(a chapter)

__________


(Thursday, 26NOV2015)


Thanksgiving remains backward as if the ground-stood-upon and the sky-breathed knows.

Not God, surely. He all-knowingly-knows I would never entrust anyone's life in his hands as he sternly demands.

Thanksgiving exists for giving thanks, not being thanked. It seems to exist as motivation for the individual to root, yet again, for the bountiful harvest of life.

The sky and earth should not be rooting for me as if both were not witness to the proof of the immorality of ever entrusting others' safety into His hands.

___________


(night)


Met a girl the other day. Nothing will become of it. But 'enjoyed playing most-masculine man in the gaze and attentions of yet another most-beautiful woman, seeming to wonder the logistics of availability.

Later, upon leaving her and stepping into the street, I caught myself thinking, One day this is going to be a normal life -- the same thought of an adolescence of hair-raising attempts to forever escape the house in God's Country.

__________


(Tuesday, 29DEC2015)


Woke yesterday morning to a home meta-morphed to the home of my truck driving days, back when I felt relieved to not have ended up here. It's as if the whole world had gone boring. 'Something to learn the reason: 'cleared my name through written word, it being necessary despite the honest days lived already, them not having meta-morphed by way of time-machines, but had to endanger others' lives to do so.

I remember murdering by way of boredom Thursday, twenty-four December, but must wait for confirmation of his decease. 'Something to learn fame requires bad publicity. 'Couldn't have wanted for more, having leaned into a torture campaign to prove to the locals it was federal and going full pitch.

"No one cares," he confirms today, as we work side-by-side, despite there being no more reason for us to know each other.

__________


(night)


'Had to keep enemies closer than friends, all going down over five months of a hell that refused to claim me, as if I were visiting witness. Reached the point I could see them realizing their mistake and caught myself enjoying their company, thinking we might could become friends, as we hung out during our off-time at clubs and restaurants and smoking-areas.

They played as girls, alternating the roles of impotent bully with pretend friend, forgetting I had been raised with sisters and had publicly proven the ability to peg deceit from thousands of miles away. I remained grateful they were them and not anyone else.

Upon my honesty becoming common knowledge, suddenly I became uncontroversial, unable to be stalked, unable to be called a liar. All the enemies and would-be friends disappeared back to their own lives, lives occurring doors and tables and feet away. Having witnessed my companions standing on the wrong side of history, while I stood alone on the right, the tiniest, minutest details of their characters persisted exposed and unfortunately survivalistically unforgotten.

Of all people, I find myself the most qualified to forgive them, like the most ethical defense attorney, while always hitting the brick wall of how they proved themselves so common, these people with normal lives.

___________


(Wednesday, 30DEC2015)


(night)


Tagged along with Skywalker to the all-night diner down the block. 'Least, that's what I call him. When I would first run into him people called him by so many different names and complimentary nicknames I never figured his name.

His biting wit mostly enjoys sarcasm, but really he is a stand-out guy who uses his life's list of crimes and failures to fuel his zingers. "No really, seriously," he keeps telling me in his Queens-meets-Carolina accent, as we wait for our food. "If only you knew the hearts I've broken."

"Aren't you bored ... Walker. I wanna talk about how we are magnetic fields and not physical. How time and space are mathematically synonymous. Death, sex, how music makes you feel. Love and how the only kind's so deep it frightens people."

“Why don't you just find a decent girl...” he mutters as he sips his coffee.

"Use to chase her. KNOwing she'd blame me if our paths didn't cross and she became an old maid. Like in It's A Wonderful Life."

His expression studies my countenance, as if wondering lucidity. "You must've been well raised. At least you've got that going for you."

__________


(Thursday, 31DEC2015)


Rarely, I catch the deceased being someone else, present, post-war instead of aggressively cocky. 'Figure the rarity is why we work well enough together, despite my being more at home on a range, or in a supply room, or high-end kitchen, than the brusque environment of Maintenance. 'Played the most aggressive cards to disorientate him, not time enough for any other way. Upon his seeming to realize the hunted hunt back, death by boredom seemed best.

