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…

 

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a serious joke: chapter 12

“My uncle got arrested for sodomy. Fortunately, his lawyer was able to get the charge reduced to ‘walking too close’”

                                                            -american lawyer joke

 

 

“Benjamin S. Zion, attorney at law,” he said, extending his hand. Jim Spleen shook it, tentatively. “What brings you here today, Mr. Spleen? Walk me through it.”

 

Jim took a seat in the leather chair opposite Zion, who was dressed rather casually in khaki pants and a polo shirt—tufts of matted chest hair protruding from the collar loosened to the first button. Jim made as if to speak, paused, then ventured sheepishly, “this is free, right?”

 

“The consultation is free,” Zion answered reassuringly, taking a sip of his morning coffee and puckering. His demeanor was in some indefinable way not particularly ‘lawyer-like’. Perhaps it was the cut of his hair; swept behind both ears and hanging near shoulder-length in back, while the front marked a slightly receding line along his forehead—slicked back, a thin wisp of a stray curl hanging over the ridges in the skin of his face. He came across casually, no doubt well-off but decidedly lacking the air of the rich. His old Lincoln Navigator sat rusted out along the edges of the bumper outside in the parking lot, a pine tree air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, magazines and empty CD jewel cases scattered about the passenger seat. Jim had noted it as he’d entered the business suite earlier. Not a typical rich man car. Likewise, things were scattered lightly about in the small windowless office room they sat in now. Personal articles of mail, crumpled up pieces of paper, a bottle of Windex, a half-dismantled Xerox machine positioned at an odd angle adjacent the door. Zion reclined in his seat, elbows up, fingers interlocked behind his head. “I remember just the bare bones of your story.” He snapped back, ducked into a desk drawer and rummaged through some things for a moment. “Wrote just the cliff’s notes down here somewhere…” He couldn’t find them.

 

“Well, basically,” Jim assisted, “I think I’m being stalked.” A cat jumped up onto the desk, cutting Jim short and producing a startled jolt in his torso, arms halfway raised almost as if to shield his face from a projectile. The cat sat up, purring. Staring a hole in Jim.

 

“Never mind him,” Zion said, grinning halfway. “Office cat,” he said, reaching down into his desk drawer and taking a small saucer out. Placed in front of him, the cat stooped down and began lapping up some warm milk.

 

Jim strained to concentrate, the cat’s sandpapery tongue lapping up warm milk, intermittently glancing up at him…knowingly. Jim did his best to gather his thoughts and explain the situation halfway as succinctly as he’d already explained it to the cat. And to do so in a way that wouldn’t make him look like a complete lunatic. Fortunately, in questioning his agent about the booking that night in Richmond, Jim had come up with a somewhat grounded lead. Something that both seemed right and might at once lend a bit of verisimilitude to his story. The show that’d ended up in Jim fleeing in a mad dash through the avenues and alleyways of downtown had in fact been booked for John Lewis that particular night by what had been relayed to Jim as a new agent. Someone he hadn’t heard of in the nightclub circuit before. A ‘Sam Vest’. Vest Booking and PR. Jim had known Lewis’s agent for years. He’d talked to him only days prior. There had been no mention of Lewis jumping ship. As a matter of fact, when asked offhand how that insufferable bastard John Lewis was performing, the man had said ‘fine. Just fine.’ And that he’d even renewed his contract little more than six months beforehand. “The problem is,” Jim explained—now well into his story and doing not too badly at appearing sane—“I looked this…this Sam Vest up. No such guy. He doesn’t exist.”

 

The lawyer looked uninterested. “Doesn’t exist.”

 

“No.” Jim fished around in his pants pocket and pulled out a dog-eared piece of paper, folded in quarters. Unfolding it, pressing it flat against the desk and rotating it 180 degrees to face Zion, he continued, “here. It’s a flyer.”

 

“Vest Munitions,” Zion read outloud.

 

“I dug deeper. My agent called around. She used to do that sort of work.”

