Regarding one Perry C. Bartholomew: He was a bastard the likes I’ve never encountered. We met near the place where the train crossed the river in those days. It was summer, I was young, and I’ll never so long as I live forget the atrocities I was witness to there. I should have stopped it from happening. I know that now having survived many hard winters since that glorious summer, but my eyes were so shocked by the goings on that I found my legs rooted to their spot – frozen and impotent as if cast into phantom concrete. The sheer horror of the events in question left my body no alternative more heroic than bearing a rigid witness.
A widely circulated rumor posed that Periwinkle, who was by clinical definition a right bastard, was naturally predisposed to acts of cruelty by the trauma of his infant abandonment. The patriarch end of his creation, a very handsome man I’m told, had taken flight long before Perry had been laid in his manger for the first time. However, many a child has been raised on this earth without benefit of a father and chosen a higher road than that of growing into a barbarous swine, so I’ll not forgive on that justification alone.
While to be dubbed Periwinkle Constance Bartholomew can be no easy cross to bear, it does not justify the all encompassing hatred Perry held for all mankind. What precisely his dosed mother was thinking when she bestowed upon him this handle I cannot conceive. Maybe she had been expecting a girl: a pretty little dainty with which she could share the pains of having been abandoned by a handsome man. There was also the incessant grumblings about town that she’d done so with motives of revenge. So distempered was Perry’s mother by her abandonment that she chose for her son the most humiliating title she could contrive, and set him loose on the world at large. Sent him forth to grow strong through ridicule; become hard and mean and angry from his disdain. With a little luck, one day Perry’s path might cross with that of his wayward father causing all holy hell to break loose and exact her final vengeance. Of course, this was all the conjuring of a gossiping township, but one look at Perry’s twenty eight year old mother with her unkempt silver hair, manic, mis-colored eyes, and suddenly the theory found very solid footing.
Whatever his reasons, Periwinkle Constance Bartholomew was unquestionably the resident Deviant in the county where I was raised.
While the misadventures surrounding Perry’s upbringing affected his profoundly, I assure you his appearance was punished justly as well. To describe the physical countenance of Periwinkle C. Bartholomew is similar to painting the portrait of a fiend, for that is what he was. The nose was broken in three places, which had an affect to the likening of a knotted shard of bamboo attached to the center of his face – depressed to the cheeks and zigzagging to his mouth. One eye was distinguishably larger than the other and they hung at differing elevations beneath his eyebrows. Both bore a permanent, catatonic gaze. His hair was like matted, mud-soaked straw, and hung about his misshaped skull at varying lengths as though butchered some time previous by some indecisive barber. His teeth were only six in number and bore the color of a pastel sun to boot. Situated four at the back, two at the front, the neglected enamels were used for grinding and snarling purposes almost exclusively as he managed food rarely. Perry attired himself in what was readily at hand. Towels, bed sheets, raincoats, even inner tubes – whatever was left unattended overnight in backyards or on the laundry lines. One summer, he even spent all three sweltering months in a flower dress belonging to Mrs. Delaney. Not a soul dared poke fun, and Mrs. Delaney mourned not the loss, for no one had any desire to compete with Perry’s renowned temper, especially during the height of summer heat. To catch full sight of this vagabond, whatever his dressings might entail, carried with it a similar effect as that of some horrific abstract portrait created for shocking purposes or even that of the stench of ripe fish entrails.
The morning was a summer one. The tentacles of dawn crept in through the aspens and pines spreading thin beams of gold and tangerine over the thin path that ran parallel to river. To look upon it was to believe tiny spot lit miracles were about to occur in every corner of the forest. The swallows sang, the leaves rustled in the calm July breeze, the river gurgled sweet gossip near by, and the gaggle of the schoolgirls’ chirping approach could be heard long before they could be seen. The scene was a ringing testimony to God’s great skill with a brush. Periwinkle saw fit to destroy it at once.
