Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Leaving

A small leather suitcase sits open-faced on a purple and white floral bedspread. Just a little over half full, there are neatly folded shorts and colorful T-shirts stacked in neat little squares. Along the edges are soft balls of black and white socks. A young girl stands close to the bedside. In her arms is a striped sun dress. She presses the garment to her body and folds it, placing it carefully into the suitcase that sits like an open mouth, waiting to take whatever she gives.
The room hold the remnants of a recent childhood. The walls are painted a pale shade of pink. A stack of teddy bears sit in the corner close to a near-empty closet and the dark light of the night is blocked by a red velvet window shade. It is a girl’s room, but the girl in front of the suitcase is no longer a girl.
She is slender and tall, just over 5’8. Long brown wavy hair cascades down her back, looking like the rushing movement of a waterfall. The girl wears a long flowing nightgown with a yellow floral print on a white background. It is an old fashioned nightgown, covering her arms and legs and reaching her collar, but even beneath the yards of flowing cotton fabric, the body of a young woman pushes through, pushing itself outward like a daisy meeting the sun. The fabric below the lacy neckline is bulging with pointed breasts, but she stands in her bare feet beside the bed, next to the collection of little dolls on her dresser, the new woman still swimming through the child-like waves of time.
An older man with a weathered face and graying hair stands in the doorway, it is a threshold he cannot cross. But he stands staring in, looking at the girl he can barely recognize. Who is this woman in a girl’s room? He clears his throat and finally gives voice to his thoughts.
“Gloria, I really don’t know what you’re doing. You just can’t take a bus and get dropped off in the middle of the city. They’ll eat you alive there out there! Come on! You know better than this. You don’t know anybody there, you don’t have any friends there, you don’t even have a place to stay for Christ’s sake! What do you think you’re doing? Are you trying to kill your old man?”
The young girl holds still, then tucks another folded sun dress into her suitcase. She turns to her father. The gray hair by his ears, the sagging skin below his chin, the lines around his eyes, he looks older than he had at dinner. Wherever there was skin, there were worry lines etched into his face, but they had been there for years, slowly getting more and more defined. She looked at him with a small smile, a little bit of sympathy welling in her heart, giving him the smile of the truly innocent.
“You don’t need to worry. I know what I’m doing-”
“How can you possibly know what you’re doing?” he interrupted. “You’ve never been there, you have no place to stay. This is a half-baked plan at best.”
“Look, I’m almost eighteen, I can take care of myself.” She heard a small snort come from him. “I do. I told you already, I’m going to get a hotel room until I can find a place.”
“Do you have any idea how expensive hotel rooms are in New York? Your birthday money is going to disappear like that!” he snapped his fingers and tried to look out the window, but it was covered in a red shade.
“Look, I got to do this. My teacher said I have talent. What better place to go? I’m going to get a job and an apartment and it’s all going to be fine.”
The old man shook his head. He was powerless, unable to stop his daughter with force or words. She just had no idea…no idea at all. He shook his head and looked at his shoes, unsure of what to do next. She turned away from him, picking up another cotton T-shirt and folding it, tucking it neatly into the suitcase, it alone was going with her, into the heart of the city.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tunnel

Dirt cakes my fingernails. The tunnel is small, just slightly wider than the width of my body. I burrow my way through like a tiny animal searching in the darkness. I keep going, though I have no tools. No night vision, no sense of smell, there is nothing but the long tunnel ahead. I cannot go back. There is no place to turn around and the dirt walls hold me without remorse, without love or affection, they simply hold me, propelling me forward through necessity. Long ago I saw a flickering candle within the tunnel. It was that night when I stepped into the small hole full of orange poppies. I wondered how they blossomed in the hole without light, how they had managed to find a way to survive only in the moon glow. They smiled in the warmth of the flickering candle and showed themselves cautiously to the moon. I stepped into the hole with a sliver of light and with a tickling that covered the inside of my chest. I took off the clothes that had covered me like a second dirty skin. The mud soaked shirt and torn panties, I left them on the grass beside the hole and stepped into a place I had never been. I moved without thoughts, doing only what felt right. My feet took me in three circles to the right, I held up my hand towards the moon and opened the palm. Silvery light came through the soft flesh of my hand and tunneled through the length of my arm, crawling into my chest and them meandering into the circular cavern of my uterus. A sense of fullness brought me to my knees and I dug through the soil with my hands until I found the small opening. I moved as if I had done it so many times before, as though I fulfilled the destiny of the stars with each movement. I wiggled into the tunnel on my stomach, using the strength of my elbows and forearms to push me into total darkness. There was no “front,” just endless black that opened before me. Never a wall, never a fork, just endless open territory. I kept moving until sleep overpowered me. I lay like the dead, allowing the drifting forms of flames to enter my mind while my body lay motionless in the tunnel. I awoke frightened, unsure of what I had done, terrified to find myself surrounded on all sides by the thick walls of earth. Moving backwards is impossible, so I continue on. Moving towards the place I might have been but do not remember. I keep going. There was a flame, a moon and solid perception. I had once felt something, I had known something beyond words, now I travel through the swamp of fear and dirt, moving towards a place that has no name.


Friday, December 25, 2009

The Magician

The room was dim, lit only with one small white candle in the center. The candle flickered in a shallow glass dish above a square wooden table. The table was plain, embellished only with the swirling grains that came naturally to its form. Below the table was a striped woolen rug. There was not a single window. At one time, it had been a storage closet, but it had been converted into a living space not too long ago. Though the sky was hidden behind walls and a roof, he could tell it was evening. There was something tangible that had changed, something just a little softer that came through without the constant glare of the sun, like the walls themselves had relaxed with the setting sun.
A man stood upon the rug. He was five foot four and very slender. His feet were warm in their felt slippers, protected from the scratchy woolen rug below him and the cold linoleum floor which surrounded it like an ocean of cold. The man stared at the flickering candle on the table and spoke softly, just a few decibels above a whisper.
“Yeeessss!!! Oh god, Yessssss!”
The man looked up at the wall in front of him. The wall was bare, but behind it, on the other side, was a woman.
“OHHhhhhhh!!”
Her sounds were deep and guttural, mixed with a sigh of pleasure and a hint of pain.
He had never seen the neighbors, but he heard them often. Every few days he would be jolted into their universe with the first word that traveled beyond the wall, finding him amid prayers, or reading, or having a snack.
She always found him with her moans, and when he heard her screaming, it was like he was with them, in their bed, naked and grunting in unison. He imagined her spread-eagle on a bed where the sheets had been pulled back. Taut white skin glistened beneath the dim lamp and beads of sweat dropped from her lover, splashing over her firm nipples. He was with them, staring down like a bird, watching her wince in pleasured agony. He swooped down, nipping her skin with his beak, filling her open mouth with a drop of his spit.
He imagined the man, a huge beast that turned his woman into tiny pretzels, filling her with every bit of power that he had. And he was with them, when she moaned, he was with them, glistening and panting and moving in one more time.
He moved his toes in his felt slippers.
“Yes,” he said to himself, “come back to what you are doing.”
“AHHhhhh!” the woman screamed.
He wiggled his toes again in an effort to ground himself, to bring himself back into the walls he knew as home. There were other times he could be with them, now he had started his mantram and he needed to focus. The walls of his house, the candle before him, his feet above the woolen carpet.
“Be here.”
He felt a flush of movement within him as his mind raced back to the naked woman. His penis filled with blood. He took a deep breath, the slow inhalation lasted for thirty seconds. Then he held it, letting his chest grow tight with the pressure of so much air. When he couldn’t hold it anymore, he exhaled slowly, so slowly he felt like he had to take another breath very soon, and though his body cried out for air, he maintained his slow release.
The candle flickered violently in the wake of his exhalation and he looked into the flame. It moved always, allowing him, if he could manage to hold his attention, to never see the same thing twice. He stared and it was long and slender, nearly completely white, then it flickered and danced, moving to the right in a graceful sweep around the side of the wax. He inhaled slowly as he watched it, drawing up the energy which had filled his penis, letting it rise and swirl within his chest.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah, ohhhhhhhhhhhhh……”
“She’s climaxing,” he thought. He let himself feel her tension, letting the sound of her come into him while he held his eyes on the candle.
“Don’t fight it, take her in.” he told himself.
He listened to her, he could almost feel a rocking motion in the floor, he could hear her panting. He let the reverberations of her pleasure fill him with energy. He brought it up, out of the solid shape which had been his penis and into his spine, up into his chest, letting it move through his heart. The question was never where the energy would come from, but what you would do with it. And he felt a rush of gratefulness.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bunny Suit

