Friday, August 22, 2008

Something Found In The Park (or 3 UPC Coupons and 50 cents Worth of Hope) Part 1

This is a pretty irregular feature I do on this blog, post fiction I've been working on. This came about mainly from reading a bit of Roald Dahl on vacation. He is one of my mostest favourite authors. He's a bit subversive, a bit dark, but in the end, entirely wholesome.

This is sort of my stab at something in his style. In a way. Inspired by, maybe. It's also inspired by a Dr. Seuss book, which I'll talk about later. This will be in a few parts, as it's on the longish side. It's quite a departure from my usual blog postings, which will resume in a week or so.

Hope you enjoy it.

“One #34 Dark-Lighted Penumbrian Fang Monger” read the small soiled box. It smelled of oatmeal, and it seemed hardly likely it had anything except mold. Rick frowned, life had more disappointment in store for him, it seemed. Not content to kick a kid when he was down, it was bringing out the tire iron and calling over friends. He prodded the box with a finger grimy from mustard and pigeon droppings.

“So that's it. I mean, nothing else?” said Mary. She blew a lick of dirty hair out of her eyes. The lights had just come on in the park and reflected off her glasses, making her look more unreadable than usual.

Rick shivered, night was just falling. In Bennings Park, the trees cast sad dry shadows and the flower beds looked like smudged paint. Some of the yellow park lamp light reached the bench where they both sat, staring at the box.

Rick ran his thumb over the writing

“Doesn't hardly seem, you know, professional.” said Rick.

“You can't expect much for 3 UPC coupons and fifty cents.” Mary bent down to inspect the hand scrawled label. It looked like someone had written it while riding a palsied bull during an earthquake.

“So you think this is just some con-man on the job trying to get some money out of little kids...”

“I never said that.”

“I quote 'Like that is going to work.'”

Mary turned her unreadable glasses to him. “Doesn't sound anything like me. I find it highly unlikely that this,” she peered closer at the label, “Fang Monger, is going to help us in any way.”

“Can't hurt.”

“Well, true.” She looked back at the box, “things couldn't get worse.”

Ms. Krenshaw scraped what was most likely an egg from the frying pan. Little sprays of old, murky oil landed onto her well-splattered bathrobe. At one point it had been the colour of teal, something given to an unfortunate flavour of salt-water taffy; it drooped off her body like a discarded clown suit on a hobo.

“You ever going to cook yourselves dinner?” She waved the egg-scraping spatula at them. It was never clear who she was talking to. “This fridge is yours, you know. You get here at the time dinner is made, you can go ahead and make yourselves anything you like.” She gave them a sharp look, “You were both late. Again.”

She reached under her bathrobe and produced a thick iron key, then locked the chains that hugged the fridge like a garrotte. She didn't need to. Both Rick and Mary had skipped out of school early, once, just once, to see that if there would be anything worth making if they did come in at the appointed time. Some bread covered evenly in green fuzz. One or two eggs that Ms. Krenshaw invariably had cooked up for herself. A few bottles of murky liquid that were probably flammable under the right conditions.

Late at night, in the attic, they'd toss back ideas what she did with the Ministry money she was supposed use to take care of them. Rick thought she ran a cock-fighting ring on the side, and used the money to shore up finances when the law got tough. He had wild theories of frightened, slightly mad poultry strapped with home made weapons: razors and re-dismantled forks, their tines shining under a swinging bare bulb. Rick could almost hear the yells for more blood, the wet cries of triumph, the soft curses from the losers.

Mary was of the opinion that Ms. Krenshaw hid the money away. Stockpiled it in some dirty mattress. Great dog-eared blocks of cash wound together tight with old rubber bands, dirty, barely legible paper, faded from being handled and re-handled (in Rick's mind, they'd be re-handled from all the bettors and bookies). It wasn't an implausible theory, argued Mary; Ms. Krenshaw did have a closed face, a squinting way to her walk and dress that made her look like an over wound clockworks piggy bank.

They both suspected Ms. Krenshaw hated children, and having wards of the state was her perfect excuse to starve and neglect kids.

Wards of the State. Rick at first found it odd that a whole government: bureaucrats, clerks, secretaries, janitors and all, would take care of children. At one point he heard that the people who cleaned the outside of parliament were government employees. Were they supposed to take care of kids too? Seemed an exercise in cruelty. Then he found out that the government had other people take care of kids, not strictly government employees. This turned out to be, in his experience, a far worse affair. Give him a parliament cleaner -- filthy hands and overalls, hands blistered from safety ropes, body tired from being suspended above a particularly inspired tower -- over Ms. Krenshaw any day.

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