The man squatted on his haunches for a minute or two before he knelt into the brown grass and heavy leaves of late fall that covered this part of the forest. His several decades spoke loudly in the rubbing of bone and cartilage in his knees and the sharpness of the pain in his feet. He looked over the top of his glasses at the trees and rocks beyond, removing the field of his vision from behind the shading of the lenses so he could see the trees’ remaining leaves in their natural color, even if they were blurred in shape and substance. He had walked and run and hiked the miles and hours into the forest, remained on the trail for most of the morning, but now he wandered off a bit as the day progressed and as he felt the need for a slower pace.
About a quarter to half a mile back down the trail he thought he had heard a scream. It wasn’t long and it wasn’t short, but a medium scream that climbed in intensity in its short life and in its rebounding off the rocks and slabs of the canyon walls. He thought it was a scream. It might have been only an echo, though…an echo of a scream. He stopped and listened for what more might come after that middling scream and wondered from where and why it might have come.
The canyon road was somewhere off to his left as he had climbed forward, but now it was behind him as he sat there, facing into the woods and listening to what might be there or not. His thighs were trembling in staying in the position, or holding the position that he had been in for what must have been three and four or more minutes now. He thought he had heard a scream and wondered at the closeness of the road and the cars in their passing. Was it a girl or woman on the roadway on her bike, or was it a younger boy whose agony or surprise was too great to allow him the control of a more manly scream and instead came out like a girl’s in its purity of emotion, or was it someone on the trail or deeper in the canyon’s woods?
He tried to look past the clearing and through the near-winter bare trees toward where the base of the mountain had to be, those hundred or more yards in front of him. The man stood again and turned to look back down the grassy trail that he had followed to the clearing. He could still make out the larger and more often traveled dirt trail that ran this side of the rocky gorge that held the stream, but just barely, because of the rise of the ground and the vegetation that was in his way as he had gone this direction and that in following the more faint trail up and into the woods, the forested forever that ran up the canyon and brushed and hugged the side of the mountain that rose slowly and then thrust itself upward in a granite face with its contours and shadings from the light and the clouds and the darker woods beneath.
The man was still outside the clearing, down-trail of it by a dozen yards or more, but he could see that it had been used as a camp-site at some time in the past. He saw what appeared to be a tarp, curled and crumpled into a loose ball that had been blown and dragged by the wind and caught in the leaves and branches that lay in their forms across the wood’s floor. Pine needles and cones and fist and thumb-sized leaves were wrapped in the blueness of the tarp and faded it and caused it to almost bleed into the colors of the forest, so numerous they were in their covering of it.
The man looked behind him again and listened for the stream. He listened for the breeze in the trees and the stronger wind that might be up in the higher branches of the pines, that charging flow of air and breath that rides through the pine needles and cones and tight branches and sings among the heights and sometimes talks in a whisper tone of things seen and past and gone.
A truck was downshifted and rode the lower gears as it descended the canyon road, as it caught itself in a tighter turn and the gears of the transmission whined higher in their efforts to slow the weighted bulk of the truck. A bird lighted on a branch above him and hopped closer toward the berries on the higher branches, tentative steps and hops; he looked around and down and back as he climbed toward his prize.
The man turned around again and saw what might still be a sleeping bag at the far side of the clearing. There were leaves and dirt on it and he noticed…his abdominal muscles clamped down and a rush of adrenaline burst through his body…he was immediately scared and angry and his heart raced while sweat streamed down from his forehead and into his eyes…he wiped them furiously and looked again at the sleeping bag and saw strands of red-brown hair, clumps of it, tangled and matted and caught in the leaves and sticks, caught in the zipper of the bag and his heart was pounding in his chest and images flashed in his mind, he bent on his knees and leaned into the ground with his face into the grass now….no….
Someone else’s scent was on her neck, a blast of it came to him now as his animal mind listened to what might be around him, moving in his physical world as he raced into a past that had crumbled into ruins in years back and then….go away. Footsteps and echoes and tears in his eyes and fallen leaves in a warm desert air with a late sun shining into the night…she lied. The forest floor beneath him spoke of a present and he heard cars on the canyon roadway passing…rich earth, wet, decaying leaves pursuing their beauty and regeneration….cells breaking down again…thoughts coursing through his mind, bursting like unexpected thunder pounding into his consciousness…a pressure grew in his chest and made his shoulder hurt as he breathed deeply of the wet forest.
