I don’t remember all of my dreams but I do remember a lot of them. Some of them are unformed, not really defined as events or people, but they’re just thoughts or ideas that were pulled out of the oven too soon. I’ve woken up feeling afraid, or sad, or elated, and the remnants of a dream be just out of memory’s reach, like a lover who gets out of the bed, and your hand misses hers by an inch. I dozed off and was jerked awake by something that was nearly a dream, somewhere in my mind, but it’s gone now, and asking me to describe it would be like asking me to tell you who was driving the car that just passed in front of the house, a third of a mile away. I can only tell you I think I heard a car go by, and nothing else.
Budlore was sick last night, into the early part of the morning, and I stayed up with him, cleaning puke up off the floor. I dozed a couple of times, and saw images, at least twice of charcoal drawings, of faces, contorted as if someone sketched out Pompeii’s last moments. Where did this come from? I didn’t recognize the faces. They were just human forms yet not entirely finished, like the dreams that aren’t quite there yet.
Bud is usually energetic and exuberant. To see him down and out is disconcerting. This is the first time he’s been sick since he arrived and it’s disheartening. I can only sit with him and clean up the puke, and wait for this to pass.
I drift off to sleep and the dreams are fragmented and disconnected. It’s like trying to read the pages of a book as they are spewed out the end of a wood chipper. The scene and people change quickly, erratically, and there is no transition. The faces in the drawing are back, and I can tell gender, but that’s all. They seem to be colored in black, as if in shadow or night, and they all seem to be in some anguish.
I get up because Bud is hacking again, but he seems to be less sick. I sit on a blanket on the floor and hold Bud, and this might be the first time in his life someone had held him when he’s been sick. I lie down with him and he sleeps. I drift again, and the dreams do not come, but stay just out of reach, like someone speaking on the other side of a restaurant.
There’s a story here, where a person sees faces that have been drawn and that person doesn’t know why. Let’s start out with a female lead character, a very young woman, who isn’t an artist at all, and she’s trying to figure out what these visions she has means. They begin one night after she’s been drinking, and she wonders if she has a problem.
The woman’s name is Tory and she works for a lawyer. She has to serve an eviction notice one day and the man about to be dispossessed is an artist living in a terribly shabby and totally dark apartment; he’s blind. Sure enough, when she’s inside she see one of his drawings and it’s one of the faces she’s seen, she thinks, but she cannot be sure. The next day she tries to find him but he’s gone. The dreams become more vivid, the faces more clear, and Tory is convinced the man drew one of them, and perhaps more. She finds him by accident, near the river, about to jump. She looks at his drawings and realizes that they are the faces she’s seen.
She lets him stay at her place and he draws. The energy between them sharpens the dreams, and his drawings. At work, her employer is working on a missing person case, and setting up a substantial reward. The photo of the missing girl looks exactly like one of the faces in the dream, and one of the drawings.
They sit and wonder what the connection is between the two of them, and the people in the drawings. Is the girl alive or has she been murdered? Tory looks at the drawing and realizes the girl looks as if she is still alive, and she asks the artist, Archer, if he will try to draw the missing girl again.
Tory asks her employer about the girl, and he tells her that he was contacted by the girl’s mother, who believes her ex-husband has taken their daughter, but she doesn’t know where he is. Tory goes in search of the woman, but finds her dead. She returns to her home to find that Archer has drawn the woman’s face.
They both are at a loss as to how this is happening or why. They do not understand why he draws what she sees in her dreams. They make love on the floor, passionately, nearly accidentally, for they both fear the passion they’ve kept secret. Unleashed in this is a melding, where she can speak to him of her visions, and he understand now how to draw them. They sit on the floor, an invisible steam rising from their bodies from the heat, and they speak in whispers, seeking the girl, seeking her fate, looking for a connection, and finally there is a building, a home, where she might be held, and the woman had seen this house before. She asks Archer to draw a face, the face of a man, and she closes her eyes and allows her vision to take her, and she sees the girl chained to a bed, and she knows the man is near, he is coming down the steps, and he means to use her for his gain, for ransom, and his evil is plain and finally, Archer tells Tory to look up and he had drawn the face of her employer, and they realize what he is.
It’s been dozens of years since I ever heard the name, and there was no reason for me to hear it. Even in a very small town and a very small county, there are people you’ve got so little in common with that spending twelve years in the public school system means you discover there not only is nothing in common but likely never will be. His name was Van, which was short for some family name, and to me, family names are just a lack of imagination. Family names once meant something with titles or things like that, but seriously, I think names ought to be legally binding for five years and then everyone ought to have the option of changing. His name, though might have sounded Dutch, he said it was from a family from the English moors. I had to look it up, to find out what a moor was.
The schism occurs somewhere around the seventh or eighth grade, maybe earlier, but there were those of us who destined to drink, and smoke pot, and do those things they had tried to indoctrinate us against, and there were those who were not going to do those things. I was the standard bearer of the drinkers, the smokers, and those who were going to try the things that terrified the others. Van was on the other side, soundly, and definitively. While I was going shots of tequila on top of the school on a Saturday night he was a youth counselor for a local church. If I kept a bag with the words he and I exchanged in it I wouldn’t be able to make out a decent grocery list of the contents. After High School he joined the military, I cannot remember which branch, and I never thought I would see him again.
