Under the Milky Way with Knives

We sat under the arched bridge to catch our breath.  Running from a hungry mother bear and her two cubs was probably not the smartest choice, particularly since there was a circle of boulders that we could have scaled easily enough and hidden on until it was safer to emerge.  But after you shot me a glance and took off towards the eggplant-shaped hay stacks, there was no alternative but to run after you.

You were always faster than I, your strides covered more distance than my small frame could dream to match.  The mother bear caught your scent and followed it…until she caught a note of my sweat.  I didn’t run directly after you; I scrambled onto the higher road.  She must have smelled me when the path dipped underneath a row of trees.  I heard a roar like defiance and invasion.  There was a point in my life when having to run or hide from a bear would have filled me with more dread than dueling against someone using their good hand while mine was tied behind my back.  But today, it was exhilarating.  Every step and breath I took would lead me closer to death, severe injury, or a new appreciation for my own determination.  Glorious.

I stopped looking over my shoulder to see if she was directly behind me or off-center.  I kept running and soon realized I had lost sight of you.  I didn’t stop, though.  I didn’t slow down until the bridge came into view.  Just as I was debating if I should cross the bridge or run under it and pray to the great spirits that there was room to hide, my body came to an abrupt, forced halt.  You had reappeared and grabbed me, holding me to your chest until the mother bear ran past the enormous tree against which we leaned.

It was only after I had taken a few shallow breaths and a few deeper ones that I noticed my lung capacity wasn’t what it used to be, back in the days when we both tried to win the Queen’s favor by displaying our corporeal talents.  You had needed to be in her good graces as she was the only entity powerful enough to make sure your family would be well provided for should anything happen to you while serving her vision of restoring the empire back into three separate kingdoms.  And I, I had wanted the Queen’s approval and affections because she was the last link to my own family.  Not by blood but by friendship.  I had started to forget what they looked like, including my older brother.  I was so young when they perished in the uniting of the kingdoms — I wasn’t even sure the Queen liked me enough to see me as someone she could love as her own instead of a burden.

Ten years later, watching you sit against the stones under the bridge, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness as memories of the Queen’s death rushed to the surface.  Neither of us got what we had wanted, at least not in any certain terms.  The Queen’s brother assured you that he would honor whatever understanding — written or spoken — between you.  He had told me more or less the same.  But you and I, we knew we could no longer rely on promises other people made when they couldn’t understand the implications of fickleness. The Queen’s most trusted advisers didn’t even know if her brother would continue to pursue her dreams of separate kingdoms.

My breathing had returned to normal as you looked at me and said, “I know what you are.”

“Oh?”

You nodded, crawled over to where I was sitting and faced me.

“May I?” you asked, putting your fingers against my jaw line.  “I see what nobody else sees.”

“What are you….?”  I started to say before the burning pierced the edges of my face.  Nails, long, sharp nails plunged into my skin.  I tried to tear your hands off but your grip was too strong.  You held me there even as my legs thrashed.  And then, as soon as the pain flared, it calmed and eventually disappeared.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for five years,” you said as you pulled out two mirrors from gods know where.  You held up the wooden one first and asked me to look at my reflection.  I did — I looked as I expected: black hair, pale skin, purple eyes, practically non-existent eyelashes.  Then, you held up the black mirror and asked me to look.  I did and gasped.

“What did you do to my face?”

“I didn’t do anything that wasn’t already there,” you paused.  “I just made it easier for you to see what you really are.”

My face was the same but different — same bone structure, same distance between eyes and nose and mouth, but the expression of them was otherworldly.  I saw dark blue hair, eyelashes longer than even the Queen’s, skin that was equally translucent and iridescent, and eyes that changed color every other time I blinked.  I took the mirror from your hands and looked more closely at my eyes.  I saw shadows swirling, almost dancing, with light.

“What does this mean?”

“We’re different. How else did you think we could outrun a mother bear? I’m still trying to figure out why we look like this when we use black mirrors instead of wooden ones, though.”

We?”

You held up the black mirror to your face and I peered at your reflection.  Your brown hair became dark red, green eyes morphed into amber (they too held whorls of shadow and light), your skin was just like mine.

“I had to wait five years because I first noticed this change in my 25th year; I guessed that you wouldn’t be able to see it until yours.”

I had only been twenty-five for a week.

“I know you have questions, I do too,” you said as you put the mirrors back into gods know where. We both sat silently for several more minutes.  You climbed out of the bridge, turned and reached out your hand to me, “But before I try to answer them, we need to celebrate your birthday.”

There was no sign of the mother bear or her cubs.  You walked at a leisurely pace across the bridge; I followed with a purposeful gait, wondering if you had come across a full length black mirror and what kind of reflection it would reveal.

