“Still even wounded you do not see it. I can tell. I do not see it myself but I feel it a little.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
INTRODUCTION, MOSTLY APROPOS OF NOTHING:
[An exact location, for The Last Step? The Last Step—a misunderstood phrase, or maybe just too easily simplified by people. The tragedy of this is almost cute. And how else to go about accepting such vile entropy?
So many folks, even, on the outskirts of one’s handsome daily orbit,—idiots, or hopefully just blithe at heart,—so many folks, they are ok with it, they are patently ok with leaving a statement where it is, what something means exactly where it is, and every orphaned statement at its furthest, quaintest dilution.
Thinks one: you would not be surprised if these people at the start were fools, and fools to that complacence, eking out the minimum argument only when they have to: each one a slouch, a linguistic anodyne.
They are even of this character when forced to admit a principle: the words they say take up the responsibility to question them when nothing else works, and when that fails, rob them of the power to communicate anything: a single irate bubble of gas erupting somewhere within breaches their lips as drool instead of words when they try to speak.
The Last Step—a phrase nearly identical, phonetically and syllabically, to a vault of others, but with special affinities to this one phrase you have in mind out of all the rest, thinks one:
Besides that both are and have been reliable clichés, cultural workhorses when the culture has not enough time,—and the second phrase of the two, to be mentioned soon; and besides that they mostly fuck with separate duties to definitions at partial variance,—still, it remains true for any phrase, even for the invisible ones like this one, which is staying invisible, so far, because, well, it has not been mentioned yet, the words put down here so far in so willful wait of such an astounding gravity as could carry the latter half of this argument without the arguer needing to mention it almost at all, and anything more than that, all but parting the curtains for a tasteless obviousness,—and whatever the phrase be called, still: it feels obliged and awkward to say, stepping forth as uncertain royalty into the spotlight and into recognizing, an unnecessary gang of footmen, sans faces, towing along behind.—
The phrase thereof is as royalty, a royalty to be met not with the usual flourish of trumpets but ponderous silence, which then magnifies the sound of the dumb shuffling feet around the phrase, faceless men searching for their stage directions. These damn unnecessary lackeys are unnecessary: suddenly it all seems an embarrassing hubristic display, and the idea of royal footmen silly nonsense. One thinks all the rest of these gaudy, chaining gildings a waste of space and resources, and altogether a brutal expense, even worse for the fact it was for the good of the phrase, for the wellbeing of the dignity of the phrase. But in this the true jerk is the phrase itself. Called too early a thing that exists by you yourself who is ironically a partial existence in the writing. Less than mere words exist, requiring more reality than that to exist, for after all it will be a self: one made of voices, strange, inner ones, and the words must live up to that dignity of being and of name. It is as of now though still a halfhearted self. One as you took it straight from your inner litany, shrugged and took a risk on it, and began your molding from parts of the inner litany. One day you woke up and considered this your own challenge to this human devotion to the state of being; now, one prays that one not lose focus before abandoning the mold in utero essentially, as a mutant, who will dream his poor dream of at one point in the narrative sequence herein, attaining enough a physical otherness, perhaps collected from all the stunted logical threads, into some patchwork, over years of starvation, enough, and though walled at first within these miserable paragraphs each, scrounging for his own able threads there in the imaginative poverty, so to finally make his being himself and ditch the words of his creator without himself also disappearing—words that, almost like a drug, so long sustained the unfinished reality that kept him an abomination. This thinks one.
Before your throat could prepare all the way to clear again to shout that you did want this the same as he the embarrassment comes full circle: that is once everything is revealed centerstage and all the subtlety fails, and, the only confidence in uncertainty, as to the phrase, as to what predictably will always come out of the woodwork regarding it, which generally is something darker if it was hidden in the woodwork, but especially bad if created from the rib of your own bad character.
Yet it is an entrance still and meant to be an entrance: and if it lingers long enough before coming on strong, perhaps till the end of a civilization but obviously not of a language, it inherits something more by whatever graces of English, the phrase does, whatever’s appropriate,—something like the connotations as live within different qualifying camps of theory but that say the same thing. Else to blow God’s plan and stoke the shredded orange fire of God burn us all were a better fate than to strangle the organic process of metamorphosis a language must undergo, or remain where it is and be abandoned, and the right to talk robbed from fools who die without doubting what they say.—
The Last Step: a phrase nearly identical, that is, to The Big Sleep, which will follow it, this by all accounts the unequivocal case for all human beings—and this exact location by the way now so infamous, at least among the cavalry of inquisitors who think they wear white coats, not Klansmen, but the ones like you, who will bother over the coordinates, fix the math—and one thinks:
What is it, what do people mean when they say they are taking The Last Step in their process; was it a slog or a breeze? Or will it not really end at all?
Or, one thinks: it is one lastness out of them all that is the most agreed upon, you say? No. Nothing like a science riddle, a fucking science riddle, to make you get crusty as hell, about all the fancy science, one thinks: and your pitiful person to rage over it in private, and not understand, for hours, one thinks.
It is an intellectual coldsore you get during the Winter that you prod with your tongue despite your mother’s intercessions: this verifiably compulsive behavior in combination with the frigid weather leaves the whole inside of your left cheek damaged raw eventually.
One thinks: in the sole context of a finite universe this would be enough of a riddle to tolerate, much less if applied to what is surely an infinite universe in any case. But words are of weak constitution, lighter than dust; are literally flimsy paper and maybe some graphite too. Even worse, this riddle is one about a thing said in words, with language, not with words, in a language, and it should be obvious unless you literally cannot read English that I write in English—anyway, you will in all likelihood give up reflexively, give up answering the riddle, as humans do when mentally cramped, cornered, past the point of their will’s sway—well this, and also, they succumb to madness—give up, that is, and discard these certain implications before solving anything because you need to sleep, one thinks. But all night you will dream of questions as to words as being. Any exact location overstimulates the mind with clarity so that the location becomes relative and fractal, much less one to be considered on an infinite plane. Yet for all herein you expect to live through of the mortal, or planetary, onslaught, still, the tired eye will want to open.—
And this is an image you have quickly sampled herein, for lack of another image at the ready. You find it floating in anonymous clutter, orphaned, and pluck it out for the wanting expression.
You cannot help but feel the proximity of the next one in the roster: what your mind by chance will face and detect, and then fix itself there in the celestial makeshift of your imagination, as its satellite,—yes it will want to open, the eye will, when the eye thinks it is in sight of an answer clearly through all the semantical wilderness and weird, and then all options for the metaphor will be at the ready.
This answer is an answer as will only properly unfold in a narrative sequence. For the answer must have its lullaby, or else it will get fidgety and be like a babe up all night, never out of view of some lucky father’s tired eye. Too tired in fact to know he has made an answer his babe, and he himself who handles his many questions and fingers their surface, as if in possession of a fragile piece of nostalgia. Yearning for the right horoscope, one to delight the planets with its system, his system.
Like browsing for snippets on T.V., it always seems to be an answer that goes to commercial at the worst parts. In the end, thinks one, the story has barely explained itself anyway, either because you forgot some detail or the story explaining itself did. Tantalizing us always with a fragmentation even more annoying if it was purposeful. Perhaps crucial to its art then but not satisfying; on the other hand if it is purposeful it is controlled, no matter if the effort is or is not towards an ideal that is obscure, most likely the creation will have a better future. Thinks one.
Definitely it is a more than primitive creature, though no person, nor even daresay spirit. With enough wit to meddle with human desire—and definitely cognizant enough if it turns out the creature is acting alone.—
I imagine a strungout gremlin that is unfamiliar with human life but of a certain facility regarding the maneuvering what humans hate, to its sharpest precarity, one that might fall with the single further degree of an obtuse into an acute angle, of grief, of all the grief. Something what who crawled out from under the bridge where the kids shoot heroin.—
Something, whose job is to insert the omissions right there in the very development most needed witnessed to ease us, but forever; at that precise moment it is about to be witnessed reconciled, and left neatly, or at least left ugly with a beautiful concept somewhere in it. But instead one is left to piece together clues with more clues. Anyway.
Comb through infinity’s bigness for an apex and find just more infinity of cosmos without the question of a first or last at all.
. . . . . . . . .
I do not have the kosher empathy for this however. Its demolishing back to finitude,—so as to bring back to life the possibility of a last step,—I visualize as not so rough a thing, compared to what had been lost with the introduction of endlessness or of something incapable of limitation.
What exactly is put together out of this morass of sums?
It is of such loveliness though: this thought on ends: so much that it requires no arranged deadline to be, obeys nothing but the master sketch of its own terms, which it will study and use to give up, and then, well, the last step exits us incognito, with the schematics rolled up under its arm, without anybody picking up on the change in the air.
Exits into the heavens, a monotonous omniscience, which the last step, a deviant, had cheated out of deciding its birthday. The heavens tried to without even asking…and the angels became furious: to know when exactly the guests would arrive, so to speak.
But they were not to know when: and once such a precedent is initiated on high by the low, the inflexibility of the concept of God’s deeming goes axiom to particle.
The heavens had always been able to know everything else before, if just they followed the wishes of God and continued being in divine good favor: ultimately were surprised, no, they were shocked: by that lush apotheosis: of an eternal whittling of lastness.
A last step evades the pressures of needing be appraised with an equivalently earnest pair of eyes, tired though they be. Though it is final when it happens, final is relative, depends on the quality of the shoes one is walking up and down in. Even in a finite universe, one begs for arch support, if that is one happens to have taken up this responsibility to travel to the wrapup, the horizon, of…time, time maybe? To colonize the horizon when this planet is finally gone wack and rotten?
Eventually one soldiers on and toughens up though and gets to playing along with the knot in my back I get from lifting garbage too long; you need not launch out of bed early to get a jump on this school project with a foregrounding hypothesis, just need space to move and time to enable the move there.
