What I Mean?
Rightly is excerpted from
Dhamma, the novel
Published May 2013
©2013 Jonah Rye
What I Mean?
Shakespir Edition published December 2015
©2015 Jonah Rye
Cover design by the author
She was astonished. ‘That girl, I swear. Another job. Another boyfriend.’
Her eyes sparkled, she beamed and talked to a spot out in the middle of the departure lounge, a spot a little above the sea of empty blue seat-pods. She tilted her head and chuckled.
The man beside her leaned elbows on knees in his pod. Through drooping eyelids he stared.
She looked out, directed her words out at the spot, tipped her head, flashed and blinked her glittering eyes. She could hardly believe her own words.
The man shifted, sat back in his pod, slid to slouched.
Bright and cheerful, eyes round with wonder, she talked on, tilted her head, blinked and glittered and nodded at the spot, ‘What I mean?’
She laughed at the folly of her foolish girlfriend, enrapt at her own telling of it.
He slumped, his legs thrown out before him, head back to the wall, forearm flung over his face.
Enthralled, she talked on.
Under a load of packages and luggage, a lady stumbled in. She tumbled her burden into a couple pods and dropped herself into one. With a long sigh, she deflated. She glanced at her travel documents, looked around, collected herself.
Wonder-struck, girl-woman turned, took her in, looked her over, checked her out. The man sank, head and shoulders up, the rest of his parts spilled out before him, at bay.
The lady reached into a paper bag. ‘You know,’ she turned to them, ‘my husband bought this. I don’t drink and he’s in Singapore.’
The man slid up in his pod, pushed himself to upright. Girl-woman watched the lady.
‘I don’t need to carry it. I think it’s very good. He paid quite a lot for it. Sipping whisky, he said. He just opened it yesterday.’ She turned the label to the man sitting tall, feet planted. ‘Would you like it?’ She extended it to him.
It was an object of distinction, ornate, sculpted of heavy glass deep red. Embossed leaden seal proclaimed its good name. He held it up. ‘Never heard of it.’ Turned it. ‘Yeah, OK. I’ll take it.’
The lady handed him the paper bag. He wrapped the bottle in it, laid the package in his backpack. He rose, got up out of his pod and strode out. Girl-woman sat in awe, struck dumb.
He came back with Coke and mashed ice in a tall red plastic cup from McDonald’s, poured half the Coke into the trash, and sat down. He tumbled three-four-five ounces of whisky out of the paper bag into the cup. The cup glistened with sweat. He held it up, took a drink.
The lady sat in the midst of her things, arranging. The man leaned back and sighed, looked at his woman. ‘Yeah,’ he smiled, ‘that girl. I sure thought her and Tony would get it together.’
She beamed, her eyes wide, glittering with love for this man, her man, who she beheld. Well-pleased, she turned to the spot out in the middle of the departure lounge. ‘She is a piece of work,’ she beamed. ‘I love her like my sister, but sometimes–’
He took a big drink and settled back into his pod.
The house resided in shadow, spotless clean, windows draped in gauze, color banished, perfect gloom, forever in shadow.
She showed him, the first time, told him the story. They’d incurred a terrible debt. And before she’d been stamped, the brand cut into her forearm, carved forever into her flesh, she’d taken a scar, gash glaring blazed shoulder to wrist.
Little girl living in the empire of the Star, empire of the Sun. Never forget. The debt.
Get inside! Black sky at morning. Stay inside!
It filled the road, breadth and depth and height, filled vision. Male and female, it thronged with male and female all in common, united in chaos and, out in front, scowling in tall black hats and big black beards, the holies. It came, raised a storm of dust and chaos, raised the dark. Rising from it, pushing, driving it on its way, images bigger than she, hung on poles, towering swaying, looming. Highness, Father of them all, most high, most holy, the Star, dour and fussy, decked in martial decorum and yachtsman’s cap, black beard and moustache cropped close and smooth, looked down, at her, glowered at her, and the Saviour, the Sun, crowned with stellar halo, fine flaxen hair pulled back and flaxen beard and pursed lips, Father too, and dour, fussy, looked down on her and glared, and, held high, the cross, pointed finger, relic, of the murdered, danced. Thicket of spars and shadows waved, menaced, furies of dust spun skyward, furies of hate. Star, their Star, and Saviour, their Sun, loomed and leapt and accused. Cross spun and danced and the sun, lost in chaos and shadows, disappeared.
Better run child, it’s coming! Coming to get you!
Boiling, spinning swirling, it cast wreckage and thunder out before it, and she did not move. She stood and stared and the kings glowered, come to trample her, roll over her. A boy ran across its path, took her up and ran with her, carried her. Long way he carried her, and they ran together, stopped somewhere on a side road.
I know this place, he opened the door a crack and they tucked inside. You stay here. Hide in back. Disappear, little one. I cannot stay with you. There are others. I have to help. I’ll lock you in. Take care. Later, when it’s past, there’s a window in back. You can climb out. I am Isaak. God with you, little one. God with us. Remember. Pray, God with us.
Through a shop tossed and stripped, dark and still, through a dream she wandered. Patina of flour dust covered the floor. Storm coming. She shivered, walked alone. Stopped. Or hurry home. They’d worry. From dream she turned to the front. And the storm struck.
It exploded, blew apart. Male and female, citizens, they roared and stampeded, lashed out, slashed, smashed homes and shops, shattered windows and walls. Seized life, shook it, crushed it.
She leapt back, crouched behind a flour bin, concealed in gloom. They were at the door, men and women, mad, shouting, smashing at the door. A pole drove through shopfront window. Shards and splinters of shattered light blew into the gloom.
Then they were gone.
She got up, went to the front. Outside, broken windows and doors, broken buildings. Broken people. An old couple – her breath caught – she knew – lay in the road, broken and crushed in the road. Trembling she whispered the creator’s name and said the prayer of Ike.
She waited. Long time she waited, till they had gone, out of hearing. Fear shook and shivered her. Her heart pounded. Go home, she should, she must. But the kings’ men – they were out there.
Draperies of dust hung in the air, shards and scraps of debris tossed in the storm’s wake. Bodies lay twisted and trampled. And sadness, a great sadness fell on her.
Must – but what if–? Must. Just go.
The ragged maw of the smashed shopfront window faced her. She tucked her head, hunched her shoulders, stooped and stepped long. Long slow step out through jagged port. Ragged glass licked, snagged her arm, tugged her arm, pulled her. Ragged glass gripped, bit her and held. Kept her spellbound, would not let go. Off balance, she twisted and fell, fell free, fell through, landed in the road. Thin red line, nothing at all, a hair’s breadth, shoulder to wrist. Drops dark violent red budded and bloomed, a rivulet formed, flowed, and poured off her hand. She took off her blouse and wrapped it around her arm. And little girl in undershirt and dress, the cloth around her arm soaking, drenched scarlet, dripping, she ran.
The town, her town, so tidy, lay under a pall of dust. Broken bodies and debris lay stamped into the road. Smashed doors and windows of shops gaped, big black scowling eyes gaped at her. Only four blocks home. At the butcher’s, two men hauled out meat, lumps of raw meat big as a child, dumped them into the bed of their wagon. Brace of tired nags slumped in the traces. She ducked into a doorway.
Her heart pounded in her throat, surged in her ears, in her temples, in her arm.
A horse and cart approached. She pressed into the doorway, into shadow, crouched, and wished to be home, now, for all this to finish, for Mother to look after her arm, for Father to scold. For Grandmother to fawn over her, spoil her, hold her to her bosom and love her, Grandfather waiting to take her onto his lap. But Grandmother . . . Grandfather . . . all safe at home, the way it used to be, safe and loved. Wanted. Needed. Everybody together and happy. No more. She crouched in shadow.
