That face that stared back at his own in the dim reflection was said to be his. There was no surety of this as a fact beyond the fact that it seemed to follow him around. And turn up whenever he thought to recheck it. He could not recall when it had first appeared beyond an estimate of a decade back; Or maybe two. Something an unseen power had placed upon the framework of his skull having collected what had been draped there before. Old and haggard beyond what he reckoned was his chronological age he felt that he had been at the mercy of a thief. The thief after all was time. And it stole in unseen to rob one far i advance of when it was expected. But then again, perhaps it was his fault. Someone who thought too much? Put wrinkles on the brow. Crow’s feet at the crease of the eyelid. Let the mouth form its most favored posture into the saddle of a droop. Who was to blame for that? Life? Disappointment? Someone from his past that had not acted in a manner in accordance with some unspoken dream or passing whim? “It was the ego, my boy, the ego!” He used to laugh at those petty dowagers of the past who hung onto their riches but couldn’t hang on to their looks. “It was worse for a man!” he thought. Not because the world cared. It didn’t. When you were considered past it, it didn’t care. Simple.
The elastic that could stretch into so many various guises was brittle now barely able to support the one. Quite frankly the times of the day that he felt best was when he was by himself somewhere oblivious of everyone else. Youthful in spirit as he had always felt by default. No interruptions. No distractions. Pondering some topic like a stepping stone to another on a path that would never end. The wonder of it! Immortality in a chain of ever expanding thoughts. The time to know all bereft of time. All the days of one’s life put together into a single never ending solitary one. Day and night simply passing clouds temporarily obscuring things for a moment here or there. A perfect level of unbroken lucidity and perfect understanding. This was of course too much to ask of anyone. By anyone! Yet one can only dream. The diving board of death awaited. Despite this obsession with aging he felt ever prepared to take the leap when required. But it was the waiting that was killing him! The greatest mystery unable to be shared by mankind as a whole. “One at a time please!“, The boatman must have gotten of yelling eons ago. No wonder death was silent. How many times can you say the same thing before you get mentally hoarse? Just move em’ along an toss a couple of penny’s on their eyes! Or was it the other way around an it served as the fare for the ride? Who could keep it straight? If death suddenly got confused or developed dyslexia then was that the so-called second coming/ Pull those souls out of the ground like turnips in early September? “Geez!“, he mused? “Who spent their spare time thinking such thoughts?”
What a bunch of scoundrels! The rest of the world was full of them. Those who pushed the envelope. Those who were never satisfied. Those who pushed the others ahead of them so as to clear the way faster for some innovative hair brain scheme that while it might seem to succeed provided little to the quality of being alive. Technology might indeed shine a beacon but it was a light that blinded one. Before you got used to it, some other idiot was hitting you with another dumb idea confusing you even further.The human mind could only travel so fast. It had to plod along at its own speed. Not be kicked and cajoled from behind like being chased by a bunch of angry boys who have run out of things to do on a school playground. How much more rational to enoy thus occasional accelerated periods of genius that were unexpectedly summoned! But how was the world served? Long lines and short exceptions. Generally no one that you or anyone else was familiar with. They seemed to have the keys to the back doors. You did not. Maybe they were the ones that traded in faces? Stealing the young ones right off you while you slumbered hapless and unaware? “It wouldn’t surprise him a bit!” he thought. His own genius was enough for him. Even if it proved to be of lesser quantity or lacking universal respect. History was passing him by.
Vanity! How any things were simply a matter of arbitrary wants that drove one into abject despair? Too much shelled out for so little. A mad rush to change yourself when, as he was all too well aware of, someone else was in charge of your personality. How curious the notion of two figures accompanying in the New Year, Father Time and some unnamed snot nosed infant. A really absurd idea when you thing that the sum total of their respective identity was simply the year in passing and the year to come. Two mile posts that all were to run past. Trot at a healthy pace half blind and drunk trying to avoid one or trip over the other. Where the Hell did all this lead? That point past the realization of finality seeing all effort re-tasked to simply building walls. Bulwarks against scarcity. Must have plenty to insure having a full belly! Brass handles on the casket. Visitations by all those who claimed to know you while your remains lay in a flip top box probably lacking even a pair of pants or undershorts under the belly cover. The last big laugh! But then no one would most probably bother to show up. Another vanity. A last ditch hope to achieve in one last breath what a lifetime of huffing and puffing could not manage. At least the skeleton armature resting deep down underneath seemed unaffected. The time old adages came to mind. “Live fast, die young, and be a good looking corpse!” or “Having the last penny bounce out of one’s pocket after the last breath.” The man looked up and caught another glimpse of himself. The stone face looked back impassively. One would have thought that no one was alive behind the blankness of the two cold unmoving eyes. “How odd?“, he thought. Who in the Hell was that in there anyhow?
Does the light as opposed to the dark cleanse your mind of the past? Its deeds and emotions, the recollections of attempts gone sour to achieve something of note in society but always fall short. “If I were a king old I would knight you both!“, he said. The two young boy’s enthusiasm in the play of their chess pieces interrupted by the old man’s folly.
