You are my splendor

The distance between my town and the state capital is eight Emmylou Harris songs.

And that’s without police or army checkpoints, which always add a few more tunes to your travel time.

The best of a recent trip was My Antonía, part of which goes like this:

— Oh my love. Oh my Antonía. You with the dark eyes and palest of skin. Tonight I’m going from Santa Maria. Wait for me till I’m in your arms once again.

This is country music so, of course, there’s grief and pain down the highway. Antonía waited a spell but died “of a fever.”

— I’ll never see her in this world againYou are my sorrow. You are my splendor. You are my shelter through storm and through strife.

— You are the one I will always remember.  All of the days of my life.

A friend once noted that if you’re in the midst of romantic grief or divorce, all country songs are speaking directly to you.

This effect is magnified if you’re gripping a steering wheel.

* * * *

My Antonía.

The pink rose

She was a tiny bottle blonde from Brooklyn. But that was not where I met her. I met her in San Juan where she was a secretary on a newspaper.

She was a romance. One advantage of multiple marriages is that it frees up time between wives to have romances that you don’t get crucified for. You’re not “cheating” on anyone.

While I lived in a rented room nearby in the beachfront home of a sports writer and his Dominican girlfriend, the Brooklyn blonde lived with her cat in a second-floor apartment where the pounding waves were beyond earshot.

But there was a balcony and Puerto Rican street life. It faced a small restaurant where we often ate chicken and rice (arroz con pollo) and listened to Johnny Nash sing I Can See Clearly Now on the Rockola.

While she was a tiny New Yorker, I was a 225-pound, 6-foot-3-inch, tattooed, black-bearded hulk of a Southern Cracker boy, so we looked a tad goofy holding hands on the sidewalk.

But we didn’t care.

Like many Caribbean romances, it came to an end, but not just then.

A few months later, my job fell through, and I moved back where I came from — New Orleans — and she followed me uninvited with her cat and her mother, which did not bode well, as you might imagine.

Cats and mothers did not fit my lifestyle and, following a few months under the same roof (sans mama) near Bayou St. John, we disintegrated and I was free again, which is how I wanted it at that time.

But whenever I hear Johnny Nash sing I Can See Clearly Now, it catapults me back to San Juan, swaying palms, sidewalk avocados, and the tiny bottle blonde from Brooklyn who favored pink lipstick. Her name was Mary.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary. But she wasn’t. I was the contrary one.

* * * *

Johnny Nash sings that good song.

Water music

It sounded like a small motor, perhaps the sort that powers toy airplanes for pretend pilots. It woke me up at 4 a.m.

Propping myself up on a pillow, fingering the sleep from my ears and focusing my attention sharply, the source of the motor revealed itself.

It was rainwater from the roof, passing through a steel drainpipe installed just last dry December, falling onto a banana leaf.

It was water music, so I went back to sleep.

Morphine at the Marbol

The morphine he got from the defrocked doctor helped, but it was a stopgap measure because he was dying on a bed in the Marbol Hotel on the sad side of the city.

He’d been there three weeks, and nobody was visiting. Just the old bellman who took pity and was the mule who funneled the morphine from the doctor. It lessened the pain.

The unlicensed doctor had come just once to confirm what was clear, that these were the final days. He couldn’t afford a hospital. He couldn’t afford a hospice. Just the Marbol.

Many years ago when both he and the Marbol were young, he had often stayed there. He had been a businessman, a very successful one, and the Marbol was a chichi hotel in those times.

He had a charming wife named Victoria and two children, a boy and a girl, and everyone called them well-behaved. He bought a new Buick every two years, and his suits were made in Barcelona.

He and Victoria and the children lived in a split-level in another city. There was a pool out back, lush grass and a barbecue grill. Everything was beautiful.

But then he met Naomi.

He was at the top of his game, but Naomi was like an oil spill that he stepped in and slipped, heels over head. Everything collapsed, and he slid rapidly down and with much regret — at the end.

There were scenes with Victoria, gin, tonic, screaming, tears and lunacy.

First, he lost Victoria and the children, then the split-level with the pool and the barbecue. The Buick. His work. When the money dried up, so did Naomi.

A golddigger, he discovered too late.

That was so long ago. He never recovered and now, at age 76, he was supine in a Marbol room that smelled of grime and bleach and needed a good sweep.

Every night, feeling the morphine, he thought of Naomi, her black hair, her movie-star thighs, her wasp waist, her lips and sparkling eyes. She would be decrepit, but he would die to see her.

