About Red Tales

Here's an evolving electronic collection of short prose pieces, with a poem contributed occasionally. Brevity guides. Although sometimes a piece will run to 900 words, most pieces are much shorter. Here one may find erotica, flash fiction, brief observations, and modest improvisations. Another rule is that each piece must have something to do with"red"; at least the word has to appear in each piece functionally. . . . All pieces are numbered and titled, so there's a de facto table of contents running down the rail below, under "Labels" (scroll down a bit). Browse for titles that look interesting, if you like. Thank you for stopping by. Look for some red today, tonight.

"Flaming June," by Frederick Lord Leighton

"Flaming June," by Frederick Lord Leighton

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

31. Uninvited

Sometimes she had the feeling she hadn't been invited into this or any world. She's been a good girl, partly for the reason that she felt she was a slight imposition on her family--an extra child, but not an extraordinary one.

Out in the world, she felt as many feel--overlooked, ignored, and, if noticed, tolerated.

She wondered what exactly the reason might be for her to have become, to have come into this world. She didn't spend a lot of time puzzling, however. She did her job--which was first of all to be the one person she was given an opportunity to be, herself.

She thought of red as her signature color--in a scarf, a hat, or a pin: some accessory that might murmur, in effect, "I know I'm not terribly interesting, but nonetheless, here I am, with a dash of red."

She lived as best she could, made others feel welcomed, worthy. She knew she hadn't authored reality. She felt reality had been here a long time before she happened along. She'd been a good girl. She became a decent person.

Gloves. Red gloves. A pair of red woolen gloves. These she she wore in colder months.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

30. Definition

Red has its own wings and glides into sight.

Red owns its own memory and never forgets to be red.

Red is a corporation of molecules, publicly held.

Red is cosmopolitan, at ease for instance mixing with blue and yellow.

Red is a favorite of myth-makers and patriots, for it may be proclaimed and waved.

Red lurks in iron and wood.

Red is the correct answer to innumerable questions.

Red can keep a secret; it has never disclosed to the cardinal that the cardinal is red.

Red goes to the country in Sweden most summers. It stays by the lake and attempts to say as few words as possible.

Red is the news of ripeness reported by certain fruits. It is a form of goodbye uttered by certain leaves in September.

Red is crazy or brave or blessed--anyway, a martyr.

Red is the cost.

Red is a mogul.

Red is more than a color and only a color at the same time.

Red is not Gertrude Stein, and Gertrude Stein is not red.

29. Broken Guitar

A man broke a guitar over--that is to say, on--another man's head.

The guitar-strings sounded the last chord the guitar would ever play. After expressing this final chord, the O of the guitar vanished.

On the floor, the smashed instrument looked like a miniature shipwreck in an extremely small production of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

People gathered round the injured man like a chorus of bees.

The man who'd turned a guitar into a weapon sagged with self-hatred and remorse.

A woman entered the room. She said, "Hey, that's my guitar."

The man who had been struck by the guitar looked deeply perplexed by recent events. His head bled, and the wound looked like a wet, red flower. "O," he said.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

28. Printed From the Negative

In that time of film-photography, a woman in a red dress stood beside a blue lake. Trees behind her rose brightly green. Her hair was black, her skin light brown. Yellow flowers winked near her shoes.

Summer's sky mixed blue, white and gray. The woman often saw colors when she heard sounds. Thunder nearby seemed purple to her that day. A powder-blue butterfly landed on her arm. She laughed. Its wings applauded.

The camera's aperture let in light representing the woman, the red dress, the blue lake and green trees, the woman's black hair and brown skin, the yellow flowers, and the blue butterfly. The aperture admitted all but the purple thunder, which could not appear in the print made from the negative, and the negative was a dark brown cloud that rained colors onto white paper in a dark room.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

27. Rhetoric

Grant me red, and I shall argue efficiently for purple.

Bring me reliable orange data, and I shall infer red.

I am convinced that white and red can reach a pink consensus.

O, rhetoricians and publicans, O red-tongued gabbers and gossipers, convincers and shaders, workers-of-the-precincts, we raise our glasses of deep-ruby wine to you.

May you disagree garrulously forever; may you sink efficient fascism in the lovely red mud of your speeches, essays, opinions, and claims. May you rinse the puffy faces of ministers and thugs with cold, clear watery questions. Talk on, walk on, write often, confuse the confusers of issues with refutations. Quibble, jabber, jaw-bone, murmur. Rise to speak. Sit to listen. Lean back to laugh. Wave your red incorrigible flags of democracy and contrarianesque red polka-dotted handkerchiefs. Wear the powerful fools out with words and reasoning, pepper them with paprika-seasoned rhetoric, O rhetors, O saucy suaders.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

26. Blood-Donor

Being O-Negative and CMV-Negative, his blood is positively desired, although nothing in his blood improves his knowledge of what CMV-Negative or O-Negative mean.

The donation-room is quiet. It holds faint traces of blood-ritual awe from epochs when blood not science was exalted and people with insatiable blood-lust and melodramatics attempted to sate an invisible but much-named, much-certified realm with blood.