Somehow fortune had smiled. Or had it? He had secured a job in an elite ad agency and had arrived to show his manifold talents. A chance encounter of sorts had presented his name to this agencies’ head. A madcap individual who embed with an honored reputation in the industry careened about the floor of his own shop like a Caliph eyeing necks to cut. The young man felt that eye lurking about ready to smight his own hopes and dreams and struggled for something he could do. A reason to be in that place and excel in a manner that he assumed his destiny would lead him. But there seemed nowhere to sit in this fast paced environment? And worse yet, he was unable to recall any exact instructions given by his new employer or anyone else. And so he wandered from desk to desk. His physical being actively ignored viewing pile of work and all manner of pads, and paper and drawing instruments but afraid that if he disturbed the wrong chaotic pile that it would lead to his instant termination. Anything vaguely useful to the cause of providing a creative platform within the dust and jumbled on the floor. All the while the presence of that owner’s watchful eye wondering in disgust why he had invited such an incompetent into his midst?
Late that afternoon in a palatial hall at a gathering that had the dynamics of a large gaudy overstuffed convention the young man was equally surprised that he was allowed entry and with a temporary companion who had no stated identity that could be recollected swept through the echelons of seating surrounding the speaker’s dais. Both looking for something close enough to hear their big boss who was being honored as an honored guest speaker having taken the microphone. His voice boomed about the Baroque columns painted in exotic greens and gold. Emblems of filigree enigmatic but providing greater beauty through their intricacy evident in every direction. The bleachers at the far corner where the young man briefly took up station being so remote that he thought that it was actually upon a street in the worst part of town. A black face opening up a window on the second floor across peering out to their street engaged by foreign revelers of the very same class that oppressed them. Every corner of the auditorium filled with troublesome angry looking rivals their facial expressions ever at was with the other. The man eventually taking cover beside a twin sculpture of two figures that had been temporarily covered for the event with plywood and a faux grill. Their matched pair of hands entwined in some arcane significant unconscious embrace. He studied this jewel of aesthetics of the past as he heard his boss’s world pounding down from above.
Feeling that he had hit on something elemental suggesting the creative solution to his ongoing dilemma he wandered off to the back of the hall to find his fellow. The hallways was as much a garden marked by rich growth of luxuriant species of plant life. Ever the dreamer had he not been in a hurry it would have become evident his had wandered into his own thoughts. A wedding party, its member’s richly dressed lingered about the men sitting and conversing in a manner that suggested the ceremonies aftermath. Though he was in no way dined, the young man felt that he needed to return back to his own party. That in some way it might end and he not be part of the throng to be counted as faithful. Swiftly heading back but down the wrong path confronted by some strangely configured varieties of birds that by their haphazard physical construction seemed more the pets of demons from another world than species resident on earth. He took the hint and retraced his steps staying just ahead of their flamingo-like communal gait. Back in the entryway lobby heading back to his starting point.
But exchanged for the old reality of a formal ceremonial meeting was another experience completely different. One composed of facsimiles of the same characters yet more in the setting of the lecture space of an auditorium of a college that had been sequestered by rambunctious students hell bent on frivolity of their generation. The mundane uniforms of the grouped young prevailing up the steps in chaotic repose. The young man having been brought into this amphitheater taken by the hand of a comely sylph that had instantly enchanted him. The lingering promise of her equally prompt disappearance being that if he old discover he whereabouts amidst this throng then she would be his. And so he began his performance trying to stay in character without he classic heroes of old. Traipsing up and down the stairs making overly theatrical motions and gestures at every despoiled, “Ahha“. The sly artifice of the moment summoned only to buoy his own quickly deflating hopes of a fading solution. Defeated evermore until out of desperation he grabbed a hose and sprayed the entire assembly dousing all. To equal measures of his shock and surprise lay an old maiden laying unconscious upon her front under the full extent of the flowing carpet of her own long auburn hair. A love of old turned sour, decades past the age of any other in the room. That fairer sylph long gone and his apparent prize subsumed within the indignity of this more ancient example of womanhood. His own shock leading to the fact that he like she was in fact too old for these games of frivolity. The two of them now fully revealed as being many decades advanced beyond that of all the surrounding audience.
