• bird •

Just around by the azalea,
down past the crusty old honeysuckle,
a mourning dove is ensconced, quietly, looking,
on the ferrous covering
of the backyard fire pit:
downy lazing fluffery upon an iron grid;
crissed talons lanking
over the banking,
rusting placement,
her humble battlement;
sharp eyes gleam quietly, softly,
relaxed, and yet, quirkily,
looking for the cat.
~ Tim Burchfield
6/16/14

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• mr. gupta •

• mr. gupta* •
Mr. Digvijay Gupta feels it is his time to die, and plans to do it well, just as he has done everything, throughout his professional life — and regards his death as he has, his life: romantically, with no small amount of self-appreciation. To his mind, he is a king whose time has come to abdicate his throne, but to whom? He had no heirs. (He and his wife of forty years are childless.) There is his wife, his only ‘loyal subject’, but really, he wonders, incredulously — SHE?
He had been tough on her in the first tumultuous years of their arranged marriage, though he had never laid a hand on her, in his years as a young man he had a temper. He regarded those early years of their marriage with a kind of obsessive ‘buyer’s remorse’: there was the insufferable business of the un-remitted promised dowry from her faithless father, and on top of that, the absolutely unforgivable: that physical flaw, on her person, that disfigurement — that she had proudly regarded as ‘the touch of Ganesh’, of all things ridiculous — the fact, of which, both she and her dishonest parents had let remain hidden, until the wedding night: that she had been born with this, this –vestigial ‘third’ nipple! Insupportable. The horror…
He had harped on his view that he should have been told ahead of time, and she had folded like a paper napkin, becoming completely joyless, lost to him, even to herself, or so it seemed. Of course, she had performed her duties over the four decades that followed, but joylessly — without a single moment of whimsy, of wit, of hilarity, all of the things that he had fallen in love with, when first they had met, during their brief engagement: now, sadly, she, and her — whatever, were insuperable, a lingering, mournful malady. Her — whatever, had been continual, relentless, pervasive, pernicious. It had affected every aspect of their lives together, so, yes, he had lost his temper, had lashed out, had said things. Purely out of frustration, mind you. Every day with her, henceforth, had been like having a mouthful of ashes.
Years went by, and every day had been the same. They had been transformed into Stoics by her continual suffering, and had gone through their lives together, stoically. What else was there to do? Life goes on, and waits for no man, provides no support for the weak, for self-pity: no room at the inn.
He had been a good provider, there was that, and he had prided himself on this fact; in fact, in a manner of speaking, actually and figuratively, it had sustained him. He had a successful career for thirty-five years as a mechanical engineer, with a top corporation. He had climbed the corporate ladder, and financially, he had done quite well. He had a good benefits package, and a more than adequate retirement.
Over the years, he had matured, and had learned to accept her shortcomings, and, he supposed, she his. He had learned to live with daily disappointment, well almost: he had eventually stopped altogether, looking into her empty eyes. It had become a part of their dry emotional landscape: a veritable, inescapable, lunar apocalypse. He had been as kind as he could be to his wife, considering — and they had settled into a traditional arrangement: he, as the lord of the household, and she, as his practical and pragmatic, if perfunctory help-mate. That he had stopped looking at her altogether, is how he had missed, altogether, her slow change, from an empty vessel, into an object of empowerment, into this self-loving smart-bomb, this guided-missile of malicious intent.
Now, in his ‘dying time’, he wants, and expects, at least a modicum of civility from her, to ease his passing.
What does he get from her, instead? Grief, yes, but of the wrong kind: accusations, invention, finger-pointing, curses…and pronouncements! Insufferable! Outrageous!!
~ Tim Burchfield
5/30/14
*{CHARACTER BREAKDOWN for
• woolybully •
a ten-minute tragicomedy}

