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R. Harlan Smith
Watercolorist - Writer "You can only get so far away from something until any farther doesn't make a damned bit of difference."
Watercolorist - Writer "You can only get so far away from something until any farther doesn't make a damned bit of difference."


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Theme: Shadows
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Abraham, the ex-rabbi, and Curly, his friend, are playing chess in Herby's Delicatessen. Abraham gives Robin a lesson.

“You should be a good student,” Abraham said. “But first, a secret. It will be good for you to learn how to direct your will power.”
Robin listened to Abraham as Curly studied the chess board, and the fans turned slowly overhead.
Abraham raised his finger. “When you learn when to concentrate and when not to concentrate. Then you will be one who directs his own will power.”
Abraham leaned back in his chair. His finger went up again. “But first, you must get a rope. Only rope will do. You must tie this rope between two trees close to the ground. When you can walk on this rope, back and forth with ease, then you can tie it higher, to your waste, and walk on the rope like that. Then, with the rope even higher, you should learn to jump up for the rope and pull yourself up and walk it like that. Then you have learned to concentrate. Then, when you direct your will power, you will have substance. My advice to you is to get a rope.”
Robin scratched his head. “Where am I supposed to get a rope?”
“Listen to him, this one. He has the world before him and what does he want? Rope. Schlemiel.”
When Robin had gone Abraham said, “The rope will strengthen his will, if he has the will to find one.”
Curly said, “What if he don't? It's your move.”
“I wouldn't have told him about the rope if he didn't. I know it's my move. Listen, The most important time in a child's life is the time they spend with the grownups. The mind is more impressionable. The personality more malleable. The heart is more welcoming. If there is a child without a happy face anywhere on earth, then God – we should bless his name – should have the responsible parents report to him. All the greatest mistakes of humanity are made during childhood. Who knows this? Nobody. This one, he's a good boy.”
“You just said he was a schlemiel.”
“You're a schlemiel. He's a good boy.”
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I wasted three hours searching for a word to end a sentence. I shaved. I sat and thought. I vacuumed, and sat and thought. I did the dishes and laid out what I would eat for breakfast, and sat and thought.
How to end this sentence; "I felt immune to Brown Sugar's incessant probing, her mind-burgling...." Her mind-burgling what? What's the word? Later, watching a movie and eating breakfast, it occurred to me: I don't need a word. I need a period. Sometimes, turning things around helps.
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Have you ever sat in the loading door
up in a barn loft when it rains?
The stacked hay becomes a fragrance.
The straw on the floor,
The straw in the horse stables,
The cattle in the holding pen,
Even the hog farrowing barn becomes a fragrance.
The wet wood,
The air,
The dirt in the garden,
Everything on a farm becomes a fragrance
in the rain.
Rain is good.
The whole earth is good.
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A short story in approximately 2000 words.
I'd like some critical comments on this.

