From Inside a Ziggurat

They said you missed out on so much being the way you are. They said it without punctuation like that and so it will go. On. Without punctuation. Not the way a life is when someone stops on the stairs merely to be aware they are stopping on the stairs. Shall we address Gertrude Stein from here?

This painting is a solid color and is uterine.

They said that but whether they addressed me or not might be irrelevant if I took it to heart, to the place underneath this potted plant. And that cop standing next to it. The truth is they were talking to someone else and I overheard and it was suddenly addressed to me as though I were the someone else on the p.a. they did not actually address, but talk about behind her back, as people generally do, because language only exists behind backs, everywhere, really, this is true. There is nowhere to say anything that is not behind many, many backs. That poems exist is proof of this fact. They are so far behind all human backs it is ridiculous.

I was putting cheese on my grilled cheese at the time, middle of the night, and my hands were freezing, they were just ice, and I imagined a tumor in a place in my shoulder, I had to check, but the hands were a misery, a punishment, a cold of Inquisition (they didn’t use only fire; think), iciness of a surgical x-ray table you have to lay on, just get it done, verify there is no tumor, flip the grilled cheese sandwich, discard thoughts of vice, remember that the second side always browns exponentially (existentially) faster (it’s like a second marriage). Don’t make the same mistake again and flip the sandwich, did, it is now on the plate and who were they (we) talking about, the ghosts in love with criticism of others? ghosts on stairs? Let me open up the melt of the sandwich and add a fresh slice of tomato, but salt it first, like memory, salt the slug of the world. Get down into the dissolution of the salt in a flavor. You can’t hold it anymore. That red pulpy thing. The salt and the tomato are inseparable like beach and skyline on a perfect day. The festering voices go past like countless buses and you must learn to sit and knit inside them. You are not young enough to die on a ledge anymore.

ssssstory

The poor old man was not right. When we opened his fridge, we saw that it was filled beyond our wildest imaginings, if people actually had “wildest imaginings” about the insides of refrigerators. Do you get excited about a refrigerator’s guts? Some people do. But only a small number of the items in the Frigidaire were actually food. The shelves were chock-full. Ass to mouth were rocks, tools, books, chewed gum on a pink plate, tiny oil paintings of cats he had known, anything really. Anything he could fit in there he had crammed in. Old loon non-censorship universe. There was a brick. What is the expiration date of a brick, we wondered. We asked him why he felt the need to keep such items in there. He said he didn’t want his refrigerator to feel “unrealized.” He knew it existed to make things cold. And he was sympathetically “feeding it things” that it could chill. We understood that he meant in his own schizophrenic way to say that this is what some people do in relationships. They give things to the other person to freeze. Sometimes things get frozen to death. It was confusing to him. Whether the fridge was his lover or not. There was a goldfish in there frozen to death in the ice cube of a Mason jar. He also said he liked his milk to be so cold that he couldn’t even hold it. He was a very, very old man. Now the fridge is out on the concrete in front of his house. So I guess we don’t have to go inside today. Or ever. “Your refrigerator rocked,” Katy said to the air. So we smiled and left.

Archibald’s Skin

scifi

Archibald’s mother was looking for him. She went into her son’s bedroom to find Archibald’s skin, but not Archibald, lying on the bed.

She hadn’t known that boys could do snake tricks like that sometimes. But it didn’t really surprise her. She had learned not to be surprised at anything boys do. She ran in her silly, marvelous little heels to the back door and put one hand against the wrinkled screen. Her fingers nervously tapped across the gritty, orange-rusted, orange-frosted metal of the screen, as though it were a decayed typewriter. At the same moment, her other equally manicured hand went up over her brow to perform the function of a hat visor as she stared into the full-bore assault of a summer sunset. She was trying to see if Archibald was playing in the field of wildflowers behind their house, as he so often did.

The glare was too much, so Archibald’s mother had to step outside. She could see that many boys were playing.It looked like a spirited game of tag. But she still couldn’t make out any details yet. They were all just silhouettes against the ridiculous histrionics of light the sun was engaging in as it left the earth, or rather, as the earth left it.