“Give me an analogy that I can deal with!“, said Perkins. That wasn’t much to go on by any means he stated to the surrounding throng who had about as much of the eighty year old upstart as any small enclave could withstand. “If you didn’t talk so damn much about it you damned fool!“, said the black lady named Betsy, “Then you wouldn’t notice it so much at all!” Perkins pulled in his head a bit like a tortoise and looked around the room of the wheelchair bound. “I don’t belong here!”, he groused in a low tone not meant to be audible. The others in his vicinity turned away. With some violence Perkins grabbed the outside railing of his wheels and did a vigorous 180 turn with the destination in mind of his own room down the hall from the day lounge. The analogy that Perkins was trying to conjugate was now elusive. The heat of his out burst a minute before was still hot but the thought behind it had sailed off. His lower arms and shoulder blades hurt from the sudden release of energy. “Seventy-six years old is no joke!“, had started off the conversation with a groan. The room full of octogenarians were not buying it. Perkins never liked the nineteen-fifties anyhow. Most of these old clowns had been born just before the war. He could still recall the darkness and and squalor of an old bars in Streeterville One that he had happened to visit on an infrequent trips along with his father as his little ‘monkey‘. The grimace on that old man’s face sitting by the bar in back that everyone called, “Frankenstein“. His father had a habit of taking his little boy on sales trips to keep him company. Perkins could recall many an hour alone in the back seat of his father’s auto biding his time watching out for traffic cops and counting the type of hats on passing pedestrians. The thought of it seemed like someone else’s life now. Not his own.
The big lanky male Filipino attendant came up to him as he tried to turn into his room. “You not feeling so fine, Mr. P?“, the tall man in nurse’s pajamas drawled in a discernible approximation of English. Perkins turned abruptly distracted and the wheelchair glanced into the door and bounced a bit. The impact jarring the catheter that was stuck up his penis so that he could feel its dourness yet again. The nurse instinctively grabbing the handles of the two wheeled chair and wheeling it to the nearest of two beds. The one by the window occupied by a horizontal form deposed to what barely passed for sleep in the midst of a constant wheezing noise. The attendant now bent over checking around the slippered feet of the chair’s rider checking the clear plastic lead and half filled bag of urine attached to it. “You got ways to go on these one!”, the man stated as he hung the flabby moist container of accrued urine on the hook off the side of the bottom of the bed that Perkins sat across from. “Ya needs some help!“, the man’s blank face mouthed not waiting for a reply but indifferently grabbing hold of the arm of the chair’s inmate. “Don’t run away with that chair Mr. Brown“, quipped Perkins testily. “You suppose ta be using deez walker!?”, the tall figure replied as he quickly wheeled it to the corner by the door out of reach. The man exiting as Perkin’s purloined convince loosely tilted slowly back a foot out of position from a tilt in the floor. “The whole damn place is so out of true its worse off than I am!“, Perkins spat under his breath. The saw tone melody of labored breath rising and falling in mostly regular intervals. “You still alive in their Danny!” The long low sloping hill beneath the covering of a cotton ruff blanket didn’t stir. “Fucking great!“, his equally ambulatory companion thought as he sat inert on the bed’s edge.
Perkins felt around under his left thigh tugging at the plastic lead that he was half sitting on. “Could things be any worse?“, he thought. Sequestered in this dank musty little corner of mostly forgotten Hell. The world outside seemed an equal fiction to that of his childhood. He could recall that it had begun to slide away from ten years before when the edema was merely a briefly lasting impression of the fore finger into the side of his ankle. “The family curse.”, he thought resignedly. “A gift from the old man.”, he mechanically mouthed to himself without thinking. “The ‘old man’.“, his mind digested the phrase. “HE was the old man now!“, he thought as his white stubble peppered jaw slowly dropped. His hand rising up to cup and rub his chin and cheek in absent minded solace. Life squeezed out of his ailing frame like an old toothpaste tube. He stared upwards at the top of the far window at some lingering cobwebs. A blank distant stare into a long accustomed void awaiting his drift. The world in the mist beyond it a strange familiar thing that had the trappings of places and things not in familiar reach for what must have been several decades. The trip he had taken to Europe that time he got the award from the magazine in Milan Italy for his computer driven artwork. That old worn out apartment on the second floor furnished half in ‘early American alley‘. The myriads of half-finished dusty articles of his female friend’s loft across town. His mother fussing about the small galley sized kitchen of the family condo some fifteen minutes north in the next bordering town. A thousand equally nondescript recalls in minor details a mundane unnoteworthy everyday existence. That hint of success that always seemed to lurk nearby threatening to move things forward from where they had slowed down to a crawl sometime in the past. How had it come to this? It was as if he was somewhere in a dream waiting to awaken back there once again. That point some several decades before when he still had friends and the hope that one of the opportunities he had hoped for would finally come through. “Hope?“, he mused. “What in the Hell was that to him at this point?”
