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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #2231472
A man receiving treatment for lymphoma receives a letter, triggering memories.
The Boy Inside the Boy Who Carried a Burlap Sack With Three Kittens Inside on His Shoulder

December eighth of the year 2019. A strange letter was given to me by my sister today. The letter was postmarked May 2019. The reason I didn't get that letter in the month of May was because my sister held it back, knowing the words in the letter would cause me pain. She waited till my treatment for lymphoma was over, and I was fixing to go home.

         The letter was addressed to Jason Holloway. Huh, I thought as I read it, why in the world would someone address my mail to Jason Holloway? Anyone who really knows me knows my name is James Jaxen Holloway. The Jaxen part of it is pronounced Jackson. I know this to be a fact cause I selected the Jaxen part of that name for myself legally back in 1978. Since I gave myself this name, I can spell it and pronounce it in any way I see fit. My childhood friends and close relatives call me Jamie. This letter would be a slap in the face if it's from a relative. Ummm? It just goes to signify that for all their bluster and pretension some people just don't comprehend what it means to call me Jamie. Maybe that letter was from a clown.

         The letter was a right peculiar letter. I have yet to realize what its author was trying to convey. Well, in my mind I have yet to realize, but in my heart I know exactly. It was just an empty envelope with a canceled stamp staring at me, wearing an exaggerated smirk on one side of its face and a frown stamped on the other side. At first glance a thought occurred to me. Maybe some kind of clown was indulging himself or herself in their chosen pastime of self justification.

          There was a quart-sized hole in this theory though. You see, clowns and I would probably get along just fine, but I have never been properly introduced to a clown. Oh, I had seen a few of them in my life, and had been within touching distance on several occasions, but none of the clowns from my past would have availed themselves of the opportunity to drop me a bittersweet line or two as this clown had.

          Wait a minute, of necessity I am going to have to take myself a little walk, and when I'm doing that walking I'm going to be doing my walking backwards. And I'm going to be carrying my former statement about the nature of clowns and whether I had met any of them right along with me, taking it back so to speak.

         A clown can disguise itself so well that only its intimate acquaintances will be cognizant of the fact it is a clown. They can conceal themselves right in amongst the rest of humanity and not be unmasked till they have made that one critical mistake. I was certain of it now, some kind of clown had sent me that letter. Yes sir, a self anointed clown. Yeah, somewhere in my life I had encountered a clown and now was the moment it had chosen to reveal itself. Well, shucks and kick me one time in the rear end! Hesitantly, I thought, Wonder if it's a circus clown, or is one of those more baleful clowns of the second type?

          Right at this moment it does not matter, I am weary. I am hungry. I think I will go down to the kitchen and make myself some spicy rice. Yum!

          Hey, get your cooked rice, long-grain white rice is best, but that of the common variety can be substituted. Anyway, get your rice, put it in a skillet with a little vegetable oil and let it turn a golden brown color under the low heat setting. Remove the rice from the burner and add one quarter cup tomato juice, return to burner and fry for five minutes, or till the rice has become tender to the taste. Add cumin, oregano, cut up green onion shoots, sliced sweet peppers, strips of Jalapeno peppers and a splash of dill if you have a taste for it. Saute this mixture. Yum.

          Getting back to the tale of the clown who wrote me a letter . . . It all began in the month of April, 2019, I was diagnosed with Stage 2, Large B cell lymphoma and was seeking support, not monetary, to get treatment as I lived in the Philippines and must be treated in America.

          Now in this world there dwell two types of clowns, the first type is just your regular every day clown. These clowns can be downright entertaining. It is with the second type of clown I have a crow to pick. These clowns are masters of deception. I know this for a fact because I know the identity of the letter writing clown. For a period of sixty seven years I have know this clown. I have loved this clown with all my love and I have held her tender in my heart. I have thought she was my sister all these years. As of this writing, a wedge of uncertainty has been driven into my heart.

          Let us dig a little further into my heart and expound on the true nature of clowns of the second type. In recent years I have passed through the city of Detroit, Michigan numerous times on my way to Narita, Japan. The thought occurred to me each time I was in Detroit to make a little side trip to a small town in Michigan.

