Thomas Wictor

Signs. Or not.

Signs. Or not.

Since my parents died in 2013, a lot of really bizarre stuff has happened to me. Being in such close proximity to death for such a long time changed my perceptions. At least, that’s what I tell myself. What I used to think was weirdness I now accept as perfectly natural. In fact I no longer use the term “supernatural.” What it comes down to is patterns. Are these patterns signs? I don’t know. But I believe they are. Key word: believe. No need for anyone to get angry and want to talk me out of what I think. It’s just a belief.

A few days ago I finished the script for a documentary about the murders of Ismail, Mohammed, Ahed, and Zakaria Bakr, the four boys that Hamas used as props in their Gaza beach deception operation of July 16, 2014. The first draft was extremely hard to finish. After I sent it to the director—who will remain anonymous—it suddenly hit me that it wasn’t any good. What I had to do was state the facts that are indisputable and then make all the guesswork into questions.

The second draft flowed out in record time, and it worked perfectly.

So, the script says this.

“Reporters arrived on the beach two minutes after the second explosion. They extensively filmed the area where Mohammed, Ahed, and Zakaria Bakr were later found. As you can see, no bodies were there immediately after the Israeli attack.”

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That’s a fact. There were no bodies in the sand when the reporters ran to the beach.

Much of my theory is supposition, which I present in the script as questions.

“Why are there no clear, close-up, unambiguous photos or videos of the three dead boys lying on the beach together?”

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I think I’ve discovered the answer, but it’s only an opinion, offered in the form of more questions.

Finishing the script made me feel hundreds of pounds lighter. Yesterday I suddenly began thinking of one of my favorite TV shows when I was a child in Texas: Cannon, starring William Conrad.

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It was a very elegant show with an ethos I like: “If you can’t hide it, paint it red.” Conrad’s weight was central to his character. He was at peace with his fatness.

After we moved to Texas, I became quite fat.

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Here’s a scene from my novel Chasing the Last Whale. The protagonist has just come out of the hospital.

The first thing Dad did when we got home was open my cupboards and refrigerator to make an inventory.

“I have enough food,” I said. “You don’t have to go shopping for me.”

“It’s not the quantity I’m concerned about. Look at this shit.” He held up a can of soup in each hand. “Steak and potato? Beef and cheese? Have you looked at the calories, sodium, and amount of saturated fat in these?”

“Sweetie, maybe you should let your father and me buy you something a little healthier,” Mom said.

I smiled. “Sure, why not? Like when I was in the second grade. Remember? While you and Dad and David and Emily were gorging on steak and French fries, I had to eat skinless chicken breasts and grilled vegetables. And that special no-salt canned food that tasted like water.”

My parents exchanged glances of pure revulsion, it seemed.

“And why did we put you on a diet?” Dad asked. “Was it because we just felt like being mean to you?”

“No, it was because I was overweight and had borderline high blood pressure.”

“And did the dieting bring down your blood pressure?”

“Yes.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“There’s no problem.” I sat down in the breakfast nook. “Why don’t we just recreate that whole era? You can prop two-by-fours on empty paint cans and have me spend an hour every day doing track-and-field exercises again. You can also draw up those charts.”

“What charts? I don’t remember any charts.”

“You stuck them to the fridge. Two columns per chart. The left column had the foods I could eat, and the right had the caloric content of each. The total number of calories allowed per day was written at the bottom of each chart in red ink, underlined twice and circled once.”

“Still don’t remember.” He thought, shook his head. “Nope. Sorry.”

Mom beamed at me, a warning to leave her out of it.

When Dad had declared that I would consult the charts before every meal, I said I didn’t want to.

He’d shrugged. “I don’t want to go to work every morning, but I do. And I don’t whine about it either.”

Nearly thirty years later, here we were in another kitchen, having the same conversation. For a moment I forgot how old I was, because my parents hadn’t changed much. Like David and Emily, they were ectomorphs, people with lean, muscular physiques. I was the family endomorph, someone with a soft, fat physique. To me, the word sounded like a variety of moist cake with thick, greasy icing.

That’s all pure fiction. I made it up. Every word.

In a Cannon episode, William Conrad phoned a witness to a crime. He’d met with her husband the day before.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re the detective. The, uh, uh—”

Yes,” he roared. “The FAT one!

He had a hell of a punch in the show, and he could run really fast. Just like me.

So yesterday I got the urge to hear the theme song from Cannon. I found it on YouTube.

I’d gotten it wrong. There was a different theme song in my head; after a little investigation, I identified it.

A perfect theme. The flutes give it a strange poignancy, while the tympani, scratch guitar, chimes, bass, and horns make it very powerful. It’s the music of an old man nearing the end but refusing to give up. I was disappointed that I’d confused the Barnaby Jones theme with the one for Cannon; it sort of ruined my cherished memory of the fat-man show.

And then this afternoon, as I went next door to feed Lyle Cat, a mockingbird in a tree behind my house sang the first bar of the Cannon theme. Clear as a bell. As I started writing this post, the mockingbird sang that bar over and over. It stopped after the sun went down.

I’ve been extremely upset about a lot of things. Life can be very hard. But if—if—someone arranged for a mockingbird to sing the first bar of the theme from Cannon just for me, that means everything is going to be all right.

You might not believe it, but I do.


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