Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Devil's Day Off

It was a charming Victorian nestled within a snug row of its peers on a tiny side road in the vicinity of California St. It was just the sort of place for an ambitious man to sit down and write his first piece of publishable work, and that was the plan. From the round attic window, the bay could be seen beyond the gray tongue of road that rolled down one and up another steep hill. Aurelius bought it at a price far below market value. The former owner, an elderly gentleman, had passed away in a hospice care facility leaving the place to a niece residing somewhere in the bosom of middle America. It had been a simple matter for Aurelius to contact her and make her an offer. She was getting on in years herself and was all too happy to be done with the whole affair. The entire estate was his, complete with elegant antique furniture and shelves of dusty books and trunks brimming with oddities. He had the outside painted and began the work of sorting through the house’s contents, separating those things which he would incorporate into his own d├ęcor from those things which would be sold through local Antiques dealers.
In that attic with the little round window offering it’s remarkable view, Aurelius discovered a small wooden chest ornamented with elaborate floral carvings. It contained a very brittle leather bound journal filled with fascinating hand written accounts; poems, personal anecdotes and even a few short stories which bid him read page after page. He took it with him to the bedroom and kept it on his nightstand and read through it again and again.

When there were suitable enough living conditions to permit it, he organized a house warming party, inviting a few handfuls of friends. They streamed through the door one evening in late May carrying in with them the intoxicating scent of night blooming jasmine. They drank his wine and ate his cheese and told him how lovely his house was. Lourie’s poet boyfriend entertained for a while with bits of verse. Emile and Jerry talked about their recent trip to Florence. There was a bit of dancing, a few new jokes, and as the evening wore on, Aurelius succumbed to one of his greatest delights and made himself the center of attention by allowing Alicia (darling Alicia) to persuade him to read some of his new short fiction. His charismatic presence and handsome face easily elicited warm responses from his company as he read, allowing for one story to give way to another. Two of these were his, but one story which he had copied from the brittle leather journal was not his own. It was the story of a young man unwittingly entering into a contract with dark forces resulting in his appointment to the devil’s place in hell while good old Beelzebub got to run amok in the youth’s stead. The assembled leaned in as he read it, jaws slackened and eyes crinkled mirthfully at the edges. At the conclusion, they slapped their knees and laughed and it was enthusiastically agreed that this was his best work to date.

While the room broke into a series of small conversations between two and three people here and there, a short man with a pointy beard seated himself on the divan beside Aurelius. He wore a black turtleneck, pleated slacks and wing tipped shoes with wings the color of spilt burgundy. His host nodded to him and tried to remember the gentleman’s name. He had come with Lourie and her boyfriend, or was it Alicia that had introduced him earlier? Aurelius could not remember properly and took this to be the effects of too much wine. The little man grinned like a Cheshire cat and said,
“I particularly liked that last story. You wrote it?”
Aurelius nodded noticing an unusual odor.
“Yes. Yes, it’s part of a new collection I’m working on.” He answered promptly. He was fairly sure that this man must be the Editor friend that Alicia had mentioned on the telephone. The smell reminded him of anti dandruff shampoo, of selenium sulfide.
“Whatever inspired you?” the little man asked, still smiling as much like the cat that swallowed the canary as like the cat that troubled young Alice.
Aurelius chuckled.
“I really couldn’t say. Since moving into this place I’ve found myself submerged in a piece of history. All of these antiques, the house itself. I was moved to write something set in another period.”
“The voice of it was so different from the other two pieces you read,” the man commented.
“It’s something I’m trying out. You liked it?” Aurelius asked him.
“Oh yes.” The man said, “It was a great pleasure to hear you read it.”
Then Emile came over and interrupted, to thank Aurelius and say goodbye.

Thirty minutes later, all of the guests, having bestowed their thanks, were completely absent, leaving behind only lipstick stained wine glasses, crumpled napkins and crumbs of cheese. Aurelius was carrying the wine glasses off to the kitchen when he heard a soft knock at the door. Upon answering it, he discovered that it was in fact the little dark haired man whose name he could not recollect. The possible editor.
“Excuse the intrusion.” He said, “But may I speak to you for a moment?”
Aurelius opened the door widely and welcomed the gentleman back in with a backward sweeping motion.
“Certainly.” He accepted him with grace.
“Thank you.” The gentleman said and crossed over the threshold. Aurelius closed the door behind him and led him into the kitchen.
He paused there and sniffing said,
“I smell something burning. Do you smell that?”
With a half shake of the head, the little man answered.
“No.”
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” Aurel offered, “I was thinking of making some for myself.”
“Yes, thank you.” The gentleman accepted.
Aurelius offered his guest a chair and busied himself preparing the coffee maker. When the steady drip, drip had begun the gentleman said,
“I would like to talk to you about that story. I know that you are not its author.”
Aurelius stared at the smiling man. The smiling man stared back with dark twinkling eyes.
Then Aurelius laughed and took two coffee mugs out of the cupboard and set them upon the counter. When he looked back at the gentleman, the other continued.
“I know that you are not its author, because I am.”
Aurelius burst into a more robust burst of laughter upon hearing this proclamation.
“You are saying,” he said feeling slightly relieved, “that you are the author of the story that I read this evening?”
“Yes.” The little man answered in musical tones, “That is what I am saying.”
Now Aurelius smiled and poured the coffee.
“I’m sorry but you are mistaken.” He handed a steaming mug to his accuser who took it and proceeded to swallow the scalding liquid down with great greedy gulps.
“Careful!” Aurelius cried out, but the gentleman was already smacking his lips with satisfaction and offering back the empty cup.
“Would you mind pouring me another?” the gentleman asked sweetly.
Aurelius looked at the steam rising from his own mug and cautiously took a testing sip which caused him to wince when it burned his lips and tongue.
“How…” he began but broke off. The burning smell was intensifying. “What… Uh… What did you say your name was?”
“I have yet to say. I did not come to the party with any of your friends, and I did write that story.” The little man rose and poured himself another cup of coffee and drank it in the same manner. Then as the stunned Aurelius gawked he continued. “I’m not angry that you lied. On the contrary I am very pleased that you should wish to be me. Very pleased indeed.” He strode to his chair, clapped one hand down on its back and smiled. “I am going to let you do it. I’m going to let you be me. And I’ll be you.”
Aurelius stood up suddenly,
“Listen, I don’t know who you are, or what game you are playing, but I know you couldn’t have written that story.”
“You don’t know anything yet.” The other replied crisply.
Aurelius stared in astonishment, for the speaker which responded to him was no longer the little gentleman, but rather himself, a mirror image of himself, standing with its hand clamped down on the back of a chair. That other self flashed a saturnine smile. The burning smell was overwhelming. Aurelius felt as if he were falling asleep. He could not move, could barely muster the will to stay awake.
“It’s uncomfortable at first.” His double was saying, “but you’ll get used to that after a while.” Aurelius was going blind. He felt uncomfortably warm and a mounting pressure squeezed him from all sides.
“I’ve declined to mention my name.” His double was saying, “Because you wouldn’t believe me if I blurted it out. Once you get where you’re going, you’ll know who I am”
Aurelius felt that his body was becoming oppressively heavy. He struggled to keep his eyes open, but with or without his eyelids shut, the scene seemed to bleed away. At last he could no longer see into the kitchen nor perceive any part of his body. Sinking deep into the darkening abyss, he heard that other voice saying,
”Thank you for your admiration, Aurelius. Thank you for that harmless little lie. I hope you will enjoy your time in my place. I will certainly enjoy my time in yours.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trouble With Machines


