Keep your white hair, she says. I go around and walk around an artificial lake that has become real. With the snow and the geese, it has become real. There is no place not to be real. That is the unavoidable thing. Keep, she says, in a place where she is disappearing. She wants me to be old with her, to walk on the mountain that is disappearing. The mountain of us. I hear the single word Keep, and all through the night like my reflection in the dark plate glass of the artificial lake. A radio has been left on, somewhere in the night. Which is no longer a thing. Now it is a piece of paper I could hand to you. The lake, the geese that no one wants, that no one will bury, the ice they walked on, verifying existence. Their nests, your nests. It lives inside a piece of paper. As you will, soon enough.
There is no way to talk about it without sounding like witches. Their toys are still found in the forest. Sometimes, you come upon a stuffed animal sitting under a tree, moss growing nearby but the plush pet unmolested by this green fur. The animal will look so fresh, seemingly set down only a moment before, untouched by the weather, the long time they have been there in the woods. You might believe the child’s hand had just let go, it looks that warm. If things can look warm. You might believe that the child hides behind the trunk of the tree against which the furry pink elephant rests his back. For perhaps obvious reasons of mojo, of superstition, with an eye to good cess, the country folk talk about the children in a thinly-veiled code. For example, they drop off the first letters of their names. Bess becomes “Ess” and Tara becomes “Ara.” Sometimes, they merely use the children’s initials. Everyone remembers how the daughter buried the cat in the box. How the younger boy discovered this, returned with the cat in the box, put it on the dining room table in the house, an offering to his parents. She wept, was confessed. The cat became a religious symbol in their household. Feline martyr. The white cat glowed. Her siblings drew and painted it. Had it been the medieval period, there would have been a stained glass window in which the cat figured prominently, heroically. She forgave the little brother who condemned her. Who outed the witch in her. And then she took him for a walk deep into the woods one day and he was never seen or held again. She wept. She “lost” him. He was never found. She was very clever. She could roll her spirit shut the way a pill bug rolls its body shut, the way it becomes a little armored pill. The young father (so young he looked more like her brother) saw when she went for the next boy; it was a close call with a snowstorm, a wicked game. A grandfather’s boat was involved. And then the father took her for a walk deep in the woods and “lost” her. He said it wasn’t as easy as all that. He came back with strange marks on him. Later, he woke up with a tattoo on his body that he had never seen applied. Then the rest of the family disappeared and their house remains empty to this day. The forest remains empty. The trees are still hung, here and there, with little photographs in frames. That is her work. There is always a cool breeze, even in the warmer months. Even in the swamping heat of July. The forest keeps this cool space and its blue shadows. People blame it on a cave, but there is no cave exhaling this cool air. Children who come through know not to touch the little icons of the photographs. Not to touch the trees even. But you can see her entire family in the photographs. And other long-dead people who are mysteries. Which ones are hers? Who knows. The animals sit under the trees. Old stuffed animals with strange eyes of sorts you don’t see anymore on the animal dolls we give our children. Icon eyes. Terror and amusement at once in those old plastic eyes. Strange ecstasy. Maybe it’s the way the eyes are when one sees a human circus. One knows the horror. A dark part of one might be titillated. She is close. She is listening to us. It cannot be otherwise, for that is what the story tells us. The trees feel compassionate and invite us in. There may be a child’s tea party, the tea laid and waiting for us. Plastic tea set aping porcelain. Teacups steaming. Miniature table. Tiny chairs where tiny witches sit. But they are not what we imagine. We know better. One child walking barefoot encountered a lobster in the middle of the woods. It was crawling along the forest floor, though the ocean is more than an hour’s drive away . Sometimes a cloud will descend on a clear blue day and fill the space between the trees. And some days there are elephants. They seem lost. They cry as they wander through the fog and a girl’s laugh curdles your listening. Some unwise children leave her notes. These she reads. And sometimes she responds. Sometimes she comes to “help.”
