Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Kuschelbaer": An Inert Story

He reached under the warm feathered rump of the hen and lifted.  She dipped her head, opening her beak bluffing to bite but he was gentle and all the birds knew him as the bringer of the morning feed.  He lifted the smooth white egg from the nest of feathers and straw and put it in the basket on the ground.  He gentled the bird back into place, smoothed its feathers apologetically and moved along the row.

As he turned to leave the coop several hens hopped down, milling around his legs to follow him out.  He opened the coop door, moving the eager birds aside with his foot and stepped out.  The misty smell of the fresh verbena cleared his senses of the ammoniac air of the coop.  He latched the coop door.

Outside the fence there were bloodied white feathers scattered which he hadn’t noticed in the dawn light when he had gone in a half hour ago.  Some animal, a fox or a dog was making raids once or twice a week on the coop at night.  He took a moment to search himself, to see if he had changed.  He wanted to change.  He tried to imagine the lost bird and its last instant on earth.  These fat little descendent's of the Tyrannosaur would have smelled the mammal coming, set up a fuss, looked to the rooster for protection.  The last instant of the chase, the fatal defeat, the teeth and clenching, invincible jaws and then being carried off and torn to pieces.  How would it feel?

Fear?  There was no fear.  Anger?  There was no anger.  Grief?  There should be grief, some pity, there was none.

My heart is dead, he thought.  Still as cold stone.  I can’t make it move.  I can’t awaken it to feel a thing.

He had the memory of feelings and he wanted them back.  He was not depressed, would have been grateful to experience himself as a human being capable of depression.  But there was not even that movement.  Not even the experience of loss. He walked across the yard to the house, went through the back into the kitchen and put the basket of half a dozen eggs on the table.  He made coffee, poured himself a cup and sat at the table looking at the eggs.

The coffee was well crafted and of a good quality but he felt no pleasure in it or peace at the mornings routine.  There was the day stretching ahead of him, not bleakly or even lonely but gray.

I have lost too many people, he thought.  But that’s not it.  Others have lost people and have the joy of grieving.  Their hearts are awake and weeping.  My mother has died now.  My father has died.  My wife has died.  My son is somewhere but I never hear from him.  Where are my tears?  Why have I never grieved over them?  I didn’t even attend their funerals.  They sent me my mother’s ashes and they’re on a shelf in the attic.  My father died and I attended his grave alone even after his funeral was long gone, attended by two hundred mourners and not his son.  What was I thinking? I was not.  I was just not interested.

There must be some way to think about these things.  To feel again.

He left his coffee on table  and went outside again to the chicken coop, looking up at the sky, eying the weather clouds of the day.  When he had been a hedge fund manager on Wall St, considering a job offer from K street in Washington, he had never looked up at the sky.  Manhattan made you feel as though the whole world was made out of concrete.  There was hardly any sky to see past the stone canyons of buildings.  Now he was surrounded by open space, distant from any other person and he wanted it that way.  It seemed to his suiting.

He opened the gate to the coop, closed it and went up the ramp.  He opened the door of the coop wide and the dozen and half or so of hens and one watchful rooster quickly milled out into the sunshine and open air.  They moved past his legs as though he were a standing rock in a stream of feathers and aggravation.  The birds quickly headed for the back gate of the coop area which opened into the fenced off rows of the large vegetable garden and vineyard.  The chickens would spend the day there, happily picking bugs and caterpillars off the leaves of everything in sight. 

He watched them dashing, pecking, chattering, watched them without joy or wonder.  He left the gate open so they could return freely to the coop after exercising and grooming his plants.

He went back into the house, back into the kitchen, picked up his coffee, now cold and drank it cold.

His mother had died alone.  There were people, but she had died alone in her mind.

She had always been mentally ill, had been mentally ill when he was a child although he had never noticed it then.  When he was a young adult she became restless and took off on strange fugues, off the to the Greyhound bus station, arriving penniless and scared in strange places where he would have to send her money for a ticket or maybe stop his own life long enough to go find her and scoop her up like a dog catcher.  Then she simply vanished.  She dropped off the face of the earth for five years.  One night he had gotten a call from an obscure relative whose phone number had been found in her purse when she had been picked up in a snow storm by the Chicago police.  She was in a nursing home, delirious, brainless with Alzheimers.  He noted the address and put it in a drawer and left it there.  After a year, the nursing home called to say she had died.

He thought of her.  The very last time he saw her in this world was in Newark, heading down the sidewalk where he had dropped her off with her suitcase, almost skipping to the bus station.  And that was that.

