One morning a few years before I had ever heard of Oren Pierce, I went out on the deck to check on the weather, and I saw a man standing in the yard, his back to me: olive-drab cargo-shirt, black pants over tall-heel boots, thumb down his collar while his fingers flipped the shingles of his hair; he was looking at the old travel trailer office/guest quarters as if he was planning to make some changes.
"EXCUSE ME!" I said ; "CAN I HELLPew?"
The Stranger's head turned toward me ... followed more slowly by the rest of his body.
A third-day stubble bristled maroon-red on his jaws, contradicting his black shag of hair.
" Oren Pierce, " he said. But I hadn't really asked his name, and what he said sounded to me like "Warren Curse", or maybe "Warren Purse". He has a tenor voice which can create its own interference, ringing in ones ears.
" I am in search of the person you know as William Bonaparte Warren," he said; and paused,
seeming to look at a teleprompter above and behind left shoulder.
" I have read his book and I believe him to be my Brother."
My mouth may have fallen open when he said that.
That is because, as I have assured my readers: William is a FICTIONAL character, mostly an outgrowth of my insecurities and shortcomings, I supppose: a troll from my personal depths who doesn't otherwise exist and doesn't even resemble anyone outside of my head.
The fact is that although I write about William and myself in our boyhood days, I did not have an imaginary brother then. I invented him later as a tool for putting across tall tales.
Of course William has become more fleshed-out as time has passed, and I suppose he will object to my characterization of him as a "tool"; to say nothing about my insistence that he is imaginary.
William says that I and my whole family are just in denial about him.
Well, sometimes he makes a good case for that; We all learned to make a good case for anything at my father's dinner table, even William who was more often under than at the table; and I do have to admire his adaptability and his physical gifts, as well as the skills which are a result of many years struggle to overcome his several outstanding limitations: particularly his extremely short legs, a not so lovely, pinched-looking face and large forehead which all ...especially when he isn't wearing the two foot sheet-rock stilts under his pants .... incline people to take him for sick child, an elf, or an alien. He hates that.
William is O.K. Even sometimes generous. He saved me some misery when he helped save my chicken flock from itself; so besides admiring him, I should be grateful to him.
But even during periods in our lives when he has been living near by, William and I have never been real close, and less so since he moved on from here.
The last time I heard from him, was in a Facebook message, according to which he was out in California , wrangling Chickens for period movies.
Of course I didn't say all THAT to Oren Pierce right then.
William is only my IMAGINARY brother! is all I said.
Oren Pierce rolled his eyes over my head, saying that HE himself was NOT William's IMAGINARY brother. He's William's REAL brother! His tenor voice squeaking on the emphasis .
Then he knocked his head with his knuckles, and his eyes widened with enlightenment as he proved his existence.
Stunned by his strange rap, and knucklehead that I was in that moment, I didn't just ignore his absurd logic but answered without thinking ; that ANYWAY, William has been gone for a good while now; that I don't know where he's gone, haven't heard from him since he left, and don't expect him back here anytime soon.
Pierce took one step forward, as if through the hole in my argument.
He said he himself WAS expecting William.
Then, before I could ask what reason he had to expect William, and as his gaze dropped from the space over my left shoulder, to the shoulder itself, he added, "We called him Skippy……. He was so short we didn't expect him to live, so it wasn't a name like Delmore or David, and we had mostly used up the boy names we knew……….."
Having gone way off script, Oren Pierce paused and straightened up some. His maroon jaw bristles rippled. He took a few more steps forward, pulled a small, black card from his pocket, and flipped it at me across the distance.
The card tipped up and slowed at the height of its trajectory, alighting exactly where he must have known that my raised hand would be cupped and ready in self-defense. Suddenly I held it.
"Please give me a call if our brother shows up, or I will be stopping by. Thank you. good bye."
All of which he said as if he were sending a voice mail message.
Pierce pivoted and set off walking, then striding into the orchard, his gait irregular due to the high boot heels hitting or missing hummocks and ruts.
