Monday, January 3, 2011

Postscript, Part 3

That all happened in August.  When I told Keller Bigsby to take any offer on my mother’s house, he told me no one was offering anything close to what I wanted.  He said people complained about the location, the necessary updating, and “general weirdness” or feeling that “I can’t explain it, but…the walls want to hurt me.  Honey, do you know what I mean?  Yes?  See, exactly.  The walls want to hurt me.”  I told Keller though that I didn’t care.  Call the most interested person and see what kind of offer they will make.  He did, and he called me back the next day.  I took the offer.  I sold my mother’s house.

Thanks to my house having long since been paid off I could live on a part-time wage at the Sleep Center.  Now that I had sold the house, however, I was going to come in to a lot of money.  So that night when Sammy picked me up like I asked and we went over to Boyce’s house, I asked them both if they wanted to stay in town.  Boyce said they didn’t want to give up the farm house.  Sammy said he wasn’t sure.  He had itchy feet.  I informed Boyce that he didn’t need to sell his house because I could pay off nearly his entire mortgage.  He would eventually need to find a job still, but with the amount of money I was going to have he could get his own van and start his own locksmithing business. 

I’ll spare you all the I-won’t-let-you-do-that chatter that came from Boyce.  I told him I was going to do it, but I also told him I was going to move in with him and his family.  He said he didn’t care about that—that I could have done that years ago if I wanted.  So we worked it out that the sale of my mother’s home would be divided between helping pay Boyce’s mortgage, helping him get a van for a locksmith job, and buying me a car.  Sammy looked a bit jealous that he wasn’t involved in this new creation, so I told him this: (1) If you and Boyce need a kidney from me, you get to go first (Boyce agreed to this as well), (2) If Boyce, Charlotte, and Boyce Jr. are wiped out in a horrific car crash or a carbon monoxide poisoning, you get what would have been theirs, and (3) I’m going to buy all three of us a trip to Central America so we can see the Resplendent Quetzal.  Sammy was appeased, even feigning interest in the quetzal part of the trip, but still thought maybe he’d be looking for a farm house in the area.  In the end he didn’t really bother looking though, since he spends so many nights over here.  He told Arby’s he wasn’t looking to leave the area, and they actually gave him a promotion.  It seems no one wants to stay in the area, so they were happy to keep him here.  Luckily, Arby’s is not aware of the booming falcon population that may increase people desire to move to the area.

I told Sammy and Boyce about going to see Rachel, and that I knew they had gone to see her before.  They told me they weren’t trying to hide that from me.  The first few times they went they told me right to my face, but I responded with “heroic attempts at showing a lack of interest,” so they just stopped telling me.  I told them she said I could come visit her, but I didn’t think I ever would.  Especially with all the birds that come by Boyce’s house.  It’s not right for a person to ask for too much.  Not long after moving in I built a couple nesting boxes with Boyce Jr. to put in different trees on the property.  We won’t know until spring if any of them will be used.  I love the Eastern Screech Owl, but I sure hope a Great Horned Owl decides to come live near us.

The five of us shared a Christmas Eve dinner a couple weeks ago, and we all gave toasts.  Charlotte toasted me, and thanked me for helping them keep the house.  Boyce toasted me, and thanked me for moving in with them.  Sammy toasted all of us, and said he was glad we were all alive, and we raised a glass for everyone we had lost.  Boyce Jr. toasted something or other.  It may have been a Transformer.  I gave a toast, too.  I said that every once in a while a flock of birds will be struck by a sudden storm of hail and fall dead out of the sky.  Fifty to two hundred birds will come nose diving to the earth.  It generally happens with birds like starlings or grackles or red-winged blackbirds, ones that fly near one another.  I told them all that it must be sad for a bird by himself to see the hail coming, and know he has no flock to die with.  No bird should have to fall to the ground by itself.  I said we’re all going to die one day.  We see too much of it to know otherwise.  I hoped though, that if Sammy, Boyce, Charlotte, or Boyce Jr. should ever be caught in a hail storm, I was a part of their flock, and that to nose dive to the ground with them is better than making it by myself.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Postscript, Part 2

Rachel looked at me for a while with that look on her face she would give when I clearly offended a fat person or an Asian.  It’s a look of loving pity, the way a mother might look at her retarded kid who tries to eat cereal with a wristwatch.  I pointed vaguely at her sister’s grave, but I never actually said anything.  She kept smiling at me though.  She took a little step forward and asked if it was weird to see her like this.  It gave me an opportunity to look her up and down which I always enjoyed doing.  All these years of being away from her, imagining her, I never thought she would be dressed in black.  And why couldn’t I see her hair?  It was behind a head scarf so that all she looked like was Rachel’s face in the midst of some old black sheets.  Don’t get me wrong.  Even in this state she was still smoking hot.  “Takes some getting used to, doesn’t it?” she asked, but I still didn’t say anything.

She said she had made a mental bet about whether her brother or I would visit first.  Would prison and rehab beat out stubbornness, she asked.  It had.  Her brother visited three years ago, just days after getting out of rehab.  “We stood right here, right at Angie’s grave,” she said.  “The day came when I realized you just wouldn’t come, and that everyone who was going to see me like this had seen me like this.  I think only then did I really belong here.  To let everyone know I wasn’t running from anything.  That I needed to be with these people because I belonged here.  I needed everyone to see me.  Now here you are.  I’m glad.”  I still didn’t say anything, though.

She took another step forward.  She was just a foot or so to my right side, and for the first time in many years I could turn my head and see her face.  I wanted to see her hair.  I almost reached out to pull the head scarf away just to see that it was still there, but I bit my nails instead.  She asked if I was going to come up to the chapel for a service.  I still didn’t answer.  I didn’t know what to say.  She looked up at the clouds like she wasn’t sure she should speak, but then she started: “The first time you came to Angie’s grave on Labor Day I had to convince Mother Agatha not to run you out.  I told her you were here for me, and I asked her if I should go see you.  She said for me to stay.  And I cried a bit I think.  She said, ‘No, you can’t go down there.’  Then you came the next year at Labor Day, and I thought this year he’ll come say hello to me, he’ll look me in the eye, but you left again.  And the next year.  And the next.  All the sisters called you the Labor Day Pilgrim.  Every year you came, and the sisters would check what the temperature would be that night, hoping it wouldn’t get very cold.  One time when you were out here a whippoorwill called, and Sister Mary said to me, ‘Do you hear that?  It’s a whippoorwill?’  I knew it was a whippoorwill because you taught me what they sound like.”

I still didn’t say anything, though.  I wished she would stop talking about chapels and mothers and sisters that weren’t really her mothers and sisters but really just women who stared at me from a distance.  They could be like this, but not Rachel.  When Rachel says she’s leaving you, that she is dying to her old life, she needs to mean some disease, or needs to be freefalling in an airplane that just lost its second engine but thankfully there was still time to make this last phone call.

Rachel said, “I thought I would come talk to you since it wasn’t your normal Labor Day trip.  Maybe you’re making progress.”  She paused and sighed.  “But you won’t talk to me, will you?”  I wouldn’t because the only thing I knew to do was to tell her I loved her.  She said, “Maybe next year.  Bless you, Cyrus.”  Then she turned to walk back up the path to the monastery.  So I blurted out, “They’re all leaving me, Rachel.”

She said she knew.  Ever since she had become an official member of the community Charlotte had brought Boyce Jr. once a month.  All the sisters at the monastery knew Boyce Jr.  He would bring his guitar and play songs for them.  Sometimes Sammy and Boyce came with them.  In fact, she knew just about everything.  “They told me you’re getting rid of everything.  That since they’re leaving you’re going to leave, too.  But they know what I know.  What you know.  That you don’t have anywhere to go.  Even those migrating birds know where they're going, don't they?”

I got quiet again, but this time she didn’t turn around to leave.  She waited for me, and even though I’m pretty sure she knew it all anyway, I told her everything that’s happened to me.  About Hank.  About Harris Ames.  About Dr. Keegman.  About the Resplendent Quetzal.  About Bruce Barenburg.  About Virgil Ray.  About the Thunderbirds.  About Antonio.  About Marcel and Rex and Janice.  About Virginia Blare.  About my uncle.  About my mother.  About my father.  About the time when she and I drove up to Boyce’s house and she hit a crow with her car.  How it thumped and flipped over the windshield, she began to cry, and I shouted in disbelief and alarm: “You hit the crow!  No one hits a crow!  Corvus brachyrhynchos, no!”  How we got out and stared at the crow that rocked back and forth on Boyce’s long driveway.  We took it out to a barn behind the house and when I put it on an old wooden table the crows outside the barn really began squawking.  How I made a little splint for its leg that only took a few minutes to make and attach, but I really milked it because I liked watching her look at that crow with all that worry, and then me like I was a hero.  How I had told her she shouldn’t be sad about the crow, that it will live, and that all the other crows will remember we did this good thing.  Crows can distinguish human faces, and will attack those who harass them and show affection for those who nurture them.  How she shouldn’t be sad because all these crows around Boyce’s house will remember we did this good thing, and will show us good favor.  And how from that time on every time we all sat out together crows would drop bolts and screws onto the picnic table as a reward for us helping that one bird.  And even now, though she doesn’t come anymore and Boyce has a for sale sign on his front yard, they still bring nuts or bright pieces of metal to the front steps as a reward.

I finally stopped talking and she told me that it was true I was a good person.  I told her Rex Tugwell didn’t think so, but she said, “That’s because Rex Tugwell is an asshole.”  She told me she should go, that she shouldn’t be speaking in private like this with me.  She asked if I would come up to the chapel and I said no.  She asked if I was going to visit sometime and I said I doubted it.  I resisted telling her I loved her and would give up every bird on this planet if I could come visit her and have it not hurt.

Before she became a nun, her girlfriends threw her a we-can’t-believe-you’re-really-doing-this party, and they were good enough to invite me, Sammy and Boyce.  I couldn’t go inside that apartment, however, without throwing up.  Sammy and Boyce went instead, asked Rachel to come out, and then went and waited in the car.  She had already been over things with me several times, but I still wanted to ask her why, in the 21st century, any young woman wants to join a monastery.  She was done trying to explain things to me with any real significance, so she finally just told me out on her doorstep, “If Sammy and Boyce started a monastery on some island, you would join it.  You would do it because that’s the place you needed to be to love them more.  And that’s why I’m joining.”  I told her it was a fairly terrible comparison since no one is claiming Sammy and Boyce are God, but she said, “For you, yes they are.  That’s the closest to understanding God you’re going to get it.  And damn it, Cyrus, that’s better than most people.”  Then she went inside.  I never saw her again until that day at the monastery.

