Issue 18 — 

Leonel P. Bernal
Benito Pastoriza Iyodo
Larry Stanfel


Leonel P. Bernal

en el red ArLiJo.com




Me llamaban pendulo


Todo empezó hace mucho tiempo, la aciaga mañana en que mi padre irrumpió en mi cuarto, llevando una caja de regalo en las manos, y con voz jovial me ordenó a que la abriera, dentro estaba un pantalón de franela gris con líneas finas y blancas, pero lo mas agradable fue que eran largos, el primer pantalón largo que tenía.

<>. Me dijo y yo no me hice de rogar. El pantalón era lindo y amigable como si hubiese crecido conmigo de lo bien que me quedaron . Cuando calcé los zapatos y me puse la camisa blanca dominguera, supe que había crecido, si con calzones cortos era un vejigo, con los largos era todo un hombre como mi padre, al menos así me sentía. Bajé corriendo las escaleras tropezando con mi madre, que sin poder controlar su emoción, se cubría con las manos ambos lados de la cara, algo más alejado mi padre sonreía, satisfecho de mi pinta. << Toma muchacho>> , me dijo a la vez que me abrochaba el dorado reloj del abuelo fallecido. Sentí el reloj sobre la piel, como un fuego que resbaló por el brazo quemándome por dentro, no caí por la oportuna solicitud de mi madre que me sostuvo de pie. No podía entender todo aquello, miraba el reloj y a mis padres sin poder articular una sola palabra. La euforia me ahogaba, y no miento si afirmo que sentía correr los segundos dentro de las venas como un segundo corazón, encargado de cronometrar mis emociones . Desde ese día, pasé el resto de la vida controlado por la constante inflexibilidad del tiempo y del apasionamiento por ajustarlos y apañarlos, en todos los diseños y formas conocidas. Comía y dormía regido por aquellos duendes enigmáticos y crueles, que tantos pesares me han ocasionado. Con ellos perdí la identidad y la consciencia atrapado en el tic-tac aletargado que regía mi tiempo. De esta obsesión hice un oficio y llamé al local: El Péndulo. Por ese nombre me bautizaron los jodedores de siempre, no me molestaba para nada el apodo, tal vez debía haber protestado por el honor de mis padres. ¡Pero coño que me gustaba el nombrete! Y nada hice al respecto, me acostumbré y al poco tiempo se me olvidó mi real nombre. Que la agudeza de mis oídos estaban en los imperceptibles ruidos de los segundos, entre los masajes de los engranajes y los resortes de mis imponentes relojes, y allí quedaba hechizado, anticipando los cambios de los minutos y las horas. Nada era más importante para mí. De esa manera cruzó la juventud, entre espasmos de campanas y lúbricos rodares de metales.

Quizás parezca ridículo, pero los primeros y últimos orgasmos que he tenido han sido escuchando las doce campanadas de mis carrillones . En la medida que faltaban minutos para dar las doce, despertaba mi virilidad intensificándose, no tenía que tocarme, bastaba que cerrara los ojos para que me sintiera controlado por los engranajes afilados y amenazadores, cuando bajaban los contrapesos y sonaba el primer campanazo, comenzaba el orgasmo que terminaba con las últimas notas que señalaban las doce. Tanto y tan adentro de los relojes he vivido.

Presiento de vez en cuando, que perdí muchas cosas y que otras muchas no las entendí o no quise entenderlas, podría ser porque todas las cosas para vivirlas requieren de tiempo y eso era de lo que exactamente no disponía. Parecía esclavitud pero en realidad era una adicción de tiempo, mi tiempo, como una droga insana, que se apoderaba de mi voluntad, convirtiéndome en el zombi que soy y que siempre fui.

Un día negro, fallecieron mis padres en un accidente de auto, lo único claro que recuerdo es que en la misa de cuerpo presente y a pesar del dolor que me embargaba, estando rodeado de familiares y amigos, en el medio del servicio religioso, sentí que mi sexo despertaba, consulté el reloj y la pena me hizo correr hasta el baño detrás del altar. Cuando sonó la primera campana, comenzó el gozo del más grande de todos los orgasmos que pude haber tenido, huelga decir, cuantos rostros alargados y coléricos me esperaron al regreso. Los presentes quedaron distraídos de la misa por la abrupta urgencia de mi salida, como también habían escuchado la alaraca de mis quejidos de placer. Enterramos a mis padres y desde ese momento fui excomulgado de la familia, jamás me volvieron a invitar a ninguna de sus reuniones, ni las de las navidades ni las de los frecuentes cumpleaños, pero ni falta que me hizo, total, con la compañía de mis relojes tenía suficiente y muy al contrario, me hicieron un favor, porque pude dedicar todo mi tiempo a la pasión que poseía, mi tiempo y mis relojes, que materializaban aquella invisible dimensión , lo imaginaba como un enorme volante que giraba repitiéndose y multiplicándose, con la indiferencia aterradora, sutil y constante de un empeño absoluto y posesivo .

El mismo tiempo me condenó a una mesa de trabajo, atrofiándome las articulaciones, robando la claridad de mis ojos, dejándome relegado a una silla de ruedas y a la dependencia de los calmantes y los parches caloríficos, pero sobretodo, me condenó a la soledad. ¡ Y todavía lo sentía como un amigo! Con esa clase de amigos no queda tiempo para extrañar a los enemigos.

La incapacidad física me obligó a vender “El Péndulo”.

Mudandome a un segundo piso de un mediano edificio con todos los cajones de partes y engranajes, y con los cientos de oscuros relojes iguales a féretros que a mi haber tenía, amén de un sillón desvencijado y un camastro. Subí ayudado y nunca más bajé, digo por mí mismo. Contraté los servicios de una bodega y todos los viernes llegaba el mensajero con la factura. Este mensajero era el único contacto que tenía con mis iguales, le llamaban Yeyo y trataba de ser demasiado amable para ser de mi agrado. Recuerdo que casi yo no comía y cuando lo hacía, eran compotas y frutas en conserva, ocasionalmente, leche y pan, casi siempre duro. En realidad no era pobre, pero tampoco tenía tanto dinero, el cual me rendía más por lo ahorrativo que era.

