Living in such a state taTestaTesTaTe etats a hcus ni gniviL of mind in which time sTATEsTAtEsTaTeStA emit hcihw ni dnim of does not pass, space STateSTaTeSTaTeStAtE ecaps ,ssap ton seod does not exist, and sTATeSt oFOfOfo dna ,tsixe ton seod idea is not there. STatEst ofoFOFo .ereht ton si aedi Stuck in a place staTEsT OfOFofo ecalp a ni kcutS where movements TATeSTa foFofoF stnemevom erehw are impossible fOFoFOf elbissopmi era in all forms, UfOFofO ,smrof lla ni physical and nbEifof dna lacisyhp or mental - uNBeInO - latnem ro your mind is UNbeinG si dnim rouy focusing on a unBEING a no gnisucof lone thing, or NBeINgu ro ,gniht enol a lone nothing. bEinGUn .gnihton enol a You are numb and EiNguNB dna bmun era ouY unaware to events stneve ot erawanu taking place - not iSSUE ton - ecalp gnikat knowing how or what 8/31/00 tahw ro who gniwonk to think. You are in SiXTY-FiVE ni era uoY .kniht ot a state of unbeing.... ....gniebnu fo etats a
Whee! An August issue, and an august issue as well. I toyed with the idea of writing something about the political conventions since I listened to both on NPR in their entirety, but I'm too nonplussed to really comment. So, if you don't care about who has the most authenticity when they say that they will not leave a single child behind, this issue is probably for you.
My feet are sore. Ponder the significance.
"Worst editorial EVER."
It's not good when the self-deprecation kicks in so soon. Luckily for you, dear zineophile, the rest of the issue is much better than this dribble that is attempting to muster itself into some sort of coherent editorial (ediborial?). Names you'll recognize have returned. People you don't know will smack your jellied brain around a few times while your eyes dry up from staring at the screen too long. Exorcisms, airplanes, metal genitalia, dead writers, confused writers.... we've got it all.
Over the years (oh no, he's starting to get nostalgic), I've come to appreciate the fractured identity of the zine. We'll stick a pulpy horror story next to a literary masterpiece. Someone will write a piece on the joys of religion, and following it will be a blasphemous diatribe. At times, I've questioned just what kind of impact this has, and what people who stumble on the zine think that we at ACP actually think about these things.
How can a publication without any stable message continue to thrive? What is the goal? What is the motivation?
For the answer, you have to take a little trip into my mind. Hold your breath.
The way into my mind is through my right eye. It pops out and kinda dangles on my cheek, swinging ever so slightly. After you use the top secret Shrink Ray (not to be confused with the Psychiatrist Blaster), you can climb inside and start to purloin your way through my tendrils.
Upon entering my mind, you'll see a hallway with doors lining either side. This is a trick. People do not have doors in their heads, and if you see this, you must be tripping. Grab an orange and calm down. In my mind, a conductor will approach you, and he is dressed in a stunning penguin suit made of the finest fabrics possible. He will ask for your ticket.
You did remember to bring the ticket, didn't you? You didn't shrink it beforehand? Great. Plan B.
Now I assume you're leaning out of my eyesocket, looking over at the table next to where I'm sitting, and there's a giant ticket there. Giant compared to your small ass, anyway. I can tell you right now that you are NOT pulling that ticket through my eye. Have you ever had a paper cut on an eyelid? They are not fun. In fact, I don't think I want you in my head at all.
The conductor kicks you in the ass, and you fall out and plummet to the ground. Naturally, the fall will kill you, and if it doesn't, I'll squish you with my uncomfortable dress shoe. I like my readers, but not ones who don't plan ahead.
Please remember that the next time you want to get into my head, you bring your ticket and anything else that you'll need before you use the Shrink Ray. Other tools that might help include forceps, a scalpel, hair dye, bleaching agents, candy wrappers, and a really large ball of string so you can find your way out. Until you're ready, stay the hell out of my head!
I try. I really do. I want to be accommodating. But if you're not going to hold up your end of the bargain, then my grey matter stays private. Oh yeah. Bring a lot of fish hooks. You'll understand why once you get inside.
From: Jeremy Nguyen To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: subscribe, please Dear Kilgore, If you could add me to your distribution list, I'd love that. Thanks, Jeremy
[you do realize that every time somebody subscribes, the law of karma goes into effect, don't you?]
From: Nirvana062 To: email@example.com Subject: Re: State of unBeing #64 -- razor burn on the fourth! please remove me from the mailing list. thanks
[see. there it is. the law of karma. one good thing happens, and then a bad thing occurs. oh well. this month wins the most boring LttE section ever. i hope you're all pleased. toodles.]
The Super Realist
Conclusively. Without a doubt; conclusively. It is no longer arguable. The girl is emphatically obnoxious. She talks. And talks. And talks. And the tone with which she speaks is that of a narcissistic, contemptuous conceit. This class is two hours long. The professor will speak -- be able to speak -- two words, and at that moment she will run quite over his words with her own. Statements on what is the correct answer, the correct phrase, correct mathematical retort to all mathematical questions. If someone else in this class proposes a question to the professor, one of relevance, concerning the material at hand (As opposed to the sixteen trillion questions that are meaningless and trite, yes? Questions, they say, are meaningless; of course, here is where I have sarcasm, now pointing to middle school walls on whish posters were displayed stating in bold fonts how there are no dumb questions), alas. Someone asks a questions, and she, referring to the emphatically obnoxious girl, will turn in her chair (Sometimes. Other times she will stay faced to the front.) and answer the person's question, again speaking over and above the professor.
And so now I quote, from seconds before, "That's my goal in life, to be rich." And so now I quote again, from seconds before, "I'd love to live next to a celebrity."
And here, of course -- no, actually, I failed to see this coming. You'd think I would, considering the current discussion of stock trading going on between the other few in the room. However, I did not. The Incredible Story of Dell:
"There's this guy who lives out there who has, like, a forty-two room mansion, and had this huge rock dug out of the mountain and put in his yard, and hat it engraved BUYDELL -- all his cars say BUYDELL. The guy is a multi-millionaire."
"Yeah, I wish I had done that."
And better commentary would be put forth if I perhaps asked why I choose to repeat this, and why I am so bothered by the few people here, their words, personality, and so forth. It bothers me that this girl talks and talks, and knows all mathematical concepts put before her. This surely stems from the fact that I feel unable to talk with such confidence or forthness. As well as the fact that I do not know the mathematical concept put before me -- she possesses knowledge I don't, though I think I should, and I wish I did. I will, however, in time, as this is the desired result of the class. Again, I do not know why this needs to be repeated. A process, it seems, followed to assist with personal issues.
Half hour after Dragon Boat practice and I'm still shaking from the exertion. My body going through an energy fit as my mind wanders for a mental cigarette. Nicotine for the mind and caffeine for the soul. Feels good to get out and DO something, team work, exercise, feeling the insistent surge of each individual pull together to reach one attainable goal. Was it attained? Who knows right now, just practice, hard to determine the actual worth of practice until the end goal is in sight and the psyche is good to go. Multiple Buddha awakening in the DO of action. Blossoms of spirals and swings and extensions of body parts and sweat and color of individuals and their own complexions. Gary Snyder was correct in wandering the land to attain his own Buddha-hood by action. Now I want to wander my own land, explore the landscape of the mind, is that action, too? Or, is that still metaphysical schtick?
Sitting at The Little River Cafe on the waterfront of Portland's Willamette River, just finishing a small salad, good to go light after heavy exertion. Try hauling a 5000 pound dragon boat by a paddle, and see if it's not heavy. Don't want to make the body work any harder to nourish itself, that's just plain mean, if you ask me. Our captain made us work hard enough as it is, no doubt about that, except to maybe him. Of course, I can't complain, I need all the work I can get since this is my first year rowing. Always a first for everything. First time to get dressed, first time to write a word. First time to get laid. Eventually I'll have to experience the first time at dying. I force my hand to move (the action and DO of Buddha-hood), wanting to get some words on the page, scratch the surface deeper with the chicken scratches of my handwriting. I worry that I forgot how to word-monger; the pen moves up and down, off the page, on the page.
Took my glasses off for a while, as I waited for my food. The world shifted from the cutting edge technology of Sharper Image to the grungy pre-dispositioned fuzziness of a dreamland during the first second of waking up. Did I just have my awakening? Was I that lucky to experience a Zen easiness of transition? Blur of gray and green and blue from the river and land and bridges and sky. Nothing distinguishable, all melded together into one one-ness. Etherworld of dreamcast and painter's palate smeared with the colors and textures of nature. Maybe one doesn't need good eyesight to see the insights of the world.
My vision flowed like some kind of primordial Portland pre-cambric ooze of people sludge. Cars which fumed by on the bridges over the river could just as well have been ancient flying dinosaurs, or better yet, futuristic flying contraptions not yet thought of, but in no way less existent than the idea of ancient flying dinosaurs. Because I saw the image or thought the thought, did that make it a reality?
Pessimism, optimism, are both formed from the current frame of mind.
I try my ex-Irish-catholic damn to adhere to the Dharma, and nothing is possible because nothing is real. Everything is Kerouac's "meat conception." But, where's the optimism in a Descartean non-sense, mind only over matter? Did you know Descartes's quote was actually "I doubt, therefore I am"? How sad to think that nothing is real, and thus, nothing is possible, even Buddha-hood. Doesn't Buddha-hood come from the IDEA of Buddha-hood, and thus is not real, and thus the Dharma is not real, and the ideal of nothing being not real is not real either?
Words, words, words!
Shakespeare was a word monger, fiction was his motif, yet he's regarded as a genius. Geniuses are of the mind, but geniuses can be of the action, too. Jeff Kent is a genius.
Not sure where this is headed, actually. Rather typical of every good American boy and girl. Never know where you're heading until you get there, and even then it's not where you wanted to go or worth the trouble of getting there. Every time I turn the page of this notebook, the thought is lost because of the delay, my mind racing too fast for my hand to keep pace, and it's impossible for me to backtrack. You are now the proud possessor of a perfectly good reason for everyone to own laptop computers. 20
And all I see is blank white. Maybe I should go through and mark all the pages before I start writing, blemish the page, so I don't feel the pressure of ruining the perfection of written Buddha page, for all is empty, and the page is the void, and nothing matters except the perfection. Perfection of the inner peace of tranquil white serene cloud of paper.
Did I mention I put my glasses back on? Blinking flash of sharpness, the nerves in the back of my head cut and pierced by the images thrown at them, materialized out of sludge gray void of moving fluid motion. Cars on the bridge thrown back into focus, and I'm thrown back into present tense, from the past. People walking by the open doors and windows of the cafe, meat conception grinding them all, creating people out of the thick dull sludge of gray afternoon Portland air.
I am the creator of the Immaculate Conception. Men CAN create children without women, and vice versa, mostly vice. That thought reels me in, hook line and sinker, with a sinking feeling in my gut not unlike the night a couple of weeks ago when I downed two fifths of Absolute and a fifth of Jim Beam. Ego trips are purely the Id's doing, and I want my Karma back, damn it. Why am I always the responsible one? I want to be the anarchist once in a while. I have wanton needs, too, you know.
Now I am a killer, as all that is created WILL die, and all my little immaculate children walking by are doomed to eternity in the void, no avoiding that! So even when I am optimistic about ideas and thoughts being real, I am forced to be a pessimist, for I am the Destroyer. Oh no... another blank page.
Actually, the fact that this is a new blank pages doesn't really bother me. I'm done with my lunch and the cafe is starting to pick up more of an afternoon crowd. More immaculate children. More meat conception. As much as I would like to stay and admire the artwork on the walls, and listen to the eclectic selection of music over the PA system, I'm not about to purchase anything more, so I should probably leave. Of course, I'll return; maybe not today, Bogie, and maybe not tomorrow.
Hey, the cafe is playing Dylan. Did I already mention I put on my glasses again?