I started seeing a woman, named Kerri, who was a nurse, and she worked some in Hospice, and one day she asked me, tell me where did you go to High School again? What was the name of that little town? What year did you graduate? I was nearly fifty years old and those questions slowly faded away from conversation decades ago. “There’s a man in Hospice, dying of cancer, and he told me today that he went to your school, and graduated the same year.” Kerri looked at me with a very odd expression on her face, “He asked me to ask you if you remembered Lacey Warren.”
We went to see Van the next day and I wasn’t sure it was the same person. Over thirty years had passed and the disease that raged inside of him had changed his facial expression as surely as three decades had changed his body. He was always tall and thin, but now he was a Death Camp prisoner, inside his own body, and it was not long at all before his execution. The tubes had been removed. All attempts to keep life in shell were abandoned and only pain medications were being given.
“I retired here,” Van said without bothering with introduction, “and I spent my entire life trying to become the person you never thought about being.” He laughed and started coughing. “But now, after getting morphine and OxyContin, I wonder if you weren’t right. I understand the draw now. It’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? You can be alive and not feel pain. I had no idea such a thing was possible.
When Lacey disappeared, I prayed that I would be the one who found her. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be the one who carried her to her parents. I thought it would be something that proved that God meant for me to good things, and that people would see it in me.” Van coughed hard, and then closed his eyes. Briefly, I thought he might have died.
“You were there,” Van opened his eyes and they were filled with hate, “and you were going to ruin it for me. How could someone like you be part of God’s Plan? I spent my night in prayer and reading the Bible and you stole all the baseball equipment the day before the playoffs. We forfeited that game. I know you did it. Everyone knew you did it. But it all reappeared the day after. I have to know, how did you do it?” He coughed again, and once again, I thought he was dead. His eyes opened again. “Tell me,” he rasped.
“I used a bench as a ladder, and I hid it on top of the ceiling tiles,” I told him. “It was hanging over their heads the entire time they were looking for it. They wouldn’t let me play, so I decided not to let them play.”
“That’s defined your mindset,” Van tried to sneer at me, “you were a vengeful and demonic young man.”
“What happened to Lacey?” I asked.
“I found her,” Van said. “There was an old shed, you remember the old shed don’t you?”
“You and those potheads you led around like zombies where right there, and I found here, but I knew you and the others would claim you helped find her so I didn’t say anything. Your selfishness infected me. I didn’t want you to have anything to do with the rescue. I thought she was sleeping so I didn’t say anything.” Van coughed hard and tears came out of his eyes. “I went back. It was no more than an hour later, and Lacey was gone.”
“Van, it’s the morphine,” I told him, “Lacey was found miles away from that area, I remember that, she was found in Seminole County, it was an hour away. A six year old isn’t walking that far.”
“She was left in that shed, and it was there she was murdered,” Van said. “Our Pastor, Billy Womack did it. He moved the body. You remembered he killed himself? When we left the shed that day I told him we didn’t find her, and I saw something in his eyes, I didn’t know what it was, but he lingered around where we parked. I left and came back and he was gone. Lacey was, too. I went through the shed, and the woods, and I thought it was my fault she was dead. The next day I sought out the Pastor to tell him what had happened, and he thought I came to confront him. He confessed to me and then shot himself.” Van was shaking with tears and a sound came from his soul, the sound of a dying man whose pain could not be slacked anymore. “You’ve never feared Hell, have you?”
“No, it doesn’t exist.” I said.
“I have discovered the solace of drugs and atheism,” Van laughed, “in the final moment of my life. Tell Lacey’s parents to forgive me.” And he his eyes remained open, fixed, but his breathing had stopped.
“Are you going to tell her parents,” Kerri asked me as we drank. She told me she never drank after a death, but in this case she would make an exception.
“I’m not sure,” I replied.
“Van was telling the truth when he said that I was there, at that shed, and I remember him saying there wasn’t anything inside of it,” I told her, “and we tracked north, towards the river to look for her. But Womack didn’t stick around after we searched that area.” I told her.
“Are you certain?” Kerri asked.
“Yep,” I replied. “Womack was a closet pot head and I was his connection. He gave me a ride home that day, and we took the scenic route to burn a joint or three. Van was lying about Womack moving the body, and I think he was lying about everything else, too.”
“You think Van killed her?”
“I think Van killed her, and then hid the body in Seminole County.” I said. “And he went to Womack for spiritual guidance and whatever Womack told Van it was bad enough for Van to kill him.”
“Damn.” Kerri took a hit off the bottle and handed it to me.
