Perfect Family Tales And Other Trivia

The art of the short-story writer is that of the cartoonist. It is the magical craft of creating entire worlds with a few simple strokes of a pen. Tales told by an idiot? Maybe! But my tales are also a mix of reality and fantasy; truth and lies; some based on my own family; others, not. Readers must guess which characters are real; who are inventions - and who are an amalgam of both. Please draw the boundaries for yourself.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

‘The Best of the Rest –a Modern Fairy Tale’

Thou hast nor youth nor age,

But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,

Dreaming on both’ 

(Act 3, Scene 1, ‘Measure for Measure’,

William Shakespeare)

Sleeping Beauty woke up and rubbed her eyes but didn’t recognise where she was.

“I feel like I’ve slept for a hundred years”, she said.

“You have”, said the handsome prince who’d just kissed her on the hand. “There’s such a thing as too much kip. C’mon, kiddo. We’ve got work to do”.

And without a further word, he swept her off the bed, on to her feet and helped her skip down twenty flights of the castle’s ultra swish stairs so she could see what had happened to the people of her little kingdom while she had been snoozing.

Unlike Princess Aurora, as she was popularly known, everyone else in Kalachi, Kazakhstan was afraid to fall asleep.

Kalachi.Sleeping.Sickness

Almost every fourth person in the tiny, 600-strong community – including children and some animals –   had been affected by a sinister sleeping sickness.

One woman granted an audience said, “Please, forgive my impertinence Your Royal Highness but I have to say that you and I -  we’re just the same”.

“I don’t think so. Who might you be, my good woman?”

“I might be dead. But thankfully I am still alive – if only just. My name is Lyubov Bilkova and like many of your other subjects I’ve suffered a mystery illness that makes people fall asleep for no reason and then remain unconscious for days.

“This has happened to me eight times. One moment I’m talking, the next I’m asleep. Also, at other times I’m still awake and – oh, dear this is so embarrassing – but people start to think I’m drunk!”

“Are you?”

“Of course not,  Your Royal Highness! I’m tee-total. I’m also a highly-skilled fine seamstress and you were warned not to enter the sewing room while I was working, But as usual, you did not listen to your dear, late mother. A typical sixteen-year-old, if I may say so”.

“No, you may not – on pain of death. Otherwise, carry on. Do!”

“So, as we all say, one moment you can be talking normally to your friends and the next - you’re asleep …”

“What else happens?”, asked Princess Aurora, now more sympathetic as she realised this had also affected her.

 “Often, we feel weak, can’t talk properly or remember things well. Even when we don’t fall fully asleep, we feel sort of drowsy or even drugged.

“Sometimes I’ve slept twice round the clock and my best friend once slept for a whole week. When she did wake up, she was so confused she started seeing weird things and the doctor had to calm her down”.

“Goodness me! Anything else?” asked the princess, now genuinely agitated.

“Yes, one day several school kids in one class  all drifted off  together”.

“Are you sure it wasn’t simply a boring lesson?”

“No, Your Royal Highness. This is a really serious story; not a fairy tale, despite what comes next.

“In January this year, a woman claimed that her cat was struck by the disease. She said it fell into a sort of comMada following a bizarre outburst of hyperactivity in the early hours of one morning that saw it attack her dog and then bite her”.

Princess Aurora was now deeply upset and consulted the most learned medical team in the land. But they were baffled. All they knew was the same as everyone else:

The disease seemed to strike in ‘waves’. It appeared more common during a thaw than when the ground froze and was apparent also when the wind blew from a particular direction.

Then one royal adviser had the temerity to express the painful truth.

When Sleeping Beauty’s mum and dad were on the throne they had traded with the kingdom next door.

Kalachi, he pointed out, lay adjacent  to Krasnogorsk, an old mining town that had produced uranium ore for nuclear weapons until the late 1980s. Concentrations of radon at that particular place remained four or five times above normal. And there were still uranium ore mines nearby. Maybe,” he said, “the problem comes from there”.

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Author’s Note:  “Sleeping sickness traps Kazakh town in waking nightmare” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/kazakhstan/11497382/Sleeping-sickness-traps-Kazakh-town-in-waking-nightmare.html)

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Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 29 March 2015)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

‘Sugar Cones and Salt Men’

“Dance ti' thy daddy, ti' thy mammy sing;
Thou shall hev a fishy on a little dishy,
Thou shall hev a salmon when the boat comes in.”