So, some time in June I took a trip to Manchester. Not in England. I was to leave Austin at 2:40 p.m. The plane, one in the mighty fleet of Continental Airlines, suffered from an unexplained and vague and shady delay for a projected three hours. I did not have much going for me at that time. My schedule carried a two hour layover in Newark, New Jersey (my destination), but that third hour of delay -- well, I was holding nothing in my hand for that one. The gate attendant, a stark and slightly underdeveloped, you might say somewhat abstract, representation of a man, a person, a Luis, read me the options with much technical expertise but nothing informative, helpful, or, as I just mentioned, not much in the way of human compassion. He wasn't realized, fully realized by society. And he was the only link I had to this vast entity -- a perfectly underdeveloped human being, left or perhaps forgotten on the arts and crafts table of socialization to be finished or possibly destroyed being the eyes and skin and breath of this airline that I had entrusted my life to for a period of several hours. Luis, Luis, you poor man. But also poor me. The wild card for me and Luis and our relationship as satisfied customer and inept customer service was in Jacksonville, Florida. This is where the plane, appointed with the duty of carrying passengers from Newark to Manchester, sat. This plane, this wild card, this key to the whole trip starting out well and being a sign of good fortune, also met with delay from the even more vague and shady organization "Air Traffic Control." Their delay time: one hour, forty minutes. This strengthened my position. Plus forty minutes. No airport, no airport could take more than forty minutes to get from one gate to another within the same airline terminal or wing or whatever architectural grouping exists within the composition of airports. And so Luis, being underdeveloped and thus slightly more afraid of the world than I, suggested trying tomorrow on an early flight. But, I am not Luis. Luis does not drink Shiner Bock. Luis does not smoke. Luis, still-doughy-in-the-center Luis, fears the world and does not take risks. But I drink Shiner Bock. And in the three hours of delay at the Austin International Airport I drank Shiner Bock. I drank five pints of Shiner Bock and I had no alternative but to get on the plane, confidently, I had no choice but to run into the darkness with my body extended forward and open, my voice loud and embrace the darkness which soon enveloped me before the stewardess finished her explanation of the physics of airline seat belts. I did not hear that my connecting flight had changed gates. I did not hear that my connecting flight changed gates because it had been pushed forward by forty-five minutes, thus shredding the soft, safe cushion of time. Luis went home and when he was home finally felt safe from the random incidents that occur in the open and fluid world. He read his paper, cooked a low-fat, low-salt meal, and listened to NPR for two hours and eleven minutes before going to sleep in his soft, safe bed. I landed downtown in the post apocalypse, also known as Newark International at 11:15 p.m., half drunk.
Many things have been said about the airport. It holds a unique position among locations because of the number of meanings and significances possible within the hallowed walls. And here I, freshly birthed from a postmodern and anthropological academic fertilization, walked bravely into the cultural pea-soup fog. Two hundred and thirty-six people were left to face the night in Newark. Continental, the vastly uncaring and evil bastard baron of the airport kept its cupboard locked. A few blankets were passed to some, a few food vouchers made it into other hands. For the stragglers, those unfortunate souls denying their scavenging ancestry, blank stares abounded. The lucky ones received a toothbrush and travel size toothpaste, but more often than not there were only second helpings of blank stares.
Mind you, I am usually self-sufficient, and so I accepted my hostile layover with magnanimous zen, applauding my demeanor and lauding myself over the masses. Until I realized the coffin nail burning in my right hand marked the last in the pack. Nothing makes a smoker as twitchy as running dry and the nearest 7-11 that carries your brand a cool eight states west. And so I entered the fray....
People began banding together, marauders of the wasteland. Limited trading ensued under tense conditions. And always under the steely gaze of airport security. My second interaction with a customer service representative went as poorly as the first. John, who stood inches from the precipice of a beserker rage, openly mocked the man ahead of me. This man impotently demanded a hotel room. He was given directions to the place where airline toilets were emptied. A young woman approached the counter and John, who verbally brained dozens of customers this evening, paled when this women approached. She dressed in the neo-hippy west coast style -- a thin skirt falling in billowing gasps around her legs and a brown suede jacket wrapping around her torso -- and placed her hands, palms down and fingers spread, against the counter.
"I need a cab out of the airport." She stared at John with pale blue eyes, face masked behind a calculated benevolence.
"We can1t issue cab vouchers without a specific destination," John said. He doomed himself. All revolution against tyranny comes not from total oppression but from the glimmer of hope.
"Fine," she said. "I want to go downtown."
"You need a physical address, a specific street."
"Fine," she said. "I want to go to 11 Main Street. There is a Main Street in Newark, isn1t there? If not I want to go to 11 First Street."
John sighed and began filling out a form in thick, quick, angry strokes. I had to admit it, I was impressed. This woman, carrying a mandolin and knit wool knapsack, succeeded in defeating the empire. I introduced myself. Her name was Julie. She was on her way back to Nepal after a brief visit home in San Francisco. Julie. We agreed to split the cab fare back and she introduced me to the other women she had banded with, all traveling overseas, all stuck in hell.
Under normal circumstances a girl like Julie would get little notice from me. It shouldn't be considered snobbishness or a reaction to foreign politic or philosophy; rather, it is the lack of embracing a mindset with which I cannot usually identify. In theory, I agree with some of the practices, but in reality I find them with little practical value. However, at this moment, I was hard pressed not to appreciate, respect, perhaps even marvel at the amount of success this woman held against the tyranny in relation to the effort put forth. Absolutely amazing.
The other two girls -- Jacquelyn and Molly -- were thumbing through and taking stock of the limited goods transferred to them from the bastard airline. And here stood I, a cool four hours from Manchester, New Hampshire. And here stood I, a tourist. It became a humbling experience. As sentimental and anti-punk rock as my memory of the event shapes itself out to be, I must admit fully realizing the strength and positive attitude these women possessed.
Molly was a high school graduate on her way to France for the summer before starting art school in San Francisco. She had the worst time of this ordeal, I think, but in some way I believe the experience was good for her. Where else could you realize and experience the colossal stupidity and horrible working condition of the world than doing a turn at Newark International? It's a lesson I hope she keeps close to her, but only if set in the perspective of absurd humor.
Jacquelyn seemed like any normal girl. Asian American, going to Spain to meet her boyfriend. College student. Liked the appropriate things, dressed in the appropriate fashion. She didn1t swear like a typical college student, so maybe she wasn1t all that typical. But at that moment, in that environment, everyone was both the same and undeniably an individual. Existing as a paradox in Newark, New Jersey, Jacquelyn both alienated me and connected me to all of people and culture without fully realizing it. Like sitting in the shadow of a well-lit room and not knowing where the light and dark are coming from.
At any rate, our group formed a plan: a quick stop at one of the open eateries and then a cab ride to either a hotel room or entertainment. Jacquelyn somehow procured forty dollars in food vouchers -- a small fortune in this world -- and generously offered to share. We traveled the vast airport. Of the three delis open, only one had not been completely razed. Their plenitude was driven by their prices, as the outermost deli from the ticketing gates, they had seen the hungry locusts descending and decided to maximize profit. The new postwar economy reduced our conceived fortune to cents on the dollar. My bottle of juice cost four dollars. My bag of potato chips cost two-fifty. The price of a cigarette here... I didn't want to think that far ahead.
Three men entered the deli looking for coffee. They took work with Continental as union laborers, adding to the chaos of the construction of a live airport. Our encounter was brief and slightly tense, but with a wave of a meaty hand and an adjustment of his 1977 field glasses, Joey Buttafuco #1 uttered a "fuggidaboudit" that ended any aspirations of leaving the congo for a few hours. "I live here and even I wouldn1t go downtown," he said. "Not at this time of night." And so we resigned ourselves to a night of pain.
Each gate had already been claimed, and as we walked down the moving sidewalk we counted fitfully sleeping bodies. I was personally amazed at the similarity between the gates and the architectural and philosophical design of other box communities, such as suburbs or ghettos. And this, on a microcosmic scale, so I could break it down and revel in the horror. And so while I don't want to be dangerously reductive or overtly classist, I think I was on to something. Each gate maintained a separate and equal distance from another gate through the assignment of a numbered address. The choice locations -- those next to restrooms or food resources -- maintained the highest population. All with complete apathy or ignorance. Security thinned the further we traveled from the major points of commerce, and I could not tell if those people lying still, their bodies spread agonizing across plastic seats, were alive, dead, or resigned to nightmares smelling of large, sweaty ass and diffuse industrial-strength air freshener. Those people at this point in the journey were complete in their despair to an apathetic god. I carried in my camera bag a pack of playing cards. I introduced the tribe to the world of five card draw. I tried to keep hope alive through the mystery of hidden cards until four a.m., when everyone was overtaken by fatigue and a vein of sadness.
They slept and I finished a letter to an old girlfriend. Part if-you-could-see-me-now and part rehashing the past (forgive me, the atmosphere facilitated the mood), I sat alone and watched the dawn break against the horizon in slow, unhappy waves, and I finally noted one of the few benefits of two years working graveyard. An hour before my flight boarded I woke Julie and we offered our good-byes. I gave her my address and she gave me a promise of a postcard from Nepal (I1m still waiting. Well, sort of waiting. You know.) and I walked away into the fluorescent morning.
This would be a nice ending -- a sense of closure and a sense of reason and order penetrating the events. But the true ending involved a plane -- a large jet, a symbol of Continental1s mass insanity -- crashing through the glass and stone and wood and plastic terminal after being incorrectly brought up to the gate. Amid the chaos and noise and dust my hopes of finding meaning in this adventure escaped, and I was consumed completely by the absurd notion that awakened in me a humor that manifested itself through a laughing, crying, coughing fit. A stewardess bummed me a smoke, and then I regained my composure and left for Manchester.
"I gave up on new poetry myself 30 years ago when most of it began to read like coded messages passing between lonely aliens in a hostile world."
26 APR 1999
Odd experience for the day: I had gotten sick of my expensive dress shoes which I had been wearing to work. So, I polished up my boots, and am wearing them again. These are more comfortable and less likely to fall apart. (I have just about worn through the soles of my dress shoes.) Standing outside, having a cigarette, a guy came up to me. No asking for money, or even cigarettes; he just complimented me on my boots, mentioned he'd had some in the service, and left. Not long after, another guy asked for a light, complimented me on my lighter, and walked off. I suppose it has been a good day.
29 APR 1999
People ask me if the pain ever goes away. I tell them no, one manages the pain, but one never escapes it. I give them hope; who can fool me into hoping?
23 NOV 1999
She leans her tears against my chest her fists clenched And now I guess I'll go to my car And now I guess I'll go home And now I guess I'm all alone And now I guess I'm all alone
10 MAR 2000
A half built building.
One girl, slower than the rest.
Why not crush her head?
9 MAY 2000
She wakes up.
He sees her.
"Are we us?"
23 MAY 2000
Once upon a time, there was a king who had all his subjects blinded so they could not see him and, in seeing him, know him. Not knowing him, they could not define him. He became defined by their blindness.
7 JUN 2000
I spent a night in October 1993 living my death, my suicide. I got through thinking I could tell my girlfriend about it the next day. This gave me a purpose to go on.
The next day, she was nowhere to be found.
In that moment, I was enlightened.
9 JUN 2000
The poetic art:
Tell us what you came to say,
And then be silent.
11 JUN 2000
So we can love each other
As we really are.
9 MAY 2000
If you take away my pain
I will hate you with an indescribable hatred
With the hatred of a man saved from suicide
Because while he is forced to exist
I will have been forced to exist no longer
25 MAY 2000
But what good a rape
If she close her eyes?
6 AUG 00
O! great master from the Ksatriya ruling class Pour forth upon me the beneficence of your petit-bourgeois guilt That I, who can never afford the pleasures you gave up may feel the numbness you chose all you offer Use me in your divine plan of battle against the Brahmin class and the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach Use me to overturn the caste system Make might again right that, while I bask in the nothing of your promised afterlife here on earth Once more, O Gautama you and your sons your caste will rule me and mine.
14 AUG 2000
The first couple of times
I took it hard
But I imagine the first couple of times I was left to cry myself to
sleep in my crib
I took it hard
I had to learn where I end.
15 AUG 2000
is the closest thing to a virtue we have these days.
And I don't think of myself as particularly virtuous.
