Today I will do all of the things. All of the love things, the work things, the fun things, the careful things, the reckless things. I will turn myself into a paper boat and fly into the sunset. I will wear a hat made out of marbles. I will watch seventeen movies in a row, and write two-star reviews of them all on Yelp.
I will run with the Wolves, and I will sit with the Kings and Queens. I will listen for my name on the draft board, and I will play the trumpet for Taps, signifying a well-earned rest for the men, women, Venusians, and Tau Cetians under my charge.
I will dance in the moonlight, wearing a six-piece suit (pants, shoes, shirt, vest, tie, jacket), and I will carry a cane and I will insert my monopole into my left eye, and I will dash my hat (my tall, black top hat) just to the side, just a little bit, and is ill, wearing my six-piece suit and top hat and cane, I will sing “Singing In the Rain,” and I will do it with an Australian accent, and at the end, when I’m finished, I will dance a little jig and kick my heels up and tap them together, dance-jump-tap, dance-jump-tap, alternating sides for just a few seconds, because I don’t want to press my luck, this has been going on quite long enough now, and I will take a bow and doff my cap and sweep it low towards the ground, and I will say “M’lady,” and I will stand once more erect and proud and congratulatory, congratulating myself for a fine performance, a fine performance, that, and I will wish you all a good night, and I will turn smartly on my heel, tamp my cane on the sidewalk twice, tap-tap, and step off, prim and proper, into he night, disappearing into the fog, lit only by the moon behind you, so your shadows stretch out, reaching for me, begging with me to come back, return, please, just for one more song, and I’ll turn down an alley you cannot see and I will spend my evening in the company of my good friends, my true friends, one from Mr. Daniels and other other from Cuba, and after we have throughly refreshed our relationship I shall take my leave, excusing myself to the utmost of exhortations to stay, stay, just a bit longer, only one more, but I will be off, I have much to do before I sleep and far to go, so I shall, so I shall, so I shall.
She took sensible shoes, a small rucksack, and enough money to satisfy her longings for adventure.
As it turned out, she would need much more of all three by the time her holiday ended.
The first to give out was her rucksack. Over twenty years old, she’d first received it as a gift from her own mum, at the age of twelve, when mother saw her spending more and more time out of doors, sitting on the benches beside the paths in the Gardens across the Park. She’d graciously dipped into her own accounts to provide “this wonderful bag,” as she’d called it. “A real treasure trove.” It was leather, about a foot wide, a foot deep, and a foot across. It had a folding flap and leather straps and brass buckles and two shoulder straps, and she’d carried it with her almost daily since then. She’d never imagined it would wear completely out, but, eventually, the cover flap started to come apart at its seam, and the buckles showed that they were becoming worn, loose, crooked, and jangly. The bottom, which had gotten worn through in several places and patched, looked more like Junky the Clown’s patchwork suit than a leather bag. The patches pulled apart at their seams, they couldn’t hold anything smaller than a grape without needing some kind of layer to line the bottom first, and it frankly had a bit of an odor, collected over years of use by shoes, sweatshirts, old books, hand-sweat, environmental dirt, grease, road grit, and the occasional bit of pigeon shit it found itself dumped back down upon.
The bag finally gave out in Kensington, two days walk along the road to Ghent. She’d spent the morning leisurely, having tea at the B&B before she set off, moving slowly as the morning grew gradually lighter, and as she reached the end of the town she’d slept comfortably in, she hitched the pack higher, as she did, and prepared to step forth.
But with that excessive motion, that rough-and-ready jerking motion, the butt-end of the bag simply couldn’t hold any longer, and dumped itself upon their backs of her calves and feet, showering the road with her extra trousers, small bits of makeup, a half a dozen trinkets picked up here and there reminding her of her various adventures, a love not she’d received years ago and never replied to, two guide books depicting the road ahead, and one explained the best places to get wine in Croatia, half a package of crisps, two lipsticks, and the extra sweater she often carried in adventures like this. Margaret stopped and stared, somewhat taken aback. At that moment, she had exactly no idea what to do next.
And that was a first. Truly, she had never not known what to do before. Even as a three-year-old, she could remember knowing precisely how to play a game with her older brother. At ten, she’d told her parents that they needed to send her to boarding school, for her sake, as her neighbors were also going to send their little one off, and she shouldn’t be left behind with all of the riff-raff and bad influences. And at twenty, she’d bent he one to initiate her relationship, and three years later the marriage, to Kelvin, and three years after that she’d been the one to begin the divorce proceedings.
So for the first time, out of all the wonderful, incredible, fantastic, believable and unbelievable experiences she’d had in her life, Margaret was, simply, unable to decide what to do.
