“The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a ‘real’ world where ‘real’ things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything, save through our own minds? All happenings are in the mind. Whatever happens in all minds, truly happens.”
George Orwell, 1984
‘WHILE I WAS WORKING SOMETHING HAD BEEN GROWING INSIDE ME. It had been too subtle for me to immediately notice. Deep inside myself something horrible was brewing. When I closed my eyes, late at night, I could hear it, the sound of metal scraping against bone, my innards caught between the friction like hapless victims trapped in the molten heap of a car crash. Within the dark caverns of my body, I could hear the sound of something terrible emerging, veins rising out of the earth, reaching up and around telephone poles, slowly pulling them down. Quietly, the earth plotted its revenge.’
Those sentences are from the journals I wrote when I had first started working again after my term at the Ministry of Corrections, when I’d hit the ground running, the nine-to-five, the rat race, the vicious circle, the eternal return. I held myself in check then. Held the burnished glow of my former self tightly to my chest like a freshly shellacked violin. I thought of myself as the odd man out, the man against the masses, the ghost in the machine, the pale hero. History replays itself. First as truth, then as farce. That way you laugh on your way down.
Most of my good material is in my journals, but I’ve never let anyone read them, even though I quote myself in dialogues all of the time. My golden vocation. The auspicious indefatigable words of an irrelevant professional. I was wide-awake. Now you’ll most likely catch me yawning at my post. Most people don’t seem to notice they’re in the company of talent, not in the least bit! I smirk wide when I allude to my journals.
 Aeneas Ashbridge was released from the Ministry of Corrections after a two-year sentence for sexual misconduct under Thatcher’s Rosebush Act.
I was on the balcony on the eighth-floor of my apartment building at the Asphodel Meadows, fogging up the air in front of me with my cavity breath. There were grottos in my teeth deep enough for gremlins of all manner. My mouth was a clubhouse for trolls and imps and ogres. Nearby, a solitary bird utterred strange clicks and vague human-sounding noises. The elephantine billboard at the street corner said in giant caramel-colored letters:
THINGS ARE GOING TO BE OK
The most famous drink in the world and the OK Kola Company still hounds the populace with their inane, browbeating, catch-phrases. The new OK Mousse is coming soon with twice the creamy taste of the original. Things are going to be OK. This world is conspiring to keep me from my beloved. I haven’t seen Heloise in nearly three years. She left me behind and I don’t know where she has gone. Her family won’t speak to me. They won’t answer my phone calls. They threaten to call the authorities if I knock on their door. I’ve run into a brick wall. She’s not listed anywhere. Doesn’t show up to any of our old hangouts. None of our old friends have seen her. They also tell me to let sleeping dogs lie. Do they mispeak? They are not begotten from love. I look for her in the day. I look for her in the night. I look for her in my dreams. And it is there that I come closest to finding her. There are clues to her whereabouts in my dreams. But they mutate between my fingers. Metamorphose as I’m inspecting them. Black is white. Up is down. Nothing is what it seems.
A rotten gust of wind brushed my sleeve. It was a new day and things should have been OK but they were not. Everything smelled old and stale. I remember I used to try believing that every day was a new beginning and that everyone could start over if they really wanted. I didn’t have to be me and that guy down there, Chuck, the homeless guy, didn’t have to be a pile of rags on the sidewalk of Broadview Avenue. I remember how hard I tried to believe the motto that ‘everything could become new.’ Tall book talk! Everything I held dear depended on that wisdom.
The sky was gray. The air smelled like everything in the Narrows all at once. I knew this smell well. It smelled like yesterday.
 Located on Broadview Avenue, the eight-storey high rise was built in 1945 by Morguard Real Estate in a neo-austere fashion.
 Located at the intersection of Broadview and Mortimer, the billboard faces northwest at a forty-five degree angle. Otto Normalverbraucher designed the advertisement for the iAM Corporation in 2000.
 The “OK Kola” formula was invented by pharmacologist Mason Oppenheimer in 1882 and widely used as a nerve tonic. During the First World War, soldiers drank the “kola wine” as an opiate elixir to dull their senses and steel themselves for battle. It later became a landmark in the soda business, bottled in Biloxi and sold nationwide as “OK Kola”, in turn making a fortune for the Oppenheimer estate. By the 1990s, the OK Kola brand had become one of the most valued commodity markers in the world.
 Queen City or “The Narrows,” is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, home to over 5.7 million people in a landmass of just under 600 km2. Fewer and fewer new homes are built due to the lack and high expense of new land; instead there has been a proliferation of buildings constructed since the 1970s. Queen City is known around the world as “the empire of stacked houses” or “the walled city.” New buildings are frequently built onto old buildings. The city’s heightening skyline looms over and dwarfs all other natural geographic features. “The Narrows” is a namesake that has germinated from within the native multicultural population, used commonly since at least the mid-to-late 1970s, in concert with the city’s burgeoning concern over architectonics.
The strangest thing occurred to me on the street last week in broad daylight and nobody noticed. I was wandering the streets like usual, daydreaming (like usual), and some lady, probably in her mid-forties, was walking in front of me, dressed for business, confident as heather—navy-blue blazer, matching pants, black leather loafers. And she was in one crazy hurry too, swinging her purse and shopping bags ambidextrously, marching to the faint beat of some internal martial music, gears winding as if she were motorized. She looked so dull she could have passed for a man. Everything was quite placid and normal. Sol was shining in the azure sky. Felicitous birds were chirping. There was a pleasant breeze. My thoughts calm and sober. I was feeling good. And then, out of the blue, the woman, not even five meters from me, fell into the sidewalk! Swallowed! Vanished! Dissapeared without a trace!
Gallantly, I hustled to the very spot where she had dropped out of sight—and nothing! There were no signs of foul play. I knelt down and inspected the sidewalk, feeling the cement with my fingertips. I ran my palm over the circular grooves and assymetrical cracks outlining the walkway, expecting a manhole or a trick panel, but there was nothing to be found! People continued walking past and around me like I was a nut (I must have looked strange just kneeling there on the sidewalk). They were all behaving like nothing had happened, carrying on with their affairs, unconcerned for this poor woman who just upped and vanished into thin air. Sidewalks didn’t up and swallow people. Or maybe I wasn’t up to speed.
Had I imagined the woman? Was it all a gag? Was she hiding somewhere, behind a car maybe, laughing at me because she managed to pull the wool over my eyes? Couldn’t we crack open the subminiature street cameras to have a teensy peek just this once? I wouldn’t have any of it. I stood from the sidewalk and walked around the phantom square. I tried to move on with the rest my day. I tried to be callous like everybody else. But I couldn’t get the lady out of mind, just up and vanishing like that. Where was she now? I tried to picture her smothered by the cement as if it were quicksand. I tried to feel her fear, her thirst, her hunger. I prayed with her, prayed for her escape and safe passage, our lips moving synchronously, in intimate tandem. Abnormal things were happening all the time in Queen City. X will mark the spot. This place is the devil’s triangle: ‘Nothing seems right, we are entering white water. We don’t know where we are. The water is green, not white.’
 Sol, he who wore a shining crown and rode a fiery chariot across the sky. Sol Invictus, the indefatigable contriver of light, light of truth and harmony. Perfectly spherical and consisting of smoldering plasma, Sol is not solid but three quarters hydrogen and is widely believed to be the final celestial metamorphosis of Apollo. He is the brighest star in the galaxy and is by far the brighest object in the firmament. The energy of his sunlight supports all life on Gaea.
I reprogrammed the out-loud voice on my office computer at work. It was not necessary to get the job done, but it helped me get through the day. It was part of the CPU’s software bundle. I think I was the only one who used it on a regular basis. I guess being mute does change things. Being unable to speak alters the way you look at the world. My speech pathologist said I would recover my voice in time. ‘When the perceived trauma subsides,’ he said.
When I opened my mouth, no sound would come out. Like King Thestral in comix. Ruler of the Hyperboreans. Who could level a city with a whisper. Who’d undergone rigorous mental training to prevent sound escaping from his lips, even in his sleep. I worry for my enemies when my voice returns.
I reconfigured the computer’s speech rate in the virtual toolbox. He spoke at a faster, abrasive clip now like some high-strung rapscallion. My computer’s name was ‘Dennis.’ He was an iAM (Interactive Administrating Machine), model number 1978. I didn’t name him. Some other corporate throb did. I just taught him how to speak. Well, my employer will have to forgive me if I need to stretch my ambrosial fingers over the keyboard every now and then. The label at the right of the monitor read ‘Dennis.’ I hated that goddamn name.
“Fuck you, chatterbox” the iAM squealed, pronouncing chatterbox irregularly. Listening to the machine expressing itself, words don’t seem as natural as they once did. Things broken free from their names. I guess they don’t quill them like they used to.
“Down with big blue,” the iAM buzzed. I read that in a book sometime ago. It must have meant something important but I don’t remember anymore. I imagine an entire city leveled with a single whisper.
Some of my colleagues gathered together across the quarters are eating their lunch. I felt uneasy because I thought they were gossiping about me. I liked sitting alone. It lended a quiet dignity to my character, although I don’t think my co-workers can sense this quality. They can’t see anything extra-mundane. One of them said something super-duper and they all croaked like crickets. Another person glanced at me and whispered to the person sitting beside them. I wish I had a Technicolor wing, like a Monarch butterfly, so I could stroke it proudly right about now.
 A person with aphasia has likely incurred damage to the left hemisphere of the brain.
 The company began in the 1890’s after Irwin Abelard Madewell’s “Universal” tabulating machine successfully indexed the Amerikan population in the census of 1886. In the years that followed, Madewell streamlined the Universal and broadened its accounting capabilities, culiminating in the iAM*1900, which inaugurated the centennial, and ushered in a new era of programmed computation. The first tabulators that could print were introduced in the 1920’s. The iAM*1923, with it’s removable panel and net positive/net negative accounting capabilities, is said to have repelled the feared stock market crash of 1925 and helped Madewell’s design gain international distinction. By 1930, iAM business appliances were used in over fifty-two countries and were a staple in the accounting divisions of most major corporations. The iAM Corporation’s “Imagine” catchphrase has gained nearly worldwide significance. The iAM*1949 was the world’s first electric mass-produced computer, revolutionizing the modern age, and signalling the dawn of a new digital era. Irwin Abelard Madewell died of a brain anerysm in 1952 at the age of ninety-six. His three children, Ichabod, Francis, and Amy, are the joint succesors of the iAM Corporation’s rich and unrivalled legacy. Ichabod Madewell was chief engineer of the 1949 reinvention
On the bus, the engine below the seat hummed and hummed and it reminded me of how tired and hollowed out I actually felt. The IQscreen overhead said that Chancellor Pu, the right hand of Emperor Li Dong, had been pied in the face by the Mal de Siecle terrorist group at the Convocation of Kingdoms in Beyrouth. His face the worse for wear (first-degree burns) after it was discovered that the Mal du Siecle group had used an illegal compound of acids in the citrus pie, alledgedly violating the Protocol for the Prohibition of Acids and Bases in Pieing.
The lemon-lime curd was being thoroughly tested by field specialists for any violations occurring on the PH scale; meanwhile, the Franks denied the claims of affiliation to Mal du Siecle made by the Dong Dynasty. No official word from the Mal du Siecle group except for sightings of their logo (thistle purple stencil of a horse hung by the neck with the word ‘Overboard’ beneath) strategically graffitied over military walls in Beyrouth.
All my muscles ached, especially the ones in my legs. What do you call them? I could have joined a gym or something. Maybe my legs wouldn’t have hurt so much then. Now that I thought about it, I wish I were more proactive. So I surprised myself and I stood pat and missed my stop. I must have been going downtown. I hated going downtown. But neither did I want to move. I passed by a gym along the way. A few minutes later I was inside that very same gym listening to the woman at the front counter talking about membership formats.
The gym reeked of sweat and bad breath. All around me were these meaty bastards. Why couldn’t they just shut their goddamn mouths when they lifted? Didn’t they know that all those escaping amino acids turned to personality disorders when they were air-bound?
The dark haired woman at the counter talked to me about nutritional supplements like protein powders. Her name was Veronica. Her skin was tropically tanned and she was wearing a neon-pink spandex outfit. I took out my scratch pad and wrote ‘I might be interested in picking up weights.’
Did I say that right? Veronica gave me a pitiful look that was also tellingly creeped out; she was probably worried that I may have been sick or something, that she may contract an illness and be unable to speak to her beach buddies about tanning oils and washboard abs and surfboards. She asked me a few follow-up questions about my health. I acted tough, like in a Western, and withheld information from her. She probably felt sorry for me. All the more reason to sign me up. Handled incorrectly, one of these murderous weighted machines could permanently put me out of my misery.
Veronica led me away from the front counter. She walked ahead of me, showing me the exercise machines and something called the Bilateral Universal, I think. I looked at her from behind and measured up her legwork. A yearning ache battled its way into my spleen. She showed me the men’s changing room that was “fully equipped with sauna and showers.” I imagined puffy men lying around in steam, guzzling their imported, highly expensive, laboratory-concocted, shark-extracted, sperm cocktails. I excuse myself to take a peek behind the striated meat-curtains, to goggle at the magic, the cogs-and-gears-of-glory at the-cutting-edge-of-the-industry, in case it’s where I needed to be.
The sauna room. I better get the hell out of here. I did not want see any one of those veiny bastards, especially not in any naked state. They might get some meat packing ideas and come after me with a moldy salami (I’m allergic to penicillin!) and then I would have been forced to retort all their thewy come-ons with a sharp kick right in the eye. I hated shower scenes from prison movies. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I’ve done my homework. I know what goes on through the butcher’s window. What? Behind the easy-breezy meat-curtains. What? Around the corner, in the dark, out of public view. What?
That’s not too bad, it was a very bright toilet bowl—deadeye! I stared at the washroom door; I listened to the circulating fan; I lost myself in the ambiance and pretended to be interested.
I walked out of the men’s changing room; I could not wait to shake Veronica’s hand. She was way over on the other side of the gym, helping some tall, tanned fella at the counter. He talked and talked and giggled, obviously pleased with herself, and she put her celestial hand on his pithecal arm. How long have I been away? Veronica took a towel to his sweaty primitive brow and I stormed out of the gym before she could speak another word to me. I tried to get on the first bus I could find, but a vagrant wooly racoon turned the corner, right in the middle of the day, and I tripped over my own feet and fell onto my keyster. I raised my fist and cursed at the furry mammal it as wobbled away unconcerned. That’s what I deserved for trying to avoid it. Goddamn uplifted animals the world over.
At home. I felt severely depressed, so I binge-ate with an ultraviolence rarely seen in these parts of the world. I hoarded everything I could possibly stomach—a large bag of potato chips, half-a-box of raisin cookies, a can of half-warm mushroom soup, and a few cheese sandwiches—igniting a war between the food groups. There can be no peace between dairy and vegetable, between the dehydrated and the processed, between…
On my way through the living room, I got clever and did this Tom Revolta shuffle-step thing and my stomach turned the globe and I got sick and vomited all over the floor. I did not bother cleaning it up.
The evening news. “By boosting their cyber war assault, Huaxia has raised the ante in their long-standing feud with Amerika by hacking into sensitive social media web sites and doctoring current event feeds. It is a strategic maneuver that reveals not only the acrimony the Red Dragon feels toward Amerika, but also the threat it poses to the governments of all free nations.”
I crouched in the tub and the IQwater shot balmy jasmine over my head and neck and chest. It made everything serene and pure before I handed my body over to sleep. The IQwater felt like a kind mothering eraser. Entire days were cleared from my memory while I was in the shower, safe from investigative eyes behind the blue-crackle curtain.
The hallowed pellets pitter-pattered over my body performing tiny miracles. Eight soggy hours from yesterday were erased. Melancholy Tuesday from last week was completely snuffed from the history books. A colleague at the office took a dig at me about my messy hair and grimy shoes. I’ll teach her the true meaning of ‘topsy-turvy’. I watched the maudlin days sail down the drain with all the restraint of a stoic. ‘Wacha gonna do with a piss-drunk sailor when the ship is rolling.’ My birthday gets caught in the drain along with my…
I stood in front of my bedroom mirror without any clothes on. My hair was thinning at the temples of my skull. My chest was sagging like an old lady’s ass. I was getting plumper at the waist, shoulders curling forwards. I have become quite the physical specimen. A tsunami of anger crashed over me and I turned away from myself in disgust. Fourteen wrathful pushups later I was asleep.
 IQtech was patented by Henry Tomakin in 1999, and by late 2000, the company’s “W.H.I.Z.” microprocessor chip’s were as prevalant and ubiquitous in Amerika and Europa as doorknobs. It is the western world’s fastest growing technology and it is estimated that 3 in 4 homes are now W.H.I.Z. friendly. IQtech’s affordable and efficient designs have considerably improved the general well being of individuals across GreatAmerika as per the latest Q.O.L. measure. Bestowing a type of “intelligence” to most home devices and appliances, these preliminary innovations are only the beginning of IQtech’s vision of the home as “the footstool of harmony.”
 “The Malady of the Century”. The Mal de Siecle group has been active on the international front as a “terrorist” group since the mid-1980’s. They have claimed responsibility for several hostile coups, including “The Towel Snapping of Helvetia” in 1987, where the managing director of the World Bank Combine was violently driven into a coma being repeatedly snapped by wet towels while visiting a sauna, and the “The Tarring and Feathering of Barca Nona” in 1991 where the CEO of Triton Shoes had steaming liquid chocolate poured over him and goose feathers applied as an applique while he was exiting a haute cuisine restaurant. The group has described these terrorist acts and many others as “deeds that are meant to shock the world out of political ennui and melancholy; no dictator safe; no bad deed unpunished.” Political scientists like Bill Sikes theorize that “pranks and shenanighans are the 21st’s century’s answer to modern warfare” and that “World Wars will no longer be protracted affairs, fought by incalculable armies in swarmy trenches, jungles, and deserts; they will be surreptitious and episodic transactions, abruptly occuring under a feckless dustcloud of schoolboy absurdity.”
 On a biological scale, it is impossible for amino acids to become airborne as such, although elements of an amino, like oxygen, may be considered atmospheric and may freely travel as a gas.
 In bilateral symmetry, the sagittal plane will divide an organism into mirror image halves.
 Shark sperm became popular in the late 1980s as a muscle-building supplement in the bodybuilding circuit. It was banned and driven underground into the black-market in the 1990s due to the protestations of animal rights activists. Its efficacy has never been scientifically measured and may in fact have been routinely used as a placebo. Derek Dorsett, the “Black Hercules,” winner of the Atlas International bobybuilding competition in 1989 and 1990, was a well-known proponent of shark sperm.
 In Baron Jubrick’s 2001-2031: A Space Inventory (1964), the arrival of the monoliths implies a cultural uplift for humanity, if not an outright biological evolution. Uplift is a common motif in science fiction, where animals are often biologically engineered and evolotionary nurtured to mimic intelligent beings.
 The star of such popular films as Sunday Morning Hangover (1973), Texan Dandy (1976), Scraping-By (1979), and Penny Dreadful(1990).
 Natalie Abess: “F.Y.I. You need to look in the mirror before you leave home. Your topsy-turvy wardrobe is in shambles. It’s completely unprofessional. Your messy hair, your mismatched suit, your grimy shoes. Get it together before they fire you. I’m serious.” Aeneas Ashbridge: “Sorry.”
 At 5’11, 183 pounds, with a body mass index of 23%, Aeneas Ashbridge cannot touch his toes or complete a set of 20 pushups without significantly pausing between sets or becoming lightheaded. Despite retaining most of the musculature from his youth, his body has accumulated excess fat in the stomach region and now exhibits the dreaded “pear shape” whenever he wears tighter fitting pants. The greatest contributor to his weight gain is seldom exercising and a predilection for complex carbohydrates, including fried potatoes or “fries,” which he consumes to a greater than average degree because of an adherence to an unbalanced vegetarian diet that was adopted in 1993 for avowed moral and ethical reasons.
My mind was rabid at night! It was impossible to sleep through the howling. I aimed to gingerly moderate the chaos within my three-pound universe. I used to have epilepsy. Actually, I still did, but now it was firmly under the control of medication.
I don’t know why I said that. The truth is I don’t have epilepsy. Things may have been different if I did; they might have been better, happier. I might have gotten more attention from people. Trips to the doctors. Lollipops. Pats on the head. Ice cream floats at the malt shop. Weekends at the zoo.
The epilepsy could have been a divine mark, a token of my unique covenant with the creator of this world. I might have shaken for Him! A divinely sanctioned shake! An infallible shake teeming with mystic rage! Instead, I have to settle for this unnatural epilepsy.
I could not stop thinking! It is all the same to me, but my body would be tired in the morning. And so I remained awake while my body did most of its nightly housekeeping. Clearing the neural pathways and such, testing the connectivity between the hemispheres and lobes and subdivisions, testing the pH levels of the cerebro fluid, the flow through the aqueducts, the moxie of the arachnoid mater.
It’s kind of frightening to witness the restorative procedure. It’s like being awake during surgery, listening to the surgeon flapping his lips about penny stocks or male stockings or golf handicaps, while his fingers expertly jostled your huffy appendix, prepping it for removal. Despite your apprehension (Guys, I’m awake here!), you kept your mouth shut. You did not want to interrupt the team. You chose to remain professional. You wisely nestled into the arête of the moment.
It reminded me of my office job somehow—infinite data configuring and processing. All I saw were fractions and percentages being worked out in my brain and through my body; my internal eye goggled by the swift and precise body algebra.
Bright morning light. I woke up groggy and sore. I do not even remember sleeping. My mind awoke a few moments before my anesthetized body. It’s a very strange phenomenon to feel like you’ve been buried alive. You say to your listless body, ‘Move, you moron, move!’ But it doesn’t respond to your barking commands. It has become autonomous and it expresses that newfound independence by lying inert. You man the helm again and tighten the reins, ‘Move, you idiot!’ Your body jerks back to life and distrustfully follows your orders once more. But for a minute there, you get a penetrating glimpse into something you’ve never seen before, yet it’s something you’ve always been aware of.
I sat up on the edge of my bed and I stared absently at the carpet. How many threads were suffocated in the making of that rug? I reached over to the IQphone and called the automated weather and news guy. He was cordial. Always a gentleman. I listened but I did not hear a single word he said. The living room stinked like aged vomit. Maybe I would buy a dog so it could lick it up for me or maybe I would just move out of the apartment altogether. Anything to avoid cleaning that spectacular mess. A glass of water would do me good. Set me back on course.
I had been waiting for years! Years upon years! What for, you may ask? Well, I don’t seem to know, that’s the problem. I feel like I’m running on a treadmill with a broken switch, or like that guy who had to push a house up that neverending hill, every single day of his life, as a punishment. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for, but I think I’ll wait a bit longer, just a little bit longer. Maybe tomorrow it will come.
I couldn’t wait for Friday. I hated the other weekdays. Friday was always the best day out of the week during high school. The problem now is what to do with myself during the rest of the week. It was a shame to waste the other days. The calendar is a ridiculous thing. Do we really need it structuring our lives? I guess there was no real use in rallying up a mob about it. The sun and the moon were to blame, and there’s not much we can do about them.
Day and night were permanent. At least there was work to fill the space. You got to punch in and out on an unsociable machine at work, and it created an outline of you that was also permanent. Payroll records are as permanent as the true and the good and the beautiful, except payroll was none of these things. Bookkeepers go as far back in time as priests, their austere fastidiousness knowing no bounds because they worked incessantly, tucked away in dry low-lit rooms, amid stacks of ancient dusty books, absorbed by every letter and every number in front of their eyes, busy inscribing your name into the Book of Life.
 Aeneas Ashbridge has never in fact been to a malt shop and only romanticizes the idea because of his fondness of reading Teen Harold comix while dining. Teen Harold was written in the 1940s when there was a proliferation of malt shops and was a popular hangout for teenagers.
 Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon where people are temporarily unable to move, for seconds, minutes, or even hours, whilst falling asleep or upon waking, characterized by complete muscle atonia, and is often accompanied by terrifying visions of a “ghostly intruder” in the room who threatens to cause asphyxiation. Individuals who suffer from sleep paralysis seem to have trouble distinguishing between states of wakefulness and sleep. Some experts believe there may be link and common ground between sleep paralysis and mental dissociative disorders. Pathological dissociative states include conditions where the individual suffers from a sense that the self or world is unreal, a loss of memory, fragmentation of self into seperate streams of consciousness, forgetting identity, and/or assuming a new self.
 Said to be the heavenly registrar of the Latidunarian Church as writ in The Book Of Heavenly Foundations, the last book of Holy Scripture, as written by Saint James Polycorpus.
April Twenty First
‘Nobody fights directly anymore. All healthy conflict has dissolved into seething subterfuge. The state has ensured that. These days, all meaningful blows are cast economically through underhanded investments and unmerited promotions. If I could, I’d spit on every dollar people earn just to show them that I am aware of what’s going on.’
That entry was a real gem. The tip of the iceberg, from volume three of the life and times of your pale hero. I should etch it into the washroom stalls at work. It shouldn’t be a problem. I always carried a blade with me. You never know when it’s going to come down or who’s going to bring it. I figured the blade makes me square with any one, that is, you have to like my chances. History replays itself. First as truth, then as uncertainty.
On the bus, a gorilla of a man bumped into me as he walked towards the back. He intimidated everyone around him as he sat down. He stretched out his legs, obstructing the path. I fingered the steel in my pocket. You never know when it’s going to come down.
I looked out the window at the cars and buildings and people shuttling past. I thought time was just like that, trotting along like a callous thoroughbred, dragging an equestrian through the muck; mindless of the tenor of the entanglement, the thoroughbred tows the equestrian along until he weakens and crumbles in the dirt.
My IQwatch said it was April 21st and 12 degrees C. My body temperature was 36.9 degrees C. Heart rate 67 bpm. The bus was travelling at 52 km per hour headed northwest on Broadview Avenue. My netbalance was 1284 dollars. There were 2 films and 7 albums on my iAM hawked from the Net, waiting to be digested. My water filter was dangerously low to expiring. I had 2 late bills requiring payment. 7 unread eMessages. 0 phone messages.
I have not written a story in years. The last one I worked on nearly drove me crazy. It was brilliant. But I couldn’t pull it off. It was about a man who transformed into an airport. The only problem was that I couldn’t figure out where to take the metamorphosis from there. I suppose the character could have functioned as a regular airport, chartering flights and moving people across the globe, but that’s where the story kind of stood still on me. I mean, what happens from there? I guess the flights could have some jazzy metaphysical significance.
I spent four years, on and off, researching and creating blueprints for this imaginary airport. I called it the Milton Airport International Limited. Get it? M.A.I.L. ‘I with pure mind by the number four do swear.’ Don’t feel bad, neither did anybody else. I think I saw it in a movie once: ‘If you build it, she will come.’ Well, the four-letter word was out.
 One of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century made by physicist Lady Yuri Zhen in 1984. It is said to resemble a “global brain” or a “network of collective consciousness” that encircles the globe like a mesh, hence the populist descriptor “Net.” It is an organic organism that has evolved along with the geosphere and biosphere, functioning like a nervous system for the Earth, which has grown in step and complexity with humankind. The intelligence of this “network of atmospheric neurons” is collective and equally distributed along the net. It emerges from a dynamic network of non-linear interactions between its components and is constantly self-organizing, self-adapting, and self-evolving. It is an open system, flowing, as such it is difficult to define system boundaries. Elements in the system may be ignorant of the behavior of the system as a whole, responding only to the information available to them locally. The number of elements is so sufficiently great that conventional definitions are not only impractical, but cease to assist in understanding the system. It has been called the “network of networks working behind the cloud of clouds.” Humanity is able to “dial-in” and “siphon” the complex, unbroken, interplay of information but no technology has yet been invented that may domineer over its raw natural power and channel it in any resolute manner
April Twenty Third
On the couch. Do I start my week over or sink even further? I cleaned the vomit off my floor this morning. There was no use in trying to evade the stench any longer. I am so tired of the whole affair. It is too existential. The barf, too Nekrasovian, too pretentious. It has been going on for too long. It is like gnashing teeth in a mirror. There’s no reason to play the scapegoat when nobody’s watching. I could write an account of it, a memoir or something, but what’s the point? I’m not going to trouble myself. There are too many books in the world as it is, and, besides, this story’s too old and too crusty. If you pat it on the head it grumbles like an old man taking his pills. It’s better to leave one’s self alone and I’ve been tinkering under the hood far too long.
I’ve propped a tyrant over myself for close to a decade now. It has been agonizing. I think it’s best to settle for an oligarchy when considering self-rule. That way, only your strongest drives lead the council. To set a dictatorship over oneself is brutal. The violence is always direct and immediate. It means suffering all of the time because you never quite measure up to your own fascistic standards. The burden is always too heavy and the pressure doesn’t cease until you’re crushed. A democracy is the worst of all—the weak drives temper the strong drives. You end up becoming a knave. Like I said, it’s best to leave one’s self alone.
I’ve rehearsed every experience you can imagine internally: How it feels like to contract typhus while performing an autopsy free of charge, being carefully shaved by a butcher and then promenading around the city showing off your re-attached nose, donning a peasant wardrobe shunning all social responsibilities and duties, on a mercurial quest to assassinate the Emperor, prostrating yourself before a holy man and kissing the Earth in repentance?
I’ve learned that if a person is motivated and wily enough, the entire history of the world can be reproduced and re-experienced internally. From the yawn of the loftiest Monarch as he rises from his lavish bed at noontime, to the sigh of the poorest pauper crashing on a park bench under a blanket of newspapers at midnight, all of it, everything in between, can be dragged unto the stage or slid under the miscroscope. Every act can be resurrected from the ashen past and examined on the inside. No, it’s best to leave things alone. I won’t not go into it again. I will not tamper with history. I will not tamper with the truth.
To rule over oneself requires extraordinary endurance and strength. Somewhere along the road I lost control of the well-bred inner tyrant and solely identified with the rubbery victim squirming around my guts. If you turned me inside out, you could trace every scar, every wound with your fingertip. There’s an exquisite sadomasochistic record on the inside. Your voice is one of the first things you lose when you wage a war on yourself.
After college, I thought it would be best to detach myself from myself and I haven’t dared look back. These days I see myself through a telescope from somewhere in space. I remember I used to say to my mother in my youth, ‘That star, Mum. I want that star! Give me that star!’ It’s funny. Sometimes you get what you wish for the most.
 Nikita Nekrasov (1817-1887). Famous novelist whose literary works explore the troubled psychology of characters living through periods of political, social, and religious unrest in his native Scythia.
 Late 20th century philosophers have hypothesized that such an undertaking may be possible with the advent of the Net; hawking for the plurality of these perspectives is a different consideration alotogether. Does the Net store the memories of individuals once they have perished or are they deleted and relegated to another realm altogether? How does the Net organize the collective memories of humankind and how can a technology be developed to effectively tap into this index? There are more questions than answers at this point in time and Aeneas’ claim that he may access the Net through mere introspection is grandstanding at its very worse and presently completely unscientific and misleading.
 Aphasia can occur suddenly or may develop slowly. Traumatic injuries to the head may cause sudden loss of speech due to lesions of the language-relevant sections of the brain, while tumors and neurological diseases can advance the disease progressively.
 Never having named the star he was pointing to, never knowing if it even was an actual star, it cannot be named with any certainty, and apart from several obsessive journal sketches and references to an “Abstrakta,” which is not a recognized star in the solar system, the “phantom” star shall be considered, without being too boldly judgemental, as another reminder of Aeneas’ eccentric, heterodoxical mindset, hereafter referred to as an “Aeneid” for shorthand and clarity of communication. An Aeneid being a statement of amplification, caricatura, egregiousness, misrepresentration, or pretentiousness. These are the five Aeneids
April Twenty Fourth
I spent the early morning cozying in bed. It was chilly as hell out there. It’s good I kept my socks on. A behavior I’m not prone to repeating. Clothes smother me when I sleep. I like to keep the bare minimum on my skin, the essentials, a t-shirt and underwear, just in case I’m accosted in my sleep by a burglar or a bogeyman. I don’t want to look ridiculous in the brouhaha. Appearances aside, it could get uncomfortable real quick wrestling in the nude. If we were both nude and oiled up it would be different. It’d be considered Neo-Classical.
The shrieking wind dragged its nails across the window. I decided I was just going to lay comfortably in my sheets and enjoy the sound of the elements. What’s another late on my record? Here’s a big middle finger to the world.
There is nothing I have ever wanted more than to kill the voice in my head—the goddamn voice that always has something to say. When I walk down the street, the voice likes to report what it’s thinking. I never manage to do anything, to own any act, because the voice is always talking to me about something.
Well not anymore. I murdered the voice in my head four weeks ago today. I got bone-tired of the dialogue. It was making me sick. It tainted everything I did with noise. Everywhere I went, everything I did, had a verbal soundtrack. Everything around me became intelligible. I had to be conscious of everything and everyone, all the time! So I figured it was either me or the voice that had to go because I was growing horribly pale, turning hysterical like an old shrew, and I hardly ever went outside when I didn’t have to. It was the voice’s fault. It had to be stamped out.
The biggest problem of all was that the voice could mimic anything. If it heard a song it liked, it would practice it all of the time; if there was a noise it appreciated, it would ape it all day long. The voice felt that it had distinct opinions about things, ideas it had to recommend: ‘I like his shoes, but his nose, he’s got to clip that thing.’
The voice would eavesdrop on nearby conversations and relate them to me. It got worse in the underground. It was like the trains inflamed it. It would chatter at such a quick clip that the single voice seemed to multiply and the crowd of them would stammer away endlessly, easily competing with the noise from the trains. It was there that I learned how to kill it. It was the underground that gave birth to my plans.
I invested a large sum of money in IQnoise machines. I bought a large unit for my apartment and an expensive IQmusic player with IQheadphones so that I could listen to white noise IQloops while I commuted to work. It’s not easy to hear the voice in your head when there’s concentrated IQnoise working against it. The IQnoise shreds the voice like shrapnel. At home, I would listen to the IQnoise machine at full volume while I did things. I even left it on at a lower volume while I slept. Little by little, the voice began to grow weary.
In the beginning it vied with the IQnoise, trying to match its volume and output, but it couldn’t. The IQnoise was steady and insistent, whereas the voice took frequent pauses to collect itself. It lacked the stamina for a full-out, bare-knuckle brawl. It began to stammer shortly thereafter, followed by slurred, unintelligible bouts of speech.
I realized then and there that the IQnoise would strangle the voice for me. It would grind it all the way down to gasps and gurgles. I played the IQtapes more, all the time in fact. I even played them at work. Nobody minded. I told them it was therapeutic sound. Everything I did was accompanied by IQnoise. There were streams of it all around me and I swam in it like a little pond fish.
It didn’t take long before it was all over. I can’t remember the exact moment it happened, but I remember what it felt like the day after. The voice in my head drowned in the IQnoise like a bloated drunk in a bathtub. It was like a flash-light went out in my mind, and from there, with each succeeding day, things became less and less familiar, but surprisingly, more vibrant. I felt differently about objects I had grown accustomed to. Things were less defined, more comfortable. Everything was one step darker.
 This conflict is either an affected, fifth-degree Aeneid or a candid revelation of Aeneas’ fractured psyche, whose gravitation may be schizotypal in nature. The more relevant question is whether Aeneas’ delusions, if it can be said he is delusional, are monothematic, where a person’s delusional state concerns only one topic, or polydelusional, where an entire array of delusions take residency and arrange themselves like furniture in the psyche. Common monothematic delusions include The Delusion of Doubles: the belief that various people whom the believer meets are actually the same person in disguise. The Perpetual Reigning Empire: the belief that the phenomenol world does not truly exist but was a kind of hologram or illusion put forth to imprison living souls herded by demonic exploiters of mankind. Intermerphosis: the belief that people in one’s environment swap identities with each other whilst maintaining the same appearance. Reduplicative Paramnesia: the belief that a familiar person, place, object or body part has been duplicated. The Solipsistic Prime Mover: the belief that a person is the creator of the world and therefore able to manipulate the world to his or her whims. Subjective Doubling: where a person believes there is a doppelgänger or double of him or herself carrying out independent actions. The Unrecognized Messiah: the belief that a person’s world saving abilities have been denied or unperceived because a person has been relocated in time and/or purposely oppressed by the government, church, or any other autocratic institution.
 An insincere and a borderline fourth-degree Aeneid (Misrepresentation)
April Twenty Seventh
On the couch. The IQvision ticker reported another monolith sighting, this time in Stamboul in the Ayasofya courtyard. Exact same measurements as the first black slab that appeared in February in Glastonbury. It could have been a prank from the West to mark the fictional anniversary of Baron Jubrick’s 2001-2031: A Space Inventory. The Moslems were furious at the ‘idolatrous and blasphemous slab’ being placed amidst their place of worship but have no leads as to how this may have occurred within the courtyard’s patrolled area. Nut astrologers believed the Monoliths were alien technology that will usher in the Age of Pisces, while cinema enthusiasts believed the artifacts would fetch a fortune on the black market if retrieved. 2001-2031 was the most boring film ever made. If film reality was going to roll into our own, couldn’t we please live in the carnivalesque world of Kid Wheeler, which was full of pranks and laughs and tomfoolery?
On the balcony. I watched people scurrying below, holding grocery bags, going about their busy meaningful lives. I used to own a pellet gun when I was younger. I would fire holes through pillows and vases, but I could never hit birds or rodents. I wonder, from this height, if I could wallop the people below. I drank eggnog for breakfast. I made it myself. It was the raw egg that worried me.
A small group of crows gathered on an electrical wire, fanning their black tails and bowing with each ‘kaah.’ Look at all those grocery bags! How much do people need to eat? I licked the cinnamon from my lips. It’s one of the few luxuries I could afford. There were others of course, but eggnog was one of my favorites. It’s thicker than milk and smoother than malted. It’s like celebrating Heaven’s Day in one cup.
My mother used to make a special dessert for the family on Heaven’s Day. It was a frozen sweet. I don’t remember the name of it. It was made of chocolate and it had these thin crispy biscuits inside. There were nuts inside the chocolate and a touch of brandy for flavor. I’ve never seen anyone else make it. Nobody even knows what I’m talking about when I mention it. I would do anything for some of that old-time sweetness.
I shoot invisible pellets into a family coming out of a church. I think it’s Eastre today for some religions. I don’t know which is which anymore. Everybody cuts the Savior from his own cloth to measure. A loud and raucous laugh escaped my lips as a kid’s hat went flying in a gale. I headed inside the apartment. Saturday is Professor Whom day: ‘You will be eradicated.’
I washed the dishes and dried them with a rag. I fell between the dish racks, hanging on for dear life. The plates drying alongside me. I saw the tiny fissures in the ceramic. It’s so hard to keep it all together. What’s keeping the bristles in the toothbrush? Holding the expiry of the produce in the crisper at bay? Fluffing the pillows? Collecting the dust from the bookshelves? Opening and closing doors. Walking through. Opening and closing cabinets. Trapdoors. Falling in.
 Accurate reportage with a semblance of first-degree Aeneid (Amplification). The above details concerning the monolith sighting are a statement of fact; only some specifics of the story have been omitted, while others have been highlighted. A standard of most journalistic practice, therefore all Aeneidian charges are dropped in this particular instance, and have only really been brought to the forefront for examination because they are scenting of caricature.
 Famous film director and actor in silent motion pictures such as The Wild Frontier (1921) and The Modern Man (1932). He became a wordwide icon for his slapstick comedic antics during the early part of the Century. His films are routinely mentioned on industry lists of the greatest films of all time.
 2 cups of whole milk, 2 whole cloves, 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 6 egg yolks, 1 cup of sugar, ½ cup of rum, 2 cups light cream, ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
 Yeshua ben Yosef, King of the Israelites (1-77 AD), “the Savior” who united the Kingdom of Israel by virtue of the “Golden System” of governance that cessated all civil strife amongst the twelve tribes. The repute of his leadership spread wide over the ancient world during his reign, and his Golden System directly influenced the governing bodies of the greater region of Palaistine, spreading as far West as the Roman Empire, which was initially discordant with the state of Israel although without ever any official declaration of war, eventually adopting Yeshua’s Golden System as their own in 168 AD, an ideology that is still arguably dominant today in an amended form. Yeshua ben Yosef is one of the most influential moralists and political leaders in the history of mankind. There are thousands of religious and political sects that view him as “the liberator of mankind from class bondage.” His Golden System is one of few successful socialistic political forms of government to have ever spilled outside the borders of philosophic texts. For over forty years, the Kingdom of Israel was a functioning libertarian socialist state, with a thriving economy and a decentralized government. After the death of Yeshua ben Yosef, the Kingdom of Israel fell prey to a form of radical authoritarian nationalism, which led to the Civil War of Israel in 84 AD, breaking the peace in Israel and scattering the twelve tribes across Palaistine.
 A third-degree Aeneid (Egregiousness), smarting of delicateness and hyperchondria. Perhaps a somatopsychic symptom of domestic overwork; however, there would have to be a trail of work to consider before graduating to a condition overwork. In this case, there is a nary a trace of domestic or civil production.
April Twenty Ninth
At the office. I peeked at Violet through a crack in my cubicle, who worked in the space beside me. I could only see fragments of her through the partition: her red fingernails on the keyboard, her milky hands guiding the mouse (the button on her left cuff undone), the sacred spot where her thigh met her hip. Everything was so hazy around me. I felt guilty but I’m not a bad person. I know it’s wrong to stare and I don’t want our relationship to be tainted from the very beginning. I supposed she knew my name; our rapport is decent the way it is. But it’s so hard not to look. She’s wearing black high-heel shoes today with a strap around the ankle. One can always imagine what they’d look like…
NOBODY FIGHTS DIRECTLY ANYMORE. THE STATE HAS TAKEN CARE OF THAT
In the washroom. It took my whole lunch break to etch that into the stall. I had to be quiet, but I don’t really see why that ought to be. People feel free to come in here and let them rip anyhow. What’s so criminal about the sound of a knife scratching into…what kind of wood was this anyway? What a stench! I can’t believe these people. I hope they swell to high heaven with their rotten maggot air. I’d like to kick their rolled up newspapers right up their…
I would be overjoyed to get up out of here, kick in the door in the next stall, grab the unlucky bastard by the collar and shake him like a busted piñata, pebbles toppling out! I clenched my fists in the air, barely able to contain my anger, and the knife accidentally fell out of my hands and onto the floor, sliding just outside the stall door. Damn it! There was somebody out there running water! He’s going to see it and report me! But I did not care. Let them all know! I pushed open the door and coolly walked out. To my surprise, it was John Bull. He was running a comb through his hair. He didn’t take notice of me or the knife.
John Bull: 38 Avenue Road, owned a luxury penthouse condominium, a black Porsche, had a Master’s degree in business or something, sported a six-three, two-hundred-and-twenty-pound-frame, was a track and field star in college, an accomplished boxer who enjoyed bodybuilding and sailing his father’s yacht, general manager of the company that’s enslaved me, thirty-four years old, had neat, pomaded black hair, manicured finger nails, an absurdly expensive Swiss-crafted IQwatch, a collection of elegant, custom tailored suits, a gifted speaker with outstanding posture, the most popular man around, and was currently dating Violet Safronov, the woman who works in the cubicle next to me. I folded the knife and tucked it away in my back pocket.
I wondered what he was doing down here, in this specific washroom. Surely he had the key to the executive restrooms. I heard he does this every so often, but to what purpose I’m not sure. John Bull had the aura of a celebrity in this company. He doesn’t own Crocell but he’s the face of it, and much more. Everything he did caused a stir down in the trenches. I heard about his mighty deeds nearly every day of the week. Here we were now, across from each other, and he didn’t even know that I was alive.
I turned the water on and washed my hands. The cold water numbed my palms. John Bull had a way of making everyone around him act in a self-distracted way. I breathed quietly in order to listen to him. I wondered if he had seen the knife. I watched him from the corners of my eyes. He puts his comb away, adjusted his tie in the mirror, and walked out the door. He just dropped off Violet from lunch, I’m sure of it. I see you, John! You don’t see me but I see you!
 Graffiti became a worldwide cultural phenomenon for youth in the late 1990s, first as a form of protest, in emulation of the proliferating “terrorist” groups such as the Mauve Nineties and The Black Spider, that emblematically used graffiti as a form political rebellion, and second as a popular form of individual expression.
 On March 26, 2001, the announcement of John Bull’s and Tori Rubbers’ annulled relationship arrived via the social media website, “Agora,” four full hours before Bull physically broke the news to Rubbers over a despondent candlelight dinner at Bruno’s on Maiden Lane. Having read the Agora news ticker known as “the Mint,” Rubbers originally disbelieved the report and met with Bull with only slight apprehension. The evening’s dolorous events confirmed in her mind that social media had permanently altered “the way things are supposed to happen,” with the effect sometimes preceding the cause.
I’ve been late for work eight consecutive days. I wonder if anybody will say anything? I’ve fallen into a pattern recently that’s difficult to break. Two-minutes late becomes four-minutes late, four-minutes becomes seven-minutes. My heart beats faster when I punch the clock. I wonder how the machine represents me?
Everybody I pass on my way to my cubicle gives me a choleric glare, but I don’t let the worms in their eyes frighten me. I’ve worn the same clothes to work five days in a row. I hope nobody notices.
When things get really hairy at work, I look for a nook or a cubby or an alcove where I may ply my trade in secret. I carry a tiny totem in my pocket that permits me to teleport to a likeness of the the ancient Hellenic city of Athanaswhen I cannot breathe in this world any longer. It is like a lucky charm with teleportative powers. A miniature city carved out of ivory set within a crystal globe the size of medium pearl. Lentil soup for the soul in my employer’s house of atrocities. I will never tire of being called ‘your lordship.’
 A first-degree Aeneid (Amplification). exposing an extravagant, over-idealistic self-referential encoding. The imaginary city, named after Aeneas’ mother’s maiden name, is a delusional utopian mental construct and is indicative of Aeneas’ narcissistic self-image and inflated belief of self-worth.
‘It is a strange thing to hang from this crumbling rock but I will not pull myself up. The view is too great for me to turn away.’
My memory draws up these laconic adages out of nowhere. I’m not sure what I meant by that phrase when I wrote it. I think I meant for it to be existential or something. Either way, here I am now hanging from this ‘crumbling rock’—that’s what my life feels like. I don’t get the second part of the quote though: ‘The view is too great for me to turn away.’ What does that mean? What view? What should I be looking at? What should I be seeing?
A loud thud against my window splits my concentration. It’s a pigeon. Nothing but a rotten pigeon. Life is just like that. There are always little arbitrary disruptions thrown my way just to derail my thoughts. It has always been that way for me. When I was a student, I would bury myself in my small bedroom for days at a time, working away on one essay or another. It was so difficult for me to write those papers. I would be in my room all day long trying to find the inspiration to iron out my ideas. Sometimes it would take several hours to write a single sentence. Small bantam things always came my way, taking my hamstrung attention with them.
I would get an itch, for instance, and then that single itch would spread and multiply all over my body. Suddenly, I would be aware that my whole body was itchy. Apparently, my body was itchy all of the time, only normally I would ignore the sensation.
This is the conclusion I finally came to, this is the human condition: mankind is itchy all of the time, and sometimes even profoundly so—I am my head, everything else works against me. I scratch my stomach-itch in abject obedience. I scare the pigeon away. My bedroom is no place for a bird of that stature.
A train of children head to school below. I don’t think I was itchy when I was their age. My fingers smell like banana. You smell like whatever you eat first thing in the morning. A proverb for all the people at my office who skip breakfast and come into work smelling like coffee and cigarettes, or even worse, like yesterday’s leftovers.
 A persecutory delusion. Whom or what directed these “arbitrary disruptions”? While not specifically isolated here, at heart, Aeneas believes, irrationally, that the government, aliens, or demons have demiurged these “accidents.”
