Friday, September 16, 2011

Ptar the Donkey - Chapter Four

Chapter 4
Seeing, Learning, Doing — More Than Ever Before
— or —
The Art of the Con

Doug III instantly regretted offering Ptar and his daughter, Sephie, a ride.  An awkward silence filled the cab of his ‘67 Chevrolet converted pickup.  At least it was awkward for Doug III.  Ptar’s entire life had been filled with awkward silences, so this was nothing new for him.  And Sephie was enjoying her first ride in a motor vehicle, loving how the air swirled in the pickup’s cab, whipping her long, black hair ever which way.  She was very much interested in, and trying her best to understand, the mechanics and operations of the pickup, watching as Doug III jostled the loose manual transmission’s gearshift between second and third gears, those being the only two gears that weren’t completely stripped. Doug III was really the only person, after much patience and practice, that could ever get the finicky clutch not to slip and kill the engine, all of which added up to him purchasing the pickup from its disgruntled previous owner for a whisper.  More often than not, Doug III himself would grind the hell out of the third gear as he tried to finesse the pickup into going there.  Sephie slowly started to begin to understand the workings of the pickup, her mind being quick and logical, much more than her age or experience should have allowed.
“Say, Donkey,” Doug III said, breaking the awkward silence for the first time, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to take you all the way to The Capital.”
Ptar looked over at Doug III, knowing he’d just been spoken to but was unable to make out what was said, the wind from the pickup’s open window drowned out all of Doug III’s words.
“Take us as far as you can and we’ll be most grateful,” Sephie said, speaking for her father.
“It’s just I have a stop or two to make, that’s all, you know?”
“We understand, Doug III.”
Doug III smiled over at Sephie as a sort of apology.  Sephie smiled back, and despite her slight hair-lip, her smile charmed Doug III.
“I’ll take you as far as I can,” he said, being somewhat sorry for something, exactly what, escaped him.
Ptar, still unable to hear any of the conversation going on next to him, put his head out the window and let the wind run over his face and through his hair.  It was hot and humid, and even more so inside the confines of the pickup, but he found the wind rushing past him to be quite refreshing.  He laughed out loud and kept his mouth open to trap the wind inside, until a bug flew in his mouth, choking him.  He coughed and gagged for a good fifteen minutes after that. 
As Ptar coughed, they drove on, their speed hovering around 30 miles per hour, when they suddenly came upon a group of gypsies camped along the side of the road.  It was late evening now and the gypsies — a large family of eight or nine — had pulled their mule drawn cart over to the side of the road.  The men sat on wooden stools next to the small cooking fire as the women busied themselves, preparing the evening meal.  Doug III eased the pickup into neutral as he came upon them.  He passed by slowly.  Each of the gypsies’ eyes were drawn to the odd sight of the converted pickup, watching as it idled past and eventually came to a complete stop thirty yards or so down the road.
Doug III killed the engine.  “You all wait here,” he said.  “I’m going to go and see if I can get us a little gas money.” 
Then it occurred to him to ask if Ptar or Sephie had any gas money.
“What’s gas money?” Ptar asked.
“Forget it,” Doug III said.  “Just wait here.” 
Doug III rubbed his palms on his thighs a few times and said to himself, “Game time, boyo.”
And with that Doug III got out of the pickup, leaving Ptar and Sephie alone in the cab.  Ptar tried to see what was going on behind them by spying via the passenger-side mirror, but the camper Doug III had attached to the bed of the pickup blocked his view.
Sephie too wanted to see what Doug III was doing behind them, so she scooted over to the driver’s side and she could see more because Doug III had wisely extended that mirror further than the passenger-side mirror.  She watched as what appeared to be the eldest male introduce himself to Doug III and then as he introduced Doug III to each of the other males, their heads nodding in sequential order.
Sephie reported all these goings-on to her father.  Ptar listened, at least at first, but soon grew uninterested in the happenings of Doug III and this gypsy family, so he put his head against passenger-side door and quickly fell asleep, this already having been the most eventful and trying days of his life.
Sephie continued to watch through the side mirror as Doug III interacted with gypsies.  The eldest male had sat back down on his wooden stool and Doug III was squatting down, all his weight on the balls of his feet, his legs coiled, his arms rested casually on his knees, his hands gesticulating constantly for, what Sephie could only assume, emphasis of whatever he was telling them.  And the entire family watched Doug III intently — even the women had quit their work and were now standing behind the men drying their hands on their aprons and listening to what Doug III was saying.  Periodically the entire group would smile or give a gentle laugh and nod their heads in agreement to whatever witty thing Doug III must have said.
Suddenly the general mirth of the meeting broke, all of them, including Doug III, solemnly bowed their heads for a moment.  Then out of nowhere Doug III produced a stick and began to draw something in the dirt in front of him.  The eldest male stood and looked on with great interest.  He turned his head and seemed to be relating back to the rest of the family what Doug III was drawing.  Doug III finished and eldest male sat back down again, smiling and gently nodding his head.  He seemed to greatly approve of whatever Doug III had drawn in the dirt.
Ptar began to snore, gently at first, but with each breath his snores were becoming more pronounced.  “Father — hush,” Sephie urged, to no avail.  She reached over and poked her father in the lower ribs — a technique she had seen her mother use on more than one occasion to varying degrees of success — but this also didn’t work.  So Sephie pressed as far as she could against the driver-side door and put her hands over her ears to stifle her father’s rumblings.
Something had occurred behind the pickup in the time Sephie had been away from the side-view mirror.  Something bad.  Doug III was now standing with his hands in the air as he took small, shuffling steps backward.  The entire gypsy family was now standing as well, the eldest male in front holding a large knife pointing maliciously at Doug III.
Sephie reached over and poked her father again, this time much harder, and said, “Come, Father, Doug III needs us.”  And with that, Sephie opened the pickup door and slammed it shut behind her.  The slamming pickup door was what awoke Ptar.  Still groggy and discombobulated and finding himself alone, he too exited the pickup to see what was going on.
Sephie approached the gypsies quietly and carefully and slowly.  For some reason, she made her pronounced limp more pronounced, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision.
Doug III continued to back away from the gypsies, his attention completely focused on the large knife in the hands of the eldest male.  He was relieved when they all stopped moving toward him, taking this to be a good time to finally and completely make his exit.
Just then, Sephie limped up to Doug III.  “Ah, hello there, Stephie,” he said.
“Sephie,” she corrected him.
“That’s what I said,” he said.  “You may want to run along now,” he advised.
The gypsy family’s attention turned to Sephie and her odd looks and dramatic limp.
“Go on,” Doug III said to her.  “Let’s get out of here.”
The eldest male turned from Sephie and took a step toward Doug III, raising his knife again, but before he could strike it down deep into the heart of Doug III, which was his intent, Ptar came along staggering from the around the other side of the pickup, catching his hip on the bumper, tailspinning him into the dirt.  All eyes were now on Ptar as he clumsily tried to stand up.  But he was weary from his long and trying day, and he was suffering from an enormous headache — a headache that can only come to those who are used to drinking overly potent rice wine all day long but haven’t had a drop in several hours.  Plus the smoke from the gypsies’ fire, wafted by a gentle breeze, went directly into Ptar’s eyes, blinding him.  After he clumsily got back up on his feet, he was still disoriented and took one step forward and did a header into the haphazardly attached camper on the back of the pickup, which knocked him flat back into the dirt.  Ptar was now completely exhausted, blind, and his head was throbbing for multiple reasons, so he decided to simply stay lying on his back and didn’t move from the spot where he fell. 
