Sunday, September 5, 2010

STORY: Will Power

         Until she was twelve, Tanny had never really noticed magazines much. She read cartoons, and a story or two, if it looked promising, and occasionally the first page of articles. Her interest dwindled if she had to hunt up "page 137" before she knew what she was reading about. Otherwise, magazines had not interested her. What else were magazines made up of besides stories to read and ads to ignore?
     But one day, in a dog phase, when Tanny was collecting hundreds upon thousands of little pictures and big pictures of homeless mongrels and pleading spaniels and thoroughbreds disdainfully waving aside a bowl of "any other dog-food" and dogs with pheasants trailing from their mouths and dogs in baskets on doorsteps, dogs in cars, beside horses, with rabbits, on signs, under tables; dogs training elephants, dogs playing nurse, dogs swimming, barking, eating, dying, smoking, writing letters; dogs with puppies and dogs with kittens, and cats with dog-like expressions--one day, I repeat, while collecting these to trade with doggy friends, Tanny found the value of magazines. 
     One of those "I like Wallaburgers' Dog Meat because. . ." (and twenty-five cents in coin) was overlapping the picture she wanted of a poodle, eyes heavenwards, teeth clamped blissfully in a beef-steak--marked Wallaburgers'. In the blank after "because. . ." Tanny wrote, half-savagely, yet somewhat thoughtfully, ". . .it's made of real dog." She looked at the prizes. "The winner, with the most original answer," it read, "will be sent two beautifully illustrated volumes of Wright's Doggeral--absolutely free (only 50c to cover postage), with one of our membership pins." Tanny cut out the poodle and sent it in.    
     She forgot about Wallaburgers' in the next few weeks, when her dog phase shifted to Bermuda shorts, but she noticed Forms after that. Whenever Tanny came across a coupon, whether in magazines or on boxes of butter, whether for lingerie, marbles or a gymnasium set, she'd absent-mindedly cut it out and send it in. It didn't matter what they were selling or what she was involving herself in. Sometimes she wondered, later.
    In due time, came the two beaut. illus. volumes Wright's doggeral. Tanny wasn't even disappointed at finding the real meaning of doggeral had nothing to do with dogs, because by then the fad was collecting dead leaves and butterflies. Tanny pressed several moths between pages 748 and 749 in vol. 2, and forgot about them. But she continued to fill forms and cut coupons. A catcher's mitt arrived--her prize for ending a limerick which went:    
     There once was a woman who'd never
     At cooking been anything clever
          She had a sad feeling
          Her meals weren't appealing

