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Excerpt for Count Dumb Time by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Count Dumb Time
















COUNT DUMB TIME

BY: DAVID PRICE



Copyright 2018

ISBN: 9781370358274





















Ace Publishing

Denver

acepress@netzero.net















For Stevie

You made me happy. Your memory makes me happy.















It is not difficult to imagine the death of my friend. One has only to imagine a shimmering tarmac in an equatorial country, a sun like a barbeque reflecting a gold embossing on his copy of the bible, a J.C. Penney’s suit with a clothespin clipped to the left leg, a ten-speed balanced at the handlebars in the non-biblical hand and a confident grin on a face the hue of homogenized milk. Some unseen communist fires a round at a bored corporal who ties his shoe at an opportune moment and the chemistry of children with grenade launchers, a shoe tied with a decidedly reactionary knot and a missionary East Jesus, my friend, is dead as the fishes.

Of course, this image is not content to play once in the theater of my head, which never tires calling “Encore!” and awaits patiently and expects the call of “author” to summon forth some suitably attired and normally retiring Master of the Universe. That it happened some seventeen years ago alters nothing. Everything remains updated; the lapels of the dead kid’s suit are widened or narrowed with the styles, the freedom fighter’s face changes with photographs which country this transpired any longer. The sun surely looked like a barbeque and heat waves issued from the pavement like the credit in an R.K.O. movie. I think, in the last seventeen years, I have not gone two days without thinking of my friend martyred without converting anyone, well, anyone of consequence. He did convert me, though it took sixteen years.

I am a reluctant Christian.

What started me thinking this thing was a small mushroom cloud rising from the heel of a child’s tennis shoe as the shoe scraped the concavity of dirt beneath the belt swing on this playground. There are many occasions while working at a preschool to call to mind the dread misfortunes of the world while watching children play. I suppose being on the playground is like perusing the first line of an actuary tale. Here are the untainted, undead survivors of the birth canal, vaccinated, pampered, diapered: nurtured, bonded or imprinted (depending on which scam you accept) and physically ripe for destruction.

I wonder who one of these tots will be drowned in a boating accident, who’ll be decapitated in aged car following the senior prom, who will slip into a carbon monoxide sleep following a financial reversal, and which child shall be known by the suburb in which he will live: “INGLEWOOD MAN KILLS WIFE, SELF.”

When I quit drinking last year, I knew I would have to face these thoughts which had haunted my drunken mink like countenances moving in steam.

Lisa is sitting next to me, her shoulders stooped and the sun dancing like barbeque 1ight in her blond hair. She years older than my memory (the missionary's death) and nearly a woman with breasts which I have difficulty in not staring towards and a sadness to her face, which is poetic as it speaks of some dreaded disease in her forties, perhaps dengue fever or farmer’s lung. But for now, it is a summer's day and light plays in her hair and on her lips, which are the color of Silly Putty.

She looks at me and I smile my wan, pre-wrinkling thirty-five-year-old smile, which I know brings water into my blue eyes. I confuse her. I seem to perpetually confuse her.

Should we take them in?” she asks.

Nah,” I say, “it'll be hotter than hell inside.”

Lisa looks at her gold wristwatch. I smile again at her. She stoops her shoulders. I hope no one murders her.

The hour twixt five and six is spent in a narrow room made from thin partitions installed for a tuition credit for a long-gone carpenter's son. The room is high and the few voices of the remaining students are thin and treble filled as they crayon while Lisa and I sit opposite each other in what was a once sky blue, twelve-inch-high chair, now rendered gummy just like the evening sun burst though cobalt air and cast trapezoids on the walls, the children and us. I suppose in this quiet and weird light with the strange syringe of quiet injected into the normally noisy carcass of the school, one would welcome the elaborate shadowing on Lisa’s face. But instead, I purchase a moment of self, one in which to construct a prayer which explains myself not so much to the Lord as to myself as if by asking, He will disinterest himself from my concern so that I might right my intention as I see myself in three dimensions instead of flattened like a reflection in two dreadful directions.

Firstly, why am I thirty-five years old and working in a preschool, a job normally held by teenagers? You know, Lord, but I tire of your ways. I suppose the stinky chemistry of neurosis explains much about me, but why am I here? Not just the here of " is" but the here of this place? And as always, back to my friend exploding on foreign soil (asphalt anyhow), why? And what of Lisa sitting across from me who is nineteen, almost twenty? Why did you make her frame the way you did, the flesh arrayed on such a lengthy suspension that her walk is a miracle?

She is undoubtedly capable of catching some rising star, say a medical student on his way to Kiwanis Club greatness. Why am I here across from her?

What are you thinking about?” she asks.

I was praying.”

You were what?”

Praying.”

What? You were going to get down on your knees?”

First, I was going to construct an altar out of Lego Blocks.”

You don't seem like the kind of guy who'd pray.”

I shrug.

I'm sorry,” she says, “I pray sometimes, too.”

I'm studying to be a deacon,” I say.

Is that like a janitor or something?” she asks.

No, I'm not a sextant. A deacon's the lowest order of cleric in the Church.”

What church?”

The Catholic Church.”

They have priests.”

They have deacons, too.”

What do deacons do?”

Some of the sacraments, preach an occasional homily and a lot of counseling.”

What are you going to counsel people on, how to make $5.50 an hour when you’re forty?”

Put that down!” she screams at a four-year-old who freezes, his right hand above his head, clinching a Lincoln Log. I jump. The boy retires to a small orange chair. This is getting troublesome. I try to reframe my prayer so that I might see myself, but my eyes fall on Lisa.

You’re beautiful,” I say.

