Gold being a good conductor, lightning struck the dry California earth three times beside the gray-green sea, and the zombies sprang to full height from the stricken dirt beneath the dusty eucalyptus trees. They spoke: “Pass through as does the vanishing lightning and don’t worry.” But it’s hard to think with your finger in a light socket.
Traffic on the highway never stops. Oh, it pinches down, but never ceases to flow past the huddled trailers hidden tight behind the liquor store, beyond the alley where the Mexican workmen piss their beer. The dark sea beyond the housing developments humps darkly neutral during the night and brilliantly neutral during the day. People talk about the “awful fury” of the deep ocean, but it seems a pool of serenity beside the action on the streaming highway — blood-red flowing north, mother’s milk coming south. Coming. Globular humanity rumbles past in massive conveyances of cavernous grillwork, jacked-up sky high. On this same highway I picked up a hitchhiker carrying a jar of live silkworms. And he showed me the jar. Told me he’s going to save the silk to make a long white robe like Jesus had. You know. One continuous thread.
Glories, crimes, delirious fornications, prodigious drug taking, birds singing on wires — we have these things inside the trailer park. Just like everywhere else. Only in the park they are barely concealed in the tight spaces, perfectly audible through the thin, impermanent walls. The trailers sport enthusiastic, unlikely and sometimes threatening name decals prominently displayed across the fronts: Hitchhiker, Wilderness, Pilgrim, Mallard, Executive Dream, Prowler, Intruder, Fireball — cheap living. Writers live in these places. We have four, if you count me, and the new girl Daisy, arrived from Arkansas and widow of three months. Daisy of the bounteous brown-tipped Ozarks who has recently confided to me at the mailboxes that she “loves” writing pornographic stories. Ah, love…
Fist the mist
And pox the posies
Ragged rhythms of rain
The other two are Wally, three trailers over; and then there’s Bob Gravity, who lives in the Fireball down on the end. Me and Wally don’t get along very well. He hates my writing. But sometimes we drink, and we get to talking. He’s an authority on everything. But Bob Gravity stays aloof from both of us, with his carved walking stick and Mongolian Swordfighter mustache. Bob’s been published and writes The Kayak Man serial stories, in first-person, about a future world completely covered with water, like Water World, and the surviving human race living aboard boats, and he is the (first-person) hero who lives in his special kayak. He is a superhuman kayak paddler able to cover vast oceanic distances in an impossibly short time, and manages in every episode to rescue a bikini-clad babe on a sailboat from futuristic, piratical bad guys bent on evil-doing. And he does this fairly bloodlessly, dispatching the bad guys by virtue of his pummeling fists alone. No gory scarlet blood running down the gunnels and making the decks slippery. The bounding maid being rescued always seems to watch from an open hatch, strangely calm, expectant through the whole ordeal, as if simply wanting him to hurry up. And Bob has women, including a mystic Asian girl with a shaved head who wears colored long-hair wigs and zebra-print tights and sports a quick swish-swish waggle-waggle on her way out after a night here.
The shaggy palm tops rustle like windblown conquistador heads atop fire-lit poles on the outskirts of a feast. Arrogant conquerors, vain soldiers of fortune, you cannot subjugate this. Contend with native howlings in oak canyons of quaking earth. You cannot convert these tire-puncturing devil head thorns spread so low upon the hot dust. Feathered ghosts rattle and dance, rattle and dance in a formidable line. There is nothing to gain here.
I don’t think Wally has ever known real flesh. He writes nothing but endless descriptions of funny inventions. Flying, pathetic weenymobiles and such. The walls of his trailer are papered with cigarette-tar browned Catholic calendars and yellowed photos of innocent, smiling children he calls his “friends.” I want to ask him: “Does the sorrowful plaster head of The Virgin turn to look at you in the dark?”
Once, while drinking, he bragged to me of having masturbated 17 times in one day. A thing, once said, that stuck in my mind and caused a disturbing dream or vision of Wally later that night: obscenely obese, no neck, shaved head, he closely resembles the illustrations of Humpty Dumpty you see in the old Lewis Carroll books, floating naked in the void black universe, bloated round as a planet, a giant pink planet of turning flesh suspended, slowly revolving with the little hand spuriously jacking the little root — the perpetual semen blasts splattered and sparkling against the Mexican Velvet Eternity. Such things should not be heard.
So, me and Wally are both in love with the widow Daisy. Golden bread loaves risen in full autumn. When I see her go for the mail I go for mine too, so I can have a little flirtatious conversation with her by the mailboxes. But I never get a chance to talk to her alone because every time I’m talking to her Wally comes out and barges fatty boom-boom into the mix and dominates the whole rap with his crazy shit and ruins everything. And he has the audacity to critique my writing in strong terms in front of Daisy.
