'Cording to the bathroom mirror, facial weight has been lost, the chin and jawbone are more pronounced, my head seems shorter. The chemical burning feel is in all my fluids, the moisture of my mouth, even my eyeballs.
“Well, this is the room,“ Royal says. I turn, shifting to the inside of a barracks room. I look at my bunk, the nightstand beside it. Royal, wearing a white t-shift and beige pants, acts like he’s an attendant here and that we’ve just met.
Shifted to the inside of a therapist‘s office. It smells stale; the sounds of traffic drift in from outside tall, dirty windows. “But you’ve already proven the spell you need to heal,” the counselor is saying. His tweed suit looks like something out of a Godfather movie.
The two week’s notice is over. I had already asked for days off weeks ago so I could go to New York again so my notice is much shorter than two weeks. The staff thinks I'm leaving for school, which is true, except I want to go to school in the mountains, same as Royal and I talked about. I don't tell them I'm going to Wilton instead in order to make sure my getting my GED does not upset my GI Bill.
“I don’t understand. Have you been hiding your feelings?” SFC Cray asks me from the outer doorway of the supply room, her expression lost for a second, as she understands that I am really resigning.
'Stopped by a Taco Bell, driving home from the maintenance shop. An hour and a half later I change clothes and notice how hot my skin is.
'Fell in and out of sleep, waking at one point to catch a young, overweight woman on the show, Last Comic Standing: “I’m a lesbian, you might could tell,“ she says. The audience laughs. “It took me awhile to realize it. I remember my Mom asking me why it bothered me so much when my best friend would go out with boys. I’d say: BECAUSE SHE’S MY BEST FRIEND!”
The audience laughs.
Watching “The Middle”'s “A Simple Christmas,” Axle is saying with a roll of his eyes to his little brother: “You know, when Mom lived on the prairie and only got an orange in her stocking.”
“It wasn't frontier days,” his mom, played by Patricia Heaton, quickly replies. “It was your great-grandmother during the great depression. How old do you think I am?”
“I don't know,” Axle blurts with annoyance. “I try not to think of you.”
I notice he's said that more than once throughout the family sitcom's seasons. Sometimes he says it with an expression on his face like he does not quite understand. I'm surprised he gets away with saying that on network television.
“Um – the part where you were a sexual surrogate,“ Debra Messing is saying to a man behind a white drape, showering in an old-fashioned tub that has been made into a shower complete with curving curtain rod. “And then started to – branch out. Is that how it happened?”
“The real story,” Dermot Mulroney replies. “My mother was a hippie, and a stripper. She was insanely inappropriate with me. She used to wash her lingerie in my bath water – while I was still in it. So as an adult I needed to experience intimacy and sex with rules that couldn't be violated.”
She hangs on his every word. “Yes, yes, okay,” she mutters in constant support and agreement.
“I'm just screwing with you.”
Friday, the fever is gone.
'Remembered going into a Burger King with Mom and my sisters for breakfast when I was twelve. The person in front is a brown-hued person I couldn’t tell was a man or a woman. The person stuck his or her butt out almost as if on purpose when he or she walked, had this affected attitude. I remember thinking, Is that how I will be … Afterward in the parking lot I wondered why I would’ve worried about that, what an odd question to ask yourself in such a panicked, instantly-afraid kind of way.
I eat with J__, who has given me a ride to the train station. In his FIRESTONE work uniform he eats a sandwich across from me in the booth while making small talk, regular chuckles shared here and there. I notice I'm doing exactly what Royal said for me to do, the piano, the cashing in the GI Bill, 'the college experience,' but how can I explain it to J__, whose eyes behind his work glasses seem frightened and reserved concerning my decisions. His only consolation is the coincidence that Billy puts his two weeks notice in at the church about the same time I make plans to move to Wilton – him and Miss are to marry and move away to her new job.
