Today’s Gag

March 28, 2014

1404-Dead-BlogTo buy reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, visit my archives at cartoonstock.com, and jantoo.com. Buy a selection of my gag cartoons reproduced on mugs, t-shirts and other products at: zazzle.com/mugtoons/products

Copyright © 2014 Jim Sizemore.

Short Takes

March 24, 2014

Small Differences: The Spanish Way

by Susan Middaugh

07

In visiting Spain recently to hike part of El Camino, a trek that pilgrims the world over have been doing for centuries, I was prepared for the big differences that you associate with vacationing in a foreign country: currency, language, and climate. But it was the small differences, like finding a Starbuck’s closed at 7:30 on a Saturday morning in a big city like Madrid, that took me by surprise. (Click images for larger views.)

I’ll never forget the elderly man who interrupted his stroll down a country lane to give me a walnut or the two volunteers at a refugio (or shelter) in El Acebo who hosted a meal for twenty pilgrims from all over the world. The food, wine, music, hospitality and conversation that night were truly memorable.

03-1But in the course of my two-week hiking trip, there were some baffling moments too. These differences, unexplained in guidebooks, jostled my assumptions about the most mundane aspects of daily living. Some of them were positively mystifying and others made me laugh out loud. Take the hamburger. When I ordered one in Astorga, it tasted different. The chef’s view of our American staple was quite literal. The burger was made of chopped ham.

Another time, my limited Spanish put me at a disadvantage when ordering a sandwich. My lunch, though tasty, turned out to be a double dose of carbohydrates: mashed potatoes between two slices of white bread. It reminded me of a trip to Salt Lake City and a restaurant that served spaghetti with French fries.

The public restrooms were also occasionally baffling. At one private refugio for pilgrims in Hontanas, the stall to the women’s toilet contained no seat or throne, simply a hole in the metal floor and an outline of where to place your feet. Being pressed for time, I squatted over the opening in the floor, did my business and wondered how a handicapped person might navigate under similar circumstances. It was only later that I discovered, at the same location, toilets – with and without seats.

02Further down the road, in Boadillo del Camino, another restroom had me flummoxed. I looked around for a towel dispenser. No luck. But on one wall hung a metal contraption that resembled an automatic hand dryer. After pressing the knob, water sloshed all over the floor. I’m still confused. Was it for the cleaning staff to put their buckets under or a convenient tap for pilgrims to refill their water bottles?

Another time I tried to order a chunk of Swiss cheese, which was on special, at a deli counter at a local supermarket. The woman behind the counter said I couldn’t have it, but she was willing to slice another kind. Did the sale on Swiss begin the next day? I’ll never know.

train-stationPublic transportation in Spain is punctual, comparatively inexpensive, and comfortable. But my expectations about how things work were made in America. When traveling by train from Chamartín Station in Madrid to Burgos, I entered the coach and sat down, just as I would on Amtrak or MARC, Maryland’s commuter railroad. A young man approached, pointing and waving his ticket. It took me awhile to realize I was sitting in his seat. Sure enough, if I had looked closely, my ticket had a coach and seat assignment. I moved and the gentleman, who had graciously parked himself elsewhere, smiled.

We worked it out in a civilized way. Poco a poco, little by little, I was learning the Spanish way of doing things.

I wonder what first-time visitors to the U.S. make of our culture?

Copyright © 2014 Susan Middaugh.

susan_pic3Susan Middaugh is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Several of her personal essays have appeared on this blog. To find them, simply type her name in the little search window, or check out the archives in the sidebar, beginning in April of 2009. Also in the sidebar under the Blogroll, Business and Writing labels, there are links to Susan’s website, Have Pen Will Travel.