The small storage room is crowded with large cardboard boxes of paper plates. Small boxes with white napkins and plastic drinking cups are scattered among the cartons of household cleaners and milk crates of packaged snack foods. Along the walls are old wooden shelves assembled by a forgotten handyman, each level stuffed with dusty unlabeled boxes that have been left for time to dispose of. The floor is a peeling particleboard that promises a new life within its cracks, a world of pressed fissures and lost landscapes, but there is no time to explore, the revelers are already outside and their sounds seep through the metal door that separates the storage room from the greater world. The cries from outside speak of shapes not yet seen and of laughter without reason. The room of many boxes shakes and rolls with the burden of forms. Circles, folded rectangles, plastic forks, spilled sugar packets. Used to quiet afternoons and the slow gathering of dust, the room with its lost inventory has a rarified stillness about it. Despite the noise seeping through the cracks, despite the vibrating walls, despite the four girls sitting among the piles of cardboard boxes. There is stillness, the all-encompassing silence before the orgasm. The moment of held breath, just the singular beat of life making its subtle music. The girls sit for lack of choice, there is no space but the one path in front of the door. It reaches through the heart of the space, crossing it like a path through the forest, then disappears into the mess of spilled boxes excreting their white paper blood.
Three of the girls are small and slender, just a few years over twenty. Norma lets her body melt into the unexplored floor, her eyes linger on the long strips of pressed wood beside her shoe, but she looks up and lets her back push into the forgiving wall of a worn box. Her head tilts slightly back, her eyes on the only thing moving. In the dim light it is hard to see, there are no windows. Somewhere far above, connected to the ground only with a long thin cord, is a lone light bulb.
Shouts of joy come in quick intervals from outside. The quiet neighborhood is alive with the bubbling of a growing celebration. The three slender girls are ready, but they are still and sit on the ground like relaxed statues. Three sets of eyes focus on Sheena, the largest of the four. She stands in the center of the small path through the room, wrestling with yards of furry fabric. The roundness of her thighs, the bulging ass and layers of stomach make it difficult for her to fit in the suit, but she pulls and zips and squeezes herself into the costume. She pulls the oversized head on and they are finally ready. Three young women and one gigantic gray bunny.
The fur is a welcome second skin. The streets are crowded and she would rather no one sees her pale wide flesh. Its just easier this way. Three pretty girls and one gray bunny. The people on the street will look at her, and for once, she will not be afraid to stare into their eyes. Only no one meets her stare. The street is full of revelers, only she is so strange, no one even turns their head in her direction. She wonders if they can tell she is inside. Do they know someone is inside? Do they care? “Hey, I’m human!” she wants to scream, but no one looks up. The frail looking couple, the old man, the skater boy, not one looks up from the sidewalk, not one looks into the plastic eyes of the bunny suit, no one searches for her own smaller pair seeking theirs. The corner of the street is packed with people, the crowd stands awkwardly at a street light, waiting for the signal to move. The big bunny face looks down, into the seat of a small gray stroller. A baby looks up, into the false plastic eyes that point in its own direction. The small face stares, a deadpan expression on its face for two seconds, then it erupts into a large smile.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Belief

We had just returned from a shapeless journey. We were back from a place that had no distinct barriers, no easily accessible gateways, no signs or guideposts by which to navigate. It was a place as far away as it was possible to conceive of distance, and yet as close as being right where we were, a place as close as never having left at all.
Mother sat in front of me, her legs crossed, her eyes still wide open and full of a kind of thick ancient wisdom that made my bones shiver. I looked into her eyes patiently, knowing that the gaps of silence were simply there to allow for the formation of new messages. I would wait for these new messages to come, as they had come to me so many times already. The air was thick with twilight shadows and the walls seemed to blur into clouds of vapor that danced at the edges of my sight. I could, every now and then, make out the long windows to my left, the slanted wooden roof above me, the dark blue door to my right, all of it in the midst of the vapor that never stopped moving. Most of all, I could only look into Mother’s eyes. They never wavered, never looked away, never blinked, never hesitated in their permanent, solid attention.
“You will have to travel again,” she said, in a voice that was low and rumbling, a voice that slipped sideways in a drunken way and yet seemed full of ancient certainty. “You will have to travel far. You will go through seven different levels. Each level will have its own distinct challenge and you will have to face each challenge. You will move through each of them and you will make your way through all the many obstacles. When you are done, you will come back here and I will be waiting.”
I left right away. As soon as the blue door closed behind me, all my memories had been set aside, all thoughts of the past were left back there, in that room, waiting for my return. I traveled for so long that many times I forgot where it was that I was going or why I was going there. I could only sense a vague notion of direction that still clung to me underneath layers of complex and interconnected stories. I made my way through each obstacle as it stood before me and, finally, I traveled all the way to the end of that invisible path. As I moved past each obstacle, each one vanished before my eyes. The levels, the chambers, the doorways, the other travelers, they all disappeared from my thoughts. By the time I arrived at the end, I could not remember a single place, a single event, a single moment. I simply knew I had traveled and I knew that I had come back.
When I stepped into the old room I had left so long ago, the elements were there just as I had left them. The long windows were now filled with light and they were distinct and clear under the thin cover of an old brown curtain. The slanted wooden roof was also clear and solid, there were no shadows to hide the black shapes that were scattered over the dark brown surface. The blue door was there as well, thick and heavy and old.
Mother was still there as well. She was no longer sitting up cross-legged as she had been when I had left. Instead, she was laying down on her side, breathing deeply and slowly, peacefully asleep.
There was a recurrent noise in the room that seemed unfamiliar to me. It was a tiny voice full of treble and fury that tickled at my ears like the sound of buzzing mosquitoes. I turned to see a small black radio sitting on the wooden bed frame that reached towards the windows. The tiny voice spoke of a Savior and of the Judgement that was soon to come. It threatened the listeners with endless damnation and terrible gut wrenching punishments. It pushed them towards fear and subjugation.
I sat by the side of the bed and listened to the tiny voice repeating itself over and over while Mother continued to sleep, oblivious to the sound of the radio or the repeated words of unavoidable doom. I sat there and waited, watching breathing slowly, watching her chest move up and down with each deep breath.
After some time had passed, she opened her eyes and smiled at me. Her eyes were no longer as wide as they once had been. Fear had crept into them while I had been gone in my travels.
“Why were you listening to that?” I asked, with an eager curiosity that couldn’t understand her purposes.
She looked at me with a face full of gravity and seriousness. The slippery drunkenness was gone and it had now been replaced by a fearful rigidity.
“It’s all true. The Book is true. The Judgement is true and it is soon coming. The Savior is true as well. It is all true. It was always true but we didn’t know it. We will have to study the Book. There is much to learn, much to understand. And we have very little time.”
I smiled and nodded, trying to make sure that I didn’t show any sign of surprise. But behind my own eyes I was asking myself what had happened, what events had brought her to this place of fear, what had transpired while I was gone and far away. I worried that my absence itself could have frightened her, even if she herself had made me go. We can never know what we truly want, until it’s too late to change our minds.
“We traveled far together. We went right to the place where our stories end and other stories begin, we went to the place of bright light where all paths come to fruition, we went to the place that is itself the end and the source for all stories. It is a beautiful place. It is a frightening place. I understand why you would now need a thick blanket. It is very cold when one is alone, and when the light is bright but the stories are gone, then it’s even colder. I was gone for a long time. I am sorry to have been gone so long. I did my best to come back as soon as I could. But the blanket is now unnecessary. I am back. The stories end. The stories begin. The stories will always continue.”
The tiny voice kept on speaking under me, a counterpoint of quickly moving staccato threats and thick rumbling choruses to my single tenor line.
Mother nodded and spoke once again.
“The Book is true. It was always true. We just didn’t know it.”
I reached towards the radio and turned it off with one click. The wave of silence expanded through the room like an explosion, shaking the walls all around us in a subtle way that only barely registered at the edges of my vision.
“The Book is true. All Books are true. All words are true. True in their own existence. True in their own shape. True in their own sound. It has always been so. It could never be otherwise. But as true as all words are, all their meanings are false.”
Mother looked at me then, and her eyes didn’t waver with fear as much as they had when she first opened them. Her attention once again fell on me like a great metal weight from a great height.
“This is only a return. The stories go in circles and you now go in a great circle as well. Soon you will be young and innocent, soon you will be in a place that is green and hot and violent, soon you will believe that circles are no more and you will struggle for a vision that others hold above you, soon you will listen to men that speak in measured tones, soon you will find someone to protect you, soon it will all be gone and it will be just you and me, here in this room, travelling forever, together, once again. Then the circle will be complete. No matter what the hopes, no matter what the intentions may be, you and I will travel once again, together. Just like we always have.”
She nodded slowly and her eyes were now wide open as they had been when I left on my solitary journey.
“It’s true… what you say is true… but it’s terrible, just terrible.” She said it so slowly that the words bounced off the bed frame and onto the white brick floor like the shadows of forgotten nightmares. “It is terrible and true, and I am afraid to give myself to it completely. Maybe if I only slept a little longer.”
I just looked at her and the twilight clouds began to form around us. The journey had started once again and there was no turning back.
“You will have to believe in me, believe in me with all your power. That is all that we have left, that is all that I have left to offer. Believe in me and maybe that will hold me from the abyss.” She spoke and thick bright tears streamed down her cheeks. As I looked at her tears, I noticed I had tears of my own and they were spilling over my face and down onto my chest.
“Believe in me and maybe we will find a way out.”
I told her many times that I did believe but she just kept on pleading. Soon the walls had vanished behind the twilight, and the windows were gone and the roof and the door. And then we had crossed the invisible gateway and there was only her voice asking for my belief and my own voice telling her that she had it, telling her that it had always been hers. But as much as I said it, she couldn’t bring herself to believe me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Moment of Difference