He poured himself some more coffee, thought of his father.  His father had died a relatively good death.  A death he might wish for himself.  He had died with knowledge of his coming doom, sentenced by his oncologist.  He had taken up cigars and scotch again.  This doomed yoga student and vegetarian said “fuck it” and took up smoking again gleefully along with hot dogs with the works and thick steaks.  He did not have a Bucket List, so much as a Fuckit List.  There may have been prostitutes, elephants and acrobats in his scene for all he knew.

Somehow that was when he said “Fuckit” too.  He’d moved out here with his savings and sank without a bubble.

He sipped his coffee thinking.  Stories.  Life was about stories, not facts.  Five thousand people in some woe begone dump of a nation die of Ebola, is a fact, is a third world body count, not much different from a stock exchange Standard and Poors figure.  A mother wailing over her dead baby, holding its little deadly disease bomb of a corpse in her arms because she no longer fears death, that’s a story.

Where’s my story?

He poured more coffee.  Then he heard the commotion outside.  He went to the window and something red was running through the rows and the hens scattered screaming from it.  Another flash of red, that would be the rooster.  It was there in the rows.

He went to the hall closet, fumbled behind the ironing board and took the narrow gauge Henry rifle there.  He checked the breech, took off the safety and went outside.

A flash of red leaping the fence, poised in air like a splash of blood.

He raised the gun, sighted and fired.  The red thing spun and dropped behind the fence.  There was a high shriek and then only the sound of the hens.

His heart was pounding.  Was it pleasure?  Yes.  Should it be?  Was that right?  But oh - by god, something.  Even blood lust was better than that painless silence.

He cocked the rifle, the casing flew and he ran for the garden fence.  He circled expecting to see the animal on the ground but there was nothing.  He went up to the spot, examined it and it was there - a pool of hot blood.  And then another, and then another.  A small tuft of red fur.  A fox, probably gut shot, running into the trees on silk feet.

He glanced over the fence.  The rooster, mortally wounded defending his hens, was thrashing on the ground.  He ran towards the line of trees, glancing down to pick but the direction of the blood.  He stopped and realized - His heart was pounding.  He felt joy.  He had hurt this animal that was hurting his own and his heart was awakening. 

He followed the blood over the sand and pine needles of the tree and saw the thick red tail standing out carelessly from behind a bush.  It was a beautiful red fox, the size of a medium dog.  The fur of the cheeks and whiskers was fluffed like a cats with teh muzzle of a dog.  The eyes were half closed and the animals flanks were wet with blood behind the shoulder where the bullet had hit. 

It was a good shot.  A fine shot for a city kid living in the country.  Fucking animal had attacked his hens - his hens!  Maybe killed the rooster he wasn't sure.  He raised the rifle to his shoulder for a head shot, hesitated.  It was a beautiful creature, languid with pain, fading fast.  Maybe a taxidermist could have it stuffed.  He could look at it always and remember. 

The fox jumped, curled, cramped its legs in gripping at the air, showed its its sharp killing teeth once in a grin of defiance and sagged into stillness. 

He kneeled down.  It was still and vacant, this beautiful thing he had killed.  And he realized it was beautiful, it was even in death a pleasure to look at.  And he felt pleasure, the discovery of pleasure and an odd feeling of gratitude to the animal. 

 And then there was a movement, soft and small in the saddle of thick white belly fur below.  He put his hand on the belly touching the hot blood and felt the gentle movement within, here, then here, then here.  Pups.  Fox pups, doomed, tiny silk feet running in a world of warmth in motion, now violently stilled and cooling around their tiny blind bodies, the steady heartbeat falling into silence as their nourishing world died around them without their knowing.  They would not be born.  They would die soon within the universe of their mother. 

He put the gun down and was unable to lift his hand from the animals side and blood dampened his fingers.  He felt the pups, felt their bewilderment through the cooling skin and fur. Their world now snatched from them without a chance.

Wall street.  K Street.  His father’s disappointment.  He had exiled himself here - the middle of nowhere and nothing.  He understood their fate because it was his own.   Until now.

His heart swelled, blossomed, and he began to weep with dark and unearthly joy.


  1. This was beautiful and dark, Garce. I laughed at the idea of the Fuckit list, and I loved the description of the fox—bloodthirstiness and appreciation are tricky to juxtapose, and I think you did it well. I was blown away by the last line.

    1. Hi Annabeth!

      This story may seem a little thin on a first reading, I think partly because I changed gears in mid stream. For one thing I was beating myself up when I heard what the topic was, this would have been the perfect place to post "Adonais" which really is about inertia. This one is more about emotional inertia whch would take a much longer treatment than this to work out. On the other hand I began to see something in the character that caught my interest. I'm currently working on assembling all the Nixie stories I've written into a chronological order and calling it a novel. The problem I've found is that when you put them all in the same room they don't quite link up so I'll have to do a lot of reworking. "Kuschelbaer" is German for "Huggy Bear" or "Snuggle Bear" and its her pet name for Daniel her mortal lover who eventually she kills by accident. She routinely calls him Kuschelbaer, at least in those moments when they're on good terms. She meets him at a moment when he is kind of emotionally ill and they just connect when he throws snow balls at her. Its the first time anyone has ever played with her in decades and the simple act of play wins her heart in that story, which I once posted here under the title "To Play". So where does Daniel come from? It occurred to me when I was writing this that this is the character who will somehow become Daniel, a emotionally damaged guy who is able to connect to a dangerous being of power such as a vampire. So towards the end of this piece I began exploring that idea a little bit.


