Monday, August 25, 2014

Reflections on "Sunflowers" by Vincent van Gogh

In the spring they came up out of the cold earth and warmed themselves in the sun. As other plants came out of the soil, they grew taller as in a race to reach the sky. By early summer some of them were over eight feet tall. They formed flowers that mimicked the sun in appearance. The petals were like the flames shooting out of the sun’s surface. They stood proud and tall, smiling as they surveyed their land.
The gardener took advantage of their tall sturdy stalks, planting his peas and beans so they could wrap their vines around their stems. Only the birds could reach up to the flowers. For the birds these flowers began to produce hundreds of seeds.
In the late summer a hard rain and strong winds broke most of the sunflowers. Their heads, heavy with ripe seeds were bowed to the ground, giving obeisance to their Creator, scattering their seeds upon the wet, warm ground. The bottoms of their broken stalks remained as supports for the legumes.

The gardener’s wife brings the most attractive sunflowers into the house and puts them into a vase. It is a mockery of their former radiant beauty. They are fading fast. They can hardly hold their heads up. In a day or two she will scrape their seeds onto a tray to dry them in the oven. What remains of the former garden beauty queens will be tossed out to the chickens or hogs. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ekphrastic Fiction on "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

Greg the counter man kept busy wiping the counter, rearranging the salt and pepper, the catsup bottle, and the sugar and cream containers. The boss wanted the counter men, especially those who worked at night, to be occupied. He said if passersby saw the counter man cleaning or serving, they would be more likely to stop in and order something to eat.
He was grateful for the work tonight. It helped him keep his mind off Peggy. Greg and Peg – they had been an item all through high school. Now he was in college, studying during the day and working five nights a week. He had been saving money for an engagement ring. This evening she had broken up with him. She didn’t want to wait four years or more before they could think of marriage. For now his only income was from a night time job in a diner. She wanted a man with better current prospects.
Mr. Anderson came in and sat on a stool. He came every night for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. Greg knew from their bits of conversation each night that Mr. Anderson’s wife had been slowing dying of cancer. From the time he came home from work until time to go to work the next day he cared for his suffering, tormented wife. While he was at work there were aides to take care of her. Every evening, before going to bed, he allowed himself a break long enough to eat pie and drink coffee at the diner. Last month she had died and Mr. Anderson was still mourning her. He still came in every evening for his coffee and pie.

At one end of the counter was Mr. Darnell and a woman of about thirty. Always before this, Mr. Darnell came in for his supper about seven each evening. Greg knew Mr. Darnell was a bachelor who had lived with his mother until she died last year.  Greg was only guessing, but probably Mr. Darnell had invited this woman on a dinner date. They were interested in each other. They hadn’t stopped talking since they sat down. He surmised they hadn’t wanted to end the evening just yet and the diner was a “safe” place to continue their new friendship.                                                                                    

