The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
2017: The Year of the Every-Day Magician
(link to main page of novel)
David J. Keffer
April 1, 2017
On Saturday, Oscar left the house just before dawn. He moved stealthily so as not to wake his mother, who would certainly want to know where he was off to at such an early hour. The neighborhood remained asleep. Not even the morning joggers had yet taken to the streets. The streetlights illuminated an empty road. Several scattered newspapers betrayed the only recent activity. Oscar knocked on Cybil's door. After yesterday's failure, he entertained the suspicion that the magic would be more effective in the light of the rising sun. No one answered. He rang the doorbell, which set the dog inside to barking. Within a minute, Oscar faced Cybil's father in a t-shirt and hastily donned jeans. Bleary-eyed, the man asked, "Do you know what time it is?" Before Oscar could reply, he asked, "Who are you?" His wife and daughter had followed him downstairs to investigate the disturbance.
"Oscar, what an unexpected surprise!" said Cybil, as she slipped past her father in the doorway.
"Catorthoseis!" Oscar whispered, with the pink of dawn lighting his face. He waited for a reaction to see if the spell had worked.
In full view of her parents, Cybil leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Oscar stood paralyzed, though by mortification or euphoria he did not know. Cybil turned to her parents, explaining, "Oscar fancies himself a wizard and he cast a charm spell on me. I had to kiss him."
Cybil's mother rolled her eyes. As pranks went, this one seemed to her romantic. "I'm going back to bed," she mumbled as she retreated up the stairs with her husband in tow.
To Oscar, Cybil said with a sly smile, "April Fools!"
written while listening to: Judy Dunaway - Balloon Music (Composers Recording Inc., CRI CD 778, 1998, United States, cd, discogs.com)
April 2, 2017
With heavy heart, Oscar listened to the stranger move through each room of the house. This old man with thick glasses and a white moustache was part inspector and part assessor, hired by the dreaded realtor to evaluate the condition of the old house. The boots of the man resounded against the wooden floors as he methodically paced through every room. Behind the closed door of his bedroom, Oscar experienced the unpleasant reverberations of each footfall. It seemed to him that an unwelcome poltergeist traveled invisibly through the house. Although he could not hear her, he knew that his mother remained on the front porch, plotting with the realtor. Oscar wondered when the full effect of the necromancer's curse would activate. She had not explicitly promised such a curse, though neither had she entirely refused.
The footsteps grew louder and culminated at a sharp knock on his door. Oscar opened the door and, as the man asked in a friendly voice, "Mind if I look inside for a moment?", he fled wordlessly to his brother's forbidden shrine.
"Catorthoseis! Catorthoseis! Catorthoseis!" Oscar repeated to himself until he ran out of breath. Miraculously, the inevitable desecration of his brother's room did not occur, for the old man perceived the anxiety of the boy in losing his home. So, finding his knock unanswered at the second bedroom, he chose not to summon the mother to forcibly evict her son and grant his access. Rather, he opted for an exercise in mercy. Judging the visual inspection of this last room to be inessential, he reported to the two women on the porch that the old house had shown itself to be in excellent condition.
written while listening to: Evan Parker & September Winds - Alder Brook (Leo Records, CD LR 379, 2003, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
April 3, 2017
That the core of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry should meet as a trio for the first time in the fourth month of the year in which they were destined to make their lasting mark may seem like a late start to many readers. Perhaps even more disheartening was the confusion, resentment, and overall lack of cooperation that presided over the meeting. The initial gathering took place in Cybil's living room, since she had already told her parents about the society and they seemed to think nothing of it. In fact, Cybil's mother encouraged "politically active youth", as she brought them a plate of cookies and three cups of lemonade displayed impeccably on a wooden tray.
Omar, eager to impress Cybil, made a show of gratitude toward her mother. He then drank his lemonade testily, glaring over the rim of the plastic cup at Oscar, whom he had not forgiven.
Oscar did not understand the relationships between any two individuals taken as a pair from the trio, much less the interwoven connections as a whole. Foremost in his mind was a kiss delivered but two days earlier.
Losing her patience with the awkwardness of the two boys, Cybil took charge. "We have to think globally but act locally," she informed them, repeating a message from a bumper sticker that, to her credit, applied to their situation. "I have identified someone in our own community with whom we can focus our initial efforts."
"Who?" asked Oscar, unable to hide his excitement. Finally, he was going to do something.
"Agnes de Flores."
"The crazy cat lady?" he asked, unable to hide his skepticism.
"Thinking of her in that way," said Cybil in a remonstrative tone, "is a step in the wrong direction."
written while listening to: Fred Frith Guitar Quartet - Upbeat (Ambiances Magnétiques, AM 063 CD, 1998, Canada, cd, discogs.com)
April 4, 2017
A fondness for the stray cats who frequented the neighborhood may have initially prompted the old woman to allocate a small fraction of her weekly budget to dry cat food. But the cats were hardly the sole beneficiary of her generosity. The undeveloped greenway along the river provided a direct thorough-fare for many creatures from the three hundred acres of wooded land owned by the local nature center. Day and night, visitors arrived in shifts. If the season was right, a mother raccoon would come with three young trailing behind her. Skunks too were common sights (and smells) in her yard; they favored Sunday nights, when diverse offerings appeared in garbage cans, placed on the curb for pickup early Monday morning. Groundhogs routinely ventured out during the day, though, as soon as they were spotted, they immediately scurried for cover. A lone opossum visited her back doorstep on an irregular schedule.
The presence of these animals seemed to encourage many other wild animals, who had no interest in cat food. Squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks dashed through the patches of clover and grass in the yard. The ground was soft to the foot with the work of moles beneath the surface. Agnes, meaning lamb, harbored a fondness for all these creatures, which out-weighed her dislike for the fat, brown river rats who also crawled up from the bank to sample her fare.
