Archives for the month of: July, 2012

“What about Dante on the Goatpaths of Italy?” wondered Prof. Barry Dalton in his office, windows wide to the afternoon sun.

 

He took off his shoes as he continued to think it over. It would prove to be the question of the day, he knew, looking at the clock.

 

When the time was right he uncapped his pen and put it to paper. Then he capped it and looked in a wide circle around the room, taking in the open windows, the buzzing of a jet, the sleek spines of all the books on his shelf.

 

He declared it time for a nap.

 

“Hold my calls,” he shouted to his secretary, “and send all visitors back where they came from.”

 

He loosened his tie, evened out his breathing, stretched the relevant muscles, then pressed the button to the right of the panel that controlled the lighting and the fan. This gave him thirty seconds.

 

He tipped back in his desk chair with his socked feet up among the legal pads and paperweights, and closed his eyes.

 

At the end of thirty seconds, curtains heavy as X-ray bibs slid down over the walls and windows and door, cordoning him off from all view, and the lights dimmed away and the air went out.

 

In his chair, Dalton turned plasticky and his bones started to soften and recede. His skin grew dim and cloudy and then wan and bleachy, on and off, like a candle alternating between the states of burned and not-burned. He slumped further down, somehow into his hair as if it were a wig that usually wasn’t on all the way but was now being pulled down further. Now came the stage of puffing way out like a blimp and then deflating slowly until he hung slack like a sheet tossed onto a bed, to be folded later. Or almost that slack if not quite, not that he could see himself anyway.

 

He was inflating and deflating like a mechanical bellows as the office and its work and trappings sank first into the regular background and then into the way background. Soon all of this was gone entirely. Dante wandered on in his busted sandals unencumbered and unconsidered, either picking and smelling sage and other herbs by the Sides of the Goatpaths of Italy or not … there was no one to say.

 

Now Dalton was in amongst the other afternoon sleepers, from all over the world, or at least the whole world-swath in which it was now afternoon. They were all inflating and deflating at the same rate, in a place that was reachable by these means alone. They seemed suspended, as if in hammocks or tied up with a series of loops and knots, hanging in U-shapes, maybe chrysalises or tangled in spider-doings.

 

There was a rocking and a semblance of forward movement, or the real thing. Then it got lighter by degrees, and he could see — or sense, using whatever was at his disposal — that he and the other sleepers were on a ship. This much was easy to tell. After that, not so easy. Finally, when they were most of the way out of the cave, he realized that they were all sails, strung up in the rigging, and they were sailing the ship, making their own wind by constantly in/de-flating. Down on the deck below was a mess of people shouting in an unintelligible or (to be charitable to the Professor’s erudition here) inaudible tongue. Some appeared to be slaves, others not slaves.

 

Out of the lip of the cave came a glistening turquoise bay, the ancient sunlight playing across it just so. “Ah, you Mediterranean,” sighed the sails.

 

Up on the cliffs that defined one edge of the bay scuttled a figure.

 

Dalton watched it scuttle from crevice to crevice, with a small sack over its shoulder, occasionally sheltering its eyes to scan the horizon.

 

When it spotted the ship, Dalton locked eyes with it and, with all the excitement of a nine-year-old on a heretofore whaleless whale watch, realized who it was. “Dante!” he tried to shout, wishing he hadn’t deflated himself quite so much. He tried to get his secretary’s attention but succeeded only in raining spittle down into his collar. “Dante!” he shouted again, but this time he knew he was only thinking it. The spittle cooled as it reached his chest.

 

The ship sailed languidly on as the sun began to set over the water. When he looked back at the cliffs, the figure was gone.

 

Sails were popping down from the rigging now as sleepers returned to the lives they’d slept away from. The ship was getting bare and desolate-looking, all hanging ropes and hooks slamming against the masts. Soon, thought Dalton, the slaves will be forced to row, all through the Mediterranean night and on into, perhaps, a North African morning.

