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Chris Van Dyke
People's lives are written out like songs, with a reoccurring chorus that set a thematic tone, arising again and again as the intervals and chords try to resolve themselves into an ascetically pleasing conclusion. We move forward through the verses – we age, fall in love, grow apart from people we know, move across countries and continents, return to the place we were born, discover we hate our jobs and vow to start yoga in the spring – but there is always a sense of return as we continually fall back into the same patterns, the same rituals of hope or denial.
There are evil things that lurk at the edges of our lives. Every child realizes this, as does any adult that admits it to themselves. These evil things don't take on shapes so much as impressions - half-memories and anxieties. They hide in shadows beneath stairwells, in imperceptible scratchings coming from the ceiling above your bed; they peer out of those hours when your parents are late coming home, whispering in your ear a thousand tragedies that could have befallen them. They're the reasons you'd rather lie in bed at 2 am then brave the 10 yards to the bathroom.
Lavender sky morning bleeding over a new born city. Like the phoenix of ancient myth the city rises everyday from the ashes of its past, shaking off the dirt and dust and pain of the day before to stand naked and glistening in anticipation of the day to come. The sun breaks over the East River, stains the glass and steel and snow of Harlem the color of blood, the color of rebirth and redemption. It is a quiet birth, or as nearly quiet as birth can be, as the city has yet to wake and cry out in hunger.
He woke up with a vague sense of unease, as if he had forgotten an important appointment or had done something the night before that he should regret. He lay in be, eyes open, staring up at the cracks in the plaster overhead. There was a dull ache within him – he was sure he'd forgotten something more important than a call or a birthday. A nearly crippling longing washed over him, and for a second he was sure he was about to start crying. Then it passed, and he was fully awake. He shook himself, then got out of bed.
They moved to the country to get away from the craziness of the city – "to get to know each other again" they told each other. But after twenty years they had forgotten both how to speak and how to listen, so the silence was stifling rather than refreshing; they were alone, yet living in the same house. She took to staring out the window and writing long letters to friends who lived hundreds of miles away. He took to drinking heavily just after breakfast each day and throwing rocks at the side of the tool-shed. Things got worse from there.
Our cat has a completely irrepressible sense of hope – despite all evidence to the contrary and all of her past experiences, she continues to believe that we are just about to feed her at all times. She creeps up upon us, then sits staring with a rapturous look of anticipation, knowing that we are about to give her food. Only we're not. It is as if she has Pollyanna for a brain, steadfastly ignoring any conditioning that would lead to her losing hope, while consistently making connections between unrelated events if they could be construed to mean its snack time.
For what had to be the one-hundredth time, he glanced over his coffee towards the door. She was late. She was always late, so he wasn't quite sure why he continued to await her so anxiously after all these years. She had been late to their first date, and had continued to be late with unwavering consistency throughout the six years of their strained relationship. He didn't worry about any unfaithfulness – it never occurred to him that she might be late because she was with someone else. It was simply that she wasn't with him. She forgot things. Like him.
She started selling Tupperware at the age of thirty-two. It wasn't that she had no other prospects – she had a Masters in business and started a highly successful chain of kitchenware stores with her ex-husband. After four years she left him, buying out his share of the enterprise for a quarter of a million dollars. And then she gave it up for Tupperware. There was something about the plastic dishware that satisfied her soul in a way nothing else did – the way it contained, the way it preserved and stored anything you could desire. Tupperware encompassed the mysteries of life.
Tiffany says that everything in life comes in only one size, and its too small to fit her comfortably. Tiffany says that everyone has the same eyes; that friends and enemies smile the same smiles. Its easy to make her mad, its easy to make her laugh, but no one can make her listen. She talks to fill the silences around her. Tiffany says that she doesn't have any problems, that every day is a blast, every night a party. Tiffany says that she has lots of friends, more than she needs. Its only their eyes that get to her.
Once upon a time there was a little dwarf. This is not a tautology – all dwarfs are little, but the dwarf in question was little even for a dwarf, and so the phrase "little dwarf" is not as much of a repetitive use of language as it may seem at first. But in any case, there was this little dwarf. Let us say, for the sake of this tale, that this little dwarf was named Franklin. Not that this was his name, but the English language is unable to depict the sounds of this dwarfs native tongue. To be continued
Bathesda the tortoise had been around through entire volumes of history – Anita's great great-grandfather Jakob had bought him from a traveling salesman while at the world's fair in Chicago. Bathesda had traveled in a shoe-box all the way back to Cape Cod and had lived in the garden behind 1139 Seaview Terrace while the chaos of the ensuing century had unfolded as if in another world. While Bathesda nibbled on cabbage, the trenches of World War I had re-written the face of Europe. After Jakob died his son Eli had started caring for the tortoise. The world changed – Bathesda didn't.
