The Portrait of WS ((Raison D’etre) (Reason to Be))

Chapter One

You could barely at times, during the onset, stand the crying, the noise the razor-strip made across his back, I speak of those who could hear the slashing and echo the thin leather strip strap made; it was made for sharpening a razor not for whippings. Those in the extended family, learned to acquire deaf ears while the old man was in his mood, the neighbors in the summer with their windows down, open to the air, could hear, they also learned to tolerate the ongoing affair, calling it a ‘slight disturbance’; perhaps the truth, the whole truth, was, they were getting accustomed to it, thus in such a process one minimizes, if not completely putting it into a dead chamber of ones mind-you know what I mean, the old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Something likes that. No one knew what the reasons were for his beatings, why he battered with the razor strap W.S., perhaps not even the old man knew why he did, what he did, nonetheless, he did it.

His wife, the old man’s wife, W.S. ‘s mother, had been dead now for some years, double pneumonia-the Minnesota winters can be hard on ones body, and it was on her’s-she gave the old man eight children to raise though, perchance that played a role in why the old man chose W.S., to take out his frustrations on; sometimes we do that, pick out a certain individual, person-save we don’t take it out on all-to displace our anger (and yes, anger can come out sideways, if it is not directed toward the reason and person one is angry at, in many ways, as I mentioned before, frustration being a lighter form of anger, like trying to push a door open and someone is behind it as a counter weight pushing it in the opposite direction, thus comes the anger, the frustration the irritation in life, it comes from not being able to open the door), and now that his wife was dead, his help mate, and not being able to speak English well, being from Russia, and having the children at hand, working two jobs, W.S., was his release.

In the cellar, where he kept his pigeons, he raised a horde of them, that is where he took W.S., quietly down a wooden flight of stairs, pulling him by one ear, stretching it out as if he wanted to pull it off, yet he didn’t allow himself the pleasure, lest he be considered inhuman, a beast, and he assured himself that-he was not.

He had him lay over the edge of a table, shirt off, pants down, and he whipped him, upper legs, buttocks, lower and upper back and across the spine, up to his lower part of his shoulders, but not on exposed areas, only areas that he would cover up later with his cloths.

The rhythm of the leather razor strip, rapidity went smoothly across those exposed areas, almost spaced perfectly in time, as if he was playing a piano in 4/4 time, from one to the next hack, as if he had it tuned perfectly, that being his arms reached the proper distance with the wave of the strap, and the slap of it on flesh, to produce little red marks, on his pink flesh, but not cutting him. He endured these beatings several times a year, for years…

(Interlude) We look for reasons why people do what they do, sometimes, when we can’t find them, it simply comes under, reason to being, a motive for existence. Perhaps the old man knew, things give in, fall apart, and he could (as in his homeland of Russia), they always have, like the falling stars, the shooting astounds in the night sky, fall, never to be seen again (he was sending money home to his mother, now in Warsaw, and he’d never see her again, and his father who fell off a roof in Russia, he’d never return) possibly he felt he was in a strange sea, and if he stopped doing what he was doing, he’d fall off that same roof, or disappear like the asteroids, the falling stars, he was as if sanding under a lit lantern, tied to a mast, and forgot what happiness was, and when things don’t work out as you plan, where was he to go, he didn’t read, study the news per se, he didn’t drink much, he couldn’t go back home, to Russia, had he done that, it would have been like jumping back into the depths of the sea. Consequently, W.S., was his discharge, his savior, his way to get back to sanity.

and he who beat the strap so cunningly, from years of practice now, being 82-years old, looked everyday of his age. His legs were beginning to become wobbly, unbalanced, and weak in strength and endurance. His thin straight hair, lay flat on his balding head, and his dark eyebrows, once bushy, now were thinning out, like loose threads, just lying dormant almost to his eyelashes, with no flexibility to bring them back up to life. His forehead extended backwards, as if it was a receding glacier, unrelenting and soon to be completely balled. His eyes were being pushed back farther into his eye-sockets, and the sockets were deeper and wider than they had ever been, almost as if they were tapped onto the skull itself by a hammer-, spot-welded on for survival sake, like a tapered pair of pants, then ironed onto the skull. His eyes had dark pinholes for irises, thinner than a ghost’s mist. He was shockingly cadaverous looking in posture and looks.

