Perfect Family Tales And Other Trivia

The art of the short-story writer is that of the cartoonist. It is the magical craft of creating entire worlds with a few simple strokes of a pen. Tales told by an idiot? Maybe! But my tales are also a mix of reality and fantasy; truth and lies; some based on my own family; others, not. Readers must guess which characters are real; who are inventions - and who are an amalgam of both. Please draw the boundaries for yourself.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

‘Sleeping the Big Sleep’

Betty bounded the final flight of steps two at a time. No-one – nothing – must stop her now.

The door at the top on the right was barely ajar. It had to be the one. She pushed the handle and peered cautiously round the opening. But a rank fug from fifty-seven years  of  incessant smoking and relentless drinking made it almost impossible to see. 

The Big SleepThen her vision cleared and she made out three men hunched over a rickety table. They were playing Seven Card Stud.

“Hullo”, she said,  her deep voice more sultry than ever.

“Y ’short-handed?”

There was no reaction.

The next second dragged like an hour.

Betty tried again.

“Hullo – Bogie? It’s me!” Humphrey.Bogart.Lauren.Bcall

“Hullo, y ’self,” said Bogart, unmoved. “Huh, Baby. Y ’took y ’time. What kept ya?”

“Dunno. Suppose it was the three kids to put through college. A couple of Tony Awards, an Academy Award nomination and an Honorary Oscar. Not much to write home about. Sorry you had to wait”.

“I thought - maybe you and your motor-bike had broken down on the highway to heaven”.

“Y ‘know about that? I needed the thrust; the power”.

“Then you ran out of gas. Here, we know about everything. Y ’ll pick it up pretty damn quick. Y ‘as always a quick study …”

“So were you, Bogie. Now I’m here, do you want some help with your hand?”

“You always knew where to put it. And Frank, here,” added Bogie, shrugging his left shoulder, “says you always helped him, too. How could you do it, as I lay dying, Betty? That’s what makes me so mad”.

“Hold on, Bogie. I’ve been here barely five minutes and already you’re beating on me. Y ‘haven’t even offered me a goddamn drink. What’s the matter?”

“Look, I know I was a mean ol’ critter as the cancer grabbed m’ throat but was that an excuse to go off whoring?”

“What about you, Bogie? Hell, I couldn’t go fetch your medicine without you getting a call from –  I can barely say her name without spitting – ‘Ve-ri-ta’. It was the nurse who told me you rang her from your deathbed. My! Where did you find the energy?”

“Well, she cared. Worried enough to call me. She rang me; not me, her. She loved me enough to visit our boat to see everything was all right.

“Then when she discovered I’d had it  painted, she realised I knew my time was up; that the boat had to look good so it could be sold. So, ‘Verita’ – your first lesson is learning how to say her  pretty name – called me and I said, ‘Don't drink all my scotch, I'll be down there soon’.

“But it didn’t happen. I was brought here almost right after, with only your whistle for company. Then when ‘Verita’ followed a few years ago, we carried on  from where we’d had to leave off. So she’s still got a head-start on you. Go check for yourself. She’s in the next room”.

“Yeah. I’m goin’ through.  But on the way, I’m gonna work out how to kill a dead woman. That reminds me, Bogie. You have the whistle. Me? I’ve got my Oscar. You’ll know, of course, what I said when I received it? ‘A man at last!’”

“You’re still goddamn cute, Baby. So I’m surprised you’ve not asked after my other friend. You remember him?”

Betty looked at the third man. Curious.

“I’m not sure we ever met. Umm? Yeah, that’s it. You’re the thriller hack,  Raymond Chandler. I didn’t recognise you, sober!”

“Spot on”, chuckled Chandler. “And while you’re doin’ some head scratchin’ try and remember what I wrote”.

“What was that, Ray?”