As soon as Pierce was ten or twenty yards away, a grey-black dog stood up out of the tall grass behind the salad garden. Long-haired, with standing ears and lighter grey spectacle patches around its eyes, the dog watched as Oren Pierce disappeared into the orchard, then it trotted off at a angle to the man's route.
When Pierce was gone, I looked, still surprised, at the card he had so deftly thrown to my hand:
red letters on black, heavily laminated credit card stock.
Oren Pierce B.A., B.S. , M.S.G.
Osteoempathetic Healer, Stylist, Oracle
Consultations, Investigations, Badminton
Cell 315- XXX- XXXX
The X's in the phone number are printed with the card, and he had red-penciled numbers over the x's. I pulled the card out to read and puzzle over so many times that the pencil was about worn off the plastic when I went to check my box at the Post Office one day several weeks later, and the dog
I had seen the day Pierce had appeared in my back yard, was sitting outside by the bicycle rack, no leash, and no collar showing, though there may be a collar and tags under all that ruff. Inside, the man himself stood at the sorting desk, bent over his mail: the same maroon-red three-day beard, and oynx-black hair, layered in shingles as regular as three-tab asphalt roofing. I don't know how he does it, but he always has that third-day stubble, and that neat roof of hair. His face was so close to his mail that he didn't seem to notice me, but on my way to the door, Pierce caught my eye.
"No William", I told him; but he had not actually asked.
"Nice Chapeau" he said, speaking Frenchly to my noir, Gortex, rain-hat.
Oren himself never seems to wear a hat, although there could be anything under that thick shingling of hair..
I saw him there at the P.O. so often in the following months, that it seemed as if he must have been answering his mail or writing a book at the sorting desk.
Occasionally we talked mostly about my hat of the day or the weather, his tenor ringing in the P. O. lobby and making up in volume, what it lacks in depth.
No William I would tell him without being asked.
One burger-night at the Fargo bar and grill across from the Post Office, I recognized that stark black business card embedded in the dart board. I brought it to the bartender on my way back to the table, and asked did she know about it. Melody, is her name I think, though maybe it Melony.
She said thanks, but she would put it back later … because of the story about it.
Oren Pierce had come in a little before happy-hour one day, ordered a lemon and soda, and said he had stopped in particularly because he grew up not far from a place called The Fargo. Inn. I myself know about The Fargo Inn because it is only a few miles across the Indian River plains from the village of Natural Bridge, where I came from. It has been around through many owners, and my own grandmother and grandfather met at a dance there. That Fargo is on the border of the Fort Drum Military Reservation. After the Fort Drum expansion, his mother worked there, part time.
" She was a Fort Drum whore", was exactly what he had told, using that very word. He told Melony, that's not something he would make up to brag about.
He showed her his plastic calling card, and then, he showed her and a few others who had by then appeared, just how hard he could throw the thing, embedding it right where I myself had found it.
He had been back a few times when Melody was there. Always the lemon and soda, never anything to eat, usually he is asked to throw a card, so he extracts the old, if someone has not stolen it, and he throws in the new. I don't know that it has gotten him much business, other than requests to throw cards
He has no vehicle, and walks everywhere usually with his dog, but often his dog will be on the other side of the road, as if she were stalking him. Once I slowed down and offered him a ride, but he waved me off.
One day I walked a quarter mile up the road to get some apricots, and Oren Pierce was at the fruit stand talking to Joe Long.
Oren nodded to me but went on telling Joe about the home he mostly grew up in: a Homosote and tarpaper shack not even as big as the chicken house out back of it; and there were so many kids that when each one got to be eight or ten years old, he or she moved to the chicken house. No stove there, but the chickens kept it from freezing, and the kids slept in a pile under one blanket.
"We didn't know how uncomfortable we were. And we didn't know about apricots!" He took his apricots and turned, nodding to me again and actually smiling … albeit somewhat yellowly.
