Pierre Duchenne

Drawn to the life of a fur trapper at an early age, scarcely knowing what the life entailed, Pierre Duchenne sailed for the shores of the United States in a majestic clipper, its sails white as snow, its sails billowing like clouds, in the summer of 1817, when he was just eighteen.  While most of his fellow travelers, nearly a hundred in all, gravitated toward the Eastern Seaboard, he hewed to a Western Star, not stopping for good until he was well west of Yellowstone.  There were more practical reasons.  Already trapped out, the eastern shores were well settled by farmers, the Wilderness well-shorn.

Falling in with three fellow Frenchmen in Saint Louis, he secured an Appaloosa colt, buckskin pants, two scratchy wool shirts, a thick elk skin coat, and a smooth-bore musket and a flintlock pistol, a twelve inch knife, as well as a two dozen footlock traps.  There were other items the four of them hoped to trade with the Indians they met along the way for pelts and food.  Across the plains the western Nebraska plains, they ran into the Arapaho, camped along the banks of the South Platte River.  The Native Americans greeted them with curiosity and disdain, and friendship from the call of bondage of common existence.  Lacking common language, they spoke through exaggerated and comical gestures that they both eventually understood.  Spring had not yet come to the mountains.  Not quite a hundred yards upstream from the Indians, they set up camp where they stayed the better part of a month, trading frying pans, dry goods, pistols and muskets that two spare horses carried with the Arapahoes, for pelts of lynx, deer, elk, bear, and the dearest to the wealthy in the East, the beaver.  From them, they learned of dealing with the wiles of the wilderness, especially when it was at its most vicious. Continue reading “Pierre Duchenne”

The tramp returns

The bell on the tramp steamer called out into the thick fog.

A single bell from the buoy off to starboard replied.

Somewhere there were stars beyond the grey blanket.

The ship nosed forward. The bells spoke to each other.

Mor’thn Weeds pulled the collar of his oilskin coat closer and spat over the side. The night stretched out before him.

Lights began to appear in the fog. Dimples at first then pinholes in a grey mist and all the while the double-knock from the rocking waves. Ka-long! Ka-lang! It felt like a log being pulled along a slow river.

Mor’thn licked his lips and waited for the harbour lights to greet him. He counted off the time with her cowrie shell bracelet in his pocket. It had been the longest voyage he’d made so far. He knew there’d be others. He was in no hurry. It was Christmas Eve.

He had a cargo of ermine pelts. Soviet stoat. One thousand. One for each day of the journey. He’d sewed the very finest for her by the light of the oil lamp. With each stitch, he’d counted the hairs on her head. He felt her skin under his fingertips. He’d rubbed his face in the fur and thought of her naked. Continue reading “The tramp returns”

Death’s dark angel

As winter feathered into spring, the early weeks of March brought miserable weather, front following front.  One day would have the semblance of spring, the next heralded winter.  Back home from China, looking to come back to the States for good from the Middle Kingdom, I was looking for work.  In the winter ritual of watching Pro football screens together with my father on his big screen, the winter weeks went by as I looked for gainful employment.  With a stubborn, self-possession, my father, now in his tenth decade, was of the generation who never complained of minor ailments or physical irritations, went about life like one a generation or two younger.  It was while we watched the Super Bowl that he first complained of left shoulder pain that he mentioned he had had for a week.  As he sat in his recliner watching the game, he placed a heating pad to the shoulder and took a couple tablets of Tylenol.  He complained no further about it.  Otherwise, his health was ostensibly good, as good as anyone could expect for a ninety-two year old man who flew as a top turret gunner on a B-24 in the Pacific Theater of the cataclysm of the Second World War at the age of sixteen. Continue reading “Death’s dark angel”

Humanity alive and well, thank you

It was a gorgeous late-summer afternoon in Istanbul, Turkey.  The pedestrian walkways on both sides of city’s historic Goleta Bridge were packed with international tourists as well as local citizens, either crossing the bridge or catching fish by lowering their fishing-rods to the water below.  The bridge spans over a bay area, naturally curved out from the famous Bosporus Straight, separating Europe and Asia.  Ms. Sydney Walker, an American foreign-exchange student in the Istanbul University was crossing the bridge, when she would decide to take an evening two-hour leisure-cruise in the Straight.  She came down the staircases, went to the counter, bought a ticket, and boarded the next available ferry, already getting filled up with foreigners as well as the locals.

