The room was small, long, and narrow. Chairs were arranged in rows along each side of a single isle that parted them, but nobody sat there; no flowers had been delivered there; no commemoration was present there. The lights had been dimmed so that it was nearly dark, except at the very front of the parlor where the casket lay in faint illumination designed to conceal several days of death to the cocoon from which the departed had passed into the ether of the collective fears, superstitions, dreams, and faiths of all humankind. And, the room was quiet. Deathly quiet.
I hesitated in the darkness at the back of the isle and juggled my version of those fears, superstitions, dreams, and faith. The room was static and pungent with the mercantile aroma of chemical flowers. Here was the end of death. Here, two little cowboys would quietly say adios before the fire. I hitched up my britches and proceeded slowly forward, my trigger finger twitching nervously. I was Marshal Wilcox, taking one dusty step after another dusty step toward a showdown between child and man.
Pappy’s mortal past lay inanimate. The dim light barely revealed his face that was masked by makeup to lessen the visual decay, but to anyone who knew him it seemed more a showman’s final greasepaint. The thespian had exited the stage. There remained only a costume that had been discarded by an old dreamer. It was the golden armor without the knight. I sighed long and slow, and let his corpus go.
My trigger finger eased, but my legs were still weak. I sat down.
“Now, Pappy, let me tell you a story.” I spoke into the void. “Once upon a time, in the land of imagination, with just the flicker of an eyelash, on the threshold of sleep… in the realm of mortal blunder and bungle through time, a little knight, Donn Uck Uck, was born.
Times were hard in those days. The Great Depression had begun, and folks were on the verge of a grim struggle for livelihood that would leave a vast and diverse populace eating out of the same can. It was a dust bowl of economic collapse that would end up drenched in a deluge of blood from the second World War. These were the sobering days in which this quixotic little knight would live his childhood.
Hard times are made harder by the indiscretions of malevolent, black knights. Sire Kidwell was a drunk. He was Lady Mum Mum’s husband, the father of this little knight, and an abusive drunk. Mum Mum once wrote:
Now, you are you, and I am I.
All Heaven and hell in between us lie.
Passion and love in the early years,
Then savage quarrels, abuse, and bitter tears.
Ecstasy was lost to a love defiled.
We, who gave life to a baby child.
Sire Kidwell’s abusive behavior went on for several years, and eventually drove Donn into a world of retreat, into an animated inner realm of myth and legend that exists in human spirit, though rarely found in the reality of the human condition. Pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth are imposing elements of human reality, and honor among villains can become a form of social and political endurance that bridges the spectrum of material possession—from impoverished desperados to the criminally extravagant. Rarely does a true archetype of justice appear in human form.
In the animated world created by a little boy’s retreating spirit and mind, from an abusive father, a tyrant, an emotional infant, who seldom was anything but a weak, tantrum raising terror, true heroes did exist. Furthermore, in little Uck Uck’s developing inner sanctum it did not matter if a hero spoke with a demoralizing stammer. It was a stammer partially brought on by Sire Kidwell’s cold, angry, violent, and unforgiving world. In little Uck Uck’s thoughts he did not stutter, not that anyone in that private world would have concerned themselves with an insignificant issue as that, when confronted with the great crusade. And, so, Donn Uck Uck began to animate himself.
Eventually, Lady Mum Mum divorced, took her little knight, and left Sire Kidwell to wallow in his cruel, embittered despair. Enough was enough. But it had been too much. Damage was done during the formative years. Much of Uck Uck’s time was now spent in his introverted realm where the animation had begun; where the Golden Knight began his crusade against harsh reality; where the great quest had become the medium, and unbeknownst to the quixotic little knight, the world cares little about the medium, rather, it expects products that sell.”
For a moment I thought I felt motion in the parlor. I sat forward and the sensation ceased, so I continued my story.
“You see, Pappy,” I resumed, “dreamers these days are not considered useful in our rapacious society until they are productive; until their medium becomes a means to an end, which is generally cold, hard cash. Cash, cold hard cash—that was the hideous, fire breathing behemoth against which your crusade was directed. Even a great and noble quest for the betterment of humankind must be funded!”
Again, I felt an attendance in the room, but only vague and distant, and unobtrusive.
“Anyway, Lady Mum Mum remarried to a kind, caring man, John Fought, who was opening a small bakery at the time. Baker John was a good man who adopted Uck Uck and become a good father. Times were still tough, however, and John was working long hours to compensate. His time with little Uck Uck, who was growing up, was limited. Donn Uck Uck was a curious boy with a wandering mind; he was building his fantasia; he was becoming an artist. He was a young squire at the helm of his future, but without charts. Windmills became obstacles.
Young adulthood presented a new problem. Was he going to become a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, butcher, baker, or a button maker? What should he become? In his fantasia the young squire was formatting his future as the Golden Knight, as well as a writer of short stories, and scripts. A vocalist, an artist, performer, technician, animator, film and video photographer, and audio-video or motion picture editor, capable of original programming, or using other’s initial works and re-working them, fine tuning them, innovating or re-inventing them. Add sculpture, and set design too… add composer also. And, I suppose, given enough time to fit it in, Indian chief would be fun also.
