“How big was her bush?”
Sometimes, as a child, I would sleep with my eyes open–terrify my mother. Sometimes I dreamed this crazy dream where the world was nothing more than a rind, a skin stretched too tight over bloated oblivion, like all the souls in the world were chewing gum and God was pushing his luck blowing yet another bubble. A colourless dream, figures keyed across endless black, the black of void as opposed to blindness, the black of emptiness seen rather than plenitude concealed. It’s hard to describe really, the loomings and sheerings and beggings and fleeings and cringings and weepings–pretty much all the catastrophica experience can represent encased in this sense of absurd monumentality, awe pressed to levels of sexual intensity.
And there was horror, vast enough to worship. I often imagine myself as a child, staring out into trance blackness, gasping no-no-no from clenched sheets. The world. The world…
I remember waking from one of these dreams–late at night. Naughty late.
I remember hearing whispers, pleas from my parent’s room down the hall. My mother and some man I did not know.
“It’s okay…” A gruff and plaintive grumble. “Frank’s asleep. Drunk asleep.”
“No, please… No, please… Ungh… Ungh…”
I remember hearing the soft sounds of crying.
When we were kids, the Parson brothers and I used to hike out to the cliffs on a daily basis. We spent years hooting through the wooded belt that largely divided the bluffs from the cash crop fields–soybeans one year, feed corn the next–that surrounded our homes. We always attached some kind of drama to what we did. We stormed hilltops and retreated into gullies. We held dead-falls for hours, running low on ammo and surrounded on all sides by hostiles. Whenever we broke clear the wooded curtain, we pretended we were survivors of something momentous, free of the Stygian wilderness at last. We would stand and blink, gasp in wonder at things unseen. A lost city. A burning gook village. The besieged company HQ.
Once we came out onto a field some farmer had abandoned to the eroding bluffs to find the Parsons’ older brother, Stevie, standing with a buddy of his, Mark, next to their dirt-bikes. But they weren’t the remarkable thing. The remarkable thing was what had made them stop and park their bikes in the first place. Gulls. Hundreds upon hundreds of gulls crowded among the swales of grass–a field of thousands.
“Shit-hawks,” we called them.
The world has the character of a Hollywood set on the cliff’s edge. Something about the way the earthen contours simply pull up short makes the framing sky and lake seem unreal, like an airbrushed backdrop.
Every cliff is a stage (and vice versa).
I remember a kind of sweaty flush, a supernatural prickle, a sense that I was witnessing something more than real. Approaching older brothers was always a dicey thing at that age–especially those with a perverse sense of humour. Stevie used to dress his little brothers up in his motorcycle gear so that he and his friends could shoot BB guns at them–kind of hilarious actually, little kids waddle-running in leathers five sizes too big, eggish helmets dragging their heads side to side. Older brothers were capricious, volatile. And as most children of most alcoholics understand, volatility was to be respected, feared.
Ordinarily we would have shrank back behind the woodline and hid. Stevie would be a commie and we would be Ranger recon, radioing in coordinates for an airstrike–something cool like that. Fucking commies anyway. But the scene was too awesome not to trust in our shared human instincts, not to know that in this one instance Stevie was safe.
This was something special. All the shit-hawks in the world, grounded before our eyes.
Sure enough, Stevie and Mark greeted us as fellow human travellers rather than the annoying vermin we were. “Can you believe it?” he called. We all stood around trading theories, feeling older than we should. The breeze combed across the open spaces, bobbing grasses, riffling the fine feathering about the gulls’ necks and breasts.
“They’re not afraid.”
“Fucking shit-hawks, man.”
“Yeah. Fucking shit-hawks.”
“I’m going to scare them,” Mark said, climbing onto his battered old Suzuki 125. “Watch!” he cried and chortled all at once. He kicked his rickety old bike to roaring life, wound it out across the powerband, then snapped the clutch. Head down, elbows out, he pealed across the grasses into the congregated gulls.
Blinking disbelief. We had seen the birds wheel away in collective flight so many times that for several moments we simply couldn’t comprehend what happened.
The birds just sat there, either unmoving, or leaping too late. Some were twisted under the wheels, broken, kicked up dead, while others were tossed up spinning, bouncing from Mark’s shining red helmet, or breaking across the handlebars. Mark continued accelerating through them, cutting a swathe of feathered ruin. Injured gulls flailed like windy litter in his wake.