How long had I been lost? The swamp of the Okefenokee was endless but human life is not. I went in to photo the variety of life in the Cypress Cathedral and snuck my kayak down to the landing to keep from paying the landing fee. This was acerbated by my departure from the known trail, my forgetfulness towards my compass, and finally, I had lied to my girlfriend and told her I had to work. I had told work I was spending the weekend with Anne. A rotted tree fell silently and clipped the bow off my boat and shattered my knee. After three days it was clear no one had thought to look here for me. The watercraft was wrecked, my cell phone was tucked away somewhere in the ruin, and I could barely move my leg without a scream rising from my throat.
“You are dying,” the creature said, and I knew he was right.
“Hey you wanna go get a grits bowl,” said a co-worker.
“No,” I replied, “I’m good.”
I parked nearly a quarter mile away from everyone else. I have less than half an hour for a break and an idea for a new short story has wandered in. But this proves my theory that nothing attracts humans stronger than another human trying to catch some solitude.
“You don’t want no grits bowl?” And he asks this in a tone of voice that suggests I’ve refused to admit desire for Helen Mirren in her prime, and she always has been so.
“I don’t like grits,” I say and instantly regret it. The conversation will now continue to the incredible heights of deliciousness of a food with no taste of its own. The proponent will be forced into confessing that grits needs, at a
Minimum, salt, pepper, a lot of butter, and a full breakfast mixed in with it to make it palatable. In the meanwhile, my break is dissolving like a ice cream scoop of butter on a tasteless gloop of ground corn with the nutritional value of seasoned cardboard.
Oddly, the Grits Cheerleader then begins a soliloquy on why he never eats breakfast at McDonald’s.
Splendid! Why not pick a subject at random with some superficial effect on your life, set it ablaze with an anecdote, and shall we warm our souls on the dying moments it consumes?
The story looks up at me like an ailing pet. I’ve kept this thing alive with merely one hand, one finger, tapping away at the phone keyboard, in Notes, because that is how strong the desire is to write, yet the moments that remain to me before I go to work wither and die, like the last moments of a dog’s life before the sharpness of the needle slips in and away goes a mortal soul, and nothing remains but to remember and to mourn.
“You think Carrie Underwood’s face is going to be messed up, you know, really bad?” he asks solemnly, and somewhere out there, in the infinite Universe, filled with infinite Universes, through billions and billions of years of time. Carrie Underwood’s face, whoever Carrie Underwood might actually be, might have some impact on my life.
“You think she got beat up and is just trying to cover for him?” He asks, and he looks around, as if there might be someone who might turn him in for this thought, or might care. I get out of my truck and start walking towards his, which is some distance away.
“Mostly,” I tell him, “women will defend their abusers if there’s a pattern of abuse in the past, and who knows, he may be beating the hell out of her in a drunken rage right now for all we know, but in the end, she has the resources to break the pattern of abuse but she must choose to do so.” And with this I tell him I forgot my phone and double back to get it has he heads out.
I sit down and watch his figure recede into the night, and look at the clock. It’s over. Thirty minutes have been devoured and now I am frustrated and hungry. There is no way to recover the time lost and the story must wait until the light of day. I wonder if the time between start and restart will hurt the essence of the tale, and I wonder if there’s some way to regain a few moments to try to put it back together sooner?
The truck pulls ever so slightly to the left, and I know this truck well, its quirks and its patterns of drift. I can use details like these in another story of a man in a truck, nothing is wasted when it comes to writing, like the bones of the lion’s prey being bleached out on the plains of the Serengeti. Perhaps it will be covered in some flash flood, to be found millions of years later, and in some way, live again. The story needs someone, Anne, the girlfriend, and suddenly I realize that nothing is wasted in writing, and that all stories need something in them that is buried, like the bone of a kill millions of years old, and I have an idea on top of an idea.
The work has begun again, and as I pull up my co-worker has information for me, factual and empirical, and he’s surprised when I get out of the truck with a bag. “Grits bowl, extra butter and hot sausage,” I tell him. “So, you think microsurgery will be enough to save Carrie Underwood’s face or will she be messed up, you know, real bad?”
I had forgotten the basic needs of a writer, and that is to be human, to experience humanity, and to live the lives of people who are not fictional. This is nothing new, and I’ve forgotten this lesson before, and I will always forget it again, for that is my nature, to be alone and to write. But I must return my people to learn again, this lesson, and others as well, for without that humanity, without the breath of other people, writing is simply the echo of one man’s thoughts, and that is never a good thing.
“You don’t know who Carrie Underwood is,” he is stunned, but eating grits, “she’s got like a billion number one hits, she’s married to that guy, what’s his name, that was married to that girl…”
There has to be some function that dreams perform, I think. Maybe, and this is something to think about, the various parts and regions of the brain, which make up the human mind, get bored when we’re asleep, and they create fiction to be entertained. It’s four in the morning and about an hour or so ago I had a really vivid dream where a cop shot this guy in the face for playing his music too loud while we were all stuck in traffic. It was as real as if it really happened. When I woke up the first thing that startled me was it was night. The dreamscape had been daylight.
Right there, is one clue as to what was happening, somewhere. The process involved decided to change night into day. Then there was the location, Saint Augustine Road in Valdosta, near the mall, approaching Gornto Road, and across from Lowe’s. That’s all from my memory. The process went into my memory and decided to use that location as the backdrop of the dream.