Doodlemeister is looking for short first-person observations up to 1,500 words, on any subject, in any style, for this series. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story about something interesting you saw, experienced—or simply thought about—please contact us by e-mail at jimscartoons@aol.com


From Here to Eternity, an Essay

March 18, 2014

Two Scenes from a Classic Film

By Jim Sizemore

Kerr-Lancaster-Kiss

If I had to pick one perfect movie, I’d quickly name From Here to Eternity, starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. The 1953 drama was adapted from the best selling novel by James Jones, screenplay by Daniel Taradash, directed by Fred Zinnemann. I consider the film cinema gold from start to finish, but I’ll briefly focus on the relationship between the Lancaster and Kerr characters. Sergeant Warden and Karen Holmes’ love affair is the spine of the story and is introduced and developed by screenwriter Taradash in two scenes, both of which come in the first twenty minutes of the film. Neither of them involve sand, sea or sex—at least not graphic sex. (Click images for larger versions.)

Anyone who knows anything about vintage movies is familiar with the erotic scene of Sergeant Warden and Karen kissing on the beach, the one with the wave breaking over their bodies. It’s an iconic film image known even to people who have never seen the movie. Unlike couples in most movies, this wet duo enmeshed in a torrid embrace did not meet “cute.” You might even say they met “ugly.” For me, their first scene together, which comes about ten minutes after the opening credits, is sexier than the beach scene by at least a factor of ten. No blatant fireworks, but there are sparks, a subtle display of sexual tension, mixed with an interesting undercurrent of dislike, even distrust. In that short scene there is strong attraction but also implicit conflict between the characters —and conflict, as we know, is the lifeblood of drama. For me, at least in dramatic terms, conflict can be sexy. The smoldering and sarcastic banter between Karen and Warden in that scene foreshadows adultery to come. Karen, we quickly learn, is married to Warden’s commanding officer.

I’ve transcribed the two scenes using a combination of Daniel Taradash’s second draft script, which I found on the Internet, and the finished movie. Both scenes as shot differ somewhat from the script, and I’ll point out how the first one has been changed after we read it. In that scene we discover Sergeant Warden in front of the company supply room talking to Leva, the supply clerk. They watch as Karen arrives in the area looking for her husband.

LONG SHOT KAREN HOLMES FROM WARDEN AND LEVA’S ANGLE as she walks toward them. She is at a considerable distance. Karen is about thirty. She wears a sweater and skirt. She is aware the men are studying her.

MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT WARDEN AND LEVA watching Karen.

LEVA: Shooish! — her and them sweaters.

LONG SHOT KAREN FROM WARDEN AND LEVA’S POV as she continues toward them. Warden’s and Lava’s voices, loud at first, get softer and softer the nearer Karen gets to camera. At end of the shot, as she is only a few yards away, they are practically whispering.

WARDEN’S VOICE: I’ll bet she’s colder than an iceberg . . .

LEVA’S VOICE: Not her, Top, she knows the score like I been tellin you.

WARDEN’S VOICE: (sarcastic) Is that right?

LEVA’S VOICE: Listen, not around here, but I was back at Fort Bliss with Holmes. I heard plenty about this lady then. Plenty.

WARDEN’S VOICE: You did, huh?

LEVA’S VOICE: Okay, not me — but I know some of them she played ‘round with, so don’t tell me.

WARDEN’S VOICE: I ain’t tellin you. You’re tellin me.

Karen stops a few paces from camera.

KAREN: Good morning, Sergeant.

WARDEN: Morning, ma’am.

MEDIUM SHOT. Leva watches, listens avidly but discreetly in background. During the dialogue, Karen seems irritated by Warden, who looks at her coolly, appraisingly, physically.

KAREN: I’m looking for my husband.

WARDEN: Captain Holmes just went in town, ma’am. On business.

KAREN: Oh. He was to have left some things for me; do you know anything about them?

WARDEN: No I don’t, ma’am. Anything I can do for you?

KAREN: No, thanks.

WARDEN: I’d be glad to help. Ma’am.

She makes a slight move to go, then pauses.

KAREN: My husband’s been telling me a lot about you, Sergeant. He says you’re very efficient.

WARDEN: Yes, ma’am.

KAREN: What is it that makes you so efficient, Sergeant?

WARDEN: I was born smart, ma’am.

Karen laughs suddenly, quietly.

KAREN: I love that. Well goodbye, Sergeant.

Karen turns and walks back toward her car. Warden and Leva watch her. When she is out of earshot Leva speaks.

