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.
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.
To the detriment of liquidity, the suited man wrested Monday from multi-tasking and hit the street with his knowledge of French New Wave to shield him from the future.
He still wore hard-soled shoes, because he knew he would have to dig in his heels to prevent himself from being carried forward any further toward that end he had decided to avoid, toward the end of any day in particular. He cancelled his email accounts.
The first step was to spend all the money, and he couldn’t do that unless he stopped first for the whiskey so as to begin the swim against the flow of time and obligation that was carrying him along, so as to dip foot into the leisure stream and drift there on it in ambivalence to the flow of the mighty 9 to 5.
The first UFO was sighted hovering over a barmaid’s head in a familiar neck of the woods. It limned her good straight barmaid’s hair with an extra-terrestrial glow. Lo, and it deepened the shadows in her cleavage. The whiskey channeled that timeless light even into his bones, and he looked into that rift between the spheres and could see to the beginning and to the end as though they were one. He crushed ice between her teeth and he knew she was both the venus of Olduvai and the Madonna herself.
The light was high and he stepped away from the bar, one with knowledge but losing the definition of those points on a timeline he could usually remember. All music was becoming familiar to him, but he did not remember the words. He had his smile, which never met with refusal, so he was unafraid to walk amongst the willows whose limbs turned and whistled in the winds outside the modeling agencies. He in his turn whistled.
The second UFO flew through the air at his own height, clamped over his ears, singing. He felt sublime importance as he made his way in the opposite directions, bobbing his head and doling out his unstoppable smiles.
More drink would be necessary before long.
The suited man grew youthful and more useful to himself, and he felt a hard shell begin to grow to cover his back, turned away from the days he had left, the only scornful part of him now as he relaxed.
He fell into a bar he used to know and used his knowledge of Mid-Western punk to arm the jukebox against silence. He used his intuition to feel his way among the taps and came to know which beer would be his drink.
He felt fine. The future rumbled away like the 2nd avenue subway, away in sealed tunnels, nowhere, and it was fine that that future toiled on toward itself forever away from him. It was fine that it was gone.
Onward toward the natural sunset he sat, and the crowds circulated in to where he was to provide him with the fucking to redeem his head in the priceless morning to follow, the priceless morning when he would step into the airplane that others, ground like keys in dim pursuits, would barely see, as they barely saw all airplanes through their bad office windows, so they would not know that he was redeeming his plane ticket to Babylon, the endless city of knowledge where nobody wears a watch.