Thursday, August 31, 2006

54: Interlude 27

On certain days, I drink teaspoonfuls of liquid from the vase you gave me. It tastes like I imagine the day after tomorrow might taste if filtered through yesterday and today. Tomorrow, I will water my garden with it.

Tomorrow comes every day, just like it did yesterday and the day before that. My garden thrives, and the vase never empties. It's as though the liquid has some unseen source, and I don't question it. When I'm not using it, the vase sits on the windowsill over the kitchen sink.

Why is it that every kitchen sink has a window over it? Who decided that convention should dictate there be a window there? Is it so the person laboring at the sink can have a view? Or is the window simply there so that the light will play through the vase on the sill and make patterns and fragments of patterns on the internal planes of the kitchen?

The vase is purple glass. The vase is not the Chevy I used to drive when I was just a kid. The vase is two-thirds full. The vase does not have the word, "Try" written across it in bold letters. When I water my garden, I tip the vase on its side until liquid pours out of it, and then I move it around from plant to plant. The vase does not have a degree from a state university. When I sample the nectar of the vase, I use a long-handled silver spoon to carry a mouthful to my lips. The vase is a long-legged spider. The vase is not the animals of the north pole. The vase is the shadow of the mountains over the grocery store. The vase is not my dinner, and I don't use it as a trolley.

Next Wednesday, whenever it comes, is when I will throw the vase off a cliff to see if it breaks. How will I explain it? How will I walk away from it? How will I find a tiny vase at the bottom of a cliff in the middle of nowhere? What if it breaks? What if it doesn't? What will become of its contents in either case? What will I do about my garden?

Too many questions. I sit in the kitchen, waiting for Wednesday and the anguish it must bring. The vase sits on the windowsill over the sink, refracting the sunset across my face and the floor. Outside, a dog barks.

I will smear vaseline on the eyelids of need. I will carry around a chicken leg to ward off dandruff. I will toil endlessly to eradicate mouse abuse. I will take up quilting and make blankets to cover the Sahara. I know all of this will avail me little.

There will be a Wednesday.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

53: Storyline 1.16

It was about an hour later that I reached the surface. I climbed up out of the hole and found myself standing in the light of a noonday sun. It wasn't direct sunlight, mind you; the sun was evidenced only by a bright spot in the canopy of fish that covered the sky.

The reason I knew it was noon is because that's the only time of day that sunlight falls across the entrance hole of the Complex. The hole lies in a very narrow alley between two tall buildings, behind a perpetually smelly dumpster and a dead dog in a state of eternal decay.

When new people ask why the entrance to the Complex is in such cruddy environs, the answer is usually something along the lines of, "It's tradition." I'm guessing that's not really the brush-off answer that it might at first seem to be. My theory is that at one time, the dumpster and the dog were the only means of discouraging unwanted investigations by local citizenry. These days, there's a full hologrammatic projection of a brick wall across the entrance to the alley, which is reinforced by subsonic hypnotic suggestions to stay away. As such, the garbage and canine corpse seem superfluous. Tradition, I think, is the only plausible explanation for their continued presence.

I went to the mouth of the alleyway and strolled through the hologram. I used to worry about leaving the alley the moment when someone was watching, thereby giving away the secret. But that fear wore off fairly quickly. In the history of the Complex, only two outsiders have ever entered uninvited. Both were offered jobs in the Complex, and they both ultimately took those jobs.

Once in the street, I made my way to the nearest business that sold newspapers. There was a coffee shop nearby (isn't there always?), and I went in and bought the city's paper and a national paper. My goal was to ascertain the extent of the phenomenon, and to get the public perception of the fish situation. To all appearances, people were getting on with their day. To be sure, there was more sky-gazing going on than usual, but the fish in the sky didn't seem to be getting in the way of capitalism. Businesses were open, people were going to work, the airlines were running, and there was no widespread panic or anything of that nature going on.

I sat down with my newspapers and some iced black coffee. On the national paper, there was a full-color photo, rather nicely shot, of the fish-filled sky over the Rocky Mountains. "Something Fishy," said the headline. So it was at least a nationwide phenomenon. I was assuming it to be a worldwide phenomenon, but I like to get verification. I hoped the article would have details as to the extent of the situation. I set the national paper aside for the moment and checked out the city paper. There was a news item on the front page, but it was below the fold. This surprised me a little. "Scientists Mystified by Fish in Sky," read the headline. I began reading.

By the end of the first paragraph, I knew the article was going to be of little use to me. I did glean one piece of information: the fish were a worldwide phenomenon. Beyond that, it was just clumsy prose quoting wild speculations.

