Monday, August 14, 2006

The Magician’s Shoes

The magician had six toes on his left foot. He had four on his right. He often thought that if he had been a better magician—one who had something more than a store bought wand perhaps—he would be able to even things out more. But he was not that better magician. The bouquets of flowers he made from yesterdays newspapers always wilted and sometimes the colors ran. On a good day, it was true, he could make wine from water but even on a good day it was never good wine. Sometimes it was vinegar.

If the magician walked alone across an open field his path inevitably and imperceptibly arched to the right. This is worth noting, not only due to the disparity of his feet and its effect on his locomotion and guidance, but because the magician was a man prone to walking alone across open fields. He liked to walk and think. He liked to smell the dampness of the earth and the vaguely sharp but pleasant rotting of things around him. Leaves, fallen trees, perhaps a few aged doves that had fallen from the sky or from his coat sleeve unnoticed.

When the magician walked alone across open fields, all his breath came in sighs. He had, this year as in all years before, unreasonable expectations for the spring. Could it not bring love or success or at least hope of either? He was scheduled for a birthday party the week before spring and for a bar mitzvah the first day of spring and as he sloshed through the mud and flattened grass of the field, he thought that maybe there was some significance to this. Everywhere around him there were symbols and clues and evidence of fate and the future. Or if there weren’t, there should be. In a better world there would be.

It was not spring yet. Strips of off-color snow lay across the earth like blank spots in the universe. Like the world was an unfinished painting. The snow was melting. The sky was gray. A flock of birds flew by in away that struck the magician as apocalyptic.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Greetings from a Fellow Traveler

Hello. Listen. I want to tell you something. Nothing big; don’t get excited. I am not going to tell you the location of the bodies of those two college girls that have been missing since last July. And don’t think I had anything to do with that either. I’m just saying. Anyway, I have it on reasonably good authority that nothing bad has happened to them at all—that they just wanted to get away on there own. A friend of mine knows a friend of theirs. I only mention them because they happen to be in all the papers lately. Mostly, I think, because they are pretty. It is like that with the pretty and missing. I wonder how many homely people have been lost in the meantime.

Anyway, the small thing I wanted to tell you: we are in this together. What? you ask. I assume you ask. Why wouldn’t you? And I mean only this: all of this. Everything. The world, the universe, existence and all that. We are in it together, you and I.

It is like, I think, riding a bus. Getting on a bus. A crowded bus. You are not even sure it is the correct bus. You get on, find a seat where you can—by the window, by the aisle—try to find a spot to yourself at first, though you know that even if you do someone will come along and sit next to you anyway. And who will that person be? That is the question. Will they smell funny or want to talk? If they have candy in their pocket will they offer you some? Are they the sort that will fall asleep with there head against your shoulder or the type that will elbow you in the ribs for possession of the armrest? It is all fairly random. We get what we get.

So I am that person sitting next to you. That is all that I wanted to say. We are in this together. We are jostled along bumpy roads while the bus takes its slow and regular route around the sun. Here is our mutual armrest. Would you like to use it first? Are you sleepy? I am here. My shoulder is here. Hello.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Untitled Apocalypse --Part 3.

The last man on earth died in a way that he imagined was unique—and being that he was the last man on earth it would be hard to argue with him.

He died like this: bit by bit; all of his automatic functions ceasing to function automatically. Falling away—those little miracles of physicality; his body’s repertoire of old standards—falling away like the walls of an ancient fortress. To blink, he had to remember to blink. To breathe he had to remember to breathe. Both in and out. Even his heart could no longer be relied upon and he had to consciously clench and unclench it at regular intervals. It was like opening and closing a hand in his chest. It was lucky for him that he figured this out.

The disadvantage to all this was obvious. Sleep or distraction would kill him. His mind could not wander from the task at hand: to go on living. He knew this, (it had occurred to him between beats and blinks and breaths,) and he could not last long, but he would go on for as long as he could. He was like a man hanging from a rope above the abyss. His grip on the rope was slipping. The rope was fraying. The knot that tied the rope to the railing of a bridge was coming undone. The rusted bolts of the railing were crumbling. The bridge was about to collapse. The abyss waited, like abysses always do.

In the end it was a fly that killed him. It entered the room and flew past his ear. When was the last time I’ve seen a fly, he thought. When was the first time? And then the world faded completely away.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Untitled Apocalypse Part 2.

The last man on earth made his home in the shell of what used to be a Happy Jack’s Burger Palace. It wasn't really a palace, of course, and there were nicer buildings with more room and better furniture less than a mile away. The library, for instance, or the museum of art--but he recalled some dim and happy memory of having had a birthday meal at Happy Jack's once with his parents, and the bright colors gave him some comfort now.

His first act of home repair was to board up all the windows. He did this not only for the obvious reason that most of them had already been broken during the riots, but also because he could not shake the nagging and unfounded suspicion, fostered by a lifetime of movies and comic books, that marauding flesh-eating mutants were roaming the earth. There weren’t any; there was only him, the cockroaches, the pigeons and a few limping rats, but he would never leave his dwelling after sundown anyway. Just to be on the safe side.

After the windows were boarded and curtains hung to obscure the non-view, he put tablecloths over two of the tables and his personal effects on a third. The other tables he removed with a sledgehammer and piled outside in the parking lot. On a whim, he threw rocks at the sign in front until all the words were gone and only one corner of Happy Jack’s insanely grinning mouth remained.

The meat in the non-functioning freezers had long since spoiled, but the smell was not so bad if he remembered never to open the doors. Eventually he rolled them out into the parking lot to add to his growing mountain of debris.

The streets were another matter. By summer the bodies were in full rot and the smell of it was overpowering. Birds pecked at the corpses. He lit a lot of scented candles and stayed indoors. He lived on potato chips, candy bars and Twinkies. There was a lifetime supply less than a block away a long with all the over-the-counter cold and flu medicines he could ever want. He made cocktails from the medicines, experimenting with different combinations until he found the reliable recipes for feeling good, or euphoric, or drowsy. His life itself was powered by batteries—sometimes taken from the rubble of stores, sometimes pried from the hands of decaying looters.

Autumn came and went and then winter, spring and summer. After that, the bodies were mostly skeletons and did not smell so much. Grass and then trees grew from the debris in the streets. His home became cluttered with the objects and symbols of things that once had made him happy and did not make him sad or bitter now.
He grew older. He grew old. His own death felt just around the corner, and he began to wonder if he should have done things differently. Should he have left behind something other than the piles and arrangements of a forgotten culture that would now be his legacy? Should he have built from this rubble and raw material something new that would have been his own contribution to the planet—the artifacts of his own particular culture of one? He could have painted paintings, kept a journal or traveled farther than a block from home. It seemed to him, in his fading moments, that an opportunity had been wasted, but he did not know exactly what the opportunity was.

It did not matter. He would lay down in a booth one day and die. With a whimper or a hacking cough. He would be one more dead body. He would be fresher than the rest.