After all this, Doug III, never one to miss an opportunity, said out of the side of his mouth to Sephie, “Get in the pickup.”
But Sephie continued to stand there dumbstruck by the spectacular pratfall her father had just taken.  The gypsies also stood dumbstruck.  The eldest male now looked at the large knife in his hand and quickly, and with much embarrassment, put it behind his back.  A woman — most likely the eldest male’s wife — came up and discreetly took the knife away from him.
Doug III said to the gypsies, “It’s okay.  We’ll just be on our way.”  Out of the side of his mouth, he again said to Sephie, “Get in the pickup.”
“No, wait,” the eldest male said.
“Sure, sure,” Doug III said, although he continued taking small steps backward.
The eldest male turned and went to the back of the mule-drawn cart.  Doug III took this opportunity to take flight.  He turned and ran, but in doing so, he ran into the still-dumbstruck Sephie, nearly knocking her down.  He grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her.  “Get.  In.  The.  Pickup,” he said, spitting a little bit in her face with each word, which was enough to bring her out of her trance.  She blinked twice, wiped Doug III’s spittle off her face with her sleeve, nodded, turned around and quickly got back into the pickup.  Doug III went to follow her but was stopped by the strong grip of the now returned eldest male’s hand on his shoulder.  The eldest male turned Doug III around with a gentle pull of his shoulder and Doug III instinctively closed his eyes and braced himself for a stabbing in the heart.
Inside the pickup, Sephie grew anxious when Doug III did not follow her into the cab.  Her father hadn’t returned either.  And she couldn’t see what was happening behind the pickup in either of the rearview mirrors.  Eventually, Doug III came back, elated and with a wad of cash — mostly bills of small denominations — in one hand and a fistful of coins in the other.  He handed the handfuls of money to Sephie and started the pickup.
“That was perfect,” he said.  “Perfect.  You and the Old Donkey were perfect.  I don’t know exactly what happened back there…they didn’t seem to be in the most generous of moods, that is until they got a look at you and Donkey.”  Doug III looked over at Sephie and smiled.  Sephie blushed and covered her own smile with her hand.  Doug III then busied himself with finessing the pickup into second gear as he said, “When Donkey did that spin and acted blind and then that killer fall onto his back — pitch perfect.  Couldn’t have asked for more.”  Doug III looked over to the empty passenger seat.  “Where is the Old Donkey?”
Sephie looked over to the empty seat too.  She had forgotten all about her father, being so consumed with Doug III’s elation and all. 
Both Doug III and Sephie looked at each other, remembering at the same time where they had left Ptar.  “Shit,” Doug III said, “I’ll go get him.”
Doug III left the cab and came back momentarily, helping the still woozy and blinded Ptar into the passenger seat.  Doug III was even more elated.  Once he got Ptar situated in his seat, he threw another handful of money onto Sephie’s lap.  “They scrounged around and found even more.  Can you believe that?”
“No, I can’t,” Sephie said.
Doug III patted Ptar on the head.  “Great work, Donkey, old boy.  When you play a part, you play a part.”  Doug III closed the pickup’s door and ran around the front and got back behind the wheel.
The pickup went into second gear and they drove slowly down the dirt road.  Doug III periodically slapped the steering wheel and kept saying, “Money for nothing.”
After each hand slap and exclamation from Doug III, Ptar would groan.
“Oh, sorry about that, old boy,” Doug III would say.  He would remain silent for a while, until he’d lose himself in his jubilation and slap the steering wheel again and say, “Money for nothing.” 
Eventually, they rolled over a small hill and Doug III could no longer see the gypsies’ fire in the rearview mirror.  He let the pickup roll down to the bottom of hill, the pickup stopped and then Doug III opened his door, leaned out, and vomited profusely.
Once purged, he closed the door, got the pickup back into gear, and continued on down the road.  “I have kind of queasy stomach,” he explained.   Ptar put his head out the window again, enjoying the fresh air, that is until another bug flew into his mouth, causing another fifteen minute coughing attack.  After that he kept his head inside the cab of the pickup.  Sephie stared at the bills and coins in her lap.  This was the first time she had ever seen money in any form and she wondered what the big deal was.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Ptar the Donkey - Chapter Three

Chapter 3
These Tumultuous Battles Between Piety and Pleasure
— or —
Strange Meetings on the Side of Road

Only one missionary ever came to Ptar’s village after the previous ones were beheaded.  He came when Ptar was still just a young boy.  His name was Doug and Doug’s body was as ill prepared for the climate he would find himself in as Ptar’s was.  Pale skin, fragile red hair, and a wispy beard was Doug.  Doug was from Omaha, Nebraska where his father managed a Hostess baked goods distributional and his mother worked for the post office as a seasonal mail sorter.  It should be said that Doug found himself in missionary work because of a woman.  This particular woman being the young wife of Ski Jacobs, the equally young new minister of the 42nd Street Baptist Church.  Doug and his parents weren’t regular attendees of the 42nd Street Baptist Church, but they, like many others, came the first day Ski Jacobs took over the parish to see what the new young minister had to say for himself.  Doug fell in love with Ski Jacob’s wife at first sight as she sat behind her husband — a vision of decorum coupled with sexual constraint.  From there on out Doug attended ever Sunday service and, after learning Mrs. Jacobs led them, he even started attending the 42nd Street Baptist Church’s Wednesday night youth prayer group.  Doug had just turned eighteen and, as his high school graduation neared, Doug’s intense love for the minister’s wife grew.
The combination of adolescent testosterone and an over active imagination caused Doug to start to believe Mrs. Jacobs reciprocated his feelings.  So, one fateful Wednesday night, Doug resolved to do something about the electric sexual and emotional tension he perceived to be between them.  As he often did, Doug volunteered that night to stay behind and helped pick up stray bits of refuse and to stack chairs.  Mrs. Jacobs was grateful for Doug’s help, and she told him so.  Once they were through cleaning up, Mrs. Jacobs suggested they discuss Doug’s future over a cup of tea before they headed home.
Doug was elated.  And he was nervous.  Of course she wanted to discuss his future, he thought.  Why wouldn’t she?
“What are you going to do after graduation?” she asked him as she casually leaned against the counter of the tiny kitchen in the basement of the 42nd Street Baptist Church, her legs crossed at the ankle and her back intently arched, Doug couldn’t help noticing.
Doug shrugged.  His palms had become sweaty and his throat had grown dry.  “I don’t really know,” he managed to say.
“The missionary program out of Kansas City is fabulous,” Mrs. Jacobs said.  “That’s how Ski and I met.”
“Really?” Doug squawked.  He took a drink of his tea in hopes of soothing his dry throat, but it was still much too hot to drink so it burned his upper lip and tongue.  He suffered this silently and only grimaced slightly.
