Friday, February 28, 2014
Suppose you had to carry your food in a bag. Now, to get from Point A to Point B you would need to have X amount of food but your bag would only hold X + .0005. With no room for error and no way to get a bigger bag, if there was any loss of food at all you wouldn’t be able to get from A to B. There would be days that you simply could not make the journey. And if making that journey meant getting a bigger bag or more food you’d be trapped in an endless cycle of just not making the trip.
Suppose you were standing there with your bag and realized you had less than X in the bag so there was no use in trying to make the journey so you simple ate what was there knowing there wouldn’t be enough anyway. With no means to save any of the food why not just enjoy what you had? Or maybe you could trade it off for something that would be different than eating less food than you need anyway. With no means to do anything than live from day to day, from what’s in the bag to what’s in the bag, believe it or not, that is exactly what you would do.
Poor people do not live from day to day being poor because they are stupid. They live this way because they are poor.
Twenty-three years ago I was working part time at Sears. I made one hundred forty dollars a week. I rode a bike to work because I couldn’t fix my car. I needed six hundred dollars to fix my car and I needed to get it towed to the shop. Because my bills were pretty much eating up my paycheck I couldn’t afford to get my car fixed. I had to have surgery and because I was already stretched to the limit, I had to pay the doctor a certain amount every month, also. In the meanwhile, the tires on my car began to rot away but I couldn’t put the car on blocks because the landlord would tow it. My roommate bailed on me which doubled my rent. My girlfriend was helping support me and my two cats and for fun we would take a few bucks every week and buy cheap wine and get really drunk. I didn’t have cable, or air conditioning, or heat, or a television, or the internet (which wasn’t really available to the public) and I didn’t get to go to movies or eat out very often at all. I carried my clothes in a duffle bag to the laundry mat once a week to wash them and my best pair of work boots were held together with duct tape.
So the question you might ask is why not save that five bucks a week and not drink?
Because when you’re up to your neck in debt and it’s piling up even more every time you turn around you feel helpless against it. Five bucks a week meant to get my car fixed would be one hundred and twenty weeks. I played the lottery because the odds of the money helping me out seemed as remote as winning the lottery. I knew people who were more broke than I and they smoked. It was an appetite suppressant. It was much cheaper to smoke than eat.
It’s easy to kick back and plan for the future when you think there will be a future. Despair is a very powerful thing. When you wake up and realize that your girlfriend would be much better off shopping around you have to know that she’s realized that too. You know her friends are telling her that. You certainly know her parents are telling her that there was a man out there with a real job just waiting to be lucky enough to meet her. And you know each and every day that you get more broke, she’s in a position to meet someone else. When your employer knows that they don’t have to pay you anymore than they do because you wouldn’t give your job up if they paid you less then you go to work under a cloud. You work all day knowing you’ll owe more at the end of the day than you did when you clocked in. You go home to less than you left home with. And in the far range future, which is about a week and a half, you realize that each and every day will be exactly the same if not worse.
The sheer weight of helplessness is enough to cause more lack of judgment than being drunk. You hear music you want to buy, you see movie trailers and you want to see a movie, you get tired of planning basic meals for months on end, your clothes begin to all look the same, you find a dollar on the sidewalk and it the happiest moment of the year for you, and there is no end in sight. It suffocates you. It makes you feel sick all the time. It makes you wonder if one day you might die this way.
I did find a decent job and I did finally was able to get a truck that ran well, even if it was a stripped down version of a truck. After years of saving I was able to buy a house. I finally was able to afford to save money and to have things like a computer, a television, and food on a daily basis. And heat. I really liked having heat. Having heat in a house is an awesome thing. Oh, and being able to pay my bills on time was really nice.
Getting that break to get a good job isn’t something that a person can force to happen. I had to move to get that good job and not everyone can. I had to live with my father for five months and not everyone has that option. I spent a very long time on the very bottom before I moved up, slowly, very slowly, but I did stick with it.
I don’t have a lot of use for these people standing around with signs because nearly every one of them I have ever spoken with is looking for alcohol or worse. But I have less use for the people who paint all poor people as lazy and drunk. Single moms trying to get better jobs while still being a mom is one of the single most toughest things you will ever see a human being attempt. I’ve never met a single mom who planned it that way. No one in their right mind would.
When the country you live in can afford to spend a billion dollars an hour on a useless war but cannot afford to feed and educate poor people something is wrong. When the general population sees a useless war as more of a priority than feeding the poor something is terminally wrong. When your average person sees being poor as a choice it shows an amount of disconnect from reality that scares me.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Back in High School there was a teacher who told us that the bottom of the ocean, in its deepest parts, would contain the whole and totally preserved bodies of dinosaurs, whales, and seamen who had been lost. Every shipwreck would be totally intact, except for the damage due to extreme pressure and one day, when our technology permitted, we would be able to open up a whole new world of historic treasures. The ocean floor, she assured us, would be totally devoid of even so much as bacterial life. She was, of course, very wrong, as she was about many of the things she so strongly believed in.
I had a dream one night, long ago, and in the dream I was standing still and I was bathed in flame. Not just some bon-fire for a witch or caught in a burning house fire, but a conflagration that encompassed all that I could see and taste and feel. It was hot, hotter than anything I can remember but there wasn’t a feeling of being burned. It was the same feeling of having a fever; the heat seemed to come from within me, not around me.
The light from the fire was so overwhelming that sight was something akin to echolocation. The picture I received from vision was incomplete and distorted from the heat waves. The shimmering and swaying fire was nearly aquatic in its thickness. Vision failed totally after a very short distance just as it would in water that roils and turns with violence. With all of this, however, I felt grounded and stable. I was able to move within the maelstrom of flame without dizziness or clumsy steps.
Underwater or on land, here on earth, if a human being looks up there will be more light, not less light, yet where I stood the flames and light blasted out of the surface as if flung with alacrity from the core itself. Looking up gave an appearance of less light and looking at my feet was an act that was hurtful to the eyes. With my hands and arms, and to an extent, by body, I threw shadows up into the darkened sky, which was dark only when compared to the fire beneath me.
Were you to travel to a place where everyone was mute and deaf and there were no sounds, how would you, how could you, explain speech and words? If you were blind how could you explain to another person who was blind how facial expressions translate emotions? In a world devoid of all light and in that dark world, how would you explain sight? Put these thoughts into your head, foremost, and then allow me to tell you what it meant to express myself inside the fire.
What fuel burned underneath me I cannot say but with the flame and with the heat, and with the energy that it carried with it, there was something else. With my hands, arms, and to a certain extent, my body, I could deflect, reflect, and cause ripples and eddies in this energy, and with that, sent my thoughts and words out beyond where sight and hearing failed completely.
To whom, or to what, I spoke, I cannot say, but I knew that outside my field of vision and far past what might have been any audio function, the motion of my body and limbs carried everything that my thoughts might reveal. The dancing of the flames was a conversation within a world of fire. Everything here, in these words, and more, very much more, was there. Every breath and movement, every gesture and every shrug, and every slight change in position said something about how I felt.