“As I always remind my Cissy, ‘Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.’ If I were you, I’d try to keep to the script”.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 17 August 2014)

 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

‘Tarnished Treasures, Guilty Pleasures’

“And the Lord said to me; What do you see, Amos? And I said, "A plumbline." And the Lord said: Behold I place a plumbline in the midst of My people Israel; I will no longer pardon them”. (Book of Amos 7:8)

Jimmy.SavileFirst they came for Jimmy,

but he’d already slipped away downstairs.                               

 

Then they went for Stuart,

whose time on It’s a Slop-Out will thrill us all for years.

 

Bill  came next with a bravura show well beyond our ken.

 

But we understood at once why Max’s mini organ would never play again.

Pastor.Martin.NiemöllerThen they came for several odd-balls – a couple still bounce loose.

Last – for the nonce - they came for  Rolf who once drew the Queen - and large, delighted crowds.

Amos.7.7But now, he  too  resides behind thick walls placed by a plumbline. And it’s there that no-one’s left who’ll speak for him. Ever.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 20 July 2014)

Friday, 18 July 2014

‘Gaza Beach, July 2014’

The sea’s not calm today.

Rough waters have sent the surfers home, leaving the coast clear for marauding zealots who craft their murder  round the clock.

Ah, love, who could have dreamed up such a plan?

 

Just as an Israeli gunboat nears the shore, to have four sweet-faced fisher boys playing footie in the sand, hard by a band of po-faced hacks with cameras – phones -  notebooks – even sticking-plasters in their their hands?

 

The nights are long and hot; the moon is ripe with woe, oozing stale absolution on those meddling in  the muddy, foreign waters of human misery.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 18 July 2014)

Friday, 27 June 2014

‘Nor Any Drop To Drink’

“So, you want to know why I didn’t want to visit France for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landings?”

“Yes. That’s why I’m here”, said Kevin Martin, a trainee reporter with the New Hampshire and Dorset Review, who was struggling to interview 90-year-old British veteran, Arthur Horton  at Westview Sheltered Housing in Portsmouth.  

“Well, I’ll  tell you something I’ve never told anyone before”, said Arthur, clearing his throat.   

D Day Veterans.02jpg“I wouldn’t be doing it now if our warden here at Westview hadn’t gone squealing to your newspaper. But I suppose I’d better explain myself to set the record straight”.

“Thanks, Arthur”, said Kevin. “I appreciate your time”.

“Hmm! We’ll  see about that! Anyway, what I’d told Mr Blabbermouth was that after we’d won the Battle of Caen and erected ‘Port Churchill’ at Arromanches, the bastard French refused to give us any drinking water”.

“What?”

“Yes! That’s right. When the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment  had embarked here  at Portsmouth I was even younger than you – barely  more than 20; a scared,  scrawny kid who had become an instant chain-smoker, trying to look  bigger, braver – and much older - than  my years.

“But I didn’t have to pretend for long. Twenty-four hours later I already felt old! Every time I think about it  I’m lost in a fog of cordite and ripped, burning flesh. I can even hear the moans of other lads my age, weeping for their mothers.

“As we landed and saw the dead and maimed tossed about in bloodied sea water near the shore, we couldn’t stop to help. So we just pushed the corpses and the injured men out of our way. We had no choice. We had a job to do”.

“But I don’t understand”, said Kevin. “At college, our tutors say  journalists write the first draft of history. Now you’re rewriting what the books say. Thousands of men like you helped to liberate Caen and Arromanches. This is what other D-Day veterans and world leaders have celebrated. But you’re saying that your intervention became self-preservation and that you weren’t welcome, anyway”.

“Oh, the locals wanted our help, make no mistake. They just didn’t want us hanging around begging for basics. Don’t forget, there were thousands of  soldiers and the war had been going on for almost five years. So when they saw us walking towards their homes they hid in the back or slammed their front doors in our faces.  They just wanted us to disappear once we’d done our job!

