Most people would be upset to get a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking. Not me.
Times were harsh in England in the early fifties, in the aftermath of World War Two. Everything was rationed, food, clothing and even coal. We cooked on coal, kept warm on coal and when the coal ran out everything stopped. One year the coal ran out.
The coal yard was only a couple of streets away. Surrounded by a high fence and barbed wire, the stuff inside was worth more than gold. It was certainly more useful. So my friend and I, twelve year old entrepreneurs before the word had even been invented, stole a neighbor’s wheelbarrow and walked down to the coal yard in the dead of night. We had a sack that we threw up and over the barbed wire and then I climbed up the fence and down into the yard. I began firing lumps of coal over the fence and listened as I heard them being loaded into our barrow. After a few minutes all I heard was silence. I could hear the lumps of coal smashing on the street, but nothing else. I climbed back over the fence and found nothing. There was no wheelbarrow and no friend, only lumps of smashed coal all over the road.
My friend, I found out later, had taken a case of the wobbly frights and ran home with the half empty wheelbarrow. It was a misadventure, but I used the sack to pick up the coal on the street and lugged it home. The coal we got kept us going until the ration book started working again. For years afterwards, my friend used to send me a lump of coal for Christmas. It was a present most valu’d.
It was there; waiting for me on the front path outside my door. It looked like a bony white severed finger and it was pointing right at me. There was a message inscribed on it. Blue lettering that held some kind of a cryptic message. I looked closer and saw that it was a golf tee. A white golf tee laying on my front path and I don’t golf. How did it get there? Where had it come from? Who or what could have sent it to me? I worry about things sometimes. Sometimes I worry about things like that. I looked closer at the inscription. “DOUBLE G GOLF SALES” is what it said; or at least what it “appeared” to say. I knew better. Signs from the heavens are always written in tongues or at least in anagrams! I messed up the letters in my head and saw the truth. There were several options; false gods, Blood eagle, Gold eagle, Dogs of glee, Flue gasses, Dogs balls…There were all kind of cryptic inferences hidden in that message. But the one that raised the faded hairs on the back of my neck was “Al Gould Flogs Beef”. Al Gould was the son of a butcher in the town I grew up in. He was a bully. He was a real bully. He tormented everyone, tortured small animals and delighted in helping old ladies half way across fast traffic streets. One day he just disappeared and was never seen again. I remember my dreams. I have recurring dreams. One recurring dream I used to have was of me pounding all of the cutlets and rib roasts out of Al Gould with a two by four and then upending him into an old fashioned metal garbage bin (a “dustbin” in English!). Quick joke! “My dustbin’s full of Toadstools!” “How do you know they are Toadstools?” “Because there’s not “muchroom” inside!” In my dream I gave the corpse laden dustbin a flip and then a kick and it rolled away down the street; never to be seen again. I did him in. I topped him, he was brown bread, toast, done. I woke up one day years ago in a cold sweat, convinced that it wasn’t a dream but more of a scene that came out of my memory. I told my wife Sharon and we “Googled” his name. We found several Al Gould’s. One of whom was doing time for biting the heads off live chickens in a “Situational Art” presentation decrying the rise of vegetarianism and the decline of good old fashioned butchery! It had to be him. It had to be him. It had to be him. And it put my mind to rest. I wasn’t a killer. Until today when I found that bony white finger pointing straight at me from the hard cold concrete slab of my driveway …I worry about things sometimes. Sometimes I worry about things like that.
I had just finished reading to myself from a book last night when the engines started on the Air Base. I don’t read out loud so much anymore because that schoolgirl from the service socials says I’m a daft old coot. “You’re a daft old coot!” Is what she says. One a.m. in the morning, every morning, and they start testing their engines. I told the school kid when she came in with my breakfast, I said, “Why do they have to do that in the middle of the night? Why can’t they do it at lunchtime or something, then at least we wouldn’t forget to get something to eat.” She told me that it’s the sound of freedom, “It’s the sound of freedom!” she told me.