The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

Martin Buber's Thing


Harry Buschman

Like all great things that change this world, this thing started simply. Martin Buber visited his sister Mary in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. He was gone nearly three weeks and he got back to Freestone Corners the week before Labor Day.

Somewhere between the time he left and the time he got back, the "thing" landed in his back yard. It must have landed at night otherwise somebody in the neighborhood would have noticed it. It was still in Marty's back yard when he pulled into his driveway on Saturday night.

Marty put the car away, got out and opened the rear door on the driver's side. He carefully picked up the peach pie that Mary baked for him and got his bag out of the trunk. It was dark -- dark enough that he couldn't see the "thing" in his back yard. It was late also, so he decided not to go through the bulging package of mail in his letter box, instead, he got undressed and stretched out in his own bed for the first time in three weeks. He loved his old bed, the mattress had molded itself to every curve of his skinny old body. He hadn't slept in the double bed upstairs since Martha died .... and as he drifted off to sleep he thought it was unusually quiet for a Saturday night.

He woke early Sunday morning. He had wash to do and mail to go through. He hadn't been home in three weeks. Suddenly he remembered his tomatoes and went to the back window to check on them. That's when he saw the "thing." "What the hell is that thing! Jesus, you go away for a couple of weeks and somebody takes over your back yard!"

It wasn't much of a back yard. It wasn't even his back yard, it was his landlord's back yard. It was thirty feet square, give or take an inch or two, wedged between his back door, the garage and the blank wall of Abe's Cut Rate Auto Parts. The thing sat right in the middle of that thirty foot square with no more than a foot to give either way.

Well, he wasn't going to put up with that damn "thing" out there! That was his back yard. He sat out there in the summer. He grew his tomatoes out there. Narghesian would have to find some other place to put that "thing!"

"Narghesian? This is Buber over at 21 Arch Street. What the hell's the idea?"

"Oh, you're back, Buber. How's your sister?

"Never mind my sister, what's that damn "thing" doing in my back yard?"

"What damn "thing" is that, Buber?"

Marty was sure Narghesian was stalling. "You know what "thing," dammit! Looks like a water tower without legs, 'cept it's skinnier, sort of. You know what it looks like to me, Narghesian? Looks like a space ship! The whole back yard is in shade now .... how're my tomatoes gonna get the sun?"

"You sure you're all right, Buber?

"Nothin' wrong with me, y'sneaky Armenian, get'cha ass on over here, y'hear me?"

Narghesian sighed deeply. God, how he hated tenants! Well, at least it would be an excuse not to take his wife to church. He took off his spotless white shirt and pleated slacks and hung them up carefully. He walked down to the pantry where he kept his old jeans and his faded denim work shirt. Caspar, his fifteen year old Airedale greeted him with lukewarm enthusiasm.

"Let's go Caspar, let's go see Marty Buber."

Marty was standing in his driveway waiting for Narghesian when he got there. "Took you long enough, Narghesian .... have to get'cha wife's permission?"

Narghesian shook his old gray head, his sad brown eyes, under his bushy black eyebrows revealed a lifetime of misfortune and misunderstanding. "I tell you what, Buber -- I will sell you this place cheap, you can call yourself whenever you have trouble."

The three of them, Marty Buber, Marcus, with Caspar Narghesian leading the way walked up the driveway and into the back yard. Caspar, sensing an object that must be claimed as his master's property, peed on two of its three legs, sat down and waited for the two men to catch up.

Narghesian stood aghast. "What is this, Buber! How did this get here? Don't look at me fishy, Buber .... I had nothing to do with it .... nothing!" They made a slow circuit of the "thing," and Caspar took the opportunity to pee on the third leg.

"I'm almost inclined to believe you, Narghesian. You couldn't pull this off without the whole neighborhood seeing you."

The longer they looked at the "thing" the more they agreed that there was no way for it to have gotten there in the first place. Incredible as it seemed, Marty's back yard was surrounded by the back wall of the house, a line of cypresses to the left, a two car garage to the right and Abe's Cut Rate Auto Parts at the rear. The two men sat together on the wooden steps leading to Marty's kitchen door.

"There are two explanations," Marty reasoned. "One is that it was built here .... like the boat in the basement joke. The other is that it came from above." His voice dwindled to inaudibility as he related the latter possibility.

"I don't like either explanation, Buber. May I use your phone .... a local call, I assure you.

"Who y'gonna call?"

"First of all my wife .... she worries. Then I'm calling the police. While I'm doing that why don't you make us some coffee -- and is that a pie I see on the kitchen table?"

They sat in Marty's kitchen looking out at the 'thing' nestled in the back yard. The late summer sun glinted off its surface and a faint shimmer of heat radiated from it causing the barred windows of Abe's Cut Rate Auto Parts to quiver as though they were under water. Marty took a deep breath as he poured two cups of coffee .... "y'know what I think?" he said.

