Jesse S. Mitchell
Some day, probably a Thursday, Charlie Bohl sat under a pagoda facing a river, a dark green-brown river, a ripply river. How slow it moved, how slow, but it shimmered and it shined and it caught his eye. Ping Tom Park and it was hot, hot for September, so Charlie had several arbitrary beads of hot sweat plaguing the upper part of his face, malicious things with a mad sense of wanderlust, they would fall like Bolshevikism- domino-theory, boom, blast, boom, war, collapse. Here he was, covered in soft vulnerable flesh with sparkling shards of acid perspiration streaking down and the indignity stung his pores and eyes. He would wipe them away. He would sigh. He would blink. Cross and uncross his legs. There is loads of pain in this existence. Peace in that. Never alone. Not really. He would smile sometimes, giving lie to the absolutist supposition that all the world is a crime, all life teeming over its surface a sin, this and this a corruption.
He would bow his head at times, like he was saying a prayer, supplicating toward the Dan Ryan, but he was not communing, he was imagining. Perhaps the same thing. His head went wriggling, and railing around, fast as light, thoughts beaming from one side to the next, a great blur under his sandy blond hair. He thought about iron-red churches of Axum, about floating Buddha heads, migrating birds, shifting seasons, Brahmins to Shudras, untouchables, cast iron pans in the fire, glowing red, the heat, the untouchable heat. Turn his head this way or that and look over what ever horizon that appeared, materialized. Big Peterhofs, Versailles, Halls of Mirrors writ large across a creaking post-modern sky, everything with the bitter flavor of too much bloat, too much air, too much swell, dulcet the soft sounds that fling themselves through the shared wind. Skyscrapers, mercantile banks, long stretches of lake front beach. Everywhere he could see, when he could focus, a whole world of nothing but convulsed earth, shifting planks, scorching measurements of supposed grandness. The generous gratitude of an overextended human race.
So, Charlie sat there, wiping sweat away, guarding his view from glare, on top of the heap, the heap of bones and rumble rock that lay foundation for every modern urban daydream. He could see everything. Everything. And he felt it too. He could even feel the jealousy of the shuddering air around him, envious nature, resentful of his newfound abilities of introspection, his dual gifts of sensation and reflection. He was music. And he wasn’t going to give that up. He knows what the world can do to you. Best to have something to come back from, but what are we coming to?
He was everywhere and down deep inside it, boiling up and seeping out, touching it all. He could tell it was all mist, all vapor and mist, and it all signified nothing, nothing but a dying planet’s vast indiscretions.
But that was all partiality, fondness for a mad strong hankering for the dystopian diamond (multifaceted) end. His soul could cry out. His soul could leak out. Sweetly evaporate away.
His mind was at work.
But the biggest part of the superficial grey matter inside his bone rattly skull was leering down, searching for precious Rheingold, merfolk magical horde, deep in the river, some silver shimmer a dreaded bread headed titian slacked off, trinkets, baubles, a slight shine.
And it was this part of vital self that was startled first, he heard the voice before he saw any figure.
“You seem happy with yourself.”
He looked to his right, the direction of the sound, and there she was immediately materializing atom for atom in what had been empty space. Inhabit all the spaces. Come humans, come senses, hot burning bodies, fill up all the spots yearning for mass. Green dress with little pale white flowers all over it, her arm stretched out along the back of the low concrete bench they shared. Long black hair, tendrils and strands flying all around her head, in frenzied spirals and circles, little whips and lashes. It seemed strange to him the way her hair moved, the breeze was light. He turned back toward the river.
“I’m cutting loose. I’m checking out.”
“What?” the word burst out of her mouth
“Hmm.” Charlie nodded.
“You mean, suicide?”
Charlie chuckled, shook his head, looked back at her and all her rowdy hair and hemline and billows of dress, “No, god no, you know me better than that, how I detest violence, no stomach for it. Not even against me, one of my most unfavorite of persons.”
“Yes, one day, I will be blue and all bled out and gone, giving up the shallow ghost to the eternal vapors that surround but this is not that day and it will not be on purpose. I swear.”
