It started out as just another day of making inch-thick rope lift thousand pound rock. Another day of the fires from the depths of the earth blasting through the sun baked ground under the temple floor. Another day the sacrifices of the people of Alexandria might invoke the favor of the goddess Athena, her ‘boss’ Zuez, or perhaps even the most human of all the gods, Prometheus. Another day humanity’s needs perhaps would correspond with the gods’ wants, and whims. Another day Telikos would gather the offerings of livestock, jewels and coin and place it into the temple chest, promising the people that what they would get in return would be worth so much more. Another day that commoner and Priest would bring the best they had to the table of the gods, hoping that something divine would happen, a flicker of wisdom, perhaps. And another day of Athena showing herself to the people below, her body perfectly shaped, her eyes fixed on ‘Constancy’, the goddess of beauty’s hand extended to the common and most often ugly people giving them hope that their outer lives, and inner Souls, may indeed become as Beautiful as she was. And another day Telikos gave thanks to the goddess for coming out of the temple to greet those so dedicated to her.
“Another day, another drachma,” a single man said from a vantage point not visible by the citizenry of Alexandria, the Priests at the Impala Temple or even the goddess herself. “Another day the Priests get to keep their jobs,” the cloistered man below the temple floor said to himself as he saw the offerings from above fall into the chest reserved for ‘temple maintenance’ expenses. “And another day I get to stay…Alive.” Mechanos, as he was called amongst the most private and elevated circles in Alexandria, looked around him at the machinery he had built. Pulleys and wheels to move the temple rocks above him. Water buckets with drip rates timed to operate the chain of machines which released fire from pits visible only to the highest level of Priests at the Impala Temple. Likenesses of the gods in stones which when lighted the right way make them look more human than the people who worshipped them.
Mechanos had built temples like this before, even some for Impala’s biggest rival in Alexandria. The Temple devoted to Ra, the Egyptian sun god, was equally impressive, but in a lower budget sort of way. It was a good gig while it lasted, the secret arrangement to maintain what he built there still kept in confidence, “thank gods” Mechanos thought to himself. “Or thank God,” he continued in soft voice audible to himself, and the statues of the Greek gods around him. “The average life span in Alexandria is still only four decades, if you can call working all of your waking hours to prevent yourself from starving, and your children from dying of something worse ‘life’,” the forty-five year old inventor who was nearly burnt at the stake for being a ‘witch’ several times said to himself. “The basic needs for the human body are food and water. For the human mind, challenge. For the human Soul, which MUST exist…hope. And the gods still offer more hope than anything created by the hand, or mind, or man that I know about,” he said to himself. It was a magnificent show above, reminding Mechanos of the true meaning of that godlike emotion which could be experienced by any man, or woman. Maybe felt by every child until said ‘immature’ person grew up. “Magnificence”, he thought to himself. “The greatest service one can give to anyone is to give them moments of Magnificence, connecting them to and having them serve something greater than themselves.”
That phrase ‘greater than yourself’ echoed in Mechanos’ ear as he looked at the machines around him which he designed on papyrus, and had built for him by slaves who had no idea what they were building, or why. There were of course the ‘wage’ laborers, but at the end of the day, the lot of both ‘free’ laborer and slave was paradoxically the same in Alexandria. Both were ruled by the Ruling Class, a fickle and powerful lot who saw everyone as their servants, even genius inventors who built gadgets for their homes, weapons for their soldiers and any other sort of machines that kept Alexandria powerful to its enemies and sustaining for its residents. Though scholars gathered at the library to discuss and formulate new ideas and ideals for the world, the world outside the library was still dog eat dog, survival of the fittest, and often cleverest, where being too dumb, or smart, would get you killed.
Mechanos looked at his robe, still white, clean and upper crust, and the blood-stained floor of the temple which was the final ‘resting place’ for priests, of commoners, who asked the wrong questions about gods, kings, or themselves. The always-shabbily clad Socrates was executed in Athens for being too intelligent, but not clever enough to hide his Insights. Perhaps he should have known the two survival tools for those who chose to use their brains rather than their brawn. Keep the masses technologically hostage with ‘magic’ that they need to stay alive, something which Hippocrates never put in his Oath, but which became known to every physician he trained. And if you can’t keep the masses alive, keep them entertained, a skill learned by musicians with small muscles and, as long as they kept the kings, queens and commoners dancing, intact fingers. With his various inventions, and secret arrangements as to their distribution, Mechanos had learned to do both. Some connected to the world as it was. Some didn’t. Water-powered catapults somehow made it to the building block. Water-powered irrigation systems were ‘under consideration’ for construction. Water converted into steam with the potential for a godlike fuel, not yet linked to a pulley and wheel system for ‘practical’ use, for reasons he had to keep to himself, for idealistic reasons even the tragically cynical genius himself couldn’t understand. But…someday, perhaps, everything would come together into a world that saw and worshipped Truth above all else. Once all the ‘have to’ jobs serving Priests, kings and potentially-destructive commoners were taken care of.
Now that the ‘show’ was over upstairs, and the daily ‘rationalization’ drill was done with, he helped himself to some refreshment. Goat cheese for his stomach, grape juice for his parched throat, and gold that he could use any way he saw fit.
Mechanos kept his biological wants close to his needs, as he needed all the money for an even greater endeavor. As well, he needed as much ‘luck’ as possible, a ‘god’ he still thought, or hoped, existed. The plans lay in front of him, in his fingers, coming out onto the papyrus from his head, down to his hands, and into the ink. A magnificent plan, which he had put into effect before, but on a limited scale.
“Theatre”, a voice echoed from behind. “Bigger than any you have devised. More entertaining than any you have built or shown to the public. A spectacle of entertainment that also teaches. Bigger than any play you have produced, or had produced for you.”
“Yes” Mechanos replied. He hid the plans in front of him. He listened to the intruder. The footsteps were not those of his boss, Priest Telikos. Nor of Blestis, the brains and economic power behind the King. Nor of the raspy-voiced Elena, sold to him to sooth his weary mind and, in moments of weakness or extreme pain, satisfy his manly needs.
“You’ve done well, in my service, and those who I am in service of,” the voice continued, its tenor now distinctively female, its tone painfully familiar. As it if was from all the women, and men, he had ever known.
The intruder stopped, casting a shadow that was both cold and warm on Mechanos’ Herculean shoulders. Her breaths made his brow sweat, drenching his blue eyes. Her ‘electricity’ could be felt by his fingertips, a tingling sensation which sent lightening bolts through his body, an appendage to his mind which now felt like it weighed less than a feather.
“An explanation,” Mechanos muttered. “There is always an explanation for everything. If mind works hard enough, it cannot be deceived by ‘Soul’”. He purses his lips, the tongue giving clue as to the workings of the phenonoma at hand. “Moldy cheese,” he smiled. “I should have suspected that the discoloration was not due to oregano and basil leaves. Maybe a potion made up by…well, I have many allies, which makes for the inevitability of a few enemies.”
“Or pranksters?” the visitor interjected, appending it by an echoing, yet gentle, laugh. And making herself known on Mechanos’ terms. In front of his eyes.
“You aren’t real,” he told the image in front of him.
“But I must,” she said. “I am the goddess Athena.”
“No,” he continued, entertaining the three-dimensional image which was part Athena, part his mother, part Elena, and part himself when he secretly imagined himself as female. “You are a mirage.” Mechanos took pen back into hand, focusing his mind and eye back on papyrus sheet. “And I am working.”
“So am I,” ‘Athena’ smiled, moving herself into a place where she could not be ignored.
“By God, no!” Mechanos screamed. Superimposed on his drawing of yet another attempt to link the steam powered devise to pulleys and wheels to something on stage which would elevate the stage and the audience seats sat an image of Athena, smiling with something which the brilliant Mechanos so seldom experienced.
“It’s called being happy,” Athena said with a lilt in her voice, tipping her head and revealing the sunshine in her hair, the glow of ‘gentle’ in her eyes.
“You are an illusion,” Mechanos protested.
“So are you, to Me,” she asserted, materializing in the flesh and more human than any illusion he had helped orchestrate, either on the stage for entertainment or in the temples so he could go on making stage productions. “Man is an illusion to God,” she said.
“The gods don’t exist, therefore how can God exist?” the Master Inventor countered.
“Which is why you said, ‘By God, no!’ when I appeared to you?” the Mistress ‘deity’ replied.
Mechanos took a breath of air into his lungs, confirming all body systems intact. To confirm inner sensors, he took a drink of water from the bowl which he KNEW was not altered by the Priests, or leaking specs from the metal of which they were made. “’By God, no!’ is an expression. From Socrates.”
“Who was a god, or a man?”
“Something beyond both,” Mechanos affirmed. He offered his guest a cup of water. Reason said that is she took it, she was real. Logic said that if she drank from it, she should be listened to. Intuition said that though she was probably an illusion, something could be learned from her, to apply either to the mechanical devises on the stage or the words and story built around the play. “What do I call you?” he asked, challenging her with a toast.
“We’ll talk about that, in time,” she commented.
To Mechanos’ shock, she lifted the cup from his hand, and it didn’t fall to the ground. To his pleasure, she smiled as she drank. To his delight, he found himself drinking with her, feeling the water to taste like wine. “An interesting magician’s trick. But, as all magicians know, there is no such thing as magic. Just deception.”
“And Truth,” her reply, hitting Mechanos between the eyes.
Those portholes saw something flat, open and frightening with regard to its possibilities.
“It’s called a stage,” Athena smiled. Her fingertips laid each of the stones into the ground, if indeed ‘ground’ was the name for the platform which felt to be as much air as rock to Mechanos’ feet. Though he had lost sense of the Four Directions, that aspect of orientation was being set up in front of him. To his right, the Eastern lands of Persia, likenesses of their trees and sands amidst the jewels which adorned the foliage that looked real, and if the imagination let one, smell so as well. To the left, the dense forests of Italy with strange images of rocks arranged on stone, an ocean surrounding the last set of islands before the end of the oceans. To his back, the jungles of what some said lay beyond the Nile, blacker than black faces on the masks connotating the humans who made a home in such a dense and humid place. Ahead, presumably designating North, likenesses of large mountains whose peaks merged into fog, snow and cloud, a place where Winter was so cold, wind was frozen within the frigid Silence.
Though an average man would have been in awe at finding himself in the center of the ‘world’, laid out for him by a goddess, Mechanos’ orientation seemed to be on something else. “The metal on my sandals. They all seem to point to the Wintry mountains, which I am assuming is North.”
“In this world, yes,” Athena said. “The laws of Nature rule everyone here.”
“Even though this is a stage?” Mechanos countered. He noticed all of his machines in place. The ones which made a wall look like an ocean, the ripples within it look like water, and the figures coming up from that water like men, women or gods, depending on their arc of arrival and the way the candles or sunlight illuminated them. The ‘reality’ machine which actually moved as well, with what Mechanos knew as the laws of Nature.
“Your best entertainment unit,” she said of the unit that moved around the world
‘stage’, showing off its images to unseen audiences in all corners. “A machine made by man that thinks like a woman,” she smirked as the devise seemed to go off course, frustrating its builder.
Mechanos went into a frenzy, a panic more accurately, running around the stage to keep the ‘beast’ driven by the power of falling water to keep going. Thankfully, or maybe not so thankfully, rain from the ceiling above kept falling into the collection chambers, creating what the exhausted Mechanos finally names.
“A perpetual motion machine,” he boasted of his ‘servant’, who finally kept on course, ‘bowing’ to the four corners of the ‘world’ with each showing of its various puppet erring images. “It can go on forever.”
“As long as the rain keeps coming down from the sky,” Athena countered. She snapped her fingers. The rain stopped, as did Mechanos’ marvel.
The air felt dense again to the Inventor. Dry also. The worse of all opposing perceptions. Cold and heat emanated through his chest, then behind his eyes, but he let it stop as it tried to enter his fingers, noting that there was one constant which even this ‘goddess’ and some rotten cheese couldn’t change.
“My metal needle still faces North,” he noted. “And if you try to change the cold mountains into hot deserts, I will find a way to turn them back again.”
“Exactly why we are having this conversation,” she said. Athena sat in the middle of the stage and shook with something man was not supposed to see in a god, or goddess.
“Fear?” Mechanos noted. “Of what? A higher god? Or maybe The God beyond all of you gods? What is a god or goddess like you afraid of?”
“Man.” Her lips clammed up tighter than a valve on Mechanos’ ‘marvel’ machines. Her eyes seemed vacant, vulnerable. Her tears were very real. “We need you to…to…”
Athena’s words were drowned by her tears. Mechanos found his hand moving toward her, with an emotion he didn’t think possible of himself. Not pity, not paternalism, not even duty for a ‘lesser’ creature in need.
“Yes!” he said to himself. The steam from water put into pulleys and wheels. It can make rocks move like feathers. Move boulders like they were sacs of grain. And move people anywhere they wanted or needed to go. To move them across continents, across oceans, or even into the sky. “Yes! Steam merged with the wheels. It could work. It WILL work. No need to use slaves to build houses from kings, or free men. No need for free men to have to live in one place. No need for people to never go more than 20 miles from where they were born. No need for man to be servants to the gods. No need to get their aspirations from images of gods. No need to be anything but their OWN masters. And all I need to do with my designs and machines is to—“
Mechanos never got a chance to complete the thought, or the plan on paper. He recalled scribbling it down, celebrating its brilliance and practicality. Calling it the steam engine. Giving it wheels, rudders and even wings. Then recalling nothing at all except an offering from his OWN Soul to the Divinity who greeted him at the last breath after he called upon Him, or Her, with his last thought.
When Telikos the Priest came into the ‘laboratory’, the Inventor was no more. Mechanos lay lifeless in a pool of blood. History would never record if it was his own, or the slaves and slaughtered animals who were part of the rituals he helped to maintain. But history would record a somber smile on the statue of Athena in Alexandra, which when looked at in the honesty of daylight, seemed to want something for the world than what she had offered. A seed, perhaps, for the next Mechanos, whenever he would arise, to pick up on from the gentleness and wisdom of her smile. Whatever, or Whoever she really was.
“Empathy,” he noted as his hand touched her shoulder. “I seem to care about this…this…” But before he could decide if the visitor to his hallucinating mind was goddess, lover, or friend, she vanished.
Mechanos found himself in front of the Papyrus, back in the Temple of Impala. Back at his ‘post’ between ‘shows’. By sunset he would be required to invoke the gods again, for Priests who were less than men. To earn enough money to mount a stage production which would transform all the men and women in the audience to levels beyond gods. To gain enough power to perhaps make a machine which would turn sunlight into food, or move water where it would grow crops instead of spectacles. To merge fog, sunlight and water into something godlike, or beyond.
It was a rather peaceful Sunday afternoon when Manerva finally did what she wanted to. The sun was shining with a rather warmish glow that somehow only she could feel. The other members of the family, and even hr friends, were dining in the Main House with Papa. It was his birthday, and Thanksgiving. Both on the same day. And she was always his favorite girl.
No, not in the ways that the other girls never talked about with their mouths, but always with their eyes, but in the ways that really mattered, as Manerva was special. She learned to read a year earlier than all of her brothers and sisters, and learned to write very soon afterwards. The kind of books that she would never be able to read, according to Papa.
He looked happy, and sad, at the head of the table, his big eyes, bushy beard and bald head, the hair along the side of his head worn like it was still on top. He looked old, and young, both at the same instant, so it seemed to Manerva. So, why was she not in the house, by his side, and why was she about to break his heart, as she looked at the gazebo, and heard the man speak to her with the wood in his hand and catgut mangled around his fingers?
“It’s just a violin,” the musician who was looked on as a beggar and trespasser said as he kept playing. The same melody, in different ways each time, becoming Manerva to do the unthinkable.
“I can’t”, she protested as her feet started to carry her to the platform, the stage forbidden to the star scholar of the family who was destined and trained to become a lawyer, maybe a judge or perhaps even a President, the first of her generation of American born children to do so.
But the musician kept playing, and she felt the music, its core. “I can’t” she said as she noticed even the roaches in the Old Man’s beard moving legs to the beat, swaying to its breath. “I am a lawyer and you, Sir, are a trespasser not worthy of notice, Sir.!”
“If I am a trespasser not worthy of notice, then why do you look at me?” he said. “And why do you call me Sir?” he muttered with laughter, merging that expression of his pain and pleasure into the songs that sounded so strange, and familiar.
“I can’t!” she protested again as her feet became possessed with a new kind of person, a new kind of Presence, something that Papa would frown on, and Mother certainly forbade. “They have made all these sacrifices! How can I become or even think about becoming a—a—“
“—Dancer?” the magician with the violin said, playing on. “You feel it in your belly, it’s gone to your feet, and if you don’t do something with that spark, it will reach up your spinal cord and fry your brain, to little bitty—.”
“Ahhhh!” she screamed, knowing that the Old Man’s visit, and dare was overdue. She felt the tune, tempo and timing even more now, vibrating on the souls of her feet, which she now found shoeless, then inside her belly, which was neither full nor empty. Then a pounding in her chest. “No!!!!” she shouted to the man who she had seen in her dreams, and nightmares, for three years. Maybe more. He had visited her in that dark and dreary place when she was wearing the robes of the Court, passing laws that governed countries whose names she could hardly pronounce, and barely knew where they were. He had warned her that she would die a death of uneventful happiness if he didn’t heed his words, and his case, delivered with music rather than words. He told her that God who she served, or wanted to serve, lay beyond the Divinity her parents told her about. He told her that unless she flew, everything on the ground would burn in a fire of ice worse than the flames of hell. He had shown her how to fly in her dreams, but not how to make her dreams come true.
From inside the house came a dinner bell. “I have to go,” she said. “Really.’
“I will go,” the Old and Young Mentor said. “If you tell me to in a language I understand.”
“Go!!! G.O…N O W!” she screamed as she commanded the diverter or perhaps demon away, so she could grow up to be a good girl, a great lawyer, an exemplary Christian. “Go…n o —“
“Sing it,” he lilted with the music. “Then I will go. Sing to me that I should leave you, and let you connect to the Mentor who will make you an adult worthy of your Papa’s greatest dreams and Mother’s sacrifices she has made for your school fees and books, and I will go forever…”
“What?” she protested, waving to Mother inside, becoming her in for the surprise desert, a birthday cake for her father and the country he and she had adopted as their own. “You want me to…”
“Sing, yes. Like a bird.”
“A crow with a goiter stuck in a throat,” the Mad Musician sang, and danced with sour notes that made Manerva’s ears ring with pain. The only break from the pain was the knock on the window, Mother’s stern look, and Papa’s loneliness at having everyone around him but the woman he loved most, a pain he dared not share with anyone except Manerva.
“They’ll ask you to sing happy birthday in there,” she felt the Mad Hobo saying to her as his stench got stronger, the sweat smelling more like blood from his rancid clothes and breath that stank of something strong, and volatile, though not alcohol, rum or tobacco. “Sing about crows with goiters in throats and I’ll be on my way,” he said again. “Me and my dancing roaches.” He stroked his beard, some of the six legged comrades who had been sharing his soup for the last ten days jumping at Manerva’s feet, nearly catching onto her new ‘big girl’ nylon stockings.
“A crow had a goiter in the throat, it made the bird sing very loud, and made his heart bear very fast, and..” she sang, elaborating on the effects of a high level of thyroid hormone on the avian or human body, and then stopped in mid verse as she went through three of the seven major body systems. “What are they doing?” she screeched, peering down below her waist in terror.
“Dancing!” the Musician smiled, with a grin he hadn’t expressed or felt for years. “Your feet are dancing.”
“So they are! So they…” Manerva’s mind raced through the motions and barriers. First terror at the strange sensation of feeling Life before understanding it. Then, fear of being found out by Mother, who admonished her every time the ‘genius’ of the family acted like a little girl. Then horror, that God would discover that she was indulging in an emotion forbidden to geniuses and Christians—irreverent laughter and gleeful non-vigilance. Then enlightenment upon finding that God, the Reality behind the Alters, was sharing the joke with her. Then, shame…as Papa would see her, and his dreams of having the first Lithuanian American Supreme Count Judge shattered because the door to something else was opened. Then—his eyes staring at her.
Manerva stopped in mid pirouette, or was it a twirl? She wasn’t sure, the dance defining itself. Laying on her was the stare of the man who sacrificed everything for her. The one who would say when she did something dumb, stupid or selfish… “I send you to the finest schools, and this is what I get.” The man who gave up his own dreams of being something he never told her about to operate a restaurant seven days a week, and enjoy the fruits of his labors on Thanksgiving, Easter and Graduation days. The man who was….now smiling, tapping his foot, and clapping with joy, yelling ‘Encore! Bravo!’
Manerva saw Mother in another window, preparing the birthday cake, but even her stern ‘no’ face broke out in a smile.
Confused, Manerva looked to the Bum with the violin and pet roaches. “What happened?” she asked the person who sometimes was real, often imagined, seen only by her eyes on so many occasions.
“You all grew up,” he smiled at Manerva, winking at her father who asked him to come into the house. Mother seemed to not see him, but that didn’t matter so much. Papa was entitled to his imaginary friends and Visions. As, so it seemed, was Manerva.
The Musician kissed Manerva on the cheek as Papa came out to greet them both. He gave her his violin, then walked away. Upon arrival at the Gazebo, Papa asked. “Where did you get that?”
“A friend,” she said.
“Yes, I know…now” he said. Touched by his daughters courage, and patience with him, and love for him he took the violin in hand and played tune, sweeter and kinder and even more musical than the Bum who was constantly thrown off he grounds played. He invited Manerva to join him on the Gazebo, and while he played music no one knew was in his fingers or heart, Manerva danced a step her feet knew and felt in a way she accepted, but didn’t question. Not anymore.
Manerva did catch a glance at the house during the Birthday Dance that Thanksgiving when she and her father were born. Mother seemed disturbed by it all, the rest of the family puzzled. “It will be their birthday soon,” the Bum said as he peered through the bushes. “God can’t be cruel enough to not allow it to be so,” he affirmed his multi-legged roach friends as he danced off to his next destination. Or so Manerva seemed to see, and hear, with eyes and ears she, and her father had just opened for each other.
A Baptist in Baton Rouge since birth, the family genius at Tulane University since early acceptance at 16, and a born-again cynic after trying to treat his first Cancer patient at 24, Stewart Williams, III, MD believed in two things. Results, and procedure. Both were well worked into the program at the Klajburg Nursing home, the last resting place for Long Island elders who had outlived their usefulness to their ‘youngers’, and overqualified physicians who had outlived their usefulness to themselves. The pay was good, the hours short, the schedule reliable, and the patients were ‘manageable’ unless you objected to the smell of urine or had problems dealing with patients who were not themselves. Indeed, the patients who were their ‘younger’ selves were, all things considered, not so bad off. Though the calendar said it was 2005, four years after 9/11, a decade or less away from the next and perhaps final crash on Wall Street, to most of the white haired, or no-haired, patients at Klajburg it was the Roaring Twenties, the golden homecoming months after V-J day, or those quietly-prosperous times when Elvis was King and Marilyn Monroe was queen. Even to the Mr. Weinstein in room 235, who found his way into Mrs. Lazanska’s dresser draw again, sauntering around the common ground like Queen Marylyn. The ‘whys’ of it didn’t matter anymore. Mr. Weinstein was probably visiting those times when his mother, wife or mistress weren’t home again, thinking that the other patients in the hallway were shoppers at the mall who were actually fooled by his impersonation of the opposite gender. If he really ‘passed’ then, or could pass now, was immaterial. With Parkinson’s disease progressing faster than expected, added to his diabetes, added to his nearly deaf ears, ‘Doc Stew’, as Mr. Weinstein whispered in his ear seductively, didn’t mind the old man’s eccentricities, or even the touch of the old geezer (or geezerette’s) hand on his thigh. The main issue at hand was what was still on the night table next to his bed.
‘Your pills,’ Williams sighed, looking straight into Mr. Wienstien’s mascara covered eyes. “We talked about your taking your pills. And you promised me that you—“
“—I DID take my pills,” Weinstein interjected.
“Your Parkinson’s pills?” Williams said, looking at the bottle of medication he specially ordered and titrated, having been untaken for the third day in a row.. “The L-Dopa.”
“I’m no dopa, or doper, Doc,” Weinstein insisted. “I read an article on where those things come from.”
Williams took in a deep breath, prepared once again to defend the pharmaceutical companies with the pre-rehearsed and repeatedly needed lecture about how the drugs from drug companies were carefully measured and researched. That while there were risks with everything, taking that little white, blue, green or no-colored pill was better than playing Russian Roulette with Nature or ‘natural’ herbal products that caused so many un-studied side effects, even when the patients could read the labels. But before he could get through the first “I know you heard many things, and that some pharmaceutical companies are out for money first” qualifier, Weinstein smiled, pulling out a vial. Empty this time. With the physician’s name on it, ‘P.D.Q., M.D.’
“What was in there?” Williams grunted as he grabbed the vial, smelling its contents.
“I don’t know,” Weinstein said, walking over to the CD player, with a gait that was better than he was supposed to have. He turned on the ‘record machine’, ‘Summer Winds’ from Sinatra gently flowing from its speakers. Lifting up a fold of Miss. Lazanska’s skirt, revealing legs he had freshly shaved last night, Mr. Wienstein extended his hand to Williams, without tremor. “Shall we dance, Doctor?” he asked.
It was all Doctor Williams could do to hold back his stutter. That stutter that came out of his mouth when an Intern interrogated by an Attending who demanded to know an answer he didn’t have. That stutter which he learned to control when he had exhausted his source of medical knowledge. That stutter that said in a helpless way ‘I don’t know’ from a man who was bred, educated and paid to know everything. Why was is that Weinstein was able to move so gracefully? Something in the music? Something stimulant creeping up from the smelly-soled pumps he stole from the lost and found? Something from the bottle from Doctor PDQ, the mystery man who had visited more than one of his patients in the last few weeks.
“Well, Doctor?” Mr. Weinsten asked again, after doing a pirouette that left him standing, and smiling. “Shall we dance?”
“Eh…eh….eh…” Williams replied, backing up towards the door as Mr. Weinstein turned more ‘Marilyn’ with each step towards him.
“Later,” Williams said, seeing help just behind him.
“Yes, later, Marylyn,” Nurse Erica Freedman said, presenting Williams with a clipboard. “Doctor Williams has an emergency to deal with now.”
“Eh…yes, I do,” Williams said, grateful for this ‘save’ from Erica, yet one more time. This time, it was with a sense of humor, the ‘get out of listening to an Old Timer’s story’ clipboard containing the a fax from a Travel Agent boldly displaying the dates for a dream Hawaiian vacation affordable on a real-life Bensenhearst budget. And if that didn’t do the trick, something else.
