Alan Brasington

About Alan Brasington

Alan Brasington, the Voice of Steinbeck Now, is an actor, director, and writer living in New York City who was born in upstate New York and trained at SUNY New Paltz and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England. He reads aloud from his own fiction, typically written from a child's point of view, as well from new work by other writers published at

Aunt Eller’s Runn’d Away: From Short Stories Set in Rural Upstate New York

Image from short stories set in rural upstate New York

“I love you,” said Ella.

“I love you,” Carl answered and held her. When they kissed, their heads pushed into the hay of the mow and they could smell the sweetness of the dry grass beneath. They didn’t see the gleaming flash of moonlight across the blade of shining steel pointing at them, nor hear the pushback of the barn door, or the footsteps padding softly toward where they lay. But suddenly the light of the moon was gone.

Across the yard rose the Price House, a large two-storey 10-bedroom building planted on a square of land called the “house lot” by those who lived in it. There was a toilet perched outside its back door, shingled to match the house and barns, and a well-house, just off the porch at the front. It sat atop a pushed-up round wall of “found” stones from the surrounding fields and had the familiar faded-green shingled roof that matched every other, even the chicken coops. A loud cranky handle poked out one side with a galvanized pail at the end of a wound of thick rope.

The “house lot” was surrounded by other plots named for what was planted there each year: the corn lot, the potato lot, the bean lot, the rhubarb lot, a pumpkin lot, and far below those, the wintergreen lot of low plants with dark waxy leaves and imperfect spotty pink berries poking out like the nubs of melted birthday candles.

“Look,” my Aunt Violet cried, who wasn’t my aunt yet, as she was only nine and I had yet to be born. Violet’s father called her the “miracle baby,” for she came only four months after he was married. Her mother, who grew very religious after learning of her pregnancy, treated those four months as if hers was almost a Virgin Birth. “Violet developed very quickly,” her mother said of her miracle, which occurred on the last day of November 1933, when it was almost Christmas. The next year, in May, my mother-to-be would be 10. My father turned 11 four days earlier, and I wasn’t to arrive on earth for another seven years.

“Look!” cried my not-yet aunt, and ran to the window with her brothers and sisters following. They collected at the casing and looked out at the dark winter night. The ice and snow of the wintergreen lot was lighted bright as day by some unknown energy. It was other-worldly and occurred often in the wintergreen lot. But no one understood why there was light at night more intense than any ordinary day. The field was electrified, as if a hundred florescent lights shone upon it from above. There wasn’t a shadow anywhere. The ice sparkled off the wintergreen berries, and their shiny dark leaves, still green under the snow, reflected that light from an invisible source that wasn’t, necessarily, overhead.

The family knew it wasn’t St. Elmo’s fire, for there were no cattails in the wintergreen field to spontaneously combust, and nothing else for burning, neither hay nor straw.

There was one loud knock on the front door, and as if by magic the field went dark. Violet and her family turned from its blackness and she ran to answer. Standing there in the opening was her uncle.

“Eller’s gone!” Mel groaned. “Your Aunt Eller’s runn’d away!” He came inside, his head almost touching the ceiling, for 1800s doorways and rooves were low to keep the coal-stove heat inside. Uncle Mel sat down on the slouching brown sofa and wedged himself between its two pillows. “I wonder where she’s gone?” he asked as if to himself. “And why she’s runned away?”

Aunt Ella was never heard from again. There were rumors after, for someone else was gone away too, a man everyone talked about in whispers. His name was “Carl . . .  Carl . . . ,” and he seemed somehow attached to Aunt Ella, like a Peter Pan shadow.

A distant relative who visited a clairvoyant came back with this message: “They were murdered and buried somewhere there’s water.” Everyone took in the message and shared understanding looks, but nothing else was said aloud.

“I think they’re somewhere in the wintergreen lot,” said someone who quickly added, “But don’t quote me.”

Everyone had doubts because the night of Aunt Ella’s disappearance, Uncle Mel decided to add a bathroom to his house and water to the kitchen sink. By the light of kerosene lamps hung on beanpoles, he dug deep trenches and coupled copper pipes that snaked through his holes in the ground. Afterward, when anyone came around they commented on the talking water that flowed in his underground pipes.

This was the country, and while folks thought it was strange to dig up frozen ground in the wintertime to install plumbing, no one said anything.

Though when Violet looked through the windows at her Uncle digging and saw the copper pipes shine in the glint of lantern light as he put them together, she thought his work was as mysterious as the unexplained light above the wintergreen meadow.

The next morning Uncle Mel invited everyone in to see his running water. “Should have done this when yore Aunt Eller was still here,” he said. “I should’ve done it fer her. She would’ve liked to hear the running water. I’ll think of her whenever I turn on the faucet.”

“Would he think of Carl too?” my not-Aunt Violet wondered. She was very perceptive. She understood things other people didn’t.

“There’s a separate pipe to the bathroom,” said Uncle Mel when he saw my not-Aunt staring up at him. He winked. “I have a cesspool too.”