Does location tell us anything about intent? I’m not fond of the mall, and that particularly intersection can be a bitch, especially the right lane where vehicles try to pull into traffic, and it’s made worse by those people who allow people in. Yes, I know. I know that it’s a nice thing to do, but it’s nice for the person who does it, and it’s nice for the person who is let in, but for the twenty people behind that person who has to sit through another traffic light change it isn’t nice at all. It would be mitigated if there wasn’t this odd delay between the person allowing someone in and that person actually pulling into traffic. The exchange takes too long and there is nothing to be done for it. It’s best just to let that one person sit through the natural progression of traffic and be done with it. I realize I am a minority when it comes to this thinking.
Next, the dream is populated with an antagonist. He’s a young guy, maybe just old enough to drive, and he’s driving an older model car that’s had a lot of work done to it; shiny wheels, lots of chrome, tinted windows, all that stuff that kills the older cars’ character. I’m not a car person. I’ve never loved a car or a truck any more than I loved a stove or a pair of socks. It would be really interesting to get a real image of the car and find out if it’s a model that exists or if my mind cobbled one together. How much of a dream is imagery and how much is merely emotions hung on ideas? What’s the difference in a dream? I’m not actually “seeing” anything. I’m experiencing emotions based on fiction my mind had derived from memory.
Or it is memory? Who is this young man? Who is this cop? I can’t see the young man clearly, only is face in his side mirror, just barely, but I see the police man quite clearly. Are they people I know who I feel a certain way towards? Do I, subconsciously, think a cop would fire seven shots into the face of a young man for having wretched taste in music? Is it in me, somewhere in my heart or mind, that I think people who play this song that loud ought to be shot? None of these thoughts occur to be during the nightmare, but after I am awake I wonder what this says about me, and if there is more here, or simply less.
One day, I wonder if I will meet a young man and think to myself, “Damn, that’s him!” or if I will meet someone who looks like the cop, but I doubt it. I’ve never met anyone in the real world who has inhabited a dream, unless they were already someone I knew. I’ve met some fairly memorable people in my dreams, mostly women, and no, not mostly sexual encounters. The closest any two people have ever come to matching, from dreamscape to real life, was the young girl I met in a dream where she was explaining her dragonfly tattoo to me, while she was in a bikini, and a young woman at a Wendy’s who put some pot in an order for a friend and accidently gave it to me at the drive through window. She realized her mistake instantly and came out of the drive through window and into my truck window to retrieve the goods. We had a very brief, but very interesting conversation while she was all but sitting in my lap, and she reminded me very strongly of the girl in the dream. Were she ten years older and I ten years younger at the time I might have driven off with her and the pot.
After the young man was shot I could smell the gunpowder from the cartridges in the air. Rarely, have I met someone who can tell me what they smelled in a dream, and I wonder if blind people dream of scents that sight people do not? Do deaf people have more acutely visual dreams that those who can hear? Did you accept the idea of being able to hear music in a dream yet slightly balk at the concept of the smell of gunsmoke?
I can see this nightmare being part of a short story. Someone witnesses a murder and it turns out to be a mafia hit or a revenge killing. The video shot by the person who witnessed the shooting realizes there are subtle clues in the video, reflections in the rearview mirror, reflections in the windshield, that might give his identity away. But the video is viral now, and how long before someone discovers who he is?
The things my mind does when I am out of the driver’s seat disturb me, betimes. Yet I have to remind myself that I am asleep when this occurs, and that I have no control over what happens on the screen when I don’t pick the movies.
But seriously, that song is going to drive someone to homicide one day.
After one beer I was trailing smoke and spiraling down. This is a sad state of affairs but working night shift will do that to a body. Eventually, I awoke to discover that it was still early, and I needed to get a few things done before tomorrow, and things went smoothly. No one was crying and no one was putting beans in their nose. I did some writing, no, not this writing, and then after midnight, I decided go to bed. After all, everything seemed very normal. Why would I expect for there to be anything different or surreal?
I turn the lights off and reality slips quietly out of the room. She sobs softly, leaves a note on the table about not being able to take this sort of abuse, and runs.
Budlore Amadeus, who clearly has never lived in the woods before, hears something in the dark. His plan of action is to bark loudly and charge towards the back door, where I assume he will stop, come to his senses, and return to sleep. I could not be more wrong. The entire pack lifts itself out of slumber to join Bud, and it sounds like they’re trying to tear the back door down.
There is a couple of issues here. One, I’ve been drinking, albeit a while ago, and only one beer, but I have an aversion to picking up a shotgun when I’ve been drinking. My senses tells me that this is Bud gone wild, and the others have joined him in this misadventure, but there is a chance, a small chance, that Bud might be onto something. I reach over for the shotgun and ease into the living room where there is total darkness and chaos to match it. I get to the backdoor and open it, and the pack pours out into the night, loudly, and I listen. Bud is the loudest dog, Wrex has a distinctive voice, Lilith Anne is pounding away at the night, and…where is the Person of the Striped Persuasion? I listen and wonder; has Tyger charged out deep into the woods on her own?
