Child of Beating

Warm little kid and sharp as a bird beak, born right there on the carpet when his step father won’t let his mother out to the hospital. He’s raised by himself and away from watchful eyes, creeps ’round the woods in quiet hours gathering blackberries in his shirt. Always cutting his legs up with the thorns. Beaten savagely like his mother before him.
Any such child of beating has his leanings, to fear or darker musing. Even as he wanders in the branches some hell rises inside him. Clenching his fists and gritting his teeth and pressing his red face into the creek long as he can while his breath poisons slow in his lungs.
Looking up with just his eyes, a strand of water-soaked hair shaking in the corner of his vision. A squirrel is passing by just in front of him. Twitching and blinking, one eye just slightly after the other and it moves it’s little paws over the dirt. The hate is welling. He feels like yelling but keeps obediently quiet, not disturbing the peace of the forest. But he can feel it fighting to the surface, gutting him from the inside and rising to the top like impurities from boiled gold.
The creature looks up at him, transfixed by creeping realization. They lock eyes, and a single muscle twitching under the squirrels nose gives warning and just at the moment when the whip will crack, something stops it. The boy can feel it pouring out from him in waves into the mind of the creature until it overflows. The squirrel falls down sideways to the ground, consumed wordlessly by vast pain both physical and mental. Ten long, sick years of it. It can’t understand a second.
The boy stands. By the green-filtered light he watches, feeling the pain leaking out from somewhere. Concentration on the writhing little form, he pushes it. More and more, the pains of his ten years flowing into the body. He can feel it ebbing away, his cuts and bruises bubbling off it’s skin. He smiles, blinking. And looks up at the forest’s ceiling, tears of joy on his face.
From then on it gets a little better. When he can, the boy slips out into the forest to release his pain on the unaware forest. He finds that letting it out provides a semblance of relief, temporarily. But the more he lets bleed the more takes it’s place, of thrown insults and bottles and rough hands moving over him. Of words from schoolmates breaking over his shoulders. Every tortured night vomited up into the mind of a passing animal. They writhe on the forest floor when he does it. He used to not watch.
The switch is flipped proper on an unassuming winter day. The irritation causing it is so minor as to be nothing. He’s pushed to the ground by a schoolmate and kicked in the sides by two others. His scabs can attest to the frequency of these things.
He begins by redirecting the pain they cause him. Bruising their sides, making them grow paranoid in the hallways for the scraps of money in their pockets. Making them taste sweaty hands in their mouths and down their throats and vomit on their teeth. When they won’t stop it escalates. A broken rib. Bottle glass in their neck, the sharp corner of a table to the side. Lonely, sleepless depression driving them deeper into the wilds. Hate screaming inside them pushing free.
The air about him is always awash in these and many more such torments. It is an ever-present stench about him. His pains fill every space, his paranoia and fear. Even the innocent children are burdened by a fresh cascade of pain as he passes them in the halls. No one dare raise a hand, not when he can call such pain and guilt as to cripple their body and mind. Hit me, he’ll say. Hit me you old bastard, right across the mouth. Just to feed the pit.
He turns to drinking.
He’s in from a night out in the woods again. The bottle hangs limp in his clammy hands. He fumbles with the keys. Anger rises so easy now it flows ever present, thick in the air he exhales. It brings people to their knees. The porch light overhead flickers violently, and little clicks sound as moths hit it. The key turns.
The flickering light extends out into the house and stretches black impressions over it’s surfaces. Immediately the stink of blood fills his nose. His eyes dart nervously over every nook. A TV is going in the bedroom like always, the light it casts moves to the cadence of sport but no sound. He can see the back room, and now a faint banging and swearing. He enters the bedroom.
Her head is broken open at the top, cracked lines of blood stain her eyes and mouth. Strands of hair are gathered up in it, in the wound cut across her brow. It soaks the carpet, congealed among it’s fibers. Her tongue is swollen and seems to fill her gaping mouth, and blood is crusted on her two front teeth. She’s sitting up against the bed eyes open as if contemplating the wall. And over her the bringer of death, stood ready with his gaze locked on the boy.
Don’t do nothin’ you’d regret, He says slowly. A pause, the boy is drinking it in. I had to do it like this, she was comin’ at me. She would’ve hit me, sweartogod. The boy looks up at him in disbelief. His step dad looks away at the wall, lip quivering, and turns back to him. All I had was a bottle, I was just gonna do a… a practice swing. W-warning swing. But the damned thing didn’t break. He looked down at it, lying there. Wasn’t my fault it happened, but I know you’ll blame me.
Seconds lapse in the little stand off. And then it begins. Silently, he lets every last drop of it hard into his step father’s fat body. Waves of hurt filling the old man up to the very brim. Tears run down both their cheeks in unison. He’s dredging up the darkest thoughts from so far down he’s hardly aware of them. His anger and sorrow are filling faster than he can unload them. His step father is on the floor, leaning against the bed and weeping hard.
