Location: Hedgesville, WV
Date of Birth: 3/31/66
Published in: Stirring V1:E2
bells, bells, bats and whistles.
i tend to the bells. that unavailing caterwaul echoes for miles, way beyond the shores of this dnalsi. they ring proud from the bell tower, which is just the old lighthouse. before even i was born the good people of this dnalsi decided they no longer needed to beckon distant ships safely into their harbor. the light was taken out and the bells were installed.
if i see someone or something approaching our shores, all i have to do is give the bells a ring, and the good people of this dnalsi come calling with their respective bats and whistles. and i don't have anything to do with the bats and whistles, though i was on the receiving end once.
at the misguided age of five, my family and i embarked on a very taboo journey: to enter the waters, and ultimately the land, of Dnalsi Sille without an invite. a funny thing about that -- one can come to live here by only two ways, legally: be born here or be invited. and i have yet to come across anyone on this dnalsi that has ever had the urge to invite someone else here. except that one time when the volunteer fire department tried to get red skeleton to perform for the annual apple days carnival. that was a fiasco from the get-go. no, if someone has a deep desire to be invited to live here legally then they should be prepared to show a lot of money. or something equally comparable. whatever that may be.
now one may ask, "what is all the appeal of Dnalsi Sille?" besides wanting to be somewhere that will never return the favor? well, they have apples. really good apples.
as we approached the coastline, the warning signs became more frequent. go back from where you came. this is a restricted area. you are risking life and limb. you will be promptly turned around. there are just only enough apples for us. you are not wanted here. or needed. my dad never was much of a reader. he tied the raft's lines to a garbage dirge that harbored itself just outside of the fishing docks. i went with him to see if the coast was clear for my expecting mother.
by that time, the bells were just a-ring-a-ringing. like i said before, the bells bring the bats and whistles. the bats get swung. and the whistles bring more bats. melees ensue. this particular time was no different. an enthusiastic group of volunteer firemen grabbed my father. he was a struggle for anyone. i was cuffed on the ears by the high school's janitor and pushed up against the wall of dirker's merry mart.
basically, i was staying put for the time being. but that's okay. now my father was a different matter entirely. upon news of my mother's delicate condition, he was firmly escorted back to the raft by the heftiest of the volunteer firemen. some hasty zealot– i think it was mayor balin's boy, tommy– cut the lines and pulled on the raft. the raft tipped over. mother and my unborn brother sank like a rock. father broke free from the welcoming committee's hold and dove in to save them. a choppy high tide and moonless sky nicely hid the unfriendly coral that dwells along the bottom of the dnalsi's coastline. he never came back up.
being five years old, it was even below an angry mob to send me away, set adrift with no raft, no family. mrs. hodgens, the local quilter, proposed i should become a ward of the state, given the circumstances, and she offered, out of common hospitality of course and also, i guess, out of the fact that she was widowed and quite lonely in that big house, to shelter and feed me, and all the other decent fine points of raising a child till i was old enough to leave on my own accord, or till the community came around to receive me as one of them. whichever came first. that was twenty years ago today. i am Dnalsi Sille's first and only living loophole.
the seasons don't change that much here. each day is like a sort of diminutive autumn. just without the leaves. enough lazy clouds to give the threat of rain some weight. i guess to piss off the surfer punks too cool for skateboards and sidewalks, the real estate salespeople on their cellularized lunch breaks, the off-duty policemen sneaking in some pastries while fighting off the seagulls, and anyone else that would just like to stop thinking about apples for a bit and stare at the ocean.
clear on the other side of the dnalsi there is the harbor and the fishing docks. when i was handed my high school diploma, i was given a choice-- not by anyone in particular; a collective hypothetical, given my circumstances -- work in the orchards or work on the docks. or don't work.
well, working the bells isn't very taxing. just keep a careful eye all around me and remember which bell is for which side of the dnalsi. you see, there are four bells: west, east, north and south. and each bell has a different chime. lets the citizens know where the action can be found, depending on the sound of the bell. i don't get paid much working the bells– well, actually, I don't get paid anything except for, of course, a little respect. which tommy balin says comes from proudly manning the bells.
