|[Editors Note: You have landed amidst the wreckage of the American Dream. It's a novel called Big American. |
How did this start?The squid is on the road, people. Keep up. Want to catch up with past chapters? Check out the Archive.
Want to know what happens next? Read on!]
Thomas is slouched upon a street bench in some non-descript section of town. New Orleans, like any other city, can put on an anonymous face. I recall an occasion in which I was lost in Singapore and found myself turned around in an alleyway. I came out by an office building and was frozen by the street-scene that presented itself before my eyes: for a full thirty seconds I felt as though I were in Cincinnati. I knew deep in my heart that I was on a street I had been on the month before while trying to find a tailor's shop to which my mother had sent me. The street, the small potted tree, an American couple (or at least an Anglo couple) walking arm in arm window shopping, all conspired to twist my stomach up and give the shocking sense that I had teleported to the other side of the globe and while I had been lost in South East Asia, I was now found in Ohio.
It is in that condition that we find Thomas in the newest installment of video captured by the camera mounted in Thomas' spectacles and transmitted home to me, faithful Sang. Dearest Thomas has wandered out of the colorful backdrop of the Big Easy and founded himself squarely in the middle of an Omnipresent, Obsequious America.
The video is a rather long, uninterrupted sequence. Unedited. So long that I will, in transcribing it, be forced to compress.
Thomas is staring into the window of a darkened pastry shop. The only hint of his location is a copy of the New Orleans Times-Picayune framed and placed in the window. It proudly declares that Ma Fountleroy's Bakery is the finest in the city. I can see Thomas. It is evening and he is staring sullenly into the window, perhaps at his own reflection. Behind him looms the Escalade, or its silhouette at least, and the large crate on top, all surrounded by a yellow halo of sunset. Lisa, darkened, sits in the driver's seat of the vehicle, cradling her head.
THOMAS: I can't hear anything. (he speaks sharply).Lisa glances out the window, but continues to cradle her head. She is holding a small phone, its green shell glinting in the light as she turns.
THOMAS: That fucker. LA LA LA LA LA! (He sticks his fingers in his ears and twists them around. Then he shakes his head. Then he starts to beat either ear, back and forth, like he was batting a ball between his two hands.)Lisa puts a hand over her phone and leans out the window.
SQUID: (Distantly) This amazing body park subsides, revealing a cavern beneath! I greatly regret not having demanded a videographic camera be installed upon the sensor array of my mighty suit. I feel, quite ironically, not unlike Jaques Cousteau. But so very much more glorious.
LISA: Tom! Marlon is yacking again! Are you able to hear yet? I'm sure it's just a ringing from the hit that guy gave you. Tom! (She returns to her phone. More quietly she says:) Yeah, he's not responding at all. I think he can see me yelling, but either he can't hear me or he doesn't want to.There seems to be a breeze. As the sunlight fades a form is quivering in the distance to the right of the Escalade. The reflection is faint but I believe it is a tree. A willow perhaps? Long looping limbs of moss quivering in a light wind off the river? It is an unsteady, irregular movement.
SQUID: Marvelous! An underground cavern thick with the fecund effluence of the river. Slow moving, deep, noisome effluvia. Deeper, deeper I cry! The pressure, she does embrace.The sun either has begun to set faster, or the swishing shadow of the trees has grown, or both. Thomas' face has faded a bit in the light.
LISA: . . . (distant, on the phone) well, first of all, what is the firm's liability if Mr. Brando were caught, well, en flagrante with a deceased person?
THOMAS: LA LA LA LA LA! (He starts to rock a little, still staring into the window). Maybe if I can't hear, no one can hear! What do you think of that, Lisa? You can't hear me. No one can hear anything? Sound is just a big fucking illusion!It has gotten so dark, the twilight lurching forward so quickly, that Lisa turns on the headlights. This renders Thomas' reflection more sharply, but at the cost the background, which becomes washed out and ethereally distant. The Escalade, Lisa, Thomas, the looming shadow of the tree in the wind are all that fills the space.
LISA: No, I can't find Mr. Brando. No, I didn't see him leave the car. (pause, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel. She watches Thomas rock). No, dammit, I don't think I could have done a better job. I never left the fucking car.
SQUID: Oh, definitely marvelous. The mud is slick here. I shall endeavor to sink deeper. Should not posterity record this great exploration? Just as Jacques explored the varying depths of the sea, I delve deeply into he depths of the land. Witness the wonders of the moist depths below the dry-surface: I believe this monkey-woman was buried with at least a solid pound of gold. If the metal is so precious, Tom, why do you people insist on bequeathing it to the refuse-husk of your dear ones once they have departed the physical world? Surely you don't imagine that the decaying meat would have any use for a . . . what is this? RO-LEX chronometer. Time is of little import to this bacteria hive that once shuffled about on two legs!
LISA: Look. I am sorry that I have to be sharp with you. I . . . yeah, I know you don't need—- uh huh. Uh huh. Listen. No— Listen. Who is responsible when Marlon Brando is caught knee deep in a fucking grave yard? Who?Thomas lays down on his side. The reflections on the window shift. His spectacle-frame-cam can see more sky now, beyond the headlights, and the tree is gone. The wind must have picked up because there is the sound of scraping. Leaves upon the road? There is almost a haiku embedded within that single sound, if only I could find the moment to clear away the debris which obscures it . . .