I go back to the bedroom and can still hear the bedlam outside. I sit down on the bed to put jeans on and almost sit on Tyger Linn, who has sat this whole thing out. She has not moved. Tyger has decided all this excitement is made entirely of the nope and she isn’t having anything to do with going outside in the wet and making barking at nothing. If Tyger Linn heard nothing and is doing nothing, perhaps it is time that I reeled the pack back in. I get everyone inside but Bud is still keyed. I hold onto his collar and make him lie down. Bud slips into sleep and I’m drifting off.
Suddenly, and without warning, Bud is off and running again, barking like hell, with Wrex and Lilith in tow, again. In the darkness I reach over to discover that Tyger Linn is of the nope. She has not heard anything that would convince her that wet feet and a raised pulse is worth anything that she hears going on.
I get Wrex in, and Budlore follows, still agitated and barking. Lilith is wound up at the fence barking at the night. She refuses to come in for a very long time and finally I go out and yell at her, and Bud barks at this, too.
Bud is totally shocked when he gets put in the crate. The door is locked behind him, and he’s sleeping in there, or not sleeping in there, I shall not care, but we’re done with this barking thing. I get the squirt bottle out and Bud lies down and remains silent. Wrex doesn’t understand why Bud is crated, but he does understand the squirt bottle.
Silence descends upon Hickory Head.
Wrex gets up, once and charges towards the door, but not barking. The backdoor is closed and Wrex is stymied. I remind Wrex the crate sleeps two, perhaps not comfortably, but two dogs will fit into it, yes, Wrex.
Silence descends upon Hickory Head.
By this time, about an hour or so has passed. I’m tired, sleepy, and peevish at the dogs for being stupid. I open the bedroom window and I don’t hear the multitude of frogs that were going last night. Did the dogs silence the frogs? Or was whatever the dogs barking at the reason the frogs are not singing? But whatever is out there, it is not human, and therefore not nearly the threat Bud might think it is. He does not know how to judge threats or how to temper his reaction. From inside the crate Bud whines softly but he does not bark for fear of water.
When Bert was alive this never happened. Bert knew what to bark at, when to sound the alarm, when to sleep through it, and we never had this sort of late night drama for no good reason at all. Sam and Lucas had good judgment as well, and even the Cousins didn’t do stupid things late at night. But Bert was the best when it came to being a guard dog. He hammered the hell out of humans with his voice and he had a big booming bark. He would bark at deer or other dogs, but when Bert laid it down it was always important.
I miss Bert in times like these. I miss having a Great Dog. I miss his stability and the way he was part of management and knew it. I miss the security that he provided and I miss his leadership with younger dogs. There really was never a reason to fear people with Bert asleep on the end of the bed, and there was never a time he got fooled by some odd sound in the darkness.
The sun comes up and the dogs want to be fed. I need to sleep but I’ll put it off for a while, again. I’m supposed to write today, and this won’t be all of it, but I also have to go into town.
She’s a thin woman, unnaturally so, and it’s the kind of skinny that isn’t healthy or wears well on a woman, or a dog, or anyone else for that matter. It’s a neglectful kind of thinness, the same manner of rib showing that someone who suddenly remembers they haven’t fed the dog, for a while, sees one day in a suddenly epiphany. Her hair is a cropped mane that looks like it got caught in a car door and she cut it off with a piece of glass rather than opening the door again, and you can see this in this woman; she’s made some decisions that really make no sense to the rest of us, who are not her. Why not just open the door rather than cut your hair with a broken bottle? There is a story there, and she will tell it, if you ask.
The smell, more than anything else, the smell. You wonder why dogs take such an interest in scent? Dogs not only have a much better sense of smell than we do they are also more attuned in what the smells mean. You bring home a strange dog from the road and your resident dogs know this mutt is a stray. They know this dog hasn’t been petted or fed or loved. They can smell the lack of home. And sometimes they are hostile to these dogs, because they really do not know what else to feel about something like this.
She starts out overpolite, over the top polite, and it’s “Please sir, if you could just give me a ride to the next exit, my mother dying of lung cancer and my children starving to death, and I just got fired from my job and I got kicked out of my house because my husband was cheating with my twin sister and a dingo took my baby.” She doesn’t say any of this, of course, but it’s a sad story, and she needs so little from the rest of the world, and she ends it with, “I’m hoping that I will find someone with a heart.”
The smell is the odor of a human body left out in the sun too long. Not the healthy smell of a hard working woman who got out in the yard and planted tulips and mowed grass and maybe took a crate out and picked squash because her son didn’t show up to do it and she’ll show him, dammit. I went to a friend’s house once and then we went to a field where they would let you pick all the black eyed peas you wanted for five dollars a hamper, and all I wanted was a couple of handfuls, but I was willing to help out. They had a freezer and wanted to put some away, so sure. There was a woman there who had been out in the sun for a couple of hours, the middle of the day sun, too, and I started talking to her. She was there helping someone fill a freezer, and I asked her out. She laughed at me, took off her bandana and wiped her face and asked me, “Are you nuts?” But think about it. You know you’ve seen her at her very worst and very best all in one place in one time. You know what she smells like, really smells like, when she hasn’t taken a shower and she’s covered with honest hard work dirt. Sitting across a table in a restaurant would be easy at this point, and I said so.