If they had asked Mother then What shape the world is, just After the doctor said, "Well, You've brought another piece Of White Trash into the world," She would have said it was An angle, with irregular Shifts in thickness, and Also heights and Protrusions... As if the angle were More than an a mere angle, her Son more than a mere son but also Many, many years later her dearest friend... A friend like a balcony or veranda, With the contents of the world Ranging from left to right and Right to left, at varying distances >From other balconies or theater boxes Above her and below her, with all of it Opening to reveal a void, a sky crossed By winds and clouds resting atop A high strip of ocean, So I shall begin with that... By saying that the world is A series of angles... With vertical lines that ascend like palm Trees or the roofs of synagogues as seen >From a distance when standing half-above And half-below the self that dwells within And is always looking out a large, clear, Wide window, the real self that cannot be Deduced from the sudden drops and slopes Of the world... Or those supernatant, broken, oblique lines That obscure the horizon the real self knows Only as a continuous straight line approaching The equation B squared + RTF = 0, a three Dimensional hyperspace with a singularity at its Origin... So I have begun, and now I realize that there Is always one rooftop one ground-level higher Than all other rooftops... It is the self that dwells within. And if now I try to establish my position, orientate, determine Where this self lives that speaks, I quickly realize that This self is always speaking from several points, And this self always spoke from these places: "Here" is where the self is, and here I am trapped by the confines of language: I can only speak of one place at a time. I can speak of my rootedness only because of my failure to be able to speak of the multiplicity of my rootedness: I am able only because I can fail. Closing my eyes and surprising the self that dwells Within me, which is equivalent to saying I climb... A mountain in reverse while simultaneously leaning Forward and bending backwards, I realize there are an Infinite number of dimensions, one of which pierces my Skull in the late hours of the night, going through it and And into my chest and coming out through my feet, And another which pierces my shoulders and Comes out through my fingers... The first dimension is that of the gods, extending Forever, the second dimension that of... History, that... Violent blood-stained dress on the floor of a brothel. And all the other dimensions are really just extensions And alterations of these two... But then these Words erase those two dimensions, Like the Logos that was there in the Beginning, Not the One but with the One, with the One but not the One, Like water sluices that direct rivers and streams Into horizontal ditches to irrigate strips of land, Like theaters built so that all possible Vision is contained and directed as though looking Through twelve eyes seeing themselves mirrored in the Iris of one common eye with one pupil, Like those great ears of maximum audibility which hold all Notes and vibrations within, listening, speaking, And hearing, both ear and seashell held to ear As well as ear held to ear held to ear... Because at night when The demons come And I look into a Mirror and hear A doctor say, "Well, You've brought another piece Of White Trash into the world," I write poetry and in the end Know that the sun is no more Than the relationship light has to the world, rain no more Than the relationship land has to the sea, the winter no more Than the relationship fall has to spring, the summer no more Than the relationship spring has to fall, the Perseids no more Than the relationship the Perseids have to the Perseids... And I know, I know, I know, that A mirror is no more than the relationship The self that dwells within has to the self That dwells within.
The words hit Jonathan, not with a suddenness that causes him to laugh out loud and see the ridiculousness of the statement, but with an awkward calm, floating across stagnant air, settling on his shoulder and whispering into the softness of his ear.
He raises his head (hair tight around the ears, gray streaking along the temples) and searches for the source of those pulse-stopping words. He sees faces: crowds of teenagers scurrying from one end of the mall to the other; mothers pushing screaming babies in rental strollers, cell phones biting at their ears, eyes scanning store windows for the latest and greatest sales. And that's when he notices her (through a mass of shoppers, between the iron backs of giant horses that make up the mall's centerpiece) sitting on a wooden bench in front of Joe Mug's Coffee Shop, blonde hair tied in a bun, black skirt hugging her legs like a second skin.
She rises from the bench, her eyes fixed in his direction, and approaches him with long strides. One foot follows the other; her leather coat dances around her ankles.
Jonathan lowers his head, nose in his grade book, cheeks flushed.
"That's my good girl. Remember what mom always said?"
"Remember those words I made you read over and over 'til they were burned into your mind and you knew 'em like the back of your hand? Do you remember?"
"Sure you do. He wants you, wants to drive it in you, deep, until you get for more, until he has your soul to do as he wishes. You know who's stronger. He's like all the others. Different hair, different clothes, but the same desire for control."
"Just like your sonovabitch father."
"So, give him what he wants. Give it to him until you don't want to give it to him anymore."
"Get behind the mask."
"Look through its eyes."
"I'm proud of you."
She sits down beside him, her eyes two shimmering pools of blue, lips a passionate red.
Jonathan's wrist shakes as he tried to grade a stack of term papers, and when he dares to look up from his work, an ache forms in the back of his head, moves around the side, and plants itself between his eyes.
His journey of discovery begins with a pair of black, Gucci heels.
A blazer, cut to perfection.
Her neck, slender.
Her face, those eyes, those blue pools without a care in the world.
Her smile curls around the edges. His lips are like two sandbags.
"You don't mind, do you?"
Jonathan removes his wire rim glasses. "Mind?"
"If I sit here, on this bench, with you."
"No... please do."
Perspiration settles between his neck and shirt collar.
"What's your answer?"
"To my question. Well, more of an offer, really. You did hear me, didn't you? Our eyes met. You blushed. No need to be embarrassed."
"Oh... yes... that was you?"
She tilts her head to the side, ignoring the curl of blonde that falls across her eyes.
"I sure hope it was me," she says, her smile mesmerizing, "considering the only other women I see around us are mothers and little girls who should be in school."
Her laugh is hypnotic.
"I wasn't really paying attention and I thought, well, that maybe I misheard--"
"Not at all. You see, I know what men want."
"Yes," she purrs, running her finger along the curve of her chin. "They want me."
"So," she says, responding to his uncertainty with narrowing eyes, "join me for a little adventure?"
His next breath is long, deep, and more involved than the simple intake of oxygen and release of carbon dioxide. His mind's eye searches the histories of his past, the make-up of his life from his conception to this present state of questions and answers, decisions and consequence.
Images flash before his vision; humanity's slide show.
Three beautiful children.
A satisfying job.
Past temptations of the flesh and future endeavors making themselves available with two spoken words.
Jonathan (loving father, devoted -- sometimes -- husband) exhales, mixing breath with words of acceptance.
He caps his pen and slips it into his breast pocket. "Sounds great."
She returns his awkward smile with her own, confident grin.
The game begins.
"Wasn't that easy?"
"I knew it would be. The ladies, they haven't had much confidence in you lately, but I tell them, 'My Elizabeth is something special, not your usual run-of-the-mill.' And you are, baby. Very special indeed. From your mother's side of the family. In your genes. Your blood. And the mask?"
"You've kept it?"
"In grandma's cedar chest, just like I showed you?"
"Use it, baby. Let it guide your creative passions."
The turn of a lock.
The groan of a rusty hinge.
The low hum of window chillers.
Jonathan crosses the threshold and is greeted by the sanitized jade of fluorescent lights, the stillness of a single's lifestyle. She leads him through her house by the end of his unfastened belt, and with a subtle quickness (always the teacher, ever the student, his mind recording sights that tease his senses with hints of explanations and suggestions of insanity) his eyes begin an exploration, absorbing every nuance, attempting to learn more about this unusual woman.
Each room is a glimpse into the fire, a window into the macabre.
Vaulted ceilings. Twin lamps, sculpted from wrought iron and tinted glass, throwing fans of scarlet across cream-colored carpet. Against the far wall, coffee table, leather chair, framed art displaying works in primary colors: reds, blues, yellow.
A wet bar. Absolut. Crown Royal. Captain Morgan (his favorite). Shadows settling in familiar places. A couch, throw pillows sewn in shades of red, blue, and plum.
Stainless steel appliances reflecting bands of white across their brushed surfaces. Her heals slapping against the ceramic.
Click... click... click...
Giving the chain a pull. Allowing it to snap back against the ceiling. The bulb, naked without its shade, a soft, round glow at its center. Hardwood floor. Water-stained walls. Pictures hanging at odd angles, their frames cracked and shattered.
Haunting questions beginning to surface.
Rushing by, catching only a glimpse of those things even shadows are not quick enough to hid. A shower curtain pulled tight, lime green plastic shaped around the lifeless forms it hides within its bowels. Smells, dizzying in their rot. His eyes fighting the blackness, pushing away its intentions. Across the floor. Little bits.
With his mind reeling, she tightens her grip and pulls him further down into the rabbit hole. Each step (light failing, shadows climbing walls, their abstract forms taking shape in comfortable positions) offers his mind the solemn opportunity to search the personalities of his history and fits this woman with a profile.
Friends. Relatives. Associates. Students.
He can't find a single comparison, and that's what scares the hell out of him.
"You make me so proud."
"Thank you, mother."
"Do you feel it? The fear seeping from his pores? His hesitancy offering itself in spades?"
"That's right. Make him beg, Elizabeth."
"Show him who makes the decisions, who controls the situation, who's in fucking charge."
"And then finish him in that way that makes me so happy to call you daughter. I told them. I knew you wouldn't let me down, didn't I?"
As seconds pass, realizations bombard him in tactless fashions, sitting him down and showing all their cards, revealing the raw truth, explaining themselves with cold frankness.
"This is it, Jonathan. Your time has come. The table is set. Fighting will only make it worse. Your dick finally got the better of you, and there's no talking your way out of this one, no explaining your way free of lipstick-smeared collars and lingering perfumes. This woman's the real McCoy."
Stopping at the end of the hallway. Pitch black. Going around a corner. A quickening pulse. Further into the depths. Sounds. His imagination unleashed. Squeaks. Flapping, like newspapers dancing inches above the pavement in twisted knots of rage.
With renewed determination, Jonathan reaches down, grabs her hand, and twists it ninety degrees the wrong direction. A scream peals from her lips with the strength of an air raid siren. In seconds, he's running down the hallway with all his strength, legs aching, lungs begging for breath, mind-numbing spasms breaking free from his lower back and burning a path into his arms and shoulders.
He can hear her, on his heels, breath hot against his neck.
As hard as he tried to focus his energy and tunnel all his will towards survival, sounds envelope his consciousness with unbearable aggressiveness, scratching each other's backs and igniting his worst nightmares as visions for their feast: the scratching of rats in their migrations through desolate sewers; moths, suicidal in their confusions, smacking blindly against floodlights; lost in a field overgrown with weeds and sawgrass, madman on the loose with a fetish for carving.
His wife, face buried in her hands, crying over yet another of his guilt-driven confessions, wondering, in her grief, how far the long line of adulteries extends.
To the edge of tomorrow. Maybe longer.
On his knees, begging for forgiveness. Another round of false promises.
Click... click... click...
In a beat she's on him. In two, she drives the syringe into his neck, his screams unanswered.
With incredible speed, the drug renders him immobile, numbing his legs, arms, and face. Pins and needles. Heavy eyes. The weight of the world. His heart slows to a crawl. Moments before he loses all tough with reality, she bends down, pulls a soft hand across his face, and mumbles words he can't understand.
Whispers of love lost; passion for the righting of wrongs.
Has it been hours? Days?
His eyes are closed. He knows this because the colored shapes that dance before his vision, flashes of red, green, blue and white, exist only in the world of surreal dreamscapes, where abstract designs and untold horrors rear their ugly heads in defiance of the physical world.
He is also at peace, knowing that in this state of mind (between deep sleep and the world's waking moments) he is free from the demons that haunt his reality.
A light stroke. Hair against gooseflesh. Rapid breathing. His eyes flicker, settling their curiosity on a brass ceiling fan with wide, long strips of laminate peeling from its five blades.
Again, his eyes close. The colored shapes return.
His mind processes the information and organizes it into modes of understanding, trying to find sanity in the chaos.
A brush against his arm.
Under his nose. A distinct rot.
He jerks open his eyes. She is there, leaning forward, her hand wiping sweat from his face, her pierced nipples connected by thin, leather strips. She moves to the left side of the bed and rubs her bare skin against its cold, lifeless frame. She kisses his hand, strokes his wrist (tied to the bed's frame with thick, white cord), and slides her hand along his arm.
As Jonathan follows her gentle touch -- her hand against his bare chest, his heartbeat giving her hand movement and purpose -- he struggles to free his mind (a futile attempt to assemble the pieces of this otherworld puzzle) from the dense fog that has settled within the walls of his memories.
Her smile is chilling, and her kiss against his cheek is cold; lips like two bags of ice.
She walks to the front of the room, same long strides, same slow confidence. His eyes adjust as the pieces begin to arrange themselves.
A dresser with deep chips along the front edge, one leg shorter than the others, ready, at any minute, to crash to the floor in a heap of rotten wood.
Foam dummy heads sitting precariously on top of the dresser, each one holding a wig. Red. Brown. Brunette. Blonde. Earrings lined up in rows of gold and silver. Bracelets. Necklaces. A stained, porcelain sink. Colored contacts floating in saline solution.