The guilt of secret sins, of standing over the weeping bodies of classmates. Of arguments screamed out while he cowers. Of many pulls from the bottle by the light of an overcast moon. Filling up the animals with his hate and pain. Every bit of it emptied into his father’s writhing form, but it’s not enough. Nothing could be enough.
He leans down close, right by his father’s ear, clutching at his grubby shirt. There’s comin’ a day, he says, when I come back. Hate gathered in his voice. I’m gonna go out and find the pain of the world, he says. I’m gonna find pain like you never felt before. He pushes his step father back into the bed frame and stands up in the same motion. The last reserves flow out into the broken form.
Morning breaks out over the dashboard. He’s been driving all night and his eyes are tired. He rubs the hair from out of his eyes, pulls the sunshade down. The sun’s rising diagonally in the corner of his eyes. Arriving at a diner, he sits down on a bench outside and looks over the town. He’s never been this far.
Three years. He wanders in and out through American dreamscapes, guided by a compass rambling where is hidden to man. Getting into squabbles in bars, by choice walking barefoot and coat-less. Collecting pain. He kills a man with the strength of his hands in an alleyway for looking at him. He tells himself he’s nothing, worthless. Guilt is welling, sorrow, and tangible pain. Pain in his joints and muscles. In his blow-rattled jaw. Old pains from times past, and new ones. Chaffing against him.
How quick can three years enter the old man? Should it be compressed into a moment, or drawn out as long as it has taken to gather? Will such poison kill, or will it merely bleed him? He pounds his body against the steering wheel on the road at night. Screaming raw. He is violent, the younger image of his step father. Paranoid, his instinct is away from prying eyes. His spirit lies in puddles and rain sumps. In stains and mud and cracked blood tied up in bandages, American soil.
He returns. On the back of the bus way, cold and tired. Broken up. At last, he has gathered all he can stand. He sits down next to an old man swallowed up in a leather coat. The man looks sideways at him.
Young man? The old man says. He doesn’t look.
Young man, the old man says louder. He turns. What?
You’re shivering. Would you like to borrow my coat? He shakes his head.
Naw, old man. It’s been a long time coming to stop now. Silence. The old man wipes the scruff of his face.
You young ones, now I don’t understand y’all sometimes. You… you feel there’s debt you’re to pay, for better or worse.
The man laughs under his breath. Yeah, I got a debt to pay somebody. The old man shakes his head again, still looking out the window.
You carry it all with you. And act like you’ve got to do it. Like it’s a man’s lot to do it.
The younger turns to the old man. It is, old man. This whole damn country’s created from suffering. The old man turns back to him, eyes severe.
That’s true. It runs in a man’s veins. The old man leans in close so their shoulders are touching. The younger recoils, but listens intently.
But even if we’re made of suffering, it’s decency keeping us together. It’s God’s breath moving in the clay.
He breathes quickly, glaring wildly at the old man. The old man settles back into his seat, looking out the window again. The younger leans back, staring up at the ceiling.
The bus pulls up to the stop and he gets off. It’s cold and snow moves in the clouds. His feet are bare on the sidewalk as he walks. Coming to the old house, it’s unruly and unkempt as he left it. He pulls the old key from his pocket, holds it down by his side. The breath clouds in front of him. He looks up at the cloudy sky, gathering all the years up that he’s saved, bursting to be free.
He steps up onto the porch, his jaw tight and his fists clenched, coaxing the tide. Steadying the key with both hands, he slides it slowly into the lock, putting pressure on it.
It doesn’t turn.
He pushes it again, harder. Breathing heavier, he shakes at the door knob, swearing under his breath. He hits the door, slamming into it with his body. The flimsy old key snaps off in the lock. He calls dying rabbit screams out into the air as he forces his aching body into the door. He looks around, the hair falling in his face, and sees the window. Smashing it, he steps into the house, wanders through every room. Weeping his eyes raw. The stain is still in the carpet in the bedroom, but cobwebs are gathered in the corners. Life is long since left from this place.
He sinks weeping to the living room floor. Moaning, feeling the years ache in his legs. He pushes himself up and out of the house, sprinting back further into the woods beyond and stopping at the creek. Pushing his head into the mud of the creek, he unleashes the tide.
Something is different. The pain doesn’t spread to the ground, to the animals there. It rises like helium, up over the tree canopy and into the atmosphere. It pours from him like smoke off an iron, off his back and clothes, bleeding out from every pour. He sobs deeply into the ground.
But he finds it doesn’t fill him again. It just flows and flows, until he is empty of it and he rolls over onto his back. The snow is falling, floating down softly over the wood. The tears streaking his ruddy face are freezing, and they stop entirely. His burden is gone, taken up. There is nothing left to feel.

