Short Story Series: ‘Dear Johnny’

Dear Johnny,
I am sorry it’s been so long since last I wrote. It seems always something of a disappointment that we think to write only too late or at the prompting of life-altering events. And I am only too sorry to say that it is thanks to the latter that I am writing you now. Yesterday morning my dearest and only uncle fell down the stairs in his own home just minutes before his and my aunt’s scheduled departure time for a road trip that would have seen them stop to visit extended family briefly while en route to finally end up with my side of the family at about exactly the time that I found out this morning that he’d passed away. One of those freak accidents you just can’t believe can ever actually happen to anyone, let alone a direct member of your family. I’ve been down those stairs half a million times myself and just can’t believe they could ever cause anyone even the slightest bit of harm…It just doesn’t seem possible. My cousins’ children played together on those same stairs just a month ago when last we were there.

Tonight I went to Christmas mass here and thought about an awful lot. First I thought that I should write you, as it’s been quite a while. At one point a small ache in my head (which I’m fairly certain arose from standing so long since there were no free seats when we arrived and half the audience was standing for the entirety of the service) reminded me of an incident three days prior in which –upon entering a store to purchase a present for one of my closest friends here (whom I essentially consider a brother) – I leaned in quickly to eyeball a display case, only to discover that a rather thick piece of glass I hadn’t noticed was keeping me from it. The shock of it almost hurt more than the impact itself. Almost. For the half hour I shopped I still felt the echoes of the collision and began to fear I’d gotten a concussion. And I’ll tell you why. About a year and a half ago I got a phone call from a dear friend (with whom I still keep in touch, probably a touch better than I do with you). And she told me all about a strange experience she’d had in the last 24 hours. It was in the late hours of the previous night that it all started; she went to a party and everything was fine until a very good friend of hers arrived. You see, they ran to greet each other and hugged so quickly that their heads hit lightly together. She didn’t think anything of it in the moment except to rub her head because it did hurt, but not too much. Anyway, she went on with the party and didn’t feel all that strange. The strange part started when she left. She was driving herself home and told me she started to have weird thoughts; that she felt like the steering wheel was on fire and her head was kinda icy. She saw a small light off in the distance of the darkness and her first thought was that it was UFO. But her second thought was that she was and had always been an alien disguised in a human vessel. Now she was half certain they’d come back to pick her up and find out what she’d learned in her time on Earth. And when she got home (because it hadn’t been a UFO after all, or if it was, it hadn’t been ready to pick her up just yet) she hopped on her bed without getting in her pajamas or even getting under the covers. And she just laid there a while thinking about all sorts of weird things like how the walls looked soft and it felt like the ceiling was slowly sinking down on top of her…

Her boyfriend called and she just sort of picked up the phone without answering and stared at it until it stopped ringing. She actually thought it had stopped ringing because she’d stared at it long enough…Those fucking stairs. Anyway at some point she dosed off in the middle of her bizarre thought sequence with the phone still in her hand. And after sleeping for something like 14 hours, she awoke to the sound of her phone ringing once again. It was her sister. And her sister wanted to know why she’d slept so long. And she told her sister she didn’t know and that her head was on fire (probably from the steering wheel earlier), but the kind of fire made out of cold-blue flames and fell back asleep. Well, the sister rushed home and took her to the hospital. They got her all fixed up, and in the end everything was fine, but they found out she’d had a concussion. And she was lucky to be fine because when you get one they say you aren’t supposed to go to sleep. It’s about the last thing you’re supposed to do with a concussion apart from dying.
Anyway I guess the point is, these crazy things really do happen, even when we don’t find out about ‘em until later or sometimes not at all. You know, just last night I prayed for the safety of my whole family for the first time in a long time, only to find out my prayer was a day too late. You think God was trying to make a point? Sure is an ugly one if he was.

Standing through that whole mass hearing a service in somethin’ other than English sure got me thinking (not that it being in English woulda changed much – just woulda made it harder to think). And I spent a lot of time just lookin’. Just taking in the architecture and the paintings…it reminded me of what my grandpa used to say. He’d say, “Remember, the church is only good for 3 things: great art, great stories, and great architecture. All the rest is garbage.” HE told me that every time I saw him until he went off and got lost in his own head…

All these damn head injuries and the fact that I’m writing to you in pencil (a true oddity – I never write in pencil) reminds me of an incident in middle school. It was in the sixth grade. We were in life skills class, doing some activity when a kid in my group wanted my pencil for whatever reason (the very one I was writing with) and tried to pry it write from my hands. I held on tight, and before I knew it, the pencil (lead facing me) had hit me square in the forehead. It hurt, but as always, the shock of it hurt more than anything. That’s always what hurts most, isn’t it? The shock of it all.

