Monday, May 31, 2010


"I don't want anything from you," she says. "But you need something from me, and I am under an obligation."

Sunday, May 30, 2010


"Do you remember Jimmy Jax?" she asks.
Now there was a name from the past. "Of course," he says. "Jimmy Jax. Introduced me to smoking. And getting drunk."
"He was killed in a motorcycle accident."
This kind of information is always a little jarring. But, in the case of Jimmy jax, he isn't too surprized.
"Was he stoned?"
"I don't know," she says. "Probably."
He looks at her face. She is more upset than she should be.
"Were you dating him?"
"Jesus, Ro! Were you -- " he doesn't finish with the obscenity he has in mind. "With Jax?"
He is a little out of practice with this highschool drama shit, he thinks. It makes sense, though. She has always had a thing for him. Last time he saw Jimmy, Jimmy was getting grey hair and a beer belly any middle-aged low-life would carry around with pride.
"He went into a coma and died three weeks later," she says.
"I always thought something like that would happen to him," he says.
"You are really a shit," she says.
"What do you want from me?" he asks.
And this is an important question. He doesn't know whether she can give him a proper answer.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


They drive up route 235 and he watches the scenery and the various buildings. The forest that used to be on the right is now gone. The middle school is still there, but the tiny shotgun houses that had been across the way are gone. In their place is a two story condominium that looks woefully out of place. He knew a few of the families that used to live in the houses. He used to go to school with their children. They weren't in any of his classes, however.
Up a little further is the back entrance to the military base. He can't imagine anything about the base ever changing, and he is correct. Exactly the same as it ever was. Ten foot high chainlink fence. Little white trucks with black numbers on them driving the road directly inside that marks the periphery of the base. He points one of these trucks out to Rowena.
"They're doing a GCR," he says.
"A GCR?"
"Gulf Coast Run. In order to keep its vehicles, companies have to show that they use them often enough to warrent the government doling our the insurance and gas money. So, every week or so a couple of contractors take the car on a ride around the far edges of the base. Including all through the little curvy inlets of the coast of the Patuxant. It takes a few hours. I went on a number of these things when I worked on the base back in highschool. Temp jobs."
"Our tax dollars at work," she says.
"Nothing like working for the government," he replies.

Friday, May 28, 2010


What was he going to do? He couldn't very well hitch-hike along the side of the highway. He could, of course, but he doesn't want to. He's had entirely too much of this footloose exploring of unknown and unknowable terrain to want to do any more of it any time soon, thank you very much. And it is only because the prospect of hitch-hiking is slightly less likable than riding in Rowena's car -- taking in the sites, pretending that he was fine with everything and not showing his rage, and failing utterly, which would cause her to treat him with even more condescension than she has been -- it is only the thought of being with no one at all that causes him to "jump in," as she put it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


They go back out to the parking lot. To her car.
"What now?" he asks.
"Now, you hop in, and we go sightseeing."
"Sightseeing?" he says.
"Sightseeing. We visit all those places around here that are worth seeing."
"There's nothing around here worth seeing," he says.
"Sure there is, Alex. You've been gone for a while. They've been doing a bunch of building around here. The place is almost civilized. They're finally putting in some shopping."
"Thrillsville," he says.
And this interaction is emblematic of the thing about Rowena's personality that he hates the most. She is gabbing with him. Treating him as a great friend. Worse: she is treating him as women treat their girlfriends. Their down-and-out-girlfriends. Women have no problem with this, he things, bitterly. But every man hates it.
Hate, hate, hate.
He wishes he were back in the place from which he has just come. There, he did not feel hate. He had forgotten what a drain the emotion is. Draining in every possible way.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


The usual sort of uncomfortable silence followed Rowena's "Oh, Alex."
His mind, having sung through "Row, Row, Row You Boat," inserting her name, "Ro," for "Row" and "Maryland," for "Merrily," now looked to other things than a rehashing of old relationship problems -- problems that, for him, had never fully been resolved. And, of course, they could never fully be resolved, for him, because she had broken off the relationship and not he.
He had been in other relationships in which he had been the one to break things off, and he always felt that the situation, all of it, had been resolved. Utterly. This is the way things are with relationships.
It is a matter of an unstable economic interaction: Two people in an ongoing relationship exchange feelings, etc. in a fulfilling manner. However, when one of the people breaks the relationship, there is a debt felt by the person who is the recipient of the breaking. The dumping. This debt, recognized or not, is impossible for the person doing the dumping to repay.
A debt that cannot ever be paid can only be forgiven.
But he was not satisfied with this notion of forgiveness. No matter how much he tried to convince himself otherwise, he could not see forgiveness as anything less than telling the other person -- Rowena, in this case -- that what she had done was okay, and that he was perfectly fine with her dumping him.
Hell no. He wanted to hurt her. Still.
And he knew that he would never be able to do so such that her debt to him would be paid in full.
He had paid the bill, and she was standing. She was reaching down to her salad and grabbing a dainty handful of spinach leaves which she popped, birdlike, into her mouth.
How he hated her.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Ro, Ro, Ro, your boat
Gently down the stream!
Maryland, Maryland, Maryland, Maryland,
Life is but a dream...

