Jim Meirose

Candlespeak: Hombres de la Eucharistia, Sho’ nuff’—All Aboard!

               So, after a long tiring walk across the gigantic state of the art fully automated container ship called the Dakota Maru, the only two men on board, Skip and Noman, sat eating in the bright cheery lunch room behind the bridge. The watery tossing lightly splashing whitecaps filled the big windows on the side, all the way out to the bottom of the blue sky.
               International law demanded that even fully automated ships, must have at least two crewmen on board, to handle the infrequent big dangerous crisis when the computers lose control; as such, Skip and Noman had nothing but busy-work to do, for about two long months. Day twenty-two this was. Twenty-two of several dozen exactly the same days, out to Shanghai from New York, and back, very, very slowly; yes, yes. That slow.
               I’ll tell you man, said Skip, cutting the food loaf before him. I still don’t really believe you aren’t married. You told me all about your pregnant wife and how worried and all you were. Was it really just—all in your mind? Why would that be? How?
               Noman chewed, chewed, winked, nodded, swallowed, and said, Yes, yes, I was very deluded, but it’s all clear now. I guess I just didn’t want to take this assignment. I made up the best excuse I could think of. I guess I wanted to be excused from this voyage so bad, that I didn’t let anyone, not even you, know the real truth. God, am I relieved. How the mind can get twisted. You know? You actually can force yourself to believe your own lie!
               Hey! Tell me about it! Hah.
               Plus, this job doesn’t help any! This has got to be the world’s shittiest job!
               Agreed, said Skip, as they hunched down digging at the cold bowls of shit, leftover shit to begin with, expired prison shit they had been given to eat during the month-long voyage. The spoons bowls clattered and scraped in time with the voice of the ever-present, not really there, Father Dwyer, up in the wide flatscreen television bolted to the wall behind, beyond the stench.
               Today, intoned the priest, across through and below and around the two seated silently eating men, You know, see, as long as you’ve not got some harrowing physical nervous or mental condition that prevents you from quality sleep, sleep on land is a great comfort, escape, and odd dreamy time. And if you don’t get enough, you can over-the-counter buy numerous sleep aids—this-PM, and that-PM, and even just plain old PM-PM. So, sleep is inevitable on land. But, as you men well know, at sea’s a different cookie altogether—
               They bit down in their stale lunch loaf, listening.
               —sure, the ship rocks and rolls and tosses and turns, and even with that you can probably get some kind of almost decent sleep, but how about those North Atlantic blows, eh, men? Yeah. Lack of decent sleep can even give you a kind of voyage-long narcolepsy. That’s when you fall asleep without warning, instantly as death comes if you get a shot to the back of the head.
               Boy he’s got a way with words, eh man? came through Skip’s long difficult chew.
               Yah, ‘e does, burbled up out from Noman’s last swallow.
               I even knew a fellow cook, said Father Dwyer, on a past voyage so damned long, who was slicing up a big fat long hard vegetable of some kind, and had an attack of narcolepsy so bad, he stood there asleep slicing and slicing numbly not seeing, over and over until the other cooks in the kitchen heard the crunching, and ran over to find he had, in his sleep, cut two and a half full fingers too far into his hand, without even waking. This narcolepsy thing is just too weird, and just too dangerous, for anyone using sharp tools in a hurry in a fast and repetitive manner. They couldn’t save the fingers; no doctors on board, not even monocled Germans. His religion said, Only German doctors. That was a shame; he bled out and died for lack of this. But now, back to now, speaking of knives, and speaking of apples, and happily not plagued with narcolepsy, we will—we will make a roast roadkill, with apple—here’s the rule all seamen should live by; always keep your belly full, to absorb the queasiness that creeps inside, in time growing to a great big ball of squirming worms, and drags you by the face to the side of the ship, to puke, puke, puke some more—
               The priest went on and the crewmen quietly relaxed, nearing the end of lunch, hearing in the gaps between the jaw crushes and the swallowing down, Skip in particular recalling his quirk, Yes, thank God, in the name of Father Dwyer, that he was always on the sea. He reminded himself how lucky he was. As he reduced the brown matter on his plate down smaller with each and every bite, he felt whatever fit he’d had, was passed, except, deep down; an undertow in the deep reptile brain that never can be heard, it is so down deep. He could hear it saying, I am in you and you no longer know who or what you are and I am deeply disturbed I don’t like to be deeply disturbed something is different now there’s something you know in the upper levels I can’t see into that has changed everything; something large is different. Somehow you are confused, and no one has told me; what is different—somehow, I sense you don’t know if you are about to be born or if you are about to die, or somehow magically have split into being in both states at once. It’s something like that, like—like remember that computer monitor they had in the office down Florida, years ago when you had not yet decided to give up life on land, you had that new job in that computer consulting office and you were using that fat wide 80’s vintage IBM monitor, and it suddenly looked as though you or it or both had suddenly snapped into double vision; you were confused as I am confused, and all at once a hand came and slammed into the side of the monitor, and everything slapped clear again, and you looked to the left, and up, behind, and there stood one of the masters of the place, whose job it was to train you, Kent Dazey. He smiled, and he spoke quickly, saying, Hey, Skip, my man, this monitors on the blink. We called IBM and they came and looked and couldn’t find why it goes all nutty looking like that, but they said just give it a good hard slap when that happens, and that would always make it right. We said, how about we replace it with a new one, and the IBM suit rolled his eyes and told us how much that would cost, so we decided, to the deflation of the IBM guy who smelled a sale coming, to keep this one thinking, that a slap in the side was free, and no problem, as outside of that, the thing worked perfectly well. The sale smell left, and so did the suit, taking his mysterious pitch black fat briefcase with him and fading away to some yesterday. So, you see, we’re cheap, said Kent Dazey smugly. And cheaper is always better, he threw last from his smiley lips. Yes, that was something you, Skip, learned years ago, from a master of the craft, years ago, when you could still bear to live ashore. And it’s been smooth sailing since, but now, here today, I have to speak and say there is something different in you, way above me, that is quite unsettling; so, since you are no more than a smelly soft machine of flesh bone blood and general muck, atop which I just sit and man the controls, how ‘bout we do what Kent Dazey recommended and slap ourselves silly on the side of our unnaturally large rocky head—go on! And Noman jumped his chair halfway back to the bulkhead, as Skip’s hand came up like a gunshot, slapping himself hard as he could upside his head. Noman feared an eardrum’d burst; Skip looked dazed, so dazed—Noman began to rise, speechless—and stepped around, toward shipmate Skip, to see what was wrong; what had happened; what was he thinking to cause this, but; Skip’s eyes cleared, his stricken pallor faded back, and he said, You know, Noman, I read a paper on the internet last night, that confirmed once more, my core belief, that we have a global crisis that calls for international cooperation to reduce emissions as rapidly as practical. Otherwise, the warming will continue, and it will be just Waterworld, just like that shitty movie, Waterworld, and you know what, fucker? I can’t shitcan wait. Now—
               Noman was so relieved, so relieved, a tiny spot of urine seeped into his underpants without his knowledge, as he said, Skip! You sound like the old Skip! Skip, why the hell have you been acting so weird?
               Huh? What?
               Weird? How? What the hell are you talking about, Noman? You always ask such odd questions; you should talk about weird, you actually spent a long time thinking you were married and you had a pregnant wife, you even had me feeling sorry for you, but today, God, today you tell me that’s not at all true and was just in your head, and you are calling me weird? You’re the weird one! Listen, hey—and what’s more, I been—
               Skip it, man! waved out Noman. Enough! Enough! Let’s just be.
               Skip? You said Skip? Hey—that’s my name, laughed Skip; thou shalt not take my name in vain! How dare you, landsman, insult this future merman of the deep!
               They exchanged shocked glances, at once melting away revealing smiles, and they sat and laughed for a while, deep from their smelly slimy bellies right out their mouths, about what an odd day it had been so far. It has to be caused by being at sea so long. It had to be because every minute of every day was exactly the same aboard the Dakota Maru; and Father Dwyer was still just starting to preach, about of all things, how to make a meal of roadkill. He said, Now, the roadkill you use, got to be heavy on meat. You know, not just any roadkill will do. First thing you need to do to never, ever have to buy the main component of your meal, is to always watch the sides of the road. Any lump coming up in the distance might be a candidate for a meal. Look at it this way; you go down the supermarket aisles and look at stuff on shelves and in displays and in frozen items’ shiny refrigeration units, and they all flow by, and you stop and pick this now, that now, yes; and that and which whatever. Switch your thinking to the following; every mile you drive is a mile down a market aisle. Now, the food items might not be as close together as in the store, but they’ll be there. You need to watch them coming up. As they come up, you slow. Do they look freshly dead? Were you past that spot earlier? Was the roadkill there that long ago? And, as a matter of fact, how long ago was that? You need to keep track of every dead thing lying in the trashy gutter. You need a little pad and pencil, but of course you know you cannot make notes in a pad with a pencil and drive too, so; listen at the end of this episode, and we will have for sale to you a little recording device you can hold in your hand, designed, made and sold in all the United States’ fifty segments, for only nineteen dollars and ninety nine cents, by the Only way To Eat is Free Corporation, located in Georgia and soon to outbranch, just as seen on post-midnight bleakly bleak television sets all across, yup, just the same as three a.m. on that same tubes worldwide, yup, it will just be a little box; but that smart little box will file, time stamp, which week, which month, for the item you describe in your own words, when at the same time you press hard as possible, the little magical blue button right here in my scrubbed up clean palm, and it will keep everything cross-referenced, ordered, sequenced, and prioritized, and it can tell you when you ask it to, what the roadkill you found on the road cannot still be fit two days from now, and it will generate a set of GPS directions which will tell you where to go to stop and pick up this night’s dinner, on your way home from the office, it will generate cooking instructions which will be based on Ace of Spade’s rule, which is; Thou shalt not consume today’s roadkill before yesterday’s is all gone, and all from prior forevers as well, and the little box will also inform all the little boxes of others who dine on this fine food, that if the item you are going to take from the road is on their waiting list, it will be removed. The Only way to Eat is Free, Inc., will also send you a second unit, absolutely free, if you act today and call instantly and directly after this very canned episode of my show, Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer. That’s right, free! To give as a gift or keep as a spare, though because these things are sure to last forever, and take about a penny a unit to make over in some sweatshop in China where people work with no piss breaks until the day they either crack up or die, there’s really no point in having two. It’s a marketing gimmick, natch? A marketing gimmick, yah! Okay, now, so. Using this, you got your hands on some dead little filthy hairy rag of pale completely drained of blood smelly hot flesh. But finding it is just the start of the fun! Now, you got to know what to look for, as in signs of palatability. That you don’t go and gurgle-gush out the whole meal you choose to make and eat today, if you don’t start with something edible, rather than sickening, as in slimy rotted all nauseous loose. Now, when you get an animal icy dead from the road, there are things to check. As in anything you do in life, you need to check things before you do them. You need to check there’s a gangplank present when you step off of the dock. You need to check no cars are coming before you cross the street, and you know, by the way, I learned that he hard way when I was about eleven years old. I was walking the sidewalk up the hill in Milltown, up Washington Avenue, and I was bouncing a little ball quite idly, thinking to the blue sky of everything in the world besides the ball; the ball abruptly bounced weirdly off a crack in the sidewalk, and shot out into the road. I went after it into the road without looking both ways, and as I grabbed at it, I stumbled and fell on my big ass in the road, both knees skinned raw, and I looked up, and here came a big black Dodge to nail me, but it stopped at my face right here; this very face. Just in the nick of time, the brakes worked and the chrome plated word Dodge on the deadly things’ nose, was stamped into my mind forever, as being something you should do to get out of the way of any evil event that is rushing up to kill you. And yeah, I was just eleven! I bet none of you viewers remember something you did when you were eleven, that you are sure that you were eleven when you