• mrs. gupta •

• mrs. gupta* •
Almost sixty years ago, to the day, Mrs. Digvijay Gupta was born Menaha Rahul, to be blessed with two great passions: first, with a love for words, and of the names of things, as for life itself, and then, bliss of all bliss, with her ‘birthmark’, which her parents had named, ‘the kiss’, ‘the holy inscription’, and, of all ecstatic ecstasies, the ‘mark of Ganesh’. Her parents had explained to her at a very early age, (with a dance, and a song on their lips, for joy of that which she bore on her doubly-blessed, divine person) about her good fortune: ‘the gift’.
It was a sign. She had been ‘chosen’. It was to be her ‘calling’, they had said, to spread happiness, wherever she went. And, so, for a time, she did.
(In fact, what she had been born with, was a fairly uncommon, vestigial ‘third’ nipple, not unsightly at all; it amounted to little, was hardly more than a pretty dimple, really: how does the song go, ‘Like (a) Lintel on a plate’? Much ado about little, one would think, but, coming from India, as she did, within their mystical world of ‘signs and wonders’, it was, inevitably, highly regarded. There was that. Also, it being, literally, a sensitive area, the brush of clothing, or even of air, made her giddy beyond description: in fact, it turned out that she was blessed with an additional erogenous zone, and as a result, she was just that much more alive for it. One might prefer, for reasons of propriety, to say it was not sexual, this happy adventuring, but, but this would be a lie: in fact, it was, very much so, for her, and happily.
Talk about ecstatic. How she took to it! She would shudder when the wind blew, and you knew. Damn.
Nature was her playground, and she was a pure Naturalist. Indeed, she was the happiest of young women, to be so ‘informed’, spiritually. Within her own society of religious devotees, she shone like a diamond, bringing delight. This is how highly she was regarded, everywhere she went.
And so, as celestial bodies are but aggregates of so-called stardusts and celestial clouds, so also, from the first, for the girl, beauty, and grace and elegance were the aggregates that defined, and illuminated, the consecrated, essential essence of Menaha Rahul.

Her given name, Menaha, so she came to learn, means, ‘celestial damsel’. With her surname, Rahul, came strength, meaning,’Conqueror of miseries’.
In her youth, her knowledge of the former would build her up, and inform her vanity. In her old age, knowledge of the latter, through a time, and a time, and a time again, would accost, attain, and sustain her.
That her two great passions would come to be her Achilles heel, she would one day come to learn only too well. In fact, this would very nearly be the end of her, beginning on the day she was wed.

And so it happened, at the age of nineteen, she was wed to a successful business man ten years her senior, who was punctilious, and laughed little. The marriage was arranged by her parents. She had no say in this.
It was her misfortune that marriage would ensnare her: as an ant to the sand-lion, she came upon a divot in the sand, so to speak, which is to say, a trap. As with the unfortunate ant, in Nature, she wandered into prearranged sands, lost her spiritual footing, fell in, and was dragged down, by what demon, she hardly knew. It had all happened so fast; she never expressed rage, however, she somehow got lost, gave way to a monstrous dejection, her ‘age of joy’ abruptly ending: upon her much loved, former ‘lighted ways’, onto her prayer-praised paths of illumination, a seemingly endless, inextricable darkness fell.

Marriage changed Menaha Rahul, immediately. She was crestfallen. It had seemingly taken away her identity and had presented herself, to herself, as a ‘stranger’.
No longer to be Menaha Rahul, but now, this mysterious, Mrs. Digvijay Gupta. Digvijay, meaning, “who is victorious over everyone”, and Gupta, being “Ruler and Protector”: these names were for somebody else, she protested, quietly, to herself. They suited her husband to a tee, but not she.

In the same moment, she was forced give up her familiar surroundings, her friends, and her family. Never had she been away from her parents for even a single day. Overnight, she was sweeping the slanting hardwood floorboards of a Brooklyn Brownstone, far, far away.
She had been born in India. Now, she was to become an American. America was what everyone called it, even though it was actually the U.S.A. How annoying, that these people had taken the whole of the name for themselves, she thought. Was there not a South America? What of them? “Too bad,” she guessed.
It occurred to her that she was to be, now, of all things, an ‘American-Indian’, but the wrong kind. She could not even say that that was what she was. Good taste precluded it. That, she found really annoying. Did not words mean anything to these people? Meanings here are so general!
“Everything is so different here, in this generalizing American wilderness, of steel, concrete and glass,” said the newly minted Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, “but not in a good way.”
Everything that she had loved in India seemed to have stayed in India, were no longer considered beautiful, and no longer mattered.
Even she, herself, had lost her luster. Now, when she looked in the mirror, she no longer recognized herself. This was a dreadful blow. She had always been at least, herself. But this — this universe did not care about her, or about what is truly true, or about beauty, she felt — only for ‘positive attitudes’, making, always, ‘the right impression’, and for productivity.
“Chin up,” she could be heard to say, to herself, many times in a day. That is, if there were anybody around to hear her, which there never was. There was never anybody, anymore.