If my last step, one thinks, is to be considered taken, or is close to that point,—besides that, of necessity, it is followed by a step after, well, before that, my travels, my peregrinations, so to speak, one thinks, must have had to develop muscle, on their way, or something more like a common thread to the experience: a thread starting to beef up with more other threads discovered, between the problems baffling one and the problems baffling another, and through which we listen for an answer to how such a thing of nature can be so intricate, yet fragile,—even though that’s pretty much how everything is and we shouldn’t be too surprised: holding an empty tomato can to our ear from safe up in the treehouse, one thinks, though this image be somewhat comical, even jejune, even naïve.—And, please, this time, have it, it, the last step for the first to reach their true last step, be more for that person than a location transmitted via radio signal to those venturers of deliverance, out to get a thorough briefing to the public—saying we have been let in on the life after: the media will say it is something like a gratifying meltdown of all the striven and scratched, whether for or in, in or out, but always out of arrogance, though we only have really dreamt it so reductively at moments particularly woke.
See, thing is, and this is at most at the outskirts of obligation, to say nothing of what we actually need—again: to have truly made one’s last step one must have judged the matter closed with a strong sense of place in mind at the first, really. One must know it had even begun if now it can properly end, with at least a better understanding of, if it cannot reach, its ‘where’—or else it might just be one of the many lies there are about finishing up we will make it seem to others and ourselves like one must accept believing, o, it is imperative for us as the human byproduct of a shit culture to, of course, keep that scheme afloat, when it is culture that should have always been the byproduct. Just as we did with Christianity, the afterlife and shit, so shall we with whatever genius we may find in the things not at first religious. Like this belief in summing up a place to give it being. And you know, the many other attractive unproven possibilities probably impossible, or just thoughts to get through this life, here—amiably. So then we call the job finished when it is not, and wake up to find that when putting to use once again what you repaired, it falls to a shambles and is quickly deformed by that original impatience to finish.
Progress becomes a focus on the need for a status given to something, which itself transposes to a need for a status given to ourselves, and this is the disastrous result of a strange and sickly moral amnesia one might observe in people overwhelmed by either their bad deeds and the desire to start over, or by an artificial imperfection seen incorrectly by them as a given, a natural part of the world.
Abortive efforts of interest are a symptom of that discontent: they are a vile ouroboros. These human efforts to really own the nurturing of one’s own ideas are really all idols to human desperation.
All of it is forfeit anyway if you clearly do not know where you are going.
The skill is knowing this in direct proportion to your ignorance of what the destination will look like, how you envision the destination, which is called the future and which if one were not ignorant of it, one would be quite easily bored with knowing.
The ‘last step’ is not this sort of strange epiphanic sorcery and is not the result of enlightenment at all. People will remain angry towards most of the imposed limitations, yet first and last are not schemes like that, to them, would not dog them, are the same as them: a code in unison with the laws conjured up by whoever has put their shoes on. But geographically, at the time the line is crossed, the line is crossed. It is nobody’s fault.
In this case, here: a symbol is introduced, manufactured. An old man with a mind long ago run ragged: he has thought each precious thought in his head past all conclusion. It was to reach some weird heavens of insight he thought he made out from afar. A certainty at the end of a hair. Has he run out of thoughts, then, cloistered in his mortal place?
Stages are set up, between first and last, confining the offroad notion where it is not fully itself, and people often mistake this, a lag in energy for the notion, to be the end of the notion. Where it starts to rot is where it is yoked upon a series.
This, it is said, is for the sake of organization. One might see and know the intrepid wandering notion as a sort of innocence similar to the freedom one once had, and its fate the same also: wandering through its hidden country and picking the daisies or something like that for garlands later. The notion is a child: anticipating the least chance at rousing nature to speak for nature, beyond the usual pastoral hymn and beyond a versified humanity really an abasement of both perspectives. The formalism of verse, destroyed by the unstructured greed of people; and the rawness of people made cold by verse.
Well, we yoke it all upon a series—or an arc—or some other premature hierarchy, of enjoyment. This child is the father of the res, or just some dun and filthy ancient on a train. He is the fiction here: yet who knows if the fiction is real, or if he is the only fiction?
Perhaps all of humanity is a flatness of projected film upon the screen, and people, the mere spawn of a whim, or even just one poor decision; and we to bring with us as our baggage a heady, thickheaded solipsism that is invader unto God.
The old man is a composite of selves, and lacks those familiar unities of one individual self we all recognize and which rule us well enough to make our minds, words, and actions, as people, somehow make sense to some cackling voyeur upstairs, or some cosmic Other, who may just be watchdogging the replete timeline for any mistakes.
The ‘old man’ is a mirage, but a reality; he is a collection of microscopically personal stuff one could not even hope to relay a fraction of to their therapist within the hour slot, and I mean a fraction of the evasions and buzzings that knock around and die over the course of one mere day, nay hour, nay minute, and the which God will have promptly insured your secrets you do not even know for very long be packed away in some closeted oblivion you can return to, and review, yourself, if you want, upon the moment of death, though God does not promise any deceased an immunity to headaches or anxieties, just an increased, or vastly matured, wisdom to help deal with those mortgaged emotions given back to us, you, in the afterlife.
However, God had assured, made sure, that you, and all the hustling human race, for that matter,—had, probably long ago, by this point, had definitely assured, if not 1,000’s of years before you or anyone were born, or something ridiculous like that, that nobody, nobody mortal would be able to listen in to another mortal’s narrative: nor for you specifically that anyone too warped by their urban privacy a privacy to such people something more like an alienation as leaves and will leave them raw enough to blow up a building, or work for HOME DEPOT—that, no, no, for you, nobody too pale and surreptitious could ever pick up on and shadily file in your dossier they keep of you that inwardness, despite what you think the neighborhood obsessive across the street must have accrued by now, of a better facility, you suspect sensibly, than the way less dangerous stray catcaller who may lean against his nihilism on a streetcorner at 2:00 A.M. and call you ‘pig,’ but at least lets you know you are in his sights, in that moment.
“Don’t be silly,” God saith: “Such a carefulness, such discrete, devoted surveillance, would be required as to go beyond unhinged and rather breach the realms of a psychic intuition approaching the liminal Divine of my own: like, Santa ain’t always watching, honey: and if he was, like I am you, now…o tragic morph of Icarus…if that was the case, it would truly baffle me why this newlyminted God would choose to listen to your thoughts and not trouble me with mine!”
Moreover: God is not of that shitty caliber of person, not the uncasual lecher, who will watch you undress through your window without saying a word about it at work the next day, thanking his creeper stars that your apartment happens to be at the floor adjacent his own, offering a view of you, through your window, from his perfectly inconspicuous bathroom window, no less.
One might say this offers a bit of excitement light up his evening schedule in his famished domicile, number 6 on a floor of the building asleep nearly, besides the cockroaches that dutifully scrounge somewhere unseen, in a building falling apart, across the street from your own shit building, with its own affinities to his, affinities the man exaggerates and romanticizes to feel not as alone in a new state, away from mother and living in his horrible, famished domicile, infested with bad vibes, yet that is always too quiet: and the floorboards have weakened bad and creak atop the shifty trust of the old foundations: and when the man even pads to the kitchen at night the noises and his inability to figure out which floorboards to avoid to avoid them eventually stir the cobwebs off a boyhood fear of ghosts.
It lights it, and him, up. As ugly and as pathetic as it is. Yes. A consistent opportunity to see you naked lights up his glum fucking hermitage, with its least semblance of conceptual human contact, you know, to beef up the evening schedule. Something to tell mother.
It lights it up with its benefit. Its gloriously confusing benefit: it happens to be just enough therapy for him that he never goes postal and kills everyone. Thus go the subtle acts of God.
Thankfully mostly he isn’t able to take too much advantage: most of the time it’s just you popping your boyfriend’s blackheads in the mirror on the opposite wall, also visible from his perch at the bathroom mirror, at least, with the help of binoculars. That, and every now and again, allows himself to be mesmerized at you laughing at your boyfriend’s jokes, or offhand comments, wishing with all his weirdo self that he was able to be so verifiably offhand. O oddity, ye who cannot hear the punchline your own life delivers to an audience of strangers, all of them looking at you and laughing for a reason you cannot understand: o irony of ironies, haha, o delicate voyeur.
One could use this information against him, if they knew it, some of it, about him, but nobody he comes in contact with regularly returns the favor, nor even will know him, period, for very long, much less his inner shadiness. So he ghosts the parties of acquaintances that he invited himself to in the first place, getting into his fickle head that it’d be less stressful just to go home and jerk it.
No, nobody has any proof, outside of feeling like in parting ways from him, they are extricated by him, let us even say it is to his great relief, both to be in full control and to have different human people get out of his hair: removed from his presence. As if by giant invisible tweezers: as if to him, in the feeding eyes of his undiagnosed complex, they had shrunk to the size of a tick. Though of course nothing is said during the given exchange here and there that would back up the feeling each of his ‘friends’ have had. Until they all get together and have a powwow about it in secret once tensions build to the point of espousing suspicions as to his sanity, and then they all, all of his ‘friends,’ learn they share an experience of the same phenomenon of their goodbyes and wellwishings.
Yes, each time they, but really anyone, even bids him a simple adieu, there is a feeling like one needs to itch, or wash oneself, like an annoying nag telling the child that the child smells a bit ripe and should wash their underarms, ass, and crotch while you’re at it. There is a feeling with anyone who is by nature antisocial of being thrown off but with him that is always temporary and is never substantiated with the, in reality, infinities of circumstantial proof there would be, if there was really a Big Brother Government monitoring us for seditious activities, or maybe even just for jerking it too much.
But that would be crossing a line into territory more fascistic. If we haven’t gotten there already: when really, it is the benevolent God all of us know when things go right and none of us know when a random earthquake, deciding it wills to just go ahead and off hundreds of people, mindlessly jigs its tectonic plates a sec for the laugh and fucks up everything…well, well, well: it is and who knew the benevolent God all this time logging us down so we can revive certain destinies we in life had been too dense to tax our memory further with, actually a more nuanced instinct of selfpreservation, especially if with time and additional context that happy moment of the past that was forgotten is to turn sour with a fresh experience of trauma or something, precluding us that feel of any bit of happiness about it. O though there is not much business in keeping track of certain tiny facts, the thinking a thing here and there that becomes something you forget maybe, besides that it felt important to remember before you went to the store. Sadly you could not locate a pen for the napkin you snatched quickly, chasing the momentum of recollection and finding only that and the kitchen surface in time, before things slowed when the likelihood of juggling both finding a pen and keeping the thought in your mind diminished, and then you yourself became unlikely and fleeting as half the thoughts you never think again, and from there you tunneled home, knowing the rest of the way, to your sweet deep darkness and brine, your home, in existential sewers. Your rudest of privacies.