The wheezing beside Perkins had settled down into a whisper. The bent figure of something approximating human lay inert upon the ancient bailey. Perhaps an offering to some immortal indifferent god that hadn’t got around as of yet to collect it. Perkins reached the catheter kid his legs as he weightily swung his aching waterlogged swollen limbs on the bed. He lay back upon the rumpled pillows that were shoved up against the mattress that was canted up on a slight angle. The solitary spot on the ceiling where the plaster had been chipped off was still there. A small hold that that had several cracks radiating out from it into solid ceiling. The fissure so many times explored in the boredom before another fitful episode of dreaming. “What wonders lurked just beyond its mystery?“, he pondered. Something to escape to? Something not old and tired and used up but wholly undiscovered? The voice from an old movie sprang up automatically. “A new life in the colonies awaits where you can start again!” it boomed in its far off echo. His mind sailing past spinning gas planets and bright nebula. Himself in the chair of a pilot’s cabin of some gigantic space transport hurtling at a tremendous rate of speed. The feeling of unbounded power of the ship and its increasing speed coursing through him. The vistas speeding past vibrant in color and electricity. “It’s time for your pills Mr. P!” a stocky female voice rang out. Perkins opened his eyes and looked over at the obese black nurse holding a small tray mostly covered with small paper cups. Without waiting for him to make a move she took one of them and handed it towards him mechanically. The room smelled of farts. The woman’s nose slightly wrinkled in a mild form of perpetual discontent stared blankly at Perkins as he resignedly reached over to take the cup and bring it towards his mouth. “You need some water with that?” she said holding out a second slightly larger cup. He slowly shook his head closing his eyes as he did so and swallowed hoping inside that it was somehow a mis-apportioned dose of arsenic. He resumed his stare focusing his eyes skyward back up at the ceiling. The ship that he had been piloting was now was far beyond his reach outside of the galaxy. He would have to wait for the next one. If indeed one ever showed up again.
It was late in the middle of the night at bewitching hour that I awoke once again prodded by what I suppose by the usual animal urge to relieve some needful urgent pressure from below of bowel or bladder declining slowly into middle-aged atrophy. The temperature of the time of year was not in line with the expected though frankly speaking little expectation remained of it being normal with the people of my area of the country. The last decade or so seeing uncustomary shifts of same. This time leaning towards a feeling in keeping with late Fall. The sweater I had worn to bed had done its job along with the bedcovers and the t-shirt and cotton cloth jogging pants were now clinging and damp with sweat. The ceiling directly above me bore a faint hint of the most available light that was available inside the room. It being cloaked by the usual shadows and darkness. The apartment overall was dead silent.. But the memory or two other voices still rang in the lingering hollow chamber of my own slowly draining unconsciousness.
I found myself accompanying my late father yet once again in his large Lincoln Continental automobile through the streets of a small town located on the periphery of that greater more well-known Midwestern metropolis that had provide the hub for out mutual existence. A place that we had grown up in our respective eras. He initially on its mean streets during the awkward period of the Great Depression between the two great World Wars. And myself in the era following where he and my mother had taken advantage of the new prosperity to make a reasonably bountiful existence from the living his career as a salesman provided. He ever cognizant of how precious life was after so many undeserved hard knocks both before and in-between. I having been shielded from direct experience of them by him for most of my childhood and early adult life. The solitude of being the solitary offspring compounding the dilemma of ever defying our close relationship by an attitude of condescension towards his views on life. And chronically offering evidence of this cynicism to him on too many occasions that were later regretted in hindsight. We both in some strange was too ready to take advantage of the other. He in vouchsafing my the uneasy silence of my company despite my affliction to too readily offer pesky judgement. Myself in reluctant succumbing to a need for loving companionship from that same old man whose health and vitality were forever in rapid decline. The men of his era characteristically afflicted in too many cases with coronary infarctions of the heart perhaps as a result of having endured the sorrows of seeing too much pain and suffering visited upon general humanity in their experience of life? Being privy to want at an early age to constant hunger and slim pickings. And then being thrust into a chaotic world far afield demanding his unhesitating participation in constant killing of other distant species of human beings. Something that I had always sensed but like an unbreakable taboo demanding absolute silence had never dared to violate with my inquiry. His feelings about it ever demonstrated in random acts of giving to complete strangers as well as a healthy disdain for harboring most things of a material nature once the purpose that they served had gone past its useful life.
He had me for his chauffeur on this occasion as we trolled the main streets of the old long economically leached downtown that decades before had been one of the myriad of locales that he had actively plied his wares. The familiarity of it clear in memory as it once had been closer to its heyday still lodged in childhood glimpses. Locales many of them where I had been with him so many times before coming along for the ride to wait in the car while he made a sales pitch at some merchant’s place of business. Offering them a way to get their business’ message on track to reach new customers with hundreds of thousands of ‘eye impressions’. The same local establishments now significant for their absence by displacement or dissolution. Something that mutually offered both he and I the experience of melancholy of common knowledge of being inducted to the special feelings about how this world once was against the way that it had ended up. The side lanes approaching the vicinity of the town’s most major boulevard along its most celebrated main drag still several blocks ahead, he bid me to pull over and park before an old movie theater and wait while he got out to visit a store across the street. The old ingrained reluctance within me to protest stopped short by the now constant weight of knowledge that as this man was nearing the end of the trail of life no request simple or otherwise could be easily tossed off. I sat alone with the motor running instinctually watching for the approach of a parking ticket happy cop or meter maid taking in the effects of urban blight on what must have been an exceptional movie palace in its day. The neighborhood at close view had descended like all place from that era tended to into a local for whores and druggies that seemed to collect wherever there might be the opportunity for quick and easy pickings. The constant lack of opportunity and financial collapse that hounded this modern time evidencing a bumper crop of same. A tall thin frousy looking female appeared just ahead of the Lincoln eyeing the possibilities for plying her trade as what I assumed by the cut of her clothing to be a somewhat burned out streetwalker. My father returning at just that moment from the other direction crossing just ahead of passing traffic that drove his progress in her direction. I felt my insides sink as the evident collision of the immediate fact of her youthful appearance and his insatiable desire to relive his youth would occasion an immediate conversation. It had been so typical that he had been quick to ever engage in these sorts of connections with a menagerie of types that I from the times as a child had assessed as losers. Something that irritated me as some sense of natural defense against loss seemed to be triggered in me but apparently not in him. He in my opinion too often serving as an easy mark to their avarice. His invulnerability financial and otherwise now dissipated by the advance of years I felt hard pressed to imagine what sort of mischief this chance encounter would bring down upon us?