W.S., didn’t know his father’s daytime hopes and aspirations, other than they were most likely connected to his insomnia, and for each person, it is different, it comes in essence, in a different package, not sure if any one person knows the other person that well to figure out that package but between he and his father it was an ever widening interval, and perhaps his troubles commenced with the war, scarcely did he talk about it, and when he did, he got deeply engrossed, as if awakened from or into a nightmare, pin-pricked in the finger (often times we think we know the other person, only to find out later one, we have simple reviewed our own personal suspicions of the other person, something W.S., never did), and those nights, the ones where prior that day he talked about the war, he, W.S., would end up usually, flipping on the bedroom light, as his father would be uttering something (something haunting), and a wild scream would follow, as if he was charging, devouring the man in front of him, and after that he was very, very tired, and W.S., would walk him back to his bed, in the morning never knowing a thing about anything the previous night, he though, the old man thought, he was in a total sleep, never figuring out, the intermittent horrors-of his sleep-walking; such an undertaking, interlocking circumstance, for W.S., yet, they generally seemed thin to him, diminished in force and urgency, and viewed in his mind more as a coincident for a lighter subject: conceivably more on the order of ills of an old man’s functioning body.

On the other hand, W.S., was sympathetic to his father’s ill and eternal quivering in the bed, trying to get to sleep, again imagining but not quite honoring his imagination for realism, he thought the war might have stayed with him, the Civil War, and those great battles he talked about, to the point of bringing him to the edge of an abyss, and should he fall face first, forward and viciously down into that abyss, an endless grimy tragedy was waiting, he saw his demons there, singing him a lullaby, and their only wish was to enfold him into their nightmare.

But the old man was aging, his skin starting to sag; forearms were forming lasting wrinkles, muscle tone deflated, and the muscles knotting up from lack of use, and over use, and outstretched skin. And those once thick Russian bones were now bending, he lost height, none that he could really afford to lose, he was only five-footed two inches tall to begin with. Even his silver watch, around his wrist left a thick impression in his flesh when he took it off at night, twice as deep as it was a few years back, and the watch, was dulling as was his skin tone.

“Oh yes,” he yelped, as he punished rapidly with his descending whip and thrust of the strap on the back of W.S., muttered something (with the eyes of five-thousand hungry dogs) and the old man said,

“Oh no, I know you did!”

Ah, W.S., muttered something back, and the old man said,

“Oh no, I know you did,” and caught his breath, then added “I’ll take the devil out of you yet!”
But W.S., would not disclose his sisters name, the one he did this and that with, his so called sidekick, and had he disclosed here name, I doubt, the old man would have done anything about it anyhow, he would have blamed W.S., for leading her astray; thus, whipping him more, and at the same time, wiping her soul clean, sanctifying her by proxy. Sometimes W.S., and his sister, the third of the eight in age, would run off and into the city, returning late, or not returning until the next day-this was a peeve with the old man, amongst other things.

Chapter Two

The old man cursed worse than a dying warlock, he had a hard time with the English language, but not with the English cursing words. It was as if some evil spirit cast a spell upon him, during his voyage over from Europe, to New York City.

The old man had run away from home when he was only ten-years old, a stowaway on a ship, it was 1864, when he arrived in the United States, and somehow found himself in a war between the states at eleven years old. Thereafter, in 1866, he found his way to St. Paul, Minnesota, along the Mississippi, making his way up from New Orleans and St. Louis. What happened in-between, was all hearsay, the old man was never that coherent to put the pieces back together for anyone to create a complete and finished story out of those years.