Clothed in black, his face shrouded in the shadow of black hat and heavy beard, lone carter nagged his skinny horse on past the girl, pulled up in front of the butcher’s. The first two men walked out with half a carcass of beef bright red, grey ligaments drawn over bright white bones, slung slick between them. They swung their burden, tipped, flung it into their wagon, and turned back to the shop. The carter bounded down and went to them, pressed close, demanding, shouting. While two argued and pushed, the other went back in. He came out, dropped lumps into the bed and put himself between the men. He talked to the new man, shook his head, turned and went back with his fellow for more lumps and a rope of sausages. The new man followed them in and carried out by their feet six chickens still alive and flapping. He bound their legs together with wire and laid them in the cart.
Smeared scarlet, the first two got up on the seat of their wagon, took up the reins and slapped their nags. Leant to the work, staggering against the load, dead heavy burden of meat and bone and men, the animals drew the wagon away from the shop. The carter took his seat, turned his horse, and she sprang, fled in front of the wagon, her arm throbbing, her head and body, crying and churning out blood with every footfall. Tired, so tired.
The man shouted. The men in the first wagon turned, looked behind, and kept rolling. The girl flew.
The man cursed. Devil bitch! Never forget, girl. We never have. Never will. Never forget! Stranger!
Grandmother wasn’t there to take her to her bosom, wasn’t there to love her. Grandfather wasn’t there. They had gone out, just before. Uncle brought them back, old couple crushed in the road, in the bed of his wagon.
Joyful, incredulous, at the return of her daughter, Mother flew to her. Mother fawned, she grieved, she wept.
Uncle, who knew how to mend a horse’s leg, stitched the flesh of her arm with a sewing needle. There was no anesthetic, but she felt only a distant tingle as he worked. He covered the wound, shoulder to wrist, with axle grease and wrapped it in a torn shirt.
Dust hung in the air, mingled with the smoke of fires of trash and debris, of books – music, art, poetry, anything of value to, suggestive of, the stranger – mingled with the shocked silence of a people forsaken.
Late, they stood at table. She and her brothers lit the candles. Mother held out her arms and gathered them in, her family near, brought them to her, and the absent, the departed, the ancestors and angels, her mother and father, all the people. Father asked the blessing. They thanked God for having sent Grandmother and Grandfather, for caring for the family, for giving strength and courage and discernment, readying them for trials to come. They thanked God for being their God, for the word and for the responsibility of honoring and preserving it, for passing it on. They prayed for all the dead and for their dead. And, as it had been handed down, they prayed for their enemies.
She never recovered the use of her arm. It hung, forever after, locked stiff, rusty shutter swinging from her shoulder socket. And forever after, she bore her scar, furrow smooth, brilliant, cut wrist to shoulder.
It passed. Shops, repaired, reopened. The people returned to their work, their children went back to school. As a girl, already she had known exclusion, bars to employment and ownership that her parents faced, and quotas, limits, on her people being admitted to schools and universities. For as long as she could remember, they could not go out during the holy weeks, had to stay cloistered inside, not be seen at Christmas, when the Saviour was born again, and Easter when, dying again – at their hands, it was said, they’d accused, urged it, lobbied for it, they’d crafted the nails – he defied death to rise and live, again, to fulfill the promise, it was said, of the prophets to usurp the old way, the word, change it and make it his own.
As she grew older she saw more. Slurs cast at her, at her friends and family, and swabbed on walls and windows, streets, on livestock and cemetery markers. Accusations of witchery and magic, association, intimacy, seduction, rape. Fake charges, fake trials, or none, that followed fake police investigations, or none, innocents taken, indicted, convicted, put to death.
And real crimes perpetrated against them. Kidnap, rape, murder. Crucifixion. Service on the debt.
They ate breakfast together, like every day. End of the dry season, they had their meals under the house, among the wooden stilts that, in the wet season, held their home above the cold grey lapping water. Sitting together on warm packed dirt, sheltered from the searing sun by the wooden floor of their grey wooden home, they ate rice soup with a few vegetables and small pieces of fish stirred in. Finished with dirty tea. Then he got up to go. Like every day.
But this day was different.
The children, too young for school, were old enough to help grandfather with his work. They toiled and played all day under the sun, their skin burned dark as the tough hard buffalo they rode and trod upon. Their black hair gleamed like their mother’s. Mother worked with them, tending the buffalo, feeding a few pigs, stooping and kneeling in the rice, bowing in the rice.
Mother finished school when she was thirteen, old enough to read and write and entice boys, and continued to work keeping her parents’ house, scrubbing the floors, cooking and serving and cleaning up, washing clothes, ironing sewing patching, stooping and bowing in the rice, preparing for her life with a husband. The choice of Ananda worked out for both sets of parents, who had arranged the marriage, and he was a perfect choice for her, too. They loved each other and laughed together often. He respected her, treated her as his partner in the marriage, heeded her counsel and her cautions. She was devoted to him, took him to her heart, loved and trusted him. He was a good man, devoted husband and father who took good care of his family. Ananda wanted different for his children, both of them, but especially for his daughter, their first. Not the traditional path: leave school early, marry early, whelp a brood early and many, go to work every day stooping in the rice.
So, after their daughter came, he went to live and study in the capital fifteen, twenty, twenty-five hours by bus away. He stayed in the pagoda and attended the government university. He worked in the pagoda and at hotel and restaurant jobs and, with good English skills, led occasional walking tours for tourists – occasional because guides at the tourist sites formed cartels and freelancers like Ananda had to hire the guides or pay them off, or suffer the consequences.
Ananda stayed five years, living on little and with little to send home, able to get back to his family only two times a year, at the Harvest Festival and the New Year. They missed him, mother and daughter, and wept, soft, every time he left. He missed them fiercely and could not sleep for weeks every time he returned to the capital.
He found a mentor, a countryman who had become an American and a professor and dean at an American university. The professor had come back to his homeland to give back, to help his country grow healthy. He had begun to despair, all but given up hope, when he met Ananda. They worked hard together, teacher and protégé.
Ananda was a good student, enthusiastic, always prepared. He never missed a class. The professor found ways to bypass, or pay, the fees and bribes for Ananda to secure his degree. He offered to help Ananda get to America for graduate work, but, facing the vast distance of time and space without his wife and child, and a baby on the way, Ananda turned him down. His family needed him and he longed to be home with them. Ananda resolved to go back to his province, back home, to work to save his country and help his children get a good start, help especially his daughter to complete her education and go on to university. Maybe she would attend the American university in the capital, the university that His Excellency Dr Dhamma, the Minister of Justice, had founded and now presided over. If she worked hard and did well, and they paid the fees for tutoring and grades, she could get a scholarship. She should have meaningful fruitful work, work that would help to save and raise their country, work she could undertake with dignity. In a marriage of honor and love.
He’d been back home, back with the family, since the birth of their son. He took his work very seriously.
He got up to go, smiled back at them, smiled at her, loving patient wife, at his daughter grown to girlhood without him, so much growing up already gone, at his son, just an infant with so much growing before him. They needed him. He protected them and kept them safe. His love and devotion were water to help them grow. How would they ever get along without him? What fate awaited them, befell them, if not for him?
He smiled back at them, like every day. But this day was different.
It surprised her, frightened her, that she felt sadness this day, as she had in the time when he would leave to go back to the capital. He mounted the tough old Honda Dream that took him to his duty every day, that this day took him away.