But some of that information despite its tininess could still be used to summon up anger in other people, and misplaced at that, because an anger at themselves; or is of things coaxed from the depression of folks; or is the same old focus on the latest proof of one’s perceived questionableness, and the insights made into that during the celebrity interview, once the ballgag of their own fatigue is removed and people realize the truth of their own celebrity, which is even more in the troubled nobody than in the actual celebrity, for the former’s very reaction to any semiserious allegation of such a thing:
“A strange little scoff, I’d imagine.” God saith. “Jovial but filled with rue. A scoff as might tend to say again and again in their hearts what is their slant on themselves, to themselves, fearing that criticism will not have the last word. As if the convincingness of that were even more convincing, were some consuming revelation all about how they are actually shitty and wrong and bad in their daily life.
As if anyone whose aim was simply going about who they are were not the decentest, most sincerest schmuck alive! Negativities, am I right? At the hand of which, we are made the sap or witless proxy, and dethrone our very ego from the kingdom of ourselves, just to get the negativities away from us—but we do it by giving them the throne, the negativities, and banish ourselves from the region, hauling our ass and ego with us by mule: a region where now dwell, in a castle once ours, the bearded members of a senate, each one kept alive only by the shelling out criticisms to peasants like us, fixing them up in the dress of compassion, a tough act of guile to succeed at seeing through to the end but made easier if there are none in the bunch compelled to moral maintenance—as a weekly given; nor is it made harder if those who will rule our emotions once we relinquish them are openly shitty and see nothing in persuading anybody of the opposite.
The rubric, then, is inaction in the face of assaults on scruples that at most are a hallucination of any ever there, good or bad; or they were fabricated in the attempt to bring this senate of negativities closer to what are our human stakes in life: vulnerability and such. And yet not anything done to rectify this or that atrocity, nor a string of words made at a public function that waffle over the resulting outcry, but as is the rubric and code in this circumstance of senators, these bloodless figurations, when it comes to any assault on scruples, the answer is detachment, like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers,—when it comes to confessing the piling eternity of evils any given person has ticking in them, you can be sure that person fills no senate seat in their cruel minds, but might thirst for confessions of older, obscure cruelties they maybe have only imagined remembering, so to soothe some remote masochism in their hearts that are not bloodless, though the usurpers in their brain might feel nothing as they continue on and on with their torments as if each torment were to be filed and the bureaucracy maintained, the one that is religious or not religious, but probably the former, if one, having been forsaken by these men of the senate who might water their unalive beards out of vanity like starving flowers, flowers that each one are the cilia of the guts of the world, going on awhile now,—if one, that is, causes in themselves gestating a repentant grief at criticism that has smitten ego to the quick too quickly to mean that it comes purely in peace.
. . . . . . . . .
He is an old man without vice and without virtue, and he was made just to move one past hating the regularity of that one or other small, miscellaneous annoyance, as will emerge, if we take the misplaced time to play therapist silently to ourselves, dangerously, while driving, you got it, to therapy, so as to decompress, and so as to burn a stray stash of energy while driving, or say, so as to shut off our fatigue with a mental emergency switch we can only use sparingly, with our own spite to connect it, to some deeper issue, as would usually tip the day overboard into ruin.
One extra thorn that wants to be a thorn too much, sometimes, is one that is especially detested, heatedly living out the fidgets of this aporia, this malady, one of the soul, thwarted soul, and to place us, as in all people, in a beginning, manifest at least a beginning; a thorn in a consolidated ‘where.’
In what crazy region of this old man’s head might this infamous last step officially be delineated?
Is it a hieroglyph only he has decoded? Directing the arrival of a change? Even if it is just for him to know, forever: a solution given to him for the sake maybe of some unreasonable preemption? And alienated from all the other people who are not a fiction: a change in the atmosphere is recognizable to all, nonetheless, at the exact spot the hieroglyph had indicated to him alone.—
A change. Not even many but just one, to be plucked from the senile ravel, which is the job of God, and then made all of the creation. The bordering space earmarked before he forgets. Then he will move on. Perhaps he has been making a pilgrimage to the sacred end of the story since he began himself to fester in the cranial soup.
To him it feels a little less complete an end with all this help, but no matter: connoting a start or an end, but usually both, works as an impetus to go on; that, and the lifting his legs within their filthy boots, and the bringing down of them, to precede whatever next flawed human action as could bring him forth into but then past it, past the last step, maybe even into more keener, vegetable finalities.
In any case, delineating a clear change, that is, of one place from another place, so that one senses it, almost like magic or, more apt, a placebo,—with the first step into it senses it; and also depending on the exact distance still to be covered before meeting that delineation, nay even that last step before the ‘now’ of having arrived, before his two feet are firmly planted on the platform—before he made his last step off the train he wondered if ever he had really moved anywhere or changed at all, or moved anyone, ever.
But he need not have measured to there from the spot he got up from his seat to linger at as the train neared home: to feel a proper escape from the stasis. Or like it was official. So then he asks for nothing when the traindoors open straightaway and he sees the challenge clearly before him.
He is to most of the public, maybe—or maybe they are indifferent—an elderly transient or some elderly yaya who went and mismatched his pills that morning, thoughtfully waiting to traverse the precarious gap.
The rubber hazardyellow lip extending over to the opposite concrete perimeter and a little beyond so as to root itself sufficiently on the station platform, like a bridge, and this extra last step now exposed and plain to him by the maw of the opening traindoors.
Sure, it provides easier access to the platform of the station, created mainly for the benefit of the elderly or lamed, but this easier access is to one day be for the benefit of a different elderly or lamed:
Some sort of inhumane people, youth, who fled to these suburbs, these towns which are all with their own vacant stops a train might stop at for nobody or few. Fled to avoid hearing their boomer father use the word ‘bootstraps’ ever again, or ‘responsibility.’
For we are wounded by this defeat. In the eyes of we the young it is a defeat and almost evidence of a selfdeluding millennial nature. I guess in response we became walking mysteries. An olderlooking man, going Alzheimer’s on the commuter rail.
We were indifferent to whatever mystery they said we were, and yet shamed the earnestness of those horse’s mouth statements so as not to feed the egotism possible to bloom from some few words being so true. Thinks one.
We go on consuming the starved plenty to this day: a fleeting culture’s bled out, fleeting products, of irony and meta; perhaps we are even punks or goths that will become tolerators of plaid and khaki, are other bad priests of the norm who mainly cannot use their walk too well, well enough to get to finishing up, and need more than intuition to figure out where change ends and change begins.
Out of a certain laziness of presence, we youth develop the needing of a presence, whether with us as one we do not quite understand or one as us that we must understand or else be rendered meaningless and absurd. O we youth who walk our usual walk to the neighborhood coffeechain looking to become caffeinated enough to free some manner of beast,—and expectedly find nothing.
This lip or perimeter or halfway bridge or a public aid, exposed once the train inches to a stop, it extends, with a pneumatic hiss. This sound, the hiss, is almost expressive; it has its own subtle characterizing awareness, as if glad to rid itself of its numinous anxieties of machinery.
Or whatever other griefs as would undermine a locomotive machine with the pressured gas, released when the doors open.
The old man, his muddy eyes, what they see, having betrayed him past help, this time. And suddenly, for the old, or older, man, or transient, a foot or so more of extra last steps still to cover to get to that sweetspot, that delineation,—well, that he hadn’t seen from where he was standing, at all. He a bobbing blur on the train, infinitely waiting. So hadn’t been able to judge whether or not to hurry from where he lingered, further off than the old man preferred, once given his mundane chance to arrive at the end of something, like, the mundane; or to go home, or both: go back to a home, his, that is a vagary or fluke somewhere in nervous aether.
And lastly, this, this ‘last step,’ depending, also, on the ground covered between one and his next individual step of his old feet, though this anyway to be negligible, with each individual step taken by this poor transient fellow.
He with his many odors that travel into the next room probably when he goes indoors anywhere. Individual steps. Generally speaking, the approximate length of them, that is: each shuffling and slight step to be predicted based on a record of every move this old transient has made dragging a pendulous ghostliness in trash bags, because he had had nothing else, across the Earth: in search of a life in which to throw the garbage, or liveliness, or something—he now for sure as one sees it happen from outside of this reality, having really intended to get off the train, off this clanking hooked-up chaining of big metal parts that look like XANAX on wheels: in frank need of repair: and the fake wood siding and posters for events longexpired and uncomfortable seats and all of it a holy dissociating: it is all there, in there:
Having arrived at his stop, or his stop, so could one only presume,—before taking his last step off the train: an olderlooking man, or transient, with these very brown and sightless, almost suffering eyes, suffering, and drowning in, and blinded by, and steeped in prophetic mud,—an olderlooking man there, before exiting the train, silently faltered, and he, silently blocking the doorway; in his head, but who knew, multiplying all these processes like distances and other quibbles, through time itself: though the traincar was not at that time populated by more than a handful of riders: and the hassled hump of his spine, going stiff upright, though he in his tacit universe without speaking. Or was just maybe a haggard diviner for some higher spiritous language.]
. . . . . . . . .
He was about to take his last step off the mostly empty train, or so could one have only presumed it the last.—
He then blinked twice, quickly; then he stopped at the threshold of the doors as they opened, and remained standing there inbetween, for awhile, stockstill and lifeless.
If one had chanced to observe him entering the train, if he really did, and sit down, till about prior to this moment, if he really did, one would have found that he did not move much, even when he moved at all, or even when a little, but rather appeared to be here, then there, without any visible explanation. A man of a series of slides.
Yet there was a smaller, a microscopic way of him, and which, by those means, he located all of himself in everything.
In the farthest cracked ubiquity of the scene he was there, the old man, without moving; he was on the train and outside of the train; and as well there was a strangely microscopic name his presence indicated but did not spell out.
One got the feeling it was a smaller way than could easily be described, one to another, without the words getting clumsy.
A way of him that somehow defied physical laws, made airlessness be emanated like it was something full all along. Like a cartoon; almost lifeless, almost. Surely this was done so well by this old elderly man for a reason: some learned trick of presence, or of carrying oneself—one that the elderly man, the poor absurd old man, had developed, perhaps to adapt to something horrible, or something not horrible, but still, along life’s road, and still then made of trauma.