Por curiosidad o porque en realidad le interesaban los relojes, permanecía Yeyo en el apartamento más de lo que yo deseaba, maravillado de la precisión de las maquinarias que se habían adueñado de todo el lugar. Poco era el espacio libre en aquel recinto, donde el tic tac , la fricción de los engranajes y las cadenas ocultas, se alineaban en pulidas cajas de muertos, verticales y apretadas, dejando sólo el pasillo para la silla de ruedas y para mi agudo y esmerado tacto. Al fondo quedaba la fantasmal luz de una ventana por donde la claridad temerosa parecía asomarse al imperio de mi tiempo.

Y ahí nació la idea, ¡vaya usted a saber de dónde! Quise ingresar en otro entretenimiento, y no sé por qué digo otro, si en realidad era lo mismo. La cuestión fue, que mientras más descabellada me parecía, más pasión me despertaba, y me decía que si algo había empezado, ese algo también se podía parar.

Comencé una lucha que sólo yo conocía haciendo prodigios con mis mermadas habilidades. Todos los conocimientos acumulados, afloraron de la inconsciencia, llevándome por rumbos inimaginables de ecuaciones e hilarantes conclusiones, y el misterio del tiempo me fue develado, o sería mejor decir, insinuado, porque tarde he entendido que en realidad poco era lo que sabía. Pero bueno, a qué lamentarse, si quería detener el tiempo y sumarlo a mi favor, pues sí, algo de eso he conseguido.

La realidad es que pasé de un principio consciente, nacido de la esclavitud en que me había sumido o por la soberbia que todos llevamos intrínseca, de considerarnos superiores y en control de nuestras vidas, o por lo que fuere, a aquella presunción que se volvió una obsesiva necesidad, a la que me dediqué en cuerpo y alma.

Pieza por pieza, fui erigiendo una monstruosa máquina, que al probarla gemía como un ser desconocido, mitad metal, mitad humana, aterradora seguro para cualquier profano, pero que para mis oídos era música y armonía. Poseso, me rodé hasta la ventana y entonces ¡ ay … entonces fue que la vi por vez primera! Llovía y la ventana me parecía una pantalla silente, donde arrellanada en la terraza, sobre uno de los bancos y bajo la lluvia, estaba ella, totalmente desnuda, con los largos cabellos negros colgando sobre la baranda de la casa contigua, su cabeza inclinada y quieta, dejaba correr la lluvia sobre su espalda y entre los dorados muslos, en el abandono dócil de una encantadora soledad, que para mi fue nueva e inexplicable, llovió toda la tarde. Y toda esa tarde la pasé aferrado a los opacos cristales, hechizado, inepto.

Cuando escampó y ella se introdujo en la casa, comprendí que ya no era el mismo, que todos los años que me habían pasado fueron años perdidos y por primera vez, odié las hileras de relojes con el acompasado rodar de un tiempo que no sentía mío. Esa misma noche me asomé al espejo, lo que por muchos años no había hecho, y lo que vi reflejado me dolió con un pesar casi nuevo, recién estrenado, era un anciano de cabellos blancos y ralos, mentón hundido, lleno de surcos, y los labios secos, marchitos. Sin quererlo, me imaginé al lado de aquella beldad que vi desde la ventana y sentí pena de mi mismo.

Al siguiente día cuando llovió de nuevo, estaba yo frente a la ventana y la vi de frente antes que se sentara, en corto espacio me aprendí su rostro, el ovalado de su frente, la firme nariz de líneas rectas y cortantes. Lo que más me gustó fue su boca, de labios carnosos y rosados, resbalé por su cuerpo y encallé en sus retadores senos, donde la gravedad parecía no existir, continué por el sinuoso contorno de sus caderas y por la apretada fisura de su sexo sin vellos, totalmente depilado. Fue sólo un instante, pero suficiente para seguirlo sufriendo toda la vida.

Si antes quería detener el tiempo, ahora con más ahínco necesitaba detenerlo, para hacerlo retroceder hasta ponerme a la par con aquella imagen que me atosigaba de noche y de día. Por eso me entregué al proyecto con prisa y nuevos bríos.

Todas las veces que vino Yeyo a traer la factura, ¡ todas esas veces lo odié! Lo odié por su juventud inmerecida, por su ignorancia y aún más porque desperdiciaba el tiempo como algo sin importancia. ¡ Ingratitud de la vida! No me apena decir que lo maldije mil veces, aunque sé que mucho de envidia y locura hubo en todos aquellos pensamientos y hasta empecé a buscar la manera de robarle su tiempo, para arrancarle la frescura de la piel y la fortaleza de sus músculos y huesos que tanto yo precisaba. Si no lo hice, fue porque no pude conciliar el trabajo realizado en mi proyecto metálico con la suma orgánica de aquel vejigo imberbe.

Mi obsesión se elevó hasta el delirio, rodaba en medio de los relojes, agudizando los oídos y con una pequeña grabadora, registraba las acústicas características de cada uno de los mismos.

Cuando llegó Yeyo el viernes por la mañana, le puse unos dólares en las manos para que me distribuyera los relojes de acuerdo a mi plan y selección. Poco a poco los fue alineando a doble hilera, describiendo la forma de una doble herradura abierta hacia la ventana. Cuando terminó, habían transcurrido casi nueve horas en rodar y alinear ciento once relojes numerados, después le ordené acomodar mi invento en el centro del salón, en el mismo centro de la herradura. Lo vi sudar la gota gorda moviendo el raro artefacto que no podía ver porque con anterioridad lo había cubierto con sábanas. Noté que se moría de curiosidad por saber qué era aquello, pero lo jodí y bien jodido por pendenciero. Sudaba como un caballo que ha perdido la carrera y todavía quedó merodeando un rato intrigado por todo el jaleo que yo había formado, pero no se atrevió a preguntar. Tal vez por la cara de poco amigo que le regalé optó por encogerse de hombros y marcharse.

Entonces comenzó mi trajinar, toda la tarde y la noche, la pasé al asecho, sincronizando el rodar de los engranajes, tomando notas, verificando uno a uno los erguidos féretros que simulaban ser mis relojes, con la oreja pegada a la madera y el micrófono de la grabadora dentro del mueble, en las entrañas de esos demonios esclavizadores, queriendo obtener la certeza e individualidad de cada uno de ellos.

