PARIS OVER THERE
– a FREEMAN COBB novelette –
Copyright © 2016 Freeman Cobb
This short story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Names characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Facebook: Freeman Cobb
PARIS OVER THERE
– a FREEMAN COBB novelette –
That snowstorm from when Clyde was a boy plucked him from the black and set him gently down into a world spinning balanced and quieter than the one-hundred fifty-three days of solitary in the cold basement of the prison in Pennington Gap where he was serving fifteen to twenty-five for murdering a man he never kinda killed with the grip of his strong hands with a crooked left pinky. That snowstorm when there was no school for two days and chirpy bird was chirping pretty like the pretty bird she was and smack-hit Papa was snowed out and G-mama told of the days when days were dipped in honey and savored like a first kid kiss and Clyde kept stoking the woodstove and watching the snow never quit — the only dread on his small shoulders was knowing it would quit and smack-hit Papa would be back and that wasn’t alright with the boy running in a world by the name of Clyde. G-mama made bread with honey and butter dumped on top and the woodstove yawned an endless warmth while the three with shared blood played the crazy eights until they fell asleep on the couches and little chirpy bird on the floor with the blue flannel sleeping bag and waking up to that storm that wouldn’t quit but really it would and sooner now cause like as with all things pushed and tugged by the gravity all storms quit at a place down the road. Those were the best two days of Clyde’s life ever and he knew there would never be two days better or equal to or greater than and he knew it then and he knew it always forward. But as his shoulders grew more muscle the thorn that stuck in his eyes about the two best days ever was that the snow that never quit but did quit was white and that shitload of irony bothered Clyde as more time built around him but the color of snow was beyond his reach and mostly he glossed over the color of snow irony with the ridicule all over it because when the stuff sprinkled down is out of your control it’s plenty nice to gloss and slide by like the trick the people called civilization pulls all the while or else one can turn smack into a nut. And that snowstorm back with chirpy bird and G-mamma buffered Clyde from nutville in Pennington Gap.
Kevin the security guard didn’t add up right. He was a fat dick but on day three Clyde found a small woman’s white digital watch in his piss-pale prison yellow scrambled eggs. Kevin put it there. No straps, just the watch part. A watch in solitary was like a whore in church spreading her legs playing with herself just for your eyes and you make it to the Church basement with her while all the acting is overhead and the real secrets of life that counts is wrapped around your waist celebrating the gospels in a way that flickers a sliver of light in the darkness growing throughout the universe. The whore-watch displayed the time and the date and lit up when Clyde held the right top button in to the count of one-mississippi-two-mississippi. The watch made him glad but he fretted the battery would die so he seldom lit the display expect for special occasions like chirpy bird’s birthday and on the Christmas. At midnight on New Year’s he blipped out hap-py-new-year-clyde with the light and wished he had someone to share it with because it would sound real good and maybe feel warm to hear someone wish him a Happy New Year. Happy New Year Clyde! Just like so.
He had served over three years and near a lot had been in solitary. He lied to himself that solitary was safer than not being in solitary so he lied to himself that it didn’t bother him a lot but it was hard and he said to himself that he could do it because he did a lot harder things in life than be by himself and he was glad that he liked himself because if he did not like himself there would be fights even in solitary. He couldn’t pencil out why he was always sent to solitary but a lot of that stuff civilization does in life doesn’t balance out so Clyde didn’t keep drill’n away on it except guessing maybe being marched to solitary might just be a test to see how a man would behave by himself for so long but the people at the prison didn’t have enough wits to care about tests so it wasn’t worth the bet. The prison people just didn’t like Clyde. Maybe the way his gray eyes hardly flinched and maybe the way that one eye on the left was lazy and crossed in the way an eye ought not to and that’s probably all it was and the world was like that more often than it wasn’t cause the people world pretended to like order and not so much a wandering eye that people didn’t know what it was staring at in this place called the world.
Clyde liked to build cabins in solitary and it was always in the woods in the fall because the fall was a good time to make shelter before the weather turned so everything was deliberate and with purpose so that if he didn’t build a button tight warm cabin then maybe the cold that kills wrapped in winter would kill him and his family living in it so that sadness would soak into the ground once it thawed and that was reason enough to build strong. He framed with dry rough sawn pine 2 x 6’s. He had built some cabins with green lumber and some with kiln dried construction dimension but he preferred dry rough sawn because it was more honest than other lumber and was a perk in life to hold it in his hands and build and the old coffee can with the handful of carpenter pencils sharpened right with a point that ran true was all the investment Clyde bet necessary for living in the manner he felt one ought to and purpose with sharp carpenter pencils kept him straight and narrow.
Clyde knew he could take the man who pushed the gravity in a manner to get Clyde locked up because he could take anyone one-on-one based on record alone as the dozen or so he had ever taken he took without the sweat but man always gets beaten sometime because the way the world runs was not to win all the time but even though Clyde decided to take the man pushing the gravity strings he lost as he ended up in the concrete closet but half his life was looking at the gray gray gray concrete so in that big picture from the touchable clouds of everyone running around on the ground the punishment was what he was accustomed to so with a shrug he took it like when a dog is kicked by the person with the food and the doggy moves away but not too far because a lot of life is about get’n enough to eat and Clyde knew that like nobody’s business.
Clyde was nailing a header together for the big window in the dining room when the delivery kid stepped into his cell with the 16” meat lover’s with that big blue bag over the pizza box to keep it warm like a pizza aspired to be and Clyde set down his nail gun and tipped the kid five bucks cause that’s what honor is all about, giving more than you got.
“Nice,” said the kid, eyeing Clyde.
“You bet.” Clyde opened the pizza box studying the warm beauty like he would should warm pussy be thrust in his face. He picked up a slice. “Hungry?”
The kid shook his head. “Had enough of that shit to last.”
Clyde took a bite. Then another. “That’s liv’n.”
The kid pointed toward the end of Clyde’s framed house where the framing went around the metal cell door. “What’s that?”
“Okay.” The kid was confused.
Clyde waved his arm holding the slice of meat lover’s pizza at the trees and dirt driveway and the kid’s shit car and the pile of 2 x 6’s and the orange extension cord running across the grass dividing the grass into sides to the green electrical box that juiced the saw that provided Clyde with all kinds of power. “You go that way and I go this way.” He pointed to the door. “That’s the rules. The book says so and so did the judge.”
‘Whatever, dude.” The kid pocketed the five, walking toward his car.
Clyde ate pizza watching the kid back the car up and head fast down the winding driveway disappearing into the trees. He grabbed another slice of meat lover’s from the box watching the cheese pull up ‘til it broke like an umbilical cord he thought and wished the shit kid had stormed in with a cooler of cold ones cause cold ones and meat lover’s when bust’n ass to build a warm house for the family before the kill of cold wrapped in winter kills the lot of ‘em is—
Clyde snapped his head toward the cell door. Shit! He set the pizza down and stood staring at the door in his place, hands over his head, waiting for it to open. He was going to get his ass cranked by the guards for getting pizza.