When I got home that same evening, I called Keller Bigsby and told him to take the first bid he gets on my mother’s house.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Postscript, Part 1

For nearly five months Sammy and Boyce have asked me to post again on this blog.  I told them, however, that I finished blogging and the entire Wetherbee Bird Casino had come to a natural conclusion.  They both disagreed with me, and said that I knew for a fact many people thought I had gone off to commit suicide.  To be fair, it wasn’t that many people, and I pointed out to Sammy and Boyce that everyone who thought I was dead was outright pleased about my death, especially that it had come by my own hand.  I figured if my imagined suicide caused a few internet weirdos (and if email addresses can be believed, a U.S. senator) some satisfaction, who was I to ruin it?  Sammy and Boyce made me promise, however, that by the end of the calendar year I would explain what’s happened in these last months.  “What’s happened since August is much more important than anything that happened before August,” Sammy told me.  That may be true, but before August I had reasons to blog.  Since August—none.  Yet, I am happy to appease Sammy and Boyce, so I will write this postscript, broken into three parts because my new environment has got me doing a lot of sketching lately, and it’s gotten to my wrists.

So to my loyal readers who had imagined my neck having long since slipped out of the noose made by a pair of my mother’s nylons, my putrefied body lying undiscovered on the basement floor, I apologize.  Cyrus Wetherbee is alive!

Sammy and Boyce said the great thing about a blog is I wouldn’t need to remind anyone what was happening in August.  After all, five months of reality equals only what gets posted on the web page.  It’s not unlike when I used to listen to my New Order albums and think, “They sound this way whether I’m crying or not.”  This thought comforts someone like Charlotte, but for me it’s very lonesome.

As my hateful readers will remember, I was getting rid of a lot of stuff and then went off to Rachel.  Sammy and Boyce tried to make me understand why this would sound like suicide, showing me what I’d written for over a year.  I still didn’t get it, and only agreed to how such a conclusion would be theoretically possible after they read some of the reader comments at increasingly louder volumes.  Sammy liked to quote his favorite because he really wished he knew the person who wrote it: “Longest and bleakest suicide note ever.”  Sometimes Sammy would stare at the furniture thinking about that reader comment and it sure looked like the love of his life had just gotten on some bus.

If I was ever going to commit suicide, I don’t think it would have been in August.  That would have been an anti-climatic moment.  Though when I think about it, there were some similarities between August and the time I came closest to “flying south,” as my father called suicide or any type of death that could have feasibly been avoided.  My father didn’t really distinguish much about death.  When my uncle would visit and tell him about one of their friends dying of liver cancer, my father called that “flying south.”  When we drove past a motorcycle accident, he called that “flying south.”  When he read about the man who shot himself on the golf course, he called that “flying south” too.  I don’t think he thought mountain climbing and driving without a seat belt were any different than a bottle of pills or a shotgun.  When birds hit the window he’d say “I hope he didn’t fly south,” and we’d both watch for a while to see if the robin was stunned or dead.  Generally it was the latter, and we’d bury him somewhere in the yard.

No, August was no time to fly south, but as I said, there were similarities with the days of thinking about flying south.  Ever since the death of Antonio the bird, I’d been having a lot of dreams about Rachel.  I hadn’t really dreamed about her since the months after I first lost her.  Once a man on a bus, overhearing my unsolicited interpretation of Lance the driver’s dream, asked me why he never has any dreams about watching tv or eating potato chips.  Although Lance didn’t ask for my interpretation, he still liked me, and didn’t like the cut of the jib of this interloper, and told him, “That’s because you watch tv and eat chips all the goddamn day long.  What do you want to dream about it for?”  And while Lance could never be considered a dream interpreter, he was actually quite accurate.  People generally don’t dream about breathing or doing the laundry unless they serve as the background for something unique.  Rachel, much like Sammy and Boyce, was too much a recognized part of my conscious mind to be in my dreams.  But in the months after she left this world, it was too much for my poor brain.

Sammy moved in with me for a while, and Charlotte gave Boyce permission to pretty much do the same.  She would bring Boyce Jr. over, who was just a  little guy at the time, and we’d sit around in silence, and they’d never blame me for anything or tell me that things always work out in the end.  Even with their presence I began to dread the nights because I had dreams of Rachel.  Constantly she was standing far away from me.  I would run after her, right straight to her, but halfway there I couldn’t remember which direction she was.

One night Sammy and Boyce wanted to cook marshmallows in the microwave and eat them with forks, but Boyce forgot to take the fork out when he poked his marshmallow and decided it needed to be bigger.  The thing flashed real quick and just died.  I told Boyce not to worry about it and went down to the basement to bring back an old microwave from the early 1980’s.  When I brought it up neither Sammy nor Boyce could stop laughing.  It was the largest microwave they had ever seen, barely fitting on a kitchen counter.  Naturally Sammy dubbed it The Macrowave, and that night we cooked all kinds of weird stuff in it.  The rest of the night we made a rule to only microwave and eat foods we’d never microwaved before.  We ate pickles, tater tots, cheerios in milk, and corn dogs.  When I woke up the next morning, I told them we needed to do more with the Macrowave.  They asked if all that weird food had kept Rachel out of my dreams.  It didn’t—she was still in my dreams, but this time she knocked on my door with flowers and told me she was sorry.  We needed to do it all again!

That night we tried some different foods, but the result in my dream was even better.  This time Rachel and I were sitting on the couch and talking about people coming over and what we should wear.  We never met the people but I didn’t care.  The next night she and I were driving in a car and she saw a broad-tailed hawk on a fence post and shouted for me stop.  And I did.  And we watched.  And when I woke up I couldn’t wait until the night when we would experiment with the Macrowave and food.  Then Rachel and I were grocery shopping.  Another night we were on a train drinking and watching some woods go by.  And then she was pregnant.  Once she took me to see her entire family and said, "My god, here they are, Cyrus!"  And another night my father was alive and he told her that he loved her very much.

But that’s when Sammy and Boyce told me they wouldn’t let this happen anymore.  They told me I hadn’t even noticed that for over a week I was doing all this food experimentation with the Macrowave all by myself.  And they told me I showed no concern that I wasn’t eating until the night, I wasn’t showering, that I was dehydrated and weak, and that only by threatening to kick the living shit out of Rex Tugwell had they managed to keep my job.  Boyce said, “We’re destroying this microwave, but it’s probably better if you did it, too.”  But I carried on for another night and Rachel was my nurse in a hospital and I didn’t have any legs, but I didn’t care.  And finally Boyce said, “We’re destroying it tonight, you can come with us or you can stay here.”

I didn’t go with them.  I would have changed the locks when they left with the Macrowave but Boyce was a damn locksmith.  When they came back I asked them how they did it and they said they put it on the train tracks by the middle school.  In the middle of the night I took Boyce’s keys and drove his van out to the tracks.  I thought maybe the train hadn’t come, but it had.  The pieces were everywhere, and I thought maybe I should just lie on these tracks.  Maybe.  But Boyce and Sammy were waiting in the back of the van the whole time and told me I needed to come home.  It was a quiet ride home until Sammy said, “By the way, Hamlet, we were waiting for you in the back of that van for nearly three hours.”

I didn’t dream about Rachel again except for a few here and there.  Boyce asked me if I thought the dreams had been from all the food I put on my stomach, or if it was something about the Macrowave itself.  It’s not possible to know, so I told them they should just decide what they thought was the coolest.  They actually did, but they wouldn’t tell me what because they said I wouldn’t like it.  They had both come up with the same thing, and they came up with it very quickly.

Not since then did I have dreams about Rachel, but this past summer they came again.  These dreams weren’t as good as the ones before, so I didn’t care to lose them.  Nearly every time Rachel would be sitting under a maple tree, but her brother stood next to me, and he kept whispering in my ear that this wasn’t the real Rachel.  The real Rachel was dead.  When I told him he was right he would laugh in my ear and the Rachel under the maple tree would run away from both of us screaming for us to leave her alone.  Then I'd wake up alone in bed.

So it was in August that I decided I would go find her.  I borrowed Sammy’s car and drove nearly an hour and a half.  I parked on the south side of a pocket of woods by the state highway so no one would see me because all I wanted to see was Rachel.  I walked through the woods and came to a cemetery.  I’d been there before.  Rachel had taken me only two times before.  I tried to remember which grave it wasif I stood at the right grave Rachel would appear.  I kept looking and looking until finally I found the name Angela McNabb.  That was Rachel’s younger sister who died at just 12 years old.  I stood at that grave and asked under my breath for Rachel to come to me.  I had to wait a while, but she came like I knew she would.  At first I couldn’t look up even though I knew she was near me.  I just kept staring at her sister’s name.  Finally I looked up though, and there she was.  Her face was just like I remembered it.  Like in the dreams.  Like in life.  I told her I thought people like her came in white and could fly.  She smiled and said, “I’m so happy to see you, Cyrus.”  And I just about fainted.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

So long!

I got a phone call from Boyce late last night and I was sure he was going to ask me for another one of the stories of me getting punched in school.  Instead, when I answered the phone he told me that Charlotte saw me having lunch with Keller Bigsby.  Charlotte didn’t wave, because Charlotte doesn’t really wave, but what in the hell was I doing eating lunch with Keller Bigsby.  Boyce wasn’t jealous, just very concerned, as though Keller Bigsby deals cocaine made out of schoolchildren poisoned by space dust that fell from the sky and landed on a dog’s latest bowel movement.  And to be fair, I don’t know that Keller Bigsby doesn’t sell either cocaine, made either from schoolchildren or the coca plant.  I told Boyce that I had some old business to work out with Keller Bigsby.  That I was making amends.