Desolation in the Wake of the Ocean.

Oh, great city, distorted in the wake of a mountainous tide. Awash in decaying salt. Thine people’s arms stretched above them, thine whispered prayers and homeless writhing in the alleys as the great shadow passes. It is upon them in the span of seconds, a force that cracks their fragile bones and pulls at their aching forms. Hell is brought by the quiet ocean.
Oh, great city, watch thine masses be carried by the river of the streets. The poor and the wealthy, the children and the dogs. Corpses weakened by the waters, in days the skins are cracked and bloated insides vomit out into the depths. The rats creeping in the subway are swept away and bound to the walls by current in the dark. The waters of the sewer and the sea mingle evenly.
There are those above it. They at the tips of buildings that call at the sky, but even they are not saved. For the wave brings the towers down. There are those outside its path, but neither are they saved. For the stink of humanity in the waters spreads sickness among them. And the pockets of life that cling at the edges of this place become ruined by desperation.
See, oh city, what has become of a survivor. She shall swim in the waters of the flood, she shall bathe herself gently in the squalor of the earth. The urban river rushes like the waters of the forests do but is clouded instead with the stink of death and the fluid twist of venomous snakes. She sees their bodies shine in the overcast, and tells herself they are only branches. The outcropping she stands on, some remnant of a skyscraper, is jagged to her bare feet and set low in the murky rush. A crying child and the bark of a stray and the wail of alarm bells are the siren’s song calling her, come deeper. Be at peace.
Her feet enter the flooded street first, and brush something momentarily beneath the surface. Her body is cold and clammy and shivering, the water takes her head down and the current whips her back feet-first into the void. Her hair is spread on the surface of the water like a lily pad. Already the brush of deathly slickness touches at her side and cold spreads slow in her limbs. Her breath sits locked in her chest but she pushes herself to let it escape. To gasp as desperately at the water as she has at the air.
One step beyond the city. A bare footstep has escaped the water-saturated muck and is planted firmly in the grass. He staggers forward, naked and dripping and cut deeply along his arm. The cut is long and pus-ridden and the steam of his body heat rises away. I have eaten her, he cries, I have eaten her like the rats. The city is silent but shifting and the sounds of crumbling buildings and subways can be heard through the spaces of the ruins like dust is seen in stripes of sunlight. He kneels in the grasses and rubs his withered, bearded face upon it and breathes deeply. Weeping upon it. His tear drops pull at the blades. God, he whispers, God help me. God help me.
Some thing of the sea glides in the darkness. Its pale form delivered to sunlight for the first time. Light has not touched it, and it seeks the darkness. It feels with inhuman tendrils for the beauty of comforting black. And suddenly it is struck by a pillar of flesh from above the plain of murk and cold ink erupts from its innards. O’er the forests of twisted metal that cloud wanders, washing the deadlands before diffusing completely. Finally, there is release from the day, the thing slips into the sewer like a ghost and devours the dead things keeping there. The filth of that place is dispersed evenly in the city. Its soft limbs play weakly across algae-ridden walls.
Under the waterline the displaced elements of an apartment float. The alarms have faded in the distance, the lights are dark. Warped tables and chairs rock in place. A picture of a man on the wall watches serene o’er the quiet, a crust of dry salt has been left on the edges. A mother and child float face-up by the window as if trying to see. A soft ripple of current released by a building’s collapse buffets them slightly and the tops of their heads brush against each other in rhythmic reunion.
The outside cannot reach what the waters have claimed, cannot pull its captives away, and the flying hands of the outside can only drop containers into the fray. The count of bodies is unreachable as the survivors. How, oh city, how shall thee shine again? How, belabored so with waking horror, shall any love thee? Lo, this place is given up to the ocean. Weakened through by salt.

Ah-Lou-Miniaum

Space-shiap made’a ah-lou-miniaum waltzes ‘cross the sky makes trails in the wake of it takes guys up into it, swertagod. Git prodded, git dropped, take a cow, prod a cow, drop a cow, earth’s sun bright through tha winder, it’s ah-lou-miniaum but clear. Sing a bit when drunk an’ smoke an’ lis’n to a music ontha radio, got big ol eyes tasee yua. Big slug foot and got yonder ah grey hat maeda som’on’s animal fuzz. Make’a guys got prodded sick but they don’t care, don’cha, Ali’n? Gotta yellabit, I’d say, atta sky atcha, Ali’n! Lika moonshiner read’na Dead Sea’s Scrolls ya don’ git it, imma commin’ fer ya! Backwoods iz yua, say, Ali’n!? You take a soul ah just ah man, say, Ali’n?!

Yessir, its ready I’d say, yessir.

Good, yeah, that’s a loyal grey, I’d say. Fire’it.

Yessir. Its a doomsday lazer, its ’bout like a double-barreled-sort, see, mac, hangin’ offa mothership.

Blowtha’ horn o’ war, raisetha standard. Takea’ human out, I’d say.

Blowed it up, em’ Ali’ns did, took our Joe’jah offatha map, an’ Akansaw’ too. We’s screamin’ an’ hollerin’ an’ we’s got owr sawedoffs out ta’ takem’ down. Ah-lou-miniaum up yowda, inna blue sky, turnin’ it just red’rnan ol barn, I’d say. Ol barn yua Ali’n caint hit! I mocked em’ likeat, said I ain’t skert o’ yua Ali’n! AAAAAAAAeeeeeeeh, mac, yua gottem’! Yuah hit mah ol family and ah’d retha be dead, I’d say!

