from “Another Journey” by Michael Sutherland

February 23, 2010

FULL STORY TO APPEAR IN THE JULY 2010 ISSUE!

When I stuff my hands in my pockets, leather’s creaking in the quiet, I see this Barbie doll on the other side where no street car desires nor dares drive along.

Crossing over her stilettos clip in a Cyclobarbital orbit her high heels tree topping her Veronial strides. And she wears this deep scarlet peony stem stuck under the strap on her shoulder, and she’s slim, and she’s black, and she’s in a really short white haze for a skirt. And she has this long blonde hair that’s not going nowhere because there isn’t even a breeze, and I’m freezing already and wonder how she can stand it.

And as she keeps on walking I have to crane my neck to look only she’s really a he, and not a missed step in her Barbexaclone dream as she’s strolling on by. So I keep going, and she keeps going, space stretching between us until stardust fills the void, until each of us fades from the other, until we’re back in our own dreams dead in the water from each other’s past.

Reality takes a hit then, so the Moclobamide don’t work, and now there’s parapets and hungover concrete shielding iron zinc shutters sprayed hell to high heaven with some heavy water boys’ trade off to Telemark’s dream. But not a sign of life now though, ain’t that no surprise, and but for that astrolabe queen that I thought I once saw there’s no one else here now even though I sure as Christ am.

Then there’s this kind of clearing, rock solid earthen clumps and dead grass, and snowflake flurries, and what could have been a gas station at some point. Only now it’s all gray wood frayed fibres and peeling popped blisters, of paint, of white and sun jaded blues, and some dark reds bled in going pink and anaemic. Just an emptied shell now though, like cardboard all crumpled and less lifeless than dead.

I take a turn on a point trying to find out my bearings only now I am lost. And I should keep going in a line only I’ve been going in a curve where everything’s different and nothing’s the same. Bricks, mortar and asphalt there may be right by me by now, but stranger in a stranger land as I am I feel like one no more as I breathe the air of my life. Of ozone and diesel, butane and glue, and see red lights and pin pointing prickles of green in the deep distant dark from the way over there, from the far side of the river, the pilings, the harbour, the freight boxes too. But their shells are all rusted and black in the dark, and great blocks to memory in shadow to me now.

Welcome back, Jack, says the walls, says the Hudson, its waves lapping on ever, and the sky and the earth from under my feet. Only I’ve never been here before that I rightly recall, just that feeling of knowing, as always, like always, and it’s anything for a grip on something to go on. But a stone is a step from there to where I am now only I’m waiting for the way to be pointed and true.

‘So come on dear Christ, what am I supposed to do now? Tap my heels, wish for Kansas?’

‘But it ain’t gonna happen, guy. It don’t work that way do it? You’ll forget, then you’ll see. And before you know it you’ll be there.’

Says who?

Says them as I’m eating the doll in my hand when my head’s in a spin as my heart goes bang.

Everyone’s in a neurotic rush with eyes seeing nothing in a blur, and fashion is either brown, gray or black and nothing in between, with the guys wearing high pants and baggy seats hitched up with bleeding fat braces under jackets open flapping and baggy shirts too.

Lots of ties, every guy has a tie, brown or black or gray. Only the shirts are a different color from everything else, and that isn’t a color but white. Every guy wears a hat: a Fedora of felt or a Homburg if you want to show you’ve cash in the chaos.

And dressed in this clobber from the stepping stone last, more will be less, so I was told, or you’ll vanish with the dust in the detail of a devil of a whirlwind skirting that Flat Iron Building over there.

So I stroll on quick past a minstrel tip tapping his spats, the sidewalk his boardwalk, his straw boater up down rolling arm one to another, cane swinging through the air that’s well over iced. And it feels like we’re in the Arctic and not in New York. And he does all this in tune with his carousel buddy, this mini macaque that’s chattering its teeth, its wizened fingers gripping, clattering this tin cup of old crimes paid in penance filling with passers-by’ gilt.

And you can feel the contempt from the guys and the gals rushing on by, like they don’t know that this guy’s got kids to feed and he’s only doing his best in the way he knows how.

So now I know I’m well and truly a century in the past, and through the swing doors I go when this bellhop scoots over snapping his bow tie to his neck.

He’s a skinny kid and jumpy wide eyed with a crackered tooth grin that the Benzedrine he’s swallowed doesn’t help to make better. In a neat uniform is he, all brown and red collared, a dented tin soldier bounced right out of his box. But then my face goes iron and he’s all hands up, ‘Hey whoa there big guy.’ Only he hasn’t said anything, just knows no deal’s to be done.

But then the elevator dings its descent and I step inside of its cage while this other old soldier, face deflated with rage, wraps his knuckles swollen round a gear lever brassed, then pushes us forward on the numbers and up on we go.

And from up here I see Battery and Ellis like it’s toy town down there and me just one more tin soldier with a zip gun in my vest. But it doesn’t matter what I use really seeing as everything will disappear along with me anyway like always, the bullets, the carbine, the gunpowder smoke. But the pest will be gone, and then we’ll all be on a different wavelength or something I don’t understand.

Don’t have to do it, I said, don’t need to, don’t want to.

But, ‘Just do it, kid.’ That’s what they said. ‘And you’ll be okay.’