Mr. Rumples

The diligent sound of war machines cracked an October day of bright sun.

There is a disease in the air now and everyone stays inside – mostly. There is no more school or work or going to the doctor. Medicine finally failed. There was nothing that anyone could have done. Someone somewhere chose war over healing, and that’s why the jets still roar, and blood no longer matters.

All I have left to drink is grape juice and I’m getting rather tired of it. I like to sip it near the window in the morning when I look out at a world that is no longer blue, but rather a sickly shade of yellow. The everlasting haze rests its weary head of death in the cradling arms of the mountains, and when it wakes it pukes out noxious gases all across the land. I cough all the time now. I can barely breathe. Everyone has cancer except for the devils that rule.

The other night I opened my blinds to look at the full yellow moon for the last time. The stars were retreating. I watched and watched and watched. I concluded that the spaceships weren’t coming to save us after all. Can I blame them? What reason would anyone have for saving us? Love? Does anyone out there love us?

At night it gets cold and dark, and I must light a wood fire in the wide-bellied fireplace in the main room. I live by myself in a worn mansion outside of the city, a bit in the country. No one comes around much anymore, but there’s an old black cat that sleeps in a dusty chair most of the time. The cat is sick too. I hope the cat dies first because if I die first there will be no one to feed it. The cat’s name is Mr. Rumples, which is funny because my name is Mr. Rumples, too.

I have a gun and only one bullet. I thought about shooting Mr. Rumples once when his sickness was really acting up. I couldn’t do it. I keep the gun on the floor near my mattress where I sleep. I’ll know when it’s the right time. I have a knack for intuition and an eye for irreversible devastation.

I used to have a wife, but she died when the storm came. She was a beautiful woman with intelligent breasts, and near the end her favorite meal was a toasted English muffin and Gatorade. I laughed at her a lot. We laughed at each other a lot. We had been married for 39 years and together we brought five children into the world – they’re all dead now too, as well as all my grandchildren – seventeen of them. It seems like everyone is dead. What does one do with that kind of fucking grief? Put it in a jar? Throw it to the stars?

There had been years of grand love in our large home, a home that was always filled with warm voices and the smells of steaming gumbo and cherry cobbler from the kitchen. The wife had limited cooking skills and so I had hired a woman to come in to help. She was a black woman by the name of Rosie. She was a stumpy yet cheerful woman and her laugh resonated above all others throughout the house. Her pancakes, stuffed fat with fresh Maine blueberries, were the absolute best. Now Rosie’s dead, too. I miss her, and the love she had brought to our hearts and bellies.

 There’s a family cemetery on my land and when it’s safe I go out there, wading through the golden floss of waving grasses until I reach the place of the two oaks and their slotted canopy of love. I run my hands over all the stones I had chosen – and they were just regular rocks really and I had scratched all the names and dates into them with a big nail. I often lie down on the ground when the sun has warmed it and I look up at the yellow sky and wonder all about why the Great Bog had left me to live to the very end and not the young ones or anyone else for that matter. Was it the evolution of my sins that left me with this torture? A wind carrying nothing whips across my face.

I can see the old work shed, rusted and red, and it’s kind of collapsing in on itself. I haven’t mowed the yard or plucked the weeds in months. What’s the use of doing anything, I often wonder. So I do nothing but wait. I wait by the window. I wait on the porch when it’s safe. I wait to fall asleep at night but rarely is it restful. There are noises in the nights here – great booms and screams and sometimes even the thundering of the sky, that angry sky committing abuse in the dark. I shuffle, I starve, and I pluck memories from my head like feathers from a chicken. I don’t want to remember anything or anyone anymore.

Dinner is usually a quiet affair between me and Mr. Rumples. I always light a candle at the table and then we say our prayers that no one hears and then we share some cat food and it’s cold and mushy and tastes mostly of fish no matter what the can says. I hate it, but Mr. Rumples loves it. Damn… he’s going to outlive me and then starve because he can’t open the cans. Poor Mr. Rumples – both of us.

