"The clouds clamored and crashed in pointless wars for eons until they discovered that they could take to the land and gain the upper hand."
hand," he corrected me, his chops chocked with cheerios.
"Right," I continued, "Like fog, a killer spy, the winner was the one with the lowest
ground, not the high ground."
"But how can clouds talk to houses?" he asked. My nephew wakes up impatient, ah youth.
"I'm getting to that! It's easy. Through electrical impulses. In the water vapor, but I haven't got to that part yet."
"How come we can't hear them?"
"Talking. You said that clouds can talk to houses."
"I did. Yes. Maybe we can
hear them we just can't understand. Like dogs or cats."
"Ack! This is not true, but, go on."
We were casually sharing one of those uncle/nephew breakfasts in what had become my sister's way of providing me with an anecdote to my malignant muted misery, and secure free babysitting while she and her husband went to work, before school. Two birds with one breakfast. The breakfast nook in their apartment overlooking the alley with the gold light in this ungodly predawn hour.
Or godly, depends on how you look at it.
"The houses of course realized that they could use the clouds to their own scheming advantages were quick to take sides, since the houses with flat roofs abhorred cloud wars and the houses with the tilted roofs loved to get the rain flowing."
"And apartments like ours like to have protection, so far off the ground," my brother-in-law, with that.
"Some encouragement from the back," I raised a hand in hail.
"Dad, we're only on the fourth floor."
"True 'nuff," he scrunched his face in an attempt to fit his tie around his neck and asked me "do you remember the Jetsons?"
"Those big tower houses?"
"Up over the clouds. I loved that."
My nephew, rapidly googling, "Wait, what was it?"
"Yeah, it was before your time."Tuesday night
The low snore of the AC oscillates sleepily and she mercifully passes me the Kleenex from across the couch.
"And what about April?"
"I can't imagine that I was my best self. I hadn't yet fallen out of love." I wiped the tears with a throw pillow. "I still haven't."
My sister, the counselor, "she isn't real." We spoke in muted tones, the old familial singsong that our parents sang when it was us
and not the boys asleep down the short hall, the HBOMax cycling through suggested recommendations, the lone light a golden hue meeking in
from the back alley, "She was. She just did her research."
"Who are you trying to convince?"Saturday morning
The burden of badinage. I tried to recreate the cloud story in my notebook, reenacting the entire enviable encounter of nephew/uncle breakfast during a drift in thought throughout another bucolic brunch whilst I sat by the silvery seaside with T.S. Eliot feeling squeamish at either the eggs or the existentialism. The water
below, jutting in under the concrete, was cold and dark, undulating reflexively and reflecting everything back murkily, an immense reservoir of melancholy. I had just been presented with a text message that I was going to be an uncle, again and the thought paraded around flagrantly that I might be eating
in an attempt to fill a deeper need than hunger.
"I don't know nothing bout dem eggs but shouldn't you be plooking for a baby shower gift?" asked T.S. Eliot.
"I would if I had any money. Plooking?"
"Typo. I can spot you some Franklins sun," he boasted, "and it's a typo. So what? Howmuchu need?"
A spoonful of purplish jelly dribbling slowly onto fly-crowded toast. I texted Nick a picture:
"The menu here is bussin," said T.S. Eliot.
"Bussin? What is that?"
"It's the thing." He holds up his Kindle to show me today's paper and swirls a middle finger around the headline US Team Edges China, Pulling Out Last Minute Victory
"Is it just me or this super weird? As in, like, sexually?"
"Here she comes," I say.Tuesday Midday
"I think you're thinking of that oldies movie."
"No. Robert Redford and the Gun?"
Work at this hour is a graveyard copse. The boss takes his long lunch meeting, emphasis on the lunch, and so we shoot the shit back and forth, Nick and I.
"Dude, I was just reading about the Sundance Kid in Bolivia and I very nearly lost it."
"Just the disparity of the situation. I read about it online. There are so many uncorroborated details but basically we know that Butch and Sundance went to Bolivia in like 1906..."
"With Etta Place."
