My original intent was to have a separate blog for the more prose-y nonfictional things that germinate in my head, but a stubbornly uneditable picture of an amazingly happy orange picker has let me to scrap the dual blog idea and simply use my only trick of posting here.
The so it goes part:
Hopefully obviously and sadly, "so it goes" is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, most memorably from Slaughterhouse-five, and it is used after people die or otherwise exit conscious humanity. I've adopted the phrase into my own views on the subject. This bears significance right now because a good friend of mine, though I think the degree of friendship is a bit unbalanced (dear readers this is not a one-likes-one-loves instance, I purely mean that I think I want to be stronger friends with her than she with me.) , told me today that among a list of things going on in her life, a friend from back home passed away/passed on/et cetera. She was our age I believe, and my friend was not in what I would call mourning, but just that stage where you find it hard to grasp, and I agree.
I mean, it seems like a bit of of a crap time to die. I can understand dying when you're old or even just starting the tail-end of life. You've had time to do things, you've experienced a hell of a lot hopefully, and you can't really expect to beat all the odds. And I can understand people dying very young. You haven't had all of those experiences, and though it's still pretty cheap at least....I don't know.... you didn't know about them? I think dying young feels to us outsiders like a smaller rug is being ripped out from under the aforementioned deceased than dying when this girl did. Right in the middle of things. Right in the freaking middle.
But I have trouble being very angry about it whenever I think beyond my initial emotions. I don't think there's a monstrously horrible room that you are transported to after you die so that you can have ample amounts of time to lament the circumstances of your death. I think caring about this life stops when this life stops, which is wonderful. I'm going to have to work how to remember people into that idea though. Into my little construct that keeps me sane/persevering amidst probably a plethora of falsities (see there "probably" was the lifeline. And I get to quote myself. Hoho).
What I'm thinking this time is just how dividing it is. The same event is both stopping short so much and opening the biggest door I've ever heard of. No one knows for sure what's beyond this life. I for one think it will be good. I think that no matter what we've done here, that no punishment is eternal. Nothing in this life makes me think things are that far-reaching, both good deeds and bad eventually run their course. Maybe that's the budding economist in me, but if what you do right and wrong here eventually acts out and the Supreme Being has a choice, I believe God is good and that given infinity, He could warm up to us. Hell seems more rash than just.
This whole spiel got very far away from a girl who died around age 18-19-20. A friend of a friend. God bless her.
I have a macroeconomics test tomorrow, which is now today, and to the best of my knowledge I'm not going to find out what's behind that door between now and 9:05 am. I also thought of a few more things I'd like to write (fiction, don't worry, not another drab, almost stream-of-consciousness ramble such as this) as well. I think I shall mosey on back to my room and see if I can dream some of them out a ways.
And then it came into view. Just a tiny roof the colour of seagulls' wingtips, but as I came closer the house grew white walls, and a fence extended out from the right and terminated before it could enclose anything. Maybe to keep the wind off a garden, I thought, what with the usual calibre of coastal gusts in Scotland. I didn't hurry my pace when I saw the house. In five minutes time I had reached what could be considered their yard, though there was no land division between it and the countryside.
Extending my hand to knock on the door, I stopped, and slowly put my knuckles against the old white wood.
I had somehow forgotten that my armhair was white.
Whiskers chased up the digits of my right hand. My hair was white. My hat was out of style, yet another casualty of being a packrat. My suitcases felt heavier in my hands than they should. There were too many things.
I realized that knocking would, for once, be inappropriate. As my hand moved down the door, I slid my fingers around the knob, turning it slowly. The door opened loudly, its age greeting my own, and I looked inside.
Nicole was at a stove, and I wondered why I hadn't smelled anything before when a blast of breakfast scents-teas, sausage, potatoes-filled my mind. Inadvertently my tongue licked my lips.
"My sentiments exactly," Nicole said. Footsteps reached my ears and Anna came into view. It was just like I'd hoped I'd imagine it, though I never let myself. The second I did it wouldn't happen. That's just how they were.