tommy works the bells in the daytime. he says it takes plenty of cunning and patience to watch over the dnalsi in the light of the sun, since very few people are ever that foolish to try to slip in during the bright of day, and if they are then they're just as clever. so it takes a man with the stature and genetic windfall like tommy balin to scour the harbor and docks for any would-be encroaching trespassers. yet his keen gaze is usually fixed on the beaches filled with bikinied girls i remembered with sweaters on back in high school. he still manages to ring the holy high hell out of the bells daily. not for any particular reason other than to test the swift efficiency of the duty-bound citizens of this fine land. and every time, the boys from the fire department, who are always the first ones on the scene, will look up at tommy and wonder if he got his bells mixed up. tommy just looks back at them waving his stopwatch in the air saying they need to get the lead out or occasionally he'll say something like keep up the good work.
sometimes, when his high school buddies are up in the tower with their six-packs, they'll dare him to ring the bell on the ordinary average citizen walking down the wrong street at the wrong time. before i tended the tower at night, tommy used to ring the bells on me all the time. it got to the point that i expected a cavalcade of bells every time i walked out of a building. but that all changed when i volunteered my services for night duty. tommy protested like crazy to his daddy that a foreigner, a freak like me should never be allowed to dishonor the sanctimony of the bells.
but no one else would volunteer, taking into account, i suppose, that they didn't want to miss out on all the fun that the bats and whistles have to offer. so the mayor had to begrudgingly accept my offer. tommy still considers me a freak mishap of the beauty of conception but he lays off the bells. i guess he figures i could always extend the same courtesy to him and with it being nighttime and all, tommy could be a bloody mess by the time someone realizes it's the prodigal son they're whooping.
other than that, he still has it good. the weekends off– which i stand in for him– and he gets paid fairly well for his undaunted watch over Dnalsi Sille. but truth be told, i think he mans the bells during the day in order to free his nights up so he can be ready with his bat and whistle whenever i ring the bell for the real thing. i rarely do though. usually i either have my head buried in something to read, or i just stare out into the blankness of the night air thanking my stars i can't see any apples or fish. the staples of any good thriving economy i suppose.
the dnalsi hardly ever changes so there are not any great sights i am missing out on, unless i'm trying to look. and i never do try that hard. i'm obligated to ring the bells every now and then but i usually do it way before the violators are even close to shore; to keep them in safe distance from the bats; to spare someone from losing an entire family like i did. but lately, there hasn't been anyone trying to sneak in, so i've been off the hook.
there was this one occurrence in particular last year. i was pawing over a travel brochure for guam– a battable offence all to its own– when i noticed i had more light to read by than my flashlight usually allowed. it was the moon. and i have never seen a more powerful version of it's illumination. nor, perhaps, i ever will. i gazed into its glowing depth and felt a sort of mutual correspondence. at that point i realized that there is indeed something more to everything. and not just the moon. though its beauty is unparalleled, the moon still answers to a higher call. as does everything. and this higher call transcends the daily routines and the normal practices of human beings– their laws and boundaries– so to say, it goes way beyond them, yet it is for them. okay, i didn't know what i was talking about then either, so i just picked up the brochure again and dreamt of guam.
i suppose it could have been the higher calling, but something made me look back at the moon and its elucidated trail upon the water. there i saw the most curious thing: a man, cut right out of a hemingway novel, paddled so fearlessly for all to hear and had a smile on his face as if he was on a leisurely afternoon stroll. now, i am not one for judgement, but i figured there were three definite possibilities that could explain the old coot and his behavior.
one, he was a "client" from our nearest neighbor, the mynaw institute for the reality-based challenged. the generously ample facility (from what i gathered by the glossy pictures in their brochure) is located on the greater peninsula of the even greater mainland. an ill-advised location, to say the least. why anyone would take a group of social misfits (misunderstood and not at all amicably convenient to the general population), and put them on the shore of an awaiting sea to take them wherever, is totally beyond my comprehension.
we get one of them every now and then. usually it is someone not as incapacitated as the brochure assures it's readers, maybe someone that shook off the medication long enough to coherently jump the fence, cut the boat lines and head off for Dnalsi Sille.
now two, the old man could have been a gentle (albeit eccentric) recluse with a slight case of agoraphobia. but, as i hypothesized, his fear wasn't strong enough to be weary of strangers– the average agoraphobe isn't afraid of people they don't know; it's the people they do know that scares the hell out of them– and no one can be weary enough of the strangers here. oh, i guess if you take the bats away, everyone here is just like everyone that lives everywhere else.
and finally three, he just had balls the size of alaska.
either way i liked him. still do. i went down to the docks were he was headed and made sure there weren't any anxious firemen lurking nearby. he said his name was Shuffle Jones. and he was pleased to meet me. well, first time for everything.