Sure enough, after watching a scant few minutes of a pantomime of him warning up to what I assumed to be her pitch the two of them turning back towards me and the car’s doors to let her in. That usual sense of immediate choking protest rising up within and squelched by the fact that it was his car and ultimately his decision. Something that I could not take away from him though something inside me felt so alarmed by as if I had yet again failed to judge his foibles and left us both vulnerable to some inevitable loss. My inner protests running along the lines of any number of implicit violations of trust in terms of marriage, finances and of course my own patience with such self-deprecating behaviors. The doors slammed shut from without and within he announced that we would drive the lady down the street just on the other side of downtown. I felt like a clam that had tightly closed its shell amidst my own building steaming anger mechanically acceding as I always did to his command to drive ahead. Something within now ‘on guard’ as it always was in these sorts of situations that would drag me down into some demeaning pawn in a larger scheme that would inevitably lead to permanent loss. I parked down a side street and without the necessity of any direction on his part to me we all got out of the vehicle. The two of them actively engaged in a of conversation that had her playing the role of humble ingenue simulating the ersatz of an aura of youth that had long past her by. I walked behind the pair my attention rapt upon assessing any sign of weariness that his heart condition might unexpectedly summon. Concerned but tolerant of his involvement ready to jump in to interrupt her pitch when it began to endanger his immediate health.
The street in the middle of the block was under heavy renewal. Barriers that impeded any vehicle from further progress across pavement or sidewalk that had been stripped down to dry dusty red dirt. The workman assigned to ward off casual traffic seemed indifferent to our progress in attempting to navigate this zone. The woman pointing out a point of entry at the side of a three-story commercial building just ahead. I paced along behind the two as before watching her sympathetically offering her embrace of his arm to steady him as they past by a series of deep excavations just to the side. The building might have been first built before he was a boy and had that aged lurking aroma of old dry desiccation so characteristic of wainscoted walls and generous use of heavily varnished wood. It was obvious format he first floor that it had formerly been a hotel but over the years but had recently succumbed to other varied uses when the interest of tenants and potential guests had wained. Now it seemed a place as much for haphazard storage of an odd collection of items that may have seemed useful but were evidently past utilitarian value. The upper floor that we ended up upon was dim within the columns of dusty light that imposed themselves from the tall windows to the side. The arrangement of the large room looking more like a intermediate banquet hall too filled with the flotsam of random discards to be anything but derelict. The girl spun her own tale of romance wherein cancer and its accompanying misfortunes ushered out her young marriage to her lifelong love escorting him too quickly to an early grave. The subsequent long depression occasioned by her loss and a lack of family support sending her ultimately to a life of dissipation and daily regrets. So much about the darker parts of life that she had heard about and once found abhorrent that now was now simply part of her daily existence. The ‘topper’ being that she had now been visited with the news that now within the midst of her fourth decade she too had contracted a form of cancer that she had no hope of addressing having no financial resources to put towards its cure. I could see my father’s face throughout this tale. The way that it so customarily transitioned into a grave but tender sort of empathetic expression the sight of which suggesting his need to seek some measure of peaked with an inner penance offer generously offer his unreserved help. The silence ringing loudly with the ned of her tale he turned to me with a look that I knew that sought both council and consent on my part. Something that we both no would be hesitant at best but more than likely not willingly offered.
It was between two situations that offered only three choices. And I already knew exactly what he was going to offer aloud to me without having to hear a single word. He could make the sole decision himself pay for her operation and treatment with the remainder of the limited amount of monies set aside and make himself vulnerable to the inevitability of his rapidly progressing heart problems. He could ask me to advise him aloud in so many words why he should not choose to become involved in this stranger’s dilemma in that same manner that I always did. My role being one to deter him and subsequently play the ‘bad guy’ as I always seemed to do in these sorts of situations. Or, we could simply excuse ourselves and just walk away indifferent to this woman’s pitch or possible plight. The gravity of this moment striking me as the summation of all the previous encounters when against what he thought was his better judgement, I had tugged him away from acting. Adding in so many cases to some inner sense of hidden guilt. Something that was bound up in a deep dark corner of his life experience before I was born. This Hobson’s choice was not a matter of his dodging a decision by laying it off onto me. But a long held desire on his part to be recognized at long last by his son for the virtue of an abiding sense of charity that he wished to be acknowledged for. The visitation of his spirit in such a scenario was overwhelming. The worth of my own soul seems to hang in its balance as I lay here in silence as the full moon outside dampens its decent into the oblivion of a nearness to the coming day.