There was that, and then, her husband had grown disenchanted with her almost immediately. The promised dowry hadn’t come through. Her father had had some severe financial setbacks recently. It was not as if she knew. Still, he shifted the blame onto her.
Things were said. He was soon saying awful things. He suspected her of being disingenuous, all of the time, even in small matters. His wrath, she couldn’t escape it.
“Don’t think you can pull the wool over my eyes,” he would say. Over and over, with this same bitter nostrum. It was at first, merely mysterious, that phrase, and its insulting implications: eventually the thing became monstrous, invading her dreams. Choking her with wool. This ‘woolybully’. Still, she bore up under it, trying to hold on to her dignity, but little by little, it withered away.
She was slow to relinquish her favorite things, but one by one, they fell. No more, the beautiful, musical language of her birth. English, or American, if you will, was the new language. Her husband demanded that she should speak it exclusively, even in her own home. All was static, to her, and assaulted her ears, like barking dogs will. To speak became laborious, and nuance and lyrical expression found no place. She could not even speak of her sadness, in this Kingdom of Optimism, this U.S. of A.. It was the death of conversation in this alien nation.

And so, words died, for her. Her first great passion went away, and the illness moved in. The dead words caught in her throat. That was when ‘the choking’ began. Speaking ever after became perfunctory, and the tiredness had set in.

As to her gift, ‘the kiss’, the ‘touch of Ganesh’, in the marriage bed the night of her wedding, it was rejected. She had never known shame in her life, but soon, it consumed her. She heard for the first time, in reference to herself, the word, ‘goat’. When her husband uttered it, something wilted within her, and something grew in its place. Disgrace.
And so, all felicity, all dance, all song, all that from birth had come so naturally to her formerly ‘doubly-blessed’ incarnation fell away. It had been ‘reduced’, as in some tag sale, to so much dead machinery. Her sacred white elephant, her ‘inner Ganesh’, if you will, became a ‘white elephant’ of another kind, the wrong kind. Even her ‘extra’ erogenous zone had become completely pointless — this random mutation, that had brought her such happiness, was to become a mere statistic of natural selection. She could no longer say how she felt. Deadness was everywhere. One day, finally, she knew she was soon to become extinct. This was the only word for it, she knew, what was to become of her. She readied herself.
“It happens,” she had said, “all the time. Things become dead, then they disappear.”

Decades went by. Every day was much the same as any other. Bit by bit, bits of her fell away; she went away, away, even from herself.

And then, one day, unexpectedly, something happened which would change everything — words came to the rescue. The words that came to save her comprised a simple phrase. They carried within them, transformation, connoting a kind of physics, which she embraced. They simply said, “Everything is a subset of Awareness.” And it made, to Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, née Menaha Rahul, all of the difference.

And so, after that, her awareness once again began to grow and grow. She became aware of some things that, strangely, she realized, for the first time, made her mad. Not the English kind, but the American sort, which is to say, she was pissed –again, not of the British sort, but of the American.