          Unfortunately, my heart was afraid; it was uncertain whether the welcome mat would be on the front porch of that house in the little town in Michigan. It was not a conclusion reached voluntarily, and it was not intuition. It was an awareness based on past experiences. Each time I traveled through Michigan I changed flights as quickly as I was able and left no tracks in the city of Detroit. I shook the dust of Michigan off my shoes as I boarded the airplanes.

          In their own minds clowns of the second type think they know everything about everyone. I have often been told by one particular clown that she knows me as well as I know myself. I laugh to myself when she makes this statement.

All of my life I have selected the people who will know me. I mean really know me, know how I feel and what is in my heart. I have taken particular pains to be invisible to the clown who wrote me the letter. Only on two occasions did I ever allow her a small glimpse of my heart. The time I sang for her Bye Bye Love by the Everly Brothers . . . And remember that other time, I thought. The time I drove four hundred miles just to see her, all the while knowing in my pocket was less than the amount needed to return home? I still owe her ten dollars I was forced to ask for to make the return drive. All the other times she has seen me, it has been a self caricature of myself standing in front of her. Camouflage! You can't see me. He, he. I am the boy inside the boy who carried a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder.

          The letter . . . Yeah, it was good, and it did just what it was designed to do. It turned my heart to stone for a little while. It made me cry silently. It made me feel all alone. It suffocated me and made me feel it was okay to die.

          I will try my best to describe that letter. It was filled with unfounded accusations, hearsay, cruelty, self justifications, a lack of love and compassion and downright sticking of the nose into other people's business. It also contained an overwhelming measure of the haughty attitude that only a revenge obsessed clown of the second type would think of afflicting upon a presumed loved one. Why, I wouldn't write a halfway worthless, mange-ridden dog a letter like that, even if that mange-ridden dog had deposited tae on my lap, I thought. Even if that particular dog had graduated from Yale University with a PhD I would restrain myself and show some compassion. If by chance that dog had lymphoma I would show it nothing but mercy.

          I will not try to recreate the clown letter word for word here on these pages. A brief summary is all I care to temporarily remember. As I mentioned before, the letter was peculiar. The text of the letter was written on the outside of the envelope in a somewhat haphazard manner. I have wondered since I received the letter, Why was the letter on the outside of the envelope? Was it because she would not want to open a letter containing the thoughts she was writing, and for this reason somehow she thought I would not open it? As I looked at the letter no doubt entered my mind as to whether it had been composed by a clown of the second type. Clowns of the second type can invariably be a hazard to your health, especially if you happen to be in a life threatening situation already, I thought. But I am the boy inside the boy who carried a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder.

          It is a hard thing for me to do, to describe this letter and remember the contents. I want to cry, and my heart wails out to me. Little pieces of my heart are gathering in my eyes against my will and crowd desperately together behind my lower eyelashes in an effort to stanch their flow, but new ones keep forming till these first creations are left with no choice but to spill across the barrier and begin their slow slide down across my cheekbones. I am crying. I am not ashamed. I am the boy inside the boy who carried a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder.

          Ungracious clowns of the second type, little Miss Haughty High and Mighty, I thought as the tears descended. I use this word ungracious taking in mind its archaic definition found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. When I speak of a clown of the second type, I am referring to Merriam-Webster once more. A rude, ill-mannered person . . .

          This opportune moment has presented itself and perchance it is just the right moment for me to seize its availability. I want to extend my thankfulness to the clown of the second type who wrote me the letter. I now carry another deadly burden in my heart because of your words. Your mother would be proud of you, I thought. Had you not persisted in my torment, had you desisted from the compounding of your original decision, I would have held these words in my heart forever. It is okay to change your mind about a particular thing in your life, but it is not okay to rub salt in the wound your change of heart may have inflicted. That is what your letter was, a letter full of salt and bitterness. If you had yourself been blameless in your heart I would have accepted the bitter words you threw at me. In a former life I might have remained silent, but in this life I must speak. Alas.

          This clown of the second type was so enamored with her composition that she sent a copy of it to a third party. It was enough that this clown gave me a hope in my heart that I might live, then just as I was to arrive in Michigan the hope was shattered. After I purchased the plane ticket to Detroit and notified her as to when I would arrive, I was told not to arrive. Oh, I arrived in Michigan seeing as I already had a ticket. Standing there in Detroit, a not so sudden feeling of betrayal sank itself into my heart. I could not control it. The realization that I was the boy who carried a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder calmed my heart somewhat.

