Art by Norman E. Masters
the present day world is forgotten"
from PARADISE PLAYLAND
In the town of Paradise, on the corner of Main Street and Seneca Avenue, there was an old high house of stone which was used as a camp during the summer by the Durant family. The walls did not lack ivy, and each window was bracketed by shutters which were yellow and usually open. On the back porch was a tinkly wind harp, two ebony rocking chairs with roses stenciled on their backs set a few feet apart, and four geranium pots in a row; the first was a big one, and then came a smaller one, the third was a tiny pot, the last was a great big pot just two feet tall. Stone steps led off the wooden porch to a sidewalk which had grass growing between the cracks. The sidewalk angled toward an old big barn; at the side of the barn was a hedge-bordered lawn.
In one of the lawn's inner corners, away from the street, huddled against the massive barn, was a brick fireplace. There was a bag of charcoal laying beside it; a large box of marshmallows rested atop the charcoal accompanied by two dozen coat hangers twisted into V's for use as marshmallow spears.
Around the lawn were wicker chairs, a table, a bench, a beach chair of canvas: green and orange.
Night was necessary to reveal the lawn's old world atmosphere. Overhead on parallel wires eight feet off the ground were strung Chinese paper lanterns, and alternating with them were Christmas tree bulbs: red, amber, blue. The light was reflected coldly, glassily from the window of the night-darkened barn, was echoed up warmly from the grass; it seemed to permeate through the night, and even the green mosquito light burning in one of the outer corners could not be excluded from the total effect. The world beyond the hedge seemed far away.
There were on the table twenty-four paraffin-coated paper cups in a stack; a spoon, moist from stirring; and two quart crystal pitchers of foam-topped Kool-Aid. Lime.
With the addition of people came a quiet murmur of conversation and soft laughter. Perhaps there would be an expressive harmonica rendition or everyone would gather around and join in a group song or two: "My Evaline", "Shine", "Goodbye Mr. Coney Island Baby". People lost their identities. They became merely voices; and their bodies, sitting or standing in the darkness past the fringe of firelight, were only incidentals. Voices swelled and spiraled and interlaced. A piece of paper, like a light and feathery galleon of ash, sailed up; it was second in beauty only to the voices.
A paper cup was filled, then drained and crumpled and thrown into the fireplace, amidst marshmallow tipped hangers. The cup spat and sizzled, momentarily resisting the heat; then blackened and bloomed, with a little whuff of noise, into flame, surrendering. Dots of fire snapped out at the night. On faces there was the warm flicker of firelight; across the side of the barn shadows danced and wavered.
The house, and especially the lawn, seemed to possess the unique quality of being able to exist entirely within themselves, of belonging not to the corner of Main Street and Seneca Avenue in the town of Paradise, or even to this particular corner of time, but to an entirely different era, one lost somewhere in the past. When you step off that porch and enter into the strange land of that hedge-bordered lawn, the soft whirring of tires on the light-splashed streets ten feet away becomes unimportant and the present day world is forgotten.
The two dozen boys and girls were gathered this evening around the chaise lounge upon which reclined the tiny figure of Dirk Durant -- for she it was who lived in this old high house.
Tiny Dirk with her golden hair shining radiantly, seeming to have a faint inner luminescence of its own, with sloppy scuffs through the open-toed ends of which came her tiny pink toes with the toenails painted green, tan slacks, a green boyishly cut shortsleeved blouse, and her face which held a much rehearsed sweet, but rather bored, expression.
She looked at the boy who was strumming the ukelele with a gray felt pick, at the boys and girls around her, the two dozen of whom formed what was known around the school as Dirk's Set, most of them now singing not actually with her because she was not singing, but around her. She squeezed the lemon slice between her tiny fingers, then dropped it to the grass. She was weary of the whole setting; she looked first into tumbler, then at the nail polish which was flecking from her toenails greenly.
Dirk's Set kept singing.
They stopped, trailing off uncertainly into the Chinese lantern lit darkness. "But we're just gettin' warmed up, Dirk," a voice whined pleadingly.
"Stop it, I said. I'm _bored_."
The members of the Set looked around at each other, wondering.
"Get me another lemonade."
Someone did. She did not thank him.
"We could go over to Paradise Playland."
"Noop." It was the clique's word for no.
"How about over to Bauer's?"
"Definitely noop." She yawned. "In fact, I'm so bored I think I'll go in and go to bed. Good night all." And she was gone. The others dwindled away. Dirk had not told any of the members of her Set, but she had not gone into the house because she was bored, but for an entirely different reason: she had had a dream that morning.
She lay in bed without opening her eyes, the light cottony feel of the sheet over her, and the delicate dacron touch of the gently clinging shorty pajamas against her body. She let her hands stroke smoothly across the body, resting lightly on the legs feeling the short golden furze, the short smooth stretch of stomach flowing into the rib cage, the arms, the neck, the face, the finger stranding the silken hair, the tiny hands flowing all over the small body. Yet there was almost a sense of horror about what was soon to happen. She had awakened not quite knowing what it was that had plucked her from the hem of sleep. Perhaps it was the downstroke of rain against the shutter or the whisper of a faucet somewhere in the still-sleeping house around her. In a mood which would not quite allow even the semi-transparent dacron pajamas, she touched them. She slipped her tan feet into moccasins feeling the soft wool lining much too warm for August and moved to the shuttered window and leaning on the sill unlatched the shutter and pushed it away from her; but it went faster than she had pushed it, arcing around as if on giganticsteelsprings clapping against the house thunderlike and then with the noise of the shutters roaring in her ears she looked out of the window across the lawn stretching away in the stillness of the slightly foggy gray rind of morning, her eyes slowing, trying to close or stop, the tiny head attempting to turn but being unable to, having to see the thing which made her scream into awakeness: the tiny Dirk Durant standing with her hands resting lightly on the window sill, her tiny feet snug in the moccasins, tan with white stitching and a green dragon printed on each, the cool morning air flowing fluidly into the room past her body as she looked down and across the back lawn to the fireplace, next to which was, small and ivory, a coffin, and in it the tiny figure of Dirk Durant.