Is this so hard for you to believe or understand? We humans have been transfixed by those who dance for longer than we have been capable of writing about it. Sexual desire is easily transferred from body to mind yet this is no more to the point than using the internet to look up porn. A writhing body backed by incomprehensible music is one thing but a body set in motion to produce a message backed by sheer emotion is another.
Please, look and feel outside the box of your voice and hearing and outside touch and taste. Was there not a time in your life when you were far too young to allow a song to bring tears to your eyes? As a child you might not have had a song than could bring forth the memories of a love lost yet here you are, as an adult, and now, all alone with your mind and heart, one song floods your mind with emotion and the lost are recovered for just one moment.
Is it so terribly hard for you to feel the energy in the flames, shaped by a heart, flung towards you with emotions, received as eagerly as sent, shaped by the body of a dancer taught since birth, to say the same things as a song?
Look at what you are doing right now and what is happening to you. These words before you were created with a machine and they were sent by a machine, yet it is in your brain where all of this is taking place. My mind has produced the words that your mind has translated. The creatures of the world of fire would think all of this much more unlikely than their own form of communication.
At this point, wouldn’t you have to agree with them?
The dream of fire, I think, was a dream of what it would be like to live on the sun. Teachers in High School right now will tell us that no life could exist there because the conditions are too extreme. Yet I have danced with the people of the sun and they have told me their life is good and their way of life, within the flames, is every bit as wonderful as any lived with a spoken word.
Dance in the light they have sent to you. They will hear you. Tell them you believe they exist and you will discover that you, too, can live in conditions others may doubt can support life. For life to exist, for dreams to become real, to be able to reach out past what we have been taught, we need only to dance to the fire in our own minds.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
The fog rolled in before I got up and even before I awoke I could feel it. The air is heavy and thick with moisture. Today’s high will be near ninety and the humidity is going to hang around from now until next October. Spring has barely peeked out from the covers and Summer is already making plans to invade. Here in the South Summer shows up like Christmas at Mal-Wart. Even when it is totally out of season and fully inappropriate it’s going to be in your face for about nine months and there is nothing you can do about it.
As I pull out into the highway from the driveway I noticed that someone a mile away has been pulled over by a patrol car. The blue light is like an early sunrise in the South and the fog magnifies the blueness so it looks alien and weird. I can’t explain to you why this triggers memories of long ago but it does. Two memories surface, unrelated and unbidden and they stick with me on the ride to work.
The first memory is of a small hill, an incline where there were trees growing and on one of them was a large Oak tree. We would ride our bikes up the little hill when we were little kids and it took some momentum and some effort to reach the summit. Going back down again was awesome, too. It was just a small mound of dirt and a tree, but for some reason it remains in my memory.
The second memory arrived about the same time and I have no idea why it was summoned with the other. It’s the memory of a young woman who was raped back in the early seventies, before I really understood the crime fully, and I remember very distinctly the conversation regarding the crime and the victim.
Back in South Georgia, even in the seventies, who your family was made a real difference as to how much justice you would be served. The first conversation about the crime was to who her father was. It had to be determined if she was worth the effort of really caring about or if in fact, everyone ought to be outraged. The victim herself, a sixteen year old, would be protected by her family name or she would not be. In this case her father was respectable enough for there to be some consideration that a crime had been committed, but as always, and forever, there had to be some questions about how the victim had behaved before the alleged attack.
It was Summertime so there had to be a conversation about what she had been wearing. The girl hadn’t been at a pool, or even so much as wearing a bikini, but the fact that girls did wear bikinis, something the previous generation would have never done, said something about the moral character about young women at that point in time. This is a girl that willingly and without any forms of protest belonged to a group of people, sixteen year olds, who wore bikinis. This was suspect behavior. Then the question had to be asked as to how she knew the man who had, allegedly, attacked her. Was there some connection to him that her parents didn’t know about? What were they doing alone together? Before anyone knew anything else about what had happened there was talk about those two “carrying on together” which wasn’t a good thing at all, her being so young, but…
I remember when my grandmother was robbed at gunpoint when she owned a country store. It was a stupid and senseless crime, mainly because out where she lived there were no strangers and there was no way to hide that sort of crime. The thief was apprehended within a few hours and he confessed to the crime immediately. But no one questioned if there was some sort of complicity. No one said anything about my grandmother having that money right there in the cash register, in plain view, where he might have been tempted to take it. Robbery was crime of physical property not personal being. That was clearly wrong without any debate.
I went back to look at my old neighborhood a long time ago and the tree, and the little hill, they were both gone. There was a duplex in their place, a small brick structure without class or personality. A dead inflatable pool lay rotting in the sun. There were toys scattered out in the yard as if they were trying to all escape at once. For this the tree had been cut down?
Whoever owned the property clearly thought if he built it they would come and I wonder if this is what the owner of the duplex wanted when he built it. Substandard housing crippling the morale of the neighbor and giving the people inside no real sense of home couldn’t be what someone once dreamed of, could it? It looked like two or three people had robbed a Mal-Wart then decided to throw their ill-gotten gains at the duplex.
The man who raped the girl must have thought about it before he did it. The act itself took some time because despite the rumors to the contrary, she put up quite a fight. Yet the crime still occurred and despite the senseless brutality of the attack, before the first word of truth had been spoken, the girl’s reputation was being assailed in an attack that mirrored the physical assault. It was a deeply personal assault without any sort of provocation or reason connected to it at all.
We have convinced ourselves that if a man wants to push trees down to make room for a hovel he has the right to do so regardless of the consequences of those actions. We have convinced ourselves that women, too, are expendable if a man wants to push her over.
Oh, and the fate of the girl who was raped, and the man who attached her? Her daddy put a bullet in the man’s back as he tried to escape the wrath of a man unwilling to trust the law to do right by his little girl.
I can’t say this is the answer to the problem but I can tell you he never raped again.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
She told me she thought her parents had been smoking pot when they named her. “Swan” was her given name and there really isn’t a nickname to derive from that one is there? Her middle name was Mary and that wasn’t so bad after all. When she started college that was the name that she took as what people would call her. When we first met we got into a conversation about names and mine has always been a long story. I didn’t realize it at the time and neither did Swan, but as we were sipping wine at the party her husband was having an affair with a friend of hers in the apartment across the hallway. But the discovery of that event was going to take another six months and it was another year before I saw Swan. A year later she was divorced and much different person than the one I had met.
If I could write a letter to my younger self and send it back in time and I had only two words I could write I would send, “Avoid redheads” and hope like hell it took. Most of my adult life has spent pursuing this species and it has always ended poorly for me. I actually married one of them back in the late nineties and then dated one less than a year after the divorce. I think we’re done here.
Swan was a true redhead, one of those who go down the check list of everything that you’ve heard about them that you’ve ever really believed (or hoped and dreamed) could be true. The second time we met was at another party and this time she was embittered and snarky. The divorce had been messy and it had been very painful. Her husband had gotten the other woman pregnant, an event he and Swan had been trying to do but the other woman beat her to it. It’s as if her husband’s need to procreate was so intense that any womb would have done, and Swan felt as if she had been used and discarded. Worse, deep down inside, she felt relieved.
