You would very much like to find out about the main character of this book. It is expected that in the first chapter or so you’ll find out who you’re going to be spending your free moments with for however long it takes to finish this story. This isn’t always the case you know, sometimes you are treated to a tour of the landscape, the better to picture the story with. What is assumed but rarely spelling out clearly is that you, the reader, are a character in the story. If you invest anything at all in the reading process then you can’t help but live inside the world of the novel for a while and so become a part of the fabric of the tale. If you want to take a moment to review your own pros and cons or explain your desires to yourself go ahead, we’ll wait for you.
He will tell you this story which is actually many stories but that’s not unusual is it? Life and stories of life are always many stories. It is perhaps a most unrealistic notion to think that stories are linear like walking down a hallway. Life, and stories are as much about whatever is going on in the rooms along the hallway as it is about the pathway.
“Bite me” he said to no one in particular and everyone indifferent. The fabric of the universe may quiver with spit but all these days will be cataloged and displayed like quilts at a county fair. And you have seen these days before, endless film loops on television monitors in waiting rooms, at airport gates, at grandmother’s house replaying the same moments until they begin to seep into your skin.
“The room was dark” he began. You were there but he’ll tell the story anyhow. My mother was lying on her hospital bed surrounded by the rest of my family, at least the ones who had arrived before me. I had driven through a rainstorm and climbed the stairs two at a time to her floor with the promise of release pushing me on. I had seen her the day before but she had changed completely overnight. The weary face was replaced by a skeleton mask, a mouth gasping for breath and eyes moving quickly following angels. How much she heard or understood I could only guess but I talked to her as if she was there. Some part of her was there indeed, but whatever she had been was mostly gone. Her spirit, which we had often only glimpsed in life, was starting to crawl out of the body and was probably too preoccupied with being born to pay much attention to grieving loved ones.
Someone sang a song and in that moment I saw my mother stop to listen, she always loved music. The words filled the room like deep water “When peace like a river restoreth my soul, when sorrows like sea billows roll…”
He’s trying to paint this picture for you with his words and the sounds of his words and you are following the story. You can see his mother, but it may be your mother in your mind’s eye and that may be okay because the story simply requires a mother not a particular mother. He knows that you really can’t grasp the powerful moment when his mother stopped breathing but he tells that part anyhow. In his words you try to feel him falling to the floor in an anguished scream, a primal howl, a sound too deep for words and you work on the picture and yes, there is someone falling and you see his uncle lifting him up off the floor but the uncle is Claude Rains, and that’s okay too because if he were there he would have played the part. He would have been that caring but slightly distracted and annoyed father figure he played in The Wolf Man.
The boy was trick or treating on Halloween night. Wrapped in several layers of sweatshirts, coats and hats his face was covered by the plastic visage of Frankenstein’s monster. He tells the story with a certain fond regret, a sadness for the pain of childhood. The mask is remarkable in it’s ability to trap the wearer’s breath inside so that it may condense and gather in the chin. He is walking through his neighborhood, a small cluster of houses outside of a small town but what do children know of the size of towns? Your whole world is what you see around you everyday. The world might be ten thousand miles wide but can you ride your bike that far? What good is distance and scale to a child? His father guided him to the next house and he rang the doorbell and stood back ready to receive the next handful of candy. The woman who appeared at the door, his great aunt actually shouted to “Get off the porch and get out of here now!”
At this point he will return to the present to explain that someone else had apparently been trick or treating earlier in the same mask and it had been revealed that this child was not from the neighborhood, a fairly serious breach of small town etiquette and now this elderly woman was incensed to think that he had come back for more.
You wait for the story to reach a satisfying conclusion, surely the father steps in and explains the misunderstanding and everyone enjoys a nice hot cup of coca in the kitchen but he leaves the story there.
There really is nothing else to tell he discovers, because try as he might he can’t remember anything else from that night after the shock of being ordered off the porch. He could invent something to end the story, and chances are that his father, being a nice man, did step in and explain matters but he has no memory of that. Being an honest person he doesn’t want to invent something simply for the sake of a good story and you begin to think about how many stories you’ve told where you probably added a little spice to the mix here and there and you start to wonder is it honest? Is it fair? Is it true? Then you think to yourself “It’s probably best not to let the facts get in the way of the truth”.