“Hello?”
“Hey Lyd, it’s Yos, how you doin’?”
“Okay, how are you?”
“All right, all right. You at home?”
“I’m driving, I’m almost home.”
“Listen, call me when you get home, I need help to email a picture…I need to send a customer a photo of a machine.”
“I’m pulling up to the house now, are you in front of the computer?”
“Yeah.”
“Okay, let me just turn the computer on, give me a second. I’ll call you back in a minute.”
“Okay”
“Okay, bye.”
“Bye.”

She turned off the car and opened the truck’s door. The residential road was quiet and dark, she had parked at the slight curve in the road beneath a large pine tree, her usual spot. On her right was the large barren hillside that led to a row of houses a couple hundred feet above her, to the left of the parked car was a row of houses that were mostly dark. Though they were far apart, a couple street lamps illuminated the road with their yellow light. She crossed the empty street and walked along the side of the house. Her eyes adjusted to the dark space in between her house and the neighbor’s on the right. As she approached, she kept her eyes fixed on the space beneath her neighbor’s stairs, looking for movement. It was only a couple steps from her path and in the dark, she always felt a couple seconds of vulnerability while she waited for the motion sensor to flip on the side light. Always slightly paranoid, she looked into the shadows, looking for lurkers with knives…men who had studied her daily habits and determined the best place to hide and wait. As usual, no one jumped from the shadows and she pushed the latch of the wooden gate. It opened to a backyard of concrete. Here too, it took a couple steps for the motion detector to register her movements and here too, she looked to the corners along the left side of the fence, near the towering eucalyptus trees just beyond the fence to the farthest point of the yard from where she stood. A couple seconds later, as she walked towards the door, light above it flooded the yard and there was no one hiding; the shed was undisturbed, the trash cans stood as they always did. She walked to the door and she fumbled with her keys for a moment, looking through a dozen to find the correct one for the top lock. She turned the key to the right and then put the same key into the bottom lock, turning this time to the left. She pushed on the door with her foot, a habit she had recently developed, and the door opened. She found a different key with help from the light, she pushed it in and turned it to the right. The door opened and she was assaulted by the usual smell of an indefinable source. It was a smell she had noticed her first night in the small studio, not entirely unpleasant, but slightly perfumed and foreign and definitely not coming from anything she had brought. After months of cleaning and incense, its source was still a mystery, perhaps coming from some of the building supplies, but maybe a smell filtering in from the garage that shared her wall. She flipped on the light, closed and locked the door and turned on her computer. As she waited for the computer to light up, she lit a match and ignited a gas burner on the stove. She filled her small orange pot with some water and set it upon the circle of flames.
The computer was ready. She picked up her small red cell phone and she dialed the numbers.

“Hello?”
“Hey Yos, it’s me.”
“Hey Lyd.”
“You use yahoo right? To send email?”
“Yeah”
“Okay, are you looking at the page right now.”
“Yeah.”
“Do you see where it says ‘compose mail?”
“Yeah.”
“Okay, click on that.”
“Okay”
“Do you see where it says, ‘attach files’?”
“Yeah”
“Click on that.”
“Okay”
“See those five lines and it says ‘browse’ on the right?”
“Yeah”
“That’s where you need to go look for the pictures. Where are the pictures?”
“I put them in a memory stick.”
“Is that still attached to the computer.”
“Yeah.”
“Okay, go to ‘my computer,’ do you see the little icon for the memory stick?”
“No”
“Are you sure it’s attached? Because you need to copy the pictures from the memory stick to the computer. They’re not in the computer automatically, you need to put them in.”
“Ahh, I see. I saw them in here yesterday. I don’t know where they are now. Let me see.”
The line was quiet while he pressed buttons.
“What are you doing now?” she asked.
“I’m just looking.”
“Where?”
“I don’t know…ah…no…maybe…no…
“Are you sure they’re not in a section called ‘my pictures’? Did you look in there?”
“Yeah, give me a minute. Ahh, let’s see….maybe…no….ahhh….
Silence again.
“I saw them in here yesterday.”
“Did you see them in the camera or in the computer?”
“I saw them in the computer.”
“How did you get the pictures from the camera to the computer?”
“I put them in a memory stick.”
“You put the memory stick into the camera?”
“The memory stick is the camera.”
“What?”
“This particular camera is a memory stick, it has memory.”
“I know cameras have memory, but…”
“This particular camera is a memory stick.”
“I don’t see how you could get the pictures from the camera to the computer without a cord.”
“It’s a memory stick.”
“What do you mean? Where is the memory stick?”
“Forget the memory stick! I saw them in here yesterday!” He stopped talking and started clicking tabs in the computer.
“Do you understand that just because you hook up a camera into the computer, with a memory stick or with a cord, you still need to copy the pictures into the computer itself. When it’s hooked up to the camera, it’s just like borrowed information, it’s not inside the computer yet”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Let me see…..”
“Do you really get it?”
“Yeah. It get it” he said in a dismissive tone. “Okay…maybe….”
She held the phone partially away from her ear, trying to let the energy of frustration roll through her.
“Hey, hold on a minute” he said.
She heard him on the other line… “hey Mike, how are you?” He sounded a little far away. “Hey look Lyd, I’ll have to call you back.”
“Okay.”
“Yeah, bye.”