She looks in either direction and I look also, then she draws her face close to mine.

You know what?” she whispers, “You're old.”

-*-

As I turned the brass tumbler in the orange school door, I heard a low rumbling exhaust and turned. Now I see Lisa embraced in the muscular chest of Tony, her fiancé, so she had said a month ago when I was hired and I first saw him outside the school in his white tee shirt. I have little option but to walk past the two of them. I clamber into my twelve-year-old car. I am reminded of my father, who always drove old cars but kept them spotless. He had a compass floating in a ball of fluid, the viscosity of tears, on the dashboard and a whisk broom hanging beneath the radio. The thought of my dead father and Lisa comingle and adrenaline courses through me.

As I ready to back out, feeling my car clunk into reverse, the van passes my car. With my head twisted, Lisa’s image grows larger, then smaller, framed by the van’s side window.

By the time my car reaches the intersection, I have caught up to them as they wait at a red light. In the passenger's mirror of the van, I see Lisa’s face small and briefly staring at me. The light changes and the van bounces merrily across the gutter and towards the other side of the intersection as I slowly turn left onto the cigar smoke blue pavement of the four-lane avenue whose stripes are the color of old jockey shorts. As I pass a nursery, I see a man carrying a potted tree. When I am abstracted in sadness this way, everyone else’s form seems so shaped as to merge with the geometry of the earth in perfect harmony. The man places the tree on the gate of a station wagon, and the small business transaction including the man, the station wagon and women seems so real that the cryptic ought to be constructed in cement.

The four-lane avenue bends having passed the nursery and I cross railroad tracks which sever the tenuous connection between the road and my tires, which are as smooth as a hammer handle. The peculiar light of late day imposes a calmness to the valley and makes it greener than it really is.

I think, as I pull into the library parking lot, that I might be able to explain my condition to Lisa which involves the queer fears which started when I was about her age. I might have been twenty. They started while the blood vessel on my right forehead began to tick with my heartbeat. She, like most people, probably believes that for every human act, there is a human cause.

There are not three people in this suburb of eighty thousand who check out books from the theology section. I am one of the three and I know the other two by sight, though we have never spoken. We smile at each other when we meet on an odd Saturday afternoon exchanging great godly grins then looking intensely at the carpet. I like to see which books are missing from the small selection in order that I may guess which book is with which person. Is the Anchor bible “Psalms” with the bald, thin man or the stout hairy one? I always think when seeing five hundred pages written about twenty that perhaps there is a need for illusion transpiring. At any rate, I have never been enraptured by scripture. But I leave the library carrying a biography of Saint John of the Cross and contemplate eating at Taco Bell, but nearing the small building, I feel my stomach swell as if I already had eaten three burritos. And instead of stopping, I motor towards Safeway in my archaic car. The cashier in a pink smock with a happy face button looks sadly at my paycheck and then at my macaroni and cheese dinner. Perhaps she will think my check representing one week’s wages instead of the two it does, but I can tell from her grin that she knows I am paid bi-monthly. As I walk from her, I can picture the ill cut of my pants and the bagginess of my ancient shirt. I drop my shoulders and stare at the rubber gray mat in front of the automatic door. A yellow jolt of pain is generated as I walk headlong into the door which has refused to open for me. I was bleeding at an excellent rate by the time I reached my car, so I reversed my way to buy some Band-Aids. As I am paying for the tin of Band-Aids, I see a drop of blood fall to my shirt and expand into a macula of pink.

Thank you,” I say, “thank you again.”

I can stop the bleeding by plastering three Band-Aids across the wound, and now there is a fat square of pimple pond on my forehead as I pull my car into Al Bibber’s Furniture Emporium. I live above Al’s on the old boulevard in the small downtown section of this suburb which is hardly used due to the twenty shopping centers.

I look around in the dark hallway for my copy of the newspaper. The boy refuses to climb the long narrow stairway completely to walk in the dark hallway with faded yellow flowers not rustling in a purple sky. Instead, he throws the paper down the hall as soon as his head is at floor level. I am likely to find it in the corner abutting the barred door of the long dead elevator. I must mail his payment to him.

I set my macaroni and cheese on the table next to the Pullman kitchen. I take three jars from the cupboard and place ninety dollars in the jar with “rent” scrawled on tape affixed to the side of the jar. Thirty goes to the gasoline jar, a twenty to the food jar. I tuck the remaining money into the pocket of my pants.

As I place the macaroni and cheese dinner on the middle rack of the oven, I hear a phone ringing in the hallway. I have never seen a neighbor. They must have their own phones. I walk through my front door to the black instrument, check the coin drop for forgotten money, and then put the receiver to my ear.

“Gilmore?” a child’s voice asks.

“Yes.”

“Gilmore Funnel?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry, okay?”

There is a click, and three seconds later, a dial tone.

2

I awoke with a dreariness, not having remembered falling to sleep and needing several seconds to recall having come to bed. There is an incredible sameness to my apartment, my world, but then I remember the thin voice of Lisa zinging through the telephone lines and apologizing. I rub my face and my hands encounter the square of Band-Aids on my forehead. I stumble to the bathroom and stare into the mirror, which has rust on its frame and a spider web superimposed on my near haunting features by the loss of reflective paint. I see the three Band-Aids with their tiny ventilated pads raised above the tape the color of artificial limbs. My hair sticks from my head in three shocks, right and left and up. I yawn and look back through the hall at my clock on my cardboard dresser I bought at Walgreens for seven dollars. Seven forty-five glows through the dim and smell of my sleep as I clamber into the shower.