usually, when someone gets within a weapon's length of the dnalsi (which isn't that often) i try to persuade them to turn around lest they want the marching band to show up and rain bats on them. most times they don't listen to me. it's hard to ever take a scruffy, bookish boy of twenty-five serious when you have the land of apples at your fingertips. and it's never pretty when i'm proven right, not with the visual aids this dnalsi has to lend.
now Shuffle Jones was different. is, i suppose. i made no attempt to dissuade. no welcoming party either. well, it helps when i don't ring the bells. he tied up his boat and left his things in there as if he rowed for ten miles or so just to do some shopping. we exchanged pleasantries while walking towards the downtown area. actually, he was walking. i was sort of just following him. asking him stupid questions like why he was there and so on. he seemed to know where he was going and there was this great ease about him.
since i have known him i understand now this ease is his racket. it's what he does. calm and serene like when he strolled right on down main street past the dnalmark restaurant– owned and operated by the balins, of course. i used to work there for a brief spat before luna and old man dirker saved me from the evil clutches of tedious pettiness– and right on by a.j.'s bingo palace (except for the high school parking lot when the apple days festival is going full throttle, this place is the hottest ticket in town). he just kept on walking. and the whole time, with everyone we saw, he raised his hand in a nonchalant half-wave and said hello to them all. by name. but he never stopped for a second, never missed a step. he didn't even stop to gaze at all the pretty blinking neon draped out in front of the galazaar movie house, as i used to do all the time. another battable offence. it took more than a couple of swings of the old pine to realize that brochures are a far better, if not safer, passage to escapism.
the looks, i noticed, from some of the people he greeted seemed a little confused, like they didn't really know who he was but they weren't really sure that they didn't know him. well, we walked pass the downtown area– all five blocks of it and turned left onto east side drive and walked up the driveway of the third house on the right. myra's house, my house. to say the least, i was slightly confused. more than the average passerby on main street. with his hand on the doorknob he turned to me and asked if we still had a spare room.
"yea. the one down in the basement. but that room has been locked ever since mr. hodgens past away. we're talking twenty years, at least. i'm quite sure you're going to encounter some dust."
"Dust is the easy issue here, Mr. Owen. You're off tomorrow, right?"
"yea...how did you know..."
"Get some sleep then. We have a full day of errands ahead of us."
whenever i've tried to ask Shuffle Jones how he knows what he knows the topic of discussion always changed. and i went right along with it. i've lived in the same house as him for over a year, and i still don't know, to a certain extent, what's up with him.
he woke me up the next day extremely early and said we had to be off to the orchards with haste. when we got there it was still too early for the workers to be there, so we hopped the fence and just kind of traipsed through the rows of trees. i grabbed an apple to nosh, and Shuffle Jones took it out of my hand, only saying, "not yet." then the bright lights of a ford pickup beamed in our eyes as it approached the gate. big jim sanders, the foreman, the volunteer fireman and ace bat swinger, stepped out of the truck and opened the gate. i thought we were cooked. Shuffle Jones is a big man, but he has a little age to him. i know jim could break me in half, so i looked for a tree to hide in.
"It's ok, Breg. We're welcomed here. Have faith." jim pulled the truck up to the garage doors of the warehouse and Shuffle Jones walked up to him. "Hello, jim. How you doing this fine morning?"
"what the hell? who the hell are you and what the hell are you doing here?"
"Relax, jim. We're just checking out the merchandise. I trust you know Breg Owen, and I know you know Shuffle Jones when you see him."
"Come on, Big Jim. Who was there at your christening? Your wedding? your Uncle Davis's funeral? Your sister's trial?"
"oh, that Shuffle Jones."
"sorry, old man. it's way too early to be sociable." jim put out a hand to shake. "so, what brings you guys up here? shouldn't you be up in the tower there, breg?"
"uh, no, i have the day off."
"We just came by to check out the apples. Everything seems to be fine."
"yea, i do my best."
"That's all that can be expected."
"you guys want some samples? feel free."
good. i was getting hungry.
"No. But we'll be back when the time is ready."
the other workers were pulling up to the gate when we opened it and walked out. "Hello, men. How are you doing?"
"hey." "yea." "fine." "how you doing?"
we walked down to the end of the road and made a right back onto east side drive.
"so where to next, Shuffle Jones?"
