excitement was the usual tonic for Xavier’s bad moods. Destroying things always brought a rush. The bigger the thing, the bigger the rush. But again, if Xavier would have thought about what he really wanted at this point he might have realized that a rush of excitement paled in comparison to actual satisfaction.

Now Xavier was mad at the trains. He had a brilliant idea to break windows and the train had denied him. What if he could derail a train? That would be exciting and very satisfying – or so he thought. Xavier began to look around for debris he could place on the tracks to try to derail a train. There wasn’t much around, a lot of rocks, a few thick metal spikes, trees…what if he could put a car on the tracks? That would be cool. But he had seen enough movies to realize that trains just push cars off the tracks after crumpling them and making them explode. There was no way Xavier could move something big enough in to the path of the train to make it derail. This thought disappointed him.

He walked further along the tracks. Surely, Xavier had enough time to contemplate why he wanted to destroy a train. He had enough time to ponder many things about himself. Instead, he was distracted by a crow in a tree that wagged its head and sounded like it was saying “tsk, tsk.” He noticed bugs flying around his head. He felt the heat of the sun on his neck. He thought about how he would like to own half the town some day like his dad. That would be an achievement. People would look up to him and if they didn’t, he could fire them, or put them out of business, or have them arrested. Xavier heard another “tsk, tsk” from the crow that flapped its wings and disappeared into the blue sky.


Why did things seem so hard? Why did things never turn out the way he wanted? One big giant rush of excitement was just what he needed to help set him straight.

Xavier saw a figure coming down the rail toward him. The figure wore a robe with a hood and sandals and held a bowl in his hand. Xavier decided to take whatever this person had. Usually, Xavier had his brother Khua do the dirty work of roughing people up, but this time he would have to do it. He was becoming excited.

The robed figure was within a few feet of Xavier. It was a man who looked out from the hood and said, “Peace.” Xavier grabbed the man’s robe and held up a fist shining with brass knuckles and said “Give me everything you have.”

The man did not seem afraid. “All I have is this bowl and my robe and my sandals.” The man held out his bowl to give it to Xavier. Xavier slapped it away.

“I don’t want that stupid bowl!”

“Then here,” said the man as he took off his sandals that were obviously too small for Xavier.

“I don’t want those stupid sandals!” spat Xavier as he kicked them across the railroad tracks.

With that, the man disrobed and stood naked before Xavier. “Here, then,” he spoke and handed his robe to the confused young man.
Xavier became completely exasperated. This man had nothing he wanted! This was just his luck today.

“I may not have what you want, but I have what you need if you will let me give it to you,” said the man.

“What do you have that I could possibly need?” sneered Xavier.

“Peace,” said the man who held out his arms and moved toward Xavier to give him a hug.

Xavier stumbled backward as the man, genitals and all, moved too close to him. He lashed out and hit the naked man hard in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Xavier stood over him for a moment taking in a rush of excitement. Then he turned and walked away.

“What a freak!” thought Xavier.

“Peace be with you!” yelled the man who then gathered up his few possessions, rubbed his shoulder and went on his way.

Xavier traveled down the rail until the excitement wore off. He now had a little time to wonder why he felt so afraid of a smaller naked man who owned nothing and wouldn’t ever want to hurt him. He might have pondered why he felt so afraid that he had to lash out and punch the man. But Xavier’s brain did not approach these questions. He wondered if this naked man who wanted to hug him was a homosexual. He wondered if this man was homeless or mentally deranged. He also thought about how Khua had beaten up people much worse than this and had been injured himself during those fights. Xavier began to realize that it was nothing to beat up the robed man. There would be no push-back, no retaliation and no challenge to his actions. Now, where excitement had been, Xavier only felt disappointment. He was not at peace.

What would bring him satisfaction? What would make his day right?

Voices rang out in the still air of the hot summer day. Xavier became aware of the smell of creosote as it rose with the heat. There, over some kind of hedge, Xavier could see Bartholomew and Claire gathering food from a garden planted near the tracks. He snuck up to and hid behind the hedge and eavesdropped on Bartholomew’s and Claire’s conversation.

“How many of these peppers should I pick?” asked Claire.

“About five or six,” replied Bartholomew.
“This was the greatest idea, Bartholomew. It has been such fun making this garden with you. Everybody has enjoyed it! Ned even stops complaining about his accounting job when he’s here.”

“Thanks. When I said I wanted to do this at the New Year’s Eve party, I had no idea it would turn out like this. The food has been just what I’ve been wanting and it has been even better getting to know all of you and sharing…this,” said Bartholomew as he held up a giant tomato.

Claire laughed.

Xavier felt a twinge in his chest. The phrase “just what I've been wanting” rolled around in his head. There was no room for thoughts such as “I wonder if I can join them in their garden?” or “Bartholomew and his friends found something wonderful to do together, I wonder if I and my siblings could do something like that?” No, these thoughts did not go through his head. All Xavier could feel was that someone else had what they wanted, but he had nothing. Yes, he had a big home and lots of money, but he did not have that “thing” that he had been wanting. He determined right then and there that he would either take over the garden from Bartholomew or destroy it.

A low growl came from behind Xavier. He turned to see Hump-Pug baring her teeth at him. He chuckled to himself and
brought his hand down on the side of her head with a slap. Hump-Pug spun around but returned immediately with a threatening growl. Xavier reached back even further and slapped her even harder. He had a rush of excitement. He was about to hit her again when Bartholomew called out, “Geraldine!” The little dog looked at Xavier one more time and took off through the hedge and joined Bartholomew and Claire.


