Arthur, Hero — 4

background

I’ve been a play­wright, a lock­smith, and a legal aide. In none of these roles have I had to per­form acts befit­ting the trade. I would merely be in a the­atre, a work­shop, or a cour­t­house. To what ends I couldn’t say. Per­haps to admire how well the spaces were defined. I’ll give my writer props, he can write a good pic­ture. And once in a while sticks with it long enough to cre­ate scenes and, more rarely, some­thing of a story—though I’d say sketches bet­ter describes his mod­est assem­blages of scenes.

One such sketch had me in Carmel-by-the-Sea. I stayed in a motel on the high­way. ‘On the doorstep of the great Big Sur.’ Wait­ing for a deliv­ery of some kind. A deliv­ery that didn’t arrive. Not while I was there at least. In the mean­time, for 5 or 6 days, I wan­dered to the sea­side dur­ing the day and sat in a dingy bar at night. The main things that hap­pened were that I became mes­mer­ized by the ‘windswept majesty’ of Mon­terey cypress trees and that I hooked up with Candy. Who I bought drinks for and threw darts with and let share my bed. Where I learned of her pro­longed res­i­dence at a drug-crazed artist colony, from which she had recently dis­patched her­self, and of her long­ing to travel South Amer­ica. I also dis­cov­ered that she was tat­tooed from the waist down in faintly ren­dered fish scales. My mer­maid. A bit daz­zled by life and the throes of addic­tion recov­ery, but we got on just fine and had us some fun along the way.

Put this wise it sounds as though Candy was the item to be deliv­ered. I don’t know from nar­ra­tive devices, but in ret­ro­spect it does seem I was in Carmel to enable Candy, if that makes any sense.

Let me ven­ture an aside here. My writer uses me to a) be the eyes in the spaces he con­structs, and b) engage with and draw out rel­e­vant details from the other char­ac­ters he deems fit to send in my direction.

In a sense, then, my chief func­tion has been to col­lect stories.

Cer­tainly an accu­rate descrip­tion of my main call­ing. By default I tend bar. Pre­vi­ous to the whole Annabelle Ruthers deal I even ran my own shop. A nar­row hole in the wall called The Tap. I had noth­ing to do with its name but I think it fair to say I made it the cozy estab­lish­ment it was. Serv­ing host to a hand­ful of odd­balls who, over time, became a closeknit crew of ram­bunc­tious reg­u­lars. Most nights The Tap was venue for all man­ner of top­i­cal debates: why we do what we do, how things are for­ever in tran­si­tion, what the next con­tro­versy might be, how the stars fea­ture in our daily inter­ac­tions, etc. I had staff: gen­er­ally tran­sient souls, com­ing and going, and of course the indomitable and irre­place­able Bee­Bee (who’s spir­ited opti­mism and down-home moth­er­li­ness over­shad­owed the trail­er­park hair and the gritty vocals of a life­long smoker). On week­ends a philo­soph­i­cal piano player, Eddy, tin­kled the keys between gar­bled mono­logues of con­tem­po­rary profanity.

All-in-all a pretty decent room to call my own.

Til it burned to the ground.

I was there the night it hap­pened. Smelled the smoke and saw the back wall of the main room ignite into a ver­ti­cal sheet of flame. I kept my wits. Ush­ered every­one out and with a clus­ter of reg­u­lars watched from across the street as the fire took hold. Fiercely glow­ing against the dark night sky.

Then noth­ing. Another hia­tus. For months. Til outta the blue getta call from Lorelei.

What can I say. My writer has his head in the clouds.

He clearly has designs on writ­ing mysteries—me being prime among them. Only prob­lem is he doesn’t seem all that inter­ested in solv­ing them.

And, you know, the thing of it is, I mean, if I’m hon­est, is that, well, I never had much faith in there being a future. For me, I mean.

Maybe that’s what this is about. Me writing.

Get­ting things down. Tak­ing the reins. Hav­ing my say.

Won­der if Candy’s still out there somewhere.

Had I my way I’d make mine a story of find­ing her again.

Just say­ing.

And I’m think­ing to myself, why not? Go look­ing for Candy? Sounds a solid thing to aim for.

But I sup­pose my first pri­or­ity should be stitch together my own loose thread.

Instead of Norm — cover preview

ION cover 1

Work­ing at mak­ing nov­els avail­able in epub for­mat. Here’s a pre­view of pos­si­ble cover for Instead of Norm. (Apolo­gies for crappy resolution—image is JPEG con­verted from PDF.)

Hop­ing to have epubs ready for April, which hap­pens to coin­cide with 5-year anniver­sary of exper­i­ment pages!