"HI THERE" he said, on a high note that rang in my head as in the P.O. lobby.
"No William" I told him.
I even saw him at the Wilcox General Store in Ledyard, which is five or six miles from here. He was buying semi-expired bananas at a reduced price. This time, I didn't say anything about William, but as he left the counter, Pierce seemed to inquire quickly into my eyes, making a little noise like a laugh in his throat.
I don't know which way he went from Ledyard. Not down the road I drove home.
He seemed to be everywhere around me, but it was a long while before I learned where he was living.
My neighbor Eddy Maasson, who has an awful lot of double consonants in his name, owned the Fargo before he sold it and retired twenty or thirty years ago. Now he walks up and down the road in fair weather, keeps track of the neighborhood by talking to everybody, and might have been a little dissapointed that he did not appear in my last book.
Eddie doesn't go down to the Fargo much anymore, but, like most everybody around here, he has seen Pierce at the post office and has encounterd him a number of times during his own walks up and down Route 90. Eddie and Oren are often enough talking together in front of the or in the P.O. when I go for mail. It was Eddie who told me Pierce is living less than a mile down through the woods from Dog's Plot, in a concrete silo that I have often enough seen through the woods as I walked down a gorge ridge, but had thought was abandoned.
He says someone almost finished converting it to comfortable living quarters when an electrical fire turned the silo into a chimney. No further improvements were made at that point, and no one lived in the place for twenty years, until Oren came around.
According to Eddie, Oren calls the old Silo "Cayuga Tower" because it's very near the lake, but I know the barnyard is so over-grown with Buckthorn, Juniper, and Cottonwood that he couldn't see the lake for the trees; he couldn't even see the sky, from Cayuga Tower.
Wiring runs in and out of the windows, and twists up the outside of the silo, along with wrist-thick Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy.
A depression in the yard with cattails growing at the bottom may be a failed dug-pond or a sump hole.
Oren had told Eddie all about his origins on the Pine Planes up north. He told him about William/Skippy too.
He told Ed that when the baby was born and his mother saw his undeveloped legs, she waved the it away, saying it was not a baby of hers, saying it was nobody.
The chicken house sisters called him Nobody and rocked him serially. Oren was the only boy among them at the time, unless you count Nobody. Boys tended to wander away early.
The sisters pierced eggs for Nobody to suck, then put him to sleep under a broody hen.
When it seemed Nobody was going to survive to be somebody, they called him Fourteen for a while, because they figured he was the fourteenth child, counting the ones that had died or wandered off. But he was such a lively little thing that they began calling him Skippy.
And he had Skipped off the same year the boy appeared there in our family's back yard garden, a boy with the same bodily disproportions and cranial distortions that make him look like an old man standing in a hole.
Oren told Ed all this in one conversation during which Ed could scarcely get a word in, which is a rare thing. And Oren told Eddie that he was expecting William.
" Expecting your imaginary bother," Eddie observed, "That Oren guy's a bit of a fruit cake, isn't he?"
Maybe, but Oren has even more ingredients than listed on his fruit-cake of a business card, and he is everywhere. One evening in May, my partner, our assistant, and I were up at the Pumpkin Hill Bistro, sitting out on the patio, having a sort of business lunch. Actually we had come for the tomato basil soup. When, nobody by Oren Pierce again came walking up the path past the vineyard, and sat right down at our table.
It was as if we had been waiting for him so we could order, which was convenient, because the waitress came right up.
Oren would like to try basil tomato soup too. And a slice of lemon in sparkling water.
I introduced him around and asked him how was life in Cayuga Tower, and he said the cell phone reception wasn't too good there because of the trees or maybe the cement walls, so when I call, I should just leave him a voice message. After all, he had grown up in a house with no phone at all … and no outhouse even, just a shit-hole in the mudroom floor, with a box over it to sit on and to keep kids from falling in.
Oren talked without interruption, except that he took a spoon of soup after most every sentence, even while talking about shit holes.