“Oh, yes,” she said, placing her hand on Doug’s forearm.  “It was all very romantic, really.”  She took her hand off Doug’s forearm and brought her teacup to her lips but did not drink.  In her mind she was reliving her time in Burma with Ski, where neither of them worried about planning sermons or youth groups or had to live in Omaha, Nebraska.  Instead they would lay naked for hours in a hammock slung between two palm trees, smoking opium and making love whenever the notion struck them.  But, Doug believed Mrs. Jacobs’s longing look into her tea to be a coy, yet deliberate, flirtation with him.  So, he forgot his throbbing upper lip and tongue and set his teacup on the counter and leaned in to kiss Mrs. Jacobs.  And, she, lost in thought, hadn’t realized Doug’s intentions until he was only an inch or two from her.  She jumped, throwing hot tea on the both of them.
“Jesus Christ,” she said.  “Just look at this.”  She took up a dishtowel and began to pat her blouse with it.
Doug was consumed with embarrassment.  ‘I…” he said.  “I’m…”
Mrs. Jacobs quit dabbing her blouse with the dishtowel and looked at Doug.  “What, Doug?  You’re what?”
Doug could think of nothing to say, so he just left.  On his way out, he heard the minister’s wife laugh quietly to herself at the absurdness of boys and her inability to understand them.  Doug would never forget that quiet little laugh — always believing it to be directed solely at him and his lone ineptitude — and her laugh would often ring in his ears at various times over the rest of his life, mostly when he felt as if he was a failure or was in a general state of inadequacy as a man.
Doug never went back to the 42nd Street Baptist Church after that fateful Wednesday night.  But the day after his high school graduation he took the three p.m. bus to Kansas City and he joined up with the International Baptist Missionary Salvation Society the next morning.
Ptar’s village was far from Doug’s first missionary post.  In fact, over the years, Doug had been all over the world converting the unenlightened to Christianity, and by the time he volunteered for the long open assignment of Ptar’s village — which was still infamous for the beheadings — he was a seasoned missionary and had just turned sixty-four years old, having celebrated his forty-fifth year as a missionary, complete with a lovely ceremony and Doug receiving a silver-plated pen/pencil set in commemoration.  Doug, whenever he ever looked back, was pleased with his life and its pursuits.  He was fulfilled.  But he was getting old and tired, his knees always hurt and his back ached in the morning, and he knew his efforts in missioning where going to have to come to a close if for no other reason than his physical failings, so Doug thought what better way to end his career than throwing himself into the old proverbial Lion’s Den — headfirst.
Ptar’s grandfather, by the time Doug arrived at their village, was one the oldest and most useless of the village elders.  He still loathed missionaries, even more than most.  He had been a glad participant in the beheadings all those years ago.  He cursed Doug and warned the rest of the villagers of this devil in red hair and white skin, but the rest of the villagers no longer remembered the previous missionaries or the reasoning behind their beheadings.  Besides, Doug was a gregarious fellow that seemed harmless enough.
So Doug sauntered in and was more or less tolerated — he wasn’t beheaded at least, which he took to be a very good sign.  Sure the villagers’ hatred for Christian missionaries had lessened, but they were not an innately welcoming group to strangers, thus Doug found himself sleeping alone on the beach his first few nights — much to the chagrin of his back.  It was very height of the dry season, which was no drier than any other dry season, but Doug was overwhelmed by it.  He was in a constant dilemma of having to keep his pale skin covered from the intense rays of the sun and being stifled by his thick khaki hat, shirt, and pants he used to cover himself with.  Very quickly Doug broke one his most steadfast rules and conceded the fact that his standard missionary-issued attire was more than likely going to kill him, so he traded them in for pair of loose-fitting, light linen pants and a shirt with wide sleeves and open neck line to maximize airflow.  This was something he would never consider doing in his younger days, but things change, he thought.  He was still hot, but not suffocatingly so.
Doug was smart, experienced, wily, and most importantly patient.  He didn’t even mention Jesus Christ.  Instead he earnestly inquired into the village’s history and their industry.  He would tirelessly talk to the fisherman, divers, rice farmers, and, after a time, the village elders, except for Ptar’s grandfather who remained steadfast in his mistrust of Doug and would curse him and throw stones at him, all to little effect because his eyesight was tragically clouded by cataracts.  Eventually Doug became so well liked and trusted that he found himself to be the honored guest of the most revered families of the village, invited to eat and drink rice wine and sleep on special bed mats stuffed thick with hay.
Ptar was seven years old at this time.  When Ptar observed Doug’s skin reddening and his brow continually perspiring and his all around general discomfort, he felt an immediate connection with the man.  Ptar begged his father to allow Doug to stay with them — something that was absolutely forbidden by Ptar’s grandfather, who promised to slit the throat of any white-skinned bastard that stepped foot in their hut.  Form the moment Doug came to the village, Ptar was rarely far from him, which was nothing too unusual as most of the village children followed Doug around like lemmings, he being the only new and interesting thing to come to their village in quite some time.  Plus, none of the children had ever seen a man with such white skin.  And Doug was good with village children, earning their trust by always being kind and humble and comical, entertaining them with simple magic tricks, which would more often than not fail miserably.  The coin up his sleeve would slip out due to excessive sweat, or the card he was looking for would get scrambled in his mind due to the intense rays of the sun.  Still, the children loved him for his attempts and they enjoyed watching his pale skin grow redder and redder, often wondering amongst themselves if he would eventually just burst into flames.
One day, Ptar overheard two older boys speak of Doug.
“If his skin burns anymore, I think it will melt off and he’ll have to spend the remainder of his days in the hell his kind is so fearful of,” one boy said to the other.
“Serves him right,” the other boy said to the first boy.
Ptar was indignant at this affront to Doug.  “Doug won’t melt,” Ptar exclaimed.
Both boys shoved Ptar to the ground and the first boy said, “Yes, he will, Donkey.  He’s as ill equipped to be here as you are.”
“Do you think Donkey will spend the rest of his days in Christian hell too?” the second boy asked.
“Why not?  It’s as good a place for him as any,” was the response.
Ptar got up off the ground and ran away from the two boys screaming for Doug as he went.  Ptar searched and searched and eventually found Doug sitting under a palm tree discussing the maximum lung capacity of different divers with a group of village elders.
“Doug, Doug,” Ptar said, trying to catch his breath.
“What is it, Donkey?” Doug said, patting Ptar on the top of his head.
And this struck Ptar dumb.  He just stood there.  Doug and the village elders underneath the palm tree stared at him with the patience necessary for dealing with a slow wit or drunk.
“You called me Donkey,” Ptar said.
“Yes, little one.  I am growing more and more accustomed to your people’s ways.”  Doug rubbed Ptar’s head and then wiped his hand on his pants.  “Now run along, Donkey,” he said before turning back to the elders underneath the palm tree.
And Ptar did go away, his head bowed in the disappointment of having lost Doug forever to the rest of the village.
Eventually, over time, Doug’s skin stopped getting redder.  It never really tanned, it just seemed to find its peak redness and just stayed there.  And Doug grew to tolerate his sunburn by staying under the shade of palm trees during the hottest time of the day and applying a soothing mixture of gingerroot, aloe, and distilled water to his skin in the mornings and evenings.  His knees continued to continually ache and the pain in his lower back never seemed to lessen, even after he slept on the specially padded sleeping mats — in truth the hay in the padded bed mats did more harm than good, irritating his skin and causing his eyes to water and his nose to run.  Doug took all these trials and tribulations with a smile and silent prayers to his lord and savior, always reminding himself that at the very least, he wasn’t dead yet.  He also started finding comfort in drinking liberal amounts of rice wine.  And before anyone knew it, Doug had been in Ptar’s village for six months and he still hadn’t preached one sermon or discussed the virtues of Jesus Christ with anyone.  Doug realized that he had assimilated more to his surroundings than he had assimilated the villagers into civility.  It should now probably be said that it was a girl that ended Doug’s missionary career.