But the woman at Exit 29, off I-75, has a different smell. This is not the smell of garlic, like I carry with me in my body, and those of my tribe carry, too. We garlic eaters know what people say, and we care not at all about it. But this woman has been eating chemicals, not food. She’s been drinking chemicals, not food. She’s been walking down the road trying to get a ride, not working. She’s been doing this for a while now, and any dog could tell you that she is a stray, and she hasn’t been fed, or petted.
She tells me her name is Wendy, and that she works for the store in Quitman and I don’t tell her that I live just South of that town, and I know a few people there. I don’t tell her I shop there once a week, at least, because she isn’t really lying to me; she’s spinning fiction. What you and I see in people, as resident dogs, is a lot different than what we see in strays, is it not? We don’t see Wendy as a resident dog. Wendy is a stray. Hackles up! Horripilate! Ears back and voices raised.
Wendy tells me she’s recently divorced, and this too is a creation of fiction, not a lie. In the world of the stray, fiction is the currency of the world, whereas you and I might deal with money to get what we need, Wendy spins fiction, and she hopes to make a living, in a manner of speaking, doing it. We’re getting close now, to her destination, and she tells me she living too close to the bad section of town, and she doesn’t like black men or brown men, but she does like white men. She smiles at me when she says this, teeth not showing because some are missing, and she’s learned to not show her teeth. She has rolled over on her back, belly up, and waits…
She sits still when we pull up to gas station where she is supposed to meet someone. I hate to ask you for money but I haven’t eaten in a couple of days and… This may be the first close truth Wendy has spoken to me, but it doesn’t matter; I never carry cash.
As I pull away Wendy goes inside, and I wonder if she’ll be alive tomorrow. Strays are often killed on the road, and those of us who rescue strays cannot rescue them all, we know this, so we choose the ones we think can better survive than the others. We do this with humans, too, even if we won’t admit it. We will let Wendy die, let her stay out in the sun, and we won’t look back because she has missing teeth, she smells bad, she’s bad terrible choices, spins fiction, and there are people we know we can help, and they will survive on their own, and there is no risk in this sort of salvation because we have money and good judgement and haircuts.
Nightwork is a strange thing. It’s the only state of mind your employer can legally require you to be in and at the same time be in an altered state. Reality, in as much as you knew it, has changed, and in its place in an alien world full of strange sights and sounds, and even your home life is different. I work twelve hour shifts. This means I get off, drive forty minutes home, and the clock is ticking. I may get six or seven hours of sleep, then I have to tend to the dogs, making sure each one of them feels loved and special since I’ve been gone. They have to feel loved and they have to feel it from me, each and every day of their lives. There has to be some moment with me they can call their own. I truly believe that most of the problems we have with human beings is because there are children whose parents do not believe this with their kids, and this is sad, and it is tragic.
This is Tuesday. It’s hard for me to feel Tuesday. I was working on Tuesday this morning and I will be working Tuesday tonight, and tonight will turn into Wednesday. When I wake up I have less than four hours before I have to make the forty minute drive to work. If I am smart, I will do the dishes, wash the clothes, clean where I can, and oh yeah, I need to keep writing. The Muse cannot be denied, even in these times. If you cannot make your Muse feel loved and special every day there is something wrong in your life and you need to make a change.
Don’t let things pile up, I tell myself, and even on the first day there are signs this can happen quickly. There are one hundred and nineteen days left in this now, and I have to make sure I stay having good habits in the beginning. Keep cleaning, keep petting, keep writing, and don’t become a mindless zombie who just goes to work and dreads it, I tell myself. I have no idea how long I can keep the lie alive, or keep the truth going, but I know I can today.
There was a moment in time last night, this morning, okay, there was a time between the rising of the moon, and the rising of the sun, when a story began to form. There was a couple who met online, and they decided to meet in a motel, because she worked there and felt safe there, even though employees were not supposed to sleep with guests in the motel. But what has she got to lose except a minimum wage and the manager told her it was okay, because he’s looking out for her interests in this, and her long distance boyfriend has to provide a credit card.
There’s more to this story, but it hasn’t arrived yet. I can feel it in the back of my mind, like a forgotten name or the lyrics of a song, or that actress who played in “Silkwood” back in the 80’s. Cher was in that movie, and oddly, I never forget her name even though it doesn’t come up that much. If you’ve never written fiction you might never believe how it happens, how little is planned, and how much of it seems to come of its own volition, and how little control I have of the process.
You can say you want to be a good parent, or have a happy dog, or be an artist, but what are you doing about it? If work and house stuff and life stuff, if all of these things lead you away from being who you want to be, is it because you are forced, coerced, or simply distracted? How long can a person be distracted before it becomes neglect?
