Chapter 1   "ONE"

Chapter 1 "ONE"

A Chapter by Dan Wheeler




1


 ONE



       . . . two . . . three . . . goes my right pinkie as the someteenth wave of filth wafts over me.  The s**t is everywhere.  Dirt and grime.  I am wiping it from my glasses, scraping it from my ears, blowing viscous black gobs of it into an Arby’s napkin.  Dust is an insidious thing.  Inconspicuous, it slips in like an infection, stinging eyes and impairing vision.  Dulling senses.  It can settle on the sleeping malaise of an entire community like a vast powdery hallucination, covering up the ugliness, offering up in exchange only an altered, more incendiary kind of ugliness.

       One . . . two . . . three . . .

        Of course this is to be expected here, in the desert, the 909, this litter box called San Bernardino, San Berdoo, a lone, sick cat t**d cooking in the sun"the trailer trash take on urban sprawl.  San Bernardino is the kind of place where dirt is just one more undesirable detail of an already s****y day.

        ENJOY YOUR STAY IN HESPERIA! insists a large, mindless road sign pockmarked with buckshot . . .

        One . . . Two . . . Three . . .  
       
        Cope.

        Outside the windshield lies a yawning, gaping wasteland of ill-conceived architecture and instinctual bad taste.  Filthy pastel cracker box houses.  Dirt yards.  Bleached gravel driveways edged with a cirrhotic liver’s worth of fat, old Paul Mason wine bottles buried upside down in the sand.  Uneven asphalt roads the wrong shade of “road,” more like maroon, and in continuous need of repair . . .

        Cope.

        The road is flanked by screwy hillbilly detritus: a top sided toilet bowl of a most unnatural shade of what I want to describe as electric puce; a rotted garden hose, still connected umbilically to a plastic sun-bleached lawn sprinkler, when there isn’t a blade of grass to be seen for miles; here and there, rusted bits and pieces and half-coils of razor-wire fencing, its inhabitants long since eaten, rendered or starved to death; the dried, broken bones of bulldozed Joshua trees, leaning at odd angles, victims of an aborted urban renewal project . . .

        Cope.

        Hesperia is named for the Hesperides, daughters of Atlas, the same Atlas who bore the dead weight of the universe on his backside.  In one version of the myth, the daughters dutifully guard the golden fruit of knowledge that grows from the apple tree of Zeus’ wife Herra.  There is an alternate version of the myth, where the daughters would pick the fruit, keeping it for themselves.

        Cope.

        Cope . . . Cope!

        “Copeland!”

        “Hm"”

        “Gimme the bag.”

        “Hmm?”

        “The bag,” He repeats.  Points.

        I reach behind my seat and slide my hand into the garbage pile, aware that I could easily be shoving my hand into any number of unknown perils: sharp, poisonous things; absentmindedly-tossed needles; broken test tubes, corrosives, carcinogens, contaminants I don’t know the names or properties of.

        “Come on, Huck,” He says to me.  We’re all Huck.

        Here it is, cold and heavy as a dead baby.

        “Givit,” he says.

        I hand Him the plastic mesh bag.  He holds it to his face, sniffs it.      “Ahhhh, smells like . . .”  I wait for the insight.  “. . . oranges,” He finally says.

        “How profound,” I say, being that that’s, in fact, what they are.  He says something else, but I’m only half listening, still carrying in my mind the image of that busted toilet bowl in the desert.  It’s comforting in some sad, bizarre way.  Comforting, but still empty.  Rockwellian I want to say.  I pretty much hate Norman Rockwell.  Hate his pictures of slack-jawed yokels, their cadaverous, fish-belly skin and retarded, down-home ideologies.  That he envisioned America this way makes me think the guy hated people possibly even more than I do.

        “Hyunk,” I say.

        “What?”

        “Nothing.”

        A toilet.  I find myself looking at this bizarre s**t, these cast off things dotting the desert like bruises on the dimpled, pale thigh of a trucker’s wife.  I think about these things, and then I can’t get them out of my head.

        He rises from the car and turns to look at me.  I shake my head and give Him my tight-lipped, sort-of-a-smile grimace, then shoot Him a “thumbs up” sign with both thumbs, which is supposed to look cool and ironic but instead is pathetic.  
I most assuredly am not cool. 