Monday, May 24, 2010


All of a sudden, he hates being here with her, eating "deluxe" at this cheap restaurant. He hates that he has shown his emotional cards, as it were. He hates that he has revealed that he is still sensitive about their relationship. Or their former relationship. He hates that she has just said, and rather pityingly, at that, Oh, Alex.
He hates it all the more because it still feels as though she is leading him on. As she did before. And she is leading him on. He needs her to guide him through whatever this is. Whatever this is.
He sees the ... irony? No, that's not quite the word for it... he sees the... complementarity of it? The symmetry?
She is leading him on, but she is not leading him on.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


He puts down his pen and eats. He spills ketchup, mustard, and grease, from the cheeseburger, onto the drawing. On the placemat, the condiments and the grease cause the drawing to look as though it is wounded. Bleeding. If he notices, he does nothing to save the drawing. He is far too busy eating.
Jesus, Alex. Eat much?
She means it as a joke. He understands the humor, of course. But he does not laugh.
Ever since the darkness, he says, I have been hungry.
He looks over at her plate. She has hardly touched it.
Aren't you hungry? he asks.
Would you like some, she asks.
No thank you, he says. I just want to know if you are hungry, as well.
Not terribly, no... but don't let that stop you, Sweetie, she says.
Don't call me that, he says.
Oh, Alex... she says.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


His drawing is automatic. The figures he draws are mechanical. They begin from the outside of the placemat and work their way in. She watches him draw.
I know what you are drawing, she says.
He does not answer her.
You are drawing The Magnificence, she says.
He looks up from his drawing.
Of course I am drawing The Magnificence, he says. He pauses for a moment.
How do you know that I call it The Magnificence? he asks.
Because everyone calls it that. And The Magnificence is not an it.
What is it, then? he asks. Which pronoun do you use? And who is everyone?
I don't know, she says. Everyone.
You are not helping, he says.
Eat your food, she says.

Friday, May 21, 2010


He lets his hand draw and does not try to direct it with his thoughts and more than necessary. He draws rapidly. The lines start out looking chaotic, choppy, without design. Soon, however, they begin to fit together, to become something. And when they become something, it is obvious that he knows how to draw. This is the way it is with a skill observed. It begins in chaos -- or something that looks like chaos and lack of skill to those who watch without knowing what the person with the skill is doing. He knows how to draw. He holds the pen firmly and with confidence. His lines are sure. The strange thing about his drawing, and he himself recognizes it if Rowena doesn't, is that he doesn't stay around the same place in the drawing. He draws a line or a figure in one area of the placemat, and then, without pause, he moves his pen to the far opposite side of the placemat, where he draws another line or figure. There is no continuity to the process of his drawing. He does not finish one area before moving to another. He does not connect one area with another. At least not in the usual way. As he moves from place to place, one part of his drawing connects, inevitably, with another part, until at last all the parts are connected and, finally, everything that he has been drawing disjointedly suddenly reveals a sensical, obvious telos. Nothing about his drawing process makes sense until the drawing is complete. And then, his process still defies logic and methodology, but the final drawing is there.
He draws compulsively. His food arrives, and he neither responds nor looks up. The waiter makes a light joke and leaves his cheeseburger delux and the rest of his food and drink on the table, and he continues to draw, oblivious. He is drawing something industrial. A factory, perhaps. His drawing style is ornate. The details are complex and exact. He is directing his own hand with the pen over the page, and he knows that it is he rather than anything else that is responsible for the drawing. Yet, as he draws, he is able to distance himself with his own concentration.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