did it; and that you remember it because something about kind of tattooed it someplace inside your pitch-black skullcap to ensure that you will never forget. I got Dodge in my mind forever! Dodge! Dodge! Dodge! And a Dodge that would be a valuable collectible classic today! But more likely rotting into the ground behind some barn. Or, crushed even. Totally never was, just a false figment surging up about every decade from my aging grey matter. Who knows, who cares, you know, but; back to you; each of you listeners, tell me in turn, tell me crisply, neatly; because you are seamen who should keep your minds shipshape and everything squared away all just like the rule books say; your minds should be tougher than Krupp steel; talk now, and I will hear you. Think what is your personal Dodge! What is your personal Dodge, what color shape or size or level of deadliness, or level of pure pleasure? What is tattooed inside your skull? Look inside! Learn to look inside! Learn to look both inside and outside! Be like the television you are watching me on! It’s a fact that the televisions you are watching that are installed in your obscenely massive container ships, are the only televisions in the world that can watch you while you’re watching, completely and clearly. Now, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that, but; yes, we are watching every movement you make to ensure the voyage is going as planned, that the computers are all running perfectly, correctly, and all the GPS systems and related spatial networks lasers and cosmic ray counters and Geiger machines and what boy Lego figurines constructed special for your very voyages you are enduring, are totally valid and precisely in effect. Know that the television you are watching is not just a means of entertainment for you seamen, but as a means of the unknown masters of the ship in huge spotless conference rooms in tall black glass towers on land, are making sure you are doing your duty, day by day, crisply and smartly, like you ought to be going, and doing, now; and right at Noman came guess what; his own personal Dodge; the thing whatever it was he’d got rid of, great and powerful, the wave you see a few times in a lifetime that is lit just right while rearing and breaking and there is something solid, dark, and quite large inside. Maybe some old log. Maybe some old board. Maybe some dead fish. Or maybe some live wildly snapping great white, come to get you, get you, get you, get; Noman rose quickly to get away, and guessed Skip had also; like clockwork they knew it, that it was bound to come, the back to work bell rang faster and higher and Noman did not simply walk, he flew, to escape the wave-Dodge full of God knew what bleak unknowns, coming at him. Noman did not want to see or know his personal Dodge, somehow it had him locked up for the remainder of his days, but he always made sure, he didn’t want to know or care, he just knew he had to escape; feared so horribly, run from so quickly, the wave did its job of putting him down in the in the steel square dark room thirty stories below, with his brush in his hand, which he plunged into the stenchy solvent, and ripped down fast unzipping the wall, and the expected great gash opened, and he stepped through escaping just a second, one tiny split second, the fumes the fumes the fumes the fumes, and there he stood way back, aged nineteen, on the parade ground spread sunny before now, yes; Noman stood dressed smartly in the pouring sun, with his cap pertly tipped and his trousers creased, one of a mass of clean-washed dressed-up military men on parade way back then, in his military costume with his military weapon empty of bullets and thus, harmless, held straight in a vast expanse of straighter weapons held higher still, and the sun was up in its proper compartment, and the great single-star general in baggy pants came toward him one man at a time down the formed up line, in open order, to inspect each soldier. Noman was once more not a man, but a soldier. Five or more years it would take, to become a man again, from where he had been frightened back to by the surging Dodge that had bashed itself to death in vain on the beach he had run from, back up to some sort of today where he’d feel safe again. The general came before him, and took his weapon, and it nearly spun as a propeller in the old General’s liver-spotted hands and then got thrust back into his, and he as fully there as he had been once before, actually many times before, but who’s counting? Now was mattered. It’s always now, here on the parade ground, not years out in the bowling alley, where she waits frozen ready for the moment to come and to pounce and take Noman for her mate, and—but, no no no—no, the wave. Know not the wave, the Dodge hidden there—yes, now, the thing is the nearly senile sloppy general.
               Soldier, your uniform’s a little ragged. When was this jacket issued to you, soldier?
               Sir! A while back, sir! I don’t know how to measure when exactly, sir! Maybe not yet, maybe years from now, or maybe way back in the past, sir! You know, like yesterday, last week, or years ago, from now—maybe even not yet really at all! Sir!
               From really at all, what! barked the general.
               From really at all, sir! spat Noman.
               You mean, from the now, when the bowling alley is just a plan on the drawing board?
               What bowling alley are you referring to, sir!
               The one you’re headed toward. Where your personal Dodge awaits.
               Personal Dodge, sir?
               Yes. Personal Dodge. As in with tits and ass. Are you afraid of tits and ass, soldier?
               No sir!
               You have tits and ass, soldier! What are the possible other parts you may fear? Any that you or I might have, soldier? Any that you or I might have?
               No, sir! Nothing you and I might have!
               All right soldier! But remember; the bowling alley is just part of some spark in some architect’s head, and part in some architect’s pen, and part on some architect’s paper. And that is just, first draft! Many years will come and go until once more, the moment of truth slams down! So, you see son. You’ve years yet to worry, son. So, come on, get loose. Loosen up. Slack off a little, you know? Have a mushroom or two. After all, it’s nearly the sixties.
               Yes, sir!
               Now, you know, soldier—your uniform must be perfect! So, let’s see—
               Several days passed, until at last the General stuck his face in Noman’s again.
               What are you afraid of soldier?
               Noman woke, blinked his eyes, and said, Nothing, sir!
               No tits and ass?
               No, sir!
               Good! Next, your boots must be properly polished—here, let me see—
               The General stooped. Days passed. Day/Night/Day/Night cycles passed about him. The rest of the men undressed, got onto sleeping bags, slept, got out of the sleeping bags, dressed, and like that around and around and over and under and here and then and day after day after—all for one pair of boots one pair—of fucking boots! You know, I; never mind. Continue.
               The General’s face came up out forward out of the boiling blue of Noman’s dark uniform.
               I heard that, soldier! I heard that! What are you afraid of?
               Noman woke, blinked his eyes, and said, Nothing, sir!
               No tits and ass?
               No, sir!
               Good! Now, all your creases have to be perfectly sharp! Here let me look—
               Again, Noman stood still, did not age, did not dare speak, for nearly ten days. The General’s head bobbed up. Again, he asked the question, and Noman said, Nothing sir!
               Good—next there have to be no loose threads, dirt, marks, ruffles or abnormalities on any of your kit, or on your body that’s all hidden because it’s improper to be nude! There has to be a straight vertical line from the middle of your heels, up to your trouser zip and button, through your shirt buttons and aligned with your face. And no male anatomy bulging inappropriately against the cloth, to spoil the effect, if you know what I mean! Let me look!
               The General’s blind hand looked, as Noman thought; days, yes, I know there will be days—days like this, yes, days—
               It is not flawless, soldier! It is not! Why is it not?
               I-I don’t know, sir!
               Buck up, soldier! Sociological research has shown that standing tall and looking confident, even if you are not confident, is a good way to become confident. Did you know that truth, son?
               No sir! I did not know that!
               Oh no? Really. Then I guess you were not listening in class! So, how many other great truths you should know by now, have you let fall in the passing dirt beneath but a second, then gone? So, I suppose you don’t know either, that by behaving like a soldier, you affirm to your self-identity that you are a soldier, and will therefore act like one. Do you not remember that?
               Noman tried to speak, but it came back off his tight lips and made a silent burp, mixed with the taste of bile—sick feeling yes sick, must chew ten Rolaids, then chug a large water kind of sick, yes that kind that will just sicken and sicken and sicken, but into his face was barked and re-barked and barked again more and more sickening every single time—
               Do you not remember that either, soldier? Do you not? Do you, do you not soldier—Do you not remember? Where are your eyes! Dare not close your eyes to me when I am speaking!
               The word speaking came in Noman’s ears and said speak, yes, go—try and see what happens, and he did—but just bile surged in a wave followed by a hotter thicker multicolored substance mixed in morass of large and small fragments no spoken words none at all not a one and it came up in Noman and do you know soldier so you not sailor do you know marine do you not either what the fuck, what the fuck, as a full hose of filth came flooding straight at the chest of the General, driving him back like fire hoses do demonstrators hurling rocks after dark with fires burning in steel drums that bums stand all around as the cold settles and the snow falls, and flying gas missiles shot from the police deep inside Noman fighting off scores of enemies; thethe enemies stood in the guise of this old General, stricken back multicolored with vomit, of every possible kind and size and stench of chunk mixed in colors all mixed up in dense liquid, and he fell back, his silly little one star helmet blown off and back, he fell back full length, the back of his skull shattering on impact with the concrete of the parade-ground, on which no expense was spared to construct to remain hard as granite for all eternity. Arms gripped Noman, as his knees buckled—the stress and strain of the months of training and struggling and straining and striving to be the perfect soldier had slowly been building a large hairy blister of gross resentment in him as the fetus of a devil grows, is stressed and stressed some more, until this at last happens, meaning many things; that Noman should never have been a soldier; that the aged General should have retired when he got his first sad consolation star, too late to ever get enough done before being senile to ever possibly get another; and this was the start of Noman’s last story. The Army spat him out dishonorably the very next day. As he was driven to the gates of the Garrison at twilight, under haven guard, wearing only the ill-fitting clothing he had worn down to the recruitment station seven years ago, and only having the three crumpled dollar bills that had been in the pocket of the baggy black pants from the day he entered the Army base to the day they forced him drugged and screaming back into the pants to kick him the fuck out for killing the General with the world’s largest gushing puke one man had ever shot-gunned out any kind of maw, the memory neatly stepped him out back into the steel compartment containing his present-day job in the Dakota Maru, his steel brush came down zipping shut the zipped open maw he’d gone through before and came out of now, and there he was again slowly steel-brushing with hot solvent the thirty-third of the five hundred ten such compartments he’d scrape down for no reason by the time they arrived in the Port of Shanghai! Ah Shanghai, Shanghai, there was something very significant about the approximate date they’d get to Shanghai, but—
               Father Dwyer, who was just then saying, no one hearing, except, well—maybe some other ship someplace at sea had somebody watching, or maybe several people watching, or maybe actually dozens of hundreds of people watching, as Father Dwyer often reminded the red eye floating in the dark before him in the studio. But here in this room on this trip to China, Dwyer went on to say, You know, some of you may be getting a special treat, to be seeing this show. That’s because this show is automatically beamed to all the myriads of cargo ships flying under every flag and traveling endlessly from continent to continent. Cargo ships, cargo ships mostly, container ships most frequently, even big oilers tankers and LNG carriers so dangerous, yes; but. here and there a forward-looking passenger vacation cruise line, had decided to make my show available to their landlubber passengers as well—and he went on to say, These lines are forward-looking because they will go to any lengths to give their passengers the complete out-at-sea-with-no-land-in-sight experience. And my show is part of that. Who the hell is Father Dwyer, they might ask you in a cab in New York City, or, Who the hell is Father Dwyer, they might ask you on a bus, or on a plane, or even the cheapest most out of date big tubby out for your money-pockets vacation agent may have got you booked on, for mere Peanuts, anybody who would say that had got a peanut’s worth of what the real at-sea experience is from the hucksters who ticketed them with cheap for-shit tickets. Who the hell is the guy? What’s so great about the guy? He’s a guy, just a guy. Is all. Yes, is all. But if you’re in some pagan-based there’s no Jesus, Mary, or Joseph religion, or any club like that, you might say, Who the Hell is Jesus? He’s Jesus, just that Jesus. Is all. This is similar, really quite similar, because in many ways, Jesus and I are very alike; except, of course I do not claim God’s nature. This cannot be done. This must not be done. I certainly do not. But, think a bit. Read that last sentence again; you there!