         I knew I was a strong man. Thereafter, I proceeded in my travels to Charlottesville, North Carolina and onward to Huntington, West Virginia toward a person I knew I could trust. It's okay, turn the other cheek, but the letter was uncalled-for.

         One statement in the letter from the clown of the second type was truthful, the remaining statements were hearsay and suppositions. The truth is, I did want something as the clown of the second type stated in her letter. I wanted life. I wanted to live. I wanted nothing from this clown except her love.

          The fact remains that I did not ask for her assistance. She volunteered to help me get treatment. I told her to think about it and be certain she could help. Her reply was that she had already thought about it. After this episode of my life I sometimes wonder, How many times can a heart be broken?

          These words seem hardly worth remembering at this stage of my life and to type them is excruciating. In the beginning I was overpowered by the urge to translate them onto paper, as if I had lost something, but exactly what is it that a man has lost if he did not once possess this thing? Answer me this and I will give you gold. I think as I type, Is two brothers enough for her that she would choose to ostracize one of the three remaining?

          I remember her before she became a clown. The earliest memory that comes to mind is the year 1958. She was fourteen years old and I was eight. She carried a little glass, Mason jar around all the time, partially filled with pennies, nickels and dimes, each cent was a vote for the Prince of the fall festival. That year I became the Prince of the festival. She was proud and I was also.

Another memory comes to my heart, and in my mind I can see the small boy as he came down the hill carrying a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder. The boy was afraid. He was crying. Screaming. Inside the boy another boy wept. The boy stumbled along, his steps erratic. He had made his heart cold, it beat and thumped against his small chest. He was wooden. He was desperate, and he was alone in this world. No one to save him. No one.

         The boy inside the boy is thinking, Why am I here? What reason makes me carry this burlap sack with three kittens inside on my shoulder? But even as he thinks this thought, the reality of the hell the other boy is walking in increases the boy inside the boy's despair to the point beyond his ability to carry it. His heart bursts and a flood of tears scream down his cheeks. The boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder is also screaming. And the invisible stars of heaven are hanging up there watching. The boys cry and scream as they make their way toward the footbridge and below it the creek which is their destination. I am the boy inside the boy who carries the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder, the boy inside the boy thought.

          Wait a minute, the boy thought. Is that a clown standing on the far end of the footbridge? It sure did look like a clown. He didn't want no truck with clowns. Nothing personal clowns of the world, he thought, but I just don't feel the need in my life for a clown. He reached deep in his heart for a feeling of calm and looked again. Nah, it ain't no clown, that's my sister standing there throwing rocks in the creek. Wonder why she's doing that? Maybe she will save me from this nightmare if I walk on over there where she is.

Willie boy had really got him this time, calling him out on the porch and saying he had a present for him. Handing him this burlap sack when he got out there, saying there were three kittens in the sack and he was to take them down to the creek and drown them. He had to do it, that's what his Daddy told him to do. Yet, he was thinking as he put the burlap sack on his shoulder. If you want these kittens to be drowned, you have a pair of legs, do it yourself. But he just stood there, unable to manufacture his thoughts into words. In that brief moment his heart had dropped, he clutched at it but was unable to recover it before it hit the ground. He wanted to reach down and pick it up, but the hell in his mind prevented this action. He was pained in his heart and in his mind as he turned and began a slow walk toward the creek.

          "Son," his dad hollered. "Don't even think about coming back home till you drown them cats, and just keep on walking if you don't drown them."

          He was only half a boy now. He was the boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder. He did not want to be the boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder, he thought. He wanted to be Jamie again. He wanted to take this burlap sack and . . .

          He was the boy inside the boy who wept. He was the boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder. But in his weakness he possessed a strong heart. One day he would the boy again, he thought.

          As the invisible stars of heaven looked down upon him, the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder glanced toward the far end of the footbridge. There was that clown again. Why it didn't make up its mind whether to be his sister or be a clown was a mystery to him, he thought. But the half a boy inside him was not afraid, he knew it was his sister. And the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder walked trembling with his other fear toward his sister.

