illustrated by rhoda penmarq
part forty-nine of fifty-two
click here to begin at the beginning
"don't gulp your coffee, conrad."
"i'm sorry, mother. but i am in a hurry."
"a hurry? about what?"
"why, about appearing in court again."
mrs collinson put her own coffee cup down. "again? about what this time?"
"why - the same matter as last night."
"but mister perkins straightened that all out."
conrad cleared his throat. "mister perkins did a great job getting me out of the station house last night. but now i have to appear before another judge this morning."
mrs collinson just stared at him.
"some tiresome nonsense about posting bail," conrad added apologetically.
Enid stood and watched the glowing green thing go up, up, up, getting smaller and smaller and smaller against the starry night sky, and then it started to come down again, swerving and twirling, getting bigger and brighter.
Sometimes it would dip out of sight behind a hill or rise, but then it would swoop up and all around again.
Then it pulled a K-turn and headed in a curvy line over to the west toward the mountains, flying low, ducking in between the foothills like a football player with the ball, and then it disappeared.
Enid stood there looking out toward the dark mass of the mountains, waiting to see the green disc shoot up, but there was nothing.
Then all of a sudden it just seemed to come out of nowhere from up above, diving right toward her, and she tensed up, frozen, it came closer, getting bigger and bigger, and it whooshed right by a few feet over her head in a wave of electric heat that made her scalp tingle, and she turned and saw it veer up and over the neighboring hill and then disappear again off in the direction of the Johnstone spread.
She stood there a minute, looking up, turning all around, feeling slightly dizzy, her neck aching, her hair feeling like a cheap wig on her head.
The thing was gone and it didn’t come back. Had it crashed somewhere out there?
A big dark cloud passed overhead, blocking out the stars, and she sensed something behind her. She turned and saw a big circle in the dirt where the saucer had been. Everything on the ground within the circle was green, and glowing. Then the cloud passed by, the stars came out, the circle lost its color as if someone had thrown a switch.
She headed over to her truck, digging her keys out of her jeans pocket.
She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and the hair felt funny. She held the strand out and looked at it. It was frizzy as all hell.****
So the new spaceman on the TV gives me these instructions and I duly start punching buttons again and twirling knobs and dials but I’m so nervous and I have to pee so badly that I guess I screwed it up again because now his screen goes blank. Nothing. Blank. And not a sound. You see this ship was really very quiet, just a faint deep humming noise, but I can see on the big wraparound TV that we are still flying madly all over the place.
Okay, Daphne, I say to myself. Just get a hold of yourself. First off, you simply must pee.
So, I look around. And I see this metal grill on the floor over there. I go over to it, pull my pants and drawers down, squat down and let loose. I let it loose and I take out my cigarettes and light one up. And I can feel myself getting a grip on myself finally. I mean, what a relief. Sometimes it’s so simple, isn’t it? Just to take a good quiet pee when you really have to, and then if you have a cigarette also -- I don’t know, you just feel as if you can face the world and its travails with renewed vigor.
So, finally, I pull my pants back up and go over to this console thing. Now I see by the big TV screen that we seem to be roller-coastering down toward this town, and no, we seem to be heading for this baseball park just outside the town, a game in progress, and I’m thinking, Oh, great, crash right into the grandstands, Daphne, that’ll give everyone a great big thrill.
So, what the hell, I press this really big button that I didn’t recall having pushed yet.
returning from giving instructions in the kitchen, diane found claudine smiling and murmuring to a bemused lucile. ariadne sat staring at her own feet in an all too familiar pose.
it was not diane's place to try to rouse ariadne's spirits in front of her social equals.
she sat down.
nothing could have disconcerted diane more than the sudden appearance of lucile. she was so flustered she did not offer her a seat.
claudine moved over on the sofa. "sit beside me, my dear."
after a moment's hesitation, lucile accepted claudine's invitation.
diane stood up suddenly. "can i get you something, mademoiselle?"
The word of Lefty’s game had spread throughout the district, and the sunbleached sagging stands were almost full with drunken shouting people.
Doc Goldwasser had seen the lights of the Pat Garrett Athletic Field glowing unusually late against the nighttime sky as he drove back into town, and he also had stopped by to watch the game.
He sat in the dugout next to the Skipper. The Doc knew all the Browns well. If he wasn’t stitching up somebody’s calf after a spiking, or pumping liquor and drugs out of another one’s stomach after an OD, then he was writing someone a prescription for delaudid or pantopon or demerol or eukuodal or some other addictive drug. Half the guys on this club were hooked on dope, and the Doc didn’t have the heart to turn them down. Besides, the way the Doc figured it, if they didn’t get their drugs through him then they would get it from the Motorpsychos, who were notorious for cutting their product with formaldehyde, bleach, rat poison, Drano, and even Agent Orange.