But getting back to W.S., he simply endured like a dutiful and proud son he was, from a stock of Russian and Polish descendants, his grandmother being of that second order.

The father, the old man that is, shameless in his degraded anger, buried a lovely and church going wife, a woman of some breeding, a second wife that is, he had rid himself of a previous wife, whom he had no children with, and was only married a short time to in comparison to his second wife, whom the first was nothing less than a drunk. He had kicked her out of the house, and went looking for a new one; almost as if it was a commodity he was looking for.

After his wife had died, he had gathered most of her things, so many things, of fifteen years of buying, and therefore he had only the things around him he was fond of, which was to the old man very edifying, a black mantle clock, a picture of him and his wife by the clock in the living room, and in his bedroom a medal from the Army he was given. He had very few impressive photographs of old, but the one he had, he’d look at very preciously, of course at this point and time, it was late in life for him. Hidden in his sofa chair W.S., had found one some pornographic black and white pictures, photographs of a young woman, she looked familiar, from up the block, W.S., put them back in the same location, it was a shame he thought, he had even found them. He looked already as a man on his death bed, yet he’d live longer, W.S., knew this and was hopeful he did, such folks always do, it seems, it is as if God himself, is giving them an extra chance to repent. He had kindness in him, otherwise he’d not have raised eight kids, save for it was simply kindness stretched out ineffectual. All in all, he had the good taste, not to marry a third time, lest he endure more frustration, anger, and dissatisfaction, and that would just not do.

The woes of so many people, in his life haunted him-W.S., was sure of that, from Russia to the Civil War, to his first drunken wife, and then onto his beautiful beloved second wife, and her death, as if this was some theatrical introduction to a classic drama to be played out on state, so W.S., often would ponder on, undertook to reissue his old thoughts and collect his new ones. He was always trying to figure out what made the old man tick.

There was at this time, the neighbours who honourable stood by staring out their windows, laughing at the cries of the boy, as if ready to applaud, if only they had an actual eyeful of the subdued in their mist. This was never on his mind though, the old man was many things, but he was not trying to feed the pleasures of others, but most frequently did, in his underground hush-hush, and these cries were of course prior to the boy’s teens, once he reached the adolescent state, he never cried again, matte of fact, he was taller than the old man, and stronger.

Oh yes, W.S., endured and even murmured to his father as he was being beat on his 15th birthday, the old man breathless,

“Take me to the shed pa, so the neighbour’s won’t hear and say bad things about you.”

But the old man never paused to listen, and therefore, the beatings remained in the cellar.
W.S., made no attempts to run away, not for good anyhow, he and his sister E.S., were tied together like Amos and Andy on the Radio broadcast they had weekly, they were sidekicks, sort of, but too often this gave the old man more reason to beat W.S., to punish him, to slash him with the leather strap, and listen to the blows, but now with no tears, or cries, silent was his victim, and accordingly, much of the pleasure dissolved.

About this time, 1940, the boy being seventeen-years old now, the old man asked W.S., “Vhy yo no cry?” (The old man now 93-years old)

The old man was exhausted from giving W.S., a beating, he even dropped the leather strap to the floor, his fingers stiff, didn’t even feel the leather fall out of his grips. He then caught his breath back, shook his head.

“It doesn’t hurt that much any more father,” said W.S., the old man had lost his strength, his ability to put that much force into the wave of the leather strap, and half the slashes, hit the table, not the boy, his aim was off, his balance was terrible, he almost fell on top of the boy.

This day, the old man stood stone-still, looked about, he was disorientated, couldn’t figure out exactly where he was. So much anger, so much death in the back of his head, swollen skies, not much life, he murmured, “…everythin’ goin’ to hell…!”

He was dizzy; his head felt like it was crashing, like thunder falling from eardrum to eardrum. W.S., helped his father to sit down in a chair nearby, then halfway down-bending his knees, he stood straight up, pushed the chair away from him, now regaining his strength.

