holidays

they let him sit way in the back of the car, in a tiny space above the engine, back of the soft leather seats, in a spot really designed for a single suitcase alone. there were times they went to parties. lacking a sitter, they settled him into this nook and drove around until the engine had warmed. the cozy rumble of the motor put him asleep in a wink. they parked, partied and he slept. they returned late, drove home and carried him up to his room. he never knew, but for their tales.

on road trips he climbed back there, feet drawn, knees bent, the bunk just wide enough to fit. the mottled carpet felt rough and scratchy on his legs. he lay there and looked up through the low sloping window and watched as clouds turned into high flying dragons. often he imagined them as wispy lily maidens, garlanded, beckoning, rising from trembling lakes. fully prepared to heed their call, he had keenly studied their dark drawings in a picture book of fables from the black forest. that book had smelled musty, like a fog shrouded lake where neptune rose to watch the dance of his daughters.

heat from the engine, the rev of the loud motor soon had him in a dream, slouched in a pearl shell chariot, next to salacia, neptune's alluring queen. he raised the god's trident in triumph, savage sea horses driving the skiff madly, ardent dolphins riding apace.

the clatter of rain woke him, drubbing the sleek roof above. beads of the downpour trilled past his window, slithering in the airstream chasing the car. a fly buzzed in a corner above him against the smooth glass, where the porsche badge had begun to blister and peel. he reached up and the fly, as flies do, clambered to another corner, then bumbled down, started anew and began walking upside down, why did it not fall, he thought: was it its suction cups? he pushed on one of the triangular side windows. they were pop-outs, you turned a knob and the window hinged out with a snapping sound. now he had fresh air. the nosy fly ambled over and was gone. sucked out, drawn by the draught. rain had come as sudden as the return now of blue sky.

they were on the way to a vacation in the small village of his aunt. he loved spending his summers there, away from the city, in what seemed an endless terrain, the dark woods, the deep meadows, the small brook, where he could sail his boat. he had built it himself, but his aunt sewed the sails. a small push brought the boat past weeds out into the main of the creek, where a curling eddie made it keel over, float sideways and finally sink. he loved riding a bike at the edge of the woods along a mossy forester's lane. he didn't dare cross into the trees, because his uncle had told him of bears. he and uncle once walked up from the meadows into the forest. the trail lead along narrow tracks deeper into a tall pinetree grove. as thick undergrowth begun to line the path on both sides, afternoon's light slowly faded. he was scared. he grabbed uncle's hand, wanting to turn back, down to the meadow. just then he heard a horrendously loud growl, a truly abhorrent snarl. uncle bragged back home that the boy had jumped seven feet. he found out much later that uncle had been in cahoots with his friend, the butcher's son. that always cocky boy needed a lesson. of course uncle never heard the end of this. much later he found his shoe wouldn't fit. a dead mouse found a toe hold and afterlife in the tip of his boot. the dog was blamed, but there were two who knew better.

his aunt showed him how to smoke cigarettes, helped raising a tent made of bedsheets and willow poles, which fell when the dachshund made off with a main stay. when it rained, or if he felt like it he stayed in bed reading. or wanting tea. he might sway from a swing hanging from rafters in the old hay-loft. he did as he pleased, much as his very strict holiday schedule called for. aunt called him a lebenskünstler, an artist of life.

the town of ulm was their turn-off from the autobahn, down and around to a two lane road heading south, narrowly twisting. a sudden hay wagon slowed the ride, but shifting twice they got by, though just barely. the sudden raw acceleration forced him against the back, gasping, but thrilled in the rush of blowing past. the rig's driver shook his fist at them, but he stuck his tongue out at this meandering hack. he was squealing as their motor revved high, the car cutting tight into a narrow turn. feigning now, he drove his own five-fifty spyder on the track, racing ferraris, his voice made raucous, make belief shifting gears, and screechingly braking, boosting his engine piercingly loud. high drama from back, inside his very own cockpit.

such bluster drove them batty.
stop it! stop it right now, as though he had put his toy gun to their forehead.

once a police car, flashing lights, stopped them. he slid from his den then, that very instant, pretending to sleep, lolling like an angel, snuggling his teddybear, sprawled out in the rear seat. this was only a traffic check. a madly speeding motorist had been observed, the constable noted. how could it have been them though, as they had been slowed, hadn't they, for some time at that, behind cows driven to pasture.