Boyce said he didn’t believe me, but I said it was true, and after Keller Bigsby I would find Darlene Boyle, who was #9 on the list of my beatings.  Darlene was the star center on the girl's basketball team her junior year, but she must have had a breakdown during the summer.  At the start of her senior year she wore a beret and a trench coat and sat at a table where people listened to the Cure while scribbling in their diaries.  I once found one of her diaries on the cafeteria floor and naturally began reading it.  I still remember some of the lines in a poem that Darlene wrote:
My mother is a sinkhole
Is the bitch in me, too?
Do you want me to be me,
Or must I be another you?
A friend of Darlene's saw me with it and said I better give it to him right then--then he held out his hand like I was going to slap him some skin.  I gave it to him immediately and told him he could have it.  But then I said, “It sucks.”  He said I didn’t know what real beauty was and Darlene was like a dove.  I said, “Put a piece of paper in front of both of them and they’ll eventually crap on it.”  Unfortunately, my response was said in front of a lot of people and it got a lot of laughs. (Sidebar: I have never said something that received such an immediately positive response from people who would otherwise trade my existence for a warm diet soda injected with tuberculosis.) Darlene’s friend stormed off.  Later, when I walked out of seventh period social studies I watched a purple-haired giant charge at me from down the hall and pin me to the ground.  All I could do was scream, “Not a dove!  Not a dove!”  After Darlene was pried off me, Boyce and Sammy wanted to know if I had been admitting I was wrong or pointing out she was in no way peaceful.  I said I didn’t remember, mainly because it still hurt from where she buried her fingernails into the base of my skull. 

After I hung up with Boyce I couldn’t get back to sleep so I went through some of the last stuff still unboxed in the house.  And I finally found it.  The thing that maybe I was looking for all along.  It was an old strongbox. 

When my mother went blind she really started becoming an angry woman.  Before you always got the sense that she made fun of everyone because she had a secret piece of knowledge that she had sworn to wizards never to reveal to another mortal.  And the only way she could deal with that loneliness was to hurt people's feelings.  At least that’s how I envisioned it. 

Not long after she went blind my uncle took me on a long car ride to talk about how we were going to adjust to her being that way.  We were driving down a country road up north and I suddenly screamed for my uncle to stop the car.  I jumped out of the car and ran over into the weeds.  Then I held up what I found.  I held it by the wings and its head kind of slumped in the center.  “It’s a dead cormorant,” I shouted, and then asked my uncle to pop the trunk.

I took the bird home and really had a long look at it.  It wasn’t rotted yet and looked in perfect shape.  My uncle made fun of me for staring at that dead bird, but eventually he strated to be fascinated, too.  He asked me how it died and I said I didn’t know, that there was no visible injury.  “So it’s some kind of weird virus, then,” he said.  “Thanks, Cyrus.”  I told him it’s possible some contagious virus killed it, but it’s also possible it just died, up in the air, and after it came back down to earth we took it to give it a good home.  Taped to the underside of the lid of the strongbox was a picture of my uncle with his arm around the cormorant, holding up a wine bottle as though they were trading swigs.  He really started to love that bird.

My uncle wanted to stuff the bird, but I said no.  My plan was to bury the cormorant, but my uncle said we should bury it so we could dig it back later. Then we could bleach the bones.  I asked him what we’d do with them, and he said, “What won’t we do with those bones?”

We wrapped the cormorant around an old towel and then buried it deep in the backyard.  My father and I used to bury dead birds we found, and occasionally we dug them up to reassemble the bones to see how they looked.  In fact, we had done it so many times that I actually forgot about the cormorant.  And then one day I came back home from spending some time with Sammy and Boyce.  I guess I walked in really quietly, because neither my uncle or mother noticed that I was standing there, watching my blind mother feeling the bones of that cormorant with a big smile on her face.  I thought maybe she was smiling because she thought, “Ha, ha, bird!  You’re dead!”  But my uncle was telling her all these facts about the cormorant that I had taught him, like how they spread their wings to dry in the sun, how they sometimes use dead birds to build nests for their young, and how they deliver water to their babies in their large beaks.

When my mother died my uncle put the cormorant bones into the strongbox and kept it with him.  When he died though I had no idea where it went.  But last night I found it, and spent some time assembling the bones.  My uncle wasn’t there to tell me anything about it (I would have had to tell him “I know that—I’m the one who told you”).  My mother wasn’t there to get oddly emotional about it for a few moments, before she put it down in order to announce that the best part of being blind was not seeing her ugly neighbors anymore.  And my father wasn’t there, and he hadn’t been there for a long time. 

So this afternoon I took the cormorant bones to work even though I wasn’t scheduled and showed them to Marcel.  Rex wanted to see but I told him to go find his own dead waterfowl.  I took it to Arby’s and even though I’m pretty sure it’s against code to lie the bones of a dead bird on the counter—and certainly the woman in the line next to me believed it to be—Sammy still let me assemble them next to the register and tell him the bird’s story.  Sammy said the same thing as Boyce when I showed it to him and his family: “Wow— a bird story I haven’t heard before.” 

I wasn’t sure what to do with it after that.  Bury it at my uncle’s grave?  At Hank’s grave at the Roger Malvin Country Club?  Instead I took it to Applebee’s this evening, and right after the place closed I buried it by the flagpole out front.  I just kept digging until I hit the box we buried my mother’s ashes in.  I put the cormorant box on top of hers and then filled the hole.  I had a moment of silence for my mother and the cormorant, then poured out some salt on Applebee's flowers.

I got home just a little bit ago and sat down to write this.  I’ve packed up so much of this house that you'd think it had already felt empty.  And it did, but it really does now because I know there are no more birds hidden anywhere. 

So now I’m pretty sure I’m ready.  I'm leaving to see Rachel.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thanks for Very Little, Movie

For the last couple weeks different people at work—both patients as well as employees—have been talking about the movie Inception.  Since the movie is about dreams, its no wonder a Sleep Center houses a lot of discussion about it.  People at the Sleep Center have long since given up on me following any part of current pop culture, but since it involves dreams a few people asked if I had seen it and what I thought.  I doubted the movie had any relevance to dream interpretation, but I thought if I was going to convince people of that, I needed to see the movie.  So last night Sammy, Boyce, and I went and saw it.  Both of them loved it, and while I enjoyed the film, I think I had a different interpretation. I don’t want to spoil your movie, but I do want to blow your mind: even though you watched that movie, it’s all less real than any dream of the guy who tore your ticket, no matter how dimly you remember what that guy looked like.

Part of the movie’s premise is that you can enter one another’s dreams through a series of chemical mixtures.  More than the movie itself, the three of us were interested in attempting, even though we know it can’t be done, of entering each others' dreams.  Our chemical mixtures were some drinks, and our laboratory was Boyce’s basement.  We all tried to fall asleep at the same time, and although we didn’t have iv’s hooked up to a briefcase like in the movie, we sometimes reached out and slapped or pinched each other where an iv would be, while saying things like, “I’ll be the guy in the kickass motorcycle,” or, “Look for me, I’ll be in the kickass motorcycle’s sidecar,” or “Watch out for me because I don’t look when I change lanes,” or “I get it…but seriously, I hope I’m in a cool motorcycle,” or “What if motorcycles are just phallic images in dreams?” or, “I’ve explained to you a hundred times how symbols in dreams work.  Why won’t you listen?” or “What would it be like to dream the idea of a symbol?  What would that look like?  If a symbol was trying to eat me, would it just be the letters?”  or “Huh?” or  “No, I get it, because if it was something, then it would be a symbol-of, not a symbol,” or “Exactly,” or “This better not be my dream right now.”

I generally don’t dream about Sammy and Boyce because they are in my mind so much while I am waking.  Things lately have really changed in regards to what I dream about, so I had hopes that the experiment would work.  Of course it didn’t.  We didn’t enter each other’s dreams.  I didn’t have a dream that involved Sammy and Boyce, despite the fact that after I went to sleep Sammy crawled on top of me and whispered  his name in my ear over and over.  We all did, however, dream.  And I made it into both Sammy’s and Boyce’s.

Sammy dreamed he was in a rodeo contest with Kimberly Dong Kill, the leader of North Korea.  I was the judge, and when I called it a draw, the North Korean leader rode a bull into a lake and when he came back out he was riding a clock.

Boyce dreamed he was riding a school bus, and Charlotte’s father was waiting for him at the stop to hit him with a shovel.  When Boyce got off the bus, I was waiting on the other side of the street shaking a handful of doorknobs and calling Charlotte’s father some very, very vulgar names.

Both dreams were obvious, and I interpreted them both in one sentence—the same way I interpret every dream I now have of Rachel: “You’re leaving.”   Just like my father used to say when he watched the orioles migrate, one of the earliest birds to do so.  And I would tell him, “But they’ll be back in the spring,” and he would always say, “How do you know?” 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Farewell, Dr. Keegman!

On Friday morning Sammy—with his brother’s car that is fast becoming his, what with his impending decision about leaving town—picked up Boyce and I so we could get to Dr. Keegman’s office before anyone could show up and get the Camaro out of the way.  We parked at a dentist office just down the way and crouched in some hedges to watch from the corner of the parking lot.  We were there a while before anyone showed up, and we got to talking.  Sammy said he has to make a decision very soon.  Boyce had a couple come to the house to look it over for a second time.  I didn’t want to talk about these things so I told them that once I asked my father if there was such a thing as reincarnation.  He said no, but if there was, he’d come back as a cricket so he could be eaten by a bird.  I asked him what if he was eaten by a frog instead, and he just shrugged his shoulders.  Sammy said if there was reincarnation he’d come back as a cloud.  He’d spend all day making people nervous in planes and raining on birds—because where the hell do they go in a rainstorm anyway?  I tried to answer Sammy but Boyce chimed in that he would be a snake but only if he could live near a day care playground.  We talked about it so much that we almost missed Dr. Keegman’s receptionist.

She walked up to the Camaro like she was expecting it.  She stared for a few minutes at the car and then suddenly broke into loud, kind of horrifying, sobbing.  We both looked at Sammy since he has been the guy behind all the deliveries to Keegman’s office—the old Arby’s food, the pornographic magazines, the pet store snakes, the mail order brides, the reams and reams of Zionist pamphlets.  Sammy looked like he accidentally set someone’s lawn on fire.  And that receptionist, oh mamma, she was still crying hard.  It was getting really uncomfortable there.  We nudged Sammy to do something, but he questioned whether a strange man emerging from the hedges to accost her sobbing at an engine-less Camaro in front of her work would actually be helpful.  Boyce told him if he ever wanted to be reincarnated as a cloud, this is the kind of thing he needed to do.

