The Protectorate

30 Dec

image

 

The Protectorate was written in December 2015, and is particularly appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday. If you would like to read it and comment, please go to About Me and find my email address, then email me so. I’ll send you a PDF file of the story.

BTW: I don’t care who wins today’s Super Bowl as long as it’s not New England.

Advertisements

The Cabinet, or, Better Living Through Chemistry

18 Sep

The Cabinet

or

Better Living Through Chemistry

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

I know I put them in here … somewhere
Underneath the whitening tooth gel;
Crammed beside the fat-burning oil;
Above the No More Wrinkles, My Friend;
Or the Gradual Gray-Away Hair-Coloring Brush;
Between the Sleep Deep Tonight and the Stay-Awake capsules;
Or the Breathe Through the Night Guaranteed nose spray;
And the Psoriasis Cream; or the Pain Go Away hot and cold bags;
Near the Gas-Away tablets, and the Warts-No-More stick-ums;
The Breath-O’-Mint gargle, and the NuHair in the Morning rubbing salve;
The ear-wax drops and the nose-hair plucker;
The Intimate Hair Begone; and the No-Leaks, My Lady underwear pads;
The No Sweat – You Bet underarm roll-on; or the Flab-Away Arm and Leg Lotion.
Where the hell are they?
I know I put them in here … somewhere.

 

 

The Fourth Wall

15 Sep

The Fourth Wall*

 

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Charlie Dipple walks into the modest living room from his bedroom and stands in the middle of the space, just behind the large couch that forms the anchor for a seating area. Two comfy chairs are on either side of the couch and are perpendicular to it, framing three sides of the area. End tables with Tiffany lamps help define the seating area. An oval oriental rug with an ornately carved round coffee table forms the focus of the furniture.

Doors leading to his bedroom, a bathroom, the kitchen and a second bedroom are located on three of the four walls. The apartment door is on the far right wall, and has a peep-hole as well as several locks fastened to it. The fourth wall is comprised of two glass panels separated by a two-panel sliding glass door. The sitting area is oriented so that it faces that wall.

Dipple looks out the glassed wall at the skyline of Manhattan. He walks around the couch and one of the chairs and sits in that chair. He plucks a newspaper from the coffee table, switches on the lamp next to him, pulls out his black-frame half-lensed reading glasses and opens the newspaper with both hands, spreading it before him above his lap.

Then he hears it.

A cough.

Putting the newspaper down on his lap, his head cocked to one side, he says, “Miriam? Are you home from work?”

No answer. He shrugs and resumes reading the newspaper.

Again, a cough.

“Miriam? Sounds like you’re coming down with something, Dear,” he says, assuming Miriam has not heard him call to her, and that she is busy in the kitchen.

“Shall we have the leftover veal, or do you want to try the new French restaurant on West 64th, or would you rather go to Buvette? I don’t really have a preference. The veal would be fine, but I am in a bit of a French mood.”

No answer.

“Can you not hear me talking, Miriam?”

No answer. He puts the paper back on the table and gets up to walk into the kitchen, disappearing behind the mahogany swing door.

“Miriam?” His voice is muffled behind the door.

Dipple re enters the living room, a look of consternation on his face.

“That’s odd! I could have sworn Miriam coughed from one of the rooms!”

Cough.

“The bathroom!” He hurries to the bathroom door and knocks gently. “Miriam, are you in there? Is everything okay?”

No answer.

“Maybe the guest room,” he says, and crosses up to the guest bedroom door and exits, closing the door behind him.

He re enters and stands perplexed, scratching his head.

“You are losing it, Charlie Dipple!” He crosses to a wet bar buffet against the wall and pours himself a drink from a crystal decanter. “Bottoms up!” he toasts himself, and swigs the drink.

“Ahhh! Nothing like a smooth bourbon to calm my nerves. Really, everyone hears things that aren’t. And everyone talks to themselves, which is also normal and you don’t have to worry,” he said, crossing back to his chair. “Unless – unless you begin to talk to yourself in the process – which is EXACTLY WHAT I”M DOING!”

A wave of laughter.

He stands abruptly, and walks to the glass wall, looking out.

“Okay! THAT was NOT my imagination! THAT was someone laughing! Not just someone, but a whole shitload of someones laughing!”

More laughter. And a cough.

Dipple puts his nose against the glass wall, staring intently, his hands cupped on either side of his face in attempt to ward off the fading sunlight. His liquored breath steams the glass in a roundish pattern. Then he stands back, and moves upstage to his chair. He grabs the newspaper angrily, shaking it open, and begins to read.

Another cough. And a laugh.

He continues to read, gripping the newspaper tightly.

Silence.

A titter.

“I’m ignoring you,” he says through clenched teeth, still obscured behind the newspaper. Then, very slowly, he drops the newspaper on the fourth wall side, peering around the paper.

A low wave of laughter.

He jumps to his feet and storms back downstage to the window, crumpled newspaper in one hand.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

More laughter.

“Are you SPYING on me? Are you the government, for God’s sake – ‘cause I pay my goddam taxes. Reluctantly, I will admit.”

More laughter.

“Who and where ARE you? You can’t be out in the air! We’re thirty-eight stories up!”