Crazy fucking shit-hawks.
We stood. We stared. Then at last our shock cracked into a rush of manic laughter, a sound ambushed by the wind and carried into the sky.
Momentum. This is what carries us through instants of moral ambiguity, the mere fact that this… moves–that it never stops, at least not in any manner it can recognize.
You grin because grinning is what you do gunning down life.
Strangeness comes in clouds.
We live only a fraction of our lives, we are but a slice, which is why we are continually surprising ourselves with our knowledge. The human Dylan was oblivious, but the animal? He knew full well. It’s no coincidence that coalition psychology governs so much of the world: who’s in, who’s out, who needs to die–friend or foe–to keep the faithful in line. The pairing of trust and murder is an old and venerable evolutionary move–a means of covering your bets at the natural selection table.
Like the bet Dylan made when he confided in Cutter.
You would think the horror would lie in the commission, not the confession. But such is not the case.
Perhaps this is because we are weak. Perhaps this is because the commission never ends, that it continues, bloating until it engulfs all your subsequent actions–only to be completed in the moment of confession.
For three days, Dylan had this prickling-about-the-edges sensation of floating. Another legless criminal on the run. He worked, partied, laughed around the beach-ball crowding his lungs. And he watched Cutter, carefully enough to hate him. The fear was nothing new, since he had feared him all along.
And it confounds me still: of all the people who loved him, people who would have literally died for him, he had confided in Cutter…
I like to think I would have–I want to say ‘handled,’ but played is the more appropriate word–things differently. I like to think I would have recognized his error, given all that I Now know.
It’s no accident that things hang together in ways we cannot fathom.
Once we realize that experience trades in pieces, and once we realize that these pieces are the haphazard result of evolution, then introspection becomes a witness to a crime not seen, and phenomenology becomes the study of fundamental misapprehension.
It’s a sad fact, Jack. There’s far more ways for us to be deceived than there is for us to be right. We are only what contingency needed us to be. Horny. Persuasive.
And only sometimes true.
Would I have played things differently? Probably. Certainly.
I would have waited until everyone was together for lunch. I would have looked Thierry square in the eye, and said, “So Cutter says you saw me drive out into the fields to fuck Harley!” And the whisper would have been plain: Look at me! A goofy seventeen year old fucking the woman you’ve spent the past weeks jerking off to…
Everyone would have laughed, while Cutter frowned and hedged, surprised by this sudden about face in my character. At that very instant I would have ceased being his friend, not for any moral reason, but because what the strong prize most in the weak is their reliability. Few things are quite so untrustworthy as sudden bouts of strength.
I would draw the conversation out, the way people are prone to draw out things they take pride in. I would make like I so wanted to fuck Harley–she was so weepy and vulnerable, after all–but was just too chicken. And they would have believed me.
Everyone except Cutter, that is.
These are the things I like to think I would have done.
Dylan, for his part, just did nothing. How could he do otherwise, when he was naive enough to think that facts were immovable? He had fucked Harley.
End of story.
Guilt and reality were one. This is a signature characteristic of the weak, when you think about it: confusing what happens with ‘what happens.’
Fucking Harley was a particle of truth, as knotted and twisted with conflicting emotions–as transcendent–as only a carnal fact could be. And Cutter carried it in his pocket.
And even though the man revealed nothing of his knowledge in the presence of others, Dylan knew something disastrous had happened. He knew simply because no one, not Gilles, the imperial mouthpiece, nor Buke, the social misfit, asked him anything about his drive into the fields with Harley.
Not. A. Single. Fucking. Thing.
Each night he grimaced into his pillow. His version of rending and gnashing.
Dad asked him how his day went, and he had frozen, hunched over his pork-chop and applesauce, stoned with guilt. Years would pass before it realized how much love Dad had invested in those pork-chops, how he always smiled when he fetched the No Name applesauce from the fridge, knowing how his hungry boys would lap it up. It would make me pine for the children he had never had. “Dylan. How did your day go?” Dad repeated, and he shrugged, his shoulders pulled too high to make it convincing. “Tobacco.” And while Dad lectured him on how Jerry was actually slack, how you had to be a prick, and Jerry was a nice-guy, Dylan realized that Buke was the key. He had to ask Buke what Cutter was telling everyone.
