Thinking About My Dad

Sunset

I don’t think about my dad that much, these days. I don’t know if that’s sad, or healthy, or both. I can bring him up in a conversation with my mom and it doesn’t make us both sad. There’s a moment where I worry that it will, because I remember when I could hear the tears in her eyes over the phone whenever I mentioned him.

I could bring up some funny memory, and we might both laugh, but the tears were there. The moment fogged with a dull blue. It didn’t ruin it. She didn’t burst into sobs. But they were there. And I felt a strange thing in my chest. Something like longing, something like hopelessness, something like desperation. A hand, tightly grasping just above my heart, slightly to the left.

It’s a feeling I get when I think about things that were beautiful but now are gone forever. It could be a person, or it could be the ruins of a castle in the mist. The part of me that exists only to laugh and hurt doesn’t know the difference.

That doesn’t happen any more. Now we can talk about him like something from the past. I don’t know when that happened. I think it’s probably a good thing because it means there is less pain. I have enough pain in my world. Everyone does, and my mother has far more than her fair share.

We can talk and laugh about the dumb jokes he used to tell, mention things he enjoyed, bring up a saying that he used to say—and he had a million of them—and it’s just like talking about anything else in the world that isn’t around anymore. Joe DiMaggio. The Roman Empire. My great grandmother.

Just another thing, and if there is pain, it is the memory of a sting. I can feel how it used to hurt, and that feeling is still unpleasant just like any unpleasant memory. But it doesn’t hurt anymore. Not really. It doesn’t burn. That’s probably better. I think it has to be better.

I know that, but right now, right here, soaking in the thoughts and memories, I’m not so sure. I feel some strange ache, impossible to describe because it lives in the same places as other things that shouldn’t be real because they don’t make sense. It can’t be a bad thing that I can think about my dad without hurting inside. It means that I’ve let go of the hurt. Let go of the pain. But the problem is that once you let something go, you don’t have it anymore.

Things that only live in the past don’t hurt. You can’t get cut by a knife you haven’t had since you moved away from your childhood house and didn’t take it with you. The things that still hurt do so because never move into the past. They’re still inside of you right now. Still living, still breathing, still edged. Some people have jagged fragments of memory that flow through their bloodstream and never stop cutting them. They spend all of their time bleeding. But that’s not the past. Just because something happened a long time ago doesn’t mean it has passed. Not for you. Not if it still cuts you. Not if it’s still sharp.

The opposite of sharp is dull. When an image is dull, you can’t make out its features. My memories of my dad can’t cut me, anymore. Not most of the time. But that means they’re losing their edges. Losing their clarity. When someone won’t move on from the death of the loved one even though it hurts them, they know this. Inside of them, they know this. To lose the pain is to lose the immediacy. The now-nesses of it. If someone can still hurt you that means they are still in your life. They still exist. They aren’t just a series of photographs, a little more faded with each year.

And they still have cancer. And you still get that phone call at work telling you that, despite the fact that you thought he was getting better, your father is dead. It happens so quickly that it’s hard to believe. He seemed fine when you saw him a month and a half ago. Too skinny, unable to eat very much, but fully himself.

Fully alive, and fully able to complain that he can’t eat bbq ribs with everyone else, but with that amazing and effortless humility that someone makes the rest of us feel okay eating them in front of him. You can live in the happy memories as much as you want, but if you want him to still be here, still in your life, then you have to relive that phone call. Over and over again.

Nothing is ever all good or all bad. There is no way to move on without giving something up. Everything we do means we didn’t get to do all the other things we could have done. It’s a cliché to say that loss is important because it makes way for new things.

New things are important. Moving past pain and tragedy and sadness are important. But so is remembering. And if the full memory–the rich and intense and sensory memory where our loved ones are, for a few impossible moments, still with us—if that memory is painful, then pain is important, too.

If living without the sadness of my dad’s loss means thinking about him less, then that’s what I’m going to do. But if the only way to feel him still in my life is to sometimes leap into that pool of sadness and let it soak into my clothes and weigh me down for a while, then I’m going to do that, too. I never want the pain to go away completely, because I never want to lose him completely.

Sometimes I have to hear his laughter and see that goofy grin and feel my own tears sting my eyes because he’s there in front of me right now, but I can’t touch him. It means the pain will never be gone. Not completely. But then, neither will he. He will never be just a photograph.

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The Procession of the Angels of Memories

Neurons, In Vitro Color!

I can see my friend’s face, her white skin and her hair dyed coal-black. It looks natural on her, just as the black clothing, and the frustrated smile. It looks natural because it is the only way I know her.

