by DOUGLAS PENICK
Winter ice and slippers. Instability on the black driveway. Well, there’s a reason they call them slippers. Slippery bed slippers. She should be slipping into bed. Or, determined as she was, she should have put on the boots. Even with having to sit down and bend and the shortness of breath and the undignified tugging at slippery boot tops in the freezing hallway. Why did coldness make indignity worse? Well, it did. It does.Oh, she’d thought, she’d just run out for a second and get… what was it? She’d forgotten and who cares now…from the car. It would just take a second. She’d gotten away with worse. Often
earthward through the dark night sky. She’s falling, whoopsie daisy:
Waves of burning yellow-green light sear. Seas of cold blackness break in one giant shot of pain over all the history in her old head. Words all gone. Except for a whispered:
Good By, Sweetie.
Oh my love, she thinks.
Now the great blue whale is swimming in the ocean darkness. Water touching every inch of gray-blue skin, conveying warmth and cold and song and in the forebrain the subtler impulses of magnetic poles. Rippling down, down through the sea, echoes of distant stars or pathways of moonlight or laughing expanse of bright and warming sun.
It’s all evolving around her: new kinds of living sea.
Sensation and skin inseparable. Inner/outer unmediated. This great singing warmblood is the ocean’s mind. Its heart is audible far off as the shimmery krill filters in the baleen with tons of water, the great whale moving easily, pouring through. Moving unseen deep below the surface. Effortlessly nourished. Vast and silent. Barely moving, deep at ease – mind.
Moving gently within its own realm. Inseparable in darkness
The great singer, the great knower, knowing something one does not wish to end, even as one begins to sense perhaps it is a dream. An inner warmth pervasive. A leisurely stretch of fin. A movement that does not feel like movement continuing in darkness.
But now she moves, and there is pain: pain and cold cold skin. She tries to let go of the particulars, to sift down into the easy depths. Almost.
Time has passed. A lot of time. How does she know? She knows.
Seen across the glassy curve,
The green arched back of the ingoing wave,
The brittle shore is so unimaginative,
So stolid and sad,
Its denizens so angular and conscious.
She is resistant but knows. If she stays in the darkness, she will remain in darkness.
Living in a world she can share will soon not be an option.
She sighs. Stretches. Shooting stars of pain. Don’t open your eyes.
She moves. It hurts.
Moving, she knows. She is trapped in the old body. Lifting her head slightly, she wants to vomit. She doe not want to open her eyes. Knows she must.
Open your eyes, you sleepy head. Time for school. She sighs, She can smell her own sour breath lingering on the ice. Bad gums.
Wait. Just for a moment more, don’t move. Stay.
She who for a glance of the earth-bound life, so yearned that she sloughed off her silvery skin, shimmering muscular body, her iridescent fins, her ability to fly and twist and dart and hover in the moving tides bein the waves.
But she did it, no matter what. A magic spell became an invisible knife. It drove deep onto her. It cut beneath the silver scales, her legs, parting them. It carved feet and toes from waving frond-like fins. She was cut apart and re-shaped. Mute. She could no longer express the screams that writhed within her.
Through silent waves of excruciating pain, she walked awkwardly on land.
Now lying on the ground, the old woman groans. Even if it means entering further in a world of death, she rolls slightly to her side and presses against the ice. Moving, she feels her body. Its age pulls on her like gravity.
A wrenching sob as when she first heard the story of the mermaid.
There is a serious question she must ask. Somehow, she’s reached the foot of the porch stairs. Her feet frozen, her nightgown soggy at the knees sticks to her legs. She looks up, six steps.
Should she crawl up, ass in the air? Hard on knees and frozen hands? Private parts exposed to freezing breezes? Or should she turn and sit, then boost herself up to the next. Sit, boost, sit, boost. More stable. OK. Worth a try. Up. Ouch.
Dreams of fluffy tufty steam clouds billowing up and up in puffy rounded pillows, then
A white, late morning seaside sky void. Pleasant. Warm on the front.
The steamship is in the pale green bay about to dock. The voyage is over.
Water lapping at the pier.
Ooooh and a horrible burning chemical smell.