She closed the phone and suddenly remembered the water she put on earlier. The water was boiling rapidly and she turned off the flames and dunk a tea bag into the pot directly.
She felt a bit like a prisoner. She needed to do some other things in the house, but didn’t want to be interrupted with his phone call, so she waited. Cleaning some dishes that were piled in her sink, picking up a couple clothes she had left on the floor. Fifteen minutes went by. She picked up the cell phone again and called him.

“Hello”
“Are you still on the phone?”
“Yeah, listen, don’t worry, I think I can figure it out myself.”
“Okay”
“Okay, bye.”
“Bye.”

She felt a bit frustrated, suspended in the air when she was ready to jump. So that was what it felt like. She recognized the part her father was playing. She had played it many times before. Not clear, not listening, unable to take advice instead of doing her own thing. Stubborn and proud. She sipped her tea. A part of her felt like she had just wasted her time. Another part felt that she had just been held up to a mirror, her exact actions illuminated for her in sharp relief. A photo of a machine. She could see it clearly and study it. If she chose to pause long enough. If she chose to look. If she chose to work with what she saw. So simple and yet so hard to grasp. Step by step, no matter how simple, no matter how small. She sipped again from her tea and wondered how long it would take for her to forget.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not Dying

I am not dying, although many will think that I am. My flesh is no longer pink as they remember, and the sun does not spend hours upon my skin as in years past. The people who once held me no longer remember my arms. The ones who laughed with me will scarcely remember my form or the deepness of my singing voice. My name will come up at parties, where friends who have grown wider and older will remember the times of the past, and I will fit into the pieces of the puzzle and they will think of me and wonder about my grave.
Off of what cliff did I walk?
Under what star do I now breathe and work?
No one has heard from me. No one has seen me. No one truly ever did.
But I am not dying, I am not hidden in the dark places between rocks.
I am not dying, I am only becoming invisible.
Like the flickering lights of a TV set, I am dwindling, declining in physical substance. Atoms have torn apart, taking with them my curly hair and with them the cheeks some will remember and with them the person once seen.
To those who knew me, I am gone. A name of the past, a character in a book that had long since gathered dust on the highest shelf. I am becoming invisible to the ones that walked and cried and laughed with me….the ones who blindly pushed me on the path and the ones who could see it coming.
They can no longer see me, but if they look, they might get a glimpse of the traces I leave behind. Images and sounds, vibrant colors with ribbons of truth that dangle from the ends.
They cannot see me, just the electrified trail that buzzes when seen.
And I am Nameless now, even my picture flickers from the pages of an album, even the memory will crumble with the coming years.
I am quiet, formless, traveling the blue roads. Moving forward, using the past, delving into it with the newfound realization of form and language. Using scissors and glue and rocks and wind and little green bits to turn it all over and examine it again, looking for the truths, looking for the sparks, amazed at the questions and wanting and head-banging. Looking at it all, holding it like a child makes sandcastles, each piece a wonderful part of the puzzle, the earth at my feet, the stardust inside that can either push me forward or pull me back, depending on the method used.
I am walking forward, under a blue sun, under a red covered sky, I move towards the distant dreaming deserts. A place seen in dreams, a place that might not be…but moving forward still.
I am not dying, I am not gone, it is only to those who look with the old eyes, the ones who cannot find the colored ribbons, the sounds that used to make a body shiver and now exalt the remains of flesh.
This is the new, the invisible to those without careful eyes.
To the one that I stepped away from, to the ones who may never know me again, yes, to those people, I am not dying. To them, I am already dead.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wizard

The stormy night rose around the tower as walls of rain and crackling lightning. The wizard took a glance out of one of the two little windows that were set high up in the stone walls. Unnaturally tall though he was, he still had to rise to the tips of his toes to peer out of the diminutive opening. The crown of his head was bald and shiny, wreathed by a mane of long thinning and matted black hair. His eyes, a keen pale blue, peered into the maelstrom which held him prisoner within his tower. A dark mood descended upon him, sired by the whip like arcs of light that rose from the earth all around his keep. The corners of a big mouth set in a broad face shaped like an inverted spade turned down and the thick black brows over his eyes lifted as if they might slide from his brow in resignation. The clang of the old clock striking eleven roused him from silent observations and he hurried back to his wooden table where 17 small figurines fashioned of wax were lined in three neat little rows. There were yet 18 figures that must be made before the stroke of midnight. Despair seized his heart and for a moment he contemplated sinking to his knees and enduring his imprisonment until starvation eked the last of his life from him. Then he recognized such apathy as the spawn of the malignant spell that raged all about him, and thrust it heavily aside. One candle burned on the little table, nearly down to the nub. He would need more wax. Bending his gargantuan height, he threw open an oaken chest and rummaged hastily about and seized three more tapers with his massive hands, not as much as he could want, but it would have to do. His faded olive robe flagged out behind him as he hurried back to the work table with heavy steps. One hour remained to complete his work. Whether it could be done or not he turned his will unwaveringly to the task.