Sammy stood up and walked out of the hedges.  The receptionist saw him walk forward and she must have recognized him from some of the first deliveries.  She started shaking her fist at him, and then began rifling through her purse.  Boyce and I stood up out of the hedges while Sammy started walking backward.  None of us were sure what she was going to pull out of that purse.  Turns out it was pepper spray.  She said that we’ve made her life a living hell, and she started spraying.  Really though, Sammy was a good twenty yards from her, so the spray just kind of floated around her.  Then she dropped it and started screaming and holding her eyes, and the sobbing started all over again.  Sammy went up to her but she was kind of a wreck at that point.  So he backed away toward us, and shouted, “Your boss is a douche!” and then we left.

We drove back about five minutes later and she was sitting on the curb by herself.  She was still crying, but we couldn't tell if that was from the Camaro or macing herself.  It didn’t look like she had called the cops, so that was pretty great.  Of course if she did, maybe we could find out the real owner of the Camaro.  Boyce thought we should just assume Dr. Keegman was the original owner, and the universe made sure he got stuck with it.

Reincarnation isn’t real, but I sure wish Boyce could be a snake in a day care center.  He deserves it. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Goodbye to a good friend

This morning both Sammy and Boyce came over.  They had no idea I was cleaning out the house, and promptly told me that if I’m planning on keeping things secret from them I shouldn’t write it on the blog.  So even though I could have been sad that they found out, I was more thrilled that they were reading this.

Sammy and Boyce didn’t like the fact that I kept dodging the question as to why I was cleaning out so much of the house.  I told them it was something that had been coming for a long time, and I certainly didn’t need all this stuff.  They didn’t like it one bit though, and when Boyce saw me put a few of my dream books into the trash he was clearly unhappy.  I told him those books were beginners’ stuff, and I could write something much better.  I don’t know if he believed me, but it’s true.  Here are four rules to dream interpretation that are never mentioned in dream books. 
1.    Knowing the person is crucial.  Few, myself among them, can interpret a stranger’s dream.
2.    The symbol is less important than the dreamer’s emotional attachment to the symbol.
3.    How the dreamer tells the dream is as important as what the dream was.
4.    Sometimes people don’t want to know what their dreams really mean.  Large men don’t like to be told they are filled with self-loathing, most likely due to latent homosexuality.  Trust me.
Rachel worked as a receptionist for a government agency, and a couple times I stopped by to see her.  Based on how she responded when her co-workers asked if this was her boyfriend, I could tell she knew I was always going to be smitten with her, but I could also tell she never really knew how much I loved her.  Once, in order to distract from the awkwardness after the boyfriend question, Rachel told me that her co-worker had just had a crazy dream the night before.  She told the co-worker, her name was Ashley or Abby, and she was about seven months pregnant, that I was a great dream interpreter, and Ashley-Abby got all excited and the three of us sat down in the break room.   Ashley-Abby told me her dream, and as she did so I watched how she would stutter a bit and not make eye contact with me.  The dream was about having her baby, but then it getting smaller and smaller until she found it floating peacefully on a tiny raft in an aquarium.  When she asked what the dream meant I looked over at Rachel.  In what Boyce calls the most compassionate move I ever made, I said, “I’m sorry I need a bathroom.”  And when Rachel said, “Cyrus, are you okay?”  I screamed, “Please stop talking and tell me!”  Rachel pointed down the hall and I ran to the bathroom.  I waited inside for about ten minutes, then, when I looked out the door and saw Rachel and Ashley-Abby weren’t looking, I ran down the stairwell to the street.

I waited all day for Rachel to get off work, and not just so she would give me a ride home.  When we got in the car she asked if I was feeling okay now, and I told her that her friend was going to miscarry the baby.  Rachel didn’t talk to me for the rest of the ride until I got out, and that’s when she told me to get out.  She didn’t even talk to me for two weeks until finally she called.  Crying.  She didn't have to tell me, and I didn't want to make her tell me, so I said, “The bright side is I got it right.”

Anyway, giving those dream books away made Boyce uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable when the wrecker came to take away the Camaro.  I thought Sammy was going to have a fit.  I told them it needed to go, and since I had called the county’s bluff many years ago, I was going to have be the one to do it. 

The guy towing it was clearly confused when he realized how light the camaro was.  “No engine!” I shouted as Sammy ran out to him.  The two of them talked for a a few minutes, and Sammy was clearly pleading with him.  The driver just pointed up to me though, since I was the guy who called him.  I told Sammy and Boyce though that it had to go.  Sammy went back to the driver, talked with him a bit, and then came back.  “Ok,” he said, "so it’s getting towed, but the guy said we could all ride in the cab with him if we wanted.” 

The driver didn’t even mind that there weren’t seat belts and we were all crushed into the cab together.  He was clearly dejected about something, and it only took a couple miles towing the Camaro before Sammy asked him.  Apparently, the driver’s son had earlier been cut from the football team, and it was still only summer practices.  Football was not only the son’s dream, but the father’s dream too.  So much so that the son’s name was John Elway Wrigglesworth.  Apparently, John Wrigglesworth was a great football player.   When Boyce asked what happened, he said John Elway was too fat and the school wouldn’t let him play because they were afraid he would have a heat stroke. 

Sammy seized the opportunity and said, “So what do you say about not taking this car to the dump?”  The driver just shrugged.  “So could we take it someplace else?”  The driver again shrugged.  So Sammy gave him directions to Dr. Jonathan Keegman’s office.  When we got there, the driver asked where he should put the Camaro.  We all said anywhere in the parking lot.  Boyce asked the driver where he’d like to put it, and the driver said he’d like to put it up those school administrators’ asses.  Boyce said that would be tough, but how about something nearly as good: “Leave it right there on the sidewalk."

That driver must have channeled his hate right into Dr. Keegman’s building, because not only did he get the Camaro up on the sidewalk, but he got it blocking the front door, too.  The driver took pictures of us on our cell phones leaning on the Camaro.  We also popped the hood and got some pictures sitting where the engine should be.  By the end even the driver wanted a picture, and he got in the driver's seat and stuck his middle finger out the window.  I'm not sure who he was giving the bird to, but he was finally smiling, so we cheered. 

We stopped at Arby’s on the way home and Sammy got the driver some lunch, telling him John Elway could come whenever he’d like some free fries.  “If he’s too fat to play football, let’s get him so fat he explodes all over those administrators.”  The driver thought that was funny, and started flipping the bird again at no one in particular.

After Arby's he dropped us off back at my house.  Sammy and Boyce still weren’t happy that I was packing things up, but they were pretty pleased about what happened to the Camaro.  We all agreed to go early to Dr. Keegman’s office and watch from the bushes. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cleaning Out the House

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written mainly because I’ve been so busy cleaning things out of my house, getting things ready.  It's hard to write on the blog since I keep finding unexpected things, like in my mother’s old bedroom—pictures, letters, a set of deer knives—as well as in the crawlspace—my birth certificate, first pair of shoes. 

In the attic I found an accordion folder that had some of my old papers in it.  One was a story I wrote in Mr. Black’s English class in high school.  It was about a guy who is allowed to travel back in time, but isn’t able to choose where he goes.  He figures since he’s white and has some basic mechanical knowledge, he’ll be fine wherever he goes.  He gets sent back in time to the medieval ages, right in the middle of a castle.  He’s very excited until he realizes the castle has been besieged for a month.  People are starving and the barbarians are at the gates.  Everyone asks the new guy how they can be saved, and he introduces the idea of a gun and cannon.  He doesn’t have the materials though, so everyone gets mad that he got their hopes up.  Then the besiegers begin catapulting animal carcasses over the castle walls to drive the people out due to stench and disease.  The people again ask him what to do, and he says, “Well, don’t eat those things.”  And then, and this was Sammy’s favorite line when I read it to him, a villager says, “No shit, Sherlock!”  Sherlock wasn’t even invented yet, Sammy said.  But then I told him Sherlock was the loser wizard of the castle that everyone made fun of, so it actually made perfect sense.

The guy from the present does know enough about biology to realize they had to burn the animals.  So they burned all the rotting carcasses, but it still stunk really bad.  The guy sits on a bale of hay and someone asks him what they’re going to do now, but the guy doesn’t have any more ideas.  Someone from the town says, “This guy’s no better than Sherlock!”, then someone comes up behind the guy and clubs him in the head and kills him.  The end.

In his comments on the paper, Mr. Black asked me, “WHAT IS THE THEME OF THIS STORY?  WHAT IS IT REALLY ABOUT?”  Around seventeen years later I still don’t know what Mr. Black was talking about when he wrote that.  The themes are endless.  Don’t travel back in time unless you have power of time and destination.  If traveling in time, bring a backpack full of do-it-yourself manuals.  Even if there is no manual on our current bookshelves about surviving a medieval siege, there might be one about building your own trebuchet.  But the primary theme is: try to avoid being dumber than the scapegoat.  Every scared victim of bullying knows this.

I also found a sheet of names from when Sammy, Boyce, Rachel and I had a long conversation over drinks and Led Zeppelin about who we would be as superheroes.  Sammy said he would be called Ham Radio, but his power would be shooting lightning bolts out of his face.  Naturally, we asked him why he wasn’t called Zeus or Lightning-man.  Sammy said, a) people would think it was weird, and their last thought upon dying from horrifying electric burns would be, “Ham radio?  I don’t get it.”, and b) as a superhero he would spend his down time operating a ham radio, thus naming himself after his hobby rather than his power.  Boyce said he would be a villain, aptly named The Locksmith.  His hands would turn into keys which he could open any door with, or he could just punch people with his key-hands.  Sammy asked him how he would do with combination safes, and we all agreed they would be his mortal enemy.  Rachel said she would be The Locust.  She thought the name really resonated on a lot of levels.  She wasn’t sure what her power was, so she said she would somehow cause the end of the world.  Plus she could jump high.  God, she would always say the best things.

