This House of Bread

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There’s the ache of rain in the air releasing me from this summer suffocation. Lightning bolts burn shocking tattoos into my skin, there lies upon me a frozen anchor, a blonde, a white angel. I walk barefoot out onto the street all the way to the grand palace library of glass on the hill.

I pick up Hemingway’s shotgun and carry it around crucifixion style, all cool like Christ, through the high halls of written words. The rain is coming in through sexy slits in the ceiling like that of a woman. The electric stripes in the sky illuminate the intimate literary lawyer lamp darkness and loneliness is inescapable, heavy, and heartbroken.

Through the aisles of all that the world ignores now, precious, and inanimate glows cascade down their caves and claws of deepening isolation. They make love through satellites now, clutches and sweat dripping down space. It’s hand-held schizophrenic lust at the press of an ejection button.

Thunder gnaws the city raw and begins to sail away, rolling eastward to the farmlands where Farmer Black and Blue sweeps incoherently and I can hear the motion of the bristles’ swoosh swoosh when I huddle beneath my breakfast table yelling at a loaf of stubborn bread too dumb to jelly itself.  

***

There’s a house in the woody woods. It is surrounded by burnt trees molested by the kudzu. The house is the color of a fried blood orange and ancient smoke rises from the ground all around it.

The driveway is barren, and there are no signs of life through the gaping windows—the glass smeared over by a hand wipe of time lost. A sea-green mist swirls about the woody landscape; it taps out a moaning word of warning—Do not arrive here anymore.

I ignore the haunted spell. My car stops completely, door opens. My legs begin to move, carrying my body toward the porch. I step up and jiggle the handle of the door. It burns my hand. I move through the minor forest around to the back of the house. Someone glowing is cooking steaks on the grill. He is silent and odd and missing his bones. I move closer, put a hand right through him.

I wonder—Which one are you? He turns to me, a pale-faced tin man with a silver spatula. “Rare or medium?” he asks.

Doldrums, I believe.

My father rarely cooked meat outdoors, but we built a barbecue that looked like a chimney and cemented in some Spanish tiles on the face for flavor. He didn’t really want to cook much, he just enjoyed watching the smoke rise out of the top and blow away.

“Rare or medium?” he asked again.

“Medium-well. Anything less gives me anxiety.”

He looked at me like I was crazy, gently smiled, and nodded his shimmering head toward the house.

“Maybe you should lie down.”

It was hard to turn my head, but I looked toward the rear of the house and saw the patio, grayed and overgrown, furniture old and worn and turned over; the kudzu was fingering the glass of the French doors like a classical pervert.

“Is it safe?” I asked

“Probably not. I don’t know. You might want to watch out for raccoons in the fireplace. I haven’t been inside in a very long time.”

“Why?”

“I’m afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

He became agitated and so then focused on the fire and the meat.

“I’m afraid of living again. I don’t want to go through that. It was horrible. It was so horrible, especially in the end. But you go— why don’t you go check it out.”

He always said something like that when he didn’t want to be a burden to my sense of adventure and exploration. He stayed back and let me go ahead, yet I was torn because I hated to leave him alone.

“I’ll check on the racoons. Then I’ll come back out and we can eat,” I said to him.

He just stared down into the flames and said nothing. Then he fell forward and his face was on fire and there was a large plume of magic-like smoke and then he was gone, and the flames were out, and the grill was clean and there was a moan in the dank, green air and something floated in pieces toward the great wood.

***

The door creaked when I pulled it open. It was my latter childhood inside—the place at the foot of the mountains in Colorado—with the old yellow appliances in the kitchen and the golden shag carpeting and the popcorn ceiling penetrated by faux Spanish wood beams.

There were the same ornate black and red sofas in the living room near the white stucco fireplace and the great white hearth like a bench where sat the black fireplace tools and the now overturned plastic clown mask with the crazy orange hair that my own son used to wear when he was such a young boy—its edges disheveled by wayward flames.

There were pictures on the walls and old books on shelves and my father’s old German stereo that we used to dial in other planets when we used to play with it. There was the grandfather clock and the pendulum swayed in the dusty light and there was a light-hearted ticking sound coming from its guts and then I made my way down the narrow hall and off to the left was my brother’s room. The door was slightly ajar. I peered in. There he was sitting on the floor, cross-legged, rocking back and forth, moving his fingers, and talking to himself. I couldn’t understand what he was saying. It was gibberish. I pushed the door open.

“Karl?”

He quickly turned to look at me. His face was flushed, and his big brown eyes were red and wet. The hair on his head had half fallen out and I could tell his body was thin with medically induced starvation beneath the heavy clothes.

“Karl? Are you alright?”

He turned to look up at me with the saddest expression I have ever seen come across another human being’s face. He struggled to speak.

I’m afraid… Well, it seems I have terminal cancer now. Could you please close the door when you go out? I would like to be alone with my thoughts.”

“Alright, Karl. If that’s what you want. Goodbye. I really wish there was something I could do.”

And as I retreated from the room he began to weep and then wail and then the sound became like something I had never heard a human make, and it was like pain mixed with unbearable agony mixed with confusion, but it was more than that, it was as if every single grain of hope for his quiet, gentle future in the wild world had been drained and burned and then pissed on. There was no mercy for him, and that shattered my heart. 

