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ARCHIVE -- CHARGEUSSE

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FALL 2011

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SPRING 2012

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Solidus Online



David Elliott

THE TIGER’S BACK
forthcoming Fall 2011 in Gemma Media

1
One Mississippi. Two Mississippi.

    When Robert closed his eyes, he could see them. Each rolling along after the next. Like the cars on a toy train. Seven words. So simple a child could understand.
But the words weren’t the problem. It was the sentence they insisted on forming. He couldn’t make sense of it.
Keep it together, old boy, he told himself. You’re having a senior moment. That’s all.
He was standing in his own kitchen. Fingers gripping the broad lip of the farmer’s sink Claire had chosen when they bought the house. The porcelain, cool and familiar under his hand, was still unblemished after all these years.
How many times had he admired it? And how many hours had Claire stood there, just where he stood now? Humming, eyes lifted to the window as she rinsed a cup or dried a plate. Thousands, he’d bet, if you added them up. Maybe even more.
He spoke the sentence aloud.
There . . . is . . . a . . . . tiger . . . in. . . . the . . . roses.
    There is a tiger in the roses.
He opened his eyes. The water was still running. The glass was still in his hand. And the tiger was still standing in the roses. Exactly as it had been when he had arisen from his morning nap and shuffled to the sink to slake the terrible thirst that had awakened him.
    Terrific! he said aloud. I’m seeing things. What next?
The tiger, all ember and ash, must have weighed five hundred pounds. It shifted this weight to its haunches and sat down almost as if it had asked the same question. What next?
It had to be some trick of the light. The way the sun was shining through the hemlocks. Or maybe he was still half asleep. Maybe that was it. Maybe he was still dreaming.
He set the glass in the sink, looked down at the pine floorboards and counted. Taking his time. Forcing himself as he had a boy playing Ghost-in-the-Graveyard with the McCreery kids from next door.
One Mississippi.
    Two Mississippi.
He looked up.
For Christ’s sake! It was impossible! The tiger was under the arbor now! Smashing his prized William Baffins. Or were the roses Henry Hudsons? He wasn’t sure. They were named after a northern explorer though. He was certain of that. He might be losing his mind, but he knew that much.
He blinked. The creature blinked back and it occurred to him that the tiger was having as much trouble understanding him as he was the tiger. But that was ridiculous! This was his house. His garden. Those were his roses whatever their name. He had planted them. Watered them when they needed it. Weeded them when the burdock took over.
Or had every year until this one. This summer Miles had done all that. But still. That wasn’t the point.
The point was that he belonged here. The tiger did not! This was Vermont! The Green Mountain State. Birthplace of not one but two presidents. So what if one of them was Chester Alan Arthur? It was the opposite of places where tigers roamed around snatching rice farmers out of their huts. India or Sumatra or Bangladesh. (He was sure there were tigers in Bangladesh. He remembered seeing a special about it on public television. )
Anyway, hadn’t the Chinese eaten all the tigers? Or used them in their medicine. Hadn’t he read that somewhere?
Medicine.
Yes! That had to be it.
His medicine.
Or as everyone else called it, his medication.
He lowered his eyes to the window sill. Some of the bottles were white, the color of spoiled milk. Others were a harsh, translucent, green. Lined up against the maple sash, they formed a miniature skyline. A science fiction notion of a future metropolis. How ironic then that the bottle-city on his window sill did represent a future. His. Or what was left of it anyway.
And unfortunately for Robert, it was not a city whose residents always got along. What had the doctors warned him about? Counter-indications? Wasn’t that it? But had any of them actually mentioned hallucinations? That’s what he wanted to know now. Had any of them said anything about seeing jungle cats in your William Baffins?
He tried to remember, but the doctors talked so much. And for all he understood, they might as well have been speaking Martian. Anyway, it didn’t matter. The details weren’t important. He’d decided that early on. When he first heard the diagnosis. Something bad was happening. That was all he needed to know. Something very, very bad.
He turned his gaze back to the arbor. The tiger yawned.
Maybe if he stepped away from the window. Maybe if he did something else, thought about something else. Maybe if he did that, when he came back to the window, the tiger would be gone. And he could forget about it.
Okay.
Not forget about it.
But accept it at least.
The last couple of years had taught him that. The last couple of years had taught him that he could accept anything. No matter how absurd, how impossible.
Claire’s fading away like that.
The devastating news of his own illness.
Was a tiger on the lawn any more shocking?