They go to a small, family-owned restaurant called Oggie's. The walls are panelled with blonde wood, the floor is linoleum, and the tables are round with red-checkered tablecloths.
He orders a soda, a cheeseburger delux with onion rings, and a glass of ice water. She orders a salad and a fried softshelled crab sandwich.
While they wait for their food, they speak of nothing. The silence is a comfortable one, and he is glad of it. He is out of practice in making small talk. Of making any kind of talk, come to think of it.
There are paper placemats on the table. A lake in the woods. Something out of a starving artist exhibition. He turns the placemat over and asks her for a pen. She reaches into her purse, finds a pen, gives it to him, and he begins to draw.
He remembers, now, that he has always enjoyed drawing.
He is surprised to see that he is actually pretty good at it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Are you hungry, she asks.
Yes, he says. But I don't want to go into the house.
You'll have to go in, eventually, she says.
I want to go out to eat, he says. It is bizarre to say this. Bizarre because it is such a commonplace thing to say, yet it comes after an extended period of ... uncommonplace experience.
Sounds good to me, she says.
Her car is in the driveway behind a large outcropping of shrubs. He has not seen it until just now.
This is the same car you had back then.
Yes, she says. It still runs, but barely.
They get in, and after the engine protests more loudly than he supposed it should have, they are off -- out of the driveway and on down the road that he has known.
And everything is just as he remembers it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


So, he was neither in a coma nor otherwise dreaming. He has not died and then come back to life. Nothing catastrophic has happened to him that would explain the darkness into which he awoke. There is nothing obvious that would explain the hallucinatory existence he has just experienced -- the business with The Magnificence, the priests who turned into a monster and hacked his hand off, The Committee that elected him as chair and then charged him to execute someone -- and that whole bit about delving into the individual and collected inner being of the other members of The Committee.
Now, he is here. He has woken up in a boat after deciding to execute himself as a member of The Committee. This was a violent transition of the sort he thinks he should have undergone in order to have gone into that other strange world. He cannot understand, cannot convince himself, that that other world is not to be separated from this world. There has been no transition. This is what Ro is telling him. And yet, two questions persist:
1: What brought him to the darkness?
2: If there is no transition, what happened to him between his shooting himself in the head and his waking in the boat, floating in the Chesapeake Bay?

Monday, May 17, 2010


Did something happen to me? he asks. Was I in an accident? Did I go into a coma?
No, she says.
He looks at her. A wave of bitterness flows over him. He has forgotten the pain she had caused him. Not that she had caused him -- that he felt back when he had... he does not want to go there. Obviously, he thinks, I am not over her. And this is where the bitterness comes from. I don't believe you, he says. I think I was in some horrible accident and I woke up in darkness.
You weren't in an accident, Alexander, she says.
Then what happened to me?
He remembers something.
You were with me, he says. Then, you left.
No, she says. I mean, yes, I left, but I came back and when I came back, it was you -- you weren't there.
I don't believe you, he repeats.
You weren't there, she says.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Hello, Ro, he says.
Her name is actually Rowena -- a ridiculously Victorian name. And it fit her, because she was ridiculously Victorian. But he had liked to call her Ro. And this in itself was indicative of how special she was to him: he never abbreviated names. And, beyond this, he had a particular contempt for anyone who, as a habit, abbreviates names. Or who abbreviated anything that didn't have a practical need to be abbreviated. People who said "fam" for "family," for example.
And yet, after he had met her and had known her for a couple of days, he never called her by her full name. She did that to him. Evidently, she still does.
How was the library? she asks.
Do you remember how we used to go to the library? he asks.
Of course, she says. Did you find the book you were looking for?
I found a book that gave me what I needed.
And then I went into a church.
I know.
She stands. She goes up to him. They stand looking at each other for a moment or two.
I have no idea what is going on, he says.
Hush, she says.
She embraces him, and he, quite out of character, begins to weep.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


For one thing, he doesn't know whether his parents are still alive. He has neither seen them nor spoken with them in a very long time. He wonders whether both are alive. If only one is alive, did his mother outlive his father, or did his father outlive his mother? Of course, he has been in the house a little while ago. If you can count that relatively recent time as actually being in the house. He does not know, for sure. And he probably never will. Before deciding whether he really wants to walk the distance to the convenience store, he walks to the side of the house and then around to the front. It is remarkable how little the place has changed since last he was there. He crosses the driveway and walks into the front yard. He stops short.

She is kneeling in a patch of soil, planting flowers along the front shrubs. She has seen him before he has seen her, evidently. She is looking at him, now -- as though catching him at some sneaky game.

Hello, Alexander, she says.