Red, showing in the Golden Theater on West forty-fifth street, is about an aging artist pitted against a young one. There is only one set, only two actors. The characters work closely together, hence the friendship implied, the drama oncoming. The play asks questions about life and death and art all of which were answered by the three metal lights shining down on the stage. They are metal, not glossy, flat-grey colored instead, each a circle with a light bulb in the middle, held by a thin metal tube connecting it to the high ceiling. Frighteningly eternal compounds allow the light on stage. The play talks about how the black swallows the red -- at some point you die. But that’s not true, really the red swallows the black, over and over, one generation after the next.
“At least know them in silence!” the older artist, Alfred Molina, exclaims to Eddie Redmayne, “At least give the dead that!”
The bartender is conversing with me without conversing with me, flirting without flirting, when all I’m there for is to watch some soccer since the hostel doesn’t have televisions in the rooms. She keeps explaining to me the different drinks, including the Manhattan. She emphasizes the word as if I had never heard it before. It occurs to me she is assuming I am not as sharp as her due to my Southern look and sound. I order another expensive mixed drink, more food, dine, then dash.
'Woke, shower, and ask the clerk how to get to Yankee Stadium. After the game I race down the stairs of the Port Authority, not knowing if I should be in a hurry or if I have plenty of time. I reach the bottom of the stairs and get in the back of the only line I saw. Mine is the last stop, at a mall that is empty and closing. The Mall is one of the biggest I‘ve ever been in. The shops are closed but their lights remain on, their music playing. I pass an ice cream stand, its moving displays functioning, its cheery jingle playing to no one.
Adam pulls up in a Honda; we talk shop as he races to his house. “We drive very aggressively up North, don’t worry,” he tells me.
He has facial hair, a thin, edged strip from side burn to goatee. He wears low basketball shorts and a t-shirt. At some point he mentions Royal. The way he said it, as if of course I was in-the-know.
Upon arrival at the apartment I meet his wife, mother in law, and young son. Next we drive to his friend’s house, which is a long drive toward the New Jersey shoreline. We talk more about the deployment, especially the post deployment period, how we couldn’t talk to civilians anymore, the space between us had widened infinite.
He’d had a difficult time with his wife, a young woman with a ballsy accent. “She was used to being in charge, he says .”I wasn’t having it when he got home from deployment.” It was a constant tug of war.
'Told him that me and Royal had been two alpha males living with each other, that we naturally went out of our way to be considerate of each other, even if I was the hidden, silent one, like we were making a point we were friends, despite the conflict implied. Adam’s dynamic with his wife is the opposite. Neither of them are very considerate of the other. They’re household is a full-on, constant onslaught of the battle of the sexes.
“She had lived a tough life. Being in charge was all she knew.”
At Mick’s house we smoke a blunt. Adam wants to leave to go to his apartment, one separate from his wife’s because he is a superintendent and the second apartment came free with the job.
“No one could get in or out,” he is saying. “It took a long time for the ones inside to stop screaming.”
He says we are going to New Jersey Beach, but I have yet to see or smell water.
“The world is not uniform,” he is saying as he drives. “Any rules set by the federal government assumes business is uniform, hence states Must set the rules of society, because every population is different, same as it's always been, as if God had seen such a human race as ideal … With information always burgeoning, structural upheavals are inevitable, laws change, policies are written, time passing in seasons ... I wish I could write down the thoughts I have,” he says. “And what is happening to me when I burn, you know ...”
Outside the passenger window New Jersey is one small town and post office every few miles.
When I am stoned with someone else present, the high is uniquely different, according to that person.
“Ensuring capitalism …” he continues. “Our conservatives are the most conservative people on earth -- and they're living at the western end of western civilization because they want to -- they can hate on liberals all they want.”
The energies of people must be physical, I catch myself think, leaning back into the passenger seat and headrest.
“Maybe by being of the one political party, you're actually keeping an eye on the other party … “ Adam says. “The one that has to be there.”
His other face is me observant and analytically aware of every physical feature, every flaw, every physical advantage, so that he looks tired, as if he had just come back from war.
“Your actual party,” he says, then laughs. “Oh, man, I just completely forgot what I was going to say.”