 Presumably, a falcon or an eagle may have better suited somebody of his station and been a welcome addition to the doldrums of his bedroom.
“So, will you be spending Sunday with your mother?”
There’s nothing worse than having Mike Snitman in your nose first thing after lunch. Sniveling Snitman. They call him Snits in the office.
‘Why, what’s Sunday?’ I wrote with black pen over the imprint area of the scratch pad. The Amasia line from Captain Notepad. Standard fifty pound white paper. Fifty-two cents per pad when you purchase five hundred. I hang onto them and file them away when my parley is especially memorable: elequent cursive over the two-dimensional bluish impression of the twain continents that adorns the stationary.
“It’s Mother’s Day. What’s wrong with you? Don’t tell me you forgot your dear old mother?”
Everybody likes Sniveling Snitman. He’s such a good guy. He sincerely cares about every corporate event, every commercial holiday, every piece of information that crawls through this place, the price of this and the price of that, the price of gas, the daily newspaper, the corporate art that gets shipped to this place, the corporate coffees, the corporate meetings, the corporate lunches, the corporate mail, the corporate eMessages, the corporate handshakes, the corporate slaps on the back, the price of gas, the denigrating talk about the women in the office that in a roundabout way is corporate, the going rate of home mortgages, the leasing cost of one upscale car or another, the usefulness of home exercise machines, the price of gas, the effectiveness of capsule vitamins, how to best cook a steak on the barbeque, and so much more.
In short, he cares about everything that I don’t care about. He was also one of the only people that spoke to me on a regular basis. Even though he always talks about his trivial concerns, he’s not entirely evil. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on him, but I just can’t turn my damn head off.
‘I’ll visit my mother.’ I didn’t have anything especially witty to write.
“I sure hope so. Nothing is more important than our mothers, wouldn’t you agree? Well, except our car stereos and the dolls between our sheets. Hah, hah! Right?”
What’s he sniveling about now?
“Did you get the memo from upstairs? We lost the Debreziner account. That’s big, man! That could mean jobs here. Debreziner was a multi-million account. Somebody is going to have to take the hit for that one. A few of us are going for a drink after work to jaw the matter over. We’re really worried down here. With reason, right? From what I hear, Solondz is getting pressure from upstairs to bear down on us. He’s getting all the heat for Debreziner, but it’s not him alone. Solondz! That poor bastard.”
With Snits on your back, it’s like having a bad case of fleas: they get in your socks and in your hair, in your pants and behind your ears. I’ve got a bad case of the Snits and there is nothing I can do about it because he’s one of my only friends around here, only the occasional bites are turning into rivulets, and I don’t know how much more blood I have the courage to lose.
‘I have to get back to work, Mike.’ His scribbled name looms large over SuperAsia like a specter.
“Don’t you care about all of this? The lights are on, but is there anybody home? Take a copy of the morning minutes. Read over them tonight and tell me what you think tomorrow. A lot went on in the meeting. I’m not sure, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Hey, did you hear about John?”
He brought his body closer to mine, his stubby hand on my shoulder, pink balding head looking around for eavesdroppers, thick coffee-breath fanning across my cheek.
“He’s up to three-twenty five now! Can you believe that? That’s like benching you and me together like firewood! Hee, hee. How about that, huh! Okay, well, I’ll talk to you later.”
I’m bitten all over and there’s nothing I can do. Maybe I’ll get a dog to scratch the fleas off me. I rub the crystal totem in my pocket, yearning for a Hellenic getaway.
 Named after the hypothetical supercontinent, not the supermarket chain. Succintly stated, the continents of Gaea are said to have been prehistorically unified and not cleaved into Western and Eastern landmasses.
 The Eastern continent that comprises Afrika, Asia, Australis, and the Antarktic
I have no intention of visiting with my mother anytime soon. I haven’t spoken to her in many many years since my biological father died. But I will visit with my grandmother who has been in my life since only recently. I have been doing my very best to take care of her, even though I don’t know all that much about her. Don’t get me wrong, the nursing home she’s living in is a great place. The Elyse Gardens Retirement Village near Mortimer Avenue (Building number 825, just down the street from the Civic Center and across from one of the elementary schools I went to). It’s a nice name for a retirement home. She gets everything she needs at the Elyse.
My grandmother is afflicted with schizophrenia according to the doctors. What is schizophrenia anyways? What does it mean to be schizophrenic? Is there such a thing as a reality in the world and who can decisively say if the civilized world possesses it? No, I don’t want definitions and I don’t want these types of answers. I have heard enough of them in my lifetime. I have had my share of meetings with doctors and psychiatrists.
Everybody points to chemicals in the brain as the answer to my grandmother’s condition. Chemicals in the brain are a half-truth at best! Chemicals in the brain are a case of mistaking the condition for the cause. Naturally, the specialists are aware of this, but they don’t let on as much.
I sent an eMessage to Mr. Solondz’s telling him that I’m feeling sick this morning and that I won’t be able to come into work. It’s going to look very bad for me, but I’ve got more important things to do today. Besides, what’s another blotch on my stained record? It’s like high school all over again. I am recurrently late and absent. What does that point to? What is the meaning of my being consistently late and absent? What can I say, it must be a chemical thing: ‘It’s the chemicals, sir, something’s a-matter with the chemicals!’
On the couch. There’s an old black and white picture on the IQbox today—some guy gets thrown off a roof and then they put a newspaper over him. It’s a movie about pigeons or something. “Some people think crucifixions only took place in ancient times. They better smarten up! Every time the mob puts the squeeze on a decent man and tries to stop him from playing his part as a good citizen—it’s a crucifixion!”
How can somebody be crucified and not even know it? Can there be such a thing as an invisible crucifixion? The whole matter sounds ridiculous. What will they think of next? Isn’t a crucifixion supposed to be obvious? Isn’t that the whole point of a crucifixion? I don’t know about all this crucifixion business. But I do know that trees shouldn’t be implicated in the mess. It must be unavoidable, somehow.
Blood always finds its ways onto trees. It can’t be helped. It’s one of the Gaea’s deep mysteries. If it were up to me I would spare trees from being cut down entirely. There isn’t a story or a contract in the world worth printing or a crucifix worth crafting if it means cutting down a tree. The way things are now I’d say we’ve gotten our reward. Things have a way of working themselves out. The trees are slowly settling the score. With the score of global environmental crises looming on the horizon, can there be any doubt? Our blood feud has sketched the millennia. The bundled pulp is laid in rows over cold factory floors, there is nothing I can do about that—but I write, that’s what I do in atonement. My boiling blood pored over paper. I hope my life will satisfy the trees in the slightest.
Lying on the floor. I’ve read somewhere that the entire universe is composed of numbers and that numbers are not merely aggregate indicators of amounts (like how are there are twelve planets in our solar system or that it takes Trismegistus one-hundred-and-twenty-two days to make one full revolution around Sol), they are living deities, each with its own unique personality and occult powers. If my teachers taught math this way in high school, I might have actually paid attention, instead of surfing through the black holes in my mind and ending up in summer school with the rest of the flunkies.
A cross has four sides, so what does that mean? If the number four is a deity, he or she is probably some math geek with a cross fetish and a gluttonous appetite for inflicting punishment. In Hebrew, God’s personal name is a four-letter word made up of four consonants. I can’t write Hebrew, but in Roman it is rendered as ‘YHWH.’ Does that mean ‘YHWH’ is the number four deity? Then who is the God of all numbers? Phoebus the Radiant? Either way, I take back the geek comment. I should avoid probing too deep or pissing off the wrong deities. Who knows what rock I might kick over in my explorations and what size scorpion may be lurking beneath?
Cutting through an alleyway. A small bag of ketchup chips and a Cherry OK to wash it down. Written on the wall is: TERRY ROSE WHERE DID YOU GO? I spray-painted that a few years ago in quite a few places across the Narrows. That was before Project Typhon and BOUNDLESS. I thought I could walk to the park and have a turn on the swings. Bater Avenue to Floyd. I’ve always loved the name ‘Floyd.’ The word sounds fluorescent or something. It’s a cool word in any case. I wouldn’t mind if I grew up on a street called ‘Floyd.’ I grew up on ‘Grandstand’ and before we moved there we lived on ‘Frankdale.’ You can kind of tell what kind of person you are, or will end up becoming, just by looking at the name of the street(s) you grew up on.
I currently live on ‘Broadview’ and before that I lived on ‘Grandstand’ and before that it was ‘Frankdale’ and before that…well I can’t remember that far back. Starting with ‘Broadview,’ well…the meaning is fairly obvious. Picture me on my eighth floor balcony, overlooking the expanse of Queen City. Granted it’s only the eighth floor. We’re not talking atop a tower-peak or anything. Still the view from the top of the building is quite far-ranging. I’d like to describe it as encyclopedic, but I can’t back that up. ‘Broad’ sounds about right.
‘Grandstand’ speaks for itself. My life has been one fearless grandstand against the Narrows—a steel-palm to the face, a granite-knee to the groin, a hammer-stomp on the foot. The unstoppable force versus the immovable object. Hercules versus Atlas, Achilles versus Troy, Socrates versus Athens, the Savior versus Rome. The heroic tradition continues. I couldn’t wait to reach the swings. I popped open the bag and crunched a chip. I slurped some Cherry OK. It only burned a little at first and then it was pure sweetheart joy. There was a guy running in my direction from the far end of Floyd. He seemed to be waving me down. I hastily swallowed the jagged, half-chewed chips.
I half-nodded in acknowledgment.
“You don’t remember me, do you? We went to Coxburn together. Jimmy. Jimmy Cassias. That ring a bell?”
I shook my head.
“You don’t remember me, right? You’ve got amnesia? Is that it? You owe me money, Dimo! Two-hundred large!”
I tried to steer clear of him.
“You’re not trying to walk away, are you? You’re not trying to Dimo…Duma…what the fuck’s the difference when you owe two-hundred large! Give me your wallet! I’ll take what you owe.”
I pushed his roving hands away.
“You owe me money! Why so quiet, huh? You owe me! I knew you’d do this!”
He jabbed my stomach with something sharp. I turned to break his husky grip, but he held me tight by the shirt.
“Don’t do that. We’re old friends, right? Just give me the leather.”
Another jab to the ribs. He reached around and pulled the wallet out from my back pocket.
“Don’t make me do this, Dimo. Just pay up!” He opened up my wallet and rustled through the bills. “Thirty-bucks? You’re skint worse than me! Here, just to show you I’m not a bad guy, take your wallet back. I’ll get the rest from you next time. You won’t forget next time, right? Here’s so you won’t forget!”
Three more lances to the stomach and I was on the ground trying to regain my breath.
The ketchup chips and the Cherry OK had spilt everywhere. He must have been using a key between his knuckles. Rotten bastard! What the hell was he talking about? Owing him money? From Coxburn? I don’t think I’d forget a low-life mug like his. Two-hundred bucks? For what? If that was a knife I’d be dead right now instead of lying in a pool of OK Kola.
Speaking of knives, where’s mine? I must of left my steel at home! Damn it! He’s long gone now anyway. How could I’ve left my steel at home? What’s wrong with me? Here’s an opportunity to stand up for the oppressed and nothing! I go down like some little kid getting punked in the schoolyard, folding to his knees after one punch to the breadbasket. Alright, take it easy. It wasn’t one punch. I took like five or six jabs and with a key! He jumped me too. Acting like he knew me. He got lucky, that’s all. I’m going find that tricky bastard and pay him back rightwise! I always get tripped up with technicalities. If he challenged me straight-up, with no tricks or anything else allowed, there’s no way he could have beat me. I’ll get him back! Slippery bastard! Where are the authorities anyhow? All that BOUNDLESS video and nobody to survey it.
 Jean-Jacques Louis, Aeneas’ biological father, died of heart complications whilst traveling cross-country on a bus. In his will, he bestowed upon Aeneas’ his entire inheritance, including a ‘47-48′ Maurice Rochon rookie card, a bronze Attic helmet with a griffin crest, and his meager cash holdings.
 A flagrant, world-contempting, third-degree Aeneid (Egregiousness).
 Crucifixion was an archaic and barbaric form of torture where a vicitim is nailed to a piece of wood, composed of an upright and transverse beam, and left to hang until dead. The Romans were very fond of crucifixion to humiliate insurgents against the empire. It is often cited as a political symbol of the oppressed agonizing under the boot of the empire.
 Every minute over 50 acres of tropical forests are destroyed. Mankind releases 37 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. The level of carbon dioxide in the 20th century has been the highest in history. By 2060, 24% to 37% of our plant and animal species will be wiped out. There will be an increase of 23 inches in sea levels by 2075.
 The deified, planetary form of “thrice-great” Hermes Trismegistus, priest, philosopher, and king, who authored a plenitude of writings of “high standing and immense antiquity,” including the Corpus Hermeticum, which demonstrates the verity of the prisca theologia and includes the three parts of the wisdom of the whole universe. Hermes Trismegistus is the smallest and closest to Sol of the twelve planets in the solar and is the most rapidly moving. The Passage of Hermes Trismegistus across Sol takes place every four years when Hermes comes between Sol and Gaea, and Hermes is seen as a small black dot moving across the face of Sol. Transits of Hermes occur in May or November. The last Passage occurred in 1997 and the next transit will occur on May 17, 2001, Sol willing.
 Terry Rose was Aeneas’ oldest friend. They have known each other since birth and have been together through countless hairy situations. Terry Rose is 6’1, 190 lbs, with long blonde hair and blue eyes. He was quick to anger and more loyal than a St. Bernard, physicality indefatigable, and courageous beyond measure. He was also prone to dishonesty and often disrespectful of authority and institutions. A student to the “code of the street,” he was without belief in schools of higher learning, except for a conspicuous and ardent fascination with the figure of Yeshua ben Yosef, which is mostly due to the influence of Aeneas’ inordinate obessesion with all things Yosef, heedless of their historicity or apocryphal nature. His father, Andy, an obdurate thief and fanatical gambler, had driven his family to financial ruin and to the point of vagrancy on more than one occasion. His mother, Olivia, crippled by the shame of their destitution and her consequent isolation, more often than not, was rendered mute and delegated to utterly inconsequentiality. Andy disappeared without a trace sometime in Terry’s youth, leaving Terry to care for his mother and younger brother, Caleb.
 The BOUNDLESS surveillance program was developed as a necessary tool to fight terrorism, prevent social unrest, protect national security, fight child pornography, and protect citizens. Project Typhon was initiated on March 3, 2000, after top-secret documents were stolen from the Octagon on June 3, 1999, and leaked in Asia the following month. The documents were purported to contain top-secret military Intel and the leak was labeled as “the most catastrophic blow to Amerikan intelligence ever” by influential Amerikan journalist and Evening News anchor Billy Batson. It is estimated over one trillion dollars were spent in generation of Project Typhon in GreatAmerika in 1999 and 2000.
 A completely invalid theory and a third-degree Aeneid (Egregiousness) to boot
‘A darkness is coming that will blanket Queen City like an ominous cloud. A nefarious mass is fast approaching that threatens to swallow us whole. We are teetering on the brink of hell, my brothers and sisters. A large number of forces are currently acting against us, blunting the restorative activity of our souls. The most alarming of these forces is the increasing accumulation of men and women in cities resulting in more and more useless occupations: labor for the sake of labor and nobody knows what is on the end of our long fork anyways!
Where’s this numbness coming from if not our jobs? People commit crimes just to make news and sell more newspapers; waste creates new and interesting job opportunities; homes are built to store exciting new products. Those of us with any sense left take the money and run, becoming islands unto ourselves. What is left for a man to do? Buy the super-special-savings package: car-life-wife insurance, micro-kid-garden-wave set, ultra-thin-garage-tool-weight kit: two-for-the-price-of-one, buy-one-get-one-free, air-mile-rain-check, buy-now-save-later, club-pack deal.
These jobs that stupefy us are directly responsible for producing a craving for spectacle. Something has to happen all the time! Whatever it may be, it is there in plain view for all of us to see. Of course, it never is what it says it is. Different names and titles and packages is how it keeps us distracted and thirsting for more. But we forget to study the past. Where have we come from? Can the past tell us where we are going? We forget because there is so much, too much to remember. It is such a great weight to carry and for too long a time.
The last thing I remember is the height, the image of the height; there is such a great height for us to climb down from, to crash down. It is accepted because the spectacle is what we’re after anyhow, the payoff for a life of choking labour, needling morning bells, and grubby bus fare. There is nothing more exciting than a loud crash: a bang and a boom, we all fall down!
When I think of the immensity of our degrading thirst, I am almost ashamed to speak of the feeble attempt made in these journals to stifle it. Our coming fall is rattling in my ears, a shallow clicking behind my eardrums. Even the end will arrive too late to save us from our boredom.
Reflecting upon the scale of general evil, I shudder to think of our chances to survive the approaching darkness had I not a deep belief in a certain indestructible quality within us to oppose this spectral presence. The time is fast approaching when the evil of our city will be opposed by men of greater power than myself and with far more success.
Mankind will outlast the cockroach. This is my great belief. God will not smother us with another flood because even the waters are polluted and the Almighty does not like to get his sleeves dirty. We need more time. There is still time. Please wait for us. It’s not time.’
Queen City. There will be a reckoning time for the Narrows, a sealed moment when our quarrel will come to head. You’ve got the squeeze on me but I’m getting closer to your black heart. I’m getting closer everyday and I will draw a bead on you! It’s either you or me that has to go.
I walked out on the balcony and gazed fixedly at the horizon. I was feeling more and more tired every single day. I didn’t know what to do to fix myself. My stomach felt like it was lined with barbed wire. I wanted to crank my head off my neck for a moment just so I could breathe comfortably. The sky was heavy with rain clouds. The Narrows would have to weather a storm today. A small flock of geese dashed across the sky. An armada of black bombers. I had a toothache that was driving nails into my sinuses. I could barely hold myself up from under the pain. Numberless pellets trailed down after the thunder and I retreated back into my cave to rest my foundering back.
‘The Myth of the Ubiquitous Man’ was a brief story I wrote while I was in high school at Coxburn. Maybe I was overly sentimental, but I could not help looking back. I remember being in that classroom, somewhere near the outskirts, staring pensively out of the window.
Sitting alone at my desk, after years of shrewdly keeping to myself, harnessing all of my strength to remain composed, while every fiber of my body wanted to speak out, to be heard against my own will, I would heroically redirect emotions towards the inside the way a dam controls the flow of water in order to build a reservoir. It was the only way I knew of coping with the feeling that I would die from the humiliation of being a person like any other.
Every day I felt like I would be rendered to pieces from some unknown presence, from violent hands invisible. Building a reservoir was how I coped. I sat vigilant at the fringes of the classroom, watching the birds freezing outside the second-storey window, huddling together to brave the cold and I helpless to rescue them, wanting to feel the bitter bite of the cold with them.
The exam sheets were handed out face down along with foolscap paper. I hadn’t studied, as was my custom. I had barely attended class during the year. Wait, that’s an exaggeration—I was in school two-thirds of the required time, an admirable fraction upon reflection. There was one major question on the exam. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I do recall that the question was fairly straightforward. Something to do with the media, I think, examining the notion of books becoming bestsellers due to celebrity endorsement. I don’t remember exactly because I didn’t even care at the time.
I responded to the question indirectly with a fictional piece. The title came to me in a flash and I spent the first part of our allotted time, a little over an hour, contemplating the meaning of the title before I began to write. What came next was furious and original. I can’t even say where it came from or what kindled the inspiration; it was like a flame darting across my mind, inciting a big bang in the consciousness of my consciousness. I needed to act immediately. I pulled two pens out my bag: a red and a black.
There were two points of view in ‘The Myth of the Ubiquitous Man’ illustrated through alternating currents of dialogue. The red ink represented the thoughts of the man, while the black sketched the city view: the reflections of buildings, streets, and the surrounding industrial area.
A man cannot battle a city anymore than a flesh and blood being can antagonize a ghost, but this type of logic did not impede the Ubiquitous Man. He could be as spectral as his foe. Buildings and streets were not ethereal, they were solid and real, but this was only the outward form of an ancient residing evil. Some malicious entity circumnavigated these Druidical structures, tightening its stony grip over all who lived amongst brick and mortar. Red was vital, black was void.
There was the common material perspective of the city in black and then there was the red vision the Ubiquitous Man imparted. The ‘Ubiquitous Man’ was only one of many titles this man held. ‘The Hammer’ was another. What kind of man was this? What was he trying to accomplish?
He told his followers to keep his identity a secret. He tried to keep hidden, but the city knew all about him. It was conspiring to bring him out into the open where he would be powerless before the narrow sidewalks and the colossal skyscrapers; defenseless before the sewers containing agents of unspeakable horror, fuming noxious gases amidst the unassuming populace; lost below the numberless telephone wires, the veins of the city reaching across the landscape like dark industrial jungle vines, innocuous and stretched dormant until they are requisitioned to make a sortie.
Everything in the city was part of some secret operation to make the invisible visible and the Hammer was no exception. In fact, he was a very important target. The city bided its time, drawing him out, sinew-by-sinew. A squint here and a dust-up there, the Hammer knifed from left to right, in and out of corners and dirty alleyways, but it was getting harder and harder to hide in the city.
Through some enigmatic sleight of hand, the Hammer could vanish from sight like no other. I don’t know how he does it. When the going gets tough and his back is against a wall—poof—he was gone! Here today, gone tomorrow. He puts salt on those familiar words.
Cemeteries were once an excellent hiding place for him. The somber atmosphere of the tombstones lent itself to the subterranean nature of his schemes, and even if there were such a thing as ghosts in the morose surroundings, he would remain calm and sensible, confident all the while that he could teach them a thing or two about the haunting business.
He would stray through the city like some mangy alley cat, not having bathed in over a week, the words of Pylos Johnwaltzing through his mind:
‘We are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against wickedness in high places under various guises. Therefore put on the whole armor of truth and light that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand with the sword of spirit in hand triumphant.’
He drawled the words often, changing them each time. Mostly he would utter them to himself and he would get goose-bumps even without an audience. This is where the story neared its finale.
The Hammer told his followers, the few in number, to keep his teachings secret and invisible. Everything about him centered on invisibility. That was the way of the Hammer. The silent wrecker of cities, the mousy dissipater of civilizations, he was everywhere and nowhere. He was everything human that survived wars and economic depressions, widely outrunning disease and famine, loved and prized beyond the yoke of any government. He would come around every so often, whispering into people’s ears, giving shape to their dreams and voice to their buried anxieties, the people’s champion if there ever was one…if such a wishful character could ever exist, stories about them wouldn’t be necessary. Or was it the other way around? Are the stories written to record the deeds of these heroic individuals or perhaps to harbinger their arrival? I wish I knew.
 Composed on April 1, 1999, after a long and dark night of the soul. Half-sincere, with one eye on the page and the other turned inwards, in a reflective and self-congratulatory fashion, Aeneas imagining himself to be a serious writer, penciling serious writing, that will somehow be revealed to the world at large through some happy accident and change the course of history. A fifth-degree Aeneid: pretentious, dry, haranguing, pseudo-literary drivel.
 Staring moodily out of windows and other theatrical gestures is a staple of coming-of-age novels.
 Pylos John or John the Revelator, was a first-century philosopher and mystery-religion priest who believed that Yeshua ben Yosef had been resurrected from the dead, rose to the heavens, and would return, at the end of days, to judge the dissenting tribes of Israel and restore order to the world. The Enchiridion of John is one of the most influential monist texts from the ancient world, analysing the life of Yeshua ben Yosef and interpreting his writings from under an idealistic and exultant lens. The Enchiridion of John is a manual on how to live in concord with the risen Yeshua ben Yosef and The One.
Mother’s Day. I woke up tangled in blue-gray sheets. Breadcrumbs pricked my back as I rolled out of bed. There was a book under my elbow. I do not read very much anymore. Not since my college days. My bedmate last night was The Anatomy of Pensive Sadness. I’ve been reading it, on and off, for four years and I still haven’t finished it. There’s a bookmark between the chapters titled ‘Heroic Love Producing Sorrow’ and ‘How Cruel Love Bullieth Man.’ I read a few pages last night and then I fell asleep. Sometimes I read it just to sneeze. All those old pages, so full of dust. I loved the way things tingled after a strong muscular sneeze. A prolonged ladling yawn was just as good.