Her five nearest neighbors--one to each side, and the row of three houses with abutting backyards--did not share Agnes' apparent enthusiasm for wildlife. After their pleas to stop leaving cat food out had repeatedly failed, they collectively hired an exterminator, who placed large, rectangular raccoon traps in the surrounding five yards. The cats he took to a shelter to be adopted (or, more likely, eventually euthanized), the wild animals were freed at the nature center, and the rats he drowned while still in their cages in a secluded, shallow pond.
written while listening to: Han Bennink Trio - Parken (ILK Music, ILK 156CD, 2009, Denmark, cd, discogs.com)
April 5, 2017
There was a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cats in the world, for however many were trapped, more appeared. Confounded by this endless stream of felines, the neighbors suspected that the old woman was luring them with some unusually delectable bait. A clandestine, nocturnal excursion by one of the more rash neighbors resulted in the discovery that the cat food left in a single, plastic bowl on the back step was neither abundant in quantity nor distinguished in quality. He reported to the others with a sample of the common, dry food.
Nevertheless, the parade of cats continued. They leapt over chain link fences and paid no heed to property lines. The neighboring flower beds served admirably as litter boxes and collected copious amounts of this fertilizer, much to the owners' discontent. The blooms that emerged, as the spring progressed, from these well-tended gardens, appeared especially vibrant, but such efforts did little to dissuade the neighbors from continuing their efforts to rid themselves of what they had come to refer to as an infestation.
When a cat or one of the other, wild visitors succumbed to the temptations placed within an exterminator's cage, they thrashed, mewled or whined until they shrank, defeated by metal, into a corner. Upon finding itself trapped, a skunk emptied its scent glands, with an odor that permeated into the interior of all the nearby homes for the better part of a day.
From the back window, Agnes observed the laments of the caged animals. She sensed that something had changed in the world, and not for the better, while she had been occupied with other matters.
written while listening to: Flute Force 4 - Flutistry (Black Saint, 120164-2, 1997, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
April 6, 2017
Agnes, like many female octagenarians, lived as a widow. Married in 1957 at the age of twenty, she and her husband had experienced the joys and sorrows of a shared life for over three decades. Her husband, ten years her senior, had died abruptly of a heart attack, while working in the yard, in 1989. In the intervening twenty-eight years, Agnes had lived alone in the small house she had once shared with her husband and in which she had raised their daughter. This daughter, herself now a grandmother, resided in a city approximately one hundred miles south of Agnes. She visited two or three times each year to check on her elderly mother.
As Agnes stooped over, on this Thursday morning, to fill the bowl with cat food, we found her pausing to listen to the early birdsong. She bore all the ordinary badges of senescence. Her hair was thin and white. Her skin had lost much of its elasticity and was covered in brown spots of varied size, shape and hue. She had always been a small woman, short in stature and slight in build, both characteristics that had been exaggerated with age. She dressed in clothes that, while not frayed, had been purchased in previous decades, their age immediately apparent to the eye of even a casual observer.
She retained her independence, though only in a precarious manner. She clearly perceived her diminishing capacities--both physical and mental. She was especially concerned about her sight, for she still owned an automobile and drove herself to the grocery store on a weekly basis and to doctor's appointments annually. In each of her actions, she was extraordinarily deliberate and meticulous lest she encounter some situation, which resulted in the loss of her freedom. A tomcat approached the bowl and rubbed against her ankles. More than anything else, Agnes wanted to die in this house, surrounded, as it was, by friends.
written while listening to: Paul Panhuysen - Engines in Power and Love (Apollo Records, ACD 019210, 1992, Netherlands, cd, discogs.com)
April 7, 2017
Her house was slowly deteriorating. The action of time, implemented by wind, rain, and sun, was manifest in peeling paint and rotting wood at the corners of the trusses. Nor was her automobile impervious to the passage of time. All rubber components, such as the casing at the base of the gear shifter, had a decade earlier become brittle, had cracked and had fallen in pieces to the floor mats. The metal of the engine acknowledged its age in the faint smell of burning oil that entered the passenger compartment through gaps beneath the dashboard. The tires grew thin and weary. The fabric in her home also succumbed--curtains lost their color, bedsheets grew thin as paper, the faux leather of her shoes reliably split at the outside junctures of the metatarsals and phalanges.
On a daily basis, Agnes fervently hoped for everything to outlast her. Content with the status quo, she had no interest in repair or replacement. The tabletop telephone connected by a wire to a landline invoked the greatest criticism from her daughter, who exclaimed at each visit, "When that phone dies, it can't be replaced. You are using an antique. You'll have to get a cell phone." Agnes judged the phone not so old; it did after all possess square buttons, rather than the rotary dial that she had once preferred.
The trees in her yard proved the sole exception. They seemed to grow larger and stronger with age. In the front yard, a magnificent tulip poplar, perhaps one hundred and fifty years old had long ago surpassed one hundred and twenty feet in height and continued to grow. Unmolested it had not yet reached the halfway point of its natural lifespan. In the backyard, two eastern hemlocks, each approaching one hundred feet and nearly a century in age coated the ground with their fine, flat needles. Although they differed in outlook, these old trees looked down on Agnes with affection.
written while listening to: Sparklehorse & Fennesz - In The Fishtank 15 (Konkurrent, FISH15, 2009, Netherlands, lp, discogs.com)
April 8, 2017
A fear had been growing in Agnes' mind as of late. She understood that her life had been split into three periods: maid, wife and widow. The first period had lasted twenty years, the second thirty-two and the last had continued for the past twenty-eight years. She did not want her life as a widow to overshadow the other two, but she feared that is what would happen if she lived another five years, in which case she would have spent more time as a widow than as anyone else. Already, there were none left who knew her before she married.
