Friday, May 13, 2016

Murfin Juvenilia—A Minor Parable

The cover of the Niles West High School literary magazine Apotheosis for 1967.

Note—Today we are reaching  far back in to the mists of time to a high school in Skokie, Illinois where a hick kid from Cheyenne first stretched his legs and dreamed of literary glory.  I am exposing the world to that amazingly pompous young fool with this selection from Niles West’s annual literary magazine Apotheosis for 1967.  The amazingly patient and encouraging Richard Gragg was the faculty sponsor but the selections were made by a board of students.  I was over represented—four prose pieces and three poems.  I was deeply disappointed that all were credited to Pat Murfin instead of the far more tweed-jacket-with-elbow-patches-and-pipe-smoking-dust-jacket-photo P.M. Murfin under which I had submitted my work.  Did I mention I was full of myself? This is one of the prose pieces.  More may be forthcoming from time to time unless I come to my senses. 
A Minor Parable
The string was stretched across his path—not a really a string but a hairy-yellow twine  of hemp.  And a crude paper sign dangled from the string, “Do not cut String.”
“I’m  going  to cut  it,” he  said  as he  fished  for  the knife  in  his  pocket.
“It’s just a simple rule-don’t do it.” She pleaded  with  him  and  there  was  a  kind  of  fear in her eyes.
“I don’t like rules.” “Please don’t.” “Why  not ?”
She  searched  her  mind  briefly  then  answered,  “Maybe  it  holds  the  world up.”
“A   little  string ?  It's only a  rule.  I hate rules.”  He opened the knife  and  cut  the   string.
Nothing happened except  the  string  broke  and  fell  and  the paper  came  loose  and  parachuted to  the  ground.  “Only a  rule.”  He took  her  hand  and  they  walked on.
The road was dirt and  when  it  was  dry,  they  were  surrounded  by  beige-dusty  clouds.  When the road was wet, it clung to their  boots  and  could  not  be  shaken.  But  they  did  not  notice  the  dust  or  the  mud.   They walked on.
At the end of  the  road  was  a  big  building  of  grey  stone and  red  mortar.  It had a green tile roof and gothic-arched doorways. The others said it was a beautiful building, but he looked at it and only thought it was big.  He reached  for  the  heavy  silver  handle  on  the  heavy  ebony door  and  with  all  his  strength  swung  it  open.   They walked in.
They were in a long hall with a high vaulted ceiling.   Purple tapestries hung on  the wall.
The floor was a golden mosaic. And the ceiling shined of mother-of-pearl. “You are  here,” the big man said.

“Yes, we have come.”

“You cut the string.”


“It was against the rules.” “I don’t like rules.
 “It was a bad rule, a stupid rule, an unbeautiful rule.”
“It was a rule and rules are to be followed.”
A string should not fence in a man.”
 “Would  you  rather  have  iron bars?”
I would have no barriers. But iron bars make more sense. To trap a man you need more strength.”
She saw that the big man was getting angry and started pleading  with  him,  “Please, sir, it was  only  a small  rule.  He didn’t hurt you.”
The big man turned to her. “He doesn’t hurt me when he breaks the big rules.  They won’t let him. They will call  him  a criminal and kill  him.  But if he breaks  the  little  rules—the ones they call silly—they will call him a hero and break  the rules  themselves.  That’s  what will  hurt me.”
“I don’t like rules,” he said.  “The rule has been broken. The rule is dead.”
She was frightened.  “Please!”
And  the  big  man  only  turned  and  walked  rule  away.
—Pat Murfin ‘67

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