Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A resting place.

Another night.

Here we are, basking in the warmth of our cathode ray tubes (that are not, in fact, cathode ray tubes) on yet another summer night. Looking for things to do. Things that have been said. Hopes that had been made, some time before.

I’ve got something for you, intranetts.

Something that was conceived as a shot in the dark.
It was a little bit of an attempt at getting out there in the world, utilizing the means of the MACHINE OF DEATH Anthology. It was a shot.

And as is so often the case, my shot in the dark got swallowed up by nothingness. No harm done, no big deal. But still…

I want to lay it to rest. Somewhere other than here, within the humming confines of my extravagantly screened laptop. I want to give it somewhat of a sending off, so that I don‘t feel quite so sad about its humble passing.
It’s a story.

I told it, and it sparked away into another night.

And now it’s being told to you.
One hopes that you might find something to like.


What’s to say about it?

I don’t know. I never know anymore. Just a soft flurry of images drifting ahead of me, ones that I can reach out and grab with narrow outstretched fingers, like snowflakes in a fall. Out there, they stand unique, their own little design made of encapsulated time; and they turn to water in my hands. At first, I didn’t know.

She didn’t tell me. Not at all. And so I went on with my living, not having a glimmer of suspicion of the things that would come to be. The things that would grab my silly little world, and shake it with a thunderous sense of violence that I doubt I can ever truly comprehend. Nor would I want to. She had known something.
She? Jill. Her name was Jill.

And she was my love on this Earth.

Anyone would have told you that she had a certain sort of something on that night I first saw her. At least, when they saw her. I for one had spent the majority of the evening rooted to one spot, staring at the frozen eyes on a statue of a classical Roman. His eyes hitting with a terribly, terribly expressive nature. They made me shiver, those eyes. And then…I saw her, her indescribable presence, and all else was stricken from my memory. She made me quake, back then. She still makes me quake now.

Still. Nothing about her was still, her existence being one of omnipresent motion, one that swept up willing little me into a series of a separate-yet-connected life moments, in a manner of such grand immediacy that to this day, I’m still unsure of how I found such a presence in my arms. I was never much of a…I was never a devastating man. Never the sort that brings someone to stand casually in a doorway, enticing growls building in their throat. She saw something. In me.

So it was that she graced me with that feeling of her omnipresent life. Dances built on park benches and soft footfalls across dewy grass. Sharp ideas and murmurs in our sleep. Quiet whispers and dreamlike sweat in the night. Sitting close together on Sunday mornings, eyes glancing over Times headlines that announced things like: “BLESSING OR CURSE?,” or “PRIME MINISTER TO DIE BY WAY OF ‘INSURANCE FRAUD’: Public Demands Explanation”. Headlines of the sort that occur even now, this very day. Back then, we would disregard and discard such announcements, while we giggled and pulled in for an achingly soft kiss. God…that softness.

During those times her fingers would somehow always find mine. And I can remember…I remember how they would quiver. Gentle and firm, like a babies’ heartbeat.
Those were times when I could feel the world.

But even then, I suppose there were traces. Moments when her touch turned cold, where her terribly, terribly expressive eyes grew dead and distant, like the eyes of that Roman statue from a time before. I can still see her, the image locked in my thoughts. One of those moments. Her gentle and firm fingertips teasing the nearly invisible hairs across the surface of her belly, her voice echoing across time: “Found things still have a way of getting lost. Sometimes.” Sometimes.

I’d thought it would be alright. I’d thought it was just a trace of the world as it was, as it is; a side-effect of people as a collective coming to terms with their own mortality. After all, look at any street corner, any face in the pale gray of the morning. Look, and you’ll see it. We’re all more somber, these days. Still, I was happy. Happy with her warmth, happy with my life. She had been around longer, had experienced far more. And she, Jill had chosen me to be the one she caressed under moonlight, the one she whispered to during warm summer rains.

It was a cold winter storm when I found her at my door. Before then, we’d had countless days of wonder and joy. Yet this night was different, its existence drenched by that raging symphony of angry rain. Water beading on the surface of her coat, water clinging to the thin strands of her beautiful amber hair. She had a look on her face. Such a look. Her arms found their way around my waist, and she gripped me tightly.

She held on for dear life as we fell into the dark. I gladly let her grip her way towards safety, and I can clearly remember the way her fingers tensed on the small of my back. In the warmth of my arms, Jill gently fell asleep. Her hair was still wet from the rain.