"To see how the other side is doing."
the stink of the harbor's waters tends to be at its zenith in the early hours. not quite sure why. add samuel hikers' donut shop and claire eaton's egg house in the mix and you just might get a perfectly good wretch. the loom of diesel above the brackish brine does it for me. well, i've always had a bad stomach. i suppose the way i've treated it over the years hasn't helped. and neither has myra with her chicken caked with tabasco and flour and fried for like ten years deeply in lard. lard, lard, nothing but lard. and anything i ever eat at that house has some kind of meat in it. even biscuits aren't safe. and jameson had a real penchant for homemade beer. not good. but if i knew then what i know now, i wouldn't be here. and oh, her coffee's the best. grounded very fine, espresso fine, with vanilla beans. nice touch. i pay for all of that now as Shuffle Jones, with a latte in one hand and a cruller in the other, smiles at me. "Eat up."
"no thanks. i'm waiting for brunch."
"Where's your safe place?"
"You know, the one place in the whole world that you know you can count on whenever life is getting you down or you just need to think about something. Where is that?"
"why don't you tell me? you seem to know more about everything than anyone else."
"It sounds better when you say it."
"um, the tower. i guess."
Shuffle Jones just gave a glint while shoving the cruller in his mouth.
"you like the irony, huh? my one true haven from all the wickedness of life and others, myself included, is the exact same thing that is the source of wickedness for everyone that tries to crash this dnalsi's party."
"Yeah. Well, mine is right here. Not this dock, specifically, but right at the point where water meets land, and vice versa. All things start and end right here. Something to remember, perhaps."
"well, yea, my family tree ended here. i definitely remember that."
"No one truly dies forever, Breg. They just change tenses. Take Luna Dirker for example."
"she's not dead. right?"
"She might as well be."
"why do you say that?"
"Well, she's not around. You don't wake up to her phone calls anymore. She's not there to talk both of you to sleep. You can't touch her."
"you are so wrong. i thought you knew everything, Shuffle Jones. she is always with me. dead or alive somewhere else, she always lives right here." i was pointing to my heart.
"Then why not extend that same courtesy to your parents."
"ah, that snuck up on me. you're getting cleverer by the day. anyway, i guess i do, just don't know them as well as i do luna. or love, for that matter."
"You really miss her, huh?"
"Then what are doing here?"
"Why didn't you leave with her?"
"i'm giving her some space, Man."
"Ha." Shuffle Jones finished stuffing his face and went over to hugh watkins' fishing boat that just pulled up to dock. "How you doing, Hugh. Fine day for fishing. Get anything good?"
"nah. same old thing. nothing but flounder...wait...who are you?"
"You're going to tell me -- when you were running moonshine from the states, the day you started having doubts about the legality of it all, your schooner got caught in that noreaster and left you for dead– you don't remember your first mate, Shuffle Jones, the only other soul with you then? You're going to tell me that?"
"well, Shuffle Jones. sorry old man. my memory isn't what it used to be. how the hell have you been?"
"Just as fine as this morning. How's the fish business?"
"Good to hear. Well, just came by to see how you were doing. We should be off now. Say hello to Edna for me, will you?"
"sure thing, Shuffle Jones. it's good to see you again. you too, breg. come back later, i've got some smoked mackerel for mira."
"ok. see you later, mr. watkins."
the sun was making her move for the top of the sky and i had no idea what our little socializing was about. at that particular time of the day i would normally be at the merry mart working for old man dirker. stocking groceries and pricing items is my job description but i also tend to the books. basically, i took over all of his niece luna's responsibilities since she left. old man dirker's been senile since he lost his wife ten years ago and this year with luna gone hasn't been very good for him. or me. i dot all the i's and cross all the t's in order to keep mayor balin off of dirker's back. balin happens to be, incidentally, the president of the first national bank of Dnalsi Sille, which happens to be, incidentally, the lender of our first, second, third mortgages. there are only so many apples and fish a saturated market can bear. anyway, i started working there about seven years ago. right around the time i started hanging with luna. nice coincidence, huh?
but back to Shuffle Jones for the moment. to make that long day short, we went around the dnalsi saying hello to everyone. and in turn, everyone met Shuffle Jones with a little resistance before succumbing to his charm and familiarity. and for once, i didn't seem to get any of those nasty glances i am somewhat prone to getting. maybe it is true about that saying, "the company you keep," or something.
our last stop for the day was at the first national bank of Dnalsi Sille. i was thinking that maybe Shuffle Jones wanted to open an account. could be he had a lot. he does tend to act like old money taught him manners. but he just ambled in, smiled at the pretty receptionists counting money and looking at their nails, greeted the guards by name and headed for mayor balin's office. i followed, of course. waving to everyone that Shuffle Jones left in his wake. balin was in. that was a surprise. i thought he might be out and about foreclosing on someone. must have been an off day.
