You are reading Fiddleblack #14
A old man rode out across the plane. A wizard. His horse galloped as if it galloped for life and the man wore a long beard, a gray pointed hat, his face rapt on green mountains long in the distance and past the prairie. He came from what could only be considered a clan. His family, the whole lineage, was a single file line of drinkers. He couldn’t help it. He believed himself doomed from the start.
He trod across the grassland, where he was amongst stone, amongst cinder. All at once there came the sky and the snake-wound highway that wrapped along the prairie and the dullard cattle that grazed alongside, at every corner. He spat and toed his boot through the road glass. She would have liked this, he thought.
He crossed rivers. Foxes stirred from sleep. Sky. Snow on creosote. He rode for the brunt of a day before stopping to rest. He had reached a cabin where inside its room two women curled together in a small bed. A kettle swung over the fire as he shut the door. The old man kicked mud off of his boots. He cast his leather gloves on a long table. Knives lay out on the counters. A plucked pheasant cooked into stock.
Now, the old man said, stay very close together. The old man took off his hat and left it on the floor where mice were sure to find it. He left his long coat draped on the table. The two girls did keep close—both in short hair, very young, their lips cochineal and pink. Now draw down the blanket, he said and they did. The old man unfastened his belt. Buckled with a signet, he dropped it to to the floor. Pretty, he said. They were hushed and empty-eyed. As he bent downward, he smiled to them. His teeth, like his clothes, were very gray.
The wizard found himself under Earth and amassing heat near a dark fibrous shaft run with the probosces of sick things on the outside of this place that had forced through the clay their thin bony mouthparts like maligned arms, looking in the warmth for estrus. He touched his beard, feeling the old hairs toward the bottom that he expected one day would crack like glass tines. The old man took off his hat and let his long brown nails trace the wrinkled top of his head where, like the shaft, few wiry strands stood out and twitched against a slow passing air. A sense field from even further underneath him. At someplace down the tunnel, the wizard feared, was Nyarlathotep who danced, hoves in soot, and jangled his fork to his horns, his stiff cock like a root from his groin. This was a place to which the wizard had been in his dreams and for all time he had simply woken but now he would go, undressed and hatless, beard shorn to his chin, down the tunnel, where he would be rived at mouth and rear until he felt sorry, and that he would not do.
At the house I mow the lawn, feeling sublime. I count six dogs in the neighborhood and that’s while looking from my yard only. As I rake the clipped grass, I wave to my wife who was inside ignoring the food I brought home for her. The large boughs that arch over my yard leave dim places on the lawn where I feel the sun pass over me and work twice as hard against on the asphalt. In the drainage ditch, I find a torn copy of a bill I was supposed to have received during the previous week.
It’s in placid moments like this when I can feel the Earth and taste it, where nothing really seems to matter at all. I tend to fantasize about lives I’ve always wanted but will never have. Since I was thirteen or fourteen, I’ve had a good clear vision of adulthood that has stuck with me and spanned across all other visions that attempt to penetrate this golden concept which, to me, is the clearest of goals and the most “savior” kind of thing I can think of while my mind is begging to rest. When I wash dishes or drive in traffic or lie awake unable to sleep at night, squinting in the cold blue dark.
This vision is clear: Vermont, maybe. Someplace with pines but out of the Pacific Northwest where I have always assumed there is rain and there is Jewish pussy and more rain. So, Vermont. I still imagine a house with a woody exterior, something maybe like a large cabin. It has big picture windows, plate glass that brings in the sun and gleam from the leaves of ferns that gild the forested yard and the stone path driveway that winds long away from the house. At the rear there is a simple deck from which one can see from the clean black marble countertop kitchen. And there are birds—oh, there are birds.
It is this vision that I have assumed will someday be my life, after whatever hardship, my father’s funeral, my mother’s filthy apartment, the weeks I spend without phone calls from old friends. Somehow this nonreal place and this home have always had the entropy to be delivered to me. They are predestined.