The cell door clicked again. Clyde didn’t know who was on watch but whoever was, was sure enough staring in at him. Clyde kept his eyes on the door waiting. There’d be two of them. One coming in, the other staying back. Clyde knew they’d shoot him in a heartbeat if Clyde would only give them the chance so he never even came close but knew even that wasn’t a sure bet. It was their world down below and the rules they had like all rules were pretend ones like the snow in a snow globe. Pretty to look at but as real as a pink bunny bringing chocolate to houses. But Clyde liked the click of the door because it meant something might happen and that was better than nothing happening even when what happened was bad. He was likely being taken somewhere to get beaten or they were going to search the empty room again or they were going to ask him questions about stuff stranger than the stars or they would just click it shut again for something to do they thought was a joke or Aaron and the fat one would haul him off and spray him down naked for a washing and look at him a long time naked and handcuffed but they never touched, not once or they might yell or make him clean his stainless steel toilet or talk about how they got fucked last night or what kind of beer they had from Safeway in the back of their cars or they would make up scores of the Redskins or lie about the President getting shot or Lebron dying in a car wreck. They just carried guns and made shit up and threw a punch or a back hand or filled a room with words covered in shit whenever such things tempted them and they took the bait. They were not the humans carving turkey on Thanksgiving but the ones bitching about the dryness of it with the cans of beer molting from their stubby hands. And it made Clyde wonder why for some reason the way all that moved in the universe always moved in such patterns that Clyde stood on the wrong side of the bars and the ones bitching about dry turkey and hit people that were down stood on the other side getting paid the money and keeping possession of the keys to the other side.
After a while Clyde let his eyes leave the door and wander around the concrete floor. Someone was still watching ‘cause the door had clicked two quick ones and then a later click which meant the door was unlocked. He always tried to figure where the clicker person was to unlock the door but never figured it out for certain. He guessed it was upstairs in some prison control room and whoever the clicker was monitored the door with the camera talking to security. But that was a guess and guesses are just that and it amazed him when he thought about it that someone was paid dollars to be the clicker and they could probably click and drink hot coffee at the same time and any job that pushed things aside for hot coffee was a job worth paying attention to.
Clyde realized someone was baiting him in a different way than before so he tried the best he could to not take the bait. Creation made the door in a way that it opened into the cell so that the prisoner didn’t use the door as a weapon and knock a guard out who was trying to come in and Clyde figured the bait might be to get him to come close to the door so that the guard on the other side could slam it open and clock Clyde in the skull with the heavy metal door so Clyde stayed clear of the door’s swing reach as he was in no mood for a smashed in skull and only wanted to get back to his meat lover’s.
Clyde was determined to wait it out but after a few hours of standing like a fool for being the ass end of a joke or a killing in walked the big deal Madonna from behind him, and he was surprised that she was shy in a way and had come this far to visit him which was a good sign she crushed on him in some horn dog way and he wanted to find out what that was and he knew that people knew more about him that he ever knew and it was probably because he too was famous in a way for those whose job it was to take note about his secret awesomeness.
Clyde decided he was drinking and he was drinking bourbon in a tumbler with the foggy glass with plenty of ice so that he was loose tongued with the Madonna and not shy himself and he knew the bourbon would grease his tongue so he had three already and was working on the next when they started to talk about her favorite food and he was careful not to look too long at her almost bare breasts in the loose blue dress but long enough to take it all in and they were not so white as he had imagined and he was glad that she was such a woman that suggested a lot by living life in that way others ran from and hid but peered from the damn dark always watching her because it provided their sorry little lives with fire sparks.
“Seems like a waste to throw away scrambled eggs if someone bothered to make ‘em for ‘ya.”
She raised her eyebrows, examining Clyde. “They should have asked. There’s no shortage of eggs in the world.” Her mouth reminded Clyde of a smudgy red crayon smile and he so badly wanted to taste the taste of that crayon smudge. Maybe it would be sweeter and stickier than a candy apple.
“Plenty of places don’t have enough dino eggs lay’n around.” He looked at her. “I eat whenever and whatever I can get. Learned early to take the nutrition and the stuffed belly when gravity pulls it my direction.”
“Dino eggs?” She smiled, leaning closer.
“Chickens and all the not chicken birds are the living leftovers from the Dinosaur world so I see and eat dino eggs not chicken eggs but really they are the same just different names.”
She laughed. “Cute. And what do you get in here to eat, besides dino eggs?”
“Potatoes. Meat but not much. Boiled carrots. Peas. Margarine. Water and apple juice. No hot coffee. They think it’s a weapon. I’m gonna break out with a cup of hot coffee.” He smiled.
“You think of breaking out?”
“Not much. Hurts more than it helps especially in the hole.”
“Yeah – why are you in the hole so much?”
He shrugged. “Pretty sure no one likes me much ‘cause of the way my eye ball is and the world never knows exactly what I’m look’n at even when I’m look’n at it as direct as I can so I’m a suspicious human because of my asymmetry. The world bets on symmetry mostly.”
She tossed her hair back. “I like that eye and I think you’re cute. That’s why I came and I like your spider tatt.” She pointed to his large biscep.
Clyde laughed. “No—you’re stuck down here with me and the account of gravity and that’s easy cell talk and you’re gauging me to see if I’m a crazy.”
Madonna laughed. “Why did you invite me?”
“I bet you’d come and not be scared.”
“Some people are too scared?”
“Oh, yeah. The lady from Titanic won’t come. Doesn’t trust me. She had too many rules. Didn’t understand I had to sneak her in and didn’t understand it had to be secretive and I can’t get wine and that broke the deal.”
“You wanted me to come because you think I’m easy.” She smiled.
Clyde shook his head. “I thought maybe you’d do me if you got to know me a little.”
“Because you’re that awesome deep down?” she giggled.
“I know about the dignity.”
The Madonna smiled. “And?”
“And there’s a good amount of it on you even though you get the money for the opposite but really you’re playing the dummies and I like that. Play’n the dummies and rid’n the bullshit.”
“That doesn’t make me easy. More deliberate and moody. And you are not in my mood, Clyde. I do like your tatt though.” She smiled. “What did you do to park here?”
Clyde looked at the door. “I still haven’t heard it click again. Have you?”
“It unlocked before you got here but hasn’t locked back up. It clicks when it does that. It’s still unlocked. I count ‘em always and never miss one.”
She nodded toward the door. “Now is your time.”
“I touch that door and that’s their excuse to cap me. Not touching it.”
“Well, I’m going out that door.”
“No, go out the back way. Same way you got here. I don’t want them to see you. I’ll get a raft of shit if they know the Madonna is with Clyde and the eye.”
Madonna looked around the cell, laughed. “What back door?”
“Same one you came in.”
“There’s no back door, Sweetie.”
“Just go, now. I want you to.”
“No, now I want to stay and bend over your bed and spread ‘em. You’re something else.”
Clyde smiled so she couldn’t see, looking at the door then back at the bed but he was too late. He walked over to where she had sat, the bed still warm from her ass. The Madonna’s ass on his bed and he blew it like always. “Fuck.” He rubbed his face sitting down, inhaling, enjoying what remained of her perfume and he pictured sprinkles of perfume floating around him but didn’t see any for proof but he was on the glad that the Madonna had come to his home perched on the precipice.
The Madonna day faded to the invisible place days go and turned into a couple days and moved around in a way such that the door never clicked and the door slot never opened and no dumb ass guard came to dole out grief to Clyde or dish out something to eat and the Madonna smell had been sucked up somewhere. He felt like eyes were still eying him but he snuck a few glances at the white watch and noticed over three days had gone by him forever and his stomach was getting tired of being idle because stomachs that idle for too long don’t last. Clyde drank water from the small stream that trickled out of the gray faucet and he knew it wasn’t much but knew it was better than no water and without it he would be in a world of hurt and he wished whoever was watching him would get bored and change things up because waiting in a piss-ant concrete room for food is not what he set out to do when he figured he could make a go of the world.
“Bastard,” laughed Klaus.
