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The Catcher In The Rye (PART TWO): A Bullfrog Cracking An Ego Shell

 

 

The Catcher In The Rye

(Part Two)

A Bullfrog Cracking

An Ego Shell

(A Short Story, 2016)

Copyright belongs to the author John Lennard Lee.

This story can be circulated for non-commercial purposes. Thanks for reading.

 

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     If you want to hear about it, I can’t skip over the truth … it’s about a brave seventeen-year-old Adam Caulfield who once urged governments of the world to save the poor … but a year later he has shrunk … shrunk into a frowning bullfrog … dressed in a haiku that peers from a dusty, shadowy corner of an old public library, saying:

A warrior slices a grape into two,

spilling blood onto the forehead of a bullfrog.

Isn’t this a haiku who refuses to budge?

He flicks his tongue, checking for mosquito

in the air … kiss it … kiss it …

cut it into two … a haiku requires that …

something blossoms out of the blue …

a cousin of Zen? Is he saying …

‘Not all things need to be as deadly sharp

as a samurai’s sword to yield the truth …’

 

Back to painful reality … since I posted online an idiosyncratic version of The Catcher In The Rye, I sort of became famous in a small way … in a negative way …   Yes, I was using a pseudonym, perhaps trying to run away from myself or run away from those parts of myself not yet reconciled with an uneasiness … the kind of uneasiness when you read the suicide statistics that stood at above 800,000 per year around the globe and when you realized that on average, in every 40 seconds, a human being will commit suicide … Sometimes in my dream, I’ll ask: Can anyone do something about it? Can anyone, in earthly flesh or from an alien realm, distribute hope? … life-sustaining hope …

Back to my pseudonym. Yes, you’re right. I called myself Adam Caulfield … maybe I relished the idea of living under the shadows of a reputed writer, real or imagined, whose style, substance, leitmotifs and animalistic spirit blended those of J. D. Salinger, Franz Kafka, e. e. cummings and James Joyce … yielding a sort of kaleidoscopic wildness, so that no one would bother to guess the real influence on my ramblings or be interested in my identity. If true, how did my friends and schoolmates find out it was a Zen-chasing, nonconformist ‘me’ who wrote that story? 

I confess. Your intuition is correct. I succumbed to the beauty of a girl … she has thin, pale lips, tender eye-brows, long eye-lashes, deep-coloured eyes … tall and slender at five feet nine … Naturally, she’s entitled to discreetly pry into ‘my’ everything and to know ‘my’ everything.

Or perhaps I subconsciously allowed her to browse through my writing pad when I let her enter my bedroom some weeks ago, hoping she would be keen to gain better insight into my psyche and inner world.

Or maybe I succumbed to masculine pride … I wanted and was trying to impress her, to let her know that I could qualify to be her boyfriend … On my part, I believed I met most of her requirements … I mean in terms of being tall, gentle, understanding, reserved in a mature way, cool-looking, non-smoking, no bad smell, well-shaven, progressive in outlook except when theology popped up. Above all, I would like to consider myself a hardworking student, with decent income from night shift jobs, and aiming to be fearless in speaking up and seeking to help the less fortunate by being a volunteer at the local old folks home in the past few months … most importantly, I regarded myself as being well-read. I could potentially become an assistant Professor in English Literature ten years from now at a recognized local institution since I spent most of the money I earned from working night shifts at 24-hour retail stores to invest in Western classics … and I aspired to be a part-time poet …

Well, her name is Janet … I had a crush on her for about six months before I posted that story … I used to email at least one poem to her every week … I believed she liked literature and could appreciate my poems … thus I hoped she could read the last few pages of my writing pad which contained my handwritten version of that short story The Catcher In The Rye … I placed the writing pad on the center of my desk … I believed Janet would be keen to flip and read it …

Yes, she did … slowly my pride melted and doubts congealed … What would be her response if she thought that I was actually attracted by some sexy, middle-aged psychiatrist with the shine of a young Jennifer Lawrence … it would be fatal … she would view me as a flirt …

Sure enough, her face grew pale and then pink with anger as she tossed the writing pad to me when I entered my bedroom from the kitchen to hand her a can of coke. No one else was in the small public housing flat. My father was working at a car repair shop while my mother was selling noodles at a nearby eatery. I’m their only child.

Janet threw the writing pad on my desk, turned and glared at me, saying in a shrill voice, ‘I didn’t know you like foxy femme fatales …’

I looked blankly at her for a few moments and stammered, ‘That’s not what I meant … he’s only a character in a story …’

‘A character or your character?’