Trawd: A Sketch

Trawd didn’t talk until he was 10 years old. Before that, he sat, or stood, rocking back-and-forth from one foot to another, staring into space and biting on his tongue. No one knew why he didn’t talk, but no one cared. No one was worried about it, at least. His mother Edith, in her flower-sack apron of red peonies, made tuna fish salad.

Once in a while she would take time from chopping the celery to look through the kitchen door into the living room where Trawd was standing at the window. “Would you like a tunafish sandwich?” She called. Trawd did understand but shook his head back-and-forth to say “No.”

Outside the snow was falling softly, and Trawd could see between the standing bushes of lilacs, the road, the fields beyond, the sky.

One day he would talk. When he did, he’d tell his mother Edith that when she chewed her tuna sandwiches, when her mouth was opened up, thick bubbles of mayonnaise stretched across her teeth and made bubbles that snapped green bits of celery into crevasses where they nestled in a slimy coat of saliva. He was fascinated by the moving bits in his mother’s mouth as her jaw moved up and down. He especially liked the colors: the celery was green, his mother’s hair was white, her hands were pink, her teeth were tan, and her watch had a gold band.

On his tenth birthday he blew out the dark green candles, and drips of wax plunged onto the chocolate-brown icing. “Happy Birthday, Claude,” said his father.

“I’m Trawd; I’m 10,” said Trawd finally. He had made the decision to talk, but still, no one seemed to care.


See That Dress? A Sister’s Birthday Celebration Story

See that dress over yonder? The one hangin’ over the door? My sister made that dress outta four chicken-feed sacks; from a pattern in Butterick’s, Number 1129. I ‘member ‘cause that was my sister’s birthday: November 29. She said it was her birthday dress – blue bachelor buttons, an’ yellow triangles with vampire-eye red dots in the center.

I saw my sister last week. She was sittin’ on the sofa when I went in; sittin’ in her room starin’ into space. I said, “Clodah, what ya doin’?”

“Oh, nothin’, Chaos,” she said. Our parents had a penchant for exotic names that began with “C” – Clodah and Chaos. . . .

“Why aren’t’cha watching TV?” I asked her.

“Don’t work,” she said.

“Don’t work?”

“Don’t work, uh uh.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Just don’t come on.”

“How long for?” I asked.

“Two weeks er so,” she said.

I pulled the TV from the wall, an’ there on the floor I saw the plug.

“Plug’s pulled outta the wall,” I said.

”Plug’s outta the wall?”

“Pulled out.”

“Oh, how?”

I pushed the plug in and the TV turned right on; the six o’clock news.

“All this time ya coulda been watchin’ the six o’clock news,” I says.

“Nothing on the news,” she said. “Nothin’ new; there’s nothing new anywheres.”

My sister died yesterday . . .  on the toilet. When the emergency took her off, there in the water below was her business big-as-life; shaped like a brown question mark an’ floatin’ in the water.

I’m gonna bury my sister in her birthday dress. My sister who said there was nothin’ in the news.

Charlie and the Crow: Kids’ Story by Alan Brasington

My name is Charles A. Farley, Arlington, Charles Arlington Farley. My friends call me Charlie; Charlie Farley, it rhymes. I live in the north of New York, the State, on the Canadian border; and my best friend is a talking crow. He lives in a barn next door and says, “Hello.” Yes, he can say “Hello,” an’ does whenever I go to see him. “Hello, hello.”

My friend has a little string attached around his leg, and his wings are clipped so he can’t fly away. He can imitate an airplane too – “brrrrup, brrrr.” And he calls “Arnold” and “Leila” because they own him and are always calling each other. “Arnold!” “Leila!” But that crow never calls me.

I look in that little crow’s eyes an’ wonder who it is that’s trapped inside him. When he says “Hello,” I think someone from another time must be inside wanting to get out. “Hello.”

I say “Hello” back when he says it. An’ I tell him my name is Charlie; “Charlie Farley,” I say. “It rhymes.” But still, he doesn’t say my name.

Then I think, “Wait, I don’t know his name neither.” Maybe it’s Buster. Buster-the-Crow is a good name for a bird. You wouldn’t call a crow Spot or Poochie; those are dogs’ names. An’ Frisky is what you’d call a horse. Fluffy would be a cat. An’ teeny would be yer mouse, ha ha.

Buster’s feathers are deep deep black that change colors as ya look at him – like motor oil on top of water – ya see purple, an green and there’s gold inside ’em when the sun shines down. His feathers are all shiny too. I wonder does a bird know that about his feathers. Can he see himself from the outside? Crows like shiny things. If ya went to their nests you’d prob’ly find old silver gum wrappers, maybe a gold thumb tack, an’ a lady’s emerald ring.

I wonder does Buster look at me an’ think, “That creature out there who’s askin’ me stuff – his covering is white like milk; an’ he’s got brown spots on his feathers that don’t shine in the day light.” I don’t find his feathers interesting; they’re not shiny like mine.

