Stories by Colin Burke

Elves of Autumn

I am a Lord in April. Some will say I’m dreaming, just because I’m old, and some will say I’m old because I dream, but I am a Lord in April now, and none can take that from me.

I live in a Home for Senior Citizens, the Inter-Faith Home in Corner Brook, built in woods where I roamed as a boy, for I dearly loved to roam the woods, and one day as I walked outside, just passing the room I share with Skipper Jim, with half a notion of some prank in mind, a memory came strong upon me, of berries and a blossom I had seen there, that should have been at my left side if the woods had been the same as I remembered them. It would have been just a crackerberry bush, but when I was a boy these things were beautiful, and so I bent to pick a flower for my Mom, who’s dead and gone these twenty-five years. The wall of the room, or, rather, of its bathroom, is where the berry bush had been, but I had forgotten that, and so I stooped, and there I was with my fingers around a crackerberry-flower stalk that wouldn’t break though my hand felt wondrous strong. But it was not a big thick bush like what I remembered; it was growing alone, in a clear spot in a forest, and it really was a beautiful flower. And then a young man was stopping there, a nice, well-set-up young man, though the face on him was stern enough, and he said, “You cannot pick that flower, sir.”

And I said, “No? You watch me.” And I hauled on it again. But it wouldn’t come. That young fellow said again, “You cannot pick that flower, sir, until it dies.” I hauled on it right hard, and then I said, “I’ll have en choked, sir, pretty soon.”

And then he said to me, “You cannot pick that flower, sir, until it dies. That is the law.”

“Laws were made to be broke,” says I, “and flowers is for pickin’.” But that bloody crackerberry flower wouldn’t budge, hard as I hauled. Then that young man said to me, “Peace, good man, be silent. Laws do not break in April. Follow me.”

Now I wasn’t going to follow him, because I didn’t think I was going to like where he was going. So I stayed where I was. And I figured if I started running around anywhere else in those woods, he’d find me quick enough, because it seemed to me, from the look of him, he’d know his way around them. So I stayed where I was, and backed up a step.

And there I was in the bathroom, facing the toilet, hearing the sound of someone approaching the door. I turned and softly slid the bolt, and then sat down; my legs were weak. Then I heard Skipper Jim trying the door, but I found I needed to use the toilet, so I did, with Jim cursing me for sneaking in ahead of him and staying there so long.

“I just got here, you bloody old fool,” I said to him, and his language then was awful. When he had finished the few dirty and profane phrases he had got used to over the years, he said, “Oh no, you didn’t, because Mrs. Hampton been keepin’ me talkin’ outside the door the last fifteen minutes. You had lots more time than I did.”

“I didn’t need to do it till just now,” I said. “How was I supposed to know you were too much a gentleman to tell Mrs. Hampton you were short-taken.”
“I wasn’t short-taken. I just got to do it bad.”

“Well, hold on a minute; I won’t be long.” And I wasn’t, but when I got out, Skipper Jim started yelling again, and he was so loud that Mrs. Hampton, who is chief housekeeper here, came in from the next room and knocked on the door and asked us what was going on, and old Jim said I was always hogging the bathroom like “a durned old coot” – he reads a lot of westerns, Jim does, and he needed something derogative he could say in front of a woman – and Mrs. Hampton started her speech about consideration for others Mr. Brown. With all the goings-on, I’d had just about enough for then, so I looked at her the way I figured that stern young man had looked at me, and I said, “Peace, good girl, be silent.” And, you know, she was, so I guess I said it right. And then she suddenly left our room, shaking her head. I wondered, sometimes, afterward, what she would have done if I’d said, “Follow me,” like that young man, and sat on the bed. She’s a lovely looking piece.

After that, of course, Jim was always saying I was hogging the bathroom and he had to use someone else’s much too often to be polite. And I guess I did, a little bit. But one thing no one else can ever say is where I got that lovely crackerberry flower I keep on my table and never change the water on, that hasn’t wilted at all these last six months. No, where I picked that flower one cold April month is more than they can say. But you forgive me, now. I am old, in spite of all their saying it, and I incline to ramble. I’ll write some more another time.