Mr. Pete – a true story

Mr. Pete had a friend in Washington Square Park. His friend’s name was Shorty, although I’m pretty sure the fleshy projections from Shorty’s underside were tits, not tumors as I had originally thought. But it didn’t really matter. Mr. Pete gave me a walnut which I in turn gave to Shorty, and I felt honored by it all.

Shorty was nice, as was Mr. Pete. A congenial fellow is an appropriate description of him. He told me he was ninety to which I responded with, “You don’t look ninety,” because that was the truth. At most I would have taken him for seventy. He explained that the trick was regular exercise, a balanced diet (to include garlic), and the use of an electric shaver as it “stimulated the facial muscles and combated the drying effects of aging.”

“We’ll that’s good,” I said, “I use an electrical shaver now so I guess I’ve got a head start.”

Mr. Pete seemed uninterested and changed the subject.

He liked to talk, there was no doubt about it. As a painter selling his art in front of his studio, back in his seventies I think he said, he would talk to the passing dogs rather than their owners.

“Where is your ball, pooch?” he’d ask. “You better get your owner to buy you a ball.”

Then Mr. Pete would let them walk away.

He remembered the first time he saw a dog with a ball. It was a Dachshund, and boy was it proud. Mr. Pete took a moment from his story to demonstrate the happy gait of that little Dachshund.

“Boy, was that the most proud little dog I’d ever seen, hopping along with a tennis ball too big in its mouth. But that was its ball, and it was happy.”

I smiled at Mr. Pete and we fell silent for a moment.

“I suppose there’s something to learn from him,” I said, “taking joy in the simplest of things.”

And I meant it. Mr. Pete had enlightened me. He seemed disinterested.

I asked Mr. Pete about his art and he produced a fat envelope containing many photographs. They were pretty paintings, mostly of animals, and they made me think of Rousseau.

I liked one painting in particular, a depiction of a fair skinned girl with red hair looking in the mirror. I like paintings of the human form.

“I really like this one,” I said, to which Mr. Pete gave me a broad smile.

“Ass Cheeks Aimee!” he said excitedly, and I laughed. “She’s just come out of the shower you see, and she’s hot. That seat she’s sitting on is red velvet and she’s rubbing herself on it.”

I looked at the painting again. I had only seen a girl admiring herself in the mirror, but I liked Mr. Pete’s story better.

“Is Aimee someone you knew?” I asked. Mr. Pete didn’t respond.

Mr. Pete spoke disparagingly of the French art gallery on Bleecker Street. It was all abstract art, he said, art they were trying to sell for two-hundred bucks apiece. He thought abstract art was shit.

“I’m trying to get the elderly home over there to display my art,” he said. I made mental note to check for his exhibit. I wanted to buy Ass Cheeks Aimee.

Mr. Pete had done many things in his lifetime so he listed them off to me: an artillery man in the Army where he saw action in Europe; drilling for oil as an engineer; a science and math teacher to high school students. He had even been a brass instrument musician and played under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. The name meant nothing to me but I gathered that this was someone important.

“Let me tell you a story,” he began. “You see, Leo was unhappy with the way this piece was sounding, so he told me to supplement the bass section. But the bass section was only this one old guy, this Australian, and this poor old guy was incredibly hurt. He didn’t understand why Leo demanded I play along to his part.”

Mr. Pete looked solemnly out at the park.

“We’ll I found out later that the poor old guy threw away his instrument after that performance and never played again. He was so depressed that he died that way.”

We shared a moment of silence.

“You see that’s the tragedy of ego,” he continued. “Leo was so caught up in himself that he failed to realize how he affected others. We all looked up to him, and by not giving this poor guy an explanation, by not telling him that all he wanted was a more powerful bass section, this poor old guy gave up and died.”

I didn’t know what to say to Mr. Pete. I sat and thought of myself and felt a sense of guilt flow over me. Mr. Pete didn’t know it, but he’d enlightened me.

We sat silently, longer than one would normally allow. Finally Mr. Pete pointed to Pigeon Man across the way, feeding a flock of excited pigeons and surrounded by pretty young women.

“That guy’s a bum,” he said, “I don’t know how he isn’t covered in pigeon shit.”

I laughed in agreement. Pigeon Man did look like a bum, and I couldn’t understand how he wasn’t covered in pigeon shit, either.

Mr. Pete sighed and began packing his things.

“Well it’s been nice talking,” he said.

“I’m sure we’ll see each other again,” I responded as we shook hands.

So left Mr. Pete. Father of two daughters and friend to a squirrel. An old fashioned man who believed in hard work and doing as your told. I watched Mr. Pete walk away, slightly relieved, slightly sad, but better off than I was before.

Image

The Estranged Mrs. Pollock

I posted an edited version of this story, which incorporates some of the lessons I’ve learned as a graduate student.

***

         The knife never left her hand as she traced with it through the air. She considered herself an artist, although the final product was not tangible but emotional. It was a odd sort of art, to be sure, and she herself had difficulties defining in what way it was such. Art, as she saw it, was traditionally viewed as a means of communication, an opportunity to connect as a human being. Through this kind of art the creator could express ones emotions and conceptions in the hopes of being either validated or rejected. Art, in such a traditional sense, was a dialogue on the world between the creator and the witnesser.
         Yet her art was mostly a private matter and its expression was not meant to create dialogue but to create life. She wanted something more than just a spectacle, the sort of contrivance that tapped into the “decency” of like-minded people. She wanted fear, for life to her was not present in the happy moments of comfort but in the absolute hopelessness of death. She wanted to paint life, using the fear in her subjects as the inks and splattering it across the great canvas that she and everyone else swam in daily.
         The source of her art today was much like those from the past. She had only known him for an odd month, but his eagerness to please her had made convincing him to be tied down easy. She had even managed to get him tied to the vertical board beside her easel, the easel itself being nothing but a prop. He was quite scared as a knife had little purpose in normal sexual encounters, or at least that was generally the understanding. He would try and object to her knifed advances but was unable to release more than a few muffled croaks out of his gagged mouth. She would smile in response, but would never say anything. His desperation was good, exactly what she needed.
         Striding forward she would first swish the knife back and forth, like a serpent dancing to a piper. She would watch his eyes intently as they bulged to enormous proportions, and then she would jab quickly when she was close enough for the blade to just caress his body. As he squirmed against the ties she would pull back and with one, grand movement of her body slash violently and elegantly through the air around him, careful never to actually cut him. It was in those moments that she would feel her art come to fruition, the fear being tangible enough for her to plunge head first into its depths.
         The fear. She might even say she could see it. The trademark of a good artist, and she knew this, was the ability to feel beyond the senses. Artists saw what others could not see. That was another hallmark of art; the translation of the foreign and perhaps incomprehensible into something consumable as a human being. And although she did not have an audience, per se, she knew that she was releasing something unique into the world, adding to a vast and rich worldly experience that was only perceivable in small bites. Her addition would be another butterfly causing a ripple that ultimately affected other aspects of the world. That was how she wished to express herself. It was not for her, or for him or for anyone else. It was for the world.
         Her guest, shaking violently in his ties, stared at her, wide-eyed. How grotesque this all must have appeared to him, this constant toying and prodding, the feigning on his life. He must have concluded she had some deep perversion, a base desire to exert control over man in his perceived last moments. Of course she had no desire to see his blood. That was not her art. Her art was through fear, and a dead man, no matter how fearful he once was, was utterly useless to her. She could not help but smile at the thought of his naïveté. Men were all the same in their understanding of emotions and women. They were superficial creatures, easy to manipulate and to entertain. Perhaps that was why she always chose them. After all, a man without his control was a man deboned.
         She stood back momentarily, attempting to envelop herself in his fear. She mentally retraced the movements of her arms and the knife, trying to feel the ephemeral wake those movements left in the air, picturing how they painted invisible lines and arcs. It made her think of Pollock, and that thought made her feel good. That outburst of emotion was what she imagined truly breathed life into the world, adding to its richness. A quiet sob brought her attention back to the man. He was still afraid, still not understanding that his life would not end that day. Consoling him was out of the question as that would ruin her work, she needed him the way he was. And if his trembling body was any clue she would have quite a bit of material to work with for the time being.
         Once again she thrust herself into her steady cadence, lifting her arms and the knife skywards, then slowly snaking them through the air and towards the ground. It felt right. She then waved a figure eight in front of her but quickly changed to a less structured movement. Such forms were too artificial, too laden with history and civilization. What she needed was something newer, something more naturalistic in occurrence. The product that followed was more haphazard. The knife, rising once again, moved freely, making grand arcs and sharp turns, tearing through the fear riddled air. It sashayed and pirouetted, twisting along its longitudinal axis and flying lazily too and fro. All through these movements the man squirmed and squealed. His only focus was the knife and its cutting properties, not the movements.
         Movement was as much a part of her art as was fear. That was what her art was; the confluence of her sublime gestures and the man’s emotions. Without her movements she imagined her art was lacking in existential merit. Indeed, it was through the fear’s displacement that she saw her truth conveyed to the world. Without her gestures, the fear would stagnate. She truly was as central to the process as was her muse. Feeling her chest swell with pride she once again strode forth and resumed her work.
         This time she stood on her toes and letting her arms, and the knife, dangle loosely at her side she twirled about herself gleefully. She was a vortex of life, catching his fear and spiraling it to the heavens. Her arms lifted gradually until they were finally at their apex, and then with a brisk hop landed firmly in a powerful half-squat. She then heaved forward with a yell, one that was met with a muffled yelp by her guest. He was afraid as ever. Needling the air with her knife she then thrust her arms out behind herself, and with one final gasp allowed her entire body to fall backwards to the ground. There she lay breathing heavily, feeling her art swirl about her.
         It was done, and she knew that from there she could take her leave. She sat up and looked at the terrified man before her, studying his forcibly arrayed body as it quivered helplessly. He looked so pitiful now, and that amused her. He would be left there to be found by some other person. It was her hope that he might do her work justice once he was free, conveying to the world the great masterwork that she had created. She would not truly know what her art would have affected. That was beyond the scope of her perception. But she knew that in some small way her art would live on.