Soon, the ferry began its northwards journey and a voice came over the ferry’s loudspeaker system, welcoming the guests and initiating the descriptions of the historic landmarks on both sides of the Straight.  Sydney got up from her seat, went to the nearby balcony, and began taking a few selfies with some of those landmarks as the backdrops.  At one point, she felt a tap on her shoulder, looked around, and found a gorgeous young lady, head covered with a traditional Islamic head-scarf requesting Sydney to snap a few shots offering her own camera.  She was traveling with an equally gorgeous friend.   Both of them wanted to be in the same series of shots, thus the request.  Sydney happily fulfilled their request while striking up a conversation.  She learned that they were Saira and Karisma, both university students in Tehran, Iran.  They were touring a few neighboring countries during their summer-break.  All three soon became engaged in discussing Istanbul’s attractions, food, arts and culture voicing over the surrounding cacophony. Continue reading “Humanity alive and well, thank you”

The solitary tear

When they came for him, they came for him in the black stillness of a moonless night.  Insolent and gutless, the sons of bitches kicked in the dilapidated door with its peeling paint in the house of sloughing, puttied stucco.  Juan Romero had given us up.  And now, all I am left with is this tattoo of a tear hanging on my cheek.

Ernesto Gonzalez and I were good, until that son-of-bitch, Juan, came into our lives.  Sure we were just getting by, living from paycheck to paycheck with our combined paychecks, Ernesto from the garage, me from the bakery, and though we could have called any other house a mansion, we lived the small happinesses that most any couple do who’ve been together for three years.

When they came for him, they were drawn to the bedroom, where I was mewling like a cat, Ernesto thrusting himself deep inside of me.  That door they didn’t have to knock down.  One of the four officers snatched Juan from the top of me, throwing him to the floor, then another one helping the first one to pin Juan’s arm behind his back, as they rolled him over and stood him up.  His manhood was at half-mast, and as they shook him, his cock waved like a wind sock at the airport.  I sat there watching it, propped on my elbow, naked, the sheets drawn up to my chin.  A third officer, grabbed  me and put the shackles on, my breasts swinging back and forth, the officers snickering.  “Who are you?” one of the officers directed at me. Continue reading “The solitary tear”

Capture

He had the steering wheel in a rigid grip. He hated heights, and bridges terrified him. But he had to make the commute twice a week, and his time was valuable. Besides, his patients needed him.

He was halfway across the bridge and could see the far side. Almost there, almost safe. He wiped his brow and forced himself to breathe.

Then the traffic slowed and stopped. He pounded the wheel and swore. Then he saw the police cars in his mirror. One, two, maybe ten. They turned and cut off the lanes. Nobody could move.

 

Four men got out of an unmarked van and immediately summoned the supervisors already on site. The newly arrived men had equipment of some sort strapped to their bodies, and most revealingly, ropes coiled around their shoulders. Their vision was directed to the top of the two-hundred-foot central spire.

There was a person at its summit. A jumper. Continue reading “Capture”

That cowboy soul of yours

Looking like the heavens caved in that day, grey hoary clouds drove in encompassing all the northwestern horizon, proceeded by rapacious gales ripping the sage from this nearly worthless patch of earth, followed by flurries of scathing snow like so much ash swirling.  In Baggs, Wyoming, winter had arrived.  Starting with scarcely any warning early in the morning, we mounted to ride out and greet it, my father, Seamus, my brother, Seth, and me.  Galloping off toward the herd of Hereford, we set out to round them up and drive them towards the paddocks and the barn where their hay lay like listless straw soldiers.  Soon the blizzard immersed the spread; my only home, my only heritage.

No more than eight hundred acres, this patch of prairie circumscribed by barbed wire, the Blind Owl Ranch was meager compared to some of the other surrounding ranches.  When storms erupted, the herd gathered at the downwind section of the spread, up against the barbed wire fence—so too that morning.  Stirrup to stirrup, we gamboled towards the southeast corner of the pasture, where the Herefords appeared as apparitions in the blowing snow.  Slowly we drove them back towards the paddock where they’d find forage.  There, none would succumb to the freezing winds.  Turned towards the tempest, the storm stung my face, ice hanging from my horse’s hackamore.  Wheeling off in a new direction, a single Hereford required me to ride him down.  I am Samuel Sutherland.  Here I was born; it is here I will die. Continue reading “That cowboy soul of yours”

Frantic feathers

Scene: Farmer Brown’s barnyard

Time: Sometime before Thanksgiving or Christmas

Characters: Tom Turkey and Tillie Turkey

 

Tillie: Psst! Psst! Tom, over here by the azalea bushes.