About this time you start to wonder if any of these stories or characters will be of importance in this book. Yes, they will. You might begin to wonder if the narrative will dance about from topic to topic like a drunken librarian. Quite possible indeed.
You don’t worry about things beginning with the letter “T” however because you know that many things do although many things don’t and the title may or may not reference any thing directly but may only imply something and you are okay with that although you may wish to take your reading more seriously sometime and demand more from an author who may or may not be leading you astray.
Picture this: a small child playing with leaves in the backyard of a small brick house. It is autumn and the young boy is wearing a light jacket. The leaves are piled up and he’s made a clearing in the middle where he’s sitting and watching anything around him. The family dog comes over and crouches beside him and the boy puts his arm around the dog. He’s not smiling but he feels contented and satisfied. For this moment there’s nothing else he needs or knows that he wants. The boy’s mother takes a picture knowing that this will be important someday. The photo is printed and is stored in a box along with many others until it is needed.
He remembers riding a bicycle – thousands of miles have been logged on bikes over the years, but this time it’s rushing out the door and grabbing his bike because there’ sounds of kids playing just up the road. He eagerly pedals the bike toward the sounds when one of the kids shouts “Go away, we don’t want you”. And he turns the bike, in a slow arc on the grey pavement, the late summer sunlight throwing a shadow ten or twenty feet out beyond him but the shadow is fuzzy from the tears and his father watches him ride home.
He is asleep in a car, or rather he’s telling you about sleeping in a car. It’s the backseat of his parent’s car and he’s actually not asleep yet because he remembers the sounds of the trains. He had been to see his grandparents and their mountain town rang out with train whistles day and night. He can see the street light reflection inside the car as it moves slowly down Pearl Street toward Pleasant Valley Boulevard. There is a warm mix of sound and feeling, street lights, the radio in the front seat where his parents are talking, train sounds and the roll of the wheels and motor hum vibrating through the backseat.
He heard those trains in the night during visits to his grandparent’s house in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Those distant sounds were soft, they rolled through the night air and crept around the corners of windows. Does everyone love those trains in the night? Is there anyone who is ever sad at hearing a far-off train? No, trains are always leaving for somewhere better and you’re always just about to step on and travel into your future.
This feeling comes to him often, or rather the lack of that feeling. He’s been searching for that feeling and when he talks about it you start to think that maybe you’ve been searching for it too but you decide it’s probably just another dead end trip into some imagined past and there is not likely to be any kind of story in there, at least not anything you could read late at night, not any kind of story that would keep you up until you can barely stay awake because it’s so good, because you care so much about the characters.
But how can you not care about that little boy sitting in the leaves with his dog, quite possibly his only real friend? How could you not feel the warmth of that back seat in the car and still smell the coffee from his grandparent’s kitchen? Okay, he didn’t mention the coffee before, but you should have assumed that his parents would have had a cup of coffee before driving home at night.
He hasn’t told you about the ghosts yet but they are there. His own ghost haunts him daily. That sudden sadness for no good reason, and now you’re interested because you’ve felt that feeling too. Sweeping the floor or picking up the morning newspaper, you know it. It’s a loneliness for no one and no place that can be named. So you listen a little closer to this business of ghosts.
“I have spent my life creating ghosts” he says. “My life is full of ghosts and they are all me”. You’re sophisticated enough to grasp the idea that ghosts are not always spirits roaming free of dead bodies although he did tell you that story of his mother and her spirit leaving her body, and if you had asked a few more questions he might have told you about talking to her ghost. He might have told you about going to visit her grave and watching a bird in a tree nearby and being pretty sure it was his mother’s spirit in that bird. “A cardinal”, he tells you when you ask what kind of bird he saw. He neglects to fill in more details about the tall trees and the winding pathway through the cemetery. Also missing is the small stream and the moss covered stones as well as the wooden bridge next to the old white church. Fortunately these details have been added to this text so you are not stuck imagining a grave floating somewhere in space or the Sahara desert.
He explains his theory that we are constantly creating our own ghosts. You both think about how people talk about what they did in a “Former life” when it was really this life, or appeared to be this life. You might wander off on a tangent thinking about whether or not we do actually live multiple lives but decide to stick to the narrative such as it is in hopes of something to hang on to, although you admit to yourself that this notion of creating a legion of ghosts that populate our world is pretty interesting.
