K M Flatowicz-Farmer
The faithless clock punchers made a ruckus you wouldn't believe. A real-brewed ha-ha. What was left of the riot squad came in to quiet-down the street in front of the factory. Volleys of tear gas and answering lunch meats soared in arcs across the barricade. The flash bangs. The cans of potted salmon and Vienna sausages. We skirted the line of conflict, kept our heads down. The city — and everywhere else that I knew of — was falling away from normal; no one was happy and everyone knew who was responsible. The direction of the anger was not universal. Not like the impulse toward blame.
We strapped down the trunk lids with the rendered entrails of martyrs. After 500 years we've found a way to make them useful, the old incorruptibles (fuckers). We learned clever new ways to kill children, skin cats and steal wagons left alone in a brick floored alley. I started writing what I could remember on these scraps of butcher paper. I wrote about the uprising and the downfall, all at once and from both directions. Who knew where to start, or what evidence of loyalty would be required. Who knew how to keep an infant alive in times like these on a dry teat?
I say it was the market crash, the bubble burst, that started the slide. But that's one thing. One little thing. We didn't get here because of one thing, but everything. The market, the anger, the impotence, the blame, always blame blame blame. Fear turns violent and violence turns in a slow, continuous circle. Remember the day they said shipments were being stopped on the highway? People ran to the groceries, because of the gas rationing, and tore the places apart. More waste than benefit. But the shipments weren't stopped, not on the highway, no. Once the trucks made it into the city, they were set upon by people who'd gotten nothing from the looted stores. Someone said they saw a driver beaten dead with a stop sign pole. Even weapons are weird now.
You dragged the serving spoon out of your mouth and dipped it back in the open can of cherry pie filling. The faded label read "Cerises: Garniture Pour Tarte." We had found an entire flat of the cans in a forgotten corner of the Freidman's warehouse, under a blue tarp. The concrete floor smelled of vinegar and wet rust. We put the cans on the red wagon with a few scraps of metal and covered the heap with the tarp. Outside something banged on the door and we hurried away before checking the office desks and file cabinets for alcohol, bandages or ammunition, maybe a bottle of something like Xanax or Wild Turkey.
I wish I could look up the definition of a logarithm, because I think that may help to explain how this all happened, first very slowly, imperceptibly, and then (it seemed) in an instant. But I don't have a dictionary — I burned mine — and if I did, I likely wouldn't understand all the words in the definition. Math was never my subject. I can't tell you what trigonometry is except the class after geometry, and I even passed it. Basically, before, everything was okay. We still had the internet and electric lights; pornography, restaurants and things like that. Work was good, rewarding (not really). We had favorite restaurants and television shows. Then there was a hiccup. An attack. Maybe an overreaction. Who's to say now? I thought we'd got back to equilibrium but there was a fire, an earthquake, a flood, a determination. The calculated gambit (put together by someone really clever) went awry. Then we stopped with hope and ideas of tomorrow, and started breaking into our neighbors' homes.
Someone has been trying to stoke the boilers at the power plant. Hiccups of smoke over the dingy skyline; one night, the streetlights hummed for a minute in a nascent, buzzing glow but never took full bloom. I could tell you-all about the mottle and crumb of each brick, the early morning sparkle of broken glass on whitening asphalt, the brawls and blood over stale loaves. I will spare you-all the notes-on-collapse. I will tell you-all: from one's reluctant hands to the other's we passed a cold bundle, unsure of what to do next. We hunted down old Jodorowsky, we didn't know what else to do. We searched for him everywhere. He wasn't at the school, no, the students had taken the campus as the stage for their permanent protest, their (get this) hunger strike. The cafes were gone, no coffee or croissant anyhow for the dilettante. Where would a bottle of wine hide, I asked and you shushed me. We found him eventually. He was drinking hard wine (like I had said) in a storm-water flume. He said go away, there was nothing he could do. You begged him. You offered him anything, even your company for the night, in exchange for a little guidance. After a moment he said no, that wouldn't be necessary, he would help, but not here where people could listen. He brushed his thin white mane back from his face. Raising his wirey, aged body from the dry cement bed, he said to us, Meet me tomorrow at my place, I don't dare bring my cards out here. Up the slope, the others, rummaged through trash barrels and sifted the dirt of the civic garden looking for food grubs.
