Last night I had a dream about a man.
He told me about his life. How he was born in his momma’s bed, and raised in the cornfields. His daddy was a farmer. From way back.
“One day daddy’s gonna die in that corn.” He looked at me and winked. “But not until I die first.”
He talked about his brothers. How he watched them being pulled under by the river. How he wondered what it would be like. To be gone. Just like that. In a flash and in a flood. Boys. Buried in a watermelon patch.
He carried a camera. Wanted to teach. To write. He took my hand. In long, slim lines we drew his name in the dirt. I asked if he knew my name. He said one day, part of him would. But not yet.
He liked fancy suits. Vests and jackets and bowler hats. Red ties.
“They’ll show up better. After I’m dead.”
He hands me the camera. I take his picture. He looks like my brother.
He said he had a wife. She liked to laugh. She worried. He knew why.
He sang about how hard things were. Constant sorrow. Hell on Earth. Whiskey in a bottle.
“Sometimes people need to believe. That it cant get any worse. Even if it means somewhere, somehow, it gets better.” He just wanted to run. “I didn’t know.” He looked at me and cried. “No one ever told me.”
I said it didn’t matter. Because someone knew. Even if he didn’t. Everything would be okay.
He said he liked blue. The color of his baby’s eyes.
“It’ll show up good in pictures. Even after he’s gone.”
I had this dream. I was being proposed to. In my high school gymnasium. It was all a bit unsettling. Like dreams sometimes are. Before you realize they’re dreams. And my suitor, my suitor says “Buffy, will you marry me?”
Before I can say ‘what’, before I can say ‘huh?’, this really hard-knocks, city centre priest shows up on the court. He speaks to my suitor. And I am shook.
“Good Grief,” he says. “Are you crazy, boy? Why does everyone insist on playing house these days? Why does everyone insist on getting married? Don’t do that.”
That’s what he says. This crazy priest. I’ve seen him before. I trust him implicitly. Father knows best.
“You’re right,” is all he says. Is all my suitor says. And then he leaves, just like that, and I am lost. Curled up in some big ball of separateness and floating in space. I feel like a star. Burnt out and collapsing in on itself.
Someone leads me away. I’m not part of the world I’m in. The world is a cafeteria now. Now, someone is feeding me chips.
My phone. It’s my life line. And when it rings, I think it’s him. And even though I have nothing to say, I listen anyway.
It’s Criss. My darling Criss. She is love. And she is comfort.
“Did he tell you what he did to me?” I think it. And don’t know if I say it.
“Yes,” she said. “It’s so sad. He sounded so different.”
And that was it. I woke up. It probably wasn’t immediately. It probably was six hours later. But it felt like immediately. Immediately. And I still felt lost.
Someone died and I was sitting on a set of concrete steps that belonged to a neighbour thinking “I’ve been ostracized and I don’t even care.” My head hurt from the weight of itself and when I tried to turn it, to unstick the glue that made it stuck, I saw the neighbour whose steps I sat upon and it was Nick Clooney.
I thought ‘this is childhood’ because he was always in mine. Smiling. Sitting on a stool and talking up silver screens and things. Making me feel a little better about the varnished walls and green shag carpet that made me feel so bad.
He sat down beside me and said “just breathe” and I said “they call it putting on airs if you don’t have a criminal record.” It was true and we both knew it and I tried to breathe like he told me to do. Because breathing is a true thing, too.
Flynn just sent me an email. It was wonderful. It was this…
In a deserted place in Iran there is a not very tall stone tower that has neither door nor window. In the only room (with a dirt floor and shaped like a circle) there is a wooden table and a bench. In that circular cell, a man who looks like me is writing in letters I cannot understand a long poem about a man who in another circular cell is writing a poem about a man who in another circular cell . . . The process never ends and no one will be able to read what the prisoners write.
by Jorge Luis Borges
(translated by Suzanne Jill Levine)
I’m new to Borges, having only recently discovered him after asking of Flynn: “Opinion, Favourite short story writer? Ever??”
Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo was an Argentine writer and poet born in Buenos Aires. In addition to his short stories for which he is most famous, Borges also wrote poetry, essays, screenplays, and a considerable volume of literary criticism, prologues, and reviews, edited numerous anthologies, and was a prominent translator of English, French and German language literature into Spanish (and of Old English and Norse works as well). His blindness strongly influenced his later writing. Paramount among his intellectual interests are elements of mythology, mathematics, theology, and, as a personal integration of these.
J. M. Coetzee said of Borges: “He, more than anyone, renovated the language of fiction and thus opened the way to a remarkable generation of Spanish American novelists.”
All things fade and quickly turn to myth; quickly too utter oblivion drowns them. But what in any case is everlasting memory? Utter emptiness.
It’s a very British thing to do. Queue. They say it’s their national past time. I reckon they’re right. I reckon it has a lot to do with the NHS and that pervasive politeness they’re all decked out in. The kind that holds firm until it outs itself in the form of sarcasm. Extreme.
I dreamt last night he queued down into a mine and never came out. When I woke I could feel the loss but not the face so I kept asking ‘Who?’, until I remembered. Then all I wanted to know was ‘Why?’. Why was he down there in the first place?
I somehow ended up back home. With a big lump of hurt but no tears running from my throat to my stomach. Bunched up in the middle of my chest like an ole bull frog. The kind that use to sit by the creek bank and holler and look ugly when we were kids.
My father and my brother were trading my car in for a new one. New car new life. I said ‘What kind?’ and they said ‘Ford’. I asked ‘What colour?’, they said ‘Doesn’t matter’.
That seemed to be the default. Fords and fathers. An old farm high on a mountain that looked much smaller than it use to. Than it once was. It’s the Elementary Effect. I reckon. Where everything seems just so when you’re stuck in grades K though Six. Then you grow into high school and go back and wonder how you ever fit in all those tiny rooms and tiny chairs and tiny toilets.
I grew into something else and went back and wondered how I ever fit.
When I left home there was a song that played on a country music station. Wide Open Spaces. I somehow turned it into me and my-life-then because that’s what you do. A few years later I heard it again and thought Isn’t it funny how green and grass sometimes suffocates me? How most times, if I think about it, it does. How pavement pizza and all its stench and foulness is often more preferable. More desirable. Than a field of trees and country side? I thought these thoughts then. In the middle of Fords and fathers and some foreign place I once called home.
But he was still down in the mine. And I was still covering my face. Trying to breathe deep the air cupped to it. Still shaking my head. Unable to cry. Unbelieving, because ‘He’s a city boy who’s never even seen a lightening bug. So what was he doing in that mine?’
You don’t have to go home but you can’t…stay…here…
Ten years ago this summer. We drove around in the warm and the sun with our hair up and our windows down and sang the words and thought “This is it. This is us.”
It was our anthem. Our summer song. To dream to and believe in. Real. Absolute.
We saw beyond the fear we didn’t know was there and saw ourselves. Somehow.
Just like Madagascar and Jasmine always reminds me of him. The places I’ll be from…always reminds me of you.
When or how I knew is still something of a mystery because it all came at once and with such force, the way knowing sometimes does, I wasn’t sure I knew at all.
I looked at the napkin, yellowed with age the same shade as Sarah’s skin; and at the silverware, Edwardian and platinum; and at the box, the coffin that held it all together, and thought about how it wasn’t really empty so much as full.
With Sarah and her full flouncy skirt sitting upright in it and leaning over the lip to chat with the girls in theirs, like you’d lean out of the bath to reach for a robe or a towel or just to have a word with someone on the other side of the door.
The other side…
I wanted to cry. Not the kind of full-on-everyone-can-see-and-hear-you type of cry that had never been my sort of cry anyway. But the kind that fills your insides in a low hot simmer and threatens to boil out your eyeballs and through the tips of your ears and nose and fingers and toes – if you’re not careful.
I looked at one of the other girls, looking at me, and saw she was about to spill over too. Those big watery eyes – more like an anime than any plain girl from Palo Alto. (She wore a badge that said ‘I’m from…’) She held out her hand – Sarah and the other girls still chattering away like a barnyard full of chickens – and said without saying ‘Give it. I’ll tell her’. And I was happy for her to do it; but heart-hurt too because, who was there to tell me?