This might not be a tangent. This may be the central theme of the story. You have some time to think about this because he has stopped and appears lost in thought. Is he thinking about what to say next or is this a ghost visitation? Of course the answer is yes, it’s almost always yes.
Yes, there are ghosts that we have created and deposited along life’s pathways although no one is quite sure how and when they appear. It’s not like every five years you move into a new life and so a ghost appears as some kind of place- holder to notate the changes in your life. We are pretty sure that they sometimes merge as years go on and so you might be left with a childhood ghost who was different from your infant ghost but has merged into one. The teenage years apparition is always a unique character, un-paralleled in angst and spiritual distress. Scientists have worked for years in top - secret laboratories to develop some kind of cosmic antibody that will keep these particular ghosts at bay but as yet have been unsuccessful. Fortunately these characters are generally too absorbed in their own issues to be much of a bother or much help for that matter.
Because wouldn’t you like to ask one of these former life representatives some questions? The obvious ones like “Did Mom really throw out my baseball cards including the 1955 Roberto Clemente rookie card because they looked old?” would be first on the list but you might want to delve into some deeper topics later on like those crazy rants of your father when it looked like the blood vessels were about to burst on his forehead and he would become so angry he literally couldn’t speak and he would reach out as if to grab something to strangle. Those moments are locked in your head pretty tight, but did it actually happen? You might want to learn something there.
Interestingly though, our ghosts tend to be quiet on anything of real importance.
Their voices are familiar, they sound like radio at night. You remember radio stations that came in at night from far away. Of course when you’re ten years old most places outside of your neighborhood are far away but some of these did come dancing along the stars for hundreds of miles or maybe more. Static filled AM signals that felt so warm and true through a two-inch speaker pulsing with all the energy of warm transistors and a nine-volt battery. To satisfy that endless need to hear the latest sounds the radio was your fix, the necessary item to get by. You couldn’t possibly buy all those records and you wouldn’t even know where to find them. And so you turned the dial ever so slightly, small steps to scan the night sky in search of rock and roll. Pulling in the sounds on a fragile thread of a wavelength the heavenly sound was there amid the ragged crackle of the atmosphere, the static that wove around the guitars and voices but could never cover the chords of truth.
But what about the time (and there were many times actually) the spirits of Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi and Michael Jackson met at a coffee shop?
“Still drinking that chai MG? Are you sure you don’t want some coffee? Michael will join me in some coffee I know.” Abe Lincoln sauntered across the tile floor of the coffee shop, his tall frame casting a long shadow as the morning light slanted in the large plate glass windows.
“Cream and sugar this time you old rail-splitter” the King of Pop laughed as he put down the sports section of the morning paper.
“Such strong drink, how do you keep your wits about you sir?” the author of Indian independence observed.
The conversation migrates between the weather, mild for November, sports, the NFL western division looks good this year and whatever political cartoons are on the editorial page. The 16th president often points out that he’s still regularly used as an icon in political commentary and that usually prompts much eye rolling from Gandhi and Jackson.
Other patrons of the coffee shop see only three strange looking characters, possibly homeless, maybe artists who show up every morning and read the discarded newspapers because after all nobody looks like themselves after they’ve died. And who would believe it if they did?
Perhaps the biggest failure of the National Enquirer and other fellow travelers is to always include a picture that appears to have been aged showing Elvis as he’d look at seventy to accompany those stories about seeing him at a donut shop in Memphis. The fact that Elvis still haunts donut shops and fast food joints around the southern United States should come as no surprise, it’s just that he now has red hair and is known as Randy. Being something of a tease he occasionally lets his true identity slip and hence the stories in the tabloids.
He doesn’t want to talk about ghosts anymore, at least not right now and so you wait to see what story unfolds next.
He talks about fields and a forest that are part of the farm where he lived for many years. “There is a path” he says and tells you about walking in every season and trying to notice how different plants would appear at the various times of year. He might point out the rock formations he painted many years ago in oranges and blues that bore no resemblance to anything you see today. Somewhere in the story would be the wind. The farm being in a long valley always felt the wind moving south to north, north to south singing through trees and caressing the old farm house bringing out the song of old wood that creaked and shuddered in the night. Quiet, yes the heartbeat of quiet, he would talk about that. Still moments inside that old house searching and dreaming waiting for anything to come along and change the world, his world and you listen and smile knowing the feelings too. And isn’t that what stories do? Take us home again? Perhaps a new route, but always coming home. We don’t want to go someplace we’ve never been really, we want to come home.
