One story, unfinished, a fragment. The writing cools from a weak plot and flat characterization. The story fills the page we are on, but we may not be on the same page as others reading the same story (based on the assumption there can only be one story), and no one can page backward or forward. That other pages even exist is therefore without proof. Our story has grown since the first word, and continues to expand. The distance from the beginning to the end is therefore immeasurable. We will never have the whole story, but that’s another story.
You awake to find yourself in a room the size of a postcard. There is a photo of a pier, people out walking, a boardwalk, a sunny day, blue sky. A bit of a breeze apparently, the women holding their hats, summer dresses flapping, legs akimbo like listing masts, offshore sand flurries. In the distance, atop a shoreline cliff, an ivory tower climbs into the sky like a long slender neck. At the top of the tower, a balcony necklace affords rich views of the ocean, a woman in a blue dress at the wrought iron rail studying a sailboat, a small dinghy, its jib open and full of the onshore breeze, coming in.
Where no one knows your real name where indeed you have no name but any number of names but no number but you wear your identification it shows is shown in the red dust around your eyes and there’s a glimmer suggests you’re still alive and at the corners of your lips the moisture of bird feathers and your hands are calloused black and blue and your clothes are stained with oil and grease and chalk and shavings of wood, metal, and paint. This pub plays no music, which you wouldn’t be able to hear clearly anyway. No darts. No pool table. No television sets. No chess board, no backgammon, not even caroms. No playing cards. There’s coffee twenty-four hours a day for those just getting going, first cup free, the swing shift, the night shifts, at the factory, in the warehouse. The oil fields behind the houses. The docks on the bay. Molly brings you your pint, with a little cup of salted peanuts in the shell on the house. Will Molly please text home for you, a bit late, might stay for a second pint tonight, being’s it’s Saturday night, and you’re walking, or was when you got here.
The furies fly in from the desert, weave like wasps from their cool eve nests, disturbed and attracted by bile, envy, and insolence. One lands in the ear canal: “Erinyes, erinyes,” echoes from one side of the head to the other. She stirs the wax and lays her eggs. It’s a cuckoo wasp, emerald and gold. She’s got hold of your thoughts her young will eat away, furious and urbane.
Darts – birds hitting their marks. Feathers painted in plastic. Flickers, scrub-jays. Black gloss enameled crows. Black capped chickadees. Bushtits. The sorrowful hot guitar trill of a song sparrow. They voice the old songs, their beaks cracked, worn plectrums. A few sit still on a telephone wire while another takes a solo. To-wit. To-hoo. Clack, clack, clack.
The essentials get hoarded by the rich, the fluff, and the oofy, the pantry stuffed with truffles and beans and such, starch and flour, coffees and chocolates, the hall closet full with bamboo bathroom tissue, the library stacked with first edition hardbacks, clean copies dust covers intact, and a few handmade porcelain jars and a cast bronze abstract sculpture catching some sunlight through weeping glass, the boudoir walls dressed with formal wear and evening gowns made from wet fly wings, the garden roamed with roses, wisteria, and a cherry tree, and three peacocks playing near a pond. Others make do with equivalents, pink flamingos made from plastic, for example. The necessities of life change slowly, and vary from place to place, person to person, time to time. What profits youths to join jobs where like their mothers and fathers would have made happier children? Predicament is everything. And connotations take us away. White, blue, or pink collar? What’s behind door number four? The privileged get on the job training. Someone cleans the privy, the house of office, wash the washroom the washer person. The human path is littered with exuviae, as one’s growth outstrips one’s capacity for change, “a nine-hundreds-year-old name” not a gift but a curse. When any name or experience will suffice, a number, a meal, a drink, or its equivalent.
She’s the Wicked Witch of the West sleeping up in your attic. He’s the troll lives in the hollow under the stairs, in the crawl space. He’s the bugaboo in your damp basement. He’s the psychopomp comes ticket collecting as the train enters the long dark tunnel. Or it’s the grey slightly out of focus shark in the clear waters of a mellow blue bay on a yellow day in May. They don’t come quietus, to relieve us of our debt, of our terrestrial weight. At random do they come and go, to and fro, a sudden angry bee in one’s bonnet of fake flowers. They appear and disappear. She comes in blue calm or in the dark and stormy night, to the homeless and the castled, so democratic a figure is she, yet despotic, but at the same time permits you to go on self-governing, but in her presence. You are still free to go about your way, but she goes with you. They come for no reason, no cause. They don’t want anything, and when they say they will not hurt you, they’re telling the truth. You feel no pain, but neither do you feel joy. They are the secret sharers in your heart of darkness. What to do, when your butterflies turn into winged monkeys? You live an elastic life in an elastic city.
