Friday, February 17, 2017

For Some Amusement

I went down to the amusement park with a group of friends.  We walked there on foot.  As we rounded a corner, the park loomed before us like some grand metropolis of whimsy.  There were bells and lights and freshly painted airplanes, ice cream towers and huge spinning pinwheels.  The most prominent sight was a ride called "The Zeus", a roller coaster that wound around a bronze statue of the Greek god that was a few hundred feet tall.  He stood at the center of the coaster, scowling and gripping a lightening bolt in his fist.  I pointed at the statue and told my friends, "A thousand years ago, it would have taken them centuries to build something like that.  The project would span generations.  They would have ended up beating half the workers to death for stealing morsels of bread before the thing was done.  Now, they probably just flew a few helicopters over the site and squeezed the whole thing out of a giant tube."

Inside the park, we somehow all got separated from one another.  I explored the place on my own.  To my surprise, there weren't really separate rides with people standing in long lines.  It was more like a playground of interconnected oddities.  I climbed a ladder down a blue metal tube, feeling like I was descending into the bowels of a submarine, and I found myself among a choir rehearsing in the stands of a baseball game.  I navigated a hall of mirrors and ended up behind a circus tent where I peaked under the canvas and saw an acrobat doing tricks and handstands on the head of an elephant before a breathless audience.  There were truly amusements at every turn.

At one point, I came to a dead end.  The path that I had followed led me to a round courtyard that was closed on all sides, except for the way that I had came.  I turned and followed the path back to a library of dusty storybooks that I had just passed through.  There was a man in a black top hat behind the desk, and he lifted his head as I approached.  He pulled his face into a long, exaggerated frown and said, "Excuse me, young man!  You simply cannot come through this way!" From the exaggerated expression and the way that he was drawing out his words, I could tell that he was trying to do a very crude impression of a stuffy librarian.  Still, he was serious and steadfast in his refusal to let me pass.  I would have to find another way.

So I took another path.  This one took me through a sort of grotesque parody of a hair salon with warped, distorting mirrors and hairdressers with giant scissors.  As I got to the back of the shop where a bunch of women were sitting under the hair dryers reading magazines, one of the women, wearing what was clearly a very fake curly blonde wig, lifted her head and started shrieking at me.  I recognized the face of the man in the top hat.  In fact, he pulled away the wig and replaced it with the hat as stomped his way towards me, shaking his finger and saying, "No!  No!  No!  Not this way." I stumbled backwards and ran back out of the shop.

Down every path, I eventually met with the man in the top hat.  He was wearing a monocle as he conducted an orchestra.  He twisted the ends of a fake mustache into sharp points as he baked a cake for a cooking show.  He blew a whistle dressed as a referee, kicking dirt at me and driving me back.  I had no other way to go.  I kept ending up back at the round courtyard.  I had only one more way I could try.  It seemed normal enough.  It was an abandoned office building, filled with dismantled cubicles and wires hanging down in places where the ceiling tiles had been removed, like someone had been working on the electrical system.  The prosaic nature of the place gave me hope.  I thought that maybe this was some neglected part of the park's administration, rather than part of the park itself.  Maybe this could be my way out.

But already I was on guard when I saw a maintenance man in blue coveralls standing on a ladder, working on one of the light fixtures with a screwdriver.  I tried to creep by him, but just as I was about to slip by, he yelled, "Hey!" My heart caught in my throat.  But then he just said, "Can you hand me that five sixteenth wrench?" Slowly, carefully, I handed it up to him, my fingers trembling.  He took it without looking back at me.  He just said, "Thanks" and started loosing a bolt on the light fixture.  I took a long breath.  But as I started to walk away, I could hear him laughing softly under his breath.  I stopped in mid-step when he said, "Not a chance buddy," and I knew it was him.  I knew it was the man in the top hat.

I backed away and the man's laughter got louder and louder.  I shook my head.  There was no way out.  The top hat appeared from no where and the man slipped it onto his head as he climbed down from the ladder, turning back to me and literally grinning from ear to ear, his teeth gleaming and his mouth opened to cartoonish proportions.  He stomped towards me, pounding each foot down for exaggerated and menacing effect.  I back away, still shaking my head, until I butted against a wall.  There was a window beside me.  It was open to air the room.  It was the only path I had left to take.