My superhero was named Lesser Bird of Paradise, after the bird, Lesser Bird of Paradise.  And I wasn’t so much a superhero as I was a bird.  Specifically, a Lesser Bird of Paradise.  When the others said that’s not how it worked, I accused them of discriminating against the ethical impulses of Class Aves.  We agreed to a compromise: I was allowed to be Lesser Bird of Paradise, the Lesser Bird of Paradise, official pet-sidekick of Ham Radio.  We even worked out some signature lines for everyone, just in case they made comic books of us:

Ham Radio: I hope your searing burns don't interfere with my amateur radio antennae!
The Locksmith: I am a locksmith!The Locust: Prepare to meet thy God--booooiiiinnnnnnggggg!!!!!!!!!
The Lesser Bird of Paradise: [mute]

A Lesser Bird of Paradise, like me,
Lesser Bird of Paradise,
the Lesser Bird of Paradise
Those were the days.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


This past week I was going through some of the stuff at the house, just to get rid of it.  I didn’t call Sammy or Boyce to help because I don’t want them to know yet.  Things aren’t ready yet.  I went down in the back room of the basement where almost none of the stuff is mine.  The basement has flooded a couple times so a lot of the papers were unreadable, but I did come across a box of letters between my mother and father.  I guess when they broke up my mother kept them.  I doubt she read them very much, but she at least kept them a whole lot longer than she did my trophies for participation.
“Teresa, Your brother told me your parents are concerned about the age.  That I never found someone my own age.  That this must suggest I am unable to find someone older.  I can’t see age anymore.  That part of my eyes has deteriorated—maybe from my own age, but maybe from staring at secrets too long.  It doesn’t bother me.  I may have minded once—about the age, or about the secrets.  But what’s done is here.  It’s here now.”

“Bill, Huh?  Are you talking about sex?”

“Teresa, Based on how you reacted last night, I probably should explain.  I simply can’t pass by a dead bird.  He must be buried.  I will bury him in a marsh or through the middle of asphalt.  Anything to keep him from the bugs and the worms.  I know they’re coming, but I don’t have to look at it happen, do I?”

“Bill, I was drunk last night.  Please god tell me you were when you wrote that.”

“Teresa, Yes, I will marry you.”

“Goddamn right you will.  But don’t think you’re getting me pregnant.  I’ll drive us all into a river first.”

“Teresa, I’m assuming you’ll let me back home when the baby is born.  If not, I have bird books to get him.”

“Bill, the doctor said he’ll be born in  just a few weeks.  He told me it’s been stupid of me to smoke that many packs all the way through the pregnancy.  So he might be gay or a hunchback or something.  So he’s definitely your kid."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Marcel Solves All My Problems

Virginia Blare didn’t come back to the Sleep Center for her analysis until the end of last week.  I didn’t know what took so long for her to come back, but it apparently involved having tubes down her throat and claw marks down her face, at least according to Rex.  Just before Rex left for the weekend and the two of us were watching her get checked in with Marcel, I pointed out to him that Virginia didn’t have any claw marks on her face.  Rex said that’s what proves their were claw marks, since the hospital wouldn’t let her come until her self-mutilation had healed.

About a half hour after Virginia was in the private room, Marcel came and found me.  He told me Virginia refused to even try to fall asleep unless I went into the room with her and stayed a while.  I told Marcel that Rex didn’t clean the bathrooms all day, so I was going to have to spend time on that.  Marcel told me that this took precedence, even after I told him that she believed in ghosts.  “I believe in ghosts,” Marcel told me.  He told me a story about how he spent some time on an oil rig, and how all the workers knew about the ghost that haunted the outer deck, a man who was once killed by an explosion.  “So one night I was on duty and looked up, and there was this man with burned clothing standing in front of me.  He told me I needed to get out of there, that there was going to be an explosion.  So I ran down to the sleeping quarters and woke some guys up, and told them there was going to be an explosion.  Once they figured out the ghost had told me, they realized nothing was going to happen.  Don’t get me wrong—they knew the ghost was real.  It just so happens that the ghost always cries wolf about explosions.  Apparently that’s what happens to you when you get blown up in an explosion that no one warned you about: your ghost just warns everyone in sight about explosions.  Eventually, he’ll be right.”  I told Marcel that maybe that’s what caused the explosion in the Gulf Coast—the ghost kept warning people every night, so they didn’t pay any attention when he warned them right before an actual explosion.  And Marcel said, “Maybe Cyrus.  After all, I saw him in the gulf.”  My god, it’s a good thing you’re so handsome, Marcel.

When I went into Virginia Blare’s private room she was lying on the bed with her eyes open.  She asked me to sit down and tell her about the ghosts that I see.  I told her ghosts aren’t real, but she said the reason she wanted me in the room with her was that I clearly see ghosts.  I said, “No offense, but you just came from a mental institution, and possibly just had some tubes removed.”  She laughed at that, but since she was in a track suit again, her laughter didn’t come off well.  It was like the kind of laugh a friend’s great-aunt would make when she was coming on to you.  She was convinced I saw ghosts, and I tried to convince her that ghosts aren’t something to see.  “You know why I can’t sleep?" she said.  "It’s not because I see ghosts.  It’s because I can’t see ghosts.  My husband used to come see me.  Now he doesn’t.  I told them at the hospital I can’t sleep, that I’m going crazy because I’m not seeing things.  Did you know when you don’t sleep you hallucinate?  So I stopped seeing ghosts and started hallucinating.”  I told her I once had a friend named Hank who couldn’t sleep, and he died.  And maybe she’d die and then she could find out once and for all if there were ghosts.  Though I suppose if there aren’t ghosts she’ll never know because then she’s dead and gone.  So even if I dug her up and shouted into her rotting bones, “See? I was right!” she’ll never get proved wrong.  That's just the way things go sometimes.

Virginia Blare said that I probably lived in an old house that once belonged to someone else in the family.  She said it was probably that relative that I was seeing all the time.  She was really insistent on this, and I told her that I lived in my mother’s old house.  “You’re so unhappy,” she said, “I bet she was mean to you.”

Once, in high school, I was invited to a party by some of the popular kids.  Boyce and Sammy weren’t invited, and they told me to watch out, that maybe it was a trap, like the time when I brought my swim trunks to what turned out to be a hazardous material recycling day at the landfill.  I didn’t listen, so I went to the back room of this café where there was a meeting for a young communists group.  Turns out there was no party except the Party.  I actually stayed for the meeting, and after about a half hour the whole philosophy started to make sense to me.  Maybe it was because people were willing to make eye contact with me, or didn’t exclude me from a circle made of folding chairs, but everything started to fit together.  Once I left the meeting and met up with Sammy and Boyce at a Dairy Queen, the whole communist idea fell apart.  But while I was there, it kind of made sense.  I couldn’t help it.  And even though I don’t believe in ghosts, when Virginia Blare told me that, I felt like I was in that meeting with friendly communists again.

Virginia told me that I “shined” like there was a mean ghost around me, and if I couldn’t see it, it sure could see me.  I told her maybe I wasn’t unhappy because there was a mean ghost, but because a nice ghost wouldn’t visit me instead.  That I was unhappy because this was a world where there was more motivation for mean ghosts to bother me than kind ghosts to console me.  She thought about that for a second, but then got really mad and said, “Who are you, Jesus H. Christ?  I told you.  It’s a mean ghost.  Now hold still so I can sleep.”

Virginia Blare said having me in the room was the next best thing to her husband visiting me.  She went right to sleep.  Marcel came in and told me thanks, and then gave me some advice.  He said for what it’s worth, maybe if my mother was haunting me I should just move.  And if I wanted a nice ghost, I should go where nice ghosts live.  I tried to explain to him that ghosts don’t exist, since now that Virginia Blare was asleep I remembered it was a silly thing to believe.

I had the rest of the weekend off, and I did a lot of sitting around the house being very quiet.  I’d be lying if I wasn’t listening for my mother on some level.  I tried to concentrate to see if I could hear her voice, and then started walking a certain direction with my eyes closed to see if she would lead me.  I forgot I left the basement door open and walked right down them, crumbling down the steps more than falling down them.  At the bottom of the steps, clutching my knee, I realized that if my mother were leading me, she would have led me down steps with my eyes closed, so the entire test was inconclusive.  Still, I couldn’t help staying very quiet.  And I tried to hear so many voices, but in the end all I could hear were bird songs, and those were always going around my head.

At first I was angry I had paid attention to what Virginia Blare had said.  Then I got more calm about it all.  After all—no one could prove ghosts didn’t exist.  Rachel used to say that she knows her mother loves her, but she couldn’t prove it.  That example was lost on me, but it made me think that maybe it was the same kind of thing with ghosts.  Then on Sunday night I got a phone call from Rex.  Feeling vulnerable, I nearly confessed to Rex everything that happened to me that weekend.  I began with, “Rex, I know we’ve had differences, but I want to say—”  But he said, “Shut up, stupid, and let me talk.”  Then he told me that Virginia Blare had hanged herself with bed sheets in her hospital room that afternoon.  Then he said, "Burn!" but I wasn't sure what he was referring to.  Did he know I wavered in my beliefs because of her?  Or was he making a theological claim that Virginia was now in a supernatural furnace with Hitler and Sisyphus?  Or did he simply put his hand on something hot?  Hard to say, because he hung up right after.

When I told Sammy and Boyce all this they both pointed out that Virginia Blare’s suicide and the truthfulness of her story about a ghost are unrelated to each other.  Maybe.  But I bet if she had given me financial advice instead of talking about the supernatural, they wouldn’t want me to make any investments for a while.

But then I thought about what Marcel had said.  And even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I’m pretty sure he solved all my problems.  And I said as much to Sammy and Boyce—that everything was fixed—that I wasn't going to have to worry about being left behind anymore.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Questions to Ask

Sammy reported to us that two days ago an attractive woman came into Arby’s and ordered a roast beef sandwich.  When he gave her the receipt she flipped it over, then asked why she doesn’t get any great quotes from that great author.  “Charles Brockden Brown?” Sammy asked, and she said yes, that’s it.  Sammy explained he stopped doing that since the Year of CBdB was an utter flop, with no one really caring anymore who he is.  The woman leaned across the counter and said she’d like to care, and to care really badly.  Sammy got excited and she should start reading Wieland, but the woman said she’d rather start with him, then pointed at Sammy himself.  “You realize I’m not Charles Brockden Brown, right?”  And the way she said, “I don’t care about him, just you,” made everything clear to him.  It was four in the afternoon, so there weren’t any customers in line, which allowed Sammy to lean forward and say, “Anyone too good for Charles Brockden Brown is too good for me, too.”  She told him that she’d already been paid, and Sammy said he had as well, tapped the cash register, and told her to have a nice day.

