“Good stories are not literary fast food, made on the cheap; they are intense with a flavour that expands to fill the mind.” (Jonathan Falla)
I stepped out of the hospital into a beautiful, spring day. It was one of those perfect days—that one day right before spring and summer collide. The birds were singing their best songs at fever pitch, flowers in full bloom with the bluest of sky for background, the color bursting forth onto a palette of lifeless, grey winter. The sun rested high and bright amidst cotton-candy clouds and a determined, but now weakening, winter wind still blowing. This is the season in which one notices things as if for the first time. The season of birth and life and new beginnings.
I found myself sitting on a park bench beneath a red maple, its leaves rustling a tune which I seemed to vaguely recall but could not place. I had not noticed this park before, nor did I realize the vastness of it. It was a park for children. One giant playground. Children were everywhere. The little ones ran to and fro, playing…swinging, scrambling across monkey bars, “Weeing!” down slides big and small, scampering up the ropes and down the poles, playing tag. Their laughter carried across the breezy air, a hypnotic and nostalgic symphony. It was clearly a place built for the children by someone who loved the little souls very much.
As I watched them play, they appeared so happy. And why should they not be? What I’d give to be able to go back and replay my life as one of those little creatures. Hard to believe, now, that I ever was one myself. So full of imagination and creativity, faith and belief, hope, trust, forgiveness, purity, and not a worry in the world. Life nothing but friends and play and ice cream and cake. Each day running into the next as one grand adventure inseparable from the previous. Stuck in the perpetual motion that is the innocence of childhood. Until we tell them that they “must grow up,” killing within them all that we truly cherish and miss in ourselves. Why must they grow up? Why must we?
We pretend to be the wise ones but look at them! Black, white, yellow…no matter the pigment of the skin…running together hand in hand, laughing, playing. Always together. Always happy and, when there is unhappiness, its origins are not of their world but of the big ones’. How often are we happy? How often have I been happy these past few years, battling my own particular hell of illness and mostly alone? Hell! If there is one, maybe we grown-ups deserve it but never the little ones, no. Perhaps children are too good for heaven itself. When I die, heaven or hell or nothing. But, for them, I will believe that heaven is just one big, beautiful spring day at the playground with friends. The children play on forever.
As I sat there, thinking to myself, I was startled out of my own mind and back to the world, noticing that several of the children now stood before me.
“Well, hi there,” I said.
They just stood there smiling at me. Two little boys and one little girl.
“Beautiful day to spend playing with your little friends.”
Slightly puzzled, I looked around and it struck me—there was neither parent nor chaperone present.
I inquired, “Why, where are your parents?”
Before this question had fully rolled itself off my tongue, a moment of bafflement then that sense of déjà vu—it seemed as though I had been here before and, now looking more closely at the children, particularly the little boy to my right with his shiny black hair and hazel eyes, standing, rather anachronistically, in his patched blue jeans and white t-shirt soiled from what could have been a lifetime of play…but no, it couldn’t be.
“Little fellow, you remind me of a friend that I had when I was about your age. His name was Heath. What is your name?”
Heath. I had not thought about him for so long nor spoken his name in years.
For logical reasons, it could not have been Heath. Heath had died long ago. A car crash back in 1959, I recalled suddenly, returning from summer vacation with his family.
Lost for a moment in thought, I was unsure as to whether or not the little boy had responded. I looked at him again and, in that moment, noticed that all the sea of children on the playground had turned toward me, gazing at me with the same silent, smiling faces. The eerie silence was broken only when the little boy who had reminded me of my childhood friend walked directly up to me, took my hand into his and said, “Don’t be silly Mikey! You can come play with us now.”
I stood and, as I did, though I should have towered over them all, I was eye to eye with the boy who reminded me so of Heath. And then we played.
day’s writing now done
softly sang the muse to me
the story’s ending
golden muse she sings
the resonant words of prose
close now with whisky
"Bird Cage" - Taken at South Eden Plantation, Georgia.
