Five Not Unrelated Stories by Charles Freeland.
Teach the Dominies
The librarians turn up for their session. And you forget why it was you thought you had a chance in this world. That the foreboding that used to hang about your shoulders when you were a kid was anything less than a message straight from the source. A kindness done to you as a favor by someone who has no real need to grant favors to anyone. He is in a position, of course, to know why the storm drains are placed at regular intervals. And what the future looks like when the future looks like anything at all. Porcelain jars, for instance. Or the cracks in the sidewalk that appear out of nowhere one night after a thaw and the ground has become saturated. That's the point at which the crickets decide, apparently, that they have had enough of announcing their presence to all and sundry. And yet, at the same time, they aren't too sure of their options. They can't even agree on what silence is.
Cyrus had hoped Eulalie would recognize him anyway. And pretend that she was frightened. Hold her hands up before her face. And let out one of those screams they seem to have perfected in the silent films of the 1920's. What we wouldn't give now to have grown into our mannerisms that effortlessly! As if they had originated somewhere in the body. Had grown and matured from something no larger than a grain of sand. And the process was so mysterious, they don't even speak of it anymore at the seminary. They lower their eyes. And shake their heads. And they walk off toward the garden gate. Where they will re-convene, of course, in the evening. And make their feelings known through gestures of the hand. And a mute imitation of the swaying of nearby trees.
From Golgothas of Ordure and Rust
Eulalie leaves the back door open just in case he is planning to surprise her. To show up wearing the poncho she stitched together by hand. But she knows her chances are getting slimmer by the minute. Cyrus will never grow substantial. He will never abandon the periphery where he likes to blend in. She thinks we are all some sort of fiend when you get right down to it. When you peel back the layers and the disguises we have picked up along the way. As if they had been no more than pieces of scrap tin thrown into a heap in the corner. And we fashioned them into whatever seemed necessary at the time. But strikes us now as unnecessary, I suppose. Or necessary, but not entirely so. Like socks on a warm day. Or the postage stamps that have a picture of someone famous on them. Or notorious.
Eulalie spoons out the last of the gelatinous mass from the bottom of the container and holds it up to the light to try to determine once and for all whether she has been wasting her time waiting for someone, anyone to say her name when she is sleeping. The signs are in the substance, where they always are. But she doesn't know how to read them. And she can't bring herself to invent the science of it here and now. Can't imagine anyone trusting the conclusions she comes to no matter what they are based on. She knows Cyrus will simply hide behind that face he has constructed from the same materials as his real one. As if the one were somehow identical to the other even though they display diametrically opposed features. And why shouldn't it be so? she realizes, with a start. Why shouldn't he lather up the inside with his tongue? And find that it stings a little. It gets frightfully warm, and even begins to taste like the back of one's hand. The same miniscule pieces of grit. The hint of apricot coming, no doubt, from the lotions one applies in the morning.
A Third Pulsation
The patterns begin early. Wanting to stay up all night. Hoping to find someone you know in the tunnels that crisscross beneath the city. They have a name for this ailment. But they rarely utter it out loud. Because if they did, no name would ever again be off-limits. It's the kind of situation you find yourself in sometimes when you meant merely to ask about the health of a friend. His diet of veal and crustaceans. And you inadvertently offend someone in the next aisle. Someone who, only moments before, was speaking in whispers on the phone as if he was under surveillance and he knew it. He had figured it out without any real assistance from those who make a career of spotting unusual activity at the periphery of our lives. Walking sticks with strange ciphers on them. Wheelbarrows suddenly full of foodstuffs and crumpled-up envelopes. Cut orchids turned to powder in the heat of the afternoon sun.
Eulalie suspects Cyrus hides the purpose of absolutely everything from her. The reasons why the curtains are parted in the morning when she first wakes up. The reasons why the toaster reflects the other objects on the counter around it. She suspects he has known the secrets of these things for so long, he fails to mention them not out of malice but carelessness. The frightful loss of memory that, no matter how often she mentions it, no matter how frequently she suggests a remedy of browsing Montaigne while immersed in a very cold bath, sends him scouring the old blast zones close to the highway. Places where you can find sometimes trilobites and crinoid stems. But almost never the narrative that required them in the first place. That insisted such things must make a place for themselves in the soil. And the rivers. And the seas (not necessarily in that order). So as to prevent the Earth from drifting from one end of the cosmos to the other without having anything to carry around on its back.
For this, Eulalie will never forgive him. But there will be moments when she comes close. Moments so distant now they can't even be imagined without having access to a pencil and several sheets of paper. But even so, they begin to coalesce in the mist the way merchant ships do when the water in the bay is warmer than the air that circulates above it. And if this means Cyrus must put his arm around her waist as delicately as one tries to thread a hook with live bait, I have no problem with it. So long as the reproductions get put in the back room where they belong. And don't wind up on display with all the other sordid examples of our sordid instincts. The instruments for extracting impacted molars, for instance. Or the manuscript copies of Fauré's Requiem. Without, of course, the deletions he made later. And the additions that served much the same function as the deletions. Without calling as much attention to themselves. Or maybe it works the other way, I can't be sure. I can't even remember why we started listening to Fauré in the first place. Maybe it had something to do with his moustache.
