The idea of making false statement had never been new to me. I had, long ago in the past, made false statements aplenty. I had lied to counsel about the serfs I had beaten, I had lied to my children about their mother’s indelicacies, I had lied to the pontiff about my faith. Such were the customs, and such were the times. Such time and such customs had relied upon those lying to lie as an expected matter of due and common course. If teleology had demanded it, I could do no better, and indeed, did not. Later on, in the face of justices, judges, juries, in the common court of daily posts, such ways of being, such presentations of self in everyday life were deemed anathema if not wholly illegal. Subjects were placed in psychological prisons, pensions were revoked, and all but the deafest sycophants became deserters. In this fallen time, in which most of us living north of the Earth’s equator presently live, there is an impetus—however—to eke away somewhere, somewhere else, where one can exist and rejoice in being less than half of nothing. To that end, I had tied both of my laces, fastening tightly beneath their crisscrossing the two tongues of my leather boots and headed alone thither.
Whatever friends I had had, they are useless. And whatever lovers I had had, they are useless. Whatever children, useless, too. I am an old leather boot: supple, creased, well-worn, well-traveled. The rest of time is to take the steps taken, the places been, momentous arcs that will have had no span. To guide a yellow or a purple thread through the eye of a thin enough needle, and do a little sewing then. It requires what most people don’t: sadness, and solitude, and a sort of lonely patience for the moon. Not in a mythic sense nor in a romantic one. The sort that sees even shadows on the face of the earth as borrowed from somewhere. The sort that has heard the thrush in the woods, that has watched its faded still eye sitting on a low tree branch.
Now this old piece of lie, so the story goes, so the story went, it went something like this. She’d walk there and he’d walk there and then they’d get to this point on the concourse or the causeway or what have you, and as they were approaching, and this was years back, mind you, he’d go to her: “How many days would you remember me if I jumped off right here?” And she’d go something like 58 days, or a week, or 29 hours, or some such reply. And it was all in good, suicidal fun, you see. It wasn’t expected of him to jump for anything. After all, the one that had been on the brinks, the one that had been in the bin, wasn’t him. The one that loved life, why, everybody you had talked to always knew it was him. Her? Well, enough said there. There was enough medical documentation in the files to keep the Easter Bunny happy till Christmas. Of course nobody’d suspected that he’d had such a deep down mordant sense of humor that went quite that deep. But when you look at the crack in the cement, and you come to realize that through freezing and thawing, through freezing and thawing, expanding and contracting the way water does year after year, season after season, it does things to a story-teller’s own mind. See, they’ve got a mind like no other. What they think is funny, like D. B. Cooper with the made-up middle initial like that, is not as funny as it is to other people to whom story-telling is not an art but just a thing to pass the time with, you know, make a marriage go on with destroying each other in a few years. For most people, stories are just like going to the movies. They’re just entertainment. But to other people, why, they are as earnest as coyote’s eyes glowing in the dark. They’ve got a special kind of intelligence, not like IQ-wise, but another kind a lot more seeing and a lot more important than that. They can see themselves in the hunt of things, just way the coyote slipping past the last cool air of dawn most certainly smells if it cannot exactly see its own natural destiny whilst in the midst of being that very destiny. So, too, is the earnestness of the story-teller. And the way it goes, she had said forty-four days. “I will remember you,” she had said, “forty-four days after you jump.” So it got to thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, and when it was forty-four, that was pretty much the end of it.
Nobody had been less sure of changing from ash to aluminum than I was myself. There was a feel that I’d known, and there was a sound too. Anyway, that was done and what’s done in baseball could be done better in other ways. Cars themselves today are faster. Kids learn quicker and more. Gamma rays halfway shooting from across the universe arrive overnight now. I keep opening the same Swiss blades I’d been given as a gift, an old army knife, fat as a mushroom from a woman who was about as terrible as I had ever seen or known one. She’d had her belly button, lost after earlier operations under the flesh of her stomach, found there in her gut after another. And replaced to where it belongs, right in the center. This was in her forties actually. When I was just a kid she showed me that, her tits and everything. That she was my step-parent only made what was already terrible worse. I’d have given her the bat right back then if I could have. Imagine that. Imagine what a mess that would have caused. Anyhow, it’s got nothing to do with the sky above, always blue somewhere else. And it’s got even less to do with the ground below. You can take a lifetime, any one of them, and put everything that ever happened in one of them and put all of them, every small incident that ever happened, into a small yellow-colored envelope, a small enough one with a brass clasp on it, and close it, folding back the wings of the clasp to close it like that—and without even licking the gum seal of it. Put them all away, all the envelopes. All bats they were made of wood once, solid ash. Now that’s all gone. Beetles. Invasive species. Killed them all. All the ash. Gone. Under the bark. Killed all the ash tress that ever grew. So what? Now the core is different. Different sound, different feel. The balls go themselves farther in some cases. The kids growing up have fun. That’s only the point of it for them.
Yesterday, I was on the road and a woman left me kisses. The next day I was whipped by a man for nothing that I had done. Two days hence some children laughed at the hump of flesh that was my back. And years later, I was hanged by a crowd who laughed until I was nearly dead. Stepped on by an ox. Chewed through by a panther. Crowned. Disrobed. Disgraced. And so on. When near the end of my life I was asked: How is that of all these experiences you have had it is as though you had never been affected, the response I gave was: “Oh, him, I remember him long, long ago. He was playing next to a small pond where there were a bunch of tadpoles swimming that he was watching, and I believe he may be still there.”
Most of my neighbors past had moved to Bécs. It seemed like a particularly empty place to go. After all, in December the capital is quite empty. Mozart’s little memorium lies in the grass or in the snow unnoticed in the park. And all the buildings with their inhabitants fled to the villages and towns outside the main must be even colder over Christmas, even with leather gloves on both hands. Boulevards would be more deserted than usual. I stayed in the meantime near the Elbe on one side of the nearby brook where a small wooden ferry pulled pilgrims from one side of the water to the other, watching the ferryman plying his almost silent trade. That was the work of a ferryman: awaiting travelers needing to move themselves from one edge of the land to the other without having all their belongings soaked. Aeroplanes soared overhead. Wayfarers from hordes in faraway cities sought their escape between one border and another. I would hum a folk tune, one that Liszt, who had fingers reaching across fourteen keys on a piano, had re-set. The old empire he came from had been quickly divided into a table-puzzle between other sovereign nations at hand, once it was swept away. I lay in the sloping grass of the shallow hills singing to myself memories of Arabia in the 1890’s many green summertimes ago.
I had a little jewel-box and this is what I kept. A single dragon wing. A copper colored penny from 1959. A plastic salt shaker from an airplane ride that was red and the size of any ordinary sewing thimble. In it too were memories. There was not a single object else. A diamond bracelet I had never received. A trip across Ireland in a tinker covered wagon never made. The smell of the hand-carved sandalwood always still reached me. And the smooth feeling of the hinges when the top was opening and closing still pleased me…Below the deck traveling one night alone the half-carved block of Gjetost cheese I heaved from the lower porthole into the mouth of the fjord’s waters this relieved me so much I smiled before the arctic moon probably hiding somewhere else. The splash of it I never heard. The loss of its awful raw milky taste must live in me for miles a while longer.
(read, play, experiment @ egbertstarr.com)