There’s no place like

Ruby was named after the ruby slippers in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Her mother reminded her of this, every so often, as if she was afraid that Ruby would forget. “You were named after the slippers from the film, mind”, her mother would say, looking dreamily at her own reflection in the mirror, fluffing her hair, whatever color it was that week; it was often “Ruby Red”. “Be thankful I didn’t name you after the slippers in the book, missy,” her mother would suddenly snap around from the mirror, and Ruby would look up, nod, and go back to her coloring book; inevitably, it was usually a coloring book of The Wizard of Oz; based on the characters in the film, of course, not those in the book.

And Ruby was thankful, for a great many things. Firstly, she was thankful that her mother had named her a rather ordinary name, even if it was taken from the magical slippers, which, as she got older, looked more and more plasticky to her. Her mother could’ve chosen all sorts of names. “Yellow Brick Road”, for instance. You couldn’t pretend that such a name was normal, as she did with Ruby. Or Munchkin. That would not have gone over well with the kids at school. Look at that boy who named him after Harry Potter. “Harry Potter Green” had been called out in the role call of the first day of school, and that was it. He had been teased awfully since then, and they were already in the fourth grade; four years was an awfully long time to be teased. Thankfully, Ruby’s mother had assumed that everyone would associate Ruby with the slippers, and hadn’t bothered to add it onto Ruby’s birth certificate.
Ruby and her mother watched The Wizard of Oz every night. It was not a topic that was up for discussion. They would finish their cereal, Ruby would be sent to brush her teeth, Ruby’s mother would get a stool, reach into the freezer, and take out frozen peas, and then they would sit together in front of their bulky beige television set, Ruby on the footstool, Ruby’s mother in the armchair. Ruby’s mother was always very frightened that the color might not change when Dorothy got into Oz. “Supposing it doesn’t change,” she would mumble, her mouth full of frozen peas, as the moment drew near. When she was younger, Ruby would always answer her reassuringly, drawing on past experience. “It always changes, Mom”, she would say, patting her mother’s arm from her perch on the footstool down below, “really”. By the fourth grade, however, Ruby had stopped answering her mother. She sat through the film, that was all. Sometimes she allowed herself to close her eyes. Once, in the second grade, she had fallen asleep as the Scarecrow sang to Dorothy about his wish to have a brain. She thought it wouldn’t matter, as she knew the scene by heart anyway; the fence, the blue sky, the straw dangling from the scarecrow’s arms, the memory that repeated itself in the tin-man and the lion’s songs; she dreamt about them most nights too, though she never dreamt about Dorothy. None of them were friendly in her dreams, they all seemed rather sullen that they had to keep appearing there, and at one point she found herself apologizing to the lion for dreaming about him, and consoling the tin-man that he couldn’t go be in some other little girl’s dream. That one time she had fallen asleep during the movie, she awoke to see her mother towering above her. The movie was off, the lights in the living room were off, and only the dull little light in the kitchen was on. She could her mother’s blue eyes dimly. They didn’t seem angry, but her mother said slowly, “that’s the last time that you ever fall asleep during this movie.”
And as long as she lived with her mother, it was.
That was till the fifth grade. The first day of the fifth grade, they were asked to write an essay about what they had done during the summer. Elsie Crittin wrote about how her family had gone to Niagra Falls, and how she had ridden the maid of the mist, and imagined that she was the captain’s wife. Grace Burdows wrote about how she had read a lot of books, and gone to the pool with her brothers. Harry Potter Green wrote about how much he loved summer vacation, because there was no school. Ruby wrote that she had had cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and that her mother made her watch The Wizard of Oz three times a day (before the two of them finally viewing it together when her mom got home from work), and that their power had been shut off during the heat wave, because her mom hadn’t paid the bills.
Ruby didn’t know, later on, whether she had meant to cause trouble, or not. Whether it was the fact that her fifth-grade teacher looked like Glinda, or the fact that the sky had been an Ozian blue that day. She didn’t know, and she didn’t care. She was summoned to speak to the social worker. Her home was looked into. She was taken out of her mother’s home, put into foster care, adopted.
Later, much later, in college, Ruby tried a brownie that her friend gave her. A group of them went to the woods. There was a path in the woods, and Ruby shouted “The Yellow Brick Road!” Everyone laughed, except for Ruby, who sat down, and rocked back and forth, and murmured to herself, over and over, “There’s place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home…”

Yet To Come

Scrooge had changed, there is no doubting that.