The square located adjacent to the fort was composed of are blocks of reddish sandstone finely cut in a manner similar to their vertical counterparts of the tall structures walls. It extended uninterrupted in one direction out towards the sands of the desert the surface of which was frozen in incremental undulation under the mild forcefulness of restless winds of early evening. His gaze from the crenelated barrier of the parapet downward to the small ornate habitations below revealed what might have been a much a dream of a children’s toy world or possibly movie set as any sort of realistic real world reality. Something fundamentally attractive as a cloying Romantic muse. The Sun had deposed itself half under the horizon and the cobalt glow of night rose up only interrupted by the pinpoint of torches that dotted the surrounding circle of two story buildings that ringed the fortified enclosure. The prosaic quality of this setting had not escaped him. Nor had it gone unnoticed by the collection of his fellow European contingent. A mixed bag of currently displaced civilians now joined in this enclosure by a mutual desire to resist the surrounding population’s desire to slaughter us all. Expectant without any palpable reasoning that our small party would be rescued though no one made a specific mention of the possibility of same having been currently underway or being followed up on. The general mood was uncharacteristically upbeat. Many dressed in their finery rather than something more suitable for physical combat. The lanes below were empty. It might have been some holiday where the usual population was gathered together at a distant religious shrine. The view of the horizon had a magical quality that defied the inevitability of the situation. The static quality of the scene before him burned upon his brain displacing the possibility of refocusing upon what was a rapidly darker world where possibility was quickly evaporating.
His small enclave now far removed from the freedom of twenty meters below. The smart move might have been to have made an attempt to escape with the greatest possible haste. But the shared attitude of all involved seemed to suggest a natural state of their class feeling bulletproof from any action possible to the diminished mentality of what they considered to be lower classes of lesser mental potential. The man’s own inner inclinations ran counter to this common notion unspoken but shared among them. Had anyone even bothered to send a radio message requesting a relief column from the North coast? He was hesitant to inquire as it might cause a sense of angst. Ignite a sense of general panic. But then again, the level of complacency shared by this collective had been demonstrated so many times before at dinner when less vital situations were presented and dismissed. Bring up an incident or an inconvenient fact and see the conversation shift away from the speaker like a great river suddenly withdrawing its flow instantly meandering away coursing vigorously away as distant as possible from the facts and the speaker’s presence within the room. It was hard not to take this collective behavior personally. To be a stranger in the foreign world that one found one’s self attempting to exist within? To not be able to fathom the essence of the surrounding indigenous language and then to have the ear of the small circle of his own seemed unbearable to contemplate. He knew that in either of these worlds there was no acceptance for the presence of those who were of a conflicting point of view. A sense of isolation having been what in the moment seemed permanently condemned to exile seemed inescapable. Though he knew that all he had to do was to take up some popular topic of popular conversation in another distant world far removed from this one and he would be cheerfully redeemed as a member of their circle. A growing stubbornness tightened its grip deep within his frame. Defeat would not be found in any conventional sense of being excluded from easy consensus. Defeat would come from acceding to it.
The unreality of it all defied common sense. A situation that might be easily settled at the risk of betting one’s earthly existence in a gambit that if taken underway at the earliest opportunity might prove to be more reliable in guaranteeing further existence. Something when weighed against the general sense of complacency as evidenced by this small circle. The toy-like vista not helping to move the urgency of the situation along. He felt his own sense of a building urgency to just walk away from his current observation post to suddenly retire to the far wall that was now unlit and cloaked by the advancing shadow of night. The drop to the ground was at least ten feet less than here where the desert was easily in sight. He was no coward. But then again he was not a fool. Common sense suggested that those hostile to there presence there were busily planning their assault. This would give them a head start over terrain that even the locales would be hesitant to challenge. It was reasonable to consider that their opponents would use their own sense of what was rational and reasonable behavior for their former masters. They might know their minds better than they did their own? The realization that this might be indeed the case sent an electric spark through his guts. The left platform of the mental scale that metaphorically existed within him sank a little lower with the gravity of the overall situation. A cool breeze impacted the man’s neck above his collar as he tried remain focused forward staring at the sublimated failing glow dying before him. “Opportunity”, he mumbled aloud unconsciously. A distant chatter of frivolous conversations temporarily rose up behind him. A small group elegantly posed figures upon the wall to his side dimly continuing on about a former life lived far back and long ago in the particular cultures that had sired them. No one but him and him alone seemed concerned.