I had taken to a particular rock over looking this magnificence several summers previous. From here I could see anyone coming or going on the path, the train as it passed over the bridge and pressed on into parts unknown, and every inch of splendor that surrounding nature has to offer. I enjoyed the peace and solitude of my special place immensely, and often felt that if I sat still enough, I would eventually meld in completely and become one with my rock and the trees and the dirt. I have tried many times, but have not yet proven this theory. I suppose I will someday. It was from this awesome vantage that I viewed Periwinkle C. Bartholomew’s most dastardly folly.
At first, I could merely catch small glimpses of the girls’ heads as they went plodding along the path towards the bridge. They were a good distance off, yet, to me the anomaly was like a moving flower patch: little tufts of auburn, marigold, and ebony tied back into little tails, and miniscule bobs with ribbons of blue, red, and pink. I smiled as I listened to their little songs and laughs as they came echoing up through the canopy of leaves and needles. I had to savor the sights and sounds, for I knew they would soon be marred by the sinister presence of Sister Mary Edith.
Wherever she went, to whomever she spoke, Sister Mary Edith, Headmistress of St. Jude’s Catholic School for Girls, imposed a great sense of forlorn. Her pointed nose, pallor wrinkles, and crystalline blue eyes were enough to chase even the staunch of Atheists to the confession booth. Despite her considerable age, The Sister maintained magnificent posture. It was as if her spine had been forged of some fine tempered steel. Most folk of moderate constitution can wade in past even the most unnerving superficial attributes, but it was the intangibles that belonged to Sister Mary Edith alone that crippled even the sturdiest of knees.
She would tremble constantly. Holding fast to a rosary, carved from some extinct stone, which had forever been wrapped around her knuckles. The Sister would oscillate constantly and in a perfectly timed rhythm – all the while muttering a low babble of indecipherable Latin. At least, I think it was Latin. In conversation she would never cease the chatter and never looked you in the eye. Instead, she would shake her fist in some errant direction, raise the volume of her rambling curse, and spit on the ground at your feet before she departed in a seemingly vexed state. I could have sworn that I picked up several sorted curses when in her presence, but I wouldn’t hold to it under oath.
Oh, the gossip would fly upon her departures. The Busy Bodies had no end in trying to decode The Sister’s mutterings. One theory was that she deplored Father Slaghtery’s brevity in conducting Sunday mass anytime there was mid-morning football being broadcast on the radio. Another derived that she had secret murder plans for Sister Mary, for she had grown too old and too tired to endure the woman’s famous snores any longer. Sister Mary Mary was known to shake shudders and fracture glass when she was really on form. For myself, I always liked to believe that the mysterious rantings of Sister Mary Edith was her own ongoing conversation with God himself – pleas, if you will, for freedom. Sister Mary Edith had lived for one-hundred and eight long and tedious years in the service the mighty Lord and I can’t think of anything she would have desired more than to be set loose the mortal coil, and taken away from all of us rotten sinners. I have always tried to believe only the best of people.
My special spot was situated so that I could see every of step The Sister took as she led her fifth grade class of fourteen budding young girls down the path towards the bridge. I cant help but liken the little cadre, all dressed in matching black plaid and white blouses, to that of some high-end, military grade outfit of penguins – each marching in lock-step with their leader who never ceased trembling and spouting off babbled orders.
Somewhere in his life of riddled misfortune, Perry must have acquired some form of magnificent stealth unbeknownst to the rest of us for he had arrived undetected and concealed himself brilliantly from both myself; who had been keeping watch in a veritable guard tower over the area for nearly three hours, and Sister Mary Edith, who was known to possess the eyes of a practiced hawk. Even that uncanny intuition for detecting impending doom that is said to sometimes reside in had children failed us. Perry’s wide spreading lust for everything diabolical was too evasive.
He made his move from my side of the river – springing from a large shrub near the bank’s edge. The girls cried out in horror as he attacked them head on, targeting first their knapsacks where he removed countless hardbound textbooks and tore them quickly to shreds. From where I sat, it seemed as though a rabid wolverine had got the best of an unsuspecting henhouse – a veritable explosion of feather-sized paper shreddings blocked all sightlines.