I say, ‘tender,’ken still hearem’ breathin’ onme froma darkness. Wy’d it beme, mac, wy’dit be? Oh, ‘tender, gimme nother shot of it, mah glass is sorta spacey likethat shiap what did do em’ in back then. Mah poor kin. I like ‘sploshans, mac, I’d say. Getta kneckerchiff outta yua back pocket an’ stickit inna ‘homebrew likeiss and lightit witha zippo- STAP, MAC! DON’ TOUCH ME! Anyway, annya BLOWITTA CRAP! HA!hahahahahahaha…. Tha’s that. Pump an’ fa’r and yua’s poolin’. Quitea blaze. Hehehehehehehehehahahahahahahahaheha.

Soen, mac, yua’s in ‘Nam, en? Prettymuch a given withtha’ rifle onna wall, itssa emsigsteen I’d say,  ah can smella powder still. I eva tellya ’bouta Ali’n I seen? kiltma kin an’ ah’ve been lookin’ fer it since. Yua ain’t seena ufo, eh? Didn’t thinksa, than’ka thoa. Say, ya wanna seeya trick, mac? Yua gotta lettle bitta whisk’y… Likat, yeh, an’ ya put it onna rag fromya pocket and yua HEYH, DONTCHA STOPPMEMAN, IGOTTA DOTHIS! STOPPIT! I GOTTA GETTIT BLOWN UP LIKEM’ ALL! HAAAHAHAHAHehehehehehhahahahehe!

Sier’ns, author-it-ies, guess its time I got outta dodge. Gotta makea speck-tec-ale anna Ali’n’ll come an’ I’ll getim. Shame ta’ reckit I reckon, It’sa model a pickup wit whitewalls anna red painjob, haddit through tha’ dustbowl. She’sa larapin lady-she-is. Ah hell ah well can’ sell miteas well.

Ahem. I’m the narrator. I’ve not been in it yet. Lets see, my bit is… umm… Oh, yes, “boom”.

WHAZZAT?! Hurrp… godwherami? Isthis kain-zis? Lookit mah ol model a, like tha reckathe heas-preas I’d say. HAhahahah, ran them pigs inna the dirt, dinni? HAH! Aw, then, yua’s alive, ain’tcha, coppar? Writhin’ inna bleedin’, aintcha, but alive. Mor’n my PORE OL MA GOT, AINTIT? Weeeeell, we’ll see you offnow, mac. Let’see, how’stha’ salute goagain? Therewego, salute! They’s gonna giveya a purp’lart in hev’n fershoer, ain’t they, pig? BAM, lookit tha’ sawedoff blow! Yer missin aface, ain’tcha?!

His old face is deranged looking if you ever saw a face that was and it has a long beard that’s white and the lines of his face are so deep and many that they trap a few rogue hairs in them from his beard and he’s got liver spots all over him and the beard’s frizzy because it’s humid and his eyes are bloodshot and his smile is weak but could be weaker and his hair is thin on top except his brows which are caterpillars or cat tails maybe stuck on him. Pipe cleaners, that fits. Anyhow, he’s standing knock-kneed on the precipice of a mountain cliff and he’s brought one of the white walls to roll off it while he waits for the Ali’ns. He’s got an ancient part-gleaming part-rusty sawed off Colt coach-gun, double barreled side-by-side configured and boxlock actioned and the serial number’s been removed with a course file. Not that he knows it but the regulation on it is loose and it won’t hit the broad side of a barn for crap over more that ten feet. And he’s got a little hair in the back grown long, tied up in a little rat-tail and in his leathered thin skin old oily fists he’s got moonshine, good hard homebrew high proof crap contaminated a bit with glycol from antifreeze ’cause it was brewed in the backwoods and they used a truck radiator as a condenser. Probably there’s lead in it, too. And he sits there after he’s rolled the white-wall down and sips at the white lightning and kicks around a pebble on the ground while he sits on a dusty redish rock that’s in a sea of other dusty redish country dotted here and there with little sickly tumbleweed plants and prickly pear. It’s probably Arizona or maybe New Mexico. Colorado, even. He’s got no shirt so his shoulders are tanned and nearly burnt up and he’s got on Levi over-alls with one shiny button still left but the rest are scuffed up and some are gone all together and just left behind some hanging thread and the aged thread-bare denim pockets have an empty flask and an old faded olive-drab handkerchief in them. He’s got some spit dangling off his lips that’s a yo-yo, bobbing up and down. It reflects an image of the blue sky and the red land and the greenery that’s really, truly brownery but the image is inverted in the droplet, with the sky pointed down. Same with the sweat on his bulbous nose. His nose is red and pock-marked and it’s got scabs on it. His upper lip is shaved so his beard is just ’round his chin up to his bottom lip. He’s bored and he whispers an old delta blues song to himself.

