Mike’s bandana was definitely not Hemingway’s flag of permanent defeat
“The sail was patched with flour sacks and, when furled, looked like the flag of permanent defeat.” Santiago
For those of you new to our site, you are about to read one of my favorite writers, and this piece will show you why. I think I’ll leave it at that.
Waiting for Mr. Ed
by Mike Stang
Trust me, I needed saving.
The time-portal-possibility I could’ve used to save myself, I slammed the door on. My past.
Forty-eight years later, I stood on the back porch of my grandfather’s beach shack in a rage. My hands turned to fists and I beat the old screen door till it groaned away from a bottom hinge and swung like a crazy, hanging person. The place was deserted—one more along a shoreline developers knew was too far from the city to draw the millionaire’s club; best just leave it to the periwinkles. I moved to a window and banged some more.
There were four of us: my grandparents, Honey the dog, and me. We each pulled the other closer to the hearth in the winters when the bay froze and the pipes split. At night, Philco-neon characters stayed on till the storms cut the power. I kept one eye on the fence out front, if the snow buried it there’d be no school the next day. Times were raw, there was no money, but there was family.
I never thought, when I turned my back on those two sweet people, I would want again so desperately, what I so carelessly threw away. It was cheap glitter I was after: it dragged me by the nose. I bragged about my creative personality; dreams full of imagination; the girls all wanting to talk to me. When I left Ma and Pa, I left my morals on their table.
“Mikey, wait,” Pa said. I glared at him impatient; stupid. He reached into his pocket and pulled out some money. From another, this man who whispered me to sleep at night and lightly scratched my hands in the morning, drew a folded white handkerchief and gave it to me on top of the cash. My rebellion crumbled. I would’ve moved mountains to beg forgiveness and asked to stay, but it was time to go.
At first, I used his gift as a… as a handkerchief. I blew my nose in it but decided that wasn’t right. I wrapped it around a small baggie of mushrooms. When I got to the desert, I ate the mushrooms then used it as a bandana instead. I washed, cooked and cleaned with it. Used it as a tourniquet; everything.
Eventually, the holy rag, as my mind called it, claimed honor. It was no longer white, I no longer washed it. Stitched edging feathered like a war flag. I tied it around my neck and stuck out my thumb; a bit of right against a highway of wrong.
Almost half a century later, the beach shack is overgrown in pines: a saddle-backed roof schemes with piano-fingered rot to bring it down.
They are hereabout. I tell that to a patrol cop about to arrest me for trespassing.
“Listen,” I said. “I grew up in this shed, and those ghosts in there are my ghosts, and nothing will stop me from going inside. My business is with them.”
Instinctively I used the handkerchief from my neck to wipe my forehead. Overwhelming memories carried me back to a night watching the snow. I didn’t see the fence. “Mikey?” My grandfather asked. “We’ll shovel the paths clear tomorrow, all right with you?”
You bet it was.
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