After proving himself to be so tolerant and not too sanctimonious, Doug eventually found himself to be the full time honored guest of the most respected of the villager elder’s family.  This most respected village elder’s first wife was unable to bear him children, so one day, many many years ago, she walked into the jungle and was never seen again.  This respected village elder didn’t marry again for a very long time, for he loved his first wife dearly — never blaming her for her barrenness — and he deeply lamented the loss of her.  Eventually, much later in his life when he thought he would never love again, a young woman came along and won his heart, or what was left of it to take, and this new wife bore him two fine boys and one lovely daughter.  The daughter was later kidnapped by a couple of pimps from The Capital and was only heard from once each year via a letter she sent on her birthday, which always stated that she was in decent health and thought of her family occasionally.  The respected elder and his second wife lived in the largest of huts in all the village with their two sons, their wives, and seven grandchildren.  One of these grandchildren was a thirteen-year-old girl named Carmon.  Carmon was sweet and had lovely hands.  She found Doug to be handsome and readily volunteered to apply the soothing mixture of gingerroot, aloe, and distilled water to his sunburned skin.
Doug had never forgotten Ski Jacob’s wife.  He had remained all this time chaste, suppressing his libido, for what exactly he could no longer recall — habit was all he could come up with now.  Sometimes Doug would wonder if he wasted his life doing what he was doing, but he wouldn’t wonder this often, just ever once in a while, then he would shrug his shoulders and remember he was doing God’s work.  So Doug was more than a little surprised when one evening Carmon’s grandfather offered Carmon to him as his bride.  This had never occurred to Doug.  It was on odd pairing — Doug being older than Carmon’s grandfather, the most respected of all the elders, and Carmon just being thirteen.  Still the match was greatly celebrated by everyone in the village.  Everyone but Doug.  He was ashamed for allowing this to all progress as far as it had.  The entire village became swept up in preparations for Doug and Carmon’s forthcoming nuptials.  Doug still had never agreed to marry the girl, but this was of little importance.  How could he refuse such a sweet girl with such lovely hands?
Doug was overwhelmed.  He told the most respected elder this, to which the man replied, “Come now, Doug, what is the worst that could happen?  You refuse the hand of my most beloved granddaughter and, I, to save face for such an egregious insult would have to behead you and put your beheaded head on a pike outside my hut, to show all the world what happens to those that perform such an egregious insult to anyone in this household.  That’s really the worst that could happen.”
Doug agreed with most respected elder that this would most likely be the worst thing that could happen.  He then asked the most respected elder if he could have the night to pray to his lord and savior, Jesus Christ, for guidance.
“Of course,” the respected elder said.  “Do your praying.  Then tell me in the morning what you’ve decided.”
That night Doug went to the beach with a bottle of rice in each hand.  He got there just as the sun was setting.  The pearl divers and fisherman were rowing their skiffs back in from their day’s work.  Doug knelt in the sand and wept and cried out to his lord.  The pearl divers and fisherman gave Doug a wide berth and left him to his prayers.  Doug quickly drank one of the bottles of rice wine and his mind became cluttered.  Alone on the beach he drank from the second bottle of rice wine and prayed, but his prayers were scattered, jumbled, and incoherent.  He soon was exhausted and he finally lay on the sand and prayed one last prayer.  He said, “Jesus, tell me what to do and I will do it.”  Doug listened.  He heard the water lapping on the beach.  He heard a seagull caw, which sounded very much like a child crying.  He heard a sand crab with a severed leg awkwardly drag itself over the moist sand.  He continued to listen for Jesus to tell him what to do, waiting a very long time with one ear to the sand and other ear to the sky.  Then Doug heard Mrs. Jacobs’s little laugh.  It was all around him.  He sat up, trying to determine where the laugh was coming from, but it was everywhere.  The soft little laugh of his failures.  He stretched and lay back on his back and laughed along with Mrs. Jacobs, until his own laughter became hysterical which culminated into a thirty minute coughing spell.  Eventually Doug passed out, passed out before he heard Jesus Christ, his lord and savior, answer him.  Jesus told him to get the hell out of there, get the hell out of there before he did irrevocable damage to his soul.  Instead of hearing Jesus Christ, Doug dreamed of making love with Mrs. Jacobs on the 42nd Street Baptist Church’s alter, with the entire congregation watching.  Mrs. Jacobs, in Doug’s dream, whispered into his ear, telling him he was an excellent lover, the best she’d ever had. 
Doug awoke the next morning with an enormous erection and tears in his eyes.  He also awoke to the most respected elder standing over him.  “What are we to do, Doug?  Have a celebration and a marriage or have a celebration and a murder?” the elder asked.
Doug sat up.  His back ached.  His head ached.  He brushed sand out his beard and rubbed his eyes.  He wondered about God as he took a handful of cool damp sand and let it sift through his fingers and concluded that God and Jesus Christ had spoke to him in his dream through Mrs. Jacobs.  What else could that dream have meant?  “Let’s have a celebration and marriage,” he said with a heavy heart, a heavy heart he was trying desperately to lift.
“Yes,” the respected elder said, clapping his hands together, “let’s.”
A grand and opulent four day celebration began that evening after Doug and Carmon exchanged wedding vows.  Nine months later, Carmon gave birth to her only child, a son, which they named Doug II.  All the villagers rejoiced in the birth of Doug II, and a grand three day celebration followed, which was only a little less grand and opulent than the one thrown after the Doug and Carmon’s wedding.  Doug II was the spitting image of his father — all red hair and white skin — so much so that many believed Doug II to be the reincarnation of his father, thinking father and son shared one Christian soul.    Doug tried to explain to them that this was impossible but he couldn’t really clearly articulate why.  These were just the kind of things people in Ptar’s village tended to believe.  Regardless of the possible soul-sharing, none could deny the intense triangle of love shared between mother, father, and son.  Doug seemed to have slipped effortlessly from the torment of abandoning everything he had previously believed in, to accepting and even relishing in the fact that he married a girl fifty-one years his junior and impregnated her most likely on their wedding night.  He took to being a husband and a father much more readily than he could have ever predicted.  Of course, this was all short lived, as six months after Doug II was born tragedy struck; Carmon died quietly in the night, in bed next to Doug.  The childbirth had been relatively routine, but something inside Carmon had been kicked loose as Doug II came through the birthing canal, causing her to bleed internally, killing her slowly over time.
The loss of his wife on Doug was profound, so profound that he never recovered.  Doug forevermore spiraled into depression, wanting nothing to do with his briefly-loved son, Doug II.  Doug spent all his waking hours drinking rice-wine and continually hearing Mrs. Jacobs’s little laugh echoing in his ears, which slowly drove him mad.  Meanwhile, Doug II was raised by his maternal great-grandparents — the most respected elder and his wife — whom couldn’t have loved their great-grandchild more.  In fact the entire village took Doug II into their hearts.  He was easy to love.  The boy was a beacon of joy and mirth, always with a smile and laugh at all life had to offer.  Still the son’s merriment was never enough to warm the heart of his grief-stricken father and three years to the day of his son’s birth, Doug, Mrs. Jacobs’s laugh now screaming in his ears, loaded the pockets of his linen pants with stones and walked into the ocean to be swallowed up there forever.
