Out of Space

There’s no room for children in heaven anymore
They took up too much space in our paradise
We had to leave them howling at the gate

We tried other things, of course, but it was fate
Forget nine hells, we packed all sinners into ice
Still no room for children in heaven anymore

Then, running out of options, we shut the door
On those we didn’t like, put them too in the ice
It was satisfying, watching them howling at the gate

Soon we began to fear it was much too late,
The angels all squeezed onto one pin, that was nice
Still no room for children in heaven anymore

Our gods should have seen this coming, therefore
We threw them out next, but it did not suffice
(We had tried all other things, it was only fate)
That we had to leave them howling at the gate

Whatever we tried, still the squeeze did not abate
And we had to make someone pay the price
So there’s no room for children in heaven anymore
We had to leave them howling at the gate

Advertisements

Jacob Foster (young)

[A draft of a draft – basically me working on building the backstory of a character that’s taken on more life than most of the characters I’ve ever written.

N.B. – this will make more sense if you read the Jacob Foster posts in chronological order.]

The summer of Jacob Foster’s junior year, he found himself needing work once more. Back then his life it seemed had been balanced on a razor’s edge. Without the benefit of hindsight, he did not simply thoughtlessly assume he would survive.

He stalked down the mainstreet under the sprawling cherry blossoms past brick facades and the cracking concrete river bridge. Jacob Foster can imagine his younger self, a scarecrow in a leather jacket, his face set in nervous confidence. He has never been good at asking for things. Even as a child. He has no memories of mother, no memories of pleading or prayer ever achieving any particular end. Bella’s Grill rejected him, as does the Starbucks down the road. You need specialist experience to work at the mine (obvious, in hindsight) or the bank (rather less obvious).

-You’re in college, let us know when you get a degree and won’t leave us in three months.

-No we don’t do internships but maybe at the corporate office?

-I can’t help you, sorry. Give Edith my regards.

Scowling, he returned home, tin roofed and overgrown with weeds. Green shoots strangle the gnomes he loathes. Good riddance.

In the end it wasn’t through his efforts that he found work. His grandmother had a woman who checked up on her sometimes. She had a brother who knew of a job in a warehouse he could take.

 

-Shoes, that’s right. Big distribution warehouse for the whole region, Wallace and Stone Artisanal Footwear. The manager is a portly man, with thick glasses. He wears his polo shirts tucked in tight.

-And you’re hiring?

-We are. You want it? Janine tells me you’re in college. We’ll take you on for temp work if you like. Eight dollars an hour. It’s a small facility, so here, let me give the walking tour.

Dimly lit artificial corridors have been formed by the accretion of boxes. Conveyors snaked between them like rivers in ancient canyons, like city streets carrying cargo by their own volition. They deposit their burdens as if at random, but there is a formula. The manager told him about it. Green labels go into 4A. Across the hall you can see where our summer collection goes back to Distribution. Oh this one here, that’s an Exchange. Most of those go to 9A, but sometimes you have to mark them, like this one. Michele can show you how that works. It’s not hard, right?

-No. Jacob tried to stifle a yawn, but found it difficult.

-Just a couple years ago this wasn’t automated. All hand sorted. We had machines to move the stacks. Next summer we’ll be getting new machines too. Hope to cut down on how many temps we need for rolling out the summer collection. No offense. It’s just business.

-None taken. I get it.

-You’ll do whatever we need on whatever given day. Michelle over there can train you… starting a couple days from now if that works alright by you?

Relief washed over Jacob Foster. He had been judged to be good people. The rest of the process was a formality, consisting essentially of paperwork and a trip down to Corporate for a five minute to have an HR woman glower down her oversized glasses at him and scan his driver’s license.

After his first day of work they gathered around him with the mock solemnity of impromptu ritual and dragged him down to the local bar, Flemmings, down the road by the sloping gravel rise of the traintracks. Weeds pressed up between sidewalk cracks, but the red door beckoned warmly. Pickup trucks and battered cars aligned themselves one by one like penitents awaiting communion.

-Beer and a shot down the line. Beer and a shot for the new kid. Having fun yet? Don’t worry, you won’t ever. Gotta get new shoes. Those boots, boy, they’re gonna hurt your feet in a day or two like a motherfuck and you’re gonna wish you bought sneakers with your first paycheck.

-New shoes, right. And you can wear a t-shirt, you know?

-Oh, I uh, I didn’t. Well, when I got there this morning, I didn’t. I do now, right.

Abner, an old man with a sly grin passed him the drink. Bombs away.

He gulped down the shot and swallowed the beer and when it was over and the burning taste was gone from his mouth he took another sip and tried his best to answer their questions, the sort of friendly interrogation which meant well but which left him feeling distinctly uncomfortable. Jacob Foster felt no pride in his heritage or his past.

-From down in Oak Creek, yeah. No, I don’t remember when they moved there. Probably in the late eighties? Why, did you know him?

 

In Wallace and Stone’s intricately crafted system there was an unmistakable sense of ceaseless and automatic motion. The flow of boxes allowed everything to become a blur punctuated mostly by voices and the ringing of various harsh electronic bells. The magnificent thing was the sense in which everything became routine after mere hours.