I closed my eyes and hurled myself from the window.  I felt myself falling free out into the air, my stomach gripping with nausea as I dropped.  I saw the concrete ground rushing up at me.  But just as I braced myself, a giant umbrella suddenly popped open below me.  It spread wide, spinning with blue and yellow stripes, and it caught me as I fell.  I landed with a bounce, and then I slid off the side of the umbrella and landed feet first on the ground.  I found that I was near the entrance to the park.  There was a gift shop there, and I saw my friends inside, browsing the racks of souvenirs.  I wanted to go in there and see them, find out what had happened to them and how we had all gotten lost.  But I just stood there shaking, the light glinting off of every surface, the crowds flowing past, everything, everything spinning around me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Out to Sea

I had a job in an office and I couldn't stand my boss.  There was a woman that I worked with who hated the boss even more than I did, and she had managed to steal the boss' briefcase containing all of his important papers.  She wanted to dump the briefcase in Lake Erie where he would never find it.  We drove out to the lake, and I pulled the front of the car right out into the edge of the water.  It was a cold winter day.  The beach was deserted and the sky was overcast and a rough wind swept in across the lake.  We climbed out onto the hood.  We had put a few bricks into the briefcase to weigh it down, and I held it out past the front of the car, dangling it from the tips of my fingers. 

I was just about to drop it when the woman stopped me and said, "Wait!  It will probably just wash right back up onto the beach if we dump it here.  You should take it farther out." I suggested taking it out just past the point where the bottom dropped off sharply, where the water was much deeper.  The woman agreed, so I swam out into the frigid water, dragging the briefcase behind me.  I could see the woman on the edge of the hood, waiting for me to swim back, waiting with her heels perched on the bumper and her chin resting on her hand.  I waved to her when I got out to the right spot, and she waved back.  The buoys that usually marked where the bottom dropped off had been taken down for the season, and I had to feel the way to the edge with my toes.  I didn't want to stray too far over the line.  I inched my way as close as I could, and then I held the briefcase out into the water as far as I could stretch my arm and I let it go.  I could feel it's weight drop away as it drifted down into the cold depths.

I turned to swim back to the beach, my feet teetering on the edge of the drop off.  I regained my balance, and I was just about to lunge forward into the water, when a big wave came and pulled me back hard.  I knew I had been washed out past the drop off, and I was flailing about wildly now, trying to get a foothold, trying to swim back to where I could still touch bottom.  But every time I gained a few feet, another wave would come and pull me farther out.  The woman was standing on the bumper now, straining to see me out there in the water.  I gripped the surface, trying to swim back to her, but she just receded smaller into the distance as I got washed away.  Finally, I gave up the struggle and the water seemed to grow calm around me.  The land was completely out of sight now.  I rolled over on my back and floated and drifted with nothing but the expansive water around me and the grey sky above.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Caravan

I was lying on a bed under the shade of a canopy tent that had been set up on the desert plain.  I was recuperating after a traveling caravan had found me wandering in the desert, lost and nearly dead from thirst.  Every time I awoke there was a fresh glass of cool water perspiring on the table beside the bed next to a paperback book someone had left for me to occupy my mind with.  I took slow, drowsy sips of the water, and then I usually drifted back off before I was able to take much interest in the book.  Little by little, I took stock of my accommodations.  The bed had a thick frame with gold spires for posts.  It seemed a bit too permanent and cumbersome for the makeshift shelter of the canopy tent.  There was a large area rug spread out on the ground beneath the bed.  There was a long oval dressing mirror nearby, and a number of steamer trunks had been stacked up behind the bed to form a barricade against the sand and the southern wind.

Beyond the foot of the bed, there was an old weathered piano that was only partially under the cover of the canopy.  Once, I woke up to find three young men at the piano, one of them seated on the bench and the other two hovering over his shoulders.  They all wore white shirts and brown suspenders.  The young man at the piano played a short lullaby.  The keys fell with a dull thump as dry and dusty as the desert itself, but the sweet and soothing melody was still faintly discernible.  The young man to left of the piano player remarked, as a matter of passing trivia, that the song was famous for having no meaning.  The young man on the right said that the song had meaning just by virtue of being a song, and he insisted that all songs had meaning.  The piano player thunked a few random keys, and then he settled the debate by saying that the song had no need for meaning.  It had a feeling, and that was enough.  I was content to leave the argument to them.  I just lay there listening to their chatter and the flapping of the canopy in the wind.  I was weak and tired and down to simple things.