        In fact my sternum is pounding so hard that I can see my shirt lifting and falling in rapid succession, the plastic buttons betraying the rapid pulse throbbing away underneath them.

        But, Christ, give me this moment, at least.  For just this moment let me be willing to believe in this bullshit.  I am owed this.  I don’t want to be “Jonas Jell-O” anymore.

        I am out for a very serious joy ride with my new best friend, whom I met only a month ago, who is the “real deal,” who is whistling a happy little Burt Bacharach tune and swinging a net-sack full of oranges laced with caffeine and homemade d-lysergic acid amide like it’s Santa’s Bag-O-Toys.  And I am elated.  Just to be normal.  No jerks.  No grunts.  No counting.  No Jell-O.

        Like Saint Peter, I am a rock.

        I watch through the gut-speckled glass as He meets then passes through each dead bug, unfazed, on toward the church that looks like a bank, whistling, singing, disappearing behind the high gold-reflecting windows.

        My new friend, Voca,  is both joyful and unbalanced.

        I can’t claim to know Him really.  This is just one of many odd things about Him: The more you get to know Him, the more you don’t know Him at all.  No one can really claim to know Voca.  Not if they’re being honest with themselves.

        He is probably in his twenties, though He could well be in his forties.  He never sweats.  (The Dyke made this observation.)  He never wears a coat.  He has blond hair and stands about five feet ten.  (Others disagree with me about this, insisting he is much taller.)  He has heterchromia iridum, meaning He has two differently colored eyes (one blue, one brown).  Also His pupils are differently sized""one’s bigger than the other, though I forget which one.  He quit school in the seventh grade over a disagreement He had with a teacher.  The issue was free will, His teacher’s position being that there isn’t any.  “Our lives our predetermined by the Lord,” said the man to his credulous Algebra students.  “What we do, we do to His glory only, and of His volition solely.”  In making His rebuttal, Voca freely walked out of class, then willed Himself to take a piss in the guy’s gas tank, leaving a note on the windshield that read: “Sincerely, Jesus.”  At fifteen He made His first batch of rudimentary LSD from ergotamine tartrate, which He refined from Hawaiian wood rose seeds using a chemistry set stolen from a Kaybee toy store.  He wouldn’t think twice about smashing someone in the face if He thought it would help their outlook.



•    •    •



        In the Bible, the purification of man begins with rain.  Mine begins as a small yet promising trickle.  A chip in the dike, a fracture in the glass, and then, as was written, a flood.  All blessed hell breaks loose.

       Waiting for it, eyes closed in tight anticipation, the car fills with the warm, familiar liquid, which wastes no time in soaking my shoes and saturating my socks, cuffs, knees, and the thighs of my pants.  It approaches, then surpasses, my waistline, begins to take up some of my weight; it supports me.  My first impulse is one of panic, the lower survival instincts"fight or flight"kicking in.  I’ve been through this before, so I know what to expect.  I can swallow the ball of fear, stuff it deep down into my bowels where all the other crap of my life is lodged, knowing that the eventual payoff is well worth the short-term abdominal distress.  Breathing becomes more forced and unnatural as the fear of submersion sets in.  It is a dread that is primal in origin; it is why apes avoid deep pools of water.  You can’t argue with 55 million years of evolution.  My nose climbs instinctively upward, putting me in the pretense of prayer, sucking hoarsely at the sweaty flesh-tinted leatherette roof liner, which itself is now pulsating and breathing with life.  Birth or baptismal; it is awful, but in the original sense of the word: as in full of awe.

        Quick gulps of air before it is gone completely, purposely hyperventilating myself so as to artificially increase the blood-oxygen saturation level.  I hold this in my lungs as I go under, waiting for that inevitable moment of hot coals in the lungs that burn until that point when I have to give in, when there is nothing left to breathe and the pain is magnificent.  Finally I take it in, deny myself, accept this small death.  I blow out the spoiled air and suck in the smoldering wetness, lungs filling with the tepid, pink juice, and, although I’ve learned to expect it, I am dumbfounded nonetheless when my lungs do not reject it.  There is no coughing spasm, no choke reflex, no blacking out.  I simply give in and breathe.