Fear was a common dialect that remained perpetually unspoken. He could feel it all around his like a tide slowly waxing, rising ever higher, but unheeded. It seemed that it would be a useless gesture to sacrifice his mortal being for the sake of fitting in. The thought of throwing away one’s life along with all the years of bathing within the wisdom of the world that had been accumulated over decades for a simple gesture of being one of the crowd seemed beyond foolish. Utterly wasteful. He didn’t mind an unspecified appointment with eventuality of his death. But it rankled his that his worldly smarts meant nothing to the rest. They seemed mannequins in a store window. A set piece in keeping with the persistent image of plastic perfection he reviewed in his mind of that former view of a solitary mortality effected by the fatally afflicted orb of the disappearance of their only most important star. The unseen group lounging upon the battlements about him far removed at a lawn party utterly confident that what they silently regarded as utterly dependable. A watch work mechanism that would confidently return the same light unfailingly to illuminate the next day at the appointed hour. This confidence built by a trust in a longstanding tradition. But not supported as of late by discernible actions. Ignorance was a pleasure that was beyond bliss. The world the way it should would go on as it had been all along with their class being cream that ever floated at the top no matter how sour the possibilities below. Sure there would be an eventual strong reaction to any demonstration of show of violence. But always after the fact when nothing would be solved or could be solved. This was the true definition of the complacency that he despised. No perception or forethought.
A rather large shadowy shape struggled across the middle of the space. The giant shell of a sea turtle moved slowly on the diagonal. “How incongruous!“, he thought? Here in the midst of dry water starved desert a creature completely removed to its climate seemed blindly motivated by a compulsion to simply move forward without any particular hope of reaching the environment that spawned it. The consistency of the creature’s movement suggested that its quest was one that was motivated by an inflexible will. The eye caught another shape marching slowly upright a short distance behind the first. Resolving his vision he was able to distinguish that the figure has a large shell that also was posed upon his back. A turtle shell that had been harvested from another animal long deposed to a stew pot and several other uses that included this frivolous misuse of the late animals most significant feature. Was this a absurdly attired biped a predator to the first? There was no sign of a weapon at the end of either of the upper limbs of the silhouette. Perhaps this pursuit was simply a matter curiosity of just boredom? The turtle creeping steadily along before the second lacking the personality of the other. “How odd?“, he mused that the creature that evidenced the most expedience seemed so lackluster to the carefully affected appearance of the other. The one affording the essence of its inherent personality as a free example to the other who had nothing in common beyond purloined trophies harvested from the hunted species. Did this not in some strange unexpected way suggest that this pursuer was also equally vulnerable to another predator of equivalent or greater violence. The prey inching ahead didn’t seem aware of this fact. The tortoise’s only concern focused on a larger goal of returning to an environment suitable to its species.
The cold blue of that lower wall in cobalt blue shadow congealed in his mind preempting the sight steadily crossing the square. The immediacy of the wavering within subsided. The man turned gathering up the impression of all the vigilant party goers droning quietly on in small groups. The path back through to the shadows inviting him by virtue to it being empty of any activity. His mind glided ahead of him at a steady gait. His pace unhesitatingly normal bringing no attention to the fact of his direction away from his post. Though there was no sense of military echelon among them and no specific order in place. There was no reason to believe by anyone glancing at him from afar that he was doing anything out of place. Yet no one was bothering to notice. The same indifference that had been visited upon him the day before was still in force. It was as if he was no longer there. As if he had never been there to begin with. The short drop to the narrow lane just outside the back wall hurt but did nothing more than leave a slowly fading sense of the pain. The same casual conversations drifted over the top of the walls above as he flattened himself against the bottom of the side wall. No sign of occupancy evident though the hackles on the back of his neck felt like thorny bristles. He pursued his course towards the edge of the sands accomplished via small short bursts carefully jogging from shadow to other forms of cover. No sign of human habitation driving a building feeling within that next jump would be surely confronted and fatally dealt with. But no such ambush ensued. It was a moonless night and the last impression he could recall was the sound of laughter ringing out in the distance from on high.
Where the rail journey to the outpost had taken a matter of several hours from the coast the return on foot took several days. A matter of sheer will of the traveler to continue on each night staying immobile half covered by sand. By each afternoon’s conclusion descending into darkness he stirred himself from deep exhaustion to endeavor onward. A water filled horizon filled hugging the coast was finally sighted over a tall dune at first light leaving the man in tears. His appearance was spied almost immediately by the happenstance of a lead driver of a convoy of trucks. The man waved his arms and was picked up. His physical exhaustion precluded any questions and he traveled next to the driver completely speechless and offering nothing more than eyes constantly turned towards the brilliance of light illuminating an endlessly cycle of crashing waves. A month or so later a small article appeared in a local gazette published in a city somewhere back in Europe. It concerned the disposition of some out of the way southerly outpost where a small contingent of colonists had been overwhelmed and massacred. After parenthetically recounting a supposition of the best official notion events as could be determined the last mention stating that there were no survivors found.
