fairly

She came at first across my feet, in the deep grass, as a snake;

A venomous serpent.

 

Instinct incited me to run,

And so I did.

 

And in doing this—by obeying my instinct—

I was not poisoned.

 

She came second across my feet, slithering over square office tile;

still a venomous serpent; now at the feet of lawyers, now dressed as a plaintive creature bearing self-inflicted wounds.

 

Instinct incited me to run,

but believing this time instead that I had the power to charm this snake,

to make it into something other than a snake; by some foolish alchemy, to change its nature and state; and further, in believing its plaintive dress and resolving to attempt to remedy its self-inflicted wounds,

I did not run.

 

And upon mesmerizing the snake successfully, believed I had in fact charmed it, worked some foolish alchemy; and made it something other than a snake.

And healed its wounds. And made it better.

And in believing all this, also believed myself a better person than I was.

And even celebrated myself, and my achievements, and thought myself ‘good’.

 

And in doing this, and upon believing myself a snake charmer and an alchemist, and a healer—I was poisoned.

 

Bitten, and poisoned. Suddenly and without warning;

foolishly, I thought to myself as it slithered away, “unfairly”.

I at once was relieved of the delusion of charming snakes, however; and of

snake charming. And of alchemy. And of healing. And, temporarily, even of my own foolishness.

…the most potent venom of all…

 

She came third, across my feet, slithering over the pavement leading to my front door; and asked to come in, dressed this time in shame, and repentance, and petitioning redemption.

 

Still, a serpent.

 

And remembering the poison it had injected previously into my vein, I was incited to stomp it—to squash its head and break its fangs off brutally against the pavement—

to empty it of its venom and twist its guts into the road with my heel.

 

But as I lifted my foot, pheromones wafted to my nose and invaded my senses. I was mesmerized, at once; a fool again, and I once more began to try charming it.

To change its nature and state. To transform and transmogrify it. To domesticate it.

And again, to heal it.

 

Some time went by, and the snake was docile; wrapped warmly around my leg and arm; coiled contently—quietly—across my chest. Finally no longer a snake, I believed;

Charmed, I’m sure.

 

And in believing this, and for being a fool, I was bitten once more;

Once more, suddenly and without warning. Though, certainly, not “unfairly”.

And I was poisoned;

And in believing I could charm this snake, or any serpent, I was expired.

Poisoned, and cold; left alone in the tall grass and on the office tile and the suburban pavement—a fool, mesmerized and poisoned, at last,

A poisoned fool with no creature or lawyer or serpent other than himself to blame for it.

 

Bitten and poisoned and passed on,

Neither rightly nor wrongly.

 

But, “fairly”.

 

 

 

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nocturnal and diurnal

I’m lying on the green, at the foot of a large oak tree, hands clasped, looking up at the stars. I don’t know if it’s actually an oak tree. What difference does it make? Whatever kind of tree it is, it’s large, the leaves rustle every now and then with the cool latenight breeze, and it’s planted there at a nice spot on the green, a bit away from the sand trap to my left. I don’t know golf either. It’s the part of the course where there’s no grass…it’s kind of smooth, an earthy patch with those long flags sticking out of the holes here and there. But the possible oak tree is an ideal spot for laying, and looking straight up on a clear night. I’ve wandered these links many times, late at night. Many times I’ve wandered these links and several times I’ve taken a piss into the holes here and there along the course. It feels good. There’s no one here to tell you no. Not at this hour. Not at night. The rich go home and piss in their own holes round this time of night. I don’t feel bad for pissing in theirs, at this late hour. It’s all good natured. And lately, it’s mostly just because I’m nocturnal. As a nocturnal creature, you feel a call. Go out and experience the empty world. Lie down in the middle of the sidewalk. In the middle of the street even…depending on the street. Stores open 24 hours are a different universe at these hours. I’m a nocturnal animal. I don’t really know animals either, otherwise I’d compare myself to another nocturnal animal.

 

The freedom to piss outside. For the male sex–no matter the species of animal–it’s one of nature’s great liberties. Man has overlooked it for far too long…

 

Back in the dirty little animal hospice (false advertising, they call it an ‘animal hospital’, with a cheerful little sign out front with paw prints in front of ‘animal’ and after ‘hospital’…how cheerful, to be sure…)…  The piss is not outside, but inside…and not intentionally, either. Dripping off the stainless steel of an exam table; in a cold, disinfected room. Smell of cotton balls and tongue depressors. For dogs. This is where dogs go to die. Not unlike the place from your youth, where you got your first TB shot or chickenpox vaccination. An unpleasant sense memory. Only…for dead and dying dogs. Worst part of that, maybe: who even knows if they know it’s the place that it is…the doggie end of the line…?