For example, as was said earlier, Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, was born Menaha Rahul, almost sixty years ago, to the day.
She has always had a special love of words, especially for names. The name she was given at birth–Menaha, means, ‘Celestial damsel’, a name which she adored as a child; her surname, Rahul, meaning ‘Conqueror of miseries’, it turns out, is a name, after a lifetime of same, for which she could not have been better suited.
After a lifetime of hiding her pain and regret behind the facade of being the ‘perfect traditional wife’, her love of names has become the keystone to her slow transformation into an arch shadow of debilitating facelessness, of pining spiritual atrophy.
That her husband has not once used her proper name in all these years is to her, to she, who, as a child, when imagining marriage, had dreamed of a perfect love, has been, for her, a continual curse, a wellspring of pain, and a stagnating, septic love-of-life seepage.
It had not escaped her attention, aside from ‘wife’, despite her expressed wish that he not use the diminutive form of her name, that for the last four decades he has exclusively called her, ‘Mena’, which means no more than ‘squawking parrot’!
Also, it has not been for Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, a happy memory that her husband failed to take her part, when her mother-in-law, due to their childless condition, came to refer to her, forever after, as ‘the empty trough’, even though he knew full well that, as a result of a childhood illness, it was he, and not she, who was sterile. This, she could not abide, nor forgive.
Finally, Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, née Menaha Rahul, has come to see that if she is to ever know kindness again, she must come to cherish herself.

And so, the return of herself to herself began. That awakening was five years ago. She is a very different woman today.

Her husband now feels he is dying, and now, as she sits with him, ostensively, to ‘ease his passing’, she has been brooding: sitting on a growing anger, that he should abscond with all he has taken from her, that he should so easily, remorselessly, ‘slip away’. Her anger becomes resolve. Until she gets some answers, “by Shiva, he will be going nowhere!”
~ Tim Burchfield
5/28/14
*{CHARACTER BREAKDOWN for
• woolybully •
a ten-minute tragicomedy}

• woolybully •

• woolybully •
a ten minute tragicomedy

In the home of Mr. and Mrs. Digvijay Gupta, the first rays of morning light filter through the curtained windows of their bedroom. An elderly Mr. Gupta is in bed, in fine silk pajamas, and is preparing for death, preoccupied with what he is certain to come. Perhaps, he seeks solace from his wife of many years. Perhaps, even, a little tenderness, though it is merely a thing to be wished. In his weakened state, he falters, under the load of a new and discomforting creeping self-doubt, he begins to fold into himself, heralding a change: a new, and an indeterminate state: an actual state of uncertainty, which he is determined, to hide, from even himself. This abdication of authority, though subtle, does not go unnoticed.
Smoldering in a low and uncomfortable wooden chair beside his bed is Mrs. Gupta, where she has been sitting with him through the long night — has not slept, and appears agitated, if not bereft, and is curiously ‘fed up’, not a new sensation, but appears for the first time to be bubbling to the surface: a rising Vishnu-Vesuvius.
Her husband calls out to her, as if from a place of deep darkness, as from the bottom of a dry well, into which he has suddenly fallen. His eyes are closed, and he appears to be making the most of it. He roundly expects from his wife the obvious inanities and, in all probability, his own typical disappointment with her, but, still, with his last strength of will, he musters a shred of hope in his last moments on this earth, that he may enjoy to have one final conquest: to hear her blubber over him, oh, how he will be missed!! He gropes with his hand for hers, feebly, with feeling. His hand finds only his blanket, and gestures to the empty air. She sits, unmoved.

Mr. Gupta:
“I’m dying, Mena.”

Mrs. Gupta: (flatly)
“Yes, husband, you are dying.”

Mr. Gupta:
“It’s getting dark, Mena. My time… in this world… is not long. Wife, is there… anything…you want to know, anything…you want to ask me? Ask me anything, and I will tell you the truth: I swear it. Anything. It’s alright…what is it, wife?”

Mrs. Gupta:
“Where… is this wool?”

Mr. Gupta:
“Wool?”

Mrs. Gupta:
“This wool, I am always pulling.”

Mr. Gupta:
“Pulling?”

Mrs. Gupta:
“Pulling. Wool, pulling! This wool I am always pulling over!”

Mr. Gupta:
“Pulling over? Which wool…? What wool?”

Mrs. Gupta: (immediately)
“You tell me!”

Mr. Gupta:
“Wife, what are you telling me? What do you want to know? I’m rather busy with this dying.”

Mrs. Gupta: (distinctly)
“This wool, according to you, I am always pulling over the eyes. This wool, where is this wool? I’ve seen no wool!”