His heart pumps doggedly. Elsewhere ill babies sleep in the presence of their lords.

"We use your blood for babies," the woman in charge of needles tells him, and someone records on a chart how many pints the place has drawn that day of baby-friendly blood.

The opaque bag darkens deeply red with his corpuscular tithing. The darkness of red's blood always surprises him once more. His blood in a bag fascinates him. It doesn't seem like his when it's in the bag, and he's lying on the donation-bed looking at it.

On some unknown day, he will unknowingly pass in the street a former baby and current adult to whom his blood was once distributed. There will be a certain sameness coursing through strangers, a certain godly ignorance preventing either person from being alert to a most pragmatic communion, all the more reason, oddly enough, to offer thanks to something holier.

Friday, September 12, 2008

25. Language

All right, red. Be prepared. Certain duties shall be expected of you.

Doubtless you will have to infuse a rose located in a narrative and try like hell to symbolize. Elsewhere you will have to adjectivalate, for the umpteenth time, blood.

And these task are just for sanguine starters.

--Such endless, tedious work, signifying, suggesting, working as a word that describes, caught in cross-meanings between verbs and nouns, depended upon to provide an illusion of vividness.

We can hope only that this whole business of meaning will somehow count for something, something besides meaning, I mean.

Anyway, red, be prepared. They'll want your services. They always do.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

24. Panic

The panicked may feel flushed, but panic is not red; it is a mottled gray.

There is no safe place on Earth, the panicked person feels.

Habits, beliefs, confidences, wisdom, plans, powers, hope, strategies, adaptations, faith, will: all vacate the premises of the panicked, who themselves are premised then solely on their incapacities. The anvil is lowered on the chest. Breath becomes disloyal.

Perspiring, the panicked plead with an abyss, negotiate with mute walls, desire to burrow, curl up, and sleep.

Sometimes all that rescue from panic takes is a smile; other times, a tiny pill from a red-orange bottle brings a message to the brain. The message says, "Take it easy." Sometimes suffering is both condition and antidote.

Look at the panicked person. She wipes her brow with a red bandana. She waits for a deep breath. She looks at the red bandana. She finds it to be a humorous piece of cloth. She smiles. She breathes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

23. Mission

The mission's bell once glowed red in a forge. Its color is indeterminate now, a settlement of brown and blue, black and rust. Birds trouble ancient oaks on the grounds of the mission. Once the feet of Father Serra shuffled on this ground, although the dirt has been replaced by other dirt.

A lizard scampers across adobe. Stops. This sun was the same sun under which men grunted and laughed and cursed and sweat as they built the mission. This mission, legatee of light and shadow, will, and surrender. This mission, symbol of Something or Other, and its bell, tuned in a red forge, is situated in light coming from the sun's forge.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

22. Redcairn

22. One night, a long time ago, I was drinking, drinking liquor as a matter of distilled fact, with a philosopher.

I was writing a dissertation at the time, the topic being literary as a matter of inertia, as I hadn't moved from my interest in reading since I'd been 9 or 10 years old.

My dissertation's most signal strength, perhaps, was that it would be completed.

The parents of the philosopher had named him, but he'd changed his name to R.L. Redcairn. R. and L. stood only for themselves, like facades on the set of a movie which creates an illusion that its action occurs in a "Western" "town." Nothing lay behind the abbreviations, so they weren't abbreviations. Nonetheless, "R.L. Redcairn" seemed like a name with which to conjure. The philosopher called himself simply "Redcairn," but I called him "R." because I believe he and I were on a first-letter basis.

Sometimes I scribbled parts of my dissertation in the bar, but not if Recairn happened to be there, for Recairn was a garrulous sort, a man who liked to drink indefinitely and talk combatively. Listening could be achieved in his presence, but not writing. Redcairn was working on a dissertation in philosophy, which is one way of my saying he wasn't working on a dissertation. It was sometimes said of Recairn in that precinct of academia that he was working on a masterpiece, but it was also widely known--to the extent anything can be known, as philosophers sometimes say--that he hadn't written a lick. So R. tuaght a class or two of intro-to- philosophy each term, and he drank, held forth, and composed, so to speak, the dissertation of himself, "Redcairn."

One night, a long time ago, when the self-named, voluble Redcairn and I were drinking, he his dark brandy, I my translucent vodka, Redcairn confessed, "My friend, the symbolic logic of poker eluded me last night, and I lost much currency. That is to say, I'm a bit short on funds. I should have mentioned this before you opened a tab, but I wonder if you could cover the price of my beverages this night."

"Of course, R.," I said. In the summers, I usually got myself a construction-job of some sort, so I often had what one of my aunts liked to call "walking-around money," in addition to the small stipend we graduate students received. As far as I was concerned, investing in small containers of alcohol that was imbibed during discussions of great ideas in small bars was a wise use of this money.