Monday, August 11, 2014


(The following is an excerpt from the novel AFTER THE DEATH OF LAURA by Troy Lynn Pritt.)
   At Camp Dawson that Friday night Nathaniel was alone in the trailer that would be his billets for the next several weeks. He was having a real crisis of identity. He no longer knew for sure who he was or who he wanted to be. After ten years in the Army Special Forces, he had become hardened to people. They were two groups - either they were fighting alongside of him or they were the enemy. Three tours of duty “in the sandbox”, Iraq and Afghanistan, had made him suspicious and uncomfortable around civilians. The only people he trusted were the men in his unit. He had heard of instances when Iraqis or Afghanis dressed in the uniforms of their army or police turned their weapons on American military personnel. He had developed a “them and us” attitude. Moreover, several years of unconventional warfare had destroyed his confidence in his own moral behavior or the ability of others to act in a just and ethical way.
   Being around his father and being around his new friend Joy made him realize that there are people outside his unit whom he could trust. Being with Joy and her children was making him question if he wanted to continue being a soldier. That was another part of his identity crisis.
   Still another part was the nightmares and dreams. He had to keep them secret because they could cause him to be put out of Special Forces and into some “Wounded Warrior” unit going back and forth to medical appointments, counseling sessions, and supervising other, lower ranking, wounded warriors while they policed the company area or set up chairs for a concert. Maybe it would just straighten itself out. If , however, he had to go back over there for another tour, he didn’t think he would ever get straightened out.
   Tomorrow evening the troops would be arriving. They would be worn out. They would leave their armories early in the morning, ride in trucks and on buses to Biggs Army Airfield where they would board a chartered aircraft or maybe a military plane and fly to Morgantown, West Virginia. From there they would ride on buses to Camp Dawson. When they arrived, they would be issued tents, winter sleeping bags, and meals ready to eat for tonight and tomorrow. 
   Nathaniel knew that he would be out there among the troops eating ready to eats, putting up a tent, and sleeping in a sleeping bag. He would have to do those things when they went out in the field. Over two weeks he would be with them in the winter cold, clambering up stone strewn slopes, perched on rocky ledges, listening for the sounds of another group playing “infiltrators”. Every other time it had been fun to him. He had taken pride in the training he had given. Now he was dreading it.
   On Sunday the troops were issued gear and equipment. Tomorrow the various platoons would go out either as Red Team or Blue Team warriors. The company commanders and first lieutenants of the six Texas Army National Guard Special Forces units had been assigned as staff of Red Team or Blue Team roughly by rank and time in grade. The commander of Blue Team was senior of all the unit commanders and he had served a tour in Bosnia and a tour in Iraq. The second and third unit commanders in terms of seniority had not served in any theater of war so they were passed over. The commander fourth in seniority had served a tour in Iraq and one Afghanistan. He was appointed commander of Red Team. Nathaniel watched the first sergeants in the six units when the troops arrived, and when they were setting up last evening. He walked over to two of them pointed to the newly minted staff officers and said quietly, “You are the Blue Team sergeant major and you are the Red Team sergeant major.” The six units varied in strength. He was able to pick three units for Blue Team and three units for Red Team whose combined strengths were nearly equal.
   Nathaniel walked over to the group of officers with two large envelopes. Each one contained maps, initial tactical locations, bumper numbers of the vehicles assigned to them, and the location of fuel and supply dumps for their Team.
   “You have one-half hour to study the contents of those envelopes, divide responsibilities, and move your men out of this area. Any contact with local civilians is to be respectful but wary. Nothing in the rules says the other Team can’t dress up in civilian clothes and use civilian vehicles. Just pay for what you use! This isn’t Afghanistan.”
   He walked over to the large body of troops and told them,
   “Smoke them if you have them. If you have a cell phone, get rid of it now. Any cell phone taken to the field must be destroyed completely and immediately by anyone who sees it. The enemy can track you by the emissions from your cell phone. Get rid of them now. In less than half an hour those two temporary sergeant majors are going to come over here and start barking orders to the three units assigned to them.”
   He walked away and went to the Humvee assigned to him. He had it loaded with his field gear plus a number of pyrotechnics and other training devices such as trip flares, mock claymore mines, and sound effects such as recordings of incoming rounds, machine gun fire, people talking in a foreign language and laughing. His job was to terrorize them, to infiltrate, wake everyone up, and disappear. That was his night time work.
