Confabulation: A Short Story

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This is a short story which I have tried for years to get published.  Some of the rejection letters were even nice about it,  including the one who told me  “it isn’t what we are looking for,” but going on to say it was something that the old Weird Tales pulp magazine might have been interested in.  I agree. It really does not fit the current genres that are in vogue, but I would still classify it as science fiction.  I decided that this story wasn’t getting any younger, and that I should publish it here. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

 


Eddie was enjoying a few stolen moments with a comic book. He was a pale skinny kid with puberty looming just over the horizon. When Father summoned him into the office for the word game Eddie would have to leave his pleasure reading behind.

After school he had followed his daily schedule by doing homework for an hour, taking his fifteen-minute break with a healthy snack, and then another hour with the daily math worksheets his parents assigned him. Then it was supper after Father came home, followed by piano practice for twenty minutes, then free time until it was time for his bedtime routine. Eddie liked to read comics during his free time.

Eddie was comforted by the schedules, even when he was inclined to gently rebel against it out of a developing teenage sensibility.  He was trying not to be annoyed with the knowledge that he would soon have to stop reading his fantasy comic. Soon Father would call him into the office to give him the word of the day, and review the word from yesterday.  His mother joined them after she was finished in the kitchen.  It was like clockwork.

“Eddie,” his father called from the office.

Eddie was slow to put the comic down.

“Edward?”  Just a little louder.  Father never yelled.

A little irritated at being interrupted Eddie yelled: “Coming, Faaatherrr!”

And he immediately regretted using “that tone” of voice. He admired his father very much for being patient, kind, and for never losing his temper except for the rare instance when he seemed to do so ever so lightly, in a controlled mechanical sort of way, to make a point.  When he raised his voice it sounded contrived, like reading from a script. For some reason that puzzled Eddie but like all puzzling things he tried not to think about them. Sometimes it made  his head hurt.

Eddie got control of himself, and replied, this time in a decent tone of voice: “Coming Father.”

That sounded better. He had consciously mirrored his father’s reasonable tone. Eddie smiled. He felt nice.

Eddie closed the comic book, taking care to put it up on the top shelf exactly where it belonged on top of the rest of his collection, next to the seldom used television. It was time for the word game.

His parents smiled at him as he walked in.  Father sat behind his big polished wood desk in an overstuffed black leather office chair.  Mother was standing next to him drying her hands on a dish towel. She was wearing an apron over her house dress.

Father looked at his legal pad where the word of the day would be written.

“Confabulation,” he said to Eddie, winking with his right eye. Father was always winking at Eddie, as if they were somehow involved in some conspiracy. Eddie pretended he was in on it.

Eddie did not know that word, so he picked up the well-worn Webster’s desk reference dictionary, unabridged, that was always on his father’s desk, and looked up the term. It didn’t take him long to find it, and study the definition. Like always, he would have to put it in his own words.

“It’s sort of like a lie, but not really,” he said.

His father nodded. His mother smiled approvingly.

Eddie continued:  “Somebody tells you something not true, just like a lie, except the person thinks it is true.  They don’t know the difference.”

His father said: “Yes. It’s something that is not true, but that is perceived by the person, for whatever reason, as being true in their mind. It’s factual in memory, but false in reality.”

Eddie nodded his understanding. He whispered to  himself in an undertone: “Confabulation.” There, he had it.

Eddie then repeated it to himself several more times, then wrote it down several times on the yellow legal pad his father nudged toward him.  Father had taught him that saying a word and writing it several times were two different ways to lodge the memory of it in your memory.

“What was yesterday’s word?” Father said. It was time for the review.  That was part of the routine too.  They rotated through the alphabet one letter per week.  C was the letter for this week.  Next week it would be D.

“Contingency,” Eddie replied.  “It means what you do when something doesn’t work out.  Sort of like a backup plan.”

“Give me an example, Eddie.”  His father was methodical,  perhaps even mechanical, in his pedagogy.

“Like when Mother’s van wouldn’t start, and you had to take me to school in your car on your way to work.”  Eddie remembered how calm his parents had been, even when he had begun to panic because he was supposed to go on a field trip that day and didn’t want to miss it. As usual, it worked out. Somehow it always did.  He had arrived at school a good five minutes before the bus left, just as his father had assured him he would. Father is precise and good with time.

“Eddie, my taking you to school that day was a contingency.  Which was placed into effect when your mother’s van did not start.” Father said. “The van not starting was unforeseen.  Be prepared in life for unforeseen things. They can happen any time. Life brings surprises, and we must know how to handle them.