The boy, if anything was very proud of his father, proud he had fought in the Civil War, to him a hero, and W.S., being the last, and youngest of the eight children, born in 1923, having missed the great War, told his father, “Pa, I’m going to enlist in the Army, I want to fight in this new war in Europe.”

That was the last of his beatings that day, he’d never get another.

The boy smiled when he told his father his ambition, and for the first time in his life, he smiled back. Matter of fact, he would comment to his neighbours in due time, of his boys intentions which would be reality in a matter of month.

As W.S., stood there, waiting to get a second beating, thinking his father was going to give him a second beating, now that he had his strength back, and especially for talking back to him, the old man simply turned about, walked quietly up the old wooden stairs, mumbling and swearing, but proudly this time.

Chapter Three

The boy knew, it was hard for his father to live amongst the herd (society), where there was more wolves than lambs-and his communicational skills were dull at best, and that the wolves get hungry and have to eat, and we cannot stray too far off, lest, finding the lambs may eat us also. He had no special gospel to teach his children such things, or the words, he knew they had to learn this on their own, let us assume, he didn’t like it, or half didn’t like it, having to teach them, having no teaching skills, and if the leather strap helped teach W.S., how terrible his father could be, then how bad could the wolves be, or even the lambs. He was somewhat relieved when he was told W.S., was going into the Army, this would be his teacher.

For himself, he was a man wrapped up some, with domestic rats, his ways were cut from an old carpet you might say, and in a few months his boy would be gone. “How strange,” he mumbled as he often did, “I didn’t suspect it,” he uttered to the mirror as he walked by his black mantle clock, looking at Ella, his wife; seeing how old and ugly he had turned into, all those 90-plus years weighing on him.

Once there was a whole lot of him, by and by it disappeared, like his sleep was doing, if anything, to want for sleep, and not have it, and to be in bed, and sleep not, was his worse curse you might say.

He loved Ella, she was the only perfectly respectable girl in his life, no matter how long she lived, she would never leave his mind, well I suppose it isn’t quite true, Oh-h-h! he found that one young girl, some thirty-years younger than he, up the block, the one W.S., found the photos of, and he W.S., had talked once to the girl, visited her one afternoon, who introduced him to her three children, and when he left, she said in passing, quietly,

“Your father bought me this house, and these children, belong to him.”

He never mentioned it to anyone, it was as if he got slapped in the face, but then each man must live his own life.

She had said to him, as he sat in the kitchen listening to her,

“I’m giving a dinner tonight, I want you to come.”

But he refused, nicely. Not so much because he wanted to, nor was he trying to be rude, he just felt out of place,

“Look me up in the future,” she said. But he never would.

That summer was a hot moist summer, 1940, the air with gossiping with mosquitoes, and the mosquitoes were attacking every living thing, and the thunderstorms brought bitterness to two cities, of St. Paul, and Minneapolis, destroying homes in the countryside, and folks slept outside on the grass it got so hot, foreheads sweating, people dying of heatstroke, it was the summer W.S., would join the Army.

If W.S., was angry at his father, it was because he would not let him love him, nothing else, matter of fact, E.S., often asked,

“Why aren’t you a bit heated at father, I don’t understand, he never treated you fairly?”

He couldn’t answer that question, he didn’t know the answer, but E.S., understood, with his staring eyes of forgiveness; to E.S., it was like the old man poured black rain on him, and the more he poured the more bright he became, he wanted if anything, W.S., wanted for his father that is, happiness, something he lost along the way of life.

E.S., was no longer a woman servant either, as many were in those far-off wondrous days, she had worked for four-years as a servant (as her other sisters had off and on) in a household, living at home when she could, and staying in the master’s household, with their children, and cleaning, and so forth, when they needed her, she had been paid very little, but was fed, and clothed, and that helped her father out.