Still wet, but not from lack of drying. The warmth of her body and the room caused the moisture to evaporate, slowly, but it was definitely there. My eyes moved over the thin haze that shrouded her head, and I couldn’t help it: It looked like her, a part of her; a part of her was trying to leave. As if any and all of her doubts were manifest above her head, pulling her away into the fog, a solemn funeral for human emotion. I could feel the concept of that, of Jill leaving. It was almost as if it was in my skin, trying to scrape its way out from inside of me like living sandpaper. The sound of that dragged across my eardrums, a terrible, jarring sensation. I didn’t know how I could do it. How I could slake her thirst. How I could make her doubts towards me go away. There was nothing. Nothing at all. So I tried for the only something I could manage. I leaned closer to her ear and whispered, “Tell me how to be in love.” She didn’t answer.
“Tell me how to be in love.”

That night, I had a dream.

I stood amongst a council of grand humans. Gods, even. Standing alongside them, my body covered with heavy armored garments that spoke of me being one of their own. In that place, in the air, one could taste a sense of stability and understanding, a feeling that these beings held on to their world with strength and ferocity of intelligence, with conviction and destiny. It was also only a moment before I realized they were all afraid. They and I.

Before us stood a creature unlike any nightmare. A wolf, yes; but bigger, stronger, angrier, uglier, yet with a kind of beauty realized by anything designed for a single, unwavering purpose. This creature felt rage that this place could barely contain. Its rage was a song in its eyes.

So I watched myself as I walked up and put my hand in its mouth. My colleagues moved toward it, slowly wrapping the creature with a binding that appeared be nothing more than a silken ribbon, thin and long. All while my fingers soaked in the hot saliva, which ran like the broadest river from the glands surrounding my hand. The beast was fettered; the beast fought his bonds. First with arrogance, then with rage. But his thin binding could not be broken, staying smooth and cool as it dug into the cursed flesh.

It wasn’t long before I went blind with pain. Lost in a world not my own, blood coloring the landscape with a disgusting flourish. I didn’t think I belonged. Not in this place, where truth was writ in blood on stone.

When I awoke, I was alone.

It felt like just another morning. Except after I had walked into the kitchen, if only to watch the last vestiges of the rain drift through the wind outside my window, I felt something. A stinging in my hand, as if a malicious insect had attacked during the night. When I gave it a closer look, I saw a miniature speck of red, staring me in the face and daring me to question its tiny world. So I squeezed it. The action brought out a single, gleaming ruby of blood. I swear that I saw it sparkle. It might as well have, anyway. Nothing else did.

Nothing. Jill didn’t bring herself by. Not that day. And certainly not the next.
So the days fell into the nights, and the nights wrapped over the days, mixing themselves until they got softer and smoother, more uniform the longer they went on. They all became the same, those days. Those nights. Those mornings. Those evenings. My useless sense of time.

I would go and stand outside, watching people drive home from somewhere and sit in their cars for a few moments before finally going inside. I would take care to observe the look on their faces, which was often just a touch of weariness after a hard-won day, but sometimes, sometimes, sometimes…it was more. A look of singular, genuine fear. Fear, and wonder. It’s the kind of look you see a lot these days. More and more, I find it hard to take. So more and more, I look away.

Instead, I found myself staring at the back of my hand. Looking over a majestic landscape of miniscule scars. As hard as I tried -- and believe me, I tried -- I couldn’t remember where they came from. None of them, not a one. Not a single memory tracing the outline of their smoothly curved backs. But this one, this new one, it stung. In her absence, it stung. It stings. Like the rain of that winter storm, darting at my face, hurting my eyes. But I stood there, and I endured. There was nothing else. Not from that day on, nothing else to give me a sensation of the moment when she had vanished. No matter how much it hurt, the pain was some kind of something, built out of the nothing of her absence. I stood there, alone against my elements, my own pain and confusion and loss. And yes, I endured.

Except I was breaking apart.

It was a bright Thursday morning when she returned to my door. She came alongside a cool breeze with a touch as delicate and light as a silk scarf. It moved around us as we stood, cold and immobile in my doorway.

I hadn’t a clue how long she’d been gone. My Jill-less world was nothing more than worry and regret, and now she stood there, close enough to touch. Her heartbeat fingers, right within my grasp. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to say.

So, I was endlessly grateful when she spoke first.

“Sorry,” she said, “I’m sorry. I’m -- I’m so, so sorry about this.” Her soft voice couldn’t conceal a solemn need for tears. But still, she didn’t cry. Not a drop was spilled.

“No need for sorry.” My voice was pale like milk. And it was real. Whole. My voice in that moment was all of me, everything I had ever thought and felt, all jammed together with a single, uniting prospect: I just wanted warmth again. Warmth. Skin. Her. Sinking into me, faint traces of breath with a touch so gentle, they almost couldn’t be felt. But I could feel them. Right then, I could feel them. Almost as if they were a part of my own body. “No need for anything else. Not now.”

“Not so sure about that,” she whispered.

“Hey…” I moved in closer, dreaming of touch. But she would have none of it, her body suddenly quaking like the heart of the Earth, a fearful movement from the very core of her. That was a bad thing, that day. There was a terrible all-encompassing silence as she composed herself, as if even the breeze that had flowed between us only moments before was in service of her whims. She looked up, her eyes suddenly frozen and clear.