Only he could be trusted to give him a true reflection, as bent as he was. Like all social retards, Buke was a social retard precisely because he was blind to the need to bluff and misdirect, to spin, deny and conceal. Dylan, meanwhile, would be offering him something special, the dope on what really happened, a honest-to-God conspiracy. It would be like a drug to the guy, being in the know.
Timing was the tricky part, given the communal nature of the farm. It would have to be after the kill was filled. Buke had this ritual of lingering at the hose, stripping topless to scrub his arms to the shoulder with sandsoap even though he wore long sleeve button-ups in the field. “The girls need to know that Piggy is cut,” Cutter had cracked from the very first.
You could just tell that it had worked for him before, that Buke had actually scored this or that ‘Pig’ (he always had these stories that started with a nasally, “So there was this one fucking pig–hoo-hoooo, man, you wouldn’t believe…”) because of this hilarious display. He even leaned backwards to lower his arms to the water,  so he could display his washboard abdomen. No fisherman scorns his most reliable lure.
Yeah, Dylan decided. He would ask then, when everyone fled his chiselled abs and pectorals.
You would think the prospect of this caper would preoccupy Dylan’s thoughts at work the day following. But THC precluded this sort of sustained resolve, accumulated like a kind of fur on the inside of his skin, silky, so that his determination seemed to slip in increments across an interval of anxiety. Everyone played along in the old raucous ways. Only a structural redistribution of eye-contact seemed to mark the transformation: a tendency to flinch from his gaze, a greater inclination to share glances between. Gilles always watching. Thierry grinning even more manically. Buke snorting with the boldness of a born-again Christian. But even in the bunkroom during lunch, in the very penumbra of his dilemma, his resolution stumbled, not so much demoted as deflated.
Oh yeah… I planned on talking to him…
This was literally what he told himself glimpsing Buke with Gilles and Kyle at the day’s end, and he believed it, this insouciant tone, as if it had been a casual commitment casually made. He even smiled as if to tell himself, What a crazy fucker–one of those not-so-passing observations people use to paint over cowardice with faux-normalcy. That’s the thing about smoking dope chronically: it freights the directions around you, puffing you like lint toward the potato chips, sopping you in lead walking toward the fields, freezing you in cement at the prospect of anything emotionally fraught. Dope exaggerates the topography of fear and desire and so makes palpable the Labyrinth, the maze of natural and conditioned antipathies that traps us all.
Fuck it, he told himself. Tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow.
Nevertheless he found himself half-ass tracking the three men at a tangent, walking to his programmed-to-self-destruct (according to Cutter) Mustang so that he could watch them around the lee of the tractor shed, where the hose and informal clean-up station were located. His car glowed like a baby-blue lozenge and was too hot to touch. He mooned in and about it, cranking the doors as if to cool the interior, pretending to fuck with his tape case. Buke was always quick in peeling off his shirt so he could catch the girls as they filed to their vehicles, but Gilles loitered, asking Buke something the Frenchman evidently found funny, his head tilted back at a 22 degree angle, his laugh infectious.
“Love those titties!” Missy called in singsong, dragging her feet across the gravel, not even looking at the weirdo. Buke laughed like an epileptic geezer, scrubbing his arms, which, thanks to his tobacco-gummed hands, were dirtier than when he began. Dylan suddenly realized the peril of what he was about to do. It’s a peculiar thing fencing with someone who broadcasted across the full spectrum of fitness indicators the way Cutter did. No matter how thoroughly you might command the heights of your message, you just knew the fucker owned the basement. The foundation. Dylan had no doubt that Buke hated Cutter, despised him. The questions was whether he hungered for his approval more. What makes losers losers is their bottomless capacity to suffer assholes–even fall in love with them. Had Buke succumbed to his instinct to ingratiate? Or had Cutter, realizing that Buke was a potential weak link, gone out of his way to promote him, offering up Dylan as the new loser in his stead? This was the possibility that brought Dylan up short. To be clear, it wasn’t as though he ‘knew’ any of this so much as he found himself suddenly shying from the prospect–terminally so. We do this all the time, target or shun others according to vast informatic assessments we know only as flutters of dread, sparks of interest. Forever referencing charts we cannot read, navigating environments we cannot see.