The inaction paralyzed her, and that paralysis created further indecision, which cycled up and up and further on and on, until she startled herself out of her semi-comatose state, notice her watch, and saw that at least an hour had passed with her simply standing on the side of the road.
An hour? My! What might have happened?
If I tell you, I’d ruin the surprise, eh? Better to show you…
No, it wasn’t. It was a Halloween costumed kid on a skateboard. He only “looked” like a clown.
No, you’re both wrong. It was Carrot-Top, and he was on roller blades, and he was drinking what appeared to be a pineapple smoothie. I should know, it was in exactly the same cup my grandmother used to get her smoothies in, from that place down on the corner, you know the one, where we used to go and get the three-dollar popsicles.
Oh yeah, those things were so good. I’d have like three a day in the summer. My mom always asked what I was spending my money on, and I would lie and say “Chicks, mom, I gotta buy them stuff to impress them.” And she believed me.
Nah, she didn’t believe you. She knew you were gay before you did.
Did not! Did, too. She even told me once, when we were like eight, not to pick on you because of it.
No she didn’t! Shut your fuck hole, asshole!
Guys! Guys! Hold on!
Did you see that?
Nope. What was it this time?Don’t say another clown. I certainly don’t believe you the first time. I”m not gonna believe you this one.
Nope. Guess again.
Okay, was it a parade of pre-schoolers? You know, where they hold that rope and all walk single file and look like they’re preparing for five to eight at the State Prison?
Was it a dog chasing a cat chasing a rat chasing its mate because it was horny and then hungry and then just having fun?
Nope. But I like your style!
Was it a skywriter in the blue, but instead of saying something like “I LOVE YOU HARRIET” or “EAT AT MACAVITY’S”, it was real big blocks, empty squares, kind of like an artificial algebra problem with geometric shapes instead of variables?
Nope. Getting warmer, though.
Was it a worm, shriveled up and hard and flat, squished by too many feet and left alone to rot by the birds because all the good parts had become toughened in the sun?
“Slide had found out what was intended, and the news sobered him instantly.”
He decided to fight back. He jumped up from his spot at the bar, and readied his fists. The three men who’d been approaching suddenly stopped in their tracks. Their advantage of deceit was now gone. Slade, six feet and a half, three hundred pounds, and known to be able to take out six average men on a night with either his words or his propensity to drink them under the table, made quite a sight.
The three – Tamson, Byers, and Rogerleth, stood ten feet away and looked at one another. The rest of the bar noticed the commotion and cleared off. They wanted nothing to do with it. Kylie, behind the bar, would have tried to shove them out into the parking lot, but she knew it was safer for her, and for her supply, if they just fought it out there and then and got it over with. She hinted at one of the other regulars at the end of the bar with a hand up to the side of her head, thumb and pinky extended, that he should make a call, and he did. The cops would show up, but and it would be well after Slade had taken care of business, but they needed a ride for the three anyway. Probably to get stitched up.
Byers reached out first. He composed himself, took a big breath, and closed the gap. Rogerleth followed, with Tamson trying to circle around the back. He didn’t make it. Slade kicked a stool at him before anyone even got within five feet, knocking him off balance and intercepting their coordination. Byers led with a punch, which Slade backed off easily, then came in hard with one to the gut. It doubled Byers over, and while he staggered off Slade took an elbow tot he side of his ribs from Rogerleth. It did nothing. The big man made a slight “oof” sound, as if he were puffing a dandelion, then launched his shoulder into the man half his size. His momentum, and the fact that he was coming down from far above, knocked Rogerleth to a knee.
By this time Tamson had picked himself up and was approaching again. Slade saw him coming and donkey-kicked behind him. He missed. Tamson grabbed for the leg and he missed.
Rogers and T now had beads and distances on Slade, so they started aiming jabs and kicks in his direction. Thumps sounded as the three closed in on him, a miniature swarm upon a massive beast, and he swirled and twirled to throw them off. Fists, elbows, knees, hair flew. Echoes of the impacts bounced off the barroom walls. Grunts and scuffs of tables being shoved out the way, the thwock of a fist against chest, grunts and moans as the three attackers thought better of their strategies and reconsidered their attack. Finally Rogers lay on the ground, bleeding form two cuts under an eye and nursing a soreness in his ribs that could only be described as excruciating. T, too, was on a knee, breathing hard, while Byers was nowhere to be seen. Witnesses later say he ducked out the back after taking a solid elbow to the head. Slade, bruised and winded, stood over his two mutineers like a lion over his pride, victorious, glorious, regal, despite the mess on his face and knuckles. He simply nodded to the two on the ground, pulled a stool back up to the bar, sat down and picked up where he had been, and went back to work. The police arrived a few minutes later and found R and T outside sitting on the stoop. When they asked what happened, R started with, “well, Slade jumped us -” and the officer cut him of with a dismissive wave of his hand. He’d had enough in fifteen years of visits to this bar. He knew better than to assume Slade was ever an instigator. He smirked. “You boys learn your lesson?” R and T hung their heads in shame. “Yessir,” T said.