I was debating whether or not to forge my way into the second paragraph when a man came into the coffee shop. He was a gruff-looking man, and he was wearing a wimple.

Note to readers: I am on vacation next week and will be sans computer. Therefore we'll be skipping a week and the next episode will be posted August 31, 2006.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

52: Interlude 26

It is time, once again, for the horse to jump over a big pile of nickels. The camera is close to the ground, wide-angle lens pointed in the same direction the horse is running, focused on the pile of nickels. The sky is a rich blue, cloudless. The grass is green, with a light sheen of dew making it almost luminescent in the gentle morning sunlight. The pile of nickels is a silvery grey and dominates the picture. That's how it is for a few seconds. Then, suddenly, from the top of the screen, the underside of a leaping horse surges into view. The dappled grey horse sails over the nickels, lands lightly on the other side, and trots offscreen to the left. Roll credits.

What can we learn from the film of the horse and the nickels? We might learn that spectacle is moving. We might learn that a horse and a pile of nickels can appear to be of nearly identical color in the right lighting, and provided that the horse is moving quickly and isn't on screen for too long. We might learn that it is appropriate, even laudable, to dismember children. (Although to learn that last one, one would most likely need to be psychotically delusional.)

Let's look again at that first item: Spectacle is moving. Therefore having purpose. Therefore being a force for positive change in the collective consciousness. This is all true. And there are ramifications. Oh, yes.

In a nearby convenience store, the film crew purchases snacks and beverages for the wrap party. They pay with handfuls of nickels.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

51: Storyline 1.15

I bade farewell to Barbara, left the isolation booth, and began making my way to surface. I was filled with purpose and steady resolve, eager to tackle my mission. The oblique connection to the God of Toast made it all the more intriguing. More than anything, I wanted to be out of the Complex and facing the challenges I knew lay ahead.

Unfortunately, I was 16 floors underground, and the elevator system of the Complex did not lend itself to directness. See, most of the elevators only ran between two floors, and the different elevators were sometimes several minutes walk from one another. So if, for example, I wanted to get from floor 16 to floor 15 (which I did), I would need to go to the 15-16 elevator in the southwest corner of the floor. Then, to get to floor 14, I would have to use the 14-15 elevator which was in the northwest corner of floor 15. And so on and so forth. There were some other idiosyncrasies as well. For example, on floor 13, in addition to the 12-13 and 13-14 elevators, there was an elevator that went directly to floor 19 with no stops in between. We called it the 13-19 express. And there were all sorts of these idiosyncrasies. Navigating the Complex was a skill that took years to master.

In any event, I was on my way to the surface, decidedly not as the crow flies. In fact, no self-respecting crow would have anything to do with getting around the Complex. It was therefore not terribly surprising that in the forced roundaboutness I should run into Carver. It was on floor 7. He walked into the hallway I was in just as I was passing the side hallway from which he emerged. He fell into step beside me almost as if he had expected me to be there.

"Andrew," he said in greeting.

"Carver," I replied.

"On your way to 6?"


"Me too."

We walked on in silence until we got to the 6-7 elevator.

"Going up?" Carver asked before pressing the only button available. Elevator jokes were common in the Complex. I smiled politely, as one did.

After a few seconds, the elevator chimed and the door slid open. Carver gestured for me to enter, so I did; he followed. When the doors slid shut, he said, "So, on your way up and out to deal with those fish?"

"No, I figured I'd just wander around here for a while, then maybe go get some sandwiches."

Carver bristled but said nothing. This was how it was between me and Carver. The elevator came to a smooth stop and the doors slid open. Carver stalked out. At that moment, I remembered Barbara's advice. Following it wouldn't hurt anything. vacating the elevator, I called out Carver's name.

He stopped and turned back to me. I caught up to where he was standing. "Listen," I said in a conciliatory tone, "I'm sorry about that wisecrack back there. I'm a little stressed is all. Of course I'm on my way to deal with the fish, and I won't let you down."

Carver was visibly surprised and pleased at my apology. "Golden frogs make straw mats upon which to dry their garden lanterns," he said.

I blinked. This was not what I had expected to hear. In fact, it wasn't even close. Carver seemed to be waiting for a response, though. I decided to play along. "Throat massage is a new and exciting industry offering many opportunities for the enterprising truffle pig," I said.

Carver seemed satisfied. Clapping me on the shoulder, he said, "Knock 'em dead, kid."

"Those fish won't know what hit 'em," I replied.

Carver walked away. After a few moments, so did I. In a different direction.