Contrails

by dschapman

I visited my parents at their house on the lake over the weekend. As I walked with the dog around the shore to admire the egrets I ran into two boys, they were teenagers. The dog growled and tried to bite their hands. “Does he bite?” They asked. I shrugged. “Hasn’t yet.” One was blond and wearing a hoodie like a skater kid. The other was lightly dark skinned with cropped black hair. Both were ugly, of course, and covered in pimples. “Are you some kind of geek?” asked the blonde one, pointing at my waist – my shirt was tucked in. Ha! Nah, I said. It’s my parent’s house, you know. “They make you dress like that?” He asked. Ha! Nah, I said. It’s just decency, you know. Try to be decent. The darker one said I looked like I was in a fraternity. They asked me if I skated. I said no. They looked at me and I was ready as Hell to leave. “Are you cool?” They asked. “No,” I said, and called for the dog. “What’s his name?” They asked. “D—,” I said, “from some Bill Faulkner book.” Who is Bill Faulkner? “What, don’t you read or something?” I read, the little blonde boy cried.

I made the quick mistake of mentioning, for some common ground, that I liked to smoke a little weed sometimes, and the kids went wild. They drew in close and said they were going to a party to meet a guy right now, booze, xanax, weed, beer, everything. Have I heard about Shawn? “No,” I said, gravely. Did I know Jacob? “I knew Jacob, once.” The black haired one – “I’m from Europe,” he said – asked me for my number to get in touch sometime. I made the terribly grave mistake of giving it to him, along with my name. A little harmlessness, I thought. I pantomimed smoking a joint as I walked away and they cracked up over it, and I laughed myself all the way home. Goddamn children.

My parents told me that those were the neighbors’ boys and that one of them was retarded. Which one, I asked. The dark-haired one, said my father. “He stands around the yard sometime, looking at our house, and doesn’t say anything when I step outside to work on the truck or something.” So I asked him, “Well is he from Europe?” “Of course not,” answered my father. I laughed. Christ.

The chamelias are in unbelievable bloom this season. The weather must have been just right. The dogs played out in the leaves and the egret watched from the far side of the water, its blue feathers sleek and unruffled.

I walked through the woods with a saw and a small pack of my dogs running ahead of me. Along the way I tripped over a piece of clay in the ground. It was good, rich Mississippi clay, white with bands of precious iron. I molded it with my fist like modeling clay. Dry, and dirty, but as beautiful as it gets. If I were so inclined I could fire this clay into fine Mississippi bricks. Wow, that would really be something.

There were not many trees I liked but I promised my family I would get a good one. I got one for them, the biggest one I thought I could carry, or at least drag, and as I walked back I noticed a smaller one, smaller than me, but superbly well formed. I thought, “I don’t need a Christmas tree. I don’t want a Christmas tree. I’m goddamned depressed. I don’t need no goddamn Christmas trees.” But I cut it down anyway and carried it under my arm through the woods towards the house, dragging the bigger one behind me.

It’s been raining for seven days straight and for seven straight days I’ve been really in the thick of it. It hurts like hell. I try to fight my way out of it, but I ramble, confused, until I hurt myself, flailing and throwing a blind tantrum. Deep pain. I dig into a fresh slice of cherry pie. I have been on the hunt for some pie for a while now. I even went prowling one night. I met a woman and I asked her name. She came on to me – but I blew it. I let her down. I was given a chance and for some god-given mystery I totally blew it.

I had made plans to meet my friend in the city after the Christmas showing and then we could get a good slice of pie at the diner, and then go out for some drinks. One of my friends was addicted to opiates and I thought I could get a roll from him. My prescription was out and I felt sick as hell. I did not like to buy such things black market – so expensive! – but sometimes I felt I had to, to preserve appearances. So it was particularly important to my well-being that I went out and got drunk with these friends of mine. One of the women I am in love with in the city he is in love with as well and it is only a matter of time until he and her are together, and although it is likely that I would ever be with her in the first place it still makes me riled to think of her.

But instead I stayed in that night, and I shook a little bit in bed and I tried to watch a movie, but I could not focus, and I took some sleeping pills and went to sleep. I slept for sixteen hours and still felt sick in the morning. I wrote the doctor and told him I’d meet him on Monday. I make up a list of things I need to see him for that I can ask about until I mention painkillers. I feel ashamed when I ask him for painkillers. He assures me I consume not even a tenth of the volume of true junkies and that I am doing fine, although I should always continue to improve with therapy and exercise and try to cut back my dose… Anyway I just don’t love it. My skin is bad these days anyway. My face is clear – but hairy! Damn – but there is a mysterious patch on my eyebrow, a dry spot under my earlobe, eczema on my head, what might be ringworm on my neck… Christ. I’m a mutant. I deserve to eat with the dogs. I am probably the least productive member of society in my city. I probably do less and consume more than anyone, at least here in this valley of mine. I am probably a goddamn plague on those around me. All for what? I don’t even mean to do it! I am just doing what I was told to do. I don’t even try to spin it anymore. And yet I am still also kind of rebellious – for the hell of it, you know? You know – Ha! You know.

