Daybreak on the Banshee

Daybreak on the Banshee

by Marc Alexander Valle

The women cried and wailed and prayed behind us, and my 7-year-old mind thought the dead body would look like something from the movies. I was certain that it would look like a skeleton from a cartoon or at least Freddy Kruger. It would definitely be something that comes out only at night. 

I stepped forward with my father and older brother towards the casket. All the conversation and noise in the room became silent inside of my head. I could only hear my thoughts, and all I could think was that I had to let dad step forward first and to be careful. 

The toy soldier in my pocket poked into my thigh, and I readjusted it. 

“What’s wrong?” my father said. 

I looked up at him. “Nothing.”

I peered into the casket, and took in a deep breath. 

It was my adult cousin, the one who lived down the street. No skeleton or wounds or blood or winkled skin. Just my cousin. It reminded me of a wax figure. My cousin. Then the silence fell to the back, and I could hear the wailing and the prayers of the woman once more. 

“That’s it?” I said to my dad.

“Yeah,” he said. “Quiet.”

I felt compelled to go into my pocket and leave my cousin the toy soldier amongst all the flowers. I didn’t dare. 

Death had only been a concept to me. Outside of television and movies, I only had urban legends. There was the time they found a dead body down at the end of the street in tall weeds. My older friend, Vic, said that it was done by a serial killer, who broke free from the Allentown State Hospital. He said that the escapee planned on killing all of the adults and torturing the children to exact some form of revenge. Despite my father’s assurance against this claim, I feared a man was roaming the streets with a gun that night. I couldn’t sleep. They ruled it suicide the next day, and I was relieved. 

There was the story of the boy, who drowned in the Lehigh River next to Bucky Boyle Park. They said he swam too close to the whirlpool that swirled in the center, and he couldn’t swim back. For that reason, they told us kids to not even so much as step into the water.   

Then there was the story of the boy, who fell out of a window in our former Brooklyn apartment complex. They said his ghost haunted the court yard. I had nightmares about him until we moved.  

The wailing and the prayers grew even louder, and it began to make me sick to my stomach. I had enough of looking and standing still. 

I looked back up to my father.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.

“Quiet,” he said, then took my hand and we walked away. 

Back in the car and on our way home, my father reminded me and my brother that although our cousin was dead in the physical form, he was still alive in spirit. And that spirit is everlasting, and although we cannot see him, he’s still with us. The moment he described my cousin in spirit form, I imagined the translucent ghost of Christmas past from a TV version of Christmas Carol

  “Do you think Freddy Kruger could beat a ghost?” I said to my older brother.

“I don’t know,” my brother said.

“Cause Freddy’s got claws,” I said. 

“You’re dumb,” he said. “Nothing can beat a ghost.” 

I looked back out the window and noticed that it was a beautiful day. When I got home, I would go outside and play with Mitch. Mitch was fun, and he would let me lead. We’d race and play with our toys, and I’d give him the soldier that was scarping my thigh, and I’d tell him that I don’t think I like funerals. 

It was a beautiful day. No clouds were in sight, and I could see a faint moon above, immersed in blue sky. A couple of sparrows streaked across it. A gust of air from my father’s window blew into my face. The sun touched everything. And there was plenty of time before dark. 

©2022

Previously published in Potato Soup Journal

The Dream Ebbs and Flows

I remember asking the Ritter Elementary School librarian for a book on Spielberg in the 1988-1989 school year. I waited two weeks for it. Every other day, I’d bother her about the book, but the date of arrival never changed.

At age 8, I wanted to be Steven Spielberg. He made daydreams come to life. He turned regular people into giants. A rainbow always shined in the end, and evil always lost. My world was my family, my home, and a movie theater, and I could see no other calling.

At age 42, I just want to live well and write well and maybe have a wider audience. I try and sometimes succeed at the first one every day. I feel better about the second. Maybe I’ll have the third eventually, but I think I’ll be okay if it never happens. Until then, I finally own that Spielberg book.

Happy 548 Birthday!

One-and-a-half trips around The Sun today, Emile. There will be no party, but I celebrate all the same.

You are here. You are healthy and strong and absorbing new words faster than I ever could. You were meant to be here and will inherit the world in ways that I could not.

There was a time when my head was a carnival of light, my son. Thoughts, ideas, and emotions all intertwined in a kaleidoscopic feast, and I believed that if I just put it out there, put it on paper or film or on stage, people would understand me. I was convinced I was here to save the world and show them things hidden under the blanket of their fixed views and idealogy.

But no one seemed to care, and I engaged in a protracted and misanthropic self-conversation that robbed me of joy and gratification with even the most delectable of occasions.

It doesn’t matter what they think of me anymore, at least not like it used to. I see the psychedelic-Kodachrome cavalcade in your smile and I am reborn. It makes its way down the abandoned roads of my soul, and some days I think I can see barren fields filled with life again. I ask myself, “How could I ever have allowed others such power over me? How could anyone torture themselves as I did?”

I will be your audience, my son. I will be your witness. I know that if I can do anything it will be to see you in your most noble and extraordinary wardrobe, a tapestry of confidence and sweetness patched together with no visible seams. I will be your champion. The world doesn’t know what they’re in for like I do.