“She’s the most grounded person I’ve ever met,” she says about someone in her orientation group. “Just an amazing person.”

I believe her, because that is how I am carved. I believe people about things. I’ve met this person she’s talking about, just once. Just for one conversation. Her name was Pearl, and we talked about smoking and veganism and how she cheated only once in Spain when she was drunk and the tall Spanish waiter brought out a mountain of gorgeous, quivering flan. I could not tell if Pearl was grounded, but now, hearing this other friend about it, I believed her.

It was the first week of college. An intense, magical, impossible time. When I think back, when I picture the white skin and the black hair and the lyrically formal way her High New England accent formed the words, I don’t see an 18 year old. I see a person. A full person, developed and intelligent and strong. Like the people around me, now, at 33 years old. I don’t see that when I look at 18 year olds. They are so young.

In another place at another time, I can see the stairwell that leads up from the library to all three floors of the school. I’ve never walked up this way before. My old classroom was on the second floor, and I am walking up to the third. For the first time in my life, I feel older. Not old, of course. I’m not wrinkly or infirm. I’m just growing up, and I can feel it in my bones. I can see it in my classmates that run past me, excited in a way that is painful and exhilarating, for the first day of school. They are in fourth grade, now. So am I.

When I look back on memories of the past I see two Jesses. Two Mes. One of them is another person. A memory that I know is my own, but it doesn’t feel like it happened to me. Anymore than a half-remembered dream. I know, because intelligent people in books have told me, that some of these memories, maybe all of them, are just whispers. Copies of copies, printed from the scatterings of story others have told me about those times, or from my own memories of remembering.

The other Me is Me. I remember these moments as if they happened yesterday, only a yesterday that was a long time ago. But the Jesse inside those experiences is the same one who types these words. The same one who is listening to meditative music in order to stay calm during an anxious period of his life. The same one who breathes in air with just the faintest scent of cat litter still on it, and who is happy that it isn’t as strong as it was before he took out the trash.

I know that this Me barely existed as I walked up those stairs to Mrs. Robertson’s fourth grade classroom. This Me has millions of sensory and mental experiences that define him that were not present in the exuberant, long-haired 17 year old who watched his new friend’s coal-black hair as she spoke, and marveled at how she stretched out the A in the word “candle” in the same way that fairies must do.

And yet, it is Me. Deep in my mind I don’t believe that. I think the self is an illusion perpetrated by a series of neural impulses responsible for the well-being of a pattern of DNA that itself has no motivation at all. A moment ago I downloaded a book about Taoism I intend to start reading later today, and still I believe that.

I believe that, but my brain won’t let me feel it. I don’t know if I want to feel it. We can see ourselves only as who we are. Sometimes I have moments where I forget who I am, and suddenly I am observer in someone else’s strange life. How much of my conviction about the lack of self is truly an informed analysis of the salient research, and how much is informed by this dissociation? I feel that I can comfortably abandon the illusion of self because I am smarter and more aware than others. But I don’t know if that’s true. I’m very, very skeptical, because this view is comfortable. Anything comfortable should be viewed with caution. It could be a trick.

I’m obsessed with the idea that we are trapped inside of our worldview, and that this is the cause of much of the world’s suffering. And yet I fall for this delusion so many times a day. I think back on my fourth grade self and I can see through his eyes. I share not a single cell or molecule with that hilariously young and unshaped person who shares my social security number, yet my brain still believes we are the same.

I have faith that there is something powerful here. Something that no one reading this can understand because it can’t be understood. Only felt. Like the Tao, only with more references to psychology journals.

On the other hand, maybe I’ve just gotten too much sleep lately. The human brain plays tricks on itself for its own subtle ends. It is Loki and Hermes, locked in a battle of dendrites and cortisol and selective myelenation, their prize control of a pineal gland that way or may not be the gateway to an infinite procession of angels.

I curse and bless how glorious this type of thinking makes me feel, and the quirk of my character that allows me to survive with the dissonance that makes me cringe and the pretentiousness and still, despite that, click the “publish” button in the upper right hand corner.

The Crumbs of Unremembered Dream

bed is for sleeping

Every night you see the future in your dreams. When an unexpected tsunami crashes into inhabited shores and kills tens of thousands of people, it first crashes over you. When a woman is hurled from a 10th story window by a jilted lover, your sleeping mind feels her bones break before she does.

Every night bullets penetrate your skull and mash your grey matter into sludge. You cry out as stillborn babies are pulled from your womb. It’s not all misery. Sometimes your years of those of lost love reunited. But you always see something.

