Wraps

 

 

CINEZINE NEWS

 

The photo's posted. MGM's dark horse has nosed out its competitors, in a race from rags to riches; "C.O.C." has finished first. "Cargoes of Conscience" tops the field this week in box-office sales. It's official. And, for those who bet on long shots, this one's money in the bank, odds-on. A budget rumored to be "minimal" (by the movie-mogul's standards) has produced a film of quality so above its lowly means that independents can take heart. "A lack of funds spurs creativity," chimed the cast and crew of "Cargoes," in Peoria, reconvened for what was billed "a celebration in remembrance." No sad faces. This despite the tragic loss that lent sobriety to a scene chock-full of merriment.
     Stars shone brightly in the Illinois sky last evening—with an empty space reserved for one extinguished...

 

 

 

Edith weeps, allows the entry to evoke a host of self-recriminations based on disregarded omens. Grim forewarning plagued her dreams, all too calamitous in its prescience and its frequency to ignore. Yet she had let a lack of confidence thwart her instincts. Graham was...

No! Turn back the pages. Why subject herself to episodes so traumatic that the clippings still look fresh, the ones on either side more thumbed? A dozen leaves remain unopened since their contents first were gathered, pressed like mums and gladiolus, still odiferous, flowers of death; their smell reminds her of morticians and arcane, grotesque techniques to make cadavers look more 'natural.' How could flesh and bone look natural, drained of blood, bereft of spirit? Bloodless, soulless human beings are simply refuse. Worthless carrion. Food for...

Thank the Lord scavengers that had not done to him their worst! Or were accounts she read inaccurate, those foretold by dreams correct? Had Had Graham's cremation been arranged to keep some grizzly proof from view—a body ravaged by the beaks and fangs and claws of Edith's demons? Did her nightly visions paint a sharper picture, set the scene, expose the "mishap" for the murder, perish the thought, it might have been? How else explain the gruesome figure always stalking, circling, menacing (him or it)? How else mistake a fractured skull for one complete? For surely evidence of a blow that splits a man's persona lengthwise would be clear. Unless the savage beasts laid waste to... Pay no mind.

No goodly purpose can be served by second-guessing whys and wherefores of the Holy Father's calling children home. Graham's time had come. If prematurely, from a mortal's standpoint, all the more divinely for rejoining Him whose ways are enigmatic.

Thus consoled, the balm of Faith soothes Edith's conscience  and restores her equilibrium. Grief, in balance with the weight of guilt, sustains her memory's course

 

 "Wild or what? I said the film would bear me out, and there she is—a little hazily—there's my undernourished Buddha, big as life."

No doubt about it; Scott had captured something seated in the distance. Out of focus. Hard to make out who, exactly, but a female, sure enough. In silhouette, so not much detail could be garnered from the footage. Still, it did confirm that Scott had glimpsed what Graham saw all along. I mean, provided you accept that folks check in and out of settings a la ghosts and such. Which I do not; that woman was for real. Though I admit her disappearance was a wee bit paranormalnow you see her, now you don't. She simply vanished—poof—thin air. A quirk of twilight, I suspect; the moon was up, the sun gone down, the sky like psychedelic ether caught on fire above our heads. Too bad we lost that shot. The one we had to use instead was dullernext to scarlet clouds and inky shadows; never mind the glitch.

"He's got to see this awesome out-take. Here we dub the man 'deluded,' while the proof shows up that we're the ones whose eyes are on the blink. Where's Graham?"

Scott's question seemed to echoe through the cast's collective conscience. We were crammed into the lab—our rushes trailer—to view the dailies, Scott surprising us with what he billed "The Madman's Vindication" yet the loon himself was nowhere to be found.

 

I love this kopje, love this tableau of The Ancient. There she sits, all by her lonesome, day and night, beneath that tree; it's called 'acacia.' Armed with thorns. The roots like knots. The knots like fists with skinny wriststurned into handles, by Masai, for clubs they carry. Brandish. Wield. Whenever danger threatens. Dangers; there are many here. Primordial. Beasts and elements flex their powers in ways unchecked by mortal Manadept at coping. And competing. Life is hard-won. As it should be. A respectful competition wherein all participants honor and abide by laws intuited, understood, endorsed, believed.

The Tree of Knowledge; disobedience; Christian myths that give one pause. Like any story that proves durable, we absorb those kin to Godhood in our hopes of learning something of the truth. Or so it seems when I imagine why this landscape holds such sway over my emotions. Over intellect, come to think of it; I'm complete, in Africa. Freeas from my race, my creed, my culture, each of relative insignificance in a setting where survival of the fittest rules supreme. Yet not so heartlessly that it purges all the weaklings, freaks, and misfits. There is room for variation. Even deviation. Mutants. I'm preoccupied more and more by clues that point to wayward genes as cause for Mankind's devastation of this habitat. Ours and others'.

