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.

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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?”

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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.

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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.

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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).

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waiting to fly

filling with light

Spare moment. Bar in depar­ture lounge. Wait­ing on delayed flight. Off to be with Wendy. Over Christ­mas and beyond. Gift from dad, who fig­ured it a trav­esty I would con­sider not going due to, as he said with flar­ing eye­brows, “penny counting”.

Ref­er­ence to my cur­rent sta­tus. Freshly dis­em­ployed. As of day before day before yesterday.

Haven’t had much of a chance to think about it. Since it’s become a real­ity. But relief about nails how I feel.

Woman at the next table fil­ing her fin­ger­nails while talk­ing loudly into the phone cinched between shoul­der and ear. What she says is dampered (Hos­pi­tal­ity — Trou­ble) but hear the throaty nasal­ity of her voice, see the lip­stick on her too-white teeth, smell the dizzi­fy­ing mix­ture of lotions and perfumes.

My beer tastes tainted.

Man asleep in wait­ing area. In his lap a nice leather satchel. Clasped by his hands. Like it con­tains every­thing that mat­ters. The white­ness of his knuck­les. How every now and again his torso/head lists to one side. The list steep­en­ing into a lean that, just as it threat­ens to pull him over, is righted by a sharp spasm.

Som­no­lent atti­tu­di­nal correction.

Hmmm. Some­thing of same hap­pen­ing to me a cou­ple weeks back—in, I sup­pose, a spir­i­tual way.

Caleb. Call­ing out of the blue. Say­ing he’s got a line on a cam­pus gig. That it wouldn’t be a bad idea to drop by the ser­vice yard and intro­duce myself etc.

Before the next day’s sun doing exactly that. Lov­ing the energy. Even so early and dark in the morn­ing. Blus­tery gar­den­ers and labor­ers prep­ping for a wet day ahead. A kind of sleepy eager­ness to get on with it. And the out­wardly gruff super glad to shake my hand and all­too will­ing to chat informally.

That energy stay­ing with me as I went to visit Caleb afterwards.

Him stand­ing by the win­dow in his office. John Deere toque. Rain bibs. Sip­ping tea. Unadul­ter­ated jas­mine. In small Chi­nese cup. Watch­ing the sky fill with bruised light.

A beau­ti­ful thing.

We talked briefly. About him and Mya opt­ing not to buy the prop­erty they were so stoked on a month or so back. Too much risk. It would’ve been dif­fer­ent if he didn’t like his job. But he does. Or if he felt like it was time to move on. But it isn’t.

Cleared the air of my thinking.

Less than an hour later I gave my notice. Laura’s face dropped. She was sit­ting for­ward in her chair. Elbows on her desk, a pen­cil bridg­ing her hands. Her eyes went blank. She looked frozen, hurt. The shock of it. Com­pletely unex­pected. She recov­ered after a few sec­onds. Set the pen­cil down, sat back, folded hands upon mid­sec­tion. Pro­ceeded to lay out the for­mal­i­ties and, with­out so much as an admin­is­tra­tive pause to clear her throat, got the ball rolling. An admirable per­for­mance. Very pro­fes­sional. Didn’t even ask why.

Relief.

The oppo­site of what it looks like many of those around me are cur­rently expe­ri­enc­ing. Peo­ple in tran­sit. The stress of wait­ing. Mount­ing impa­tience. The great con­tem­po­rary scourge.

Spu­ri­ous deductions.

Entreat­ing the hours ahead to rec­on­cile the day.

Not know­ing quite what to do with oneself.

Air­line per­son­nel wear­ing Santa hats.

The pageantry of sea­sonal dec­o­ra­tions and trees and wrap­ping paper and lights.

Liz (drop­ping me off): “It’s so fes­tive out here.”

Said with a touch of awed merriment.

(We have a uncon­ven­tional approach to Christ­mas. Presents, yes. But lit­tle else that is com­monly asso­ci­ated. No trees. No lights. No dec­o­ra­tions. Not even advent cal­en­dars! From hav­ing sci­en­tists for par­ents. Like as not one or the other of them would have to be away come the end of Decem­ber. So, even before the folks divorced, the fam­ily would be a quar­ter short of full. And another thing…aside from last year, I’m not sure I remem­ber hav­ing spent a Christ­mas at the house. We always flew off some­where warm. And in hotel rooms opened our presents by unzip­ping a suit­case apiece.)