 

“What sort?” Zion asked, sliding the flyer back in Jim’s direction.

 

“Investigating. Private. Not like Sam Spade or anything, but more of a desk job. Like a…what’s the word…researcher. But conducting background checks, skip-tracing, things like that. She found this ‘Vest’ name comes back to a shuttered gun and ammo shop in the mountains. Roanoke. The place has been closed for just inside of a year. But the phone number’s still in service. She called. Machine answered. Place closed nearly a year ago…I called then…same thing, a machine. The voice on it. It’s hollow…” Jim trailed off, caught off guard by a sideways glare from the cat. Its emerald eyes glinting briefly, catching the light off the banker’s lamp positioned haphazardly on the corner of the desk.

 

“You mentioned something about loss of wages,” the lawyer said flatly. “Is this related? So far, what you have is a criminal matter. Now, stalking is a hard crime to prove, I know. I’ve had civil cases that included stalking among other causes of action, sure, but you may want to be sure you’ve exhausted your criminal prosecution options before going down that road. Have you visited a magistrate?”

 

“I’m not looking to press charges. Not yet. First I need to find out who this ‘Vest’ guy really is. That flyer appeared in my mailbox the other day. Just the day after I called that closed up gun shop.”

 

“You think you’re being tracked. Why?” Zion asked the question despite having the sense not to. So far, this was not a case. “More importantly,” he added, leaning forward, “what exactly is it I can do for you, keeping in mind a detective does a detective’s work, an attorney does an attorney’s work.”

 

After a pregnant pause, Jim answered. “…Did you ever have a really, really vivid dream, Mr. Zion?” Zion hesitated. Unsure what territory he was headed into. Professionally, the consultation was now well over and done with. On another level, however, something goaded him, begging him follow. He did. Furtively.

 

“I did.”

 

“Well,” Jim Spleen said, leaning in close, “so did I. A dream so vivid that it wasn’t a dream at all. It was something…” he paused, staring off into the diplomas hung at slight angles on the wall behind Zion. “…it was something else.”

 

“Go on…” Zion said, slowly.

 

The Cat had finished its saucer of milk. Licking its chops, Zion reclined in his leather chair, fingers tented. Jim continued. Both men were now venturing into a foreign land…

a serious joke: chapter 11

“Ask your doctor if Zyprexa is right for you …”

                        -traditional

 

 

 

It took Jon all he had to not crack a smile when told by the detective…an unusually large man dressed in leather, name by ‘Stone’…that his wife and two boys of differing ages had been found dead long before he’d come out of his coma. By long before, Jon wasn’t quite sure then—going over the flurry of questions and answers that had just been thrown before him—how long before, exactly? Stone had said a lot of things. And Jon had been enjoying the 3,6,9 or so different heavy-duty pain meds flowing through his bloodstream at the time. …Regardless of that, however, he hadn’t remembered in the entire litany of police things that had just been said to him the slightest bit of caring, on his part. Stone seemed perhaps only a bit less unconcerned, ‘uncaring’. But not a police’s job to ‘care’ about a victim in a triple homicide (or all three victims) for that matter. Jon supposed, if there were ‘jobs’ to be assigned here, he’d been caught sleeping on his…(for the moment, thanks to a healthy IV of dilaudid flowing through his veins, that fact failed to worry him).

 