He was kinder and more considerate. No longer the miser he was known to be, he increased Cratchit’s pay and visited with his nephew once or twice a year.

He died all the same, several years later. Scrooge was buried in a small plot on a hill overlooking the city. His nephew’s family and the Cratchit’s all wept at the funeral, mourning the loss of a man who, while not perfect, had made amends in the last years of his life. Life carries on. Bob Cratchit had difficulties finding employ upon Scrooge’s passing. Two winters after Scrooge’s death he was walking home from the docks and was caught in a storm. It was a short illness, mercifully. Tiny Tim soon followed, the sickly boy never being strong of fortitude.

Years passed and the city carried on. As more of Scrooge’s old acquaintances left their lives behind, his name faded. His grave remained, still watching over the city. The cemetery, however, was abandoned and, eventually, forgotten. The flesh and bones beneath the earth long rotted, the stone slabs remained, markers of forgotten names and long-gone faces. Decades later, nature had retaken Scrooge’s headstone. Wild grass grew over the soil and the elements had worn away at the stone.

One mid-winter night, the wind picked up and two figures appeared before the weathered stone. One was an old man, his face contorted in horror. The other seemed more than human. He was cloaked and draped in a billowing cape. It seemed as if the cape was his body, as no corporeal form could be discerned but for a skeletal hand pointed at the grave. He spoke in howls and gusts. The whistling wind carrying what message he had to the ears of the man. After several minutes, they vanished as they had appeared. The man shaking, the figure unchanged.

Was I wrong in bringing Scrooge to that point in time? An inevitable point that will one day occur to all living beings? Perhaps. Scrooge would be forgotten at one point. Sooner or later, it matters not. Time stretches forward and takes no heed of the names and deeds of such short lived creatures. In that brief period it had allotted Scrooge, the man lived a good life and helped his fellows. That alone is enough. He had lived for those in his time, not for those in future times. Had he donated all his gold to charity, or died clutching it to his breast – he would be forgotten all the same. Everyone is forgotten. Such is the shape of things yet to come.

Starry Starry Night

There is something to be said for a crag. But in lieu of a crag (with its craggy gray foreboding, perhaps speckled with limestone, or consisting entirely of sandy limestone), there is a chain-link fence. It is about two feet by four feet, or two by three feet, and within the fenced off area there is a dark blue pipe; pipes, rather, twisted together. I’m not sure what their purpose is; they may simply be artwork, a “pipe-creation” of this era, symbolizing the hopeless, buried nature of our time. We are entombed in fresh dirt, with grass for company. The rise and the fall of metal, enclosed within a raised metal grave. Then again, it is about twenty feet from the gas station, and so it is possible that the pipe serves some hidden purpose.
Not a crag, but the possibilites are there.
Every so often, I climb into the pipes’ enclosure to think. The pipe and it’s chain-link guardian lie close to the edge of a slope leading down to the valley, and I just come up from the valley, my legs slipping up the sand, my hands fumbling around for rocks or plants to hold on to; I only come out during the dark. I look around, to see if any of the coveralled workers, beaming greenly in their benizened uniforms, are around. They aren’t usually. If they are, I wait patiently till they are gone, and then, quick, I climb over the fence and I am inside, sitting beneath one of the twists in the pipe.
It’s very still there, and peaceful. I breathe hard from the exertion, and think about my plans. I look up and see pipe, stars, and if I sway it’s almost music – pipe, stars, pipe, pipe, stars, pipe. My breathing becomes easier, and I long for my crag. There would be no pipe blocking the stars, no occasional car horn, tires, coveralled creature, smoker in the way. Just me, and my girl. And the crag. And that one, sweet moment, of blindfolding her, and pushing her off the crag. Gagging her, as well; a scream would be very unwelcome, I think. In, out, breathe; and yet as I think and breathe the sharp smell of gasoline gets in the way; and that damn music. I reluctantly look through a hexagon in the fence, and I see a pink car, and I know that our time is come. Slowly, I rise. I step out of the encloser, I know not how; I am on magic feet.
Later, in jail, I sit with others, who have done similar things. They are very jocular about it. One other who has done something, something important like me, tells his friends. He is tall, and very bald. His teeth shine as he speaks. Had I been him, I should not have had such a hard time with my girl. One punch would have been enough, with a fist like his. Still. I thought, I think, it was beautiful, the way in which I employed the gas pump, and it was complemented by the poetry of how she fell. And so, my bald companion tells those around him “It was at that moment that I realized that the corpse was the least of my problems”. Laughter surrounds him, a comforting cloud. It is nice to be recognized by one’s peers. Still. Why they congragulate him on hiding the body is a mystery to me.