he was on the phone and motioned us to have a seat while he tidied up things on the other line. the walls were vandalized with pictures galore of his precious tommy. tommy the medaled swimmer. oow, tommy on his first day of work at the tower. tommy at graduation. tommy good at this, tommy great at that. and there was even a picture of tommy and the rest of the kids of Dnalsi Sille's little league baseball team. i noticed the absence of me. where was i on photo day? i mean, come on, i produced that year: hit over .200, had 3 homers and 12 rbi. and 5 of those were game winning ribbies at that. oh well, i guess ordinary grass just doesn't deserve a chance to grow in the shade of a rose bush.
"gentlemen. breg? what could i do for you men today?"
"Funny, I was just going to ask you that?"
"Oh, if you're looking for work, sir, i am sorry to say that all our positions are currently unavailable, but feel free to fill out an application in case anything would happen to open up. have a good day, gentlemen."
"No, I am not looking for work. I have plenty, thank you. I am here to talk to you."
"what is this, breg? one of your ideas of fun? is it that close to halloween?"
"i have no idea, mr. balin. i'm just along for the ride."
"That phone call you just had. That was with your wife. Am I correct, Mr. Balin?"
"what business is that of your's?" his fingers were getting real close to the little red button that would have brought bats in of a different sort.
"She's not cheating on you, if that is the reason of your stress. But we both know that is your little evasive tactic. She loves you. She just wants to see what Dnalsi Sille can no longer offer her. More than likely she will come back to you better for it. And showing it. Let her go."
right about then i was thinking all of this sounded extremely familiar.
"really. is anything of this necessary? breg, you are going to have a lot to answer to, young man. you are quite replaceable at the tower."
"with all due respect, mr. balin, i wish. just hear the man out. i've been walking around with him all day, and i tell you what, he knows almost everything. and more."
"okay, i'll go along with your little gag, for now. what wisdom do you have to share with me, mr...?"
"Shuffle Jones. well then, Mr. Shuffle Jones, do tell me what i need to do in regards with my wife."
"Ah, Mr. Balin, your wife is but one piece of your puzzle. You cannot possible do anything for her until you do something for yourself."
"and what may that be, Mr. Shuffle Jones?"
"What's the one thing, Mr. Balin, that your wife wants more than anything?"
"Freedom." Shuffle Jones shrugs back. "Not necessarily freedom from you, but freedom all the same."
"i don't know why i even have to defend myself here, but i certainly provide my family with everything i possibly can. they live in the best house on the dnalsi. they have comfort. they have money. and in the world that i live in, Mr. Shuffle Jones, money can buy you all the freedom you want."
"What is that? What is money? And wealth? And any other man-made stuff that can't even begin to nurture the soul within. Which, i must add, is anything but man-made. You need to free yourself there, Mr. Balin."
"excuse me for a second, Shuffle Jones, but i feel a need to point out the paradox of talking about freeing something to a banker. that's all. please continue, gentlemen."
"You went wrong somewhere. And I am sorry to say that i simply don't know how. Perhaps I am wasting my time. And yours. So Breg and I will leave you now to do all your bank stuff to get your comfort and money. But I'm just down the street if you ever feel like you need something else."
"anywhere else we have to go to, Shuffle Jones?"
"No, I think we're done for the day."
"good, i am going to try to get some sleep before i have to go to the tower tonight. see you around, Shuffle Jones."
when i got up and finally made my way to the tower, it dawned on me that tommy might have something to say about what Shuffle Jones and i did today. i don't know, call it a hunch. anyway, when i got to the tower i could tell by the look of know on tommy's face, he already had a chat with his dad. "i don't know what kind of stunt you think you pulled today at the bank, but i'll tell you what, that shit don't work with me."
"i don't know, i think shit works pretty well with you."
"what was that freak?"
"nothing. go home, abuse your girlfriend and leave me alone."
he socked me in the eye good. "i'll tell you what, to this day, i still don't know what the hell luna ever saw in you." he spit on me as i was on my way down and then just started whistling as he left the tower.
"do you always tend to bring the worst out in people?"
i looked up from the hobbit, and there she was: luna dirker. too cool for cheerleading, but too beautiful for anything else. i searched around to see if there were any of the elites (tommy, et al.) standing around laughing at the scene. luna dirker talking to me. i was paranoid even at seventeen.
"i suppose, don't know really what i do besides try to stay away from them."