Arthur, Hero — 3

day one

My writer cre­ated me a num­ber of years ago and has been toy­ing around with the idea of me ever since. He puts me into scenes. Has me say and do ridicu­lous things. Gets me going then uncer­e­mo­ni­ously aban­dons me, repeat­edly leav­ing me in the lurch. It’s maddening.

To be fair, I expect that I drive him nuts too.

Char­ac­ters: can’t live with em, can’t go on with­out em.

I should be grate­ful. At least I have a name. Even if only one. A given. Con­ferred upon me at the end of my first appear­ance. Which I still have by the way. Secreted away in a drawer. Like the orig­i­nal copy of an impor­tant doc­u­ment. A birth cer­tifi­cate, say.

Here it is. In full—don’t worry, it’s short. Entered as evi­dence of how I came to be.

It suits him that his birth­day is on Rob­bie Burns Day. There’s always a party going on and he does’t nec­es­sar­ily have to attend to participate.

“And some great lies were never penn’d.”

Per­haps he’s chuffed that he shares some­thing in com­mon with the likes of Anto­nio Car­los Jobim, Vir­ginia Woolf, Etta James, Euse­bio. Should he think of such things.

We are, after all, what we make of ourselves.

Or maybe he iden­ti­fies more with mor­bid details. That, for instance, mob­ster Capone died on the 25th day of the first month in the year 1947. Noth­ing like a ten­u­ous link to noto­ri­ety to give the oth­er­wise ordi­nary a boost.

Not that he wishes to make (or take advan­tage of) holes in the sys­tem. Yet that he should be so inclined allows for more inter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties than, say, being a col­lec­tor of inspi­ra­tional one-liners.

Hard to imag­ine him hav­ing much of a response to such phrases as ‘you are the pur­veyor of your deep­est self’ or ‘only you make now happen’.

Ordi­nary though?

Well well. Didn’t another Rob­bie Burns Day alum­nus pen that only a mediocre per­son is always at his best?

Set­ting that aside, it’s fair to say he’s not polit­i­cally moti­vated. (He cares. Just not enough to turn his life into a cause.) Nor does he like to be at the cen­tre of things. (Do away with any inten­tions of explor­ing a mega­lo­ma­niac in the mak­ing). And it’s doubt­ful he’s bur­dened with urges that the larger frame­work of soci­ety frowns upon (i.e., the stuff that makes for decent crime drama).

So, for the time being, we’re left with a mid­dling sort of dude who’s as like to get drunk with his bud­dies as he’s capa­ble of spend­ing his birth­day drink­ing alone, in his apart­ment, with the lights down, get­ting his white­boy funk out to a dig­i­tal groove channel.

Putting him some­where between 20 and 45.

As yet uncer­tain of his stature etc. Would do, how­ever, to grant him a name. Let’s dub him Arthur.

Not much, I admit. But it’s mine. And maybe sheds a lit­tle light on what I’ve had to put up with. Since day one.

Arthur, Hero — 2

pebbles

The agents. Tall and taller. Big boys with bad buz­z­cuts and col­or­less faces made of stone. They looked angu­lar in their blue suits, uncom­fort­able wear­ing ties and hav­ing the top but­ton done up. Their irri­ta­ble eyes sug­gested long hours before com­puter screens in dark rooms. Beyond that I’m not sure as there’s much to say about them except that I didn’t notice if either car­ried a firearm.

I led them into the kitchen. They sat on stools. I stood against the stove. The tall one blitzed me with ques­tions. I gave brief answers. The taller one showed me pho­tographs. I con­firmed iden­ti­ties. The pace was tor­rid. Their man­ner, cold and effi­cient, kept me off bal­ance. I hardly remem­ber breathing.

Regard­ing Annabelle they got out of me that I’d worked for her a lit­tle over a year ago, or there­abouts. As a kind of com­pan­ion. Some­one to lis­ten to her talk and tell sto­ries and occa­sion­ally go for shorts walks. Mon­day Wednes­day Fri­day morn­ings. For 2 or 3 months.

Other details of rel­e­vance. Annabelle was in her early 70s and lived in an upscale seniors facil­ity cater­ing to secured inde­pen­dence, what­ever that means. The main thing to know about Annabelle: she’d recently gone blind. Aside from advanced arthri­tis, which reduced the func­tion­al­ity of her hands to cum­ber­some claws, she seemed oth­er­wise in good shape.

The ques­tion­ing turned to how I got the job. From what I could recall, I had been con­tacted by Annabelle’s niece. Lorelei. She was look­ing for some­one to aid her aunt in adjust­ing to life with­out sight. We had a short dis­cus­sion about Annabelle’s sit­u­a­tion then arranged to meet in per­son. Which we did a few days later. In the lobby of Annabelle’s building.

