20110322

Jim Meirose


Circling Alice Springs


               as longhaired lanky Mason again faced off with short squat Lawson. Mason's fists clenched and his mouth once more opened and let out a familiar refrain.
               —go awry Daddy Grimsom—
               What're you talking about, Mason? protested Lawson—what're you talking about, God damn it—
               Mason waved the protest aside.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               Scowling, Mason backed off jerkily and sank once more into his well-padded orange easy chair. He cast a dirty look at Lawson, from the black eyes set deep in his face. The dirty look bounced off Lawson's stout belly and fell to the ground, turning into another dark puddle. Again, it was all happening—it was all happening again. Once more turning away, Lawson stripped off his shirt and pants and dove into the puddle with a great splash. He clawed his way deeper all the way to the bottom and sat in the mud there. He held his breath as long as he could; his lungs came near as they dared to bursting; he could have shot to the surface for breath, but as he knew it would the water level came lower and lower and went below his face as he at last let go his breath in a great barking gasp. The water level sank down below his bellybutton, and it lay there for a moment before gathering itself together into a dirty look again and shooting back to Mason. Mason fended it off; it spattered against the wall with a slap, as Mason cried out.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               What the hell are you talking about, said Lawson, as he rose still drenched and picked up his shirt. He slipped back into the dark green shirt and it clung damp about him, as did his wet baggy dark pants. Mason cried out again.
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               Having yelled this, Mason clutched the arms of the well-padded chair, looking brighteyed and amused with himself. He cast another dirty look at Lawson, this time from his large deep round black mouth. Lawson's hand shot out and the dirty look smacked him hard in the palm and its spikes stuck there. Lawson grimaced, but held back from yelling; the dirty look writhed hot and black in his palm, glistening. Lawson rushed to the barrel in the corner and plunged his hand into the stagnant greenish water. Steam coiled up as the water sucked the heat out of the dirty look and it hardened in his palm and he pulled his palm from the water. He walked over to Mason and held up his dripping hand; the well-spiked dirty look clung to his hand, hard and glistening, cool now. Ignoring the pain of his pierced hand, and surprised he was taking the pain so well, he held the hand up toward Mason. Mason coiled up fearfully in his chair and cried out.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               The dirty look still hung in Mason's face, clinging to Lawson's hand. Mason sprang suddenly stark naked from the chair—he leapt out of his clothes and left them in the chair and went stark naked pasty white to the clawfooted tub across the room and slithered down into the water. The deep water turned black so his nakedness could not be seen. Lawson brought the dirty look over and hung it over the gleaming white bathtub. Mason cringed in the roiling black water, and cried out, only his face above the surface.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               Lawson plunged the dirty look into the bathwater and the water all steamed away. Mason leapt naked and nearly scalded from the tub and went over and pulled his clothing back on piece by piece, though he stood as wet to the skin as Lawson had been. He flung open the heaavy wooden door to the street and dashed out into the flowing hot midday sunlight of Gregory Terrace. He first turned left on the cracked sidewalk toward Stuart Highway but decided suddenly that going to the river would be better, especially since he still felt nearly scalded. So he turned around and ran past Lawson, who had come out onto the sidewalk also, and dodging the grey bits that lay on the pavement—they always seemed to be there—they were always there—he ran toward Leichhardt Terrace and the river, yelling at the top of his lungs as he passed the empty storefronts.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               And he tossed another dirty look back over his shoulder this time from his eyes and mouth together and it narrowly missed smacking Lawson in his wide face and went past and spattered into a great puddle on the sidewalk behind Lawson. Lawson paused; chase Mason to the river or go back and plunge into the puddle; Lawson chose. He turned and went back and dove into the puddle, this time leaving his clothing on, and once more clawed his way to the muddy bottom where he found an aqualung Mason had planted in the dirty look and he snatched up the rubber mouthpiece and began to breathe, bubbles trailing up above him like great silver soft shimmering balloons in the sunlight filtering from the surface. Fish swam about him and brushed against his cheeks and darted in and out of the bubbles above.