"The last line must include the name Fredricka's Instant Marvel Poultry Seasoning."
     Two years supply of Evergreen's Mollasses for her testimonial arrived--the one describing Fluffly, flimsy, Topsy, Turvy Lemon-Custard Delight Made With Yvonne's Evergreen Molasses. Then there was the advertisement, which, for selling Christmas cards (it was March) gave you a choice of a tangerine orange or lollipop green striped umbrella; a pair of durable plastic ear muffs with heat control, or an artificial-looking radio transmitter for the Junior Party Line Club. Tanny chose the umbrella (lollipop green) but they made a mistake and sent the radio transmitter. She became a Junior Evesdropper.
     This phase developed by leaps and bounds. Collecting was Tanny's joy in life and she opened the door wide to accept her booty. She had to. Four cases pickled beets, four cases medium horse radish, pamphlets, cookbooks, travelogues and adventure stories. 374 pictures of Jerry Lewis and Fred Astaire from sixty different angles, she dutifully hung on her wall, three albums of the songs from L'il Abner, 14 miniature masterpieces by Van Gogh, Granma Moses and Edgar T. Wassletwitch, 1 pair giant maracas, two Junior Architect Building Sets with full-size blue-prints of famous racehorses (as of a 1923 election), a Muscle-Building Exercises Kit in 45 easy jujitsu holds; Tanny took full responsibility for the Guinea Pigs, the garden-flower seeds, the sample chihuahua, the bicycles, the dolls that spoke, wet, ate, slept, ran, spit, swore and kicked with amazing reality, the Hiroshima Re-construction Set (two box-tops and one flake Krispie Krunchies), the Hydrochloric Acid (on loan) and the ten original Queen Victoria stamps (only three in existence), the house-broken Siamese twins and the self-disposal units.
     But she began to feel doubtful. Secretly she auctioned off garden hoses, teddy bears and show-shining equipment among her friends. It was getting harder and harder to keep her parents from finding out, so she took mama into her confidence. Her father, by the end of that week, did not have to be told.
     "Ma-muh" cried Tanny when the dromedary cubs escaped. "Ma-muh" she cried as she picked up the 998 toy soldiers in Action. "Ma-muh" as she stuffed three pedigree hedgehogs in a drawer and turned the waste-basket upside-down on top of the uncontrollable young fer de lance.
     And yet, she still couldn't resist filling out forms--all forms, any forms. It was an addiction. Mama tried reasoning with her, and Papa, really rather timid among females, especially his own, licked his lips in bewilderment and tried bribing the mail-man to drop all letters from companies into the garbage can, but he lost more bills that way.
     And Tanny simply started searching the trash for her packages.
     But it was when the pr. Aust. wallabies arrived (plus one kangaroo rat, thrown in at no extra cost) that Mama really put her foot down. "There are hobbies and hobbies." she said firmly, fishing a mechanical spider out of her coffee. "This," she meant the full-rigged sailing-ship in the butter maybe, "is enough."
     Tanny's father made it very clear. He could get desperate when his home and family were being threatened.
     "Out" he said, with a firm voice to make up for the hunted look in his eyes. "All of it. Everything Must Go." You could hear the Capital. "And stop sending for things, Tanny."
     "But Papa." Tanny paused to lick the envelope which was to carry sketches of fruit to United Bananas Inc. "That's the thing. I can't stop."
     "You heard me." warned papa. "The junk goes or you go."
     Tanny really tried. She hunted through drawers and shelves and cupboards, ruthlessly rummaged in bins and cubbies and under beds.
     Papa came home that evening. "Tanny." he sighed. "Why is that 'mulligatawny beige' alligator of yours still in the lily pond. I thought. . ."
     "Papa! Please! Just keep Antoine. it would kill him to be crated away again."
     But papa snorted. He had grown so callous these last few days.
     "It'll kill me if he isn't crated away." he said, and then, "What did you get rid of? One bent bobby pin and a box of moldy Crackerjack?" His jaundiced eye roamed over the stalks of bananas, the pet tarantulas and cry ice, the Model Igloo and the Christmas trees, the rocking horse, window-shades and paint buckets, the 4 dozen sets of Willowware china and the Deep-Sea Diving Outfit.
     "Well?" he asked, scooping frogs, underwear and fertilizer from his easy-chair.
     "Oh, those." Tanny said miserably. "Those are what came today. I didn't have time. . ."
     When the jungle hammocks, tents and caravans arrived, Papa went off to the woods with them. He had the primus too, and the hiking boots Tanis had won, and two sacks of instant cement mix which he'd meant to fill with three months food rations but hadn't.
     Tanny had forgotten about the grand piano. They put it in her bed. The sample kegs of whiskey, however, from Alcoholics Anonymous, were locked up in the bath.
     "Stop!" cried Mama when someone tried to bring their new sedan into the kitchen. "One car in here's enough" she shouted. "What d'you think this is, anyway?! A garage?!" It was quite likely they did.
     Tanny had been expelled from school. The principal sent a coldly polite and very definate note to her mother, which, in essence, explained that protests had been flocking in from teachers and parents. Tanny, it seemed, had been bringing assorted lizards and snails and honey bears and pocket monkeys to school, hiding them in her desk and trading them among her friends. And not only that, kiwis and suckling pigs had been found in baskets on door-steps. The pygmy giraffes, accidently left overnight, in a class-room, did $100 worth of damage. Tanny paid them back in costume jewelery and Pick Up Sticks.
     And now she sat among roller skates, Persians, pot scrubbers, pressure cookers, mattresses, and cried. They had wanted to flee to the attic, as a refuge, but they couldn't find the door. Tanny was eight feet and three bushels of rubber tomahawks from a compass. So they gave up.
     "Open a box of mashed potato mix or something," Mama suggested wearily over the automatic dishwasher and opened a can of pears herself. "We'll try to get help when Papa comes back. He can't live long on cement."
     "There's only jam here." Tanny was gloomy. "Marmalade. 400 cases orange marmalade." She hated Marmalade. "And a radio." Despondently she turned it on.
     ". . . for hospital and orphanages all over the country." It was saying. "Just bring all your old toys, animals, playthings, anything you would like to donate to the Association of Ardent Helpers, and for every six items, the A.A.H's will give you a free feather. . ."
     "Mama!" called Tanny. "That's what I'll do!"
    And rushed upstairs, knocking typewriters and rolls of linoleum to left and right.
     But it was only Mama, battling her way between 6-foot beach-balls and grandfather clocks to turn off the radio, who heard it babble on: ". . .And, what's more, for every ten feathers, folks, the AAH's will give you your choice between a pair or white mice or a couple of hamsters. Just think of all the fun. . ."
     But Mama wasn't thinking of the fun. She was thinking of sun-glasses, saddles, cases of soap and of Mexican blankets and the crates of doilies and the waffle-irons. And, of hundreds of white mice, thousands of hamsters, and trillions of young ones. . . the pattering of little feet. And, visibly, Mama began to pale.     

Written right around 14th birthday.

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