After a short inter­view we went up to Annabelle’s apart­ment for intro­duc­tions. About all I remem­ber of that first meet­ing was that there didn’t appear to be any books in the apart­ment. Lorelei escorted me back down to the lobby.

This would be the only time I saw her. Any com­mu­ni­ca­tion we had was by phone. I didn’t know any­thing more about her. To my rec­ol­lec­tion, Annabelle almost never spoke of Lorelei.

The tall agent asked for a descrip­tion of Lorelei. I put her in her 40’s and maybe 5’7”. Cau­casian. A touch on the heavy side. Shoulder-length brown hair. Fair com­plex­ion. Wore glasses—small rec­tan­gu­lar job­bies that looked a lit­tle odd on her face because her cheeks were plump. More than that would have been pure speculation.

Still, I was pressed to give my impres­sion. All I could offer was that she seemed a busy woman.

The inter­ro­ga­tion wound down after that. A ques­tion or two about how she inter­acted with Annabelle (they appeared famil­iar), how I was paid (weekly, in cash or per­sonal cheque signed by Annabelle), why I stopped work­ing with Annabelle (my ser­vices were no longer required).

That was it. A whirl­wind. Took all of 15 min­utes. Tops. Next I knew I was show­ing them out.

I stood at the door a while. Star­ing blankly at the street. Admir­ing the calm of the early evening. Rel­ish­ing the mild late win­ter air. Enjoy­ing the gen­tle reprieve before the onslaught of thoughts gath­ered steam.

What in hell just took place. It hap­pened so quickly I didn’t get a chance to find out why the agents had come. What Annabelle had to do with any­thing or why it was that the greater por­tion of ques­tions per­tained to Lorelei.

I looked at the street. There were plenty of places to park. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen the agents get into a car.

The street lights came on.

Which was about when it dawned on me that the agents were after a con­nec­tion to the Lanes. It all seemed so clear. They were a ruse. An attempt to get back into the story. My writer must have truly been at wit’s end to pull me, an oft-abandoned char­ac­ter, into the mix.

Fucker. He hadn’t even both­ered to give the agents names.

Arthur, Hero — 1

setting up

When news broke on the vil­lain­ous doings of Carol and Dono­van Lane I didn’t get caught up in it like so many oth­ers. I don’t know why. Some­times extra­or­di­nary things have such a gloss about them it’s dif­fi­cult to see past the glare they create.

Still and all the Lane sib­lings stirred up quite a spec­tac­u­lar fuss. You couldn’t go any­where with­out see­ing or hear­ing about them. The list of crimes they were accused of orches­trat­ing was noth­ing short of prodigious—identity fraud, wil­ful mis­con­duct, crim­i­nal mis­chief, asset mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion, manslaugh­ter, mur­der. Shock­ing bad shit. But the thing that really out­raged peo­ple was that the Lanes had the audac­ity to tar­get the old and infirm. That the Lanes had man­aged to elude the author­i­ties seemed less impor­tant than the fact that they were both in their thir­ties. At least in the early days of the story. For some rea­son their ages made the nature of their alleged deeds worse.

Of course the call was out for any infor­ma­tion related to the Lanes. Their pho­tographs were every­where. Usu­ally the same pic­ture. An older shot of them smil­ing on a ski trip. Both wear­ing toques and sun­glasses. High-collared ski-jackets. Him hold­ing a snow­board on his shoul­der. Her with a hand clutch­ing a pair of skis stand­ing in snow. Their faces so poorly defined they could’ve been anyone.

Cov­er­age of the story accel­er­ated. Known and sus­pected aliases were pub­lished. The wheres and whens of their alleged activ­i­ties pre­sented in full page pic­tographs. Details on a few of the vic­tims were disclosed—friends and rel­a­tives stepped for­ward to have their say on the wrongly done to and the dearly departed, rel­ish­ing their chance to declare what an atroc­ity the whole affair was, how dev­as­tat­ing. Nat­u­rally, the Lanes were cas­ti­gated as mon­sters. They had to be. No way around it. To plot such a scheme.

Though infor­ma­tion on the Lanes’ adult lives (beyond their spree of immoral­ity) had yet to sur­face, reports did man­age to reveal some­thing of their upbringing—a bro­ken home, trou­bled rela­tions with fos­ter par­ents, board­ing schools, etc.

To put it mildly, the fifth estate was hav­ing a field day. And the gen­eral pub­lic couldn’t get enough.

