Monday, March 29, 2010

DOT

Dottie sat side-saddle on the couch, a steaming mug of coffee in her hand and her eyes fixed intently on the ominous thunderhead forming on the far horizon. In the forty odd years of her adult life this ritual was her only haven, her port in the storm as it were, her stay at home existence at it’s happiest. As the decades passed she had made many concessions to accommodate both her fears and responsibilities while she trudged through her life, a stranger within her own skin.

She had always had a passport and, as they each expired, their spines unbroken, their pages bereft of a single stamp, they went into confinement in the bottom drawer of the dining room sideboard along with the maps and the odd travel brochure gathered in haste and ignored in leisure.

Once, when she was thirteen, her family had sent her to visit relatives, flying her out in a driving rain to pass through the ferocity of the storm and land in a verdant, sunny city far, far away.

Uncle Joe and his wife felt the compunction to keep her entertained every minute of every day, dining on exotic foods from distant lands and roaming museums and galleries. On Saturday they went to see the local baseball team play a home game inside a giant building. Dottie had never been inside a building that big, let alone one that housed a baseball field and all its attendant fans. Uncle Joe had waited until she arrived to get tickets and so the only seats left were rather high up in the second balcony leaving the teams to appear no bigger than insects on the green diamond below. However that mattered not one whit to Dottie because those seats put her on eye level with what appeared to her to be the world’s largest television set. She heard the man to her left refer to it as the JumboTron and, while her eyes were roaming its surface, it suddenly burst forth with a flash of video fireworks. Dottie jerked back as though pulled by a rope but her eyes never left the magic screen and she was amazed to see the gigantic head of a man fill the screen as his disembodied voice, booming and echoing throughout the arena, intoned everyone to, “Please stand for the National Anthem…” Had she looked down below she would have seen an ordinary man, partly hidden by a plywood partition, speaking in front of a video camera on a black tripod. But there was no way she could tear her eyes from the deified, massive talking head before her. She had never seen anything remotely like it, even in her dreams.

They feasted on hot dogs and sodas, the other team won by a large margin and then they filed out with the thousands of disenchanted fans into the night.

The next day was Sunday and the three of them traveled up to the University District to attend a sprawling Street Faire. There were jugglers, fire-eaters, falafels, kites, kids, maidens, mugs and musicians. They struggled to keep together in the undulating throng but, inevitably, Dottie lost track of the others and was forced to move along, flotsam on the tide of humanity, until she squeezed herself out of the crowd into a shadowy alcove between two old brick buildings. She turned her back on the wall of flesh and was startled to find herself face to face with a giant of a man with uncombed black hair and piercing hazel eyes. Dressed all in voluminous black silks he played an antique hurdy-gurdy while his companion, a small monkey with a tin cup, hopped from person to person soliciting tips. The music was hypnotic and Dottie’s eyes followed the monkey’s every move. It sported a small, tasseled, maroon fez perched jauntily on its head and wore a heavily brocaded jacket with a stiff collar that stood up so high it almost seemed like a pair of leathery wings rising from its back. Mesmerized, she stood rooted to the spot willing her fear to ebb into fascination.

Eventually she was reunited with her kin and, although they lingered late into the day, nothing filled her thoughts save those moments before the gypsy scoundrel and his simian assistant.

She stayed for nine days, saw much, understood little and then caught the flight home to the Midwest and the life she knew all too well. Often daydreaming of another flight of fancy, she regrettably never again slid out of the gravitational pull of her hometown.

As she grew older she often thought that it had been the storm raging around that departing flight which had given her the impetus to make good her one escape and, although she never spoke of it to a soul, in later years she would drive to the abandoned family farmhouse in the fiercest storms and, sitting in a broken down old kitchen chair, she would cling to the edges of the seat with both hands, clench her teeth, screw her eyes tightly shut and beg the wind gods to spirit her away once more.

Levering herself up off the couch she poured the cold dregs from her cup, slipped on a well worn coat and went off to day thirteen thousand seven hundred and sixty two of her career at the library. She spent the day being helpful and friendly, punched out at five o’clock and shuffled home on auto-pilot to a microwave dinner and two hours of solitude in a hot bath. She made the rounds of the house making sure all the lights were off, slid her ragged red slippers under the bed, crawled under the covers and drifted off dreaming of the surprisingly gentle caress of a tin hand on her shoulder.

3 comments:

  1. Such exciting imagery! I was hoping someone would get sick of that lizard photo pretty soon:)

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  2. This figment of your imagination has a firm kernel of a story embedded deep within it, but it's not firmly anchored enough in time and place. At the beginning it felt like late 19th century and I expected her to travel off in a horse and wagon not a plane. Partly it's her naive, sheltered mind set or maybe sitting side-saddle on the sofa which, btw I like. Especially if her mind set is at such a disjuncture with her actual present. Also something more has to happen in the scene with the hurdy gurdy and the monkey that clearly reverberates a parallel with her obsession with the televised tv baseball game rather than the real game down on the field. She seems content to live in her imagination even when she's in a strange land, prefering to commune with tv images and a monkey. She chooses to live in her imagination but then I'm puzzled about the passports. She always renews her passport but seems never to have used them unless she started her passport collection with her first one required to take her to visit her relatives far away. But we don't know specifically where she went. I think the contrast would work more sharply if the plane trip were to a clearly defined place but her most intense experiences there are mainly in her imagination. Maybe ratchet up the specific details of place versus her focus on incidental details to fuel her imagination. I think the contrast interests the reader and delineates her disjuncture. I'm not clear why the monkey's tin cup turns into a tin hand gently on her shoulder. Why does the monkey becomes mechanized at the end, and why is she more comforted by a mechanical hand? Maybe I need to read this again more carefully to make the connections. I really like the scene and the mood you conjure and I think you should start sending in short short fiction pieces for online publication. Do you know about Narrative Magazine Online? I'll send you info if you're interested.

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  3. What a great idea. Dorothy's like after Oz. Someone should make a movie of this.

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