The hug Liz gave me say­ing good­bye. “Be sure to pass this on to Dee.”

Dee being what she calls Wendy.

And now I see the woman at the table beside me is stirring.

I look for the man and his satchel. He is awake. The satchel between his feet.

Our flight is boarding.

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morphanthropy

low clouds

Took the after­noon off. Went for mas­sage. Had a sit down lunch. Found some prezzies for Wendy. Got back to the house around two and plopped on the couch. Just sat there lis­ten­ing to the silence of the house and blankly star­ing out the big front window.

After awhile I noticed the snow on the Korean fir. The white look of cold. How, from where I was sit­ting, it blended in with the snow on the roof of the house across the street.

Hang on a minute.…

I sat up. Looked at the house. Its rust red trim and sub­dued beige sid­ing were entirely new to me. Even the shape of it was unfa­mil­iar. Like I’d never seen it before.

This couldn’t be.

I went to the win­dow for a bet­ter look. No deny­ing it. I didn’t know this house.

Strange.

I put on boots. Tromped to the head of the walk. Looked up and down the street. Most of the houses I rec­og­nized. But there was a hand­ful I didn’t.

Curi­ous.

I grabbed my coat and went wan­der­ing the streets of my old neigh­bor­hood. It wasn’t clear to me what I was look­ing for. All I knew was it had some­thing to do with houses.

So I walked. Block after block. Look­ing at houses.

Aside from the o-bomb obvi­ous (the newer houses are larger, the older houses look dated), I slowly came to real­ize that I didn’t know the neigh­bor­hood quite so well as once upon a time. There were only a few houses (or lots), rel­a­tive to the whole, I could asso­ciate names to. The num­ber of houses still stand­ing from when I was a boy that I had actu­ally stepped feet inside (let alone played in/watched tv in/ate in/went to the bath­room in/slept in) was small. It occurred to me that I couldn’t think of any­one from back in the day that still lived in the neigh­bor­hood. That Liz and I might well be the sole beings around here who cur­rently live in the house we grew up in

On I wan­dered, absorbed in a more neb­u­lous enter­prise of pon­der­ing peo­ple. Their com­ing and going. How fam­i­lies don’t stay as long in one place as maybe they did when I was grow­ing up. The idea of home hav­ing less to do with the house you grew up in than the city you’re from. How cul­ture tran­si­tions over time and the short-term his­tory of a given neigh­bor­hood is splin­tered, stored in the rarely accessed mem­o­ries of for­mer res­i­dents spread now far and wide, dis­tracted by mak­ing their con­tem­po­rary lives happen.

Such thoughts as make the head spin.

There came a surge of cars. I had arrived at the school. The bus­tle of par­ents pick­ing up kids. Behind them a wide back­drop of for­est climb­ing into low clouds. Know­ing there was a hill up there but not see­ing it.

To avoid the traf­fic I ducked up the next street. A street I hadn’t been on in many years. Almost imme­di­ately I was hit by the mem­ory of walk­ing with Jimmy Salter to his house one day after school. The house was on the cor­ner at the end of the block. This one day some­thing unusual had hap­pened. There were police cars and ambu­lances, parked hel­ter skel­ter. A carousel of red and blue lights. We could see, as we got closer, that the hub­bub was at Jimmy’s house. He began to run. I ran behind him. He dashed under the police tape. An offi­cer caught him up. Jimmy screamed for his younger sis­ter. The offi­cer put Jimmy down and kneeled to talk to him. Jimmy looked very afraid. The offi­cer stood up, held his hand, walked him between police cars to where a group of offi­cers hud­dled. I stood huff­ing at the police tape. Not know­ing I would never see Jimmy again.

It came out later that Mrs. Salter stabbed her hus­band to death, then tried to kill her­self in the garage with car­bon monox­ide. She was an alco­holic. I remem­ber her always hav­ing a glass of some­thing with ice and smok­ing in their dark liv­ing room. Spec­u­la­tion had it that Mr. Salter was hav­ing an affair. But who knew for sure.

The whole­ness of time.

We called the house Mur­der House after that. It sat empty for years. Now it is gone. This after­noon I watched a con­crete truck drive away from the site, leav­ing behind a fresh foun­da­tion. It looked like the new house will be quite large.