The wind picks up a bit and then the sky splits and there, great mothership in the sapphire sky, towers over him and blows the wisps of fragile white hair gently ’round his head. The ship is massive, so tall that the top of it recedes from sight high into the atmosphere and into space where it opens up into a massive ship. The Soviets have got a space station up there but they don’t mess with the mothership because of it destroying Kansas and Arkansas earlier in the story, you remember that? And the ship is covered in black protrusions and buttons and pipes and lights and switches and there’s windows all along it, made of clear aluminum. He rolls back off the rock an’HAHAHAHAHAHahahah I nowed yua’d come yua suckers! wanaya born er’y minute, bailey useda say! Takis! He fires the gun and it misses because it’s crap like I said and he immediately fires again and misses again. The glow surrounds him and he’s pulled upward along with a few of the pebbles on the ground, the straps of his over-alls float upwards so you can see the tan lines there. He opens the gun and the empty twenty-gauge shell casings float upward and the depressions in the metal where the firing pin struck them give a minuscule, warped image of him and the receding ground. He loads another shot hastily, he’s got his pockets stuffed full of twenty-gauges. He points it at the vessel and an aperture opens (that’s a hole, you know) and there’s one of them in there in a grey beaver fur wool-felt fedora hat like the old man was saying about in that part at the beginning of the story and the old man blows it’s wretched grey bulbous big-eyed head clean off with one shot and puts the other shot into another one as he enters the hole. In the hole the consciousness that joins the Ali’n civilization together mutters a scream of intense lament not because of two deaths, or not just ’cause that, but truly it’s a matter of perception on the part of the old man, they ain’t terrorists, the Ali’ns, and why they aughta should be perceived that way just for a few of them screwing rural America?

Anyhow, then they gang up on the old man and beat him with electric sticks because they’ve only developed ranged weapons on a world war scale for some reason, which doesn’t seem all that much like a logical progression, I mean, didn’t it start with them throwing rocks around or something? The sticks cast a greenish light on the scene and they’ve got a sort of mechanism like rubber but not quite rubber that makes it so the Ali’ns themselves don’t get shocked too much, but it’s not rubber like I said so they still get a few volts of it to be honest. Now’s the bit in the story where it’d be good to have a twist, but there’s not one. The old man’s dead. You can tell it’s a big deal because I didn’t make the sentence telling you  about it three paragraphs.

Part Three: Ascension 

No, sorry, I was serious. That’s really it. The end.

 

 

Dogmachine

Dog sits and stays. Dog kills rabbits because they are a waste of space. Dog knows rabbits will always testify. Dog invents new systems. Dog licks the palms of men in power. Dog wants the men in power to pet the dog. Dog gets the guts up to blow its own brains out with a shot gun but it looks at a picture of its puppies and refrains. Dog buys an expensive painting. Dog spreads lies. Dog buries a bone. Dog buries the truth. Dog buries a reporter. Dog kills another dog via acute blunt force trauma. Dog licks where it isn’t supposed to but isn’t reprimanded and establishes a repeating pattern of behavior. Dog is hooked up to a machine. Dog loves the machine. Dog knows that the machine is indifferent to dog. Dog aches for a vacation. Dog hears rumors. Dog is a prison rapist. Dog devours an infant. Dog removes someone’s face carefully with a number twenty-one surgery grade scalpel that it holds with a palmar grip and places the face carefully over its own. Dog thoroughly sanitizes an environment. Dog screams into a pillow at night because it is so tired. Dog is in too deep. Dog deals with unsavory characters. Dog kills another dog via acute blunt force trauma. Dog spreads lies. Dog buries a reporter. Dog sneaks into a house. Dog buys an expensive painting. Dog becomes jaded. Dog wants to die sometimes. Dog devours an infant. Dog aches for a vacation. Dog aches for a vacation. Dog aches for a vacation. Dog loves the machine. Dog loves the machine. Dog aches for a the machine. Dog machine. Dog machine. Dog kills another dog via acute blunt force trauma. Dog wants to die all the time. Dog looks at its puppies and feels nothing. Dog kills another dog via blunt force trauma. Dog looks over its shoulder often. Dog catches a pang of guilt. Dog feeds its guilt to the machine. Dog loves the machine. Dog aches for the machine. Dog machine. Dog machine. Dog yells at God. God is not the machine. Dog loves the machine. Dogmachinedogmacinedogmachinedogmachine. Dog gets up the guts to blow its own brains out with a silenced .357 SIG caliber SIG Sauer p229 handgun but looks at a picture of its puppies and puts the picture face-down so they don’t have to watch.

Horde of Impressionables

The night before I’d felt like death. I had been so hungry but, paradoxically, I didn’t feel like eating, which was alright because I was pretty sure my stomach was digesting itself. I tried to eat some pasta, but on the second plate I opened the wrong side of the Parmesan cheese container and dumped an absolutely horrendous amount of it on. Despite my love of Parmesan I learned a lesson in moderation, which is to say that that amount of cheese made for the one of the most surprisingly terrible dining experiences of my life. And that’s not to even mention how aggressively exhausted I was, with an obligation to hand out children’s clothing that night. After I brought the clothes in and laid them in a pile I was at the point where, if I didn’t leave for the bed now I’d probably never make it. I imagined dying on the sanctuary carpet and decomposing into bones and being the study of NeoNepali Archaeologists one thousand years from then and I excused myself.