Sometimes Adam seems angry about having been lied to all his life. He used to lament how he was running out of people to respect. I told him maybe it leads to respecting yourself more. He said he couldn't imagine being that alone.
"Someone impoverished comes of age and becomes aware," he is saying. "That their people, land and resources are being exploited, then follow dirty money to their local government, then state, then national, until they reach the international scene. If they don't fall for the violence propoganda waiting for them, they follow the money from there."
"Why don't journalists follow the money ..."
Adam’s wife is furious when we arrive back at their apartment. “The only thing that calmed me,” she says later. “Was the fact that despite Adam seeming so out of it, you seemed alert and just fine.”
Later I ask him why she is so surprised at how we stayed out all night. “Didn’t she know we were going out ...”
“She doesn’t really have friends,” he says, as if that explained it, “She doesn’t get it. And she doesn’t like me smoking weed. She doesn’t understand that part either. When she smokes she just gets all giddy and giggly, you know ...”
I tell him that when I get high it feels like a reset button.
“The way you are,” Adam says that night, as we drive to Jersey Shore. “You should be writing this down.”
I glance at him with a gape as I wonder morality. “I have my own problems. My own responsibilities.”
“It's funny how weed makes assholes less assholes,” he says suddenly. “And people who need to be more of an asshole, more of an asshole.”
“Do the good ones ever really become assholes,” I ask him.
Still watching the road, he pulls on his cigarette with a smile. “The danger of drugs.”
It is an adventure getting me back to Manhattan. Before I leave, his wife implies something about how my traveling alone is different.
“Yeah, some people find solo traveling loserville,” I say, leaning against her counter, my head bowed.
“No .. I don’t,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to, I just never had the guts.”
Adam secretly wants to drive me, but has to thwart his wife whom he knows isn’t going to let him. We play a game where over the phone she suggests a bus stop or train stop while we supposedly arrive just five or ten minutes late. Hours later, Adam feels comfortable suggesting he drive me in. She agrees.
We arrive back at his apartment to smoke another blunt. The highs are so seamless with real life it doesn’t matter to me that I am getting high again because I know whatever it teaches I will keep.
“This has been the first time I’ve really gotten to talk to someone about the deployment,” Adam says from beside me on the couch. “I feel so free.”
“I used to wonder morality,” I tell him, turning my face to his as I reach for what he is handing me. “Like it even came up with Royal … You know … Like, life used to have this right and wrong to it. “
He moves quick. That's what I like about him. Everything he says and does, like he knows what he's doing, like he's a real person.
“Then I realized that people take whatever contrast is out there to argue about in order to keep things the same.”
On the way in to New York I'm regularly surprised by the empty, unfamiliar Manhattan streets. Tires squeal as I swing the Honda around the corner and onto Broadway.
“Holy shit!” Adam says with a laugh.
After I shower and shave I run errands, feeling more indigenous as I accomplish mundane shopping. In the Gap off Madison I stand in line for thirty minutes to get to the cashier, then detour to Times Square to decide what to do tonight.
'Decided on the Addams Family, a musical starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuworth. I walk back to the hostel and change, carefully choosing what to take in the cargo pockets of my pants and how. I roll two joints, place them in a zip lock bag, then smoke one in an alcove outside the hostel; I smoke another while in the latrine of the theater where the Addams Family is being performed.
Again the world changes from being 2D to 3D, the way I remember it from before I grew up. I can see the empty space between everything. The buildings outside in New York seem like little painted boxes, even the skyscrapers, as miniscule as the buildings I built with Lincoln Logs as a kid. During the musical I don’t take my eyes off the dancing shadows of the performers created by the stage lights and spot lights.
“We do not choose death, death chooses us!“ Nathan Lane says suddenly.
Next morning, the weather in New York remains breezy and cool, smelling of ocean salt. This is the West side of Central Park. I stop by Lincoln Place Cinema and choose a foreign film that is about to start. It is called The Secret in their Eyes. It is about a woman murdered, the man who raped and killed her, and the now-aging detective still pursuing him.
“I can’t look at the past,” the lead actress says, “I have to go to work everyday, I have to keep going, moving forward.”
