storybook – Tom (WordWulf) Sterner


Dreaming or awake, her hand warm on his face, she kisses his forehead. Abraham turns, buries his face in the pillow. “Five minutes,” she whispers in his ear, “I’m fixin’ Cream o’ Wheat. We got butter & sugar to put on it.

Tonight I have a surprise for you.” “Five minutes,” she repeats then leaves the room, closes the door quietly.

Abraham groans, rolls onto his back. His mind drifts through shadow slices, angels, nuns & chickens, that damned black plastic box she resides in now. 

Startled awake, afraid to open his eyes, the mother dream, that nightmare he feared most, had come to visit.  Momma’s dead but it’s a dream so she’s not dead. He smiles, relieved, smells rubber & rotting foliage, raises himself up on one elbow then he begins to fall. Roll over rolling, he lands at the feet of a bridge abutment in the slow lane alone. Horns and screeching tires, strangers curse his audacity, his infringement on a hallowed space, a bum interrupting morning rush hour. Why’s traffic gotta be, he wonders, so goddam mean.

The dream fades slow away, tears fill his eyes. Gravel from the tarmac berm has cut wedges in the flesh of his knees & palms. As he scrambles, struggles to stand, a shard of brown beer bottle glass buries itself in his instep. Abraham hops one-legged, teetering, nearly tumbles back into the slow lane. A young man motoring down the highway, 70mph, steers toward him, laughs his ass off at the bum’s deer-struck eyes. Bearing down on Abraham, he veers away in the nick of time, slaps the car door with the palm of his free hand and shouts purple curses into the whoosh of wind.

Abraham chuckles, imagines how he must look, a one-legged chicken standing roadside. He steps gingerly on his cut foot, struggles up the steep abutment, sighs wearily, sets himself down. In the shade, the cement heat shade, he lies back on his cardboard bed, hitches his leg up better to see that sliver of brown beer bottle glass. His mind slips back to Viet Nam, a jungle nearly as bad as this. He was just a kid then, cutting into his friend’s wounded flesh, digging out lead parasites, dropping them in his shirt pocket. The man was dead before he hit the ground but Abraham was determined to avenge his friend’s death in some small way. Caught in the act, he hid the bits of lead under his tongue. You can’t hide shit from the boss. He was thrown in the slammer, eventually court-martialed, dishonorably discharged for robbing the dead.

 Cream o’ Wheat. Abraham lay back. Ah damn me damn, that was no dream, a nightmare reality, life striking a negative pose, gray/black, featureless, poltergeist performances. He reaches into his knapsack, raccoon fingers his goods, fingertips hungry for what he was sure was in there, that specific piece of lead used many times to shove between them, his broken teeth aching, biting down, Cream o’ Wheat fingers spider walking. Dark, probing the bottom of his foot, thumbnail pressed just to one side of the wound. Foot throbbing, blood oozing,  

fingers of his other hand reached, touched the glass shard. He bit down hard, pressed with his thumb, felt like he had it. Abraham grimaced, hungry & thirsty, felt highway bugs crawling his flesh, passed out in their arms.

A few minutes later, a day, a week, as was his habit, Abraham, upon waking, lay there listening, eyes closed, scouting for danger with his other senses. He heard the water boiling hiss of traffic. First thing that came to mind was the Cream o’ Wheat dream. What was it she said he wondered, the surprise she promised. I can’t go on if I don’t find it. The pain in Abraham’s foot demanded his attention. He reached down to inspect the wound, swollen and sore, the glass intruder gone. He had to be sure so he belly-walked the ground of his wedge until he found the brown sparkle glass, dropped it into the knapsack stuffed with the all and end of his worldly possessions. Abraham wiggled his tongue, spit the lead in behind it.

Darkness was way out there ahead of the sun underneath the viaduct damp and crawling. Abraham reached into his pile of sticks and such, used some twigs to feed his stove, a hole in the floor, concrete gone, rebar stiff, charcoal black, to support his aluminum pie tin pan. Abraham was chanting, “I got a pork chop in the pan,

one right here for Abraham.” He pulled a plastic 7-11 bag from the outside pocket of his knapsack, felt ‘em before he looked at ‘em to verify his own words. Dumpster diving fool that he was, he was glad to take what others left behind. And there they were, two fat pork chops, one for tonight and one for tomorrow night he figured. Give me strength to run my bait line.

Back against the cool stone wall, feet near the tinkle-light of his tiny fire, Abraham allowed himself a single pull, rat whiskey from an army issue canteen. The pork chop frying smelled like country living. Abraham began to talk to himself or so anyone watching would have believed. There wasn’t another living soul around. “We were city folks, Momma but it’s like you always said, we had the country in our hearts.”

He used the wrong end of a paint stirrer stick as a spatula to turn the pork chop over. It sizzled and popped.

Thin wayward zigzag fire spirits lit up Abraham’s manmade wedge cave, ignited a lively sparkle in his eyes.

He rocked back and forth, his voice a rich syrupy thing crooning:

“Oh when the rain would fall,” he sang, “I was young and three feet tall, the world so big it made me small. I’d get scared and then I’d call for Momma”

Abraham’s hands wielded the stir stick adroitly, nudged the pie tin off the rebar. He watched the pork chop cool, decided what the hell, tossed on a couple of hard earned twigs to keep the fire going. He continued to sing mournfully:

“Now I’m grown but nothing’s changed, I’m three feet tall in Momma’s rain. The tears she cried still hide the pain. I want to feel and then I cry for Momma.

A person’s stomach gets all tied up, confused and derelict in behavior. Abraham was stirring; he felt hungry enough to eat a rock, a live snake if somebody would hold its head but was loathe to start on that pork chop. What if he didn’t find any food tomorrow? What if the meat was poor & spoiled? Momma taught him never eat no bad pork. Abraham’s hands fed him the pork chop. He was startled to find himself eating it. It was delicious, it was breaded, what the hell? He dropped the bone in his shirt pocket. It would be fine to gnaw on in the morning.

“Cream o’ Wheat, Momma. I can’t stand that shit and oatmeal, all that government business.” A tear rolled down his cheek. He spoke in a whisper voice.

“Pork chops, Momma that’s what it was, your boy’s favorite meal. You saved your penny tips to fix me a treat on Mother’s Day, breaded just like today.”

Abraham reached across himself, pulled the plastic bag from his knapsack. He took the pork chop out, held it next to the dying flames of his fire. The meat was covered thick with mold. A sigh breathed from his lips, “I meant to scrape that off. Breaded pork chop mold; thank-you Momma and I got one left for Sunday. Next day will take care of itself. It always does ‘til it just damn don’t. I hear ya, Momma.”


© 2016 artwork, music & words

conceived by & property of

tom (WordWulf) sterner 2016 ©

via storybook – Tom (WordWulf) Sterner


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