The apartment’s living room was a wide rectangle. Across one of the wide sides was an equally long single pane window which looked into the shabby courtyard one floor below. In the courtyard, the circular fountain had stopped flowing many years before, the grass had turned yellow and just the hearty oaks continued to thrive. Daylight was beginning to break into an electric spectacle of brilliant blue. It came in through the unobstructed window and added a tint of dim light to the room.
He sat on the tall wooden backed chair stolen from the kitchen. It was the only bit of furniture in the room. He sat nearly straight, but for the small hunch in his upper back. An unfiltered cigarette hung from his lip, just as they had hung from the bristly upper lip of his father. He took a long drag, holding the cigarette with his thumb and index finger, his eyes rolled across his loot, they rolled across it like a pilot surveying the curvy hillsides far below.
It had been a good night, a productive night. There were a few TVs, one old VCR and three nearly new DVD players. In addition, there were a handful of CDs and a few necklaces. One of them had some pearls on it and he made a mental note to check their worth.
This was what he liked about his job, the tangibility of it all. The rock solid possession. There was no abstraction, no maybes, just good solid atoms that came together to form recognizable shapes. He would sit on the same chair every morning, when the light was just cracking through the horizon, he would sit back with a swirl of smoke and ash about him and survey the bounty.
He likened it to being a hunter and having something tangible at the end of the day, having something to show for the effort, something earthly and real and solid, something he could pound his fist on or throw across the room. It was real and he liked it.
He avoided numbers on a check and their abstractions. He didn’t play around with banks that promised money on little slips of paper. They were all promises, and above all, he hated promises. Promises depended on someone to fulfill them, they implied vulnerability and trust and patience. He dealt only in the real as much as he could help it.
The TVs were real. He could plug them in and watch them or sell them or, as he sometimes did, throw them from the window in a fit of madness. He would watch them splinter and send their screams through the courtyard and he would know they were real.
He had no time for the objectless, for the illusion of accumulation and wealth. The world would not provide for him, the world would not keep its promises, so he made sure to take what he needed. He never asked, he just took.
When he found he needed something, he went out and got it. He took it. He made it happen. The night shadowed his intent and he moved through it like an animal, sniffing out what he needed, finding a way to shift past the obstacles unnoticed and then, as the light changed to blue, he would slink back into his cave, bringing with him the prey he had killed.
He needed… he took. He wanted… he took. There was no need for patience, no need to slave away as a salesman or beneath the hood of a car. If he needed it, he would get it. It was simple. There just wasn’t time for patience, a gentle finesse, or even a polite “please.” It was now or never and he never waited an extra day.
The light came through the window in a brilliant mess of blue, it caught the smooth glass of the TV set and he saw his reflection. There he was, in his chair, in his white T-shirt and rumpled blue jeans and short brown hair.
He saw himself and remembered another. The man he had seen walking past the bookstore two nights before. It was so dark that night, but the man’s white hair was shining in the darkness like a gleaming orb of promise and knowledge. He himself was hidden behind a car on the other side of the street, hidden in the dark shadows of the city, waiting for the perfect moment to take what was about to be his.
But for a moment, he forgot his intent. He watched as the old man walked slowly past the dim illumination of the store’s window. Walking as though there was nothing else to do, nowhere else to be, nothing more important than the one step he was taking at that exact moment. The long white hair fluttered slightly with each step and each one was taken with a deliberate slowness. It was a slower gait than any he had ever seen, almost like a dance of liquid.
For a moment that seemed to continue forever, the man walked, trailed by little specks of white light and a blue trail of dust. The man took the world like a drop of water smoothing a stone. It took more than a moment for him, more than a lifetime perhaps, but the man could ultimately bend the world into the shape he envisioned. It was not now or never, but just a matter of time.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Justice

She sat alone at the wrought iron table, the wind blowing her blond tresses into soft billows around her face. Watching the steam rise from a white ceramic mug, she kept her hands knotted together under the table. Now and then she glanced at the people who passed her by, a woman with a baby budgie, a couple carrying parcels. She waited and waited for the man who had said he would come, but he never came and the steam disappeared and the mug grew cold.
While she waited for him, another man sat in a parked car across the street watching her wait. He knew that Giovanni would not come, knew that the little blonde would sit at the table and wait to no avail. He knew these things because they had been agreed upon.
“She sounded very upset.” Giovanni had said. “She wants to meet me at The Star, you know that place?”
“No, I don’t,” he had said, gripping the receiver as though it would wriggle away.
“It’s a new place in North Beach, I don’t have the address.” Giovanni told him
“It’s okay, I can look it up.” He had answered.
“So now we are even, right?” Giovanni had asked “I am giving you this meeting with the girl and our old grievances will be forgotten?”
“If she’s there, yes.”
“She says she’ll be there. She sounded upset. I made her beg. I told her I couldn’t at first, I admit I was going to let her slip through my fingers and never tell you. But she begged. It sounded like she had been crying. This new man… he probably hurt her. Serves her right. And she comes crawling to me after she had said she wouldn’t see me…” Giovanni’s voice rose wrathfully and he broke off abruptly. After a moment he continued, “She deserves this.”
And after another beat he asked, “ I’ll have no trouble renewing my permits now?”
“If she is there, then you will have no trouble.” He had answered icily, because right then he had been awash with conflicting emotions; the thrill that there was a chance he would see her again, jealousy because she had called Giovanni and not him, rage because it meant that she had never loved him. She had only used him, and with a wretched pang he realized that she must actually care for Giovanni, that he was not one of the men she could use, because like her, he was a rag tag street artist with nothing, but she continued to seek his company.
“She will. I know she will. At three o clock.” Giovanni had said and then he had hung up.
Now with both pain and relish he watched the contortions of her face. Rejection and loneliness swam over her eyes and mouth and made her knot her hands even tighter under the table.
He felt for the pistol in his jacket pocket and thought that maybe this was enough. He looked himself in the eye in the rearview mirror. A man with hard set eyes and a pencil line moustache regarded him immovably. It reminded him of the bills he was still paying so that she could look so lovely sitting there at that table, in the clothing and jewelry he had purchased for her. In fact, he said to himself, she had bled him dry just to make herself more appealing for the next dupe, so she could upgrade and snag someone with even more money than he had. He stepped out of the borrowed car and crossed the street and sat down at her table. He watched the incredible shock spread out over her face. He watched it freeze for a moment like a mask. Then she said,
“Lindsay!”
“Hello. Alice.”
But they both noticed that his voice was not as soft as it used to be, it nearly sounded like the voice of another man, a colder harsher man
She glanced around herself, perhaps to see if her Giovanni was anywhere near, but he was not.
“I,” she said “don’t want to see you anymore. I have to go.” She started to stand, but he drew the pistol out of his pocket and pointed it at her discreetly from across the table.
“Yes.” He said, “You do. But first we’ll go for a drive.”
He stood up and, with the gun still trained on her, he used his free hand to grab her arm and direct her out of the chair. Then he buried the gun’s muzzle in her soft side and with the other arm around her shoulders, he led her across the street and to the parked rental car. For just a moment, he felt his heart stinging again and all he wanted to do was to embrace her and beg her to come back. Then he remembered the windy streets and the weeks of searching and lying awake at night, chest aching. He knew if he gave her a chance she would run away again and this time he might not be able to find her. The little sting was overcome by the numbness and new found hardness within him. He shoved her into the driver’s seat and closed the door before sliding into the back seat behind her.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Strength