Above his head, track lighting throws bands of gold across the ceiling. She paces the front of the room, back and forth and back again.
"Welcome back," she says, her deep blues now a dark brown.
"Let me go."
"Oh, well you are back, aren't you. I like a little spirit. Unnecessary, but impressive nonetheless."
He watches her expression as pain races through his arms, legs, and back. He knows it's her: the voice, the movements, the carefree dialogue. But the model looks (blonde hair, blue eyes, legs a sultry tan) have vanished, replaced with a body that's pale, translucent, shaved of all hair from head to toe, wrapped in black strips of reflective leather with silver hoops dangling from the eyebrows, ears, lips, and nipples.
And around her waist, attached to a leather harness decorated with silver studs, is a steel penis, its head machined to a lethal point and curved at the tip as if trying to reach back and scratch her lower abdomen.
Jonathan watches her watch him.
"What are you going to do to me?"
She remains at the foot of the bed, her movements minimal, shadows slicing across her body with harsh viciousness.
"You do get right to the point, don't you?" she says, gripping the steel dick, unable to wrap her hand completely around its base. "Of course, you're a professional. A professor, I believe."
"Jonathan L. Cunningham," she says, flipping through his wallet while ignoring his surprise. "734 SE 34th Ave. And this must be your lovely wife and beautiful children."
She sighs and drops his wallet to the floor. Jonathan tried to jerk his arms free.
"Where are they, Jonathan?"
"Your lovely wife and beautiful children. Are they home?"
"Do you think they're worried about you?"
"They're probably worried sick."
"Really," she replies, staring long and hard, cutting through his calm exterior and layers of sophistication, searching for that little boy who's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Your wife is a smart woman, Mr. Cunningham." She coos and walks towards the corner of the room. "The more I walked with Susan, the more aware I became of the pain in her heart, her anger towards your infidelities, and her desire to have you eliminated from her life and the lives of your children."
She turns on the television and pushes the play button on the VCR.
She ignores him, lost in her own delusions of crime and punishment.
"You were always my favorite. Never once did you let me down."
"I know, mother."
"You've shown me the dedication you have towards your craft."
"I love you, baby."
"I love you, mother."
The VCR sputters to life, throwing random images across the room.
Monarch butterflies emerging from cocoons, beautiful in their majesty. Bees building a hive, working together in unison towards a common goal. Soldier ants attacking a helpless beetle as it succumbs to overwhelming numbers.
Tiny multicolored caterpillars feeding on leaves.
Male and female praying mantises, engaged in a primitive dance of conception.
"What are you doing?"
She walks back to the foot of the bed.
"Please, just... just tell me what you're going to do?"
She bends down. Jonathan strains his neck to catch a glimpse. Cryptic sounds. Old hinges. Metal against metal. A lock being turned and disengaged. He sees a lid open, hears her pull something out and watches as she closes the lid and stands.
From the corner of his eye, images flicker and dance. The two praying mantises complete their mating ritual, and the male has his head chewed off and eaten by his mate.
He frantically scans the room and finds her slowly approaching the side of the bed, wearing a grotesque mask that looks as if its been sewn together with scraps of canvas, bits felt, and strips leather, each step closer revealing a different piece of the horror.
He sees the eyes first: two finger holes cut from the fabric; the nose a three-inch slit through a piece of tan canvas; the mouth, once a gaping hole, stitched closed with rudimentary hands and red thread.
There are other, more exotic, attachments that make up the whole. However, he can't see them. His eyes are filled with tears, and his vision is blurred. Maybe, he thinks to himself, that's a good thing.
She raises her hands. In her left, a scalpel. In her right, a portable propane torch.
Two surgical tubes extend from the top of the mask like giant antennae.
"We'll begin," she says, her voice deep and muffled, silver cock inches from slicing his face, "with your head."
Johnny Quick Pen sat at the bar and collected the information he would need to capture the scene unraveling before him. It was truly unusual and needed defining, just as everything did. A glass of whiskey sat in front of him gathering cool condensation. This was standard though, and did not require documentation, as did many things, not to be taken for granted necessarily, but assumed, such as the cigarette in his mouth and the next one in line. He glanced side long at the few people also at the bar on Tuesday and recorded an observation.
"I continually wonder what draws these people to this atmosphere. As for myself, I am an observer, and as such am entitled to be where ever I want without extensive explanation or overt concern. I do not desire to know it all, just enough to make the ride sensible to at least myself.
"Whether or not I can accurately relay these observations to another party remains to be seen. But for tonight the following seems to apply: Very real sense of anxiety approaching the door. It remained intact until I was able to secure a seat at the bar and light a cigarette. After several minutes the fear began to dissipate, as no one attacked or made any threats. And now I have made myself happy.
"It appears that state of mind is purely under one's own control but is often trumped by uncertainty. The loss of belief in one's own importance brings with it the ability to change ones state of being all the way down to physical attributes, if it can be accepted that the world continues to do as it will, regardless of how one feels about it. Does this make feelings unimportant? Not necessarily, as long as it known that feelings are intimately attached to words, and words are merely symbolic of other wise intangible events, and consequently can be changed as easily as one's pants."
Johnny scratched himself between the shoulder blades, stretching hard to reach the spot. It didn't itch but it provided movement, keeping the others strangely off guard, although they were unaware anything was happening at all. Being a lifetime student of the game, these tactics were second nature to Johnny. On a napkin he wrote, "anxiety -- real -- feelings -- explain full scale." I folded the wet napkin neatly, careful to line up the edges perfectly before creasing and looked around for real.
Johnny began to wonder why it was that he had to bear the weight of such a burden, why everything had to have hidden meaning, lying just beneath the surface, begging him to peek in and see what could not be told, only written. "Go ahead and call the cops," he declared loudly to everyone, but in his head, "There's nothing they can do but ask some questions that have too many possible answers." He shook his head, had a drink, and paused to feel the eyes of the others piercing his back. "Call the cops. Freaks." Why did these people want him to leave, want him dead?
"The real problem," he noted, "is that everybody, no matter how often you remind them, rarely if ever, truly live for one second. The preoccupation with future circumstance, the incessant worry about past occurrences, the search for the fusion of the two, the relationship, these notions destroy the possibility of seeing things as they really occur. It is impossible to conceive of existing without words on your mind. Tell me what you are thinking. Wait. Shhhh. I forgot to tell you. Once it is uttered, it is either a recollection of some past feeling or the anticipation of one, as of yet unknown. Either way the moment has slipped away and now floats in the realm of expectation, remembrance or regret. But I run as fast as I can, and some days when I have achieved sufficient head start, I sit down and think of nothing. I smell the world. I listen to the wind. I feel myself press against the earth. I hear my heartbeat inside of my head, and strangely, if I have created the critical distance between myself and those I love, I live for a second or two. And if I am fortunate enough to have forgotten myself I realize that nothing ever changes, just the minds that perceive it."
Johnny stared at the bartender as she filled a glass. He wondered who she really was, what she looked like without her game face, her apron, and her dirty sneakers. He wondered what she knew, what kept her up at night. He was prepared to ask her about the situation, to see if there was anything he could do. Being a writer, he was always prepared to offer some custom tailored advise. But when she approached, he held up his glass and nodded, opting to quickly look away, as if something else was demanding his attention. On a napkin he wrote, "words -- reality -- mix -- of some sort -- the blend -- da ta da ta da...." I turned it over.
He watched as an odd man entered the bar. He seemed too regular to be normal. Johnny paid particular attention to the manner in which the man surveyed the room and selected his spot. "What is this guys motivation?" thought Johnny. "Why there, as opposed to here?" He took a deep breath and looked away, unable to deal with the man any longer. He lit a cigarette and turned on his stool to the opposite direction. There was something about this man that overwhelmed him with a sense of impending evil, something bad yet to be untapped.
"The influence of one's father, or lack there of, sinks it roots much deeper into the fabric of a growing mind, than is ordinarily agreed upon. It would seem that the simple rule of action/reaction would apply, but it may be more complex, or conversely more simplistic than that. I would conjecture that the worst way to solidify a child's belief in any given institution, activity, or otherwise rule restrictive environment, is to demand that they participate or practice against their will. The results can be disastrous. An alternative solution, or manipulation technique, derived exclusively from, well it's hard to say where, but at any rate, from the brighter side of the road, would be as follows: simple exposure, appeal to the mysterious, and demonstrated love, of any kind, to the object of the persuasion."
Johnny turned back to the bar and surrounded the man with his attention. He felt sorry for him, and secretly wished that life had treated him better. On the back of the napkin he wrote, "parenthood -- show the kid -- leave it to them -- remember the guy." I neatly folded the napkin and slid it gently under the pack of cigarettes sitting on the bar.
He suddenly felt the air around him become heavy with presence and heard the legs of a wooden stool scrape across the sticky floor. Arranging herself on the stool next to him was a new woman of slightly older age. She smelled of nice inexpensive department store perfume, not too much, just enough to speckle the air. Her hair was tired of being crafted forcefully over the years into shapes and styles. A pack of Virginia Slims sat on the bar, and as if some connection were made by the action, she coughed lightly as Johnny looked at them and wondered about brand selection. He moved his own pack to or three inches and made the box symmetrically correct in relation to the boundaries of the bar. The napkin graffittied with his wisdom sat unexposed. Reaching to conceal it, he could sense that the woman was looking at it. A feeling of warm foolishness surfaced about his head and neck making him stop. He felt trapped as though he had been caught with his fly down by someone in an elevator and left unable to remedy the situation without drawing undo attention from others in the process. He looked her in the eyes and smiled. She returned a smile and then looked into the empty space in front of her while lighting a cigarette. Temporarily unable to think for himself, he did the same. The napkin remained where it was.
He drank quickly as though it was getting to be about that time, that time of sad realization that all good men have when they know they have to go but really don't want to, like it's a damn shame that other things need attention as well. "Everyone hurts," he thought, fancying himself that man but really going nowhere, owing nothing to anyone else at the time. A bright orange come topped his cigarette from being sucked repeatedly and to forcefully. He studied his wristwatch and shook his head. He looked down the bar for the bartender and caught the eyes of the woman he had nearly forgotten in the process of trying to keep behaviorally oriented. She smiled again then looked down into her lap. A small giggle escaped her. She looked back at him, his focus remaining the same and she smiled shyly. "What is this lady's problem," he thought, "coming in here, sitting next to me and smiling like everybody's nice and friendship is something that can found any time you want it? What if I don't want a friend? What then? So I'm the bad guy now. And I didn't ask for any of this shit. Fuckin' place." He tried to think of something else and time was all there was. He felt stupid for not really noticing the time when he looked at his watch just moments before. He turned away from her, sat back and scratched his chin having stumbled on to another observation that required investigation. His mind drifted.
"I could shed a tear for all the people in the world. It is sad at best and destructive at it's worst, yet it is largely something that remains unknown or ignored out of ignorance, maybe fear. I could cry all day and cry all night. I could explain my tears to those around me each time it occurred. Or I could do nothing and things would remain the same. I could draw charts and create logic. I could hold a hand and gently walk someone through the process, show them the beginning and tell them things of the end. I could stick someone with a needle and say, "See that hurts. It is sharp and not to be played with and certainly not meant to pierce peoples skin. But strangely enough when you point it at someone and push that is exactly what happens and now you are upset. Let's take this model, of things that are not supposed to make pain, of things that give us the same results consistently, and of the emotions that naturally occur in their presence and extrapolate, extrapolate to any degree you would like." But then again who am I to say anything or stick someone with a needle. Who really has the pain, who does the suffering? Is it the guy who runs himself into the ground trying desperately to stay in stride with the world, the guy who prides himself on his associations and their implications, the guy who fears God and acts accordingly, the guy who fights with his wife about things can't and won't be changed by either of them, the guy who doesn't realize anything can be done with the proper resolve and savvy? Or is it me, the guy who thinks about it too much and in the end winds up having forgotten to do anything really, having been caught in the metaphysical implications of it all, the relentless swirl with no discernable beginning or end, just a bunch of things that can mean anything at all in relation to each other depending exclusively upon the application, and desperately in search of someone who thinks the same."
He sat upright and ran his hand through his hair then checked his palm for sweat. Feeling as though he had been lost momentarily in time he grabbed the napkin and looked for some space to write. He quickly looked about the room, at the man across the bar watching the television, at the bartender taking inventory, and the woman by his side fumbling through her purse. He captured what little he could surmise from the passage, "clearly confused about something -- motives likely -- preempted by random slut."