She therefore reluctantly contemplated euthanasia. Eighty years was more than sufficient to have experienced the sorrows and joys available to the mortal senses. She considered many mechanisms for self-dictated exit but all of them had drawbacks. She could not employ a firearm, because she had gotten all of the guns out of the house after her husband's death. Nor was an overdose of painkillers a possibility, since she was a healthy woman, for her age, and took no prescriptions at all. She could not climb a tree from which she might hang herself. Besides, Agnes loved trees too much to subject them to this agony. While she could crash her car at speed into some object, she did not relish the idea of someone having to clean her remains out of a vehicle.
One avenue seemed to beckon her. Several months ago, she had found a dead rat, with foam at its mouth, collapsed against the side of her house. She understood it had been poisoned. She immediately suspected a neighbor of adding something to her cat food. She had contemplated eating the remaining food herself. If she died, the courts would surely not rule it suicide but murder. That day she had resisted the temptation and disposed of the food but, if it had happened once, who's to say it could not happen again? One could hope.
written while listening to: Vijay Iyer, Prasanna & Nitin Mitta - Tirtha (ACT Music, ACT 9503-2, 2011, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
April 9, 2017
On Sunday afternoon, Cybil led Oscar and Omar to the front steps of the cat lady's house. They passed beneath the enormous tulip poplar in the front yard; it had not yet produced its spring blooms. Cybil knocked and they waited but no one answered. They debated whether she was home, but her old car was in the driveway. Circling around the house, they found her sitting in a lawn chair. She wore a white blouse with lace at the collar and a long, blue skirt. Two cats, unfamiliar to the children, were immediately visible, a black one reclining beneath the chair upon which the woman sat and a tortoiseshell occupying itself with the scent of mole in the earth. Much of the yard was littered with a brown mat of dried hemlock needles. An attempt by a coalition of grass, wild strawberry, clover and ivy to paint the ground with a hint of spring verdure had so far met with, at best, modest success.
The old woman looked at them curiously, for they had invaded her backyard, but without animosity. Cybil took the opportunity to explain that they were members of a local, philanthropic society, known as the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. To Oscar's ears, she sounded like the Jehovah's Witnesses who sometimes came to his door. To Oscar's amazement, Cybil was not deterred when the old woman tersely explained that a sign stating "No Solicitors" hung on her front door.
"Oh," said Cybil casually, "we are not asking for money."
"No?" said Agnes. "Then what do you want?"
"Amelioration," answered Cybil, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to say. "We want to make the world a better place." While Agnes stared blankly at her, Cybil added, "And we think you can help us."
written while listening to: Tony Conrad - Four Violins (1964) (Table of the Elements, 17 Cl, 1996 (originally recorded 1964), United States, lp, discogs.com)
April 10, 2017
They had left Agnes in an ambivalent state, extracting only a rather reluctant invitation to return on the morrow. So, after school, the trio gathered in front of Omar's house. Cybil asked Oscar if he was feeling well, because to her he looked pale. He did not reveal that his daily fast, in which he gave away his lunch, might be starting to affect him. In any case, the Lenten season would soon end. He followed the other two down the street to the old woman's house.
They again made their way to the backyard, where they startled three squirrels and a mockingbird, the latter of which issued a growling sound that seemed out of place coming from a bird. They did not find Agnes seated there, but she had been on the lookout for them. She hastily opened the back door and gestured for them to hurry into her home.
Once inside, the three children exchanged glances, for the house smelled like old woman. It was not a particularly offensive smell unless one was of a disposition to be offended by the undisguised odors of old women. The children sat side by side on a sofa, which had clearly accumulated more years than the three of them combined. There, they faced Agnes, who shared the maniacal plan she had hatched as she had lain awake that night.
"When a cat gets trapped in one of their cages," Agnes pointed all around her, as if she was immediately threatened by a host of cages, "I will call you. The exterminator usually doesn't come until the next day. You can sneak in at night, like ninjas, and rescue the cats before the exterminator gets his hands on them."
After the children had adsorbed the plan, they again exchanged glances.
"Ninjas?" asked Omar, trying to decide if the word should excite him or not.
"Yes," confirmed Agnes with a nod. "Moslem ninjas."
written while listening to: Colin Stetson & Mats Gustafsson - Stones (Rune Grammofon, RLP3136, 2012, Norway, lp, discogs.com)
April 11, 2017
"I told you she was crazy," Oscar said to Cybil and Omar, who were seated side-by-side on the wood porch swing of Oscar's house.
Cybil folded her arms and took a deep breath. She leaned back so that her legs dangled from the swing. All three of them wore shorts; spring had arrived and the afternoon temperature had reached the high seventies. "Saving her cats from being put to sleep is going to make the world a better place."
Omar and Oscar pursed their lips, each hoping the other would raise the obvious objection. Finally, it fell to Oscar. "Who is going to sneak out of the house and into somebody else's yard at night to free some stray cats?"
"They are just going to get caught the next day anyway," Omar chimed in.
In truth, none of them relished the prospect. It seemed like an easy way to get into trouble. Still, the idea to help Agnes had come from Cybil; she did not want to abandon it so quickly. "Do you have a better idea?" she asked, first to Oscar then Omar.
"Don't look at me," Omar said shrugging. He pointed to Oscar, "He's the wizard."
"Yeah," said Cybil, reminded that she sat in the company of a practiced abjurer. "Can't you abjure something?"
Although Oscar had no clear idea of what spell was appropriate in this instance, he did have access to several voluminous grimoires. Consequently, he replied with confidence, "Let me look into it."
written while listening to: Cecil Taylor Quartet - Jazz Advance (Blue Note, CDP 7 84462 2, 1991 (originally recorded and released 1956), United States, cd, discogs.com)
April 12, 2017
Oscar sat on the edge of his brother's bed. A heavy tome lay open on his lap. He had only half an hour or so until his mother arrived home from work, yet he did not turn the pages with alacrity. Instead, as if preoccupied, he idly flipped through the book.