“But we – I - got over it. I grew up fast and got very hard. In the end I was even promoted to sergeant. I’m a great British patriot. If I was still young and healthy, despite everything, I’m sure I’d do it all again. But those at the top who were supposed to be running the show for the Allies kept dropping us in it. So the rest of us became like the lads who landed before me on Gold Beach – just swept up by the tide of events – tiny bits of wreckage bobbing on the sea.

“What happened to you after D-Day?”

“Things have gone a bit hazy in my mind, but all of us in our unit fought across Europe for what seemed ever-and-a-day until we reached Germany.

Operation.Market.Garden“But hang on!”, added Arthur suddenly, before Kevin could interrupt. “I’ve just remembered that I once got a free ticket to the official opening of the film, A Bridge Too Far as I’d fought in the real campaign in Holland that was code- named ‘Operation Market Garden’. It was as much a miracle for me that I got through everything with no more than a few scratches as it was when the Germans couldn’t blow up the bridge at Nijmegen because the wires to the detonator had been cut. Nijmegen.BridgeI kept staring at the screen that night in town muttering ‘I was there, I was there’! Amazing, really!”

“Did you help to liberate any concentration camps”?

Irma.Grese“Now that’s a good question. No, I didn’t. But before I was demobbed, I helped to form the guard for that bloody  murdering   sadist  cow,  Irma  Grese when she was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint for her crimes at Belsen. It was thirsty work! We all went for a jar after the hangings. Albert liked his pint. That was a good day!”

“Arthur, you seem much more bitter about these events than a lot of other people your age. Why?”

“It’s not that I’m ‘bitter’. I’ve led a quiet life since the war. I’ve not done anything you might call ‘exciting’. I stayed single and kept busy as a carpenter. I’ve always been good with my hands and I’ve made a lot of furniture for myself. Funny though, despite my army rank, I never got far at work although I made sure I always did what I was told.

“At one time I went up north to make coffins for the Co-operative Society but I came back here as it’s where I belong. Now”, added Arthur, wiping his eyes, “it won’t be long before someone makes a box for me”.

----------------

Mark.UlyseasThis story first appeared as Little Water, Less Love in the July 2014 edition of Live Encounters magazine (http://liveencounters.net/?p=7860) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 27 June 2014)

Saturday, 14 June 2014

‘She’s Got Them – Under Her Skin!'

Dr. Ludovic Bouland gripped a scalpel between his right thumb and forefinger, using his left hand to smooth the wide rectangle of flesh he was about to cut.

Autopsy“Madame Nul de Nulle Part – Mrs No-one from Nowhere”, he muttered, arcing his arm over the prone form on the dissecting table before him, “my work here will give you posthumous fame and glory! The skin off your back is to serve as the binding for an important book, Des Destinées de L’âme – Destinies of the Soul. This is  a profound meditation on the soul and life after death by my dear friend, the distinguished essayist and poet, Arsène Houssaye”.   

But the doctor’s reverie was interrupted by a shrill, disembodied female voice.  

“You, who cup my corpse in the palm of your hand, how can you know what Heaven has ordained for my soul or the after life? You seem to cherish books more than living beings. Why is this?

“Here, where I now dwell, there is neither time nor space that you could recognise. Yet we know everything – past, future, good and evil.

“In the time to come the world will learn that my husband flung me into the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris,  claiming falsely  that  I  was an ‘hysteric’. This was after I’d told his mother that I  had caught him in our bed with his mistress!

“So before dying unattended of a sudden stroke, I spent my prime years lying in the gloom on a thin straw pallet with inadequate food and no visitors.

“All this, mark you monsieur, was while  my husband enjoyed sex with the over-fed, hideously painted cuckoo which had usurped my place and laid her putrid eggs on our goose-feathered mattress!

“Now I can tell you that within the first score years of the 21st century, savages living in what is presently named the Ottoman Administration  of Iraq, will burst into a police officer’s   house, hack off his head and tell the world ‘this is our football. It is made of skin’. The world, Monsieur Le Docteur, will become less human than you, a polished Parisian clinician and bibliophile, could possibly imagine.