Though we rearrange 'some' elements for the better; think of music and the raw materials used to forge an instrument, to play a tune, to order sounds in ways unheard of in the natural world yet born here, bred, released into the cosmos unencumbered, unimpaired. Ignoring boundaries with impunity. Only wind roams freer. Farther. Howls to whispers, wind, like breath through apertures, tells the ear it's here by what it passes throughor passes over, under, and around. Like life itself, wind needs its props to be perceptible. Then it sings.

Today life sings. Today is special in a way I can't quite fathom, can't articulate. Like a fugue performed in an unfamiliar key. My mind's dexterity stops just shy of comprehending its... cadenzaas performed by him or her; the flutist's gender is irrelevant. What's at issue is this theme and variation on the breeze, its sweet accompaniment for transition... what to what?

I lack an usher, who can lead me through the dimness of my wits to see the show. Or take the stage myself and join the dance... whose steps I recollect? I grasp the motions and the rhythms and the lyrics of a people not mine own, yet so familiar they remind me, when I'm centered, of a self that once knew more about itself and what it meant to be alive in every atom of one's being. Too naive?

The reason newborns have to sleep so much is that wakeful states are taxing. Infant senses are alert to something new at every turn. If not a sight, a sound, a scent, a taste, or a texture, stimulation shifts to engender thought with nubile brain cells, neurons charged with verve, proclaiming each phenomenon ours and theirs coequally, common birthrights, as recaptured on this continent that recalls our species' cradle. Skin is shedding. I have cracked the earthen carapace that enclosed me. Where and when?

Another memory. Of some sacrificial shell. My recent mud bath was symbolic. I emerged as from a chrysaliswooed and won by colors, smells, melodic strains, sensations, succulence. On the verge of reaching Present's Past. Reversing Mankind's Fall. To lead the tribe, to lead the tribe...

The rest was nonsense, absolute gibberish. Graham had written in a hand that started out with some control, but ended up all over the page. "In a style distinctly not his own," was an assessment of some 'expert' sent by an insurance firmto renege, no doubt, on a claim. "Suspected suicide?" Right. No way! With his career about to blossom?

But I've jumped ahead; forgive me. Graham was missingnothing novel there. But this time we were freaked.

"Oh, Vel?"

So I, of course, was singled out to bite my tongue or snitch. I knew EXACTLY where he'd gone. Where else? The kopje; that was easy. What was hard, in light of fears we shared, was going there to search. As if the fact of our concern was like a self-fulfilling prophesy; we EXPECTED some calamity; one lay in wait.

 

All hands assembled on the quarter deck, Captain Crowe conducts a service that complies with regulations to the letter, by the book. Disgruntled shipmates dare not challenge their superior's resolution to accord this death at sea the rites of burial deemed its due. Though sour expressions make it plain that most deplore this bald apostasy—the exceptions being him for whom said courtesy has been paid, and Crowe himself, whose mien is somber, as befits the sad occasion, if restrained—compared to Barnaby's bloodshot eyes and puffy face.

 

A gang-plank coffin, open-ended, tilts to eject its flag-draped contents. Wearing whitecaps on the surface, depths prepare to induct the swaddling that enfolds a form so spare it might be taken for a child's. But what of that? The shameful truth is: underneath the snow-white batting lies a 'Blackamoor' far from worthy of the drum roll now ensuing... of the canon's fired salute... and of the lump in Barnaby's throat—were opinions of the crew, at attention, polled.

 

No doubt the young man's grief is genuine, to the point of winning sufferance. Every mate aboard identifies with a tragic loss at sea, though this is scarcely consolation. Barnaby's sorrow knows no solace, as the ocean swallows Beatrice with an ignominious gulp, the swells erasing every trace. A churning, massive, vast indifference shrugs, as Barnaby edges starboard, mind and body in pursuit. An isolation that was shared must now be coped with in a vacuum; he leans forward—eddies tugging at his bleakness; he leans still further... counteracted by an arm across his shoulders.

 

Captain Crowe

Let her go. The dead are best left to the Deep, lad. Your beloved needs no escort.

 

An unprecedented gesture, Crowe's embrace achieves its goal of redirecting Barnaby's urge—for now; the mourner acquiesces.

 

But, returning to his quarters and to Bea's conspicuous absence, Barnaby rends her bloodstained loincloth, shreds its leather into strips, then ties each length together, knot by knot, to form a rope, a cord, a crude umbilicus by which he will seek reunion with his mistress—and penance for the mayhem he hath wrought.

