Four

-Still a day behind-

So, this grey half-damp weather is what the Pacific Northwest is all about, Culpepper thought, pressing down on an empty coffee pump pot. Gio had said it would feel just like home. Culpepper hadn’t believed that – mostly out of spite. But, it was true and the thin checkered button down paired with a wool scarf weren’t exactly cutting it. Another cup of hot coffee might help.

Culpepper came up the stairs to find someone sitting in the opposite arm chair. Just a second ago, it had been empty. Now, it was full of this bright eyed smiler, just woken up for the day. Wet hair and everything. They appear to have some business to do because a computer is instantly in their lap.

There were a couple of options here. One: ignore the new-comer, sit down, and continue reading as if you noticed nothing. Two: make some kind of comment and hope it doesn’t spring into some kind of conversation so you can get back to your reading. Three: be clever and interesting and strike up a conversation on purpose.

In the five seconds it took to get from the stairwell to the armchair, Culpepper analyzed the situation: judged the attractiveness of said new-comer on a scale of 1-10, gave them a 6: middling but not bad, and settled on:

“I just got this awesome new book. Don’t want to get coffee all over it,” in careful full accent. Then, Culpepper flashes the book cover for half a second, shifts, and moves it completely out of view. It goes onto the chair, where it can be safely tucked behind thigh and cushion.

This of course is a purposeful tactic. Because Culpepper is going to sit in that chair for approximately ten more minutes reading some local tabloid, get up, leave the book in full view on the seat, and wait.

Meanwhile, Culpepper is drifting through the wank goods in the upstairs of the little local grocery store. Something about this place reminds Culpepper of a bargain slash kitchen shop where everything is overpriced and under-impressive. Point in case, this gorilla food chopper. Culpepper spins it around, sets it back down. Maybe there will be something of intrigue down below.

Down the stairs as the coffee back at the chair gets cold. Give it five, six more minutes. The chocolate aisle has some interest. Culpupper peruses it. Nothing really jumps out, so it’s going to be the closest one. A fair-trade chocolate bar with almonds. That’ll do.

The line is unusually long. This might be fumbling the plan back upstairs. Culpepper sighs, shifting weight from one foot to the other. Really should have returned these boots. They are too tight around the bridge of the foot – just not made well, all pointy in the toes. Not to mention, the heel is low enough that it allows the backs of the trousers to drag across the ground. In a rainy area, really?

Finally, the front of the register. Culpepper slides the singular chocolate bar across to the cashier, pays, smiles. Back up to that coffee and the plot. Culpepper slides easily back into the armchair, pointedly ignoring any form of eye contact with the neighboring sitter. This is where the excitement comes. Just say somthing about how you got this chocolate – would you care for a bit, goes great with this coffee we both have…

But no. Just as Culpepper is working up the nerve to end this brilliant little plot in a chance to hit on one of these American college kids – someone is waving something bright yellow, and saying- “‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me.”

Culpepper looks up, bright blue eyes flashing. “Hm?”

“Sorry,” the massive beard in front of the armchair says, hardly a face at all here. “But the cashier told me to give this to you. We’d usually put it on single items,” and offering the sticker that reads: SOLD.

“Oh,” is about all Culpepper can formulate. It’s not necessarily annoyance here – just confusion.

“Yeah, we just, y’know. No need to put it on now, but…” and the beard tapers off here, just sort of stands waiting, sticker out.

Culpepper takes it, the tacky surface sticking to fingers. “Yep, you bet. Better be safe,” in a real positive manner, sticking the sticker in the only place it makes any sense to put it – on the chocolate bar. It makes sense, sure.

And with that, the plot pans out anyway. Smiles across the way in armchair number two looks up, makes eye contact, laughs one of those shared-experience laughs, and is so close to saying something that it hurts.

But then, looks away, sips awkwardly on coffee, and back to work.

Damn. So close.

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Three

This is a day late – and complete drivel.
Oh well.

The night was warm for early March in the Northwest. Ty hadn’t even bothered with a coat on the short walk from the apartment to work. But then, that was when the sun was up. The night would prove colder than the thin cotton-polyester shirt Ty had chosen.

The place is slow for a Saturday night, Ty thinks as the cigarette in hand dwindles itself down to nothing more than a butt. The pubs down the street in this small town are packed full – standing room only, if at all. Why? Trends, Bill says. Most likely, it’s the fact that the other places have the image. It’s the European thing. It’s out.

