An Audience for the Discussion of Everyone and Everything

Submitted into Contest #153 in response to: Write a story about two characters who have been fighting for so long, they can’t remember what started it.... view prompt

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Speculative Fantasy

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

It was long ago when you first saw the squabble. 

You forget the year, what month, what season even, but it was a crisp morning, that much has stayed clear. The sky was overcast but bright, the thick wall of clouds glowing as the sun slowly warmed them and threatened to burst through. A part of you likes to think the star somehow knew what was to come, a sort of celestial clairvoyance, and was eagerly trying to burn the clouds away so it could see the events, but that’s just for your own amusement. A silly little storyteller whim, nothing more; I’ll pay it no mind. If anyone knew what was going to happen before it did, it wouldn't have been the sun, but one of the two men, but you suppose nothing would’ve happened if that had been the case. Or… maybe it still would have. You don’t know.

Anyway, you were sitting on the bench in the park, in your typical spot, feeding the pigeons and woodrats like you always do, scattering your usual assortment of breadcrumbs and mussels, capers, old potatoes and whatnot, watching the birds swoop down and the woodrats scamper from their burrows to feast upon the scraps. These weren’t normal woodrats, something had changed inside these ones long ago; their eyes and teeth were red, instead of the customary green and blue, and they’d developed an unfortunate combination of highly aggressive tendencies, followed by extreme cowardice. They’d battle with the birds over the food, but rarely won; it was funny to you, seeing how often it ended in gore and bloodshed before they slithered back into their burrows, a little rat corpse or two left behind, eviscerated by the superior, winged beasts, and this cycle continued over and over as you tossed the bits of food their way. The pigeons were brutal, blood and viscera dripping from their fanged beaks, though overall they seemed normal to you, but what do you know about birds? 

You were watching that carnage when Man 1 entered the park. He came in through the gate in the upper east corner, that one with the handle that doesn’t lock if you don’t jiggle it right, and strolled past the guard sleeping on the stool by the checkpoint, the one who doesn’t wake up if you bribe him right, and walked straight to the bed of roses and stopped. Why there? you remember wondering, one eye straying off the rats and pigeons to scan Man 1 as he stood before the roses, head down and hands on his hips as he studied the flowers with deep, stoic concentration. The pose and expressions were familiar to you, you didn’t question those in the least, but his location struck you as odd. Why there? you repeated, perhaps hoping the answer was stitched onto the back of his purple leather jacket, or possibly written in ink along the calves of his orange-cream sweatpants. Maybe you even hoped he’d heard you telepathically, tele-pathetically, but no, he just kept staring down at those roses, hands still on his hips. You repeated your question to yourself a final time; final at that time, I mean, you still ask it on occasion, to this day, every now and then. Flower and fauna flourish in the forest, color and shape and purpose as varied and numerous as the sunbeams and the dust motes that dance within them, yet the rose always draws the eye, perfumes our metaphors and memories, punctuates them with its thorns. Why? You studied the man’s back, but no answers came.

By then, I suppose Man 2 had already entered the park, yet to this day you’ve no idea how he did so, or what his initial intentions had been; I've my own presumptions and hypotheses, but they've never been confirmed, so I won't go into those now. But Man 1 had presented such a deliciously mysterious puzzle for you, you’d completely lost all focus on the rest of your surroundings, and just watched him. At some point, your other eye had strayed from the woodrats and pigeons and joined the other in staring at Man 1, and it was because of that you didn’t see Man 2 enter. Looking back, I can’t see what difference it would’ve made, so I hardly see why it matters; Man 2 had walked into the park, and that was that. I doubt you could have changed anything then, regardless.

Perhaps it should be said now that you never once stood up from your seat during the following interaction. In fact, I’m not sure it can be honestly stated that you even participated in what happened. Yes, you were there, yes, you witnessed everything, but did you contribute to the events, did you have a hand, figuratively or literally, in what happened? No. No, I’ll say it again, again and again, until the day I die, until the day we both die, and you’ll do the same, and you have, on multiple instances. It’s rare that I see you become so incensed when speaking about a topic so passionately, especially when defending yourself, and it happens almost exclusively when you speak about that occurrence, so how can anyone argue with you, how could they stand in the way and interfere with the vehement solidity of your beliefs? Fools, you’d say, and I’d happily agree. Damn fools.

