*response to last post.
Smiling, faking, fast, that’s his face.
That’s the last I’ll see of it.
A mouth opens and shooting stars come out. “Here she comes,” whispers grandfather.
It’s a wave.
“Here it comes!”
But grandfather’s not there. The world rocks as a shadow takes over. I hit something, fall to the deck.
Here it comes.
Space falls apart and sucks me downwards. I can’t tell – am I floating or am I sinking? Here I am, a young man, an invaluable member of the human race. Here I am, thoughtful and sensitive, hopeful and productive. I am indispensable, or so I am told. Here I am, with one last thought in me. One last thought.
I stroke for the surface and hope that it’s still there. But I’m already there. And the world is calm. The sky is clear. I’ve got a piece of wood under me, the length of a leg. A thousand different ways I could hold on, and this is the one I’ve chosen. There’s not a thing left in the world. Just me. Just me.
The wave is gone.
Two days later, my will is just as strong. No signs of a ship, no cries of people. No animals, no leaves, no songs. They say life came from the oceans.
Two days is such a long time. And I’m so thirsty. I’d rather be in a treasure trove with my arms cut off than here in this place with all the medicine I’ll ever need, could ever imagine, around me. I’ve dreamt of the plenty, of the need for more. Here it is, the greatest incarnation of the plenty that ever was. Here it is.
A thousand ways I could hang on. By the third day, I’ve tried them all. The alternative is simple. I could let go. The little things swimming around in the water around me, those demons, they want me to. Just sink, they say. There’s so much more to see under the water than above it.
But something nags, just under the surface, in the place where we the valuable specimens are meant for better things. And I wonder. And I drown.
Or am I floating?
Here’s a desert.
It’s not sand; there’s no dunes. It’s rock, cracked in shapes that look a little like people. If rock were worth money, I would buy the whole thing and auction it off to the highest bidder, because that’s the way business works. Then I would buy a ship that could never sink and refuse to sail it, because everything sinks sooner or later. Even water. Even me.
The sun is right over my head. I don’t even cast a shadow, except for the black smudge on the ground beneath me. Not even really a shadow, just a hole in the heat. So, could I crawl under my own shadow and use it for relief? Use it for relief from this heat?
My goddamn grandfather once told me, just before he went out behind the shed drunk to shoot off his hand, that one day the sun will blow up, the poles will melt, and the deserts will absorb the water that comes rushing in. When he came back from the shed, he was grinning like a pig, like a pig on a rooftop that just spied the prettiest lady swine that ever was. He bled until he passed out.
But the sun isn’t blowing up, the poles aren’t melting, and there won’t be any relief from this inferno. At least there are no vultures here to pick at me. No, I’ll be alone. This will be the greatest and grandest cemetery ever constructed, and it will be all mine. Thank God.
“Old man, what are you doing here?” It’s my grandfather, dripping blood everywhere.
And then the morning starts again. And the day renews. Floating and sinking get separated by the sands; the hot sands where I found the ship, and then the wave.
Here I am on a luxurious beach, watching the waves, watching the waves. I’m in a big threaded chair. I’ve got a drink, one of those fruity affairs. Behind me, there’s a five bloody star hotel so filled to the brim with cleanliness that it makes me grin all the time. They have buffets to die for. And they have those little finger foods that make me want more even though I can feel them swimming about in the fishbowl that’s just formed in my stomach. I think I’m gonna be ill just thinking about them, but for some reason or another, I always go back. To have another one. Or maybe a drink.
Divine. It’s divine, Gerald.
There’s girls here, too, girls like I’ve never seen before. They’re hardly wearing anything, they’re pretty, and they’re oh so willing. Oh, my heart! I’m a young man, indispensable if you believe the newspapers. But I swear I could burst for looking at all these creatures swarming over the sands, rushing to bring me drinks. There’s enough even for Gerald, who thinks he’s a martyr because he doesn’t want to stay in this hotel and drink drinks and enjoy the sights.
Grandfather just stands there and bleeds. Maybe if he got a bandage on his hand or shaved or brushed his teeth, some of the girls would go for him. But he looks like a corpse, and no one in their right mind would go for that.
“Clean yourself up, Grandfather.”
But he only smiles, and the blood soaks into the sand. Little flowers start growing there. He’s lived a life, almost an entire life. But there’s a thought in the back of his mind that this is the right place to be, even though he’s old, drunk and bloody disgusting. He just wants what’s coming to him, and thinks he’s found it. The flowers are halfway up his body. He can smell them by now.
“Grandfather,” I call to him. He opens his mouth. But then he’s gone again. It’s all gone.
“Wake up!” comes a voice. Then a whisper, “Wake up.”
Of course it’s just a dream. Of course. I never had a grandfather.
The class is over. And I’ve missed the whole thing. “Where’s Gerald?” I ask.
Tomas turns to me. “Who?” He’s wearing his hair down to his shoulders. We walk out of the lecture hall. The grass is wet.
