Later That Afternoon

by Clyde on 8, April 2013

“Where are you taking us?”

“On a course due east. Or possibly due west. Compass is broken. You take a look at the sun and in ten minutes I’ll tell you for certain.”

After a half hour, Ocelot declared we had arrived and cut the engines.

“Right here is the perfect waters for octopus. You just watch and toss me the line when I come up. We’ll have octopus stew with wild fennel tonight.”

Ocelot dispersed the contents of his rucksack on the deck and picked out the pieces of his snorkel gear. He was a consummate diver and taught snorkeling at the Resort from time-to-time.

Long ago he dreamed of scuba, but when he panicked in the middle of a lesson, ripping off the face mask of another student and pushing off from her chest with his feet to get to the surface, the instructor effectively blacklisted him. After that snorkel was his only choice.

I watched him plunge into the water. He took a few enormous breaths and disappeared beneath the surface.

A minute went by and then two. Finally he shot up like a missile, panting. Removing his mask and snorkel he yelled “Switch on the depth finder.”

I went into the cabin. The whole place was stained the color of nicotine with tarry smoke residue that had glued legions of gnats and flies to the walls and surfaces.

I located the depth finder and turned it on. It blinked some non-sensical characters and then numbers started to display. After a moment it settled on 6000. I didn’t know what the units were, but unless they were pinheads, Ocelot was certainly not going to find his octopus here.

“Past the Continental Shelf. That’s ok. We turn around and head back just a bit. Must have crept over it from the current pushing us.”

So that’s what we did. We turned back, this time with the depth finder engaged. In ten minutes we were in 40 feet of water and Ocelot declared that this was the spot and he would try once more. And so I watched his ritual and saw him again disappear beneath the azure sea.

On deck, deprived of the rush of air you have when the boat is moving, the intense sun had begun to cook off a thick brew of fumes from the boat’s varnished surfaces. It was an chemical scent that was easily recognized.

When you visit the island hardware store to purchase something like varnish or paint thinner or ‘fire-starter,’ the clerk will scamper through the congested aisles, pushing back hoses that dangle like serpents from the uppermost shelves, sweeping aside armfuls of aluminum downspout to heave his way through a swinging door leading to a mysterious back room where he performed various alchemical arts. Moments later he would bustle back to the counter and write out a receipt in pencil. ‘Paint Thinnerr,’ double-underlined in an officious manner. Then he would hand you a plastic antifreeze jug with the words ‘paint thinnerr’ written in marker.

‘What’s this? I’d ask.

‘That is your paint thinner. Paint thinner is what you asked for. This is what you use to cut paint. If you have some other purpose in mind you have to tell me. You can’t just tell me you want paint thinner if in your mind you have some other purpose you are planning. Do you understand?’

The underlying problem with the hardware store concoctions wasn’t that they were unsuitable for whatever purpose you had in mind. In fact, they were typically quite effective.

No, the main problem was that the base, the starting point, the vehicle for all these potions, was ladled from a black 55 gallon drum of spent solvents from a methamphetamine lab. Captain Dusty bought it at sea, brought the drums back, and fed the local economy a steady diet of waste solvent that it used as the blood supply for its industrial processes.

So on a hot day like today, the fumes of ether and meth would rise from the wooden rails of the boat and circle your head like flying demonic spirits, and pretty quickly you would be on the verge of losing any meaningful touch with reality.

And that was the state I had reached when Ocelot bobbed back to the surface.

This time he shouted, urgently, “Throw me the line quick. There is a slight problem.”

“I saw her, the most lovely octopus that ever swam this ocean, and as I reached to snatch her away, my hand missed and I caught a dart from a snail. Now the pain is creeping up my arm, like a metal wire in my veins.”

Out here, if a creature had spines, darts, warts, if it was brightly colored or even if it just looked at you in a funny googly-eyed manner, you could be certain it was poisonous. And if it was poisonous you could be certain it carried a threat of lethality. You might outpace the toxin if you reached medical help before the pain stung you in the heart, but many victims were not so fortunate.

I fought off the effects of the vapors and did the best I could to comply with Ocelot’s instructions, sensing in his voice an unspeakable dread that made me queasy on top of the sea-sickness I was now experiencing.

As I hauled Ocelot aboard, the faintest veil of fog began to creep in. The wind shifted and the water turned choppy. The sun began to fade ominously.

Ocelot collapsed on a bench.

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I want a bagel, perhaps with little pebbles, shards of glaucous glass, some republican spittle, and a very small dust mite wearing a miniskirt and Crocs, and, somehow, lip gloss

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Day3

by Clyde on 10, March 2013

The humans have stopped speaking to me. I think they were fed up by my attempts to amuse myself by employing odd idioms that made no sense, like ‘I’ll have no truck with that’ and ‘let’s go cut a rug.’ I don’t blame them entirely. Half the time even I didn’t know what I was talking about, or I was talking about nothing. But a trace of polite indulgence would have been collegial and appropriate, since there is nothing here to talk about anyway. Most of the time we are lounging in our cholera cots or down at the water trying to find conch to cook. Then we mend the mosquito netting, which never works because the mosquitoes are apartment dwellers by now and cohabit our little cinder block box with us, their food supply.

About the cholera cots- no one ever had cholera on the island as far as we can tell. Once in a while however, a UN relief plane will mistake our little speck of rock for some other speck of rock, one in dire need, and out of the blue a chute will unfurl and a crate will crash to the ground. That’s how we ended up with cholera cots. They aren’t too comfy to sleep on frankly, though I suppose if you have cholera you wouldn’t notice as much. Your butt nestles into the hole which locks you into place. Once in a while you might use it as if it were a massage table and plant your face in the hole.