 

Engeraloi aches. Contractions torture her vagina with an escalating labor no less wrenching for its being psychosomatic; pain is pain. Induced by premonitions, apprehensions, unmet expectations, she anticipates him whose path must come full circle, loop its loop—as was foretold so many seasons past that memory strains recalling it.

 

Near; he's near! The wind has plucked his scent and borne it to my nostrils. Hence this tumult in my nether region. Hence this veil of doubt about to lift and let my feeble pupils focus on a vision long-awaited. Long-withheld, for reasons Fate alone can offer, from these arms that would enfold my little man, my little marvel in a mother's love grown stronger as the heart it fills grows weak. How stanch this bitterness, now that time, at last, relents? My youth was squandered. How resist the sore temptation to pronounce my life a waste? I can but number few accomplishments. How present myself to him? A wrinkled hide on brittle bones comprise what features I have left. Unrecognizable. Feeble traces. I have scarcely any odor. Will he know me? It is this that adds intensity to my pangs.

 

The oval fades, fills in with dust-dry earth, to become so faint a scar that snorts from a warthog might erase it, blur the line no longer needed for defense of its inscriber—she who sits no longer waiting, she who squats about to rise, about to squint in the direction of a vague... hallucination (?). Squiggly worms of heat distort an upright, manly, pale mirage that slowly closes on the tree, on her within its dappling shade, who is alert, now wary, now bewildered—nevertheless enthralled—as recognition finally dawns and trembling fingers lift to praise of whatever gods hath deigned to deliver him: tall, fair, and whole.

 

My son? My son!

 

A noose jerks tautly; Barnaby's neck is snapped. He hangs. The leather groans. His body dangles, sways from port to starboard with the vessel's gentle seesaw. Stretched, the rope of loincloth sings a two-note back and forth lament, its burden lifeless, therefore deaf to the sough and squeak accompaniment... sough and squeak... (this sound a signature, at the film's finale, joined by credits scrolled... as countless theatres worldwide slowly empty).

 

 

ILL-FATE IN KENYA

 

Dateline: April 5th, Nairobi

Off the set, in Masai Mara, where a film (acquired by MGM) is being shot, Graham Doubletree, its lead, was discovered dead last evening of what doctors have determined "an acute cerebral hemorrhage" brought on suddenly when Mister Doubletree strayed from camp in the midday heat...

 

 

Untrue. All lies. Despite the sworn and signed post-mortem, the collected affidavits, and the endless repetition of distortions run in print, accounts in black and white were not at all the way things really happened. They bore almost no resemblance to the reoccurring dream that may have played its last performance on the eve of Graham's demise. Or, had his death and Edith's nightmare shared both time and space in ways not liable to the laws enforced when souls are fully conscious? One sat dozing in the open air, the other tossed and turned attuned to that which he, her life's-blood, understood the sights he saw: a buff-brown blur; then earth and sky; then sun on thorns of an age-old tree. Its form was gnarly and distorted from effects of wind and drought, of blistering heat and constant browsing by ungainly creatures, prey to savage beasts whose appetites chilled the nerves when seen in action, prowling the plains of Africa, where hungry mouths fed hungrier mouths fed ravenous jaws indeed, equipped with fangs whose lethal points recalled the ones that had been extracted and affixed as decorations that adorned a gruesome mask—which boasted other ghastly artifacts found in unforgiving landscapes full of murmurs from a million bleeding wounds that never healed. Nor did they ever seem to slake a thirst so primal in its essence Edith cringed beneath her bedclothes. It was such a place as this that Graham was waylaid, cleaved in two, attacked by someone, something hideous in its horned and toothed disguise—become a shadow linked but hostile to a host who sat unfazed by gross gyrations and contortions most distressing that described the awful antics of the Dark One. While the Light One, unperturbed, kept gazing spellbound at a vacant patch of gray beneath the foliage, where, in ghostly fashion, windblown dust made flesh and bone take shape. She looked as real as him whose eyes enlarged the better to behold her. Real as 'it' whose eyes formed slits behind the false face (spiteful, sly) contriving means by which to win its separation from the other—overtaken by his urge to stand, to walk, to jog, to run, with strides unable to outdistance the pursuit of his tormentor, him or 'it,' affecting wings with outstretched arms, with fists like talons, as it followed, dipped and dived, pursued, like a tailless kite, the one whose face looked artless by comparison, him who covered ground expectantly, fixed adoringly on his goal—an unclad, uncouth, withered crone, unbeknownst, engendered jealousy; Edith's unrequited love relived the instance of its making, when the child she bore, she carried in her womb nine months to term, had been removed from her maternity like a sack of purchased groceries. Bought and sold, she'd lost possession of her blue-eyed baby boy. And nothing then, or since, had served as compensation—save her scrapbook, with its pride-and-joyful entries tracing Graham's ascent to fame. A recognition duly earned, was his—if only to be cheated when the lethal weapon rose and fell, dividing brain and cranium, body buckling from the impact. His immortal soul escaped? To rise undaunted by the fallen bodies sprawling, limbs askew? The slain and slayer reunited (recombined like Cain and Able, was the thought she entertained)? Except the latter dropped his cudgel (not a jawbone but a club) and voiced a snicker that reverted to a cackle then a howl. A whoop of triumph, or an outcry of remorse, she could not tell. The man (or Minotaur while concealed behind embedded bits of skeleton, hanks of hair, and chipped enamel lodged in ebony) then transformed—that is removed, with a subtle bow, his fearsome masquerade.