“So, what then?”
“I’m letting go. I’m losing my mind.”
“Um huh, completely mad.”
“And your job?”
“Never going back.”
“And your plays?”
“Ha! Fuck the plays. Rambling rush of forced dialogue, elucidate the dying words of veracity once more, scrub away at the great dirty lie covering the deep down shine. My god, how we all are little jewels underneath it all. I can’t bear it. It tears at me. Injures. I’m lying. We are lying. I hate that part of me the most.”
“Huh, it has always been one of my favorite bits of you.”
Without notice, Charlie continues, “So, I’m stopping. I’m sick of it. Had it to death and sickness with optimism. Bite off a big chunk of reality and like a poison let its venom get fully in my veins, immersed in the deluge of it and let it carry off my pride and expectation. A death, a death clearing out my mind of all ambition, sit around and drink, think about cleavage, yep, I’m just going to be here and I’m going to dream, dream great big lion-headed dreams. Napoleon dreams. Fredrick the goddamned great. Superhuman hallucinations. Bodhisattva-Boudica Bar Kochba dreams. Have my revenge on reality.”
“Taste the blood in your mouth.”
“Finally do it in.”
The woman stands up and stands perfectly still for a brief second and then disappears but quickly reappears behind Charlie, standing with her right hand on his shoulder. He reaches out with both hands and sweeps them limply across the horizon and all the cityscape disappears, folds up like a paper fan, a concertina squeeze. The river drains slowly away and green grass creep up and over everything, small grey good natured stones randomly here and there, hills and knolls. Charlie raises one arm up and a tree spouts and then another and another and fresh lime green leaves blossom out.
“You know me, I always go for the classic stuff. Yep, I’m going to be here, you see. Dreaming my Icani dreams, feeling so enchanted, made of nothing but hungry flesh and blood. Let it all die away from lack of care, total lack of any care, neglect it to death, at the expense of my sanity but to the benefit of reverie, pure foolishness.”
Without his noticing, while he spoke, the woman walked out from behind him and vanished, she could be seen walking slowly around the trees and threading around behind them, her hair and clothes still billowing and cascade-careening.
“And I am not going to mind at all. I’ll just sit here, all alone if I have to, under my baroque old stars, too yellow for illumination, perfect for infatuation.”
The smell of sweet smoke hit his nose, tobacco, cigar smoke. And slowly emerging from the vapid air was a tall man in olive drab fatigues, medium length hair, unruly, beard, black beret with a dark red star patch. He holds his hand out to Charlie in a gesture to help him stand up. Cigar smoke bulging ballooning all over the place, filling in every spot.
“And if I do get up, I’ll get up and walk through all these silver maples and cold mountain cedars.”
He takes the man’s hand and he stands up. The man grins.
“And I’ll go off on my own, my own way, searching for sweet water springs, elixirs, fountains of youth, Ansu, old fashioned Sumerian strolls, fight some monsters. And goddamnit, never do a thing other and never spend a dime or have any need for one.”
“How revolutionary.” the man says.
“Tell me about it. And you know where I learned it.”
The man nodded and walked in front of Charlie as they made their way past the old river bed and into the wooded grove.
“You know I’ve always been a Marxist.”
The man nodded.
“And it has never really been because particularly interested in economics or wealth redistribution.” Charlie struggled to say, his black necktie too tight around his throat now that he was up and moving around. He loosened it. The man shrugged and took a long hard drag off his cigar and blew out a ton of fragrant Cuban smoke.
“More it was that I found myself no believing in anything, not being a part of anything. That’s an uncomfortable feeling.”
“It is.” the man agreed between iron breaths of smoke, his teeth clinching around it, trying to clamp down on it, hold it.
“And I have this steel-atheist mind, won’t brook any bending, any gust, any zephyr, so I found the great big soft breaded arms of Marx to be the most amiable, the most easily acceptable. I don’t give a damn if it works or not. I don’t give a damn if it ever takes the world by storm or not. I’m only in it for the fashion, for the space, for the place to be.” Charlie found it hard to walk, hard to keep up with the obviously fit and trim disciplined man in fatigues, it was hot and he was wearing down. He took the powder blue blazer, worn at the cuffs of the sleeves, off and let it drop on the ground behind him as he walked on.