He leaned back, near upright, and tasted the salt of tears and thought of her beneath him, half smile and half pain in her closed eyes, holding his hips against hers and he saw shadows moving, pill bottles scattered on the floor and bed….capsules in a fold of the pillowcase and curtains moving with a breeze…. “Mommy!” came from the other room…. The pressure in his chest, numb shoulder, and tingling fingers brought him back…again the anger, fear, and cold. The man licked his lips and looked at the sleeping bag, he sought the hair again…leaves torn from their branches, bark shredded, splayed angrily against past thoughts…another motorcycle passed on the canyon road….
Sometimes we misplace our dreams, lose them, or forget that we hid them away…and sometimes they’re taken from us whole, from the first thoughts that spawned them to the final beat of the heart that sustained them….
***This is a work of fiction that was inspired by the finding of a long-abandoned campsite in the forested area of Little Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah, USA. Any resemblance of actual persons or events is purely coincidental.
I lay there with sparkling glass all about me. The sun could blind a living eye with this glaring prism of light that is alive itself. Concrete is warm as leather-soled shoes stop on the sidewalk across the street. Cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and spent leaves lay around me. A paper cup with orange and yellow flowers sealed beneath cracking wax is blown against the curb under his paused foot. The wing-tip is untied and has a hole in the great toe. A white sock peeks out, surveying the air. A lost pebble under the ball of his foot nears him to craziness. No briefcase to put down before he sits to the curb. No hat to tamp against gravity before he leans over to remove the stone. My eyes see him but my brain just lets him be.
The metal taste in my mouth is like a penny hidden under the tongue. I can’t spit it out. He looks at me like he’s done something wrong. Hair flutters in his eye, then mine. And mine. Sand from the concrete presses into my cheek as he examines his sock. His mother doesn’t know where he is. Mine thinks I’m at work. Of course, she’s thought the same thing for years, or weeks on end; at day’s end. Days end. For that’s where I was. When I was. When I was there, the world spun as it does now. It still spins. The world spins still; it spins not moving, still. If you can know something like that, I guess that’s what it was doing, when I was, and doing. A feather, still. His old tweed jacket has holes in its holes. Cigarette burns in the arms with the lining appearing without.
My ears still ring; the blood yet flows through the tiny capillaries near the surface of my skin; it is still warm. It tingles when a car drives by. A truck makes it louder. And, he sits, not knowing what to do. The wheels on the chair spun for only a few seconds. They were startled, too. And the glass, it was whole and unnoticed when it was clean. Now it’s lost its pane and its absence draws a crowd. It is scared, fallen to pieces, broken near into sand. Lost. He sees the people looking down to the street. He sees the clouds crawl past the horizon. The building leans toward him so he rises and looks about. Not away. She thinks I’m at work. He saw me fall silently to the street. That pain is gone. That pain has severed the feelings that had been severed so long ago. Happiness fled itself. And drawn away. It screamed as I walked past, “Come here!” Don’t leave. Go away. The grit in the street crunched beneath his foot as the siren’s car approached. It left whole for another place, its tail following behind. The tiny hairs picking up the static dust. The lint and fiber of nonsense. Nonsence. Nonsents. Non-scents. Non-cents, he went bankrupt. Fell out of life. I fell to the street. He just fell out of life. And went away. They are lost. Do you look around? Does it sparkle in other places too?
The clouds are lowering a story at a time. Birds flew past the ledges without second thinking. They dropped their things in flight and landed in other places. We’re not the same. The chair flew out and took me with it. Anger seized, seized, seized, seased, ceased, teased, teized, seized me. In a rage the clouds swept me up. They tossed me higher and crashed me harder than clouds should. So friendly when viewed from the park grass. They threaten nobody there. So soft, like cotton candy – over-used simile. In the end.
His split finger-nails had been chewed down to the quick. Dirty fingers housed the nails and brushed the hair out of my face. The flattened side of my head didn’t feel flat; it didn’t ache either. I saw ants on the sidewalk, undisturbed they were. Undisturbed they were before I saw them, too. I had hidden in the bathroom, sat there so long that my legs had nightmares. The fan overhead drowned-out the speakers on the wall. The walls heard the speakers, but they didn’t listen. They kept on standing there, fastened, undisturbed, too. As dust falls, it sees its friends lying about, keeping a place for anybody else who might happen to drop in. They collect, one by one. Slowly there is a film of their bodies, covering whatever they touch. Are they happy? Water washes them away. They’re weak. The chair just took me like I was weak too. I only meant to hurl it at the window; then it grabbed my tight, angry fingers. White knuckles tensed the blood away. The weight just took me like I was weak, too.
I smell vinegar from the mustard on his fingers. There is some yellow, too. The breeze replaces my hair. The breeze misplaces my hair. Our moms ought to get together. His doesn’t know where he is, mine thinks I’m at work. I succeeded today. Now I’ll nev
This is a Favorite re-post from September, 2009.
