The other card depicted this Mr. Mask proceeding with his shopping to a house on the corner of a well cared-for, established, but not to say well-to-do neighborhood, the sort with old houses in good repair, a green canopy of old trees, short fences, and paved sidewalks—the sort of neighborhood that is not any longer surprised to find itself standing where once, not so long ago, wooded shadow ruled by tacit fiat, where the industries of ursine slumber and the lupine pursuit of careful vermin alone sighed perpetually, without even the dream of street markers or doorbells or letter carriers or buried pipe to disturb their hungry, retiring stasis. His house (one understood it was his house) was on a corner, bounded by a black, wrought-iron fence, with a brick home adjacent to it that entered the frame of the illustration from the right. Other homes and yards and hedges formed the inchoate background within which it was ensconced. Beneath the wide canopy of a dark-leaved old maple, his house was a rounded white edifice whose organic and unpredictable lines were eerily out of place in the neighborhood in which it had yet clearly stood for some time, and the strange perspective of the illustration allowed enough of a glimpse of where a traditional angled roof had not been built to understand that Mr. Mask’s house resembled the mask he wore, an almost comically stylized skull facing toward the sky with great skylights for eyes. The caption on this card read, “Mr. Mask lives in a white house.”
The picture on the comically illustrated card depicted a supine character who had been the subject of, one had the impression, a larger set. He was lying in a boat. He lay on his right side in a small rowboat in the middle of a lake beneath the moon. As though to provide justification for the name with which the caption identified him, the strange man was contorted into a suitably strange position, with his loin-clothed abdomen thrust rigidly and urgently to the right of the frame, nearly off the edge of the small boat (the primitive, demonstrative style of the drawing alone made this possible, for even the amateur observer of natural phenomena would reasonably expect that the vessel would betray some tendency to capsize with its pilot and cargo so precariously positioned on the very edge of the dingy, and yet it did not), and his torso twisted back to his left, so that he was facing upwards and behind him in the direction of, but not at, the card’s viewer. In that position the mask he wore on his face could be plainly seen. The full, brightly pallid moon (whose depiction here suggested it had itself undertaken, with some force, to appear, and was then shining not as the negative image of a superior light source, but wanly, coldly, and determinedly clearly under the power of its own inscrutable agency) bulged largely into the sky above him, larger than the boat and its passenger below, giving the impression that something in the substance of the black of the surrounding night sky was suspending its considerable weight. The white of the mask he wore, a skull, round and simple in design with large, deep holes for eyes (with his own cartoon eyes drawn in within their darkness), was an analog to the light source with which he found communion in the middle of that lake whose shores were unblemished by the violence of habitation. There was a caption in a large, serifed font recalling the tarot. Or, if not the tarot, then children’s books (those from a time when childhood was something akin to a parallel dimension inaccessible to adults, or, perhaps, rather than a time of enforced growth and watchful edification as it is advertised today, a faraway country ruled by terror in a foreign language). The caption read, “Mr. Mask Loves the Moon.” The illustrator chose to grade the progress of the reflections of the moonlight on the water in clay tones—chalky greys and browns—and the distant solitude of the locale was terrible, complete, and impossible.
I held him for the first time after he was born and walked him about. Beneath the mass of black curls atop his head, his big black eyes reminded me of my own, of photographs of my own, taken in the days and hours after my own birth.
He was moving his lips, and I was watching him work wordlessly when very clearly I understood him to say, “Can I have a puppy?”
My first fatherly decree would be that my son would have a dog.
“Yes, you can have a puppy.”
Someone else in that dream room laughed good-naturedly. They hadn’t heard my son’s first words to me, they were touched by what they thought was my pantomime of fatherhood.
I walked with him a bit more in silence and he asked me, “What is worrying you?”
In dreams the whole world is your own mind, and your worries cut true figures with little effort, so I asked him, because the world is the place that it is,
“Was I right to bring you into this world?”
It was almost with a laugh that he said, “Old friend, you have never been able to remember or understand the passing of 2,000 years. I’m happy to see you again.”
It’s true. In my dream-mind I had that waking-world irked struggle with familiarity that always surrenders to affability and further investigation. I knew my son, and I knew I should know my son. But, then again, I didn’t. I was simply happy.