Boyce said that yesterday he got a call from his realtor, Bruce Barenburg, who was very angry that a second realtor, our old high school classmate Keller Bigsby, was going to start showing the house.  Boyce told him he had no idea what he was talking about.  Bruce said that Keller told him the reason that Boyce was switching realtors is because Bruce is a lonely liar who makes up stories about drifters in closets.  Boyce told him not to worry about it, that everything was a mix-up, and to keep sending prospective buyers to the house.

These stories were told while we grilled hot dogs at Boyce’s place.  I did my best to act shocked, but both Sammy and Boyce told me I couldn’t do things like that anymore.  Sammy said he hadn’t decided if he was leaving or not—though he did admit that if our town had a fair supply of literary prostitutes interested in Colonial Gothic writers he could probably make the decision right now.  Boyce just said he was only doing this because he had to, and that I shouldn’t make it any worse than it has to be.

I tried to change the subject by bringing up Virginia Blare at the Sleep Center, but once they found out that I didn’t ask her about her supposed ghost they were even more disappointed.  Hiring escorts coached into a fraudulent interest in dead writers and impersonating rival realtors over the phone did not elicit the same confusion and disgust as did my lack of curiosity about Virginia Blare’s ghost.

Last night I found out, however, that I would get another chance to be curious.  When I went to work last night Marcel was leaving, and told me the results of Virginia Blare’s tests.  Apparently, she never went to sleep.  The entire night.  She stared up at the ceiling the entire time, and every time an attendant came in to tell her that this wasn’t going to work unless she at least tried to sleep, she said, “I can’t go sleep alone.  That’s why I’m here.  Funny, right?”

I’ll try to make things up to Sammy and Boyce by getting some information from Virginia Blare tonight, since Marcel said she’s coming for another analysis.  In order to prepare, I have come up with several questions for her about her ghost:
1.    Does it walk on the ground?  If it does, does it seem to have to concentrate on its step?  To me, it seems like a ghost that walks on the ground is like a person walking on water.  As soon as that ghost puts its weight down it should sink.  I would guess ghosts are always trying to take a step on a creaky staircase and ending in some Indonesian village. 
2.    If the ghost is someone you knew, at what age does it appear?  The age that the person died?  If Sammy had murdered the prostitute I got him, and she wanted to haunt him, could she come back as herself at just twelve years old?  That way when she appeared to him and said, “You were my lover,” not only would Sammy be scared, but everyone else in the room would think he was a pervert.
3.    Does your ghost seem to be at all interested in confusing you rather than haunting you?   For instance, if I were a ghost, I would clearly come back as a bird.  I would appear on the kitchen floor and tell the living that birds can’t fly in the afterlife, mainly because the only things that fly after death are people who refused to recycle because it’s for nerds.  When they said, “Huh?  Really?” I’d tip their fridge over with my beak and scream, “Suckers!” then fly away. 
4.    Does the ghost have any power to travel backward in time?  If so, why you right now?  No offense, but if you could pull John Wilkes Booth’s pants down right before he shoots Lincoln, wouldn’t you do it?  Is it that you’re so special or that the ghost is so shortsighted?  Or is it that if ghosts can travel back in time, then Booth's own ghost would attempt to prevent it from pulling down his mortal self's pants?  Who would win in a fight between your ghost and the ghost of John Wilkes Booth?  How long into the fight before it got confused that if Booth's ghost is fighting it, maybe Lincoln's ghost could stop gazing at his monument for one damn minute and come help?
5.     Can the ghost still learn things when it’s dead?  If it didn’t know how it died, could you inform it (assuming it didn’t have an axe coming out of its head, in which case it could merely deduce the fact)?  If ghosts can learn, that would then mean ghosts could learn everything, and since they exist outside of time, they would appear to learn it instantaneously.  When you told the ghost, “My mother killed you,” it would say, “I know.”  Then you'd say, “She did it because of the inheritance,” but the ghost would say, “Duh.”  So you’d say, “Her husband helped her do it,” but then the ghost would get snobbish and say, “Did you know I can speak German now?”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Virginia Blare

By the time I got to the Sleep Center on Friday I had already been prepared for the evening by several text messages from Rex Tugwell.  Although they began very cryptically, they slowly made sense: a woman was coming for analysis that night who I would find fascinating.  Rex’s texts went like this:
--Freak!  Coming yr way and ur going to like it!

--Weirdos stick together.  Don’t get excited, she is older.  U like that?


--Read her file when you get in, unless ur illiterate.
When I got to the Sleep Center I found Rex before he went off-shift.  Since I wasn’t about to read her file due to my promise to Rachel, I told him to give me some details about the woman.  Rex told me that Virginia Blare was coming to the Sleep Center tonight, and according to her file—and he was very excited by this—she’s a regular at the local “nutbag joint.”  I had no idea what this meant.  Was Virginia Blare a prostitute or a line worker at an almond processing plant?  The fact is I still cannot rule out either possibility, but what Rex meant was that a psychiatric hospital recommended Virginia Blare to the Sleep Center.  Once Marcel entered the break room he was able to give me straightforward facts.  She is voluntarily imprisoned in a mental hospital.  When Marcel told me this Rex began an array of pantomimes of different suicide attempts, but Marcel said he didn’t know why she was in the hospital. 

We began to talk about any experiences we had with people from mental hospitals.  Rex said his uncle once ran a guy over with his semi, but no one was ever sure if he was drunk or suicidal.  I didn't even ask if Rex meant his uncle or the guy who got run over.  I told them I didn’t know anyone from a hospital like that, but my mother often told me that my father had escaped from one. 

Marcel told us about a guy he worked with on a fishing boat on the North Sea.  He had recently been released from a hospital and told Marcel and the guys on the ship that if there was something to find in the world, it was most likely to be in the bottom of a cold ocean.  No one ever knew how to take the guy, but Marcel said they sometimes stayed up together at night.  The guy would want to hear about Marcel’s adventures in the different ports of the world, but the stories he shared in return never made any sense, and often contradicted each other.  Rex and I asked Marcel what happened to that guy, and he said he wasn’t sure.  “He was only with us for one season, but a couple of the guys the following year said they saw him in an Alaskan town, buying supplies to go in-country for a year.  What I would give to know what happened to that guy.”  Lunatic or not, eaten by wolves or not, that guy is clearly awesome since he got Marcel to say, "What I would give to know what happened to that guy."  Maybe one day I'll wave goodbye to Marcel from a dinghy on Lake Erie, then, when he's not looking, hide in the weeds while the dinghy floats into the horizon.  After a month or so, I'd hide out in the bushes by Marcel's car so that when he walks a beautiful woman out for a date, he'd stop everything to say, "What I would give to know what happened to Cyrus, one of my best friends.  You would have loved him."  Whether I remain content or jump out of the bushes and say, "Wings, everyone?  I'm buying!" is undecided.

Marcel said he had already down a preliminary interview with Virginia Blare, and she was so open about where she was currently residing that he had no worries about talking about her to me and Rex.  He said if I so much as pass her in the hallway I’ll hear her whole life.  I told him I generally didn’t care what other people had to say, especially someone from a mental hospital.  Marcel said people that are called crazy have the most freedom to talk, so they should be listened to.  But Rex said if you spend any time at a gun show you’ll know the crazy people just talk about crazy stuff, and the only reason you listen is because they have a rifle in their hands.

I didn’t meet Virginia Blare when she got to the Sleep Center, but I did when she threw up when they were putting a whole bunch of the nodes on her.  They paged me and I came, and Virginia Blare apologized.  I said, “They’re not going to electrocute you with those,” and one of the attendants told me to hush.  But Virginia Blare thought it was funny and laughed.  She said I must have known where she was coming from, and one of the attendants said, “Oh god, does he ever.”  Virginia Blare laughed at that, too.  The attendants left while I mopped, but Virginia Blare just watched me do it.  She asked if I knew why she was in the mental hospital. 

“I tell everyone.  I’m not ashamed.  You know why?”  I knew it would be good for The Bird Casino if she told me, but I just wanted to pick up the vomit and leave.  “What’s your name?  Cyrus?  You know what it is, Cyrus?  Do you want to guess?  Maybe if you guess you’ll see you can’t offend me.  Go ahead.”

I leaned on my mop and told her I had no idea why anyone would put themselves in a mental hospital, but it seemed like a good way to get a free bed.  So I asked if she was just lazy.  She said no, giggled, and laughed again.  I said suicide, but she said, “Lord no, I don’t ever want to die.  One more guess.”  So I guessed that birds talked to her, but no one believed her.  She said no, and my slight hopes for caring about Virginia Blare’s life disappeared as quickly as they came.

“You want to know, Cyrus?”  This, despite the fact that I was doing my best to show I didn’t care.  “A ghost, Cyrus.  I’m in the hospital because of a ghost.”  Then she looked at me like she could read my mind, which made no sense because her track suit whooshed a little bit, and I’ll be damned if anyone in a track suit can read my mind.  “That’s right.  A ghost.”  I told her that was great, slapped my vomit-filled mop into the water, and rolled the bucket out.  I know she was expecting more of a reaction, and it felt pretty great not to give it to her. 

Once Sammy and Rachel were talking about books, and they talked about one that had a ghost in it.  We all started talking about the believability of ghosts.  Sammy said he didn’t know if ghosts were real, but if he only had one choice, he’d wish for ghosts over love.  Rachel made him explain himself, and to be honest, I don’t know how Sammy replied.  Rachel generally shredded Sammy’s clever lines, which made Sammy love her even more.  “Man, am I the biggest bullshitter or what?” he’d say, like he won a prize.  Boyce didn’t think there were ghosts, but if there were, he’d appreciate a ghost who came back and said, “You know what, I don’t want to haunt you, but I’ll help you bale some hay because what better things do I have to do?”  Rachel thought that was brilliant. 

