Saturday, July 14, 2012

Odd Fellow

It has been as enlightening an occasion as I can recall; the acquaintance of an odd fellow who accompanied me last night during the loneliest piece of my evening walk. A stretch where trees on one side lean and lock branches with the opposing side to form a dark and hollow tunnel; a blackness so complete the dirt path disappears beneath the feet of those who tread there. The reputation of such a treacherous and loathsome section of road has in my opinion become greatly exaggerated, but certainly the man who claims not to have overheard villagers swapping stories would be either half-deaf or teetering on the edge of oblivion. I suspect, as in all burgs, it is no coincidence that as the ale flows freely so do the lips of men. If there is one word describing what can be seen and touched, then man will craft ten for the intangible; neither good nor bad, it is his nature and he cannot escape it. With sufficiently diluted minds they gather outside taverns in the wee hours of morn, arms stretched overhead casting eerie shadows, patiently waiting a turn to express an interpretation of what transpires in the tunnel. A pauper’s therapy more or less, where each delights in how it might feel to wield control over a slice of life when he is told from a cradle such hope is nonexistent for their kind. For generations I suppose there is no consideration given to time outside work and how unknowingly they’ve handed that slice over to spirits in tall glasses. Before I digress completely, suffice it to say one grizzly rendition feeds another until the rising of the sun gathers them home. Perhaps it also bears mention there were no spirits involved in the meeting of this odd fellow a few nights earlier.

He appeared from nowhere or perhaps from everywhere at once, an apparition gathered from unruly parts of a wayward wind or fashioned from the slimmest splinters of time. I supposed the later, as closer inspection revealed a striking resemblance to a better version of me; his face ironed free of wrinkles, belly still flush with his chest, and a good measure of freedom remaining in his gait. Neither of us acknowledged the other, yet his steps found synch with mine, like two soldiers marching into battle, minds filled with certain dread, the details of which too morbid to speak. As any good townsman or merchant will attest, I am not often given to the kind of foolishness that allows for speaking the mind of another, but I believe on both parts this meeting carried an air of duty rather than preference for good fun.

Leaving the light of day behind instantly he lost sight of me and I of him, only plodding steps and beating hearts indicated the presence of another. Having shared nary a word between us none was designated to assign a pace and each struggled for control. Void of words, expression, or body language, I recall an overwhelming air of aggression bellowing from the young man. The lack of elegance and grace shall keep me from describing it as dance, as the man gripped my arm in such a manner as to issue a challenge, like one young boy coerces another to wrestle. I never understood completely, or even partially, this primordial urge to establish dominance over another, but if the man expected his work easy, I supposed it was my duty he should meet with disappointment. I meant for him to understand that not being given to such inclinations is an entirely different matter than being found incapable.

Determining the source of such vile anger for a complete stranger was as complex equation as I have set about solving, but lost all pertinence when he struck the first blow, catching me squarely in the forehead and bridge of the nose. Devoid of daylight I could not confirm the onset of double-vision, but felt reasonably sure good sense and manners were left behind to bake in the sun. His father failed to instill in him the philosophy that a measure of respect was due even a stranger. If barbarism and thuggery were his primary means of communication I intended to speak to him clearly, extracting respect where it had not been offered. Consumed with a rush of adrenaline I unleashed a flurry of blows I supposed would break the young man of his habit.

As it were, this stranger was skilled in the art of brawling, as if such things could be carefully and meticulously sewn into the fabric of one’s being. His treacherous tactics drained from me every ounce of courage and strength I summoned from reserve. We clutched and struck at the other for what seemed like hours, each grabbing a handful of conscience yet finding it impossible to even bend the opposition’s resolve. I suppose we covered each square inch of the tunnel three times over before emerging on the far side still locked in battle. A sliver of remaining daylight exposed each to be crippled, bruised, and bloody; a matched set of fiery eyes mere inches apart. Deep within his I discovered a great many things, but suppose he found in mine something so terrible and disturbing that he feared facing it would destroy him completely. He leapt from me and dissolved as quickly and eerily as he appeared.

Sound sleep has eluded me three nights running and I can assume a handful more as I recall subtle details of my encounter with this strange and odd fellow. There lies a connecting point between us, where past and present collide; he is most assuredly me as my former self who came looking for what became of him. Deep into the predawn hours between shots of brandy, small revelations befall me. In this slightly altered state his jealous and aggressive nature seems quite understandable. I had known him forever; his conscience transparent as a pane of glass. How reckless and random were his thoughts and actions, but all the while understanding the intricacies of every circumstance that transformed something wild and uninhibited into a universally acceptable gentleman. From his perspective he saw absolutely nothing at all he recognized as himself. How completely and utterly disheartening it must be to feel you’ve been erased completely from existence.