Lindsay Werner was one of a rare breed of man, the type who dressed impeccably but modestly and showed courtesy to everyone, even those who lacked this quality themselves. He wore crisp white collared shirts and pressed slacks of black or charcoal gray supported by gray suspenders. His ties were shiny, he liked the shiny ones, but of classic hues such as maroon or royal blue embellished with little patterns in gold or gray or black. His glasses had plastic frames to reduce the chance of breakage, and were of a tortoise shell pattern in earthen hues. He wore soft leather wing tipped shoes that were all black so that you would only notice the wing tip quality if you examined them closely, and black nylon socks pulled up over his calves. He had dressed this way in his youth and he dressed this way even now as his years progressed and his neatly trimmed fine hair turned gray at the back of his head but remained black at the crown and his pencil line mustache was all salt and pepper.
He worked for the city arts commission issuing permits to crafters who desired to pedal their wares on the streets of San Francisco. He loved art and music, but lacking the courage, talent, and skill to produce anything himself, he was satisfied with working close to creative people. Although he might only encounter a particular artist once or twice, he enjoyed the momentary proximity. They would come into his office after demonstrating to a panel that they were indeed the artist or crafter who produced the goods they intended to sell, and there, behind the walls of his cubicle, he would accept their check or credit card and write out their permit and laminate their photograph into an official street vender identification badge. It was in this way that he met Alice.
She was a painter with long honey colored hair and blue eyes and skin like milk. She wore long flowing scarves of bright colors and knitted hats and billowing goucho pants. Every gesture, every glance of hers was filled with vitality, and spark. She was too young to sport even crows eye wrinkles or fine lines on the forehead. She showed him an abnormal amount of attention there in his office, standing terribly close to him as he filled out the paperwork on a counter beside the desk. It made him tremble. She touched his suspenders and gazed into his eyes and made him completely dizzy.
“Do you like Dashiell Hammett? The Maltese Falcon?” she asked him and he had been scarcely able to nod and cough out a yes.
“Well you remind me of a character from a book like that, the way you look. But are you the villain or the good guy?” she asked him pulling on the suspender a little and turning her face up to his.
“The good guy I hope.” He said honestly.
“Hmm.” She smiled, “I’m sure you are. But we should find out.” She took a step back from him and began to collect her things.
“I’m not, uh… quite finished with your permit yet.” He told her.
“That’s all right.” She said, “You can bring it to me when you pick me up for dinner.”
“D-Dinner?” he stammered.
She nodded,
“Dinner. Tonight. 7pm. You can pick me up on the corner of Geary and Folsom.”
Then she left him standing there alone, sweating and shaking.
He had picked her up that night, exactly at seven, and soon she was living with him, sharing meals with him, sleeping with him, and making love to him. There had never been a woman like Alice before. He gave her money for clothes and art supplies, he bought her jewelry and flowers. She transformed his living room into a makeshift studio, setting up her easel over a sheet, and soon the room was full of pieces of art. Now he was closer than he had ever been to the creative process. He watched her in awe and even sat for her once.
She had a way of asking him for money that he could not refuse. He gave it to her until his account was overdrawn and he was pulling it from his savings.
Then one evening he came home from the office and found that she was gone, every sign of her had vanished. He sat down in the empty living room, full of shock. The trembling and sweating began as it had on the day that he met her and soon it transformed into tears. In the following weeks he searched for her on the streets, looking for her in the places were she used to sell her art. He asked the other vendors but none of them had seen her, no one knew where she had gone. Then one day a little Italian photographer, a young man with long dark hair stared at him for a long moment after he asked about Alice.
“You’re the one that lives on Lombard right? 326? She had me up there sometimes when you were at work. Forget about her. She’s no good. You seem nice, if I had known you I wouldn’t have gone into your bed with her like that.”
He stared back at the man in shock, in terror in disbelief. For the first time in his life he felt an incredible rage. He wanted to grab the young man by the throat. His skin turned red.
“Do you know where she is?” he asked “Is she with you?”
“With me?” the man laughed bitterly, “No. She took up with some business man living in Nob Hill. She won’t see me anymore either. Forget about her. She is no good. She looks like a lamb, but my friend, we are the lambs. She’s the lion.”
Then he had turned away and busied himself shuffling black and white prints, perhaps to hide his own emotion, and Lindsay wondered away down the windy street huddled under his jacket. Now he felt like a character from a Dashiel Hammet novel, most definitely, the good guy, the one who gets duped, and this new awareness of himself stung him fiercely and unrelentingly in the heart.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Map

As the metal gate squeaked open and he stepped into the cool bright air of the morning, he could see his destination. It was just two blocks away from where he now stood, but there were worlds between them. A sea of gray sidewalk that hid within it all the siren calls, all the sunken ship of dreams, all the maps to hidden island nations filled with spice and mushroom and song and music that shattered the mind into a spectacle of colored light.
The worlds were always there, but they took a careful look, more than most could give. That, he knew. You just couldn’t see them from a bus window, or a slowly moving bicycle, or even on a brisk walk. They were micro spaces that required micro attention. It was true attention, and it was what he had developed. And because he had developed it, he looked harder to find them. So everyday he opened the squeaky metal gate and stepped onto the sidewalk.
He looked up two blocks and saw the sign of the liquor store on Lombard and Dominican Dr. It was his eventual destination, but as soon as he saw it, he put it out of his mind. There were worlds to walk. To get there, he followed the cracks in the sidewalk, letting them lead him like a well-made map.
Of course, he knew the way, objectively, it was a short distance. For any other person around him, it was a quick walk. And though he knew it could be like that, simple, fast, blind, he chose to move a different way. He chose to voyage.
He let the lines in the earth lead him. The earth that had long ago been covered up by man and his concrete and his dominance, and his shortsighted plans. But nothing was permanent, and the earth moved like a softly groaning woman. It moved softly and subtly, but just like a woman, its force was known, shown to all that could look and see her sounds.
The cracks were her revolt, her soft laughter and cry. There were cracks everywhere, long straight ones that ended at the asphalt street and the jagged ones that looked like lightning and seemed to move in all directions simultaneously. Everywhere were the signs of the shifting earth and shifting time and he followed them.
Each day was slightly different, each route deviated slightly along the sidewalk, leading him past small remnants he had never seen, like the forgotten penny, the just-blooming daisy that had found the sun. Time was no concern, the weather was no concern, it all brought new gifts. A new shift of light, or a droplet of rain that would splatter between the cracks and bring out a bit of dark brown earth.
He let the cracks lead him, and because he relented to their shape, they showed him things he would have missed. Though he didn’t look up, he could feel the energy around him. The quick movements of the bus, the lone bicycle that sent a gust of air over him.
They passed him in a second. They passed him and the missed worlds and they never saw the treasure. He could hear some questions from outside, or perhaps they came from within him…he heard the echoes…”why?” The questions of those not looking perhaps.
They were questions lost in the wind and he walked past them, drinking them, eating them, letting them roll through him like another breath of air. The why for them could not be explained with the words of a meandering explorer, they were deaf to his words and blind to his actions and his true motive. He walked through the questions, slowly following the path of the day.
When the world was walked, he would claim his treasure. Sweet liquid gold would coat his tongue and throat and he would drink it as though there had never been anything else. Nothing from the twelve years that had come before, nothing that would ever come after.
This is the day that worlds were crossed. The only day in which it could ever happen.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Temperance

Those who passed by only glanced at the spotted old man seated on the bench in front of the barber shop. It was not his age which caused them to swiftly avert their eyes and pretend utter absorption in their private conversations. It was something about the man, about his hard dark little eyes and erect posture. Even in the throngs of old age, he looked as though he would be a formidable opponent, an old dog you wouldn’t want to scrap with. These were the lingering vestiges of his past and youth; the piercing hawks eyes and tightly drawn mouth. It was not a smile or a frown, but something else; an omission. From behind that face he might be thinking that you were a true friend or he might be thinking that he should bust your knee caps. Now he would never bust anyone’s knee caps, but in his youth he would have, and his adversary would not have known what he was thinking until it was too late. Despite the fact that his only present wish was to sit quietly by the slowly spiraling barber pole and watch the comings and goings of Main Street, his face still wore the harsh mask of his youth. He had grown so accustomed to wearing it that few other options remained.
Most days were sunny. Even in the winter, the air would be cold but clear and the sun would dazzle in the blue sky, refusing to give up its place on the throne. It was rarely so cold that one should do more than wear a jacket and put ones hands in the pockets. The idyllic lampposts were adorned with red ribbons and faux pine wreaths and little banners welcoming tourists to The City of Lake Elsinore. The old man on his bench could watch the people marching up the sidewalk to the popular Mexican restaurant on the corner for lunch or for dinner. Other restaurants had come and gone along this street and other little shops were stocked with antiques and curios. Only the barber shop and the Mexican restaurant had withstood time along with the tanned old man and his crisp bowling shirts. The Mexican restaurant had begun as a tiny hole in the wall and over time had expanded and swallowed up neighboring units thanks to its success, and though they still displayed the old pieces of folk art that first graced their walls, they now included glittering suns of hammered copper and shiny mirrors and a fancy lighted sign outside.
The barber shop had remained as it always had been, and it had been there nearly as long as there had been a town. The old man, watching the life of the Main Street trickle down the black vein, was the owner. His daughter ran the business now, still occasionally coming in and cutting hair, but for the most part she had been swept up in the stream of life that flowed around the barber shop but rarely trickled in. There were a few old men who were regular customers, old men who had learned that behind the stony face of the man on the bench they were regarded as friends. With them he would let that mask go and wear an occasional smile, a face he had only learned as he had aged. A few of them had been there in the days when he would break another man’s knees or drive a car off the Ortega highway and point out to the owner that it was only by his grace that they had not been inside the vehicle during the accident. Like him, all these old men had children that picked them up to come over on Christmas day and gave them photos of grand children and great grandchildren to hang over their television sets. Like him they had once thought of themselves as business men that knew how to get things done. Like him they now watched the world rushing by and wondered what the hurry was. If anyone would have asked, they could have told them that there was no hurry, that everyone was heading the same place. These old men had invoked death on a few occasions, accidentally and not so accidentally, and the taste of it had tempered them.
Sitting on the bench in front of the window with the words BARBER SHOP painted in gold, the old man regarded the old sun blazing in the sky and was glad that it would not rain today. In his youth he had been a rainmaker. Now he was content to let the sun shine on.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Changing Of Matter