Charlie stopped walking. He stood perfectly still and watched the man walk on without him. He was suddenly gripped with a fanatical contemplation. He felt like a burnt match, black withered tip, all graceful smolder and dark scented, slightly bend, threatening to crumble. He watched as the women with wild black hair circling the trees greeted the soldier as he passed by, slowly melding with the thick atmospheric horizon between the trees. Everything was so slow. So slow.
He looked down at his feet and saw he was standing in sand. Sand was far as the eye could see, yellow gold and white each grain a tiny sparkle. He turned to look behind and were he had dropped his blazer, the long long open stretch of sea. The ocean. The surf was pounding in on the beach, sounded like drums, wet slosh of primitive rhythm. He heard a little voice, a child voice, coming up from the beach, not far from his ankles.
“But you know, you needn’t be confined to reality. That is your point after all, isn’t it?”
Charlie looked down and saw a small girl in a bright red sundress playing in the sand, building castles, little structures, pinching up bits between her fingers and scattering it around, at times tossing up into the air and letting fly. Like some spell, some esoteric, magic, enchantment, but that is how Charlie always viewed engineering, architecture, something beyond the pale of normal human understanding.
“Well, I for one, see no reason why you should ascribe to a largely discredited and at times mindlessly violent political ideology just for the tiny benefit of feeling like you belonged.” the little girl reached out her hand and toppled over one of the tallest towers.
“I mean, if nothing in world spoke to you in the way you were seeking, you simply manufacture your own salvation. That is the mind’s purpose. Sincere sincerity, the unfathomable unplumbable depths of human creative psyche. You’ve done it before. Remember?”
“Hm? Oh the cults, the solar systems, the bestiaries, that is what fantasy is all about, that is where they hide the truth you know?”
The little girl nodded.
“November sixteenth, that was the day I created the cult of Figgishand, the canned tuna god. That was a blast. Boredom never treated me any better.”
Again she nodded and with both hands piled more sand up in a loaf shaped mound and begin making designs, long designs on the top with her fingers.
“And the ends of reality, beyond the edges of certainty, out beyond the limits of our universe where there still exist a people called , the Krekel, unfettered and not tethered to any planet or rocky terrain. They live in pure space and build their hive like lives there, eating total air, and surviving in part on our indifference, disregard. They worship a benevolent Jerusalem cricket named Yu, underleggs jammed full of eggs and life and wonderful gifts.”
“Now that is imagination! That is life, freedom.” the little girl piped up.
“Well maybe, I had been reading a lot of Douglas Adams at the time. Certainly he deservers partial credit.”
The ocean contuied to roll it, the tide swelling. Sunlight glinting as the sun dropped steadily lower. Charlie looked back down toward the little girl but she was gone, castle gone, and as he was watching, the beach was gone and Charlie found himself standing, inexpertly, in the middle of the pure blue ocean, water up to his ankles and creeping up, all alone. It was apparent he was sinking. He would soon be swallowed up by the water and he would drown. As soon as panic struck him and he was about to fling his arms and legs around in what would certainly be a mortal disaster, he saw come rising up over the sloping horizon, a small wooden boat. It was nearing him fast. He could the splash of the oars beating the surface and in a split second it was pulling up right next to him. The wild woman, the long ferocious black hair twisting and waving and fluttering around the both of them, her long dress flapping and snaking around her body.
Charlie just stared at her. The surprise to much for him, he didn’t notice the blue-green salty water was making its way up his body, to his waist now.
“Unless you want to drown.”
“Huh…aaa, um, no.” He climbed in the boat.
“Start rowing.” She barked.
“How? never mind.” the awe wearing off, Charlie never had much patience for astonishment, he kept his wonderment to himself.
“So, how does the ocean make you feel?” the woman asked, a slight grin creeping over her face.
“Um, lonely, yeah, lonely, helpless, I guess, but…but still it feels alive, right. What an odd sensation.
The black hair woman nodded.