Reality was closing in on Uck Uck, and with it came the appearance of his greatest nemesis—the heartless villain known as Buck Star!”
I felt a cold shimmy down my spine. I looked around but realized no one except myself, and a myriad of deoxyribonucleic acid will-o’-the-wisps tittering about within me. I continued…
“…the adult person that Uck Uck produced within himself as a child, and named Buck Star. The evil spirit, the designer of procrastination and decay that produced a schizoid situation, and a paranoid reaction.
No true crusade can be fought solely against windmills. With the advent of Buck Star, Uck Uck donned the hauberk of the Golden Knight, and so became the impetuous Sir Donn Uck Uck. He now had a veritable archenemy with whom he could do battle in Camelot, in his fantasia, within. No need to fight the evil elements without any longer. Donn Uck Uck’s inner animation was now reeling like a great spool of film on the projector at the Knickerbocker theatre.
With manhood came manly desires. The alluring Dulcinea appeared on scene and lust and passion began to brew hot in Donn’s blood stream, temporarily overpowering emotional and neurotic need. Eventually Donn fell in love, married, and had children. Suddenly there were little cowboys wearing hand carved pistols on the right hip and wooden swords on the left, and watching Stagecoach one night, or listening to the wondrous tales of Sir Uck Uck, Charlie Horse, Snappy, the dragon, and the Walkin’ Polkin’ the next. Well, sir, what is it to be? Now, Donn Fought, husband and father, what are you going to be?
They want you to be exactly like them. You are not responsible to them. Society is callous and will destroy your dreams. It’s not like that in Hollywood. Buck Star kept whispering in Uck Uck’s mind. Don’t work for them. You are an artist, work for yourself. Take a few odd jobs. Put back a buck or two. Come to Hollywood with me. The jaundice smoke from the cigarette dangling from his mouth swirled around Buck Star, creating a hellacious aura. It spooked the brave knight. Star continued. Look how your parents had to struggle. Look at the despair from the Second World War. Do you want to claim a heritage to that world? Look how your in-laws treat you, and talk about you. Hell, you can’t talk to them without stammering one word into twenty. You are not wanted here. Come to Hollywood with me.
Donn’s marriage disintegrated. Another child was born. Divorce. Bridges were burnt. Walls were built. The little cowboys were left behind as Donn grew a pencil thin mustache and followed Buck Star westward to Hollywood.” I felt tired, and sat down again. The funeral parlor seemed stalled of all earthly connection. In the shadows, however, or of the shadows more accurately, I thought I could detect a comical ectoplasmic appearance. I stared at the phenomenon curiously, unafraid because of the humor that I sensed, and I resumed my story.
“Forty years passed. Sir Uck Uck chased windmills. The little cowboys moved to Texas and became big cowboys. They began chasing tumbleweeds of their own. Lady Mum Mum relocated to Florida. Donn stammered along the West Coast. He remarried briefly, divorced quickly. He stuttered, stumbled, worked with immensely animated egos, struggled with the immense animation of his own purpose, and yet produced no particularly marketable product. Hollywood became reality. The Golden Knight, with his mind’s camera and projector in tow, retreated to his mother’s wing in a quiet in St. Petersburg community. Everyone moved around, and kindred spirits passed each other like invisible winds.
Donn remarried again. He worked here and there, usually something creative, something artistic; painting store windows, working in a sign shop, building floats, never a career. He divorced again. Sir Donn Uck Uck grew older. And, somewhere during this time, he began the painful process of murdering Buck Star. And so, with his swash buckling blade, perhaps he did.
Star is now laid into the coffin, along with the falsity – the – the illusions – and buried without regret in my conscious mind – but I am aware he has left memories – and roots – and perhaps even, on occasion, will be resurrected – although not for long.
Friends – and enemies we were – and peculiarly – we loved each other – it was both incestuous and narcissistic – and we gave each other vicarious thrills – but now I have to live as an entity unto myself.
By shear attrition, I suppose, The Golden Knight was at last winning his crusade. He was in his seventies. Buck Star could not manipulate an old man. Old men cannot dash across silver salts.
Donn found rewarding work, remarried, and they bought a home together. Being a knight errant, Uck Uck had never been a homeowner. Sir Donn Uck Uck finally became Donn Fought.
One evening at that quiet and humble abode, Donn Uck Uck received a message that two little cowboys wanted to reunite.”
The nebulous figure sharing in the parlor emerged more clearly, like an undulating reflection recovering in a murky pool into which a child had tossed a stone. I was enthralled by the hazy materialization, but unable to determine form or function. I went on with my story.
“Well, Pappy, as you and I know, the reunion was a marvelous event, and the several years after were filled with graceful moments of reacquaintance. And then the Golden Knight’s crusade ended. Donn Uck Uck laid down his shield at last and expired.”
“But you know what Pappy,” I declared. “Except for this tale of a brave and troubled knight, I know little about you. Our reunion only gave mortal form to a quixotic romantic, an embattled dreamer in contention with the human condition, a father four decades mythical, a cockeyed optimist and eventually an old man, not ancient, but not young, who had spent much of his (very tumultuous) lifetime looking for lilly-lilly-boom-booms.