I wandered out of my neighborhood proper this evening for my regular walk, out of the familiar realm and into another, past the new-ish houses that line and dot the area and into the older parts, the more ancient, if that is not too exaggerated of a word for the homes and hearths that rest and belong in this other area. I walked past houses with fireplaces lit and burning and the myriad smells of different woods burned and smoking and was cast back into my childhood with the smoky meat and sausages of German towns and cobbled streets and gutters, wood-burning stoves lit and burning and casting their familiar aromas into those long-ago icy nights, snowflakes falling past slated roofs and through the beams of yellowed street lights. I was there in moments and out again as I beheld the gorgeous and modern houses that lined other streets, an elementary school with the shining SUVs and minivans leaving the parking lot with raised and lifted and monstrously-tired trucks as they left the evening conferences or whatever, pulled out of the parking lot and made their way and ways to their various houses…anyway, down those dimly lit roads that went to those other neighborhoods, not mine, but away.
I walked those miles and then, and came to the cemented ribbons of commerce and travel, that freeway beltway that circles the town and valley. On this side is the neighborhood, on the other are the stores and restaurants filled with people spending their time and money doing whatever it is they’re doing, shopping and eating and being and not wondering at what I was doing out there on the middle of the pedestrian-bridge those twenty-some and thirty feet above the freeway looking down at the passing cars and trucks and minivans, some of which might have just left the evening’s activities at a local elementary school, some of which might be passing homeward, so late, from their working days, or heading back, or to work as I stood there and looked at them passing so. My gloved hands slid their fingers through the chain link arched fence that covered the bridge and hung loosely there as those semi trucks and full and midsized pickup trucks and whatnot sped along.
I wondered at peace and how it could be found there, wondered if it was there, not just there to be found, but could it be there, suspended so high above those cemented passageways, four and six lanes heading their separate ways, four and six lanes times east and west, so eight and twelve lanes in their coming and going. Would it be possible to sit there above the traffic, suspended there above those passing vehicles and people, and have the hum of tires and motors become a relaxing and whitened noise that might calm a troubled soul? Standing there in that odd place, that suspended place that caused my steady soul to wonder at the fastness of the cement pillars and pilings, the metal rods that must be deep inside those cemented somethings, and the architectural skills and engineering genius that must have been utilized to allow for sway and movement and the natural jostling of wind and the shifting of potential liquefaction of the substrate and the contracting and expanding of freezing and warming concrete in their seasons and other things…it did wonder, my steady soul.
It wondered, too, at the darkness that must reside, I would say live, but that would seem to involve an effort to do so, to live, that is, but to reside could be equated to existing and that, it would seem, might not take too much effort…but I wondered, anyway, at the darkness that must reside in the hearts of other people, in their souls maybe, such seemingly impenetrable blackness that would cause them to join me on this midair walkway and look for ways to violate and pass-through the chain-link and then hurl themselves onto those concrete ribbons and under all of those passing vehicles that I mentioned and didn’t, just above in those earlier lines.
My mind wandered back, too, to an earlier life and an earlier occupation that was occupied, was occupied, indeed, so to speak, with concerns, with others’ concerns and our own concerns, mine and my co-workers, with those troubled souls and darkened hearts that found themselves up on those suspended places over the rushing traffic. I wondered how they could have come to that place in their lives, and so near their deaths, that they sought the heights so they could soar up and out from their own inner depths and fly and fall into a light that meant release from so many torments. I wondered what happened to that last loved one or friend, the last one of either, whose patience ran out, whose loving words finally failed that other one on the pedestrian-bridge. Were they scorned by lover or friend, by their oldest child or youngest child or their mate of one or two years, of two or three decades, or was it failing health or lost dreams or used-to-be’s? What did they lose…to find themselves there? It could be anything, I suppose…or everything, too. Their equilibrium, purpose, drive, meaning, orientation, world-view, or whatever…they might suddenly be in a place where nothing makes sense, where things aren’t where they used to be, where even the light is different than it’s supposed to be in their world, or in the place in their world that they used to occupy, maybe. Maybe if their shoes were on my feet, maybe, I might understand more than I do or can, maybe I would understand what it’s like to be them, if I could understand such a thing, but I don’t know. I didn’t walk in their steps, didn’t share their heartbeats, didn’t lay my head on a pillow next to theirs at night, maybe, or didn’t lose what they lost, or suffer the abuses from monsters’ hands like they did, or might have…I didn’t feel those things, maybe I didn’t, so I can only try to understand, as I might.