The door clicked shut and it was quiet again. I moved further down the hall to the small bathroom with all the doors. There was the tiny room with just the toilet, a sink, and the mirror. I had always hated that mirror. I always felt I looked ugly in that mirror—especially in high school. A door opened into the next part of the bathroom where there was a tub and shower with sliding mirrored doors, and there was a larger counter with a larger mirror and a sink. I stared at my naked self so many times after a bath. I was clean but I felt dirty. I felt alone. I felt hated. I felt tortured inside my own head and heart.

There was a large closet where the parents had kept all their clothes and up top on the shelves were boxes and boxes of pictures. Memories of the heart, memories of the living forever stamped to glossy paper. History ever fading it was—my family, my blood, myself—all disappearing slowly into history. Where? To the black place of no sound or sight, no smell or taste. To unconscious emptiness.

And I opened the door to the master bedroom and there was golden light softly fizzing in the air, and there stretched out on the bed, gray skinned and breathing hard, my mother, as I last saw her, letting go of life with dignity—brave, selfless, the vessel of my own life crashing toward inner space—and there I was alone, my history stabbed out in an amber ashtray like a cigarette in a cavernous tavern. I collapsed to my knees near the edge of the bed and let the tears crash down all over like hurricane rain. I wailed mad to only the stirring, lonely light. My guts ached from the pain of it all—deserted down here on this crummy Earth. Why wasn’t it me?

***

Some time passed and I was able to get back up. Mother was asleep forever and I pulled the curtains aside and looked out the window. It was green and warm and quiet. I left the room and made my way downstairs. It was cold and dim. The only light there came from electricity or a bit of sun from the window wells. I went into my old room, and it was empty. It felt deserted and diseased somehow. Was this ever home? Maybe. Maybe when I crashed back on the bed and listened to Rush with headphones on after greasing my mind with mountain herb—the sounds of “2112” and “A Farewell to Kings” caressing my brain was like ocean waves of escape for me. Others would laugh. But there were tortures I needed to escape from.

The room next to mine was my father’s art studio. Remnants of paint dotted the floor. I could hear him instructing, and the students laughing, and the scratching sound of oils being worked into a canvas with a metal pallet knife. Then it was silent and dim and yet there was the lingering scent of turpentine in the air, and I knew if I struck a match the whole place would just blow up. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone like it already was anyway.

I undid the small golden hook on the wooden window shutters with the white knobs and opened them wide. The sun poured in and danced in the mist. I stood tall on my toes and looked out. There was the side yard, once long, lean, and green—now dense, overgrown, worn by generations of trampling feet.

The house across the way where once lived the weird Iranian family has seen countless makeovers. Linda and Lurch and little whiny David were gone. It wasn’t the same. Nothing was the same anymore. Nothing is the same anymore. Time carves history like water carves canyons. Deeper and deeper the generations and bones are buried. Deeper and deeper the memories and moments are buried. Bodies and hearts die but the clock never stops.

“The Time Machine” from 1960 is one of my favorite movies. If only one could really do that. Imagine the possibilities. I could go back to 17 and do everything all over again. Maybe not even 17, maybe 4, way back to near the beginning and maybe I could undo all that was done to me, or all that I allowed to be done to me, or maybe just all that I had done in not a very good way. The Morlocks are frightening indeed, but just living in this world day-to-day has been way more frightening. Now even Rod Taylor is dead. But let me tell you about the Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree stood in the corner of the family room with the cold red tile floor. There was also a bookcase and a silver table with glass set in on top. I used to draw on that table. I had a knack for drawing and wanted to become a cartoonist. My parents had bought me a drawing set. I did that for a while but then the tortures of reality became too great, and I lost interest. I lost the talent. But the Christmas tree went up year after year. Christmas used to bring joy to my soul and heart. Now it is an empty place for me whilst the rest of the world revels in it. But the tree was always good—tall and green—and the ritual of trimming it birthed sparkles in my family’s eyes. I remember mostly it was for my father who cradled the ornaments from his childhood like they were fragile gold wrapped in priceless glass.

My mother swirled on the garland and my brother and I would set up the nativity at the base—carefully placing the fragile holy figurines in their proper place. I can still feel in my hands the wise men, the sheep, Mother Mary, and even brown baby Jesus sleeping in straw. There was a little hole at the back of the nativity where we would push through one Christmas bulb to light it all up. Then we would lie there together on our stomachs and just look at it as our hearts and minds drifted to the gifts that would soon litter the floor all around the tree. And that’s what it was, year after year until everything stopped, everything changed, everyone drifted away and died. Now all the decorations and memories are packed away in boxes and gathering dust in a hot West Texas storage unit. Now Christmas is just a day to sweep away into the light coming from beneath the door. 

I left the house the same way I came in and closed the door behind me. The sun suddenly died, and the world was gray and green again. I went to look for my father, the pale-faced tin man with a silver spatula, but he was nowhere to be found. I went to the grill. It was cold and lifeless and void of hot steaks. I looked around. There was no one. I walked to the great wood and went in.

“Hello,” I called.

There was no answer sans an empty wind and the faint heartbeat of a calliope. I thought I heard someone chopping wood. I went deeper and the sounds and smells of life were all there but not in any form that would materialize for me. They were merely memories—just ghosts in the great wood forever gone. They were in a different plane now, perhaps on a different planet. I feel as if I have been disconnected from the umbilical cord of my history, my birth, my genes, my DNA. It is I alone floating in this void waiting for the day I will go to the black and quiet place and away from this madness we call life on Earth.

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