----------------

In those years, time ran so fast, it was like reliving the Creation:

 ‘And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day’.

Grimsby Fishing Docks 1890That’s how it was; over and done.  First the boat chugged in, spluttered to an asthmatic    halt and spat me out like phlegm onto Grimsby Docks.

There, I  – Azriel Selig ben Judah Arye Saltzberg the Lithuanian – was left to flounder, a skinny Yiddish-speaking fish, ready to be chopped,  fried, then swallowed whole by the rapacious currents of the merciless North Sea.

Yet I lived. Somehow. But it was always dark. Forever wet. Nightfall. Rainfall. A vicious, sodden, black, ever-tightening  circle. Back and forth. Round and round.

No sooner did a craven sun crawl timidly from behind a massive cloud, than it scuttled back inside, giving way to inundations hard and heavy enough to drown me.

But named as one whom God would help, I fast learnt that heaven aids those who shift for themselves.

“To think”, I told the family later, “I’d sailed from home to find the Goldener Medina – the ‘golden state’ of America - land of the free.

“But I’d been duped; snapped on a fisherman’s hook; reeled in on a three-ply yarn;  caught by a brazen liar who snatched my money and stole my trust”.

Huh! I shrugged it off. It was sink or swim. So I stayed here on this short stretch of blustered north-eastern coast; remained true to God but accepted British ways, suffering the tides to swirl their murky waters about me.

Still, the  bewildering ache of semi-bereavement lingered. I became sluggish; a stick-in-the-sea-mud, seemingly with nothing to do and no place to live. At last, for want of decent kosher food and a warm bed, I  turned inland to work as a glazier, with the world now reflected through the plaintive screech of wheeling seagulls and the mournful wail of foghorns.

“Finally”, I said, “the new became old; the foreign, familiar and together with the freezing damp, the whole  wrapped a peculiar coarse blanket of consolation around me”.  

The unceasing clash of metal on metal - the stench of fish - the unyielding ugliness - they all helped to form a backdrop to the  drudgery of a life  enlivened only by my trips to recite daily and Sabbath prayers at the synagogue where I was elected secretary.

At intervals, the days would lengthen; become brighter. But all too soon, the cycle of brooding twilights would  start to turn.

Then my walks were sad, my footsteps slow. I’d wander back to   the quayside where I’d first run aground to gaze at the battered trawlers bobbing on the spume, pleading silently for the return of something  I had never quite owned.

In my last years, my family said the untimely passing of my dear Esther Rivka had turned me funny; that I should have re-married. But I didn’t want to start with another woman. It would have meant too much change.

Then they announced as I grew older that I needed personal care. By then, I felt too weak to argue. 

So first I lived with my eldest son, Harry and then his youngest brother, Sammy. But their wives didn’t want me under their feet and both got rid of me. They complained that I’d become an old man with unpleasant habits; that it wasn’t fair; that it was one thing performing a family duty, but I was an inconvenience and my presence, an embarrassing imposition. Could I be placed in a hospital?

Instead, I struggled to get back to my own house; the one I’d rented all my married life and that had somehow remained vacant. Sometimes, I received polite invitations for Sabbath and holiday meals but still, I felt abandoned and looked for new friends.

SugarloafSo I bought a sugarloaf from the grocer, found the miniature hammer Esther had used to smash the sheets of kosher salt we used at Passover and broke the sugar into tidy lumps.

This is how and why Police Constable Colin Jennings found me  wandering  between Duke Street and Grafton Street handing out the sugar lumps to children who were playing  hopscotch outside their homes.

Hopscotch SilhouetteI didn’t mean to frighten them and on the day it happened, I’d popped the hammer inside my overcoat pocket at the last minute as I’d left my own house, just in case I’d needed it.   But one little mite ran indoors to tell her mammy about me. After that, everything became blurred; I felt dazed and never quite worked out where I was taken.

I didn’t like it there and was glad that soon after, I shut my eyes for the last time in the ‘real’ world and didn’t wake up again.

In one way I never did much after leaving my birthplace of Kruky in Lithuania. But I did father six children and so helped the continuation of the Jewish people. As a religious man, I like that idea and also how newer generations visit me now and then and read the inscription on my tombstone. This will always be a comfort.