(A trick, like something cultivated by traumatic shame for example. Shame for being. Shame that—simply put—is a shame for one’s own mere presence merely.
It is the guilt that one is. Anybody who has lived long enough in the World will understand this.
However there is also the idea this insensible, unwashable guilt that comes with simply being relinquishes a sort of wisdom after a long time, of a diligence verging on obsession, one that is learned through failure—but as to maintenance of ego it works.
Embarrassment is a catalyst for this wisdom, this diligence that is also a kind of funhouse representation of selfrespect. One takes the most showers who is told the most times they stink. Embarrassment is something of a similar rub as shame, it is the shame of a tested ego that has failed. It is of that same wretched ken as having no ability of seeing, in the eyes of everybody that one meets their own eyes with, just but the color of their iris, an iris as one hopes and prays always to see and see alone—and yet sometimes it is not even that that is given—and instead, along with the same moody brown vagary in them, there is hate in them too, that has one digging beneath it, infinitely, for clarity of any kind, or at least a pupil in the center, somewhere, though it is shaded past darkness, one must know that by now.
All this digging gets one no clarity but only will ever reveal a fresh layer of confusions, which will be read by the digger as judgments they will force themselves to see as insights: stuff and dirt and revelations as to the flaws and anomalies of themselves.
Alas. That poor, poor one, who is attuned to this, and has so sensitive a mental scale: on which to weigh what one may think constitute the lasting judgments.—
A scale that it thinks will tell them an accurate number, each time, when all it does is break each time, beneath an exaggerated heft,—in any case, in one being so preternaturally able to stir their own guilt, others who feel the same begin to see this as a commodity and skill, and this absurd detecting the slightest judgment, it becomes a skill, a profession, like owning at fidget spinners, and each old sadsack a new guru of guilt, at once, and the sadsacks of guilt with their insights a source of awe in the eyes of a few others who want a ride backseat, with one and their marvelously sculpted dog, Guilt, a woofing dog, Guilt, going and barking like crazy, with her chops flapping in the wind, and her head out the window.
Guilt that is really a misinformed hatred, and which then, in all its fire and fury to curse oneself before anyone else, ignites a subculture of depressives all who look for insights into their own hidden flaws now, insights that will be in high demand,—as if a natal chart and the whole of astrology wasn’t already a thing for this and also really hip. But this, it would be a skill, for those who try hard at their grief enough, but hang acceptance out to dry.
One thinks: they do not know if they are for or against the very old idea of the unhealthy scamming of a people, called a stereotype: and that makes every personality a punchline. Too used to it the youth is. Best get down on knees anyway and exonerate oneself through shittalking oneself, so as to not feel so gagged by society: well to shut them up their room has so far done nothing .)
. . . . . .
There is something transcendent to the discipline of keeping apart one’s sense of mortality, which ebbs and flows; and one’s simultaneous sense of infinity, which consumes, and leaves parched—both feed and pressure the ego and enter from an opposite border of the ego, with different lengths to their rivers each time, and sometimes clash, hence, the need for an everchanging distance, one from the other, when one tide is out and the other in.
Maybe this old man, this ancient man, maybe, he was so beaten by life’s lurid contraries and life’s amoral nonsense, and all of it, caused by these nonsensical clashes of being,—that he could not help but, after years of shame, involving in even the least, muscular twitch, an avoidance of presence.
Like those afflicted with polio might lose the purity of a limb—but this butchering done, not by God’s megrim, but as a form of penance.
That is, could summon perfectly his existence as a nonexistence; the way someone with polio might easily hide from view a disabled arm, so that the fact it is marred is not even brought to light, anytime, nor brought up, among acquaintances and friends, not for it being a taboo subject but for it being an unknown problem. And this trick of stillness performed even as he did actually move, while waiting stockstill for something,—shifting around to discreetly clean the dirt from his hands by wringing them together briefly and dazed and then clapping them to his pants. And even then, he remained still in all other respects, like a picture, almost tired. As if his whole tired being and self were stuck in a form of time comprised of many motionless frames that slid him into actions like dominos but at the same time robbed the man of any oomph or torque or spring to his stepless steps.
. . . . . .
So: the old man blinked twice, as was said, and paused, and he wavered there, at the threshold of the opening doors, for who knows how long, to allot time enough for him and his senility to catch the musk of why he might have paused.
This is a fairly common strategy among the sane. Especially among those elite among the sane, who do not believe at first what they see as a matter of course, no matter how sane it seems for how long. Those for whom their own scepticism is the best possible meteor to have hurdle through space straight into the turf, if there has to be an end to this World. They would rather that than the air be poisoned by the contaminating bias of others, opinion’s argumentative cousin.
Though really it is a hard worn strategy by cognizant people around the globe, who might always be on the trail of their own thoughts and visions; or even just harried, gangly people, forgetful of certain easy, daily responsibilities while they build castles in the sky.
Though in the case of this old man the rapid blinking and aboutface and moment’s pause could not have been acted out in a worse spot on a train usually. this train had not departed from the city five stops ago and now was riding through remote suburbs.
When they must clear their heads to notice what they did not before, or had allowed only peripheral attention for, and that yet asks to be noticed, somehow, in the heads of people, usually wordlessly, for if what was to be scoped was pointed out by another explicitly there would be no need for a momentary pause, just to assemble one’s wits enough to prove something there to observe at all.
Usually people will do this and see if it is of some importance to them within a second: sort of a way to rub one’s eyes when one has full hands, though I could tell the old man he did not rub his eyes with his hands because he was too weak. He just stood there. He would have held up the line if there actually were any other civilians, pedestrians, folk, on the train itself.
Then he became more lucid, then stopped where he was. Gauging his surroundings, or perhaps it was just reality itself. For all of where his eyes wandered it seemed so. As if taking in the entire map of the World just looking around him on a train; or it was a gaze not drawn to one thing in particular but overwhelmed by something all around him, ghosts unseen but by the damned maybe, or a truer, rarer reality than this that if the old man focused got itself captured in his pithy glass. If he focused, perhaps sniffing out some newly realized horror. Perhaps not. It looked like whatever he thought at that moment was not pleasant, pleasant like the weather was today; nor did it seem to have come upon him in a mundane pattern, like a chain, the way one would usually experience their mind in transit among strangers.
He hesitated again: then turned his head slowly, with one hand cautious on the guardrail, towards a younger man who was sitting a few seats away.
The whole pantomime seemed needlessly dramatic, but nobody had noticed. The younger man at present did not notice the older man nearby. The ancient there at his threshold sniffing out for the varying portents everyday life begat.
The patiently idling train’s doors were opened to a station not to be specified here, fully precluded from the narrative, here. But perhaps is somewhere else living out its possible story. An anonymous destination somewhere in a World of the more abstract details.
He turned his ragged body towards the younger man. The train was empty and fluorescentlit, empty, besides this youth who sat and a few other passengers sitting and the older man who had gotten up to leave the train but now stared, quite conspicuously, at the youth.
He hung his brown overfed eyes on the youth.
The youth had eyes of a blue color and they seemed to perish and fade into the back of the retina and then, one got the feeling, became a tender and human lightness, perhaps theoretical, a seeming thing of a good trait, but for all that shining as strong as it could from the charred back of his skull, taking some of the blackness of wherever corner in his head it originated to the torsional surfaces of his expression, the youth’s, and even when he relaxed his eyes there was some momentary thought of void, in whoever might be looking into them at the time.
His blue eyes, however, did not meet, refused to meet, the insipid, obsequious, lost gaze, and the pretty, perished blue eyes continued to trace the modest, unassuming suburban country out the window, and just within the youth’s peripheral vision, stood—though considerably obfuscated—the figure and presence of the older man hunching his frame against the trainrail and looking at him.
The youth was a youth but his expression was that of someone older though not necessarily more mature. To anyone who bothered to observe he appeared not yet wholly disciplined by life nor yet wizened and made tough by the going out of experience…as if desperate to accomplish, and yet haunted by a failure, one that announced its coming, without coming; was dominated by an infinite premonition of failure.
Some odd fixation or permanent thought on this loomed above his head, that it was still to come and to bear, and would, if and when instigated, throw into question whatever meaning there might have been for his life.
Something oafish, something burly and oafish that stood in the way.—
The old man continued to peer and wither and he knew all of these things and his movements were few and baffling and he swayed gently back and forth in a dull torpor as though drunk and he stared at the youth with an intensity both strange and familiar: unfocused and dull and yet a conscious urgency beneath it, however subtle, was there, as if the old man desired to swallow both of them up into his own nakedness, an intimate, static, soundless place. It, the gaze, pierced the youth, if only because this old man, in particular, seemed dedicated to watching and waiting for the youth to watch him back.
From time to time, however, his eyes would suddenly widen and the old man would give a sharp twitch of the head as if making to stifle a manner of nervousness felt between them and which was unspoken and abstract. And the more he peered and withered and twitched the more the old man became instead an old, barnacled creature—or, a monster—in the eyes of the youth.
His eyes his blue eyes we are speaking of the youth they continued more desperately now to trace the suburban countryside, disregarding the stare but widening their blueness slowly as the blue youth wondered why the train continued to stay at the same stop, until he understood, promptly terrified, that the train and this particular slice of time, which felt somehow disrupted, time itself, had stopped to wait for something, anything, to go on, between the youth, and this form of dreams,—just an old man to all the others for the blue youth suspected himself alone in his opinion of a man to be seen externally not but mere and frail.
All was still: it was the stillness of the World itself in pause for the sake of whatever discourse to follow, between them. The youth who sat’s knees went together, and he clenched the muscles in his thighs, and the train did not move, and the elderly’s eyes were fire on him. The youth was sitting down in a seat five feet away from the elderly and the elderly stood inert against the train rail looking, looking.
Sweat moved along the crevices of the two shiftless forms on the train, and something like fungus grew within the quiet between them. The quiet was bloated and pungent. It made green the things around it. The train doors closed vaultlike at the old man’s stop.
