The whatever whichever
That’s wanted forever
Stays ever but never
Remains the same
The whatever whichever
That’s wanted forever
Stays ever but never
Remains the same
Slowly like the Cheshire cat, if there’s any justice
At first the flesh and then a mist until there’s simply nothing
I can’t forget that she forgave the fact that I forgot
It seems the breeze- the days and dreams- have stolen what was lost
But now there’s nothing left, it seems
But memories and faulty thoughts.
So let us inter the past
With the could have beens and oughts-
Such pretense has no power here
Stripped bare of grace and charm
The Cheshire cat is gone for good
Yet where he was is warm.
Sixteen months and five million dollars later, they had just about succeeded. All that was left was the final blast and a little bit of clean-up work, and then a mountain in West Virginia just tall enough to be a mountain but not large enough to have a name would have been reduced to rubble, paved flat, and eventually turned into the location for the fifth largest golf and spa resort within an afternoon’s drive of the Eastern Seaboard. A few more pounds of dynamite- some dump trucks, and that was it- they would have redefined the map.
The obstacles had been many- of course, the usual environmental groups had complained about some special feathered wood owl or something or other, they had unearthed some primitive bones and intricate stone carvings, politicians had been bribed- but now it was almost over.
Three bulldozers and eighteen men had died when a dynamite blast caused an avalanche. Everyone cried for a week, it seems, then the digging continued.
That night, the foreman of the project stayed late, drink three quarters of a bottle of Wild Turkey, and paraded around the spot where the summit of the mountain had once stood, now reduced to a small pile of rubble.
I moved a mountain, he repeated over and over, not even ceasing the incantation when choosing to piss all over the dirt. As the flatness spun around him and the alcohol took him over, he realized that this was the greatest achievement of his life, this dismantling of an entire mountain. He threw the bottle down, smashing it against a pile of rocks.
I moved a mountain! he screamed, slipping on the mud created by the remainder of the booze and slicing his hand on a piece of the broken glass. He looked at his hand, full of blood, and laughed. Then he wet himself and screamed I moved a mountain again, thrusting his bloody hand toward the half quarter moon.
He pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and clumsily dialed.
Hey, babe, it’s me-
Where the hell are you?
We finished the project and I thought I’d celebrate-
God, are you drunk again?
Just a little, but I can’t drive. Need help.
I can’t leave the kids, Frank. Peter’s sick.
But I need a drive. I mean, ride.
You need more than that. I’m sorry, but I can’t help you tonight. Please don’t call back tonight- if the kids hear your voice, they’ll get upset, and it’ll be hours before I can put them to bed again.
She audibly sighed. We’ve been over this. You had your chance, Frank. Multiple chances. You made your choice. You blew it.
He dropped the phone to his side and passed out for about an hour, only waking up when his urine soaked jeans turned cold in the night air. He climbed to his feet and began lumbering toward the construction trailer and his truck beyond. After a few seconds, he grabbed the phone and pressed the redial button.
I moved a mountain he muttered to himself, as he listened to the rings.
Everything night before I go to sleep, in the spare moments before I drift away, I try to picture a field in my mind. It’s never clear- more of an idea than a place- but it’s there. It’s my idealistic image of nature, I suppose- a field of uncut grass rippling in the wind. There’s a tree, standing alone, with woods one can’t see but that are surely there surrounding it on all sides. That’s as close as I can get. I hope, every night, that I’ll dream of this field and be able to roam through it- I never do.
I don’t think words can capture that- but I think everyone has their own field, their own vision before they fall asleep at night. I often forget how little I’m capable of seeing what other people see- in my Copernican universe, it’s easy to forget that every single other person has another life- another set of problems- another goal, another wish.
I’m most often reminded of this when I’m stuck in traffic on Interstate 20. I look to my left and see a person, just like me, waiting in the other lane. What’s their story? Where are they going? I’ll never meet them, and yet here we are, sitting less than ten feet apart, headed the same direction. It certainly gives a sense of perspective. It makes one realize that there are six billion plus other stories out there- that mine is not the only one. They say fish don’t realize that they’re wet, because they always are. I suppose it’s like that. But for brief moments, when we’re the greatest us we can hope to be, we burst forth from the water and feel the sun hit our faces, if only for a moment.