Clyde turned toward the sound. Klaus his only friend in this life had come to visit. Clyde thought it was funny Klaus had brought an old hickory rocking chair with him but he did and Clyde laughed and there rocked Klaus in the corner with a can of Coors Light and the silver bullet hidden in his large hands made Clyde want to suck down a bucket of them because he knew there was a pork chop in every one but Klaus only brought the one and Clyde had too much pride hidden somewhere he didn’t know where to ask for the rest of it and Klaus sucked it down quick anyways but the crinkle of the empty can in Klaus’s hand sounded almost as beautiful than Madonna calling him Sweetie with her warm ass pressing down on his bed that number of days ago.
“Wish I still had that DeWalt drill you lost.”
“I’m hungry.” Clyde stared back at the door. “And I don’t know what happened to the drill. You know that.”
“I know you lost it.”
“Fuck you, Klaus.”
“I know you stole it from me.”
“That was better than twenty years ago and I didn’t steal it. Let it go.”
“First thing I want you to do when you get out is buy me a new drill and it better be a DeWalt and then I’ll drop it.”
“Yeah, I’ll buy you a Mikita and shove it up your fat ass.”
Klaus laughed. “About the only thing a Mikita is good for.”
Clyde smiled, still staring at the door.
Klaus lit a joint.
Clyde reached his hand back, not lifting his eyes from the door. “Gimme.”
“I’ll leave you with a nugget.”
“I can’t hide it. They’ll take it and kick my ass for days.”
“They’ll kick your ass anyways when they smell it.” Klaus kept rocking. “Hell of a world. A man can get his ass kicked for smoking in the hole. What else are you supposed to do? That’s one shitty rule book.”
Clyde inhaled deeply before handing it back. “Good thing about starving to death is this shit goes right to my head.”
“Wish I had known. Just finished some jalapeno poppers. Should’a brought some.”
“Should’a.” Clyde held the joint again, watching the end smolder. He pointed at the door, exhaling. “I’ve waited days now for a click and nothing.” The back of his throat burned.
“Maybe you were sleeping.”
“I never miss a click. They want me to try and open the door but I figured something out while I’ve been waiting.”
“Figured they don’t own shit and neither do I.” He laughed. “That’s fuck’n funny.”
“A riot,” rocked Klaus. “So do it.”
“Open the fuck’n door.”
Clyde turned, looking at Klaus, studying the fat bastard rocking. “I’m thinking I’m gonna.”
“A man’s gotta eat.”
“And shitloads more or we’re not worthy of a name.” Clyde got up for some water. “You got my back?”
“You know it.” Klaus handed back the goodie.
Clyde took it. “Done.” He coughed looking at the door.
“When did you last eat?”
“Five, six, seven days. Noth’n but water. That’s why I’m weak at the knees. I want the vision like in movies when the good are starving at the hands of the bad.”
“What do ‘ya wanna eat?”
“Canned pears would set me right.”
Klaus laughed. “Canned pears? That’s you, Clyde. Pears! How ‘bout a fucking rib-eye?”
“I’d eat it but pears sound more to it.” Clyde stepped toward the door. “I’m think’n the door might be wired so watch it if I light up.”
“Nothing to burn in here but you and me and your can of pears.”
Clyde stabbed his finger at the door, grazing it.
Klaus kept rocking.
Clyde stabbed his finger again.
“No smoke com’n out your ass.” Klaus laughed.
“Sh-sh.” At arm’s length Clyde rested his palm against the metal door. “Not wired,” he whispered. He stepped closer, placing his forearms against it. Moved close again, his ear against the door, listening. He remained motionless for minutes.
Klaus kept rocking enjoying the spectacle and his smoke.
“Okay,” whispered Clyde, moving away from the door toward Klaus. “Not a sound on the other side. It’s a hell of a trap or something is fucked. Can’t pound on the door or it might lock shut. Gotta be delicate.” He thought of chirpy bird.
“You’re the man,” rocked Klaus.
Clyde stepped to the small sink, bending over it, carefully untying three strands of dental floss around the metal filter of the narrow silver drain. He pulled out three plastic spoon handles, the heads of the spoon broken off two months earlier and flushed down the toilet. He held the plastic handles up to Klaus’s face. “Did this a while ago for something to do,” he whispered. “Not easy making three spoons disappear in the hole.”
Klaus kept rocking and smiled.
Clyde lay on the floor, facing the door. Carefully he tapped a spoon handle under it, six inches from the end, opposite the hinges, wedging it firmly between the floor and bottom of the door. He repeated the procedure a foot away from the first spoon closer toward the hinges. He looked back at Klaus. “Here goes the shit.”
Still lying on his side he grabbed each handle, gently pressing downward so the opposite ends would apply pressure upwards against the door jam. Slowly he pulled. The door creaked towards him. He wedged the spoon handles again under the door, pulling towards him. The door budged a quarter inch. Clyde stood, looking back at Klaus. “This might get ugly.” He placed the three handles under his pillow.
Klaus shrugged and kept rocking. “Let the fuckers storm the cell. I don’t give a shit. You gotta eat and I’m outta poppers.”
Clyde got a purchase on the edge of the door swinging inwards with his fingers. White light flooded the cell. Slowly he pulled the door open. Clyde stared out into the narrow cinder block hallway. “Hey! This is Stanford. My door opened!”
He stepped back, standing in front of Klaus rocking. He placed his hands over his head, waiting.
“Get your ass out of my face and don’t be such a pussy,” barked Klaus, trying to nick Clyde’s heels with the ends of his rocker.
“Go kick some ass and get some food and maybe some pussy while you’re at it.”
Clyde ignored him, stepping into the hallway. He stood spread eagle, leaning against the wall, his hands high on the cinder blocks. “I’m in the hallway!” He waited. “My door opened—I need food!” His throat was dry. He closed his eyes as his heart raced inside his chest in a cadence it ought not to.
“I want that fuck’n drill!” shouted Klaus inside the cell.
“You reek of weed!”
“Shut the fuck up, Klaus!” Sweat beaded across Clyde’s forehead.
Clyde waited for Klaus to finish his sentence. He waited for the guards to come crank his ass. He waited, hands high, exposed, smelling like weed. He kept his eyes shut. “Klaus?”
He turned around, looking back into the cell. The red light was still on but no hickory rocking chair. “Klaus?” The fat bastard was gone, still pissed about the drill. Probably headed for more poppers.
“Hey!” shouted Clyde again, looking up at the security camera. “It’s me. Unarmed.” He held his hands high over his head. “No trouble, okay? I wanna eat. It’s been a week. Don’t kill me this way, man.” He faced the wall again, hands over his head. “I’m waiting not doing a damn thing but staying put.”
When he was delivered to Lee and first ordered to the hole and first heard the elevator stop the sound reminded Clyde of pressing the left foot pedal of a tire mounter when the tire pops off the rim and air releases from the compressor like a long snake hissing at its place in life in the jungle in the hot sun because what it does best is hiss while most folks in the world disguise their hissing sounds except the ones in the chamber who hiss as loud as they can like the evil creatures they own homage to. The tire mounting hissing sound was a sound that made him feel good in the past he owned up until he arrived at solitary at Lee and heard the elevator stop for the first time then the sound was a sound that soon was bad and would be forever but the bad sound never did happen after Klaus went for more poppers as Clyde waited to get his ass cranked for wanting food and not wanting to die for doing time for killing a man he never kinda killed with the grip of his hands so he waited instead for the rubber soled boots of the guards clopping down the gray blue stair well and the sound was always so deliberate it had to be evil too like the elevator and it usually was but the evil sound never happened either while Clyde waited and after some time he stopped the wait and shuffled down the hallway into the chamber if that’s what the real name was he didn’t know but he called it the chamber for the few times certain things had been done to him there and maybe dungeon would have been better but chamber suited Clyde better because he thought a person needed to be flogged in a dungeon and he never was flogged only made to hurt in ways that make villains villains and the ‘v’ sound evil in that word evil. ‘Vvvvvvvvv’.