"well, in there somewhere might your answer dwell." it was at that time i realize now i should have said that i loved her. "you must get lonely with everyone seemingly hating you."
"thanks for the survey, but no. i only get lonely when everyone ignores me. i guess hate is better than nothing. like the slop in the cafeteria, one tends to get used to whatever they are served. and i kind of like the food here."
"you're goofy. but that's okay. goofy is making a comeback. you just have a headstart. i know this might throw a wrench in your lonely machine, but i am failing miserably in jameson's class and we have mid-terms soon, so i was wondering if you wouldn't mind helping me study?"
her words were accessorized with a flutter of eyes the whole time. those eyes. they are what i see when i wake up and when i go to sleep. blue and green in color mostly, but sometimes they seemed to invoke the whole spectrum around her. innocent and wise– if that's possible. and there never seemed to be any pain behind those eyes whatsoever, well, at first anyway. whatever those eyes asked of me, i did, even when they pleaded me to let go. across from the lunch table, they seemed to be asking, "did i get through the loner's wall?"
words come and go, but there are always enough for me to say what i feel i need to say. i ate dictionaries and thesauri many dim-lit nights to arm myself when the day to use them might come. when i actually talked to luna dirker for the first time, she was handing myra her groceries and leaning on the broken rail of the front deck against the house. i never did get around to fixing that. or saying what i wanted. she waited patiently for her tip and added that with a few nails that rail could be as good as new. i came up to the door to take the groceries and there she was, the ghostly dream of my locker days in the flesh. i was waiting for a smirk or a hey, freak, what's up but i didn't expect:
"hi, breg. missed you at school today. jameson didn't know what to do so he just made us keep our noses in the textbook. you coming back tomorrow?"
"yea, probably. or till the swelling goes down."
"that's quite a shiner. did you get that from tommy? he can be such a punk."
"no. i slipped on the railing."
"oh, well, hope to see you in school soon. see you later, too, mrs. hodgens. and thanks for shopping with dirkers."
i immediately went to my room and laid out the clothes i would wear the next day to school. my Sunday best casual. nothing mattered that day except for third period english. for being an old fart, jameson was fairly hip to social correspondence. never enforced assigned seating and let the students sit where they wanted everyday. so i was in a tither as to what to do. i wanted badly to sit right next to her. say hello and begin a whirlwind romance. but then i started to think that maybe she was just being nice the day before because myra was there and if i was to sit next to her she would just laugh and think oh god, i'm nice to the freak one time and he's all over me like a used car salesman. so, i took my usual seat in the middle of the classroom.
"mr. owen! welcome back. i trust you are feeling better."
"yea, thanks." he always had to give, in his own nice way, the bullies a reason to beat me up. he meant well, i suppose. after all, i was his favorite pupil. and not because he was sweet on myra and came for dinner three or four times a week and in a way regarded me like his son, but because he respected me as a student. and, i think, as a human being. that was a rare thing for me to come by then. or now. it's not like i brown-nosed or something. the man taught literature. that was my only love growing up. we, in that way, bonded. and also with all the baseball games we used to watch on the t.v. together. he is one of the five people i ever liked on this dnalsi. jameson and myra married after i graduated high school and i will never see two people who loved each other as much as those two. he died about two years ago. broke myra's heart, but he had a good soul, so i am sure he is doing fine right now.
so, back to the classroom. she walked in. books at her chest and hair to her left. "hi, rach. nice hat." "hey, sue. did you catch mia's outfit? she just screams co-dependency. look! i'm tommy's girl." i knew it. i was taken in by hope once again. oh well. i opened notes from the underground and began to laugh from the inside out. paranoid misery can seem so beautiful when it's well documented. "is this seat taken, breg?"
"what? n-n-no. seat yourself." my feet instantly forgot what ground felt like. i didn't learn a damn thing that day except that my heart is as worthy as anyone else's is. we talked and talked. in the classroom, right in front of every gaping mouth. we spoke over jameson's every word and he didn't even protest, let alone seem to mind. i guess he could have been thinking that if i was to hook up with luna then i wouldn't be clinging around him as much whenever he came to the house and that would allow him more quality time with myra. alone. but, perhaps there was no ulterior there at all. maybe he just wanted the best for me. imagine that.
our conversation kept going. right up to fourth period. she had civics, i had wood shop. i walked into the civics class with her, talking away. right up to the bell. and she didn't even seem to mind. mrs. wilkens escorted me out of the room as the bell rung, and luna said out loud, as if she didn't care who knew she was actually talking to the freak, to meet her in the cafeteria.
i floated to wood shop. i expected forest nymphs with roses in their silky hair to greet me at the door as i wafted into the room. all i got was mr. horney tapping on his watch. yea, that was his name for real. it's the funniest thing, but it seems like all the people with the peculiar surnames become high school teachers. as if after they are born and find out their last name, they then realize that their calling in life is to subject that name to the whims and wit of juvenile adolescents.
i remember that day in class well. i had a slight misunderstanding with the circular saw and still have the scar to prove it, though i didn't feel a thing that day. my body and mind was numb to everything except to the hope of what could come.
we met for lunch and that takes this back to where i left off right before my reply.
