I watched you crawl into bed last night (the way you fold your feet under the blanket would be cute if you weren’t so human). You rolled to your side as you always do with a hand tucked under your pillow and sighed. Your breathing slowed as you lay and let your mind wander, explicit fantasies, mostly, and after ten minutes or so you drifted to sleep. And I watched you dream.
There’s a sadistic element to the power I have over you, I admit it. I let my fingertips stroke your hair, just so ever gently that you would not feel it. A little extra pressure, a little flick and I’d have you up all night fitfully staring into the dark, wondering why you felt such apprehension. Yet, in the back of your mind, knowing exactly why.
I know you. I know what you are and what you’ve done.
I have followed you to work. I have surveilled your movements. I have listened to your whispered conversations and read your emails and texts; seen you when no one has. I know where you’ve gone and what you’ve done there and who you’ve done it with. Or done it to. I’ve listened to the way you talk to people. I know how you tip. I know what you buy. I know your favorite toothpaste and deodorant and shampoo. I’ve inventoried the contents of your refrigerator and your pantry. I’ve seen what you’ve hidden in the corners of your garage. I know how much you drink and what drugs you take. I know how you’ve organized your wardrobe and your clothes drawers and which underwear is your favorite for those occasion you may be revealing such, and I am watching as you do, just as I am watching when you slide the soap across your body when you shower. And I may come at you with any of it, any time I want.
I’ve given up just enough that you sense that I am there, even if you don’t quite know that I am there or what to do about it. Every move you make just gives me more power, so every move you make brings even more anxiety. You are consumed by an ever-increasing feeling of having no control over your life, and, indeed, you don’t. I hold all the control. You can’t tell anybody; certainly can’t confide in anybody. No counselor can help you. No agent of God can save you. You can’t call the police because it would only lead them to … you.
Tonight … tonight I let you dream. But you will never be rid of me because you can never be rid of yourself.
Jacques LaRocque, nickname Jockey Rocky, left fielder for the Providence Phantoms of the Northeastern League of Major League Baseball and last year’s recipient of the Most Valuable Player award, is about to commit murder.
LaRocque was drafted in the first round by the Phantoms out of the University of Arkansas, where he broke every standing NCAA batting record, and had subsequently won every batting and home run title in his three years in the Majors. He’s a big young man, lean and strong, supremely confident in his abilities and arrogantly so. But the Phantoms have never, since coming into the league in 1887, won a World Series title. In all that time the Phantoms have only appeared in three series, not counting this one.
In this, the seventh game against the mighty Stockton Condors who were heavily favored to win, LaRocque had tallied five RBI’s, including a one-run homer in the top-of-the-ninth to give the Phantoms an 8-6 lead. The Stockton home crowd groaned in anxious disbelief as the second out in the bottom of the ninth was recorded, reducing the Condors to a single remaining out. LaRocque’s body was taught in anticipation and he could feel his brain tingling and bubbling like champaign. He knew he would become a World Champion.
Then the Condor’s number seven hitter fouled the ball off six times and eventually drew a walk, and the number eight hitter was nicked by a pitch at the thigh on a 3-1 count to put two men on with two out, and the number nine hitter, the left handed, great fielding but light hitting second baseman Carmelo Pizarro coming to the plate. There was a palatable shift in the Earth’s polarity, the moans of the crowd transposed into electric shrieks of 45,000-plus standing room human beings deliberately trying to scream themselves hoarse. Only problem being that Pizarro had only one scratch single in the entire series and had never had one against the Phantoms reliever currently on the mound. LaRocque salivated in anticipation.
It could be that the murder was ordered by the Phantoms’ manager who did not pull LaRocque, not known for his defensive prowess, for a defensive replacement. But the manager felt Jockey Rocky deserved to be on the field at the end. Or it could be the word came from the bench coach, who ordered the players on the field into an extreme right-side shift, because the left-handed Pizarro hit the ball in that direction every time. That shift meant LaRocque was positioned so far to the right he was almost in center field, with a huge amount of ground uncovered in left field. Or the guilty party could be the pitcher, who on the first pitch tossed Pizzaro what was supposed to be a hard breaking slider that would start inside then break over the right corner of the plate, but instead started belt-high in the middle of the plate and broke only a little towards the outside, which Pizzaro, having already choked up, sliced into left field.