The train shrieked as it moved, as if in a cyclone, and the youth finally could take no more and looked into the ravaged elderly eyes of the old man and saw him, the eyes like wet cinder, like slugs reamed the youth’s eyes nearly backward to face the inside of his skull and the train was like a cyclone.
But neither of them spoke. The youth could not stop looking nor could the elderly stop and their eyes were contrasts of each other and also their eyes were contrasts of their very souls because the youth’s eyes were blue and peaceful and the sickles of his irises were defined yet he was angry and afraid and the elderly’s eyes were like wet cinder and dirt and the Earth and they looked blind and without aim and yet the elderly old man seemed to know more than the youth ever could at least to the youth.
The old paranormal spoke to the youth and it was like the sound of the bray of a beast and it was wild and echoing in a trance outwards to breach the dark air and the sound was cloistered in the heart of the placeless wilderness of quiet that existed between them: and the youth listened closely, and the paranormal said:
“I KNOW YOU.”
…And that in a voice, a voice which B. would feel drifting into his mind whenever recalling the early, emptier days spent in the care of his mother and father, days now to him as but an intrusive gap in time. The train stopped once again, and, without another word, the old man with eyes burnt to black ash and the Earth pushed his old bones through the stubborn doors towards a destination like a humble ghost.
B. was the sitting youth and as the train moved forward and away from the humble ghost B. slowly allowed his expression to lax into a soft frown—a frown that, like the pace of a clock, changed slowly, slow to the point no change was recognizable. After what seemed like an eternity the train slowed down to his stop—and he, before getting off, as if to put emphasis on the change, said at almost whisper:
“No. You don’t.” And that as though to defy whatever placeless sort of uneasiness the elder gave him. Something grey and infectious that still managed to trickle down; invading his character and ribs and drowning his heart with fluid. Something would be there, would be there and would come out, during this visit, he sensed; something cold, something vague and cold that made B. think that this would be a very bad day.
“Give them a chance.” B. smiled and, and, and the smile was abandoned. “Shit.”
. . . . . .
George had got a pool installed. They had more money these days but were not as pushy as most old people were and did not complain when the drain was not put in right. Until today, George and Eleanor had busied themselves inside the house just to avoid that drain, which growled and crunched terrifically, and seemed to shake the pool itself as though it were eating it.
Until today, when George decided to do something himself. His arthritic librarian hands (for he was the owner of a bookshop/for he had bad arthritis) and baggy muscles together straining to rearrange one pipe after another until finally after four hours of work damning vain sweat: the whole vain thing was giving him a headache: the fatigue of his body and the soreness of his joints—and the bookkeeper hands barely able to move—all hilariously spent—and he finally preferring the suave and shady chaise lounge to the sunpale concrete and pungency of the chlorine.
George looked grim. In his old mind he felt something push. Some obscurity—some kind of obscure bubbling in the swamp. A last croak of perhaps testosterone withering out like an agate in marble. failure infiltrated his old mind like a gas. The pipe continued to roar.
“I took action though. That is what counts.” This being the weak-kneed voice of George.
“Let me call a professional.” This being Eleanor, who sat down elegantly and lovingly next to her husband and stroked the patchy tuft of grey hairs atop his wide, blatant skull.
“Oh, dear.” She said.
. . . . . .
B.’s senses sharpened too much and B’s weight in step or body lifted suddenly and the sun seemed to protrude and boil his courage up but still he moved down the road and he popped and fumed in the heat.
On he walked though and the sun protruded further against B.’s tight-woven blazer and pressed pants—giving an edge to everything B. looked upon—giving an edge to even the asphalt B. walked on.
And he stopped and stood outside of his home, once again—for the first time, in a long time. There was a strong, solar heat swooping and burning him out and it swooped wildly up B’s socks and evilly drifted about the clamp of B’s collar and his tie was a noose.
And…it exposed as well those familiar and ignorant lilies, sitting blithe on the front step. The windows, he felt, and the door itself all positioned as one fantastic and ignorant face, waxing welcomes like those lilies. With lips whitewashed and pollenyellow tongues, they chanted, over and over chanted:
“Welcome, welcome, welcome.”
. . . . . .
“Goddammit, that’s the door.”
George had let Eleanor get him a cup of tea but she always made it too hot and so it sat there on the living room table, sifting off its English Breakfast warmth in curlicue tones. George sat upright on an old couch on which the cushions had begun to deflate and with his wasted spindles against an afghan cloth and white eyebrows curling not unlike the warmth from the tea, George looked like a very wise, very blunt old cricket.
“George, don’t you get up! I will get the door; rest your head; please, just rest.”
Eleanor walked from the kitchen to the door and had some swiftness, some orderly bounce about her that implied a certain list of expected ringers: Nancy Charles for her math homework help or Don Drieser for the polish back or that old war veteran George knew…what was his name…
“Nancy, I don’t know about today—” And Eleanor opened the door and saw, standing gaunt and fearful under the suburban summer, B.
. . . . . .
Looking upon him, George and Eleanor saw B.’s postwar form, which was not so different than before: B. Softness was a short man, but his arms were long and when his arms bent, the intricacies of bone shifted mechanically under a timid layer of skin—but his hands were not timid. They were pale and a bit too hairy; they worked with a natural and studious grace that suggested someone more understanding and wise. When he stood, his arms hung languidly, and his hands both drooped downwards, like long snakes.
To describe the thick insecurities of this family one would have to look at what was not said. It is with silence that thoughts are procured, that people are measured—it is with silence that strategies are made. Eleanor Softness—then fixed upon her son, had little to say but: “Oh.”
Now evidently there was much going on between them and much that wasn’t said. Eleanor had said what she had said while still believing that a general acquaintance stood before her. Too distracted by the mechanisms curiously at work in her head to change the tone of her voice.
So. She said—‘oh’—and,
upon witnessing for the first time in a long time the face of his son, George Softness quickly picked up his tea and gulped, burning both hands and lips in the process.
But Eleanor, then, seemed to suddenly realize B. had been there. Eleanor’s plasticity in smile and feature faded as quickly as George had almost burnt his lips:
“Come in, B.…”
“I’m going to get some more of that tea.”
George got up for a refill of that tea but his mug was already full and Eleanor did not seem to let B. pass.
“Come in,” Eleanor said, still standing, meekly, in the way.
So B. came in—
. . . . . .
The odor itself held in it something sickeningly familiar. The familiarity of home stank like rotten meat. It was the smell of an age: a violent age: a long-ago, long-dead sense in him. It cheapened with years, unlike wine it grew rotten.
But, it had a sort of revolting antiquity, sort of the inverse of wine, cloying and needy with apology: the smell apologized for itself: B. Softness was angered by the smell because of that: the smell did not deserve to apologize. And the memories. Memories boiling in the humidity of the smell; memories amputated like an arm from B. Softness’ mind.
He held his breath when coming in out of some inchoateness that quickly lost meaning. B. Softness laughed like a wretch but it came out like something warm. He wondered that he had been gone—for a long time he had been gone—
Looking outside then it seemed about twelve in the afternoon, as the light through the window had a vigor and acuteness only made to a sun in the middle of sky.
B. Softness pulled up a wicker chair and dust erupted off it into the suffocating bay window light. He felt suddenly very allergic to this place. B. Softness sat down to approach George and Eleanor, his eyes were swelling. George and Eleanor sat before him. Their little faces peered at B. Softness with concern.
Someone spoke but no one was sure who it was that spoke.
. . . . . .
“How are things, are things alright? It’s been alright here. I’ve started a few backyard projects. You know, I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who had a green thumb. Tell him what you have done, George…oh, he’s done some truly wonderful things, alright, truly wonderful…George, tell him about the bookshop. George owns his own bookshop, now, B.”
“Oh really? Well—tell me about it, if you would. Of course it’s—”
B. paused and folded his arms pleasantly and did not finish the sentence because he was caught off guard and distracted by something in him that hated the posture of his own folded arms—because it was pleasant—and somehow subordinating.
“Well,” George’s hands felt themselves along the knuckles,
“I’ve worked on this particular business project for over a year now. The store is actually doing quite well.” His hands pressed forward conversationally.
“Oh really? That sounds great. I’m glad you found something that suits your tastes.” B. Softness’ hands coiled around themselves:
George’s hands advanced further then bailed out abruptly and swung around to scratch his chin, then clasped together, as well, secretly mocking B. Softness’ own funnily coiled ones: “What tastes?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Meaningless. Disregard it.” B. Softness wrote the thing off and his hands flapped awkwardly in George’s face:
“No, I want to know what you mean.” George smiled warmly; the hands perching like puffins on his upper thighs, retreating.
“And you, mother. How have you been?” B. Softness pushed his hands together at the palm as if a slice of ham and lettuce and mayonnaise were scrunched in-between the two extremities:
“Oh,” She leaned and glowed and cast a fleeting eye on George, fingers tapping soundlessly on the soft couch. “I’ve just been helping George with his business—”
“And we’ve been getting business from people who’d rather shop in a simple bookstore than a mega-mart.” Said George.
. . . . . .
You see, this old, repeated adage by most regular, level-minded folk who shopped local and talked their agenda and feared their big business was the perfect stopgap to keep George from talking about how it felt when you walked into the store, the first time: the hoary musk of decomposing paper and print: the wealth of ownership in something: a great, goldeny sort of a wealth that straightened George’s tired spine. These things were not so pleasant to B., thought George, he would not be interested; he would not understand. He’d just think I was talking about myself too much…well, damn it, I’m old! So what? I deserve to talk about myself—
—There was a spatial pause that breathed deeply.
“Well, it’s nice that you’re back, now, for now…” George smiled broadly and said this. The smile reeked of distance.
B. Softness—pulled up his tie—to try to look nice—
“Well it’s nice to be back—you know, for a little while.” B. Softness emphasized the last words. He felt a refreshing release of hatred when doing this but after that a sadness, and a disgust; like he would visit then go away forever. Like he meant no harm.
. . . . . .
His hands seemed to balance themselves in the air and his thumb counted each smooth fingernail; George’s pounced back out at B. and lightly tapped the bulb of B.’s knee as George moved and shifted; Eleanor’s launched like firecrackers over everyone when Eleanor stretched her entire body and moved her arms straight up.
Then, everyone’s hands fell, furtively, to nowhere in particular.
. . . . . .