* * *


Lucien passed over the green hill littered with gray stones that had once been the walls of a keep. He picked his way carefully among them until he had passed into the circle of ruins which were once the foundation of a tower. There was little in the way of relics to be found, others had come and carried away the most alluring items long ago. Lucien found a spoon lodged halfway beneath one of the fallen stones. Then he wandered out of the foundation and lifted his lithe body onto a boulder to survey the area. Among the stones and green grass, the burnt remains of four trees stood black and forlorn against the overcast sky. To the west, a river rushed hastily along its course. Lucien sighed and slid onto his rear. His mind turned towards his homeward voyage, towards his empty handed return to the old woman who cast the bones. He would tell her that there was no tower, and that there was no wizard with thirty five warriors of wax with which to defeat the Demoness of Berg. He supported his head in his hands and felt the ache in his feet. The sound of the rushing river reached his ears. It seemed for a moment as if it were singing a song, the words of which were almost decipherable by him. He shook off the eerie perception.
The journey home would be disproportionately longer than the journey here had been, now that he would have to bare the weight of disappointment. He resolved not to return. He would go on searching for another way to combat the Demoness, even if there was none to be found. He would search to the ends of the earth.

Thus thinking, he leaped down from the boulder and proceeded to pass by one of the burnt trees. His eye caught sight of a leather bound book resting at its foot. He wondered that he had not noticed it from his vantage point atop the boulder. Lucien’s heart fluttered. He could read. When the old woman had cast the bones for the six lords of Almerne she had insisted that a scribe and not a warrior be sent to retrieve the thirty five. Eagerly, he opened the book and flipped through the pages, glancing here and there. He let out an excited cry. Recipes and rituals were scrawled on the pages and notes about the weather and the writer’s deepest feelings. This was the journal of a wizard. He found the last written page midway through the book. On it was written,
“The thirty five are complete now. Their singing never ceases.”
The remaining pages had been left blank.

Lucien stood quite still for a moment. The mention of thirty five could not be a coincidence. This was a mention of the thirty five warriors he sought. He spoke the words softly to himself, wondering, hoping that something further would be revealed to him. The babbling of the river reached his ears again, almost melodic. He snapped the book shut with a start. Could it be?
Springing to life, he ran the distance to the river. Smooth white pebbles populated the bank . The rush and roar of the foaming water thundered in Lucien’s ears. He could hear the song it sang more clearly now. He gazed into the watery depths and searched through the changing liquid shapes.
At first, he saw only the green river ferns swaying beneath the surface. Then, as he listened intently to the singing of the river, the water seemed to adopt new shapes before his eyes. The bubbling and rippling water outlined the contours of fine faces and athletic limbs and subtle but feminine bosoms. These were not the men of wax that he had expected, but women of water, dressed in armor and helmets and wielding spears.
Lucien stepped back from the water, frightened and awed. He paced along the bank counting their translucent forms. Thirty-five. Here was the wax army of the Green wizard, transformed to water, singing battle songs beneath the river’s rushing surface to pass the time while they waited. And if they were here, waiting in the water, then the wizard that could command them must be somewhere as well. And if they were no longer wax but water, then he was free.
Lucien searched the sky and wondered. He looked carefully at the pebbles under his feet and at the hills around him. He sat down upon the river’s bank and searched with his eyes and with his ears and with his heart for the green wizard that could awaken the thirty-five. Whether it could be done or not, he would find the wizard. He would awaken the mage who must be hidden somewhere, everywhere, waiting to be roused.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gnome

