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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

171. Some Fable-Days

For ten minutes one afternoon, I became
an elephant. I walked heavily away from
where I work, wagging my heavy head.
Cackling minions threw pebbles at my
sad ass.  On another day, I became a cat:

Somebody was talking at me in front
of a group, apparently scoring clever points.
But I'd lost the topic, and word-like noises
from her mouth might as well have been
red jello for all the sense they made to me.
So I stared. I was Cat--there and not there,
dozing in the pride of my mind, not hungry
and therefore supremely disinterested.

I've spent many days as a badger, digging,
fretting, rooting around, growling to myself,
making a lovely mess of my underground
burrow, getting lots of badger-writing done.
Some fable-days, I tell you, are often
just what a human being needs--to stay human.

Copyright 2011 Hans Ostrom

Sunday, April 24, 2011

170. Dead White Weight

Rebecca worked at the institution. It was built chiefly of red bricks. On some days, the institution was a bank, on others a software company, on still others a college, and so on.  This variation of professional pursuits made the institution an exciting place to work, like a middle-class carousel.

When Rebecca arrived each morning, she discovered what her job was that day--loan-officer, professor of history, project-manager, and so on.  Changing from one job to another was easy for her.  The jobs--or rather, positions--all involved talking, projecting some mild authority, and more or less acting the part.

The more difficult aspect of the institution for Rebecca was that it was white--80% to 90% of the employees were white, and the ethos of the place was white. So was Rebecca; however, she thought more people from different ethnic backgrounds should work there, provided they wished to do so.  She thought greater diversity would improve the institution, rescue it from the bubble of the past in which it seemed to exist, and make it more just.

But Rebecca had tried to change the institution in this regard for so long that she was realizing it wasn't going to change. It liked to promote itself as interested in persons not white; it hired a few a few of these and it brought visitors who were Black, Asian American, Indian, and Latino.  But in all the important, self-conscious, structural, and reflexive ways, the institution remained white.

--Because it liked itself that way: Ockham's Razor. It was comfortable being white, and being white, it valued the comfort. Everybody was fluent in whiteness, especially those who weren't white, for their jobs--positions--and safety depended upon such fluency.

Rebecca's co-workers like to congratulate themselves on being white using oblique methods. But in these instances, the translation of the gesture, speech, proposal, or attitude was apparent.  "Hi, Bob--you and I are white--can you dig that?"  "Jenny, I like what you said yesterday in the meeting--white on!"

Occasionally Rebecca's efforts to change the situation were complimented. Otherwise they were easily finessed or opposed. Rebecca was discouraged now.  She didn't think she had the right to give up trying to change the institution, but at the same time, trying meant constantly attempting to lift a dead white weight, an enormous, heavy blob.

Rebecca was experiencing fatique.  The fatigue of an activist and ally.  Institutions remain forever young and often forever white, and all they have to do to thwart anyone proposing real change is to smile and not change. Eventually the one wanting change will wear down.

However, Rebecca also didn't want to make the white activist's and ally's mitake of complaining to one or more of her friends and colleagues who weren't white, for, in fact, innumerable people had seen the trouble she'd seen, and much worse, obviously.

She pressed on, doggedly, making proposals, raising issues in meetings while people rolled their eyes.

Then one day she came to work, and she was astonished to find that the institution had painted all the red bricks white. The entire facility glowed in sunlight now. That wasn't the only surprise. Signs, memos, mission-statements, and websites proclaimed, "We are no longer a multi-professional institution. We are no the Institute for the Study of People (Who Are White)."

In more detailed documents, Rebecca learned that "in this post-racial society, it's important to study people (who are white)."

"But," said Rebecca to a colleague, "it's not post-racial--we're 80% to 90% per cent white here."

"That kind of talk is so yesterday," the colleague said. "We're 100% people!  Black and White are old news. We have no white people here. We have people!"

"That's a remarkably white thing to say," Rebecca said quietly.

"Get on board or say goodbye," said the colleague.

On her last day of work at the institution, Rebecca stripped naked in a quadrangle between white buildings and quickly painted herself a medium brown.  Getting her back grown was tough, but she'd brought a long-handled paint-brush.

People (who were white) from Security came.  Three were white. They waited while the municipal police arrived. Rebecca was given a long coat to cover herself and arrested for public indecency. She said, "Medium brown is not an indecent color."

Rebecca is sad ow because she's unemployed, although she has prospects.  She misses talking to her colleagues, especially the ones who used to be not-white, back in the racial era.  She imagines telling these colleagues, "White people are amazing. They never stop."  And she hears the knowing laughter of her colleagues.