“Before that though, in the mid-years of the 20th century, millions of people will be incarcerated in prisons far worse even than the hospital where you’re dissecting me, only to be starved, beaten, tortured, gassed then burnt. These barbarities will occur simply because the victims have not conformed to a peculiar notion of sterile purity.

Book Human Skin“What will follow? Eternal arguments on earth as to whether these ghost people – like me, given numbers instead of names  – also had had their skins reused – to cover a cigarette case, maybe – or to make a nice lampshade, perhaps two. I’ve yet to extract the truth from another so-called doctor, Josef Mengele, who was chief among the faux surgeons in these hellish prison camps”.

But Dr Bouland was unmoved by her speech. Surely, he mused,  he was hallucinating, having spent much too long in the deepest bowels of the hospital, butchering human flesh.

“This book”, he said aloud,  “will be bound in human skin parchment on which no ornament will be stamped to preserve its elegance. By looking carefully, the viewer will easily distinguish the pores of the skin.

 
“It is interesting to see the different aspects that change this skin according to the method of preparation to which it is subjected. Compare it, for example, with the small volume I have in my library, Séverin Pineau’s De Integritatis & Corruptionis  Virginum  Notis  - (The  Characteristics of Integrity and Corruption of Maidens).
 
“This is also bound in human skin but tanned with sumac. A book about the human soul deserves to be dressed in a human covering. It seems more fitting, somehow,  like  the  confessions  of   criminals bound in their own skin.

“That reminds me, Madame. Are you sure your husband was the guilty party?Perhaps I should start to investigate who you really were”.

---------------

Author’s Note: Houghton Library at Harvard College, USA is the main repository for the university’s rare books and manuscripts. Arsène Houssaye’s Des Destinées de L’âme(FC8.H8177.879dc), bound in human skin, is considered to be among its most sinister. 

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood –14 June 2014)

Monday, 19 May 2014

‘The House That Was Leper, Heretic, King’

‘Without his evil inclination, a person would not build a house, marry, or have children’ (Bereshit Rabbah 9:7).

“In my beginning when I was created from stone and wood I believed I would stand forever.

“My facade glowed and my scarcely-seasoned timbers rippled, restless, unreposed, yearning for the scented forest from which they’d been most artfully hewn.

“How long did my crystal-eyed windows dance dust-motes on rays of the glancing sun? How often did my broad-backed, gardened roof shelter those beneath in winter or offer  relief to the sleepless on airless August nights?

“I was magnificent! The holy city of Tiberias was my fiefdom and I was emperor-king.

“But on a day since embedded in my foundations, my owner went away.

“’Dear house’, he whispered, brushing the amulet on my doorpost with a graceful finger before putting it to his lips, ‘without you and my beloved wife, who’s borne me four fine sons, I would have shamed myself, achieved nought. Now we must leave. But I promise to provide a new occupant worthy of your noble frame’.

“With that, he blessed me, intoned a prayer for his family’s safety on their journey to I know not where, then left without a further word.

“But he had lied. No visitor called. I’d been abandoned; was forsaken; felt betrayed.

Maimonides.02“Days, weeks, months, until what seemed like forty  years vanished in a breath. I could not comprehend how an edifice like me, the nearest neighbour of the tomb of the great sage and physician Rabbi  Moses Ben Maimon  could be neglected for so long.

“I had become invisible. The glass in my windows clouded and crazed as the frames warped and buckled with age. The columns of my portico  cracked and sagged; my vast main door lost its varnish, became deformed, swinging idle in the path of any  aimless breeze.

“Much worse was how the walls of my once grand reception rooms  grew deaf, then leprous with  sinister hollow streaks of green and red. The very chambers that had hosted the devout at prayer, solemn study sessions and joyous banquets were now exposed to all that was dishonoured and disgraced.

“I had become untouchable; exiled, not only from grand society, but from the very piety I once had held so dear.

