Charles Freeland and Rosaire Appel

from Albumen

Eyes watch from the tree branches. And culverts. You can feel them but you can’t make out the colors or the angle and you don’t know if what you imagine is the same as what someone else is imagining at exactly the same moment in a different time zone. But the question wouldn’t even affect us if we weren’t already in transit and stuffing ourselves full of Brazil nuts in preparation for a time of fasting to follow. Just the sort of thing that makes people wish they had been born to another faith while at the same time being able to appreciate the niceties of their own – like the colorful tales concerning the founders and the struggles they underwent so as to assist us in the struggles we are undergoing without being entirely sure what the purpose is. Why we are being asked to slough off layers of skin, for instance, when we don’t have that many layers to begin with. On the other side of the veil, you find more eyes, of course, but one of them is blind, as can be ascertained simply by noting the color of it, or the lack of color – the milky hue that arises no doubt from a past traumatic injury or illness. We can count on one hand the number of times we have been asked to digest illness in this fashion, to take it in and relieve the original sufferer of his burden. It just doesn’t happen that frequently, and when it does, the witnesses to the event all begin to hallucinate and some of them even approach a state like catalepsy. But you can tell they are not going to make that particular transition. As soon as they get close, as soon as their mouths become rigid and their breathing slack, good Samaritans appear from out of nowhere and provide them with the balm necessary to reverse whatever it is they are suffering from. In this way what you have are two separate yet simultaneous approaches – that of taking in and that of expelling from without, and still! still there is no satisfaction to be had. No final escape from the original ailment any more than there is from a nickname that has been following you around from birth like a vestigial tail. Something embarrassing. Something you’d like to have removed if it weren’t for the fact that surgical procedures are expensive and there are risks involved. You might not wake up from the anesthesia. Or you might. And when you do, you find that the whole world has been altered in some imperceptible way, some way so small as to be impossible to detect and yet it manages nevertheless to rob you of all ability to enjoy your surroundings. Even the pond where you like to go fishing is no longer, really, the pond you remember despite the fact that the same ducks gather there close to the shore and make their mild complaints. And the same nondescript ripples make their way relentlessly across an otherwise undisturbed surface.

Barns take on sinister aspects in the moonlight, seem to spin around on themselves as you pass, though this could just be a result of having spent too much time in the navy where everything is moving all the time. Especially if you are in the Arabian sea, as opposed to the Caspian which doesn’t behave the way you would expect it to given its affinity to other bodies of water. At least that’s what I have been told by those who refuse to spend their lives circling the same patch of ground like buzzards. Or moles, more accurately, because moles too must obey the law of gravity down to the last letter, to the punctuation at the end. The vial in the glovebox is unmarked, clear as plastic but for the liquid inside which is the color of plantains, before they are peeled, before they have even fallen off the tree. Sunday says it’s an extract of some sort that will give me visions, though he can’t say exactly what the liquid has been extracted from, a natural enough question given the circumstances and one normally apt, when left unanswered, to cause one to pause a moment before commencing whatever activity suggested the question in the first place. If the pattern persists, no one will know anymore why we keep feeling nostalgic for things we had no initial experience of, like French kissing for the first time at an ice skating party on a frozen pond. Or listening to music that is just common barnyard animal noises layered on top of one another with the assistance of a computer. Suddenly, the veins in the tops of my hands seem overly prominent, seem to want to establish their own identities far from where they find themselves presently, and the tip of my tongue plays host, I can tell, to some sort of visitor. A dancer of miniature proportions none too skilled at his or her craft. I’d like to think it’s a female, but the mirror is of no assistance, so I can’t tell. The mirror bobs up and down at the side of the truck almost as if it is not attached and when I stare into it for long stretches of time, I see the first faint traces of another world hiding at the back of this one, mocking it, imitating it in deadpan fashion like someone’s little brother at a picnic where, as usual, few of the adults are having any fun.

Pleasures multiply until they are indistinguishable from their opposite, until they seem to lean over some sort of abyss and stare for an hour or more expecting I’m not sure what to appear. Other than the abyss itself which is a given from the moment we are born until the moment when we realize we have been born and that being born should be a cataclysmic event in all but name only. The days lengthen and then lengthen some more and eventually we find ourselves occupying a slate blue room wishing we could make our memoirs mean something to those who might chance upon them at a garage sale, say, twenty years from now. They leaf through them with the same distracted air of someone who knows he has to meet someone else, someone vital to his emotional and physical well-being, at the airport in a little less than four hours but he doesn’t know what to do with himself in the meantime. I find the impulse to get all of it down on paper, or the electronic equivalent of paper now that paper has become both prohibitively expensive and unnecessary, a greater sin than that of forgetting. Though, to be honest, I don’t really believe in the concept of sin so much as I believe in the need to embrace the concept so as to help keep us from poking one another’s eyes out. This is why sometimes you will find me lurking about in the shadows behind the dumpster close to a construction site or behind the Thai restaurant where I first met the woman who would later become my first wife, though she will deny the connection to this day. She will tell you I dreamt the initial meeting and that only the final days contain any reality whatsoever – the dividing up of whatever few belongings we had managed to accumulate together, the acrimony and incrimination. It’s not like I go looking for places to string together into one long and continuous backdrop for my life, for what others might refer to instead as a private phantasmagoria. It’s just that you have to occupy some patch of earth at any given time, don’t you? And you can’t stay in that place forever. Eventually, you have to move onto another one and occupy it for a certain duration, and then, of course, the process continues until you are dead and so no longer able to occupy any place, strictly speaking, other than perhaps the flimsy memories of those you came into contact with along the way. Those you recommended a song to once, for instance, or those who shared your bed for a month or a year and they recall some of the things that happened there even if they’re not entirely sure they remember your name or what foods you might have been allergic to and so were careful to consume in only the most meager of portions, if at all.

Charles Freeland is Professor of English at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. Recent books and e-books inlcude Eucalyptus (Otoliths), Five Perfect Solids (White Knuckle Press) and Variations on a Theme by Spinoza (red ceilings press). He blogs at The Book of Objects.

Rosaire Appel is an ex-writer visual artist in New York involved with abstract comics, asemic writing and wordless books. (website: www.rosaireappel.com)

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