he then told the story they'd already heard a thousand times: how uncle got caught inside a herd of cows on his bike and how he had bumped himself on, from hind to hindquarter, nudging and pushing with one hand on some of those many rear ends, until, it had to happen, he pushed at a cow only to find his hand, then his forearm disappearing deep, than deeper into the animal's wide open rear. the cow lurched, as she would, tail up straight, uncle and bike in tow. they thought the story neither true nor very funny.

with the constable's help the herd moved finally into their pasture. the cowhand turned out a girl in a little skirt and black rubber boots, her ponytail swishing like the tail of one of her cows.

aunt paula's house was small. the factory, where tall machines pressed black powder into brown bakelite light-switches, and a small office were downstairs. to get upstairs you climbed a half-turn staircase for the kitchen, a bath, two bedrooms, a hay loft and a sunday room, where he slept on a sofa nearly long enough to stretch out. aunt paula and her husband, uncle otto, and gerd, their son, lived in this upstairs, together with a little german dachshund, who came around at night to bite his toes, always making trouble, or barking at imaginary mice. there was a maid, ottilia, came up in the morning to work the household, she cooked and washed and cleaned, while his aunt was downstairs in the office doing the books, sending bills and keeping inventory straight. uncle otto dealt with the factory and smoked countless cigarettes. his girls, mostly locals, worked his huffing machines. the girls were farmer's daughters, done milking cows and cleaning stables. uncle paid well, with vacation and work finished at four most afternoons. gerd was around. unless he was off in the woods with his fiancee, or made deliveries or one time fell off his bike trying to get past a herd of cows.

his beloved aunt had walked to the end of the village to roll out a "welcome to kirchberg" banner. with all the trouble he caused, he was her summer event and she, like him, couldn't wait for his holiday to begin. his favorite dish was warming in the oven, ottilia had rolled out the dough, paula mixed the filling, now he sat down and devoured those squares, crisped in brown butter, maultaschen they called this. his parents spent a night at the mosquito hotel, they didn't sleep much, and drove back the next day. they had their own holiday for a while, until they came back to reclaim the son who couldn't be found. no one knew where he might be, clearly hiding, uncle saw him running away, but had no idea where to. while they searched, he had climbed back into his pit, back in the car, looking up through the glass, at summer clouds, already dreaming. it took paula's third instinct to spot him. they all cried good bye, he crawled out once more to give his aunt a hug made to last until next time.

uncle otto called him his mother's son. he had given him ten marks to get stamps and mail a small package at the main post office a few miles away. he pedaled his aunt's bike there and found that the parcel cost only four marks to send. uncle had said to keep the balance, which meant he could buy a small cap gun and become billy the kid. uncle called him a spendthrift. but he shot his way through the barn chasing chickens, who took off squawking in terrified flight. the dachshund thought this a wholly new adventure, ran in crazed circles, barking madly. out of ammo billy played wild west for another day. then the gun without caps ended up in a box of uncle's utterly useless items, next to a zippo without flint wheel, a one arm scissor, a lone belt buckle, old wire rims missing a lens, a bell without clapper, many, many a screw, brassy and silver, a spool of pink threat. you never know, he would say. he was a fixer. his hands knew a sledgehammer as well as a micronometer. my aunt came to him, a small splinter under her red thumbnail and he pulled it with flat tweezers. he owned three cigarette lighters: a toujour'le, a peut-être'le and of course the jamais'le, that zippo lost a flint wheel. he only spoke a certain kind of french. to keep the kid from further trouble he had him polish bakelite light-switches on a slow turning buff wheel, but the kid polished his fingernails instead. when he was to sweep the floor, he made like a witch on her broomstick. the girls thought this funny, and laughed, when uncle tried to catch him, and catch him he did, to give him a spanking. but only in jest. his aunt was sure of that.

they had only one phone and it was down in the office. a black heavy bakelite instrument to be used mostly for business. when his aunt needed my uncle and knew that he was with his fiancee, she could have called, instead she had him take her bike to fetch uncle from the other end of the village. he pedaled past the crossroads and out toward a house adjacent to woods. there he'd been told he'd find uncle, likely upstairs, but he'd better knock before walking in. he knocked on two doors with no answer, but thought he'd heard a moan from a door down the hall. uncle lay flat out in bed, toes in socks, pointing up. tony, the fiancee, midways on top, brightly naked. as she flustered a sheet, he thought her strong bouncy backside impressive. uncle's supposed to come home, he scarcely managed and ran.