A tingle on Ty’s finger says the cigarette is done now. Pity, didn’t even take a single puff. But then, Ty doesn’t actually smoke. The cigarette was more of an excuse to get some fresh Saturday night air. Bored as hell, standing behind the bar watching the two kids in the corner drinking sodas while Mae, Ty’s manager, bitched to anyone who had an ear on their head about yesterday’s order, just waiting for the next customer to walk in had gotten rather thin. Hence the cig pinched off Gin, the fry-cook. Gin was the pub’s resident chain smoker dead-set on cultivating a fellow addictee.

Tossing the butt to the ground, Ty decided it was time to get back inside. Enough of this fake smoking. Besides, those kids might need another soda.

The doors to the back were janky, hung on two fully rusted hinges. Tonight, Ty had to give them extra muscle in order to gain access to the back of the kitchen from the alley. Ty pressed shoulder to door and shoved. A cry and crash sounded from the other side. Peeking round, Ty was being stared down by a befuddled Mae.

“Oh, Mae. I’m so sorry. What were you-”

“You just broke out last bottle of Lavender!” screamed at a very unreasonably high pitch.

Ty tried to back away. “Oh god, I’m-”

Mae stayed glaring, brown curls shaping her round cheeks and angular chin. “That’s coming out of your paycheck.”

“I’m sorry?” thrown here. Mae could be unreasonable, but really?

“You should be,” dusting off the front of a red suit jacket. “Get back to the floor. What are you doing back here anyway?”

“Smoke break,” like this was acceptable. For Gin, it was. It should be for Ty. Right?

“Did you take your fifteen? Do you get another break? I don’t think so. Move your ass.”

“Great.”

Seeing, blinking, coming to light

My partner and I have spent a lot of time trying to recall what it was that changed everything for us. We’ve considered the obvious options: backing away from media influence, fostering open-mindedness, understanding our upbringing. We’ve thought maybe it was just turning off the goddamn propaganda machine. Of course, all of these all carry some water. Some more than others. Here is one we had completely forgotten:

Dreams.

Back when we first had this inclination that the things we’d been taught had some poison, some bad, some big hole in them. Back when we were first started searching, trying, scrabbling after some kind of understanding of what the point of it all was. Back when we were desperate to know¬† what could be done. I had these dreams. I haven’t looked at them since I recalled one in PDX. Mostly, because along with their religious symbols – I’ve thrown them out.

And yet. These “end of the world” dreams helped to spark it all. Turned my attention to something I had not seen. Caught my eye and made me think. At the time, they were unavoidable. I wrote them all down in a little notebook by the side of the bed.
They are, for your edification, here: Screeching Brakes.

Naturally, they are steeped heavily in the images I was familiar with at the time. This, I believe now, only gave me access to them. What were they for? Only the blossoming of the thought that led us down the road we are on now. A lonely country road where we sometimes walk together, sometimes walk alone. For what they’re worth, they were worth a world to me.

Like tarot is now.*

Do you remember how much we talked about heaven and death, doce?Because I do. It took a hell of a long time to come to the realisation that a heaven full of trillions upon trillions, increasing exponentially every single generation – just makes no sense. Cram that many individuals into anything and what do you get: mayhem.

Over time, we discarded the concepts of heaven. It was hard. We had been taught to love them. Life without them was a waste. Oh, what a waste.

With those, quickly, went religion. But, never mysticism for me. Never that magical edge of it. There’s something there. Myths, I swear to god, all connect at critical points. I haven’t been able to find them all, yet. I’m looking. I’ll unify it – you’ll see.

The hunt is a strange one. And how often did I dream of having to do this alone?
We, minha amai, are alone. It has been a feeling we had been trying to circumvent. We tried to edge past it. We tried to counteract. And yet-

It is better than unnumbered nights staring at a singular star, hoping I’d go supernova.
Knowing, without a goddamn doubt, that I was cursed. Done for. Written out.

Fuck all that.
What’s wrong with me is wrong with all of us.
What breaks in me breaks in you, too.
What blame I carry is the curse of my own inability to aim, and the training the past gave me to show me how that was okay.

We did kill Able, siblings. Call Able the giants and maybe you gain access to a different thought. Call it Neanderthal and maybe you see a better angle. Does it glitter? Does it shine?