Back to the not caring, however…Jon, even in his fuzzy, cozy, nuzzling up close and snug with Jesus God himself up on a cloud, feeling of well-being and joy…even in the midst of that cuddle session with God Christ, surrounded by angels and fuzzy warm kittens and synthesized chemicals banging on all flippers and switches of the stoned pinball game in his mind—even through the indescribably orgasmic pleasure of all that, not once had he felt as if a single word this Detective what’s-is-name…Stone…said, had been the least bit for real. Not particularly that Stone was lying. More like…the things he was saying to Jon were true—as far as the good detective was concerned, and even maybe as far as the facts supported it all—but that the things being said (it follows, logically, assumed now to be “true”)—simply had not happened. And that presented a good, stoned, philosophical quandary for Jon. If one’s to assume that something is factually truthfully (as he—it seemed—had surrendered himself to subscribing to)…then is it possible for that truthful, realistic, empirically fact-based something to ‘also’… ‘not have happened at all’…to also and at the same time simply, ‘not be’? Something beyond a gut feeling. Or a delusion. Or a hallucination. Or schizophrenia. Even something beyond being stoned into a past life on a million different painkillers. Call it something like… “an existential…metaphysical…incursion…”. Without realizing it, Jon had spoken the remainder. A thing where—for instance—one planet, in one of many possible parallel universes, for one split second, for only the billionth of a moment in time—out of forces unknown and unknowable to man, just happens to appear, blink into existence in our universe, and to ‘coincide’ with the exact spatial placement of our own planet. What theoretical physicists, he concluded (with no basis whatsoever in knowledge or fact), might call an ‘incursion’. The question then becomes, if such a metaphysical, inter-dimensional conflict of space-time is indeed possible—then what happens to the world we live on? “The bed I’m lying in”. “The dope in my veins…” Jon completed his stoned, internal soliloquy. What happens to all that…physically…and in any other sense…and what happens to me?….and to the bed I’m lying in, and the linoleum tile squares that bed is rested on…and the hospital that linoleum tile lines…square by square…foot by foot?

 

Does it all just blink out of existence?

 

And beyond the drugs, still, the reason for the helpless metaphysical probing presented with new symptoms, it seemed, by the second. “After all…” it shouldn’t bother me at all, none of this, “Jon posited,” if it were all just an effect of heavy drugs. “Not just the probing…” but the fact, beneath all the spacey, out-there what-ifs, it STILL didn’t feel one bit like the thing he knew pretty well not to question (a triple homicide of a family—supposedly his), bothered him. That is, if it didn’t actually—truly—feel like some sort of metaphysical cock and bull story, he would naturally be beside himself with grief for the death of his supposed family. But…it didn’t feel like it. It didn’t seem to be a thing that had happened. Even though Jon knew well enough it had. How terrible a person does that make me, he wondered. The Cat, snuggled between his legs, purring on all cylinders, seemed unconcerned at the moment. Something had happened. But it didn’t feel like it did. Good enough reason to not shed a tear? In present company, and more concerning, good enough reason to crack a doped-up grin? If this is true (I know it is, he thought to himself), then it surely is no laughing matter, and my heart ought to be laid bare on the pillow beside me…but it didn’t seem it.

 

Not in the slightest. “Does this make me a bad person,” he wondered, again. This time to himself. In his head. And the easy answer, of course, was ‘yes’. But only assuming the sense of ‘knowing’ this thing that had in reality occurred had—as per the ‘incursion’ theory—also ‘not occurred’. Holding to the sense this was entirely possible, and likely…then, perhaps, ‘no’. Perhaps then there would be nothing to feel guilty about. A poor man also named Jon—living on another earth—a carbon copy but nonetheless, a ‘different’ Jon, had according to the theory been the victim of some as-yet unnamed crime, and the massacre of his family. For one billionth of a second, that Jon had blinked into existence in the same precise space-time of the Jon presently confined to a hospital bed…and whatever grisly thing that had happened to that Jon and his wife and sons of differing ages had (perhaps?) seemed to have also happened to the Jon of the here and present. And then all the calamity and bloodshed and horror of that cosmic singularity had just as mysteriously blinked out of existence. Maybe.