I walked up to a tree this morning and said, “It’s complicated.” I had switched over to my other head, the one I like to pull apart, to pick apart in strands, islands, the head where my language is more my familiar than my self. My elf. Maybe I should specify it was a sycamore tree, or plane tree (as it is also known). Maybe I am occupying too much by thinking questions like this exist and want to come to you, trained doves. Do details matter? Of course they do, but they are as unicorns here, as useless facts, as windmills in an urban hipness, as unreal as anything else, a chain of as. A sort of licorice of ecstasy to unwind like a radial tire. You only believe in nodes of a story. Do you notice this about yourself? You might want to know where a character went in the novel, which streets he took, if he progressed like a squirrel or did much better, which corners he turned and what’s the address? You don’t care about the gnat or more inviting body, the great who rule over the imagined scenes, who are not consulted in our night of art, those things which might have taken her eye in the story considered real (to her). Should I tell you, for instance, I had my knife in my jacket pocket, as is my wont, or should I lie again and say it was a favorite stone, smooth, I like to (I must) caress with my hand? Now it is both a knife and stone at once, like that cat you like to talk about. Talk all you want. A doorway is made only for this. This loquaciousness. You don’t care about the great bank of all the ideas that ever were, that ever wore, but I say I do and either do I. I walked up to the tree and spoke to it, because it seemed a presence, luminous, white thing, thick, excoriating itself, phone book ugly, tearing its own skin off, day by day, alive, secretly parturient, stupid, liable to outlive me, illiterate, beautiful, hoggish, retro, mysterious, slave to wind, player with wind, trifler with all of us. I felt an affront and an attraction. The way it is before you fall into a hookup. “Why are you even here?” I screamed at the end of the mute soliloquy with the tree and then stomped off in ugly shoes. There was no one on the street. No worries. Even I wasn’t there.
Abra and Jamal sit in a cafe of sad people.
The cafe people are sitting in wire chairs that pretend they are
chairs on the Parisian street. The people are sitting at small marble tables
that want you to know that they are small marble tables, that they are smooth
and round and grey, and conscious of being small and round and smoothly
grey marble tables.
This is how it is in a cafe that has a name like this one.
The furniture is aware of being special like the children of those
with money, it is too sad to talk about any further.
There are thoughts designed to shut the mind down and there
are thoughts designed to set the mind flowing the way rivers
do when you look at them.
A random crowd of people can be either of those things. It
Abra was sitting in the cafe in the past tense and Jamal
was in the future tense. They were neither of them looking
down at phones, but looking at the other people looking
down at phones. The people were leaking sadness the way
the small phone screens were leaking light.
So Abra and Jamal wanted to finish their pastries, drink their teas,
and get up and walk away down the sidewalk.
Just then it was all about the sadness of the sidewalk ambience
about them. Abra pushed her napkin towards Jamal in a gesture
of dissatisfaction. Jamal stared at the napkin and nodded almost
subconsciously. A timer had been started that was set to begin
the walking away, and the timer was set to anytime soon
The ambiance that was sad people looking down at phones would soon be
retreating behind their backs. They would not look back
but would look into the excitement of oncoming headlights
and honking horns, the silhouettes of people running
across the street, in front of all these headlights, crossing
the dangerous river of people’s will to be somewhere else,
which is the most of that thing of which the world is made. If
we are to tell something like the truth.
This story is 5002 words.
I have just thought it into your brain using extrasensory perceptual push.
(It saved me so much typing!)
Please let me know what you think. I appreciate critical feedback.
Some young men are playing pool and watching as the sails of a small boat become pure distance out on the bay. When the sun gets low enough, it breaks up their syntax. Their young women are holding their babies in hard chairs, in dark corners of this room. The young women are going deep inside themselves and watching, jogging their babies on their knees as young printers will do with sheaves of paper. The room’s high ceiling is covered with a ridiculously ornate, white boiserie that fell from a high style so long ago that nobody can even remember. It looks like swallows should nest in it. Drinks move at an agreed-upon level in space, and space is agreed upon too, except where certain emotions flare up like sunspots or the fringes of a corona. A handful of hours later, after night puts a bandage to this scene, the thing mistakenly called silence plays like the faintest old record in there. The smoky bay is the last to leave this room (and, really, not until morning). The bay turns the blue walls of this room even bluer, gives out many somnolent shades that percolate in drizzled dark, and when the light finally comes around like a headache, it collects all these synonyms for the night and leaves.