Con­sen­sus had it that if the Lanes were on the run, or hid­ing, they couldn’t be inno­cent. No doubt­ing what every­one thought. The col­lec­tive mind had made its ver­dict. And God for­bid what should hap­pen to the Lanes were any­one to find them alive.

Head­lines announced rewards. Large gath­er­ings assem­bled. Sit-ins were staged. Bull­horns cried for jus­tice. Peo­ple wanted to know why the Lanes weren’t behind bars. Unau­tho­rized man­hunts were orga­nized. Police tried to calm the thirst for vengeance. A court order against vig­i­lanteism was pro­posed, which had the pre­dictable effect of arous­ing greater antag­o­nism among the more vocal, who called on their fel­low cit­i­zens to rally together in this time of need.

Things became so heated that for a cou­ple weeks there it seemed as though riots might erupt at any moment. They didn’t, thank­fully. But where the Lanes were con­cerned, peo­ple seemed to take leave of their senses. They wanted blood. I don’t know what say to about that. What it says about us. Our cul­ture. The kind of world we live in.

One thing I will say is that as much as I avoided the hype sur­round­ing the Lanes, I was intrigued by how their story, or the col­lec­tion of sto­ries that were built up around them, cap­ti­vated such a large and ani­mate and, for the most part, united audi­ence. How, for the two months or so that the Lanes had top billing, peo­ple allowed them­selves to become part of an obses­sion that sped on into a brief civil­ian con­fu­sion and a kind of mass hysteria.

I don’t know what hap­pened to pre­vent the chaos that threat­ened. But as quickly as the story of the Lanes gained momen­tum it fiz­zled out. Addi­tional details were rel­e­gated to back pages and ceased to claim air­time on tele­vi­sion or radio. For what­ever rea­son the pub­lic was no longer interested.

In a man­ner of speak­ing, the Lanes, still at large, had weath­ered the storm.

And then, maybe two weeks later, I received a visit from a pair of fed­eral agents. At my door they flashed their badges and asked if I was who I am.

I said that I was and asked to what I owed the plea­sure. They said they wanted to ask me some ques­tions about my involve­ment with Annabelle Ruthers.

cicatrix

window

All morn­ing, in between tak­ing calls and greet­ing clients, Kat des­per­ately wanted a cig­a­rette. Meet­ing up with Dev for lunch had her decid­edly on edge. Ages since when­ever the last time. She didn’t get much sleep from think­ing about it. Or him, rather—one sce­nario after another. There wasn’t a whole lot of talk­ing. He mostly just gave her long­ing looks. And smiled. Loads of smil­ing. Like he always did. She kept hop­ing maybe he’d sur­prise her. With some­thing other than smiles. But she was too close to being awake for any­thing crazy to hap­pen. And now she didn’t know what to think other than maybe she should’ve had some­thing a lit­tle more sub­stan­tial for break­fast. But­ter­flies and cof­fee weren’t so compatible.

It was almost noon. Dev would be here soon. She hadn’t taken her morn­ing break yet. Thought a hot cup of lemon water might be a good idea to set­tle her nerves some. She went to the staffroom. Sun­light streamed in the win­dows. Looked a gor­geous day out there. It had been so gloomy of late. Dirty roads, wretched skies, and no snow to speak of. If it weren’t for the inces­sancy of the radio it would be pretty hard to know Christ­mas was less than a week away.

Kat set the ket­tle and stepped over to the near­est win­dow. She saw the old man down there in his small back yard sit­ting in his lawn­chair with arms firmly crossed and that weath­ered wis­dom only deep wrin­kles can project. He was dressed for winter—mittens, scarf, puffy bomber. But noth­ing extra on his head. See­ing that flown away head of hair cheered her up like a chance run-in with a long ago friend. All this weird weather, she’d almost for­got­ten about him. John­son. She smiled. Stan Johnson.

She remem­bered the day John­son brought the lawn­chairs from the garage. The fold­ing kind. Both hor­i­zon­tally striped. One blue and white, one green and white. Each under an arm he shuf­fled up the walk and unfolded them by the back door. He took some pains to posi­tion them so that while they faced the gar­den, they were also slightly angled toward one another. Then he went into the house. Noth­ing much. But it grounded her some that day, gave her some­thing to think about—other than how out of place she felt.