The mornings were a sacred part of each day – the dark, shuttered bedroom illuminated only by the harsh glare of the computer monitor; the terry-cloth robe loosely tied about his waist; the occasional flurry of e-mails drifting from across the Atlantic. He sat each day, before venturing out into the chaos and energy of the city and the high-school where he taught, and wrote and read. It was the only time that he would be alone throughout the entire day – for the moment she was asleep on the bed, so peaceful, so beautiful, and he was alone with his words.
There is a beauty in repetition that can be found no where else – the small patterns in life that emerge over the slow progression of time, unconsciously, as we merely go about our mundane tasks. Clicking on the coffee-pot on the way to the shower; ordering coffee, light, two sugars with merely a nod of the head; knowing her response before you finish your observation. The same activity repeated over a life-time takes on a different meaning than that same action out of context, or even the totality of the occurrences – the action itself changes based on context and juxtapoitioning.
She found the letter stuffed under her door shortly after she woke up that morning. The words "I'll be waiting" were scrawled in a tight hand across the top, with the rest of the page simply left blank. She came when she was getting out of bed, then kept rereading it while drinking her morning coffee. The handwriting wasn't that of anyone she knew, and she hadn't made any plans as far as she could remember. Waiting? What exactly did that mean? She was in the shower when he picked the lock to the door. No one heard her scream.
Waiting was never Thomas's strong point. He was, inherently, an impatient person, someone who felt any delay or obstacle to be a personal affront. Perhaps it was simply that he was overly conscious of his own mortality: but at my back I always hear Time's winged Chariot, et cetera, and even the casual lines at the post-office or a routine delay in subway surface were enough to cause his heart-rate to increase. Damnit, his time was too valuable to be spent waiting for the M100 bus. It was as if the world were conspiring to murder him with old age.
Tomorrow I will shower with the bathroom light off. Tomorrow I will drink my coffee black. Tomorrow I will write a manifesto about art and leave it on the subway for a stranger to find. Tomorrow I will chase pigeons through the park. Tomorrow I will draw a picture of the woman sitting across from me at the diner, and she will smile at me as she puts on her coat to leave. Tomorrow I will eat an entire jar of olives. Tomorrow I will listen to the traffic along Amsterdam Avenue and think it is the voice of God.
The sound of traffic from the avenue, pulsing in like waves as the cars approach and recede, but the smaller sounds that drift up through the lulls, the punctured moments of near silence waiting poignantly to be filled with the unnerving scrape of a snow shovel across concrete or the muted conversation of a father and son passing by on the sidewalk below, discussing the rambling and important things that fathers and sons discuss at this time of day, early before the horns and squealing tires and the raised voices of the later morning, here, now, in not quite silence.
Taking people for granted is a necessary part of life. We are incapable of living in the heightened state of awareness and hyper-sensitivity that would be required to really appreciate everything in our life the way we wish we could. Whenever there is a tragedy we realize "what is truly important:" we vow to spend more time with our family, to take more walks, to watch less television, to say I love you sooner and with greater regularity. Yet we always return to the comfortable distance of day to day life – as we must to keep living a human existence.
sapphire blue breeze summer sun rays light golden warmth lying tranquil drifting morphius afternoon day-dreams dew skyline tree-tops granite towering shadows cooling waiting silence slow movement timelessness flights people chatter sidewalks rushing laughter hands lips hair ramblings opened canopy elm oaks pond glistening reflective undulating ground-sky oar-locks dipping dripping craned splash gliding exposed surrounded picnicking eating camembert pimento-stuffed merlot smiles sunlight anticipation longing regret nostalgia past-days afternoon sliding books reading textual turning hard-cover paper-back dog-eared paragraphs chapter-break climax suspense calm escaping bird-flight sudden darting free rising falling flitting over gone foot-path honking distant traffic intersection idling yellow-cabs avenue descending subway
She's still under the covers at quarter past ten – I don't think she slept well last night, but then that's pretty much a given these days. She got herself worked up over the upstairs neighbors making so much noise, and then was consumed with guilt over her ensuing emotion outburst. She wants to be so rational, so good, but she's one of the most emotionally volatile people I know. But she's so peaceful when she's sleeping: there, across the room, her eyes gently shut, her hand softly lying against her cheek. She'll be unhappy, abrasive when she wakes, but now . . .