*

The sun on the city in the morning makes the sky an ominous and opaque blue like a stage sky. A miasma of carbons churns in the air causing a magnification of the Burger King which sits on property formerly owned by the seminary and which was sold to finance a new chair in hermeneutics. The seminary, which is eighteen miles from where I live, always has an alien look to it. It is not only instant from my home but removed from the tedium of my day. People know my name. It (the part not precluded by the Burger King) looked like the brass castle my father wore on his National Guard uniform.

Entering the double doors formed in an arch, I smell church and school at once, the dryness of chalk and empty corridors and the sweet smell of flowers, wax and incense imbedded in seventy-five years of brick.

By my second class, I wish that I had eaten something. I was hungry but sometimes I forget that I am hungry. We are studying the Roman soldier who asks Christ to send his word and did not ask for a visit.

“Does that mean ‘don’t expect to see the Pope in your lifetime?’” Tom asks. Tom is entering his diaconate, only he is on his way to becoming a priest. I linger on the periphery between the soon-to-be priests who are for the most part younger than I and the mostly married soon-to-be deacons of the program in which I am enrolled and of whom youth is not only gone but forgotten.

After classes, Monseigneur Freeman invites me to his rooms. I follow his closely cropped hair, which is the color of a backyard tennis ball, down the long hallway which reflects sounds. We climbed the stained elm stairway to his quarters where his heavy door is shut quickly and the sounds of the world cease and can hear the rustling of his cassock. He offers me a cup of coffee as my pants and his leather chair conspire to form an obscene sound. I move for several seconds trying to recreate the ersatz gastro release but fail. He wants to know of my plans as I near my practicum. I have had this conversation with him several times over the past two and one quarter years, but the conversations are growing more frequent and intense. The rest of the men in my program are aged and married. I have always sensed an uneasiness from him to me. I am intensely aware of it now.

“You know, you are our only unmarried student in the diaconate program.” I nod, sipping a draught of scalding coffee, which burns till it hits my stomach and leaves my mouth feeling as if there were a spoon in it. I see myself the way Monseigneur Freeman must see me, a square of dirtying pink Band-Aids on a face which resembles a tough more than a student trying to camouflage a wince and who thinks nothing of farting in the presence of the Dean of Religion.

“Gilmore, if you take your vows without marrying, you may never marry?”

“I know,” I say, tasting the nonexistent spoon and realizing that it, along with my forehead’s wound, will be playing a small tennis match for my attention over the next week.

“You don’t have to take your vows this fall. Want this made perfectly clear for a while.”

“I know,” I say.

“I was against this from the start, but the bishop insisted.”

“I know,” I say.”

I reach inside my jean jacket and retrieve a packet of Camels, strike my Bic lighter, and inhale the asphalt colored smoke.

“Being a Priest at times reaches some of the qualities of hell.”

“And most of that must do with deacons?” I ask.

“I’m sure there are, but they’re not thirty-five.”

The program is for mature men. It specifically states, “mature men.”

“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but it also names the age of maturity at thirty-five.”

“I know. The church also considers adulthood as thirteen. Most of our deacons have wives. In fact, all of them do or did.

I suppose the silver tray next to me to be an ashtray and drop a cork textured cylinder of tobacco ash into it.

“Oh, dear God!” Monseigneur Freeman gasps before freezing. When he does move again, he removes the tray containing the ash as if it were a tissue sample and disappears through the door to his kitchen. I smoke the rest of my cigarette, disposing of the ashes into my now removed loafer. An ache arcs across my forehead from my door wound. With my burnt mouth, cut forehead and cough I have had since working at the preschool, I make a mental note to stop at the feed store on the way home and buy some antibiotics. I slip my loafer on and tip-toe to the door and out into the hall. I close the door gently and hear the worn brass mechanism inside the latch clicks.

“Hello.”

I jump as I raise. It is Tom. He is a real seminary student, studying for the priesthood, in his early twenties with a facial tone which reminds me of my long dead missionary friend who explodes in my memory. Tom’s cleric collar gives an angelic glow to his freshly washed and clean features. I notice the even length of the short hair above his ears.

“Say, Tom, have you ever seen this small silver tray in Monseigneur Freeman’s apartment?”

“His offering plates?”

“His what?”

“Cardinal Cook gave it to him.”

“Oh, God,” I mumble.

“I’m sorry, Gilmore, what did you say?”

“I used it as an ashtray,” I say. I find myself looking dumbly at the floor and the planks of oak beneath a thick atmosphere of wax.

Tom giggles a girlish giggle, grabbing himself at his waist as his thin torso rotates about his lower lumbar and his suit coat twists about his hips.

“You used his altar plate for an ashtray,” Tom bursts into laughter.

“Yeah, I guess I did.”

We go to the Burger King for coffee, foregoing the salad bar and sitting behind little Formica topped tables with our elbows on them.

“So, Freeman’s still worried about you being an unmarried deacon.”

I try tasting my coffee, which has no taste since I had scalded my mouth. Not even the dry taste of Styrofoam is noticeable. I feel myself starting to sweat though it is not hot. Sometimes I break into sweats for no known reason. I can feel the heat rising from my throat into my head and it makes the wound on my forehead throb. Again, I remind myself to stop on the way home at the feed store and buy antibiotics.

“Maybe you could get married in the next six weeks before your practicum starts. Where are they sending you anyway?”

“To my local parish. I’m going to do R.E.”

Tom nods and quietly intones:

“The magisterium.”

The vapidity of the conversation strikes me and this morning’s conversation. Cigarette ash, Eucharistic plate and Tom suddenly become an amalgam like polished brass in front of which the image of Lisa is dancing.