I was in a bad state last night, pining over one thing or another, sifting through my memories, especially one day in particular I had spent with Heloise a few years back. I had just received my letter of acceptance from college and we were both very happy. It was on a Friday, sometime in June. She came to my home first thing in the morning after I had called her.
I remembered opening the front door and she swept in like a warm summer breeze. It was sunny outside, so she was wearing a long flowery dress that just covered her knees. On her feet she wore a set of plum-colored slippers that had sparkling laurel ornamentation stitched to the fabric. Her graceful arms and shoulders were concealed by a light lavender cardigan, unbuttoned down the front. She was a sweet darling thing with beautiful raven locks that clung to her shoulders. Her walnut eyes highlighted by a brush of sandy shade.
She came in warm and loving, putting her arms around me pressingly for what seemed like an eternity, and her body and her aroma like a summer garden I fell into long ago as a child, wrapped in feathery Chrysanthemums and the dewy grass smoothing my shirt to my back, a moment so beautiful everything turned luminous with joy.
I showed her my acceptance letter and her eyes gleamed with enjoyment. Again she pressed me to her breast and I nearly fainted with pleasure. Heloise was my friend but not quite my girlfriend. We had never kissed, except on the cheek a couple of times, but those coral endearments were far from usual. I had bumped into her the summer after I graduated from Coxburn in a café where I had worked as a waiter.
I had got the part time job at the Tarte Tatin through a friend of mine who was a dishwasher. It might as well have been called the Taffy Tarturus considering the seedy things I saw going on there—the staff was notorious for sleeping with each other and with select customers, a real swinging joint. I was the exception of course and I’d like to believe that, Randolph, one of my noblest friends, never acquainted himself with the Tarte’s underbelly either, wolf’s teats and all.
Six women worked there: six crooked necks navigating over twelve manicured feet, emerging out of inky-darkness to devour the men and women that approached the grounds of the café. Day and night the gossip spewed out of their mouths, discharging the half-digested limbs and skulls of their victims in torrents of brown, red-flecked ooze.
I had recorded some of their dialogues in a little black notebook I call ‘Tart Sayings.’ I was ashamed of the book and I don’t know why I bothered copying those loathsome phrases. I really can’t explain it. I suppose it’s because I held a certain idealized view about women until I got the serving job at the Tarte. I thought they were otherworldly beautiful, possessing neither corruption in body, nor stain in mind, creatures of angelic countenance and disposition that could only be approached by the worthiest of gentleman—men who had attained the highest degree of self control and made the mark of a champion in the world, combining the prized skills of a monk, a philosopher, an artist, a warrior, and a king. My ideas were stupid. I find them to be warty and hunchbacked now. They nauseate me to the back of my teeth and yet there is something there that still pierces my heart ever so slightly, a tiny moment of suffocation, but slighter than last year’s breathless sensation.
‘Tart Sayings’ does not reproduce the dialogues as I heard them. It provides neither context nor narrative. There’s a letter before the saying designating the speaker. For instance, in saying sixty-two ‘A’ (Alex) says: ‘I hear when a man is a vegetarian his —– tastes better.’
I ploughed through the raw dialogues and refined them in terms of brevity and clarity, making them succinct expressions of dark hellish sexuality. I left out the letters that made up the vulgar words. It’s funny, sometimes I have these dreams where I find the letters in the most mysterious and ridiculous of places. Once I dreamt I was having breakfast, eating that brand of cereal with the letter-bits, and the letters formed raunchy words in the milk of their own accord, and I ate those moist horny words in ravenous mouthfuls.
There was also this other recurring dream that plagued me, where I was standing in a pool of blood coming from the body of a man I had seemingly killed. I don’t know how I killed him and the only reason I believe I may have killed him is because I was standing in his blood that was flowing everywhere. His dead eyes were wide open, staring into empty space, and his pastel lips were parted, perhaps from shock, perhaps from regret. I can trace the dark veins in his pale face. But I can’t tell where the blood is coming from because there are no visible wounds on his body. There’s just this dark puddle of ooze.
The dark roads were empty and the street lamps could barely illuminate the rural area. The night air was so rank and humid that I could barely breathe with everything tasting like copper. The saliva was growing thick in my mouth. I wanted to spit but I couldn’t find the bare cement. It’s all so bloody! All of a sudden this mob came out of nowhere and they were acting completely crazy. They were shouting and they wanted to know what had happened to the villager who went by the name of ‘Parsons’. I wanted to say something in my defense but I did not dare spill my saliva. The mob was so angry and defeaning that I couldn’t make out what they were saying. Their faces were in shadow. All I could clearly see were their hands, which were contorting strangely, making batty villainous gestures. Non-compis mentis!
Their shouts grew menacing but the mob remained transfixed, unwilling to trample the dead body or the streaming blood to get to me. I managed to make out certain phrases in the cacophony like ‘grab him’ and ‘let’s string him up’ that made me very afraid for my own safety. So I bolted. I ran like I had never run before, but I couldn’t see where I was going because I could only see through the bottom of my eyes, narrow slices of vision to avoid colliding into walls.
I entered a dark tapering alleyway, and I climbed atop a metal staircase that clanged as I ascended but headed nowhere, so I perched myself there like a pigeon. I could only keep track of my lumpish feet and my puckered mouth that was swelling with saliva. I couldn’t even pant from the chase because I did not want to spit.
All of a sudden I was cornered! There was no way out of this labyrinth of blind alleys and dead-end staircases! There was no way to pull myself out of there and nothing large enough to hide behind.
I could only turn back, but that way lied damnation, and those hands, those many wicked hands, ready to wring my neck! I was weary and desperate. There was nothing I could do, nowhere I could turn. I could hear my fate chugging up the metal staircases like a speeding train that’s about to hammer a clueless fox crossing the tracks at the edge of a forest’s clearing.
All of its life the fox didn’t know anything, except perhaps the oily taste of its prey, the crispy sounds of rustling leaves, the light of the parent sun filtered through branches bedecked with flaring greenery and tweedling bird nests. But judgment abruptly fell upon the fox in the prime of its life, in its youth really, mangling its poor body and banishing the comforting sunny caress of life. Shadow blanketed the fox’s clueless eyes and it would never know anything again.
No more breezy play in the wild, no more boisterous rolling in the dirt, or chasing fleet footed mice into bushy shrubs, no more lapping chilled water from the azure stream, or afternoon nestles in the bank under the shadow of a heavy set oak tree. Where did this forbidding judgment come from and why did it have to fall on the fox at that precise moment? Was it because the clueless fox left the safety of the trees in order to cross over to the other side of the woods? What sacred border did the fox transgress to merit such a punishment or was fate like some random intercessional adding machine, producing sums apart from sanction, without request or a final objective?
The mob finally cornered me like a wanted felon. Hands threatening me with grotesque gesticulations. Penetrating voices that refuse to be calmed. ‘Truly,’ I said, ‘I don’t know why the man is dead or who killed him.’ All I knew was that I was not guilty. But they wanted answers and I could not speak. The saliva in my mouth was as thick as cement. My stolid tongue and puffy cheeks were painfully frozen in place. I began to fumble through my pockets for answers and the cutout letters rushed to my aid! The missing dirty words from ‘Tart Sayings’! I might have been saved except phrases like ‘duck butter’ did not explain very much. I kept pulling letters out of my pockets, trying to make words on the pavement (‘circle jerk’), but they were no better than the first batch.
I was in a dire pinch and the imminent threats only got worse. Out came the macabre pincers, and then I would finally wake up to the sound of my own screaming voice, just as the mob began tearing at my limbs with ropes, levers, and hooks. I hated to leave my dreaming body in such a bind, but when those pincers and leavers showed up, it was every godforsaken man for himself! Yellowbelly or no, I did not want to see what they did with those goddamn Roman contraptions. I was not curious in the least.
It’s uncanny how dreams haunt our waking lives. They affect us more profoundly than we can ever understand. We try to the brush them away like cobwebs out of the air in order to gain a clearer view of our surroundings, but we are constantly enmeshed in the silken threads of sleep, unable to gain a legitimate foothold in the world because we are held prisoner just above the ground. We are knotted to the unfathomable and something hideous emerges from the fog, snatching us away in its perilous jaws, and dragging us back to the void from whence it came.
I read a book sometime ago that compared our bright waking lives to a boat marooned in the middle of a vast ocean: a dinky rowboat drifting upon limitless waters that are dark to the core and impenetrable to the human eye. We can be swallowed at any time. The mere thought made me shudder. We are all trying to keep afloat, our hands anxiously clutching the boat’s sides to keep it steady, but the vessel rocks uncontrollably and from moment to moment the threat of capsizing is real. What’s more, the feeling of approaching danger will not subside, and you feel like you’re going to unravel at the seams, which is better than falling into the dark waters precisely because they’re bottomless. And yet, paradoxically, you hope you will fall into the dark waters because nothing can plummet forever.
Of course you’ll drown. That’s a consolation but it’s hardly a relief. In truth, your heart pounds louder than it ever has before at the thought of the boundless space below. You know you‘ll die in the first few moments after falling into the water from complete terror. A tiny speck plummeting into the opaque limitless depths of the ocean—what’s a personality then, what’s courage or intelligence? Everyone becomes faithless at that point. It’s worse than a snake pit or the guillotine. It’s worse than anything.
Nothingness is the only escape from this fate; however, nothingness is just a restatement of the dark waters in the first place, but in the abstract. Things are more comforting in the abstract. Nothingness is not as terrifying as sinking into the dark blue waters and not being able to see more than five feet around you and suffocating in the infinite stillness. A scream can’t be heard in the abyss and you can’t muster the concentration for a prayer, not that it could avail you—God’s face moves upon the face of the waters, but in the void, you’re on your own, staring down darkness, the mask of the deep.
It was already four in the afternoon. If I did not hurry, I would not get a chance to see my grandmother today. I hated losing track of time whenever I am deep in thought. It’s like I’m outside of time. Everything earthly escaped me because my mind was somewhere else, maybe together with my soul, upwards, numbering amongst the carnival of stars—in the arms of the infinite and beyond, floating in space, dazzling with the nebula, riding the glowing carousel with the comets and the streaking stars.
I have forgotten what the visiting hours are on Sundays. Maybe Mother’s Day was an exception on the calendar, with the visiting hours being extended. I had not showered nor shaved and I badly needed some lunch. Toasted sunflower bread with sliced tomatoes and cheddar cheese slivers. Not bad. A sandwich with freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juice on the side. Even better.
At the bus stop. It was slightly cold outside and very windy. My hair was being tousled all over the place. I matted it down with my palms and fingers every few minutes. The sycamore trees looked fire-golden. The brown and yellow leaves shimmied off the branches, garlanding the lance-shaped leaves of the evergreen below. I looked at my reflection in the glass of the bus booth. I could barely see my features, with the poster behind the glass covering most of the pane. There were a few strands of hair poking out. I was not as perfect as the guy in the poster. His hair was smooth, while mine was curly and tangled. I was also very pale. I bet he got lots of sun laying around the beach with his surfboard. He was shirtless and his jeans were fit lower, much lower, than they should have been. Maybe he didn’t like girls at all. There was always more to do with the boys anyway.
I didn’t play with girls much growing up. They were always slower than the boys. They didn’t understand my games or they found them boring, and they always put limits on what they would or wouldn’t do. Us boys always looked for limits and tried to break them. How far could you jump off a moving swing? Could you touch that branch on the way up and pull the leaves off the tree on your way down? These were the things that mattered.
With girls it was always different. It always started and ended with the ‘blah-blah-blah,’ their mouths seemingly bigger than their bodies. But it was always nice when they sat away in the distance and watched our antics, probably talking about who they wanted to marry or take to the prom, or something. I jumped just a little further for them, spoke a little louder, and made bigger gestures; in short, I made quite a dust up for the little Heloises and Lavinias of the schoolyard.
So many holes in my sneakers. So many lectures from my father: ‘I just bought these shoes for you last week and holes already! Do you know the value of a dollar? Do you know how hard I work to put sneakers on your feet and you wreck them by doing stupid things? Stop wrecking your shoes or you’ll go to school in your socks! Do you hear me?’
That was the story of my life: everything is always wrecking around me. The sneakers weren’t even the beginning of the story. The plot begins much earlier with other accidents and a shipwreck; a boy marooned on a desert island without a prayer in the world—a boy versus the elements, facing danger and deprivation at every turn, and the many holes in his cheaply made, outworn sneakers letting in the crusty sand.
I got nervous whenever I came to the Elyse Gardens. From the moment I entered the compound, it would get harder and harder to swallow my spit. I actually had to think about swallowing or it wouldn’t happen. I liked it better when things would just happen without my interference. I really did not know what the underlying problem was. I loved my grandmother. It’s obvious you don’t want to be here. Since when do you celebrate Mother’s Day?
I bought her some flowers. Maybe she’ll like them. They cost me about fourteen dollars from the local supermarket. Orange-hued tulips. You bought a bottle of expensive cognac for yourself the other day and some foreign films that cost almost two-hundred dollars. You think fourteen-dollars on a bunch of crappy tulips is doing the best you can do?
They came from a good place. I only wanted to make her smile. You’re going through the motions. You don’t feel anything for your mother or your grandmother. You haven’t thought of her all month. By the way, the noise machine ploy? That was crackerjack.
In some ways, she was living better than I was, waited on, hand and foot. Activities were arranged for her to participate in. She had friends here. They would go on day trips together. The food was good. They had excellent IQvisions and IQstereos. The place was decorated with fresh flowers and green potted plants. They even had cactuses, large prickly ones I played with when I visited.
A horrendous start to the trip and I was not even through the front doors yet. I wished I could do more for her. When it came down to actually getting things done, not very much happened. It was a daily uphill struggle against inertia and indifference. I had all this love and enthusiasm within me, but I couldn’t keep the straps on those ponies and they simply scampered away.
The pearly gates of the Elyse. I got off the bus at the intersection and headed toward the rear entrance of the building. I was trying to avoid Petra’s stony gaze at the greeting desk. The sooner you arrived, the better the person you were. It was not even dusk yet. The sun went down in your heart years ago. Mealy-mouthed bastard. The sun shines on every impure place and yet it is not defiled. If I‘d wanted a sonnet, I would have commissioned a real metaphysician, not some two-bit dualist! Just beside the Elyse, a couple of men are finishing their installation of an iAM billboard advertisement. The poster said:
Advertisement lingo drove me crazy. It was just my luck. Long and Chong, the Vietnamese custodians, were having an early supper (or a late lunch) in the courtyard. They would sneak me in back.
I clapped my hands to get their attention and then I waved to Chong, the short benevolent Asian, seated crosslegged on the bench, voraciously devouring a large clump of white rice with some stewed rubbish spread over top, like pig’s ear in a ginger-ale sauce or something.
“Oh, ya!” He muttered back, doing a bang up job forming the staccato vowels with the cluster of rice in his cheek.
I signalled to Long, the older, shrewder bag of hair and ribs perched beside Chong, also sitting crosslegged, but neater, like a sealed pair of scissors; the plastic, overheated bowl in his hands loaded to the brim with the indefatigable pilaf. Momentarily shrugging off his natural enmity for me, Long jawed the words back, soundlessly, like a devocalized parrot or a badly-wired robot.
As a lifelong supporter of the feline community, Long and I were at odds with each other. It’s not so much that he disapproved of my affection towards cats, but that he skinned and ate their flesh! The decaying robot has been a lifelong cat meat gourmand. And to this day I still think he remained unconverted to our Western sensibilities. Those yellow bastards! They’ll eat us alive. I swear it was the truth. His brother Chong had told me. I was making this up. The benevolent Chong confessed to me that he could never stomach the skinless pulchritude of the feline; but on the other hand, his brother Long was of another jaundiced kiln altogether, a heartless artichoke, really (a Supersian assassin waiting to be activated).
Chong’s ‘brudder’ lured unsuspecting cats into his home in Huax-town, using bones and organ meat or whatever ration he had lying around, and then club them over the head until they were dead! Chong reenacted the events with all the articulateness and self-possession of a Huaxian Shadow Puppet: zooming around the courtyard, he stammered nonsensical phrases in a hail of fetid slobber; he leaped into the sky with great audacity, gathering all the nutrition the microwaved pilaf could offer him, awkwardly bending at the waist in mid-air and twisting his flailing joints with obvious discomfort, but also with full, head-on salvo, imitating the action of the cat hunt in a broad range with his undernourished body, pocked smiling face, and humid yip-yap voice.
I sat down on the bench across the mechanical pair. They were in their own hermetic world, inhaling the pilaf in unison like a pair of wrinkled anteaters, the dead white of Long’s unsmiling eyes staring at me and then away into the distance, while his mouth and pea-green teeth continued their everlasting chew.
“Are you so very bee-sy today?” The benevolent Chong said to me in his usual, witty form, orangutan-smile gleaming.
I nodded emphatically. The bench top was littered like the floor of a sweatshop: bottles chubby with water, crooked straws peeping out, tattered orange peels lying about like deactivated gooks on a rice field, chopstick wrappers tugged from corner to corner, to and fro, wind in sail. They’re poisoning our water, I know it!
“You take care of…of…of…yoursef, today” Chong stuttered like a stuck, defunct car engine. His eyes rolled back and disappeared in anxious gestation, while his cankerous mouth sphinctered out the words in slow succession.
That was our signal. Those six (eight?) intricate words issuing from Chong’s ailing mouth indicated that the gig was on. Don’t ask me how I parleyed the deal or arrived at the no-problem signal with the benevolent yellow machine (B.Y.M.) because it was mainly non-verbal: the way a slap to the face during a game of Scythian roulette increases the tension tenfold, or how a slope dancing on one leg during wartime warns of extreme face-peeling violence, tabi-toeing your way. I stood up from the bench and walked sideward the B.Y.M. He under-handed me the number-scroll and I backhanded him a ten-spot.
Main Crew Entrance. I unfurled the scroll, which was a rolled-back cigarette case, and worked out the numbers scribbled over the white. I could have saved the numbers from last time and banked the ten-spot for comix and bubble gum, but I had to keep my doorman greased and happy. The B.Y.M.’s smiling head made a ripe appearance aside the brick and stone; his eggroll fingers pointed to the first line of numbers and then to the door with the number pad. “Nhanh len!”
The B.Y.M. pulled a small plastic bag out of his pocket and handed it to me. It was a half-eaten bag of unshelled pistachios. The next second I was hugging the bobbing Chong for dear life and I could not let go. I was practically weeping in his arms. Good-old Chong! Always happy to see me. And it’s not just about the money. No, you’re right. It’s your winning, heart-and-home personality he’s responding to. Your love of classics on a dusty bookshelf. I wiped the dew from my eyes and read the numbers off the scroll. The B.Y.M. affectionately scribbled palindromes over my forehead with his eggroll. “Qua lon” he said mysteriously. 9-1-2-1. I punched the numbers on the pad. The door unlocked and I entered the narrow hall with the pistachios in my right hand and the tulips in the left. The door shut behind. I look back at Chong waving through the glass aperture. Every goodbye could be the last.
That’s why I had trouble meeting people. I was afraid to say goodbye. When I met a person I liked, I wanted stay with them, through the night if possible. Because when the moon took occupancy and the stars scattered, when darkness rolls out the saxony and the sky looks like the ceiling of an underground cave, it’s a wholly different contest, unlike the one played during the day.
9-1-2-1. I had to memorize these numbers. It would really save me the hassle of the roundelay every couple weeks. Months, you mean? The night, it tinkered with people’s insides. Darkness had this wiretap-thing setup, see; it’s basically set-up shop in your head and you don’t even know it. I do not have to time to get into it now, but watch how people forget things the next day. Visions, decisions, confessions and obsessions, declarations of emancipation, code-words established, secret-handshakes forged, telling-winks, new ways of living, never going back to the old, watch and listen how it’s all forgotten the next day, how the joint is completely raided and overrun by darkness, flabbergasted suspects lined-up and jailed, and the following day the entire plan is forgotten. All the glorious feelings are gone. An evil conspiracy is in place. I’m shouting to you all, stay with your friends through the night! Sad eyes should rain fierce tears. Youth, rave and burn at the close of day.
I waded through the mosaic tiles, head down, trying to avoid the suspicious gaze of the custodial staff (they had seen me before, but still): Perdita, simmering a pitiful-pot in the laundry room; long-suffering Ernesto, straining the indecencies out of the wet-mop; Maricruz, pulling boulders of outrage from the heaping bins. With the added weight on my back (see: addled soul), I had no choice but to look down at the intricacies in the high-gloss floor, eyes directed starboard the paddling feet. Methinks I see myself in the sheen of the floor. The white-robed lights stationed in the ceiling poured their visage along the craquelure, and bending there, true-to-life, my shadowy portrait, like an inky description glimpsed in water at the bottom of a well.
I zoomed into the dull grain of the silhouette: the tulips on the left had undergone a dark adaptation, their orange hues represented by the molecular murk that had randomly taken on this-shape but not-that. I tried to collect the features of my face but they were immaterial. It was like seeing my reflection in the bathroom mirror at night. Methinks I saw myself in a dream, darkly, peering up, crazed, from a bottomless pit, or perhaps gazing down, anxiously, from a steep crag.
The bulb overhead fluttered its white-winged light along my lashes and I shut my eyes for a moment to dampen the dazzle. I reopened them and foundd coronas radiating in my field of vision. Deprived of my left hand, I dropped a salty pistachio into my mouth using the thumb and index finger of my right, while my other fingers clutched the crinkled pouch and the number scroll.
My tongue and teeth went to work on the wobbling shell and before you could say, ‘blessed are the chic,’ the roasted nut was undressed and the savory paste was swallowed. With the halos dissipating from my eyes like blessedness from the unholy, I unraveled the numbers from the scroll just as my feet docked at the threshold. The carcass fulminated from my lips and boldly ricochet off the doorframe, as dead as death. 1-2-9-1.
The stairway on the left short cut. Even the service elevator ahead would have been more discreet than the main entrance, but this secret route made my passage through the Elyse nearly invisible and it allowed for some prized detours. I skipped the second floor altogether. Avoided the envious scrutiny of the old and miserly. With the codes in my hand I could ascend directly to my grandmother’s floor, except that wasn’t the most desired path at the moment. It was better to knife across the third floor and meet with Maximilian for a little, tender what I owed him from the bookie (he had laid a bet on a winning horse a few weeks back: ‘Absalom’), saunter over to the main stairwell, which led up to the foyer on the fourth floor, head over to see Lavinia’s grandmother, Vivienne, tarry a little, and continue on to meet my grandmother on the eight floor, via the clandestine route I paid so dearly for. Her room was last on the right, before the foyer, with a window facing west. We could watch the sun set together.
I took the steps two-by-two. One flight down. I peeked through the window at the entrance to the second floor. The goddamn place was a ghost town. I breathed out the kinks. A little fatigue never slowed me before. Remember that time your mother screwed up the laundry? I remembered and each time that memory chastened me cruelly. What’s life without a little attrition, time and time again? So you always reminded me. Don’t throw out your dirty water until you get in fresh. A trouble shared is a trouble halved. Two heads are better than one. He who travels fastest travels alone. Don’t forget that one.
I’ve got a dictionary of proverbs in front of me. Do you really want to run the gauntlet? Page 155. A house divided cannot stand. Home is home though it never so homely. What you know, I know. And more. Hope springs eternal. The higher the monkey climbs the more he shows his tail. You can drive out nature with a pitchfork, but she keeps on coming back. He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount. Page 224: There is nothing so good for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse. Nothing so bold as a blind mare.
Actually, that is a strike against you also. Not only did you fail to parry the blow, but you doubled back and struck yourself on the ass with the flat part of the blade. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I think you’re missing the point of the banter. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. Where is ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise. In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. He that is half-hanged has an ill name.
What kind of ill-conceived game are you playing here? Know you nothing of repartee! Have you no agonistic spirit at all to speak of! What sort of combatant attacks himself, really? That’s not very sportsmanlike, is it now? I mean, what’s left for me? Be fair now.
