I’m late. It’s in my genes, to be late. Some things never change. Some things always change, even when they stay the same.
I was laid back in my gravity chair, the milky way a comfortable blanket with the snap, pop and crackle of my fire at my feet. I searched the heavens, looking for nothing. Looking for everything. Searching for something I knew I would never find.
Bullfrogs throated deep luscious croaks from the water’s edge, a mosquito feasted, and the heat of the fire licked at my bare feet.
Lazily grasped in the cusp of my hand, a medallion tethered around my neck. Strange, hardened and full of symbols, the gold harkened to an old scrap of paper that sat in my lap. Both full of mysterious origins and unknown meanings.
Together, the aged paper and the old medallion meant something, perhaps pointing to answers I have been looking for, perhaps they were meant to lead me astray. Perhaps they were meaningless. Perhaps, God himself was having fun.
A breeze swept across my parcel of land, setting the sumac and birches to sway, the fire licked a bit closer to bare skin. Across the way, I watched a large dark, foreboding mass exit from the tree line.
I watched. The bear hesitated. A deer, full velvet rack emerged, and silently came my way. The bear, huffed behind.
I took in the power of nature without the realization that I was, always had been part of that power. If there’s a lesson civilized, and intelligent souls need to learn, is that our civilized ways, and learned beliefs don’t separate our lives from the power of nature. Those things might diminish our natural relationships, but they do not cleave us from who we are, who we were.
So ingrained with the fascination of new company, I didn’t bother to bring my old tattered gravity chair to a setting position until both deer and bear had made their way to my fire. The deer, wet and rank, sought me out as I lie under the great blanket, his moist nostrils taking in the smell of my feet, up my flannels, to my waist. He turned his head momentarily when he caught a breath of cheap tequila and golden beer, and then nudged his warm face against mine, lying with mine, becoming a part of my existence for a moment, and then in the second of time, bounded off into the woods behind.
The bear made no such gestures of introduction. Awkwardly watching its companion, that animal remained behind the fire, and now that the four-legged creature was gone, the bear raised up, thrusting its large dark body to the sky, obliterating the milky way.
And with a large, deep throated grumble that turned to a rumbling growl, the animal tore the beautiful night asunder. Releasing the night sky back to my fire smoked eyes, I heard the bear behind me, chasing it’s strange friend into the night with low huffs and grunts matching the sound of huge paws sinking into the hard soft grass.
I wondered. A thread, less, a wisp, of cloud threaded the stars. A shooting star from the south, overhead to the north, dissolved. A plane traversing the boundaries.
A crack of thunder! I reeled, realizing the night was fading. Not into day, but into a starless night, a cloud fueled rage of water and wind. The transition was abrupt, as if I had nodded off. My fire raged larger as if I had fed the flames to protect me form the cold wet reality. I know longer bothered to question the sense of reality as I lie back, my face pelted by rain, my body rocked with the wind, where overhead the sumac, birches and maples rocked.
I barely saw her wave from across the way, but she was there. Tall, slender, naked and blond with her large almond eyes. A dream I could have easily thought as I moved from one world to the next.
The first morning sun took me in amazement as I struggled out of the chair amidst the embers of a fire that had seen better days. Cool and crisp, the air had a moist feel, a wet smell, yet dryness permeated everywhere. I managed to stand up, over the dead fire, and noticed the prints in the fireburnt sand around the fire pit.
I smiled. Some dreams are more than others. I turned to my old, weather beaten camper, and became transfixed.
Some daring thief arrived in the black night and with a wide brush, laid waste to my little home in brightly hued colors of glyphs, symbols and maps. I smiled, walked once around the perimeter taking it all in, then walked inside and made a pot of coffee.
Given grace that I could rest
my head along this road,
I would not.
Given chance to shed a tear
along this winding journey,
I would not.
Given a moment to ponder
along this meandering path,
I would not.
Given the will to pause
along my way
I would not.
For upon trails end,
I will rest, I will cry,
ponder and live again.
Given grace to question
while I sojurn,
I would ask,
ask of whom?
For in all my steps
not one for me,
each for another,
even one for thee.
In my travels
I have found
there never comes
that time to be
Yet comes a time
before me now
where all such things
that come and go
Cry out to rest, to pause,
So upon a stone
aside a road,
a well traveled path,
my soul does set
for death’s sunset.
I am a horrible man. A terrible man beneath the calm waves of human demeanor. A violent son of a bitch, an ax carrying card member of your worst fucking nightmare. Yes, your nightmare because I’m looking at you and there’s no place to run, no escape till death freezes the blood in your veins, quiets your heart and turns your thoughts to mine.
And the worst of it, you’re nothing special. You just happen to belong to the beast, this beast, and I’ll do with you as I please.
There was a time, a time far past when I was human. A husband, a father, a brother or sister, it doesn’t matter because when the human hit the pavement and the blood splatted like projectile puke with tiny little fragrant pieces of body parts splaying, washing my face, I was reborn under the bright, burning sun.
The first time, the fear was paralyzing and I couldn’t do it. As much as I wanted to, I had to, I could not. I sat down before their pitiful bound souls and took sorrow on them, staring at the bright green duct tape I had plastered over their mouths. I became lost in my thoughts, were they married, did they have children or were they only friends?
I wanted to know. I reached out toward the fat women and pulled the duct tape off and she recoiled in fear. I wanted to soothe her fears, let her know I understood, that everything would be alright, that I was not going to give in to temptation. That soon she would be, free. That women managed to find a semblance of courage but it was not the found courage that paid for her life. She did not understand me, or anything about me and she spit in my face with her new faith, and drooling, she demanded to know what I was going to do.
And then her bravado waned and was replaced with tears. Tears that mixed with her drool as she called me out for what I was. She murmured a simple word, beast. She named me and it cost her.
I paused in hearing the word, finally understanding and I did what I was meant to do. I carried the weight of the hammer across her face. Not in a violent, hard and impulsive manner but soft and generous, enough to split open her face and watch her reaction as well that of her friend who squirmed under the oppressive weight of foresight. I took my time, alternating the hammer between them, all soft blows to various parts of their body. I gave them time, and plenty of it, to beg, to repent, to cry, to hurt, to question, and to pray. They mostly cried. And hurt. And with each blow, I matured, I understood more about who I was.
I was asked once by a young man, a man that had been handsome, why I hated him, as if it was hate that drove my passion. I caressed his beaten face that I had pummeled with my bare hands and ran a soothing palm over his stained chest, then drew an outline of a happy face, there on his chest, with his own blood as I smiled at him. Him, I let die in peace because he was a handsome young man that reminded me of someone I had once known, a long time ago.
I am not driven by hate or love, fear is non existent for neither god nor devil have no need of me. Whereas I am driven by need, by desire, by the story the stars have written across the blackness of night and the sun that burns flesh from that story. I am God and you are mine.
Mine as I set here, across from you, watching your mouth chew the fat killing steak you cooked while you dream a life of love and comfort, of family and friends, unaware, oblivious and ignorant of the beast.
That is your mistake.
I am old and the story I have to tell is older. Old as humans themselves perhaps, being one of love found, lost, than found again in such a way all true love is. By the ways, by the means, by the yearnings of an all too human heart.
The year is inconsequential, as is a date or even a time. Suffice it to say only that it is in the future and that humans are, well, still human. And of humans, there is one central to this story, so let us look in on his present life.
A man alone, a sailor of rocket ships across great voids. Searcher, seeker, explorer, all these things he is and more to be. Yet he remains a man alone for there are no others among the great sanitized decks and galleys as this gleaming sphere transcends stars and worlds without the slightest drop in momentum. She is headed home and there will be no further foolishness to hinder her run to earth and fresh oxygen, green trees and other people.
Before a grand portal, a viewport to the stars, stands this man, watching out over a hundred million points of light, not one really his.