Black hornet lurks. In the open ports, soldier shadows watch, wait. Shadow closes with heavy machine gun, sites on one moto and the other. Stingers and Hellfire hang poised. Breathing fire and shock, packing death, hornet paces a brace of motos, flies on the tail of a dragon, divided, one on each side of the road bouncing jumping, flying over the road.
‘No. One damn ranger,’ the Minister shouted. ‘The others know. And that damn reporter. Where do they think they are? Do they have any sense? It’s not their problem. Why is it important to them? These forests do not belong to them. Are these their trees?’
Ananda lived, acted, full of purpose, full of fear. With all his being he wanted to go, turn and run, fly to safety and comfort, predictability, back home to his family. Back to his children, to the embrace of loving devoted wife. And they wanted it, fervently, fiercely wanted father, husband, to come back. Turn back. Ahead lies death. Go back, back to love. Go home. His hand seized on the throttle wide open. He had only to hold on, bumping bouncing flying over rough shattered rock road, red gash in the forest. He flew, medal of the Lord Buddha that hung from a chain around his neck, image of the Lord Buddha solemn serene redeeming, clamped tight between his teeth. Live rightly. Fly headlong. Never any need to tell the other rangers or the police. No need to go to the army. Nothing to be done. It was understood. And now he hoped against all that he knew, that they – police, army, authority – would desist, would not retaliate, would not turn on him. He could go home, to his baby son, to his daughter grown to girlhood without him – already missed so much – precious daughter who needed him for her to grow up safe, to grow up free, fulfilled. To his wife, young, and beautiful as her children. All of them vulnerable. Prey. He hoped, he prayed. Flew forward, flew away.
The moment. The thrust carried him. Live rightly, the Lord Buddha taught. He knew it was good, it was right. Somebody had to do something, had to stand up. He had gone to his superior officer and to the police. No problem for you, they told him. Never mind. Danger. His friends, co-workers who shared his concern, shrugged and said, what could be done? Theirs not the power.
He pushed ahead, believed it was good, believed it was his duty. The story he knew well, had grown up with it – villagers forced, threatened, to work, to cut, for meager compensation. This time he kept track, wrote it all down, names and number plates, pictures – ministers, generals, members of parliament, highnesses. He worked with the man from the NGO, but the man was very busy, couldn’t come out with him. Now was the time. It was right and it was to him the duty. And he knew, too, that he had already transgressed, gone far beyond what would ever be forgiven in this world.
He was scared. He longed for his wife and children, missed them fierce and longed to be home with them, grieved for them. But, by his work, he knew, he understood, his country was vanishing. Corruption, epidemic, gripped everybody. Culture of impunity, the NGO man said. Culture of violence. Ananda knew, he understood that great sacrifices are necessary. Live rightly. Sacrifice. Somebody had to sacrifice, to stand. Somebody had to say no. Stand against the evil. Somebody had to stand.
Even when standing means standing alone. Means death.
His friend from the English Daily came along and sent dispatches from the scene, dispatches that made it to the front page of the Daily where they were smirked over by experts and expats having their coffee or burgers, their fish and chips, bangers and mash. The dispatches got no play in the native language press.
Hornet hovers. Assassins in black and blackface, M16s at ready, wait grim in the open ports. One mounts heavy machine gun, barrel tipped earthward. Stinger and Hellfire hang primed. Waiting.
Hornet black steel dips low. Feel the wind of the wings.
They slowed, ranger and reporter, divided, pulled to opposite sides of the road. Stopped. Hornet hovered between them and forward, churned chunky red dirt, swirling red cloud, red gritty storm. But a moment, beat of a heart. Past time to change course.
Hornet tipped, hovered. Its fury, deadly precise, found targets.
The reporter vaulted from his moto and sprinted into the forest, broken forest. Up to the treetops Hornet climbed, found the prey with flesh-seeking eyes, smashed the prey with Hellfire.
Smear of bone and blood steams in the forest, broken gashed forest. Thin stream of black sour smoke bending, curling up. And up.
The ranger. He’d been warned. No problem for you, they told him, never mind. He shouldn’t have to be warned. It was understood. Traitor. To question, challenge. Disobey.
But he thought it was his responsibility, his duty. The truth. Thought he could serve. Thought he could save.
Stopped, standing over his moto, feel the wind of the wings. Feel the Lord, upright, serene. Rise above death. Say the Lord, welcome the Lord. Close your eyes, feel the Lord, see the Lord. Hold the Lord. Hold on. Lord is in you. Hold on.
Hold them, hold the children, hold her. Regret, remember. Fill your heart. Grieve. Hold them, hold the love, hold the loss. Feel the wind. Hold on.
Hornet hovers shoulder high. Stinger missile, fifty meters.
Feel the thunder, sting and slash. Torrent and flash, heat that blasts, light that blinds. White heat. White light.
There was the disturbance.
From our window, high rise hotels intrude on the landscape in every direction. Distributed among them are office buildings and banks, markets and malls, temples roofed red and gold, a pair of wood churches in dark decay, and bulb-domed masjid with crescent-tipped spire whence, five times every day, summons to prayer soars and billows and wends. Thick river pushes sludge, disappears in the distance where civilization gives out, gives way to blanket of vegetation. The forest is lush, always lush, always green, a thousand shades of deep dense green with flashes and splashes of yellow and red and orange. Over it all and through it hangs the haze.
This building, it’s a tower, is for tourists. All but the top floors, they’re residential, long stay. That’s us, we’re chronic.
It’s a good location, at the center of this center of the old kingdom, the old commercial district, near markets, the night bazaar, and food courts where vendors hawk chicken and pork and grilled sausages on a stick, roti kissed with canned sweet syrupy milk, a dozen kinds of noodles, fruits and vegetables, donuts soaked, freighted, with fat, and tasty little treats wrought from seaweed, beans and coconut and wrapped in green leaf of banana. Souvenirs sundries and food flavored by the cultures of Asia and the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and the hill people who were here first. And the endowments of empire: McD’s, BK, KFC, *$ and DQ. Coke.
You live comfortably here. Feed and develop your interests in food and massage, spiritualism, meditation, medication, alternative medication. Care and feeding of your appetites. Turn them loose. Develop your desires, feed them. Unhitch the reins on your madness, feel the wind of the wings. People back home think I need help? I’ll take off. Out of sight, man. Sedate me? Chemical straitjacket? No thanks. Mix with a hunger – to quieten and cohabit with the madness – for alcohol, drugs, extreme sex, extreme violence, for extremes, away from judgmental eyes. The people here, whose country this is, are accommodating, very accommodating.
This guy upstairs, he’s an endowment. He got himself up on the roof. Twenty-two floors up. At night. Climbs up there, mounts the dish, he’s Spider-man, splayed on the satellite dish twenty-two floors up, under the stars. Management sent Security up and they ‘bout got thrown off themselves before they got him down and back into his room. No cops, no suicide intervention squads, no counseling, no ambulance. No remains. No problem. He pays his rent.
Most nights, this guy’s up in his room wrangling with devils. You can hear him caroming off the walls, jumping, stomping, yelling, cursing, throwing furniture, smashing chairs and tables and drawers into sticks. When he’s not splayed on the satellite dish.
He’s right above us. There are nights when he gets to smashing and stomping, feels like he’s going to crash right through. I’ve talked to him, outside, out in the garage, about the noise. Oh, yeah, he hears it too. It’s the guy next door. I’ve been up there – his door is always open – ‘bout got nailed by a big framed mirror sailing through the door. Guy next door. Yeah, he says, or the fucking Christians-Muslims-Jews. They’re not fucking Christians-Muslims-Jews. What the fuck do they know about Christian-Muslim-Jew things? Buddhists are the worst. These people aren’t fucking Buddhists.