There were no cameras lens in the chamber to record the gray metal table or the gray floor or the gray walls or the splatters of red blood on the gray metal table or the splatters of red blood on the gray floor or the splatters of red blood on the gray walls. The small room was gray and red but Clyde had the power and the vision so Clyde saw beyond the room and he saw soft snow flakes at dusk falling on pine trees and that was a nice thing as he shuffled across the room through ankle deep snow into a room he had never been to because roaming around the prison basement with Clyde only was an event Clyde had never done before and he liked roaming alone even if he was scared about getting caught because a man’s gotta eat sooner or later or the show ends. The other room was not so much a room but a hallway with a metal box the size of a small chest freezer and that was all the room would ever be—a place for the metal box locked with a strong lock with probably electrical panels and circuits inside but the world would never know and Clyde looked up at the camera and said a man’s gotta eat and he left the room and walked into a big square room with metal shelves and card board boxes filled with things that were of interest to Clyde like one box filled with smaller boxes of rubber gloves and another box was filled with green industrial garbage bags and a few boxes had sleeves of Styrofoam cups which Clyde had never once seen in use in prison only paper cups. He looked at the camera in the room and was starting not to put as much care into it because like a hungry thing he was honing in on food and he was at a point that food was where it all converged but he did say to the camera that a man’s gotta eat and he kept digging through the boxes hoping for a fresh roasted butterball someone forgot about and that made him laugh and then he laughed that he laughed about the butterball joke he made for himself and knew that he would settle for a lot less than a roasted butter ball in a card board box. In the end he was disappointed that the boxes that had such promise in the beginning offered nothing to the hungry in the world but he was out of his cell and stoned and that was better than being in his cell and not so he was hungry still but okay with rooting for food in the basement because rooting for food was really all that people did with their lives some just go about it cloaked in different costumes. He gave up on the tests that he might be a section of because at the moment tests were little help to him whatever they were for or not for. The butterball joke and the empty boxes tired him out and he sat on the floor for a short spell but knew he was going to pass out when he felt sweaty and sickish and probably smoking the pot wasn’t a good thing for him and he wondered about Klaus and the whereabouts of the DeWalt before his eyes rolled back and he took a timeout from rooting in the basement and stuck his head into the black abyss with the whirring wind.
Clyde didn’t know how long his head had been dangling in the darkness but he was cold and his head cracked with the hurt when he eyed the room from the floor in a position not much different than when he was in a female’s uterus with the gravity already at work on his being. “Standford is down!” he yelled. “Nothing in the boxes!” he yelled. “A man’s gotta eat!” he yelled. Ever since he was getting older but still a kid he had suspected the gravity might not care a penny and the basement was proof that he might have been on to something even as a kid with a dream or two in his pockets sharing space with threads of lint.
In the next room was a utility sink and next to it was an eye washer for when poison was in the eyes and he was glad that wasn’t the case as a starving man with an asymmetrical eye has limits like all creatures known to walk the planet. From a Styrofoam cup he guzzled three cups of water because water was an important ingredient to the life process and the water tasted okay and when he was done he ripped the cup to white shreds as he could and there were more cups and if he finished breathing in the basement he bet all the cups would be ripped before he nodded off for good because if he couldn’t do much else he could rip cups in his final hours and that was an accomplishment of sorts when there wasn’t much else to accomplish with the limitations of being imprisoned in life. He bet many others before him amounted to less than shredding Styrofoam cups and he expected that to nourish his empty but it expanded his empty.
The utility sink room was small and he left it for the metal box room that would only be a metal box room and he left it for the chamber with snow but was bothered by the sight of blood on the snow and then went to the hallway with the elevator and looked in the camera and pushed an elevator button but only nothing happened which he thought would happen and he pushed the button for minutes with always nothing on the other end and then he went to the stair well door and levered the metal handle like a metronome and he looked through the thick glass to the blue-gray stairs and saw only blue-gray stairs and pounded on the door but it was locked hard and the gravity didn’t much care how hard he knocked and pounded and screamed and he looked at the camera and screamed but the world still didn’t much care for the way gravity was bouncing him around and in the reflection of the glass he noticed his hair was on fire with no flames or smoke.
Back down the blue-gray hallway past his cell door he thought was a closet and he hoped it might be filled with food storage for when the world ended but it wasn’t a closet at all but a doorway but he never got to see it open before because in solitary he never had that right to see such things like doors open that were a few paces down from his door. The closet door that wasn’t led to a narrow hallway with no cameras then into a big room with a camera and that was it except for the bricks of gold stacked against a wall that took Clyde’s breath away and he gasped because it was truly the gold that he searched for but not jewelry gold but tomato sauce gold with mushroom gold and meat gold and tomato paste gold and Rowlands tomato sauce with sardines gold and there were big cans and little cans and creamed corn gold but not so much and the reason they were stacked in the big room was one of the biggest mysteries the world ever knew and Clyde didn’t care about the answer he wanted only to eat it and he finally ate some after throwing and throwing a small can of Roma’s Tomato paste against the floor until the can dented in such a manner it cracked and paste oozed out and Clyde sucked as much up without slicing his tongue and it didn’t taste as good as he thought it would because he was starving down to the death but it tasted pretty good but not excellent and by the number of cans and water from the utility sink and water from his cell he mathed it out that he could stay in the basement for near a year if he had to because tomato sauce and sardines and water were enough to keep the engine primed even if there was no pasta or fancy Italian dessert or wine because in the way of the natural world tomatoes and mushroom and fish are prime targets and amounted to more than primitive people ever ate around the fire grunting and eating big game that cost them half the clan to kill and much of the ones not killed gravity had pushed busted bones sticking out of their legs so that a miserable death from green infections lay in wait on the horizon for some who clutched the short straws in their hairy, blood stained mitts.
And the reasons Clyde liked the big room was also for what was under the blanket on the metal rack and it was the two year old Popular Mechanics magazine that fell on the floor when he took the blanket down and with tomato paste and sardines in his gut he read all the words in less than a day and never fell asleep because it was like walking around another world that he needed to walk around in and then he read it again and soon he played ricochet which he thought was a clever name for putting the magazine back under a blanket on the metal rack and every seven days finding it again and reading all of it and he hoped he aimed for any day but Sunday but he knew he might have been off by a few days but it didn’t matter that much in the basement of the prison what day of the week it was because gravity doesn’t stop for constructs termed weekends.
In the beginning he was neat and made rules about being so but after a period things got dirty like the magazine and the floor and most everything even though he moved around to all the rooms but that was the way things were was to get dirty because gravity worked in dirt’s favor not the other way around and in the end gravity gets the upper hand so after so many games of ricochet the pages were soiled and splatters of tomato sauce stained many pages but Clyde was always happy it was tomato sauce and not blood from his body pumped by his heart. He was revising the cleaning rules and the more changes he implemented with his staff the dirtier his complex got and at some point the basement had changed into a Complex which made Clyde feel stronger and walk upright even though his Complex was a mess and it was a shame clean things got dirty but they did and it ought not be called magic but black magic and it was funny to Clyde that in the end days the world would be dirty even though many of the people tried like bees to keep it tidy.