But I’ve been in this town forever. Long enough to know all of the wildlife. Let’s just put it that way. A lot of bullshit happens in a little town. A lot of stuff to make your days seem pretty full. That’s everywhere, you say. Right? Big cities have it too. Out in the real country they probably just have a whole lot of work. Here in the small towns we have a whole lot of work to get us out of working. Back to complaining, you know? Hell, when I was a kid my father would spy on guys’ houses because he knew they were skipping out on work with bogus broken wrists and ankles. Here in these towns we do a lot of shit that keeps us from really doing what we’re supposed to do. What are we supposed to do? Build bigger towns, I think. Instead we get drunk every Friday night until Sunday morning. We float around on drugs, pills we get from the same short-neck doctors that have the guts to stay in places like this. Before I talk about this one time, let me talk about where I am right now, and then you tell me what you see.
You know, I can’t describe everything I see very well. I do not want to seem florid about what I do or how I do things. I’m a simple person, and I like to walk and meet people and talk to them. I sometimes do that in the park. There are dogs on leashes, dragging their owners who are almost always a white couple. There are some kids, and I have no interest in them. The trees are aplenty. You can imagine it too. The trails and bike paths are traveled by people who tell you on which side they are about to pass. I see bridle trailheads and I never see horses, so I take the bridle trails and bear the muck that sometimes come with them.
I can see above myself a circle of common buzzards waiting not to descend on me but on some other body slumped in the far field ahead of this stream. There are real buzzards doing this. I’m not giving you a bullshit metaphor. Remember this about us: there are only the shallow thoughts we have and the ways that we think them. It is five miles home from this park to my house where I live with my gentle wife.
It was the architects of modern civilization who said that we can find God in a church and that the great Satan’s church is not a temple but the world in which we live. This is the sort of axiom that I use daily and when I am wondering what to do next to a person in my head or a person in real life or a person that I have yet to meet. I love girls, and that is the last of it. I do not love shovels or axes or any of the tools that we associate with manual labor. And when I got to this park and saw all of the secret and small places I could be waiting or hiding and watching everyone there was a quick and selfish moment that told me all the greatest times I will have had been had and that maturity is a time when we all begin to gain awareness of our deaths and how at one point we when we were young we were lied to by our parents and the world outside us. The thing is. No matter what happens, tragedy, people dying, breakups, divorce, death, death, death, I’m still going to be here on the belly of Ohio. On the warm goddamn grass and out in the sun when it’s been ninety degrees all week and when the heat dips down to seventy-eight just for a day.
But, today, I drive my sedan home and smell the leather on the steering wheel. Earlier today I let a woman at work use my car to drive to the post office. I smell cucumber lotion and olive sweat from her hands. The truth is I once thought I would murder someone, but I never have had the guts to think long about that again. Sick shit. I’m not stupid. I used to know a guy who got off to other guys jerking off. I like to really get close to the edge too. I work at a library. I picked my job because it’s the sort of job you would think a man like me might have, and I never want people to think anything more of me than they think that they should. Almost every Friday night I go to the yards of other people’s houses and I watch the families inside. I get as close as I can. I don’t ever go in. I don’t have a family because my wife is barren. Our home only has six windows and three of those windows are on the second floor, facing the highway.
Who I think of most often is a teenage girl I saw at the grocery store. When I walk on these trails like I’m walking on them now, I think about taking her here as my boon companion and showing her the little daddy longlegs that step across flower petals and go in their spindly and fragile form across the leaf-litter mud. You see: the daddy longlegs is not a spider, I’ll tell her. Fuck, she isn’t going to care. She’ll be upset, kicking and throwing her arms like a goner calf leaving a veal farm.
I stand at the self-checkout and watch her. She never looks toward me. The ceiling at the grocery store is exposed, conduit and pipe work all bare.
A man who was just standing two spots back taps me on the shoulder, asking to take the place ahead of me in line. He is old. His hair is like a doll’s. I let him skip ahead, and I ask him about his son or daughter and he tells me that he has none. This comes as a shock to me because since getting married I have assumed that all people older than me have children to whom they dedicate their lives. It is unclear to me why an old person continues to go on living in his situation at all.