No. That blood’s still on us.
Can we ignore that we are not peace-loving, non-violent anything? Can we pretend that our story is not a string of endless fighting, one-upping, death and destruction?
Did you think you could pull that from your veins?

Ha. We are the deceivers. The liars and the cheats. We are the dead, lost, stabbed through with black hearts. We are selfish, disjointed, suffering only from our own delusion of such grandeur we impose.

Oh, life could be simple, mean, basic – and yet “good”. We could take life for whatever it is, let it pass through us, and breathe in again at some later stage. We would, if nothing else, do less harm. Oh, but we can’t fucking let it alone, can we minha amigos?

Seiko ney. Exactly no.

So, we thrash and drown and stare at singular stars, praying to non-existent gods that we will – for once – go supernova.

I haven’t yet. I don’t expect it’s coming.
In the end, I’ll probably be terrified of my own end, and then die.

This is the reality of life.
You life for a while and you die.
Then the living life eats you up and you live forever.

Do words elude these concepts? Always.
They come before the structure, the thought before the language, the wind before the sign. And so, our attempts to reach them are like scientific theory without equations. You can approach, but never delve within. We only ever traverse the surface.

Like a circle talking about a sphere.

*On that note, recall:
The Moon, Page of Pentacles, Two of Wands — Five of Wands

Two

Two people sit at a table in the upstairs of the local grocery store. They both have close-cropped silver hair, though one’s is slightly longer – an inch or two, only vaguely noticeable. This is because it naturally grows that much quicker than the other’s. Both wear black plastic rimmed square-shaped glasses. Both are dressed to the hilt here, full suit attire, no corners cut. One suit is charcoal black; the other slate grey. Both compliment the wearer’s hair in style and monochromaticity.

One person wears a silver broach on the coat pocket; the other a colorful glass bracelet. The one small open testament of difference between them. A difference of personality both can celebrate.

They are drinking tea from a shared pot. Orange blossom ceylon – one of their favorites. Back when they were working, this would have been their lunch break. Ten minutes to get there, fifty minutes to chat and sip or eat a small bite, ten minutes to get back. Today, they have just come from a mid-Friday service.

Here over tea, they discuss life, family, summer vacations in vibrant, less than obnoxious tones. One leans an arm over the railing, comfortable in this space. The other holds a tea cup close to the chest, warming their hands against the not-quite-Spring outside.

This meeting is nothing out of the norm for them. Jana and Maer have been friends since middle school. At this late stage in life, it’s no surprise they have become somewhat alike. Most people who have met them think they must be siblings. They are, but of a different sort. A sort that was, perhaps, not common to other members of their cultural experience.

They are spirit-siblings. Bound together by a singular guide through life. A grey seagull winging over the northern coast of Oregon ties them together more than blood ever could. This is how it happened:

Maer had just turned twelve years old. The new school year was about to start off. The days were getting ever-so slightly shorter. There was two and a half weeks before the school bell would ring all the children back into desks, homework, and packed lunches. So soon now, it’d be time to start picking out that first-day outfit.

But first – Maer was twelve now. Momma & Poppi had promised a camping trip to celebrate the newly acquired age. Of course Jana was invited, no questions asked. The two kids sat together on Maer’s shaggy orange carpet, imagining it was sand through their fingers, as they talked in hushed tones about all the magical things that would happen on the edge of the world where the sea was.

Jana was a fantastic dreamer and spent hours talking all about pixies and wizards, about how they’d meet some magical elf who would lead them to some secret lair where a sea dragon lay sleeping. The elf would, of course, cast a spell on the dragon to make sure it remained nice. When it woke, it’d ask Maer to make a birthday wish and anything could happen then.

Eventually, it was Momma who came in and told both of them it was time to lay down. They all had to get up early in the morning to make the drive. From the neighborhood, it was two hours to the coast. Poppi wanted to try and make the sunrise so Maer would watch the new day begin. They had to leave in the dark, but don’t worry – no goblins could come along because Jana had charmed their sleeping bags with fairy-wing dust. It always protects you.

Neither Jana nor Maer remember being stirred and ushered into the mini van. Neither recall the drive through dark twisting roads. Neither recall the roadside stop-off for bagels and hot chocolates (coffee for the adults, of course). Neither knew how the tent got set up.