Edith froze, bewildered (still possessed by sleep's paralysis) Graham-at-large and Graham-dispatched, in perfect replica, loomed and lay. One quick, one dead; one dark, one light (though neither sanctioned this disparity) each was like unto the other as identical twins. Except...

The one still breathing looked Neanderthaloid, as in brutish, somehow primitive. While the fallen brother looked, for all his stillness, up-to-date. A true contemporary overpowered, undone by his progenitor, who behaved with perfect calm, his features unmarred by the hatred such a vicious act should etch. In truth, his face (if disconcerting) shone with mercy not malevolence; he appeared, in truth, serene.

As did his victim; Graham-the-corpse looked well-relieved of something burdensome. His expression, far from pained, bespoke a soul at rest, at peace. Or so it seemed when Edith overcame her sense of abject loss, to persevere her nightmare's horrid shock and let its plot proceed.

The carbon copy left his double and approached a silent witness. She, the crone, was either blind to or untroubled by the scene. Her gaze was focused not on Graham-past-tense, but on Graham-the-sole-survivor—whom she recognized when he ventured closer. Tenderly, they embraced. And Edith's heartstrings nearly snapped in pained reaction to emotions on beholding this reunion of a mother and her child (for such was intuition's judgment). Their connection, unmistakable, tore the dreamer in directions so opposed she, too, felt split. A strapping six foot giant, pressed against this ancient, wizened pigmy, their dimensions as dissimilar as their tints—his fair, hers charred—affected Edith with such pangs of empathetic bliss and sadness that she could not make her mind up. Should she celebrate or regret, applaud the touching sight, or mourn the fact that, not since being pregnant, could she claim to have a son to call her own?

 

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Is this too painful to discuss?

 

VJ: You mean Graham's dying? Not especially. Well, of course it hit me hard; it hit us ALL hard, at the time. But, no, I'd rather get a few things off my chest, if you don't mind.

 

{"A FEW things?" Ha! Graham's been the topic since this in-depth interview started.}

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Cause of death?

 

VJ: I'm sure was what they said it was: cerebral hemorrhage, an occlusion of a vein inside the man's skull; one that burst. No, I'm referring to the scene itself. We went, en masse, to find him.

 

{Somehow knowing, with a sixth sense, bad had finally gone to worse...}

 

"Please, God; please, God..."

I'm not religious but I did some praying, big time, when we headed out of camp en route towhere else (?)Doubletree's Roost, the very tree that held Graham so in thrall throughout our stay in Kenya. It was dark. No moon. Our flashlights danced around like skittish firefliesfirst the locals'; then our scout troupe's. We were SHAKING IN OUR BOOTS. I mean, the bulk of us had scarcely ventured out of bounds by daylight. This was nighttime. Black as pitch. We jumped at every sound we heard. And we heard plenty, I can tell you: grunts and scuttles, thuds and growls. Plus, every unidentified rock and clump of brush seemed poised to pounce. We cringed at everything; we were terrified! And, as if that weren't enough, we all were absolutely dreading what we'd find.

Then someone shouted.

"Here! He's over here!"

My heart sank. I went running. I was pleading, "Please, God," KNOWING Graham was dead and gone, they'd only found remains. And at the thought of seeing what was left, I balked. The Rift is pitiless. If it's edible, something eats it; that's a given.

Then I retched. I mean, I didn't even know for sure; they'd formed this ring around him. By the time I finished puking, Graham was floodlit. No one spoke. I finally mustered up the nerve to elbow through, and did, then saw him. And I almost felt relieved; because his body still was whole.

Except it was, indeed, Graham's corpse that we all gaped at. UNBELIEVABLE! Lions, jackals, buzzards, insectsnone had touched him where he sprawled. But more remarkable than his resting undisturbed was Graham's composure, the expression on his face was... INAPPROPRIATE, I saw red. The idiot SMILED. Do you believe it! Struck down wham-bam in his prime, alone, a zillion miles from nowhere, not a stitch onhe lay nakedarms outspread like he was reaching for salvation, or whatever, with this ANEURYSM shorting out his brainwhich MUST have hurtand nothing? Not a sign of trauma? Just this simpleminded grin? Come on! The man was AT DEATH'S DOOR; no problem?

