Fair Weather Families
Premiered – April Fools' Day, 2004
As Earl entered Cameseldom's great driveway which circled the unique, Italian-designed, imported-water, lily pond, he could see his Jiffy parked in front of the castle's great doors. There was a great deal of activity throughout the grounds, but it was apparently centered about his favorite form of transportation. Numerous servants were scurrying about, unusually industriousness in their endeavors, with many tossing or removing various small objects into or from the Jiffy. What was stranger still was the fact that many of his servants, heavily loaded with all manner of sacked booty, were making their way along both sides of the great circle driveway in his direction. As if... escaping!
As Earl made his way around the driveway, the servants on his particular semi-circle made a broad path around him, as if protecting their severance pay. Earl decided to ignore them. Approaching the Jiffy, he could see not only were servants removing various small and probably quite valuable objects from the carriage, but his wife and children were also tossing similar objects into the Jiffy.
Earl was astounded at the sight that his beloved wife, Fantaasia, and his two adoring children, Aspir and Demure, could be behaving in such a manner. In addition to working , they were also rushing about like common folk, as if their appearance was of no concern. It was as though a momentary madness had possessed them -- there could be no other explanation for such deviations from refined, aristocratic behavior.
Earl reached the Jiffy just as Demure came out with two large serving trays and tossed them into the Jiffy. Her toss was, in fact, so vigorous that one tray bounced once inside the carriage before going over the opposite side of the Jiffy. There a small servant boy caught it, and then scampered off with his catch. Earl was quite shocked. But not so shocked as to let such improper behavior on the part of his daughter go without being scolded.
"Demure!" he shouted. "What is the meaning of this?"
Demure stopped and turned to look at him. Then she resumed her rush into the castle, shouting, "Hey Ma! The turkey's back!"
Earl turned to look behind him for a turkey, even though he was unfamiliar with the bird, having only read about them in MTV parchments. When he turned back, his wife was coming out the door with both hands clutching four large golden candlesticks. Fantaasia hardly glanced at him and started wedging the golden candlesticks in under what looked to Earl like the master bedroom's recently imported Persian carpets. When she failed to acknowledge him, he said in a very strong voice, "Fantaasia!"
It was then he realized how inappropriately dressed she was. While his wife was running about in exceptionally well-tailored garb, it nevertheless looked suspiciously like that of common peasants. Or very rich peasants, perhaps. In any case, Earl was shocked! Although, he momentarily thought, she looked better that way, more natural.
Finally she spoke. "It's all over the fiefdom, you know."
Earl was mystified, as much by her demeanor as the statement. "What?"
"Your business failure, your defrocking, your lowered credit rating. All of it. Everyone in the kingdom probably knows by now."
"Oh, that. Yes, well... Those were unfortunate."
"Unfortunate!?" Fantaasia stopped and looked at Earl for a moment. "Your business was one of the great traditions of the kingdom! The only business this side of Tipperary with exceptionally consistent and enormous profits year after year and for no known reason! The one great attribute of Cameseldom which has stood us in envious stead for decades!" When Earl could only appear hurt and bewildered, Fantaasia looked him in the eye and said, "And you think that losing it was merely unfortunate?"
"Arrrrggggg!!" was her tender reply. Earl had never heard such a sound from his wife. The tenor of it made him hesitant to respond.
Fantaasia, however, did not hesitate. "You just blew the greatest business known to man, and all because of an Ole Geezer converting the entire assets of the local economy into his own personal retirement fund! Then you lost all semblance of a credit rating, based on your profound inability to manage funds. Which was then the occasion for your defrocking. And now, the once great castle of Cameseldom , located in what is now a profoundly un-enchanted valley, is down the tubes!"
"You mean the rather inconvenient waste disposal problem?"
"I mean!!" Fantaasia groaned, "Cameseldom has been declared a disaster area, a major health hazard, an environmental debacle, and is being considered for enforced secession from the kingdom. They're even considering making it an Indian reservation!"
"Oh my God!" Earl replied, "I didn't know."
