Plenty: A Story in Pictures
Plenty: A Story in Words
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!”
A moment later, grandfather’s not there. The world rocks as a shadow takes over. I hit something hard, then fall to the deck. The ship lurches.
Here it comes.
The wood falls apart and sucks me downwards. 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 little piece of wood under me, the length of a leg. There’s not a thing left in the world. Just me. Just me.
The wave is gone. No sign of it anywhere. Below me, I can feel the gentle tugging of the ship. It’s at the bottom. Grandfather’s standing on the deck, yelling at me to join him. “Grandfather,” I tell him, “tidy yourself. Then swim up here. I need the company.” But he just waves me away, as he stands on that deck, drowned.
Two days later, my will is just as strong. There’s been no sign 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 positions by which I could hang on to the wood. By the third day, I’ve tried them all. The alternative is simple. I could let go. And just like that, I’m under the water, like the decision was already made. Like the wave is here again, eager for me.
Or am I floating?
Here’s a desert.
“I’m sure I was drowning,” I tell the heat. “How did I get here?”
It’s not sand. There’re 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 can’t sink and never 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 in mud 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 have my remains. 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 grandfather, dripping blood everywhere. His hand is gone. His eyes are water.
The morning starts again.
It was just dreams. First the ocean, then the desert. Wake up, whispers Gerald in my ear.
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. They have those little finger foods that make me want more even though I can feel them swimming about in that fishbowl that’s just formed in my stomach. I think I’m going to 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’re 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 girls.
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. He’d like that. But he looks like a corpse, and no one in their right mind would go for a corpse.
“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 says 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.
“Wake up!” comes a voice. Then it whispers, “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 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. But are we sure those ancestors had it wrong? 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 as best I can, for this is our game. But he cuts me off. “Yes, yes, of course the great civilizations have created some benefit. But the trend is clear. On our current 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, they will find only 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.
The pioneers come in a few minutes after us. Most are dressed in silk, some in suits. Their leader is blond. 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 pioneers. Tomas! He is an excellent man. “A grand voyage, fellows! Will you take my contribution?” He gestures at them, and they rise to their feet. The blond one comes first.
Mesopotamia falls at that moment with a crack of noise, in great torrents of dust amidst wails and cries. Is the world spinning, or am I? I sit, watching. Tomas flings me towards the safety of the street.
There are bullets everywhere. Someone catches one in their face, embraces it with their lips, takes it inside them. Tomas pulls me into a doorway.
“Of course!” he cries. There is blood on his hand. “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 begins to loosen, then 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 chainsaw 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. Lips parched, limbs thrashing. Here I am, begging for water.
Thrash. 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. The skin is peeling off my face. 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.
The wave is gone. It lives on. I cry out, “Gerald!” But he can’t hear me.
No one hears me. Not now, not before. I’m mute, or everyone’s deaf. Either way, it’s silent. All these dreams, in all these places, in all this silence.
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 and calm myself. I put on my watch. It’s past four in the morning.
I walk into the other room and open the fridge door. 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 cupboard 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. I can see row upon row of tall concrete and glass. They’re called buildings, and they stretch into the eternities as far as I can see. We all 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, 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?
I don’t write like this anymore. It’s an old, old story, just updated. I think it’s too dreamy to be cohesive, too vague to be anything at all. But it does present a point in time, as the narrator flips through reality in search of humanity and what it means – and more to the point, what it’s worth. Thanks for reading.