So, I wondered about all of that and some, and more, as I stood there and listened to those tires and motors speed away from beyond and beneath me as I looked eastward in the darkened night and beheld the lighted forms of the mountains sitting there and understood and knew that they offered perspective to some people’s lives, but not others, that some problems are bigger even than mountains, or seem to be, and therefore are, and that comfort and peace might only come to some at the end of a brief flight from a pedestrian-bridge. Not my personal choice, mind you, and nothing that I condone…but I do understand…in as much as I am able.
It’s not that sacred December season, but I could not help but make the connection with all the mayhem that is and has befallen our city in the last evening and early morning hours. I realize this is another somber and distressing post, but I think my cup is full and the meniscus of sadness is about to overflow, as its already feeble boundary or edge of fragile instability sways and quakes in the beating of my heart and tightness in my throat.
I sat there with my headset on and waited for what might come through the phone and happened to look up at the clock and noticed that it was 9:06 a.m. on our Sunday morning at work. In our police radio talk, in our city anyway, “9-0-6” means that we are to send help quickly. When we hear it on the radio, we know someone is either getting their ass kicked or they are about to. It’s not as bad as “9-9-9,” but it means that there is serious trouble and the officer needs help right now, this instant, this moment, immediately…a second ago, please. It’s appropriate now, I think. We need help. Or maybe it’s just me.
I could not help but be affected by my dispatcher’s quivering chin as she fought back the tears after working a suicide call that involved an officer from a neighboring city. “It’s so sad,” this little one said, as she voiced her distress and concern at what might have been so bad in the guy’s life that he wanted to end it all as he did. He had left a note at his computer on the desk in his office, giving his wife very specific instructions as to what she should do. He told her to call 9-1-1 and then take their daughter out front to wait for the police. She called us and said that she found the note and was scared to search the house for him or to go into the garage. She didn’t want to find his body. My dispatcher entered the responding officers’ radio traffic into the call, typing a narrative of what the on-scene officers said, noting the officers’ identifying call-sign, and then what they said. The Air Unit was overhead and did a search of the property after patrol units had arrived and checked the inside of the house. The sergeant said to keep the wife and child out front and to block off the road from passing traffic. The Air Unit’s observer then told the officers standing with the wife to turn-down their radios so she wouldn’t hear what he had to say. He then told the dispatcher and the other listening units, and me, that the officer was sitting on the swing in the northeast corner of his back yard. He said that it looked like a gun lying on the ground by the man’s left foot and it appeared that he had shot himself. The observer said that the guy wasn’t moving and then told us to stand-by; he was going to get lower and check to make sure. A couple seconds later, the Air Unit observer told us that the man was definitely shot. The patrol supervisor told the units to secure the dog in the backyard, and then to secure the handgun and to roll Fire. We don’t leave officers dead in their backyards for hours while we investigate what happened. Roll Fire – get the guy to a hospital, away from the house, from the family, from the swing-set in the backyard.
I wonder what that means, the symbolism in the man taking his life on his six year-old daughter’s swing-set in her backyard? Does it mean anything or nothing? The possibilities of freighted meanings are too much to contemplate.
My dispatcher’s eyes were sad and her voice was calm as she said thank-you as I got her a relief to sit there as she went down the hall for a few minutes after she finished the call. She was back on the radio then, half an hour or so later, and was giving the details of another hot call she was working with a hit-and-run accident victim who was chasing or following the suspect vehicle as it left the scene. She’s ok. She handled everything fine. She copied and repeated what the officers told her and she got it all typed into the call.
And so we go on. “9-1-1, Where is the emergency?”
This was only the second “serious” call of the morning. An hour earlier someone called to tell us that there was a dead transient in our city’s downtown “Heritage Square.” Another hour or so later, a son called to report that he found his 70 year-old father cold and blue in his bed on the west side of town. Another couple hours later, an off-duty fire-fighter and paramedic called to tell us that he found a deceased transient lying against the back wall of a dollar-store on the city’s south side. And almost finally, just before the end of shift, a young man called to tell us that he was hiking at one of the city’s mountain parks and found what appeared to be a 55 year-old man who had been shot in the chest…just laying there in the middle of the hiking path. Officers responded quickly with their lights and sirens and did, indeed, find the man lying there…and with a gun nearby. As I was about to step off the pod at the very end of my work-day, I noticed a message on my computer’s screen notifying me of another injured-person call…a two year-old was found floating in the family’s pool. The message had been there for a minute or two, so by the time I looked at it, the operator had added a couple more lines to the call. The last line said that the baby was awake and responsive…crying. “Code-4, clear it.”
And I’m 10-7, goodnight.