"At the same time, the vegetable garden is putrefying even as we speak." "That, I knew about."
"And the peasants are revolting!"
"But they always have been," Earl was quick to argue.
Fantaasia threw up her hands and leaned headlong against the Jiffy. The one with the Multiple Dual Spring Suspension, etcetera. For a moment, neither said a word... Until Aspir exited the castle with the gold ware table-service for forty-eight. He was pulling it on a cart, even as Demure was pushing it from behind in a quite unladylike fashion.
Fantaasia then smiled mischievously and turned back to Earl. "Oh, by the way... Your two favorite twin chambermaids are mad as hell at you."
Earl was now profoundly shocked. "Moi?"
"For starters, both of them are gay."
"I thought you said they were angry?"
"They're lesbians, dummy!"
"What? You're kidding. Lesbians!!? But I've been..." Earl suddenly sensed the need to stop short of his impending remark.
Fantaasia simply frowned. "I know what you've been doing with them. This is why they're both pregnant!"
" pregnant ?" Earl asked, in a very small voice.
"Which in turn is why they're so angry. Do you have any idea what it's like to be gay and pregnant!?"
Earl struggled with trying to imagine what it would be like. Inasmuch as this was a lengthy process, it was inevitable that someone would interrupt his thoughts. In this case, it was Demure.
Pouting and feeling amply justified in doing so, she said, "Who cares if they're knocked up? What about me? My school plans are crapped out!"
"Screw your school plans, sister," Aspir interjected. "What about my automatic title and position as royalty with the unlimited expense account? Where are the female tutors with the sweets and the very amiable natures like father had during his adolescence? Did you know sister that our father went through seven tutors, each one having to step down when they got pregnant?"
"Of course I do!" Demure replied. "Why do you think they call him the Father of the Fiefdom?"
"Let's move it kids! We've haven't got all day." Fantaasia continued to lean against the Jiffy, watching Earl.
Demure turned back toward the castle door, asking the world, "Why did we ever choose this guy as a father?"
"Why not?" Aspir replied, with more objectivity. "Everyone else is heading in the same direction! At least we got a few good years before the ax fell!"
"But just before the Debutantes' Ball!" Demure bemoaned her fate.
"MOVE IT BRATS!" Fantaasia commanded. Then to Earl, she eased her wrath. Watching him for a moment, she added with great sincerity, "The real horror is that... You've failed us, Earl! You simply were inadequate, failing to live up to our incredible expectations. We had such high hopes for you! Dreams that you would always be this incredibly perfect being. One without flaw, without the slightest hint of imperfection." Fantaasia sighed deeply. "But now, here you stand, utterly useless, willfully ignorant, while the shit hits the fan!"
"Oh, but wait a moment," Earl countered, his confidence returning. "We don't have a fan! As a matter of fact, we've never needed one!" Earl added, in his thoughts, 'So there!'
"Who cares?" Fantaasia replied. "There's shit all over the walls of the castle anyway." Then making her words as clear as possible she added, "We're leaving, Earl. Have a nice life."
For the first time, the meaning of his family's actions finally struck home. He suddenly knew that the last vestiges of his life were slipping away. At first, he was simply stunned. The only thing he could ask was, "But why?"
It was Fantaasia's turn to be stunned. She shook her head, as if to clear it from the nonsensical reply of her soon-to-be ex-husband.
Earl continued, his voice betraying his true emotions, "I don't understand. Certainly, we've a few problems. But nothing that some genuine communication can't cure. We just need to sit down and talk about this, Fantaasia. Maybe obtain some counseling. There's always Golda..."
Fantaasia tried to explain. "Earl... The castle..."
"Oh I know! It's got a few problems right now. But what's the worry? All we have to do is rezone it. Perhaps sell it as condos. I understand the Kingdom is moving a lot of real estate right now. We'll just include it in one of their numerous catalogues."
"I don't think so," Fantaasia muttered.
"Besides, it's just... property. It's not like, it's all we have! What of all our other investments? Our stocks? Our bonds?"
