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

Friday, October 31, 2008

44. Mouth

If you say something with your mouth, I will stare discreetly. The fascination of a woman's mouth is more wondrous than art, more interesting than science.

The mouth speaks beautifully. It is beautiful and speaks. It is. Oh, it is.

It doesn't stop being a mouth when it speaks.

Its tongue is a pale shade of red, shapes words and contacts lips and teeth. And you are saying something, and I am staring in naive fascination.

At this moment, your mouth is all I want to study and to know. All else has become less important than it was.

My eyes listen intently. My ears stare at your words.

Your mouth is a small magnificence, a magnificent particularity. Your tongue's an impartial shaper of words. Your lips are something the Lord made.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

43. Parish

After he receives communion--pale bread, deep ruby wine--he returns to his place and stands.

Parishioners file past him after they accept the eucharist, too. This procession seems to him to register every human face, and on each face is written love and doom, concern and grace.

Each face is carried by its person, transitory, passing through the space and light inside this place, the parish, passing through this mystery we label, out of custom, life.

Each face helps an identity cohere in the body, in the brain, as parishioners all sit down again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

42. Grief #2

After she died, she laundered all his clothes once more, folded clean worn work-shirts, bluejeans with snuff-can circles imprinted on back pockets, and red handkerchiefs.

Waiting for the pain to leave was like wanting snow from the longest winter--let's say the one in 1952--to go away so ground might breathe again.

After she died, her daughter finally gave the father's clothes away, but she laundered them once more, for they'd grown musty in the boxes. Inheriting the house was like being shut in all day with the flu and hearing other children play in the snow.

She sold the house within a year but had it painted first, inside and out.

For herself, she saved two of the laundered, ironed, folded red handkerchiefs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

41. Red-Ant Nest

A swarm of circumstances caused red-ant nests to be part of my ken.

As a boy and when a boy, I stirred the nests with sticks. The nests stank grandly.

I watched the ants--two parts cinnamon, one part pepper--travel and work, hauling stupendous loads. A blue-winged butterfly shipped back to the nest looked like a sea-tossed yacht.

Concentration of so many ants is hypnotic, their subterranean culture and above-ground urbanity seem astute, perfected, and chaotic.

The last bits of creatures end up in red-ant nests. Thereby cities of ants are fueled. Red-ant nests constitute simmering mounds of ant-flesh. Lore told me that tunnels, shafts, corridors, and rooms lie under nests. Also a queen was supposed to live down there, in supreme charge, a deified center of the chaos.

I thought of my face, human, peeking out of its ken, leaning over it all, taking note, breathing, seeing, smelling, and hearing--and being viewed, in some sense, by the nest and its individual members, so many, so teeming. The nest whispered and whirred.

The red-ant nest as I recall it was a kind of machine, a collective speaking with perpetuation's voice. Why was the nest so close to our house? Why was I so glad it was so close to our house? Why was I surprised when an ant crawled up my shoe, up my sock, and onto my bare leg--and bit?

The astonishing, stirring buzz and hum of a red-ant nest is the music of a niche.

Am I grateful I saw, stirred, smelled, and heard red-ant nests? Yes, I am. I am grateful.

Monday, October 20, 2008

40. Rhetoric #2

Poetry met rhetoric at a cafe and, after they had secured beverages and found a table, said, "A rhetorician should be neither rude nor a quince." Rhetoric said, "I beg your pardon?"

Particularity, an insufficiently specific concept, will never smell like hay. Hey, sing to me of necessary differences as squabbles soil the davenport of consciousness.

Valiant fronds attempt to build consensus. Intelligence and generosity waltz across an alluvial plain, dancing away from parched, immobile debates. The old colonel's red, rusted saw-blades reminisce in the sawmill of the past.

Back at the cafe, rhetoric had identified its audience, poetry, so it said, "A syllogism is neither a hatchet nor a pinwheel." Poetry laughed gladly. Rhetoric continued to entertain if not instruct. "That is to say, surrealism is crucial to maintaining the health of a rational asylum. Therefore, my dear poetry, let us secure a warrant to search our premises for doubt."

"Cool," said poetry, "shall I leave the tip?"

"How kind of you to offer," said rhetoric.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

39. Two Short Improvs

1. "That better be butter in the red tub, Ned. Otherwise, these guys are going to gouge out our eyes."

2. She saw a red fox, bush-tailed, walking out of brush. She watched the fox as it crossed the dusk-dimmed grass and passed into the meadow of her memory.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

38. Edgar Allan Audobon

Sometimes I wish a Baltimore oriole had visited Edgar Allan Poe--an oriole instead of or least in addition to a raven.

Encountering the oriole might have influenced Poe to take a break from the relentless blacksmithing, the grim hammering out, of stories and poems.

All theoe tombs, mansions, cellars, casks, ill-fated crushes on cousins, demonic practical-jokers--all of it burying whimsy alive behind bricks of and mortar of gothic obsession.

