Exquisite Corpse - Issue 4
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by Red Slider
Half-past three. en camera: I awake and lay on the mat checking the vague need I had to pee. Checking the tense. Not sufficient to normally arouse me but I decide I will try anyway. So I roll off the mat and go to the next room and relieve myself in the dark. Just as I thought, not enough to bother. But my sense of "bother" is no longer mine. The return to the bedroom is blazed with unfocused eyes, registered in a slightly darker shadow over the pitch of the living room. Something there is less visible than the fabric of darkness. Mom? I check my question. The barely discernible shape is perceptibly denser against the regular lines of the sofa. Doesn't move. Should it? I check my senses. Her hand in mine, I can now unwrap her from the heavy Indian knit blanket with the other, care taking not to squeeze anything at all as she no longer tolerates even the slightest intrusion, the least ambient pressure. It is all that is left of her defense system--the gentlest touch, a potential killing blow.
: Even so, she warns from somewhere in the lightless muddle, Don't hurt me! I check my defenses. Mom, I would never hurt you. But I know I do, a hundred times every day. Pouring her hand into the sleeve of her robe, patting her on the shoulder after pushing the chair up to the table, a sock-snag on a toenail (and when, I wince, to treat her to the agony of cutting them?). A simple difference, the gradient a couple of molecules makes scurrying one way or the other over open skin registers like a shard of ice drilled through her chest, my fingers just grazing her throat throws her head back against the chair, the last button on her blouse lost and I will have to start over.
: Mom? What are you doing sitting here? a rhetorical question: a probe for a phrase of bewilderment. More often, now, just the guest whimper of consciousness. I make approach noises, intone the prowl bears at the margins of a campsite, to have her stand up. She answers with a short moan, a faint fog-horn signal in muddle so thick one cannot even see the mental images inside their own minds. Awake and lost, I think to myself, log it. I press the "jungle-jim" of my forearm against her as familiar prehensile reflexes take over. Frail hands grasp the bar of my arm. Pull yourself up, Pull!. We do The Lift together, ignoring everything but the exact forces needed to slowly raise her to her feet. Too little grasp, too much pull by fractions of an ounce and we'll lose it and have to start over. It is a successful maneuver this time as I slip my arm around her waist like a safety bar and walk her back up the hall toward her bedroom.
     Three-twenty-seven at half-past-three-oh-two
: What I don't know is whether she got lost before or after the hall outside the bathroom directly across from her bedroom. And if she got to the bathroom, did she recognize the toilet? And if she recognized it, did she know what to do? And if she did, did she even remember what she got up to go there and do in the first place? Probably not. I do a quick check of the toilet as we reach that end of the hall, synched in what I call "her Chinese steps." A small piece of tissue with other evidence of use. The tissue from before? I can't recall. Mom, do you have to pee-pee? The juvenilia comes easy. At first it masked the breach of realms; personal function with diminutive innocence. Then it covers the recognition of breach with immediate distractions, silly humor and sounds regressive. Finally, a natural vocabulary that is all that is left of recognition. Clinical terms don't register at all; normal usage sets off a panic of trying to recall meanings that refuse to identify themselves anymore. "Pee-pee" and "poop" it is.
     half-past-three on three-fifty
: After that, I don't know, we're not quite there yet. Sometimes its just plain instinct. I have kids somewhere, she might say. Her hand moves uncertainly, I check tenses, across her chest, down her hips, pull at her pant legs. Oh, you need to pee? (I know how I knew the second time, but how did I know that the first time?) You're talking too fast, I don't understand. I adjust the pace by half-a-minute: You need to pee-pee? Maybe, toilet? Pee-pee? Oh, yes, I think so. Soon the whole matter (by instinct) will be managed by instinct alone. For now I'm just thankful that she can hold her crotch and look around for something she should be doing. Thankful for that, and Depends.
     An-hour-past-three: It is done
. We make it to the bed without further excursion. I pull the warmth of the electric blanket over her. I will need to get her up early and take her to "school"; the installation of the new heat-pump will require inside duct work as well. It is not her regular day-care day but the confusion would disturb great swatches of molecule, diffuse them into the noise of passing workmen, hoist them from cranes lowering three-and-a-half tons of cube onto the roof, smear them under boots over sagging rafters. It is enough to watch minute amounts of her leak out into the vapor of rattling breakfast dishes and the sequence of steps from first light to first shoe, gone forever into the vacuum of life. She enjoys watching the million dollar quiz. Right or wrong, the questions and answers are a continuous stream of nonsense. The money is nonsense. But the refusal to answer a question, the confession of emptiness, that she understands. She cheers the confessor. She is satisfied to see them handed a check for not having an answer. She asks how she can get on that program.