Xavier carefully peered over the hedge to watch the threesome leave the garden. “Geraldine? Why did that idiot call out my sister’s name?” wondered Xavier. He knew the girl with Bartholomew was named Claire. This made no sense to him. Did Bartholomew know he was behind the hedge? Xavier looked over the hedge down into the garden. A smile wriggled across his lips. He now knew how he was going to get this garden and ruin everything for Bartholomew. To make this work, he was going to have to sit down and contemplate awhile. Would he be contemplating his sense of jealousy, his need for revenge or the general misdirection of actions in his life? No, he wanted to make a plan that would destroy Bartholomew’s happiness.
___________________________________________________________  
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Justin Terlecki

Sunday, February 12, 2017

31 - Tree of Want



Bartholomew went to see what all the noise was. Crows were cackling and cawing and making a terrible racket around the oak tree in his backyard. This particular tree was planted by Bartholomew’s great grandfather and was one hundred and fifty years old. There had been many stories over the years about this tree and the people who had lived with it. It is said that every member of Bartholomew’s family that lived in this house had seen many strange occurrences in this tree – sometimes even ghosts.


Bartholomew looked up into the tree to see what the crows were so scared of. There, on a branch about twenty feet off the ground was Oliver, Bartholomew’s cat.

“Oliver, you come down from there!’ cried Bartholomew.

Oliver peered down. His legs were shaking and his ears and tail were down.

“Oh, Oliver, are you stuck?”

Oliver let out a pleading meo-oooow.

Bartholomew grabbed onto a low stump of a branch and began to climb up the tree. The tree was easy to climb. Bartholomew had done it several times before as a kid. There are a few places where it is difficult to reach the next branch, but with a little effort one could climb almost to the top. Oliver quietly called out as Bartholomew got closer. As he came to the branch on which Oliver sat, Bartholomew realized that retrieving his cat might be more difficult than he expected. Oliver had chosen a branch hard to reach. Bartholomew wasn’t sure he could hold onto Oliver and climb back down at the same time.

“Oh, Oliver,” Bartholomew sighed as he surveyed the situation.

Oliver moved back and forth on the branch looking for an opportunity to jump onto Bartholomew’s head and get out of the tree. With his arms fully extended, Bartholomew pulled himself up onto the branch next to his cat.

“Welcome,” meowed Oliver. “Now get me outta here.”

“All right, just relax. I’ll figure out someway to get us down,” said Bartholomew.

He tucked his t-shirt into his pants and then picked up Oliver and tried to stuff him into his shirt through his collar. At first, Oliver resisted, but once his hind legs were in he got the idea. He tucked quietly in Bartholomew’s t-shirt with his head sticking out of the neck-hole underneath Bartholomew’s chin. Bartholomew was about to climb down when he heard the crows begin cackling and cawing again. He looked up into the tree. Another twenty feet above him, perched on a branch, was Henrietta, Claire’s chicken. Bartholomew had no time to wonder before Oliver said, “She’s stuck, too.”

“Oh, Henrietta,” sighed Bartholomew as he noticed her one wing hanging limp.

Bartholomew climbed down, let Oliver out of his shirt and ran to the garage to get a large burlap sack and some rope. He began to climb again. Henrietta was clucking nervously as Bartholomew came closer.

“I’m going to die. It’s all going to end,” said Henrietta.

Bartholomew straddled the branch on which Henrietta perched. She wanted to run away, but had nowhere to go. Bartholomew gently picked her up and examined her wing. It did not seem to be broken. Bartholomew hoped that it was just dislocated. He carefully placed Henrietta in the bag and tied the top closed with one end of the rope. The other end of the rope he tied to his belt. Bartholomew was about to climb down when he heard the crows begin cackling and cawing again. He looked up into the tree. Another twenty feet above him, lying on a branch, was Hump-Pug. Bartholomew had no time to wonder before Henrietta said, “She’s stuck, too.”


“Oh, Hump-Pug,” sighed Bartholomew.

Bartholomew climbed down and let Henrietta out of the sack. It seemed that her wing had popped back into place and she was now fine. She flapped and stomped on the ground yelling, “I survived, I survived! The end is still near!”

Bartholomew looked back up at Hump-Pug. If he put Hump-Pug into the sack and tied it to his belt, he thought his pants would probably fall down. She was just too heavy for the sack. How was he going to get her down? Bartholomew rubbed his chin as he thought. Then he ran into the house and came out with a backpack. “This should do it.”

Bartholomew began to climb again and was feeling very tired as he reached Hump-Pug. He had done a lot of climbing this afternoon. He rested for a moment on the branch next to the little dog.

“Hi, Hump-Pug,” said Bartholomew.

Hump-Pug did not answer. She lay down on the branch terrified. She knew that she could easily fall. She did not have claws like a cat. She did not have wings like a chicken. All she could do to prevent herself from falling was to lie as still as possible and let someone else help her down.

Bartholomew, after catching his breath, carefully picked up Hump-Pug and squeezed her into the backpack. Her head, with her ears down and her eyes large and terror-filled, stuck out of the top. Bartholomew thought she looked cute. He swung the bag around onto his back. Then, the shifting of the weight to his back was more than he expected and he lost his balance. He grabbed onto the branch with both hands and crossed his legs to stop from falling. Slowly, he pivoted and was hanging upside down from the branch. Hump-Pug wriggled in the bag.

“Stop! Don’t wriggle,” said Bartholomew as he tried to figure out what to do.

There was a branch below them. Perhaps Bartholomew could hold on with his hands while his feet could land on the branch below. But then he would have to balance on his feet with a wriggly Hump-Pug on his back. He did not like the odds of that being successful. He began to look around for another alternative when Hump-Pug wriggled again. Suddenly, Bartholomew heard the sound of a zipper. The dog’s weight was forcing the zipper to open. Falling from sixty feet would certainly kill Hump-Pug. Bartholomew’s brain flashed from one scenario to another, trying to think of a way out of this before his backpack gave way.

Zzzzziiiiiiiiipp!

Hump-Pug fell. The dog’s squeal filled the air. Bartholomew let go of the branch with his legs. His body swung backwards, his fingers barely holding onto the branch above. As his legs came down and back he crooked them. His only hope was to catch Hump-Pug with his feet. He didn’t have time to consider what would happen if this didn’t work.

Hump-Pug, as she left the backpack, became so filled with terror she had no control over her body; she urinated, she yelped out a sound she’d never made before, her hair stood on end and she had an overwhelming desire to perform her most basic instinct. She saw a leg and she latched onto it. She latched onto it with the strength of ten dogs three times her size. She closed her eyes, held on with all four legs and prayed to a dog-god she had never thought about before. To lose this leg would be to lose everything.