               What does he mean read that last sentence again? Huh? What? Huh? Why?
               Say it again!
               Say it again!
               Say it and say it and say it again!
               Not yes! No!
               Father Dwyer stated quite frankly, Well, you know, if it were not for the word not I would be a blasphemer. How powerful is one, tiny, three-letter word; not. But, maybe, we better change the subject. Because that part should have been over many lines ago. If I’m a three-letter word’s worth away from plunging into the deepest fiery flames of the waiting longing licking hunger which is Hell, one tiny step from inadvertently putting in this book words stating that I am equal to Jesus, which if it’s not blaspheming I don’t know what is, I better step back! Yeah—back to the subject at hand. The fucking cooking. This is after all, a fucking cooking show. Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer. Not the fucking and the cooking with Father Dwyer, but the fucking cooking with Father Dwyer. You guys hear me?
               The blankets writhed on.
               I guess not. Well, as in cooking. See what I mean about the three-letter words? They’re dangerous. They trip you up. They can bring you down. All but one; one little bitty word for something so known that it’s almost unknown. Yes, that’s it—you in the back, who just blurted it out! Egg is the word. Egg! Egg! Okay, egg—and as sure as security ushers the wiseguy in the cheap seats out who guessed the word, we will go on and on and on and—on! Yes, went the laser-like drone of Father Dwyer, going on way above, saying, Yes! This! The deceptively simple, yet holding universe upon universe upon universe within, egg. That egg. This one, yes! This one I hold aloft now—I—tell you what I will not do a trick, I will drop it and before it hits the floor, I will open the cabinet and slip out the skillet and get it under and the egg will splat all shattered and sticky and yucky inside; and we will make scrambled. Yes, scrambled. Yes—hereletgotheegghereitisfallingopenthecabinet stoopfortheskilletpullitoutgetitupand underandsmileand—splat!
               There it is, splattered! As we say in the business; car-crash splattered!
               Oh, lord, God, yes, I hear you, I’m here, I heard. What a thrill this all is! But, with this egg, well, that was a true magic trick. Nature is one thing. Magic’s another. Behold, your humble defrocked priest turned magician. See me flick out the shell from the pan. And, since the sea you men see out your porthole when not so busy in bed, looks exactly the same as the sea looked back before mankind harnessed fire, we might have a few million years to wait before we can light this burner I’m gripping here, as a matter of fact, this burner and stove and all might be—might be the mystical sacred object that holds all of matter across the universe together. Just like that word not, which is the grand key to the cosmos, this knob on this stove being turned to off right now, yup; if turned, and no flame came right behind, it would mean we are in the time before mankind had harnessed gas; imagine that? So long ago!
               What the hell is that?
               When the hell did mankind harness gas anyway?
               You know damned well what that is!
               Jesus, God—and if it does not light, and if the maintenance crew of blueclad on-call short men they will send to solve the issue cannot get it to light, it might be that it is really just illusory and gas has not yet been invented and that the whole ship, the whole long wide so-real vessel, may be a magically created boat of a kind that we are not really on vacation in, or on the way to some business meeting in China for, after which we will return to our original homes, but of a kind that will sail us to a barren land of stunted colorless stark naked super-ancient cannibals, who are waiting on their ragged lava rocky shore, with long spears in hand, for the liner you think is a liner but it’s not, which will run onto the shore, and then be blinked out of existence by the spell cast by the bony-nosed witch doctor flailing long feathered chanty bellringing jangling things, and when the ship becomes what it really is, which is nothing all, all passengers will be in the water flailing and flailing desperate to stay alive, breathe hard, and make land quickly, but a hail of spears will quickly make short of them, and there’ll be good eatin’ in hut-town tonight!
               Mah! Maaaahhhhh—ooooo!
               —yeah, I’d go ooooo, myself too; some really good eatin’ and a’ head rollin’ and all such games played before you thought was time but really wasn’t, had an instant to begin. So, I ask—you there, out there where you are, or you, or you—or maybe you; do you want to take a try at lighting this burner that always worked before and you are sure will always work forever, now having heard this tale of mine, want to turn it? Want to? No? You? No? You not either? You mean you don’t want to dwell in hell with the big Nazi and all the little and littler Nazis nested inside him like a Russian wooden set of nested dolls, who were only following the orders of make-believe mystic magicians that just had mail-order PhD’s anyway? They chose to turn some mystic knob; or maybe they chose not to. But, gee, my God, lord God, the egg! The magic egg I so deftly dropped, has burnt to a crisp black knob in the skillet while I was doin’ all the palaver and what-how, not! I guess I made the choice very, very simple for you. I turned the damned knob, oh, myself, and mystic pale pygmies are not waiting at your destinations to spear butcher eat laugh and play around with your entrails after all! Oh, silly me. Silly, silly, me, but anyway; that egg was just the first of twelve. What of this next one? How wise might this one be, eh, eh—and after that, the eleventh. And the twelfth. And so forth. So, let’s shut the gas and prepare for the next. But look out the porthole, this time, when I turn on the gas. Dare you look out? Dare you? I dare you—dare to look and find out if you will see sea, or shore, or what! So, bye, it for now!
               Screen snapped dark; blanket pushed away; naked and spent they lay, smothered in stationbreak and suddenly speaking much too fast.
               What the hell did he say? What the hell?
               I think, he said, breakfast is usually eggs-to-order accompanied by either sausage, or bacon. Or some such dither-bobbly!
               But! On the very Dakota Maru, out on the cold steel between giant ten-high stacks of Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk, OOCL, and tens of others of packed full dented rusted and worn steel cubes, Skip went on with his assigned job of working hard, while clutched in his gut by his never-ending hatred for the land. Black, slimy hands, cut and not cut, dead and notdead, he thought not about these things for fear of what they’d lead his mind to; there were three forks for the mind-genie to take, and it pondered all turbaned and smelly but luckily locked hidden airtight in his head. It decided to simply just put the thought of the evils of the land over to the side someplace in some random swirly cerebral folds, and brush by brush focused Skip to pondering in a simple circle, why Noman had risen and stormed off back to work, without waiting to help him find the fucking tool room. In the tool room, he had said, he knew, that he badly needed a new wire brush to grasp and shove back and forth over ice cold steel turnbuckles the rest of this single one of what might as well be a thousand shitty days, because weird things had happened and his brush had simply snap just like that, never even existed. But luckily, on the way back to steel city, he had by some dumb luck found the tool room easily. The bright purple steel door swung open smoothly, a rack of new tools stood up on the far wall; and there, front and center, were the brushes. All new clear wood handles. All bright brush bristles glistening. Skip hesitated; tools he’d used all his years at sea, were always old, filthy, greasy and worn out. Skip had never seen a clean new tool. This cache of new tools smelled too wrong, too clean, too much like some kind of little Mom Pop hardware store on the land he dimly remembered being dragged to by his Father, So, he got out fast, after gripping a new brush, then as the purple door sealed back away the evilly clean smell, he stopped. Right next to the tool room door, an identical door stood set in the wall, hinges and hasps and all of it all, but solidly welded shut with a perfect smooth heavily rusted steel bead all around. The door woke Skip’s Genie, who sent the slow sway of the ship up Skip’s legs, as the Genie always did when he was completely confused and two plus two somehow equaled five and the first two was out of phase with the second two and was saying very clearly, I am the Genie. You are facing something I cannot understand, but yet, at the same time, strangely do; look what is slopped stenciled across the wall all faded; DEAD IN HERE. You, Skip, do you understand that, why it says that, or are you out of phase too, with your life-self stood on this side of the door thinking some few instants that you remembered your dead self on the other side of the door had spoken to you out of some make believe machine? Yes, it’s what I said; your very dead self on the other side of the door. I am you, no, I am you, no you’re not, yes I am no I’m not you are dead, no I’m alive, but no, no, I beg your pardon, and at once, stars exploded in Skip’s face and he opened his eyes and there was just a tall wide welded shut door like a blank headstone standing there saying DEAD IN HERE—and his rational thought generator pumped words up to his mouth just short of speaking, Wow, what a door! What does DEAD IN HERE mean? Good god—and a voice too tiny and sweet to be heard over the noise that underlies everything in existence, came up from the brand-new brush he hotly held in his hand. It said, I am the same brush you lost, but I am when it was new. Yes! I am the same brush you lost but I am when it was new. Everything that’s old again comes new. Everything worn out goes back to when it was new to start over. As a matter of fact—but just at that instant a large hand from long ago came again and slammed into the side of the IBM monitor, that had evolved into the head of Skip gradually and gradually until came today; Skip woke, turned, and no, no one was there. So, he must have hit up against the sides of his head again, as always when his thinking blew himself out of line, and as once before, everything was right nothing surprising or out of the ordinary, and for sure, for sure, he had never been on the other side of the welded shut door. He had never seen the welded shut door. He had no idea nor was it any of his business why it said DEAD IN HERE on the door. Yes, and look how it’s welded. Yes, sure welded. Being welded shut is kind of, in the world of steel stuff, kind of a forever moment. Sealed welded boxes are sealed forever. Sealed fifty-five-gallon steel drums are pretty much sealed forever. No escaping out or in of. Just forever inside. Black and dark and quietly forever. That thought gave him pause, fear of a sort, but mellow and distant enough pause from the flat awful day all left behind gone, to right here, right now, just about feeling fully alive again, scraping the new brush one thrust at a time back to old. So, now, he lay on his side on the busy steel street, Soviet army trucks tanks buses and United States railroads crunching and crashing past. There was even a rickshaw or two on the street, chasing a lashed-up skinny pale running fast guy; a miss is a great as a mile, you know—he lay brushing the holddowns of a big Maersk, and drifted back to wondering why Noman had been acting and talking so weird. That seemed something safe and calm and harmless to wonder about. They, after all, were about halfway to China. Weird acting and talking as Noman had done only usually begins after around the second month and when almost home, thank God. When almost back to land, Skip was. Waterworld, Skip. Think Waterworld. Or Chip, or Skip, or whatever fucking name she goes by today—Chip tapped his forehead lightly with the wooden tip of his wire brush, and everything made sense again. Like whapping the side of the computer terminal. Like robbing the plump black clad IBM salesmonkey. Like—being shocked as hell when applying the wrench to tighten a long rusty turnbuckle; but ouch! Ouch! Being surprised actually hurts one tiny second that’s gone before it happens, and lord, God, this is a problem at least once every voyage. It’s all rusted up tight, too old, old and dead, and—the right thing to do is to cut it out with a torch and put in a new one. The reality hit; yes, yes, I am sorry, but; it has to come out. We got to cut it out. It’s that tight, that bad—yes, we got to cut it out. The dentist told Skip this the first day he went there back in his babyhood, after they’d papoosed him all yelling in the chair. His first memory was of a person who he’d gone to for help had told them they could not help, unless they hurt him first. Where was Mother, Mother, please save me; but the length of the frozen solid rust-locked turnbuckle came up over and around and back to, him thinking, that the right thing to do is to cut it out with a torch. Burn into it purify it kill it and give birth to the next one. May the next to endure torment please slip easily in the slimy birth-canal hole. Go from here. Go suffer and maybe you’ll end up here. As a matter of fact, you will. Yes, yes—got to cut it out with a torch. Skip rose, again a man. Back to the tool room he must go. Torches must be in the tool room. Yes, in the tool room. Skip trudged between the steel walls expecting to go past the tightly welded DEAD IN HERE door, and to enter the tool room, but; Noman came from no place, his blood all running down, his fat hand slapping against the welded-shut door, his mouth stating half-yelling breathily, My God, open! My God, my God, whoever’s inside, open!