 

One thing made no sense, then… If Stone had indeed found dead, bloody things resembling a wife and two offspring ostensibly related to Jon—himself—here—now…then what could possibly account for it? He’d overlooked the fact he had no wife, no children. No dead wife and no dead children for a Detective Stone to find. The same grisly thing that had happened to the ‘other’ Jon couldn’t have happened to Jon. The bloody things, the wife and children, ought to have vanished along with everything else temporarily taking up the same space-time. ‘Jon’, his ersatz ‘family’…all of it. The bloody things had been left behind. And that carbon-copy yet ‘different’ Jon had (luckily, it seemed), been whisked away to his ‘home planet’, in another reality, another dimension…or…something. As it stood, Jon…for lack of a better word, the ‘real’ Jon…had been left to clean up the mess of an inter-dimensional doppleganger. A dead wife and two children. Left to rot, here in the world he’d occupied for 46 years. Without causing a single major incident in all that time. Without even having earned more than a single speeding ticket in all those years. Now…a dead, bloody mess of things had been laid at his feet. Rotting. Or, to be fair, freezing. Stuffed into iceboxes. Like old meat—use or freeze by this date. And then…with the somewhat decent looking nurse coming by to top up his dilaudid, Jon had a pang of disquiet.
Well. “What if I’m wrong?”

 

And those simple four words happened to strike a chord every bit as utterly displeasing and confounding as those occupying the entire line of his thoughts to this point.

 

“Jell-O?” the pudgy yet attractive nurse asked.

 

Jon brushed her away, wordlessly…like gnats. The Cat between his legs gave a nice long stretch and squeaked on yawning, razor teeth glinting in the fluorescent din of the hospital room. The Detective had apparently left. Wordlessly. “It’s you,” he said.

 

“Me what.” Jon asked, wrestling his tangled IV away from the cat’s paws.

 

“Not some other you.”

 

“How do you know?” Jon asked.

 

“We hear things.” The Cat rose to its tippy toes and arched its back—a perfect crescent. “Remember when we were hanging out at your place, and I asked if you had bitches?”

 

“Watch your mouth,” Jon snapped, reflexively.

 

“You do remember.”

 

“No. I don’t. Just…watch the mouth…”

 

“…aaanyway, you couldn’t for the life of you remember where your bitches went. Or. Whatever you want to call ‘em. But just knew that something (something like a bitch) had been taken from you.” The Cat began gnawing in the spaces between his claws. Nibbling little flecks of cat dandruff from between his toes.

 

“No. Wasn’t that…”

 

“Don’t say it,” the Cat interrupted. “Seems like after all this happened,” he mewed, finishing the thought for Jon.

 

“How’s that possible..?” Jon was now officially not enjoying his drugs nearly as much as he had been to this point.

 

“An unfinished square?” The Cat guessed, sincerely. “Who knows. But think of it this way,” the Cat nodded toward the soap opera playing out on the black and white television set in the corner of the hospital room, “…every scene in this…whatever it is…has already been filmed. Photographed. You know. Then they play the photographs, in order, like a flip-book, real fast like, and you get…what?,” the Cat asked somewhat rhetorically.

 

Jon shrugged. Now scratching his nuts.

 

“…you get…the motion picture. The picture, in motion. That’s why they call it a motion picture. You get movement. Forward. Movement.” The Cat spoke haltingly, a specious authority in his voice. “But look.” The Cat hit ‘pause’ on the remote. “Now it ain’t moving no more. And look how the broad has her eyes halfway open. Lookit that dumb expression on her face!”

 

“What’s the point of this?”

 

“Who would pose looking that dumb in the face,” the Cat answered.

 

“No one?” Jon guessed, drowsy now from the fuzz of chemicals warming his brain.

 

“Exactly. No one would. So why did she?”

 

“Why?”

 

“She didn’t.” Pawing at the faux nurse in the faux hospital room, setting down a faux hospital tray in front of a faux hospital patient. The actors seemed to mirror the precise movements of the real nurse, emerging from behind the green curtain now and again to fiddle with this or that, and even that of Jon himself, scratching his balls and sipping on a juice box. “Know why?”

 

“Why what?”

