Longer journeys simply mean more time to sleep between them. And toast some bread and tell jokes we heard along the way. Most of these have to do with human anatomy and remind the listeners of a time when they too were confused about what their bodies were supposed to accomplish, how they differed in some essential way from the other bodies that surrounded them. I sneak in at the side entrance and am immediately overwhelmed by the darkness, not so much as a candle to cut through it, though I suspect there are people in here who possess night vision apparatus of the sort they use in the military. If we know where the ambulance is, we let on like we have never heard of an ambulance before in our lives. We conduct ourselves like people just in from the jungle who have had to cart their dead away on their own shoulders and so could not pretend the world is more pleasant than it is. Could not congratulate themselves on having conquered something that is even now weighing each and every one of us down from above. And below. Is twisting us about at small, but irreversible angles without our pausing in our pursuits long enough to recognize it. Perhaps this is why we spend so much time in the clutches of other people, why we long to know a stranger’s name and what makes that stranger a stranger in the first place, what will make him shudder. The lane we are driving in isn’t a lane at all when examined closely, but it still has all the properties one would otherwise expect. A lot of empty space above the pavement. A song quality about it we associate with tuning forks, with days spent at the calliope, taking lessons. Imagining ourselves in the company of whales. When isn’t it a good time to reconsider our attachments, to ponder the very formulas that have to this point kept us sane? The woman I’m thinking of borrows fifty dollars from the same person who owes her ten, and they bicker for a while concerning what should happen next, how they will sort out just who is using whom and for what purpose. It’s the sort of dialog I have been aping for decades, trying to find a place for it in my articles, but they don’t actually require any speaking. They don’t even seem to be saying anything at all. They are like those birds that make their nests in a cliff face and stick their heads out on occasion and emit a single, unvarying note. And each one sounds just like its neighbor, so that you can’t imagine what the purpose of that sound is, how they use it to communicate. And maybe that’s the point – maybe communication isn’t about communicating anything after all, but simply making a noise that might be mistaken for something of importance. Something that plays with its own shadow, that weaves and braids it into previously unknown shapes.
In which circles can, in fact, be drawn perfectly by hand. But we don’t believe the testimony of our senses precisely because that testimony seems so accurate. Who can believe such things as acorns and northeasterly breezes? They are better utilized by liars when those liars have yet to figure out what their ultimate purpose is. Why they keep claiming to have been in the crowd that watched the Hindenburg burn when clearly they are much too young. And the story doesn’t add anything of value. It doesn’t leave them in a better position to get what they want or even be able, really, to pinpoint what exactly that might be. They are left tongue-tied, but only in the mind.
By the time we unlearn the alphabet, the rain has begun again in earnest. And by earnest I mean to indicate more than just its demeanor. I mean something close to what you find in the darkest parts of your own mind when the doors down there have been closed and the ladders lifted up by unseen hands. This is the same territory first explored by the mathematician when he decided he would start dispatching strangers with a razor. This decision was quickly improved upon, but the struggle is not one we should underestimate. Or color in with pastel yellows. That razor sits to this day on the mantelpiece, a reminder of why we try so desperately to remember the past at exactly the same time we are unspooling it with our fingers. Can you imagine a more fitting send-off? The fishing boats line up in two parallel rows, their masts glinting with pieces of aluminum foil nailed to them in lieu of silver dollars, their rigging torn and bloody in places, but soft and inviting in others. Depending on how closely you look. Or what takes place on them before you arrive. I suspect the mathematician is a gifted arm-wrestler, the sort of man who allows you to believe you have the advantage right up to the point when it becomes obvious your tendons are beginning to tear. And what’s the use of complaining? You will only be reunited with the contents of a jar. You won’t even recognize what’s in there because you never really knew what any of it was supposed to look like in the first place. It was kept hidden away and any attempt to catch a glimpse when you were a kid – the way we sometimes try to see the most recent moments burned, in afterimage, onto the backs of our eyelids – met with such swift reprisal, you couldn’t help but feel as if you had been singled out, that you were just the sort of unfortunate soul people wrote songs about when they still knew how to write songs. When people still sang songs to one another on the steps of the local post office. And then critiqued them using tips and procedures first suggested by those who otherwise earned their living hauling bricks.
In which premonitions come at such great cost, the events they predict shy away from the limelight. They throw raincoats over their shoulders and slink off into the bushes. Perhaps we should follow them. With a baked ham and two pitchers of iced tea. Instead, we listen to those fools who think they will live forever. Who have become so convinced of it, in fact, they have little trouble convincing others. They simply inflect their voices a certain way, and do so subconsciously, just as we drop a register or two whenever something appalls us. And then we begin to understand something that before had been hidden from us, had been tucked away in those drawers where we keep our outdated keys and the menu from the Chinese restaurant: The hours given us ahead of time barely equal those we are forced to steal. They are replaced by symbols that are less efficient, and – let’s face it – less satisfying. Less likely to function the way they were intended.
The suggestion is to try a boat, to head out into the watery void and expect something to wait for you on the other side, an island maybe where the inhabitants have yet to forge any iron. Where they still refer to those who live over the ridge as devils and mimic them by holding two fingers over their heads. I attempt to work out the logistics using a pad of paper sporting the hotel’s logo, one where a fish is jumping over a plate with a plum or some other dark-colored fruit on it. Imagine a night spent with your foot in a cast, your ears constantly bombarded by the sound of mosquitoes. Maybe you would find your way out again without having to make use of a candle, without telling the rest of us why your name isn’t pronounced the same way it’s spelled. Eulalie seems, this evening, even farther away than the imagination can place her, farther than the archipelagos that dot the maps you find sometimes in old boxes, themselves left over from nothing more exotic than estate sales. Maybe that means she will fade with time, that she will become the sort of ill-defined shade that frequents movie scripts, that shows up in your mind when you are no longer awake and then shapes whatever dream state you are fated to suffer. The others drift away one at a time, wind up prey no doubt to headhunters and obscure spiders with bands on their legs. And I think maybe I am responsible somehow for what has happened. I am the one who first offered them cash for their participation, and I didn’t even have sufficient funds to take myself on vacation. But there’s no use assigning blame. Particularly if you don’t have the sort of memory necessary – one of those originating deep down in the synapses and the nerve fibers on either side of the synapses, and the black spaces that compose the synapses themselves, at least if the elaborate diagrams are to be trusted.
Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. A two-time recipient of the Individual Excellence Award in Poetry from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of the collection Through the Funeral Mountains on a Burro (Otoliths), the book-length poem Eros & (Fill in the Blank) (BlazeVOX), and several chapbooks and e-chapbooks including Chilean Sea Bass is Really Just Patagonian Toothfish (Differentia Press), Deviled Ham and a Picture of Jesus: Twenty Grubb Tales (Finishing Line Press) and Furiant, Not Polka (Moria). His website is The Fossil Record.