Fantaasia leaped on the entry. "Oh, yes! I forgot to tell you. Your broker called."
Earl smiled. "Wonderful! And what did he have to say?"
"That he was only allowed to make one phone call."
Earl thought about it for a moment. "What does that mean?"
Fantaasia didn't answer. She just looked at Earl, her disgust rising.
Earl, unfortunately, did not know when to leave well enough alone. Some mischievous demon within him inspired him to make one more attempt, belated and desperate as it was. "We have to try to work out our differences, Fantaasia. We can make it, if we just pull together. When you have two people in love, partners in life, there's nothing they can't overcome."
"You asshole!" Fantaasia answered -- her tolerance at an end. "We were never partners! You were in charge, and I was your slave! You did what you damn well pleased, and I put up with it!" Fantaasia's face flushed a vivid red, as she sensed within herself, her own responsibility for tolerating the status quo, her self-directed anger for her socially-acceptable prostitution. But no longer would she be quiet or subservient. Her anger showed between her teeth, as she added, "I'm not going to put up with it any longer, Earl. I'm taking what is rightfully mine, and if you don't like it, you can shove it!"
Earl's reply was honest and meek. "I don't understand."
"Times are changing, Earl," Fantaasia began, her voice a bit more even and controlled. "The paradigm's shifting . Men over women, men over nature, even men over men... It's all going down the drain. You'd better pay attention, Earl. You and all your male chauvinist pig friends! Or else the lot of you are going be left in the lurch! Go down the drain with everything else!"
"What do you mean: 'Pay attention'?"
Fantaasia stared at her former lover, wondering what had ever made her think of him as superior. She continued to stare at the man until her children returned, empty-handed.
"That's it, Mom," Aspir said. "We're cleaned out."
"You know," Demure added, "I've never seen some of those servants move so fast. It was really something to see."
Fantaasia, once and for all, dismissed Earl and turned away. "Climb aboard, kids. We're on our way." Fantaasia hauled herself up, setting an ideal in style to which any socially-conscious, pioneer woman could have aspired. The kids, however, scrambled onto the Jiffy in much the same way twelve year old kids have always scrambled onto Jiffies with Multiple Leveraged Gargoyles, etcetera.
"But Fantaasia, please," Earl called out, as they began to pull away. "We still have our marriage, our children, our health, our optimism! We can still make it, if we just pull together! You and I. And the kids." As the Jiffy pulled farther around the great circle drive, it gathered speed and began running down whichever servants happened to get into the way. Earl yelled, "Please Fantaasia! Don't go! Without you, there's nothing left!!"
Earl's last words were mercifully drowned out as the castle wall on Earl's left exploded in great blocks of stone, tons of dust, and decibels of ear-splitting noise. The Zygo Mati, the stuff of Earl's dream, who had continued to try to gain his attention all day, had made yet another attempt. Having gone into a full dive in an attempt to buzz Earl's tower... so to speak... the Zygo Mati had gone astray from its intended flight path and ended up blasting through the castle wall from the interior, whereupon it flew out onto the great circle drive.
For just a moment, Earl heard among the horrendous sounds of the Zygo and the crumbling castle, his name being called. Then he watched the stork-like, dragon-resembling flying creature, skip like a stone across the unique, Italian-designed, imported-water, lily pond. At the far reaches of the great circle driveway, the Zygo Mati began to gain altitude, roaring above the heads of Earl's departing family in their Jiffy. As the flying fowl menace slowly gained air space, Earl heard what sounded like a sputtering engine, fouled with salt water and garlic, but somehow unlike any notable mechanical device known to technology.
For just a moment, Earl thought that it was very strange. Until the enormity of the day hit him, full force and head on. He fairly reeled backward, stumbling on the larger debris left by the castle wall's recent destruction. Even while keeping his balance, his mind became overwhelmed, ready to fall off its edge.
Some inner sense told him to get away, to leave the increasing pollution of his home and former life, to go where no Earl had gone before. But in reality, to just get away.