“Dream Mate Escort Service?” Williams commented as he accompanied Erica down the hall. “Isn’t the idea of an escort service to hook onto someone who is NOT your mate, and doesn’t need to be one?” he mused.
Erica seemed disappointed. Williams knew that she had designs on him, or wishes, that went beyond ‘coffee’, ‘drinks’ or even ‘breakfast after a sleepover’. But this time, she was mad at something else in the Louisiana-bred Doctor who lost all traces of Southern gentility, grace and diction since moving up to the Big Apple. “That joke is old,” she slurred from the side of her mouth as she smiled to Mrs. Jackstein, Mr. Stone, and, as he preferred now to be called for reasons even the shrink couldn’t figure out, Father Rabinowitz. “Old like you’ll be some day,” she said, causing a defensive shrug from Williams. “Old and useless,” she continued, finally causing him to stop dead in his tracks.
“Useless!” he protested her, and asked of himself.
Erica put a quarter into the coffee machine, kicking it in the right place so that it would cough up two half-dollar cups of java. “Nature takes care of animals, God takes care of fools, and—“
“—Doctor PDQ is taking care of everyone in here better than either of us did,” Williams muttered softly enough so as to not be heard by the patients walking, dancing and singing around the hallway like they were something more…People. Most of them were living in their own world, but those worlds were happier than seen in previous weeks, and movement within them more negotiable. Mrs. Carlson’s myasthenia gravis was improving, the throat that had a hard time swallowing now able to carry a conversation, and even an off-toned show tune. Mr. Verowskoff walked with a cane now, his walker gathering dust in his room as he chased after Mrs. Carlson. And the keys to the drug cabinet kept becoming missing, and re-appearing again.
“Any idea who he is?” Williams asked Erica.
“Or SHE?” Erica noted, her attention pulled away by a crash of a tray from a room in hallway B, the indigent scream of an elderly patient, then a cry of what seemed like a baby from the same location. “Mrs. Mahony,” she smiled in a concerned maternal tone, walking down the hall to treat the mother who bore the first of her nine children when she was 16, now a child herself, finally.
Williams noted the new crop of Fourth Years and Interns turning the corner, two of them having that ‘terror’ for the aging, most of them carrying with them the ‘this is going to be the easiest rotation ever in their upstart eyes. There were many questions in Williams’ mind always on guard to snatch an answer. “Why does leukemia kill children?” “Why does a quarter of the world wake up and go to bed hungry?” ‘Why war?” “Why aging?” “Why death?” “Why did my ex-wife go off and have an affair with MY mistress?” But for now, one inquiry catapulted up to the top of the A list, lingering there over all others. “Doctor PDQ,” he found himself thinking and saying.
A nudge came from his right, or was it his left? “PDQ?” a gravely voice echoed into Williams’ ear. Turning to see the source of the terror, ‘Doctor Stew’ bent his head down, noting a 5 foot 6 elderly once-gentleman who stood barely five foot with the hunch which now had become part of his bent back. “PDQ”, he slurred from one side of his mouth, the other paralyzed with Bell’s Palsy or some other neurological complication that came and went. “It means Fast. Doctor Fast, on the button, on the ready, on the—‘
“—I know, Mister Ignitowski”, Williams slurred through eyes that hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in as many nights as he could remember. “I know what PDQ means.” Doing a once-over on Mister I, or ‘Mister Me’, as he often liked to be called by the nurses, Williams sniffed the ulcers on his elbows.
“They’re getting better.” Mr. I said.
“Because you’re taking your insulin,” Williams stated, and asked, hoping that his best, and underneath it all, heartfelt, efforts were not offered in vain.
Mr. I smiled with all the effort he could exert. “You look tired, Doctor Stew. Maybe you should go home and get some sleep.”
“But who would take care of all of you?” Williams said, believing the BS which started as PR then became reality after he found himself part of the dysfunctional Klajman Hospital ‘family’.
Mr. I considered the matter, stroking his chin with the hand that should have been amputated weeks ago, according to everything Williams learned as a student at Tulane, a resident at Columbia and an attending at Johns Hopkins. The assuring laugh from the on-and-off-again Mr. I afterwards was certainly not in the textbooks.
As Mr. I hobbled down the hallway to his room, and new box of old books delivered by his daughter, Williams felt like going home. One couldn’t say that patients at Klajman were ready to go home to their families, or the world outside the doors of the ‘Senior Living Center’, but they were doing better than expected. Someone was taking care of them with some special brand of medicine no one was talking about? Was it Erica? One of the new Interns who was a closet Einstein? Maybe God had finally waken up from His, or Her, lunch break. But whoever it PDQ, MD was, he, or she, was moving fast making William’s something he feared most…useless.
Looking at the schedule for the next day, and the now excess staff available to fill it, Stewart Williams decided it was time to go home. Erica recommended it as well. Besides growing into a chronically-tired pain in the ass to the nurses, he seemed to be having lapses of judgement himself, having to be corrected on at least three occasions on miscalculating drug doses for patients. The first time he said it was because the hospital should hire nurses who can read a physician’s handwriting. The second time, he blamed it on a new label from the pharmaceutical company with splotches between numbers that looked like decimal points. Thankfully, the ‘three check’ system was in William’s protocol, read the bottle before you open the tip of the syringe, again when you load it, then again before you inject it. But it was taking three checks to catch him now, and perhaps others would catch him soon. Erica was the protector he feared most. Watching his every move, thought and feeling, she could read him like a book, and it was not reading like a success story.
Forty-something on ninety Williams could see himself in every over-something over aged patient who came into the door. It was loss of function for the muscle between the ears that he feared most. It wasn’t anything visible to the eye. He still had all his hair, teeth, testacies and appendages. But he saw it every time he looked in the mirror. The young man who was really old, and whose days of ‘retirement’ would come sooner than he thought. The stats said that 10% of all patients, and people, before 65 developed ‘Altzimer Dementia’, and his family history was filled with forgetful, 90 year olds who started to die by their fiftieth birthday, too depressed to commit suicide. A sin in the eyes and the Lord, of course, who still haunted him, particularly on the “Come Live with Jesus” billboards he saw on his way home every night. “Go back to Alabami!” he screamed at the happy and lifeless faces of the multi-colored congregation painted on the billboards, and the seemingly manipulative blonde, blue-eyed, bearded overseer in the long white robe and halo. “Show yourself in MY world, or go back to your own!” he screamed at the billboard that did nothing except smile back at him sadistically every night.
But this night, the Billboard had something else to say. Noting another detail on the board, another rise in the number of New Yorkers converted into Evangelism boosted by the New Life Ministry, he raised his third digit in anger, noting that with each defiant gesture expressed on behalf of a tortured humanity, his wrist shook with even less control. Then, his arm, then, this time, his foot. Two screams, yelps, and prayers to Whoever might be listening later, Williams woke up in a ditch.
The view of the South State Parkway from behind broken glass seemed psychedelic. Yellow lights. Green traffic signals. White lights from cars too distant to notice him. Red tinge on the glass, probably, he intuited, his own.
“Help?” he asked the sky. But instead of bright light, it was dark. Still dark and silent. The stars seem to laugh at him. The planets didn’t care. “Help…right,” he sighed, resigned to facing his own demise, thankfully with his sense and perspectives still intact. “Help” he muttered again, closing his eyes, offering his Soul to God, hoping that He, She or It existed, or could be brought back to life in service of humanity by his sacrifice, and/or offering.
“PDQ, Doc,” he heard from a gravely voice. Looking up, he DID see the bright light, flecks of shining hair behind a head that moved closer in to him, revealing eyes that were bright blue, wide open, kind and…very human. More human than he ever imagined possible. In a face that he found himself recognizing.
“Mister Ignitowski?” Williams said, not believing his eyes. “How did you get out of—?“
Mister I shh’d him, taking a stet scope out of a three-decade old, scuffed and hole-ridden medical bag bearing his name, “Ed Ignitowski, MD. PDQ Doc.” Behind him was a familiar vehicle, an ambulance from the ER, from the Klajman Medical Center. Its operators were apparently busy, with another patient, a driver on the side of the road walking around his car, smashing it to pieces with a crow bar. The person most certainly was about to become a patient, perhaps because of the bleeding left arm and limping left leg, or the way he was so boldly and effectively destroying his own vehicle, resisting help from the Paramedics.
“Who is that…?” Williams said, opening the door, pushing his way out of the car with as much strength as he could.
“Situation under control,” Doctor I said in voice that seemed coherent, connected to medical instincts and abilities as great as any Williams had seen, or learned, at Tulane. ‘Patient’ Ignitowski’s method of pulse diagnosis, neurological exam and that touch that combined maximal proficiency and compassion made Doc Williams feel secure, and cared for, for the first time in a long time. Still, Williams needed the kind of medicine that helped him most—-to be needed. “I have to help that patient out there!” he said, noting the straight jackets being taken out, the thorazine taken from the special compartment of the Emergency Vehicle, ready to inject into the unsuspecting patient’s arm, perhaps the right medicine, perhaps not. “I have to help!?
“Physician heal thyself,” the Elder PDQ said to the younger MD in an assuring, and stern tone. Mr. I, formerly Doctor Ignitowski, handed Williams a jar of medicine from his bag, simply labeled ‘Two pills a day, as needed, PDQ’. Losing no time, and with the quick rhythm of a man half William’s age, Doc Ignitowski’s hands whipped the lacerations in William’s hands and head back into shape, giving him injections of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and anti-psychotic drugs. Some Williams noted as being from the Klajman Hospital Pharmacy, while others weren’t, writing on them faded, in red script from a time before computer print outs or perhaps even typewriters.
Williams sniffed the special PDQ pills, then tasted them. “Sugar pills!”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Ignitowski said, cutting the last remnant of excess stitching from William’s forehead. “But one thing is for sure.”
Williams looked into the mirror, noting the repaired scar on his forehead. “That my ex-wife will say I finally got the lobotomy I needed, and deserve?” he mused.
“No, my lad, boy…man,” Ignitowaski smiled. Putting his hand on Williams’ shaking shoulders he leaned into the car. “All well motivated patients get better.”
“People” Williams said. “All patients are people. And all people are patients. And if I forget about that tomorrow at work, I want you to—“ Doctor Stew turned to Doctor Ignitowski, finding him walking back to the Emergency Vehicle, the erect six foot tall healer becoming a hunchbacked patient, losing an inch with each step.
“You okay Doc?” the Head Paramedic said to Patient Ignitowski.
“No problem,” he Dr I nodded as he took his seat in the cab, strapped into place by the Assistant Paramedic.
“What were you doing out in the woods?” the Assistant asked. “We asked you to stay in here. You’d get into big trouble with your family and we’d get shit from our boss.”
“A sick animal needed my help,” Dr I replied.
“What kind of animal would that be?” The Head Paramedic asked respecting the man, ignoring his stories.
“One that is…okay now,” Doctor Ignitowski replied, turning to the car that the Paramedics didn’t even notice, the Doctor inside of it who was not cured by a patient hardly suspected of being his biggest problem, and ultimate solution.
Williams scratched his head, opened the door, and trudged through the woods that hide anything more than ten feet from the highway from the driver’s perspective. As expected, thirty cars passed him without noticing or stopping. As unexpected, he found a cell phone on the pavement, a note from PDQ saying to press ‘redial’. Following doctor, or patient’s instructions, he did so.
“Hello…hello…” came from the other end, the voice confused, then angered.
Smiling, Williams knew what the good doc wanted him to do, and the treatment he needed to follow up on for a long time. “Hello, Nurse Erica, this is Doctor Stew.”
“Doctor Stew?” she inquired. “You hate it when patients call you that.”
“Well, a lot has changed since then.” He walked down the highway, continuing the conversation. “Which I wanted to relate to you over a late supper at my place…. and breakfast.”
“Where are you?” she asked, concerned.
“A better place than I’ve ever been,” William’s reply as his 90 dollar loafers sloshed through another pile of highway mud, a semi throwing ten gallons of oil-soaked rain puddle onto his suit and he felt the droplets of blood on the stitched lacerations on his arms, reminding him, for better or worse, that he was finally…alive.
There were three things that Cryptospordia didn’t ‘get’ about the Intelligent Life force which, by all accounts, was her Master, and friend. First, why was it that her Provider, and Protector, didn’t appreciate the value of a good dump, or as was called above her whenever she stopped to tried to take it, ‘shit’. Second, why did the more Intelligent species consider what came out of her so vial, and filled with the kind of bacteria that didn’t come out of ‘His’ ass. Third, why was she named ‘Cryptosporidia’, a beautiful name for a bug that probably looked very attractive under the microscope but did so many ugly things to people, and horses. Finally, why and Who decided that her Master could get to capitalize the letters that described everything about Him, and him,? She was a ‘good girl’ when she obeyed his will, a ‘bitch’ or worse when she didn’t, ‘old girl’ when she was tired of feeling her real biological age. But there was a higher hand than the Master on her back, or rather a Higher Hoof’s will that Leonard, her ‘master’ was the one who was the boss and she, as his favorite mare, was his servant. Maybe it had something to do with the number of flexible digits on his hands, the only one left for her being the third finger which when she walked kept her supported, giving a special ‘salute’ to any asshole or idiot behind her.
But maybe Leaonard, or as he now called himself, “Larry’, or in the Viking season of winter ‘Lars’ was the one to be taken care of, and she was his provider, and caretaker. It was, as Cryptosporidia calculated it, around thirty winters since he jumped on her then young back and high-tailed it to the High Country of British Columbia, Canada, from the high-plains pastures of Washington State, U.S. of A. She was a filly barely 5 months weaned from her mama, and Leonard was a long-haired young adventurer fleeing from his homeland. She remembered that ride back in 1971, ten of the hardest and most magnificent miles they ever ran together, making sharp turns to avoid the blue and white cars with the sirens on them, running hell-bent-for-leather from the green trucks with the men in the uniforms. But he and Leonard made it, staking out a claim in the bush where no one could find them. He made a few deals selling the kind of plants that she wasn’t allowed to eat, and she gave him, and herself, 4 babies that grew up to become a herd, growing season after season in a place without electric wires, without stinky air, and without any other voice within range except that of REAL people. No voices coming from those boxes the humans called radios in Washington. No small images on the bigger boxes she remembered as television, Leonard referring to it as ‘the idiot box’.
It was strange having only one human to look after, Leonard keeping away from strangers, and never told people he met his real name. He wrote his own books, and often asked ‘Crypto’ for her opinion. He liked writing about many things, but the one he wrote about most was War, particularly the one in Vietnam, a place he swore he would not fight in, and a place where, he said, there was lots of killing, lies and oil, and no horses. Crypto couldn’t imagine a forest where there were no horses, but maybe that was because it was a jungle. A place where the strong kill the weak, the clever mutilate the wise. A place like, according to Leonard, the US of A had become.
One day, Leonard, whose hair was still long, but a little thinner and a lot whiter than thirty winters ago, was riding in the woods looking for the yellow rocks that he could trade in town for bread, rice, hay and any OLD books. It was after a big rain, and thunder clouds on the other side of the mountain had made big explosions that seemed to reshape the mountain on both sides of it. The creek seemed to change direction, and Leonard, calling himself Lars this week as he was starting a book about Vikings who fought there way to the Pyramids in Egypt and talked to men from other planets, stopped to look at where he was. He took off his Viking helmet made from an old drinking bowl he found last Christmas and a ram who got eaten by the coyotes in the Spring and listened to the wind with his ears, taking off his boots to hear the earth with his feet. Any direction was ‘Open’ and his to take, except South or any direction that could lead to town, even a Canadian one. Crypto munched on some grass while she watched ‘Lars’ take a chunk of yellow pebble in his hand, chewing on it. He looked downstream and his eyes opened. “The yellow brick road!” he proclaimed, jumping on Crypto’s back, prodding her downstream at a lope, though all she felt safe doing on the rocky riverbank was a trot. “We’re off to see, and buy, the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Id’! he sang in a voice that hurt Crypto’s ears. Maybe it didn’t hurt Leonard’s ears because there was something in the mushrooms two waterholes and three dumps back that could make you sing so badly and not hurt your own ears or rip open your own throat.
The creek seemed to go in all directions, the sun darting in and out of the clouds, making East seem like West, an North like South. The latter was confirmed when Crypto noticed a strange, rectangular thing in the woods, a place where nothing had straight or ‘right’ angles in it. She jolted her head at the sign on the tree saying ‘Entering the U.S’, lifting her feet up at the overgrown patch of grass that seemed to have been cut close to the ground a season ago, some kind of ‘buzz’ coming up from the ground below it. But Lars was on a Mission, and the yellow brick road kept getting brighter in the stream that he was determined to follow. Crypto obeyed, and respected, Leonard’s commands. It had been a long ride since they left home that morning and, today at least, he was younger than she was. Maybe smarter. ‘It could happen,’ she thought. And the rule that Leonard said was true everywhere, ‘he who has the gold makes the rules’.
The rest of the stream seemed easier to ride over. The hard rocks turned into small pebbles, hoof-cushioning sand under them instead of hard dirt. And the grass seemed taller, and greener. The water tasted better too. Maybe it had something to do with the bottles floating on it, but each gulp of what she knew, and remembered, as ‘Yankee water’ was sweeter than the streams in Canada. She recognized one of the bottles. Coke, the kind she was given as a fillie when she was a very good girl, with the kind of label she hadn’t seen in thirty years.
She watched Leonard put his Viking helmet into the water, sifting out the yellow pebbles with the goat horns from its side. This time he was singing something else, in a Viking accent or course. “Oh Canada, my home and Native land…which we discovered in Newfoundland four hundred years before Columbus…”
Crypto didn’t know why, but when Leonard was happy, she found herself smiling too. It didn’t have anything to do with the fact that when he was happiest, the rations of grain were a fistful bigger and often delivered by hand. There was something else. What other horse or human had known each other for more than thirty winters? Leonard seemed to like the gait of Fidel and Mahatma, two of Crypto’s foals, now fully grown geldings, more than hers. They were faster than her, and certainly had better endurance, but Leonard rode her more than the other horses in the herd. As she watched the “Master Race” human singing “Oh Canada” while mistakenly on American soil, she imagined what it would be like to have a baby with him, the human who spoke about the US as a place to fear, for others and himself. The place where he said innocent horses are turned into dog meat, and people who refuse to go to War are put in jail, or into uniforms and sent to places where they get shot at, or worse, have to shoot others. She then pulled back when she imagined what the baby would look like with a six-inch long beard and eyes that seemed to look in both directions, each independent of each other. Better that they remain ‘Platonic’ lovers.
It was one of those moments of magnificence where, as the ex-New Yorker said, ‘life is good’. Leonard dreamed about buying that printing press and maybe even a computer instead of a typewriter, Crypto was thinking about the better brands of feed her children, ungrateful and loving brats they had become, could munch on for the next winter. But just as the green of summer grass gives way to brown fall pastures, and dry hay by the third snow, the magical moment was interrupted by a loud sound from the woods.
Leonard grabbed his gun, a well-crafted single-shot Hawking rifle which he used to scare away wolves, or when he had to, kill cougars. Or bears who developed a taste for horse meat. But this wasn’t a wolf, or a bear. It was a creature even worse than that, according to Leonard. It approached at rapid speed, giving Leonard barely enough time to line himself up for what he hoped would be a clear shot between its eyes, which were bright, shiny and penetrating. Leonard put himself in harms way, protecting his beloved Cryptosporidia with every ounce of courage he could muster through trembling lips, the Viking Helmet squarely on his head, making him appear to be half man, half beast and all-powerful.
“Halten, dar, schnellink!” he screamed out in ‘Viking’, as Crypto recognized it. “Halten du azer!”
The creature stopped, its lights and roar from under its belly coming to a halt. Crypto looked at it, and remembered it as something familiar, from her youth. A ‘VW’ on its head, roundish body, and three familiar creatures emerging from its side.
“Hey man! Know where the Gathering is?” the human with a beard and top hair almost as long as Leonard smiled.
“We got lost,” his friend said, wearing a fringed buckskin jacket with beads around his moccasins, that inverted Y inside a circle painted on his forehead.
Leanard was confused. He clenched his one-shot rifle and looked at the sign on the side of the creek. “Bellingham State Park, Site of Historical Battle between the Nez Perse and General Crook in…” he read, figuring out where he was. His fears seemed confirmed when another person came out of the Van, wearing a green jacket and Army boots, walking with a firm step, hair cropped down to the scalp.
Leonard backed his way to Crypto, both of his eyes looking at the beast, working with the business end of the Hawkin as to where the single shot could cripple it easiest. He was good at aiming without looking into the sites, something which saved Crypto, her children and even himself from countless predators, even humans. Just as she was about to get off a shot to immobilize the Van, and a second later lay his boots into Cryptosporidia’s flank that would take them back home to safety, yet again, the Green Coated, Boot-wearing, hair cropped ‘boss’ of the human entourage turned around.
“Peace, man,” came from the lips, and the eyes, and the heart of a woman who looked very familiar to Leonard, her fingers flashing the directive-index finger and the ‘Bronx salute’ third digit in a ‘V’ sign which conveyed hopes and commitment to the highest form of Victory, a world where there are no victors or victims. Had it not been for her wrinkless face, her multi-length hair long in the front and shaved in the back, and her non-arthritic fingers she could have been Laurie, the woman, and life Leonard left behind in Seattle. The woman who believed in Leonard’s fight against the Vietnam War, but who still said he was running away from his responsibilities. And the woman whose coward ness or sensibility kept her South of the 49th parallel, sending Christmas cards with horse cookies to ‘General Delivery, Westwold BC’ that reached Leonard for the first few winters, but stopped soon afterwards.
Crypto saw the same spirit in this young woman as in Laurie, as she came up to her with a dance like stride, petting her neck with a touch that was tender and assuring, both at the same time. The old mare missed Laurie, and felt that somehow she was back. Maybe, she imagined, this was Laurie’s daughter. She seemed so, by the way she looked at Leonard with the kind of respect an seasoned horse deserved from a young one. The reunion Crypto saw in Leonard’s eyes, and even in the half-bald Army Coat Hippie, whose name happened to be ‘Laury, with a Y’ seemed to last forever.
But ‘forever’ only lasted for the brief time after Leonard lower his hand-crafted, usually-accurate rifle and looked at his watch. “What year is this?” he asked Laury with a Y.
“It’s…like, now!” she smiled, asking if she could get on Crypto. To ensure that Leonard would say yes, the Old Mare nuzzled the twenty-something ‘ghost’, or daughter of the real thing, snorting and nodding her head ‘yes’ in the manner she saw humans do it.
Crypto felt like she was thirty years younger with the youngster on her back, tail lifted up in the air, trotting out like she was a proud virgin mare showing off to the stallions. And indeed, the two legged stallions were looking at ‘the girls’ with very open eyes. The mare gave her left ear to Laury, her right to eaves drop into what the ‘men’, or ‘boys’ were saying.
The one in the buckskin fringe jacket and Indian beats introduced himself to Leonard as ‘Jackson’, the other one as ‘Taylor’. Leonard introduced himself by his first name, inviting them to do the same, but Jackson and Taylor said that those were their first names. Leonard stroked his sun-baked chin through his white beard wondering what had happened to names in his absence from home country, and other things like why someone with such pretty hair as Laury would shave it down to the scalp from the neck to to top of the crown, a chunk of breast-length multicolored mane just above the forehead reminding the viewer of the wondrous locks that once were. “It’s her saying who she is,” Taylor smiled, taking off his hat, revealing a crew cut which Leonard feared could be done on himself if he said ‘yes’ to his country’s call to ‘duty’ back in 72.
Leonard did that ‘nod’, which over the years, he did more and more often. That nod which said “I’m old, maybe wise, and a wise man accepts the will of Mother Nature, and the expressions of those who She makes in her image, even if I don’t understand them. Like why there are mosquitoes and wasps. And why there are also horse, dogs and people. And why I have to write up in the woods because SOMEday the world will have the heart, mind, ears and courage to listen to….”
In mid rant-between the ears, Leonard’s gaze froze at what he saw inside the van. Anti-War signs. “Make Love Not War”, “No More Blood for Oil”, “One Planet, One World”, “Think Global, Act Local” and finally the one which made the tears behind Leonard’s touched heart open up and stream down his face, framing a smile of Victory and Renewal. “Dollars at home NOT worth dead children’s lives abroad”.
“You okay, man?” straggly-long haired Jackson asked Leonard, keeping his distance.
“Yeah,” short-cropped Taylor added, feeling the need, impulse to lay his outstretched hand on Leonard’s shoulders. “Are yoi—”
“The War, which you left!” Leonard cried, noticing a ‘Veterans Against the War’ button on his jacket, worn like a medal. “You had the courage to leave, from the INSIDE.”
“I…enlisted,” Taylor related with shame, and regret. “I should have know better, but…then when I got there,”
Leonard embarrassed Taylor, young and old Warriors against War telling each other their innermost stories without saying a single word, Jackson looking on wanting to help, but not knowing if he could, or should. “It’s alright….We’ll end this War!” Lenard assured Taylor. “All of us!” he proclaimed from a face that hadn’t shed a tear since the Christmas of 1973, when he stopped getting cards from Laurie and cut off all radio, television and newspaper contact with the world in protest and defiance of what it had become. He made his own confession, in worlds even Cryto didn’t hear, at least until now.
“I thought that by making a new world up here, without having anything to do with the old one down there, something mystical would happen,” the sometimes 18 and sometimes 80 year old Leonard confessed to the lads, and everyone else in his imaginations and memory. “Beethoven went deaf to the world, and that was why he wrote the kind of music that no one ever wrote before. Music we need now, and music that I tried to, maybe did, put into…words.”
“Which need to be heard,” came from behind the old man, and the back of the mare who was his closest friend, by necessity first, then choice later. “You seem to, ya know, know a lot,’ Laury said with a smiling voice that felt real, one of Leonard’s latest books-in-progress retrieved from his saddlebag. “This stuff is…”
“Real?” he asked, placing all his bets and prayers on the table.
“Cool, I think,” she said as she dismounted with the leap of a dancer. “What I can read and understand of it, anyway.”
Leonard smiled with delight, and victory. He yelped out a Viking scream of victory louder than any Crypto ever remembered. Even the time when he and her ‘reached an agreement’ and went on their first lope together, a controlled gallop that lasted four pastures worth. But Leonard was now on the ground, and Crypto’s legs couldn’t go much further. That bout of laminitis three seasons ago and the tendon injury last spring were taking there toll. But, she knew that there would be a last ride some day. Like the one Brunhilde took on her horse Graine as she charged the walls of Valhalla destroying the gods who had kept mankind subservient, ignorant and living within their self-created limitations. Of course, in Wagner’s opera, what survived the final clash was only the music. And humanity. And horseaminy. A world without War and with Passion of the Heart was worth fighting and dying for, even for the sake of her own equine children. Military assholes are also industrial pigs, who destroy pastureland to put up shopping malls and suburbs, leaving the horses left to spend 23 and a half hours a day in a 6 by 6 foot stall so their spoiled brat kids can have safe pony rides or show off how you can hurt a horse going over a jump to their father’s clients. Or, if the horses were lucky, to go to the butcher’s block, only good enough to be eaten by the dog, or the French or Japanese. No, what was brewing behind Leonard’s eyes had to be done and done now.