In the morning, I felt better, if only slightly, and I continued to improve the whole morning and by breakfast I was even feeling nearly sub-human, maybe even able to pass for a person if looked at with a deep squint. It was church then, they do it on Saturdays here, and I got into a tie and a nice shirt. Mom came in and said I looked handsome. It’s funny, Pramita had said that, too, when I first got here, and that was kind of weird. I thought I looked like a pile of half-deflated whoopie cushions stuffed into a shirt with a mop stuck on top with scotch tape. When I’d stumbled out of the airport they’d probably mistaken the bags under my eyes for suitcases.

Anyway, downstairs in the church there were two sides. One was the chick side and the other was dudes, so I slipped into a dude-side chair and put my drawing stuff down under the seat and then sat there, uncomfortably, with a little aisle between me and all the people I knew. Someone I knew from previous trips came up and said “Hello, Jamashi!”, which is a christian greeting, and I returned it. He held his hand out a bit, to shake I thought, so I reached for it. He pulled it back but I was too late, and I grabbed it awkwardly and shook it twice but it was entirely limp and he pulled it away. A solid three seconds of palpable silence and then he nodded and left and I slumped back in the chair but it pulled my shirt in the back so it was nearly untucked and I sat up.

The cross above the pulpit was surrounded with shining blue string lights, they cast a cool glow on the ceiling and made an ethereal upside-down image of the cross on the slick panel wood. They started the music going. It was a similar experience to the birthday band from before, but not quite as bad. It wasn’t the sort of music you’d hear in hell, per say, just the  one of the more unpleasant wings of purgatory. It was interwoven with strings of practice music and I could pick out a few loose bars of hymns and Mozart.

A few of the orphanage kids walked past my chair and as they did, stopped and gathered around me to stare. I smiled, said Jamashi, and they smiled and said it back. If the silence had been palpable before, now you’d have trouble seeing through it. I tried to make some type of conversation, and they responded in a fast-paced slew of Nepali. I nodded politely and the smile froze on my face. A little huddle formed around me of cherub faced girls in flowery sundresses and boys in collared shirts they probably pulled at when no one was looking and worn bibles under their arms. The looked at me quizzically. The only entertaining thing I could think to do was pull my hair down in front of my face and pull it apart a bit so just my eye peeked out from behind it. They seemed slightly impressed, like I’d begun to at least feebly brush the surface of their expectations, but I couldn’t think of anything to do to ride that high so it quickly fell to silence again.

They moved on past to the front of the church, all except a boy. He sat next to me and just sat, smiling and staring. I nodded awkwardly, said hello. He didn’t move. I said Jamashi. He returned the sentiment and then went back to doing that not moving bit. I turned away but I could feel his stare on the side of my face. I dropped my pencil and he raced dutifully from his chair and under mine to get it. He brought up everything I’d put there and I took it and said dhanyabad, which is thank-you, and put it on my lap.There was silence for a bit. He pointed to my tie and said “tie” and I said yes. He said tie again.

“Yup, you got it.”

“Tie.”

“That’s right.”

“Tie.”

“Sho’ ’nuff.”

He nodded, smiling. I smiled awkwardly and nodded. He picked up my sketchbook and looked at me. I said it was my sketchbook. He looked blank. “Drawing”, I said. He nodded. “Drawing”. He stared expectantly. I blinked. He tried to open it. I opened it instead and leafed through it. I hadn’t drawn in it much and all I found was this:
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He seemed unfazed. “Drawing!” he said, happily. “Yup”. Then he started talking in Nepali, rapid fire. He asked me about fifty questions, all responded to with a smile and nod and the occasional shrug. He pointed at my hair and the chair and the stairs and I stared, unblinking. It was a tide that hit me, I picked out a few Nepali words I knew but not even close to enough to give any context. Eventually I focused on the music and looked away. I tapped the seat in front of me in time to the music. He pulled my hands away and rubbed the seat and looked at me expectantly. I put them back and rubbed the seat and he smiled. I nodded, not even smiling this time, and went back to not looking and tapping again. He picked my hands up and made them clap a few times. I indulged him and when he let go I carried on for a few more claps. He was delighted.

Eventually he developed an entourage of four or five other kids. They had a quite refined pallet for strange Americans and seemed thoroughly bored by my presence. He wanted me to show them the hair thing so I did it weakly but they seemed unimpressed. He kept looking back to them and then back to me, grin fading. The speakers screamed with feedback and it was nearly deafening. I sighed. Then the music stopped. Someone started praying in Nepali so I thought I should probably close my eyes. The boy tapped me and kept on talking until Pramita made the lot of them go back to their chair. I relaxed a bit. Ahhh, now I could just sit there and “Would Pastor Kirk and Sister Liz and Brother Will please come and accept gift?”