Twenty-one –it is ironic that so many people see the number twenty-one only in its relationship the purchasing beer when the sway it holds over their every day lives would stun and amaze them. Twenty-one, the multiple of three and seven, those two most fundamental numbers in all things relating to the Occult and the Ancient Powers. Three, the tri-partite deity; the father, son, and spirit; the unborn, born, and dead; past, present, future; ocean, land, sky. Seven numbering the days in the week, but also the number of arcane elements, the number of True Zoas, These numbers are all.
When the sky is grey the color of absence – not the heavy steel of rain, not the pale, not- quite-blue of spring, but the neutral sense of seasonlessness, of timelessness – when the sky is that grey, it is a day not to be remembered. You knows right away, sitting in your house coat at dawn, that by the time you crawl into bed tonight you will have a slight nagging sense of regret. Not that you did anything you wish you hadn't, but that there was something, you don't quite know what, that you wish you would have done instead.
What is so terrifying about members of the same sex loving one another that you feel you must change our constitution – alter the document on which our entire democracy is based – in order to distance yourself from the idea of homosexuality? Is the idea of two men kissing that threatening you? Is two women living together and raising a child such a danger to your day to day existence? Will your wife love you less if somewhere, perhaps even in your very town, a breast brushes a breast during an affectionate embrace? You are scared of yourselves, your own love.
She opened the pepper shaker, spreading the schismatic heresy of the underlying willows. "Where are your napkin-rings?" demanded the head-waiter as he glided past on his belly, gills undulating and pulsing with the summer breeze. "Trollop! Dilettante! Mon Lectaire!" But bi-lingual literary humor was lost in the upwelling of the winter crops, harvested beneath moon-beams and carted slowly towards the apple core. Haste! Here, in here, and they ducked behind the cadaver, breathing slower as the danger passed on its European motor bike. Children, being children, Benjamin Hooplestein lifted his penny whistle to his lips, waltzing sophorically about the may-pole.
The rust and paint sketched metal gratings pulled down across no longer open bars, the scattered paper napkins and yesterdays news swirling anxiously about your feet. You catch the scent of pad-tai and white-fish soup, blending with pizza, kabob, coffee, the sour scent of the subway and sweat. The cemented hair and safety-pined ears the stubborn last-word of a long past era waiting for a break in traffic side by side with Burberry plaid. Lou Reed's ugly beauty belting out the wonder of this very street a quarter century ago – there are pieces of it still bleeding through newer veneer.
Rise towards the sky, child of the Madonna – there is nothing here left for you on this earth, this accumulation of dust and desertion and despair. There is a kingdom waiting for you, somewhere, somewhere among those too insubstantial stars. Do not fear them, for they are your inheritance, they and this feeling of falling that comes to you when you look down upon our upturned and shining faces which plead for intercession. We are not your children, we are not your hapless allies or hapless foes. We are the downtrodden, and you are the risen lord of our imagining.
She woke from her deep sleep quite suddenly. She had been dreaming of the farm – both her grandparents had been alive, and her grandfather had asked her to collect the eggs for the chickens, and she'd run off happily with the wicker basket towards the hen-house. She was six again, she knew, but her body was the same lanky frame that she had now at thirty-two, and her father was sitting on the porch carving a walking stick to make it look like a hot house orchid. "You always were a disappoint to you mother," he sighed before she woke.
Time and temperature – he didn't know either, though he could think of little else; as the hours and minutes slipped by and the temperature slid further and further below freezing, Michael knew that the chances of his survival were getting worse and worse. He had been trapped here for . . . he had no idea how long, but it had been hours since he had given up trying to scream for help. He had told no one where he was going when he left the house. Now he watched the sun slip toward the horizon, and waited for death.
"Where the hell is it?"
"Calm down, calm down, lets just . . ."
"Don't tell me to calm down! I'll calm when you give me the book."
"What book? What the hell are you talking about?"
"Don't give me that shit! You know exactly what I'm talking about."
"I really don't . . . Jesus! What are you – there's no need to . . ."
"Listen ass-hole, I don't have time to fuck around. Do you hear me? Do I have your fucking attention now?"
"I . . .Jesus, my arm . . "
"Yes, yes, YES! Fuck."
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