LaRocque was convinced he could get to it and sprang after it. Just a slow little blooper, slicing towards the line with just enough height he could almost feel it landing safely, basket style, into his glove, even though the smart play would be to lay up, let it land and then corral it to hold Pizzaro to a little single and protect a run from scoring. He raced after it, knew, knew with absolute certainty he would get to it, ran faster than he’d ever run in his life, ran so hard his legs felt like they might explode, ran so fast his hat flew off his head, reached his glove out as far he could stretch and dove for the ball now falling in a perfect trajectory into his grasp.
And missed. The ball barely nicked a piece of the glove and went scooting back into the left field corner, all the way to the wall, the deepest part of the field.
The shot went right into the heart of a man named Eddie Malinski, sitting on his couch in front of his TV 2,800 miles away.
LaRocque quickly gathered himself off the ground and chased after the ball, utterly confused by what was happening. The Condors’ baserunners racing like falcons towards home, the ball ricocheting around the left field corner. It took LaRocque three attempts to finally gather it in and heave it towards the cutoff man, who turned to fire it home just as Pizzaro crossed the plate. The Condors were champions on an inside the park home run hit by their least threatening hitter, past the outstretched glove of the Phantoms marquee star, who stood befuddled and disbelieving with his mouth agape as the Condors celebrated around home plate and the crowd convulsed in raucous joy.
Eddie Malinski slumped off the couch to the floor, hand to his chest, eyes unable to look away. He had been a Phantoms fan all his life. When he was in his early teens it looked one year like the Phantoms would finally win it all and Eddie expected them too because, after all, wasn’t it their turn? Wasn’t it his turn? Everybody gets a turn, right? But the Phantoms collapsed down the stretch and Eddie realized that he didn’t get a turn. And the certainty he would never get a turn dogged him, affected his self confidence in everything he did for the rest of his life. A World Series win now, even at this later stage, would have put all that to bed and given him a certain contentment with his life, but no. Just no.
That, however, was only the shot. The bullet came from the person on the couch next to him, his wife of 34 years, who’d been watching absently while reading a gossip magazine, who said, “Oh, for pete’s sake, Eddie, it’s just a stupid game, who cares! Chill out! Besides, everybody knows the Phantoms will never win.”
Every bit of hope still beating in Eddie’s chest died. Rubbed out. Murdered.
The liner was the size of a city block. Massive metal hull cradling a dozen decks packed with 15,000 sweaty, profane troops, propelled by four steam turbines cranking up over 200,000 shaft horsepower which shoved over 80,000 tons through the North Atlantic. A monument of human engineering, and at present, a bobbing, discombobulated child’s toy tossed by the infinite, rampaging dark green ocean under the boiling clouds of its nearly indistinguishable collaborative sky. Most of its 15,000 men on board hurling into their helmets because the ship’s buckets were already full and the toilets were overflowing. It’s crew straining, and usually failing, to discern what in the hell was in front of them, where were the five destroyers that were supposed to be surrounding them, what direction they were even heading. Those five destroyers in even worse shape. If the liner was a toy they were barely peanut shells. No one could stand up without holding on. No one had slept for days. Only two had working radars, and their crews could barely read what they said. One was struggling to catch up to the convoy after what its captain felt was a useless depth charge run yielding nothing.
Two men experienced the scene in serenity.
The first was a newspaper correspondent attached to an infantry unit lying on a top bunk with a sketchpad. In his bags was a portable typewriter and a camera, but he was also an artist. He preferred making drawings when he could. He could capture intent and, he felt, more completely capture the emotions of the men through sketches than photographs because their faces couldn’t hide in shadows; their faces communicating so thoroughly the horrors of war. His seasickness had pretty much settled down, if not completely. He mostly kept his eyes closed, because if his eyes followed his pencil across the page his stomach would begin to roll like the ocean again. He drew from memory, and in his mind he knew he drew the most wonderful images, filled with humor and irony and bitter sadness. Average men sucked into war for a noble cause. A generation of Christ symbols.
The second was a German seaman seated at his post on the bridge of the U-Boat stalking the convoy. Its captain had a glimpse from miles off of the big liner coming right at them before the storm obscured his view and the convoy, unbeknownst to the captain, zigged in a different direction. The captain made assumptions as to the new direction; a correct assumption as it happened, followed then by an incorrect one, followed finally by another correct one, though the U-boat was now badly out of position and had to reveal more of itself than the captain would have preferred to fix that, a tactic which might arguably be considered a mistake.