That’s the night shift. Daytime, he sleeps – a little, very little. He’s got to be up to hurl insults at strangers twenty floors down. It’s a long reach, but he belts it out. He gets out there and he’s naked – yup, got to get naked – hanging out of the belfry, suspended out there in the ionosphere. You look, you can’t miss him. Finds a target, draws breath, draws deep, and rips, Hey! gets their attention. He takes a chestful, reaches out and throws down, lets tear, his vocal apparatus is ripping apart, you can hear it, you can feel it. Fuck you! Can’t miss. Draws a bead, changes up the emphasis, Fuck you! Hey! Fuck you! People are looking up, but I guess they figure he’s talking to somebody else. Or he’s bah, farang bah. They expect so little, after all, we’ve been colliding so long with them. There was a lady farang down there. She was curious, tips her head up, looks, and he nails her. Fuck you! Yeah, fuck you! You! From all the way up, you can see her take a deep breath, shake her head, storm away. And back. She storms back and she’s got her pad of paper out, she’s writing, taking it all down. Going to give him a ticket, I suppose, or a story, a moral, and he hurls down, Hey! Fuck you!
The keepers have no problem. He pays his rent, pays for damages. Gifts to the manager, unlike some shitbirds. Never hurts anybody. Does no physical harm. These floors are for disturbances. Chronic.
And there’s the other guy across from him, he’s carrying on, too, full bore. Thumping crashing cursing gift of Australia. Carrying on a continuous rant loud as the human voice can tear. Alone in his cell railing at his devils. That whore! Call herself my mother. Mother fucker! He’s swirling around the room, Mother fucker! And he’s at the window, naked – it gets so hot, and humid – naked and thrust out the window, other side of the belfry. He calls a guy out below, ‘ey! Son of a bitch! Yeah! Son of a bitch! Fuck you! He lunges, thrusts, Fuck you! and punctuates, Fuck you!
He had a girl from the bar a while back. His wife. Yeah. Kept her in there a few days. After the honeymoon, or breaking in, she escaped. Left him a couple bite-sized chunks out of his ear and shoulder. Got to treat wounds promptly here, and carefully. They’ll fester.
Regularly get security up there. The thumping and crashing and tearing gets to the neighbors. Who, he knows, are watching him. Everybody. Watching. Through the mirrors, TV, the phone. Mother fuckers down on the street. Up here, anybody comes near, he attacks. Assaults them. Guy walking by on the floor and this guy flings wide his door, comes flying out of his room, Who you lookin’ at, mother fucker!? Right in the guy’s face. Spittin’ and cursing, right in his face. Fuck you! Lately, he’s got a guy in there with him, and they’re pounding beers, all the time, round the clock. Sancho Panza never mixes till security shows up. Then he comes out, baseball cap turned backwards and, he’s just a little guy, but he can manage the railing bull, see? Little guy gets up right in front of the guy and pushes him back into the room.
Aussie’s been here a couple years. Always like this. Yank too. They take breathers, I suppose they get tired, but never at the same time. And most of the time, they’re roaring out of both sides. Day and night.
Sometimes I feel like I’m losing it, here on the chronic floors, the belfry.
I was working up in the room, at the computer, and felt dizzy, woozy, out of whack. The tower was swaying. Desk slid out away from me, right out from under my hands. I’m sitting there, swaying, drifting, back and forth, slipped my moorings. Bumping up and down. Twenty floors up.
Tower’s leaning. Figured I better lay down. Fought the momentum and stood up. Arms spread, legs spraddled, a drunken sailor in heavy seas, I staggered to the bed, reaching grasping with both hands, climbed on.
Laid there, eyes closed, but behind closed eyes the turbulence was greater. Colors vivid, brilliant, swirled churned collided. I opened my eyes, had to. Drapes were tossing and flapping, the walls throbbing, bulging out and sucking in. Over in the fish tank, waves’re tossing and crashing against the sides and the fish, all of them, even that big cat that vacuums the bottom, had stopped their swimming. They’re hanging there, everyone, suspended in the churning water, all lined up, suspended and staring out, watching. Watching. Snails, too. Everyone.
These bites are starting to fester.
Another disturbance today. And they’re all looking. Watching. Always watching. ‘Bout fell out the window. Mother fuckers.
He comes every day, I see him. After all this time. Still tall and thin, still got anxious eyes, chewing on his lower lip. His hair is cut and groomed neat. He’s lost a lot, so he combs a big flap up from the back of his head, flops it up from the back and lays it over the top, reaches it all the way over and hangs it down in front, covers his forehead with it. It’s different, but it works. His nose is longer, he’s more peaked, but still has his boyish good looks. Still nervous, anxious. Last I’d seen him he was wrapped in a crummy army blanket in a black and white jail cell, not going to move, not even going to swat that God damn fly buzzing around his nose.
Keeper with his mother of the place on the old road, place time cast off when they built the new highway. Lust and terror, tall wet loveliness in the shower, beauty luxuriating in her shower. Black bra over the lower part of the frame masked her nudity, sheer slippery nudity, evoked and extolled it, glorified it, gloried in it, sleek slippery nude savoring her shower, indulging. At her most glorious, luxuriant, most savory, at the limits of indulgence, the brink, climax – interruption. Chaos, flying screeling strings, the spectre in apron and woolens. Flying screeling chaos. The knife, the struggle, it strikes, chaotic struggle, cuts and stabs, she blocks frantic, cuts deep, fends fights, stabs and tears, try frenzied, try . . . strikes, hits, again, stabs, again, tears . . . deep . . . try . . . deep . . . again . . . block faint . . . the knife cut her down, tore down the dam, unleashed the flood. Feel her pain cut and stab, exhausted, feel her shock, her failure, feel her grief, her life, her tears, swirling away.
I saw her, waiting in line. Lithe, blonde, trusting. Came here to get away from big city carks and cares, but she was ready to go back. Said she’d made some mistakes back there and ran and now she wanted to make amends or something. They always want to go back. Not much to hold them in this little burg. No rules in the city. And of course the men are more interesting, more varied at any rate.
I took her over to meet Mother. It’s not secret, I live with Mother. Can’t very well live as a single man, can I? In this little burg? In my line, appearances are very important. I have a lot of responsibility. Big fish in a little pond, in a fishbowl. Rooster in the hen house. Bull elk. Always been just the two of us, since I was a kid. She never had an interest in men. That’s why the sire killed himself. I found the body. Great for a kid’s development – and most considerate – find the old man all puffed up and purple hanging out in the garage for two weeks. Like that time the handsome young executive – and arrogant, petulant – was the last one on the elevator, all alone, after pissing everybody off before they all left and closed the place for a month. And the elevator stalls. The place is deserted and he’s stuck on the elevator, alone. For a month.
We didn’t do so bad, just the two of us. I turned out OK. I was always there for her. Through long tortured nights of remorse, remorse heightened by alcohol, passions ignited. Could’ve moved out, but the time never seemed right. The place was more than she could handle, in her condition. I wasn’t going to abandon her, like he did.
And she was there for me. Provided for me all through school. I always had my place with Mother. She only strayed that one time, tried to. Never really got started though. I put a stop to it quick. Had to. Yup, just the two of us.
So I live with my mother. Most women cool off when they find out. I’ve learned to say I’m taking care of her, I’m her caregiver. But they’re still cool. And it’s true, there’s just not much action here, little burg.