She has her shoulders stooped and her lips are pouting as her eyes stare at a point in front of me.

Tom gabs on about commitment and how it starts in the heart but lands in the head and must be made to stay there.

“Adulthood,” he says, “is making a commitment to something when you’re not sure of the outcome.”

I nod vigorously.

Strange, I feel like bursting into tears. I look at Tom in his cleric collar and two other students behind him and see the Burger King as a hamburger cathedral. Tom eats an onion ring and I feel myself staring into space the way a moment ago I imagined Lisa to be staring.

“It’s the same for the priests of the Marion Order,” Tom says.

“What?” I mumble as the image of Lisa ruptures.

“They must marry their last year of seminary or never marry. I imagine the pressure gets to be pretty good.”

“Uh, uh,” I nod and stare at the concentric rings in my coffee, seeing my face full of silver waves. I want to cry but I will not let myself and I imagine a tear falling from my eye to the coffee where it would contact then sprinkle tears and Floggers about the Styrofoam.

My car overheats before I get to the feed store. I walk a block to a gas station, leaving my crucifix as security in return for borrowing their galvanized yet rusting water bucket with its anteater snout speckled with shit-like brown. The bucket dribbles archaic water onto my pant leg as I walk to my car. I open the hood, bang on the thermostat with my fist and promptly burn my small finger and the inward edge of my hand. I add water to the car then drive to the garage and give them back their water bucket.

Just put it there,” the mechanic says without looking at me as he speaks to a neatly trimmed fat man in a grey suit. I quietly oblige and am almost to the feed store when I realize that I forgot to collect my crucifix.

“Oh, Christ,” I mumble.

*

I lick my hand where I burned it banging on the thermostat as I open the door to the feed store and approach a round man who is smoking a cigar. There is a star on his bald head from the florescent light hanging from a flat chain above us. I have been in here twice before.

You don’t look like any agricultural man?” He says.

I smile and nod vigorously.

You know,” he says, “back when hippies were about, they used to come in here and try an’ buy antibiotics for their social diseases. You got a social disease?”

“Well, there is my mental state,” I think, but simply move my head from side to side. The first time I had been in here, in this smelly shade, he gave me a straw hat which had " Gooches” painted on the front. He bags the box of horse drugs and shoves them towards me. I find that if you keep your mouth shut and pay cash, you can almost get everything you need. I suppose it would have been better to explain my inflamed forehead, hand and mouth and the hacking cough which I have had since starting at the preschool. I could have told him that I was a divinity student, which is technically true, and that I could not afford a physician, which also is true.

“Yaw, know, it’s against the law to practice medicine without a license?”

I nod.

“May the peace of the Lord be with you,” I intone in my lowest Motown voice. His eyes widen and the cigar droops, which causes an ash to tumble to his shirts and spill to the linoleum counter.

When I see Lisa’s car, a pale green Ford, I remove the Band-Aid from my forehead, which entails pulling my skin an inch from my face. I gaze into the rear-view mirror to see a bright pink square with a small seam the color of raisins running an inch across my forehead. After entering the school, I kneel at the sink in the boys’ bathroom, scrub my face with a liquid soap which looks like semen, then grind my heel onto one of the tablets from the feed store, which breaks into three pieces. I swallow one piece with warm water and pocket the other two, which feel like teeth when I put my hands into my pocket.

I tiptoe to the nap room where I spend two hours each day with Lisa as we listen to little children breath shallow breaths as they sleep. I read theology or philosophy. Lisa is slumped upon a small plastic chair. Her eyes are bright above her knit blouse, which expands quickly then recedes as she sighs. The sigh echoes about the photographs of pandas, monkeys and lions which are plastered into a photo mosaic of some two-dimensional jungle on the walls of the nap room.

“Thank you for apologizing,” I quietly whisper to Lisa, who glances from her book then back to the page. She nods and yawns, and when her eyes open, they are wet and pointed at me. Spokes of grey pinwheel in the blue iris.

Dr. Ballmania wants to talk to you.”

I nod and head from the nap room. Once again, stop in the blue boy's bathroom and scour my wound. Waldo Ballmania is on the phone as I enter his office, which was once the sauna room in this building which before becoming a preschool was a clubhouse for the large apartment complex which surrounds it. Waldo is wearing his sandals. They reveal the largest toes I have ever seen. The great toe is at least four inches long, and though Waldo is six four and composed of Baby Huey tissue, his toe is still grossly out of proportion. It seems to be a separate living entity like some squat worm with hair. The thought of his huge toes and a sauna room in which hip people gave each other blow jobs depresses me and my eyes narrow as I watch Waldo screaming to the phone, scratching dandruff and rolling his small irises about in the egg white of his face.

“Tell them Ballmania called,” he says, and the phone is abruptly returned to the desk with a quick click.

“Damned if I can remember what I wanted to talk to you about. This was always happening in the Navy. I’d call for someone and forget what I wanted them for.”

“Thought it was an unconscious reaction to the Vietnam War. Forgetting, I mean. Sometimes, think I am becoming prematurely senile but then I forget about it.”

“Oh, of course, now I remember,” he says placing a short index finger to his lips, “when you and Lisa take the kids out, get the squeeze-gee from the downstairs closet and hit the windows on the lower floor.

I nod then leave as Waldo resumes phoning people. I pull a chair close to Lisa and feel her warmth in the dim.

“Waldo told me he was captain in the Navy, I thought he was a captain in the Army,” I say.

I thought it was the Air Force,” Lisa says. “I think he's full of shit.