Mr. Gupta: (flummoxed)
“Wool!!??”

Mrs. Gupta: (definitively)
“Wool!! Wool!! This wool!! Where… is this wool… of which I have, so often, heard you speak, and yelling, for all these many years?”

Mr. Gupta: (yelling)
“Yelling? I am not yelling!!”

Mrs. Gupta: (evenly, forcefully)
“To hear you tell it, I am, all the time, pulling the wool, pulling the wool, all the time! I want to know: this wool, where, where is this wool?!”

Mr. Gupta: (nonplussed)
“Where?!!!”

Mrs. Gupta: (letting out all the stops)
“I have knitted you a thousand sweaters, and darned your stinking socks, but this wool I am pulling, I have not seen! So now you’re dying, so tell me now, tell me now, before you go. I should very much like to know.”

Mr. Gupta: (fully engaged, to sit up)
“To know…you are not making sense, do you know?!! Pulling, over the eyes?!! Wool pulling?”

Mrs. Gupta: (fully enraged, now, explosively)
“Eyes, yes!! Pulling!! Pulling wool!! Over the eyes!! Pulling!! Wool!! Over!!! Yes!! This wool, over which, the eyes, I am pulling always!!”

Mr. Gupta: (baffled)
“I am dying, this is what you want to know? This pulling of the wool?”

Mrs. Gupta: (cooly, peremptorily)
“Tell me, husband, are you dying, or going deaf?”

Mr. Gupta: (explosively)
“I am dying!”

Mrs. Gupta: (unrelenting, acquisitive)
“Good; before you go, I want to know. After that, you can go, but let me tell you. You are not dying until you tell me what I want to know! Until then, husband, you are going nowhere.”

Mr. Gupta: (relenting, somewhat)
“I’ll tell you! There is nothing to tell. It’s a saying, Mena, an expression! Pulling the wool over the eyes, it’s a saying!”

Mrs. Gupta: (flatly, incredulous)
“A saying.”

Mr. Gupta: (as if quoting himself, from the past, as if in fun, lightly)
“An expression. ‘You think you are pulling the wool, over the eyes, but you are not pulling the wool over my eyes, because I can see!'”

Mrs. Gupta: (changeable, expressively)
“Yes, I heard it many times…from you! Oh, I know, calling me a liar, always. But what I want to know… is…where is it?”

Mr. Gupta: (unprepared)
“Where?”

Mrs. Gupta: (maniacally, terrifyingly, brokenly, revengefully)
“Where!!? Where is it!!? I want to know!! For twenty years, I have nightmares had, of this wool, for years, terrible, ghastly dreams I have endured, of this wool! For years, it has invaded my dreams, a great, and terrible wooly bully, chasing me, and stuffing the wool, down my throat, in my ears, everywhere stuffing, until I cannot breathe, terrifying!! So, now, you tell me, before you go. Where is this wool? I want to kill it.”

Mr. Gupta: (as if to a child approaching him with sharp scissors)
“Mena! You can’t kill it, this wool! It can’t be killed. It doesn’t exist!”

Mrs. Gupta: (with a shrieking child’s intensity)
“Oh, it exists!! It exists!!! I know, it exists!!”

Mr. Gupta: (soothingly upbraiding her)
“No, Mena!!!”

Mrs. Gupta: (suddenly turning on him, for her, a first-time discovery)
“You!! You stuffed me with this wool! This terrible wooly bully…it is you!! You would leave this world, and leave me stuffed!! With all this wool!!! Like an animal, in the trophy room, stuffed!! What is the expression? Your trophy wife!”

Mr. Gupta: (despairing)
“Mena!! Can’t a man die in peace?!! With dignity!! Is this too much to ask?!!”

Mrs. Gupta: (pleading her case: a compelling closing statement, as if for a jury to decide, her very life hanging in the balance–and to try to reach into him, once and for all, to perhaps, touch the love they once had)
“Too much? Yes, it is too much! For too long, it has been too much! Too long, this wool has stuffed my ears. I cannot hear my own crying. Too long, too completely, my eyes have been covered; this wool, this darkness, it covers my face. For too long, I have not seen…the world of light, or joy, or simple pleasure; the woollies, they cover me. For too long, I have felt nothing!! Not love…not happiness. Not a kind word, have I heard, not a tender touch, nor caress. I am protected from the world…by the woolies, but they hold me, in their wooly, iron grip…a soft…silent…cell…of solitude…choking…choking.”