          Ain't no help for him though, the boy inside the boy thought. He ain't been a bad boy. He has done everything his Mama asked him to do and half of the things Willie boy told him to do. Maybe I will just stay inside here for a while. Yeah.

          The boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder kept a steady eye on the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder. We're close kin, almost brothers, he thought. I will see what he does in this situation and help him carry that burlap sack with three kittens inside on my shoulder.

          The boy stepped toward the far end of the footbridge. Please help me. Save me, he was thinking as he walked. His sister smiled as he approached.

          "What have you got in that burlap sack, honey?"

          "I have three kittens in this sack and Daddy told me bring them down here and drown them."

          He expected her to say, Give me them kittens and I'll teach Daddy a lesson he will never forget, but she just frowned and remained silent. He looked at her as he brushed past her on the bridge. He could see no help for him in her eyes, and he wanted to plea with her for assistance. Instead the boy inside the boy said, "I am not who you think I am. I am the boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder. No matter what this world puts in my path, one day I will be the boy once more."

          The boy's thoughts compelled him to the end of the footbridge, pushing him. He paused to look over his shoulder at his sister. A plea he could not put to voice rose up in his heart and desperately tried to escape through his mouth. Please save me, although I am now the boy inside the boy who carried a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder, I am still your little brother. Please come to me and wrap your arms around me and give me the words. Give me your love. Say to me that I do not have to do this horrible thing Willie boy has afflicted upon me. Only a short slide down the bank of the creek separates me from a death in my heart. Please save me.

          He continued his pause until he was certain. Then with his shoulders tucked into the sides of his neck, he began to make his way down the bank toward the creek. Screams still worked their way out of his heart, and the tears of a boy who has lost his father rolled stoically down his cheeks. There remained in his mind the fleeing shadow of hope that he might yet be saved as his feet entered the flaccid water of the creek. Our heavenly father, he began in his mind.

This is not a dream, he thought. I am actually standing in this creek. I am the boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder, and my Daddy, Willie boy can not force me to drown these kittens. Yes, the half a boy he had become carried a few things in his heart which he might employ to enlighten Willie boy.

          Both boys glanced toward the footbridge as they stood there contemplating. Neither boy's pain was eased by this glance, and as one they looked away. The boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder removed the burlap sack from his shoulder in slow motion and held it in his hand.

          He knew how to drown the kittens, just lower the burlap sack into the creek and allow it to float away, but the thoughts in Willie boy's head had no kinship with the thoughts in his head. According to the ways of his heart nothing existed which could force him to willingly drown the kittens. As he stood there holding the burlap sack in his hand, just for a moment he pretended he was a uwak and flew high above the creek to look down upon his two selves, and he was full of shame to find the two of him standing in the creek holding the burlap sack with three kittens inside.

          Back in himself, his heart ached and the pain in his mind made him want to vomit all his memories into the creek to be washed away like so much detritus. The sycamore tree beside the footbridge was his witness. It saw everything that happened and would so testify if the need for it ever arose.

          He wanted to run, but fear blocked the path of the nerve impulses to his feet. And up there, standing on the front porch watching him, was Willie boy.

          They thought as they looked at Willie boy, Why don't we just run? What can Willie boy do to us now? And the boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder thought separately, Yes, he has already killed your heart, what more does he want? The boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder spoke then.

         "Let us pretend to drown these kittens while Willie boy gets his American Society of Entertainment recommended amount as he's watching us. Something will save us."

          And the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder replied, "Yes, let's do it."

          The boy inside the boy waited as the boy moved in the water. The boy removed a kitten from the burlap sack and squatted in the water. The sister clown watched from the safety of the footbridge as the boy selected three large stones from the bed of the creek.

          The boy inside the boy did not understand, and he was thinking, What possible reason could there be that his sister was not saving him? She was twice as big as he was, big enough to jump into the water and wrench the burlap sack with three kittens inside from his grasp . . .

          The boys placed the kitten in the water of the creek, still holding on to it, and making certain its head was above water. As the boy inside the boy observed, the boy placed the three large stones around the kitten in an upright, triangular circle, effectively imprisoning it.

          They were screaming, with their despair rolling down their cheeks like rainwater. The two lost boys . . . Their wretchedness welled from deep inside them as the invisible stars of heaven looked on.