I said I didn’t believe in ghosts because I had no reason to believe in ghosts.  I had no reason to believe that anything happens to us after we die.  Rachel didn’t believe in ghosts either.  She believed in a whole bunch of stuff, like heaven and angels, but she said ghosts didn’t make any sense and she’d like to have a few words with anything in this universe that claimed to be a ghost.  So I told her I would ask one to come.  I told her I knew a lot of dead people, that a lot of people seem to die around me, and there were plenty to pick from.  I didn’t pick my mother because if she did come back, she’d just do weird stuff like make some exaggerated burping noise when I talked to Rachel.  So instead I called out to my father to come visit us, and guess what, my father never came.  Primarily because my father doesn’t exist anymore. 

Once, in the eighth grade when I told my teacher my father didn't exist anymore, she said he’s still alive in my memories.  Rachel called stuff like that “de-balled religion.”  Even when I was in the eighth grade though I knew that was silly talk, so I told my teacher that if my father was still alive in my memories, then he’s just going to die again when I finally get killed.  What's more, if my father lived in my memories, wouldn't that have been the case when he was still alive?  Which meant that the father in my memories was actually some kind of Frankenstein-like pseudo-father built out of childish perspectives and distorted recall who probably saw my real father as an enemy; at his death, no doubt the pseudo-father of my memories rejoiced at the destruction of his nemesis, leaving him free to erase all record of the existence of the actual man.  The teacher started to cry, and when another teacher came by and asked what had happened, I just said, “My father is dead.”  It took like thirty minutes to get everything straightened out, and by the end of it I think everyone just wanted me to go away.

Which is what I wanted in the first place, and which is exactly what I did with Virginia Blare.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More News

Sammy came over to the house yesterday and asked me how I was dealing with the fact that Boyce would be leaving soon.  I told him one of the most upsetting parts about all of this is that we will be separated because of money.  It is a generic, faceless reason for the separation of loved ones.  It lacks the gentle denouement of death by old age, and the sublime spontaneity of accidentally being shot in a bowling alley brawl.  If a plague forced us into separate quarantine wardens, we could at least find solace in the fact that we were involved with an event spectacularly unique.  Or perhaps we could be separated because Boyce was placed in an Indonesian prison, and Sammy and I had to bust him out.  It would have to be a long separation, the kind that would make others in Boyce’s prison say to him, “They aren’t coming, man,” that way when we finally pulled part of the prison wall away with a chain from a pick up truck, Boyce could squint in the tropical sun and say, “What took you so long?”  Then we’d laugh and I would scream, “Come on—we’re not out of this yet!”  But really we are, because I don’t fantasize about the escape after we get Boyce.  Generally we get him out of prison and then suddenly we’re having drinks and eating pizza rolls in the backyard.

Sammy told me he’d been having some dreams lately, and he wondered if I could interpret them.  He said it sheepishly, so I thought maybe it would be something hilarious.  I had no idea how terrifyingly non-hilarious it would be. He said that he’d had a recurring dream for the last few nights: “We're standing in a river holding a canoe.  Inside the canoe is Boyce and a bunch of bologna sandwiches.  We tell him, ‘You’re going to be fine,’ and he tells us the same.  Then you let Boyce’s canoe go and he begins to float away with the current.  We watch him float, but as we do the river begins to get much larger with a much faster current.  But you, Cyrus, you begin to grow enormous.  I started to shrink, though.  I scream I'm going to drown, and you say, ‘No, just take that owl out of here.’  I look up and this giant owl comes and picks me up out of the water.  You say, ‘This is the way it ends,’ and the owl takes me up into the clouds.”

I watched Sammy’s face as he narrated the dream.  I tried to hide my facial expressions to the whole thing, but when he finished I couldn’t help but blurt out, “You made that up.  You never dreamed that.”  He swore he did, and asked me what it could mean.  I told him I had no idea why he was making things up, but there was no way he dreamed it.  If he did dream it, based on the archetypes, his storytelling, and Sammy’s personality, it could only mean that he believed himself to be the life-giving messiah of a world populated by Jews and firefighters.

Sammy nodded his head a bit and said, “Right, okay.  I guess that’s it, then.  Thanks.”  I told him again he made the dream up, and he should tell me what the real dream was.  So finally he said, “Boyce came and told me you shot yourself.”  I stopped him to say he shouldn't be nervous about a literalist reading.  Often times death signifies something different, at times even life.  “Well you shot yourself, and I was traveling through traffic in a canopy bed on wheels.  Your ghost jumped on the bed and I asked you what it was like, death I mean.  You didn’t answer me, but you did grab me by the shoulders and say, ‘You’re worth three mabbits of diamonds.  Three mabbits!’”

I asked him if that’s all, and he said yes.  He told me he had no idea what a mabbit was, and he must have made it up.  I told him it didn’t matter, and then asked him if he had made up his mind or not.  Sammy knew I already understood everything, so he said that since Boyce was leaving, nothing was going to be the same.  That if either of the two of us were leaving, we would be eaten up by the idea that the other two were still together.  I told him that’s not true, but he kept going and gave me the details: the Tax Day promotion had finally caught on with some of the corporate bigwigs at Arby’s.  There were a few regional manager jobs out west, and any of them were his if he wanted them.  “I’ve lived here my whole life, Cyrus.”  Me too.

On his way out he said it wasn’t for sure yet, that he was asking for time to decide.  He told me that if things were too hard on me, that I should just come with him.  I said maybe, but we both knew I wouldn’t.  Rachel would always be here, even now.

Once, when Rachel was going through some of my father’s old photo albums, she got really excited.  She pointed at a picture of my father as a young man.  My uncle (my mother’s brother) was with him, along with a couple other people I didn’t recognize.  They couldn’t have been older than sixteen, all sitting at a diner booth.  Rachel asked me if I knew what was so special about the picture.  I said that my uncle apparently was never offered a straw by the waitress, because there wasn’t one in his glass nor an extra one on the table.  "No," she said. “Your dad is smiling.”

That wasn't the only time I saw my father smile.  Once I saw him smile when we were at the grocery store and a cart full of groceries got away from a lady in the parking lot.  It rolled right out of the lot and into the road and a minivan came by and hit it.  Those groceries blew up into about ten thousand pieces, and I thought my father's heart would explode he laughed so hard.  I also one saw him smile when we saw a Cooper's Hawk steal a tennis ball in mid-air from a couple of little kids who were playing with it.  The Cooper's Hawk carried it about two hundred yards and then dropped it in the middle of a pond.  My father smiled for about three days over that one. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

#11: The One at Graduation

I don’t think I’ve ever had a fight with Sammy or Boyce.  I didn’t know if Boyce and I technically had a fight at the casino.  We were in a fight certainly, but we were on the same side.  Can you fight with someone while fighting with them against someone else, especially if that other person was a walking beaker of molten loser like Dr. Shades?  We didn't really talk much the morning after the casino, so I wasn’t sure.  That's why this morning I called Boyce up to make amends, and without saying any kind of introduction, I went straight into #11: the eleventh time I was punched in junior high and high school.  Even though Boyce knew all these stories, I knew he loved to hear them, especially from me. 

#11 came on the very last day it could: our high school graduation.  We were all in purple gowns, the color of our school, and lined up in a hallway just outside the auditorium where our seated families awaited our entrance.  I wasn't even sure why I was there since my father was dead and my mother had informed me that when I had kids one day, I’d understand why she'd rather stay home.  Maybe I wanted to have Boyce’s and Sammy’s parents see me walk across that stage.  Even that rationale was dubious, though.  Sammy’s mother didn’t trust me, and every time he had a lady friend, his mother was convinced I was trying to steal her from him.  If we were all over at the Clifton farm, and Sammy had to go to the bathroom, Sammy’s mother would come into the room so I wouldn’t try anything funny.  Sammy even tried to tell her I was gay just so she'd relax, and while she instantly believed him, she still didn't trust me around anyone her son was interested in.  Boyce’s parents didn’t dislike me, but despite the fact that I was best friends with their youngest son, I was never convinced they actually knew who I was.  When I’d see them I would say, “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Lancaster,” and they’d look at me hesitantly, as though I just walked out of a crashed space rocket. 

With the name Wetherbee I was one of the last people in line, and standing near me was the valedictorian Josh Elliot who was preparing his speech.  He was part of another line who would enter after us regulars, and then be seated on the stage.  He was going over his notecards and those of us at the back of the line were watching him prepare.  I certainly didn’t envy him.  Every time I had to speak in public it was a disaster.  At my father’s funeral I just played a bunch of bird songs that I recorded, and that worked decently well.  After that, every time I had to speak in public I would recite a bunch of bird calls and songs to calm myself.  When I saw how nervous Josh was, I walked up to him and we chit chatted.  Excited that my attempts at small talk were going well, I told Josh about my strategy of calming myself with bird sounds.  He asked if that worked, and I told him it always worked to calm me down.  It never made the speech go well because I never actually knew what I was saying from one sentence to the next, but at least I was able to physically deliver the verbal nonsense thanks to the relaxation technique. 

I told Josh to think of a bird he knew, and concentrate on it really hard.  He said he didn’t know any birds, but I told him to think hard.  He said a robin, and I knew he was saying that just to say one.  That’s okay, though, because the American Robin is a gorgeous, lovely bird.  When my father would see an American Robin he would say, “Cyrus, did you see it?”  I would say no, and then he’d say, “Just like the rest of them,” and hold out his hand to blow on his palm like he was getting rid of a handful of dust. 

I repeated to Josh the call of the American Robin, and he got excited when he told me he could actually hear it.  It’s a bird call he’d heard his entire life, but only now did he know he had heard it.  I sang over and over again, “Cheer-up, cheer-a-lee…cheer-ee-o, whinny,” and Josh was so nervous and so desperate for help that he didn’t even notice the people giggling at us, including the one guy who screamed, “God, Cyrus, are you shitting your pants?”  I repeated the call again and told Josh to try it himself, and he did, and for a beginner, it wasn’t bad: “Cheer-up, cheer-a-lee…cheer-ee-o, whinny.”  I told him when he was on that stage to just think hard about that call and imagine an American Robin singing in his front lawn.  He shook my hand and said thanks. 