I like to watch the progress of the ink level in the barrel as I go along. Slow and steady it is, but it keeps going. The more I write, the less I have left to go until it’s all gone. Like footsteps, paradoxically, the more I write, the more evidence there is that I was here. The more pen on the page, means less pen ink in the tube.
I wonder if the people who made this pen thought about how it would be used. For grocery lists or for calculus homework. For taking notes in a quarterly divisional meeting at a large multi-national corporation, or for making doodles on the side of a notepad while waiting for the doctor.
The possibilities inside this pen are endless. There are whole worlds, whole universes, to be set free. Inside this plastic cylinder are dragons and demons and fairies and magic. Inside are robots and hyper drives and a new ansible and a Crucible. Inside are epic poems and haikus. Inside is a resignation letter from the President, alongside and mingling with the phone number scrawled on the back of my hand at that bar last week.
These things are all in there. They’re all potentials. misspellings and transgressions, sleights of hands and phurns of trase. Malapropism. Aproprisms. Run-on sentences. Adverbs. The month of September, and how it smells like sheep ready for shearing, how it feels like the ground is turning its own nose up at the change of seasons. Inside is a butterfly, dancing merrily on the edge of my shoulder, its delicate leg somehow caught in the uneven weave of my shirt, fluttering and flapping to try and escape, yet still entwined with me, so that I have time to take out my camera and snap a selfie, two, three, four, five, before I watch if finally leave, and take off and leave me wanting more once again.
It is a desert, and Antarctica, and Pluto, and Polaris, and protons, and Protease, and protein, and prescriptions and purses and pennywhistles and Pennywise, all in one. It is the large infinitely large and the small infinitely small together – mashed, waiting, uncertain as to whether it will manifest on the paper as power or pusillanimousness. The possibilities are infinite, a regular [unclear] Pen of the word, an infinite universe of quantum potentialities which do not coalesce condense collapse into one until I set pen to paper and become, in this world, the almighty.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Cancun, Mexico for a short vacation. Going in, I deluded myself that I’d do a few hours of work in the morning, then relax in the afternoon. Yeah, right. Who’s gonna work when you can look at this all day?
So I didn’t work. My buddy Troy, who’d invited 50 different friends, called me “the 2%” all week. Because I was the only one willing to come down and hang out in the tropics, sitting on the beach, reading a book by the pool, enjoying the scenery.
Oh, and speaking of scenery, the landscapes are pretty nice, too! 😉
We met a bunch of people. This is Dave, Stacey, and Troy on Monday at Isla Mujeres.
I met a turtle in her pond who wouldn’t leave me alone.
I met a couple, Max and Brittney, who had come down from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Troy’s city. Imagine, flying 2,000 miles and across the Gulf of Mexico, to meet someone who lives just a few doors down from you. And not only that, but this couple had a connection to me, too. Last August, on a whim, they drove a half a day to come down to this area and watch the eclipse at the same amphitheater in Chesterfield where I watched it.
You might be thinking they’re the most interesting people I met in Mexico, but you’re wrong.
Perhaps you think it’s the friends from New Jersey (where my mother grew up and I still have nice memories of visiting as a child). Nope.
Perhaps you think it’s the whole group of friends / frenemies that Troy and I hung out with a few times over the week, laughing and drinking cerveza and telling jokes and them smoking. (Hint – a couple of them are in that first picture above). Nope.
Perhaps you think it’s Janet and her daughter Billie, who Troy ended up spending a lot of time with, over the week. Janet bought us dinner on Monday at the resort. Pretty sweet! But no, she was not the most interesting person I met.
Perhaps you think it’s Kyle (I think), the iguana who peed on my hand on my tour of Tolum.
Maybe the people I met at the cenote, the freshwater reservoir where we ate lunch and swam after Tolum?
Strike three! (Four?)
Maybe the tour guide, Carlos, who showed us how the sun can be viewed through a piece of obsidian. Still not the most interesting person I met.
No, the most interesting person I met was someone else. I met her after I climbed up the pyramid at Coba:
And had to stop a couple of times to let my fear subside. I’m not usually scared of heights, but that was a little precarious. After we butt-scooted back down, we made our way out to the front of the park in groups of two or three. There I bought a frozen fruit pop and rested a bit.
