Besides the youth the train was mostly empty. There was himself, and a few other passengers, and someone who had gotten up to leave the train, but now had turned around, and was staring at him from a few feet away, by the open doors. And quite conspicuously, the youth thought to himself.
Just within the youth’s peripheral vision, stood—though slightly obfuscated—the figure and presence of an old man, hunching his frame against the trainrail and looking looking at him. The pretty and quite perished blue eyes of the youth continued to trace the modest, unassuming suburban country out the window and would not meet his gaze. The old man hung his brownish overfed eyes on the youth, who looked out the window with the look of one not registering anything they are seeing. The other passengers did not seem to notice the old man.
The youth had eyes of some blue color and they seemed to perish and fade into the back of the retina, and then, one got the feeling, become a tender and human lightness, perhaps theoretical, but telling of good human character, if it was there. But for all that, shining, as strong as it could, from the charred back of his skull, taking some of the blackness from there with it, from wherever corner in his head it originated, to the torsional surface of his expression, so that even when he relaxed his eyes, there was some momentary thought of void, whoever might be looking into them, at the moment.
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, yet haunted by a failure, one that announced coming, without coming. He was dominated by an infinite premonition of failure. Any failure in the meantime was simply not The Big Failure. Some odd fixation or permanent thought on this loomed, that it was still to come and to bear, and that it would, if and when instigated, throw into question whatever meaning there might have been for his life.
Something oafish, something burly and oafish, standing 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. 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—time, itself, had stopped to wait for something, anything, to go on, between the youth, and this form of dreams,—a man to be seen externally not but mere and frail and this made the youth feel more alone—like these other passengers were mannequins, lifeless props.
All was still: it was the stillness of the World itself in pause for the sake of whatever discourse to follow.
The youth’s knees went together, and he clenched the muscles in his thighs, and the train did not move, and the old man’s eyes were fire on him.
The youth was sitting down in a seat five feet away from the elderly old man stood inert against the train rail looking looking.
Sweat moved along the crevices of the two shiftless forms on the train. 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 lurched forward, as if in a cyclone, and the youth finally could take no more, and looked into the ravaged eyes of the old man and saw him, the eyes, like wet cinder, like slugs. And the train was a cyclone.
But neither 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 some 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, 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 old man gave him. Something grey and infectious that still managed to trickle down; it was 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 bookkeeping 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. 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 he held in his hand, 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 wiser. When he stood, his arms hung languidly, his hands both drooping 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 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 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’s 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’s 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 inbetween the two extremities:
“Oh,” she leaned and glowed and cast a fleeting eye on George, his 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 megamart.” Said George.
. . . . . . .
You see, this old, repeated adage, by most regular, level-minded folk who shop local and talk their agenda without knowing it and fear 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 realigned George’s tired, pained, 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, 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, and 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, just far enough away to have a private conversation, but close enough that B. could hear it if he tried—and they 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 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 he 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. And
they talked, to an extent, George thought. But him, George…friends? That wasn’t how it was with his old man.
What really got George angry was the fact that he always meant well with B., loved him, to whatever extent he could love him. 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 was not, 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, George thought. 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 faces away, after one desultory attempt at conversation, less than a minute, with him—who was the situation—and, really, B. didn’t want to be.
They, mother and father, always had to have the certain disinterested thing to say. Here and there, 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 things,—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 managed to stiffen them up so much into the state of vigilance enough that they could blame him, again. The way a deer might stiffen demeanor at a loud noise.
Or at least, they did not seem to stiffen more than usual, at the moment. There was no more to become, for all of what they had stiffened themselves into, so far, over the years. Just for him. Like the way deer’s necks get upright when they freeze at a threat, somewhere to be traced, in the unknowable distance. 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 that family, maybe just latent, that there might be, here, in his old home, to brave through to get to…what? 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 went bleating: all the dumb anxieties and testimonies and beefs and contrite hosannas, about him, he had heard from them, bleating, before, at one time or another, throughout 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, if they were freaking out like this.
Why had he come back? He heard them say, at a somewhat louder whisper, just loud enough to imply their wanting him to hear. B. walked around to the other side of the house.
And his father, leaning against the counter, slouching: the wellfed sphere, the pooch, of his old 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—struck by their obvious discomfiture. It is over this untimely arrival of his, no doubt, not what to make for dinner, like she said to me. Oh, these blatant parents, and their discontent, discomfiture; and their blatant discontent, that 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.
At this point, if the cat was already out of the bag, his parents’ begrudging increasing of obviousness B. would expect to reverberate publicly throughout his home, ever more, to the point of making clear a shady moment, through obloquy—a string of oaths muttered from George—once he got not two steps deeper into the kitchen.
A discontent felt of being made the object of 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.
B. Softness—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 his parents, in such and such a way, of obsequious mania, so 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 of 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. 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. It went this way, for years, and wet, sloppy, globlike time piled on him. And the want…morphed into frustration…
B. Softness, when sleeping 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. 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. 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 a while.”
“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. It was too early to tell.
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, 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, the people he’d met and known well.
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 his own accomplishment that he loved in the first place, that he’d have to get rid of, just for some cruddy theoretical enlightenment.
He became his gun, that is: accurate, and quick, and 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 somewhere under the broad umbrella of what is known as trauma, where so many others who experience combat 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 what is wrong with him, 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 this virulent numbing power over his life he now realized lay planted in who his parents were, who they always have been:
And he looked at his parents, then. And his parents looked back at him, with eyes of disgust and horrible loathing.—
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’ve almost died a few times. 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 and 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 the years he spent in the military at once. 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. But still knew, somehow, that he had been in the military, erasing one link in the chain but keeping the chain.
—B.’s mouth opened slowly—
A trespassing numbness tiptoed, further, through all of his limbs, but from some crucial beginning, some placeless core, in himself, not anyone else; the numbness did not make him feel in himself placeless—at first it jimmied the figurative lock, in 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.
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 to 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 the friends he had, looking through a vascular hole, he found nothing, because his soul could not fit. His soul in all its wilderness and woods.
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, and 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 from his past. Any date on the calendar. Anything recent at all besides erasure, before this afternoon.
It was as if all the things he did without his parents—any and every scene onstage to himself, the very meaningful rest of it, without them—were precluded from linking in his memory, excluding the bouts of soliloquy he crafted, when a child, to find an answering voice, while living in minutest silence, in a room, in these peoples’ house, before the eyes of his parents, then not before the eyes of his parents, and now again today before them, saying things to them that he sensed were making him upset, saying them to his parents, now, yet neither could say they heard, and he himself did not hear it, though he heard himself speaking, but sensed ebbingly it was so as for others to, who are perhaps outside of time—he wanted them to hear and read his coded answer, as their own answer—adopt him that way—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. Was his own fault. 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—and 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. 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, not one 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,—the eyes 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 shoulders—wanting to grip the man—
B. convulsed, and, seeing it clearly, with a sensation of beauty so grea,t 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 could 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: somewhere within the white sheets: wanting everything, absolutely everything in the World and, and, and only concerned with the new.
. . . . . . .
All of a sudden he was red 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, men often themselves children, 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.
The soul of B. 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. And stop this.” 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, 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 this 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 samewise. 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 right, 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 ganglia 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 crazy?
He wished passionately to know—something. 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, 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, but just as likely, without the strange figure 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. Must’ve…
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 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. 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 for a dime 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.