Sister Mary Edith was oblivious to the first wave as she insisted upon taking all bridges in a reversed gait. Muttering to the sky and shaking her stoned fist at the heavens, she was oblivious at first of the terror-stricken screams. Yet she turned just in time to catch the second state of madness just as Perry had gone about extricating the paper sack lunches from the girls’ tiny fists and had already proceeded in eviscerating their contents. Ham sandwiches were terminated with extreme prejudice – disassembling in midair, and raining pork and mayo-laden bread slices down onto the occupants of the bridge. Containers of applesauce became makeshift grenades, and were tossed and ruptured across the black-plaid skirts with little remorse. Bananas were skinned and mashed against auburn pigtails, and marigold bobs, while cardboard milk cartons were thrashed open and sprayed into crying little faces. Sister Mary Edith was so outraged that here trembling ceased, her muttering halted. She took two long strides towards Perry, and began unraveling that prehistoric stone rosary from between her knuckles, she meant to the hang the old scallywag from the bridge with it, I’m sure of it. It seemed that the tragedy would soon be at its end.
Then she stopped. Mid-stride, Sister Mary Edith’s rigid face went languid and formed into a placid smile. She reached slowly for her left arm and stared into the heavens before collapsing in a heap against one of the bridge’s many steel rails. She was gone. Sister Mary Edith, the Headmistress of St. Jude’s Catholic School for Girls had her only prayer answered in early June on a bridge amidst the greatest scuffle of her time. God has a sense of humor. He had kept her on this planet for just over one hundred and eight years – left one of his most loyal servants alone with all of us rotten sinners for over a century. I’m sure He saved her the trouble of feeling pain; hence the smile.
With The Sister retired from the field of battle by God himself, Perry was left with paltry opposition. The scene devolved into wanton chaos. In the wake of desecrated text books, obliterated paper sack lunches, and terrified youngsters, Periwinkle C. Bartholomew, the scourge of the land, spat lungers, tossed ravaged knapsacks over the bridge rails into the water, and laughed maniacally. Then he spewed forth a combination of swears so hideous and perverse that the very recollection of the string of syllables causes rise to many a Goosebumps upon my arm.
Most of the girls simply cowered, tucking themselves into tight balls while attempting to keep their whimpers to that of a titmouse. As students of the incomparable Sister Mary Edith they had been trained to learn quickly. Silence and abject stillness of presence were key. This was discovered the hard way when, crying out for her mother, little Louise Lyman had her most precious pigtail removed to the roots in a single swipe. The tail remains, to this day, removed and I believe she hasn’t left the booby hatch since the age of eighteen.
I can’t imagine how this altercation would have ended if it had not been for Gracie “the giant” Hardfellow. So irate at the sight of this heathenish hairstyling was Gracie that she stood to her full and considerable height, wrapped Perry round the chest with her tree trunk arms, and made her way towards the railing. So piercing were the shrieks of Perry and so profound was the fury of Gracie that, had it not been for a fatefully placed banana peel that sent Gracie careening over the rail, and into the river, I’m sure I would have been witness to the last moments of Periwinkle C. Bartholomew.
Alas, Gracie splashed headlong into the river with such veracity that the displaced water rose to a level well beyond the height of the bridge. Fortunately for all of us, the water was at its deepest and the current at its most placid in the area surrounding the bridge. In fact, had Gracie better spent her efforts, she would have easily been capable of managing escape to either shore, and the possibly of rejoining the fray. An outcome I believe would have destroyed Perry to his very core. Instead she chose to acquiesce to the current’s will and press on downstream; all the while shouting curses and terrific threats at the stunned party still engaged on the bridge. The river ignored her ravings and carried her several counties away where a traveling carpet salesman retrieved her. Upon her recovery, Gracie “the giant” Hardfellow swore an oath of vengeance so vile and exacting that I have not yet heard it’s equal.