"You look well traveled. And I hope well-versed too," Anna said, her warm eyes registering my changes. The hair, the bags. Not the hat.
"I hope so too. Or else this whole wayward traveler thing will have been massively unprofitable."
"Ever the economist," her eyes closed as she savored the smells that had overwhelmed me earlier. Anna had last known me as an economist. As the late Kurt Vonnegut said of the Bokonist response to what was going through my head: busybusybusy.
"Yea, well. Some things don't shake out I guess." I thought of Marie. I couldn't help it.
"True statement," Nicole said.
"So I assume you are a devout censorship lawyer who would like nothing better than to mute mankind, and Nicole is a devout member of the Church now, right?" I looked from one to the other as I entered the hut.
"Fuck that!" Nicole smiled, "Fuck the apostles, fuck-"
"Pontius Pilot," I interrupted.
"Sedentary rock," I mused. Our histories intermingled in the present, and the words made sense and were all the more delicious knowing that, though everyone in the room knew what they meant, we were the only ones.
I pulled out a chair and sat at the table Anna had moved to. She asked how I'd found them. I told her that they were, in fact, listed in official government publications based on official government surveys that they had officially filled out.
"I guess a better question is why did you find us?" Her voice reflected the waning patience she had for my taste for the literal.
"Marie died," I said, because that as why.
"Who?" Nicole put a plate in front of me, and sat beside Anna, her arm resting on Anna's shoulder.
"I've been on a lot of trains lately, except I took a bus mostly to get here," I added helplessly.
"They have buses that run all the way out here?" Nicole asked.
"She was my daughter. And no. I walked the last few miles."
As quickly as they had followed me into transportation issues, they followed me back, and were silent. Anna reached out and covered my hand with hers. I put the fork, now useless to my trapped hand, down on the dark wood.
"And your wife?"
"Dead. Longer." More silence. I wished I could get to my pen so I could scribble.
"And you thought we could-"
"No no no. No. I just wanted to go somewhere. I've been to a lot of places actually, mostly Europe. I just wanted to see you two. See if you'd made it here like you always planned."
In my course of travel since Marie's death, some of the people who I encounter, when shown how lucky they are, avert their gaze as if ashamed of succeeding. Anna and Nicole keep themselves, and there is a quiet pride in the room. A room they had secured for themselves, god-dammit, come what may, and I love them for it.
My hand is freed, and I finish my breakfast. They show me the best views from the cliffs ("their" cliffs"), and we talk until nightfall. Then Anna goes into another room and returns with some wine. We drink and talk. About college. About families. About man's ability to comprehend, or lack thereof, or degree to which. I mention fluxes, which I know nothing about, and they laugh. Some of the wine has gone to my head, but not like when I was younger, and I know I will be fine when I tell my two friends politely that I cannot spend the night with them, and that leaving at this point is not new to me.
They don't bicker too much, and let me go. I walk up near the cliffs, feeling the drop-off more than seeing it. The sound of the waves and the night together is even more intoxicating than the wine. I take out my pen and a scrap of paper with only a few scribbles on it. I scribble for a while, then turn the piece over.
On the back I write this:
Everything shifts back and forth,
A sensation warmly confusing, like
Darkness inside a house.
This is also flux:
The small noise behind my thoughts,
That grows into a voice and actions and lives,
Diminishing I find gray knuckles and heavy suitcases,
Where am I going?
The voice is a whisper, which is also a flux,
In and out of hearing. In and out of living.
Where am I going?
To the cliffs, and past them,
For the cliffs are not new,
The Darkness that sleeps over the cliffs,
Is not new either, but a vehicle,
To carry me through all night space,
Even perhaps through the darkness of time,
Though I am old, and have had much of that.
I slept, and felt the night move around me and take me far away. It took me to Marie, to Katherine, to my parents. I saw years in one night, and didn't see. I felt very human, but I felt it like a breeze.