The human mind has a stunning capacity for mindlessness. The young Jacob Foster finds peace in this fact. As he slides the boxcutter across the tapesealed container he notices only the sticky satisfying sound. Its contents are emptied, categorized, understood by the computer. The clicker flashes twenty-four times. One missing. Again. The clicker flashes twenty-four more times. Still missing one.

He carefully, methodically packed the shoes back into their boxes. With exaggerated care he pressed the black marker to the cardboard. The first day, the clock had barely moved. Sometimes now it seemed to spin by without ceasing. Other times, when he found himself inside his own head, it did not move at all.

 

Down the line, Louis was considering his pile of unsorted shoes, all of them untagged. His brown eyes flickered, dancing from shoe to uniform shoe. Sameness is not an obvious thing. It must be assessed carefully before the tags can come down. Louis was one of the best people there. His hands moved nimbly and carefully over the boxes.

The ritual continued. The box, after being raised and cut was dumped unceremoniously and then a new box was made to fit its old contents.

Jacob Foster looked to the clock. Five minutes tick by. World enough and time. Visions and revisions. The next box will contain four unsorted, four. It is an insignificant yet frustrating number, aggravating for its closeness to none unsorted, that glorious state of zen where the mind can truly go blank and enter into the realm of fantasy.

He is in college, talking to Adriana outside of Stephen Mullen’s party. She is absentmindedly twirling her black hair, her dress slim and short. She lays a hand on his chest casually, then in a heartbeat she is pulling him close. Later, they lay in his bedroom, her naked body illuminated by his tacky orange christmas lights. In a few moments, Rajiv will knock on the door but for this moment anything is possible.

The fantasy was not, Jacob realized, in the remembrance but in the possibility.

Jacob Foster kept moving, until break when he could dangle a cigarette in his mouth and stare out beyond the chainlink fence thin with rust past the field unshorn and stonespackled creek. Past still the thinswaying trees with leaves like fire, beyond it still the bland uniform color of suburbia. The houses radiant with interior light in the thin paleness of dawn are a premonition of the closest thing to heaven that exists anywhere here. Cicada droned in the distance.

So Jacob Foster still believed, sipping his grandmother’s gin on the back porch, ashing his cigarette into a little ornamental frog. Escape, heaven, that is everywhere he is not. That evening he will take a small gun from the basement and shoot a gnome. Grandmother will not notice ever.

-Fucker. He said to no-one in particular, looking down at the broken body before him. It was split in three distinct pieces, sallow fragile porcelain cracked to reveal a hollow interior like bleached bone. For a moment he fancied himself Arius, and tried to reconnect it but there was no point. Once set apart there was no sense in it. He left the pieces where they lay and decided that the weather would erode them with enough time. The coating, after all, was only external.

 

The next day he was back at work. The whole morning nothing interrupted the peace that passes when boxes pass from conveyor to palette. For a while, sure, his mind wandered. For a while he craved the distance, the distraction. He sketched fantasies of Adriana and everything he wanted her to do to him when he next saw her. When he ran the clicker gun over the labels, he imagined her kisses softly descending the slope of his chest and her nails raking across his back. But the distracting sensuality of it all passed. In time the eroticism became almost grating.

Later that afternoon, he sent Stephen Mullen a photo of an absurd pair of shoes, lime green and red stitching. Stephen replied with a question mark, and looking back Jacob Foster could not have honestly said what he had found amusing about them. Without the context of a thousand other pairs of loafers, tennis shoes, and flip flops they were just another set of ugly shoes. The distinct humor was gone and he couldn’t recollect what had inspired it.

Without even the recourse of the absurd, he turned to his oldest game. Michelle was two aisles down, and through the break in the boxes he could see her snapping the tags from individual unsorted items, and putting them into a container marked B13. He watched her for a while, and decided that she had two children, who were mostly raised by their aunt. She liked to play the lottery, and knew that when she won she would move to Maine and travel the world with the Peace Corps. When she was not abroad she would live by the sea and her true passion was dancing, which she had never had the opportunity to pursue but would if her life would just be changed by some miracle that might allow her to live out her itinerant aspirations.

Abner was a veteran. As he operated the forklift his own mind dwelled on what he had seen across the ocean in another far hellish world. As a young man he had dreamed of becoming a boxer, but now those ambitions were impossible. Now he just wanted to retire. He was counting down the hours but to be frank he had no idea what he would do when the day finally came. It would be like coming to a precipice, and the fact terrified him.

For Louis, it was tougher. But deep down he assumed that Louis had the secrets he craved. The only obvious facts about him were his competence and his contempt for the supervisor. He had no wedding ring and dressed plainly. He drove a Ford and he never once came out to Flemmings on Thursdays for the two-for-one pitcher special.

Looking back, he never asked any of them about their lives.

 

One warm day in July, doctors will find the tumor rotting his grandmother’s tar-caked lungs. He will go to her bedside table once, she will ask him to pray for her. He lied to her then, as he often did. It was a simple ritual, and one he believed he would come to miss. He remembers that grimsmiling lie, brushing back brown hair long turned grey and giving her a ceremonial kiss on the cheek.

She smelled of old paper. Jake imagined she might blow away and, reflecting later, finishing the bottle of gin, he found the image utterly peaceful. He doesn’t yet fear death. Why bother? A last beneficence.