Sometimes, through my small window in my cell, I look at the stars. Star, bar, bar, star. What lovely music.

The Man Who Sleeps

It is a story known.

The girl, at the loom, who pricks her finger and falls into a deep slumber. Variations exist, as always. Sometimes the girl is performing needlework. In some she’s dark-haired, in others it is a golden haired child. In all, the girl sleeps. One hundred years, sometimes less, sometimes more. Until her prince came, gallant and shining. Often he battles some dark beast for her, not always. The end remains the same. Always. His kiss awakens her, and she is saved.

There is, however, another story. Unknown. Whether it came before or after is unclear. Some say it was a test, an attempt to ascertain whether the sleeping curse works. Others claim the two are unrelated. No one knows why one story gained popularity while the other faded into obscurity. There are theories, but no facts. Perhaps there was no moral to be gleaned from it.

There was a boy, or a man, and he was in the forest. His actions are uncertain, hunting or gathering wood. It is known that he was caring for an elderly parent or a child. He was a good man, that much can be gathered. It was a fate unearned. He pricks his finger on an arrow, or the edge of his axe and draws blood. As the drop fall to the ground, so does he. He falls to the ground, and he sleeps. No one finds him, he is deep in the forest and cannot be tracked. He sleep for years, decades, centuries. He is unprotected by castles of stone and steel. The forest creatures come. At first the fear him, then less so. The predators come first, enjoying the easy meal. Then the scavengers, chewing and ripping at the remains. Finally, the insects lay their eggs in the blood and gore. The forest, too, takes its share. The roots in the ground below feed on the minerals that have seeped into the ground. The man sleeps. He is now of the forest. His body will not be found, but he is in the forest, spread throughout it. He is in the animals, in the plants. The man sleeps and thus, the forest sleeps. In time, the forest itself will be killed. By time, by the elements, by machines. The man sleeps and the forest sleeps. As the trees burn, the ManForest sleeps. As concrete is poured and vast metal structures are erected – he sleeps.

One day, he will awake. The curse will be broken. Then… then things will change. The man will wake and the forest will take back its lost ground. It will rise up, grow, expand. It will wash the grey and black with a green, fresh and resplendent.

All this will come to pass once the man sleeps no longer.