"FAKER," I screamed angrily. Then I ordered him to, "GET UP!"  several times.

Or so they told me. Seems I threw myself all over him, like some widow gone berserk.

I DO remember trying to soothe Graham's forehead, kiss it, make it better. And I also VAGUELY recollect my clinging to his neck. But how we got his body back to camp remains a little sketchy. And I STILL can't tell you why I carried on the way I did.

Except I had this wild idea SHE, Miss Bullion-boobs was liable. No one gloats at rainbow's end unless he's found his pot of gold. Graham's silly smirk gave the impression he had struck it rich, not croaked. And after weeks of nonsense, capped off by this devastating climax, not to mention trying to finish up without the movie's lead, I started seeing things myself. Well, I imagined that I saw them. I'd get flashes, little glimpses of this nothing-special female—who would vanish when I REALLY looked. The same with Mother Nature. When it wasn't 'Eve,' Scott's 'undernourished Buddha' made appearances.

Call it power of suggestion, but these sightings seemed so real that I convinced myself Graham hadn't passed away so much as 'over.' SHE, and Now-You-See-Her-Now-You-Don't had snatched my leading man, and I was not so much bereaved as pissed-off royally!

If only we had left posthaste like most folks said they wanted... No; three or four more days were needed for the project to be salvaged. So... in a polyurethane body-bag, Graham got airmailed to the States, whereas his ghostan apparition I alone, evidently, sighted—stuck around as if to make ME look ridiculous.

"Where?"

"There. THERE!"

"I see the tree we shot when whosis spoiled that once-in-a-lifetime sunset."

"Nothing else?"

"Come down; let's go, Vel."

" NOTHING ELSE?"

"Like what?"

Like HER; like him and her; and her and him; all three together. Did I say so? No. I thought so. Did I see them? Well, who knows? The drugs, the heat, the wishful thinking that you do when someone close is goneFOREVER; once you're dead, you're dead; I don't subscribe to come-backs from Elysiumplus some weirdness I was feeling after Graham's departure, threw me.

I'd begun to think the crazy things I saw, in fact, were realthe same way he had been deluded. Time would do this virtual flip-flop. Past and present seemed to happen out of sequence, out of sync. I'd think, remember when (?) and that would trigger such authentic flashbacks I could touch them, almost, get the two confused; the nows with thens. It all got twisted like some Gordian knot, impossible to untangle, like the more I tried to sort things out the more mixed-up they grew.

For instance, Graham had kept a diary. True. He left it near the kopje where I'd gone with Scott to reconstruct events as best we could. Except the pages, for the most part, had been torn out. Burned, apparently. Seems each sunset Graham performed this little ritual in his tent, where what he'd written he'd incinerate in a pot, this makeshift brazier, then collect and store the ashes inside egg shells. We found stacks. All neatly filed away and dated, in their cardboard carton cubbies; who knows why or to what end?

I kept insisting Graham was daft, but no one deigned to pay attention. Then again, we all behave a little strangely when alone. Except the stuff that HE was up to seemed to detour from the norm with such exotic eccentricity... Want examples? How about scrawling cryptic characters; speaking in tongues; recounting visions; prancing naked through the African bush; the list went on for days.

"Hey, Vee-Jay, get a load of this."

Scott found the diary's final entry where it lay below the outcrop. Lost? Or left there as a postscript?

"'Like any story that proves durable, we absorb those kin to Godhood in our hopes of learning something about the truth. Or so it seems when I imagine why this landscape holds such sway over my emotions.' Graham's?"

Each clue that we uncovered changed the picture so entirely... Death, supposedly, made things simple. Why was Doubletree's so complex?

"'Ignoring boundaries with impunity. Only wind roams freer. Farther. Howls to whispers, wind, like breath through apertures, tells the ear it's here...' Is this a poem or something? Fact or fiction?"

"That's what I've been saying; Graham had one foot in reality and the other foot off on Mars! It's his; I recognize the squiggles. Where'd you find it?"

"Here; I'll show you."

I climbed down to where Scott found the book spread-eagled on the ground. It COULD have slipped there. What we asked ourselves was, did Graham want it read? Or had he penned it, like the bulk of missing pages, to be torched?

"'Today is special in a way I can't quite fathom' / 'him or her; the flutist's gender is irrelevant' / 'sweet accompaniment for transition... what to what?'"

Scott read the phrases, spoke the words. And I could picture Graham composing them...

"'... of a self that once knew more about itself and what it meant...'"

... could see the path he must have followed from the kopje, through the scrub brush, on his way to leaving this world for the 'next'...

"'... our species' cradle. Skin is shedding.'"