“Then welcome back.”
The house didn’t belong to my grandmother, is how I imagined I would start to tell someone as I stood staring at the old, discolored wallpaper, at cracks in old plaster walls in this composite house in my dream, but that was the reason I was there. That it had belonged to my grandmother, whose house has long been sold and which, to my clinging, nostalgic sorrow, I won’t ever find myself in again. It was on an island, and we were, both the family who had been there and who was expected in a few days, going over it to make sure we had saved all those artifacts whose sense memory would link us to our pasts.
The island was very small, and the hurricane was sudden. The grey wall of the sea reared a mile high or more than a mile offshore, and I was sure we would be lost. The tide moved from the front to the back of the house that was not my grandmother’s house, as I have said, but was intended to be, even though it was a composite of many houses. Water rushed through the empty living room that the front door opened on, and out the back door of the empty kitchen. It was not my grandmother’s first story, it was my mother’s, but that’s not important. I finally thought to shutter the doors and went out back. The Japanese open air cafe under the house was in full swing. The weather was not good, the wall of water stood there as though built of bricks just offshore, but the Japanese were calm, taking their oddly flavored pizzas and drinks. I, too, became more comfortable with the impending doom that may or may not visit, and walked down to the line where the soil gave way to sandy beach to stand and watch the water standing up as though it thought it was a man.
Muscle memory kept Ilya the driver beautiful. He lifted a finger, set the cruise control, answered his cell phone, made the rare use of his turn signal, and his tissue reciprocated magically with new and fabulous striations, rich grains whose alluring strength was uncontained by the suit coat he wore. The eyes of passengers find health and strength like wizards will find water in desert countries where it sits below an inconsequential surface, and the chauffeur was iconic of health and well-being. He held his clientele in the hypnotic sway of either attraction or fearful respect.
for fifteen years, fifteen hours a day he shuttled humans to or back from the airports over the uneven pavement that could hardly be called a proper road, over the seemingly randomly channeled spread of concrete and asphalt divided by temporary concrete rails in new patterns daily, like frost on an airplane window, that crept outward from the unnatural, growing concrete and glass metropolitan crystal garden on the island whose new facets of poured stone and hung glass, that slowest of fluids, he kept framed either in his windshield or in his rear-view mirror. It was a quiet life free of unexpected disappointments he never had to call on his vast strengths to vanquish.
The day he picked up the old nun he was unable to fasten the cuffs on his sleeves. On the third try He gave up on pushing the cuff links through the holes, and when he opened the drawer to replace them on his dresser 3 spiders, each with three stripes on their bellies in the shape of a cross, or a sword, or a crosshairs, made for the corners. He picked up his keychain, holding 3 keys, and left the house.
He arrived three minutes early and, as he was waiting, denied three calls for a pickup in the area. The convent where he picked the nun up was situated on a triangle of land between ill-planned roads, and the front door was on a small porch the old woman had to descend three steps from as she was bade adieu by two other ascetics.
The nun gave him a strange and long look as he lifted her three traveling bags into the trunk of his car, the last of which was unusually heavy. The trunk took three attempts to close. He had three quarters of a tank of gas left.
“That last bag was a heavy one,” he remarked when they had gotten underway.
“It contains the Word.” She replied. Ilya’s mind told him it must just be some devotional fervor that made her response so strange, that it was just religious stuff, but he couldn’t shake the chill that ran down his spine. The rest of the journey was spent in an understandable silence.
She had asked him to take her to an airfield whose name he did not know, but he did not think it was strange until later, until he had been thinking on all the events of the day after the fact.
When he had left her at the funny little airport, alone somewhere far away on Long Island with nothing surrounding it, he stopped for lunch and found that she had left the heaviest bag in his trunk. Somehow he had forgotten to remove it.
He finished his lunch and pointed his car toward the convent to return the bag to his passenger’s cohort, but the windows were dark and, like so many specimens of bungalow architecture, in the building’s eerie vacancy had taken on the mien of eyes seeing for a strange and timeless mind. There was no answer when he arrived.