This is all a surprise to you. You remember none of these dreams in your waking hours. You don’t remember them because we take them from you. We take them with our teeth.

Sometimes you glimpse us in the darkness. A shape skittering past the edge of your bed. Sometimes you see scratches on the floor that weren’t there before. We are careful, but we are not perfect. And we come every single night, to tear roughly at your synapses and lap at your cerebro-spinal fluid in case a droplet of dream has leaked through. We wouldn’t want to miss any.

Sometimes you see us during the day. We follow you. We watch you, in case you fall asleep while you are out in the world and dream your dangerous, delicious dreams. But sometimes you see us. We are careful ,but we are not perfect.

You see us in our disguises. Someone stares at you for too long across the aisle in a crowded grocery store. A stranger smiles too broadly when they glance you, and although you do not know them you know the smile is meant for you. Of course you do. You have seen it before. So many times.

Everyone dreams, and we sample of them in turn. But you are different. You are special. You are our favorite. And you are dangerous.

You are searching for something out there. When you burst through the membrane of time and swim in the future’s jellied waters, it is not simply because you can. You are on a desperate, frenzied search for that which you lack. We have tasted your longing too many times not to be certain of this, though we do not know what it is. Once you find it, you will pull it inside of you. You will merge with this unknown something and spin fibers of thread around yourself. Then, in time, you will hatch. We do not know what you will become, but this must not occur. It will be terrible.

We consume dreams because that is what the world has birthed us to do. That is what we are. That is our lust. That is our hunger. But you have given us a greater purpose. When first we sampled you, we returned to you night after night because you are the most succulent dreamflesh we have ever tasted. Mashing the tissues of your imaginings into mush and then sucking it out is sublime beyond reckoning.

That is why we returned to you at the beginning. But then we learned. Now we return because you are deadly, and you must not become what you seek to become. But if this embryo within you died tomorrow, if we found it and swallowed it whole like a snake with a wriggling mouse, it would change nothing. Will would still return and feast upon you. Always.

The world cannot know about us. But they should thank us. We have fed upon them for so long. We have devoured so many of their foetal dreams before they could blossom, while they were still legless and struggling for life. But you are far more dangerous than we are. They should fall to their knees and thank us for what we do to you. Everyone should thank us. Except you.

Because we are not gentle with you. We are not precise. How could we be? Your taste is a temptation we can barely resist. It takes all of our willpower every single not not to consume all of you, to hollow you out and leave nothing. But then it would be over.

But we take too much. How can we resist? We never stop were we should. We always take an extra helping, an extra sliver of your brain, from your memories, from your faculties. You have noticed, though you did not understand. When you are sure you have left your keys in one spot but they are not there. When you remember a face but not a name, even though you heard it just a moment ago. The way you are degrading, piece by piece. You have noticed, but you lie to yourself. You tell yourself it is not so.

We tell you all of this because we can. Right now, as you listen to our thousands of hungry, whispered screams say these word, you are so terrified you can barely breathe. But you won’t remember. We will take those memories from you. You will not remember the look of our eyes, tiny slices in the darkness. The feeling of our thousands of fingers burrowing into the pores of your skin. The deep discomfort that washes over your nerves when we plunge our mouthparts into your brain, like your legs are dipped in melted pig fat. The utterly, absolute helplessness.

We do not normally have this level of precision. But we have come to know you very, very well. We need you to know us, even if you do not believe. We have devoured more of you than is left inside of you. In a way, we are one. So we tell you this, and thus we take our small measure of delight.

One day we will go too far. We will take too much. You will wake up a wasted wreck of yourself. It may be soon. We will try to prevent this, but you grow more delicious with time. You are flavored by the pungent spice of decay as parts of your mind begin to rot, like a mold-vein cheese. So our resistance weakens, and our hunger grows.

But that day is not today. For now the feast continues. So go back to sleep. We will see you again.

Tomorrow night.

Worms in the Soil

Root and Soil Interaction Imaged for Dr. Daniel Hirmas visiting from the University of Kansas

(Warning: This is horror and has sexual elements.)

Sometimes I can’t read because I’m too tired. Or I drank too much coffee or too much stress during the day and my mind is full of angry weasels with sharp teeth. Sometimes I can’t read because they steal it.

It happened today. I didn’t see them again but I can feel it. They come in through my open mouth, like spiders are supposed to do when you’re sleeping. Only spiders don’t really do that. But they do. Or they come through the space between my finger and my fingertips. They’re much bigger than that space, but they’re bendy. They’re clever.

I don’t know why they like my reading so much. I think they like the way it tastes because I can hear them chewing on something with my inner ear. But they don’t eat it. I couldn’t get it back if they ate it. I always get it back. So far.

