by Nic Olson
Assignment 2: take an article, advertisement, or event from a newspaper 50 years ago and develop a short story, telling it subjectively as if it were a family story.
Also see the slightly edited version of PostPostSecondary: 1
“How did what? Birds? What’re you rambling about? You’ve only been here four hours and I’m already tired of your questions. What’d you want to hear? You mean, you want to know why your mother is afraid of birds? How the hell should I know?
Well, if it’ll keep you quiet, I could come up with something… I suppose it musta been about forty years ago, the way she’d tell the story. I remember that act. Christ be damned, that old hypnotist, I can’t remember his name for the life of me. Anyhow, he was an oaf. No better than a sideshow. Shoulda been caged up next to a gorilla or bearded lady. The folks there believed what they wanted to believe, and hypnotized themselves. You don’t need another man to do it for you, if you sit quietly long enough, you’ll convince yourself that you want to lay on a bed of nails or bark like a cotton-pickin’ dog.
What’s that? Oh, right, the story. Well, your mother musta been your age, about ten-years old, when that two-bit gypsy rolled on through. Reveen, his name mighta been, come to think of it. She saw the write-up in the Post and saw the bills all over lamp posts in town. His grubby moustache and goddamn bow-tie—he was dressed like a snake-oil salesman, and I guess it makes sense, ‘cause that is exactly what he was. Her brother, your uncle Ernest, was courting some dame at the time, and they both decided that they wanted to go see this quack too. Your grandmother got it in her head that it might be a nice family function for us to attend, as long as the ladies from the church didn’t hear that we were going, but I still opposed. I held off as long as I could—the show was in Regina for only six days, said the write-up, although it was in Moose Jaw for nearly two weeks. Supposed to be heading off to Honolulu or some damn thing. I eventually gave in when your mother told me that she heard that the man had made an 8-year-old drive a car blindfolded in Moose Jaw, which somewhat sparked my interest. Thought he might get arrested at least. So I went and took $7.50 out of the tin tea box in the compartment beneath the floor boards, to take them all to this crock-show in downtown Regina. We took the old Crestliner to the theatre, which, if I remember correctly, was on 12th and Scarth. Well, no, maybe it was Hamilton. Helen, where was that old Capitol Theatre, back when we lived on Coventry there? Scarth? Yes, it was Scarth wasn’t it.
Well, we got there and your mother was so excited that her eyes were big like the moon. She had never been in Capitol Theatre before, and I hadn’t been there since I was courting your grandmother. We took our seats, high up in the back where one could barely make out the moustache on that rat-face swindler.
So this fellow got ahold of some of the audience. They were planted there by the theatre boosters, no doubt. They got on stage and acted like chickens or sang songs like that shameless Elvis Presley. Eventually it got to a point where he was picking from the audience in the back of the theatre. His eyes kept creeping closer to our corner, and your mother was standing on my knee, waving her hand in the air like the damn thing was on fire. Then he had these assistants, in these flashy tight dresses… I mean, this man claimed to be a man of science, that he wasn’t a magician, that he was a genius of the mind, but he had these ladies running around in cocktail dresses, goddammit… Anywhow, they chose your mother, and she went up on stage, ready to believe anything this man told her. Ready to jump off a bridge, or at least pretend to. He put his hands on her temples, rubbed them softly, told her to close her eyes, chanted some voodoo, and he told her that she would wake up and there would be a thousand pigeons flying around the theatre. She opened her eyes and they were blank as a brick wall, staring straight forward. She pointed out towards the back of the audience, where me and your grandmother and uncle were sitting, and her finger led her arm around like it was following a single bird flying in the theatre. The invisible pigeon eventually reached the stage, and she ducked and swatted and screamed and swung her chair around her head. It was the most enjoyed part of the night by most of the crowd, but your grandmother didn’t much like it.
The show ended up staying in Regina for ten more nights, goddammit. People flocked to the theatre as if he were the second coming of Christ Almighty.
That is how your mother would tell you the story, anyway. She still thinks that this caused her fear of birds, that it somehow planted a real fear in her head, or some foolishness. I don’t believe in that sort of nonsense, myself, but I do believe that she convinced herself that it was happening. This Reveen fellow was merely an idol that took away from what the audience really believed in, which was the power of their own damned brains.
I believe that your mother became afraid of birds when she was six. Her cat had caught a robin in the backyard, broken its wing and left it to die. Your mother went up to it, convinced that she could nurse it back to health, then keep it as a pet. When she bent down in front of it, the cotton pickin’ thing started flapping around as if it were demon-possessed, and scared your mother half to death. She fell right on her backside and cried for a few hours. Right on her ass!”
Calvin coughed out a laugh and his granddaughter Megan dropped a crumb of bread in the cage of the white cockatoo stationed on a card-table in the corner of the living room. Megan kept repeating the bird’s name, Blondy, with her nose close to the cage, in hopes that it would someday be able to say its own name. She was sure that it was possible if she really believed.