The gun-barrel sea roars against the raging shore, the brown and yellow hills silently confer and agree — the situation is about to jiggle and dance.
Wally’s not around. O luck! So Daisy lets it drop that we should read our stories while having a few drinks down at her place. She likes Meyers rum. “Mah-yers,” she pronounces it, “an laahhm.”
Night arrives, and I’ve got the fifth of rum and a couple limes. I open the rum and drink three anticipatory shots before gathering the sheaf of hand-penciled prose and the limes and go whistling merry and nonchalant down to Daisy’s with the offerings in hand.
And it’s going pretty good, oh boy, and she’s digging me, while in a fantastic terror of dramatic voice I lay down the endearing prosie between big deep pulls from the bottle mouth. And by the time she’s reading me the porno stuff in breathy magnolia voice too dirty to reprint here — she’s not the poet laureate of the county but she displays some depth and remarkable acumen concerning her subject — I can tell, without a doubt, the game is on, I am in, and she is ready to go. I figure love’s in the bag and I’ll just cruise for awhile, taking my time, because there’s still some good juice in the ol’ bottle I would like to finish. The fig tree outside makes a sad wet sound rubbing against the trailer wall.
She says, “Yoal kin dooo me if ya laahhk…” head tilting so sweetly, eyes sparking, her cream arms spread across the top of the brown couch, “Rat here. Rat now.” The prevalent glories thrust madly outward, sway once, and settle on the point.
I’m reclined in the leathery dominant chair by the lamp, across from Daisy, taking another hit from the bottle, hoarse and heavy-lidded. Blind. “Sure, baby, I’m gonna take care of you, don’t worry, lez jez finish this rum first. We still got some lime…” Ah, patient love. Comfortable chair.
I rise in the dark ticking room of late hours, unawake, drunk, and not knowing where. No Daisy. I bump and fuddle my way to the kitchen, find a corner, unzip, and — I wake to consciousness pissing in sweet Daisy’s wastebasket. Secret, sad, lonesome stream. Tragic stream.
I go outside and hang out in her driveway under the electric particle fog and arterial wires and smoke part of a joint. Traffic is sparse on the highway. I listen to the clean waves froth against the greasy brown rug of California. I light a cigarette. From the corner of my eye I catch black shadows fleeing along the back fence to slip flip-flap down the broken glass, piss-smelling alley of disappointed nights and scatter toward the desolate beach. Forgive me. Oh waves of the ocean, cry.
A week later I will see Daisy going by with Bob Gravity, riding a red bicycle built for two, both of them pedaling, and Daisy looking straight ahead, happy, with a big smile, acting like she don’t see me. And Bob, doing the steering, aims his white mustache my way and glares blackly. Daai-sy, Daaaisyyy, give me your answer doooooo… I’m half crraaaazzzyyy over the loooove of yoooooou…A bicycle built for two. Is it any wonder I’ve gone mad? I can’t stay awake. As they roll by Wally’s — he’s out in the driveway — I hear Daisy emote a delirious little “woo-hoo!” And Wally, ecstatic over the attention, answers “woo-hoo!” Then Bob Gravity too, “woo-hoo!” And they all laugh. The hysterical “woo-hoo!”: patent, excited outcry of the giddy zombie who has just snagged something. Listen for it.
It all blows by while I stand at my door, smoking again, on the same steps where I stood smoking when the old man lay dying in the Executive Dream. He eventually slipped, to fall wedged between the couch and wall, three days he laid, and three nights of brown eternity. Who saw in the rose light? Did I hear him call my name? Did he cry to let go? Did a golden vision of Eternal Sunshine Childhood await his last fluttering breath? Just a faint bump. We all fall asleep in California nights of eucalyptus and highway exhaust — shining lights.
What goes down the rain drain on the edge of the highway? Everything. And above, the overhead power lines cut and dissect the cellular night into odd blocks and triangles, acute, obtuse. I wonder if anybody else notices? I cancel everything else out and focus on just the wires. Like a net holding everything down. Shadows squirm under the heavy weight. The net’s been cast and there is no hope of escaping unless you are out close to the edge where you can scoot out from under it quick as it settles. Orion, belted hunter, stalks the purple night sky above the wired net, above it all, bright in the southwest, over the sea. I feel the planet loosen in the empty night, zooming away and outward from an infinitely small big bang. Lost and losing. Accelerating farther and lonelier toward nowhere.
Copyright 2008, Steven Bird
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