Friday, January 18, 2013

What Happened to Margalo, Chapter Two

Here is the next chapter of what happened to Margalo, in which the reader gains no further information about what happened to Margalo.

Ralph and his family lived in a little town by the Susquehanna River. The river was a grand and exciting place and Ralph loved to go down to its banks whenever he had time to spare. Sometimes he would take his boat, the Merry Marmot, tied to a long string, and set her sailing in the swirling gray water of the river. Sometimes he would take Leona, who loved to ride the boat on fresh, breezy days when small brisk waves would send the Merry Marmot hopping along their little crests. Sometimes Ralph would just take himself to the river, and sit on a log or stump near the river bank  and watch the current flowing with broad and stately power, while the clouds looked down sedately from their fluffy height. He liked to look at the islands in the middle of the river when the day was clear and imagine what lived on them. He knew that white egrets, starlings and sparrows sometimes sheltered there. He liked to imagine that pirates did also. The state police patrolling the nearby city would never allow pirates on the river, and he never saw any pirate ships, but that made imagining that they were there all the more interesting.

If there were no pirate boats, there were still plenty of other boats buzzing past on the river, casting up shiny curls of water in their wakes and making the river edges go slap-slap-slap against the mud. Ralph liked to watch the fast ones – and the slow ones too. It was easier to read the names on the slow ones. He kept a list of the boat  names he saw on the river and he knew all of the familiar ones by heart. Every Sunday afternoon in summer, the Watson’s would go out on their Silver Schooner with different groups of friends. One time, Ralph had seen them with a family of six children on board, and all the children had waved at him, floating the Merry Marmot near the bank. He had waved back.
Now the sun was dropping low in the west as Ralph hopped off the edge of the last street at the edge of town and ran down the gravelly dirt slope to the river bank. Sunsets were later in the day now as spring stretched its larger, warmer days across the country, and Ralph enjoyed being able to go down to the river after supper once again. It was a still and quiet Saturday evening with hardly a ripple showing on the river. The gentle swell from a distant speedboat waved the surface momentarily and was gone. A flock of starlings was rising over the mirror-like surface of the water, curling upward, flashing black against hazy gold sky, then swooping downward to scatter themselves over a tree top on one of the river islands. Ralph could hear their squeaking chatter floating over the water. It was beautiful to watch the starlings in flight - sometimes hundreds of them would fly in a group, all pointing in the same direction, turning, dipping, rising and falling in perfect unity as if they were tied together by invisible strings. How did they know?
The sound of boys laughing echoed off of the buildings along the street above the river. It was not the nicest laughter - it sounded as if mischief were underway. Ralph heard the sound of feet running with the laughter nearer.
“Yiy! - almost got that one” shouted one.
“Almost? You missed by ten feet, at least” the other shouted back.
The running stopped and Ralph turned to see the two boys, several yards off, bending in the gravel bank to look for stones. He knew what they were doing - throwing stones at birds and squirrels again. The boys lived on the next block and had recently taken a fancy to testing their throwing abilities on wild animals . It was, perhaps, a good test of aim and skill, but they showed no pity to the few creatures they managed to hit down, leaving them to a crippled life or a slow death and it made Ralph angry to see them at it again. He couldn’t do anything about it just now, so he kept quiet and watched. Another group of starlings was heading out of town toward the river island and the boys began to throw stones, one after another, from their collected arsenals of gravel. The birds rose higher as they saw the stones flying toward them, but one tumbled back in the air, hit by a stone. It tried to fly on, limply, but coasted ever lower and lower until it fell helplessly in the river, flapping its wings and sending sorrowful little splashes outward. Ralph jumped up, wishing he could help the poor creature, but it was too far out in the deep water. He turned to the boys who were hooting and punching each other in the arms, and walked toward them. “What are you doing?” he said, trying to be calm. “You just ruined that bird’s life for no good reason.”
The boys looked at each other and laughed. “Ooh, it’s Mr. Forest Ranger, out to save the little animals.”
“You didn’t answer my question” Ralph replied, starting to feel hot by his ears.
“We’re practicing our aim” said one of them. “Moving targets, you know.”
“Don’t you think you’re going to answer to God for what you did with his animals?” Ralph said, his heart pounding. “I’d call that cruelty. You didn’t need that bird - just killed it for your own fun and made it suffer.”
“Whoa - okay, guy,” said the other boy. “It was just a starling.”
“I know,” said Ralph. “But it’s the principle of the thing. You know, principles are important. By the way, my name is Ralph.” He put out his hand.
“Ned” said the taller one, slowly reaching out to shake hands. The shorter, freckled one, shoved his hands in his pockets, “I’m Eric” he said.
“Glad to meet you,” said Ralph. “I like birds and animals, but I like people too. No hard feelings?”
“Sure” they said, looking rather relieved and turned to leave.
“See ya round” Ralph called after them.
Then they were gone, leaving Ralph to watch the sunset, which had by now dimmed to a dull yellowish gray, with only a hint of gold where the sun sat behind the clouds at the horizon. The starlings had begun to grow quiet and the smooth, shining river glowed like damp silver under the darkening sky. Tomorrow, Ralph thought, there would be rain.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What Happened to Margalo, Chapter One

Several weeks (or has it been months?) ago, I posted about my intention to write a children's book. I had bright aspirations of hiding it away until it came forth as a brilliant children's masterpiece and then publishing it  complete with lovely pencil illustrations. However, my aspirations have narrowed down to the meager goal of   completing a good story that comes to a good end. I might still try to publish it (though I don't know if the business of Stuart Little and others like him being in the story will pose some copyright hindrances), but a work of genius it is not, and therefore need not be secreted away until that time. I am going to begin posting the story on here in semi-regular installments for what I hope will be the enjoyment of my readers. I also welcome constructive criticism.