It was the week she started. As a temp. Back in the sum­mer. Before the shit with fuck­nuts went down. Among all the pro­ce­dures and inter-office rela­tions she had yet to get a han­dle on, John­son was a cinch. He was some­thing of a third floor curios­ity, a nov­elty, for the other girls in the office. Old Man this, Old Man that. The gig­gles never seemed to cease. Kat didn’t see what all the fuss was about. He just looked a lonely old man sweep­ing his days away. That’s about all he ever seemed to do: sweep sweep sweep. Stop­ping every now and again to look up at the sky. And mut­ter. Always muttering—the girls would stand at the win­dows and won­der what. Broom in hand he appeared to be curs­ing, mak­ing accu­sa­tions against the infer­nal sky.

The lawn­chairs added a new dimen­sion to the game of watch­ing the cranky old man. For the first few days he avoided the chairs. Then one day the next week Kat saw him stand­ing before them, hands cupped over the han­dle end of his upright broom, face against hands like a col­lapsed prayer. Even­tu­ally, he broke his pose and sat. In the green chair. Clutch­ing the broom with both hands, hold­ing it across his knees. He looked tense. As if uncer­tain it would take his weight. She watched him get back up, look up at the sky, and try the blue chair. Ten­ta­tively, he eased him­self back into it. Over the next minute or so she watched as he slowly allowed him­self to relax enough to let the broom drop from his hands.

From that day on Kat was an avid, if less vocal, mem­ber of the old man’s fan­club. His shuf­fling, cur­mud­geonly ways too much to resist. She took it upon her­self to find out his name. Walked straight up to his front door. Opened his mail­box. Pulled out envelopes. There it was. Mr. Stan John­son. She snapped a pic­ture to show the girls. Such a sim­ple exer­cise. Yet what a long way it went to estab­lish­ing her sta­tus within the futzy hier­ar­chy of the office.

The ket­tle popped. Kat stepped back to the counter, poured hot water over pre-cut lemon slices. Her arm itched. She pulled up the sleeve of her sweater, reveal­ing a good set of heal­ing cat scratches. From the other night. Her phone rang. She didn’t know the num­ber. Let it go to voice­mail. When she lis­tened to the mes­sage, heard Dev’s voice, so out of the blue, she screamed. Scrumps went bal­lis­tic. Took for­ever to coax her out from under the bed.

It was silly but she was so happy to hear his voice. She saved the mes­sage. Replayed it a few times. She could hear him now. Say­ing he was in town for a cou­ple days. Vis­it­ing friends before head­ing off to spend Christ­mas with his fam­ily. Would love to see her etc. He sounded in such good spir­its, ram­bling on as if the only thing that mat­tered was using up as much time as possible.

When she called him back he said some­thing along the lines of his day being lit up. Of course he’d had a few by then. He was at a bar. With mutual friends. He invited her out. She wanted to say yes but hedged her bets. It was after 10. She was prep­ping for bed. Besides, she still didn’t quite feel up to being socia­ble. Not with that crew. Good folk, just too many reminders of how things used to be.

As she had plans for the next night (last night) and he was leav­ing late the fol­low­ing day (today) they agreed on lunch. Not opti­mal. But it would have to do.

What was it going to be like see­ing him? She couldn’t remem­ber the last time they actu­ally saw one another. A year ago? Two? There was so much to talk about she wasn’t sure what to say. It had been such a try­ing fall. And she was really just begin­ning to get the hang of things again. Being her­self was hard to do. But get­ting eas­ier. Day to day.

She caught her­self chew­ing at her lip ring. Damn that nico­tine. She made a long face, took a deep breath, and absently checked out what she could dimly see of her­self on the glass of the microwave. Was her hair all right? Should she put on some eye shadow? Lip­stick? Was her skirt okay? What about the sweater? Too tight? Seemed such a facile con­cern. And what the hell was she so ner­vous about any­way? It’s not like it was a date or any­thing. Right? Her skin felt cold. Right? She would start nib­bling her nails if this kept up.

Back at the win­dow, cup in hands, she looked down at Stan John­son. Com­pletely at peace. Arms on the arm­rests, mit­tened hands dan­gling pas­sively off the ends. Legs fully stretched out and crossed at the ankles. Big unlaced win­ter boots. Head off to a side. Hair dan­gling. Eyes closed. Mouth open.

Kat sur­veyed the yard. Off the house a patio of con­crete and pavers ran about a third of the way back to where the garage and gar­den, divided by a nar­row path of pavers, split the rest of the yard.

The girls told her that prior to this sum­mer it had been an over­grown eye­sore since the com­pany moved their offices here, two or three years prior. They’d never seen John­son. Then, not long before Kat was brought on board, every­thing green was cut back and removed. The small yard opened up. And out came John­son. To sweep and look up at the sky and mutter—and, as the sum­mer wound on, sit in the blue lawnchair.

Kat recalled the women who took care of the gar­den. One older, as in grey-haired, the other much younger. They came by once or twice a week. Together to begin with. Then later only the younger one.