Friday, May 14, 2010


The boat is small enough so that when he reaches the shore he is able to pull it over the beach sand and then drag it up onto the concrete ramp. There are some blue nylon cables attached to a couple of metal pipes that are sunk into the concrete. He takes a moment or two and ties the boat up by a metal hole at the bow. Then, he walks up the ramp to the grassy lot. When last he was here, must have been more than a decade ago, his parents were deciding whether to buy the lot. No one else wanted to buy it. You couldn't build anything on it because it didn't perc. After a rainstorm, the lot would turn into a lake. He looks at his parents' house. There are no cars in the driveway. He turns his head to the road. If everything is as he has remembered it, the road is about a mile and a half long. Then, if he takes a right at the highway at the end of the road, he has another couple of miles before he reaches a convenient store where he can get something to eat. He does not seriously consider the possibility of going into his parents' house and waiting there for them. This would feel strange.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


About twenty yards in back of him are a series of crab pots. He can see the floating markers put there by a waterman. Crab. Blue Crab. A dozen or so steamed in a huge blue pot with a ton of Bay Seasoning on them.
His hunger has returned, of a sudden. It nearly blinds him with its intensity. He simply must get food. He is wearing jeans. Perhaps he has his wallet with him. He takes it out and finds that there is quite a bit of money in it.
His childhood home is visible on the shore. Perhaps he will visit it, at some point. Not now. He is hesitant, in part, because he is afraid his parents might be home. Of course, he is also afraid that they might not -- that they have moved.
He will go and buy food.
He sets the troll motor, pulls the cord, and heads toward the shore. There is a small concrete place to store the boat.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


He is a pretty good swimmer. He has never been afraid of the water, but he has known people who were terrified of it. When you are in it, you are completely submerged in physicality. Unlike air. And the physicality is potentially deadly. This has never bothered him, however. He has swum in many different types of water, but the only time he has ever been bothered was when he was swimming in a pond and seaweed brushed against the lower part of his leg, just above his foot. He didn't like this, at all. But he was not terrified by this. Instead, he was disgusted. Not that there was much qualitative difference between the two feelings.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


He doesn't know what is underneath the water. Beasties, perhaps. Jellyfish, most definitely. Freudians have made the analogy that the conscious self is above the water where we can see it and be aware of it. Underneath the surface of the water, however, is all sorts of nasty stuff that we cannot see. We can look at the movement of the waves and appreciate any particular disturbances in the water. But we can't be sure of what is causing that movement or those disturbances. And, what's more, we have no way of knowing how deep the water goes. Sure, we can note the darkness of the water, but that only tells us that the water has at least a certain depth. We do not know what that depth is let alone what greater depths there might be. We can only see movement and color. Freud argues that we can know no more than this about the abyss that we carry around within us and that determines, either directly or indirectly, everything we do.

Monday, May 10, 2010


There are no oars in the boat. But there is a trolling motor. He doesn't want to use it. He likes the silence. He can feel the silence. It makes him feel heavy. He likes the feeling. He likes that the silence devours the few sounds there are around him. It devours the sounds of the osprey. It devours the sounds of the glassy water lapping slowly at the sides of his boat. It devours the sounds of his own breathing. It does not devour the two sounds in his head, however. In his head are a high sound and a low sound. The high sound is his nervous system. The low sound is his blood, circulating throughout his body. He does not know how he knows this.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Here's a puzzling thought: if the boat he is currently floating about in is not the same boat in which he and his father went fishing, so long ago, it is nonetheless an exact copy. Where is his father? He attempts a little trick he had learned to do with dreams. When he was a teen-ager, he had realized, in the middle of a dream, that he could make the dream into whatever he wanted it to be. He was, after all, in control. So, when he dreamt of falling, he could decide to land in safely on his feet. When he dreamt that someone was chasing him, he could have them turn into stone. Or simply stop existing. Now, in order to do this, of course, he realized that he would have to become aware that he was dreaming. This was the key. He would also have to believe that he was dreaming, which was tantamount to not believing in the material reality in which one were, apparently, functioning. He attempts to see his father in the boat.
But this doesn't work. He cannot convince himself that he is dreaming.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Whether the events of his recent memory -- the business with The Magnificence, the business of his hand being cut off and re-attached, the business of the committee, the delving into individual neuroses and collective identities of decay, and, at last, the business of him executing himself as the chairman of the committee -- have actually happened is beside the point. The point is that his hand hurts. No. The point is that he feels his hand hurting. Here is an irrefutable point: whether the pain is real or not is immaterial in terms of truth. What cannot be refuted is that he feels the pain.
There is wonderful comfort in this thought. His existence has been bewildering. He has been disoriented. He has not yet been able to figure out whether he has been hallucinating, or dreaming, or actually experiencing a strange physical reality. But it doesn't matter. He feels pain. This is a surety.