Gilles finally hied across the lane toward the bunkhouse door, talking to himself in that talking-to-others way, staring at Dylan with the look of someone who takes pride in knowledge of other’s misfortunes. Dylan found breathing impossible during its duration. Then the puff-faced Frenchman slouched into the bunkroom gloom, his shout for beer and toke halved by the screech and crash of the screen door. Missy blew Dylan a kiss as she drove by. Frankenhead and Ghetto drove away with the same angry, pot-bellied man who always picked them up, smiling and talking to each other, somehow beautiful for wearing kerchiefs.
Buke began scrubbing his pits with far too much enthusiasm. It really was remarkable, the contrast of his physique: as if the moral perfection of his body had squeezed his spiritual deformity into the whacked-out ugliness of his face. The late-afternoon sun angled across the lane that separated the shed and the barn, illuminating all the drifting bugs, backlighting Buke and his ivory torso, making a golden halo of his no-fixed-address hairstyle.
Fuck it, some impulse prodded. Fuck. It.
Dylan began walking toward the freak. Music blared from the nearby bunkhouse, Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” crushed into aural tinfoil for being forced through too small speakers. Ask and be done with it. Fuck. Buke stared at him while labouring at his pits, all teeth, gums, and grinning beneath crazed muppet eyes. Dylan made to call out but swallowed the urge when Buke began crooning, “Hee… Hee… Hee…”
Dylan tried to smile around his confusion, even as it mutated into horror.  He assumed an amiable, contrite expression, one which swore up and down that he was innocent, someone inadvertent, even accidental. Years of social groping would be required before he grasped the decisive link between confidence and cruelty–before he learned that you never hold out your hat to the likes of Buke, especially when they were gunning for ways to trump you.
“Hee… Hee… Hee.”
Like out of some nightmare.
Every so often, whenever Buke said something more creepy than stupid, Cutter would say, “Somebody hand that boy a banjo.” Dylan would be years catching up with the reference (Deliverance–again), but it was still the first thing he thought standing in the white dust watching the man… laugh, or whatever he was fucking doing.
Hand that boy a banjo.
A sudden gravel roar swallowed up his inability to speak, the bass line throttle of an accelerating 318. Jerry’s Dodge barged between him and the laughing madman, pastel with dust, surreal with mass density and volume, and near-miss enough to reek of aggression.
Dust drifted and coiled like semen in the toilet bowl. A different sweat slicked him, this one sour with dread. He ducked to see Jerry in the cockpit gloom of the interior, ensconced in fabric and padded vinyl. Usually the big man asked if he would help out with this or that: Jerry was always big on pretexts even when there was no one around to fool. This time he simply said, “C’mon,” in a voice as rough as his unshaven jaw. He had the funny-eye thing going, where people seem to be looking around things directly before them–not for any inability, but for a lack of motivation.
Dylan climbed in, bounced swayed as the big man gunned the truck hard enough to jam the passenger door against his fingers, hard enough to feel the differential inertia pull at his head. He glimpsed Buke next to the tractor shed, still digging at his left armpit, still chimp-grinning.
Knowing. Knowing is what inscribes the circles around us, the wires that fence, bundle, and garrote. Knowing what sounds to make, clothes to wear, expressions to maintain–and knowing who to pair with trust, ridicule, praise and hate. The real reason we bluff and bluster isn’t to be envied or respected, but to be counted, to signal that we belong to those in the know. Think of the fear in your classroom, the dim horror of knowing last.
Dylan didn’t so much opt for pretense as a flee to it. He clutched the dash, rocking, stifled the momentary conviction that Jerry was gathering speed to better wrap them around some tree–one of the hoary old maples that so reminded him of the Shire and Middle-earth. He couldn’t bring himself to ask what was wrong. He couldn’t bring himself to glance at the man’s face. He could only pretend, it seemed, make-believe that this was simply another expedition to the pond–more urgent perhaps, but still identical in its ‘po-po me’ function. The Dodge reared and bucked, but floated down the whipping lanes all the same, the tires buffeted as though by swinging pillows. The engine alternately wound out and roared. The cassette deck remained mute. Dylan wondered whether Jerry had stashed the shotgun he had once mentioned under his seat. He marvelled that Al Pacino could be so melodramatic, or Michele Pfieffer so flat-chested. He wondered whether inanity ruled the thoughts of everyone called out by doom, whether everybody lied when they recount what went through their beans the moment before they almost died. Trivia. Crap. Tinsel. Things they dare not tell their weeping wives.