 

He felt himself coming out of it as well, but held on until the ship entered another cave, across the bay.

 

“I will reenter my life through another door,” he thought, or said, in response to some dockhand asking where he’d like to have his luggage unloaded.

 

A kind of feral banging of rocks resounded inside the cave, so loud that, after a few seconds, he had to peel away and turn off his alarm. When he looked back, the ship had sailed — or not sailed, been rowed — out of sight.

 

He creaked to his feet and into the bathroom, flicking on the lights once the first buds and then nubs of bone grew back into his fingertips.

 

… then the water turned hot and his washcloth was lapping it up and he was dabbing his cheeks and chin and the area around the nose known as the T-Zone, and the sides of his neck, and then he looked back at his desk and thought, fuck, and then went past it to the window, opened it, looked out, down to where things were happening in Dodge City, Far Below.

 

“Okay, I’m back,” he shouted to his secretary. “You can stop holding my calls now.”

 

The phone rang before he was even back at his desk. He approached it warily, cracking his knuckles, not sure this was the life for him. “Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” he found himself thinking as he stood and listened to it ring. Then he picked it up, and found this was still his only thought.

Now that the Night Crusher has been moved into the Holding Pen — a resort on the outskirts of Dodge City, usually with vacancies and happy to take on an extra head for a night or few, unlike the hotel closer to the center where Big Pharmakos, Drifter Jim, et al, and yours truly reside — his handlers breathe easy, and go off for a night on the town, singly or in small groups, fated to end up together again at the same couple of bars before long, either pretending not to notice one another or pretending to be surprised at the coincidence of all turning up at the same place and the same time, having been so briefly apart, and treating it as inordinate cause for celebration, which maybe it is or ought to be.

 

The Night Crusher has recently emerged from a hot n’ sudsy bath and is now wearing slippers and full-body pajamas, up to and including a Holding Pen embossed nightcap. He’s drinking High West whiskey, warming the glass above a rosehip-scented candle, and thinking how this, too, is a nightcap.

 

Thus pass a few days. He’s in here day and night, walking the room, supposedly using this time to get acculturated to his new assignation, which involves a Lazy Eye, “a new student,” and, he knows better than not to suspect, Professor Barry Dalton, in one of any number of capacities or another. He reads over the Lazy Eye Mythos briefing that he’s been given and wonders where the interest lies … Why me? Why this? and so on. Some days he’s certain he’s dealt with this whole story many times before; other days he doubts even that there’s going to be any story to deal with at all.

 

In terms of food, he’s been given a single unripe avocado.

 

He may have been offered more, but this, along with the High West whiskey, is what he accepted. He’s made a game out of carrying the avocado around the room during the daylight hours, trying to place it in the brightest square of sun, moving it constantly as the sun moves. He carries it in what has quickly become a Buster Keaton routine, snatching it up fast as soon as the sun moves and diving into the new square of sun before it moves again, be it on a tabletop or on the sheets or a windowsill or the floor or on top of the TV, every link in his chain of being shackled to the ideal of falling into servitude behind the grand project of ripening this avocado in the sun.

 

When, after a few days of this, and a few nights of nightcaps, it comes out ripe, he is hardly surprised to find himself unable to consume it, so integral to the Holding Pen’s scant symbolic order has it become.

 

So, growing hungrier by the minute, he passes into a new set of days, a Phase B, falling around the room with the avocado softening then rotting then pulping in his hands, until one night he has to wash them in the bathtub.

 

Then he plants the pit in the plushest part of the carpet and sits cross-legged beside it, waiting for it to sprout, listening to footsteps in the hallway.

 

He draws the shades and resolves to leave them drawn, now that he’s beyond any need for the sun.

 

To occupy his mind after his bath one night, he decides to do a little writing. He takes out the Holding Pen Notepad and writes in pen at the top of the first page, A Dramatic Retelling of Blue Velvet by David Lynch from Memory:

 

Under this he writes, “A guy comes back to his hometown.”