 

You could say for that reason alone, it’s a sad little tableau.

 

But the reasons get sadder with each visit… Dogs are no good at two things, I know: walking sideways, and now, accepting IV fluids, antibiotics, saline…dogs just weren’t meant to have tubes coming out of them, that much about dogs I now know…in addition to the not walking sideways very well at all… Try to make a dog walk sideways sometime. It’s about as unnatural as training a cat to shake hands, sit up and beg, or squat on the commode to do its business. I seen a dog do some crazy shit, if trained right–including squat on a toilet to do its business, and as unnatural as it may be, a dog can pull it off 9 times out of 10, it seems. A cat, on the other hand…that’s a whole other barrel of monkeys…

But, tubes coming out of dogs. There’s hardly another sight I’d call as unnatural as that one. Tubes coming out of dogs…dog or not, you could probably rightly say your days of pissing outdoors are over, once you got tubes coming out you. Nature’s great, male, animal liberty–pretty much gone at that point.

 

The pretty girl in the teal scrubs. Smell of dead and dying dogs on her pretty girl teal scrubs:

 

“I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road, Mr. —“ I hadn’t really thought much about the plain reality of the vet’s words until she’d just said them. She didn’t say anything else…it seemed plain I’m sure that I needed a moment and so she and the vet tech left us in peace. Quiet, dying dog silence. He was lying on the cold metal table, tongue hanging out, panting a bit, but otherwise (to me anyway) in good spirits. Why can’t they invent a dog that lasts an entire lifetime? …..the animal kingdom is a cruel bitch when it comes to bonding.

 

My very diurnal friend had been moping about, not finishing his kibble, only sniffing around it, taking labored bites here and there… not drinking much either. Lapping up a little bit of water then scuffling away, wobbling left and right just slightly, like a drunken canine stumble-bum. “God dammit, —, eat your dinner,” I’d say to the bitch. But she wouldn’t barely touch it. I always hated picky eaters.

 

As she ate less and got skinnier, I started sleeping less and waking earlier. The thinner she got, the sooner I woke. Soon, I was waking in the middle of the night. 3am. At least she still slept. She slept while I was waking up at 3 and then 2 and then 1 in the morning, and milling about the apartment, looking for things to fix….a rusty door hinge….a leaky faucet…a blown fuse. Actually, I found none of those things. And I looked really hard. Couldn’t find a thing to fix. Everything appeared to be working just right. Apartment spic and span, clean, sparkling….not a thing out of place, not a thing askew. Perfect.

 

She snores, and sleeps deep, and seems somehow happy….if a thing can be happy while sleeping, if that’s even possible. I imagine it is. But I can’t find a damn thing to occupy myself. My hands idle, my mind begins to sink lower and lower into a circuit of racing, pernicious thoughts. Idle thoughts. I become a creature of the night. Nocturnal. A mute songbird, maybe. I have to get out…and walk. Pretty soon I find myself prying open gas caps on random cars parked along the street and pissing inside them. I don’t feel bad about it. I don’t key cars, or smash windows, or steal, or commit any overt acts of vandalism. But releasing my bodily fluids into and onto various objects and fixtures along my way seems okay. It’s all good-natured. It keeps my mind off things. That circuit of racing thoughts, idle and racing thoughts alike, is held at bay. The dark is warm and cool and welcoming. I have seen only a few other nocturnal creatures along my route, and they always keep their distance, just as I keep mine. Somehow I think we all must be up to the same thing. Not pissing in cars and golf course holes per se, but simply enjoying the warmth and cool and welcoming of the night and the night air. I am also not a zoologist, but to me anyway, it seems nocturnal creatures enjoy a less stressful existence. Diurnal creatures are always in a hurry to be somewhere…usually more prone to fits of anger, impatience, rudeness… Maybe there are just too many people out there, period. Maybe we should all take shifts, some of use are diurnal one week, then nocturnal the next. Maybe it’s about balance. …….in any case, there is still something extremely freeing and primal about pissing outside, in public, and not getting in trouble for it.

 

Soon the night is over and I’m back in my spic and span apartment and she is just waking up. I spend some time watching the shop at home channel with her big bulldog jowls rested on my lap, pour her some kibble, and some water, and eventually I fall asleep. Around 3pm, I wake up to a persistent knocking at my door. I was dreaming about flying. I was loathe to leave that dream. I dreamed I was perched in a huge tree…I could see out across the whole world…observe every little detail and every person and every little action of every person…I was some kind of omniscient man-bird observer. The details of every little thing in the world were interesting to me…but then I got bored and flew from my perch. I didn’t know where I was headed, but it was exciting to head out.