The Dodge was off-road dancing by time they swerved toward the pond. The seats squeaked and wheezed. The cab rattled like a puzzle box: a thousand loose facts–bolts, nails, tools, smoke-packs, cans–bounced beneath the seat and across the dash and floor. Dirt pelted the wheelwells, sounding like pulses of CBC applause. Jerry grunted, worked the steering wheel with a violence only partially warranted by the combination of terrain and speed. Then they were coasting, crawling forward the way they always had, rolling to a dog-whine stop beside the banks of sumac and ragweed and goldenrod. The meaty hands continued to knead the wheel. There was something dopey, heavy-lidded about his look, the kind of lost soul inebriation you see on war reels, great grandfathers caught the instant before they stagger. Whiskey was the first thing Dylan smelled. Jerry continued gripping the steering wheel, as though expecting an imminent hairpin turn. The silence of an idling American-engineered engine. The big man closed his eyes, shook his head, caught one of those deep liquor burps between his chin and chest, just one fume away from puking.
“Tell me–” Emotion cinched his voice into a croak. He paused to gather his wits or breath. Volcanic, idling silence. He turned, leaned to hork out the window. He hung there for an instant, working a length of spittle off his tongue. There was almost something bored and contemplative about his face in the sun’s spotlight. He looked young and feminine, his skin pale, his lashes long. When he finally turned to Dylan, his expression was bland as a small business.
“Tell me you didn’t fuck my wife.” 
Jerry was as physically powerful as any man I have known, but for some reason Dylan felt no fear–even as its inability to answer became his answer, even as lunacy crawled into the big man’s little-boy face.
Knowledge as anguish.
Jerry exploded in action-flick slow motion. He roared and hammered the steering wheel again and again with his fists. Wham-wham-wham! Dylan did not so much as flinch, even though he knew he would be next, even though the memory of the man’s explosive strength hummed through his body, made an aura of his personal space. “Beaten to death,” some uniformed stranger told Dad in his mind’s eye, even though Dylan knew the big man was not so much beating a surrogate as an extension of his real foe: existence. “Nothing!” he shrieked, one of those mucous roars that suck the taste of copper from the back of your throat. “Nothing! Nothing!” One of his blows struck the horn, a full-bodied howl like those you hear in old movies. And it stuck, wailed and wailed in continuous warning.
Screaming profanities, Jerry popped the hood and shouldered open the door. The pick-up rocked on its four wheel independent suspension. Dylan watched him, windshield remote, vanish behind the glaring hood, sobbing, searching for some plug to pull.
Dylan could think of nothing to say. So he stepped out, dust puffing about his ratty tennis shoes. Summer tingled. The horn shrieked. The world was on fire.
He struck out toward the farm on foot. And I walked between the rows you know so well.
Across the fields. Beneath the sun.
The world had smell again, and it sickened me, so I paused to light a smoke. A Player’s Light. I breathed deep the sharp and blue, exhaled the fuzzy and grey.
That always did the trick. Tobacco for tobacco.
It’s all a matter of processing.
To this day the sound of certain horns seem to pass through the tissue of hearing and strike bone… the very architecture of who I am.
Strange, the ways it remembers. The gravity of things.
 It flows through all things.
 It lacks the ability to conceive the hundreds of millions of neurons involved in processing the word ‘conceive.’
 It observes these very words happening.
We are overmatched.
Sure, our heads are stuffed with myriad cogs that allow us to intervene in our environments in miraculous ways, but they are so horrifically synoptic, so removed from the supercomplex stochastic soup that is the world. And we are privy to so few of their activities.
Life has always walked the forking paths of conceit and knowledge. And for the longest time, we thought those paths ran parallel, that their innumerable branches crossed and perhaps even twined in this or that narrative of redemption. But they have wandered so very far apart, and we have been spread so tragically thin. There is no escaping the conceit, and there is no denying the knowledge.
But you will, clown  that you are. It’s your hardwired mandate.