~!~

The above story came as suddenly as a rainstorm on an otherwise sunny day, or as suddenly as the sun on a rainy day.  Inspiration was drawn from real conversations, fiction I’ve been reading, and this Toad the Wet Sprocket song.  It is called “The Moment,” specifically the lines “for every path you follow/there’s another left behind/Every door you don’t kick open/there’s a million more to try….there is nothing but the moment/don’t you waste it on regret.”

Shame doesn’t become you
There are no mistakes in the final view
No blame, how could it be so wrong
That your heart was braver than your will was strong

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

I’ll go, but who will you have to be
Will you just get by or get what you need
Just know that I don’t need to fit in
But is there room for you in your life with him?

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

It’s out of my hands, out of my hands
But I miss my friend, I miss my friend
So this is the price of honesty
But I’m not sorry

For every path you follow there’s another left behind
Every door you don’t kick open there’s a million more to try
And for everything you’ve taught me here’s the one
I’ve learned the best
There is nothing but the moment
Don’t you waste it on regret

The moment is happening now
The moment is passing
The moment is happening now
The moment is passing

Adjacent Topic: Campfire Tales 20

Glistening in from the nineteenth guitar solo.

The girl in the argyle socks blinked.  Her uncle had been right. The man with the rifle was actually dead.  Given the complexity of how he managed to stave off bodily decomposition affirmed just how dead and for how long he had ceased to be a living being. She began to feel it when their bodies became enmeshed.  His life force was not coming from within his body, it originated outside of it.  The girl with the argyle socks sensed the separation of matter and the dusting of matter as they kissed. Yes, the man with the rifle could grip her waist and thighs; yes, she experienced the wetness of his tongue and the roughness of his caresses, and yet, underneath that hunger was a stillness, a detached rhythm that signified a simulation of life.

The “pretense” was the most impressive the girl with the argyle socks had ever encountered.   His unclothed body was warm against hers and he’d responded to her exploratory touches.  He’d moaned when she pulled his hips ever closer to hers; he’d instilled into her the momentum of a man very much alive.  The heat from his breath, the low grunting that marked the apex of his muscular ascent, and the sweat that made his skin look thirst-quenching underneath the sunlight, these perceptions were in fact exquisitely focused projections.

They were sensory and muscle memories of his life before death.  The girl realized it the instant their bodies were united.  Honeysuckle filled the air like fireworks of stars in a summer night sky.  What she thought was unique to his body chemistry turned out to be the very subtle sign that a human’s body had died some time ago, and someone or something was keeping it “conscious” and ambulatory by not performing the proper death rituals and by binding memories to that body so it could roam free like a tangible phantom.

The girl with the argyle socks looked over at the man with the rifle, who was lying beside her.  His chin rested on the edge of her left shoulder.  After he opened his eyes a few minutes later, he told her that he would not be mad at her if she kept him here a while longer.

“The people waiting for my last delivery have waited long enough, they can wait a bit more.”

To her utmost surprise, the hard part wasn’t figuring out the true status of the man’s life or death. On the contrary, what would prove to be more challenging, frustrating, and saddening would be how to tell the man with the rifle that he needn’t bother with any more missions and why.  She had at last penetrated through his survival instincts, and soon she would have to be the bearer of news she already wished she didn’t know.

“What was it that you wanted to tell me?”

The girl with the argyle socks sat up and looked at the man with the rifle.  She cupped his face with her hands, kissed him very lightly, and put a hand on his chest where the beating of his heart was an illusion.

“It can wait until tomorrow.”

The Lifespan of an Hour

Phillip had counted six.  The last hour had repeated six times.  The moment his hand had touched the metal plate next to the door frame of the lockers, he would black out and awaken standing on the pitcher’s mound with the bases loaded.  His back damp with sweat, his fingers sore and on the cusp of cramping, Phillip would massage his right hand as he nodded vigorously in agreement with the pitcher in regards to the punk-ass Horatio, who was on second base but a few moments ago had inadvertently brushed into the man on the mound.  The commentators could only speculate as to why a batter would practically be kowtowing to the pitcher of an opposing team with all that head-bobbing. Phillip just wanted to get on with the game and didn’t want to see himself or his teammates cursed upon and ridiculed by the speed of keystrokes and convenience of social media channels.

Like a megaphone to the town crier, where everyone is a crier of proper behavior and what-you-should-have-done-was judgments, the crowds at baseball games, and sporting games in general, were thinking too damned much.  Of course, the people had a right and a duty to announce their incidental-violence-as-entertainment fatigue in any way they could, but after a while, nobody listens.  The demands for courtesy and leaving “stuff off the field” all blended together into a muddy groan.  And, now, as Phillip stepped away from the pitcher for what would be the seventh time, he saw Horatio as smug as ever, pacing around second base like he didn’t have all day (or all night)..