For hours, Earl wandered aimlessly. Or so his conscious mind thought. But his subconscious mind knew that there was direction in his apparent, random walk. His subconscious mind just didn't bother to tell his conscious counterpart, which was consumed by losses, devastation, and loneliness.
Eventually, his subconscious mind led him outside the city, where he began heading toward the open, calm sea -- which even now was considering becoming a hurricane named BeLa. Consciously, Earl had no idea of where, what or why he was. He just kept walking. Until finally, he reached the destination to which his subconscious had led him: The Cliffs of It's Over (also known as Dover ). There he stood on the edge of grassy-topped cliffs, looking out on an ocean that he could barely see due to an unusual and unseasonable fog. A subroutine in his conscious mind also noted that the wind seemed to be picking up as well.
Then he looked down. Down to the rocks where the scavenged debris of his last ship lay -- the one which had not quite made it in. 'Ah yes,' thought Earl, 'there's a certain finality down there that's somehow very appealing. Now that everything is gone, why not join that sailing vessel's debris?'
Clearly, what had remained of Earl's optimism had slipped away into the night, somewhere between UFOs, a former chicken farmer becoming the Prince of the People, and the total loss of his family and home. In its place a recurring thought kept running through his mind, 'Why bother to continue living?'
It must be remembered that Earl had something of a flair for the melodramatic. Suicide was not really his style, but he seemed to gain strength from the contemplation of ending his life, even if the actuality was far removed from the probable. At the same time, an inner voice kept murmuring something about the origin of his adversities and his own responsibility.
Avoiding the inscrutable thoughts, Earl looked up momentarily and took a deep breath, gathering in a fair amount of fresh, moist air, heavily laden with salt. He gagged slightly on the incoming salt water, considered gargling, and then forgot it as he weighed in the balance whether to choke to death or to leap. But alas, the salt managed to slip on down and merely agitate his stomach, eliminating the opportunity for a major decision in his life. With the choking to death alternative out of the way, he looked back down to the jagged rocks below.
For a moment he simply stood there, knowing he could throw himself onto the rocks and it would be all over. That he would not have to continue this charade of life, this illusion of pain and suffering, this play on words with a partially lost script. Ah, yes, he thought, he could end the drama here and now. With finality. And quite possibly... with pain. Another of his subroutines had also taken note that the rocks below were exceptionally jagged and sharp.
Earl had begun the process of deciding that the jagged rocks below were considerably less appealing than continuing to live in his devastated state -- when the rain-soaked ground beneath him gave way and he went feet first over the edge. He fell eight feet before he encountered an exposed relic of an ancient war, a rusted conflagration of barbed wire. Before he had the opportunity to think about his falling to the rocks below, he found himself hanging like a carcass on a meat hook, entangled in barbed wire, eight feet below the cliff's edge, suspended over a long drop to the rocks below. For several moments he thought about his predicament.
From otherwise perfectly sheer cliffs -- as far as the eye could see in either direction -- Earl was hung out to dry. It became evident to him that he could neither save himself, nor fall to his death and thus "end" his dilemma. He was in a form of limbo or stasis. As he hung there, he came to the conclusion he was indeed dead, and that it was merely a matter of time before his body wasted away. It was done.
After sufficient time for him to accept his decision, a proverbial three days, he was suddenly awakened by the impact of a rope with a loop hitting him in the head and chest, and a voice telling him to grab it. Having reached the state where rescue was preferable to the total boredom of the cliff's own version of Hades, Earl slipped his head and arms through the loop and yelled his willingness to ascend.
Within moments he was hauled up to the edge of the cliff and onto solid ground. There he simply laid, trying to grasp the meaning of what had just happened to him. His rescuer, tired from the effort of rescuing Earl, took a few moments to look at her rescuee.
"You're lucky I came along," the woman said. When Earl did not answer, she added, "One might have thought you were contemplating the idea of throwing yourself to your death. You were on the rocks, so to speak."
Earl did not turn to the speaker, intent as he was upon his own thoughts. He, consequently, did not recognize the former peasant and aspiring union leader. Instead, he merely answered, in a distant tone, "It had occurred to me."