In a past life I think I was childhood friends with Maria Fallon. This time I met her in the only museum ever to be built in Poznan. It only had one permanent exhibit, and the rest of the rooms were converted into offices and a coffee bar after the governor decided no patron in their right mind would lend them anything worth looking at. There were numerous offers, but he always thought they were holding back the very best, so he refused everything. Some true lovers of art became so emphatic that what they had really was worth displaying that they gave the museum sculptures and paintings for free, asking only that the works be displayed. This offer only further convinced the governor that what the patrons were peddling was truly worthless. But another principle of the governor's life is never to turn down anything free, that it may be God's way of getting into your hands something that will be direly important later.
Consequently, the bottom floor of the Poznan museum is the most ornate and beautiful section of the entire building, as well as the city. It is underground, and only accessible by an elevator, which was turned off as soon as the last worker had returned from hanging the last portrait.
I was looking at the small collection of photographs in the permanent collection (all done by Timothy Holebrook - "Poznan's one stop for family portraits, business portfolio shots and important event memory making!"). The picture that seemed to hold my attention was a sepia print of two women, one the daughter of the other. The text to the right of the photo said their names were Josephine and Tamara Reed. The text also said that the photograph was taken to commemorate the leaving of Tamara's husband for a second tour of duty in the desert, which Mr. Holebrook had been commissioned to eternalize.
Tamara was visibly sad, but stood straight and wasn't weeping. Josephine had her left arm around her daughter's shoulders, and her expression was somehow off-putting. Mr. Holebrook had noticed this after developing the photograph, and purely from curiosity asked her what she was thinking about that afternoon. "My mother used to tell me about having to see her brothers go off to war. In Poland that was widely considered to be a death sentence. Three of her brothers went right away, but the other three went individually, once they had 'made right with God'. She told me that by the fifth brother, she had learned to almost lock herself off. She would put her arm around her baby sister and stay motionless until the train couldn't be heard anymore. I was thinking about that the day we saw Evan off. I realized what my mother meant, and then it was like all common feelings, feelings and reactions I'd had and used all my life, just fell out. And I was trying to think of what new feeling was forcing itself upon me then. It was the same train station, did you know that? Same platform and everything. Well, maybe not the same train, I guess they must've changed that out, for environmental reasons. Anyway, I was just trying to figure out what it was I was feeling, and then he was gone. Tamara said the train had been out of sight for almost two minutes, and that people were staring."
Mr. Holebrook couldn't remember the first two minutes after the picture. He'd been busy fiddling with dials on his camera, checking light and exposure rates. He asked Mrs. Reed if she'd figured out what the feeling was on the platform. "Nope," she said, "but I can still feel it a little. Every now and then I stop and try to think about it. But mostly I keep busy."
"It's her soul," Maria said, through God-given olive lips. I hadn't noticed someone beside me. She was still reading the block of text.
"Is that what makes this picture so....disquieting?"
She straightened herself, and I promised myself something viciously alcoholic if I didn't make an ass of myself right there, for only her to see. She looked back at the photograph, at Josephine and Tamara.
"Yes. Her soul doesn't know what to do when another is departing - one it new so privately. It's trying to turn away, and she's trying to figure that out, but gets lost in trying because she doesn't see how a soul, particularly one's own, could will something without the person also willing it."
"Can the soul do that?"
"Look at the picture."
"That's a bit of a circular argument."
"Yes, well. Look at yourself then."
I looked her in the eyes.
My Captain My Captain.
Maria Fallon walked out of the room, then out of the museum and into the light and heat of Sol, ages and ages old.
I did not yet know who Maria Fallon was. I did not yet know that she was on the same train as me, watching the black spheres fly.
I did not know that her mother had beaten her exquisite skin for losing her virginity to a member of the Hindu Untouchable class. I did not know that she loved blueberries. Muffins, pies, anything.
I did not know how she would leave this planet, or in what way her atoms would be reassigned to something other than Maria Fallon.
I tell you this now: Maria Fallon dies in World War Three.
And: I forgot to meet Laurel for brunch. Two restaurants were the same distance away.
May she stop getting shortchanged.
May her atoms rearrange exactly as she would like them to.
