Yoknapatawphan Melody – Part 1
M C Alves
‘None of us can help the things life has done to us. They’re done before you realize it, and once they’re done they make you do other things until at last everything comes between you and what you’d like to be, and you’ve lost your true self forever.’ —Eugene O’ Neill, ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’
The landlady was fuming in the quince orchard. Lori had vanished. Dona Flora, a short, squat troll of a woman was muttering obscene incantations, ham-fisted hands on bovine hips, eyes ablaze with naked fury as she marched along the rows of trees. Every so often she would snatch one of the mangled fruits off a branch, inspecting it and then discarding each with an angry grunt. It was another blisteringly hot August day on the road to nowhere.
The boy watched from above, hidden behind the entwined grape vines which shrouded the entire terrace. It was an old but lovely finca, not nearly large enough to be considered an estancia, but the previous lady who owned it had taken great care in her choice of flowers and shrubbery. She had created a place of brilliant colors and subtle scents, contrasting with the arid and rocky lands which surrounded it, cold, dank and muddy in the long winter months, during summer harshly hot, dusty and drier than your granpappy’s scalp.
Unlike her neighbors she had kept no chickens or goats, not even a dog—there had apparently been a pig once given that a dilapidated, fenced pen still sat underneath the terrace but, legend had it, it had vanished under mysterious circumstances—and so the plants remained ever undisturbed. It had been she who had nurtured the quince orchard and it was the fine harvest it produced which gave the small property its value. It was also the reason Dona Flora had bought the place.
He did not know to where, nor why, Lori had vanished. A group of her friends from the Lycée had come looking for her and they had been quite worried. Beyond that the lad knew nothing. He did, however, know about the fate of this season’s quince crop. His friend from Toulouse was one hell of a shot with a BB-Gun, a far better marksman than he as evidenced by the final tally of perforated fruit bullseyes. He felt a sudden need for privacy. The landlady would soon turn her attention toward discovering the cause and culprit, best to be elsewhere when she did.
He went to Lori’s room. It was a mess. That was not like her. The bed unmade, clothes strewn on the floor as well as her favorite Beach Boys 45. Lori was infatuated. Love she called it. Maybe it was. She had been in love before. It usually ended in tears. Hers or theirs. But this time she did seem quite smitten. She played Harry Nilsson’s Without You constantly. That was apparently her new amour’s favorite. She was even teaching the boy to dance. Not that he wanted to learn. She would prevail upon him to join her out on the large veranda and then drag him about through various and sundry dance steps. He did not think he would ever again wish to waltz or watoosi but he submitted to the lessons so as to please his older sister’s enraptured condition.
The boy loved Lori, too. She was his best, only, girl friend. After their parents’ divorce they spent summers together when the boy was sent over for the duration of his school vacation. Lori lived here with their grandfather. She was also a better student than he. But he harbored no competitive feelings toward Lori. She was brilliant, popular and until the divorce they had always been close. He had noticed changes in her, the influence of a culture rather different than their native New England, for one, and other subtle differences but he imagined that it was simply the fact that she was growing up. Too bad, he thought.
What had happened? She had said nothing to him. But experience taught him to be wary of knocks on the door. One summer a cousin had appeared unexpected. His grandfather was not fond of the lad, why he did not say, but he allowed him to stay for a while. He had proven to be a good mate and they went swimming and played football on the street almost every day. In this country, as in so many, football is a mighty passion. One would be hard-pressed to find any vacant lot, space or side-street anywhere that was not being used as a football field. The boy and is cousin and anyone else who showed up would play pick-up on the street, pausing only when the rare car approached. These pseudo-olympic games stopped only after the Guarda Nacional Republicana answered a complaint from some cantankerous curmudgeon about the racket made by shouting boys. He and his cousin sought other endeavors after being warned sternly that playing ball in the street was forbidden. There were many things forbidden in that country back then.
The boy developed mixed feelings about his cousin. He had a somewhat sadistic bent. This became evident when he demanded they go frog hunting. There were hundreds on the river bank. It was not an uncommon sport for boys to hunt frogs. But his cousin liked dissecting them. He told the boy that he had been reading a textbook about instincts. He said that there were different reactions, the learned and the instinctive. For example, a ‘learned’ reaction was when someone first put their hand in flame, got burnt, they would not do so again; an ‘instinctive’ reaction was exemplified by the male frog: while copulating, if the frog were cut in half, would nonetheless continue its’ motion. His cousin found that fascinating. The boy wondered whose idea it was to cut the frog in half.
To be continued tomorrow …
Bio: M C Alves (Manny) is a freelance writer, author of a collection of short fiction, a former journalist and editor and has written two books on information technology and operating systems. He is a contributor to various publications and is currently working on a novel. Manny is a longtime resident of New York City.