As I said, they fall short of being the ideal bedding, even in this miserable place where nothing is ideal and no pillow ever invented would be fluffy enough to lull you to sleep. Mostly we just lie in them to keep off the cement floor and away from the venomous crickets and biting salamanders that come out at night to ravage our already ravaged bodies. And to think, this is civilization. Yes, that’s right. It may be a bit third world, but there’s an electric light and a propane stove and water out back that we pump into metal pails and slop into a tub to cook with or wash our clothes. Of course the electric light is practically useless, being at night a beacon for blood-sucking winged insects and during the day 75 watts of heat to disturb the pleasant dankness of our indoor shelter.

Did I mention the rice? That was a UN drop too. There was a ton of it. A metric ton. By now it is half rice and half worms that look like rice. That’s the only time to use the lightbulb, when sorting the worms from the grains. It’s painstaking and time-consuming but constitutes a main source of entertainment. It’s what life is all about when you don’t have 100 channels of ESPN.

Miraculously there were lightbulbs from the sky gods too. They are all odd shapes and none of them last for too long. Since we have 5000 this shouldn’t become a problem for some time. When you change one, suddenly there is a new pattern of shadows on the cave owing to the geometry of the new bulb and for a little while that captivates your interest, but soon enough it becomes unnoticeable and you can get back to picking nits.

So I’ve started carrying on conversations with the local mouser, who comes on schedule twice a day to chase down meals in our cube-shaped domicile. If we ever find more cinderblocks I’m building a pyramid. Seriously, 6000 years of human architecture and the first thing we build is a box? I imagine the indoor living experience provided by a cinderblock pyramid would be something beyond mere novelty, though i am not sure what that would be. I am hopeful to have the experience, even if i have to mortar it myself. Besides it would be the only pyramid on the block.

I call him a mouser, but in truth he may never have dined on mouse meat. Several years ago a UN crate of contraceptives rendered all the mice infertile and they died off. Their ecological niche empty, an abundance of other mouse-sized insects, snakes, frogs and snails furiously began competing for the vacancy, and these are what Mouser has on his menu. Mouser’s nasty matted fur is the color of the dirt road. He has a half-bitten ear and squirts little doses of pee on the outside of our domicile to make sure the other felines know the goodies inside are all his.

I’ve seen him eating, though I’ve never been able to tell what he had in his mouth. Usually I’ll just see a pair of wriggling antennae disappearing down his gullet or hear him gagging on some beast that had gained a little traction on the bristly tongue and was mounting an effort to crawl out to safety. None have made it back into the light of day and just as well for that.

I tell him stories that are mostly invented, but, being a cat, he frequently doesn’t respond. ‘I was the bombardier who dropped the H-Bomb in WW3 that ignited the atmosphere and burned out all of the oxygen.’ I’ve grown lazy and my stories aren’t even internally consistent. ‘Luckily the vacuum that was created popped a boulder out of the mouth of an undersea volcano which shot into the sky like a champagne cork, releasing enough pent-up primordial atmosphere to revive humans of upstanding character who could hold their breath while praying for a miracle.’

Ocelot returns. Perhaps my human companions would be more tolerant if I stopped referring to them by animal names, but most likely they would not. He has a couple of eggs he wrangled from the chickens in the backyard. Or maybe they are turtle eggs. I can’t tell when he stands in the shadows over the stove. He pours some cooking oil into a skillet from the tin marked ‘kerosene,’ scrambles the eggs in the pan, douses them with pepper sauce and eats them directly from the pan.

‘You could use the plate. It’s clean.’
‘What for? I’m done already.’
‘So we’re back on speaking terms?’
‘Just for me to say you should come down to the spouting rock. There is some kind of conch convention taking place. It’s not to be explained but they are huddling like they are in town for a sales meeting. It’ll be wholesale murder.’

This is ominous. Not that a conch consortium is by itself any type of omen I can discern, but the implications are all bad. After gorging on as many as possible, the others will expect me to pitch in and pound out the remaining unlucky gastropods into thin strips to dry in the sun into conch jerky. This is by far the most insufferable meal I have had to tolerate and invariably I will seek relief by opening a tin of potted horse meat and making a hash with diced cassava.

One time after a conch jerky week the three of us were hired as crew on a catamaran, under the command of a 15 year old skipper, who paid us in beer and curried pigeon peas. It was an abundance of good fortune, which made you wonder why anyone would ever have wished to invent something as crass as money and marvel at the fact that the same winds which made our sailing possible were keeping the conch offshore, huddled-up somewhere beyond our reach.

‘It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good,’ I said.’

”Shut up” said the others.

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My Dream by Clyde Tressler

by Clyde on 2, February 2013

In my dream I was a rabbit, one of those light-brown twitchy ones with wide-open eyes that make it look like it’s always scared.

Actually, I had good reason to be scared because there was a fox chasing me and, since I wasn’t succeeding in my effort to outrun it, I stopped and remained completely frozen in the field of tall brown grass.

I could feel my heart racing. Rabbits have very fast heartbeats you know, but these contractions seemed to have passed into some region of vibratory frequency that I thought probably sounded like a dog whistle. I considered the auditory powers of the fox ear, but just then it’s muzzle thrust through the grass and my tender neck was suddenly in its jaws.

I felt blood pulsing out and everything turned red. Everywhere was just a great endless field of red and I started to feel as if I were rising up out of my rabbit body and the field of red seemed to recede into the distance.

When I was far enough away I saw that the red was a heart on a birthday card and saw that it was you handing me the card.

Then you smiled and I could see that your teeth were 32 birthday candles and they were all lit.

But they were burning much too quickly and, as the wax melted, I could see you aging before my eyes, and soon all that was left of the candles were smoldering stubs and blackened wicks like singed nerves.

I searched for your withered face but it had been obscured by a field of tall brown grass.

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