Era un desesperado guiñapo humano hundido entre un lago de maderas y metales, naufragando en aquella necesidad de tiempo por las limitaciones y atento a la ventana, deseando la lluvia para que me liberara de la agónica imposición de la demencia.

Día tras día trabajé y si tuve momentos de respiros, fueron logrados a través de los sucios cristales, admirando la hermosura ajena entre mi escualidez y el tic tac amenazador de mis verdugos.

Tenía prisa por llegar a la cita con mi destino, hacer retroceder la parábola descendente de mi tiempo, manejar a mis antojos y necesidades aquel universo que parecía contraerse entre las cuatro paredes del delirio y la resolución. Si me preguntaran cómo fue todo o cuáles fundamentos científicos me permitieron hacerlo, ¡ honestamente no podría explicarlo! A veces pienso si sería tal vez la intensidad de mis deseos unidos a la sensibilidad cronométrica que me asiste, o quién sabe qué facultad ultrasensible que nos ignoramos los humanos, afloró para guiarme a construir, la suma de cientos once maquinarias en una sola, la cual giraría en sentido inverso contrarrestando la lógica del tiempo, y neutralizando la dimensión de aquel templo que había erigido en el apartamento para mi salvación.

Reproduje y amplifiqué decibel por decibel, todos los sonidos de los ciento once relojes, todos en una maquinaria sincronizada. Tal fue la perfección que perseguí, que todos los relojes a la hora exacta de las doce, sonaban como una sola campana de infinitos matices, resquebrajando los cristales de las bujías, los esmaltes de los pozuelos de barro y los pomos de compotas, hasta la pintura de las paredes comenzó a descascararse . Para mí era un éxtasis, el tiempo se materializaba en las glándulas seminales y sentía como se hinchaban las venas y las arterias por doce segundos me rejuvenecía, casi como cuando mi padre me regaló el pantalón largo y me hizo hombre. Era una sensación que siempre pareció, nueva, única, intensa y dichosa como la mocedad.

Cuando tuve la certeza de haberlo conseguido, concentré toda la atención en el pequeño radio que nunca antes había escuchado, necesitaba saber el día en que volvería a llover . ¡ No era cosa de hacerlo a lo loco! Quería que ella estuviera allí, en la terraza, llena de lluvia y de silencio, para así ofrecerle con humildad mi idolatría. Ella nunca lo sabría, pero lo sabía yo y con eso era más que suficiente.

Pasaron las semanas en las cuales la naturaleza se empeñó en conspirar en mi contra, los cielos ofrecían un azul añil con ocasionales nubes nómadas, vestidas como novias apresuradas. No recuerdo peores momentos que aquellos cuando la impaciencia se condenaba a la espera y la ventana estaba llena de sol o de luna, llena de un tiempo que que por primera vez no me pertenecía.

Casi cuando se malograba la existencia, llegó la voz grave del radio poniendo todo a mi favor, el martes llovería, con advertencias de tormentas y de tornados para toda el área donde residía. Consulté el almanaque, era lunes, sólo quedaba un día para revisar la efectividad de mis monstruos. Rodé de un lado al otro aturdido, sin comer ni dormir, con euforia demencial y en ese estado me sorprendió el martes, entonces hice un alto, me bañé y afeité, vestí mis mejores galas y me abroché a la muñeca el reloj regalado por mi padre.

A las diez de la mañana, estaba pinta en blanco acodado en el marco de la ventana aguardando.

Primero fueron unos gruesos y esporádicos goterones, luego, ingresó la afluencia y ya a las once y media, un manto apretado como una cortina de cristal, descomponían los rayos agonizantes de un sol que no quería ser opacado, y en ese preciso instante, salió ella, como una diosa apresada en un arco iris, esbelta, arrebatadora. Recuerdo que comencé a sollozar aún cuando el tiempo apremiaba, rodaba entre mucus y lágrimas moviendo las palancas y las agujas, di los últimos retoques y volví a la ventana para llenarme los ojos de su belleza. Al primer campanazo, un enorme silencio abordó el cuarto, todo pareció suspendido y me vacié de prisas y resabios. ¡ Y ya no tuve nada, absolutamente nada! Nada sentí cuando vi salir a un hombre que también desnudo, abrazó a la mujer que por primera vez sonreía, pero que nada decía a mis intereses ausentes.

Vi llegar afuera las noches y los días, en la misma posición y en el mismo absoluto e imperturbable silencio de las cosas muertas, como llegado de muy lejos escuché ruidos, voces y alguien dijo algo más cercano que apenas entendí, era algo sobre los relojes que se habían parado a la misma hora. Después, no sé dónde, cómo o cuándo, me alargaron dentro de un cajón estrecho donde estoy hundido, en el limbo irracional de una ausencia parecida a la muerte, infinita, inservible como un péndulo al que le han robadoel tiempo .


FIN

Copyright 2008 por Leonel P Bernal.



Biografia:

Nació en Cuba, país que abandonó por razones políticas, estableciendo su residencia en el estado de New Jersey. Desde temprana edad se interesó por las artes, a las que ha dedicado la mayor parte de su vida. Pintor, escultor, ceramista, novelista y poeta. Fue uno de los Cinco Muralistas de La Habana y ha colaborado en varios periódicos locales en New Jersey, como así mismo en la antología “ Calma Infinita” del Centro de Estudios Poéticos en Madrid y en la antología “Poetic Voices Without Border”de Gival Press. Sin importar que todas las obras literarias y plásticas realizadas en Cuba tuvo que destruírlas antes de emprender el exilio. Tiene a su haber en América los manuscritos de cinco novelas, cuatro poemarios, varios cuentos y relatos. El mérito de Leonel, radica en la tenacidad con la que multiplica el tiempo en la asidua labor de lo que más dignifica al ser humano, las artes.
 