Unable to decide, I went straight to my hotel and sought refuge in the ground floor restaurant.
When I was of the age for passionate pursuit of just about anything (girls, money, peace, love, stamps) someone told me that I had to think certain thoughts and be absolutely sure of them, so that at the very end of it all my atoms could rearrange themselves back into me.
They assured me that after this I would never have to worry about anything ever again. Everyone who succeeded would have a White Christmas forever and ever.
Now that I'm here at the end of it all, I look around, and I can't see a single person having anything even close to Christmas.
Hopefully they relocated. To the moon, or the Triangulum Galaxy.
Maria my love stay away! It's the same! It's the same! It's the same!
From the time I woke up I could expect to be on the train another three hours. Laurel woke up shortly after, felt it customary to ask if I wanted breakfast ("not because we had sex, but because it's morning"), then remembered we were without necessary cooking equipment.
We decided to have brunch at the nearest restaurant when we got off the train.
I told Laurel that I was going to step outside and walk around to help wake up, and that she could stay if she wanted.
Outside I saw the stewardess emerging from one of the last compartments. We could smell the night before on each other like kerosine.
"How does it feel?" I asked
"How does it feel?" she mirrored.
"That's what I said."
"No, I'm asking you. How does it feel?"
I was silent.
"At least I'm professional about it," she pointed to my crotch. The zipper was open.
I apologized for my indecency. She laughed, turned around and went off to earn her keep.
A cannon fired somewhere. I know this because the smoke rose above the treeline, and because I've heard cannons fired in movies.
Poznan was welcoming the train into its humble station. Poznan was sending little black spheres barreling from one side of the train to the other because the official representative of the Huambo Province in Angola was in a car containing none but himself and the quiet Maria Fallon further up the train.
Laurel stuck her head out of my room. "It's the end of the world."
"No, but we Jews would really like to see it hurry up and get here. We're feeling a bit shortchanged."
I had wanted it to be true for all peoples, everywhere.
When I was a boy I remember visiting my grandfather in the nursing home he lated died in. I remember being entranced by the set of Communist ruler Russian dolls that sat from left to right, big to small on top of his dresser. One day he took them down and showed me how they worked.
"See? You pop old Adolf's top half off and here's Benito, the son of a gun! And you just cut him in half and here's Iosef! And you know who's at the heart of it all? The smallest little guy in here. Puny old Karl! Karl Marx! Don't let his size fool you! This guy had big plans!" And then my grandfather would laugh and laugh and laugh, and I would cover my ears it was so loud but then I'd take my hands away because without the sound I couldn't tell if he was laughing or yawning or screaming.
We talked about war, about the necessity of body armor, about the benefits of train travel, about where all the dinner bells of the world had gone.
We talked about necessity and superfluity.
We talked about the possibility of World War Three. She said no one, impossible. I said just about anyone.
She showed me from her purse a bear she's carried around for 17 years. I asked when we had stopped using buttons for eyes and were manufacturing fake eyes for stuffed bears.
"Oh, a long time ago. Decades!" She beamed.
We made love in the little cube of the car that was mine all mine for the night. We pretended it was World War Three and the sounds of the tracks were endlessly marked off marches, locks, loads, firings. I wondered if the guns we were using in the desert still made those noises.
I am Humphrey Bogart. The dame's sweet, but she hasn't got a bit of sense to her about things.
"Double scotch please."
"Alcoholic beverages are five dollars each."
"I'll be right back then, with your scotch."
Yes she says, halfway out of the compartment. Of course.
I love you, I say to the zig-zagging protracted door. Then I sit patiently, like a dog waiting for its treat or a child for communion, until the hostess returns. I take the short glass from her hand and remind her of my ardent passion.
"That part comes after the drink, sir. In about two or three hours," she says playfully, all curves.
So there's some spirit in the young thing after all. She leaves, and I sip at the rim of the glass by the window, looking out at all that black.
Buckets and buckets of the stuff.
There's a black someone at my black door, just blacking there.