Three hours earlier the German seaman had been in the narrow bunk into which he rotated with two other equally smelly men, each on a different shift. He clutched a pencil and a notepad in which he was composing the gist of a story he’d hoped might begin to incubate before he went on duty. He was a writer, or at least saw himself as such. He had written long stories about life on a farm not far from the Austrian border and about the disruption wrought, first by economics and then by politics. He wrote passionate odes about friends who had “disappeared” from his small town and then from the ranks of fellow sailors. He was a devout Lutheran, and he imbued his stories with a sense of hope and sacrifice and the inevitability of time eroding human evils the way a stream would eventually correct an offending bend and put itself back on a correct course. He had finished such a story just before they sailed and placed in in the hands of a friend he knew was going on leave and would deliver it home. He was immensely satisfied, even content, with what he had written. He knew if anything happened to him at such a young age he had still contributed something to make the world a better place.
He wondered, as he watched his captain groping for a correct course, if it was always like that in times of human delusion. If small human beings, like drops of water in the stream, gradually effected course corrections away from tyranny. If there were entire generations of Christ symbols. And he was still serenely contemplating this in the split second between the depth charge from the oblivious destroyer cracking the U-boat’s hull and the explosion of the icy ocean that engulfed him in darkness.
The well rehearsed and coordinated schedule called for entering the gallery at twenty minutes past the hour. He wore a fedora he’d not worn before, and glasses he didn’t need, and a beard he’d learned how to put on in a theater class.
“We close in ten minutes,” the guard at the door told him as he passed through the metal detector which failed to expose the plastic handgun jammed in his pants; that detail had also been previously tested.
“Just need one quick thing at the gift shop,” he smiled broadly.
“Fine, hurry,” the guard told him, not really looking at him because his attention was on people leaving.
He turned at the bright hallway towards the giftshop and, instead, entered the bathroom. Hidden in a stall, he removed the hat, glasses, beard, reversed his reversible jacket to the black side, put on his gloves, ski mask, removed a small roll of duct tape and his gun. Ran out, down the other way towards the room set aside for special exhibits, rounded that corner, and held his gun five feet in front of another guard’s face. “Down,” he ordered, stern, but not too loud. The guard’s mind had been on a date he had that night with a mail carrier purported to be easy; he held his hands up and did exactly what he was told, face down on the ground, not noticing that the gun, designed to shoot plastic darts with little suction cups at the ends, had been purchased at Walmart and painted to resemble the real thing. The thief quicky pulled the guard’s hands behind his back, bound them with a zip tie and stretched a piece of duct tape over his mouth. “You move and I’ll blow your brains out,” he lied to him. By then he’d heard gasps from the exhibits room. “Down,” he told the few patrons still there, and except for a nerd sitting on a bench across from the Warhol he wanted, everybody did. The Warhol was the reason for the special exhibit. Crossing quickly to it he took a razor knife from his pocket and in a few rapid strokes he’d removed it from its restraints, rolled it up as he moved back towards the entry, noticed the nerdy guy still sitting on the bench, watching, stepped over the bound and silent guard, out and down the hallway towards an emergency exit. Wait, was the nerdy guy smirking at him? No time to think about that. Pushing through the exit, alarms sounded but he was through and into the waiting car, stolen just a few minutes before. His partner hit the gas; in five minutes they’d be in the alley where the second hidden car was waiting, twenty minutes after that at the farmhouse where a third car waited in the barn. In less than an hour he would unroll the Warhol to his Organization’s bosses, safely waiting in their townhouse, only a few blocks from the gallery itself. He would be paid handsomely, encouraged to stay in his apartment for a week and then to leave town for a while. And reminded of the consequences of opening his mouth.
The nerd sitting at the gallery tried to wipe the smirk off his face; people were in shock. Frivolity would not do. He looked back to the missing Warhol. The Warhol he knew was a fake. Knew it because he’d created it and substituted it two nights before.
I sees clear as day what new life awaits should I climb to it. Sees it, do I, on my knees with the holystone upon the deck, scrubbing as I have each day since the press gang found me toper and tosses me on board. Standin’ out to sea was we before the score of us pressed gained our wits and the first lieutenant in his tricorn hat looks down his crooked nose at us and rates us landsmen, lubbers all, sentenced to the din of the lower decks. “See if ye can make yeselves more ‘n fodder for Boney’s guns,” says he.
