The Iron Writer Challenge #177
2016 Autumn Equinox Challenge Championship
Linda Fairstein Bracket
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A kid playing a banjo to a dog
A life in danger
Linda Fairstein Bracket
D. Lee Cox, Amy Kasim, Matt Henderson, SzeTeng Ong
Introduction to Wim Meeks
– A Scene from Marie Clem
D. Lee Cox
Walking in the southern heat and humidity in late August was like moving through warm broth. The 9:05 Central line arrived at Junction Hall on Sims and 3rd avenue early in the morning.
Into the bright sunny hot morning walked William “Wim” Meeks.
The street corner lacked any color but brown. Brown brick, brown dirt roads, brown water, gas street lamps browned with dust, brown people with brown hats. The smell of manure and body odor and mildew wafted up from under the splintered and rotten boards.
Outside the diner two dusty men sat on a bench smoking cigarettes, an empty pop bottle lay in front of them. Heads tilted down, fedoras over their eyes, laughing in gruff throaty grunts. Upon the edge of the boardwalk a young boy of eight or ten sat playing a banjo to his dog.
Meeks stopped short of the pop bottle, dead in his way.
Neither dusty man moved.
Meeks picked up the pop bottle and put it next to the boot of one of the men.
Continuing on his way he patted the shoulder of another as he passed.
Six strides down Meeks felt the tap on his shoulder and stopped quietly.
“Excuse us,” growled a voice behind him.
Meeks turned slowly to view the two shady characters, standing one behind the other.
Their skin was leather, eyes sunken and red. One slightly taller than the other, but favoring in a familial way. Dirt encrusted nails as one reached for his cigarillo.
“What can I do for you?” asked Meeks.
“Just what do you think you’re doin, mister?”
The boy stopped playing his banjo, the dog dipped under the boards.
Meeks took a step toward them.
“I said ‘excuse me’ and you didnt move. I assumed you were asleep. I moved your pop bottle so as to not disturb you,” Meeks leaned into the shade of the other mans filthy hat, “is there a problem with that?”
Meeks had a dead stare in his eyes that might startle the average church-goer. But these men had given up their spirituality a long, long time ago. They were not intimidated.
The first man slowly leaned forward, “You dont touch a man you dont know, mister.”
Meeks looked up at the first man, said, “Didnt mean to offend… friend.”.
He hooked his thumbs into his leather jacket and stared at the first man.
Across the way a butcher was standing in the doorway of his shop. White apron mottled in blood red, yellow fat. Smoking a cigarette, watching a cat drink something out of a saucer.
Two strong wills do not experience “fight or flight” – they experience something more akin to a bookie doing the math. The effort just doesn’t seem worth it.
The second man said, “Tom, I’m gonna go get another pop.”
The first man spit on the ground and snorted, like an angry bull deciding today wasnt the day to gore the bullfighter.
Meeks said, “Good day,” touched the brim of his hat and turned to continue on his way.
Always Had It In Me
What happens when a person is ill-treated? Who is to blame; the one who committed the offence or the one who caused the offender to commit the offence? More often than not, people who do wrong are not to blame for what they do. The offences they commit are mostly triggered by past experiences such as broken home, a horrendous incident like continuous bullying in their teenage years or sometimes, it is just the way they are.
In my case, I could be referred to as the guy who played it safe. I was not a bully, the bullies were my allies. It was I who designed the pranks they would use on the innocent ones. Well, don’t hate on me! A brother needs to do what he can to survive boarding school! I had the brains; they had the strength and the fame. I needed them just as much as they needed me. I didn’t have friends, the only one I had was Thomas.
Thomas, my faithful friend, was a stray dog I found lying wounded in the bush behind the school. I slowly nursed him back to health and with the permission of my house master; I got to keep him as a pet. That dog just had an ear to listen to everything; so when I would sit with him on the bleachers at the school field playing the dis-tuned banjo my grandpa left me, Thomas would perk up his ears, wagging his tail with his tongue hanging out as if he understood every single out-of-tune note I played.
My grandpa always said, ‘people do not change; character is just imbedded in them’ never made sense to me till a few years after I had started working at a tech firm. I was a bully all along; the situation needed to bring up itself.
There was this new intern at the firm where I worked. His name was Louis; very shy and timid. He skinny with a crooked nose, always avoided eye contact and would stammer when trying to answer questions. He reminded me so much of myself in high school that it infuriated me. I needed to get rid of him.
I tried talking to my supervisor to change his department but he would not budge so I knew I had to do something. I would usually put him in embarrassing situations like sticking gum on his seat and sticking pads on his shirt which read ‘slap me!’ or ‘I am dumb’. I would taunt him endlessly and make up silly jokes about him, debunking his contributions during meetings and throwing his work in his face. I never saw the need to stop even when he begged me but I guess there is a limit to everything.
One day, out of frustration, Louis almost jumped off our 7 storey because he could not bear the torture anymore. I finally realized who I had become; a bully, someone who always put lives in danger.
Appalachia, Keep Me Dancing
“I’m here with ‘Sonny Boy’ Latham,” I started in, coming back from a commercial break. “We were talking about bluegrass and how you started playing the banjo as a young boy.”