"I'm not the same out there," he told me once as we ate bad fast food at break, because it was better than chow.

Being natural co-workers, we once scored a booth at Ashe's Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Rhonda Rousey, Holly Holm fight. Despite his instructions, and his young, gray-jacket-wearing, bespectacled contact, he always remains naturally sincere, due in part to three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After so long in his company, I wished to tell him never to threaten American lives, especially behind my back, especially to my face, but had too much respect for him. As our order of burgers and fries arrived, and the twenty-something waitress refills our drinks, I tell him instead how I didn't know anything about classical autism until I was grown, but knew I was pulling out of it around eleven years old. I tell him how necessary it remained that my sisters never catch on. “'Survived them seven years.”

He rolls his eyes to himself, taking a sip from his drink, looking at the television showing UFC fights.

“'Made huge mistakes everyday and learned – had to - really flesh wants to survive so bad I couldn't – it wouldn't allow itself to be endangered by the ignorant person 'happened to be inside it.”

As he rises to step through the thick crowd, apparently toward the latrine, he exhaled, “Boooooring.”

Upon our mutually trusted supervisor building a future on the outside, and announcing his leaving with sad expressions, a slot opened up. I was to convince the head of maintenance he could hire no one else, because I was the only one the deceased could stand to work with, and he could barely stand me, but didn't get the moment before a better-paying construction gig came up. It remained temporary but paid my bills through April.

"You're top of the list," he informed me afterward, as if smoothing over my ditching him for so long; really I avoided his creepiness for awhile. "You're a very impressive young man."

"After all this time trying to tear him down," the deceased deadpans. "Now you want to build him back up."

__________


(afternoon)


Dragonette was kind, teaching me things about music, giving rehab a certain coolness and dignity that made it more bearable. He remained in a kind-of kitchen-crew clique with Chef and the musicians who borrowed the John Lennon/Paul McCaurtney songbook so that it was like I was running a one-book library.

He impressed best as an acoustic guitarist and singer. Over the years, running into him on the bus downtown, he always knew me, even after having moved on from rehab to work and music gigs. He's died of an accidental overdose, found on the floor of his staff-quarters room at the local YMCA.

__________


(evening)


"I may have been a chauvinist," Skywalker says at the diner, after we argue which waitress is the known lesbian.

"You realize full-objectification's why Barney in How I Met Your Mother could be played by Neil Patrick Harris."

"Still, I doubt the infantry will be murdering me over it."

After an hour of coffee and cigarettes, and flirting with the waitresses, we head back as he lectures and commentates, and advises on my survival. "Why do you care what he thinks?" he asks with a suspicion-laden roll of his eyes.

"He was the most formidable."

"Whom you find familiar for reason not to his credit. He's an exhausted war hero who served his way all the way HEre."

"The civilian world's man-made. Intended for women and children. What does HEre matter."

"The wealthiest are civilian and always will be," he says. “Respect all you want. He's got his own problems."

__________


(night)


She'll never forgive ... leaving her out of it.

Back when working construction, the boss stopped by the mall during lunch, to avoid the night's Christmas traffic. I knew I'd run into her because I felt her anger from the parking lot, same as in January I could feel Royal's from counties away.

"You'll always choose them over me," she said, refusing to look or acknowledge who she was talking to, as she peered through lighted cases, sometimes on tip-toe, sometimes crouched down, as if she had been born in high heels. "People you've never met."

"'Met some. 'Didn't know they could be hunted."

She stared me down with an expression as if we were in elementary school, us some kids on the playground treating life with wonder. She exhaled as a woman absentmindedly drifted by, looking through the glass cases as we stood in long silence, waiting her departure.

"What was it like ..."

"Clandestine ... Serious ... I think they might be God's ... Those people--"

"--Then surely I've lost you forever."

On the ride back to the site I thought of Dakota and Levis and Dakota's girlfriend's mom, Ms Jenn, matriarch of a household of beautiful daughters and drifting lost souls including us. I remembered the Halloween before last, except Ms Jenn kept calling it Samhain, as she prepared over a dozen spots for bonfires to be lit, directing me, with cut noose around my foot, through her laughter at having a young man arrive just in time to follow her around with a wheelbarrow of large stones.