Or better yet--a red-winged blackbird. Just that dash of scarlet--there, as the blackbird glides over a marsh, alights on top of a tall reed, retracts its wings, sings.

--A line of red on a black wing, red that does not signify blood. Death missing its train, unable to attend the masque, RSVP, regrets. A bolt falling out of the pendulum: and the adolescent fixation on garish imaginary torture grinds to a halt.

--A garrulous cop, whistling and talking as he helps the drunk, chilled, disoriented musty-coated writer home to a warm bed, a stove, a week's worth of rest and hearty breakfasts.

I imagine Edgar, still alive at sixty-five, lifting binoculars, finding the bird in magnified view, evermore. Dupin! Voila!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

37. Perfect Attendance

One year he didn't miss a single day of school. He thereby achieved something called "perfect attendance."

In fact, he hadn't attended perfectly. He often failed to pay attention to matters at hand. Sometimes when the teacher was working hard to teach a lesson, he daydreamed. Sometimes he became transfixed by what he perceived to be the beauty of girls his age. Undoubtedly, his visage sometimes appeared zombie-like at times.

He'd gotten his body there, though, five days week, four weeks a month, nine months in all.

Born of that time-period was a certificate of perfect attendance--stamped with a red seal. The certificate is lost. It no longer attends the school of here and now. It's attending a college of redistributed molecules, probably in one of the landfills in the United States of America. The certificate is working on its Ph.D. in Disintegration.

What does he recall from that perfectly attended year of school? How the girls smelled--perfume and soap, and sweet sweat, too. He turned 15 in the middle of that academic year. He was a sophomore in high school. The girls were between the ages of 14 and 18. So were the boys. He remembers the smell of grass on the football field, grass mixed with mud, sweat and blood mixed in there, too.

He believes he remembers some features of geometry--for example, one-third of the base times the height will get you the volume of a cone. One summer he applied this formula to a conical pile of gravel at a rock-crushing plant where he worked. In his mind, he also has an image of a geometry quiz, corrected by the teacher in red ink. He read some literature that year, including some composed by William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Frost.

In his mind, he detects faint but palpable evidence of satisfaction connected to having achieved perfect attendance.

Friday, October 10, 2008

36. Terracotta, Peppers, Tomatoes

There is a world where I do not have to reach for anything. There is the sea, a mountain spring, enough work for me to sustain those who sustain me.

There is soil amenable to peppers and tomatoes, also. A roof of terracotta tiles. Between the sun and the house lies a corridor of red light on the sea.

I do not live there, probably never shall. Probability is God's business. Math is merely another story we tell ourselves.

There is a world, a place, a setting, a scene, a stage. I not liver there, terracotta. If I lived there, I would not have to reach. Reaching, each day, I exhaust my supply of composure. Peppers. I do not live there. Tomatoes, peppers, terracotta. Never shall? It is good to know, though there is a place, such a place, no need to reach. Good to know, terracotta, peppers, tomatoes, a red corridor of light on the sea.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

35. Flashlight Annie

So there was this old woman, almost a recluse, who lived in a shack with her son, who was in his 40s, unemployable, and alcoholic. So far, so good.

However, he'd walk up from the Flat into town around dusk, to the bar, where they let him run a tab, and he'd get drunk, usually on whiskey; he'd head home late at night, and often he fell into a large blackberry patch by the side of the road. We must remember that wild blackberry patches get monstrously large. They are entities unto themelves.

Imagine all the bad choices that lead a drunk to fall into a blackberry patch, the same blackberry patch beside a road the drunk knows well, and to fall in there more than once. I've imagined those choices. I've thought hard about lying drunk among those thorns, cut up, unable to move without making things worse, looking up at pine boughs or stars or, worst of all, the goddamned beautiful moon. Even as I look back to this local lore, I sympathize. Even if I laugh, I don't gloat. There but for the grace of God . . ., and I'm not kidding.

The old woman--her first name was Annie--always went looking for her son. She went out on the road carrying a flashlight, which cast a big yellow beam but which also had a red illuminated butt, which glowed like the tip of a lit cigar.

The town's big contribution to this complicated situation was to nickname her Flashlight Annie. No one ever walked the son home, steering him clear of the blackberry patch. No one tried to sober him up. No one tried to help Annie look for him. Now, if he had really gone missing and were not simply lying in the blackberry patch, someone would have called the sheriff, and a group of men would have gone looking for him. They might have even borrowed my uncle's bloodhound, and my father and uncle would have been among the men to join the search-party.

I don't want to give the impression that the town was cruel. It just had funny ideas about what was the town's business and what was private business. The plight of Annie and her son, the Sisyphus-like repetition of his journies home and her seeking him in darkness: the town regarded these as the business of only Annie, her flashlight, the blackberry patch, and her son.