 

The funeral was quick, blessedly so. Poorly attended, compared to his late father’s wake. At the passing of Adam Foster’s jaundiced corpse they screamed drank and fought. Jacob Foster drank with them, a child with hollow eyes. He has since burned the photos that were taken, spread them out back with the ashes. He has no love for his father’s friends the enablers and the lackeys – their actions hastened his father’s end and though Jacob does not mourn the man they were and are murderers.

Here there was only silence and preternatural stillness with no sign of soul or memory. An aged man, a tattered shawl around some bones who recites some words. Hymns were sung and Jacob Foster did not speak. Halfway through he stepped out into the weatherworn courtyard in the shadow of that city in the hills. He watched the churchspired horizon as crows danced together on gutters. Crumbling brick edifices lined the opposing street, old shops which themselves were antiques moreso than their contents which were undoubtedly pilfered from the houses of the dead. It would be apt. Morbid but the elderly died alone here all the time and family cracked open the shadowed trailers all too late for last goodbyes.

What possessions did they have worth keeping? Perhaps an old set of silverware, as Edith Foster once had. A television, manufactured in the mid seventies. An elaborate knitting set, carefully maintained until arthritic trembling claws could no longer grip the needles. Half a carton of parliament cigarettes and a bottle of prescription painkillers.

The rest can be thrown to the antiquers of the world. The armoire and the kitchen stools. The creaking grandfather clock which gave him night terrors as a child. The contents of a life can be judged and disposed of with ease. Jacob Foster has learned this; now he cannot stop thinking of it. It troubled him at night when he returned to university.

 

Three days from now, the weekend will come. Jacob Foster will go to Carolina, to spread the ashes. One of his father’s old drinking buddies helped him sell the house, and handed him the check when the sale was good and done. Apparently the land, the rising woods that sprawled behind his grandmothers house for measureless distances could be developed. If Jacob Foster had ever returned he would have seen fat white houses with blackshingled roofs not made of tin or aluminum. Red white and green shutters, dogs and children playing. IKEA furniture unstacked out of minivans.

-Your pa was a good man, boy. You know that. Your ma I didn’t know but day of your birth I remember your dad, Adam he was so happy we were in the bar together you know. He got the call and oh how his face lit up. You’ll make him proud I know you will.

He did not mention old Edith Foster, though he did make a muttered sound of sympathy when he shook Jacob’s hand.

Jacob Foster tapped his fingers lightly on the wooden countertop. He said nothing, but took the heavyset man’s hand and shook it tightly. The door rattled on its decaying frame. He would leave tomorrow. For good. It was in motion now.

 

Everyone was gone. The last day in the house he sat alone amongst the gnomes and dreamed of metempsychosis. He remembered the feeling of loss and hopelessness, rising unbidden when he first learned of her death and the communal sense of funerary anguish which gripped him for a moment but it was only fleeting. Now is it done and taken care of. His hands were tired his feet ached from work but he would not have to go back – not for now. He would be reborn soon now. Any day.

That last day, he achieves nirvana. Standing amongst the labyrinthine stacks, knowing that it will end and that he will pass from this place and be forgotten is not so horrible. He has left no identifying mark except the scribble of letters and numbers on boxes soon to be recycled and his handwriting is not so different from anyone else’s as to be truly distinguishable.

There, scrawling across the boxes he has a revelation and yet no sooner is it grasped than the bell chimes and he staggers outside into the heady thickness of the southern summer. Time to go. Jacob Foster has no desire to be bound by the past.

His tired hands fumbled for a cigarette and he realized he needed plans.

 

Two weeks in Eric’s house and he begins to feel unwelcome. He has never been good at asking for things. Even as a child. With a shaking hand he dials Rajiv Sansotta’s phone number. Just fucking ask.

 

-Fire, Jacob Foster intones with the mock power of ritual or BBC documentary, man’s greatest invention since God. The cigarette in Rajiv’s hand blossoms into life.

-Thanks for coming. He barely knew Rajiv Sansotta back then. Everything had a veneer of unfamiliarity, of possibility. They shared a bottle of whiskey in the twilight shadow, the boat rocking slightly beneath them. The slosh-crash of water is the only noise.

-Thanks for having me.

-Hey it gets boring out here if you don’t have someone to drink with, I think. Don’t worry about it. Sorry to hear about your grandmother. Were you close?

Jacob Foster does not recall his answer. He does not really recall the boat, which Rajiv’s father sold the following year in favor of a newer, shinier boat. Time spent with Rajiv Sansotta is a blur, a drunken whirlwind, never boring, never sane. He cannot recall so much of it, this best time of his life. Strange, that fact.

 

 

Proof

Proof

There was something here a minute ago,
now it is gone, just as easily as dropping the filter
of a cigarette onto a footpath.

Shamefully, it deserved its fate too,
some ungainly island bird unequipped
to handle plague rats and dogs and agriculture.

I didn’t leave any proof or evidence
I cleaned up the shell casings from my delete key
and scrubbed the paper with bleach.