Life as a battlefield

         “Push forward. Keep pushing forward!”
         The words were firm. I did not want to move in that direction but I had no choice. Ahead of me and over the small embankment behind which I hid was a grinder, a mass of potted land and whizzing rounds all conspiring to slow me and my comrades down to a point of nothingness. I desperately held on to my rifle as one holds on to their life. It was the last vestige I had of a life far removed from the front, a vague memory of peace and naiveté that I sorely wished I could reach back and touch. In an odd way the lacquered wood suddenly came to life, breathing life into me through my hands, up into my spine and comforting my trembling body. Crouching their I felt the ground shake as massive shells pounded the earth around me, reducing the groans and shrieks of those men whom I had briefly known to a silence awkwardly out of place. In those short moments I found myself longing for their cries. They signified life, a dying struggle to continue forth in their meager existential plight. Oh, how it accentuated my circumstance! As they cried for help, for their mothers and for medics I would remember that I was alive and not alone.
         “Get the hell up, chap! And move! Move, move, move!” His hand grasped my collar firmly and dragged my to me feet, but my feet instantly gave way.
         “Damn you boy, what did we train you for? To lay here like a rotting corpse? Get up and over, now! You are shaming all of us.”
         Like a corpse. Like a rotting corpse. So I was dead before I had even sought death. This man looking down on me was disgusted by my limp body. His eyes were full of fire and excitement and I could only imagine that mine were empty and fraught with fear. Where did he get his strength and his conviction? Where did he find the will to stand firm in the face of enemy volley after volley. I watched him as he stared at me, dirt crisscrossing through the air. I had no words to share.
         “Boy, if you don’t get up I will shoot you myself. This war won’t end with you lying here. Now move it or I will shoot you, god damn it!”
         I opened my mouth to say something but only gurgled a quiet sound. I wanted to beg with him, to ask him to let me stay here. I wanted to tell him of my childhood and of my friends, of my family and of being free in a land of peace. I wanted to reason with him, to somehow convince him that I did not deserve to go over these trenches and be brought to justice. But nothing would come forth so I lay there and stared at him. Again he grabbed at my collar and tried to yank me to my feet, but this time I could not assist him. I was exhausted. Getting down on his knees he drew his face in close to mine and growled at me.
         “Have it your way, you coward. But on my dead body, I will have you court-martialed for dereliction of duty. I swear this to you boy. You will face hell once you get home. If you get home.” With that he jumped to his feet and disappeared over the trench.
         I lay there watching as man after man ran forth into the hail of bullets that shot over my head. I clutched my rifle as close to my body as I could and buried my head into my chest. Perhaps I had a vague hope that if I curled up enough I would suddenly be transported to a far away land, away from the carnage and the chaos of the battlefield. A place were I could lay in a bed rather than in a muddy trench full of water and the stench of death.
         As I lay there I heard a hard thump, and looking up I came eye to eye with a boy. His mouth was agape, his shirt bloodied in a splotchy mess. He seemed calm in his reclined state across from me, his arms slightly outstretched with his rifle still firmly held in his right hand. In some odd fashion he had found a way to lay his eyes on me. I wondered if my little body curled up desperately against the embankment in a vain attempt to avoid it all was the last image he saw. I wondered what he thought at the sight of me, if he thought anything at all. If he had an instant of disdain, of anger, of malice. I wondered if he envied me in my state.
         It was then that I found myself surging with excitement. It was not a joyous excitement; in fact it was an excitement that I did not recognize at all. It madly drove my limbs in ways that felt totally outside my own volition. I stood up, and then with a brusque movement I found myself toppling over the embankment. There in front of me lay the misty killing field; ragged trees and deformed earth all beckoning to me to move forward. About me the dirt continued to fly and the rounds continued to whistle their grotesque songs. I was over now and I had to push forward. There was simply no other alternative.
         So I ran as fast as I could, dumbly dipping and weaving in what I hoped would prolongue my little adventure towards the end. The bodies of my comrades reached up to me and sought to catch my feet but I ignored their corpses and carried forth. As I moved further into the field I began to see the sparkle of rifles and repeater fire, all spraying wildly in every which direction. One no longer had to aim but only to fire. This great maw ahead of me beckoned eerily, pulling me closer down its gullet and into the cesspool of its stomach. I began hearing the voices of a foreign army yelling wild incantations to one another, more desperate than anything else.
         Then in an instant I found myself standing at the top of their trench, staring down at their frightened and astonished faces. They all looked at me incredulously, neither they nor I knowing what to do. I had made it across but had forgotten what my purpose was. So I only stood and watched. Watched as the men suddenly sprung to action, some scattering, two others charging with outstretched hands and then violently yanking me into their trench. A flurry of fists pounded down on me but let up quickly as I did not put up a defense. There we three lay, eyeing each other like children meeting for the first time. We could not communicate verbally, but through their eyes I saw that we shared a common plight despite our differences. Their fears were mine, mine theirs, and sitting up we found ourselves staring blankly through one another.
         We had each sought purpose yet had found emptiness. So went our gaze, lost in the space between ourselves and the world. An immaterial void where men go to recede from humanity and enter the realm of dreams. A place where being human is no longer truth, where one is not alive yet not quite dead.
         A towering officer finally came crashing down their trench, barking loudly at the two men across from me. Their trance broken, if only momentarily, they jumped to their feet and wrangled my limbs painfully, binding them tightly together. So they dragged me off, to a place where I was to await my final verdict.

The Owl

         Tucked away in a vast forest is a big barn with red sides capped by a wilting brown roof. The big doors that open outwards are neatly closed, although not locked. They face a field of short grass that runs slowly down a gentle hill and meets again with the woods. It is a quiet place with little life aside from the solitary barn owl that makes its home in the barn.
         Every evening at dusk the little owl makes her way silently towards the far edge of the field and perches on a fat oak. The oak’s branches reach far out into the field, rising up towards the starry skies and affording the owl a grand view. There are generally plenty of voles and mice scurrying around, picking up insects and seeds. It is an ideal place for the owl to live, far from the rough touch of civilization and isolated from most predators. Why it is so devoid of larger life is unknown, it is as if this particular plot has only enough charm and safety to attract the most ignorant of life forms. That is not to say that the owl is ignorant, however. It feels at home in the big barn, surrounded by the dark forests that form a sea across the horizons, the quiet queen of a lonely plot of land. She lives a life unchallenged by the needs of others.

