Colours

Colours is dedicated to the late Donald Grant DeMan. This story somehow grew out of last summer’s running debate we had over the War of 1812: The unexpected twists in the story line did draw not a few chuckles from the master of the short story art.

by John Davis Collins.....© 2001 by John F. Clennan, All Rights Reserved


This July day was sultry, so hot not even the usual beach bound traffic moved along M-1-A Highway. Spreading brushes and paint cans by the edge of the four-lane road, I looked at the red, white and blue swirl snaking up the pole upholding the letterbox in front of my office.

I grunted as I quoted sarcastically from the Endless Verse.

And we was true
We brave few
Who seen it through
All the seasons of disorder.

Military Police Blotter was published by the legendary Bill Loepkey's Inditer Dot Com of Canada.

Against advancing illness and frustration which the legal system imposed, Bill Loepkey promoted literature and culture on the internet. It is no small recognition that his countrymen have hono[u]red Bill in their Bibliotek Nationale.

In the distance the War memorial, Pharaoh’s needle teetered on its sand dune foundation but cast no shadow protecting from the bleating sun.

How would I repair the swirling colors? I wasn’t any kind of artist? But neither was Nicky, the cleaning man who had presented me with the barber pole as a patriotic gesture.

I remembered the morning the previous year, when I pulled into my parking lot to find Nicky with a plastered grin, putting the finishing touches on his red-white-and-blue patriotic gesture.

I looked to the Vietnam Memorial hastily planted on a sand dune in the patriotic euphoria after the War in Granada. By the time of the fighting in the Gulf, the Great Phallic had started to tilt. The red-white-and-blue recently painted on the tip of the monument made the tilting spiral look like a gigantic middle finger.

“Left askew
lost from view
fading traces of
forgotten faces
Gone the Gentle hue
of laughter.”

Nicky looked at me quizzically. “Is that part of ‘we were true to the Red, White and Blue,’” Nicky quoted the inscription at the bottom of the pyramid, a corny sanitized version of the underground poem, the Endless Verse.

Nodding to Nicky, I entered without a word. War fever was everywhere. Even Pat the last remaining Vietnam straggler who still dragged a shopping cart along the M-1-A Highway was out selling flags and pennants instead of begging.

Inside the secretaries were huddled with the paralegal; all bore pained smiles of co-conspirators awaiting my reaction.

I leafed through the mail. War fever burned in the jails. Several prisoners I represented had prepared written requests to the Governor to pardon them so they could enlist.

“Others,” I laughed, “beat these prisoners to it. Army and even Marine recruiters have been working the criminal courts building for a year before this - - impromptu war began.” I handed the letters to the paralegal. “Nonetheless, His Excellency’s decision not mine. Forward to the Governor’s office.”

I looked around at puzzled faces. “Ladies, we’re running a law office. Let’s get to work.”

Nicky had come in and was standing behind me with his arms crossed. “Will you patriotically paint my trash cans or just salute them today?” I asked.

When I retreated to my office, I decided against polemics with the girls. They were too young to appreciate the time which had produced the never-ending verse of “endless verses / of screaming curses.” Nicky was older and could use a lesson.

I said nothing further until April.

By April, the fighting in the Gulf petered out into some cloudy truce. The banners which the businesses along M-1-A Highway sprouted, were put away. Pat the scraggly lonely straggler from the Vietnam War couldn’t give away the flags left in his shopping cart.

I handed Nicky paint bucket and brushes. “April 19th, restore the colors.”

“What?” Nicky exclaimed. His beady black eyes popped in their sockets.

“Surely an imitation - eh- Dedicated Patriot - - true to colors,” I said, “would know April 19th is Patriot’s Day, the legal date of Independence and the birthday of the US Army: Restore the colors.”

The same command was issued for Memorial Day, Flag Day, and then the 4th of July.

I stood over Nicky’s touch up effort for the 4th of July. “Is there a message here?” Nicky clinked paint cans together. “Or am I going through the motions?”

“’It’s hard to gauge // the tears of rage.’” I quoted from the Endless Verse.

“Huh?” Nicky asked innocently.

“It’s the Endless Verse, an underground poem.” I looked into those beady unknowing eyes. “A warning from the past to a country where ignorance is its greatest strength.”

“Oh,” Nicky turned with the brush to complete his work.

“No rest / no peace / no quarter,” I replied as the rickety sounds of the shopping cart announced Pat the internant plying M-1-A Highway in search of returnable soda bottles.

I looked at the obscene War Memorial in the distance. Had it tilted even further? It had slipped from the position of the Anglo Saxon salute to that of an artillery piece pointed at me.

Labor Day brought yet another restoration. “I’m resigned to Columbus Day for October and Veterans Day for November. I’m off in December!” Nicky declared.

I smiled. “Pearl Harbor Day - -December 7th and surely a true patriot as yourself understands the significance of Christmas?”

“Yeah,” answered Nicky as he dipped his paint brush into the bucket, “Santa Claus’ Birthday.”

I quoted the Endless Verse:

“Deeds were done.
Left unsung
In gentle hymns
Or prayer.”

In December, as grey skies threatened flurries on Christmas, Nicky pleaded in a parody of the Endless Verse, “’A lesson learned / yet I’m still burned / my humble prayer / unheard.’”

“’No steles of stone / silence the groans / which ensue / the disaster,’” I responded. “It’s easier to start a war than to end it.”

By the following July, having celebrated the birthdays of King, Lincoln, Washington and Lee with his brush, Nicky offered to white wash the barber pole as a token of surrender. When I refused, Nicky turned in the keys.

The task of restoring the barber pole fell to me.

I marked the occasion with a quote from the Endless Verse:

Whispered regrets
from ragged prophets
when no one’s left
to laud her.

As I stacked the buckets and the brushes, I heard the rattle of a shopping cart approaching. I looked up at Pat whose wild orange beard now showed streaks of grey. “Been meaning to ask you,” Pat said pointing to the pole, “when did the law firm sell out to a barber shop?”

And Pat passed down M-1-A Highway still looking for the way home.


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