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Copyright © 2012 by Pat King
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What kinds of screeds were written in blood on my walls before I was born? None, I hope. Otherwise it means that the gods really are laughing at me. That’s too much, even for me.
This world. This world is madness. This world is madness and only the mad are in love.
My name is Nothing. I don’t do anything. I drink too much. I don’t eat enough. I’m only twenty eight but my body is already failing me. My hands shake a little. My cock doesn’t work right. Pain down my back. Given up, man. Given up. Nightmares every night. Sweat soaking my hair. I’m twenty eight. I sometimes wake up mouthing those words. Turning twenty eight was a system shock for me.
I accept. I just accept. No more dreams. But all I want to do is dream.
I am haunted by the women and the cities in my life. I fall in love with both flesh and concrete. Kaye and Anne. Philadelphia, Baltimore. I will never leave any of them.
Kaye. I married Kaye when she was eighteen. I was twenty one. Kaye was smarter than I was. She was partially Catholic. At any moment, I was either fully passionate for her or totally repelled by her. Both intensities came in waves. For a time, her devotion to me, even in my most mad moments was unshakable. But then I left her in the middle of the night and drove from Birmingham, Alabama to Philadelphia. Left her with an apartment, bills, two cats. Things didn’t work out so well after that.
And now, Philadelphia’s over. Instead, there’s Baltimore and there’s Anne. Anne is my sanity and I am her madness. She is my Mad Love. When I’m inside her I’m sane and she begins to travel through my madness. I’m not sure but I think she might want to devour me. She might want to become me. But she’s often next to me, even when I become a vapor and wander bodiless through the labyrinth of my marriage, Philadelphia, my nightmares, my childhood, my death.
It all comes back to me. The women that I’ve loved and the cities that I’ve loved. It’s all the same thing to me. A strange and mysterious kind of love. A devouring, rejuvenating love. A working class love. The middle-class social compromise is dead to me.
I vapor away, wandering certain posts continuously, haphazardly. My mind is a bleeding submarine. My laughter is disembodied. I don’t worship time. In fact, I don’t believe in it. I believe in dreams.
But thankfully, finally, there are no more dreams.
When I’m inside Anne, I feel like I’ve defeated Time. I feel giddy with discovering the secrets of timelessness. I think I’m getting there. I know my mind is reaching toward something. But what? Insanity? Metaphysics? Horrors?
Probably a little of all three. And that’s just fine by me. I am beginning to open up to strange things. I close my eyes and sensations come back to me. Riots, violence, the scent of Anne’s shoulder after she’s gotten out of the shower. I think forward. I think back.
I’m at work right now, at the deli counter in a supermarket about a thirty minute drive from Baltimore. Suburbia so clean that it squeaks. Howard County, Maryland, a very rich county. There is a very large woman in a yellow dress in front of me, watching me as I slice her lunchmeat. I know this woman. She’s here every other day or so. She likes her lunchmeat cut just right. You can’t make a mistake when you are dealing with her. She’ll make you throw the meat out and start over again.
Suburban housewife want you achieve unachievable perfection. Demand perfection. Suburban housewife scowl as she smile. Ruined person? Best not think too deeply. Have brain meltdown.
Her husband is here now. He’s holding a couple of big steaks in his hands. He argues with his wife about the price. They feign politeness toward each other. Too expensive, she says. It says in the circular that they will be on sale this Friday. Why not wait until then? But the husband insists that he wants the steaks now. He wants to eat them tonight. The husband’s hair is cut short, almost a crew cut. He has a neatly trimmed military-style mustache. He has the rancid smell of a cop about him. I can’t be sure, though. He must be in some position of authority. He fits the type too perfectly. Indeed, he definitely has dominion over his wife because he tells her that yes they are getting the steaks today and there will be no further discussion about it. Still feigning polite. His wife drops the matter. She has no power in their relationship. But she has a small amount of power over me. And I know that she enjoys it.
