The Orphanage

By Richard Krause

PROMPT — Despite ...

On my back at age ten was a large question mark; on the back of the ten-year-old I was to wrestle at the festival was an exclamation point. Both punctuation marks were painted in Merthiolate and wouldn’t have passed muster today, but were a clear amusement for our houseparents at the orphanage back in 1956.

* “Okay, now run it off,” he’d say to the little orphan boys after their Thanksgiving meal, up and down the long lane, when it was really his wife who collected elephants that he wanted to lose weight. * 104 was the cow I remember with too big teats for the milkers, so she had to be done by hand. I remember that from over fifty years ago. Why? Is it that I have since always been attracted to small breasts on a woman? * What is there left from all the cows you milked, or from the silage you fed them but the slaughter house? Certainly not being able to graze in fields to die of natural causes. * Who are the people who work in slaughter houses and how do they circulate in the general population? More or less dangerously than the rest of us? * The boy that killed the calf with a bucket. Does he still remember it like I do? And where is the bucket today? * Perils of the orphanage: The past has a hold on you where you can’t even identify whose hands gently removed your covers, or the exact fist that punched you in your sleep. * You do remember the names of all the boys who participated in your hanging for not talking to the young girl sitting next to you during the church service: Mays, Weaver, Hunt, Myers, Renike, and Bailey. Sixty years later you know some are dead, and imagine the rest are too infirm compared to the strength of your memory and the force in your arms grabbing the pipe to hoist yourself up and remove the rope around your neck. * We pummeled the houseparent’s dog, Jack, crouched in his barrel, to get back at his owner for the rocks we couldn’t throw at him. * Pete McCoy’s clubbing the opossum in his trap at the dump stays with me. Despite its sharp rows of triangular teeth, and its slow movements turned into the most painful spasms at Pete’s blows, any opossum I have seen since I have given the most powerful benefit of the doubt that it wouldn’t be hit. * Sex is always there to intrude even when it is not. I think of the charge of a ten-year-old boy, Frankie Lambert, for molesting the houseparent’s daughter, six-year-old Connie Hoffman. * Danny Phillips re-upped in Vietnam three times until he was finally killed, recorded in a village firefight where he found himself, an airborne ranger, elite fighting man, who I remember quit the high school wrestling team in his sophomore year because he couldn’t make weight at 95 pounds. * The boy who pretended on the orphanage school bus to throw a fit with his eyes bulging, his tongue sticking out, and his head bobbing uncontrollably up and down out the window as we rode through town, years later died of AIDS for which he could get no help from us outside our sitting on that bus rollicking with laughter. * Our scoutmaster charged us with playing with ourselves if we shook it more than twice, for being himself barred from those games he imagined we played. * When Pop Hoffman ordered the kittens we found to be drowned it startled us, until years later I found the very same order in Shakespeare’s Iago. * We orphans won the award for the best Halloween costumes as hobos to insure that we’d never grow up as one of them.


Richard Krause has two collections of fiction titled Studies in Insignificance (Livingston Press, 2003) and The Horror of the Ordinary (Unsolicited Press, 2019). A third collection, “Crawl Space & Other Stories of Limited Maneuverability,” will be published by Unsolicited Press in 2021. His two collections of epigrams are Optical Biases (EyeCorner Press in Denmark, 2012) and Eye Exams (Propertius Press, 2019). He recently has had writing in GNU Journal, Umbrella Factory Magazine, Headway Quarterly, Club Plum Literary Journal, and Mobius Magazine. Krause lives in Kentucky where he is retired from teaching at a community college.