   During the day he was grading the officers on the performance of their men. They were out there in the cold and rain or snow for two weeks. The other Team might find their food and fuel cache and steal it or destroy it. They would still have to stay out in the field and manage however they could. Nathaniel was the only one who knew where the initial tactical positions of both Teams were. He was the only one who knew where both of the food and fuel locations were. If he found one unguarded, he might destroy it himself!
   Nathaniel settled into a one man campaign of harassing both Blue Team and Red Team. He did all this at night. He would sneak up from behind the guard on duty, clamp his hand over his mouth, throw the guard’s rifle over his shoulder, tie his hands behind his back, gag him, and then start setting off cherry bombs, or stink bombs, or screaming rockets. The whole squad would be awakened and about that time the guard would run into camp with his hands tied behind his back and without his weapon.
   He was always looking for their food and fuel caches. If they were guarded, he left them undisturbed. If they were unguarded, he would steal from them.
   The more involved he became, the more it started to become a replay of Afghanistan. He was working during the day with the two Team staffs – scoring, critiquing, and advising. He would get some sleep from supper until the middle of the night. As the days went on, he became seriously sleep deprived.
   One night, as he was setting off rockets over one squad’s tactical position, he fell to the ground on his knees and was rocking back and forth, screaming and crying,
   “Make them stop. Make them stop it.” then “Incoming, take cover.” and “Shoot, man, kill those ragheads. What are you waiting for?”
    At first the soldiers thought it was another tactic. Eventually, the first lieutenant who was out in the field with them, recognized that something was wrong. He took Sergeant Nathaniel Sterner back to the staff position for Red Team. The Captain had seen this reaction to combat when he was in Iraq. He called for the medic.
   “Do you think that we need to take this man to the local hospital?”
   “Let’s take him to his trailer, put him to bed, and I’ll give him a shot of tranquilizer. Have a man go with me to stay with him and call me if he needs help. If we take him to the hospital, the paperwork is liable to ruin his career.”
   The next morning after Nathaniel was awake, the Captain who was Red Team commander came to Nathaniel’s trailer.
   “You are confined to this trailer for the remainder of our time here. The medic will give you tranquilizer pills and you WILL take them. If you don’t, I can’t guarantee that you won’t have another episode as severe or more severe.
   “I want you to relax and sleep the rest of the time you are here. If you do, I won’t write any of this up. When you get back to Texas, I want you to voluntarily go to your commanding officer and tell him that you want out of Special Forces, that you want to be reassigned to some other branch. Tell him about this episode, any other episodes, nightmares, or any other symptoms. If you are straight up with him, he’ll respect it, and you will probably be able to remain on active duty. Whether he does or does not allow you to stay on active duty, you need help. As long as you deny it, the more chance that you will hurt yourself or someone else.”
   “Yes, sir”
   For the next week Nathaniel took his pills, and did a lot of sleeping and dozing. He tried to write a letter to Joy, but the words just wouldn’t come. In the end he just started packing and waited for the day to leave. That day came several days later. He boarded the bus with the other men, went to the airport, and they flew back to Texas.
   Nathaniel didn’t call Joy when he returned to his quarters at Ft. Bliss.
   The next day he called his commanding officer, COL Reisner at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
   “Colonel Reisner, this is Sergeant First Class Nathaniel Sterner. I am on detached duty at Ft. Bliss, Texas assigned to the Texas Army National Guard Special Forces units as advisor. I am calling to request reassignment out of Special Forces. The units I am assigned to have just returned from Camp Dawson. I was there with them training them. One night when I was in the field setting up harassment activities, I went to pieces. They had to transport me from the field to the staff position of Red Team. They called for the medic. He gave me a shot. The rest of the time I was told to remain in my trailer. The medic looked in on me every day and kept me on tranquilizer pills. The Red Team commander said that he would not put it in his report if I would voluntarily ask for a transfer out of Special Forces.”
   “Good man! Okay, Sergeant Sterner, I will have my office cut orders transferring you back here. I want our own people to have a look at you, and have some input on the best course of action. Do you have any leave on the books?”
   “Yes, sir, forty-two days.”
   “Good. I will authorize thirty days delay enroute. That way you can celebrate Christmas and New Year’s before reporting here for duty.”