I’m kidding, I’ll always have the words I erased,
I didn’t destroy them, but kept them as proof
that this didn’t spring out fully formed, but

when it was all over, feeling self-referential
I dressed up a little mannequin to stand where it
should have been, and set it to greet the customers.

Sponsored by your local pest control service

Sponsored by your local pest control service

The papered daub of wasps, it clings to trees
in layered latticework, a veil to hide
uncountable barbs, all buzzing and unified
behind unconscious urges, quite like disease.
If yoked together with a common drive
they might build cities, soaring edifice
with their mouth-pulped mindless artifice
A commune, bound to consume all alive.

But we can kill this mindless foe with ease,
Despite their grand accomplishments and plan
wasps die simply beneath chemical breeze
Despite their commune concord, one human
can press their thumb against a switch. And so

end all their little artificial dreams.

Jacob Foster (3)

The Siene beneath them was bracketed by an artificial valley of buildings, every conceivable shade of tan. The language all around them was unfamiliar and strange. Caught in the ebb and flow of tourism they moved from place to place with the ubiquitous crowds of camera wielding people no different from them. The first day was a whirlwind of luggage and metro stations with unfamiliar names. He could, with effort, draw upon a single solid memory: their hotel in the 4th arrondissement, pressed on all sides by buildings clotted in history.

 Even if it all becomes a blur, they will keep it safe in photographs. They point the cameras back at themselves, creating the proof they crave. Jacob Foster and Rajiv Sansotta have escaped. Together they have broken the shackles of the mundane. Jacob is grinning like a madman. The child playing soldier in the backwoods, running through the overgrown gardens amongst the blue bottle trees – he would never have imagined himself in gay Paree. It was a miracle. For a glistening moment, looking down the expanse of the greycapped river, hearing the cascade of voices and the rush of traffic, he felt free. All of history lay behind him and finally he had achieved that thing he had always longed for.

The city was beautiful and novel. And while Jacob Foster did not think himself an idiot, while he knew that this all was cliché, trite almost… while most importantly it had been done before… what mattered was that it had not been done by him. Maybe Jacob Foster could find himself here. In Paris.

Maybe it wasn’t too late.

 

The next morning the two wandered without plans, stopping when hunger or vague curiosity compelled them. They walked for hours along the riverbank. For the fog, they could not see the Eiffel Tower. Rajiv made a note of it every time they snapped a picture. They walked in silence through the Norte Dame.

-It’s a little better than the Basilica of the Assumption, I’ll give it that.

-A little. One assumes. Raja smirked. You know they still have services here?

-Well, yeah, it’s a church.

-Still odd. You’d think that places this old, they wouldn’t need to use. I mean I feel like they could keep it to look at but they’d have figured out something better to replace it.

-Like an iChurch or something?

-What?

-Nevermind.

Emerging into daylight, Jacob Foster stared out, blinking, into the unfamiliar world. He could not help but feel provincial, self conscious of his voice when he had to ask for directions that one time in the shopping district. Seven days and they will barely see a fraction of a fraction of it all. It will all slip away. It already is. Streetnames he grasped only for a minute are out of his head. Their names are unfamiliar on his tongue. Rue Mazarine. Qaui de la Tournelle. Boulevard St. Germain. Even Raja stumbles on them, flushed with embarrassment.

-Not so loud, Jacob teases. They’ll figure us out. They’ll know.

-Know what?

-Know we’re tourists. And then they’ll never stop trying to scam us. Have you noticed that they only come up to us when they hear us speaking English?

-Everyone here is a tourist, Jake. We’re waving around cameraphones and your shirt is a very American style of hipster. Neither of us speak a word of French. I think they just maybe can tell. But don’t worry. I know where we’re going. I have the map.

-Can I see the map?

-I’ve got this, man.

-Let me.

-We’ll I don’t see… Oh god you really don’t trust me? That’s hurtful. I’m hurt. Give it back.

 

They orient themselves along the Champs-Élysées for a lack of anything better to pick. It is straight and the triumphal arch is at the end, and the glass pyramid of the Louve at the other. It reminds Jacob of the National Aquarium, back home. Except they are the exhibit. Tomorrow they will wander wide eyed through the statues. Moorish swords and Ottoman rugs. Long dead faces of Egyptian kings.

 

They walked among endless rows of paintings. The Louve is a maze of culture. Rajiv is stunned into uncustomary silence.

-Well that was a museum.

-It was. Nice one though. They have the same thing stateside, don’t they though, don’t they? Museums, art. Jacob Foster could not help but feel a bit disappointed.

-What’s next on the itinerary? The Marquis de Sade exhibit?

-That’s not at this one. We’ll do that Thursday.

-I thought it was. Dammit.

 

Atop the Sacré-Cœur they paused for a cigarette, Jacob leaning against the balcony, Rajiv pacing idly. The city should have stretched out before them, but the grey expanse of clouds concealed any view. But if Jake turned around, he could see the Basilica. Another beautiful building. This place was clotted with them. After a while you became desensitized.

Raja handed him a cigarette and Jake leaned forward so his friend could light it. It was cooler here than he expected.

-Photo? Jacob pulled his smart phone out of his pocket. This would be a good one. One worth the remembering. Not like the one they took of the Eiffel, while jostling through crowds and gaping at the steel monstrosity.