‘It’s fictional …’

‘Fictional?’

‘A sort of self-mocking literary device …’

‘You mean your character and sincerity are also fictional?’

‘No, I’m real … I mean … I really like you …’

Janet’s taut face relaxed a little before she squinted angrily at me again. ‘Didn’t you take part in that street demonstration? We all know about it.’

‘Yes, I did … but that psychiatrist was not that attractive …’ I stuttered.

‘Now you confess … she’s real … and you’re a flirt!’ Janet shouted and turned to leave.

I held her hand and fumbled for the right words, ‘Please … I mean … desire and the performance of an act are distinct and different … we’re rational … we can control our desire … ’

Janet turned and glared at me. ‘You can reserve your desires and fantasies to yourself. I’m not interested. And don’t email me anymore!’

She left and I slumped on my bed, looking blankly at the ceiling …

In the next few weeks I emailed a poem to her on alternate days, trying to salvage the situation … and I sent pictures to her showing the few occasions when we watched movies together or went to the libraries together … but she didn’t reply … my stupidity ended it …

In the meantime schoolmates came to know that I wrote that short story. I guessed Janet informed her best friend Michelle who in turn told others. Many of them laughed at me, saying I was simplistic … a doe-eyed utopian … A few jeered at me, asking, ‘Why would any government want to cut their expenditure on the military and channel it to save dying children in foreign countries? Didn’t you know? A modern government is supposed to care only for its citizens … to win votes during the election. Why would any government bother with the longstanding fact that 20,000 children are starving and dying each day in poor countries? …’  They looked at me as if I had become an empty ostrich egg … an eccentric copycat wearing a long-sleeved circus garb, trying to mimic Salinger’s style …  

A few sarcastic students said, ‘ … you’re having delusions … why don’t you solve the problem at the source … ask the rich nations to donate good-quality condoms to poor countries … with much fewer children born each year, the United Nations would worry less about starving and dying children …’

I would retort, ‘The UN would teach them the appropriate methods of family planning and birth control … taking into consideration their different cultures, religious beliefs and practices, and social norms … but what is important is that 20,000 children are dying each day … today, tomorrow and many more days to come … and there’re millions of starving and dying children … shouldn’t the developed nations do more on this serious matter …’

The cynical schoolmates shrugged their shoulders and walked away, saying ‘A foolish visionary thinking he could save the world … he can’t even save his own skin …’

Only my neighbour Sam and my history teacher Mr Euston Chan read my story with sympathetic eyes.

‘Ignore all negative remarks … you’ve a kind heart,’ said Sam. I thanked him, although I knew a kind heart wouldn’t make me a good writer.

On the other hand, 47-year-old Euston Chan who taught history for twenty years said, ‘It’s not all that unrealistic … a handful of rich nations and resource-rich developing countries that don’t perceive themselves being threatened by aggressive neighbours or aren’t helping oppressed people in unstable regions to overthrow criminal autocrats are in a position to cut their military expenditure by ten percent for one year … it’s a matter of political will … but whether they would channel the savings to the UN to help starving children is another matter … that may require a referendum …’

A few weeks past and … one afternoon while I was half-hiding in a stairway re-reading the short stories of Salinger, trying to stop my mind from thinking about Janet, about those sunshine moments I had with her … in the midst of my brooding, seventeen-year-old bully Mackie spotted me and slithered near to me. He punched my arm and said, ‘Now it’s my turn … to sex up Janet.’

I glared at him and said, ‘I didn’t do anything to her.’

‘Been waiting for six long months … she just won’t bother with my gifts,’ he smirked. He came from a rich family and liked to shower attractive girls with expensive gifts. ‘All because of you … Your nerdy blockhead was blocking her eyes from my love. Now I’ll sex her up.’

‘Don’t touch her!’ I shouted and pushed him away. I stood up and glowered at him. I was skinny but tall at six feet two. Mackie was about five feet nine, stout and well-built.

‘You’re a moron. Michelle told me already … the two of you broke up. She’s not yours anymore.’

His two buddies, Aston and Nelson, laughed loudly. Mackie said, ‘Besides I already sexed up five girls this year … Janet is my sixth target.’