There were dozens of spells associated with animals. It was unclear which, if any, were relevant. Charm animal (Enchantment) was perhaps the most common spell, but it would do little for an animal already caged. Calm animal (Enchantment) could placate it while trapped but would not free it. Detect animal (Divination) seemed hardly any more appropriate than hide from animals (Abjuration). Oscar sensed a possible use for speak with animals (Divination), if only to forewarn them of the nature of the trap. Either reduce animal (Transmutation) or pup shape (Transmutation), which reverse-aged the animal, seemed unlikely to shrink the animal enough to allow it to slip through the narrowly spaced bars of the cage. Perhaps animal growth (Transmutation) might cause it to burst through the cage. Better yet, anthropomorphic animal (Transmutation) might solve their problem; who would want to catch a cat or a groundhog strutting around on its hind legs?
Oscar also read the descriptions of spells that clearly could not help him. Share skin (Necromancy) allowed the caster to possess an animal, while awaken (Transmutation) granted the animal human intelligence. He began to wonder just where all these animals were coming from. When he stumbled upon summon animal (Conjuration), it dawned on him that the most likely explanation for the proliferation of animals in Agnes' backyard was that they had been summoned there, which meant, in all likelihood, she was secretly a conjurer.
written while listening to: Spontaneous Music Ensemble - Oliv & Familie (Emanem, 5033, 2014 (originally recorded and released 1968-1969), Spain, cd, discogs.com)
April 13, 2017
The young abjurer sat again on the couch of the old conjurer. He had made the decision to come visit her alone. She seemed to find nothing unusual with the fact that he was not accompanied by the diviner and transmuter.
Without the whispers of his friends, the silence in the house became a predominant feature, impossible to ignore. The conjurer sat across from him. Awkwardly, he scanned her face; her eyes seemed more watery than he had remembered them. He did not know that she had just administered eye drops moments before his unannounced arrival and she did not share this information with him. What she saw of him was blurred: a vaguely boy-shaped abjurer occupying a seat on a couch purchased by her late husband decades before, though she had told him at the time that the upholstery did not match the curtains.
The tortoiseshell cat appeared at her feet. "How did you get inside?" she said in surprise. Despite her words, she did not rise from her chair to let the cat out.
"You don't let them in the house?" asked the abjurer.
"Not on purpose," she said, "but I frequently find them inside. It's as if they simply materialize. I'm sure there are no windows opened." She looked over her shoulder at the back window to confirm it was closed.
"But you must love cats," said the abjurer, "since you have drawn them here with the food you leave outside."
"No, no," replied the conjurer, "You have got it all wrong. I only started buying cat food after they made a home of my backyard on their own. I didn't want them to go hungry for lack of hospitality."
From this the abjurer concluded that the conjurer maintained, perhaps intentionally, poor control of her abilities.
written while listening to: Steve Lacy + 6 - The Cry (Soul Note, 121315-2, 1999, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
April 14, 2017
On Good Friday, all schools, public and private, were closed, but Oscar's mother had to work. Cybil and Omar were surprised when Oscar turned down their invitation in favor of the library. They could scarcely believe he bicycled downtown by himself. He was forced to confess that his mother did not know; he swore his fellow renegades to secrecy.
After his absence, Amanita greeted him warmly. "I have just the book for today," she told him.
It turned out to be a novella-length fable about a peculiar pilgrim visiting the Holy Land. With such words as those in the following passage, Oscar celebrated Good Friday.
Only he was remembered. They all suffered in the same manner as he did, but their suffering had no purpose in it, and so it was forgotten. Only in his suffering was their meaning. And he knew this. He knew. A meaning for all time, for all men; he must have been filled with it when he went up to his sacrificial death. It would be less difficult to endure what had to be endured if one were filled with the majesty and significance of what was coming to pass. It must help a man greatly in bearing his destiny to know that that destiny is so unprecedented, so vast. It could not be the most difficult thing of all to walk up a hill and let oneself be crucified.
They say that his suffering and death are the greatest events ever to have come to pass in the world, and the most significant. Perhaps; that may be so. But how many there are who must suffer without their suffering having any significance at all!*
*Pär Lagerkvist, The Death of Ahasuerus, translated by Naomi Walford, Random House, New York, 1962.
written while listening to: Leroy Jenkins featuring Muhal Richard Abrams - Lifelong Ambitions (Black Saint, BSR 033, 1981, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
April 15, 2017
The call came at a quarter to eight. The tortoiseshell was in a cage. Cybil, who owned a cell phone, received the message. She raced over to Omar's house, but found all the lights off. The family was out on a Saturday night. Oscar's mother let her into the living room, where Cybil casually made small talk with both Oscar and his mother for a few minutes before Oscar walked her out to the porch. There she explained the true purpose of her visit.
"What do you want me to do about it?" asked Oscar.
Cybil glared at it then hissed in a whisper, "Free the cat, of course!"
"I'm the diviner; I've collected the information. You're the abjurer. You make the problem go away." She studied Oscar's face to see if her words had made a difference. She added, "I've got to go. My mother said I could be gone only a minute. I have to be in bed before the Easter bunny comes." She rolled her eyes. She chose not to extract a verbal promise from Oscar before she left.
Freeing the cat was the easiest thing in the world. Oscar didn't even wait until it was dark. As soon as Cybil was out of sight, he stubbornly walked to Agnes' house and circled to the back. At the first fence he looked over, he saw the shape of a cat in the trap. He climbed the chain link fence, unhooked the fallen cage door, and opened it. The tortoiseshell sprang out with not so much as a word of thanks. It leapt the fence and disappeared into the shadows. Oscar followed suit.