A place exists, not external to terrestrial time, and unconcerned with cosmic time, and not ignorant of clocks and calendars, but where one has no need to know precisely what day it is, day of the week or calendar date, or the current time: here, there, or anywhere. Call this place, notplace. It’s not a place one goes to, more, it’s a place one appears within, unannounced, unexpected, without predetermination, appointment, or predestination. And notplace is empty of assumptions and predispositions. This is not about bliss or heaven, some sort of painless state and such; it’s here, and it’s real. Also, it’s not about the Now of mindfulness. Even now is irrelevant in Notplace. All reference, research, redolent of time, disappear. It’s not seasonless. The sun still burns and the east wind still blows cold. The sun rises and sets, or appears to, and the moon shows and not shows, and the stars are there and not there. And, of course, there are no words spoken, no words heard, none written: it is a place of prayer.
The chess pieces, old, dry, and frizzled, can only sleep, but as alive as cold-blooded bees in winter they dream of moves, puzzles, contretemps, and suck honey from the hive of time. They cluster quietly, clot in knots, in symbiotic formations, each exchange of pieces in turn reconstituting a meal in which each guest eats at the table of the other. Condemned to the board, the bored King snores while the Queen stirs the hive to action, cleans house, chasing the pawns this way and that, has knights jumping over the furniture, splits and clefts the sliding Bishops, insanely, apparently, willing to surrender their position to move closer to their dreary King asleep like a fossilized cat on the love seat in the living room.
Is the comma in danger of extinction? Here at the The Coming of the Toads commas have fallen out of favor as we have begun to eschew the common comma, not all commas, and the comma in writing (where else is it used?) still remains an effective tool for the common reader, but sometimes the right word in the right place creates its own pause and nothing more is needed by way of punctuation, for the common reader or the anti-reader. Of course commas are used for more than to create pause. The comma used to separate items in a series, red white and blue, for example, often punctuated as red, white, and blue, keeps the colors from running together. The comma evolved from the colon and suggested something cut out but today the comma is used to add on, to amplify, to continue, to ramble on, sometimes unmercifully, the end nowhere near, the sentence a structure of lean-tos, each clause flipping about like a butterfly which may look to the common reader indecisive. Then there is the comma butterfly, also called angelwing, and what writer would want to eliminate angel wings from their writing, not us. Whoops, that’s anglewing, not angel wing, a mistake no comma can rescue. Still, the happy discovery that commas may suggest angel wings gives us a lift.
As said of politics, all rain is local, parochial. It may seem frivolous to a parish under water that in a neighboring bureau filled with sun denizens are dressed in shorts and sleeveless shirts drinking dizzy fizzy wine coolers in the town square park sitting in beach chairs on the warm dry grass listening to a gypsy jazz band play La Mer, while next door, where rain falls, Leonard Cohen indoors on a turntable sings, “All the rain falls down amen, on the works of last year’s man.” Yet in rain country umbrellas are not as ubiquitous as one might expect, nor are they absent in the sunny clime. The rain falls through hair, straightening the curl, seeps through flannel and wool, fills the shoes and soaks the socks, wrinkles the skin. The rain bounces off the asphalt street, runs down the gutters carrying along leaves summer and fall debris: a dirty tennis ball, a burnt out sparkler, a used up crumpled face mask. The rain overflows the curb down at the corner and a car spins by splashing a muddy wave across the sidewalk. A city bus sploshes around the corner, windows fogged, the driver and riders masked and anonymous. There are no cats to be seen out and about, a few dogs hunkered up on their porches. A woman with no umbrella scurrying shoulders hunched head down misses her bus and takes shelter under the awning in the doorway of a closed cafe, pulls out her phone and votes for sun, but the polls are closed for the winter.