LEVA: Man, she sure is one, ain’t she?

WARDEN: One what?

LEVA: One woman.

WARDEN: (unconvincingly): I’ve seen better.

As performed, this scene differs only slightly from the Daniel Taradash second draft script. Most of the tweaks involve a word change here and there which sharpen and clarify the dialogue between the two characters. The scene is an excellent example of what experts agree are the three things an effective dramatic encounter should do: Advance the story, develop (deepen) character, and establish (and/or deepen) conflict. I would add a fourth: a good scene should also entertain. That aspect may be the result of the quality of the writing or the performances or, as in this case, a combination of both. In From Here To Eternity I believe we’ve given all four elements in just about every scene throughout the movie—and that, in my opinion, is what makes it a great film.

kerr-lancaster1Scene two between Sergeant Warden and Karen also has several departures from the draft script. These changes are more extensive. In fact, several lines of dialogue are cut from the end of the second draft version. I’ll talk a bit more about that after we’ve read the scene as filmed, which comes at about twenty minutes into the movie:

EXT. BACK PORCH OF HOLMES’ HOUSE. DAY. MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT WARDEN standing outside in the rain. He wears a GI rain hat and coat. He pauses, then knocks briskly on the door of the screened porch. Karen opens the kitchen door onto the porch. She is in shorts and a blouse.

KAREN: Well, if it isn’t Sergeant Warden. You better step inside or you’ll get wet.

INT. PORCH OFF KITCHEN – DAY MEDIUM SHOT She opens the screen door and he steps onto the porch. He removes his rain hat, shaking off the raindrops.

WARDEN: I am wet.

KAREN: If you’re looking for the captain, he isn’t here.

WARDEN: (taking the long chance) And if I’m not looking for him?

KAREN: (unsmiling) He still isn’t here.

WARDEN: (quickly) Well, I’m looking for him. Do you know where he is?

KAREN: I haven’t the slightest idea. Perhaps he’s in town on business. That’s the way you put it the other day, isn’t it?

WARDEN: (fishes in his pocket, brings out papers) I got some papers it’s important for him to sign.

KAREN: (turns) I’ll try phoning him at the Club. Maybe he’s there.

WARDEN: Don’t do that. I never like to disturb a man when he’s drinking. I could use a drink my self. Aren’t you going to ask me in?

Karen finally smiles, faintly. She goes into the kitchen, leaving the door open. Warden follows her.

INT. KITCHEN HOLMES HOUSE – DAY MEDIUM SHOT The kitchen is small and undistinguished.

KAREN: (gestures): The liquor’s there, Sergeant — in the cabinet.

Warden takes a whisky bottle from the cabinet and pours a straight, stiff drink, puts the bottle on the table. He puts the papers down and drinks. Karen leans against the sink counter.

KAREN: You’re taking an awful chance, you know. My maid is liable to be home any time.

WARDEN: No she won’t. Thursday’s her day off.

KAREN: You think of everything, don’t you, Sergeant?

WARDEN: I try. In my position you have to.

KAREN: (goes to table and picks up the papers) Are these really important?

WARDEN: Yes. But not important they get signed today. Tomorrow’s okay.

Karen suddenly, deliberately, rips the papers in half, then crumbles and throws them into the wastebasket.

WARDEN: I got copies at the office, so it won’t be much work to fix them up.

Warden’s control has begun to affect Karen’s now. She is losing her poise.

KAREN: That’s what I like about you, Sergeant. You have confidence. It’s also what I dislike about you.

WARDEN: It’s not confidence, ma’am. It’s honesty. I just hate to see a beautiful woman goin all to waste.

He moves close to Karen, is on the verge of embracing her. Greatly tempted but greatly disturbed, she turns away. During her monologue she pours herself a drink. Her tone is no longer brittle. It is bitter.

KAREN: Waste, did you say, Sergeant? Now that’s a subject I might tell you something about. I know several kinds of waste, Sergeant. You’re probably not even remotely aware of some of them. Would you like to hear? For instance — what about the house without a child? There’s one sort for you. Then there’s another. (Karen takes a drink) You’re doing fine, Sergeant. My husband’s off somewhere, it’s raining outside, and we’re both drinking now. But you’ve probably got one thing wrong. The lady herself. The lady’s not what she seems. She’s a washout, if you know what I mean. And I’m sure you know what I mean.