After a few moments, Hump-Pug realized nothing was changing. She slowly opened her eyes. She and Bartholomew were standing on a branch. Bartholomew was holding onto the trunk of the tree and slowly squatting to sit. With much effort, he pulled Hump-Pug off his leg and put her back in the backpack. This time he stuck her head all the way in and zipped the bag all the way closed. He climbed down to the ground. Hump-Pug did not wriggle one bit.

Oliver and Henrietta were waiting. Bartholomew placed the pack on the ground and sat with his back against the tree. He took a deep breath, not believing what had happened and how lucky he was to catch the falling dog with his feet. He unzipped the pack and out popped Hump-Pug.

Hump-Pug immediately ran up Bartholomew’s chest and licked his face: once, twice…a hundred times. She was wriggling her stumpy tail so hard she kept knocking her hind legs out from under her. She ran in circles and barked for joy at Henrietta and Oliver who squawked and hissed at her before running away. 



Hump-Pug ran back up Bartholomew’s chest and continued to lick him endlessly. Bartholomew held her back as best he could while laughing at seeing the little dog so grateful.

“Hump-Pug, all right, all right!” Bartholomew said as she licked his left eyeball.

He held the dog in his lap, her dark face looking up at his. Seeing her lolling tongue, her upturned nose and large yellow eyes made Bartholomew pause. Something seemed familiar. He rubbed her head and behind her ears. Exhausted from the ordeal and the celebration afterward, the pug lay in his lap and fell asleep to the gentle scratching and rubbing of Bartholomew’s fingers.

As she slept curled in his lap, Bartholomew wondered aloud, “Hump-Pug is no name for you.” He rubbed her head some more. “I think I’ll call you Geraldine.”
________________________________________ 
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mark Granlund

Sunday, February 5, 2017

30 - Bartholomew in the Garden



Bartholomew could smell the soil the moment he stepped off his front step. The garden was close to his house, but he never would have thought that he would smell it from his house. It had rained just enough that morning to clear the air and allow, for a brief time, the essential smells of the earth to rise, reminding Bartholomew of this basic human experience – he lives on a planet. It was one of those mornings that are so still one begins to perceive how active everything is. Smells rose in the air and the sounds of decay lay at his feet. Songs came from the trees on the edge of the garden: cardinal songs, robin songs and wrens. These songs were being answered by other song trees in the neighborhood. Bartholomew could even taste the flowering birch trees nearby, although he did not know the origin.

He set to work in the garden. Weeds were popping their heads up, waiting to be decapitated, plucked from their home, scattered, trampled, exhausted and dismembered. They seem to thrive on this treatment thought Bartholomew and chuckled to himself as he thought about what a violent hobby gardening is. His goal this weekend was to hoe and pluck his victims throughout the whole garden, except Mr. McBardon's hedged plot. Mr. McBardon had made it clear, several times, that he would maintain his own plot. After weeding, Bartholomew hoped to cover the ground with mulch. Uncle Jeffrey had dropped off a load the night before.

After a few hours, Bartholomew decided to take a break and have some water. He sat down on a stump, one of several in the break area of the garden, and pulled a bottle of water out of a small bag of sustenance he brought with him. The sky was a bright blue, like only a spring sky can be, and there were just a few small wispy clouds here and there. Bartholomew was happy as he sat there taking in the world around his garden. He started to go down the list of things that were good in his life but stopped himself by saying, “Whatever,... life is just good.”

“Wha?” Bartholomew heard someone say as a figure rose out of Mr.McBardon's hedge.

“Mr. McBardon?! How long have you been there?” asked a startled Bartholomew.

“Huh? Wha? Oh, all morning. Just weeding.”

Bartholomew thought for a moment about how he never saw Mr. McBardon working in the garden ever since the first day. Mr. McBardon's hedge had grown tall enough that if he was weeding on his knees nobody would see him. This is what Bartholomew assumed had happened. Or else, Mr. McBardon had slept in his plot and was just waking up.

“How's your plot doing?” asked Bartholomew.

“Fine, just fine,” Mr. McBardon blurted out, as if to say, “No need for you to come over. Stay there, everything is fine.”

“I'm going to set up the sprinkler in a little while. Would you like me to water your plot, too?” asked Bartholomew.

“Uhm, uh, yeah, I guess that would be fine. It's due.”

Mr. McBardon gazed up at the blue sky and then quietly sank behind his hedge, back to his private world of gardening.


*       *       *       *


Topping and Charlotte joined Bartholomew in the garden one day to tie up the tomato plants. Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine had dropped off tomato cages the night before. Some of the plants were big enough that Bartholomew had his doubts about fitting these cages around the plants without breaking some branches. The three worked together carefully dropping a cage down over the plant, pulling its branches through the wires and, where needed, tying the plant to the cage with torn sheets Bartholomew's cat, Oliver, had ruined.

They had successfully accomplished the procedure on three plants when Topping barked, “Damn!” as he snapped off a branch.

“I hardly bent it! Man, these babies just 'go,' don't they?”

“It's okay. I'm sure were all going to break a few toda... Aggh!,” said Bartholomew as he snapped a branch, too.

Charlotte laughed. “I guess, I'm next.”

The next few plants were saved from any harm. Charlotte was enjoying seeing Topping carefully protecting the tomato branches as the cage came down and then surgically placing the branches through the cage holes. This was a side to Topping that Charlotte loved. He could be so gentle, kind and thoughtful with his heart and his hands that she couldn't help but be in love with him. Sometimes, when Topping was like this, Charlotte would imagine his kind hands touching her. She found herself getting excited about being done with the gardening and arriving home to be alone with Topping... or maybe in the car on the way home... or maybe if Bartholomew would leave, they could be alone in the garden – outdoors.

As they were placing the next cage over a rather large plant, Bartholomew felt something bumped up against his leg. It was Hump-Pug, doing what Hump-Pug does – humping leg.