"...with Etta Place, and we know that there was a payroll robbery two years later, from one of the silver mines way out in the middle of no where, I mean desert, no trees, practically Martian landscape Bolivian plateau middle of nowhere, and it was reported that two vaqueros yanquis did it, and then two days after that, down the mountain, two strangers check into a lodge with a mule to tie up and the mule was branded by the local mine so the lodge owner, one of the mine workers, telegraphs it around, and the government sends three soldiers to check it out, and they tell the sheriff and the next thing
you know this shack's surrounded and they're in there in the middle of the night and they start shooting, killing a cop, so the posse fire back and it goes real real quite real fast, and then about 2 am they hear like a wail, like an anguished, groaning, yellscream, followed by a bang, and then another loud bang, and then nothing until sun up. They went in there and find two guys just riddled with bullets, bleeding to christ out toes, arms, legs, and one has a hole square between the eyes,
and the other is kind leaning over him, and has one in his temple just over the ear and they says, this guy killed his friend and killed himself rather than sit here and die and jesusgod that's just so fucking awful."
* Loses it. *
Saturday morning (again)
From over on the bright side of the road I see her before she sees me and T.S. Eliot hastens to make a lame excuse to leave.
"No please, don't get up on my account," she says while taking his seat and finishing his Eggs Benedict. She nods, agreeing with something going on on the other end of the earphones connected to her phone. "God it's
hot. Can I borrow your pen?" she asks while extracting my pen, which I was using as a bookmark in my Celeste Ng. She is wearing a wool beanie and blue cosmetic glasses. I try to find the lost page. "Well I've got to let you go," she says into her ear, "I'm sorry about your loss sweetie.
Buh-bye." Turning to me "you're got something on your face there, no there, above the, here."
I can smell the almond soap on her skin. The sky is milky white, almost gray, but the sun is still back there behind the haze, burning its way through. Truly a splendid day by the sea, someone in their right mind might have said.
"It is hot." I concede.
"Baby, shave 'em nuts."
"Don't be cruel."
"Don't be so sensitive."
I try to wipe the thought of her new boyfriend Dean striding around without any pubes, but there it is. Try thinking about this cafe, coming here in the rain to stand and stare. I wipe the sweat away from my eyelids. She orders two Bloody Marys by holding up a hand and mouthing the words Bloody Mary as she swipes to answer the phone again "This is Careyann, give it to me."
The drinks arrive and I am glad there is a table between me and the ground.
"Best to go down swinging," she says, "here take a big swing. Bigger. An insanely big swing. Do you trust yourself?"
The Cast of Characters
I met her last year between therapy sessions. At the bar. "Name's Careyann and do wear it out," she said, thrusting a tattooed hand, "that way you don't forget. Pleased to meet ya."
"Mutual, I'm sure," said my buddy Nick, spilling beer on his plaid pants. I was dating Lurlene at the time and the less we say about that the better. Nick and I were sharing the place up the hill, this before he finished his second masters and they got married. Nick and Nick's wife moved to Idaho or some other make-believe place. My sister around that same time, moved in, just across town, her husband, my brother-in-law works in finance. Careyann worked at the college part-time, but since
that gig had gone remote she had started selling fabrics and patterns... actually, I don't know what she did. She made things, and she was dating Dean exclusively shortly after we met. A college football player, Dean was stupefyingly profound for such a blunt instrument, absolute mozart escaping his lips all the time with zingers like "ur stupid," and "yo," but since he was not yet twenty-one Careyann did her pre-game drinking with us, that is, Nick and I. This before I quit drinking once my sister settled in and I slid pretty hard into the uncle role.
My nephew is at the age where he can well and truly plug in and have the world fed to him byte size. Completely devoid of curiosity, clicking, clicking. Who is the thinker behind your thoughts, kiddo? Tell me more about that I ask, and he does.
The bar crowded and the crowd growing still. The DJ's disco has a lush string section and a slapping bass. Notes of patchouli and hops. Lots of dangling masks. Nick's wife and I tortuously bickering over conversation's effluvium.
"I suppose the symbolists were probably right and language is just a means to an end, but even if so, I'm still in love with it."
"Which language though?"