But both recall vividly the seagull, grey and striated with flashes of white and brown. It winged across the burning orange ball of the sun as it tipped the edge of the ocean. The edge of the world to two twelve-year-olds. It looked directly at them; both would be certain. It’s voice hummed, calling out over the glistening water in perfectly understood English:

“Now, you watch over each other. You hear?”

A subtle nod shook both little brown-haired heads. Neither one dared move. A wave crashed and foam tickled both sets of exposed toes. It was brisk and both kids giggled at the sensation. Then, a look chanced between them.

“Did you-” Maer began, and Jana was already talking.
“Yes,” and took Maer’s hand firmly, lacing their fingers together. “We’ll stick together forever.”

Poppi came by with a plate of freshly fried eggs and grilled toast. That meal was eaten like it was the agreement itself: in silent reverie as this moment sank in, never to be abandoned.

Years later, both Jana and Maer would both grow to accept the fantastic nature of this childhood perception. And yet, something had drawn them, pressed them together, and glued them there. If it was as simple as a winging seagull, so be it. If not, that one bird was still the symbol – would always remain the symbol – of an intention to honor a commitment between two friends.

First

Thursday trips to the library had a duel purpose: research into the secular world’s information pools and evangelism. Pastor Mace, the new young twenty-something pastor with sandy blond hair cropped short and a rather severe face, came up with this as a way of encouraging the congregation to commingle with the outside world.

“These are our neighbors, our family, our friends,” Mace had thundered from the pulpit on a particularly fiery Sunday.

In reality, it was a tactic of garnering acceptance from the new suburban church Mace had recently been transfered to. Back in seminary, Professor/Pastor Hemmle said it was a sure fire way to win hearts. “Come up with a project, a community outreach such-and-such that everyone can get behind. Nothing too complicated or extensive. Something tangible, repetitive. Doable. They’ll love you for it.”

And so, it was. Library Thursdays were born.

Mace, as a show of good faith in the concept, made a point of going religiously every week. Never missing not one, regardless of what came up. It has gone as far as missing out on an anniversary lunch. But, it had to be done. For the people. For Mace’s standing.

And yet, it couldn’t be accomplished alone. So, the elders were the first to be encouraged to come along. Elder Stash was the first to agree, amiable enough at least to the idea of a few hours spent on the internet at a public library. If evangelism could be so practical, sign Stash up for those extra jewels in that crown.

So, there they sat at two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon. Mace insisted on full dress – for God, naturally. Not to mention it would make the two, sitting unassumingly at library desks on computers like any ordinary brother or sister – stand out. To complete the impression, Mace always placed a Bible beside the computer, face down. It was a distinguishable book. And, Mace claimed, anybody who’d gotten lost and was searching for God should recognize the book from its back cover.

Stash, getting excited, had suggested they wear name-tags from last month’s “Stand up and Stand Out” series. Every member of church staff had one. The intention here was to easily identify one’s position in the church – for visitors, naturally. A true member would know everyone.

The name tag said one’s name and “I live to serve Jesus Christ, the one true king.” The only words large enough from a distance to read were, of course, “Jesus Christ”. The rest was a more personal message, saved for when the stranger approached. A conversation stater, Mace said.

Stash’s read: “Elder Stack.” So, someone couldn’t spell. Oh well.

At the moment. Stash was hard at work on tomorrow’s small group talk. Mace was, supposedly, hard at work on this Sunday’s sermon. It was to be given on man’s stewardship. Natural symbols seemed highly relevant. Research into the natural realm – of which Mace knew very little – was in order.

So, in go the headphones and up comes the first documentary Mace can find. It’s about owls, small barn owls to be specific. It’s interesting, but not exactly directly relatable to the sermon topic – How to Get Yourself Out of that Rut and into Jesus.

The internet, however, is this fascinating thing. You can go searching for one generally innocent thing and happen upon troves and troves of completely useless information. Mace has spent more than one Library Thursday lost in the annals of triviality. Today’s owl documentary is no exception.

A reference at the end of the film links to a video on owl birthing habits. That links to zoological studies on birth. That links to birth control. That links to Planned Parenthood. That links to resources on preventing STDs. That links to information regarding STDs. And before you know it, you’re watching porn of something.