You’re right. I shouldn’t have slapped my mother for ruining my best shirt. But that was the only good shirt I had to create an impression on my schoolmates; it was the only shirt I’d bought for the entire school year! I couldn’t have been older than twelve. I was only a boy. No, it was wrong. I knew it then and I know it now. But why am I still being punished for it. Take your medicine like a man. It’s only by learning to obey that you’ll ever learn to command.
The beams of Sol struck me full in the face and I felt my brow weighed down by his splendor. I raised my hand above my eyebrows, making shade for my sight, which was quick to flee. What is it, gentle Sol? Why do you caress my lashes? Is it to the window you are luring me? Phoebus was burning brightly in the cloudy sky and I could clearly perceive his slanting rays dancing through the buttermilk. Shine, light, shine! I felt the luminous energy from his rays penetrating my body with sagely advice: a spoonful of warm potato mash delighting the belly. Phoebus’ retinue swayed round my squinting expression like a chorus of belly dancers in a Mediterranean tavern. Watch that hip! How’s the Isis exchange today? The custard-yellow face hit me like a runaway pie. By the looks, you shan’t be long in the sky, yet you dawdle like a rooster on your high perch. Shine, Sol, shine!
My fingers hoed through the lines numbering the scroll. 1-5-3-4. I entered facing the door to the restroom. The smoky darkness of the floor smothered me like a humid night, deprived of every star and planet; it thickly veiled my eyes so that again they could not endure to remain open. But how unlike the warm caresses of Phoebus was this billowing white smoke that stung my sockets. Like a blind man I moved through the chemically-laced clouds, arms outstretched, feeling my way along the wall on my left, trailing the poisonous curlicues to their source, to their founder, who, without a trace of doubt, could be none other than the esteemed, chain-smoking wordsmith himself, Maximilian Golga Ludovico. I couldn’t believe they were letting that antediluvian syllogist smoke indoors with all the geriatrics clinging for dear life. Why was it so dark on this side of the wing? Couldn’t they open a window if he was going to spark up those chimney-stacks? This place was worse than Darkhovin Nuclear on a spring day and I couldn’t breathe in the fallout.
I pushed forward, slicing through the curtain of smoke, stepping into the room, wide-angle, like in a film-noir; Max, leaning back on his padded gliding-chair, legs up on the upholstered stool, glibly sliding, to-and-fro, head cranked back, exhaling a braid of smoke. His wild, silver locks spangled under the sidelight from the window, contrasting sharply with his broad tanned forehead and the taut stubbly cheeks.
“That you, boy? You got my boon with you?”
Max has always been compulsively abusive by way of greetings. Never one to make you feel welcome forthwith. But once you get past his stalagmite mannerisms, he’s quite decent.
‘I can’t breathe for the smoke you backslider.’
I held the scratch pad close to his face so he could read the text, which I know for a fact annoyed him and he never failed to articulate that displeasure with his mouth and eyes that crimpled in thirty-six inconsiderate ways.
“Stop your whinnying, you curly-haired Yeshuit, and haul your bony-ass in here or I’ll tender your undersized bollocks by way of settlement! Still plying your trade with the quill and quire, I see.”
‘Sunken and mute as a clogged flute. I’ve brought your favorite slippers, Emperor.’
“Sit down and unload your burdens you cheeky raccoon.” He lowered the silvery bushes on his forehead that concealed his judicious gray eyes in their hollows, far-ranging in their vision and persnickety despite his years (three-score and ten, last I checked), ready to swoop down on any shifting detail with feathered talons. If he dropped those brows any lower he would bushwhack the gray friars where they stood. I plopped down on the carved mahogany armchair by the bed and dropped the flowers atop the mattress. The pistachios I pushed into my pocket for later.
‘So, what’ve you been doing with yourself lately, MGL, apart from driving the nurses crackers with your cradle-robbing come-ons?’
The flannel-pajamed lothario puffed and puffed and the exhaust was thicker than a bus station’s. He had to put on his reading glasses to comfortably read from the scratch pad, which I held twelve inches from his face like a summons delivered by a foreign messenger. Reading my thoughts wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but he’s probably starved for company, so it was a moot point.
He looked at me under his Brasso-mannered, wrinkled-browed expression circa 1968 (see: O Nonnos), taking his lolly-time responding, bulldog-jaw in freeze-frame. For your information, I’m no Sonny Corvetto, you expatriated, Germanian, Ernst Holster-wannabe. A touch cruel. Like you weren’t thinking it! Where do you think I get my ideas from, weirdo? I really couldn’t say.
“Oh, my sweet boy,” Max said, sincerely moved for a moment by my muted plight, almost as if he’d forgotten about my condition and was just now made aware of it again. How he loved our badinage. “I suggest you place the spoils of my unfriendly wager on the flat of my hand, right-away, lest my ire come to a full boil.”
‘Dare I resist your olive-oil charms and see those man-sized limbs of yours become living things?’ I rendered the illusion palpable for a few moments longer, putting strain to the old man’s eyes.
“What these old dogs of war? Surely you know better than to rouse Briareus and Typhon from their furtive slumber!”
‘You mean Udolf and Bennito? Don’t remove those pokers from the fire on my account. Please allow these greenbacks to duly compensate for my rough entry into this, the den of Cerberus—may it quiet the din and prattle.’ The burden of perusal shifted from his eyes to his lips and back again.
His opulent, ivory-silk, brocaded smoking jacket made not-so lofty sounds against the leather material of the gliding chair, as he shifted positions to receive his filthy lucre. To fart or not to fart, that is the question. A bratwurst bugle by any other name. Fair is foul and foul is fair. A smarter man might have actually laid the bet, you know. You’re not cut-out for the bookie trade; you the lack the build and your physiognomy smacks-o-the-sensitive. A brooding, introspective, Montgomery Moody-lookalike, if I ever saw one. Say, where did I see this guy? In Ruby River or A Spot Under Sol?
“Have you been to your grandmother’s yet?”
‘I’ve come straight to see you, old goat,’ I wrote on the pad, unnoticed.
“You’re a loyal boy. Much better than my own son. So, what news from the outside world? What racket and clamor out of the twin towers of Babel? The Sodom and Gomorrah of our fair, bright-eyed city!” If I could get the polyglot to natter-on in copious volumes he may forget about the perfecto long enough for me to catch a full breath. A stogie is never just a stogie. Flunk what Froth said.
‘I haven’t been in that neck of the woods in a long time. Months even.’ He squinted and I battled the temptation to pie him in the face with my scratch pad.
“You can’t ignore the old neighborhood altogether, young man. Damn it! Do I have to put you on the payroll too for a simple favor! Testa di cazzo!”
‘Relax yourself, Max! I’ll stick my head in this week, see what’s going on, and I’ll call you with the scoop. Alright?’ I quickly scribbled.
‘Yes, Herr Ludovico.’
“You have to understand, my wunderkind, that you’re my emissary into the towers now. Trusted friend, amico fidato, don’t let me down on this matter. Gott mit uns! It’s still my business to know.”
The same old obsessions week-in and week-out. His own children don’t give a damn about him. They’ve got his money. What else could they want? There isn’t even a picture of them in this room and that’s not normal for a man his age in a retirement home. Every room in the Elyse is a veritable cornucopia of remembrance and saccharine tribute. They’ve got more picture frames than Rayographs.
Max is the odd-man out at the Elyse. He is the ‘king-in-the-machine,’ and he is still trying to catch lightning in a bottle by the looks of him. By the looks, he’s insane. This isn’t a retirement home—it’s an asylum! And he’s on the royal throne. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make insane.
“The world is blind, my precocious boy, and you’ve come from the world. So what does that make you?”
‘We’ve all come from the world, Max. By that token, we’re all blind.’ I would have exercised my fingers if I’d known he sally me to such a degree.
“That’s why there are two eyes in our skull: one eye’s job is to watch over the other. But what is the root of blindness in mankind? Tell me that.”
‘Well, if heaven is the cause of every motion on Gaea, then…’
“Don’t say it, boy. Don’t you dare say it! You’re not known by me to be a blasphemer, so you’re no blasphemer at all. Those words of dissent are to have no tenancy in your head and zero platform on your tongue. I won’t tolerate any schisms between you and me! We’re not Dissonants after all.”
And this is hardly Speaker’s Corner. Last I checked you weren’t a Latidunarian either. What are you exactly? What are you calling it these days? Max draws deep from the perfecto and exhales with righteous satisfaction. His feet could use a pedicure: them talons of glory! Framed on the wall in walnut with gold lip, is an artist’s rendition of the ‘towers formerly known as Golga’— two stately megalithic slabs standing in an L-formation at one end of the horseshoe-shaped residential, Bayard Rye Village.
Max started construction on the Towers in the late 1960s and named them after his mother’s maiden name. I’m not sure what Golga means in Germanian but it does sound imposing. He finished construction on the Towers in the early 1970s, well before I was born. My parents and I moved into the Bayard Rye in the late 80s. Wherever you are in the Bayard Rye, you can always see the Golga Towers. If you’re treading down Flax Hill towards Knightsbridge, far east of the Bayard Rye Village, you can still see the topmost part of the Golga Towers, the panoramic Penthouse windows on the sixty-third floor staring at you in all directions like a string of austere eyes and the L-shape architecture like a shepherd’s staff, hauling back your own vision in return.
At 179 meters tall, wherever you go in an 8 km radius, you’re sure to see the twin marvel: the megalithic guards on the western point of the Caspian Crescent, unwavering in their watch of the Lampos Narrow that runs from east to west, from Honor Oak Rd to the Doneraile Strait, which bounds all the way north to the acme of the Narrows. If you were to find a glade during a hike through the Blue Fountain Forest, aside the fir and hemlock in the evergreen surrounding the Bayern residential like a wide shield, looking up, you could still see the peak of the Golga Towers peering over the isolated verdure of the wilderness.
“If the world has gone astray, in you resides the cause. Therein paces the depraved malefactor in meted incarceration.”
‘So I’m to blame for the blindness of the world?’
“Not you, boy, but your will, that ‘favor from on high’ that’s fallen into utter disrepute amongst your heathen class.”
‘My heathen class? You’re such a puritanical elitist, Max. A stalwart chip off the old Winetrough block.’
There’s nothing puritanical about his beefy Erections on the Hill. ‘We shall crank the mouths of our enemies…We shall stain the many faces of God’s worthy servants…’ Remember to ask Vivienne for insight into his fastidious, masochistic philosophy. I don’t want to know. How about your grandmother, then? One of these days you and me are going to settle the score once and for all. You’ll just end up chasing yourself in circles.
“You okay, boy? You need a dottore? You’ve just about the queerest look on your face. Shall I yell for a disciple of the Hippocratic Oath? Say something, boy. Make some sign. Perhaps it’s just some foul play to report betwixt your ears, because you’ve the pallor of someone who’s just kissed the rim of St. Giles’ cup. Oh, marone i mi! I didn’t mean to upset you so.”
‘No, no, Max. I’m okay. I’m sorry. It’s just this damn ache in my head. It drives me up the wall sometimes and clear across the ceiling.’
Way to spoil the fun! I dare you to tell him what I’m saying! It’ll be like a séance. I am the ghost inside your head and I will haunt you till the day you die! Oh, Maxwell, so much to answer for!
“It happens to the best of us. Indigestion is the likeliest of causes, inflammation of the large intestine, possibly owed to a condition referred to as ulcerative colitis. I’ve had similar belittling attacks myself. That’s the price we pay for the erection of our ideals, the going rate for our spires and steeples. As a word of caution: do not put the stopcocks on the indignant flow of ether through your bowels. The impregnated air must be thoroughly belched! Only don’t perform your perfunctory custodial duties while in my presence. I dislike that type of corporeal debasement in the company I keep. It is strictly verboten!”
The old man was in a tizzy, exhausted by the afternoon’s course of reading. The perfecto was expired amid his creased fingers. I slow-panned across the mise-en-scene of the carefully organized room in glorious 35mm: a medium shot of the hand-painted, roan marble-top console with the curved legs (looked like teak wood, or maybe it was also mahogany); an extreme close-up of the acanthus leaf carvings on the rounded legs, pan along the finely textured dark-coat of the wood at a measured pace; dissolve to the coat of arms design at the center of the console, between the long drawers: a majestic, heavily-antlered buck gazing sideward, set amid the leafy plumage at the heart of the continental shield.
Pull back camera to the door. A deferred establishing shot, the suite splayed out in deep-focus. The king-sized bed at the left of the wide-angle: the deeply embroidered duvet with the bold-scaled paisley immaculately outspread; my grandmother’s tulip bouquet at the left-hand corner upending the imperial symmetry of the oak four-poster; adorning the heads of the four vertical oak-columns surrounding the bed-frame were carvings of acorns garlanded with oak leaves, probably symbolizing the fecundity of MGL’s mattress, which contain the silvern stains of Pan himself; the fruitful goat-legged bastard in the flesh! Horn-headed fertility resurrected between the Beefy Erections on the Hill! All’s well that ends well with all that follows. Where it falls the mandrake grows. That’s why they shriek when you pull them.
Above the bed, hanging symmetrically between the posters, was a framed reprint of The Tavern of Athens by Ruffe in full Technicolor glory: ‘Ruffe’s masterpiece and the perfect embodiment of the classical ideals of the Renaissance spirit.’ I’ve received a lecture/harangue on all the paintings that decorate the walls of his suite and on many others that did not survive the trip from the Golga Towers to the Elyse—his retirement suite was not large enough to accommodate all the furnishings from his penthouse, even though they constructed an extension to the suite especially for him, but as to why he’s not on the top floor, I do not know. All of the finer suites are on the top floors. He doesn’t even have a balcony. If they hadn’t linked up the adjoining rooms, he would have had a standard single room, instead of the luxury custom job currently in place. After living almost thirty years of your life on the forty-fourth floor of one of the tallest buildings in Queen City, in a penthouse with panoramic windows, featuring a soaring bird’s eye view of your surroundings, it must have taken MGL a long time to adjust to the blatant unforgiving gravity of the third floor.
There are three other paintings in the room besides the Ruffe. Zooming in on the right of the four-poster, above the brass-finished bedside chest with the curious bun feet, The Pledge of the Horatii by Louis-Louis Rococo made its martial presence felt, demonstrating the now infamous Roman salute: the three steely brothers with their resolute gaze were citadels of patriotic duty, symbols of the highest virtues of the Republic.
Painted before the Gallic Resistance, Rococo depicted a scene with the three Horatii brothers standing on the left, swearing upon their swords as they took their loyal oaths, their father in the center, who was holding up the weapons, and the women on the right, weeping for their brothers and husbands. I did not know my history very well, but I remembered MGL saying the painting dramatized a chapter of history where Rome was battling some other nation and two families where chosen from each nation to settle the dispute by fighting with each other. Three men were chosen from each family. The Horatii were one of the families. I couldn’t remember the name of the other family. But I do remember that a daughter of the other family was married to one of the Horatii brothers. And that one of sisters of the Horatti was engaged to a son from the other family. Shaggbarkean stuff. Stories full of strife and lamentation.
There was more blood in history than there was sap in the veins of Gaea. Or maybe they’re one and the same. That’s what Shaggbark said in McCracken, I think. The green sea turns to red and, after a while, more stuff happens, and the red sea turns back to green. A talented paraphraser you are. A critic for the ages. Forty-thousand well-spent dollars in tuition and you’re no smarter than the bib on a baby. They say you can’t put an old head on young shoulders…wait until they get a load of me.
MGL said the colors in the painting were intentionally muted as to de-emphasize technique in favor of content and to draw attention to the story behind the painting. The figures of the men were represented by straight lines, rigid in their upright posture, firm in their noble stance, unyielding like the marble columns in the background, while the women were curved like the sweeps and turns in the architecture that are secured and held-up by the steadfast pillars. The straight lines in the painting symbolize strength: the brothers’ taut, outstretched arms and the swords they collectively sweared upon, exemplified heroic valor. Outwardly they showed no emotion, while the tenderhearted women were in complete shambles, utterly collapsed beneath the weight of their sorrow.
The fact that two of the three swords had a curved blade was another intriguing pictorial detail. If my memory served me correctly, the straight blade amongst the curved in the bunch foreshadowed the historical fact that only one of the three brothers survived the melee, returning to Rome injured but victorious on behalf of the Republic. During the skirmish, two of the Horatii brothers were slain; meanwhile the other family had lost none of their original number, suffering only minimal injuries. The last surviving Horatii fled the battleground and the other family gave chase; however, they broke rank during the heated pursuit and this enabled the wounded, but brave, Horatii to pick them off, one by one. What presence of mind enabled him to accomplish this arduous task? What brawn and what stealth helped him carry out this gallant feat? What grace under pressure? It’s an incredible story. Larger than life. Things like that just don’t happen anymore. Nothing heroic happens anymore.
With the roll still feeding, I zoomed out from the Louis-Louis and walked the long-take around the room, taking it all in, like a fat-man at a Huaxian buffet. Panned across the window with the drawn, espresso drapes, the baroque-cast iron rod, the frilly Persian arabesque on the floor, light haloed across the lens, henna-top of the leather gliding chair, MGL’s silver tousle, the potbellied Grandfather clock in the corner, with the embossed illustration of a fox hunt at the base, the stylized Golga Towers with gold lip, the rectangular Narcisse gilt-wood mirror (one of his most prized antiques) hanging above the marble console and reflecting the four-poster, and the Peasant Pete with the antique black and gold frame.
MGL always enjoyed the comparison between Peasant Pete’s The Babel Tower and his modern translation of it. I don’t think he was directly inspired by the Peasant Pete when he constructed the Towers, but he certainly had the Biblical story buried somewhere in the back of his mind. Over the three decades that elapsed after its construction, MGL had retained complete control over who entered the Towers and who remained as a tenant. That he’d rather have empty suites than degenerate occupants, was a favorite motto of his. The waiting list had more pages than a novella and he prided himself on this detail and the creative comparison (he adored offshoots from his architectural opus), let alone his numerous other dubious achievements in and around the Towers, data that he jealously recorded and collected and stored in titanic volumes that testified to the obsessive nature of his personality as much as the Towers manifested the grandstanding ethos of his vision, a desire to stand above the banal and beyond the commonplace, a grand gesture in our very own Bayard Rye Village.
If the pencil of history chronicled that Peasant Pete had visited Rome before painting The Babel Tower and was inspired by the Coliseum, then it must also take note that the Golga Towers in turn were no mere hobbyhorse of their traveled author, they were MGL’s idiosyncratic vision of the Shining City on a Hill, his residential translation of the Crystal Castle, his inland rendition of the New Island Utopia, his elitist reconstruction of New Tranquility, with Bayard Rye and the surrounding pastoral landscape substituting for Arcadia.
It wasn’t like anyone could follow his imaginative trail, mind you. What the final purpose and meaning of the Golga Towers were, no one could satisfactorily extract from MGL’s labyrinthine mind or extrapolate from his fluent tongue. It was like the various parts of MGL that contributed to the construction of his modern utopia were not in agreement with each other. I would often catch him contradicting himself during his lofty speeches. But then again, I did not know MGL during the beginning of his campaign, only during the end of his reign as the unofficial king of Bayard Rye Village, when he was more of a wounded king than the vaunted steward of sophistication heralded from yesteryear.
“Law is a ruler who can discern the tower of the true city. It is misrule that has caused the world to become malevolent. Your nature is not corrupt.” MGL put the expired perfecto back between his lips and reached for the lighter in his chest pocket. The potbellied clock said it’s quarter-to-six and I needed to leave.
‘I must be going, Max. I’m glad I came but all the same I must be going.’ I nimbly picked up the bouquet from the bed and turned to leave. MGL lighted the perfecto, puckering like a fish.
“You cheeky benedictive raccoon. For my sake you must stay. If you go away, you’ll ruin this shindig I am throwing.” The lyrics from his breath brawled for expression amid the dense exhaled cloud like an unattractive woman calling for a taxi to stop in the middle of rush hour traffic—a difficult task.
‘I’ll camp a week or two. I’ll stay the spring through. But I’m telling you, I really must be going. No, genuinely, I must be leaving.’
“Go, go. By all means. We’ll continue our discussion next time. Arivaderchi. And don’t forget your promise! My garden cannot tend itself. We must be on our guard lest the enemy sow tare amongst our wheat. Be diligent, my boy.”
‘There’s no need to repeat yourself, Max. I’ll take care of everything. See you in a couple days,’ I hastily scribbled.
He’ll forget the entire conversation by dinner-time. And judging by the current state of things, so will you. Whom the gods would destroy, they first dip in the river Lethe. Revenge is a dish best served cold. Keep mocking me and I’ll reveal my greatness.
“Mr. Ludovico, please put out that cigar. There are children walking through the hallway. At least close your door.”
The nurse barely noticed me as I slipped out—a broad-backed, thick-armed, Germanian-looking blonde.
“Get out of my room before I feed you to my dogs!”
The nurse nearly slammed the door off its hinges in vexation and muttered, “dirty old bugger,” as she stamped down the hall, sturm und drang. Those crazy Germanians! I would hate to see how they’re assembled in the factory. A typical Germanian can eat up to thirty-two kilos of sausage per week! And they drink beer by the barrel. There’s no pint or half-pint for the Goths. It’s by the barrel or nothing. I’ll have one-fiftieth of a barrel, barkeep!
A man chastised his three young daughters for running amok in the hallways. When he turned his back, they tweeted like nightingales and fluttered their arms.
“Stop it right now, I said!” What a flustered fool. I eavesdropped on the little ones as I skittered across to the main stairwell. I stepped lightly so as not to distract them.
“You be the swallow, Princess, and I can be the falcon that eats you up,” the older girl said to her younger sister with the braid.
“Daddee!” And she ran down the hall after her bossy father while the other two girls gave chase with arms outstretched, swooping like birds of prey.
“They’re gonna eatmeup, Dadeee! Help!”
She hung on to his long legs, gripping an inch of loose khaki.
“Who’s going to eat you up with the great, horn-rimmed owl watching over you?”
He raised his arms wide and charged after his two older daughters, fiercely flapping his arms in pursuit, and they doubled back in playful terror with the braided one struggling to keep up, her little legs leaping for joy. The man smiled as our paths crossed and I smiled back. The motion of his ‘wing’ fanned my face a little. Blessed are the peaceful ones. I zinged a pistachio shell off the exit sign like a cowboy buckling a tin can with his six-shooter.
My legs stiffen a little on the steps but they delivered me to the fourth floor in no time. Inside there was a bunch of geezers talking it up and doing laps around the wing like it was a racetrack. To hell with the conversational lot of them! I could have used a bed for a little. Spread over it like raspberry jam on warm toast. MGL’s four-poster was too lugubrious for my taste. With his pompous sheets and lofty mattress, I’d probably sprain my back or something.
“Excuse us, young man.” The old crumpet nearly ran me over with her orthopaedic sandals and yellow jumpsuit.
“Haste, haste, Mary! It’s like we’re back in the old country. Just picture this stretch in front of us like it’s a hill from back home.”
Slow down, you decrepit hens! This wasn’t the Sydney 5000! They were too old for pasture. Maybe we could make tarpaulin out of their polypropylene hides. I ought to have loaded my six-shooter and walloped their cottage-cheese butts! Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? I wonder how things were in the Bayard Rye. How long had it been anyway? I should peek around the old neighbourhood. It was long overdue. For Max’s sake. Hail to the King of the Bayard Rye Village! I wonder what kind of reception I would get. The prodigal son returns! Cue the wheels and sparklers! Aw, shucks, the red carpet is at the cleaners!
I’ve been putting off so much lately. Define ‘lately.’ There were so many things that needed tending to, people I’ve neglected, work that needed to be done. I haven’t written a story in such a long time. Sure I had my old journals in my possession, and sometimes they even comforted me on a rainy day, but progress is shouting at me like a penitent kneeling at the nave, full of decisive zeal.