The older woman wore a wide-brimmed sun­hat and log­ging shirts. When­ever Kat saw her she always seemed to be bent to task. Prepar­ing the soil, arrang­ing and plant­ing the plants, plac­ing the wood path that marked a cross in the dark soil of the gar­den. The younger woman wore a ball­cap and had a long blonde pony­tail. She took care of the water­ing and the heav­ier jobs. And also, now that Kat was think­ing about it, left vases of cut flow­ers by the back door—even into the fall, well after the flow­ers in the gar­den had fin­ished blooming.

John­son rarely made an appear­ance while the gar­den­ing gals were around. But once they were gone he’d come out and go through his rou­tine. And if there were flow­ers by the back door it almost looked like he might just be smiling.

Week after week, Kat had watched on as the gar­den took shape. Like time­lapsed snap­shots. From noth­ing but bare soil to a gen­er­ous bounty of con­trolled green­ery. She imag­ined view­ing the transformation—of John­son and his garden—was some­how instru­men­tal in her abil­ity to weather the emo­tional tem­pest that had ran­sacked her own life. Com­ing to work forced her out of the world as she knew it col­laps­ing around her. And see­ing John­son, whether sweep­ing or sit­ting in his lawn­chair, was like wit­ness­ing what seemed to her to be the very spirit of hope.

Light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Kat heard her name being called. She turned. Tamara, the recep­tion­ist, pok­ing her head in the open door.

There’s a Devin here to see you?”

music 2014

2014 albums

My faves for 2014:

The War on Drugs — Lost in the Dream
Of Mon­tréal — Lousy with Syl­vian­briar
Ulti­mate Paint­ing — Ulti­mate Paint­ing
Par­quet Courts — Sun­bathing Ani­mal
Solan­der — Mono­chro­matic Mem­o­ries
Tele­man — Break­fast
Hos­pi­tal­ity — Trou­ble
David Kil­gour & the Heavy Eights — End Times Undone
This Will Destroy You — Another Lan­guage

If I had to choose a sin­gle album to round out a best of list (partly for its kitsch value, but also because I just plain like it!):

Big­ott — Pave­ment Tree

[If the rdio link doesn’t work, and you’re inter­ested, try Big­ott on YouTube.]

Other lis­ten­ables:

Alv­vays — Alv­vays
Ryan Adams — Ryan Adams
Spoon — They Want My Soul
Matthew Ryan — Box­ers
Robyn Hitch­cock — The Man Upstairs
Tweedy — Sukierae
Paper­cuts — Life Among the Sav­ages
Lee Fields — Emma Jean
Neil Finn — Dizzy Heights
Thurston Moore — The Best Day
Spi­der Bags — Frozen Let­ter
Rumer — Into Colour
Foxy­gen — …and Star Power

Wish­ing y’all the best. Now and in 2015.

Cheers.

up in air

delivery

Night sky from cozy win­dow seat. A black realm made con­scionable by pin­pricks. Twin­kling in the aether. But a glimpse of the mind-numbing breadth of the universe.

Spi­ralling out of con­trol. In adher­ence to the Golden Ratio (acknowl­edg­ing Fibonacci) and effected by good old Corialis.

Righty tighty, lefty loosey.

Explain­ing basic things like addi­tion in sim­ple terms.

That the plus sign is not used more fre­quently in prose.

The cabin dark + quiet like a later hour.

Which it comes to being. The fur­ther east this plane flies. Cov­er­ing an unseen dis­tance. At cruis­ing alti­tude. So high above any sur­face. No ref­er­ence to fear the height.

May well be rid­ing in a fast bus on a car-free highway.

Remind­ing me of Airstream trail­ers, Zam­ber Green, and Daz. What in the world is he doing with himself?

Con­ti­nu­ity. How liv­ing feels more­or­less the same from day to day. Yet over larger chunks of time you find your­self in such dif­fer­ent circumstances.

A year ago I hardly knew who I was any­more. I had gone away. For three years. Lived another kind of life. Did things that were sup­posed to open my eyes to broader hori­zons. Wound up sens­ing my small­ness and want­ing to close my eyes. Returned ‘home’ feel­ing absent. And now, a year along, I am recov­ered. Feel more me than ever—and to top it off, in Wendy par­lance, unalone (un-ah-lone-ee).

Wendy.

Who, upon hear­ing that the flight was green-lighted, expressed her relief thusly: thank goodness—I don’t have any more ten­ter­hooks to snap in two.

(The tenth odd­ball has just popped into my head. Anchor plant/crucifixion thorn — Col­letia para­doxa.)