When I got back to the house again it was after 4. It had started to rain and was already turn­ing dark.

I turned on some lights. Sat at my desk in the den. Absently read the notes on the cur­rent page of foolscap:

Omen­cla­ture. A Wendy­ism for the lan­guage of signs.

Sala­man­ders. How their num­bers may be staggering.

Bridg­man­ite — name for one of most abun­dant min­er­als ‘in’ Earth, only recently seen by human eyes and felt by human hands.

Fer­gu­son, Mis­ery. Again.

Lima, Peru. Another try at going for­ward together? Or another go at strik­ing bar­gains with the mother irony of lost causes?

I had a pen in hand. Was search­ing for a word to describe either the endeav­or­ing con­stancy of change in human affairs or that thing that hap­pens to peo­ple when they per­pe­trate acts they’d never think them­selves capable…when I heard my phone ringing.

Knock­ing me from my lofty perch. Pulling me from the gauze of per­son­ally man­u­fac­tured clouds.

I found the phone on the table by the couch. Work. I answered.

Laura call­ing to inform me that the truck was at the yard.

I was look­ing at the house across the street. (With bright Christ­mas lights on its eaves it didn’t look so unfamiliar.)

Laura asked if I was still there.

I said yes.

She asked if I’d heard her.

I said yes and asked if there was any­thing wrong with the truck.

She said no.

I asked why Daz hadn’t taken it.

She hes­i­tated.

I noticed that the snow on the Korean fir, lit by street­lamp light, appeared to be gone. Jimmy Salter ran across my mind. I thought about the hill behind the school. Where we used to muck around in the trees with all our friends. I won­dered if any­thing hap­pened to Jimmy’s sis­ter that day. It struck me she’d be about Liz’s age now. And Jimmy would still be mine. I thought about how old we were when Mrs. Salter turned their house into Mur­der House. What it was that pushed her over the ledge. Where Jimmy is these days. What he remem­bers of that day. Of the bet­ter days before. All the while a word gain­ing pur­chase in the val­ley of my tongue.

Laura say­ing my name.

Yes?”

Did you hear me?”

No. Sorry. Some­thing on my mind. Say that again?”

He quit.”

Who?”

Daz.”

Oh. Right.”

And then it was born. The word.

Mor­phan­thropy. Mor­phan­thropy? Morphanthropy.

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lines from a playlist

communion

1. Another moth­er­fucker bumped into me on the street again. [Big­ott — Walk­ing Around]

2. Like kudzu creep­ing up a state tree dis­creetly. [Parkay Courts — Uncast Shadow of a South­ern Myth]

3. I don’t know what I’m think­ing. Blind faith, never blink­ing. [Ulti­mate Paint­ing — Ulti­mate Painting]

4. I’ll be back with you again in the world. [Spi­der bags — Back with You Again in the World]

5. Every­thing is on my mind. Streamin’ in. All the time. I don’t know where it’s com­ing from. [David Kil­gour — Comin’ on]

6. I been on repeat since yes­ter­day. [Ryan Adams — Trouble]

7. From Phoenix, Ari­zona all the way to Tacoma; Philadel­phia, Atlanta, LA. [Steve Miller Band — Rock’n Me]

8. In the hub­bub where the piti­ful con­gre­gate. [Tweedy — Sum­mer Noon]

9. I’m talk­ing to myself as if I was some­one else. I’m not lis­ten­ing. You know I never do. [Robyn Hitch­cock — San Fran­cisco Patrol]

10. You’ve expressed explic­itly your con­tempt for mat­ri­mony. You’ve stu­dent loans to pay and will not risk the alimony. [Alv­vays — Archie, Marry Me]

11. At least now that the one thing that is good about me has begun to express itself in mali­cious ways. [Of Mon­tréal — Tri­umph of Disintegration]

12. Do you wanna get under­stood? [Spoon — Do You]

13. We sigh and shiver under mis­er­able stars. [Matthew Ryan — Boxers]

14. Aver­age Amer­ica. That’s just the way it is. Los­ing her inter­est. [Delta Spirit — Push it]

15. I see the whites of their eyes through the cracks in my fence. [Ages and Ages — No Pressure]

16. I am a walk­ing tower of silence. [Tele­man — In Your Fur]

17. Would you know a good thing if it crawled up your ass. [Gold­berg Sis­ters — Would You Know]

18. Can’t stop look­ing and you can’t stop tak­ing it in. [Archive — Sane]

19. I could look in your face for a thou­sand years. [Sparkle­horse — Shade and Honey]

20. I had a chain and a bicy­cle. And I rode all the way in to town. With only an ancient pho­to­graph I kept just to carry around. [Phos­pho­res­cent — Last of the Hand-me-downs]