“What great sin was mine? To have revelled in my departed majesty? If  so, I swiftly learned humility.  Paradise had become wilderness and a different, degraded life took charge.

“Next I was reclaimed by nature and feral animals made me their home. A donkey grazed on weeds in the once carefully tended courtyard while a family of hyraxes that first used my rock garden as a burrow, wondered in through my broken basement window for comfort against the rain.

“One sad day I was spotted by a rabid she-wolf in her final throes. Everything nearby froze in fear  as the bitch juddered through my main entrance, her foaming jaws agape, desperate for  relief.

“But she could cause no harm; collapsed exhausted in the centre of my  ante-room, convulsed, then died.

“Still, she was my near undoing. Her remains lay rotting for so long that their stench attracted wicked men  whose antics drove me almost manic with despair.

“Yes.  Even I, chief guardian mansion of the Rambam’s final resting place, became a vagrants’ den. I was now a worthless, wretched crack house for the depraved and dispossessed.

“My internal torment continued unabated until I begged Heaven  for the reason for my woes.

“Was my arrogance the sin behind my ruin? Had I caused the Rambam’s feet – and mine – to be dangled in vile muck? Was old pride why  my walls were violated and now half-submerged in the lewd language of the semi-literate and  profane?

“Thus I  hungered for insensibility; begged to return to the dust and ashes from which I’d come. Could I will myself to  shrivel to oblivion? Could I simply vanish, truly invisible, into the dense, black void?

“But I was granted no relief. Rather, during the coldest, deepest part of one night before another dreary dawn my walls heard a faint, familiar  voice.

’Adon Bayit – Mr House’, it said. ‘You must keep faith. Do not disappoint Me. Hold fast and you will be renewed; be bright and bold as in ancient days’.

“And so it came to pass. My evil years had ended as new owners visited and effected the many cures that have nursed me back to health. Setton.Family.Hospitality.Centre

“If I could speak a human tongue they would know that I have welcomed their thousand kindnesses even as my freshly clad facade is furbished by the warmth and honeyed light of each new day.

“Once more I am a fitting eyrie for the ‘Great Eagle’ of Torah. Again I am a place for earnest study and sincerest prayer. The Tomb of Maimonides in Tiberias

“But now I recognise that I can’t exist forever. Like the wood and stone from which I first appeared, I must age and wither, perhaps to be reshaped for use in different guise.

“So with Heaven’s grace I would like to conclude with thanks for this life regained:

“’Thank you, eternal King. You have mercifully restored my soul within me, allowing me to be a place of deepest study and devout prayer. Your faithfulness is great and only You will last forever’. Let me say ‘Amen’”.

---------------

The Maimonides Heritage Centre -  Mercaz Moreshet HaRambam - was founded in the Autumn of 2003 by American Rabbi Yamin Levy and a group of colleagues in Tiberias – one of the four holy cities of Israel. The full story may be read at: http://www.mhcny.org/?page=ourstory

--------------------

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood –19 May 2014)

 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

‘Like Putting Band Aid on a Weeping Wound’

It wasn’t all peaches for

Ms Geldof. She preferred

Sprouts. Or juice.

Once a day.

 

So she’s been returned from

Whence she came to the

Half-crazed mum who tried

To hurtle her to freedom

Through the window

Of a moving car.

Now they’re both in it.

Together.

Peaches.Bob.Geldof

‘The  wittiest,  prettiest,

Smartest – most bonkers

Of us all’, said her dad, Bob,

Who fed the world, but

Never checked on her.

Now Tom, a nice Jewish boy

Who married her in church,

Is left bereft, holding two

Sweetly misnamed babes,

Whose love can never

Staunch the angry flow

Of baffled grief her

Parting’s left behind.   

But never mind.

They’ll know it’s

Christmas in the

Geldof  House when

There’s no peaches

With the pud.

 

Life’s terrible cruel.

And so is Peter Pan.

 

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood –10 April 2014)