The Term "Unmarried Adult Male" Applies as Well to Tarzan
We resolve not to dig our memories up again once they have been buried. We fear them the way some people fear the breaching of the levees. The inundation that calls out your name. And the reasons for this are plentiful, but they are hard to distinguish; they huddle together in the basement of the mind like amphibians. Poorly insulated things hoping against hope for the weather to change. For the sun to find its way past the outcrop. And toss its light on the ground like a handful of confetti. Of course, there are the broom closets to worry about. And the passages cut off from the main body of the house. Passages where you have to crawl on your hands and knees. And even then there doesn't seem to be enough room to pass through. Until you exhale so forcefully it's hard to get the lungs to remember what comes next.
The bride reminds Cyrus of a mountain slope. An avalanche. The kind of terrain that only really exists on film or postcards. That draws men to their ruin without their realizing what is happening. He thinks the energy in the room has diminished a great deal and wants to know why people are still clinging to the walls. Still trying to find there some sort of antidote to the poison that seeps in while they aim their attention elsewhere. Suppose, for instance, you were to find a thousand dollars in a briefcase at the side of the road. And you buried the briefcase in your backyard. But the owner showed up a week later and said he had heard some rumors that concerned you. That seemed to put you in a bad light even when there was no light. When the shadows themselves seemed to have taken over the entire hemisphere. Would that excuse your behavior at the tavern later? The woman in the short sleeves tried to buy you a drink. And you said you didn't drink anymore because the taste of it reminds you of death. That there are places on the surface of the sun that are cooler than others, and if we were to try to find them with the naked eye, we'd succeed eventually, but at what cost?
A Replica of the Phoneme Type
When I was a boy, I had a collection of fishing lures I found one day in the pine bottoms. A box full of plastic fish replicas with enormous eyes and lipstick mouths. And treble hooks hanging beneath them like udders. I'd take them out from their hiding place under my bed and make them fly. But whenever I heard the sound of someone approaching, I thought I should hide them for fear whoever it was would assume I had stolen them from the old man who lived up the street. And who spent so much of his time bent over a work bench in his garage, people had begun to believe he couldn't actually hear or understand a single word spoken to him. They thought perhaps he had suffered some sort of terrible heartache in the past. And he was just now trying to come to grips with it. The way we come to grips with the fact that our lives are thoroughly disappointing. That they would bore beyond endurance the six year old children we used to be. While, at the same time, providing them with images necessary to complete the art projects due next day in school. It's this fear precisely that makes Cyrus try to keep nearly everything secret from Eulalie. The wanton ideas that sprout up at regular intervals like mushrooms in his mind. The simple-minded adoration he feels for her when they are in public. And the feeling close to abhorrence that arrives when back home. He tries to make certain only the surface area is visible. Just the faintest trace or outline of the beasts that swarm below. And any attempt to trap him in the lie by outsiders, by people who do not know what life is like when the two of them are alone together, even when they are doing nothing much more significant than listening to the radio together on the couch, is apt merely to drive a wedge between those who would save her and the woman they are attempting to save. And this is why Eulalie smiles at as many strangers as she can throughout the evening. Tries to catch their eyes in none- too-subtle ways. They are her last hope. Her last chance of escaping that suffocating cave of Cyrus's desire with her identity still in tact. And her shoes still holding up to the abuse they have otherwise been forced to take on the various surfaces of various floors.
In a similar vein, a citizen of our town recently decided to carry a flashlight around with him wherever he went. Even during the day. He wished to see into every corner, pick out, on a wall or sidewalk, imperfections no larger in width than a human hair. And if this isn't evidence enough of genius, I don't know why we even bother giving such things a designation in the first place. Why we suppose there are terms that can make things easier to understand. And terms that do just the opposite. Like "cold front". And "epilepsy". They don't any longer, but I'm sure such terms served their purposes once. When people were still overly enamored of technological marvels, like nuclear submarines. When they would put together plastic models of such contrivances and stare at them half the night, lie awake trying to imagine what it must like to steer one beneath a polar ice sheet. All while listening to the Dave Clark Five.
Charles Freeland lives in Dayton, Ohio. The recipient of a 2008 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, he is the author of half a dozen e-books and chapbooks of poetry, including Grubb (BlazeVOX books), Furiant, Not Polka (Moria), The Case of the Danish King Halfdene (Mudlark), and Where We Saw Them Last (Lily Press). His website is The Fossil Record (charlesfreelandpoetry.net) and his blog is Spring Cleaning in the Labyrinth of the Continuum (charlesfreeland.blogspot.com).
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