Confirmation of such was heard from the other side of the hill. A gathering of cars, then trucks, then what seemed like louder trucks. Tanks, according to the memory Crypto had of television in the days when Leonard would keep it on inside his cabin with the window open to the pasture on hot summer nights.
“Let’s do it!” Leonard proclaimed, putting on his Viking Helmet, placing a Peace Sign in the middle of it, grabbing his gun, and assertively inserting his foot into Crypto’s stirrup, swinging his aged yet revitalized body into the saddle. “We gonna get arrested?” he asked, as he heard sirens from the other side of the mountain.
“That’s the idea,” Taylor said. “The Wildlife Preserve is supposed to be for ducks, not oil rigs, strip mining, or Army maneuvers.”
The ‘A’ word rang terror into Leonard’s heart. He remembered the stories about jail for those who ‘faced the music’, New York Pacifist sent to Texas jails and put in with Rednecks who would beat them until they either became ‘men’ and fought back, became corpses or turned into self-destructive bitches for any yahoo who wanted a piece of tale. Those that survived on the inside seldom made it more than a year or two on the outside without killing themselves or winding up in a loony bin.
A fleet of Army choppers flew above, low and very ‘artistically’. Crypto spooked. Taylor and Jackson mooned them. Laury looked at Leonard, relating the obvious to him. “No one here or in Vietnam or anywhere else will hear us till we go to them.” Indeed she was her mother’s daughter, or idealistic progeny, though Leonard never asked for biological verification of such.. Time enough for that after the War to End the War was over.
“Down Below’ was someplace Leonard swore he’d never return to. Crytposporidia welcomed it when she remembered the hard ground, soul-shattering noise and horrible smells in her youth. But winter didn’t last as long ‘down below’ and the grass was, between the garbage around it, sweeter. It also had so many people in it. ‘Down Below’ was a busy place indeed, particularly when the VW Van, she and her ‘human child’ Leonard arrived into the Anti-War Camp. It felt like thirty years ago, every face that could grow a beard seeming to have one, and no one with hair that looked ‘normal’. Indeed, nothing was normal here. There were even some Indian kids who rode their horses into the Camp, one of them a stud who, maybe if she winked the right way with her ass, would be interested in conceiving another foal. Yes, she was tired, and yes, even on a good year there was barely enough hay and grain to make it through the winter, but just one more foal. That would be…magnificent, and lovely.
But before magnificent or lovely could happen for anyone who walked on two or four legs, there was ‘challenge’. The Anti-War people, who also seemed to be for saving the Earth and animals on it, gathered up in a line, someone in the middle of the crowd ahead organizing them. It was a black-skinned man, not too many white hairs on his face or head, but even though he was barely grey, he seemed wise Or at least caring. He had this nervous look in his eye that only Cryto could see. Like a rider who wants all the people around him to think he knows his way around a horse but who barely knows the head from the ass, and who knows that his ass will be on the ground as soon as the horse moves. Crypto and her children always took care of such men, and women, by walking slower, trotting more smoothly and never breaking out into a lope until there was soft ground and a slight incline up a hill to absorb the riders bouncing. But this Black Man, who everyone called Afro American for reasons she couldn’t understand, panicked after the first line of Police and then Soilders moved in on the pasture that had been a party-town, announcing with loudspeakers that they had to disperse.
Everyone held their ground, as did the Black Man. The animal-loving humans looked at him, telling HIM what to do. They all nodded a lot, then he turned around and put up his hand in a fist. It made the Police mad, though the Soldiers seemed to accept it, laughing at him, calling him a ‘dumb Nigger’. But though he may have been dumb, he wasn’t dumb-Souled. When the White Faced Army people imitated his fist gesture with a ‘Nigger Dance’, the Cops got nervous, particularly the ones who weren’t White. The “Afro American’ leader of the Army against Armies held up his fist even higher, then opened it, one finger it if actually.
The ‘third digit salute’ to the Police and the Soldiers made most of them mad, particularly as humans on the animal-caring side of the line joined in. Crypto felt Leonard smile as he joined in, and saw him smile even more when Leonard saw Laury do a dance in front of the men with the loaded cannons and thunder sticks, giving the soldiers the finger and putting flowers into the barrels of their guns. Some of the soldiers looked at flowers with anger, some at her breasts with not so generous thoughts, and some, the ones who were in the cleanest uniforms with the spy glasses, said something else with their faces. One of them looked at a his watch, another nodded, and they sent signals to each other. A soldier from the back of the ranks, whose face Crypto couldn’t’ see because of his helmet, broke through the ranks and grabbed Laury, throwing her basket of flowers on the ground, then spitting on them, then, as Crupto and Leonard alone saw it, ripping off the buttons on her blouse. She turned around, surprised that he was bare chested.
She was grabbed by two other soldiers, then she started to scream. “What are you doing?!!!” Get your hands off me!” All the good humans wanted to help, and moved forward but they stopped when a loud sound penetrated the mountain air. The chirping of the birds stopped as a tree trunk filled with them fell to the ground.
“That’s a warning shot, folks,” the Head Cop said over a very loud loudspeaker in his hand, taking orders from a few head Soldiers. “You are on Federal Land. In violation of Federal Law. Disperse now, peacefully—“
“—and forever live in shame, and dishonor”. Crytosporidid heard Leaonard proclaim, her ears ignoring the rest of what the Cop said. It was all ‘homoshit’ as far as she and Leonard was concerned.
Crypto felt two firm legs on her trunk, lifted her head up, and bolted out according to the command of her friend, and ally. Together, they charged through the line of garbage left by the Pro-Environment Protesters, the fleeing crowds of the ‘good’ humans who seemed to well dressed to be real, the barricades of wooden sawhorses put in place by the Cops, and the over the fences of advancing barbed wire that now separated Laury from her people. Together they dodged and ignored bullets shot at their feet. Together they raced to the truck whose door opened quickly so it could take the ‘exhibitionist anarchist’ away without incident or without allowing her to tell HER story to the press and her comrades. Together they jumped across the barricades of modern machinery which Leonard was determined would not be used against any Vietnamese men, women or, most importantly, children. Together they snatched Laury from the Soldiers with visors around their faces, Crypto rearing up to scare off the arresting goons, Leaonard firing the one and only ‘warning shot’ from the ornamental Hawkins riffle that the Cops and Soldiers initially thought was real, but now knew as anything but. Together, they carried Laury back toward the safe side of the line, where the ‘good’ people marched forward, arm in arm, toward the Cops, who then fled, then the Soldiers, who dispersed after a call came in to their Commander ‘allowing’ them to do so. Together, they tended to Laury’s wounds in the woods, away from the Protesters inspired by Leonard’s courage, and the Reporters who wanted to find out who the Hippie-Mountianman- kamikaze-Warrior who escaped being killed by skill or Divine intervention really was.
“Who are you?” Laury asked Leonard as he cleaned her wounds, ignoring his own, putting his kindled desire for a lost love into an even deeper place within his lonely heart. “Why did you, like, ya know, do that?” .
“Your mother would understand, or at least I hopes she doesn’t, now,” Leonard’s reply.
“I don’t…like….get it, or you.”
Leonard smiled, allowing the deepest part of his wisdom to speak the loudest. Seeing that al was well with Laury, and he world about to bring her back, he looked into Crypto’s eyes, apologizing to her for the superficial cuts on her legs, thankful to Whoever that the legs under the lacerated skin were still sound and solid.
With that, Leonard rode Crypto back into the woods, back North of the 49th parallel and back home. They didn’t speak to each other, each lamenting missed opportunities, Crryptosporidia still dreaming about feeling like a young mare with the dink of that hot Indian Arab-Appy stallion inside of her. But a Higher Wisdom said that it was time to go home, and forge new fronteers of the Soul beyond politics. Leonard did ask one question of the mare. “Crupto, think we should get a radio?”
The Mare pondered the music coming out the ‘sound box’ in 1973, just as disco was becoming king, and gave the matter the most serious of considerations. “No” said with her head and a snort she thought only understood by other horses but, apparently, by at least one human.
Leonard smiled at the Cyrpto’s answer. “I agree,’ he replied somberly, taking five seconds to relish in his latest victory ‘down below, thankful for the freedom he still had and that whoever was in charge of Canada still wasn’t sending American draft dodgers down South. Such was the good news. The not so good news…another set of musical novels about the innermost human condition which, would be acted out, inevitably, on Crypto’s back from the multi-voice, tone deaf “Lenny’.
It wasn’t as if Ivan was a lazy man. Indeed, he was as hard working as anyone else in his village. It was just that where he worked couldn’t been seen by other men, women or even his imaginary friends. His official job was to ride from one village to the next with the mail. His services had been very much valued by those dwellings not yet connected by the iron horse. But to Ivan’s added frustrations, those settlements were in no great hurry to get news about anywhere else except the hear and now.
Today, Ivan’s job was to carry a letter to Tasha Rusmenski. It smelled of cologne, and he smelled like mare’s sweat. There were other letters in the satchel Ivan rode into town with of course, but the letter to Tasha seemed most important to him. By its feel it was not about who owed what money to who, or what land belonged to what business, but about someone who cared a lot about her. Ten miles and two adjustments of horse shoes back he gave into the temptation of reading the letter by the golden glow of sunlight that shone through the page. It illuminated some words that seemed fresh. Some that were warm. And some that were loving, in a language he didn’t recognize. A tongue more expressive than his Native Russian. Maybe Georgian, maybe Polish or maybe a mysterious tongue from the East. Indeed, Ivan felt like he imagined his ancestors did. Riding the steppes and delivering the mail that kept the Great Mongol empire unified. So many people forgot about the Mongols. Horsemen who rode before they could walk, and who could always see beyond the horizon.
Now, the horizons had fences to them. Some you could see, some you felt. Indeed, for a postal worker in the mounted division of the Czar’s mail delivery service, one failed delivery away from being fired and sent to the Poorhouse, the only horizons left for Ivan were those between the ears.
Ivan dismounted in front of the Mayor’s Office and delivered his goods. Good mornings all around, delivered to ‘important’ people with his eyes downward. His head bowed. But such suited Ivan, as he prefered to be left alone. He knew that the worlds he could create with a pen were far more important than the people who had the power to write his checks, or the world they made possible by their administrative organization.
He looked over the horizon, to the East. The once-vast grasslands now beaten into pastoral submission by the plow, the green creatures coming up from the earth selected by man, forced to grow in straight lines, not knowing that their job was to be slaughtered by the roots, and pulled out. The land that once said ‘open’ to anyone bold enough to feel beyond to horizon. The plot of agricultural earth that separated him from the cottage bearing Tasha’s address.
Stealing a ride over whatever wild grassland was not yet desecrated by the plow, Ivan galloped his horse between the fields of planted crops. The house seemed to take on a different form with each layer of sunlight that hit it as the sun began to set. Tasha’s abode first seemed like a solidly-built Russian-built house, then a Tater hut, then a Mongolian yurt. He smiled as a tall woman with slanted blue eyes, wide open, emerged. The sun blinded his view of the house and the goddess emerging. Mindful of the task at hand, he bowed to the Divinity and Humanity within her and handed her the letter.
“Tasha Rusmenski?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied, taking the letter. “Yes indeed,” she continued as she opened it and read the first line. “No, definitely not,” her final indignant reply, taking the letter and crumbling it. She threw the letter into the air, leaving the wind to take it away. She entered her dwelling and closed the door, the harsh sound of which reminded Ivan very painfully that he was in modern Russia, and that his Princess was a spoiled brat who had the misfortune of growing up rich and unchallenged. Another burdon to society, more miserable than any of the abused serfs tilling her fields.
Ivan chased after the letter. He had to know who was writing to her, and why she so affirmatively rejected the news that Ivan had rode so long to deliver to her. The wind decided to challenge him, swooping the letter up and down ten fields, around three ponds and finally settling into a vat of cow manure.
He had come this far with the news, and perhaps the letter was for Ivan’s eyes, not Lady Tasha’s. He opened it up, and discovered that he could read it. Enough of it anyway. Particularly when his inquisitive mind was opened up by a manure collector who, miraculously enough, could read it. The toothless old man laughed with gentle amusement. Ivan raged in agonizing frustration.
“What the hell does it say?” he asked the man. “Tell me!” Ivan demanded, offering him whatever coins he could spare, and a few he couldn’t.
The old man rolled up his sleeves, revealing burnt numbers on his arm. From a penal institution of one sort or another. “We had a special time in Macedonia, and you have become special to me,” he said with a Greek accent. “As a publisher, I value talent, particularly from romantics who live in times more noble than ours. And you, Tasha, are the most noble dreamer living in past centuries, that I have ever met.”
Ivan pondered the issue. Was this a Sign from a God who was more interested in testing than rewarding him? A voice from the past? The final test that he passed. “Continue, please,” Ivan begged the Greek refugee as he imagined the stories in his head on the page, being delivered by so many riders to so many people. Perhaps the words he didn’t know could be put into print with the rite spellink by this poet-peasant, or by perhaps the writer of the letter. “Continue, please,” Ivan repeated again feeling that this letter was being written to him.
“I want to meet you, and see the Ancient stories in your mind, and heart. I love you, and know that somehow, something great will come of you getting this. Will you join me, and join our hearts together, in Saint Petersburg?”
“Yes!” Ivan proclaimed to the North, South, East and Western horizons. “Yes!” he asserted, giving the Greek a pencil and scrap of paper. “Tell him I say yes!”
“Him?” The Greek mused, showing Ivan the letter.
Ivan couldn’t believe it. A proposition of marriage for the Great Lady Tasha from…another Lady?
“Maybe some of my horizons are still limited,” Ivan commented, finding himself overcome with the kind of propriety he sought to abolish as part of his life Dream.
The Greek said something in Ukranian understood only in that language. Remembering his Native tongue from his days as a carefree Cossack in Kiev, Ivan translated. “Coincidences are God’s way of telling you that your wildest dreams are you ordained destiny,” he recalled.
The Greek noded in approval, got on his wagon, and drove the cowshit away. Ivan looked at the letter, then at his assigned routes as mail deliver for the next day.
The Postal Service lost one more rider to ‘bandits’ the next day. The literary world aquired one more new writer the month afterward. Such was how it was written in Ivan’s head as the wheel broke on the wagon, crushing his skull open. But, for that moment which lasted an eternity, Ivan was…Alive. More than what could be said of Tasha, her lover, or anyone else in the village. Except, perhaps, for the Old Greek.
The building had to be strong, cost-effective, and of course pleasing to the inner eye of the person who would live in it. Yes, “Utopia Mansion” had to be perfect. Harrold would not accept anything less. Most people in his present world called him Harry, though he hated the name. Almost as much as he hated losing the cohabitant of ‘Utopia’ to the pyschosis of greed as administered in healthy doses by divorce attorneys.
“The front wall ain’t straight, Harry”, a hunchbacked old Sagess called Norma by everyone else in the Community commented as Harrold pushed the pre-fabricated interface pushed upright, allowing its designer to see it for the first time. “The winda’s is also crooked,” she continued, spitting tobacco on the lot he claimed as his own, and would let NO bank, or divorce attorney, take from him.
“I designed it!” Harrold protested. “Measured it with my own tools!” he continued with a rooster-like boast. “Built it with the best materials available under the sun!” he asserted. “It has to be straight!”
“Cept when slanty rain hits straight cardboard, it comes unstraightened”, Norma sneared through a weatherbeaten wrinkled eight decade old face. She unleashed a wad of chewing tabacco and fresh saliva onto the left side of the ‘straight wall’, and smirked as ‘Harry’ saw it fall down to the ground of the abandoned railway depot with a snake like pattern that laughed at him with each twist and turn. Then, the wall came tumbling down.
“How the hell could it come to this!” Harrold screamed out, looking at the rest of the used cardboard boxes he had constructed into pre-fab walls for the other sides of the ‘house’ that would be his illegal residence on Hobo Island before the Cops came around. “I was an archetect! I was careful with my investments! I was honorable in my business dealings! And I told my ex-wife everything she wanted and needed to hear! What happened?”
Norma looked over the rest of the houses in this suburb of “New Hooverville”, a rowboat of new residents slithering across the river under the cover of the late afternoon winter fog. “One too many goddamn Republican Presidents” she stated. “That’s what happened to you, and the rest of us.”
“But I’m a Republican!” Harrold asserted, showing off his American Flag on the lapel of what used to be a $400 dollar suit jacket, the buttons on it now all off, giving way to holes big enough to put his third finger through.
“You WAS a Republican,” Norma smiled warmly, looking at ‘town’ across the small river. A fascade of vast buildings that were now mostly vacated now, having gone through several owners each within the last year, the rats and roaches its occupants now. “Everyplace is Buffalo now,” she proclaimed somberly regarding the ‘forever on its last broken legs’ city that she seemed to regard as ‘home’.
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Harry grunted as the first drops of another rain came down. A trickle now, but soon a downpour that would drench his house, or anyone who wasn’t protected by some kind of shelter. He quickly reassessed the mathematics of the archetectural task at hand, the tools and building supplies he had scrounged, and put his mind to the task of re-building a new provisional empire from the old empire’s garbage.
Meanwhile, Norma recalled the ‘good old days’ of being broke in the pocket in Hoovervilles just like Hobo Island, and the ‘bad old days’ of being broke in Spirit living with ‘money men’ who took her in because she had great legs, and big hooters. The many men who neglected to see that her real beauty was between her ears, not between her legs. How she pitied those young men with old and defective minds. How she spoke of them in the present tense as she began to live in the past, thanks to the ‘mad cow disease’ that came and went like the sun, moon and rain.
That rain progressed from ‘Irish mist’ to ‘Detroit sprinkles’, on its way to ‘Seattle downpour.’ Harrold had seen all of those states of weather when he was on his business trips. He recalled rain clouds from the view of the top, from his window in First Class, and the economic rationalization for how they were constructed. “Did you know that rain clouds from the top are pure gold when the sun shines on them. Gold the color of…Jennifer’s hair. And white, clouds pure as my Jenna’s Soul. The Soul I fell in love with,” he said. The rain clouds above became blacker from Harrold’s very earth-bound perspective, blocking out any view of white clouds, golden sun of blue sky.
“Trickle down economics, Comrade Harry,” Norma commented. “The rich fucks on top whip out their big dicks and the urine falls down on us.”
“And who rules the rich fucks on top?” Harrold asked, as Harry. “Justice, maybe? God? The Golden Rule? The Rule of Survival of the fittest? The Rule of What, or Who?” He looked down at the ground. A metal ting rolling along the cracked concrete that had once been polished concrete, on its way to a sewer from which there was no return. “My wedding ring,” he said noting the now naked fingers on his now narrowed left hand, taking stock of the ‘fat cat’ belly which his ‘Hobo’s Delight Diet Plan’ had reduced three belt sizes over the last three months. He coughed, noting blood in the phelgm this time. He felt God and Jennifer laughing at him from the knot of congestion in his lungs which got tighter every time he remembered who both parties really were, and what he calculated that they had in store for him.
“Heaven watches, Earth works, Comrade Harry.” Norma prophephazied, smiling at Harrold, offering him a generous view of her gams and boobs, and a seductive rendition of the Socialist ‘Internationale’ through a voice that didn’t know it was supposed to be old, or defeated.
The view of it all wasn’t so bad for ‘Comrade Harry’. And bore proof of its legitimacy. Norma had taken Harry’s prefab straight rectangular ‘house’ and reshaped it into a circular tent. “You rebuilt my house into a teepee” he smiled.
“Our Palace, King Harrold,” she proclaimed proudly, inviting Harry into the cardboard walled mansion that looked, somehow, bigger than its actual dimensions.
The night was long, and Harry was scared. And angry. But he felt, somehow, less alone.
Cynthia McCarthy did everything in her life early, on time and with minimal disruption for those around her. Including her birth. She popped out of her mother’s womb on the exact due date, providing for her life-giver only 15 minutes of discomfort which the charts called ‘labor’. Perfect attendance at school, Bs or better in every subject. Her first period, her first bulging of the breasts and her first orgasms using that anatomy came at the ‘average’ time for a girl with an average name, and above average professional expectations. No surprise that she got into medical school with early admission, read and completed her assignments ahead of time, and came to labs before anyone else did, even the Lab Instructors.
The first day of Gross Anatomy brought the very white skinned, very blonde haired and very red-lipsticked Cynthia into room where she would begin to become a doctor. Where she would face life and death, and champion those caught in between those two extremes. Those waiting for her in the room had already lost that battle. The cadavors lay there, still covered, the only identification to any human life they once carried on a tag tied with a twist tie to the big toe. They reeked of formalin, an odor which kept ‘civilians’ away from the room but which drew in Cynthia. Instead of closing up the nostrils and opening up the mouth for vomitous ejection, the formaldyhe fumes brought back fond memories which both stirred the mind and opened the carnal passions.
Cynthia remembered disecting bugs frogs and mice in her High School biology, along with lab partner Jimmy Manheim opening up the top buttons on his shirt to show off his newly developed hair and muscular chest. She recalled College Anatomy courses where cold cats and dogs carcasses bearing some similarities to her own pets at home were the object of study, along with hot Latin Lab Instructor Jose Gonzales who somehow had cajoled Cynthia to unbutton her blouse for private study sessions.
Cynthia enjoyed ‘living’ anatomy as well. She observed as many surgeries as she could, and looked at every body part with intense fascination. Everything up from the distal phalanges of the toes to the meningeal surface of the parietal cerebral cortex just below the surface of a carved out skull. But she never looked at the face. Of either surgical patients, or those who took a one way ticket to the morgue after the surgeon’s scalpel failed to thwart the inevitable delivery of death.
“Well,” Cynthia said to corpse 237, her assigned formaldyhye-infused companion for the next 6 months. “It’s just you and me, kid,” she said to the corpse, the face still covered by the Navy Blue body bag marked ‘Property of the Department of Anatomy’. She glanced over the sylabus for the course. The extremities would be first, followed by the abdomen, then the thorax, then the head. “Saving the best for last,” she smiled.
She looked at her watch, always set five minutes fast. Then down the hallway. No one there, and no one in the room. Did she miss something? Was there another class somewhere she had forgot about? Why were all of her fellow doctors to be somewhere else? A glance at the wall revealed the answer, just behind the skeleton once owned by a woman, code named ‘Fredricka’. By the looks of her now very naked calcified ‘inner Core’, she died, most likely, from a blow to her temporal bone and dislocation of the atlas-cervical junction. “Special Seminar” it read, with guest speaker whose name eluded her from a TV show she had seen once, she recalled.
“For the kids,” she said to herself preparing for a walk down to the library to catch up on the latest articles in JAMA, the Harvard Medical Journal and International Journal of Biomedical Chemistry. But ‘Fredricka’ had other ideas. Her arm fell upon Cynthia’s shoulder, pushing onto the floor, her hand unzipping 237’s body bag as he protected herself from abrasions on her pelvic girdle and left acentabulem.
Cynthia’s eyes came face to face with 237. The first corpse she had seen in such a manner, even in ‘civilian’ life. She took note of the shape of 237’s mandible, the sharp angles revealing very much a masculine jaw, complimented by follicles covering the frendulum and skin lateral to it which ‘civilians’ would call a rather colorfully large Einstein mustache. The margins of the lips were upright, fixed in a sort of smile. The ocular portholes, otherwise known as eyes, she kept her glance away from. But they demanded a look see, from above.
“So,” she said to 237, allowing her clammy hand to gently feel of his rock hard, cold neck, and the lump below the Adam’s apple. “You have….had an goiter. Hyperthyroidism, I suspect. But by the size of your pupils, and the lack of exopthalmus in your NON-buldging eyes, it probably wasn’t the primary reason for your expiration.”
Cynthia considered the word ‘expiration’. The term you use when a jug of milk or a piece of meat had outlived its usefulness. Was such the same with 237? Hardly, she firmly asserted to herself as she stroked the skin under his jaw, examining the size of the parotid and submandibular lymph nodes when they ‘collided’ into her shaking fingers.
“Immune system…okay, so it seems,” she reported to 237. “Oral cavity,” she continues sticking her hand into his mouth, ignoring the mandate to wear rubber gloves as she claimed it interfered with her ability to ‘see’ with her fingers. “All okay there, except for those bumps on the gums,” she said.
Cynthia caught herself falling into a hole. How in the name of Jonas Salk could she ever allow herself to use such a common and inaccurate word such as ‘bumps’. There were a thousand medical terms which were more accurate for the red, raised lesions that had a petichial nature to their distribution, but all she could think of was ‘bumps’.
She looked at the 237, and stroked the cheeks, along the course of the facial nerve. A tear came down her left lacrimal gland from the corner of her eye and dripped onto her chin. “I didn’t know you were still alive, or where you were Daddy,” she wept. “And NO one told me you died.” Cynthia remembered the last days with her biological father. He suffered from numerous ‘nuisance’ ailments, some of them exacerbated by alcohol. But primary in his symptoms was regret, and the knowledge that he had grown up to become a failure in a country where being number one was everything, and being number two was number nothing, or worse.
“Look,” Cynthia continued, showing him her name tag. “I made it! Your daughter is going to be a Doctor!…A Doctor who is going to find out what killed you, and see that it doesn’t kill anyone else…So fucking, goddamn help me—“
Before Cynthia could address ‘the Man upstairs’ to make the pledge final, and binding, the door to the lab opened. In poured her fellow students in hip long white lab jackets, the lab demonstrators in their knee length smocks, then the Professor, in a long freshly pressed lab coat bearing stern paternal eyes behind his ‘welcome Freshman’ smile.
“Anatomy 101” he wrote on the board. Cynthia stole one more glance at ‘237’ and closed him up. She promised him that the next time she glanced at his formalin-fixed grin, it would be having accomplished more than just getting an “A” for the course. Indeed, Cynthia had another Master, and Friend, to have to impress, and serve, with higher standards than any Professor in any White Lab Coat, anywhere else in the world of the living.
DEATH OF THE SIMPLE LOVE STORY
The tale about Romeo the Cat was based in real life fact, told in simple words that everyone could understand, a tear jerking story with a happy ending. . Cat meets boy, boy loses cat, cat finds boy as a distrurbed man and cures him of a broken heart and defeated soul A feel good story that made you feel good for the Right reasons. Such was its major problem…
“It’s too, ya know…” Jennifer LeRue-Wilson said with tight lips as she leaned back on the thinsulate cushioned chair behind her large, imitation oakwood desk.