   “Thank you, sir.”

Monday, August 4, 2014


                                                            by Troy Lynn Pritt
("Alma's Story" is an excerpt from the novel CRAZYQUILT CHURCH published by Mtnpride Books)
It was the second night in our new home. I had just gone off to sleep when I was awakened by noise from the basement. Mary, my wife, said in a frightened voice,
“Tom, what is that noise in the basement?”
I opened the door to the basement and turned on the basement lights. I went down the steps and as I reached the bottom,
“Please, mister, don’t shoot. I didn’t know anyone was in the house.”
A frightened young woman was clutching a baby in her arms. Both she and the baby were filthy. Her clothes were torn and dirty. She was wearing an Army field jacket. Her feet were in old tennis shoes that were ragged. She had no socks.
“Let me sit down to rest a minute and get warm. Then I’ll leave.”
“You sit right there while I go upstairs and get you something to eat. What about the baby? Can it drink from a cup yet?”
“No, sir. I nurse it when I can.”
I poured a big glass of milk, warmed up the spaghetti left over from supper, and buttered a piece of bread. I found a couple cookies our daughter Barbara brought home from her school lunch. I carried these down to the young woman. Tears came to her eyes.
“Our name is Binton. My name is Tom, my wife is Mary. She is coming down here so she can see what you need and maybe help you with the baby.”
Mary had already gathered up one of her nightgowns, a robe, a pair of socks, some dish towels (to use as diapers), safety pins, and a blanket. I pushed her in her wheelchair out the front door and around to the basement door.
The young woman was greedily eating the food. Maybe it was the first food she had that day. The baby looked numb. Mary immediately took charge.
“As soon as you finish eating, I want you to take off all those dirty clothes and get into the shower. There is soap, shampoo, and towels in there. Here is a dressing gown and socks. While you’re in the shower, I’ll clean your baby, change its diaper, and wrap it in this clean blanket. By the time you finish your shower, you should be ready to nurse it. Tomorrow morning, after breakfast, I’ll wash your clothes. We can talk then and see what we can do to make your situation a little brighter. Right now, getting cleaned up and a good night’s sleep are at the top of the list. After her shower, the young woman came out wearing Mary’s nightgown and carrying her dirty clothes.
“By the way, my name is Mary Binton, what is yours?”
“My name is Almedine Ferguson, but you can call me Alma. My little boy is named Harold, after his father.”
Alma held the baby for a few minutes and looked confused.
“I can’t nurse the baby. The baby isn’t mine.”
After that bombshell, I didn’t know what to do. Mary took charge,
“Call a taxi and get this baby to a hospital. I only hope it isn’t too late.”
I called the taxi company and asked them to send a cab as soon as possible. I only had $30 in my wallet. I hoped that that would be enough. I asked Alma if she had any identification.
“In my field jacket I have my old Army identification card.”
“Get your field jacket and your shoes. You can wear that nightgown instead of putting the dirty clothes back on you.”
When the taxi arrived, I told the driver,
“Take us to the nearest hospital.”
Arriving at the hospital, I gave the driver the $30 that I had. The fare had been $26.50.
Entering the Emergency Room I went straight to the Reception Desk.
“We have a very sick baby here. Please have someone look at it right away.”
“Everybody thinks they or their baby or child or husband or wife needs urgent care. You’ll be seen as soon as it’s your turn.”
I saw a nurse in the doorway.
“Nurse, there is a very sick baby here. I don’t think it can wait its turn. Would you please, at least, look at it?”
The nurse came over and looked at the baby in Alma’s arms. She swore. Then she grabbed the baby and rushed it back into the treatment area.
We were sitting on one of the benches across from the reception desk. We expected a nurse or doctor would come out and tell us about the baby. Instead, a policeman came in from outside, walked up to the reception counter, and the woman pointed to us. The policeman came over.
“Are you the man and woman who brought a sick baby in here about half hour ago?”
“I want you both to come to the police station with me. The car is outside.”
I knew there was no point in protesting. We went out to the police car and sat on the hard plastic rear seat. At least we were not handcuffed. At the station we were introduced to SGT Lance Hendrick. He was about fifty years old, neat and thin with some grey in his hair. His eyes were penetrating.
“Now, I want to know all that you know about this baby. At a minimum I think you both are facing charges of child abuse. I’ll start with you, Mr. Binton. What is your relationship to Almedine Ferguson?”
“Before tonight I had no relationship to her. She came to our door sometime after we went to bed at 10 o’clock. She was homeless, hungry, and dirty. She said that the baby was hers and that its name was Harold. We gave her some food and a glass of milk. My wife gave her a nightgown, a robe, and socks and told her to shower and shampoo. My wife changed the baby’s diaper and cleaned it up. After Alma showered my wife handed the baby to her so she could nurse him. It was then she told us that the baby was not her baby. My wife said to call a taxi and take the baby to a hospital; she thought it needed immediate help