 

“Why she looked so stupid in that freeze-frame”. The Cat hit had hit ‘un-pause’. The ersatz nurse and the ersatz Jon went about doing nothing in particular, on the vacuum-tube 50’s era television set. Is this even a show? “Because,” the Cat continued, sitting up, chest puffed out, “that little freeze-frame was just one of a million-billion pictures chosen at random—by me—to stand apart for a moment or two. There are so many pictures shuffling by us right now, there’s millions—billions—of things we’d never even notice going on around us this and every other split-second of every day. Same as that show. It’s already been filmed. All the pictures exist, in order. Or, alone. Or, in reverse. Or, out of order. But they all exist. And it’s only cause we’re so used to the grand illusion of the ‘motion picture’, that we always assume the show is going from Point A to Point Z, from beginning to end, start to finish…AND, that we don’t all look like maroons, like that chick on the TV did in that freeze-frame, when we take it out of context.” The cat squeaked out another yawn, then sharpened his claws, treading on the thick bedspread covering Jon’s lap. “So what I’m saying is…”

 

“You’ve seen this movie before.” The nurse—the real nurse—had just come by to top up Jon’s dilaudid. Again. The faux soap opera nurse exited the room as she did.

 

“Or, somebody has,” the cat added. “If not me…or you. Clearly, you haven’t seen shit. Hell, don’t you watch TV?” the Cat snapped.

 

The nurse poked in and out of the little green hospital room, doing nothing in particular. Jon’s nuts still itched. The cat yawned. Not particularly captivated by his own mini-lecture. The antique television set sat in the corner of the little green room, by two or three seconds lagging behind the decidedly inelegant movements of the real nurse. Her arm flab flapping as she aired out some soiled linens. Her graceless shuffling captured in the delay of the fuzzy black and white TV screen. The ersatz TV nurse a hypnotic, fuzzy, perfect homunculus…three seconds behind.

 

“Somehow, still. It’s just so much more interesting,” Jon excreted, lazily and out of nowhere; high and fuzzy on chemicals bounding to and from warm little receptors, bouncing like ping-pong balls in the playroom of the pleasure center of his brain… “…it’s just so much more interesting than real life…”

 

The faux nurse folded a sheet, leaving it over Jon’s legs. The nurse had wandered off, pulling the green curtain to the green room closed behind her.

the individual devil/a lie agreed upon

[a man and his devil were talking…]

 

I wanted to run this by you: you’ve heard of Sisyphus, right?

 

“Sounds familiar.”

 

The ancient Greek king who was murderous and deceitful, and then when Zeus tried to send him to the underworld, he tricked Hades and chained him up…to a wall, like…

 

“Go on. Hades, the death guy. Stopped by a wall? Okay, but go ahead..”

 

Well, since no one could die as long as Hades was held captive, sacrifices could not be made, so he was forced to release him. He does some nasty stuff to his wife Persephone (always liked that name) after that; I can’t remember… but in the end his punishment is to be forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill, day after day, for all eternity…and every time he’s just about to reach the top, the boulder rolls back down and he has to start again. So it’s about the futility of life, and the fact that no matter what we do in our time here, it means nothing, and that at the same time, what we do here means everything. That’s my interpretation, based on some readings of it anyway. There are different versions, of course.

 

“I’ll bet you didn’t read much about this before starting up.”

 

…Maybe that’s true, I say, but sometime’s the reader’s digest version is sufficient to make a point.

 

“Guess they wouldn’t publish that version if if weren’t. Sometimes, anyway..”

 

Don’t accuse me of trying to be pretentious here,

 

“Wouldn’t dare…!” [gesticulating]

 

…because I’ve seriously been thinking about this whole thing, I say. I’m really not.

 

“Not really pretentious or seriously not been thinking about this whole thing?”

 

[the devil cracks a smile]

 

Bear with me….Camus’ interpretation is that, in the end, despite the frustration and futility and absurdity of it all, we have to imagine Sisyphus as ‘happy’. He says something like ‘the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart’. I don’t know if he’s happy, but I can meet Camus halfway and say maybe Sisyphus was at the very least ‘occupied’. He had something to do. And maybe that was enough that he was neither happy nor miserable, but at least for the most part, ‘okay’….I guess.