Swan had been one of those straight A students who was a cheerleader and president of half a dozen clubs in High School. She was loved by teachers and ten years after her graduation she still liked to read what they had written in her yearbooks over her yeas in school. I coaxed it out of her once she mentioned it to me, made her drag it out, because it gave her a warm fuzzy feeling to read those things out loud. Her ninth grade English teacher and told her to follow her dreams and signed it with a flourish. More than anything else, she wanted to write something like that to one of her students, one day. That’s one of the reasons she became a teacher. But her marriage and her career had mirrored one another and the students she taught today were not the students of her youth. The ideal of marriage surrendered to the reality of divorce. The reality of students of today destroyed the student she once was. Swan was a woman whose life had cast her adrift.
Of course, when Swan was in school she knew of those students who did not care, would not care, could not care and could not be taught. But there was always a core of bright and energetic young people, and she was one of them, who yearned for knowledge. Her students were a surly mob of distracted lumps and each day drove a nail into the coffin of hope.
“You know what really disappointed me, Mike?” she asked me one night, in the darkness and through a haze of wine and lust, “Sex.”
“Thanks a lot” I replied.
“No, not tonight, I mean to begin with, sex was the first thing that really disappointed me in High School. I mean, you get kicked in the head with all these hormones and you get turned inside out by a flood of emotions and you try like hell to keep your jeans on and it’s like everyone on earth is doing it and loving it but you. Then you finally pull the trigger and it’s painful and over with in less than a minute and you’re stuck with a boyfriend who thinks it was the greatest thing ever and can’t stop asking for it. Then you break up with him because it’s embarrassing as hell just to be around him anymore but your body won’t stop wondering if there is something more out there. You can’t put a muzzle on it. You can’t stop wanting it. And no matter who you are or what you want to be, you’re going to fail at controlling your body” Those may not be her exact words but I remember how she sounded when she spoke them; she sounded like a red head.
She went from a small town to a large University out of state and discovered sex. She got on the Pill, kept her grades up, kept her pants up, and tried like hell not to fall into the trap of casual sex with strangers. She did everything right, met the right guy, she thought, graduated with honors, got a degree, went for her masters, got it, got married, did the Suzie Homemaker thing, and caught her husband banging some woman that was ten years younger than she was. Hell, the girl was barely twenty years old and worked in a doughnut shop. She and Swan were workout buddies at the gym and Swan had introduced them. Swan considered the younger woman to be like a kid sister. Her husband, clearly, had other ideas.
We got drunk one night, really drunk, and we had thrown a small party. Things went really well. Great conversations and great ideas were shared. But we did drink too much. After everyone had left we kissed. And then Swan pushed me away from her and held her arm out. “Do you want me to teach you how to cheat on a woman?” she asked. I thought she was joking but she stood up very straight and said, “When you get caught with your pants down and your wife is screaming at you, look at her and tell her the other woman would do things for you that your wife wouldn’t.” Swan leaned up against the wall and looked down at her shoes. “From that point on it isn’t about what you’ve done to her but about what she didn’t do for you.” That was the first time I saw her cry.
Her parents were fairly old when they got into the baby making business. Her father was nearly fifty when she was born and her mother was forty-three. She was five when her brother was born so they grew up with parents who were old enough to be grandparents. Her brother, Ray, was her first student and she could tell from the beginning Ray wasn’t going to love education as she had. He didn’t learn to read until he was seven and she had learned at four. He was a miserable student at school and more than once she thanked God she was long gone from High School before he arrived. Ray seemed to revel in the red neck culture as much as Swan did the intellectual one.
Before I met Ray, Swan warned me never to loan him money and not to tell him where I lived. Ray liked to drop in on people and stay until they ate then invited himself over for dinner. He would usually leave his wife and two kids at home when he did this but it was never a given. Swan also told me never to tell Ray where we were planning to eat if we went out because he had been known to show up at the restaurant and invite himself out to eat with her and whoever she was with. Ray was unemployed, had spent too much time in jail to think about the military, and was belligerently insistent that his point of view on every subject was the only one to be considered. As profane as he was ignorant, Ray put a lot of effort into being as antisocial as he possible could, yet depended on Swan and her aging parents for everything. His big thing was to “borra” something, anything, whatever he could put his hands on he said, “Ima gonna borra this” and whoever owned it would never see it again. He dropped by on date nights to “borra” money because he knew we would pay him to leave. He had borra-ed things from stores and from other people’s houses and that was called theft and burglary. When asked about the charges Ray would claim, “I done got sat up” and tell us that the cops were just out to get him. His wife, Brenda, who was actually married to someone else, was always pulled along by Ray and she rarely spoke. She looked battered and bruised, emotionally and physically. Brenda and the kids learned early that Ray wasn’t as likely to hit someone who didn’t speak. I don’t think I ever heard her say three words in front of him.
He came by one night and I promptly told him we were going to Red Lobster on Friday night. Swan was in the other room so Ray suspected as long as Swan didn’t know that he knew, a free meal was in order. I knew as long as she didn’t know he knew, I could steer her away from the place and Friday night I abruptly changed our plans.
Friday night, Ray took Brenda and their two kids, who were someone else’s kids, to Red Lobster and proceeded to feast. After waiting for us to show up and pay the bill he started calling Swan’s phone but I had already turned it off. Another hour passed by and management let him know he had to pay up and leave. By that time Ray had swilled down more than a few drinks. He tried to get Brenda and kids to leave with him as quickly as possible and they made it out of the door. But he pulled out into traffic and hit another car. Ray picked up a DUI, a theft charge, a no proof of insurance charge, having kids out of their car seats charge, and a charge of reckless driving. The other driver claimed injury so the charge was upped to a felony.
Meanwhile, as the night had progressed with Swan and myself, I had totally forgotten about Ray. After dinner we went to my place and drank wine. We watched some movie on a DHS tape and when it was over she checked her phone as the tape rewound. There were a dozen messages from Ray, each one more excitable and more intensely angry than the next. At first there were, “Where are you?” messages, followed by, “get your ass down here now” messages to “ima in jail come get me” messages but there was only two of those.
Swan told me the first time she lied to the police for Ray had been when he was still in grade school. After that, he expected it. Most of the crimes he committed were minor, petty, just irritating crimes, but the DUI’s were expensive. We had both been drinking and I told her flat out I wasn’t about to drive to go get a drunk out of jail. Swan took a deep breath and told me she wasn’t either and we went to bed on that note. It was the first time she had left Ray in jail in his entire life. The next morning I got to Swan’s phone before she got up and they had evidently let Ray have access to a phone. He left a profanity laced message damning Swan for letting him “rot in jail” and promised to kill her when he got out. I deleted the message and when I turned around Swan was standing behind me. She had heard enough of the message to have gotten the gist of it. I don’t know if I ever left a look like that on a red head’s face but I assume because I am still alive…
Most people never think about having to walk from somewhere to somewhere else because there just isn’t anyone to give them a ride or any way to get a ride, and honestly, neither Swan nor myself thought about what had happened to Brenda and the kids that night. We didn’t know Brenda and the kids were with him. We had no idea the car had been disabled entirely and we had no idea that the cops, having found some pot on Ray, raided their trailer and found a Charlie Brown Christmas looking pot plant, but a pot plant nevertheless. Brenda and the kids had to walk back to that trailer and once they got there found it had been raided. The cops also found some of the “borra-ed” items and they had probable cause to issue another search warrant. Brenda and the kids walked to a friend’s trailer on the other side of town. The next morning they walked to Swan’s apartment and asked for a ride to Albany Georgia, where her parents lived. Brenda was bailing on Ray and Swan couldn’t blame her.