“Too what?” Joe asked, not knowing what the hell ‘Ms. LeRue-Wilson’ meant.
“You know,” she replied with a condescending smile, her eyes once again noting Joe’s well-scoffed work boots, his paint-stained jeans and his hands, blistered from banging nails into rich people’s houses as well as worn down between the digits from countless hours he spent writing ‘Romeo the Cat’. “It’s too…”
“Too what!” Joe asserted. The life-experienced carpenter who spent most of his hard earned money rescuing real animals in distress and less-than-real people from problems of their own making had not grown tired of being disrepected by those who he thought he could and should respect when he took on the task of writing the book. He had been given the runaround by enough publishers. Enough ‘Ms’s’ with hyphenated names. Enough Starbuck’s drinking 20-something eggheads who were well read but who never wrote anything in their lives except ‘colorful’ digs about struggling people’s manuscripts. Enough being looked at like he was a defective or useless piece of meat, good enough to build the houses these superior bitches lived in but never good enough to be invited in for dinner. “Too what?” Joe asked again, sensing that perhaps a gentle asking was the way to get a real answer for yet another rejection of his manuscipt.
Ms. LeRue-Wilson sat back, and seemed to think about it. Joe tried to read what was in her head. Part of the game she seemed to want to play, but a game he needed to get a lot better at if he was going to leave behind, in print anyway, his life-earned views on how people and animals should get along with each other, and why.
“The words…are they not college material?” he offered.
“No…that’s not the problem,” the reply, as ‘Ms. Jennifer’ looked over the manuscript again. “It’s a children’s book, and you really did write it in the language of a child.”
It felt like a compliment, or so Joe wanted to think so. It started out as a book for adults but felt more like writing for a kid as he had gotten into it. Joe’s kids. His brother’s kids. And everyone else’s kids.
“It’s a real story,” Joe answered. “I added some stuff to it from other real stories, but it’s all real. Really”.
“Really, I understand that,” Jennifer answered. “And like it because of that, but…” She tightened her lips up again. Looked over the manuscript and took out her red pen. She held it close to the pages, scanning the lines like a computer ‘processing’ the pages that represented Joe’s best efforts at describing the way things are in the animal world, and the way they should be.
“But what?” Joe pleaded. “I made some spelling mistakes, I know.”
“Which jars the reader, and almost disqualified it from being assessed,” the reply from behind glasses poised at the tip of Jennifer’s perky Preppy nose.
“I tawked too rough about Romeo’s life on the streets?” he ‘aksed’.
“Actually, we liked that. Entertaining and fascinating, and it brought a tear to two junior reader’s eyes.”
“Then what?” Joe persisted, leaning over the desk. Staring Jennifer in the eyes, which she kept from his. Until now, when he MADE her look at him for the first time during the ‘face to face’ meeting he was promised over the phone. “What’s wrong with this love story?”
The hypenated Ms. put down the manuscipt and stared in front of her, at thin air, so it seemed. Unsure of herself, perhaps for the first time in a long while, which made her feel very uncomfortable, and scared. “There is an interesting problem with this story that will never allow it to be published today, by anyone. It’s got heart. It’s based in reality. It talks about real life experiences. But it’s…”
“It’s what?” Joe asked, working his way into her mind, and perhaps heart. “My love, real life story that’s making even YOU feel something is too what?”
“Lies,” Joe surmized. “What about the truth? Real truth.”
“Ms” had to think about it. Another mirror pushed into her face. Joe felt accomplished, on an individual level and a global one. The high school drop out had finally outwitted the college critics who made him feel like shit most of his life. Yet, he couldn’t throw the crap back in their faces. And not into ‘Ms’ either, who seemed to resemble his own daughters somehow. Daughters who he loved, almost as much as he loved Romeo the Cat, the real cat and the cat in the story. “The truth…” he said warmly. “The truth, said from the heart, is…”
“Boring,” smiled ‘Ms’ from her superior attitude place. “Simple love is boring,” she repeated from a cold and heartless place inside of her. “Real relationships are, ya know, complicated,” she continued from her innermost sanctum, which reeked of loneliness.
‘Ms’ handed Joe back his manuscript, gave him the usual limp ‘professional’ good luck handshake. But Joe felt something very unusual. Pity for the ‘professionals’ who thought themselves superior in ways of the 21st century mind and ‘modern’ heart. The gatekeepers who were minions of the new devil. A demon who found a way to sterilize the public by making them more in love with figuring out a ‘brain puzzle’ than connecting to pure expressions of genuine love.
Joe felt like telling all of this to ‘Ms. Jennifer’, to perhaps save her life, but she was already dead. Perhaps he would ressurect her with the sequel to Romeo the Cat, the first chapter of which was being written by a Higher Paw in his freshly inspired Mind, Brain and Spirit.
FOURTH DOWN AND INFINITY TO GO
The Lord proclaimed that one must honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. Such was the Law in the Old World, and the Custom on the East Coast in the New One. As to how one must keep it Holy when one moves further West, escaping the comfort of one’s roots, that requires adjustments that are verified in the Scripture written between the lines in the Good Books.
So, on the afternoon of the seventh day when the Workahollic in the sky was getting antsy about lingering about, God created football. Eleven men whose assigned job is to move a ball on a field that can be grassy, muddy, snowy, ice and, for fun, a thin layer of blood over the crust of it. Gridlock for offense and defense which at any time can be broken by ONE man doing a heroic and/or smart thing, or screwing up and letting a small hole turn into a gushing waterfall that brings down the rest of his team. A relaxing event which the crowd gets into. The Crowd watching the crowd at home is wooed into the calming frenzy by the montra of the crowd noises. The soothing voices from the commentators who sound nothing like what they look like. And the vicarious thrill of picking, for no rationale reason, an idealogy to root for in the form of a city, a player or the color of the uniforms, watching the events of the Universe transpire and actually imagining that by wishing a play to go one way or another, you can make it so…
At least is it played for real. It isn’t made up. No Computer Generated ‘game’ where the Master is a program constructed by a man or woman in a comfortable basement somewhere possessed by the alure of technology, not aware of what is or could be outside the windows upstairs.
No, God created football and it has served to be the common launchpoint of discourse between estranged family members, business associates, and in rare but valued cases, inter-gender relations. A way to see one’s plans and inner strategies for the week to come played out by real players on real dirt for real stakes. In a game that is so real, and unreal. But without that illusion…Reality would be far less accessible.
The preceeding was NOT a message from the NFL and is intended to be used by EVERYONE without having to obtain written permission from the NFL and whatever teams are involved in the game at hand…
TO CALL OR NOT TO CALL—THIS WAS THE QUESTION
Another late night on the road for Ron. Another 14 hour shift on the rigs. Another day his 23 year old back felt like his Old Man’s. But another day of $35 bucks an hour in thirty below Fort McMurry on the rigs instead of eight dollars an hour slinging burgers back in cosy cosmopolatan Kamloops. One day closer to the plasma screen tv. A truck to take it home with. And a home he could BUY. And another day of calling back home to see if there was a home to go back to in this eighth week of what was supposed to be a three and a half week gig.
Ron thought about Susan a lot on the road. He complained about her neatnick habits to the hotel clerk. Confided his disappointment about her not understanding his need to be a rock star to the Country-music bar maid. Missed her microwaved pop tarts and frozen fries every time he partook of the homecooked meals of turkey, roast beef and tuna casserole at the hotel. The best hotel a Texas funded Canadian rigging company could afford. The best beds. The best bar maid dream babes as well. And the best cable available. With a tv that was all his. As much Wrestling, grindhouse road movies and porno as he could keep his eyes away to enjoy.
Ron looked at the phone and thought about calling Susan. Every third day seemed about right. Their relationship worked best when they were apart anyway. He dialed the number, as was his habit. Asked how she was doing, as was his responsibility. Heard that all was alright, as was his relief. But something was wrong, and even Susan knew it.
She asked him, in the way that he feared most. “You okay?” the question, demanding a straight and as honest an answer as Ron’s confused mind was capable of giving.
“Yeah…Everything’s good, Suz”, he sighed.
“I asked you if YOU were okay!” she continued in voice raised in volume, and condescention.
“I fucking told you! Everything’s okay!” Ron yelled back. “Just leave me alone.”
“You were the one who called me, Ron,” Susan pleaded.
“Like I always do,” he affirmed, gazing at the bar across the parking lot, filled with happy people or at least those who seemed so in front of other people.
“You’re not drinking again,” Susan asked.
“No,” Ron affirmed.
“Dope?” she continued.
“A little weed, low grade shit with no kick to it, to take the buzz off, which it didn’t, but…” he remained silent.
Susan waited on the line. “Ron” she said five times, the last one at a volume of a terrified scream, expanding the name to ‘Ronald’.
“Suz…Don’t call me Ronald, okay? You’re not my mother.”
“Then what am I?” she inquired, this time allowing him to answer any way he wanted or had to.
Ron, and Ronald, thought about it. Pondered the issue. Tried to come up with an answer that was accurate and appropriate. Was he ‘in it’ with Susan for her, for him, for the dogs they both called ‘kids’, or for the reason he feared most of all. Being ‘with’ Susan in Kamloops was his ‘get out of moving to Toronto to make it as a rock star’ card. He could blame his failure to launch his career on her. Rationalize his inability to write songs or lyrics that had any life to them on being a responsible ‘mate’ to her, and ‘father’ to the canines he needed to come home to from wherever he was.
He looked at his guitar, still in the case. The stacks of music paper, still blank. The others crumbled up in the hotel waste basket.
“What am I to you?” Susan demanded. “What are we to each other?” she pleaded.
Ron looked at his frostbitten fingertips on his oil-stained hands, his aging eyes in the hotel mirror, and the picture of Susan on the guitar case. She was entitled to an answer. He couldn’t live with himself if he didn’t give her one.
The answer came out in a song. More music than lyric. More flow than form. Susan thanked him for being honest with her, and himself. She said ‘goodnight’ to a Ronald she finally got to find out about. He said ‘sweet dreams’ to a woman he imagined, and hoped was real. An understanding was reached that night for both of them. With rewards and hardships well beyond their cummative 46 years of living.
Sally worked hard to get where she was in the Dodge City. She wrote back home to her mother in Baltimore every month about how well she was doing as a school teacher. How many students she taught to read, write and do arithmetic that wouldn’t get them cheated when they came into town to trade their hard earned goods for badly needed money. She wrote her grandmother about what was really going on.
“Dear Granny”, the letter began, the ‘dear’ actually meant the way the word was originally intended. “I’m doing really good here. Bringing in good money. And teaching boys how to be men. And what handsome boys come to me to be their ‘first’. The other girls at this social club say a girl works her way UP from teaching 15 year old cowhands how to shoot the pistol between their legs so it aims straight and true, but I take it as a challenge, and educational opportunity. They’re a whole lot more grateful than the cattle bosses, and a whole lot less dangerous too. Besides, I know that’s how you and Grandpa met. A secret I know you never told Mother, and that you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t tell her about either.”
Sally looked out the window, at a stage coming pulling into town. A four horse with extra suspension on the wheels, and a load of luggage on top that said ‘high roller’ all over it. Marshall Jackson greeted the stage personally and let the visitor out. Sally couldn’t see the visitor’s face, but only Marshall Jackson’s hand, pointing up to her window. Mister Rawlings bowed to the visitor, snapped his fingers, and summoned his cleanest Chinese coolies to bring in the bags.
Sally folded up the letter and prepared herself to be part of the greeting party. The table with English tea, Injun-recipe bisquits and canned peaches. The chairs with pillows made of New Orleans silk coverings and Kansas grown chicken feathers. The body in the mirror with a sprinkle of perfume between the breasts and just the right amount of almost-see-through lace clothing over it. As Granny taught her, ‘a present always looks best and is tastefully enjoyed when it’s tastefully wrapped’.
Granny was well past her days of providing private lessons to men in want or need of ‘education’, but she kept Grandpa well satisfied in ALL ways till he died one day as an old man, in their bed, very much NOT alone.
Sally wondered if the same thing would happen to her next student, or if something worse would happen. She was already on thin ice with Mister Rawlings. When asked a question from a ‘student’, she’d give an honest answer. The richer the student, the more corrupt he usually was, and the more he didn’t like the answer from ‘schoolteacher Sally’. It didn’t matter if the question had to do with the issues of politics, religion or what kind of wife makes the best kind of mother. Sally’s answers kept being right, and the more she was right, the more clients said was a disappointment. One more disappointed client, and Mister Rawlings would ‘let her go’, or if he pissed off the wrong client, sell her to the Indians.
Sally prepared all of her questions and answers, remembering how she screwed up last times. THIS time, she’d find a way to give the gentleman caller the kind of conversation he wanted, instead of what he asked for, or needed. THIS time she’s greet him with a smile of submission instead of strength. THIS time, she opened the door when the caller knocked with eyes downward and head bowed. THIS time, the visitor’s feet were quite what she didn’t expect.
“So you notice that I have great looking legs,” the client said, opening her skirt to give Sally at her calves then up her thighs. “Look at me, eyes open, please,” she continued as she gently pulled Sally’s head upward and kissed her on the mouth.
Sally didn’t know what to make of the woman in front of her disbelieving eyes who paid a curious Mister Rawlings three times the normal rate, dismissed him with a flick of her highly ‘in charge’ slender fingers, and closed the door behind her.
“I don’t know if I…ya know,” Sally confessed once her lips were freed from the locked embrace that moved her in ways Granny never told her about.
“I do know,” the lady client smiled as she stared through Sally’s eyes, straight into her Soul. “My name is Rachel,” she smiled. “And yours is…”
“Whatever you want it to be?” Sally replied, setting the tea kettle onto the table, preparing to pour it.
“No,” Rachel asserted, taking the kettle and pouring it into Sally’s cup first. “You are whoever YOU want and need to be.”
A scary and assuring client, Sally pondered. And her most important ‘student’. One who would do more to teach her than even Granny.
After the Battle of Hasty Puddinks was won, Bernard the Brave stood tall over the heads of his victims, until he slipped on a wet rock and busted his own head. Witness to the fact that had to be kept from the scribes who were to be known later as historians was Norman, Bernard’s brother, known as ‘Norman the Anything I get paid to say about him’.
Norman was neither big like his father nor brave like his brother, and knew he was stupider than any of the grobbling subjects who kept the economy of the Franklonian Empire going. Big problems were afoot indeed, particularly as rebellion seemed to swell in the ranks. Not so much as to who would sit on the throne of the now-transcontinental Franklonian Empire, but who would control it.
“Any idiot can be a king,” Cheynovich the bald Slavic Sage whispered to Norman as the brother who never wanted to rule stood to inherit the crown. “But you are the smartest idiot in the family now.”
“The ONLY idiot,” Norman wisely replied as his name was being chanted. His presence was demanded at the top of the hill to give the ‘how will we deal with the booty’ speech.
En route to his new position of responsibility, he noted, again, intelligence in the faces of the subjects who bowed to him. Particularly the scholars, artists and musicians. These people were unarmed, but could change the way armed people thought. If they thought at all. “No,” Norman told himself. “Everyone is capable of thinking. Anyone can be a brilliant man or an imbicillic idiot. Just like anyone can be king of an Empire he never even wanted, but that has to be…”
“…maintained,” Cheynovich said, completing the words that were forming in Norman’s head. And which, upon further examination, Norman figured out he was speaking out loud.
Norman looked at Cheynovich with pleading eyes. Like he did when he was growing up and needed someone to tell his secrets to. Someone he could trust. Someone who was kind, and strong, and tender and brave and…and…everything.
“Gee Double You’d,” Cheynovich said to Norman as he swung his arm around his shaking shoulders, addressing the man as he did when he as a lad, or perhaps as some suspected, a lassie-lad. “You want to and have to be the smartest and most creative man in the Empire now, aside from your advisors of course.”
“Sure, I know that…I think.” Norman slurred from his lips as he waved confidently to the crowd, kept even further away from him. “But how do I become smarter and more creative than I am?” An idea occurred to Norman. “No!” he protested. “I can’t kill the smart and creative people.”
“You can,” Cheynovich said. “But there is an easier way to make them more useful to…”
“To us?” Norman asked.
“To everyone! Including themselves!” Cheynovich smiled. “So that the people on top stay on the top. And everyone is obedient, and happy.”
“I order people to be less smart and less creative!” Norman said, remembering those episodes as a child when his head hurt and Cheynovich said it was because he was thinking too hard. “Yes I can do that! I am the king! I don’t have to ask permission from anyone to do anything! Do I?”
Norman looked over the booty collected from the battle. The conquered cities carted in more gold and silver than he had ever seen. According to the contract made with the soldiers who actually did the fighting, they would get half of it. And they had families who were scholars, artists and musicians. Soon, they would be richer than Norman. Because, as his arithmetic now told him, they knew how to use that gold to get more gold. “What happens when the creative and smart people have more gold and silver than I do!?” Gee-Double You’d gasped, clenching Cheynovich’s strong shoulders.
Cheynovich smiled, and pulled out of his pocket a black, hairy onion. “A one of a kind plant that grows only in places that I know about,” he said. “Very good to eat. Very good to smell. And very rare. Even rarer than gold and silver, and if gold and silver were to become not so valuable and black, hairy onions were be needed for the writers to buy paper, the musicians to buy instruments, and the artists to buy paints?”
It made sense now…King Gee-Double You’d Norman got it. Norman took the new currency in his hand. “If the artists can’t make art, and we’re the only ones who can buy paints, paper or instruments. And if we train the public who will view this ‘art’ to only like or be able to understand what WE pre-approve of….”
“Then we, or you, would be the smartest and creative man in the Empire.” Chenyovick took the onion back and placed it into his very deep pocket. He bowed to his new ruler and strolled down the row of worshopers waiting to kiss the hand of the New King. Norman followed, walking his way into history…sort of.
The archeological dig atop the rubble that had once been the great Franklonian Empire’s greatest city contained one stone tablet with writing on it. Scratched on by the crudest of impliments, its red hue undoubtedly from the blood of the writer. “When art stops becoming possible, all else does.” Such was the epitath, and professy, as the archeology team resumed reading their newspapers about the vertically intergrated world of the present where One Artist, Ydo Bon stood above all others, in all media. Easier that way. More economical. A meritocracy….except for the fact that whoever chose to look in a mirror saw that the man, or woman, on top of such a ‘civilization’ is…Nobody.
THE MOST PUNISHABLE OFFENSE AND CRIME
Sheriff Chapmann had three laws to his town to which there was no negotiation. First, anyone caught killing anyone would be shot down instantly. Second, anyone caught torturing an animal would be hung, slowly. Third, anyone caught carrying ‘the disease’ would be put in jail, strapped to a horse and taken over the line to Canada, or taken to the Doc for a brain replacement. The latter usually didn’t work, and as Canada was 400 miles away, jail usually was the place where the diseased were quarenteened until Chapmann could figure out what to do with them.
The latest prisoner, as all the others, didn’t know he committed the offense. “Why am I imprisoned like this?” the accountant who didn’t have the talent or balls to be a banker protested. “What did I do?”
“It’s what you didn’t do, and didn’t become,” Chapmann slurred from the side of his mouth while he read through yet another dime novel, trying to figure out how to make himself famous for being wrote about, or writing about someone else. “You’re dangerous, to yourself and others,” he continued. “You violated the Beyond God’s primal commandment, godsdamn you.”
The accountant seemed baffled by the remark. Puzzled. Confused but not curious. All the more reason for him to be confined.
Chapmann looked at the other poor unfortunates in his jail. A long line of them. Most from big cities ruled by manipulative bosses behind desks during the week, and self-deceived ones behind pulpits on Sunday. Was it there fault that they had ‘the disease’? Yes, and no. Their plain faces, kept flush by all the food they could eat, all the sleep they could get and all the small talk they could generated between themselves gave testimony to both sides of the argument.
“What was my crime?” the accountant inquired. “I would like to know.”
Chapmann considered relating the truth of the matter to him. But would he understand it? Would he realize how diseased he really was and would he fully appreciate how deadly it was, particularly as the ‘open’ Wild West was being pushed aside by the ‘comfortable’ New One. Fences everywhere. Around the wild grasslands, in preparation for their spirits to be broken by the plow. Around the minds of the schoolteachers, wives and laundresses who now outnumbered the whores. Around the Indians who knew that owning land was not only a curse, but a ridiculously sacraligeous concept. Around the Beyond God in every human Soul who was potentially alive, but who in practice was one of the living dead.
“What is my crime, Sir?” the accountant asked, once again. “What is this disease that makes me a criminal in this world you have created here, Sheriff.”
Chapmann looked in the mirror. May he wasn’t cured. Maybe he was as diseased as all the others. Maybe he also suffered from being dull, boring and lifeless, and was a carrier of such an affliction. He had never taken a wife, or a mistress. Had not laughed, shouted or cried in the last three years, except in his dreams. Had not danced a lady into blissful delight. Had not punched a man bloody. Had not even rode his horse at a flat out gallop, preferring a controlled lope to connect him to that concept he thought he was defending…Freedom and Vitality.
“Physician heal thyself’, he heard from a prisoner in the back of the room, or perhaps a ghost, or perhaps the Beyond God his mind asserted HAD to be Real, and beyond the brain and mind. “Physician, heal thyself,” the ghost repeated, echoing its voice against all the walls around Chapmann, then against the walls of his skull that encapsulated and held prisoner his own brain, and persepectives.
The only escape from the storm was to ride straight into it, its porthole through a mirror. In it, Chapmann saw the naked face that was hiding behind his overgrown mustache and patchy beard. He saw the physician he once was. The doctor who took care of everyone’s else’s ills. Who calmed the fire of ‘excessive’ diseases and ‘heated up’ those afflicted with ‘deficiency’ disorders. Always a matter of balance. Always treating the body when it was getting too much of one thing or afflicted with too little of something else. A master of treating the body, he was, and even the brain, on occasion when he dealt with manias and melancholy disorders. But never the Soul. Never did he learn or figure out HOW to make people Alive, big A. He had made more patients than he could remember get out of their sickbed, but never could he get them to dance. Loosen their lungs of sputum but never was he able to make them laugh, or sing. He was a mechanic. Making movement possible, but stagnant as….death.
“Physician heal thyself”, he heard from the prisoners now as he allowed the mind to see what his brain was pre-conditioned to ignor. All of them begged him to cure himself, and them. From the demon who lingered above them all. Who had a name, and a face now…finally. On both sides of him now.
“Dull out demon, otherwise known as the god of Boredom,” Chapmann called out to the White faced ‘angel’ sitting to his left. “We experienced long periods of you during the War between the States,” he commented. “You are looking very White today.”
The angel noded politely. Time went by slowly, each second seeming like years to Chapmann until the angel’s companion next to him blasted out a loud scream, terrifying the otherwise and pathologically stable Sheriff and former physician.
“Terror,” he said as he finally identified the demon next to the angel, its face nearly identical to its heavenly ‘partner’ except for the red hue on its face, the bloodshot sclera, and the horns that had replaced wings.
“Neither of you two exist, you know,” Chapmann said. “You are the products of our imagination.”
“And experience,” the opposing ‘gods’ of boredom and terror said, in unison. In perfect harmony.
“Something else exists,” Chapmann asserted. “Between you,” he continued while trying to smell his way beyond those two opposing dualities which he knew as illusion but which still plagued himself and humanity. “Between you is…”
“You humans,” the angel of boredom and the demon of terror laughed. “Between both of us is—“
“Challenge!” Chapmann allowed to spring up from his gut. A place reached only by utmost urgency, made knowable by intuition rather than logic. “Challenge is the zone between boredom and terror which…”
Before Chapmann could define his victory of intellect and Passion, the demon and angel disappeared. He found himself in another jail, wearing another badge, in another town. A transformation between his ears that appeared in front of his eyes. But still, it was a jail…with the jailer behind his own bars. Yet, a brighter and Purer Light shone through the windows and the bars. Forward progress for…at least today.
GRANNIE’S BAKED PRESERVES
Millie always called men who were not family ‘Sir’, even if they didn’t deserve the title. Most of the male visitors to her country cottage were younger than her now, as were all of the men and women in town, where people lived in houses. Every year seemed to bring more people in houses closer to her country cottage until now, when the only country left for her was a patch of dirt she called a garden and a three foot expanse of brush that buffered her from the shops across the road.
“All those shops seem to be selling the same thing, Sir,” she said to the landlord while her shaking hands brought the hundred year old teacup to her nearly century old mouth. “Not a good thing, Sir,” she continued in a New England accent that was more England than new. “All those shops inside, with no display windows and nothing interesting to sell inside. No, Sir, not a good thing at all.”
“It’s a mall, Mrs. McMillan,” the landlord slurred back in slobbish Bronx diction, a tinge of Boston to its timber. “And everyone there works for a living,” he continued, looking at the unpaid bills on the floor. “Including me!” he blasted at her, hammer in hand, tool belt pressed outward past his overfed beer belly.
“The rent will be paid by my estate, Sir,” Millie stated, calmly.
“The rent is due next week, Mrs. McMillan,” the landlord whose name Millie had forgotten or not taken the time to remember noted.
“So then I must make measures to have my estate take care of it, Sir.” she smiled. “I suppose that it will take them three days to process my Will. A day for the checks to clear, perhaps two for the mortician to find my body which I suppose should be properly attired while sitting, no, lying down on that couch. A tad messy if the blood hits the carpet, but a spot of hydrogen peroxide should make short measure of that when—”
“—I can’t collect rent from dead people!” the landlord said. “I got kids, and a kid who’s gonna give me grandkids, goddamn and bless her.”
“What’s her name, Sir?” Millie smiled back, teakettle filled with hot water in her shaking left hand, a cup in her for-the-moment-NOT-shaking right.
The landlord grabbed the kettle from Millie’s shaking hand, sat her down, and refilled her cup. She insisted on him filling his, which he did promptly, properly enough, given the fact that ‘Sir Landlord’ this year was more portly than the last, his breath and body a tad more odorous than his other three predicessors.
“Mrs. McMillian,” he informed her, holding back his anger. “You are two months behind on the rent.”
“And you, Sire, are I would hazard to guess, two years late in having that talk about the pain and pleasures of having a man’s cock stuck into your hungry vagina with your daughter,” she proclaimed, adjusting the Catholic Cross hanging on his sweaty neck.