“Justice is an island,” one man says.
“Stop thinking about it, letting it haunt you,” the husband says to the detective. “You’ll have a thousand paths and no future.”
'Impulsively buy a ticket for the musical Next to Normal. Before, whenever I thought ‘musical’ I thought ‘show tunes‘, but most of my favorite movies are like this: Requiem for a Dream, The Hours. Only the Kronos Quartet let me unlock the Goldfarbs. Only Phillip Glass's score let me know Clarissa Vaughan was Richard's wife.
At one point in the play Dr. Madden says: “Sometimes patients get well enough to follow through on their suicidal impulses, but not well enough to fight them.”
“What happens if the cut or the burn or the break isn’t in my mind or my body but my soul?” Diana sings. “Maybe I’ve lost it at last,” she continues, “I’m dancing with death, I suppose, but who knows?”
The moral of the play seemed to be: Moving forward is the price paid to feel. The daughter in the show has a scene where she’s Robo-tripping, demanding to her boyfriend that her mother’s weakness is unforgivable.
“Others can’t hurt you, they can only hurt your ego,” one woman says later in the crowded subway car as my pupils widen.
“How can that be?“ asks the other.
“Because where there’s ego there’s wallowing.”
“But I don’t feel as loved by God,” says the other.
“Don’t complain and you’ll feel more loved by God.”
A routine formed over the last few days. Adam’s wife goes to work; his young son wakes maybe an hour after. His sister in law, Jamie, and I, get up and have breakfast -- or lunch if Adam, Jamie and I have stayed up late the night before.
Regularly, throughout the day, we walk over to the pool Adam’s apartment complex has; it stays calm and un-crowded. In the evenings Adam starts up the grill and we hang out in their back yard along with his mother-in-law, Diane.
All the siblings were supposed to be there that weekend -- two brothers and another sister -- because it was Adam’s birthday, but the only one who could make it was Jamie, who came without her boyfriend, to Adam's relief.
After the Fourth’s fireworks I sat silently looking out the open window in the passenger seat of the SUV, her crying silently in the driver’s seat after she’s gotten off the phone with her boyfriend, a guy who seems to have a drinking problem.
I notice how clear her face is, symmetrical maybe.
All of them have strong personalities seemingly easily matched by a consideration of others. It’s not the same down South, where the culture itself is the consideration of others. When I’m here, away from the South, all the things that weed does to me happens on its own, without the weed in my system.
One afternoon after we’d gotten back from the pool, the world shifted and remained like I was at the church in God‘s Country, playing with my peers on the church lawn, except this time Adam, Jamie and I were playing a golf game on Wii.
Adam has started explaining to me more and more about his situation, which adds up to him being a pothead while growing up in the social services system, then thrown out into the world.
His wife was his pregnant girlfriend whom he married before deployment so they would be covered medically. The wife spent most of his money while he was deployed. They both desired being married and having a family to live within.
An argument began in front of me and it all fell apart, the marriage supposedly over. We drive to his other apartment. Since he has no money a new plan is made in which he will stay with Mick. Adam had been working on Mick as far as getting the quality of marijuana I want. He says it is going to take a couple of days for him to get that much.
“It’s hard to introduce someone to coke,” Adam is saying Saturday afternoon, his limbs moving like snakes biting, grabbing items from cupboards. He had already been doing lines in another room with Mick’s roommate, another young drug dealer. “Some people just can’t let go of the experience once they’ve tried it.”
Mental damage is extra on the mind. Once it is damaged off, the mind is clean again. I didn’t know that’s how the word 'damaged' worked.
Downstairs, I play the brand-new baby grand fluidly, sipping on Guinness.
Stepping out onto the back porch into the dusk, I remember Russia, what it was to finally escape the wandering in the desert and go Northeast, my youthful years as a gypsy coming true. The thunderstorm begins with a strong wind, fast moving clouds and bright streaks of lightning even though it is late afternoon. A golden hue from the setting sun shimmers over the house, the trees, my bare feet and legs.