You think about this for a while, and this book rests on your lap while you dream a little inside the story.
While you’re dreaming, he’s still walking. The sun is in a late afternoon slant and the light is coming through late autumn trees where only the most stubborn leaves remain. Brittle vines, weeds and ferns are paper thin and crumbling at his touch. Deep rotting plant life covers the forest floor, soft under foot soaking up the last sunlight of autumn.
He walks quiet through this land and carries loneliness in his heart on a journey to home and although he’s walking though the place where he lives he’s still looking for the fields of home. And this is not surprising. He knows this and expects that you the reader will follow him because you’re looking for home as well.
You’re hoping that he meets someone on this journey of the heart and things are looking up because his father is walking across a field alongside the tall trees, where the trail breaks out into the open.
“See anything on the trail?” the father asks.
“Trees and grass, sunlight and air”
“The tall trees tell you anything?”
“Which way the wind blows” the son responds but this is in some kind of alternate universe because the father wouldn’t have asked anything so profound. We love this kind of story, and the sunset orange sky over the rolling mountains would make a perfect movie shot but we know this doesn’t happen. No matter what poetic illusions have seized the son, this is a father who doesn’t look beyond the crops in the field and why should he?
And where is the son looking, what does he see?
He is the one telling you the story and you’ve made up your mind to follow.
“Remember that picture?” he asks.
“The one your mother took, of you in the leaves with the dog?”
“Yes, we’re going to use that” he says and then begins to explain how you might use a photograph like a talisman to travel to that time. Only you won’t be moving through time and space as you might expect but your heart, your spirit, one of the ghosts you carry around with you will experience that moment and you will share in the emotions, in the feelings, as real as can be imagined.
It was a rather unexpected discovery that minerals that had previously been discarded during the coal mining process could be used to create a supplement that when taken in capsule form allowed your brain, if not your entire body to experience a landscape or situation pictured in a photograph. Some thought it was pure escapism to float off into some other world, or more accurately some other part of this world at some other point in time. Some argued that there might be some scientific applications or perhaps it would be used by law enforcement. The thing is, when you’re traveling through this kind of experience everything is subjective. Feelings are more important than facts, or what we believed facts to be or to suggest. For example if you were traveling through a photograph of a murder scene one would assume the emotions would be sadness or even terror, but suppose the first thing that caught your eye was the lovely sunshine on a November afternoon and you never looked around to see the man being shot in the car passing by. Of course we could go all philosophical here and question what is reality but I think that section is two aisles over in the bookstore. The essential information here is that most of what we think of as history is memory and memories are not carved in stone as the expression goes. This should not be seen as problematic because memories are much richer, more colorful and more meaningful than facts or statistics. You want the truth? Don’t ask for numbers, ask about the color of the sky.
He picks up the photograph and holding it in front of himself he partly closes his eyes the way an artist will do trying to sort out the value of a painting in progress. He quiets his breathing and slows his heart rate looking closely at the photograph, looking as if through the picture.
“It’s cool in this shadow” he says slowly and you assume that there must be trees around, the source of the leaves on the ground. Gently, as if carrying a piece of fine lace his hands move in space turning a dried leaf over in the sunlight and then reaching out with his left hand he rests it on the head of a dog who moves closer. If he were able to share this moment you would feel the leaves crackling under foot and the soft dance of new falling leaves to the ground, landing on the pair, the boy and the dog. You would feel the curled hair on the dog’s back, white with brown orange ticking and might stretch out into the light making sharp shadows among the fallen leaves and brown dying grass in the yard, resting in a peaceful still moment of autumn where sunlight begins and afternoon is forever.
And what would you do with this feeling? Would it help you know him better to have this experience from his childhood? Would you be locked in as soul mates
having shared this soft autumn afternoon?
Maybe he’s just avoiding you and that’s why he’s drifted off into this picture but you probably don’t want to think about this even though your best friend from college who you never talk to anymore once told you that you were about as interesting as a bag of nails. True, this was right before she climaxed a night of drinking by puking in spectacular fashion all the way from the living room through the kitchen and finally landing on your bed. This was either the most honest feedback or the most ridiculous alcohol fueled ranting anyone has ever given you.