When his mother asked where he had been, he found no other recourse but to lie and say that he had walked Cybil home. Oscar was a terrible liar; his mother immediately knew she had not heard the truth, but she was tired and she did not press the issue.
written while listening to: Anthony Braxton - Four Compositions (Quartet) 1983 (Black Saint, BSR 0066 CD, 1983, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
April 16, 2017
Easter Sunday arrived. Christians around the world celebrated the miraculous resurrection of Christ. Preachers announced to their congregations that Jesus had died so that we might live eternally. Atheists gnashed their teeth for their belief system did not admit the immortality of the soul and therefore provided no annual holidays. Those who fell between believing and disbelieving breathed a sigh of relief that they had been spared a day of contemplating these weighty issues, for they had no desire to live forever on the tentative and, at times, objectionable terms with which they were familiar. They hoped only to make it through the day or the workweek or until the next paycheck. At the park, parents hid egg-shaped plastic containers, filled with chocolates and sweets, in the unmown grass beneath trees that had not yet fully come into leaf. Mothers explained to sons and daughters that a celebratory rabbit delivered the eggs. Children knew better than to question the illogical juxtaposition of spring, crucifixion, legomorphs, confectioneries and the aborted reproductive mechanism of chickens. Even writing such a sentence is exhausting.
Oscar and his mother did not go to church. She offered to take him, but he went to mass at the Catholic school on Mondays and Fridays, so his need for ritual was already satiated. The incorporeal Saint Jerome prayed not only for those over whom he was specifically assigned as patron saint--librarians, scholars, students and abandoned children--but in an impulse of magnanimity, everyone else as well. White Tito perched atop a tall sycamore with bare, white branches until he heard a ghostly mouse rustling through the remains of leaves, at which point he swooped down and pretended to catch and eat it. Douchebag J. Troglodyte blathered eloquently on the "innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies" killed with chemical weapons. Meanwhile, the Destroying Angel conducted an intricate orchestra in which all these elements were coordinated into a symphony that magnified the glory of God.
written while listening to: John Coltrane - Ascension (Impulse!, 314 543 413-2, 2000 (originally recorded and released in 1965), United States, cd, discogs.com)
April 17, 2017
On the Monday following Easter, the Catholic schools in the diocese observed what was called a "Bishop's Holiday", where the bishop took the opportunity to demonstrate his grandiose munificence by giving students the day off. Cybil and Omar still had to go to school and parents, including Oscar's mother, headed to work.
A steady drizzle had come and gone by the time Oscar got out of bed. The sky cleared but Oscar chose not to brave the wet, treacherous roads to the downtown library.
Emboldened by his success with freeing the cat, Oscar descended into the remains of the workshop that his father had left in the basement of their house. Among the abandoned supplies, hanging from an orderly array of hooks on a sheet of pegboard, he found an unopened tube of superglue. He walked down to Agnes' house and, as casually as could be, he climbed the same fence as before. Although the grass was still damp, he found the empty cage already dried by the sun. He dripped a plentiful amount of superglue on the latch and trigger. The fluid spread through the mechanism and, being transparent, was nearly undetectable to the eye. He then proceeded to the other four yards that either directly or diagonally surrounded Agnes' backyard. He repeated his treatment to each trap. The idea that a homeowner might, by chance, be peering out their window to observe his sabotage seemed a personal affront to Oscar. "How dare they," he thought, "interrupt this righteous work?" Afterward, his fingers stiff with dried superglue, he brazenly sat for tea with the conjurer on her back porch. Of his work, he said nothing.
written while listening to: Joëlle Léandre & Phillip Greenlief - That Overt Desire of Object (Relative Pitch Records, RPR1002, 2011, United States, cd, discogs.com)
April 18, 2017
Oscar's mother used half a vacation day to take the afternoon off work and go to a doctor's appointment. The annual check-up seemed an extravagance; she had missed many in recent years. Yet now that she was raising Oscar alone, it seemed more critical that she maintain her health. More than three months had gone by since Oscar's father had left. She had heard not a word from him. Nor had she heard a word from Oscar about him. Initially, she had felt astonishment that a father-son relationship, one that she had previously assumed unbreakable, had withered so quickly. Now, she felt only the sort of determined resignation that drove a mother to an annual check-up. More than once, as she sat in the waiting room, she considered her good fortune that she had employer-based insurance.
Afterward, she came home and, to avoid feeling guilty about having a few hours free, she cleaned the house. Under Oscar's bed she discovered the laptop given to him by the necromancer, though Oscar's mother did not know its origin.
She had made Oscar share his password, when he had received his father's old laptop. She tried that password on this other machine and discovered that it worked. There was a guileless aspect to her son, which made her smile, even as she searched his internet browser history.
She found nothing to shock her. There were numerous references to sacred-texts.com, which she erroneously attributed to an assignment from the Catholic school. Had she more carefully scanned the menu, the listings titled Occult, Neopaganism and Grimoires might have given her pause. As it was, she closed the laptop and replaced it where she had found it. The computer seemed too old to have been stolen. Somehow, Oscar had found a way to make ends meet. It was a skill that would serve him well; she did not want to discourage it.
written while listening to: Rafael Toral - Chasing Sonic Booms (Ecstatic Peace!, E# 33, 1996, United States, cd, discogs.com)
April 19, 2017
The Grimoire of White Tyto is not only a tome of spells but also serves as a phylactery, within which the spirits of especially formidable foes vanquished by White Tito are confined. While some admittedly rare spells are described in ink on the pages of the book, other spells, found nowhere else, are stored in the minds of beings trapped between the covers. Retrieval of these spells is fraught with peril and should not be attempted without external aid from a knowledgeable agent, preferably White Tito himself.
One deranged sorceress of yore, who yearned simultaneously to both live and die, committed suicide while bent over this volume, thus terminating a mortal life and initiating an ageless era in which certain aspects of her being were perpetually preserved. One such feature thus retained was the spell, bidirectional temporal diffusion (Transmutation).