He caught a few, or tried to catch a few, I should say… it never really happened. He never gave up hope, however, that he could catch a lilly-lilly-boom-boom. But, he was content. As I said, he had gone on his quests, and built crooked houses, and he had many wonderful friends… the cross-eyed carpenter, Snappy Dragon, the Walkin’ Pokin’, Charlie Horse, Honey Bear, Hoppity Crane. Why, he and Don Quixote used to go out together – you remember Don Quixote the puppet? – They used to go out together and fight windmills. The old man was pretty good at fighting windmills.
Lilly-lilly-boom-booms, windmills, Buck Star, Sir Uck Uck! Even when you became a real person you remained the result of your personal fantasies, your animations. A large puppet. The show must go on! Little cowboys or no little cowboys. On with the show! Big cowboys or no big cowboys. Lights, cameras, action! Even in your last year, your final reel, much time was spent chronicling the medium that was you. Audio, video, and numerous sketches of yourself in comic situations. Truly, your epitaph might well read, his medium was his message… profit be damned!”
The slowly emerging figure of which I had been abstractly aware during my discourse revealed itself. There he stood in pure animated glory, at the foot of the casket, and in golden armor, Donn Uck Uck, Donn Arthur Kidwell, Donn Morris Fought, Pappy. He spoke, with no hint of stammer.
“Unto thy self be true. Why do you fret, Mark, my role is complete. I am no longer divided, I am free. Are you not happy for me?”
“Unto thy cast be responsible.” I spoke in retort. I am eternally happy for you, but Woe is me, and me is woe. I sense remorse at my inheritance.”
“What do you mean by that? I have nothing. I have never had much. If ever I was paid a dime, I owed a quarter! Even the house, the humble abode, is steeped in debt. I would have left you the world, but I was unable to leave you anything.”
“Oh, I’m not counting finite numbers here.”
“Then, Sonny Boy, whatever do you mean? Of what inheritance do you refer?”
I stood and walked to the head of the casket, not looking at the cocoon, but across it at the butterfly, knowing that butterflies live a fleeting life and that in a moment’s time this vision would vanish, and I explained myself.
“You see, Pappy, with angst in my heart… I know what a Lilly-lilly-boom-boom is!”
Suddenly the door opened at the far end of the parlor. Trevor entered and joined me up front. The room had again become dim, static, and pungent. Pappy’s corporeal form laid lifeless, as do all when the life force departs into the great unknown. We stood there for a brief, silent turn of the Mandela.
“I love you, Pappy.” I said, and we left.
The immediate contrast from the dim parlor to the sunlight in a couple of cowboys’ eyes was blinding at first, and I had to wipe the dampness from mine.
“No belongings?” I asked Trevor as I donned my shades.
“Clothing. Nothing worth keeping.” He replied. “So, did you have a dialogue?”
“What do you mean?” I asked, and Trevor put on his sunglasses. We didn’t discuss it further. We drove to the ocean, to the saline solution, to the beach where the sun would be setting soon, to a shore where the beak of a pelican can hold more than his belly can.
From the clock radio in the kitchen, I could hear some scratchy, old jazz tunes, but the silence in Pappy’s house was vociferous for the next few days.
“Preserving Pappy.” Trevor finally mumbled.
He was sorting through and archiving all the electronic devices, videos, and large collection of music and movies that were stacked unpredictably about in the den. I was perusing the mounds of papers, letters, cards, handwritten text that was near impossible to decipher, poorly typed prose, documents, cartoons, and drawings that were stashed in boxes or freely throughout the house. A moment or two passed, then I replied,
“Preserving Pappy… we’re preserving Pappy.” He responded.
“What?” I replied again as I was partially listening, partially reading.
“I am archiving his dreams; his talents; his entertainments, his legacy. You are filtering through his past, his life, his realities, his dynasty. With this anthology we are preserving Pappy.” He did not look up from the discs in his hand as he quietly spoke.
“Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars…” Sinatra’s voice floated from the clock radio into the warm, subdued morning.
Suddenly the sound of voices; vernal, welcomed, laughing voices came from outside. Harley had come by with his children.
“What’s up… how’d the memorial go? What are y’all up to?”
“Preserving Pappy!” Trevor and I declared simultaneously, and chuckled at the levity of the impromptu reply.
“Well,” he glanced about the emptying house, the boxes of relics that we had compiled, and at the bags of trash stacked out back, “looks like you’ve preserved most of what’s left of him anyway.”
It was time for all of us to get back to the routine lives. Death is probably not a measure of time for the participant, rather a transformation of energy. A reformation of life. We, however, must continue with the struggle of defining our purpose corpus, as well as finding food, water, housing, clothing, and sanity.
The next day Trevor, and Harley, packed his bounty into their car, and into a small trailer attached, and prepared for the drive back to Dallas, while I boxed up some papers and mailed them to Portland. We said our goodbyes and they left early. I remained for a couple more days before my flight. I checked into a beach motel with plans of watching bikinis and pelicans.
Continue to Part 26 – The End
Mark T.K. Fought