Sometimes it’s hard to chase them because of what they take. They cut out my motor control or my vision. They never take all of those. I think they’re too big. When they take my motor control I stumble around and I can’t grip anything tight, but I can still move. When they take my vision there are blurry spots. Sometimes all over and sometimes one big one, right off-center of each eye. It’s hard to chase them. They’re hard to see at the best of times. They slime out of vision as soon as I catch them with in my sight. And when I grab them they burn my skin and its memories.

When they take my reading I can’t read. You don’t need much taken out of that. Just a little missing piece of brain and you can’t follow what a character is saying. If you’ve ever read the same sentence over and over, you know what it’s like. You know what it feels like to have them take it, just the tiniest piece. The moment their wispy fingers dig in isn’t like anything else. It’s sharp and small and oily. Like you’ve eaten too much fatty foot and you can’t get the grease off of your lips, only it’s on the inside of your brain.

Sometimes they take my sex drive. Brandon gets mad at me because I make excuses. Tired, stupid excuses. But it’s not my fault. I tried to explain to him about them and how they kept coming and taking it out. His eyes grew so wide I thought they were going to crack his skull. I realized that he doesn’t like talking about them. Most people don’t. It’s one of those uncomfortable subjects to most people when I bring them up. Brandon never brings them up, either. But sometimes he has no sex drive. He just makes excuses, so that’s what I do, too. But they come for me far more often than they do for me. For anyone I know. I think they like me. I think I’m tasty.

The sex drive isn’t the worst. It’s not the worst for me and Brandon. Two weeks ago Tuesday they took my compassion. I didn’t know it was gone until we were in bed together, and I was giving him what he wanted. What he’s always begging for. Only it was too much. I knew they had taken something. They took while I lounged on the wicker chair, I think. I could hear their voices. Like tiny violins just barely out of consonance. The perfect movement away from sounding beautiful to sound truly unpleasant. The bottom of the uncanny valley of beauty.

You don’t know compassion is gone until you try to use it. Most of the time compassion is sitting in the back of your brain not doing much. But then we were in bed and I was inside him and thrusting and he was begging me to go harder and screaming and then he was begging me to stop and I didn’t want to because I didn’t care. I looked at myself not caring like it was from above, just taking what I wanted, and I realized what they had taken.

I didn’t want go after it. I had to force myself. It’s hard to care about compassion when it is missing. But I cared about Brandon yelling at me afterwards. So I found the one of them that took it and caught it and shoved it back in. Then I felt guilty. Feeling guilty is terrible. If they ever take my guilt, I’ll probably let them keep it. But they never take something I don’t want. That’s not how they work.

Recently I’ve tried starting to talk to them. The noises they make are starting to make more sense to me, and they respond when I speak. They never used to do that. Maybe I’m on to something. Maybe that’s why they like me so much better than other people.

I don’t know what I would do if they weren’t around. It hurts when they tear out parts of my brain, but sometimes there are too many thoughts in my head and I need some of them to just go. It’s like worms in the soil. They are the worms, and I’m the soil.

There are more of them then there used to be. Sometimes I feel like I’m all worm and no soil. But that’s okay. The soil is dead and meaningless without anything to grow in it. Some things are bigger than we are. No one else understands that.

I’ve always wanted to grow.

I don’t know why they find me so delicious. I’ve learned to accept this.

Cold, Part 3

Ice Ledge

 

Connected

“You did what?” Marisol shrieked and dropped her taco. The tortilla opened up, and some of the carnitas fell out.

“I went after her,” said Ed.

“At 3 AM? Near Whitehaven? With an infuriated biker whose bike she stole after her?”

“I don’t know if there was actually a biker,” said Ed.

“Oh, well that’s fine then.” Marisol scooped the taco into her hand.

“We didn’t see any.”

Marisol rolled her eyes. “You didn’t tell me any of this.”

“No,” said Ed.

Marisol glared at him. “Fine. So the biker didn’t show up?”

“Not that I saw,” said Ed. “Someone did shoot at us, though.”

“Someone shot at you? For fuck’s sake!” All around them, the faces of other taco patrons shot in their direction. Marisol bent down and lowered her voice. “Someone shot at you?”

“I think so,” said Ed. “Maybe. There was a noise. It was pretty loud.”

“Ugh,” said Marisol. “Okay, fine, whatever. Then what happened?”

“I knew you would come,” said Kristen as Ed pulled of on the exit to Okenville. “No one else thought you would.”

“No one…” Ed trailed off. Who else was there?