After dinner, Mr. Rumples takes his place in the chair, and I make a fire and then just sit there watching the flames cast frantic shadows against the dusty walls. I have a stick I use to play with the fire. There’s something calming about poking at a fire with a stick. It’s like pretending to be camping and making hot-tipped arrows or torches to keep the creeps in the forest at bay. The creeps were everywhere at the end. People went absolutely nuts, all over the world. It was the worst horror movie I had ever seen.



My breathing is getting worse. In the morning I sit up on my mattress and cough up blood. I roll to the floor and slowly make my way to what used to be the kitchen and feed the cat his breakfast. I have my grape juice and it is starting to sting as it goes down. It is mostly silent during the day. I used to loathe the roar of traffic on the country road, but now there is nothing. No cars. No trucks. No people on bicycles. And across the field the railroad tracks are nothing but skeletal remains now. I walk outside there sometimes when I feel up to it. Not so much anymore. Some days I can barely move. But I did enjoy my walks out there along the rusting rails and rotting ties. I found a few spikes and brought them into the house, but I don’t know why. I suppose my mind is going too.

Sometimes when I’m shuffling about the place I just stop because I forget what part of the house I was wanting to go. I like to go to the upstairs part of the house where the bedrooms are. I don’t really know why I like to go up there so much, but I think it may have something to do with colorful memories – how the children would race through the hall as bedtime drew nearer and bathroom space scarce. I like to look out Jonah’s window. He was the first son and had the best room in the house. I pull up my rickety chair and scan the voided world, all the way to the crisp line of the sea against the shore. It’s so far away and such a pale baby blue color. I would love to go down there, but I’d never make it back alive.

I leave Jonah’s room and slip into where the girls used to sleep. It’s a dark and dirty pink color now. The wallpaper is losing its grip and curling and slowly falling down. I open the closet and there is one faded dress on a wire hanger and a dusty box of shoes on the floor. The house was once looted when I was trying to walk to the sea, and they took most everything that was left.

The boys’ room is down the hall and to the right. I push the door open and it squeaks. This room was once hot cat blue and made to look like a baseball diamond. The younger boys played baseball almost every day in the summers and I often went down to the fields and watched them when I wasn’t working. My wife was always there with them; she was good like that.

Our bedroom was at the end of the hall and is now just a hollow, empty space. I turn on the sink faucet in the adjoining bathroom and no water comes out. I’m thirsty. I’m starving. I can’t do this anymore. There is something greatly heartless in the coming of the end of life. It’s the final pecking into the flesh by a wild bird that does not care to save you. It’s silent. Then Mr. Rumples meows out from downstairs. He must be lonely.

It was a cold night when the end came. I was shivering in the corner of what used to be the living room. Mr. Rumples was burrowed in a blanket on the chair and he was purring.

“How can you be so happy?” I asked him.

He blinked at me once and said nothing. He jumped down off the chair and rubbed against me and then curled into my lap. I stroked his fur and looked into the fire again for a long time. The wind was howling outside and whistled in through the weak spots in the house. I was alone again in this false lap of luxury.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Mr. Rumples, and I set him back in his chair. “Just stay there.”

The heart races in times of great finality. There’s a gnawing on the soul at the thought of everlasting darkness or the great rivers of Heaven. Will it just be sleep or does one travel to another world to take over for someone else who just croaked? I cocked the gun and wondered. I opened the blinds near where I sleep and looked at the fizzing stars. I thought I could hear someone yelling for help out in the tall grasses, or maybe that was just me. I smelled the gun and wondered. I would have loved to have one last hot shower and a good meal. I wandered through the rest of the house, now flowing with amber candlelight. I set every memory aside and took a deep breath as best I could in each hallowed hallway.

I returned to the main room and drew near to the fire and pointed the gun at Mr. Rumples. He looked up at me and blinked his eyes slowly. My finger tremored against the trigger. For some reason I knew he wasn’t ready, and I also knew that he did not want me to be alone. I lowered the pistol and sat down in the chair with him. He circled in my lap, settled, and purred. The air sirens wailed outside, and we watched the fire, together, for a very long time it seemed, until a final silence fell upon the world.

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.