         It was a particularly bright night when the first human arrived. It had been decades since shoes had trodden through those woods or stomped across the field, and the visitor’s awkward bulk moved the once calm air in a rough manner. Everything hushed as he made his way towards the solemn barn, huffing heavily and impatiently. The slight smell of alcohol and cigarettes wafted from his pores and created a soft trail of toxic air, a telltale path tracking his every movement and leading directly to him.
         The visitor seemed confident in his stride, although a bit awkward in his gait. Forcing his way across the moonlit field he stopped momentarily and took in a deep breath, savoring the calm and quiet. From every corner of the woods small eyes peered out and studied the visitor curiously, yet he was entirely oblivious. He would not care if he knew, anyway. As long as there were no other humans to bother him he would be fine.
         Still standing in the middle of the field the man slowly looked about him, analyzing the darkness that pervaded the woods as if its emptiness spoke to him. He was not really looking for anything but rather just gazing. He then lifted his head and looked up towards the sky, his eyes flitting back and forth between the multitudes of stars that flickered happily. They failed to speak to him but they provided a sense of peace that only could be found in the quiet forests.
         He was happy, for once. Having finally escaped the clutches of the city and its bright lights and distractions, he was ready to sit back for some time and enjoy what he hoped would be some rest and recreation. He had heard rumor of an old barn out in the hills and so he had set out to find it, a mission that had ultimately proven successful. This plot of land would be undisturbed for quite some time, he was sure of it. The only other person who had even an inkling of its existence was the old-timer teetering on the verge of senility. Few heeded the old man’s words; in fact the visitor rarely paid much attention to them himself. But this time he had needed a place of respite and, recalling the old-timer’s jumbled words, had set out to find what was potentially a mythical barn.
         Suddenly snapping to, the visitor fixed his sights on the barn looming up ahead of him. A cricket chirped momentarily but quickly hushed as the lumbering man began walking again. As he neared the barn a soft wind whispered in protest, trying with all its might to push the man back. It was to no avail though as the combined power of the night and the barn entangled itself around his limbs and drew him ever closer. He did not perceive its will driving him forward, only reacting on what he subconsciously perceived as his own volition. And so he entered, the great barn doors creaking wearily as they parted.
         He was inside a warm and cozy home now. Setting himself down on an old stump he claimed the barn as his own and began to make mental preparations. He would move those crates to the other corner and create a table; he would then clear out space in the center for a small fire, maybe even building a stone and red clay oven; he would use the eastern side of the barn as his place of sleep. He looked to see if there was a loft but was disappointed. And that was when his eyes met hers, she sitting quietly and watching curiously on the center rafter. She bobbed her head, circling it briefly as if trying to focus her vision. He, looking back up to her, mimicked her movements slightly as if he were able to communicate with her. Turning her head in confusion she took to flight and was whisked away into the night.
         The man followed her as she exited through the still open barn doors, disappearing in the dark of the woods. She was beautiful to behold, something he would not usually admit. That was when he knew he had finally escaped; escaped from his torrid past, his bleak future, and from himself. He felt free.
         He once again began considering what he might accomplish during his stay at the barn. There was a nearby stream for him to gather water from and in which to bathe, plenty of firewood, and a dry bed. Food would be an issue, though. He had not put much thought into his escapade when he first set forth, and now he was woefully unprepared. His initial inclination, and only plan, was to escape and to relax. Up until this moment he had accomplished the latter two, yet the pressure was descending on him now to resolve the former and he began to feel uneasy. He did not want to have to go back to town to get the necessities. Truth be told he lacked the means to purchase anything. So he resolved to make due with what he could find in the barn and the surrounding forest. Perhaps he would be able to fashion some crude tools out of stone and wood.
         But as it was now late and the night was shrouded by clouds he quickly set about preparing a makeshift bed in which he could rest for the time being. He took his worries and set them aside resolving to face them with the coming morning. And so he drifted off into sleep, the owl quietly slipping back onto its perch and doing the same.

         A light drizzle was coming down on the barn when he awoke the next morning, mixing with the cool air and making for a refreshing world. The man remained prone, rolling onto his back and taking in the soft pattering of the rain hitting the roof and the sides of his abode. It was different to him, almost peculiar, as if it were the soft tapping of a strange and unfamiliar world simply stating its presence. He let a small smile work its way across his coarse face, but quickly rolled over again and smothered it. As he gazed down the length of the barn his eyes fell upon the roost of the small barn owl, now nestled quietly in its bed. He felt accompanied.
         Sitting up, he once again surveyed his new home. The morning light allowed him to see it better and he now realized how spacious and cavernous it seemed. He would have to fill the barn up to make it feel warmer and decided to begin with a kitchen area. It would require stones of varying sizes that would be used to build a small oven. He considered the amount of work that would be required to build a proper wooden table and seeing that he lacked any tools he decided that the crates would work just fine. Finding the stones and rocks for the oven would require a great amount of strenuous work. He slumped back down, the full extent of his new life coming down upon him. He was in for a difficult time but he was determined to push through it.
         After a few more minutes of lying motionless he finally forced himself up and began making his way to the still open barn doors. The clouds hung low in the sky yet they were gentle and welcoming. A few birds flittered about unseen in the woods, chirping to each other. He leaned against one of the doors and gazed upon the open field flowing down towards the opposite edge of the woods. The light drizzle created a hazy effect turning the green field into an even more serene sight. He did not move, only letting his eyes lazily move from one focus to another. He didn’t smile, he didn’t grimace, he just stood, arms crossed, weight against the door, observing, feeling, enjoying.
         He finally began to consider planting a garden in that vast open field. It more than likely received a great deal of sun when the day was not overcast and growing a few consumables would not be too difficult. Of course, learning the proper methods of caring and cultivating crops would take some time. Everything was going to take time and effort, he thought to himself silently. He wasn’t accustomed to that at all, having survived until then by pilfering and finagling. Even if he were going to be able to learn, what was he going to grow? He did not have any seeds, lacked the tools, and did not have any knowledge of the natural world. He once again surveyed the land presented to him from his vantage in the barn, wondering what else lay beyond in the woods. Perhaps mushrooms. Yes, there had to be mushrooms. They were everywhere, especially with the light rainfall that was coming down. Stay away from the bright ones, he thought to himself.
         He could also search for berries, maybe even some wild grasses. He became a bit more optimistic and took his first step out into the cool morning. The rain felt good as it covered his face, opening fully his still sleepy eyes. His nostrils flared widely with every breath in. He grinned to himself and thought of his previous morning rituals: cigarettes. He didn’t have any, but no matter. Perhaps there would be tobacco growing in the wild that he could gather and roll on his own.
         Walking back down the field, roughly following the path he made the night before, he made his way to the small creek that lay tucked away in the woods. Crawdads! he thought. Something else he might be able to eat. He would even give frog legs a try if he could catch one.
         Upon arriving at the creek he found that it had engorged a bit since the night before. Its waters flowed gently over algae covered stones and he set about turning them over, first inspecting underneath then inspecting the stone as a potential foundation for his kitchen. In that way he worked his way haphazardly along the creek leaving little totems of stones on either bank. As the morning withered away the drizzle stopped and soft rays of sun began to break through the overhanging trees. The forest still lacked any discernible life but it was reassuring to him none-the-less. He enjoyed the solitude.
         By the early afternoon he stopped and examined his work so far. He had several piles of stones up and down the banks of the creek but he had failed to find any crawfish. It suddenly hit him that he still had not had anything to eat since he set out for the barn. Shit, what was he going to eat? Eating would have to wait for the time being.
         It took him nearly an hour to get all the stones back up to the barn by which time the sun was coming down in full force. His stomach was aching, only having been replenished with water from the creek. The stones were piled up in a corner waiting to be fashioned into something functional as he stared at them blankly. First day of work and this was all he had to show for himself. He grunted in frustration. Frowning, he twirled around and headed for the open doors again. So what was he going to eat? For christ’s sake this could not go on. He momentarily considered damning it all to hell and heading back to the city, but quickly pushed such inclinations to the side. He was going to make it. He was going to enjoy this.
         He stepped out again and wandered around the field for a bit hoping to find a mouse or even a cricket. People ate crickets when they were surviving off the land. They were a good source of protein or something like that. Protein. Grubs had protein also; the bears in the television shows he had watched would rip apart decomposing trees to find them. That was what he would do then. He would find a nice, fat, rotting tree and rip it apart. Of course this was probably the perfect time to find such a log as it had been raining the evening before. The afternoons sun had created a muggy feeling that drenched him in sweat but the world was still moist.
         He thought back to the creek happily working its way down at the base of the field. He had not remembered seeing any fish, at least none worth eating. Nor were there any pools with deep enough water in them to offer much hope. He considered once again the grubs and insects but decided to take his first chances on berries and seeds. Hoping he could find enough he set out again, into the forest and the humid air.
         The owl, for her part, was tucked away neatly in her nest in the barn’s rafters. The heat of the afternoon that had seeped its way in through the open doors made her ruffle her feathers. She did not like being woken at this time of the day but with the heat of the summer it had been difficult to find some real rest. Not only was she unaccustomed to the heat, but the intense light from the sun made her uneasy. She felt safer in the evenings and night, with light failing, when all but a few creatures were able to make out the world around them. That was her domain, a world even more removed from the lives of so many other beings.
         Tilting her head left and right the room came into focus revealing the warm colors of the day. There were stones piled up on one side of the barn, something she noted briefly as being new. The ground where the man had slept was matted down providing a contrast to the messy debris of the rest of the barn.
         It was at this time that the man-made his way back up the open field and through the doors of the red barn. The owl, still resting in her nest, eyed him curious as ever, watching his every movement. She watched as he lifted his arms up lazily to grasp the barn doors and pull himself inside. He looked tired now, perhaps having expended too much energy in some fruitless labor. She was immensely capable when it came to surviving in these woods and seeing a being so drained was odd to her. Giving off a light cackle she eyed him intently, watching as he slowly lifted his head to look at her. There they stood momentarily locked eye to eye, trying to communicate their shared existence.
         To the man her cackle sounded very much like she was needling him. What was she doing up this early, anyhow? He returned her gaze with tired indifference, she having lost the luster of the evening before. He was too exhausted from his lack of food and the strenuous activities to really feel more than a mild curiosity. Breaking her gaze he turned once again to the stones he had collected and pondered the stove he had hoped to make. What was the use of making one now? He had nothing to cook on it. His search that afternoon had proven to be a waste as there was hardly anything for him to eat in those woods. It seemed a great irony to him. When compared to the ravishing effects of civilization on the resources of the world he would have thought that an untouched land would be bountiful. Yet it had little to offer him and he considered that it might be the reason this place was so deserted.
         Plopping down on a crate he began to reevaluate his situation, thinking of whether he really wanted to stay or if he would be better served going back to the city. He hated the idea of returning to the streets and mingling with the unsavory characters of the night, but that was all he knew. This land, while peaceful and beautiful, was far too foreign to him. A wave of desperation crept over him and the light suddenly seemed to dull. The longer he sat and considered his state the gloomier the world became and the smaller the barn shrank. He was not feeling well, and as he delved deeper and deeper into his own depression he found it harder to think of ways to survive. Finally the strain became too intense and, sighing heavily, he stood up and walked to the open doors again.
         There was indeed life beyond the barn walls. He could see the birds zipping in and out of the trees but they meant nothing to him now. He had lost himself to his own desperation and he scowled at the land in front of him. And that was when he had a minor epiphany. Perhaps he could catch the owl. This was the afternoon and she was likely groggy. If he were careful enough he might be able to sneak up on her. She would not provide much meat but at least it would get him through the night. Now that he had enough stones he could dedicate the rest of the next day to searching for food.
         Turning carefully he looked up at her in her nest. She was still awake, preening her feathers, but she seemed to have lost interest in him. He was not sure whether to move casually or stealthily as he only had experience sneaking up on humans. It probably did not matter, he figured, so he began to plot his course of action. This would likely be a one shot deal, he knew that much, and he wanted it to count. There was a ladder leaning against the wall within reaching distance from one of the crossbeams. If he were able to make his way up to it he could then launch himself at the owl’s nest, hopefully catching her before she took to flight. So the plan was set, and he began his saunter over to the ladder.
         The ladder creaked softly as he climbed it making him nervous that it would either break or scare her off prematurely. But the owl was still busily cleaning herself. When he finally made it onto the crossbeam he took a moment to examine the gap that he had to traverse. It seemed further now and the drop seemed greater, but he was determined to do it.
         With a huff the man launched himself at her, soaring for a few seconds through the warm barn air. He watched as she turned her held full around and stared at him as he stretched his arms out to grasp at her. But he was not going to make it. At the very last moment with a rough grunt he stretched as far as he could and just barely grabbed onto the ledge on which the owl’s nest sat. His heavy body yanked at his joints as its momentum shifted and gravity began to exert its full force. The strain was slightly painful but he held on, and after a moment he began to pull himself up as best he could.
         To his astonishment when he finally managed to peak over the ledge he found himself eye to eye with the little owl. She bobbed her head and then circled it, twisting it left and right as if trying to focus him better. He grinned. What a stupid little bird. She should have taken to flight the moment he huffed his way into the air but there she stood eying him curiously. With what little strength he had left he hesitantly released one of his hands from its grip on the ledge and reached for the owl. His heart was pounding with excitement and that grin slyly became a smirk. And just as he was about touch her white and brown feathers she gave off a little cackle, reared back just slightly, and then nipped his index finger.
         The man immediately gave a yelp and threw his hand back which was dutifully followed by the rest of his body. He came crashing down on the barn floor surrounded by a light cloud of dust. A sharp pain rain up and down his back and he moaned as he rolled over to massage it. That was the end of it. As he struggled to get to his feet he looked up at the little owl who was now peering curiously over the edge of her nest, straining her neck and ogling him with her big black eyes. He groaned, gave her the finger and muttering curses slowly walked out of the barn. He was going home, back to the world he knew and the one that would one day swallow him whole. The owl watched him as he slowly disappeared into the woods and then went back to preening herself. The night would be long and she needed to be ready.