Mother looks much better now. She’s still shrill at times. She does have her hands full with a strapping if stymied bull elk. Most of the time, she sits with her back to me. In the corner. Sometimes I put her in the root cellar. I have to.
So this woman – I can’t believe our good fortune – she decided to stay, and Mother took to her. I didn’t think Mother would ever break down. Yup, just the three of us. Me and my girls. Three’s company. It’s fine as long as no one talks. But most of the time, one or the other is mad at me. Or both of them, at the same time. Because I see a pretty face on TV. Or at church. The henhouse. Always someone mad at me. So, most of the time, they sit with their backs turned to me, both of them. It’s OK. I’m still the man, still the rooster. The bull elk. It gets too shrill, I put them in the root cellar. Both of them. They can listen to each other.
Well, the line’s forming. Time to go. Got to listen to confession.
‘I watched you all morning in the park,’ she protested. ‘You never stopped playing with yourself!’
They signed him up for little league. He had no idea what he was supposed to do, what to do if the ball came to him out there in right field. Sure as hell wasn’t going to catch it. They hit a ball out there it could kill you. So he went deep, way deep, deep as you could go and still be on the same planet. And prayed that the ball would not come to him. Far away in deep right field, fervently he prayed to Christ Jesus in heaven. He pleaded. And played with himself.
At bat, he stood there, never swung, never ever. Didn’t lift the bat off his shoulder. Prayed to Christ Jesus for a walk. The ball came fast, it whistled. Between pitches he held the bat with one hand and played with himself. Struck out every time. Every time but one. One time he got a walk, got on base, got to trot one time with honor, hobble one-handed to first and stand there. Didn’t try to steal, didn’t lead off. Just stood there. Standing there when the next batter got a hit and about ran into him, almost knocked him over. ‘Quit playing with yourself and run the goddamn bases!’ He tottered one-handed to second with his man right behind him. And they were out, both of them. Double play at second.
He was a starter, always started, always played the whole game. Maybe because there weren’t enough kids. Maybe because his mom worked for the fish company that sponsored the team. He never got a hit, never went down swinging. Never fielded a ball. Maybe God wanted to punish him, wanted to hear him beg. So he begged. All alone out in deep right, he beseeched God. He pleaded. And played with himself.
All alone. The team stranger. Didn’t know anybody. Didn’t know their names, what they looked like, wouldn’t have recognized them at school or in the neighborhood. Didn’t know the coach. When he got to the field for a game, he knew only to go to where they were all wearing the yellow t-shirts with the fish company’s name silk-screened on front. Take his place all alone out in deep right or wait on the bench for some stranger to call his name and hand him a bat. Twice a week, week after week, all summer long. Never had to go to practice. Just two games a week, week after week. His mom dropped him off and picked him up. Picked him up late, always a half-hour late. He was the last one to leave, standing by the garbage can.
‘Will you get in this car and stop playing with yourself! I hope you don’t do that during the ball game.’
They signed him up for swimming lessons at the park pool. His mom dropped him off and picked him up, a half-hour late. ‘Stand by the garbage can and can you not play with yourself while you wait!’
His folks didn’t swim, they didn’t know how. They never waded, never stepped in the water. They were afraid, he knew it. Him, too. His grandma, long as he could remember, had warned him. From earliest memory. You’ll drown! Don’t go near the water! In the big kitchen of the big farm house it’d be just the two of them standing at the long linoleum counter. She’d break out the jug, her homemade gin – ‘thimble-full won’t hurt’ – set two shot glasses on the counter and fill them to the brim, ‘neat.’ He’d raise his glass to her, ‘Prost.’ ‘Prost,’ she’d say and they’d knock them back and slam the glasses down on the counter. God’s fire wrapped him up and burned all the way down. ‘You don’t need a wash with that, do ya?’ He was speechless at the counter, burning. ‘Nah. That’s a good boy.’ She’d start naming some of the many dangers with which tenuous life is fraught. Struck by lightning. Crushed by falling tractors. Kicked in the head by wild-eyed cows. Bit by foaming-mouthed dogs. Decapitated with your movie star lover in a sports car speeding out of control under a semi trailer. Falling on a pitchfork. Getting the life squeezed out of you by a shadowy woodland creature. Falling into a hay rake and shredded in the tines. Hit in the head by a baseball. Falling into a sty and eaten alive by pigs. Dragged through the streets of town, eyes gouged out, behind a speeding chariot. Falling into a manure spreader and minced and scattered over forty acres. Fried alive on an enormous griddle. Crucified. And – she’d fill the glasses, ‘a thimble-full’– drowning.
When she was just a slip of a girl, she’d made the perilous passage from the old country to the new world. For weeks, her tiny vessel was tossed and thrown over turbulent seas. She retched her insides out till there was nothing left to retch, and retched some more. She lived with the certainty that the ship could not stay afloat, would – must – capsize and she would plunge into the deep, plummet down, down, down, falling into black bottomless death. On the rare occasion when the sea calmed, ‘Out came the gigolos and tough ladies.’
She’d pause, breathless. Set them up again.
To this day she was terrified of the water. Refused to go near it and admonished impressionable children, generations of them, to heed her warnings, ‘Unless you wanna drown.’
One version of death by water was to be trapped in a car on the wrong side of the barricade when the bridge went up. The grandchildren delighted in taunting her whenever they were in a car with her – she didn’t drive – and crossing the bridge. ‘Grandma, the bridge is going up!’ ‘Oh, Christ Jesus in heaven!’ she’d scream and seize whatever kid was close to her, squeeze the life out of him.
‘A thimble-full.’ Hanging on to the counter, big room tossing and tumbling, he’d take his shot.
He went to the lesson. The water was cold as ice and he had to use both hands to hold on to the side and float. Soon he’d have to float free, and then do the crawl or the swim or something. So after the first lesson, when his mom dropped him off he’d walk to the pool entrance till she was gone, then go stand by the garbage can. Never went inside. Stood by the garbage can. Played with himself.
After a few times his mom figured it out. His towel and suit were never wet.
His dad was furious. ‘What in the hell you been doing?!’ Made him stay in his room one whole Saturday. All day, in his room. All alone.
Hi Everybody!! Update time!!
I just love reaching out and I feel very close to you all as I write. This is one of those times when I cannot wait till tonight. I have to tell you about our plan and throw a hook out there for anybody too smart to let a surefire opportunity get away – I am so charged about this – better living with poop!!
Frannie and the boys and I are doing fine. We bought 2 new Hummers so the boys can have their own rigs. They don’t mind sharing, but neither do Frannie and I and we’ve each got our own, don’t we!? Who doesn’t!? They are family. We’ve already got the tags – 4R GLDN1 and 4R GLDN2 :) Best part – we get to drive!!
We were finishing the natatorium, so we enlarged the parking barn at the same time. It was quite a strain, physically and on the pocketbook, but it’s done, thank Goddess. We did most of the work ourselves. We had to. The way those people work – slap-jack fast and sloppy. When they’re here. It was all we could do to hold them. Looking back, there were some precious moments, like watching Frannie mime commands – through the picture window, from inside the house!! We had to supervise, but we didn’t have to be out in 100+ temps to do it!! Overall it was a big headache. Trying to help somebody definitely backfired, again. But Frannie and I got the job done. And working together and all the tribulation and suffering strengthened the bond that we have.
While we were at it, we did a relationship inventory and figured it was time for me to leave the Public Sector. You know, government jobs aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. I’ve told you how the State decided to furlough us 1 day every 3 months – as in no pay. So then they make us take another 3 days per year of unpaid leave, and we get to choose the days. Whoopee!! :( Oh, but these measures were only temporary – for twelve months!! :( And then!?