 

And then I woke up.

 

The rapping at my door had a somewhat angry tone to it. “You don’t answer your phone,” she says, pushing her way through the door and quite past me.

 

“Battery must be dead.”

 

“You look tired,” she says. “In fact, you look like shit.” I offer her a cup of something and a seat. At the very least, I think, she can’t say the place is a mess. I’ve got that one all locked up.

 

“Not sleeping too well,” I say.

 

She looks over at the dog, lazing around her food dish, sniffing furtively…aware she’s being observed. “I’m sorry about —,” she says. “But you have to get your shit together now. How long are you gonna live like this?” She takes a sip of her cup of whatever and I think about the question, and the answer. I can’t think of an approach. How do you explain a thing like this? That you’ve found you prefer being nocturnal, a free animal in the night, a roaming thing that’s free to piss on anything anywhere…? And that it’s not just the pissing of course, but the freedom to piss. The freedom to observe the still and the cool warmth, all without being observed. To lie under a giant tree of indeterminate genus and look up at the stars… unobserved.

 

“I’m good,” I say, forcing a cracked smile. “In fact, it’s really okay…” I pause and glance out the window…the blinding sunlight glaring off a rusty old gas station sign, “….I found a pretty good position, working overnights. Not just wage-slave work either…it’s good. It’s blue collar, but it’s good. Middle management.”

 

“Really.”

 

“Hey,” I say, drawing the blinds, rubbing the crust from the corners of my eyes, “Hey, you realize the whole world doesn’t stop between the hours of 5pm and 9am.”

 

She’s finding her spot on the carpet, circling it once, twice, three times, and then plopping down as if exhausted. “What’s the prognosis,” she asks, coldly.

 

I find this one much harder to answer…even though I know the answer this time. “More tests. Blood. Poop. Piss.”

 

“Poop and piss,” she says, her arms folded, angry like. “That’s not a prognosis.”

 

“Piss,” I begin—

 

“And neither is blood.” She unfolds her arms and takes one, unfolded stiffly, like rigor mortis is setting in…and places a stiff, begrudging little hand lightly on my shoulder. “How long, I mean.”

 

“You know…nobody knows. When it comes to these things. Nobody knows anything.” That straining, understanding hand lifts off my shoulder with a nearly imperceptive quickness. Gone.

 

“That’s enough. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Eat something. Sleep and get a job actually…a real job.” By real she surely means “real”…I wasn’t fooling anyone. “Does she always make that sound?” Pointing to her…pointing out her wheezy labored breathing. She gets up and mills around a little, poking at things indiscriminately. “You need food. You don’t even have any.” Her breathing makes a whistling sound. She puts her coat on and leaves. Her breathing gets smoother then. Less labored. Like she could tell. She was relieved as much as me, I’m sure.

 

Around 1am, I ventured out in my black jacket and slacks in search of gas caps. The kinds you can pry open, not the ones that you have to click the thing inside the car to get it to open. I still hadn’t figured out how to pry those ones open. I found a big obnoxious SUV parked askance just outside the rusty old gas station. Pried the cylinder open and twisted off the gas cap. Then pissed inside the tank. Full service. The guy who drove the thing I presumed was coming out of the rusty old gas station food mart place just then; I quickly and carefully zipped up my pants without taking the time to shake it two or three times. Shake it more than three times and you’re playing with it, my father always said. A lot of wisdom in that man. He also would wax philosophical a lot of times about how some women are bitches and some women are ho’s, and some bitches are ho’s, and when I brought home my at-one-time fiancé to meet the family he warned me never to marry a bitch. Or a ho. He also used to piss with the bathroom door wide open. Maybe that’s where I get it from. The inappropriate pissing. My dog at least, she had an excuse to piss in non-pissing places. My bladder on the other hand, it was just fine and dandy. She was pissing more and more, and drinking lots and lots of water, which is probably why she was pissing so much and in so many non-pissing zones. The floor. The freshly vacuumed carpet. The sofa. The tub. Like she went out of her way to piss in new and different places. I supposed I wouldn’t be surprised to find her out here one brisk night prying open and pissing into a gas tank alongside me.