The scene shifts back to that coffee shop with Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Michael Jackson. It’s not a corporate coffee shop but one of those funky independent venues where the walls are rough with many years of re-painting and less than aggressive cleaning. Tables and chairs are randomly arranged and the lighting is well, not really well lit. But since they’re on their way out of the shop it’s not worth spending much time describing the place.
The trio walks down the street together admiring the shops along the block before heading into the park at the center of town. Strolling along the long winding sidewalk past lakes and under the leafy canopy of vintage trees the conversation begins with results from last night’s sports events re-told with enthusiastic detail by Michael Jackson who was never that interested in sports when he was alive, but being dead is an excellent chance to take up new interests what with so much time on your hands and all.
Bobby hated his father. He knew this was wrong, or at least he felt it was wrong. How could you hate someone who was indeed part of you, someone who shared the same DNA. As he’s telling you this story you strongly suspect that Bobby is not the character’s real name, that it’s more autobiographical than not and he’s just using another name to… to what? Make it easier to tell? Avoid hurting anyone? No matter, you can keep your suspicions to yourself for now and just listen.
The old man didn’t love his son. He didn’t hate him either, or at least wouldn’t admit it. In his world he didn’t even have the words that would describe hatred for a son, it was so foreign to his world of neat and tidy orderly observance of traditions that he wouldn’t even know what to say.
Bobby confused him though, that much is certain. When he was a child he said his fondest wish was to please his own father, Bobby’s fondest wishes as a young teenager didn’t seem to have anything to do with his father. He was pretty normal in that way.
You’re wondering why he used the word hate. Upset, annoyed, frustrated all might be better choices why such a strong adjective.
You’re thinking out loud “I wonder why Bobby hates his father, and does he really hate him?”
“Let me paint you a little picture” he says and proceeds to tell a little story. The scene is a winter night. It’s a cold and wet northeastern winter night with snow that has been on the ground for the past three months and won’t be gone for another month at the least. The father wants the son to do something and he doesn’t want to do that. Angry the father yells at him “At least when my father died I knew I had been a good son which is more than I can say for you!” and stomped out the door. Okay, that’s pretty awful and you’re thinking that maybe hate is a reasonable word to use.
Our civilization has progressed to such an extent that we’ve created popular culture of such power that people regularly not only care about what happens to celebrities that they do not know personally but feel that they do indeed know them as friends, sometimes closer friends than those they actually know, better even than members of their own family.
With this in mind it should come as no surprise that eventually the United States of America elected a president who wasn’t actually a living person. The skill of projecting our wishes, hopes and dreams upon a fictional character played by an actor developed to such as perfect state that the country was able to plausibly vote for an idealized image. Of course historians will quickly point out that several presidents in American history have been more or less idealized characters, or at least are portrayed that way in the history books and once it’s written down, let’s face it, that’s the truth. Whatever Abraham Lincoln might have been like on a day to day basis, however much of a pain in the ass he might have been from time to time he’s forever powerfully carved in granite staring out at the reflecting pool in Washington DC. There’s even been an actor who was elected president and any quick glance at history will show that the reverence he’s accorded has little to no connection to anything he actually accomplished.
The first election in which fictional characters ran against each other was the most dynamic debate season in recent memory. The characters were acting out our images of them, our expectations for who they should be and what they should say. It was much easier to be excited about a candidate you were sure would follow through on campaign promises. There was no chance of embarrassing revelations of scandalous affairs with interns or anonymous social media contacts. Fictional characters don’t hide anything do they? You know up front everything there is to know about someone. True, it may be a little shallow but safe. We often talk about how wonderful it is to know someone complex and interesting where you’re always learning new things about them. Politicians however at their best are like potatoes, simple, sturdy and providing sustenance.
With fictional characters all the drama is on the surface and so we’re free to support the candidate of our choice without fear of let down later on.
And so at the end of an exciting election season that scored ratings that went through the roof as they say in the business, that Fred MacMurray in his character Steve Douglas from My Three Sons won a hard fought election over Carrol O’Connor as Archie Bunker from All in the Family. There was indeed great rejoicing in the streets as many people realized that the United States had at last elected a president who could truly represent the country. It was recognized that the American potential for self delusion and ultimate devotion to all things trivial would best be projected to the world by fictional characters who may or may not have had any connection to the actors who played those parts.