One the way to Albany Brenda and the two kids were deadly silent. I could hear them breathe over the road noise. No one spoke, no one tried to engage in small talk and it was one of the longest two hours drives of my life. Everything they were taking with them was stuffed in three brown paper bags. Brenda’s parents lived in a vast sprawling trailer park where one tiny trailer was parked within spitting distance of the next which was jammed up against its neighbor. This was the middle of Summer and no one was outside. The heat coming off the beaten ground was enough to cook feet or flesh. It was as if this was a slum outside of Hell itself and the residents were those with reservations.
Brenda’s parents were less than enthused when we arrived. They hadn’t known she was coming and her father flatly refused to open the door. She and the two kids stood on the tiny porch which was made of dying plywood and Brenda begged to be taken in. The kids, their broken spirits accustomed to rejection and deprivation, sat down on the porch and waited to see if they would live with someone who didn’t want them or live somewhere they didn’t not want to be, or both.
Swan sat in the passenger seat and didn’t speak, didn’t look at the unfolding scene and she didn’t look at me. The drama on the porch went on and on and finally the door opened and the three went inside so Swan told me, “Okay, let’s go” and so I backed the car up and we left. Neither of us looked back and I fought against the urge to check the rear view mirror as we tried to find an exit in the maze of trailers. There were trailer cul de sacs and trailer dead ends. There were cars blocking the already narrow lanes and no signs or indications of direction. We finally followed a car that seemed to be driving fast enough to be heading towards an exit and we escaped.
We didn’t speak on the way back either. Swan didn’t tell me to or tell me not to, but we pulled into a liquor store and I bought a bottle of tequila. We went back to my place and she went into the bedroom, locked the door behind her, and I didn’t see her again for an hour or so.
“Judge refused to grant bail,” she said when she came out, “Ray took the money I gave him last time and blew it other than paying his fine. They revoked his probation six months ago.”
“Wow,” I said and what else was there to say?
Swan took a shot glass out of the cabinet and fished a lime out of the refrigerator. This was my kind of drinking but it wasn’t her kind of drinking. She wasn’t the type to do shots at all and I decided after the fourth or fifth one, I would try to lead her into the bedroom before she wound up in the bathroom. It finally worked after the sixth shot and amazingly, Swan was still coherent, kinda.
There isn’t a human emotion that can’t be used to ignite passion. Grief, sadness, and even pure anger can transmogrified into great sex, or at least sex better than whatever it is that is being felt before sex. Swan’s current state was a very potent mixture of guilt, fury, powerlessness, helplessness, and somewhere in all if it, a sense of relief. She wanted release, distraction, but most of all to lose herself in a moment that could, and would, consume her in a fire she demanded burn in total everything that was trapped inside her mind and body. The alcohol released her from her inhibitions and everything that had happened in the last two days flayed her forward, onward, and she used every ounce of her being to goad me into being the vessel that would transport her to another state of mind. There wasn’t anything faked or forced about what she was feeling at all, no, in point of fact, she had surrendered completely to it.
In the very small hours of the morning Swan lay underneath me and I could feel her pulse pounding inside of her body. Her heartbeat hammered away in her veins and we both could all but hear it. The night had come and gone and dawn was closer to us than midnight, but she would not, or could not, sleep. We had talked, not talked, played passionately, and been very serious during the time we were normally asleep. But somehow I knew that the end of the night was drawing very near.
“That’s what I wouldn’t do with him,” Swan said suddenly, “what we just did. I wouldn’t do that with him.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Wait, that’s the first time you’ve done that?”
“Yeah, it is.” She sat up. “He was always pushing me to do something different, always wanting more than I wanted to give right then. I felt like every night was a different conquest and it wasn’t about doing it with me it was about talking me into it. I hated that about him. I hated that about us. I hated me for not being able to enjoy anything with him.” She sat up and hugged her knees close to her, “Men would get a lot more by asking a lot less, you know.”
She got up and went into the bathroom and I heard the shower running. I tried to stay awake but it was very hard to concentrate. It had been a long day and a long night. We hadn’t eaten since noon yesterday. The fog in my mind rolled in and when I woke up, Swan was already gone.
There was a bond between that woman and I. She had cast off a husband, a brother, his extended and weird family, and all there was left was me. But one day she got an email asking her to interview for a job in Virginia, a good school, a private school, and she called them to ask when. We both knew if she was hired I couldn’t go with her. Whatever else we were, we weren’t close enough to one another to live together. She got out of bed one morning and Swan flew away forever.
I saw her ex, of all people, a few days ago and for some reason he remembered me. I asked him how she was doing and apparently she found love and happiness and a couple of kids. I wanted to know more, to ask more, but a very young woman came and tugged on his arm, and I assumed it was his daughter, that daughter, yes, or perhaps, another conquest.
I’ll always wonder if Swan got to write her yearbook note and I hope it was as beautiful as she had dreamed.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
Sam wants something. But it’s the middle of the night and Sam always wants something when he should be sleeping. Maybe that isn’t it at all, you know. Maybe I’ve made some sort of sound in my sleep and Sam is checking on me. Maybe all these years that I’ve thought Sam was a night wandering needy dog it was actually me who was causing it but I cannot remember any dream that awoke me that caused Sam to stare at me in the dark. Sam is half blind so I know he cannot see me. But he sits and stares at me, the night as black as his fur, and I wonder what it is he’s thinking.
I can hear Sam move away from the bed and then there is another sound. It’s the sound of something hitting one of the boards on the front porch and with this Lucas raises his head and Sam moves towards the bedroom door. I cannot hear Lilith. Where is the girl dog? I ease out of bed and find the shotgun leaning against the bookcase. Now, Lucas is up and on his feet and now Lilith reports in by heading towards the bedroom door just ahead of Lucas. Lilith’s nails go tic tic tic, quickly and quietly. I can tell who is who by their footfall in the dark. It’s too dark to see anything, anything at all, so I hold my breath and count down from fifty.
Lilith heads into the living room quicker than I like. She’s on to something. It’s a scent or a sound, but she’s moving and Lucas is with her now and Sam not far behind. I ease the shotgun level with my field of vision even though it is too dark see the barrel. One foot slid forward, the other follows, right foot forward, left foot follows, right foot forward, and now I can see the clock on the stove from the bedroom doorway. Now I can see the clock on the microwave on the counter. One more step and I’ll be able to see the front door. I can see the end of the barrel of the shotgun and I swing it towards the front door as I step out.
