Charley and Pop lived in a fully realized world, one with every detail nice and sorted, from the smell of a spring morning to the wood grain of their dining table. This was a literary world you see, a world where everything meant something and nothing amounted to anything at all.
You might say Charley and Pop lived in a dream and that wouldn’t be too far from the truth. Dreams seem so real, so vivid in the moment. There’s a magnetism about them that pulls us close, hints at something of incredible importance, then leaves us cold in the dim morning light. No meaning, no theme, just abrupt reality.
Quite a few have had a go at explaining dreams, or literature, or life, but mostly they’re just explaining the little they know of themselves. Exclude yourself from conversation – go ahead, try it – is there anything left? Maybe you are all that exists. Maybe I am. Who’s to say?
Well, anyway, Charlotte Rosemary Perkins, who we called Charley because it was shorter, met my Pop some very specific time ago in a city that may or may not exist where you live. I’m sure it was nice there, a wonderful place to fall in love given the right setting and circumstance. Let’s say a grocery store on the frozen food aisle which is also the center aisle of the quaint non-denominational chapel just outside town. When they had said words that neither would remember later, the faceless assassin priest – because aren’t all assassins a tad bit religious somewhere deep down and probably in need of some legitimate income – spun them around and all of their friends from high school were there, weeping at the indescribable beauty of it all. This was a love like no other. This was a love you wish you had.
Those in the front rows tried to steal some of the beauty for themselves, which was a mistake as they had no place to put it. Their hands were filled with programs and tissues. Their tiny dresses and rented tuxedos had no pockets. Therefore, they made the unfortunate decision to swallow the beauty which quickly swelled until they burst like exploding cantaloupe and honeydew melons. Charley and Pop were showered with melon fragments as they left the chapel. It’s strange, but only if you say it out loud. Most anything can happen on a piece of paper.
Real life set in shortly after the wedding as it often does. Charley and Pop decided to delay their honeymoon because the country was in crisis, the likes of which had never been seen before. This especially took a toll on Pop who, having been the oldest of eight children, had hoped to have a large family of his own. Now he wondered, in that translucent mind of his, whether this was a world he wanted to bring children into. Thus the conflict was simultaneously external and internal.
Everything everywhere was out of balance with everything else – sun and moon, night and day, good and evil, supply and demand. As a result, news and media outlets grew rich off the peoples’ insatiable thirst for things to complain about at their meaningless jobs painting road signs for places that had never existed. There was even a news story about the complaining painters, which obviously painted them in a bad light and gave them even more to complain about. Pop saw the story, which only made him sad. Pop’s pop had died in a tragic backstorical painting accident, a memory that caused him endless trauma and probably foreshadowed thematic content throughout the entirety of the fictional re-telling of this real man’s life.
Pop took up woodworking to take his mind off things, though he mostly liked to buy supplies and materials that never really added up to anything. In the garage at Charley and Pop’s house are boxes of nails, screws, hinges, clamps, and most anything that could be used to put pieces of wood together in an interesting or utilitarian way. Next to that is the wood collection. Redwood, rosewood, cedar, ash, alder, maple, walnut, cherry, olive, buckeye burl, amboyna burl, sitka spruce, red oak, and pine. A whole lot of stuff that added up to nothing.
The one piece Pop did finish was the dining table. Pop made the table top from an improbably large slab of walnut burl, the base from solid rosewood, and he unfurled the finished product at he and Charley’s first or third anniversary. It had to be one of the two, because it was undoubtedly early on in their marriage and every even year they seemed to be financially strained so that they skipped grand gestures in favor of a night in with pizza rolls and old movies.
I may be burly and flatly utilitarian, he had said as he slapped the table top, but Charley Rose, you’re the base that keeps me afloat.
The words dissolved in tears of happiness, later in tears of pain, as well as future glasses of sweet tea, coffee, water, and cherry soda once the kids came along.
Kids, yep. Pop resolved his inner turmoil via a series of inner monologues prompted by observations of the world around him. People were like parking lots. Traffic lights were temporary. Grass was the hair on the head of the earth. Penguins.
Charley, meanwhile, wanted a say in the matter because women are people not property and like to be consulted regarding matters of carrying heavy objects around for nine months straight. She was working a fulfilling, yet underpaid, position on the city board of decisions where she impacted the lives of most everyone and could never be sufficiently replaced. Could she, in good conscience, choose the life of her own hypothetical child over the lives of the everyone in existence?
Oh, easily. Yes, especially Bob Chatway.
Her prized moment, one that she carried with her always in the recesses of her rosewood heart, was her refutation of that ridiculous Bob Chatway and his notion to implement a technology based downloadable note system which would directly deposit knowledge into the minds of the committee, thus saving on paper. Charley had cleverly argued that a thing does not exist unless it exists. Bob Chatway could not deny the logic. Therefore, Charley continued, thought, consciousness, and creativity do not exist. We are all at the whims of some writer somewhere and writers need paper.