               Noman, said Skip; what’s wrong, what has happened?
               I need medical I need fucking medical help I need help! I am dying! I am too young!
               Why? What—young? Who, what?
               Noman showed Skip his hands, the blood flowing.
               My God! blurted Skip, in perfect but completely unknown unison with, My God, yes, My God! shouted by Father Dwyer, way up front far from Skip on the big flatscreen, deep into episode nine hundred nine of his unending cooking show, which at that particular moment had no viewers. Yes, he said, Yes, God, just look at this, and he flopped over and over on the worktable before him a gigantic roughly rectangular hundred-pound slab of well marbled meat; it made one think of a blood red summer sunset, with bright white spiky jagged lightning bolts flashing across. It was a sky of meat; not a slab, not even a sky, but a world of meat, freshly killed harvested from a large hairy killed by motorcar creature, unrecognizable; but unrecognizable could mean I can’t see it’s good, but could just as well mean I can’t see it’s bad. So, the men in the road scouting for Dwyer roadkill meat who worked for The Only way To Eat is Free, Inc., stabbed the meat as though murdering; and the meat was not bloody, but glistening and tasty looking, so the two carved out several dozen slabs and threw them in the back of their pickup truck, and thus through the proper channels the meat found its way to Father Dwyer’s cooler, and he grabbed it up not knowing or caring what it was because it looked good, it smelled fresh, it was not bloody, and he winked at the driver of the pickup truck who delivered it three hours earlier, who sat on a milk carton, smoking, skinny, obviously summer-sweating heavily in a long sleeved threadbare sort shirt, with a large filthy stained decades old cervical collar strapped around his neck. The driver’s eyes were intact and clear; hence he was a fresh kill also, had he not been still alive. Watching the smoke go in and out his mouth, Dwyer paused and asked the man, You there. Yes, you. You work for the show, right? You an employee of The Only way to Eat is Free, Inc.?
               Yup, said the smoking man. Meat we got; you look good today? Do we please you today? Do we please?
               Oh yeah, yeah, but I was thinking of explaining to the viewers today how to tell good edible roadkill from bad spoiled rotten as poison roadkill. Since you’re here, and you probably know a lot more about this episode’s topic than I, would you be up to coming on camera and telling our viewers how to tell good dead from bad dead meats got up from the roadside?
               Yeah? Yeah. Oh, sure. Will I get scale?
               Union scale. For being on camera.
               Yes, yes, yes, of course, laughed Father Dwyer from deep in his fatty bellyglobe, almost dropping the worldslab and almost spitting the cigar into—who? Who is this? This strange man out of nowhere, who? What is your name, my man?
               Lil’ Albert.
               Yeah—okay, said Dwyer, nearly spitting his blunt stogie into Lil’s Albert’s eye. Get up, come over, come up on camera with me, and after the show you’ll have several reams of paperwork full of questions handed to you, and you’ll be pointed to a small plastic chair by a young lady who you will remember nothing about but that she was blonde, and she’ll give you a pen that barely writes, and will tell you to take your time, I mean there’s no rush, no rush at all, but hurry up and fill out these forms, most of whose contents you will not have the answers to, so that you can get paid, but that no one in the back office will read because they just piss money away everywhere anyway so they’ll cut you a check and the paperwork you spent three days filling out will already have gone through the incineration process, but you will have your money. So, get up, stomp out that butt, and come up on camera with me! Come on!
               Father Dwyer came back around behind his stainless-steel worktable and slammed down the meat splat, onto the cold steel, dead, but edible healthy, good looking and tasty. Lil’ Albert came up beside Father Dwyer and popped his knuckly skinny bony fists down on the shiny steel, slightly splashing out splatter from the meat blood thinly seeping out across the table. His shirt was spattered across in a line. He ran his hand across the spatter as Father Dwyer bellowed at the camera obliviously, saying, Here, friends out there at sea. Let me introduce Lil’ Albert, one of the best men in The Only way to Eat is Free, Inc., group, who know good meat from bad, firsthand living and the dead, amen.
               The dead center of the mass came and sat the parishioners soft on their pews.
               So, Albert, what do you—
               Albert raised his hand and said, Father, just a minute. The lights up here are damned hot. Can you turn the lights down? I get too hot, I can’t think, it is not good to think Father; can we?
               Dwyer patted Lil’ Albert soundly on his shoulder and said, No, no, I’m afraid we can’t put the lights down. We’re on TV you know. We need the lights on, OK? Anyway, he went on, facing the audience once more, shouting out, So, Lil’ Albert, what can you tell our viewers about how you separate good dead meat found on the roadside from bad?
               Lil’ Albert stated confidently into the red light of the camera, Well, first, we look at how the dead creature was hit. It’s the point of impact determines how much meat is salvageable. My experience with broadside impacts are not good. Internal organs usually rupture and taint the meat. Not to mention all the bloodshot meat. As in hunting, a head shot saves meat. Yeah—hey, one minute; Father, are you sure we can’t turn the lights down just a bit? There is sweat running all down under this shirt and this neck brace is choking hot, too.
               No, no, said Father patiently. Just keep on telling them about the meat. You’ll just be here a minute a minute or two, is all, maybe three maybe, is all, whatever; go on, he said, slamming Lil’ Albert’s blazing shirt shoulder soundly down in and through the skin.
               Well, okay, here, said Lil’ Albert red-cheeked, hot; Tire treads over the body usually means a bloody mess. Squashed meat requiring a spatula to remove from the asphalt also should be avoided. Also—if the eyes are intact and clear, the animal is likely a fresh kill. Cloudy eyes hint that the animal has been dead for some time. Over four-five hours—hey, Father. Listen, listen. It’s too damned hot up here I got to stop—
               No, no, no—keep on, you’re doing fine, yes go at it, man, Skip shouted again and again and again, looking down from Noman’s shattered hands, to the great red pool spreading on the floor around his stricken shipmate; yes, you need medical, God damn, I know, but—
               Okay I’m in! Get out of my way, I got to go in through the door!
               Slipping and sliding on the slimy grisly deck, Noman rushed in the opened door. Skip looked the door up and down; no longer welded; the sign says MEDICAL—and the door beside to the tool room somehow had changed, also; to a tall side steel plate welded permanently shut. The MEDICAL door almost had closed behind Noman but Skip’s boot tip shoved it over open and levered Skip in through the door following exactly the trail of blood droplets following behind Noman. Up on the far wall, yes, read it; SYMPTOM: BLEEDING OUT, it yelled quitly calmly just like before and Noman stomped his ass down like a big wide boot on the little black leather circular seat, and looked into the dusty screen, and pushed and slapped and punched painfully at the knobs, levers, and buttons all around the screen, spattering red droplets all around, and at once the screen glowed, and Skip hardly knew what was happening before he found himself in a small room, as dark moldy and damp as a Catholic confessional, looking out a round hole filled with glass, right into Noman’s wide round frightening face, which he’d pressed into the BLEEDING OUT machine’s screen. Skip knew not where or what he was but, all of a sudden he opened the eyes he didn’t know were closed and found himself saying at Noman’s anguished face all flooding over him, I will help you. You are here for help. Nobody cares about me or thinks about me unless they need help. This is the burden of every doctor, human, or otherwise. Do you know how many Doctors commit suicide in this country every year? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s a large number,yes.
               Jesus Christ Jesus Christ Jesus!
               Yes. Very large.
               Noman on the other side said thank you, oh thank you, to the digitized pixilated doctor, and thrust his hands to the elbow into the leather ringed arm cureholes. He did not know the anguished fear exploding back behind the Doctorscreen, he just felt his hands back there somehow being soothed, caressed, soothed, caressed—and he opened his eyes and there he was looking out from the snack bar chair out onto the vast bright lit never ending array of bowling alleys, the balls randomly flowing down across the lanes, like droplets of blood seeping from some kind of crazy horizontal wound. Years he had sat there. Years after doing the gush-puke on the General, but years before slowly steel-brushing in the hot solvent the next and the next and the next next next of the five hundred ten dark steel compartments he’d scrape down for no reason all the way from New York to Shanghai, and back. Ah, yes, Shanghai, Shanghai, there was something very significant about the approximate date they’d get to Shanghai, but, the balls rolled teardropping horizontal tears from his eyes; it’s something about the bowling alley, the Dakota Maru, and her very lengthy trip to Shanghai; something very sorrowful in between; something very angering and saddening all at once; someone saying, Do it, or lose everything. Do it, or lose anything that may have been gained between the snack bar stand and Shanghai; between releasing the ball, hearing the roll, and then the blast of the strike, sorrowful, happy and sorrowful all at the same time, once, years; yes—the years compressed in one instant of pain; the balls roll, the brush scrapes, the solvent boils, the strikes and spares blast, and Skip’s there when the blast clears; Why who what when—Noman dropped his eyes down from the rolling balleyes, and came up beside a small suffering woman, and a girl never married, bundled all up in words, breathing, Can I serve you, sir? You look absolutely bushed. How about a Schlitz?
               Noman looked into this woman’s eyes, embedded magically in a copy of Skip’s, and she’s there with them rolling bowling balls into the distance crashing the strikeblast out, unveiling Shanghai! And, he jumped from his bunk in the dark, someplace still dark and stinking so the only thing to do became to climb the ladder up, higher, up, up away high, and out. The tap of the drop of the brush rang in the steel, as he looked up at her, stating loud and clear, No, sorry I don’t drink! How dare you think you can make me drink! Go away leave me alone, I have much to see, much to do, and to see too, so; I got to leave the alley, yes; got to leave the alley! Yes; remember, remember; you are zero. Nothing but zero, and remember there are two kinds of zero; zero that started as zero and has been zero ever since, and zero that had been something higher more and better but that something had tapped in deflating it back down, to zero. Like a female that is not pregnant can be so the same two ways. A man who is not lying with a woman can be so the same two ways, also. Like this—this bowling ball I am lifting, as I turn my back on you, strange woman; this bowling ball I step with toward the glass front door of this bowling alley, that you have forced me to become locked inside of after closing, to trap me into knowing again why the date of our arrival in Shanghai is important, because you never existed yet; you are afraid so afraid so alone, yes—no, no, I will not think it; there goes the big black ball flung out quick; shattering, blasting, through the tempered glass door, making a hole I may leap to the dark, through, and remain unmarried, which, of course, can be two different ways; unmarried because never ever got married, or unmarried because once married and now—no don’t think more, face facts, you are ignorant and selfish; no leap, leap, leap; leap!
