Jesse S. Mitchell
It is a progressive era. We are a progressive people. The world is changing and challenging. I throw an American cigarette up to my lips and light it in a flash of blue-orange flame. I close the door and look down the hallway to the door out to the street. I become apprehensive. All those monstrous cars and scooters spewing out their fumes, their smoke slithering around everything and strangling, ruining the cherry trees and rhododendrons and roses. Now is a new time. A time like no other. Right now and in the middle of it I stand, like a thin piece of straw in the eye of a hurricane. French air, it smells so sweet as the Virginia tobacco smoke wafts up into it and carries me away. One war won in 1945, another one lost in 1956 and now, 1962, a colony lost and the empire of the Gauls is all the better for it. I watch the yellow light bulb sway on its chain. The door next to mine opens and out looks a pair of shifty, blood shot eyes.
“Oh it is you, yes, yes, that was the noise. You cannot be too careful, no.”
“I guess not.”
“So out you go into the sighing sisterhood of Parisian society then, my good man.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“Stripping the bark off the twigs, which ones spotted and clean, ey? Oh yes, you know that, that Marilyn is dead today?”
“Okay, I will see you later.”
“Stay careful. They breathe just like you and I, but their eyes…their eyes give it all away.”
I walk down the hall to the door. I pick up my pace. I can tell the rain is soon to come because my hip is starting to hurt. I can feel the gentle ache that is always there start to transform into a big time yowling rage of pain. This means the rain will come soon and it always has…it has been this way since the day my leg was ruined. Laying beneath a pile of bloodied and wet bodies in the Warsaw Ghetto, I hid, a small boy…frayed and cowardly, shaking and sweaty but alive. It was there that the hard boot step of a tall blond Nazi stepped hard on the edge of the pile and crushed what was my left hip. I lie there in the quiet. I didn’t allow myself even a tiny shriek. I simply kept still and wrestled with myself and my hurts and shames. The German walked on, gun held high in his dirty hands. He didn’t ever know I was there. I watched from under my pile. He walked but a few steps, when out of no where the fiery cocktail of some heroic Polish Partisan tore off the better part of his face, down to the skully bone, and set his uniform ablaze. I could see the bony grin of his expiring face. I cried out in thanks silently and watched as he fell backwards, madly firing his weapon up into heaven. The wounded animal dying before my big five year old eyes. The rain is going to fall out of this sky at any second now. I can feel it down in my bones and joints. I open the door and fling myself outside into the gently warming sun. The sun is our savior. I know what liveth in my life. I know my place. The beautiful world unfolds as if for the very first time ever, creation renewed, and all is brand new and just for me. It is all gifted to my weak and lusty senses. A gift of flesh and blood and glory and shiny shiny things, moving at half speed. It makes a little wicked smile stretch across my face as I breathe out cigarette smoke. Tortured and scared, dubious and wild, but still alive.
I pass under the yellow dangling light bulb, like a silent star swinging over my head. My eyes begin to feel sandy. The effects of another sleepless night. At night when I sleep, I dream, and when I dream the terrors come and that will not do, so I do not sleep if I can help it, so that I do not dream. Inside my head my tired mind babbles to me and the clouds of confusion rise up in a wall on the horizon of my imagination and the lighting of depression strikes and soon I will be left vacant and numb. I find myself in a Prufrock state of mind…etherized on a table. I take two benzedrines from my inside jacket pocket and slip them into my mouth as I pass the big glass window walls of the concierge and quickly walk out the door into the street. Beat my brain into submission, make myself whole, make my eyes alive and not a part of all this death. Black black, bleak and evil, the wicked wickedness of all this death and shadow, shroud wrapped around everything like gift wrapping for the morbid and moribund. I put the benzedrines beneath my tongue. They are not sublingual but I find they work this way best. I leave them resting under my tongue before I swallow them down. At first they will give me euphoria and a release from the lethargic giant that swells inside but before long they simply will leave me numb. And soon they will give way to paranoia and make my body shake and sweat and I will call out to the heavenly creatures to grant me back the numbness and then I will take more to recapture the euphoria and think I can no longer go on, all before I break down again and find myself a broken up and wadded up piece of tissue paper. The light of the sun tears away at my blood shot eyes. A parlor game. The dreadful energy beating down on me from high up in space and sky. The heat from the sun burns me. It tears my flesh, rays of light stabbing and cutting into my soft uncovered face. My eyes cannot adjust to the light. I must go down the street. If I am to find Millicent…I must go down these streets. If I am to do anything at all, if I, if I…oh, I must go down to the Vert-Galant or the Quais, that is where I will find her. She will be with all the clochards, celebrating the nothing…the nothing that they do, all the nothings and nothingness and nothingnesses. Multilingual tigers and beasts singing songs under the cover of universal things, telling truths to each other and waiting for the darkness to come and make the truths truthful. We all pay our price. My mind is mine alone and the stories that I let out are few. The sun above burns me whole as I walk down the street. I wish with hands held up in supplication for the rain. Step, step, step, right and left, I am too alert, I can feel every movement I make. My mind shrinks and twists. I can feel an attack coming on. My body will shake me down to the ground. Flop and flop on the dirty earth at my feet. I feel the headache coming on. My brain will open up and confuse my eyes. Oh the things I can see when I shake. This is when the monsters come out, the monsters in my mind. A car whips by me, too close, but the wind cools and the excitement, even if momentary, relieves. I hate everything that makes me numb. If I can feel it then I can handle it. And here come the paper doll people. They walk down the street with me and toward me. They are everywhere. I cannot see a spark of life in them…I look and look in their eyes, I watch their eyes and their movements and I cannot see the light of life in them. I grow scared. I do not like being around all of this. I cannot walk in the midst of this. I sit down on a bench and put my head in my hands and wait, wait, wait for the streets to clear out again. I cannot be surrounded by these ghosts, all the ghastly phantoms moving from here to there, from work to home, from school to kitchen, from birth to grave. I cannot stop the screaming of my mind in the midst of them…I can almost feel them when they near me. They feel so empty. Touch the empty places inside. Ah, I wait for the streets to clear out but I must move on and I know it. I must do what I came out to do. I cannot see their light. Little candles all snuffed out…little beautiful candle lights parading in a line but now all extinguished in tiny whiffs of smoke and soot. A dirty world. A broken down and bruised world filled with pieces of things pulled off and cast aside…pieces of things that no longer can fit together. A deliberate shipwreck world, nothing but water-logged bone and stained rags. The thought makes me shudder. The thought makes some parts of reality so much more clear. You are commerce, world, and I am nothing but diversion. You are complete and I am just so threadbare…filled up with holes. My mind writes the stories filled with the holes and bits and pieces and the words of unpleasant truths. The unspoken tales of the fiends and hidden things in my head. The skeleton man shakes his bony hands at me in the dark of my mind. I close my eyes to the passing people. I let them go. I stand up. I leave behind my bench. New strength flows into me and I can leave the world to its own ways. My steps return to me. I can walk.