Inevitable pinpricks up my back and I would peal another kitten off of me. They were darling, fey beasts who occurred naturally in the enchanted radiance of a a couple of tall candles.
Some evening, a weekend evening probably during the summer I quit work for a while, we stood out somewhere in between the symphony center and one of the state buildings, and he poured out some of our forty-ounce in honor of his old partner-in-crime, who’d been in a coma since a drunken bicycle accident. He said the old boy “couldn’t hack” his training.
We shared a compulsive urge to leave, which overpowered the confusion of speech. I declared we should bring water for the journey, and when I looked up to see a strange-looking fellow who’s eyes couldn’t decide on what to focus carrying a wobbly pitcher half-full of tap water in one hand, I had to wonder if it was unlike inviting upstairs the guy who bummed a cigarette in front of the liquor store.
The night we watched Soylent Green I felt like hiding from time in my apartment, scurrying out into the street to fulfill my inalienable right to do what was necessary to maintain sanity: walking to the bar, making contacts among the underground resistance.
A brisk walk would not suffice to quell my excitement so it occurred to me to take an old heavy metal trash-can with me to my house because I liked it and the world was going to end anyway. I thought we might still have the trash-can, once our lives had changed and we lived by our ability to think weird thoughts as survivors of the psychic fallout. I wasn’t sure about living on the third floor apartment during such times. It was destined to be an imminent future. I could feel the threat. TIme was going to try to kill us first, literally or by driving us mad. I hoisted the trash-can up on my shoulder, aiming it ahead like a rectangular rocket. At home, I put it down proudly in the kitchen. We sat around the table under the room’s bright light, whose naked incandescence did nothing to embarrass the admirable foreboding we felt for what the coming years would bring.
My brother was less than four months younger than me and from a different family. The first couple of times we met he wore a court jester’s tousled hat, but his eyes always wobbled back and forth. We got along like the naughty kid gets along with the impressionable kid who was taught never to play with fire.
One man played the drums when I dosed, played drums while I shouted an incantation, satisfied to pronounce it as best I could, saying the names of the spirit of the crossroads, honoring a spirit with words I found in a book. The man went to take a dump and I had a chance, in the calm of exertion, to look up and say “please give me a sign.”
“It’s really hard” he said. “Because you do all this work and no one believes you.” I yearned for such affirmative difficulties.
One night we didn’t have any weed and we set out for the county on the chance that a friend would give us a hydrocodone. We turned off the halloween episode of a creepy tv show and rode down the thoroughfare, behind one of the cabs whose phone number is 685 something. I recall the numbers enumerated to one, and I imagined the serpent was leading us along a singular path to somewhere we were meant to go.
Walking my drug sponsor down to the train station the orange sodium streetlamps set his scaly skin aglow in the light of dusk. He was looking green by the time we parted ways where the bridge met the avenue, which was fine because the point was to be alone.
I walked away from the bridge in one direction and continued, taking it easy among other pedestrians, getting to look around a little and observe that one fellow seemed to shrink away as my walking posture grew straighter and more confident. I almost began to experiment, but this idea became instead a game of arriving at each street corner and dowsing out which direction to travel by inner intuition. I saw a statue ahead. His look was acutely severe. Only one unaware of being watched could have held it. I suppose he was simply intense enough that I stood by, occupied contemplating my little existence and reflecting upon how it felt, perhaps to reach a destiny for a brief rest, knowing one was free to be for a spell. Somewhere within, an excitement shined like a searchlight, focusing somewhere ahead when it occurred to me there was a plague to read. “Dreaming dreams no mortal dared to dream before.” and I was humbled to stillness. An interminable, meandering staircase creaked where my thought had echoed a moment before. I read the name of the Capricorn-born soul commemorated before me, and heard hollow laughter escape the bronze. For the last time such a revelation tickled my senses and saw me off warmly looking for more.
Such a ponderous thought grew until it weighed down my mind. As I strolled past the opera house an interior motion detector was activated. I shrank away in shame and cowered for nearly a full second before turning from the next moment to catch myself in the middle of some sort of self-induced compulsion. As though publicly vindicated I stood up straight and nearly brushed myself off. I strode past the opera house and further down the hill into the art school’s railroad house gallery.
The craft in the gallery was flawless. Every lacquered square inch of one piece covered superimposed colors under lines forming duplicate images of advertising cherubim, and in the center of the hall what appeared to be an automatic weapon capable of firing the largest caliber bullet in existence in rapid succession aimed up at the mezzanine. ONly the long painting on the left shone beyond the lacquered shine of perfect technique. The painting bore the gloss of perfection as well, though less complete than the others. Like an overwhelming seismic reading, rich cadmium illuminated with pure, sacrificial white surged into activity at irregular intervals across the ebony-coated canvas. Art school seemed a pastime.
By the time I made it to my house I was a prophet. The majesty of my street-corner, where lay-lines connected Madison Park to Bolton Hill, downtown’s left shoulder with the road to Liberty Heights, it seemed impossible that I should just happen to settle at such an obvious crossroads of forces and necessities, situated so shyly up in my candlelit, kitten-infested hovel.
My street in the bright, early sunlight looked like it stood atop a cliff and the third-story windows bent back to catch as much living room-soaking sunlight as possible. By the time the Rockford Files came on UPN the bright wash will have abated. Eating little meatball subs from Nice-n-sleazy, I thought about what I’d rather be eating and how I’d rather have been able to buy cigarettes too.
Three-hour candles were attached to the little, thirty-five cent holders by heating up the spike and plunging it into the bottom end. Early one the mornings after I’d freed myself from the constraints of regular employment I sat dutifully mediating, stretching my mental awareness into the world around me like a hand into muddy water. At the center of a long moment of silence within, I took a breath and spoke to the stillness, striking its taut constancy with four words resounding. “Give me a sign.” I remained poised, my faculties extended, maintaining a stretch as I had once been taught, not yet recognizing the gleam of golden light that had begun to outshine the candles below until it outshone the abundant light in the windows. The yellow candle and its flame were consumed by a small sun near my right hand; my serious face crumbled into a stupefied smile as the light died down again and soon vanished. I began the day renewed.