               You I said; yes! you! You are ignorant and selfish! Leap disappearing to the dark.
               Noman leapt through the front door of the bowling alley, but at the moment the door never was again, he snagged his out-flung hand over a last remaining shard. He nearly slipped down away, nearly adding insult to injury, straddling the sudden spreading pool of blood.
               You are ignorant and selfish! Leap disappearing to the dark.
               Tendons and flesh ripping, brought pain; but he did not recall the moment he was snagged, or what he was doing coming from or going to when he was snagged, he just knew; must heal this wound; this is not the same as the blood of the savior; this where Noman climbed up and out and came out a door, slipping and sliding toward the medical department, and ran smack rip tear right through the sudden Skip, that shot up before him, causing Skip to bristle, goose-bump, jump, and yell, Noman! What’s wrong, what has happened?
               You are ignorant and selfish. Leap away disappear into the dark.
               No! No I am not! No!
               Where are you hiding the door, Skip; where? Oh, there it is—let me by! My God, let me go in there! My God, my God, whoever’s inside, open! My God, I need medical! I need immediate if not sooner medical help, I need help, I’m dying!
               Why? What? Huh? Spit it out, man! What, do not ram me don’t ram, hey!
               Noman ran right through Skip, reaching; yes, the door, give it! Yes, the door, open it—
               This! yelled Noman, lifting his hands, splattering a red mist over Skip.
               My God! blurted Skip, as Noman turned away, not wanting to die of a bleed-out, knowing that there are two ways to have lost all blood; to never have been born and be nothing that ever needed blood at all, or to have been alive and cut open and drained out for good.
               Noman raised his face to the screen, which held a face he knew. The smile of the face was soft and airy and told him to yank on his arms, and he was aware again of the Automated Doctor Machine; the Machine had been needed, sure that’s why he was here, but why was he really? Oh, yes, silly me. Yes, his palms, oh yes. They lifted to his face. Yes. Just palmlines. Clear clean, intact, healed, soft and purely just palmlines, on Noman, God’s creation.
               Oh, my God, thank God!
               You are ignorant and selfish, leaping away disappearing into the dark, but, such may even so still be God’s creation; these words faded back with Skip’s God face receding back in the mist of the big round screen, before Noman could know it was Skip and not God, in the machine. God in the machine, God. God the great doctor in the big machine; the big flat black machine on the wall up on the bridge where Lil’ Albert continued crying, It’s too damned hot in here, Father! Let me strip to the waist because it’s so hot in here! Okay?
               No, wait. No. Don’t do that.
               Albert regardless ripped at his filthy sweat-stained cervical collar to remove it, as he would in moments rip off his shirt, his belt, and further, until enough had been removed to provide relief from the heat of the studio stage lights, beefy plump cheeked Father Dwyer gripped his forearm. The priest’s cigar crumbled ashes all down the stifling, never washed, jet black priest-shirt he’d worn forever, as he cried, No, no, Albert; no no! We must remain clothed here, it’s just hot during this one episode—go on talking Albert, go on, you’ve done fine so far, so what else about this roadkill eh?
               The burly Father Dwyer twisted Lil’ Albert’s arm behind him, making the filthy skinny man grimace, and as he shook his head no, no, no, Father Dwyer threw his whole black clad burly self into the tightening arm-twist, and shouted in the ear of the agonized man, who listened gasping, eyes strained shut, chin dripping with flying sweat drops and tears.
               What else, demanded the burly priest—what else about the roadkill? Huh? Huh?
               Down squeezed his fat hands, causing Albert to ooze, Okay, okay, yes I can tell you that creamy discharges around the eyes or other orifices, indicate a sick animal. If the eyes are gone, leave it alone, let it rot, go—please, let me go please, it is so damned hot!
               No! shouted Dwyer, droplets forming on his forehead. The priest twisted Albert’s arms back tighter, squeezing words from the thin man’s face like toothpaste from a tube; Albert said, when the pain meter touched extreme, Okay, this I’ll tell you; I can tell you that rigor mortis sets within a few hours of death. This is not a deal breaker depending on other indicators. The steak in the butcher’s glass counter has undergone the same process of decay or tenderizing. Father, fat guy you are, but; please let me go now you are killing me, let go of me now let go you slimy wormy flunkie! Here!
               With a strong sudden writhe, Lil’ Albert twisted free of the weakening fat priest’s slimy sweaty hands, and spun to the end of the worktable; then, quicker than a tug on a magic zipper, stripped himself off from the neck, to the beltline, flung the shirts and collar and all at the camera, where it caught, stuck, and caused screens to go dark worldwide, just as Father Dwyer shouted, No, God damn! Albert, no! The audience can’t know, no they can’t they can’t no! No! Here!
               Through the scuffle behind the black, Albert’s words wove in and out from the general loud rattles bangs and grunts, somewhat like that in a Cops rerun on TV, when for the hundredth time fifty fat blue men strapped with clattering gear guns and radios attempt to subdue a small drunk man at three in the morning, in the poison ivy bushes at the roadside, on a hot summer night when the humidity’s skyrocketed, saying, Fleas feed on the blood of warm blooded animals. Brush the hair on the carcass and inspect for fleas like you would on a family pet. If fleas are present, that’s a good thing. Fleas won’t stick around on a cold body—my God, father, no my God, lease stop just stop—
               God damn it, stop resisting, or; more charges will be applied! Your sentence will be long, cold, and weary. Here, tighter! Feel my strength, bastard?
               This is art! yelled Albert; we agreed, I am a work of art!
               Stop resisting, or we will crush you. Here, feel that? Yes. Feel it. Now.
               All right, okay, let go, damned Jesus—so, you also need to consider that there’s usually blood involved when animals come in contact with three thousand pound machines speeding along over the highest speed limits in the world—all right, all right; give me my fucking shirt! Rip it away!
               No! cried Dwyer. No one can see you like this, no one, thank God when you stripped down the shirt flung up on the camera! And you’re also damned lucky that this studio is fully automated too and no fussy skinny pissed at never having been recognized as an up and coming star in this business, will get all fussy, all self-involved, and rip the rag from the camera, because no one can know where I got you. I will seem crazy to take you marked as you are!
               Father, look; these are marks of God, we agreed! said Lil’ Albert behind the blank screen; these are signs that mean no one can touch me! These drawings were all earned, I told you—and you just smiled. You were so different then. I was your boy, you said it was all right, you said I could have the job, you brought me up on stage with you. Why?
Because I thought you would behave! I did not think you would strip down!
               Clanks rattles in the poison ivy brush, the sweaty blue men struggling crying, Give me my shirt, I can put it on, I need this job don’t rob me of this job, please officer sir!
               Shut up and talk; stop resisting, let us cuff you. It’s all poison ivy here! We got to get you and get away from the ivy! You not listen we will pound you! You will have blisters and burns!
               All right damn you, yes; the next thing to know, is that blood all a-spatter over the road, would mean there’s too much damaged meat to salvage—hey, look, Father. I told you. I was initiated; here, on my chest, see this woman? This rose-woman? I am of the elect, you believed, the day I signed on. You said, You are welcome, Albert, to the Only Way to Eat is Free Corporation! You said that; we shook hands; my dreams were fulfilled; this Rose I had earned, you believed! I thought you believed, we were a train on a track all flying-like, yes, so you hired me—here, my shirt! Get it give it—
               No! Go on, go on, the show must go on to the end, the end! The end! Quiet down, do the show. People are watching. the—end! Just STOP RESISTING!
               Okay, okay, no reason to choke me, daddy, not choke me, please—uh, I think the next thing we go by is that the color of any blood present at the kill scene should be dark red, like, fresh blood; listen, Father, my neck is aching so—
               Shut up no! Talk—talk. Go on, go on. You with no fucking shirt! You crossed the line, so this is your first and last broadcast, because you ignored my rules! Look! See! You!
               What—gaaaagh, don’t squeeze so hard—
               That heart inside a triangle there—you told me what that meant, and that that was your passport for thirty years of a very busy life in prison! Tight bust sore bloody times you have had!
               Dark puddles of blood have been there been there a while; it means the meat’s no good.
               What meat? My meat, your meat?
               This meat—this meat, here! I grind you like this!
               The sound of a two by four against a hung-up ice cold side of beef rattled the screen nearly loose from the steel wall.
               Damn you, skinny bastard! How dare you strike me!
               It seems as if it is strike or die, at this point! See the naked woman all raw spread on my chest? The one with the nipples that are my nipples too? See her sweet well-oiled breasts, priest? I bet you want her, and behind her, me! Your beating me for deeper reasons! As in secrets told in the quiet confessional! The secrets the secrets the secrets you know, they are luscious! The breasts have deeper meaning, yah, I never told you but no, no—noo!
               Shut UP! Go on!
               I refuse to submit! You are the devil I will not say yes to the devil I won’t—
               You! Here! Tighter now, like that? Huh? Like that, you bastard?
               At that a wobbly and confused Skip, unsure of if he was among the living or the dead, stumbled onto the bridge, and stopped facing the blank flat black TV screen all shouting out from the wall; shouted out shouting, out shouting, out; flies are a bad sign, Father, don’t kill me please. A fucking bad sign, very, very, Lord God, stop choking me Satan—
               I read in a book that involuntary tattoos made pornographic if the victim has unpaid gambling debts—I knew that, I did! And I hired you anyway, despite the sloppy tits and the sloppy ass, because you have a way about you. That’s why I hired you!
               Flies lay larvae in wounds and other openings of the body.
               Yes! Yes! Yes, I hired you because I thought you were going to do as you promised, to turn over a new leaf, and you were doing so well, until now, up here, I said no one can see you nude, no one can see the scrawling all over you, those but you are so stupid you almost showed yourself through the network to every ship at sea! Sailor? Is that how you think? Here, I choke you harder! Whet? You think this job is on board some damned prison ship is that what you think man, this is a family show! Hah!
               Hard upthrust gag, shooting with spittle.
               Ugghh—God, no, let me go! Let go, ease up! Look at my nautical stars, damn you, Father! They are on my knees, see them? They are scarred and painful, to make me remember that I kneel before no one. They are also two on my shoulders. Every move of my arms sets them stabbing! The make me remember to not fear authority. Only God can give authority. God gave you none, Father, sweet lying humper of a reverend. Listen, look, what, hey! If you let me go at this point I will just turn and confront and attack and gouge your eyes instantly. I do not need your phony job. Nothing’s been the same since I got out of prison. Nothing’s changed since you found me bleeding in the street. I was like roadkill to you. Something to eat to you, I was. I want prison again! I want prison, I want home! Let me go so I can turn and murder—
               Dwyer gagged Albert quiet by the throat, yelling, Speak! Finish! Get back on topic! Get on back, this is a show do the show! Go on—
               Ugghhh! God, no, okay. Here; a few flies around the corpse isn’t a bad sign. Unless the animal had a wound prior to being struck, and already was full of maggots—Jesus, God, lord God almighty, you’re a damned strong priest, Father. Rather a devil of a priest, you are; horny damned dark, howling, horny devil of a priest; that’s what landed you on here with me, I bet. How many bodies have you trailing behind you? How many dead? Huh? Speak man!