Topping laughed.

“Not now Hump-Pug,” said Bartholomew. “Get off.”

Hump-Pug, of course, did not listen. She humped and panted, “I have a lover, I know I do...”

“What is that whining?” asked Topping.

“Who knows,” said Bartholomew. “She must live around here somewhere, she's been here a lot while I've been gardening.”

“Ugh, she looks a mess,” said Charlotte. “All those burrs and seeds in her coat. Poor dog.”

Exasperated, Bartholomew moaned, “We might as well stop. She's not going to let us finish. She will keep jumping on our legs until we leave.”

“Wait a minute,” said Topping who ran to get another tomato cage. He carefully took the largest cage and placed it over Hump-Pug and shoved its spikes into the ground. “There, now she won't bug us,” Topping laughed mockingly.

“How could you do that?” asked a distraught Charlotte.

Topping laughed more while the little pug tried to first push-over the cage and then to try and hump it.

“God, its just out of control. What a dumb dog. Let's finish caging the tomatoes,” said Topping.

This was the side of Topping that Charlotte did not like. There are times when he can be insensitive to animals and people. Charlotte liked that Topping had a sense of humor, but sometimes he laughed at the cruelest things. Sometimes getting a job done was more important than the people, and small animals, around him. She didn't understand this streak in him. Without realizing it, she was no longer excited to get home.

Hump-Pug did not seem to mind and eventually took the opportunity to take a quick nap. In the meantime, Topping, Bartholomew and Charlotte caged all the tomato plants that needed it and tied up the larger ones. They pulled the cage off of Hump-Pug and placed it in the middle of a patch of pole beans while the little pug jumped from leg to leg.

*      *      *      *

One hot and humid mid-summer day, Claire came by to help Bartholomew with some weeding and watering. The garden had been producing greens for a couple of weeks and the other plants were growing tall. The work was rather easy as the vegetables were now starting to crowd out the weeds. Bartholomew enjoyed Claire's presence. She was direct and he didn't have to assume anything about her. He found this made it simple for him to share himself, too.

“So, you are moving out of Ned's place?” asked Bartholomew.

“Yeah. At the end of the month,” said Claire.

Bartholomew stopped weeding for a moment. “I'm sorry to hear that,” he said.

“It's okay. It isn't going to work out. I'm not sure why we got together in the first place...” Claire stopped herself and looked at Bartholomew. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

“I just want you to know that Ned hasn't been blabbing stuff to me,” assured Bartholomew. “In fact, I haven't seen him for quite awhile. He seems too have decided to not come around.”

“I'm sorry about that. It's his choice, but obviously he feels uncomfortable with some of our shared friends.”

“I wouldn't put too much of this on your splitting up. Ned used to come over a lot but our relationship was always a bit awkward. I really don't know what to do when he gets so quiet. He can go the longest time without saying anything.”

“Oh god, some of his pauses are so painful,” Claire said relieved that someone else had noticed this same quality about Ned. She began to laugh. “There was this one time I asked him where he wanted to go out to eat and he stared at me for two minutes without saying anything. Two minutes! There was a clock on the wall behind him and I actually timed it. Two minutes!”

“Whoa,” said Bartholomew.

“How are things with The Nanny?” asked Claire.

Bartholomew bent down and started weeding again. “Things are... fine.”

“That didn't sound very convincing,” responded Claire.

“Well, I don't know...I feel funny. I've never talked about my relationship with a woman with a woman before. It seems odd.”

“Go ahead,” encouraged Claire. “I promise I won't bite...or laugh.”

“Well, things are a little strange,” began Bartholomew. “When we get together we have a great time. We talk about everything and anything. We laugh and we talk about hard stuff and we do fun things...”

“But...” added Claire.

“But,” continued Bartholomew, “whenever we are...intimate...she always stops things at... second or third base. We've... you know...touched all over... and made out and even spent the night together. But we never go... all the way. It's getting frustrating.”

“Wow, do you feel like she really likes you?”

Bartholomew winced at this question and tossed his weeds onto a pile. “I think so. She says so.”

“A lot of people say a lot of things, Bartholomew. Do you feel like she really cares about you?”

“I think so. I don't know. Sometimes I feel like she is trying to teach me something instead of being there with me. Like she thinks someone else is supposed to be my lover. She's just filling in until then.”

“Ouch,” said Claire.

“What do you mean?” asked Bartholomew.

“Is that what you're feeling or what you think she's feeling?”

Bartholomew thought for a moment. “It's what I think she is thinking,... I think.”

“Well, then 'Ouch,'” said Claire.

“Yeah, ouch,” said Bartholomew.

Claire bent down and picked a few weeds. “So, what you gonna do?”

Bartholomew stared off at the poplar trees, their leaves were dead still on this hot stifling day. He wiped sweat from his brow and noticed a beetle scabbering across the soil. “I don't know, what should I do?” he said looking to Claire.

“Dump her,” said Claire without hesitation.

“Really? Just dump her?”

“Yes, dump her. If she's not really interested in you for herself, then why would you want to be with her? Look, I don't know why Ned let me stay at his place so long. Actually, I do know...it was the sex. But we weren't good for each other. If you're not good for each other, then don't be together. Just end it and start finding someone else.”

Bartholomew thought for awhile. Claire went back to weeding. Eventually, Bartholomew's body moved to the green pepper plants and removed the unwanted quack-grass and dandelions, but his mind stayed in the same place for the rest of the morning. They finally took a water break and as they sat on the stumps in the garden, Bartholomew asked, “So, I don't have to try to make things work with The Nanny?”

“Nope. Not if it's not going to work.”

“I don't have to...”

“Bartholomew!” said Claire. “Do you two have a verbal or written commitment to each other?”

“No,” said Bartholomew as if following an order.

“Is she pregnant?”

“God, no!”

“She's acting like she's not supposed to be your lover, right?”

“Right,” answered Bartholomew.

“You are frustrated in the relationship?”

“Yes, I am,” said Bartholomew.

“Then stop seeing her and move on,” Claire commanded, her eyes boring into Bartholomew's.

