Excerpts from Bindy’s Moon, to be published in Spring 2015 by Thistledown Press.
Today ten thousand frozen crabapples are being transformed into five hundred waxwings — red and yellow, black and white and grey. I stand for 20 minutes watching the whir between an apple tree by the sidewalk and a great weeping birch across the way.
Wingbeats on eardrums, brushes at my winter coat.
Last night I could hardly sit through the second act of West Side Story at Larraine’s school. A few hours earlier a fierce toothache had taken hold, and afterward when I went to bed full of pain medication I found it didn’t work, and lying down only made the pain worse. Larraine had to sleep in another room, and for most of the night I sat upright in bed, or knelt like a penitent under the open window drawing frigid air through my teeth — which momentarily eased the pain before the next wave hit.
I pounded the pillow, nearly wept, and never slept at all. This was one demon not to be cast out.
Today the dentist said the tooth is not cracked, but it may have formed a calcium deposit. Writing out a prescription he said, “It’s like an oyster forms a pearl,” and I moaned, “Too bad it’s not worth money.”
How can a soul be so tyrannized by a tooth? I begin to think I know who I am, then a molar catches fire and blows my identity and so-called spirituality all to hell.
Benjamin Franklin’s infallible remedy for toothache: “Soak the root of the aching tooth in vinegar, and set it in the sun to dry for half an hour.”
One Saturday in the 1950s an uncle and aunt who were missionaries home on furlough from Africa stayed overnight with our family. I was on the verge of adolescence, in awe of their world-travelled and culture-crossing lives. That night after supper my uncle took his Bible to the dining room table and began working on a sermon he was to deliver the next morning in Salem Church, and I looked forward to it with relish and great pride.
My aunt was visiting with Mom in the kitchen while Dad began fixing a tap under the sink. But my uncle seemed to grow more and more edgy, and suddenly he exploded at his wife, “Get in here! Start preparing some lessons! What if they ask you to teach a Sunday school class tomorrow?”
She came meekly from the kitchen and fetched her own Bible, and in the awkward silence I escaped upstairs to my bedroom and continued working at a correspondence course from a religious broadcast I often heard on the radio. I came to the question, “Who wrote the Bible?” and a blank line waiting to be filled.
I knew of course that the Bible had been written by many people — Moses, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, and Luke — but was puzzled at the question, as if it called for a single answer.
I went back down to the dining room where my uncle and aunt pored silently over their scriptures. Not wanting to interrupt, I went to the kitchen where my father still had his head under the sink and asked him, “Who wrote the Bible?”
His reply sounded like a snort. “Well — don’t you know?”
I said I didn’t. He paused to adjust the pipe wrench, and said, “Well — God.”
I went back upstairs and wrote God on the line.
Coming out of the supermarket I realized I’d forgotten where I had parked my car, and for a while dithered about hoping no one would notice, and finally remembered in which stall I had left it.
And realized I hadn’t actually forgotten, only forgotten that I remembered.
A woman was huddled in the bus shelter giving orders to her child who was poking about happily well away from the street: Don’t go there, come here, don’t touch that stuff, it’s dirty.
It went on so long that by the time the bus arrived the kid’s agenda had been consumed by the adult’s, and suddenly he was aware of his “owies.” Through most of the ride downtown he fussed and wept, though to me it all seemed contrived; yet unable to feign interest in adult concerns over cleanliness and security, and forbidden to follow his own curiosities, he went the only other way he could — into himself and his problems.
I was trying with only marginal success to silence my own mind, and as I stepped from the bus onto Third Avenue an old gentleman looked up from the sidewalk with a grin and said, “Don’t speed! There’s a cop behind that light-pole.” He broke into a laugh when he saw how startled I was, and added, “But he’s only a little fellow.”
The old man wasn’t drunk, as far as I could see, and I walked away laughing along with this benign mind-police, another angellos reminding me to slow down, something I’d already forgotten a hundred times since waking up.
Ratzlaff is the author of two books of literary non-fiction: The Crow Who Tampered With Time, and Backwater Mystic Blues. Bindy’s Moon will be published in spring 2015 by Thistledown. Formerly a minister, counsellor and university instructor, he now makes his living as a writer in Saskatoon.