WARDEN: You gonna cry?

KAREN: (turning away): Not if I can help it.

Warden takes a drink and puts the glass down on the table, hard enough for her to hear.

KAREN (turning back to him): What are you doing?

WARDEN I’m leaving. Isn’t that what you want?

KAREN (slowly) I don’t know, Sergeant. I don’t know.

They stare squarely at each other, both puzzled and a little afraid of their emotions. This is something neither had counted on. He goes to her and they kiss. Music up. The camera pulls back and out the window, into the rain.

FADE OUT

Now that’s one sexy scene—the sexiest in the movie, in my opinion. It’s much more erotic than that sea-soaked episode on the beach, the scene from the movie that everyone remembers. Toggling back and forth between the second draft script and my tape of the movie was a revelation. I came to appreciate even more the writing skills involved, but also the contributions to the project that Kerr and Lancaster make—how subtly the nuance of facial expression, gesture, and body language communicate and reinforce emotions only hinted at on the page.

And remember that section of dialogue I mentioned that was cut from the second scene—removed by the screenwriter or the director as he shot the movie? In the Daniel Taradash second draft there was no kiss. In its place there is the following exchange, which comes after Karen says, “I don’t know, Sergeant. I don’t know.”

WARDEN: I know a beach near Diamond Head. Nobody ever goes there. The cars on the highway pass above and they never know it’s there. You feel like you used to feel when you were a kid, hiding by yourself in a cave, watching the others hunting you.

Karen turns, goes to the sink, puts the whisky bottle back in the cabinet.

KAREN: Maybe . . . why not?

WARDEN: How about Payday?

KAREN: You don’t have to spend money on me, Sergeant.

WARDEN: I just like to have some on me when I take out a woman. Can you get away?

KAREN: Maybe.

Warden grins. He goes to the door to the porch, pauses there.

WARDEN: I’ll be in Kuhio Park. Say, nine o’clock. Payday.

Karen leans back against the sink, watches him go out to the porch. A moment later the sound of the door is heard as he leaves. She turns on the faucet, starts to rinse the glasses they have used. Suddenly she turns the faucet on full force, watches it pound into the sink.

FADE OUT.

kerrlancaster2What is wrong with this second draft version of the scene? A more apt question is, What’s right with it? Take the blatant symbolism of the faucet water pounding into the sink, that’s downright corny. And the dialogue is too explicit, from Warden’s crude planning of their first “date” and it’s useless (to the audience) details. It’s all pure exposition that lacks even a suggestion of emotional nuance. Nothing is left for us to think about. Worse still, we feel nothing. We have been talked down to, led by the hand (nose) so that every thing is made perfectly (awfully) clear. Basically we are disrespected, our intelligence demeaned. We are insulted by being given TOO MUCH DIRECT INFORMATION.

You don’t have to be a professional screenwriter to figure out which of the two versions of that scene between Karen and Sergeant Warden is best. It’s simple; as filmed, the cuts and word changes made by the screenwriter and/or the director lets us connect to the story in a personal way. The same is true for the complete film. Throughout we are shown, not just told—we are allowed to feel our way into figuring it out for ourselves. The filmmakers permit us to collaborate in the creative process, and that’s what makes these two scenes—and the rest of the movie, all of which is treated with the same artful craft—so powerful. As I said, it’s a perfect film.

This is an edited repost from September 28, 2009.
Copyright © 2014 Jim Sizemore

Today’s Gag

March 12, 2014

1403-Advice-BlogTo buy reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, visit my archives at cartoonstock.com, and jantoo.com. Buy a selection of my gag cartoons reproduced on mugs, t-shirts and other products at: zazzle.com/mugtoons/products

Copyright © 2014 Jim Sizemore.