blackberry brambles on the fence to the neighbor's house were regularly trimmed by a goat, but only on their side. over at paula's they grew luscious berries, which in late summer were warmed by afternoon's sun and tasted dark and juicy. he picked them hand to mouth.


blackberries were himalayan, his aunt explained. he had only a vague notion of the himalayas as a place very far away, with gigantic mountains, somewhere in asia, always in snow. hard to imagine these berries would grow where it was cold and icy and wintry all the time. uncle said that huddled between those massive mountains were mild valleys. the berries likely grew there, but let's look it up. a singular encyclopedia, stamped "brockhouse" in old gold was chained to its desk-stand down in the office. an altogether fat book, with many pages, each page fragile off delicate paper, kept open to the last search by a wide red ribbon. he had to wash his hands before he could turn any pages. especially after eating blackberries. it turned out that the berries were native to virtually anywhere, most often considered a pest. he couldn't believe, that a delicious berry like that could be a nuisance and began to doubt how resourceful this book might actually be. uncle thought him smart to doubt what was printed, even in the "brockhaus". but he had lost interest and ran off with his kite to the stubble fields, where two days ago wheat stood high, wavering, wielding to gusts like sudden whitecaps at sea. but for now the wind was steady, white clouds on the horizon ballooning, a breeze taking to the kite in no time. everyone knows the diamond kite. it appears in all skies and usually sits dull before a slow wind, dangling a long streamer to keep steady. once the kite lifted up, flying that is, it was tugging gently on the string uncle had supplied from an endless collection of twine. the clown-faced red diamond made a little dance dallying left to right and back, now dragging at the belly of its line. the wind culled a few leaves at first, but soon the line stiffened and the once smiling clown waned as a red diamond. the string stripped from the boy's fingers and snaked away on the ground. he tried to step on it, but with each step the tail slipped further until it raveled high in a bush, then a tree and in a far distant, the blustery sky.

the boy didn't know as yet he could fly kites at sheep's meadow, the place in new york where commissioner hoving had opened central park to kite festivals and music, nor, that he would build a tetrahedral kite like graham bell's, a flying pyramid almost too big to get through the front door. he did not know of a place called "go fly a kite" on third avenue, where an indian man named bahadur taught him to fly fighter kites twirling high into eighty-second street, past ginkgo trees and fire escapes. you have to know about fighters. they go where their nose points. always. if they are before a gust and you hold the string tight they go there fast. very fast. so, at carl schurz park, up where the mayor lives in gracie mansion, where old folk like to sit in the morning sun three stories up from the east river. the wind usually comes from the west, behind you and it is perfect to fly this kind of kite. string taut it will rush in a straight line down and out of site, way down to the river below, making the old folk rise from their benches. they sit down and go "aw". you loosen the line now, twirling the kite, and nose up, line tight, he will rise straight like jesus from the grave. they go "ah" as the small diamond rises back into their view. if you know how you can go from "aw" to "ah" and back again, in a sharp spiffy. it does take some flying and a few kites drowned in the river.
at that time he hadn't met the kite-man of nantucket, who built a kite flapping its wings, a look-alike blue eagle, flew far out over tuckernuck island scaring gulls into screaming banshees.


i found this image of the nantucket kite man on line. the blue eagle kite on top, as well as the bat with green eyes next to him, i flew many times. he also made me a very large delta kite, called a valkyrie. eight feet across at the span, sewn of red heavy cotton, steeply bridled it flew in a good wind virtually straight overhead. a kite overhead is no easy feat, but at least it hasn't the pull it might 70 degrees out. once i sat in a casually tied dinghy. the eagle flew with flapping wings, on a fifty pound line about two-hundred feet out, three quarters up from horizon, tied down to the bow. it slowly pulled my little boat away from ship. trying to rope the eagle down, it ditched in the bay, close enough to fetch. but with no oars on board, i found myself far and away, mid morning, full sun, no hat, scared and alone on chesapeake bay with a wet blue eagle kite. i was of course rescued, my ship's captain slow, but found me as a spot in his binoculars and sent a speed boat waterskiing my way. by then my kite had me half mile off shore.