"yea, i'll help you study. why not?" i felt a little dejected, thinking that she built me up all this time just to get something out of me. but, hell, attention is attention in any way it may come.
"what's the matter?" luna dropped the chime of laughter and grew a little concern. "did i say something wrong?"
"no." along the years, i have developed, without a doubt, the greatest shrug known to mankind. but my eyes will never learn to lie. "that's fine. what time?"
"well," a smile reemerges, "i have to work at the merry mart tonight. we don't close till eight...you could meet me there if you want. then we could go study at my house. or whatever." she had a damn good shrug of her own back in the day. "is that cool?"
"yea. i'll meet you then."
ah. what transpired later that day and for the next six years, well, i playback all of it in my mind everyday.
it has been over a year since the last time i saw her, waving goodbye as the boat Shuffle Jones arrived in took her over the horizon and away from me. i sense that she is pretty damn happy wherever she is, and, i suppose, i could be as well. yet i can't shake what i feel for her. yea, it can be said that she was the only person who ever touched my heart, in an intimate way, so i am just holding on because i am afraid of being alone. but i was certainly quite alone before she came around. then again, alone picks up way more intensity after one hasn't been alone for awhile.
all of that is bunk. i love her and i let her go. that is my lot. she wanted exactly what mrs. balin wanted: more. yea, i was always the one to start the conversations pertaining to moving. moving the hell out of here. i planted the seed. so, i have no one to blame but myself and perhaps Shuffle Jones. He prodded her a little. actually, now that i think about it, i believe that was his main reason for coming here: to get people who wanted to go, to go. anyway, i initiated those conversations between luna and i because i am the greater dreamer of us, i suppose. but towards the end of our confabulations i was instigating them merely to see those beautiful blue and green eyes light up. i never really had the intentions of actually moving. well, not like her, anyway. she would ask, "where to?" and i would say, "anywhere."
but dreaming is thinking and never doing so we never got around to it. well, i didn't. and i keep dreaming about it too. but then i just wake up and head on over to the merry mart and then the bell tower and keep myself occupied with travel brochures.
where am i getting to with all of this? well, i suppose to where Shuffle Jones finally gets me to listen to myself. the inner me that not only dreams the stuff i talk about, but acts on it as well. and that happens at the apple day festival. so, we are going to have to fast-forward a couple of weeks. don't worry, you didn't miss anything.
there was a buzz that came around friday afternoon. it hit the entire town. grabbed everyone with this sort of silent fervor. i mean, everybody did their respective jobs and talked their same respective tales at their own respective water coolers or corner shops, yet there was something different in their eyes. purpose. even the way tommy rung the bells seemed to have a more giddy anticipation to it's chime.
i was loading dirker's truck with baby back ribs and fryer chickens to take over to the fairgrounds when Shuffle Jones came sauntering in the store. "You ready for the fun, tonight, Breg?"
"no. is there something going on?
"Always the Prankster Soul. So you're not counting down the minutes?"
"no. i wasn't planning on going. seriously."
"Well, there is going to be a change in your plans."
"crap. do i really have to go?"
"Yea, seems that way. Sorry, I thought you would be looking forward to your moment of shining fame."
"whatever. anyway, i'm going to be moving this junk to the festival all day, so if you could help myra with her pies and all, i would appreciate it. and then i guess i will see you both there."
the sun was dipping her belly in the sea when i finally finished moving all of dirker's food. i had enough time to take a few winks before the carnival fun would start. i got there still groggy. my last day on the dnalsi and i have to go and finally fit in.
there were kids screaming at ice cream cones on the asphalt and others running circles around their parents whom were looking for their tickets. aunt bessie and her crowd had their bingo cards sprawled out and prepared. gus had the ferris wheel in working order. his cousin lanky had the tilt-a-whirl looking good. i saw the crowd from my school days look away as i walked past their picnic table. hello to you all too. Shuffle Jones was eating some of myra's potato salad as i sat down next to him.