Further down the mountain, Dakota's girlfriend, Kaitlin, could be heard complaining to Dakota of the wild animals to be attracted, as she sets out the different plates of Ms Jenn's all-day-cooking in different spots on the land surrounding the trailer. "We'll all be torn to bits in our sleep!"

After a dusk of fall colors shimmering over the untouched mountains, and after smoking and eating and drinking, I follow Levis, who follows Dakota and Kaitlin, stepping through the two main bonfires, built side by side, when Ms Jenn insists she read my cards.

"Absolutely not!" says Kaitlin.

"Oh, come on," Ms Jenn cries out. "Stay ... Just walk through the fires again after we're done!" She then laughs but the echoes of her laughter bounce back off the peaks and join her laughter which hushes us all.

She shuffles the cards from her wooden lawn chair, then leans her small frame forward to place them on the flat rock she had been using as foot rest. By the firelight I could see her eyes wet but without tears, as she looks coldly at me sitting Indian style before her. She lifts the cards, shuffles, relays, then breathes deeply. "Not much to say."

"Yeah... I get it... They 'ready found out I survived past eighteen. Soon they'll find out I didn't wait til then to learn how to read and write. I'll be considered unAmerican and hunted the rest of my life... It's okay. I'll be okay... I will. Everyone will be okay."

"No, baby, they're powerful cards. 'Just what they say don't make sense to me."

"What do they say?" Dakota asks, plopping down beside me, with Levis crouching on the other side, and Kaitlin refusing anything to do with us.

"I just don't get them."

"Maybe you did it wrong," Kaitlin says, stepping over, the fire light sending her hair further red. "Remember? You have to--"

"--I did it right, honey. I know I did right," Ms Jenn answers with a glance and chuckle to me as apology.

"So what do they say ..." Levis asks lazily, with his stoned expression.

She leans forward with a sly smile and her eyes wide. "It's Samhain, baby. What did you think they'd say? Other than soon, very soon ..." She pauses as if for effect, looking out over the spurs around us as if in awe. "The dead will rise."

__________


(midnight)


"I miss my friends."

"You?" Skywalker says over the sizzling of food on the flat grill. "Had friends?"

"Why wouldn't he have friends?" our waitress says, then places our pie pieces and refills our coffees from the other side of the diner's bar. Once, upon the diner being slow, she relayed her tumultuous, seventy-year history. "It's not good. It's not bad," she told me, as she cleaned dishes just under the counter's lip. "Welcome to life."

"He comes here with you guys all the time," she says to Walker. "You're celebrating the year together."

"Well, yeah," he says. "But of course dark souls like us would happen to cross paths on their way to Hell."

Sizing him up through her thick glasses, she says, "Very funny."

__________


(Friday, 01JAN2016)


(morning)


Shifted to a sanctuary of Mrs Elrames, one of two large apartments separated by a small parking lot, each standing on tall stilts, hers surrounded by the lush gardens she works as long as there's daylight. “Some require night-tending,” she tells me, leading toward the wooden stairs. “But I haven't taught anyone that and you shouldn't either.” Inside rests plush, white couches bathed in bright sunlight from expansive windows. She moves to pull down the screen shades. She's been known all her life as Wilton's mayor's daughter; decorum and manners remain her effortless specialty.

“Must be nice to have only one neighbor.”

“Yes,” she says. “But it's annoying. That kind of resistance.”

It seems I've been dropped off and assumed to be staying the summer. Sometimes when I step out, the heart of a city pulses with traffic and pedestrians amidst gray architecture weathered by constant rain. Clarke will be there with his fedora and walking stick, acting as if we work together, guiding me back inside an aged printing shop, staffed by pregnant young women wearing dark, wool clothes. “No way they stay pregnant all the time with no men,” Clarke says as we resume working.