She doesn't miss trying to lift the dead white weight of the institution.  Sometimes she puts on a hat and sunglasses and visits the institution after business hours.  She walks up to one of the red-brick walls now painted white, and she pushes, hard. The white wall doesn't move.  She hums, "Joshua fit the battle of . . . ."
A Black person comes by, Linda, whom Rebecca knows well.  Linda says, "Hi, Rebecca."

"How did you know it was me?" asked Rebecca.

"Because you're pushing on a white wall."


"Come," says Linda, "walk with me for a while."

Monday, April 18, 2011

169. Empty Gift-Box To Be Filled By You

I know a man who ran a pickle-factory for decades. He writes poetry now, and he publishes the poems of others.

I know a woman who was invited to play bass in B.B. King's band. She became a pastor instead.

I know a man who played drums for a famous rock-band in the 1970s.  He's an electrician.

There's this other woman I know--she worked as a spy. She teaches kindergarten.

And so on.  You know people like this, too.

When people change what they do, do they change who they are?

This question is like an empty gift-box--let's wrap it in red paper. The gift-box is for you. Here you go! Now you'll put the answer to the question inside, and to help fill up the box, you may of course elaborate on the yes, the no, the maybe, and/or the I-don't-know.

It's terribly impolite of me to give you--virtually, at that--an empty gift-box, and for that, I apologize. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

168. Ponca City, Oklahoma

Car broke down. It's sitting up high in the bay of a mechanic's shop. Mechanic's an inked biker.  He's probably done time because he has that kiln-dried look. His wife runs the office. She's pretty and pretty smart and out of place: a woman who falls in love with men who become projects.

Of course the heat's thick. It's Oklahoma, and it's summer. The office is an asylum of invoices touched by rusty dust. You want the mechanic to know enough to be able to let you get  back on I-35 and take it on in to OKC for some cold beer and glassy-eyed gazing at a baseball game on somebody's big TV--tornado-warnings cutting in at intervals.

You want her to stop talking, the mechanic's wife.  But she needs to let you know she went to college, too, and you feel sorry for her. In the bay, the mechanic lights a cigarette with a blow-torch and stares at you.

Friday, April 8, 2011

167. The Czar of my Life

I applied to be an emperor but never heard back.

At work, I pretend having no power is an honor. I wear having no power like an invisible red sash.

I'm so common and overlooked, beige walls want to adopt me.

In my restful moments, I'm the czar of my life. I run the show. I say what goes, usually right before sleep deposes me in an easy coup d'etat.

166. Robots and Real People


Whenever a real person shows up, the robots panic.

They seek and execute ways to drive the real person away. You can tell they're robots not humans by the way they gather closely, mean and jealous motors inside purring, red fearful lights inside them coming on. The robots entertain each other by agreeing with what each other says, by flattering each other mechanically and speaking in the approved phrases.

If you are a real person who has found employment among the robots, you probably will want to get out of there fast.  Apply for other jobs. Don't fight it. Inside the robots, red lights are coming on. Don't fight it. The robots in a robot work-place win. 

165. Complete Works of Shakespeare

I bought another Complete Works of Shakespeare.  I know I should have given the money to a food-bank instead. I'm going to make a better choice next time.

The book has a hard red cloth cover. The book feels great to hold, if you like to hold books.

Bill's words hum frenetically in there like too many bees in too small a bee-box.

Old Bill, he did like to go on a bit.  He liked his characters to go on and on, rolling across iambic plains, talking, talking. And all of that is in this big red-covered book, in an age when books in this form are moving toward extinction.

It is all in this book--the kings, queens, cross-dressers, murderers, coincidences, speechifying, metaphors, meditations, love, hate, bigotry, sex, profanity, and wit.  And wit.

And there's a thin red-ribbon bookmark. This is one of those books that will go from hands to hands slowly over decades after I am gone. It will be a big red book on a leisurely journey, opening itself to anyone interested in a glance--Hamlet and Juliet read into walking on stage in print as many times as anyone wants.

It is a heavy, friendly book, a bit of a docile beast--Caliban, Falstaff, the nurse in Romeo and Juliet.

It is a book that would never contemplate suicide or fratricide or parricide.  It would never pick up a sword, or murder a rival, even as it agrees to contain such things--bees in a box, the words, Bill's words, humming, humming, the big red-covered Complete Works of Shakespeare, money for which, I know, should have gone to the hungry.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

164. Robins and the Cause of Justice

Every year I forget how yellow the robins' beaks are until the robins reappear in March.  And of course robins' breasts aren't red. They are orange. 

For decades, I've been watching robins turn their heads to detect red worms under grass, and I still don't know if they are turning their heads to look or to listen or both.  It's almost like I don't want to know the answer to the question.

Every year the bright yellow of the beaks is like the latest worm: actual and fresh.

How does such a detail advance the cause of justice on Earth?