The congress woman was on the phone and some loud mouth woman was jawing off about how the American Pharmaceutical companies were getting screwed and how independent insurance companies couldn’t compete with federal medical coverage, how the starving and the sick were fucking these poor corporations up the ass wanting to receive health care for no reason, just because they pay their taxes and their parents paid taxes before them and their children will pay taxes after them doesn’t mean that they are entitled to anything so superfluous as health care. That was the situation, getting this call from the congress woman and listening to this vicious loudmouth give a speech instead of asking a question. And Jojo’s stomach was clawing around at her insides as if it hoped to escape after a day of hunger, then overfeeding and now this sonic interruption. The house was full of fucking phones and they kept ringing off the hooks, cell phones, old fashioned rotary phones, touch tone phones, phones, phones, phones. She went into the bathroom and shut the door and started the water running in the bath.
Running in the bath…the water, water splashing, crashing against yellowed titles and cracked grout,
her naked body suddenly slipping into the warm tub, slink splosh, like a giant pink fish.
For a moment the water is roaring, the bath is thundering and her mind is running, running with the stars, and she realizes that if she howls just the right way her ears will ring and her stomach feels better. Clothes are piled on the floor, a little rumpled heap of jeans and sneakers and cut up T-shirt, as if the wicked witch just melted right there, into a simmering puddle while uttering a moan that sounds like the ringing of telephones.
Got to, got to go. Got to go see the gnome. This is a new trick, a new thing learned just this week. Just like at 13 months old she learned to utter the sound “Shlashshlight” and the heavy black mag light would be handed to her, that black thing that made light in a little circle, that came alive when a button was compressed, and it felt so good to push that button, click, on, click, off, now she had learned a new thing at age 23. A sound. Another sound that made things happen. A high pitch sound which she adjusted by listening to that almost none existent ringing in her ears. As long as the ringing kept up she was doing the right thing. Not the clang gatta clang gatta clang of the old rotary telephone, something else. A sound that seemed to come out of a tunnel, out of a forgotten channel, an invisible ear canal, high and soft and sweet. It could happen in the quiet. If she was lying in bed and everything was silent for a change and her body felt heavy as lead, she could hear that ringing without howling and singing her own high pitched sound. But if she couldn’t hear it by being still, she could find it with her own noise. It was an outgoing call. Yes, that was it, she could open the line from her end, but sometimes something else was initiating the call and all she had to do was pick up. Pick up and summersault through the weightless abyss for a time like Alice until at last reaching a more material chamber. Or call. AhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhoooooooooooooooooooooooooOAhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhoooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhahhhhhhhhhhhhhhoewahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…
And then tumble fall, woohwee!
Twirl among the stars, get tangled in the arms of galaxies, let the oblivion run, spilling into black pools, overflowing until ping, she was somewhere. She was standing in a forest, by a tree, (Arrrrrborrrrrr) looking at her own hand, the beautiful rivers that flowed through the palm cutting grand canyons into the fabric of life.
“Ahem.” The gnome, clearing his throat to rouse her from her reverie. His little face looked as though it were carved from wood, except that the flesh seemed to shiver like water, brown wrinkled water, and his beard was white but it wasn’t hair, it was something like moss or mold, formed of repeating geometric forms and his pointed hat wasn’t a hat at all but rather the top of his head, pointing into the sky like a capsized ice cream cone, but it was bumpy and composed of many smaller spires which ultimately composed the one distinct spire she had first seen. It was like romenesco cauliflower, something her roommate brought home from the farmers market once. If she hadn’t seen that there, in that kitchen in a galaxy far far away, she would have lacked a point of reference to correlate this to.
Oooooooh it was sooo pretty sooooooo…..
“Ahem.” She came out of the endless fractal beauty of his pointy little head and saw his dewy black eyes regarding her from under twig-like brows frosted with more of that white mossy mold stuff.
“Did you bring them?”
“Bring what?” she asked.
“Those mushrooms you just told me about. The squishy ones.”
“Oh.” She said, “I forgot about that. I couldn’t remember once I got there. I forgot why I went back. I’m very glad to see you again, it seems like such a long time.”
“I’ve only been waiting a few minutes. I could wait a few more if you go back to get them.”
“It was kind of a long time there. The time goes so slow, but it’s so hard to do anything. It’s very hard to remember.”
“Oh. But still, you said you would bring them. I want the spores. They will grow better here I think than they grow there. I think they will be something like me when they grow here.”
“Yesssss.” She answered slowly, ”I think you could be right. That’s why I thought of them in the first place. They remind me of you. I’m afraid to go back though. What if I can’t remember at all this time? What if I don’t ever come back?”
“Just try harder. You might remember better this time since we’ve tried it a few times before. I can wait. I’m very interested. Life is so precious, so hard to find. We are so fortunate to have met one another. Think of how glad we feel. I suspect that they will be glad too. Perhaps they’ve been waiting for us for a very long time. A time longer than the one you just returned from.”
She nodded.
“I should bring them then.”
“Yes, like I brought you the first time.”
“ I want to go over this again before I go. I should eat them, and when I’m with them, then I should call you?”
“Right. That should work.”
“Okay. I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll wait. See you soon.”
They smiled at each other, their hearts fluttering, and she waved her hand before looking back into its creases, down into the canyons, into the running water that shaped them into the rushing, swirling darkness veined with purple and green, tumbling through the pulsing triangles of a weblike network until the web is golden and the abyss is crimson and she watches the lines flicker and surge like a fireworks display, watches it shift and pulse and twirl for an eternity and suddenly she realizes that these pulsing geometric patterns are the blood veins in her own eyelids. She is a pink fish swimming in the womb. No, she is in a tub. Pink tub fish in a fish farm. No, no. Not a fish, not a farm. A clang gatta clang gatta clang. The phone is ringing, vibrating through the walls of the tub. The bath! She is Jojo in the bath! Gasping, she opens her eyes and sits up. She shuts off the roaring cascade of the bath water and listens to the fucking phones ringing all over the house.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

At The Lake

The lake was glimmering in the sparkles of a late afternoon sun. An airplane coming out of San Francisco airport soundlessly rose towards the clouds above, the sounds of its engines drowned by the distance and the ceaseless flow of cars that surrounded all sides of the lake like a metallic river of spasms, noise and velocity that came and went endlessly. She parked her car on the small parking lot just on the banks of the lake, only a small path of pine trees and wood chips separated her from the water. Stepping out of the car, she entered the small liquid island of flora in the city of asphalt and endless motion. There was the warm aroma of softly baked pine needles that had dropped and mingled with the wood chips on the ground. A cement bench, donated in loving memory of Rick, was warm from a day in the sun, un-corroded by the elements of wind and rain and heat and fog that was thick and unrelenting in this part of the city. She watched an Asian man approach from the bottom of a small hill in short black running shorts. His hair was short and black and buzzed and reminded her of a military man. He had just finished an intense run around the lake, his shirt was wet, only small patches of light gray insinuated the original color of the dry garment. The length of the shorts struck her, it was not a length most American men were comfortable with, they showed too much thigh. He looked around the lake, his hands on his hips. He watched the other people still running, in lycra and baseball hats and thick sneakers. None of them had yet broken a sweat. He had the look of a relaxed man, a man who had earned his moment of rest and reflection. He saw the girl taking pictures, sometimes he turned his head spontaneously and her black camera lens pointed at him. He would then turn around and look at the water and then turn and watch other runners passing by. There was the camera again. He ducked behind a 15ft high marble statue of a penguin, a thick and modernist interpretation of the animal. He hid from her line of sight. The girl began to walk slowly, peering around the statue to see him only a couple feet off the ground, using the incline of the statue as a place to put his hands while the rest of him went up and down in a series of pushups. His back was perfectly straight, a perfectly executed exercise. She watched his as she walked, wanting a photo but passing by without clicking the button. She had enough for one day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dove