No TV tonight…no cop-shows…no news…and hopefully, no dreams about work….
It’s probably not supposed to end, really, for if it did, what would that mean for humanity, what would that mean for all those people whose livelihoods depend on the shitty things that happen? My optimism wanes, at times, and even with a slant toward realism, I can’t help but hold the cynical view that things just suck sometimes, and with a “sometimes” that seems to occur with much more frequency than it did in days of yore.
The beautiful spring rains brought running rivers and streams and the natural greening hues to our desert city and surrounding areas. The wildflowers were in full bloom and were sustained for weeks and months by frequent rains and storms that were a bit unusual for our particular geography here in the desert southwest. And now the weeks and months have continued on their wheel and we are dead into the second week of summer. The sun is up and out earlier, and its heat is still felt deep into the night and early mornings. The wildflowers and weeds that were so beautiful and green a couple months ago have now gone the way of memories, but still stand in their brown and dried-out husks and broken-off stems along the streets, vacant lots, and river beds where they once flourished. The city-scapes that were transformed in the spring-time have removed themselves back into their desert hues and the denizens are now wilted way-farers who traverse the city streets and then seek the shaded parking spaces when they arrive at their destinations.
When the sun goes down, more people come out. The streets have more slow driving vehicles and more slow walking neighbors and passers-through, and they are hot and restless. Tempers that might have been slow to rise are now quick and furious. In some parts of town, the only air-conditioning to be found is in the corner convenience store and grocery store lobbies. Many homes only have the aged “swamp-coolers” that blow moist and warm air and only provide mild comfort…so people move to the out of doors, with beer in hand, and become part of the night…and part of the night commander’s duty report, as either suspect or victim. In addition to the normal or “run-of-the-mill” shootings, armed-robberies, home-invasions, and coyote infested drop-houses that routinely fill and occupy the commander’s report, we also had the following:
West City Precinct – Traffic Fatality. On a certain Sunday, at approximately 2152 hours, an adult female was driving her Mustang westbound on Timothy Road approaching 82nd Avenue. There were a total of six individuals in the vehicle; they were all juveniles except the driver. The adult driver apparently lost control of the car and collided with a large palm tree. A witness stated that he saw two pick-up trucks racing westbound and forced the Mustang into the median where it collided with the palm tree. Four of the passengers were ejected from the vehicle, including a two year-old. The adult driver and a 14 year-old juvenile were pronounced dead at the scene; the two-year-old child was in critical condition, and the remaining passengers were transported by Fire personnel to St. Josephus Hospital. Vehicular Crimes detectives responded and took disposition.
South City Precinct – Death of Child. On another certain Sunday afternoon at 3330 West Sunvale Avenue. A family attended church and then arrived home at approximately 1430 hours…and failed to bring their two year-old daughter into the house. The child was in the car seat and remained there until 1720 hours when the father went to the vehicle to run an errand. (How do you not notice your two year-old missing for almost three hours? How do you not notice your two year-old missing for 15 minutes?) The father attempted to administer CPR and called the Fire Department. Fire personnel transported the child to St. Josephus Hospital where she was pronounced dead. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
North-East City Precinct – Shooting/Suicide. On a certain Tuesday afternoon at 1545 hours, officers responded to 521 E. Whatever Circle in reference to a shooting. The investigation revealed an adult female victim that had been shot four times by her ex-boyfriend. The victim was transported to Ron P. Buchannan Hospital in critical condition and underwent emergency surgery. No contact could be made with the suspect who remained inside the victim’s home. Patrol officers established a perimeter and the SWAT team was called-out. The K-9 units and Air Unit were already on scene. When SWAT personnel made entry into the victim’s house, they located the suspect with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives took disposition.
West City Precinct – Domestic Violence/Officer Involved Shooting. Officers responded to a shots-fired call at 3910 W. Whichever Road. On arrival, they heard shots being fired inside the house. The initial investigation revealed the adult male suspect was involved in an argument with family members, retrieved a gun, fired several rounds while inside the house, and then exited through the front door firing at officers. Two West City Precinct officers returned fire and struck the suspect several times. The suspect was transported to St Josephus Hospital. Violent Crimes Bureau detectives and Professional Standards Bureau detectives responded for disposition.
And lastly, while it didn’t make it into the night commander’s report because it didn’t happen at night, this one is still interesting…ok, odd. One of my employees asked me if I had heard about a particular call that he had taken on 9-1-1. I hadn’t, so he told me about it and then I listened to the recording.
9-1-1, Where is the emergency?
“4321 West Why-Not Lane.” The man spoke with something like a lisp, a murmur, or some type of blurred speech.
Is this medical?