 

“I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road.” …

 

Later that night I got arrested for public urination. I was reprimanded. The police officer was none too pleased, but more exasperated than irritated I’d say. I got a summons. A hefty fine. Maybe it’s time I start pissing where a man is meant to piss. Unlike her, I had no excuse. It occurs to me you can get away with a lot of abnormal behavior the sicker you are. People beat murder raps for being ‘sick’, after all. My acting out was not out of sickness, however. As she limped around that piss-stained apartment of mine, wheezing and taking in her IV fluids, I was out pissing in gas tanks, lying in the middle of the road at 3 in the morning, throwing rocks at stop signs and traffic lights. And the vet’s words came back to me every so often, as I picked up another rock and chucked it at a security camera mounted on the side of an office park suite. I’m afraid we’re coming to the end of the road.

 

Lucky not to be spending the rest of the night in a cell, I decided to cut my losses and head home to the dying, pissing dog. When I got in, she perked up and wagged her tail. She sat with her chin rested in my lap for awhile while I watched a preacher talking this and that about the bible…one of those God channels buried at the bottom of my cable package. Good news, folks: today may be bleak, but today is only one day, and Sunday is coming. A brighter day. He has a greater plan for you. …unfortunately, maybe, just not for your dying dog. Your dog is out of luck. Today is the dog’s last.

 

And that’s what I found. Two and a half days later, granted. A little off schedule, but sure enough—for the dying dog at least—Sunday never came. There is apparently no greater plan. God is a busy man, or asleep. Maybe obligated to appear in an obese woman’s tortilla somewhere in Mexico. Him or the Madonna.

 

The night after they took her body off my hands to be incinerated, I stopped by the rusty old gas station food mart and bought a quart of milk. Forgetting I don’t drink milk. She did, and she’s dead. I bought the milk anyway. I used the restroom before leaving for home (I had to bargain with the Indian behind the counter for use of the shithouse key). I didn’t stay up or go out again that night. I pissed in the toilet, and scrubbed the piss stains from the carpet with whatever I had on hand. Some hand soap and a worn out pair of underpants. I didn’t dream, either. I had a summons. No job. A freshly dead dog. And Sunday, I’m told, is coming.

hush

On a Wednesday afternoon, not a cloud in the sky, I made my move—lying down in the middle of the street. I curled myself into a neat little ball, slowly rocking at first, back and forth, gently. Then stopped rocking. The pavement hot under my flank, I very soon was perfectly and completely still. And very cold. A lot of people seemed to be gathering and quickly, but I was still as death, eyes wide open and fixed vacantly straight ahead. Quite a crowd gathering. A beautiful late summer day. I felt I would lie down, in the road, and not move from there. I felt I would stay there, still as death, until I was myself gone or else forcibly moved. I felt somehow this was the only way things could be.

It had struck at a seemingly arbitrary moment. The pulling, the irresistible pulling on what I would only describe as the nucleus of my being…the epicenter of my self was pulled down with a tremendous weight, like an elephant brought to the cold hard ground by a thousand piercing barbs. Something massive brought down by hundreds and thousands of spears hurled into its side; something like an elephant, or a rhino, harvested for its tusks. My fall was flat and non-percussive, however. And while quite the crowd had gathered, I myself was no elephant. No rhino. In reality, small. Thin. Gaunt, even. An ignoble beast. My falling made no sound, I’m sure. It was not a dignified falling, either, I’m sure. Simply walking along one day—a Wednesday—I fell to the pavement, like a sack full of hollow stones—rather silently and with not much impact. The harpoons tethered to my heart, however, pulled with high speed and tension; I felt myself hit the ground harder than I’d likely appeared to. I didn’t feel like moving then. I felt I would stay there, instead. However long.

What it was that hit me, however, I’m afraid I can’t identify. Just something forceful and somehow, cold; a phrase danced on my lips, but did not escape. I couldn’t bring myself to utter the words—the cold, fricative whisper that pierced my senses and punctured my heart. Brought me down like an elephant. A phrase; several words; a sentence; something I could not recite even if the apparent shock that had overtaken my body hadn’t presently confined me to a neat little ball, lying perfectly, deathly still. A chill of words cruelly danced on my lips, which parted slightly to show my teeth, gritted shut. A peculiar chill of words that had first danced in my brain, then in and out of the exit wounds of my heart and in-between all those barbs and spears. Now on my lips, I only felt cold and perfectly unable to broadcast the simplest human form of expression to define the chill in any concrete terms; no language, no movement or indication would suffice; even if I’d scrawled the words in chalk alongside myself, nothing would be an adequate vessel to translate it.