          The sister clown yelled down at him, "Jamie, you better get out of that creek. Here comes Missus Varney."

          He was beyond caring whether or not Missus Varney was coming. What remained of his heart was wailing. The boy inside him also did not care and his heart also wailed. A lonely, unquenchable wail had settled into their hearts and taken up permanent residence. Two lost boys . . .

          Furtively, the two of them glanced up the road toward Missus Varney's home. Indeed, Missus Varney was walking down the road in their direction. The boy who carried a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder thought, Missus Varney goes to church every Sunday. She buys blackberries and raspberries from us, could it be?

          The boy inside the boy who carried a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder trembled. He existed as only half a boy, but he had been created in that manner, so it was of no consequence. His memory of events stretched only as far back as when the small boy began to walk down the hill. He was the keeper of the pain. The guardian.

          He must always be strong, must always be on guard and must always see the approach of pain in any of its forms. He would bear all the pain. Today had been his first time of meeting Willie boy, his first taste of pain. He was still crying and screaming from the effects of his first meal. Pain did not taste good. It became only slightly more palatable when seasoned with anger and restraint as he consumed it.

          He had of necessity been forced to begin consuming his second serving of pain while the taste of his first serving still lingered on his tongue and permeated his heart. The taste had not improved.

          He did not know Missus Varney, only that she went to church every Sunday and bought blackberries and raspberries from the boy, but there she walked down the road unaware she would become a participant in this moment of his life.

          The boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder was thinking, Willie boy is afraid of Missus Varney. She owns the house his family is living in. Our heavenly father, he prayed.

          The boy inside the boy who carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder was thinking also. If Missus Varney sees us and tells us to get out of this creek, there won't be a thing Willie boy can curse us with. Our heavenly father please help us.

          Both boys were praying. The invisible stars of heaven were still hanging up there as Missus Varney approached. She was close enough that they could hear the gravel of the road skitter and crunch as she walked upon it, and see little puffs of dust slithering from the heels of her shoes.

          The two boys waited. We will wait for the exact moment Missus Varney lays her eyes upon us, they thought. Let us reach our hands into this burlap sack and be ready for that moment, then we will remove a kitten from the burlap sack.

         At that moment Missus Varney screamed with three servings of indignation, "Lord have mercy boy, what are you doing in that creek? Get yourself out of there this very minute and leave those kittens alone! I have never seen the likes of you in this world!"

          They remained silent, kitten in hand as the kitten in the water escaped and began swimming to the bank of the creek.

          "Girl what is the matter with you?" Missus Varney aimed her words at the sister clown. "Why are you just standing there, you could have saved that boy?"

          The sister clown's head drooped.

          The boy's words clung to the air much the same as the sharp taste of lemons and cinnamon cling to the tongue as he spoke, "Missus Varney ma'am, I am sorry."

          And all the while the two boys were praying silently. We thank you our heavenly father, for all you have given us this day, especially we thank you for making Missus Varney walk down this road and say a few words to us.

          "Take those kittens home boy. I know you did not do it a purpose, tell your daddy Missus Varney told him to never let her catch him doing such a thing again. Go on now."

          "Yes ma'am, thank you ma'am!"

         The two boys hurriedly waded across the creek and began to run up the hill toward Willie boy. Past the scrap iron pile, the sweet apple tree and the sassafras tree they puffed. The boy inside the boy spoke, "I will just stay with you till the next time. Don't worry, I will always be here." The boy knew his words were true. And as they ran the boy was thinking his thoughts toward his sister.

Why didn't you save me? You could have saved me.

The burlap sack with three kittens inside is only a memory now. I no longer carry it on my shoulder. And the letter is only a memory. The letter is not a keepsake, but somewhere I believe it still exists. She could have saved me from the letter. She could have instead sent her love, her support or her comforting words. The boy inside the boy who carried a burlap sack with three kittens inside on his shoulder consumed her letter. He tells me it had a terrible taste, and I know this to be true, for some of the flavor and seasoning bled through into my heart and I will carry it in the same manner I carried the burlap sack with three kittens inside.

          I still hold her tender in my heart, but she has lost my trust and my friendship. And thanks to my real sister Nita, I am alive. Thank you for your tender mercy my heavenly father. I am the boy once more.

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