               Meanwhile Mason burst through a yellow POLICE CRIME SCENE tape stretched across the end of Gregory and paused for the traffic going both ways on Leichhardt Terrace and he counted the colors of the cars going by—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven different colors and at last there came a break in the traffic and Mason ran across, dodging the eighth color, hair flying, bare feet burning on the blacktop, and stood at the top of the grassy slope leading down to the river. And he spread his arms out to the slow brown river and yelled at the top of his one remaining lung.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               Back on the sidewalk on Gregory Terrace the water level fell around Lawson, as it had the first time, and he finally sat in a wet spot on the sidewalk with dozens of silver fish flapping on the concrete all around him, their flapping sounding like rows of pennants strung across used car lots in the wind. Casting the aqualung to the side, he rose and shook himself out dry like a dog. The silhouette of Mason showed in the distance, and disappeared off away down the slope to the river. Lawson charged after him. He ran down Gregory and behind him a thin greyfaced greyclad man with a long beard and shoulderlength hair spotted the aqualung and stooped and picked it up. The mouthpiece went between his lips and in past his teeth and he turned the valve open and began to breathe. He turned around and walked toward Stuart Highway, remembering the years that had passed him by and that now all came around him and enveloped him and once more there he was down in a foxhole, clutching an M16, fighting a firefight, and he was glad to have the aqualung because the bullets coming at him became a solid thing pressing in all around him, like water made of pure lead all roiling, and now he lay at the bottom of this river of lead shooting, shooting, shooting, until he was shot and killed.
               Killed!
               Instantly, Mason down by the river knew someone had died, died like someone always had to die, and he stood barefoot ankle deep in water, and he screamed.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               Lawson heard this as he crossed the cobbles of Leichhardt and he stood on the curb overlooking the river. Mason turned and they glared at each other; one down in the river and one up on the curb. Mason hurled up a dirty look once more and it hit into Lawson's legs and sent him sprawling in the grass and became a tangle of lashing snakes and wrapped around his legs and bound him there. He sat in the grass untangling himself, breathing hard, as Mason dove into the river and began strongly swimming a perfect breast stroke up toward the black Wills Terrace bridge in the distance, the scrub brush banks of the river sliding muddily past him.
               As Lawson sat unwrapping himself, he shouted aloud How did I get involved in this? Why am I chasing this man? And hear him! Hear him crying out in the distance as he swims!
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               The choppy words came muted this far off but Lawson had heard their cadences enough that his mind amplified them in his ears and heard them clearly as a bell. He knew that Daddy Grimsom was Mason's derisive nickname for him, and that each repetition of the cry burnt his ears and seared his blackening dirty soul, and the burning inside him made him work at the snakes harder and faster and at last he was uncoiled from the dirty look and it lay there on the grass dead, snaky tentacles coiled octopus-like. Dirty looks looked ugly alive but uglier dead, all deflated and flattened into the grass and starting to moulder and stink almost instantly. Lawson went down the grassy bank to the river and dove in and began swimming the doggie paddle after Mason, and under him great shapes slid by; monstrous fish with smooth black backs and piercing eyes all on him.
               As Lawson struggled far behind to catch up, Mason reached the Wills Terrace bridge and climbed up the steel latticework and onto the concrete supports and gripping the girders, he looked off in the distance, and saw Lawson coming, and he cried out toward him at the same time that he cast a dirty look Lawson's way. He had to lob the look high, and hard, so it would reach. It snaked oily in the air.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               The glowing green dirty look hit the water just in front of the wheezing struggling Lawson and he water froze around it and reared up a wall of ice in front of Lawson and he stopped up against it hard, banging his head. With Lawson now stopped dead, Mason climbed to the bridge deck and began running up Wills, his bare feet slapping the concrete like two flopping fish, heading fast toward the Stuart Highway off in the distance past the concrete retaining walls holding back the earth of the raised yards of the great victorian houses leaning drunkenly on either side.
