Harry James


A story by Ken Ramsley

Available on Amazon Kindle


It’s two o’clock in the morning and Spiderman is hanging by a thread on the side of a building getting his ass kicked by Doc Ock.

“He isn’t wearing any armor!  Use a tranquilizer dart!”  I yell.  Octavius isn’t the problem – he’s a guy possessed by his machine and needs to be freed, not defeated.

“Harry – will you please go to bed!”

“I am in bed,” I say, pulling headphones from my ears.

I can’t make a sound in this old farmhouse.  Even the mice heading for the kitchen can’t sneak through these paper-thin walls without drawing attention.

‘Quaint and charming.’ That’s how Mom tries to describe our place.

I don’t say anything.

We can barely afford what we have.


Saturday morning, long after daylight arrives, I’m lying half-awake in bed daydreaming about our old townhouse on Beacon Hill.  We lived two blocks from the Statehouse – until Dad couldn’t work anymore.  That’s when we moved out here.  Unlike the city with its parks and mowed grass and perfect landscaping, all around our farmhouse and barn we have open fields slowly turning back into woods with trees that grow wherever they want without anyone planting them.  Life is simple.  Mom and I do okay.  We survive the best we can.  We don’t have any other choice.

Dad’s drinking problem started in high school, and after he came home drunk a few too many times during his senior year – for a graduation present – his parents paid for a one-way cross-country bus ticket and threw him out of their lives with the clothes on his back and fifty dollars in his pocket.  By the time Dad woke up on the bus, he was 400 miles from Boston on his way to Los Angeles.  Dad had no other family, no uncles, not even a second-cousin, and after another 600 miles he climbed off that cross-country bus and joined the Army in Saint Louis.  After the service, he earned a law degree, married Mom, and they moved back to Boston.

Mom’s side of the family was even worse.  For ‘marrying outside the faith’ they shunned her.  And it wasn’t like they didn’t just talk to her anymore.  Mom’s whole family buried and burned everything that ever reminded them of her.  Mom didn’t die.  To her parents and sisters – she never existed.

Dad disappeared a few years ago, but I don’t want to write about that.  Maybe sometime.  Not now.  I suppose that we have distant relatives out there someplace, but we can’t expect people we’ve never met to care about us.

This summer I’m leaving, too – but just across the driveway living in the barn ‘til school starts up again.  If it gets too lonely out there I can always move back to my old room.  Meanwhile I’ll still have a shower and home-cooked meals.  Mom’s letting me carve out space next to where she parks her car.  It’s worth the trouble.  After all, how cool is it to live like Clark Kent before he moved to Metropolis?  Spiderman grew up in New York City to the sounds of car horns and sirens.  But when he was a kid, Superman was a small town kid who fell asleep to the sounds of crickets and nesting song birds.

I’m trying to make the best of living out here away from the city.  But I’ll always be a downtown kid, and I suppose I belong out here about as much as a Boston Common squirrel air-dropped into the wilderness – animals so tame they’ll take peanuts right out of your hand.  In the jungles of central Massachusetts, the tamest squirrels I ever see hide upside-down forty feet overhead clinging against the opposite sides of sugar maples and oaks, their feet itching at the loose bark ready to flee.

Beneath the low branches of pine trees, most summers the neighborhood kids build a ground fort.  This past winter my friends and I talked about adding solar panels, car batteries, and a power inverter so we could stay out overnight.  Even if our parents said it was okay – which it wasn’t – we never could afford to build an island of civilization in the middle of nowhere.

Mom says she’ll let me sleep in the barn as long as I clean the place out – as in the whole barn.  But after a quick look from a ‘cleaning’ standpoint I’m beginning to wonder if this wasn’t her way of saying ‘no.’  To see what I’m up against, I’ve started with a good look at the cellar.  Two horse stalls are lit by a single old-fashion light bulb in the middle of the ceiling.  Closer to the cellar entrance door, I find a 1950s style tractor parked right where Dad left it.  He bought it from a family on Whitney Street, but the tractor was a beast and it never cut any grass after his first try.

Once my eyes adjust to the deeper shadows of the cellar I see how both horse stalls are in need of a good shoveling, which is not going to happen.  Before I throw anything away, Mom says that she wants a good look at anything I find.  But for her sake and mine, I’m not about to shovel out twenty-year-old horseshit for detailed inspection.  I’ll leave the shoveling to another day, like how Dad left the tractor, and us.

For now I’ve decided to concentrate on the main floor and haylofts.  Except for the cellar door, all of the doors are cut into the east-facing driveway side.  Centered on this wall a small hayloft door is nailed shut above a sideways-rolling garage-door that Mom uses for her car.  To the right of the rolling door, two giant hay wagon doors stand just three feet below the roof, swinging on massive wrought iron hinges.  Cut into the left hay wagon door there’s a hobbit-sized entrance no more than five feet tall.  Of all the doors in this barn, this door-within-a-door is what matters most to me because it leads straight into my summertime hangout.

Wandering into the workshop, a variety of heavy wooden benches line the entire south wall.  To the north, narrow shelves cover the wall floor-to-ceiling holding glass jars and old chewing tobacco tins.  These containers once held screws, nails, and other assorted hardware long ago raided for ground forts and tree forts and home-repair projects, but there’s still plenty of hardware on the upper shelves that I’ve never touched.

A trapdoor is set inside the west end of the workshop ceiling that swings up into the main hayloft.  Nearby, a small enclosed staircase turns to the right and rises steeply along the west wall of the barn.  On the hayloft floor, directly above the workshop, someone has added an open-framed storage room enclosed in chicken wire, including a wood-framed wire-meshed door – and I’m guessing that the chicken-wire is mostly there to say that this is a ‘wall’ while letting in florescent light from tubes hanging over the main loft.

Inside the storage room, wide shelves with peeling paint are made from old doors.  Most of the shelves are covered with old boxes full of blankets and clothes that were here when we arrived.  On the floor of the storage room below the shelves I find six ‘steamer trunks’ lined up like the sarcophagi of an ancient Egyptian crypt.  Crinkled with age the trunks are sheathed in a mix of hardwood framing and leather.  Their lids are arched and swing on heavy hinges held closed with latches that are locked.

This is not a new discovery.  I’ve known about these trunks for years, but until I started cleaning out the barn, I never paid much attention to them.  I don’t remember any of these from Beacon Hill, and they have probably been in this barn at least as long as this chicken wire room.  Without ropes and pulleys, the trunks are too heavy to move to the ground floor – so no matter what Mom says about pulling everything out for inspection, I’m leaving these right here.  Some things have been inside this barn so long that it’s like the soul of this place – that my excuse, at least.

“It’s just old junk Harry,” I hear Mom reminding me from a previous conversation.  And after a day of moth-eaten clothes, dusty old blankets, and trash that should have been thrown out years ago, I’m beginning to see her point.

 


Sample End

Total Length: 28 pages


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