But he died without seeing her — or anyone.

Just the old bellman who called the coroner.

* * * *

(One of a series titled The Marbol Hotel.)

The bus ride

Jahn looked at the cold landscape through the bus window. It will be snowing soon, he thought, in these mountains, the high Nevatumblas.

He had been riding two days from Lisomon where he had left her — or abandoned her, as he saw it. By necessity, she pleaded. It had to be done to survive, she cried. Because of Lechke.

Lechke was a large, hard man with dirt beneath his nails, both real and symbolic. He knew the sheriff, so he thought he was above the law — and divine justice too though he didn’t know God.

He had taken a shine to her, and no one should say no to Lechke. The fact that Jahn had loved her so long meant nothing to Lechke who wanted her now, and that settled it in his primitive mind.

Jahn glanced at the young girl beside him. Fleeting snow brushed the bus window as sundown drew near. Light was fading. Trees flashed by.

The girl boarded the bus that morning at the town called Fiscada. She was 15 years old, she said. Small for her age, brown-haired and plain.

Looking back out the window, he remembered what his love said. This will not be forever, but it will be months. Not months but years, Jahn thought.

It will be like death, but he would still breathe, place one step ahead of the next, patient. He was headed to Mintablisko. He would be alone.

He turned toward the girl again and wondered. Could it be true?

She looked so innocent.

* * * *

I killed my mom and dad last night. Why? Because they always hurt me.

I waited till they fell asleep and then I got Daddy’s pistol from the dining room drawer. I wanted to shoot them both between the eyes like you see in the movies, just like that.

I walked up to the bed and put the barrel near Daddy’s face and pulled the trigger, right between his eyes. The noise surprised me, and the pistol kicked.

Mommy woke up and screamed. I stepped back, aimed at her chest and pulled the trigger two more times.

Then I went downstairs and made two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and I put milk in a thermos, and I walked six blocks in the dark to the bus station.

* * * *

Jahn wondered. Is she telling the truth? She said her name was Kristanabel. He looked again out the bus window and saw ice sticking to the glass.

He felt gloomy and lonely. Kristanabel was wearing a short pleated skirt and sandals with no socks in this cold weather.

Three hours later the bus pulled into the station at Mintablisko. Police were waiting at the door, waiting for Kristanabel. No one was waiting for him.

Outside, he picked up his bag and shivered.

* * * *

(First in a series titled The Marbol Hotel.)

Piggy’s final escapade

He was the runt of the litter but the sharpest of mind and the fleetest of foot. He was a child pig — a piggy in the vernacular.

Unlike his duller siblings who would grow to be sows, he would escape the pen on occasion and head down my street in a developing nation as fast as his trotters would propel him.

It was on one of these adventures that I saw him that day.

He was a rocket piggy, barreling lickety-split. Children on the sidewalk pointed, screamed and giggled. Two women turned from the door of a butcher shop and smiled as he raced unsteadily by, full-tilt boogie, trying to put as much distance between him and the pigpen as possible.

On earlier escapes, he had always been captured and brought home, squealing.

As everyone knows, pigs are very intelligent. They are the dolphins of dry land. As our piggy ran in the street he was thinking Free! Free! Free! Free!

He was so very happy.

* * * *

Unknown to our piggy, there lived in the same neighborhood an ugly dog called Spot. Nobody had named him Spot, but he was large and black with a spot on his face or maybe it was a scar.

It seems logical to call him Spot, though he did not call  himself anything.

He had no owner. He was neither loved nor cared for. He had been born behind a decaying adobe wall, the offspring of a mongrel mama with no name, an old brindle bitch repeatedly ravished by the manly mutts of the neighborhood, whoever wandered by and chose to assault her.

This had been Spot’s roots, and it twisted him. He had run off at a young age, wandering potholed streets, eating scraps when he found them, dodging stones tossed by children and adults alike. He grew tall, developing a sour and evil attitude, and he was usually painfully hungry.

At this moment, he was standing near the post of the ding-dong bell at a railroad crossing. As his stomach churned, his canine eyes focused on bacon two blocks off, careening toward him.

Piggy never saw the pigpen again. But Spot snoozed solidly that night somewhere near the train track. His stomach was stretched and silent.

Spot really loved fresh pork.

* * * *

(Note: The Unseen Moon sometimes goes dark or slips behind a  storm cloud. Soon we will touch on Romance and other things, and it will not always be about animals.  But first a delay of some days. We’re heading off on a road trip to a very big city.)

