Short memoir of a minor character

My name is Eino Roskinen. Of course, this is not my real name. I was included under that name as a minor character in the novel Cass Timberlane, now considered a rather minor work of Sinclair Lewis but quite a success at the time of publication. It was even turned into a film, with Spencer Tracy and Lana Turner as the stars. Cameron Mitchell played me. I am of Finnish descent, which is not unusual for Minnesota, and nothing to be ashamed of, even though the good judge Timberlane had a problem with it. He also had a problem with Jinny, whom he took away from me. Despite what she told Timberlane, I was certainly interested in her, and our interactions had not been as innocent as she made him believe. I was furious at her for choosing social standing and wealth over me. And look what it got her – boredom, a lost child, an affair with one of the judge’s unsavory friends. What happened to me? Nothing spectacular. Having finished my studies, I moved away. First to New York, where I worked in an architect firm, co-designing run-of-the-mill office buildings. I had a relationship with Dottie, daughter of Polish immigrants and owners of a kielbasa shop. Then luck beckoned, or so I thought, with a job in Los Angeles. Off goes Eino, leaving Dottie behind. All went well in L.A. Good job, easygoing colleagues, interesting work mostly. Met and married Lana, daughter of a partner in the firm and, yes, named after Lana Turner. Two children – Eino and Rosemary. We were a happy family, until the unfortunate holiday in Barbados, where my whole family was killed in a car explosion, leaving only me alive but crippled. The rest is the sad story of a bitter, lonely old man who took to drinking to top it all off. As I’m writing this, I’m 81 years old. Still hanging in there against all odds. Thanks to the kind hands of Dottie, who came out West and became my second wife. Don’t know what she still saw in me. The second chance I got, I owe it all to her. Bless her.

– James Steerforth (© 2022)

References
Cass Timberlane: A Novel of Husbands and Wives, novel by Sinclair Lewis, published in 1945
Cass Timberlane, an American film based on the Sinclair Lewis novel, released in 1948.

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Sleep, my love

That’s what I’m telling her to get her to relax, holding her hands in mine, but things are really far from OK, with that psychopath Hendrik bound to knock on the door any minute. What to do? Do I know a professional who could take care of him? No. Does she? Maybe. Somebody from the dubious past she’s mentioned a few times. I can tell the sleeping pill’s working, she’s barely able to keep her eyes open. I’ll get everything ready, including the gun. Just in case. Carry her downstairs, to the garage, the car. Open the garage door, gun the car, hit the street. Look in the mirror to see if anyone’s following. It’s a plan, it’s a plan OK. For lack of anything better. There now, she’s asleep. Let’s go!

(To be continued at some point in the future.)

– James Steerforth (© 2022)

Author’s note: As anyone who’s seen the 1948 movie can tell, this is an entirely different story. However, it was obliquely inspired by the film because I came across the poster and set my mind in motion to write a short as a take-off from the title.

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Complaint of Vilemir Putanin, seasoned dictator and cleptocrat

(excepts from His diary)

I have sacrificed myself for my country to restore its former glory, and yet what do I get? Jokers gathering in the capital to protest, no doubt riled up by the criminal thugs I put in prison because they wanted to run in elections against me. Well, I’ve had these parasitic elements put down by the police, who stand by me faithfully.

Why, I’ve even been blamed for one of them taking poison and then getting treated by enemies outside the country.

Based on sound advice and the assurance of my most trusted advisors and supporters, who are few, I have sent an army of peacekeepers to a neighboring country which has been nothing but obstinate and ungrateful ever since the unfortunate dissolution of the greatest union there ever was. Despite all the oil and gas and other riches we’ve showered on them. In an unprecedented slap of face, they ousted a deserving, competent government that was doing things the right way – our way. Without us they’d be nothing.

I am doing nothing but good to protect each and every minority of mine that is settled anywhere else in illegal and corrupt countries no longer under our control. We have successfully supported and armed countrymen in Synistria and Dumbass, areas populated by suppressed and mistreated nationals that have cried out to me for help against local oppressors. I’ve given them passports, I’ve given them kalashnikovs and rockets.

And yet I get nothing, no recognition. The evil empires of the West slap me with sanctions. Well, let them have their sanctions. I’ve already collected gold. Enough reserves to last for a long, long time.

Let them freeze without my gas!

I have been accused of acquiring wealth at the expense of my country and of enabling oligarchs to illegally enrich themselves to the detriment of the country and the people. Nothing could be further from the truth! But let it be said that every manager – and as the president I am a manager at the highest level – deserves some compensation for the hard work he does and the responsibility he bears. And I bear an enormous amount of responsibility! So do my friends, the so-called oligarchs, who are nothing but hard-working individuals with a keen eye for business and opportunities that greatly benefit not only themselves but the economy as a whole and thus the entire nation.