21. What I wouldn’t give to change the weather around you. [Maria McKee — This Per­fect Dress]

22. You’re irre­sistible when you get mad. [Wilco — At Least that’s What You Said]

23. The first draft’s in ashes and smeared on our faces. [Bill Calla­han — Javelin Unlanding]

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meta calls

meta calls

Wak­ing this morn­ing with­out my Wendy. Proof pos­i­tive whisk­ing her off to air­port yes­ter­day weren’t no dream.

Her father fell off lad­der while putting up Christ­mas lights. Broke a hip.

The call came on Sun­day. Early evening. We’d all just sat down to take-out Chinese.

Buz­zkill to what had thereto­fore been a good day.

Took dad to Bird­man mat­inée. We both stayed awake. In the car after I asked if he’d read Ray­mond Carver.

No,” he said. “Only Ray­mond I ever read was Chan­dler. Back in the day. But Carver rings a bell somehow.”

He mmmm’d to him­self, tap­ping lower lip with fin­ger, trac­ing through mazes of memory.

Must have been your mother,” he said even­tu­ally. “She was the reader.”

I pressed him on the Chan­dler bit. He smiled.

Long time ago, that.”

The remain­der of our drive to the house dad filled me in on his brash col­lege days. Mid– to late-50’s. Time of the Beats. Smok­ing pipes and pon­tif­i­cat­ing wildly. Lis­ten­ing to jazz. Grand stuff. Dad didn’t go for the words though. He pre­ferred crime fic­tion. Which he con­fessed to read­ing because the “girl at the library” sug­gested it.

Ellen, that girl at the library, would become his first wife.

He fell into a reverie at her name. It’s no secret she was the one and only who got away.

I wor­ried that he might slip into a mood. But his next words, as we pulled up to the house, were, “I think what I like about my Dot is she reminds me who I was when I was with Ellen.”

Ever full of sur­prises. His smil­ing face say­ing so much. Young love in old age.

Walk­ing up to the house we could see the girls, Wendy and Liz, danc­ing up a storm in the liv­in­groom. Hair and arms all over the place. The Pix­ies cranked. A fine pair.

I turned down the vol­ume so dad could revel in the atten­tion the girls wanted to give him. Then searched the shelves for any­thing by Carver. Found Where I’m Call­ing From. I handed it to dad and went off to make him some tea.

He came in the kitchen shortly there­after, book in hand.

I remem­ber now.”

He sat at the table. I brought him his tea.

I was on a dig up north. Got back to the motel late. There was a slip of paper under the door. I saw a phone num­ber then read the words. ‘Your wife,’ it said. ‘Your wife asked to be called directly.’ Directly.”

He was shak­ing his head.

She said such things, your mother.”

He smiled.

She was half across the coun­try some­where. I called. She was pick­led and dis­con­so­late. Mum­bling some­thing about some­one dying. I didn’t know who this Carver was. Or why she should be so upset about it.”

He held the book up.

She bought a copy of this when it was pub­lished. It’s the title that jogged the mem­ory. I gather she’d been car­ry­ing it around for weeks and weeks. Unable to find the time to get into in. Then, on the day she called, she turned on the radio and laid down to read. Within a mat­ter of min­utes the radio reported Mr. Carver had died.”

He put the book down.

She got it in her head that, by open­ing his book, she’d killed him.”

Dad shook his head.

Your mother’s a funny one. I’ll give her that.”

Half across the country.

Where my Wendy is now. Tend­ing to her father and his bro­ken hip.

About time I called.

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entering eidos after dinner one night

e

From the foolscap:

Here again now at last. Bravely.

The inher­ent arro­gance of extravagance.

Cave paint­ings.

Epis­te­mol­ogy. The ology of knowl­edge and knowing.

Ham­mer­ing an anvil for a decent descrip­tion of how goes the world.

Ema­p­a­thy: a Wendy­ism for feel­ing like you get another’s lack of interest.