Narghesian lowered his eyes and unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt. "Get away from those tomatoes, Caspar .... yes, I know what you think, Buber. It looks like a flying saucer, right?" Neither of them cared to pursue that train of thought. As they sipped their coffee, a black and white patrol vehicle swung into Marty's driveway and stopped behind Narghesian's car.

Officer Glenn Peterman was the newest of the three policemen assigned to Freestone Corners. His uniform was two sizes too small for him and he wore mirrored sun glasses indoors and out. As he alighted from his patrol vehicle, his cap fell off and rolled under the patrol car. Marcus Narghesian and Marty Buber, alerted by the flashing lights, walked out and were greeted by the sight of Officer Peterman, on his knees with his hindquarters facing them, his pants stretched to the point of bursting as he reached under the vehicle to retrieve his cap. He rose, red-faced with his mirrored glasses askew and slammed the door shut catching his nightstick in the jam. The day had not begun well for Officer Peterman ....

"Which one of youse gentlemen is .... er, ah ...." he had forgotten his clipboard. Again Marty and Marcus were confronted with a broad expanse of backside as Officer Peterman reached through the open window of the patrol car to get his clipboard.

"Marcus .... somethin' like Narglesan? S'wat's writ here anyways."

Marcus was a patient man, far more patient than Marty. His forebears had learned patience the hard way. "That's me, Officer. I called the precinct. The house is mine, I rent it to Mr. Buber."

"Who's Buber?"

"That's me," Marty explained.

Together, the three men headed for the back yard and were greeted first by Caspar who took a dim view of any man wearing a uniform, particularly when his eyes were hidden by mirrors.

"Nice dog, Buber .... what's his name?" Then Peterman raised his head and noticed the thing in the back yard. "What in the hell is that?"

Officer Peterman got out his notebook and began writing as Marty and Marcus told him all they knew. "It wasn't noticed until this morning. It could have been there as long as three weeks. The only possible way it could have gotten there was from the sky above. Ergo! "The Goddam "thing" is a space ship and what are you going to do about it?!!"

It was too much for Officer Peterman to swallow all at once, he was not in the top ten in his class at the Police Academy and as the implication of what the "thing" might be slowly dawned on him, his brain shut down completely and refused to accept any more information.

It is touching to see an officer of the law, a tower of strength, upon whom all of us lean for support in time of trouble, when he reveals a lack of decision. Peterman had many shortcomings, and when confronted with situations outside of those he had experienced at the Police Academy, he was taught to 'call in.'

Officer Peterman left Marty, Marcus and Caspar standing under the thing and walked back to his police car. The sun was high now and it was the only bit of shade to be found. They were still standing there when he returned.

"It's Sunday you know. Hard to find people. Sergeant Haskill's comin' over .... bringin' the rankin' Colonel of Nassau County National Guard. I wouldn't touch nothin' if I wuz you."

The die had been cast. From that moment on, the "thing," as we have called it, became the responsibility of many career driven servants of the state. The most notable among them was Agent Lance Sober of the C.I.A.. Lance, clad in a metallic black suit, arrived in a chauffeur driven limousine talking into two cell phones at the same time. Although it was near nightfall, he too, wore impenetrable sunglasses. His were jet black with jet black frames as well. A third cell phone, a red one, protruded from the breast pocket of his black suit.

Long before the arrival of Agent Sober, however, a procession of technicians had secured the area at the request of the ranking colonel of the National Guard. Marty and Marcus were confined to Marty's apartment where they were questioned with great intensity and then completely ignored. Marcus was not permitted to speak to his wife and Marty was refused permission to speak to his sister in Upper Saddle River. Caspar was locked in the basement, and the peach pie mysteriously disappeared from the kitchen table.

Throughout the afternoon, white suited technicians came and went with a bewildering array of scientific equipment. Some of it blinked, some of it ticked ominously, and some of it didn't work at all. A gray-haired general with a riding crop appeared late Sunday afternoon.

"If that ain't Kashwilli Dashiki, I'll eat my shirt," said Marty, "Look'a him! He's wearin' every medal since the Battle of Bunker Hill. .... y'know somethin', Marcus? When I wuz in the army this guy was still selling newspapers in Yugoslavia." Hard on Dashiki's heels was an enormous flatbed trailer with a giant crane installed just behind the cab. Searchlight trucks stood by across the street.

It was at this moment that Agent Sober arrived and stated he was in charge. General Dashiki seemed ready to put this to a test, but he was told to butt out by the red telephone in Agent Sober's breast pocket. Agent Sober entered the kitchen talking into all three telephones and singled out Marty.