It is unjust and misguided to argue that my friends and I do not believe in our country because we happen to own some prime real estate in countries like France that we occasionally criticize. It is simply misinformation intentionally spread by the media of enemy countries that claims our spouses and offspring spend time there consorting with the local rich and beautiful.

As to the recent act of liberation: I’m bringing breadbaskets, and what do I get? Molotov cocktails. I’ve pointed out the corruption of their misguided government, how it is made up of drug-sniffing sons of Hitler.

I’ve pointed out how happy we all used to be when we were one. I’ve pointed out the blessings of the proverbial bear that enveloped, embraced and united us all.

The bear hug worked so well in Germany in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, where we defended our righteous ways by putting down illegal movements instigated by imperialist Western powers. It worked wonders in our own Chechnya and Georgia in the more recent past. It has done miracles in Syria, where we gave our support to the legitimate government. The people loved us for all the wonderful things we brought. All of this has been grossly misrepresented in history books written by the wrong people.

I am merely a follower of a great tradition.

What can I say? How can I convince everyone? Even though my tanks, my missiles, my soldiers, my truth speak a clear language.

– James Steerforth (© 2022)

Author’s disclaimer
The persons, events and locations mentioned in this piece of fiction express the views and opinions of a fictitious first-person narrator who might be thought to resemble an actual living person. However, any similarities to real persons, events and locations are merely coincidental. Opinions and views expressed do not in any way constitute the author’s opinions and views.

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Federico García Lorca, Little Viennese Waltz

Federico García Lorca, date unknown

In Vienna there are ten girls
a shoulder on which death sobs
and a forest of stuffed doves.
There is a fragment of morning
in the museum of ice flowers.
There is a room with a thousand windows.
¡Ay, ay, ay, ay!
Take this waltz with its mouth closed.

This waltz, this waltz, this waltz,
of yes, of death and cognac,
that dips its tail in the sea.

I love you, I love you, I love you,
with the armchair and the dead book,
down the melancholy corridor,
in the dark attic of the lily,
in our bed of the moon
and in the dance in the turtle’s dream.
¡Ay, ay, ay, ay!
Take this broken-waisted waltz.

In Vienna there are four mirrors
where your mouth and the echoes play.
There’s death for piano
that paints the young men blue.
There are beggars on the roofs.
Fresh garlands are there to cry.
¡Ay, ay, ay, ay!
Take this waltz that dies in my arms.

For I love you, I love you, my darling,
in the attic where the children play,
dreaming of old Hungarian lights
in the murmur of the warm evening,
watching sheep and snow roses
through the dark silence of your brow.
¡Ay, ay, ay, ay!
Take this waltz “I love you for ever”.

In Vienna I’ll dance with you
in a costume that has
the head of a river.
See what bank of hyacinths I have!
I’ll leave my mouth between your legs
my soul in photographs and white lilies,
and in the dark waves of your sway
I want to, my beloved, my beloved,
leave violin and tombstone, the ribbons of the waltz.

– Federico García Lorca, Pequeño vals Vienés (from: Poeta en Nueva York, 1929-1930)

Translated from Spanish by Johannes Beilharz (© 2022). This translation is copyrighted. Unauthorized and uncredited reproduction and copying prohibited.

Note

This poem by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) achieved wide popular exposure due to a sung English Version by Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) – Take This Waltz, released first in 1986 and then on the album I’m Your Man (1988).

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A few seconds in the mind of Cinzia

Should definitely get rid of the bird shit on the roof. Black really shows it. Probably some pigeon. But I always park here, and usually there’s no bird shit. It’s under a roof after all. But no time now, have to get to work. Hope the traffic won’t be so bad today. Did I feed the cat before leaving? Also must remember to pay this year’s car tax, I think it’s due. Last year I had to pay a fine. Why is this thing not starting? Try again. OK, it’s on. Some ass really parked me in. But wait, there’s room in the back. All right. Why don’t they ever fix this street. Full of potholes. No-one important lives here, otherwise they’d fix it. Got to call my mother. And the lab. Why are my test results not online. Why is this phone not connecting. Damn. Everything’s going wrong today. Will have to call Paolo about the cat. I really did forget to give him food. Who knows what he’d destroy if he doesn’t get his food. Last time the whole place was a mess. Garbage all over the kitchen and dining room because I left the plastic bag on the floor. Damn idiot in front of me. Breaks for no reason. Oops, that was a pedestrian crossing. He actually let that old lady cross. It’s only Thursday and I’m not even at work. Ready for the weekend. Just had coffee. My stomach’s hurting. Maybe I’m getting that silent reflux everyone’s talking about. Oh shit. But that would be in my throat. Not the stomach. Anyway, too much stress. Red light! When is it ever going to turn green?