Waking moist to the sounds of morning, I stretch out on the grass at the top of the hill. I slowly sit up, the orange red sun beams through water falling from the sky.
“You wouldn’t believe what it’s like out there,” I say that afternoon to J__, the sunset blaring around us. “It’s not like it was in your time. Life’s a dream.”
He rakes leaves below the towering Magnolia. “Is it now,” he says.
“'Just waiting for a cab -- I didn’t know if anyone would be home to give me a ride and the truck place is by appointment only.”
“Do you have someone helping you move?” Mrs. J__ asks.
“Yes,” I lie. She knows I don’t and I don’t want to argue. “I dealt with my landlord today so it’s all a go. I’ll be glad to be moved. My expenses will be cut by fifty percent. Anyone can imagine what that’s like. A lot of pressure.”
The House out in the woods, in the foothills of the rural South, the sound of crickets, frogs ... loading a moving truck, under a solitary light bulb, sounds of the Bonnie Hunt Show from the television, it becomes clear how much respect is required, every movement holy, in the silence and stillness that was original life. Carefully chosen, soulfully decided if right or wrong, the slightest breath, the frog’s “ribbet.”
J__ knows who Dawn is. He knew her in high school or something. How is it I suddenly know that … Dark from elementary school; the one who kept trying to get to me in school. I stop loading the truck, stop mid-movement.
I write a letter about Dark, carefully, properly filled out, something that might pass for acceptable. I step down the hallway to the assistant principal‘s office.
“I already know the story, J__ … ” I will say if he ever tries to bring it up. I hate having forgotten and then remembered; it's such a weakness, having been ejected from the human race and having to find your way back on your own, as if the human race deserved you.
The two kids, Christopher and Jeremy something. The little blonde kid, that’s Christopher. I remember Mrs. Sharon, their Mom, from when I was little. Christopher and Jeremy are Mrs. Sharon’s kids. Mrs. Sharon is Mrs. J__’s sister. Mrs. Sharon is the woman Mom was talking with that day at Hills.
Dark is the one who married J__’s oldest daughter, Ms J__’s eldest. There was an ugly divorce. Dark was investigated. That’s in the future. J__ got Mrs. Sharon’s boys when social services took them from Mrs. Sharon, who lived in Smithfield. They went to the same school as us for awhile. Dawn would pick them up in Smithfield, as a favor to J__, Mrs. J__, and Mrs. Sharon, then go on to Wilton, where the school was. Years ago, we stood by the tool shed working with the lawn mowers, J__ telling the story of his oldest daughter’s divorce. He named her husband. “Dark?” He says, like a question, and pauses.
I wondered why he’d paused, why he asked it like that, as if he expected something from me.
I overheard J__ once, talking to someone: “He lives in his head. He has this story of how he has no family, he just stepped out of the ocean, you know, fell out of the sky.”
I wrote a letter to the Assistant Principal, explaining the group of teenage boys who went around cornering little kids as a joke. They thought it was funny, flashing themselves when no adults were around. Maybe they only did it to me.
Jeremy loved his helicopter, kept showing it to me, us trying to make it work. Christopher, the youngest, was always jealous for my attention. I can’t remember if I was the oldest. Christopher always kept his hand in his mouth. Slobber on his chin, me wiping it off with a folded paper towel from my pocket.
They are upset that I had a cab pick me up from the moving truck place, but they let it go.
“I don’t know why you insist on doing that,” J__ says, shaking his head at the television.
“Look, Mrs J__,” I say to her in the kitchen. “It’s not some emotional statement. I don’t even think of others when I’m being independent.”
She leans back in her chair, suspicious of how much I Know. Maybe.
I stop by again so she’ll know I’ve moved. Her oldest daughter is there already with her second husband, Mike, along their two boys from her previous marriage with Dark.
Their third and smallest boy, who’s never properly met me, stays against my bare calves as I talk with Ms J__ in the kitchen, him catching my eyes and saying “Bang bang” with his toy gun.
“I don’t like the idea of spaying and neutering pets,” I say to Ms J__ as she sets the table.