During the Basement Era Clyde started singing and he carried it through to the Complex Age. He never could sing before the hole but now he could and he sang a lot of songs but most songs he didn’t know all the words to except the famous lines so he added a lot to them and they always came out different but he dipped into reserves during the high notes and always pulled it off and wondered why he didn’t before and he devoted mornings every now and then to nursery rhymes because he knew he got most of those words right and it made him sad to sing ringaroundtherosie because chirpy bird had told him what it was about once on the lawn in May but he sang it so afterwards he would rise from being sad and even at his age he would fall down and not move for a spell on the complex floor and imagine the kids in the dark ages when life was so dark and the simple smarts today were mysteries to the lot of them and he wondered what nursery rhymes little shits in the future would sing about the dark times of today because Clyde had a few ideas if only he could share ‘em with the future little shits but time and concrete trapped him in the present.
He had thought the prison was on the cheap and was caught with his guard down about the thick glass in the door that looked into the blue-gray stair well. With the file cabinet he had busted up the door knob but no way would the thick metal door budge with probably three or four dead bolts two to three inches long mated to the door frame and the tools he didn’t possess were of no help ramming the door smack down so with the legs from the metal shelf in the big room Clyde chipped, chipped, chipped, away at the dense as hell glass with the mesh wire in the middle of it and Clyde learned that door didn’t come cheap and would stop bullets and demons if it had to and he liked that specks of his blood covered the door because it was proof he was trying and G-mamma said when she was in control that Clyde might as well try to up the ante whenever he could.
Clyde spent his days chipping, singing, opening cans, drinking from white Styrofoam cups, playing ricochet on hopefully not Sundays, creating lovely with himself and sending out invitations for a Huge Twirly Party where people would twirl until they fainted because he was out of booze and he understood the reason Klaus was wrapped around the drill was because Klaus wasn’t an artist and Clyde was and artists and people wrapped around drills are bound to have differences even though they’re best friends under starry skies and Clyde was happy to be an artist and running the complex and grew fond of his skinny ass and wondered how skinny it would get before it crossed a line where it stopped to grow again but shrink to nothing over time and the invisible idea scared him because he wanted at least a few people to see his skinny funny ass to remind him he was alive and to share the lovely and the shredded Styrofoam and sardines.
His math was not as strong as his lovely as after seven months the food was about eaten up and no hissing guard showed their faces or made any noise and all but two light bulbs remained and that was thanks to Clyde taking some out and saving them after two burnt out over the first three months and once the lights were gone so was Clyde so with three cans of food left and two light bulbs and weighing less than he did when he was a kid the time had come to bust out and go upstairs where then he would likely get his ass cranked up and the shit beat outta him but a man’s gotta eat and the four inch thick machine gun demon atomic bomb proof window was chipped to shit and he’d have to go ape shit busting through but that was part of his plan with the Twirly Party because there was only so much muscle a starving man can flex when the chips are down and he was flexed more than he thought he could so he was happy the party was right before the Tomato paste ran out and he was happy that he had found four peach pies somehow he had missed before and they must have been store bought cause only one had a little mold but it scraped up nice. There was only one thing he liked eat’n better than peach pie and that made him hurt with funny.
The party was not attended as good as he had hoped but it was better than a kick in the ass and Clooney was the first to arrive and Clyde didn’t know why he wore a big straw hat but never brought attention to the fact that Clyde even in his sorry state looked better than Clooney in the hat and Clooney already knew he was serving days for maybe murder, no big deal said Clooney, no big deal and Clyde could tell from the get go he was not used to being among the criminal world, and the President never showed because of a meeting with the folks he worked for so fuck him thought Clyde and fuck neck ties at least Oprah sent a friend named Sue who didn’t have the fame about her but was nice the way neighbors ought to be and brought lemon drops which sent Clyde over the top and he was happy his shop teacher Mr. Stanislaw arrived and he looked the same but he didn’t as he was heavier and smelled of booze and wood which always had been the greatest aftershave Clyde had known and boozers were good if they smelled like booze and wood but evil if it was booze and smokes and Clyde liked him even more and then more again when he saw two twelve packs of Busch Light under his arms and the Madonna was probably pissed because she never got an invitation and sure enough heard about Clyde’s gala and his niece K.C. barged in with a yellow plastic handled ten pound sledge which was the ticket for the window and Clyde about cried when he scooped up K.C. with a big holy shit you’re big to the chubby kid who was tougher than nails under her softness because that’s what growing up in Butte America does to a kid from a crap shit home or it breaks them to powder like stuff from ground-up sad boo-hoo kid bones.
Clyde gulped two Busch Lights quicker than ever and talked up Clooney about summer theater and always playing the hardest roles and the sonofabitch asked him about Yorick like there was no way he could act and Clyde said you bet Yorick was easy just have to get inside the digger’s skull and he said skull so it sounded thick with a bunch of secret meanings that theater people loved and the heads of the crowd and then their eyes were like glue and you had the bastards in your hands like a baby bird and Clooney slapped him on the back and they laughed about the loads of money he had and the piles of money Clyde did not and Clyde said it would be okay if the opposite was true but that was the way of the complex and at least Clyde ran it in a good way and he noticed how Clooney had eyes for Sue but Sue had eyes for Clyde and Clyde realized Clooney had eyes for Clyde too and Clyde didn’t mind and he wasn’t hungry for a fight like he was hungry for pears so he thanked her for the lemon drops and he wondered if he was what she would describe as dignified and they chatted about big investments and then Clyde gave Clooney and Sue hugga-bears and said see ya and went over to Mr. Stanislaw and thanked him for the beers and drank another real quick and said new DNA evidence his lawyer just got in the law process would spring him soon and he’d be flitting about blue skies looking for fancy coffee shops and he doled out his lemon drops like they were the shit and the old teacher told Clyde he was still making cribbage boards and lamps and they were about as pretty as ever with varnish and the kids today were underrated and he liked them a ton and thought all the new shit was okay and maybe someday his students would play a role and that was the best he could hope for and he confided in Clyde that he fucked about on his wife but it was worth it and he’d do it again cause he was good at building shit with wood and fucking and if given the chance Clyde said he would too but he’d spent so much days in jail he never had time for the love marriage and they laughed about carbide blades and carpenter pencils and Clyde thanked him for giving a shit when he was a kid because it plain sucks when zero people give a shit and it felt good to thank somebody and Clyde wished it was Christmas and K.C. kept pounding on the window to the blue-gray stairs and wouldn’t stop for a lemon drop and Clyde shouted louder than he meant to to pound the shit out of it and it was the most help a body had given him for ages maybe ever and that fat kid was strong and determined and he was proud some of that blood was the same in his own veins and his eyes got watery so he had to have another can and he felt strong and mighty gripping the vulnerable can with his kin hard at work for the common good.
When the party stopped Clyde felt it was his best ever and with the window busted out to the blue-gray stairs it was time to make the stairs squeak with the sole of his shoes hopping fast up them and he waited longer than he wanted before heading up them but once K.C. left with her bitch of a mama it was time for Clyde to head out and after so long he was ready for that like most folks could never grip and he was pissed not one of his guest thought to bring a hack saw cause the sores about his ankles were nasty and the shackles had been on eight months longer than they were set out to be on when the last time Kevin locked ‘em after Clyde’s last walk without them and after hoping up two flights of blue-gray stairs it made Clyde feel proud to open the door at the top by turning a metal door knob and have it open the way most doors did in the world and the slickness of it made him smile but the world on the other side wasn’t the world he bet it was and the two bodies in the tan office room in gray guard uniforms were dead proof the universe was moving in a direction Clyde wasn’t accustomed to.