               Ahhhhhh! All right, yes all right, I’m hear the end, sure—
               Flickering flashes crossed the screen, making Skip think the picture would appear and explain in some way all these crazy yells and screams; but, the flashes faded as the rough choking voice finished talking about the skulls on its knuckles. It cried fast, quick, See the skulls on my knuckles! That’s my number of murders. Murders, yes murders! And you will fill one more if I ever can get free, and turn this scene into something else. Maybe something about a live deer found in a backyard long ago, it’s hindquarters splintered from a days’ old vehicle collision, the legs and hips slimy and red and totally half covered in a quarter’s worth of maggots, but—the eyes, yes, something about the eyes, and the crucifixes there, right there, see? Under the fur there? That means whoever was talking was not of the authority to approach and attempt to humanely dispatch the poor live dying slow deer. So, she went back in the woods forgotten, to someone else’s regret; Skip swayed back and forth on the steel deck of the bridge, completely shut down, frozen and confused, as the screen finally said, Heavy on meat, heavy on gravy; light on the vegetables. What’s that, now? A swastika? Yes? Is that what you’re wearing on your chest these days? Well that is more than enough, you’re fired, and no loss; because we successfully got to the end anyhow! Here, here, here! And, all at once, a bolt struck and woke up Skip, as the black ripped off from the screen, on which simply stood the familiar Father Dwyer in the surging bright light, who’d just flung something large, ugly all sweaty and a-flail, thrashing off-camera, having just commanded the skeleton crew in the last of the blackout to eject the horrid thing that no one at sea could ever see, all the way out the building, and he tucked his shirt, wiped down his face, and smiled at the camera all calm, surrounded on all sides by his chrome and stainless steel bright lit gleaming kitchen, saying, Okay, then, folks, that wraps this episode! I can’t explain, I can never explain, send us a card or a letter and maybe upper management will explain, but I’m sworn not to. I cannot, cannot, cannot. Any questions? And, yes, yes; Skip took a step toward the screen, raised his hand, and started to ask, but before a word could come out, Dwyer’s raised hand slashed down, saying Good! It’s good there’s no questions! And, across pulled another Aspercreme ad, which Skip turned from, having used that ointment years ago, and discovered he was allergic and ended up covered in baseball-sized hives plus nothing tasted like anything any more. He turned walking back in his head to the moment off the great ship’s bridge in the dark silent room back behind Father Dwyer, stating into the round glass hole into the dark, again and again, yes, but it came at him this time, not from him; Nobody cares about me, or thinks about me, unless they need help. This is the burden of every doctor, human, or otherwise. The eternal burden of the Gods. Do you know how many Doctors commit suicide in this country every year?
               Skip raised his hand, and, not being able in the dark to see it, he felt he had none, yes, plus, somehow he had no lips either. Muted this way, he struggled to answer some question he’d somehow forgotten in the middle of his being asked it, so soundlessly, he rose; and, thinking that this meant he at last still had legs, he rushed out the door he found luckily in the dark and turned around to the blinding light all around, and the sign on the door took him back.
               TOOL ROOM
               God, Jesus, what, no! And, what’s more, the door beside was again the steel plating welded shut under the ghost of what had said MEDICAL—and he quickly turned around and around, in his head quietly shouting up another headache, saying, Where is Noman? Hadn’t Noman been all bleeding? No, no, guess not, he breathed, before plunging through the tool room door to get that which he’d come for. A torch, yes. A torch to cut away some rusted solid turnbuckle in the steel wall by the steel street full of army tanks of all nations and eras all rushing that he’d come from, and in a mere snap, it seemed like, he had the torch and was back on the steel street with the army tanks rumbling, idling, still there thank God, still there, Jesus, so; it was safe; so, he started torching through the frozen steel as though he’d been there all along, yes! But why did the flame make him see miles and miles of baseball-sized blistered, allergic, innocent suffering flesh? Wow—and the steel gave way, sucking up the flame, and the torch both. Why? Where? Where’d it go? Yes, don’t say that think that because there must have been a torch you fool ‘cause the steel’s sliced through, but God, why, yes, it seemed the company let the Dakota Maru take to sea without adequate inspection, which might lead to unthinkable disaster far out of sight of any land, if not on this trip, but on another, that must inevitably arrive, as it is written that—Ouch! he cried out, snapping his face quiet, his finger pulling back from the scalding, still, steel. My God, why is it still hot? We are days out, and it’s still hot, yes—there must be a fire in this container, whose container is this? My God! He rose feeling the cold steel up and down, and knew, No, there is no fire, so why are the mysteriously severed turnbuckle’s stumps all flaming hot? The burning bush, yes; must be the burning bush; yes! The burning bush! God! Only God!
               God’s watching me, no my God, God’s watching!
               He stepped back, all fearfully aghast. In the eye of God, Skip was brimming with sin. If nothing else, just the porn-flesh upon porn-flesh upon porn-bones, flesh, and blood, all dog-eared, stained way back under the mattress of his bunk. Somehow, no, oh my God, no, Jesus made flesh had discovered his porn, and the turnbuckling burning bush spoke boomed out loud, crackling like Hell might crackle. Though he was no Moses, God spoke to him. Maybe God was practicing to speak to Moses later. Skip’s just a test for God. Or perhaps an exercise to improve all the flubs in dialogue God had committed the first time he tried out his play for Moses. The bush a stage! A stage for God! Skip backed off, fear level rising. If you were in a room for one hour with God, his Grandmother had said on her deathbed, if you were in a room for one hour with God and could get any question you want answered, what would that question be? Having asked that, the bush fell back into a turnbuckle again, that had never been rusted solid tighter than welded in the first place. No, it had not. It was fine, yes, all smooth shiny and loose. So what, then? Skip stood staring. What, what. Something about blisters, yes. Blisters baseballs and Aspercreme. He turned and ran padding the barefoot floor to get fast as possible to medical, because never in his life had he been able to properly scrutinize the state of his back. Hives, itch, bees and wild blackberries. Need to run for home, yes, need to.
               Yes! Skip turned running slipping and sliding over the ice cold steel, not watching, just thinking, There’s baseball sized blisters all over my back, baseball sized blisters all over my back, baseball sized blisters baseball sized blisters baseball sized baseball sized baseball sized yes—no, foot, don’t stop, I’m still moving but, no, black slam of head on something hard flashing, down on the steel all prone I am. Prone and sliding and what was I running for? What was I running for in the dark eh what oh what oh what oh eh—
               Father Dwyer boomed Skip down, swarming words out in every direction, saying, shouting, So! So here you are, seamen! Episode one thousand of Sunday Dinner with Father Dwyer—an achievement we will celebrate by allowing the Lord my God to speak his wisdom from this teeny tiny burning bush; and on the table the camera panned over a little Christmas tree style bush, live, or fake, didn’t really matter, because here comes, comes, comes the Lord Thy God. Yes, the Lord boomed from the small pretty fire, Supper is smaller, but is otherwise similar to lunch! What else do you need to know, hey there, Father? What else? I am God, you know.
               Uh, said Father Dwyer, through his short fat flushed fingers pressed to his lip, I thought you were going to run the show today, My Lord. We talked last night, I knelt before the main altar in the inadequate heating of the great chilly church at nine in the evening in this here January, all dark around, heat turned down, silent, silent; as befits great holiness—I prayed, Lord, come do show one thousand tomorrow, I will prepare the bush! God, please!
               What bush? you said from the sanctuary—blowing out great cold winds saying it again and again demanding an answer, What bush what bush what bush what—and in the gale, I screamed at the top of my squeezed-out lungs, The burning bush! From the bible, my God! And the wind stopped instantly. It was like, like—
               What? said God impatiently from the bush—what? Hurry, man, hurry, stop blubbering, my time is precious you know I am important I am the boss I run all ‘round heaven all meetings day and night! Come on spit it at me man, don’t waste my preciously holy time!
               —okay, okay, it was like one day, Lord, when I lay in the back seat of a moldy damp 1950 Ford laying watching pounding rain which someone I never will see again was driving through toward home from the weekly trip to visit Grandma, so mundane, you know, so mundane it sounds yes, I know it does, I know, but—
               What! cried God shrilly.
               —but the rain I was only just used to rain, and he who runs the clouds shut them off. And in less than a snap, we were sailing along through a bright sunshiny day! Cutting along fast, smooth as a cruiser! My Lord, God, my Lord, I had never ever been wakened so fast, so hard, and so completely! All the raindrops instantly came together into wires running dipping and rising from pole to pole as the car pushed faster now toward, home, now that the weather is clear! Do you get it?
               Yes I do!
               Are you sure? It was magic!
               Yes, I am!
               Say it again!
               I am.
               Then, thunder!
               And Father Dwyer awoke embarrassed more than even all the husbands fallen asleep to embarrass the wives next to them, in bright lit churches ‘round the world just before it’s time to rise at the start of the seven thirty a.m. Sunday mass—Dwyer jumped, writhed, and pounded the tabletop, which also had been snoozing, and which when wakened absorbed the burning bush, God and all, down through the stainless steel all gone.
               But, there’s no hole, how did it go, there needs to be a hole, yes—
               Take! cried a voice from the forward dark, snatching away the end of the sentence. Take one of episode one thousand! Of your show! Remember your show, sleepyhead? Remember you are here, and only are kept alive by the state, to do episode after episode of your very fake all plumped up and overrated stupidly foolish stumbling along for far too many years, containership cooking show?
               Table talk! My God, it is true, table talk is all too real—Dwyer strained to think out words to keep the ropy episode going to the end; supper is smaller, but is otherwise similar to lunch! he cried—Jesus Christ people, when I say the word supper, what pops in your mind? Why do I have to tell you what to see? It is there, within you! Supper, I say! Yes, supper! Think the word, think it, look inside at what’s there to see!
               Father Dwyer’s eyes now fully opened and he sat at Mother Babushka’s dinner table. She was a grey crone all hairy, and she was interviewing him for the job, back when he was a deceased boy, brought to life by electronic signals from someplace holographically probably from some vast dim unknown left behind—why do you think you are suited to the job, Mister Dwyer? Why? Mister Dwyer—
               It is Father Dwyer, ma’am, he slid out politely. Not mister. Father.
               Father? What? Why father?
               I am a man of the cloth. I want this job! I can cook, chef! I know I can!
               Okay. We can talk about whether you’re rally a man of the cloth or not, later—describe me a supper. Big, fattening, spicy summer evening supper with friends, all casual but not really.
               Huh? What do you mean all casual but not really? I don’t know—
               Why don’t you know? You should know!
               Please tell me!