To understand the effects of the spell, one should visualize a clear, slow-moving stream. Driven by the inexorable force of gravity, water flows in one direction. This mass flux engineers have labeled convection. If one carefully inserts, say with a syringe, an amount of red dye into the stream, it will largely be carried downstream at the speed of the surrounding water. However some small fraction of the dye will move a bit faster and some a bit slower, due to diffusion. For one moving with the stream, the slower dye appears to be moving backward.
When cast, bidirectional temporal diffusion, creates such an effect in the flow of time. The caster moving forward along the temporal axis perceives some fragments of reality moving at a slower pace, that is falling backward in time. These seemingly incoherent glimpses into the future, as often as not, cause confusion and consternation. Thus White Tito is reluctant to share this spell. If this narrative seems excessively disjointed or meandering, it is because, when cast upon the author, the spell failed to describe in a comprehensible way the path along which the story would unfold.
written while listening to: Evan Parker - Seven ElectroAcoustic Septet (Les Disques Victo, VICTO cd 127, 2014, Canada, cd, discogs.com)
April 20, 2017
Five days had passed since Oscar freed the cat from the trap, before Cybil, Omar and Oscar visited Agnes as a group. A cool April shower fell as the two boys squeezed in beneath Cybil's umbrella. Seen from afar, they formed a ridiculous, dome-headed, six-legged beast clambering down the sidewalk.
Agnes had been waiting for an opportunity to show her gratitude. She herded them into her automobile, a boat-like sedan from a bygone era. Cybil took the passenger seat and the boys sat in the back. The wet streets caused Agnes to drive even more slowly than usual. Bored within the first hundred yards, Cybil turned on the radio. It was tuned to the classical music station. She tried to change the station but the dial spun without effect. The volume also was immovably fixed at a high setting. Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries blared from the crackling speakers. Despite the rain, the children manually rolled down their windows in an attempt to lower the volume of the music.
If this scene were to have appeared in film, the directors of the day would have seen fit to present it in slow motion, decelerating the vehicle to an imperceptible rate, forcing the individual raindrops to be suspended in the air. In this instant, Agnes was visible behind the steering wheel only by the wispy crown of her white hair. Cybil leaned out the window, flashing the sign of the horns to the rhythm of Wagnerian bombast. Omar too stuck his head out the window and let the descending raindrops strike him in the face, as he laughed. Scattered drops of rain struck Oscar on the left shoulder, for he sat behind Agnes, but remained within the car. He cast a spell of memory lapse (Enchantment) so that this unearthly moment would not be preserved. Their only souvenir would be empty cups from the slush ice to which Agnes treated them at the local convenience store.
written while listening to: Christian Wolff & Keith Rowe - Untitled (Erstwhile Records, ErstLive 010, 2012, United States, cd, discogs.com)
April 21, 2017
The three children inducted Agnes into the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry, despite her insistence that the proper pronunciation was Moslem. "That's how I learned it," she said, "and I'm too old to learn different now." They bestowed upon her the title, Conjurer of Cats.
Later that evening, as a quartet they walked from Agnes' home to Cybil's for a neighborhood barbeque hosted by her parents. At the old woman's pace, the walk between houses took over twenty minutes. Nearly every neighbor was in attendance. All were surprised to see Agnes, who almost never left the house. There, Cybil jubilantly announced Agnes' membership in the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. This served as a formal announcement of the existence of the Registry. For a quarter of an hour, the hum of conversation centered on the necessity and wisdom of such a society. Positions both for and against were voiced. Soon, under the influence of beer, talk gave way to other, more pedestrian topics often encountered at such neighborhood soirées.
Omar stayed conspicuously distant from his parents. He had had no forewarning of Cybil's intent, nor could he fully anticipate his parents' reaction to the revelation of his formerly secret society. For the time being, they seemed content to meet new neighbors.
"Oscar," a woman called, "where is your mother?"
Oscar looked around and shrugged. His mother had not explained to him that, since her separation from his father, she felt uncomfortable appearing alone in social circles, in which she had once easily mingled as a married woman. So, how could he be expected to provide this explanation on her behalf?
"Oscar," the woman called again, "has your house sold?"
"Not yet," said another knowingly, "but there is an open house on Sunday."
written while listening to: Michihiro Sato - Rodan (hat ART, hat ART CD 6015, 1989, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
April 22, 2017
At Omar's request, Oscar stood by his side as he explained to his parents how the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry had come into being. Omar reasoned, correctly, that with the presence of someone outside their family in the house, two things would happen in his favor. First, his parents would be more reserved in expressing their opinions and, second, whatever recriminations they saw fit to voice would be delivered in English, a language, in Omar's experience, less suited to anger. (Usually when Omar displeased his parents, they reverted to Persian to reprimand him.)
Omar explained in his own terms the concept of civil disobedience inherent in the Registry. Oscar stood beside him, by his silence testifying, for he found no error in what Omar said. It was difficult for the parents to find fault with their son, except as the father pointed out, "We forbid you to do this."
"You are a citizen of the United States," added his mother to her son, "but our immigration status is still being processed. With the anti-immigrant policies of the new president..." She let her voice trail off, before concluding, "Your disobedience jeopardizes our life here."
Neither Omar nor Oscar had any rebuttal for this argument. Shortly thereafter, Omar announced to Cybil and Oscar that he was regretfully relinquishing his membership in the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. His announcement seemed to put the society in an existential quandary since, after all, he had been the only legitimate Muslim in it.
written while listening to: The Lee Konitz Quartet - Zounds (Soul Note, 121219-2, 1991, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
April 23, 2017
During an open house, the current family is always expected to be absent, since the presence of the other party can make the candid inspection of the house an uncomfortable experience for both residents and prospective buyers. Oscar would have been no exception. The vision of strangers entering the shrine of his brother's room, a place he himself was forbidden, caused the boy substantial anguish. No greater betrayal of his brother could he imagine of his mother. She offered to take him out of the house to a destination of his choice for several hours. He rejected all of her suggestions, including his beloved downtown library. He kindled a growing fury for the necromancer from whom he had extracted a promise to derail this process.