Think about it. Most people tend to their lawns, not because of their bountiful crop of edible grass or because they can sell what they’ve grown. They cannot smoke it and its medicinal value is zero. Yet we live in a culture whose mindset is that everyone who has a lawn must care for it, regardless of how useless this might be, and people are looked down on for a poorly kept yard. But no one ever asks a friend how that poem is coming, or how that thought might change into a story, no. Poets and writers are valued less than some guy who is good with a mower, or some woman who really knows her way around a weed eater.
Ask yourself how you invest your interest in other people’s lives and how that influences how they invest in your own life. Do you ask about their kids’ creativity? Do you ask them if their pets are okay? Have you ever mentioned to someone they tend to lean towards having a poetic streak? Or do you talk about how green their yard looks and how even their mower seems to be cutting? Reruns? Binge watching? What happened last night in the zombie show? What are you helping the people around you become?
The story in my mind forms around my attention on it. Like a fearful dog, I coax it closer to me. I cannot actually see it. I cannot hear it. I cannot do anything but feel it, and feel it ever so slightly, like the first smile from a woman whose name I cannot remember. But by telling you, even if you and I never meet, you exist and so does it. By writing, more writing comes from writing, by loving more love comes from this, and by giving it my time, it becomes more of me.
I have but an hour and a half before I have to be headed back in, yet I have done those things that I must do to keep alive those thoughts I need. The pack is petted and the Muse is fed.
Day One is over and the Day Two begins.
The cold weather in January killed my Carolina Reaper plants. They were two seasons old and still cranking out the beautiful and red peppers, and I miss them still. A month or so ago I contacted the people I bought the plants from and they were selling sprouts, tiny and puny looking things for twelve bucks apiece plus shipping. I declined to be robbed and tried to get some seeds to geminate to no avail. It looked grim, and my supply of frozen peppers could not last forever.
Suddenly, a guy at work told me there was a flea market at Exit Five that had Reaper Plants! He had bought one, and they were a foot tall and four bucks apiece! Finally! There was light at the end of the tunnel. Or in the case of flea markets, the end of the funnel cake.
There’s obligatory and ubiquitous background to every flea market and funnel cake, and I still have no idea what a funnel cake might be, is one of those things. You’ll find American flags made in China. You’ll find old bottles for sale. You’ll meet someone selling hats, another person selling knives, and you’ll find a guy, or a girl, selling used books. There will be second hand clothes and new sunglasses. There will be cheap jewelry. And there will be people there who are walking so very slowly, you could put a small stone beside them to gauge if they are really moving at all.
I am a man on a mission. The intent is to get in and get back out, and have pepper plants in hand when I do this. I arrive, park as close as I can to as far away as I can get from the front of the place, adjust my hat, check my shoelaces, and turn on the afterburners. This place sprawls out all over about five acres. I can surely get in and out of here in less than a half hour or so, say, where is one of this kiosks that tell will tell me, “You are HERE!” with a red arrow hovering over my head.
If this were the Mall, or even a big store, or even a strip man, you know, even of this was a gas station in the middle of nowhere, you would think, at worst, someone would know how to find the plant person, right? I stopped at the first booth.
“What kind of plants?” the woman asked. She reminded me of a guy I knew who played linebacker in High School. A cigarette seemed glued to her lower lip and it moved up and down like some sort of smoking genetic mutation as she spoke.
“Pepper plants,” I tell her.
“I ain’t never heard of nobody selling no pepper plants here,” she tells me with a tone that suggests that I might be stupid for looking for pepper plants here to begin with. “You come out here looking for pepper plants?”
“Would I have asked you if you knew where pepper plants were being sold if I wasn’t looking for them here?” and I start backing away from her as she tries to intellectually digest a question that might turn out to be an insult.
There is literally three feet of distance between the first woman, who was selling new shoelaces, used cheese graters, and sun screen, and the next booth, where a man wearing a hat with a rebel flag with a fish embedded in it is selling keychains that have crystals in them that contain dead arthropods. This is why men do not ask for directions; we see the prospects of information and would rather just slog it out on our own.
There are people like me. We raid. We do not shop. We go in, we find what we need and we pay for it and then we get the hell out. Then there are the flea market people. They stand in the middle of the travel way. They stare. They rarely really move. It’s like being in a house fire with a group of people who are there for self-immolation.
Finally, I see plants. I close in on the plants and lo! There are Carolina Reapers and Ghost Peppers, too! But there is no one minding the shop. There is a sign that reads, “I always need bags”.
What the actual fuck?
Soon, a man arrives and he looks like he works here, and she’s speaking to a woman who has followed him, ten paces behind, and they’ve made some sort of sell and he had to carry the plants back to her car, I wait for money to be exchanged and in the meantime, he doesn’t so much as say, “Be with you in a second” or “Good Morning!” or “Five miles out, just keep you heading true”. Just as soon as the woman leaves a small child appears and asks if there are banana plants here. No, just banana peppers, do they taste like bananas, no they taste like peppers, why do they call them banana peppers, they look like bananas, show me one, I don’t have any. Meanwhile, I’m standing there wondering when, as a species, we stopped training children to not interrupt adults. I’m trying to make eye contact with the plant selling guy to try to hurry the conversation about banana peppers on, but the child breaks and runs. I cannot tell you why, unless clairvoyance.