Copyright © 2021 by Shane Huey. All rights reserved.
walking in the dream
dare to wake up and live it
it could be real now
in tattered notebook
rereading fountain pen words
words not mine the muse
by S. Huey
I tossed and turned throughout the night, unable to sleep. There was a long day ahead, but I would get all of the sleep that I needed soon enough, unable to resist sleep when the night comes. One misses so much while the eyes are open as it is. There is no one who, truly, fears not the stage. Whether fear or excitement, no matter. The effect is the same.
The sun would be up in a moment and spill the soft rays of Nature's stage lights into my room, but I would rise before it today and begin my rehearsal in the darkness. Fitting! My best work now long for the shadows, as it were.
I arose. I stretched. I washed. I arrived at the theatre. Dressed in my finest attire, the costume carefully chosen and laid out for me by a loving hand, with face tastefully decorated just so as to catch the light perfectly, capturing and preserving my every expression—a face known for its gesticulations.
Today promised to be a very special day. The final act. The final performance. There would be no more encores. All shows, even the great ones, draw to a close. Knowing this made it nonetheless sour. The show had run its course and it is always better to go out on top, as they say in the business, than to overstay one's welcome. That I should go out with such a "Bang!" I would leave the stage with the same reverence with which I approached it, exiting stage right, no need of the old Vaudevillian hook to make the modest thespian of me.
The stage is an altar, a place of belief and ritual and magic…movement and doing. There is celebration and there is worship. There is the cult, the performer a priest, the faithful congregation. There is love and there is sorrow, both real and imagined, but there is emotion, always the emotion...rising and crashing simultaneously upon both performer and audience in often unexpected waves. No performance ever the same nor its effects upon the souls of officiant and parishioner alike.
One is fortunate to have lived as she would have chosen not otherwise to do. The summation of my career--my life—predicated upon sharing with others the experience of the entirety of the catalog of human emotion, from the depths of low to the peaks of high. Such a life one dare not dream of exchanging for the nightmare of not living life such as it is. Praise...critique...no matter, the show must go on, life must go on. This is the human condition.
"Showtime!" I am informed. The butterflies launch from their perch in unison to begin their wild and aerialbatic dance. I feel them as always, perhaps more so now in this final moment of glory. I could never tame the wild little things. Peeking out from behind the curtain, a full house! I smile...no I laugh from the sheer rush of joy! Each and every soul here for me! Eyes upon me, the star of the show. I never dreamt that I might touch so many souls. I have been blessed, truly I have. And here they were now, waiting for me, and I knew that they loved me for I could feel the love burning in my heart as I drew nearer them and they to me. I, in turn, loved them with a fierce reciprocity. I was who and what I was for them and because of them.
Curtain about to open...the butterflies now as though sparrows... I would miss the stage. I would miss my role. I would miss my fellow cast. I would miss my beloved audience. But I would savor every morsel of these, the final moments, of this encore presentation. I would give my very best!
As Time is so prone to do when one is caught up in rapture—living in that singular moment where one feels amidst the sinews the truth that there is indeed neither past nor future—it passed, the show was over, and the curtain closed. But tonight, there would be no curtain call. No last exchange with the audience, no final bow. It was all over. Now I would have that long overdue sleep…the peaceful rest.
As I closed my eyes for the final time that night, my last memory is of the taste of saline upon my lips from the lone teardrop that had fallen as I listened to the minister read my eulogy. It was such a beautiful monologue. And then I slept through the night.
This story first appeared in Raven Cage Zine, Issue 57 (May 28, 2021).
I am pleased to announce that, over the Memorial Day weekend, two of my short stories and one poem were published. "Hitogui" was released by The Chamber Magazine as were "Lament of the Pandemic Children" and "Curtain Call" in Raven Cage Zine (pages 36 and 157).
Another short story, "The Old, Grey Barn," is to be published today by Purple Wall Stories.
Please check them out and let me know what you think.