All because they couldn’t live within their means. Then they froze our wages for 6 months. And what good was the union in all this, the union that forces you to join and extorts money from your check every month, the union that, let’s face it, protects and promotes mediocrity? Finally, we figured – enough. You can’t afford me? Well, honey, I cannot afford you. My 401k, IRAs, pensions and retirement plans are all vested and locked in.
Our securities, even in these times – and the poor think they have it bad – are doing famously. I’ll never regret throwing in with big oil and, really, all the extraction industries. Big timber, big rubber ;) big diamonds and precious gems – raw, baby, all raw. I’m all for human rights, I’m a liberal, but as in all things, there has to be a balance. We do have a standard of living to maintain. Those people on plantations and in the mines might be suffering now, but it’s better than smoking crack back on the farm or prostitution or whatever, and one day – well, out of sight, out of mind. As for the environment, who knows better how to protect and preserve it than the very people – professionals – who manage it professionally!? Degrade is such a harsh word :( I mean they’re out there in the very environment every day. They’ve got biologists and agronomists, agrarians and foresters and sociopaths. They have bird watchers. Does big timber need to hire bird watchers to cut trees!? They do not!! Either do big oil or big rubber ;) or mining. They do it because they care. Their business is preservation, so we can all enjoy it. They take, but they put back. They always put back. 10 to 1. The Wall Street Journal does not lie. They can’t. The Discovery Channel doesn’t lie. TV doesn’t lie. My companies have social scientists on the payroll!!
Our rentals are doing OK. We’ve given up trying to stay ahead of the repairs. The government froze my wages, so we figured OK, we’ll freeze repairs. There’s still all that turnover. We thought renting to low income would be helping, but that bit us in the ass too. Those people just don’t care about other people’s property. All those kids, and they keep having more and then they exceed the occupancy standards so they have to move, they’re always moving – after they destroy the place. Clean up after themselves!? There’s no incentive. And the old age and handicapped aren’t any better. Always breaking things, and of course they can’t fix anything themselves. We thought about getting realtor’s licenses. Housing has always been a good bet and will come back eventually. Not with this administration, that’s for sure – guess the country really wasn’t ready – but with that butch Miss Alaska and the Libertarians. They will rise again. Run, Sarah, Run!!
So we figured we’d try something completely different. I’m sick of working for ungrateful people. Frannie is going to stay with AMOQ. The Private Sector is the future of this country. Let’s face it, it’s the future of the world. Free Enterprise is the heart and soul of monolithic democracy. And vice versa. As for me, I’m joining the Sector with my own enterprise. Throw myself on the altar of the Free Market. We figure I can do some good with my ideas.
It came to me one weekend at the Country Market Faire. This kid had a t-shirt that said, ‘My folks went to San Francisco and all I got was this crappy t-shirt,’ and there were all these brown splotches on it. So. I am dead serious about this. You know they sell horse apples and cow patties, buffalo dumplings or whatever. They throw it, they have throwing contests. They use it for fuel. It’s perfectly safe. In the Third World, they eat it. It’s true. Mix it with chilis and marjoram. They make curries with it!! In some countries, they don’t even cook it. Just add cow blood and eat it like that, without even cooking it. No, we’re not going into the restaurant business – and I’ll tell you, we don’t ever eat foreign food :(
Poop jewelry!! It doesn’t smell. Doesn’t even look like poo. You dry it, then you laminate it or dip it in lacquer, haven’t worked that out yet. And we’ve arranged with our contacts in the Third World to get it from exotic wildlife. See, that’s the hook. Exotic wildlife, as in endangered. Save the pandas, see? And it gets better. Once we got creative, you wouldn’t believe what else we’ve come up with.
Here’s how it works. [We admitted we were powerless – not anymore honey, thank Goddess and the fellowship :)] There are these jungles where they grow beautiful exotic hardwoods like teak and mahogany. The jungles are protected, entire jungles big as forests, big as France, have been put aside for protection, but the people over there don’t care and they cut the jungles anyway. And tell me you aren’t grateful for that endangered teak in your living room ;)
Our friend, Dr Natural, works in big timber over in south Asia – he’s a broker, his company doesn’t harvest, they broker. They’ve got these little bears, sun bears, that are endangered, only a few hundred left – maybe less by now, nobody even knows!! – who live in the jungle. The jungle gives way to development and these sun bears lose their habitat. Cute name for an ugly little creature with these ugly long claws, so long they curl – you’d think they could wear them down or something :-( They don’t do anything, just eat ants and grubs and grow those ugly long claws. Well, those ugly little beasts are losing their habitat – it’s called progress – they’re running out of places to live. Where are they going to go? They can’t all live in the zoo!! Who wants to look at them anyway with those ugly long claws!?!? Here’s where the natural forces of the market come in to play. Turns out there’s a big demand for those paws, big money for strong medicine that they make from the paws. They’re running out of habitat so its easy to find them, round them up and kill them, for those ugly paws. The rest of the animal just lays there and rots or gets eaten by hyenas and dingoes. Wasted. They’re killing the beast anyway. It’s already dead. Why not harvest its last poo, dry it and make it into a brooch or pendant, something useful? See, we turn it into a memory that is tangible, that will be here long after the animal is extinct. Dr Natural says it would be no trouble to get his paws on it ;) As much as we can use. Won’t the Save the Earth crowd be thrilled? Won’t we all be? We’re all tree hugging granola crunchers, right?
This is just an example. All over the world, animals are going extinct. Every day. Every darn minute.
I figure, I put the concept in motion, round up my contacts, get the project started, get it going and then step back and it practically runs itself. I already have a man to manage the hands-on part of the operation. It may be clean, but, honey, I’m not touching it. I am going nowhere near it. My manager, Jay Zeus, has full authority to hire and fire his people. I’d thought I could pay for piecework – you know, workers get paid according to how much they produce – but the government says I have to pay minimum wage. Talk about government meddling :( Every step of the way, meddle meddle meddle. Whatever happened to laissez-faire? OK, we said. You can’t fight city hall. So I’ll pay the federal minimum wage. Oh, no, says the State, that’s not nearly enough. The State minimum is more than 2 dollars higher. To laminate shit!!! Plus they get 2 breaks, on the clock, for a 13-hour shift. And of course they have to have outhouse breaks and what happens to production then? The wheels of progress grind to a halt. Yes, this is the same State that can’t take care of its own, that freezes wages and forces furlough days down the throats of its own trusted employees!!! You know, when a person tries to do the right thing, there are barriers every step of the way. I’m putting these people to work. I thought they wanted to work. I was under the impression they needed to work. You’d think if people really wanted to work, they’d take just about any wage. Now I understand why corporations move overseas. For a day at minimum wage over here, you could pay a worker in China for 6 months. People in China want to work so bad, they’ll work for nothing. It was on CNN. And Fox!!! Their government doesn’t care. So why stay here? What’s the incentive? And now the health department is sniffing around. Looks like they want a piece of the action too. Now that’s job security :(
I figured I’d let the children of the workers get involved. Stacking the raw poo to dry. Even teach them to do inventory, you know, practical math. Pick up a few centivos. But that’s out too. They have to be in school!!! So sorry, but children of illegals get to go to school just like everybody else. They have to. It’s la ley!!! Maybe if they had to work their way through school they’d learn some respect and responsibility for this country that has taken them in when no one, not even their own country, wants them. Harsh but true. And get this – they don’t study in English, the school has to hire special teachers who can communicate with them – or mime commands at them through the window (:l
And as long as I’m at it, how about kids with handicaps? OK. Time for a little straight talk. We don’t have any friends with disabled kids. Disabled kids come from families on welfare. Instead of being a drain on resources, these kids could learn a skill. But no, they don’t have to work either. They get to go to school, same as everyone else. Remember mainstreaming or mainlining or whatever? That’s dead. They get special classes and special teachers, too. People, this is why we fought so hard for abortion rights!!!