The grocery store is like an asylum. Well, at least I get paid a little bit to be here. Others are trapped in their morbid shopping routines. Still, it’s hard to listen to such inane conversations from people with such a sense of class superiority. They treat the workers like dogs. Some will point to what they want on the menu board, as if we need a visual with their words. Others will take care to enunciate for us, drawing each syllable out one by one. And if you ask them to repeat something because they are talking too softly or because the noise of the chicken rotisserie or the fryer behind you is too loud, they will shout their order back to you. We’re all dogs to them. We take orders and then fetch. Fetch, fetch, fetch. That’s my job.
I finish slicing the smoked ham for the cop and his wife. I lay it on the scale. I smile at them but my attitude is stoic. All the while, I’m locked into my imagination. There’s a four pound loaf of ham still sitting on the slicer and I imagine picking it up and throwing it at the cop. In my mind, it hits with such force that it removes his head from his body. Other customers in line scream. A child faints. I pull off my shirt and throw it on the ground. Then my pants. Now, completely naked, I run around the deli counter and kick the cop’s head into the cereal isle. I follow it, making gorilla noises, yanking my cock and pulling boxes of cereal off the shelf. I bounce up and down and then stumble and then do a pirouette.
All of this might happen one day. Except of course the cop’s head coming off. In reality, I would probably just throw the piece of meat somewhere near his head and walk out of the place. I’ve walked out of jobs before. Ain’t no big thing. I sometimes just reach the point where I’m ready to move on to the next humiliation.
So I don’t do it right now. Instead, I put the lunchmeat in a plastic bag, put a price sticker on it and smile. Then I blink. I blink and the memories come back to me. I’m remembering a night with Kaye. We are lying in bed, naked, having just fucked. I have something to ask her.
“When I die,” I say, “will you eat my ashes?”
“No,” she says. “Of course not.”
“You could put them in a pudding or something.”
“I’m just not doing that.”
“You don’t have to eat me all at once. You can do it over time.”
“Stop it. You’re being gross.”
“So you won’t do it?”
“No. And I wish you’d quit talking about it.”
And yet Anne says she will do it and I believe her. Already, my information is coded into her mind. Even if my writing doesn’t survive, my patterns will, as long as she stays alive. And she will be alive much longer than me. And she will eat of me when I die, completing the ritual. Time will have finally beaten me when she dies. It will have the last laugh. But Time always wins. Or does it? There is, of course, the infinite to consider.
I blink again. I’m back at the deli counter.
“What else for you?” I say.
“Nothing else today, hon,” the wife says.
“OK, thanks. Have a great day.”
“You too, hon.”
The pair waddles away.
I see a long line of customers. But there are three of us here behind the deli counter and I decide to wash my hands. I don’t really need to, but I’d like to take a few seconds for myself. I take my gloves off and walk over to the sink. I turn the water on. It is extremely hot. I run the water over my hands and fall into the warmth. I think to myself that I seem to have become Billy Pilgrim. No, I am definitely Billy Pilgrim. I’ve started to discover the key to Time. I might know how to defeat it. I’m starting to grow psychic. I am going beyond simple memory. I am actually traveling to my past. I feel, see, hear exactly as I did in the moments when the memories first happened. In bed with Kaye or Anne. In Philadelphia or Baltimore. I am right there and in the present too. I know you probably won’t believe me. Or maybe you will. Maybe you are mad too. There are so few of us left these days. And if you’re not mad, you should try it, if only temporarily. Become mad for me. I want to eat of you.
I wonder what the Mad Poet would have to say about all of this.
Why did I give my nudity to you? You could see through my mirror though my head was reflective. I don’t know how to be naked anymore. The weight of your stare is too much. I can’t see myself getting older. Only more clothed.