When the time came for the caravan to move on, I was deep into the paperback novel that I had been given.  My strength and energy were coming back to me.  Everything was being packed up all around me, but I hardly paid any attention.  I only noticed that the canopy had been taken down due to the new light that fell across the pages of the book, simmering gold against the black ink.  The bed was disassembled, the frame stacked in three separate pieces and the mattresses loaded onto a truck bed along with all of the steamer trunks, expect for the one I'd taken for a seat as I huddled over reading.  I lay in the back seat of one of the cars as we pulled away leaving no traces in the barren plain behind us, and I turned another page.  The book was a classic comedy of manners, playing out in drawing rooms and on verandas over endless rounds of tea.  I was engrossed in the subtlety of it, the sly hints, the covert gestures, the spare glances.  I felt like I was going to meet these very people somewhere on the road ahead, and I had a sense that I had been given the book to prepare me for this meeting.  I had to study.  I had to get all the moves down, all the right words.  I had to be ready.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Grandmother's House

As my wife and I came into the room, I could hear my grandmother talking to someone about the inevitabilities of death and despair and old age.  But somehow she had escaped the grave herself, and as I came around and found her sitting at a table with some friends, I saw that she looked younger than I ever remembered her being.  I pointed this out to her and how it contradicted her statement.  She just smiled and led my wife and I through the back rooms and out the back door of the house.  She led us a few paces into the back yard and then turned and showed us that her old house had been resurrected as well.  It had a fresh coat of yellow paint and there was a small gable near the peak of the roof with a weathervane mounted above it like a masthead, the rooster and the arrows raised against the blue sky.

I showed my wife around the old house, taking her on a tour of my childhood memories of the place.  It was as spacious as I remembered, every room leading to another.  There was a banquet hall in the back with a recessed grotto along one side, lined with large stone pillars.  A bunch of my aunts and cousins were there, lighting candles and laying out silverware for a feast.  I slipped by them like a mouse, still as small and unnoticed as I'd been as a child.  I climbed between the pillars and dropped down over the wall.  I didn't even know the normal way of getting down into the grotto.  That was just how I'd always gotten down there as a child.  From there I found the hidden back stairway that led to the second floor.  I told my wife that we had always thought of these back stairs as a secret passage to the floor above.  We ducked into all the bedrooms with their low angled roofs and gabled windows and quilted bedspreads.  I showed my wife the places where we would hide whenever we played hide and go seek, behind closet doors or tucked under beds, feeling the rush of warm air blowing up through the heater vents.

We took the main stairway back down to the ground floor.  There was a hallway there with a plush leather chair to sit in and a black and white TV to watch.  There was a large living room off the side of the hallway, and my mother and brother were there, sitting in chairs over by the window, a small table between them.  I remembered sitting in the hall, watching my Saturday morning cartoons and catching snatches of adult conversations coming from the other room.  I remembered people at the window, just like that.  I remembered this being the shape and shade of my earliest impressions, everything a whisper along the peripheral edges of a world of cartoon honks and rattles and whistles.

From the window of the living room I could see that there was a market place right outside, a thoroughfare of stands and shops paved with red bricks.  There was a store selling sunglasses and movies and CDs.  My wife and I went over to check it out, and we stood at the counter goofing around with the sunglasses, holding them up to see the evening sky through their tinted lenses.  This all felt connected to the world of the house somehow.  It felt like everything would be connected now, one thing leading on to the next, endless fascinations to explore, embarking from some exotic bazaar somewhere on the surface of the Earth in the darkening shadows of the day.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Something Furry

I was walking along a dark road at night when I spotted a small matchbox on the pavement at my feet.  There were soft mews and other plaintive little noises coming from this matchbox.  I knelt down and scooped the thing up in my hand.  There was a little clump of grey fur sticking out of the end of the box where the cardboard tray protruded slightly.  This clump of fur looked very dry and stiff and dead, but I could still hear the sounds coming from the box and feel a slight tremor from something moving around inside.  I began to carefully slide the tray out with the tip of my fingernail.
Doing this caused a great deal of agitation inside the matchbox, enough to knock it from my hands.  As it landed back on the pavement, I saw a dark little form skitter away from it.  It was just a shapeless lump of grey fur.  It was hissing angrily now, making sharp snorts and wet snarls.  It skittered all over the pavement and it kept circling around my feet in a way that was making me break into my own agitated dance there in the road, simultaneously trying to stamp on it with one foot while avoiding it with the other.  The thing latched onto my shoe and I could feel it scurry up under my pants.  I could feel the tickle of its feet moving up my ankle, and then the sharp sting of its teeth as it bit into my calf.