 

Satisfied, he caps the pen and takes a lap around the room. When he feels refreshed, he comes back to read over his work and make any edits his fresh eyes deem necessary. Still satisfied, he puts it away and gets in bed.

 

Just as he’s about to drift off into what may be his final night before his actual work begins (this is up to his handlers, from whom he’s heard zilch), he hears something from the next room.

 

A phone ringing.

 

There’s a clattering of hands and then a voice saying, “hello??” very eager. Then again, even more eager, “hello???” Some confusion ensues, a bad connection, guesses the Night Crusher, or a language barrier. “Hello?? Who is this?” asks the voice.

 

Then, something apparently finally coming clear, the voice, deflated and a little on edge now, says, “oh. Oh. No. That’s way old. Yup, no. Definitely not interested. OK, talk to you later. What? No. GoodBYE!” And hangs up.

 

Strange, thinks the Night Crusher, getting up to take a pillow out of the fridge and put the one he’s been lying on in there. Lying back on the fresh, cool one, he prepares for sleep when the phone in that room rings again.

 

The exact same interaction plays out. Eager, confused, deflated, on edge.

 

And again, and again, through many hours of the night. The man in that room seems never to lose his excitement for the call, and it seems never to be who he’d hoped it would be. The Night Crusher, from behind his eyelids, tries to envision the mathematical series that’d best represent the recursion of these calls, unsure if this is a simple problem or an extremely difficult one, if a problem at all. He remembers here the word “cinchy,” unused for years and years.

 

He sees a long straight country road and, along one side of it, a row of abandoned temples, gently smoking in the wind, each having formerly, aeons ago, contained a sentence or jumble of words that held some sweet meaning for the Night Crusher alone, turned now to the peppery stuffing of abandoned temples.

 

Coming off of this road and back into his head and room, The Night Crusher realizes that the phonecalls he’s been overhearing involve Professor Barry Dalton. He gets up and starts packing his things, polishing off the last of the High West. What he can’t tell, he realizes upon further reflection, is which end of the phone the Professor is on. Is he the one calling, or the one receiving the calls? he wonders. He doesn’t feel any less certain that it’s Dalton for not knowing which end he’s on. In fact, if anything, this proves that it must be Dalton and no one else … who else that I know has this quality? he wonders.

 

His bag packed, he steps widely around the avocado seedling, wishing it the best, and opens his door and goes out into the hallway, further than he’s ventured in all this time. He’s sad to leave his writing behind, but maybe the sacrifice will bring him luck.

 

He’s creeping through the lobby, past the tables that have held the continental breakfast and will again in a few short hours, about to wheel through the revolving doors and out onto the street, when something going on at the pool catches his eye.

 

So now he’s out there, by the pool, in the middle of a scene that he hadn’t at all expected to find himself in the middle of, in the last instant before getting noticed en masse.

The Night Crusher often gets this way in the lead-up to an assignation. He prefers it where he’s been, not where he’s soon to go.

He sits in his dressing room sunk in despond while his handlers rush about, busy with such preparations as need be made. He is surrounded by sweets and drinks with protruding straws and enticing pillows and divans, none of which appeal or even hold enough of his attention to merit scorn or scoffing.

His handlers would throw up their hands were they not full with the thingly aspects of preparation. The room has a fuse-like quality, and one of tenterhooks.

Morosely flipping channels like some traveling efficiency expert in his 85th Motel 6 of the summer, the Night Crusher at last chances upon something on the TV that obliquely catches his eye: a new episode (new to him) of Unholy Family, a sometimes-edifying, sometime-riotous affair that he used to watch whenever he was home sick from school and not too sick to tolerate the snowy reception.

His handlers perceive a slight lifting in his mood as they busily prepare his complex set of antidepressants, and are careful not to show that they’ve noticed the change, for fear of inspiring him to revoke it.

On Unholy Family today is a family trapped inside during a war or strike or siege. Bombs are exploding on the soundtrack not far off, and marauders and mercenaries and so on are clawing at the doors. The family shivers in fear and cold and hunger in their house, which, for whatever reason, is a little bit safe against violent incursion: no one’s smashed down the doors so far, anyway.