"Senseless words are best. Nonsense words, like in Tolkien. New words hinting at new worlds." Nick gives her a squeeze and hands her a drink, dripping mustard from his hotdog onto his patent leather left shoe. Nick is wearing his coolguy
headband, which is decorated with stars and yin yangs, and seems to draw inordinate accentuated attention to his cartoonishly receded hairline. He bends over and curses, "What is it for mustard, club soda?"
I wore my khaki colored double-breasted jacket because tonight is an occasion, and it allows me to hide the jotting notebook in my pocket. I imagine God, knowing all words ever spoken and all words yet to come, spends his hour sputtering profane inanities just to keep himself busy. I write. The word as creation. I text Careyann to ask if she's coming.
The song changes and Nick's wife recognizes it and nods and grins "yeah. I mean, yes." She is wearing a casual floral blouse and black pants and has recently started a new job as division manager. They are only in town for the weekend to help her mother move. It must be stressful, but she doesn't show it. What she does put on a big show of is pretending to find my very presence onerous, she always has, although in truth she gets along with me really well. I think that's probably what she doesn't like about me, or my friendship with her husband. Viewing our second-hand relationship as some kind of pathetic souvenir trinket picked up at a truck stop outside the Dales long ago and now ready to designate to the Goodwill bin for good.
I couldn't help but smile. Mirth. Another week gone, we've made it, and my friends are back in town.
"I don't like the words I'm trying to avoid," I say, cryptically. Nick's wife turns, intrigued by this, perhaps because she's drinking.
"What words are you trying to avoid?"
"I don't know. Authority?"
"As in Chicago Transit?" asks Nick.
"No, as in..." I took a sip of my melted ice, "as in people who say they know what's right, or, they know this is how it should be."
"Hear Hear!" Nick raises a glass, "to continuous curiosity!"
Nick's wife, swishes her wine around her teeth and adds "curiosity seems to be helpful, evolutionarily speaking."
This is the final straw, I thought. It was to be a dinner with her parents and I knew that I couldn't fake it. We were done. There wasn't a reason. I had met them before, There was no distinguishing feature to the occasion. Perhaps that's a metaphor, nothing was special, there was no feature to mark the way forward. She drove us out to the resort because I told her I was
tired. Her Dad had the Lobster Thermidor and her mom refused to let the silence join us. We all wanted it to. Instead she talked. Her voice a plate of soft wet vegetables, she talked and talked and talked. Ensconced in an infinite droning, lost in a nasal larp oubliette, that night we ended it. The phone call ended it.
We are short lived and only slightly longer remembered, mere guests on this young wet earth and we'll be well and truly all gone before it blossoms, dries and falls, sinking into the slippery depths of gravity's regurgititive mechanism, to be reborn again and again and even that still is but a fiery infancy of an infinity that makes the sun and stars seem impatient and rushed.
An entire relationship in 83 words
Overlapping coffee rings, her kissable lips bitterly turned away and turning further still, lost, gone. A tender, aching preoccupation, a maddening devotion. The wrong one. Unmet hands. The world stopping with a phone call as a plane flies overhead. She agreed to keep up appearances until after things settled. I never asked her to do that. That was a good thing to do. An empty vase on the Janus formica. Tossing flowers into the bin. We had moved in but then we'd moved on.
Saturday Morning (Once Again)
"So you gonna spill yer guts or not?"
"Sweat it out then," she ate the bacon and the celery and left the red drink full to three quarters.
"You're rude. I don't need to put up with this. Plus," standing, "I best not marinate in my own juices too long."
Somewhere in the world a brilliant retort lies dormant, resting up, no doubt, to encapsulate my immaculate wit on a later occasion. She gathers herself to leave. I meekly proffer "what happened last night?"
"I had to help my friend."
"And what am I, chopped liver?"
"No honey, you're hungover." She puts her hand on my chin and squeezes then turns and is gone. "Ta!"
Tuesday (early evening)
"Just get it organized," my sister says, turning off the light, loading the dishwasher. Down the hall, my nephew blathers, moans. Talking in his sleep. "We are creatures of habit. You're just..." picking up shoes "trying to keep balance on too thin a line." Then, doing a German accent "you are vall of disorder."
"My life's a mess."
"No it isn't! Well, it sort of is, but it doesn't need to be." She across from me and levels a clinician's stare.
"Do you know?"