Why he is here on this ship, on this journey, alone, is of no concern to us, other than to note, once it was not this way. That years ago this ship teamed with life, with families; mothers, fathers and their children. Working, playing, and being all too human.
No longer, now there was only loneliness. An eternal silence that suffocated this man into acts of desperation and irresponsibility. Emotions that possessed this human to send propulsion units into a cycle they were not designed to operate within. He did not mind, knowing full well the danger. The only thought was to reach earth long before his sanity gave way or he would die trying.
These are his thoughts then, his concerns as he stands, head hung with chin resting on chest, standing before the portal as days turn artificial day back to artificial night. All that he had needed to do, had been done. Left now was time, to stand, hope and watch stars pass by.
With interior lights dimming, the stars seem to grow brighter, illuminating a hundred thousand, thousand, brothers, and sisters, so let us look outside this speeding globe.
There, just behind, can you see a faint prick of light? No, not there. This one, the bluish speck. See how effortlessly it moves to catch up? Indeed, no match in speed is evident here, for look the light has caught its prey. Circling, searching, perhaps wondering what this strange world is.
I know that this is no mere speck of light, no simple illumination, it indeed is not! Know that as fish inherit the waters of earth, birds the skies and humans the earth, this is a creature of the cold voids. One which needs not air to breath or fire for warmth. She is as home in the voids as we are not. It is where she lives, where she belongs. Here, between worlds is where she evolved and where she must forever live.
Gods do not dictate otherwise.
She sees the man from the other side of the viewport. He cannot see her. Curiosity, she is curious as she watches what she does not comprehend. In all her travels, she has seen nothing such as this. Great worlds she has seen rise and fall, but always from cold, great distances, never participating.
Now, inches away, there is nothing separating the two but metallizied glass. How she wants to reach out to touch, to feel, to say that she is here.
Knowledge of death forbids such insanity, curbing such foolish actions, for she knows she will die in the warmth of the strange world. She has heard stories of those who attempted such a thing, and are never seen forevermore.
Could it be she is foolish or insane, as her thoughts are set? She will do what she needs to do. Perhaps, she too is simply lonely.
Loosely planted feet are uprooted by a gust of cold that pushes itself into the warmth of his environment. Quickly catching him off guard, freezing molecules do not surround him, they penetrate him, rushing through him with such great speed his body is tossed back. Falling, he cannot breath and for an instant, as hands reach to clutch his heart, a thought of a past day. When as a child he ventured out in the midst of a cold winter day and the hardness of breath sent him scurrying back to the warmth of a crisp fire. As winter cold was a thousand memories old, so too was it as warmth and security returned. Flat on his back, regaining a semblance of former self, he heard a groan from behind and he broke his stare on the bulkhead
Fear is a result of disbelief, of some one thing being where it is not supposed to be. Yet there remains a sense that if it is there, it may well be it is intended to be there all the while. What remains, is a question of what one expects, and often what one expects, seldom gives birth to a desired reality.
Disbelief of the impossible. It could not be and the man lost his fear as he understood that the loss of his mind was at hand. There was, could not be any other explanation for the presence of a naked woman. Lying in a fetal position, whimpering like a newborn pup, she was drenched in sweat on the cold, hard floor of his ship, of his world, of his home.
It could not be!
But it was.
Time in the form of fleeting seconds and eternal minutes, healed the wound of disbelief. Because there was no other thing to do, the man found a blanket, an old tattered one, from some odd place and wrapped the women in a cocoon, then gently picked her up to lay her across the room in the confines of a large, plush couch.
Her eyes fluttered, mind stirred and did not recognize what she had become. Long, thin appendages, a narrow vision field and touch, smells, and sound all at once, all too much, almost. But again with time she grew accustomed to her human form, yet she did not understand what had happened. This was unexpected, not supposed to be. Of all what she thought would be, this was not one.
What was this strange substance this life form gave her, this man who hovered over her, sat by her, and made her feel strange. Strange in the belly; warm, full and strong. And as strength came, so too did an understanding of what had happened, not fully, barely enough to guess.
The man would talk of things she had no knowledge, even so, she listened. Much of the time not understanding. Words she knew, for she was a quick, but the words drew no picture, illustrated no certain point and this bothered her.
He had rambled. Knowing he had done so, he struggled to return to the point he desired to make andwas caught off guard when she quietly asked a question. Her first words, so quietly spoken, almost went unnoticed.
How strange the look on his face. How lost for answers to a question he had asked so many times over the period of his life. There were no words to form, no simple answer to who he was, and all he could do, was to repeat the question back to her.
Such as strange things are, a smile crossed her lips. A smile whose sincerity was reflected deep within cool blue eyes that birthed satisfaction. Satisfaction that for all she had been through, this smile made it all worth her while.
Stranger yet, he responded with a smile of his own and it surprised him. And there was satisfaction with him as well in that he was still capable of that simple human emotion. One which he had not felt for what seemed and probably had been, several years.
From those smiles grew friendship. With days passing into weeks and turning to months, they came to know each other. To know and not to fear, but to appreciate, to trust and to depend on the other. In this time which was theirs, they talked. Her of her life, of her race. She spoke howthey once roamed the galaxies in a multitude of numbers, yet now few remained. In human words, she explained why she had made her decision, from a sense she now knew as desperation, to move into the ship, to be a part of his life. Hers had been one of isolation, of watching worlds rise and fall, of watching lives she could never be a part of. She could only view from the depths of the ocean, always alone, never participating.
From all this, a great desire to be a part of something, of someone had forced her decision to move into the ship. Apparently her actions were too swift, she had pressed too hard against the viewport, entering with too much momentum and energy. She was unable to stop and instead had passed through the man in the space of his thought. It had been long enough for the unexpected to happen, to gather enough genetic information to become what she truly wanted to become, but did not believe she could.
When she was finished, exhausted, her turn was to rest and to listen as he began with his childhood, his dreams, his aspirations. The reasons he had chosen this life. How hundreds had begun this mission, how they all had chosen to stay behind to colonize their new found world, and he could not bear to do so. All others had families. Those who had been single, found mates, married and bore children and he had thought of himself as an outsider, alone, and bereft of companionship. ‘That was no one’s fault, just the way it had worked out’, he explained.
So he choose the rigors of a prolonged journey back to earth, even though home offered nothing more than what he had left behind. He harbored hope though, in a possibility of finding a wife. Perhaps even someday there could be children.
Words flowed into forming attachments between both, continuing weeks passed into months and even years. From their words grew actions. Cuddling, touching, holding hands and eventually gentle kisses. They each had come to care for the other and without expectation, fell in love.
But their love was too simple, uncontested and therefore could not be pure. True, each had suffered at their own hands, yet not at the hand of the other and for their love to survive, it must transcend individual actions. And being in love, they had no knowledge of what must be. This blindness, this ignorance of what love requires allowed both a chance that of innocence allowed. Few, including you and I have had such luck
All things, good and bad, end. Men die, women grow old, worlds collide, societies crumble, childre
n are born, and it all begins again.
As the sphere approached earth, there were thoughts to be said, things to be done and decisions to be made.
She could not survive on earth. She knew this in the manner that a man knows that without food, he will wither and die. That without air to fill their lungs, man will perish in agony. She suspected life in this form had been possible due to the small amounts of radiation that continually seeped into the spheres hull. Enough that she had been able to feed upon it. Upon earth, there was not sufficient energy to survive.
He too realized this when she spoke of her concern.
Agony and desire are twofold. Choices are never simple and are many times motivated by unrealized desires. His desire was not strong, not burning to return to his homeland. For what reason he choose to do, escaped logic.
So it was made! A choice to return home even though his soul knew it was wrong. And he likened his choice to a moth attracted by a light that served no purpose to the moth but to end its life. There was not much difference.