You know, it’s strange, but , it seems when you aren’t faced with the concrete evidence of it, the only difference between life and death is a few words. If I hadn’t heard about my uncle’s death until after I got back, he wouldn’t lived about three weeks longer…

And it’s funny how sacred things get once people aren’t around. A friend might bring you the ugliest coffee mug you’ve ever seen, but if they brought it all the way from Japan, that just doesn’t matter. And say that friend then moves away to Japan? It’ll become your favorite mug for sure. A sacred relic. Luckily my Uncle had taste and the last thing he gave me was a beautiful poster of my favorite city. He’d been there too, a long time ago. It really was a fantastic poster; one of the best I’d ever seen. I loved it from the moment I saw it, but now it has certainly been elevated to the status of a sacred relic.

Out of all the shit I’ve collected over the years, it’s certainly one of the most important things I own. Can’t believe a big old guy like that could be done in by something so silly! You remember how big he was? You saw him last summer in California, remember? Always cared about everyone, he did.

I know this whole letter has been about me, but I really do hope you’re doing well too. I thought of a new story you might want to use for a movie. I’d be scoring it, of course. And I thought of it during the mass, standing there in the mass of people, thinking about all the natives of all parts of the world, both massacred and enslaved in the name of religion. So, the movie I have for you is that of a North America run by its Native people, who fought viciously to protect their God-given land from the European Bastard-intruders. They didn’t kill’em all off, no, but just enough of ‘em so as to send a message once the first few had tried so much as to tell them how to live their lives right in the grace of God. So that was the country’s beginnings, and about 15% of the Euros were slain, about 20% stayed to work for and with the Natives and the rest of the lot just went back to Europe to be sad. So that was the beginning, and now it’s a true country of the people; there isn’t even a North and South America – just “America” and everyone’s a heck of a lot happier. There isn’t a national debt because there isn’t a government. People travel anywhere they want in America, from the very top of what we call Canada to the bottom tip of of our South America, if they can find a way to do so. Material possessions are pretty scarce, except for those that people make themselves, and even then usually as gifts for others. So there are only about 100,000 cars in the whole damn place from top to bottom. Everyone cultivates their own food – but together on a per/village basis, and the average age is something like 112 as a result. People are much happier and healthier in their world than we are in ours…they don’t have most of our inventions, and not because they weren’t smart enough to think ‘em up or anything silly like that, but because most people couldn’t see the point in actually making most of their inventions realities. They live in a world free of advertising, where the countryside stays the countryside, clean as it’s ever been. No billboards and no trash. Anyone in the world is welcome to emigrate away from their country and immigrate to America, as long as they bring only peace and harmony with them, and abide by the rules of their land and lifestyle. These ideals prove problematic for other countries when men declared traitors and tried for treason in their homeland flee to America. Other countries try to persuade America that they are harboring criminals, but for the Americans, those who have committed ‘intellectual’ crimes and do nothing but right on American soil are not criminals at all.

So there it is, the whole story (or at least as much as I’ve got so far) if you ever decide to film it. I know, it would proably cost a pretty penny (or maybe just a couple pennies if you decide to shoot it that way) but I’ll give you a nice start by handing over the story rights for free, because you always over-pay me for the scores anyway, which I would also gladly do for free if I didn’t have to pay for food like the Americans in the story don’t. They don’t have any damn stairs either, I tell you what…

At one point I looked right straight up overhead to witness the painting way up on the wall above the priest. It was really a painting; an incredible piece of work. The kind of thing you just look at, and in an instant you know exactly what everyone’s always been talking about when they talk about emotion in a painting, in the brushstrokes, stuff like that. It almost brought me to tears right then and there, I tell you what…it was just this incredible piece – I actually remembered it and had to look it up when I got home. It was called ‘The Beheading of John the Baptist’ – just like you, except last time I checked you’re not Baptist. Anyway it was just this breathtaking scene, and John had just had his head cut off and his body was just lying there and his executioner held the head up high for everyone to see, there were all these maids standing around just kinda wanting to help and clean up the mess and not really even looking astounded at all by what they’d just witnessed. Pretty crazy, really. Seeing that sword made me feel it cutting through my core…and I thought about it cutting off my uncle’s head…When I looked up the painting to find out what it was called, I saw there were about a dozen painting with the same scene…but none of them really compared to this one in artistry or brutality…

Anyway, I guess that’s all for now. I hope to hear from you soon and imagine that by the time you receive this we will already be well into the new year, so I hope you had a Merry Christmas and an excellent New Year’s Eve.

All my best to you and yours.
Until then,
Walter.

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