I don't know, gay. Sometimes people call people nuts or full of shit so we won't have to admit that I had friend when I was your age who one-night sees God while we are smoking Moroccan hashish. Next thing, he's a missionary. I thought he was crazy, nuts, full of shit.”

“You did drugs?” I nod.

“Well, what we?” I ask.

“What happened to your friend?”

“He was blown-up in a revolution.”

“You’re crazy,” she says.

“But you like me,” I say without thinking, with an ease I have on alternate Fridays.

She turns away from me smiling then turns back to me.

“Okay, I like you, but I like a lot of other people and please don’t tell other people that I told you that.”

I nod.

I feel warm water on my cheek leaving a trail of coolness back to my eye. A tear falls from my cheek and I catch it with my tongue and it tastes salty, watching the small faces slack in sleep with pouting lips and still limbs bely the moment-to-moment existence of these children who will soon crawl from their cots to face a bright afternoon while fighting, screaming and calling each other “FUCK FACE.” They are here, abandoned by both parents so that two incomes can purchase two cars, a house twice as large the one in which they were raised, and can pay for trips to Europe and three meals out a week.

These children are so markedly different than Lisa and me. Yet, they will somehow make it to adulthood and be the same as the rest of us.

“When are you and Tony going to be married?” I ask.

“Tony? Tony who?” she asks widening her eyes so that I can see the slender ring of black about the blue.

“The guy who picks you up every day in the van. The one you told me you were engaged to.”

“I’ve never heard of him.”

“Oh,” I say. I shut my mouth, though I would like to continue. I am quiet for a moment.

“So, you’re not getting married right away?” I ask.

“Why is everyone so anxious to marry me off?”

“Everyone wants to marry me off, too,” I say, though I am sure that her everyone is considerably larger than my everyone. I look at the fold in my jeans at the crotch. I explain to her that as a deacon I must marry now or never marry, that it is okay to be married but not to get married.

“You got to be chaste to be a janitor?”

“I’m going to be a deacon,” I say. I almost laugh. It occurs to me that becoming a deacon instead of a priest is like attending flight attendants school instead of pilot training.

“Why don’t you just become a priest?”

“Well, I was married once and then there is the lengthy list of my mental problems.” Thinking of my ex-wife whose spine was composed of sadness, I compare her to Lisa who when miserable is only unhappy and not disposed. I imagine a sheet of my past, a précis of my existence, a sort of dispassionate delineation of invisible aches, bounding throbs and sheer terrors and the accompanying drugs which were prescribed.

“There’s something wrong with me, too,” she says, pouting and gazing at her lavender running shoes.

“What?” I ask.

She looks to me and her dark tongue comes forth and touches her right canine tooth while she moves her head so that her right eye is cocked at me. I tilt my head and run my blunt and heavy tongue to my tooth so that I may feel what she is feeling.

“I don’t know if I should tell you,” she says.

“Then don’t,” I say.

I look to the swelling breasts beneath her knit blouse. She pushes the wrinkles from her jeans using the palm of her hand and I notice how long and thin her fingers are. The sun tilts westward and orange light is pushed from the thin fabric of the curtains to the faces of the children and it gives them bright tans. One by one they awake and circle me, waiting for me to tie their shoes as the noise level heightens and darting eyes match darting tongues. Lisa retreats to the kitchen, returns with homemade popsicles manufactured by freezing orange juice in ice trays and embedding toothpicks into the sludge. The tray is emptied, and bright, tiny tongues flash like lacerated space at the popsicles. Our tongues turn orange.

*

A line moves in front of the edge of water and a thin plane of Windex is left on the glass. In the dark reflection, I see children scooting about, rolling tires, and Lisa who is directing her gaze towards my back. I rub the squeegee on my pants leg and drag the rubber edge across the glass. Most of my jobs have been like this. There have been extended periods where I did not work, could not, too abstracted to move in a purposeful way. The sun makes a bright star on the glass and I blink. I rub my wrist to my forehead and a glaze of saline sparkles on my brow. Fat men have always been telling me to get the windows before I leave. I hear my father’s voice telling me to stand straight and my back complies. His voice is pleasant and I smile.

The chatter of the children mingles in the singing of the asphalt in rush hour. A jet moves soundlessly above us and leaves cotton candy in its wake. A giant crescendo of the afternoon arrives just as evening approaches. There are but three children remaining, all towheaded, always the same three that are here now in the thin, high room, late on Fridays as their mothers sit somewhere, fannies soldered to some barstool.

“I wish you weren’t so old,” Lisa says. She nods her head and runs a fingernail to a tooth and removes something for inspection which makes her eyes cross.

“I’m getting older.” Older, I think, from Lisa. There is certain disgust when a car starts to age, gashes in the upholstery, minor cracks, strange noises, rust peeping through paint, worn carpet and bounces which break into smaller bounces, ad infinitum, but when one’s body begins with ingrown toenails, hemorrhoids, aching lumbar and sagging flesh, it is somehow melancholy inducing and not sad. Perhaps it is sensing the utter ache, death, like the wind in a canyon whispering your name, the hint of an end. Below my neurosis and its attendant anxieties is the forest of my hurt, bluish green and abutting a sea of unfathomed depths and leading to unread ports.

“Look, Lisa, if you want to cut yourself away from half the world because they’re not your age, that’s your business, but I assure you, it’s okay to like me.”

She screws her face into a childish frown and puts her hands to her cheek and twists them and contorted words leak out.

“You’re old enough to be my father.”

“Only if I started when I was fifteen.”

“Do you have a brother?” She asks and laughs.

“Yes.”

“What’s he like?”

“He was like me.”

“What’s he do?”

“He’s dead.”