Sick for most of those first days until my sea legs came to me, and still in despair for the loss of my former life on land, I was befriended by an able seamen who began patiently teaching me the ship’s ways, pickin’ oakum first, then caulkin’ and payin’. As he was an experienced topman he began teaching me about the rigging and showed me how to manage the ratlines, at first hardly as high as the top platforms, which even that seemed stretched near to heaven. “You’ll find this fits ye fine, what but you’re a wisp of a young man and with but strengthening those arms a might you’ll pull yourself up and around with ease”, he told me.
As time passed I found myself growing accustomed, even likin’, my cozy surroundin’s and my mates, the merry nightly song and dance what followed the rum ration, the movement of the deck both gentle and hazard, the fresh morning breeze and sunshine accompanying the daily holystoning which kept the decks white and clean. I watched the topmen climb the rigging as if born to it, into the tops and crosstrees, and felt a longing to know the joy of their freedom. My teacher helped me grow comfortable with the heights; taught me to balance me weight and pull myself from line to line and up the futtock shrouds, forwards and backwards, slow and careful at first as a fall could prove fatal. He showed me the clewlines and the beginnings of how to furl the fore course.
The holystoning finished, the day so perfect with a light breeze and bright airs, no new task yet given, I sees a chance to reach for something higher than a lubbers berth. I resolved to take hold of that chance and jumped to the fore stays and then to the futtock shrouds, my mind fixed on the light clouds I see floating as like angels above. Past the top platform to the fore topsail, higher and higher to the cross-trees, my heart beating wild and excited like a newborn foal. Below me I hears exited cheers and exaltations and I feel a surge of pride and determination. I hang backwards instead of using the lubbers’ hole and the cheers grow louder, then I’m up to the fore topgallant and finally up standing upon the fore royal, the ship a tiny thing far below, surrounded by endless grey sea. I feels my chest pounding triumphantly and the wind, much stronger up here, embrace me almost as though I am part of the blue sky itself. I realize the toper the press gang found lying in the gutter that once was I has grown to become a new man; a creature of greater being that I ever imagined I could be.
“Didn’t I says,” I heard from just below and realized my teacher was climbing to join me, “Didn’t I says ye had it in ye.” We stood there together on the fore royal with grins as wide as the sky, feeling the great roll of the frigate and exalting in the feeling of conquering heroes.
When then did my teacher’s smile vanish and his eyes grew wide as if perceiving a devil on the wind. With his free hand he pointed towards the horizon rushing to meet us. I followed his gaze and there just breaching the horizon had appeared a tiny smudge, portent like a grey cloud. “Sail!” my teacher shouted to the decks beneath, “On the larboard tack!”
The car radio was tuned to a station playing Rock ‘n Roll ‘standards’, familiar tunes that had ‘made it’, that anybody, more or less, could sing along with. Nothing too hard, too edgy, too old or certainly not too new. Memories straining from the car’s two small speakers in the dash, pushed at her from the station in the city behind her that was slowly fading as she drove towards the last gold line on the darkening horizon. She drove with her windows half down to compensate the faulty air conditioner, five miles-an-hour below the speed limit to alleviate worry that the old engine might pop at any time. Music, memories, distorted by speakers turned up loud to compete with the road noise generated by the interstate she plodded through.
When the song came it took her a few seconds to recognize it through the din. As she began to understand what she was hearing, as the lyrics seduced her, the world changed. The gold on the horizon became brighter, broader, more luminance. The clatter of the highway faded, seemed to nearly mute and become inconsequential. She was no longer trudging along in an old clunker; she was gliding at high speed in luxury and class. She left behind her parents’ constant arguing and sniping at each other. Her dad’s constant coughing of the disease slowing killing him silenced. She no longer remembered the husband that had divorced her or the shitty job waiting for her or her money issues. The lyrics reminded her of him.
He was unrequited. Decades after they’d met, he’d never left her, but also never quite touched her. Amidst all her boyfriends, her marriage, her jobs, her angst, her awareness of him had always been less than what she now perceived he might have been. Actually, maybe, still was. Submerged in the music and the lyrics she felt an affection from him that had never been sustained from anyone else. Never an affection he’d pushed or pursued; never overt, as though he wanted her to perceive it for herself. She could recognize that now as she stretched towards a dark horizon in traffic, the radio station turning to static.
