I can’t look at him, she told me then turned and severed the line of bodies at the register as she made her way to the back door.
I followed her through the rear of the building into the rutted parking lot where she stopped, leaning against the fence with a stiff arm, her purse dropping to her elbow, head down, giving the impression of a decapitated creature exhausted from some fruitless search. I reached for her shoulder. She was trembling. Samantha, I whispered and any words that might have followed failed to render. I just can’t stand it, she said. I know. It kills me to see him; he’s gone, gone like he’s dead and that’s some hideous ghost who has stolen his face. He’s just sick, Sam. I know what the fuck is happening; don’t treat me like a child. She started sobbing, her body convulsing against the palm of my hand. She resisted briefly as I pulled her close to me. This isn’t like cancer where he’ll be sick and suffer and then get well. She was pushing the words through some boundary within herself, the struggle leaving residual bits of pain on each damaged sound that fell from her mouth as if they had no intention of leaving and wanted nothing to do with the world beyond the dark cavern of her body. The tears soaked my shoulder. The sun faded. We stood that way for a very long time. I don’t remember when we finally made it back to the car.
A pair of head-banded young men in loin cloths appeared stretched and distorted across the upper half of the wall via his perspective at the rear of the room.
They were cutting the hide from a buffalo with the vast horizon reaching into the corner of the lecture hall. The mural spanned the entire perimeter, young black haired papoose yoked women, steely eyed men pointing into an imperceptible distance, a circle of blanketed people passing a long feather adorned pipe, tipis, yucca, a Franciscan friar holding a crucifix in one hand, the other palming the bowed head of a native, the eyes of those around him filled with blank fear. He leaned closer to Clark’s ear, Doesn’t this strike you as slightly morbid? Morbid? Clark asked. We’re here to look at a first edition King James Bible, Clark. Clark tilted back from him with a tight quizzical frown, I don’t get it. The mural, Clark. Oh, he said and gave the room a survey. We’re here to see a bible, Clark—“the” fucking bible. Don’t start with this, Derrick. I’m just saying. I know what yer saying. It doesn’t seem disrespectful to you? Just stop it. Fine. When the pear-shaped lecturer announced with toothy humor that he had very little knowledge of the history of the King James Bible before the university requested he give the talk, Derrick patted Clark on the shoulder then quietly slipped out of the room.
We met in the steaming shadow of an aspen grove not a hundred yards from the river.
The sound of the water on the rocks hovered around us. Stanley hadn’t bothered with a blindfold this time and I was only now recovering from the anxiety of its absence. As we slalomed the green-white trunks, the spongy forest floor beneath our feet, Ivan materialized before us with the sorcery of a snake. He smiled and offered his open hand. Good to see you, he said. Likewise, I told him. We only have about fifteen minutes, he said and sat on a lichen covered boulder and patted the spot near him for me to join. Stanley turned about and wandered toward the morning glow fingering the edge of the hill to the east. I wasted no time and placed the recorder between us and began, So you will defend this forest with firearms? Of course. You must know that to many of my readers this will sound extreme. Most of your readers don’t know the meaning of extreme; they are digested in the belly of extremism and yet refuse to see it. Tell me why a forest? why not a group of endangered bears or some such? What is the difference? Well—. Let me explain a few things, Rick: we are but one on a list of billions of organisms on this planet, possibly third on the list in population but first in cognizance with full knowledge of how fragile nature is; human culture isn't fragile in any way; the smart ape can take a beating; no one ever talks about that, how the human organism as a whole can take a vicious ass kicking and come back to build civilizations that will eventually butcher one another until power is balanced... elephants can't do that; as intelligent and—within a slim list of parameters—more advanced than us as they are, they are deprived of the right to protection? no, sir; in fact, if we choose to examine it as such, it becomes a political issue; you think politics is weird now, wait till whooping cranes get to lobby for the end of their hunting season; but if someone is gonna poison elephants and the consensus is those elephants should be protected, I elect to use the full strength of our weaponry: guns; guns are a natural development of human culture; if human culture chooses to use that advancement to protect defenseless life, I'm prepared to step flatfooted onto that slippery slope, sir, and defend these trees; see, it's about empathizing with defenseless forms of life; there is no need to level these trees, not anymore; we can build homes and furniture and anything we damn well imagine out of other more renewable things; we're a big stupid organism in the throes of spasms of growing pains, the psychosis of gaining wisdom; there's a balance coming, Rick, I just don't think you and I will get to see it even though we will have built it.
There's a scream from the end of the alley
His coffee radiating his knuckles
Barely a thought given to the sound
He lights a smoke and stares down the morning shadows
Until she arrives with notebooks and gadgets
She crosses her legs
She's wearing large black shades
She is aloof
He hears another scream from the end of the alley
There's what starts as an exquisite Miles Davis flurry and becomes an angry black voice tearing through a single boulder shaped beat pounding out the Doppler through the intersection
Is that a scream?
She's on her phone
Her fingers an argumentative bramble
The sun is rising behind him
The shadows slink
That's not screaming
She reverses the cross in her legs
He smiles at her big black glasses and waits for more laughter from the end of the alley
Chrysalis, a growing collection of very short fiction.
Unless noted, all pics credited to Skitz O'Fuel.