I’m bone tired. The bed calls. I’ll try to picture the field again. I can only hope that one day the picture will be clear. And I’ll wonder what other picture others are trying to picture. Perhaps there’s a common thread- perhaps not. Are we more different than alike, or do our similarities bind us together? I can never know what it’s like to be someone else. That is a fact. Because who we are is the culmination of everything we’ve experienced. We like to say that we know someone, but we never really do. At best, we know the person they want us to know.
I think, if forced, the one word I would want people to say about me is that I was genuine. But in the same breath, I realize that I, too, set up facades to hid who I truly am. I distance myself, even as I realize that I want to be closer to other people. And perhaps that’s why I picture the field in the moments before I drift off to sleep- the field doesn’t judge. It doesn’t question, doesn’t wonder- it just reflects the passing of the wind. And in the end, can we do better? We can shout, yell, worry, plan, cry, curse, or regret the wind, but does it stop blowing? If it does, did we do it?
I used to think that life was a person standing in the river, and trying to charge forward against the current. I viewed life as a struggle- something to overcome. Now I think that life is a river, but that we’re forever stuck in the current- that life washes over us. We can twist, and choose how to deal with the rising waters or rapids that may come- but we can’t stop them, or ignore their existence. And we can’t march past them. Rapids always come. The river always shifts. But we are stuck until the riverbed dries out- on that day, we’ll wish the rapids would return.
I broke it. He bought it.
I thought about not writing tonight but then I thought to hell with it I’ll write maybe make it a time trial let’s see how fast I can type something that someone sober could ever hope to follow. That would be a hoot. My enthusiasm for this project wanes so fast it’s embarrassing, but it’s only five hundred words- I’ll soldier through. I changed “That’d” to “That would-” I’m not entirely sure why- perhaps I sobered up enough to realize that the colloquial nature of the expression wouldn’t fit exactly with the blueprint, or perhaps my Asperger’s kicked in with a vengeance- I was too intoxicated to care more than a little. That kind of care that tickled your fancy, but never really struck it. Hard to explain. I sit in silence for a moment, letting the
thoughts emptiness wash over me. I’m glad I found that button up top- it fits exactly into the plan I made on the spot. That’s always a good thing. I sit some more. I think to myself that one day I’ll die and that this is mostly it- I’ll do different things and see different things and live a bit longer- but nothing is ever going to change. If it does, it will be because I willed it, not because of how much money I have in the bank or how many financial advisors I have. The damn spell check says that “advisors” should be spelled “advisers” and while I guess I see their point I also think I would murder the spell check if I could.
I wonder at times what would happen if the characters I have written on this website encountered each other- how that would turn out? I had a dream last night that I was the father of a son, and that I stole one of his cigarettes that was in his backpack. However, my son in this dream was older and owned his own house, so I don’t know why he had a backpack. For some reason, the cigarettes were Marlboros, but there were Chinese characters on the wrapper. It was all quite strange, to be honest.
One hundred forty words to go- then I can go take a piss in silence and head to the bed. The money you make working twenty-two hours of overtime is nice, but the sleep you get on the last day is worth five times as much. There is no waking up in the middle of the night that night, I can assure you.
I am almost asleep. It will be a wonder if I can finish this little project before I pass out. I yawned a few minutes ago. My eyes are having trouble staying open for more than a few seconds at a time. I don’t know what to say. I should probably head to sleep. No one reads this shit anyway. Which is, in retrospect, a good thing. Writing a blog that almost no one reads is kinda like walking around naked in your backyard- you know someone could see you, but odds are, no one ever will.
Eight hundred forty
Divided by two equals
Four hundred twenty
The joke was that when they baptized her the water boiled just a bit- for just a second. Of course such a thing hadn’t happened, but it was good fodder to bring about a familiar smile in those brief spare moments after the service. The crowd moved with one pulse toward the doors and closer to the lunches waiting at various restaurants and simmering in countless slow cookers on kitchen counters. It had rained during the sermon, and the doors were opened to the bright wet asphalt and the hazy steam which rose above it. Everything sparkled. A red Mustang roared past, tearing the silence. And then, a moment later, the supreme silence returned, made holy by the rain.
Damn I drank too much I thought. Too much for me was a lot- an awful lot. And now with the soaked through sandpaper on my flesh and the tea kettle in my belly I had to keep it between the lines long enough to make it home and crash on my couch. Usually I’m able to make it home before daybreak I wanted to think but instead chose to ignore it while I passed a church on my left. I saw the people pouring out but didn’t really pay them any attention, as my head was full of nails. I figured they were just as miserable as me. At any rate, trying to fill the same damn hole, just using different cement. If that’s not true… I ignored the thought. Some thoughts just weren’t worth the trouble. I do know that I’m miserable, but I’ll be okay in a few hours.
The white box with the black top next to the grey box in the green box exploded with little bursts of color, just as it did every time the same week. The little boxes of white and red and green and blue began to shuffle off the grey box, splashing water as they went. A red box moved mostly down the black track at about the same time. I figured they were all just as precious and free as me.
The pain and the love and the sin and the grace and the truth collided and spun around the little ball of mud a bit more. Some gained; some lost. Some understood but never learned; other learned but never understood. Some were cold. Some were hot. Some were good. All were wrong. All were different, but mostly the same. They all schemed. Some cared. Some prayed; some cursed. Some drank; some ate. Some took; others gave. Some cried. Some laughed. Some tried. Some didn’t. They all failed. Some cried again; some stopped. Some sought answers. Few ignored the questions. Some cheated. Some stole. Some lied. They all wanted happiness. They all tried to find it in different ways. Most didn’t. Some had the map and never saw the treasure; others lost the map and found it anyway. All were alive, but most were fairly dead. They were all important.
Occupying a prominent corner lot on the street was one of the more upscale eateries in the vicinity. Due to the wonderful weather, the section outside was filled to capacity. The air constantly exploded with babbling conversations about topics ranging from politics to designer fashion. Waiters buzzed around the umbrella-shaded tables, armed with a veritable arsenal of mercis and s’il vous plaits.
The customers ranged from the well-to-do American traveler to the young couple sharing words meant only for them. Mothers navigating the menu with their children made little effort to hide their glances, envious of the openly emotional display. Two men sat at a corner table. They spoke in soft whispers, and the noisy crowd gladly drowned out the sound of their voices.
“I want you to kill me.” He spoke the words slowly and deliberately as he nurtured the dark-brown ripples of his cafe mocha.
The large bearded man across from him did not immediately stir. His life had long ago forced him to grow accustomed to outrageous things. After a moment, he leaned back in his seat and lit an imported cigarette. The words that finally climbed from his mouth were aimed as much to the crowd as to the man sitting across from him.
“Why do we pay for these drinks? I order alcohol and I receive nothing but colored water. They are never worth the money.”
He pushed the drink away slowly, measuring the man’s response across from him. Then he leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table.
“Why is it, Alex, that young men speak of death and old men speak of life? My father used to tell me war stories that left me lying in bed awake all night. And I myself have seen enough of death to know that it is not something men should desire.” He returned the cigarette to his lips in one smooth motion.
“You are more right than you know, Ivan. For I wish for you to kill me when I am old.” Alex lingered for a second, his pale knuckles rubbing across the tabletop nervously. He looked at Ivan, hoping to read something in his friend’s face. He found nothing etched in the deep lines, so he continued cautiously.
“I know that my morality is one of necessity and convenience, nothing more. I suppose my life would be much simpler if I could walk around blindly committing horrendous acts and never reflecting on the eventual consequences. But that is not the life I was allowed to live.” His gaze turned to the tourists in the street before quickly changing the subject. “You spoke of your father- did he influence you to a great extent?”
Ivan pulled the cigarette out again just enough to speak. The smoke rose and curled about his face, creating a slightly demonic effect that only lent credence to his words.
“My father was the meanest bastard I ever met. When my brothers and I were young, he would make us chop wood for the fire until our arms ached. If we complained that we were tired, he simply added more wood. He never said a word. Just added more wood.” The end of the cigarette grew bright red as he inhaled deeply.
“So you didn’t like him?” Alex ventured.
“On the contrary, we all loved him. Perhaps it is hard for an American to understand. In Russia, food is often scarce. If you are not somewhat mean, you don’t eat. It is not pretty, but it is a necessary part of life. He taught me discipline, and for that I am forever thankful.” Ivan slammed his fist down forcefully as he pronounced the word “discipline”, the the extent that the nearby couple stopped whispering long enough to notice the intrusion. Ivan cast them a grumbling glance and they quickly returned to their own affairs.
“Well then, my friend, we share a connection. My father taught me discipline of a spiritual nature. Practically every Sunday found me in a church pew. If there’s a hymn I don’t know, I’d be surprised. I’ve heard more sermons than I would care to remember. And here’s the thing- I never truly grew to believe it.”
At this Ivan seemed genuinely surprised. “If what you say is true, why do you wish to die? You have plenty of time to find your faith in God.” Ivan crossed his arms defiantly. “Me, I do not care either way. I will die being true to myself.”
“It’s not that simple, I’m afraid. I wish to die a Christian, but I am not yet ready to make the necessary commitment. I believe that once my indiscriminate youth has left me, I might be willing to seek God. But for now I am happy drinking and talking about sin with people like you.”
This drew a smile from Ivan’s face.
“So you wish to harvest the crop without tending the field?”
“Not exactly. I want you to kill me in thirty years. By that time, I hope to be a Christian. Then, when I am murdered, I will…”
“Go to heaven.” Ivan finished the thought for him while shaking his head in disbelief. “Unbelievable. Only an American could find a way to cheat God.”
With this last statement Ivan signaled the waiter over and ordered another drink. “Forgive me, Alex, but I think I need some more watered down alcohol to hear this plan.”
Alex ignored his request, plowing ahead with unfettered enthusiasm. He had spoken calmly throughout the conversation, but now that he had admitted his purpose the floodgates opened and it seemed as if nothing could stop the words from fumbling quickly out of his mouth. Ivan appeared annoyed, but Alex knew from experience that he was listening. He knew that Ivan’s great and terrible mind was coldly calculating his next response.
“I want you to kill me thirty years from now. It would be best if the timing were not exact. You may wait a few years if you like, but do not do it sooner. Give me my thirty years. I must not know exactly how or when I am going to die. I only ask you because I know that you are the man for the job. Pledge to me now that you will do this thing for me. Doing so will help me sleep tonight.”
“It is a strange man who sleeps better after planning his own murder.” Ivan’s awkward attempt at a joke brought no emotion to Alex’s face. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” His gaze lifted to the tables around him and the crowd milling about on the sidewalks. “So many signs of life around us, and yet you persist in talking about death.” He set his gaze on his dining companion. His voice grew firm and unrelenting, and all expression drained from his face. “I will not take part in this.”
“My friend, I did not want to mention this, but…”
“But what? Go ahead and say what you came here to say.” Ivan’s face had started to take on a red tint fueled both by anger and alcohol. Alex knew that he would have to tread carefully.
“Do you remember how I saved your life?”
“Do you remember what you told me that day?”
Ivan leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.
“Yes. I told you that I would repay you anyway I could.”
“That’s right. So pay me back and do this thing that I ask.”
Ivan opened his eyes and stared across the table at his friend.
“When I said those words before, I meant them. But not for this. Like I said before, I will not take part. I will not sacrifice my soul for yours. Find another lamb, my friend.”
At this Ivan rose to leave.
Alex quickly rose and placed his hand on Ivan’s arm, pleading with his eyes. At the sudden display, the customer near them fell silent, but all eyes were drawn to them. Alex lowered his voice to a feverish whisper, but he continued to talk.
“There is no one else. If you do not promise to do this, I will let your government know how you have helped mine. You may escape, but your wife…”
“A threat?” Ivan responded, bloodshot eyes wide.
“It is a course I did not want to take, my friend.”
“You are not a friend of mine,” whispered Ivan fiercely, the stench of vodka heavy on his breath. “I do not know about the customs of your country, but in mine we do not threaten the wives of our friends. If a choice must be made, I would gladly kill you to protect my wife.”
“That’s what I was counting on. Now pledge to me that you will do this thing.”
They were still standing, and the nearby patrons made only a weak effort to hide their interest. An attentive waiter took notice and began to count silently in his head. Ivan saw all of this and slowly sank to his seat. He forced himself to speak normally, but the words escaped through thin lips.
“What good is a pledge? I am half-drunk and will probably forget everything by morning.”
“I told you earlier that there was no one else. I have known you for five years, and I have never seen you break a promise. Like it or not, Ivan, you are a good person. Since I am the kind of man who breaks a promise anytime it is convenient, it is the sort of thing I notice. I know that if you promise me today that you will follow through.”
“You are right again, I’m afraid. A certain morality has always plagued my being and held me back. I see that you have given this some thought. Well, I guess I have been checkmated. But…it is not my fault. After all, I never knew we were playing a game.”
The smile that followed was a very weary one, and it held no trace of happiness.
“I assure you that this is no game.”
“Perhaps not. But rest well tonight. I promise I will kill you.”
Perhaps it was his own disbelief at the words he was speaking, but this time the smile was genuine.
“Good,” replied the overjoyed American. “I never would have endangered you or your wife’s life. Forgive me. I had to say it to get you to agree.”
“I know,” said Ivan, “But it was a chance I was unwilling to take.” Then he thought for a moment before grinning broadly. “All along your government has been warning you that the Russians are treacherous villains who will stab you in the back at a moment’s notice. I guess now I have a chance to prove them right.”
“Good night, my friend.”
“Good night. Will I see you for fishing tomorrow in Marseilles?”
“Of course. Until then.”
They paid their respective bills and parted ways. Before long they disappeared into the growing darkness and shrinking crowds.
The doves did not return until morning.
The song pounded its beat in my mind, daring to crush out any other salient thought I may have ever hoped to have. The rhythm destroyed me, the meter ravaged me, the lyrics held my battered corpse for ransom. Inflection had no right to work that well, but it did.
I thought to myself this is truth. There may be other truths, no doubt, but this is truth. Some things are true despite our insistence that they’re false, or our hope that we’re greater than the idea itself. The truth doesn’t care- it can’t care, any more than a song or rhyme or metronome casually swinging back and forth can care. Because that’s the nature of truth. Gravity doesn’t need us to believe in it, nor is it impressed that we happened to find it.
The next song is slower, more melodic and burnt orange in its incantations. Words like syrup covered golf balls clattered from the singer’s month onto dated linoleum in a heartbeat shape for three straight minutes, causing a mess. Truth doesn’t care if it makes a mess either. In fact, the more we try to clean it, scrub it, sanitize it, make it go away, the harder it is to ignore. Piso mojado. Danger. Caution. Wet floor. You’ve been warned.
The next selection is infused with something akin to soul, with blues chords twirling with tobacco smoke and oak. I picture a ramshackle building just east of Shreveport that I’ve never seen or heard of but I’m as sure it exists as the gravity mentioned above. This is the song it would play- that it would emanate from the knotted wood wall planks and pictures on those walls. Even when lesser lights played on the stage, this is the song it would play. And those who were attuned to the truth would find a way to hear it. Because those who are meant to hear the truth always do, even if its messy.
The next to last song is brash. It simply is. It’s not lukewarm- there’s no ignoring it. It’s either hated or loved in an instant; no coming around to it or growing into it or thinking it over or mulling it by and by while walking down country roads; no, this song is the fork that leads two ways. No one loiters here. It’s short and doesn’t last long, but it’s catchy. It too holds truth, but the truth is different for each person in the way one approaches it. Some reject it outright, but even in the rejection is a knowledge of the truth. No one denies that it is a song; the argument is over its impact. Some swear it is the most perfect song ever made; that this song, and this song alone, contains a key, a key, that if used, would open every door ever made worth entering. Others swear it’s rubbish.
The last song? Well, I actually haven’t heard it yet, but I hear it’s a doozy- a real show stopper.