The artist adjusted the position of his easel, blocking the covered works leaning in the dark shadows against the wall behind it just a bit more, the room illuminated by a single candle, obstensively to guide his hand as he painted. His brush strokes came hurried, careless, nearly chaotic, giving the Madonna an almost devilish appearance. He caught himself, breathed deeply, slowed, went back and corrected mistakes, smoothed the Virgin’s face towards the angelic. All a lie. The painting, a lie. It’s production, a lie, albeit a lie he might later sell. There was a fair market for lies.
A shuffled footstep behind him announced his shrouded visitor. “You are indeed difficult to find, as you said,” the voice came from within the dark hood. The visitor pulled it back to reveal its scared face, eyes focused tightly by years of practiced subterfuge.
“It is a quiet place to work,” the artist replied, his own face creased by the weight of conscious.
“And to hide,” the visitor noted. He looked back to the alley behind him, listening intently for even the slightest hint of human intervention and hearing none.
“I keep a stall near the market,” The artist said, “To sell my works, like this one.”
The visitor stepped forward and examined the painting on the easel, noting its muted tones, its adherence to proper form, subject, perspective, message; suited to any merchant, politician, priest who wanted the world to see his acquiescence. Perfect for any office or hall or chapel frequented by subservience. “And this place for those who have their eyes open.” The visitor noted. The artist looked away shyly, nervously. “Show me,” the visitor commanded.
The artist shifted the easel away from the wall, stepped towards the half dozen works covered there and removed the one second from the back. On lifting its cover the little room seemed to explode in color. The paint itself seemed on fire with vibrancy and saturation, unnatural and at the same time compelling as if it revealed a window to another world. And within its frame startling characters revealed by sharp lines and contrasting shapes whirling together, seeming to writher and writhe in each other’s presence.
None of it, in subservience, at all proper. “This is it,” the visitor said. ‘This is real. This is an idea.”
The visitor reached into his cloak and brought out a small coin purse, which he passed to the artist. The work was covered again and placed into a larger cloth cover which the visitor tied tightly.
“Where will it be seen,” the artist wanted to know.
“Everywhere, and nowhere, my friend,” the visitor told him. “A few minutes here, a half hour there; anyplace an idea can take hold.” Then he stepped closer to the artist and gently kissed him before gathering the bundle under his arm and stepping towards the door. He paused just a moment and said, “I will see you again,” then was gone into the darkness.
The artist moved his easel to again hide the works against the wall. He removed the Madonna painting, so dull and inane in comparison, and placed another canvas, just begun, showing a few strokes of the same luminesce colors already applied to it. “I will remain in the shadows,” he said to himself, “And create light.”
Things moving fast enough for you, yet?
I recently read a quote attributed to Lenin that basically went, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. It must be quoted often lately, because when I hit the Google to get it correct it flew right to the top of the list. For many, 2020 in general has felt this way; too much, too fast. Of course, as I’ve alluded to here before, 2020 was set up by populist lamentations it’s been too much too fast for years.
History happens because people get used to certain things, and then something happens that changes those things. Something in society, or economics, or technology. And then everything shifts, often violently. We have all of that happening at the same time.
Chill, baby. It’s been obvious for some time, and nobody is stoppin’ it, no matter how reactive, luddite, or xenophobic anyone behaves. Cultivate mellow; go with it.
I admit I have difficulty naming florals. And I love naming my works – one of my favorite parts. It’s a way to hint at the subliminal the work is attempting. I’m not sure, in creating florals I’m trying to do anything subliminal – there is no artistic message, it’s just pretty. Probably why I’ve been avoiding them this year only to be seduced by the current series.
OK, there it is – there’s your title: Seduction. Fits well with the work itself, what with the short focal plane producing just a few sharp pedals, like a certain eye contact and a smile reaching through the dimly lit clutter of a crowded bar (I started to say “smoky bar”, but we really don’t do smoky bars anymore, do we?). Further, it’s the whole nature of creating floral works – the idea of creating something that is simply gorgeous is seductive. That would be why I’m constantly drawn back to them, stuck in their orbit, lovestruck.
Hey … just thought of a bunch more titles
* * *
OK, you’ll probably see me write this again, because I’m going to repeat it on various social media. Here’s the deal …
WE DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO THEM
And you know who I’m talking about.
If nothing they say is going to change your or anybody else’s vote anyway, what’s the point of subjecting yourself to the angst? Plus, there’s at least one candidate for whom ignoring him will hurt him more than anything else.
And you also know whom I’m talking out there, right?
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.