“It’s kind of…yeah.”
Do you need paramedics?
What’s going on?
“I shot my wife and children.”
When did you do this?
This is Tuesday morning. You shot your wife on Friday?
Where is your wife now?
“She’s in her office, or my office. She’s laying on the floor.”
And where are the children?
“I don’t have any children.”
Is there anybody else in the house with you?
“I’ve got a couple dogs in the house. They’re just little things, Chihuahuas; they won’t hurt anybody.”
Ok. Let me get this straight. You shot your wife on Friday, right?
And she’s dead?
Ok. And are your kids there in the house with you?
“I said I don’t have any kids. There’s just me and the dogs in the house…and my wife back there in the office.”
And the dogs…they’re ok?
“Yeah, the dogs are fine. I like them.”
You like the dogs.
“Yeah, they’re good dogs.”
And you said you might need paramedics. Are you hurt or something?
“Yeah. I shot myself in the chin.”
You shot your wife and then shot yourself in the chin?
And you did this on Friday?
What’s your name?
And you’re at 4321 West Why-Not Lane?
Ok. Where is the gun that you used to shoot your wife?
“It’s there in the office. I put it up on the desk.”
Are there any other weapons in the house?
“Oh, yeah. I’ve got a .380 and a 45 in the living room and a 22 in the kitchen.”
And where are you in the house right now?
“I’m in the living room.”
Are you going to be ok when the officers get there? We don’t want you coming to the door with a gun in your hand.
“No. I’m fine. I’ve already fucked-up my life enough. I don’t want to hurt anybody else.”
Ok. It looks like officers are in the area. Can you see any police cars outside yet?
“No. There’s nobody here yet.”
Ok. You’re sure there’s nobody else in the house with you?
“Yeah, just me and the dogs…and my wife in the office. I can see a police car out front now.”
Ok. Are you outside?
And you don’t have anything in your hand but the phone, right?
“Nope, just the phone.”
On the recording, I could hear the officer in the background telling him to put down the phone.
“Should I put down the phone now? She’s telling me to.”
Yes. Set the phone down.
My operator had told me that the man had shot his wife and children. He said that he asked the guy several times about the kids and he kept telling him that he didn’t have kids. When I listened to the call, I had to play it back three times until I could discern what the guy said in that first minute of the call. He said “I shot my wife and killed her,” not “I shot my wife and children.” The injury he caused by shooting himself in the chin made the “and killed her” sound like “and children.” He shot his wife and killed her…on Friday.
It’s hotter than shit outside and people are doing stupid things. They’re drag-racing and forcing other drivers off the road, they’re shooting at each other, killing each other…and we’re shooting or killing some of them back, and they’re forgetting their babies in the back seat of their cars…after coming home from church…where are You when we need You, sweet Jesus?
I noticed the date and thought of the things that it has represented, the things that it has been to me and others I have known or know. I drove my several miles to work and then stood on the steps later and watched those people come and go as they will and do at the beginnings and ends of their shifts here, taking calls and sending help on its way and I thought about the beautiful morning and the green trees and the birds that come by and leave and their drops of scat and whatnot that mark their passing. I thought about the dirt and desert crags that line the southern horizon from my perspective and wistfully recollected green and white and black monstrosities of splendor and cloud nests way up there and high on eastern horizons of different perspectives and then. I thought about the date again, about it being a wedding anniversary of a loved one and how that matches now with other anniversaries that will be remembered from tomorrow onward when today has finished and fallen below earth’s distant rim, when it has been tossed like a torn calendar’s page into the waste-can of the past and will live again only in retrospect.
Yesterday morning, a frantic mother called 9-1-1 to tell us that her three week-old baby was cold and blue and the father was trying CPR as the Fire call-taker gave him instructions and the Fire dispatcher rolled the big red fire-truck and our police dispatcher rolled the patrol units to make sure things were only horrible in that the baby died and not horrible in that the baby was made to die.
This morning, I thought about how we used to be able to send call recordings to each other so we could share in the wonder and amazement or disgust or befuddlement or whatever at what our callers told us. I remembered how we sent a call around the room that burned itself into our memories of what a newborn baby sounds like on a 9-1-1 call as the mom was sobbing in happiness and the dad was talking excitedly in amazement in the afterglow of having just delivered his baby in the back seat of his car…and it’s been too long since I’ve listened to that recording, too long since I’ve heard tender happiness on our phones here.
And this morning, again…I read the duty report from last night and learned that a “16 yr old male hung himself in his backyard after a verbal dispute with his mother over concert tickets. The juvenile male was transported to the hospital and is not expected to survive.” Yes, concert tickets.