3

Friday evening is the Saturnalia of my loneliness and questionable worth. My trousers have twice been doused and now smell like a lumberyard after a rain. Thought of my friend, exploded in an equatorial sun, and my brother, dead. I can feel terrycloth, a hint of churning stomach and milk when I think of him. I think of him in all periods of his nineteen years, from his arrival from the hospital to the imagined events of his death of which the details were sketchy and my mind inherited the onerous task of completing the picture: the jeep crumpled and steaming, leaking and smelling in a cloud of dust. I shake my head.

My apartment is quiet and I listen with vigor for some sign of a neighbor, a bump, a parakeet’s chirp or the sound of lovemaking, but I am greeted only with the omnipresent hum of silence. I mix a bowl of rice and celery with a fork and stain the mixture with soy sauce.

The black and white from my ancient and soiled plastic enclosed television set dances light onto my food and the dead fruit on my wall paper. I hear car tires through my open window, and with each passing tread, I think of humans with a future, a belief in future, a career, a sense of something to happen.

*

I sip a diet soda as I wheel my large car through the traffic to my mother’s house, which is in a tract of housing some thirty years old. Trees touch the sky and make grey silhouettes against the blue city night sky. The street lights seem dimmer than when I was a child.

“Why don’t you hang your coat up, Gilmore,” my mother says, though I am not wearing a coat. I note her blue hair and butterfly glasses. As I pull the front door closed, I notice the front porch with the yellow light washing red roses and turning them orange. The yellow light reminds me of my father and closing the door on it reminds me of his death. I smell cancer, his cancer. It smells like swimming pool toilet.

“Did you eat?” my mother inquires.

I nod.

“I thought you might be playing bridge tonight,” I say.

“No, no,” she says, chasing a green bean about an aluminum tray with her fork. Beside her tray is a pictured box of the dinner she is eating with the brand name on the right corner like a ribbon on a Christmas package.

I sniff, thinking of my brother, father and friend.

“Get a Kleenex,” my mother says, “there's some in the hall closet.” Gawde, that noise. It sounds awful. I ramble down the hall and open the closet and at once, I am submerged in rolls of Charmin, boxes of Kleenex, an avalanche of paper towels, Dial soap, Colgate toothpaste, Amboseli tooth analgesic and boxes of Contac antihistamine. I switch into my Vietnamese personality, which allows me to scramble, to obey fat men telling me to do the windows. When I am finished, I blow my nose and examine the Rorschach test my snot has made in the tissue. It looks like a pelvis. Undoubtedly, my mother is the reason for the bottomless apology I am.

She has finished her supper, having placed the last morsel of blueberry muffin into her mouth. She is still chewing as she casts the box, tray and plastic fork into the trash.

“We were going to play at Kathy’s tonight, but her husband is there visiting the children. Christ, he’s a mess, greasy hair and crooked part. You remember what my mother used to say?”

I squinch my face into a question mark.

“Crooked part, shit in the underwear,” she says, then makes the groan of a child.

I can imagined the accused now, his underwear brittle with fecal and penal secretions, his hair over his collar, his eyes a nondescript brown and his mouth ever looking to suckle something. We walk to the television room and sit before its multicolored glow.

“tay tuned for Miami Vice. Crockett is pursued by an outraged husband.”

“Turn to PBS, would you Gilmore?” My mother props her feet on a kitchen chair which stays in the room for this purpose. The acrid odor of a match is followed by the stale grey odor of a burning cigarette as my mother lights up. She speaks of politics the evening long, states that government must show gumption. She makes a fist and closes her left eye.

I wonder if she has always been this masculine. My father, or at least the memory of my father, is more feminine than she. I stare at her large pores and the rapid expanse of her midsection. I close my eyes and the image of my father reading the evening newspaper soothes me. I hear the quiet rustle of the pages.

It is useless. I did not know my father and now I never will. My image of him is no more accurate than a portrait of Christ. I suppose I have constructed this myth in memorial to him and my brother.

He was killed when a Jeep which bore him rounded an unsuspectedly soft curve on a high plateau and fell over. One of the acne faced students who was with my brother in that Saturday display of college frolic said that they were laughing as they scrambled to their feet until they noticed my brother's head cocked at an untenable angle and his face glowing the color of cough syrup. As my brother's companion mentioned this to me, his face drained of color which left a bizarre orange to his zits gleaming in my eye and, ultimately, in my memory.

My mother continues to act the way she always has, as if she were still the "sole female in a tribe of men." I am the only man, and in most ways, I have given that up. This does not deter her. She still acts as if I hold strong opinions, hold force dear and long for an arena of action.

We suffer through the news shows she enjoys watching on Friday evenings and I bid goodbye and walk the sidewalk while staring at the trees which are firmly rooted in the berm and cast moving shadows on the confederate grey of the concrete. The one tree next to my car was a twig when I brought it home from Boy Scouts on Arbor Day. My father dug a hole two feet deep and filled it with soapy water. When the bubbling water had vanished and a film of grey covered the inside of the hole, we loosened the necktie on the burlap covered roots, dropped the tree into its muddy womb and placed dirt over it. I wondered why the dirt of the hole would more than fill the hole from which it came.

“The earth is like cork,” my father said, and I pictured our planet bobbing along in the coal black of outer space.

As I have aged, the night grows dimmer. It seems as if someone has replaced the stars with hotel versions.

*

I climb the stairs to my dark apartment to watch the eleven o'clock news. War in Africa, Asia and Central America. My friend’s remnants flutter in a hot wind and there is speech whose vowels· have been replaced by oral clicks.