I looked into the glass, at the watered whiskey sitting on the bottom and the sad, melted ice. Johnny Quick Pen stared back at me through a wet reflection. He smiled at me and I smiled at him, one and the same. I winked at him. He obliged. I picked up the glass and tilted my head back, draining the last of the whiskey and placed it in a puddle in the bar. Johnny grabbed the pen and looked at it, wondering what else it might someday convey, whose hands it might fall into, and what that might mean for others along the way. The bartender slid a bill onto the bar and walked away. I twirled the pen and signed. I grabbed the napkins and slid them into my pocket, along with them went Johnny Quick Pen, at least for now. I walked out side, shielded my eyes from the blinding sun, and lit a cigarette for us. I turned on the radio and drove away smiling. Johnny had his own interpretation of the song on the radio and sang a custom set of lyrics as he always did. I listened intently and felt sad for not having a free hand to write.
A rabbi and his friend, a priest, are in Hemingway's studio on the second floor of the cottage behind his house in Key West. It is an August day, 11:55 AM.
Rabbi: R Priest: P
|R||I've come here to learn from the Master.|
|P||What can you learn from this dead man? In his life, he was obsessed with violence and death.|
|R||Whatever his Spirit reveals.|
|R||What are ghosts known to reveal?|
|P||Never spoke to a ghost.|
|R||Not the Holy Ghost? Not Christ?|
|P||I felt Their Presence. Nothing more. Have you talked to a ghost?|
|P||You never told me.|
|R||You never asked.|
|P||What did the ghost say?|
|R||It's a secret!|
|P||Forget it! So you're gonna speak to Hemingway's ghost?|
|P||If he appears, what will you ask him?|
|R||I'll ask: "Why did you stand up for hours and write on the top of your bookcase?|
|P||He did that?|
|R||Yeah. (He starts to nod off.)|
|P||Did you get enough sleep last night?|
|R||No. I was busy writing a sermon for the Sabbath.|
|P||I'm getting tired just looking at you.|
|R||Don't look. (He pauses.) And I'll ask: "Why did you write in the morning from 6 AM till noon? Occasionally till 2 PM, not later?"|
|P||What did he do in the afternoon?|
|R||He had fun. He swam or fished or... (He starts to nod off again.)|
|P||How many hours did you sleep?|
|P||Make it four tonight. We have a big day tomorrow.|
|R||Sure. What's the occasion?|
|R||Yes, it's inevitable. Both familiar and unfamiliar. Sometimes uncanny. (He pauses.) And I'll ask: "Why so many wives? Why did you love hunting and bullfights and war? Were you a religious man? Why did you love cats?"|
|P||Won't you ask him why he committed suicide?|
|R||No! He told me this morning. (There's a long silence. The rabbi sways back and forth like a branch on a tree struck by a powerful wind that continues to beat and bend it and make it bow to its whirling will.)|
|P||How many pills did you take?|
|R||A lot. Yet not enough. Just enough to climb and swing from birches and return. It's a sin to swing all the way to the other side.|
|R||Blame it on Hemingway's ghost and all the incomprehensible evils on earth and my absence of faith.|
|P||If that's the case, I should have done the same. But...|
|R||We'd better go now. I've got to sleep this off. If I sleep all day, wake me for supper. Wanna sleep after midnight.|
|P||What about Hemingway's ghost?|
|R||Just spoke to him again.|
|P||What did he say?|
|R||He whispered: "A man who reveals secrets is a dead man!"|
|R||Did you hear what I just said?|
|P||Well, at least tell me how he looked.|
|R||Marvelous! Like a majestic cat! More beautiful than an African game trophy! Wanted to shoot him and mount him on the wall!|
|P||Yet you didn't.|
|R||No! When he revealed his secrets, a giant cat clawed me. Severed my soul from my body. Ripped my brains out. And fed me to myself. After the metamorphosis, I was too tired to shoot.|
|R||He's gone. I'd better leave too.|
|P||Of course. Get some sleep!|
|R||Four hours tonight.|
|P||At least. We have a long day tomorrow.|
|R||Tomorrow is always long.|
|P||Until it exists no more. (They walk off-stage. Suddenly, the rabbi moves gracefully, as if the wild wind that had subdued him were now a prisoner too of the invisible and omnipotent universe.)|
One day the angels came to present themselves to the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"
Satan answered the Lord, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." (Job 1: 6-7)
As I grew up in Boise, Idaho, I learned from my parents that there were a couple of people my brother and I were forbidden to talk about in the house: one was Spokane Annie, Dad's wife before he married Mom, and the other was known simply as Andrea. Because of her extreme religious convictions (Andrea claimed to be an exorcist), Andrea was never welcome in our house though she visited Boise perhaps twice a year just to keep in touch with my mother.
In my fourth year at the University of Oregon, I developed an interest in members of my own family whom I had rarely if ever seen. I knew Andrea lived just north of Portland, in an old mansion overlooking the ocean, so on spring break in 1972 my wife and I took a trip upon to see the strange relative.
I found Andrea eccentric but somewhat likable and so nurtured a relationship that continued until her death in 1998. A couple of years before her death, she told me the following story in order to explain her fascination with exorcism.
A beautiful fifteen-year-old blonde with the faith of Augustine, Andrea Slocumb lived in an old red and green trim Victorian style house on land overlooking the Oregon coast north of Portland. It was like living in the middle of a jungle, she told me many years later. Her parents did not believe in upkeep and did not hire workers to keep up their property, an inheritance from the mother's reputedly wicked side of the family. Consequently, the grass grew long and wild, and bushes and trees blanketed the area in a riot of vegetation.
The Stone Hills region, as the area was called, had rain ten months of the year, and during the two summer months showers were common. During the winter, an oppressive fog hung continually over the heavy forest, and during the evening, Andrea could not see through the thick gray cloud bank to the ocean, whose proximity she knew only by the sound of waves crashing on the cliff below her house.
When her father, Dr. Luther Slocumb, moved with his wife into the house in the late '30's, most people in the Northwest had learned to avoid Stone Hills. Tales of mysterious goings-on, of supernatural visitations and manifestations, of unusually grisly murders involving dismemberment and decapitation kept even the locals uneasy.
In the winter of 1953, her father -- a tall balding man with a graying beard and thick glasses -- was a professor of psychology, teaching at a small local college. Her mother Agnes, a striking women with short-cropped raven hair and blood-red lips, was a renowned psychologist who had devoted much of her life studying the relationship between the psyche and supernatural phenomenon. Agnes' doctoral dissertation, Occult Phenomena and the Subconscious Mind, became a book that revolutionized the field of mental health. Indeed, Andrea's mother and father claimed to believe that most so-called supernatural experiences were induced by the person experiencing the delusions. As proof of their blatant disregard for the supernatural, they had decorated their house with occult artifacts from all over the world.
In response to her parents' beliefs, Andrea began attending St. Mark's Episcopal Church by the Sea, a small white-washed, wooden building with a bell in the steeple when she was seven. The church's minister, the once youthful and energetic but now aged and stooped Father Don Gritman, had had a tremendous influence upon Andrea. To her dying day, Andrea credited her steadfast faith to Father Gritman. Too, when she was twelve, she began reading whatever she could find on the subject of exorcism. Demons fascinated and frightened her.
In Andrea's fifteenth year, the worst of her nightmares began two weeks after Christmas. And they continued for thirty-three days. The first night was "a descent into the Pit of Hell," as she would often later describe it. Her "descent" occurred on a particularly dark night of the third day following Christmas.
She had spent the night "wallowing in a nightmare of blood," dreaming of bleeding crucifixes, bloody bats, and wolves' heads with missing eyes when she awoke with a start. Eyes wide open, pulse pounding in her brain, she knew she had heard something move in her room, located on the third floor of the house. Strange sounds-poundings on the walls, footsteps on the roof, doors slamming in other parts of the house, an old woman screaming through the night were not uncommon in the mansion and had increased in occurrence in the past year, but this one -- the sound of a hulking man-beast walking through the forest, breaking dry wood with every step -- set Andrea particularly on edge and froze her blood.
Chilled and sweaty, Andrea struggled to move her arms and legs to sit up but felt bound by invisible ropes, as if a gigantic spider's web had been thrown over her. Unable to sit up, feeling crushing pain in her chest when she attempted to do so, she tilted her head up and turned her eyes slowly to the foot of the bed. She saw nothing but swirling darkness and knew as surely as she was alive that some panting thing -- a man -- was standing there. She felt as if her soul were being yanked from her body.
As she listened over the roar of her own heartbeat, she heard the thing's labored breathing, as if it were gasping for breath. As she listened, trembling, Andrea discerned what she later described as a "low whimpering bark" and knew then that the man had been sent by Satan to claim her soul.
Terrified, she tried shouting for her mother and father, asleep in separate rooms on the second floor in the room just below hers, but she could not open her mouth. Panic surged within her, as she felt the blood from her heart flowing into the dark presence, and remembering one of the chapters from The Exorcist's Handbook (a sixteenth century book printed by the Jesuits) she forced her mind to pray, something Father Don had told her to do whenever she felt overcome by a nightmare. As she silently prayed, reciting the Beatitudes, Andrea found strength within her and forced the anxiety out of her thoughts.
The anxiety, she remembered reading in a book Father Don had given her, generally signaled the demonic. Drenched in sweat, Andrea glanced back at the foot of her bed, hoping that the presence had dissipated along with all of the other waking nightmares she had experienced from the time she was five or six, but the presence stayed, darkly intangible. And she again shut her eyes, willing the thing away, never daring to look, frightened by a swirling black mass that represented a bridge between the natural and supernatural.
Somehow -- Andrea never knew how it was possible to do so -- she drifted off to sleep an hour or so before sunrise.
The next morning, beginning a pattern that she would follow for nearly a month, Andrea dragged herself into the breakfast room, an enclosed balcony that hung out over the cliff leading down to the pounding ocean. She was too exhausted for school. On the counter, illuminated by the kitchen light, an old book titled Legends of Sardonicus lay open. The book had been in this same place, open to the same picture since before Christmas, and on Christmas Eve she had leafed through the text, committing some of the grotesque pictures and stories to memory. The book was filled with pictures of ghouls.
Now, stunned by the visitation of the night before, she sat listlessly in her straight-backed chair at breakfast table, tendrils of blonde hair falling over her eyes, pushing her cold bacon and eggs with her fork. She was pale as a sheet, and her mother stared coldly at her from across the table. Her father had left for the college an hour before.
"A bad night, church girl?" Agnes asked in a slightly sarcastic, even mocking tone. Andrea's mother had never taken Andrea's recounting of her usually blood-soaked nightmares seriously and generally attributed them to the fact that her daughter went to a church whose primitive beliefs that gave rise to the psychoses many therapists devoted their lives to healing. Andrea had had nightmares for as long as anyone in the house could remember and insisted, in argument after argument with her parents, that the dreams came from the Devil. Occasionally, when moved to do so, Andrea would read to her mother passages from The Exorcist's Handbook in order to drive her point home.
"Yes," Andrea finally said, too drained of blood and energy to feel angry over her mother's haughty indifference. "A wickedly bad night. But this one was as real as the bacon I am moving with my fork. It was as real as the moon. I am sure of it. This dream was yanked from Hell's bloody pit."
Her mother's head lashed back, as if she had been struck on the cheek, but then she quickly steadied herself. Andrea knew her mother found the use of strong descriptive language objectionable. Then, her mother assumed a cold, arrogant, even distant look that spoke worlds: Agnes believed her daughter to be marginally insane and certainly judged her to be contemptible.
"Honey, you poor, pallid little creature," her mother said, sipping thick black coffee, "you're just having more bad dreams. Bad, bad dreams. Everyone has dreams and an occasional nightmare. Even your father. Even Freud. Even God." Here Agnes laughed. "Besides, you saw nothing."
"Something was there," Andrea mumbled, remembering again how the thing had drained her energy and blood. "I sure as hell saw something."
Possibly peeved by her daughter's language, the mother paused to glance across the table at Andrea. "But everyone gets over these dreams," her mother added. "They're nothing, these dreams. You'll outgrow them. I've always told you that. Just get over them. Be a big girl now."
"When?" Andrea said, too tired to think straight. "When? I've had nightmares since I was six." For Andrea, nightmares were as common as raisins.