A dream without context
Solid stolid trees and an abject refusal to go further. Young boy whines, his brow glistens. Sun forest. Rain forest. The objurgation of my parents as they trudge me desultorily up Greeble Creek Trail in the summer of 2005. Trundle. Above the canopy a deep purple sky, a void, an abyss. The absence of infinity looms idly while the end of summer looms large. Tomorrow school will start. Touching toes by the fireplace stones. Promises of forever, primrose fingers mingling in a loop in the warmth of a late summer's glow. Nick's wife holding a datapad as we watch on the conference call "Your feeble mind cannot grasp lifetimes. We will work, we will also work and with all our heart we will work unto god's glory amen."
Carnations, Chrysanthemums. One thing I did for therapy (at the bar) was try to think of names of different kinds of flowers. It's therapeutic isn't it? I settle on the appropriate response to my sister's earth shattering text and hit send.
Finish both Bloody Mary's and evict the last residents of my wallet by leaving a four dollar tip. Get paid again next week. I decide to walk. Think, probably for the first time in a decade about my old landlady, out of depths of debt the past recurs until lessons are learned or obviated.
Who said that? A smart girl in bed beside me once. Scribbling Mankind must be a cockroach to God.
Two Years (Aug) Ago
"Why do they call him a linebacker?"
"I dunno. Because baseball guy was taken?"
"You're so silly."
and I carp, dawdling on the bleachers for a bit, watching those preseason behemoths thunder into one another, toss the ball the middle distances. I needed new contacts. Squinting, asked "can you see the signs on the other side of the field?"
"Yes," she said, lip between her teeth, not looking up from the crochet.
"Good enough to read them?"
"Yes. It says Toyota."
"The eye doctor said yesterday I need new lenses."
"Yesterday never existed," she exclaimed, jumping up and pulling me down and back out to the parking lot. I was starting to believe her. Change was her real word for God.
Tuesday Late Afternoon
Over Zoom Nick says, absently, "they should make a Footloose prequel and have it directed by Christopher Nolan."
"Who would play young Kevin Bacon?"
"Dude, it wouldn't have Kevin Bacon. Have you even seen Footloose? It would be a prequel to show how that town got that way."
"You mean boring?"
"Yeah I guess."
I let that one float by. The minute hand traverses pale faded eons. "What's that song about sinking ships?" I ask.
"Gordon Lightfoot," says Nick, paying more attention to his fantasy league than to me, or work, anything.
"Which one? Why?"
I spend my workdays in a room without windows. This detail may not matter. Nothing matters, the absence of narrative derails nothing. "Work is..." I trail...
"Work, " he finishes. "...Slow" I say, simultaneously.
Most days they don't mind so long as I come in by ten, is this great? I study spreadsheets, explain intangible things to people, and feel my skin withering, which is strange, since they pay me very well and I am not a houseplant. I can hear the sports news Nick is streaming take a break for commercial.
"Meaning absolutely no disrespect to my grandparents and ancestors but perhaps working the same job for 30 years
represents a lack of initiative or imagination."
"Or," he considers, not looking up from his phone, "or ya gotta remember, opportunity."
"You mean like, your grandparents couldn't change careers so they didn't."
"Something like that."
"So you guys will be getting in on Thursday night?"
"Yep," he sighs and fiddles with a fountain pen, a jot of ink landing on his cheek.
Just before closing time my sister texts that I should come over, my nephew wanted to see me. Then my brother-in-law texts that he will be making teriyaki tofu-kabobs, I should come. They are probably sitting right next to each other, across town, texting me, happy. She texts again, adding that I could stay the night.
Arching her back she gets up again, tidies the pillows, folds the blanket, wipes down the countertop. "Do you know why I watch SVU, and Survivor, and Virgin River and a dozen other shows before bed every night?"
"Because," I snivel, "you have a yen for contemporary TV?"
"No. It's because they are structured. Every hour they solve the crime, vote out the bachelor, learn a new life lesson.You know? Every problem solved in 44 minutes, it's wonderful. You just need a little bit of an organizing principle and everything will start to come together. I need to go to bed."
"Thank you, counselor." I really hadn't meant to come over and talk about myself late into the night. "Didn't you have something you wanted to tell me."