But you did see what happened, so you can still vividly remember when Man 2 approached Man 1 and stood on the opposite side of the roses, his hands behind his back. The puzzle of Man 1 still captivated you, of course, but since Man 2 had stepped into your vision, he’d become another gear in the mystery twisting within your mind, so you let your other eye begrudgingly peel away from Man 1 and wander over to scrutinize Man 2. He wore jeans instead of sweatpants, the braggart, and his leather jacket was the wrong color, an obnoxiously bright, sickly yellow, and he flagrantly defied all customs and traditions and left it unzipped, displaying the hair and scars and tattoos that covered all across his muscled torso and abs. On his left side, just beneath his ribcage, a small wound softly sputtered and fizzed, obviously still healing, a thin trail of bloody pus still seeping out in occasional, gentle spurts. You assumed it hid something, some sort of sacred, traditional totem, and although you didn't actually know this then, you eventually learned you were correct. 

“I see you’ve discovered my daisies,” Man 2 had suddenly said, his tone polite, but hiding a confidence as pointed and prickly as the flowers he’d incorrectly named and claimed were his. He’d kept his hands behind his back, and although anyone else would’ve said he hadn’t moved a muscle, you actually noticed his head tilted back a touch. At the time, you simply thought he’d done it just to help his voice carry over the roses and avoid them falling down and becoming lost in the brambles, but as you’ve grown older and wiser in fairly proportionate measures, you eventually realized it was just arrogance, pure arrogance, nothing else. It’s that lens you’ve discovered reveals the most, when looking back, significantly more so than any other. You’re proud of knowing this.

“Oh?” Man 1 had inquired, not looking up. “Have I? They are rather beautiful daisies, aren’t they?” You thought he’d sounded exhausted, as if he was lulling himself to sleep with every word he said. It was possibly why he hadn’t argued that the flowers were roses and not daisies, but you’re not sure if that’s just your own attempt to rationalize the situation, to normalize it, justify it, whatever you want to call it. But you didn’t think this then; at that moment, you were caught up in their discussion, if that’s what you can even call it. You stopped trying to understand the reasons, the hows and whys, and you just listened. This wasn’t a conscious decision, you’re willing to admit now. Neither were the names you gave the men, those came about naturally, as if they’d always had those names. It took you a very, very long time to realize that was probably true.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Antagro had said, smiling as his name flashed into view, and floated Man 2 away on a rose petal.

“Did you ask one?” Prollain had asked, yawning as he dropped Man 1 into the bushes and watched it sink into the thorns.

“I said the words. It’s you, defines their shape.”

“So that’s my purpose, is it?”

“My daisies have bloomed beautifully, nonetheless.”

“Is what we see defined by the world around us, or is the world defined by what we see?”

“I’ve learned my time is only relative to yours. You should realize, this belittles us both.”

“Do the twists and viney bends, the barbs and wilted ends, occur on their own, or by design?”

“If you grabbed the stem, you’d bleed just the same. But it’s only your blood worthy of vindication, elsewise it’s just mindless, petty vengeance.”

“So does it matter where we’re buried, so long as flowers still grow there afterwards?”

“You can push up daisies, or you can push up roses, but either way, you won’t learn which it’ll be until it happens, and you’ll see it was always going to happen that way.” 

For the first time, Prollain had taken his gaze off the rose bushes, and slowly let his head lift to meet the eyes of Antagro. “So…” he’d quietly began, breathing through his mouth. “It’s not only unclear which of us was here first, or who these belong to, but also… if the flower exists because of us, or… us because of the flower?”

Only then, did Antagro finally let his smile fade away. “Honestly… I was hoping you could answer that.”

The two men then stared at each other in silence, the mutual respect and understanding growing between them like an invisible bridge, that could only be seen in a certain angle, when the sunlight struck it in a specific way and illuminated its outline, that edge of a corporeal object which refracted light and made it plain something inhabited that specific physical space. From where you sat, the scene lit by the gloomy but plump and radiant clouds above, that bridge was as clear as if the sun shone down on it without any restrictions from the sky, and you watched the knowledge and experiences of both men, their memories and thoughts, their very beings, tiptoe from each of their left tear ducts, rappel down the side of their noses, and leap onto that transparent structure, then travel across it to climb the face and enter the right ear of their fellow, respective man. You’d heard of such things before, either in a tale told by your elders, in a lesson or history book, or perhaps even in a dream that seemed untrue at the time, and still could be save for that one glimpse of honest fact within, and you scarcely believed it even as you saw it, but you did see it, that much will always be true. And after it happened, both men nodded once and laughed simultaneously, three rapid barks of poignant, profound glee, then sighed and slowly looked down at the daisies or roses before them.