I used to spend quite some time discoursing on sentimentalism in my classes, on the way mass culture slavishly reproduces cartoon representations of human emotion. But no matter how ingenious my lectures, no matter how I primed their expectations, it was always the same, year after year–especially when I taught Notes from Underground. “Nothing happens,” the rows complained. “All he does is whine,” they asserted.
And I would be mystified. “Sounds like somebody,” I would say, “needs to discover their inner traitor.”
For years I told myself that fear was the culprit, that these kids were so invested in their mythic concept of self that they instantly repudiated anything that threatened it. Humans, after all, are generally allergic to complexity–unless our mastery of it gives us one up on our interpretative competitors.
I liked this story, and why not? when it cast me in such a flattering light: the old master holding high his light, revealing the deformities of the modern soul.
When I finally realized that my campaigns to teach critical thinking were not simply bankrupt, but subreptive through and through–when I finally realized I was simply teaching yet another generation how to more effectively rationalize, how to hone rather than overcome their cognitive greed, I understood: I knew nothing about the very soul my vocation presumed.
What if introspective access varies between individuals? What if most people simply cannot discriminate the complexities writhing and worming within them? What if I had spent all this time castigating these kids, looking down on them, for their wilful refusal to remember who they were (let alone recognize themselves in the works I called ‘literature’), when in point of fact I was talking about things that did not exist for them? What if people think pop songs are deep, not because they ‘don’t know any better,’ but because the horizon of their thalamocortical system can reach no farther?
What if all the ways we go crazy are simply part of the experiment, our genes creeping out along various possibilities of recursive encapsulation, casting different topologies of consciousness like dice across the table of the world?
Now the flattering thing to say is that we happy few see further, deeper, into experiential truths that elude the intellectual muggles. That our conflict and confusion is the marker of our neurophysiological superiority–most of us secretly think as much anyway. Pre-emptive self-loathing will only take you so far.
But what does this mean, saying that our experiential confusion is the truth of their experiential clarity? Does it mean there’s an experiential ‘truth of love,’ say, that the love they feel, unto biblical hysterics–hair-rending, dust-throwing, teeth-gnashing–is somehow false? Somehow less?
What would a ‘false emotion’ look like?
Or do we take a separate but equal approach? Do we relinquish the yardstick buried in all our fine discriminations? Issue department bulletins warning professors not to discriminate on the basis of a student’s ability to introspectively discriminate. Say that flat characters are every bit as legitimate, every bit as realistic, as round?
I’m not sure I can make heads or tails of this. All I know is that these uncomfortable facts are piling up in the back of the cultural brain… like lead or mercury.
That you are becoming less and less tenable.
And me? I’m just the drunk at the funeral, the one who works so hard at mourning he can only laugh.
The guy who shits in the baggie.
 Even this very moment, reading this very text, is both it and a consequence of it.
The horn wailing.
Walking the rows, thinking of Harl and Jerry standing together, how a tingle of fear would drop through him because he was so big and she was so small. The way she could cow him, as slight as she was in his shadow, an image so beautiful he could cry, how hers was the bigger fury–
The horn wailing.
Desolate people. When they were decent, when they truly cared, they had to be desolate to do what she had done, didn’t they? They had to be betrayed in a thousand indirect ways. They had to be repaying to do what they did. And someone so cool as Harley–so fucking awesome–they had to be wronged first… Didn’t they? Jerry. He had brought this on himself. She clenches her buttocks across his cock, and he sees the TV glow across her wet cheeks. Each step jarred an image of him, rosy lipped and clownish, every bit as stupid as Cutter had said, roaring at him out of the darkness, and decking him? are you fucking kidding me? Jerry was an idiot and a drunk, and somehow knowing it, fucking tripping around knowing he was in over his head, because he was, fucking everything up, he was, there was nothing to debate. And taking it out on Harley, the real crime, what he had done to her, the things. How much she’d suffered, he could only imagine, screaming in that dingy little living room, weeping over linoleum. Her gaze lingering on things shining and sharp. The Things He Had Done. That’s what made Dylan what he was. The tonic. The cure. An avenging wife-fucking angel! A video. Crashing guitars. A room so ancient the floor is ridged and rounded according to the hardness of various coloured marbles, the differential resistance to millions of scuffing feet, and he’s fucking her the way he did watching Gilligan’s Island, his chest flattered by lighting, his hair windswept–
The horn wailing.