Phillip was taking his time in returning to home plate.  He had all the time in the world and knew he was going to hit the ball so far into the stands that the telecast director would have difficulty calling the camera with the best view of the skinny, red-haired boy who’d end up fishing the ball out of a large bucket of shelled peanuts.  Phillip used to take in the sights and sounds of home games like it was the first and last time he would ever be on the field.  When he first started playing Major League baseball, he felt so in awe of the atmosphere and the energy that his teammates and the visiting team could gather and push out, almost like an old Tai Chi master rolling a giant ball of dough.

After ten years playing in big stadiums, though, despite his good health, that wonder had trickled into dust and Phillip had stopped looking up and above the the lights.  But on this night, on the seventh occasion of his picking up his bat, he looked.  He wondered if anyone watching the game live or on a TV would notice that the last hour had repeated.  If so, were they watching him?  Did they notice that he was doing things a little differently now compared to the previous six times?

When he was ready, he bent his knees, gripped the bat and waited for the ball to come.  The game-winning hit happened on the second throw an hour later.  Cheers chorused through the air like born-again vegans praising mother Gaia for her bounty and born-again omnivores paying tribute to their local butcher.  Barker, who was on third, and Mulvaney, who was on first, ran for home.  Horatio was halfway to third and Phillip jogged around the bases, breathing in every happy shout, savoring the approval from detractors.  There was almost nothing Phillip loved more than wrenching recognition of achievement from people who didn’t believe he could do it — whatever it was.

When the on-field group hugs were completed and the initial wave of press photos were taken, Phillip headed down to the lockers with the rest of his team.  Before he could tap that metal plate and send himself back onto the field to relive that epic ending for the eighth time, though, a hand encircled itself around his right forearm with such force he thought someone was trying to take his blood pressure in the wrong place.  One hand became four hands in total.  In the chaos of players mixing with journalists and stadium personnel, nobody had noticed when Phillip was ushered away from the locker room and into a storage closet.

“Get your hands off of me!” he screamed much quieter than he intended.

Two men, an adult woman, and a middle school-aged girl were staring at him, the girl actually baring her teeth in preparation to bite (or spit).

“I’m Klaus,” the man in the Chicago Bears jersey started.  “And this is Tsai-Ming, that’s Olivia, and the little one is Carlotta.”

Phillip didn’t know if he was more confused by the sight of a man wearing a football jersey at a baseball game or that someone actually named their daughter “Carlotta” and didn’t make her wear a “Phantom of the Opera” t-shirt.  He was about to speak, to ask what these people were trying to do and apologize if there was some fan signing where he didn’t get around to signing everyone’s balls and bats but management could be careless like that, but Carlotta opened her mouth and the heavens opened up a torrent of blame and rage like he’d never heard before in his life.

“What she’s  trying to say,” Olivia added.  “Well, we’ve all noticed that a specific hour of our lives have been repeating unless we make a different choice about something we did or said today.  We’ve all figured out what they are for us and so that hour stopped repeating, but then the day kept repeating.  And we all saw you in the game on TV and knew that you probably hadn’t yet changed your routine for the day.”

Phillip listened to each of them explain how they’d discovered their hours were repeating, what they had been doing, and that it wasn’t easy for them to do what it took to break their loops.  Klaus was about to give his dissertation defense when he’d happened across a stack of love letters between a Korean soldier and a Chinese peasant during the Korean War; Tsai-Ming had just finished the most delicious meal of the entire semester; Olivia and her long lost love had spent a most blissful hour together after he’d confessed his true feelings; and Carlotta had finally summoned up enough courage to not hit back the boy who’d “accidentally” killed the class pet snake and somehow decided that she made him do it.

Klaus remarked that he was more interested in the lives of two people he’d likely never know anything more about than he was in his own life, his own future.  Tsai-Ming worked double shifts at the coffee shop so that he could afford to gorge himself on authentic Taiwanese cuisine, food from his homeland and that he missed desperately.  Olivia had never tasted contentment, never knew what love or passion or satisfaction was until that hour came upon her.

“And I lived it twelve times in a row before I let myself make a different choice…I was getting exhausted, you see.”

Carlotta about spat on Phillip when she detailed what she’d gone through and how hard it was not to let that hour play itself over and over and over again for every classmate that boy had teased and shoved.

“I looked into his eyes and there was nothing in them, he cared about nothing, not even himself.”

“Wait, wait, what does any of this have to do with me?”  Phillip asked, suddenly aware of how hungry and thirsty he was.  And tired, good lords and ladies, he was tired.  His right hand felt like it did after two hours of batting practice.

Olivia took Phillip by his shoulders and shook.  “You made a choice today before the game or leading up to that game-winning hit, a choice that came with an alternative that you were considering.  You need to figure out what it is, and decide differently, do something differently…and once you do, that last hour of the game will stop repeating.  And the day will stop repeating, and time will go on as normal.”

