Hugo by Si Philbrook

I woke at just gone 2am
the on-call phone
nagging me towards
a bleary hello,

“There’s been a break-in
someone’s stolen the Christmas Tree”

I gathered my thoughts
and considered how
two waking night staff
could not see a thief break in
and steal an eight foot Christmas tree
from the main lounge
of a care home with 32 people in it.

Hugo.

I threw on some clothes
and drove the five miles in,
begining to rehearse
the words to use,
some sharp abuse
for losing Christmas.

Hugo.

Have you called the police,
rhetorical of course,
of course they hadn’t,
a procedures file is often considered
as irrelevant when it comes down to it.

Hugo.

I brushed past the staff and went straight up
to Hugo’s room
and there
squashed in the corner
was an eight foot Christmas Tree,
I smiled.

Hugo was a short, fierce, Down’s man
with a beautiful ponytail
and a sense of the absurd.

He stole anything he could
and destroyed anything he couldn’t steal.

This was his masterpiece,
an eight foot tree past two staff
up three floors along a corridor
and put back up
squashed, but decorated.

The man was obviously
a genius
and I could only smile.

The staff at least had the decency
to muster sheepish looks.
Hugo
that night
and forever
my hero.

White by Sue Gee

The trees are acid yellow and red. I hate autumn. If I stare at them hard enough I can make myself feel dizzy. The colours make me hurt. They are too alive. I turn back away from the window onto my pale existence and feel content. It hasn’t been easy. If you try to cut out colour from your life you will find that it creeps up on you. The oranges in the fruit bowl, the sickly yellow bananas. There is no escape from it. Just look around you. It’s everywhere.

When the goldfish died and I poured him down the toilet I got rid of the last bit of colour from downstairs. I didn’t kill him on purpose, although sometimes I may have forgotten to feed him. I don’t explain to people what I am doing but they still notice. They say things like ‘Mmm I like what you’ve done with your place’ with a crooked eyebrow. So I guess it affects them in some way. I don’t mind people but they do insist on trying to suffocate me. They force their colours on me. They think it might save me or something. Like a red vase for my birthday or a bunch of flowers. I smile and thank them through gritted teeth. The flowers go in the kitchen where there is no light until they die. The vase is perched on the edge of the sideboard until….oops, never mind. It is the best way.

Since I have started to get rid of colour I find that I have been wearing sunglasses whenever I go outside. It wasn’t the same when I was a child. Things were more, natural I suppose. When I remember being young I remember the fields. There was green, yes a lot of green. It is all yellow and red clowns and traffic lights everywhere these days.

I feel a bit like an albino avoiding the light. It isn’t the light that bothers me though. I’m not sure exactly what I’m avoiding. I just hope it stays away, whatever it is. Sometimes you do your best and stay indoors and it comes after you. Like the postman in his blood red polo shirt grinning at you like he’s just won the lottery or something. Sometimes it’s best just to shut the curtains and ignore the bell. That’s when I’m happy. When I know they can’t get in.

Dog Days by George Sparling

How would you drive a dog mad? You’d attach his leash to the clothesline, letting King run back and forth along its length, barking and yelping compulsively until becoming hoarse. It was my mother’s idea.

The Wausau, Wisconsin house gave us our first real backyard. A willow tree stood on the bank of a small stream, its roots traveling down into the water. Shrubs ran between our house and the neighbor’s, thick bushes curving around both sides of the stream. Sure, King needed boundaries, but not hitched overhead, dashing frantically upon a miniscule strip of lawn. I thought the yard idyllic at first, but hadn’t counted on mother’s brainstorming notion.

On hot summer days, mother often pinned up clothes. After she took down the clothes, annoyed at King’s barking alone in the house, she fetched him, placing a choke collar around his neck, attaching it to another leash. This she fastened to the line, thinking that would pacify the collie, cooling him out. She wanted to sit in a folding chair, reading the Saturday Evening Post, but gave up as King raced nervously from one end of the line to the other, barking, disrupting her break from housework and kids.

My father had a dog growing up in a Western Canadian farming community. Dad reminisced about Buster every now and then, with minor variations. A Seagram’s Canadian Club

Old-fashion in his hand, he told us Buster jumped up on anyone, barked unexpectedly and often, drank out of the same trough as the horses, ran free through the fields and woodlands, kept up with the galloping mares and stallions, and came home whenever he wanted.

But in Wausau, under a new job’s discipline ( moving from one place to another became a life style in those days ), it required orderliness and the usual perseverance. Dad gave mature ambitions free rein, letting it instruct family life, as he held in check those anarchical Canadian days. The exception was Saturday evenings after dinner.

Throwing a stick, seeing the dog chase it, bringing it back, then dropping it at an owner’s feet: that was corny. Spontaneity begot invention. After romping around the yard, King untethered, Dad restrained him; my sister and I knew the drill. We ran, yelling and laughing, around the house to the front yard. Then, Dad released him. King ran as fast as he could, finding us as we screamed excitedly, thoroughly enjoying the game. We walked back behind the house and replayed the entertainment.

Of course, if a bicyclist passed on the street, the dog stopped playing with us and chased the rider, sometimes nipping a bicyclist’s jeans or skirt. Soon, after much hollering, the dog ran back to us. The game resumed until nightfall, until we laughed and screamed ourselves out, getting sweaty but never tired, thinking this sport would go on forever.

But then Dad found a better job, and we moved to a newly constructed house in suburban Chicago. The street had no sidewalks and cars drove faster past our new home than those in Wausau. The lot lacked seclusion as we had in the much older neighborhood of Wausau. The emerging neighborhood hadn’t begun landscaping. The house was too small for a dog, especially one needing exercise. I developed asthma and King became a liability.

The commuter train was thirty-seven miles to Chicago, where Dad put his near-perfect Certified Public Accounting test score to better use, becoming a mid-level executive. A short drive to work in Wausau now became a time-consuming round-trip. Plus, the new responsibility of a demanding job, justifying the firm’s hiring him through hard work, Dad taking a briefcase home many nights—life took on a seriousness I hadn’t expected.

Soon, one late afternoon, a man sat in the living room, Dad talking about King needing more space better suited for an active, high-strung dog. He deserved a better life, Dad said, the man replying, don’t we all. The man had a large farm; King would be happier there. I sat opposite the man, tearing up but not crying. I accepted $10 from him, the most money I ever had in my hands for myself. He walked out with King. I hadn’t bothered following King from the front window, seeing him disappear with a stranger. Dad fixed an Old-fashion while I watched TV. No, it wasn’t “Lassie.”

A year later Dad found out that King ran off at night, coming back during the day for food and attention, I presumed. A bit later Dad said he’d run away and the owner gave up looking for him.

In school, when the siren went off, I once got up from my seat, trying to catch a glimpse of the fire engine going north on Hough Street. My mother and I walked King down this street, foliage embracing us, shielding us from father’s stressful conversation at dinner. The once barren field across our street would soon be developed, large homes built, blocking our view to a forest in the distance. Instead of fire engines, I saw myself and mother, King straining on his leash, trying to break free. I then understood death was more than extinction: it was sitting at the table, listening to what happened at the office. He lost Buster as I lost King, connecting to the wider world where death began seeping through TV news. It was 1953 and the world was changing.

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