“No,” Kristen said. “They didn’t.” She put her hand on his leg. Ed didn’t say anything. He just drove.

“You’re going to need a new coat,” Kristen said after a few minutes.

“Yeah,” said Ed.

“That one has a hole in it.” She didn’t need to say it. Ed knew it had a hole in it. He was there. But she said it with such delight. Like she could taste the words in her mouth, and they were delicious. Ed swallowed.

“I’ll buy you one,” Kristen said.

“You don’t have to,” said Ed.

“Of course I don’t have to,” said Kristen, and she laughed her gas flame laugh. “But it’s going to be cold at the party. And if you don’t wear a coat you will look ridiculous.”

“Party?”

“Yes. Saturday.”

Ed wanted to say something, but the words froze.

“This is my house,” said Kristen. She slipped her hand off of Ed’s leg – slowly – and slipped out of the door. “Saturday,” she said without turning around.

The text day Ed told Marisol about the party. And nothing else. He tried to get her to come.

“To a party with those people?” she said. “Not a god damn chance.”

“It could be fun,” said Ed.

“No way, brother,” she said. Then she grinned. “Besides, I wouldn’t want to cockblock.”

“You think something will happen?” Ed’s throat was dry. It was always dry, but this time he noticed, because he read that sometimes it happened in situations like this.

Marisol shrugged. “That girl wants to wrap every part of you around her fingers. I don’t know what game she’s playing, but there ain’t no doubt about that.”

“I thought you didn’t like her?”

“I don’t. I think she’s a crazy bitch.” Marisol put her hand on Ed’s shoulder. “But I like you. And if you want to dip your wick into that fire, I’m not going to stop you. How else will you learn? Just don’t expect too much sympathy over here when you get burned.”

Ed thought about hugging Marisol. But that would have been weird.

Rumors spread over the next few days that Kristen Selka was having a crazy part in the woods this weekend. Ed didn’t remember there being this much gossip in Okenville before Kristen showed up. But maybe he just never paid attention. Everyone whispered about who was invited and who wasn’t invited. Ed heard from Steve that Ryan Sutherland hadn’t even heard about it until Thursday, and certainly didn’t get an invitation. Somehow, everyone knew that Ed was going.

Ryan and two of his varsity friends cornered Ed outside the locker room Friday afternoon. There was no one else around. Ed wondered what had taken them so long.

“Hey freak,” said Ryan. “I heard you’re after my girl. Is that true?”

“I dunno,” said Ed.

“I asked you a question, assrag.”

Ed shrugged. “I’m not after anyone.”

“That’s not what we heard,” said one of the friends. Ed thought he was very tall.

“You need to learn some manners,” said Ryan. He actually said that. Like a bully in an 80s movie. Ed thought that was kind of funny.

“Are you laughing?” Ryan’s friend asked, grabbing Ed by the sleeve.

“No,”said Ed. Had he laughed? He didn’t notice.

“Oh, that is fucking it!” Ryan punched him in the stomach. Then the other two joined. They smashed Ed’s head against the wall, and elbowed him in the gut. One of them punched him in the ear.

Ed didn’t want to fight back. It didn’t seem worth it. But after a few minutes he got the impression they weren’t going to stop for a while, and he didn’t want to be late for art class. He liked art class.

Ed spent the rest of the day thinking someone was going to come and tell him he was in trouble. But no one did. Ryan and his friends must not have said anything. Maybe they were embarrassed, or something. He saw Ryan in the hall, but he wouldn’t catch Ed’s eye.

Just after last period a freshman ran up to him and handed him a bag. It contained a brand new jacket. It looked expensive. It was Gore-tex. It was flame-red and had a darker red circle on the chest.

Right over the heart.

Cold, Part 1

Cold River

 

Connected

The day Ed was stabbed through the heart and tossed into the Kuwasawa River was the day he realized he was different. Everyone else had known it for years. He was always the last to notice these things.

Ed floated along the river – more of a stream, truth be told – bouncing off of rocks and ice-coated branches as he went. It occurred to him that he felt no pain. He didn’t usually feel any pain. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had felt any pain. But he always figured it was just because he never put himself into painful situations. Right now he was whipped about by a freezing river. And he had an 8 inch long hunting knife thrust into his chest. He was pretty sure that his lack of pain at the moment was unusual.

Ed had no idea how long the river tossed him around before he washed up on a rocky bank. It was still light out. So it couldn’t have been many hours, unless the sky went rosy and then dark and then light again without him noticing. It was possible.