It probably goes without saying that the running mate of Steve Douglas/Fred MacMurrary was William Demerest as Uncle Charlie. Once again the American tradition of a harmless yet often funny and unpredictable Vice President carried on. Whenever the Senate wasn’t getting their work done Uncle Charlie could send them to their rooms without dinner, the progress in passing bills was astounding.
We ran before the plague like nomads on the storm, nightriders on the verge of dawn, always expecting, always demanding resolution, absolution, direction and salvation. The world collapsed around us and expanded beyond our dreams. What were we making? What was the dream that pushed us on? We stood in city streets and fields of gold, mountains and valleys wandering and dreaming, always asking why?
The moments were days, time was and is something liquid. And life was something that once was measured with numbers instead of words.
Jenny watched the sun casting shadows long into the morning while the tawny coon dog stretched out at her feet shifted herself, resting more completely on Jenny’s foot. A faint string of steam danced from her coffee cup into the New Mexico morning. If there was any breeze she might have watched the movement going one way or the other and it would have given her some direction but the air was still, even if the day was restless.
“What do you think Annie?” she asked the dog “Is this a traveling day?” Jenny was the kind of person who liked to have some support for her decisions, if a deck of Tarot cards wasn’t handy, her dog, Annie would do. The dog let out a long slow snort which she took to be a “No” and so settled back against the kitchen chair and held the coffee cup with both hands. This would not be a day for making decisions no matter what the rest of the world would be doing.
We invited the plague, we dreamed it’s parameters, we drew the maps and still marveled at it’s arrival even if it was just what we had planned all along.
Even if it was not a day for decisions, it was a day that could include dreaming and Jenny dreamed of him.
The fields of Pennsylvania have a warm deep brown that pours out of them into your heart. You can’t exactly touch it and you can’t even say where it’s coming from, it’s just there. It’s like a memory that you can’t remember but can’t forget either.
He walked those fields daily for years. After they were long deserted and barren he still saw the marvelous tangle of weeds that embraced fence posts and gave birth to dreamers. He was a dreamer. How much of what we see is colored by dreams? How much of life is memory? How much do we actually live in the present? Where does the veil part? In those fields where the deep colors of autumn mornings surround and comfort the world was beautiful. Expanding and limitless and yet so easy to hold. How could it be wrong to want to stay here forever?
You hold up your hand calling “Time out”. “You just threw a new character, actually two, into the story.” You say. “Who is Jenny? Do I need to pay attention to her? Should I care about her?”
He looks at your for a moment and replies “I can’t tell you what you should do, but why not care about everyone?”
“In answer to your first question, she’s the great love of my life and if this story takes a Wuthering Heights direction at the next intersection then she might well be an important character to remember.”
“Someone once told me that I never grew up” he said. “I never gave up, that would be more accurate, never gave up believing in magic and in possibility”. This sounds poetic and so you make a note to remember this line.
“You want to talk about growing up” he said looking off toward the sunset, or where a sunset would be if it was the right time of day for such things. People rarely look off towards some spot in the sky or some cloud because you’d think, “What the hell are they looking at?” It’s not like staring at a sunset is any more profound it’s just prettier as a rule than the average spot in the sky and so we’re given a certain lee way to let our minds drift a bit if there’s something picturesque in front of us. You might still be the same drooling idiot, but if you’ve got a sunset, it’s cool, you’re covered for now.
“I learned about growing up from reading the Bible while listening to Alice Cooper”
You listen closer because this might be interesting. “Both have their fair share of sex and mayhem and both appeal to the misunderstood and outcasts. Seriously, John the Baptist was the original punk rocker, talk about three chords and the truth, Dude was rocking the Jordan River man.” You notice that he’s getting pretty animated here so you sit back and just enjoy the show. “Turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple, I can hear “Billion Dollar Babies” as the soundtrack. Book of Revelation? I think Alice copped some lyrics for “I Love The Dead” from that bad boy!” You think about this and it makes sense. You often hear the line “I learned about life…” and fill in the blank, “In the back seat of a 1970 Chevy Nova, listening to Miles Davis, behind the plow, at the five and dime, etc.” but it’s never just one thing is it? Because life is not just one thing, it’s an endless stream of ghost making events. You might as well say the Atlantic Ocean is just that stretch of sand and water right in front of the boardwalk at your favorite beach in New Jersey. If, however, you did learn about life under the boardwalk at a Jersey beach then you do have a special pass, you don’t need to list anything else, because you really can learn anything and everything about life at a New Jersey boardwalk and if it’s late in the summer then you’re good for the next three or four lifetimes actually. Just remember that the next time you hear the Drifters singing “Under The Boardwalk” for some people that’s a sacred hymn, a spiritual roadmap to revelation and salvation.