He brought the car with the bag in it back to his home, where he hefted it with great struggle up the stairs and into his apartment. He set it down beside his computer, which he turned on to check his email and Facebook messages. With dismay at the difficulties he was being forced to surmount, he let the bag fall open, and a large flash drive in the shape of a casket that said “Facebook” on it fell out onto the floor. It was fully large enough to fit a man of his size.
Without thinking, he let his curiousity get the better of him and he lifted the giant vessel to the USB port of his desktop computer. It slid in and mounted and, as it did, the casket opened.
Ilya climbed inside.
Amid offhand pissing contests, stories about the more unbearable depression, there you were in the canopy, languid amid the apples of my eyes. When I saw you I told you,
“Seeing you is like hearing bells ringing.”
All you were willing to try was refilling my coffee, was trading a tale of unromantic origins.
You and I fell from the same mold, this is what I was thinking.
“You and I were shipped to the same big box retail giant, Saran-wrapped into the same forklifted pallet, returned in the same consumer recall, implicated in the same class action lawsuit,”
Is what I said.
You weren’t not unsure of how to respond, but you also just didn’t seem concerned while I remained conscious of my elephant gun clumsiness, my proletarian design features, my reaching for an acceptably unhaughty demonstration of the goodwill toward couture while still remaining able to stay in touch with my relatives.
No more coffee, no more small talk, all this caffeine and frustrated ambition makes me fart, and I want to control the airs I put on for you. You, who sit in disdain of all effort as you foil me.
“If this is really all there is, if that is the case,” you say with a tired heft of your eyelashes, “I wish you’d say something to me that doesn’t already contain its own end. I wish you’d stop chasing your tail and match the universe with your ambition. You’re not giving me anything to hold on to, and being cruel and being kind have in common that they can only go so far. I’m becoming irritated at embodying your clichés. I wish you’d tell me your own stories.”
“I quit,” Is what I say as I stand up. “I’ll meet you when your shift is over and we’ll change our names so our last paychecks can never reach us.”
“I’ll never be able to serve you coffee again.” You pretend to be saddened to inform me.
“I’ll never have to build time for longing into my day again.”
“Yes,” you say, “You’re getting it. Now tell me again about bells ringing. Now I’ll know it’s true.”
They turned their noses up at him- they, of all people. These second rate Einsteinian hangers on and their pathetic jumping rope of a particle accelerator locked in the strange pre-urban Eastern hell of Batavia, Illinois.
Couldn’t these losers, these dead-enders, these limited lifers see he was just doing a penance, he was serving a sentence, lowering himself to undeserved depths to prove his superiority, to stay in the game, to show everyone he was right?
They turned their nose up at his Von Agassi science shorts, so short and tight his white, academic flesh could feel the wind of science giving him goosebumps through the very scientific curled mat of hair all the mannish men in his family sported in tight dark coils in the hidden reaches.
They turned their noses up when they could plainly see that his jacket was an original Donna Plaasma. He had cultures more cultured than these backwater Quebecois furriers.
And Danil “Dan” Ostrov, the middle-built, round of face Russian Jew string theorist, with his jokes and good nature, his soviet-era glasses that never seemed to revert back from their polarized state when he came in from the sun… that sonofabitch wouldn’t even acknowledge that he hated him. Hated him for tagging the only piece of Nobel quality tail from this wintry grove of twigs to New York City, the kind of place where he really belonged.
He deserved to fuck Bergdora Fafnirsdottir, not that Cossack-fleeing turnip peddler, with her easygoing straightforwardness and her great, photogenic tits- those tits that stood up like a veteran at during a ballgame rendition of the national anthem even in her dowdy, stock-issue Fischer Scientific lab coat, straight and stock still as though they had compensated for her going into a pacifist life devoted to bettering the plight of mankind by enlisting in the army and making general.
He deserved the recognition he had been deprived of when he was shipped off of the CERN Large Hadron Collider project for being caught trying to put his dick in it right before putting it in a curious grad student. Shortly after that that opportunist Blake Onionplaatz had finally won approval for his experiments that stood to create food for the hungry built from the cosmos’ limitless beams of free energy.
These people should show more respect for someone who was almost the incredible hulk below the waist.