“Sir’s” jaw dropped, revealing a mouthful of unbrushed teeth, which Mrs. McMillian quickly chasticed him for allowing to go untidied. Noticing that Sir had no ring on his fourth digit on either hand, she warned Sir that improper hygeine would result in him losing any prospects of courting a new wife, and that he would die very alone. “You must remember that he or she who you love most wants to see you smiling, with bright white teeth,” she continued to the grumbling landlord who hid his teeth even futher inside his beet-red mouth. “And in the end, my dear Sir, St. Peter is most pleased by someone who greets him with a wide smile with the pearly whites that the Creator entrusted to us.”
Mrs. McMillian smiled, showing off her teeth. From the corner of her eye she noticed the denture holders in the bathroom. But Sir’s attention was on the matter at hand, as was proper.
“Okay,” the landlord conceeded. “I’ll brush my teeth tonight.”
“And every night.”
“And every night!” he fumed.
“And you will chew on one of my special herbal tooth cleaner busquits,” she continued, offering him a freshly baked cookie.
“Yeah…sure”, he said, swallowing it whole. “Now, can I please have the rent money, Mrs. McMillan?”
She smiled again, and opened a catalogue, requesting his expertise in the aesthetics of the manner. “You look like you know wood very well,” she said, noting the toolkit on his belt. “Yes, Sir. You are indeed a wood man.”
“Yeah…I guess I’m a—“
“Splendid!” Millie proclaimed, opening up the cover to the the marked pages. “What do you think of these homes? Be honest with me now,” she insisted. “I’d expect nothing less of you. I’m looking into moving into one of these retirement homes quite soon.”
“They’re—” Sir uttered from quivering lips.
“Yes, yes,..a bit small, I know.”
“Quite, Sir,” Millie continued, turning the pages on the funeral catalogue, revealing something she had inserted quite on her own.
“They, like, got your picture pasted into ‘em!” Sir noted with a face as white as a ghost. He turned the pages and saw pictures of others he knew. From somewhere. Smiling, and comfortable. “Who are these guys?” he said. “I know..I think I know these guys.”
“Alas, they used to work for the same Real Estate company that you did, Sir,” she said.
“DID?” Sir asked as Millie showed him more ‘homes’ in the coffin catalogue, one of them featuring a man who looked very much like Sir, decked out in a Norweigan suit on the Deluxe ‘Valkurie’ line with a golden sword in his hand. She sang a few verses of ‘Nearer My God to Thee’, summoning a black cat to walk across Sir’s path. Causing Sir to back up under a ladder. Causing him to break a mirror. Causing the chain on his good luck crucifix to break and fall down. Causing him to see a demonic face within the jam stains on the floor smiling back at him. Causing him to drop his paperwork. Causing him to run out the door. Causing Millie to enquire. “Sir, the rent check you requested. I can write it out straight away.”
“That’s okay…Whenever,” Sir said as he rushed out the door, to his car and down the street to a screeching left turn then away from view of Millie and all his other FORMER tenants.
Millie set out another pitcher of tea. She poured two cups, one with extra milk. A black figure came to the table, sat down and sipped from it. She stroked his cheeks and kissed him on the head. “There, now, as long as you and me work together like this, we will both be alright, in the end. No rent is to be paid to anyone who won’t accept you AND me here, yes?”
The visitor agreed with a ‘meow’. Millie looked at her rental agreement, noting the ‘no pets’ clause. Then at the eviction notices from the previous landlords that were never put into effect. Perhaps it was stealing to make them quit their jobs so abruptly, but, as she told her feline companion. “It’s a living,” the nearly century old Old English hold out concluded as to the reason and rationalization for it all.
THE “GOOD” DOCTOR
Tim saw it all in front of his bloody hands, the guts and brains of his mark, mentor and patron in front of his sweat-soaked eyes. He could here his mother’s voice telling him, ‘Timothy’, do your job, like the nice boy and good man that I worked so hard for you to become. From his father, ‘any man who does an ordinary job without making an extra-ordinary impact in the world is no man, and certainly no son of mine, ‘Timmy’”. From Jennifer, the nurse whose hot tongue could receccistate any man killed of boredom, disuse or disease back to life, “Doctor Tim, the patient is preped, and we’re ready to go.”
Tim wiggled his nose under his surgical mask and looked at the face of the man whose life was now in his hands. Lance Rabinowitz had been a success story from day one. A ‘cool kid’ from the playground days when it was all about whose baseball cards were most valuable to being professional adults. Lance was a natural actor, showman and had one of those bodies that said ‘winner’ in every endeavor possible for a boy, man and everything in between. Tim…aside from working his way up the ladder to become Neurosurgeon at Bellingham General, he was always B plus material at best. And smart enough to know that not being number one was being number nothing. Maybe if he was C plus material, he would have been happy being a commoner. Or if C minus, ectatic. The kind of guy who lived for bowling with his buds, porking his wife at home, and reaping the grand reward of a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving for busting his ass for the company every other day of the year on the factory line.
Nurse Jennifer handed Tim the scalpel. Her eyes looked squarely at the line dotted out on the skin overlying Lance’s left parietal lobe.
“Guess Mister ‘don’t touch my cool hair, you uncool loser’ let the razor slip a bit when he was shaving last night,” Tim commented as he made the first incision into the scalp, concecrating the events to happen with a snide grin.
“Your orders were to shave his WHOLE head, Doc,” Jennifer threw back at him. “Are you sure this operation will get rid of those seizures, and those hallucinations and delusions.”
“That he’s the most innovative, reliaable, sensitive, cuthroat, sexy, gentlemanly stud in Hollywood or the ‘cool to be cruel and manipulative’ Sundance festival?” Doctor Tim continued, relishing in the moment. Realizing that the witicism was both colorful and right, and if it got to the right publisher, insightful for generations to come.
No comment from Nurse Jennifer, the other handmaidens, or even the residents. Nothing from their mouths, or even their eyes. All just kept doing their job, as assigned. With the occupational hazard that comes to those who dare to play God. To take power over life and death, and divert disease from its designated victims.
“Smells like DOV in the airducts today,” Doctor Tim commented as he lifted the skull off the dura matter under it. “DOV…know what that is?” he asked his residents, whose stare remained on the monitors connected to the cameras filming the operation rahter than the real life tissue itself. “Dull out virus attacks brains, and souls, that are under-expressive, overly-submissive and/or under-utilized,” Tim continued as he cut a slit in the dura matter, exposing a lumpy cerebral cortex that seemed pathological under the surface. Said surface having to be cut into to verify his intuition on the matter. “If affects this area here most.”
“The supra-visual/musical association cortex?” resident Patel commented on the region of Hollywood legend and New York role model Lance Rabinowitz’s parietal lobe. “Wasn’t it identified as a seat of multi-modality creativity in Brain Research last month?” the East Indian wonderchild on his way to being top dog in still very White Bellingham commented.
“Depends on how you look at the data, and if your ocular portholes are driven by hot curry or rose colored glasses, or ” Tim knew the joke would not get a laugh, and if it did, it was forced. Flattery for the man who could make or break a career for any intern, resident or, after a few phone calls, nurse.
Sensing the escalation of embarrasment, Doctor Tim did what he did best, or what the world said he did best. Once again he chanelled his brains into his fingers, his emotions into the tips of those apendages, and felt inside the ‘lump’ that was either a tumor, region of infarction or perhaps an overdeveloped region of highly functional neuronal tissue. Some said that Doctor Tim could ‘feel’ brains think with his fingers. The legend seemed to be true, as his fingers were always proved correct by the EEG monitors, deoxy-glucose CAT scans and even the most ‘impersonal’ of MRIs.
But this time, Tim’s medical knowledge was hampered by something else. The lump was just a lump. It didn’t speak to him.
“You okay, Doctor Tim?” Jennifer asked with her Southern twanged voice, emanating the respect and sincerity of that combined title..
“Yeah, sure.” Tim replied, feeling something very course and crude emerging from a place in his Soul he never acknowledged, a nucleous in his brain he never studied or read about.
“You and HIM okay?” Jennifer inquired delivering the solution straight between the eyes, bypassing all thalamic and precortical filtering systems in Tim’s troubled mind.
“Yeah…sure. He’s my patient. I’m his doctor,” Doctor Tim replied with assertiveness and sincerity. “The hippocratic oath. Above all do no harm,” he continued.
Under his surgical mask, another dialogue was taking place between the angels and demons who were playing high stakes poker with Tim’s soul. “Above all things do no harm. Be a healer to your patient, place his life above your own,” he recalled from vows he privately and publically took when becoming a Healer of flesh, big H. A pledge that made his mother feel proud of him, despite the fact that she died of cancer a year later. Then from another part of his Mind, and Soul, “Make an impact in the world. Make your Mark. Make a difference, for the Global Good, goddamn you!” from his father. He remembered a discourse he had with his father once about if he were Hitler’s doctor in WWII. Young Tim claimed that is was a doctor’s duty to care for his patient, no matter who that patient was. His father’s rebuttal was “a brave doctor would have killed Old Adolf with strichnyine. A smarter one would have injected him with estogen and turned him into an even bigger fag than he was so that he’d be laughed out of power.”
Tim contemplated the matter at hand now. To most of the world, Lance Rabinowitz was a Hollywood success story. Producer and director extradenoair. But producer and director of WHAT? Movies that made money, and that became popular. But popular for the wrong reasons. No, not smut of the body or of the mind, but smut of the Soul. Every one of Lance’s movies championed the ‘cool to be cruel’ credo, and his ever-so-fashionable anti-war films did more to recruit young men into becoming soldiers with urges to kill people than they did to stop or explain any war. And as for the deals Lance made to get those movies made…The deals would make Tony Soprano look like Mother Teresa. The details revealed to Tim as ‘Doctor Tim’, in confidence. Something Lance perhaps intentionally did to further torture Tim for being kind rather than practical, brainy rather than balsy.
Patel prepared the cautery to burn out the suspected lobe. Its red hot tip glowed brightly as the anesthetist motioned for the team to proceed onward, and FAST . CAT scans and all other manner of diagnoses had all been ambigious, and reactivation of them made their assessments all the more muddy.
“To burn or not to burn?” Jennifer asked in Shaesperaing manner, giving voice to the question from Tim’s silent lips.
Tim needed answers, and fast. What was this unusual mass in this most unusual man? This patient with whom Tim had a personal score to settle with. The man who forced, or rather intimidated Tim into going into medicine rather than the arts, or perhaps even politics. All those one way conversations with Lance echoed in Doctor Tim’s brain. The phrases. The opinions which carried the power of proclamations from Lance’s know-it-all (and can convince everyone else that it was true also) big mouth. “You’re a wise dude, but not a colorful one.” “You’re good at making people think, but don’t even try to make them laugh.” “Let us artists and politicians change the world. You’re a doctor. We need you to keep us healthy.” “We’re good at what we do…You’re nice at…well, you’re just nice, ya know?”
Nurse Jennifer cleared her throat. She threw that ‘get on with it or I’ll call in the real powers that be at this hospital’ stare at Tim.
Just then, in the nicke of time, Patel said something in Hindi. Probably nothing he learned in medical school, far more expressive than a passage from the Gita. But something from that book, or perhaps others like it, rang true to Tim. The demons inside of Tim stood naked, exposed, and identified. “Anger, jealousy and greed”, he called them by name, identifying the sources of where they came from, and the consequences of obeying there mandates. Then, a breakthrough. “Hate the disease, not the patient,” he said to himself, loud enough to come out in a whisper. Audable, thankfully, to Jennifer alone.
“Amen,” she asserted.
“Amen indeed,” Tim continued, feeling the Divine Eyes seeing again through his fingers, sensing the uses and limitations of the devises in the operating room better than the manufacturers did.
The lump under the multi-modality creativity association cortex was partially malignant, and partially benign. Doctor Tim removed what he had to, leaving the rest to Lance to do what he had to with it. Lance returned to work in two weeks. Tim turned on his television set two months later to watch the results of his work. The same old crap, said the reviewers who were paid to hate Rabinowitz productions. The same brilliant genius, proclaimed the minions in his company who sought advancement. “Something…different between the lines,” Tim noted from what he felt was a very objective place. “It’s a start,” his conclusion as he was called out of the TV room in the doctor’s lounge and back to work.
The story was about things, principles, and ideas. Not people. Though the two legged intruder was theoretically the most advanced life form in the forest, the inner Truth of the matter said quite otherwise. Still, he watched the first real snowfall of the ground that softened the ground. Indeed, it had been a long time between the first ground freeze and the fall of snow which was to follow. “Rock hard dirt” season was a month or more. Difficult for the horses to gallop upon. But easy for prey to run over and not be seen, or smelled, by predator. Everyone had to eat. The rule of the woods that fed everyone, somehow. Even the two legged observer who thought himself so superior. Was it more advanced to be able to describe life, or was it higher in evolution to experience it? Only the lines on paper would say…as long as someone else could read them. So many words that seemed to only repeat what was written in other woods, and other words. No, maybe the silence was enough now, the final word and summary statement, which was made possible BY the effort to feel and channel the words to some kind of print. Such was the feeling of the advanced two legged life form who…made himself immortal, and part of the world he tried to understand, and cured…We are dead and wandering ghosts when we are separated from our Purpose, and activities relating to it. How sadistic the world or its creator(s) are that the roadmap to Purpose contains ink that always runs on the page, in directions that no laws of physics or principles of Nature seem to determine, at least to those who must take the journey, or die in the gutters of stagnation, helplessness and surrender.
People competition…the ‘love’ of interaction between humans. Such seems irrelvant and painful now…So painful. Yet such is the means by which the writer today and in other lost times must lead people to the isolated Soul and universal ‘self’ within. Waiting for…delivery from a land of words. Thoughts are far more intimate. Ideas everlasting. Ideals remain the end that we serve and merge with.
The tale happened eight hundred winters ago, or eight hundred summers ago, depending on whether the Story Teller in what is now Maine, or perhaps Nova Scotia liked the feel of snow under his feet or mud between her toes. The story never got onto the screen, but remained in the hearts of the People as deeply as the legend of King Arthur was more fact than fancy in the mind of any Anglo. Its here was Submuloc, a man with strong arms, trustable eyes and, according to some, a strange mind which frustrated others almost as much as it frustrated himself.
It wasn’t so much that Submuloc was disrespectful of the Elders, but that he knew in his Innermost heart that they were wrong, and that the Elder he trusted most, Dnanidref, said that the Inner Most Heart and must be honored above all things. Most of his tribe loved to share stories around the campfires about the origins of the Sun. That ball of fire that rose in the East with fresh brilliance which was beyond color and set in the West with a subdued presence that let even his brother, Lazy Eyes, clearly see the many colors which it illuminated on the lands that Submuloc and his people had belonged to for as long as anyone could remember.
Year after year, Submuloc would look over the great water to where the Sun rose, while his people warmed themselves around the campfires on the beach, preparing for the day’s fishing. Snails and clams could always be had in the sand. The ponds left behind by the tides were plentiful with lobsters. The larger ponds protected by the rocks from the waves always had fish in them, small stupid fish for the most part. The bigger fish swam around the rocks. The biggest ones were beyond the rocks and the place where the smooth sea yielded itself to forms of water which crashed on the rocks, sand and fishermen who got caught between the tides. Year after year, Submuloc wondered what was beyond the horizon. To see where the big fish were at the place where the Sun rose up.
“You know, I’d wager a pair of my best moccassins that if I take a canoe that can get through the waves, I can sail to the Sun. And that there are lands there that can be ours for the taking,” he said while preparing the nets and spears for another day of lobster gathering and bass jabbing. “There is a whole other world in the place where the Sun rises.”
“Which can and only should be visited by Spirits,” Lazy Eyes replied, his mind on the patch of leather he stitched onto the hole in the canoe, his eyes still ignoring the bright light in the sky which he said hurt his eyes when he looked at it. “You know what happens to people who try to find that land where the Sun rises? They get eaten by monsters, or if not, their canoe falls down a big waterfall that leads to…”
Lazy Eyes could not say the word, which had a special bite to it in his Native language. It was the name of a bad place. A place where people who violated the rules of the Elders and the Laws of the Creator went to and never came back from. Submuloc wanted to talk with his half-brother about that place, and about the relationship he had, or should be having, with the Creator. The Great Spirit Who seemed to be able to do more than just ‘create’. But ‘Creator’ was the name everyone in the tribe gave to It, and to speak of any other function the Great Spirit did was to be considered slow, stupid or dangerous.
The last person who had spoke of the Creator in terms the Elders did not understand was banished to the woods in the West. The place where the uncivilized tribes were, the enemies of Submuloc’s People who had pushed them into the living on the coast. But there were plenty of fish in summer, and the were better fishermen than hunters. Yet, the winter winds near the big waters were hard, cold and seemed to come from that place where those who fell off the waterfall where the Sun rose, and some years the fish decided to go upriver where a Relecho hunter would more likely be prey to the Hiramuta hunters, or become their slave, then come home with fresh bear, deer or even rabbit meat.
Submuloc looked at the woods he had played in as a boy, then the canoe builders who were carving out another craft. One with room for six men, or four strong women, to paddle. The wind hit his face, reminding him again of the idea he had come up with three children and two wives ago. “If we put a large piece of leather on the canoe, the wind will take us where we need to go!” he asserted to Lazy Eyes.
“And if the wind blows in another direction?” the more-muscle-than-mind fisherman whose eyes always seemed to look in two directions at once replied.
“I have thought of that,” Submuloc countered, re-enacting the experiment he had proven to himself as effective but not the canoe makers who decided what kind of boats were used for fishing, or anything else. “You move the leather sheet with the wind and move against it. Weaving in and out of the wind like a snake.”
“And going against it, brother,” Lazy Eyes shot back, having repaired the hole in the canoe they would be responsible for during the fish ‘hunt’. “It is witchcraft.”
“And a way to get from here to…”
Lazy Eyes sang song from his childhood. Simple words about a moth who wanted to become a butterfly but who got his wings burnt when he flew too close to the Sun. It drowned out having to hear the plans Submuloc had in his head. And to go along with them. By way of reminder, Lazy Eyes drew Submuloc’s attention to a woman and three young girls repairing the nets.
“I know, my wife and what is left of my family,” Submuloc said and he smiled hello to them with eyes that were clearly elsewhere. “You will take care of them when I am gone?”
“Of course, brother,” Lazy Eyes answered. “But where are you going?”
Submuloc took a deep breath and looked at the Eastern horizon. The sun had risen, taking its rightful place in the sky. With his inner eye saw something underneath it. A place where his people would be safe from warrior raids, plagues and the ‘challenges’ the Creator provided through the natural Elements themselves.
Each year on the coast was harder than the last. “Bad years make us stronger, and we have been blessed by being very strong,” he remembered Elder Dnanidref saying each year as his hearing got worse, his skin got tougher and his walk became as slow as a crawl. But one thing Submuloc did remember from the Elder who spoke so little words but said so much. “The source of all Life comes from the Sun.” To most of the Rampapo, it was said to take their minds off the wind, wompom they lost when gambling, or the disappointing night of sex they had with their new bride, or groom, on the eve of their wedding. But to those who really listened, like Submuloc, it meant much more.
Dnaridref’s sat alone on his tree stump, carving the kind of canoe no one had ever seen, at least not Submuloc. In his prime Dnardref was the best canoe builder in the tribe, and sometimes even the fastest, but others around him were offended when he built faster and bigger canoes than they could. But now, all the Old Man could do was make canoes that children could play with, or men who decided they still had childlike possibilities could admire. The Elder’s hair was now pure white, and had started to fall out. He would forget at mid day what he had eaten in the morning, and sometimes the people who had spoken him that same day. But with respect to what had happened in his past, and the past of his beloved people, he was never sharper.
“Tell me about this canoe,” Submuloc said of the carved gift the Elder with the shaking hands but steady Soul gave to him. “Tell me about it”
Dnaradref related the tale again, the third time that morning. Each telling seemed fresh, and perhaps was from the Old Man’s perspective. And when Submuloc suggested a leather sheet to catch the wind, the blasphamous suggestion was acknowledged with a smile. “Yes, it will work. If you can keep the canoe on top of the water.”
“Yes, I know, I’ve been practicing,” Submuloc replied.
“When your wife wasn’t looking?” the Elder smiled through a face which glowed Passion, but which felt immeasurable pain.
“And when my children weren’t watching either,” Submuloc answered, a bit shamefully. “None of them have my spirit for adventure. Is that not something that is passed down from father to son, or father to daughter?”
The Old Man laughed. “Such things are passed down by ways which are quite mystical, or accidental.”
As always seemed to happen, Nature answered with a reply of its own. A burst of wind that blew the hair over Dnaradref’s face, and made Submuloc face facts about the experiment, and Calling, at hand.
The ocean seemed to turn abruptly angry. The waves were as tall as one or perhaps two men. But there were times when the waves calmed down to the stillness of a windless lake, the Sun in the East shining with warm Brilliance. A temptation to those who considered the Creator a protective father to his children. An invitation to those who sought and felt a relationship with the Creator which was beyond the boundaries of human fatherhood, motherhood, or any other kind of ‘hood’ which limited the human mind, and the Perspectives of Spirit.
Submuloc’s fading vision went into another layer of darkness. But his hands regained strength and he whittled another dimension to the boat, with the sense of urgency Submuloc had not seen before. The Old Man took in a deep breath that felt more like a rattle than Brother Wind entering the chest and handed him the carving of the canoe. “Two sheets to catch the wind, and room to bring back what you must from the land under the Sun. For the sake of our people on this side of the waters, and those on the other side, we must be the first.” he said with more assurance than anything he had spoken in his sixty-winter long life. Dnararef said the Sacred Word he had practiced his entire life, then gave up his Spirit, his lifeless body dropping to the ground.
Submuloc held in his hand a canoe which had never been built before. One which he knew now he had to build himself. And one which he had to take to the people on the other side of the waters. For the sake of all people. But what of ‘we must be the first?’ Submuloc had no concept of these words. Perhaps the answer lay in the lands under where the Sun rose, across the waters which seemed to welcome a canoer who embraced rather than feared that which was beyond definition.
Submuloc knew he would have to sleep sometime, and that when you go to sleep, the demons can take over. Or the Earth Mother would have the Sea Spirits send you where you didn’t want to go. Though he wanted to make the trop across the Waters alone, Submuloc knew he couldn’t. But who to take? His wife couldn’t swim, and his daughters all hated the water. Though all of them liked to eat fish. Lazy Eyes was the most trustable, but trustable to do what? To go to sleep when he got tired, and to turn around when he got scared. Besides, Lazy Eyes was a far better husband and father than Submuloc ever could be, or was. Maybe because the brawny half brother was weak in the muscles between his legs, and the parts of his body which allowed him to have children.
Submuloc considered using the Slaves the tribe had captured in other raids in better times, now referred to as servants. But these servants valued their own lives of servitude more than the opportunity for freedom offered them if they took the journey. The children were too young, the Elders too old. But the large canoe which he now called a ‘pihs’ was finished, the leather sheets he now called ‘slais’ standing tall in the wind. .
“If this were only thirty summers ago, and Dnardref was still young, he would be the one to go on this journey with,” he said to himself, drenched with exhaustion after putting the third layer of sap over the bottom of the craft. His ears could hear animals he knew were not in the woods, or the sandgrasses. His eyes saw clouds which materialized out of dark sky. The moon above split into three, the faces in each laughing at him.
“I know what I am doing!” Submuloc screamed at the sky. “There is land where the sun rises, and I will discover a way to it. The sea is takes more of our sand each year, and puts it there. It is the destiny of my people to find that sand and reclaim it, as ours! Then to claim whatever else is there, for our children, their children and the Great Spirit which is greater than any image the Elders say It is! A Spirit which is…”
A Spirit materialized, one which did have very human form. Emerging from the fog, which seemed and felt real, was Dnanidref. His face still old, but his eyes now very young. “A Spirit which requires us to do what some say are transgressions, in Its service,” the Elder smiled.
Submuloc reached out and found, to his delight, and terror, that he was very real. Very touchable. A man of flesh and bone. “I thought you were…dead?” he said.
“I needed everyone here to think so, too,” he replied. “I thank you for honoring my ‘last request’.”
“Taking your body out into the woods and laying it at the head of Stone Mountain,” S replied. “Your breath was…gone.”
“It was sleeping, my young friend?”
“As maybe I am now, my Old illusion?”
D examined the craft. He nodded with the most complimentary of gestures at the sides, the rudder in the back, the sticks in the middle and the slais which would capture the wind. “I saw Visions of this canoe, you discovered Visions of how to capture the wind.”
“Which will take us where?”
D pointed to the horizon. The Sun seemed to make an appearance early. Or maybe it was a Star. Or something a young man saw when fed the wrong kind of plants by an old man who was faking his own death. Leaving his home to discover a new one, for the sake of his people, and perhaps himself.
The journey across the ocean was…long. Lots of water. Lots of horizons. Lots of clouds that looked like land, some with rainbows over them. Dnardref was always at the ‘mast’ as he called it, keeping the wind moving Submuloc and the ‘boat’ going forward. With every day, that large canoe got new names from Dnardref’s mouth and apparently memory. It was as if Dnardref had seen one of these ‘ships’ when he was a boy, and told no one about it His memory of the ‘ship’ that he found on shore when he was seven, maybe eight summers of age, and perhaps experience, was a very private one that he had kept from everyone else. No one believed him, maybe because when he came back from the village to show everyone else the canoe with the dragon head at its front end, it was gone. Washed out to sea, with only some lingering ashes on the shore. A few human bones washed ashore later, but to tell anyone of it would mean being considered crazy, and in his youth, Dnardref knew that ‘smart’ could be considered crazy very easily.
It made sense to Submuloc that Dnardref knew how to sail the ship all those days and nights across the big waters. As many days and nights as Submiloc’s three children had fingers, as he counted them. Submuloc missed his children, and even his wife. He hoped that Lazy Eyes would keep an eye, and ear, on them. Lazy Eyes was not the smartest of men, but he was the most loyal, and mot importantly, he could enjoy the ‘simple’ pleasures with Submuloc’s wife and children. Submuloc was always thinking about tomorrows and what was over the horizon and could never enjoy the day or night as it was. Better that Lazy Eyes become more than an Uncle. Better that the child who was just learning to talk would use the word ‘father’ when identifying him for the first time in her still fresh mind that could still smile without having to know why she was or should be happy. And best to reach the other side of the horizon before the food and water ran out on the ‘ship’.
Sumbuloc asked Dnardref on many occassions why Mother Nature would create a body of water so big which men could not drink from but fish could. Dnardref would laugh and say that perhaps Mother Nature was a fish, and man was just something big fish ate when men fell into the water, or when fish would learn how to climb onto land. The jokes came out more bousterously the thirstier Dnardref got. Yes, there were some fish you could catch from the water, but they left you thirsty.
