Herman Melville’s Toast

(Now where’d that butter go?)

Herman Melville liked to eat toast in the afternoon, but never for breakfast. It took a lot more work to make toast before toasters, you know. On this particular Thursday, Herman Melville had made some toast and then promptly lost it. (Hint: look to the beard! (OK, that was a little strong for a hint…)) It’s true Herman Melville had a delightfully full and lustrous beard, a veritable ocean of beard, if you’ll forgive the impish comparison.

Perhaps others, when losing their toast, might shrug philosophically and move on to the rest of their day, perhaps even eating an apple or a biscuit instead. Not so, Herman Melville. His eyes bulged out in a fearsome way and that one vein on his temple, the one everyone feared would be his undoing, throbbed in a troublesome way.

“Where’s my toast!” Herman Melville said. The universe did not answer. Some grubby little urchins outside his window burst into song and dance. It was pretty amusing, and normally Herman Melville might have joined in, but this toast was serious business, not to be trifled with.

Herman Melville slammed a cupboard and scraped a chair roughly across the floor and then tripped over a small settee. Herman Melville’s spectacles went flying. As he fell, Herman Melville’s ink-stained hands grasped for anything at all, found the table’s tablecloth and grabbed instinctively. The butter dish, three forks, a butter knife, a steak knife, six candles (unlit), a stained towel, a tin coffee cup, and the morning newspaper all clattered to the floor, with the exception of those things that made other noise than clattering.

Herman Melville sighed, face planted in a couch pillow, left leg tangled in the table cloth, mysteriously. Rage and desperation certainly did lead one to a sorry pass, Herman Melville thought, and took a bite out of his toast. Would you believe that he’d been holding it one hand the whole time? Writers, I tell you! (You got me, you got me. The “hint” was a total fake out.)

The Balloon and Virginia Woolf

(Why aren’t there more balloons?)

Furthermore, a kind of pallor settled over the balloon. It just wasn’t having a very good day. First, there’d been that near incident with the porcupine, then the caroming bin lid, and finally, the heart-stopping (if it had one) wind-ride through the branches of that oak tree. Somehow its string hadn’t gotten tangled in branches. The balloon would have breathed a sigh of relief, only no lungs.

Virginia Woolf, in a really frankly quite tasteless display of foreshadowing, was skipping rocks on a pond. Her fingers were stained with ink, and it didn’t or wouldn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to tell what she’d been doing with her morning (i.e., something with ink). The balloon settled gently down in the center of the pond. And Virginia Woolf, why, she just waded right into the pond to go get it. Some ducks quaffled quietly.

Balloon in hand, Virginia Woolf waded back to shore, skirt wet up past her knees, and handed the balloon to young Quentin Bell, who scampered off pretty quick with it. She smiled, and so did the balloon, that is, if it could have.

Virginia Woolf went on skipping rocks on the pond. Later on, the balloon popped somehow. But that’s ok. It was only a balloon, after all.

Sassafrass and Kentucky Fried Down Home Country Wisdom

(But whose country?)

Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov had two rubles to rub together, and he sort of did, compulsively. “The devil take it!” he said, though not in English. By which he meant, not the rubles, but the whole roogatsed mess he’d found himself in, specifically, a bouncy castle.

Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov was the sole proprietor and operateer of a sprawling luminous (because fluorescent) Russian-style bouncy castle. In spite of his many warnings, those hooligans kept rushing in with their keys in their hands, their gem-encrusted rings on their fingers, their cokes in poorly lidded paper cups. He was always patching, washing, sewing, cleaning, scrubbing, patching, washing, cleaning, and he was just so sick of it all!

*Poof!* A berehynia fluttered down to rest on top of the bouncy castle. “A lobster singing on a mountaintop,” muttered Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov, and then louder, “Hey! Get down from there!” The berehynia was dressed all in golden and scarlet robes, no wings to speak of, this not being a rubbishy English sort of supernatural creature, and she cackled pretty marvelously, though not entirely meanly. He had expected her to float down from the ground, but she climbed down. She even slipped at one point, and almost fell. Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov chewed his worn out gum.