               Back on Gregory, a lean policeman with great black shoes found the riddled body of the bearded war hero, with the aqualung lying by his side. A large puddle of blood spread around the bearded man, and the policeman thrust his whistle into his mouth and whistled hard, and hundreds of policemen converged on the dead man, and they began to slice him up into bite sized fragments and all sat in the street and on the sidewalk munching the pungent dark meat. They were fulfilling their purpose, feeding on the misfortune of others, paid their wages because there is such a thing as crime; typically happy enough to have solved a crime to high-five one another giddily as the criminal was led away and the dead lay coldly on the ground, wasted, the price of their wages, the price of the happiness of their lives.
               Mason cried out to the houses flying by as he roared down Wills, feet slapping the ground like cracking whips.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               Lawson climbed up on the iceberg in the river and the cold flooded up over him, and he shivered. He slipped and slid across the ice, the dark shadow of the dirty look embedded in the ice below him, pulsating with a ghostly green glow, and he dove into the water on the other side and his lips turned blue and his teeth chattered and he doggie paddled to the shore, having decided to run on land up to the Wills bridge and make better time that way. He dragged himself up out of the water and decided further that it would be better to get right up on Leichhardt and run down the cobbles, and then he would be sure to be able to catch Mason. He ran up over the curb and began running up the gutter toward Wills. He wasn't surprised that he wasn't winded; a half hour a day on his old wornout white exercise bike took care of keeping him in shape to be able to chase down scrawny monsters like Mason. Cars blew by him, some honking him aside. He passed by Parsons Street and the twin taverns on each corner and at last he got up on Wills Terrace, and he looked left and in the distance saw Mason running, and he screamed out and shook his fists as he started after his prey.
               Hey! Hey! Hey! Mason, stop! You can't get away—
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               Stop!
               They both ran faster.
               Stop!
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               Mason tossed back nasty pasty sticky prickly dirty looks but they failed to reach Lawson who was too far behind and Lawson passed by the greenish black dead dirty looks lying wasted scattered on the road, and he wondered how many more dirty looks Mason had, and as he ran he became mildly concerned that he would be hit by another dirty look and he shuddered thinking what a terrible experience it was to get hit with a dirty look; but he had gone through it, and he had beaten it, so he ran faster, head raised, unafraid, his breath coming in wheezing gasps; he would take it again if he had to; he would.
               Mason reached Stuart Highway and skidded left and started down the concrete strip and he fell into an easy loping stride, breathing easily, deeply, smoothly, big powerful cars blowing past him, heading past where Parsons and Gregory headed off from the highway and the Stuart Highway became Telegraph Terrace, turning from tarry concrete to cracked blacktop, and there was where he had a choice—he could take the split off onto Larapinta Drive or continue straight on down Telegraph, but he was getting winded so he decided to head to the right onto Larapinta, and ran for a while between rows of gnarled barkless bare trees and then took a quick right onto George Crescent, where the houses were rows of fenced off boxes of many colors with many dogs in the houses and many cats, and he chose a green house and leapt a wooden fence and crouched hiding beneath a big round hedgebush and waited to see if Lawson would find him. The dirt smelled acrid, burnt somehow, from years of sun beating down around the yellowing bush; a strong smell he let fill him as his breath slowed to normal and that lulled him into a half-asleep state.
               The policemen, having dined on the bearded dead man, leaving hundreds of grey scraps around, rose on Gregory and took notice as Mason ran by on Stuart, and the quickest policemen ran out onto Stuart, missing Mason but collaring Lawson, who was running full tilt after Mason, and Lawson and the policeman tangled together and fell headlong on the cement of the gutter by a bunch of well-bleached bare bones lying there that used to be a stray dog that had been killed a year ago by a semi-trailer.