I had a clear vision once. When I gather the complete body of my written works and ascertain their meaning, my quest becomes distinct again, strong and unobstructed, but that fleeting feeling lasts only for an instant, and I lose focus almost immediately after, with each successive day dimming the luster of my vision further, each moment growing foggier than the last, imagine how a window pane when it is besieged by the rain obscures all forthcoming looks attempting to press through, and then you’ll understand my soupy travail.
I earnestly wish that I had a tenth of the dedication and perseverance that ancient Anglish sage had when his sight began to dim while he was composing his epic poem. If only it truly were the bloodshot globes in my skull that were biologically defunct and not some sort of internal glaucoma that was afflicting my sight. I wore the wretched calendar around my neck like some stinking albatross that weighed me down daily with its giant maggoty wings and briny macaroni-beak. You weren’t worthy of the noble cross so they gave you the stinkin’ albatross. Why was this happening to me? Only a fool asks “why” when the barrel is square against his temple. In innocence there is no strength against evil. I wonder if that was a real potted plant by the window. How come some leaves were darker than others?
I drew the attention of an old lady and lured her disgruntled attention to my scratch pad. ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Grundy. What type of plant is this?’
“That’s not a plant, it’s a fig tree. And my name is not Grundy, it’s De Groot!”
‘If it’s a fig, where’s the fruit, De Groot?’
“You’re wearing them, Sunny.” I swallowed the wrinkly Resurrectionist’s exhaust, as bitter as gall, as sharp as a double-edged sword.
“Hah, good one, Esther,” chipped in Mary, riding shotgun the old bitty.
Those godamn leatherettes will be the gout of us all! I wish I could be there to tip them over just as they rounded the bend. I haven’t had a fresh fig since we stayed in Flamboro back in the 80s. I used to pluck them fresh off the trees. There’s no taste and texture in the world comparable to a Flamboro fig. Darling of my heart. Another visit I’m putting off. Figs with cinnamon-vanilla ice cream under a honey-walnut sauce. Book it! How come some leaves are darker than others?
Room 419. I hope Viv wasn’t asleep. It was a bit late for an afternoon siesta. I knocked twice but to no avail. I listened at the door but there was nothing. I raise my fist to rap at the door again but Viv finally answered. Her flaxen hair tied back into a bun. Blue eyes weary behind the thick-black frame of her glasses.
I raise the scratch pad before her eyes. ‘I hope I haven’t waked you?’
“Heavens, no. I’m so glad to see you, my curly-haired, Adonis. Come in and keep Viv some company on the chesterfield. I was just watching an old-movie on the box. Do you fancy a cup of tea?”
‘Heck, no,’ I swiftly jotted down, showing Viv the note pad as we walked through the narrow hall. ‘Why do you always ask me? Do I look sick to you?’
“One of these days you’ll come around.”
She put her arm around mine, leading me to the couch like I was blind instead of mute. There’s a purple wool blanket spread over the cushions and enough pillows to seat half a dozen cats.
“Like I said, I was just cozying up in front of the box, having a cup, watching Sergei and Sasha shaking off the snow in their cabin refuge. Please sit down. How about a biscuit or maybe a tart?”
“Are those flowers for your grandmother?” Suddenly I felt like a big stupid balloon with all the stupid air left out of it.
‘No, they’re for you. I got you some tulips,’ I wrote in big bold letters, so she could semi-read them across the room.
“Oh, my sweet, sweet, boy. Bring them here and I’ll put them in water immediately. You’re so thoughtful. Let me give you a kiss.”
Viv’s always been very generous with her kisses. She was still going strong into her sixth sexy decade. She was nearly finished Ovary. She had read the last few books I had given her. That’s more than I could ever say about Lavinia, her grandchild, and my ex-love. Lavinia hated my taste in literature. Viv said she liked my taste in books more than Max’s. Before Ovary, I had given her The Blackpool Fables, but she couldn’t get through it, so I just asked her to read certain selections from the book, like The Wife of Preston’s Tale and a few of the other shorts. Before that she read Vera Vareladiko and before that it was Middlesbrough (which she thought was a complete bore, but at least had determination enough to finish it). She would probably appreciate a trashy romance novel just as readily, but she seemed to like a challenge. I was thinking of unloading some Wolfia Spruce on her next. The Lace Trim on the Cockade or something. You don’t need a vast estate on the Anglish countryside to enjoy the fine sport of foxhunting.
“Madame Maison! To hell with Madame Maison and all of her ilk! Don’t get me started on that book. Let’s just sit here peaceably, enjoy our biscuits, watch Sergei and Sasha and listen to the restless howl of the wolves.”
Dark chocolate with orange tones. That’s not too bad. ‘Did you make them yourself?’
“Ha! That’s a laugh. You don’t know a La Sarre pastry from the cookie-cutter variety, do you? I’ve got chocolate-orange biscotins, butter tarts, lemon sables, madeleines…all freshly made for moi. And you see that box there, by your feet?”
‘Shoes?’ I reached down and pulled the lid off the box.
“That’s an understatement. There’s Blahbik and then there’s shoes. He’s on the short list. I like to call them pastry shoes, as in I like to have my madeleines while wearing my Blahbik’s. Presents from Maxy dear. He’s a sweetheart. He knows me best.”
Viv and Max go back to the 70s, I heard. She’s the only girlfriend of his I’ve ever met. She always looks done-up. Never seen her look anything less than elegant. Always classy. That’s her mode. She always smells great too. And she probably has the finest chin this side of the Atlantic. An arch nose like Olivia Rullman’s. Bibi Leighton’s eyebrows. Alana Twister’s vintage-blonde updo. The Kelly Favor mouth. The Lavinia Stroman cheeks. I could go on.
“Ohhhh, I love this part,” Viv says, all wound up. On the box the blonde gets on a sleigh and is ushered away and then the Tartar goes bananas. He runs into the cabin and starts breaking windows like a gorilla. I wanted another cookie but I did not want to disrupt Viv’s rapt attention from the Tartar. Here come the soppy strings…and what is that? A balalaika? Maybe the Tartar will do a dance on the snow for us. Goddamn Tartars with their bushy eyebrows and wooly mustaches.
“Ohhhh, Igorievich. Every woman needs an Sergei Igorievich in her life.” Viv snuggled up to me, resting her cheek against my shoulder, legs covered with the purple wool blanket. She lifted the saucer from the coffee table and sipped from the cup.
“Do you want another biscuit? Fetch me a couple of sables too while you’re at it.”
I got off the couch and headed to the kitchenette. It was the butter tarts I was craving. Raisin or walnut? Look at all those fancy little black boxes and pink-colored parchment paper. This La Sarre guy’s the real deal. I pitched a sable into my mouth on the sly.
“Are you sure you don’t want a drink. Maybe a cocoa?”
I shook my head and walked back to the sofa. I placed the sweets in her outstretched palms. ‘I can’t stay too long, Viv.’
“Rubbish. You just got here. They’re playing The Deep Slumber after this and I know for a fact you love Boogy. Whatever else you have to do can wait. Sit,” she says patting the cushion beside her. “Hand me those sables before my tea gets cold, won’t you? Isn’t that better now?”
Some warm cocoa wouldn’t be too bad an idea. The tart shell was still soft and the cream was so fresh. Within a handful of seconds it was chewed and swallowed. Viv looked at me in wonder.
“Shall I bring the box, my curly-haired, Adonis?” Viv says rubbing my stomach. She pushed off my thigh and got off the couch. In the kitchenette she topped off her cup and mixed me some cocoa over the stove after all.
“Be a dear and bring over the pastry boxes to the coffee table for me.” Each pastry got its own little box. Viv put the steaming cocoa down on the coffee table for me.
“So what are we going to have first, hmm? I think I want…umm…a biscotin. And for yourself?” I was already grinding the madeleines between my teeth before I could answer.
“You incorrigible, devil! I know you can’t resist sweeties. Go ahead, stuff your gullet, but don’t cry to me afterward if your tummy doesn’t agree with you.”
I nodded my head embarrassedly and a few vanilla crumbs slipped out of my mouth. If she knew, why does she play to my weak points? A walnut tart ought to drown my misgivings in a cinch. The contrasting bitterness of the walnut made the ambrosial butter that much sweeter to the tongue. I rubbed the syrupiness along the roof of my mouth to heighten the effect. You decadent. I was getting drowsy.
“Here, mix the cocoa with the biscotin in your mouth. Isn’t that yummy?”
I bit off a piece of the biscotin and greedily sip the hot cocoa, stirring it luxuriantly around my mouth, against my cheeks, the confection dissolving amid the churn and roil, glazing my teeth with strands of sharp citrus and spatters of bitter cocoa. Feeling sleepy. Viv sipped from her cup and sat back on the couch with a couple of sables on her palm. She curled her legs on the cushion beside her. A sharp blast of wind deflected against the windowpane.
“It’s windy out there, isn’t it? Let her bluster, the precocious starlet. So many mists in March, so many frosts in May. But, who cares, we’ve got our fresh pastries and our warm drinks, Sergei and Sasha on the screen, and we’re all cozy under our comfy blanket, our feet up, what more can we ask for? Try one of the sables.”
I grabbed a handful from the yielding box and sat back on the couch, peering stupefied at the blurry images shifting on the screen. Swigged the cocoa. Vanished into the sofa cushion…
The root was black. The flower white as milk. Nyx and bones will break my stones but strokes will never hurt me. Bellow back gola theemein. It’s totally nichtian here. Sweet areola. Is it really the same when seen forwards or backwards? Missty Aeaea where have I seen you before? Was it a dream? You came into my room with your plum slippers and the light was blinding. The drought afflicting my parched rhododendron was overturned in an instant by your presence. Pinkish sweetly scented valerian. Healing all. Where did you go, my dark-haired one? Now I see your mannequins everywhere I go. Your erotic letter scribed over every detaining wall. The angelic cipher behind every mysterious face. Heloise. H. Vestal. Vernal. Virago. Vivandiere. Volant. Vulva. No, I didn’t mean that. Nebulous Aeaea. Is it really the same in the front as it is in the back? Healing all. Medicine from the apothecary. Are those harpies yelping in the distance? Soft hands delicately unclasping my sword belt, one stud at a time. Sweet basil wafting across my nostrils. You have made me lustful and pot bellied with just a couple of wags from your wand. Move your hand to the most forward section. Peel it back to the rawest part. Fragrant basil. Her lips are not yet closed. “Oh my boy, my boy, who is this?” Motherly love, holy and alert, comes bursting onto the scene. Her mouth is not yet closed. Gunshots. One, two, three.
…I stumbled off the sofa, nearly knocking the coffee table over with my legs. I heard gunshots and a woman scream. Charlie Clover, is that you?
“What’s wrong with you? You nearly scared the ghost out of me! Sit down, please. What gave you such a start? It’s only a movie! Relax yourself!”
I looked about wildly for a clock like a knight seeking divinations at the crossroads. I make a tapping gesture at the wrist to Viv.
“It’s about half-past seven. Calm yourself down! You’re hopping around like a rooster that’s slept past sunrise! You keep this up and you’re going to send me to the next world before my time!”
I groped about trying to find my bearings. I gathered my pen and scratch pad from the couch. Viv looks at me worryingly. ‘How long was I asleep?’
“Long enough to miss the beginning of the whodunit. I didn’t have the heart to wake you. You looked so cute with your porcine belly rising and falling. Settle down so I can calm my nerves. I can’t relax with you dashing about the place.”
‘I have to go.’
“Well don’t keep the kettle boiling at the boiler. I don’t want you to miss your rendezvous. I bet it’s some pretty little thing, too. Go on, shoo. We can watch a picture any old time. Let me pour you a glass of cold water before you go. You could use a wake-me-up.”
The tap water did me good, awakening the parts of me that were still sleeping. I waved goodbye to Viv and raced out the door into the hallway. I wondered if I had left anything on the couch. It was a shame about the flowers, but I couldn’t take them back. My stomach was so full. I pretty well cleaned out those boxes. What did she mean by porcine? My belly’s only swollen because I had glutted myself on the pastries. Not a six-pack by any means, but porcine? I really had to get back to doing sit ups.
7:45. It just goes to show what effect plans have on reality. ‘Head over to Viv’s, tarry a little, and continue to my grandmother’s.’ I thought something very casual was going to happen today, something exceedingly plain and natural, and this anticipation set in motion a chain of events that have snaked me around the board. Visiting hours were almost over, and now they were going to throw me out, and once again I’m going to be the bad (grand) son. I’m trying to figure out how these things worked. But maybe I was working too hard at trying to control events instead of letting them simply occur. That kind of made sense. Maybe expectations always lead to disappointments. You’re a clever one. I’m trying to workshop this. Meanwhile your grandmother waits in utter destitution. That’s laying it on thick. That’s because you’re thick. Thanks for noticing. It’s no mean thing. Clean your diaper, you derelict.
1-9-4-3. Four storeys were left to climb. Not a single pistachio left. My shooting days were over. Prodigality was a problem for me even in my youth. My step-father continuously lectured me on over-spending: the difficulty of earning bread versus the ease by which it was spent. I don’t know how far I’ve come since those early days. I’m finding it harder and harder to earn my keep as of late, while my lust to spend has completely outstripped my resources. I was gluttonous in so many different respects that it was impossible to secure enough fodder. Whatever happened to my charitable ways? I’ve devoted myself to self-improvement so completely over the last few years, that I’ve disregarded the fact that other people have needs as well and are probably incapable of helping themselves. You think buying stuff constitutes self-improvement? Golly gee! You’re one world-class navel-gazer! It’s because of the times. I thought you were done wanking for the day?
The eighth-floor. I was so tired from climbing stairs. I could make these steps my bed for the night. I punched the last of the numbers. 2-7-3-5. If I don’t get out of this retirement home soon, they were going to retire me before I even get started. Through the glass I could see Sol departing. The last of his fiery rays shining off the glass at the entrance, so bright that it completely blinded me for an instant. Were I a devout pilgrim, instead of the kindly derelict plodding before you, and this were a holy mount, like Sinai or Athos, instead of geezer paradise, I would swear that I was turning a wall of fire on its pivot instead of a regular door. So hot to the touch is the knob that I hastened my steps and entered straightaway. A couple of old goats grazing by the door momentarily blocked my entry. What in the world? Some odd procession was being conducted down the hall. Old people marching about the eighth floor of the Elyse, using its grounds for a May Day parade, was the last thing I expected to find.
I tried to make sense of the details: one-two-three, count them, seven women were leading the pageant dressed mostly in light colors (reds, yellows, and whites), and there were four dancing women in the middle wearing leafy-green crowns, and at the back of the line, a single woman garbed entirely in shades of brown. Bizarre New Age music underscored the procession. I was at a loss for words. Forget it. I just needed to get myself across this…? Vernal confetti grass? Where had those old goats widened off to?
And then she caught my attention. The young one, singing, holding the colorful flowers, throwing them over the wizened leafy-green dancers. Eyes shining and pure of smile (cream white teeth/her lips the heart of magnolia). I almost passed out when I saw her pale white arms. In my mind I called her Virginia. Some of her features were similar to Heloise’s. But not identical. She sang like the vernal goddess of the woods. Queen Mab. Time-out-of-mind. She galloped through night-by-night. Maybe she led Adam from the garden dreaming of another benefice. Drumming in his ear, at which he started and waked, and being frightened, mumbled a prayer or two, then slept again.
Room 808. The same forwards as it is backwards. I liked it when things did that. What do you call numbers when they do that? I think it was a malapropism. No, that’s when you used a number in a written sentence instead of the number: like 8 instead of eight. Never odd or even. That’s kind of how it worked with malapropisms. Never odd or even. Ma is as selfless as I am. Live not on evil. Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to a new era? On a clover, if alive, erupts a vast, pure evil: a fire volcano. Won’t I panic in a pit now? Draw pupil’s lip upward. Rise to vote, sir! So many dynamos. Won’t lovers revolt now? Bombard a drab mob. I roamed under it, as a tired nude Maori. Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard. No sir—away! A papaya war is on.
Grandmother never locked her door. I shut it behind me, locking the hullabaloo of the pageant outside. She was sitting on a chair by the window gazing outside. Her head was kerchiefed in white. She must have just washed her hair; she was always afraid of catching a cold. The blinds were completely drawn open and Phoebus was pouring his final radiance through the glass. I approached squint-eyed. Rays and halos centered in my bleary view.
She turned in her chair but I couldn’t see the expression she was wearing. “I didn’t hear you come in.” I stooped and my lips met her cheek mid-way.
“It’s windy outside. You should have dressed warmer. The air will penetrate your head through your ears.”
I hated it when she started nagging. I took off my jacket and threw it over one of the wooden chairs. The dust rose from the jacket and was illuminated in the radiance. My father stared at me from the frame on the console, immaculate in his Saturday night special. Billiards with the fellas, Mother at home with me. Saturday Night’s Brawl on the television. Sitting on the couch watching Alexsandr “The Gulag” Stunovich defeat Abdullah “The Scimitar” Rakin. Mother sewing a pattern beside me. Veggie pizza on my lap; an OK Kola in my hand.
‘What did you do today?’ I scratched over the pad less legibly than usual. A grandmother can always makes sense of a grandchild’s gobbledygook.
“Oh, you know, just some housework. I washed some plates. Took a bath.”
‘Did you go outside at all?’ I needn’t ask. She shook her head. ‘Do you want to go for a walk now? I can take you.’
“No, we’ll stay here. It’s too cold today. The sun is setting. Just sit with me.” I saton the chair beside her. “Do you want some food? I have potato salad in the fridge.”
I reflexively shook my head.
“What did you eat?”
‘A sandwich and a juice.’
“I’m putting you a plate. You’re going to fall down the way you are. You need some potatoes in your system.” She went to get up but I put my hands on her shoulders, gently coaxing her to sit again.
‘Really, I’m full.’
“Sometimes I watch you at work and I don’t think you packed enough lunch. So I make something quick on the stove to bring to you but I don’t know what street you work on and I think it must be close to your old school. But when I try to leave, they stop me downstairs and say that you’re home from school now. And I say to them that’s impossible because you’re still at work and that you need your lunch before noon because it’s too far to walk home to eat and I can at least meet you half way.”
My mother used to meet me at school or halfway at the park. This was before we moved to Bayard Rye Village. This was during elementary school when she got banned from the premises for trespassing and for disturbing my classes with her distraught and hysteric visitations. Like when we were on the main floor and the teacher was nattering about something and I was trying to make my friend laugh and my mother pulled back the flowing curtain from the outside, through the open window, and shouted at me for not meeting her or something and her face was flushed and her cheeks were full of tears and everyone laughed (including the teacher) and things were never the same again.
‘I’m okay, Grandma. I ate fine. The foods you showed me.’
“Even the cauliflower?”
I noded my head.
“Because you have to eat the cauliflower and the broccoli. That’s why we have the black rings under our eyes.Your father hated those plants. And the cabbage even worse. He said they made him sick and he’d sound the bugle all night.”
‘I remember. I could hear him through the walls.’
“His hatred for those plants cursed us both. And now we have these black rings under our eyes as a reminder to be friends with all vegetables.”
That’s not why we have the rings under our eyes. The blackness is the external mark of our burdened souls. Not for my dad. He was an atheist. He hated beans and vegetables. On my grandmother’s old bookshelf I spy some of my timeworn books that we brought back from Flamboro. I only get to see them when I visit my grandmother. I store them here. Their absence and inaccessibility makes me appreciate them even more.
I got up and walked over to the bookshelf to have a peek. I loved the illustrations on their hardcovers. The bright, orange colored one was my favorite: rosy fingered dawn, the beaked ships lined-up abreast on the beachfront, fleet-footed Achilles, bedecked in the golden armor forged by Hephaestus, approaching the outmatched and heavy-hearted Hector, who’s bracing himself for the oncoming onslaught like the sand on the shore steadies itself against the rising tide and the looming crash of the infinite sea. Placed against the orange backdrop, lion-hearted Achilles looked like the rising sun in his magnificent radiance, while the breaker-of-horses, Hector, was cast in the deathly shade of Peleus’ son. It’s ironic that Achilles looked like the sun, yet cast a deathly shadow over his famed opponent. His gilded crest, which is brighter than gleaming fire and towers over Hector, represents the rays of the sun, stately and flamboyant on Achilles’ burnished helmet that houses the fighter’s temples and deadly implacable stare. His sword is designed so fearfully that even the Gods would cower before the promise of its awesome wrath. My heart raced beneath my chest, ever eager to join the assembly of Achaeans storming the gates of Troy. I’m a terrible actor but the Iliad brings out the Manzanilla in me. I rage and bluster like a tropical cyclone until I get red in the face:
‘Beg no more, you fawning dog—begging me by my parents! Would to god my rage, my fury would drive me now to hack your flesh away and eat you raw—such agonies you have caused me!’
There are glorious illustrations throughout: the noble embassy pleading to Achilles, Ajax the Great towering over steely-eyed Hector, the tragic death of the lordly Patroclus, god-like Achilles ferociously charging the Scamander River, the ground-chewing chariot of lordly Achilles dragging the lifeless body of Hector back to the Hellenic encampment. The illustrations take up as much space as the abridged text but who cares.
As a boy, the pictures of the Ancient Hellenic warriors in heated, agonized combat made the greatest impression on me. I spent countless hours in my youth imitating the heroes from the Iliad. My friends and I held our own Olympics in Flamboro: Who could match the strength of Ajax? The wiles of Odysseus? The endurance of Diomedes? The leadership of Agamemnon? The valor of Achilles?
Naturally, we all wanted to be Achilles, but there could be only one lion-hearted Achilles in our group, and that honor was claimed by none other than the pale-hero kneeling before you. Of course, I wasn’t pale then, far to the contrary. The sun and I were allies in my youth and my body was sun-kissed all over. I was no stranger to the beach. But that was a different sun. That sun was in Flamboro.
“Get off the floor before you catch your death.”
Just imagine if it were winter instead of spring. To her defense it has been a little chilly these last few weeks. I think it’s called ‘Season Creep’ by the experts. But this is ‘Season Creep’ in reverse; it’s ‘Season Purge.’ Instead of the climate getting warmer earlier, we’re getting cold weather much later into the season than we’re supposed to. Season Creep was so modern in its outlook—what with its phrenological records, birds laying their eggs earlier and buds appearing on trees in late winter, global warming and rising spring lake peaks, like Dearth Nation a la carte, symbolic representation and disillusionment and frustration. Season Purge is much trendier. It’s all paranoia and temporal distortion here-on, with birds not migrating at all and trees being in a state of constant syntho-bloom. Mulligan stew, here we come! Who wants thirds?
The Adventures of Heracles and Theseus. Another landmark book from my youth; two more legends that we imitated as boys. Was there anything more iconic than the twelve labors of Heracles? They were completely mystifying to me. As boys we tried our best to re-enact them and still we arrived no closer to their meaning; yet we still felt intimate with them, as if we were living within the fold of their truth, within the yoke of their death-cheating exploits. We couldn’t understand them as metaphors but as sacraments of an inner mystical tradition, heroic feats that laid the path of a spiritual system. I can’t believe I put that feeling into words. It was lying inside for years, shy and inarticulate. I bet it would look stupid on paper; so many of my thoughts look stupid on paper; I hate revealing myself to others. No one will ever be able to find me. I’ve made sure of that.
I’m as elusive as Theodore Theo. A first-class escape artist. I can distance myself all the way to the moon by breakfast and be under your floorboards by noon without you noticing a single thing: a sleight-of-hand, a-trick-of-the-mind, an-illusion-of-the-senses. Trust me. I’m a keen study at the art of escape. I should take my show on the road: ‘And now, ladies and gentleman, our derelict hero will perform the escape of a lifetime! He will leap completely out of his own body, outwitting the paleness of his flesh in a single bound! The shackles of the skeleton will be broken! The noose of the flesh shall be unlatched! The prison doors of the senses will be completely unhinged from their moorings! Witness the death-defying spectacle before you and be awed to the very core of your soul!’
My favorite labor of Heracles has to be the slaying of the Nemean Lion or the capture of Cerberus from the mouth of Hell. Those are the two I have rehearsed the most. Stealing the apples of the Hesperides would place third. Heck, I even chewed the apples as I fled from groaning Atlas in grand style. Most of the boys and girls loved the panache I lent to my performances. The kids that didn’t enjoy themselves were only chagrined because of their eagerness to dethrone me as leader of the Little Punishers.