Submuloc wondered what his leg would taste like. It was going numb with the cold and the heat, and seemed appetizing to his nose. It would keep his brain and eyes alive, and most importantly, keep Dnardref going. If anyone deserved to see with his eyes what he heart felt on the Eastern Horizon it was Dnardref. The old man seemed to have lived his entire life for that dream, putting everything off till he could make the journey. Till his obligations to the tribe at home were finished. And now that he was, at least in the minds of those at home, ‘dead’, he was finally Alive. More alive than he ever had been.
But today there was a sorrow in his voice. “The end of our struggles will be tomorrow,” he said, somberly. “And when struggle ends, so does life, my son.”
Dnardref hugged Submuloc like a father. Like a brother. And like a friend. A tear came down his cheek, then he pulled up a blanket and went to sleep. Submuloc watched the horizon for the rest of the night, waiting till dawn. This time, it was late in coming, or so it seemed. The night felt eternal. His stomach churned, his heart ached, his eyes grew painful and tired. Finally, the sun rose, and blinded him. The first time the Light did that. It would have been easy to hide his eyes, go back behind the shadows, and even turn the boat around for home, but there was no choice but to look up. Beneath the sun something solid. Blue, green and…brown, with a fog which had a color he had never seen before, the smell of something that offended his nose, and smelled like death.
A seagull landed abaord the ship, its wings coated with blood of many colors. It squaked something that Submuloc’s inner ear thought he could translate. “Land,” Dnardref smiled, picking up on the bird’s significance and perhaps message. “Land!” he exclaimed with glee, his ancient and decrepit legs leaping up and down on the ship like a boy who caught his first fish. “The land beyond the horizon, my son!” he continued, hugging D like he had hugged no other human being, at least to Submuloc’s knowledge and best intuition.
The gull flew away, joining a flock. The flock lead the way to a pile of debris on the water leading from the shore. Food, eatable and fresh. And upon closer examination, very human. Arms, legs and heads containing eyes of those who had died terrified and confused. With shimmering jewelry around them and attached to holes punched into the skin. With a color that seemed to be between brown and yellow that shined in a way that was very unnatural. And another hue that was even more shiny, an ominous looking grey which was not white and not black, but which reflected the sunlight in a way that blinded Submuloc, and even Dnardref.
“They these things on their bodies in preparation for death,” Dnardref said. “Just as the body of the ghost with the hair on its face seemed to say to me.”
“Without words?” Submuloc inquired, trying to gleam if the old man was remembering memories from this world or the next.
“This is how ghosts talk,” the reply. The Sage looked at the mutilated limbs on the water, then at the distant shore. “But where there is death, there is also life,” he smiled.
“What kind of life?” Submuloc asked.
“The kind we must know about,” Dnardref affirmed. “And tell our children about, son.”
There he went again, calling Submuloc ‘son’. As if it was biological as well as acquired. The facts supported both being true. Submuloc always felt a kinship to Dnardref, like they were from a different ‘stock’ than everyone else in their own families. Submuloc’s father was a kind enough man, but he feared Dnardref, telling his boy to learn to fish and hunt rather than to dream or to build things that had no defined use in the daily lives of just…living. Dnardref carved things in wood that no one in the tribe had ever seen, or could understand, and to be fair, could probably not even use. But it was useful to Dnardref to carve such things. Such as, right now, a dragon head to put on the front of the boat, along with a cross with a man laying on it.
“It will protect the boat and us,” he said by way of explanations.
The landing was uneventful. Smooth sand in front of a rocky beach with cliffs above it. Effortless and undetected, so it seemed. Submuloc felt disappointed. “We just discovered, or found, the land beyond the Eastern Horizon. I thought it would feel…”
“I know,” Dnardref said, relating his disappointments. “It just feels like another day to me too. Maybe all days do, or should. But, what do I know?”
Indeed, ‘what do I know?’, words Dnardref related so often when he was right, and wise enough to be humble and ever-questioning about it.
But one thing Submoluc did know. The boat was out of food, in need of repairs, and there seemed to be woods on top of the cliff. And the sounds of people there who seemed to be those who would steal boats, or wood from them. “We had better hide this…”
“Yes, I know,” Dnardref said, pointing to a cave as the tide came rolling in, the surf coming up with waves that would show little mercy for a craft build only to travel two days away from shore back home over gentle waters.
Submuloc and Dnardref carried the boat into the cave and covered it with brush gathered from the outside. “Be sure to put these bushes around the boat in the way Nature says,” Dnardref related. “Not in a line with no curves or an angle that crossed itself unnaturally,”
Submuloc was confused, even when Dnardref drew the words into the sand with a stick. “Straight line? Right angle? What was Dnardref talking about?” Submuloc said to himself of the arrangement of lines in the sand that he had never seen in Nature, or any devise constructed by his people back home. But the cross on the front of the boat, along with the painful look of the guilt-conferring man on top of it drove it home. Along with what he remembered of the jewelry on the arms and legs, and hanging on the ears of the heads, he saw on the way into the beach.
As they made their way up the path along the cliff, they saw even more straight lines and right angles. And three sided shiny objects that seemed unnatural. Like nothing one would see in the woods, or which Nature would make. Even the spears of these people were ‘straight’. “They seem stupid,” Submuloc said. “Don’t they know that a spear that keeps the curve of the tree will find its way to more fish?”
“Maybe they make spears like this because they are designed to kill people, and not catch fish,” Dnrardref replied, directing Submuloc’s attention to a row of women whose hair was being cut off by shiny sharp paired knives that left blood marks on their heads. They were tied up on stakes, men and women with right angle crosses yelling something angry their way.
“They seem like gentle women. Healers,” Submuloc said to Dnardref.
“Which is why they will be burned in those fires, or cut into pieces for the birds to eat, Great Spirit help us,” Dnardref replied, sadly. “Like we used to do, in the old, ancient times when…”
“When what?” Submuloc asked.
“It was a long time ago. We were a primitive and savage people. But we are much smarter than that now,” he smiled. “Great Spirit willing.”
In the gesture of prayers for the dead, or dying, Dnardref picked up a flick of grass from the ground and broke it up with his hands, then spread it to the wind, which was foul with excrement, burning toxins, and roasted flesh. Produced, so it seemed, by this village with teepees that had straight lines and right angles everywhere. Dwellings crammed so close together that there was barely room to walk. And when there was so much space around the village that one could live in. It seemed that the closer to the center of the village people were, the most miserable they were. The people wearing more jewelry than the others were the most miserable, and seemed to make life miserable for those around them. They chanted, moaned, and carted things around which looked like sleds with a circular piece of wood on both sides of it.
“It seems to make moving the sleds around easier,” Submuloc said.
“As long as the ground is flat,” Dnardref commented regarding the grassless, lifeless and very hard ‘ground’ upon which the village was built. True to his word, the sled with the circular wood on either side seemed hard to move once it hit grass outside of town, and real earth. A large animal was pulled over to take the load the rest of the way.
“Big dogs,” Submuloc noted. “With ears like small rabbits. And noble eyes,” he commented regarding the beats that seemed capable of being ridden by a man, and when ridden, seemed to not mind it, or at least seemed broken enough to not say so. “Indeed, these are an advanced people.” Submuloc continued.
“And a dying one,” F added, as the blanket over the sled fell off, bodies of people, some with much jewelry, some with none of it, falling off of it. Their faces had holes in them. Their lips were blistered. Their eyes were vacant. And they were all still clothed.”
More people without jewelry were yelled at and they put the bodies on top of the sled again, carrying them to a large hill where there were holes dug. Dnardref’s nose detected something. “Their sweat smells of death, fear and ignorance,” he said. “Like they purposely don’t go into the water to bath.”
“Maybe it is custom?” Submuloc added. “Or they are cold. Even though it is a hot day, everyone had their arms and legs covered. They must have thin skins,” he mused. “And thick skulls. And….” Submuloc gazed upon a young girl that looked like his own daughter. Men with crossed and much jewelry around their necks were dragging her out of her hut by her hair, other men with shiny spears being sure that they met no resistance from the villagers who looked gaunt, hungry and compassionate.
“I have to stop them!” Submuloc grunted, pulling out a stone knife from his belt.
“With that?” Dnardref answered.
“Someone has to…I can use this as a weapon!” the man who never even struck another in anger found himself claiming.
“Better to use this!” Dnardref replied, pointing to the muscle between his ears. With that, the old sage motioned Submuloc into the brush, a beautiful collection of trees that were still standing, around a village that seemed to ignore the shelter those tall giants could provide them. “We use the angels inside of us as demons,” Dnardref said.
“Like you used to do to us to keep us inside on nights when the coyotes were afoot?” Submuloc answered.
“Sometimes you have to treat children like children,” Dnardref replied. “And sometimes you need to make gifts of life seem like omens of death.” Dnardref noted around him apples which seemed redder than normal, and softer. And mushrooms. ‘They sell everything except these on the sleds in town, so many if we become Spirit Animals and fart these down on them…”
It seemed like a good plan. A needed one. The only one available as the fires were being set to burn the women and girls accused of being sorcerers. Fires fueled by wood from those women’s houses, and even larger amounts of very thin shavings of white wood with marks on them that looked learned. As Submoluc felt it, evil resided here under the where the Sun rose, not Light. But it was his duty to stop it.
The two visitors from the West side of the Great Waters climbed up the leafed trees above the village, running upon their like they were all manner or animals. Apparently, those animals were not ever seen or heard by the villagers, because their growls, barks and cockled scared them. Even the men with the spears and axes who wore shiny suits of leather that seemed to protect them. The men in the black robes with the crosses around their necks told the people who set the fires to stop putting more wood and ‘heretical books’, as he called them, upon them. The villagers who wanted to women burned were scared the most. The women and girls about to be burned seemed relieved, and thankful. Then, from the sky, Submuloc and Dnardref threw down the mushrooms and apples which the scared people called ‘tomatoes’, calling them ‘toxic’ and ‘rain from the devil’.
The two First Nations explorers found the foreign tomatoes and mushrooms very tasty. But, it was more important to make ‘devil rain’ to scare away the villagers than to fill their empty bellies. Finally, the only people left in the village were the women tied to the posts in the ground. Submuloc rushed down and untied them. The pale skinned women seemed scared of him. They ran away into the woods, too. But in another direction. Even the little girl who seemed so wise, and who, despite the paleness of her skin, seemed so much like Submuloc’s daughter.
Then, Dnardref whistled from atop one of the trees and pointed to another part of the woods. An army of hooded people were coming, very angry, and very armed. Submuloc scurried back up into the trees and looked down. Their clothes looked familiar. Like they were the same people, coming back to see what was going on, with blankets over their eyes. And behind them, rats.
“Death,” Dnardref said. “By tomorrow, everyone who returned to this place will be dead. The lifeless ones and the ones who are Alive between the ears. We had better stay up here till it passes.”
Dnardref sounded like he was right, again. Though Submuloc felt that he was talking from the Other Side, there was no other choice but to listen, and obey. Indeed he was on the other side of the Earth, the other side of the Great Waters at the very least. And a day or two in a tree with fruit on it and shelter from the rain was a welcomed break from a rocky boat on every-moving water.
Two days passed, then three. The sleds with circular sides to them carried more bodies to the burying place till there was no one left to carry the carts, and no one to do the burying. All that remained were the rats, who ate the dead people and moved on into the woods. Thankfully, the women and girls who were about to be burned stayed in the woods, and hopefully they had run faster than the rats could walk. Maybe they were safe, or maybe not. Better that they were not found, anyway. Though Submoluc wanted to remain for one more task. “We should take one of them back to where we live. To where there is life instead of death. To tell us about her people here.”
“You have children of your own, and a family,” Submuloc, Dnardref said with a kind, fatherly and authoritivie tone. “We have seen what is on the rising side of the Sun, and it is not Light. The land here is not the Source of life. It is…primitive, savage and lacking any kind of civilization.” Dnardref wept for the people who lay dead in the streets, and those who fled into the woods.
There was one thing that Submuloc was determined to carry back with him. The thin wood sheets containing scratches on them which the condemned women seemed so attached to and their ignorantly cruel would-be executioners were so intent on burning. “Books”, he remembered them being called, putting them into a large bag to examine on another day.
It was a long sail back home, and by the time Submuloc landed the boat, Dnardref lay dead beside him. But there was a smile on the old man’s face. He had seen what was on the other side of the world, the Source of the Sun. And had proven to himself, and perhaps Submuloc, that the real discovery is to connect to Life where you are. Where his people were. On the small stretch of land which he now was determined to turn into a Paradise.
Lazy Eyes was the first to greet him. “Where were you?” he asked.
“No place worth telling anyone about,” Submuloc said as he broke grass over Dnardref’s smiling face, his journey to the Other Side now complete.
Submuloc kissed his wife, hugged his children and became a respectable member of the tribe. He grew old, and in ways that were possible within the limitations around him, happy. He taught wisdom to those who would listen, and learned that the wisest teacher learns more than he ever teaches. As for the books, D learned what he could from them and finally figured out what some of them were saying to him, just before his eyes went dim. As for what lay behind at the time of his passing to the Other Side, it was mirrored into the waters in which he his remains were cast. …”Submuloc sdnif eporue” Submoluc wrote on one of the pieces of ‘paper’, as the books called them. The mirror image in the water reflected, ironically enough, ‘Columbus finds Europe.”
CHAPTER ONE—Who I be, and why should you care?
Hey there! My name is Maayrly, with an extra a and a y of course. The humanoids who gave me that name insisted on it being spelt that way, and of course are so stupid that think that I‟m too dumb to be able to handle a name with more than two syllables in it. And thought I didn‟t know who they were talking about when they spell it out…incorrectly or course, even according to the idiot who named me. Why is it that humanoids are so ignorant? Suppose it makes it easier for them to be assholes. Ignorance, after all, is the most essential ingredient for cruelty. Intelligence, when it is balanced and well informed by intuition and heart, is the seed for the inevitable fruit of Enlightenment, which in its blooming stage is called Love, by some anyway. Of course, being a dog, I‟m not supposed to be intelligent and have been assigned the job of being „blissfully ignorant‟, content only with the soul-satisfying jobs of stuffing my face with food, licking my balls with my tongue, „going potty‟ (since I‟m not intelligent enough to enjoy the pleasures of a good dump) and nuzzling up with the kid who is supposed to be taking care of me, but I know fully well I‟m looking after her.
They call her Jennifer…like there aren‟t enough „Jennifers‟ in the world. She‟s older than she should be for the amount of time she‟s been using her humanoid body. She discovered boys a week after she discovered her breasts. She worries a lot, mostly about people things. „Who likes me?‟ on most days. „Who loves me?‟ on bad days. But never „Who respects me?‟. Maybe because she really doesn‟t respect herself. Her parental units don‟t seem to. „Brad and Carolyne‟ are are hip and „cool‟ morons who are overpaid and probably underchallenged at work. They have everything „artistic‟ in the living room. Sculptures, paintings, DVDs of the latest „hip and cool‟ films, and CDs from the „coolest‟ bands around. But not a single book, except of course the phone book, which they never use except to smack me with when I try to look into their eyes and tell them something that will help them. Sometimes in dog talk, sometimes with telepathy. Such an inferior species, humans, not knowing even the most basic vocabulary in „Telepathy‟. Suppose they breed us to do that for them.
Yeah, Brad and Carolyn are „beautiful people‟ who are the sometimes-proud parents of a not so bad looking daughter. But because Mommy looks more attractive than her daughter, it‟s created some problems. Not that „Jen‟ isn‟t attractive, to a human‟s taste anyway. She‟s got some extra pounds on the thighs, but it‟s not like she waddles into the room. I‟d „do‟ her if I were unfortunate enough to be born into a 14 year old boy‟s body, or even a girl‟s bod. Jen is hotter than she thinks she is. Even warm inside. But she just ain‟t „cool‟. Maybe that‟s why she still likes me, I suppose loves me or maybe even respects me. But does she really understand me? She still puts on „The Dog Whisperer‟ for me when she leaves the house, thinking that I actually like the show. The guy on that show is so, like, trainable by the dogs he „masters‟. Or she puts on the animal shows, where the four legged creatures are all called Muffy, Duffy and Pookie. „Cause we‟re all so „cute‟. I‟m tired of „cute‟. You can‟t respect anyone who‟s „cute‟. But it‟s got its uses. The first cavemench who learned that you can make an animal do
what you want by feeding it had more brains than bones between his ears. The first animal who decided to be „cute‟ got fed really well. And it‟s good for the humans. Let them go out and get the meat, build the hut, keep the fire going. It‟s good for them. Just because they walk on two legs they think they can do everything more intelligently than any other species, including doing it „doggie style‟ under the sheets. But I digress…
How this whole tail (yes, I‟m allowed dog puns!) started was one day when Jen came home from the place where she gets the books she never reads. I think they call it „school‟. She went into the room where the humans take their dumps and leaks, where they don‟t let me see them doing it anyway. She took out this stick, went „number one‟ on it and I heard her scream. All those words that don‟t make sense. Ya know, the ones that describe taking a dump, putting spermies into a „Pookie‟s‟ hermie, and copulating with a female body that‟s already popped out pups. Yes, Jen was about to pop a pup out herself. It couldn‟t have been too much fun for her „doing it doggie style‟ a few weeks ago because she called her new situation being „knocked up‟. For a species that takes so much pride in being accurate, these two legged apes (otherwise known as humanoids) do grunt out words that don‟t make any sense. But a bone by any other name still tastes just as meaty.
Why a dog like me found himself with a girl like this, it was destiny…sort of. Everything is destiny and nothing is destiny. I could never figure it out, but had some ideas about it. I had lots of ideas, when I was a pup. Being a pup, if you have any grey matter between the ears, and haven‟t been told not to use it, it‟s impossible to NOT have lots of ideas. I had three new ideas every hour about how the world worked, or should work, for dogs, horses, humans and „complicated‟ species (according to humans anyway) cats. There are of course three things about a new idea. Discovering it, expressing it, and having it be heard. Other dogs, and even cats, understood a lot of my ideas, but having it be heard by humans…that was always the problem. You get ridiculed, punished, or, most often, ignored when you discover a good idea. And it‟s even worse when it‟s a great one. Of course the idea that is closest to reality is that almost all humans who think they love dogs, and other humans, have NO new ideas. Eventually, you find out it‟s not only „fun to be dumb‟ but you get fed better if they think you‟re a lovable idiot. You‟re allowed of course to know a few tricks, as long as those tricks don‟t threaten the soul-dead „boss‟s‟ ideas. So, as I got older, I didn‟t express as many ideas. Then I didn‟t have as many new ideas either. Then, I felt myself getting dumb, but certainly not happy. I‟ll be glad when this lifetime is overwith, which for a dog, thankfully, is around 14. The age the girl I was looking after turned into a woman.
CHAPTER 2. Jennifer‟s daze of discovery
So, Jen went into the room where the humans take a shit and piss, and peed on the strip again. It was blue, again. But this time, her face wasn‟t white. It was meat red. „Beet‟ red in her „vegan to the fans, steak behind closed doors‟ parents‟ vocabulary.
I looked at her, asking if there was anything I could do. “I‟ll fed you already!” she grunted out, as I snuck into the room with the porcelon watering bowl. “Get out of here!‟ she screamed.
I wasn‟t asking her for food and I wasn‟t even hungry. But it made her feel good feeding me, and it really looked like she needed to feel good about something. So I did my „feed me please‟ whine that we dogs have been using to train humans for centuries, and she took me down to the kitchen. When we got there, she opened the can of dog food and put it into a bowl.
“I didn‟t forget to feed you, just like I didn‟t forget to put that diaphram into me and take my pills,” she kept saying, again and again. “I know I was a little drunk that night, but not that drunk,” Jennifer went on. “But I know that I went to the party with Bob and left with Bill. But Bob and Bill are, like, ya know, gay. They were more in love with each other than with me. Why else would they have legs that have less hair on them than mine? And be so „responsible‟. Fuck, „responsible‟ is so, like, boring. But I have to find out who‟s responsible for this!” she continued, pointing to her belly like she swallowed something poison and was hoping she could take something that could flush it out. Through her vagina, I mean.
We dogs DO know more about biology than you humans do, including that the biology of your brains can‟t handle yet all of the things we DO know about you…But, that‟s for another book. After we‟ve done better jobs breeding you humans to each other. But you DO know that when you go to a park and see someone you really like but are afraid to talk to, it‟s US who goes up to them for you. And when you bring home people who are wrong for you, it‟s us who growls at them the minute they come through door and show us their real face, when you‟re too busy thinking about the one you imagine they have. But this story is about Jennifer, and me… You humans can‟t handle more than one story at a time. Maybe a good thing. A thing that is what it is, anyway.
Anyway…Jennifer filled my doggie bowl with veggies from last night‟s‟ vegan „chastity is cool‟ party which was put on by parental units Brad and Carolyn. The press was there, of course, and the conservative funders for their new „projects‟ Everyone, most notably the ones in the low cut blouses and see-through shirts with the crosses around their necks, had those sex starved looks on their faces. Faces that I KNEW they fed under the sheets after they got home, after they stopped off at MacDonalds for a hamburger. Thankfully Jen put some REAL food into MY bowl—„Mighty Hound‟ brand. The good stuff. I pretended to be concerned about feeding my stomach while Jennifer concentrated on what was in her belly. She looked more like a woman than a girl, somehow. But she kept calling what was in her gut an „accident‟.
She sat down at the table and looked out the window, imagining something in front of her eyes. Probably the party she was at when she said she was with the library, and at the park, with me. The night when I had to hold it in for 16 hours…no shit. She would say a name, then get lost in a memory about it, then write it down, sometimes with anger, sometimes with fear, sometimes with fondness, an emotion that looked very good on her.
As for the names, they sounded like guys. Or maybe „in between‟ guys with names like Taylor. Madison. Lynn with a y. Not that my name, „Maayrly‟, reeked of brave, bold testosterone. Then again, manhood is between the ears, as any dog who has been robbed of his nuts knows, or has to find out to retain any self-respect.
“What are you doing?” Carolyne said as she came into the kitchen, the limo driver behind her carrying in all of her groceries.
“Nothin, Mom,” Jennifer said, folding up the list of names like it was a confession even worse than „I ate all the food in the frig, shit on the carpet and slept it off on your best sheets‟.
“Excuse me!” Carolyn said, looking very angry. “What did you just say?”
“Nothing, Carolyn,” Jennifer grinned apologetically back at her mother. “Just ya, know, like, doodling,” she continued.
„Best gal pal Mom‟ smiled alluringly at the limo driver, giving the hot stud with his Great Dane sized balls a twenty dollar bill with a key inserted into it. Meanwhile, Jennifer crumbled the paper with all the names on it and threw it into the garbage. I pulled it out, pretending of course I was more concerned with the pieces of imitation bacon bits under it. Just in time for the front doorbell to ring.
“Hey, I‟m home!” Brad bolted out in a voice that sounded tired, and potentially angry. “Raul” (or so he looked like to me anyway) put a subservient frown on his face, and hippie-dippie Carolyne became „responsible‟ again. Yes, Carolyne always did seem like someone who was more responsible than colorful, when she had to be, but she really didn‟t want to be. I knew this about her more than she ever did, and for reasons I could never tell her. Though one day, I really wanted to. It was she who picked me at the pound, after all, when I was there as an abandoned pup. Or was it me who picked her? Or was it a Higher Paw who brokered the arrangement? Yeah, that Higher Paw is something we dogs always connect to. Maybe these humans could benefit from such.
Meanwhile, Jennifer untucked her blouse and buttoned her sweater. She lowered her head and snuck upstairs. “Jen? Something wrong?” Brad asked of his daughter in a fatherly way as he strided into the kitchen, briefcase in his left paw, a big paycheck in his right.
“Hormones,” Carolyne said, rolling her eyes in that „men will never understand women or girls‟ way that had become her habit over the last few years.
Brad didn‟t seem convinced that such was the whole answer. But Carolyne soothed his fire of sincerely-inspired curiosity with a stroke on his chest, then a kiss on his cheek.
“Yeah, hormones,” he said, the frown on his face turned upward into a relieved smile. Then a happy grin.
Yeah, Brad and Carolyne loved to be happy. I guess it was because they couldn‟t handle being real. A condition they were born with, I suppose. But, for now, I was more worried about the grandchild they would have, or not have.
CHAPTER THREE—-Dawg Dazed Afternoon
I buried the list of names Jennifer wrote down in the back yard, and I hung around her a lot for the next few days. Brad seemed worried about her, but I had (if you will excuse the „cool‟ expression) „issues‟ of my own with him. He never seemed to really like me, but he pretended to. I guess it made him more likable to Jennifer and Carlyne. Maybe it was because I was a dog, or because I was me. I didn‟t really connect up to his „inner soul‟ either, but our futures were connected more than any of us wanted them to be. Of course I couldn‟t tell him any of my ideas as to why.
Brad was a funny breed of human. He was always so neat, and clean and tidy. Even more than Carolyn and Jennifer, even at the time of the month when they were superfeminine. Was that because maybe he was less „manly‟ than the men who he called „guys‟? Or maybe there was a female side of him that was haunting him. I saw it one day when Carolyn took Jen on a catered “Fronteer Femme Ecoscout” camping trip. Brad locked himself up in the bedroom, watching films, the ones he made fun of with the other guys. But this time he was being absorbed into them, and alone with his, yeah, feelings. He sobbed through “Beaches”, laughed longingly to “Eat, Pray, Love” and wet at least ten hankerchiefs with sweat and tears with “Brokeback Mountain”. It was the love scenes that opened him up most. I let him think that I wasn‟t watching him and really did the best that I could to hold in the „detritus‟ in my colon after he fed me a new special diet that was more fiber than substance. But, finally, I had to bark something at him, after 10 hours of holding it in. “I‟m not a fag!” he yelled back at me. “I‟m just, ya know…”.
“A different kind of man than the guys,” I could read in his teary eyes. It was one of the few times when he looked into my eyes, and me into his. It lasted a long time, even as measured in dog-stare time. But it got too intense, for both of us. Men and dawgs ain‟t supposed to cry, so I put up the wall before he did. There was too much we knew about each other, and it would destroy both of us to share as much as the characters in the movies. Realm life is about knowing what no to say, or feel, and knowing when to close doors so the whole house doesn‟t come down. Just as long as those doors aren‟t locked.
The once super-stud Hollywood-action star-turned-producer was a hypocritical dude, but an honest one when it came to life and death issues. Particularly when they concerned Jennifer. He had a caring heart, but one eye that was closed-shut with the eyepatch Carolyn got him for Christmas ten years ago, another that was covered with rose-colored glasses he put on for the world, and maybe himself. But he was a stand up dude, who
always pissed standing up. Must be boring being human, having only one position you can piss in. And not being able to lick your balls. Thinking about those things made me glad I was born as a dog, but that just happened. An accident, sort of, maybe, but then again I know better.