A fraud. Staring–while the guy cried for fuck’s sake–at his shoe prints where he had stepped out of the pickup to hoist his pants–what a fucking idiot move that had been, getting out of the truck, where any skulker could fucking see him. Had anyone seen into the truck? No. No. The glare had shielded them, the glorious sun. He could remember the glare dialing across his high periphery while he stared down and watched her swallow him again and again, a delirious miracle–
The horn wailing.
Cutter. He had thought his name from the beginning of course, from the instant Jerry had spoken, Cutter had snitched, fucking stabbed him the back. Mother. Fucker. And even Now, walking down the rows, the leaves a procession of sticky fronds, touching him like he was blessed and they were beggars in the street, even Now he could not quite believe what he knew without reservation–
The horn wailing.
It was just him and the field for a moment, the soil munificent beneath his feet, the air hot and deep and chemical tinctured. The leaves lapping, springing back to turgid form. Rows of radial green, puckered in the sun, sopping, heavy with engineering, fanning out in Euclidean glory, into something children could clearly see flying at cruising altitude to some American city–
The horn wailing.
He did not want to think. He made a sound.
The horn wailing.
So you decide to trust. You take your social fate, crumple it into a little ball and you say, ‘Here, you take it.’ And you don’t just give it to just anyone. He felt it then, the webbing inside, the great nets used to keep all the performers safe, he felt it all yank away, and he understood the fear of heights, the vertigo of falling from grace. It all yawed about him, the consequences. He reeled for all the confrontations, all the lies, all the mouths that would form his name from the clay of ill-willed exhalations. Step. Dad roaring, hammering the table, his face red and implacable with the-rage-that-always-won. Step. The farmhouse in the distance, a placid cube, shadowed accordingly, eggshell thin, with a woman curled on a cheap double in an upstairs bedroom. Step. Cutter grinning, shaking his gaze at God Almighty. Stop–
The horn wailing.
He paused breathing, stared down the gentle slope of the gentle earth, gazed across the spilled blocks of the kilns, to the barns, equipment or otherwise. The lanes seemed gravelled in chalk. The trees seemed to hunch over nocturnal pools–
The horn wailing.
He began running. The leaves swatting him like a playing card over whirring spokes. Low impact earth. It all comes to us from the outside, every fucking instant of This… stitched together, sutured into almost seamless wholes. His stride evened and the world steadied, the near hurtling about-behind-beneath, the far crawling around, becoming motionless as it climbed the quilted horizon. It becomes one unto itself for the mere lack of anything intervening. The brain has no taste. Running fluidly, as only the young can run, breathing easily, but feeling the loping effort consume his wind, demand more and more and more. A thing hoisted about an amnesiac hole, continually forgetting its physically mandated division, and so appearing as a perpetual whole. Running not out of fear or alarm or anything more easy than obvious, but for loss and losing. What it has to be like, from the locus of a integrated information system embedded within and utterly dependent upon something far vaster. Harley. He had to speak to her, he had to make sure she was alright, he had to take her away. All there could be for such a system is what passed within and through it–nothing more. This place was no longer safe, not for a fallen wife, a wanton boy-fucker, who in the imaginations of the primers had to hunger for all of them. What was encapsulated–
The horn wailing.
Consciousness is simply what happens when the absence of absence binds information together–
The horn wailing.
Into the kilnyard, still running, but clinging to his momentum, so that his feet and arms wagged like a staggering doll’s, leaning against his knees, sucking air, listening to the hiss and rumble of the kill-kill-kiln furnaces, the rattle-rush of their fans. Listening to them cure, recovering his wind in grimaces–
The horn wailing, somewhere over the curve of the world.
He risked the gravel lanes, slouched to the barn. His thighs burned. His lungs ached, the sky was so kife. Rather than open the screen door to the bunkroom he called through it. He could see them, the primers, hunched like socialist conspirators around the table, talking in low serious tones. It was his turn to pull a heavy.
The horn wailing nasal with distance, on and on, like an alarm clock in an empty house. Jerry sitting in the dust, weeping, waving his smoke in random, collapsing ovals. Sucking blue.