On the way out I study my help desk girl closely. She’s tan like most teenagers around here in the summer, and because of this her teeth seem so white. I want to stop and ask her a made up question, but the doll man is gaining behind me and everything sad I feel for him is weighing me down again. In the parking lot there are several boys pushing shopping carts in and out of corrals, and while passing all of the cars I image secret stories wherein there are people having lustful affairs and I enjoy every second of it.
The road that leads out of the grocery store runs around a mini-mall and along a highway and toward another mini-mall where, for me, there are so many memories of being a carefree teenager like the girl at the store, walking around with my friends and not having to do much of anything at all. Past the mini-mall, I drive to a small storage unit where the things I cannot not fit into my house are stored. I told my wife about the unit when I first rented it, and she has always paid the bill on time, and because I bought a keyless lock, I know she has never been here.
From where I parked my car I can still see the crushed beer cans I threw on the roof of an adjacent run of units at least two months ago. I walk inside and listen to the fans cooling the building, and I unlock my unit and see all of my things. My old couch and my old card table and a milk crate of fatty magazines that I keep around. Beneath the couch and atop the perfect and smooth and cool cement is a pill bottle of different drugs that I bought from a black drug dealer from Michigan who came here once to buy a stack of rare Blue Note Records 45s I had on craigslist.
I take two opiates from the bottle and tuck it back under the couch, and I sit down and begin to read.
The truly perfect thing, I think, is to stand in line at a good Starbucks or a really good Target. I find myself at these kinds of places, sometimes at the absolutely perfect hour, waiting to pay. There’s always, almost every time, a small cluck of girls in line. Usually with newly minted driver’s licenses wedged into nice wallets my wife doesn’t even have.
On slow days at the stores, when I come too soon after school, I just watch from the parking lot a good group to all pile out of a single car and stomp inside with their cute leather girl boots, sweat pants, sometimes furry jackets. I watch them laugh and toss back their long hair. Were it each and every time that it would be enough just to wait and watch, then I would feel much more assured of myself as a person—one of repute, one capable of something less animal, if not outright horrible and predatory. Fuck, I’m just saying. But there is always a second step. I go in. I get in that line. I stand behind them and smell hairspray and chewing gum and, rarely on weeknights, the stinks of whatever their mothers are cooking.
It’s not so much what they look like. They have to be pretty, of course. But it’s more what they’re doing. They’re true American girls. I check their bust lines, dye jobs, eye makeup. And for single moments, they’re beside me. Sometimes I just go to a burger joint, and they sit there nearly alongside me, piling in this sickening food. It’s beautiful. Hours and hours of labor’s worth of calories muscle-pushed deep down into their young bodies where it will no doubt be expended, metabolized in time, and turned out as girl-scat. Sick shit, that I have never seen. Don’t worry. But it’s this whole process—the fattening of teen girls, that delights me. I’m far past the simple stalking. Each day at home, if I’m ever alone, I take in memories of smells of the good ones I’ve been near, and that’s a perfect, starless, gloriously sweet moment. You wouldn’t think it. You’d better be repulsed just listening. But God can this be living.
But that isn’t my life. It isn’t now. At this point I’m a sort of miser in the same realm. You might be wondering how or why I know that person I just told you about—the sick fucker. He’s a friend. I know a lot of these people. I know drunks, regular lowlives, bad moms, hoods, and deadbeat dry-bone pieces of shit. I know a slew of good people, writers, readers, cowboys. I have the good sense to stay in touch with my family. I don’t keep that many friends from high school or college. When I work, I do what I have to do, and I come home. But I do know a lot of those types. I, myself, well I’m what you’d call a better kind of secret connoisseur. I can keep a safe distance.
I speak into the recorder: It’s easy. You’ve got to know their music. How they talk. A few nuances. The right girl should speak slowly in long California purrs unless excited. These girls—teens—it’s all pretty relative. Do some research. Track them. That’s it. Gotta look good, still. Then you have every one at Hello, pretty much.