Mr. Gupta: (moved to empathy)
“Wife…”

Mrs. Gupta: (despairing)
“I don’t want this world…this…lonely…wooly…life. So, tell me…husband, where…is this wool?”

Mr. Gupta: (he is deeply moved, finally defenseless)
“Mena…”

Mrs. Gupta: (turning on him, a wrath he has never witnessed from her in all their long years of co-existence)
“You!! You…did this!! You…DID THIS!!!”

Mr. Gupta: (backpedalling)
“I?”

Mrs. Gupta: (pursuing, nailing him down)
“You!! With your wool pulling! Pulling!! Pulling the wool! How many times, husband, how many?!!”

Mr. Gupta: (immediately)
“How many?!!”

Mrs. Gupta: (immediately)
“Times!!! Time after time! All the time, you are telling me, how I think I am pulling the wool, over the eyes, but not over yours! You are too smart, too great, too wise, to have the wool pulled over you…by a little…goat!”

Mr. Gupta: (flatly)
“Goat.”

Mrs. Gupta: (remembering)
“You called me that. That is what you called me. Goat. Little goat. How could I have forgotten? I suppose, I supposed a goat would be wooly…happy to eat the garbage, the refuse of our impoverished lives…to live…in a velvet, wooly pen…as…an animal…feeling nothing, thinking nothing, doing nothing…except, the expected.”

Mr. Gupta: (flat denial, wavering)
“Mena, I never called you that.”

Mrs. Gupta: (on the verge of cursing him)
“Do…not…you dare… to deny it! If you do, you are the worst of liars!”

Mr. Gupta: (volcanically)
“Liar?!!!”

Mrs. Gupta: (a Shakespearian curse)
“Do not think, husband, you can pull this wool over me! I see all too well, due to your instruction, and constant tutelage, over a lifetime of misery! No. I have news for you, husband. You cannot die. I will not let you. Your karma is sullied, and needs to be cleaned. You cannot die now, unless you want to spend your next life as some vile creature in the intestines of a sewer rat! No! I will not let you dishonor me in this way. Those days are gone for good.”

Mr. Gupta: (denying the curse, feebly)
“I am dying, Mena.”

Mrs. Gupta: (a pronouncement)
“No!! Not until I say!”

Mr. Gupta: (trying to regain his old authoritative voice, unsuccessfully)
“Ridiculous! Preposterous!”

Mrs. Gupta: (authoritatively, matter-of-factly)
“Precisely!! I have a new expression, for you, husband. ‘The shoe is on the other foot.'”

Mr. Gupta: (gathering his wits)
“Shoe?!!”

Mrs. Gupta: (piling on the precise terminology, she wields an irresistible spiritual lever)
“Foot! This shoe! On! The other! Now get up, and make me breakfast. You are now too busy to die. Get up, I say! Off of your deathbed, and don’t leave it a mess, like you always do. Make it up, and do it right! The gravy train is over, dear husband. You’ve got some karma cleaning to get done. The wild and woolly days, for you, have just begun!”

Mr. Gupta: (feigning ultimate authority)
“Just who do you think you are, to tell me…?!!”

Mrs. Gupta: (cooly, definitively)
“I am the other foot…on which, it is to find, the shoe.”

Mr. Gupta: (a turnabout: now it is his turn to ask, ‘where?’)
“Shoe?!! Where is this shoe?!! I have seen no shoe!”

Mrs. Gupta: (a thinly veiled threat, lightly, with all the grace that highest rank affords)
“Don’t worry, husband, about finding the shoe. If you do not rise from that bed, this instant, I assure you, the shoe…will find you. Now get up and make my breakfast, you have a long day ahead of you, and I am going…to need…all of my strength.”

END

~ Tim Burchfield
11/10/12