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Mark.UlyseasThis piece first appeared in the April 2015 edition of Live Encounters magazine (http://liveencounters.net/?p=10276) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 25 March 2015)

Monday, 23 March 2015

‘The Regal Bones’

"Even the dead want to be loved for their own sake"                                    (Fleur Adcock, Grandma, Poems 1960-2000,  Bloodaxe).

King.Richard.III“Next time”, said Dickon, biting angrily on a fingernail, “I’ll have a decent manicure.

“And if there is a next time,” he added, scowling at the flickering shadows in the far corner of the laboratory, “I’ll employ the best groom money can buy. You can’t be too careful. I was thinking of enquiring after Zara Phillips, your present Queen’s granddaughter. She’s a great horsewoman and as her husband’s a Yorkshireman, her credentials are impeccable”.

“Is there anything else, Sire?”, asked Dr Jo, easing him back into bed for the last time.

“Indeed! If I did have my time over, I’d return as  a  defamation lawyer and sue my enemies rotten! You must know that during my reign, I hammered out a  legal aid system, lifted trade restrictions on book printing and used English rather than Latin both to swear my coronation oath and to record acts of parliament.  These moves were praised as great innovations.

“But when people hate you, want to blacken your character, they stop at nothing. I’ve long since warned Bolingbroke and his two-bit scrivener, Will Wotsit that they’re on borrowed time. First, they made me appear physically repellent; next accused me of usurping the throne and then of murdering my nephews. As if!

“And now, thanks to some new-fangled scientific hogwash, I’ve been told I may not be me. How ridiculous! All this after spending almost 530 years holed up under a dismal East Midlands car park with a load of gabbing, gawping women and no VIP  permit.

King Richard III Skeleton“I won’t put up with it, Jo. This goes to the heart, the very essence of my identity. The short stature, aching, twisted spine and uneven shoulder bones are all mine. Believe me, no-one in his right mind would muscle in on those!

“Everyone fears the worst but hopes for the  best during battle. Finally, I was outwitted by treason; a literal stab in the back of my head. It’s part of what criminally fought warfare is all about. No wonder it’s said that ‘all’s fair in love and war’. 

“But to question who I am – was - is different. I’ve suffered untold pain  in enforced silence for more years than I care to think and as soon as I’m back in the limelight, I face further unimaginable physical indignities to my kingly person. But even those have become almost insignificant against  having doubt cast on my selfhood”.

“But Your Majesty, I guarantee that it’ll be all right from now,” said Dr Jo. “Even as I attend to you, thousands of people - your descendants, members of the society named after you, the general public – are attending great events to honour you and to ensure an interment worthy of your great status – place in British history. Even the present Duke of Gloucester, patron of your society, has argued that 'truth is more powerful than lies'”.

“Very nice. He’s a decent fellow. A bit of regal pomp is very jolly – and most proper. After all, it’s something to which I was once well accustomed. But without wishing to appear ungracious, I feel it’s been spoilt by the inane and costly quarrel as to where I should be re-buried. Don’t you see? None of it really matters”, groaned Dickon, a sudden stab of pain making him desperate to go home.

“I’ve long since made peace with those truly important to me. But what grieves me still is that I have been horribly torn asunder from my soul, the most precious part of my personal inner sanctum; that is something that should never have been in question. So as I thank you for helping to retrieve my bones from ignominy, I have one last request. Don’t hate me. Instead, recall the best of me. But for  now, let me go. Please”.

 

Rolling Stones - Not fade away 1964

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood 24 March 2015)

Friday, 20 March 2015

‘Hello, Dolly!’

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Author’s Note: This piece first appeared as Goodbye, Dolly in The A3 Review, Issue 2, published by Writing Maps.com,  a literary magazine that folds out like a map.

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Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood 20 March 2015)

Thursday, 19 February 2015

‘The Hourglass’

‘A time to mourn” - Ecclesiastes 3:4

HourglassCrazier than cracked paving,

we’ve punched the unforgiving

wall; tried to beat the clock, drilled the hourglass to spin balletic twirls,

watching, weighing, one-by-one,

the unceasing flow of sand grains

that will rub us raw until we meet again. 

We promised that we’d never

leave you. But we’ve had to

let you go. Now we’ll each clasp

you singly, leave a lingering,

heartsick kiss; a warming gift

to ease the lonely journey to

your eternal home.

Adele.Biton.Funeral

 

Darling, beloved daughter,

our life - enormous soul –

how hard for us to comprehend

that your fleeting time on

earth has gone.