The berehynia fixed her hair and then fixed Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov with a deeply unsettling uncanny gaze. Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov stared back for as long as he could stand (1.6 seconds staring into her darkly whirling eyes), and then looked at the ground, then at the sky, then over at some trees, and then at the bouncy castle, his bane, his doom, his looming failure. Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov heard the faint hiss of leaking air. As for the barely functional petrol-powered air pump, let’s not even go there.

“You,” the berehynia said informally, because that matters in Russian, when you only seem to be speaking English, “are the owner of a castle.”

Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov snorted.

“Do you want it?” and here she paused for a bit in a manner that reminded Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov vaguely of chicken’s feet, “Or not?”

You would’ve asked Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov this question five minutes ago, and there’d’ve been no hesitation at all, but now something was happening. Something, though vaguely tediously strange, something was happening. And now Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov wasn’t sure.

They stood like that for a while.

It was only later, when Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov woke to a mosquito buzzing in his ear (it was springtime), that he realized his decision hadn’t been important at all.

Somehow, someway, and for some inscrutable reason that he, Vladimir Petrovich Ostranov, might never understand, he, he himself, had mattered enough for a Visit.

Genghis Khan and the Tiny Man from Mars

(Or maybe he was from Venus?)

Genghis Khan woke up with a terrible headache. Too much fermented yak’s milk the night before, he supposed. Also, maybe the head-butting competition hadn’t been the best idea. Still, he did have a new trophy and more respect, like he needed any more of that, from his fellow Mongols.

A klaxon rang out! Which was odd, because it was like the 13th century or something, and klaxons were pretty rare. Granted, it wasn’t a very loud klaxon, but a very tiny one. It appeared to be coming from underneath Genghis Khan’s furry yak hat. Genghis Khan couldn’t remember the name of his furry yak hat, because his head hurt just too darn much, but he was sure it had one! Still, that klaxon was curious, and being a curious fella, Genghis Khan lifted up the hat. There stood a very tiny man from Mars.

“Hello!” said the very tiny man from Mars, in Mongolese, of course. “I am a very tiny man from Mars!”

“Where is Mars?” Genghis Khan said.

The very tiny man from Mars pointed up through the top of the yurt. “Actually, maybe it’s over there,” and the very tiny man from Mars pointed south-south-westerly.

“What are you doing here?” Genghis Khan said. “Why were you underneath my hat?” Genghis Khan staggered to his feet.

“That’s a long story, how I got here, and why. I’m here to 1) fly on top of a kite, 2) ride on the back of a yak, and 3) give you a big kiss! I know I’m out of luck for #1, but I think 2 and 3 are quite achievable.” With that, the tiny man from Mars floated through the air via his anti-gravity belt, and swooped at Genghis Khan.

Genghis Khan, who was no slouch in the reflexes department, dove out of the way, and rolled right out of the yurt.

“Oh darn,” the tiny many from Mars said, swooshing out the flap after him.

The Mountain of Butter

(Or was it margarine?)

In the Andes, or perhaps the Himalayas, a mountain of butter rose up overnight. Some took it as evidence of divinity, others a thing of pure randomness. “But why butter?” they wondered, though not in English.

There were those who resolved to climb it, first thing, booking flights to converge from all over the planet. The locals weren’t so keen, worrying at what might happen were the butter mountain to start to melt. It was cold on top, sure enough, but the bottom… Well, that would surely melt when it got warm enough.

Others, with an eye for a quick buck, herded scores of pack animals up the narrow mountain passes, and loaded them up with large bricks cut from the butter mountain. A quick test and everyone who tasted knew. If it hadn’t come from heaven, it surely tasted like it did.