A crowd had gathered, car horns honking impatiently and men and women and children pointing, whispering. Perplexed, annoyed, unnerved or otherwise inconvenienced at my stillness on the ground and my complete lack of intent to move. I was still as death, and they were volatile as life—wondering and raving and questioning and shouting in no organized manner. All at once, a symphony of confusion; as the piece progressed, however, the crowd and the noise from it became more that of a mob. Disorganized, still confused, but taking shape steadily to resemble a sort of hive-mind—a hive-mind that howled in unison like a pack of dogs. Shouting. Whispering. Honking. Barking. And my ignoble, unmoving frame at the center of it.

“Sir,” one man dressed like me said, kneeling down and speaking in a hushed tone, “What’s the matter? You’re blocking traffic. You should move, before you get hurt.”

“I can’t move,” I said, my voice hollow and empty. It seemed to lack weight, my voice. Just more hollow stones spilled to the pavement. Each one exited like blood.

“Why not?”

“I can’t tell you,” I said.

“Why can’t you tell me?” The man was beginning to show signs of irritation.

“Because,” I said, and stopped, realizing I had nothing more to say to him. The man looked to be in his mid-30’s, like me, and he wore a white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his tan jacket slung over his left shoulder and a bead of sweat on his brow. But I had nothing to say to him, and certainly, nothing I said to him would carry any meaning. I was meaningless. A meaningless, neat little ball. Still as death. I couldn’t translate or even begin to hush that fricative, cold whisper that danced on my lips. For a moment, my mind wandered: what would happen, I wonder, if I were to let that cold whisper spill too from my body? Whatever it was, it tasted bitter. It tasted like biohazard. Cold and radioactive. He couldn’t understand, unless I were to spill those words from my lips– allow him to wither and die alongside me. I supposed. And as long as this was the case, I thought, I would be lying there on the street, until men in white coats piled out of an ambulance and wheeled me off, snug and secure in their butterfly net. What else is to be done with a man who very suddenly shuts down, curls into a neat little ball, and feels a complete inability to move from his spot on city pavement?

The 30-something man knelt back down, said, “Sir, there’s a crowd gathering. I’m sure you don’t want me to call the police—have them physically remove you?” He tried to look into my eyes, but my eyes, but they were too vacant. Set perfectly still in the optic cavity, aimed dead ahead. At nothing. They were open, glassy. Nothing could look in, and nothing could get out. “Sir.” The man tried to get my attention, snapping his fingers and clapping his hands. “Sir! Listen to me. You can’t just lie down in the middle of a busy street. Do you hear me?”

By now, the throng of onlookers had multiplied—at least fifty people crowded around, cars pulled off at odd angles and children pointing and laughing. Dogs barking. Car horns honking. A real spectacle, it seemed. They were all crowded around in a circle, and a woman stepped forward through the barricade of bodies, attempted to look in my eyes and said, “He’s right, sir. You need to move. You’re making people late for work. People have places they need to be. You have to move. Please, sir.”

“That won’t work,” another man said, pushing his way through to the front. “He’s obviously nuts. It’s like one of those guys who threatens to jump from a bridge. We need to talk him down, is all.”

“And how do we do that?” another woman asked, throwing her hands in the air. “Is anyone here a psychiatrist? Or a hostage negotiator? No? Then let’s just call the damn cops! I have a meeting at 9:00.”

“She’s right,” a teenage boy chimed in.

“What do you know? You’re just a kid. Tell you what: give me five minutes alone with him, and whether he moves himself or I have to move him, your problem’ll be solved.” He began to usher the crowd back. “Step aside, now.”

The 30-something man broke in, “No! He’s obviously unwell. We need to treat him with a little more consideration. You can’t just go and manhandle a sick person.”

“Bullshit! He’s tying up traffic. At this rate, the cops won’t be here for another 20 minutes. I’ll take care of it.”

“Leave him be,” another woman said. “That guy’s right. Let’s just try to talk some sense into him until the police get here.”

But their words were all moot. They meant nothing to me. I felt I would lie there, perfectly still, and that nothing would change that. That cold phrase still dancing cruelly across my lips. I supposed it would take the force of fifty men to lift my body from its spot on the pavement—I felt so heavy, pulled down by a tremendous force onto that small spot in the road. Cold and intent not to move at all, I was–I supposed–stuck. That it might not be a question of intent at all was only now dawning on me. I supposed, for all that weight pulling me down, I was indeed stuck. And like biohazard, also contagious. I felt all women and children ought to back away. Clear the area.