-Sure. Raja stubbed out his cigarette and let it fall. I like it up here, Jake. Fewer gypsies trying to sell you things.

-I don’t know if they’re gypsies.

-You’re right. One shouldn’t make assumptions. Especially when it comes to gypsies. They’re the worst but if you start assuming you know how they’re going to scam you, that’s when they hit you with the long con. I saw this tv show about it. Trust me.

-Ah right. The classic long con.

-Yeah. Its like a normal con… but it takes long…er.

-Want to go in? Jake laughed.

-But of course.

The next day, after seeing what was, in Rajiv Sansotta’s expert opinion, the best the Marquis de Sade exhibit had to offer – an enormous fish tonguing a naked woman in ecstasy – they found dinner at a little cafe, one of the better ones they’d stopped in. They drank overpriced wine and ate equally overpriced food, and Jacob Foster could feel the euphoria of the past few days slipping away. From their seats outside, they watched the crowds and Jacob found himself inventing stories about each one.

That man, with the tight-fitting peacoat – maybe he was an Irishman, on business in Paris. Maybe he worked for Google. Dublin had the European corporate office for Google. Jake knew that because he had seen it when searching for jobs. Secretly, the man in the peacoat was having an affair. He was never content.

That woman, in the dress and scarf, let’s say she was French. She was very self-conscious about the poetry she wrote in her spare time, and would never share it with the world. Her lesbian lover was from Algeria, and together they ran a charity which secretly helped Russian spies get into the country. Plausible? Probably not.

That child would never remember his vacation to Paris. He was way too little. But he’d have the photos, and like Rajiv he would always get to wave them around and prove that his life had always been interesting.

It was the interesting one beside him who like always dragged him from his daydreams.

 

-This is it, Jake. Escape. Maybe now you can stop bugging me about rent? I told you I earn my keep.

-Really? Jacob Foster asks, whirling around. Rajiv’s face was half-hidden in shadow, and unreadable besides. Is now the time?

-You’re right you’re right. Sorry man. Hey, what do you want to do tomorrow. In the afternoon I figured we’d…

That man… hmm… he’s an accountant for a major firm. Secretly, he moonlights as a male stripper. He is very good at both of these jobs. Shockingly so. Is it that hard to believe? He has the right build for it, but a certain intellectual air to him.

-Hello? Are you even,  listening to me?

-Not really. I was inventing, er, backstories for the people. Jacob confessed, smoothing back his hair, fiddling with his shirtcollar.

-Oh. I understand. Planning these sorts of things is always so boring. But it’s worth it, isn’t it? Seeing the world. Maybe when I go back to school, I’ll look into studying some place in Europe. Maybe you could come too. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

 

It becomes hard to remember it all. Sitting in the hotel, feeling more than a little buzzed. The metro is a whirlwind of light and dark, apparitions and lights. They sip beers out of Raja’s backpack. Whole worlds glide past in dingy shadow.

Like everything else, Jacob will forget. It won’t be real after he gets on that next plane. Just a feverish dream. A drug that only works for a little while and leaves you wanting more. But how long will there be any more? If Jacob is honest with himself, he can realize he is nothing more than a passing object of interest to Raja. And one day Sansotta, like he always does, will vanish back into whatever alternate life he decides is the most welcome relief from boredom. It’s happened before. Jacob has been burned before.

Raja will leave again, in all likelyhood. He can see the whole timeline stretching out before him. He can see the warning signs. The flakiness of the past few weeks, the sudden desire to go to Paris. Rajiv will betray him again as he always does. Sure, Jacob knows how he can postpone that inevitable fact – not bugging Raja about the rent would be a good start. Not complaining about how Raja took the bigger room in their apartment. Letting him smoke inside. But it won’t last, and when it doesn’t, Jacob Foster knows he won’t even be angry.

Sure, he will for a time. He’ll be bitter, and he’ll spend more time with his coworkers, or Andrea. He’ll meet new people, even though he has no idea how to do that in the dying city he calls his home. But he’ll forget. He’ll meet up with Raja again, after a few years, just like last time.

He won’t want to be bound by the past, after all. And Raja knows that about his friend just as Jake knows that about himself. Jacob Foster will always be addicted to the narcotic of escape that Raja can provide.

 

Jacob Foster sat in the hotel room, finished off another beer, tossed it into the trashcan by his bedside, and lit a cigarette, staring out the window. The view was blind, just like in his apartment. The Parisian skyline was obscured by the adjacent building, giving them a view of ivysprawling plaster and red-framed windows.

-Have a good last day?

-The club was fun. Really, um… intense. Fun. That fucking cab though – I always forget how much the exchange rate is a bitch.

-Don’t worry about it. I’ll cover it. I’ll get you back, um. Here. A shuffling of feet. Rajiv stuffed a crumpled fifty euro note into Jacob’s hand. Cigarette cocked in mouth, Jacob smoothed it off, folded it into his own wallet. Checked his phone on the hotel wifi. Ashed the cigarette into the beer can. He felt unaccountably tense and stiff, in spite of six beers, four jaegerbombs and a glass of red wine. No, no, seven beers. Still not at all drunk. Must be the caffeine. Feet sore from dancing.