“Yeah. I reckon I’s four when I really started playin’,” Sonny Boy half laughed, half sang—He was big on emotion, short on words, and I wasn’t very interested in the subject anyway, and hardly in the mood for pulling teeth.
This was regional cable television in the mid-seventies and I wasn’t excited about most of the assignments I was sent on. I was young and had my eyes on real news; major broadcasting. The trips in a white station wagon, and a minimal expense account were depressing as hell. I felt like I was a million miles from civilization; maybe I was. It seemed like once you hit a certain mile marker on those back roads, the miles started passing exponentially.
“Sonny, do a lot of children still start at such an early age around here?” I asked.
“It’s ‘Sonny Boy’…Told ya that…it was in the papers,” Mr. Latham said rather curtly. No song in his voice; no laughter. “Some do, some don’t. Always been like that. Always will.”
“I asked about that, ‘Sonny Boy’ because we were hoping to get children interested in joining band in their local communities and schools. It was in the papers that we sent. Do you have any words for the children who might want to start playing music?” I nearly yawned.
“If they want to play music, play…Ya can’t make ‘em.” He snorted. “Besides, ain’t no community bands ‘round here, and ain’t no band in the school, neither. Not for miles. They is only family bands. We like it that way.”
“Strange thing, but I get to say this…we do love to say this: A funny thing happened on my way in this morning. I saw this little boy…Looked about four. He was sitting on this wall playing this ancient banjo…the kind with animal skin stretched over the base. He was playing it well, but what struck me was he was playing for this big black dog. The dog was dancing…and he looked like he was smiling. Have you ever seen that boy with his dog?”
“Ain’t no such thing. Cut that camera off. I ain’t got nothin’ else,” the veins stood out as Sonny Boy spoke. Then he walked out of the makeshift studio and jumped in the passenger side of a pick-up that sped off.
The man he called his manager walked up. “You saw the boy?” he asked.
“Look. Don’t take this wrong. You’ve been depressed. A number of us have. This is Appalachia. It’s a country within a country. Runs through a large part of your country. But it’s real. Solid. Spiritually intelligent and coherently humane. Cherokee, Irish, Scottish. Not the hicks you people like to intellectually bully. Everybody sees the dog. Mister, Sonny Boy’s brother killed himself from melancholia a long while back. People say the boy is him, keeping the black dog away. Dog’s name is ‘Bami Jo.’ Nigerian word for ‘Keep me Dancing.’ The banjo’s original name.”
Ong Sze Teng
The hare was messily torn down the middle, no longer able to stand the strain from both ends. Ozo dropped the end he was holding, but at least he had the decency to look ashamed. Naga was frowning as he tossed the half of his prey to the hound beside him, as if someone had merely made a small slip instead of ruining the pack’s meal. “Well, now you’ve done it.”
“I didn’t mean to pull so hard,” Ozo mumbled.
“Which is surprising, seeing how scrawny you are,” came the scoff. Ozo glanced up immediately, growling at the sneer directed at him.
He hissed back, “Maybe Berry won’t think so.”
“Maybe she will. What happened?”
The whole hunting party stood at attention, flanks still for a moment before turning to gaze calmly at the sleek, lean female gliding into the clearing.
“Our new member seems to think he’s in charge,” Naga reported coldly, head jerking at the hare at Ozo’s feet. A quick inspection, confirmed that the hare had been torn apart, not bitten through neatly, of course. “The hare was in one piece when I caught it.”
Ever one to make wise decisions, Ozo jumped to defend himself. “Naga wanted to claim it, so he snatched it from me! I just pulled too hard, I know I shouldn’t have.”
“Is that why we found the herb store trampled? Or the pups’ prey bitten before they ate?” Naga asked innocently.
He cringed inwardly. The hunting party seemed to be nudged from their silence. Banishment, they uttered, or he’ll will think he’s in charge of the whole pack.
He barely heard anything past that, but he did catch his leader’s somber last words.
“This is not the first time, Ozo. Even I have my limits,” she said quietly. “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
The slippery woods wouldn’t have been as hard to maneuver if he was calmer. Relentlessly, droplet after droplet slapped across his jaws, the wind slamming against his face as he surged between trees bending in the gale. He could stop, as his legs were begging him too, but a mixture of fury and stubbornness told him the only option was to keep moving forward, because I didn’t deserve this and I am strong and don’t need shelter to survive.
He was still charging aimlessly, when a strong brown blast cut his path off. Mud, and not the roll-about-in kind. He hadn’t realized his camp had been near a hill. It was almost pathetic the way his last thoughts were still on his traitorous pack before the mudslide descended upon him.
Something prodded his flank. Ozo shifted instinctively, immediately restraining a groan at the ache in his hind legs. There was no darkness nor rain; he was out for quite a while. The human lazing across him, had a short tree in its paws, pounding against the bark. If he wasn’t injured, Ozo would gladly have rose to fight. Oddly enough, the sound the human was more soothing than aggressive.
Well, they hadn’t hurt him, merely garbling as he dove deeper into his nest. Maybe he could stay awhile.