When he opens his eyes, he’s back in the room, the one without doors, walls or mentionables. And a feeling that this isn’t new. Then a thought that this is old, which a) it is, and b) is worrying for the approximate duration of a sneeze.
The path is hair, so much hair, the pretty wreathed & flowered locks that come attached to the beguiling scalps of Avril, May, June and Julie. Beguiling is not a word to describe a scalp, he thinks, but can’t stop himself. AMJ&J do a Noel carol. Then head down to the river for play, frolics and cider. August with slights from aside. He’s in a field with Nebraska, wishing he was in her in a field, deep down and dirty. There’s talk of the space between myth and legend and, especially, of how certification should be mandatory before anyone gets to name a human, especially, and mutts probably. Behind and left, a door opens to the Tube, and they board, they take that ride. The sisters sing and shimmy; May blows kisses, the rest just blow. They harry into platinum, remembering when Harry was a verb and what happened there anyway.
Somewhere a radio is counting down the top twenty country songs. Someone’s dog died. Someone’s woman did go and do her man wrong. Same some-man who lost his job when the factory moved overseas. Only the army is hiring. Someone else has gone down for ninety-nine years for a crime he did not commit but confessed to in order to protect the perpetrator who has seven mouths to feed and crops that need taking in, at least those that survived hurricane season, the pox and new state taxes. Things weren’t like this back in the hills. And The Bottle, don’t forget The Bottle.
He half-laughs, quarter-splurts and/but whatever aspires to get outside of him escapes his control and splits into units, which isn’t/aren’t funny, neither now nor evermore. Amen.
On the continuum between always and never, he says, and the sisters laugh. He starts over, On the—There you go again, June says, doing that thing. We love how you do that. With your continuums. Cracks us up. Give us another, go on, You Good Thing. They wait, prone, on the edge of a shimmy. He squeezes his eyes like he’s there, digging parameters or contemplating meshing scenarios, something, but he isn’t, he isn’t even close. He squeezes his eyes, and/but, inside, he is asking himself who these sisters are. AMJ&J? And who let them in? There’s a breeze. Also, where am I? Also, well, don’t start me.
When he opens his eyes, the phone rings—an invite to incinerate this or that bridge. Never build a room on a bridge. Never put your shack on a crossing. Your yurt in a river. He listens close, a good old sound trying not to be. He lets down his figurative hair, quite the mane all said, then ties it back, wishing for a trim, just back over the ears, but his ears—what he thinks are his ears—are cartilage moths, freaking on high, much as groupies group. The news comes down the phone line anyway; exhortations to ignite this or that linking expression. Boom. There goes another and he’s in the swim, minions in his shirt and—what’s this now?—Avril in his pants. His ears feed on a butterfly. The phone punches: jab-jab-uppercut-jab: rhythm, footwork. Repeat. He lets his eyes fall shut and smells the buzz and whirr of a pool; a typing pool full with tight skirts and loose exceptions. Jab. Yabba-dabba. Shimmy-shimmy.
The line for meds has doubled back on itself and no one is saying where is the what but, yes, he is not alone in trying to remember the name of the two-headed snake. Zaphod?
The Erudites are back with their drills. Missed you big guy; smiles behind hands. They ask where his vitals are at, then go to work on the combination to his universe, again, and try to write that perfect prescription. Again, yawn, again.
Xserotonin2 + Yfeliznavidad = unless we go right this minute, we’re going to miss Happy Hour. Tick, tick, tick …, … The Erudites dream of citations and applause, of Letterman and hookers. Fat wads of green and Italian lingerie. Remember, they say. Remember How, and Who, and What and Why. But when you’re ready … take the time … let’s not blow a circuit or nothing. Hey? You in there? How, Who, What and Why? And Where, let’s not forget Where. Plus How, and its connotations—how much, many, old. Hot, etcetera. And How Come—let’s not forget How Come—that’s an important one. When you’re ready. Tick. Anytime you’re ready.
Okay. Let’s get to the bottom, an Erudite says. No, no, no, man, not that hairy pimpled thing. Put it away, back inside. The nitty-gritty. The Down to Business. Heart the matter and show us the road. Rolling balls. This bouncing about of idioms and colloquialisms goes on a while, it’s a thing they do to pass time; it keeps erudite cells sharply grey.
