Victim of the Avenues
by Zane Coker
part 2 of 3
“And why not?” blurts Thirty-Eight out of nowhere.
Her eyes, so liquid, so indifferent and so brown become for a moment lucid shields, shiny wet shields on which, somehow, reflect a world never before seen by Thirty- Eight, a world in which the frame of feelings harbors the portrait of feeling, one mindly feeling that conjures many different avenues, all leading to one and the same thing.
“Yes, the exact same,” she says now, standing now, shaking now...
For a moment everything — every single thing — becomes astonishingly nil. No longer does slush slime the walls but is clear, clean and odorless; no longer does the heat of morrow so instill the mind with tear but enlivens a ripeness; no longer does the stomach ache of hunger but is fat and founder; no longer does the rudder of a trillion hearts flank the back but remains a subtle thought of togetherness — of things, just things, though living and breathing, still things, out there, that’s all.
Mostly it’s this latter thought that compels Thirty-Eight to lift his head — but before he lifts his head he takes one more peek at the magazine, at the picture there, the empty pier!
Whatever she is, wherever she came from, he cannot say. What he knows is what his eyes see and what his ears heard, for she’s standing in front of him with her limbs faltering!
When she, too, sees the lone pier, a list of light across her face so stolen, happening beams, they are, she licks her shapely lips and shuffles aside the glittery air, lifts high her small head, her chin so sharp; he struggles with his own hand, it now in mid-air, shaking, reaching upward along her side toward her shoulder where he touches her, passionately!
“Please, please stop this crying,” he blurts, scooting closer to her. “Please, I beg of you...”
“This place,” sobs she. “Tell me about this... this place!”
So easily does her voice rapture the oddity of plastic pigmentation, such that stillness ensues and both camp a barren almost alien landscape, the only kindle to settle the air but a hum from a plastic vent.
Naturally, Thirty-Eight is caressing his Painmiser, adorning it.
“And those hideous clothes,” she points, “that thing on your side?”
“It’s what I need to get along,” he offers. “And its well the effort to take notice,” he adds.
She dips a closer wonder upon the blue box on his side, her head inches from his heaving chest, “Square and unconceivable.” Her fingers work its eely surface, freeing a cleaner blue. Then she lifts her eyes up to his icy gaze. “Pain,” she whimpers, “I feel nothing but—”
“Oh, it’s not that bad. The weather can be harder on me but the lack of pain makes my life awful.”
Her eyes beam a brown indifference; he follows effortlessly her stare, growing higher and higher, hair everywhere like brown water — hence he takes another glance to make sure she’s really happening.
Although she appears barely moving, her fingers are already upon glossy walls, working their squeaky smoothness. “Out there,” she says in strokes, “in waves, I feel it.”
Understandably he thinks himself not a bit of sense but forces anyway his head, eyes, to behold her agility. Then, for some unknown reason, he moves over a bit, just a bit.
“It’s a promise,” he sooner says, facing more her back. “I feel it everyday.”
“So you feel it, too?” she asks.
“Sometimes I do more than others but I can’t imagine why.”
“Gentle,” she says, “so gentle it is, like sleep it comes to purr upon your soul — I wonder if you haven’t slept in days, you look so pale, so awfully pale.”
Momentarily he drops his head and grabs the first thing he sees. “It’s foolish of me to even consider this,” he says, chewing now a burlap thread, “but this could be some kind of trick, you know.”
He tries in the candid stillness not to look at her but his own mind is as a dead tide and his body fidgets in such jerky motions that he thinks himself so ridiculous.
Then, swimmingly, she pivots a splash of auburn and perfume in every direction, “But where’s my ocean?” She plops onto the cold floor, her eyes racing his numerous twitches, “Where’s my pier and who are you and what is this place?”
“For the life of me! You just don’t get it — I don’t even get it — but it was so hot, with the dirt as hot, and while boiling there I stood minding my own business. Imagine that! Then these big Pains came out of nowhere and knocked me down. You should’ve heard them, screaming like a bunch tail-bent cats, ‘You’re make’n our digging harder, you’re make’n our digging harder’...”
“Pains?” She shifts her face into a sensitive stream of light; he just the opposite, into a sensitive stream of shadow. Everywhere a green light brightens and overhead, he imagines, the sky is but a river of fire. Bugs appear, disappear, and as wingless. Outward a barren wind in flurries of tiny tornados, ground sand and plastic.
Presently, half her face lit.
“What do you wish of me?” Thirty-Eight is asking with his hands. “I was just sitting here wishing, waiting and looking...”
“But where’s “here?”
“...And then next thing I know -”
“No, no, where’s HERE?”
“Why, home is HERE.”