He pulled his phone out and tried to turn it on. Dead. He sat up and looked around. Nothing but skeletal trees and hard packed dirt. And a few shrubs, but they weren’t any of the ones he recognized. He could hear the sound of cars rushing along the highway nearby. But that didn’t help. The highway ran all along the length of the Kuwasawa River, and further on besides.

So he didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t call anyone or play any games on his phone because that was dead. Since there was nothing else to do, he stood up, walked over to a nearby tree, and leaned against it. This was as good a place to wait for something to happen as any.

Ed looked down and the knife jutting out of him. It was really in there, right in his chest. There was no blood. Ed couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen his own blood. The only part of the knife visible was the handle. That means the blade was thrust through his Gore-tex jacket, his thermal shirt, his t-shirt, his skin, his muscles, and probably his heart. It was in the right place for his heart. Every layer of his clothing was soaked with cold water. But Ed wasn’t cold. He only wore layers in the winter because his mom told him to. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt cold.

No, that wasn’t right. He was always cold. In the spring when the classrooms at school were so hot that everyone complained and Mr. Marsten let people take off their shirts and some of the girls sat around in just their bras. After he ran the half marathon last spring during which he forgot to drink any water.

Even at Kristen’s party when people kept daring him to do crazy things and he put his hand right over the bonfire for two whole minutes. All that time he was cold. When his hand came out of the fire Kristen rubbed it between her hands and told him it felt like ice. He told Marisol about it, and she grinned and asked if his heart skipped a beat. He said that it had. But he didn’t know what that meant. His skin and his breath and every part of him was always cold. It just didn’t bother him.

Ed wondered if he should take the knife out. That seemed like the sensible thing to do. But being dead would also be the sensible thing to do. So maybe sensible wasn’t on the table. Pulling it out could make the situation worse. So he left it in.

The sun started to sneak down behind the trees. Ed stared up at it. Through the naked branches it looked like it was mottled with thin black veins. He wondered what it would look like if someone cut the sun, and made it bleed.

“Ed?” said a voice in the distance. “Ed is that you?”

“I’m here,” he said. “Marisol, I’m over here.”

“Oh thank God!”

Ed straightened up on his feet and turned to see Marisol speed up to run towards him.

“Ed, we’ve been looking everywhere for you,” she said as she approached. “Where the hell have you been?”

“In the river,” said Ed. “But I’m fine.”

“In the…” her eyes widened as they saw the knife. “Jesus, Ed, is that a knife?”

“Yeah.”

“In your heart?”

“I think so,” said Ed. “It’s in the right place for my heart.”

Marisol grimaced. “It was that sociopath Kristen, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah,” said Ed. “Her and her friends.”

“I’m going to kill her,” Marisol said. “I am going to find her and I am literally going to skin her alive.” She stepped towards him and put her hand gently on the protruding handle. “You look okay, at least. Does it hurt?”

Ed shook his head.

“Well,” she said, “at least that’s something.”

Ed narrowed his eyes and looked down at her. “Marisol,” he said slowly. “Why aren’t you freaking out?”

Marisol blinked. “Do you want me to freak out.”

“No. But I saw you freak out last week when Suela stubbed her toe.”

“Ed, you are not by baby sister.”

“No,” he said. “I suppose I’m not.”

“And you said it doesn’t even hurt.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “But I have a knife in my heart. I should be dead.”

“Do you want to be dead?”

Ed shrugged. “I guess not.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“It’s not normal.”

You’re not normal,” said Marisol.

“Yeah,” said Ed, as it slowly dawned on him that she might be right. “I guess I’m not.”

“But I see your point,” said Marisol. “I guess it is pretty weird.”

“Right. So why aren’t you freaking out?”

“I…” she turned to look up at the vein-covered sun. It was almost below the horizon, now. She shook her head. “I don’t know. It’s like…like I’m not going to get to keep it”

“Keep it? The knife?”

Marisol shook her head. “No. The memory.”

Ed stared at her.”

“I can’t explain it. I just…I mean, it’s a feeling, you know? I just know it.”

Ed thought about that for a long moment. “Will I get to keep this memory?” he asked.

She tilted her head and looked at him. Her hair was wet and it clung to the side of her face. It must have rained earlier. Ed hadn’t noticed. “I don’t know,” she said. “Do you feel normal?”

Ed looked down at the knife in his chest. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

“Then yeah. I think you’re stuck.” She wrapped her arms around her shoulders and shivered, as if suddenly remembering she was cold. “Look, can we get somewhere warm?”

“I’m fine,” said Ed.

“Of course you are,” Marisol said, laughing. “But I’m fucking freezing. Let’s head over to El Taqueria. It’s just up that way.”