Tom: Tillie, girl, where’ve you been? I’ve looked all over the barnyard for those beautiful feathers. You mad at me?

Tillie: No, I’m not mad but what’s the matter with you? Struttin’ around here like you owned the place. Don’t you know what time of year it is?

Tom: A good time if you ask me. Why I haven’t missed a meal for the past month. Farmer Brown’s been layin’ it on heavy, honey, what with all the extra feed he’s been puttin’ out. You’d think he was tryin’ to fatten me up.

Tillie: Fool! That’s exactly what he’s doing. Ain’t no human gonna buy a scrawny, ole turkey with no meat on its bones.

Tom: What’s the humans got to do with it?

Tillie: I swear,Tom, you get denser every year. Don’t you feel the nip in the morning air? Haven’t the squirrels started gathering their winter supply of nuts?And what do you think has been falling off the trees leavin’ em naked as Jay birds? It’s comin’ up Thanksgiving! For some reason known only to man, our turkey population takes quite a dip around this time. Seems our species is the ‘meat of the day’—never could figure out why. We’re not exactly the best looking fowl on the farm.

Tom:  Well, now Tillie, don’t be selling us short. I’m proud of my plumage and have you ever heard a bigger gobbler?

Tillie: Well, all I know is that Thelma got the axe last Thanksgiving and I haven’t liked the way Farmer Brown has been giving me the eye this fall. So I’m hidin’ out and if you don’t want to become a poster boy for “Butterball”, you best be getting your carcass behind these bushes, too.

Tom: Gee, Tillie, if you really think we’re in danger, we could maybe fly away and hide in the woods.

Tillie: Tom, stop your gobblin’ and think. When’s the last time you managed to fly to the top of the fence? Just because we’ve got wings doesn’t mean we can fly-especially, since you’ve been pigging out on all that corn Farmer Brown’s been dishin’ around.

No, we’ve got to lay low and stay away from Lucy Goose. She knows her kind have been sacrificed as substitute turkeys more than once. She’ll rat on us sure as shootin’. You know she’s always squawkin’.

Tom: You got that right—her beak never stops flappin.’

Tillie: No, I’ve got a plan. Just after dark, when everyone has settled in, we’ll pass the word that fox is on the prowl. That’s good for some noise and commotion and it always gets Farmer Brown’s attention. We’ll keep on the edge of the raucous and as soon as he opens the gate make a B-line for the woods. He’ll be so confused he won’t know whether to chase after us or go for the fox. My money’s on the fox—more to lose if that critter’s in the henhouse.”

Tom: “But Tillie, I don’t run very fast anymore. What if I get caught? It’s curtains for me! You’ll be in the woods with that wild cousin of yours.”

Tillie: “Just look at it this way, Tom. From what I hear, humans rave about us on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but we’re even better the day after!”

 

By Sylvia Melvin

 

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How lucky is she

Tess had her mother’s hazel eyes, sharp nose, and chin. But she was tall, like her father. Until things turned out as they had, Angie considered it the only good thing the sixteen-year-old had inherited from his side. .

Tess had been back for eight months.  Angie left little gifts on her bed and bought her favorite ice cream even when it wasn’t on sale. And she tried to be home more, turning down extra shifts at the restaurant and cutting short evenings with Dan. She shrugged when he complained: “Shouldn’t The Princess be the one with a 10 p.m. curfew?”

Angie knew she’d have to tell Tess soon.  They’ll get used to each other, she told herself. Continue reading “How lucky is she”

Moses denied

The perishing sun dove into the shimmering expanse of the desert.  This, the last day of her residency, Christine McDaniel, a gangly redhead, all angles, caught the spectacle through one of the windows of the University of Arizona Medical Center.  No more than momentary, it lifted her spirits.  Achieving adulthood on the East Coast in Boston, she seldom saw the sun, as the clouds always hung over Harvard Square, where she matriculated for undergraduate and medical school.

Tomorrow, July 1st, she would no longer be a resident.  Celebrations were in order; at Maria’s, her favorite Mexican food restaurant, she would dine with Michael Mitchell, her present squeeze.  She’d be accompanied by Vicki Turner, another resident, and her boyfriend, Tom Davidson.  Tomorrow night would be a night of reflection and joy.  In a month she’d ply her profession as a hospitalist at St. Cecilia’s, one of the largest hospitals in Tucson. Continue reading “Moses denied”