               What! cried Lawson—what is this—
               He and the policeman struggled against the curb, skinning their knees and knuckles, and scattering the bones, and the disheveled policeman answered.
               What do you know about the shooting of the bearded man? Lord God, I am happy to have caught you—what do you know about the shooting of the bearded man—
               Nothing! shouted Lawson, freeing himself with his fists feet and teeth, rising, raising his fists at the policeman just as the several hundred other policemen emerged from Gregory in a great blue mass, re-energized from having dined on the bearded man, and caused Lawson's eyes to bug. Wow! he cried, and he turned and ran with several hundred and one policemen hot after him. Their feet thundered on the pavement like a stampeding herd.
               —what is this, thought Lawson—I have killed no one—I have no gun—I have no knife—Lord God let me outrun them I must be free to catch Mason I've got to get Mason he's always my quarry he's always my prey—
               He turned left onto Stott Terrace and headed toward the river again, thinking that if he plunged in the water the policemen wouldn't follow, but then he thought that was foolish, that nothing would stop them, he had to shake them, he had to speed up and lose them altogether. The bridge came up and he made a quick decision and shot across the bridge and skidded left and ran toward Lindsay Avenue and leapt a series of fences into a horsefield, zapped through an electric fence, and then got into a mass of prickly scrub brush and hit the hardpacked ground with his belly and faced Lindsay, and suddenly realized he had lost the policemen, as he heard them shouting in the distance headed on past up Stott. He saw the great dust cloud four hundred and two pounding feet in heavy black shoes were raising, and he was amazed at himself for having been able to achieve escape, and decided to lie in the brush until nightfall, safely hidden. He now allowed himself the luxury of hacking and wheezing and he threw up slightly to the side onto the sandy ground.
               The brush Lawson lay in spread out before a large three story white frame farmhouse and unknown to Lawson the farmer stood in his flowered kitchen boiling a pot of water to make himself an instant coffee to sip through the evening. He brought a cup down from his cabinet and glanced out the window past the scrub brush and fences and as he waited for the water to boil he switched on a green plastic radio with a great crack across the top and it crackled to life and it spoke to him in a manly voice.
               —police today are seeking the killer of a bearded derelict who was gunned down on Gregory Terrace. They pursued the killer but he gave them the slip—
               The water began to boil and the pot whistled through the voice from the radio. The half bald farmer turned down the gas and got the pot with a pig potholder and filled his cup, and put the pot down and stirred the coffee all through the weather forecast from the radio and it filled him with dismay.
               —no rain on the horizon for at least another week—
               The crops, thought the farmer. What will happen to my crops? They're dried up now—but in a week—in a week—
               He sat heavily in a chair in the kitchen and took a sip of coffee. His mind emptied; no point in worrying about forces of nature. Nature, like time, does what it wants to do. He brought the cup to his full red lips repeatedly as outside, darkness began to fall and Lawson had heard the whistling of the pot and had thought how nice it would be to be in an easy chair right now with a cup of tea beside him, rather than lying in the prickly brush full of webs and tiny vermin and with sweat pouring down every part of him. He still lay in the grip of the effects of the running; every pore tired, every muscle tingling, his bare feet burning. The darkness enveloped Lawson and little, by little, his eyes closed down, and he began to sleep.
               Back on George Crescent, across the river, Mason lay beneath the large round hedge beside the small boxy house, his head on his hands, dozing. In the house an old grizzled woman sat in front of the television reading a book. She knew that soon her favorite game show would be on just as soon as the news was done winding itself around her. She thumbed the book and the news went on.
               —police today are seeking the killer of a bearded derelict who was gunned down on Gregory Terrace. They pursued the killer but he gave them the slip—
               She raised her grey face and thought that means there's a killer loose, Gregory is right near here you could almost throw a stone from here to Gregory my dead husband could have done that he was a great throw he could throw a stone from here to Gregory—you ought to have seen his muscles especially the muscles in his arms—Thoughts coursed through her as she put down her book, rose heavily from the floral patterned chair, and went to the front and back doors, to lock them, then came back to the floral patterned chair, still thinking.