... or for some forgotten world he 'recollected'...

"'... from a chrysalis...'"

... as he traveled backor dreamed he didthrough Time...

"'... Reversing Mankind's Fall.'"

...stopped short; odds are, he never made it.

"What's this last part, Vel? I can't make hide nor hair..."

 

...to lead the tribe, to know the We within the I. The One in common with the Many. Veins of leaf and roots of trunk as links to sky and soil, united, by a thousand thousand inhalations, exhalations, breathing that provides the wind its impetus. Gives it voice. Conducts its choir. Enjoins the heavens and the oceans to combine, imbue the continents with unending tears of joy and tears of sorrow, laughter, sighs, laments, and blissful exaltation loosed in unison and at random, making order part of chaos.

Unstirred water soon lies stagnant. Change resisted stems the tide of ebb and flow to cleanse the sea, the blood, of toxins, of impurities. Circulation is imperative. Cycles tutor. Truth is spherical. Thoughts are round that owe allegiance to the mother of their forming, to the consubstantiation of their flesh and spirit.

Curves: observe the flex that bends each unobstructed view of home's horizon. Note the archway for its strength, the reed that bows to breezes blown. Regard the eye itself, its lens a bulge that mimics pregnant bellies. Angles soften when subjected to the elements. Points grow blunted. Lines, if stretched to their indigenous ends, describe an orbit, meet, complete ellipses whose omissions spring from moral disconnectedness.

Right and wrong are part and parcel of an ecosystem's bylaws. What ye sow, ye reapthough 'eco-justice' slow-turns, marking Time with sifted sand that measures vice and virtue grain by grain by grain until the scales are tipped and sins are buried deeply. Conscience cleared. The slate wiped clean for future generations more or less intelligent, more or less inclined to meet their needs at planet Earth's expense, disposed or indisposed to living an existence based on models that acknowledge life's continua; make the seasons a priority; count themselves 'among' the organisms housed here; learn to share; renounce the hubris bred of stewardship. Man is not his Maker's chosen. Men and women, males and females are endowed with larger brains by quirk of fate, or evolution, not by God's determination.

That we think is no endorsement for our ruling. Thought, though viable, is destructive to the same degree it ventures to create. The mind, without a key to wisdom, opens any box it fancies, irrespective of the consequences. Sacred 'and' profane, it stands self-cancelling as an attribute, good and evil at its margins, while its text is writtencrosshatchedon the parchment stretched between.

Look not toward intellect as the savior of a race that spreads unchecked, that breeds with reckless disregard for all the life forms it displaces, that will mushroom past the limits of its context, insupportably, till it feeds upon itself; the human serpent eats its tail.

 

"'To lead the tribe,' I think it reads, Vel, then the script turns indecipherable."

Scott looked up in time to stop himself from trampling on the place where Graham had stretched out like a fallen angel. Tracks around still showed. And most were ours from just the night before, when all of us stood dumbstruck in the presence of... mortality.

Human beings, no longer breathing, somehow lose their human status. They revert, I suppose, to matter that doesn't matter. Poor relations. Once the shock is over. Once it registers life has called it quits. Then we the living shift attention to ourselves. The dull cadavers don't hold interest anymore. They're not like us; they're too damn stiff.

Or so I told myself to keep from playing sentimental reruns of discovering Graham stone-cold, to keep from breaking down again. I felt BETRAYED, as much as anything. Like the dead commit an insult by reminding us that we're no more invincible than were they. Who needs reminding! I, for one, do not take kindly to examples of the state that waits to numb my butt eternally. Death's a drag. What's more, the hint that Graham 'preferred' his rigor mortis to vitality made a mockery of the broken hearts left grieving at his wake.

"It's dangerous here, Vel."

Scott was antsy. Ours were not the only tracks in the vicinity; there were paw prints. It was dumb to leave the camp without a weapon. Or a guard. Though Graham's 'protector' made his presence known before we went much farther. Where was HE, I couldn't help wondering, when the fatal stroke had hit? Not that a spear would've been much use—from which some clothes were presently hoisted. As we hurried to investigate, it was plain whose clothes they were: a khaki shirt and shorts, Graham's sandals.

"Where?"

He pointed to the kopje. How we'd missed them was explained by their condition. They were soiled. And, as our questions prompted pantomimes, it was clear that they'd been buried. Why? Again, God only knows. But Graham himself, no doubt, interred them. Then, as if we weren't confused enough, the plot got thicker still.

We three climbed back into the jeep and headed straight for that acacia, where we stopped, piled out, and walked the last few yards. I sensed this pull. I mean, it felt like we were being drawn, then all at once, shoved backward; there was someplace, in the shade, that we were NOT supposed to go.