She broke away from the metallic roar, from the river made of asphalt and shiny bits of red and blue and gray, the river that breathed exhaust and waves of heat and only really sounded like a river if you closed your eyes and imagined a tranquil valley full of trees and moving water. This was a river for the imagination, but she traveled through its imaginary body often, merging and branching as was necessary. And on this warm Saturday, after a nearly full day of sun and monetary transactions, she broke away from the near constant flow and began the easy-angled descent into the strictly regimented grids of the city.
The hill down was a gentle slope and she braked anticipating the light that lay 500 feet away. Something flashed white and she saw a snow-white dove coming towards her windshield. It came towards her, making no move to ascend into safety above her. At the last second, when she thought for sure there would be a bright red collision, it turned like a stealth jet fighter and tipped its wings to avoid death. Up and over her car, then it came back towards her, flying just a couple of feet from her open window, as though they were in a race to the finish. And then again, the creature’s wings turned sharply and it rose into the air.
As the car slowed to a stop, she turned her body to watch the flurry of white move through this metal offshoot. This bird was not injured, unable to escape in a moment of shock, this dove played in traffic, lunging at the cars that came from the metal-filled freeway, flying beside them as though they were its equals, mocking their strength that wasn’t earned, but bought.
The light was red and she watched this act with a smile. This was avian revolution. All death is certain and what better death than warping the images of possibility. This could be its last statement, and what a beautiful white shining statement it was. It was chaotic, but not completely out of control. The symbol of peace, the creature of gentle values defied its pure white feathers and earthly symbol and flapped as though there was nothing to fear. No moving cars, no moving tires, no clear windshields that awaited an impact. This road was for play, and perhaps the end would be covered in sticky red and broken glass, but all death is certain.
She watched, smiling with awe. She turned with a smile to the 36 year old Latin man in the blue truck next to her at the light, he looked towards her and she saw a shadow of unease and questioning run briefly across his face. The strangeness of a smiling stranger. She held her smile and turned away, searching for the dove.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Mermaid

The sun shone brightly that day in mid fall. On a day like this, the town could forget that winter was looming and the leaves of the maples were still in the process of falling. It was a day to imagine, to pretend that the dawn of summer had arrived. Despite the sun that tried to kiss her with its light, she was filled with an anxious energy that vibrated on the tips of her fingers and the edges of her toes, and although fear ran up and down the length of her short body, the center, the star around which everything swirled, was her chest, the anxious heart that twitched with nervous palpitations since dawn.
She drove anxiously to a tattoo shop on the outskirts of Pacific Ave, the last storefront before the street began to curve and give way to small parking lots and mid-sized hotels and half a mile later, the Pacific ocean. She parked a couple blocks away, in the residential neighborhood in which she had once lived for a summer, to avoid the parking meters. She walked with her boyfriend, a 6’1 man with broad shoulders and a soft stomach. She had woken with worry, the culmination of an endless anxiety about her boyfriend’s drug abuse and his impending trial to determine just how long he would have to live in jail for being under the influence and distributing heroin.
She itched with an internal battle that had become nearly unbearable. It was not sharp, not like lightning blasts or shocks of thunder, it was more like a constant drone, the sound of a mosquito that had played around her ears for days, getting loud, getting soft, but never leaving. And she awoke, unable to contain the underlying pressure any longer.
“I need to hit something. A punching bag. I need a tattoo.”
So they drove downtown, to the shop painted in black on the inside and out with a checkerboard floor. Driving there, every car seemed like an obstacle placed in her way. Every pedestrian was an unmovable barrier to her release. She looked at them all with a small measure of hate. They moved too slow, too unsure of themselves and their direction, idiots in their lack of purpose. She was moving, going fast, determined to reach her destination. She arrived exasperated. She arrived hoping for renewal, for cleansing. She imagined herself after the new tattoo, she would be reborn, calm, the day would then truly begin.
But this was not to be. The receptionist told her there were no available tattoo artists, everyone was booked for the day…perhaps if she came back tomorrow…No. this was not a desire that could be held, tomorrow would not be the same, later in the afternoon would not do. It was now. Now she had to feel the needle in her flesh. Now she had to feel the sting of the vibrating gun. They walked out of the store into the bright light of the sun reflecting off the cement sidewalk. She drove back to her house in the Santa Cruz mountains faster than usual, bursts of anxiety crossing her lips, gusts of heat seeping from her skin.
Inside her apartment, just off the busy mountainous road of Hwy 9, she searched in the phonebook for “tattoo.” She saw an ad for Papa Joe’s Tattoo, which was in Ben Lomond, a small mountain town just a couple minutes north from her. The ad said, “real artists, no attitude.” She picked up the phone and talked to Papa Joe himself. He said that he was not available at the moment, but if she wanted, his apprentice was available. He assured her the apprentice was good, but perhaps he knew that anyone with a tattoo gun would be good for her at that point. He heard her voice of desperation, the unspoken words of longing, the pent-up of frustration and rage that needed an orgasm. Perhaps he recognized the inclination. There could be no waiting. He probably had seen it all before.
With her boyfriend in the passenger seat, they wound up the mountain, passing the indoor swimming pool that was covered in a circular plastic dome, like a clear astronaut’s helmet…passing the art studio of a man who never tired of carving bears from thick wooden stumps. At the first stop light, at the only stop light in Ben Lomond, she made a right and on the corner, saw the pale pink two-story Victorian that housed the shop of Papa Joe. A wooden sign hung above the door, swinging slightly in the warm breeze. She walked inside, a small bell on the door announced her arrival.
Papa Joe was leaning over a man who was laying topless on his stomach, a bright bulb was pointed directly at the man’s back. Papa Joe looked up and the noise of the needle was silenced. “Hi, I called a couple minutes ago,” she said. “Hi, sure, this is Dave, he’ll be working with you.” A young man approached, a twenty-five year old with dark baggy blue jeans and a loose white shirt. His dark hair was nearly hidden beneath a white baseball cap. He greeted her somewhat coldly, barely making eye contact. She handed him the small design she had torn from an old sociology notebook. It was the doodle of a mermaid she had drawn in the first college class that would drastically change the course of her life, but the doodle was manifest evidence she had had many lapses of attention during the lectures. The drawing was three inches long, an abstract black shape she interpreted as a mermaid with the head of a crescent moon. The young man looked at her a skeptically, he brought it over to his teacher… “do you want it just like this, or do you want us to add some details...”
“No, just like it is please.” The two men looked at each other. “You’re sure?” “Yeah, it’s just what I want.” The young man brought the little mermaid to his drawing table and began tracing the design onto carbon paper.
A couple minutes later, she was on the vinyl padded table. She lay on her right side and lifted her shirt and pointed to the place she wanted it, just above the soft mound of her love handle. Dave applied the design, put on his latex gloves and poured a small plastic capful of black ink. He adjusted his work lamp. She heard the buzzing of the needle begin. He leaned closer, she felt the needle approach with the slight wind the vibrations caused…then she felt the pain as the needle dug in. She lay motionless, as still as she could while breathing. Dave outlined the mermaid in a couple minutes, then came back to fill it with a solid coating of black. She felt proud she could lay this still, proud she did not cry out, proud she was strong and did not cry at all. The pain was real. The pain stung. Dave went to wipe the collection of blood that had seeped from her skin with a paper towel, each wipe felt like sandpaper. But she lay still.
Twenty minutes later, the tattoo was complete. She walked out of the shop, relaxed for the first time that day, for the first time in many, many days. And there was now a permanent message on her flesh, a message that spoke of secret yearnings and secret fears, dreams and nightmares which she could never say out loud, not to herself, not to anyone. For her words were of dry land and her secrets were of the waves, and a mermaid formed the bridge between two worlds.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Nora