So that’s where they were, thought Ed. He hadn’t floated very far.

“Okay.”

“You can buy me a burrito,” said Marisol. “Then you are going to tell me what happened. You are going to tell me everything.”

“Okay,” said Ed. And he followed her up the hill and into the growing darkness.

The knife was still in his chest. There was still no blood. When he reached down and touched the handle with his exposed fingertips, he couldn’t tell whether or not it was cold.

Slices of Memory

The feather - Goldenes Licht

 

 

 

Connected

Online Information 2007 - Olympia auditorium

 

 

Amanda looked nervously to her right. Only two left, now. Two and her. She never thought she would get this far. The struggle, the pain, shoving the tiny, slivering symbols into her head night after night. She turned to look out towards the sea of faces that stared up at her. The lights are bright and sharp, and the sweat trickles past her too-thin eyebrows. Salt stings her eyes.

She cannot see me, between the nineteenth and twentieth rows. Perched. Two inches away from my toes sits a man in a red shirt. I can smell the peanuts in his exhalations, and hear them crunch between his cavitated teeth. His greasy hair is just below my knees.

He cannot see me, either.

The great voice echoes out from the amplifying machine; its teeth dig into the silence.

“Amanda Sanchez,” it says. “Your word is mnemonikos.”

Amanda screamed inside of her head. She gasped, and her eyes widened so large she was sure the audience could see them struggling to burst through the edges of her skull. Mnemonikos? What was that, Greek? Ancient Greek? She had never even seen that word before. The crowd murmured, but she could not hear it. The sound entered her ears, but there was no air in her mind in which it could resonate. Just suffocation and screams.

She stood up.

“Mnemonikos,” she said.

From my perch, I smiled. My face cannot smile. Not really. But I smiled now. I could feel it. It was coming. Like everyone in the crowd breathed out lightning, and it danced and exploded and copulated in the air. Shivers ran through my feathers. How could these people not feel this?

Amanda stared into the lights. Panic flooded through her like blood. Blood that froze her skin and squeezed the life out of her organs. This was it. It was over. She had been given an impossible word and she was too stupid to know it. It was over. She was about to die.

Then it happened. Above the crowd, the air began to split open along tiny cracks. Light spilled forth, red and blue and green and purple. Thick, viscous light, like neon fog. I saw it at the edge of my vision, and I looked up. Amanda saw it. Her jaw would have dropped open had it not been welded in place. She felt the straight as her eyes struggled to bulge even more.

Then it took forms. The light pooled into shapes, as if dripping into holes in the air. Letters.

M N E M O N I K O S

“Mnemonikos,” Amanda said firmly. The words raced out of her mouth before she could goggle at what was happening. “M N E M O N I K O S, mnemonikos.”

“That is correct,” said the voice. Was there a hint of surprise?

The room filled with the thunder of applause. But the lightning was gone. The moment was done. I leapt into the air, and was gone.

IN DESERT

Ammar reached down to the spot between his ribs. He caressed it gently with his fingers. He had to put them up to his eyes. He didn’t want to. He knew what he would find. But there was no pain. Why was there no pain? A single spike of heat. A momentary torrent of agony, like every awful moment in his life squeezed into a single point. The scent of hot metal and cooking flesh.Then nothing. No pain. Just fear.

He lifted his hand up to his face. It was soaked completely in blood. The coverage was so even, so total, that it looked like he was wearing a glistening glove. He laughed. The choking sound echoed in his ears.

I’m dying.

I stood over him, my does dug into the stone of the nearby roof. The sun seared down on us. Aggressive. Unrelenting. It drilled its way into Ammar’s eyes. He did not see me.

Ammar grasped at the wound in his bug. If he could just get the bullet out. Maybe he had a chance. But as his fingers burrowed into the mangled flesh the pain returned. It screamed at him through every nerve.

No, it wasn’t screams. His mind was a flood of panic and agony and fear, but the single, lucid part of him, sheathed in a protective coating of shock, could hear the sound of the pain clearly. It wasn’t screams. It was laughter.

He bit down on his lip, and thrust his fingers further in. He had to find the bullet. He had to. He didn’t hear the gunfire all around him. He didn’t he hear the cries of his fallen companions as they, too, were mowed down. He didn’t hear the explosions, or the rut rut rut of the helicopter blades.

But he heard the footsteps.

They rang in his ears. Like bells. No, like chimes. Chimes in the wind. But he knew they were footsteps. The same way he knew when his mother’s hand caresses his cheek while he slept. Or the three times in his life God had truly heard his prayers.