Vile and man made
An oil refinery puking on the shore, puking out smoke, a counter-billowing
to those white tufty ones. These are stinky streams of smoke polluting the air with some awful inhuman acrid…SHIT …OH SHIT … OH NO
She wakes completely, standing there. The kettle has burned through. The splendid gold-domed kettle. The ex Saint Marks. Maybe she forgot to put in the water. She turns off the heat beneath the smooth black glass. And remembers…
Remembers her hostess is (was now) very proud of this teapot. Made a point of showing it to her. “It’s in the design collection at MOMA” Looks down modestly”Oh it’s ok to use it. That’s what it’s for.” Said, brightly, indulgently. Then told her the name of the designer… and the cost…. terrible. That’s what it’s for…
Oh, shit shitshit. Now her hostess will really have to be kind. Unbearably kind. More blessed to give then to receive? Not in this case. Receiving all that benevolent forgiveness? A tidy trip to hell.
Or maybe this will be the straw. Her charming hostess will reveal some Godzilla creature that’s lured forever deep beneath the seas waiting to be born and then Pow! stomping on cities, evicting self. Ayeeee. How to know? What is to be done?
Well, amends must be made and pronto. Where’s her purse?
For once the world is in a cooperative mood and leaves it for her on the table by the door.
Is it really going to help? She rummages. YES, her wallet is there. And credit cards.
She tiptoes to the family room. No family, that’s why they can put her up now. All gone.
She turns on the light. The beige leather overstuffed sofa invites her like a fat lady to sit in her lap. Goody.
But she remember the remote. Proud of herself. Clicks the thing. A blare of sound. Oooops. She turns it down fast. Proud of having even this iota of technological skill. Made it work. Her head aches like crazy, but she can still manage. HAH There it is. Out of the white fluorescent glare. A world is shaping up. Glittering. She’s made it. It’s going to work.
A parade of shiny objects displayed in even bright white light, robbing them of any life if ever they had it. But showing them bristling with brittle available, aggressively ready to enter your home. While the voices of a sporty enthusiastic young man. Well, they all seem young now, don’t they? And an accommodating and helpfully interested women describe said object in the most flattering way. How beautiful. How useful. How impressive. Your friends will… well, yes they will won’t they.
Yes. Thank God. The Home Shopping Channel. And thank god they’re selling house wares, not jewelry or sewing machines or automotive stuff.
A silver plated silver tea service, shining cheap and like chrome- Antique federal design, they say pops up, lingers, numbers whirl, tea service gone, supplanted by, what….. crystal candy dish?
Well who cares? For the moment it’s enough just to be here in this bazaar made of crystal white light and metallic sound. Whew.
Now amends can be made even before the loss is discovered. A new kettle.
And is the phone still where it was last night on the table at the end of the couch. YES.
The world is still showing it’s kindly face. WHEEEEEE. Her ship’s come in. And it’s like sailors are rolling crates and crates of goodies down the gangplank past her wondering eyes. Her eyes overcome by sleep. The parade of bright objects brought from afar for her delectation. Choices. But now choiceless: sleep. She’s slipped and drifts into the world beneath St. Paul’s whispering dome. Wandering on rain slick black pavement of London streets, she’s sure something marvelous may happen amid this salty hint of sadness. She can almost smell the wet wool.
The TV chatters on, there is a flickering outside her eyeballs. The pulse of objects following on and on brings a loneliness, a feeling of standing outside the store window in the rain and looking in where all is bright and clean and clear.. Sadness And the thread of tinny chatter. OH, as she begins to slide into kindly misty darkness, but feels the sorrow and loneliness of living amid the panoply of things. Their inhuman definiteness. They are what they are. She looks at them, but they do not look back. There is no mutual regard. This tension can be resolved: “Buy me. I’ll be yours. No questions asked.”
Then, a tender miracle, an older mellow voice has drifted up from the fog. It’s familiar, and she not afraid. He is walking companionably beside her, speaking. A dapper dandy. Cologne and not any cheap kind. Special scent like white irises on an overcast afternoon. A German-Oxford accent, old world culture here, its like not to return. He’s telling her of the bright lights, the old kind, neon and incandescent. They’re walking towards the Strand. Cold and mist make the lights so promising. He is narrating it all.
He’s narrating the world out there of things. A world of things. Things that are waiting, things that can change, things that can change you, your life. We move through the streets. The windows are bright with things. Canisters, porcelain, peau de soie, egret plumes, malaca canes, black silk hats, a platinum brooch, a Moire dressing gown, silverware.