Car horns honked in a delirious cacophony of confused street noise; the career-driven businessmen and women pacing in frustration. I couldn’t blame them. As far as they knew, I was just some basket-case—a mentally disturbed nobody threatening to jump from a bridge. Maybe that’s exactly what I am, my mind wandered. I certainly had no intention of inconveniencing anyone. It was simply unavoidable—inevitable—that something like this would happen. All the weight pulling at my heart—my nucleus—had probably been pulling for some time. I’d probably walked down this road many times carrying it, bearing the weight and the barbs. Today, however, was different. Today, I felt I would lie down and not move a muscle. And so, I didn’t. In time, I supposed, I couldn’t. And I still felt I should be regarded a disease—a biohazard or a human radiation. In a perfect world, my body would shrivel up and blink away, or else some apparatus would lift it—perfectly still and rigor-mortised—up and away somewhere from all the commotion. There was a certain guilt for having fallen, then and there. Then, a complete disregard. Before I could feel too guilty for becoming spectacle, I retreated into myself some more, and things around me became a bit muted. I supposed this might be death. Or a variety of it.

But the cold phrase dancing on my lips was not death; it tasted bitter, poisonous even, but not like death. It was, I suppose, a pearl of nihilistic wisdom—one that said in its own cold, fricative way, that what I needed to do that day, then and there in the middle of the street, was to simply lie down…and not move…and not be moved. And if others tried to, I felt they may well find themselves lying down in their own neat little balls—perfectly still and dead—alongside me. Maybe it’s just too heavy and too cold for me to really care, I wondered…

“…what’s your name?” the first man with the tan jacket asked, kneeling back down. His voice had softened. His words were deliberate, and they nuzzled up close to me. He was trying to play me. Trying to get on with his day and the inconvenience by being kind and understanding, if just for a moment. But I had no intention of playing his game. I felt more and more like the common cold; a human contagion ready to spread. “Just tell me your name, sir. Who are you? Why are you doing this?”

Now, it seemed, the group think had shifted strategic mental gears. And the leader of the three-ring circus was the man with the tan jacket slung over his shoulder, poking and prodding as fumblingly and gently as he could to engage me in something resembling a dialogue. To talk me off this supposed ledge. Everyone has their reasons. People have places to go…other people to see. And I moved more towards not caring with every word hushed to me. Towards contagion.

“I won’t tell you my name,” I said finally. “And I won’t play games with you.”

“You won’t play games?” another man blurted out. “What the fuck are you talking about, buddy? You’re the one playing the damn games around here! You want attention, is that it? Well, you’ve got it. So now what?”

The man with the tan jacket slung over his shoulder turned to shoot the other man a dirty look, said, “I’m not playing games, sir. The cops will be here soon enough. I’m just trying to see if—“

“If you can get me to move, right?” I interrupted. “To see if you could save yourself a little inconvenience, go on with your life and your work day and all your perfect little things…” Hollow stones of words spilled out like blood from my lips, and only as I heard them myself was I taken aback. A human contagion.

“It’s nothing like that, sir,” he said. “I’m just…”

“Curious?” I interrupted.

The man with the tan jacket looked sullen, then smirked a little bit, kind of nervously, and said, “…I guess. Yes. I’m just curious. Why would a person do something like this?”

“That, I can’t tell you,” I said. It seemed the man with the tan jacket at least, did have a legitimate claim to conversation. Either that, or he was simply a ghoul…a rubbernecked motorist gawking at a dead and twisted thing on the side of the road. With vacant eyes fixed straight ahead, I added, “…And you don’t want to know.”

“Yes, I do,” he said. “Really. Tell me. Why are you doing this?”

I supposed there was no harm in a man slowing down to gawk at a train wreck. I supposed, there was no harm in entertaining him. “Really. You don’t,” I said at last.

“Why? Is it really so horrible?”

“Yes.”

“We’re talking in circles,” he said, “You and me, just you and me, now. Forget about everyone else.” He looked over his shoulder, looked back, and continued, “What is it?”

But it was impossible to oblige. I couldn’t separate his face from the fleshy mass of onlookers and gawkers. I saw the mob as one; one big, cancerous mass. “If I talk to you,” I said, “I talk to them too. And I can’t be held responsible.”

“For what?”

“For what might happen…,” I said.

The man with the tan jacket wiped some sweat from his brow. “Sir, listen to me,” he said, grasping my shoulder with his right hand, “nothing is going to happen. It’s all in your head,” he said, swallowing and proceeding in a whisper, as if his words were not fit for the rest to hear, “…you’re sick. That’s all.”

