Drinks at The Paradise Hotel
Train Ride Under the Mountain, Through the Bridge
The train carried nothing but cigarette smoke and an old man sleeping on a hammock in the last car. At the wheel stood a conductor. He was a mannequin with a birdcage torso and a parakeet squeaking inside. The moon was an opaque globe around which moths fluttered like burnt snow; just below, the clouds were still as paint. The old man mumbled, wiped the spittle from his beard, stared out the frosty window into the shriveled-up dark. Little animal thoughts pressed their snouts into the spongy substance he thought of as himself. If he could think back, he’d think back to his apartment above the chapel infamous for its raucous, infernal weddings. If he could remember every instant that’d led him to old age he’d fight against each one. His beard was his only badge of redemption. The only thing he’d ever consider calling a sibling. At night he used crawl out on the fire escape and drink beer from a funnel of old newspapers and count the planes flashing by. In the morning, he’d sweep up glass and confetti from other people’s streets. Afternoon was the only time he had to figure things out—a threadbare blanket of time stiff with dried sweat, stinking of fever. And now he was in a train sweeping across a valley twisted with moonlight, his memory a reel of pornographic movies starring the mice he’d always heard around him as he slept.
Damaged Movie Reel
Short History of a Small Book
The city breathes like a rabid dog in an antique garden. Under the window of his piano teacher, Murry waits gloomily in the rain. He’s a drunken cop with a mouse of influenza drowning in the wet bag of his lungs. He holds a small book; he opens it. He removes the gun hidden in the pages he’d carefully gutted that afternoon, as rain scrolled against the windows of his study like a curtain of dirty velvet. He hears the notes behind the window. He reaches the end of each song. In the train rumbling across the throat of the city, Drucilla reads a book about an opera which was banned for inciting a revolution in a minor town no one knows the name of anymore. She loves opera: books as fatalistic as intermezzos; rooms as familiar as arias crooned by imprisoned lovers. Half the novels she owns are records when you turn them over. Night unhinges the streets and bubbles to the clouds. In a beer garden the thief in the three-piece suit reads a newspaper. His fingers are bloody and he’s missing a shoe and he can’t remember why. Night scatters the obituary in front of him. He might be a serpent for all he knows, or a gentle drug in the brain of twilight, or a weapon in the basement of a flower. There’s a horrible memory just waiting to come home.
Copyright 2006, James Pate
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