A quiet, all too human and somber mood permeated the shuttle bay. He
, ready to begin his life anew. She, ready to return to surfing the particle waves of the void, and a life of loneliness.
But she would remember.
They embraced, kissed, and said good-bye with tears in their eyes and the heaviest of hearts. As he pulled away, turning to the craft for his decent toward green grass trampled by a billion lives, she called out his name, telling him, that if he ever needed her, all he need do was call her name from the cold blackness of space and she would hear. No matter in what galaxy, what system she was in, she would hear and she would come.
Speaking such, she walked from the room to return to what was her world.
He too, returned to his, to lives which were not his, to those who he could not understand as his life was now elsewhere. He had found that which was a part of him and let it go. Understand, he knew this from the moment she had left, but had not admitted it, and if he had, paid no attention.
Thus it was on a chilled, starry, spring-filled night he stood upon a hilltop in the lush countryside, looking to a night sky and back to a past he found hard to believe.
Where was she?
Would she really come?
And his decision was made, out of faith and a realization of what the truth was.
Because of this, this human found himself, again alone in a shuttle headed into the depths of spac
e. This time in a ship woefully inadequate for such a journey but that concern was not a consideration.
From the moment he had breached the planets atmosphere, he had called her name. She had not came, but he knew she would, only time was a question.
Now he stood in the pressure lock, the shuttles oxygen supply depleted, wearing a heavy, bulky suit. Opening the air lock, the man pushed himself out into the weightlessness of space. Around him, our sun and distant stars, with their planets and pockmarked little moons danced and played out their lives. He was not alone.
With his last breath fast approaching, he held no fear. He still knew she would come.
Out of air, the man gasped and unlocked his helmet to send it spiraling away. His last breath was of cold, deep space and with that last breath, he called out her name.
And she was there, as he had been there for her.
On a hot July night, the moon was full and I found myself stranded aside a two lane blacktop in the middle of some Texan sand. A lot of Texan sand. A lonely, desolate place where the eerie silence of the night was evidenced by the discreet howl of some old coyote sharing their loneliness. I had quit walking, thought about wandering off a few feet into the sands of the the Texan desert with the thought of catching some sleep till the sun rose blistering hot. I remember the old man’s warning though and didn’t. Didn’t wanna be caught sleeping by some large sand predator and drug away for their children’s morning morsel. I still had too much to do, but at the moment wasn’t doing much of anything except hoping a ride would come along. Preferably, some pretty lil lady in a 66 Mustang that was tired of driving. That woulda been cool, cruising that horse under the moon on that hot damn and straight asphalt. Course, you know that didn’t happen.
Do you know what did?
Now, ya all know me, and know that I’ve told a fib or two in my long and tendered life, but no one knows me as a straight up liar. Do you? So there’s no reason to doubt what I’m going to say next, simply because it’s so strange and alluring, it can only be, always will be, the gods honest truth of the matter.
The wind came up. Not cruel and strong like some storm, but like a womens breath on the nape of your neck. Like when your women cuddles up to your backside as you’re drifting off to sleep. Sweetness, and security. And just like when your womans sleeping, cuddled, and she mumbles something and you think you hear your name, least you think it was, I heard a womens voice come riding in on that breath. A mumbled voice that I strained to hear, believing the quietness of the night was playing thoughtful tricks on the rough edges of my gray matter.
Riding the breaking waves of sand across the asphalt, I heard my name come clear. Clear enough that it rode the length of my spine, leaving my hair standing straight and hard. Now I’m an intelligent man, strong and steady, fast and sure of foot and not given to flights of fear. Smart enough to also know there were dangers walking about in the dark, in that desert night, under the fool moon. The kind of danger that didn’t necessary leave any footprints in the Texas sand, no more than if they were walking across the ocean. Smart enough to raise an eyebrow, look around and pay attention.
A desert owl hooted in flight, defined by bright mother moon and some desert creature scurried across the grains of sand, not knowing time had ran out. In the light of the moon, I saw the owl dive to it’s catch and than saw the women off in the distance, murkey and dark, walking my way, calling my name. Funny thing is, when I saw that demon women coming my way with my name written on her lips, all I could think about is the time my daddy took me camping up in the green jungles of Minnesota. The time we came across a bear, better, the time a black bear, a big un, came across us. Just like then, I was tempted to do as my daddy had said, fall to the ground and play like you’re dead. Be still, be quiet. Worked for me then, not so much for daddy, mostly because he had a loud and obnoxious smokers cough.
So I stood there, quelling my fear forcing it back down my spine and that was a mean feat of accomplishment all on it’s own as that woman came my way. Wasn’t more than a honest couple of dozen steps before I could make out she was tall, lithe, had long dark hair and great big almond shaped eyes and nekkid to boot. Now my wife will tell you I’m a real man, but on this night, on this night, I was the scaredest little cow puppy in all the state of Texas and Louisiana combined.
Thing is, looking back, I wasn’t scared of the women. All she was, was a women I ‘member thinking, but she was nekkid, and it was dark, and the moon was full, and the damn coyote howled, and it was hot, and she was nekkid as she came to stand just a few feet away, sultry, with full breasts and nice shapely hips calling to a full hot blooded man. I was wanting to do nothing but turn and run, than thought of the small desert rat who just recently found his end, as dinner on a table set for one.
I would be no such dinner.
She took a step closer, another and then placed her palm across my cheek. Her voice was like a shot of tequilla in that it caught your attention abruptly, and her breath carried the spice of desert dunes. One word, was all she said, my name, and than she pressed her lips against mine and love was made in the hot desert night and lost before it had ever found it’s way home. A thousand Arabian nights don’t come close to one night in a Texas desert under a fool moon with a nekkid women with large almond eyes.
I awoke just before the sun broke over the horizon, as the fool and wholesome moon was setting, to a dazzling display of colored lights hovering mid air, above my prone and sore, and wholly nude self. Knowing that what had happened, had happened, but not knowing what had happened I watched the lights dance and move in utter regard, when they quickly coalesced into a singly bright object and shot off toward the setting desert moon, leaving me nekkid in the breaking morning sun.
When I sat up, a tattered scrap of paper fell from my chest and as I stared at it, I understood it was meaningless. Meaningless just as the night had been. I had no idea, not a clue to all the strange gibberish and uncontemplated symbols that were scrawled across the old piece of paper, withered like the desert itself.
Least-ways not till today, forty years later, and it’s why, by the time you read this, I’ll be back, standing at that same spot, under a fool moon, with coyotes and owls, waiting for my wife and son to return, as promised in her note, to give me a grand tour of the universe.
…and I just heard my name on whispered breath.
With infinite heart and boundless soul, I love the spring and I shall never be accorded such to love so full again. If there in truth exists a God, he has given no mercy, answered no prayer nor soothed this tortured angel. In all his countenance, I alone am lost. But it is not God I blame, for how could God understand the depth of my heart when I allowed my love to blossom beyond immortal comprehension. Here lies then, the truth, I am alone to blame.
Only in the throes of Juliet’s passion have others known what I have known. That to find along one’s path a fallen star, brings only tragedy multiplied by a thousand courses of a thousand each, to those who stop to dally with that which does not belong aside the road.
Yet I gladly suffer the obscene. A thousand, thousand lesser loves I would again sacrifice for the greater love and coming loss. No love in all of human nature equals the forbidden sensitivity of my breast, the lightness of my thoughts nor enables flight of my soul.
In regards, I have but two sentiments. The first is of little consequence yet like a wasp, the danger flirts. Will it be that I shall be obliged to Hell for my love and all that is yet to arrive. Will it be that which I suffer through now, shall pale when set aside the dutiful agony of Satan’s domain. No matter the involved danger, grant me but one thought, a fleeting second among that demons rule every now and then, and I shall bear the pain. Perhaps with little ease, but I shall bear it. And if there is to be not that single thought, if that even is denied my soul, than it matters not for I truly have died. In this, I have no say, so the consequence is small and I care less, for their punishment is of no avail other than for amusement. My very soul will have ceased.
