|(Double self-portrait by David Saltaire)|
Funny, hanging out with Jack. It was like we’d never parted. There was a time, not so long ago that he and I were not friends. We had been, long ago but, he had forsaken me and it hurt me, badly. He had refused to stand by me after I was arrested. “I have to think of my reputation,” he told me. “It wouldn’t do to have people think of you and me together.” It was a betrayal. He’d always known about me and my little quirks. I really hated him after that, really resented him. It didn’t seem to matter now, although I couldn’t remember what had led to our reconciliation. Or even that we had reconciled. It just stopped mattering. Things had gotten pretty fuzzy around the edges.
“Really, though, Jack,” I said, “I’m not even hungry. I passed a restaurant today and I could see in. There was quite a banquet going on in there. The most wonderful food and a lot of it. I looked at all of that food and it seemed beautiful. It almost made me cry. But, I was just admiring its collective gorgeousness. I didn’t want any. I wasn’t in the least hungry. It was like looking at a mannequin.”
“Honestly, David, why bother about it? It’s just not important to you, anymore. Just move on and worry about something else.”
“I wonder why it isn’t important, though. I feel as though I am just a character in a book. They never eat, either. They hunger for love but not food, at least not very often. That’s why I think I like Dickens so much. His people always roll out these great feasts. They hungered like I do… used to, anyway. Even Scrooge blamed seeing Marley’s ghost on something he ate.”
Jack laughed. “You and your Dickens. Did Dickens ever make the New York Times bestseller list? I don’t know why you like to read that creaky old Victorian stuff.”
“I like it. It’s about the way people lived then. You should read some for once. You haven’t read anything since you were in school and yet you want to be a writer. What bullshit. How can you write when you never read anything?”
“Well, I always passed my classes, didn’t I? Who needs to read? I can pick stuff up pretty quick.”
“Not that it matters.”
Right, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”
Jack gave me one of his patented gingery-beard smiles. It was wonderful to see him looking so young. He looked just the same as when we first met. All the stray hairs in his beard were trimmed for once. His eyes were bright, not all clouded with alcohol and angst about his latest girlfriend.
“So, nothing to worry about, eh?” He said.
Worried? No, I wasn’t worried about anyone or anything. That in itself was remarkable because I’d always been a person with passionate opinions and gargantuan worries. I was always restless, fretful, opinionated, although good humored enough. Now, I scanned over some of the things I ought to be fretting about.
Not one of them seemed important. Not even work. Especially not work. Not my relationships with my parents. They had been on my mind a lot the past few years. The fact of my not being involved in my parents’ lives. And they were getting so old. Now, none of that troubled me. Just some baggage I thought I needed once. But, I’d been carrying it for so long and nothing inside those burdensome cases even fit me, they were worn out, tattered. It was like being on a bridge after walking for twenty miles griping the handles, arm aching, hands all sweaty and blistering. Looking down into the dark water it was a great temptation to throw all of it over the railing. And, why not? Seems I could forgive Jack. Why not just get rid of all that trash? I made the decision to do just that. I hoisted it up to the railing and over. It dangled in my sore hand, straining my arm muscles. With a great sigh of relief, I let the hard-shelled luggage go. I heard it splash heavily, and gurgle as it sank below those calm, calm waters.
I felt so light, so happy. Gravity didn’t seem to matter anymore, either. I floated with bounding steps until I was actually aloft. It was easy, actually. It had never been so easy. I sailed over rooftops, looking down at the earthbound. All the lonely people, going about their daily business, their foolish, useless business. I felt a love for them, and a pity. They couldn’t be up here with me. They didn’t seem to know how easy it was to fly. It made me wonder about myself. How come I had never noticed it before, myself? That I could fly. By now I was gaining altitude. What was happening on the ground was very small and, very far away.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” Jack said in my ear.
“Hmm… yeah,” I replied. It’s fun.”
I realized we were flying together. Something told me it wouldn’t last though. As we were flying through the air, with the greatest of ease we seemed to be getting thinner and thinner, wider and wider. After a while I felt as big and as thin as the whole sky, integrating with it and even into the trees and soil.
There was a long period, very long indeed, where I wasn’t aware of anything at all, I was just being. There was no Jack, no mother and father, no buildings, jobs, taxes, loves or hates. I saw nothing and experienced everything. Suns were born and died, worlds leapt up and burned to ash. Entire galaxies grew up before my rapt eyes, turned on an invisible axis. The material world vibrated in a song of indescribable beauty. The forever, endless black turned to light of a thousand colors and began to flash like a strobe. It all seemed to happen within me and without me. I was a part of the nervous, joyous music, ecstatic and free, exulting in the great, over-arching intelligence that was the infinite Creator.
Finally, there was only the calm. I floated in it like a castaway in a milky sea. It lulled me for ages, bringing blessed forgetfulness. I was nourished, without striving. I was caressed by the saline universe. Then, the membrane began to crack and the sea leaked out. The warmth became uncomfortable and cramped. I longed to free myself from the cocoon of muscles I found myself in.
‘What is this?’ I thought, ‘what now?’ I turned and felt a great pressure squeeze me, propelling me towards a sort of door or hatch, viscous and red. Before I knew it I was through it and blinking, dazed at the light.
The air felt chill and bracing. I lifted my voice and cried out. I was trying to sing the universal song. It was a thin, but triumphant sound I made, mingled with regret at having lost my safe, warm home in the sea. I heard about me laughing and delighted exclamations, felt hands as big as giant leaves holding me, laving me, pulling something from my belly and felt the odd pain of severance.
And so, here I am, again. It’s time for some sleep. I have much to do, much to re-learn. In the morning I’ll begin collecting things to put into my hard bag again.