He does not thank Rajiv for the bill. The next morning they bid goodbye to Paris, winding through the northern part of the city, a sprawl of industry. A woman plays guitar on the train, begs for money while the occupants stare forward pointedly.

At Charles de Gaulle they stumble blearily through lines. It is curious how actions repeated, locations revisited all pass in a blur. They might have spent a lifetime in Paris, the city prolonging their visit with novelties. Their second trip through the airport is a mirage and it is done before it is even realized.

Soon they are in the clouds.

This is not a closing argument

This is not a closing argument, (but I do want you to know why) 

In my own defense, I must cite precedent. “Tu ne peux pas arrêter le monde, Anselm;” my father always said. He was a stern man, the kind to smoke a pipe and scowl down its stained wood length. “Ne gaspilles pas ta vie.” He worked fields until the day he died and after university I never saw him, even when some tumor rotted out his tar-caked lungs. But I digress, your honor. Let me elaborate. My client, your tyrant, is not innocent. See him there upon the bench and how he sits with his face a mask of tasteless disregard. He would affect that truth does not concern him, nor the conscience of the world. But I know him more intimately than that: red was his favorite color, and he fed pomegranate seeds to his mistress, and she would pop them with a burst of flavored blood. Sanguine and sweet, I think he said, his face cut to a rare grin. I shuddered then, to think of it. There was no aesthetic to that grin. But then again, neither is there any in your honor’s spectacle, this ugly show of clumsy righteousness. Excuse me that insult, your honor, I am tired, I must confess. If I may approach the bench, you will see the bags beneath my eyes. My hands still shake with stress. I do not sleep. Thanks to the unceasing prosecution, I have seen the horrors that I defend with complicity, the red dirt heaped over mass graves. And I know, oh I know so well that the specter of death does not ever hide what hate lies in the eyes of partisans. I see it in life’s courtroom still. I knew what must be done but yet it was my task to weave empty tapestries of rhetoric and make the morality of this prosecution stop. Oh mon père I would make it stop. And it terrifies me but in an impossible heartbeat across so many of those long and trying days I would jettison the baggage of reality if I could, and see this sickening man instead as something governable, something within  the frame of our understanding. And perhaps forgiving him the show could continue, and a real trial could make sense. I do not forgive, of course. And regardless I must carry on the trial, against the world. The other day, in the marketplace some boy of the Resistance (Popular Front) raised his rifle, and bullets rained against bulletproof glass and carbon-fiber vests. As he died he screamed his hate for the world to hear, for cameras to capture. Even in the West they echo his sentiment – all who value justice want to see me suffer too. And yet the façade of some blind woman and her laden scales staggered onwards and I am consumed by a vision of his teeth scattered across the dusted street against the response of my bodyguards. A last causality of some dirty war I never saw on CNN until the day I got my client’s call and for nothing. And even if you, your honor, do not question the morality of my fucked defense then there is still nothing beneath it but a casual crocodile-smiling disregard for life. He didn’t match the price of children with the price of gems and palaces, of boxing-matches and racing-horses. And neither will you. So should that help? The world sits fat, satiated still, and so impossibly distant and yet still I feel blue eyes that bear displeasure on the opposite side of every western plasma screen. All this while, I cannot rest my father’s case.

“You cannot stop the world, Anselm; don’t waste your life.”

Hush

Hush

Hush little baby don’t say a word,
mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird
and if that mockingbird don’t sing
well, I suppose I’m going to have some words with it
you see, mama is paying good money for that bird
and if it doesn’t want to sing, then it can most certainly be replaced
with diamond rings or any other frivolous thing.
and if the union of federated songbirds gives me trouble
for laying it off without due cause
then I’m going to have to contact my lawyers.
Hopefully we can settle this out of court.
But if my lawyers don’t provide a settlement to my liking
Well, I can slander the songbird; dredge up evidence of its extramarital affairs
And frankly, aren’t mockingbirds a bit old fashioned?
We have a new line of hawks coming out this Tuesday.
I’ll take you to the grand opening with me.
There will be lots of people to talk to! I promise.
You will like that, won’t you? Fine.
Will you go to sleep now?

Jacob Foster (cont.)

 Jacob Foster (Part 2) 

At work he spends his time alternating between checking airline prices and debugging code. The dimly lit office screens backlight his closed eyes. If his workweek had a soundtrack it was the sound of petty office gossip and the noxious novelty ringtone of Jared in accounting. Jared sometimes checks on him, invading the silent sanctity of his cubicle, and once or twice they’ve gone for drinks. They probably will do so again.

Next friday came and went without a hangover, the week a sleepwalking blur of forms and code. Raja was out of town, the world silent for his curious absence. He left an “experimental” curry in the fridge with a note for Jake, and for once his squatter roommate earned his keep. The prophet of aimlessness was already out for the evening.

It would transpire that the experimental curry was delicious. Raja had always enjoyed cooking Italian and Indian, and sometimes he put on the pretension he learned from family, but Jacob knew the truth – he didn’t learn how to cook any of his signature meals until college, and only then from the internet. This fraud had never particularly bothered him until today, coupled with his roommate’s absence. He’d assumed they were going out, and had never thought to check. Pacing the apartment, he tried to recover from the unexpected blow.