"You Narghesian?"

"No Buber"

"Which one is Narghesian?"

Marcus was the only other person in the room. "I am." he stammered.

"You are what?"

"I am .... SIR," he replied.

"We're trashing your garage, Narghesian .... no other way to get the subject out of there. You will be adequately compensated." He clicked off two of his telephones and spoke deferentially into the red one. When he was finished, he turned to the two men, "You didn't hear any of that conversation did you?" he asked.

They had of course, but it consisted of nothing but a series of ("sorry to disturb you sir"), ("I hope I'm not interrupting anything, sir") and ("I have everything under control, sir"). The Army Engineer Corps then removed Marty's car from the garage, and in doing so pulled off its rear bumper. Agent Sober assured him that he would be adequately compensated. A wide bladed earth mover then leveled the garage and pushed the rubble up against Abe's Cut Rate Auto Parts.

It was nearly eleven p.m. before a plastic camouflage net had been bundled around the "thing" and a canvas sling secured. By this time the complement of personnel consisted of the 18th Army Engineer Corps, a company of Regular Marines from Fort Tilden, General Kashwilli Dashiki, Agent Lance Sober, and at the last minute, the appearance of Millicent Starbright, the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

The street outside Marty Buber's modest home was now deserted. Residents were requested to stay indoors and soon discovered that all their telephone and electrical services had been disconnected. Agent Sober assured them that they would be adequately compensated for the inconvenience.

The trip to Fort Tilden from Freestone Corners can normally be driven in ten minutes, but the precious and mysterious "thing" cradled on the flatbed and escorted by two companies of Motorized Artillery took seven days to get there. It was high enough and wide enough to require street alterations along the way. A bridge or two had to be jacked up, causing the shut down of a busy commuter railroad. Power service lines were removed resulting in the furloughing of 2000 employees of the Geyser Beer Company, a local shopping mall and multiplex theater. Agent Lance Sober, close-mouthed as always, accompanied the cortege every step of the way passing out credit vouchers granting adequate compensation to all dispossessed and disadvantaged citizens.

Eventually peace and quiet returned to Arch Street. Wild conjectures gave way to suppositions that perhaps Marty and Marcus were guilty of bootlegging or dealing in controlled substances. But even these suspicions petered out in time, and the good people of Freestone Corners returned to their placid lives. All of them had been adequately compensated -- some more adequately than others.

The construction of Marcus's brand new garage gave him the opportunity to visit Marty while the work was going on. They would have a Geyser or two, (now that the brewery was up and running again) and they would speculate on the "thing" and wonder if they would ever learn what happened to it over at Fort Tilden.

In spite of the excitement of Labor Day, it came and went much the same as it always did every year. The neighborhood kids went back to school, the baseball season ground to a halt, and there was a hint of fall in the air.

That is where we find them this Halloween eve. Marty, Marcus -- yes, and Caspar too, at three thirty in the afternoon of All Soul's Eve. They sit in old cane bottom wooden rockers on Marty's front porch, each with a Geyser in his hand and a bowl of O'Henry Bars between them. The kids have been let loose from school and they dart from house to house dragging their shopping bags behind them. There are Supermen and Fairies in pink tutus, witches and skeletons, cats in a hat, and even a short little fellow wearing a rubber Bill Gates mask. They all love O'Henry Bars and they all say "Trick or treat," and "Thank you." Marty and Marcus are having a fine afternoon and Caspar enjoys it even more, because he can smell a kid no matter what he's dressed up to look like.

Suddenly, Caspar growls and sits up. His hackles rise and he advances apprehensively to the edge of the porch.

"S'matter Caspy?" Marcus, with two beers under his belt can see nothing wrong.

"He's got his eye on those kids across the street," Marty says.

On the other side of the street there are six kids, dressed like little space men hurrying towards them. Caspar retreats and cowers behind Marcus's rocking chair. The growl is replaced by a plaintive whine. The little space men, who apparently have forgotten to bring shopping bags, ignore Marty and Marcus and run up the driveway toward the back yard chattering to themselves -- much the way kids do.

"Out here, kids .... out here. Treats are out here!" Marty shouts. "We'd better go back and check on them, Marcus." At this point Caspar, who understands English as well as most Armenians do, sets up a howl that can be heard half way to Fort Tilden.

"KIDS?" Marty gives it one more try.

"You wanna go through that again, Marty? Why don't we just let them figger it out for themselves. Maybe they'll go away?"

Marty picked up the bowl of O'Henry bars and offered a handful to Marcus, they seemed to be the only means of defense.
"Think maybe we can hold them off with these, Marcus."

"I don't think so," Marcus said under his breath. "Why don't you run inside for another 6-pack?"

©Harry Buschman 1998

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.