Then she saw that all the boys had shed their skins. It wasn’t just her Archibald. All the boys looked like mice that had just been born. It disturbed Archibald’s mother when she realized how much all the boys looked alike now. Which one was her Archibald?

But  she had her answer as soon as she asked, since one red (well, actually, his exposed musculature was almost pink) boy came zipping over to the woman, only to laugh, “Hello, Mother!”

She was not amused.

“Archibald, I’m going to make a roast, and when I stop in your room in fifteen minutes, I expect to see you in there and back in your skin. You will be going to bed early. But I may bring your supper to you there if you’re there the first time I check. If not, not.”

And then she turned and stalked off to her kitchen. She wasn’t going to dignify any possible disagreement by listening further.

Archibald’s mother trusted that he would be a good boy and listen, so she prepared a plate for him. The generous slices of tenderly bloody roast were still steaming among the baby carrots as she carried the plate up the plush stairs, walked it down the plush hallway and entered Archibald’s plush room.

Archibald was in his bed, a stuffed animal laid over his face like a mask. He looked like a little shaman. It was a raccoon. The fake animal covered his eyes. The tail hung down over the side of his face, the side of the bed. It was a realistic looking tail.

“Now that’s my boy!” said his mother. And she brought the plate to his side.

She saw that Archibald had not only gotten back into his skin, lickety-split, but he had also discreetly put pajamas over it. She loved how the pajamas had feet in them that glowed in the dark. They glowed a shade of green that only exists in the movies.

Mother served Archibald in bed. She even tucked his napkin like a bib. It was the royal treatment.

She had been stroking his belly while he ate. The child found it disturbing. The mother did not.

“Mother?”

“Yes, Archibald?”

“I’m quite enjoying your roast, Mother. And the baby carrots are sooo succulent.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, sugar flakes.”

“But, Mother, have you looked in my eyes?”

And it was like a lightning bolt. Archibald’s mother looked into the eyes inside Archibald’s skin. They were not Archibald’s eyes. They were the same color, almost the exact same hue, but they did not have the sparkle unique to the eyes of her son Archibald, which was a bewildering sparkle like lightning in a lake where somebody is politely drowning. These eyes presently inside her son’s skin were more mischievous eyes. They were more monkey eyes.

“Bobby? Bobby Wilkins? Is that you? Is that you inside my boy’s skin?”

He giggled like a drunk in Las Vegas then, though he was just a boy. He felt himself an accomplished prankster, a Loki, the monkey at the top of the tree. And he had even gotten some mature female companionship out of his shenanigans.

“And I have something else to tell you,” Bobby said.

“Go on,” Archibald’s mother said, seemingly without trepditation.

“My Daddy has been wearing your husband’s skin for a week. And you never even knew! Aren’t daddies funny?”

Bobby threw himself back on the bed, clutching the stuffed raccoon, and squealed like a freak.

“Bobby, I knew. Look closely into my eyes now. It’s Mother.”

Bobby leaped forward, puzzled. He realized she spoke the truth. His mother was now wearing Mrs. Hassenpfeffer’s skin. How had he missed that one?

“I’m sorry to inform you, Bobby, that your father is dead. Now we need to get our things together and get out of here. Please run to wherever Archibald is and tell him you need your skin back immediately. Tell him we’re going on a family trip.”

Bobby hesitated. He was to the door but he hadn’t exited yet. He stared with horror and fascination as his mother slipped out of the dress and skin of his best friend’s Mom.

He stared at the crumpled breasts lying on the floor.

He wondered whether it should have turned him on. He was at that age. After all, wasn’t he someone else? Wasn’t she?  But wait. They were both the same.

“I mean it!” Mother suddenly bellowed at him. Bobby saw her teeth had blood in them. Or was that just lipstick?

All he wanted to know, really, was who started it.

But that would take thirty years.

And by then, he would have started collecting skins. Skins nobody really wanted to give him.

“It all began as an innocent prank,” he would often be heard telling anyone who would listen to him. But this was on death row. And he had written a celebrated book about tattoos by then. He had published it the year before the FBI closed in. Nobody reading this bestseller had realized at the time that their enjoyment of the erotic images contained in the book was actually necrophilia.

The name of the book was Skin Jobs.

A Bay

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.