“I called a cab, took Alma and the baby to the hospital. That is all I know.”
“All right, Miss Ferguson, let’s hear your story.”
“Earlier that day I was dumpster diving behind the Mars Store on Wise Avenue. I was looking for something to eat. There was another girl there, younger than me. She had been diving in the dumpster before I arrived. She had this baby lying on the ground. It just had on a diaper. It was turning red and blue from being cold I guess. I said to her,
“‘Aren’t you going to put something on that baby to keep it warm?’
“‘I’m going to put it in this dumpster when I am finished here. There is plenty in there to keep it warm.’
“‘Give it to me if you are going to throw it away.’
“‘Take it.’
“So I took it and put it inside my field jacket and tried to get it warm with my body. I didn’t know what to do, where to go. When I came to the Binton’s house, his wife just took charge and seemed to know how to help me and how to help the baby.”
“Let me talk to the Lieutenant. It doesn’t sound to me like there is any reason to charge either of you with child abuse.”
I was wondering how we were going to get home since I had given the taxi driver all the money I had. Just then the detective said,
“I’ll take you both back to West Inverness. I’ll tell the Lieutenant that I had to examine the home and the area behind the Mars Store. He won’t mind. After all, you may have saved that baby’s life.”
We arrived home about three-thirty in the morning. If there were any neighbors looking out their window, they saw me and a young woman in a nightgown and a field jacket getting out of a police car in the wee hours of the morning.
Mary was relieved to see us return home.
“Where is the baby?”
“At the hospital, I guess.”
“How is it?”
“They never told us. They may never tell us since the baby is neither ours nor Alma’s.”
“God knows how he is. I am going to pray that he survives and is given to a nice family.”
We gave Alma a blanket and a pillow and told her that she could sleep on the futon in the basement.
Several days later Alma told Mary her story and later Mary told it to me.
“I didn’t come from a happy family like yours. My father drank a lot and then he would come home and fight with my mom. He didn’t like me for some reason. If I would bring friends to the house, he would make it uncomfortable for us. He never hit me but he was always belittling me and making fun of what I’d say or things I’d do.
“As soon as I graduated from high school I joined the Army to get away from home. I did well and I liked military life. You make friends easily in the Army. Someone is always moving and someone new comes to take their place. That is an environment that lets you start making friends as soon as you arrive at a new base.
“I had always wanted to be a policewoman. I was able to get into the MPs. I made high marks in the Military Police Academy and was assigned to Fort Meade, Maryland. There I met a sergeant. He really made me feel like a million dollars. Every time that he saw me, he had something nice to say about me. But when we went on dates, he was always furtive about it. He said that since he was a non-commissioned officer he could get into trouble for fraternizing with a lower ranking enlisted person.
“We dated once or sometimes twice a week, always someplace that other soldiers wouldn’t see us. Our relationship became intimate. I had been a virgin but I gave that up to him. After we had been dating about six months, I discovered that I was pregnant. He immediately turned against me. He started finding things wrong with my job performance. When he couldn’t find anything, he would make things up. I found out that he was married and had two children.
“The Army will let you stay in the service when you are pregnant. They let you keep working as long as the doctor says it is all right. Then you go on medical leave, but you still have a place to live and your meals.
“I made arrangements to put the baby up for adoption. They wanted to know the father’s name. I told a lie,
“‘I don’t know his name. He was just a man I met in a bar. I was drunk and had sex with him in the alley behind the bar.’
“I knew that if I gave the sergeant’s name, he would be in lots of trouble. Not only would he suffer, but his wife and children would suffer.
“Meanwhile, he continued his campaign of discrediting me. After the baby was born, and I gave him up for adoption, I was discharged with a General Discharge ‘not suitable for military service’.
“I couldn’t go back home. I tried and tried to get a job. My savings soon ran out and I was homeless. I have been on the streets for nearly a year. I look for a vacant house, pick the lock, and make it my temporary home. My food has been from garbage cans and dumpsters. When I saw that baby lying on the ground by the dumpster, I thought of the baby I had given up for adoption. It seemed like a second chance for me. But I was no more able to care for it, than I was able to care for my own. It’s like my father always said - I’m a loser.”
Mary hugged her and they cried together. After a while Mary jutted her chin out and with fire in her eyes she said,
“You are going to stay with us until the winner in you, the winner that excelled at MP school and in your Army duties, shows its smiling face to the world once more!”