You know… one day maybe when I’m older, after all this shit is done with, I’ll be able to write something coherent, clean, like Hemingway, and I’ll publish it and I’ll think “Damn, I should have been doing this all along.” But I can’t do something like that now, and I will not. All Fitzgerald did was bitch and die! Who can read the books of someone like that? God he was vain. Rimbaud grew out of it, too, or else it would’ve killed him with its preposterousness. You don’t want to be young and publishing the nonsense of your childhood. You don’t want to make a goddamn fool out of yourself. I cannot and I will not. Unless the devil makes me do it!

Shake all night – should’ve gone out, gotten a roll and some alcohol in me – “I’ll just have some water, please,” Christ, no one likes a non-drinker. Hens in a henhouse and the cocks in this town are pure goobs. But I can’t even cluck or strut for the life of me. Now, if I could drunk with them, that would be one thing… if I could stay up that light and on my feet, like I could a few years ago, then that would be one thing, at least…

We used to spend our summer evenings on the nearby beach, underneath the lighthouse eating ice cream, overlooking the ocean come in, black and handsome, drinking the sweet salty air of the boardwalk and walking with bare, sandy feet. We stood in line for some saltwater taffy and we loved to watch them make it, in the window, like a good business should. I should put a letterpress in front of a window and let the children watch us, in our gowns and aprons, stretching out taffy, preparing our plates. When I was such a young boy that I only had change in my pockets I forewent the taffy for the penny candy, in the child’s counter near the beach, where the candy was all laid out in beautiful rows for you and you pick your pieces, one by one, while the kindest candy girl on the beach kept a mental tab of your order and placed your hand-picked selections in a bag… And they made a damned good grilled cheese sandwich, too! But then again, in those days, we all did… on woodburning stoves, in those farmhouses, so goddamn cold, it’s ludicrous… aurora borealis, contrails in perfect parallel perpetuity, slowly dissipating from the tail, turning back into clouds.

I bolted upright. There was noise somewhere. Maybe just a coon in the attic, or a rat in the walls. But I could hear a very, very low rumbling. Like a car, humming, a silent electric car. Goddamn it terrified me living right on the edge of an alley, staring out that open window at night. I must be a pure coward at heart. I tried to listen to see if a car was sitting there, humming. I could hear ominous tones. Ominous tones. Was that goddamn hippy transient techno program playing on public radio? Strange, low tones, coming perhaps from outside, or ahead of me, or anywhere around me at all. I got up and I ran to the window. I couldn’t see anything. I scared the hell out of my dog and got him worked up. I ran through the house to the backdoor and locked it. The radio was playing bluegrass, very quietly, and it sounded nothing like the tones I’d heard. I could not hear them. I turned the radio off and slipped back to my bedroom. I could still hear the muffled rumbling, the wide and ambient tones – were they changing? Or was it an atonality? I could not even tell. I became paranoid, as if I was not already. If there was not something very weird going on outside, then there was something very weird going on inside me. I convinced myself I was hearing only the distant passage of cars, and was making up the tones entirely, but I still could not convince myself. I listened hard in the silence of night and prayed for a car to pass, for something to disrupt my surroundings and provide context. Nothing happened and I strained. I grew desperate. Finally a car passed, and it sounded so real and so different that I grew quite relieved. I settled back into my bed and tried to watch a movie again.

This movie I would watch is one that I would study very closely. I feel that I should watch certain movies of my past again, however, and re-study them, because I fear I am losing touch with some important knowledge of the past. That dirty old Plato was right, in a way. Knowledge is the process of recollection, rediscovering what your ancestors tried to teach you, what the ancients always knew, over and over – and what you’re noticing, with familiarity, simply for yourself.

I dream about aquariums these days. But they are always very intimate, ominous dreams and the aquarium aspects do not encourage me. Once my family visited an aquarium with me in the old city of Prague, in Scotland, and it was a horror – a heartbreaking tragedy, a family affair. In other dreams there were varying aquariums present, and their presence always accompanied a heavy dread in the heart – strange physics in those tricky dreams.

 

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