Stepping out that afternoon, expected to be sitting on the hood of a white Lincoln, conversing with another of Mrs. ElRames' daughters and nieces, speaking from up on the balcony, “He's surrounded. Comes from a family of women,” she continues. “Fell in love with my cousin, who's now pregnant. Such is life, I guess.” She pulls on her cigarette, looks out past Mrs. ElRames crouched working in the gardens, to the horizon of tree tops. “She won't tell him because this is a family of women and she's afraid he'll be eaten alive.” She pulls on her cigarette, as if absentminded.

“Families of men aren't any better. Sparta and all,” I tell her, then look at the summer sky, deep blue with three cumulus, wondering federal coercive torture campaigns and why government employees are so bad at their jobs.

“--And what about you?”

“Do you believe in human development...” I ask her.

“Sometimes,” she says. “Mostly, the world seems stuck at zero A-D-B-C.”

He arrives three weeks later out of a long, tan Oldsmobile, wearing a white linen suit with lavender tie, unloosened, unknowing, “to meet the family.”

“If she wasn't here,” he says, stepping onto the landing. “It'd be like stepping into hell.”

Mrs. ElRames' dining table sets carefully on the back patio, in the shade of small, flowering trees in weaved baskets: cedar woodwork covered with thick white cloths and white china. As he steps through the sliding doors toward them, all the guests suddenly go silent and slowly rise. Each steps forward and hugs him with kind greetings as I set the bags down. She cuts a look at me, the girl from the balcony, as if she had used my presence to accomplish unknown things she'll never teach me of. 'Shifted awake wishing to stay, near her, ask her something.

__________


(night)


The Yankees lectured two years until they ended up on the record. The New York Times remained the most enjoyable, lecturing by way of one writer after another, how so many American heads were not worth one American dollar, how I remain worth more than one American dollar, and should be adult, patriotic, and reasonable about 'those people' being worth more dead than alive. I remember opening The New York Times' Sunday printing while standing in Iraq, unable to find any evidence it was not truly a tabloid, despite the book I was reading at the time. I expected nothing different from The Wall Street Journal, but the events stay mindful, including two years of no one having been killed.

Ashe resides full of protests and rallies since the beginning of summer, treated by the local news as charming tourist attractions. One sees them hemmed in by the mountains on the side of highways, in downtown squares, and the steps of the courthouse, brandishing their placards of madness. They can come across angry at their fathers, or mothers, or both, depending, heatedly lamenting murders by cops, education-turned-extortion, below-living wages, and the selfishness of bureaucrats convincingly pretending ignorance of morality. I remember not being able to see anyone older than me as anything other than a murderer, rapist, batterer, and pedophile, complicitly protecting murderers, rapists, batterers, and pedophiles.

“It's as if war has broken out,” says Skywalker over the white noise of dinner crowds, as we sit at the all-night diner, watching the cook flipping our burgers. Skywalker turns the screen of his tablet toward me, scrolling his thumb down Facebook, raising an eyebrow. “Apparently, the government has decided the people are the government's, which is preparing martial law.”

“The nation will not fall as long as women like me exist,” Ms Autumn insists with a particular thud of our plates, as if not sure Skywalker's humor. The smothered hash-browns quiver.

“But you loved men not worth the dirt of the ground,” he retorts.

“They were the only men,” she says, accusingly. “We did not know better.”

As we begin eating, and Ms Autumn attends to a booth of customers down from the bar, I tell him: “I get nuns. They're the only women who are actually women.”

“As opposed to the bitter feminists.”

__________


(Monday, 4JAN2016)


(morning)


Shifted to darkness, until my eyes adjust and see headlights crawling over dirt road toward the witch-doctor's shack. After what seems like an hour of rustling trees and crunching gravel, the back of the van opens. Seth exits the driver's seat this time, slow and regal, glaring at me, about to spit “White boy,” except skips it. The back of the van's light pours out.

“I took the hits,” mutters the young woman through white-white teeth wet with blood and a puffed, discolored face absent of eyes. The mystery of whether it was a surprise attack or secretly initiated keeps everyone on edge, but the work pulses methodical, quick, well-known as if habitual. The local cops, firefighters, hospital staff, social workers and know-it-all locals would expect her at a hospital after a beating within an inch of her life.