That Time

That time that you fell off a cliff, we were high. I know that we were. You claim, when you come to me in my dreams, that we were not high, that we were not stoned. “We were drunk”, you claim. As if to illustrate your point, your pale, translucent body always ripples as you say this; liquid, not powder. Sometimes you bring some brewskies with you. You offer one to me, smiling, and after my hand slides through the proffered bottle I usually say, I don’t drink anymore, and I list the number of days that I’ve been sober. Hello, my name is Kai. I’ve been sober for 13 days. Hi Kai. You go through the whole AA skit, laughing at me. I laugh too. It doesn’t make the beer that you’re holding more real, though. So I go down to the kitchen – I’ve moved since you fell off that cliff. I think that I was hoping that you wouldn’t follow me, that you wouldn’t be able to track me on the freeway. It’s like I didn’t realize that you were the one with supernatural powers, not me. It seems like nowadays the fridge is filled with beers, which makes it kinda hard for me to break the drinking habit. There’s beers and guacamole and humus, and crusted brown remnants of barbeque sauce on the shelves of the door of the fridge. Each time I open the fridge, there’s a new layer of fungus on the shelf door, feasting on the barbeque sauce. In the beginning I used to pretend that I was going to get around to cleaning the fridge, but now I take pride in the mold. It’s my little garden. When I come back with a beer you’re always gone. That’s part of the reason that I haul myself downstairs in the first place. I sit in bed, cross-legged, and sip, sip, sip. If the neighbors aren’t partying too hard, the base of their awful music shaking the frame of the house, the fridge, me, I fall asleep pretty quickly. In the morning, I find myself embracing the empty bottle, and sometimes my bed is wet. From the beer, I mean. After I’ve dreamed you up, I go and see you at the hospital. I take route 49, which takes longer, but it goes right by the cliff. The time that you fell, we were both high. And the thought that I was thinking, that time, was that it would be perfect if you were to plunge off the cliff. It was a beautiful day, sunny, and in my hazy state I thought that the wind was whisking down pieces of the sun. You said, “let’s make snow angels”, and I said sure, but what I was really thinking was that the sky was missing some action. “Nothing’s moving”, I said to you. You said what, and I pushed you off the cliff. I watched you fall down – you screamed, I think, pretty loudly. As soon as you started to fall I realized my mistake, you weren’t flying up, you were flying down, and the sky was the same blue blank that it had been. What a waste. The police said it was an accident. They found drugs in your system, Brad. I was at home, at the time. So I said. You were high, and they knew it. I was high, but they didn’t. And when I come to visit you at the hospital, you’re as pasty as you are in my dreams. Though you don’t talk, of course. And you only ripple when I poke you, when the nurses aren’t looking. I don’t think that you’re really haunting me, I think it’s only me dreaming of you. Because why would you come back from the dead, just to argue with me about the form of intoxication that led to your demise. Let’s be frank, Braddy, I think as I hold your placid, clammy hand. I didn’t need any chemicals to push you over the brink. It just so happened that that time that you fell off the cliff, we were both high.