Friday, May 7, 2010


He has picked up jellyfish with his bare hands. At first, he had been afraid. But his father had cured him of his fears by having him scoop the creatures out of the water. Remembering his father's cure for fear causes a small surge of adrenaline to course through his body. The body has a strange memory for pain. It tingles at the thought of it. The tingle is pain, but not exactly. It is pain that the body creates at the thought of a painful experience. But, he considers, isn't all pain a creation of the body? Or is it a collaboration between the body and the empirical world? He chuckles at the thought. Pain being the result of collaboration. He considers the pain in his hand and is confused by it. Has his hand truly been severed and re-attached? If so, then his is the pain of collaboration. If, however, the pain is the result of a hallucinated existence, it is also the collaboration between his mind and some manner of abnormality, internal or external.
Regardless, however, his hand hurts.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


There are all sorts of creatures in the Bay. Skates, crabs, different fishes. When it hasn't rained for a while, the water becomes full of sea nettles. Jellyfish. That's because sea nettles are salt water creatures, and when it doesn't rain, the level of salinity in the Bay rises. As he lies in the boat, squinting up at the sun, he wonders a little whether there are lots of jellyfish swimming around and under the boat. He has been stung by them. Anyone who has spent any time around the Bay has been stung by a jellyfish. You brush up against one of the tentacles, and when you do, the contact causes a little packet of poison-stuff to break off and get into your skin. If you are the size of a human, it's okay. But for smaller creatures, it's a different story. Actually, there are lots of reports of larger jellyfish-like creatures -- the infamous Man O' War, for example -- killing or seriously injuring people. Interesting thing about the Man O' War: it's not one creature. It's a colony of individuals all living together as...
He lies there, not finishing his thought. His hand hurts.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


The Bay is only about three feet deep for a very far distance out. You can tell when it starts to get deep because the water gets darker. From the shore, you can see the line where the darkness begins.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


You can tell, early in the morning, that a day is going to be a scorcher. You can feel the heat just underneath the coolness. You know that, in an hour or so, the coolness is going to burn off, and the only coolness you're likely to feel is your own sweat. The blue sky above the boat is painful. He will not open his eyes just yet.

Monday, May 3, 2010


The Bay in the early morning is bathed in a glittering blue light that you don't see at any other time during the day. Out in the middle of the water, there is a silence beyond meaningful description. There are no echoes. All sound dissipates immediately, or nearly so. The water is smooth. The boat, a small, flatbottomed craft made of corrugated metal, is not motionless. Motion is relative, out here. The craft is motionless, but the shore moves. Such is the stillness of the Bay.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


He looks at the table. There is a gun on the table. He looks at the gun and then at the Committee. He knows he has not evaluated all of the members. He does not know how many members of the committee there are. But there are certainly more than he can see, presently, around the table. He senses the presence of others around the table. Back in the shadows behind those seated. These members are breathing, he knows, even though he cannot hear their breath. No one has told him that he has to evaluate every member. No one has told him that he has to evaluate any member. He has evaluated some of them, and he has made his journey into their beings and he has come out of it okay enough. He doesn't doubt that there are other canyons, other realms, to be seen were he to seek out other groups of committee members -- were he, for that matter, to group the first few pathetic individuals he has evaluated into a unity as he has with the stinky group. But he does not want to take the time. And he does not have the inclination. And, furthermore, he now enjoys a conviction of purpose. An epiphany that suggests a sensical action.
He reaches for the gun, picks it up, and examines it, briefly.
Then, he puts the barrel of the gun in his right nostril and fires.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


He stares about for a moment or two as one will who has awoken in the morning and spent a few minutes simply meditating about his surroundings. The members of The Committee have not grown impatient with all of the time he has been spending ... investigating. It is not that the members are patient. Rather, he wonders whether they have a perception of time that is the same as his own. His gut says they do not. Based on the fact that they do not appear to him to change.
As far as his remembering having thought about nothing (Nothing) while a child in Maryland, he has had another thought -- a more philosophical thought than normal, he thinks. Even for him. If there is nothing, anywhere, and he is thinking about it, he must not be a part of anything. He must be beyond it. He must be Divine. For only a god can be outside of Nothing.
But he knows that he is not a god. And he knows that there is not nothing. That nowhere is there nothing.