It seems incongruous that the funny feeling in your chest is seemingly the portal for old sensations the harbinger of echoes from past life experience. A tiny little invisible finger inserted deeply in a hidden fissure in the midst of tour breast bone tickling your heart when you open a dusty cupboard to pick up some implement of once everyday frequent use now deposed to its current long undisturbed stillness in place. It’s imprint revealed upon the wood from intervening eras gone undisturbed. That electric feeling that lights up the mind to a past instant. A casual glance from a long gone buried experience cached away for such a moment as this. That missing presence however, causing the sensation of electricity in a mental spark. So many such objects about this longing area held in memorandum. Curiously ignored in plain view. In part, out of an avoidance of an unwelcome final truth! In part out of a fundamental need within to be able at will to defy that same proposition. Caught in-between in a nether world of refusing to move on and just forget the whole thing. Perhaps a dank and musty fragrance to jump start one? To rekindle the impulse to push past the ever lingering sadness that marks the graveyard of the past where you fear to linger too long?
In the past there is an answer for the present. Like books on not unfamiliar topics by unfamiliar authors that remind one of their own once familiar likes and dislikes. Certain question never probed out of old family taboos never violated now revealing answers in clues never expected. The face value re-explored and what once seemed inflexibly arcane now being all to obvious. A favored dish. An old yellow solitary cup. Porcelain jingle bell follies of bygone aesthetic value. Stupid little worthless things purloined from the places unknown regaling a singular epiphany of another’s privately hidden moment. Keepsakes that at their time captured little parts of someone else’s soul. The must haves that once enclosed dwindled in importance replaced by others of later experience. Now an incoherent jumble of inexplicable artifacts each bundled into their appointed place crammed solid till even in their heyday, there was room for no more. This museum worthless to the outside world an odd mix of those long recited family incidents still remaining familiar in their constant telling. Yet entirely enigmatic past the boundary of those few recollected words. The trick being to carefully assize the event tied to the possession of each one in turn. The era versus the source of that unnamed one who was the facilitator of the remembrance. A holiday, a birthday, an anniversary. a trip! What occasion that might shed light on the effect it had on the receiver. The echo of comments well cemented in chambers down long abandoned corridors of contemplation providing a hint. The focal point of one’s own constant play as a child and certain items enshrined in memory under the vast dark gray ceiling housing the the many rows and rivulets of dormant long untested brain matter. That slow parade of a once and former life parading back again after a brief viewing to its appointed spot lost in time to once more to await its place in limbo known as forever.
You’re sitting at home alone with your failures. That is what men do when they can no longer profess some form of mastery that brings them the proper attention that a trade or a career can provide. Then it is a soul search to find that single point when things fell down and split apart and could not be pasted back together. Worse yet! The world had moved on because you had acquired the habit of not moving fast enough. “It didn’t suit you!“, you said! You went far too long because of excuses. out now there are not enough excuses to hide under. You’re bare and the truth is out. “You’re old!”
That horrid term so casually used in a careless way about others in what you supposed was your youth. That dividing line between then and now. Then there was a future. Now there is just the waiting. Waiting until the end. “Tough luck pal.” The weather outside went from sunny to a cold diffuse blur of and indefinite stormy gray. You can hear the inconclusive rumbles. Maybe it means something? Most probably you are mistaken. The world out there goes on despite. You catch a mental note of how the last set of stairs that you climbed left you a bit out of breath. “How could this be?” Maybe that has been the problem all along? Those sharp little stabbing pains just left of the breastbone. The tip like and arrow in the hand of some malicious joking friend. “Not Funny!”
The joint is empty. You can hear the outside over the fans that are running to cool you down. Fat chance. There was a guy you made fun of in your twenties. Someone who worked for your father when he was a Sales Manager for the book company. The guy in question had a middle like a beach ball and you would laugh. You look down but you don’t shake your head. Enough without he self-criticism! “How is that helping?” You would go out and buy something but there is no more money. No more job. You are ‘persona non gratia‘. Useless! Useless to the world and to yourself.
Funny how when you are hungry and have next to no money how you think of something that you need to buy. And your mind whirs on about what to get and how much you will be short. Then you think of something else you need and your mind now takes the same inadequate amount that was just mentally spent and re-tasks it for this new item. Then spending it again and again until you realize that you really have no funds for any of it. You are at the mercy of the indifference of the world that goes on outside the windows that is unaffected by your continuing angst. What compounds it is a long history of being saved by your family members. But it is evident now that there is no one to save you any longer. “This is it!” But it isn’t. You have to suffer this a lot longer.
How long has that headache plagued you? Like a permanent hangover! You won’t take pills. something tells you that it is something else? Beating a constant path back and forth from one ear to the other listening to the hollow excuses that don’t ring true! It’s an old game that is wearing thin. Thin as those clothes on your back looking frayed that you didn’t just buy yesterday. Everything is shutting down. Your eye under the dome of that throbbing head feels like parties unknown are testing it with a pliers. A dull ache boding nothing good. “How in the Hell did this come about!” I never felt this way before! “Buck up kid you are likely to feel it from here on out!” “You’re Old!”