“I did something.”

Out of the periphery of my vision, I saw her movements flow with a certain deliberate pacing, one that seemed, so, so, so…unnatural. For her. It was wrong. Despite the way I had yearned for a reunion, hungered for it like a dog whimpering in a dark corner, it was then that I found myself stricken by fear. Fear, and wonder.

It was a fearful man that watched her reach into the back pocket of her well-worn jeans, watched her fingers come up with something small and thin. It was a rectangle of paper, about the size of a business card; the surface of it colored a mottled gray, like smeared ashes on the last-standing wall of a burned down house. I knew what it was.

These days, everyone does. Oh.

“Oh,” I said. “Oh.”

“I gave it your blood. I gave it a piece of you, because I needed to see.”

Oh. “Oh.” The stinging on my hand suddenly intensified, as if the beast that had taken hold of me with its world-ending jaws had finally tightened its grip, preparing for the true end. Its mouth then opened, wide and quiet, calm as the gaping depths of an ocean crevasse. My feet gave way and I tumbled into that limitless darkness. All while staring into it, looking deep with terribly, terribly expressive eyes. What had she done? To me? To her?

Jill’s hands came together and brought the scrap of contemptible paper closer to her, cradling it against the white cotton that was pulled down over her belly. Her interlaced fingers, still firm, alternately grew tense and relaxed in a series of even, steady pulses.

“What is this, Jill?” my voice cracked as I spoke, “What the hell kind of end?”

“It’s not…”

“Jill.” My voice was bone scraping on concrete. I had to know.

She breathed in. She breathed out. Again and again, as if building up enough rhythm to pull what was needed out of her, like it were latched on somewhere deep inside, someplace hard to reach. She spoke. She had to speak. “I’m still sorry,” she said, “For all of this. Nothing is ever supposed to happen this way. It does, though. Believe me.

“We’re all gonna die, I know that, I know that much. All of us gone, some…sooner.” For a moment she paused, a look on her face as if she might vomit; but she stoned her face and jaws, and made as if she were going to once again look me in the eye. She didn’t. But she came damn close. Seeing it then, I hadn’t a trace of doubt in my mind: There was effort here. A lot of it.

“But now, it feels like -- like I’ve killed you. Even though I didn’t do it, it wasn’t some decision that I made, it feels like I’m a part of it. Your death is in me.” And again, we were draped with a limitless silence.

In that space of time, that little world, I knew that I wanted to say something. Something important, something that might have made it just a tiny, tiny bit better. I’d had it right there with me, the thought in my head, the words in my throat. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t speak them. They lodged there in the base of my gullet, like some tiny animal, heart racing with fear at what might happen in the radiance of the sun. Here, now, I haven’t a clue what it was that I would have said. But it would have helped. I’m sure of it.

“I can’t stand this. Living like this, seeing you like this, knowing that it’s coming.” Jill’s fingers finally stretched themselves out, flat and open, the miniscule expanse of wispy gray standing out as a blight against the glow of her skin. “Could you?”

She looked at me, forcing her presence upon me in a way that I had yet to experience, even amidst all of the life that she had struck me with before. Her eyes grabbed hold of me, One. Last. Time. Those eyes. That hair. Those fingers. That voice. Those memories. That taste. Those feelings. That life, dancing within her. And in that very instant, I felt it all get pulled away. Moments being tugged from the very core of me, heartstrings pulled free and clear; and I knew. She was done. Gone.

Long gone. I stood there, alone, for twenty minutes, cool breeze still bringing the sounds of the world to my ears. It wasn’t until after I turned to open the door that I noticed the card in my hand. Pale gray, this proclaimed death. And hell followed with it.

What else is there to say?
I can see it. There it is, sitting on the edge of my bedside table, a heavy coat of dust nearly camouflaging it against the surface. Untouched by my hand, not since that day when I laid it there to rest. Nothing left to go on. No ground left to tread.

There are times that I find myself coming closer to it, looming my height over that tiny thing, as if I thought I might scare it away. Any time I get close enough to touch, my thoughts turn to ashes and my body falls apart. This won’t do, not at all. I know that much. Now, I know that much.

I can’t bring myself to look. Face-down, the information of me locked in between its own disgusting back and the smooth surface of my own fine oak. I can’t do it, I cannot bring myself to, will myself to, force myself toward a final decision. I don’t know what I want to do. Not since I’ve been left standing alone, just another pillar of salt waiting to return to the Earth. No motion to my moments. Just me and it, waiting for that day to come. And I know it will. I know, as she knew -- the day that I look will be the day that I die.

When I see those words, stamped onto that paper, that will surely be my end. It can’t be anything else.

I couldn’t stand it any other way.


Requiescat In Pace.
And all that.

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