        The sensation of it is the closest thing to ecstasy I’ve encountered that doesn’t involve narcotics.  It isn’t oxygen that I’m inhaling but something heavier and so-very-suitable to my immediate needs.  What’s more, I can see within it.  Not the dreamy, chlorine-filled  swimming pool production one might expect, but a shocking rose-tinged crackling clarity that seems thoroughly impossible"a frightening electric luminescence that extends even beyond the car.   I can see everything.    Trees.  Church.  Glass.  Dirt.  Bugs.  The desert and what’s beyond it.  I can see death.  It’s beautiful""all of it.

        I hold up my pinkie, stretch it out just enough, six neat little black stitches across the top.  Like the anticipation of a birthday present waiting to be ruined simply by opening it, I bring it to my face and watch for the tell-tale signs: there is none.  I don’t even need to move it.  I can’t think of a reason to, and that’s key.  That’s what’s best about being in the flood.  Not thinking is the overriding factor in this equation.  I don’t need to flick my pinkie, and somehow the current of the world surges safely forward.  Out of my control, beyond my grasp, in one brief spasm of bliss the fate of all of humanity is wrested from my control and allowed simply to flow, to press forward.

        Normally this would be disastrous.  If I didn’t continue to flick my finger in just the right way, if I didn’t count to three, twist my neck to one side and then the other . . . certain consequences would be had.  I would know it in the clenched sphincter muscles surrounding my a*****e.  I’d feel it in my crotch.  I’d sense it in my gurgling intestines, the warning signs of some far off coal black foreboding.  But in the womb I feel no such imperative.  All I feel, for the moment, is a tingling pressure building up in the crotch of my jeans.  And it feels wonderful.
      
        For five minutes I let go my pathology.  Eight minutes pass.  I can slow down time with my breathing, hold on to each everlasting second until I’m thoroughly enveloped in my own airless bubble of  inertia.  Eleven minutes.  Fourteen.  Slower.  Slower.  Fifteen . . . . . . sixteen . . . . . . . . . .

        His rotting car bakes in the sun and the atmosphere inside is melted strawberry jam.  Sound is muffled; even the noise of my own sleepy pulse in my ears melts into the thickness of the syrup-filled ether.  My seatbelt, still tethered to my belly, holds me securely against the mildewy sheepskin seat covers, an umbilicus keeping me"sustaining me"in the hot, glassy amniotic juice.  I am submerged in Voca’s creation, living through His perfect contempt"a contempt for just about anything at all"but mostly, at least for the moment, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

        He appears in front of the car.  In my euphoria I almost don’t see Him standing there outside the window.  His lips are moving, but there is no sound.  He grabs the door handle.  It sticks.  He pulls harder, but it won’t budge.  From my side I reach over the armrest, manually crank down the driver’s-side window.  The fluid spills out in a torrent, air whistles in to take its place.  Only then can I make out His voice.

        “Joe-nas-Wayke-feeeld-Cope-Land,” He says in His best hick tenor, dissecting my name and over-enunciating each syllable as if introducing me to the Queen, and We are amused.

        “Amazing,” He says.  “People’ll buy just about anything from a Mexican in cowboy boots.”

        Voca is not Mexican.  He is not wearing cowboy boots.
I am suddenly compelled to look to the right.  Too sudden, in fact.   Even though there is nothing to look at, I look to the right, not even bothering to focus my eyes beyond the dust-caked window.

        Moving calmly, nonchalantly, sans Christmas sack, He slips gracefully into the car, turns the ignition, buckles up for safety, adjusts His mirror.  He wears an expression that is not immediately identifiable, a darker shade of euphoria, something dwelling in the hinterlands between maniacal depravity and perfect bliss.  It is something I am tempted to describe as electric puce.  Where did I get that from?  I pull out my notepad and write “electric puce” in it.  He flashes me His winning grin.  Sparkles.  Somehow He sparkles.  Waves a handful of bills at me and slings the mess of them into the garbage dump in the backseat. 

        “Your pants are wet,” He says.

        He lights a cigarette (taken from my shirt pocket) with a wooden match and throws the still-burning stick where the wad of bills went.  He hands me back the cigarette.
Voca does not smoke.

        We head back toward home, to The Compound.  On the way, I blow more of the wicked black stuff into my disintegrating napkin; this time there is a streak of red mixed with the black.

        One . . . two . . . three . . .




© 2015 Dan Wheeler


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Added on August 30, 2015
Last Updated on August 30, 2015
Tags: postmodern, novel, buddhism, india, tourettes, OCD, fiction, humor, dark humor