– James Steerforth (© 2021)

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A Romanian sentence

Electronic dog that barks when someone walks by –
in a white Sprinter van with Bucureşti license plates
parked along the shore of Lago Maggiore.

– James Steerforth (© 2021)

Based on true events. Has the form of an American sentence but Romanian content, hence called a Romanian sentence.

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Full circle

“Let’s go to the beach,” Arturo said.
“And do what?” came Luis’ quick retort.
Arturo gave him a look from down under.
“What we always do.”
“Why should we do what we always do?”
“Any better idea?”
“It’s just that nothing ever happens here. Not here, not on the beach. Same old water, same old waves, same old fishermen with their nets.”
“And same old us.”
“Right. Same old us.”
Arturo turned to the other two, Joaquim and Pedro, who sat on the low wall phlegmatically, squinting into the sun.
“What do you two think?”
“About?”
“What we should do?”
“Let’s go to the beach. We can get into the water,” Joaquim said.
“Yeah, we could do that,” Pedro echoed. “Or play.”
“Like what?” Luis the skeptic said.
“Now that we’ve wasted time and achieved nothing, we’ve truly come full circle,” said Arturo. “As usual. I’m going home. Drink something.”

– James Steerforth (© 2021)

(150 words)

Photo credits: Artur Pastor, Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal, 1950s/60s

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The unknown engineer

Seagull and crane

On the imaginary tracks of his life

And no – this working life is not enough.

Sets out to the factory in the morning. Work. Not very exciting. But one does what one must do.

Wednesday lunch at a restaurant for a change. Took a picture of the menu. The usual black-and-white style, a bit blurry, a bit unfocused, a bit retro. Can’t make out what’s on that menu except it’s pictures of dishes.

Ah well!

The streets of Toyama. Cars. Houses. Legs. People, not recognizable. Backyards. Machinery. Birds in flight. Sky with clouds. All black and white. Grey. Tristesse. It’s a way of life.

Tristesse! How nourishing. You can survive on that in the societal drought.

“Bonjour, tristesse!”
“Bonjour, monsieur!”

Nice to meet you, especially for a prolonged weekend of walking around with a camera.

– James Steerforth (© 2021)

 

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After bathing at Baxter’s

Always a great place to relax, recharge and get some heat during the cold season, and just half a block from Jack’s, where Grace treated us to some of her finest albeit eclectic California cooking. Lots of Lone Stars, tequila shots. But boy have we become old! Midnight’s the limit…

– James Steerforth (© 2020)

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From the memoirs of an addict II

Fair-Cats-Prowl

In the late eighties I was addicted to crime novels, basically of any style – police procedure, noir, hard-boilt, single shamus, animal detectives, stuffy British, you name it. Even though I usually had plenty of work as a language traitor, I’d find any excuse to put it down. For example, “Oh, it’s eleven, time for a cup of coffee” … and of course I needed to read while I was sipping the coffee for an hour or so. My office was upstairs. Whenever my wife came up, I’d quickly drop the book and start hammering away on the keyboard. I’d inevitably show up for lunch with the maximum excusable delay, chomp it down and go back to work ASAP. My wife, of course, saw right through my shenanigans. “No need to put on that pretend work routine, my dear,” she said one day. “What’s with all that mystery trash you’re devouring anyway?” “Well,” I said with some hesitation, “I’m planning to write a book about the state of the art of crime fiction. So it’s all studying.” “Ha! I’ll be Agatha Christie if that book ever sees the light of day,” was all she said. Needless to say, I never wrote a single line of such a book. And my wife remained her usual lovable self that put up gracefully with some of my shortcomings.

– Tommy H. (© 2020)

(Tommy H.’s book From the memoirs of an addict, “due out some time this decade” – if we can believe the author –, is a romp through the various addictions he has gone through from the 1980s to now.)

First excerpt

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A nice ending for a novel

And so they stood there hand in hand watching the waters of the river flow by until they got bored and left.

– James Steerforth

Author’s note
Novelists usually attempt to wrap up the novel with an ending that packs some sort of punch – at the crudest level, this might be a couple that finally manages to kiss or drives away after successfully having committed murder – or leaves the reader hanging with some future possibility. But then, of course, there is also the typical novel ending that does neither. Like the one above, for which there isn’t even a novel.

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Why the Catholic church?

“Why on earth did you drop off a dried-up Christmas tree with some ornaments still in place on the front steps of a Catholic church in April of 1978?”
“Well, in an odd way we thought they’d be blessed.”
“Blessed?”
“Yes. Because, after all, it’s sort of a Christian symbol.”
“More pagan for all we know.”
“And then we thought it would provide a welcome distraction from worrying about sins and confession and not being allowed to use birth control.”