"I love you and we'll talk more later. There's a clean sheet on the futon. Breakfast is at 5, I'll be at work, don't let me wake you."
Two Years Ago September
There was a fight inside the dive and the cops had to come so they shut the place down just as a buzz started to scaffold the night with a little warmth. Careyann wore stilletos and looked yawpingly side to side for whats next so I offered an invite "Want to come back to our place?"
"How far is it?"
"It's just up the hill. Nice neighborhood. On a good night you can actually hear the rent increasing."
Nick called shotgun and proceeded to slam the car door shut on his own hand. "YAH!
Careyann laughed, crouched into the back to text her boy. "You guys sure you're not luring me home just to tie me up in your sex dungeon?"
"Nah," mewled Nick "and 'sides, we don't have one."
"They say all boys want the same thing."
We stopped for two six packs, and a bottle of Remy for her, and then fly the car up the hill.
"Why don't I see your girlfriend ever? What's her name, again?"
"Her name is Lurlene."
"I've met her," said Nick, fiddling with the lock thru swollen fingers, "Where's she from, New Jersey?"
"Do you know anyone in New Jersey named Lurlene?"
"Wow," says Careyann, "look at that view!"
"That's..." we sit down and look at the lights of the city "fucking amazing," she says, "I need that." We don't even turn the lights on, quiet as church mice, the fucking majesty. I am a spectator of my own spectacle of life I wrote. Nick opened a beer and fell asleep without even taking a drink. I had two then poured his in the sink and gave Careyann a ride home. Sort of. It was an hour drive. "My back itches can you scratch it?" she asked, but then she insisted that I leave her on the corner near her house. She didn't want to tell me where she lived. Let it all go. The stars and the moon guided me back home.
From the bar we hop over to the lounge, a few blocks away. Having driven separately we decide to split up and rendezvous. Nick's wife waves at me waiting outside the door, me and the other tiny bugs buzzing around the light. We go inside and suddenly Dean is there. Careyanne's boyfriend Dean, guffawing obtusely at a joke we'd thankfully just missed. "Hey! The party's here." He murdered our hands in his paw. All I could focus on was the nest of nose hair. Nick asked if he wanted to join us but he declined. Several other guys from the team were there, bloating menacingly by the jukebox. I overheard them:
"Pretty as any anime tranny."
"I- I don't know if I've ever seen an anime tranny."
"Then you'll just have to imagine how pretty they look."
I will say this about Dean, he never threatened to actually harm us, so there's that. A few drinks in him and he really became tame as a St
Bernard. Sometimes it's the humblest people who have the most to appreciate. I wrote. "Simple minds, simple pleasures" I said.
"Touchy touchy," said Nick's wife.
I ordered a double Jameson and put it on Nick's tab.
More Drunken Scribbles
people come prismatic together, then snap apart. Or drift. The way
friends can bring out the absolute best, or the worst. The way
relationships levitate otherwise dormant, undetected, and unrealized qualities. The way
I'm not feeling it any more.
"And so the clouds, encloaked in summer rains, were summoned alongside the winds of the west to the lofty mountain meeting."
"Time to go," says my brother-in-law.
"Awww, can't we just wait until the story ends?"
"Now the story is the adventure of waiting for and not missing the bus," he says, "this story is over," he declares.
"For now," I addendum.
"Maybe just a drink more."
"I thought you quit drinking."
"That's why we'll just have one. I'm sad. Come on."
"Can't you just move on? People do."
"Let's stay and see how the story ends."
The universe a tolerable thrum, like underwater motors, life in utero, humming with your ears plugged.
"Let's have breakfast someplace fancy," says T.S. Eliot's disembodied voice.
"You'll have to earn it," I say, "or better yet, pay."
"Want I should eat it for you, too?" T.S. Eliot asks.
The universe churns
"I made you some pictures," my nephew, on Snap.
"Yeah, of the clouds. Talking to the houses. Can you come over this weekend and finish the story?"
"More than likely. How do you think it ends?"
Saturday 3 AM
jukebox unplugged and the half-empty lounge lizards laughing their way
crashingly out to christen the empty streets where we will wake everyone
all at once.