Daughter of a One-Armed Man is a modern fable, a love story which brings up the most important question for contemplation: Can human beings really love each other? Author Ken La Salle’s imagination and thought get together to seek an answer.
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“You want my opinion?” he asked, looking directly at me. “I’d say it was racism. Nobody wanted to help me. My money was no good. I’d take one step out of my cab and that was it. All they saw was Ursus Maritimus. Polar Bear. Then, they didn’t want anything to do with me.”
“Well,” I offered, trying to help, “you can be a bit intimidating.”
“Hey,” he huffed, getting up. “You think that floats? Do you?” He poked a single, dark claw at my chest. “Is that your answer? Refuse to help someone just because they’re bigger than you? My record’s clean, man! No priors! No arrests! I’ve never eaten a single human – and I’ve had opportunities! Oh, yes, I have! I haven’t mauled or maimed or eviscerated – none of that! And I’ve lost plenty of weight as a result, let me tell you. I could have used a bite or two but did I?”
“No?” I hoped, feeling my knees tremble and my bladder weaken at his rising, snarling voice.
“Not once.” He decidedly planted himself and turned his head back at his cab, which was still smoldering. He turned back to me in disgust. “What are you doing here, anyway? Didn’t I leave you a few miles up the road?”
A few miles? His assertion surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have. “Yeah, it’s been a weird night.”
“Listen kid, I just got done ferrying a bunch of drunks from Frisco to Crescent City. How weird could a night in the woods have been?”
I must have peered at him for entire minutes, though they felt like hours. A talking polar bear was asking me what I knew about weird? “Okay. You want to know? I’ll tell you.” But it didn’t make any sense. Just the idea that I was talking to a polar bear must have meant I was hallucinating. So, maybe I didn’t really… “I spent last night talking to God.” There it was. The weirdest description of a night you could imagine. But, just in case there was any confusion, I added, “And he talked to me. I mean, we talked to each other. He was here. On the beach.” I clutched my garment. “This is his hoodie.”
“Well, I hope you didn’t listen to him. Fella can’t be trusted if you ask me.” The huge bear leaned towards me. “Say, you don’t have anything to drink on you, do you? I could use a belt.”
“Wait. Don’t you understand?” I insisted. “I walked with God! I mean, I didn’t just walk with him. He and I hung out!”
His long nose went up and down. “Right. I heard you. But I warn you, he can’t be trusted.”
The air went right out of my tires, just like they were doing on Peanut’s cab. “What do you mean?”
“It’s just that we have an old legend. It says that God created the Earth and everything else around it. Then, he created everything on it – which is probably just a reference to evolution. Anyway, then the legend says that after that God created humanity to torment all the creatures of the Earth. That’s why you can never trust anyone with a three letter name, especially if it’s a vowel offset by two consonants, like God. Take Bob, for instance. You’ll never catch an animal who trusts a Bob. Robert’s fine. But not Bob. Or Ted, or Ned, or Don, or Leo.”
“Or Eve?” I chimed in, trying to be ironic.
“Well,” said the polar bear, standing again, dusting himself off, “that gets tricky. You can generally trust women or maybe you can’t but it’s not a name thing. Truth be told you pretty much can’t trust any men.” He gazed off into the rain, thoughtfully. “No, people pretty much suck.”
“So, I guess having a long name doesn’t help?”
He looked down at me. “What’s your name?”
“Jackson,” I told him.
I could tell he was assessing me but then he clucked his tongue, gave me a sideways look, and shook his head. “No. Not really. But for what it’s worth.” He extended his hand, long blade-like claws reaching for me in the morning light. And I froze solid. “What? I’m not going to eat you. I just – Oh forget it.”
He pulled his hand back in disgust but I called out, “Wait!” And I thrust my hand into his, feeling his fingers close gingerly over my tiny bones. “It’s a pleasure meeting you, Pea…”
“It’s just P.B., if that’s all right with you.”
“P.B., then. I’ve never met a talking polar bear before.”
He released my hand. “You don’t get around.”
“I guess not.” A wind kicked up and my face was sprayed with pellets of hail. Together, we dove behind the same wall. “How did you learn to speak?” I asked him.
Making himself comfortable, he replied, “Audio tapes.”
Then, the rain drowned out any attempt at conversation. P.B. curled his huge bulk against most of the wall and I sat in the remaining space with my legs crossed and my head hung, protected by the hoodie. But as warm as that garment was, the cold and wet still seeped in underneath and down the front where I had just a t-shirt to protect me. Anyway, my jeans were soaked.
I leaned up against P.B. His fur was wet and tough on his back, the follicles thick and hard.
He picked his head up and swung it around. “What are you doing?”
“It’s cold,” I said, my teeth starting to chatter.
“It’s winter,” he observed. “You didn’t think about that before you came up here?”
“I did but the guys who stole my car also took my clothes.”
His reply was a sharp exhale through his snout, as if to say, “That’s not my problem.” He put his head down again and I moved a bit closer. “Hey, I am not your blanket!” he growled. “Get it? I don’t want you on top of me!”