The first I had was ripe, rotting before I even began. She was sixteen. Perfect in every physical aspect of a sixteen year old girl, I swear. I remember thinking to myself that I could start a religion over her nipple color alone. They lay perfectly pert and aroused, even at rest. For her nipples, I took over twenty photos. This was back when you had to develop photo shit on your own. But she really did rot. I wasn’t sure what to expect beyond what I’d seen in movies. Her pussy had a stench, something anciently yeasty. Everything I owned had to be cleaned I got rid of her. Reasonably so, though. You would too. A temple, has to be washed, swept regularly. Some are good big, depending on the proportions. Some are good small, depending on their position in adolescence.
He cleared his throat, continued: I actually asked myself, what would I feed a live one? Lots of milk and ice cream. Red meat. Wild rice. Melted butter in a glass. A skinny one would have to fill out. Not too much. There’s a wall they can reach around the upper end of seventeen or eighteen, especially after they go to college—they start to sour. They’re unlatched from the family dinner, and gone is the homegrown good sustenance that a mother provides for her little girl. Where, at sixteen, it’s okay to be a kind of portly but coupled with muscle, later on it’s a question of flab and unbridled belly fat that ultimately makes for a true fat girl—the kind no one but a sick fetishist would like. A girl at sixteen with rounded but muscled edges is a trophy and the sort of treasure that every boy, every rocket-hard athlete or hood, esteems a perfect little resting place for his cock. So, I ended up thinking that I’d grow one if I find the right thin one. As long as I have time.
We park under a pavilion roof and beside a knotty picinic table, passing between us the kind of look that you only think you see because you do it in the dark, and I know she can see me smiling, and I can hear her breathing.
Should we be here? she says.
Why not? I say.
It’s after dusk.
It’s summer, I say. Summertime is different.
We stay there a long while. I run my fingertips in circles over her thumbnails. Her palms sweat in the humidity.
From what I can see around the alluvium on which we stand, no one has come near the riverbank in some time, and the forest seems at each end to have quieted itself just to the sound of evening birds and insects and the heat which is silent but radiant and feels like faraway campfire. I rub her back nearly a ten minutes before I let her rest her feet on the cool on the rocks that run to the edges of the riverbed.
I put myself back into his pants and she stands and buttons her jeans, tucking away heavy breasts. She checks her watch. The sound beyond the forest wall is perfect highway backscatter, and it is at here where the water flows and the midges cloud her face.
This is nice, I say, stoned but glaring.
We should do this somewhere else now. I can get us a room.
She looks back, definitively forlorn.
It’s perfect here in the woods, you know. This is a chapel, you see. This is the house of God and nature and you and me and my seed inside you. Do you know what Gaia means?
Gaia is the living earth. We are atop the living earth and in love.
I’m not in love.
You’re not but here you are.
You’d have felt all of this soon enough on your own anyway.
From the hotel parking lot, I can still see God’s billboard illuminated over the highway, bespoken as the town’s divinity. It stands as law to even the sole patrolling policeman slumped in his car, half asleep and stirring. I watch his jaw fall slack, pooling at the corners with white spittle and shadow. Cars pass with single headlights, roaring along the sidewalk and blearing. I walk for nearly a mile from the room, stopping to loosen the collar of my shirt and roll up my sleeves, appearing in the dark below the sign.
I climb up white rusted bars, rubbing rust off each rung. I sit in the light from the sign, a small shape against the scripture. I look out into the firmament, not watching for face or what it looked like, which I can’t stop feeling that I should go back and see once more, but the constellations or some godward star. I watch with my back to the board, looking out at my shaking hands before me. My legs feel slack as I lean, letting myself slide down to the boarded floor, lying flat and reptilian. On the small platform are tacks and chipped pieces of wood and dead-blown leaves. I breathe the cooling air and flick a tack off of the platform, waiting to hear it drop onto the road. I curl into the fetal position, thinking the effort must seem something like grief. I look out past a trailer park—all its small homes dark and bound together with strung up yellow Christmas lights, and I tear off a small corner of paper that was once a grocery list, letting pieces fall and spiral downward. Blue and red lights whorl down the road, filtered through dust. The pieces lift back up and into the air, reversing, and I stop tearing and watch them drift. In place of stars, I see ahead of me the burden of family.
The tall corn is alive in the summer, and big-eared bats are slung upside down in all the trees. The sirens pass like ships through the highway, and perhaps another girl has died. This bleeds out on a dirty rug worn down and trampled with soot.