*

When the first light caresses the dead fruit on my wall paper, it is late, for the windows are to the north and a steady play of reflected light kisses my face. I expect to look from this window one day and see the sky rent like torn construction paper with outer space black behind the jagged rip with falling pieces of metaphysical stuff, brilliant white like conflagrated magnesium, glowing, falling.

I shower and drive to the church. Father Michaelson is reading the morning tabloid and recounting the story of a boy who, with a weight lifting bar, bludgeoned his mother then drowned her in the bathtub after the beating did not achieve the desired effect, all because she would not buy him a waterbed.

“Throughout the episode,” Father Michaelson quotes in his sermon voice, “the mother repeatedly said, ‘Mickey, I love you.’”

“By the way,” Father Michaelson adds, “the bishop called and he wants to see you this afternoon.”

I gulp my coffee, but Father Michaelson motions for me to sit. I nod as my fanny re-collides with the couch.

“Believing makes the misery sweeter, doesn't it?” he asks.

“I guess so,” I say.

*

The bishop wears a vestment with purple piping which has the mental impact of a bruise. About him are several computer printouts with green and white paper latched together into a huge accordion. Filtered light falls to his desk. He scratches the crown of his head, shuffles some paper, then rifles his crop of pearl grey hair again.

“They say necessity is the mother of invention. These days, I think its cheapness. Whole damned set of churches seems to be falling apart like a chorus line.”

“Well, I'll worry about that,” he says. With his head down and keeping it down, he addresses me: “Gilmore, you're our only unmarried diaconate student, and for that matter, the only one who isn't nearly as old as I am.”

As he says this, I picture one of my classes of deacons, presumptive, bald or grey and making collectively loud noises with their dentures.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asks. “We've gone along with this because of Father Michelson’s urgings, and let’s face it, you do seem to have a preternatural understanding of religion. But are you sure?”

“No.”

“That was a stupid question, wasn't it?” he says. “Who the hell is ever sure of anything?”

I feel suddenly fatigued as if I could feel each atom of iron lumbering through my no doubt paper thin arteries. Perhaps it is the heat, the cross-town trip in my old car or the boy murdering his mother. I suppose the outrageousness of such an act bespeaks the presence of God more than anything else. For if there is no God with whom we may commune and seek redemption, then our creator or the manifest authority of the universe, is thoroughly evil.

“How are you fixed for money?” the bishop asks. He is gazing at the AT&T Management Guide.

“Father Michaelson threw a pancake supper for me and I have all the money from that. I'm working afternoons in a preschool. I'm doing okay. I don't need much.”

“Think about it, Gilmore. You are still a young man.”

I nod, but I do not think of myself as young. Half my family is dead, the oldest and the youngest. The woman who knew me best divorced me ten years ago and my dreams have died in a drowning of thinness.

On the cross-town trip, back to my suburb on faded pavement and in heat pools, I think that my friend, the missionary, is the young man, not I. He is affixed young for he is rendered to memory. I try to think of him as being my age, but I cannot do it. We often think of children as having a future when some in fact have only a few years, some a few days, and the dead, none.

I think that if I would have died a young adult, my life would have been complete. My former wife would have been a young widow about which people could have spoken in reverential tones. Surely, she could have found some hardworking and upwardly mobile young man to share her life. My life is sort of a nonfatal sarcoma. It bespeaks rapid growth but not health.

I expect a respite from my drive's depression as I pull next to a Volkswagen Beetle. Ten years ago, I was trained to expect a young woman in these autos with wheat colored hair and delicate looks. Now, I find middle aged women with the same long and straight hair making the face flat and lined. The woman and I coast to a stop at the next light. She twists in her seat. She is reaching in the backseat. I anxiously await the appearance of an infant with a grin and tiers of roundness. She lifts her bundle. It is a four-speaker ghetto blaster.

*

My apartment is dark and hot. The traffic sounds are muffled in the humidity. Last night, I dreamt that I slept with my former wife and I felt her hot loins and damp crotch perfumed from dusty glands. I felt forlorn as if a new tangent was created on the circle of my hurt. And then there is the thought of the child in the Volkswagen, could have been baby. I do not think of children without sadness. It is impossible to give life without at once creating a future tense death. Every creator is an annihilator, each construction, a demolition; each fruit, decay and each thought, a forgetting.

I open my Jerusalem Bible and read tomorrow's gospel. It is another one of our Divinity's animadversions, "Love me or I'll kill you” sermons. I think of Saint Ignatius gazing at the sky, reckoning the orbs gearing and thinking of perfection. Ah, if only the world and its fellow travelers were etched on a cosmic orb, being annealed in God's celestial kiln. No, we plummet through black nothing propelled only by strange physics and its vibrating sham wires.

I dreamt of starlets after I dreamt of my former wife. Her lips hung in the space, unsupported, an event of their own. Sparklettes of light danced in soft eyes and fibrous, soft hair arched away from the nose and arced across her brow like approaching comets. A smile reckons a benchmark on the topography of my face when I realize the starlets is Lisa, my ingénue, may could be something?

There is a fury in me as I realize there is no site for the two coordinates that are my feelings for Lisa, no purview, no statuary, no museum in which to calculate the blossoms of love. The flesh in religion, say a monk's, is not mortified in a strict sense but the infinitely diminishing series of want is challenged at its source, the will. It is first denied then infuriated and finally mummified and heaven comes to earth spineless. But the philosopher entrenched in the folds of· my grey matter inquires if heaven can wait and promptly denies the denier and posits an orthogonal projection of Lisa with a web of squares tossed on a nude body. Was Freud correcting? Is gender the patagium of mortal life? Even denying a wife and child, mortification is not complete but instead a round and distorted construction which can only be seen through the camera obscure of faith. Given to natural law, I must not become a natural lawyer.