This happens on the internet. The devil has a strong foot-hold there.
Mace is trying, while listening to praise music in stereo, Bible upside down atop a set of damp gloves, to confront this devil. It’s tricksy and slips away from you. So does your attention span. This next video is about kids sledding into a pile of trash–

Meanwhile, Stash is updating a private blog on the latest version of that recurring nightmare – y’know, the one where you wake up masturbating as your spouse walks in? Yes, that one.

A Project for Myself

In order to create more diverse characters and situations, I have a sense that I need to return to the daily writing project. This will not only increase my creative vernacular, but it will likewise increase my real-time awareness.

If I don’t play these tricks on myself from time to time, I have a tendency to sink into this unthinking rut. We all do. It’s completely natural to the thread we, as the Earthen, have followed thus far. How does the line go? Cain killed Able?

You bet we are that sick.
No wonder we can’t help but become lazy, useless and miss the mark.
I never even learned to aim. Well, fuck me.

In these later years of hair slowing going white, silver – I am learning how to revive myself. This project should help in a very basic sense. I hope to learn more about how to survive, too. Funny that I never learned. Not really. But I have this friend who should teach me. I want them to teach me more – but don’t get greedy.

Oh, that’s in me too. Did you know?

We’re getting off track here. Writing. This project. A clear delineation:

1) One work a day featuring one central subject.
2) Write for a total of 30 minutes: no less, no more.
3) Post the pieces on the blog each day to function as a log.
4) After a week, review the pieces and create a cross-over piece, writing for one hour.

Let’s see how well I can stick to the things I demand of myself.Let’s see if there is any Able left in me, or if I’m all rotten – through and through.

Coming to, stirring, waking

My hands prickle at this burning sensation. Increased circulation. Ah, that’s the hormones sparking. These are fresh, exciting, remembered from a different life. To be fair, the only thing I actually know is I have never come this way before. Always backing away when I longed to try it. And now, here we are. What’s next?

Possible collapse. But, that was impending – either way.
So it tends to go.

Another state of mind is another option. One in which days, not sensations slip away. The pressure is beginning to build in a very subconscious way. Like an alarm that’s been going off in another room for weeks now. It must be incredibly persistent.

Of course it is. This is the perpetual shame we live by. An incessant nagging in the back of our minds that we will never make it. Death is close. Have you closed your eyes today? Should you try?

In that hollow ghost house, I had this moment; call it a vision.
I laid flat on my back in the bedroom. Middle of the night. The moon glowed in through the window while wind rustled its frame like it always did. Sweat was pouring down my back, soaking into the sheets. The blankets were oppressive, but every tiny movement sent these ice cold chills across my aching skin. My heart was pounding all uneven in my chest. And as I lay there, the only thing I could think was this:

“I’m going to die now. I just know it. There’s no way out. This is it.”
And all I did was lay there thinking – how strange that is. Oh bem ikedo, though. It comes to us all, I suppose.

Strangely, you had the same thought – laying down one night and shutting your eyes.
I’m not sleeping, I’m dying.

And we were, weren’t we doce?

In one way, we were bursting into flames. First charcoal, one hundred percent carbon – then all ash. In another way, dying so very slow. Decaying, being eaten alive by the unavoidable. The aggressive bacteria in that spoiled starter were just the start of it. The teasing spirits tried, wanted, scrabbled to be the end.

Oh, but we ran away and tricked them before they got to us.
And now?

Now we drink a lot of wine and have drunk fights at night over silly things. We play a lot of games, and some of them Рwe have this inclination Рmight be dangerous. We go about  everything infected from that old virus still, but flushing it out with rain and this chill whipping wind in our face. When we push hard, we break through.

We always knew.

And here, the return of others in our lives makes us alive and uncomfortable.
I, for one, am not the easy-going careful-crafted butterfly I was when we left. Some dark shadow over came that one and subsumed it. From that darkness, I have been trying to pull myself. The dark of winter cast another shadow, overshadowing the former. A heavy, dry coat of insufficiency is what I found there in the boxes and the corners of that place.

I also learned to let go in a way I’ve never tested.
Will I feel tension, angst, fear and failure over this too?

Ah, how easy is it open more doors when the ones opened are still complicated?
No, but I’ve accepted the complications. They aren’t fading away. What can and will is my perception of them as problematic.

Fenugreek told me to grow some tougher skin. I’ve decided to try.
Pin this aggression on me and push it ’til it cracks.

Failure, like the winter, is inevitable.
And if I keep recalling that, I can break the desperation in the end.
Or, die trying. Of course.