Sharpened pencils stashed in a souvenier cup of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth was as far as she had gotten.
"Write about a childhood fear,"easy assignment, she thought at first. But that night after class her mind kept rolodexing the multitude of choices. So she began sharpening pencil after pencil, picking one up and touching it to paper, but nothing would release itself: not the time she got lost in the woods, not the time her mother lost her at Sears, not even the time the paper man scared her with his toothless grin. No, nothing wanted out. Maybe she could make one up. So she began writing about an imaginery time when their neighbor killed a baby bird right in front of her with a knife....oh,was this true, it felt so real to her. Try again.
And as she began writing a tale about seeing a bank robber at the local gas station, she began to shudder. Gas station...blue shirt...name on the pocket.....She put down her pencil as her breathing became deep and fast....Mr. Ferguson...her deepest childhood fear. NO! she said out loud ...GO AWAY!...I will not write of you. But everytime she sat down to write she saw his wicked smile and felt his hot breath on her neck.
And she began:
Every childhood has one, doesn't it?....say it does. A person that still haunts the occasional adult dream. I had one. His name was Mr. Ferguson. He was a short lean man with stubble on his face. His pants bunched up in the back and he looped his long, worn, tan belt in front, until it hung like a snake, flapping in front of his zipper. The pants were gas station attendant blue and they matched the shirt which bore his name in embroidered script just above his left pocket-GEORGE. In his right shirt pocket were camel cigarettes and a lighter that he flicked...open/closed..open/closed...while watching us play on the sidewalk. His front pant pocket held a knife; I know,because he used to pull it out and say he was going to cut our ears off.
Mr. Ferguson would sit on his porch in an old rusty red chair tipped backwards, his left shoe perched up on the porch railing,smoking a Camel,listening to a little white transistor radio,cruddy with his hand prints from years of dirt,sweat and oil. When the Cub game was on he would yell at us. Our gangway went right past his porch and he became angry if we made too much noise.
Once in a while he would sneak up behind me and whisper into my ear,"I like you," his breath was hot and smelled of beer, and his hair, combed over the top of his head in thin, greasy, gray clumps.
I ran into the house and told grandpa about Mr. Ferguson talking to me. All I remember him saying was,"Stay away from Mr. Ferguson."
In the city the houses were close together, only a narrow gangway between them. That meant that the windows of the houses were very close,too. Mr. Ferguson used to stand at his back bedroom window and watch me walk down the back stairs, and when no one else was around, he would hold up his shiny knife, flick it open and gesture-slitting a throat.
Last night in my occasional adult dream, Mr. Ferguson smiled as he gestured with the knife and pointed at me.
Childhood fear, I have one, and it never leaves, not even after writing about it.