What’s so significant about the number twelve anyways? Everywhere I turn it’s twelve this and twelve that. Is it a coincidence? It’s actually 8:12 on the clock right now! If you multiply the twelve signs of the zodiac by the twelve months on the calendar by the twelve fruits on the Tree of Life by the ‘number of the faithful’ (twelve squared multiplied by one thousand) by the twelve knights at King Mather’s Round Table by the number that divides space and time (being the product of the four points of the compass multiplied by the three levels of the universe), what do you arrive at?
The Life of Alexander the Great. Brazen Alexander, battering the Persian front, atop Bucephalus, dagger drawn and poised to strike, bronze-armor a-gleam; red cape positioned across the colt’s broad back, the front knot wired across the wide muscular chest and pulled tight as the princely horse rises on its haunches, forelegs tucked, raising Alexander up and away from the enemy’s reach. Noble, self-sacrificing horse! Would that every hero have a Bucephalus in his life to lead him through thick and thin, a trusty partner that will loyally follow your grueling path, whether it be through a perilous dark wood that is brimming with the immoderate appetite of many a beast, or down the craggy steps of Hell itself, with ‘La Porte de l’Enfer’ within fearful view, the world would be a much safer place.
How many times have heroes been beset by a bevy of problems without a partner to aid in the solving: a steadfast arm to support with spear and shield the dissolution of encroaching darkness, a faithful shoulder in hard times, or a warm devoted body in the cold rainy jungles of despair, resolute hands pushing against the sickness unto death, back into the yawning mire of gloom, keeping the dragon of the finite and the necessary at bay just a little longer, to perform what’s left of the magnanimous deeds that broaden the trenches of possibility. What an agonizing journey to make alone! I’m lucky to have had a Bucephalus or two in my life. ‘He spoke soothingly to the horse and turned it towards the sun so that it could no longer see its own shadow, which had been the cause of its distress.’
It was said they were born at the same time. Some even attest that they died synchronously. I don’t know about all that. I do know that without my friends prodding me on to higher peaks and steeper cliffs, I would not have achieved half of my meager exploits. And without them constantly wearing me out, I’d probably live twice as long to chew on the fat of my accomplishments too! They say Alexander slept with a copy of the Iliad and a dagger below his pillow every night. Must be nice, eh, Alex? A volume of Homer’s poetry annotated by the boorish Aristotle. Must be nice, eh? I certainly never had a teacher like him.
Who has? Goddamn it, are you still at it? I all but fell into a coma observing the monotony of your day. Lucky you have me to spice things up. Where were we? I was hoping you choked on your own tongue. Is that your newest strategy? To kill me with your dullness? Oh, my dear friend, I can dress up the dreariest of events.
“Is that man bothering you, son?”
Is she talking to me? You know what, I don’t think you’ve met my grandmother before. I don’t remember you coming around whenever I visited her. And before that…when did you first show up? How old was I? How have you avoided her gaze? What the hell are you talking about? Don’t be so shy. Introduce yourself to my grandmother.
‘Grandma, this is Sahkhla.’
“What’s he doing on your back, honey?”
Is she serious? You knew she’d see you! That’s why you avoided her all this time. So the cat’s out of the bag. Big deal. What’s your mommy gonna do anyways, take me by the ear?
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do, you awful man!”
My grandmother walked up to me, taking Sahkhla by the ear (I’m assuming because I cannot see him) and lead him to the door, opening and then slamming it behind.
“What a horrible man! Why didn’t you tell me about him before?”
“Well, he’s gone for now. Awful. Just awful. Scaly, speckled, a face worthy of a murderer. Eyes burning. Pin-headed and thick-necked to boot. Revolting he was. You should have told me earlier. How long were you suffering from that beast? Didn’t I tell you to clean yourself? All those years when you bathed, didn’t I hang the bag from the doorknob with the soap and the towel and the comb? I did that to protect you from people like him. If you can even call their kind ‘people.’ Well, he’s gone for now, but he’ll be back. Even now, as we’re speaking, he’s climbing to the rooftop, to watch your path as you leave. But don’t worry, I’ll be watching too.”
The idea of his ‘reptile’ form leering from the roof gave me the heebie-jeebies. As unreal as her description was, I have to take Grandma’s word for it because she can see him and I can’t. In the past, I thought I’d seen something in the mirror, but that would happen infrequently, once in a blue moon. There was this one time when I was taking a leak in the dark, or once in a store-window while I was walking across a street in broad daylight, but it would always be a fleeting glimpse and the visual was always preposterous (especially in a dark washroom when you’re afraid as heck). It sure explains my nagging insomnia ever since I started living alone. I’m not sure how I ever slept thinking someone else was in the room. Now that I know for sure, I’ll probably never sleep again.
“Who are you talking to, sweetheart?”
 Memory Fallacy, sometimes referred to as confabulation, is a phenomenon that occurs when individuals remember something that never occurred. In the case of schizophrenics, whose ability to reason through thought is impaired, something imagined seems familiar and can easily be mistaken for an actual event. Continuously imagining an event also makes it harder for a person with schizophrenia to distinguish its source: is it familiar because it has been imagined or because it actually happened. This is how false memories are begotten in the mind.
 Randolph Ornette Coleman was one of Aeneas’ dearest friends. Having met in junior high school, where Aeneas mistook Randolph for his best friend from elementary, Richard Reed, and Randolph went along with the lark, prolonging the mistake in identities in good fun for a blithe six months. When the falsehood was discovered, by Randolph’s own admission, Aeneas was forgiving, and the hatchet was quickly buried between the two. They continued to be the best of friends until the end of high school at Coxburn Collegiate. Randolph comes from a long line of runners. His grandfather, Reginald, was a champion Stadion runner at the Nemean Games. While his father, Joseph, was an unexceptional athlete in every sense, genius having skipped a generation, his own high qualities being that of an exceptionally gritty and determined laborer, horse tamer extraordinaire whilst on the Coleman orchard. Having sold the farm after the death of Reginald Coleman, and arriving in Queen City, unable to find a suitable urbane occupation, Joseph took to worm farming to earn a living and raise his children. Randolph grew up through the hardships of his depressed father’s gambling and drinking the greater part of the inheritance from the Coleman farm. Due to the requisite austerity measures undertaken by the Coleman’s to survive big city life, Joseph took to using his family as “pickers” to lighten the labor burden of running a business. Randolph, along with his mother and grandmother, had great difficulties acclimatizing to the ghastly early hour sojourns into the godforsaken green belt far north of the Narrows; the dark and rainy and muddy locales, which were part-and-parcel to the worm industry, proved to be a little too rough for the Colemans, but struggle they did, supporting their father throughout their formative years and persevering themselves. As a runner, Randolph never rose to the heights of his grandfather, but continued the family racing tradition, winning several key local and greater city competitions from the word go. Randolph is 5’10, 165 lbs.
 A dream of murder may indicate that an individual may have issues of repressed aggression. It may also symbolize aspects of an individual’s character that are deemed unfavourable and desirous of elimination. Alternately, it may be symptomatic of feelings of overwhelment, shock, and alienation, perhaps owed to having been betrayed by a person in waking life.
 Practicing onanism in public may be tried in a courtroom as a crime of sexual assault. Onanism in public, that is not directed at anyone in particular, will be declared legal in a future city in Europa, which will go without mention in order to avoid predetermination.
 Paraphrasing from the stoic letters of Ernst Holster from the collection The Ark of Mercy that Aeneas purchased from a used bookstore and devoutly studied, acutely feeling that someone had finally given expression to the countless existential riddles assailing mankind. Aeneas put Holster’s wise and masculine rebuttals to “mankinds existential malaise” to practice. The boat scenario Aeneas paraphrases is an allegory found in The Ark of Mercy, in a letter titled All The Riches of This World, that functions as a distillation of one of the “modern entanglements” Holster foregrounds in his essay.
 Confrontations with his step-father over money and acquisitions shaped Aeneas equally into a wastrel and skinflint. The application of either attribute is utterly random; Aeneas is never consistent with his imprudence or miserliness, nor with the things he prizes above others. For instance, his love of books is boundless and yet he will never purchase a book that is not sold second-hand. Yet, he will spend up to $200 for a bottle of champagne cognac. He will not spend money on water during his lengthy peregrinations around the city, dangering severe dehydration in arid conditions, but he sees no problem handing over exorbitant amounts on coats and jackets, which he collects obsessively, and hardly ever wears, opting instead to wear the same coat or jacket persistently for a “season” before chucking it to the wayside, never to don it again. There may be rhyme to these penchants but hardly any reason.
 In 2001, hearing voices in one’s head is a symptom of schizophrenia and may even be a prelude to dissociative identity disorder. In 2014, psychologists will encourage conversations with the voices in one’s head as a form of therapy. In 2031, dissociative identity disorder will no longer be classified as a disease and hearing voices will no longer be considered a hallucination. Various sociological phenomena, which cannot be discussed here, will unshroud the shady origins and cross-purposes of hearing voices.
 Refers to a marketing campaign that originated in the 1960s that designated any loyal iAM customers as being “true blue,” thereupon forming a sort of attingent, cliqued, “hip-to-be square” relationship with iAM employees. The campaign specifically self-referenced the famed “true blue” dress code of all iAM employees, which usually consisted of a white shirt and all-blue suit, and symbolized the caste advantage of being able to do business with and for the afluent iAM corporation.
 From Aliquot the Medieval’s religious epic, The Celestial Farce, Purgatorio, canto 9, verse 121: “Whenever one of these keys fails so that it does not turn rightly in the lock, this passage does not open; the one is more precious, but the other requires much wisdom and skill before it will unlock, for it is this that looses the lock.”
 From The Celestial Farce, Purgatorio, canto 12, verse 91: “Come. The steps are at hand here and henceforth the climb is easy. To this bidding they are very few that come. O race of men, born to fly upward, why do you fall back so for a little wind.”
 Niobe Ashbridge had mistakenly added a bleaching powder to a batch of colored laundry in the washing machine, fading the blacks on Aeneas’ favorite and recently purchased sweatshirt, from the clothing line of legendary basketball star, Butch Graves. Aeneas had blown half of the clothing budget allotted to him by his father for the upcoming school year on one sweatshirt and was heavily relying on it to impress his schoolmates. Without the Butch Graves decoration over his chest, he felt like a lamb shorn of his wool.
 “When we had reached the blessed angel he said with a glad voice: “Enter here,” at a stairway far less steep than the others. We were mounting, having already passed on from there, when “Blessed are the merciful” was sung behind us and “Rejoice, thou that overcomest.”
 Born to Giovanni Ludovico and Gudrun Golga in 1919 in Kaiserslautern, Germania. A polymathematical prodigy from a young age, he fled Germania two decades later to escape the attrition of the Second World War. Landing in Amerika companionless, he quickly found work in Metropolis as a porter in a Roman restaurant and shared residence with other expatriated Europeans in a dilapidated boarding house. Maximilian quickly rose up the ranks at Don Vittorio’s, and due to his mathematical prowess became the resident bookkeeper before long. His ambitious nature never allowed him to settle, having learned to read and write in English, he began to dream of travel and reinvention. Arriving in Queen City in 1943 via rail, he swiftly found employment as an accountant for Empire Foods, a grocery chain operating over twenty stores in the Narrows alone. He applied to New Albion College in 1944 and began his undergraduate study in architectural science. He paid his way through college working full time for Empire Foods, leaving little time for anything extracurricular, and completed his master’s degree in 1949. Being the leading student of his class, applying an almost monomaniacal devotion to his studies, he was approached by the Otranto Group and began working for them in the fall of 1949. By 1955, Maximillian had become a partner with the Otranto Group and was considered one of the most sought after architects in the city. He spurred the Loda movement in Queen City, a movement that flourished in Amerika during the mid-50s, and proved influential until mid-80s. As an architectural philosophy, it was associated with socialist utopian ideology. In praxis, the buildings were colossal in character, fortress-like, usually exposing a raw concerete exterior. They were raw and unpretentious and rugged looking, becoming popular for educational facilities, government projects, high-rise housing, and shopping centres. The Loda movement communicated strength, functionality, and seriousness, in contrast to the frivolity and highly ornamented Rococo style of some 1930’s and 1940’s architecture in Queen City. By the 60’s, Maximilian had become a millionaire and withdrew from the Otranto Group, establishing his own firm, MGL Capita, in 1961. MGL Capita got out in front of the “streets in the sky” initiative and landed several lucrative city contracts, including the south Riverdale social housing project, which involved designing buildings with broad aerial walkways in long concrete blocks, true to the Loda ideal. In 1964, Maximilian married fashion model Harriet Braun and together they moved to the secluded fifty-acre Gloucester Island, where Maximilian had purchased an estate from airline tycoon, Oskar Reinhart, for over nine million dollars. In 1965, Maximilian net worth was said to have been over forty million dollars. The Ludovico’s shared the island with the Reinhart’s in relative ceclusion. In 1966, Harriet gave birth to Maximilian’s first child, Albrecht. Fortune continued to favor Maximilian, when in 1967, he began designing his magnum opus, a set of twin 179-metre residential buildings to be erected in the Bayard Rye Village, as a response to the population boom in Queen City. The towers were to have cost over two hundred million dollars to build. Maximilian invested over thirty million of his own money into the project. It was bold and daring move for one of the city’s most famed entrepreneuers. In 1969, Harriet gave birth to their second child, Brunhilda. By 1972, the Golga Towers had been completed and were the tallest residential buildings in Queen City with over 1.4 million square feet of residential space between them. Two years later the Towers had reached full occupancy, the Ludovicos residing in the penthouse of the North tower, having sold the estate on Gloucester Island, and Harriet’s parents in the south tower. The Golga Towers were considered a chic place to habitate in the 1970s. With a shopping plaza complex built into the main floor of the buildings, the residences were an integrated community unto themselves. Maxillian’s star began its descent in the 1980s as MGL Capita began to lose contracts to other competing firms. Maximilian’s unwavering belief in the Loda style stonewalled the approprinquation of interested clients. His mounting obsession with the betterment of the Towers, constantly revising parts of the buildings to increase their value and efficacy—structural touch-ups, be it expansions, extensions, and enlargements, replacements of beams, rafters, joists, steel grids, where possible, interior renovations, plumbing and electrical upgrades, repainting, carpet replacements, plastering, baseboards, light fixtures, paneling, ceiling trim, parquet, fixture refinishings, exterior renovations, replacements of siding, roof, masonry sections, awnings, fencing, frequent reinstallations of closed circuit television systems, miscellaneous security upgrades, heating and cooling enhancements, the amplification of amenities to include a clinic, a library, and a recreational center—led to his estrangement from his wife and children and ushered in the demise of the Ludovicos. Harriet finally filed for divorce in 1986 and claimed sole custody over Albrecht and Brunhilda. The annulment of their marriage cost Maximillian over forty million dollars. He managed to retain ruling ownership over the north Golga Tower but lost all propriety rights over the second. In their divorce hearings, Harriet indicated that she thought Maximilian was depressed and had never recovered from the loss of his parents upon emigrating from Germania. He had never spoken to them again and had never gained any information concerning their whereabouts. It was as if they had vanished into the fog of the Second World War, a misfortune many other families had experienced too. Greater than three-percent of the World’s population had undergone a similar tribulation; over seventy million bodies were returned to the Earth during the War. The tenancy rate of the Golga Tower declined dramatically after the divorce, as Maximilian’s infatuation with the Tower burned brighter and his compulsiveness grew greater. The building was in a state of constant construction and the ubiquitous surveillance cameras and the battalion of security guards patrolling the floors smacked of a totalitarian regime. The rents were raised annually to an egregious and unaffordable degree. If tenants were to Maximilian’s dislike, he would harass them until they willingly evacuated the premises. He grew more and more cantankerous and standoffish with time. He hardly ever left his penthouse in the years following the divorce. He lost all interest in architecture outside of the Tower, all interest in the world save for the society of Golga. By 1990, the Golga Tower was half empty. The south tower had been purchased by Morguard Industries in 1988 and renovated with the interests of the bourgeois in mind. Gone were Maximilian’s visionary flourishes. The main floor shopping center was closed in 1990 and became the head office of Morguard Industries. In 1992, Maximilian filed for bankruptcy and liquidated his ownership of the building. He recovered only a portion of what he had originally invested. Morguard Industries purchased the building for only sixty million dollars in 1993. Upon Maximilian’s deposition, the building was only one-quarter occupied and was left in poor standing, with many of Maximilian’s proposed projects and innovations being left incomplete. He was denied tenancy upon application for another suite by the owner, David Morguard. Maximilian lived in several Queen City apartments before finally moving to the Elyse retirement home in 1997, just a few months before his sixty-eighth birthday.
 Site of the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history. An explosion in 1982 released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere that spread over much of western Scythia and Europa. Forty-four people perished from the accident and negative long-term health effects on the populace, like cancers and deformities, are still being felt, two decades later.
 O Nonnos is a popular, award-winning, 1968 satiric crime film directed by Kosmas Papakosmas about the rise of the Hellenic mafia in Amerika using the nightclub circuit as a front to run their illegal businesses.
 Montgomery Moody was an Amerikan film and stage actor, notable for his portrayal sensitive and introspective young men. He often acted the part of the outsider and victim-hero in such films as The Stranger (1948) and Me and My Shadow (1956). He commited suicide in 1960 at the age of 41.
 A famous statement made by neurologist Ziggy Froth in his 1896 lecture on dream interpretation, highlighting the importance of symbolism in dreams as one of the keys to unlocking the mystery of neuroses and hysteria in individuals. Froth said, tongue-in-cheek, that “sometimes objects are merely objects, with no latent meaning: from time to time, we may permit a stogie to be a stogie.” It served as a comedic aside in his lecture on dream analysis, because those that knew Froth, knew that he had an oral fixation that he slavishly satisfied with cigars.
 A form of organized belief in Yeshua ben Yosef. Originated as a movement and reformation of perceived errors in the Latidunarian faith. It represents of one of major divisions of Yosefism along with Latidunarianism and Orthodoxy.
 Maximilian Golga Ludovico was a known hunting enthusiast, having travelled all over the world in participation of a miscellany of hunts, which included hunting fox in Angland and elephants in the Afrikan bush.
 An ancient Hellenic island thought to be in the Ionian Sea. First mentioned by Homer in the Epic Cycle, stating that the island was named after its founder, Flamboura, who helped the Achaeans storm the beaches of Troy, listed in the “Catalogue of Ships” as a commander, “King of Flamboro, son of Dionysos, and loyal friend of Odysseus.” The eventual fate of the isle and its inhabitants is the subject of myth, having all but escaped the annals of the Ancient Hellenes. Hesiod makes mention of Flamboro in a fragment, making much of islands flora and fauna: “The plentiful winter rainfall that endows the island with dense vegetation, lovely are its currants and figs.” In The Sacred Narrative, Arignota says that Flamboro was a favorite resting place for Pythagoras, who “basked in the company of the islands many virgin springs and was a student to its viticulture that was unsurpassed in all of Hellas.” Ion of Chios wrote in The Triagmos that the “descendants of Flamboura are a proud, orderly, and patriotic people, that will abide by no rule except their own.” Diogenes of Athens spoke of a laurel grove in Flamboro “where girls were singing hymns in honor of Dionysus and invoking the deity by his various names.”There are several such descriptive fragments buried within the memoirs of antiquity, but we are left without a plenary account of the people and place. All vestigial references to Flamboro were seemingly vanquished by the rising sun of Rome during the Hellenistic Era. The place name reappears precipitously in history. In Konstantinopolis around the fourth century CE, a monastery by the name of Flamboro is erected upon the slopes of the fourth hill. At the Battle of Avarinos in 1823, there was an allied battleship named Flamboro that fought in defense of the Hellenes against the Uthman Empire. In the greater Queen City in 1978, the townships of Capetown, Blue Valley, and Keystone are amalgamated into the town of Flamboro with a population of 17,917. The land is devoted chiefly to farming and agriculture, with its main cultural attraction being a harness horseracing track called the Hippodrome of Flamboro. In 1985, Flamboro was disbanded and reintegrated into Queen City under the name Ancaster. And so our abridged register draws to a close.
 Mistress Ovary (1852) written by Frank author, Gus Roberdes, is a seminal work of realism and one of the most influential novels ever written, dealing primarily with the social banalities and emptiness at the heart of provincial life.
 The Blackpool Fables (1474) written Anglish author, Joffrey Schumaker, is a text of unparalleled variety and richness on the subject of Anglish society during the Anglo-Frank war, told in a broad series of tales with contrasting themes and styles, from vivid characters from all walks of life during a countryside pilgrimage to the Irish Sea for the purposes of “taking the cure.” From popularizing the literary use of the Anglish vernacular to his panoptic representation of “sondry folk,” the literary influence of Schumaker’s book is inestimable.
 Most of the research in the field of self-control assumes that self-control is better for the individual than impulsiveness. Self-control demands that an individual work to overcome thoughts, emotions, and automatic impulses. Impulsiveness runs contrary to the starry influence of Sol.
 “Come, here is the passage,” spoken in such sweet and gracious tones as are not heard within these mortal bounds. With open wings which seemed a swan’s he that spoke to us directed us upward between the two walls of flinty stone, then moved his feathers and fanned us declaring “Blessed are they that mourn,” for they shall have their souls possessed of consolation.”
 A malapropism is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, often resulting in a nonsensical or humorous utterance. Aeneas is thinking of a palindrome, which is a word, phrase, or number, that reads the same forward or backward. Curiously, in some instances he understands and uses the trope correctly, “The B.Y.M. affectionately scribbles palindromes over my forehead with his eggroll,” while in others he seems completely ignorant as to the function of the term, which may suggest that his forgetfulness is a studied affectation or that perhaps his brain is truly broken, malfunctioning from time to time.
 Constrained writing is a literary technique in which the writer is bound by some condition that forbids certain turns or imposes a specific form over his or her, commonly poetic, material. Palindromes are one such technique whereby a writer may flourish to achieve his or her desired aesthetic ends. Aeneas’ slant in this instance, his way of looking at things, is gimmicky and pure balderdash, his plastic mind, a top, which he spins for his own amusement.
 Laurentius Manzanilla, famed Anglish Shaggbarkean stage actor of the 1920’s and 1930’s and later a popular film actor, starring mainly in Shaggbarkean screen adaptations or Royal Palms prestige pictures. The following description of mulligan stew appeared in a 1900 Queens City newspaper: “A traveller present explained the operation of making a “mulligan.” Three and three hobos join in on this. One builds a fire and another rustles an empty can or a tin or something. Another fetches some meat. Another potatoes. One fellow leaves to obtain bread, another has to gather onions, salt, and pepper. If a chicken can be swiped, so much the easier. The whole passel is placed into the can and boiled until it is cooked. If one of the men is successful in procuring “Java,” an oyster tin is used for a coffee tank, and this is also put onto the fire to boil. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that California hobos always put a “snipe” in their coffee, to give Java that delicate amber color. “Snipe” is hobo for the butt end of a cigar that smokers throw down in the streets. All hobos have large quantities of snipes in their pockets for both chewing and smoking purposes. A “beggar stew” is a “mulligan” without any meat.” Presumably you wouldn’t bump into any butts in the sauce.
 A masterful illusionist and escapologist who plied his art during the early parts of the 20th Century. There were many who believed Theodore Theo (1870-1922) had sold his soul to the devil to achieve fame. Many of his tricks, including levitational and teleportational death-defying maneuvers that boggled the mind, were considered affronts to the physical laws of the nature. Theo went on to write books of philosophy and even rewrote Yeshua Ben Yosef’s the Golden System, removing material he felt was extraneous to the cause of Yosefism. Believing to have received a revelation from a courageous angel, which risked its soul arriving on Gaea to deliver him from bondage, Theo’s writing was often imbued with a paranoid vision of the world, suspecting that the governments and religions of the world were manipulated by astral demonic entities that were bent on imprisoning mankind. He vanished in 1923 and was never heard from again. He was pronounced dead in in 1925 when a body was recovered in Brasil that resembled Theo’s and was found to be carrying several of Theo’s identification papers, including his passport. It was thought that Theo was exploring the Amazonian rainforest during his last few years, perhaps driven by some secret ambition for one last trick. Several letters found on his body confirmed as much. He was buried in Parisii in the Autumn of 1925 alongside famous musicians, actors, painters, and authors.