Within a few moments I saw a woman standing by her bicycle. Mid-twenties and slim, she looked a little out of place compared to all the rest of the white European tourists in groups of ten or more, and very out of place compared to the shorter Mexican citizens.
Her bicycle was loaded on the front and rear wheels with bags. And it looked like she was on a tour. I decided to be nosy.
“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”
“Yes, sure.” Her accent sounded French, but we spoke in English, as most people there do.
“Are you on a tour?” I pointed to the bicycle.
“Yes, of course.” Her demeanor seemed almost dismissive, as if I was asking if the sky was blue.
“By yourself?” I couldn’t see anyone else on a similar bicycle, and she didn’t look like she was waiting for a group.
“Well, I had a partner for the first part of the trip, but now, yes, it is just me.”
“How long have you been going?” Expecting a few weeks.
“Ahm, about six months now.” My eyes popped open. This is not the first time I’ve met someone on a long-term tour (there was a guy going through here from California to Maryland last summer). But it is the first time I’ve known of a non-native doing it across thousands of miles in a strange country, all alone.
Color me dazzled. Or is it “be-dazzled”? Regardless, I admired her resolve. I envied her freedom.
“Wow, very impressive. Good luck,” and I waved a short goodbye. She did the same, and turned away to purchase her ticket to go see the Coba ruins and pyramid.
And I turned away, back to my tour bus, back to my pampering in air conditioning, back to letting other people do for me instead of doing for myself.
Back to wishing I could do that.
Back to planning for the day when I can do that.
Back to yearning for the chance to go where I want, when I want, without obligations of schedule, of deadlines, of mortgage and health insurance and homeowner association fees.
I’ve said before that I sometimes take a line from another story and see where it goes. Today is from a story called In the Zoo, by Jean Stanford.
She walks quickly along beside the train. “Watch out for pickpockets!” she calls. [Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, page 1325]
And I wonder exactly why she would tell me that. Don’t I have enough experience being robbed that I already know to be aware, to attend to my surroundings? I feel myself frown, then, and that is not the last memory I wish to leave with her, so I force a smile onto my face. I lean out the window. I wave, she is waving, we are waving across an expanding gulf, one of space, yes, but also of experience, she remains on the platform and in the small town and confined by the vagaries and vulgarities and smallness of life. While I am heading off to the world, to richer experience for myself, to become something, some thing, I know not what, but I plan to explore and to see and to delve into the variety of all this world offers.
Platte Butte falls away behind, as the trail pulls eastward, and I lean back in the seat satisfied, and yet scared, too.
I am satisfied that I have achieved this taking-off, this breaking free of the shackles of small town, I have stepped out into the world with its bright lights, fancy technology, and people from all over.
And yet I am scared, too. Scared for my sister, all alone now, and staying with a friend until she is married in another three months. Couldn’t I have stayed just a little longer to help her get settled? Wouldn’t it be fun, two sisters, greatest friends in the world, to live in a small apartment above the Woolworth’s on Sixth, sharing meals, gossiping about all of the untoward actions those unseemly men have put forth in our days recently past, planning for and executing her marriage and eventual moving out for her to live with him in a two-bedroom apartment on the east side? Wouldn’t it have been better for me to stay to complete that single life of hers with her, to support her and transition her and be there with her as she grew up and out and happy?
Perhaps it would have been [illegible]. But each time I considered it, each time I imagined myself in this world, each time I thought of staying in Platte, all I imagined was another chain wrapped round my ankle, day after day, after day, another loop, another clasp, another link, longer and stronger with each sunrise, deeper with each sunset.
I knew, a year ago, that if I were to ever live, I would need to disappear from here. I would need to drop off of everyone’s radar for a time, a year, two, five, and only reappear for a visit once my roots were firmly established somewhere else. Anything but that – any delay, any hesitation, any romantic or career (ha!) involvement here would be enough to seal my fate. It would bind me to this tiny, nothing town forever, and there my heart would slowly wither and die, like the leaves in autumn, crumbling to dust too soon.
So I set my mind to departure, immediately after graduation. As that happened three days ago, I bought my train ticket out of town the next day. “How far can I go for seventeen dollars?” was my exact question. “All the way to Chicago,” was the reply, and so after a day of packing, here I am, on the first leg of what may eventually be an around-the-world journey but has begun with this six-hundred-and-forty-mile train ride.
Chicago. The Windy City.
My heart flutters.
It skips. It dances. It threatens to break through my ribs and launch itself to the top of the trees. It thumps and pounds, and I calm it with a steady palm to my breast. I have many miles to go before I sleep, and this journey shall be quite long. Rest, dear heart.