One day, God was peering down from Heaven with a troubled expression. Todd noticed this and floated toward Him.
Todd: Hi God. Why the long face? (Todd is a buddy of God’s.)
God: Oh, hi Todd. I was just…well…see that island down there? The one with the trees? It’s about to be completely submerged by this tidal wave over here, and I’m just wondering whether I should save the inhabitants, or just let the wave go to town on them. It’s just so hard to decide…
Todd: Um, maybe you could save them?
God: Hm. I guess…or I could just let them all drown and die horrible deaths. Both choices seem equally valid.
Todd: But aren’t humans created in your image?
God: Maybe I can make the tidal wave even bigger. Gets parts of the mainland as well. Yes…
Todd: But-but, what if the people down there are all good Christians? And believe and worship you.
God: Heh. That would make for some nice poetic irony. Following everything by the book only to be killed by water. Yeah, I like that. Good point, Todd.
Todd: Wait, what?
God: No, wait. None of the islanders are Christian. Hell, they haven’t even heard of me. Bah. Guess I’ll let them live.
And with a swipe of his hand, God sent the tidal wave cascading in a different direction. And all was good.
Even as we hurdle ourselves toward the progress of stars, we will be bound by the fear that we are still beasts surrounded by the unyielding snow. The silent carapace of winter reminding us of our diminution. The eyes of a cold universe. Its white shadow following us, guiding us back to a near-forgotten war.
Blackened waves tumble
Toward the glacial shadow
Like an army lost
Jane shot Burt a look then smirked. “Well, it may not look appetizing, but it tastes almost exactly like meat. Well, after it’s been cooked and seasoned.” But all Burt saw was a brown mush. It was probably good, but it was still another gimmick, he thought. People nowadays were demanding more “faux-meat” and Jane, his sister, was trying to capitalize on the trend as soon as possible. Trying to keep Romero’s Pizza “hip” and “happening.” Burt never thought such schemes were necessary. The family business, after all, had been around for decades, never changing its recipes or interior. Then again, there wasn’t as much competition back then. Burt watched Jane slicing and prodding the brown, gelatinous mound, struggling to prepare it. He didn’t say anything.
That evening, Burt drove down Fountaincrest as the sun slid into night. He had a couple of more deliveries then he was done, but he wasn’t tired. It was usually nice to drive around at night. Sure, some roads had surprises. Last week, while driving down Buttefield, a meth head was standing in the middle of the road and wouldn’t let people pass unless they either answered his riddle or paid the toll. Burt just drove by. And just last night he had to pump the brakes on Meadowview Drive and let a family of raccoons cross by. Things seemed to slowly fall into chaos across town, but driving down Fountaincrest has remained the same. He passed by the pretty houses which were now fading to silhouette. It was always peaceful on this street, even during the day. But what he enjoyed most about driving past the houses was that it made him feel like an invader. A strange shadow sliding through the cracks. It was an odd feeling, but it invited peace.
But Burt wasn’t a shadow this night. He kept thinking about the faux meat Jane showed him in the kitchen. He thought about the other changes his sister had made to the restaurant as well. Big things, such as installing new booths and seats, to the smaller, such as canvassing the walls with sepia-tinged images of Italy even though their family wasn’t Italian. Combining the old and the new was what she was going for, she said. At first, he wasn’t really sure why his mind, now recently, kept folding back to all this. But he realized it’s probably because, growing-up, he didn’t really think much of their family’s pizza parlor. It was always just there. A fixture that floated there, part of the backdrop to his life. Now things have shifted. Burt always thought Jane loved the place. She was always thrilled whenever she got to work there as a kid and loved helping out their father. But since his death, Burt was wondering if he was wrong about her the whole time; instead of preserving the place they’ve grown up with, she has instead cut into it and sown the remains with her own design. Maybe this was too melodramatic. Perhaps this was just her way of preserving the place, coping. But then he wondered about how things originally looked. Was the restaurant, the way it once was, a calculation as well? Was it once a restaurant that their father, when he first bought it and gave it his own name, had cut into himself? Were the original booths, the red-striped wallpaper he had always known and associated with the restaurant, mere calculations as well? Something that replaced another’s history?