Brad didn‟t ask Jennifer about her „accident‟. He didn‟t know about it, and besides, he wouldn‟t be thinking too clearly if he did.
The next few days become weeks really fast. Jennifer told Brad that she was getting fatter because she was eating more sweet shit. Mom „galpal‟ Carolyn wasn‟t so sweet about how she handled it. A lock was put on the refrigerator so her daughter couldn‟t get into the ice cream, pie and chicken-fried imitation steak. All the good stuff that I got when everyone was finished with it, or when it turned green, brown, or some other color other than the food coloring it originally had in it. I got thinner, Jen got…bigger. To Carylyn it was „fat‟, which she handled with more of the „tough love‟ thing, then the „I hear your pain‟ thing, then the therapist thing, then the accidently drop books about smart eating on the counter thing, then…nothing at all. Except treating Jen like a second class human, or worse, a dog.
As for this dog, I got thinner over the weeks when Jen blimped out. „Cool Dad‟ Brad asked if there was anything wrong, but she said „nothin‟ enough times so he allowed himself to believe it. He had his own problems, anyway. Strange that when humans have problems of their own they do one of two things. Either they get absorbed in their own problems, or they try to forget their problems by getting pulled into someone else‟s problems. Sometimes problems go away if you move on to another problem, but Jen‟s problem got bigger every day, and it wasn‟t going away. No matter how many waistless dresses she covered it with. But everyone of her so friends noticed it. Some said something. Particularly when Taylor saw me and Jen when she took me to DQ for some fast food goodies. A big dish of vanilla with chocolate icing for her. With sprinkles. A burger for me.
“This one I won‟t barf up,” she promised herself as she took the first bite, then the second one, then had a bite taken out of her by Taylor as he cruised by with his buds.
“Your dream babe is turning into a prize heffer,” one of Taylor‟s friends said to him. “That‟s a cow,” he explained to the buds who were less educated in the humanoid language of American, which bore some resemblance to English.
Taylor‟s buds laughed. Taylor‟s new girlfreind, a really skinny chick who looked a lot like Carolyn, rolled her eyes, then pulled Taylor‟s attention away from Jennifer. But Taylor did look at Jennifer with something resembling sympathy as his „Carolyn‟ pulled him away. Or was it pity? Some fear, no doubt. But no remorse. Nothing like the „yes,
it was me‟ look I couldn‟t shake off my face while the turkey bones are in front of me on the turkey platter which found its way into my mouth.
I remember that Taylor used to like Jennifer more than she liked him. Maybe it was that „love‟ thing too. But now, Jennifer would settle for even a little respect. And I guess it isn‟t hip, cool, or socially accepted in the human wolf pack for a guy to like, respect or love a girl who‟s wide around the belly, and puffy in the face. Unless he‟s a skinny, slimy Afro-American dude, and she‟s a hot, expressive, shake your booty Ebony sugar Mama. But white humans like their mates thin, and their dogs „fit‟.
“It could have been him,” Jennifer said regarding Taylor. Maybe it was to me. Maybe to herself. Or maybe to the human pup incubating in her belly. She wouldn‟t let me see which. She just kept feeding me hamburgers and ice cream. She pet me on the head. I licked her on the hand. Taylor‟s girlfriend sang a punk version of „You ain‟t nothin but a fat hounddog‟ directed at Jennifer, though the buds in her pack seemed to think it was to entertain them. Finally, Jennifer left. I looked at „mini-Carolyn‟ and wanted to eat her pretty little head off, but dogs are supposed to be obedient to humans, even bitches like her. I often wondered why the word for a female dog able to be a kind mother, „bitch‟, was used by humans to insult each other. Maybe it‟s just the way „bitch‟ sounded, and how well it fit little „Ms‟ Carolyn. But for the moment, Jennifer needed me to make her feel better more than I needed, or wanted, to make that bitch who used to be Jen‟s friend feel my teeth in her arm…Or feel ANYthing at all.
Jen couldn‟t figure out why every time she buried her list of possible „dads‟, someone pulled it up out of the dirt again. She thought she was going crazy. A sort of forgetful thing that only old humans did. Or young ones on dope. One thing Jen didn‟t do was dope, unless you count in the night when that „accident‟ happened in her belly. But, most of the time, she thought with her head instead of her hormones. Something I did when I was raising her sunk in, though I made as many mistakes as she did in the past, and I KNOW for sure, in past lifetimes. One thing that did sink into Jen, from somewhere, was a belief in a Higher Paw that was always, in some way, looking out for us, or looking for ways for us to serve a greater good.
But even a lobotomized cockerspaniel stoned out on locoweed could figure out that most humans put that undefinable Infinite Being, that Energy that needed no power to be expressed, which they called God, into a box. Every Sunday they‟d go to a big building where no dogs were allowed inside and look at pictures of other humans on stained glass windows and ask them for help. And how they could be better to each other. All that smiling, and singing, and celebrating but so little…thinking went on in that building. At least according to what I saw from the car seat when I compared how the humans went in, and how they came out. One of Jen‟s English teachers made them write an essay: “Resolved: That which does not kill me makes me stronger. True or False.” Most of
Jen‟s classmates didn‟t even understand the question. Jen did, being the girl that I raised to be more smart than happy.
But she was not sure of the answer to that concept that Nitche got from his dog. For real. Even humans know it was a John Steinbeck‟s dog that ate his first draft of „Of Mice and Men‟. But only super-human species like us know that it was to push Mr. Steinbeck into doing a re-write from memory, from deeper place inside of him that honored rodents and humans more.
But, I was talking about Jennifer. Or should be anyway. It was a Sunday, at the place where the smaller humans in earth worshop the bigger humans in their imaginations, or perhaps realities. It was Easter. Brad and Carolyn took Jen to Church, or maybe it was the other way around. It had something to do with that pup inside her. She was still wondering if she should keep it. And if it was an „it‟, or a „he‟, or a „she‟. The sermon was “Giving Birth to Your Inner Visions”.
I didn‟t quite hear the sermon from inside the building, as I was in the car, with the window half open, and half closed. Though the voice of whoever was giving it kept going low, then coming up high, then easing down into a talk that sounded more like a song than a speech. Whatever it was, there were lots of „hallaluiahs!‟. But not on Jen‟s face when she came out of the building. Everyone else had these „yeah, I know what it‟s all about now‟ smiles on their faces. But she looked like she just had more questions, with no one left to give her the answers.
One human she could get a clear answer from was Madison. He came to church that day to please his rich grandmother, who looked like she would die by Christmas. But he helped the old woman walk up and down the steps of the building with the big „plus‟ sign on its roof, dollar signs going „caching‟ in his eyes each time her aching feet crunched onto the pavement, breaking what was left of the cartilage between her bones with nothing but pain between them. He was really well dressed, though, his face freshly shaved around the cheezy mustache that covered the real expression on his lips, and behind his eyes. He used „thank the Lord‟ in every sentence he could to whoever looked important. „Lord willing‟, too. Lots of „Lord‟ talk about someone up there, or in there, who just wanted to talk with his creations, or share a good laugh with them.
I barked his way, to get him to pay attention to Jennifer rather than the important people, or the „Lord‟ whose ass he was trying to kiss for extra stuff in this lifetime or the next. Jennifer pulled my collar. “Don‟t bark!” she yelled at me. How else was I supposed to say anything? Particularly to someone who needed someone to say something to her that was real. So, I nuzzled up to her leg and looked up into her eyes instead.
“I know,” she said while stroking me on he side of my neck. “He‟s a sleeze, and he is on the list of guys who were at that party where my body was there but my mind was, like…someplace else,” she stated. “Maybe that somewhere else was, ya know, up there,” she continued, gazing up at the stars above the sun-lit clouds. “Maybe I was
kidnapped by a spaceship, and an ET made me feel so, ya know, comfortably uncomfortable. After he took off my clothes. Stroked my cheeks. Cuddled my…”
She stopped there, knowing that I was looking at her. Again, she stroked my head, underestimated what was below the skull. “When you reincarnate into a human, I know YOU won‟t become a cock or walk fuckhead like Madison,” she said. “Drive a girl far away from home in his car after he gets „lost‟, then if she doesn‟t give it up, all of it, he makes her walk home.”
“Of course I won‟t!” I felt like saying to her. “Because, A, I‟m not that kind of dog,” I telepathed back with my heart. “And B, what makes you think that dogs evolve into humans? Maybe humans reincarnate up the evolutionary ladder into dogs, or cows, or cochroaches!” I screamed out in silent dog talk. It was as sound a theory as anything else about the Reality above, beyond and within the Plus Sign on the Church roof. Everyone‟s got to work their way from lower realities to Higher Ones, in their own way, anyway. Anyway, Madison stared at Jennifer for what seemed like a long time. They had this conversation between them with words I could feel but not quite hear. The „talk‟ ended with Jennifer lifting up her blouse and pointing to her big belly, then to him.
Madison froze. His rich and dying Grandma Betty wanted him to pose for a picture for the town paper. The photographer got the picture of Madison smiling again, then left, as a whole bunch of people gave Grandma Betty a bunch of wrapped boxes with Happy 100th Birthday written on them. Jennifer folded her arms, demanding Madison‟s answer.
He shook his head „no‟. Then escorted his aunt into her car. He got in the driver‟s seat and drove away. Lots of other cars followed. Including a convertible with the Paster, Brad and Carolyn in the back seat, posing for another picture for the papers.
“So, which ET or humanoid was it, Lord?” Jennifer said, looking up to the sky again. “And if it was an angel, or YOU, wanting to do a Second Coming thing with a second kid, you gotta tell me!!! Please!!!” She waited for an answer, but nothing came. I could feel another friend falling out of her life, one that she trusted more than she thought she did. “So,” she said to me, stroking my neck with shaking hands. “It‟s just you and me, kid,” she smiled sadly. “And YOU!” she yelled angrily at her belly. “For the MOMENT anyway.”
At least she called „it‟ a „You‟. Then again, the God that still probably did exist for her, and me, was an „It‟ in Reality, not a He or a She, and certainly not a He-She. But for the moment, it was about figuring out who the father of Jen‟s „accident‟ was, and if there would be a mother. It was still only the fourth month, but the fifth month and the time for final decisions would be at paw (hand) in less than a week.
Jennifer made some more calls, and sent out some more e mails, but the answer from everyone was the same. “Are you sure?” they all said. “It wasn‟t me!” they all claimed. “If there is anything I can do… “ they all pledged, but didn‟t really mean. And even if they did mean it, could they do anything? These were 15 and 16 year old guys, in dog age, 2 years. I don‟t remember wanting to be a father any more than these guys did when I was their age, in human years. But someone has to dog-up, or man-up, to the aftermath of two minutes of pleasure, passion or unbridled love. For dogs that usually lasts 45 minutes, in case you humans are wondering.
The time clock was ticking. Soon the point of no return would happen. Ya know, the time when the brain cells inside the head of that fetus inside Jen‟s belly would decide to connect and say, „hey, we need a life to control, be owned by and, ya know, work with‟. I‟m not sure if that timetable is exactly right, but I did remember something from Jen‟s Bible that said „the soul of the angel entered the womb at 5 months‟. I wasn‟t sure who the angel was, or the woman whose womb it was, or what that life became after it was born into the world outside its mother‟s body, but I think it was someone important. Jennifer was important, at least to me, and I think to the world. Whatever soul or energy or whatever that would come into her womb would no doubt grow up to be someone…important. Maybe even significant. But, maybe there was only one soul within the confines of Jen‟s body right now. It felt like that. There was still time for that „other‟ choice that she never said, but was always thinking.
Deciding to continue being a childless girl made as much sense as being a birth-giving woman, at least for Jen. She was, after all, only fourteen. A child herself. And as for her parents, they were even more immature than she was, in the ways that mattered anyway. I heard Carlyn refer to Jen as „her beautiful accident‟ after a few drinks with her friends, tokes with her coworkers at the television studio, and boinks with limo driver Carlo, production assistant Niko, and overpaid moronic wannabe-mobstory writer Guido. As for Brad, he was all about business, overworking himself to bring home a few extra dollars so he could expand the business, so he could spend as little time at home as possible. Carlyn called Brad an idiot, a moron, a geek, a eunic, a cold fish, and most often „boring‟, at least when she was ranting to me about something he did or didn‟t do. But he never called him an asshole.
Brad just grunted a lot when Carolyn did something to piss him off, and said nothing about her, or himself. Most of the time when he was doing his ranting time in front of me, it was about his work, that he was so great at. His unfulfilled dreams of being a rock star, NFL football quarterback, or hot looking cheerleader. Or his first love—Jennifer. He never called her „my‟ daughter, or „my‟ anything for that matter. But to love something doesn‟t mean to own it. He knew that, and for that I was grateful. Maybe because he kept a looser leach on me than anyone else in the house. I owed him for that, and a lot of other things I couldn‟t tell him, or Jennifer. Not until it was the right time, anyway.
And when would be the „right time‟? The right time for me to bark up and show these humans that I could read, write and think better than they could? The right time to tell them that the „what goes around comes around‟ rule applies for ALL species? The right time to collect money rather than strokes or extra slices of dried out bologna for being a shrink to all three of the humans who thought they owned me? And the right time to tell them all why, and how, I wound up with them? And the right time for Jennifer to make things…right. Whatever that was.
I had a plan. Jennifer trusted cool Dad Brad, and though he was a kid himself, he had a right to know what his daughter was going through. He would be the parent who should know first as the time clock to the fifth month, then the sixth, seventh and ninth was approaching fast.
Jennifer brought home abortion pamphlets. Some said she should do it. Some said she shouldn‟t. Both advertised their case with really cool graphics, and words that sounded like they were talking down to the mother to be, or not to be. But they did lay out the legal and medical options. When Jen was in the shower, lingering there, letting the water drip down her body as if it could clean away what happened, Brad‟s car pulled up in the driveway. By the way the clunker mascarading as a luxury sportcar screeched to a halt, I could tell he was angry, and maybe anger was what he needed to make Jennifer do something.
As I hear the door slam downstairs, I opened the door to Jen‟s room, gathered the pamphlets in my mouth and took them into the hallway. I dumped them there, letting each fall where they would. Maybe, I thought, the one that naturally fell on top would be the one that would have the real answer as to what Jen should do and how to do it. I bowed my head, asking my Higher Paw for an answer. And for Jen to do the right thing, whatever that was. It turned out…all wrong, at least according to the way I planned it out.
“What are you doing!?” Carolyn yelled at me.
I looked up, realizing that it was Carolyn who screeched into the driveway in Brad‟s car. Then I tried to sit down on the pamphlets and do a cute trick so that she wouldn‟t see the mess I made, but I did make a mess of it. Particularly after she picked up the pamphlets, saw Jen‟s door open, and caught a look at her daughter through the mirror, her belly another size larger than it was two days ago.
“Jennifer!” she yelled out. “Come out here. Now. We‟re going to talk about this.”
“Talk about what, Mom, ah, I mean, Carolyn?” Jennifer smiled back at her, a towel covering her chest and belly.
“That!” not so cool Mom blasted out, pulling the towel away from Jennifer‟s shaking hands, pointing accusingly at her enlarged tummy. “And this!” she continued, grabbing
hold of some pro-abortion and some anti-abortion pamphlets. “Did you think you could keep this from me?” she went on, thinking herself to be understanding.
“Obviously Jennifer did,” I thought to myself. “And obviously you didn‟t know anything about your daughter being pregnant because you‟re so good at keeping yourself non-pregnant, even after visits with Carlo, Nicko and Guido,” I continued, between my ears.
“Did you think you could keep this from me!!!” Carolyn repeated, her warmth converted into a firey blast. “Did you?”
“I obviously did,” Jennifer said, sticking up for herself.
“So, what are you going to do about it, young lady?” Carolyn continued, folding her arms. “I‟m assuming you know who the father is.”
“No.” Jennifer replied, shaking her bowed head, tears streaming down her face. Desperately wanting an answer as to what to do. Or at least someone else to ask the question with.
Carolyn considered what to do, and seemed to dive deep into her soul. Apparently she DID have one. It was the first time I really realized that. Meanwhile, Jennifer fell deeper into despair, and indecision. Carolyn responded to that fall into the abyss with a slap, delivered across her daughter‟s beet red face. “Snap out of it!” she said, firmly. “We have to do something about this. You understand?”
“I‟ll…I‟ll…” Jennifer said, the jumbled thoughts in her shaken up head finally coming together, forming the words with stuttering and shaking lips.
“You‟ll wwwwhattttt?” Carolyn answered, mocking Jennifer, but with a real purpose behind her eyes. One connected to her own mistakes, and agonies, so it seemed. “You‟ll what?” she asked, again, appending it with another slap.
“I‟ll…I‟ll take care of it,” Jennifer answered, in a new voice, finally having reached a decision.
Carolyn smiled, hugged her daughter, then openned up a „how to get a safe and psychologically-trauma free abortion‟ pamphlet. It seemed like a real mother-daughter re-union. Like Carolyn and Jennifer met each other, for the first time. Dogs don‟t cry, but inside my eyes, I did. Tears of joy and gratitude. Until Jennifer continued in that new voice of hers.
“If it‟s a „she‟, I‟m naming it Carolyn. If it‟s a „he‟, Brad, or Bradley,” she smiled.
“When we get rid of it, you‟ll call it an accident that you‟re glad to get rid of!” Carolyn barked back. She clenched her fist, seeming like she was prepared to end the „life‟
incubating in Jennifer‟s belly herself. Luckily, Jennifer pulled away before that wish was put into action.
“No!” she insisted. “I‟m keeping it.”
“Not with any financial help from me, or your father!” Carolyn declared.
“I‟ll find a way!” Jennifer asserted.
“Who‟s the father?” Carolyn continued in a lawyerly way.
“I don‟t know,” Jennifer answered, but this time as a matter of fact rather than agony. She turned around and looked at herself in the mirror, liking the view for the first time. “And it doesn‟t matter,” she said to herself. “Isn‟t that right?” she continued, speaking to her belly, and the possibilities inside it.
“Isn‟t what right?” a very male voice answered back. I looked up, and it was Brad, having just come in. Briefcase still in hand. The affairs of business still on his mind. That look of being done unto rather than doing unto others in his face, yet again.
“My accident had an accident,” Carolyn said, showing Brad the pamphlets, then her daughter‟s enlarged belly.
“I was an…accident?” Jennifer uttered from disbelieving lips, as Brad dropped his head, not letting her see what he was thinking, or feeling. She turned to Carolyn. “You always said that, ya know, you wanted to have me.”
“Accidents happen, Jen,” the poker faced reply.
“Was I a happy accident, Mom?”
“I did what I was told that I had to do,” Carolyn replied, coldly.
“What she wanted to do,” Brad interjected. “And what I wanted to do too,” he continued.
Carolyn shot a dirty look at Brad worse than any I ever got, for anything. They had an intense conversation between them, reliving some secrets that I knew about them, and revealing others that I didn‟t.
“Dad? What should I do?” Jennifer asked
“Ask your mother,” Brad replied, having given up the non-verbal war of threats, assertions and passions.
“But you‟re my—“ Jennifer said.
“—Talk to your mother,” Brad interjected. With that he turned around and walked downstairs.
Carolyn turned around, smiled like a „Mom‟ and faced Jennifer. I tried to come between them, but Carolyn kicked ME in the belly. “Go downstairs!” she commanded me. With that she brought Jennifer into her room, closed the door behind her, and turned on some music. I could hear them talking under the music. And I could see Brad downstairs, trying to listen in on them. Even though I had better hearing than a humans, I couldn‟t make out what they were saying. But I could hear Carolyn doing most of the talking, and Jennifer doing all of the crying. Then, the door opened up. Carolyn came out, kicked me downstairs again, then locked Jennifer in her room. She made a call to a Doctor, saying that she‟d be bringing Jennifer in to him tomorrow morning.
It was a long night for me, and Brad, as we both sat downstairs pretending to watch television. Two Law and Orders:SVUs and one CSI, as measured by 21st century human time. Brad just sat there, staring at something. Maybe it was the tv screen, or maybe the movie of his life. That movie, which was far more real than any cop, lawyer or doctor show that even Brad could get put on the air though his studio connections, was very real. And I was watching it too. Because, I did know him better than he knew himself, for reasons I couldn‟t tell him. Hell, it was as unbelievable to me as to him as to why such was so, but…as the overused expression goes in this „put up the white flag‟ era, „it is what it is.‟ But was it as it had to be?
Being too tired to go to sleep, and too weary in spirit to wake himself out of the slumber that had become his waking life, Brad decided to stay up a little longer. About half past „Raymond‟ (that‟s 15 minutes for those of you who are enlightened enough to still tell time by the clock, or that most real measure, internal experience and discovery), Brad decided to finally talk to me. “Wanna go out?” he asked, maybe because he had to take a leak himself, or maybe because he was afraid I‟d soil Carolyn‟s new rug, which he paid for of course. Maybe it would have been a good bonding experience, the two „men‟ of the house going outside and taking a leak together. But something else had to be put on the table first. Brad had to be informed about something before he informed me about what was going on in his head, and heart.
Being unable to talk to humans created limitations for me my whole life as a dog, but being someone in the room who goes unnoticed let me do things that could make people…take notice in ways that they wouldn‟t have otherwise. While Brad got up and fetched a leach for me, and yet another beer for himself, I „accidentily‟ pressed on the remote, flicking from channel to channel. Lots of news about old stories were on, with droning broadcasters who had no connection to the events they were telling the viewer about. Nothing new, anyway. More stories about how the people on top are pissing on people at the bottom, and how it was such a shame that they did so. Then the Hollywood
news that glorified the people on top. Then syndicated shows with the stars themselves acting like they really cared about and were real people. Some of them shows that Brad approved of and invested in. Great money makers. Then, something that was great, not because it was a great money maker but because it was great, and real.
“Married With Children”, it was. One of the episodes with Buck the talking dog, ranting about how screwed up the humans are around him. MY story! Which is a lot of dogs‟ stories, I know. And which I hoped that one day would encourage Brad to make his own sitcom with me, or someone I could write for, as the lead dog. But it was the lead humanoid in this story that caught my attention, and grabbed Brad‟s. “Al Bundy!” Brad exclaimed as if seeing an old friend who he had forgotten about. Or written off as dead, or „so yesterday‟ that he was irrelevant to the „hip and cool‟ people of today, which coincidently use old words to describe how „cool‟ they are.
“I remember this episode,” Brad said, petting me in a manner not unlike Al stroking Buck. “This is the one where Al really gets to find and use those balls under his pant zipper,” he continued, settling into his chair, his left hand inserted under his Dockers waistline, his right chugging back a beer. He laughed with all the jokes whose references were 20 years old but as relevant as the day they were written. Nodded whenever the sage, Al, or his sage in training, son Budd Bundy, told it as should be, the blissful, arrogant and brain-dead women in the show tragically blabbing on comedically about the way things are. Smiled when at the end, Al finally DID get revenge on the women who were making his life hell, and had a shot at controlling his own life, even if the control of that world involved getting his car started, his TV working, and his belly filled with food that he paid for. And feeling proud about who he was in High School as the guy who scored four touchdowns in one game. Feeling good about the touchdowns he was scoring today, despite the fact the he was the only one playing the game. All shared with Buck on the couch.
It was both an informative and bonding moment, for four legged-dog and two-legged beast, which lasted as long as the next two commercials, brought to an end by the next program. Another Cop show about a young, retarded girl getting raped by a psychopath, on her way to the abortion doc, whose clinic had just been blown up by Prolife activists.
I looked to Brad, who was glancing at the „how to get a safe and psychologically-trauma-free‟ abortion pamphlet. “She wants the child,” he said. “Just like her mother did. But after she has it, will she become her mother and, not want it?” he said. Seeing that Carolyn‟s car was not in the driveway, he nodded to me, and took me out for a walk.
Our discussion as to what to do started with a urinary discourse. I lifted my leg and let it rip on the grass near the garden of overpriced (and very plain looking) roses that „production assistant‟ hunk Carlo planted to please Carolyn. Brad pulled down his zipper and gave the plants the kind of watering they deserved. Maybe he hated roses, or hated Carolyn for planting them, or knew about what was really going on with Carlo in the bedroom above the flowers when he was away. It wasn‟t that Brad was pissed off at Carlo, or Carolyn for that. Just disappointed that he didn‟t get what he wanted. And that
he was always that one who took on fixing things that he didn‟t break. It was like that with Carolyn and him. And maybe him and everybody. “Ya know, Mar,” he said to me as he looked up at Carolyn‟s second bedroom, the one she said she went into when she had to work on lines. “Biology isn‟t everything. Just because your daughter doesn‟t have your sperm in her genetics, that doesn‟t mean she doesn‟t have your spirit imbedding into her heart. Or your well being implanted into the depths of her soul….Somewhere. Someplace where it will blossom like flowers that aren‟t just „nice‟, but beautiful. Really, ya know, beautiful. And, like, real.”
Aside from the „ya know‟ and the „like‟, it was as literary as a human could get, in print or speech. Worthy of any of the classic authors that Brad read when he was alone. But this time, it came from HIS mouth. Expressed by HIM. In words. Actions followed, preceded by a primal grunt and a deep breath that connected his gut, brain and heart. He gave me a thank you hug, like he knew me for lifetimes, picked up a ball and threw it, all the way across the yard. A longer distance than he ever had before. “Got get it, if you want to, bud. Time to do what I want to do, and have to do.”
It was the first time he called me „bud‟, instead of „boy‟ like he did when he was defeated. „Guy‟ when he felt depressed. I thought about getting the ball. And wanted to. Particularly because it was in the garden of lillies that Guido had planted for Caryln, in an area I wasn‟t supposed to even think about walking into. But I followed Brad the Man in to the house.
He grabbed a hammer from the tool box and strided up the stairs, straight to Jennifer‟s room. With one swift and defiant stroke, he broke the lock on the door, and tore open a window to his future, and Jennifer‟s. And, as a result of such, even Carolyn‟s. “Jennifer. You can do whatever you want about this,” he exclaimed. “Whatever it is, I‟ll support you and love you. Whatever it is…”
His jaw dropped, as he saw her draws open, her closet half emptied, her unused suitcases tossed around, and note written in scratchy print on the bed, crumpled up. “Help me,” Brad read. He turned over the note “Please, Daddy.”
“Daddy” he said. “In some ways. But your real father, well. I guess that‟s irrelevant now.”
I felt a mixture of emotions going through me when Brad read that, and the reality of Jennifer‟s as yet unrevealed genetics came to light. But it was time for action now, not feelings. Jennifer‟s life, and perhaps another that was about to be born into the world, or tossed into the abortionist‟s trashbin, was at stake.