Sitting on the park bench, feeling the wooden planks eating into the mound of flesh that was the bare underside of her thighs, Nora watched the birds of gray and speckled black and white mutations chasing each other around in circles, kissing , and looking for crumbs. The fading light told her that it was time to go, but she stayed wondering about how common the pigeons painted like Dalmatians were becoming. She had never seen one like these in her childhood. Now they were prolific, popular with their peers.
The shift in the light was subtle, a thing one takes for granted in most cases, but Nora was accustomed to sitting on this precise bench from 3:30 to 4:30 each afternoon. For her, the shift in the atmosphere was quite noticeable as 4:30 rolled along. Usually it signaled her departure when the sky took on that desperate last gleam of brightness. On this day however, she remained, slightly enchanted by it. It was late spring and the days were longer and warmer. It would not be dark until 8:00.
There were very few people in the park. An older woman sat upon another bench further along the walkway. From where Nora sat, she could see beneath the bridge. A couple stood beneath its shadow, kissing. Two wrinkled old men were finishing a game of chess at a table situated 20 yards behind Nora, near the shade of the trees. Occasionally, their excited voices, as brittle as dried leaves and raucous as the cawing of crows, reached her ears.
A man that had once been a tiny speck far off on the path was drawing nearer. He glanced furtively here and there. As he drew closer she could see his peanut shaped nose resting over a fine brown cookie duster of a moustache. His brows were nearly as fine and thick, and they stretched out over his brown eyes like furry black caterpillars. If he had dared to don a cane and black suit or travel with an identical twin he would have been a Thompson and Thompson look alike straight from the pages of a Tin Tin comic book. He stepped passed her, stopping a yard away to peer into the distant shadows beneath the bridge. Then he returned to where she was seated upon the bench.
“Excuse me.” He said. “Excuse me, but I’m looking for someone and I wonder if you might have seen her. She’s a little bit taller than me and has short dark brown hair. Very slender, brown eyes.”
“Uh…” Nora’s eyes rolled around as if she would have to look backwards into her brain in order to remember. She squinted and nibbled her lip. She was fairly certain that she had seen the woman he was describing. When she had first arrived an hour ago, a woman that fit the description had been talking to the man that usually strolled through the park selling helium filled balloons. They had talked and laughed together and eventually strolled away in the direction of the bridge. Nora liked the man who sold the balloons. He was young and handsome with blond hair and a smooth broad face. He usually dressed in a uniform of white slacks and a sleeveless white dress shirt while selling the balloons and had an easy friendly manner. She wondered what this strange man’s relation was to the woman in question. Was this her father? Her husband? Would he be angry to learn that she had left with the man of the balloons?
“I’m not really sure.” Nora answered noncommittally, shrugging her shoulders and shaking her head slightly.
“Wait.” The man said and dug into his back trouser pocket. “I have her picture here.” As he withdrew the wallet, Nora could hear the cackling of the old chess players growing louder. She could hear their syncopated footsteps crunching upon the gravel pathway.
“You didn’t have to marry her!” one crowed.
“I did if I wanted to do what I wanted to do with her!” the other proclaimed and they booth hooted and slapped their knees.
“Here.” The man was saying, extending his open wallet for Nora’s inspection, “This is her.” But Nora was glancing behind him at the two old men who were endeavoring to pass behind him. The one nearest to them was laughing so hard that he careened on one foot and bumped into the mustachioed man. The wallet fell at Nora’s feet.
“Ah, ah, ha. Oh, excuse me.” The old man apologized.
“Don’t.” the other quipped, “There’s no excuse. At his age he should know how to walk!”
The strange man smiled over his shoulder at them while Nora bent and retrieved the wallet. She stood and handed it back to the man.
“I’m sorry I can’t help you.” She told him “I’ll be late for work if I don’t hurry. Good luck.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.” He said waving his wallet with a quick flick of the wrist and a nod.
Nora smiled. Pulling the strap of her purse over her shoulder, she started off ahead of the old men in the direction from which the stranger had come.
Hurrying up the path, she could hear him asking the older men,
“You wouldn’t happened to have seen this lady here today?”
“No. Sure wish I had. Pretty lady,” one answered and the other whistled. Then the pair laughed their raucous laugh together. As she keep on walking and they stayed behind, she couldn’t hear anything more, not even the sound of laughter.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Quest