“I know I’m sick. And I know it’s all in my head. That’s just the problem.” My words were hollow stones dropped to the ground. I kept looking straight ahead through dead, glassy eyes. I could feel my contagion starting to spread.

“You need help, sir. Help is coming.” The man with the tan jacket rose to his feet, stepped back, and checked his watch.

“I’m sick of this!” another man shouted. He dropped down to the pavement, on his hands and knees, and peered into my glassy eyes. “Listen you little shit, either you get your ass up, or I’m gonna move you myself. And you don’t want that.” He jammed his index finger into my forehead. Poked and prodded. Back to his feet, he gave a half-hearted kick to my shoulder and moved away.

I felt the inexplicable, cold phrase that had been dancing across my lips begin to spill out onto the pavement. The crowd was settling down. Still staring dead ahead, at nothing, the cacophony of confused and frustrated whispers, shouts, the horns honking and even the dogs barking died out; at first more bluntly muted, then muted some more. And then silent altogether…the symphony ended, or myself deafened, I couldn’t tell which. And I supposed I would lie there. Until I was myself faded into nothingness, or else moved by force.

…however long…

 

the Dad myth

#comics #alternativecomics #blackandwhite #penandink #satire #altcomics #indiecomics

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“Dad” is an American institution. An icon. A force of nature. Like thunder, or lightning. Or mold. The less you see of your Dad as a young boy, the better a Dad you have. Because the longer Dad is gone during the day, that’s all the harder he’s working to slay the dragon and bring home the bacon. He disappears between the hours of 5am and 7pm. Then he comes through the door–like an apparition–and takes a seat in his barcalounger. Your Dad sits there and drinks a Pepsi and watches The Game or some other such thing, then goes to bed at a sensible hour, all to do it over again the next day. Then on the weekends, your Dad takes you to Fuddruckers for a burger and to the barber for a haircut. The American institution that is Dad is a guy you kinda know, but not too well. But that’s the way it’s meant to be. Dad Inc. has a lot resting on his shoulders…he can’t be blamed for not having too much patience for your immature bullshit. He’ll threaten to smack you if you get wise with him, but usually doesn’t. That’s ‘Dad’. Dad Incorporated. This is what Dads do.

waiting

No one believes him. That he’s got a cat who comes and goes in his unit, no one sees him except you, he comes out at night—late—when the nursing staff is gone and he’s left to his own devices. And that there’s not much he can do to feed the poor thing when he does come out…he’s confined to his damned wheelchair, or his easychair, or some other chair….and worrying about how the cat will starve to death sooner or later. He can’t walk anymore. Can’t stand up without great difficulty and a lot of help from the nursing staff. And god damn they won’t believe you, he doesn’t have a cat in his unit they say, of course you don’t have a cat in your unit, where could a stray cat have come from anyway….how did he get in, they say. These are the questions they ask him. How is it no one else ever sees the lil’ guy but you, they say. But he sees him. And so, it must be real.

 

Les begins the precarious mission from his craftmatic easychair that lifts up when you push the button, so it sets you on your feet, in front of your walker, ideally so you can get up with the help of the chair and right to the walker…it doesn’t always shake out so easy though. But the cat needs to be fed…and watered. No one’s had the decency to put out a bowl of water for the cat. Or some kibble. He takes it on himself. He’s got to do this himself. No one else will. So allowing the craftmatic easychair to lift him up, wobbling twisting grabbing the rubber grips of the walker in front of the easychair, with all his might, and DOWN he goes. It’s over in a matter of seconds it seems….more like minutes in reality…the whole mission from easychair to walker has taken about fifteen minutes. The fall takes a split second. And an unforgiving thud. Les, you idiot, he thinks. He grasps the emergency alert button hanging from his neck but the dexterity of his hands is an issue here. The big red button doesn’t give easy. A bony index finger struggles to press down with the necessary pressure. In time, it gets it right….

 

“What happened here, Les,” the 30 something girl with arm tattoos asks…in an almost sneering tone. Like a mother admonishing her infant for spilt milk. A man who killed Japs in Okinawa now lying prone on the shag carpeting of an old folks home….. and a girl with arm tattoos beginning to pull him up, setting him into a wheelchair. The whole place stinks like cat piss. ……..’and they tell you there’s no cat here’…..

 

“Trying to feed the cat.” Les pointing blankly at a seemingly random corner of the living room. Bony finger pointing. Quaking.

 

“Where is your darn cat, Les?” the girl with the arm tattoos says. “Maybe he’s under the bed. I’ll go check.”