Even the tragedies surrounding the demise of both his parents could not dampen the spirit of Doug II.  He was quick and quick witted.  He excelled at swimming and diving, and unlike his father, his pale skin absorbed the sun’s rays, turning his skin to the most luscious of chestnut hues.  Time passed and Doug II became a handsome and successful pearl diver.  He married the most beautiful of all the eligible girls in all the village and she bore him a son, whom they christened Doug III.  And Doug III was the spitting image of his grandfather, Doug, with his alabaster white skin, a light tuft of red hair, and penchant for perspiring.  Doug III was deeply loved by his family and much celebrated by the entire village, all wondering if this Doug III would turn out to be the second coming of Doug. 
Just short of a year after Doug III’s birth, tragedy struck the family yet again.  Doug II’s skiff was swept away in a freakishly strong gale, launching him out to sea and, like his father before him, he was never to be seen again.  Shortly thereafter, Doug III’s mother stepped on a rusty nail and quickly contracted and died from a serious case of gangrene.
Doug III was raised and was much loved by his maternal great-great-grandfather — the still very much respected elder, now a widower.  Doug III’s great-great-grandfather cared for Doug III as best he could until his death, when Doug III was all of seven years old.  But he was a very precocious seven-year-old.  He struck out on his own the very night of his great-great-grandfather’s death, knowing even at that young of an age that he was destined for more than his tiny village could possibly ever offer.  And Doug III had been on his own ever since.  Although he would often return to his village, telling tales of his adventures.
Doug III just happened to be driving a customized ‘67 Chevrolet pickup heading north on the failed four-lane highway the very day of Ptar’s youngest daughter’s thirteenth birthday.  He was driving slowly — his truck’s speed was limited due to it being overly weighted down by a camper that Doug III had haphazardly attached using some bailing wire and dozen or so criss-crossing bungee cords to the flatbed — as he came upon Ptar and Sephie, who were also trudging along slowly, step after step, heading in the same direction as Doug III, toward The Capital.  Ptar was instantly recognizable to Doug III, he having known him all his life.  Doug III was also very aware of Ptar’s two eldest daughters and their beauty.  So, Doug III pulled over to see what Ptar and his companion were doing walking on the side of the road, hoping Ptar’s companion was another daughter whom was equally as beautiful as his two eldest daughters.
Ptar and Sephie stopped walking and watched as Doug III’s truck drove past them and then pulled over and stopped a few yards in front of them.  They approached tentatively.  They had never seen such a vehicle before and had no idea who or what was inside.  But they were going that direction anyway and had no other choice but to come upon the truck.  Ptar came to the passenger-side window and stepped up on the truck’s sideboard to get high enough to peer inside.  He recognized Doug III immediately and was glad to see him.  Doug III had never been overtly nice to Ptar, but he had also never been overtly mean to him either.
“Ho there, Donkey,” Doug III said.  “What are you doing so far from the village?”  In truth Ptar and Sephie were just a little over two miles from the village, but, also in truth, it was the farthest either had ever been from home.
“We are traveling to The Capital.  Today is my youngest daughter’s thirteenth birth—”
“Daughter, you say,” Doug III interrupted.  “Let’s get a look at this daughter.”
Ptar stepped down from the truck’s sideboard and Sephie stepped up so Doug III could get a look at her.  Doug III winced a bit.  Sephie was not offended; she was accustomed to people wincing after looking at her.
“My word, Donkey, she certainly is your daughter.  Much more so than the first two.”
“What’s that?” Ptar said, not hearing Doug III.  Sephie and her father switched places on the sideboard again and Doug III repeated what he had said before.  Ptar would normally have let such an insult go, but this was no normal day and he was unable to suffer things he customarily did.  “What do you mean by that, Doug III?” he asked with noticeable rancor in his voice.
“I only meant you have the same eyes, Donkey, my friend.  Same eyes,” Doug III said quickly.
“How far to The Capital?” Ptar asked.
“Many, many miles.”
“Well, thank you, Doug III.  Happy travels.”
Ptar got off the sideboard and he and Sephie started walking again in the direction of The Capital.  Doug III watched them as they did so.  Then he worked his finicky gearshift into first gear and drove up to the father and daughter. 
“Come on in,” he called to them.  “I’ll give you a lift to The Capital.  I have a couple of stops to make on the way, but we’ll get there eventually.”
Ptar and Sephie climbed into the truck’s cab, and with Sephie sitting in the middle the three took off, heading north at roughly 30 miles per hour — the truck’s maximum speed.  Sephie’s heart was filled with anticipation.  Ptar’s heart was filled with anxiety.  Both their heart’s had a twinge of excitement in them, this being the first time either of them had ever ridden in a motor vehicle.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Ptar the Donkey - Chapter Two

Chapter 2
Forsaking Expectations and Other Rash Decisions

Silon walked Ptar and Sephie the rest of the way to the failed four-lane highway.  Before turning back and returning to the village, she embraced her daughter, and without looking at him, Silon said to Ptar, “I’ll go back now.  You should deal with the man alone.”
Ptar looked at his feet and kicked at a nonexistent dirt clod. 
To her daughter, Silon said, “Your father and I love you very much.  Never forget that.  We’d do anything to change these circumstances.”
“I know, Mother.”
Silon embraced her daughter one last time.  She turned to leave her husband and daughter but then stopped and kissed Ptar on the cheek before she did, she said, “I’ll be home waiting for you.”
Ptar and Sephie watched as Silon walked back to the village, and continued watching her until she dropped entirely out of view.  Then they turned around and started waiting for the pimp from The Capital to arrive.  After twenty minutes of waiting and still no pimp, Ptar began to wonder if they had the date right.
“It is your birthday, right?” Ptar asked his daughter.
“You’re certain.”
She was certain.
Two hours passed and still there was no pimp.  Time continued to pass and eventually afternoon came.  It was, by this time, for Ptar at least, unbearably hot.  Sephie handled the heat better than her father, but still, even she grew weary of the afternoon sun beating down on them with no pity.  They could clearly see a large patch of very enticing shade under a tight clump of palm trees roughly fifty yards away, but they did not go sit under it.  As Sephie wisely pointed out — any big city pimp, after seeing no one waiting on the side of the road, would do nothing more than just drive on past without stopping.  Ptar cursed the sun and the idiocy of the failed developer that had come through a few years ago and had a wide swath of trees and foliage cut down, leaving Ptar on this day sitting in the blazing heat with no respite.  This failed developer envisioned a glorious paved four-lane thoroughfare that would run from the busy seaports in the south all the way to The Capital in the north.  For decades there had already been a small dirt road connecting the two that was passable only in the dry season, but it had little traffic.  The developer, after doing little to no research, really doing nothing more than taking a short walk down the small dirt road and asking himself, “How the hell does a big-rig get by on this sad excuse for a road?” and from that moment on, he, in his own mind, had reconciled that the lack of traffic was all due to the confinements of the little dirt road and its requirement for good weather to traverse it.  And he erroneously and wholeheartedly believed that a man — a man such as himself — could make a very large fortune as a shipping magnate, running goods up a down a wider and paved road.  The socioeconomic and political issues resulting in nearly all the trade from The Capital moving north and seaports shipping their goods almost entirely to the south eluded the developer.  Still, the developer, fighting against man, beast, and nature, hired two rag-tag crews to start in the middle, one going north and the other going south, to chop and burn and steam-roll over anything and everything that was in their way.  Within days the developer realized he’d made a terrible mistake.  The destruction crew he sent to the south cleared only a few miles of vegetation before growing tired of the whole affair.  They sold off their equipment and disappeared into night.  But the northern crew, led by a zealous and dynamic foreman, whom naively believed the developer when he told them that their pay day was most assured, and at the end of the road, cleared trees from their starting point all they way up to The Capital.  By the time the northern crew reached The Capital, the developer was long gone, owing more people more money than he bothered to keep track of.  He ran off to try his hand at making a fortune in textiles half a world away, leaving the northern crew behind all alone and bewildered and penniless and with nothing to show for their effort but a giant scar cut into the jungle reminding all the people near it to not dream too big.