Graham and Drew, Part 2

         “Imagine Alaska in the winter. You have the vast open tundra covered in snow, maybe a few pines here and there. Oh, and don’t forget you’re a Neanderthal.”
         “I don’t think you’re getting this straight,” interrupts Graham.
         “Quiet! Jackass, let me finish.” I stop for a moment and gather my thoughts, picturing us two standing in a great open plain of fresh snow. I allow myself to feel the cold wind blowing about and try to hear the sounds of a prehistoric America.
         “All you have on your back are some crude furs,” I continue. “And in your hands you have a spear. No, two spears because you’re smart enough to know that a wooly mammoth doesn’t go down with one. And guess what?”
         “What.” Graham sounds immensely bored but maintains eye contact.
         “Well, you’re the leader. You have three other Neanderthal dudes at your back, each with two spears. You see, you guys are a hunting party and you have women to feed.”
         “Sounds miserable.”
         “Jesus will you shut up for a second? This won’t work if you keep interrupting me with your bullshit comments.”
         “Buddy if I really want to relive prehistoric man’s adventures I’ll watch the Discovery Channel. Then I can SEE it, and see a fairly accurate depiction of what it was like, not some imbeciles imagining of it.”
         Imbecile. Why does he insist on demeaning me like this? Graham is so cut and dry. For all his stoicism and confidence I can’t help but despise him at times. But he is my only escape from the humdrum of my own ineptitude.
         “Hold on a second and let me finish, ok? I’ll try and make this quick if it really grates you.”
         “Yes, make it quick. I still have to get back and work, you know? Or did you forget?”
         “I haven’t forgotten,” I say sullenly. “But we’re here so let me get through with this.”
         He shifts his gaze slightly and looks up at the mammoth but just gives it a disinterested examination.
         “So you guys are standing there like pros, surveying the great expanses of white nothingness, smelling the air and grunting to each other. They’re there, you all know it, it’s just a matter of figuring out where exactly.”
         I stop momentarily, and then with a grand, sweeping gesture of my hands I continue.
         “You have all of this great land to explore. It’s exciting, the hunt that is. The tracking and the dodging of monster bears.”
         “What the fuck are you talking about?”
         “There are bears, man. Massive, gargantuan bears that can eat your torso in one bite. You have to keep an eye out or they’ll come tearing through your hunting party, scattering you guys like bowling pins.”
         “We can’t defend ourselves with our spears? I think that our spears would be enough to kill a bear if we can use them to kill a mammoth. At least if we’re adhering to your logic.”
         “Yeah, but the mammoth doesn’t want to eat you. Will you shut up for second? Really, just let me finish this. Anyway, so you guys are standing there and then all the sudden, way, way off in the distance you see a few lumbering specks. You can’t tell how many yet, but you’re sure that it’s a mammoth herd. So you grunt excitedly and wave your spear above your head like a retard. Then everyone is grunting behind you and waving their spears around and you all do this little retarded tribal dance and start running.”
         Graham grins. “So we proceed to expend all of our energy dancing with each other and then running to them?”
         “Well you have to close the gap some how, and let’s say their walking away from you guys. So you guys run. And you run fast. Or at least as fast as you can hunched over like a Neanderthal.”
         “While holding our spears in our hands.”
         “What? That won’t affect anything.”
         “Nevermind, go on.”
         “Ok, so you guys slowly close the distance and head to some high ground. As you get closer you get down on your hands and knees and slow to a four-legged crawl.”
         “Nice.” Graham interjects.
         “But they smell you. All four of them. They all turn trumpeting and stomp the ground heavily, making it shake with the fury of a Grecian god. It’s a spectacular sensation, the earth shivering with each mighty pounding of a ton or more of pure muscle.”
         “I bet it is spectacular.”
         “At first you and your hunting party are thrown to the ground,” I continue, ignoring his remarks. “But you rally your boys and you guys start stomping and yelling back. You thrust your spears forward in a gesture of intimidation, almost like you’re trying to tell the mammoths, ‘Watch it you fuckers, we’re here and we’re hungry!'”
         “Oh, yes, yaas!” It almost sounds like Graham is moaning. He rubs his chest in an exaggerated display of excitement and smiles eerily at me.
         “Now you begin to advance, forming a semicircle in an attempt to separate one of the mammoths. The largest mammoth, probably the alpha male, meets your challenge and moves forward. ‘He’s the one,’ you think to yourself, and gesture to your boys to encircle him. So they spread out around the big bastard and ready their spears. It’s not going to be easy,”
         “It never is…”
         “But with one final shout you all let loose, your spears racing through the air and piercing the tough hide of the massive mammoth. He rears back in shock and lets out a sharp whining sound, followed by the guttural sound of an animal that knows it’s about to die. Then you all release another volley, yours aimed carefully for the throat of the rearing mammoth. You all step back and watch as it shivers and the swoons, falling face first into the snow. There is a whoop from all of your Neanderthal friends and you all begin dancing again. There will be plenty of food for your people to eat.”
         There’s a moment of silence between Graham and I as we stare at each other. He has his stupid grin again but his eyes are alive and wide.
         “Well, did I take you back?”
         “You made me want to fuck.”
         “What the fuck are you talking about? I just told you a story about prehistoric America.”
         “Sounds like I was getting all the fucking, bud.”
         We stop momentarily as a few kids tear by us, giddy with childhood fantasies. As they disappear into the next exhibit Graham perks up and looks me dead in the eye.
         “Ever thought of writing bestiality stories?”
         “Are you fucking serious Graham?” I’m really not sure what to make of that last comment.
         “Actually, just write children’s stories about animals. That’ll serve the same purpose.”