Yet, in spite of all the barriers the government has set up for us, I still want to do my bit to help people here at home. Poop Jewelry. I have prototypes. I tried it when our first golden boy, Queen, died. His last poo. I made something more practical then. Like that first ashtray or dish you made in art class. I shaped it and baked it, and Voila!! If you’ve ever had Frannie’s salsa at one of our parties, you had it from our beloved’s dish :)
Then, I got my first try at jewelry when our kitty, Trixie, died. I made some really gorgeous earrings and matching necklace. And they’re not heavy – as you know, Trixie had food issues. Great sentimental value and they look good. Heck, whenever we go out, we always fight over who gets to wear them. Something to remember long after our friends are gone. Heck, long after a species is gone. Now that’s immortality :)
My methods are more sophisticated now. And we’ve got friends ready to help from great locations all over the world. You know Gautama and Yarrow? Their bleeding hearts are in the right place. They work for the UN and travel all over the world – to the most barren and desperate places you can imagine :( They observe conditions in refugee camps and report to the powers that be. Can you imagine living like that!? Thankfully, they don’t have to stay in the camps. They just visit and go back to stay in cities nearby. And Rome and Geneva and Paris are never far off. Or Bangkok and Hong Kong. Tell the truth, Bangkok and Hong Kong are a bit rustic for me :(
Anyway, these folks see a lot of misery. OK. More straight talk. They see a lot of death. And dying. We’ve all seen the pictures and heard the stories. Ghastly and tragic. The suffering just never ends. They’re dying. They’re already dead really. Little swollen-bellied children, flies spinning around and just camping on their faces and eyes, and their stick parents stuck in camps, dying. For some like little Vladimir or Omar help is just too late; he’s going to die in his mother’s arms – right in front of the cameras. So, why can’t we get a scoop!? From the kid!!! Why not get a couple!? They’re already there!!! A scoop or two or three from a dying starving child. Are they busy doing something else!? It can’t hurt and it could help. You get some official from a charity or even the government to write a certificate, to document that little Latoya lived in such and such a camp and died on such and such a day. Imagine that jewelry. Hotcakes, baby. And in return, I dedicate 2% – well, something, we’re on a razor thin budget here, we'll have to see, but we’ll make the sacrifice, 1% minimum – to charities that work over there. So customers can feel doubly good :)
Gautama and Yarrow are on board. They’re my people on the ground. They have peacekeepers who can guarantee a ready steady supply. From anywhere in the world. Wait, there’s more!!!
Our friend Christ runs an international charity, People Without Boundaries. They work with AIDS orphans and adults. You’re already way ahead of me, aren’t you!? We’re not just selling jewelry here, we’re actually educating the customers. I mean, our donors!! Update them about the epidemic on a little card tied to their keepsake with a red ribbon. Turns out we can get grant money for doing AIDS education. And putting people to work!!! Christ showed us how. I’ve already set up a charity. There’s money for all of it. The stuff from the death camps, too. All I have to do is not turn a profit. So for you, this is no simple investment. It’s a tax deduction!! Anyway, before I give away all our trade secrets, let me add quickly that there will be no problem with import-export. Coming into this country, it’s fertilizer. Coming out of any Third World country, all it takes is just a little grea$$e for the wheels:)
These disasters go on without end. And we can do something about them. There are disasters all over the world. And peacekeepers, charities and big American corporations. All over the world. It’s called globalization!!! And they just don’t play by the same rules. Thank Goddess. Why not work together?
Talk about an epidemic. Once this stuff gets on the market, how will we ever stop it?
To paraphrase a great stateswo/man: we’re born, we poop, we die.®
There are many many challenges and barriers ahead. We’ll have to push extra hard. Frannie is behind me all the way and is my first investor. My heart is in the right place, so I know that Goddess and all my friends out there will see me through. Just doing my part to make this old globe a better place, one starfish at a time.
Finally I saved our best news for last. We’re happily anticipating the little patter and click of a new little golden addition to our household. The bitch :) has already dropped the kids and we get first choice. We’re going to have to push extra hard for one more Hummer – and wherever will we park it?!? ;)
Hugs all around,
PS. I accept Visa, MC and Diners Club.
PPS. Coming soon: hot tubs, patio furniture, dog food :) and organic gluten-free salsa!!!
Market chill still morning,
monk in orange robes kneels, smiles broad,
receives offering – handspun sweet treats wrapped
in green leaf of banana on broad mat basket –
with favor from daughter devoted in jacket and shorts
and little reverent brother on the temple steps.
People buy breakfast from vendors
in the broad bright sun.
They went to her place in the wood,
he’d wished it a very long time.
She put him to work in the kitchen,
handed him a plate.
Try this. Paté.
Together fixed a dish, something with dairy.
She lifted her arm, catch and lick trickle of
milk, tongue stroking elbow to wrist.
I can do that for you, thought he.
Next time, winked she.
Two cats sit in the way of cats, hunched
on the backs of armchairs in the window
in the sun, eyes closed in the way of cats,
not sleeping, not concerned,
with affairs of this world.
Hold the cup, hands knotted twisted with
years, labors, lacy black bow in her hair,
whisper red on her lips.
Friends reunions functions few there are,
funerals, and she knocks up and down stairs
for husband unaware, up and down years.
Today there was another,
walking past, shaking her
head, muttering her head.
Just doing her work.
Can’t read, never played, learned only
obey. Endure. Suffer. Him,
him and him.
Just doing her work.
Suffer him his demands urgent, his
blows, without shame, dignity, suffer him, him
and him. Stave off master and dog boys.
Just doing her work.
Sold to enrich and strengthen the family, transfigured to
disgrace, scourge of the nation. Reap their contempt,
their scorn. No place like home.
Just doing her work.
Suffer the experts who don’t mean well, teach
she is the problem, she has the power, empowered,
to choose, demand. No fear.
Just doing their work.
Raise blazing billboards, fill the country,
brand her despicable in disreputable dress,
villain abed with demon virus.
Just doing her work.
Peer timid from barred door at the bright world, long for a time
when she too will get to go out in pajamas, eat rice, ride on a moto,
and return, to the only place she is ever admitted.
Cold grey heaven bows, embrace, claim the earth.
Stopping on dirt road, simple girl in simple old button-down shirt,
smiles shy, corduroys weathered grey. Gawky beauty,
hank of hair clipped at her forehead, stand tall in platform shoes –
one platform tipped in, knees knitted together –
radiant ‘mid grey pools after the rain.
Before horizon shimmering shivering,
rice fields lie sunk ‘neath grey seas shuddering in the wind. Engulfed,
homes weathered grey rise on stiff wooden legs, and sugar palms –
at season distant, and place, dandelions in fluff, or lofty dahlias –
tower straight and true out of cold grey seas.
Hungry to learn, harness the promise, she trusted.
Demons defiled her world, ganged banged beer girls and girlfriends,
savaged wives, ravaged children. The elite and their young, reigning,
gorged, privileged to plunder suck life from the people,
despoil the children, with impunity, immunity.
From the mire she emerged. Smiled shy,
hank of hair clipped at her forehead,
made her way through world of peril, offered herself
to the promise. Beheld abomination, trusted, offered herself.
She trusted. She rose.