It was a place very different and distant from any place I had ever known. The buildings were all gray and dark blue and a very faint green hue that almost looked like gray. They were all drawn in sharp narrow angles that made them seem both stretched and squashed down at the same time, like reflections in a fun house mirror. All the curtains were closed and the few lights that I could see were all a very pallid shade of yellow. The walls were all thick and heavy and old, structures meant to outlive their inhabitants by centuries, burdened by the years, laden with unspoken stories. The streets were quiet and made of little white stones, and there were long tall barriers that delineated where the city ended and the green country began.
I sat behind a tall window in a nearly empty room. My own curtains were only half open. Inside the room, there was only a narrow bed and an old desk marked by years of usage. I sat on a little chair staring at the strange world outside. It all smelled of cold moisture and crackling cold air. I could feel some of the cold air that made it through the slim gaps in the windowsill. A few people came and went, moving slowly with their eyes always fixed upon the ground. I wondered what they were hiding, but I didn’t know enough about them to even begin to ask what they would want to hide.
I looked up at the empty gray sky and I saw the vast green and blue mountains in the distance, crowned by solemn peaks of white ice. I took a deep breath when I gazed upon their magnificence, and soon I had to look towards the street again, where a man slowly pulled on a cart that made a recurring wooden rhythm on the clear white stones.
I knew I had something here, somewhere else within this place that was now our home, something that I valued intensely even if I couldn’t remember what it was. I felt that I was in great risk of losing it, I felt that it could disappear just like our old home had disappeared, just like the street I remembered and the people I had known, it had all vanished like the morning mist fading under the hot sun. We were in a strange land where we didn’t know the rules and we didn’t know the dangers. Whatever we had could be taken away and we would never know why it had happened, we would never even have a chance to ask.
“Back where we came from, there was much more danger than there could ever be here, there was violence and war and hatred…and yet I wasn’t afraid… I never spent a single afternoon, maybe not even a single hour, full of fear…why am I afraid now?”
I turned away from the window and I saw my two possessions on the surface of the dark brown desk: a bluish palm sized river stone and an old thick book that explained what to do with the stone that was laying next to it. As I looked at them, I remembered what the book said and I remembered why I felt that these things could be taken and I remembered why, once taken, they would never again be found.
The book explained what to do to the stone, it spoke in a language that I somehow found legible and yet utterly foreign at the same time. It spoke of strange purposes that made no sense to my everyday mind and yet they pulled at something deep within my chest that was eager to come out, eager to emerge into the daylight. The book explained that there were certain actions to be taken, certain things to be done to the stone. These things were strange and forbidden, they came from beyond the thick barriers of the known quiet world. Once these actions were taken, once these things were done, then the matter inside of the stone would change in some very intrinsic manner. That was all I knew at the moment. That was enough.
I looked at the stone which rested quietly on the brown surface of the old desk, and I looked at the thick book which was closed and locked and covered in ancient heaviness. I then lifted my head and looked at Mother who was sitting in the middle of the room looking back at me. She was silent and her face had a kind of gravity that I recognized as delicate but guarded. Still I felt an urge to speak and I did.
I pointed to the book that sat on the desk and I spoke of the things that were written within its pages. I tried to let her know what we had and what it was meant for, even if the purposes were hidden in a murky fog that my words could not penetrate. I spoke for a long time, making long circles of interlocking sentences. When I was finished, Mother shook her head. All my efforts had been useless. I couldn’t make her understand.
I reached under my bed and pulled out another rock from a hiding place I had not known about just a few moments before.
“Look Mother, this one has already been open, this will make it all clear, this will let you understand all that I have been trying to say.”
The new rock was like an open box with a tunnel inside, a tunnel that led into complete darkness deep within the tiny walls of stone. There were two small wheels on either side of the opening, keeping the jagged wound from healing and closing up. With my index finger, I pointed straight into the darkness, feeling the icy cold on my skin.
“Look Mother, that is where the matter is, that is where it has always been hiding…”
But Mother just shook her head and looked straight at me. She was as quiet as the streets outside, as the thick heavy walls, as the closed curtains, as the distant mountains crowned with white.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Challenges and Rewards

I flew through clear fresh air and the landscape fell before me like a great bed sheet full of lumps and dunes, light brown touched here and there by green and blue. I could see flocks of birds in the distance and the tops of all the little trees that were so far below me as to seem unreal. The land went on like this for as far as I could see. There were no cities or towns or even roads, so sign of any kind of civilization. It was all clear and empty and raw, and the freshness was so strong that it was nearly overwhelming.
Somewhere back there, back where I had come from, was Mother. She waited patiently, knowing that I would not travel beyond the rivers which were my boundary. These were twisting thick currents of watery force that cut the land into sections. I would never know their origin and I would never know their end. I only knew that I couldn’t go past them.
I flew for a time, enjoying the pure pleasure of travelling freely on the soft winds of this endless afternoon. The breeze touched me like the most sensitive of lovers and my cape stretched out behind me like a comet’s tail. I moved freely in all directions, doing summersaults in the air, diving recklessly towards the hard ground, rising slowly so my heart would open like a bleeding flower, but I never crossed the river borders and I never saw another living being. Nobody came out to greet me, nobody waved from the distance with eyes of friendship or distrust, nobody called out to me from behind trees or rocks. There was simply the broad waves of brown grass, and the green trees and the rivers and nothing else, no one else. And the sheer purity of it could never be exhausted.
I returned to Mother and I said:
“If I am by myself, there’s not much beauty in being what I am…if I am to have power, I must have a reason, I must have a purpose, I must have a challenge.”
She nodded with her kind of understanding that scattered through my fingers like sand and was soon lost in the same winds through which I had just been travelling. She said nothing but her eyes spoke to me in ways that words couldn’t define. I nodded and my eyes also spoke with silent sadness.
I left through paths that I couldn’t trace back in my memory, knowing that I would never walk this way again. After a time that was impossible to measure, I found myself with Father.
We were hunting in a dark and dense jungle. We moved slowly in between the tall bamboo shoots, under the thick and heavy leaves of old forgotten trees. Our feet would sink in mud and the mosquitoes would fly in and out of our ears like fighter airplanes.
“I will give you many rewards, if you only learn how to do a few things, single thing in fact.” He said it in a kind but serious voice, a voice that evoked both hope and fear within me. I couldn’t fly anymore because my body was heavier and my eyes were not as open as they once had been.
“I will give you a book…” he said, and when he said the word, I saw the book he meant with secret eyes I couldn’t place within my body. It was the book of the jungle itself, the jungle on which we stood, the book that told the stories of its creatures, its crowning entities, its rebellious angels, its growing heroes, its hidden chambers. I knew that book well and I wanted to have it.
“I will give you the yellow powder…” he said, and when he said these words, I could see the yellow powder with my secret eyes, and it blew in circles around my head like a tornado of yellowness and it drew complex interlocking spiral lines that were bright like gold under the sun. As long as this swirling mass of yellow was there, nobody could touch me. I knew the yellow powder well and I wanted to have it.
“I will give you the silver weapon…” he said, and I could see the silver weapon with my secret eyes, and it was heavy and solid and final in its menace. It was shaped like perfection and it contained the dreams of a lost people within it. It glowed in the misty darkness of its secret alcove and it was shining in the heart of my own private night. I knew the silver weapon and I wanted to have it.
“All you need to do, in order to get all these things, is to learn how to swim, it is as simple as that, learn to swim and you will have everything…”
We immediately traveled to where two pools were waiting, one much smaller than the other. Both were surrounded by palm trees, both were caressed by the ocean breeze, both were touched by the warmth of the bright yellow sun that was shining high above us, both were gentle and lonely and full of blue peace.
I jumped into the largest of the two and quickly found that if I flowed gently with the water, the resistance was greatly diminished and I was able to rise above the surface. As I rose, my smile was pure and simple, beyond my desire for the things that waited for me, this was a gift in itself, to be here in the pool and to feel my body change its shape under pressure. I dived deep under the surface to feel the entire weight of the pool on my shoulders. The feeling of the water over my head and of the sun over the water, was enough to last me forever, and it was only deep in a time beyond forever that I would ask again for the things that Father had promised.
I stepped out of the large pool and ran to where Father was swimming in the smaller one. Without having to say it, Father knew that I had succeeded.
“Jump in, in one single movement…” he said, and before he was finished saying it, I had jumped into the water and I was tracing circles on the blue surface that rolled its little waves against my face. I looked at Father, who was leaning against the hard edge of the little pool and I saw that his face was marked by transparent happiness. Seeing him like this, seeing him glowing like the sun itself and unashamed of his own simplicity, I was happy as well.
After a time of circling in the little pool, I pulled myself up and ran back to the larger one. The shadows of the palm trees fell over the little puddles of water that my feet left behind me. I jumped into the larger pool as I had done before, in one single swift movement that left no room for doubt. As I did this, I heard Father asking:
“Why don’t you stay over here, in the little pool with me?”
“Over here there is much more space. I want to roam and discover things I haven’t seen. I want to reach beyond the edges of my knowledge.”
Just then, I noticed that the water in the larger pool was covered in dead leaves and dead branches. It was a place forgotten by time itself, and that made it a realm to explore, a landscape to conquer. I roamed among the dead things, and I saw the traces of lost lives in the bark of the branches, and the faded markings of past legends in the leaves, and the hopeful poems lightly painted on the sides of light blue concrete.
“You should get out. You are staying too long in there. You may get used to it. Then you won’t ever be able to leave.” My Father said and I felt that what he said was true, and yet I wanted to stay a little longer.
I took one more journey through the water that by now seemed like home. It was a home that seemed to grow larger and larger each time I traveled through it. Soon the pool would be the world itself and by then Father would become a distant memory, much like Mother now was.
I looked up at the sun that was still shining over the gentle surface and little drops of blue water were sliding down my forehead, some of them reaching all the way to my mouth. Maybe soon I would be flying, maybe soon my questions would once again begin to grow out of the nothingness that came with forgetting.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Questions of Blame