Graham and Drew

         “Every time I puff on this damn thing it boils up in my face. I just don’t get how people do it you know? Like, on the regular. Even if you don’t inhale you end up with all the smoke in your lungs anyway.”
         “Well, don’t smoke them anymore.” Graham only gives me a cursory look while saying this, immediately shoving his face back down into his computer’s screen. I never get the sense that he likes me, but he never turns me down when I ask to accompany him to wherever he is going. I guess I strike him mostly as a curiosity, a little bird of sorts that hops around him chirping incessantly.
         “I don’t know.” I hold my cigar up close to my face and inspect the burning end, immediately getting smoke in my eye. “Fuck! You see what I mean? It’s just inevitable. No matter what I do I end up with smoke in my face!”
         “As I said, maybe you should stop smoking them.” He looks up at me with consternation. “That, or try not to put the burning end in your eye.” He chuckles and looks back down.
         I admire Graham. He isn’t particularly successful in what he does. In fact his life is as ordinary as they come. But he has an air of confidence that I crave, a complicity with the world, as if it somehow is an inextricable part of his being. At times it even seems as if he rules it, as if its every movement is governed by his quiet indifference, bending backwards in an attempt to please him.
         I carefully place my cigar down on the edge of the table and look at him, studying his focused face as it examines the glowing screen of his computer.
         “What are you doing?” I ask, leaning forward to try and catch a glimpse.
         “Just reading the news, buddy.”
         I manage to see the headline of the article. More turmoil in the Middle East, more vitriol from opposing parties here in the States. It is uninteresting to me but he is totally engaged.
         “So, what do you think?”
         “Of what?” he says without looking up.
         “Of the war!”
         “Which war. Be more specific. Are you referring to this article?”
         “Yeah. What do you think. Do you think it’ll affect us?”
         He stops momentarily and gives me that same look of consternation.
         “Of course it will, buddy. Maybe not directly, but it’s our money that will probably be thrown into the conflict. Our government likes to meddle.” He leans back and gazes past me at the walking pedestrians. “We always end up having to foot the bill.”
         “Yeah. It sucks no? I mean, I don’t even care about their problems. Shit, I’ve got enough problems here to worry about. Why should my money go to them, you know?”
         Graham shakes his head and settles into reading again.
         “Hey, what do you want to do after this?” I say, suddenly aware that we will probably be leaving soon. “Want to go see a movie or something. How about a gallery?”
         “I’ve got work to do tonight so I’m going to have to say no. Listen buddy, can you get me another beer? Grab one for yourself, my treat.”
         I sigh and grab my cigar again, puffing on it carefully to not get any smoke over myself.
         “Ok, what do you want?”
         “Same thing. Get yourself something good, too. Don’t worry about the cost.”
         I never do worry about the cost when he offers to buy me something, he knows that. Maybe it’s my presence that he likes. He hardly pays attention to me, mostly acknowledging my remarks with curt responses of agreement or disagreement. Usually his responses seem indifferent. But whenever I call him he picks me up and lets me ride around to wherever he goes. I view him as my buddy.
         I set my cigar down again, balancing it carefully on the edge of the table.
         “Can you make sure this doesn’t roll away? I’ll be quick.”
         He mumbles an acknowledgment without glancing up.
         “Thanks man. I think I’ll get myself one of those Belgian beers, those really good ones. Everyone says they have more flavor. Like, drinking one is more authentic than drinking a lager or something.”
         Graham just nods. I get up and straighten my shirt out, look at him briefly and then twist around and head indoors to the bar.
         Stepping inside a blast of cool air hits me, making the accumulated sweat on the back of my shirt more noticeable. Fidgeting slightly I let my eyes adjust and then beeline to the bar. There are a few guys and a couple of girls sitting around chatting and I inspect them curiously. None of them care to notice my presence as I slip by them. They’re all engaged in their private conversations, discussing this and that, idle chatter that is as uninteresting to me as the article Graham is reading outside.
         “What can I get you?” The bartender is looking at me casually and wiping away unseen grime from the countertop. He looks mildly bored, which is understandable considering that not many people are out ordering drinks mid-afternoon. The few that are present seem content with having one or two beers and then calling it a day, slipping back into the concrete currents of the city. I wonder to myself what they do, how successful they are, how content they might be. I don’t really care, though. I just wonder.
         “What do you, uh, recommend for a Belgian beer?”
         The bartender has stopped wiping now and shrugs.
         “It’s mostly a matter of personal taste. You like ’em heavy?”
         “Whatever I’ll take one of those.”
         The bartender gives me a dumb look, then looks behind himself despite the fact that I did not motion.
         “Uh, which one?”
         “The heavy one you just mentioned, man. I’ll take that one.”
         He blinks, then shrugging again reaches for a glass and pours what looks like motor oil.
         “Let me know if you can stomach it,” he says with a grin as he hands me the full glass. “Putting it on your friends tab?”
         This stops me momentarily. It’s probably not a good sign when the bartender knows your monetary arrangements with your friends.
         “Yeah, that’ll work.”
         As I get outside Graham looks up at me and laughs.
         “You forgot about my beer, didn’t you?”
         “What? Oh shit my bad. The bartender distracted me, you know how it is. Want me to go back and get one for you?”
         Graham looks at the beer in my hand and slowly draws a devilish grin.
         “No, don’t worry about it. Just down that and we’ll take off.”
         “Sure? I really don’t mind.”
         “Don’t worry bud, just chug it.” He’s eyeballing me intently, expectantly. I look down at my beer and observe how it looks murky, almost putrid. It makes my stomach curdle a bit. Graham leans forward and closes his laptop, pushing it aside and resting his arms on the table.
         “Chug it. In one go. Tell you what, if you can do it I’ll stay out a bit longer. We can go somewhere and shoot the breeze.”
         “No shit? Alright your on.” I feel a surge of excitement with the promise of a longer day. However every time I raise the beer to my nose it blows my olfactory buds straight to hell. It’s a heavy smell, full of dirt and swamp and whatever else one can imagine as being dark, viscous, and dirty. I really don’t want to drink it anymore.
         “Shit, I should’ve got a lager.”
         Graham laughs at me. “Well, you didn’t. Now drink it or I’ll take you home.”
         I take one last good look at it and then close my eyes, letting the beer fill my mouth and then run down the back of my throat. Except it doesn’t. It clogs up like a dorm room sewage pipe, lining my throat with whatever is in the god awful concoction. I open my eyes and realize I’m looking up in a desperate attempt to allow the beer passage down my throat, but it won’t move. Then doubling over I let out a loud gag only to hear Graham burst into laughter in front of me.
         “Swallow! Swallow!” he’s yelling as best he can amidst his laughter. “You have to finish it or I’m calling it a day!” I can only gurgle in response.
         After what feels like minutes of strenuous swallowing, although it’s only a few seconds, my throat begins to clear up. I can still feel the gunk traveling slowly down through my esophagus into my stomach but the ordeal is over. I take a deep breath and wipe away tears from my eyes, coughing a little bit with each exhalation. Graham is also wiping tears from his face as he calms down.
         “Thanks for the sympathy. I just about died.”
         “Yeah yeah I know, you’re fine. How’d it taste?”
         “Hell if I know.” I’m still wiping tears. “Goddamn, that was torture.”
         “Well you did it, so I guess I’m bound to my word. Let me get the tab and we can go. Anywhere in particular?” he asks, whipping up his laptop under his arm. I can still hardly think, what with the acrid taste of the beer now hitting me in full force.
         “I don’t know, fuck, I don’t know. I need a soda or something.” I lurch a bit as I say this.
         “I’ll get you one. Just think about where we should go in the meantime,” and he disappears indoors.
         When Graham comes back out he has a massive smile on his face.
         “The bartender saw the entire show and comped the beer. Hive five man! I’ve never managed that before.”
         I meet his extended hand with a meager slap and a scowl.
         “He also said to convey his congratulations,” Graham continues.
         “Fuck him. He’s the one who made me suffer.”
         “Whatever you say, bud. Don’t forget your cigar.”
         “Screw it. I don’t even want to think about smoking right now. And where’s my soda man?”
         “Oh, I forgot. Saw-ry,” he says as he leers at me.
         We drive around a bit after leaving the bar, trying to decide what to do. Things are hard to find in this city and require a certain amount of detective work to locate. Graham is growing visibly annoyed, which I understand since he needs to get back and is wasting gas. But it’s my turn now to make him suffer, so I bide my time. Sometimes I really wonder why he tolerates me.
         I finally remember a museum of natural history that I had been wanting to go to. The last time I went I was a kid being towed around by my parents. I hadn’t gone voluntarily that time, but once there I had greatly enjoyed it. So I tell Graham and we make our way to it.

         “It’s a wooly mammoth, man! A wooly fucking mammoth!”
         We have arrived at the museum now. The main foyer is dominated by this massive wooly mammoth, its trunk held high as if trumpeting to posterity. There are a few kids standing around it, futilely reaching out in an attempt to caress what looks like downy fur.
         “I see that, Drew.”
         “But look how big that thing is! Can you imagine bumping into a live one? I think I’d shit myself! Better buy gun!” I laugh at my own jocosity but Graham is already moving on to the next exhibit.
         “Hold up man, chill for a moment and look at it.”
         “It’s a mock-up, ok? It’s amusing, intriguing even, but it’s just a model.”
         “Well no shit! But give it a second and let yourself be transported. Imagine yourself back in the Ice Age trying to kill one of these things. It must have been a crazy experience, throwing rocks and sticks and shit while it reared back at you like a monstrous mountain.”
         Graham stops and stares me down as if I’m some preschool moron nagging his mom.
         “Alright.” He says, moving to me and squaring his body towards the mammoth. “Take me back.”