 


Benito Pastoriza Iyodo

Featured on ArLiJo.com




Why do you play with eternity

Estás perdido entre las sábanas
and
Why do you play with eternity
Why do you play with love
Are you lost from the heavens
Prefigurado
Are you lost from love
Estás perdido entre las sábanas
Prefigurado
Do the constellations
embrace your heart
Is your life beyond
the minuscule stars
Are you Prefigurado
lost from love
Where is the compass
of your heart

Are you crying among the oceans
the rivers
echoing your voice
in each mountain
Prefigurado
Are you lost
from love


"Why do you play with eternity" is from Cartas a la sombra de tu piel. First appeared in Tierra Firme: Mexico City, 2002.
Copyright 2008 b Benito Pastoriza Iyodo.



las iras del viento

las iras del viento
maldicen
las paranoias
que danzan en tu pelo
viento que muerde
en su costado
y fornica en el lecho
de una noche cristalizada
teñida de azul naranja
en un horizonte
de penas
viento que nace
de un susurro
donde la muerte
fue hija
de las iras



"Las iras del viento" is from Cartas a la sombra de tu piel. First appeared in Tierra Firme: Mexico City, 2002.
Copyright 2008 by Benito Pastoriza Iyodo.




El día que llegó el mar



El día que llegó el mar, sus ojos se abrieron para tragar toda esa inmensidad que ya había presentido en sus sueños. La lluvia agujeraba la marea perforándola con una transparencia metálica de milenios estancados. Cada gota se multiplicaba en la profundidad buscando el viaje final de los tropeles mitigados. Logró comprender que no era lo mismo. La sal y el viento picoteaban su cuerpo con furia, invitándolo al suave descenso. Siempre pensó que las horas del amor serían pasajeras, pero la eternidad habría de ser esto. Un mar abierto, sosegado de pasión. Los cuerpos se habían fundido en una extraña intención. Se desmentían en cada encuentro. Buscaban el sentir que les cabalgaba por las arterias de aquel amor. Difuminaba el pensar en las olas agigantadas que arrastraban su cuerpo mar adentro. El oleaje aumentaba en fuerza, castigándole el balance de las piernas. El amor habría de llegar hasta esa orilla. Sin rastros. Sin decepciones. Un mundo de aguas y cuerpos. Una serenidad de mar conspirada contra el pesar.



"El día que llegó el mar" is from Cartas a la sombra de tu piel. First appeared in Tierra Firm: Mexico City 2002.
Copyright 2008 by Benito Pastoriza Iyodo.











BIOGRAPHY:

Benito Pastoriza Iyodo is an award-winning author from Puerto Rico. He has received various prizes in the genres of poetry and short story. The Ateneo Puertorriqueño awarded him prizes for his book of poetry Gotas verdes para la ciudad and the short story entitled El indiscreto encanto. He received the Chicano Latino Literary Prize for his book of poetry entitled Lo coloro de lo incoloro, published by the University of California. His works have also won prizes in literary competitions in Australia and Mexico. His collection of poems, Cartas a la sombra de tu piel, earned the prize Voces Selectas. Pastoriza was cofounder of magazines specializing in the diffusion of literature written by Latinos in the United States. The first edition of his book of short stories, Cuestión de hombres, was published by The Latino Press (CUNY). His books of poetry, Cartas a la sombra de tu piel (2002) and Elegías de septiembre (2003) were published by Editorial Tierra Firme in Mexico City. His second book of narratives, Nena, nena de mi corazón, was released in 2007. Currently the author collaborates with academic and literary magazines in the United States, which have published his interviews of distinguished poets, essays and book reviews. His writings have been published in the magazines: En Rojo, Línea Plural, Taller Literario, Cupey, Luz en Arte y Literatura, Los Perdedores, Mystralight, Vagamundos, Carpeta de Poesía Luz, Hofstra Hispanic Review, Visible and Literal. His poetry also appears in the U.S. anthology Poetic voices without borders and in Terra Austral of Australia. His works have been published in Australia, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Puerto Rico and the United States.


BIOGRAFÍA:

Benito Pastoriza Iyodo nació en Puerto Rico. Ha sido ganador de varios premios en los géneros de poesía y cuento. El Ateneo Puertorriqueño premió su poemario Gotas verdes para la ciudad y su cuento El indiscreto encanto. Recibió el premio del Latino Chicano Literary Prize por su libro Lo coloro de lo incoloro, publicado por la Universidad de California. Su obra también ha sido premiada en concursos literarios en Australia y México. Su poemario Cartas a la sombra de tu piel obtuvo el premio Voces Selectas. Pastoriza Iyodo ha sido cofundador de revistas especializadas en la difusión de la nueva literatura escrita por latinos en los Estados Unidos. La primera edición de su libro de cuentos, Cuestión de hombres, fue publicada por el Latino Press de CUNY y la segunda edición por Xlibris. Su segundo libro de relatos, Nena, nena de mi corazón, fue publicado en el 2007. Sus poemarios Cartas a la sombra de tu piel y Elegías de septiembre fueron publicados por Tierra Firme en México, D.F. En la actualidad colabora para revistas académicas y literarias en los Estados Unidos donde publican sus entrevistas de poetas destacados, ensayos y reseñas. Ha publicado en las revistas Cupey, En Rojo, Taller Literario, Tinta, Luz en Arte y Literatura, Línea Plural, Los Perdedores, Mystralight, Vagamundos, Carpeta de Poesía Luz, Hofstra Hispanic Review, Literal y Visible. Su poesía aparece en la antología Poetic voices without borders y en Terra Austral de Australia. Su obra ha sido publicada en Australia, México, Chile, España, Puerto Rico y Estados Unidos. 

 

 


Larry Stanfel

Featured on ArLiJo.com




PAULINE’S PURSE


The few, swirling flakes drew Pauline’s attention from her letter. Snow on Thanksgiving would be pretty, she thought, but this feeble preliminary would not accumulate. The comfortable radiator hissed, and she looked out the dining room window down on the street. It was bordered by a double file of brick two-flats, not quite identical, with adjacent members separated about the distance her elder son could spit – had she known. She had lived there all her life and remembered when many of the little slots of real estate had been vacant, when farms flourished not so far away.

From the basement her husband ascended the back stairs and announced, “Well, I got the sewer unclogged – again. You know, Pauline, we gotta keep the old man outta the basement. Every time he goes down there, he breaks somethin’.”