Eleanor Softness was stealing looks at her husband. And George stole looks at her: the eyes asking each other, nervously, relentlessly: “What does he want?” And, yet, Eleanor, preening each vowel:
“Why don’t you stay for dinner, B.? We’d love to have you stay for dinner.”
Eleanor Softness also reeked of distance smilewise yet B. noted a dip of the head—a subtle, subtle widening of the eyes—that suggested truth. George, though, looked at Eleanor, gripped his tea handle, coughed gruffly:
“Yes. Yes. Why don’t you stay for dinner?” said George, wavering. And,
yet, George sharpened, and said: “And…make that tea cooler, next time, Eleanor?”
So B. stayed for dinner—
. . . . . .
When George and Eleanor had a chance to leave the living room they hurried to the kitchen and stood, in silence. Turning over the situation.
“George…B.’s back.” Eleanor had very wide blue eyes and when she said this they stuck out like vast, opulent pools, as if she were begging for something, and George could not tell whether she was afraid or confused. George thought: Eleanor usually always seemed so reserved, so willing to please George, so agreeable, to him. Throughout the string of their lives together, Eleanor and George had always been close, always a team. But he could tell sometimes that her female clemency would push her away from any of George’s more vigorously brutal preferences. Eleanor would still be in her supporting way and, and, and yet George detected beneath the oddly imperial sand of her thought a foreknowledge that whatever brutal preference it was that George had at the time, it wouldn’t succeed. This applied to their plan to put their rival bookstore, ********, out of business; this applied to George buying a gun. These objectives settled relatively around the house—picked up off the floor, and dusted off, and put back down, sweetly. George still had no gun, did not know what type to buy, did not bother looking. And Eleanor continued to support the vacuum of these endeavors with a nod.
George’s eyes were muddled from age but were still a nice baby blue. B. Softness always thought it strange how a cold man like him could have such soft, forgiving eyes.
But George was the old, stinking madman…the crotchety father, whatnot…just wanting a little peace and some books to tide him over…even if his eyes were muddled he saw that Eleanor seemed more distracted than usual and confused her mixed feelings with aloofness and thought that she probably realized B. Softness wanted something out of them. Something that was hard to draw out, forget about it. Money was tight, and emotional timeslots a commodity.—
As that day went on B. Softness would look into his parents’ eyes and would feel in them the same hot glare of the old man from the train.
“He wants something. I know that!” George tensed and thought of how to approach his son. He’d always been angry, that boy. Not angry, just difficult. What kind of difficulty? George couldn’t place it. Every instance he could think of had its own flavor of anxiety. They took him out, didn’t they? But B. wouldn’t have it. So they let him stay home, and he became anxious. He complained all the time—that was B.’s definitive accessory, his wiseass, dissatisfied, mouth.
And he talked and George listened. And soon enough George got tired of listening; I mean, energy isn’t something you just snatch from a fucking tree, he thought. He needed time for himself, and B. refused to accept that. Simply put. And
they talked, to an extent, George thought…but him, George…friends? That wasn’t how it was with his old man, George thought.
What really got George angry was the fact that he always meant well with B., loved him, to whatever extent he could. But B. didn’t…well. He didn’t do something. And it had to be something more than his own strained fatherhood. It was more than a problem of acceptance, George knew that.
“Fah,” said George declaratively. It was as if Eleanor, nor anyone else, in that moment, were a presence enough for George to bother with making sense of his narrative, for them:
It was something similar to chess, this parenting business. The right words had to be said in order for things to turn out well, the right moves made across the board. But most of all it was a game and it was nothing more than a game…
George felt his own dry pensiveness throbbing in his head like a wound. He thought of life; he thought of B. He thought about the dimensions of parenting, about how many layers there could be regarding this; what it meant to be a parent, to raise a child—while Eleanor spoke mostly through her big worried beautiful calming eyes. And both of these people completely alone.
. . . . . .
B. Softness smiled insanely at his mother and father retreating like startled deer to the kitchen, away from him. Yet for the most part it was unlike deer:
This reaction, or response, to the situation, that is. His own parents once again face to face with B., deciding once again to promptly turn their own faces away, after one desultory attempt at conversation, with him, who was the situation, and really he didn’t want to be.
They, both of them, mother and father, always had to have only the certain disinterested thing to say. Here and there; sometimes a statement of poorly veiled ire, even nearly hallucinatory ire, at, well, uh, this sudden arrival of their boy no less,—and an excruciating disturbance for them it must be!—And which however much it was an arrival inspiring panic, and skittishness, and other deerlike hallmarks,—was a response made by his family, in execution, quite unlike the graces and finesse of deer.
His presence, which was the presence of their offspring, it did not quite stiffen them up so much into the state of vigilance his parents, his approaching elderly, filial links to the World, must have desired—persuaded of that same murthering skittishness—the way a deer might stiffen demeanor at a loud noise. Or at least they did not seem to stiffen more at the moment. So then at least there was no more to what they had stiffened themselves into, so far, over the years. Just for him.
Like the way a few deer’s necks get upright when they freeze at a threat, somewhere to be traced in the unknowable distance. And so let the imagery end, B. thought.
A few deer that stiffen and perk up at the sound of a gun, a hind still in the hunter’s sights and the cacophony of his missed target still ringing in the woods.—
Wherever woods of a soul in the family, maybe just latent, that there might be, here, in his old home, to brave through to get to, yikes:
And would I only find more of the pain of this scenario? They are this situation, this metaphor, this clutter, thought B., eyeing some fake flowers and doilies on a cheap table in lieu of the hip new coffeetable book nobody will even pretend to have read, but which at least would have been there to give the impression of literate people. Not cute doilypeople.
No it is not so much a finesse as that, as the stillness of deer, but more it is them bleating to themselves, bleating like sheep led forth, down into the valley of fucking death, by something named spite, possibly, B. thought.
To find their shepherd they go bleating of all the dumb anxieties and testimonies and beefs and contrite hosannas, about him, he had heard from them, his parents, before, at one time or another, during his adolescence…
I am through no will of my own the hunter of them, thought B.
B. supposed he was expected to pick up on the reason for all this melodrama, which he did, and see behind it a sort of validated importance regarding how very full of gravity, earthshaking, lifechanging, his appearance at their front door was.
Why had he come back? he heard them whisper, just loud enough to imply their wanting him to hear:
And his father, leaning against the counter, slouching: the wellfed sphere, the pooch, of his old usual consuming gut: both of them, mother and father, speaking but with looks that whispered. And both, in B.’s blue eyes, wringing conspiratorial hands, sweating out some plan to get him out, to leave.
B. Softness smiled, chuckled. He was barely able to keep from letting out a big laugh, an awkward, sizable laugh—he struck by their obvious discomfiture. It is over this untimely arrival of his no doubt, not what to make for dinner like she is saying. Oh, these blatant parents, and their discontent, discomfiture; and their blatant discontent they do not even know they let me see, B. thought to himself.
Or discontent at their obviously expressing the discontent, enough for him to know; and so, at this point, if the cat was already out of the bag, their begrudging increasing of the obviousness, to the point of a shady moment’s very clear obloquy, a string of oaths muttered from George once he got not two steps into the kitchen, and which reverberated publicly throughout the house.
Discontent of which the source must be a literal and emotional parsimony, miserliness; an aloofness. At least on his father’s side. As if just even wanting to connect took cash only.
Yeah. A laugh. That would have really scared them.
But then again B. Softness he could not resist smiling could not do anything but that. The appearance of being happy was something that had become instinctual, almost an obsession, so that no time was left to actually feel that way.
Like riding a bike. Instinct. It wasn’t long before B. Softness would start smiling, grinning, to put up a front elsewhere—recognizing early on the need to perpetually smile around his parents, in his own house, to connect with them and their lives slightly, their lives free of all drama save the drama of birth: and B. learning to smile at others as he did at them, in such and such a way of obsequious mania, as to appear idiotic nearly. Often he was made fun of as being a vacant mind, a retard, a faggot, a bitch.—
In discovering this tacit forbidding any genuine expressions at all, from him at least, at home, B. knew also, then, of a drastic need to mature. Quickly. On his own. And he worked ever harder throughout his years spent living with his mother and his father to conceal the further indignation of having to camouflage his own discomfort in order to be accepted by these people—these parents—and, so, yes, you see, he grinned, smiled, now—for that same sad reason—
That is, in order to cover up a feeling of globlike frustration that was now thumping out to him the memories of the old, stilted times between him and his mother and his father: times becoming unburied in his skull, like corpses: their definitions may putrefy but with a look at the teeth you can find that frustration, globlike frustration, globlike because something of a fungus had been thriving for so long on these times, these corpses of memory oncelived.
Fucking times; times from the beginning rotten, born rotten; and they would only succeed in getting rottener. But B. Softness had in him like an intimate gong something else that sounded out to him that childhood could be better than it was, for him. Forever he searched his parents for that something extra. But, if he had gone to the dentist, the talk at the dinner table would solely and in scrupulous detail involve his trip to the dentist…if the conversations grew in depth they would extend as always to the far reaches of what was on television; which neighbor or friend had done what to someone else; and, if B. Softness pressed on, his parents would either grab any reason floating in the air to be angry with him or would plain change the subject back to dentistry. And then things would fall back into monotony. So it went for years, and wet, sloppy, globlike time piled on him. And the want…morphed into frustration…
B. Softness at home during the masque that was his childhood would have nightmares in which, upon leaving the table and going out of earshot, George & Eleanor would speak of their feelings and dreams in secrecy.
. . . . . .
The conversation did not range far. No talk of much else but the T.V. news, or the local news, or the neighborhood something or other. In fact, the whole thing seemed a great slew of banter: a mighty brick wall of bullshit stood proudly on the coffee table between B. and his mother and father: George Softness built his bricks, built them readily, proudly:
Eleanor had just finished cooking, and the audible sizzling had stopped. In the background, one could faintly hear the busted pool pipe, straining,
making its strange, rhythmic gargles—
“I think there’s going to be a fireworks show next week,” George said. “That should be fun. I haven’t seen one of those in awhile.”
“Yes. Fireworks. Yes that should be great. I won’t be around though, unfortunately…I can’t come. I—have to go back.—Overseas—” He finished his tour months ago and didn’t even know when he’d go back.