: My acquired-mother antennae do a bed-check in the dim light. I will need to stay for awhile until she is drifting. Otherwise, she will be up again in ten or fifteen minutes. Loneliness was driving her tonight. It doesn't go away, it merely is overcome. I rest my hand lightly on her shoulder and we fall into a regular breathing pattern--I suppress my own consumptive hacking. It works. Five minutes later I get up and go back to bed.
     Half-past-three, en molé
: I laugh as I roll onto the hard mats between bouts of wheezing, apnea, hacking and deciding whether to peal my socks off my gout-bloated shins and expose them to the relief of the arctic temperatures in my room. Hell, I'm sicker than she is. Sicker, poorer, crazier, more forgetful (what does she have to remember?), depressed, lonely, numb, depersonalized and flat out burned out. I laugh again. Grief? Ah yes, the thing that's stuck somewhere between "laugh" and "laugh." My friend's words, the ones he sent me after burying his father, run through my head as I roll on my back and wait for the day's nicotine toxemia to settle down. He talked about the "grail of pain" and I thought, There isn't a one of us in the bunch--friends, wives or passer-byes--who hasn't asked him for a prescription at one time or another. I turn over and get up. Nightbook waits in the workroom like a dense shadow.
     An hour-ago: Days ago: when your father died: Between "laugh" and "laugh" there is "half," "shaft," "graft," "craft," "thief," "belief," "relief" and momma shadows in the living room; and, on the other-side, "reef'" "beef," "blown leaf," "creative," "evasive," "instinctive," "flawed," "chastened," "aging," "full/empty and half-daft" years ago: with a deep-space vacuum where my father once stood in the way, "Other" is shaving myself in the mirror; responsible where I was knee-deep in drifting, hidden where I was exposed, powerful where I could only be clever or, worse, deceitful. But he is there with the goods and whatever good another mirror can reveal.
: Why, "they" ask, do you think your family so thoroughly turned against you? I prattle something about "who owns mom"--the stock social worker's answer. Grief? A distraction from listening to what I already know. They scream, chatter like monkeys, throw feces through the cage bars, cheat, withhold support, covet power, threaten and spoil. The composite picture of the family father since his death. And I'm supposed to ally myself with that image--to offer up my mother to their rendition of him? I laugh now. In thirty-five years I never spoke to him. But it's they who hate his guts, right down to the last bad bedside fart before he died. I was barred from that opus (might kill him, one said.) but still remain the only family that knows anything about his heart--the one that really killed him. It was too big to let out, so he buried it in shit where no one could find it--brutality, threat, work, power, distance, burden and the rest of the pile of smelly stuff (he had a body odor that knocked us all out). I knew him like a mirror. I was a damned good mirror. Left where he was right, dumb where he was smart, evasive where he was direct, lazy where he was dutiful˜. I hid all the forms--my brutal honesty, my self-destructive energy, the burden of my mission, my painful brilliance, "see, never dry" creativity (recall he was a writer, too) in forms he'd never suspect, never realize, were just mirror images of himself. He reached for the grail of pain, and couldn't let go, and wouldn't bargain. So he hid it instead. In dung.
     (check tenses): he looked in the mirror. I looked back and saw the face of the fully terrorized man, the eidos of pain. What did he see? He saw me cringe with fear, and he was satisfied. Like a sign over buried plutonium made to last 10,000 years he had warned me away the only way he knew would work. He'd loved me, so he terrified me until he was sure I would not go "there." Thanx pop. And now that I know what you did, I know what to do with it. It's ok dad, I can take it from here. Let it go now, old man. It got buried in shit but I found it. You can rest in peace now.
: Soon she will be standing in the kitchen, just off this workroom. She will be completely confused. The lights from here, the dark in there, the table, chairs, a clock, the stove pot will all be strangers. I stop and go to her. She says, "Let's go home now." I am relieved that she still recognizes me. I will answer, "today is a 'school day.'" I'll put on some fresh coffee and Miles Davis, and then we'll get you dressed and ready. "Oh good," she replies, "I want to go to school now."


"Noguchi: TheÜMan Who Entered Stone"

Email: redslider@jps.net

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