“What is revealed is rarely saved” you say, and we recognize that you haven’t said much, mostly been observing which is fine actually because that’s a good way to learn. In some situations it is also a good way not to get smacked in the face. Since you’ve spoken up we’re listening and you have the floor.
“What is revealed is often take advantage of, used up and forgotten” you said as if you were an expert on the subject of using and forgetting.
You have felt forgotten before and you want to make sure he knows that. There’s nothing to be done about it now and those empty feelings don’t magically become filled by telling someone your sad story. The sadness isn’t like concrete, it won’t become thinner the more you spread it around but that’s what we do, we’ve been taught to share since we were kids and so we share. Mostly sadness or anger, but it’s still sharing isn’t it.
You could explain further but choose not to. You could talk about just what it was that was revealed and then taken for granted, or forgotten but that doesn’t matter as long as he knows there is something there he might come back and dig for it later on. You’ve given him a map and that’s all you’re willing to give and all he’ll need at the moment.
And so you lay back in the sand because you’ve decided to join him in that picture of the boardwalk in late August on a New Jersey night. In that picture the two of you are lost in a moment that might last for hours and that’s okay, that’s what you want right now. The sound of the ocean is coming in clearer as you enter the world of this old photograph and how perfect that he happened to have just the picture after you read that part about boardwalks and salvation. The air is thick and soft as it begins to wrap around you. He wraps around you and you feel his weight as you settle further into the sand that is still holding a small touch of sunlight even though it’s long dark. The uneven sand is creased by light from between the boards above you cast down from street lamps and whatever starlight has broken through the city light skies. You wonder how far you can go into this dream picture that only showed a boardwalk casting it’s shadow over a sandy beach at nighttime, there was no one you could see in the picture and yet here or there you are. Surely you would have seen someone in the picture if they were there, surely you would have seen the embrace and the kiss. Were they kissing in the picture? Those people you couldn’t see but could imagine. Were they touching and caressing? How much can you imagine? Were they making love as the sand cooled in the nighttime air and the sounds of waves on the beach matched sighs? How much can you imagine? It’s your dream, and these are only words on a page. The moon might rise and cast a long stream of white over the ocean but that’s not necessary.
Who is he? Who is this guy you’ve just wandered into a photograph with? Because you’re in some sort of alternate reality, pseudo reality or somewhere that’s not here and now maybe it doesn’t matter. Introductions might not be necessary. Miss Manners never really touched on this sort of thing but don’t worry, no one is talking now, the sand is still soft and you can listen to the ocean until you fall asleep and no, you won’t be lost in the photograph forever if you go to sleep there. This is a very forgiving alternate reality, something like Iowa.
You remember that he talked about a great love of his life, Jenny? Yes, that’s her name. You’ve just had this tender moment under the boardwalk and you’re wondering if it’s all meaningless because he has this other great love of his life. Well, what sort of meaning do you place on a tender moment that happens outside of this world? And has it ever occurred to you that you might be Jenny?
When you read a novel, don’t you often become that character you love? Maybe there’s a reason why people say “I really identified with that character” Maybe they were, or are, that character. They say that all the world is a stage and we are but actors or something like that, but what if we’re not actors but rather the manifestations of characters from stories? Maybe all stories and life and fiction and maybe we’d just follow a feedback loop back to the beginning again going around and around getting nowhere if we tried to follow that one.
You’re looking for salvation so you wait for nighttime to listen to the radio because that’s when the static is the richest. The sounds within the sounds are where the story lies. That night time sound from a small transistor radio with a two inch speaker pouring out all the mystery and magic of the world. Voices from the other side of the world or from the other side of your town it doesn’t matter, they are somewhere other than here and yet they are here and speaking to you and when the singer hits that perfect chord you are moved to tears, you know every word of what they’re saying is true and you think that you could live forever in nighttime radio.