"When you decide to let them go, dear," came the response.
Determined more than ever never to marry, never to have children, Andrea often wondered if her mother treated patients in this same frigid, hostile manner. Studying her plate, she decided that she wasn't hungry and stood and left the table.
The nightly visitations continued, Andrea always suddenly awaking, aware that she had heard the sound of dry twigs cracking. Every night, she sensed the dark presence at the foot of her bed, sucking her energy and blood. She thought at one point that, in the darkness, she could just make out a reddish glow bouncing off the foot of her bed. She was sure she smelled blood.
One night, as she lay in bed fighting sleep which would snap her up like a dragon and seeking a source for these recent visitations, Andrea remembered having seen a picture in a nineteenth century theater textbook that her father kept in a bookshelf in the cellar. She had looked through the book several years ago, and now realized that it was the same book that she had seen on Christmas Eve: Legends of Sardonicus. How, she wondered, could I have not made the obvious connection? Her father and mother had kept hundreds of old books on the occult in a dark corner of the basement for as long as she could remember. What she particularly remembered about the book was a disturbing picture just inside the hard cover of the book. It was as if the picture had life of its own; she had noticed that where ever she moved, the eyes of the ghoulishly grinning, gray-skinned man in the picture seemed to follow her. According to one of the legends contained in the book, Sardonicus was a ghoul who craved his victim's blood and soul.
The story and picture had made a lasting impression. She knew, as she lay in bed, that she had identified the invisible presence.
That night, hours later, as she jolted sickeningly awake, she found herself sitting upright in bed. As she waited, breathing rapidly, she stared at the darkness. With the help of the little light provided by the full moon that danced red behind the perpetual shroud of clouds that cloaked the land, she could barely make out shapes in her room: her writing desk to her left and just below the great window, her European closet to her right, and the straight-backed chair on the other side of the room. The room seemed filled with an unnatural darkness that clung to the corners and walls.
She looked at the silhouette of the great chair that sat just before the window overlooking the ocean and realized, slowly, with a gasp, that someone was sitting there. In silence, she heard the labored guttural breathing over the sound of the waves breaking and the wind buffeting the house. She visualized the ghoulish grin frozen on the man's face, felt his eyes on her, boring into her; yet she could not make out his face.
She was sure this was Sardonicus but, try as she might, could not utter his name. Then, slowly, conscious surely that it was being watched, the figure rose, stood tall and thin, moved to her left and towards the wall, and was swallowed by the darkness. The thing had gone into the wall. As she sat in bed, heart beating rapidly, she said weakly "Who's there?" and waited, motionless for perhaps an hour, sensing the thing move slowly through the wall towards her. She tried to scream, and found that she could not.
Surely, this is death, she told herself. This is death stalking me.
"Yes," hissed a voice somewhere from the darkness to her right, "this is death."
Andrea's heart stopped beating, and she imagined something dark gripping her neck.
She had the impression of having broken through to something forbidden, knew in an instant that Satan and his legions did populate the dark places of the planet. Inwardly, she forced herself to cry to God. Dark cold penetrated her body, filled it like freezing black grease, and, for an instant, trembling, out of her mind, she knew that she would die; her blood would turn to ice before the night was out.
She began silently saying the twenty-third Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd,/ I shall not want...." Mysteriously, as the minutes ticked by, she finally lost consciousness and drifted back to sleep.
For the entire next day, as she numbly moved through classes, she felt as if her brain had become fragmented. Yet, distraught as she was, she asked her parents over dinner that evening about the book in the cellar. A violent winter storm was sweeping the area, and the house shook from the screaming wind. When she told them about the visitation and mentioned her belief that the mysterious being in her room and the man in the photo -- Sardonicus -- were the same, her parents only glanced at each other in what seemed a conspirational silence. Her mother smiled; her father frowned.
"Why do you keep such a thing, this evil book?" she hissed first at her father, seated at one end of the long table, and then her mother, seated at the other end. Both parents were dressed like they were going to a formal evening dinner party. With the question, her mind refocused and the sense of splitting into pieces, vanished. "At the very least, the fucking thing gives me the worst nightmare of my life." She stopped, frozen. Never before had she used the word "fucking" in front of her parents.
Abruptly, her parents stopped eating, staring hatefully at each other for several minutes, the wind outside blasting at the old house, shaking the pine tree branches rubbing against the windows. Finally, looking straight ahead and beyond her husband at the window behind him, her mother answered in a restrained voice, "I used the book years ago when I wrote my dissertation on the connection between so-called occult phenomenon and the human psyche. Though it reached legendary status, the Sardonicus story does have some factual basis."
"Agnes," the father began, timidly. Andrea had known for a long time that her father feared her mother.
"The book came from your father's family," the mother added, glancing at her daughter.
"Agnes, please," the father pleaded, weakly clearing his throat.
"I think she needs to know, Luther old boy," Agnes responded, and it occurred to Andrea that her mother was slightly drunk from too much red dinner wine. "Since the one who became known as Sardonicus belongs in your family, I think you're the one to tell her."
Andrea was stunned. What did this mean, she wondered? She had read bits of the book, and having assumed that the Sardonicus' legends had no basis in reality, she was now being told that someone on her father's side of the family, many years ago, had done something to earn the name. "What does this mean, father?" she asked. "Did this character really exist?"
At this, the father's gaze fixed almost disdainfully for an instant upon Agnes. Then, moments later, the man's expression softened, and in the darkening gray of the evening he began. "Well, the story is simple enough. And no, Sardonicus never really existed except in the minds of the villagers who branded your great relative with a name that implied the commission of a transgression that I am sure he did not commit. Your great-great-great Grandfather Isaac lived in Rumania, in a section known in vampire folklore as Transylvania. Anyway, Isaac buried his father and later learned that his father had a winning lottery ticket upon him. Thus, as the story goes, Isaac spent one entire night digging up the father's grave, prying open the casket, and going through the corpse's pockets. Having found the ticket, he came home where he stumbled about in the darkness of the bedroom. This is where the story seems to lose connection with reality. According to the wife, whose accounting you'll find in that book, she only heard the man breathing laboriously through the mouth and steadily whimpering. When she lit the lamp, she was confronted by her husband's grotesquely disfigured face. Your great-grandfather had become a ghoul, grin frozen on his face, and as soon as word spread in the village he became known as Mr. Sardonicus. Word spread, too, that he was possessed by the devil."
In the pause, the wind outside grew silent, it seemed to Andrea as if the entire universe -- angels, demons, even God -- were peering through the large windows and into this room, listening to the father's tale.
The father continued. "Isaac apparently used the money to buy a castle where he remained -- and here we leap into the purely fantastic -- feasting according mainly off the blood of others. There. "
A pause ensured, as Andrea tried to absorb the chilling tale. "Jesus Christ," she whispered, just loud enough for both parents to hear, not sure if they were swearing or praying.
"There is no record of Sardonicus' death," her father concluded, sniffing in professorial fashion. "Some say he just vanished."
Pieces of the puzzle were falling into place as Andrea forced her thoughts to the sudden whoosh of the rain outside the dining room windows, hoping to cleanse her mind of the image her father's story had implanted in her brain, and began silently praying for her own soul. She decided that the next day, after school, she would take the book out of the house and go into the town church, where she would talk to Father Don.
But even though she searched every part of the cellar, every nook and cranny of the house, Andrea didn't find the book the next day or the day after and couldn't go to the old priest, who had died a month earlier and whose rotting corpse had recently been found in his bed. (And then, in an epiphanal moment over lunch at school one day, it occurred to her that, possibly, her mother was using her for experimentation.)
Experimentation or not, the visitations continued. Every night, Andrea tried to sit up in bed; most nights she was bound, as with a rope; every night she struggled to call out to her parents; every night she knew terror.
Andrea told me that on one particular night she opened her eyes in the darkness, certain that something had whispered her name, caught a glimpse, and shut them again. The room was freezing. The man was there, standing at the foot of her bed for the twenty-seventh night in a row. She could clearly see his emaciated shape now, his mouth a hideous grin.
She tightly shut her eyes, felt freezing fear start at her feet and work its way up her body to her head as she sensed the man slowly approach her. She could hear and feel him walking from the foot of the bed to where she lay. The fear felt like something dark and prickly sliding through her. Her tongue began to feel numb, as if coated by a fungus, and her mouth felt as if a stick ran from the roof of her mouth and into her throat; she listened to the rapid beating of her heart and felt the man's thin dry hands crawl over her face. The hands were large dirty spiders. She knew the man was standing right over her; she could smell the rotting stench, hear the man breathe through his teeth, but refused to open her eyes.
She lay stiff as a board, trembling, breathing rapidly, trapped in the horrible darkness that held the man, who by now was leaning over her. Pulling her sheet away from her, he ran one hand over her young body, exploring her femininity. It was hideous; she felt vile, like something dipped in bat dung. And then she began to pray aloud: "Our Father Who art in heaven, hallowed be...."
"Praying won't help you," the man hissed, inches from her ear. She felt sweat trickle down her neck.
Her mouth dry as cotton, she began again: "Our Father, Who art...."
"God can't hear you!" the man growled. "God can't hear you!! He'll never hear you." His voice seemed to go through her, sharp, like a sword.
Andrea looked at the foot of the bed, too frightened to respond.
"He'll never hear you," the creature said, "because he can't. He doesn't exist. So, little girl, you have to come with me." Slowly, the man climbed into the bed and positioned himself so that he was lying on Andrea, trying to press himself into her. Andrea couldn't stop shaking.
Silently, feeling that she was suffocating, she prayed to Jesus, and as she did she suddenly remembered a sermon she had heard long ago, given by Father Don, on breaking the power of darkness. It was a sermon on deliverance from demonic oppression and possession. "Oh Sweet Jesus," she wept aloud, her voice cracking, searching her mind for the words the old priest had counseled people to say when faced with evil. "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!"
"He can't help!!" the creature shrieked, obviously shaken, jumping off the bed, standing erect, putting its hands over its ears, then spinning backwards, then coming right at Andrea.
Before Andrea had a chance to continue her prayer, the thing had her by the hair, was dragging her shrieking, clawing, and biting out of bed and across the floor and then hitting her in the face again and again.
As Andrea knelt before the thing, her mind dizzy from the blows, she heard something inside of her tell her to pray again. Pray, pray, pray, it said.
So, her face bruised and her nose bleeding, Andrea summoned her strength and faith, and exclaimed with what she described years later as the power of an exorcist, "I bind you, Sardonicus, arms, legs, feet, and hands. I bind you, dirty hellish rat, to Perdition. I commit you, in Jesus' name, to the furthest pit of Hell!" Her voice, she told me, was uncommonly bold, other worldly, as if something or someone were speaking through her. Her voice was deafening, she claimed.
The effect was stunning and immediate. As a slight breeze began to move through the bedroom, the creature released Andrea and quickly backed away. "No, no, you fucking wicked shit-faced brat!" came the horrible voice, now trembling, cracking. "Not this shit!" The thing shrieked like a caged beast, shaking the walls of the room. "You little cunt!" it screamed. "You rotten little cunt!"
As the breeze built to a wind, Andrea continued the prayer again, knowing that the creature was becoming powerless, and willed it to be cast forever into the great outer darkness.
During her prayer, wind blasting about her, Andrea kept her eyes off the creature, afraid to look. Suddenly, the night became deathly still, like the train of death suddenly stopping at night in the middle of nowhere, and Andrea didn't move. As the thing shrieked and bellowed, Andrea glanced up, knew immediately that she had somehow opened a gate to Hell. She saw a yellow fiery glow surrounding the man, bright as the explosion from a nuclear bomb, and a dark funnel cloud spinning, spinning, spinning out from the center of the yellow and enveloping and crushing the figure. As her neck froze and the top of her head went numb, she sensed as well something huge and unnamable striding boldly, angrily for the creature known as Sardonicus, wondering at the same time what being it was that strode to and fro across the face of the earth. The fading glow provided illumination in the room and allowed Andrea to notice that, around the room, her walls and ceiling were thickly dripping with blood. Blood poured down the wall from the ceiling, staining the wall paper and carpet, filling the room with a sickening metallic stench that made Andrea puke.