Oblivious, the accused dozed in his bedroom, which was the enclosed, back porch. He was Pauline’s father, the owner of the building, who had lived with them since his wife died in the flat below. A subsequent, probably consequent, series of small strokes had deprived him of hearing and degrees of other mental function, but he was physically able and remembered, usually to the detriment of them, when he had maintained his premises.

“I’ll try, Roy,” she vowed, “but he means well. He just wants to help.”

“Yeah, well, what he helps is me – to waste what little spare time I got. O.K., so he plugs up the sewer every month or so. That’s not so bad, but, then, when he hides the goddamned tools … It’s time he went into some sorta home. He’s too much to handle.”

“I can’t do that, Roy. Not to Dad. But don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. I’ll talk to him.”

“How? He don’t hear.”

When the only reply was the scratch of her fountain pen, he looked around and asked, “Are the kids gone?”

“Um hmm.”

Instantly, Roy’s pique faltered, and he put a hand on her shoulder.

“Well, then, what say we take a little nap?”

There seemed to be no predictable pattern in his schedule, but on intermittent Sunday afternoons, Brother Frantzen showed the parish children movies in the church basement. For Pauline and Roy, unless thwarted by poor menstrual timing, these were invariably occasions for matinees of their own. They could have had rambunctious intercourse, the sort Pauline considered indecent, right next to her father without interrupting his lengthening, daily siestas.

Pauline enjoyed writing, towards which career she had striven as early as high school. Many years later her daughter would discover a folder thick with her literature, mostly very short works dealing with romantic love, and be astounded that The Daily News had published one, bearing, of course, a "nom de plume." Her husband, though, had viewed this work as unfit for a woman and disliked the imputation that he could not, alone, support a family. To him, then, she had sacrificed the ambition and forever laid aside her precious folder.

Again complaisant at the expense of her composition, she put down her pen and stood, whereupon Roy put an arm around her just far enough to find a breast and guided her towards their bed.

* * *

Several miles to the East, Charlie Lambert’s day had been considerably less pleasurable than Roy’s and was due to worsen. The wind sliced through Wrigley Field like an icy claymore, and the Bears trailed the Lions by a field goal.

The regular right end had just twisted a knee and came hopping off the field like a uniped between a brace of teammates. Mr. Halas scowled at his row of reserves and conscripted Charlie into the fray.

Compared to the present day, professional football players in 1947 were paid much, much less for considerably more work. A man served on both offensive and defensive teams, and when not running interference or trying to catch passes, linebacker Charlie fought off blockers and sought to keep attackers away from his end of the field. For these sixty minutes of drudgery every Sunday for about a third of a year, discounting training camps beneath hostile suns, he was paid something less than seven thousand dollars

During the last year of the war he had been in the Navy, but never progressed beyond San Diego, where a torpedo fell off a rack one day and crushed his left, great toe. For this injury he was awarded a medical discharge, but the damaged appendage had healed, and he had been able to rejoin the team.

During the less violent months of his life, Charlie now lived in Muncie, Indiana, where he managed a hardware store owned by his father-in-law. In town for a play, Doris had seen the team emerge from a Loop restaurant one afternoon, and Charlie never had a chance.

Knowing the Lions would not suspect a play involving a cold sub fresh from the bench, Mr. Halas cunningly called for a short pass to Charlie, who caught it out in the flat, juggled it for an instant, and then rumbled downfield on the greatest run of his career, college included.

About sixty yards later, a defensive back collared him one stripe short of a touchdown, but in those days, a play was not considered ended until the ball carrier was unable to get back up and continue. This was the pros, after all, and the game was supposed to be rougher. Crowds liked it that way.

Thus, when the tackler fell off, Charlie scrambled erect and plunged towards pay dirt. Unfortunately, the delay had permitted nearly every Lion to catch up, and about five yards into the end zone, they swarmed over him like overweight hornets. Among these units of mortality, Mrs. Lambert’s son’s leg was bent in ways outside God’s plan, his knee was shattered, and, at thirty-six, two years older than Pauline, Charlie was consigned to the bins of nails, tools, hoses, and seeds.

Incidentally, no penalty was called on the late hit – this was the pros, after all – and the Lions eventually won the game on a forty-five yard, wind-assisted field goal with two seconds showing on the official clock. Mr. Halas was inconsolable, and Charlie’s only luck was being “hors de combat” for Monday’s practice.

* * *

Pauline first saw Charlie about forty-five years later in Alabama. When she and Ellen walked in, he was sitting on a small sofa near the door. One atop the other, the big, pass-catching paws rested on the crook of a cane, and he paid them no heed. His head was turned towards an unfortunate parakeet, suspended in a cage as cheap entertainment, but the eyes behind the thick lenses were empty of interest. It pleased Ellen that he was clean and wore a sport coat, which costume enhanced the breadth of his shoulders.

Mrs. Lawless, bred of an ancient Mobile family, took them around to admire the elegant furniture, the model apartments, and the activities room. At that moment this last was unencumbered by activities, but a wall calendar was heavily scored with amusements. Then they continued on to review the plants, the grounds, the unhappy bird, a chapel, a liberal sprinkling of noisy television sets, and the dining hall, or refectory, as she called it. She spoke English in a way that reminded Ellen of tobacco fields and Scarlett O’Hara and sounded approximately like St. Peter making the rounds of Paradise with a new arrival.

Mrs. Lawless loaded Ellen with brochures and blank forms and strolled with them back to the car.

Inside it, Ellen asked winningly, “Well, Mom, isn’t this a lovely place?”

The trail that had brought Pauline Constance Dresden to Oak Haven, where the scarce oaks fought for survival against networks of kudzu and the more ambitious pines, had been gradual but inexorable.

When Roy died of a coronary at seventy-five his wife had already betrayed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease for a couple of years. In telephone calls she frequently had told her children the same news three times in fifteen minutes, and, realizing her failures, had resorted to reading them passages from news articles and magazines.

Never a patient man, her husband was exasperated by these lacunae, but he provided the short-term memory, while she contributed a sturdy body not debilitated by years of heavy smoking. Together, they constituted a whole person.