For a while — skipped over in fast montage — they do normal stranded family things like try to survive.

Then, this being an episode of Unholy Family, things change. Soon they’re all naked and huddling in a giant tub, like a Jacuzzi shell that’s long since lost its water, their clothes sacrificed in some obscure way to the war. In this big tub they start slowly and distractedly fucking, all of them in there together, unclear how many, and it’s not clear if they especially know or notice what they’re doing or not.

For a while it’s a fairly standard incest type scenario, but then something in their collective physiognomy comes undone. All of their mealy, sweaty skin, which had been writhing in a resigned but still sentient and discrete mass a few moments before, all arms and legs jutting out of a huddle of heads and middles, starts to become conjoined.

There’s intermittent loud machinegun fire out the windows, to remind you of the context. The Night Crusher, despite himself, is riveted.

The bodies start to slop together more and more, reducing themselves or itself from many beings into one through some sweaty calculus that the show doesn’t make any too clear. It’s not even clear if many generations have passed in this montage, so that perhaps this is the ultimate, unforeseen product of generations of inbreeding here in the tub, or if it’s happened all at once, through some rare logic of sex itself, from which there’s now no pulling free.

The Night Crusher stares in boyish fascination at the entity now occupying the tub, a nearly translucent mass of hide and what looks like gelatin and a secreted liquid serving as a broth all around it, bubbling up from pores and orifices of various kinds, then seeping down the drain. Through the translucence are visible orange and black centers, organs perhaps, palpitating down beneath French pastry folds and knotted whorls.

A handler stands behind the Night Crusher, ready to give him his antidepressants but afraid to pull his attention off the screen. Finally, during a commercial break, cut on a shot of the entity struggling to reverse itself in the tub so as to take some of its weight off of a blossoming bedsore, the handler gets his attention and, with all the confidence of an apprentice lion tamer, hands the Night Crusher his antidepressants and leaps a good four feet backward, knocking himself silly on the edge of a cabinet.

Distracted, the Night Crusher opens the suitcase in which his antidepressants travel, and examines them with his fingers, his mind elsewhere. He doesn’t intend to use them just yet, only to feel their familiar and comforting surfaces. There are the smooth ones, the fuzzy ones, the Velcro ones, the slick ones, like gemstones, the unaccountably wet ones, the sticky ones that his fingers recoil from, and the cool ones that his fingers love. Each has its unique positive and negative ends, and its stretchy, bendy, ropey, and malleable aspects, to be molded and clipped, snapped, or wrapped together with others, to create whatever combination the moment calls for.

He snaps the suitcase closed, looking forward to returning to the show to discover if the entity has managed to heave itself over and take some weight off its bedsore. When he looks back at the screen, however, the entity is gone.

Now time starts to move slow. The bustling handlers stand as if frozen in a photograph.

The Night Crusher sits in his folding chair with his antidepressant suitcase flat across his lap, staring at the empty tub on the screen, in the room outside of which the war has apparently ended, or turned silent, gone chemical perhaps.

He tries to swallow the feeling before it turns wild, but he can feel it looming up his spine, the feeling that the entity that the Unholy Family has become or begat is somewhere nearby, in this very room, watching him with its beige, scarred-over eyes, waiting for him to take his own eyes off the tub and turn to meet it, face-to-face.

He unsnaps the suitcase, praying that this tiny movement has not already given him away, and then slides one finger inside, feeling around for the nearest familiar thing.

So it’s true, I failed to report on the Tea Party itself. My request for more time was granted, in a manner of speaking, at least insofar as it went unanswered and there have thus far been no unseemly consequences for my having taken that non-answer as an affirmative one, and yet I failed still.

 

I blame it on the nature of the event itself. It was overwhelming.