               —yes he could have thrown that stone from here to Gregory yes he could have he was a strong man he was a tough man—
               The game show came flickering onto the television screen and she settled back and laid her eyes on it, and all the thoughts went away and were replaced with images of the game show host in his dark loose suit and the two brighteyed contestants standing one on either side; a longhaired lanky young man facing off with a short squat older man.
               —well as you know people the object of this game is to guess which door the grand prize hides behind—but first, a series of questions—
               The words and images wound round her.
               Why did the men run down Gregory? asked the host.
               To get to the other end, said the lanky man.
               And what were they trying to escape?
               The ravages of time, said the older man.
               The next words seized the mind of the old woman and squeezed the mind and bulged her sleepy eyes.
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               The grand prize! And now, for the grand prize!
               What will be the end of these men—
               What, in the end, is the nature of time?
               Where will these men end up—
               A spiral a circle a straight line—
               She fell into a vacant daze bathed in the questions and the guessing and the excitement of the contestants and the clean shaven hawklike visage of the host. It was an hour show; and when it was over, it would be dark out.
               Time passed and the game show went on and outside, the darkness came down around Lawson and Mason also; the same darkness fell, linking the two men across town from one another; Mason by the hedge and Lawson in the brush; one darkness brought them together, and they stood facing one another in the pitch black and Mason hurled a dirty look at Lawson and it was a lucky throw, being blinded as Mason was by the dark; he threw it at the smell of the man; the sweaty deep dark smell radiating; and the dirty look enveloped Lawson's head like a great soft bluestriped pillow wrapped around, and he opened his eyes inside of it and he now stood in a wide hilly field of bright green grass, stretching from horizon to horizon, dotted with white and red flowers and rabbits scurried here and there in the field, grazing in the grass, nibbling fast and unceasingly. Lawson knew he stood inside of Mason's dirty look and he knew that the field and flowers and rabbits were not real but it didn't matter, it was amazingly beautiful; the air smelled fresh and clean and the sky stretched above, all robin's egg blue. A sweet yellow sun beamed softly down. At once a voice came filling the air and pounded his ears like tympani.
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               Mason was near; where was Mason? Lawson stepped out walking across the field, at first afraid that his first step would take him out of the dirty look and back into the darkness facing Mason, but that didn't happen. The soft breeze enfolded him. He walked and knew that here it must be morning because the dew lay thick on the grass and soaked his bare feet and the bottom cuffs of his long pants. The rabbits scattered before him, but not out of fear; they hopped gently ahead and to the side, not running from him, but accompanying him.
               Mason in the meantime stood squinting into the dark trying to see the dirty look wrapped around Lawson's head and he stepped forward in the dark and reached out and touched the back of his fingers against the dirty look; and it felt cold and a cold wind at once came up behind Lawson, walking in the green sunny field, and he wondered where it could have come from because at the same time the air lay still around him, and then something suddenly seized Mason's imagination and he hauled off and swung a fist into the dark and smacked Lawson right in the dirty look. Lawson fell down into the dewy sundrenched grass, and lay there stunned, rabbits motionless around him, and a voice came again to remind him who was behind all this.
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               Mason! cried Lawson, from his prone position in the grass. Mason—did you hit me Mason? Mason! heard Mason, the words coming from inside the dirty look encasing Lawson's head; Lawson was crying out from inside the dirty look and Mason tore the dirty look from Mason's face and the dewy grass and rabbits fell away below and the blue sky and the soft yellow sun shot away above and once more the two men faced one another in the dark, and they fell still standing sleeping dreamlessly that way, eyes locked into one another's, until the sun came up from under the far flat horizon, and Mason opened his eyes and stretched covered with morning dew under the large round bush by the old woman's boxy house, and Lawson opened his eyes and rose in the scrub brush before the farmer's big frame house, and he brushed the twigs bugs and webs off himself and stepped out toward the sidewalk lining Lindsay Avenue and Mason stepped across the lawn of the boxy house he'd lain by all night feeling headachy from the pollen but that couldn't be helped and he began walking down George Crescent toward Larapinta Drive and began softly talking to himself, believing he was making an odd kind of sense.