Roy’s death thus bereaved her of a sharp mind, and the event itself appeared to trigger a quantum deduction in her intellect. “Probably strokes,” opined one medical man, “but call it Alzheimer’s, call it infarctile dementia – it all comes to the same.”

Pauline’s elder sister and that woman’s substantially older husband, a childless pair, had moved into the downstairs flat some years earlier. No one in the family had expected this arrangement to be tranquil, but the two pairs had coexisted without extravagant disharmony. When Leonard passed away not long after Roy, each level housed just a single dowager.

Ellen’s design had been for each child to pay three, annual visits to the homestead and, as long as possible, sustain the two ladies in their respective homes. Her sister concurred, but the two brothers declined roles in this scheme. In their analyses the only solution was to pack their mother and aunt off to some convenient clone of Oak Haven and be done with it.

Pauline selected Ellen legally to represent her interests, and, sensing a second inheritance in the offing, the men turned suddenly into their aunt’s champions. For the remainder of her life, then, her sons not only refused any modicum of assistance in her care, but most often acted to obstruct their sisters’ work. On the evening of his father’s funeral the elder of these worthies had ridiculed his mother’s infirmity. “What season is this, Mom? Winter, Spring, Summer? What do you think?”

For a time the daughters alternated in cross-country flights to keep the two households both alike in dignity and security and the attendant affairs ordered. Pauline’s degeneration, however, quickly outpaced mere desultory monitoring. She ate spoiled food and neglected to turn off the gas range; she locked herself out of her home so frequently, the building was like one ring of a circus, with neighbors’ scaling ladders and breaking windows to abet her ingress – and likely to pocket a few of the possessions that never again surfaced. Ellen spent unusual quantities of time just on long-distance calls to glaziers. One day Pauline was mugged near her home, and on a different occasion forgot where she had parked her car and never found it.

A geriatrician advised Ellen that once her mother left familiar surroundings, her disorientation and confusion would accelerate, so the daughters sought to keep her as long as possible in her home of nearly eighty years. Towards this end they engaged professional care-dispensers to make daily visits, later to live there part-time, accomplish what Pauline no longer could do, and rectify what she had undone. Their mother hampered these efforts by quickly and wisely dialing 911 whenever afrighted by the abrupt appearance of a “stranger” in her house. Thus was a Chicago police station added to Ellen’s list of communicants.

The aunt was superficially tended by her great-niece, who rarely troubled herself to climb upstairs and greet her grandmother. For that section of the family, strict demarcation lines of allegiance had been drawn.

The elderly siblings disagreed on most topics, and one Easter season a dispute raged over the sausage Pauline had purchased for the traditional brunch. Exasperated by aspersions on her choice and her mind, she bopped her sister’s head with a coil of raw links!

In many ways Pauline’s sister enjoyed superior mental function but was not free of aberrations. One of her stratagems was purloining watches and jewelry from the apartment upstairs and, with the object of securing her own future, passing the booty to Pauline’s granddaughter! This woman proved a reliable fence, and rings and other of Pauline’s bibelots flowed through her first son’s family.

Relations between the two sisters reached their nadir when Pauline discovered one of these burglaries in progress. She administered a robust shove to the criminal, who was bruised when colliding with a piece of furniture. As amusing as this sounds, the ramifications were not. The aunt’s eventual legatees were swiftly in touch with Public Health, and Ellen was defending her mother against possible proceedings by Cook County.

Convinced that she could no longer shore up a disintegrating life from afar, Ellen had to evict her aunt and brought her mother to inspect Oak Haven, fifteen minutes from her own home and, so far as extensive researches could show, the best facility in her area.

A reasonable question is “Why didn’t Ellen and Gene simply do what Pauline had done for years; viz., bring the ailing parent into their own home?” The two discussed this, in fact, and reasoned as follows: “We each have full-time employment, whereas Mom’s care has become itself a full-time occupation. Therefore, the best tactic is to bring her to a quality retirement place near us.”

A next reasonable question is “Why wouldn’t Ellen or Gene do what Pauline certainly would have done – had done in fact: leave his or her position and devote full time to the needy parent?” Experience had revealed to Ellen a ready answer. She had witnessed the lethal effect of her grandfather’s presence on her own family’s peace. The continued turmoil had driven Roy towards liquor and away from his castle, to hang out downstairs with the tenants of that time. There were afterwards reasons for dispute where none had been, wounds to balm, eruptions and craters in a smooth plain. Clogged sewers and concealed tools were comparatively minor rifts.

* * *

Charlie Lambert’s convergence to the place had been much more expedient. With the death of his wife, the hardware empire, then three stores, had been settled entirely upon him. While a team of henchmen operated the businesses, dwindling as a consequence of the hangar-sized, do-it-yourself stores mushrooming everywhere, old Mr. Lambert still insisted upon making personal appearances in his shops.

The football field had not taught him much diplomacy, and, at seventy-eight, he was still a big, strong fellow. This was a dangerous combination in a dementia victim, and there had been several incidents where dissatisfied or impertinent customers had seen his cane raised in anger or been escorted by a long arm to the door.

Charlie secured his passage to Oak Haven, when, in store number two one afternoon, he witnessed a young man pocketing several of his wares and felled the shop-lifter with a stroke of hickory across the noggin. Even before meeting, we see, he and Pauline had something in common.

As effective as his methodology was, it gained no favor with the authorities, and soon his only relative, a niece in Birmingham, had been mandated by a court “to do something about him.” This directive she had followed with alacrity. A model of efficacy, she sold everything her intestate uncle owned, subtracted a generous compensation for the considerable discomfort to which she had been subjected, and transported the bewildered old man to Oak Haven, chosen by virtue of its large distance from her. The day she deposited him in the foyer was the last occasion he saw her, and there he had sat for two years in advance of Pauline’s tour. Like part of a bad tooth, the aggression had decayed out of him, and the formidable, polished cane had passed from the weapon category.

Naturally, her mere introduction to the establishment did not make Pauline Charlie’s neighbor, and she had one obvious and simple question for Ellen: “Why can’t I live with you,” to which her daughter gave the reply about the ominous consequences of melding families. By this time Pauline remembered that arrangement as only idyllic, and she was a woman not easily deflected from a course once chosen.