The sigh blew out of me. I had no control of it whatsoever. I sadly and heavily pulled myself out of the chair and stood behind my parents and tried unconvincingly to seem like I wanted to be conscious. He announced us and talked a bit about Dad and Mom. I hoped I would only be mentioned in passing. I mean, what could he say about me that would be THAT BAD, right ” I hope I do not embarrass Will here, but…” Ohnoohgodpleaseno. “I think he can take a nice Nepali wife from here, eh!” Yep. There it was. ‘course, yeah, Nepali wife. A hundred eyes bored into me blankly. The guy talking grinned at me expectantly. My smile faded a bit and I moved the bouquet of flowers over my blushing face. No one laughed and there was silence. If the silence had been hard to see through before then now you could cut a piece off and use it to prop the leg up on your coffee table. I tried to say something, ANYTHING, but all I managed was “Wife. O… Okay.” I shrugged and he laughed nervously with his mouth open. My parents and I walked back to my seat and slumped. The back of my shirt came untucked all the way but I didn’t care. The little boy came back and sat. He looked at me. I looked at him. He smiled. I smiled a bit. He pointed to my tie and said “tie!”

Two Heads

The walls of the subway were gritty and the tile was composed of round white pieces like golf balls and they were dotted with signs. ‘Frisco locked me into it, entranced me, the subway tunnels were the veins of it’s grimy body. The layover was fifteen hours so we decided to see fisherman’s wharf and pick up lunch there. In the subway nobody talked except some guys in snap backs and they seemed like friends. A woman came on halfway through and she plugged her ears because the sound of the subway was deafening when it was going.

The subway car hurtled through the tunnel and the tunnel screamed, it was Gabriel’s horn, to accompany the end times. There were empty square places in the subway walls like somebody’d carved them out to live in and they were illuminated by lights and as the car screeched along it was accompanied by streaking trails that the lights left in the blurry windows. The blurriness made my eyes feel blurry. As we accelerated the shriek pulsed and matched up nearly with the flashing light show but it got off by a bit and they were like clashing melodies. The man on the loudspeaker asked someone in a different car to please move his bike out of the aisle and the speaker was tinny and I could barely hear it. After the next stop he asked him again and he seemed frustrated and the guy must have moved it because it wasn’t mentioned again.

When we got off at our stop there were grubby homeless there and they shouted at us spare some change or a SMILE! Any change is good and a smile’s FREE! So Mom smiled at one and he looked at her angrily and she turned and he said she was lookin’ at him like he had two heads and she looked confused. There was an empty wine bottle laying at the top of the stairs from the subway to the street. I looked up and I hadn’t really got a good sense of scale and I thought that there were really two parts to the city, the part that was up and the part that was at street level and you couldn’t see both in one go. I was looking at a big building and I stepped on a wet piece of cardboard and I recoiled. We waited for the cable car to open up but it didn’t for a while. We moved on to another stop and one didn’t come there, either, so we walked along. It was a long walk and strait uphill and a man with a blue turtleneck and a cane and and round glasses and a bald head except on the sides told us it was a ways to the wharf uphill. Then we saw a cable car and Dad ran it down but a car nearly hit him and the security woman on the car stopped it.

We got on and we got to ride out front and the guy operating it seemed like he’d done it forever. He had a little part in between the two rows of seats in the front and he had to stand there and pull on levers so it would go. He’d stand up on a little platform and push it down with his weight and that would slow us down and sometimes he only put one foot on it. He was a skinny Asian guy and he was probably Chinese because it was real close to chinatown and he had a nice face framed by glasses. The security woman had her hair done in dreds in a ponytail and she seemed serious and capable and she came to the front and carried on nonchalantly with the driver. They talked about things I didn’t understand about the cable cars and I thought that the cable car culture was very developed and the Chinese man worked the levers expertly without thinking while he talked. His voice was friendly like his face.

We got off at the wharf and walked down the street and there were pigeons that dotted the street and ate. We went to a bit where you could see Alcatraz and I liked that. We went into a little museum of coin operated machines and got some change so we could see them go. There was one that was called Opium Den and it had a mess of hunched and haunted doll figures that moved stiffly when you put the quarter in. A serpent entered through the window and skeletons entered from the closets. It was silent but for whirring machinery. Then we put money in one with a drunk tramp that shook his bottle at the ghosts in a grave yard and another with some dirty buffalo that shook their shaggy heads at a dead Indian chief on the ground. There was one you could look into and it showed pictures of the San Francisco earthquake and there were others, too, like some little girls done up like flapper girls in headbands and all and they smiled sweetly and leaned on a railing together.

We ate at a restaurant with live music. It came out the speakers but I could see the singer from our seat. Mom and me got fish tacos and my dad got fish’nchips but they gave us two fish’nchips instead of two fish tacos. We didn’t send it back because we were hungry so me and Mom split the tacos and the fish’nchips in two so we both got half of each. We ate outside on heavy metal chairs and tables and there was a metal rail around the restaurant. On the other side of the rail pigeons walked around and I tossed one a french fry but another pigeon without any toes on one foot took it away. Mom went to wash up and Dad went to pay and I stayed. A woman wanted one of our chairs and I said that was alright because there were only three of us and four chairs. While she dragged it off Dad came back and said hold up, that’s my wife’s chair and I said about how I’d told her it was alright and he nodded and said oh, alright.