His eyes, giving in to hers, bowed to the ground. “You're right. I should end it. Wow! That feels good to say,” said Bartholomew with a grin on his face.

“Bartholomew, you are the one who gets to determine where your life is going. You get to decide if you are enjoying it. If you are not, you can change it. That's one thing I did learned from my spoken word classes,” said Claire.
*      *      *      *


Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey stopped by the garden one morning with a trailer full of mulch. Bartholomew was in the garden weeding and harvesting vegetables.

“You gotta see this tomato – it's HUGE!” said Bartholomew holding up a red lumpy hand.

“Wow,” said Uncle Jeffrey.

“That is quite large,” responded Aunt Josephine.

“So, is this Wednesday night going to be our first harvest dinner?” asked Uncle Jeffrey.

“Absolutely,” crowed Bartholomew. “You guys coming?”

“We wouldn't miss it,” they responded in unison.

Bartholomew went back to harvesting vegetables, carefully placing them in a fabric bag. Uncle Jeffrey picked a snap pea off a plant and started to eat. Aunt Josephine followed his lead and laughed as she bit into the crisp green shell. They let Bartholomew harvest the vegetables – enjoy the fruits of his labor and his idea. Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey emptied the mulch into a pile just off the curb. Aunt Josephine had brought some of her special punch and invited Bartholomew to take a break.

She poured out the punch into plastic cups, handed one to each of the men in her life and said, “Here's to Bartholomew and his garden.” They raised their cups and clinked them together. “Here, here,” said Uncle Jeffrey.

Bartholomew downed his punch and held out his cup for more. Aunt Josephine gladly obliged him with another cup full.

“Seriously, Bartholomew,” said Aunt Josephine, “you have done a great thing by making this garden. Both Uncle Jeffrey and I have gotten to know your friends better and Mr. McBardon. And... we just notice how happy you are. It makes us very happy to see you this way, Bartholomew. It has been a long time and I know that your parent's would be very proud of you.” Aunt Josephine moved forward and hugged Bartholomew.

“Yes,” added Uncle Jeffrey, “and you have provided us all with such a delicious outcome. You really do have a green thumb.”

Bartholomew blushed.

“C'mon,” said Aunt Josephine, “let's go make some gespachio out of that huge tomato,” as she put her arm around Bartholomew's shoulders and guided him toward his house. Uncle Jeffrey quickly ran over to Mr.McBardon's house to turn on the hose and water the garden while they cooked. The sound of water squirted through the hose until it shot out of the sprinkler in a big arc moving slowly across the garden. Uncle Jeffrey almost caught up with them when they heard a scream.

“Agggh!” yelled Mr. McBardon who suddenly sprung up from behind his hedge. The sprinkler pelted him with water as he jumped through the hedge and hobbled as quickly as he could to his house. All the while he made making duck-like noises and running his hands through his wet hair: “mah, mah, mah, mah...” He disappeared into his door. Uncle Jeffrey and Bartholomew laughed. Aunt Josephine looked at them sternly, but then she couldn't help herself and they all laughed as they went to Bartholomew's little house to make some soup.
__________________________________________________________________________
Written by Mark Granlund 
Illustrated by Mark Granlund

Saturday, January 14, 2017

29 - What Will Be WIll Be


 Ned and Claire biked home in the dark after the day of garden planting with Topping, Charlotte, Bartholomew and Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey. Ned didn't like biking in the dark; he found it hard to see potholes and objects that might be in the way. He worried about having an accident. Claire, on the other hand, didn't worry about anything. Being on a bike was like breathing. She biked everywhere. This was partly because she did not own a car, but she used that as an excuse. She really enjoyed biking. It made her feel good about her body and about her planet. She also felt that it brought her more in touch with her neighborhood, because she saw more of it when biking. As Ned worried more and more about running into things, he fell behind. Then he felt like he had to catch up. He was torn between wanting to do something with Claire, and yet wanting to go at his own pace. He felt resentments about being led into these situations by Claire's confidence. In fact, Claire's general confidence in all things made Ned a bit uncomfortable.

They arrived home and carried their bikes up the three flights of stairs to the apartment and parked them in the living room. Ned collapsed on a worn out couch while Claire headed to the kitchen for a drink of water. Although they had just biked five miles, their stomachs were full from the large meal that Aunt Josephine had made for the gardeners. Claire came back out to the living room with a glass of water in her hand. Ned wondered why she didn't offer to get him a glass of water, too. Claire collapsed in a stuffed chair that wasn't stuffed enough. “Ow,” she said as a spring poked her butt.

“Can't we get a new chair? This one is horrible,” she commented.

Ned sighed.

“What's up with you?” asked Claire.

“What do you mean?” responded Ned.

“You were quiet all day at the garden and Bartholomew's. You were crabby about where you were planting things and quiet the whole way home. And now you aren't answering my question. So, what's up?”

“Nothing's up. I just don't feel like talking.”

“You spend the whole day with your partner and your friends and you don't feel like talking? That's just weird.”

“My partner? What does that mean?” asked Ned, never having heard Claire use that term before.

“Uh, we've been living together for almost five months. At this point, it's not like I'm just a girlfriend.”

Ned wasn't sure what the difference would be between a girlfriend and a partner. “So, you’re my partner? Like a business partner? Like, you help me pay the rent and buy groceries and things like that? Cuz, last I checked, you still don't have a job. At this point, it's not like this is much of a partnership.”

Claire's heart winced but her anger did not. “What? You think of this as a business partnership? I didn't know there were conditions on me being here. Is that what you want?” Ned did not respond so Claire continued. “No, I don't have a job. But it’s not like I haven't taken care of things around here. It's not like I don't contribute. I clean the apartment and I cook and fix things. And I have paid for some things.”

“Look, I'm tired,” said Ned, “let's forget I said anything.”

Claire moved over to the couch. “I can't forget something like that. Is that why you've been quiet all day? You’re mad that I don't contribute around here?”