I cannot see the dogs, not fully, but they are all milling around in front of the door as if they sense something might be there. If it was human they would bark, right? But they aren’t barking. They are also not relaxing. Lilith rears up on her hind legs to look out of the window and I can see her silhouette against the black of night. I aim for a point two feet higher than her ears and swing the barrel towards the door.
I never had these moments when Bert was alive. Even in his dotage no human being crossed our borders without Bert knowing about it and sounding off. Lucas is standing at the door, I can hear him, Sam is somewhere in front of me, and Lilith is still looking out of the window, still on her hind legs, and I am wondering what the hell we heard.
Lilith’s growl cuts through the blackness like a knife. It’s a low and ominous sound full of threat and warning. This isn’t the sound of a little girl dog, no, this is a full grown tame wolf making a declaration of war. If you’re a human being on the other side of that door you have to know, really know, there is a dog in the house. I feel the hair on the back of my neck rise. Lucas joins Lilith at the window and I have to adjust. Two feet higher than his head would be higher than a human’s head. Lilith growls again. The sound slashes through the darkness and the promise of violence committed with extreme prejudice is declared. This is the last sound you will hear before the fight breaks out.
I trust no light. I don’t feel the urge to illuminate the problem. I wish it were darker. I wish all I had to do was worry about someone hearing me and trying to figure that one out. But I move slowly out of the bedroom and against the fireplace towards the window. I can see nothing. Nothing can see me. I slide my feet across the floor, not picking them up, not hitting anything, not stepping on anything, finger away from the triggers of the shotgun, and all hell breaks loose at once.
Lilith and Lucas explode into fury in an instant. Sam brays a second later and whatever it is out there has been tagged up by the sound. I hear the noise of something, or someone, banging against the ice chest on the porch as they try to get away from the noise. I’m moving now, moving towards the door and I have to be careful with the gun, careful with the gun but at the first sign, noise or light, that someone is trying to break in I… the cooler has been knocked around, are they trying to throw it through the window? The dogs are losing their minds and I see Lilith jump up at the window, well over human head high. Lucas is in full voice now, hammering away at the intruder with his bark and dear dog almighty this one now sounds serious. What curses in the language of canine are being issued I cannot say but I can tell you it is now the Loki Mutt who issues them. Okay kids, let's not play nice here. Nearly three hundred pounds of canine are in full attack mode and whoever is out there cannot think to face this and live.
I put the gun down beside the fireplace and listen. Really. There cannot be a human being out there. Lucas sounds a lot larger than he is and he’s huge. Lilith sounds like a she wolf defending her cubs. Even Sam is bringing dust down from the ceiling. I wish I had my phone because this is just plain impressive as hell. You want to know why I keep big dogs in my house at night? What you got? I got dogs! But I hear the noise again, something is on the porch, and not even the drunkest drunk I ever drank with would…would they?
I grab a flashlight and the beam of blue white light is like a sudden sunrise. There on the middle of the porch is the ice chest. I keep it next to the front door so UPS and FedEx can leave packages in it so the squirrels won’t chew on them. One end of the ice chest has been pushed against the railing of the porch by an armadillo who has decided that he’s safe behind the cooler, even though he’s in plain sight. The light of the flashlight confuses him and he freezes. Now that the dogs can see him through the window they lessen their noise. Oh, one of those…
I go outside and use the cooler to push the armadillo off the porch and into the rain. How it got on the porch I will never know but I really don’t care. The dogs want to go out now, and so off they go, out into the backyard, into the rain, and I try to get my pulse down below ten million. A few minutes later the dogs return, happy and ramped up. It’s an hour before I have to get up but what the hell. I can always write.
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
The pollen is back. Right as I am just getting weather warm enough to mock the Yankees I know, the pollen returns to inform me that I am going to be raped by trees. It’s an odd way to phrase it but pollen is nothing but tree sex and they are forcing it into me against my will so yes, I am being tree raped, gang tree raped, even when I am in the shower, and this will go on for at least another three months, in various degrees of intensity.
The Snot Factory is open for business in a way that defies reason. Why my body would think producing more gallons of mucus a day than a herd of cows produce milk will somehow mitigate the tree rape is well beyond my reckoning. Yet there I am in a meeting with my nose dipping like a fifty-three year old faucet who blew out the last O ring during the Carter Administration. I am just as effective in attacking this malady as Carter was wild killer water rabbits. You know, that is still just one story I would not have told. The UFO story was bad enough, but damn…
But the constant drip isn’t nearly as bad as the fact, for all practical purposes, I look and act like I have the flu. People think I am contagious. People keep telling me to go home from work and I tell them they are blaming the victim here. I haven’t done anything at all wrong yet people want me to go away because I sound like I’m at Death’s Door. The drip in the front isn’t as bad as the drip down the back of my throat which is killing my voice. It runs from something a little higher than squeaky to lower than Darth Vader’s whisper. Both of these mind you, can occur during the same sentence. I sound like a teenager going through puberty again. How nice.
My eyes are likely to tear up every time the wind blows and it looks like I’ve just watched an “Ole Yeller” marathon or listened to Aimee Mann and Adele box sets back to back while drinking cheap wine. It’s tragic, I tell you, it looks like I just attended the funeral of a dozen dogs and lost the winning lottery ticket and my ex-wife’s lawyer found it. I wipe my eyes, wipe my nose, try to breathe and sneeze twice.
The over the counter meds have various degrees of ineffectuality. Most are like taking a pill and tossing it at a freight train. Yes, this little white pill will solve your problems, yes. No, in point of fact it will not solve my problems. It will make me groggy. So instead of being wide awake and snotty I’m half asleep and snotty.
I had a dream last night that I had found an old girlfriend of mine and in most dreams people aren’t changed. They are exactly as you remember them being. But Francis was older, much older and she had her hair cut very short. I haven’t seen this woman since 1980 and I wonder why the meds and the pollen summoned her. I never nap. But last night I wanted just to rest a bit, to lie down on the sofa with the Loki and Lilith and the next thing I knew the movie, which I was not interested in to begin with, was ending. That’s when I had the dream, mind you, and I wonder how Francis would feel about being the product of pollen, meds, and a World War Two movie where there were a lot of Nazis being shot. This was one of those “Star Wars Storm Trooper” movies where the bad guys seem to have terrible aim even with automatic weapons and the good guys never miss a shot. It’s amusing to see how long that sort of thing has lasted in movies.
Two shots of Nyquil later and the bed looked really good. I drifted in and out of sleep and actually slept fairly well considering. Lucas has decided that I do not need blood flowing to my arm and he wants to get really, really, close. I have to elbow him away but it is nice to have that much mass producing heat. Lilith curls up near my feet and she wiggles her way closer and that feels good, too. The mutts seem to know when I am not feeling well. They try to get as close as they can.