 

Once – a thousand times! –

you’d shrug off sleep –

romp, wriggle, excite those

near you in your rush for life;

to honour, cherish, Heaven’s name.

 

Here you’re at eternal rest;

in a place where none else may lie,

where great men ponder what

tribute more they may offer to

a mite aged four, who’d

barely learnt to laugh before

been taught to die.

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Author’s Note:  Adele Biton, a four-year-old Israeli, died of pneumonia on Tuesday 17 February 2015, two years after she sustained critical head wounds when the car in which she was travelling on Route 5 in Samaria was attacked by rock-throwing Palestinians. She is survived by her parents, three sisters and an infant brother, who was born a few months before her passing. The poem above is based on the eulogies at her funeral.

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Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 19 February 2015)

Sunday, 15 February 2015

‘Wonderful Copenhagen’

Dan.Uzan“Hi, I’m  Dan Uzan and I’ve been standing guard outside the Great Synagogue, in Copenhagen. It’s  bitterly cold but I can deal with that.

’Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen ...’

“ I love whistling that sweet old tune.

’What a friendly old girl of a town  ...’

“I’m Danish-born and I went to a Jewish school here as a boy. I loved playing basketball and  I studied Economics before spending some time in Israel where I polished up my Hebrew. I was really pleased I did that.

“Then when I returned home ‘I sailed down the Kattegat through the harbour and up to the quay and there she stood waiting for me with a welcome so warm and so gay…’

“It was almost  like having a bit-part in a movie about our most famous writer. Te-da, te-da, ‘wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen ...’

So now I’m here, on this merry batmitzvah party night, marking a sweet young girl’s entry into adult Jewish life.

“Believe me, I am really honoured  to serve as a volunteer security guard patrolling this grand, historic building.

Gt Synagogue Copenhagen“I’m aware, of course, that a place of prayer should be a haven of peace, not a fortress of fear. But as I’m here, I’ll do my level best to help to make things safe. I’m sure that later, the family – they’re lovely people -will offer to share a schnapps with me. This way, I’ll enjoy their festivities all the more.

“But tonight, it’s really important to put their welfare before my own comfort. As it’s Saturday evening, it doesn’t matter that I’ll get to bed late; I can always sleep in on Sunday morning …

“But, hey! What was that terrible bang? If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was  a gun-shot.

“Na! Couldn’t be. Not now. I know something bad happened here in July 1985, when this same synagogue was bombed  by  Palestinian  terrorists. But that was almost 30 years ago.

“Luckily, no-one was hurt at the synagogue – although there were casualties at an airline office. And everyone knows that lightning can’t strike twice in the same place.

“Can it?

“Surely not in our glorious city  – with the  pretty mermaid, gardens, castle, palaces - and visits to the house of our one and only Hans Christian Andersen.

“He was great friends with many Jewish people of his era and even mentioned us in some of his stories.

“But I’m in a mess now. I’ve got something like splinters in my eyes. They’re very painful. I don’t understand what’s going on but it seems like the late wartime monarch, King Christian X is walking in a state procession.

“Oops! I’m embarrassed to report he’s not wearing his clothes! Your Majesty – please have some of mine.

“Speaking of clothing, I know it’s only a silly myth that you wore a  Star  of  David   badge  in  solidarity   with  the  Jewish  community when the Nazis were in power.

“But you did finance the transport of Danish Jews to unoccupied Sweden, so they would be safe from Nazi persecution.

“With respect Sir, perhaps you now wonder why you made that effort. They say that life for Swedish Jews is even worse than it is here.

“Oh, dear. That’s it! My fault! Somehow, I’ve got ice-shards in my eyes. That’s why everything’s become so  dark, ugly ... I’m beginning to believe that the Snow Queen’s come back. I can’t see straight … Everything is distorted - hurts …  How horrible. I won’t be able to stand guard again … Not in my old life, anyway …

Now I’ll sail away, singing Copenhagen, wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen for me …’

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Author’s note:The gunman believed to have attacked a Copenhagen synagogue and a free-speech event on Saturday 14 February 2015 was a Danish-born 22-year-old known to police because of past violence, gang-related activities and possession of weapons ...” (Guardian newspaper report).

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Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 16 February 2015)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Alwayswriteagain: ‘Notes on the Nature of Love’

Alwayswriteagain: ‘Notes on the Nature of Love’: While the weather’s  cold, wet and nasty, there’s no better way of beating it than by snuggling up with a good book – on a sofa - with your ...