The grizzly Jodorowsky greeted us by swinging out the door-opening contraption of the school bus where he made his home. The bus was parked in a lot filled with hundreds of identical faded yellow school buses. To discourage neighbors, he burned the inside of the other buses with gasoline. Step up, come in. The outside of his own bus he burned with care — to blend it in, he said, those fuckers out there would take everything if they could find it — the inside was a mad child's idea of a Gypsy caravan. Here, shuffle, he said as he handed you the deck. I've never trusted the loon, but you held on to some hope. You worked the cards with your eyes shut. You rocked a little as you shuffled and then you handed him the deck. He laid the greasy cards face down in a Celtic Cross spread over the butt of an upturned orange crate. One at a time he flipped over the cards, considered the meaning, stroked his beard and said nothing. He turned over the Papess at the intersection, and sucked on his tongue, displeased. You said, But she is wisdom, calm, assurance. Yes, he said, but she is upside-down. He asked that we draw five more cards, but I told him to fuck off and dragged you by the arm out of that graveyard.
I may have lied to you-all, in so many ways, but I want you to believe me.
With autumn's nibble tickling our ears and turning what few trees remained to pointillist fire, we laid our infant son in a shallow grave and mumbled prayers to no one. I wrote my prayer down on a scrap of muslin torn from the infant's wrap. I wrote the name, Joshua, and put the cloth in the legal box where I keep my observations. The outside of the box and the lid, I coated with wax from a burning candle. A gray cloud heralded a coming storm. The horizon fed the sky a dark line. We walked in silence from the field to the squat; I promised to kill something for food and make a fire. You said, I can't stand to live like this. You asked me to kill you and I refused. You stumbled out of the factory as I got the fire going; you wandered into the snowstorm without your cat-skin cap. I chased after and smacked you hard to shock sense back into your head. I needed you more than you needed to alleviate your grief. I am not ready, yet. I still have something to say. Tomorrow, I will go back. I will dig him a deeper hole. I will remember his name for you, my love, for you.
The street where we first met (a morning in early spring, grabbing for the same bouquet of rich pink peonies at the sidewalk flower stand) is littered with bent metal window frames and broken block. I suspect a sniper lives above the intersection, and that's why I won't go there anymore. Anyone with a gun has become a policeman. The police stopped us three times yesterday. We were picking through crags and nooks looking for food and tools. Whenever I found something, I stashed it under my coat, I didn't even tell you. I didn't want you to look at my coat when the police stopped us. The voodoo didn't take. Cops lifted every can and iron bar I managed to tuck under my nubbed wool coat. Maybe you looked at my coat so they wouldn't look under yours. Some of the police still have a sense about them — of restraint? You have been grabbed roughly, but not yet raped, not while I was there. Now might be a good time to strike out from the city.
I found you a shack leaning against a low hillock — it's far from the city, I'm afraid to even write down where — but you still cry all the time. All the windows had been sacrificed to some nameless frustration. The roof holds off some weather and the mouldered odor of every room lets us know that the place was long abandoned. The city had become too much. Our food became a liability; heating a can of beans over a sooty candle brought an angry crowd ready to kick over your can of beans just to spite you for having beans; kick you in the ribs even though I said they were my beans, my beans. Here in the shack, crackled clapboard siding imitates a wall but it's really a spy. It telegraphs all our secret nighttime words through hidden wires back to the last working super computer, deep in a mountain, manned by retard eunuchs. Our words are fed, after analysis, into the mouths of starving mystics. That's the story I told you the night when you said you couldn't sleep. I don't think it's really true, but it feels good to tell it. To tell you that someone out there is looking over us, if only to keep record. How do you sleep?
lives and writes in Omaha, Nebraska. He is holds a BFA in fiction from the Writers Workshop at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. His work has been published in the Omaha City Weekly. He currently writes and edits for the blog WeConsumeTooMuch.com