Empirical fiction: vases, ravens, mercurial gains

by dschapman

If you need a hand, I know a man, he’s my good friend, I’ll vouch for him. A good man, with a good back, he’s a real wage-laborer, everyman kind, handy man type, and he needs the work – and if you smell something on his breath, please, don’t bother – he’s a good worker, his back is strong. And if you’ll notice you’ll see that he’s got mighty handsome hands. Hands like that can do all kinds of work… they can really grip a shovel, or a broom. They can pull a wheelbarrow full of bricks; they can hold whole bricks. I myself am retired… today I turned over in bed wrong and I woke up with a numbing lightning in my spine… well after a few hours it had subsided but I lay there like the cripples in the novels I always hated as a boy. What pathetic characters… bad backs, that’s what you get if you can’t maintain good posture… but me, I held my back up tall… no back problems for me. Well… white lightning! Sideways, like a sprawling incision, bundles of thousands of nerves rubbed bloody, blackened ends of bones rusting into metal… No, I am in inactive spirit, a spectator. I have my room, and it does me right. In my bed, at least, my back is balanced. But even then, it’s a tender balance… when I was young, the way I used to play, the way I used to bend my back in circles – tall, I stood so tall, I moved so quickly, I took my women on the walls; ha! ha! keep me talking, that’s right, hear it all. Pain like this will get you talking. Keep your mind off it all… drugs will do it, too. The things they say about me… and they are right, in their way, and I don’t blame them. But I hate them all the same. I remember the way I climbed over those fences… under those gates, on a train through a nation, on my own through the woods with my toes to the earth right below me… I am going to die soon, I know it. I know it. My face in all the papers… good thing I penned a will! I hope they find it, in my drawers. I wonder what they’d do with the handgun. I forgot to mention in the will.

All those women, they loved me – that was really something. I loved them too, each one, I mean really I loved every one of them. I loved as readily then as I am capable of hating now. My cheeks are scarred, at least – I’m standing. A few more years… that’s all the greats have anyway, isn’t it – James Dean, now there’s an idol… Cherry pie, please, just a slice… and someone to share it with, even if they like it a la mode, I prefer it on a date myself. I don’t drink milkshakes anymore… I don’t drink any milk at all. My, how quick it crept up on me. It sprang at me, determined, from the shadows, as soon as I opened the door to it. And I put on my trousers, angora… but what ever happened to happiness? And to think, I swore off rhetoric… little long did that last me. Silly pocketful of rhymes. I can pretend all I’d like, that’s all anyone ever did was pretend… and that’ll be good enough. I’ll wear my hat, even though it’s out of fashion. All those other handsome men wore hats – why shouldn’t I look handsome? In the cabin, in the woods, a pregnant girl… behind the bookshelf, cobwebs, books, cashmere coats on wooden hangers. In the grasses, lambs, they bay, a donkey guards them. The rains are coming down again… even through a clear blue sky… even at high noon. At least I’m scarred, at least I’m wealthy… and she, a vacant dame – married! To a child made of hay. Educated, even – what a poison! I know firsthand. I was stronger than it, I prevailed – but my walls were iron, not hay.

It’s like the time I spent in Timbuktu. That woman in the snake den, with the apples in her hands… I have no taste for snakes, but apples sure are grand! I remember the newspapers on the walls… the fireplaces. Time again to get some sleep.