It seemed then, from my vantage, that Periwinkle could not avoid a certain message that was suddenly blazoned on the walls around him. Between the pigtail calamity and the downstream excursion currently being enjoyed by one of their dearest friends, the School Girls of St. Jude’s Catholic School for Girls had endured their fill. They rose slowly from their balled and bewildered up states with bloodlust in their eyes. Perry slowly backed down the ramp leading to the shore and the promise of safety while the girls balled their fists into tiny stones and readied their little feet for shin battering. The planet came to a complete and utter still before the first move. It took only a twitch from Perry. The strangest sound ever laid upon my ears was the bellowing war cry of thirteen pre-teen Catholic school girls enraged out of their very minds. Followed not long after by the second oddest notes ever to lay siege to my senses, which of course, was the panic-stricken shrieks of Periwinkle C. Bartholomew as he tore away down the gravel path and out of view.
I didn’t bother following. Despite their youth, the class belonging to the former Headmistress was comprised entirely of the female species. There is nothing more perilous and indifferent to human life as a woman incensed out of her wits. The very presence of a creature such as this is more than capable of bringing men of even the most impressive constitution to their very knees. Thirteen, miniature or not, when set loose in such a fashion would require a full battalion of heavily armed soldiers to subdue. Even then, odds are tight.
I awoke the next morning and made quick to the newsstands expecting the worst. I had hoped for headlines the likes of: “MASACRE! PRE-TEENS RAVAGE BUM!” or “SCHOOL GIRLS SLAUGHTER! NO EVIDENCE RECOVERED!” maybe even “VAGABOND VENGANCE! TRANSIENTS BEWARE!” I wanted each letter to be printed in bold red lettering with a full color photo of the mob of rabid girls or maybe just a swath of Perry’s shredded clothing. That would have sufficed. My wishes were not fully realized; however, I was no less satisfied.
Instead, the front page was comprised of mostly words, and a black white photo of a dwarfish elderly woman. She stood next to a heavy looking tank of a Cadillac and seemed to be sobbing into her hands profusely. I recognized her at once to be the widow Markham. She stood no more than five feet in stature and had a latent propensity for driving entirely too fast. The car’s windshield was completely fractured, so at first I found myself terribly let down. What had happened to Perry and the Girls? What sort of fiendish world do we live in when the mauling of an infamous bastard is not front-page news? Then I looked closer.
Reading more delicately, I discovered that on her way to meet her dearest friend, none other than Sister Mary Edith herself, for their weekly luncheon, The Widow Markham had been stopped dead in her tracks when her windshield was suddenly and mysteriously shattered. Apparently, at the very moment, as The Widow Markham had begun to make the long, curving right hand turn that led to St. Jude’s Catholic School for Girls, the renowned local transient, Mr. Periwinkle C. Bartholomew was also in the midst of hastened travel – to where or from what the authorities never managed to attain. However, Mr. Bartholomew’s frantic gallop led to a failure to look both ways before crossing. This, combined with The Widow’s deep seeded enjoyment or taking hairpin turns at well over the legal limit brought about the most magnificent collision in the history of our county since the invention of motorized travel. Even deeper in the clipping I was stunned to learn that The Widow’s tears had not been shed for the eviscerated bum that lay stone dead in a gutter only feet away. – No, in fact, The Widow Markham had only burst into tears when she was informed that her luncheon had been cancelled in view of the sudden and unexpected death of her oldest confidant, the venerable Sister Mary Edith who, not unlike Periwinkle, lay dead with a smile on her face several miles away amidst the most peculiar circumstances the authorities of that area had ever seen.
I could not have been more satisfied with article even if had explained the entirety of the mater. Watching the local makeshift journalists puzzle over the laundry list of mysteries was truly divine. Of course, the sewing circles and busy bodies argued for years over what really happened that glorious June morning. The closest they ever came was the amalgamated explanation detailing a furious specter that had mangled the textbooks, a true-blue case of exploding paper sack lunches, and the ultimate justice having been served on old Periwinkle Constance Bartholomew, bastard extraordinaire.