I do not know how she was able to extract him from the patch each time. I wish I were in possession of this fact.

I picture her putting a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him the next morning, some catsup on the side of the plate, maybe a cup of coffee nearby, poured from a tin percolator. I imagine his face cut up "all to hell," as my father might say. I picture the flashlight back in its place in the shack, a place for everything, and everything in its place.

The red scabs of thorn-slashes belonged to the son's face. I imagine his hands shaking, as a drunk's hands will shake in the morning. I imagine the remorseful silence.

He is my son, and this is my life, and after he finishes his breakfast, I will wash the dishes: I imagine her thinking this, Flashlight Annie.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

34. Hunting

His father, his uncle, and their friends used to get up very early on Fall days and go hunting for deer.

The men wore bright red shirts because they did not want to be mistaken for deer and shot with rifles, or shot, period.

He understood that the difference in appearance between men and deer was more complex than the presence of a red shirt.

He also understood that men with rifles are likely to shoot the rifles at anything that moves as well as many stationary targets.

He grasped intuitively that wearing a red shirt had something to do with safety and improving one's odds of surviving a hunting expedition.

He did wonder, however, what the deer thought of the red shirts, whether the deer became more than a little depressed at the sight of the two-legged ones wearing red shirts in the colder season.

He liked sitting at the breakfast table while night still existed and listening to the red-shirted men munch bacon, slurp coffee, and discuss a variety of topics related to hunting. The men seemed ready for anything and in command of their lives. Some of these men had served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. He hoped one day to be ready for something and in command of his life.

He liked going back to bed after the men had departed, the sounds of dogs and pickup trucks and voices disappearing, leaving the sounds of wind in pines and the muttering wood-burning stove. Sometimes he read a pulpy novel. Usually he just went back to sleep.

He did not like the idea of being a deer and getting shot or watching one of the herd-members bleeding to death in manzanita brush.

He liked the taste of fried fresh deer liver and deer heart, however, and he ate them without remorse.

He did not like the idea of killing deer. Leaving the deer alone seemed altogether more fair and less trouble than searching for them, shooting them, packing them, skinning and gutting them, and so on.

He liked the smell of a freshly skinned deer. The smell was rich and slightly salty.

He assumed one day deer-hunting would die out and the deer would not miss it.

He very much liked the idea of wearing a read chamois shirt--so soft and so bold the shirt was, so very ready for anything that might happen in the garment world, so very much in control of its dyed-fabric life.

As things turned out, he never killed a deer; in fact, he never tried to shoot one. A couple of times, while he was driving a car at night on swooping, curving, diving Sierra Nevada highways, the headlights of the auto he was driving seized the image of a deer running across the asphalt. He had always been able to stop in time, however, so he had never killed a deer by accident, even if he happened to be wearing a red shirt. He remembers eating the heart and liver of deer, even as this had occurred so long ago. He is not nostalgic for such fare. He remembers. That is all.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

33. Hollywood

Hal Wizzard, President and God of Hal Wizzard Productions, Unlimited, is watching several servants fill his Bel Aire swimming pool with individual bottles of Himalayan rain-water.

Dubbed a genius by his public relations staff, Wizzard is ingeniously envisaging his next remarkable, compelling, unforgettable, cinematic tour de ego and all around commercial endeavor.

It is to be called Casaroja. It will be loud and big and naked and expensive and sold and loud and long and noisy and distributed. It will be all wrong and all right and a Hal Wizzard Production. It will be among the infinite quantity of human products that will make God wonder why God bothered. It will be Casaroja, coming this summer to a summer near everyone. It will not be so much written, acted, and photographed as it will be masticated, digested, and excreted. It will be an excretion of Hal Wizzard Productions.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

32. Comic Book

You live in a house identical to houses in a tract built by a company dedicated to haste and deception. Your father paid too much for the house, which smells of him and your mother and the dog with the glandular problems.

The name of your commuity is Probability Ridge. You attend Blankton Gray Senior High School, wear bluejeans and T-shirts, stuff your ears with wads of noise, anything to keep your parents' questions from getting through.

When your parents' lips stop moving, you choose an answer randomly--"Okay"--"I don't remember"--"It's not until next week"--"Call Todd's mom." Your parents' lips move again, but by this time you've slid into your room, where The Startler swoops into the thin pages of your life, the panels pop with colors, you get the inside jokes, and you savor the sweetness of knowing yet not knowing what comes next: a page without words, mute panels, pure inked illusion, much red ink, synapses sizzling in the you of your brain.

You lie on your bed holding the comic book, and the world has gone to shit, and somewhere west of Traffic National State park, somebody's making the three-colored pizza you will ingest this evening. Life is neither good nor bad. It's a dream. Not a bad dream at all. However, you do wish that girl, the one whose parents named her Leena, read comic books. You would like to talk to her about comic books. You would like to talk to her about her red canvas shoes.