Yet I entertain the devil in a fashion that all this was his doing. That he, knowing the finality, gave us each other. If true, what could I ask of God? What guidance would he have advised, for surely any consul would be far to late.
In this matter, the truth I know is this, my concern is small. These are things beyond my life. In them, you will find no handiwork of my own design.
Of a higher regard, one which questions my every thought, I only ask that those who have carried the weight of traveling this far, judge me with compassion. It is you who will give my life worth, you who must judge and supply innocent or guilt. Indeed, you must do so! This is my foundation for worth. To what corners of clouded thought I go, is of little value. In your condemnations or your applause, will I live. If only you were able to sample a portion of how I loved, your conscription of my life into history would be gentle. I think not so. Rather, I believe your verdicts will be swift and cold, like a stone over which cold water flows. Would I myself, do less?
In all these musings, do you find a voice of regret? I wish you interpret not one solitaire word as such. I say it now clearly, I regret only my loss. My heart carries no misgivings to my actions yesterday or those to arrive with the morning sun. Nor am laden with sorrow in how I am to be judged.
With each fleeting second, my strength follows behind, wagging it’s tail. Time is no longer of essence. I have said what must be done. That which remains is nothing more than a canvass to diddle, to scrawl as a child when bored. Surely, the night remains even in the complexities of this morning light.
I fight for words, thoughts are slow, wandering in bits and pieces. One simple thought no longer part of the whole.
I returned to the beginning and my thoughts on that cool winter day bring pleasure. Not because of what my words say, much more so as to what they do not talk of. How could I have known then of the happiness which would follow?
The old man lay on his bed. Blindly, his eyes were cast upward as if reading the dimples of the low hanging ceiling tiles. Curtains had earlier been pulled shut in order to inhibit the wanton
penetration of afternoon sun. Next to the bed, to the old mans right, was placed a nightstand which was the foundation for nothing more than an unused blue, plastic pitcher.
At the foot of this bed rested a metal framed dining room chair with padding applied over the seat and across its back. And to the old mans left, there was another bed, this one dressed in a sterile fashion with not a crease to be found. That bed, had given up its occupant some days earlier and now waited for a new arrival. Across from this sterile space, tucked away neatly into a very small closet, sat a wheelchair, folded as if it were an accordion which was never used. Its velcro straps hung down over huge, rear wheels appearing well out-of-place in the order of things.
A dark, small, bare room with a dying old man.
He knew he was dying!
In a brief moment of conscience, he had once heard a nurses retort that “it was just a matter of time” as she walked in on daily rounds, checking pulse and respirations.
Actually, taking note of those who were still alive and those who were not.
“Indeed, a matter of time.” he had thought.
And even if he had not heard, he knew.
But none of this mattered, for as the old man lay dying, perhaps with a dribble of spittle working its way out and down one side of his mouth, or lying in urine stenched sheets that would not be changed until a nurse came by on her rounds, he, himself, was lost in the transit of time. During a twenty-four hour period, there would be at best,only a few minutes of true cognizant thought in which he not only knew, but understood as well, that his life would soon be over. Yet, in the time frame of a single thought, this old man would slip back into his past.
His life had been …
The tall skinny kid wearing baggy jeans which were half hidden by an over sized, white tee-shirt, was in the thick of the fight.
Along with a dozen other kids of various size and ages, he was covered from head to foot in mud. No big deal here tho’, he had thrown more than his own fair share. Their fun was evidenced plainly by the shrieking sounds of laughter along with fits of giggles bordering on lines of hysteria, punctuated only by a scream to “plaster that kid there or get this one here”.
From behind the skinny one, a mud ball zipped through the air, unseen by its victim. Changing its shape as it moved along a straight line course, losing much of its mud which had been loosely packed, revealing a core of solid rock that struck the skinny boy squarely in the back of his head, knocking him to his knees while also opening an inch long gash that flooded his white tee-shirt in blood.
Except for the receding footsteps of the other children, there were only whimpers of a skinny, mud-caked, bloodstained little boy who finally found, if not the strength, then the courage to pick himself up and start out for a home, which he also knew would be empty as his heart.
As he walked, the boy removed his tee-shirt, applying it to his wound with as much pressure such a slender frame could afford.
Again, the boy began to sob, but not from a physical pain but with a pain of being alone to suffer alone. A pain, such as that a child is unable to understand, in turn, causing this pain to intensify even more so.
By the time this skinny boys’ mother arrived home, she found her son, still bloodstained and encased in mud, sitting in front of their television set with a wet towel wrapped around his head.
Only the physical pain still existed, for either by a conscience or subconscience act, he had eliminated all traces of emotional pain.
It simply had been easier to eliminate the emotion then to suffer through it.
The young man who held his wife’s’ hand as she lie in the hospitals’ birthing room was considered a man in a biological sense alone. In truth, after twenty-seven years, he still remained a boy. A simple boy who had taken on a complex facade of manhood. There was a home, a well-paying job, his wife and soon there would be a child to round out the picture. All, as far as he was really concerned, superficial responsibilities. They were things he needed for acceptance and following that, there was no loyalty to such values or concepts behind such a thing as a home.
Being such as it was, it was often that a house payment, car payment or grocery’s were skipped to fulfill some desire in him. Sometimes it was only a bag of pot, other times it might be a new television or stereo.
It went beyond irresponsibility.
Note also that they were his things, not hers, his wife’s Further note, that when she did receive some “thing”, it was an item he had bought. Now, as this boy sat holding his wifes1 hand, he wondered if he might have been ignorant to the fact that his world was about to change. No, he had thought about it and he knew their lives would change with the birth of their first child. “Well”, he thought, “at least it would change hers.” As he looked over towards her face, he knew it was near time and he began to have second thoughts about remaining in the birthing room when a nurse backed into the room carrying a tray of instruments.
The boy watched from his wife’s own vantage point, still holding her hand and wiping her brow when he thought she needed it. In a very abrupt manner, the nurse commented in a tone that sent a nervous glance between husband and wife. She had broken her water and dilated to just under seven centimeters.
Active labor was well under way and so was the doctor.
A crescendo of rising and ebbing screams, voices telling when to push mingled with sounds telling her to breathe in or out pervaded through-out the room. Amidst all this, the boy looked down, himself in pain as his wife now held his hand as if she were some creation of an ancient goddess sent to earth to punish her males by affixing a forged vice to their hands, therefore keeping them out of places they did not belong.
The boy found he was growing uncomfortable and suddenly he needed to turn his head away from the birth. In doing so, he heard the doctor encourage his wife on and with this, a small grin appeared for the instant reminded him of a troop of cheerleaders encouraging their team on to victory.
In the very next second, a virgin cry broke into his thought, revitalizing an atmosphere that had gone stale from the sweat of humans in labor When the boy turned to look upon his new child, he breathed in this air, he noticed their doctor was handing him a set of surgical scissors. Moving up and over, he took the instrument, cutting the boys lifeline to his mother between to yellow, plastic clamps.
Doing so, a deep sense of curiosity arose in him. A curiosity not of what their future might hold, but a curiosity of life in general. And in a small way, for the first time in this boys life, he felt like a man.
The natural air had been sweetened with the smell of marijuana. A twenty-one inch television flickered in the darkness of the small room, its changing images in turn cast changing shadows. A figure of a man could be made out, lying on a couch as if he were watching.
But he was not.
He lay lost in his own personal, dark fantasies.
Clarity is for those who exist in a clarified world.
Reeling off images, he watched as an outsider as a man who clearly was not identifiable, hung his head over a kitchen sink which was recognized. Watching, he saw the images weight was supported by his arms, one of each placed on opposite sides of the sink. Slowly, the figure raised his head to stare at the blank wallpaper as if here consigned to a destiny he wanted no part of. Taking his right hand off the sinks edge, he moved it down to open a drawer. Reaching in, he immediately found what was needed without even the benefit of a glance.