“I understand,” she says. “But somebody has to be the last generation.”
'Took sixty-four pills, remembering being watched by Latino migrant workers for awhile. That’s when I learned my name. Ben. Except they said the E differently.
I honestly wouldn’t hear people if they said it the non-Latino way.
'Remembered Mom bought us pillows. She thought it must not be nice how we had to sit on the floors all the time. Another Sunday we woke up to a stuffed animal on our beds. It was Easter, she had bought us bunnies. Mom didn’t have many friends so church was the only thing going on in our lives, except for when Mom went out on her own, like she must have last night. She had secretly chosen a different color bunny for me, like a secret between us, blue instead of pink.
The others who were in the horrific had different stories of having got there but in the end it was all the same. They stayed despite themselves because they assumed they deserved to be there, some crime they believed but had forgotten too much of to name.
I left the ones I loved, reaching the next level, where I loved again. They told me, this level of hell we deserve, though we don’t remember why. I loved them but left them so I could reach the next level, a rumor I could feel, some dream I once had but couldn‘t remember.
Level after level, never easing my pace, love after loved ones, till I left hell altogether and was in the lowest level of heaven. Love after loved ones, level after level, till I neared the mysterious upper reaches, alone. Maybe I should have forfeited eternity to have been truly alive for awhile. Maybe all along that was the fall from grace.
Dark as night, in the back of some sort of wooden truck bumping along uphill, then downhill, Seth sits at a table before me, wearing a black hijab and burqa like an Arab woman, laying cards. I wonder if she is actually male, like the Bible claims. She says nothing. Her eyes are so hazel and brown they're familiar, piercing out from the depths of the shadows of her face. Her hands have no skin, just white bones fastened without cartilage or muscle, making a 'clock' 'clock' sound as each card is laid from a stack to the right of her. She never looks at the strange cards, she only looks at me as she teaches me telepathy.
“I am not yours,” I suddenly think back at her, cutting off her words entering my head. “I am my brother's. He is the only one I know here.”
Shifted to a dark cemetery, the pounding from the pills gone. I hear a giggling sound or a cackle, I can’t tell which. It seems to come from a tombstone. I can barely keep my hand steady as I hold the lantern up to the stone. I touch the stone; it was as if I could tell a heartbeat. I name it Tombstone. It acts like a pet to me, my new familiar going where I go, it is so lively.
It felt like suicide could be the only option. How can I not know what Honorable means … I ask myself, looking in the mirror, trying to ignore the restaurant noises, wondering if the lock on the bathroom door will really hold as I down more pills. Sink water drips from another five-o-clock shadow. I have a deep seated feeling that Willahford knows, that he’s read the whole thing. If he’s known this whole time … “F_ck,” I say to no one, my forearms on the steering wheel, waiting at the stop light. Rain pelts the windshield. I don’t even have a radio in the Jeep; if I had a radio I wouldn’t be thinking so much. If Willahford found out he’d shoot me in the face.
As a youth counselor, I’m at a summer camp, knowing the answers, forever alert, a proper watchman. I don’t know how much of the horrific is appropriate to warn against, or even how to word it. I was a good actor when I was a kid. I couldn’t make sense of anything, couldn’t feel on the inside of my skin. I kept a brave face.
At fifteen I cook in the evenings, as Ray and Grace arrive home from work; Mom has been in her room for two weeks. I am stealth quiet, setting the old fashioned wooden table, the only sounds the chink and thud of plates, the ting of glasses.
I look toward the sound of her laugh. Long black hair. I’m in the middle of a stair case, a bare wood landing with a window shining light down onto me. The young Spanish woman at the base continues laughing. Baby Boy on a landing, all on his own. “B - (e) - n,” she says.
'Remember the exact moment when I died. We were washing Ray‘s green truck by the side of the House. It was a warm day with a chilly breeze. God‘s Country‘s morning glories color the green, hay-filled edges of the yard with violet and pink. I remember when I realized this was not life but a Nintendo video game, a virtual reality training event; these were not live beings but images to be fought, survived, outmaneuvered, ably, like a nation under siege. I remember the moment when I chose the grave over the living, when I realized: these are not live beings but ghouls. I remember when I accepted that wildness, that genius of war.