Happy 18 months old, Emile. We’ve come so far in such a short time, and we have miles and miles to go. Sometimes I wonder what I would do for a few miles more.

Letters to my Son (excerpt)

You made noises in your sleep, and they indicated you were having a nightmare. So I rubbed your back, knowing that it might wake you and make for a long night, believing that just standing there would be some type of cosmic dereliction of duty. And this is what men of science can’t understand, that reason was made to be dismissed. Humanity wants to collapse just to feel alive, just to feel love and give love and be known to the universe. You’re only one and a half years, my son. What forms could the dark princes of Slumberland possibly dress up as? If they could just see me hovering above you in the faint morning light, they would fear you. Phantoms of our psyche fear only those who can call them by name.

by Marc Alexander Valle

Stuck

When something doesn’t go Emile’s way, he says that it’s stuck. When he can’t open a door, it’s stuck. When a ball or toy is lodged under something, it’s stuck. When he can’t push his carriage across the sidewalk, it’s stuck. When an object is too heavy to lift and throw outside of his playpen, it’s stuck. Stuck no longer means stuck to him. Anything that serves as a source of frustration and forces him to solve a problem, anything that he can’t control and must learn to overcome, anything that he can’t manipulate and must learn to leave alone, all of it is stuck. With that said, I have a possible name for my future book of stories and essays that I’m writing for Emile. The World Is Stuck. 

A Twilight-Hour Note (from a first-time father to his newborn son) by Marc Alexander Valle

Mavthewriter

Your Daddy writes to be heard. Your Daddy writes to let the world know that he’s here. Your Daddy writes because he feels that he has something to say, a message that needs to be delivered and pulled out of his gut like some-type of science fiction movie. Your Daddy writes to not be interrupted when he speaks. Your Daddy writes to be loved. Your Daddy hopes to be understood, but at this point feels that most people will never understand him. Your Daddy writes because he cannot say what he means on the top of his head without the other person giving him time to think or respond. If Daddy were to try to verbally express what you’re reading now, he would sound like the under-educated, working class kid that he was. Your Daddy writes because he’s an artist. Your Daddy is an artist, someone that sees things so…

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Devin Maguire Can Bite My Dust

Devin Maguire Can Bite My Dust

by Marc Alexander Valle

10-year old Devin Maguire held onto his BMX handlebars and stared at my new bike. “Your dad got that bike from a thrift store.”

“No, he didn’t!” I said.

“Yes, he did. I can tell.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“Yeah, cause there’s marks on it.”

I looked down at the bike. There were scuff marks on the handlebars, but that was it. 

“He got it from K-Mart,” I said.

“Okay, which one?”

“The one down the street.”

“I know all the bikes at K-Mart. I didn’t see that one there.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, that’s where he got it from.”

“Did he tell you he got it from there?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know?”

Devin stared right into my eyes. He had a blank expression, but I swore I could see a smirk. It was the same smirk he always had, the same one he had whenever he beat a kid in a race. 

“So?” Devin said. “How do you know?”

Devin kept staring. He looked as though he had all the time in the world and the absolute certainty that he was right. I knew that I had only a beat or two before I looked like a fool. I had to answer. 

“Cuz,” I said, “My parents don’t shop at thrift stores!”

Devin continued to look into my eyes. I felt like he was searching for something, and I needed to keep my composure. Didn’t he see my brother with a new bike last year? Didn’t he know it was my turn?

I tightened my lips and gripped my handlebars. Devin scrunched his eyebrows. I quickly glanced down at his bike.

“Alright,” he said, letting out a snicker. Then he rode off towards his apartment building.

When my dad came back from work, he told me that he bought the bike from a thrift store. The same store we’d been to several times that year. ©2022

Music: The Letters to My Son Series

Nearly a century and a half of music recordings and centuries more of musical compositions are at your disposal. Use it. Find it. Let it talk to you. It can help you at any time. Never expect it to solve the problem, but music can expose the underlying issues of your life that make the problem seem real. 

I was sad in my early 20s. Very sad. Everything was tragic, and everything I tried to do seemed to end in failure. I felt as though I couldn’t even get a hello from people and from the world. I wanted it all to end sometimes. Music was that hello. 

It talked to me directly, and it made me believe that there are and have been others just like me. They think like me, and they feel like me. Music was the code between us, and the message was, “I am an artist.” Music told me that my role was to reevaluate norms. I was never to be satisfied with what we assumed to be true, but I was never to change my core beliefs. There was nothing wrong with me. I was normal. It was the conversation between the individual and the world that was distorted.

There’s a link between youth and music and the way it shapes our views. How will you allow it to shape yours?       

The Homework Theif by Marc Alexander Valle

A mini-story from my mini-book, So You Say You Want An 80s Childhood?

The Homework Thief

Brian Ross was my friend.

“Are you friends with Brian?” Anna said to me, sitting on the floor in gym class. “I think he puts mayonnaise in his hair.”

“No, he doesn’t,” I said.

“Yeah,” Frieda said. “He smells like my lunch bag.”