Aston and Nelson grabbed my arms and pushed me to the wall. Mackie leaned forward and punched my stomach twice. I dropped to the floor, panting. Then I breathed in deeply, picked up my schoolbag and slammed it into Mackie’s face. I swiftly swung my elbow at Aston’s cheek and punched Nelson in his stomach. They staggered back, shocked by my rush of anger.

With heart pounding, I bent my body and charged towards Mackie, pushing him back, punching him in the chest. The two of us fell onto the floor. We knocked our fists against each other. Aston and Nelson kicked at my body and thighs, trying to separate us. Soon I heard a few students shouting in the distance. Aston said, ‘Teachers are coming … let’s go …’

Mackie pushed me away and they ran down the stairway. The teachers brought me to the Principal’s office to apply medication. Later that afternoon the four of us were summoned before the Principal and given stern warning and our parents were informed of the matter …

The next day I emailed Janet a few times, advising her not to be deceived by Mackie. Surprisingly she replied, thanking me. She said that we should stop seeing each other, explaining that she was not the literary type and she wouldn’t be happy with me …

With a heavy heart, after school, I went to the public library for the next four months … reading stories by Salinger and Kafka … reading about El Greco, Van Gogh, Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani … trying to get over my sadness … my grey and dark moods … did badly for my mid-year exams … in fact, flunked most of the papers … and struggled to pen a poem during the nights in late June 2016 …

 

Let us go then, you and I … Let us go then, you and I … am I fumbling along the corridors of my memory? … am I being chased by the shadows of a forsaken poem? … am I being chased by my cannibalistic twin? … is he trying to crack my ego shell? … or perhaps I’m a bullfrog digging up a poem with my webbed feet … a poem that talks about another poem that in turn mutters another poem …

I confess. I fished him (a ‘him’, not a girl, in random colorless dreams) from a large paradise drain in the afternoon after school when I was eleven. I placed him and his siblings in a jam jar, went off to be absorbed in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, unaware that they would suffocate. I returned an hour later. Oxygen-hungry, they were writhing like infantile snakes. They slithered up and down, no contact with my half-protruding eyes. I stared blankly. Then I took a closer look. They were contaminated, swollen, blackish, like the diseased irises of an old trout. I became white-eyed. Scientifically this shouldn’t happen. Must be the drain water. The drain water must be sickly, with fast-replicating germs, bacteria, toxic agents. I rushed to obtain a big pot, filled it to the brim with clean water and poured the tadpoles into the pot. Some movements and squirming. Soon they drifted silently. Since then, I wore that label ‘tadpoles killer’ on my sleeve … to guard against more serious transgression …

And the poem asked … what is the essence of my nature? Is it like a weather-beaten skiff tossed about by the waves of emotions, desires and yearning? Is it like a spoilt compass, its needle half-trembling, unable to be guided by the lodestars of the Earth? Is it like a pufferfish that can be made into a delicacy or can kill if someone were not careful? Is it like a modernist poem such as The Emperor of Ice-cream that eludes interpretation for decades and when experts finally grasp some parts of it, other parts have melted away? Or perhaps this jumpy awareness pulsates through the heart of human nature. It’s like a bundle of voices that impinges on our brains. Is it trying to craft a few eye-catching lines while half-hiding its impatience because we don’t really know where those voices come from? … perhaps I grow old, so old I become less concerned with finding my essence, but content to let the cloud of unknowing to talk about another poem …

Is someone trying to unearth a skeleton rainbow? Is it near the fringes of a metropolis Concrete or near the brink of a pond at Changi Beach where the waves begin to kiss? … or is it hidden inside a half-finished poem? Can it be saved? Is it crumpled, half-eaten by the moths of time? … or does it glow with starlight because a poet had mustered courage to declare his true love? …

It glows in my palm now -- a transparent wing, almost like the smile of Emily Dickinson and Helen Keller combined. Has it become a baby Pegasus? It’s fluttering, breathing, struggling now. Where exactly did you unearth it? Inside a forgotten half-shack near the end of Changi beach … a sign-post is redundant … it’s rainbow death without a stench. It seems to touch the cloud of unknowing, whispering, ‘To understand everything is to forgive everything …’

 

( End )

 

 

17


The Catcher In The Rye (PART TWO): A Bullfrog Cracking An Ego Shell

  • Author: John Lennard Lee
  • Published: 2016-06-13 07:35:07
  • Words: 2693
The Catcher In The Rye (PART TWO):  A Bullfrog Cracking An Ego Shell The Catcher In The Rye (PART TWO):  A Bullfrog Cracking An Ego Shell