What Follows

On the night Frank Pearls died, he gathered his little congregation around his chair and gave each of them a little snack like a priest giving Holy Communion. They received their snacks gleefully and smacked their lips to show their appreciation. Then he settled back in his chair, swallowed another glass of whiskey, filled the glass again, and in his calm, pleasant voice, proceeded - sometimes he would read to them from Joyce, or Kierkegaard, or Al Capp, or sometimes he would just talk to them about philosophy, but he would never tell them it was philosophy. Tonight he would talk.
“My dear friends.” He smiled at them, and they knew he loved them.
“There ain’t any valid rationale to treat folks badly. There’s reasons enough, of course there’s reasons, but reasons ain’t explanations of any real substance. Hold on a minute.”
Frank drained his glass and refilled it.
“There’s always a cause behind this sort of thing, treatin’ folks badly, and cause is multi-layered, ain’t it? One act causes this or that, which triggers this, which leads to that, which brings this about, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum, don’t you see, until you come to our particular act of treatin’ folks badly, which, in turn becomes an act itself to foster endless other more of’m. Nothin’ ever happens at only one level. Every bit of behavior is segmented to one previous and one following. That’s the one to look out for, the ‘what follows’ one. Now, you can’t help what come before, but you are in charge of what follows, so always bear in mind you are responsible to and for what follows.”
With that, Frank Pearls laid his head back to the chair and closed his eyes. His arms sagged to the sides of the chair and the whisky glass slipped from his fingers, and he sighed. The little congregation tensed. They had never seen Frank do this before. A flutter of wonder stirred among them. They kept their eyes on him, waiting, but Frank stayed very still.
Frank Pearls earned enough money as a Dog Sitter to supplement his monthly check. There were fifteen, sometimes twenty, dogs. Some were kenneled separately, others together because they had a merry time together. Every evening, he would gather all the dogs into his house where they would sit obediently before his chair, tails thumping. Then Frank would take out his whiskey and proceed to get drunk, and he would talk to them before the owners arrived.
The owners liked greeting their cherished beasts at Frank’s front door, leashed and ready to go. It assured them of his personal care and concern. Some of them swear their dogs have become smarter since they’ve been in Frank’s care. They all agreed Frank was the only other owner of their dog.
The young Miss Hazelton was the first to arrive. Miss Hazelton drove her new Volvo thirty minutes out of her way to leave her little Butch, a long-haired, miniature, female Dachshund, with Frank. She dressed smartly and worked as a product manager for a big company in the city. She knocked several times and when there was no response, she opened the door a little.
“Hello? Frank?”
There was no response.
She opened the door just enough to fit her head and looked around, her eyebrows up, her eyes wide, with a perfect inquisitive expression. The house was still. She stepped inside and called out to Frank, and again there was no response.
“Frank?” she called again.
Strange, she thought, there were no dogs in the kennels and no dogs wandering about the house. She wondered how that could be.
She found the dogs lying about in front of Frank in his chair. She thought he was sleeping. Some of the dogs raised their heads sadly to look at her and lowered them again. Others just mournfully rolled their eyes to watch her. Butch came to her immediately. Miss Hazelton caught her up in her arms with a hug and a kiss.
Miss Hazelton had never seen a dead person and she was not sure how to tell if a person is dead. She thought she should walk on the tips of her toes and be as quiet as possible, although she didn’t know why, but she did. She looked very carefully at Frank Pearls. His eyes were partially closed and his jaw sagged open. She felt embarrassed for him, and she wondered if it was rude to stare at a dead person, as fascinating as it was.
Miss Hazelton felt it was her duty to stay and explain to the others. She called the police and they called an ambulance to take Frank away after the Coroner declared there was no foul play and Frank’s passing was a death of natural causes. Frank’s clients were shocked and disappointed. Their dogs dragged at their leashes and walked reluctantly to their owner’s cars with their heads down.
The county auctioned Frank Pearls’ house and everything in it. What did not sell was donated to the Goodwill Center. His ten year old niece in Ohio was delighted to hear she had inherited three hundred and thirty-eight dollars from her uncle Frank. Frank’s belongings went everywhere.
Maria and Carlos Ruiz found Frank’s chair at the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. Carlos liked it right away.
“This is still a pretty good chair,” he said.
Maria agreed. She examined the cushion. “We don’t even have to patch anything up.” They brought it home in the trunk of the car.
“A man should have his chair,” Maria said.
Carlos liked to sit and have a glass of beer when he came home from delivering heavy jugs of water all day. He could put it right across from the television for the soccer tournaments and Don Francisco.
It was Friday and hot, and Carlos Ruiz drove his route and dreamed all day of sitting in his new chair with his beer while Maria set out dinner. He smiled on his way home, charmed by the image of little Zapata, Maria’s Chihuahua, running into the living room and leaping up onto his lap to welcome him home with a shower of loving licks and anxious whining. “Que Bueno perro,” he said. Sometimes his love for little Zapata brought tears to his eyes: just a little dog.
Maria kept him leashed in a corner of the kitchen where he spent most of his day. She didn’t like animals on the furniture. It made a smell. So little Zapata was comfortably leashed with a reasonable length so he could stretch his legs, and a thick folded blanket, which Maria religiously vacuumed and laundered every Saturday.
When Carlos was settled in his new chair with his shoes off and his belt loosened, Maria unleashed little Zapata and delivered a cold glass of beer to her Carlos; always Zapata and the beer at the same time; two pleasures at once for her beloved Carlito. She kissed him on the forehead. He worked so hard. However, little Zapata, instead of leaping up on Carlos’ lap, sat on the floor in front of him and looked up at him as if waiting for something.
It was at about that time when Maria heard a scratching on her kitchen door. She moved the curtain and looked. It was Cooper, the Montez’s Bull Dog. She opened the door and he and two other wiggly little mop heads pushed past her to join little Zapata on the floor in front of Carlos. Then, because Maria, in her surprise, had left the door open, the rest of the dogs rushed in, nine of them. Maria noticed more dogs gathering in the yard. And when she crossed herself, “Mio Dios,” she heard Carlos say, “My dear friends…”
He smiled at them and they knew he loved them and he became overwhelmed with a deep fondness for them. “Now I will tell you the story of how my ancestors discovered all dogs are singers…”

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a short story

The talking cat has died.
The talking dog has died, as well.
Neither one knew the other could talk.
Neither one ever mentioned it.
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a short story

The talking cat has died.
The talking dog has died, as well.
Neither one knew the other could talk.
Neither one ever mentioned it.
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Ah, how sweet the ache of nostalgia;
the fragrances of flowers and burning leaves,
sensations of remorse and regret,
snowy skies and fireflies.
Like childhood prayers and fairy tales,
I remember them yet.
Until I pass, I quit life's lease,
my past shall never rest in peace.
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I closed the door, silently.
He went, dragged himself, silently to his car,
drove away, silently, his fingers to his lips.
The house fell silent;
our furniture,
our walls,
our plants,
Our little fur person sighed in wide-eyed cat silence.
No more weekend mornings.
No more I love you.
No more anything.
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I don't regret untimely death,
nor laboring through birth again.
My one regret
I may not get
a chance to see the earth again.
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