Ellen did not resort to a hard sell but stressed that living so near one another, she could stop in for daily visits, and they could dine together weekly in both places: rather like a loosely-organized family but without infringements upon anyone’s freedom. Pauline eventually agreed, but she had not lost so much of her mind as to be without strategies of her own. She calculated that once in proximity to Gene and Ellen, the transition into their home would be straightforward.

* * *

Accommodations at Oak Haven were of two varieties: independent and assisted living. Everyone agreed Pauline qualified for the former, so a spacious apartment with two bedrooms, one to contain her dining room suite, was contracted.

Even the earliest signals from the project boded ill. Ellen decided the furniture shipment could be received better without the assistance of her mother, who, on moving-in day, was relegated to stay with Gene.

As soon as her daughter had driven away, though, Mrs. Dresden took up a mantra beseeching her son-in-law to include her in the action. In those days he and Ellen had not been counseled to avoid confronting an Alzheimer’s patient; ideally, one switches her sails for a different tack or, using the imperfect memory to advantage, stalls until she forgets what she wanted. Less shrewd, Gene’s simple refusal mentioning efficiency only precipitated an ardent discussion, one of many they would have.

On this first of many comparable occasions Pauline employed an argument that would become her standard, as well as one she would eventually seek to implement. “Well, then, I’ll just go back to Chicago.”

That storm was weathered, and the three rehearsed the regimen Ellen hoped would succeed: she visited her mother most days; she and Gene dined in the apartment one night per week, as well as in the refectory after Sunday masses with Pauline, and they brought Mrs. Dresden to their home one evening of every seven.

This last feature of the protocol stimulated more grief than joy, for the simple reason that after an evening with her children, Pauline jibbed at the idea of being ferried back to the ersatz “home.” Home was in Chicago, a fact etched so deeply in her mind that it withstood the disease’s effacement. “I don’t see why I can’t live with you,” she recited all the way back, and, in order to hasten adaptation to Mrs. Lawless’ domain, her physician recommended terminating these excursions.

* * *

It was early in their Oak Haven experience that Ellen and Gene made Charlie’s acquaintance. Having noticed him several times, they introduced themselves one Sunday. He had hands larger than Gene’s and a grip whose power age had not eroded.

Rather confidentially he asked Gene, “Have they hit your place yet?”

While the younger man struggled to decode this query, Charlie continued, “They’ve hit me several times. Steal everything in sight.”

In truth, most of the thefts Charlie suffered were fictions, items he’d lost himself or assigned to novel positions beyond his scope of recollection. He was not, on the other hand, entirely inaccurate, for not a few of the staff were minimum wage employees, balanced precariously on welfare’s precipice, who considered themselves free-lance Robin Hoods. In their conception, the rich were everyone else in the world, especially the residents, the poor, themselves.

* * *

Charlie and Pauline had been recipients of inflated appraisals, for most of the independent dwellers were far more independent than these two. An early hint of this was Pauline’s inability, on many attempts, to find her way to and from the dining hall, her missed meals, and Oak Haven’s scrabbling to get food for her outside the regular hours. Ellen was unhappy with Oak Haven, which was unhappy with the new resident, and unhappiest of all was Pauline.

Charlie’s chief problem was one of timing. He arose each day at about seven o’clock, but not infrequently his bowels awoke a half-hour earlier. Also unlike Pauline, he had no local relative to drop in and supplement Oak Haven’s work, over which defect that establishment was also unhappy.

The lone bright points in Pauline’s new life were the intermittent manifestations of her husband. Actually, this was Charlie, who resembled Roy about as much as a cat does an elephant, but, no longer able to recall her dear husband beyond the fact that there had been one, Pauline was delighted to cling to his arm and coo words of endearment. Charlie found this affection inexplicable, but accepted it as readily as he did the necessity of dwelling among pirates. With two years’ more experience and having an apartment nearer the refectory, Charlie discovered it more often, and when Pauline was successful, the two took meals together. Each carried on a unilateral conversation the friend forgot instantly but enjoyed the companionship of the other.

* * *

Following one Sunday lunch the four of them sat around a canopied table on the veranda, which was Mrs. Lawless’ designation for a small patio the janitors normally neglected to sweep. There Charlie revealed an opportunity lately come his way. “I heard from the Navy the other day,” he reported.

“Really?” asked Gene, unfamiliar with the man’s military service. “What about?”

“They want me to go back on active duty,” said the old man smugly. “Told ‘em I’d think it over.”

* * *

On another warm Sabbath – in those latitudes most of them are – the four sat in similar attitudes, and with her index finger Pauline essayed the assassination of a bug. She seemed to have drifted naturally into the role of exterminator and was the bane of insects. On this particular mission, however, the movement of her arm produced remarkable results. From the sleeve of her well-pressed blouse debouched one ball-point pen, one copy of that day’s church bulletin, one lace handkerchief, two marbles, and a tea spoon. No magician ever went on stage better provided.

For the space of two breaths Charlie was ready to conclude that his unrecruited paramour was that burglar plaguing his existence. Then he recalled, however, that he no longer played marbles, and when Pauline exclaimed, “Oh, my! Who put those in there?” the court martial silently exonerated her.

* * *

To keep her mother a little longer afloat among the sentient, Ellen fought as valiantly as a crusader, and old photographs were principal weapons in her arsenal. As she sat with albums opened across her legs, Pauline and Gene flanked her and fired arrows of recollection.

“Mom, here are you and Auntie! You were only five. Look.”

“Oh, my! Five? How old am I now?”

“Seventy-nine.”

“No.”

“Look, Mom, it’s Daddy when he retired!”

“Oh, my, isn’t he handsome?”

Then she fixed Gene, at moments another unwitting Roy, with a look that proved she had not forgotten sex.

In these sessions, most of his interest was concentrated on Ellen’s knees and the space between them, and sometimes, with a full Oak Haven lunch as ballast, he was liable to moments of sleep and, consequently, to Ellen’s tests of his consciousness.

“Wake up, Gene.”

“I am awake.”

“Oh, then who’s this?”

“Uh – you in a former life.”

“I knew it.”

“A later life?”

“I knew it; you were asleep.”