Titter.

He begins to feel the glass surface with his hands, rubbing as though cleaning it.

“No microphones. I don’t see any drones outside. What the effing-hell is going on here?”

Laughter.

“I’m warning you! Shut the eff up or I’m gonna do something really drastic – I mean it!”

More laughter.

He exits upstage to his bedroom and comes back in a moment with a handgun, which he frantically loads with a bullets.

“I am NOT kidding! I don’t know what the eff is going on, but it is NOT funny!”

More laughter.

He takes the gun with both hands, walks down to the glass wall, and draws the gun up level to his eyes, pointed at the window.

Laughter

“PLEASE! PLEASE STOP LAUGHING! DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS!”

Hysterical laughter.

He shoots six times until the revolver is spent, and only the click of the hammer is heard.

Silence.

Dipple drops his arms to his side, gun in one hand, and begins to sob.

Slow, crescendoing clapping.

Dipple looks up, and realizes the clapping is for him. He stands straight and tall, arms to the side, and bows deeply from the waist, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Bravo! Bravo! BRAVO!

He exits into the bedroom and shuts the door.

All the lights in the apartment dim to black.

A few moments later a loud bang is heard from the bedroom.

Silence.

A key rattles in the lock of the door to the apartment, and the door cracks open. A woman’s hand slips in through the crack and flicks the light switch on the wall next to the door.

The lights come up.

A dapper woman, attractive, enters, laden with several shopping bags.

She crosses toward the kitchen door.

“Charlie, I’m home! I’ve got some things to go with the leftover veal, but if you’d rather, we can go out. I’m kinda in the mood for Italian.” And exits into the kitchen, the swinging door flapping to a close behind her.

Laughter.

†††††

 

*All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
;

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii

The Projects: Updated 09/14/2017

14 Sep

 

The Projects

Updated 09/14/2017

 

Click here.

 

 

 

 

The Projects – Updated 09/13/2017

13 Sep

 

The Projects

Updated 09/13/17

Click here.

 

 

 

The Projects – updated 9/07/2017

7 Sep

 


 

The Projects

Updated 9/07/2017

Click here.

The Projects

5 Sep

The Projects

Click here for latest installment.

Alternate Endings

4 Sep

Alternate Endings

By L. Stewart Marsden

Scrolling through my files I stumbled on this pair of poems earlier published and titled similarly. Both were very conscious works, and reflect two every different endings. I’ve often heard it said that where spouses are concerned, the death of one is preferable to divorce. I’m at emotional odds with either, frankly. “Preferable” is a relative term. Neither – it seems to me – should ever be labeled “preferable.”

 

† † † † †

At the Last

At the last,
when the salt-brined smell of urine
soaked the entire room;
when you looked up and saw past me
beyond the darkening doom;
when you touched me with your purple-mottled hand
and gently squeezed;
when the curtains softly billowed
with the cooling evening breeze
and masked the stench of death
with a honey-suckled ease;
I wanted to hold on – and
not to ever let you free
from my selfish one desire:
please do not ever go from me.

† † † † †

At the Last, Again

At the last, when starched-white papers lay open on my desk,
and I saw your signature scribble, and leafed through all the rest
of official proclamations, now registered and done,
of the death of “and now they are one” where nobody won
and all took losses, stride for stride,
and not much was left – nor much to hide –
of what began in earnest and looked out hopefully,
yet ran its course for better,
then ran aground for worse
and now we both are finally free.
Aren’t we?

† † † † †

Perspective

2 Sep

Perspective

By L. Stewart Marsden

Anton Ego, food critic, is a character in one of my favorite movies: Pixar’s Ratatouille. A sophisticated version of the Grinch, he seethes venom with his condescending reviews of the restaurant industry in Paris.

He says,

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.”

It is metaphor to our current and perplexing nationwide conflict. Too easy to slip in the word “media” where Ego is talking about food critics. Or, perhaps, the extreme Right, or the extreme Left.

If you are familiar with the story, you remember he goes to investigate the hullabaloo over a new chef at a once-thriving restaurant.

There, a waiter asks if Ego knows what he would like for his meal.

Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, in addition to its devastation and carnage of Houston and the surrounding area, we are also left with perspective.

Facebook abounds with quotes and images similar to “America is NOT Charlottesville; America is Houston!”

Well, we’re both. Unfortunately. The perfect among us cannot hide nor eradicate the imperfect.

As a nation, we show the world our best and our worst. From the vitriol of antagonists who can’t stand one another, and are dedicated to sniping at every opportunity (we thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and read), to belittling and bashing one another; to hitching a thousand boats and driving thousands of miles to help with search and rescue and aid.

As Dickens wrote,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Perspective. We say that in the aftermath of tragedy: it put things into perspective.

Why does it take a devastating hurricane, tornado, illness, horrific event to grab our attention, shake sense into us enough for us to see (some of us, that is) that we are better than whatever it is that brings us shame?

It’s like we’re caught up in an emotional maelstrom that dulls all other senses and sensitivities. Perhaps a quasi-mob mentality, only the mobs are at either end of a see-saw. The vast majority of us just want none of it. Content to let things play out. Please, we say, can we not go back to normalcy?