Until he was three his family had a real house on the pine planes, small but with two stories, an outhouse, AND a smoke house. His father had worked smelting iron near village of Lewisberg on the pine plains between Natural Bridge and Black River, until the government took over that and several other mining villages as the Pine Camp military reservation expanded into Fort Drum for the World War II effort. The family had moved not much farther than the edge of he reservation and, failing to get a job at the paper mill, his father went West looking for work took most of the government buy-out money with him, and he has not been heard from in the fifty or sixty years since.
That said, Oren stood up from the table, explaining that he had an appointment for a Badminton session so he had to leave before desert.
But before he walked off, he Oren pulled a pad from his pocket and put it on the table, asking us to take a look at it sometime.
Which of course we did as soon as he was gone.
On each page, written in italics with a broad-nibbed pen was an aphorisim, a homily, or whatever you want to call it, like: "Use Logic to eliminate confusion and prejudice, in order to arrive at reasonable conclusions." That one struck me as particularly ironic, given Oren's peculiar twists of logic.
Besides the trades listed on his business card, Oren Pierce combs the beach and makes jewlery from stones rolled in the waves so long they are vaguely fish shaped, and suitable for making the ear- rings, pendants, and windpchimes that he sells at the Aurora Art and Design Center.
When I went to stock our shelf there with more books, the dog Lucy, Lulu, or Loosefur, as Oren variously calls her, was sitting outside next to the large welded statue of a lizard.
Inside, Pierce was showing Jacci his newest stone pendants. I told him there was no sign of William or Skippy and Oren said he figured as much, but said that if I ever needed someone to look after the chickens, cats, and dogs for while ….. he was practically raised in a chicken house.
After he left, Jacci said Oren had offered himself at the Meeshe spa downstrairs to do his unique Osteoempethatic therapy. Osteoempathology, as he has since explained to me, is a nano-electro-static, non-contact method of adjusting skeletal allignment and enlivening balance points, where the healthy body maintains a magnetic field much like a gyroscope, all of which he does without the actual laying on of hands. Actual touching anyone would require a license, for which he would certification in massage or medicine. But Meeshee turned him down.
Then one day Oren returned here to Dog's Plot, this time down the driveway instead of out of the orchard, wanting to renew his chicken-sitting offer; also to hand me some fresh adages, and wise sayings.
We sat on the deck and I gave him water and plastic, squeeze-lemon concentrate, because I keep only real water and had no actual lemon, but he accepted it with a happy squeak, as if he had seen me put a couple of jiggers of vodka in it, then he sat down and told me all about his idea for a young adult book about a special being named Nowella whose mother was a Black Bear, and whose father was a White Man. It was a very long and complicated metaphysical narrative involving many a crisis of identity and the basic mysteries of individual existence.
I asked him about his business card professions, like Badminton? Is that how you spell it? I thought it was badmitten. anyway?
He said he used Badminton as what he called a wordless, diagnostic conversation with his clients. As for his unique practice of Osteoempathy, to which the Badminton is often a prelude, he proudly confessed that it was his own invention, including the scientific language. It is essentialoly a placebo, and placebos are on the average thirty percent effective. That is better than most drugs!
I guess I get it, and anyway I really couldn't argue with him.
He had become extremely animated, so his voice was at a rather higher pitch, as if he were trying to prevail over the sound-cloud in a crowded bar.
I have since noticed that Oren seems to get drunk on just lemon and soda most EVERY time I give him any amount of it and a little of my time.
He left me with another batch of adages and oracles, some with a bit more of an edge than the earlier ones. "There are two opposite answers to every question. Both are wrong."
Not long after that first intoxicated over-sharing, Oren returned with a sheaf of not-half-bad Nowella stories, and some of them were later published by Georgia Cuningham in the Metaphysical Times, with more under contract.