“No, he doesn’t.”

Brian Ross was my friend, even if he were to put peanut butter on his head. Brian liked what I liked on TV, and we could play the same characters every recess without my having to tell him about them. He was the only other kid that laughed at my cartoon jokes and references. Brian Ross was my friend. Then Brian Ross stole my homework.

It was there in the bin. I told Mrs. Cain that I swore I did my homework and put it there when I arrived at 8am. So she looked through all of last night’s assignments and pulled it out. I could see my name erased and Brian’s name now on top of it.

“That’s it,” I said. “I know because I wrote my name nice and big.”

Mrs. Cain turned to the class. “Alright, let’s go to lunch. Marc and Brian I want you to stay behind.”

At recess, my classmates surrounded me, trying to piece together what happened.

“He tried to make it look like it was his homework?”

“Did he ask to take it?”

“Is he getting in trouble?

I answered the questions as fast as they were given, and I assured them that I didn’t give him the assignment. I liked this feeling, this attention. It felt good. All eyes were on me for the first time in a very long time. The boys even stopped playing kickball to question me, and the hopscotch girls left their beanbags unguarded. This was nice.

Within two minutes, they’d gotten all the information they needed, and I ran out of things to tell them. They began to talk amongst each other about Brian.

“Yeah, he smells like ham sandwich.”

“He took my pencil.”

“Why’s he always dirty?”

They kept going on about different circumstances involving Brian. I laughed at a joke without even hearing the punchline.

“Mrs. Lee looked mad,” I said.

They kept talking.

“He got upset.”

They kept talking.

“I think he’s scared.”

They kept talking.

“He picks his nose too.”

They looked at me.

“I know. I saw it,” Lucy said. “He does it all the time.”

I continued, “He used to be my friend, but he acts stupid sometimes.”

“He thinks he’s funny,” Elvin said.

Their circle opened up, enough for me to fit in. It was as though they made the perfect spot for me with my name on it. I walked forward. The circle closed again. I was in. I was there. I was one with the rest.

Brian walked out of the building and onto the playground pavement. His head was pointed down to the ground as he zipped up his thin red jacket. The kids turned towards him. I backed away just a bit.

He stopped and scanned the playground, then turned and looked at me. I looked away. A kid in the group said something that made the other kids laugh. I chuckled at the joke without even hearing the punchline.

by Marc Alexander Valle

©2022

An Evening Note

AN EVENING NOTE

(from a father to his 11-month-old son)

by Marc Alexander Valle

Much has already been decided. It was out of my hands. Out of your mother’s hands. Out of anyone’s control. I see it as you sleep soundly on this bed right now. Your mother’s dark blonde hair, your nose like mine, your cheeks like mine, your chin like mine, all out of my control. I orchestrated none of it. It was all God. It was all The Universe. It was all Nature. It was all Luck. Fate. Destiny. Chance. The Gods. Truth be told, I delivered some DNA that Odin would be proud of, but it was all in a genetic pool that I had no command over. And you are an extraordinary specimen, my son. Cary Grant. Marlon Brando. Superhero illustrations. Your face, so handsome and symmetric. The doctor said at your last check-up that you have a mug that she could stare at for hours and hours. I’d call her a weirdo if it weren’t so true. But it is true. And it was all decided without my authority and I am in love. 

But what of these tentacles? These unwelcomed circumstances that are out of my dominion. What of the fact that your father is a peasant. And his father was a peasant. And his father was a peasant. I am a peasant. I don’t make too much money. We live with my parents. I have little saved up for retirement. I’ve never really traveled. I’ve never eaten crab in Maryland, and I never had Bar-B-Que chicken in Memphis. I’ve only been on a plane once. I get most of my news from mainstream outlets. I can’t get my weight down. And I buy dumb stuff on the Internet that I don’t even need. I am a peasant. And you will see your father struggle as a peasant. And work like one. And eat like one. And play like one. And maybe even love like one. 

As you sleep soundly on this bed, I know that forces of the natural realm have already decided some things. Wherever you go, one way or the other, you will carry the ZIP code that you were born in. For that I’m sorry. 

But what if I told you that I am a king? What if I told you that I cannot be touched? That I am impervious to the influence of the masses and their mob mentality?  That the walls of mediocrity will never cave in on me? I am a king. With a mind burning as bright as magnesium lit by a 7th-grade science teacher. With the world’s greatest ideas stewing in my subconscious like your grandmother’s Puerto Rican kidney beans. With thoughts and emotions deeper than an atom at the dead center of The Sun. What if I told you that I put people at ease and that many people trust me more than their own lawyers, doctors, and spiritual advisors? Would I even really need to tell you that? Will you see it for yourself one day?

As you sleep soundly on this bed, I don’t remember what a restful night is like anymore. By the time I experience it again you’ll be your own man, and I’ll be closing in on the end of this life. The tendrils of time, space, and causality pull us towards a state of pure energy once again, and the crickets outside have been chirping for a good two hours. I think I’ll lie next to you for now. Just for a little. Just until you wake. Just to watch you wake. Just for now. I will lie next to you.

Happy 10-month birthday, Emile. Daddy loves you.