“The quasi-pseudo intellectual basis – the State – is the problem,” says Tomas. He knows a great deal, this boy from the north who is about to be married and then probably divorced. He’s put as much preparation into the latter as the former, and it makes me wonder how it could possibly be worth it. “If you read our old stories, they are filled with cruelty and barbarism – how happily we sit in judgement of our ancestors, all because we have finally invented civilization. No, do not laugh! For each law that has been formulated, we have mended a broken arm, prevented a rape, fed an impoverished child, etc. But so too have we seen an increase in mental distortion – we progressively become more mad as we are prevented from doing the things that are true to our nature. Civilization is a religion, my friend, a striving, an unnatural thing that tortures us with constraints when constraints are not what we want. It is a box, our laws the lid, and we entrapped within.”
Tomas! He believes his argument the way he dances, with a hand in the air and his eyes half-shut. I argue with him as best I can, for this is our game. But he cuts me off. “Yes, yes, the great civilizations, I know. But the trend is clear. On this path, we will end up with a world populated by buildings that can never fall, by crops that can never fail, and by genes that are never perverted. But we will also never smile again, and when we meet with whomsoever lives amongst the stars, all they will find in us is a collection of lunatics.”
“I see,” I reply, and then beg him to tell me again why he would want to be married.
Mesopotamia is the name of the little coffee shop at the corner of Helic and Ghasnor on the west side. We drink coffee on the patio, stirred with cinnamon. There are Greek figures carved into the walls, and the owner is a Frenchman who cannot speak French. Even his English is bad. His one true tongue is unknown.
The Vedasians come in a few minutes after us. Most are dressed in silk, some are in suits. Their leader is blond, moustached; he glances at us as he leans back in his chair. “Look at them,” says Tomas. “They are talking about an expedition to the palisades, to find a mineral that will help them with their new steam. It is black, this stuff, so hot that it will melt iron. When it sprays from the exhausts, it leaves behind a geyser of dust and the smell of menthol. This is how they want us to turn from the earth. But only if they can find their mineral.” He stands up and bows to the Vedasians. “A grand voyage, fellows! Will you take my contribution?” He gestures at them, laughs. They rise to their feet.
The blond one tucks his notebook into his pocket. “We will find it,” he promises. “And you’ll look up some day and see silver stacks burning heat that won’t blacken the world the way you’d have it.”
Tomas is close to dancing, one against so many. “And then what? Surely there will come a time when there is no more space for your temples – what will you do then? Head to the stars? Head to the depths of the earth? Either way, find me there. Or find me now – it’s up to you!” He starts toward the blond one, laughing, dancing.
Mesopotamia falls at that moment with a crack of noise. Great torrents of dust… Great wails and cries… Is the world spinning or am I? I sit, watching. Tomas grabs me and flings me away. For the safety of the street.
There are bullets everywhere. Someone catches one in their face, takes it with their lips, takes it inside; and from the hole leap forth stallions of joy, falling to the ground in stampede. Tomas pulls me into a doorway.
“Of course!” he cries. There is blood on him. “Of course it’s the State!” But I don’t know what he means. I never know what he means. His grip on my hand loosens. It fades.
Tomas! But he’s gone. Mesopotamia is gone. It won’t come back.
And so it’s a field. And here’s a forest.
A moon hangs from a dimple; a blade lies rusted on a bush. There are a thousand trees around me. If trees were like gold, I would buy the world. I’d sell it off, sell it all. And then I would find a beach… A sandy beach with a wispy chair, where the girls will bring me drinks. And yet this looks so much like the rock of the desert instead, with lips parched. And limbs thrashing. Here I am, begging for water.
Thrashing. Here’s an ocean.
There’s water, and I’m on a piece of wood. Half of me is under, kicking away the demons. It’s been five days. No water, no food, no relief. No one to talk to, no one to touch. Beneath me, in the depths, is the ship and everyone on it.
They say life came from the oceans. I don’t believe it!
Or maybe this is hell, to be dappled with thirst and yet to have all this water around me. Treasure troves would suit me better, I think. I remember the touch of hard land. My world was once there. Then my world was a ship, and around it was nothing.
The wave is gone. It lives on.
“Gerald!” But he can’t hear me. He never was. He wasn’t even a dream. None of them were. This is the place where waves distil what is true, and thoughts give shape to songs that visit in sleep. This is what we have. There is plenty of it to go around.
It’s just a room. Nothing elaborate. Just a room. Small, untidy, low with a window.
I’m on the bed, thrashing. Until I grab hold of the sheets. I put on my watch. It’s past four in the morning.
I walk into the other room and open the fridge. Behind me, something skitters to a safe place under the stove. There’s food in here, enough to see me through. I turn on the lights. They don’t make things any better. When the meanings are gone, this is what’s left: a door leading to a rainbow, an eggshell full of gold, a radio that sings in my voice. And tomorrow, eager to spring forth with great vision and happiness, is always there. Ready for me.
I walk back to the bedroom and hate the heat some more. There’s the window – grandfather would hate this view, with its rows upon rows of concrete and glass. They’re called buildings, and we move around them, even though we put them there.
They’re all the same. It’s all the same. There’s plenty of it, everywhere. It’s called humanity. If it were money, I’d buy a starship and head into the heavens. Because I’d be rich with it.
In the end, looking on it all, I wonder, and this is what I think: if I closed my eyes and tried hard enough, might not I still be dreaming, even if it meant a watery grave or a burning death?
Or even the fall of Mesopotamia?