Within a fortnight, Reynaldo Glassioux, Hampton Stephens-Stevens, and Chuck Bix had summited. They slid down the last 60 feet to no ill effect. Almost overnight, the butter mountain became a massive tourist sensation.

At least, that is, until the mountain of chocolate appeared.

Marie Curie’s Glowing Green Eyes

(Or were they yellow?)

Marie Curie swore she could see in the dark, but really it was others who could see her. Who could miss those luminescent green eyes in the dark? At least her hair wasn’t glowing, am I right?

Anyway, all the French connoisseurs at the cafe sipping their espressos flinched when her unblinking eyes turned toward them. “Please blink, when will she blink, good god, why won’t she blink!” they all thought, every one of them, in a startling synchronicity of thought. Only the street sweeper pushing his long-handled broom across the cobblestones thought nothing, only shrugged, pulled the brim of his hat down, and got back to thinking, got back to sweeping, perhaps about chrysanthemums, but more likely about the sausage he was going to eat for lunch that day.

Marie Curie stared at the espresso machine and, if one didn’t know better, one would think that was the cause for all that steaming milk. Fortunately, these worldly Parisians had been around a cafe or two. No need to burn some witches here, thank goodness. Still, those glowing green eyes…

“Goddamn, I’m so hungry!” Marie Curie cried, and several Parisians brought her their croissants or whatever. She ate them all. She sipped her coffee and sighed.

She breathed in deeply the coffee steam and slowly, oh so slowly, closed her uncanny eyes.

The rest of the cafe sighed in relief.

Except for Jean-Pierre, that scoundrel!

August Strindberg Blew in on a Rake

(Or did he?)

August Strindberg blew in on a rake. He was short and stout, sour, and out of breath. Or maybe he was tall and thin. His hair was a mess, but everyone got the sense that it was always kind of like that, rake or no. He was rocking the mustache and soul patch look that was so so popular for a while there. It goes a bit better with a three-piece suit, than a ripped up tee shirt. Just saying.

Anyhow, where did he blow in from and why was he there? everyone wondered. Good questions, both. Regardless of where he came from or what he’d been doing before, he looked vexed, cranky even. He blew in from Sweden, of course, and he was there to bend time and space to his will by occluding and warping the very stuff of space and time through the weaving of supernatural forces to his will. Yes, everyone whispered, magic! Yes, our August, our dear August Strindberg, was down from his own personal Inferno to cast about for such raw supernatural power that all the world would tremble and quake. Or maybe he was just looking for a cup of milk for his biscuit recipe. You never can tell with August Strindberg.

That was the trouble with August Strindberg, everyone thought, he was always rushing to and fro on his rake, stirring up trouble, and writing his damned plays. So actually, yes, it was just a cup of milk he was after. Everyone sort of giggled at how silly they’d been, but then August Strindberg, it was so hard to tell with him, you know?

Everyone went back to their knitting, crocheting, dynamiting, or whatever it was they’d been doing before he swept in on his rake. Really, everyone was just as happy to forget that August Strindberg had ever been there.

The Moon’s Long Long Legs

(But are there shoes?)

The moon pirouetted on its long long legs. No one saw, of course. They were two busy looking elsewhere. The moon stood on its head and danced round and round about.

Alister Frungible McGillicuddy forgot to look at his phone for just a sec, felt his eyes accidentally drift moonward. We all make mistakes you know? His socks bounced off his feet. A bit later, he realized his mistake, and returned his focus back to reality. “Forks!” he sighed, glaring into his idea pipe.

Sintheria Troilus Verity laughed at a pretty picture and tripped on a slowly, oh so slowly, upflung tree root. Man, this gag had been in the works for years! The oak chortled slowly over the next three weeks, so she never heard it. Lying on her back, gazing up through the branches, she watched the moon do an electric slide. She closed her eyes and fell asleep. When she awoke, the sun shone bright through her dewy eyelashes.

