Monday, June 26, 2017

Playing in the Dirt by Z S Diamanti

A life helping with his father's work has left Z S Diamanti's character with an unusual outlook.

You must have spent a lot of time in the sun that your hair would copper so. When I was young, my Papa would bring friends home almost every day. Some were fat, some were skinny. Some were men and some were women. My favorites were the boys and girls about the same age as me. It didn’t matter who Papa brought home, I always loved meeting new friends. But none of them had such lovely auburn hair.

Papa worked hard all the time, but he always took time to teach me things that growing men need to know. You see, I didn’t get to leave the house and go to school like most. The doctor told Papa that I had to stay home, but I’m as smart as anyone because he taught me how to read and write. He taught me how to brush teeth, comb hair, shave beards, and look presentable. I used to think that Papa was a stern old man. He’d get so mad when I made mistakes. But our friends never said anything mean about him. He always treated them with respect and helped them look their best. I loved the way he treated our friends and I wanted to be just like him.

I loved to sit in the parlor and drink my tea with our newest friends each day. I would tell them jokes and sing my songs, and they would always listen kindly. Papa didn’t like my jokes or songs. He always said they were “unnatural,” but the priests he brought home called them “depraved.” I don’t really know what they meant by that, but they didn’t seem real happy. “Go read,” he would say, and he’d shoo me out the room. I’d hear him cry out to God; he prayed a lot when he didn’t think I could hear.

I spent a lot of time in my room, which is in the back, you see. But this room is the best, I think, because it’s a special room just for friends. Back through that door over there is where our bedrooms and kitchen are. Through that front door there, you’ll see, is where the parties happen.

I once was allowed to help Papa with one of his parties before. I had just grown my first mustache and was feeling very proud. There were some other young men like me who said hello and tried to shake my hand. I asked them if they wanted to be friends and they said that they would. I brought them in here to show them my friends and that’s when they all turned mean. They yelled at me and called me names and hit me with their fists. They were not friends at all, you see, they were ruffians.

Papa would not let me help with parties after that.

“On doctor’s orders,” he’d say and send me to my room.

But he would be busy with the party ruffians and I’d tiptoe back in here. Me and the friends that were left in here would listen through the walls.

If you look real close you can see right through the keyhole on that door. I would tell the friends what I could see in the room just next to here. There was always lots of food for the guests and flowers around the hall. It really was quite beautiful. I don’t know why they’d always cry. We would have lots of fun, sitting here in the dark.

But my favorite thing to do with my friends was to go outside and play. We would play in the dirt and get my clothes filthy; what fun it is to dig holes! Papa taught me how to dig, and I’ve become quite adept. But I’d get so sad at the end of the day when I had to say goodbye. I always missed my friends so dearly when we had to say goodbye...

Now, I am big like Papa; I know how to shave my face. Just like Papa and our friends taught me, the men-folk anyway. Papa is very old now and I help him with everything. He told me that he was cold one night and I came to aid his sleep. I put a pillow over his face to warm his nose and cheeks. He kept pushing me and scratching my arms, but Papa didn’t see.

“This is to keep you warm,” I said. “Just stop, and you’ll see.”

I held him there until he struggled no more and finally fell asleep.

I continued to play outside in the dirt with my friends until they were gone. But once they were all gone I was very alone because Papa was never around. He hadn’t left in two days to bring home any new friends. Two days, I thought, was a very long time; I couldn’t bear it at the end of three. I went to check on Papa. He was no longer like those ruffians; he listened to all my songs! What joy, what joy! Papa was lying there listening, never saying, “unnatural.” I sang and I sang over all the night until the morning came. I took him outside to play in the dirt and finally said my goodbyes. I would miss that man, my Papa, my friend, for he had taught me so much.

I continued my daily chores, you’ll bet, but soon enough I found that digging holes was boring without any friends around. I sat outside, by myself, thinking what I should do. I looked at my empty holes: unfinished, with no monuments to stand as judges over my work! The only friends I had left were the stone angels that sang softly in the wind. But even they looked to take pity on me inside my loneliness. I watched lots of ruffians walk by my iron fence, with its fleurs-de-lis design. They’d cross themselves and quicken their pace, and not even look my way. I sat at Papa’s monument and realized one more thing. Papa had taught me many things and left me one lesson more: in order to make new friends, you have to warm their nose and cheeks! I knew then what I had to do. I picked up my shovel and left each night to go make us more new friends. And look how many are here, you see! They’re here with you and me!

I saw you walk by this morning with your beautiful auburn hair. I have never had a friend with such lovely auburn hair. So, I followed you to where you called home and almost got myself lost. But my home is easy to find, no doubt, for Papa taught me how. He taught me how to read, and I read pretty good. All I had to do was find my door, which says, “Mortuary,” you see. So, don’t you cry and don’t be sad; we’ll have lots of fun, you’ll see. I’ll go get the pillow and you’ll love all my jokes and songs. Or maybe I’ll read you a story. It’s no matter, for this one thing is true: you are among great friends in here, and you’ll never be alone with me.

8 comments:

  1. Sombre and shivery with a dash of dark humour. Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  2. a clever and slightly disturbing story, deceptively written in a jaunty style.

    Mike McC

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    1. Thanks Mike. Glad you found it clever!

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  3. Yikes! Nicely done - a short that sucked me in with just enough hinty tease and (as Ceinwen mentions) dark humor, then delivers the knockout punch.

    Jim

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    1. I appreciate that Jim. I'm happy that it had just the right mix for you!

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  4. Thanks a bunch Ceinwen. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  5. Playing in the Dirt is reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon, written by Daniel Keyes, that began as a short story, then was rewritten as a novel, and was the basis for the movie Charly. On the surface, Diamanti’s piece is dark humor ending with a quick punch. Dig deeper and it takes you into the mind of a mentally deficient individual capable of great evil—this is thought-provoking story. If you liked Playing in the Dirt, read Flowers for Algernon (the novel), and ponder why it was removed from some school libraries and was one of the 100 most challenged books between 1990 and 1999.

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