Burt didn’t really understand why his mind dwelled on such things. They were out of his control and, in the grand scheme, didn’t matter that much. All that mattered, in this moment, was getting this delivery done as soon as possible and jumping to the next. Everything else was mere fluff. His sister ran things now, and that’s what their father wanted, and that’s what he wanted as well. His mind was soon pushed away and all there was was the road.
Soon he made it to his destination, delivering two boxes, got a nice tip, and walked slowly back to his car. And, in this moment, he felt like a shadow again underneath the cool air. Peaceful. Without purpose. Absorbing the earth around him while remaining invisible to all. And just before he stepped back into his car he looked down the street. The houses were gone now and the road fell into the sky. It felt like he had been in this exact place before, feeling the same things, and some part of him was going to remain floating there long after he left and long before. He soon drove down a different road, but one he’s driven down numerous times before. Passing by the same, familiar houses that barely knew him. Again, and yet again, a farewell look…
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!”
–Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
“Someone needs something to debate about. We’re just animals in need of…Otherwise we’re fuckin’ DEAD.” The man said to no one. He leaned over his drink and peered at the bottom. “This whole fuckin’ thing is a disaster.”
Jeremy observed the man from his booth. He caught many of words, but most were lost to the musky air of the bar. Jeremy wasn’t sure why he was still there. He had just bombed a 15-minute routine and the drunkard he’s watching was the man who had heckled him mercilessly halfway through.
“Ah, shut up! You’re nothing special!” was what the man had yelled out at him as Jeremy struggled through his set. No one was laughing until they heard the man’s interjection. Jeremy stopped, stammered, and trudged through the remainder his jokes then quickly left the stage to a scattering of applause. It was embarrassing, but he was used to it by now. So, why was he still there? And why was he now fixated on the man that had, somewhat successfully, humiliated him?
“Puny. Puny…MAGGOTS!” The man’s voice bellowed out, but no one seemed to react, and the man fell back into himself, slouching over his drink, muttering.
Jeremy once thought he could be a writer. When he was younger he would sit at bars and observe his surroundings. Snatch snippets of faces and conversations that he could internalize and use for his writing. But whenever he would try to write “seriously” he would either lose interest, or the whole project would “fall apart.” Instead of finding the truth with his writing, all he found were some half-baked ideas and pretentious ramblings.
So he switched gears to something he believed he would be good at: comedy. But it wasn’t something he was passionate about, but he made people laugh, or at least he used to. And while he wasn’t passionate about it, he thought comedy would have been more useful to pursue something he was good at rather than chasing something that was beyond him.
“God. Not fuckin’ again.” The man muttered some more. Why did every bar seem to have one of these guys, Jeremy thought. And did any of them look at themselves, realize that they are just repeating the same patterns and behaviors as each other and going nowhere? A few years ago, Jeremy probably would have composed a whole life surrounding this drunkard. Something unique. Something explaining why he was in such a condition. But the reality was was that he was just some guy, and there were millions like them. Nothing interesting about them. Just sitting at bars, groveling and yelling at people. Broken animals with nothing better to do.
For a second, Jeremy thought that, perhaps, he was as deluded and discombobulated as the man at the bar, but he knew that wasn’t true. He saw himself clearly. He was just a young man who was told throughout his life that he had something special, something to offer people. He was going to be a great artist or comedian. And he wanted to believe them. But the truth is he didn’t have that much talent, nor was he that deep. He was just another guy just trying to get by. And that was the reality. No, not the truth, because the truth has a deep, moralistic weight to it. People have, for thousands of years, pursued some “deeper truth.” A big neon sign that would bring answers to the universe, but all there was was reality. The things that happened in the day-to-day. And to think otherwise was delusional, Jeremy thought. Maybe the man at the bar realized this, on some level, and wasn’t smart or creative or mature enough to transcend the void. Again, another broken animal.