There’s fuck all light right now, he mentions, and they nod—chew crudités, stroke erudite beard—they nod and ask stuff, other stuff, and nod some more, then ask and nod and nod and ask. Interjections of Ah, and Funny and Hmm. They throw down roadmaps that have nowt to do with drive and everything to do with a stuffy feeling that something apparent is nowhere in the vicinity of his personal Rorschach rainbow.
[Pause] He dribbles into the palm of his hand, which soon overflows into his lap. Get a grip, man, a voice says, or was it a thought or was it a memory, a maverick—not one of the shooting party. There they are when he opens his eyes, and that’s them calling time, closing time, getting down in irrepressible-undisputable Erudite fashion.
When he opens his eyes, there is a noticeable surplus of weather that belies qualifying and lends itself to kinda-sorta. Fickle stuff. He manages a smile—askew from the get-go—at the thought that he cared for one burning moment. Cue raindrops big like fists.
He opens his eyes to a new episode: rainfists launch, smash, gush honey. He wonders who this Rainmaker is—and/or—was; sticky-wet, he licks and smiles, then grins and groans. He has a PhD in Rain, an honorary thing that says he knows rain as no one knows rain, as long as it’s not from his Heimat. There was rain, though, there, and likely still is. How could there not be; it wouldn’t compute if not. Precipitating. If logic were applicable. The fun he’d’ve had. The worlds he woulda done. Not making sense makes perfect sense.
A heartbeat stumbles, murmurs Baaaabe—here’s your ticket to the path. Are you there, baaaaabe? Your ticket, and a backstage pass to the Broad Vowel Emporium. Step right up.
The path is the subway, the underground and metro, that U-bahn in Berlin. He samples and compares. It’s Berlin hands down. How could it not be. Consider your average commuter’s level of hotness, I ask you. He creeps down tubes and screams into Arrivals at glasscrack falsetto, and is rewarded with ass-tanning, coughs and laughter.
Ketchup/mayo/mustard, today’s exhibit. Look at yourself, he says. Yes, you laddie. From a distance it could be avant-garde. There used to be shit to change into that wasn’t pyjamas. Food, all memories of food are finger food; minus the nomenclature. If it can’t be held, it shouldn’t be eaten. No way would he go to the trouble of using tools, not now—besides the fact that no one is giving him any, besides the fact that he has unlearned how to use them.
Unrelated, probably, this warm fuzz inside, like fireside toast. It’s nothing—again, probably—to worry about, but he does a look-see for the leaflet that came with the box. Something comes up along the way, that’s soon outdated and he redirects, an alternative synapse, which in turn is superseded, then antiquated and overtaken; there’s a lot going down. He re-re-redirects, the fuzz, thanks, is strong.
When he opens his eyes, he’s on the line-loops-eternal loop. Maybe Bratislava, or Someplace That Might Be Denver. No one’s watching and no one cares. No one will ever see. Here, There or Anywhere. The line without GO. The loophole if there is one is X times circumference, scrambled by pi, to go, paper bag please. A squared turnip or kohlrabi. He spins, puts up his feet, loosens his shoes, loses his shoes, starts to smell, loops, smells, grows a beard, loops, defecates and is escorted by masked, gloved burlies out & off and up steps to the mouth of the whale aka Arrivals. His escorts are masked like back in the lab, or is this the lab? Maybe this is the lab. Burly Chantelle and Mandy O’Burly. Aren’t you ladies fine speci–mens? he says. They deposit him to the side and administer a kicking, the least all considered, but nothing too serious—the proverbial deterrent against inevitable. When he opens his eyes, he’s back on the loop.
He does what it takes, he tells himself, and exits right, left of If That’s What It Takes. Always with the taking. The line for meds is now online, open for business from 12 till 3. No way does this tally.
When he opens them, his peepers, he’s part theorem, the part no one can solve but everyone’s seen the movie about starring Insert Name Here.
When he opens his eyes, it’s on the inside of a portable-handheld thing that he has no clue how to work, never mind troubleshoot. It screens him, humming a sad old song—Horselips—hard to forget and easy to scorn, which he does, from habit, though there were reasons, actual empirical reasons, someplace local. He butterflies through liquid crystals, dovetails with birds of paradise—plume’d types that have long since given up on flight. The idea already. He’s locked in and resident, screened. The rhythm’s gone funky, all lovesick’ed & forlorn.
Kevin O Cuinn originally is from Dublin, Ireland, and is the fiction editor at Word Riot. He is the author of The Coordinates of (His) Separation, an uncategorizable compilation of compressed story-telling from Ravenna Press.
Image: el_alf, morguefile.com