THOMAS: Jimmy Crack Corn, and I don't Care!Thomas seems to have frozen for a moment. He sits rigid. I can see in the image that Lisa is still talking on the phone. She is nodding. The sky has gone quite dark. Thomas' eyes grow wider and wider. His breathing quickens noticeably, even in his reflection I can see his chest heave.
Blast a big mofo at the state fair!
Negro guy, just made me deaf!
No-one can Hear! No One Can Hear!
LA LA LA LA LA!
SQUID: These catacombs are quite remarkable, Tom. Thick with disfigured and bloated monkey bodies, bobbing like so many pieces of blubber after a glorious death strike against a hated sperm whale by one of your surface hunting vessels . . . piloted no doubt by the beloved and wiley Japanese. Though encumbered as I am, I can still sense the glorious ease of once again slipping through water, muddy though it may be. You were right, Tom, as I slide though the murky depths, nestled amongst the wet corpses of a hundred years of Prime Louisianan Hominid, I must indeed conclude that this vacation was exactly the right idea. Oh, glorious, the catacombs seem to have opened up into a partially filled chamber. Quite large and . . . I seem to be quite deep beneath the city now. Could the American Humans have built this? It seems quite old. Tom, take a note and do adequate research on the engineering capabilities of the inhabitants of this region for the past few centuries. No, strike that. You are an incompetent— please have Sang follow this line of inquiry. I am exceedingly hard-pressed to believe that this sluicewell of water and corpses was originally conceived or constructed by Huey Long Democrats. It is most curious in its cyclopean glory.
LISA: Are you hearing any of this?! First of all, he is old. Second he must be enormous. Now that he has left the car we sit an extra foot higher up on the suspension. And he is swimming in a sewer beneath a goddamn cemetery in New Orleans. Do you hear him over the intercom? Do you hear me? And you say it is my fucking responsibility? Speeding tickets are my responsibility. Transporting minors across state lines for lewd purposes . . . also my responsibility. Hell, I'll protect the guy from a multiple-homicide rap involving two priests and a class of first graders . . . but some weird necrophillic stunt is frankly beyond me. I know that everyone has a moral line in this job. Everyone has to have one. I wasn't sure where I would find mine, but here it is. If Marlon Brando sticks his fat old cock in a ten year dead New Orleans whore, I am walking. That will be it. That is my line, Justin. Live with it.Thomas' mouth has rounded out into the O of a scream, and I would think that the whole world had gone dead if I didn't hear Lisa still talking, as well as more shuffling.
Then, in the window, it becomes clear. A tall man, his head titled to the side, shuffles into view. His face is pallid, green along the left side, the eyes glassy. A centipede has curled itself inside the top of the right eye socket, the eye ball itself have drooped down out of the cavity part way. One arm is up at an angle. It is the stiff legged shuffle of an unfit body.
The man, thing, creature, moans slightly and finally Thomas' scream erupts, shattering, the microphone cutting out almost instantly as all of the levels peak out. The hand bumps along the back of the bench, but the misshapen eyes hold Thomas' eyes in the reflection of the window. They are calm, dead eyes. Finally the hand falls, flops, across the back of the bench and closes over Thomas' face. The fingers suddenly contract, like frog legs that have been stimulated by an electric shock. The sound comes back on and Thomas mumbles and struggles beneath the grip of the man with the gray-green skin.
LISA: (Turning into the car as she talks on the phone) Yeah, I know. He got hit by some black guy and now he won't stop making noise. He says that he is deaf. Seems to have lost some— what, yeah, I know I said I thought he was cute. But he won't stop whining—- yeah, hey, you know. (She laughs a little). Well, he's quieted down. I guess I have to sympathize. He's been working for Brando for years. I've been at this for less than a few months and already I'm going a little crazy—- right, yeah . . . hey, I didn't mean to yell at you back there— I, yeah, all is forgiven. We'll find Brando. I'm sure it's just some Method acting bullshit.Thomas and the spy-camera slide down the bench, away from the window. The tall man is wearing a tuxedo, a top hat, and is besought by a dry rash all over his exposed flesh. Lisa continues to talk in hushed tones as Thomas is slowly pulled away and down the street.
LISA: . . . so I said, "what the hell was so mysterious about that place!"The camera, as it is pulled out of the cone of light from the headlights, goes through an adjustment period while it refocuses. The figure dragging Thomas leers down. He seems to be sneering, but then I see that part of his upper lip has broken away exposing teeth. Regardless, he has the appearance of a cruel thug. The sky behind his head is clear, starry, and the trees now branching up over top are thick with Spanish Moss.
All this time I was looking for New Orleans. There it is.
And the haiku, the one that whispers within the leaf sound caught by the Escalade's surveillance equipment— perhaps that haiku would be this:
willow leaves stirred by
soft rotten zombie bearing
Tom to his pantry
See, not even Nipponese, and yet a poet.
Good Night, America.
Good Night, Thomas.
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson