Putting Away Childish Things

cowsWhitey Roy mopped sweat from his forehead with a gear oil-stained red bandana. Everybody knew that the ancient gas pump at Dunnavant’s service station ran slower as the temperature climbed. Though the faded printing on the oversized disk thermometer, nailed crooked to the side of the office door, topped out at 105, its rusty red needle was pinned far beyond that. Whitey figured it was at least 110 degrees.

Across Pigeon Roost Road, Mac Murphy’s hay field wavered like smoke, as though the landscape was smoldering in the late afternoon sun. A few dun-colored cattle stood still as statues, except for the occasional fly-swatting swish of a tail. A puff of breeze raised dust on the gas station’s buckled pavement. It felt more like an open pizza oven than wind. All the while, the faded numbers on the pump rolled slowly. At this rate, he thought, it’ll take an hour to fill this five gallon can.

The pump said: “Klackity-chuff, squeeek. Klackity-chuff, squeeek. Klackity-chuff, DING.” From the tired sound of the thing, Whitey could definitely tell it was running down. He wanted a cigarette and a beer. If the damn gas nozzle still had the auto-clip on it he would have left it stuck in his battered red gas can and lit one up in the shade of the scraggly hackberry tree at the edge of the parking lot. Whitey Roy knew he was not the sharpest tool in the shed, but, as he repeated often, “My momma didn’t raise no dummy.” He could smell the fumes from the 97 octane like he had his face right there in the can. He mopped ineffectively at the sweat running into his eyes and squinted at the hay barely shifting in the blast furnace air. “Ker-poof,” he said, imitating the last sound he would likely hear if he lit a match near that pump.

Everything looked burned around the edges; a comic book portrayal of some rural hell where all the colors were washed out. The grinding innards of the pump slowed noticeably. It was too hot to get excited, but Whitey considered it. He could have gone to the Phillips 66 further up 31 at the end of Buford’s Station, but that would have taken another half hour and he was already behind in raking his hay. He sighed.

A shadow poured quickly like paint, spilled over the station, plunging him into shade. The relief was overwhelming. Before he could look up at the cloud that caused it, the pump squealed to a halt. The numbers stood frozen at three point three gallons. He clicked the handle twice and looked into the nozzle end, shook the thing a few times, and said, “Aw, c’mon!” That’s when he felt it.

At first the rumble seemed to be in the air around him. After a moment, he dropped the pump handle and clapped his hands over his ears, but it didn’t help much. Charley Spits’ beagles started howling and yapping next door. It got darker, and cooler, and the wind rose and threw candy wrappers, empty beer cans, and small stones around the lot in spirals.

“Mus’ be a tornada,” he murmured.

Something hard smacked him on the shoulder and the vibration in his legs felt like an earthquake. The rumble became a violent shaking.

Whitey bent forward with an unavoidable wave of nausea and projectile vomited his turkey sandwich onto the oil-stained pavement. He fell to his knees, grinding skin into the tar and shredding his jeans. The low frequency pulsing was joined by a piercing high note that descended the tonal scale so rapidly that all the glass in his truck windows, the store front, and the face of the pumps exploded, spraying shards of glass .

The pressure grew inside his head; blood leaked from his ears. He opened his mouth to scream, but the sound was drowned out. A barn-sized disc shot out of the dark above him and descended over the hay field and stopped fifty feet above the small herd who did not seem to notice the commotion.

The rumble and squeal blinked out and the wind died. The resultant silence revealed a quieter purring sound that came from the direction of the disc. Cows lowed, tails swished. Whitey Roy tried to catch his breath. He couldn’t.

He was still on his bleeding hands and knees when he realized that the pavement was scorching hot. Jumping to his feet, he wiped at his runny nose and eyes with the sleeve of his dirty denim shirt. He tried to focus on the disc hovering above the cattle. It was at least two hundred feet across. The surface was dull, dark gray, like primer paint. There was no texture or marking on its smoothness.

Whitey wanted to run, but his legs refused to obey. He fought the urge to vomit and defecate simultaneously. The part of his mind that usually held a running commentary about things was mute, struck dumb by the enormity of the thing. His heart felt like a clogged drain. Not enough blood was getting to his head.

As though a vacuum cleaner were switched on, two of the four or five cows flew up into the sky disappearing into the bottom of the disk. One more followed, tumbling head over hind and mooing once just before vanishing. The last two evaporated similarly.

Whitey mumbled, “Cows…”

Without a sound, the disk swooped off at a forty-five degree angle and paused like a hummingbird several miles away. He looked up into the darkness and realized that the clouds he thought had covered the sun actually looked like the reflection of a city in the surface of a river. The disc shot into an opening in the face of this upside-down city. After a moment it began to move away slowly, growing smaller as it receded, the low rumbling was much quieter but still present. Soon it had become small enough for the afternoon sun to shine under it, illuminating the sides of buildings and the sparkling glass of a hundred million windows. Within a minute, it shrunk to a dark smudge in the sky’s bright blue field.

Whitey stood in the glaring sun, mouth agape, for a second. The pump began to gush gasoline, soaking his boots, cuffs and calves. He reached out toward the handle, but before he got it, the pump rang one final time and the flow ceased. The wind picked up again, slightly cooler now, though the sun was just as searing as it had been moments before the darkness approached.

Whitey shivered. His mind was as blank as a flat rock. A scrap of lined notebook paper blew against his chest and stuck there like it was glued to his shirt with paper hanger’s paste. He pealed the sheet off and looked at its surface. It was a brightly colored crayon drawing done by an unsteady child. The picture clearly showed a pink, four fingered hand reaching down toward five tan cows in a field of tall green grass. Whitey Roy’s arm dropped to his side, fingers relaxing. The wind snatched the page away. It shrank to a speck, finally disappearing into Mac Murphy’s field.

›š—

This story is included in my short story collection, Hey, This is it. I’m Going to Die,
published by Libros Igni in 2014.

You can get the book direct from me, or at Powell’s in Portland, OR and if you don’t mind supporting the evil empire, it is also available as a print on demand from Amazon.

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The Writers Road Trip

The Writers Road Trip.

This is a reprint of an article we wrote for The Writer in the World.

Descended at least culturally if not genetically from the ranks of our most exulted literary road warriors – writers like John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, and Ken Kesey – my wife Karen Walasek and I have exercised and exorcised our wanderlust cyclically throughout our forty year marriage. There have been many, many journeys punctuated by periods of growing and transplanting roots. In the first twenty years of our marriage we lived in sixty different homes. We moved so often that family and friends were annoyed at having to repeatedly revise their address books. Banana boxes housed our possessions during those tempestuous early years.

We drove east, north, south and west, crossing the continental United States at least fourteen times. Most of these journeys were made by car, though a few began with planes or trains, and there was one drive-away rental car that we wrecked in Zanesville, Ohio during a snowstorm. We hitched home from Tucson to New Jersey for Christmas one year and got stuck on a milk run Greyhound from Pecos, Texas which became the scenic backdrop for my novel, Jam. Talk about long, strange trips.

As a novelist, songwriter and artist, I think of traveling as the little known tenth muse. I call her Varvara, or Βαρβαρα if you are Greek. Varvara delights in our discovery of ourselves through the strangeness of others. She coaxes and teases, leading by a trail of the tiniest breadcrumbs, whispering in her raspy alto. Her song is like the tug of the stars on my heart.

Most writers have used prompts. I assign timed ones to my students as a way to bypass the censor and get down to the deep stuff. A month long road trip is a bit like immersing your whole body in a writing prompt. Motion occupies the conscious mind and lets your creative self – wander – absorbing the peoplescape. All you have to do is copy down your impressions.

We began referring to these trips as vision quests after our “vacation” to New Mexico in the early 1990s took a surreal detour from the normal planned family excursion. Karen was about to attend her first Goddard undergraduate residency as we set off from our home in eastern Pennsylvania during the hottest part of summer toward the Southwest, bisecting Tennessee on Interstate 40. Our favorite movie at that time wasThe Milagro Bean Field War, Robert Redford’s 1988 film version of John Nichol’s novel. The movie became a template for our trip as we wandered around New Mexico in search of Joe’s bean field. It was a sweaty trial, six of us pressed into an overheating Volvo wagon. We didn’t know that the town they used in the film was chosen more for aesthetics than fact (the novel was a fictionalization of a real water rights war) or that plastic bean plants were driven into the dry soil for the filming.  Ruby Archuleta’s goad to Charley Bloom, the reluctant editor of Milagro’s alternative paper La Voz, surfaced as commentary on the deficiencies of our preparation: the air conditioning “wasn’t up to it.” The voice of our muse, Varvara, narrated the inner landscape as the sun purified us.

We didn’t plan it, but a member of Karen’s Goddard cohort lived at the mouth of the road to our primitive campsite. She prepared Anasazi beans, brown rice and corn bread, a gift that connected our modern family to the indigenous cliff dwellers of an ancient land. Looking outside her kitchen window at the neighboring straw bale adobe buildings across the fields, she explained that Joe’s actual bean field had grown right there, next to the Pilar Yacht Club, a whitewater rafting outfit.  Back then we were surprised, called it serendipity (which is another favorite movie.) These days we know it was part of Varvara’s plan.

Road trips have always punctuated the geographically stable stretches of our marriage. It’s a cycle independent of season.  We grind through our daily lives, making small headway in our various endeavors when the tumblers unexpectedly align, opening our sights to new possibilities. Once again, that lock has fallen open.

We bought a new/old SUV and a DSLR camera. We will journey across the north to Vermont through Canada, diagonally dissect the southeast to visit our farm in Tennessee and then power on to Prescott, Arizona via Interstate 40, retracing our earlier journey through Taos. We plan to return home to Oregon along the coast of sun parched California.

In this post Clinton/Bush/Obama culture, this road trip promises to braid new stories with the journeys and vision quests of the past four decades. Varvara is whispering themes of resistance, indigenous identity, and the impulse to decolonize as we head out to embrace the country’s changing narratives, both dominant and otherwise.  It is going to be a trip. We even bought a mini refrigerator and a blender for the car with plans to make yogurt and sprouts on the road. Maybe kombucha, too! You can come along.

Most importantly, we are journeying with our senses and writing muscles tuned. As the fabric of the land and American psyche impresses itself upon us, we are hopeful she will feed us with wonder and possibilities for a more resilient future. This summer, Karen is beginning her fourth degree, a low residence PhD program in Sustainability Education at Prescott College. And I am embarking on my third, also in sustainability, at Goddard’s Vermont campus. Both happen in August. Updates can be found here. I hope you will join us for the ride and do let us know if we are in your neighborhood. We’d love to connect. Who knows what plans Varvara has for all of us?

This is not the first road trip and it will not be the last.

Additionally, we are running a crowd funding campaign Wishlist on GoFundMe. Most of these items are going to become necessary before we are done (some, like flushing the fluids in the car are necessary now) and there are a few luxuries on there – check them out. We would love it if you just want to donate the item if you have it or can provide it. Contact us via social media or email.

I will update this post when the campaigns go live.

 

Updates for our preparations (we are leaving August 1) can be found here in successive posts as they develop – so please follow our blog as well. As said, after we depart, we expect to publish updates, which will include articles by Karen and Ron, photos and videos (if we get a Go Pro, we will publish Finn Cam – the record of Finn’s adventures from a dog’s eye view) every couple of days. I hope you will join us for the ride and do let us know if we are in your neighborhood. We’d love to connect.

Harry’s Thanksgiving: An Ovation of Love

In this excerpt from my first novel, Happily after Ever, Harry is remembering a Thanksgiving from his youth.

He used to play with the younger brother, Tommy, and he spent countless hours spying on and speculating the mysteries of teen-age sister Patricia, but Harry was in love with Mandy Eastman. Mandy lived next door and was in his seventh grade class, and he would go to unheard of lengths to breathe her air.

Of course, being a major lame-ass nerd, Harry could not be seen with or even look at Mandy in school. There were mysterious unwritten rules and penalties in middle school. It was a wonder that anyone learned them at all, let alone survived the breaking of one of them. Harry knew his place was at the nerd table in the cafeteria, in the corner near the poison ivy end of the dirt play yard at recess, and on Stevie Dobin’s side of a dodge-ball game in gym. (Harry was always on the side with the losers.) It didn’t matter who else was Stevie’s side. The supreme rule, however, was that Harry was never allowed anywhere near girls like Mandy Eastman. One afternoon he saw Dave Hendrickson between sixth and seventh period standing face to face with Mandy, fingering her left breast, and it nearly broke his heart. His twelve-year-old mind couldn’t articulate a feeling of that immensity, but the image stuck with him all of his life. He felt a yearning for Mandy to this day, some eighteen years later, though he had completely lost track of her.

During the summer, Harry’s little street was far away from schoolyard politics and the cliques that governed them. At home on Briar Glen Lane, he and Mandy were just neighbors. Harry would rake leaves for Mr. Eastman, go with the family to ballet recitals for Mandy’s younger sister and generally suck up to all the Eastmans in order to be near Mandy. She usually treated him with the respect reserved for lesser life forms, but during those summers Mandy and Harry were simply kids and shared a love of the trees and woods and creeks. Though not best friends, they were the next-door neighbor sort of “friends by default.”

Patricia was instructing Mandy, unbeknownst to Harry, in the subtle art of tease flirting. Mandy knew Harry had a crush on her. It was obvious to everyone but Harry. That is how Harry found himself at Thanksgiving dinner with ten of the Eastman clan. The main problem was Harry’s allergy to turkey, an allergy of which he was ignorant because he had never even tasted turkey. Harry had a deep visceral aversion to any food that was unusual in texture or possessing a strong smell. His favorite foods, what he actually lived on, were Velveeta cheese, Skippy crunchy peanut butter, and Krispy brand saltine crackers. Harry could not tolerate vinegars in either smell or acidity, and thus would not eat salad. He was suspicious of baked potatoes because his father had once used some sour cream preparing one when he was young. Sour anything caused Harry to retch involuntarily. His mom stopped coercing him to try new foods when he was five. He had ruined her dinners by vomiting in his plate too many times. She simply gave up.

To say the afternoon was a disaster is a gross understatement; like calling a rattlesnake a problematic babysitter. Afterwards Harry didn’t show his face around the Eastmans for months. He avoided using the front door of his own house because he was too embarrassed be seen by Mandy’s mom.

It began well enough, if not a little uncomfortable. Harry had not eaten any breakfast in nervous anticipation of this dinner date. In fact, he was so unnerved by the prospect of eating with so many strangers that he couldn’t tell if he was hungry. The Eastmans were not fundamentalists, but they believed in observing various Sabbaths and thanking the almighty whenever they ate. Because Harry was a guest from outside the family, he held a position of honor at the table. Marjorie Eastman, Mandy’s mom, asked Harry, “Dear, would you like to say grace?” Mandy knew Harry had never attended any church service and would have no idea how to begin, even if he could get over the terror at having all eyes upon him. Mandy and Patricia marveled at his discomfort. The older sister stifled a laugh; it sounded like a snort. The rest of the family ignored the sound, except Mandy’s Uncle Jack, a Merchant Marine cook who had already had three J & B’s.

“Straight up no ice, Marjorie. Thank you.”

He was Mrs. Eastman’s older brother, thus facilitating Family Etiquette Rule #1: The embarrassing drunk brother is always invited to family holiday meals, and no matter how obnoxious, he is never expelled. Mr. Eastman would have the right, if he were stupid enough to exercise it before bed on the eve of a day off, to whine and growl to his wife later after Jack had passed out or stumbled to his car. Paul Eastman, like most men, wanted to get laid, so he would keep his opinion of Jack to himself.

This was years before Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. At this pivotal point in American history, friends didn’t screw with their friends’ right to drive shit-faced, if friends didn’t want to get the living puke beat out of them. Cops normally let drunk drivers sleep it off and released them in the morning. Intervention in white middle class lives was regarded as a civil rights violation. Nobody talked about the many homicides committed by belligerent morons like Jack Monroe.

This Thanksgiving, however, Jack was Harry’s champion. Jack had noticed the way Patricia and Mandy treated the boy. Jack was intimately familiar with being the lame-ass nerd-boy, and he had scars to prove it.

“Christ, Marge,” he slurred. “Why not have Miss Prissy Panties invoke the blessing? And when the hell can we get to the wine, I’m thirsty!” He leered at Patricia through his thick lenses, a possible foreshadowing of abuses yet undiscovered. Harry never knew.

Mrs. Eastman covered her anger like the survivor that she was. Her father had drunk himself to death just in time to spare Marjorie’s mother the trouble of murdering him in his sleep. It would have been self-defense, though, as the old man beat her mom most nights, only beating Marge occasionally as a diversion.

After a moment’s pause to collect her wits, Marge said, “Well then, Patricia, would you?”

The teen tipped her head piously and placed her pale white hands together, fingertips pointing upward toward God. She spoke clearly in her girlish soprano, “Thank you, oh Lord, for these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive and Lord, may this food nourish our souls as our bodies, and make us truly grateful. Amen.”

She crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue at Jack. He regarded her from beneath sleepy eyelids like an over-fed tiger slouching across the table from her.

“Amen,” he grumbled.

“Make us grateful,” Harry mumbled aloud. He momentarily rose out of the throes of his memory to the dimly lit room in his Nashville duplex.

Out in the backyard, the crows had given way to two grey squirrels, one possessing a woeful stump stuck full of mangy pin-feather-like hair, the other with a proud bush of a tail. They looked remarkably like two bantamweight boxers as they argued over a black rubber super ball. Stumpy was chattering and running around in circles. Bushy, holding the ball between his front hands, was hopping around in order to continue facing his maniacal opponent. Harry could see a small chunk missing from the inky looking globe.

Both squirrels were due to be sadly surprised when they tried to eat that nut.

Harry hardly noticed. A painful memory had his mind in a hellish tape loop. He drifted back.

Anyone who has attended a big-family Thanksgiving dinner knows the chaos that followed. In short, the promise of a civilized meal turned into a pig fest. Several conversations sprang up at once with loud drunken punctuations injected by Uncle Jack. Mrs. Eastman insisted that Harry sample everything on the table. Steaming plates paraded past: ham, turkey (white and dark meat), chestnut stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, candied yams, cream corn, green beans baked with Durkee fried onion curls, sautéed pearl onions, pickled cucumbers with sour cream, boiled summer sausage with sauerkraut, and several plates and bowls containing unidentified sauces in colors ranging from bright red to slimy grey.

legs under tableHarry politely tried to eat a little bit of everything. He didn’t talk. He sat next to his sweetheart, though he could hardly look at her. He glanced once at her bare knee. She had her hand resting in her lap on top of a white linen napkin. Harry glimpsed her cream-colored thigh below her hiked up skirt. His heart raced, his stomach gurgled.

He tried the turkey and the stuffing. Though the consistency bothered him some, the taste was pleasant enough; nutty and warm, the meat not gamey or dry. He relaxed a little. When the pickled pig’s feet came around, Harry’s stomach groaned again. He mistakenly thought it was hunger. In response, he ate all of the potatoes and gravy on his plate. Up to this time, Harry liked potatoes. Mrs. Eastman, who assumed that the blank place on his plate meant he loved her cooking, responded by plopping down a half pound more, splashing brown, gelatinous gravy over the whole runny mountain. The smell of the sauerkraut assaulted him, preceding an unmistakable wave of nausea. Harry had a gas pain. He would soon learn that intestinal distress was his body’s standard reaction to turkey. He only tried to eat it once again later in his life with similar, involuntary results. He felt ill, but he did not want to excuse himself. He had an unnatural fear of stranger’s bathrooms, and the thought of being sick in one repulsed him.

He thought, I only need to fart, and his stomach lurched again. The noise in the room was deafening. The adults had consumed a considerable amount of alcohol. He could tell that Mrs. Eastman, for one, was less inhibited. She was pouring gravy on her mother-in-law’s plate with abandon. The brown goo had already created a lake on the lavender tablecloth and a river was flowing toward Mandy at Harry’s end of the table. Harry could not hold back. He tried to let it slip out unnoticed, but a cramp gripped his lower intestines at that moment and forced him to push involuntarily. What came out of him was not gas. At least, that is not all that came out of him.

The clatter and bustle of the table ceased. This was no pause, no lull. It was instant silence. Diners sat staring at Harry with forks and glasses suspended in midair. Harry sat miserably in what he imagined to be a puddle of diarrhea much like the river of gravy that was pooling around Gramma Eastman’s plate. His gut wrenched again. That was when the smell reached his nose.

It apparently reached Uncle Jack’s nose, as well. He bellowed: “Christ’s balls kid, what the fuck crawled up your ass and died?”

Harry hardly heard Jack. Everyone at the table was looking at him, aghast. His stomach lurched again and he looked helplessly at Mandy. He wanted to say he was sorry, but when he opened his mouth to speak, he vomited his entire undigested turkey dinner into his beloved’s lap.

To The Telling

I was looking at my newsfeed and I saw this embedded video of a television advertisement for vitamins. In short, it showed a couple of couples playing strip poker; glowing young folks, fully developed and semi-clad. One voluptuous female loses the hand and begins unclasping her radiant red brassiere, but is frozen mid reach by an older janitor-type in white scrubs – is it worth noting that the guy is stereotypically black and grisly? – he snaps on the lights and says, “Go back to bed!”

When we pan back to the mostly naked poker people, they are all in their seventies. The voice-over says: “Feel young again. Take bla bla bla.” It was cute. The first person I thought of was you, nothing strange about that. We’d often claimed that sharing was the cement that glued us in our long marriage. And Facebook makes this sharing act very simple; there are just so many ways to share! I selected the proper link-button, typed your name in the “Write Something” space and clicked “post.” I could have made it private to you, but I want My Friends to see my stuff. There was nothing private or too risqué about this message.

Knowing where my mind will next go, I scramble to avoid thinking about it. But the well-traveled neuron connections are too ingrained and the next step sends a shock through my head and heart. I guess that’s the way we remember to mourn. We surprise ourselves into grief. Repeatedly.

After two years I am cored in the same cold way. Isense the approach, like the smell of a distant storm, and try to sidestep the dread epiphany, it still surprises. I have almost found a way to live with it. At first I tried to talk myself out of it. Then I went through a period of wallowing – you know, where you try to squeeze all the pain out of your heart like a fat, oil saturated sponge. As if there is a bottom to that bitter well.

Even in the beginning the surprise of your absence burst upon me when my attention drifted– even though really, I thought of nothing but you. Somewhere around one year, I fell into a long mediocre stretch punctuated by these occasional gut dropping shocks. As the time between them grew, I actually began to feel normal – or at least as normal as I’ve been since you vanished – well, maybe normal isn’t the proper word – neither is vanished, exactly. Maybe it would be better to say I became accustomed to the new muted color of life.

Then, in this blur of non-descript exhaustion, something happens and I think (without thinking at all I realize after the fact,) geez, I bet you’d really get a kick out of… and ping! There you would be. I wondered if I was just so tired of the shock, the shock of your loss, the shock of what being really alone was, my brain, in an attempt to save me, was masking the area around your memory like a segment in a tape recording that’s cut out and spliced with scotch tape. Not a very good splice either, the kind that alerts the listener that something was removed – something about a change in atmosphere. Or maybe a stray bit of the expunged sound got left behind, enough to alert the ear that a part was skipped, but not enough to tell what it was. And of course that detection would connect to the whole memory, big and garish and red, just as inflamed and sore as when the wound was made.

I got mad at the phenomenon for a bit. But I know anger is one of the stages, so I worked to let go fast, transmuting the threat of violence into more sustainable emotions. Numbness won out, slow to morph into what your non-being has now become, dull and jaded, yet unexpectedly bothersome as a steel wire splinter in the fingertip.

In addition to experiencing the re-shock of your loss every time I get excited about something, I often find myself waking up from immersive reminiscences. I am not aware of entering into these states, only leaving them, when I realize, again, in less of a balance-robbing way, that oh, yes, we are no longer making new memories together. Though reliving them is a convenient refuge, I am at my core a realist; I see the futility of growing accustomed to escape.

pumping stickyWhen you still breathed, we had an ongoing argument about life. I always thought of it as a disagreement about gusto, but I never mentioned that title to you. And truth be known, I agree with your point. I was taking the side of the devil in order to tease out the details – and I think you knew that. I based my position on a quasi-Hemingway stance, though I have not closely studied his work. From what I have read and pondered, (and why shouldn’t I wonder on Papa’s life and times? He was a great by many standards, even as the lifetime chairman of the Dead White Guy’s Cannon.) I’d formulated a simplified philosophy.

Take life by the horns, Hemingway’s carefully crafted image implores, experience all she has to offer with gouged-open, suicidal glee. We are at end, food for worms, and once gone only the echoes of our shrieking in abandonment will remain. Even then, not for long.

But you had a different read on the question. For you, the idea that the physical life was the end-all of reality was a ludicrous notion. Sure, you were an earth mother woman, and lived as close to the center of your power as possible. You’d tell anyone who seemed vaguely receptive that, “Woman is most feminine when she is pushing a fresh lanugo-coated human between hips flexible made oxytocin flexible, expelling her from the largest muscle in the human body, past stretched slippery vulva lips, grunting radiant into this drafty world.” I have witnessed this, I agree.

It doesn’t get more physical than that, friends. And yet, for you the inner spaces of life offered more worthy cartography to decipher. You argued that my Hemingway-esk model of standing tall in the rarefied natural world, battling death in the form of big game with big guns, was an illusion.

To be fair, you recognized that an aerial view of the heart, the architecture of human emotion and the fair lands of thought and logic, were all just as imaginary. The main rub, you maintained, was these inner workings supplied the real power. Invisible to the fleshy eye, they are the actual animator of our love, pumping life’s sticky fluid deep into the capillaries of our bodies. For you, recognition of that unlimited world was what powered the true machine.

You would say, “It isn’t important to quantify your worth. It is proof enough to understand your value.” And we would go around and around, playfully: you like a mama tiger circling her den, me poking fun at your nebulous concept of reality, all the while admiring your strength of heart.

Hey, even Hemingway chose the typewriter ribbon over of the thirty-aught-six to tell his story. We are not talking about how he signed the last page of the manuscript, because that is best left to others knowing him and his demons better than I. All writers know that they birth life from imagination. Even attempting the task calls foul on the physical world. The writer casts hopes and dreams out for a depth-sounding in this, our shared solid reality.

We creative types are a conundrum, stumbling through this metaphoric world. Dabbling in the ethereal, we grind pigments from flesh and bone to paint an invisible canvas before an audience of ghosts. Who can say what is actually real?

Probably you, my dear.

From your bodiless vantage, I imagine you view this soupy mess from clearer vantage. I wonder if you told me, would I understand? And maybe you are telling me, dictating your vision though our unbreakable silver cord, what remains of our bond, in a language only love could decode. As I dip deep into the shimmering void, trolling the currents of the unformed, behind a curtain that only death presumably strips away, maybe I am syphoning your wisdom. Fashioning it into literary sculpture, polished and lovingly precise, still only revealing the barest essence of the powerful nectar you have become.

I wanted to explain how it feels. Why I post videos on my dead wife’s wall. Maybe I will understand it myself someday; my excitement at discovering a twist or beauty, some new logic that I know would touch your spark. Without a hint or whisper of that familiar precipice, the bottom drops out. And I am shocked again to realize why you will no longer respond.

###

For Karen.

NOTE: Karen asked that I publish this for Valentine’s Day 2014 – It is still very fresh and will probably be revised. This is an early draft. But I think the sentiment comes through. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. 

Creative Commons License
To The Telling by Ron Heacock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://wp.me/p4fgRf-1g.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at ron@hillhousewriters.com.

Falling Forward

You are walking. It is late morning. The sun has that deceptive midwinter angle to it that makes everything look as though it should be warm and inviting, but it is not. It couldn’t be more than twenty degrees. The shadows are sharp-edged, and the air is crystalline. There are no clouds; just a broad curving blue from one horizon to the other. You look at your watch, but immediately forget the time.

On a morning like this, as cold as it is, everything seems possible and unhidden. But like the blue cloudlessness; you know it’s an illusion. The thin band of atmosphere clinging to earth’s surface reflects the sun’s visible spectrum. It’s just a mask for the unimaginably desolate eternity of black space.

Even so, everything is fine on a morning like this; the truth is a comfort in its nakedness.

Your boots have worn in to the point where they do not hurt your feet. And thick wool socks give your toes a packed-in feeling – warm, dry and supported by well-crafted, handmade leatherwork. Your soles scuff the small stones in the parking lot as you stride toward the street, habitually glancing both ways.

blackbirdblueskyA raven, like a cutout in azure construction paper, arrows by above just within your vision field. An itch on the back of your neck should be a signal, but the day is so wide open, you distract yourself by scrunching up the lint inside your glove with the nail of your pointer finger.

You are not planning anything, exactly. More the feeling of falling forward into the slipstream of your life. You enjoy being pulled along into the next continuous now. Feeling content, it’s almost like floating.

As you near the middle of the street, a thought bubbles to surface about a child you once saw through the window of a small meat and three diner in town. A woman, presumably her mother, was dabbing at her young girl’s chin with a napkin. You are overwhelmed in re-witnessing this memory; the love of the gentle demonstration; the silent, insulated viewing through plate glass.

As the panel truck strikes your right side, the same side as the fingernail and glove lint scrunching, and your body is launched into the crisp space above the rough pavement, you focus on the crow, strangely, still suspended above the scene as though it were an element in a collage. Your body’s silhouette is pressed into the metal grillwork of the vehicle. The boots remain where you last stood. Your discarded watch and leather gloves lie nearby.

Though you recognize the coda, there is no pain or regret. A smile curls in anticipation of the symphony’s next movement: You are now all curiosity and wonder. It is the possibility of love’s lingering that you follow forward.

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NOTE: This story was published by The Pitkin Review in the print issue of Fall 2012
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Falling Forward by Ron Heacock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://wp.me/p4fgRf-18.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at ron@hillhousewriters.com.