-Why does that fucking bother me? He asked lowly of the audient walls, noting a long slow drip of water from one corner. He’d have to call about that. Tomorrow maybe. Or the day after. Office hours. The crushing poverty of the young white urban professional was more spiritual, more intellectual than anything else, even if they could use some extra money for beer. Imagine the future. They are begging in droves for wifi bandwidth outside the shelter. However much they get they will still hunger.

Jacob ate dinner and then stepped outside, searching for stars but seeing only the uniform clouds, the color of his ashed cigarette. There is nothing to do but watch television or surf the internet until tiredness claims him. A beer maybe, to help make liquid of his endless worries. Tomorrow maybe will be another day. And then in a moment he sees the future and recoils from it, a hiker ascending one ridgeline only to see another, even higher ridge ahead. A life is laid out before him each day no different than the last. See it all pass by and wonder what happened.

And yet his roommate for once held open a door. Imagine Rajiv Sansotta providing a solution. Europe beckons, the dream of exploring the world, he and Raja exporting their particular brand of insanity to its far corners. This would be fun. It would be an act of justified violence against the monotony of routine.

 

He did not know quite what prompted him to see Andrea the next morning. The change of pace would be nice, maybe.

It was not a long walk, thirty minutes past the still sleeping harbor, the restaurants still empty, the trash-strewn water the same as it ever was. Jacob tracked with blinking and hungover eyes the skylines, comparing them to his childhood notions of urbanity. They always felt lacking somehow, the edifice of his city more beautiful at a distance than amongst the teeming crowds. He waited for the light to change and he crossed Lombard Street.

Somehow, as a child, sitting by the gurgling creek out back, throwing stones into the water, the city had seemed thrilling. How could one be alone in a place with so many people? Even the glass buildings had then held a haunting beauty and standing on top of them as he surely would, he could hold a sensation of pride and achievement unlike any other. But that was an absurd childish notion. Jacob Foster walks the streets of the city as an island, surrounded by frozen tidal waves of steel and glass. He does meet the eyes of the faces coming out of the morning drizzle.

He could drive, but he begrudges this city its parking fees. The silence though, perhaps it provides a little too much time for reflection. Strange though. The city isn’t silent and yet it can be so quiet in its waterfall noise silence.

Andrea’s house. On arrival, as ever, he prepared himself for another of the great bullshittings, as Raja always called them, back in college. He had an expression between a laugh and something else when he said it, that thing Jacob Foster would come to associate with his charisma.

Andrea Rodriguez created beautiful things, and sometimes she sold them, to dentist offices and grown up versions of Rajiv. But with these things came the ceremonial preludes, alternating between excuses and justifications. Such was life in the presence of someone like her.

 

-Want to see what I did? You probably already know how this is gonna go.

Jacob Foster stubbed out a cigarette with a wry smile. He found himself smoking around her more often these days. Careful, or you could make that a habit. Not that I don’t come here half for the crazy lectures.

-So, Jacob, here’s the thing. Art is becoming degraded by a culture that um… has you know, forgotten itself. The mass consumption and technological… um. Reproducibility of media has made everything into something good if you just put your fucking feelings, your experiences into it. But we know that’s not what makes the greatest works. Detachment. Retreat. Those are what we need more of. The big picture… you can only see it when you’ve, eh, removed yourself. People’s personal fears and aspirations they make shit art because they’re too tied to the times to become timeless. That’s why I made this latest thing. Come and see. I like it. Maybe a bit too much.

 

It was a swirl of a swirl, an indescribable gouache. A heron looked out onto a sunless sea illuminated perhaps by the water, and perhaps by nothing entirely. You could lose yourself in the patterns, they way they drew together. The bird seemed to be melting or perhaps dissolving in stagnant lakewater. An allegory lurked in the shiftless edges.

 

-I’m worried, uh, Jake. She confessed, laying a hand on his. He looked at the gloss polished patterns in her nails briefly. I’m worried that this is the peak. She pointed at the heron. What if this is the best thing I ever make?

He paused, sliding his hand off the table, scratching his chin. The boy who has never fled far enough wants, unaccountably, to stand and flee again. He is thinking of Paris, and Rajiv’s widesmiling face when he will buy the tickets.

-You’ll make something better. We can’t peak so young, right? There’s got to be more.

-Why not? Art doesn’t work at your- convenience. Neither does life. The artist eh, dies young and everyone gets real fucking sad cause we all know their best work would have been ahead of them. Or they don’t and we all wish they did cause they only made shit afterwards.

-You’re afraid of being the last one?

-Yeah, but also of dying.

-Who isn’t? Jacob snorts.

They sipped cigarette smoke on the balcony of her apartment, passing it back and forth. They could stare out across the muddled brown brick of rowhouses together and the cloud-draped sky and the sewergrey harbor. In the distance the factories and dockyards of Canton loom through the haze.

-Don’t worry.

-Huh?

-Its not just you Jake. The view is… objectively terrible. Used to be worse though. You um… acclimate to it over time. Maybe? Depends on the personality, I guess.

Jacob nodded, took back the cigarette. As he inhaled, he thought of college, of bumming cigarettes off Raja outside parties, of dreaming about the future. In some ways, he had to consider how little had changed since all then. From college they had slid seamlessly into their lives now. Almost accidentally.