No. I have no idea what color this outsider is, but there definitely are silhouettes of feet at the base of the door, which is teal, not black. Whoever is outside shifts their weight from one foot to the other, the shadows deepening and rising one after the other. I thought about the hostess, if I had seen her shoes during our brief joining. Even if I hadn't, I think I'd be disappointed if they weren't sky blue, with white trim and all in order for the job.
Still, it had only been 40 minutes, and those employed by the transport industry tend to be overly-punctual solely to heighten the wholesale failure of the actual train to ever take into account the existence of a clock, and to maintain the embarrassment we feel holding recently-emptied cups, inching the toes of our sneakers secretly onto the corrugated yellow strip.
That is to say:
She won't be early. She will be right on time.
Satisfied to have eliminated at least one member of the collective trainship, I no longer found any sign of anyone in the half-inch space between door and carpet.
I strode over empty space, and in expectation of needed pursuit, hopefully in the direction I assumed the diner car to be, refolded the door.
No more than five feet to my right stood a woman in front of the next cabin door, pressing her feet the exact same way. In the instant before she turned I could see boredom, curiosity, disconnect and a waiting switch that held behind it all sorts of activity. I remember thinking:
My God, she's such a child! Then:
My God, what a boring assessment of this person! Then:
My God, sorry for distracting You from whatever You were up to!
Then she turned, and the switch flipped.
"Yo." I am the coolest motherfucker you will ever meet on this train.
"I've been going by every room all along this train, because all the magazines are in Italian and I have no books and no one to talk to because they've all gone back to their rooms I think. Though I can't imagine anyone sleeping on this thing, even in the rooms."
"But you didn't knock on my door."
"I haven't knocked on any of them, that's the problem. I come right up and stand here," She refitted her feet straight in front of the door, looking down and gesturing at them with magician assistant's hands, "but then I don't do anything. I also figure unless I really laid into it everyone inside would just think it was another noise from this God-forsaken rustic missile. Hey, did you know I was out here?"
"I saw your shoes."
We both looked at her shoes then, as if we had caught some errant schoolboy in the act of playing hooky. The shoes (dark red, with gold designs and no support, like dancing shoes) said nothing in defense.
"Through the crack," I explained.
"You must've been paying a lot of attention to the condition of your door."
"It's just folded board. And teal."
"I meant you must, you know, be able to tell when things are subtly different, even if everything looks the same. My name's Lauren, by the by."
"I tend to notice things, I guess." I paused, then stuck a hand out. "Andrew."
"Can I come in?"
"Your room. Well I guess a better question is do you want to talk? I don't know why I assumed that. Do you? Want to talk?"
I waited again before answering, thought about all the self-loathing and cursing and drinking I would miss, then answered "sure."
"One second," I'd caught sight of the hostess emerging from one of the other compartments. "Another scotch please, when you have a chance?"
Her eyes lit on Laurel only for a second before snapping back to me and back to work.
Fact (n): 1. Something that exists; reality; truth.
2. Something known to exist or to have happened.
Fact #1: It is roughly 1500 kilometres by rail traveling from Florence to Poznan.
Fact #2: It can be almost unanimously agreed upon that everyone will die at some point. This is much more likely than being born in the first place.
Fact #3: I have taken the rail from Florence to Poznan. Most of the trip is at night. This is cruel because night is when most people sleep, and I have only seen one person able to sleep on the train that runs from Florence to Poznan, on tracks that must not have been too looked after since their laying in 1848. This is in the brochure by the door to each cabin compartment. A Jewess named Laurel has also ridden this train, its beginning and end already stated, at least once at the same time I have.
(Final) Fact #4: If enough alcohol is present in my body not yet metabolized, I will mention my frequent dissatisfaction at having beaten the odds and been born, and been born at a time in history with trains from Florence to Poznan and Jewesses like Laurel. It is only due to the frequency of alcohol in my body that I feel I repeat myself often on this point. I also tell people that I'm on the run from something, and that I'm mysterious.
Look at me go.
Enter hostess with complimentary drinks, from the left.