Buster doesn’t have a nest. He walks back-an’-forth across the barn rafter on which he’s tied. I never seen him sitting down like he would in a nest; but he must get tired sometime. But whenever I open the door, there he is waiting – “Hello,” he says when I walk in. An’ sometimes he does the airplane – ‘brrrrr.’ When he calls “Leila” or “Arnold” I know it’s because he wants them to untie his string an’ set him free. I sometimes wonder if I should . . . if I should . . . set him free. But he wouldn’t be able to fly away anyways. He can’t fly. He’d be walkin’ in the world below an’ what would happen if a cat or a owl came along. It wouldn’t be safe . . .  so I don’t.

An’ what would Buster eat if there was nobody to give him nothin’ the way Leila an’ Arnold do? I think maybe he might like it better bein’ free . . . to be dead, instantly, like a moth that is able to set itself on fire an’ burn itself up. Buster could acshully be alive for a minute doin’ something for hisself an’ not tied to a barn where all he can do is say “Hello” to people who don’t realize there’s someone inside . . . .  “Hello!”


My Grandpa Was a Beekeeper: Sketch

Image of Alan Brasington's upstate New York ancestorsMy Grandpa was a beekeeper. He kept bees in little white bungalows with a drawer at the bottom for wax combs and honey. Grandpa searched out bees in hollow trees and when he found them, dipped a roll of damp newspaper in gasoline and set it on fire to smoking. He put the paper inside the hollow tree and it confused the bees. They didn’t know what to do. We could see them flying in circles before they lit on Grandpa. They covered his head and arms, like a crawling long-sleeve shirt and hat. His eyes peeped through a mask that kissed his face. For the bees didn’t sting, Grandpa said, “because I’m not afraid.

“And smoke makes bees calm,” he said. “It bee-wilders them.”

They buzzed when Grandpa reached his arm into the hollow tree. His hand came out with the Queen in his palm. She was long and waxy-white. I knew if bees could scream that hive of bees were for they circled Grandpa’s head before they sat on him again. I could hear them crying: “Oh Man, you touched our Queen!”

Grandpa drove their Queen home on the seat of his Plymouth car. When he got there, he set her inside an empty white bee bungalow. And all the other bees flew off Grandpa and settled about their Queen. “Anyplace their Queen is, is home,” said Grandpa. “An’ there’s no place like home.”

“Stop playing around with those damn bees!” Grandma shouted through her kitchen window over the sink. “You hafta be crazy doin’ with those creatures,” she said, but Grandpa, who loved his bees, kept on.

The day after, a bee stung my father on the hand. His eyes swelled way up and so did his throat. He fell down on the ground and couldn’t breathe, hardly, so Grandpa took him to the hospital in the very car that had carried his Queen-of-Bees. The doctors said my father was allergic and gave him a shot of something so he could breathe again. And when he could see, they sent him home.

When they reached Grandpa’s field of bees there was only a black patch where the village used to be, because before my eyes, Grandma burned Bee Town to the ground in a great conflagration.

“My bees!” Grandpa cried as he ran from the car. “You murdered my bees!”

“About time, too,” called Grandma from her window.

A few months later my father was called into the Army. He was stationed in Georgia and got poison ivy. He wrote from the hospital to tell us he was allergic. So the Army sent him to Texas.
He telephoned to say he was in the hospital again. “I’ve come down with poison oak,” he said.

So the Army sent him in Hawaii, where he developed jungle rot. He was in the hospital for a very long time after, and when he was cured, the government sent him home. I thought maybe they’d heard about Grandma’s murder of the bees.

My father and mother went shopping the day after he arrived. And when they came back my father carried a box into the house.

“You can’t look yet,” said my mother. “Close your eyes.”

When she said, “Open now!” my parents were looking at me hard as they pointed to two new shirts on hangers over our living room door.

The one on the right was light green to represent the sea. There were puckering white waves with black fish swimming below them. Men in fishing boats, with creels beside them, held onto fishing poles. One man in a red shirt, his fishing line taut, his pole bent like a hunting bow, was pulling a huge swordfish toward the boat.

The shirt on the left was bright yellow. It had coconut buttons and large white Hawaiian flowers like those you’d see in a Tarzan movie.

“Which one do you like the best?” my father asked. My parents’ eyes looked deep into me as if his question was the most important one any person had ever asked.

It really made no difference to me, but I pointed to the yellow shirt. And from that day my father was allergic to me. Following in the footsteps of his mother, he burned me to the ground every time our eyes met.

“My bees!” my Grandpa cried at Grandma. “You murdered my bees!” And in that very same way my father continually murdered me.

From the Garden

Love-song lyrics about the types of flowers commonly found in gardens? It may sound unusual in connection with John Steinbeck, but the author who wrote “Chrysanthemums” loved to garden and grew many types of flowers and vegetables at home, even in New York. The New York actor and singer Alan Brasington liked the idea of song lyrics about the garden of love so much that he gathered, performed, and produced a medley of American love songs featuring the types of flowers Steinbeck would have known and grown a century ago. The SUNY New Paltz graduate and London-New York theater veteran sings with Alice Evans, an award-winning Broadway actress whose family descended from the American patriot Nathan Hale.