“The baby's fine,” she keeps muttering with the labors of a forced yell or scream, I knew not which. “I swear on my life. The baby's fine.”

Shifted awake to the deceased 's shake, his fierce eyes always betraying his long-harbored scolding.

“That's why they call me 'idiot,” I tell him. “They implied they knew everything and I immediately confirmed, implying back. I was supposed to already know they were cutthroats.”

“It's been eight years,” he says. “No one cares.”

__________


(late morning)


The city bus lumbers quick though tight residential corners and highway lanes. People chat weather and must-be-upcoming snow, since the loud crack of thunder several mornings before. Her starter went out.

“Why didn't you ask someone for a ride?”

She wears a black hoodie over her black professional clothes, even over her damp hair.

“I wanted to feel working class again,” she says.

Aged-male-flesh, as opposed to men, assume the knowledge of women because females are the 'weaker,' 'secondary,' gender, while it remains eternally impossible to avoid her constant proofs.

"'Soon's I saw the posts were being censored -- the White House so thoroughly insisting they were the culprit -- 'immediately took care of it."

"I read Invisible Man in high-school," she says. "I know you already knew who they were."

__________


(night)


Skywalker usually enjoys the most difficult articulations, though he denies any Grecian-Roman mythology of his Star Wars films. When it concerns himself, he furrows his brow with suspicion, then pulls from his cigarette, as we avoid the snow and stay in the light of the street and the diner's large windows.

“Was it disgust for yourself turned into self-pity,” I ask him. “Of a heaviness weighing upon you because there was nothing you could do about your present situation...”

“It was my pride being too hard on myself,” he says in a northerner's clip. “Looking at things black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. 'So busy blaming myself for things not my fault, I forgot the energy to change them.”

He had two brothers, claims to have made all the wrong friends, on purpose, out of boredom and an outlet for his intense negativity.

“My older brother would beat me, then I would beat my younger brother,” he says. “Other than inheriting my mom's sense of humor, that was my childhood.”

“Weren't you disappointed in them...”

“That's what it was like the in the beginning, so that's what it's like in the beginning for us.”

___________


(Saturday, 09JAN2016)


As the bus cuts through Ashe with the confidence of locals among tourists, the noise of its switching gears and cat calls of mentally-ill old men allow distraction enough, as scenes through the window wisk by.

She kept sighing why ... 'kept whispering 'didn't know. 'Kept murmuring why... 'muttered 'those people's lives. 'Kept exhaling 'anything for money... 'uttered, 'anything to protect them. "...No better way to know a people than to have survived them," she said. "...Funny how no one can find one copy of that 'book' you were selling..."

'Knew the sweet at eighteen, glimpsed the truth at twenty-one, allowed them to assume every stereotype, already having survived both men and women so long the youth in the mirror accosts. At sixteen the sweet hung just out of reach. Entering the official workforce, 'alluded attention by being considered unattractive, ensuring enjoyment of a summer discovering the Friday Night Lights that had always secretly run Kenley. Upon studying American culture, the studied turned out to be media instead. Upon studying their politics, Democrats and Republicans turned out mere politicians, neither liberal nor conservative. While media considered conservatives the only ones solid enough to bounce off of, the liberals being mostly hot air, all chose the cheapest, most-abundant resource, notwithstanding the lucrativeness of nostalgia: fear.

"Show business is no place for a man," I whispered to her.

"Maybe Hillary will do okay ... "

Stepping off the bus at the correct stop, I throw Skywalker vibes and telepathically insist he step out so we can enjoy a night at the diner. Refusing to find him, I smoke a cigarette off-property, avoiding stepping inside amidst the spite left from the dead controversy.

At the empty diner, Ms Autumn greets, glad her rude customers left, then descends back into the never-ending work that always surrounds her. We've gotten so used to each other, I fill my own mug. Her anger at the previous customers allows under-breath utterances full breath as she washes dishes, and I listen to seventy years of hardship and unfairness confessing itself as if sin already respected God more than sinners. Rearing up from the dish pit, looking at me like some new visage, she says, "What's to become of you?"

"The millennials are the most well-behaved generation in American history."

"Wise up, already."

__________