She felt, then, the larger darker presence in the room, knew instinctively that this other thing also had a personality and that it had come to claim Sardonicus. As a woman of faith, bound to God, she knew the dark prince could not touch her. As the darkness swirled and swirled, Andrea could see Sardonicus, hands over his ears and eyes shut, twisting like a leaf, slowly disappearing, consumed by the dark cloud, which sucked him out of the natural realm like a black hole. As she watched, the darkness in the center of the yellow growing larger, Sardonicus disappeared into nothingness with one fierce, rafter-shaking how.
Andrea sat and thought, panting like a beast. Shivering, she knew that according to her handbook the spirit would return several more times before it was completely banished from the household. Each time, however, the battle would be a little less intense than the one before.
It must have been a half hour later that Andrea finally responded to the knocking on the door. Tired, bruised, nearly beaten, Andrea rose from the floor, used the back of her arm to wipe the partially-dried blood from her nose, and approached and opened the door.
It was her mother, dressed in a winter robe, smoking a cigarette, and smiling disdainfully. "Everything all right in here, little one?" Agnes asked, blowing smoke into her daughter's room.
Andrea shuddered. You fucking old witch, she silently spat at her mother. Somehow, Andrea thought, Agnes is responsible for this.
For a minute, Andrea stared at her mother, saying nothing, wondering if Sardonicus had been figment of her imagination, a psychotic construction of her own superstitious nature. Maybe, she suddenly thought, her mother had been right all along.
"I said, Andrea darling, is every thing hunky-dory?" Agnes asked. "I thought I heard screams."
"You did," Andrea said, "mine and his."
"Your... and, what, Sardonicus'?"
"Step in, mother, and see for yourself," Andrea beckoned. "Feel these fucking walls." Glancing back into her room, Andrea had noticed that walls were indeed covered in blood. She wondered how her mother could not smell this.
"You sure?" Agnes stated, teetering slightly.
"Come on in," Andrea repeated the invitation.
Agnes stepped into the room. Andrea watched her mother's expression change as Agnes looked slowly around the whole room, a sickly smile on her face, and then slowly put her hand on the wall next to the door. Agnes stepped back and held up her hand for her daughter to see. The hand was smeared with blood.
"Well, Mother, what do you think?" Andrea asked.
"Quite a little nightmare you've had here, honey," replied Agnes, staring at the walls and wiping her bloodied hand onto her robe.
"There's blood on these fucking walls, Mother! Am I making that up?" Andrea shouted.
But Agnes simply turned to her daughter, leaned forward to give her a cold peck on the cheek, and then said in the hollow, determined voice that had become her mark among her peers, "Nothing is wrong, Andrea. Nothing at all. Actually, everything is at it should be. Now, good night, honey bunch."
"Be sure to come back for more tomorrow," Andrea hissed at her mother, surprised by the new bold hatred she felt for Agnes. Andrea watched her mother walk stiffly down the hall to the staircase. Secretly, as Agnes began descending the stairs, Andrea wished her mother an eternity in hell.
Now certain that the battle with her mother as well as the powers of darkness had only begun, confident in her newly discovered God-given ability to kick hell out of the devil and all his legions, Andrea shut the door and went back to bed. She needed to save her energy for Sardonicus, who would return the next night. Picking the handbook off her night stand and clutching it to her chest in the dark room, Andrea was sure he would return.
The walk to the restaurant was steeply downhill until the Library Mall, and then straight four blocks toward the capitol. K. was in a capital mood, K. was smiling to himself, and as he crossed onto the Library Mall he saw a group of sun-tanned brown summer people playing catch with a synthetic, brightly-colored Frisbee. He also saw a small child and even smaller dog playing in the circular water fountain at the Mall's center, and as his eyes moved back and forth between the synthetic, brightly-colored Frisbee and the circular water fountain with its small child and even smaller dog, he also saw bees, yellow and black and buzzing, sexually harassing all the flowery flower flowers. Just then he felt a cool, moist wind blow across his body: he looked up and saw a blue-infected sky with birds speeding, speeding by as if heading toward a field saturated with seeds and bread crumbs and more seeds and even more bread crumbs. The energy rushing through it all was the energy gushing through all things, never stopping, always going, the chaos and beauty of all things seen at once, the chaos and beauty of all things enveloping him like ancient ambient fluid, the beauty and chaos of all things proved and substantiated, all things added and subtracted and multiplied and divided, the beauty and chaos of all things Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. Lisa, Lisa, Lisa: that was the name K. gave all of it. K. kept walking.
Past the Library Mall were street vendors selling Lisa-tasting food and Lisa-tasting drinks, and as K. pushed his way through the crowd all the people made Lisa-like sounds and walked with smooth Lisa-like movements. It was Lisa standing round and round and round, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, and all the buildings were made of Lisa-stone and Lisa-wood and Lisa-nails and Lisa-labor and Lisa-blueprints and Lisa-plaster and Lisa-wire, and there was the smell of Lisa in the air and on the ground and on his skin and breath, because everything and nothing was Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, all of it growing larger and larger and more and more like Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. He looked at his Lisa-watch and picked up his Lisa-pace, because he was Lisa-late, and then he offered up a Lisa-prayer to the Lisa-gods: Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, the Lisa-energy that gushes through everything, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, all of it Lisa and nothing and nothing and her a nothing too, but what a sweet, sweet, sweet nothing. Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, holy be thy name, thy Lisa be done as it is in Lisa, Lisa, Lisa: full of Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, the Lisa-energy that rushes through all things is Lisa.
Silence: She goes into her room and closes the door behind her. Firmly, but not a slam. She stands there for a while, looking out the window. It is hot and green outside. The air conditioning is going. Central air conditioning. The rock stars on the posters on the walls are staring at her carefully, seriously. Her bed is made and her mother has laid out tomorrow's school clothes on the bedspread. She wonders what her mother thinks when she goes into her room to clean and put her clothes away, and what the posters are all about.
She watched her father at dinner tonight. He poked with his fork, chewed, and talked. She talked too, but watched more than she talked. She couldn't decide if he was more the work-guy who was her dad, or her dad who was the work-guy. And her mom -- was she the work-guy's wife, or her dad's wife? These thoughts no longer just came up at dinner time, but started to cross her mind when school let out, sometimes earlier.
Other kids had moms and dads who seemed happier with them, warmer. They talked about things. She felt slight embarrassment in their homes, the parents who were so overflowing with kindness that she felt almost a part of the family wherever she went. These kids were different, they were going to be different. And they would look at her differently, if they did not already. She felt as if their friendship just might be charity. And what did they talk about when she was not there. She would imagine walking up to them and then they would automatically start in with the bland, overly-friendly chat, their mothers already having told them to be nice and smile and laugh if they think she is telling a joke. It was horrible and she felt horrible about it. Like she was imposing, always. There was no way to get past that and make things normal, like with everybody else.
She goes over to the wall and disconnects the phone, taking the jack out of the wall. She ties one end around the door knob of the closet and sits against the door. She reaches back and pulls the dangling cord over her shoulder and winds up something resembling an old-fashioned noose, making a large loop and wrapping the slack around the top of the loop several times. She curls the remaining slack under one of the small winding loops and places the large loop over her head, around her neck. She sits there with legs straight out and arms by her sides, palms flat on the floor and wonders if she feels bad enough to do something like this.
Silence: She is smoking a cigarette, watching him lie there. He is breathing. She thinks he is breathing. She sits up in her chair and looks again, for the twentieth time at least. Yes, he is breathing. He is still face down, in the same position as yesterday. She caught a few hour's sleep on the couch. She did not want to be near him when he woke up. Not at that moment. That's also why she only slept for a few hours and not very well at that. She leaned over to the right and saw that the blood had dried. It had dried since yesterday, and there was a small brown stain on the bedspread, near the back of his head. The cut had coagulated and it was beginning to scab over, but it was stretched over the swelled lump that was the point of contact. Around the cut the hair was matted and looked like some kind of fur or wig hair.
She had washed the underside of the pan this morning, fried some eggs in it, washed it again, and put it away. She skipped lunch. There were some donuts, but she didn't want any. She wondered if he would ever wake up. Somehow it seemed inevitable. It just had not happened yet. He'd better get up. She dug a fingernail in between the curlers with her cigarette hand. There was no fucking way he was going to walk out in the middle of an argument just so he could get drunk and pass out on that good bedspread.
Silence: He opened his eyes and realized he was awake. He never really slept well after having drank so much the previous night. Just lying there, exhausted from staying up all night and the booze having left a toilet ring of dull pain around his head. One beer and he slept like a baby. More than a six pack or twelve and he slept like shit, body trying futilely to sweat. The alcohol forced so much fluid out of his body, which also encouraged hangovers to start quickly, and then he'd try to sleep, clammy all over and with a major headache. It had been like this, especially so since he had hung up the phone four hours ago.
He looked at the clock -- 12:15pm in red digital. When the call came he forced out some alertness, agreed to meet at a certain time -- 3:00pm. Then, exhausted, he closed his eyes and tried to log some more down time. He'd need it. Now it was 12:15pm in red digital. Worry crept into his belly. Jesus, the call had come. He peered over the sheet which was drawn up to his nose while lying on his side. She had cried.
That's why he was scared. If she hadn't cried, physically cried, then maybe a discrete apology would have covered it. After all, he didn't go through with it, couldn't. Too drunk. That's right. But she was upset enough to cry and she would remember that -- forever -- and it wasn't so much that she had been upset enough to cry, it was that she actually cried. He remembered her face from last night, wet and unhappy. That was the reason, the actual reason. After that, he did not remember much. But what happened before, he tried to put it together like a lawyer would. He would need a lawyer.
Silence: He is sitting on the edge of the bed, near the pillows, wondering if he will want to go peepee when Mommy comes in the room. He does not feel like he has to go peepee right now. He feels a little sleepy and lies sideways against the pillows at the head of the bed. He made his bed and cleaned his room this morning. The pillow feels good against his face but he keeps one foot on the floor. He should be sitting up when Mommy comes in to take him to the bathroom. He does not think he has to go peepee right now.
Then the door knob rattle slightly and Mommy comes in the room. He sits up quickly and looks at her. "It's time to go peepee," Mommy says. "Come on," and she clasps her hands.
Mommy smells like a lot of perfume. Mommy follows him to the bathroom and tells him to pull down his pants and underpants and pull up his shirt and go peepee. When he has his pants down and shirt pulled up, Mommy stands very close and tells him to go. Nothing comes out. He says he doesn't have to go peepee right now. Mommy says "Why?" but does not wait for an answer. She grabs his upper arm and takes him out of the bathroom quickly, before he can pull up his pants and tuck in his shirt like he is supposed to do. Mommy is pulling his arm hard and then some peepee falls out and goes on her leg.
Mommy looks and sees what has happened. She says, "What the hell do you think you are doing?" and then a lot of peepee comes out very fast onto the carpet, so fast he can't stop it. Then it stops. Mommy looks at the dark spot on the carpet and then points and tells him he is going to clean this up right now. She looks real mad and squeezes his arm very tight. He looks up at her, arm raised in her hand and feels like more peepee wants to come out, but nothing else comes out. He feels like he wants to go No. 2 right now.
Silence: He is sitting there at the kitchen table, listening to it, and trying to find some voice-thought of consolation. Or apathy. That is because she is standing across the table from him, screaming. She says FAGGOT/LOSER/ PATHETiC/MOTHERFUCKER/COCKSUCKER/FAiLURETHATSWHATYOUARE. She is drinking, is drunk. Her face is contorted and ugly. Her hair is partly matted down and partly sticking up. Her eyes are bloodshot and she is slurring. It is not the words, he thinks, it's that shrill voice and that vicious face.
He rests his forehead against the butts of his hands, elbows on the table, trying not to look or listen. She continues inexorably. She is getting in some good digs, stuff that he really cannot respond to, partly because she is shit-faced. The rest was true, depending on your perspective. Frustrated, he slaps his hand down on the table, harder than he intended. She stops yelling immediately and stares at him, looking scared. He'd almost forgotten about that. He pushes his chair back away from the table and stands up. With as much deliberate patience as he can muster, he walks around the table towards her. She takes a step back. She asks what he is going to do, really asking. He moves in front of her with his hands by his sides. Her hands are down by her sides too, but she does not look at easy that way. He looks at her and can tell what she is thinking by the way her lower lip is trembling, eyebrows furrowed. It is a face he likes even less. He finds he likes her voice even less, too, when she cries out. It makes him hit harder.