Grey

        Everything was grey. The waves, the sky, the sand. Even the boardwalk with its distinctively brown texture played games on the eyes, grimacing with the same grey hue that enveloped the rest of the world. It was a modern day freeze frame as the three of them walked aimlessly beneath the wooden planks, feeling the light drizzle fall on their faces. Little was exchanged between them aside from quiet glances. They themselves were grey although they did not have the same gloomy sheen that the world exuded. As they moved about he would stop occasionally and poke his foot into the sand and watch it form crescent mounds, observing all the little grains coallesce along with the white miniature conches that dotted the beach. Everything was quiet and desolate.
        “Let’s go.” It was half a command and half a suggestion but he obeyed. There was nothing else on the beach for them to experience, although there was nowhere in particular for them to go. He glanced once more out unto the ocean and observed how it seemed to meld with the sky above it, the waves that bounced lightly over its surface mirrored by the clouds’ slow movement above it. It was time to go.
        Piling into the small vehicle they pulled out into the street. Few cars impeded their way and they made good time in reaching the low profiles of the inland storefronts, all of their colors muted by the gloomy day. The avenues were fairly wide here, blanketed with the same drizzle that fell on the beach, the street signs swaying rhythmically to the unseen current above them. They traveled without exchanging words, each staring out their personal windows as increasing numbers of cars began to engulf them. They were once again in the world of the living.
        He looked at his friend at the wheel and observed his stolid look. It was familiar to him, an unchanging aspect of his life. Never a grimace, never a smile. An unsaid agreement that neither would affect the other unduly. This did not bother him and the agreement seemed particularly suited to the day with its low hanging and expansive rain clouds.
        They merged gracefully into a turn lane and pulled to a stop, the left turn signal blinking and ticking pleasantly through the dashboard. Its meager light illuminated the console and he shifted his gaze slightly to capture it. It seemed hesitant, stretching its rays timidly across the gauges and the hard plastic of the car. He imagined it as being a shy life-form beckoning amidst a massive world of jutting and cavernous architecture, announcing to anyone who paid it attention that it was there. Finally he felt forward motion.
        Looking up he managed to catch a glimpse of an accident in the making. As they turned left through the busy intersection a large sedan pulled out of line, veering into the turning traffic with a slow but deliberate movement. Its windows were heavily tinted. Its body hung low to the ground. He watched as his friend met the challenger’s infraction, steadily moving forward as was his right. But the sedan refused to correct itself, pulling further and further out of line and attempting to force its way through into the opposite direction. Neither would concede their forward movement and so they slowly met with a thud, the sedan hitting their vehicle’s left rear.
        They both rolled to a stop, the sedan a bit further than necessary. He sat looking forward and felt a swell of indignation run through his body. How could they. They were in the wrong. They had no right. He grimaced. He felt powerful. He reached for the door and opened it slightly but heard his friend murmur a simple, “Close the door, now.” Immediately gathering the urgency of the command he attempted to bring the door back towards himself, but something would not give. Perhaps the latch would not hook, or the door simply no longer fit. But it would not close entirely, so he desperately flipped the lock switch and waited for his friend to commence moving again.
        But there was no movement. Instead his door flung open and in the empty space between himself and the world stood a woman, a woman of moderate stature with a large head of curly hair arrayed around her face. Her features were plain with a vaguely expectant look. She stood casually with a pistol in her hand, elevated towards him. He looked at her, their eyes engaging and playing together, exchanging the vast expanses of their lives in a disjointed symphony, swirling and swirling, uniting two worlds in an instance of poetic discord, worlds of pain and of pleasure, of boredom and of excitement, of experiences so far apart yet intimately connected. Their facial features melded into their eyes, their world melted away into the grey haze of the day, as did their personal stories. The swirling movements now cascading upwards then downwards, splashing each other and touching each others’ hearts and minds. The world contracted into the great vortex that was their momentary connection, two galaxies rebounding around each other, fighting to overcome the other’s magnetic force, pulling small instances of truth away from each other in a perpetual exchange of stories. But their ultimate fate was one of coalescence. They could no longer escape the laws of life.
        Then she shot. He let out a muffled moan, oddly high pitched. He could not tell if he felt pain, only the pressure that seemed to suck his flesh further and further into his chest. Behind him he felt his friend lean forward to inspect him. To his left he saw his friend shift gears and give impetus to the stationary vehicle. As they pulled off at a gradual and lazy pace he felt his head slump forward and the world grow distant. A sound emanated from one of his friends, but it was indistinguishable. It no longer seemed to matter, and the world remained grey.