The moon sighed, put on its nightcap, and sank deeply into bed, its feet sticking out the end. It dreamed of brachiosaurs and ankylosaurs, flittering and glittering with moon dust as they leaped high and slowly through the air. A giant robot mouse took a large bite out of the moon. The moon dashed loose and unmoored through the vasty reaches of the galaxy. The earth looked on, shedding a single brilliant tear. The moon smiled in its sleep.

Ballet shoes rotated slowly in space.

Tesla Plants Geraniums

(Or was it chrysanthemums?)

Nikola Tesla wearied of AC and death rays, and decided to plant some orchids. However, they all died. Death rays do not make for very good heat lamps, it would seem. Nikola Tesla had caught the bug, though, and continued on, planting marigolds, tulips, and daffadownlillies.

All the other inventors laughed through their noses as they divebombed the novice gardener in their flying velocipedes. Nikola Tesla, in his three-piece suit, gone a bit rummy at the knees, and boater hat, ignored all their jeers and mockery. Or tried to. It’s tough being an eccentric former inventor, apparently. In spite of his best effort, a single tear rolled down his cheek to disappear into his voluminous mustache.

“I’ll show them,” Nikola Tesla said, clenching his fists inside his slightly too large gardening gloves.

Six months later, all the other inventors were buying their flowers from Tesla’s flower shop, Nik’s Flower Shop. It was Mother’s Day and all the inventors had forgotten, until the last minute!

Nikola Tesla laughed and laughed until he heard that Thomas Alva Edison was opening up a flower shop on the other side of town, that scoundrel!

Nikola Tesla and his shop vanished in a flash of voltage.

An Elephant and Dostoyevsky

(Or is it Doestoyevskii?)

One day Dostoyevsky/ii was lunching at a roadside diner when an elephant came down and squashed the booth opposite him.

“Eurgh! Ёшкин-кот!” and that was the last Russian Dostoyevsky spoke, preferring, since his name was spelled in Latin in this instance, as opposed to Cyrillic letters, to speak in English.

The elephant gazed mournfully at him and stole one of his latkes. Dostoyevsky coughed into his neckerchief.

The elephant stared at Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky stared long longing long lastingly into the elephant’s large, limpid, dusky, numinous eyes. Chekhov whistled by on a ten speed. Dostoyevsky lost the staring contest.

Dostoyevsky spoke long into the night, spoke hard, and sharp, and angled, the words coming haltingly in English, a language he’d never had use for before. He spoke of trains, and crime, of costumes, and travels abroad. The elephant listened.

Dostoyevsky wiped his sodden brow. Dostoyevsky drank his eighth cup of coffee. The elephant watched, and snatched his hat.

Dostoyevsky spoke of failing, of sinners and saints, of all the harm that comes from wanting. Dostoyevsky nattered on about so many things: tea cups, holes in soles of shoes, drinking too much, the lightness of despair, and the heaviness of joy. The elephant watched and listened.

Dostoyevsky came so close to weeping, but didn’t, as he declaimed on the beauty of the wickedness (or maybe the wickedness of the beauty) of Job, the potsherds, the calamities, the devil going to and fro, and god in his infinite whirlwind. And also that leviathan that roams inside the sea. The elephant listened, and also watched.

Dostoyevsky banged his fist on the table. Dostoyevsky banged his head on the table. Tea cups and saucers rattled all over the place. A tin clock fell off the wall behind him. The long-suffering waitress quietly asked him if he could please be a little quieter? Dostoyevsky, in his frenzy, did not understand her. Also, she was speaking English.

Dostoyevsky’s mustache quivered as he spoke of hornets, mayflies, cockroaches, those little roly-poly bugs everyone has a different name for, and all of the other tiny things that annoyed him. The elephant only watched, oh, and listened.

Finally, at the end, Dostoyevsky rolled under his table and snored.

The elephant watched and listened and never forgot.