“Hey!” shouted Clyde because the face of guard closest to him was more like a dried blue hubbard squash left to the elements then it was of a man who set out to be a guard of men who had done wrong in the eyes of the world and the eyes were too black to be right in the world and the bodies were bodies that had been in that place for a time that didn’t add up because Clyde was in a real prison not a battle field from the old days and the sun outside a window looked like his best friend saving him from a fight he was sure to lose and when Clyde set down on the floor far from the bodies there was dust he took note of and there was more and less in the brown like office than his hungry small hurt soul was ready to play witness to so when Clyde closed his eyes for a spell he was thinking things in the life might align in the proper way of the world as he learned it when he opened them but the more he tried the more he failed and the direction of what lay ahead stuck true to a macabre route.
In his world before the ascent of the blue-gray stairs he imagined a hacksaw lifted from a garage would complete the magic on his shackles if he was ever to make it to a garage in stealth but the new world provided keys from the dead guard in the parking lot who had rotted and dried more than all the prison folks in the building had and the weather was the cause of it and he had checked the pocket of over a dozen prison folk but this one was worth the effort of doing that with his hand of prying in the pockets of corpses and maybe it was Kevin but he could never know because the place of the eyes were too odd to pencil out and when the key on the key loop mated with the keyhole on both ankles Clyde sat rubbing his sore ankles on the cracked pavement looking at his new bff the burning sun thinking that the joke would run its course soon but it just never did and he fell 1 x 2 before he walked again like a man ought to walk and he walked toward that food store and his eyes saw the cars on the road with the dead but the soul of Clyde chose not to and he walked to the store and grabbed up a Milky Way bar ‘cause the first thing he saw was a Milky Way bar and stared at his feet while he ate it slow like love with Penny the way it ought to be when his biceps were worthy of the touch of a sticky woman in heat.
Three corpses he ignored in the store and pretty sure four counting the one probably behind the cash register but Clyde determined up front it was no matter because the way things were unfolding what counted more if one listed it out was the Milky Way bar and the bottled water and the rippled chips and the water and the slim jims were a thing he might not ever forget even after he long expired the best he knew what that meant because it was a pillar for the clouds it was so grand it was grand it was so grand and what maybe might have wanted to be apples and bananas were no longer so but black, shriveled wrinkly commas pausing the syntax of something bigger than he could ever and ever get his skinny ass arms around.
He sat for a while in the back of a white dodge 2500 van because inside it was dark and confined which was a comfort he needed and he battled in his head if going back to the complex was the best of plans because the outside had fallen in disrepair during his absence but in the end the wind on his face and salty chips led him day by day further away from the complex and on some days through the houses of emptiness which Clyde had fun with due to the way the still houses granted him the right to stroll in and out as only a free man might.
It was the hospital where the gravity surprised him most when on the second day inside it spying for goodies and staring at the dying now dead in beds like the dead all in the building and that was odd to have a big brick box created for saving not saving at all but acting out more like a gravestone than a beacon of light for sickness.
The second day that white hospital phone rang.
Clyde stared at it, clutching bandages for his ankles. It rang and it rang.
Could be a guard hisser still alive at Lee tracking his ass down.
The answering machine clicked but it beeped for too long so no message was left. The phone was quiet again like the way Clyde wanted it for the answering machine was full and an answering machine ought not to be full after the hands of hell had throttled all on earth.
Clyde walked across the tile floor to the phone and pressed the black message button of the answering machine.
“Hal-lloo? Hal-lloo? This is Lonesome Pine Hospital, yes? Monsier Didier is a patient, yes? Monsier Didier please. Hal-llo? Somebody please?” It beeped to message 2. “Hal-lloo? Lonesome Pine? Monsier Didier, please? Merci!” Message 3. “Lonesome Pine did you get the bad air, also? Somebody please say hello.”
Clyde listened to all the messages and made the mark they all were from May around the event. Twenty-five messages over three days. The same number that started with that +33. The same woman with the accent like from famous movies with Franchise as in the French like the French bread he never ate in the basement but had at the Olive Garden with spaghetti and those meatballs and he knew the Olive Garden was Italian but the bread was the Frecnh bread and the woman must have been a Frenchie and he liked that word Frenchie and he liked that woman’s sound in this world that seemed more black and white and needed color at cineast in the outlines. Clyde played the black button and deleted all the messages but message 11 because message 11 was all in French and the sound was like a brush on his cheek that he needed more than he knew he needed and he changed message 11 to message 1 and that made sense to Clyde.
Clyde thought of calling the +33 number but decided the bait was too tempting as odds were it was a trap to catch his escapee white ass and maybe the world was wrecked just to catch him and put him back in the tank after a good laugh by the one’s who steered the ship.
On day four in the hospital the white phone rang again.
“What?” said Clyde.
“Hallo! Lonesome Pine Hospital?”
“No, I’m Clyde.”
“But this is the hospital?”
“I’m about the only one alive. The hurt people are all dead.”
“I need Monsier Didier!”
“I’m about the only one alive, I said.”
“Is he dead?”
“I haven’t laid eyes on him.”
“He was in room 116. Can you check?”
“Okay. I’ll be back.”
Clyde returned to the office a few minutes later. “You there?”
“Yes, yes. Is he there?”
“He’s dead I think like everyone else. His name was on the door. There was a body in the bed. A nurse dead on the floor. He had white hair?”
“Yes. White hair.”
“Probably him then. Sorry.”
The woman hung up.
Clyde walked into the empty hospital room and climbed into the bed. He swallowed three Vicodin pills and propped his head on the pillows. He looked outside at a gray stillness. He popped another pill. He reached down and grabbed a Bud from his twelve pack, sipped the beer, and closed his eyes. His mouth tingled as he drank.
He was mad at Klaus for not visiting. He wanted the Madonna’s sweet ass on his bed.
He was sick of hurling through space alone. He wanted to give someone a Bud and talk piss about the slammer.
The ringing phone woke him. He rubbed his eyes. The phone stopped and he nodded off reaching for another Vico.
Again the phone woke him. He stumbled out the door across the hallway and picked it up.
“Yup.” He smiled.
“I’m Rene. We talked yesterday.”
“Yeah – the Frenchie.”
She laughed. “Can we talk?”
“It would be nice to talk to someone not named Clyde.”
“I’m in Paris. You understand that?”
“Okay. I’m in P-Gap in Virginia the United States of America.”
“Are you alone?”
“Must be. I have run of the place from the Liquor Basket to the prison and everything that connects the two.”
“I was with an older woman for a few weeks but she was crazy and went looking for her cat. Now I’m alone. No signs of anyone else not even a cat.”
“I got shit piles of what I think are dead cats and dead dogs but would pay a house of money for a good dog right now to trail me around with a wagging tail and a look that always says I’m here Clyde.”
“What do you think happened, Clyde? Why is everyone gone?”
Clyde looked around the hospital office. “Pretty sure it was bad air of some type. Not like there was bombs and stuff. I was in the hole for a long time and I guess that saved my ass. How ‘bout you?”
“Yes. The same I think. There are no signs of physical destruction. Everyone just dropped dead.” She hesitated. “I too was in a type of hole. I was in my Uncle’s basement – in his wine cellar. A very fancy, temperature controlled cellar. I was with a man, Bernard. We had met a few weeks earlier. We were acting like children, hiding, getting – getting acquainted. There was a monitor in the cellar of my Uncle’s house. It was a very grand house. The monitor changed views of different rooms in the house and Bernard suddenly stopped, and just stared at the monitor. People in all the rooms were all over the floor – not moving. I called the police on my mobile but no one ever answered. Bernard and I made many phone calls but no people ever answered.”