 

“Thank you.”

 

She is gone for a few minutes and eventually comes back out of the bedroom with some soiled bedsheets. “I saw him, Les. I put a bowl of water down for him.” Another girl, a younger girl, enters the unit that smells of cat piss, and they begin to chatter amongst themselves as they stuff a bunch of soiled sheets and clothes and towels into a hamper on wheels. The younger girl is no older than 19. Nose-ring. Purple hair.

 

“Les! How are you darling??” She projects from the kitchenette. Les, slumped over in his chair on wheels towards the sliding glass door on the opposite side of the room. “Your kitty giving you trouble, sweetie?”

 

….crust in the corners of his mouth…..mouth so dry….hands quaking….”He’s hiding.” Under the bed. Doesn’t come out for the girls with the purple hair and the arm tattoos. ‘Well, to hell with them’. You have ties older than these girls, he thinks. Stupid girls. No….they’re nice girls, really. But it’s cruel. The naked cruelty of this whole damned thing. Where a man ends up. This is where you end up. And it gets to a point…where a cat is all you have. The fake plastic smiles. Patronizing hellos and goodbyes. You have a cat. They can’t see it. Even if they can’t see it or can’t find it, you have a cat, he thinks. There’s a cat in here. The girl with the arm tattoos lays down a fake bowl of water….he has to lay down a real bowl of water. Cats need water. Cats need to drink. One time when he was a boy he took care of a cat in a barn, out in the country; he was called away for a couple days; no one else knew about the cat; when he got back he was appalled. What have I done, he asked himself. This cat needs water. Badly. And he put down a big dish of fresh water for her and she immediately ran to it and started lapping it up and she lapped it up and lapped it up and lapped it up for no less than five minutes straight; that cat lapped up that whole bowl of water. It was that thirsty. Thinking back to the country, and that cat….that thirsty cat. Thinking back, he gradually transitions from awake to asleep.

 

Poking, prodding, blue pills, red pills, pink pills…….an assist getting onto the toilet and cleaning up thereafter. Once these silly girls leave, the cat comes out. And there’s some decent company. The purple hair girl actually puts a real bowl of water down in the kitchenette, and a bowl of cat food too. After pill time, they both make for the door and snicker on the way out. Les waits for the cat. A man who mowed down Japs in Okinawa waits for an invisible cat to appear in his assisted living community unit.

 

“They say the dementia is to be expected. It’s all part of it,” the daughter says to a visitor. They chat about dementia and morphine and living wills. Preparing to split the assets and the belongings and the property in an egalitarian fashion amongst each other; heated discussions and talk of who gets what, all before the body is cold…in fact, while it’s still quite warm. Broken down, shriveled, crippled, but warm nonetheless. “He’s been seeing things lately,” the daughter says to the man Les can’t quite identify. “Claims there’s a cat running around in here only he can see.” The man makes a dry remark concerning that and they both smirk. And this is what happens to a man. Authenticity of the cat aside, one thing they all seem to forget is that he does indeed remain acutely aware of the slow breakdown taking place—the descent—and that he feels every painful step down the slow, winding slope…the wait…feels it as real as real gets; he feels it and him only…while they stand around and chat and joke and argue about estates and valuables and nursing issues.

 

It seems indignity is all a part of life, as much as anything else; and this is something too the rest seem to forget he can feel all too well. They’ll see, when it comes to be their time to see invisible cats. He sits, still waiting for the thing to come out from wherever it’s hiding, and the wait for that is every bit as real as the wait for one’s own end. As real as the slow breakdown that is taking place. Waiting is as real a human experience as anything, and among the most excruciating. He waits for something they tell him does not exist. Or otherwise mock him for as they turn away. For that, he bears insult, and waits anyway. And regardless of dementia or no dementia, for this he is no different than anyone.

 

Later, in the night, the thing does come out of its hiding place and he observes it alone, in the din of 2am and infomercials on the TV. Not a fool, not stupid, he knows he doesn’t have long; you know when you’re looking at it dead in the face…everyone does; no matter how far gone, this is a thing you know when you see it. No matter who you are. With that in mind, he also knows a cat when he sees it, and he sees a cat. The two of them sit silently in the soft glow of the television and the moon outside, shining in from between the slats of the blinds.

 

This is what happens to a man. Where he ends up. Waiting for a thing to come is maybe the most universal thing, and the saddest. They sit, both waiting in their own ways for the same thing. A man who’s lived a life, and a thing that may or may not exist, depending on the man you ask.

 

And regardless, the morning comes.