Silence: He had stopped because he thought he heard something. He is standing in the hallway, in front of the bedroom door. The door is closed and from behind it he just heard someone say "Sshh," deliberately quiet, and what sounded like the bed sheets slowly rustling. He opens his mouth wide in order to breathe as quietly as possible and hear something else. There is nothing for the moment, a long moment. He realizes that the light is on behind him and that it is probably dark in there. That means they can see the shadows of his feet under the door.
He stands there, open-mouthed, letting his ears fine-tune the silence even more. He thinks he just heard someone say "I don't know!" He is looking at the door and remaining motionless. There is an itch on his face but he does not scratch because his jacket will make a noise. He wants to clear his throat but only swallows instead. He listens and hears nothing. That means that they are also being still and quiet and listening. They know. They see his feet under the door. Two of them -- that means that one of them is on his side of the bed. Maybe they are propped up on their elbows and watching to see if the shadows under the door move.
He backs away from the door, keeping the shadows in line with the original position, and turns, walking softly away from the door on the balls of his feet, avoiding the soft spots on the floor. He stops, turns and looks. The door is still closed. He hears nothing. He goes to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and sees that no one has touched the beer. He pulls one out, twists the cap off and stands there. He drinks it in long pulls, remaining in the same position. When he finishes, he decides to not throw the bottle away or even to take it with him. Before leaving out the back door, he puts the empty bottle and cap on the kitchen table. That way she will have to say something.
Silence: He is lying on his back, eyes open. His eyes have adjusted to the dark and he can make out the ceiling and the dresser. He is awake, but not up. He looks over. She is lying on her side, facing away from him. Her side of the quilt is moving up and down in a slow rhythm. He slowly slides out of his side of the bed. He goes to the door, which is half-closed, pulls it open and goes out, replacing it to the original position. The hallway is dark. He makes his way to the kitchen.
He goes to one of the drawers and pulls out a large, sharp knife. He closes the drawer and brings the knife with him back to the bedroom. He pushes open the door and goes in. She is in the same position as before, lying on her side. He walks up and places the sharp side of the knife just barely against her windpipe. He wonders if it is touching. He wonders if she will wake up right now. He takes the knife away from her throat and stands there over her with it at his side. Again, he waits and wonders if she will wake up, if she can sense it. After a while, he goes back to the kitchen and puts the knife away.
He returns to the bedroom, putting the door back to the position it was before. He slides back into bed slowly, watching her at the same time. He lies on his back, pulls up the quilt lightly and looks over at her. He watches for the same rhythm. After watching for a while, he begins to feel safe and drifts off.
Silence: He is sitting in his chair, upright with hands on his knees. Like a Japanese ambassador or something. Before sitting, he had stood in front of the television with the remote control and adjusted the volume to a moderate setting, not too loud, but loud enough so he could hear everything clearly and without missing anything. Then he pressed another button to find something worth watching. A movie he liked was just starting. He sat down in his chair and placed the remote on the stand next to the chair, pointing forward. He pushed himself against the chair's back and placed hands on knees. The opening credits were going. If she asked a reasonable question, he would respond as briefly and efficiently as possible, but nothing more. Let brevity be the courtesy. She will come in and he will do nothing.
He noted what could be seen in his peripheral vision: the curtains, the bookshelf, some light coming in from the kitchen, his hands on his knees. He wonders if he will say anything at first, if she said something. She will say something, no matter how subtle or cute she thinks she is. But he will not instigate. Do not start, he thinks. Don't give her anything. Do not give her the satisfaction. You are just sitting here and watching television. She will be back soon. He bears down on the screen. One word and he will rip her goddamn throat out.
Silence: The three of them are sitting in the front room. They never really use the front room, but it is where the front door opens and that is the reason. She had considered dressing up the kids. It crossed her mind, that's all, but it would have been too much. She brought them in here 1/2 hour early, just in case. Then she got up to get them some fruit juice and some little trucks and dolls to keep them occupied. There was a board game, but she thought twice about the sight of him coming in and seeing the three of them preoccupied, no, excluding him somehow.
She sits on one side of the couch that is positioned against the front window, so she can see. Now and again, too frequently really, she pulls aside the translucent white curtains to look, stretching her neck a bit in order to see down the street. Then she looks around the room. She gets up and stands with her back to the front door. This is what he will see when he comes in.
The kids seem all right, content. She will be on the sofa when he comes in. She walks to the front hall mirror, checks herself, then returns to the couch, thinking maybe the three of them should be waiting in the TV room. She decides against it. The two of them had talked about it last night, sitting up in bed with the lights on. Had they really talked, though, she wonders. This was new territory, sure, so it was hard to really get into it. And yet a talk, the talk, had happened.
Little trucks roll over the tan carpet, little dolls are propped up in chairs. There is just no way to tell who the psychiatrist was sending home to her.
Silence: This is it. And no first thoughts were coming to mind, either. Such a simple mechanical/physical process. A bolt goes through a fitted hole and that is all there is to it. No ominous symphony music. Just one little view, a two-second event. it happened, has just happened. It is unbelievable that it has happened. He looks around. Small. He does not bother to go to look to see what is beyond the bars. It is important to develop an M.O., a sense of how to feel about all this, somehow get a handle on it. Nothing comes to mind except a sense of the weight of hit all. Emotions, no, the possibility of emotions cross his mind -- sad, passive, rage, etc. But they seem somehow petty and useless, thinner than water, perpetually being steam-rolled in his mind by an omnipresent iron jaw. In a cage, in an institution, a sub-industry of life, grey, ugly, and too real. Try to relax. He sits on the mattress. His shoulders curl in towards his knees. He closes his eyes. Okayokayokay.
Silence: The bathroom door is still closed, but no one at the table will admit that they are listening. There is simply a lapse in the conversation, you see. It is also the third time that conversation will have to be struck up again, and it is only midway through the main course. Three other couples are sitting at the table, waiting, sipping at their wine, fingering the embroidery of the table cloth, smoothing the napkins in their laps. It just would not be polite to continue with everything while those two were in the bathroom.
Now and then the rustling of clothing, a muffled word, or a light clink of metal can be heard underneath the humming of the bathroom fan. Still waiting, it seems even a little longer this time. A woman at the table exhales loudly through her nostrils. The man sitting across from her looks up and makes eye contact, raising his eyebrows and pulling in the corners of his mouth. There. It's all out in the open. They all shuffle in their seats, feeling a little more free to be impatient, if not outright irritated. Lord only knows why he insists on bringing her out when he knows this sort of thing is going to happen. I mean, I feel sorry for her. And for him. But this...
Silence: The car is stopped in front of her house, rented. This is a moment that is worth enjoying, because she is so tired. And it is late. Between the two, she can relax. Tomorrow is another day, but for now she can relax. This day is over. It hardly mattered that she made very little money tonight. There is a bed waiting for her right now. It will feel good to get in, feel the cool smoothness of the sheets, and drift off.
She will shower first. There was a guy who spat as he talked to her cheek.
Another guy seemed to use her as a towel to wipe off the condensation from his beer bottles. Not to mention the smoke and not to mention the hand grease on the poles and the guy who stretched his neck to lick one of her nipples and the drunk, fat lesbo who kept hitting on her and not to mention the general filth of the place. Bar rags and floor-lint collectors weren't good for much.
She realizes her ears are ringing. Goddamn DJ had it cranked up too loud again. Could bad breath actually leave a film on the skin? It felt like it. Or maybe it was the thick makeup. Her hands felt dirty, still wrapped around the steering wheel. Her eyes are closing. Oh shit, she says, remembering. She starts the car again and reverses out, hoping that the sitter isn't too pissed off that she is late and that the kids didn't give her any trouble.
Silence: Except for the dribbling of the aquarium. It was a pleasant but not quite musical sound. There were plenty of fish in there, maybe two dozen, tiny and tipped and striped with blues, yellow, orange, red. Their fins flapped and rippled slowly as they hovered over the gravel at the bottom. They always seemed to intend to go somewhere, with those eyes wide open, but they would only dart and glide to the flickering shade of some plastic treasure chest or plant. Fish really are magnificent creatures. Only when you watch them for a while do you really get a sense of it. Such graceful efficiency. People are much more awkward, even out of the water -- gangly, fragile. There is just no comparison. And when a human panics, it screams, face contorted, arms and limbs flail. When a fish panics, it quietly gives a flick of the tail and darts off, expressionless.
But there was nothing to cause the fish to panic just then. One of them could have gotten up and tapped on the glass, but no one did. It was a big glass tank. They were all tired. It was hard to concentrate on anything. It was going to be a long morning and a long day. The couches were soft and comfortable. Not like at home, but nice just the same. It would have felt good to get out of the suits and ties each of them were wearing. The owner would be back just now. They agreed on it and then they told him. It would be better that the casket be closed.
Silence: He has left, gone to the TV room. She gets up off the floor and goes to a cabinet to get a zip-lock bag. She goes upstairs, slowly, because movement makes the ribs hurt and brings blood pressure to her face, swollen and cut. She goes into the bathroom with the plastic bag and closes the door behind her. She takes off her robe, leaning backward slightly in order to avoid contact with her body as much as possible. She hangs the robe on the hook on the door. She goes over to the toilet and stands with her back to it. She pulls down her panties, holding them in place when they reach her knees, and steps out of them. She turns and holds her underwear by the elastic over the toilet, turns it inside out and shakes it gently. Then she flushes the toilet. She reaches for the bag and puts her underwear in it. She zips up the bag, puts it next to the toilet, and starts the shower.
She gets in after letting the water heat up, but not too much because it will make the cuts on her face sting if the water is too hot. She gets in and cleans herself up, cleans the fecal matter and urine out of her groin, rinses thoroughly, and gets out. She dries off, blotting her face and ribs on the left side and puts on her robe again. She looks in the mirror and touches the cuts lightly. She slicks back her hair with a brush. She exits the bathroom and goes to the bedroom for a new pair of panties. She finds them, pulls them on and then goes to the closet for her house slippers. She goes back to the bathroom to retrieve the bag. She walks down the stairs, slowly, holding on to the rail with one hand and the bag in the other. She goes to the back door, opens it, and goes to the trash can, throwing the bag in. She walks back inside, finds some ibuprofen in a kitchen cabinet and takes three with a little water.
She sits down at the kitchen table and pulls a pack of cigarettes and an ashtray toward her. She pulls one out and lights it. She wonders what she will do when this pack runs out.
Silence: He is looking at the floor. It is much closer to his face, now that he is bent at the waist, instead of just looking down with his neck. The tiniest veins of grey in the white marble can be seen with resolute clarity. Even that means something, the detail. The pain is in his stomach, but it is pushing through his eyes. Yes, it is going down, but very slowly. Breathing is important now, deep relaxed breaths. The pain is subsiding, but too slowly, and he realizes that he is trying to catch his breath. That panics him, especially because his father is still there, waiting for him to straighten up.
He sees his father's shows -- one in front and one behind, ready. They are brown shoes with darker flat brown laces. The leather is flexed and creased and still shiny in some places. No plan is coming to mind. The floor has no answers either. Just 12" x 12" white marble tiles, with grey veins, polished to a high sheen. His father's shoes have dark rubber soles. It was rubber vs. socks.
Silence: Watching the deformed walk down the hall.
Silence: When the television is shut off.
Silence: Watching the cops hover around the slob they just pulled over.
Silence: After the dog is put to sleep.
Silence: Underneath the rock music turned all the way up.
Silence: As thoughts of suicide creep in.
Silence: Watching your fighter go down.
Silence: Being projected around your rage.
Silence: When the jury door opens.
Silence: When the cell door closes.
Silence: Watching a 65-year-old man with a 19-year-old chippy.
Silence: As panic hits your belly.
Silence: After the phone rings five times.
Silence: Hoping that something will happen.
Silence: Hoping that nothing will happen.
Silence: While lying in bed awake and alone on a rainy night.
--SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-- State of unBeing is copyrighted (c) 2000 by Kilgore Trout and Apocalypse Culture Publications. All rights are reserved to cover, format, editorials, and all incidental material. All individual items are copyrighted (c) 2000 by the individual author, unless otherwise stated. This file may be disseminated without restriction for nonprofit purposes so long as it is preserved complete and unmodified. Quotes and ideas not already in the public domain may be freely used so long as due recognition is provided. State of unBeing is available at the following places: World Wide Web http://www.apoculpro.org irc the #unbeing channel on UnderNet Submissions may also be sent to Kilgore Trout at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The SoB distribution list may also be joined by sending email to Kilgore Trout. --SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB-SoB--