The footsteps came closer. The chime of each footfall echoed through him. The sound sent energy rippled through him, and at the same time spread a cool, numbing balm over his fear. He opened his eyes as the footsteps reached him, though he was not aware that he closed them. He looked up, sure that he was about to stare in a face composed of light.

The face that looked down on him ripped the pain and panic out of Ammar, and replaced it with cold, dead fear.

“You are mistaken,” said the visage of metal and ice. “We are not malāk.” The voice was beautiful. No, it was beauty. Later, when he thought back, Ammar would wonder how such transcendence could emanate from something so hideous.

“Are you a demon?” said Ammar. His voice was so weak it made no echo in his heart. But the thing understood.

“No,” it said. But demons lie. “We apologize for your discomfort.”

Ammar laughed. Discomfort? In the moment of laughter he realized that his fear was gone. His mind was clear. There was only him, and this vile thing with the angelic voice, and the pain.

“I’m dying,” he said.

“No,” said the creature again. A single, perfect note, dripping into Ammar’s soul. “We needed your pain. This is not how you die.”

It reached one of its many arms down towards him. Into him. Pain worse than anything before churned through Ammar’s being. Then the creature withdrew, and the pain went with it. It held something up in front of Ammar’s face. A shard of jagged metal, wrapped in writing tendrils of black and yellow light.

My pain, he thought.

The creature turned from Ammar, and walked off from whence it came.

Ammar sat up. The pain was, indeed, gone. All of it. Every scrap. His wound was healed. The soreness was gone from his back and his feat. The powder burns were gone from his hands. He reached up to his forehead, to feel that the old scar from a childhood head injury was missing. He leapt to his feet and cried out into the air.

He stood where he was until the sound of footchimes faded, and then ceased. The moment was over. Though he was listening closely, Ammar did not hear the flapping of feathered wings nearby, as I leapt into the air, and was gone.

I'd hate to be a mouse

Amanda was in the park when it happened. The sky overcast and a cool mist clung to the air. Her favorite kind of day. She pushed her little sister on the swing, and laughed as the niña threw her arms into the air.

“More!” said Marisol. “Higher!”

“If you go too high you’ll swing around the other side!” Amanda said.

“Higher!” Marisol repeated.

Amanda laughed again. “Okay, if you…” Then she froze. Something thicker and darker and colder than the misty air filled her throat, and clogged her words.

“Marisol, go play in the sandbox,” she said abruptly.

“But…”

“Go!”

Marisol winced and ran off as her sister instructed.

Amanda’s gaze darted around her. It was happening, she knew. Something was coming.

Ammar was in the burnt out husk of what used to be a store that sold fruit. He pawed around and found a basket of dates. He shoved them greedily into his mouth.

There was sound outside, and he froze.

“Where is he?” said a gruff voice.

“I don’t know who you are about,” said someone else.

Bless you, Hydar, Ammar said to himself.

“Don’t play the fool,” the gruff voice said again. “We know he came this way. Tell me where the thief went, or it’ll be you who suffers.”

Ammar sunk down against the wall, and laughed to himself. Here he was again. About to die. Unwounded, but mortally marked all the same. He sighed silently.

Would it be so bad, to die? This life was borrowed from someone else, after all. Lent by a demon of metal and ice for reasons that were its own. A life of pain and starvation and fear. Ammar did not know if he believed in Paradise, but could what came next be worse than this.

He stuffed another date into his mouth. It tasted cold. Cold and thick and wet. He looked up at the rest of the room. He saw nothing. It didn’t matter. He knew. He knew something was coming.

I approached Amanda there, next to the swings. I approached Ammar leaned against the wall of that shop. I looked into their eyes.

“You have something does not belong to you,” I said.

Each of them looked into my eyes. There was a moment of fear in Amanda’s eyes. There was a moment of crazy laughter in Ammar’s. But only a moment. I would not have noticed it, had I not done this so many times before. Only a moment before it dissolved, and there was only understanding.

“I know,” each of them said.

“Then I will begin,” I replied. I extended by talon, and plunged it into their minds. Then I slowly, expertly, delicately, sliced out the memory. A single memory. A memory they were not allowed to possess. A memory I required.

A glazed look came over each of their eyes. They blinked, and looked up. But they did not see me.

“Marisol!” Amanda called out. “Come back, silly! We’re still swinging!”

Ammar slinked against the floor. He listened as the sound of the soldier’s footsteps dimmed, then was gone. It reminded him of nothing.

I leapt into both airs, and was gone.

I cradle these slices of memory in my wings. Glistening, sharp-edged treasures. Soon, we will have what we require.

Soon you will be ready.