“What happens if I don’t?  Wouldn’t you all just go back to your lives and enjoy the day forever?  I mean, Klaus, you could find out about that soldier and the Chinese woman.  And Tsai-Ming, you could eat have that meal forever…or something else, right?  Olivia, you could know happiness always.  Carlotta! Why, you could kick that boy’s ass til he goes home crying.”

They all scowled at him and sighed.  Klaus explained that while their minds knew what was happening, their bodies did not. In fact, depending on the time of day that their respective hours were repeating, they might as well have stayed awake for days straight.  The more that the hour repeats, the more time is lost.  The body thinks twelve chronological hours have gone by when the mind thinks the same hour has taken place twelve times.

If they were right, Phillip could very well die on the field and it would be a very slow death.  Years worth of hours would have to pass and he’d be an old man trying to hit a ball.  What convinced Phillip to consider the choices he’d made that day, though, was not about time.  What chilled him and humbled him to the core were Carlotta’s words.

“Think about everyone who watched you play today,” she said.  “They had a good time, but what about everyone else who didn’t watch you play?  Do you know how many pets are abandoned every hour in this country?  Can you imagine being a dog and being left at the side of the road over and over and over again?  Or, being sentenced to die over and over again?  Or, having your trust in someone obliterated 100 times in a row?  Just because you had the greatest hour of your life, doesn’t mean someone else did.”

~!~

If you could relive an hour of your life and only you knew it was happening, what would you relive?  If you had to give up re-experiencing the best hour or best day of your life for the love of humanity, would you?  And, how many “reruns” would you need before you could let it go and hope that the future gives you a better hour or day?

Petals Between My Toes

Stream of consciousness, here we go.
Oottat

Forever ago, my baggage drifted onto the shores of the property of a kind, old man who had seen every Jimmy Stewart film ever released.  He drove a black 1950s Cadillac convertible that his goddaughter had restored for his 76th birthday.  Three bags in total of mine floated onto the smoothed-out rocks down the dune from his front porch.  Respectful, and not one to pry, he tugged the damp, leathery containers from the sea.  With the help from a black bear, who also called this beach home, the old man hoisted my bags onto drier ground.

The sea spat me out several hours later.  I knew my name and that I was wearing my favorite pair of overalls, navy blue tennis shoes, light orange shirt with a peter pan collar, and the red ribbon that Bathsheba had tied into my hair was still there.  I don’t remember how I ended up on that beach, given that i fell off the pier at summer camp…inland. I am even less certain of how my baggage appeared on the grass just up from where I had collapsed to catch my breath.

I didn’t pack my bags; and contrary to what my step-brother kept insisting, summer camp was not completely terrible.  I’d made a friend and finally learned how to ride a bicycle.

“You there!” the old man cried when he saw me.

I lifted my head as high as I could and squinted.

“Where have you been?  Do you know what year it is?”

No?

Ambling much faster than I expected a man of his age to be able to move, he was upon me and crouched before me.  He put his hand on my forehead, brushed my hair out of my face, took my hands into his and attempted to blink back … tears.

“I don’t understand…how did I get here?”

“Bonnie, do you know how worried I’ve been?  You said you were going for a swim, not for a triathlon.”

“My name is Hippolyta…and I didn’t go for a swim, I fell off a pier at summer camp that way,” I said as I pointed in the direction opposite of the water.

“I didn’t think you’d come back, but that’s all fine now.  ‘Cause you’re here.  Look, Josephina fixed up the car.  We can take it on the drive down the coast like you’ve always wanted.”

I was about to write off his mutterings as signs of dementia and maybe a love for Jimmy Stewart much too strong for his own good, but what I saw in his eyes was a deep knowing, not fanciful trappings of a man trying to live out the rest of his days in peace.

Say Bon Jour to My Little Writing Prompt

What is self-sabotage? Go!

Fear is a survival mechanism that is difficult to tame.  When faced with the possibility of being another animal’s meal or another man’s trophy, fear can work wonders when harnessed and accessed organically for the purposes of self-preservation.  But, it also has a tendency to go off-target and render a person incapable of following through with intentions and desires.  One is literally handed what one covets and the reality of having it is too much to bear. So, one rejects it.  Or, if one later realizes those desires were premature or formed on too little information, fear still makes a person unable to decline politely an offer.  Thus, one may (un)knowingly behave in ways so that the offer is never made or quickly rescinded.  Or, one cannot accept and then embark on a new journey without having a panic attack every other day.  This bollocks has to stop.


In other news, I wrote a poem for a stranger at a Starbux the other day.  I asked for three words: a color, a woman’s name, and a beverage.

See the sheep grazing,
like lost melodies
for Chelsea,
her blue bonnet dances
w/ a fervor
delicately
entranced by too much beer.
 
— yiqi 7 may 2015 11:55 AM