It’s good to have massive mutts. I know people with small dogs and it just isn’t the same at all. I like having that feeling when a large dog raises its head in the middle of the night and I know, really know, I’m being protected by someone who loves me. A hundred pound dog is a force to be reckoned with and multiply that by three, or at least two, then the house is secure. I do rest more easily knowing my dogs are at my side. They can’t keep the pollen from getting to me but they make me feel more healthy and more safe. The time before we call start drifting off to sleep is a good time. Everyone gets into their positions and we form ourselves to match the other’s locations and everyone is warmer for it.
I’m awake when the coffee maker begins its ritual. The dogs know it’s time to get up when the coffee starts and Lucas snuffles me. Sam awakens and comes to stare. Lilith yawns and makes her parrot noise and it is time to get out of bed again. The meds did their job and I was able to sleep, more or less. But now it is time to face a winter storm and more pollen. It doesn’t seem right there would be cold weather and tree rape but that’s how life is sometimes. There are still the dogs, no matter the storm.
Friday, February 7, 2014
I got into a fight one night with a girlfriend and I stormed out of her apartment. I didn’t get far because I had left my keys inside and had to knock on the door to get them back. She let me in and told me to get the keys and get out and I was more than happy to do so but I couldn’t find them. We were on the porch for a while, we were in the kitchen, we wound up on the sofa they could be under the cushions, damn, where did I leave them? Shit, I locked them in the car, didn’t I?
She handed me a clothes hanger and told me to get out but I was a little too drunk to break into the car and it was cold as hell. I asked to sleep on the sofa and she laughed at me and told me she wanted me to get the hell out or apologize to her for the way I acted. I thought about the consequences of trying to break into a car, in the dark, in the cold, versus the possibilities of an apology in a nice warm apartment. The alcohol was indecisive. Jose’ told me that on one hand this would teach her that you would rather brave the elements than bow down to her extortion. That was a really good point, too. But the alcohol also told me that if she was willing to let me crash on the sofa after a fight she might be willing to kiss and make up, and hey, that was better than trying to break into a car in the middle of the night when it was cold.
So I went up to her and put my hands on her hips and she pushed them away and I told her I was really sorry about getting angry about nothing, and she looked away from me with that look on her face that told me to keep trying that she wasn’t quite there yet. After the third time the hands stayed on the hips and she allowed me to get close enough to make a difference and the sofa slept alone that night. The next morning I found the keys on the kitchen counter just like they had been there the whole time but it took a very long time for me to realize that she had never intended for me to leave that night.
We broke up, she and I, but we orbited one another as if we couldn’t truly stand to be together or apart. She found someone new, someone more stable and someone with a steady job, but we never stopped seeing one another on odd occasions. She lived in a house with four apartments in it and I was friends with everyone there so I had an excuse to be around most of the time. She lived next door to a woman who sat me down and said that I was doing the my ex wrong by hanging around and drinking with her. But, I protested, you and I are drinking together. One thing led to another. It was an odd encounter because I knew she didn’t think I made a good partner, just a good buddy.
It was a couple of days later I was back visiting my ex and we both went next door to watch a movie and as I was sitting there I noticed my hat on the coffee table next to the couch and realized I had left it there during my last visit. I very causally slipped in onto my head during the movie and she never noticed. The woman whose apartment called me later and told me she nearly died when she realized that hat was there, but hey!
When you are young and sexually promiscuous there doesn’t seem to be any harm in casual sex or even very casual sex but it all depends on if you’re doing any damage with your actions. The woman who loved me valued sex more because I put a high value on physical contact. After a while, it became the currency in which we traded in, emotionally speaking. Any woman who knew me, and liked me, knew this was how to reach me. But it’s like knowing someone who never wants anything else to eat but that one thing. It’s great for a while but in the long run you’re only good for a snack.
You have to know what your currency is when you are trading for someone’s time. Are you a kind person? Do you make that person feel valued? Do you feed some part of that person’s life more than you feed off of that person’s life? Does that person feel as if the love you hold is something special and holy and unique?
I failed the test for each and every one of those questions at one point in time with that woman.
There has come a point in my life where I value a person’s creativity very highly and I am more than willing to trade my time for that currency. Yet there still has to be those same questions asked. The woman loved me but she and I broke up several times before she finally rode off into the sunset with someone else. Was it my fault, yes, but she also had a habit of presenting me with a List of Particulars whenever she broke up with me. She didn’t like my clothes. She didn’t like my hair. She didn’t like my apartment. She didn’t like my friends. She didn’t like… And with each new conflict there was something else, some other fatal flaw that I had to fix before everything would be right again, for a little while.
It was my fault, and I will always believe that it was my fault, that we never stayed together. But at the same time I do not think she realized that each time she broke up with me it was like kicking a dog. No matter how many time you do not kick the dog, if you do kick the dog often enough the dog begins to believe he will be kicked. Whenever we disagreed I felt as if I were about to lose her. Whenever she was angry I felt as if she were leaving. When I didn’t hear from her when I thought she would call I would think she had left again, and eventually, this became to be true.
Sam is deranged. Lucas is expensive. Lilith is, hmmm, Lilith hasn’t shown any signs of trouble yet other than she chews Lucas’ collars off him too often, but all my dogs are in some way imperfect beings. Yet I love them perfectly. The currency for love must be love. There must come a time when two people vow that it won’t ever end, it cannot end, or someone will wind up writing about the end, and writing about regret.
I do most sincerely with all of my heart and all of my soul and with every atom in my being regret not knowing what currency I needed to make her stay.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
When I got into the shower this morning I saw it there and for a second, just a split second in my mind it was what I had always seen on the floor of the shower and for that second the past came to life and then that second was gone. Bert used to walk around in the shower after I had bathed. I have no idea why, except that he was a Water Dog, and he knew it irritated me that he did it. A girlfriend once went into the shower to shave her legs and Bert was there licking water off the shower floor, leaving paw prints behind, and she complained bitterly about the dog, the big dog, in the house because she was a foo foo dog girl and she didn’t understand large dog people at all. Bert knew she was on her way out and one night he growled at her, just to push it a bit, because Bert was like that. But the paw print this morning was the result of leaving the windows open in very warm weather and there was a spot of mold that needs to be cleaned up.
There once was a woman I knew that had lost a child and there isn’t anything in the Universe to compare to that event. All was well until the child turned three then there was sickness and more sickness and for a year things went from why is my child sick to why is my child dead. There was a year of tests and doctors and hope and then suddenly there was a dead child. She and her husband went to church they went to specialists they went to Mexico to talk to a man who claimed he could cure anything for the right price and no matter what anyone told them to do they did it because there had to be a way out of where they were going. The preacher at their church assured them that God would save their son, that their son wouldn’t die if they just held onto their faith and that same preacher wanted to assure them that God moved in mysterious ways but she attacked him with her nails and teeth and tried to kill him right there in the middle of the funeral.