Mrs. Dresden, on the other hand, had a standard response for the trickier of her daughter’s quiz questions. Asked who was this ugly, sepia woman, whose upper lip could have advertised razors, Pauline answered confidently, “That’s a Mischker.”

Eager to preserve a particle of rapidly-vanishing history, Ellen dutifully wrote below the picture, “A Mischker.”

Over a few pages, though, several other unidentified subjects, a stern old codger with a handlebar moustache, a chubby man with a cigar and a suit from the Depression, and a trio of unlovely bridesmaids posed around a cardboard swan, also proved to belong to this ubiquitous clan. Seeing that Mischkers outnumbered the descendants God had promised Abraham, Ellen grew suspicious and stopped writing.

* * *



Even the interludes with Roy, on which the staff smiled sympathetically, did not suffice to make Oak Haven Pauline Dresden’s home. She remembered that place well, as did she the things she had once done there. Her initial, extra-mural solo adventure was into the immediate neighborhood, where she rang doorbells and tendered offers of Holy Communion. For her first journey back to Chicago she chose a westerly course which ended in an apartment complex about a mile distant. Before Oak Haven could track down the fugitive, a helpful citizen had stolen her purse.

On her second trip home, Pauline headed East then South, thus covering in two outings all the erroneous cardinal points of the compass, and was crossing a busy bridge about two miles away when a solicitous motorist stopped to lend assistance. It was unusual to find a well-dressed woman, in what the misinformed might call her golden years, out strolling, especially in a place where few people walked anywhere, and the lady asked where Pauline might be going.

Pauline gave the standard reply.

Thus, the driver welcomed her into the car and proceeded. Not surprisingly, she asked the passenger just where home might be, and when Pauline disclosed her destination, her new acquaintance stopped abruptly at a minute market and telephoned the police, who eventually delivered the traveler back to Oak Haven.

These were the seven-league strides that would carry Mrs. Dresden into an L-shaped compartment in The Bower, the assisted-living section of Oak Haven, and the second of her stops in that lengthy, progressive subsidence. Ahead were the lighter days of Pauline’s amazement when Ellen discovered her mother’s best bronzes wrapped in newspaper and stored to cool in the refrigerator; of Ellen’s arriving home from Oak Haven to find the answer machine clogged with plaintive messages, “Why don’t you ever come visit me?”; of Pauline’s lurking slyly near the alarmed door for opportunities to slip back home; of her dismantling every appliance and piece of equipment on which she could lay her restless fingers; of her calls to the police department and subsequent loss of a telephone; of her barricading herself against the incursions of the employees; and of strong words’ readily escaping the lips of a woman who always had blushed to hear them. There would be darker days there, too, as when she struck anyone so daring as to bathe her, and when her wedding ring was cut from her finger while she slept in a haze of prescribed narcotics.

Her tenure in The Bower would end one day when her family was out of town, and Management seized upon one of her threatening gestures as a pretext for huddling her off to the hospital’s psychiatric ward, normal Oak Haven procedure for reducing its workload. Cannily they would lure her into the ambulance by identifying it as her transportation home. By the time she would arrive at the emergency room, she would have forgotten the incident and be as happy as a hog in tall cotton, as they say in those parts. Nevertheless she would be belted to a bed with her arms pinioned “to keep her safe.” Unbeknownst even to her own physician, she would be medicated into a stupor that resisted detoxification over a year, well beyond her removal to another state.

There would be other Bowers in Pauline’s inglorious future, but Ellen was steadfast in a promise she had made: never to deposit her mother in a nursing home. Accordingly, the woman would die, with unexpected moments of lucidity, in a little room of her own, in the company of her daughters and some staff, all of which witnesses loved her.

Charlie’s descent would continue the more declivitous. Lacking any sort of advocate, his more original, unsanitary antics would condemn him to a nearby nursing home of dubious repute. There, before expiring of pneumonia, he would undergo a two-year sentence, during much of which he smelled of feces and old urine and was insensible from drugs. Football, the Navy, and odious hardware would sometimes color his disjected thought, but never once would he remember Pauline.

At their final, common lunch, however, these lugubrious times lay yet ahead of them. Pauline and her decreasing inventory of belongings were scheduled for removal into The Bower that very night, and although her new bed was not more distant than the length of Charlie’s epic touchdown dash, they would never again meet.

With a twinkle in her eyes, Pauline reminded Roy of a Sunday afternoon a few months back, when the children were off with Brother Frantzen and the snowflakes spun down gaily between the two buildings, just outside the bedroom where they had lain.

Oblivious to her information, Charlie recounted the afternoon he had scored four touchdowns and how, owing to the broken arms and pelvis he had sustained, had been rusticated to the bakery his father owned.

When, hand in hand, they walked from their valedictory meal, the dining hall workers looked where they had sat and smiled kindly. There, left behind as usual, were Charlie’s cane and Pauline’s purse.


Copyright © 2003, 2008 by Larry Eugene Stanfel.


Biography:


Larry Stanfel has a PhD from Northwestern University, was a member of several university faculties, and frequently worked as a consultant to federal agencies and private firms.

He published, with B.D. Sivazlian, Optimization Techniques in Operations Research and Analysis of Systems in Operations Research, Prentice-Hall, 1975. His more than 60 journal articles appeared in such varied publications as Information Storage and Retrieval, Information and Control, Information and Computation, Journal of Theoretical Biology, California Society of Printmakers News Brief, Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery, European Journal of Operations Research, Computers and Biomedical Research, Mathematical and Computer Modelling, Journal of Production Economics, Telecommunication Systems, Surveying and Land Information Systems, Journal of Surveying Engineering, Beijing Cehui, A.P.I.I. (France), Journal of Instructional Psychology, Expert Systems, Annals of Operations Research, Beijing Surveying and Mapping, International Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, and the Journal of the Mid America Print Council.

He has been an invited speaker world-wide and has given conference papers in 15 countries. Twice a winner of competitive fellowships for post-doctoral research abroad, he was listed in Who's Who in America, and received a meritorious service award from The Secretary of Defense for telecommunications work supporting the Afghanistan War.

Presently he and his wife, Jane, an artist, live on a small ranch somewhere northeast of Roundup, Montana.