Entry number two said that a 46 year-old man crossed a certain street mid-block at around eleven-thirty last night and was struck by a Dodge Dakota. The man was transported to a hospital where he “was pronounced.” There were no signs of impairment of the driver of the Dakota.
Entry number three said that “A 32 year-old male subject climbed [Such and Such Mountain] and called Crime-Stop to report that he was going to kill himself. Patrol and the Air Unit responded. The Air Unit located the subject and observed him shoot himself in the head. While waiting for Fire personnel, the Air Unit observed the subject flip over onto his stomach. The rescue helicopter responded and transported police and fire personnel to the top of the mountain. The subject was still breathing with a good pulse and respiration.” The call recording said that he called police so we could find his body before it was discovered by hikers…on this very popular mid-city mountain trail. I later overheard a conversation between another supervisor and the night-commander in which we learned that the guy was going to survive…the suicide hiker. What will his life be like now? Was it really that bad before?
And a dear friend’s father passed away yesterday or last night, at some time before the friend was supposed to be here at work. The answer to that sometimes question – yes, they were close. I’ve heard many stories from his gentle son…and if he is/was anything like that son, I know he was a good man.
So, today is a day of anniversaries…things that will be remembered whether we want to remember them all or not.
The boy, John, sat beneath the aged, black-barked mesquite tree and pressed his knees together to keep from pissing himself. Burning cramps tore into his bladder as he fought with determination to stem the flow of hot urine. Tears streamed down his dirt-smudged face and carved miniature riverbeds through the powdered clay. He spied a tiny black ant crawling up his tattered shin and flicked it away. Bloodied eyes sought the thing in the sand, looking yet to snub its life. “Six legs and three body parts of thin plastic,” he thought, “they kinda smell like…crushed ants”…acrid taste when he licked his fingers. More ants scurried about smelling the stink of one of their own dead. He picked-up another and used his pocket knife to slice off its head. The ant’s jaws’ opening and closing stopped a few seconds after the legs ceased in their final crawl into the dark unknown. Mesquite pods lay around the boy, snapping in the heat, revealing black-brown beans. Sweat mingled with tears, angry teeth grated enamel, fillings, and stolen raisins. Beating wings, doves and pigeons fleeing his thrown rocks, splinters and chunks of limestone, lava, and scat.
In the house, the drunken man looked absently at the marks that John’s teeth had left on his knuckles. The sodden eyes twitched unsteadily as one red gash blurred into three and then one and then two. He shook his head violently and shoved his curled fist in front of his eyes and used his other hand to steady the shifting one so that he might better analyze the damage. “Lil’l fucker,” he slurred. “Lil’l FUCK! Where’r you? Where’r you, godDAMit?”
Nobody knows what’s going on. Nobody can do anything. There is nobody. Fat bastard beats his face every day…kicks his ass. Fucking ribs are torn from their moorings and his goddam wrist must be broken again. He cried in a pain that echoed off his thoughts of murder and death. What he wouldn’t do to kill that fucker! Damn pickle bucket cut his cheek today. The coffee-can is gone. An evil beats in his head like a foul pulse coming from a putrescent heart. He can only see a haze as he wonders if it can be stopped in time. A scourge is teeming on an unknown edge as he contemplates faraway sounds. The dirt smells like rust, metallic blood, ocher. Hate.
Anger breathed into itself, a prominent, forceful being whose dictates reigned. None other stirred or dared to resist its call. He spoke as king in his court, an unruly sovereign who spread grief and malice with every uttering; strife. No thought but for the self.
Seconds and minutes wound into each other as he listened to the bean-pods snap in the heat and…he wondered where he would be if he could crawl inside the tick of a passing second. How far inside a second could he crawl if one of them would stand still and allow him inside? And in that small space, where would he get in? “Is there some kind of door or a squiggly mirror kind of thing that I’d have to step through to get inside? And is it really a ‘tick’?” he thought. Was there some real thing that kept one second separate from another one?
Would anyone care to look for him? If they discovered what he’d done, they’d have to rewind all the hours and minutes and seconds that had passed around him and then find the one second that he crawled into. Then they’d have to figure out how to open it like he did. And once they were inside, they’d stumble around in its eternal dark, searching blindly for the clues of his passing.
The boy, John, slowly drove the knife blade into his wrist, piercing skin and vein and tendon and scraping sideways against the bone, he pressed down and in and pulled up and sideways along…eyes closed and jaws clamped shut, squinting against the pain and rush and then. “Let me go,” he thought. “All I need is the right second, and I’ll be gone.” One passed, and then another, and another…. His aching bladder relaxed as those and his seconds and minutes passed…and his urine flowed hot and fast and slow and gone and darkened his pants and soaked the dust and dirt and shadows…. “Just let me in,” he whispered, “Please…just let me in….”