God, Jeremy thought, this not what I wanted to think about. But what did he want to think about? Jeremy, for all of his self-awareness, barely knew himself or why he did the things he did in his own day-to-day. Some have said that the purpose of life was to know the self, but what if he would never truly “know” himself, even when he’s 80? Or, what if he finally knows himself, and doesn’t like what he sees? What if he turns 34, and knows everything about himself? Now what? Where does he go? Does he just exist? Like the man at the bar, or a spider weaving something in the corner though barely comprehending to ask?
Jeremy swiped away such thoughts. They lead nowhere. It was best to stop bitching about things he had no answer to, things he had no control over, and focus on something worthwhile, even if small, that could help bring meaning to others. Even if it’s just an odd joke or observation. Soon, Jeremy found himself turning away from the man at the bar, and entering night; walking down the street towards the hotel. Tomorrow he’s going to head out for another show. And maybe soon after he will quit comedy. Or keep going. Either way, it didn’t matter. At least, that’s what he told himself as the night air curved around him and disappeared.
My response to Stream of Consciousness Saturday. The prompt was to “open book, point, write.” I closed my eyes and flipped through my copy of the The Importance of Being Earnest and found the above line which is spoken by Algernon, one of the funniest characters ever. However, what I ended-up writing wasn’t all that funny. But for something that’s “stream of conscious” it’s…a thing.
Pero shook his head as the crab waved the dagger around. “Come on! Don’t you know who I am!” But the crab didn’t seem fazed as it continued to wave its weapon, preventing Pero from grabbing his precious spellbook.
As Pero attempted to snatch the book away, James was returning to life. His eyes opened. His mind throbbed. Looking around he saw that they had been washed-up on some beach. The sun piercing through the blue sky above.
“Argh! Come on! I’m more important than you!” James tried standing, but his bones ached. In the distance, he saw Pero at the edge of the water kicking sand at some wily crustacean guarding his tome.
James eventually got up and staggered toward the scene.
“Oh, it’s you!” Pero said without looking at James, his eyes fixed on the tenacious crab. “Quick Mortimer! Do something about this creature! It’s got my spellbook!”
“My name is not Mortimer,” James said, but as the words tumbled out of his mouth a pain shot through the side of his head. James had told Pero, repeatedly, that his name was not Mortimer, but Pero insisted on calling him that. His previous companion was named Mortimer, supposedly, so, as a result, James was his “replacement.” “Mortimer II.”
“Whatever! Just do something about this–” But before Pero could finish, James grabbed a plank and launched the crab into the ocean. Pero dove for the book and flipped through its pages. “Fuck!” Many of its pages were soaked.
As Pero stood at the ocean’s edge, cursing into his book, James surveyed the beach. Pieces of the ship had washed-up on the shore. “Where did that storm come from?”
Hours passed and the sun started its descent. Pero sat by the fire, scanning through the spellbook with great intensity. James watched the gnome, who, by the way, never thanked him for dispatching the crab or for making the fire. James had a feeling that going on this journey was going to be a mistake, but he was desperate. His family’s farm was going to be taken away. He needed the gold. Now he was on some deserted island with an egotistical gnome who cared more about his precious spells than trying to come up with a plan.
“Ah! Here we go!” Pero stood up, said some words until his hands started to glow. And then a slice of bologna popped into the air and landed on the fire. “No!” Pero grabbed a stick and tried pulling the meat away from the flame. Pero dragged the bologna toward him and tore into the meat like some savage beast. James watched all of this and shook his head. On the ship, Pero had dismissed the sailors for their lack of civility and etiquette. Now look at him.
“So. Think you can conjure up another slice?” James asked despite knowing the answer already.
“What? No. Get your own meat. I can only cast so many spells in a day. I need to conserve my energy if we’re going to survive!”
“Right. Of course.”
Nightfall. Pero was asleep, despite all of the complaints he made about their lack of proper bedding. However, James couldn’t. He just sat there, peering into the flame. All he could think of was the previous night, how suddenly the sky started to shower down on their ship. Where did that storm come from? And what exactly caused the wreckage? Was the rest of the crew okay? All these questions swirled in his head. However, whatever the answers were, it seemed obvious that someone (or something) didn’t want them to complete their journey.