Five-Minute Memior

March 1, 2014

Dunny

Text and photographs by Florence Newman

Cliff3

We met on the single-lane road that runs straight out from the village of Halkirk to Loch Calder then takes a sharp left and meanders along the shoreline out to a hunting lodge at the foot of Ben Dorrery.  My morning walks only took me as far as the loch, about two hours round trip, timed so that I could have breakfast back at the Ulbster Arms Hotel with my husband before he and the other anglers set out for their beats on the Thurso. If I missed breakfast, I’d be unlikely to see Howard again until the late afternoon, when they’d all come off the river with the salmon they’d caught or at least with stories of the ones that had shown, leapt, spurned the fly, thrown the hook or otherwise gotten away. (Click images for larger views.)

Some mornings, Dunny would arrive in the opposite direction from me, appearing as a small dot on the distant asphalt, disappearing for a minute or two when the road dipped slightly, but approaching steadily, laboriously, on his rusty bicycle, his little dog running along beside him.  LandscapeDunny was short and may have once been stocky, but was now merely barrel-chested and wiry.  He wore a loose white shirt and a gold necklace, the shirt unbuttoned far enough to expose a tuft of grizzled hair on his chest.  His face was weathered, with cherubic red cheeks and blue eyes by turns mirthful and shrewd.  When he smiled, which was often, he displayed a set of teeth so incongruously complete and uniform that they must have been dentures.  His snowy hair curled at his collar.  That first day, we somehow fell into conversation, although given Dunny’s heavy Scottish brogue I only understood one word out of three and mostly grinned and nodded to cover my incomprehension.  I suspect that my primary appeal for Dunny was that I was female—never mind that I was in my fifties and had just hauled myself makeup-less out of bed and into my sweatshirt and windpants.  But also we shared an appreciation for the wide fields and low hills that spread out on either side of us, smattered with yellow and blue wildflowers and riven with trickling burnies. I remember that at that first meeting, Dunny said to me, clearly pleased, “I thin’ ye laik this pairt o’ the road,” which I took to mean “this part of the world,” though the literal meaning would have been equally true.

Donny McPhee was a gypsy, a fact in which he took great pride.  His first name sounded like “Dunny” in the local dialect, so that’s what I called him, splitting the difference between “Donny” and “Danny.”  His surname, McPhee, is apparently a common one among Scottish gypsies: it means (more or less) “of the fairies,” and I wondered if the gypsies had adopted the name to emphasize their distinction from ordinary people.  In addition to his rather raffish style, Dunny flaunted his ability with animals, purportedly a hereditary trait among Travelers (as Celtic gypsies often call themselves).  There was the terrier, Queenie, who sat at Dunny’s feet, gazing attentively at his face as if waiting for her next command.  Lady2Dunny also owned a white horse named Lady, who was staked out on a long rope on the grassy riverbank near the Ulbster Arms.  Lady, I was repeatedly told, performed tricks for Dunny, but I never saw any of them.  In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing Dunny and Lady together, though he must have led her into and out of the pasture morning and evening.  She was far from neglected, since I and fellow passersby would regularly coax her to the fence with an apple or other treat.  Nonetheless, like Dunny, she gave the impression that her better days, more active and more colorful, were behind her.  That Dunny prided himself on how well he’d trained his animals was evident from his chagrin one day when, stopped beside a tangle of brush at the roadside, Queenie plunged into the brambles and then refused to come out, despite her master’s increasingly frustrated calls, whistles, and remonstrances.  She had encountered some creature (a weasel, perhaps) that put up a fight—the bush thrashed about as if caught in a storm and emitted occasional high-pitched yips and squeaks.  Queenie eventually emerged from the briars, empty-mawed, but Dunny was mortified, having failed to uphold his reputation as an animal whisperer.