Yes, okay, right, of course, good.

Ecstasy, and another chem­i­cal state of mind known as euphoria.

This, while the world is happening.

A long­stand­ing cou­ple who endure a ran­corous mar­riage. They call it ‘their dis­as­ter’ and each secretly rel­ishes that things aren’t sim­ple between them.

Olivine. A green rock that absorbs CO2.

Ein­stein would be 135 were he alive today.

The brief detec­tive. Who, demoted to desk duty, never leaves his desk except to see to the cof­fee and to go to the wash­room. He answers the precinct phone, deals with walk-ins. His name is Larry.

Expla­na­tions one can live without.

Illu­mi­na­tions and the fake believe.

There is sweet Cyn­thia. On her first year of col­lege and already among the most fre­quently requested escorts on an online boudoir cater­ing to wealthy johns who’d pre­fer their iden­ti­ties remain anony­mous, of course, and their credit card trans­ac­tions be listable as nec­es­sary busi­ness expenses. Mean­ing Cyn­thia col­lects her tuition (and a fair bit more) in the form of con­sul­tancy fees (for her exper­tise in admin­is­tra­tive assistance).

Explo­sions.

Abseil­ing spiders.

What about Rod and Tori, the husband-wife real estate agents, spe­cial­iz­ing in time shares and, out­side of work, or rather as an exten­sion of work, bed­ding as many clients as pos­si­ble in the exe­cu­tion of the game they play with one another in order to keep their mar­riage exciting.

Kinder-Morgan faces.

Eidos, as in the Greek root essen­tial to eidolon and eidetic, but pre­sum­ably not eider ducks (or their col­lected downs).

That actor who once played a sup­port­ing role in a long-running TV drama dur­ing the aughts, and is now a famously unknown fool in numer­ous commercials.

Epi­demi­ol­ogy.

Moun­tains are nice, but when feet stuck in mire being atop one is prob­a­bly not much on mind.

The encroach­ing nor­mal­iza­tion of pretty much everything.

That this cul­ture deems it weak to have doubts. Thus the rise in fuck-if-I-care atti­tude, com­monly mis­taken for confidence?

Egal­i­tar­i­ans. Breath­ing among us.

Unqual­i­fied suc­cesses.
Peo­ple behind scenes.
Inter­lop­ers & mis­cre­ants.
A child insist­ing spi­ders have noses.

Eons. The time it takes. To. Get. Things. (Done.)

The Count­ess whose dri­ver, Dave, scoots her about in his beat-up conifer-green minivan.

Exactly as it should be.

Antan­ta­g­o­nism. Wendy’s won­der of antag­o­nism in the South­ern Hemisphere.

Eudora Welty (105). Ernest (115). e.e. (120).

The physics of consistency.

Seem­ingly ran­dom thoughts and other ephemera that pass for daily amuse­ment.
Count­ing steps.
Recall­ing the botan­i­cal name of plants seen in pass­ing.
The license plate game: 005, a white Mazda hatch­back; 006, a bur­gundy Eurovan; 007, an aqua­ma­rine K car (in remark­ably good shape); 008, a matte black Cadil­lac Escalade.

Den­ton, TX.

Elec­tions and cast­ing bal­lots. To the wind?

Giv­ing peo­ple what they want, and mak­ing them pay for it.

Euony­mus ala­tus. Burn­ing bush. (Not the burn­ing bush though.)

The Global Seed Vault on Sval­bard, a Nor­we­gian island.

Emery, the old guy in the senior’s home who pisses every­where in his apart­ment but the toilet.

How I love to be called babe by Wendy.

Eschscholzia cal­i­for­nica. An orange poppy.

The very idea of cre­at­ing a god.

Envi­sion­ing a world out­side your own.

The Phi­lae lan­der land­ing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (Apolo­gies for the inconvenience.)

Eide­lon. Genus of megabats.

Mar­joree Plithers, patron of the Arts, and her stroppy son Zachary, 14, who’d rather be any­where else than attend­ing an opera or a bal­let with his mother.

Earth. The planet and the stuff beneath our feet.

The daft lead­ing the indifferent.

Ero­sion of control.

Sow­ing what you know.

Errors in communication.

Fresh grass shim­mer­ing in morn­ing sun.

End­ing the game.

The whole point here again now at last being no. Or was it yes?

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