Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Excessively Normal Childhood (according to Lafferty)

Abel Landgood had had a most normal childhood, even excessively normal, for he came very near the high norms themselves.  He had walked and talked with ghosts from the day he was able to walk and talk.  All children do this, but not all are as good at fixing ghosts as was Abel.  Abel was an imaginative, a creative boy.  He was weirdly happy in his relations with the world:  that is always important.  And he did not like empty spaces at all.  Whenever he found a stubbornly empty space he filled it with his imagination.  There had been an empty space between the alley fence and the alley behind his house.  He filled it with three apple trees and some blackberry bushes.  He would eat apples and blackberries there till he got sick.

There was also a little vacant half-lot across the alley.  A house had once stood there.  It had burned down: the house had faced on the side street.  Abel put another house there, a funny-looking house.  He put a very fat woman and a very thin man to live in the house and fixed their names to be Mrs and Mr Ostergoster.  He put a boy to live in the house.  He fixed his name to be Mikey Ostergoster.  Mikey fixed a cat.  Abel fixed a dog that chased the cat away.  Mikey fixed a crazy man to chase the dog with a stick.  Abel fixed a soldier to chase off the crazy man (he was a soldier such as they used to have in another time, not the sort of soldier they have now).  Mrs and Mr Ostergoster came out and quarreled with the soldier.  Everybody began to have a big fight then.  Abel's father came out and unhinged all those folks and the funny-looking house also. And those things were gone in a blinking.

"You shouldn't have brought back the Ostergosters," Abel's father told him when they were alone and the echoes of the disturbance were retreating into a secondary patina.  "There are people in the neighborhood who still remember them and remember how they burned in the little house there - ah, in the little house that is not there.  And you shouldn't have brought back the Confederate soldier to chase off that crazy man. With our reputation we can't afford to seem too old-line Southern.  And you shouldn't have brought back that particular dog.  I remember that dog before they had to kill it.  It was one mean dog; its a wonder that you weren't bitten.  Cool it a little bit, Abel, or people will think that you're an odd kid."

But Abel wasn't an odd kid at all.  He was absolutely normal.  It's the kids who lack or lose the basic talents who are odd.

The Landgoods had to move twice during the childhood and adolescence of Abel.  The family seemed to attract ghosts and the neighbors objected.  (Ghosts are normal, but people often react abnormally to ghosts.) It was not all Abel's doings about the ghosts... Both his father and his mother had talent.

And, like his parents, Abel retained his talents after he had become an adult.  An average child will lose such talents, but a normal child will retain them:  the two aren't the same.

-R. A. Lafferty, 'Rivers of Damascus' (1974)

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'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)