According to the clock on the highway it was approaching midnight. According to the one that really mattered, it was only minutes to month five, the time when…well according to everything I heard, or read, in this lifetime or perhaps others…something
would happen to the „tissue‟ inside of Jennifer. Life would enter its brain once all the right connections were formed. But whose life? Such was something I did have more insight into than most humans, or even dogs, did.
There‟s an ancient Chinese story. Or maybe it‟s a traditional Indian legend. Or maybe just an old wives‟ tale. In any case, the story goes that souls after they „die‟, unless they‟re lucky or accomplished enough to merge with the Great Spirit, linger around to take care of old business and loose ends from the last lifetime, then look for a body to move into so they can deal with the business of moving onward, and upward. There‟s no way to prove that this story is true, or false, but considering its possibility makes us truer to ourselves, and others.
As Brad raced on through the stoplights and honking horns towards the luxury loonie bin/hospital where Carolyn had most probably taken Jennifer, I thought about my own past lifetime, and people I knew, or could have known then. One of them was sitting next to me. “Dog is man‟s best friend” I saw on a billboard for a new kind of pet food, though dogs really would prefer their best friends to share their human food with them, no matter how greasy or chemical-infested it is. “And best friends are forever,” the sign went on to read. Invisible tears flowed down my face when I looked at Brad. Maybe because at this time of his greatest need, and awakening, he had chosen me to be at his side. Maybe that was because, yes, I was at his side long before I was born, and when he was once very much alive.
It was a time before Carolyn. We were aspiring writers, working on scripts by night, putting in time as college students in „safe‟ curriculums by day. His security „day job‟ was business, working on an MBA as his „citizen papers‟. Me, I wanted to be a doctor, like Chekov, who could cure people‟s physical ills by day, and write books that would restore their spiritual health and vitality by night. Or, if I could get over my allergies to animal hair, a veterinarian. Money wasn‟t as much of a problem with us as it was with others. We had rich parents who paid for our education, as long as we got the education they wanted us to. During the course of our „extra-curricular‟ activities as independent filmmakers trying to make the definite movie that would contain both edge and heart, we met a lot of chicks, some gals, a bunch of babes. But only one woman. Carolyn. We flipped a coin, deciding on who would get to marry her, when she wasn‟t looking of course. Brad won. Carolyn won too, sort of. Me…I had mixed feelings that turned into angry ones, then defective ones.
Brad got his inspiration from real life, and doing everything the hard way. Me, I…experimented with other ways to perceive reality, and metaphysical possibilities. So did Carolyn, though with her it was more about the pleasure of altered states rather than merging with the Ultimate State. We tried to forget ourselves, then lose ourselves, so we could find ourselves. Then one night, Carolyn found herself with her mind and body in two different locations. Her body was at a party where I was, and her mind…took the night off. I don‟t remember the specific pharmaceuticals (or if you wanted to be organic, „herbs‟) that made such a state possible. But her state of lack of mind, and my lack of control of my mind, produced a night of passion. With a night of…well, mixed
emotions for me that preoccupied my mind on the way home, until I accidently rammed into a tree. Or maybe looked for the biggest tree I could find to do a kamakazi last act drive into.
“What are you thinking there, Bud?” Brad asked me as I tried to remember the rest. How I wish I could explain it in words. All I had was my heart, body and dog mind. I stood up on my hindlegs like a man and dog, and nuzzled up to Brad, stroking his sweaty, beet red, shaking neck with my head. A gesture that Carolyn never allowed me to do to her because it would ruin her make up. A sign of affection and respect, and to the extend that I am able to understand it, love, which Jennifer always liked, no matter now much Carolyn said it was bad manners to teach me, referring to the Dog Whisperer and some animal hating East Indian dog trainer she knew as references to that „fact‟.
“I know,” Brad said, as a smile came to his face. Feeling less alone in his quest to regain his own life, and his daughter‟s, and the life of well…possibilities about to enter into her womb, IF she wanted to do so, or course. “Whatever Jennifer wants to do, she‟s going to have a free choice. And our support, right Champ?”
I barked „yes‟ as affirmatively as I could. It was as if I was reborn too. But with rebirth comes transitions which I sensed were coming…for all of us.
I never saw Brad drive so fast, and well. I got scared at each turn he screeched around, reminding me of the night that I screeched my way into a dark ditch, then the bright light. But we made it. And we were both alive, big A. Even more so when we rushed to the door of the hospital which looked like a country club, and were stopped by the soul dead thugs at the door.
“I need to see your pass, Sir,” the fat, triple chinned security dude, or rather dud, barked out. “This is a private facility.”
“And I have private business, with my daughter, inside!” Brad shot back at them.
“And your daughter is who?” the whimpy goon with the Napoleonic complex asked.
“Jennifer…eh…Jennifer—” he replied.
Before Brad could say the surname which he gave to the child who was not of his own biologically, but was his in all other ways that mattered, goon number one flipped through his computerized roladex and replied, “No Jennifer here, Sir.”
Brad pulled out a picture of Jennifer, with himself, me and Carolyn. The one at the Beach in Monterey where I me, Jen, and Brad played in surf and Carlyn, as I remember, let her guard down and let her herself enjoy just being „common‟ too. “You know her?” Brad asked goon number two, pointing to Jennifer.
“I know her,” goon number two said, smiling, his alluring eyes fixed on Carolyn‟s face in the faded snapshot. “I saw every film she‟s been in,” he confessed. “Even the chick flicks. But, always alone. So the woman I dated, and then married, wouldn‟t see who I was always fantasizing about.”
“Neither of them are here, Sir.” goon number one interjected, doing the bad cop thing while his bud was caught in sensitive guy land.
“But their car is here,” Brad said, pointing to the Bently parked in the VIP parking space in front of the flowery bushes that covered windows which housed humans wandering around in white hospital gowns who looked more lost than healed.
The two goons looked at each other. Brad looked at his watch. “Look, Jack. Look, Bill,” he said with a condescending tone, reading their nametags which bore only their first names and numbers underneath them. “I‟m more powerful than any of your bosses. And will have you fired unless you let me in there, right now!”
It was a Mexican standoff alright. Brad with his very non-Herclean physique and his newly found courage to stand up for himself against the $25,000 a year salaried guards who spent their entire lives building muscles on their arms and legs rather than between their now very offended blue collar ears. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. Any moment now, something irreversible could happen to Jennifer and her potential child. So, I decided to take initiative. I sneaked around Brad, pulled his wallet out of his pocket, and nuzzled out a few of those pieces of paper that made everything possible. I sat in front of the goons, keeping those green pictures of those humans with the constipated expressions on their faces in my mouth. Growling, daring them to take the bankroll of crisp bills.
“He‟ll open his jaw and drop that „bone‟ in in his teeth if you open your mouth and tell me where my daughter is,” Brad said, stroking me on the neck.
“I guess I didn‟t hear you say that she was her daughter, Sir,” goon number one said with an obedient grin.
“Can I see some ID, just for verification purposes, Sir?” goon number two added, bowing ever so subserviently.
Brad reached into his wallet for his ID. The goons nodded „yes‟ with the most cursory glance, opening up the door. “Wing 2E,” one of them said with fabricated respect while the other pushed me back.
“He comes with me too,” Brad insisted with regard to me. “On orders of my daughter Jennifer‟s therapist,” he smiled, lying his through his teeth, but never more sincere in the ways that mattered.
I opened my mouth, letting the money fall to the ground, then into the mud. Then as the goons went down to grab it, I pissed on the bills. It didn‟t stop them from collecting the presidential portraits, and fighting between themselves as to who got what.
Brad and me both walked in, treating ourselves to a look at those two pathetic creatures digging in the dirt for urine stained pieces of paper through a mirror. But we had no time to lose, and fast walked our way as quickly as we could to Wing 2E. Seeing more goons ahead of us, and seeing scary docs in clean white lab coats behind them (one of whom looked like the doctor who cut off my testicular tissue), Brad grabbed hold of his sunglasses, put them on, and snatched a long bamboo stick from one of the indoor artificial-flower gardens. He let me lead him down the hall to Wing 2E, pretending to be blind, making himself fit in even more so by bobbing his head around and singing “You Are The Sunshine of My Life”. He sounded more white than black, and not even close to sounding “Stevie”, but he sounded harmless enough to get by everyone else who could have stopped us. And nuts enough to believed as a resident in what I now realized was more of a nuthouse than a hospital.
Finally, we got to Wing 2E. It was a darkly lit place, with all the doors locked. Except one, with the door wide open, bright light coming from inside, Jennifer screaming from inside it.
“No! No!” I heard echoing through the hallways, and every bone in my body.
“Yes, yes, Jennifer,” someone with a condescending East Indian accent said. “It is for your own good.”
“The good of our family too,” Carolyn continued in calm voice that sounded demonic, but caring, in a way that served her view of things anyway.
“Stop that! Now!” Brad yelled out as he threw off his sunglasses, grabbing the bamboo stick like a warrior, slashing his way into the room. I ran in front of him, barking my heart out, not knowing what was in the room, but preparing to do whatever I had to to stop it. No matter how many guns or goons were in the room, they would not get away with what they were about to do to the girl I loved more than anyone or anything in the world.
Me and Brad froze when we saw the enemy, and the weapon he was about to use on us all. “It‟s a mild sedative,” the small framed doctor with the large ego said, and two very large orderlies held down Jennifer on the abortion table, her legs tied into the stirrups, spread out and open. A nurse who looked more like a female Viking wrestler than an angel of mercy held a needle in her hand, ready to inject it into Jennifer‟s shaking arm, a defiant fist still at the end of it. “We know what we‟re doing, and would ask you to please let us do our job, Sir,” the East Indian doctor in the clean white coat with the sterile eyes commanded Brad.
“For the sake of our family,” Carolyn insisted.
“For the sake of your professional and social reputation, you mean,” Brad barked back at the woman he once loved, yet still called his wife. “And because you regret not doing what you‟re making her do! Without asking her first!”
I added my approval to that by barking a „yes‟ to Carolyn, then the doc.
“I must insist that you get that dog out of here, Sir,” the soul-dead doctor commanded, backing up from me like I was carrying some kind of contagious leprosy. “He is quite unsterile.”
“That‟s because he‟s alive!” Jennifer slurred out of a mouth about to be put into an even deeper stuper, and a sleep that would put the potential life in her womb into a very early grave.
Jennifer pushed aside Nurse Valkurie‟s arm, somehow, and invited me to jump on her lap. I did so, but Gloomhilde and the orderlies had other ideas. All I remember was that there were lots of struggles involving human arms fighting with each other. Carolyn fighting with Brad. The Orderlies fighting with Jennifer. The Doctor fighting to get out of all of the fighting. And finally, me fighting to prevent that „mild sedative‟ from getting into MY arm. Which it did.
I fell to the ground, and felt something…not so mild about it. I lost control of my legs, then eyes, then my breathing. My heart beat slower and slower, and louder and louder. Then started to beat fast, but faintly, till I couldn‟t hear it beat at all. Then, I couldn‟t feel my body, though I could see it. From somewhere on top of it, and the humans who rushed me down the hall.
“We gotta save him!” Jennifer pleaded.
“I will!” Brad insisted.
“We will!” Caroline added, tears that seemed genuine flowing down her cheeks. “No one in this family is going to die tonight! I promise you that!” she said to Jennifer, hugging her. Sending the doctors away, and then the orderlies, then finally, then Nurse Brunhilde.
The rest of the night was about lights, for me anyway. Seeing an operating room light above my body and a bunch of other docs putting IV lines in my body, and jolting the chest with these electric prods, again and again. Then, I floated up, into another room above it, then above the building, then above the clouds.
“Yo!” I heard as another really bright, white light flashed into my eyes. “You finally made it here,” I heard someone say, in a language that was…my own. Dog talk. From a
German shepherd in a long white coat, with wise and caring eyes. “Welcome!” he continued with a smile, pushing a list of names my way on a slab of stone with this ancient looking writing that somehow I could read, and understand.
Suddenly the clouds became hard ground, then soft grass. With all sorts of animals walking around, talking with each other about real ideas, and ideals, each in their own animal tongues. Even the cats were talking about ideas rather than events, or, as lower form humans did, other people. Ya know, who did what to who and what they were wearing at the time. All around me, well fed scholars bearing hair, not ashamed of being animals but proud of it. Each embellishing and expressing their own special brand of beyond-human intelligence.
“Can I stay here?” I asked. “It seems, nice.”
“It is,” the Gatekeeper shepherd said, “But you‟ve earned better than this, and besides, it‟s work done down on the planets that makes heaven possible. Heaven watches, earth works, and makes heaven even more magnificent the harder it works.”
He led me across a field where everyone raised their paw to me in congratulations for something that I did. Something I didn‟t know I did, or maybe wasn‟t supposed to? Finally, beyond a creek, there was a temple, a big stone building covered with sort of a South American ivy. Inside, large ceilings and more contented scholars, some on two legs, some on four. Some with bodies and forms that I, still in my earthly dog body, didn‟t recognise. In the middle of a great hall, there were ten open doors with dark sky and bright stars beyond them. The doors opened and closed with the rythm of the flashing of stars behind them, that got bigger and closer each time they flashed. “Each one of those windows is about to open. The fifth month, or the species equilivant of such, about to come up any time now,” my guide explained.
I could see the lives awaiting me though each of those doors. They felt magnificent. Next lifetime opportunities where I would get respect, friendship, and love. Without complications. Without having to argue with or beg ANYONE for food, water, or the priviledge of emptying my bladder or that most private and underestimated pleasure, having a good shit.
They were with really evolved species too. Dogs, horses, and on planets other than earth. Ya know, like the two planets where humanoid-like lifeforms are . mind and . heart, or more accurately . lower emotions. I thought about what it would be like to be a humanoid life form on those planets. Yes, life as one of them would be…magnificent. But life awaiting me on the tenth door was…necessary.
“We thought you‟d think that,” my Shepherd guide smiled at me.
“So, what do I do?” I asked.
“Close your eyes, click your paws three times and say, „there is no place like Om.‟” He continued.
I laughed, then did the routine, as I had undoubtedly done it so many times before, then woke up…in what felt like 4 months earth time later.
“It‟s a girl!” I heard Carolyn exclaim, with joy, as I felt myself being pulled out of a comfortable, warm, dark place into a bright, cold, and, for the moment, scary one.
“A healthy girl!” a doctor said.
“A new member of our family,” Brad said, hugging a grateful, and tired, Jennifer. I saw through my still unopened eyes someone taking a picture of us all. Jen, Brad, Carolyn and me, the new member of the family. Really a returned member of the extended family, coming back to get closer. To take care of old business, or maybe to make new opportunities. It seemed strange being back as a girl. I always pictured being a guy again, but being human, in a humane place, or potentially one anyway, was enough. Well, life goes on. Despite AND because of ourselves.
The room was as clean as it was sterile, the distinction between those two states being unknown to the people who walked into it. As was their habit, profession and passion, they procedurally took their seats at the table. The red carpet was warmer than usual, the air a bit denser with fog, but then again, it was August. The reason for the gathering was not planned by any of the committee members, a cause of disturbance to most, a „challenge‟ to the chairman.
Mr. King was a rebel, having worn a suit only on austere occassions such as funerals, readings of Wills, or weddings. “Wild William” King was a grey slacks and blue blazer kind of guy, who appended that „rebel wear‟ with mildy wide ties of various, non-offensive colors. Calm and collected, he took his seat at the head of the table and waited for the other members of the committee to take their places. “Before we get started,” he reminded everyone, “we have to remember that it is about the process not the product. And our job is a assess rather than go ahead and do ANYthing without a clear, defined and thoroughly examined plan.”
Everyone else in the room agreed, despite the rumblings from people on the floors below them that emergency action was to be taken on the matter at hand. Mr. Green, a patent attorney by training, a wannabe inventor by passion, spoke up first regarding the manner at hand, subtely loosening the top button of his shirt as he felt a wave of heat coming up from his neck. “Everyone in my office told me that they wanted the matter at hand dealt with quickly. And some of them so raise some very valid points regarding such,” he squeeked out, thinking it to be a roar.
“If those people had the credentials to know what to do, they would have been appointed positions at this table,” Doctor Black, Professor of Contemporary Literature commented snidely in the „Old English‟ manner which had become his trademark. “Those „people.‟ are interesting subjects, though,” he continued, stroking the carefully trimmed goutee on his chin with his left hand while putting his unlit pipe into his lips with his right.
“So, they‟ll be the subject of your next book?” Professor White, head of the Behavioral Psychology department, inquired with a smart-assed grin disguised as one of comradeship.
“Yes, quite,” Doctor Black snickered, knowing fully well that he had not written anything original in 8 years, yet being completely aware that as long as his satirical digs at other authors were colorful, he could still be respected in the circles that provided him with pipe and tweed jacket money, as well as purpose. 2
From the tail end of the table, a high pitched voice rang out with a sense of urgency. “We have to deal with this, now, I propose,” Professor Gina Redd-Blue offered. She seemed to be hot under the collar as well, but for reasons she dared not raise, particularly to anyone at this table. After all, being cool, detached and emotionally distanced from the people she was supposed to serve is what escalated her from being an RN schlepping around meds and bedpans to becoming the Dean of Nursing.
“So what is your proposal?” Mr. Green asked with a stone-cold face.
“You mean what is your „proposition‟”, Doctor Black affirmed to his colleagues, pointing to the secretary taking notes to made the appropriate adjustment in the minutes.
“The proposition is that this university is on the verge of destruction unless we do something very quickly,” „Nurse Gina‟ reminded the group in a firm but not threatening motherly tone. “At least according to our constituents,” she continued as Professor Red-Blue.
“‟Constituents‟ is a political term, Gina,” Doctor Black reminded her.
“And university administration isn‟t a political entity?” she offered.
Silence permeated the room, a disapproving hush that drove Gina into feeling not only left out, but perhaps banished. She dared not apologize for calling things as they were, as it would be an even bigger admission of guilt, or worse, inefficiency. She felt the heat of the room as well, escalating around her like a torrent of steam that connected her with the blackish fog outside. Then again, blackish fog was just something that happened in New Jersey.
Breaking the tension, as was his assigned job, was Mr. King. “We do have to address this issue, I know, but do we know all of the facts?”
“And the permutation of those facts, if any of them are followed through?” Mr. White offered.
“We should initiate a resolution to discuss the feasibility of a multi-disciplinary subcommittee to investigate the matter so they can bring it to this committee,” Mr. King proposed, as fact, looking around the room to see who would volunteer to be the members of this sub-committee. “Takers?” he asked everyone, except, Nurse Gina.
The only hand raised was that of Gina, her slender, delicate fingers pointed upwards like a cat prepared to become a lioness.
“Second?” Mr. King asked the group.
Doctor Black raised his hand, facing down Gina, as he knew she wasn‟t up to the task at hand. But then again, such was part of the master plan anyway. Gina was as inefficient 3
at gathering facts that would insure action as anyone else in the Committee. But she was very good at procedure, and as even her nurses in training were told, „it‟s the process not the product‟. Illogical as it was, it did produce 67 nurses every year who knew and implimented every procedure dictated by the doctors over them.
“So, when will your committee get back to our committee with regard to the proposal?” Mr. King asked Gina.
“Proposition!” Doctor Black insisted, yet again. “We do have to maintain standards of language.”
Meanwhile, the ethers around the room and under it seemed to get darker. Professor White got another call from his secretary, demanding action from the group upstairs. “We‟re dealing with it, appropriately” he related, assured, then in an autocratic tone made even more aggressive by its evenness of tone, blasted at her. He hung up the phone, sweat running down his neck. Moving his hand to unbutton another collar and loosen his tie, he noticed that he was being watched. With a fake smile, he tightened the tie and secured the buttons tightly around his beet red neck. “Never let them see you sweat,” he thought, but didn‟t say as he reached for a glass of water, sipping it down, though he would have preferred to gulp it, knowing fully well that the water would have been far better used elsewhere, as it related to the proposition, or proposal, at hand.
“So, it is customary to have subcommitees submit their assessment to the evalulatory committees in two weeks,” Mr. King stated, knowing fully well that Dr. Black or Counceller Green would correct him on the term „evalulatory‟. But they didn‟t do so. Instead, Professor White brought up a point which had become custom, habit then intrinsic biological law for the committee.
“Two weeks is customary for evaluations and examination of any unforeseen permutations of premature or ill advised decisions,” he commented. “But we are dealing with what is an emergency situation of unprecedented peril, according to all of our constituents.”
“Correction!” Doctor Black forced into the evolving agenda with rise in volume and lowering of pitch to his already baritone, non-musical voice. “I find it odd that TWO of us here are referring to those who answer to this committee as „constituents.‟”
“I then move to propose, and/or offer a proposition, that we officially call them something else,” Mr. Green spouted out with his chin held very upright, his throat feeling dryer and somehow very dangerously parched. He gulped down his glass of water, hoping that it would make it better, but it didn‟t. He cleared his throat, looked out the window at the every blackening Jersey sky, and then quickly opened up his twenty pound legal binder containing more small print than anyone could read in a lifetime, much less understand. Still, he had to make his own position, and worth, understood to the committee, an entity which for him had become more important than family, 4
particularly when that family decided he wasn‟t its only chairman. “I SUGGEST, that we call those „under‟ us, who we have a mandate to serve, and who are entitled to use every legal and financial means at their disposal to depose any of us at any time….‟citizens‟.”
“This is a university,” Dr. Black chuckled. “Everyone who we allow entry to…”
“To whom we allow entry,” Professor Gina Red-Blue smiled back, asking the secretary to record it appropriately in a cordial, yet firm inwardly-self-satisfying Hillary Clinton nod.
“Everyone TO WHOM we allow entry into this university is by unofficial definition above being a common citizen, Secretary of State Redd-Blue,” Dr. Black continued. “And I put it to „President‟ King, that we should adopt a different structural frame of cultural reference to this, as we are not patterned after nor do we directly answer to any National political party or federal agency.”
“Yes, we are a PRIVATE University,” Mr. King acknowledged, stroking his chin five times, uncomfortable about the amount of sweat that was under it. “With freedom to work within the law, and the ability to be sued for all we have by any lawyers. Particularly if we do something that offends any of their clients.”
“We are dealing with a state of unprecidented and immediate emergency,” Nurse Gina reminded her „Prez‟ with another Hillary tilt of the head, matching perfectly with new hairdo she had obtained for her position on the committee.
“Which is why we should define terms very clearly here, Gina,” Dr. Black reminded her in a tone which was elitist on the outside, but vulnerable on the inside. “It is the process not necessarily the product, after all!” he reminded everyone else. He glanced outside, across the street, at a homeless person sleeping on the sidewalk, which was not more black than grey. “There but for fortune or a dissatisfied alumnus who can stir up the pot with the interdepartmental division of deans go I,” he thought, and even wrote as the first line of that novel which he never continued, nor shared with anyone else in the room. Able, and pathologically lucky, survivor that he was, Dr. Black raised the next point. “We should refer to those who serve us, and who we serve from this position of authority in this alleged state of un-paralleled emergency as…hmm.”
“Employees?” Professor White suggested.
“That would infer a corporate structure, and we are an educational institution,” Mr. Green offered. “With a historical legacy that goes back hundreds of years.”
“So we should call them serfs?” Professor White offered, first in Russian to impress the group, then in English for the other „commoners‟ around the table.
“Interesting analogy,” Nurse Gina smiled, knowing the gag to be vicious, yet true. But she was greatful that Professor White decided to speak from his mind rather than from 5
the Mission statement, big M, which the committee had put on paper, and ingrained into the heads of all of its members. And at the bottom of it all, there as one Mission Statement that was never to be spoken of, but always incorporated into every proposal, or proposition, even in Emergency situations. “Can we call them…patients, for the moment, for the sake of philosophical discourse and multidisciplinary assessment?” she offered.
Nods of approval from all of the members of the committee surrounded Nurse Gina, making her feel comfortable, respected and even liked.. Mr. King remained motionless, which she took as his approval to continue.
“The patients are in need of immediate action for the emergency situation at hand,” she continued.
“Or immediate WANT?” Dr Black challenged.
“Want and need are often indistinguishable, their definition depending on whether seeking the desired goal is in keeping with an accepted code of pan-theological ethics and morality, my fellow „doctors‟,” Mr. White offered, finding himself referring to „Nurse‟ Gina as a Doctor. She knew as much about the medical condition of people as anyone else in the wards, but because she had not obtained a Ph.D., it was still just „Nurse Gina‟, or Professor Redd-Blue. Yes, Mr. White and „Ms‟ Redd had no shortage of unsettled issues between then, even before she hyphinated it after her divorced herself from her grubby, hubby Doctor Blue. On the surface, it was about allocation of funds to each of their divisions, but under the smiles and nods, it was jihad of the highest order. And, to be accurate, something that they enjoyed far more than they admitted to themselves, their drinking buds, or shrinks.
Mr. White‟s remark about defining want and need got everyone else looking at their notes, the bylaws, and the pieces of blank paper in back of everyone‟s folder. At least for Dr. Black and Mr. Green. Mr. King, at the head of table, remained motionless. The position from which he spoke most forcefully and approvingly.
Another call came in. This time to the stenographer. She said nothing but a few calm, yet very concerned „hhmmms‟. The caller‟s line stopped, abruptly. She wrote down the important points, then distributed them around to everyone. Then, as soon as she could, and as quietly, she got up, and left. It was the first time she had done so.
The heat in the room was now sweltering, the air conditioning no match for the other structural problems emerging. The committee members seemed concerned now, but not because of the black air which now penetrated through the window that finally broke open, nor the screams of the „patients‟, „citizens‟ and „serfs‟ below, nor even their own overheated bodies and smoke-invaded lungs.
Only one line in the room was still functional, an old rotary phone that had served more historical than functional purposes. Gina got up and picked it up, knowing what she had 6
to do. But Dr. Black pulled out the line. “This committee has a mandate! The most important mandate!” he asserted.
“I know,” Gina said. “To evaluate everything and never actual do anything,” she said in Latin, which made it sound scholarly, then in English, which made it sound…scary.
She looked at Mr. King, who had apparently lived that mandate to the end. Indeed he was dead, as would be many many more, eight stories below. Particularly because no one decided to call the fire department.
All of the committee members assessed the situation, and the professional consequences of doing anything rash, or responsible. And it was the matter of responsibility that won out in the flash decision to plug the phone back in and make the call to the fire department. Unfortunately, it was too late. The building collapsed, bringing the committee king, princes and princess down to the ground in a loud thump. As it was Saturday after „normal‟ working hours, not many people noticed. The fire department did come by, and saved who they could. As for what the cause of the fire and the enormity of its damage…the issue was sent to committee for evaluation.
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