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••• The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Life Stories

Home Upon a Many Summers
• Victor J Castleton
Once upon a birthday ...

Black Lab

I opened my eyes not knowing where I was. I heard voices outside my room; jumped out of bed and cracked open the door a bit to peek out. Through the stairs spindles I noticed under the yard arbor a large punchbowl and plastic cups. It all dawned on me quickly when I recognized familiar voices. I was turning nine years old on that day, so I decided to do my best not to disappoint my parents. The tell-tale: all my friends were there, even some kids from school, and other faces. If my mother wouldn’t wake me, I’d sleep until noon. She obviously didn’t.

It was also a secret me getting my first big bike. All along I knew what the suspicious bundle in the shed was about.

All what this little boy really wanted was a small black puppy dog (who I called Dandy) that his mother promised. He was the one of a litter of four. Mrs. Anderson was supposed to have saved him for us.

My mother’s huge white frosting chocolate cake sat on the center of the dining room table with all the frills. My father’s friends were laughing out loud, and the smell of food and cigarette smoking filled the house, when I stepped out in my pajamas and ventured a few steps going down to the living room. The balloons and the decoration on mom’s old dining table! Aww! It was supposed to be a surprised party. I covered my mouth to muffle a cheerful chuckle squirting through my fingers as I stumbled through the back door.  

I saw my father’s head turned in slow motion with a stern look when he heard the rumble, changing into a big smile a second later. A disorganized impromptu and out of tune “Happy birthday" song was started, which got a lot better when the rest of the people saw  me on my blue pajamas with red fuzzy sleepers.

I was in the spot instantly, standing at the door’s landing with such splash of love and attention, although being cut short when my mother suggested with her thumb to go and get dressed. “Make yourself decent!” she whispered from the corner of her mouth, leaning sideways. Before I opened the door I turned for a second to see my mom’s smile. I felt loved and the mood was great. The thought of Christmas time cross my mind for an instant, but it was all irrelevant.

The house smelled of food and cigarette smoking, now more than ever. There was a lot of puffing and laughing around, as I remember. Nat King Cole was singing on the background. I never told anyone that I knew all his songs, and that I loved them… "Gee but it’s great being out late walking my baby back home…” Nat crooned!

Mrs. Di Angelis! She approached me, and leaning down gently held my ears, while saying “Let me look at those ‘here come trouble’ eyes!” She was very thing, wiry and lanky, with a toothy smile. She’d wear many rings and bracelets too big for her frame. “Grownups are strange” I thought. Mr. Di Angelis was no different, he would rub my head every time he had a chance with his cold boney hands, hard as wood! He’d keep change in his pockets which he shared generously, but he’d held me by the shoulders asking “What do you want to be when you grow up, tell me, tell me!” Mrs. Di Angelis wouldn’t approve by looking away with a smirk; then she’d burst into laughter.

We all looked a bit silly in party hats. We have to wear them until the pictures were taken, my mother forewarned us.

I didn’t see my sister up until later. She was in her room with her friends.

The summer breeze came down in gentle whirlwinds, caressing the tree tops, waiving like colossal underwater sea weeds, in a green lethargic motion.

I was resting sprawled out on an Adirondack chair on my parent’s back porch, unraveling memories whispered in sweet aromas from the valley; the timeless past suddenly was back right in front of me.

I could hear my sister’s giggling, as if it were today, playing with her doll Baby, always calling incessantly “mommy, mommy!”  She would never know that I was the one who broke the voice cord, by pulling it one time too many!

Everything has quieted down a bit. It is soundless and still.

I felt a familiar time tremor under my feet. The sun rushed from the east frantically over and over, then the invisible boy turned up again, arms stretched out, carelessly gliding down from the top of the hill spinning around and around, followed by Dandy the black Lab, hovering down the path, taking up sea breezes oohing from the bottom of the hill, as his untied sneakers barely touched the lay of the land.

The old locomotive would let you know that she’ll be soon passing by, long before her arrival, always from the right; I never knew where she was coming from or heading to. I only knew how to read and sense the steely noises and vibrations of the rails. I saw the heat distorted black lines on the distance, approaching fast, crying her whistle loudly “I am coming!” That day it was different. I was expecting to be dazzled by her passing, but she slowed down and stopped right in front of me with a loud screeching, labor breathing like a contained monster. The radiant heat emanating from the massive wall of steel overwhelmed me. 
Steam Train

It took a few seconds for me to recover. I remained just planted there until I noticed there was no conductor, when I looked inside the caboose with the vibrating gages and levers. Suppressing the best of my protective instincts, I pulled myself up over the first step by grabbing hold the long bar, when I saw the conductor coming in from the opposite entry, with a surprised face just like mine. “Did you see the boy with a black dog standing of the rails?” he hollered across the cabin.  I shrugged my shoulders and I stepped down, walking backwards a few steps. He rushed over to my side of the cabin and stared at me, expecting me to say something, but I just didn’t. I knew that this was my personal story, and he wouldn’t understand anyway. He shook his head and turned in blowing the whistle louder than I ever heard it; the whole train quaked and slowly rolled away. In the end, I got to experience what I was looking for: The rumble and the wind blowing on my face, but suddenly, the mesmerizing moving wall was gone and soundless, feeling only the metallic cracks on the rails as I crossed over the tracks to sit down facing the open bay. One more time I turned briefly to look at the distorted black lines fading in the distance. 