I traveled with my second family, all of us crowded into a small white car, on our way an unknown destination. Older Brother was there and Younger Brother as well, and Wise Father and Kind Mother, all of us together in the twilight of the small compartment. I sat between the two brothers in the back seat, alternating my attention between them, trying to make them look at each other, trying to make it so we would all truly talk together, but it was rare for their eyes to ever meet, even rarer for them talk directly to each other. The road outside was surrounded by long lines of thin trees that swayed lightly in the wind, and the night had a kind of gray quality that seemed somehow familiar.
I turned to Older Brother and addressed him, and since I could only think of serious subjects when I was near him, I spoke to him of destiny and of choice. He immediately responded and we mulled over the abstract qualities of these concepts while the road kept on going straight as an imaginary line and Wise Father listened carefully as he drove. I hoped he would say something but he only chuckled once in a while and leaned back his head to acknowledge a particular point. Older Brother looked under the covering of our mutual assumptions and I pushed when I felt that I had to, and I relented when I felt it was best.
When it seemed that I had talked to Older Brother for too long and I felt Younger Brother growing restless on my left, I turned to him and asked him about his own terrible experiences. He talked to me in measured words, and he had no concepts to summarize what he was saying, no abstract figurations to examine, so he simply told me what had happened, and how it happened, and, to some degree, how he felt as it was happening. He spoke of violent encounters and threats of death and painful marks that would never be erased and sudden moments of conversion when the world turned upside down and the heavy bars of the prison didn’t seem so heavy any more. I listened and asked questions when it seemed that he had skipped over an important moment, and when I asked a question, he would answer in as much detail as he could muster and then he would go on, and he would smile sideways, blowing air out of his nose in a kind of soundless laughter.
Suddenly, Kind Mother turned around from her post at the passenger’s seat and looked at me in the twilight. Her eyes were as sweet and gentle as ever, but there seemed to be a kind of heaviness in demeanor her as well, a heaviness that had never been there or, at the very least, I had never noticed it.
“I feel that you blame me for all that has happened. I feel, in the final accounting, you think that I was the one that caused it all. I hear it in your words. I hear it in the way you speak of thing.”
My own eyes opened wide in surprise since I had never thought these things, I had never blamed her for anything at all. But as soon as she had spoken, my mind started to form shapes around the words that were still hanging in the air between us, and the shapes reorganized my memories at breakneck speeds that I couldn’t follow, and suddenly my memories were no longer the same as they had been and Older Brother had changed form and Younger Brother had also changed form and Wise Father nodded as he usually did and the road kept on going straight through the gray darkness.
“I have never blamed you, not at all. I simply want to look at all the causes, at all the events, everything fits together and to place the cause in only one spot would be to make a great mistake. Causes are like roots, they extend from one event in all directions. Only fanatics grab on to one of the many roots and decide that that is the only one that matters.”
Her eyes closed and opened, and I might have seen a tiny tear rolling down her cheek but it was too dark inside the car for me to be sure. Younger Brother shifted around by my side. He wanted the ride to be over soon. Wise Father chuckled in that way that implied hidden knowledge and Older Brother shook his head. There was something that I had said that he was not pleased with, he might have even heard an insult in my words. It was through him that I had come to understand that insults are unavoidable once distrust has set in like a slowly growing cancer.
I tried to retrace my words, I tried to think of where it was that Kind Mother had found the evidence of blame, the implication that I was specifically blaming her. I couldn’t find the right spot, as much as I looked, as much as I examined. And then I remembered that our language was different, and that more than once someone had said that they couldn’t understand what Older Brother was saying to me, that they couldn’t understand what I was saying to Older Brother, that the words escaped them as if they were all being spoken in a strange unknown language. So maybe she just heard what she was afraid of hearing, and maybe because she was afraid of it, there was a kernel of truth in it. Not the entire truth, for the entire truth was too large to be held in any one thought, in any one sentence. But maybe a sliver of truth, enough of it to make her cry, enough of it to make my past into a different story from the one I had always framed as my experience. Maybe she had maintained a certain structure too long, maybe she had allowed certain imbalances to fester, to grow past the point when anything could be done about it.
Their faces were different now, but the road remained the same. Kind Mother had turned towards the windshield and was staring at the place where the road disappeared in the horizon. There always seemed to be a white cloud there, a bright white cloud that we never quite reached, and yet it always seemed so close.
Older Brother, with his new face and his new clothes, turned towards me once again and he said: “Each of us has to respond for our own actions. We can’t blame others for what we do.”
I nodded and agreed. There was no use asking who we would be responding to or why we were all so concerned with the placement of blame, why when I spoke of causes everyone thought I spoke of judgements and faults. Maybe we didn’t care so much where the blame rested as long as it wasn’t on us.
Younger Brother, with his new face and his new clothes, turned towards me and said: “You used to be my friend. You were my friend first before anything else.”
I nodded and agreed. There was no use asking how he had faded away from me or how I had faded away from him, how he had turned into a living memory that only danced in the distance. He was no longer the Younger Brother I knew and so I couldn’t touch on such delicate subjects. I could only listen and take in what he wanted to give me.
Kind Mother inhaled deeply and then released a deep sob. It was only then that I was certain she was crying. Wise Father turned to her and said: “Don’t worry, mama, we’ll be there very soon. Very soon this will all be a memory. “
I leaned back on the backseat and exhaled softly. It would certainly all be a memory and I now knew what ultimately happened with memories. In the horizon, the white cloud was shining bright, as distant as it ever was. Inside the car, there was only the very faint sound of crying and of soft, careful breathing. Soon this would all be a memory. And then everything would change. Just like it always did. Just like it always had.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Tower

Wren with her stupid camera. That was always how the trouble got started. She’d take a photo of someone that didn’t want to be photographed and it would start a fight, or she’s want to take pictures of some bank or a hotel and the security would hassle them and then Wren would take out this paper she’d printed from a web site stating her rights and get into an argument with someone with a gun or a night stick. It had even gone wrong in the other direction; a couple of guys at Baker beach and Wren takes their pictures and pretty soon she wants a shot with them and Natasha, and it’s a nude beach, so what the hell, everybody take it off, and a month later Natasha’s looking at this disgusting photo of herself with Sven and Pauly (the guys from the beach) hanging from the wall of some makeshift co-op gallery and it’s made even more painful by the fact that she’d ended up dating Pauly for a week until she discovered that he was unemployed and living with another girlfriend. Wren with her stupid camera. Now here they were, trespassing, way beyond the danger signs posted on the sagging and compromised chain link fence, making their way into the charred out ruins of some weird tower in the middle of nowhere. Their car was a hopeless hike behind them, parked on a turnout along highway one. They had been driving along when Wren said suddenly,
“Look at that weird fence.” And before Natasha could look Wren was already pulling over and climbing out with her Camera. Natasha climbed out to stretch her legs while Wren took a few pictures of the eight foot fence.
“Why is it here, do you think?” Wren was asking. “To keep us out, or to keep something in?”
“Maybe to prevent a landslide.” Natasha suggested studying the tips of her chestnut brown hair. It was time for a trim.
“No, this is like a little ravine, there wouldn’t be a landslide coming from here.”
“Well, like you said, maybe it’s just to keep us out. We should get going, I’m getting hungry.” Natasha released her locks and gave her head a flick to send them back over her shoulders.
“I wonder why.” Wren had said, and that was that. After throwing a stick at it to see if it was an electrified fence, Wren was making her way up and over, and Natasha, looking over her shoulder for angry park rangers or mountain people, had scrambled over behind her, protesting in vain. From there they had followed the babbling brook, Wren snapping away and speculating that the fence was meant to keep deer off the highway. Then it was up an embankment and through some trees and into this clearing where the weird charred out remains of a tower stood shadowed by the nearby ridge of evergreens.
“I just don’t think it looks safe.” Natasha said and planted her hands on her hips.
Wren having already frenzied with the camera on the outside of the tower was pressing on towards the black doorway gaping like an open mouth.
“It’s fine.” Wren said and with a step disappeared beyond the threshold. Natasha crept closer.
“Wren?” she called, but there was no answer. She came to stand right in front of the door and peered into the darkness. “Wren?” she called much louder. For a minute she held still and thought about what she had seen and heard. Wren took a step into the open doorway and vanished. There had been no sound of floorboards cracking and giving out, or of Wren screaming as she fell. Natasha repeated this fact to herself several times to calm herself down. “Wren?” she called again, “Don’t kid around. Are you okay?” But there was no answer and as Natasha studied the darkness beyond the open doorway she felt a cold chill race up her spine. The doorway was simply inky blackness. She stood right in front of it, careful not to cross into the tower. Nothing at all was visible. The darkness that she beheld was more than murk, more than the simple absence of light. It was a nearly tangible substance. Natasha stepped abruptly backward, recoiling from the mass of dark. Her mind was racing. Why hadn’t Wren noticed this oddity? What was it? What was happening. Natasha began to shriek,
“Wren! Wren! Answer me! Wren!.”
She stared up at the three rectangular windows near the broken top of the tower. She willed Wren’s face to appear there, with the camera, taking a photo of hysterical Natasha. But no face emerged in the dark rectangles, and without realizing that she was doing it, Natasha began to run in a wide circle around the tower. She screamed Wren’s name again and again, looking for some other opening, some explanation, some sign of her friend until she arrived once again at that yawning doorway of darkness. Trembling and panting, she picked up a stone and tossed it through the doorway and watched it disappear completely, as though it were being sucked into black velvet jell-o. It made no sound at all.
Natasha sunk down and rested on her heels sobbing. It seemed that she was having a nightmare, beyond a doubt. People don’t vanish like that. She sat and sobbed and waited for Wren to come back, then she waited to wake up, but neither events occurred. Eventually it grew dark and Natasha, doubting what she had perceived with her senses rose suddenly full of the conviction that Wren had fallen through the floor and needed help. With this in mind she raced back into the woods to return to the highway and flag someone down. But it was dark already, and Natasha had never been much good in the woods and was soon hopelessly lost and cold. She tripped and slid down a muddy slope and rolled into a stream. She crawled out unsure of which direction to proceed. The pale face of the moon glittered down from the tree tops and filled the surrounding forest with strange shadows and shapes. Nothing at all looked familiar.