“I was on the other end of the monitor. I thought people was watching me, like running tests to see how bonkers I would get living in a world by my lonesome and it wasn’t ‘till I busted free after my big Twirly party that I learnt no eyeballs was behind the monitor.” Clyde sipped from his Bud can. “Now I know I’m on my lonesome but it’s better with it not being a test and the food is on the easy now and so is the drink but it’s nice talking to a real human.” He finished his beer. “You’re a real one – right, Frenchie?”
Rene laughed. “As real as I can be.”
“Good. Then tell me what happened to Bert?”
“Mmm. Bernard.” Rene was silent for a while.
“If you want?” Clyde stared at the white ceiling.
“He stayed in the basement with me for five days. We kept calling, watching the television for something but there was never any live people and after a few days all the stations were blank or colored bars. There was plenty of food. We had a large walk into freezer. A bathroom and small kitchen, water and wine. Plenty of wine. But Bernard was restless.”
“He lost his shit and bolted, right?”
“Bolted? I don’t know that meaning but he left and I watched him on the monitor die instantly as soon as he walked into the upstairs hallway. He tried to turn around I think and look into the monitor but Bernard never made it that far. He dropped to the floor and never moved again. I watched him decompose over seven months.”
‘Sorry ‘bout that Rene. That’s a shitty thing to have to shoulder.” Clyde opened another beer. “Then what? How’d you come up into the world and not take the death.”
“I noticed blue butterflies in the spring and thought that was a good sign. I had more food but I needed to get out. I knew I might die but I wasn’t created to live in a cellar.”
Clyde laughed. “Nope, Frenchie – that’s for damn sure. Basements are for rodents and it’s not worth the effort if rodents is the end game.”
“No, Clyde, it’s not.” Rene laughed.
Clyde took a big sip. “Mind if I ask how old you are, Frenchie?”
“Of course not. I can always lie.” She laughed. “I’m forty-two.”
“A little older than I bargained and that’s not me being a mean ass just the truth of it all. I add up to thirty-four years myself but in the long term our numbers round out.”
“Eight years is not so much.”
“Nope, not if you’re running the full race, it’s not.”
“Sometimes you are hard to understand, Clyde.”
“That’s been rammed down my throat my whole life. Guess that’s just the way I tick.” Clyde paused. “Hey, Rene?”
“Ya think I can call ‘ya back tomorrow and talk life things over again? I’m hav’n a time but gett’n worn down. I hope you make some sense outta that.”
Rene laughed again. “Of course Clyde. We need to talk as much as we can, I think. How about you call me at, hhmmm, at five in the evening tomorrow?”
“Yup. I’ll do that. Five my time tomorrow. What time is that where you live?”
“It will be eleven at night, Clyde.”
“That’s seems damn late, Rene, to be talking to a stranger over the phone.”
“You’re not a stranger, Clyde. Not now.”
Clyde smiled. “Good. I don’t want to be a stranger to people in the world now because there can’t be so many of us living on it and I’m willing to shake on it that I’m more special than is typical than when the world is bust’n at the seams with folks.”
Rene giggled. “I think I understand. Yes, I think you’re special.” Rene looked around the ticket office in the Louvre. “It’s strange. I’m a math teacher and I keep thinking of the odds of me calling the hospital for Uncle Didier because I am bored and Didier loves the Louvre and I want to tell him I’m living in the Louvre and I am sure he is dead but I call because it gives me hope and I never want anyone to pick up the phone because then I can think he might still be alive but then you pick up the phone and tell me he’s dead but you’re alive and that makes me feel so good.” She paused. “Does that make sense?”
“Does that make any sense, Clyde?”
There was a dial tone.
“Clyde? Hello? Hello?”
Clyde walked out of the hospital drinking a Bud. He wanted to see a blue butterfly. He wanted more beer. He wanted new shoes for his phone call tomorrow. He wanted to give Rene, the love of his life, a huggabear and be with her until his final hours when the invisible light switch in him finally gets shut off and he smells her Frenchie smell for his last breath and now it felt good to be a romantic in a doomsday time and he drank beer looking for butterflies.
He called at five sharp.
He had showered and wore a new blue sweatshirt, new jeans, new black briefs with a nice stretchy waist band and new socks and new shoes from a store on Main Street that was called The Russell Portrait. His hair was parted and he had shaved. The shampoo he used smelled like something good and something Rene would like a whole bunch because Frenchies like stuff that smells a whole bunch and he was drinking red wine because all people dating Frenchies drink red wine but first he downed some cold ones to make the wine worth drinking.
“Hi, Rene. It’s me, Clyde from America.”
She smiled. “I remember you.”
“Guess what, Rene?”
“I’m coming to see you.”
“You fly planes?”
“I don’t do that stuff. Never been on a plane and I’m not going to start when the world is pretty gone and that means the fliers too.” He drank some wine. “I’m sailing to you through the Atlantic.”
“You’re a sailor, Clyde?”
“Not either but I been read’n about it since yesterday in the library. It’s kinda hard but not hard enough not to sail to you. I’m good in a pinch and this is a pinch.”
“That sounds dangerous, Clyde.”
“Being alone in a concrete box is dangerous. Slicing through the ocean blue alone pushed from blowy winds is more like a dessert for a hungry human and I’m the hungry human.”
“You are serious.”
“I’m Clyde and I’m sailing to you, Rene. I want to say hello and learn your words and see you in the Louvre with arts of the world.”
Rene smiled. “That will be delightful but I will miss the phone calls even though this is only our third talk.”
Clyde stared at his new shoes. “When I see you in Paris we can talk until time crushes us into small things smaller than dust like with the rest in front of us but before it does we can drink wine in the Louvre and we can visit my friend Giuseppe who paints pictures that make me want to sail over the Atlantic big blue to you.”
“Giuseppe Arcimboldo is dead since forever but I met his ghost when doing time in Albuquerque and in a picture book the Fire that hangs in the Louvre pulled me through a bad time in the tank like a strong hand that never let go when a body is blowing in the wind and the hand is just there for people like me in the shits and in the tank no one gave me a mirror so when I looked at Fire I saw Clyde and it was nice to see Clyde so strong and handsome, more than I remembered when I had mirrors in my life and I told Giuseppe his Fire painting is what I would paint if brushes were allowed in the hole but even if brushes were allowed I know canvases would never be but now that the hole is behind me maybe I ought to start a work of art for survivors of the event to like way down the road from here after I sail the ocean blue.”
Rene smiled, shaking her head. “You are an interesting man, Clyde. I will find Fire tonight and drink wine in front of it and think of you sailing to me in a dark world with so few but I must confess at first it was strange walking the Louvre alone. I’m surprised no more are here like I am but I am the only one and maybe all Parisians are dead but I find it hard to believe in a city so big.”
Clyde listened to the sounds of her footsteps over the phone in the empty museum and then Rene took a u-turn in the talk that Clyde didn’t see coming on the road up ahead.
Rene cried about what she had done and said maybe it was a sign of insanity and Clyde said no it was not and times like these the birth for such acts is wider than in normal times and when Rene told him how she was drawn to statutes that looked like her and did odd things that she never would have dreamt she would do that it bothered her she had done it but Clyde said that it wasn’t bad anyways and she was lonely and when there are no people on this earth or hardly many then it’s okay to treat a statute from long ago in ways bending the ends of normal and it’s better to love a statue then fight one and it’s better to love a statue than a bad person so it was not a big deal and she said that now that she had done it that the Louvre was hers and she wanted him to arrive safe but he must ask permission to enter the Louvre because she was in charge of it and Clyde said he would ask permission and he thought that might be signs of a big deal in the middle of her head but kept it to himself and hoped she calmed down some by the time he sailed his way to France because he never had much patience for crazy but in these times he was going to take the bet.
Clyde told Rene he looked at picture books whenever he could in prison because he still was amazed like when he was a kid about what was on the edges of pictures that the eyes couldn’t see but that was what he spent his hours think’n about was what was beyond that what light captured and he told Rene that and he often looked at art and when he was in the New Mexico prison they had a book of the Louvre and he liked the book a lot and was amazed that people painted and waited for good light and waiting for good light was a nice way to live and sounded like the way life ought to be for everyone just waiting for good light and Kevin the guard and Klaus and the Madonna would take some convincing to buy into a story of Clyde sailing to France to meet Rene who strolls with not a stitch in empty rooms in the Louvre where statues whisper poems to her but that is the way of life of folks that makes days different from days of animals who never took the bet or had the sweat to tap the fire that flares up from the oldest of sparks that burn from the magic world.
Then Rene laughed and u-turned again back onto the road in the direction Clyde she was driving at the get go and said, “Velvet is a good word. It’s make you relax and feel soft. And so is incision. It hurts and you can see it. The blade of a knife up and down into the skin and some words are traps but mamelon in French is not a trap but a word worthy of light.”
And Clyde after her heard her back on the road stumbled on thoughts about the salt water and snow from G-mamma days and the wind to his back and the sound of the sail and that was the grip he needed under his bare feet to keep traction on the life he held. And he wondered about the love of his life Rene’s breasts and hoped they were small enough so he could cup the world in his hands at night in the dark where he belonged and be worthy like mamelon.
And so he explained to Rene that “living now that the world had shifted in a direction that wasn’t so noisy so that walking around the mess there’s not so much stuff trying to push you down. A long time from now there will people pushing people for stuff again but there’s so much stuff now and hardly anyone to want it that there’s no pushing and because the pushing has stopped the gravity is easy.”
But then Rene took the turn again and yelled that she goes to the Louvre because that is the only place a real woman should go when the world ends and she said I cry more than I laugh and I make phone calls hoping no one answers and play sex naked in front of Cezanne and make love to Roman whenever I want and scribble over stupid Ingres and the other deads I put in the bins and sweep every day to clean up the bads and I am painting for liberation like my dead grandparents in the war that wasn’t great like all wars and on some olds I repaint and add new then I am happy that the world has changed because it was changing too much when it hadn’t changed and I think the world is now more oak than before and more sane than before and she made Clyde promise he would cook over open fires in the Louvre when he arrived and he must roast mutton and onions because there is more love in a roasted onion over an open fire and she would not lay with him until a roasted onion was presented in front of cupid and psyche and Clyde made the promise that he would roast as she liked in the Louvre over an open fire and he was sorry he had to go but tomorrow he was heading toward Norfolk to find a boat to sail over the blue to roast for his live of his life Rene and Clyde hung the phone up and went for beer to fuel him for his journey to save civilization from despair and bid Rene farewell until he stormed the Louvre with permission.
Eleven days later Norfolk had more boats than he dreamed and he pirated an Ovid 39 and he had read from books and magazines that it was a good boat to sail around the world in and because he was only sailing through the blue Atlantic to the love of his life he was for certain it would be that much better. He expected signs of the people who survived in Norfolk but he never did lay witness to any. The name of the boat was Leverage and he didn’t like the name and he didn’t like names on boats in the big picture so he scrapped it off with the metal edge of a speed square he found on the dock and he smiled at the flakes of paint on the water as it was evidence that work was being done and it was time to do that after so long being a prisoner of the people for a wrong that was right.
He felt smart in packing the boat for his trip and he knew that water was the thing that might save him so he stored the plastic gallon jugs like happy whores he knew he’d like to see when times got tough in the big salty. The books and magazine talked a lot about winds and type of boat but he figured if people who were good on the salty did such a thing in thirty days he ought to do it in sixty and two months with his life stretched out end to end like a slinky didn’t add up to much so he was happy in his mind that the trip would be a short trip. And if a storm came up around him and his boat with no name and was strong then that was that and he would try to not let it better him but if it happened he hoped it happened closer to midnight than noon because drowning around lunch time didn’t seem worth much of anything but going down into deep dark water in the stealth of night almost was like returning to a place he somehow knew and that was better and calmed him about thinking of him fighting the elements thrown at him from some curtain he couldn’t even see.
He brought more jerky than he had ever seen and canned potatoes and peas and spinach and pears and fruit cocktail because he liked the idea of drinking the juice from the fruit cocktail can and licking his lips on the high seas on his historic voyage to Rene for anyone who heard the tale in the twilight from now but no one probably would but he could imagine it and liked imagining being part of a tale that saved the human apey-apes from the windy blackness that just is. He had enough toothbrushes and toothpaste and rubbing alcohol and band aids and bandages and ibuprofen and antibacterial ointment and Percocet and Vicodin from the hospital with the names of Percy Williams and Juan Tecado typed on the prescription bottles and he wondered why they had been prescribed the knockouts but he knew they didn’t need them now in case he got in a world of hurt and he didn’t bring more because he didn’t know what to do with more and didn’t care much for needles and folks with a lot less than him set off in oceans in the past history when fire was still special because that’s what people do in a pinch, they set sail to somewhere they hope has more food and they did it without fruit cocktail and Band-Aids so he felt proud to have all of it on board his ship and that’s what he called it was his ship but he knew Band-Aids was a small part of the trip and he would need something special like the history people had on their trips running from bosses and prisons and the evil thing called law and he felt good about having some of the special in him. He bet big he had it and he tied a piece of rawhide around his neck because it bonded him with old ghosts he shared secrets with and the rawhide around his neck gave him strength because he wasn’t so alone but was with seaworthy kin who first crested waves so that Clyde could crest waves behind them with Band-Aids and fruit cocktail in metal cans.
He liked from his practice days sailing around Norfolk that the ocean was big and it was too bad he had not seen one earlier because it served as a good reminder. The scent of the great ocean made him feel he was from a story when he was a kid and he liked the idea of being in a story and he knew G-mamma and chirpy bird would love his story and he hoped it ended in way that suited sunny afternoons with a full belly and he was glad his name was Clyde because he was told that was the name his mother Rita had liked and smack-hit Papa had wanted Cliff and such a name as Cliff would not rise right on the high seas and would sure crumble with fear.
That night he thought a lot about Rene the love of his life and he thought about her in the Louvre naked in good light and her lovely and he was glad mamelon was the word in France for the magic spout because it sounded like it should and letters and sounds that creak out of them when the letters are knitted together was something he had not thought so much about before the event but in the time after the event it made words more like a 12″ galvanized spike in green wet rough sawn wood than he had ever imagined and under the stars and next to the waves crashing against his boat with no name he thought the argument could be made that there was not much more useful to folks slogging around the earth dirt in a haze of what they wish as opposed to what they know than warm breast milk oozing into hungry lips and that was a gamble compared to the size of the universe but he felt it likely to be as true as anything else that tried to claim the stump and he’d be willing to argue the position if he ever had the chance to next to a fire with Rene in their skins in Paris in that snowstorm and then the gravity of the salty waves pushed the corner of Clyde’s lips toward the moon into one of the infinite shapes some poets whose hearts bleed raw weave letters together making suckling sounds in that darkness behind that snowstorm that makes life grow from the light squeezed through breasts like Rene’s, the love of his life.