Queenie went everywhere with Dunny, trotting at the end of a leash tied to the handlebar of his bike when he rode.  Dunny was keenly interested in what wildlife I’d seen on my walk and perked up noticeably if I mentioned seeing rabbits.  The anglers joked that Dunny poached trout and salmon from the river; I don’t doubt that when no one was looking Dunny unleashed Queenie and sent her into the fields to find something to eat, legal or illegal.  It seems that Dunny had had a series of such canine accomplices, all named Queenie, over the years.  Maybe it was only with this particular Queenie that the gypsy mystique had not entirely taken.  At this stage of his life, poaching was probably just a pretext for Dunny to cycle the roads early in the morning.  He would tell me how different the countryside had been when he was young, how there had been no wire fences to prevent him from rambling freely for miles over the moors, how no one would complain then about trespassers, how there had been far more coneys and far fewer cars.  FencesAs an American, I had been astonished at Britain’s permissive policies toward hikers (don’t litter, don’t bother the sheep, and be sure to close the gate behind you).  A reluctant suburbanite, I reveled in the undisturbed natural beauty, the isolation and open spaces, of northernmost Scotland.  But I nodded sympathetically while Dunny railed against the changes wrought by progress, trying to imagine that even wilder, freer world he had roamed as a boy.  At least I think that was what he was railing against: his brogue was so rich and his diction so foreign that at times he might as well have been speaking Swahili.  I followed the general subjects of our conversation—the countryside in the past, the countryside today, the weather—but the specifics eluded me.  Once we were standing mid-road talking about what we’d seen that morning and Danny referred several times to “the vex.”  “Pardon?” I said.  “The vex,” repeated Dunny in that tone usually reserved for the hard of hearing or the mentally impaired.  “What?”  Finally, very loudly and with annoyance, “F-O-X. Vex.”  Now it was my turn to be mortified.

Although our relationship was entirely innocent, I was pleased that Dunny had recognized in me a kindred spirit, and I was protective, if not of him, at least of our special friendship, forged and for the most part conducted on the Halkirk-Loch Calder road.  Every July when Howard and I would come to Halkirk for his fishing week on the Thurso, Gorge1I could count on running into Dunny at least two or three mornings, and he would walk his bike beside me for a stretch if we happened to be going in the same direction or, if we were going in opposite directions, stop and chat with me (although I would fidget internally, feeling torn between lingering in the road and getting back to the hotel for breakfast).  Dunny always beamed when he saw me—“Ach, an’ it’s yersel’ again”—whether two days or an entire year had elapsed since we last met.

I was the one who spoiled the magic, I’m afraid.  Howard and his fishing partners knew about my meetings with Dunny, of course, but only because I told them. Queenie alone witnessed what transpired between us.  Then one year just after our arrival in Halkirk I happened to spot Dunny with his bicycle in front of the Ulbster Arms.  Without thinking, I ran over and gave him a hug, a gesture far more demonstrative than he was expecting or, I immediately realized, was appropriate.  He may have been tickled to have his machismo confirmed so publicly but I knew I had transgressed.  Moreover, Howard’s fishing group, who had watched the scene, started ribbing me over my “boyfriend.”  Their curiosity about Dunny did supply us with further information: he lived in one of the council houses (the British equivalent of public housing) on Crescent Street; there had been a wife, now estranged; his nephew, Danny McPhee,  had recorded several CDs of accordion music, available for purchase in the local shops.

