Kouzelný Praha

1-3-13  The prompt:    Make short end of the year lists

What I bring with me     What I leave behind


I left tired.  There was no more time to lose.  Whatever it took, Linda and I were getting on that plane and heading to Prague, away from the Fiscal Cliff, away from a dysfunctional country, away from school shootings and deficits and shouting.  Just away.  It was, after all, a vacation.

I felt bad running away from something awful instead of running to something wonderful.  I just didn’t know what to expect, and the recent past was pushing quite forcefully at my back.

My greatest fear in going was the airport and all that has happened since I last flew on 2000.  Not to worry, everything went well.  Taking off shoes and belts was just stupid.  Nobody touched my junk.  The worst part of the whole trip was being so crowded on the plane that I couldn’t move for seven hours.  You think that’s not so bad?  You try it and come dancing off the plane in Frankfurt.  Good luck.     Continue reading

We Sail The Ocean Blue

2-7-13 Written at Tanya’s house


Random words pulled from a hat:

Two words:  Gratitude, schooner

Next word:   Amnesty

Next word:  Intrigue


It was good to be on the water again.  I had come down from a landlocked town at the behest of a distant friend who had made it big.  Jim had more toys than he knew what to do with, and a few that he couldn’t play with alone.  The schooner was one of the latter.  What had possessed him to buy a full-rigged seventy five foot schooner?

I ran him through the basics of setting up the boat, got him situated in the cockpit, and started the diesel up to get us away from the dock. Jim was a fair dinkum motorer, I found out.  He could point the boat in a direction and go there, avoid buoys and sandbars if they were pointed out to him, and he kept a smile on his face the whole while.  I like confidence in a sailor.

We came out of the channel into the sound, and I headed forward to set the sails.  I suddenly had a pilot with split attention.  Jim had to keep the boat pointed into the wind for me, but he wanted to watch what I was doing at the same time.  I blessed him with first-timers amnesty, and gently let him know if he was about to kill me with a jib sheet across the throat.  As the sails were unfurled and caught the wind, the boat suddenly came to life, and I had Jim cut the engine.  He got that right the first time.

Silence came over us, and Jim was blessed with the serenity of the sailor.  He didn’t have that need to fill the space with talk, and I sat back and enjoyed the wind in my face as he learned to sail his new toy.  I was intrigued by his ability to take this all in stride, and he explained that for the past five years he had been studying Zen Buddhism when not working and making gobs of money.  The dichotomy was stunning.  A filthy rich Buddhist.  What do you know?

I finally felt comfortable enough to go below and get us a couple of beers.  There is nothing like drifting along with the wind in your face and a beer in your hand.  Luckily Jim hadn’t fallen head over heels into vegetarianism and abstinence, so the beer was welcomed.  We sat back, listened to the waves at the bow, and remembered our past together.

“Jim, whatever happened to that girl you were hanging out with when we graduated?”

“She went her own way”, Jim said.

Brevity.  I liked that,  too.

We were running out of water, and I told Jim what to do to get us turned around.  I headed forward, and Jim let out a hearty “Jibe, ho!”  I ducked fast to avoid a swinging boom.  I figured that he had a fine future ahead of him on the water.


Oh my God

I don’t know where my writing comes from. I really don’t. I used to do comedy improv on stage, and I never knew what I was going to do on stage before I went out before the audience. I was always surprised, and often shocked. That is how I feel now with the prompted writing from Main Street Writers. How do we all come up with such different stories from the same prompt? I’ll admit that this piece left everyone in the room stunned, myself included.


The prompt:
Write down the name of the song going through your head
Create a character that hears this song
Create the action they are going through related to the song.

I hummed along with the TV, knowing that the theme song from Rocky and Bullwinkle would be there for the duration of vacuuming and probably well into the laundry. Why the hell had I left that channel on? Will was outside playing in the sandbox and was totally oblivious. I had work that needed to get done, and Frank wouldn’t be home for another two hours. I strode over and killed the TV. Just like the bumper sticker said. Finally, silent bliss.

I peeked out the window to check on Will and headed upstairs to collect the week’s worth of laundry that always seemed to take longer to wash than it took to wear. Frank was actually the one who donated the most to the laundry pile. He insisted on a clean pair of pants every day, and the thought of wearing a shirt twice would send him to the emergency room with symptoms of a stroke. I had learned early on in our relationship that Frank was Frank and there was no discussion of how, where, when and even if Frank would live his life. He was good to me, and doted on Will, so I had no complaints.

I scooped up Will’s handful of clothes, checked under the bed for strays, and schlepped down to the laundry room. As I sorted, I heard Will carrying on a conversation with his imaginary friend Mr. Bump. The two were inseparable. Literally. Mr. Bump had lived a very real life in Will’s imagination for three of his five years. The conversation out in the back yard had become heated.

“Don’t put it there, Mr. Bump. I can’t reach it if it’s so far away, and we’re supposed to share.”