Now she was going to go work for the munitions plant, they were hiring. Thus, things were chaining for all.

In the old man’s household, there was neither frost nor famine, per se, he was a hard worker, a painter of houses, buildings, and half owned a restaurant on Wabasha Street, in St. Paul, there he made his Russian stews, and so forth. His job paid him well, and he took on some side jobs, that paid him cash in silver dollars. And he worked up to the last three years of his life.

This was indeed a changing summer for everyone, for E.S., and his sidekick sister, E.S., and the oldest sister had gotten married, Ann, and even for the old man, he was making more money from the restaurant than he expected, and now on Social Security, as he must have thought, ‘why now, why at the end of my life do I get what I really don’t need, success, I should have got it back when…?’

And it came to pass, W.S., departed for the Army, and would spend most of his time near and at the end of the war, in Florence, Italy,

Chapter Four

No matter which way one thinks of it, W.S., had inherited from someone, perhaps his mother, the character in large degree, namely, patience, call it a virtue. Having said that, he received in the five-years he was in the military, or near five-years, the rank of Sergeant. By and large, he was a sharp trooper, and all who knew him liked him, he was the driver for a Colonial.

On occasion, he conservatively sent home some money to help feed the extended family, his father now slightly ill, and unable to work at his restaurant.

The war was a pale mooned war, for W.S., he dreamed on, and of the summer he had with is family, that being, 1940, the one he had spent with his sisters, and father. It was the summer he was treated as an equal by his father, or at least, he put a light in his strap

On the other hand, the war grew faint the first few years, it would sweep over though…and he’d find some shade by a tree in the afternoons, and dream about going home with his uniform on, and standing proudly by his father, as if to be among men, gods and ghosts.

During the last days of the war, he got to see the gorgeous Vatican, sharp against the night light of the moon; he listened to the organs tremble during the day, and loitered through the corridors thereafter.

From the moment when, as a young boy, handsome, he’d gaze out of his bedroom window into the imaginary future, as if he had an audience, watching his progress, he imagined he was in some kind of accidental glamorous life, and it was just that now, he felt he was almost a star, in the cinema, but he wanted to go home and see his pa, that took precedence.

Upon W.S.’s return home from the war, 1945, he found his father in his sofa chair dead, neck stretched and head lying against the back of the chair.

W.S., stood in shock, his mouth open, wide open, his uniform on, his brass shinned, his heart pressing against the walls of his inner being, he gasped for air-he noticed he was thin, too thin, but no pain on his face, he was 98-years old, he held a letter in his right hand, which laid across his lap, it had the insignia of the Army on it, he had received it a few hours earlier, it was now 11:00 a.m., June 16, 1945.

W.S., felt his father’s arms, his blood was still warm, he took the letter, it had his name on it, he seen from the side of his eye, at a glace, as he scanned his father’s body, tears rolling down his cheeks as if a lock from the Panama Canal had been opened, and a flood of water was being released, he saw the part of the letter that read, “…killed in action, in Italy, May 29, 1945.”
Today would be the second time in W.S.’s life he’d notice a smile on his father’s face. A withered smile, but a smile nonetheless.

‘God had been kind,’ murmured, W.S., he died with little to no pain, and he died thinking his son was a hero, like him; that was the happiness he could not give him directly, but somehow his father got it indirectly. For once in his life, he pleased his father; and if there was anything analogous to this, it was just that, the letter indicated he died in some great battle, likened to the ones he must have saw, and maybe even partook in, he was quite young in the Civil War years.
Had he knew, the old man known, W.S., was a Colonel’s driver, things might not have been so spectacular for the old man, at that vital moment, he might have died from a heart attack because his son was no more than a driver. Even if it wasn’t true, and it wasn’t true indeed, W.S., was no hero of that sort, although, had he been given the chance, he may have been: in any case, he filled his father’s expectations, by another man’s death.



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