I am wearing a shirt I named Bryce. My name is not Bryce. The shirt just looks like a “Bryce.” So I named it that. I think I bought this one drunken, summer afternoon in Kohl’s. I don’t know how many years ago. I was probably talking to the shirt. I was alone. I was probably very happy. That was the way it was then, euphoria in-between the hours like broken windshield glass cutting through me. I mean when I was an alcoholic. But I did have a shitload of credit cards then. I was responsible. Because I wanted my addiction to continue. I was probably wearing sunglasses inside the store. I was probably sexually attracted to Bryce. What does Bryce even look like? Bryce looks like a hideously ugly tattoo. Let me take off the shirt and stare at it. Let me study Bryce for you. Let me pay the horror forward. There is a big electric looking dragon, blue body againt egg yolk-yellow background, snaking across the back of the shirt. Below this dances a series of higgledy-piggledy human skulls that look a little like they were applied as drab, white spray-paint. If Bryce was a human being and not just a shirt, he would probably have to pay for sex. He’s that ugly. But I found him just now in the back room of my house; he was convenient; he was there. So I am wearing him. If this were Chinatown, if it were 1974, Bryce might just get lucky. If there were any sexually ambiguous bikers out on the block. Bryce would probably wilt in the Chinatown heat. He would melt as his cheap, synthetic fibers would under an iron, if that man were to just reach over and put his hands through the holes of Bryce’s sleeves. He’s a terribly shiny, terribly easy shirt.
A man had turned to cheese.
It had happened gradually. The man began to find a certain cheesiness to his most cherished beliefs. Then holes began forming in him. He became mindful of these holes and started to think about them constantly. Soon his self-esteem went over.
He was a man like Swiss cheese. There were so many holes in his surface, you could play miniature golf on him.
The man figured he could just keep it a secret. If he didn’t tell anyone his private thoughts, didn’t confess, maybe people wouldn’t notice. And there was always the possibility that this was a delusion. It’s the sort of thing you’d rather struggle with for years, for decades, than suffer the risk inherent in telling any doctor or health professional or friend.
This conviction that he was turning to cheese came to dominate the man’s life. When he was busy during the day, he could avoid the thought for large periods of time. But the free hours of each evening waited like a long trial carried out in excruciating installments. It was like having a Great White Shark waiting in the bathtub each night. He just climbed in with the shark of this idea each evening and wrestled with it. He would curl up with this horrible idea as he fell asleep each night the way others curl up with a good book. This is the hell of cheese.
But then it got worse. Strangers started trying to take little bites out of him. He knew the jig was up then. He knew then he wasn’t delusional. He didn’t feel safe in his own office. Why, one Thursday he was talking to Jarvis when Hower behind him tried to take a bite out of his ass. He spun around just as Hower spun his spinnable cubicle chair quickly back away, attempting to look innocent, pretending to be lost in the spreadsheets on his computer screen. But he had felt the young temp’s teeth.
His wife left him about that time. She didn’t even take her wardrobe. She said it was too cheesy to take with her. She insisted their relationship had undergone caseination long ago. The marriage had just turned to cheese. It was edible but unhealthy. You wanted to put something wholesome to it, like a cracker, but you realized that you were using the cracker to cover up the cheese guilt. She didn’t want the cheese guilt anymore. “You didn’t taste like this when I met you,” was all she said. She looked away, sobbing through plate glass.
The man didn’t date again. The cheese took the nursery rhyme’s advice to heart and stood alone. He became a hermit and took to serious aging as cheeses often will. He dedicated his life to merely existing without being consumed by others. This isn’t always an easy thing to do, especially if you are cheese and feel that insane desire to nourish others with a thickness and unhealthiness for which you must constantly apologize.
Yes, it is true you are going to prison. It’s not just jittery jail this time. Yeah, it’s true that you will probably receive many insults. People in prison can be very bitchy. There will be many thirsty, daggery insult queens in there. Skinny dudes with terror hiding behind their eyes, their swift tongues. But you will also receive some compliments. Any time there is forced socialization in extremely close quarters, there will be those obligatory insults. Monkeys mark territory with words as cats do with piss. Snaps are territorial pissings, etc. But think. Forced socialization also breeds compliments. You will cause some real head-turning. Sometimes you will receive glowing reviews. You may even blush. So if you are able to focus only on the compliments, you may actually come out of prison with improved self-esteem. You may think it is impossible but look at Eldridge Cleaver. And you’re not even a rapist. But. The truth is you have no friends, you hide from everyone. And now you have the possibility of making friends again. Think of it as the first day of kindergarten. You do have skills. You can teach a murderer to read Jane Austen. Angels will sit on your balls. For doing the good work of karma. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I realize you won’t have access to your Etsy. I’m sorry. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop knitting.