“Okay, Silly Willy, here.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. That wasn’t Will. I could feel the panic set in as I headed out of the laundry room and over to the window. Looking out, I saw Will sitting alone in the middle of the sandbox, running a dump truck back and forth through the dirty sand and over all of the plastic army guys he had dumped there.

This was the first time I had heard Mr. Bump speak in the three years of his existence.

“Will?” I tried to keep the tremor out of my voice. “How are you doing out there? Is everything okay?”

Will looked up and smiled over toward me. “I’m fine, Mommy,” he said. “Do you want to come out and play with me and Mr. Bump?”

Everything seemed fine. Maybe it was a hallucination. “I have to do the wash, but I’ll be out as soon as it’s in.” Will bowed his head and went back to work.

I had the clothes in the washing machine and was adding soap when I heard the voice again.

“Hey, do you want to see something?”

Will’s little voice came through the window.

“Sure, what is it?”

That wasn’t Will. I had no idea of what was going on, but that wasn’t my Will. I ran through the house, wrestled the slider open and ran across the deck toward the sandbox. I couldn’t see my son. The truck was there, tipped on its side. Army guys were scattered around. There, on one triangular corner seat was a folded piece of paper. I snatched it up and scanned the yard for Will.

“Will! Where are you! I told you not to leave the yard!”

I glanced down at the paper in my hand. In neat flowing script that didn’t come from the hand of a five year old was written “Gone on an adventure. Be right back.”

It was the neighbor who said she heard my screams. She called the police, and came running from across the street. In the hospital she seemed concerned for me. I didn’t know why she wasn’t out with everyone else looking for my Will.

Five years later, I still don’t remember anything after reading the note. Just the sound of a voice that wasn’t my son.

God bless you, Mr. McNamara

The writing in our little group is often all over the place. The six or seven of us, or on a busy and crowded night, maybe eight, huddle over our notebooks or laptops and pour our words onto the surface, reflecting our lives, passions or dreams. I have heard fiction, memoir, sci-fi, fantasy, horror so thrilling it set me back in my chair with my mouth open. Thank you, Tanya, for that one. Kathy leads us and joins in, reading last after she is certain all in her charge have had their say. It always works, even when it is a struggle and words come slowly. This piece came slowly because I was back in elementary school, experiencing daily life fully. Time travel will never become practical, if only because going back is so painful.

The prompt: You learned basic grammar from a specific teacher when you were young. Write about it for 30 minutes.

He called me Kev. That was enough to turn me on my head. Never before in my life had anyone except my father called me by a nickname. I did get the occasional “Hey, doofus!” or “Dork”, but that was about as creative as the kids could get in sixth grade, and after that I learned to disappear.

Mr. McNamara was an English teacher. He was there to teach us how to read, write and speak like proper little ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately for the administration folks at the Tuckahoe School, Mr. McNamara was one of those adventuresome teachers, and he would often give us an example of good or bad grammar by quoting something from Beowulf or Ulysses, and the whole exercise would fall apart. He did one thing brilliantly, though. When no one else in the world could see, he recognized me.

I was the lost child. He knew that I was always the one called out behind the school during recess so the class bully of the day could beat me up. He knew that the bully didn’t have a gender or a color or a reason. Somewhere along the line as playground monitor, he must have heard the siren call of the bully: “If you’re not there, you’re a chicken, and I’ll get you tomorrow twice as bad.”

So, one day in the Fall, after English class was over, Mr. McNamara said, quietly, “Kevin, could I have a word with you for just a sec?”

The chill of the outcast child ran through my body, and I stayed in my seat as everyone else left for lunch. I gazed ahead, miserable and defeated, waiting for something dreadful from the only teacher I liked. The last thread of good in this school was about to be cut.

“So, Kev,” he said, “what’s been going on?”

My face must have flushed bright red, and my head must have sunk down just a bit more. I looked up with tears in my eyes and didn’t say anything.

“I thought so. I didn’t know it was that bad, but I thought so.” Mr. McNamara got up from his desk and came over. He sat in the chair next to me. There was no comforting arm around my shoulder. There was no shoulder to cry on. Those things would have ruined it all, and he must have known that was so. I knew then that he was one of the good guys.

Ten minutes and a tissue or three later, a pat on the back, and I went back out into the world of fear and pain. My eyes were red from the outpouring of all the torment, but this time I had a secret weapon to hold and guide me. Tucked into my pocket was a short hand written note from the English teacher. It read “Kevin Cooke has my permission to read in the library each day after lunch and before his first afternoon class.”

The first book was about parachuting, and how to do it. The next one was about flying an airplane. It was Mr. McNamara who got me interested in science fiction, and I read my way through the meager holdings of the library. Back in the Sixties, sci-fi was not legitimate, and would get you the same response as finding a Playboy in your locker. Isaac Asimov seemed to be on the approved list. I read all about the Pacific Islands where my dad had fought. I still read comic books at home, but when I was finished with lunch at school, I would head down to the library and enter worlds where I could be me. Sometimes more than me, and sometimes a super hero me, but often just me learning how to do something that the kids out on the playground didn’t or couldn’t do. Sometimes I read something and would write a book report for Mr. McNamara as a thank you gift. Just being there was enough, but just in case you didn’t know it, thank you, Mr. McNamara, for calling me “Kev.”