“It's not that you don't contribute, it's just that I needed a roommate to help cover the rent and here you are costing me more money. I'm dipping into my savings to float us here. I'm trying to save my money for other things.”

“Like what?” demanded Claire.

“Well, I've always tried to save enough money to cover four months worth of bills. That way I have a nest egg and if anything happens, like I lose my job, or I get sick or something, I have a cushion. It's the prudent thing to do.”

“What? You're saving money in order to save money? Being prudent is more important than our relationship?” asked Claire as tears came to her eyes.

“It's not that its more important...,” began Ned. He stopped. His mind raced back across time. He revisited all the times he felt that Claire was being unfair or demanding. He thought about how embarrassed he was when she was kicked out of the Earth Day Celebration and when she broke down at the spoken word event. He thought about how she kept expressing her opinion even when she knew it would be uncomfortable for him. He often had thought that Claire relied more on her gross-emotional skills than her fine-emotional skills. In a word, she was blunt – blunt as a stub. This even carried over to their love-making. Every time they made love, Claire needed it to be at a certain emotional pitch. She didn't have a sense of lingering, of spooning for hours or of having fun while being intimate. She seemed to have no imagination. It had to always be the same game, the same roles and then done.

As Claire waited for Ned to finish his sentence, she thought about all the times that Ned didn't keep up with her. This wasn't just with biking. Ned couldn't keep up in conversation, in understanding the motives behind political situations, in expressing what he wanted for food – or anything. Ned always seemed to be lagging, which in Claire's mind meant lacking. He often seemed distant, unsure and, in general, incapable. This even carried over to their love-making. Every time they had sex, Ned never seemed satisfied. He was always wanting to try something new, something different. He never seemed contented to just make love to her – to simply enjoy Claire as a partner. It was as if he needed something more to excite him.

Ned, finally continued, “...it is important. It actually is important to have money in the bank. Is it more important than our relationship? No, I don't think so, but if I had a choice between having a relationship that is penniless and the same relationship with money in the bank, I would take the relationship with money—some security. Plus, we will have to move if you don't start paying for your half of the bills.”

“I just couldn't imagine that you were this greedy,” said Claire. “Maybe if you would share what you’re thinking and feeling once in awhile I might have seen this coming.”

Ned glared at her. Claire could tell that she had stepped over a line, and she took a morsel of pleasure in this.

“Why share myself?” replied Ned. “Every time I do you don't like it. I say something and you jump all over it or you start to question me. Why can't you just let people be themselves? Like Mayor Dick. Why do you get so caught up with whatever the hell Mayor Dick is doing?”

“Because he's a...a...fucking idiot!” said Claire. “He's ruining everything by being so stupid and pigheaded. People like him will ruin the entire planet if they’re allowed to keep doing what they're doing!”

“Oh, OK, here we go! Yes, the whole big planet-is-dying thing And you are the only person who really cares.”

“Oh my god,” said Claire. “I can't believe what I'm hearing. You mean you don't see that the planet is dying? Were you ever going to tell me this or just keep going to Earth Day Celebrations with me? Maybe I was right at Topping and Charlotte's New Year's Eve party – maybe you are a Capitalist Nazi. After all, you treasure your money more than our relationship.”

Like two dead goldfish caught in the spinning whirlpool of a toilet, these two weren't going to stop until they were stuck in deep shit.

“I am not a Capitalist Nazi! I don't like money more than people, I just want to be thoughtful about my money. I want to have money so I am not dependent on others.”

“But we are all dependent on each other. Don't you get it? Everything we do affects the environment and other people. You can't make and spend your money in a vacuum. To think you do is a lie.”

“Yes, I guess I'm in denial,” Ned said sarcastically. “I'm in denial about the state of the planet, about money and about myself. After only five months you know me better than myself. Yes, you are the great all-seeing Claire.”

“Shut the fuck up!” said Claire, throwing a chair pillow at Ned.

“Oh, now don't start oppressing the masses with pillows,” taunted Ned.

Claire moved quickly and swatted at Ned with another pillow. Ned blocked it.

“Shut up, you moron,” said Claire as she kept swatting at Ned.

“Yes, sometimes it does seem like I'm a moron in your eyes,” said Ned as he parried a swat with his own pillow.

Claire hesitated and then swatted one more time, catching Ned in the face. Ned became enraged and popped off the sofa and on top of Claire, who toppled over backward into the stuffed chair.

“Get off of me!” Claire screamed.

“Not until you apologize,” said Ned pushing down on her.

“For what?” Claire asked indignantly.

“For hitting me in the face, for thinking I'm a moron and for not letting me be me.”

“What the fuck?” said Claire. “You are a moron.”

Ned pushed down harder.

“Ow, alright! I'm sorry for hitting you in the face.”

“And?”

“...and for calling you a moron.”

“And?”

“C'mon, Ned,” said Claire, “if you don't feel like you can be yourself, that's not my problem. Assert yourself!”

“Like this?” Ned said as he pushed down harder.

“No, you...” Claire caught herself, “...not like that. TALK TO ME! Let me know what you're thinking. Don't be so quiet all the time!”

They stared into each other's eyes.

“Ned. Get off of me,” said Claire.

Ned got off of Claire and sat back down on the sofa, holding a pillow to his chest. Claire stayed in the chair breathing heavily. They said nothing for a long time. Claire wiped tears from her eyes. Ned gritted his teeth. Eventually, the tide of anger receded and they both apologized for the least harmful of their actions.

Ned said, “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to push down on you like that.”

Claire said, “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hit you in the face with the pillow.”

But, of course, both of them did want to do those things, because they did them. They did want to hurt each other. For the next two weeks, they both held back from saying and doing unkind things to each other. Ned tried to talk more about his feelings and share what he was thinking. Claire tried to think more positively about Ned and go at his pace. Eventually, the facade began to crack. Unkind gestures and thoughts leaked back in here and there. A month after the incident they both were back to blaming each other for the problems in their relationship. Soon enough, all trust was gone.