Ray is beside my bed, grabbing me roughly, his member bouncing around. With his fist he pops my face twice to quiet me. I had been rocking myself to sleep again. Grace laughs from her top bunk in the corner of the room. My mind was silenced for several days. It wasn't strange how I was aware of a large feminine spirit watching me with this attitude like she was thinking, 'another of my boys,' except with a wisdom to it, a resignation, like only she knew God. Maybe they do not win by making me afeard. Maybe brave can be a way of life. It makes sense to be ready for the worst while enjoying whatever happens better. It felt like respect, not anger. Fine choice for a prince, not a king.
Completely unsure, but moving, I hold to my own promise and leave forever. They think I’m leaving to house-sit for someone for the two weeks until Christmas, really I am moving into the townhouse in Wilton. By the finality of my movements Mom must know this will be the last time she will ever lay eyes on me. Leaving by way of a standard instead of a plan, I know it is going to turn out right, this brand new life.
In silence, Mom leans against my bedroom wall and watches, expressionless. The knowledge that I would never come back or ever see them again acted as salve to keep my soul intact through the worst years in God's Country. I never go back on my decisions. It would be tantamount to breaking a promise. Quickly, methodically, I pack the last of my things as the darkness of God’s Country descends all around us.
“You don’t know what it’s like to have to turn away erroneous sentences … “ I say to Royal, his blue-eyes widening, his face so Master Race I grit my teeth and flex my jawbone, looking away. It’s as if Royal lived on the same street as me, was around the same elements and events and people, only he was living an opposite life. The violence that shows up when I come into contact with someone like Royal feels natural to the point I understand every crime ever committed, every human conflict, every revolution. One baby-boy born blonde, blue-eyed, and blessed, the other black and blue, forsaken, us equals to the point of brotherhood. The van in the Walmart parking lot outside Camp Shelby begins to fill with soldiers now that the street lights have switched on.
Shifted to Africa, my Motherland, savanna to the horizon, jungle against the west's, surprised to first recognize her by the sweetness of animal musk. The world remains in a state of flux between ice age and flood as she reaches her next glacial age while still none know which is closer: the last ice age or the flood just before the next one. Whispers in the wind say sin done her in, while women blame men and men blame the wind. Between the heavens above and the lake of lava below, there are rumors of melting glaciers North and South and floods in the tropics still ripe from when the continents were one and the holy land was only beginning to flow apart again, firmament disappearing back into ocean.
'Raptured to the roof of a floating cathedral made of gray stone and adorned with white statues. Ancient now, Seth, the original storyteller, delivers my eulogy, either ignorant of or oblivious to my standing presence. “Soulless and heartless, his fate is the same dust as his body, same as Cain who haunts me still,” she says.
The audience atop the floating cathedral moves like music.
“With my soul and heart,” she continues from the stage, as if to empty air, casting the words like a spell not meant for listening. “I prayed for Able's blessing upon my offspring. But my history haunts my offspring like a curse upon his blood.”
The sky has both a soft moon and a sun because the cathedral floats above and through the clouds. Stars throb in night sky above warm, noonday light.
The audience below sings quietly but threateningly, baritones groaning their mourning, sopranos exhaling haunting as autos gnash their teeth. I am desperate to write Seth's spell, kneeling down to scratch notes into the dust of the rooftop. I barely hear for the audience's rising crescendo. Seth's posture trembles, the arms raised and held up as through clenched teeth Seth exhales:
“All is lost forever.”
The choir stands and kneels, then stands again, leaning on each other chaotically as their roaring mixes with the breath in my lungs. I scratch the four symbols as with a loud roaring stars descend with a blanket of darkness upon us suddenly falling, falling.
“He is lost forever.”
Drowning into the abyss loud with their screaming, my brother catches my hand. “You come away from here.”
I shift away. I awaken. Under my pillow he lets go my hand.