Thursday, July 27, 2006

50: Interlude 25

Your car will fail you. Advertisements will fail you. Your collection of shoe trees will fail you. Your jacket, the cool one with the really interesting buttons, will fail you. That restaurant you like to go to for lunch on Wednesday with your friend from work will fail you. Your teeth will fail you. Your pets will fail you. That brown spot on the kitchen sink that you aren't sure where it came from will fail you. The set of TV trays you got for a wedding present will fail you. The next interesting thing that I tell you will fail you will fail you. The Cleveland Browns will fail you. Bridges and tunnels will fail you. The movies will fail you. Tobacco spit will fail you. Your parents will fail you. The Hubble telescope will fail you. The songs of birds in the morning will fail you. Your hobbies will fail you. Mount Everest will fail you. The way your loved one plays with your hair will fail you. Your aches and pains will fail you. The day after Thanksgiving will fail you. References to British television will fail you. Price tags will fail you. Swans will fail you. The cottage on the lake where you lost your virginity will fail you. Time will fail you. God will fail you. Science will fail you. Gravity will fail you.

There you'll be, floating up into the vastness of space, helpless to hold the world close to you. And you'll be thinking, "Oh, this is just great. The Browns have lost again."

When you feel it like a smear of hot elephant shit on your forehead. When the shadow of the ground below you wipes away the light of the moon. When tomorrow wraps around behind you and gives you the mother of all wedgies. When salads turn into used car salesmen. When the dark is a vast bowl of toads and fear is a bottle of garden rakes.

I'm pretty sure I'm losing focus here. So the message, in its baldest, nakedest form, is this: Don't be afraid.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

49: Storyline 1.14

The isolation booths were one of the many curious features of the Complex. They were simply small rooms, about five foot on a side, with motorized sliding pocket doors. The rooms were light beige inside and out and furnished with two chairs and a small table. They were soundproof and surveillance-proof, and were designed for self-time or small meetings that needed to be private.

When I got to the booths, all three were occupied. I sat down to wait on one of the benches that lined the wall opposite the booths. I was in luck, for one of the booth doors slid open after only a few minutes. Two women walked out. I waited for them to be a respectable distance away before getting up, crossing the hall, and entering the now vacant booth. I pressed the button and waited for the door to slide closed. When I turned around to face the booth's interior again, Barbara was sitting on the table.

How Barbara could have gotten inside without my noticing, I had no idea. When I saw her there, it made me jump. "Where did you come from?" I demanded.

Barbara looked pleased with herself, but refused to reveal how she had eluded me. "My methods of going from point A to point B are not available to your scrutiny," she explained.

"You're going to do this all the time, aren't you? Pop in and out wherever I go, I mean." I sat down resignedly.

"I do what's necessary."

"Necessary according to who? The God of Toast?"

"I am acting at his behest, it is true. But it is neither my place nor yours to speculate as to his motives in asking me to help you. In point of fact, I have no idea what his motives are. I only know that the matter of the fish in the sky is of some importance to the God of Toast. As are you."

"If I'm so important to him, why can't I remember anything about him?"

Barbara frowned in puzzlement. I briefly explained what had happened in the toaster factory. When I had finished, she shook her head. "I have no answer to this riddle. You must simply trust that there is a reason for your amnesia, and that you will know the reason when you need to."

"Great."

Barbara laid a paw on my arm reassuringly. "Do not be perturbed. Remember that you have allies."

I nodded. "Thanks," I murmured. It did make me feel better to know that I wasn't alone. I also noticed that Barbara's touch was profoundly soothing. I wondered if this was one of her powers, but knew better than to ask. Instead, I asked, "So what happens now?"

Barbara removed her paw. "You have much work to do," she said. "I think now it would be best if I left you to get started as you see fit."

"When will I see you again?"

"Soon enough."

"Are you always going to be cryptic like this?"

"No," she replied.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

48: Interlude 24

The Parable of the Kitten on the Road

I was driving down the road one day. It was the kind of day where the drizzle comes intermittently, just enough to keep you damp but not enough to soak you unless you stay out for hours. At the moment, the air was mostly drizzle-free so I had my wipers turned off. My car swooped down the road at terrible speeds, a harbinger of evil. I was driving through a pine forest, and the road and my car upon it were the only signs of civilization.

Suddenly, what should appear by the side of the road but a small mammal lying motionless. I decided to stop to investigate. I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could, drying strips of road with the friction of my tires. The momentum of my body pressed me against the seat belt as the car decelerated amid shrieking wheels. It was like how you picture dying.

I got out of the car and slammed the door. All the windows exploded with the force of it. (I lose more car windows that way.) I walked back to where I'd seen the small mammal. My feet crunched on the wet grit of the shoulder. Crunch, crunch, crunch. When I got close to the crumpled, rain-soaked small mammal, I knelt down and inspected it.

It was a kitten. A very adorable, bedraggled kitten. Weak from hunger, its fur matted and soaked, it lay in a pathetic heap on the side of the road and struggled for breath. I got down on my hands and knees and put my face close to it.

"Fuck you, kitten," I whispered. "You're a lousy, rotten, no-good piece of shit. I flushed better than you down the toilet this morning."

The kitten mewed pitifully. "Shut the fuck up, kitten," I screamed in its tiny ears. Jumping to my feet, I wound up and kicked it. It flew up in the air a foot or two and went sailing about fifteen feet. It landed and rolled another few feet before coming to a stop.

I walked over and discovered it was still alive. Its very existence was an affront to all things wholesome. A wave of revulsion swept over me, and I soaked it in torrents of vomit.

Later, on the road again, the wind and drizzle freezing my face through the broken windshield, the sour tang of vomit in my mouth, I reflected on the kitten. I realized that we are all of us kittens on the road, waiting for some fuck-head to beat the shit out of us and drown us in their own puke.

Fuck you, kitten.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

47: Storyline 1.13

Harold stood waiting for an answer. I tried to play it off casual. "Oh, this?" I said, gesturing my head towards the dog where she sat at the edge of my desk. "I found her on the way in today. Cute, isn't she?" All of which was true enough. Barbara, meanwhile, twisted around and began rooting in her nethers in an almost self-consciously doglike fashion.

Harold stared at Barbara for a few seconds, then pulled his eyes back to me. "Yeah, cute," he said absently. He shook his head as if to clear it, then asked, "Hey, are we still on for lunch?"

"Probably not," I said. "Carver's got me on fish detail." I pointed my finger skywards.

Harold nodded and gave a half smile. "Well, you sure called that one. Alright. Well, I guess I'll see you later." He wandered off. I watched him retreat down the rows of cubes until he was out of sight.

I glanced at Barbara, who had stopped her rooting. I could see her hackles ever so slightly raised. I felt a shiver go down my own spine as if in sympathy. "What's the matter?" I asked.

Barbara turned to me. "That one troubles me," she replied quietly. "Although I cannot tell you why."

"Can't, or won't?"

"Can't. I advise caution in your dealings with him. But that is of small import at the moment. We have further matters to discuss, and I would prefer we choose a more discreet setting for our talk. Suggestions?"

I thought a moment. "Well, there're the isolation booths on floor 16," I suggested.

Barbara nodded in satisfaction. "That will be perfect. Go now. I will meet you there."

I got up and gathered my coat and briefcase. Floor 16 was two floors up, and I planned on leaving the office from there in order to get started on my assignment. I left my cube, leaving the dog sitting calmly on my desk.