She told me she didn’t feel anything after that. Nothing. It was if everything she had left was spent on that one moment of rage, where she felt a fingernail break off in a man’s face but the plug was pulled and she was dragged away and even the screaming stopped. There wasn’t anything at all. She and her husband went home and he packed to leave and he did. She said she couldn’t stand the idea, the thought, the way it felt anymore, to be in the same room with him. This was long before a lot of DNA science was developed but she understood that the two of them had, in a moment of passion, mixed a poisoned brew of genetics and while they lay there panting for breath afterwards they had no idea they had just killed their son, just destroyed their own lives, and in less than five years later they would take that bed to the edge of the street and leave it there, sheets flapping in the breeze, and free to a good home.
The divorce left her with a lot of money because they sold the house but she didn’t care. She quit her job and moved. She didn’t want to be known as the mother who had lost a child. She didn’t want to know her friends anymore. She wanted to get as far away from her family as she could. We were riding one night and she told me to stop, stop right now, back up, you see that? Someone had scrawled graffiti on the side of a building that read, “SR 87” and she told me her son would have been old enough to write that had he lived. It was the moment of realization for me that what had happened wasn’t something that was recent, maybe four or five years, but something that had happened over a decade ago. For over ten years she had not lived again.
I hadn’t considered that, really. I knew she had had a hysterectomy. I knew she had quit her field of study and taken a job in retail so she wouldn’t have to think. I knew she had taught herself to drink and to smoke and that she didn’t care who she slept with. But I never thought to ask her how long ago it had been. Speaking to her was like putting my hand on the raw flesh of an open wound, still quivering with fresh pain. I had no idea it had been that long ago.
I asked her one night, why she slept with me and she said it was the only thing left she felt. Even if her soul was dead her body was still alive and she still ate and drank water and went to the bathroom and she slept with men she didn’t like. She didn’t care if I reacted poorly or didn’t react at all.
Sara Poole got involved with her, briefly, and tried to get her out of her shell, to bring her back into the world of the living but Sara’s own world was full of venom and traps. They orbited each other for a couple of months then separated. I think Sara had finally found someone with so much damage there wasn’t a way for her to do anymore. Or perhaps it was there were people who so deeply cared for the injured woman Sara knew they might have come after her in a way that mattered, if she made things worse.
My friend Eli kept this woman under his wing for years without ever telling me why. I could only guess but never did openly. He and I would sometimes sit for hours and never say a word and he was like that. We never talked about her and the subject never came up but he had an affinity for her and her damage that bordered on a religious quest. I went over to his place in the woods one night and found her in his lap, sobbing, while Eli’s wife was in the other room working a crossword puzzle. She and I tried to figure out eighteen across while just a few feet away the past had come to revisit. That was what set her off that night. She had seen a toy on the side of the road, a paw print in her shower, that looked like it belonged to him.
In the vastness of the Universe, if some ethereal creature were to approach me and offer me one day, just one day with my little brown dog, but in exchange, somewhere a billion light years away, an entire star system would blink out of existence I would make that bargain. Who wouldn’t? Who among us hasn’t lost someone so dear they wouldn’t rip a hole in the Universe to heal that wound in their own heart? But what of the beings there and their families and pets and passions? Would they understand that they all were bargained away for a single day for a Husky Chow Mix with a splotchy tongue? No, there can be no deals cut with The Universe. There can be no bargains at any price. No kings, no nations, no dogs and no children can be brought back with any offer, can they? Because if they could, I would, you would, and everyone would. I know a woman who would and would do so with a smile on her face.
But there are no bargains, are there? The Universe spins and rotates and we lose what we lose without any regard what so ever from the gas giants or the red dwarfs or the black holes that leak light and time. Parents, grandparents, lovers, friends, and even dogs are lost and no matter how large or how small these losses are, they are losses.
I know another woman who lost a child and went on to have two more. She and her husband grew closer for their ordeal. They now have grandchildren. There is a galumphous dog in my house now that never goes near the shower. My elderly Lab/Greyhound has long since given up on bathing. My Girl Dog won’t get near water. There will be another dog one day and on another day I will lose one, too.
I cannot, will not, should not, ever, judge the losses that others have suffered. Please, I beg of you, do not think this compares my loss with that of someone else who has lost more. I have never had a child but I do understand what I am writing here. Everyone has lost someone dear even if it is a small foo foo dog or a favorite book or a captain or a king. Yet we are not made entirely of our losses, no. I don’t believe that. I can’t.
In the Universe our lives, our entire planet, the galaxy itself, is so very small; less than a grain of sand on all the beaches on earth. The little brown dog will one day be totally gone. There will be no one left to keep the photos or videos and one day nothing of me with exist either, and you too, yes, even you, will disappear forever.
Only how we feel makes life bigger. Only how we love makes any of this real.
I wish I would have said that a very long time ago, even if it didn’t made a difference.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
She rarely talks at length and I like the sound of her voice so when she begins to go on a bit it’s pleasant. I have a friend who is married to a woman that would talk nonstop for hours on end and frequently does. I’ve never understood the chatterbox thing but this isn’t one of them. She’s telling me about how the shadows of the trees in winter look like rivers and I like the way her story is unfolding. This is childlike talk, the idea of a river of tree shadows, yet it has an appeal I cannot deny. We’re giant beings passing over thousands of miles of rivers without creating a ripple. This is a moon’s eye view of some alien planet. Below us life and death play out in a watery struggle yet we’re an eclipse of the sun that keeps moving, moving, moving, and there is no time for observation of what we might be, just the memories of those who saw us in that moment of time.
I saw a light in the sky once, when I was a young teenager, and then it was gone forever and I’ve never seen anything like it since. There was one other witness to it and after one or the other of us are gone it will be one man’s memory and then one day the moment will cease to exist. The blood flowing through the woman’s hand warms the blood in my hand, and the warmth in mine stirs her own, but one day we will part and that warmth will never occur again. We tell lovers that it’s over, maybe there is shouting, or a long ride to an airport, but we never tell someone we won’t ever hold hands with them again. You may remember the first time you held a woman’s hand, or you may remember holding her hand while waiting for a train, but do you remember the last time your hand touched the hand of someone who is gone?
She falls silent and she realizes it’s been a while since I have spoken. I squeeze her hand to reassure her and she squeezes back, reassured. It’s personal sonar, echoing through our bloodstreams, a form of spiritual echolocation for that feeling that everything is okay between us, and we both know that it is. We come to a spot that is thick with the outline of braches and we marvel at the pattern. Such a world with so much water would be hard to populate with Laws of Physics. If such a world were a rocky sphere then the perhaps the water have cut deeply into the stone and waterfalls would be as common as trees. I explain to her the waterfall world and she leans into it, asking questions about the flora and fauna of the new land, exploring it and happy that I’m talking now. This assures her she did not push me away with her own long words and I have to show her the same respect and not lose myself in this new world she has helped discover.