Picking up the long, silver butcher knife, he studied it as he ran a flat edge over his left fore and middle finger. Hesitantly, his image moved past the opened drawer, the knife in hand, hanging below his waist, just slightly behind his buttocks. Stopping, he peered around the corner of the kitchen, out into a living room where a women sat in a recliner. Knowing that with her backs to him, it would be easy. Abruptly, his field of vision focused on a small child lying asleep on the floor, his hands tucked behind his head with both feet propped up on the bottom ledge of the TV tray.
Just as abruptly, the image faded as the man who lay on his couch sat up, wiping the thick sweat from his face. Knowingly, he had once again transgressed boundaries he himself had set. This transgression bothered him. These fantasies, flourished in their evil which he thought impossible to other normal human beings. He began to question his own normalcy, to fight with his sanity. It had taken a major effort to realize that he had become lost in his fantasy and then return to a sense of reality.
Again, he questioned his own sanity, wondering how much longer he could control his own private demons. With all honesty, he wanted, he needed, he had to. And as he laid back into the comfort of his couch, he knew he would,
no matter the cost.
The man sat behind a desk in a swivel chair, smoking a briar pipe while he waited for his clients response.
His client was a tall, slender man who stood looking out his counselors office window. Turning to face his psychologist, he asked just what he meant when he had asked if “I really wanted to save my marriage”.
Leaning back in his chair, he gave his left cheek a scratch through a short-cropped, dark beard. Removing his pipe, he then lean forward and tapped his pipe on a clear corner of his, otherwise, paper laden desk.
“David” cuddling his pipe in his hand as he spoke, “do you want to save your marriage because you love your wife and children or is it because you think your expected to try.”
Jumping up to sit on the ledge of the window behind him, David lit up a filtered cigarette and asked, no, told this doctor of psychology, psychiatry or whatever the hell he was that he was “full of shit”. That he made it sound as if there was a choice involved…”And in the long run, I’ve got two kids to think about, so it’s not a question of what I want or what others expect me to do, it’s a question of whats the best thing to do for everybody involved, regardless of how I feel about it”.
“And how do you feel about it”?
With silence, David got up and walked over to the desk where he simply dropped his lit cigarette into a large glass ashtray, not bothering to snuff out the glowing tip of tobacco. Turning, he walked towards the only exit, stopping just short, he again turned to look at the man who remained seated.
“You know, I sometimes wonder about your fucking intelligence Charles, I mean, I’ve been coming down here and telling you how I feel for the last year and you have to fucking ask.”
With that, David walked out the door, past a Secretary and out into the cold winter afternoon. Instinctively, his slender body braced against the fortitude of the cold. Tossing the cold to the back of his mind, David thought just how much of a joke everything had seemed to become. Navigating patches of ice on his way to his car, he wondered aloud just how crazy it all was and then in a long deep sigh, if one had actually been close enough to hear, “if they only knew.” and again, this time moving his head from one side to another, “if they only knew”.
The man paced nervously across a purple carpet of a newly remodeled gate lounge. The smell of the newness was still in the air and the man first became aware of it as he glanced down at his wristwatch, followed by a glance to the large wall clock. Not sure of his own reliability, he quickly walked out of the area over to an attendant clerk to ask if his flight was on time.
Being assured it was, the man then moved on through the long gates, watching nothing in particular. Finding a spot, he watched planes as they landed or left, watching and trying to remember how long it had been since he had seen his oldest son. About seven years he thought, since Davie jrs. graduation. “Christ, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long.” Yet he did believe it and accept it. His oldest child was no longer a kid. Finishing college, David had gone on to get married and established himself in a well-paying career. Still, the man found it hard to believe, “Perhaps”, he thought,”because I really don’t feel any older”.
There was an inherent curiosity on this mans part, as a father he desperately wanted to see how his son had grown, how he carried himself, walked and talked. Further, the father needed to know what, how his son thought. Needed to have some insight into his sons ambitions, his ideologies. All this was as important to the father as they were to the man they belonged to.
Breaking his concentration, he again looked at his Timex. Once more he checked his time against the airports, this time pulling a Marlboro from his flannel shirt, flicking his lighter, his attention was caught by a central loudspeaker that barely rose above the volume soft murmurs which accompanied a dozen or so others, who also waited in the same lounge.
The father swallowed, then proceeded to light his cigarette as he moved over to a large window, allowing for a panoramic view of the runways. Watching as the plane landed, producing short squirts of smoke from its tires as it touched down, the man briefly felt sorrow that he had never flown. Slowing, the plane grew larger as it reached the gate, coming to a full stop near a ramp used for access.
The man, this father, watched as one by one, couple by couple, all the passengers disembarked. A slight smirk crossed his face as he was reminded of Noah’s ark. How it must feel to reach your destination, relieved of their confinement.
With the flood of passengers resolving itself into a trickle, the father had not yet found his son. Turning, he scanned through the crowd which had dispersed throughout the terminal.
“Perhaps” he thought, “I missed him”. It faded quickly as he knew better.
His son had not came.
Sorrow and loneliness seeped down, wrapping themselves around the core of the father. For the first time in a very long time, tears began to swell up, carrying the same weight as a battery of welts inflicted along the breadth and width of his back.
Looking into a mirror, he stroked his mustache and then ran his fingers through
his hair. Doing so, he liked the way his gray had grown in to mix with his sandy brown hair. Tilting his head, he went back to stroking his mustache, thinking back to the day when he had first began to grow it. What was he, fifteen, at best sixteen. Oh how he had nurtured it.
He had had it ever since.
Laughing, he picked up his Norelco and while popping up the beard trimmer, he wondered how he could actually do this. It was much the same as cutting ones right arm off. And as he wondered, he shaved.
Placing his razor on the sink, the eyes studied the face in the mirror and immediately decided the wrong thing had been done. Rubbing, pinching the
smooth skin between his thumb and forefinger, he knew without doubt he would never shave it off again. There seemed to be just too much of an identity loss. As if he would be incapable to communicate with the stranger in the mirror.
Besides, he felt he looked stupid.
After tossing a washcloth into the sink, he walked out into his bedroom where a woman lay asleep. Walking over, he sat next to her torso, shaking her shoulders until she exhibited some semblance of sobriety after a long night of whiskey waters. With no great amount of passion, he briefly let her know he was leaving for work.
Walking out of the room, he muttered under his breath, “…And thanks a lot for breakfast, hon”.
Exceptionally beautiful days are tended with passion in a land where long winters tear into a populace with little mercy.
“Not a cloud in the sky” the man was thinking. Standing on a well-kept beach, he wore jeans with holes in both knees and a tattered green tee-shirt, the kind with a pocket over its left breast. In his right hand, he held a plastic cup,full if not minus a sip or two.
From behind him, he heard a voice call his name. A voice he recognized even after all these years. Stunned, he continued to look out over the horizon, perhaps in a vain refusal to recognize the voice as real. Finally he turned to face a never forgotten past. As he stared at the small, trim woman, he became aware of his loss for words. Exhaling a breath of air, he found it hindered as he forced his first wife’s name out with it.
“God it’s good to see you again, Marie, but what the hell are you doing here?”
“I…just had some time on my hands and decided, well, to come home for a couple of days.” Pausing, Marie then added, “It’s good to see you too David.”
Walking up to Marie, he stood silent and then in a whisper, “It really is good to see you.”
Around them, people were gathering in small groups, others were milling about. Some were seated at a couple of picnic tables. All, it seemed were engaged in some sort of conversation while nursing their beers along. Marie and the man had made their way over to a keg of Pabst, kept cold in an old garbage can full of ice.