The latch on the door is a flat-head bolt. The faucet, a burst of white noise. I can recall only this: her black tank-top and ripped light jeans, the green flip-flops she wore, her heavy black eyeliner, the chipped blue polish on her fingernails. What set me off were her black bra straps, which she did not have to expose. I knew that it wasn’t what she wore that let me think she wanted me, but it was of my own curved and sweating spine of violence that got what it wanted just like an id.
On the floor of her room, I shift my body and feel none of my limbs comply. The texture of her carpet is etched into the back of my head, my elbows, my bare heels. Where are my socks. I shift again and feel one of my wrists bend, then the other. Mobility as temporal transgression. Up above me is her ceiling where plastic stars are fixed to the plaster and they don’t shine down, and, oh, the smell. I’m delighted to at least have the smell. Smell, I think, more than sight, more than touch, is the most carnal thing. There are smells I can recall from only hours ago that will forever be branded into my nostrils if he’s not as keen on ending me as I think. But he’s capable, chiseled like paleoglyphs of better, if simian, men. He knows I’ve smelled the greatest things, holies: her sweet spit—Hell, I think, just enough was the salt from her runny nose.
I wish someone would have told me when I was a little younger that all we do when we’re sixteen or when we’re twenty will be what matters to us most and for the rest of our lives. I take that back though. I bet everyone who knew me did tell me, and I bet every chance I got, I forgot what they said or ignored it. I didn’t give a shit, and I still don’t. There’s nothing out there but an end or another ender—a way out or a slow way to wait. When we’re that young we just can’t quite see that. That’s what makes it okay. That’s what makes fucking up and doing the shit we want seem okay. That’s what that youth is, really.
On the walls are magazine cutouts of pop stars and actors and whatever hip-hop rap shit these girls loved. A white mosquito canopy draped above her bed. There’s a wicker dresser, a wicker nightstand, a pair of white and pink banded socks on the floor.
Let me die here in this place, a church. Let me go here. There’s not a better way. Both windows are open. No wind. No sound. No people out there to hear him. Who would save an old wizard caught dead in this palace. Who would come for a cretin gone too dry and scabbed off its rock.
Bitch, he thought. No. No, not a bitch. A perfect shape.
I just want what I want. I can’t help that. No man can. The man who can help that is a liar and a disgrace. Better to be a man who’s honest than a cheat. Better to be out with it, eh? These girls are no different than these boys on the wall. These shirtless fags who flex their stomachs and arms. Who simulate cocks with the other parts of their body. That’s okay? For a young girl to have on her wall? And to like a young girl is not? Greeks, they cared for their boys. I can care for these girls. I’m a friend. I’m guidance. I have answers. Answers at a cost. At no cost. At a price. At a fair and honest price.
A man such as you is not a man but an evil.
I am not an evil.
You are nothing.
I am something. I am in love. I am triumphant. I can be this way forever. Men go their whole lives not loving the women they married, and you tell he me these are honest men?
These are men who have grown and accepted death at the point that they began to grow old.
So I’m a man unable to grow old?
You’re a man who’s not willing to go.
I’m not willing. No. I’ll stand for it. Arms bound, I’ll lie here and die. Have my jaw kicked off. My cock cut out at the base. I’ll stand for the fact that these men who will come and cut me apart are liars who’ve looked at their neighbor’s daughters in earnest, and they’ve lied.
Star high in the desert. I have touched inside of myself—seen all of my life, my mother and father, their pain and indifference. I feel a tight knot in my chest. I know this knot is safety.
I am the star in that sky, of the desert, not God. I am alive. I have unencumbered myself from all dreams. I know now that death exists. That there is a worthwhile center.
I have a wife. We will have a child. I am unencumbered by all things I have dreamt since being a boy.
I walk into the living room, and I look out through the shades, which I see as great veneers, and outside the world a pink pale fire. I feel the pink fire come to a slow iron smolder.
Elias Marsten is a lifelong Midwesterner, writer and hobbyist hacker. He briefly attended classes in the Ohio State University’s creative writing program as an academic auditor.