B. Softness thought glumly that the time had come to finish his visit. After dinner, he would leave. He would say goodbye, and leave. But none of it would matter. He forced himself to think that this entirely futile operation wouldn’t matter so it wouldn’t matter to him.
B. Softness smiled and clenched his bones. He was angry. Eleanor came out of the kitchen. George Softness looked at her expectantly; B. Softness looked at her too, politely, but expecting something else,
some relief from the banter—
“Well…smells good.” Said George. And they all advanced towards the table and Eleanor Softness chuckled a bit—almost said something, haphazardly—
. . . . . .
When B. had entered George & Eleanor’s house the mood had blackened between all so it would be hard for an outsider to discern that Eleanor’s comment came with it an eruption of deeper, stranger blackness. The conversation had become personal. Old questions and problems were brought back. Problems of who was to blame and, and, and for what reason.
B. had thought, vaguely, that those questions would be solved when he joined the army. It seemed at the time like a period of closure for him—a period in which he’d regained a stability long misplaced—
—this would seem sensible to anyone who saw B. before he went off. It seemed as though he were struggling against the turning of the Earth—all the time—
George coughed awkwardly
. . . . . .
B. recalled proudly his years in the military. The places he’d seen in the MARINES. Mostly, the people he’d met.
It was there he had changed. He had become his own man. He had learned to hold a gun; had wished more and more to become the gun he held.
Had fumed over this and had to do this…had fumed, and fumed; then learned to control his head enough to rise through the ranks, and became elite, yet somehow did not attain peace from this, and from this learned that peace was not a matter of control but of letting go.
Yet, he could not start over, impossible, from when nothing had yet called for his attachment. Much less if it were something of an accomplishment he was attached to in the first place he’d have to get rid of, just for some cruddy theoretical enlightenment.
And so he did the other thing, eventually. He became his gun, that is: accurate, quick, efficient. Such violent persistence…so sad.
. . . . . .
Then, he aimed himself at his estranged relationships, in the confidence he also would not stray. But there were darker things—as well—things more primal, more guttural: things that roiled out of B. a distinctive, guttural anguish: a very private and specific overexposure that only he could know: though what exactly he was exposed to he could not know.
A psychologist might have fastened him under the broad umbrella of what is known as trauma, where so many others in the army profession are fastened, like shrapnel to thigh. But, B. would have found that answer too broad for his liking. In his mind and maybe or maybe not in all others, what he had wasn’t common enough for any sort of backwards notion like that. Like shellshock. Shellshock? Call it shellshocked by life. But it was too horribly mutated to be called any one, or two, or three sorts of pathology alone.
That is to say it is too ugly to be resolved in just examining the psyche: and all of that might as well be just this ugly jetsam to be sucked through a busted drain, B. thought, somewhere in all this, to himself.
. . . . . .
And there were busted things in his family that were unnamed and that were dark too because the more they were refused the more indignant they became. In the eyes of B. the root of what it was that was a virulent numbing power over his life he now realized lay planted in who his parents were, and are:
And he looked at his parents then. And his parents looked back at him, with eyes of disgust and horrible loathing, to him.—
All this B. thought. He thought: My dear mother: my dear, dear mother. She wants to know all the little fucking details. Now she does. Now that I’d almost died. All and every bit—of the brutality—and seemingly as extraneous, as wasteful—all this turmoil in my head about it too?
Too late, Mom. At least George doesn’t play like I exist. Too late ha fine time to ask
. . . . . .
“Fine time to ask,” He murmured.
Anger sprang up from nothing it seemed to B. because anger was always there but he never used it—even in combat—he never used it, instead glazed himself over with that very impersonal, clinical virtuosity given him as inheritance by parents who for so long and in that same way of distance had attenuated his own resolve and had with the damage done weakened to nothing his own soul. To nothing: by now, probably to be observed by him as a gray and still-waning pallor in his chest: utterly faceless and so then unidentifiable; seemingly comprised of phlegm.
And yet B. withheld from lashing out at his mother. Poor woman. The damage was done too long ago—had always been there. Blinded by anger and frustration, B. promptly and without warning forgot all his years in the military, every minute’s recollecting, even, that he had spent in the military. Forgot everything up till the moment he walked through the door into his parents’ home.
—B.’s mouth opened slowly—
A trespassing numbness tip-toed, further through his limbs, but from some crucial beginning, some placeless core to himself, this time, in himself, not anyone else; the numbness did not make him feel in himself placeless—at first it jimmied the figurative lock on the figurative door, but it could get no peace open—so the numbness opened up the belly of his brain to some other, new Cosmos, and he felt like the numbness was really God performing a caesarian section for his child to be given him one way or the other, so as to consummate the birth of a life that would be his, but him as his own son, and along with that himself as he had known himself to be at that placeless core. Two years, three years, four years—a hunk of fat cut from him and left to die bizarrely and unrequited. But that did not matter. The cost did not matter. It was a massive artery that had been redirected to where his mind did not toil; there slept the memories of what he tried and could not requite, and now that there was no need to requite, the memories of warfare were useless. All this was told him by God. He could feel and hear the blood pump through the artery but could not see fathoms to where the artery led, and when he tried to find his friends he had in combat through a vascular hole found nothing because his soul could not fit. His soul in all its wilderness and woods.
And, and, and B. closed his eyes and put his long hairy hands to his long hairless face, the face of one who is deranged by the sweetness and obscene frailty in letting go.
. . . . . .
Why can’t I remember? He thought
. . . . . .
B. thumbed through each artery in his mind and pulled out the very heart of his mind if only just to find one single memory of any moment of his past. Any date on the calendar, anything recent at all besides erasure, before this afternoon.
It were as if the things he did—that is, any scene onstage to himself, on his own, excluding the bouts of soliloquy he had crafted in a minutest silence, before the eyes of his parents today, who could not say they heard, but for others who are outside of time to hear and read his coded answer, as their own answer—it were as if these things were excluded from his memory in an astonishingly, terrifyingly swift fashion that in its swiftness concluded all.
As if nothing without someone else mattered enough to remember—all of him so sickly trivial—but because he had thought that of himself and made it the reality. Had thought that of himself for so long.
And then to his horror B. saw, erupting, from the opacity of thought, bursting forth through an opening in that mire, the visage of that strange old man, and the old man, watching him—oh those eyes of pulp—and the old man, saying
“I KNOW YOU.”
Like he had on the train, and that—over and over. The words. That sentence, delivered coldly, simply; almost nonplussed. And it was then B. knew what the eyes had meant, the meaning in them was eloquently figured before him in the knots of some other language, but he knew it was for him and all his eloquent soliloquy.
The meaning rang aloud in B.’s head and the ring reminded him of the cry of grenades. The sounds and the feelings of it, combat, were there, almost—but the stories and the soulful touch and consummation of identity, of having an identity, had gone—
. . . . . .
B. was suddenly back on the train except it was him and the old man alone, no single other faceless pedestrian, and the old man looked different, and the old man shuffled towards B. on the train, and his eyes were black abstract whorls that popped and popped and popped in his head.
The abstract whorls writhed in his head as the old man neared the youth. A pair of naked imperfect vibrating spheres. Quickly flashing to and fro. Or perhaps dynamos…made by the vulgar hands of an inventor with either no time to do it right or no understanding of dynamos much less dynamos that will churn the light of my epiphany back living, B. thought.
I see: if that is what they are they are unsuited for the visions they were made to receive, the dynamos, thought B., and have grown depleted and tired: also they seem angered by their wear, wear that took place over time, and angered at the acquired limitations of said mischances. Hence the black bolts of lightning, hence the frustration peeking through muddled means. These are eyes with a pension, thought B.
The vibrating spheres writhed crankily like demons gripped by some scorching, wreathing pain,—they rolled and writhed in the old man’s hollow, shriveled head, like beasts set on fire by some almighty sadist. Eyes with black lines of lightning quickly flashing here and there from the sockets outwards, uncontrollably outwards. The old man took B. and shook him and spat out to his face that he had to go. The old hands gripped his young shoulders—wanting, wanting to grip the man—wanting to push B.’s body into itself and crush him. B. convulsed, and, seeing it clearly, with a sensation of beauty so great as to suddenly know himself redeemed—this youth, with the perished blue eyes, opened up his brain, and he found gasping for air there in the center of his brain another, frailer youth: and he knew then for the first time an agonized, insane craving to father a child. It was the only way.—
. . . . . .
He had to have a child: but that came from him, from no one else it would come. A voice distinctly his and yet independent of his. That wasn’t hocked with the phlegm of untouched, filmy life—never any visceral sense, any friction or bickering or that old brutal pursuant called love between him and his mother and his father—just some coagulated pieces of tissue laboring around the house, playing with flowers, books; graying every so often and more and more each time.
He reached out manically for something fresh: an infant born from the little sheltered scraps of beauty still raging around in B.’s belly: the infant, with eyes so clear and blue and clean, writhing deep in the white sheets: wanting everything, absolutely everything in the World and, and, and only concerned with the new.
. . . . . .
He was red right there in the living room.
A kind of ulcerous pain tried to jump up his throat and out, every part of him red and close to collapse however one looks and there ah there and wrenched horribly in B.’s features—wrenched, woven deeply into his features—were the spiritual contortions—the metaphysical knots and disproportions—the hurt twists of blameless injustice or blames not taken for the injustice—the carnages—and—at—the—same time the dusts of what perhaps was his true and very soul. He clutched that face, that heap of contortions: that possible soul. It was his child. He clutched it with his hands and he cradled the odd thing like a child in his arms with hands that had killed other men, themselves children really, and the strings in his hands shot from his own fingers and went back at him like something sent whipping from a single strong gust. His body palpitated as though to a drum. The stitches in his neck projected outwards to their limits.
His soul would creep out when he opened his jaw and screamed. Blinded and wheezing and crying, barely alive and drowning in its own primordial ectoplasm—it would creep out. The soul that climbed and climbed up his throat, hoping to be regurgitated.—The sweat inched down B.’s neck in the effort—yet it was overall that strange old paranormal from the train who said—that said
“I KNOW YOU.”
He screamed, and all the breaths in the World went into his body as he screamed again
. . . . . .
George said loud and haggard shaking off the afghan cloth he had been wearing:
“What’s the matter with you, B.?”