A more complete picture of Dunny unfortunately led to further erosion of the barrier between our serendipitous but temporally and spacially limited friendship and the rest of our lives elsewhere.  One evening Howard brought back from the river a big, lovely brown trout, that most despised of all catches among anglers fly-fishing for salmon.  Instead of discarding it on the riverbank, as was the custom, Howard had the idea that Dunny might like to have the fine, fat trout for dinner, so off we went down Crescent Street looking for Dunny’s house along the row of council houses, identical except for the small, cement-walled gardens in front of each.  We eventually found one that matched the description we’d been given. An old bicycle leaned against the garden well, a likely sign.  Cliff2We knocked at the door and there was Dunny, rather startled to see us but gracious enough to invite us inside once Howard had explained about the trout.  We sat in a snug parlor rendered even snugger by overstuffed chairs, a t.v. set circa 1968, shelves full of bric-a-brac and framed photographs, and a wall displaying at least a half a dozen cuckoo clocks.  There was something very domestic about the room, a feminine touch, as if Dunny had just left things the way they were when the estranged wife walked out.  Howard asked polite questions, but he understood even less of Dunny’s speech than I did and mostly smiled and nodded when Dunny replied. Dunny’s smoker’s cough, which I’d noticed more in recent years, rumbled deep in his barrel chest.  The awkward exchanges alternated with awkward silences, exacerbated by the asynchronous ticking(s) of the clocks.  Dunny showed us a couple of his nephew’s CDs (“Danny McPhee, Star of the North”), pointing to his own accordion in a corner by way of translation.  Of course, Howard insisted that Dunny must play for us.  Dunny demurred, Howard cajoled, and Dunny took up the box and squeezed out a jaunty tune, fumbling occasionally and apologizing afterward that he was not nearly as good as his famed nephew.  Perhaps he had wanted to play all along, perhaps his performance was part of the grand Scottish tradition of music-making in private homes, perhaps I should remember the moment as especially intimate, the culmination of a long journey begun en route to Loch Calder.  But it felt all wrong to me—the unannounced visit, the charitable donation (rich Americans on holiday patronize local pensioner), the coerced accordion concert, the intrusion of the personal into the casual, the forced familiarity. The room was too close.  We should be outside.  Another transgression.

The following year, the weather was more dreary than usual, and I encountered Dunny only once on my walks: he preferred days when the haze lifted early, the sky showed blue, the cloud-cast shadows scudded swiftly over the hillsides, and the white-capped mountain peaks were visible on the southern horizon. Headlands To him, perhaps, my appearance on the road was an indication that summer had indeed come, like the blooming of the thistle and the sheering of the sheep.  Queenie still plodded along beside the bike, her tongue quivering with the effort.  Dunny seemed unchanged, except that the cough rolled a bit longer and more frequently when he laughed.  “Ye maun laik this pairt o’ the road,” he said with a grin before we parted.

The next year I didn’t see Dunny at all.  Queenie had been hit and killed by a car in front of the Ulbster Arms, I was told, where Crescent Street meets Bridge Street: losing his dog seemed to have broken Dunny’s spirit, he didn’t get out very often, Lady had been moved to a farm near Lybster.  The following summer when I arrived at the hotel, Howard’s fishing partner said he had some sad news: “Your friend Dunny McPhee has died.”  He’d died, it turned out, not long after we left Halkirk the previous July and had been buried in the Thurso municipal cemetery.

I missed my meetings with Dunny.  I missed even more the possibility that he would be pedaling his bike down the road between the fields, watching for rabbits and birds and foxes, with the sun on his back and the wind in his face and Queenie running alongside him.  Later that week, when I climbed the headlands above the Pentland Firth, it occurred to me that Dunny must have been there in his ramblings as a young man, so I plucked some daisies from the clumps that grew defiantly on the cliffs overlooking the sea, carried them back down in my fanny pack, and drove to the Thurso cemetery.  Dunny’s grave was in a newer portion, up against a white-washed wall, still topped with dirt through which some green shoots were beginning to grow.  A gleaming black headstone had been erected, a delicate rose etched in one corner. It was inscribed

In

Loving

Memory Of

DONALD McPHEE

WHO DIED 28th JULY 2007

AGED 80 YEARS

BELOVED HUSBAND OF

WILLIAMINA McPHEE

Williamina’s name had the same prominence as her husband’s and there was room on the stone for her death date and age when the time came. Beloved Dunny.  I left my daisies on the turned earth and walked away.

© Copyright 2014, Florence Newman.

FloHdshot2Florence Newman is professor emerita at Towson University, where she taught in the English Department for 27 years.  A specialist in Middle English literature, she has published and delivered conference papers on Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and medieval women writers.  She grew up in Blacksburg, Va., reading books in her parents’ library and eating strawberries from her grandfather’s garden.  She currently lives with her husband in Towson, Md., escapes occasionally to their farm on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and travels farther afield when time, energy, and finances permit.

Doodlemeister is looking for short first-person observations up to 1,500 words, on any subject, in any style, for this series. If need be, we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story about something interesting you saw, experienced—or simply thought about—please contact us by e-mail at jimscartoons@aol.com