 

We all filed out of the stadium after the wrestling event. When we made it back to Lazy Eye’s quarters, in the Other Town or New Mythos or what have you, they’d been recast, turned more luxuriant and kingly and antique along certain lines: rearranged, I don’t doubt, by Lazy Eye’s slave, whom I believe I have at least once referred to as Bruce and will again here (unless this is the first time Bruce has graced these pages, in which case: welcome Bruce).

 

Entering Lazy Eye’s abode, I was packed in with others, perhaps some of them the supernumeraries who’d been crowding around the edges of the stadium, trying to force their way in, or perhaps they were invited guests, or perhaps even some of them are the guys I used to work with on the chain gang (I say ‘used to’ somewhat lightly here, realizing that the chain gang chapter is either over or not over, and that I presently have no means by which to divine which).

 

In any case, something then happened in the preserve of Lazy Eye, who presided over the scene in partial absentium, in that he was physically present in a coterminous space, but was at that point so far down the rabbit- or rat- or worm- or somesuch-hole of Methadone that he was not emotionally present with us, if indeed emotional presence is ever one of this Lazy Eye’s salient features (I have never encountered him not in a Methadone Trance, except in the precious last instants before diving into said Trance, in which his only concern is quite clearly the Dive).

 

So we were served tea of some sort, by Bruce, and I remember thinking, “Are you just serving us reheated Alice in Wonderland kitsch and buttered scones?” and then eating a biscuit from a basket, and chewing over that phrase for a few moments, and then …

 

… now.

 

Here I am, on a very soft bed, I’d venture to say paralyzed. This might be the time to bring up the Night Crusher, and invite him into Dodge City. On the other hand (a figure of speech, since neither hand seems to belong to me at this point) it might not be. Perhaps the Night Crusher is best left in the cold and the quiet where he goes when he’s not needed. But I see him already, in the wings, being ushered into the Dressing Room by a costume designer who’s going to get him fitted and suited up to appear amongst us. So much for not dealing with the Night Crusher, on top of everything else.

 

I lie here on a softness, paralyzed even to the point of not being able to move my head nor even my eyes. And yet I am aware of the others, I cannot say how. I see them somehow inside myself, or at least stacked in my field of vision, as if there were some special inevitability to them that makes them impossible not to see no matter which direction my vision happens to be riveted in.

 

They’ve gone translucent, as if skinned. Not skinned, I see now, but with the skin of litchi nuts after having been soaked in alcohol or sugar-water for a good long time. They even drip slightly, such that perhaps these others, the “Guests” perhaps they ought to be called, have indeed been stewed and cured in precisely this litchi way. As, perhaps, have I.

 

I see shapes moving within them, snakey, zigzaggy, electric eely shapes tracing their courses through the translucent exteriors of the slumbering Guests, just slightly below the surface, like on the level that one (the layperson) commonly associates with the province of veins and arteries.

 

I can only infer that my own skin appears this same way, awash in lines and curves, dripping like some rag stretched over a clotheslines in the, um how ’bout, Brazilian sun.

 

Bruce is the only who can still move, and he fusses about as if compensating for the stillness all around him, cleaning up dishes, brewing other sorts of teas and some coffees, shuffling restlessly between one Guided by Voices album and another, none of them quite right.

 

I imagine myself, or us, in a holding chamber, about to be packed into a shipping crate and loaded into the hold of a steamer, locked for weeks among the inelegant silence of Cargo, with the crew cooking, eating, drinking, singing, praying, and charting a course on the decks above.

 

“How about this one?” whispers a voice in my ear, a good while later. I can only assume that it’s Bruce, and that he knows I’m as incapable of asking what he means as I would be of responding if I knew.

 

I return to the Cargo hold where some stowaways are trying to get comfortable and debating the pros and cons of sharing a cigarette before the doors get sealed. I listen to their debate with hot breath in my ear and litchi-skinned sleepers in my eyes, as the Night Crusher tries on one outfit after another in the Dodge City Dressing Room, eager to get down to business now that he’s been called upon to do just that.