"alright, Old Man, eat up and let's get this show on the road. i don't like being here anymore than i have to."
"Where's the fire, Breg? You have the rest of your life. Slow down for a minute or two. Okay?"
"whatever. so, what's going to happen?"
"I don't know? What do you want to happen?"
"you know, Shuffle Jones, cryptic just doesn't become you."
i looked around at all that was around me. not much. there were twelve-year-old kids standing in line for tickets to the funhouse and thirty-year-old kids standing in line for the kissing booths. i got up for a second to check the commotion going on at the dunk the clown booth.
tommy was at peak performance again. twenty-three consecutive dunks. the crowd was gathering as he was going for his own previous record of twenty-eight. everyone looked on with as much excitement as their shallow souls would allow. i looked over at the wilson family-- the father owns the only gas station in town, the mother runs the most influential sewing/gossip circle in town, but certainly not the only one-- they looked on with a collective drone appeal as their son, willie was studying tommy's technique. perhaps he was dreaming of growing up and shattering his hero's mark. i made the mistake of looking into the eyes of harriet, the mother. the term, "dead eyes," came to mind. she was alive, but not by much. her gaze was fixed on the spectacle as if it was the only thing in her existence. like this carnival was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that kept her and all these people like her from swinging from garden hoses tied to their roof beams.
i felt a good cry well up in me. i guess this is what Shuffle Jones wanted me to see. not what i saw up front, that these people are just living in boring shells trying in vain to count the minutes to their funeral by punching their time cards in and out and by giving manufactured spectacles higher priority over their own enlightenment, but what i saw behind all this small town pandering: a bunch of little sheep silently bleating over their own cries of what any of this is for.
it was at this moment that my hatred for Dnalsi Sille turned into pity. i actually felt sorry that harriet's eyes, and everyone else's for that matter, were pushing any thoughts of wanting something more than this carnival had to offer back way down inside. choking any dreams of the beyond, the unexplainable. "alright, Shuffle Jones, i'm ready to get out of here. time to go home."
"But where is that, Breg?"
"again with the cryptic."
tommy threw is twenty-ninth consecutive dunk and then retired, saying he'd get thirty next year. as he walked by me to get to his table, he nudged me unfriendly-like with his shoulder and said, "i bet you wish you could do something like that, huh freak?"
"yea tommy, i sure do wish i was as pathetic as you."
"you looking to get embarrassed in front of everyone, freak?"
"no thanks, just talking to you is embarrassment enough."
"i'll tell you what, i'm going to put you in your place once and for all." he pushed me into the picnic table and then picked me up to do it all over again.
out of some sort of reflex, i knocked his hands away from my shirt, got up and put my hand in his face. it came off as a sort of stopping motion like a crossing guard or something.
tommy started to laugh and said, "look everyone, i reckon the freak is starting to grow balls. isn't that cute."
"piss off, asshole. i am so tired of your glorious reckoning. you intimidate and manipulate. you don't get life, do you? you think everyone should march to the tune of tommy."
i pushed him back. and i have to say, i was a little impressed with myself. "well, you're in for a sad parade. do you think anyone actually likes you? no. they have no choice. it's either like tommy, or have no one like them."
i pushed him again, and there was definitely a power change there somewhere. he was seeing something in my eyes he had never before: defiance. and i liked it. "you know what you are, asshole? besides, being an asshole? you're nothing but a punk in a pretty boy suit. granted, not everyone sees you that way right now, but give them all some time, buddy boy, and they will."
i stood up straight, had a little proud gait to myself and i was standing still. "and then where will you be, tommy? I'LL TELL YOU WHAT! you'll be nothing more than mr. was. king of the tower to rule over all of yesterday. clutching your newspaper clippings for dear life, trying to get everybody to see how great you were. because you are as sure as shit nothing now. oh, yea, you can go back to your little entourage over there and put your magical spin on this. but whatever you do or say, just do me one favor, leave me the fuck alone. and that includes when i am not around. peace out, tommy."
I turned to Shuffle Jones. "guess i'm ready for a little trip. know where i could find a boat, Shuffle Jones?"
so, here i am, i couple of miles from the mainland's shore and everything seems right. if i even purport to know anything about Shuffle Jones, i know that he his chilling in myra's basement with the whole crowd, perhaps even tommy is there in attendance, and i also know that He is going on with some story about one finding what is looking for them. and everyone is all ears, listening to Him talk about change.