Very soon after the Pumpkin Hill Bistro encounter we walked in to the little Cayuga Bank to make a withdrawal, and found Oren ahead of us filling a deposit slips at the one desk there for that. As he yielded the desk he handed me another few sheets of aphorisms in monumental italics,
These were generally an improvement over his earlier aphorisms. I particularly liked, "Revise your thoughts according to your feelings, as well as your feelings according to your thoughts, until they settle their differences." Or "Your best protection, is to watch where you are going." Cute.
Georgia Cuningham eventually colluded with Oren to design and produce a deck of Oracle cards, each with one of his oracular sayings, coupled with newly-alleged metaphysical properties of various minerals and conglomerate stones, each card picturing a skull carved out of that material. He apparently had this in mind all along. He provided the list of minerals and their metaphysical properties; and he himself has a plum-sized, carved onyx skull that he uses in his Osteoempthay practice.
Oren stopped by often enough during the card design period that he has grown almost familiar, not that I quite understand him.
As it was I finally took him up on the offer to look after the place when we are away up North, or out on book tour.
It's cold comfort there in his Cayuga tower; so when we go away Oren happily comes up here to look after Dog's Plot, staying in the back-yard trailer with the sky-viewing cupola, and the comfy bed that converts to a bath tub . He says he writes well there. Whether at the fold down table, in the cupola, or the bathtub, I can't say.
While encamped in the trailer here, Oren wrote more Nowella stories, this time locating Nowella among the trunk full of abandoned stuffed animals I myself brought here to Dog's Plot from Edgewood Place: and which I showed him at some point. I often leave it open so the animals can breathe a little. According to Oren, the steamer trunk animals lived in house on a hill with diamond shaped windows and chickens and cats and every thing just like ours at Dog's Plot, and that much is true, but in the stories, WE do not seem to exist, which is a little weird, if you are us.
The Nowella stories are not bad, by which I mean they are good, but they are not the children's tales you might expect. What are they? Is there an Earth Science Fiction shelf? A school of inter species relaltionships? I don't know where to shelve the book of Nowella, but the Metaphysical times is planning the Book of Nowella.
So I am alright with that, and I am used to having Oren around here, difficult as it is to contact him when I am actually trying, what with bad cell phone reception in the tower, and his not being there when I drop off notes … he always gets the message and appears just before we leave.
A few days after we had come back from a recent Tall Animal Review tour ( and he had moved back into his tower) I walked by the deck door on the way to the john late one night, and I noticed a faint light glowing through the cupola of the trailer.
In the morning, when I went out to feed the chickens, I saw, a woman in front of the trailer, wearing little except a pyramid of red hair, someone's boxer shorts, and a whole lot of freckles. It was definitely William's old girlfriend Gee, but looking much older, than when I had last seen her, or maybe she just looked older naked. She was pouring dirty water out of a dish pan into the milkweed stand.
"Excuse my wrinkled old body she said, reading my mind, "but the pipes seemed to be clogged. I don't know what all he put down there."
Well excuse me, but what was
SHE doing here?
She told me she was waiting for William.
Well maybe she WAS waiting for William; and anyway, I had learned already not to cross wires with Gee's passionate intensity. Tell her she is crazy and you will provoke a storm of curses that could drive a ship, a blast of curses such that if a Sailor could deliver such curses, he would be hung for a witch, which has never happend because no sailor could curse like Gee. She could drive off a gang of rapists, he Devil and God too, with those curses And she would clean up the trailer pretty well too, that being one of her proud trades, though I had to clear the clotted drain. It was just a ratty glob of her own hair. I suppose there is a lot of grey ot the red as it grows now, but there is so much of it still and she dyes it with Sumach berries. She is an herbalist, when there's a market for it.
When she and William lived here before, I had to tell her to stop picking the Joe Pye weed in the orchard, because I kind of like seeing it, and we don't have that much.
William, of course, did not appear, but just few days after my discovery of Gee living in the trailer, I saw Oren Pierce's dog slinking through the orchard.