Instead we circled. Scott and I, that is; the bodyguard kept his distance. At the center of this force field was a tiny leather sack with a burned-in sideways eight. It looked suspended, when we spotted it. You could hardly see the cobweb that attached it to a branch above our heads. And then it twirled. A breath of wind, I guess, had set it moving clockwise, very slowly. We just stood there, as if hypnotized... We kept staring; it kept turning. Then it stopped. I reached my hand out. Poof! The pouch just disappeared. Well, not exactly; it disintegrated; the outsides turned to powder. But the insides, made of something soft as corn silk, stayed intact.

It was a lock of hair. Of blond hair. Graham's: same shade, same curl, same downinessonly more so; like a baby's.

Then I saw them; her, him, her. I mean, I sensed them watching over us where we stood on 'sacred ground,' as if we'd trespassed.

'It's ambrosial, Vel. Pure catnip.' Why those phrases came to mind, I couldn't tell you. Up they cropped, as if Graham's telling me that my scent and hers were similarhis new darling'sbridged a gap that needed bridging. For an instant, I felt linkedinstead of left behind and jilted for some yellow-breasted warbler who was scarcely worth reverting to a stage in human history when a fig leaf made a fashion statement.

No; it's too farfetched! The man was hoodwinked, led astray by flights of fancy, wooed by wet dreams, plus some fable spun by National Geographic magazine. He MUST have sensed that he was dying, so he made up this neurosis, like we all do when the prospect of nonentity hammers home. We're going to Heaven, to the afterlife, to Valhalla, to greener pastures, to happy hunting grounds, wherever, just as long as we survive, as long as SOMETHING of us lasts beyond our common fate as worm food. Folks can deal with termination if, and only if, they feel there's hope for happily ever afters past the fact of decomposing. Is it any wonder myths are born when death lies so inert? I mean, oblivion? Zero? Nothingness? After all this stimulation? I'll be hatching theories fast and free myself at the end. Won't you?

I tried to tell myself that Graham had crossed some 'existential boundary,' that his Time and Space hypotheses weren't the fairytales they were. Because I wanted to BELIEVE that he had met his death contentedly. When the truth, the awful truth, was he had died... aloof... alone.

Because I'd let him down, ignored his symptoms, mocked his loopy notions, then pretended, AFTER the fact, that they made sense to duck the guilt.

 

 

VJ: I should have STAYED.  I might have saved him.

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Do you really think you could have?

 

VJ: Maybe... Maybe not. Who knows? I mean, of course it wasn't MY fault Graham had mental problems; 'migraines.' Still, I wish to God I'd been a better friend. I wish...

 

{DELETE! Ignore the Black girl, with the microphone, feeling sorry for herself, in tears.}

 

I need a tissue. Sorry.

 

{EDIT! This is stupid.}

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: Should we stop?

 

VJ: Yes, please. I'm done. It was the wind through thorns, I heard that day, not music; DAMN Graham's Flute Players.

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: And the lock of hair?

 

VJ: Was MAYBE his; who knows? It was a decent match.

 

{In fact, I'm wearing it, in a locket, which I'm not ABOUT to mention. Little Miss Golden Globes aside, the other's presence I found humbling. Hers, the elder's, was a loyalty that commanded some respect. She had a previous claim to Graham, I felt. The curl had been a keepsake. And a gift, from her to me. I always wear it. Always will.}

 

So that's my life an' times in a nutshell—sixty sound bites, give or take. I DO apologize for the length. I trust you'll trim the fat to suit?

 

CAUSE CÉLÈBRE: You've been fantastic! Heaps of tidbits, gobs of candor. We're delighted! Cause Célèbre is in your debt. Good luck in March with the Awards. We'll cross our fingers, Ms. Jerome, in hopes you win. 

 

 

DEATH NOTICES

 

DOUBLETREE, Graham Bartholomew—On location in the game preserve of Masai Mara, Kenya, Africa, April 5th, 1982. Beloved son of George and Angela Nelson Doubletree...

 

 

Edith chokes back bitter sobs. Her scrapbook, splayed across the table belly-up like a fish filleted, exposes pages, she construes, that have parted of themselves. The time, perhaps, has come to accept he loved one's passing.

 

 

 

Alumnus: London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in England, West Peoria High and Jefferson Elementary here at home...

 

 

 

The son she could not call her own is dead. The child she bore (and surrendered), can absolve her of the sin of sins she suffers nevermore.

 

 

Funeral services will be held Monday, April 10th, in St. Jude's Chapel, 212 Beekeeper Rd., Peoria Heights, at 9:15 AM...

 

 

 

Condemned to mourn her secret child, who never spoke her name, much less acknowledged her as "mother," Edith rues his death in vain. An act of God; or man; or devil?