Aunt Lucy would read to us “Jack and the Beanstalk” “Fee-fi-fo-fum I smell the blood of an English man! “ She’d dramatized. Once she took us, my sister and I, that is, to the park where these enormous vines grew wild embracing the tree trunks; there I stood motionless looking up at the thick vines disappear upwardly, blending with the foliage above, where Jack would climb his way to the giant’s home.

Aunt Lucy was a bit of an actor, she would spice the story with a Shakespearian inflection, making the scenes comes alive, in a theatrical way, inspiring awe, and even fear in me. It was not the same with my sister; she’d walk away in the middle of the story, when my mind was still fixed on the soles of Jack’s boots, going after the giant somewhere far up in the vine. What I feared the most was the unknown; my ally and enemy.

She had other oddities, in addition to her normal streak. She’d baked my favorite cupcakes introducing a twist of her antics.  She’d wrap them up separately, so you wouldn't know what each of them would taste like, and slip in individual tiny hand written notes “Mickey the cat has whiskers, and you don’t”; “The giant is coming home tonight” she’d write.   I would hold the little note with both hands in front of me, and look at her in the eye, but she wouldn’t flinch. She had me. She’d hold back her ‘character’ if someone would walk in the room; she’ll act like herself. Which one was she really?  -I didn’t know it at the time- and then she’d pick it up to where she left it.

One day I found old pictures in the attic and among them, some of her letters written to my mom, her sister. I couldn’t help reading them; after all they both were passed away. To my surprise I found some old cupcakes wraps with blackened butter stains and confection sugar, and many of the little notes, that for some reason where kept together.

 “Are you alright? You can hear me? Can’t you?”

“Where have you been? Do you know what time it is? Your father and I were worried sick. We are thinking of grounding you for the whole week young man”

The woman turned to me, pulling rollers off her hair and said: "Who do you think this boy of ours takes after? For sure is not me."   She said as she walked to the kitchen.

“For the life of Pete, what is he doing with a party hat eating a cup cake?” She added.

“Hurry up honey, the babysitter will be here any minute, and we are already late for dinner, I wouldn't want to eat any later than this...” The man said.

My sister makes it to the piano. It was once Mrs. Kerr’s. She gave it to us when they moved out of the island. It was old and it went out of tune all the time. But nobody minded it as my sibling indulged everyone with a "Fur Elise" rendition.

The old piano towered over her. She climbed up the stool, in total silence, not even a whisper, sporting two perky ponytails, as she positioned for the pedals; white socks and black shoes, and that recognizable dress with the frills. I can see the small hands on the keyboard, thick eyelashes pointing down, a pearly-white face; a tiny slit of a mouth, brown hair barely touching her shoulders. All the individual faces; characters of young and old crowning the family picture with love and joy.

The train left a lingering plume of smoke before she turned at the mountain’s foot bend, flinging darts from the distance as the setting sun peered through in between the speeding wagons, signaling the end of the day.

I could see the tide coming in. Dandy and ‘me’ got to the end of the reef where the water started to move in through the narrow inlets. I cupped both hands to my face and I called out “Dandy! Dandy! C’mon boy!” looking all around, noticing that my untied sneakers where soaking wet and clumsy, when I saw him coming over the water puddles, so I quickly fixed them the best I could, but in no time, he slobbered me all over with his cold and wet muzzle. I was expecting that!  It is his favorite trick to wake me up in the morning. I tried to keep him by me, but after shaking the water off his back, he ran to the far end of the reef after the seagulls he never catches!

I noticed a man sitting by the train tracks; I thought that Dandy saw him too, and it seemed that he was running towards him.  I yelled at him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen! He had to see it for himself. The man looked oblivious this far away; he was watching the afternoon train disappear behind the hill; I don’t know why, but I did the same!  I stood there after the last wagon vanished out of sight. Dandy, in the meantime was stomping the ground with his front paws inviting the man to play, but he gently reached out and rubbed his head instead. When I got to the tracks, Dandy was waiting for me, and panting heavily, and the man was gone. No sight of him.

“You need a bowl of water boy. Let’s go!” I said.

I heard my mother’s voice calling me from the kitchen window; I looked at her tossing a kiss. “C’mon son dinner is ready…at what time is your flight?” She asked.

“No worries mom, there is plenty of time” I answered. 

“This Adirondack chair is not as comfortable as it used to be” I told her, walking into mom’s old dining room.
© Victor J Castleton June 2017

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