"Can't say I blame you. I mean, why bother, when everything you've had is gone. Forget the fact that you started out with less, coming in naked as a jay bird. But when they take it all away... That's when it really hurts."
"Everything I've ever had..."
"You know, it's not what you've got that's important. It's whether you're gaining or losing the artifacts of modern life that counts. If you're penniless and gain a thousand whoopees, you're delirious with joy. If you're rich and lose a thousand, you're miserable. And yet the rich less a thousand still has much more than the poor plus a thousand. Right?"
"What?" Earl was not following his rescuer's thoughts.
"Exactly! So! Why not just take the leap? All the way down to the rocks below. That terribly long, agonizingly slow fall, with plenty of time to think about those rocks. Those jagged, tearing, shredding rocks. Rocks capable of inflicting immense, grotesque pain and literally bone-crunching torture. The kind of torture to slowly, oh so very slowly, put you out of your misery -- hopefully before the tide comes in and the killer crabs begin to gnaw you to death -- starting on the more delectable and tender portions of your anatomy. Or the monster jellyfish with their stinging tentacles and ravenous appetites for human eyeballs, flesh..."
"Maybe..." Earl interrupted, "Maybe this is not the best way."
"Oh? Something else perhaps."
"Surely there's got to be another way," he said.
"What were you thinking about?"
"I was thinking that there's no point in living."
"Ah yes! Terrifying thought when you think about it. Especially when there's no alternative." For a moment, the woman shook her head.
"Are you kidding?" Earl replied. "There's death."
"Don't be absurd! There's only the death of the physical body. The soul survives, goes to the space between lives, and eventually comes back again. Life continues, in one form or another, either here in this incarnation, between incarnations, or in the next life."
Earl could feel the depths of despair now. "We have to come back? To this hell hole? To this offense against civilized life?"
"Absolutely," the Cleveland-bound woman assured him.
"And go through being a teenager again!?"
"Appalling thought, isn't it? Anything you fail to do this time, you get to come back, start over, and do it again. It's the same song, but another, and perhaps, yet another of the same verse."
"Doesn't sound too appetizing," Earl ventured.
"Sort of like dealing with the IRS!! Now, there's a continuing nightmare if there ever was one!" The woman began to take on her own shade of pale despair.
Earl just stood there in some advanced stage of future shock. Then he turned away, oblivious to the woman beside him, who had meanwhile begun to gag on the moist salty sea air (or the thought of dealing with the IRS). Meanwhile, Earl wandered off, this time even his subconscious at a loss as to where to go.
As he dragged himself along, step by step, his mind began to do things commonly viewed as thinking. Suicide no longer seemed to be a reasonable option, even as a means of melodramatic relief. His mind dismissed the subject from further consideration. His conscious mind then considered that he was totally down, had nothing to go for, no reason to try anything, and very little reason to even continue the labor of thinking.
But then... The strangest thought slowly filtered into his conscious mind. 'Inasmuch,' he thought, 'As there is nothing I can do, then I will just walk along here in the grass, and let the universe do whatever it's going to do. It's not like I have control of anything anymore. It's not like I can make things better -- although I can't imagine how things could get worse. But in any case, I'll let the universe take over. If it wants me run over with a Jiffy, so be it. If it wants to make me a Prince of the People, fine! If it wants me for something in between, great! I don't care. I'm no longer in charge!'
Then his rational mind noted, 'Perhaps I was never really in charge to begin with...' Whereupon, another part of his mind replied, 'Who cares? It's not so much a question of whether or not you were in charge, but whether or not you attempted to be in charge. And now's the time to end that charade.'
Earl thought those thoughts for a long time, thirty minutes or so, which with Earl's current pace through life, was a very long time. Then he decided that these thoughts were really strange. And even stranger than that, these same thoughts seemed to be precisely what were needed.
Chapter 9 – Castles Built on Sand
Chapter 11 – Enter the Zygo Mati… Laughing
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