I tell the man I want two Reapers and two Ghosts, and he tells me the price, which is marked, and I try to pry information out of him as to how he grows them. I stop when he gets to the point he is telling me about how lizards eat a lot of his young plants. I’m not sure what he’s doing but he is doing it right. Or not. But lizards are not eating his plants.
I have four pepper plants in the ground right now. Two Reapers, Two Ghosts, and in a month or so I should start seeing some little peppers, if the lizards don’t get them. I’m back in business and I’m thinking about getting a greenhouse started.
Jan looked at the trail of vomit on the floor that ended at the comatose body of her husband, Will, lying on the floor. He had tripped and fallen on the way to the bathroom and puked hard, long, then lay face down in it, and passed out. This is the night of their fourth anniversary and Jan couldn’t see another year going by and enduring this. When things were good they were very good, but when things were bad they were worse than bad. Will had begun the disintegration publically tonight, and hadn’t made it home before slipping into a lizard minded quest for more alcohol. This was the first time he had really humiliated her in public, in the way that mattered, even if most people already knew the truth about him, and even if she refused to.
The television was a nice one, and Jan wondered if looking around a house and seeing nice things was worth it, really, but Will’s parents had left him with money, and he never spent it on anything but booze and her. He didn’t hunt or fish, he didn’t immerse himself in sports, and Will never raised his hand or his voice to her. She idly flipped through the channels and wondered how there could be thousands of programs and none worth watching. Her father had told her stories about there being two or three channels when he was a kid, and he saw cable arrive with thirteen channels, and who could imagine there being more than thirteen? Jan knew she was trying to find a way to forget her husband was passed out on the floor again, this time in his own puke, the stitches torn out and his body bleeding from diving into a patch of yucca plants to win a bet for a half gallon of cheap whiskey. The video of the event had gotten over one hundred thousand views on the internet and the comments were brutal; “moron”, “stupid”, and “Darwin Award nominee of the year”.
Jan stopped at the news and they were talking about a man in Russia who was killed and eaten by some creature no one had ever seen before. The video on that was grainy and unclear, and Jan wondered why, with all the cameras that were on earth now, when something truly amazing was supposed to be happening, the feed was always fuzzy. There was a time when Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, and UFO’s could be believed in, but now… Mythical creatures, like the unicorn and the good marriage, were largely being dispelled. Jan could feel herself leaving now. She could see it in her mind, clearly, for the very first time. Until now it had been something to wish for or to wonder about, like someone sitting on top of a house during a flood. The water had now risen to a point she felt compelled, driven away, to leave.
There was a program on where two well-dressed people, a man and a woman were trying to sell vacuum cleaner to an enthusiastic audience. With the demonstration of each attachment the crowd cheered wildly and Jan smiled at this. Wasn’t this how life was lived, that people praised their kids for anything they did, expected to be supported by the people around them, and in the end was sold whatever was being offered? She realized the poison in her own cynicism and she hated Will for making her this way. She got up and went over to where he lay face down in his own puke. It was beginning to smell, and she would smell that smell for the rest of her life, she knew, because it smelled faintly of fried fish, which Will had eaten too much off, and they had paid too much for, at a restaurant that served too much alcohol to him, and they knew it. Jan kicked Will in the face, violently, viciously, hard, once, twice, three times, and then she stomped her foot hard down on his left hand. Her breath came in ragged gulps now, and she realized in horror what she had done, and was terrified at the pleasure she was feeling from it. She backed away from Will’s body as he moaned, his legs moved him forward a few inches across the floor, lubricated by the vomit, and he turned over, and from his mouth blood and vomit issued in a thin geyser. He rolled over again and make snorting sounds out of his mouth.
His phone was on the floor and Jan picked it up and wiped it off. She took photos of Will lying in his own puke and posted them to his Facebook page. She knew it would do no good, she wasn’t hoping for some sort of shaming to dry him out, no, she knew better than that now, but this was her way of burning bridges, and she didn’t realize it until Will’s son tried to call. But it was too late, far too late, in so many ways it was too late. Jan made a video of her pushing Will’s face with the tip of her shoes, rubbing him into the puke while he blew bubbles in it with his nose, and Jan let the video run for about a minute before she posted it.
Will’s phone began to light up now. His friends were calling, what few he had left, his son was calling and sending text messages, and someone would eventually come over. Jan packed a few things, just enough to last a couple of days, and she turned the heat on in the house, even though it was warm outside. The smell would be terrible when she returned, she knew that, but she wanted it to smell like that. She wanted it to linger, to infest the house, possess it like a demon so she would never forget it, and never come back for good. She locked the dead bolts so no one could get in and threw Will’s phone into the back of the closet so he would have a hard time finding it when he finally sobered up.
After ten minutes of driving Jan pulled over and wondered where she was going and what she would do when she got there. The good wife would go back, repair the damage as best she could, and try to help him, again and again and again. She pulled back into traffic and started calling people she knew that lived out of town, to find a place to land.