The puma’s bed

The night was as black as his fur, and he was lying in a human bed, a new and engaging experience since he was accustomed to dirt, twigs and the occasional gnawed and bloody bone.

He wasn’t sure how he got there. He simply opened his eyes, and there he was atop soft white sheets with moonlight streaming through the bay window nearby.

He swished his tail, which is something he always did when he felt good. Lots of things made him feel good. A sure-fire dinner between his teeth. His kittens. His female.

And now this, white sheets.

He twitched his mustache and wondered.

He was in a strange new world but he was not afraid. The bed was as soft as his woman’s back, his kittens’ ears, the neck of a wolverine as he snapped it.

He admired the moonlight, then closed his eyes and returned to sleep . . .

The old wolf

It had rained most of the night, but not now, so he stood quietly so not to waken his mate. He left the cave to trot the short distance to the overlook.

Clouds were clearing and he sat on his haunches and viewed the incredible distance, the morning valley below and the faraway mountains.

They had left the old home because Homo erectus became more of a worry down in the valley. Now they lived in a different cave that was very high and well hidden. Homo erectus was no threat here.

They lived in peace, eating the occasional rodent and rabbit that were becoming more difficult to catch. He was not as quick as before and gray covered his snout. One fang ached now and then.

His mate, whom he loved so, had caught a burr in a back paw. She never got it out, and it festered. He did all the running now, and sometimes he came back to the cave breathing heavily.

But with a rabbit. He would always have a rabbit or something like that. It had to be done if they were to eat and continue.

There had been pups over the years. Those were very happy times, the little ones climbing over his chest and biting his ears. He loved that. But they had gone. They had found their own mates and walked far away.

This cliff edge where he sat now was a favored spot.  At night he saw the moon, and he howled at it. He didn’t know why he did that. He only knew that he had to, that it was absolutely required.

How would the moon hang in the sky without his songs?

He thought about how he had met his mate so many years ago. They were young together, and they played among the trees farther down the valley. One day she smelled like a ripe pine nut, and they got married in the bushes.

She had never given him anything but joy.

* * * *

The years had passed. The pups. Hunting and being hunted by Homo erectus. Fresh mountain summers and cold winters of snow, which were the hardest times. But most times were good. Few were bad.

In both the first cave far below and this new higher home, distant from Homo erectus, they had slept all those nights atop brown leaves with their bodies touching. Their spirit of love had never waned, and it was warming in the winter, cooling in summer.

* * * *

As he sat this morning on the cliff watching the clouds disperse and the sun rising over the distant damp crests, he thought of these things as he did more and more in recent weeks.

And his fang ached.

He stood with a deep sigh and walked toward the cave entrance. His mate would be awake by now, waiting. But she was not. She lay where he had left her. He drew near and nudged her with his old nose.

The cave was quiet. He heard spiders climbing the walls. A hollow sound crept from the farther depths where they had never dared to walk, deep in the cavern. His heart grew chill. His love had died.

He sat and stared at her. He inhaled deeply. He turned to look at the cave entrance where there was more light. After an hour he stood and walked back to the overlook. It was a brilliant morning.

He asked the unseen moon: What am I going to do?

* * * *

The young wolf in better days.

The cave

He was high in the shoulders and powerful.

They called him a dog, but he was no dog.

Dogs would come later by thousands of years, a pathetic creature created by the enemy, Homo erectus.

He lived in a cave behind a high rock at the door, there with his mate. She was not so big, but she was big enough.

Nights they would stand at the cave entry where they could see firelight down the mountain and hear the distant sounds of Homo erectus. It was unsettling.

They slept at night in one another’s arms, or as close to that as possible due to their construction.

Actually, it was more that he would put his head on his outstretched legs, and she would be beside him, sometimes with her head atop his paws. It was warm.

They would kiss and embrace and speak softly, but not as you would imagine it. And they loved it.

Homo erectus would sometimes see them in the thick woods, and would hurl stones and spears, always missing because he was so very fast, like lightning. His mate too.

At times he would encounter a lone Homo erectus in the forest, and he would kill it, especially if it were a child. He did it because they had stoned his mother.

He hated for that.

The days passed hunting small animals and vermin. And the occasional Homo erectus that he would devour with a smile.

The nights he slept behind the rock at the cave door next to his mate, and it loved it so. Sometimes they would howl. Dogs would come far later, but his people lived on apart.

* * * *

(Years later: the sequel.)

Fact, Fiction and Opinion Stirred in an Odd Pot

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