Our line was called out before Josh’s, and I waved good luck to him on my way through the doors.  I sat in my place near one of the aisles and impatiently waited through all the ceremonial stuff.  I was excited for Josh’s speech.  When it came his turn, I watched him approach the podium with a completely bloodless head and shaking hands.  I thought he might even faint he was so nervous.  He struggled in silence with his notecards for a second, then hemed and hawed a hello and how are you to the audience.  It was awful.  It went back to dead silence, and I had to help my new friend out.  So in that silence I put my hand to the side of my mouth and called out, “Cheer-up, cheer-a-lee…cheer-ee-o, whinny.”  The people sitting next to me acted like I just threw up into my gown, and there was some chuckling in the audience.  I didn’t care though.  I was a safety line to Josh.  I called out again: “Cheer-up, cheer-a-lee…cheer-ee-o, whinny.”  Josh squinted and stared out into the audience.  He started his speech, and my god, it was terrible.  Clichéd, stuttered, and delivered in a shaky voice, I was sure Josh would never get through it.  Sometimes he’d go quiet and I’d call out again, “Cheer-up, cheer-a-lee…cheer-ee-o, whinny.”  A guy sitting a couple people down from me told me to shut the hell up, but I leaned over and said, “No one can shut the American Robin up.”  Then I did it again.  I couldn’t tell if it was helping Josh or not because he was so terrible to begin with.  Sometimes he just looked upwards toward the lights for an amount of time that must have, at least temporarily, blinded him. I tried another American Robin call, but it was interrupted by a man in a suit who approached the end of my row, leaned over toward me, and said, “If you don’t let my son give his speech I’m going to take you outside.”  Then everyone around me broke into applause and Josh’s father marched back to his seat triumphant and proud.  I’m not even sure how Josh’s speech ended because I was so afraid of getting beat up by our valedictorian’s large, mustachioed father.

When I went across the stage to get my diploma a spattering of people booed.  There were a few applause to combat them, but it was just Sammy and Boyce doing their best.  After the ceremony when people were meeting up with their families, I walked around trying to find Sammy and Boyce.  That’s when I saw Josh approach me.  I extended my hand and said, “I hope it helped.”  I didn’t really get out the last word though because Josh punched me right in the stomach.  That’s the last time I ever saw our valedictorian.  Boyce and Sammy found me on the floor moaning, “Cheer-up, cheer-a-lee…cheer-ee-o, whinny” to myself.  They were the only ones in a large lobby full of graduates and parents to bother picking me up off the floor.  Everyone else just walked around me like I was the an epileptic piece of furniture.

As I recounted this final beating to Boyce, he laughed nearly non-stop.  He told me that during the ceremony, when he heard a bird call go out during Josh’s speech, he knew he was either going to have to fight someone or pick me up off the floor.  “My grandparents were there, so I’m glad I just had to pick you up off the floor.”  Then Boyce told me thanks for the story, but he needed to get off the phone so he could call Bruce Barenburg to begin a sale listing on his house. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dr. Shades

On our way out to the casino last night, Sammy took the opportunity to tell everyone in his path—waitresses at the diner, gas station attendant, drunk at the on-ramp asking for change, that we were, “On our way to the Indian reservation to gamble away our friend’s last paycheck as an employed man.”  The waitress looked at Boyce like he was on his way to a gas chamber.  The gas station attendant was horrified.  The drunk high-fived Sammy and asked if he could come along.  There was a spirit of brotherhood there, so when Sammy said, “Not a chance, man.  You stink,” the drunk just waved happily and shouted, “Brkghhhhszzz snake eyes mmmmmmphhhahh, yeah, all right!”  I’ve seen fights break out at neighborhood parks over which family reserved the gazebo first.  But tell a drunk man that you’re potentially burning money on a socially unacceptable activity, and you’ll see what real goodwill means.

When we got there I stationed myself at a craps table and explained to Boyce what our strategy was going to be.  We would need patience and some luck.  Boyce stopped me and said he’d called ahead and reserved a place at a different table.  This isn’t the Boyce I was used to.  When I looked at Sammy he had no reaction, which made me realize that he already knew what was going to happen, which also meant the two of them had consulted without me, which meant I wasn’t going to like what was going to happen.

We walked over to a room that had quasi-walls made out of fake shrubbery.  There were a few tables there and people were playing poker.  I just stared.  Boyce said, “You’re going to help,” and then walked over to one of the tables.  He patted the pocket that had an awful lot of cash, then pointed to the chair for me to sit down.  I shook my head.  “That’s against my rules,” I said.  But Boyce told me to stop messing around and come sit down.

I wasn’t going though.  I just shook my head.  Some of the people at Boyce’s table looked over at me and smiled.  One guy, wearing sunglasses to play poker like a wannabe douchebag, said, “You going to play or piddle your pants, amigo?”  I shook my head again, but instead of making fun of me Dr. Shades got real quiet.  Anyone who wears sunglasses to play poker is the gambling equivalent of a 13 year old girl singing into a hairbrush pretending she’s on American Idol, so this guy probably thought I was Rain Man.

Sammy was standing next to me when Boyce came over and asked me to play poker for him.  Boyce said he was terrible, Sammy was terrible (to which Sammy said, “Oh my, yes.  But I could take that guy,” and pointed over at Dr. Shades who looked even more nervous that we were having some super-autism conference and would soon take his money), and I used to be a very, very good poker player.  This part was true.  I used to be very good at poker, but then I made up new rules and wouldn’t gamble against other people.  It wasn’t that I always won, it’s just that it made me want to destroy other people, and most gambling tables were not full of toolboxes like Dr. Shades who rather than a conscience was just a collection of centipedes and splinters.  See?!  Even being around a poker table has made me hate my opponents.  (No.  Dr. Shades really was an unbelievable dork.  You should have seen this guy.  He wore a ball cap backward with a black, silk shirt.  The tone of everything he said was clearly based off any number of random, R-rated stand up comedians and AM radio hosts.)

Boyce made me look him in the eye.  He said he wouldn’t blame me if I lost.  I told him that didn’t worry me, and he said he knew that, but it needed to be said.  I told him about the rules, and he said, “I know those rules.  But they aren’t really yours.  They were Rachel’s.”  I started to say that just because she invented them doesn’t mean they’re not good rules, but Boyce said, “And she’s not here anymore.”  The dealer at the table said he wasn’t waiting, and Dr. Shades began to say something.  Sammy stepped forward though and pointed at Dr. Shades: “If you so much as breathe this direction I will murder your entire family.”  I had never heard Sammy say something like that before.  He always wants people to like him.  Besides, he’s like me in that if he did say something like that, he would be perpetually worried that someone like Dr. Shades would take the opportunity to murder his entire family—he is clearly capable—since a suspect has publicly been created.

I expected Sammy to be asked to leave.  I know based on personal experience that people, including dealers and security guards, cannot threaten you.  The dealer only said, “Gentlemen,” in a really non-committal way, and then waited.  Boyce apologized for saying anything harsh, but added, “These are the facts.  One: I don’t have a job anymore.  If I don’t make money fast, we have to put the house up.  That means we leave and go live with Charlotte’s parents.  Two: I can’t make money this way, but you can.  And three: I’m sorry, Cyrus, but Rachel’s not here anymore.”

The dealer said, “Gentlemen,” again, but this time it was clearly directed at the three of us.  Sammy stepped forward and said, “We’re trying to figure out the rules here.”  A couple guys at the table took that to mean the rules of poker, and told the dealer they could wait, speaking like salivating dogs.  Dr. Shades, however, must have thought that rules meant the way I was going to use autistic superpowers, because he wanted the dealer to go ahead and get started.

I told Boyce I couldn’t do it.  Boyce said please.  I said no, and started walking out of the room.  Boyce said, “She’s gone, you know.”  I didn’t turn around.  At least not then.  I did, however, when I heard Dr. Shades, newly energized because I was leaving to watch Wapner or something, say loudly, “Ohhh, she’s gone.  Bitch.  See you later!  Deal, amigo, time to rock and roll.”  There was this groan that followed and I saw that Boyce had gone apeshit.  He charged at Dr. Shades and put him in a headlock.  Other guys at the table tried to pull Dr. Shades away.  Sammy charged and leaped on top of the growing pile.  He didn’t even do anything.  He just kind of landed on everyone’s head, then rolled off to the side.  To his credit though, he got right back on again.  Even though what Boyce said was cruel, I came charging, too.  I put my shoulder down and rammed myself into the growing mass.  I pumped my legs like I was Bart Farv rushing for a touchdown.  Later Boyce told me I actually rammed him in the side, but he didn’t mind, because that made him fall and he was still clutching Dr. Shades’ neck.  Once he fell to the ground with him Boyce seemed more concerned at smashing the sunglasses into the carpet than actually hitting Dr. Shades.

Eventually security broke it all up.  Since no punches were actually thrown they didn’t call the police.  They did, however, ban us from the casino for life.  I watched Sammy when the floor supervisor told us that, because Sammy thinks banishment is the greatest punishment you can have.  I think the dealer must have told the supervisor that Dr. Shades was a real idiot, because he shaked our hands on the way out.

 It was a pretty quiet ride home.  Sammy had borrowed his brother’s car for the evening, and we tried to distract ourselves by going through his glove box or trash under the seats.  The only talking was Sammy’s occasional words.  He’d say, “I think I’ll get a car now.  It can be the group’s,” or, “Wasn’t that better than a card game anyway?”  Finally Boyce spoke up and said that he was putting his house on the market.  They didn’t have the money to wait for him to find a job with this economy.  They’d have to move south and live with Charlotte’s parents.  I felt like all those words really meant: “You could have helped if you wanted to, Cyrus.”  Not like that, though.

As we had earlier planned, we all stayed the night at Sammy’s apartment.  Right before we were going to sleep Boyce came over to me and said that after I left Rachel’s priest’s house, he told Boyce, “Cyrus can see her again if he wants.”  I said I didn’t go for that religious stuff, and Boyce said he knew, but he thought I might like to hear it anyway.  Then things got quiet for a few minutes.  Then Sammy said, we all needed to admit that even if you've lost your job and are going to have to move out of state and away from your best friends, pummeling a dumbass on a casino floor was a pretty sweet way of spending an evening.