We are all afflicted in one way or another.

Perspective. Not sure which is worse: the radical ends of the spectrum, or the sluggish majority that separates the extremes.

With disasters come the stirring of wills to be involved in some helpful way. Who is helped at the time is not dependent upon nation of origin, color of skin, gender identification, religious value, primary language spoken, political affiliation, economic standing, outstanding warrants, meat-eater or vegan, educational accomplishments. Or any other attribute that would normally keep us from deigning to be involved with that victim.

For a moment, we will have experienced what it is to give emotionally and financially and physically to a cause without regard to anything but the betterment of those who have lost home and loved ones.

This, too, shall pass.

Houston and the area will eventually get cleaned up. The snipers and critics have already begun to crawl out of the water-saturated woodwork and begin what they do best. The nation will breathe a sigh of relief at not having more than half the nightly news centered on all of the problems that do and eventually will exist. We’ve done our heartfelt and pocket-felt due diligence, and can return to normal.

And the carousel will start up again, slowly at first, and crescendo to spinning speeds.

Until the next disaster.

When,  once again, we will be presented with the opportunity to gain Perspective.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

24 Aug

Things That Go Bump in the Night

By L. Stewart Marsden

Since a kid I’ve been susceptible to my imagination at night, seeing things or hearing things that weren’t there. The jacket hung on a door hangar, transformed into a ghoulish being by the dark tones of night. The darkest corner of the ceiling, harboring a shapeless “thing” that would suddenly jump out at me. Things skittering about on the periphery of my vision.

I saw “King Kong” down at the beach one summer, and was effected for life. Years later, “The Time Machine,” also at the beach, had me turning my back on the one window in my bedroom, assured that if/when I turned to look, I’d see the red eyes and white-haired blue bodies of the Morlocks staring in on me.

Karloff, Lugosi, Lon Chaney & son, Price, Christopher Lee were the men behind the monsters, and I loved them all. I devoured magazines on horror make-up, anxious to uncover the magic behind Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula and the Wolfman.

Like Cosby’s great schtick on the radio show, “Lights Out,” I loved being scared. Not horrified, mind you (the advent of Nightmare on Elm Street and other blood movies was not to my liking at all), but scared.

Everything was filmed in black and white, even though Technicolor was available.

Yeah. Scare me to death.

The night before I left for prep school I watched a horror film called “Blood of Dracula.” It was about a girls school where one of the faculty had somehow procured the blood of the vampire, and along with a magical pendant, could turn students into creatures of the night. I wondered if one of the faculty members – maybe the science teacher – was likewise preparing for us boys and I would meet my destiny with horror.

At prep school, I was quartered in an old wood frame dorm, House C. I shared one of the second-story rooms with my roommate who was from Savannah. The rooms were spacious. My window looked out onto the delivery court of the Walker Building, a combination dormitory, office, and dining hall structure of brick and antebellum design. Several floodlights illumined the delivery court – a large square with a loading dock along one side. It was the favorite haunt at night of dozens of feral cats, who gathered to fight over garbage and other night-time activities. When late evening fog would roll into the square, and the cats would begin to fight, screeching and growling, it was the perfect soup for my imagination.

After lights out, I would pull out a flashlight, bury myself under my bed sheets, and read from Bram Stoker’s classic horror tale, “Dracula.” The fog, the cats’ yowlings echoing  in the courtyard, were the perfect visual/aural background, and more than elicited my ripe and visceral imaginings.

As I grew older, I outlasted my childish fears. I revisit them for entertainment, as well as escape from the real and far more scary realities of this day – the things that really do go “bump” in the night.

 

Hmmm.

The Roller Coaster – reposted

23 Aug

The Roller Coaster
by L. Stewart Marsden

Clanking loudly up we climb
Blue sky is all we see
As we ascend I think that I’m
Not ready for the free fall
next to come once we’ve
o’ercome the summit – and leave
the slowness of our pace
to plummet through both time and space
to ten thousand feet below.

As we dive at breakneck speeds
I wonder why I didn’t heed
my inner warnings not to go,
yet despite the things I know
I turned and said, “I do.”
And the ensuing rock-about
which slings me up and nearly out
in spite of how I cry and shout
does not slow or stop.

And you sit laughing, head flung back,
enjoying both the speed and fall,
while I wish I’d re-decideded
my choice to take the ride at all,
as bile and gall build up inside,
I muster all to save my pride
and keep from heaving ho –
I know there’s miles of track to go
before we ever start to slow.

After spinning upside down
and turning circles all around
I’m fairly certain I am bound,
when this ride’s through,
to kiss the ground.
And finally, finally, FINALLY
we start to finally slow,
and I can’t wait to stand and go
on wobbly legs with woozy head,
you grab my arm and say instead,
“You wanna ride again?”
I look, and while my vision spins,
and stomach churns with breakfast stuff,
I answer, with a sickly grin,
“I think six times is quite enough.”

 

Reblogging on the occasion of reading another’s use of the roller coaster metaphor, only related to adolescence. If you would like to read that poem, click below to be hyperlinked.

Woes of Adolescence