Several brandies later--to the extent a brandy is a unit of time--Redcairn said this:

"Reality has no idea what I'm thinking. What's more, it's not interested. So I think my thoughts, which is what one does with one's thoughts. Sometimes little flakes of reality drift my way--a bus, a book, a breeze, a brown liquid. What of it? I do not deny reality, my friend. I am no Berkeley, sir. I am no wishy-washy Kant. Redcairn is his own Heraclitan fire." And a boon companion, I thought to myself, in spite of Redcairn's chronically thin wallet. Redcairn continued, "What if the whole universe were something that had been discarded? How cool would that be, my friend? I throw down a searing shot of insignificance, sir, and I chase it with absurdity. For I am Redcairn."

"You certainly are, R.," I said.

Redcairn assaulted his throat with a gulp of brandy and winced with pleasurable pain. He continued to speak, as I knew he would. "If there's one thing I know for sure, I doubt it. My friend, here's what I've always wanted to say to meaning, which is a different thing from reality. Yes, this is what I wish to say to meaning: Go fuck yourself!"

The bartender, whom I assumed to be an Aristotelian, said, "Keep it down, fellas." Redcairn was about to protest, but I suggested another round, and the suggestion placated him. Sometimes I think of Redcairn, and I wonder what he is doing. I raise a glass of cold milk, and I toast R. and ones like him. Here's to the ones in life who hold forth. Here's to the self-named such as Redcairn, a philosopher, a bullshitter, a boon companion. In spite of his quarrel with meaning, Redcairn managed to mean something, especially after two or three glasses of brandy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

21. From This Valley

I don't want to live here, you don't want to live here, he, she, it doesn't, they don't want to, nobody wants to, live here.

Not even the mayor of here wants to live here. Despair was his campaign-platform.

I suggest we hasten to bid here adieu and move to the Red River Valley.

We could take back all the insensitive things we have said to each other here.

We might prepare to take the real-estate-sales examination. We might grow squash--and tomatoes.

These are our lives, darling, and none other, and this is the Red River Valley, and what we are experiencing here at the mayor's reception is the effect of time on carbon-based organisms.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

20. Blood-Chemistry

Blood contains so many regimes, each with its own purpose and politics, ministers and machinations.

The republic of clotting factor operates by ponderous logic, while the forces of adrenalin rant for revolution.

Hormones are deal-makers, scuttling back and forth throughout the night.

Railroad-interests control red corpuscles, while the white ones are ruled by a military dictatorship.

I fear secret societies; their members are so adept at climbing ladders of DNA.

Monday, September 1, 2008

19. Labor #2

How much would he cut and burned!

Slabs of downed, dry oak. Rounds of pitch-soaked pine, red fir, and spruce. He hated spruce, which he called "piss-fir."

The cutting down, the limbing, the cutting up. Hauling, heaving. Splitting wood and loading it. Unloading and stacking it. More splitting for kindling. Bringing wood inside. Finally burning it all to ash. Hauling out the ash.

Fire in the iron stove, in the stone fireplace. Piles of brush and tree limbs from cleared land, smoldering all night, winter, outside. To keep the cleared place clear demanded cutting back brush, every year. The Sierra Nevada abhores a clearing.

To keep warm the cold house he built, of wood, of concrete, on the clearing, he cut wood. To cut, to chop, to clear, to haul, to burn, to work. Infinitives become imperatives.

Cut and clear. Build and burn. Fall timber. Limb logs. Split, haul, load, and carry wood. Cut and stack. Burn. Build. Clear. Cut and stack. Lift and haul.

Some sixty years of it.

And I remember one day we sat in front of the stone fireplace he'd built. We each read a book. Didn't talk. Oak logs gave over to fire grudgingly. Coals--red-orange cubes of carbon--tumbled, Hell's dice, settled. Glowed in pulses. Snow piled up silently outside, covering the clearing, enclosing the house. Silver smoked leaked into a silver sky.

How much he cut and cleared, burned and split and hauled! He did it to keep the place. It was clear duty done clearly. Heat the house. Warm the ones choice and accident deliver to your responsibility. Life is simple. It consists of work. If you want it to be less or more then that, well, good for you, and good luck to you.

Reading, side by side, we loaded paragraphs into our minds' language-furnaces, fueling generations of meaning and memory. Before the fire, we read. Our minds were located in clearings of identity--I and not-I; father and not-father; son, not-son. We read. We didn't talk. The fire mumbled. The red-orange dice tumbled.

He cut and cleared--back then, in the Age of Carbon, when wood stoves and fireplaces were how you heated your house.

Finally he fell after 77 years. Lying on the gurney, delirious from drugs but clear-headed enough to fight, he looked up at us, his sons, and said, "Help me up, for Chrissakes."

We had him cremated. I wasn't there when they did it, but I assume they load the body into the furnace like a log. This would have amused him.

I write it down, words composed of bits of light in the Age of Silicon. The screen is a clearing. Word-embers glow briefly in the hearth of all things passing. Night accepts the smoke from what perishes. Memory--felled and cut, hauled and split, lifted and stacked, lit and burned.

All that work.