“I’m cold,” I told him.
“And I care!” His sarcasm was thick and biting. The way you do when something you thought you could rely on fails you, my hopes dropped and I knew I was alone. I guess I had tied P.B.’s appearance to God (or not-God) leaving me at the parking lot. He works in mysterious ways, right? “What are you doing in the middle of a parking lot, anyway? Are you homeless? Ain’t you got a home to go to?”
It occurred to me that I didn’t. I was homeless, friendless… alone. But then, I thought of Mari and her talk of love. “Loving another person is the most important thing in the world – and also the most difficult, and that’s why so few people do it and why so many people lie about it. It’s far too easy to be dishonest and untruthfully claim you love someone.” Hadn’t I sacrificed enough? Honestly, wasn’t losing my friends and home enough? Now, I was stuck in the middle of a storm on an abandoned beach with a polar bear! Hadn’t I done enough? I still didn’t know where Mari was or where to look for her. In point of fact, I was lost.
I put my head back and watched the huge, fat drops sail by overhead. My face wasn’t struck but I could feel drops roll down my face. I couldn’t hold back the tears, they came from a clenched fist in my gut, and let it wash over me. Despair, depression, and pointlessness all came out of nowhere, thoughts and feelings that had been building since my street corner epiphany. There was no point to my life. I was nothing and I had nothing.
“Oh, give me a break,” P.B. grumbled. He rolled towards me and shouted over the rain, “What is it? Huh? Furless twit want his blankie?”
But I didn’t know what to say – and I couldn’t just walk away into the storm. The wall provided the only shelter in sight, so long as the rain came in at an angle, and I knew how useless hiking up the road would be. The wall and P.B. were my only options and neither looked very good.
I couldn’t think. I just sat there and listened to P.B. snuffle in the wet air.
God had said this wasn’t about me, that it was about Mari, but he never explained what he meant.
Then, my stomach growled. It was loud enough to bring a grunt from the bear. I hadn’t eaten anything, except for God’s beer and snacks, for days. No wonder I was starving! And I realized I wouldn’t be getting any food on that beach. I couldn’t buy any food; I had no money. But I’d have to find something to eat soon. Maybe I could find a house off the road.
Standing up was harder than I thought it would be, my lower back protesting all the way. I grunted and groaned and realized I’d have to duck to stay out of the rain, not that it would matter.
P.B. turned my way. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m hungry. I’ve got to eat. You don’t know of any houses off that road, do you?
“Are you kidding?” he asked, sitting up. “North? Save your strength. There’s some cabins but they won’t help you.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve been there. I’ve tried. They just barricade themselves or run screaming and you can’t get in without busting up the joint and that just gets you into more trouble.” His face drooped with water and dejection and I realized he must have been hungry, too.
“Yes, but I’m a person, not a polar bear. They might not be afraid of me. Maybe they’ll help me.”
He sat up higher, taller than my height, and edged closer. “And give you some food?”
“Maybe,” I said with a shrug. “Maybe if I explain my predicament, they’ll feel sorry for me.”
He seemed to consider it. “Do you think they’d… feel sorry for me? I just lost my cab.”
There was a sadness in his eyes and hated to tell him the truth. “Maybe if I tell them, they won’t be so afraid. Maybe they’d help us both.”
“You mean I can come with you?”
When it had become my position to allow anything, I wasn’t sure. But I couldn’t just leave P.B. there. “Sure,” I said to his apparent relief. “I hope you don’t mind walking.”
“I hope you don’t mind walking,” he countered. “I was born to it. You people are always on wheels.”
“Not always.” I pulled the hoodie closer with the hood on my head and walked into the rain. It was cold and wet and tangible as Mari’s absence. Somewhere out there, I’d find her. So, I started walking, and P.B. walked beside me. “I used to walk everywhere.”
“Where was that?”
He barked a laugh. “I thought nobody walked in L.A.”
“Well, they don’t. That’s why you have friends with cars.”
“What about the car you had? The one you told me was stolen?”
He probably couldn’t see me shake my head under the hood. “Wasn’t mine,” I told him. The parking lot was flat, with a steep incline leading to the road. “A guy I knew lost it – well, wasn’t using it.”
“Which one? Did he lose it or not?”
We started up the roadside with the wind against us. Though it was only the middle of the afternoon, the sky was dark and I could see lights far in the distance. My attention diverted, I had a hard time thinking of the answer. “No. He was… he wasn’t going to need it any more. He was put in jail.”
“Really? What for?”
“Killing his wife.” My voice sounded far away to my own ears.
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About the Author
Author and Playwright, Ken La Salle grew up in Santa Ana, California and has remained in the surrounding area his entire life. He was raised with strong, blue collar roots, which have given him a progressive and environmentalist view. As a result, you’ll find many of his stories touching those areas both geographically and philosophically. His plays have been seen in theatres across the country and you can find a growing number of his books available online. Find out more about Ken on his website at www.kenlasalle.com.