Aha, there it is. That’s it. Fully awake, huntress ready to strike. She lurches for the phone, knocks it off the end table. She pulls herself together. Carefully grabs her credit card, remote control, slides to the floor. Streeeeetch. She’s got the phone just as they say the number to call. Fate has intervened. She manages the transaction. Gives the address. She’s done it. She’s upheld the proprieties. A replacement for the thing that burned. Her hostess will soon receive… shit!.. well, something, something nice.
Exhausted, she lays head down on arm, pulls up feet, sighs, Oh My, starts to cry and falls asleep.
In the evening, the Strand, Piccadilly. “The great elemental phenomena that have moved me deeply,” he says, “The sea, the mob, only then mountains, streams, plains, stretches of the sky. The metropolis contains the same poisons of longing as does the sea. The same mobile melancholy, dreamy, objectless melancholy full of objects.”
She feels the passage of time, the loss, the fullness of things and the loss of … what? A father, a time when London seethed, an ocean liner, a fancy tea-kettle? What on earth did she buy?
Twice in the hospital, half comic, still loving, ticklish, floppy wrinkly sex, she slung her arm back and whoopsie, lost balance, flipped herself in a slow cascade pulling the sheets along with here, and flopped with a thump down onto the floor. Twice. And twice laughter, and some pride in the telling.
The ravages of the flesh still stirred to, well if not exactly vigor, well motion, friction, heat and an expression of love that is not… abstract. Still in the flesh.
Oh flesh flesh flesh. Tender and so prone to ravages within and without. old crepe-y, flaccid, easily cut, easily bruise- big black and yellow splotches of a murderous sunset. And where did it come from
Oh and the muscles within, no longer responsive to will much less hope. A carnival of humiliations.
And she dreams of the military doctor in the urine smelling room. It smells of shit too but not quite so prominently. He has one of those elegant and cruel little moustaches. The sun glows on the dirty window. She can’t see in front. And he standing between the light and her is a dense shadow, his expression, his intentions not quite clear. No his intentions are very clear. He is going to hurt her.
Oh Oh She wonders? breasts now floppy , genitals lax and in his hands a crop, electrode, something. And she’s sure he has a little smile, perhaps, if he’s a real shit a certain feigned genteel sadness as if : Alas my, dear, it’s come to this. You… you could have prevented this you know…
But no, she could not have prevented it.
This body of flesh now hung on fragile de-calcified bones, rich in memories, subject now to breakage, to being struck and crushed, cut, torn into, twisted, bruised, hair, thin but still can be ripped out, burned, sizzled electrified. Every part of her that has felt pleasure ca now be turned into the most sharpest access of pain that will electrify her mind.
And a world of household items: knives and forks, hairbrushes, nail scissors, balloons, glass ware, frying pans, electric frying pans, screw drivers, pliers, ropes, plastic wrap, water air, earth, saw horses, anvils, charcoal grills, a trellis, an electric drill, a toy plastic submarine, condoms, a ladder, a metal side chair, a bucket of milk, a pound of butter, brandy, an iron, laundry detergent, a radio, anything –
If they appear in this room with this man at this time, the sight of them paralyzes her mind and sends it running in one direction only. The imagination leaps to how they can be applied to her body and cause her unimaginable pain.
The mind now imagines nothing but pain. Inescapable. No reprieve possible. There will be no other outcome. She may survive, but she will be maimed in body and spirit. Pain is her immediate future and the knowledge of pain. She has no control. Her body shakes.
She cannot control anything – herself. Hot stream of urine flow down her legs. She is sitting in acid, reeking shit. She trembles but refuses, absolutely refuses to sob. Tears though, they pour down her face. She is reduced to running fluids and collapsing flesh and the anticipation of terror and excruciation before which all memory of love, all recall of a seaport or a golden dome is carried off as on a vicious corrosive torrent of terror.
And, in a flash before she faints, just as somehow that mercy- and a temporary one she knows it to be- extends itself to her. Just before she falls into darkness. She knows that the world is filled with thousands of men and women and some children even who wait, just as she is waiting, for the torturer to emerge from shadow, his expression visible, the object in his hand also visible and he moves towards them.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
I have no idea what to make of this story. It's all over the place. I do like that it's almost like a story told in verse and all the sea analogies. Smart to tie such allusions to unconsciousness. That being said, this story is way too long. You could get 3 complete short stories out of this one. I also don't get the parts. There's no part 6 and part 9 is literally the last line. Don't know what to make of the "Help me. Please" at all. I can tell you put a lot of effort into this story, but it needs a lot of work.
thank you so much and i will help you on zoom okay just tell me okay\