You and I, and Them

We’re not such active participants, you and I. Although we do go to the gatherings. The rooms – for we gather in different halls, different places, we are always moving – the rooms are always set up like it is an AA meeting; maybe that is what we want them to think. It isn’t an AA meeting. There’s Kool-Aid in a jug, or a vase (depending on what room we’re in. Each room seems to be equipped with a different kind of pitcher), and bland store-bought cookies, which are usually vanilla-flavored. We sit down somewhere, choosing random chairs, sometimes together we sit, and sometimes apart. The chairs are always plastic, no matter what room we are in. Their colors differ; white and green and blue are the prominent ones, though of course, there are others. We usually get there first, because I am punctual, and because you like to look at “the lay of the place”. I understand that to mean that you like looking at the uncovered legs of the women who file in, sometimes alone, sometimes together, sometimes with men. You like to look at the back of their legs, how their skirts slowly rise up as they reach for a plastic cup for the Kool-Aid, because the table is wide, backed up against the white stark wall, and the white plastic cups are hard to reach. I look to see if the men’s legs are as promiscuous, following your example; but no. There is only a rustling of the creases of the pants, the different kinds of fabrics playing with the glaring fluorescent lights.
So, we have gathered. This is no AA, there are no confessions, only accusations. You listen to the words that are said, I listen to the tone, the inflections. I watch the spittle rise out of the speakers’ mouths, and descend quickly in an arch-shaped movement to the ground, or maybe onto one of the listeners (if they are listening. Maybe they are just sitting). When we get home we will exchange information, though it will not be a fair exchange. You will fill me in on what I have missed; you will know that I haven’t been listening. I listen to you, because I cannot only follow the musicality of your voice, its deceptive softness, because you will leave me, because I will be lost. So I listen. The words you use are grand, big, bold. I see, as I listen to you, the speaker, dressed in a general’s outfit, with eyes of red. The spittle is now draining from his lips, downwards, and he is speaking, in your voice, of what is right, and what is wrong. When you are done, a silence settles down between us, and we wait for it to pass. I turn on the heater, warming my hands in the glow of the red metallic coils. You want something of me; oh, the march; no, I will not go.
You will go (suddenly you are an active participant) and you will be comforted by the masses, the noise, the smells. Someone told me, once, that the hot-dog stands stay open as usual, even though you are marching through the streets, even though so many others have taken cover. And that every so often a marcher will suddenly stop chanting, and reach for his wallet, and pull out a dollar, and buy a hot-dog. Not you, though. You are still at the gathering, when you march. Not on the street, not in you, as your body screams slogans and your mouth chants words.

When you come home the house will be spotless. And when you start to cry, I’ll pour you a shot of whisky, and then put you to bed, and hold you until you sleep.

At the Lake at World’s End

I stood at the end of the world, and all I could think of was a glass of water.

 

“This,” he said as he placed the glass on the countertop between us. The glass pinging off the marble and causing ripples to rock the water’s surface.

“That’s a glass of water,” I replied, dryly. “Six letters, ‘hope’, s in the middle,” I added as an afterthought.

“Design. Yes, it’s a glass of water, but it’s also everything.”

“Is it a cheese omelet? Because I’ve been waiting for breakfast and I’ve got to go in 15 minutes.”

“Very funny,” he turned to the gas stove, and flipped over the two omelets. “All I’m saying is, water is it. It governs us, the way we behave. In Africa, in the Kalahari, thousands, no millions of animals migrate every year once summer rolls around and the land dries up. Imagine what would happen if we turn the tap and nothing would come out. Or what came out wasn’t usable.”

“We’ll just have to live on diet coke, I guess. Grab a roll, will you, I’m gonna need that omelet to go.”

 

I’m in the mountains now, high up, where it’s still safe. I’m looking down on a lake, still, calm, quiet. The ice-blue water is shimmering in the little sunlight that manages to make it through the cloud-cover. I’m thirsty, obviously. But things are not that simple anymore. I can’t know if this water is safe. The lack of birds or animals is troubling. They say the rain carries it, and if it rained here, seeped into the lake through underground streams or something. He was right, of course, once the water went bad, it was chaos.

Sure, we had bottled stuff. But how long can those last? Mineral water still has to come from somewhere. Then they tried synthesizing it. That didn’t work. Actually, I heard from some lab technician back in Idaho, poor girl didn’t deserve to go like that… Anyways, I heard that’s how the whole thing got started. Some desert irrigation project gone bad. She said it was an accident. I’ve heard sabotage. But who’d be stupid enough to sabotage the world’s water supply? Same people who blow themselves up, I guess. Damn the world and all who live in it.

I’m at the lake’s edge. Maybe it’s good? Maybe it didn’t get all the way up here. I hope a deer comes by, takes a drink. That way I’ll know. And have something to eat, too. Damn. Nothing. I guess I’ve got nothing left to lose, right. Drink and die. Or don’t drink and die. Or drink and don’t die. 1 out 3. Not horrible odds, if you think about it. I bend down, and cup my hands.

 

“What the hell is this stuff?” I spit back into my cup.

“I put diet coke in your coffee.” He smiled, “Y’know, so you can start getting used to it.”