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               Thoughts boiled up from below the words.
               —so what will happen if Lawson catches me? Why was I running from Lawson anyway? Just because I shot him a few dirty looks? I wish to confront him about this—
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               Mason kicked out walking faster, quickly coming down Larapinta past stands of newly planted tall trees on either side and turned left onto Stuart Highway and dodged the colorful shiny fastmoving morning traffic and headed for Gregory Terrace, meaning to go back to his apartment. But when he got to Gregory Terrace he found it cordoned off with yellow POLICE CRIME SCENE tape. And he asked a tall widefaced shockhaired bluecapped policeman standing there in great black shoes and with a huge black gun holstered about his ample waist what the problem was.
               A bearded man was gunned down on this street and there is evidence scattered all around, he said. Why do you ask?
               My apartment is on this street and I need to get to it.
               The policeman coughed up and spit a big green and brown snot into the gutter.
               Well, he said grainily—I guess you're out of luck because no one is allowed to pass. Scraps of the bearded man, whom two hundred policemen lustily dined on yesterday, are scattered about and we can't have them disturbed.
               Mason's face screwed up into a knot.
               Scraps? he said—how disgusting.
               The policeman looked pleased with himself until Mason spoke again.
               —go awry, Daddy Grimsom—
               —Daddy Grimsom go awry!
               This shook the policeman; something about the cadence of it, something about the message in it. And then common sense suddenly seized him and he decided to let Mason pass.
               Just go to your apartment, he said—don't touch anything.
               Thank you, breathed Mason, and he went under the yellow tape and came down Gregory, stepping around the grey bits of the bearded man. What part of the bearded man's body were these? He resisted the urge to touch a large scrap with the tip of his toe. Reaching the familiar ornate door, he entered his apartment. He stood before the well-padded orange easy chair. He shook, twitched, and fidgeted, knowing that something was soon bound to happen, but just not knowing what. He went to the kitchen and noisily began rearranging the pots and pans, something he did when nervous.
               Lawson came down Stott Terrace, passed by the great cemetery by the water, and crossed the green steel bridge and started out toward Stuart Highway, and then came to the corner of Gregory and went up to the same policeman, who told Lawson the same thing he had told Mason.
               You cannot pass, said the thick policeman. A man was eaten here yesterday—a murder victim. We're looking for the murderer now.
               Luckily he didn't recognize Lawson as the man they had chased yesterday, mainly because he had had the previous day off, calling in sick to get his grass cut and the rest of his yard work done, and he grew sweaty. He put down his rake and went in and his good wife had a tall glass of iced tea ready for him and they sat in the sunny sunroom looking out at the beautiful day, while all the chaos was happening with Mason and Lawson and the policeman was completely ignorant of it.
               I need to visit my friend's apartment, said Lawson—are you sure you can't let me pass?
               The policeman's porous nose screwed up and he said well, I let another guy go through before, I suppose it can't hurt to let you through too—as long as you go straight to that apartment and don't touch anything lying around on the ground.
               Oh, I won't, said Lawson.
               Lawson passed under the yellow POLICE tape and passed the scraps of yesterday littering the ground, and thought I have seen this before—I have seen all this before. Dizzily he went to Mason's apartment, and went in the open door. Mason came in from the kitchen and stood before his well-padded orange easy chair. The other came around and faced him, and both men reflected wearily a moment on how familiar this all seemed.




Jim Meirose's short work has appeared in many leading journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, South Carolina Review, and Witness. A chapbook of his stories, Crossing the Trestle, has just been published by Burning River.

 
 
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