It is a place of hard sand, a place where billions of grains have hardened and formed a solid ground of bleached yellow and dirty white. There are mountains topped with green pines and big square bricks. The Cannanites were spawned in these lands. Their robes moved in the dry desert wind. It was in the desert heat where a sect would emerge, a small group beneath the deities and gods who destroyed their idols and talked to the being without shape. Without sex, without a female, the sky god ruled alone. This was their glue, the common belief that would separate them from the other herders and farmers and carpenters of the land. Ripe with olives and dates, red with the blood of pomegranates and sacrifice, the land gave birth to the singular. Three thick branches would sprout from the tree rooted in myth and time, three branches linked by story, blood and place.
The world came to and end, as all stories do, as each life is a world unto itself. Coming from the great city to the east, Nebuchadnezzar conquered the mountain, capturing the learned minds of the sky god people. Writers and poets and singers of tradition were taken in chains and brought to Babylon. It was here, in the city, where the stories were written, where with careful pen upon parchment the myths were transcribed. The act of the hand would be the revolution, the action that would carry myth through five thousand years. The tales that would inspire war and sacrifice. The plot that would be taught as total truth clothed in the everlasting wrath of the all-seeing sky god.
Some eventually returned to the mountain and the stories were brought and studied and passed to the children that awoke in the gold-cast land. There would be kings. There would be teachers. There would be small inner chambers that remained forever dark. Animals were sacrificed and fires burned with the heat of prayer. And the branch sprouted.
The Romans followed through with a request from the sky-god elders, forever silencing the dissidents… only, the limb was not severed, it grew in the hard-bleached ground and wound like ivy up the continent and through many seas and over oceans. It would be the same people that would return with a thirst for vengeance, many generations later. Not recognizing their own kind, throats were slashed and children became food for the hungry. The mountain would be conquered again and the men of chariots would hunt the priests of the sky god, the swords would enter and the rituals would die with the men. There would be one, the one escapee, the teacher that would teach after the walls had fallen. The exiles vanished with the cool wind, carrying with them their tragic memories of the end of the world.
The mountain lived on in their dreams and the two branches grew yet another branch of similar design, a singular entity at its center with a different prophet that orbited it like a moon. The mountain grew with cities and people, with kings and priests of all three branches. But they would come from the outside, they, clad in chain mail and red crosses would come with horses and weapons, starving and seeking the mountain. The quest continued. Generations later, the fruits of each branch would bleed and kill for the peaks of gold, for the place that was theirs, for the place where things were good, where the sky god could find them.
In Sunday school, little girls are taught from books with cartoon camels and they are told of little animals that warmed a blessed baby. On Saturday, little boys are scrubbed clean and put into black clothes and walk with their fathers and wig-wearing mothers. This is the place of bombs and pomegranates, the place of exploding buses and red streets, the place of lost knowledge and fixed rules.
Were the secrets ever there? Were they found and then lost again? Or does the quest continue, an endless search for the hidden meaning of absence?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Potter

In the mornings the sun glowed red as it rose over the thin and already quivering lip of the horizon. Night so cold would give way to the radiant sun and scorching heat which baked all of the valley as if it were a pot in the creator’s kiln. Uzle rose as the sun did and walked barefoot out into the dirt courtyard spread before the square abode that was home to him and his father. At the well he drew water and drank it and washed his face. He brought water back to the house and in a ceramic pitcher mixed some with wine from a goatskin for his father and for himself. The rest he poured into a wide and shallow bowl. The old man was white bearded and bent in his years. He washed his hands and face in the bowl and sat at the rough hewn table with his son. Silently the two men chewed a handful of dates and drank the water mixed with wine from ceramic cups. Then with little ceremony the older man went into his workshop and smoked a pipe while Uzle brought more water inside for his father to moisten the clay as he worked.
The older man smoked and stroked his beard. Uzle sat down and waited for his father. There were many items on the shelves: vases and pitchers and cups and platters, idols of the mother, and idols of the calf. At last his father finished his pipe and set to work at the wheel, carefully molding the clay with his wrinkled hands. Uzle watched him work. He witnessed the emergence of several pots.
After some time had passed, the young man slipped away. He found his sling beside his bedding and went outside. He searched around the well for smooth round stones and slowly made his way to the rocky foothills east of his father’s house. His pocket grew heavy with the stones. Climbing around the ragged rocks he made his way up the steep gravely hillside. He rested in the shade of a bush. Blinking against the white hot glow of the mid morning sun, he observed the falcon gliding and circling overhead. It danced for a while upon the blue before swooping down somewhere among the hills to make a kill. Uzle rose and picked his way along the rocky slopes in search of his own prey. Something to turn over the fire tonight. Once he caught sight of a ram, but lost his footing and alerted the beast to his presence with the cascade of pebbles dislodged by his sandal.
Before the sun reached it’s zenith, he returned to his home, carrying a scrawny hare by the ears. He hung it behind the house to await skinning. Uzle found his father removing pieces of pottery from the smoldering kiln. The open doors of the workshop displayed their wares and a few things were laid on a brightly colored rug outside so that those from the road might see something to catch their fancy.
A traveler leading a mule stopped and bought a cup from Uzle. The young man filled the cup with water from the well to sooth the traveler’s dusty throat. The stranger thanked him and lead the mule away down the road. A pair of men traveling on foot stopped and purchased an idol of the calf that had been displayed on the rug. Then a time marked by still air and silence settled upon them. While the most recently fired pieces cooled, the father and son sat together in the shade of the house. Now Uzle shared the pipe with his father. The older man fell asleep with his back leaned up against the wall of the mud house.
A cloud of dust rose up on the street in the distance. Soon, Uzle could see that it was a litter being carried by black slaves flanked by a pair of armed men. With a gentle touch, he roused his father. The two stood and waited for the little procession to arrive. Uzle recognized the litter. The rich woman had come to collect a piece she commissioned a week ago. His father indicated which item that his son should fetch, but it was unnecessary. Uzle knew which piece was for the woman. The slaves lowered the litter and the woman pushed aside the curtain that kept her privacy. She stepped down with the help of one of her guards. The potter bowed to greet her and Uzle brought up the platter with the mother holding sheaves of grain etched upon its surface. He delivered it into the woman’s graceful hands.
She examined it carefully. Her mouth was hidden behind a veil. Her eyes wrinkled at the corners and she nodded. One of her guards dropped some money into the older potter’s palm. He bowed again and Uzle did the same. Then the woman resumed her place within the litter, still holding the platter clasped to her breast. The curtain fell back into place so that she vanished from sight. The slaves lifted her again and, turning around, started back down the road in the direction from which they had come. Before long, they disappeared in a cloud of dust. Before much longer that too was absent and the road was undisturbed. The sun glowed red again, and it hung low in the sky over the deserted road.