When finally board­ing, shuf­fling up the aisle, saw a boy (about 10) and a girl (say, 6 or 7) get­ting set­tled into their seats. Their mother, stand­ing between them, crouch­ing below the bulk­head, buck­ling them in, spread­ing blan­kets over them, posi­tion­ing pil­lows and teddy bears. They were prac­ti­cally asleep already.

At sim­i­lar ages Liz and me flew off to Europe. To meet dad. By our­selves. I’m sure we were well looked after. From gate to gate. But what I remem­ber is how ner­vous I was. How I had to pre­tend I wasn’t. For Liz’s sake. Who seemed as calm as could be—so long as I was hold­ing her hand.

Go know­ing back. A Wendy twist on ‘no going back’.

Liz. These last few weeks at the house. Just the two of us. Again. Going on about our lives. Cross­ing paths in the morn­ing. Hang­ing out in the evening.

One night she brought home jig­saw puz­zles. From the museum gift­shop. Famous paint­ings in a thou­sand pieces. Doing them together over the com­ing days. Three at once. Like we used to as kids. Starry Night. Hunters in the Snow. The Scream. On the kitchen table, on the din­ing room table, on the cof­fee table in the front room.

We laughed and chat­ted. Talked about her new man, Mal­colm. Who kept bring­ing his daugh­ter, Char­lotte, to the museum on Thurs­day after­noons. When Liz minds the children’s activ­ity zone.

Duh.

I revel in her excite­ment. The bloom that has returned to her cheeks. How alive her eyes. The bright sun­shine in her voice. Her hands. How pre­cisely they move. That they rest when she’s not talk­ing. How the skin around her fin­ger­nails is intact, healthy. That she has fingernails.

She too is recovered.

Last Sat­ur­day. Tak­ing a sand­wich to the garage for her. The door open. Her at a can­vas. I step up beside her. The paint­ing is a sil­hou­ette of a much dam­aged coast red­wood (Sequoia sem­per­virens). Many out­growths from mid-height up. The clumpy crown of a sur­vivor. Its tall stem ris­ing from a wide mat of roots.

She calls it Stand­ing Giant Shoul­ders. Which I know has greater mean­ing than the big­ness of the tree. Beyond sym­bol­iz­ing the ground from which it grows there’s the ref­er­ence to dad, con­stantly remind­ing us that our lives would not be pos­si­ble with­out the lives of all that died before.

All.

Dad (who, when rem­i­nisc­ing on his work­ing life, is fond of say­ing, with a smar­tass smirk): my job was find­ing some­thing in what I dug.

Liz bit­ing into the sand­wich. Point­ing for me to look at the back of the painting.

To Eags and Dee.

What can a dot­ing older brother hope for more.

Last night she asked if I remem­bered the bed­time sto­ries I used to tell her. The ones I made up. That didn’t have end­ings. How I kept the sto­ries going til she’d drift off. That I was the only one who under­stood that she’d didn’t want to go to sleep. She wanted to enter dreams.

I remem­ber. Not the tellings. But how her eyes fought to remain awake. How beau­ti­ful the moment when they no longer could.

She told me about a dream she’d had recently. The set­ting is a the­atre. It is dark. Cur­tains hide the stage. She is in a bal­cony seat. The cur­tains open. Spotlit on the stage is a table and a chair. Min­utes pass. Then a man enters stage right. As he nears the table the spot­light dims. He car­ries a lap­top, places it on the table, plugs it in. The back­drop, pre­vi­ously unno­ticed, lights up. It is a pro­jec­tion of the lap­top screen.

The man sits. Adjusts chair. Flexes fingers.

Hear the low hum of unde­fined elec­tric instruments.

The man begins to type. Words stream across the backdrop.

Dream­ing Liz doesn’t read the words. Instead she watches the writer. She knows him. How he sits. The arc of his back, the hair, the pos­ture, the proportions.

He is me.

The real Liz tells me she loves seeing/hearing me write. The bursts of the key­board clack­ing. Those pauses of thought. How I talk aloud the lines etc.

Weav­ing transitions.

In the com­po­si­tion of this (unin­ten­tional) com­pendium of (inten­tional) notes to self.

Which I think I will stop now.

Now that the cabin has come to life.

Lights. Pas­sen­gers. The cap­tain announc­ing final descent.

A door win­dow gate, a mir­ror a lake a long­ing to be delivered.

End cetera.

grounded

pond scene

Back in bar. Hav­ing crap cof­fee at dif­fer­ent table. Didn’t get to board plane. Stood around a fair while before fur­ther delay announced. Mechan­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions. Check-in counter mobbed by under­stand­ably aggrieved pas­sen­gers. Noth­ing to be gained by join­ing the assault.

