The Contest

Check out Ellen Sandbeck's papercuts of the Buddha on the Facebook page "A Buddha A Day." Choose your favorite image, then send a wonderful piece of your writing, one page or less, on any topic, to You may win the original papercut of your choice!

Winning entries will be posted on this page.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Winning Entry from Ian Graham Leask

Buddha Piece

We were a British family like many in the mid-fifties: parents who could barely believe WWII had ended a decade ago, “God, how time flies;” a four-year-old lad who considered himself the center of the universe, and whose much older half-siblings simultaneously adored and despised him; aunts and uncles of every degree, mostly war-torn, colonial rejects: one-eyed, one-armed, and pennilessly bourgeois.
I, of course, was the center of the universe, the baby king, the milk-scented miniature of my big bald, blond blue-eyed failed engineer of a father. Mother was a blonde too, a Betty Davis look alike with a pukka accent. When I was  a little older I saw the film version of Edward Albee’s play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and I had to laugh; Burton & Taylor were my mom and dad to a T. They tore each other apart but they were in love.  My own progression towards an unsteady manhood was a punctuated by their vile acts of betrayal, violence and disrespect. One exceptionally memorable occasion involved the Buddha himself...

I  was conceived in Bombay during a particularly mad period in my parents’ lives, when they gambled and lost everything on an international business venture that failed.  In the midst of all the wining and dining; the shiny black cars;  the “Yes Sahib,” and “No Memsahib,”  and  “May we lick your arses clean, you rich white bastards?” and dinner jackets and pink gin; a man called Peter fell in love with my mother and tried to steal her away.  He paid for this Olympian violation with several broken ribs and a very puffy face one night at the dark end of Colaba.

Peter had given my mother a beautiful porcelain sitting Buddha: round bellied, smiling, saffron robed and bald. She had promised to leave this gift behind when my parents retreated from Bombay--or better still sell it, since they were broke--but she loved it and hid it in the portmanteaux that followed her by sea after they had flown  back to London, with tadpole me--somewhat dented from kicking spermatozoon butt all the way to the egg--gestating inside a drinking, smoking, madwoman.

Despite all the mayhem, I loved my little life with my two fabulous parents, hated it when they were not around, and closely observed everything they did. They called me Ian the Wean, Naughty Knave, and Lucky Laddie, and home was always filled with laughter, flowers in vases, and music playing.
Until one day when my mother, assuming my father would have forgotten Peter and his porcelain  Buddha, got the shining beauty out of storage and put it on the mantelpiece above the fire a few hours before the National Memorial party to commemorate the five year anniversary of V-Day,  which my dad was hosting.

I helped  my mother take the Buddha out of the tissue paper, which smelled strongly of something I liked but could not identify. When the shining creature emerged, she let me hold him in my arms: a four-year-old holding a god. He was the heaviest object I had ever held and she would not allow me to stand while holding it. “Can I have it, please?” I asked. “No, darling. He belongs to the family now. He’ll bring us luck.” 

I remember looking at his smiling face and feeling a lovely glow, knowing exactly why he would be lucky for us, and boy did we need a change of fortune. Mum had a proclivity for buying flowers instead of food. Apparently flowers were better for morale. I lived on Birdseye Fish Fingers. In the trunk with our Buddha was a big carved knife with a bejeweled handle, some weird looking clothes and lots of clunky shoes which reminded me of policewomen. I was perpetually hungry, and was also on the look- out for old toffees or boiled sweets, but no such luck.

I felt desolate when she removed the gleaming god from my protection and placed him carefully in the middle of the mantelpiece. She lit candles on either side of him, since this was late in the year and the Christmas tree had already been put up and decorated.

I felt elated and wanted Dad to come home and see the Buddha, whose broad back reflected in the big mirror. Dad came home rather late and smelling of the pub.  When he saw the Buddha, he dropped his briefcase and said:
“What the bloody fucking hell is that doing here?”

I sat in the huge chair by the fire and did not  run to him as usual, since he looked menacing, and besides I had my army men set out in battle formation across my lap and the arm of the chair. My mother had left some nice classical music on the radiogram--violins chunking along. I think it was “Clare de Lune,” and the room smelled of Pledge.

“Judy,” Dad yelled.
“Yes, darling,” we heard from the kitchen. “Coming!”

He stood in the doorway; twitching, neck bulging, eyes like Jehovah’s sky, and glancing  back and forth from me to the god on the mantelpiece.

I began disassembling the battle formation in my lap, but mother  entered the room before I could finish. She simultaneously pushed past  Dad and pulled him into the room by  the arm. She was happy. She picked up his nearly empty briefcaseand held it in front of her. 

He pointed, and said: “That.”
“Oh, I’d hoped you’d like it. The fellas’ll like it when they get here. It’ll remind them of India.”
“It reminds me of India.”
“Oh, darling, come on now, that was years ago.”
“Not to me.”
“Well you got your pound of flesh, didn’t you?”

She still looked happy, teasing him, her red mouth up to his. She said, “Where’s my kiss?” But she  held the briefcase in front of her.

Dad’s face  went pale and he looked old all of a sudden. He dodged her kiss, strode to the mantelpiece, swept the beautiful god onto the fireside carpet, and stomped on it with all his weight. It broke into three parts.
“Oh Henry. Please.”

He stomped it again. Then again and again, shouting: “Fat bellied bastard!” He stomped until there was nothing left but a pile of white dust crushed into the carpet. He was crying.

When I looked for my mother, she was gone. Then Dad went out. 

I don’t remember ever having any luck after that.

 Ian Graham Leask  April 26, 2010