If they had a guardian angel in their lives helping them with their relationship they might have realized that neither of them was to blame, that neither of them could change enough to please the other and that they couldn't change each other enough to become one. If, on that New Year's Eve that seemed so long ago, an angel had been at the party they might have realized that they were not meant for each other. If there had been such a guardian angel, they would not have spent all this time in pain and anguish trying to make something work that was never meant to be. But there was no angel at the party and they didn't learn these things, like most people, before going through them. Claire let a spooky old crow scare her into the relationship and Ned, like a whipped dog, was led by his desperate hope and propped up expectations... like most people.
________________________________________
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by James O'Brien

28 - Growing a Community


It was a beautiful spring morning. The birds had been singing for a couple of hours and Bartholomew was singing, too. “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hill and engines there...” Whatever song or words came into Bartholomew's head he sang. He was in a good mood because today was the day he and all of his friends were going to plant their garden.

“Oh Oliver,” said Bartholomew to his cat, “this is so exciting! I can't wait to plant some kale.”

Oliver jumped onto the sofa and laid down, “I hope you weren't expecting me to help?”

“I wish you could join us! It would be so much fun to have you there with everyone else. But I know, you don't like the outdoors.”

“No,” said Oliver, “the outdoors is for animals.”

Bartholomew reached into the closet and pulled out a hat and a pair of work gloves. He went quickly to the kitchen and packed some snacks and a couple bottles of water. “Hmmmmm...mmm... Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day. Home, home is so strange. Where the deer and the cantelope plaaaaay! Where seldom is heard a disparaging word and a guy can eat kale… aaaall...daaaaay!”

Oliver buried his ears under his paws. Bartholomew ran by the sofa, patted and rubbed Oliver on the head much too vigorously, and skipped to the door. “Good-bye Oliver.”

“Please, leave before you say 'yippee-skippee' again.”

Bartholomew slammed the door behind him.

Claire and Ned were already at the garden lot when Bartholomew arrived. They had ridden bikes and they each had spades, small hand trowels and matching brand new gardening gloves. Bartholomew thought they looked cute together.

“Hi, Claire. Ned,” said Bartholomew.

They both said “hello” back and then Claire pointed to the street where Charlotte was just driving up. Charlotte, whose window was rolled down, waved at them. Like a reflex, they all waved back.

“Ready to plant?” Bartholomew asked Claire and Ned while Charlotte parked her car.

“Yeah!” yelled Claire. Ned nodded while pulling at his dreds.

“Wow, you guys have been busy,” said Charlotte, as she carried two metal rakes and nodded at a bunch of plants already in the ground.

“That's Mr.McBardon's plot,” said Bartholomew. “He put that in last weekend sometime. I don't think it took him long, it just appeared one day.”

“He wasn't kidding about that hedge,” said Claire, eyeing the taller plants around the perimeter of the plot.

“I don't think it will keep out rats, but you sure can tell where his plot is,” said Charlotte, referring to a comment Mr. McBardon had made earlier.

“Well, lets mark out the garden and where everything is going,” said Bartholomew, pulling a tape measure out of his pocket.

“Hey, where's Topping?” asked Claire.

“He's working on Bartholomew's car,” said Charlotte. When she was starting the sentence she felt a little regret that Topping was busy and didn't come to the garden with her. But as she finished the sentence she remembered that Topping was doing something cool for Bartholomew. “He said he would be here before noon.”

The group of friends started to lay out the perimeter of the garden with string and stakes. Bartholomew energetically took the lead in measuring and identifying corners, etc. The rest, seeing how excited he was, gladly did what he asked. As Ned was driving one stake into the ground, he hit a hard spot. It was probably a rock, but the prospect of pounding into an underground gas line ran through Ned's head. An image of himself being hurled in six different directions appeared before him.

“Hey, Bartholomew, did you check on the property and all that stuff? There aren't gas lines or anything underground, are there?”

“Mr. McBardon was in such a hurry that he said he checked things out and everything is fine. There isn't anything underground except, judging by that pile Mr. McBardon made, there might be rocks.”

Ned moved the stake slightly to one side and pounded it in to the ground wondering if he could trust old Mr. McBardon. He assured himself that they are not planting very deep. Anything utilities underground would be much deeper – probably.

As they were just about finished with the layout of the garden, Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine pulled up with a rented rototiller and a trailer full of soil. Uncle Jeffrey honked the horn. Everyone turned and waved.

“You’re just in time,” called Bartholomew as Uncle Jeffrey was busy untying the rototiller.

“This looks great!” encouraged Aunt Josephine to Charlotte “And look, you already have plants coming up!”

“Those are Mr. McBardon's,” explained Claire. “He planted those last week.”

“Oh,” said Aunt Jospehine as she wrinkled her nose at the tall plants encircling his plot.

Bartholomew and Uncle Jeffrey pulled the rototiller out of the back of the truck and wheeled it over to the garden.

“Did you check on the property and utilities?” asked Uncle Jeffrey.

“Yeah, well, actually, Mr. McBardon checked because he wanted to plant last weekend and he said it was all good.”

Uncle Jeffrey looked over at Mr. McBardon's house and wondered if he could trust him.

In no time, the tiller was running and churning up the ground. The dirt was compacted and everyone took turns using the tiller, except Aunt Josephine. They left pathways between areas of the garden that Bartholomew was going to mow once a week. As the rototiller finished an area, people would come behind with metal rakes and shovels to break the dirt up even more and to remove rocks. They then would add new soil and the tiller would come back and mix it in. It was a lot of work and Even before lunch time they finished, but everybody was so tired that they took a break. Uncle Jeffrey and Bartholomew hoisted the tiller back into the truck to return it to the rental store.

As everyone headed back to Bartholomew's house, a car turned onto the street and honked at them. Bartholomew stopped in the middle of the road, his eyes wide with disbelief. He knew his car would look different when Topping was done painting it, but nothing could have prepared him for this. Topping drove up in a 1974 Peugeot with flaming vegetables streaming off the front of the car and tumbling their way down the sides. Red and orange flames licked out from behind green peppers, carrots and tomatoes. There on the hood was the most amazing thing of all: a flaming leaf of kale spread from side to side. Everyone was laughing and cheering and admonishing Topping for doing an amazing job. Topping had risen to the occasion.