I search for him now and again on my evening walks, folded between the bark and meat of a tree that lines the side of the road, hopping from one cloud to another, or even a hint of his scent on a warm summer breeze, but I suppose there is no compulsion for him to visit again. I believe he was genuinely and completely crushed in the ‘me’ he found. Never would I ask him to bear that level of disappointment again. Someday, if the winds are perfectly aligned to coincide with the passing of time as it synchronously moves forward for some and backward for others, should we meet again, I would wish him to know one thing—despite what I allow the world as a whole to see, there is much more of him lingering than is apparent from the surface.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dream a Little Dream

“Just pick a winning horse for Daddy. If I place a phone call from here we can walk away millionaires. Come on, baby, after all we’ve been through with this, what’s the harm in making a little something for ourselves?”

I stared at him long and hard. Throwing daggers with my eyes bought time to gather words potent enough to penetrate what remained of his conscience.

“Dad, I’ve told you a hundred times, I don’t choose my dreams they choose me. I don’t see horses, lotto numbers, or the stock market. I see burning houses, dying people, crumpled cars, and pools of blood in alleyways!”

Like a sleeping volcano, my response erupted louder than intended and attracted every set of beady eyes in the bar. I supposed dad had slipped toward comfortably numb, but I felt the burn of each additional gaze as the collective weight settled on our backs. Someone finally voiced what everyone was thinking, “Looks like we got a genuine freak in the house tonight, fellas!”

Dad bristled before swiveling on the stool and launching an angry scowl in the general direction of my detractor. He pretended that double-vision had not claimed the space a foot beyond his nose two hours earlier. Puffing his chest he wanted every patron to believe if there were reason enough he could stand without wobbling. I saw an ugly situation sliding distinctly in the direction of uglier, so I acknowledged his good-hearted effort to defend me.

“It’s no big deal, Dad. Just turn around.”

Alcohol reduced his attention span, so within moments my father regained his focus. We came to the bars often enough for both of us to realize we weren’t leaving until he reached the bottom of the liquor bottle sitting between us. Sully’s was a rundown, smelly, ugly, place, where people bearing like qualities came to meet. Even those that strolled through the door differently stumbled out the same. If not for my compulsion to watch over him I’d have been a million miles away, and sometimes despite my physical presence my mind dabbled with faraway places. Daddy’s escape came in clear bottles of amber colored liquid, and mine in dreams of how wonderful life could be if it were dreamless.

Over the years he attempted to shield me from how the world viewed people like me. It took a gravely, anonymous voice rising from a dark corner of a rundown bar to confirm my suspicions. It wasn’t anyone’s fault really. Those having dreams about catastrophic events before they occurred has to classify them as permanent residents of ‘freakville’. Without even realizing, I moved there at the age of five, but the part I regret most was dragging my family with me.

I remember the first time with painful clarity. How the lace at the bottom of my dress scratched my knees as I skipped around the kitchen table singing a tune.

“Grammpy died, Grammpy died, Oh how we wish he were alive.”

Neither the innocence of a face painted by the hand of God, or the darling curls framing chubby cheeks could offset the morbid nature of my song. On my third trip around mother grabbed my arm and put her fingers over my lips to hush my singing. She asked me why I sang about such things, and why I would wish something so ugly. I explained it wasn’t a wish at all, but from a dream last night. I described sitting on his knee and that we were watching television. That he gave me a big hug and a kiss, and drew my head to his chest. That I heard his heart’s last beat, and he was smiling when the angels came for him.

Mother dismissed the dream to eating too close to bedtime and adamantly asked I not sing the song. She had asked me to help her finish breakfast when the doorbell rang. Daddy answered and when he entered the kitchen to inform mom her father passed late last night all she did was stare. She was staring at me in a way that made me very uncomfortable, and changed our relationship forever. In the following weeks she probed me about my dream. I didn’t want to talk about it any longer because every correct detail I provided tore away another piece of her love for me.

Daddy still denies that worry drove my mother to an early grave, but prior to her passing I dreamed about it. She was whistling in the backyard with a clothesbasket nearby and laundry hanging. The colored clothing on the line represented the pretty things she once hoped for me, but the buzzards circling overhead symbolized the darkness of what my dreams had done to us. The circles became tighter as the descended little by little. Mother flailed her arms frantically in an effort to save what she could, but their beaks and talons shredded all that swayed in the breeze. With a swirling sea of black about her head my mother fell to the ground. That’s exactly where Daddy found her two days later.

It started with dreams, but later morphed into vague visions during daylight hours. There were hundreds if not thousands of them, but I learned to keep close watch over the key to my mind. Once I realized I could do nothing to prevent or preempt the future I kept most of them secret, locked inside. Every day I struggle with the misfortune of being given half of something useful.

The slam of an empty whiskey bottle startled me back to reality and signaled our departure. We left the bar around 4:00pm, and I remember three things distinctly; the kind of things that lodge in your brain and rot. Firstly, my father stumbling down the curb, secondly, me coming up short as I reached for a handful of his shirt, and lastly the loneliness in the rush of wind from the city bus that took him from me.

For the very first time in my life it was the things I didn’t see that ushered in an unbelievable burden of guilt. If only I had felt the quiver in my gut, we’d have stayed until daddy passed out. I’d have figured a way to get him home. A million times over I wished for something as simple as a light switch to stop the dreams. I had no idea of what I asked for.