Without further comment, here is Chapter One of What Happened to Margalo

Tap-tap-tap. Ralph Summer stood at his father’s work table in the cool, dim basement carefully hammering the last nail into his birdhouse. The afternoon sunlight  cast a broad beam through the window well above him, and in the light, bits of stirred-up sawdust danced on their way to the floor. Ralph always wondered, when he saw the dust floating in the light, if the other 1300 cubic feet of air space in the basement (he had calculated it one time) also swirled with specks that you couldn’t see without the sunshine, or if really all the dust pieces flew to rays of sun just so they could dance in it. One could never really be sure about such things. He had tried once surprising the dust in the corner with a flashlight, and there they all were – the little specks twirling about in its beam. But perhaps they all came to it, as to the sunlight, and laid down again when he turned it off.  It would have to be a mystery. He turned back to his work. Tap, tap, tap until the silvery nail head came even with the grainy wood, and running a thumb across, you could scarcely feel the bump to tell you it was there – that was how you knew a nail was in good.
It was Saturday, and Ralph loved to spend his Saturdays building things. Several weeks ago, he had completed a boat, and it had taken him six Saturdays to finish. Now he was building a birdhouse from instructions that he had found in a book from the library. He had put in the last nail – there had been twenty-six tiny nails in all – four connecting each side wall to the floor, three connecting each of the roof panels to the walls, four connecting – well, anyway, it had been a good deal of nailing and he was satisfied that it was done. His little sister Leona had helped him count and line up the nails, and was now carrying an extra nail back to the open box of nails on the work table. Now, Leona, it must be explained, was not a normal little sister. She was quite, well -- miniature. Since her birth three years before, Leona had grown only half an inch, and now was two and three-quarters of an inch in height. She looked a bit like a mouse, some thought, but Ralph (whom you would consider a rather normal boy) was sure she was not a mouse, as she hadn’t any tail, except a little furry bit as short as a teddy bear’s tail, which Ralph had seen when she was born. He never saw it now because she kept it modestly concealed under the miniature doll’s dresses she wore. Now Leona was standing on tip-toe on top of the workbench to peer into the bird house opening. “May I go in?” she asked in her clear, tiny voice.
“Sure,” Ralph replied. "The glue isn't quite dry yet, but it's safe." He offered Leona his hand and lifted her to the entrance. Leona neatly dropped into the birdhouse feet first and disappeared. “Sit tight” said Ralph, as he turned the bird house so that the light from the window shone into the hole.
“Oh!” he heard Leona exclaim. “How pretty. I think I will just sit here for a bit”. Ralph began to clean up. He placed the hammer head on its pegs, put the wood glue bottle on the shelf next to the crinkly curled up caulk bottles and crusty, dusty cans of leftover paint, and he put the nail boxes on the shelf below the glue. Then he swept the sawdust from the work table into the trusty orange dustpan that always hung with its accompanying brush on a nail under the work table and brushed the dust into the trash bin.
Leona was coming out of the bird house. He saw her tiny brown forefeet appear once more in the opening, and soon her pink nose and bright eyes followed, and she hopped to the work table before Ralph could offer his hand. “Very nicely done,” she said, briskly wiping the sawdust from her paws. “I wouldn’t mind living in it myself, except that it would be hard to get my bed through the hole.”
“The birds are very clever about their beds” said Ralph. “They bring them into their house piece by piece and build it inside - thick twigs and thin grass, scraps of thread, dry leaves, dog’s fur and lost feathers- all sorts of things they bring to stack and weave together for their nests. Nearly the whole house can be stuffed with the accumulated materials, and the eggs and babies rest in a nice soft bed.”
Ralph walked over the to the old wooden high chair under the window-well. The high chair had been his when he was a baby, and now was kept in the basement to be handy for when the his grown married cousins, or the Hildens from church came for dinner and needed a high chair for their baby. But right now, its patient wood tray was holding the library book, lying open to “How to Build a House for Bluebirds and Sparrows” The birdhouse was ready to be painted, if he followed the instructions in the book from the library, but Ralph didn’t want to paint it. “ Why would a bird want to live in a painted house?” he said.
“It wouldn’t” said Leona. “If I were a bird, I would want to build a nest where no one would notice me, so my eggs would be safe.”
“Well, I’ve never seen a robin with a painted nest, or a woodpecker with a painted hole in an oak tree. A bird house should look natural, so the birds will know it’s a safe place to live.” said Ralph decidedly. 
He looked at his finished bird house, sitting new and empty on the work table and wondered what bird might find it and want to live in it. The world was such a large and beautiful place, full of shady trees and shadowy bushes, and tall grasses, and snug dry eaves and all manner of places for sensible birds to raise a family. Would one of them think his new little bird house a suitable home? He hoped so.