“Come, then,” she says with a paper smile, “out into its sunshine we go.”
* * *
Round her head so small the plastic booms; the portholes and the many hatches climb as high. It’s only when she’s in the middle of the barren avenue that her fine hair shows; array a wedge of awakening sunshine.
“But where is everyone?” she says, fanning elastically the plastic.
On her so fast and with lungs as rushy, Thirty-Eight says, “Questions!” He jumps in front of her, “It wasn’t too long ago that I began asking questions myself. Like you, I wanted to know what this world was all ’bout, this getting up so early, these invisible particles. I began asking myself why I have to pay for my breaths, my beats, why I can never have a day off. Then I began asking myself who was asking these stupid questions in the first place...”
“But those questions,” she says, patting his meshy shoulder, “are natural enough.”
Her hand is gentle upon his shoulder and the way she removes it is just as touching. She spies him causally and he feels this utter sense of guilt rush his veins. Her eyes go sleepish and her hair begins to splay so much the other way, along her side it seems to mop that, when he inches closer to her frailness, he almost touches her lips, the skin there, its pelting warmth.
“A little more,” she lures.
“But I can’t...”
“It’s alright,” she assures. “I’m yours and you can keep me without ever showing me love, for the thought is enough.”
Now she’s laughing while the birds tarry magnificently. Her vocals touch anew the silent depth of the plastic avenues, their huge walls bouncing her chirps back and forth. She’s off and, before he can even think, she’s already but a stir.
She spins, sings and whirls round the poles of the lower world, her heart so fine, and her manner just what he needs this day. She’s on the plastic and her jubilant jumps nay slip its wetness.
When he finally catches up to her, she’s already plucking from a plastic branch a plastic leaf.
“What did you mean — back there — what you said?”
In her soft, white hand the plastic leaf quivers, “It’s not what I ‘mean’ but what I want to be, as you should yourself.”
Almost habitually he, too, plucks a plastic leaf from the same rattling branch; then drops his eyes upon her vague image: spirals of Saturn-Rings whirling green round her salutary waste, round her fingers and arms, everywhere glowing. He plays the free fluffs of her sheer silks, her lean shape every now and then sprouting its neat togetherness.
He’s behind her with his frigid arms locking even tighter his frigid sides.
“Something spurns abound,” she whispers onto the mist.
And to see her — like a soft tow, hair wisping, round her the mortal etchings of harsh makings, sharps that could easily cut her beauty — is to see her like no other. To want those broad shoulders, his hands over them like a spider spun, awaiting command, then just that command...would be to know her like no other.
Wildly she faces him; his hands tear away.
“Where they make the plastic,” he instantly says, “is where better lives are found.”
He wishes up an answer and almost into its rigmarole but instead and below his feet stomps a piece of plastic irritation, “It’s hard for me to know what things mean, honestly. The only thing I know is my Pit and my PURPOSE. Everything is set. Really, if I could, I’d have to think ’bout it for a while, all this stuff.”
“But you must have something to tell me else I have no PURPOSE.”
Presently he traces a frown flaring her fine face, brows up, concentrative and so very child-like. “How ’bout a name?” he challenges.
She goes into a smile and keeps biting at the misty air for a name, “And I wish I had one. I should have one. But the only name I see is a beautiful sea and in this sea I see blue water lifting and I wish to be in those waters floating on my back while just those foamy folds carry me off into some far away place... Maybe this is it, probably this is it.”
“So...how ’bout — Viola? Yes! How does that sound?”
She forgets her thoughts and with a lasting nod spins a half-turn toward the tubular city, its looming beauty. “Viola!” she sings.
* * *
Ahead a greenish haze drifts over the avenue, smoke-like and as still as a windless dawn. Not a sound can be heard save for the tread-bound smacks of squishing feet, behind them, approaching them — they have no care.
Round her the air continues stoking and the sun soon becomes a blinding club. All along the avenues toward an indistinguishable distance she feels hot sick. Yet somehow the plastic walls around her make for a cool fan, and when she reaches the end of another avenue, she feels to peel off her silks and run for the nearest beach.
But no beach can be seen here, only a plastic bridge, dripping wet its beams and boundaries; she looks over her shoulder, at her long tress, along the same avenue now but a steely flash and sees clearly its borders, huge slabs of plastic with checker-like surfaces and with holes punched in their centers. She also sees her companion, coming on strong, and straining through the stillness.
When Thirty-Eight catches up to her, he just stands there, studying her.
“Where’s the ocean?” she asks. “Where’s the foam, the lift, the peace?”
“Don’t look there,” he begs. “You can’t go.”
Already Viola is running toward the bridge; she dodges his airy gasps, his tingling, and filthy weight. “Over here: the foam... the lift... and the peace!”