George said the name with an attempt at authority.
George didn’t know what to do. So he said:
“Do you have to leave?”
George pointed a cantankerous finger to the door.—
There was a tin of nuts on the table and as George got more flustered he ate more and more of them and they crunched and growled terrifically in his mouth. George seemed more frantic suddenly; more scared. His old eyes were those that were weary of surprises.
Eleanor had been watching quietly and sat closer to George when she came back from the kitchen. The moments went by. B. looped himself over himself, on the wicker chair that he sat on. Looping himself over himself, over and over.
George & Eleanor—watched him—
. . . . . .
And…then, B. stopped. There was a calm among them; the calm hissed. The hiss carried and vegetated around them. It spoke fruitlessly into the minds of Eleanor & George.
B. opened his eyes. Eleanor & George were staring intensely at him.
“You’re right, Dad,” B. said—now knowing he had lost.
“This was supposed to be a short trip. I just came to pick something—up.”
B. had not come to pick something up.
. . . . . .
“Come, everyone. Let’s get to the table now.” Said Eleanor, hurriedly. Her hands shook as she set the table.
. . . . . .
It had to be around two in the afternoon. B. Softness would be leaving soon.
B. and George both stooped over their plates and cast long shadows across the table as they did so. The shadows themselves mixed together in a formless shade. B. looked at what was on his plate—saw how unwelcoming it was: the carelessness of the meat—the meager helping of potatoes—the low quality plate. All devoid of comfort. B. loosened his tie. The time for change was over.
“This was always a nice table. Good. Built pretty well. It’s the cherrywood one, from when I was little? I see the little dents in its surface from when I banged spoons into it. I guess I was, uh, still learning how to use silverware.” B. Softness said this, attempting good humor, and began performing surgery on his chicken. “Oh—yes. Yes, I don’t quite remember that. With you being out so long.—” George said, as though B. had been out at a grocery store at the very farthest point on Earth from there, buying a jug of milk, for all these years.—“Ahem,” Said George.—He glanced over at B., weighing him, waiting for a response, but, none came,
only a sigh, a sigh—soft and it is broken.
. . . . . .
“I should get off then, shouldn’t I? I’ve already taken enough advantage of your hospitality. Ha ha. I’ll see you soon. I love you. Yeah. Bye.” He was burning inside.
. . . . . .
George turned to Eleanor for a supportive nod yet received none. He laughed. Eleanor instead looked quite sad. George continued eating and believed that the visit had gone quite well. He had maintained the situation and been friendly to B. He looked upon the whole day as a success. He did not measure the situation frame by frame because each frame was bad but equaled out to something good because B. had gone but would probably come back wanting something else. Everything went perfectly. Except for the end part, of course—an irksome hiccup in George’s life that he would never quite understand.
But George found himself suddenly trapped in reminding himself of the hiccup and more hiccups throughout the day became visible and then suddenly these lifted feelings of his plummeted into the ugly fencing of his old and present life and it was like something thrown in the air and coming down. The cosmos of his own before and ever after coming down. The psychic residue of the before: things strange enough to remember: like jaunts into emotions unrelated to the event: like some leathery depression slinking into him while on vacation sharing beach chairs with his wife, by the sea, during a trip to some anonymous, though florid, isthmus.
Or, bizarre happiness while driving to the pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, which he hated doing.
Or even nausea and disgust at the chipper, repetitive greeting to him by his neighbor across the way. The chipper wave of Mike’s hand that came surely with the day, as would all other natures of the diurnal World—and it irritated George because Mike was not diurnal like the World was and so then he should not try to be with his greeting, and whatnot; and all of it mysterious like that and lacking form: the bookstore and getting angry at bookmarks in the antiques, ruining the page—I paid a fortune for this. And Eleanor with one tooth in her mouth now dark with general rot. And George seeing the whorls on his knuckles developing like wee caverns of flesh and age.
George said and his eyes were looking at blurs
Gravity. The short buoyancy of it. The small annuity of an object to be afloat in the air as though supported firmly—then, down to the ground it goes—descending without meaning or specificity and meeting the cogent argument of that ground: which is greenery, and sunken pelts and the excrement of all things made same. Were these random blots of feeling nothing more than the chemical omens of a longbeen mind? Were they not this?
Were they, instead, the ludicrous discord of something welled in George’s head; the argots of a hidden canker in George’s life, given speech to their shadow by sometimes pulling apart the platelets of his ego…to get him to feel the difference in having his son or wife or soul?
At that point B. had gone and Eleanor was washing the dishes and was in a trance of thought in which she thought keenly, and realized this:
That boy came from me.
. . . . . .
B. Softness would not try again with his mother and father.
He was on a train from his parents and he thought about why he had gone back to see his parents in the first place. Thinking of it carefully for over an hour gave him nothing, and B. realized that maybe it didn’t have an answer. At first, it seemed like it had to be done. But nothing had come of the trip, and B. felt fine.
Besides of course, the mysterious disappearance of his life from his memory. He racked his brains to recollect any of it—there were no faces to remember—no tragedies to linger on—just the pungent feeling of all kinds of death.—
B. believed, however, that it was better to not dwell on these things, death; to not truly understand one’s parents was relatively normal in this society.
Parents did not really matter when it came to those big things: the relationship he had with his mother and his father did not end up gnarling, worsening, B.’s sensibility; relationships do not, should not really be able to break apart that necessitous probity of the necessitous brain, that reasoning will of his brain, to create ambition, idea, action—the thoughts, the figuring, the memories, the feelings, instinct—should all really be able to stay in their own ganglion of nerves and fat without altering themselves, deviating to ugliness. B.’s mind, to him, was never anything more or less than what he made of it. As for parents, well…it was just a hard bump that everyone passed over just fine, as long as they tried…
In fact, there was something endearing about his parents’ fear of him, endearing because it was the one defining example of who they were; it was the one characteristic, the one reaction to him that appeared and reappeared without fail; something they shared, together, in his presence—something, that they shared.—
. . . . . .
Yet, B. did, and would, feel himself grow older, and wearier, as he grew farther away from his own parents.
Oh George & Eleanor. And—maybe I’ll be just like that old guy from the train…B. first thought this a joke, and smiled to himself as he thought it.
But the more it stayed in his mind the more he ruminated on what it was exactly that the old man had wanted. Sure he had uncovered his own psychedelic meaning for it, but why was that meaning what it was? And why so baffling? Was he just a conduit I was using for my own alienated cognitive plan? Did he not even want anything; what was it he had wanted? Thought B.
And was he even real, and if so, which one was the real, or more real, one, the one in my head or the one I saw on the train, in person, earlier today? Am I going mad?
He wished passionately to know—to at least understand someone besides himself—to connect however blindly to other wayward people, ones with a past they can remember. Ha, thought B. distantly, knowing he’d forget it, being always the flake when it came to his mental health: Ha, I should see a neurologist.
Then, he started relating himself to the actual stranger he saw, or thought he saw, in real life, on the train, earlier that day, and the old man, too, seemed a presence once again,—though not visible this time: come to consciously share something like a secret with him: the way he had with the old man, perhaps without that strange person, in reality, ever knowing, probably.
The way he had mistaken him for someone obviously close: he obviously was able to see something positive like that in B., some friendly cosmetic in B.’s face that made him one of the World. Such unapologetic brotherhood most likely prompted me to freak out like I did at the house. I…I just couldn’t take it. But B. caught himself. This did not suit him, no, not very well at all—no matter what else he said or he thought. So, instead, he dismissed it—and watched the upstate country pass before him, and thought of the times to come.
The unction of the train chugged off on the tracks like a martyr. Sunlight wimpled out across the windows of the train and made B. squint. The sunlight eventually disintegrated like crumbs into the chaff of the evening.
He looked out at the fugitive corners of light against the trees and as night came the cars on the highway shone like traveling eyes through the darkness.
And B. closed his eyes to sleep and found no sleep and found he saw only the old man from the train. The old man stood like a magus on the planks of the head of the youth. B. made the old man’s eyes green because it was more pleasant that way; more pleasant than brown eyes—the brownness of reflection tormented by vagueness, or as though concealing some inner judgment or doubt.
The green eyes brewed knowingly in the old man’s head. B. craved an answer from the old man—an answer to rebuke, or something, some concept, to destroy.
B. made the old man say something with B.’s own words: his image merely a vessel to speak the sane and caged eloquence of the blue youth and the venerable greatness in him finally dusting itself off, and the words less embarrassed in their saying: and the old green eyes penetrating nonetheless, as the old man said:
. . . . . .
“There are no such absolute terms for the little universe that is family. But why must we be so muddled, when it comes to those we love? Why must an answer be so expository, when the rest of anything else is written off with concretions, and facts heavier and harder than brick?
“An answer can be found in this example: a rock is a rock—a concretion, to the brickhead—is something else to the geologist. A fountain is a fountain to the brickhead, something more to the aesthete or architect. Yet geologists, architects, are specialists to special things; we are each the specialist regarding this thing of commonness called family. This is why it is something more than concrete.
“Specialists run rampant in this World. Everywhere is more information to whet the blade of the brain. Nothing is concrete, really. What it comes down to is that there is nothing of substance to rely on, merely an edgeless reasoning bobbing up and down on a sea of additional aspects: all visible only beneath the surface: aspects known only to the people who wish to dive infinitely into them.”
The old man then darkened himself:
“One learns that the facts arrive later—ironically, with the death of a family member comes the requirement for a simpler answer to manifest itself. A sudden necessity for reassuring order and finite means and ends. At the funeral, the anecdotes are told as though they were the man: the neat and acceptable subject matter and endearingly sad stories of closeness altogether pull the past—the past of the deceased—into a dramaturgy.
“Even the faults are hilariously overblown; which, before, had been scrutinized past the point of obsession and argued over. Overblown to make the negative seem piddling. Seem charming and okay. It is a way to sum all the multitudinous reels of terms into one sensible and orderly explanation for death. One absolute term. Parents were children looking up once, just as their children will be aging men looking down, free of their parents’ ghost. Leaving them behind. At their death…”
B. thought of his Father’s death.
B. felt the sensation of death creep across his body once more when the train he was on jarred and derailed as it hit a red car that had been idling on the tracks.