The following morning a patrol man discovered the empty car parked in the turnout. A day later a search was launched at the request of Wren’s parents. Natasha was found with a twisted ankle. She told the story of Wren falling through the floorboards of the burnt out tower, but despite the exhaustive search no such tower could ever be located.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I Stepped Into The Wasteland

I stepped into the wasteland this morning. I knew, walking into the cold, fog-filled morning, what to expect. I had lived in it for many years. I had walked the trail. Followed the well-marked lines and over the highlighted boundaries. And though I expected it and had some vague sense of the death scent and dim florescent lights, it was stronger than the memory. The building was a wide one story square. We stood in quiet order, spilling from the open double glass doors to the edge of the parking lot. The sun had not peeked out from behind the clouds, and a woman close to me stood clutching her paper cup of coffee. The young man next to me, covered in a large black hoodie, kept a small bottle of orange juice in his pocket. I held my large jar of tea and goat milk close to my heart. “It’s not so bad,” I told myself, the line is moving fast. It’s nice to be out in the world with my tea.” I focused on the warmth of the glass, reaching me though the black wool jacket. The minutes passed and more joined the line. This was a necessary evil in a world of rules. Of bureaucratic technicality and parking signs and permits and details that required our money. We stood in line. The boy in the hoodie coughed and spit into the small pocket of ivy within the cemented sidewalk. I made a face, slightly disgusted at the sound. “Man, you know how close that guy came to hitting me? This close!!” There was an old Cadillac parked illegally in front of some parked cars. Two black youth stood by it. One talking loudly, the other just listening. I turned to the old man behind me. “It’s moving pretty fast.” “What’d you say?” he asked me. “The line is moving pretty fast.” “Yeah, it’s not so bad.” We talked for another twenty minutes while the line was slowly categorized by the gate keepers behind a desk close to the front door. The old man had moved to the city in 1950 and bought his double flat for $11,000. He said it was a lot of money at the time and that to buy it, he spent all his reserves, he could have bought a lot more properties in the neighborhood, in what is now known as Million-Dollar Hill. I turned to wish him good luck on his driving test, but he didn’t hear me, he was already focused on the black woman behind the desk, the woman that would give him a number. I held a small paper ticket in my hand. B042. They had just called B020. I took a seat, the old man chose another spot. I tried to read, but instead I looked around at the many rows of plastic chairs that lined the building. Sitting in almost every one was a bored looking human. This was the necessary evil. The bureaucratic monstrosity that moved like a leviathan without feeling, content only to take the living breath out of all that entered. I looked around again, unable to focus on the letters on the page, on the letters that could take me to another world, in fact, into a galaxy very far away, but there was too much in the room. Too much impatience, boredom…too much. I studied the people standing by the windows of the bureaucrats, the people who had come even earlier than I. B026! It was the cold unfeeling voice of a robot. A female sound that never felt joy. I felt myself becoming impatient, I closed my eyes and brought my attention inwards. “We should have called…” I heard the woman behind me say. “I know,” agreed her boyfriend. My eyes opened. Yes, I should have called. I thought about it so many times the day before, I just never did. Was it to snuff the suggestion? I looked around. There were no happy faces. The people slumped in their hard plastic chairs. This was a necessary evil. Necessary, but soul sucking. I watched the girl standing in front of me. She was tall, with long slender legs, but something seemed a little strange about her body. I scrutinized the contour of her shape through her tight jeans. Her feet were exposed in Coco Chanel sandals, worn for fashion on this cloudy day. I watched her, realizing that she had no hips, she was nearly a solid line. The lines made by her tight panties showed through her jeans. A small leather bag hung by a faux metal chain from her shoulder. She turned and looked around the room, making a face, one she must make often. I closed my eyes once again. I pulled my attention in. B042! It had been an hour. “I’m happy to see you!” I said with a smile. The woman behind the desk did not look at me. She was a small, portly Latin woman. She wore a pink short sleeved sweater. I looked at the small gold pendant on her neck, hanging from a thin gold chain. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was, but assumed it was religious. “What can I help you with?” She took my forms, I gave her my plastic card, a promise of money contained within its shape. I took some new forms and drove into the city. Hillsides covered in houses greeted me. In the heart of the city, there was traffic. There were a few still sleeping on the cold street. I searched for a place to park and entered another building. More lines, more people coughing. There were more numbers and more waiting and no one wanted to be there. I tried to find his eyes. How would he look at all this? I felt a smile coming from deep within me. For a moment, for the tiniest brief moment, I look around with his eyes and not my own. It all seemed a little pretty, a little humorous. I might use these people later, in a way they would never think of. The monster Samoan woman behind the counter. The other giantess who refused to give me a parking permit because of a technicality. The bureaucrats that were lined up like cattle behind glass windows. I stepped into the wasteland. There were rules and regulations, there was the desire, the desire of something inhuman, that thing wanted life. It took it. It took life with all the waiting and boredom and protocol. I closed my eyes and pulled the breath within me. I looked around. I remembered the day when I was on the street taking photos and everyone was beautiful. “Maybe it’s because you’re really seeing them,” my friend said. For a moment, in the small room, I looked into the wasteland. There was a man with one regular shoe, the other was a high platform. “His legs are different sizes,” I thought to myself. He was beautiful. I looked into the wasteland and saw a flicker. Both remembering and forgetting in nearly the same instant.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Exceptions


We have confused
The exception
For the rule
And the rule
For the exception.
What we think
We rarely are
Is what we are usually.
What we think
We usually are
Is what we are but rarely.
To look into ourselves
Too deeply
Is to risk
The lethal cold touch of despair.
To never look
Is to be already
Drowning in it.
What we are is here,
In this moment.
Not the exception
But the rule.
Not a moment away
But a moment
Deep within it.

She looked up at me, from her sanctuary by my heart, and she once again said the words I had already heard so often:
“This is not me. This is not who I am. You have met me at a very particular moment, a very unique moment… so please don’t think that this is what I am because it’s not…”
I felt her soft body against me, her naked legs pressed against my own and her stomach pressed against my side, and her sweat mingled with mine and it formed tiny rivers that slid towards the white ocean of the rumpled sheets. I leaned over and kissed her smooth white forehead and she shook her head. I kissed her again as she started to speak.
“I really want you to know… I wouldn’t want you to think… I wouldn’t want you to imagine that… you know?… this is simply not me… you understand? This is not me. Maybe it was once before… but I have left that behind me…even if it has happened now… it’s just a fluke… it’s simple not me…”
I nodded and wondered if she was referring to the compulsive smoking by the garden door, which left behind a trail of cigarettes over the decomposing moist surface of the walls, or maybe she was referring to her constant calling, to her angry jealousy, to her bouts of drinking, to the night when I sat by her in a little bar on Judah while she drank one beer after another and I just watched her eyes slowly drooping and I heard her words getting more and more difficult to comprehend while the old drunks sitting at the bar eyed us with shameless curiosity. Or maybe she simply referred to being here in my arms, to her naked and willing presence where it shouldn’t be. This was certainly not me, and not by choice. And maybe it wasn’t her either, maybe she was right. And in that case, we were two non existent beings borrowing the bodies of others to meet in a non existent place, an imaginary realm of twilight where improbable things could happen.
“I used to act like this… you understand?… but it’s just not me… I have grown beyond all that… you see?… you have to know that this is not me… otherwise you will get the wrong impression… you will believe the wrong things… and you will be wrong about me… how can you truly know me if you are wrong about me? You have to know the real me… this is not it!”
Maybe it was the fact that she had stayed with me for so many nights, so many that now I couldn’t even remember when she hadn’t been here, so many that it now seemed natural to have her small naked white body next to mine each time I half awoke in the middle of the night, touching her big brown nipples with my fingers and feeling them getting hard in the darkness, so many that I no longer flinched when she was upset about a movie or a dinner or a phone conversation, so many that I no longer felt disbelief each time I felt her body from within, each time she groaned into my ear and told me she couldn’t hold it any longer. Or maybe it was all the journeys into strange nether worlds that we had taken together, all the reckless jumping into the vacuum without fear of repercussions or consequences, all the spiraling colors and the deep drones that came from nowhere and took us to a place where her worries disappeared and my rationalizations vanished and we were simply together, floating in the middle of nothingness.
“I don’t want you to get the impression that this is me… are you even listening to me?… this is important!… I don’t want you to remember me some day and think that you knew me… because this is what you know… this is all that you know… and this isn’t me…”
Maybe she was right. Maybe this was all an exception. And it seemed to me that I had been living through a maze of exceptions and this was only the latest one and soon another exception would come calling, taking me further away from the norm, so far away that I would not be able to place it on a map and all the maps I had just then were written over naked white skin covered in tiny invisible hairs and little brown birthmarks.
“I am listening… I understand… this is not you…this is not me… it’s very clear now…”
And it was clear then, in a way, as it is now clear, but in a different way, and maybe later, years from now, I would think about it, and remember her words and the sound of her voice against my ear, and it would be all new again, and once again, I would understand. It had all been an exception. And beyond a certain place, beyond a certain barrier, it was all made of exceptions. Exceptions, exceptions and more exceptions, nothiing but exceptions all the way down.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Snow

Shelly, my friend, sat on a massively tall red-brick wall. It was the very top of a building, only a couple of feet from the flat roof of the rectangular apartment complex. She sat on the ledge, her thick white legs were bright in the midnight light. A small breeze played with the edges of her thin silky white slip. She was relaxed there on the edge. Her hands were behind her and she relaxed into their support as she would with a comfortable chair. One of her feet was on the ledge, the knee of the same leg very close to her face. The other foot hung over the ledge. She looked like a rock star, confident and defiant, teasing the night. I could tell she was not okay. It looked like she had lived through many years of extensive drug abuse, and now, she sat relaxed, ready to die on the edge of that building.