Amid this summer tranquility, two old friends walked along a stretch of beach, talking, and then returning to the party to await their turn at the keg. Periodically, their privacy would be interrupted by another, but never for long enough to distract them from their memories.
And they talked of their lives, they laughed over their good times. Remembering, there was the birth of their children, their old Chevy that started on the coldest of winter mornings but had a heater that never seemed to work. There was this old friend, that old friend. They wondered what had ever happened to them.
Somehow, the pain of those days had been set aside.
So the day went on, ending when the man stood alone as Marie gave him a gentle kiss and then climbed into her car. Watching as she backed out the driveway, he felt mixed feelings. Joy, that she had found happiness in her second marriage, more children and above all, close ties to all that was around her. There was also a deep sense of jealousy that lie next to his joy. A jealousy he did not quite fathom. Perhaps her gain was through his loss.
Walking over to find no one around the keg, he flipped the black tap handle letting the beer run freely into his cup. He was still occupied with his earlier years, this time in solitude.
“What had happened,” he wondered. And he knew the futility of the thought. He had asked it before and the answer was always the same.
It was not so much what he had wanted as opposed as to
what had to be, no matter the cost.
A woman walked into the motel room dressed in tight fitting jeans and a beige halter top. He lay back on the bed as the woman sat down beside him. Briefly, they talked about money, about what he wanted and for how long. The business done, she rose and slipped her halter top off over her head as he watched.
It had been a full year since the man had bothered to drive the long two hours to the capital city. Before that, he had made the trip frequently. Usually once, maybe twice a month if he had the funds in his savings account. Driving down, he would visit with old friends, drink and then walk the seedier streets of the capital. Walking the streets, he would duck into this strip joint or that one, looking for prostitutes. As a last resort, he would walk into the trampy, dirty little massage parlors that dotted his way.
In essence, it was for the women he made the trip. No, not only for the women, but also for this different, dirtier way of life. There was something in the degradation that a city this size could offer that a smaller town could not. There was also the sense of obscurity, that he could do, say anything and never be out of place.
In gravitating with these people who only came out in the night, there was a semblance of sympathy for the whores, the drunks and all the have-nots. As if they too had been lost from the normalcy of life.
But he was not one of them, he was…, better.
And as the woman straddled him, he wondered if she knew this.
The room was small. Too small for too many people. As the people filed in to fill rows of metal folding chairs, their elbows could not help but overflow to invade their neighbors privacy. As a result of this, from the back row it appeared as if everybody were in a constant state of agitation, shifting their weights from one side of the chairs to the other.
A gray-haired man in back was concentrating, not on what the minister was saying, but on two men who sat in the front row. Side by side, their heads bowed in silent respect and sorrow. Behind them, sat a young woman in tears that were hid by a handkerchief held in place by a black gloved hand.
Shifting his thoughts to his daughter, the gray haired man thought how beautiful his youngest child had grown. And married with small children of her own. A thought crossed his mind that her children were roughly the same age that their mother was when he had left. Further, he wondered if the opportunity would arise for an introduction of some sort to his grand-children. An out of place smile presented itself, he had not realized he had so many grand kids.
Abruptly, the minister’s voice broke off and the old man watched as the coffin was sealed.
Marie was really gone.
The thought weighed on his soul much heavier than he had expected.
Now there would be no more letters, no inside information to leak out details of what their children were doing in their lives. Periodically, since the reunion on the beach, she had written, once even, she had called.
That was all before. Now all contact would be lost. Yet he hoped to establish some contact, even if only a smile. Some source of acknowledgment from his children.
Later, the man sat at a card table sipping a Styrofoam cup of coffee, afraid to set it down on the white table cloth for fear of stains. From across the room, he watched his oldest son walk in his direction. As
the young man approached, apprehension took hold. The father rose and on a nervous impulse, extended his hand. The notion of a handshake was not reciprocated. The son pulled out a chair to the old mans opposite side, and sat. Slowly, the old man followed.
In a whispered voice and tone, the mans oldest son leaned forward and asked his father to leave.
Leaning forward himself, and he too in a whisper, asked, “I can do that David, but first, is that how you all feel or have you taken it on your own initiative to ask me to leave.” Clearly, the son was not enjoying this confrontation. “Dad….Dammit, I can’t call you that, I’m sorry, it doesn’t feel right” and in exasperation he added “Christ” and then shook his head.
The old father looked his son in his eyes and saw a void to wide to be bridged.
“My names David” he spoke softly. Rising from his chair, he stood across from his son who remained seated. “You know I waited for hours after your plane got in” and in a bare whisper, he added, “I couldn’t bring myself to go home alone but I understand you had your reasons. Your mother…, well, she pretty much explained everything to me.” Turning, he walked out the room, and as he did so he could have sworn he heard a sigh of relief from everyone in the room, including himself.
Where he had hoped to build, no, plant the beginnings of a bridge across the years, he had not done so.
An old man in wire rimmed glasses had just finished vigorously shoveling his front walk free of snow. He would not have bothered with doing so if it had not been for a postal regulation requiring a clear passage to all mailboxes
Looking over his handiwork, he then forcefully threw his snow shovel into the midst of a snow bank he had created. Watching the blade drive deep, he stared at it in silence as he thought of how it reminded him of a fantasy which he had many years before. Quickly, his demons were locked away.
Yes, this old man still had his demons, an evil part of his existence which he had fought with for the better part of his life. Now, they were kept in the abyss of his mind. And on the rare occasion when they broke free to the surface, they were quickly, easily overcome and driven back to the depths they inhabited.
Somehow, with Marie’s death some years back, the desire to delve deep into the evil he possessed, simply faded. His darkest fantasies had remained just that. He really felt he had won. Still watching his shovel, he noticed its wooden shaft slightly vibrating, pointing straight towards the heavens. A sly grin crossed his face as he thought about the last time he had, not an erection, but the opportunity to use it. Walking back up three steps to his front door, he felt a twinge of pain run up along his left arm. Not paying any attention to it, he reached out, opened his door and walked into his living room. Removing his heavy parka, he unbuttoned the front of a red flannel shirt to reveal a thermal undershirt. Fumbling with fingers that had never really grown used to carrying the burden of cold, he removed his glasses which were frosted over and wiped them clean, using a tail end of his flannel shirt. With his glasses off, he watched himself in a mirror, hung on the opposite wall. Stroking his thin silver hair back into place, he thought how ironic his mustache had remained full. Silver, but still full. He smiled about the time he had shaved it off.
Suddenly he felt tired, unable to catch a full supply of air. He realized he had to work to force his lungs to inflate. From behind, he became conscious of the mailman dropping his mail through the front slot of his screen door.
Opening the door, still working at forcing his lungs to work, he bent over and picked up his mail. Sorting through the envelopes of assorted sizes, he rested his attention on one in particular. In the upper left hand corner there was an address with a simple heading which read “family”.
As he opened the letter, the pain in his arm came again.
This time not allowing him to pull the letter free, the pain arrived in a series of explosions deep in his chest. It was all the tired old man could do, to let go of the envelope and clutch at his heart. Collapsing, he fell against his screen door. Opening it with his weight, he then tumbled over the steps and onto his walkway. He lay there, in a semi conscious state. His heart fluttering and his vision fixed upon the envelope that had also fallen with him.
His letter had came to rest just out of his reach.
Redundant Pieces is an oldie, one of my first. Wrote from an apartment window while watching my young sons play in what was an old, open, uncultivated corn field. Hope you like it. ~ rob
Rainwater squeezed out of his old soiled high top tennis shoe as he placed a foot ahead on the pavement into yet another dip where standing water flowed past flayed and worn seams. He had given up long ago any effort to quickly lift the foot out to shake it dry, as there was always another puddle lying in wait.