               On the wide flatscreen far out on the Dakota Maru, no one stood idly to see the end of the pitiful episode one thousand that had just been taped, and thank God, the company snoozed too, and let it go. It should have been purged, yes! Purged! Yes, purged from God in the burning bush, way below now all trapped, in the big dark slimy steel box containing Noman, which, frightened by the holy bush, spat Noman out into open water. Ice cold like a Navy seal in the winter surf at three a.m., after a snowstorm, being barked barked barked at, by fresh-as-a-daisy gigantic winged drill sergeants, so unlike the recruiting commercials that Noman will never see.
               Yes, Noman?
               You out there Noman?
               Out there all cold and wet and needing to piss?
               Not to piss in the water!
               Noman, get the hell back to the beach, now!
               Noman got footing, stood in the water, the ice cold wave-splash crashing behind, yes him, helping him toward the beach, a few more feet with each surge, propelled like whale-farts all surging, and there appeared a spot of light from someone on the beach, waving. Thank God I am destined to be saved, he said to himself, and he strained ashore from the ice cold dark wet, came toward the light, and stopped up against a voice, saying, Noman, Noman, you are once more a failure. Why the hell did a wimp like you apply for this unit? You are the worst loser! The worst I’ve seen in my seventy five dim years!
               Noman found he was much too cold, wet, and shivering to answer.
               Why do you not answer, trainee? Why do you not answer? Obey, and answer. Obey!
               The light spun around and folded into a tiny fir tree, bushed out all spiky, matching the bone-dry words coming out winding as a huge warm towel, all around Noman, saying to him, Noman. Look around. Life is a steel box; your life will be thrown away into floating steel boxes all welded ‘round, yes welded all ‘round! The name of the ship will be, Dakota Maru!
               What? Well—oh my gosh, my gosh, I—I know that name sometime, but not just yet—
               The towel absorbed the drenched chilled words Noman tried to force out, and the tiny tree in the air with dark all around continued to talk from its glowing gut, You will end up, in my belly, Noman. You will work in my belly for twenty or twenty-five years, as corrosion, metal fatigue, and the stress and strain on the containership Dakota Maru, which is your home, will take its toll, and we will be at the Sri Lanka shipbreaker’s yard, the light grasping down at you and the steel all torched through, all fallen away! See the light coming down, see it! See it. Life as you know it will change and you will be back where you were when you were living month over month, living evil, escaped into the scraping down of the steel, to be vomited out into your real life as God, that’s me, intended it, but no damn you no I—
               The glow pulsated, pausing, pulling at Noman; the pause grew and drew words from his mouth that he did not know until they came up around and plugged tight sliced stabbing pain into his ears, as, Tell me, why do you stop? Talk to me talk! I don’t know where I am what I am who you are, no, you’re not God, see? You’re not God, you big faker. You ran out of steam just like the fleshly mortal blood-pumping thing you are, not human obviously, but certainly no God. God is—
               The tree flamed up, the burning bush went in gone to the fire that went up the flue heating the bottom of the stainless-steel table before Father Dwyer, glowing it up so hot that the priest could use it as a cooktop. Good, good, no dishes to do Father, no, no, no dishes to do no loss not at all no not now and not ever! And, with that, all around Noman appeared a gagging mouth letting him go, cursed to slide into right where he started, the face of Phyllis receded away forward back into visibility, it came over swallowing him where he sat way back in the bowling alley, with her question grasping him back onto the very stool he thought was already sat on once and vanished into just a smoky memory, and she came moving speaking all around him in the bright light of the bowling alley again, with the ball-rolls pressing behind her.
               Can I serve you, sir? she said, all bright blonde. You look absolutely bushed. How about a Schlitz?
               My Lord Jesus, cried Noman.
               She laughed at him, eyes bright sparkling, before he could answer, and Father Dwyer far above flipped his fresh pancakes, and Skip, wherever he was, said, Noman! What’s wrong, what has happened? What’s wrong, what’s happened?
               My God, where am I?
               What Skip!
               What happened, to your—
               What? What!
               —to your hands?
               The question brought Noman’s palms to his face, all very crooked long lines.
               Wounds! Dear God, my God!
               What Noman?
               The stigmata of the Christ! Please God, please God, no!
               These wounds! This pain! This blood! My God!
               Damn you man, get a grip!
               A clamp tightened down on Noman’s shoulder, telling him no, his eyes don’t see hands, they are closed somehow; bloody hands glowed into his veiny eyeballs from implanted seeds placed by the Automated Doctor into the back of his lids. Open! The hands went, gone! Light shone all around a big fat black head talking; shining spiky and hard like the light around the shadow of the moon on the sun in an eclipse. Out of the head fell words. Yes, yes—no stigmata but just out of the head, words, to the floor, all bouncy.
               So, I have to say, Noman. That you never actually got married is a revelation to me.
               After the words plunged down Noman’s gut, they pulled along like a bright yellow caboose sliding behind Skip’s face all charging forward, and click, yes, great, it’s again the lunchroom.
               Wow, yeah, oozed Noman, into Skip wreathed all around by the foursquare lunchroom—And, I got this shitty job because I thought I was married; have a Schlitz, sailor-boy; she said that, just that, and I had to run. I knew, I knew. You know what I mean?
               Yeah, but hey, Noman. Your hands are shaking, look!
               Noman’s coffee cup vibrated all a-splatter alongside his tremor, which stopped as soon as he looked it in the face; and it thought to itself evasively, out past visual range, hiding, I cannot let him know I am here; he cannot know the real world hiding all around and behind, that he must never see. Everybody has a reality lurking just out of range that they must never see. Everybody—yes, you too, Noman. So, talk! Distract yourself now, yes now, baby you—
               Oh, Skip, that shake is nothing. It’s nothing really just nothing you know.
               As Noman brought the cup to his lips, the fact of his coffee having gone cold because of all his unconscious shenanigans caused a rift once more between himself and the lunchroom’s reality, as; It’s really nothing, yes, nothing at all. What’s more important for me to now know any more about how deep Phyllis is plunging down her tokophobia steep-ramp, which is targeting her for termination into the Beijing bullseye date which is rushing up, all baby you know hung up to be sexed like a baby chick, flying at the bullseye! The bullseye, uh, no, yes, Oh, Skip! How the arrow fears the sudden stop slice into the bullseye, ah, yes, no—you wish—yes no, but a lash filled his head with lightning strokes, sweeping Skip away again, as the painfully ugly big boss behind shouted down all close, hot, Get up, Noman. Get up, I caught you again. Get up, you coward! Here, let me grip you! On your very first day, you cannot be so lazy! On your very first day, you cannot be so afraid! But look—
               Turning, Noman saw a hulk in the distance, being stripped, and—he cried against the vista of darkness towering one at a time off out to the horizon, at the iron giants, the hulks near and far, melting up close to a line of creatures dark. Are those tiny ones creeping, ants? No, they are not ants; they are Noman’s fellow workers in the knee-deep mud swarming with hair, guts, rot meat, dead leathery sinew strands. No, he thought, no, not in that filthy; but at his back pressed the ugly big bosses hand, from his great booming voice, repeating, Join the line of ants, Noman; join the line, yes, go! On your very first day, you cannot be so lazy! On your very first day, you cannot be so afraid! Noman; join the line, yes, go! On your very first day, you cannot be so frightened. Grit your teeth. Grit them bloody and go on!
               Noman’s bare foot touched the ice cold black mud, for the first time, and no, he thought, no! It would have been better with Phyllis, yes, with Phyllis yes it—
               A spark struck miraculously from the touch of flesh on mud, abruptly changed the channel, as; Father Dwyer burst through the weak tissue paper football game style banner made just to last five minutes, saying, Sure! Yes!
               No no no no!
               The Dakota Maru!
               No, lord, not that!
               Not the Dakota Maru!
               You it’s not even close to the time you have to break the Dakota Maru!
               Break? How?
               Dwyer gripped up a fish from the nearly liquid stinging mud.
               Stop, yells the splashing crashing down sucking toxic mud.
               Clouded over fast, then reappearing in the bright light of the film studio, the large silver fish slimed against the scaling Father Dwyer immediately began administering. The fish yelled as Dwyer scaled hard, not realizing in his passion that, life still pumped through the silvery suffocating creature. The fish yelled, Stop! Yes! Stop! Oh! No! Oh—as Dwyer once more stated off the teleprompter, the praises of the sweet, sweet, sweetmeats et cetera, that lay spread before him on the massively expensive studio battleship-kitchen size stainless steel worktable before him, as; The twilight is down, the scales are up the front of my habit, thank God we have a large rusty remanufactured very cheap washing machine rattling around someplace in the rectory, that would get this clean, after the show, when we have scaled, fried, and consumed the chewy, finely fashioned demitasse right here; and it will be time, though I never sleep, after God blesses my left leg and knee-hip, with essence of lidocaine and Romero bros. scorching yellow salve. I will bed myself neatly and comfortably, and that will be it. Yes and as I sink, into the dark mist of night, I will—
               No! cried the skinny wild producer-tress named Mary, newly appointed after Lil’ Albert raged through the offices cutting hearts, hands, and heads neatly and messily away. And, after accumulating a bouquet of these, the misfired badly hired ex-con Lil’ Albert shot down the building, plunged down the elevator smelling freedom, but when he shot through the silvery sliding doors onto the expensively tiled and grouted ground floor, he slammed right into a blazingly loud grand-finale firestorm of a supercop-volley. From the center of the bouquet, bloomed the prior-producer-tree Diana; Hearts and hands! Hearts and hands! Here are their hearts and hands, Lil’ Albert had cried, even though gut shot, turning from the pistols back into the elevator, which pistoned him down to the devils of hell, quite quickly, loudly, all scarlet and bloody; clean tiles no more; clean tiles all spattered. This was the instant they promoted Mary, the next-in-command at the studio, namesake of the great blue robed Mary above, to be the Father Dwyer assistant. She leapt from the dark right into the action, screaming all witchlike for a do-over of the current episode; sweetmeats are not fish, she shouted broadly, stopping the action with a tiny wave. Fish are not sweetmeats and sweetmeats are not fish! Who loaded the teleprompter with yesterday’s lines! Huh? Dwyer, man, stop now. Now! We got to do the intro over again, and again and again. Come on, guys!
               Dwyer glowered from under his great brow, saying, Why? Why? Why is that, Mary? I was on a roll, this is my fiftieth year, you are new and green, so I will be always right, that’s a fact you need to learn to live with, yes; I—but a horde of helpers came out from hiding behind Mary, and flowed all over Dwyer, as Mary flung off fiery gales of laughter, and enveloped him higher and higher in a mass of small slimy slippery living very plump squirming eels, like the ones as a boy Skip and Noman and he had set on the concrete platform above the Main street dam in Milltown. The worms trapped in their dirty rusty Dinty Moore can were all a-squirm to escape wildly. Amazing how they just flow up and out the can, said Skip. How do they do that? Dwyer squinted hard, pulled his stogie from his plumped up lip-socket below his fiery young mustache, and told the small boy; They are special. That’s how they do it. And, you are special too, yes, you’re a great gifted child, and you will do great things; and as usual, he said this after making sure the child’s Mother was near, all listening, beaming, beaming and beaming brighter toward bursting, higher and higher with each hug he gave the child, and more yes, yes, yes. Here—
               No! cried Mary, waving. No, no, no! Those are the day before yesterday’s lines! Who’s in charge of loading the teleprompter today?