The ants’ tiny feet were red and sticky and caught the dust and sand as they walked to and fro under the shade of the ancient, black-barked Mesquite tree…among the heat-burst bean pods…as the sun beat down on the splinters and chunks of limestone, lava, and scat. The pigeons and doves returned and then…skittering, bobbing…wings flapping and away and back…and settling the dust and the ants walking to and fro….
In despair…despair…dispair…despear…deaspear…dispare…disappear…disappare…disappear…dead-spear…die-sphere…dead sphere.
I lay there with sparkling glass all about me. The sun could blind a living eye with this glaring prism of light that is alive itself. Concrete is warm as leather-soled shoes stop on the sidewalk across the street. Cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and spent leaves lay around me. A paper cup with orange and yellow flowers sealed beneath cracking wax is blown against the curb under his paused foot. The wing-tip is untied and has a hole in the great toe. A white sock peeks out, surveying the air. A lost pebble under the ball of his foot nears him to craziness. No briefcase to put down before he sits to the curb. No hat to tamp against gravity before he leans over to remove the stone. My eyes see him but my brain just lets him be. The metal taste in my mouth is like a penny hidden under the tongue. I can’t spit it out. He looks at me like he’s done something wrong. Hair flutters in his eye, then mine. And mine. Sand from the concrete presses into my cheek as he examines his sock. His mother doesn’t know where he is. Mine thinks I’m at work. Of course, she’s thought the same thing for years, or weeks on end; at day’s end. Days end. For that’s where I was. When I was. When I was there, the world spun as it does now. It still spins. The world spins still; it spins not moving, still. If you can know something like that, I guess that’s what it was doing, when I was, and doing. A feather, still. His old tweed jacket has holes in its holes. Cigarette burns in the arms with the lining appearing without. My ears still ring; the blood yet flows through the tiny capillaries near the surface of my skin; it is still warm. It tingles when a car drives by. A truck makes it louder. And, he sits, not knowing what to do. The wheels on the chair spun for only a few seconds. They were startled, too. And the glass, it was whole and unnoticed when it was clean. Now it’s lost its pane and its absence draws a crowd. It is scared, fallen to pieces, broken near into sand. Lost. He sees the people looking down to the street. He sees the clouds crawl past the horizon. The building leans toward him so he rises and looks about. Not away. She thinks I’m at work. He saw me fall silently to the street. That pain is gone. That pain has severed the feelings that had been severed so long ago. Happiness fled itself. And drawn away. It screamed as I walked past, “Come here!” Don’t leave. Go away. The grit in the street crunched beneath his foot as the siren’s car approached. It left whole for another place, its tail following behind. The tiny hairs picking up the static dust. The lint and fiber of nonsense. Nonsence. Nonsents. Non-scents. Non-cents, he went bankrupt. Fell out of life. I fell to the street. He just fell out of life. And went away. They are lost. Do you look around? Does it sparkle in other places too? The clouds are lowering a story at a time. Birds flew past the ledges without second thinking. They dropped their things in flight and landed in other places. We’re not the same. The chair flew out and took me with it. Anger seized, seized, seized, seased, ceased, teased, teized, seized me. In a rage the clouds swept me up. They tossed me higher and crashed me harder than clouds should. So friendly when viewed from the park grass. They threaten nobody there. So soft, like cotton candy – over-used simile. In the end. His split finger-nails had been chewed down to the quick. Dirty fingers housed the nails and brushed the hair out of my face. The flattened side of my head didn’t feel flat; it didn’t ache either. I saw ants on the sidewalk, undisturbed they were. Undisturbed they were before I saw them, too. I had hidden in the bathroom, sat there so long that my legs had nightmares. The fan overhead drowned-out the speakers on the wall. The walls heard the speakers, but they didn’t listen. They kept on standing there, fastened, undisturbed, too. As dust falls, it sees its friends lying about, keeping a place for anybody else who might happen to drop in. They collect, one by one. Slowly there is a film of their bodies, covering whatever they touch. Are they happy? Water washes them away. They’re weak. The chair just took me like I was weak too. I only meant to hurl it at the window; then it grabbed my tight, angry fingers. White knuckles tensed the blood away. The weight just took me like I was weak, too. I smell vinegar from the mustard on his fingers. There is some yellow, too. The breeze replaces my hair. The breeze misplaces my hair. Our moms ought to get together. His doesn’t know where he is, mine thinks I’m at work. I succeeded today. Now I’ll nev