From the other side of the river,
their counselors waved at us,
shrugging their shoulders.
The kids were going bonkers.
So we asked them about it.
I mean, DUH, they groaned.
It was as hot as a Florida river swamp
in June at high noon. Which, to be fair, it was.
They pointed everywhere, making a face.
They had to wake up and go CANOEING every day.
eat DRIED FRUIT and POWDERED MILK with their GRANOLA.
talk in a GROUP about how to BETTER THEMSELVES,
for crying out loud.
This was not the real thing,
they said to us.
This was not IT.
There was a kid, though,
who was NOT OK. Anthony.
Patty and I were called in
to remove Anthony, who was throwing all the group’s food in the river, inciting a riot, et cetera,
Patty tried to separate him,
get him in our school minivan.
But Anthony turned to the other kids
and he said Look at this, boys
he's trying to get me to go home,
but we're ALL going home, right?
And the kids whoop and yell, saying Hells Yes,
we're ready to get out of this nest,
this fucking heat,
who do they think they are,
trying to feed us powdered milk.
We want our mother.
Fuck you, they said, you don’t
have power of attorney over us.
Patty and I look at each other.
All the children will not be going home.
A conflict of interest. But Patty thought
if we just removed Anthony, cut out the bad spot,
we might save the apple. The rest would stay.
So she said to me,
Go to the minivan, get in, get it started.
I’ll be right up with Anthony.
I went up to the van’s hiding spot,
hopped in the driver’s seat, and wait.
It's really quite peaceful.
A little ways from camp,
just a thin trail in the woods...
Too thin, even, to turn a car around.
Patty came running, jumped in,
a concerned look on her face.
And Patty survived cancer, so
it really made an impression on me when she said
GUN IT, THEY'RE COMING.
I kicked the minivan into reverse, and put my foot
The forest flew at us backwards,
tossing trees into the rear view.
The huge, motherly hips of our minivan
We reached the road.
Patty said to stop gunning it.
So we stopped.
We waited to see
even come this far out.
And then they did. Anthony cresting, fuming a hot, melting grin.
They hit the black-burnt road,
and they turn to face Us,
their air-conditioned answer.
But we cannot take everyone. So
Patty reached into the slot on her belt,
Quick-drew her phone,
and dialled (of course)
The Sheriff. Who else?
"FOUR BLACK MALES," she said,
giving them a name.
They're a layin' in the road,
They're obstructin' traffic,
They're incitin' a riot.
We waited. The FOUR BLACK MALES
approached the car,
jumping in the way like children
which, to be fair, they were.
They sat on our hood.
They joked about flipping the van.
Finally, the sheriff arrived. He opened his door, and scanned.
He looked at us all.
He said, so what? Everyone said, BUT LOOK AT THIS.
He didn't move.
This is Hog Country, he said.
We got people around here that
Don't Like Black Kids.
Anthony walked up to the officer,
and said, we want to go home.
The officer stepped back, and looked
squarely at him.
Now, he said, Are You Gonna
Get In That Car,
Or Do We Have A Problem?
Anthony sighed, and said,
So it was done. The sheriff got back into his vehicle. Anthony got in the van.
The counselors came out of the woods,
where they'd been watching,
to collect the other kids.
Everyone got back in a canoe,
and ate some more milk. We drove away.
Patty and I meet Anthony’s parents as planned, in the parking lot
on the interstate.
He walks to them,
and I recall just the hush
The parents sign for him. It's over. Patty and I say nothing. Goodbye. We turn away. From a distance,
The closest I can get to blindness is closing my eyes. So when I think of what it is like to be blind, I imagine seeing nothing but blackness. A clever person at a party might say that this is false; the blind can no more see blackness than you or I can see from our elbows. But how can you compare a symbol of nothingness to nothingness itself? Only a clever person at a party can tell you that.
Today is the last day that we’ll reach full daylight, at noon. After this, it’s a series of afternoons, then dusks, and then a few weeks of a bit of orange on the horizon. So we’re having a picnic. Actually, we haven’t bothered to completely explain the situation to my wife’s parents. Her mother wouldn’t understand -- she’s not all there. Her father is ninety, and can’t hear very well anyway. So we let them be. I think, actually, that not having them know is a kind of coping mechanism for all of us. If they don’t know or care what’s happening, then maybe we can just watch them the way you might listen to someone’s heartbeat.
They’ve named it the Orest Effect, or the Rest. No doubt they’ve given it the name of a person to allow people to relate to it and come to terms with it. The particular person it’s named for, Orest Chwolson, was the first to study the gravitational lens effect; that is, the ability of large bodies in space to bend light at large distances. To the point, the vast majority of the light from the sun will soon no longer be reaching us. Somewhere in the eighteen minutes it takes for light to reach Earth, the gravitational force of an entire galaxy rotated at precisely the wrong angle will convince our sunlight to shine in another direction, away from us. That’s why everyone has started to call it the Rest. Because it will be dark, and we’ll be going to sleep.
We chose to start our picnic just before noon at the art museum park, and we weren’t the only ones. A sizeable chunk of the city was joining us for the event. My wife and I set out a few blankets for everyone. I placed the baby onto the some warm grass, where she sat confidently and watched us go hurriedly through our nonsensical rituals.