“Same time as before?” Prollain asked.

“Same as always,” Antagro answered with a nod.

“Will…” Prollain gulped. “Will it happen the same way?”

Antagro shrugged. “On the surface, maybe not. But ultimately… yeah, it’s the same thing. Over and over.”

“When did it start?” Prollain looked up from the flowers, and stared across them to look his equal in the eye.

Antagro thought about it, then shrugged again, and nodded at the bush. “Maybe we’ll find out down there.”

Prollain considered that and stared at the roses. “Do you believe that?”

Antagro smiled again, fleetingly. “My shape is defined by your shape. Where you end is where I begin. I think the only place our whole piece fits is in those roots.”

Prollain nodded to himself then looked at Antagro. “Will you join me?”

Antagro lightly chuckled and nodded faintly. “Of course… You never answered my question.”

You had told yourself you weren’t entirely sure what they’d been alluding they would do, but this was an obvious barefaced lie, and even now it still brings you shame to think you tried to pretend you hadn’t known all along. Still, despite your present embarrassment, in the moment, you allowed yourself to act surprised when the two men both leapt into the bushes without another word and instantly disappeared into that brambly abyss. You let your jaw drop as all traces of their existence were soon gone, and the roses bloomed and blossomed and wafted their poisonously sweet odor as if nothing ever happened. But it did happen, you saw it, you saw it happen, there’s no denying that it was a real thing, you can stop telling yourself that. 

The meaning though? Oh, we’ve… You and I have spent a long time discussing that. Personally, I thought it became obvious the next day, when you were sitting in the park again, in your usual spot on the bench, feeding the woodrats and pigeons once more. It was later in the day, and the carnage had been going on for longer than normal, when Man 1 came in again. You wanted to call him Prollain, because that was his name, but even though that had always been his name, he hadn’t earned it yet, not yet that day, not through your eyes, anyway. The headache came on quickly after that, and as Man 2 returned and stood on the other side of the roses opposite Man 1, and everything happened exactly the same way again, more or less, the pain throbbed behind your eyes and pulsed through your veins and nerves, your bones, and heightened every thought and emotion that had been copied and carried over from the day before. 

Yet, despite that pain, you did it again the next day, and the day after that, and so on and so on, until the pain seceded to the back of your brain and hid in the darkest, grimiest folds of your subconscious, still a part of you but no longer relevant to your survival, though somehow still capable of tainting your entirety, like a vestigial organ that serves no important purpose but can wither and decay and subsequently kill you. And you returned to the park each day to watch this interaction, sitting on the bench in your usual spot, again and again until… Well, here we are. 

I’d like to think one day this will all be clear to you; perhaps I should hope this firstly for myself, I wonder. I tell myself I’ve some vague grasp of the deeper meaning of the large picture of the bigger whole, but this is… You tell it to yourself too, I imagine, but we’re both just deluding ourselves. At least we can admit we have a problem, right? That’s the first step of fixing a problem, isn’t it? I realize that refers specifically to addiction, but I like to think it can apply to different scenarios, and you seem to believe so, as well. Ultimately, the lesson I’ve taken from it seems to work for most situations: that first step has a "1" on it to indicate it’s one of many steps, not that it’s first place and you can stop and claim victory. I see you shaking your head in confusion, irritated that it seems this has nothing to do with the matter at hand, but I assure you, it does. If they were here, Prollain or Antagro would agree too, one of them at least. I'm sure.

I don’t want to keep you any longer. You’re itching to go back, I can see it. I know you’re not part of it, you’re not involved, you don’t have to keep reminding me; it’s just your usual spot, that’s all. Go on, then. I’ll be there shortly, and join you. Save a spot for me.

My usual one.

And we'll watch the same story play out, again and again, and again and again, and again and again...

And again and again.

July 03, 2022 00:15

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