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

Monday, December 15, 2008

51. Rowers in the Blood

Vagabonds, bound to a remorseless way, pull Will's vessel across gray oceanic fate.

The chieftain roars orders in fog, curses rowers, who are mapless, hopeless, ragged, stuporous, and rank. Absurdly, they are also certain. Pulling oars, they know they will hit land or death or both eventually. They are sure of their hatred for the one yelling. They know exactly how and why duty pulled them away from their village, their kin.

As tough as salt and oars make their hands, their hands will bleed red, darkening the oars.

Do you hear them? They row now in your blood when you are most coldly determined to go on, obstacles be damned, everything but the going, the way, be damned. Vagabonds. Bound to the way, bound to persist.

Monday, December 8, 2008

50. Reporting the Rattlesnake

I'm thinking about a time when I was seven and walked over by a big blond boulder in full sun and looked down and saw a rattlesnake stretched out just in front of my canvas-shoed feet. I don't remember what made me stop before I stepped on the snake.

I went over to my father and brother, who were building something on sawhorses. I reported the sighting of the snake.

My brother scoffed. My father did not scoff, but he wanted proof. Later, I would realize that he brought the shovel with him; bringing the shovel suggests either that he did not want to have to go back for the shovel or he was leaning toward believing my story or both.

We three returned to the snake. I did not lead the way. The snake was still stretched out in late-Spring sun, simply getting warm. I wonder what it feels like to be cold-blooded and to have your body warmed by sun.

"I'll be a sonofabitch--it is a rattlesnake," my father said. He was wearing his carpenter's belt and white carpenter's overalls and a cap of some kind. My brother didn't say anything. I think he may have been disappointed by my accurate reporting.

My father stuck the blade of the shovel behind the snake's head and stepped on the shovel, sending it through the snake into soil. The rationale behind killing the snake was that a rattlesnake's bite can be lethal, that it at least can cause the loss of a limb by amputation (after flesh has decayed), and that therefore a rattlensnake near the house cannot be trusted to live.

I remember feeling good the snake hadn't left that spot and made a liar out of me.

I remember the crunch of the shovel and my father's calm approach. I remember we three, father and two sons, returned to our solitary lives with little or no transitional conversation. I associate the event with accurate reporting, immense boulders, a lethal snake in a relaxed pose, vindication, authority, unspoken reasons to kill animals, and fear. Let's be clear: I knew that snake symbolized death. I did not know that an anti-venom had not yet been invented, or at least not widely distributed, nor did I grasp that we were at least 60 miles from a hospital. Still, I knew rattlesnakes could kill.

My father would have carried a red handkerchief in is back pocket. Such handkerchiefs are also known as bandanas. He may have blown his nose using the handkerchief right after he killed the snake, a kind of punctuating gesture to a performance. I can't prove this. In fact, I can't prove anything about the incident as it belongs entirely to memory. One's memoirs would never stand up in court.

The snake might have bitten me, and I might have died. My body was small, so the venom would have been proportionately more powerful. But the snake didn't bite me, and I didn't die, and these words possess a reality the incident lost almost immediately. I rely on my memory, a thin reed. I don't have much choice, at least when it comes to the past. There was a rattlesnake stretched out in the sun. Believe me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

49. Maggie

The father kept hounds, so the son recalls a childhood with hounds. It's pretty much that simple.

There was the rust-colored hound--breed-name Redbone--who tried to fornicate the legs of humans. There was the black hound who feared lightning and thunder. A brown hound--breed-name Black-and-Tan--would follow a bear's trail for days. The father attached a brass plate to the dogs' collars. The plate recorded the father's address and phone number in case a hound were discovered in a far county, still tracking what it was tracking. Sometimes the son thought about the relentlessness of hounds.

Once the son watched the father remove porcupine quills from a dog's mouth, which bled red. The end of each quill was shaped like a fish-hook. Evolution had designed the quills not to be removable.

The son noted a look of grim, dutiful resignation on the father's face as the father snipped off the end of each quill and pulled each quill out of the dog's bleeding mouth. The son also noted the patient but perplexed look on the dog's face, as if the dog were asking itself for the first time, "Why is there pain?"

A trite story-line erupted. The son had a favorite dog--breed-name Plot Hound. It was his own pet. He named it Willie, after his favorite baseball player, Willie Mays. Everything was fine with Willie except that he foamed at the mouth after running around with the boy. The father took Willie away. The son waited--a day, two days, before asking, "What happened to Willie?"

The father replied, "We had to have the vet put Willie down because he had a hole in his lung." The son remembers saying, "Oh." He recalls not crying, not being enraged, not being comforted or counseled, not getting another dog. He remembers pondering the question of Willie's absence as if it were a math problem in the fourth grade.

The gray strange grief associated with the dog stays lodged in the son like one shotgun pellet. It doesn't hurt. In a way, it's more grotesque because it doesn't hurt.

There was a female dog, Maggie. She was black, sleek, and lean--breed-name: Plot Hound, like Willie. How calm she was intrigued the son. She never strained stupidly against leash or chain. She never over-reacted to the prospect of food or affection. She stood primly and accepted petting as a comfortable fact of life. She responded to good things as if they were, apparently, the good things that might possibly happen in a dog's life. Maggie.