To his mother's great distress, Oscar disappeared as she made preparations to depart. Then she did not know what to do. Should she wait at home to prevent her son from returning during the open house and potentially making a scene? Should she run her errands for a few hours and hope that Oscar had found his own refuge? When the realtor arrived, prior to any buyers, Oscar's mother informed her that she had lost track of Oscar, but that he was certain to be upset. The realtor shooed her off, assuring her everything was under control. She would call if Oscar showed up.
It turned out there was no need for alarm. Oscar had fled to the conjurer's house. There he told the old woman of the serious injury being done to him. She sympathized completely, for she too feared nothing more than being separated from the only home she knew. She put the child to bed in her second, unused bedroom. He assured her that he could not rest, but then a cat with a striped tabby coat appeared and, settling beside him, lured him into sleep with the soothing rhythm of its breathing.
written while listening to: Prima Materia - Peace on Earth (Knitting Factory Works, KFW 158, 1994, United States, cd, discogs.com)
April 24, 2017
After school on Monday, Cybil stopped by Oscar's house. She found no one at home and assumed he was on another one of his secret excursions to the library. It was too early for Omar to be home, so she walked down to Agnes' house. All the children had taken to entering the house through the back door. As Cybil walked along the old sedan in the driveway, she saw over the chain-link fence two men crouched beside one of the cages. She identified one of the men as a neighbor. The second wore scruffy overalls; Cybil thought she recognized him as a handyman often hired to do odd jobs in the neighborhood. It seemed entirely possible that he had been engaged as the exterminator. The overalls hung loosely on a thin frame. The passive, haggard expression on the man's face told of a history of lean times.
Upon hearing Cybil knock at Agnes' door, the two men rose to their feet. They stared overlong at Cybil, before Agnes let her inside.
"Did they catch something?" the younger woman asked of the older.
Agnes stood at the window in the back door and peered through it. She leaned to the side, allowing Cybil to step forward and see as well. "I don't think so," she said. "One of the traps seems to be broken. Maybe more than one."
For a while, the pair watched the exterminator move from one cage to the next. "Maybe they rusted shut in the rain," concluded Cybil. "Wouldn't that be something?"
"Hmm," said Agnes. "I hope that man doesn't rely on those traps to make his living." She too sensed that the handyman had little in the way of financial security. She feared that the loss of income from a broken trap might be just enough to make him miss his rent one too many times, resulting in eviction, a matter, we have noted before, with which Agnes was dearly concerned.
written while listening to: Go Hirano - Reflection of Dreams (PSF Records, PSFD-71, 1995, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
April 25, 2017
Omar, Oscar and Cybil stood in a triangle in the empty lot beside Cybil's house. They threw a frisbee between them. Jellybean chased the disc. At each errant throw, the dog out-sprinted the closest child and claimed his prize. The dog was careful to bite gently, so as not to puncture the disc with his teeth. However, when the dog released the disc at the feet of one of the children, it was coated with a slick layer of slobber, making the disc more difficult to control. Oscar stuck out his hand as far as he could, but when the disc jarred to a stop in his grip, he felt a fine spray of saliva across his face. He screwed up his face dramatically, drawing roars of laughter from Cybil and Omar. He threw the disc at Omar with as much force as he could reliably muster. The younger boy was forced to catch it lest it hit him. With great show, he dropped the disc in disgust and pulled his shirt up to wipe his face. Meanwhile, Jellybean reclaimed the disc at his feet. This is what kids did when they were not all members of a secret society.
Later, Cybil said to Omar. "I feel kind of weird now that you have left the Renegades, like it's an empty gesture. How can there be no Muslims in the American Muslim Registry? We need to find a new Muslim." She paused before asking as delicately as possible, "Do you know any?"
Omar frowned. He did not want to replace himself.
Cybil quickly saw her error. "I mean you can still hang out with us, of course. I'm just talking about a membership drive." They stood as a group, pondering the possibilities. "Where should we look?" Cybil asked.
Omar sighed, seemingly resigned to his fate. "You might try the mosque."
written while listening to: Harry Partch - The Harry Partch Collection Volume 1 (Composers Recordings Inc., CRI CD 751, 1997 (originally recorded 1950-1951, 1953, 1958), United States, cd, discogs.com)
April 26, 2017
Omar knocked on the back door of the Agnes' house. When the old woman answered, he asked, "Are Cybil and Oscar here?"
Rather than invite Omar inside, she stepped out onto the porch. A black cat was reclining in the shade of one of the hemlocks. It rolled over halfway as a means of simultaneously expressing a feline indifference and acknowledging Agnus' appearance.
"Did you notice anything?" she asked him, looking out across the backyard.
So preoccupied with finding his friends had Omar been that he had not noted the absence of the traps in the adjacent yards. When Agnes pointed this out to him, he responded, "That's great!" He read some reservation in her face and asked, "Isn't it?"
"Did you do something to the traps?" she asked quietly.
Her tone, more than the question, startled Omar. He understood now that he was being interrogated. He profusely professed his innocence, though of what he did not know. By now he concluded that Cybil and Oscar were not here.
"I thought the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry were about making the world a better place."
"They are," Omar agreed, before adding, "but my parents made me quit."
"Oh!" said Agnes with surprise. Before saying anything else on that matter, she reverted to her previous line of questioning, "Do you know what makes the world a better place?"
"I don't know...less hate. Less violence. More tolerance of the differences between people?"
"How do you make all those things happen?"
"I don't know," Omar admitted.
"Me neither," Agnes agreed. "Be careful," she said gently and sent him on his way.
written while listening to: Jason Lescalleet - Songs About Nothing (Erstwhile Records, ErstSolo 003-2, 2012, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
April 27, 2017
"They are going to sell my house. For all I know, it may already be sold," said the abjurer to the necromancer. "You told me you would curse the realtor."