  2. Y'know, Garce-
    Your character 's plight makes me think of guys who did time in 'Nam. Nothing here matches the*realness* of what they'd experienced over there. Another powerful, conceptual piece, dude.

    1. Hi Daddy X!

      Thank you for reading my stuff! I hadn't thought of the NAm guys until you mentioned it, and then I thought "Yeah, that's it." Not neccessarily viet nam, but something damaged his ability to feel the way war vets often come back emotionally damaged by their experience. They can't get in touch with their feelings and maybe don;t want to. But you feel that struggle to connect with yourself. As I was saying to Annabeth, this may be the person who becomes Daniel, Nixie's mortal lover, and Nixie's designing principle is her struggle to regain her connection to humanity again, which is also in a way the struggle of the character in this vignette.


  3. This piece is a gem all by itself, but I can see how the character might fit into the darkness of a vampire novel.

    1. Hi sacchi!

      it can get pretty dark too - and Daniel's the good guy!


  4. I eagerly await your eventual masterpiece that will be the Nixie novel. Once again, your words are almost hypnotic. I knew this was yours from the first line. The depth you put into your stories is amazing. I already know how introspective you are, but your writing proves it over and over again. You have the gift of translating emotions into words. Amazing.

    1. Hi fiona!

      I've ben eagerly awaiting it for quite a few years now, I'm only beginning to figure out what the story is, and as you can see new bits keep trailing in. It may be oneo f those things you just kee revising forever. But thank you ever and always for all the encouragement you give.


  5. Sorry to come to this so late, Garce. This story kicked me in the gut. You know what did it? The unborn fox pups. Honestly, I started to cry. We are all capable of inflicting this sort of mindless damage.

    I recognized the title, of course, but it didn't occur to me that this might be Daniel. (I did think it might have been Nixie attacking the chickens.) This man seems too old to be Daniel. One has the sense that he's been out there on his farm for a very long time.

    And then there are the bits and pieces of your own history here, your mom and your dad. This man is your opposite. You feel *everything*, like a deep and bleeding wound.

    Do you wish, sometimes, for this sort of numbness? Or do you find it as terrifying and inhuman as your story makes it sound?

    1. Hi Lisbet!

      I'm getting back to this late too, sorry. I think its a powerful image, the imageo ft he unborn and doomed. I find that what I love is look for and play with images. The woman on the roof in Oberammergau, who wants God to kill her The unborn pups. These kind of things. Nixie attacking the chickens! I hadn't thought of that - that would work except he would have shot her. Not a good way to begin a love affair although I'm sure its happened to somebody.

      You make a good point here about Daniel being older than her. I need to think on that. How old is he if he quit a good job and retreated from the world? On the othe hand, Nixie was attracted to father Delmar, a much older man, and she points out to him that in spite of her appearance she is much older than he is. I would never wish for that sort of numbness, in fact I wish I could feel more deeply. Daniel's inability to feel grief mirrors my own fears that I don;t feel things as deeply as I really should. Garce

  6. My father was an unemotional man, who found it difficult to put emotions into words or to act on them. From what he told me of his history, I know why, but I still wish, for Mom's sake, that he could have learned, and not seen it as a "weakness" that "men can't allow themselves." But I saw him cry twice in my life: once, when he got the phone call from Scotland telling him that his mother had passed away, and he hadn't seen her in the 10 years since I was born. And the second was when he was mowing the lawn in the backyard, and hit something, then realized he'd obliterated a family of baby rabbits whose nest he'd plowed into inadvertently.

    That's why your story rang so true to me. My dad didn't express emotions to people he cared about, but when he saw those tiny bunnies he'd killed, he cried like a baby.
    Thanks for reminding me of that moment when my dad showed his humanity.

  7. Thank you Fiona. That's a very interesting insight about your father. Its how we grew up, though I think the culture is begining to change on that point and requires men to be more intouch with their feelings.

    I was thinking about what your fatherand the rabbits. I think there must be something in our nature that needs immediacy to feel compassion. People in Africa die of ebola and its just sort of interestin. You run over a nest of baby rabbits with a lawn mower, you see your carnage right in front of you and it has to haunt you. I know I would have felt the very same way. Garce


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