I awoke. I was still.

The dream lingered. It was one of the many unusually strong ones that had come upon me in the week that I had been here in the mountains. Six other girls in bunk beds slept around me in the small wooden cabin. There was a girl above me now, dreaming her dreams. The cabin was dark and my fingers groped for the small headlamp that I had placed beside the bed’s legs before I closed my eyes. I had been with these women for a week. A full week of meditation and silence, there was still one more to go.

With the headlamp in my hand, I crawled out of the sleeping bag like a caterpillar breaking free of its cocoon. Only there were no orange and black wings, just a sleepy girl in baggy long johns and an oversized sweater. I walked to the door and stepped out as quietly as I could, but in the nearly silent mountain night, even a falling snowflake makes itself known.

And it was a sound I heard which moved like muted echoes. All around me, soft drifts of white snowflakes fell delicately. The ground and stairs were covered already with a thin coating, and I walked with a smile down the rough outlines of a path to the large cement dormitory a few hundred feet in front of me. The world was dark. The thick woods to my right were dark, the paths that led to the meditation hall were black. There were no lights, nothing to provide my city paranoia with security, but I let the initial habits of panic wash over and through me. The night felt safe. The stillness was safe. Different, much different than I was used to, but I could step into it. The falling snowflakes added a new element. A touch of the extraordinary, a light whisper of magic dancing on my eyelashes. It was all worth noticing, every leaf, every quietly waiting bough, but the snow brought an energy I was not used to. A duality of parallel lines, calm and still, yet filled with constant movement. They glittered somehow, without the moon, without street lamps, somehow they gave enough light that I could walk through them without the aid of my headlamp. I walked casually, letting them melt on my warm neck and in the folds of my clothes.

I entered the dormitory and used the bathrooms there, then I walked back into the snow drifts, back to the wooden stairs of my cabin, clunkily taking off my boots and moving the other shoes beneath the cover of the eaves. Then I crawled back into the silky red cocoon, ready to see what other tales the subconscious would spin for me.

When I woke the following morning and stepped onto the steps to retrieve my cold boots, the land was covered in snow at least a foot deep. So much had fallen in just a few hours. There had not been wall-shaking wind or rattling, it had just come down hard, intent on its descent. The buried path to the meditation hall was now white and invisible, I made my own way, delighted in the footprints I left behind. The snow brought with it a silence so complete. I could hear small out-weighed chunks of snow topple off tree branches and land with a thud on the already blanketed ground. It wasn’t just quiet, it was like the mountains themselves chose to whisper. It was like the woods nodded with a small wink and began to move just a little slower. There were people around me, others walking quietly to the large square building that awaited with pillows and warm walls. But despite the presence of humans, the mountains opened with its ways. Movements usually hidden among chatter and cars and noise and quick movement. A careful deer emerged from the white-wooden thicket and walked timidly to the bushes. With the whiteness, time slowed. There were no human sounds of laughter, nothing to disrupt the absolute serene stillness of trees, branches, grass, rocks, everything buried in snow. I walked the paths softly, silently filled with the sounds of snow and the simple process of a thaw.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cathedral


Three girls walk down a wide sidewalk. The day is fresh and the sun shines calmly through the thin gauzy haze that lingers in the atmosphere and mutes the strength of the rays of light. There are a few single-story houses on their left and across the street on their right, a few small shops sit in the shade of mature maple trees that are just beginning to yellow. There is the invisible bubbling of activity-to-come. The air and pale light seems loaded and ready for a day of commerce and movement, but now, the street lays still and fresh. The air is moist as the wet and recently cleaned sidewalks begin the process of evaporation. The girls walk down the sidewalk in a horizontal line, taking up the walkway completely, but there is no competition for space. The world is theirs. They share the sun with the trees and birds and the evaporating dew. The girls have on a similar dress style and pattern, just the color of the floral cotton is varied. The dresses are slightly outdated, designed with a mixed inspiration from Little House on the Prairie and the simple cotton dresses of the late sixties. The skirts reach to the girl’s calves. Their arms are covered with thin cotton sleeves. The neckline reaches high above their collarbones and is ruffled, which adds just a little more fabric to cover their pale flesh. Each dress has a simple floral pattern on it made of very small bouquets of purple and yellow flowers.

The blond girl walks closest to the green lawns of the houses beside them. Her hair is pulled back in a loose bun and it matches the pale yellow cotton of her dress. She is the most confident of the three in their task and she walks with her eyes decidedly placed ahead of her. In front of them is a large cathedral. It is made of gray stones and has three peaks that each have a circular stained glass piece embedded in the stone peak. The blond girl walks just a fraction of a second faster than her two friends. In the center of the group is the girl with brown hair. Her cotton dress is white, but still matches her friend’s dress in style and pattern. The brunette has a long pale face and a long nose which reveals her Semitic ancestry. On her right is another friend, the girl with cropped black hair. The girls walk calmly and silently, but with slight smiles on their faces. Their silence is not rooted in fear, but in comfort. The massive stone cathedral stands before them, the sidewalk ends at the church’s wooden door and the three girls enter. The church seems to open into a large dark space before them and the Semitic girl wonders what is ahead. It is pitch black and blocked slightly by a few gauzy pieces of furniture. The three turn and walk to the right, to a yellow lit square area. It is not quite a separate room, because there is no wall to separate it from the main entryway of the cathedral, but the light and the space feels very distinct, like a gift shop. The Semitic girl has never been to mass before and she follows her blond friend’s lead. The black haired girl follows them.

The room is set up the same way that amusement parks use to contain the people waiting in line for rides, but instead of metal poles and ropes, the space is sectioned off using long rectangular tables. Although they have just begun the maze-like walk to the front, the brunette can see that at the end is the priest and six other high officials within the church. They sit behind a four-foot wall that has been created by removing the top park of the wall. The priest is in the center, with three officials on either side of him. The brunette puts her attention on the walk and on the blond friend in front of her that she is supposed to imitate. The tables used to cut the space are all covered in glittering jewelry. Not an inch of the tabletops can be seen below pearls and faux silver and gold. The gemstones are fake and give off exaggerated color and sparkle, as though trying to compensate for their falseness with their appearance. The brunette looks at them mildly as they walk through the mazelike formation of tables. A neon green gemstone necklace catches her eye as she turns to the left and around the table’s corner. On the periphery of the tables are a dozen women standing next to their strollers and attending to the children inside. The sound of unhappy babies coats the space in a slightly frantic energy. The three girls walk through the maze, turning left, then right, then left again. Finally they reach the front. Behind the hip-high wall, a priest in a white robe sits on a chair. He is old, everything about him is white. His skin, hair, robe and hat. The other officials beside him are all men. A few of them are wearing red robes, a few others are in black, two of them are in white.

The Semitic girl is immediately nervous, she is sure the priest will be able to tell that she is from a different heritage, that she has no business in this church. But as her friend steps out of the walkway of tables and into the open space before the officials, she does too. The brunette walks calmly, sandwiched between her two friends. The blond girl moves slowly, she knows her Semitic friend is watching and following her lead, just a split second behind. Sitting on a table is a long rectangular tray that has dozens of incense sticks on it. The smoke coming from the powdered sticks twists and curls as it makes its journey up into the higher levels of the room. The blond girl puts her hands into the movement of smoke, she turns them around and around, as though she was washing her hands with the water of a faucet. The Semitic girl does the same, letting the smoke bathe her skin in scent. Then the blond girl stands directly in front of the men, bending her knees and dropping to the floor in a show of devotion. The brunette does the same, just slightly out of unison. She bends her knees and kneels on the floor, then she folds her torso over her thighs and brings her face to the red carpet. Her black haired friend does the same beside her. In this position of obedience to authority, the girls are hidden from the priest by the short wooden wall that separates them. The blond begins to rise, as do the other two. The blond girl turns towards the door and before she leaves, she grabs a small cookie that sits in a multi-leveled altar space. The brunette sees the cookies and the adorned bookcase which holds them, but she does not grab one. She knows she should, that it is part of the ritual, but something does not connect her mind to her body and she exits the cathedral without accepting the body of Christ into her.

The blond and brunette stand close to each other on the sidewalk just outside of the church in the shadow of the massive peaked roof. The day is still bright and new. The black haired girl approaches them, “Here, you forgot this, I brought you one.” Her hand extends with a small chocolate chip cookie. The Semitic girl smiles and puts it into her mouth.