Aha! My employment file contains a xerography of each employee’s phone number. 441-44981. Who would think numbers beautiful that they could emboss themselves in mental quirks was beyond me. I dial the number and hear the rough tumbling as the rotor slips back to home place.

“Hello?” a childlike voice intones.

“Lisa?”

“Yes (pause), who is this?”

“It's Gilmore, Gilmore Funnel. I have something important to talk to you about.”

“Gilmore? Gilmore from school?” the childish voice asks drowsing, “how did you get my number?”

“From the list Waldo gave us.” I give a brief synopsis of my noetic transactions, editing of course, perhaps dropping, as she yawns. I catch myself.

“Actually, I have been thinking of you often and I was wondering if you would have coffee with me tomorrow morning?”

“Afternoon, Gilmore. As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as Sunday morning. It's a dream.”

“Then tomorrow afternoon?”

“Okay, it beats watching track and field. How about Perkins?”

“Two be okay?” I ask.

“Okay, two.”

“Thank you.”

“God, Gilmore, I'm having coffee with you. Calm down and I'll see you tomorrow.”

There is a click like death and I wonder if a nineteen-year-old knows why older people are so cordial in their farewells? As I hang the phone into its stainless-steel stirrup, I realize that I have a date. It is possible for a deacon presumptive to have a date. I shiver. Technicalities infuriate me.

4

Saturday evenings are a labyrinth of work and disappointment for it is on this night that I make the week remedial and collect undone things into a mental basket and sort them. Even now, as I lie in my lumpy bed with the room laved in grey and interstice with neon orange from the flashing Sherwin Williams Cover the World sign across the street, my mind wanders over things done and undone. In some moments, when the moment meets its crisis, there is a false clarity like consume'. It is as if my doing could be placed in a basket then sorted.

I think of tomorrow with Lisa but first there is Father Michaelson and myself, his attendant, the world's oldest altar boy who will watch the chalice raised in the right hand, the index and middle fingers tinted from storm of tobacco smoke. I think of Lisa, of this moment filled with prospect. When was the last time a moment was filled with prospect, a feminine one? I was Lisa's age when I met my former wife and two years later, I was divorced. Is Lisa the way I was, each emotion riding undaunted to the surface and then to my mouth, my muscles or my crotch? The whole Landscape was filled with smoke from the tiny unedited geysers which I emitted without thought. Does she do that? There was a woman in my life after my brother had died. Her name was Jenny. Jenny loved me when I could not love myself, when I had only two thoughts, the death of the missionary and the death of my brother. He was nineteen. I had received the call at six in the morning from my mother and stumbled, recovering from a nightmare to the phone where I heard the unbelievable words, that the child of the family, the one who had been too young to remember my father, who had thought our family normal, had joined my friend the missionary on some unknown field with departures to heaven more frequent than the minute. This young woman loved me when no other woman tried or seem to try. I lived for a year following my brother's death in an acrid slow swirl of alcohol. I rose from it long enough to love Jenny but Jenny violated my rule. She loved me when I did not love myself. I was too busy wondering how the automata about me ran, fueled by self, software manufactured in homes. How many reached beyond it? How many had suffered their own death then were resurrected to this non-living eternity in which I now seemed to dwell? I loved Jenny with her long blond hair which was lifted behind her ears which put an ess on either side of her face so that her very caring for me seemed to be reflected in these twin esses which looped back upon her head like Mobius strips. But I got drunk, called her, told her she was slattern for loving me.

“You don't know,” I had slurred.

she had tired of me and one again, I returned to the heady realm of absolute aloneness.

My room smells briefly of sulfur and is lighted like a Caravaggio painting. In the flashes of the paint sign, I see rectangles of paper I have taped about my room to incite me to better self-image. No doubt, this is some sort of residuum of my Childhood when a leaf at-or-m of paper was blown through the house by my mother: close the refrigerator door, return all plates to the sink, wipe your feet and her magnum opus done in a child's calligraphy: "We aim to please; you aim to please," which was propped above the toilet on the rack which contained bubble bath and my mother's douche kit, all weird and medical looking in a cheap and ancient way. The sign aged rapidly from the steam but stayed in permanent disrepair. My father had a few rules: don't lie, cheat, steal or harm. My mother had her thousands. She had one unbending fear, that we would live in the uncertified sketch about the metropolis, low in a flood plain, a frame house with sweet smelling and rotting wood exposed through chips of pink and baby blue paint with a car on cinderblocks and fields of unmetered grasses undulating in a hot breeze as un kept cats meandered out of rusted car parts.

“Our house is never going to look like this,” she would say with her teeth so tightly clenched that her words were grunts. I concluded early on that she must have been raised in such a house, in a un zoned area of some county abutting some town, perhaps next to the dump.

As a child, I loved such places, they held such options, a thousand play areas, a million prospects, a thousand places to hide and never be found. Christ was crucified over a dump with a thief, betrayed by his teenage followers and forsaken by all but a prostitute.

As an adult, I lived in slums, trailer parks, the city across the river from the city, in five story buildings bathed in perpetual shadows from surrounding structures and now above Big Al's Furniture Emporium (free turkey with purchase during the holidays and free sparklers for the kids on the Fourth) with its dark hallways and caliginous corners, water stained walls, huge electric outlets meant for porcelain, brown plugs with round cords, a gas stove which emits the odor of archaic meals, a yellowing bathtub perched on balls, its claws eternally flexed and large square tiling in the kitchen (two missing).


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