It had never occurred to Ptar that the pimp might be late, or worse, never show.  If it had he would have at the very least brought the bottle of rice wine he had left at home.  He asked Sephie to trot back and get the wine for him, but she felt it might be smarter if she remained with him on the side of the road in case the pimp showed.  And Ptar knew she was right.  Patience was not a virtue pimps were normally known for.  Sephie had put a couple of bottles of fresh water in her satchel and had wrapped two rice cakes from this morning’s breakfast in banana leaves.  Ptar sipped some water but still couldn’t bring himself to eat.
The late afternoon sun continued to pound down on them.  Ptar paced back and forth, muttering to himself.  Sephie sat quietly and wondered what The Capital, a place she’d never been, was like.  Ptar eventually tired himself out — his exertion from fighting the sirens in the ocean the night before and his poor night’s sleep on the beach had finally caught up with him.  He sat down next to his daughter and pulled his knees to his chest and tried to bury his head into his arms, but his legs, being so short made this uncomfortable for him, causing him great lower back pain.  Eventually he sprawled out, flat on his back, and constantly found himself fighting between falling asleep and being jerked awake when sweat would roll down his bedewed forehead and sting his eyes.
A car finally approached them from the south, the first one to come by all day.  Ptar sat up and found himself light headed and his vision blurred from having his eyes closed.  He wiped the sweat from his face with his shirtsleeve.  As the car got closer it slowed.  Both Ptar and Sephie stood up and intently watched and waited for the car, which was just idling now, to get to them.  The man inside the car looked at the odd pairing of Ptar and his youngest daughter, Sephie, as he went past.  He was not the pimp they were looking for, just some traveling salesman passing by, who would never forget Ptar and Sephie standing there on the side of the road for as long as he lived, they being such an odd sight.  Just after the salesman’s car got passed them he punched the gas, kicking up a huge cloud of dirt, which engulfed Ptar and Sephie.  After the cloud of dirt passed, they both sat back down.  Ptar begrudgingly drank some water and choked down a couple of bites of rice cake before falling back into his cycle of napping and being stirred awake by the sweat in his eyes.  Sephie sat upright and stayed alert, not wanting to miss the pimp, if he ever came.
As it turned out, the pimp from The Capital drove up the dirt road from the south just after the sun started its downward fall into dusk.  He came roaring up in a gigantic and dilapidated Cadillac that had at one time been painted a brilliant sky-blue but was now so rusted, so dented, so long ill-treated that the original paint job was nothing more than a vague memory.
The pimp slowed as he drove past Ptar and Sephie, pulling over to the side of the road, pumping his breaks, having to ease the car to a stop.  Once the Cadillac came to a full stop, the engine sputtered two times and then died, seemingly from exhaustion.  The pimp got out of his car and walked over to Ptar and Sephie and stood with the setting sun behind him.  They had to squint to look upon him.  The pimp took two steps forward, blocking the sun from Ptar and Sephie’s eyes, for the pimp was a giant of man, in both height and width.  His name was Isaac.
Isaac said, “Well, what exactly do we have here?  Ptar the donkey, I see.  And who is this here with you?”
“This is my youngest daughter, Sephie,” Ptar said.
Isaac pulled a pristine handkerchief out of his back pocket and ran it all over his enormous head.  He wasn’t perspiring.  The gesture seemed to be propagated more out of habit or expectation rather than necessity.
“Well greetings there, young Sephie.  Sorry to keep you waiting.  How goes it?  Let’s get a look at you.”  Isaac took a single giant step forward and in one fluid motion, picked up Sephie from the ground by gingerly sticking his hands under her armpits, for despite his large size, Isaac handled himself with the poise and expertise of a much smaller man.  He brought Sephie’s face up to his face and inspected her quickly yet thoughtfully.  He turned her fully around in his hands, still handling her carefully and softly, and then set her back down on the ground and patted her on the top of her head.
“Why don’t you walk up and down a little bit for me?” he said.
Sephie walked up to Isaac’s car, turned around, and walked back, all the while doing her best to lessen her limp, but still unable to completely hide it.
To Ptar, Isaac said, “This acorn certainly fell closer to your oak, my friend.  She is nothing like her sisters.”
Ptar nodded, Sephie was nothing like her sisters, both of whom Isaac had picked up on the side of this very road a few years ago and had taken to The Capital, an endeavor Isaac was both excited and scared to undertake.  For as it happened, Ptar’s two eldest daughters were, through no genetic fault of his own, the two most beautiful girls ever to be born in this hemisphere, or any hemisphere, for that matter.
“It’s a sad day for my family,” Ptar said to Isaac.
“I’m sure,” Isaac said with sincerity.  “Still, I wish you would have told me she was so…what’s the word?  Unique.  I’ll go with unique.”
Sephie now joined the two men.  All three of the transactors avoided making eye contact with one another.  Finally, Isaac said, “Well, I should probably get going.  Donkey, I will take your daughter with me, as a favor to the father of those two lovely girls that I took to The Capital years ago.”
“Thank you,” Ptar said.
“I’m not going to be able to pay you, though,” Isaac said, looking over Sephie one last time.  “To be honest, I don’t know what I’m going to do with her.”
“Pay me what you think she is worth.”
“Well, in your telegram you were a little less than forthcoming in your description of her, my friend.  I mean we certainly can’t use her as a whore — you know with the lip and all.  And with the gimped leg...I tell you, I’m just not sure what to do with her.”
“She’s a good worker, despite her ailments.”
“I’m sure she is.  Look, I’ll take her off your hands for you.  It’s probably best if you don’t know what happens to her.”
Ptar bowed his head and shook it gently.  Sephie put her hand on her father’s shoulder.  “It’s alright father.  I no longer want to burden you or mother.”
“You were never a burden.”
Isaac clapped his two gigantic hands together once and said, “Well, that is all be it as it may, or whatever, but I really has gots to be getting a moving.  I still have a mean piece of driving to do.”  And with that, Isaac took Sephie by the hand and led her to the Cadillac.
“No deal,” Ptar said very quietly.
“What’s that you say?” Isaac asked, genuinely not hearing him.
“I said, ‘No deal,’” Ptar answered, more loudly this time, but still with little conviction.  Ptar took at step toward them.  “No, I’ll take her to The Capital myself,” he said, which even shocked him.  He had never been more than a mile in any direction from his village his entire life.  He took one more step toward Isaac and Sephie and with that one step his plans had solidified in his mind.  “I’ll take her myself and sell her to someone who wants her.”