After finishing a bickering conversation with her mother about who knows what, my wife’s sister began delving dutifully into a canvas bag with both hands, again and again. She brought out elaborate sets of clean, telescoping tupperware. Sweating, battle-hardened thermoses that had seen the comings and goings of many soups. She paused. Yet Can Not Eat These, she said to her mother. Her mother opened a container, put her hand in, and looked away, eating a chunk of something. My sister in law scowled and grumbled until the meal was prepared.
When it was time, we brought the baby near, and sat and ate. We used the normal chopsticks from the house. I admitted, pinching a seasoned cube of beef from a serving dish, that maybe my sister in law wasn’t so bad. Better to forgive her and just let it go. Now that there were no airplanes, I wouldn’t be going home, and she was the closest thing I’d have to a sibling. We’d all be developing personality disorders and anger issues shortly anyway.
Near the end of the meal, firecrackers deafened the air to the east. A parade from a nearby temple was inching by. On the road, old men marched slowly in bright colors. They played horns and shook noisemakers. Just behind them, teenagers carried neon Gods on their shoulders. Pretty normal stuff, really. I looked back. The baby seemed disinterested. I looked at my wife’s father, and opened my mouth. I said, When Time You Were Small Ocean, You Enjoy To Play What ... Game? He looked at me and smiled, and said, Ah? I looked at my wife. Louder, she said. Say it louder. WHENEVER YOU ARE SMALL CHILD, YOU ENJOY TO PLAY WHAT GAME? He looked at me again. My wife quickly repeated the question again, but with a better accent. He looked at her and responded:
“... ... ... ... Child ... ... Father ... ... ... ... ... Game ... ...
... ... ... Sichuan ... ... ... (He made a motion here like
his hand was going over the moon.) ... ... Rice ... ....
He stopped here, and nodded his head at me, smiling. My wife then looked at me, swallowed some food, and explained. “He had a ball.”
“Oh,” I said. “What kind of ball?”
“I don’t know, just a ball, I guess.”
I imagined my father in law’s childhood with a solitary, dusty ball. I smiled at my father in law, who was again focusing on eating some potato. Thanks, I said, and he looked at me and mumbled happily. Excuse Me, I said, I Will Return Back, and picked up the baby. I carried her to some purple flowers in a tree. We remarked happily on them, in our own ways. We made noises at the flowers.
When I was a kid, and I was bored, I would rub my eyes and stare into my pillow. The fluorescent smudges left from the rubbing looked like galaxies. They even seemed to slowly drift to the edges of my vision. I would imagine that I was tunnelling very quickly through space. It didn’t help me sleep very well, but it made me less afraid of our wooden house, which groaned in the night when the wind blew.
1.I absolutely must not have too many icons down at the bottom of the computer screen. That kind of thing just will not stand, young man.
a.What if I were to accidentally knock the cursor down to the bottom of the screen? A menagerie of worthless freeloading software would happily invade.
i.Some ridiculous program that saves all my passwords in one encrypted file would be there. It’s a work thing, it would remind me of work.
ii.Or Skype, which always seems to be open.
iii.Oh, I’m downloading some movies? Which ones? Are they all going at an acceptable speed? When can I expect them to arrive?
iv.There’s a duplicitous, infuriating combination of windows minimized down there. Surely there’s some way to close them all at once…let’s just Google it. It will only take 5 minutes.
2.I must hide from my wife while I am attempting to write.
a.I shall arrange to have a tiny rowboat hidden in a forest in the basement of an unmarked warehouse.
b.A lawn chair on the roof will do.
c.I’ll just close the door to the bedroom and try not to make any noise.
i.She found me. Now I know that the cat peed in the baby tub.
ii.The pillow must be in exactly the right form under my head. It must be:
1.It should be a variation standing the tall way, folded under itself three times.
2.The ideal position for the pillow shall be allowed to change once every thirty seconds or so.
3.The best place for me to write will still be the bedroom, but I’ll just work the distractions in. No, wait, it’s time for the baby’s naptime.
a.Also acceptable: the balcony at tree-level, rolling green branches.
b.The dark, unfinished office.
i.It smells like splinters in here. The wood feels too dry.
4.I must not think about money while I write. Money is evil.
a.In general, I must not be a bratty little boy about money that I do not have. My wealthy aunts and uncles, in real estate and medicine, have nothing to do with me.
i.I was raised better than this.
1.Stop thinking about the money.
5.There must not be music playing. It will destroy all the minute details of my surroundings.
a.Is the sound of the fan actually changing, or is it the Doppler effect?
b.Why does that book cover touch the desk every time the wind catches it? That’s calming.
i.I hate that sound. It’s driving me nuts. I’m going to throw that book out the window.
1.I’d better put something on top of that book.
6.OK, there must be music. But it can only be…
b.Thoughtful movie soundtracks
c.The Bojack Horseman cartoon show theme.
d.That wistful song which has the lyrics, “Like popsicles in summer.”
i.That song reminds me of the word Colorado for some reason.
7.I must forget about the color of the sky at grandma’s house. It’s a nuclear illusion perpetuated by vast stacks of cash. That was not my life. My life is somewhere else, and the less I try to be myself, the more completely I will take up space.