 

 

 

To be followed by entombment at the All Saints Columbarium, North on Hwy. 29 to the Chillicothe exit...

 

 

 

Why so soon? The ways of God were too mysterious, too severe by Edith's reckoning. It was she who should be punished for the insult to maternity, for the outrage to society caused by a motherhood so short-lived.

 

 

 

The family has requested that, in lieu of sending flowers, friends and fans make their memorials through donations in Graham's memory to whatever cause or charity they deem fitting.

 

 

 Edith stares. Her eyes see nothing (yet release a rill of self-effacing tears). Has she deserved this wretched penance? Is God chastening her for meddling (for 'conspiracy' to meddle, in Creation's sacred sphere)? Her sin of "womb-for-hire," "maternal surrogate" (the Church has found no label) may have earned this sentence, oh, so harsh, of solitude she must serve... forgo appeal despite her feeling fooled—the Doubletrees had exploited her by implanting her with hopes and dreams they harvested for themselves, their spore, their egg and sperm, their fertilized future—once it came to term, leaving Edith hollowed out, and, shortly after, fired.

True, she had money in the bank (if not enough to give up working). She was homely not unsightly, overweight but young and strong. And yet, though marriageable, she had never married. Why? She had her chances. Why, if Graham's 'adoption' caused regrets, had Edith not brought forth—brought forth again, that is, without an obligation to relinquish that which grew inside her belly, that which prospered due to nutrients from her pith, her very core... until detached? It was 'detachment' that had sabotaged Edith's happiness, once exchanging a minuscule lump-become-a-child for lump-sum cash...

Had Edith coveted motherhood truly? Or in giving up 'their property,' had she actually felt released, relieved? felt unburdened and relieved? No filthy diapers, predawn feedings, fits of squalling, bouts of colic, rancid farts, continual rashes, chronic coughs, and crib death scares; she had escaped paternal hardships. But forgone paternal joys? No smiles, no bubbly laughs or gurgling burps of well-fed satisfaction, no indulging dovetailed nerve ends, child's with mother's, meeting needs, devoting time and love and energy to the welfare of another, putting someone else's comfort first, enlisting ways and means to soothe and nurture, teach, protect from harm, expose to fresh experience, and allay the awful, empty, frightening torment all souls face upon awakening to the state of being utterly alone...

... a single page...

... a line of script below an urn-filled niche...

 

...before which, Edith knelt; arriving late, she missed the eulogy. Heels on inlaid tile resounding, she had entered in the 'wake' of those who had come to pay respects, averse to sharing her bereavement with a crowd that had no concept of her disproportionate loss. She was content to grieve internally and in private (as was fitting for a woman 'unrelated,' after all, to the deceased).

Attired in royal blue instead of black (let skin tone serve tradition)veiled but otherwise non-funereal in her night-at-the-opera dress, she stood reserved, resigned to recollections spotty, in chronology (theirs a history like a vagabond's grin, few teeth, too many gaps). Yet first and foremost, Graham's existence owed its origin to none other. Sperm and ovum notwithstanding, it was Edith's womb that nursed, that fed his fetal heart her blood, that fed his premature veins her nutrients—son intrinsically joined to mother; she was his, and he was hers; until the birth, the breach, the severance.

Edith wept, without relief, inside the vaulted columbarium (once reminded of the contract she had all-too-hastily signed), her grief unbroken (and of how they had convinced her, used a metaphor, claimed "our baby's only chance to sprout, to bloom, depends on you," their pleas impassioned and considered and deliberate and sincere, "our last resort," "the Good Lord bless you," "your position is secure," "forever grateful") unleashed torrents, wept and wept and would have wailed had not a hand been placed, in sympathy, by a not-quite-perfect stranger, who, like Edith, had delayed her visitation, dodged the throng to say good-bye without an audience.

Fingers young, and lithe, and elegant intertwined with those far less so, as the actress lent support to the domestic. Side by side, alike in mood, and race, and gender, clad in black and blue, respectively, each made peace with him whose passing left a not-quite-empty void.

Each owned a keepsake: Edith's album, Vel's cassette of "Cargoes..." out-takes, plus a pair of tokens; pressed between a scrapbook's dog-eared pages and enclosed within a locket, both possessed a tender curl, identically fine, identically blond, identically Graham's—twin locks, preserved—that each inheritor vowed to cherish evermore.

 

The episode fades, delivers Edith from the realm of 'then' to 'now,' alone, still grieving, dressed in bathrobe, smock, and slippers, reemerged as from a cloud, her moonlike facial features dim for want of light they once had borrowed; un-illumined in the absence of a son, her aura dims... while his, the fallen star's whose twinkle, months before, had shown so brightly, sheds its brilliance one last time (as a rowdy reminiscence).

 

 

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