Then we went to a shop and mom got a cable car fridge magnet because the bracelet charms were overpriced and I bought some hat pins. I almost tripped on empty ground and my face went red but nobody saw. We wanted to see the Golden Gate but there wasn’t anywhere to see it and we were all tired, anyway, so we went back to the subway. We went down the steps from the street and a hobo with a long beard and a hat and a sign that essentially said gimmie change held his arms out wide and yelled I’ve been right here waiting for you! to us. My mom was nervous but I grinned and the other hobos chuckled and I wanted to give him some change but I spent it on the Opium Den.

 

Happy Birthday Lultz

I’ve heard of people being drunk and going to a grocery store or something, and having to pretend they were sober. I wouldn’t know about that, but I suspect this was sort of similar. In Nepal they birthday, and they birthday hard, regardless of whether or not your flight got in at midnight and even more regardless of if the trip was fifty hours long. I learned on this trip that exhaustion demolishes nearly every need. Hunger, aching, emotion, everything. Your body is ready to shut down, and it’ll take any thoughts that aren’t completely necessary with it.

Anyway, so that’s the state I was in. I’d had the day to rest, and I was even feeling pretty good, but as the sun went down it sucked my energy away with it and I was left to doze lazily on the bed. I was fading fast, but it didn’t matter. I mean, it’s not like I was set to DO something social  that night or- okay, you all know where this is going. I was glad for my mom, it being her birthday and all, I really was. I wanted to be in the mood to celebrate, but the part of me that felt like I’d been wrung out like a dishrag and had a bit of my soul had come out in the dishwater said otherwise. But I had to make an appearance. And so I did.

It started with the walk down the stairs, like it always does in Nepal. I had just enough time to realize I was still getting steadily more tired, somehow, before we arrived at the open wooden doorway with only darkness beyond. Mom walked in and they erupted, the roar of children-cries bathed the scene and the lights made me feel exposed. I tried to smile but it probably came across like grimace of pain more than a gesture of good will. The children beamed at me but their smiles waned like crescent moons and I couldn’t think of any lead in to conversation so I just kept smiling. A little boy said something to me; I didn’t understand a word, even if he spoke perfect English I don’t think I would have. I nodded and he hugged me and smiled so I guess I did something right. He probably asked me if I was a hobo or something, I think it was about my hair. I stumbled to a spot by the birthday queen  and slumped into the chair. I allowed myself a few seconds to close my eyes but even that left me slightly disoriented. Some church kids were providing the music. Individually they were good but I think they all had separate sheet music. It sounded like bizarre experimental jazz and it hurt my head after a while.

The next bit was sort of a blur. I wasn’t even moving and I was sinking. I can’t emphasize how surreal it felt. The children came and hugged my mom and wished her happy birthday one at a time and she smiled. They gave me a hat and I put it on, the seam burst on the cardboard and it flopped awkwardly on my head like dead fish giving it’s last spasms. My hair was down over my ears and it stuck in my eyes and tickled my nose.I tried to brush it away but I couldn’t tell where it was. They set to dancing. The cake was in front of us and mom was expected to cut it. It exhausted me just to watch her cut it up. The music meandered lazily and flared into spastic bursts that resembled vaguely, slightly, in passing, the happy birthday song.

“Happy biiiiiiiiiirthday toyou, Happy biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirthday toyou, Happy birthday to you sis-ter-liz, Happy biiiiiiiiiiiiiiirthdaytoyou!”

I tried to keep up but I was too tired. I noticed on the sign they had written “Happy Birthday 2 U Liz”, but I was so tired that I thought it said “Happy Birthday, Lultz”,  and I thought that was about the funniest thing I’d ever seen. I laughed obnoxiously, and I immediately felt bad but I couldn’t stop. I noticed the balloons were made so they looked twisted up, like balloon snakes that somebody’d wrung out a bit. I felt like I’d been twisted up, too.

“May God bless to yooooooooooou, may God bless to yooooooooooou, may God bless to you sis-ter-liz, may God bless to yoooooooooooooou!”

I read the “Lultz” bit over and over and it set me off every time. The children danced frantically nearly in unison, but stopped abruptly when the cake was cut. Mom had sat there cutting the thing up in silence for a while and I had forgotten about it. They gave me a piece. I think it would have been pretty good but I was so out of it. I glanced at the “Lultz” again and gave a stuttery laugh and thought I would probably go upstairs and sleep. My dad said it’d be fine. I stumbled out, the children watched me as I walked drunkenly along the aisle, trying to smile but giving up halfway. After all that I couldn’t even get to sleep, and I ended up waking up at three in the morning. I found a gecko in my room in the morning under my pants from the previous day and I felt a bit better.