Besides, every time he shook the water free, the loose flap of rubber sole worked its way worse, threatening to be lost. He knew, but didn’t care, both his feet were wrinkled white, tender and washed clean in their constant exposure, their only protection given by soggy white cotton socks he had picked up only days before while scavenging through some local Salvation Army that was housed in a musty old warehouse.
Unlike his socks which were used, but new, his pants, durable denim and ill fitting around his waist, were old, soiled and in need of finding permanent respite. In a sense, the storm was good in that the rain and wind were cleansing the tattered jeans, hopefully washing away some of the all too evident stains.
Off in the distance he saw headlights approaching, shifting and shimmering, dancing behind a glistening veil of rain. Briefly looking over his own shoulder, he glanced behind to see if there were a pair approaching his way. There were none, and as the oncoming car sped by him sending up sprays of water, he paid no attention.
Overhead, the late evening moon was well hid by a thick blanket of swirling moving clouds in agitated motion. Every once and a while a low rumble signaled a lighting flash which led to a quick shudder and the man clutched his old field jacket in a feeble attempt to pull it snug around his throat.
A car swept past him kicking up a sheet of water which couldn’t add to the moisture content of the man if it had tried, resulting in only some vague curse about idiots.
His attention was caught again by the fluid motion of headlights. This time traveling from his right to left, looking as if they were airborne, making cause for a shallow feeling of thanks which swept over him in that at least under the overpass, there would be some form of shelter. Then again, by the time he reached the pilings, it’d probably quit raining and the second he walked a mile past, the punishment would start again.
He didn’t like these kind of decisions, to stay and wait under the bridge or move on, didn’t like to make any kind of decision and it bothered him to have to make even such a simple one. Always seemed to him, that no matter what decision he made, it had been wrong, wrong in that somebody seemed to have to pay, and mostly, it was him.
And he was tired, beat, wore out and frustrated at having to pay.
They came quietly to their door, long faces wearing pages of sorrow hid dutifully behind a careful rapid knock on the cheap apartment door. Unusual for him, he peered through the little brass peephole as if once he had seen their faces, they might go away. But they did not, and he knew then that as they shuffled outside his home with downward glances that something was wrong. Much more wrong then what he wanted to hear and he hoped they would not be there when he opened the door.
Reading the eyes of all three, he was only faintly aware his wife had come to stand beside him, both her arms latched on to one of his.
What was it he had seen in their eyes and in their demeanor? A look of sorrow, but not for him. He knew, knew that that look was for his son and even his wife, but not for him as they leaped out questions, not for his wife, but for him. Each question was filled with that sorrow but there was something else there behind their words. A shade of..accusations. A warning that they knew the truth and he was deceitful, a liar and would be treated as such.
And then it came, their admission that they had found their son. Frail and small, curled in a fetal position with jacket pulled up over his head which was placed oh so delicately on his school bag which he had used to pack his favorite toys and clothing.
She beat his chest with closed hard fists, yelling the worst obscenities she could find, screaming so the neighbors across the hall cracked their doors to see her sobbing, and still pounding the chest of her husband while his hands were locked in cold forged steel behind his back.
He wanted to cry but possessed nothing but emptiness as his mind wandered from the reality it had grown accustomed to living in. Guilt and shame existed as the only comfort he had, knowing the blame was his…but it had been, and he knew this, an accident.
Turning his head just before being escorted from his home, he looked to see another man, giving solace with a loose arm draped about her sullen shoulders, to his wife who had collapsed upon an arm of their paisley couch. The television had been off and painted dull reflections across gray glass. On the kitchen counter, an interrupted ham sandwich lay open, waiting. Down the short hallway, he heard his young daughter cry out in a familiar wail to notify all she had awoke.
He did not know, but suspected this was no longer a world he would belong too and even that paled aside the death of his only son. He started, wanted to say something, to call out to his wife but he could think of nothing, no words were evident to push aside the pain and sooth his soul.
He had been right of course, no more a mile past the bridge, it had started to storm again, even worse. There wouldn’t be no turning back though. What would be the use? The minute he reached some odd shelter, it would quit raining until he left. If he would have been in a mood to laugh, he would have done so. Laugh at the stupidity which was his life as he done many times. In a sense, it was the man’s only real comfort, his only true sense of worth.
The green rectangular sign could be read now, and that served to occupy his thoughts. How many over the years had he seen like this one. Their names calling out unknown lives, reflective lettering just the same as the sign before and the one to follow. There was no difference, they all marked isolated little pockets which had little in common with the other and all they served for him was a gauge of how much further there was to go to a shelter and hopefully to lukewarm food prepared in volume.
Two hundred fifty miles he thought, comparing the distance as insignificant to the thousands he walked or rode, bought or begged.
It was all the same for the most part, but their was a difference here and he wondered about it. Wondered and questioned if this was the right thing to be doing, asking himself repeatedly if it was the smart thing to do.
And as always, no answers came.
Cold, cruel in all it implied, the door shut, leaving the man alone with only his thoughts. Behind him, the loss of his world was exemplified in a loud echoed noise of a lock being turned.
Crossing his arms for comfort, he massaged the shiver which ran through him, guessing that no amount of heat could displace the sterile isolation he felt.
Why did he feel so naked in this place? Even the mismatched colored shirt and pants, heavy material, offered no protection. Perhaps it was because his feet wore only plastic sandals to let the drab gray and scratched floor work their cold up around his ankles.
Finding a resignation that he would be here for some time, he sat on the edge of a hard plastic mat with seams stitched so strong, they could cut like paper burns, and figured his nakedness resulted from his guilt
He offered him a cigarette, commenting on the god damn storm and how nobody should have to suffer through it. The man took the smoke and didn’t bother with so much as a thank-you as he bent forward looking up through a rain dashed windshield to see a streak of lightning illuminate the clouds. With out permission he reached over, pushing the car lighter in and then slumped back into his seat, waiting for the light to pop. He was aware faintly, as he heard the rain splash across his window, of the man talking, asking, inquiring,… probing. He would shrug them all off until confident the man would leave him in silence, and this was, had been always, his answer.
Oncoming lights flashed past, highlighting the man’s ragged features, detailing a wisp of smoke as it curled. The driver turned his concentration to the road, now wary of his passenger, wishing he had never stopped.
The passenger snubbed out his cigarette and just caught a sign as it flooded by in errie silence.
He had yelled at him once and it had been useless to do so. All kids fought. He had fought with his own brothers and often his own father had beat all of them with a large foreboding belt upon whose presence sent everybody scurrying for cover.
He had never hit his son, not like that. He had spanked him, of course. The last, he had left welts and it had been too much, as he, unable to carry the guilt of the pain he had caused his own son, resolved never to do so again.
But this time, the boy was older, ten, almost eleven and fiercely independent and had said something he should not have. Under pressure of working extra hours to meet their downpayment, under pressure of cooking a semblance of a meal and insuring homework was done, under weight of outstanding bills, the boy had spoke back.
It was not his fault, not the boys, he told his lawyer. It was his and he took blame. He had lost his temper but even in that loss, the two sharp jabs with a closed fist to an arm had left telltale marks.
What…how long had the boy remained in his room, the lawyer had asked.
He didn’t know, an hour, maybe.
And you didn’t think to check on him?
Maybe I should have…but….
But what? He thought while seated across from this man whom those who had already decried his guilt, paid to establish his innocence.
Remaining hidden, the sun still found strength to bring dimness, however shallow to this new day as it cast a long shadow to lead the man up the steep incline of the off ramp. Breaching the slope he took in his surroundings and recognized nothing. But then, why should anything not have changed. And he questioned the reason, the driving force why he had came here, trying to find answers when he knew none existed.
The road was old, one could tell by the cracks which were plain and unattended to. Older then the highway he had left behind. That had not been here before. And as he started to walk past small, concise, and isolated stores, he felt strange, out of place, out of time as if everybody had gone forward with their lives, except him.