“Now, look here, Donkey,” Isaac said.  “I appreciate that this is difficult and tough and what not on you — it always is.  Let me take her with me and I will see that, if nothing else, she doesn’t suffer.  Which is a lot more than you can promise her, Donkey.  Believe me, you’ll thank me.”
Ptar and Sephie’s eyes met.  Sephie’s eyes pleaded with her father to just let her be taken away with this man, and then they could part from each other in this world with the love and respect they shared at that very moment.
“Okay then,” Isaac said.  He put Sephie safely into the Cadillac’s passenger seat.  Then he went and got himself into the driver’s seat, saluting curtly to Ptar before he got in.
Getting Isaac’s old Cadillac started was complicated and much more of an art than a science.  And Isaac was too busy in the middle of turning the key gingerly in the finicky starter for the third time as he pumped the gas twice to notice that Ptar had come up along the side the car.  Isaac never saw Ptar as he cocked his arm back and punched him on the side of the head through the car’s open window.  The punch startled Isaac, even though it didn’t hurt.  In truth it hurt Ptar’s hand more than anything else.  But Isaac still didn’t much like being punched on the side of the head, so he grabbed Ptar by palming his entire face in his giant paw and pulling him halfway through the car window.  Ptar was so startled that he only made a little peeping noise and then closed his eyes tight, anticipating the beating he was sure to come.  And Isaac pulled back his hand, ready to not only punch Ptar, but to punch entirely through Ptar.
But just then, Sephie laid a gentle hand on Isaac’s fist and said, “Please, sir.  My father knows not what he is doing.  Don’t harm him.”
This touched Isaac, this love between these two misfits.
He released his grip on Ptar and pushed him back outside the car.  He then leaned over Sephie and opened the passenger side door and told her to get out.  The sun was now setting and filling the sky with majestic oranges, reds, yellows, blues, and purples.
Isaac turned his full attention back to starting his car.  Within three tries it had fired up and was running smooth enough for him to ease the transmission into drive.  He started off, leaving Ptar and Sephie alone on the side of the road.  Suddenly, he stopped the car and leaned out the window.  “Godspeed, Donkey and daughter,” he called back to them.  “I wish you luck.”  And he meant it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ptar the Donkey - Chapter One

Chapter 1
The Beginning
— or —
The Father’s Failures, The Daughter’s Burden

Just after dawn, Ptar was found sprawled out on the beach, in the exact place and position where he had collapsed, exhausted, after failing to be swallowed up by the sea the night before.  The tide had rolled out hours ago, leaving Ptar now quite dry, and quite encrusted with the sea’s salt.  He was jarred awake by the prodding of his ribs by the big toe of one of the village elders.  Ptar curled into the fetal position and found he couldn’t open his eyes, they being sealed shut after proving, yet again, to be particularly sensitive to the harsh drying effects of salt water. 
“Up and at ‘um, Donkey,” the prodding-elder said.  Ptar had been called Donkey, or The Donkey, or Ptar the Donkey, or Mayor Donkey — but really he was rarely called Mayor Donkey — ever since he emerged from the womb with arms and legs entirely too short for his bulbous torso, which was small in itself, all resulting in a unique runt of man, the likes of which no one had ever seen before, or since.
Ptar used one hand to try and pry his eyes open and the other to parry the jabbing toe.  By now three more village elders had arrived onto the beach.  They joined the toe-prodding elder, eager to be free from the confines of their huts, having to spend the last few weeks under roof due to the pounding rains from the rainy season.  Normally finding Ptar passed out on the beach would be a welcome distraction for the oft-bored elders, as elders in Ptar’s village had nothing much to do, having reached their state of elderdom by simply outliving their usefulness.  Once a man could no longer fish, pearl dive, or cultivate rice with even the slightest amount of competency, they were deemed a village elder, whiling away their days on the beach with the other elders drinking rice wine, smoking pipes, gossiping like hens, and goading and chiding the younger generations in anything and everything they did.  Women never became village elders, for women never outlived their usefulness.  The first morning after the end of the rainy season was normally a slow one for the village elders, as there was going to be little fishing and pearl diving; the ocean would need another few days to settle from its constant bombardment by the rains.  Usually the village elders would be delighted to find Ptar passed out on the beach and would revel in torturing him.  But, on this morning, they just couldn’t find it in their hearts to harass Ptar.
The toe-prodding elder quit poking his toe into the ribs of Ptar and asked his fellow elders to help Ptar to his feet.  They brushed the sand out of his hair and off his clothes, and poured a gourd full of rain water over his head, washing the salt out of his eyes.
“Thank you, elders,” Ptar said.
“Today is a big day for you and your family,” one of the elders said.
“You should hurry home, Donkey,” another said.
Ptar hung his head and looked at his feet.  “Go on, you should get home so you can say your goodbyes.”  And with that Ptar turned away from the group of elders and started to walk off the beach, heading into the village and to his hut.
The four elders stood and watched as Ptar walked away.  “There goes our esteemed mayor,” the toe-prodding elder said, eliciting a little laugh from the other three.  And it was true, Ptar was the elected mayor of his village, and had been mayor for more years than anyone bothered to count.  But being mayor came with no responsibilities and no power.  Thirty years ago, when the first Baptist missionaries came and tried to civilize the villagers by making them form a government and convert to Christianity, all they got for their trouble was the villagers having a bit of fun with them by electing an eighty-three-year-old widow that had fallen comatose years earlier after being kicked in the head by a mule, and their beheaded heads placed on spikes, clearly showing the world this particular village’s aversion to Baptists and their missionaries.  Ptar, after the eighty-three-year-old comatose widow, was the only other person the rest of the villagers felt ridiculous enough to elect to the office of mayor.
Ptar, stiff and dehydrated, slowly walked home.  Even though it was early, it was already hot and promised to only get hotter.  And the air, freshly saturated after the long rainy season, was sticky and humid.  Ptar, ill equipped for the heat and humidity, was already sweating profusely as he walked down the path that lead straight through the village, which was already awake and a bustle, the villagers all eager to return to their regular-post-rainy-season morning activities.  As Ptar passed, each of his fellow villagers — even the children — would respectfully stop what they were doing for a moment, bow their heads solemnly, wait for him to pass, and then silently return to what they had previously been doing.  For all the village knew today was a very sad day for Ptar and his family, today was Ptar’s youngest daughter’s thirteenth birthday.
All this respectful solemnity was more than a little disconcerting to Ptar.  He was never treated with solemnity, especially by the village children.  Ptar never liked drawing attention to himself, and he certainly didn’t want attention today, the day that culminated in all his failures as a father.  He cursed himself for not having the foresight to take his daughter and slip out of the village the night before.  But, instead, in the middle of last night, when the rains ended, the sudden silence awoke Ptar, and he snuck out and got drunk on the beach, where he was lured into the ocean by unseen sirens, as they called him to a watery grave.  Against his wishes, Ptar didn’t die and he now found himself having to shamefully walk through his village, a spectacle for all to see. 
Ptar hurried his pace, shuffling his bare feet on the muddy path.  He was thankful to finally reach his hut.  He found his wife and mother inside.  “Why the fuck won’t the ocean just suck you in and let some whale eat you?” was how he was greeted by his mother.