Existentialism In The Twenty-First Century

        It’s a Friday night as I sit at the bar of the café. I watch a few scattered people mill about ordering drinks and socializing as I sip a harsh cup of coffee. It’s an unremarkably typical evening for this particular scene composed mostly of so called artists. Everyone is inspired despite the fact that everyone looks alike. Most likely they think alike as well. I don’t mind it much though as their company is comforting, even if that company is only indirectly associated with me. Their modest pretentiousness is well intentioned. It’s ironic, an expression of a new outlook on life that embraces subtlety in form and movement and views the world through a kaleidoscope. I relate to it, or at least I would like to.
        But mostly I just find myself bored. I go out at times. In fact I do that quite a bit, mostly losing myself in a haze of whiskey and beer, layering one on the other until my thoughts no longer exist. It’s alright at the time but when I look back at it I am instantly aware of my mundane life. It is not so much a drowning of sorrows as it is a numbing of disillusionment. I live, and have always lived, a sheltered life. A life where everything is ordained and normative. On a night like tonight, while I sit here with my coffee, I watch the people around me and consider their lives. They are images, “inspired” images whatever that might be, and nothing else. While the rest of the world wallows in poverty and revels in violence, our only concern is the way we are perceived.
        It is this culture that I am a part of, of drinking craft beers and coffee from bags that say “Fair Trade” on it. That is our manner of contributing to the wellbeing of the world while still protecting our unique identity. It is an entirely sanitized version of the world and it’s driving me insane. I need something more, something worth struggling for. I want something worth taking up arms and creating a new order of social being. But one thing is for sure, that will not be occurring here at this café.
        It’s difficult to really see what is going on in the dimly lit café. What light there is is mostly concentrated on the bar area, maybe so the bartenders can work more efficiently or maybe so the customers can watch themselves waste away. Tonight however I won’t be drinking alcohol. It’s one of those nights, I suppose. My friends are all out of town or busy so I figured I would keep things mellow. There is no shame in enjoying a night out on your own, although it can become fairly boring. At least I can people watch.
        Looking down at my coffee I realize I am about to finish it, so I give the barista that expectant “I need more!” look and hope for the best. She is a pretty girl, not beautiful but definitely take-home material. When I finally do get her attention she moseys over to me and gives me a disinterested look.
        “Want another one?”
        “Yes, please. Any way you could make this one a little less strong?”
        “Sure, order something else,” she says in an annoyed tone. I give her a blank look, but quite frankly I’m not offended. More than likely she wouldn’t be able to modify my current drink as it’s done through one of those fancy espresso machines. Or maybe it was just a really stupid question.
        “Ok, well then I’ll have an Americano.”
        “Why don’t you just get a beer or something?” She shoots back. I think she’s failing to remember that I’m not drunk and am likely to be intolerant of this kind of treatment. But again I just shrug it off.
        “No I just want another coffee, thanks though.” I respond with a sincerity more appropriate to being offered a free glass of high-end scotch. She twirls around without another word and disappears into the mess of bottles and glasses on the back wall.
        I glance around the room and survey the crowd. The café has filled up now with people making small groups throughout the floor space. Most are drinking beers and cocktails but a few are sipping on coffees as well. The coffee drinkers are also alone. I wonder what they’re doing on their own here. Maybe they don’t have friends. A couple of them have their faces buried behind laptop screens doing god knows what. I watch them intently as they are the only ones I really find interesting. Since my drink has not arrived yet I set about imagining what they are doing. The guy with his back to the wall is watching porn. Yes, look at that serene face of satisfaction. He must be watching something glorious and ridiculous, like a monster gang bang.
        The other guy is writing. I squint to try and make out what he is putting to “paper” but it’s of no use. I’m forced to revert to imagining once again and I try and think of the most outlandish story possible. Sadly the only thing I can imagine is a story about his love affair with his car. I hope this lack of inspiration is not me but him, as he is dressed in brand name clothing and exudes an air of bachelor wealth. Or he might in fact have a family that he has conveniently neglected tonight, one that he supports with a stack of credit cards that he somehow manages to shove in his wallet. I try and sneak a glance to see if I can see a welt where his wallet might be but all I see is a flat ass.
        I turn around to find the barista eyeing me suspiciously with my coffee in her hand apparently having noticed the direction of my gaze.
        “Are you done?” She says dryly.
        “Uh, yeah. Thanks.” I take the coffee from her. I really don’t see the point in explaining myself, it would just make me look more suspicious.
        It is at this point that two girls collapse against the bar, giggling to each other. I sneak a glance at them and notice their dress; they look like young professionals enjoying the fruits of their labors. It’s nice making your own money after having relied so heavily on your parents. You feel in control and independent, a free force carving a new path in an already worn world. Of course to those who have come into means of self sufficiency the world is anything but worn. Everything to them is new and exciting. I view the world as a façade, a glimmering layer of hope and enchantment that will eventually wear off once youthfulness is overtaken by the pains of marital discord and the economic syphoning effect of children. But I won’t ruin it for them. Or anyone else for that matter.
        They are promptly served by the waitress who offers them a gentle smile. The two girls discuss their options and decide to order vodka tonics. “How predictable,” I think to myself. I wish they would have ordered a glass of cheap whiskey, neat, and swigged it like forlorn truckers. But no, it has to be vodka. How uninspired. By this point I am blatantly staring at them, and the one closest to me finally realizes it.
        “Hi.” She says with a smile. I’m surprised and find myself at a loss of words for an instant.
        “Hi.”
        “I’m Giorgina”. She offers me her hand, still smiling and with eager eyes.
        I take her hand and give it a shake. “William.”
        “Nice to meet you. This is my friend Rebecca.” As she motions to her friend I look over at her and see that Rebecca is eyeing me wearily. She has a look of caution, the look of someone who has been around this scene long enough to know that most guys can be total jackasses. Giorgina on the other hand has a sweet foreign accent and seems entirely oblivious to the American male way. Especially towards overtly friendly females. Or, of course, she is entirely conscious of our mammalian habits and would be set on reciprocating in such a circumstance.
        “So, why are you only drinking coffee?” Giorgina asks me.
        “Oh, I… well that’s all I really felt like drinking to be honest. Long day, you know?”
        “Yes it has been. Do you work somewhere?”
        Of course I work somewhere, I think to myself. I work from my office, which happens to be wherever the hell I want it to be. Then I submit my work and never hear back about it. So essentially I work for free wherever I feel like working, never getting any kind of compensation.
        It hits me then that this is a perfect time to lift my boredom and freelance a narrative about my life. These two girls are attractive and all, but they’re likely to lose interest in me within fifteen minutes and move on to some other guy. So I’ll have my fun while I still have their attention. The question is, what am I going to be?
        “I do.” I responded simply to her question. I needed to buy myself some time.
        “Where do you work?”
        “I work freelance, so it varies.”
        “Cool, are you an artist or something.”
        I chuckle to myself, although visibly. I wonder if I am an artist. Not tonight though.
        “No I’m a handyman, my services are in high demand.” I gave them a slight smile. “That’s my slogan.”
        Giorgina giggles at me. Rebecca is not amused. “Very nice!” Giorgina finally says, “Do you get paid well?”
        “Depends on the job. I charge based on how many tasks are requested.” I smile at them each individually. “It also depends on the kind of job asked for. I can work surfaces and do pipework, among other things. Typical fare I suppose.”
        I’m watching them carefully now, seeing if my hints are too subtle. Giorgina seems totally oblivious but Rebecca looks especially suspicious now. I suppose I don’t look like your typical handyman considering how I’m dressed and where I am at.
        “So, did you have to go to school to become a handyman?” Giorgina continues. She is so sweetly naive.
        “No not really. You learn on the job and like anything else the more you do it the more experienced you get. I’ve been around for a while, so I’m pretty good.”
        Giorgina just isn’t getting it and Rebecca is obviously not intent on pushing the subject until it is more evident so I choose to be a bit more aggressive.
        “Y’all wouldn’t by chance need any work done at your place? I’m always open to doing jobs at any time of the day. A man’s got to make a living.”
        That’s the final straw for Rebecca. She shoots up from her stool and yanks Giorgina away violently.
        “Alright that’s it let’s get out of here.”
        “Wait, why?” Giorgina protests. She turns to me and continues, “I don’t have any work for you but you should come hang out with us!”
        “No!” Yells Rebecca as she drags Giorgina by the arm. “I’ll explain later, let’s just leave!”
        Giorgina looks at me wild-eyed and utterly confused. I wonder to myself what she will think once Rebecca explains everything to her. To be honest I suspect she would have accepted my offer, she gave me the vibe of the adventurous type. As for myself, I set about enjoying my coffee again. The barista is glaring at me with a mixture of disgust and confusion. I can only think to wink at her.

Hallway

        There was a long hallway connecting the two old buildings that he never quite had the courage to go through. Even during the day the hall appeared ominous, as if lurking in the very walls that created it were the malevolent spirits of the dying city. He would always look down the hall, somewhat longingly in fact, and feel the shiver run up and down his back. He would repeatedly reassure himself that the hall would one day reveal its secrets.
        Although he was one of many he seemed to be the only one to take note of that hallway, being a lonely warrior working his way through each day with the monotonous gait only achievable in the modern age. Despite all of his ambitions, his hopes and his dreams it all ultimately came to a simple concept of getting from point A to point B. No matter how he looked at his life it always came back to that, a perpetual and predictable plan of action with a disillusioning end. He tried several vain attempts at making his daily routine seem less mundane. He would hold his head high and observe his surroundings intently, trying to pick it apart into its singular components, studying each and looking for meaning. On occasion he would change his route and explore the relatively new crannies of his city. How was it that, in such a chaotic city, he was unable to truly find a sense of living? Through the blaring of sirens and horns and the drone of voices such a sensation was oddly absent. It was all more a great cacophony
        It was early March when he finally summoned up the courage to venture down its long, lonely corridor. Embalmed in the soft warmth of early spring he had walked slowly and deliberately, examining every crack and discoloration on the walls. The bricks were heavily weathered with trails of water crisscrossing its surface, moss beginning to show along their paths. The moist smell that emanated from the walls reminded him of his childhood camping trips with his parents. It reminded him of the dank corners of the woods he inevitably would seek out, peering through the darkness at moss-covered rocks and poking in moist, moist earth. He had always kept his eyes open with the hopes of finding a salamander or frog desperately searching for another hiding place as he upturned their world. He was young and adventurous, completely removed from the realities of the world that he now was a part of.
        But among the brick and iron of the city there were not many secrets to capture, at least not of the slippery kind. Everything was cold and hard with a manufactured sense of life that failed to inspire him. It dulled his senses, weighing down on his mind like a specter; untouchable, unseeable, but present. He would try to imagine himself separated from all of that which surrounded him to see if there was something more full of hope and joy, but nothing ever seemed enough. There was just that quiet hallway.
        He stopped momentarily and leaned against the wall. It was cool, its brick sucking the warmth out of his body. He wondered where that warmth went once the brick grabbed it. He imagined it as his life force being reintegrated into the world, another instance of it’s life-sucking ambitions. But he let it go calmly this time. There was something right about this particular transfer as if the wall was a wise entity to be respected. For once he relished the feeling.
        Past the walls he could hear the city going about its day as usual. Cars occasionally honked their horns, engines revving and their people squawking. A few birds could be heard calling fretfully to each other, speaking a language foreign yet integrated with the surroundings.
        So went his days, returning to the hallway whenever the opportunity arose, choosing to spend as much time there as possible. He became obsessed with watching the slow movements of the world within the hallway. He listened to the walls moan and creak under the weight of time. As the rain fell over the course of months he could see their paths etched further into the face of the walls, the water happily making its way ever downward. In the days following the rain the moss would once again spring to life, following the water’s trails and crisscrossing every which way. Occasionally a wind would come blowing over the tops of the walls from the city outside and tear about the small space. It would laugh loudly as leaves and dust would lift wildly and swirl around in circles, everything screaming in manic joy. It was a brief moment of the hurried insanity of the city seeping into the secluded world of the hallway. In such moments he would yell and curse loudly, waving his arms at the invisible offender and calling the earth a whore for celebrating with such scandalous force.
        That hallway became his domain, a sanctuary amidst the world, a world that presented itself not as a place of peace but as land of happenstance and confusion. Despite his lack of control over the slow movements between those dark walls he felt a great sense of power, of being an omnipotent being directing a great spectacle solely through his capacity of observation. In that world only minute nuances reigned supreme, not the overtly obvious occurrences. He reveled in this newfound power, challenged only by the occasional howling of the invading wind.
        Outside, beyond the walls, the times were changing. The buildings that were connected by the hallway had been decaying steadily and the city had finally condemned it as an unsanitary relic, unused even by the local homeless. The decision to destroy them came about without much fanfare. Those who passed the buildings on their daily commutes barely glanced at it, wondering at how those buildings of such old age were still standing. When the signs announcing their removal finally appeared most simply shrugged and went about their day.
        But he was incensed. The thought of losing his new home threw him into such fits that his apartment had quickly become a mess of broken furniture. He increasingly spent more time in the hallway, sitting and mumbling to himself, full of anger and sadness. This was his place of being, the only spot in that vast city where he felt at peace with himself and with the world. If he lost the hallway and its solitude he would surely lose himself.
        It was during the preparatory phase of the demolition that he decided to resist the city’s plan. He came to view not only the hallway as his own, but also the two buildings that it connected. They were his alone and he would decide their ultimate fate and purpose whether the city and its people agreed with him or not. But in his irrational state he chose a more violent method of resistance, stockpiling handguns and rifles and arraying them strategically throughout the two buildings. If worst came to worst he would retreat to the connecting hallway and make his final stand. But whatever the outcome those structures would be his.
        As dawn of the first day of work came about he found himself resting lazily in front of a third story window, a high-powered rifle in hand. He watched intently as men in yellow hard hats wandered around the grounds, pointing and talking amongst themselves. They moved casually, unaware of his presence in the building, going about their duties with the simple diligence of workingmen. But to the shooter in the window their presence bore nothing but death. They were demons to him, subhuman creatures stomping about his sacred land. Grinding his teeth, he fidgeted with the scope on his rifle, loosening and tightening the windage knob without any real knowledge to its purpose. He glared at them with such violent hatred that it aught to have betrayed his presence.
        There were two men directing the other workers who grabbed his attention. Their gesticulations disgusted him, looking more like grotesque pantomiming of a sword removing a human’s head. He decided to start with those two men and lifted his scope hurriedly, laying the crosshair of the scope on the one to the right. Through the scope he could make out their details better, their buttoned white shirts, colorful ties, and their neatly pressed pants. They were not of the same breed as the workingmen around them and seemed full of arrogant pride and excess. It only served to increase his hatred towards them and the entire affair.
        As he watched them turn their heads every which way, exchanging unheard words and chuckling to each other, he did his best to steady the crosshair on the head of the man to the right. His heart began to thump wildly and his hands began to shake making the scope tremble heavily. He cursed to himself and tried to steady the rifle but was only able to decrease the scope’s movement slightly. Finally resigning himself to his state of excitement he took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. With a loud clap he sent his first round tearing down towards the clueless man and watched as a thick film of dust flew up in a sudden explosion, to the right and behind the man. The shooter shouted in shock and quickly brought his scope to bear again and saw the two men looking about themselves, slightly bewildered. They apparently had not registered the fact that they were being shot at, perhaps because of the nature of their workplace. But as the second shot blew forth and another geyser of dust flew up they immediately took off running.
        The man in the window was sweating profusely now and screamed wildly as he watched his second round go wide. He raised the rifle and threw it violently against the wall, then sprinted to a room where he had placed another gun, positioning himself in the window and scanning his killing field. By this time everyone had caught on to what was transpiring and had disappeared into whatever hiding place they could find. He was alone again with only the occasional hint of life out beyond his window. Collapsing on the floor, tears began to well out of his eyes, although quietly. He stared at the floor and watched the grain of the wood slowly snake along, abruptly ending where a new panel commenced. He sought out a pattern across the panels but it was all disjointed, a hodgepodge of muted colors and lines that suddenly became emblematic of his world. It was a world of disjointed and singular parts that somehow expressed unity through shared forms, fitting together neatly to create a whole. And as the adrenaline began to release it’s hold on him he found himself dozing off where he sat, tired and full of emotion.
        Just as he was about to slip into sleep the bright, alternating blue and red lights of law enforcement personnel filled his empty room. This was the end of the road for him, being too tired to put up any more resistance. The idea of harming someone now seemed utterly reprehensible to him and he felt slightly sick. He wanted to go home now but that was no longer an option. His fate had been sealed, and so he wearily picked himself up and walked through the building as the sirens from outside echoed around him.
        Almost without thought he made his way down to the hallway, arriving there with the ragged aura of a pilgrim at the end of his journey. He stood quietly and observed the hallway. It seemed mundane now, utterly devoid of any interest, a drab composition of weathered bricks and mortar. Despite his efforts to reignite that wondrous passion he had felt before it remained as such. So he collapsed, and awaited the police.