               Turning to her, the dam slid aside and she transformed into a simple photo of a vista of giant hull hulks, off on the mud-flats all in the haze, that he once saw in a National Geographic, the boy sat leafing through in the dim room, long ago. The haze of time pulsated all around him, and here she came, in her presence, behind, saying, Don’t turn around son, no. Not around. She sent he tentacles of her smell out all around him, and though her son did not hear what she said from her lips, the words lingered in the smell, and he heard it. In the magazine page, up through the barren vista, came her face. He did not need to turn. She was both before and behind him. Something about hearing, but not seeing, her coming, made him think of the Medusa. Do not look on the Medusa, an old book had stated, maybe an encyclopedia. The book smelled old, moldy, obsolete, and damp. It had been carried to him through the shadows of the huge dead hulks dotting the mud plain. It sent him faster past the insects lined up, all the dead slaves. The slaves never have names, he mused, walking. No show that day, said Mary the new producer, as though she were his mother. He disobeyed, she commanded him again, palm stretched out; no show today, said Mother Mary. He begged her in the dark under the covers, to bring him what he wanted. Please, Mother Mary, in the name of your beloved son, he prayed as he’d been taught, in this way that would never be ignored, so taught the nuns. Her smell pulled back away; he breathed clearly. There was no magazine. The room fell away. The fish! What, cried Father Dwyer impotently into the empty studio. Where the Hell did my big silverfish slither to? Who snatched away my stunningly half scaled still gleaming fish? No, it can’t be returned to the wild like that, all ripped open like it was, like that; we tore out the scales, it cannot live! No, no, no. It cannot live it cannot no—not without scales!
               Stop! No! No this can’t be, no—cats come in the light licking up the scales across the grass, silently. Noman lowered his hands and they were not his, they were Father Dwyer’s, streaming with blood, from the dying small animal he’d worked on all day, yes it was a female in heat. But now it is five days dead on the blacktop, dead, dead, roadkill, slimy and stinking and covered with large loud black buzzing flies. So, down he went, on his knees in the blood, and began to weep. And Skip could not take it. Far too much weeping today he had undergone; the Dakota Maru’s walls that had recorded it all, being cold steel with the usual steel trap memory, told Skip in his skullcap that he heard so loudly, after the Dakota pushed its own PLAY button, mostly being an antiquated almost worn-out cassette job from the 70’s; yes, while eating lunch with Noman, Skip said, Why’d you have to lie, Noman? Eating shit, no not eating shit. Which is it? A way with words, yes, no? Ran from the hammer-blows raining down, remember? Dead, or alive? Ball peens or flat? Which is it, alive or dead or dead or alive? Thank God for the sea, and for old Kent Dazey, monitor-slamming into the broadly pinstriped IBM fat man, that forgotten one with the big airy gut, Yes, Waterworld! Yes, yes, yes—don’t dare insult this future merman, laugh laugh laugh, dead or alive or alive or dead, Skip! What matters is, you got away! Chunks of hot bile all flying from the dark at your face, brush by brush you live your stinking life, but it’s time for new tools tools new tools new now, Oh, no God, don’t let my huge swollen blue hulk of a genie die here, when the large hand from long ago is still a’slammin’, hit in the head one time too many, me, yes me, I’m talking about me, Mother, Mother, please do save me, I’m rusted tight at both ends, yes enduring all this shit a moment at a time at a time, Mother, save me! Lord God, look at Noman, he needs my fucking help! What’s that got to do with my bloodflow; bloodflow running, Doctor, no, please don’t kill yourself, please do not let me see you fall on that lancet, no, ignorant selfish ignorant selfish selfish ignorant, did you not know I was a teenage Godface one hour ago in the prickly God-bush, loudly brawling with close friends in the poison ivy, until one hour after daybreak from the shrinking God-bush, you insisted, What the Hell happened to your hands? What? What the hell, I; now why’d I say that? Did I say that? Who said that? Noman, your hands are shaking! To be distracted from your symptoms, which are only there when you are brooding over them, come on down here up above the plunging dam; in the scorch of summer, wipe the sweat from your brow with your stiff sandpaper towel, your nose, your chin, and—sit and dry as you watch the amazing eels, all a’slither; all a’slither, those silly eels! Silly silly silly, no, far too much weepin’, yes, yes, watch the eels; they rise flowing all around you; eels over your mouth, your nose, panic pushes it all up, yes, and there go your eyes. All gone are your eyes, yes, yes, oh, what? Is that you, that is you, yes stop shaking man, stop! See, you know wieners show up in unexpected places: sometimes fried in onions and served alongside an omelet, sometimes chopped up in soup, and once served alone, boiled, as a sort of appetizer, mainly all in Germany; yes Germany, sure ‘nuff Germany, mainly in Germany, hey! Yup! Sure, no, here you go Noman—tossing off to you—grab and run with it, Noman! Go Noman, go! Tell your full, ugly, story—make it more interesting than looking down through your voluminous files of botched post-op extreme Botox injection photographs! Go Noman, go—and, after screaming all that, Father Dwyer flew his robes back with a twist, and out from the hot dark of the Priest’s nether regions, swarmed into existence from Nothing, some damned Noman: yes, the ship is long, deep, and skinny! So, where am I,what am I, sure, I had lunch with Skip! I told him I was never married! He told me that in his opinion, we have the world’s shittiest jobs! I yelled, Skip! Why’d you go batty? Here, here—eat my food! Why did you slap yourself upside the head like that? You nearly made me pee my pants! Oh, yes! Laughing, joking, Skip! Uh-oh! There the back to work bell, a’slicin’! And with that, remember you rose to get away! You dodged the waves that managed to drown me, and you ran! Gone back, you went, to your small steel square stinkingly unhealthy poisonous room. You then zipped the wall open, stepped out in the parade ground—and my word, oh my God, sergeant! I did not mean to leave the base AWOL! I cannot be punished by not going to the parade ground for graduation! Dear God man, my dad and my dog are driving four hours to see me! So, you say you’re a baggy sloppy retiring-tomorrow sad lifer of a single-star general? He glowers and you nod into it, slinging back at him his very own question, so he fell on his longsword, then he came out of the glowering face before you, with mushrooms in his hand saying something about the sixties, shocked, you strain to see his grin, but no, it was her! Phyllis, Jesus, why did you not ooze to me, I am into mushrooms, Noman, plus what is your name, boy? I think I might want you she said, and in your horror you turned following some large black hard ball full of fingerholes, through the jagged glass shards and splinters, and ouch, oh, God no, your thumb was off! Off, dear God, you knew—and in your shocked quick haze, the Lord touched your head, and put on you the marks of the stigmata! Remember, Skip! It was God-damned funny! For no reason at all but with a good reason the, you I shouted, Medical! Need Medical! Yes—then you gripped my arm, I reached you just as I started up the chilly steel ladder, that was so fast as that, it was—you yelled back with phlegm and spittle, into my face you showered me, crying, We need medical! There it is there it is there it is yes! The machine came at you, scooped your ass up on its seat, and I don’t know what was wrong, it just spouted all over you in a strong, deep, voice, Nobody cares about me until they need help! Why? Suicide? What is that about suicide, no, with on last shout of Jesus Christ, you thrust your hands home with much red spatter, and sucked yourself automatically back to Phyllis, and you did the whole damn thing over again and over and over and over again, until you at last every one of you chorused to me, all together, You, Noman—yes, you are zero, and zero she said you picked up and you said, Skip, your face had been in mine all along, I felt as joyful as we feel in the instant when God crowns us down with knowing, that the dream was not real! Face fading back, I lose you, Skip, where is your face going, huh, sinking to the depths perhaps dead of the below zero water, huh? All stiff you sink so quick, my word—you fade away back through yourself, killing the winged giant drill sergeants, pissing in the water in every pool that comes your way, for over sixty years I pull you ashore, pull you yes, thank God, I am saved more lives than a cat now; so is this the last life? Yes, no, maybe, sure, somebody taught us from in front of her blackboard, That is something only God knows, he has known that since the very big bang and the dark winged ones came out of the mist to the breaking surf all screaming through my face, Thank God, for no, you are not a failure. Maybe a wimp but no failure, sho’ ‘nuff’! Go run and embrace the sudden burning bush but yes, no, maybe it is a bush of foot-long needle-thorns! So, life is a steel box. It just materializes, just like that, around us! We work in the belly of this ship twenty or thirty years but then what? Then, where are we, no! No! Noman reached out the, zipping open his wife Phyllis’ belly; yes, open, my wife, Phyllis! The truth does hurt, when it’s born via caesarian! Noman knew at last now in the light, he was in her all along, she was just his chrysalis, he grew, an shed her, and she crumbled dry to the deck, fit only for bunny-food!
               What happened, what happened?
               What happened to your hand?
               No, God—I tossed that t-shirt, I just didn’t have the guts to—
               I say, son, listen! You told me, Skip; what happened to your hands, what happened, to your hands, sure, yes, look at your hands man! You are on my snow-white shag with those dripping red dots spattering off your hands, you had to know you came on my gleaming carpet with every intention of marring forever its loudly quiet but strong whiteness!
               No! cried Father Dwyer—look up, up, man! See where in hell you are!
               Wait, wait, what do you mean no! You dare say no! As though I wouldn’t know you must be either Skip, or you might have been Father Dwyer all along saying, A small buffet of sliced beads, deli meats, and cheeses at every meal, so if the main course is not already smothered in cheese, you can add your own, sure, you maybe can, you know? And, also, consider you are offered additionally a wide long thick rare china plate of chunky super-green iceberg lettuce, sometimes with cut green peppers and mealy tomato, which gets recycled into the following day’s huge salad bowl, then burdened with ever-heavier dressings, until it can no longer support the weight and must be immediately trashed; you, Skip! You, Noman! Yes, there you are! Are you ready for inspection eh? Birth, growth, maturity, decline, disposal. Is it time for that for you two, eh? Huh?
               Dwyer writhed loose through the screen, wrapping Noman and Skip solidly tight as you’d roughly pull the drawstrings of some industrial strength super-invulnerable garbage, bag not available to the general public, Go, out, down!
               Into the lifeless surging water, they plunged!
               As the Dakota Maru reached the end of her service life!
               The last voyage begins now. The long, long last voyage, to Bangladesh!
               Yes, you, we all know what happens when we arrive at Bangladesh!
               Diminishing into the distance, she beckons for Noman and Skip to finally man her; they breast stroke quickly, catch up, board! Yes, to arrival! End! Last, star implosion; going, going, gone, dead, calmly, all of us end up in the quiet twilit mud.

Jim Meirose's work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Calliope, Offbeat/Quirky (Journal of Exp. Fiction pub,), Permafrost, North Atlantic Review, Blueline, Witness, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Published books include: Understanding Franklin Thompson (Exp. novel - JEF pubs (2018)), Sunday Dinner With Father Dwyer (Exp. Novel - Scarlet Leaf Press (2018)), Inferno (E-Chap - Underground Voices), Mount Everest and Eli the Rat (Lit. Novels - Montag). Visit www.jimmeirose.com to know more.
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