On your knees!

The prompt: Write about a person doing a household chore

Prunes! My hands had turned to prunes! Between doing the dishes and scrubbing the floor, I had ruined my hands. It would take hours for the skin to shrink back from ninety-nine year-old to fifty-seven. I’d never play the violin again!

It didn’t help that I didn’t play the violin before soaking my hands in hot water. I was just pissed that the possibility of a career as a concert violinist was now closed to me. I’d have to dream about something else.

I had all the time in the world. I had just moved in yesterday, and found that the kitchen had beautiful, almost new, linoleum tiles, just like when I was ten. The image of my mother on her knees with a bucket of soapy water and a scrub brush came to mind immediately. Images like this always come fully formed. The sight of the floor triggered a single picture, and the past cascaded back into my memory. The wet floor, the smell of ammonia, the cry of “Don’t walk in the kitchen! I just washed the floor!”

No Shinyl Vinyl here. A 1960’s-era floor was worth the work. The shine would last all of two weeks if I was lucky. I got busy. Hot water. Spic and Span. How long had it taken to find THAT? A cup of ammonia. Eyes tearing, and nose hairs standing on end. Had my mother put up with this every two weeks? Yikes! But then again, with the hordes of kids in our house, Cub Scouts, Brownies, she probably did this once a week or more. What a trooper she was. No wonder she welcomed the era of Shinyl Vinyl.

I scrubbed. I soaked. I sweated. The years of accumulated grime and wax slowly liquefied. I got out the scraper and stripped the wax. Yuck! How did she do it? But then again, if she could deal with five kids in seven years, Mom could deal with a bit of wax scum.

After an hour it was dry. I ended up with a clean, dull, speckled floor. Now for the magic. I popped the top on the can of liquid floor wax. Poured it out in a far corner. Grabbed the lambs wool applicator and began the artistry. I swept back and forth, careful not to leave overlapping ridges, but also not scrubbing back and forth over and over. It was like shellacking over the Mona Lisa. Just a thin layer would bring out the beauty and protect it from the ages. I was the Leonardo, the Michelangelo, the Rembrandt of the kitchen floor.

The question came from out of the past, in the voice of a ten year old boy. “When will it be done?”

“When it’s finished.” said my mother.

Kinsallagh Upper

Another early work. This one came to mind all of a piece, and I just had to get it down on the keyboard before the bell rang. Kathy has this wonderful little brass zen bowl that she rings at ten minutes to, and then a gently spoken “Come back, come back.” The re-entry to the group after zoning out with writing can be abrupt, or it can be gentle. I never know ahead of time, just as I never know where the prompt will take me.

The prompt: Pick a word from a list : “fenn”

It was like coming home to a place he’d never been before. The green was so deep he could feel it. As he stepped down off the lorry and into the square, a villager passed and smiled, acknowledging him. “I guess I’ve done the right thing” he said to himself. Pack on back, Michael turned and walked out of town. His only guidepost was the peak off to the south, glaring in the rare sunlight. The sea on his right, he hiked along for much of the morning. A mob of slaneys passed, boots mucked from cutting peat up on the fenn. They were all strapping lads, and Michael had dreams of emulating them in future days. The peat bogs were the Golds Gym of western Ireland, make no mistake of it.

It was his Dad’s land, bought unseen from an ad in the back of the Irish Times. Michael had never set eyes on it, nor had he wished to before. Now, it was a pilgrimage. He turned away from the water, heading inland and up, climbing the shoulder of the big mountain. The road was rough but fair. It wound its way through the fields of grass and sheep, always going up. As he walked, Michael reviewed a lifetime of love, hate, fear and desire. You can’t hate someone forever and stay a man. Especially if it was someone as close as your dad.

Pretty soon the tears started, and his shoulders fell just a bit. What was he doing here, so far from home and all alone? The sibs didn’t understand it. “Move on” they said. “Live your life, not his.” Before noon, he turned onto the gravel path. A half mile now, and it would all be over. Behind him, a pilgrim crawled up the dusty stone road on her knees, heading for the summit to pray at the cross. They all did it here, the old hags, with their god-fearing ways, clutching a
cross to their withered breasts and mumbling the rosary and stations of the cross. What good does it do ya?

The path ended at an open field, a famine cottage off to the side and water seemingly everywhere. It was Michael’s now. The old man was gone. The mountain gave him strength, and he reached into his pack and drew out the urn. Wrestling the top off, he looked into it, seeing a lifetime of fear and pain, lies, betrayal. Lifting it over his head, the wind to his back and the sacred mountain over his shoulder, he inhaled, exhaled, and fertilized the land with all that was left of his father. The sun shone, the wind blew, and Michael was home.