“I don’t know, Mother,” Ptar said.
“Hush, Good Mother,” Ptar’s wife, Silon, said to her mother-in-law.  To Ptar she said, “Sit, you need to have something to eat.”
Ptar sat down on the hut’s dirt floor, across from his mother, the breakfast fire between them.  His mother was idly poking at the fire with a stick.  Silon took a fresh rice cake off the flat pan and handed it to Ptar.  He bounced the rice cake between his hands as he blew on it until it was cool enough to be eaten.  He took a small bite and knew he wouldn’t be able to eat any more.  He put the rice cake down on a rock next to the fire and got up and left the hut.  He went around back to get a bottle of rice wine, forced to rummage through several crates before he found a bottle that wasn’t empty.  He came back into the hut and again sat down across from his mother.  They exchanged a glance as Ptar uncorked the bottle.  He looked away and took a long drink straight from the bottle.  His mother ignored him and stoked the breakfast fire a couple more times.  It was uncustomary for Ptar to drink so openly, so early in the morning.
But nothing was proving to be customary that day.  And to prove it, Ptar’s mother said, “Give me a drink of that.”
Ptar handed her the bottle over the fire.  His mother sniffed at contents inside the bottle and winced slightly.  She took a drink and winced again, holding the warm liquid in her mouth, taking her time to ease small amounts of it down her throat.  Before handing it back to Ptar, she poured a little of the rice wine onto the soles of her feet and rubbed off the caked on dirt and grime.  Ptar watched his mother.  His rice wine had always been effective in cutting away even the most persistent of caked on dirt and grime.  He now looked at his own feet.  Both had a thick layer of compacted dirt and sand on them.  He considered for a moment of also pouring some rice wine on his own feet, but thought better of it, deciding to take another drink instead.  He didn’t mind his feet being dirty.
Ptar’s mother beckoned him to hand the bottle back to her, but he ignored her.
“Pass that rot piss over,” she said.
Ptar continued to ignore her and took another sip from the bottle.  Ptar’s mother threw a tin breakfast bowl over the fire, hitting him squarely in the face, and after that Ptar could no longer pretend to ignore her, so he handed her the bottle.  She drank deeply from it, coughed harshly and then drank deeply again.
Ptar and his mother were staring dumbly at the now-dying breakfast fire, letting the alcohol from the rice wine seep into their brains, as Sephie limped into the hut with a full bucket of water gracefully cocked on her hip.  She placed the bucket onto a table on the other side of the hut without spilling a drop.
“Aren’t you going to wish your daughter a happy birthday, Donkey?” Ptar’s mother asked him.
Sephie interrupted.  “That’s okay, Father.  I’m almost ready to go.”
Ptar spat into the fire.  Then he stood and embraced his daughter.  Even though she was only turning thirteen, she was already a foot taller than her father.  “Happy birthday, my beloved daughter,” he said gently.
“Thank you, Father,” she said, kissing him on the top of his head.
Silon, who had been intently cleaning and then re-cleaning their breakfast dishes this entire time, now stopped what she was doing and looked at her husband and youngest daughter holding each other, tears filling her eyes.
Sephie crossed the hut and rolled up her bed mat for the last time and started placing her meager belongings in the small satchel she was to take with her.  She said, “Sit down, Father, as I pack.  I will be ready soon.”
Silon walked over to Sephie and embraced her.  She silently cried onto Sephie’s shoulder.  “Oh, Mother,” Sephie said.  “Please…please…let’s be strong.”
“Of course,” Silon said as she pulled back and marveled at the maturation of her youngest daughter.  “Let me help you.”
Ptar picked up the rice wine bottle and took a drink.  His mother said, “You’re a sad excuse for a man.”  Ptar nodded in agreement.  He had been told this many times before, but today he never felt it to be truer.
Ptar’s mother waved her hand at him, indicating she wanted the rice wine again.  He handed her the bottle and she drank form it greedily, no longer having to flinch from the strong taste, she being well on her way to inebriation. 
Ptar’s mother took one more drink from the rice wine bottle and then looked intently at it.  She said with sincerity, “If only you could have figured out how to make this tolerable.”
Ptar snatched the bottle form her.  “Grandfather’s and father’s ways have eluded me.  I tried —”
“Fuck trying,” his mother said.  “Try doing.”
Ptar stood and wiped the dirt and straw from the seat of his pants.  “We should go,” he said.  “Sephie, are you ready?”
Sephie came over and embraced her grandmother and told her goodbye, receiving a solitary grunt in return.  Then Sephie looked around their small one-room hut, this being the last time she would ever see it, and with a huge and definitive sigh she told her father that she was ready to go.
Ptar opened the door to his hut and was surprised to find all the people of his village waiting outside.  Ptar waved his hands at the group, attempting to scatter them like you would a swarm of flies.  But this only served to hush the crowd, drawing all their attention to him, believing Ptar was preparing to address them.  Everyone stood there for a few moments, waiting: the crowd waiting for Ptar to say something and Ptar waiting for the crowd to disperse.  This all might have gone on for quite a while, but just then Ptar’s mother came stumbling out from inside the hut, stumbling up from behind Ptar, and quite by accident, knocking him clear through the door and face first into the mud.
All stood there in silence and watched as Sephie reached down and helped her father to his feet, and using the hem of dress, wiped the mud from his face and his hands.
Ptar’s mother, completely oblivious to having knocked her son through the door and into the mud, called to the crowd, “Fuck off, all of you.  You’re cocksuckers.  Each and every one of you.”  And with that, she stumbled back into the hut and collapsed onto the floor, knocking over several things in the process.
Silon took Ptar’s hand in hers and she started to push her way through the crowd.  Sephie followed.  The people of the village mercifully and gently parted for them.  They watched as Silon, Ptar, and Sephie walked past.  The villagers, always saddened to see a young girl having to go off to The Capital and be sold into servitude, were, today, conflicted; the heaviness of losing another thirteen-year-old girl to the evils and complexities of somewhere like The Capital weighed on their hearts, but they were also collectively and innately happy to be rid of Sephie.  Ptar couldn’t afford the requisite dowry, and no eligible bachelor wanted to marry Sephie anyway.  The people of the village were simple people, and Sephie’s physical deformities — she being born a touch mongoloid, with a slight harelip, and with one leg nearly two inches shorter than the other — were difficult enough for the villagers to get over, but it was her uncanny ability to correctly predict when the rains would come, or which fisherman would be blessed with good fortune or failure, or to tell whether a baby still in the womb was to be a boy or girl and if that baby was to be prosperous or troubled.  But most disconcerting to them was how only by peering intently, Sephie seemed to be able to read their thoughts, their most private and sacred thoughts, causing all of them to avoid looking directly at her as she passed by them, out of the village, and out of their lives forever.
The villagers continued to watch as Silon, Ptar, and Sephie made their way down the muddy path that ran through the village and eventually ended at the failed four-lane highway.  Once they were out of eyesight, the villagers silently went back to their business, most everything returning to normal.  Throughout the morning, the children tried to make up a song that mockingly told the sad story of Sephie, the daughter of Ptar the Donkey, and her going off to The Capital on the day of her thirteenth birthday, but the melody and lyrics never came together and eventually the children lost interest in the song, and played away the rest of the day, giving Sephie and her future plight no thought whatsoever.