12 December 2013

THE BEST CHRISTMAS GIFT EVER

Well, in my opinion, definitely one of the best gift ideas ever.  And it's under £15!  Last Christmas I bought a few copies of illustrator-turned-writer Lou Beach's 420 Characters to give to friends, after reading the series of imaginative, funny, poignant, surreal, intriguing short stories and (420-character) prose about peculiar little worlds, relationships and characters and feeling compelled to share.  It's on Amazon in book and kindle form, but here are my favourites for a little preview.

Lou Beach 420 Characters book of short stories

"Are you my mommy?" said the little blue egg. "No dear. You are a plastic trinket full of sweets," said the brown hen. "My baby is over there", and she pointed to a pink marshmallow chic being torn apart and devoured by a toddler.  The hen screamed and woke up, her pillow wet with sweat, the sheets twisted around her legs. "Christ, I hate that dream." She reached for a smoke.


A bird lives on my head, nests in my hair, pecks at my scalp.  A finch, I believe.  When I go out in public I cover it with a hat, so it's away from prying eyes and cats who would climb my body to catch it.  Sometimes on the bus I notice others wearing hats, and if there are seeds or an errant feather on their shoulders, I nod and smile and preen.

She was indiscriminate in her taste for jewellery.  Paste, carats, costume, it was all glam flocking.  She was like a magpie, hoarding sparkles in a box.  Every day she put on earrings, necklaces, brooches, bangles, bracelets, and pins, none of which matched; an upended Christmas display held together by some hair and a dress from the bottom of a closet with a burned-out light.

I lay the book on the floor, open to the middle.  It's a lovely volume, green leather covers engraved endpapers.  I remove my shoes and step into it up to my ankles, knees, hips, chest, until only my head is showing and the pages spread around me and the words bob up and down and bump into my neck, and the punctuation sticks to my chin and cheeks so that I look like I need a shave.

The house was tucked into the bottom of a cul-de-sac, surrounded by a high brick wall. One of the bricks was missing and in the cavity lived a tiny man, Ray.  He shared the space with a finch, a lovely lady from Indiana, Jill.  She often gabe Ray rides to the drugstore so he could pick up his medication, and he in turn constructed a nest for Jill out of cotton from his prescription bottles.  There was no hanky-panky.

The oak table, set for twelve with bone white china and crystal goblets full of sparkling water, glistening silverware, was sprouting lettuce.  It pushed out of the worn wood, knocked over the glasses, spilled water that irrigated the new growth.  Plates were overturned by root vegetables pushing upward, silverware sent scattering by tomato vines and beanstalks until the entire table was a victorious garden.

I live in the pocket of a bright paisley shirt - silk - and when the light is just so, I'm in my own private cathedral. I lie back and push out against the fabric with my feet, and the coloured light falls in like kids' breakfast cereal.  I lived in a canvas shirt once but the guy was always sweating so much it recalled that tent in Ireland near the sea where I first got this assignment.

There was a man on my lawn.  I saw him through the window.  He was sitting with his legs straight out in front of him, hands in lap, back very erect.  I armed myself with a baseball bat, went outside.  "What are you doing here?" I said.  He smiled and said: "I am Right Angle Man."  Relieved that he was harmless, I laughed and said: "Where is your cape?"  He looked up at me.  "I am not a superhero.  Are you with the Yankees?"

Her summer dress is crisp, white with dark blue polka dots, open at the throat, sleeveless, set off by a wide red leather patent belt and espadrilles that raise her heels three inches from the sticky tarpaper.  Backlit by the sun, her hair a splendour, she walks to the edge of the roof garden, looks down for a moment at the street sixty stories below, then returns to water the tomato plants.  There are no insects up here.

Years back the river overflowed, flooding a nearby apple orchard.  Grandpa was sitting on the high front porch watching the water rushing down the street when he saw a flotilla of apples bobbing past.  He quickly got his waders and proceeded to fish for fruit.  Grandma made pies and apple sauce and fritters for weeks.  That's how the local saying "When the river rises, make fritters" comes about.  That's the origin, true story.

Hot in the bait shop today.  Guy walks in, all big city, Jew hair, glasses.  I'm thinking, only thing he's ever fished for is a compliment.  "Can I help you?"  "Yes, would you happen to carry any Yamamoto 9S Senko freshwater lures in a four inch?"  Man, I felt there was shit on my shoe.  The dude was DEEP."

"The new swim coach is really nice, Daddy.  He liks to give my neck and shoulders a massage when I get out of the pool."  She smiles at me, her hair still wet.  "Do you know the phone number of the PE Department at school?" I say.  "Oh, can we invite him over for dinner?"  I put the phone down.  "Do your homework, Daddy's going out for a while."

His hands jump into the bowl, the ground meat, to join the conversation going on with the raw egg, onions, the salt and pepper.  He squeezes it all through his fingers and wonders if his brain would feel like this if he grabbed it from behind.  Cooking calms him, makes him introspective.  This is Life, he thinks.  You put a lot of stuff together, smoosh it around, and pretty soon you've got a bunch of meatballs.

I open the can, press the oil out of the tuna with the lid.  I recall sandwiches you made, just the right amount of mayo, onions, celery, sourdough with lettuce or, if you were happy, alfafa sprouts.  In my reverie I don't notice that I've sliced my thumb with the lid and blood mingles with the oil and flows down the drain and pipes to a processing plant and to sea, to finally wash up on a beach where we once fished.
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