Bob Chatway and his silly dalliances were summarily dismissed as fictional science, a fantasy of the worst kind. Before he slunk off in shame, Charley took a mental snapshot of the room. Black leather wheely chairs, thin gray carpet, knock-off abstract drip paintings on the walls, fluorescent lighting that imbued Bob Chatway’s face with an appropriately seasick pallor. There was no room for make believe in a world as firm and grounded as this.
Charley took a victory sip from her stainless steel coffee tumbler. The locally roasted South American blend was smooth. It reminded her of Guatemala and a man she had once known, maybe even loved, named Ernesto Chavez. She had been so young then, her hair so long, flowing down her back in lustrous flaxen waves. As she ran behind Ernesto in the Guatemalan fields, Bob Chatway slammed the door shut behind him. The door was walnut. Charley instantly thought of her husband waiting for her at home, burly and full of grain. That was Pop. He loved bread and no one made bread better than his daughter Jelly Bean Jean. She was round and sweet and died many times in different ways throughout her lifetime.
Jelly Bean first died when she was two and ate most of Charley’s beauty products. If memory serves, the ones tested on animals were especially cruel, as were the fluorocarbons, the ground mammoth tusk, powdered horse hoof, and purified medical waste.
I believe this is the moment Charley set aside her disbelief and began to make room for the supernatural. Now it was personal, emotional. Now it affected her precious little Jelly Bean. How could she condemn Jelly Bean Jean to die over mistakes she had made?
Pop concurred and together they decided to bring Jelly Bean back to life. Turns out it wasn’t all that difficult. A flick of the wrist, a turn of the pen. She died again a year later when a strain of virulent, unvaccinated flu made the rounds.
Jelly Bean eventually reached the age of adolescent agency, in which she was allowed to think and act and make mistakes all her own, injecting Charley and Pop’s lives with brand new batches of yet unmined conflict. But somewhere along the line, Jelly Bean learned to bake bread which mostly made up for the difficulties of raising a daughter who dies often and insists on making decisions.
Charley and Pop lived through it all, learning lessons sometimes, but mostly describing the details of their surroundings. Plywood bookshelves lined the walls of the living room and sagged in the middle as if the books themselves were the only things staving off collapse. A brown leather belt with newly cut holes toward the end lay on top of one of the bookshelves. Dust and cobwebs collected in corners of a living room that has only been written about and never lived in.
And then, one Thursday, Jelly Bean grew up. She moved to Paris at twenty, London at twenty-six. Of course Charley and Pop followed, worried that Jelly Bean would never survive without them. True or not, they enjoyed the time together, soaking up all that Europe had to offer. They also met Sir Lawrence Dashwood of Kirtlington, who proposed to Jelly Bean a month later.
The happy couple married and the following year, Jelly Bean Jean Dashwood had her first child – me. I don’t recall Charley’s reaction, but I know that Pop hoisted me up and tossed me like a pizza dough. He laughed like a giant of a man, then set me down, kissed my wrinkly forehead, and walked away. The room was mortified, but I knew then that I’d turn out just fine. After all, the secret ingredient in any decent pizza is a well executed hand-toss.
It is indeed a magical life. I have known these characters through many lives, good lives that I’d like to explore in further detail. But now I am much too tired to continue so I’m off to bed.
* * *
You asked for my thoughts, so here goes. You’re a good writer, I guess, but I have no idea what I just read. I mean, stories are supposed to have a point, right? What was the point of all that? Why write about the family if you’re going to jumble it all up? It was all backwards and hardly anything in there was true. Can I just say, for starters, I wish you wouldn’t call me Jelly Bean, at least not in public. I’m twenty-six now, and certainly not “round and sweet.” Also, I never died. Also also, Charley and Pop are my cats, so … I don’t know, I wonder sometimes. And I know you like Kirt, I like him too, but going to Duke doesn’t make someone a duke, and I’d really appreciate it if you slowed down on the whole marriage and kids fantasy. About London, I was thinking maybe me and you should plan a trip soon. How does that sound? We’ve both wanted to go since forever. I’ll look into it and let you know what I find out at Second Sunday Dinner. And yes, I got the hint. I’ll bake some bread. Okay, see you soon. Thanks for the strange story, I guess.
P.S. – I’m glad you decided to have me, you know, in the beginning, even though you guys had some doubts.
P.P.S. – I miss Dad, too.
JEFF BINKLEY is a musician, educator, and author from Huntsville, AL. He enjoys time alone to think and pursue creative projects, but not as much as he enjoys a good cup of coffee with his wife, Amy.
Image via Pixabay