"The curse has been laid," the necromancer assured him. "Each action, for good or ill, invites its own repercussions. If there is indeed evil in this act of the realtor, it shall trail her all the days of her life. Should she die before the curse takes hold, you shall have to be satisfied with the toll taken by the anxiety of a life lived in fear of such pursuit."
The abjurer seemed not entirely encouraged by this ambiguous justice. His doubt could not be hidden from the necromancer, who further told him, "You, too, have been caught in the curse. I see it in the dimming of your eyes. I hear it in the hesitancy in your voice. If you cannot find the strength within yourself to leave the realtor to her own fate, you will succumb to the same malediction."
As a prescription against the curse, the necromancer recommended a bitter medicine, The Analects of Confucius. "I do not assign this reading lightly, for I anticipate that you will not like this book," she told him. "It is full of admonitions to propriety, which you will think should be cast to the wind. Nevertheless it is important for each of us to be exposed to work that disagrees with us, for it is by this mechanism that we may discover something previously unknown within ourselves."
"And," she added in a cheerful tone, "there remains the off chance that you find some wisdom in these words, as have others in the thousands of years since they were first recorded."
written while listening to: Jean Derome & Lê Quan Ninh - Fléchettes (Tour De Bras, TDB9004, 2009, Canada, cd, discogs.com)
April 28, 2017
Friday afternoon marked the beginning of the weekend for Cybil, Oscar and Omar. Omar's mother had spotted a snake on the side of the house when she arrived home that day. As soon as Omar reported this to the other two children, they all headed directly to the rocks piled where the flower garden abutted against the foundation of the house. After several minutes of tentatively lifting rocks, Cybil found it, a black king snake coiled among the hot stones.
Omar stood back but Cybil assured him it was harmless. Once revealed, the snake uncoiled and slithered through the garden. There it displayed its full length, about five feet. Omar stepped farther back. The children followed the snake at a distance, as it rounded the corner of the house and eventually disappeared into the thicket of bushes at the edge of the yard. Beside the hedge, the two older children broached a delicate topic with Omar. They had decided that, before they headed to the mosque, a prospect which seemed filled with uncertainty, they would try one more time to convince Omar's parents to allow him to rejoin the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry.
At this suggestion, Omar blanched more than he had at the sight of the king snake. He did not have an appetite for resuming this discussion with his parents. "Let it go," he told the other two children. "It was just another empty campaign promise. There is no American Muslim Registry. There is no point in being a Renegade."
written while listening to: Joëlle Léandre & Akosh Szelevényi - Kor (Leo Records, CD LR 522, 2008, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
April 29, 2017
Cybil and Oscar eventually convinced Omar to ask his parents to allow him to rejoin the Renegades by presenting it as a collaborative, creative act. To commemorate the one hundredth day of the president in office, they created a skit high-lighting some of the newsworthy events. In the afternoon they rehearsed it for Cybil's mother, who laughed so hard that tears came to her eyes. Their confidence boosted by this reception, they marched to Omar's house and performed it for the benefit of his parents.
In the skit, Cybil played a television news anchor. She read off a variety of unsuccessful initiatives of the administration as if they were great achievements--the loss of the National Security Advisor to a Russian campaign scandal, the failed repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act with a replacement that promised twenty-four million fewer people insured, the tax plan that was a gift to billionaires, the absence of a wall on the southern border, the promotion of properties owned by the president and, of course, the two Muslim travel bans blocked by federal judges. Cybil rattled off the list, while seated on the couch.
Before her, Oscar and Omar played the role of voters who heaped excessive praise on each action, as if they disdained healthcare, equitable taxes, transparency of government and cherished instead manipulation of the government by foreign powers, nepotism and especially anti-immigrant vitriol. Omar adopted a thick version of his father's accent to proclaim the virtues of the president.
As may be obvious to many readers, the plan backfired. Omar's parents were horrified. This sort of satire was exactly what they feared, if uploaded to the internet, could go viral and derail their immigration applications.
To their dismay, Cybil and Oscar were brusquely ordered from the house. Omar was then informed that not only could he not rejoin the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry, but he was also henceforth barred from any interaction with his two co-conspirators.
written while listening to: Lawrence "Butch" Morris - Conduction 25: Akbank, Conduction 26: Akbank II collected in Testament: A Conduction Collection (New World Records, 80478-2, 1995, United States, cdx10+book, discogs.com)
April 30, 2017
Through a combination of the application of acetone and mechanical abrasion, the exterminator was able to free the trigger mechanisms on all five of the damaged traps. By Saturday, he had reset them, fully functional, in the yards surrounding Agnes. The conjurer had happened to be on the porch when the traps were placed. She had waved to him and had wished him a good morning. He had awkwardly returned the greeting for he knew well that she was the source of the neighbors' ire. "Take care of my friends, should they wander into your traps," she had called to him.
The exterminator returned on Sunday morning, though that was not his usual practice. Ordinarily, he waited several days between setting the traps and checking them, unless a property owner called with a request to empty a cage. On this occasion he had decided to return after only a single night to make sure that the children who had recently befriended the old woman had not tampered with the traps again. Of course, they were the obvious culprits; the timing of their appearance and the sabotage of the traps was too close to attribute to coincidence.
To his surprise, he found all the cages were full. One held a raccoon, the second a groundhog, the third not one but two squirrels, the fourth a brown rabbit and the fifth a fat, black river rat. Even more surprising to the exterminator, he found the old woman seated on a chair in the back porch beaming like an idiot. She greeted him again, as he gathered the agitated animals in the bed of his truck, in order to take them out to the quarry to be released. He knew as well as she did that the greenway along the river served as safe passage for the animals to return the mile or so that separated them. He thought of this arrangement as job security. The rat he drowned.
written while listening to: Marion Brown - Duets (Arista, AL 1904, 1975, United States, lpx2, discogs.com)
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