The bridge bounces and the whole of the outer gully lets off a torrential glitter. Near the crown of the bridge the sky presses its clear blue onto the world like a great band. Underneath the bridge is a shade line of pilings whose plastic edges are as sharp as razors and whose plastic edges cut the wind in swooshing screams.
At the very top of the bridge Viola drops to her knees, whence immediately a gust of fierce wind blurring the city’s tubular towers...
When he shakes her a little, just a little, she fills her eyes with smile and coolness. “Please help me,” she asks of his trembling hands. “Please help me to my feet.”
But when he turns her up he has to grip hard her side and he feels her ribs and tightening skin. Then out of action comes a twist of faith almost sending them both over the rail.
Holding her tighter, he has an urge to kiss her quivering lips, to wholly embrace her fragile frame. He has an urge to gobble up her feathery rhythm. Most of all he wants to blend into a freedom she so deserves and settle it once and for all but, when he sifts through his thinking, his eyes give way and she knows out of their gleam that his judgment is best, that, if he wants to, he can lift her up, up over is head, and toss her away.
He’s soft; he releases her small flank, her arms sliding gently off the plastic rail, loose as ever. She’s fresh and wet with sweat, the beads shivering fuzzy soot. He probes tastefully her measuring manner; he watches as her probing eyes pan again the tubular city. She’s peering deeper into the deep, dark places, between the gallant towers, and what she sees are tiny specks of white, like incipient little moons.
* * *
Down the bridge they go, his burden on his joints, his aching, and splitting joints. In the air, too, the smell of PURPOSE and flies, too, millions over the putrid slew below. Only the bugs follow so, when next to the Metrogate, Thirty-Eight peers into her eyes. For a moment they gleam but fade as fast; trouble in the brine — to wit she wipes his eye, a tear there, delicately.
“Back into my ocean -”
“But I can’t -”
“Send me back!”
Never does he have the slightest chance because she’s as sleek as the plastic about, the avenues, and the roar of a tremendous vibration.
And the locks are open and the fiery cores of a zillion pods of plastic start to shutter.
But before he can ingest another expensive breath, and his sweat is ripping his eyeballs, and the cost of her pleasure is bursting his bones, he frights to life another impossible behavior: a disgustingly ugly wave of slobbery bubbles and spitting spumes and gouty pouts.
He whips round to face a throng of wobbly heads, his Painmiser connecting, hankering with the huge brain.
They beckon stale reminders to his eyes and he wishes to wipe clear their lurid burps. Over their shuffling feet a halo of stench and the whales of froth like steams are surfacing about their busy boots. Cats teeter here, dogs sniffing there the tails of the teetering cats; filth reeks, drips and drags, the chains behind but loose and abiding.
Trouble is about and the fix he thinks is but a bad joke; he presses his lips to Viola’s frizzy ear. “You’ve got to listen,” he begs, “just act as though you hate everything and then everything will be fine. Think of hate and nothing but hate, feel pain and nothing but pain — not hurting pain but that... that underneath pain...”
A wide brim of Pains brings fourth a cold, buzzing tattle, Thirty-Eight’s lips pressing harder her ear.
“Think of that ocean of yours as molten lava, you in it with that lava lapping at your melting skin; think of the salty mist in the air as molten pellets, the smell in the air as rotten corpses; think of loneliness, humility, futility; think of the universe devoid of God, nothing but nothing with you in all this nothingness while it sizzles away at your nothingness core.”
And she thinks like he says and sees her sea turn such, her sky glowing amber; she feels the sting of fire burn into her lungs; no longer is she breathing her wet-cool air but sinking into a heaving fire of rage, anger, hate, all of which lets off high into the air a steam which collects high in the sky a darkness as black as death. No longer does she feel ticklish pings of salt but bolting pellets burning through her skin.
She has made it when she feels her heart burst, and all those sins which have been flourishing amid its furtive pumps now becomes as one with the wrath so apparent.
Her eyes have the necessary blankness, the bones surrounding them seemingly depressing, allowing a sort of sagging drain to blend with surrounding faces. And if a spear so jabbed her ribs she would not flinch in pain, for it’s already alive, huffing and puffing, outings of rage, a remarkable rage of a remarkable turn-table, sounding down these avenues a fleet of warriors, mad as hell!
But the power in her heart is she, and the Metrogate has no lock for such a power as hers. Thus its plastic braces jell to her almost vigilant gleam. Like two sad hands releasing a hard prayer, the gate’s doors clap their holding walls. Over the threshold and into the start of the city, the plastic avenues go as big and then vanish into the maze of an incredible, tubular world.
* * *
Copyright © 2008 by Zane Coker