“Cutter,” Dylan called.”Come on out here. I need to talk to you…”
Remarkable, really, the amount of self-possession he expressed in that moment. But that’s the thing about guilt: it makes you cold. We forget that courage is a function of self-preservation like everything else. Another way to preserve information.
“Wierdsma…” the man said booting the door open the way everyone did. “Imagine that. We were just talking about you…”
“Imagine that,” Dylan repeated, retreating from the door, walking down the drive where it bordered the side of the barn.
It always starts before it starts, the ‘you-no-you’ yo-yo. We carry it in our tone and our posture, the mien of the persecuted, teeth gritted behind a slack face, gaze daring. Before mouthing the voice of God, you must ape His attitude.
Not so different from this…
“So waz up?” Cutter asked,
A nervous glance at the screen door, a why-bother sigh. Privacy was irrelevant, Dylan realized, but the habits of discretion are the hardest habits of all. The thin blare of the radio–Tears for Fears–relieved him.
“You told him,” Dylan said.
Shout, the radio rasped. Let it all out…
Cutter squinted. A heartbeat of silent laughter, then the man remembered himself. “He’s my friend. Who the fuck are you?”
Fist balled beneath an accusing finger. Eyes wagging heavenward. “You thu-thu-thought wrong.”
“No, you! You’re the fuck–”
“Let me guess. I be-be-betrayed you? Listen to yourself! You fucked her, man.” He wrapped his expression around something like outrage and astonishment, but his teeth were too carnivorous to make it convincing. “You fucked Harley!”
Inside versus outside.
(So where were you?)
Even in this reversal, Cutter was utterly consistent. Convenience had always been the axiom of his coalition building; as soon as his friendship with Dylan became inconvenient he suddenly realized that Dylan had never been his friend. An enviable genius if you think about it. Guilt ties us to so many fools.
Those of you who’ve been in fist-fights know that things are rarely clear in instances of physical confrontation. The boundary between words and blows is far muddier than any law or fiction allows. You never think, “And Now I’m going to hit him,” you simply find yourself hitting him. One second you’re standing there talking, shouting, the next second you’re standing there whaling–as if the transition were as natural and inevitable as your bodily functions.
Dylan cracked Cutter hard in the cheek, and he staggered back, arms and elbows raised to shield his face. Savagery had seized Dylan, as vicious and pointed as all animal acts.
“Fucker!” he spat, speaking the word in its native voice. “Cocksucker!”
Perhaps it was outrage. Perhaps it was the arm-wrestles that had emboldened him. Perhaps it was love. Either way, for a moment Dylan was utterly certain that he could pound Cutter, hammer him into abject submission, show him who was stronger–who was right.
Then it hit him the way it always did–the hesitation. His fists suddenly became light, balloon buoyant.
Those of you who’ve been in numerous fist fights know how it works, how winning evaporates, becomes a disjoint dance of strikes fouled by strikes…
How it steams into losing.
Haze. Decoupled shock. There’s no pain–too much adrenalin for that. Just concussions stripped to their physical essentials. Tissue deforming, springing back. Capillaries snapping, shearing like rebar in mammalian concrete. Edemas forming.
Confusion and disorientation. The first real pain came from scraping his palms on the gravel as he toppled out of a pirouette. His body clutched and cringed to protect itself from the boots to the face, but aside from a certain heat and thickness, the kicks were devoid of content. He could have been a cardboard box–
The horn wailing.
He remembered the sound of gravel cracking beneath workboots, tasting dust across his gums, blood welling about a loosened tooth. He remembered huddling beneath Cutter’s sun-spliced shadow, cramps of grief and outrage where thought should have been. A fetal curl, like Jerry against his tire, or Harley across her bed. It seemed no posture could be more natural–more true.
Cutter laughed the way a hockey player might after a great shift on the ice. Just a game, but still…
“Pu-pu-pu-pussy!” he cackled. “Proud of yourself, eh? Eh?” He spat into the grass, laughed. “Fucking pussy faggot.”
Then he ambled away, hunched against the breeze to light another cigarette.
Dylan drove home trying not to cry. What-the-fuck. What-the-fuck. The catechism of the injured, of those who make weals of their sins. What-the-fuck, hissed without the question mark, because it was not a question at all. The child in us knows that we always deserve what we get–simply because we got it.
We all have beatings written into us.
A million years of them.
Remember this the next time you flinch.