 The Little Punishers of Flamboro were a young “posse of justice” in, of course, Flamboro and in 1985 they were either the terror or boon of the streets, depending on your age and perspective. The Little Punishers of Flamboro were comprised of the Alphas, Aeneas the Lion (aged 7) and Ariadne the Fox (Aged 8), the Betas, Richard the Roarer (Aged 8) and Nico the Red (Aged 7), the Protectors, Stelios the Brave (Aged 8) and Katerina the Clever (Aged 8), the Elders, Giovani the Just (Aged 9) and Samantha the Beautiful (Aged 9), and the Assassin, Pan the Fleet of Foot (Aged 8). When a Little Punisher turned ten years of age, they were forcibly retired from the group, though the collective had not been around long enough to find out, having disbanded in the winter of 1985 when Aeneas relocated to Frankdale.
 Mutual Psychosis is psychotic syndrome where symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another. Inflicted Psychosis is where a dominant person initially forms a delusional belief during a psychotic episode and imposes it on another person with the assumption that the secondary person was not persuaded to begin with. If the parties are admitted to hospital separately, then the delusions in the person with the induced beliefs usually resolve without the need for medication. Simultaneous Psychosis describes a situation where two people considered to suffer independently from psychosis influence the content of each other’s delusions so they become identical or at least morbidly similar. Reports have stated that a similar phenomenon to Mutual Pyschosis had been induced by the military incapacitating agent WORM in the late 60s and most recently again by anthropologists in the South American rainforest consuming the hallucinogen Athabasca.
Solondz’s office. History regurgitated itself. The surrounding blinds have their eyes closed because they could not bear to watch the garden-variety corporate persecution on display. If they had souls, the blinds would brim with tears of sorrow at my plight.
“With what’s happening around the office right now, especially with us having the misfortune of recently losing the Debreziner account, I would expect a little more from you than calling in sick on a Friday.”
I had a headache. Why does he expect more? I haven’t done anything for him to expect more. I wonder, is he going lay the axe to my roots?
“Our livelihoods are on the line everyday and you call in sick over a headache—you have got to be kidding me! Looking at your attendance record over the last four months, I’m left speechless by your recurrent absenteeism. You’re averaging three sick days a month so far this year. Last year was even worse. We sat down in January and you promised change. You’ve done nothing but break your word. You’re late on average 3.6 times a week, so it’s accurate to say you’re late almost all of the time. Your average lateness is 7.8 minutes, so it’s not just a couple of minutes here and there.”
‘I’m not paid for those late minutes. I’m not stealing from the company.’
“That’s not the point and you know it. I hope you’re not going to be uncooperative.” I shook my head. He approved and continued.
“This meeting isn’t a review of your performance; it’s just a conversation about your attendance record and how it reflects your attitude. We’ll discuss your output at some other point in time.” He could stick his nagging finger up his nose or go and accuse his pet hamster of sin and treason for all I cared.
“I have to write you up for this, you know. You were warned in January and now you’re being officially reprimanded in writing. Do you understand our expectation? We’re all under pressure here to produce effectively. You’re not the only one feeling it, but we can’t very well shirk our duties when…”
I told my brain to let my hand know when it needed to add a couple of words for conversation’s sake. As for myself, I had more important tasks to attend to. It was time I got back on the horse. ‘Through the arts man recreates himself in the image of himself. His ideal self.’ That’s what I had always said. I had been jotting down some ideas for a story recently, but it was very abstract, in fact, it was so conceptual in nature that I had a hard time attaching words to my thoughts. Pictures were the way to go. I had been sketching some. They were very odd to say the least; abstract to the point of being non-representational.
“I trust we’ve come to an agreement, then?”
I nodded my head. But I did not shrug my shoulders. Maybe I should have shrugged my head.
“Well, go out there and prove it. I want to see a demonstration of change in your attitude immediately.”
‘Those reports you wanted will be on your desk by the end of the week, like you said.’ I needed two sheets from the pad to relate my submission to the will of Solondz. What reports did he want? I will ask Snitman or just copy something of his.
“Just one more thing before you go.” Solondz’s breath smelled like a surgical wastebasket full of polyps and adenoids and stuff. No, on second thought, it smelled like a hatred for all living things. But that was only because he was dead inside and reverse zombies usually rot from the inside out.
“Don’t be late tomorrow.”
In the men’s washroom. It seemed I had to do get some serious work done today. They were trying to make a Johnny-on-the-spot out of me. They will have to lobotomize me first. I’ll get off the hook somehow. There’s still a bunch of tricks I haven’t played yet. A slap on the wrist? Please! How about a Theodore Theo shackle-escape to trump their ploy through and through!
I nodded to Paul, who was standing at the urinal beside me.
“Just coloring the latrine a brighter shade of orange.”
Paul Buer’s soul was dead and he knew it. What was left was a sarcastic shell of a man. What the Jews called a Dybbuk. His possessor was the Crocell Corporation. He represented one of the sixty-nine bodies in their possession. Crocell made him witty, made him find pleasure in teaching immoral expressions, made him eat foods and drink liquids that aggravated his ulcer like OK Kola, made him tempt other people to complain about their jobs, made him out to be a good familiar amongst his colleagues until they were caught in his trap, a snare that caused gangrene wounds in people’s flesh by corrupting their consideration of others (see: slander or the annihilation of other people by making false and malicious claims), made him take an inordinate interest in hot-rod trinkets like ‘suicide doors’ or ‘radius rods’ while ignoring more pertinent issues like visiting his heart-broken children that lived with his ex-wife or trimming the flaxen hairs sticking out of his ears, made him talk about stupid things all of the time like TV trivia or can you name this segment of a popular tune from the 1980s. Goddamn you, Paul, with your quicksand ways. In Latin, his last-name translated as something that stops or delays.
“Is this itching an eternal scrape?”
I nodded to placate his need for recognition.
“Did you notice somebody vandalized the next stall? They carved some crap on the partition. That’s soo punk! The Bull will catch up to them sooner or later. It’s kinda funny though when you think about it: ‘Nobody fights directly anymore. The state has taken care of that.’ That’s some twisted shit, right there. Stupid, too. Solondz has to watch-out for guys like that. Vandal gets caught, vandal gets fired—bam! He goes off the hook, grabs a 12-gauge out of his closet, and comes back raising Cain in this place, a barrel at a time.”
Vexed, I whipped my scratch pad out and scribbled a message to my tormentor. ‘Yeah, but look on the bright side. You get the early retirement you always wanted.’
 The introductory quote to an essay written by Aeneas Ashbridge and submitted in 1993, in Mr. Needlin’s high school Philosophy class. Mr. Needlin was taken aback that Aeneas had the nerve to quote himself in what was intended to be an objective, historical essay analyzing the role of the liberal arts in society, and so he failed him without hesitation. Nobody contested the “D,” least of all Aeneas himself, who was too shy to plead a formal complaint, so the failing grade remained.
 The Crocell Corporation is a defense manufacturer, with an area of focus that includes drones and cyber security in support of its homeland security solutions. They also develop CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) detection systems in places around Amerika to identify potential threats.
 Paraphrasing the Knickknacks 1984 hit, “Why Does it Hurt?
As I was laying in bed staring at the ceiling, I wondered if I could make some modifications to the way I breathed, so I started messing with the rate and depth of my breath: I was making my lungs full, holding the air in place, exhaling slowly, pausing, releasing the remainder and then returning to a different rhythm. I somehow managed to switch off the autopilot for the breathing apparatus thingee; I now had to stop and focus on each breath I took or my body wouldn’t breathe at all. I was in so much trouble. How was I supposed to accomplish anything else now?
There was a fleet of sparrows on my balcony. How cute and innocent they were. They looked hilarious with their bodies all fatted up, hopping about on teeny legs. I wondered if they would have liked some bread or kernels. I think had some in the cupboard. I had to breathe again. Imagine just sitting around all day and making sure to breathe? What kind of life would that be? More like punishment or a prison sentence: ‘You are sentenced to sit on that uncomfortable chair and just breathe for the next six-years of your life for violating the…’
‘Hello, Solondz, yeah, can’t make it to the office today, seems I turned off my breathing autopilot.’ Oh, he’d love that. How do you explain these human problems to zombies like Solondz? For instance, if my stomach hurts because I ate twenty different things the night before, he doesn’t see why it’s impossible for me to make it into work. Zombies just don’t understand. They expect you to adapt to their undead way. That’s the tall and short of it. It was time to breathe again. I would take a deep breath this time so I wouldn’t have to do it again for a while. Are we automatons because we don’t consciously control things like our breathing? We are runaway vehicles on a highway with the breaks having been cut.
I was none too sorry about having that monkey, Sahkhla, off my back. I felt lighter and more peaceful. But I was going have to shield my mind again. I opened my closet and gazed at the treasure resting on the top shelf. A stately Hellenic piece, six pounds in weight, and about twelve-inches ear-to-ear. A deep breath again. A sturdy strait for protecting the throat and chin. The brass designs on the cheeks, lionlike adornments from the tradition of Heracles, polished to a mirror-finish. And it was invisible to the naked eye. An enraptured helmet for a peerless fellow like myself. It was pretty dapper, I thought. I reached up and pulled the helmet down. Let us see how the old Corinthian fitted me.
On the bus. I had my keys, packed my lunch, filled my water bottle, shoelaces tied, hair combed, deodorant spread, ears cleaned, teeth brushed. ‘Ready for battle, sire.’ A deep breath. I was a new man. Whoever heard of fresh starts on a Tuesday? I could understand on a Sunday or even a Monday, but a Tuesday? Not very auspicious. I just need to get to work on time. That’s the most important thing.
I wondered sometimes what was wrong with me, how I could be so lucid at times and so forgetful at others. Was it some kind of disease? It was written that if you have faith and open your mouth to speak on behalf of the righteous, the Holy Ghost will speak for you. I couldn’t say that has always been the case for me. Sometimes I opened my mouth and all that came out was a chinook of mystification. What’s the problem? Here I am, Holy Ghost! Speak! A deep breath again. Maybe I was a man of unclean lips. There was so much text in my head, but it was hard to evict all those letters. When the moment of expression finally arrived, I was tongue-tied worse than…well, yeah. These days, I could probably use a haunting.
“Excuse me, sir.” A lady plopped down on the seat beside me and wrestled for leg space. I had trouble turning my head with the Corinthian, so I just ignored her and minded my own business. There was a hawk circling the sky in the wide distant expanse over the Blue Fountain Forest, flaunting its mastery of the hunting grounds. I tilted the Corinthian a little to get a better look at the majestic view over Knightsbridge and took a long breath and let it out slowly.
“Your space ends here,” the lady said, pointing to my knee that was well into her leg area. I could barely hear what she’s saying through the Corinthian’s brass. She’s dug her spiny shoulder against my bicep trying to enlarge the space between us.
‘I can’t very well shrink my frame, can I?’ I hastily scribbled and then showed her the notepad.
“What are you writing? Just move so I might sit.”
Inflamed, I attacked the scratch pad with the vehemence of a lion. ‘Seats were made for man, not vice-versa.’ I flipped the page. The woman tried to read along. ‘Are you trying to chop me down to size?” I took a deep breath and then flipped over another page. ‘Stop jabbing me, Bengali!’ I scrawled with authority, pen-hand rending the air, head trussed-up in brass.
“Not Bengali, Urdu! What are you writing? This man is a racist!” She shouted to the back of the bus, arousing the attention of everyone around us.
Bengali might have been a misstep. Inches apart, we were not even looking at each other. She was talking to the audience across from us and I was looking up at their blank searching faces and down at the scratch pad for answers. I scrambled to take another breath and not panic.
“I will not calm down! We are new here and you step on us like garbage! Everytime you step on us! Shame on you!” Still poking me with her shoulder, meanwhile, I had shrunk in the seat long ago.
‘Who’s stepping on you?’ I flashed the scratch pad, but she was no longer willing to read along. I showed my script to the incredulous people across from me, but they just look sorry for being caught in the middle of the ruckus. Besides, nobody read books anymore. ‘Drain the welfare system’ dry for all I care. Just stop shoving me’ I wrote only for myself to read, regretting the words a second later. Instead I shoved her back and she exploded out of her seat.
“This man hit me! Help! This man hitting me!” she shouted to the driver and to anyone who would listen.
“Sit down you crazy bitch and shut the hell up!” The wiry, moustachioed man seated across from me hollered. “He never touched her, I saw the whole thing. She’s just trying to rev him up. Isn’t that right, chief?”
After a brief pause I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know what he wanted me to say.
“There’s no two ways about it. This crazy bitch is the racist. I saw the whole thing. She started shoving him and he just sat there and swallowed it like any peace-loving citizen. She’s the crazy one. Call the cops, driver, and get her off this bus before she hurts somebody.”
The lady was dumbstruck standing in the middle of the lane between me and the moustache. Looking around for assistance, she found none between the peeved and the unconcerned. The bus grinded to a halt.
“What’s going on back here? Huh!” The pasty bus-driver with the cue-ball head inquired. I couldn’t see his eyes for the shades.
“This woman is causing the ruckus, boss. Throw her off,” the Mustache says in deference to Shades.
“Is that correct, sir? Has this woman assaulted you?”
The lady was totally dazed by the direction things had taken. No longer playing the victim, she’s was as meek as a lamb. She nervously pivoted her head looking for any supporter, but the only other minority on this end of the bus was a young Afrikan, bouncing his head to the earsplitting music on his IQphones, completely distracted from the proceedings.
“Madam, I’m going to have to ask you to exit the bus,” the driver said firmly.
“But…but, why? He hit me!” the lady said in complete astonishment.
“That’s total bullshit, lady. He barely nudged you and you were practically down his throat a second ago. You started the trouble. Get off the bus and let us get to our jobs,” the Mustache said.
“Calm down, sir,” the driver said to the Mustache. “Madam, step-off the bus or I’ll have to call a constable to the scene,” Shades affirmed.
‘It’s okay with me if she stays.I can move.’ All three of them read from my scratch pad. I felt guilty as hell for the situation coming to a head like this.
“Stay where you are, chief. It’s the Pakistani that needs to go. Who does she think she is, the queen of the city or something! Get off the bus, towel-head!” griped the Mustache. I feel for the steel in my coat pocket. I had to be ready just in case somebody makes a dominant play. I lowered the Corinthian over my eyes, surveying the scene anew through the narrow apertures.
“Somebody better get off!”
“Holy crap already! Do something driver!” somebody barked from the front.
“C’mon move this damn bus!” the emboldened quaffed, porridge-necked guy hollered from the rear.
Full of trepidation at the mob, the lady with head-scarf eased demurely between the driver and myself and stepped off the bus.
“About f’n time!” the Mustache whinged.
Unexpectedly, I stood and followed her off the bus. The Mustache hollered something derogatory at me as I exited: “Why don’t-cha just marry the sand-nigger and get it over with.” My head was spinning. What choice did I have? Wearing the Corinthian, it would have been an affront to the profession of the hero if I didn’t follow the disgruntled woman and try to make amends for the part I played in the fiasco on the bus.
My IQwatch said it 8:32 a.m. I still had to time to spare. The lady was briskly walking in the direction I needed to go. We were on Honor Oak Road heading north. Industrial Road was intersecting just ahead. I wondered if she’s going all the way to Commercial Road. Did she work there? She must have got on the bus at the stop at Knightsbridge’s end. Did she come from the Bayard Rye Village? Is there any chance she lives there? I would really owe her an apology then. We’ll probably laugh about the whole matter afterwards. Bengalis in Bayard Rye?
She looked over her shoulder trying to find another bus or something and saw me following her. I had better catch up and explain myself before she got the wrong idea. Just as I approached, she spun and shouted, “What do you want from me!” Ready to protect herself. I admired her valor. She looked to be around fifty years-old. She’s had a ring in her round nose, which was probably stout enough to stop the water in a bathtub.
“I will call my husband!” She reached into her purse, probably for an IQphone to vouch for her threat.
I hastily scribbled’, I don’t mean you any harm.’
“You hit me!”
‘I would never hit a woman!’
“Hmmph.” She turned and stormed off again.
‘Do you live in Bayard Rye?’ I inquired while giving chase. It was difficult to write while walking, but I did my best to remain legible.
“What do you want! Leave me!” She was a quite scary-looking when angered. I wonder how her husband negotiated the peace in their household.
‘I grew up in Bayard Rye too.’ She glanced at my scratch pad, giving me a chance to make restitution. We crossed the light at the Industrial Road intersection. The Canvarco Railway Bridge was a few trots ahead. There was a colossal billboard hovering on the right just above the bridge:
ONLY WITH BIG BLUE ARE YOU TRUE BLUE
“So you live in Bayard Rye…great for you! You must be very important man! You follow me to coffee shop and I serve great man who throws me off bus.”
Her witch’s chin was improbably devastating; she must have been a terror on the broom. I imagined sailors leaping to their death at the sheer sight of her passing overhead the mast on a hazy night. We entered the underpass and the passing cars created a harsh echo that reverberated off the cement walls and steel beams. It was so loud I could barely hear my own footsteps. The Bengali woman was about twelve paces ahead. She must have worked at the local coffee shop just across from Crocell. I did not drink coffee, so I wouldn’t know her from the devil.
“Are you following? I call the police!”
‘I work at Crocell. I’m just trying to get to work.’ I hoped she could make out my writing in the dim lighting of the underpass.
“Important man has big job at office while Saleema pours coffee at two jobs! Everyone drinks coffee. You people know coffee and donuts. Nothing more. You make me leave bus and now chase me! Saleema is tired.”
I had almost caught up to her. She was shouting again like a crazy person. I wondered what the people in their cars thought. She was flinging her arms around as she spoke, like she was casting spells at everything. She must have kept her flying monkeys in the storage place just up the road.
‘Take this money for a taxi.’ I pulled a twenty dollar note from my wallet and held it out for her. We were virtually abreast now. Her feet came to a halt. She looks at my face and then at the note and then at my face again, one hand on her waist, the other scratching her kerchiefed head. It was not a towel, despite what the Mustache said. It was silken like the ones my grandmother wore sometimes. She batted away the flapping twenty and crossed the street at the lights. She did not look back to see if I was following her. I let her walk ahead, clearing the gas station, before I started again for Crocell.
8:41. It looked like I was going to make it on time today. I passed the cleaners on Esander Dr. The shop right after was one of the most interesting in the Narrows, although it was impossible to see what was inside. From the items on display at the storefront (three small windows parallel to each other, waist high), it appeared they specialized in selling antiques or crafting furniture pieces that look like antiques and there was stained glass arranged with other fine-glass creations. The center window featured an ornate bronze picture frame with gargoyles and other gothic flourishes and within that frame there was another of a different style altogether, not bronze but silver, engraved with laurel leaves and acorns and other agricultural symbols. I pulled back the Corinthian to get a better look. The shop was called ‘The Interior Crystal.’ The doors were solid slabs of wood without windows. A serious artist must have worked beyond them. I was too chicken to enter.
Crocell Corp. I hated the windows at the side of the building. The entire wall was made of blue-tinted glass. It made everything look…I don’t know…just blue from the outside. Even a great artist like Pacheco had a blue period. This one was mine.
“Good morning, Crocell Corp. Please hold the line.”
Tabitha Plimpton. She deserves an underlined italic designation because she was round enough to be a place all to herself, like a satellite that orbited a planet, Selena circling the Earth. How could somebody be so physically attractive (lushly overweight like a Persian cat or a Renaissance nude), and yet be annoying to such an intolerable degree at the same time?
“Good morning, Crocell Corp! Good morning, please hold!” Like an adrenalized chipmunk in speech, irresistibly cute and bubbling with enthusiasm for the company banner, and yet you want to toss her into a backpack full of primed mouse-traps and throw away the zipper.
“Good morning, Crocell…oh, it’s just you. I thought you were a client or somebody else…good morning! Did your alarm clock go off early this morning?”
I wanted to punch her right in her porcelain-toned face, but it was too perfect. Even her second chin had boudoir charm. Sometimes when I looked at her in the morning, I mistook her for one of those stacked wedding cakes: the thick vanilla icing spread over her edible face, the pink ribbons and purple bows twizzled between the moussed ringlets on her enormous head, her corpulent layered torso that practically screams of fondant and sponge cake, the frilly spring dresses that flaunt her floury rotund legs and jujube toes. I’d love to have a slice of that cake for breakfast with a tall glass of milk. I didn’t need x-ray glasses to know she wasn’t wearing any underwear. Crocell liked it when their women left a trail that was easy to follow. I wouldn’t be surprised if Solondz buried his face in her chair long after she was gone. File that disclosure under ‘Things that Crocell Makes its Employees Do.’
Over the entrance to the office there’s was inscription in bold that nobody else could see. It read:
THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE FURNACE OF AGONY
I positioned the Corinthian correctly, aligned my vision, braced myself, and entered, expecting the worse, like a Snitman water-cooler chat lurking around the corner. Every time I passed through the doors and entered into the office it was like entering the foggy realm of a nightmare. I heard strange utterances, as if coming from a foreign land of danger: accents crawling with anger, words-of-woe carried by voices shrill and faint, hands beating against keyboards, people utterly defeated by their pain and anguish. I wondered where they keep the guided cradle and crocodile shears. Was it closet number one or closet number two? They were shielded with lead and only the Bull has the keys.
I wiped the drool from the punch-clock and I punched-in my Human Register Code, 20778, and then I entered my thumb into the scan-socket for verification and away we went. Being on-time was definitely the most righteous path at the moment. I was not curious to know what was behind closet number one. I promised Solondz to aim true. It was odd in the extreme that my H.R. code was exactly the same as my Coxburn student number. How far back does Crocell’s intel go?
Lunch time. As I walked back into the office after a stroll through the courtyard, Plimpton, the three-tier, told me that my morning-punch did not register in the system and that I will have to fill some forms out to correct the mistake. Those forms were a pain in the ass to fill-out! The many dates and signatures and reasons. What the hell! Even the punch-clock had it out for me.
 A defense of the mind against lower self-esteem and potentially depression. The man who believes he is Homeric hero or a prophet gains grand purpose from his delusion.
 A monomyth is basic narrative arc or pattern that can be traced in various heroic narratives from around the world. Numerous myths from disparate times and regions have been found to share fundamental narrative structures and similar plot advancements. Amerikan comparative mythologist John Soup described such a pattern in his 1945 book “The Wardrobe of Proteus.” He said, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there met and a decisive victory struck: the hero returns from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow favors upon his fellow man.” According to Soup, there are 17 stages to meet along the hero’s journey: The Call to Adventure, The Refusal of the Call, The Supernatural Aid, The Crossing of the Threshold, The Belly of the Whale, The Road of Trials, The Meeting With the Goddess, The Woman as Temptress, The Atonement of the Father, The Apotheosis, The Ultimate Boon, The Refusal of the Return, The Magic Flight, The Rescue from Without, The Crossing of the Return Threshold, The Master of the Two Worlds, The Freedom to Live. Seredipitously, in 1945, a Polish proctologist, who was also living in Amerika at the time, speculated in an article written for the medical journal, Progress in the Procotological Sciences, that there were 17 steps to be followed in order to favorably pass fecal matter out of the colon while suffering from hemorrhoids without experiencing disadvantageous effects like infection or ruptures in the anus. It was rather glibly entitled TheSeventeen Stages to Successfully Defecate While Nursing a Hemorrhoid.
 Frequently, Aeneas used to cast a nostalgic gaze upon the chugging train that raced past daily at the twilight hour. Where in the wide world was it going and could he follow? He meditated on the hobo style of living many-a-night upon returning from hikes through the Blue Fountain Forest, the hunger in his belly staunching the courage he needed to escape.