We stand together, the leviathans joined at the hip, and cast our shadows over the world of shadows. It’s an easy thing to do, to let time slip away while we’re together and we both are immersed in it. The sun sinks down and changes the course of the rivers underneath us. She looks up at me, as if a thought has arrived in her mind, but with my name on it. Like a letter she wrote to me that came back to her instead and she delivers it in person now. She asks me what sort of rock our waterfall world would be made from and I like the fact that she’s still engaged in it. Soft rock would make a Swiss Cheese World while harder stone would make for narrow gorges. She sees waterfalls on the ground below, each shadow of each branch a raging river, the soil covered with a million Mississippi Rivers and a million Niagara falls on each of them. She points out an ant hill in the middle of the shadows and asks me what that is, challenging me to invent something, anything, that would survive our world of rivers and falls.
She turns to face me, grinning at the idea that I might be a loss for words, that I might not be able to turn the anthill into something that is worthy of the world we’ve created but she realizes that like a magnet she’s gotten too close and we kiss. It’s unexpected, unplanned, and the heat of the moment erases everything but that kiss. I feel her arms around me and I feel as if I am falling into that liquid world, that world of raging water that knifes through stone as if nothing, nothing at all could possibly endure and time itself would be etched by such passion.
We are both quiet now. We walk back to the house in silence, shaken by the unexpected earthquake of emotion, and there really isn’t anything to say. The sun is behind us now and our shadows lengthen in front of us and we gain on them not even a little with our quickened pace.
“I always wanted a little girl,” she says suddenly and then she stops speaking so quickly I realize she didn’t mean to say this out loud, didn’t mean the implications of a woman saying this to a man, and she realizes that by wishing she hadn’t said it that she has said even more. There is everything between two people in what she said and what she didn’t say and there is no regret any woman can speak of that is deeper than the regret those words hold. The water rushing out of a billion waterfalls can’t express how much as passed beyond what she and I might have had but now she’s said it out loud and the regret dwarfs the Universe for a moment, a final moment, and then suddenly, like everything else, she is gone.
Monday, February 3, 2014
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Name, he had a name and he knew he should remember it but it was gone, lost in all the fog that invaded his mind. The sun reflecting off the surface of the water had blinded him, mesmerized him, and he remembered, somewhat, that he had stopped to look at the glimmering water and now the sun had gone down. His name, he had to remember it because that was important. But he was hungry. He was thirty and the river was just over there but it was hunger that drove him. He tried to stand upright and nearly fell. His name! He stopped shuffling and put his hands on his face but he couldn’t feel his hands, or his face. He looked at his hands but they were just images, foggy, distorted, cartoonish looks specters. What had happened to him? Where was he? What was his name?
The urge to eat pushed him forward. He couldn’t see very well at all but it seemed to him he could smell everything more acutely. Blood; there was blood in the air like pollen in the Spring. It was everywhere. He stumbled forward and stopped. The smell of blood overwhelmed him. It was like trying to find the source of fire in a burning building. The whole world smelled of blood. The sky rained blood down in waves of scent that left him lurching one way and then the other.
There was a scream.
His hearing was also more acute and before he realized what he was doing he had turned towards the sound and began moving. Faster, faster, faster! He had to get to where the sound had come from but his body could do little more than a drunken walk. There was something, someone, running towards him, screaming, and he reached out, tried to grab the sound and the smell but it flew past him at a speed he could not comprehend. His body turned, nearly fell, and suddenly he realized there were others like him, and he knew he had to get there first. They all moved as he did and the scent and the sound drew further away.
But what was distance and time? The smell could not outrun him or those around him and no matter how far away it went it stopped and made noises, gasping and rasping noises, and somewhere in his mind he realized that the stops were coming more frequent. The smell was closer, the sounds were closer, and the thing in front of him struck back with some object and nearly decapitated the one next to him. Another fell, and another, and another but his right hand grabbed the scent and the smell and it fell underneath him. Warm soft smell and food filled him as the world thrashed and screamed.
He lay still and sated as the sun came up. During the night there had been more screams and more scent but he did not move. Now, he rose again, and listened. There were screams. There were smells. He shuffled off to find them and his name was no longer a concern.
Brian could not believe what he was seeing. They were everywhere. They came from every side street, every building, they climbed out of windows and they did not care if they were shot, beaten, or killed. They were like fireants. Brian stopped to breathe and realized that stopping meant they got closer. He could run a five minute mile. He could run a marathon. He was a black belt in Kung Fu. He was an expert with a rifle. But he had to stop running to reload. He had to wait until they got close before he could fight them. And there were hundreds of them, perhaps thousands, maybe even millions of them. He didn’t realize there were that many people in Valdosta. How could there be?
He thought back to the traffic on Friday nights when there was a football game. Yeah, it was that bad then but how many people could there be? Brian took a deep breath. Okay, there were likely eight thousand, maybe ten thousand people at the University, and damn. He was within a mile of the University. Then there was the Mall. And then there was everything in between those two places. Brian had outrun the mob behind him but running created noise and noise seemed to attract them. He saw a ladder leaning against a house. Why the hell not? He went up on the roof and pulled the ladder up behind him.
He could hear them below, shuffling and growling, looking for him and Brian felt like as long as he didn’t move maybe they wouldn’t see him. They traveled in groups of twenty, maybe more, Brian counted them, and he realized they moved constantly. On the upside, those below him would move on and forget he was here, maybe, but on the downside, they was always more walking around. Brian took another deep breath. He couldn’t be the only one left. What in the hell had happened?
Brian jumped. Someone was knocking on the roof, from the inside, and it startled him. He made sure the ladder would fall and looked for some way inside the house but the roof was solid. As he walked around, whoever was inside would knock on the roof. Finally, he heard knocking on one side of the roof. He looked over the edge and saw a louvered vent.
“Who’s there?” Brain called out.
“Help me!” a man’s voice said. “I’m trapped in the attic. They’re in the house!”
“I’m trapped on the roof,” Brain told him. “I’m Brian.”
“I’m Mark.” There was silence. “Do you have a gun or something?” Mark asked.
“I did but I ran out of ammo,” Brian told him, “what the hell are those things?”
“Can’t say.” Brian said look out over the yard. Damn, they had heard the talking. There was a mob of them showing up now. “We have to stop talking. They are drawn to the sound.”
Brian waited until the mob below thinned out and he slowly slipped the ladder down onto the ground. The guy had said those things were in the house so he had to work fast. He had seen a shed behind the house and maybe there was a sledge hammer there. It was no more than twenty feet from the house to the shed but it felt like forever. Brian slipped the door open and smiled. Whoever lived here was well stocked. He picked up the chainsaw case and looked inside. Great! There was a small can of gas and some oil. Better! He took an axe just in case. He had to make two trips to get everything up but the creatures seemed to be gone for now.
“Come and get it!” Brian shouted once he was back on the roof. He pulled the cord on the chainsaw and it fired up on the first pull. “Back away, Mark, and I’ll get you out.” Brian made two cuts with the saw and then to save gas, pounded the cuts open with the hammer. Once the dust settled a small thin man of about nineteen crawled out of the hole in the roof.
“I’m Mark Waters” the man said and held out his hand.
“Brian Hallstead” Brian said as they shook hands.
“Looks like we have company, Brian,” Mark said and as they looked out over the yard there seemed to be thousands of the creatures.