 

“Worse things to be than ‘okay’. But I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this.”

 

My ‘something to do’ I’ve regarded as futile and meaningless, and maybe that’s why I’ve been so miserable. I’m coming around to maybe considering the idea that it really is just up to me and me alone to decide how it’s going to be: am I going to live out each day as some tragic ancient greek punishment….or decide to be contented, or at the very least ‘occupied’, with this giant boulder, knowing that this is all there is. This is all there is. And I’m really tired of being miserable. A giant boulder and a steep hill is all you get, maybe. I say.

 

“This is all very Greek [says the devil]…I’m more of a freezing, white waiting room in the middle of nowhere kind of guy. Fire, rocks, the dark…you can sleep in the dark, you know. Make do with the rocks. The fire…well, that keeps you warm. A bright-white, freezing waiting room…no blankets…no fire, no thermostat…that’s uncomfortable. And the key word…’waiting’.”

 

Exactly. Maybe it’s not about being uncomfortable at all. The punishment is wrongly prescribed to fit the crime. Or, taken the right way, maybe the prescription can be abused. You’re describing ‘waiting’, essentially. Not cold, not bright light. Maybe just having a boulder and a steep hill is more than enough to neuter the punishment of ‘waiting’.

 

“Talk of abusing drugs prescribed by Hades himself. You do belong in the Hell.”

 

Abusing your drugs, too. I think I’ve found a way to circumvent the ‘waiting room’. Simply…stop waiting. Take my medicine on my own terms.

 

“You’re still just waiting on yourself, no matter how you take your damn medicine, no matter how you wait or while away the days, everything is vanity, everything under the sun…and all that…and where you are, there ain’t no sun. Let’s face it, friend…just exchanging secret ecstasies of the imagination (hoisting at long last that giant boulder over the summit of the hill)…for a single moment of sweet release that never comes. The doctor is taking it easy on you. He at least says he’ll ‘be with you momentarily’ (that moment never comes…no matter…it’s the lie that gives you hope). You [the devil grins] are your own lying doctor…he who NEVER is there ‘momentarily’…or at all…he who NEVER comes. So by all means…self-medicate. It won’t make your days any shorter, any less tedious. Still a lying doctor…”

 

Only if I let myself be the lying doctor.

 

“Only if. But….won’t you?”

 

I want a boulder to labor over…even if it means never making it to the summit. At least I’m waiting on my own terms. Maybe not waiting at all…I say. Maybe the labor itself really is enough.

 

“Enough of a distraction. And what is it you’re really saving yourself from? What a circular argument! [exclaims the little devil]

 

That’s a matter of philosophy, I guess.

 

“Enjoy your philosophy, then. See if it keeps you captivated for an eternity. …Either way, it’s a lie. A lie agreed upon, either you tell it to yourself or the doc tells it to you, and either way, you agree upon it. You can’t win. Which is worse, who can say. Your thing is all very Greek, but when you get right down to it, who are you kidding. Who’s anyone kidding. You’re just waiting…I’m your doctor, friend…and I’m here to help.”

 

[the man’s individual little devil smiles; irascibly] 

 

Death, death death. Your thing is weak. Nothing but the dead and death. I feel some sign of life…having some inscrutable ‘something’ to roll up a hill…even if that is embracing misery, then what the Hell else is there to embrace? Otherwise you just wait…in the cold. I say that, and at the same time, I feel a chill rattle up my windpipe…perhaps I’m coming down with something.

 

“…’Who’ll sop my gravy, when I’m old and grey?’…[sickening, sing-song falsetto]

 

Who’ll roll my boulder…when I’m cold and ill… I say

 

[the man’s little devil grins irascibly]

 

“you just wait either way…burning in cold or drowning in flame…ain’t it?”

.Fire_Girl