– James Steerforth (© 2019)

(80 words)

Author’s note
Mostly based on events that actually occurred.

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Striptease

I swear to God I didn’t want to go. My mother told me that those things are sinful and play on the desires of the flesh. I really didn’t want to go. But the guys in my department said don’t be a stick in the mud, get out of your sorry pitiful self, do something different, dare to live. Then when we got there there was a woman in full process of denuding herself, hardly anything was left, and customers kept inserting bills in her panties. We all sat down, and the only girl who had come along, Allie, came to sit next to me. Jack ordered a round of drinks, shots of tequila, and Joe ordered a second one. By then the first woman had walked off with swaying hips and another one came out with her hips swaying and shouting something at the crowd, I don’t know what. I think it may have been something obscene. Terry ordered the third round. They’d taught me how to drink it with the lime and salt, so I knew the motions by now. The woman had taken off her black bra and thrown it at somebody. She had silvery metal triangles dangling from the tips of her breasts. Do you like it? Allie asked, leaning towards me. Well, I don’t know, I started, but before I could continue she had leaned over all the way, touched my lips with her open mouth and inserted her tongue and wound it around mine.

– James Steerforth (© 2019)

(250 words)

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You can be damn sure

it’s going to be a slow movie if the hero takes about ten minutes to enter the place, drag his feet across the floor turtle-like and sit down on the sofa sloth-like, eventually putting his mustachioed head in his hands. And the villain comes in through the other door just as slowly, holding a long knife with blood on the tip, ultimately settling on the two-seater opposite the hero at snail speed. They look so much alike one might think it’s before and after. More I won’t give away for now. You’ll need some suspense to sit through this one.

– James Steerforth (2019)

(100 words)

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Trans Europe Express

Trans-Europe-Express

I boarded the train in X. Smoking was much more common in those days. In France, in particular, some people would smoke even in nonsmoking compartments. Even though I had a seat reservation, I changed compartments after two men, who both looked more or less like Jacques Brel, lit up their Gauloises and merely laughed when someone pointed out this was a nonsmoking compartment. In the other compartment, I came to sit next to a young Spaniard who started a conversation. I could tell he liked me. We shared a sandwich and exchanged addresses. I got off the train in Y. Those were the milestones of this eight-hour train ride. Z., a lesser known nouvelle vague director, turned it into a ninety-minute movie which, someone told me, won an award at a festival. I was, at the time, the girlfriend of the director’s camera man, who suggested to the script writer who wrote all the scripts for Z.’s films to write a script based on what I’d told him about the train ride. The writer added a few things to make the movie more palatable. The sex scene with the Moroccan in the toilet did not happen. The only Moroccan on the train I remember was asleep standing up in the aisle outside the compartment. He’d been riding trains for twenty-seven hours, someone said, all the way from the south of Spain. There was an Algerian across from the young Spaniard and me, who kept butting in on our conversation and was giving me smoldering looks under hooded eyelids.

– Jacqueline Maisdemois (© 2019)

Note
This text was submitted by the author, who is unknown to me, in English in the form of a comment to a previous blog entry. – James Steerforth

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Daisy said

Where would I find glass slippers nowadays? – I’d make such a wonderful cinderella!

– James Steerforth (© 2018)

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Oh memory

Trieste, somewhere near Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia, a youngish woman exiting a gelateria with a cone stacked high. Made me think of a sack due to the shapeless brown dress, which seemed to cover a heavy structure. And immediately I thought of someone in a movie recently seen who wore sack-like clothes until the very end, when she revealed herself as quite shapely in something much more revealing. All premeditated audience goading, of course. But not so likely to happen here.

– James Steerforth (© 2018)

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For hire

For hire - photo by Johannes BeilharzYou see, my immense success is all due to that watch – it all started with that watch, which projects just the right image of wealth and manliness. And now I’m the owner of a nice red car, a monkey and two slaves … err … employees. And have been touring the world teaching and enabling personal success. Call me at 1-800-C-O-A-C-H.

 

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The WTF poem

“WTF – I wonder how that is pronounced…”
“Not that easy to say, it being Proto-Srpko-Pannonian.
Not at all what you would guess from the spelling.
Probably sounded like hwiss, the final f generally
being mute for all we know.”
“And, pray tell me, what does it mean?”
“Something like What the heck.”

– James Steerforth (© 2018)

One of the pieces from the forthcoming Erudite Matters.

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Happy ending

That’s what YOU call a happy ending: you plundered our joint bank account, maxed out our credit cards and ran off with the Austrian masseur who looks like Arnold reborn and is twenty-eight years younger than you. While I’m home with the debts and three hungry children. Thank you, Lucille!

– James Steerforth (© 2017)

Flash fiction in 50 words.

Loosely based on a song by Kenny Rogers:

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