Looking at her watch, his mother said, “Now it is time for you to get ready for bed, young man,” as if Edward were the most mischievous little imp you could imagine. She smiled though, to let him in on the joke. Eddie smiled back, not exactly certain he knew what the joke was. He glanced at his father who winked again.  With his right eye.  With that, Eddie was dismissed.

In his small bathroom Eddie brushed his teeth with his Star Wars tooth brush, and put on his Mickey Mouse pajamas. He then spent a few moments putting his dirty clothes in the hamper, and getting out a clean outfit for tomorrow, before climbing into bed.  He would shower in the morning, but Eddie wanted his room tidy so he could sleep. He was uncomfortable when his room was messy. He was tempted to get up and check everything again, but fought back the urge.  Father said doing a thing twice was three times wasteful.

From the bed he set the alarm clock and read quietly until 9 o’clock on the dot when his parents came to him.  They tucked him in, kissed him gently, and turned off the light when they left.  Like always, their reassurance remained with Eddie after they left. He fell asleep in minutes, tired from a full, structured, day.

Eddie’s last dream that night came, as last dreams will, in the wee hours of the morning before dawn. But this dream was different from the others. It felt too real. In it there were tinkling sounds, like wind chimes, and then Eddie was walking in his Mickey Mouse pajamas down an endless hallway whose open ceiling revealed a beautiful night sky with dark purple, tumbling, clouds. Suddenly the floor began rolling, tilting, and creaking — just a little bit at first.  Then the movement became more violent, like a scary roller coaster ride, except not fun at all.

His eyelids flew open.  In no time, Eddie was fully conscious, with no cushion to absorb the jarring effect of coming out of a deep sleep.  The shaking and rocking became worse, and the tinkling sounds became even louder, no longer musical. His family pictures, and movie posters, began to fall from the walls in his room. From the sound of it, objects were falling throughout the rest of the house, too. There was a sharp popping electrical sound, and the street lights went out, leaving behind a startling darkness. The shaking became so severe that whole walls went down, including the one with the big window right next to Eddie.

Then he heard a loud snap, and something hit him on the head. That was all he knew for awhile. It was very dark.

In this new slumber he did not dream. He woke again with a start.  The sun shone deep into his room because some walls were missing, and part of the roof was gone as well. Off in the distance, Eddie heard the unanswered barking of a lone dog. He heard the keening of what he recognized as car alarms, and farther away he heard sirens.  His head hurt.  He reached up and felt a knot on it.

Across the street he could see destruction had visited the other houses as well. One was still smoldering, no longer in flames, having already burned to the ground.  He was afraid of this new mutilated landscape.

“Mother!  Father!”

He screamed it several times and then remembered one of his vocabulary words from a couple of months ago. “Hysterical.” Eddie knew he was being a little hysterical now, and it felt dangerous to him.  Then Eddie had an insight.  It seemed to him that maybe at a time like this it was fine — appropriate, even — to be a little hysterical, as long as he didn’t lose complete control. His father would have called this critical thinking.  Thoughts of Father and all the lessons he’d taught Eddie had a calming effect.  With a clearer mind, he remembered to slow down and control his breathing, just like his father had taught him.  With that came a clarity that allowed him to understand that he had most likely just survived an earthquake. Only this wasn’t on the news inside the TV screen.  This was real. He prayed his parents had survived, too.  He desperately did not want to be an orphan, and he tried to push that thought out of his mind. He did not exactly love his parents, more of a fondness,  but they were so,… reassuring.  That was the word that came to him. Another word game word from long ago.

He stood up and his feet felt the glass on the floor.  He was lucky none of it had cut him.  He saw that glass was everywhere covering the ground with a sheen of fine glittery crystals.  He carefully found a pair of shoes, and put them on without socks. Something he had never dared to do before.  It just wasn’t done. Eddie justified it as a contingency like when the van would not start. He managed to step over, and around, dangling, hanging, and protruding things from the nest of devastation that was his room.

Going into the hallway, he emerged to a changed architecture.  Half the house was collapsed flat or sideways, and the rest was sagging. Some places in the house, like the kitchen, appeared surreally untouched amidst the devastation.  Other areas were wrecked beyond recognition. He kept calling for his parents, making his way through the debris toward where he

knew their bedroom should be.  When he got there he noticed that his parent’s bedroom was not just destroyed but somehow collapsed in the middle.  At the edge of the room he saw what must be the hand of his mother sticking out delicately from under a wall that had fallen wholesale on top of her.  Her wedding ring and red painted fingernails confirmed the identification.  The fingers did not move.  He felt them, and they were cold.