Home desperate shack shared with parents relatives sisters brothers,
slept on bed of planks with every female in the house. Poor, perilously,
they found money, a job, pay for English, pay for university –
His Excellency the Minister’s, American like him – pay for the promise,
pay her way out of kneeling in the rice, marrying young, whelping a brood . . .
Simple girl, simple old button-down shirt,
gawky radiant beauty smiled –
hank of hair clipped at her forehead –
trusted, offered herself,
The spirits wanted her, it happens,
that’s the story, it’s understood (in a dream, after,
someone saw). Slip stumble tumble fall,
a rock. Where she lay in the river, hole in the river
knee deep, life coursing into cold grey water,
they left her, spirit to the spirits.
Crumpled outside the barracks, where he fell. On the way to the latrine. Or back. Didn’t remember. Couldn’t walk, couldn’t stand. He dragged himself a little, collapsed, lay crumpled.
Exhausted, consciousness eroded, he was an organism of few responses. Lice and fleas swarmed over weak wretched flesh draped on stick frame, fed on him, spirits wormed underneath, ravaged him. He didn’t scratch. Didn’t care.
Awareness flickering. Hands took hold his arms, gripped his ankles, lifted, swaying swinging in the cold, lofted, hurtling through cold, in a heap onto a heap of brush. Chunks dirt and stone, branches knots, jabbed. The heap moved under him, rolled, bumped forward. Or back.
He blinked, naked tree branches passed above.
‘We’re done for.’
Head lodged in a tangle of brush, couldn’t turn.
‘We – ar–’
The heap stopped. No branches, knots. Bones. Dead. Like him. Close enough. More dead onto the load. Under bony mangled heap, pinned, he grasped for breath, struggled to move, trapped twisted under the weight of the dead.
Got – something–. Wake up. Got to–. Think.
The guard he relieved muttered something about not being dead. Close enough, he figured.
But goddamn! it was hot. Never got this hot. Only three in there, empty. Always had to pile them in, load it up, pack it full. Couldn’t move to work in there, couldn’t hardly get out. Not this time. Well, nobody asked him. But it was hot. Too goddam hot! The doors were glowing, the whole place. It was Perdition. Inferno. Had to be.
He leant to the heavy glass view-plate, squinted into the heat, shielded his face with his hands, the flesh of his face and hands went dry and tight.
Had to step away. Couldn’t be.
In the midst of blazes that melt bodies and bones, render them oil and ash and stone, flames that reach up and lick the ceiling, made the ceiling, the whole place, glow white-hot, hum with heat – No! It wasn’t possible. Couldn’t be. The three, in there, in the flames. They were moving around, at their ease, floating, up off the floor. They were alive! Living! Fire didn’t bother them, not at all. It lifted them, gave them power. It gave them life.
The furnace churned, in flood with dazzling white brilliance, but from a source not its own. There was something in there, with them, some – other. The fire, the heat, blinding brilliance, the power, came from the other. It originated in, dwelt in, the other. The three, they weren’t ordinary, but they were human. The other – couldn’t be.
Think. Connect thoughts. He could think. Move. He could move, he floated, in light, radiant white light. Flames engulfed him, bathed him in radiant white light, imbued the atmosphere he breathed and in which he moved with calm. Wrapped in splendor, he moved and floated and breathed without weight, without effort, glided serene in warm pleasant breeze.
See. There were two others, he knew them. Dressed in nice clothes, like him, dressed for the outside, not in filthy prison pajamas, dressed for a special occasion. It pleased him that they were here, that, like him, they were welcome here, they were wanted. Without effort, without weight, lifted, they floated on warm currents.
Recognize. The other, stranger clothed in brilliance. She knew him, knew them, knew everything. From her all things came, the conflagration that did not consume, the warmth, their effortless mobility. The feeling of well-being. Love.
Love. He had to show this place to them, his children, and his wife, show them this place that he had discovered, surprise them, give them this place. He could think, see clearly, see everything. Yes, he must give this to them. His youngest, his little man, would love it, new and dazzling and lustrous. His girls, not children at all, young ladies now, old enough to appreciate art and science, would be awestruck. His wife, devoted mate and friend, would be delighted at so magnificent a gift, she would be enchanted. And relieved. Surprising and wondrous it was. He’d give them the sun.
Remember. How he’d worried, how he’d agonized. Where were they? Dear loving wife, precious children, innocent, taken, and he did nothing, he didn’t protect them. In the crush of people when they got to this place, just off the train, longest most terrible train ride, he turned.
Together they had endured the dislocation, betrayal and brutality, boots in the night, the pain of resettlement to the special district, together suffered hunger and want, cold and sickness, destitution, together confronted death ascendant, watched powerless as beloved friends fell, to be hauled up and carted off, dumped in the pit. Together they had come through. And Hell’s train waited. Cattle wagon, boarded up and sealed. Days without. Without food or water, without light. Without toilet. Without respite. Brought to this evil place. Together.
Together. No more. The world sundered, they were gone, taken, right away, right off the train. And he did nothing.
Never saw them, never heard. Prisoners who worked in there, who knew, told him. Finished. Sure. Nothing to be done. Already gone. He grieved with an agony that would not be quelled. Loving wife, precious children, and he did nothing, didn’t protect them. Yet they came to him. Day after day, night after night, they came, walking together, coming. Coming back. He saw them in his waking, coming, and when finally he slept, he saw them, coming to him, together, coming back to him, coming, and turning, turning from him, going away, walking away. Saw them wave, and go.
Promise. Stranger clothed in brilliance called to him, spoke to his heart. All he had ever hoped for in this wicked time, all he’d longed for, dreamed of, in pain and sickness, suffering, desperation, in insanity and death, he should have. She promised. A lifetime they had suffered, a lifetime of pain in a season, gentle loving wife, precious children, innocent. They were free now and they would all be together. They were coming. He could see clearly and he saw them, coming back, coming to him, not turning away. Together. They would be together.
Understand. The fires flared. Stranger clothed in brilliance made the fires to blaze brighter, more brilliant.
And she withdrew from that place. The fires blazed, flared, flickered, dimmed. The light faded, burned low, went out. His family. The others. The other. Memory.
Fire flickered and dimmed. This load – only the three – burned fast. Hot. No fat on them, but it burned hot, never so hot, he couldn’t watch, couldn’t observe and report from his post at the door. Could only lean in, cover his face with his hands, just a second, and step away. Hot as the goddamn sun in there. Inferno.
Dark. ‘Alright. Next load!’ He hauled open the doors and light burst in.
Workers gaunt, in filthy pajamas, pulled down bodies from the heap on the broken wagon, flimsy bony carcasses, and flung them in. They worked in pairs, with voices hushed.
‘Got to work.’
‘Stay on this detail, stay alive, got to work.’
Another load of the dead.
-She could hardly believe her own words. Stories from Jonah Rye -This guy upstairs, he's an endowment. He got himself up on the roof. Twenty-two floors up. At night. Climbs up there, mounts the dish, he's Spider-man, splayed on the satellite dish twenty-two floors up, under the stars. Management sent Security up and they 'bout got thrown off themselves before they got him down and back into his room. No cops, no suicide intervention squads, no counseling, no ambulance. No remains. No problem. He pays his rent. -His hand seized on the throttle wide open. He had only to hold on, bumping bouncing flying over rough shattered rock road. -Together they had endured the dislocation, betrayal and brutality, boots in the night, the pain of resettlement to the special district, together suffered hunger and want, cold and sickness, destitution, together confronted death ascendant, watched powerless as beloved friends fell, to be hauled up and carted off, dumped in the pit. Together they had come through. And Hell's train waited.