-Have you eaten yet?

-Nah, you?

Head shaking, Jacob grins, in imitation of Rajiv. Let’s get out of here.

 

Rajiv Sansotta was waiting for them at Jacob’s apartment. He emerged from his bedroom, negotiating the complex ritual of smoking while shrugging on a new button down over his tanned skin. He smoothed back his hair with a gesture approximating unease. Cigarette cocked in his mouth he finished his routine hastily.

-Oh, Andrea! He said, his smile implausibly white. What a surprise.

-Hey how’ve you been? Keeping out of trouble?

-I suppose.

-Where were you? Jake asked, frowning.

-Out. Paul and his cousin came by. You know Paul’s cousin? A knowing glance.

-Oh yeah. She was fine. That was what everyone said, anyways. He was struggling to remember the exact details. A few hazy nights a few hazy years ago. These people all tended to blend together. Leave it to Raja to keep track, or at least pretend to.

Andrea and Raja caught up briefly while Jake searched the fridge for beers yet undrunk. Andrea  motioned to a cigarette. May I? Common courtesy was refreshing, Jacob thought.

-The damage has already been done, I suppose.

-Don’t worry though Jake, I’ll run down to the ATM and then the beer store. For tonight. Fells after?

-Fells sounds good, Raja. Andrea?

Andrea shrugged. Convenient for me, its where I live. Don’t envy youse guys paying the fare.

-Its not so bad.

 

Andrea returns from the bar with two coronas with lime slid through the mouth. Jake finishes his with practiced ease while she sips and they dance at first nervously and then with growing familiarity. Raja has rendezvoused with an acquaintance of his and they are chatting above the thunderous din of the club’s music. There is a pit of some kind in Jacob Foster’s stomach as he watches his friend.

He turns back to Andrea.

-We really should have met back up sooner. She has to nearly shout, even with her mouth close against his ear.

He nodded, half in time to the music. Yeah we should have. A man with all the coordinated grace and subtle elegance of a sweat-stained elephant shouldered past him and Jacob swore the man has left some sort of grease stain on his shirt just through passing contact. He twists away in revulsion. Tries to make it look like a coordinated move. Fails. Tries anyways. Everywhere there is something to remind him of this world he hates.

They are dancing still. Jacob fetches the next round, cans this time. Cold in his hand, in spite of the cloying humidity of the dancefloor. Too pricey. We should get more plastered at our houses next time, Raja.

-What?

-Nevermind.

-Huh?

-Neverfuckingmind.

Raja brightsmiling laughs, slaps him on the back, whirls back into whatever shadow and noise and color he has come from. He is gone amongst the crowd and in his place there is energetic movement and frenetic pace and all is spinning dancing blurring together the lines of light fragment and reform and he cannot keep the pace he cannot dance but his limbs his hips they sway with the music and the intoxication the wet looseness of his muscles ah this is the life. Jacob Foster has always loathed himself. Carless. Motion distracts him.

Turn back to Andrea now – she is incredibly close to him, and her lips brush against his – unexpected. He half pulls away. The club is a blur, and he feels a sudden compulsion to run.

-Cigarette?

-Yeah, it’s about that time. I think.

They stumble out into the goldorange lit street, past the bouncer and looking out into the harbor they light their cigarettes and smoke. Escape from the noise and crowd was a blessed reprieve. Everything settles. She wraps her arm around him as they stumble the step. Cobblestone strikes feet. He rises, brushes his pantleg cursing. She smiles. Watch yourself Jake. There is some intent lurking behind her eyes and there is something he wants to say to her.

There was no chance to think in there. None at all. Everything was just a drunken blur and a money sink. Fucking hell. What was Andrea saying? He tried to focus on her, and realized she wrapped her arms around him. His ears were ringing.

-Want to… um… get out of here? He thought she asked. Unexpected. Confusion. Say what should he say? He said nothing but at that moment Raja stumbled into the street. His eyes were alight with glassysmashed recognition upon seeing Jake.

-Foster my man. Paris. Let’s fuckin’ go. Right now. Right here. Andiamo motherfucker.

 

In that moment he could see his life stretching out before him, leading away from the child in the backwoods and onwards and onwards more of the same. He couldn’t forsee any escape. The only reason that was not a source of utter terror because he still had time. A drowning man he might have been but he could tread water for a long time. But time and strength had this way of slipping away, dying and being forgotten like another weekend with Rajiv. One day he could wake up a decade later still in the same little apartment with the same friends in the same city. Paris is his only hope left.

 

-What? Andrea said, and Jacob Foster stumbled away from her, helping his friend to stand.

Shit.  Um I gotta help him. Ya know. Lets get you home, Raja.

-Well, stay in touch Jake. She smiled again, kissed his cheek, turned to leave. He watched her for moments and then the tide of the crowd pressed in and he turned to leave, lifting Rajiv Sansotta and pressing his cell phone to his ear.

 

Jacob Foster won’t stay in touch.  The next day he and Raja will sit down. They will plan their flights and their itinerary, find a shortlist of hotels. Andrea will text him. He will forget to reply. That Monday, he will ask his boss for time off.

 

Escape will become a certainty.