Then he noticed something.  He noticed under the collapsed spot in the middle of the room, was a stairway leading down that was partially obscured by large pieces of debris. How did that get there? Eddie wondered how it was that he had not known that such a stairway existed.  Maybe his father was safe and sound somewhere down those stairs. He had to be someplace.  He should check. He started pushing some of the debris aside to make an opening big enough for him to enter.

“Father!” he yelled as he began descending the stairs. He started down the stairs careful of the slippery dust, and fine glass fragments, that covered them until he got to the very bottom where it was clear of debris.  Down here the room was untouched by the chaos of the upper level. In the room the air was crisp, and cool, and he stepped under a vent feeling a strong draft coming out.  The room was a sanctuary of order and tranquility compared the chaos above him.  It was still pretty dark though with only some dim lighting, almost like night lights, low along the walls.  It was a very modern place.  It reminded him of a science lab at school.

Again: “Father!” He waited. No response. He began moving cautiously deeper into the room until he came to an alcove. In the alcove he noticed a desk with a series of video monitors, maybe a dozen, with most of them still showing some kind of picture. A few of the other screens were all black or just static.  As for the working ones, the angles were sometimes weird and some of them showed views too obscure to identify a location. Eddie did recognize his front yard in one of them, and on another screen what was left of his bedroom. Then, outside the alcove in the room, he heard a faint clacking sound coming from the back of the room. He moved toward the sound.

By this time his eyes had adjusted to the near darkness so that he could just see what appeared to be a large glass door in back at the end of the room. He moved toward the door. It was clear then that the sound was coming from behind the door. He tried the handle, but it was locked. There was a pop, a hiss, and on the other side of the glass an odd greenish light came on.  He was fascinated as well as frightened.

With the garish light he could see a large revolving track mounted from the ceiling moving clockwise in a circle. That was what was making the sound. Suspended from the track, moving with it, was a row of headless bodies attached to the track with a big clear tube where the neck should have been. The tube was filled with what looked like a bubbling liquid. He counted seven of the bodies. The bodies had an odd tinge to their skin that was exaggerated by the green tinted light. The bodies seemed to glow ever so slightly.  The identical bodies were obviously those of a male dressed only in white boxer shorts.  Then Eddie noticed there was something at the bottom near each of their feet.

At the feet of each headless body was a head mounted on some kind of small pedestal with the eyes shut, and with the same macabre cast to the skin.  He realized the faces on the disembodied heads were identical faces of his father.  All alike accept one.  One face was flesh colored with the eyes open,  but unfocused, with one edge of the skull torn off exposing sharp looking shiny edges underneath  with dozens of tiny blinking lights and fine wire like wavy filaments where the brain should have been. Like a wound. Every now and then, from that gaping firmament, came faint sparks shooting out randomly.  Suddenly, without warning, the vacant eyes from that one wounded face looked up, focused, and glanced at Edward with a look of glad recognition.  It winked at him. With the right eye.

Eddie sensed a presence coming up from behind him out of the dark, but he fainted before he could turn around. Even as he fainted he felt something catch him, something mechanical, which take him ever so gently to the floor avoiding. He also felt just the tiniest of pinches in his behind, just like when he went to the doctor and received a shot.

Eddie slept yet once again. Dreaming mostly good dreams.  He dreamed about his life, and things he had done with his parents.  Sometimes he would start to dream about the earthquake, about his mother’s still, cold, hand poking out from under the rubble, and the headless bodies and the bodiless heads, and finally the one bodiless head that winked, … but, then something would push it back.  Then the good dreams would come again floating into his mind, and Eddie would actually giggle or sigh contentedly and move as if to snuggle against something unseen. Something warm. Gradually the bad dreams were pushed further, and further, back and found little purchase.  Then the bad things mostly disappeared. They survived just on the lonely edge of his consciousness. The good dreams, the happy thoughts, took over.  Shortly after the happy thoughts took control, Edward woke up.  It was funny what woke him up. Frying bacon.  The distinct sound, and smell, of frying bacon.

Edward sat up in his bed. His mouth watered. Everything was as it should be. Mostly. Around him there were some signs of repairs completed, and some still underway, but that was okay.  They were remodeling.  He seemed to remember Mother saying it was time to change some things. “Spruce the place up a bit.” Father had agreed. They never argued or disagreed that Eddy knew of. As a matter of fact, now he distinctly remembered how they had all talked it over. He seemed to remember it better now the more he thought about it. It felt good to think this way.

He got out of bed barefoot, and for a second thought maybe he should put on shoes so he would not cut his feet on the glass, but wherever that strange thought came from it went right back there just as quickly as it had appeared.  It did not feel good to think like that.  As the thought disappeared Eddie was rewarded with that now familiar soft tickling feeling that made him feel warm, safe, and even a bit giddy. Eddie actually giggled out loud getting out of bed, barefoot after all, moving toward the smell and sound of that bacon, and the light coming from the kitchen.

His father was at the table with a cup of steaming hot coffee, and the newspaper. He was reading the sports section just like always. Mother was at the stove in her long apron.  Mother started fixing his plate.  “So my little sleepy head gets up after all!  Good thing it’s Saturday and you can sleep late as you want” as if Edward was the most mischievous little imp you could imagine. She smiled though, to let him in on the joke.

She brought over his plate bending down to kiss him lightly on the head before setting his food down. Two scrambled eggs, two toast triangles, and two strips of bacon.  There was even a sliver of orange on the side as a garnish. Her red nails were perfect. Everything was perfect.

“Eddie?”  It was his father.

From the look of his father Eddie knew what was coming.  A surprise word game was coming. Every now and then his father liked to surprise him at breakfast reviewing a vocabulary word that they had learned previously.

His father put down the paper, and picked up his coffee mug.  Eddie noticed that his father’s head was still bandaged covering some kind of injury. Eddie started to remember something, something kind of dark, and scary, but then felt the tickle feeling again.  Suddenly he remembered how his father had fallen in the tub while taking a shower, but that he was mending just nicely.  Eddie was glad his father was making a full recovery. He was happy this memory had just popped into his mind as if from nowhere.

His father looked at him and smiled. He stared over his coffee cup at Eddie. “Eddie, give me the definition of confabulation,” and then he winked. With the right eye.

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A poem, perhaps a dirge, for our times.

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The Children of Hegel

Whoa...

I need to catch my breath
as I look out the window of an ancient childhood
take inventory of the moment ponder the question:
what is this world we have become?
as we wound our way through
the serpentine flow of history
which started as a clear stream, with direction
only to slow to a trickle
then halt in a moribund morass of sludge
which has ground we the people to a halt, and history no longer flows free
but threatens to backup like a sewer
and we the children of Hegel are stranded stuck
stuck
in an eternal synthesis
in a fused bipolar cycle which is the
worst of both worlds
no thesis, and no antithesis
Marx, Hegel, and Fukuyama never saw it coming
the sucker punch of technology - Heidegger’s enfolding
and we have become the slave of it
what we failed to envision
is the possibility that good might fail
and that in the end, before the end of times
that evil would prevail
fed fat on the cancer of malignant capitalism
we descend anew into the Dark Ages
the questions remains...

Will we emerge or destroy the very foundation 
of the earth we stand upon?

Two issues. Heidegger warned that technology might not be what it seems.  He sensed something sinister in it, and wrote about it in The Question Concerning Technology. He called it an enfolding. I hope to have a lot to say about that later in future posts.

The second issue.  A nation of vision, strength, and no little amount of moral integrity has become a debauchery of greed and indulgence, and we are ruled by a plutocracy.  Reagan’s light on a hill (say what you want at least he was no cynic and believed the rhetoric) is now a dim, and flickering, flame.  We are fading, and the grand experiment in democracy is in peril.  Oh, I know, we were never perfect.  Far from it.  But we thought we could be. We had that audacity.  God bless us for that.  We believed we could become something good, and better all humankind.

I must say a word about capitalism.  Note I used the term malignant capitalism which I want to define rather narrowly.  The one lesson America has not learned is moderation. Everything is supersized, everything is breaking news, everything is over the top.   Capitalism in and of itself is not malignant.  But, when it becomes the focus, and when the business of America is business (or making money – there is a difference and that is our present state) something bad happens. Unchecked, and monitored it becomes grotesque, and the traits of it that were virtuous become a vice. Just like the hunting rifle of old has turned into a weapon, and dangerous parody of what it once was.

 

 

Time

pocketwatch

Funny thing about time isn’t it?  We enter time  from eternity and then return to the infinite when we are done here.  In time are all born, and we all die.  Also, here in Missouri the Indian people lived before the time when white men came and drove them out.  I knew I was Native American on one side of my family, but was surprised to find out, from a surprisingly detail genealogy, that I was native American on both sides. I am 1/16th to the tribes reckoning, and they think I  had a great grandmother who was “full blood” but they couldn’t prove that at the time. 

These poems are from the time in my life where I was searching the nooks and crannies of my Native American relations. Time for some poetry with a little Indian flair!

My Death Song

as I face death
I ask You 
the Great Mystery
grant me the kindness
of no fear
that the final moments
are not seized by terror
but grace and good will
with someone to hold my hand
that is not paid 
to be there
and that my relations 
come quickly 
to greet me as I
step out into
the next journey 

Going to Water

(based on the practices of Cherokee Medicine Man Rolling Thunder)

my favorite way
to go to water
is when it is raining lightly
just above a drizzle
then the water is more powerful
the medicine quicker
as the current foams white
upon the higher rocks
in the small creeks and streams
that are common here in Missouri
you wade shoeless into the water
and face downstream
then will pray to the Great Mystery
that the water will carry away
the debris 
I like to raise my hands as I begin
but that is optional
just watch the ripples and currents
carry your burdens away 
leeching the salt 
from you wounds
you will feel
the water pulling away
what you don't need

A Picture & Two Poems

UntitledPoetry, at least in large part, is about the sound.  Years ago I started a poem that consisted of words that just felt good when you said them.  They are also words which are a bit dusty from lack of use.  That is the first poem.

The second poem is about the semi innocence of youth.  Awkward moments learning the dance of love, feeling your way through, and around, relationships.  I am still kinda working on that.

As, is so often the case with this blog, the photo has little to do with the content. Or does it?

 

 


Words That Feel Good to Say That You Do Not Get to Say Often Enough

Thingamajig
Fandango
Scintillating
Imbroglio
Magnanimous
Thingamabob
Gizmo
Gargantuan
Geranium
Whirligig
Lollygagging
(this is a work in progress)

Sixteen

In the yellow incandescent light
of your back porch
we were semi innocent

Memory Lane

windowMemories are windows to the past but sometimes the view is out of focus, and you are not sure what you are looking at.

Here are two poems from adolescence.  A sometimes painful, but ALWAYS interesting time.


 A History Lesson

my grandfather
always had a storage building someplace
which he filled
with all kind of miscellanea
always on the main street
in deserted, dying, downtowns
where the rent was cheap
in little towns that refused to die
but would not grow either
just shrivel down

the last was in Sturgeon, Missouri
in a building that had housed
a funeral home
that had left
some of the equipment behind
including a tilting narrow stainless steel table with gutters and drains
as well as other macabre
before that
the storage building was in Clark, Missouri

General Omar Bradley
was born just outside of Clark
a small town
of about 300 people
we drove there one day to visit
that storage building and
retrieve something or other
he had squirreled away there

as we drove into town
we passed a bum
who probably looked older than he was
because of that weathered look
drunks and homeless get
dressed in white dungarees and ragged white t-shirt
walking alongside the road
my grandfather waved at him
from the front seat
of his dark Olds Delta 88

“Fuck you.”
was all the guy said
my grandfather laughed
one of those soft big bellied Buddha laughs of his
He said: “That guy used to be the best house painter in the state.”
I asked:
“What happened?”
he answered:
“He became a drunk.”
as if that said it all

which it did

I think about that day
a surreal scene
which I replay in my mind
the thing I remember most is the laugh
a Zen koan chuckled rather than a spoken Jesus parable

Grandfather’s laugh was
an acknowledgment, a resignation,
with a dash of rancor directed toward something inside himself as well
with which he wrestled
but would not name out loud

The Little White House

there was anger there
in that little white house
and the scent of the household
was unfamiliar to me then
such that it took
many years to realize
who was responsible
what went wrong
when it started
how the clammy hand
of helplessness
held everyone down
such that some resigned
others raged
or went AWOL
and then you fought free
like a wild animal
that chews their own leg off
mad to escape the trap
there was anger there
in that little white house
but the odor was of fear

The Last Poem

Among other things I will be previewing poems from my new chapbook  After the Flood. As the good book says “So the last shall be first, and the first last….”  So it is here.

The Last Poem

who will write
the last poem?

will anyone read it?

perhaps it will just remain
behind
abandoned as
an unread artifact
that will never be
recited
or, for that matter, rejected
by editors – a defacto still birth

for this last poem we should hope
it has the élan
to be composed
in pica or elite
typewritten
with mechanical keys
rhythmically striking
a staccato tatoo
a bell sounding
at the end of the line

or better yet
written with a freshly sharpened
yellow wooden pencil
with that schoolroom smell
scribbled on real paper peppered with shavings