a sofa

so, a sofa indeed.
a mere happenstance, whereby coincidence, fluke and chance arrived sequentially. luck as it came around played the role of serendipity, or as they say: who'd have thunken. 
alka selzer is a remedy of absolute necessity after a heavy meal, even a lowly midnight butter sandwich. and so again on sunday, it relieved six slices of sumptuous bacon, the rasher done to be crunchy, yet fatty and moist; sequentially devoured as in a streak from one to six. the results maximized, and i repeated in a sad voice, like the commercial of yore: i ate the whole thing, yes, i ate the whole thing. carbonation brought relieve. alas, this seltzer was the last from a once full box. to be prepared for a next occasion, which would occur and likely soon enough, i drove down the road heading for the drugstore. by coincidence i passed heart-shaped balloons on the way with a glittering sign for an estate sale. further on more balloons, and then a request: turn around - you missed the sale. i payed no mind. in this part of town yard sales are a sunday's obligatory. on my return, still more balloons advertising this sale, but this time i turned by chance, what ever for, likely not to be remiss, and soon found the estate, a small house, a few cars parked the length of a short driveway. the lady of the house sat at her kitchen counter, looking spent, but counting money. her estate was decidedly bare, scant items still for sale. should have come earlier, she said. it was as it was, late afternoon, bargains were gone, a small pretty sofa remained alone. it was covered in raspberry plush asking for a hundred dollars. it gave a sigh as i sat, as though it too had had a long day. careful, the woman fussed, it's broken, my brother lazed his three hundred pounds into it and cracked the frame.
hm, i said, getting up gingerly, wanting no further damage to make. she offered a fuzzy oversized recliner. it too had faults. someone had turned its handle beyond leisure and there it was, stretched to the max and no return. reminded me of a doll, whose arm rotated, each forward turn increasing her breast. as in the recliner, the arm had swiveled beyond pivots and barbie for ever abounded jane mansfield.
i left, but the image of the sofa remained with me all the way home. how well it would fit into our chimney room. might it be fixed? it had looked so innocent, barely groaned as i sat, and surely a broken frame could be rebuild. in the night, at the edge of my sleep, i considered various mends and repairs, though i hardly knew of the damage. monday mid-day i turned back into the driveway. the front door was closed, but a bell soon brought the woman downstairs.
she didn't wear much of a top, a mere whitish halter aside. she waved me in, as i pointed to the sofa, a hundred dollars in my other hand. oh, she said, we're going to keep it. my husband, he is a dentist, he thinks he can brace it. it's true, we're moving to a much smaller place, but look, it would fit so nicely right there by the entry. bending far over, she pointed to a low side table and a spot on her spread-out floor plan. leering, felt myself blush, got confused and stammered, but i have a hundred dollars right here. she looked at my money and then at my face. now she deeply inhaled, expanding. and she refused my offer, tossing her curls, clearly determinedit will fit so nicely there in the alcove, and my husband, he surely can fix it.
well, call me i said, if you change your mind, in a day or so, or if your husband can't fix it. 
she called, a day later. we're going to keep it, she said. he'll be fixing it with a steel brace.
a steel brace? on a sweet little sofa with a wooden frame? i gasped. he ought to splice it with rosewood or walnut, at least that, but please, not with steel! 
well, he is a dentist, she said, he can do anything he wants.
so i waited a couple of days. then i called her back. you know, i said, i'm a husband and when my wife wants something fixed i tell her, i'll do it right a way. of course i'm not a dentist, but i'm busy too. i've got other things on my mind, so i'll soon forget what she wants done. in time, she'll forget about it too. so no one remembers and life goes on. but all that aside, i'd like to offer you a bribe. i'll pay you two hundred dollars for that broken thing. this way you won't have to nag your husband and you don't have to move yet another piece of broken furniture. you can buy yourself a nice frock for the dough. he won't even have to know. so, call me back, if you change your mind and want the cash.
by wednesday she phoned. you still offer two hundred dollars, right? and you can pick it up right away?
so i went and brought my little sofa home. a brace of walnut fit nicely across the crack. hide glue and some fat brass screws got the job done by week's end. i reposed in it, a dram of malt in one hand, a pale churchill in the other.
next day my cat took possession.