Kaye and I lived in a small one bedroom apartment in Montevallo, Alabama. The college town was about forty minutes or so from downtown Birmingham. It had one main road, one bar, a grocery store, a drug store, a used bookstore and a video store. We didn’t know anyone in the town but we knew the cockroaches. They lived in our apartment, outside in the parking lot, everywhere around us. They crawled over our faces and onto our naked bodies as we slept. They crawled over our food, our couch, made a home in our sink. They were a constant reminder to Kaye that we were not yet living the safe middle-class life that she so desperately wanted. For her, poverty was a means to an end. It was a nuisance at best. I feared leaving our poverty. For me, middle-class life meant leaving all of my dreams and fantasies and madness behind. But security! Almighty security! She believed in security much more than she believed in art. She was an inspired photographer, one of the best I had ever seen. But she was studying business at the University of Montevallo. She wanted her photography to be a hobby. A hobby. I never understood what that word meant except consciously deciding to be a mediocrity. And why? For what? A couple pieces of silver and a warm bedroom to sleep in I suppose. It all seemed so trivial to me.
But we both slept naked and that was a start. Kaye started to sleep naked because I slept naked. It was exciting at first but then it became routine. We started very early on sleeping on opposite sides of our bed, our backs to each other. I slept nude because my dreams were always more intense that way. And so Kaye, in an effort to make me happy or perhaps to understand me a bit more, slept naked too.
It wasn’t about sex. Good lord, I wish it was. We weren’t home at the same time very often. Different work and school schedules. She was a night sleeper and I generally preferred to sleep during the day. Besides, my cock didn’t work right back then. Kaye and I weren’t sexually compatible. It was always awkward and I eventually started to dread the thought of trying to make love to my wife. No, our nudity, together, lying next to each other during the few hours when our sleep schedules overlapped, mundane. But I still had my intense dreams, which I treasured, even when I twitched and sweated during my nightmares.
But bed nudity was as far as Kaye would go. Anything else verged on madness. There were rules to be observed. Let not the idea of liberation cross your pretty mind. Don’t be troubled by it.
Kaye would never have understood the idea of Mad Love. Too much, just too much. Too intense. Too violent.
I liked to get up in the morning, scratch myself and let out a hearty fart. Then, I would eat breakfast naked. Once I was sitting naked at the table, cross-legged, eating a bowl of instant oatmeal. The morning sun shone through the half-open blinds. Kaye was in the kitchen getting a bowl of cereal together for herself. She was in scrubs and a t-shirt.
“Goddamn it,” she said. “You’re going to get your butt-smear all over the chair.”
I didn’t know what to say. She was only being half-serious, right? I just laughed a little and continued to eat.
Kaye, I just wanted to feel beautiful around you.
At the time, Kaye was working part time at a bakery. She brought home muffins and cakes and various other treats. It was often the only food in our apartment. I was getting fat. Expanding at an incredible rate. A lot of my old shirts didn’t fit anymore and the ones that did showed my distinctly pregnant-looking belly protruding through, as if it were trying to escape. I hated my body. I was disgusted with myself.
So was it any real surprise that I wanted a little sanctuary within the confines of our apartment? I used to leave the blinds open and walk freely about the place, unconcerned with the possibility of a passerby seeing me. But Kaye would shut the blinds and admonish me, as a mother does a child.
“At least put some pants on,” she said.
To Kaye, my nudity was only acceptable within narrow limits. When we were having sex or taking a shower together or sleeping. My nakedness was an abomination. I was a lunatic.
Kaye was chubby. She was thick and beautiful. I told her that her body was exactly the type that Renaissance painters would look for in a model. The way she looked used to be considered the perfect ideal of beauty.
Kaye always laughed when I told her this. She thought I was making fun of her.
Once, we were in the bathroom. We had just taken a shower together and we were still naked. I stood behind her, my arms around her stomach and my head on her shoulder. I reached up and cupped her breasts in my hands. I looked at the reflection of the two of us in the medicine cabinet mirror. She smiled shyly. I imagined in these slow, intensely moving moments that we might actually be all right. That the two of us might stay together. That we might find our Mad Love.
But it never came. Instead, the cockroaches scurried around in the bathtub, waiting for us to leave, so that they might have the apartment to themselves.
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