Spirit from before

        He had not been sleeping well, which was unusual for him. Ever since he could remember he had slept like a rock, even sleeping through a minor earthquake during a family trip. He had woken up in the morning to nervous questions from his mother.
        “Did you feel it? What did you think?”
        “Feel what?” he had responded.
        So the unease he was experiencing every night was all the more curious, an unease punctuated not by sweats and fitful dreams but the feeling that he was not alone, that he was being watched. On waking in the mornings he would lie in bed with his eyes open, processing the unease and trying to wrest every last moment of respite from the previous evening.
        Throughout the workweek, when he had finally removed himself from his bed, he would make his way through the city, stepping on and off trams until he arrived at his office. The city was expansive, dotted with shops, restaurants, parks, and cafes. People were always about, running from one point to another, chatting amongst themselves, smiling, frowning, standing. He enjoyed the life of this landscape yet he somehow felt disconnected. Not only from the city but also from the world at large. It was all foreign to him in some way, making him feel like he did not entirely belong. He almost felt like a runner, as if he were constantly moving away from something rather than integrating with his surroundings.

        “I miss you.”
        The words were slightly muffled, almost imperceptible. He opened his eyes just enough to peer through his interlocked eyelashes but did not see anything. He lay there for a moment thinking of the words. They resounded clearly in his memory, surprisingly articulated, even for a dream. But anything was possible in those moments of deep sleep. He rolled over on to his side and took a deep breath then slowly worked his way out from under the covers.
        I miss you. As the day continued it was unclear whether the words were a part of a memory or a dream, they drifting back and forth between the two states in his mind. But as the day drew to an end and the weeks went by he slowly forgot about the words. The constant rush of the city forced them out, replacing them with the corporeal needs of humanity. The modern lights rose then fell, the skies changed, the leaves rustled and transformed from greens to the festive colors of autumn. It all passed quickly and without note.
        As the cold winds of winter began to blow in, the unease returned. Once again he found himself awake in bed at the cusp of dawn, the quiet words reverberating in his memory. I miss you. I miss you. He could not figure out why those words continued to fall on him while he slept, why they seemed so clear and why it all was so familiar. The voice was one of a woman, a voice that pierced him and made him long for a memory or a feeling he could not quite place.
        “I miss you.”
        He would sit up and gaze about his room but there was never anything there. It was almost as if he was perpetually late to arousing, and his frustration began to increase as each visit would go by.

        “I miss you.”
        He jolted awake. It was cold outside now that winter had fully set in. The lights of the city still shown at full force, not yet having been replaced by the burning of the sun. But something was different now. The room appeared misty, as if it had suddenly birthed a creek in a warm spring morning. Sitting in his bed he looked around trying to figure out if this was a dream or if he was really awake. It felt much too real, not in a frightening way but still slightly disconcerting. And then he noticed the figure by his side, although at first it was not clear what it was.
        He could hardly make out details, but as he gazed at it he began to notice human-like characteristics. There were locks of ghostly hair draped lightly around what appeared to be a head and he could just make out the slim profile of arms and hands. The figure did not move much, if at all, and although he could not make out eyes he had the distinct feeling of being gazed upon.
        “Why did you leave me?” came the soft words.
        “What?” he blurted out, a rhetorical response yet full of confusion. Without responding the apparition dissipated, leaving him sitting in his bed.
        After lunch that day he made his way to a small corner café and sat down to think about the morning’s visit. Those last words haunted him more than ever. Who was visiting him? What was she talking about? Nothing of what was occurring seemed rational to him, it all being beyond his normal range of experiences. His thoughts drifted to the idea of a spirit of a deceased acquaintance, maybe a family member or a lover. He had lost many members of his family but this did not seem to be something related to that. He had also had several girlfriends but none of them had died, at least not to his knowledge. Even if one had passed recently he could not think of one who would make a point of visiting him.
        What struck him the most, however, was his lack of fear. In fact he could have sworn feeling a tiny bit of warmth emanating from himself while in her presence. Why did he feel so calm, so at home? Why was she so familiar?

        It was not until the following spring was coming to a close that she visited him again in such an overt manner. During that time he had become consumed with the thoughts of her words, and everyday his world seemed to become less and less real. It was all far more foreign now, the structures, the people, the lights, all of it. Everything seemed at odds with him, somehow petty and without purpose. He would walk about during the day and gaze at his surroundings like a child reborn, trying to process everything that filled his senses. At times he would simply stand in place in semi-catatonia as the world moved about him. He almost felt like he was playing a game where nothing was true, where everything was just an expression of the imagination, fooling him for lord knew what reason.
        Then one warm, spring evening he had been awoken by a soft breeze flowing through his room. He had an inkling that she had returned and he slowly sat up, immediately finding her by his bedside. She was still as ghostly as before.
        “Why did you leave me?” She still seemed sad, her words flowing over him with the soft touch of a lover. He could only sit and look at her in wonderment, trying to make out the contours of her body through the ephemeral pulsing of her mist.
        “Who are you?” he asked quietly.
        There was silence, he sitting there looking at an outstretched hand.
        “Please come back. I miss you.”

Passenger

For the Intermittent Writer

333sound

Short books about albums. Published by Bloomsbury.

The Wink

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