Nobody talked to him! Oh sure, briefly maybe, but nobody wanted to be seen talking to him as he sat at the bar, hands clasped about a cheap quarters worth of beer. They all knew him, that was a given. The papers made sure of that as did the radio station of this small town’s closest neighbor. He could set there, his back turned to them and feel the heat of their stares, hear their words hidden in deep throated whispers and it all bothered him.
He was beginning though, not to care. The day before his divorce had become final and faced with the fact he had begged, she would do less then talk to him. To her, he was worse then what all the others talked about.
Two trials he had suffered through, the last he had even started praying for a conviction, at least that way it could end. But there was no comfort, he remained accused and convicted even while the those who sat in his judgement could not decide his guilt.
It was of no consequence, he knew his guilt and he bathed in his blame as he started to find the only comfort in a world of long nights bought on by endless drinks, one continuously after the other.
He stood silently in front of the old apartment complex, now clearly in need of much repair. Hesitating, afraid maybe to find what he was looking for, he let his thoughts wander over the weathered common brick. He had designed this small complex, it had been one of his first projects and back then, he had took pride in it.
That had been a long time past. He knew and accepted this as his sight settled on the small first floor corner apartment.
Of course they’d replace the screen his boy had ripped to get through.
If he’d have to do it over again, he would have put bars over the damn window. If he had, it would have never happened.
His eyes swept over what had been a field, a corn field which had been plowed under and sat barren except for the snow which had covered it that Winter. And beyond the field, a small stand of stark trees, branches bare, waiting for the arrival of spring.
They had found him there, cold and alone. His head alighted gently on his backpack.
Across the field there existed a new, modern apartment complex, easily triple the size of his own and beyond that, the small stand of trees had given way to the city limits which had encroached.
He closed his eyes and let his mind wash in the memories of touch and sound and finally, after so many years, his eyes welled up, unable to hold back the tears.
He stood on the old highway, his belongings, rather that which they all had been reduced to, with an arm outstretched in a vain attempt to beg passage with one of the passing automobiles. He had no idea where he was going or much less why. Only a feeling of loss and guilt existed, a sense that nothing remained here worth staying for.
Maybe, somewhere, someplace.
Pasquat was a peaceful little town. I say was, cuz I’m speaking from memory, thinking ‘bout the day I left some thirty years ago. Funny, seems like yesterday. Wish it seemed like it was a thousand million years ago. Coming back doesn’t seem right, but there’s unfinished business, my business.
Thirty years ago there was only one road, over a bridge, that would get you to Pasquat. Visitors would cross over the bridge, and in a minutes time find themselves in the large center, paved roundabout of downtown, ringed by a café, Thrifty White, couple of small bars, a Coast to Coast, Church, and assorted ilk. Visitors, even if they bothered to stop, didn’t stay long, and headed out the way they came, back across the bridge over the Wild River.
Visitors could do that, leave. People like me, born and raised, blood soiled, mixed with the earth couldn’t. We were raised different, raised to believe that where you were, you stayed. Stayed cuz you owed a debt, a debt to your mom, pop, and the community that not only raised, but watched over you. One of the reasons there was never no other road to Pasquat, was by design, to keep people in. Not that we minded visitors, in fact we kinda needed ‘em, so they had built the old concrete bridge back in the heyday of transportation. Course, there had been an old wooden rickety bridge, but that was before my time. The only bridge I ever knew was the one I was looking at now, or rather what was left of it.
As a youngster, we’d fish off the rock pilings, had an old tire swing off that gnarled, ancient river poplar, and play hide ‘n seek along the sloping, brushed banks. Once, I tied a group of old cottonwood branches together, thinking I’d see how far I could float down the river. That particular day was when I started thinking I might want to leave someday, or better said, was when my natural curiosity of what was beyond the bridge manifested. The fact that I ended up right where I started didn’t do much to quell that desire, and truth be told, made me start to wonder what life was all about.
As a young one, I liked to ask a lot of questions. Mom and Pop, and most of the town, including friends just kinda laughed ‘em away. Never got much in the way of answers other then, ‘just the way it is’. The thing is, I wasn’t satisfied with everything being just the way it is. Didn’t understand why no one ever left Pasquat. We all knew there was a bigger world out beyond the bridge. We were able to view that world in our daily paper, on our televisions, in our theaters, our books and the occasional café stranger.
We just couldn’t cross the river. No one born and raised in Pasquat could! Physically! I guess at some point in time, people just surrendered to the fact. First time I tried was when I was 15. Dad had asked that I pick up a pound of pole barn nails at the Coast store, and as I tossed the paper bag on the seat of the old pickup I got the notion to drive across the bridge. I no sooner got across the bridge, crossing the river when I ended up right downtown, driving past the hardware store, headed toward the bridge.
I came to a real, cautious stop just before the bridge, a fire burning deep within, and I seared a promise deep into my soul, that one day, that bridge would come down. That one day, I would stand on the far banks of the Wild River, turn, and never look back.
That was well past thirty years ago, and here I stand today wondering how to get back cross that river, to Pasquat.
I had spent seven years studying the history of Pasquat, watching, listening to the old timers, reading old, weathered newspapers, some going back a hundred years. Lot of stories, lots of talk about God, demons, time warps and strange things going on in the woods. Lot of plain folk felt we were being punished for some wrong doing our grand daddies did, long time back. Only thing conclusive I came up with is that nobody had a clue why no one born and raised in Pasquat couldn’t cross the bridge. That’s when I figured out my first, real attempt to cross the bridge. Shouldn’t of done it, got some people pissed, and there were some real consequences, specially for the nice family whose truck I hid in. Wasn’t their fault, they just happened to come along, stop by the café, and have a large enough pickup with a bed I could hide in. Long story short, they weren’t able to leave Pasquat either, and their retribution for being unknowing accomplices was the distinguished position of being the first of Pasquat’s new citizens in over seventy five years.
Not long after that, there was headline news about a building being blown to hell and back and that fertilizer had been used in making the bomb. That got me thinking, and it also got me wondering about consequences.
The night was humid, full of insects flirting about under a full moon and cloudless sky. Every breath was a chore as the sweat glistened in the soft spell of the warm moon. One way or another, the bridge would be gone, and so would I, and since the good people of Pasquat were satisfied with their lives, no one would care the bridge was gone. Course, there lives would come to a standstill, no more occasional visitors, no more new books, movies, or news. I figured they didn’t care that much, and if they did, they could rebuild the bridge.
The only thing I struggled with, was quit unsure with, is how it all worked. Not the homespun bomb, I knew that was going to work, but rather once the bridge went down, would I stay on the other side or somehow, be transported magically back to the other side, stuck in Pasquat without even a bridge.
By my way of thinking, I had to be on the bridge when it started to crumble. I needed the explosion behind me, so there was no bridge to cross over and yet I couldn’t be too far along on the bridge where it bought me right back, and I had been proven right with a couple of simple experiments. I knew right where I had to be on the bridge when the damn bomb went off. Question was, could I run the 20 some feet past the supports on the west end before I went down with the bridge.
Turns out I couldn’t!
When I woke up the full moon was setting and the dust of rebar and concrete had replaced the choking mouthful of flying bugs, and it struck me quickly, I was on the other side of the river banks. In the diming light of the moon, figures were made out moving in the dawning darkness across the river, muted voices, questioning, concerned.
I sat up, stood up, climbed the steep bank, over crushed concreted, avoiding spouts of rebar and looked back only once, and then never again.
Not much had changed in the decades. The dust had settled, but that was about it as I walked to the bank. I knew that I couldn’t just wander down over the old broken bridge, swim across the Wild River and walk into downtown Pasquat. I had tried that the week before.
I heard the truck before it pulled up behind my favorite Mustang. I didn’t bother to turn and greet the young man as he walked up to stand right aside me.
‘This it, huh?’
‘We start building tomorrow.’