Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday Musings, 05 March 2011

Good morning,

I raise the blind above my desk and gaze out of a dirt-streaked window at the soft sky, with its thin trails of white wistful clouds. Against this delicate backdrop, bare trees rise stark and black. Perhaps small buds of new leaves pepper the branches, but I cannot see them from this distance, and the sky looks to be clutched in winter's wicked grasp.

Nearly one-third of this year has dribbled through my fingers as I reached to grasp it. I am astonished at how quickly the time passes. I convince myself that the rate of minutes accelerates, though surely it does not. Surely, my obligations merely expand to clutter the days and send me careening from dawn to dusk, collapsing in exhaustion for a few meager hours before I rise and race against the staring clock with its rushing hands.

I don't know when my life became this frantic. But I suspect I share a common malady with many. I listened to an NPR story about a company developing plastic that doesn't poison us, and wondered how we ever came to use receptacles that do pose such threat. Surely, glass can hold milk without contaminating it. We strove to make our lives disposable for decade upon decade, only to learn that the means for such convenience now clog our sewers, kill our wildlife, and sicken our children.

From where I sit, I can see a "dish", with its metal protrusion gesturing in a manner only vaguely obscene. I suppose it catches some sort of signal that its minders claim does not damage anything else through which it passes. I begin to understand the craze-eyed wanderers with their tin foil helmets. The world sinks into strangeness, and I stand, observing, wondering what conveniences do not carry health risks, or make us lazy, or deafen our ears.

I remember simpler times. And I wonder, as I remember them, if they were better than the times in which we now live.

I used to say that my family "was poor", until I met genuine poverty, and now I simply say, "we were middle class". We sometimes lacked for sufficient food, though we never starved. A broken jug of milk evoked tears; and my clothes lagged a season or two behind those of my parochial classmates. But we did not wander the streets for lack of a bed or a roof, and grandparents helped if the money ran short.

Still, our play grew creative because our playthings fell into the rudimentary category. Perhaps we had what others had in those days, before video games and iPods. Perhaps we had less. Either way, the toys of my youth had no motors, and much of my childhood occurred out-of-doors. This was especially true in the summer, when we had free license to wander from after breakfast until the street lights came on in our neighborhood.

Down the street from my house, the railroad track passed a small commercial outfit. As I reflect back to those days, I can't recall the nature of that business. It could have had something to do with rail shipping; perhaps maintenance crews for the railway stored their tools in the locked shed. I can't say. But we played there, I'm sure against the instructions of our working mother. We scrapped among the rocks by the side of the railroad tracks, and used the corrugated tin buildings as targets.

A block up from that juncture, a business lay empty, or so it appeared to me. Its grounds mostly held a large pool of something dank and smelly. I don't recall that business ever being active but I do vaguely recall that at one time, it made X-ray developer. I'm not sure what purpose the pool served.

One day, I wandered as far as the old factory without any of my siblings. I pushed aside the rusty gate, opening it far enough to slip into the yard. I felt my way among the broken bricks, and stood above the stinking liquid of the large cesspool. My eyes glazed as I stared into its depths. I breathed the stench of the chemicals, and felt my head swoon. As the world darkened around me, I began to pitch, head first, into the well of filth below me.

A large, dark hand pulled me back and threw me down upon the cinder driveway. I stared at the face hovering over me, with its deep lines and heavy fringe of graying hair. Denim surrounded the unshaven, wrinkled neck, a jacket streaked with oil and grime. I pulled myself up, and the man stood back away from me. Neither of us spoke. My head cleared, and I inched away. When I had cleared the gap in the gate, I began to run, three blocks to my house and on down the driveway, then through our backdoor.

I threw myself into a chair in the breakfast room. I felt the sweat rise on my face and dribble down the back of my neck. My braids hung dank and clammy against my chest; my shirt stuck to my skin. The fumes that had risen from the factory's pool clung to my clothing. I shed it quickly, and stepped into a hot shower.

By the time my brothers came home from their afternoon bike ride, I had found a book, and thrown myself into the adventures within its pages. I did not tell them what had happened. I never wandered to that place again, and I never saw the man who saved me. I never thanked him.

A bird squawks outside my window, reminding me that the morning wanes. Downstairs, the black cat yowls to be released into the wild. I rise to oblige him, thinking that perhaps, the world is safe enough for my tom cat.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.