The Doc had to admit he was almost enjoying watching the game. In his younger days he had loved to go to sporting events, but, after the war, sport became just one more of the many things -- like sex, like food, like wine, like any sort of physical exercise -- that he just didn’t give a fuck about any more. But now, at least during the moments when Lefty was on the mound, he could feel a faint echo of a certain joy he had felt long ago, sitting high in the bleachers at Shibe Park or Baker Bowl with some other Penn Med students, eating hot dogs and soft pretzels and drinking warm Ortlieb’s beer out of paper cups amidst the smells of sweat and cheap perfume and cigars and cigarettes, with the car exhaust and the smoke from the factories drifting up over the cool damp brick walls of the stadium from the dirty brown city outside; and down below, like a glimpse into another and better world, the bright sundrenched vivid green of the field.
Another epiphanous moment in a day that had already had two or three of them, which was two or three more than his days usually held -- Enid’s moist breasts in the coffee shop, the tinkling of her bracelets as she stirred his coffee, and her kind eyes; and Hope’s eyes, her disturbingly knowing dark eyes; and something else, a feeling that seemed somehow retroactively to have run through this whole day, something he couldn’t name. But so what. In the Doc’s admittedly sparse personal experience with epiphanies, they came and then they went and they left you hanging there the same pathetic son of a bitch you were before, if not worse. Like sex, like opium, the spiritual epiphany, like the human body, like life, was not built to last. He had learned this simple fact a long time ago at Omaha Beach, after those few blissful moments of discorporation, floating serenely above the carnage, when he had somehow been dumped back into his body and into the shit again.
There was only one epiphany you could count on, and that was junk, that brief but reliable dose of sweet nothingness.
And here came Big Jake, that epiphany of the non-epiphany, walking along inside the third base line with two sixpacks of Tree Frog beer under each arm and a stogie in his mouth. He came on over, heaved himself down into the dugout, shambled past the indifferent players and squeezed his fat ass in between the Doc and the Skipper before the Doc could work up the energy to get up and escape.****
"he was outcast from life's feast." - james joyce, "dubliners"
when bob reached the bottom of the stairs, he felt proud of himself for taking it so well when the doctor told him he had six weeks to live. the doctor's office was in a small commercial mall, over a t j maxx discount store which was beside a burger king.
it was the middle of december, and night was falling early. bob turned to get to the wider part of the parking lot and his car, and his eye fell on the signs in the window of the burger king. bob had always been an assiduously healthy eater - and a lot of good it did me, he told himself ruefully - and had never in his life been inside a burger king, a mcdonalds or any similar establishment. he started to pass by, then stopped.
although he had only six weeks to live, he had nothing in particular to do. he was just going to go home and watch reruns of seinfeld and drew carey, like he did every night. suddenly he was hungry. on an impulse he went into the burger king.
he wandered wide eyed up to the counter. he stared up at the illustrated menus on the back wall. the two young women behind the counter didn't seem to think it odd that he took so much time looking at the menu.
a whopper! he had heard the term, but there was something unreal about actually seeing it on the wall. he stepped a little closer to the counter and one of the young women asked, "can i help you?"
"i'll have a whopper, please."
"anything with it? fries, onion rings?"
bob didn't laugh, although he might have if she had actually said, "do you want fries with that?"
"anything to drink?"
"uh - coffee."
"how do you want it?"
incredible! he was actually ordering in a burger king! this was much more amazing than dying in six weeks.
when the order came - in less than a minute! - bob took his tray and moved to a table in the back as far from the other customers as he could get. he realized he had forgotten to take any napkins and got up to get some, keeping a careful eye on the tray he left on the table.
he returned to the table and sat down. he suddenly noticed how bright the whole place was. why did it have to be so bright? he picked up the whopper in two hands, hesitated, and bit into it.
and his whole life changed.
for the first time in his life, bob knew ecstasy. and that was just from biting into the whopper. when he actually started chewing, swallowing, and digesting it - tears erupted in his eyes.
time dissolved. his consciousness stood outside himself, watching himself devour the whopper. slow down, slow down, it told him - don't choke, don't choke yourself. and enjoy the moment.
he finished the burger and swallowed a couple of mouthfuls of the black coffee, barely noticing how hot it was. normal consciousness drained back into his body.
he looked at around at the other patrons of the establishment - mostly overweight teenage girls in blue or gray sweatshirts. nobody seemed to have noticed him and his transcendant experience. they were concentrating on their portions, in a manner both businesslike and blase.
he wanted another one.
now the problem began. bob was a very self conscious person - perhaps the world's most self conscious person. would he look silly going back for another one?
would the girls at the counter, the other diners, laugh at him, openly or secretly? no, he told himself, they didn't laugh or even notice when i stood gawking at the menu like a martian. surely they won't laugh if i just order another one? people must order seconds every day - wasn't that why americans were overweight? and yet - and yet -
with a supreme effort of will bob forced himself up out of his chair. the girl hardly looked up when he ordered the second burger. he went and sat back down with a barely suppressed sigh of relief.
he hardly had time to start thinking about the strange turns his now shortened life had taken when the whopper was ready. this is great, he thought, this is what the word "fast" really means.
he ate the second burger more slowly, "like a civilized human being" (one of his favorite phrases). and as he devoured the burger and sipped his black coffee - maybe he should start putting cream and sugar - two sugars! - in it - terrible and regretful thoughts started percolating in his brain.