Called Wendy. She said this is turn­ing into the longest short­est day.

Scarfed back sand­wich. Walked shops. Perused head­lines. Noth­ing on Peshawar. Or the ruble in the rubble.

Nor Angal­ifu.

Returned to vicin­ity of depar­ture gate. Like pass­ing into a cage of solem­nity. Long frus­trated faces. Acidic eyes. For­lorn pos­tures. Hard we all done by. Nearly 3 hours and count­ing. Canned Christ­mas music prob­a­bly not help­ing. But bet­ter than the silence of slow-marching seconds.

Thought about the waits we sim­ply have to endure. Like it or not. And how one waits say­ing much about how one deals with detours.

Wendy, for instance. Send­ing me mul­ti­ple emails a day with blank sub­ject lines and oneword Wendyisms for mes­sages. Know­ing I won’t see them til sit­ting at the com­puter in the den. Mod­er­n­act­ing, penisula, .…

Me send­ing her two kinds of mes­sages in return. In the morn­ing, sci­en­tific bino­mi­als of weird/exotic plants (because she likes odd­balls like me); in the evening, a brief story har­nessed from some­thing of the day that was.

Anac­ardium occi­den­tale, this morning’s odd­ball, was plant 10. See if I can remem­ber the others.…

1. Wel­witschia mirabilis
2. Adan­so­nia dig­i­tata
3. Amor­phophal­lus titanum
4. Raf­fle­sia arnoldii
5. Nelumbo nucifera

Wendy (on the phone) teas­ing that I’m mak­ing the names up. Then mak­ing me say each of them to her. Her attempts to pro­nounce inter­jected with laugh­ter. Amount­ing to tit­il­la­tion. Long dis­tance pil­low talk.

There was Pro­tea cynaroides (6). Because of a post­card mom sent from South Africa. To say they (her and Joy) were hav­ing a fine time in Fyn­bos. Tak­ing for granted that surely they flew to get down there. It just occur­ring to me that this might be a big deal, given Joy’s pur­ported fear of flying.

A brief story of me talk­ing and singing to myself as I pre­pare din­ner. The talk in exag­ger­ated British accent, the songs com­prised of melodic gib­ber­ish (sung into a wooden spoon)—the upshot, me danc­ing with­out so much as mov­ing a foot.

The can­non­ball tree — Couroupita guia­nen­sis (7).

Another brief story con­cern­ing a white col­lar crim­i­nal set to be released from prison. His sen­tence has been com­muted. By two years. For good con­duct. The war­den has declared him fully and unques­tion­ably reformed. This should all be good news. Only the pris­oner doesn’t want to leave.

Wendy wants more. Names, for instance.

Fig (the pris­oner). Diderot (the war­den). Hotel Diderot (the prison).

Why Fig wants to stay.

He likes the rou­tine of his days. The free­dom from hav­ing to pon­der what he’s going to do next. His room (he doesn’t con­sider it a cell) is well enough appointed and has a win­dow with a decent view. The ameni­ties are top­notch. An excel­lent library, a fine TV and games room (with plenty of room, and chairs, for everyone—including guests), a sur­pris­ingly well-stocked fit­ness com­plex (com­plete with small pool and sauna), a green­house (wherein Fig spends a good deal of his time prop­a­gat­ing annu­als for dona­tion to wor­thy fundrais­ing orga­ni­za­tions), and an expan­sive enough out­doors com­po­nent to make one for­get about the walls detain­ing him. He’s allowed con­ju­gal visits—whereas his wife filed for divorce dur­ing the trial, two of his mis­tresses have con­tin­ued to visit.…

There’s war­den Diderot, with whom Fig has struck up a fast and, so far, last­ing friend­ship. They talk all man­ner of things (often over drinks). Books, sopho­moric phi­los­o­phy, moral­ity, the direc­tion of the world etc.

And of course plants.

Which brings up what Fig will miss most about Hotel Diderot. The pond gar­den. A small area on the grounds that used to be a stinky swamp. With the warden’s sup­port Fig was allowed to repur­pose the area into what now, for Fig, after years of effort, is a haven of reflec­tion. Maybe not the most idyl­lic place on Earth. But a place within a place.

His place. In the world. Where Fig is at his most Figgish.

And now poor Fig has to leave. Or does he?

Hmmm.

The Exon­er­a­tion of Fig?

Board­ing call.

I see the bright­ness of the day has already begin­ning to decay.

Time to call my Wendy.

Dead man’s fin­gers — Decais­nea far­ge­sii (8).