Everyone gathered around the car as Topping parked it along the curb. Bartholomew still stood in the middle of the road, his mouth agape. Topping cautiously approached him.

“Well, Bartholomew, what do you think?”

Bartholomew didn't know what to say. It was the most amazing car he had ever seen. He had thought flames would be cool, but Topping was right, Bartholomew was not thrilled by the original idea. But this, this made everything perfect! Now his car had cool flames AND all the vegetables that he loved.

Bartholomew stepped forward and gave Topping a bear hug. “Thank you,” he said into Topping’s ear. “It is ah-amazing.”

Bartholomew and Topping escorted each other to the car with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Bartholomew studied the detail of the flames and how they seemed to be licking at the surfaces of the vegetables. He noticed the surface detail in the carrots and the many, many, many folds in the kale leaf on the hood. He was lost in some of those folds when he felt something on his leg. He looked down to see a small pug dog humping his left leg. He moved his leg and knocked the dog to the ground. It was up immediately humping his leg again. Bartholomew shook it off a second time and the little dog mounted Topping's leg. Topping laughed and moved his leg to knock the dog off.

“It's Hump-Pug,” said Ned.

“What? Hump-Pug?” asked Bartholomew.

“Yeah,” said Ned. “This dog has been around town the last month or so. It just keeps trying to hump things all the time. People just started calling it Hump-Pug.”

Topping laughed as Hump-Pug mounted him again. He pushed her away again. Hump-Pug ran to a nearby lamppost and did her thing. Everyone started laughing.

“C'mon, let's go inside and eat. I brought pizza,” said Topping. “I got vegetable pizza for you Bartholomew.” Bartholomew imagined the vegetables on the pizza in the hot oven catching fire and then being thrown onto and becoming the skin of his 1974 Peugeot. Beautiful. As they walked into the house, he noticed Hump-Pug humping the mailbox.

Bartholomew, his friends and his family had pizza and beer and talked about recipes they would like to make from the vegetables harvested from their garden. Charlotte and Bartholomew agreed to share recipes and to cook together once a week. Topping liked that idea. Claire wanted to try a recipe called Carrots Marguerite. She had seen it made on a cooking show. Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey regaled them with stories of food they had eaten at weddings and other parties. By the end of lunch, Bartholomew was sharing how his parents used to cook. How his mom would forage food from the neighborhood parks and public spaces-- apple trees, current bushes, elderberry nectar and... Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine gave Bartholomew a stern look. He stopped talking about his parents and suggested they head back out to the garden to plant the seeds and seedlings he and Uncle Jeffrey had picked up earlier that week.

Everyone filed out of the house to the garage where the plants were stored.. Bartholomew had expected to see Hump-Pug but she was nowhere in sight. The group headed down to the garden with plants in tow. Uncle Jeffrey drove off with the tiller to return it to the rental store. Arriving at the garden, Topping said, “Wow, you guys have gotten far. You even have plants coming up already!”

“Those are Mr. McBardon's,” said everyone. Everyone laughed.

Bartholomew directed the planting effort. He gave a quick training in how to plant the seeds and the seedlings. They each selected plants and consulted with Bartholomew where they were to plant them. Charlotte and Aunt Josephine paired up to plant the tomatoes. Bartholomew and Topping went to plant potatoes. Claire and Ned stayed put and planted some lettuce seeds.

There was light chatter amongst the planting couples, but after a short time everyone heard Ned say, “What's wrong with planting them here?”

Claire responded, “The package says two to two and half feet.”

“This is two to two and a half feet! Geez.”

“Well, it needs to be right. It should be back farther.”

“Fine, plant it where you want it,” said Ned as he rose and moved to where Bartholomew and Topping were planting. The three of them planted without talking. Claire finished where she was and then joined Charlotte and Aunt Josephine. They all spent the rest of the day moving from place to place within the garden planting their seeds and seedlings.

Uncle Jeffrey arrived and went to Mr. McBardon's house to set up a hose for watering. Mr. McBardon was providing the hose, sprinkler and, of course, the water for the garden. It was a very generous gift. Uncle Jeffrey pulled the hose over to the garden like he was hauling a long thin python. Soon the dirt darkened as the water droplets fell on the tilled soil. The beds were completed when Bartholomew filled the last one with kale seeds.

“There,” said Bartholomew as he lightly tamped the ground and stood up.

As the shadows began to grow long, everyone stood curbside and looked at the fruits of their labor. The whole place smelled of wet earth. Before them spread a fresh patch of soil filled with hope. Bartholomew could see it already, green plants willing themselves out of the brown earth, growing larger with each passing week until they were ready to be gathered, brought to the kitchen, prepared and devoured. He couldn't wait.

“All right, everyone,” said Aunt Josephine, “back to Bartholomew's house for some dinner. I'm cooking.”

A cheer went up. Seven weary bodies headed up the street, past a freshly painted car and into the house. Some collapsed in the living room. Others went to the kitchen to cook. They all felt good about what they had done. They talked about the afternoon and about the differences between seeds and seedlings. As the sun was about to set, Bartholomew went to the door for one last look. There, on the curb, was his car – a flaming vegetable mobile. It made him smile. He turned to see Topping who was laughing as he told a story to Claire and Uncle Jeffrey. Bartholomew felt his chest grow as he took in a deep slow breath of appreciation. He gazed down to the garden, there, at the end of the block. In the dark shadows of approaching night he could make out the patches of tilled soil, the pathways and a low hedge of plants at the back. He turned his attention to the people in the house – his friends and his family. Again, he felt his chest grow as he took in a deep slow breath of satisfaction. Satisfaction at having planted the garden. Satisfaction at having found some real friends. And a deep satisfaction that he was, slowly, making his life into what he wanted it to be.

Bartholomew heard a noise outside. Across the street he could barely discern a small little four-legged something thrusting itself against the base of a light pole. There was a yelp and then it was gone.
_____________________________________________________________ Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by JM Culver