2
No Dice
He stepped away from the window and over to the refrigerator. It was relatively new. But it was white, not stainless steel – It’s a kitchen not a hospital, Claire had said -- and with none of the gadgets that the salesman had tried to convince them they needed. Ice dispensers and so on.
A sheet of paper hung on the door. The paper was the color of strawberry sherbet and held in place by a Santa Claus magnet. One of the oncologists had given him this. The paper, not the magnet.
“This is your Side Effects Diary,” the doctor had said, smiling as if she were handing him a premiums package from one of those time-share companies.
She went on to explain that using the symbols listed down the left margin, he was to keep a day-to-day record of how he was feeling. Then sum up the whole before he went to bed by circling either a Smiley Face (Feel Good) a Frowny Face (Feel Bad) or a third face whose mouth was a simple straight line, no bigger than a dash. The doctor had said this indicated Feel the Same. But to Robert it looked like Feel Perplexed. When he told her this, her smile wilted. She was very young. For a fraction of a second she looked exactly like the childish drawing they were talking about.
Later, it occurred to him that one of those – what were they called? – Miles had told him. . . Emo . . . Emo . . . Emoticons Yes! That was it. Emoticons. It occurred to him that one of those emoticons might serve as the perfect epitaph. No words on the gravestone. Just the face. But which one? Feel Good? Feel Bad? Feel Perplexed? That’s what he hadn’t been able to decide. Which one?
He read through the list.
D - Diarrhea
DS - Dry-Skin
F – Fatigue
Fe – Fever
H – Headache
HL –Hair loss
I – Infection
LA – Loss of Appetite
LC - -Lack of Concentration
N –Nausea
V – Vomiting

    He’d been hoping to find Ha – Hallucinations. But ND. No Dice. Not a word about seeing one of the four great cats under the rose arbor. But that had to be it, didn’t it? The medicine, he meant. Or maybe it was the sign of something worse. Maybe the cancer had set up camp in his brain. It had invaded every other part of his body. Why not there, too? Why not central command?
He should do something. Tell someone. Call a doctor. But there were so many of them he had lost track of who was who. And how would he put it?
Hello. May I speak to Doctor Krishna or Doctor Singh or Doctor Goswami. (Was it some new law that all doctors had to be Indian?)This is Robert Stevenson. Yes Robert Louis Stevenson. (His father thought Treasure Island the greatest book ever written.) Woke up this morning. (Feel Good.) Had a little diarrhea. (Feel Bad.) Saw a tiger in my flower garden. (Feel Perplexed.)
No. He wouldn’t mention it. Not yet. He’d give it a day or two. See what happened.
He opened the refrigerator door. More bottles. The ones that needed to be kept cool. A jar of pickles. A roast chicken.
If only Claire were here. She would know exactly what to say. What to do. She would help him make sense of it. Just as she always had. But there would be plenty of time for that later. Plenty of time to think of Claire. He was saving them up. His memories. They would see him through when the time came.
He shut the refrigerator door and went back to the window, careful not to turn his gaze to the garden. Not yet. He closed his eyes once more. He breathed deeply. Once. Twice. Three times.
He opened his eyes.

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Selection from:
On the Farm,
In the Wild,
In the Sea
(forthcoming Spring 2012)

www.davidelliottbooks.com


The SEA TURTLE

Swims the seven seas
for thirty years;
then finds the beach
where she was born,
by magic, it appears.

How can she know to come upon
that far and sandy place?
Rare instrument of nature,
fair compass in a carapace.


THE ELEPHANT

Big, yet moves
with grace.
Powerful, yet delicate
as lace.

As to color, plain --
an ordinary gray.
But once we start to look,
we cannot look away.
When peaceful, silent;
when angry, loud.

Who could have guessed
the Elephant
is so much like
a cloud?


THE BARN CAT

Mice
had better
think twice.

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David Elliott

David Elliott is the author of over fifteen picture books and novels for young people, including The New York Times Bestselling, And Here’s to You!. Among the many honors his books have received are: The International Reading Association Children’s Choice Award; Bank Street College Best of the Best; Chicago Public Library Best of the Best; NY Public Library Best Books for Children; ALA Notable; and the Parents’ Guide to Media Award. His most recent novel, Jeremy Cabbage and the Living Museum of Human Oddballs and Quadruped Delights, is currently in development at Fox 2000, a division of 20th Century Fox. David is the director of International Student Services at Colby-Sawyer College where he also teaches in the Humanities Department. Additionally, he is a faculty mentor in the Low Residency MFA program in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. For more information about David and his books, please visit www.davidelliottbooks.com.