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10:51 - Tuesday, Apr. 20, 2004
everything must be as clear as tremors
I got this story back with two of my favorite writers in my class having said, in addition to their comments, that this was one of their favorites in workshop. Quite an upper, considering I wrote this somewhat stoned and even I don't know what I was referring to half the time.

Everything Must Be As Clear As Tremors
The order from the sky's view is macro ..... micro, dot dot dots being everything no one thinks about when grounded; taking an afternoon stroll; staring out the window of the Transit Authority's pink buses; even naked sunbathing on the high opaque-fenced back porch. From above, one sees a brown-dotted landscape, scorched California-style from months of no rain. From the dead brown grasses rise bright green palms that tousle their fronds in the wind. The air: gray, even when the sun is shining. The sun can be seen only through a vaguely murky silver-tinted television static, but it is enough to leave this region's people's skin leathery and cancerous.
It is one of the most coveted places to set up home; more so for college students and upstart young CEO's and less so for senior citizens, but overall overcrowded. Moving down from the television static and into the streets, one sees stout Spanish style buildings, designed for hot dry weather; manufactured adobe. Stiletto heels under purple painted toenails slowly wear holes in the concrete boardwalks at the beach, and sandcrabs' homes move closer and closer to the surface and open air without budging an inch.
Eyes are largely blue here. Hair largely blonde. The American ideal wearing string bikinis and board shorts; hot wax and Urban Decay eyeliner. Lying on the beach in summer, winter, spring, and fall and cooking to well-done. Their children make sandcastles until they turn thirteen or fourteen, and then they start tanning the most 'even way': one hour back, one hour front, on hour each side, then a secure coating of SPF 45 sunscreen to use in the water so the shoulders don't stand out.
Interspersed sparsely with the tanning masses are people who hate when others describe their town in such biased, defeatist manners. Interspersed even thinner are those who are missing the ability to see, hear, touch, taste, or smell the essence of the town in which they live.
These are the dot dot dots. Not what lies beneath, but what lies in between. The sandwich filling between meaning and meaning, the bread. Symbols... the sandwich.
In a four story clay-based building on the northwest side of town, there is a short hallway: floor two; whitewashed walls. Standing in the hallway is a wrinkled, yet still young man with redstreaked black hair who must explain to two people what they cannot possibly understand. He is under contract for his words, for what he weaves with his words, or what he is reputed to weave with them.
The first person is a girl, seventeen years old, sitting in a soft leather armchair and wearing dark glasses. The young man opens the door quietly, but her head snaps around immediately and she appears to focus on a point just beyond his right ear. Her gaze follows that point as he settles himself onto a bench just across from her.
He does not introduce himself.
'Picture...' he says, then stops.
Her foot taps softly on the linoleum floor.
He cannot say picture.
'There is a dog brushing past your knee,' he begins again, slowly. 'His fur; the smell of his meaty breath. Lay your hand on his head, his wet nose. Hear him panting, feel his wet tongue on your leg and his breath on your palm as he sniffs you to gauge your safety.'
The girl nods.
'Cover your ears, your nose, your mouth; move far away so you are not touching him. Now, see...'
He takes a deep breath.
'Know that he is there.'
'How would I know?' she asks.
'That's sight,' he replies. He moves his right hand close to her sunglasses; close enough to throw her face into shadow, but not close enough to touch her. Her face is unaffected, her eyes still squinting in the same unfocused manner. She does not flinch.
'Is it magic?' an attendant asks a doctor in the hallway in a whisper. 'I can't see any difference.'
'Well,' replies the doctor in sarcastic tones, 'I wouldn't expect that she'd start walking the sobriety line now, would you?'
'She's sober,' the attendant mumbles.
'And Isaac's not trying to make her see,' admits the doctor.
'Then...'
'...what are you trying to get me to understand?' the girl cuts in timidly after Isaac has been staring unblinkingly at her for upwards of thirty seconds, his hand hovering by her forehead.
'I'm trying to get you to understand what it is to know the dog is there without using anything that you have been using. I want you to know his shape, be able to trace his shape, without laying a hand on him.'
If the girl, whose name is Patty and who has been blind since birth, had been able to trace a dog's shape without using her hands, she would also be capable of tracing something more troubling altogether. Namely, the sun on her face, and the cream which she looked forward to the cold slimy feeling of every morning. The whiteness of her next to the teeming masses of brown leathery blonds; her red hair gleaming the way the Irish sunburn, and her being beautiful and having to know it, and it changing her.
Changing her enough to know that the reason the doctor lingers so long is because he has fastened his eyes on the smooth freckled skin at the base of her neck, one of his hands nearly touching her sunglasses, the other hovering, trembling, at her knee.
'I'm trying to get you to understand,' he says again.
I'm trying to get you to understand what it is to know the man with the sharp canines and green eyes what is sharp? what is green? is aching for you without even touching him, or smelling the scent of his rising skin.
And whether that's okay or not, or even possible. She feels something she often feels; an unexplained surge that she attributes to light rays flying around and bouncing off her body while they're absorbed into everyone else's. Something that everyone else knows because they can see it and they know whether it's there or not.
Sometimes Patty wonders whether most people know what others are feeling as easily as she can pick out the squeak of her mother's flip-flops along the kitchen floor. Like it's just there, plain as a caress on the cheek, because they can see it.
Outside, by the crystal-blue swimming pool that Caryn can see and Patty cannot, Patty taps words into Caryn's waiting hand before Isaac can finish writing his first report, and she asks her, in plain language, if a question like this can be in plain language: 'Can you see when James is angry with you?'
Caryn nods, turns Patty's hand over so her palm is up. All Patty knows in sign language are letters. Everything must be spelled out. 'His face,' Caryn spells sparingly. 'It's red.'
'Red,' Patty spells back, the core of an unneeded question.
'Red like your hair.' Caryn closes her eyes and continues. The only way she can explain. 'His eyebrows go down and his fists go in a ball.'
'That's not knowing any more than me,' Patty realizes, says, and spells at the same time, thinking of the raspy sound of a forced angry voice as Isaac emerges from the sliding deck doors and walks toward them quietly. But not quietly enough. Both Caryn and Patty turn to face him, and Patty forgets her realization.
Isaac has a sheet of paper prepared to hand to Caryn, written in Helvetica font, size 24, as if she has any trouble at all with her eyes. Caryn is fifteen and has 20-20 vision.
The paper reads:
Imagine being at the beach, toes in the water, feeling the warm salt waves lap at your feet, the smell of dead fish and live fish mixing with the smell of tanning oil. Taste the Choco-Taco from the ice-cream truck, the crunch of the sand that always blew onto it, no matter how you tried to keep it sheltered with its foil wrapper. Watch the waves carry the layers of sand away, see the crabs struggling to re-bury themselves. Now, rise into a fabric chair and cross your legs so your feet do not touch the sand. Close your eyes, throw your chocolate away. Now imagine what it is to know the rhythm of the waves crashing on the shore without seeing it, without feeling it.
Caryn's mind draws a blank, and Patty's would too, at the words 'carry' and 'crabs struggling', if she could have known there was paper and what its purpose was and could have asked Caryn to read it to her. But Caryn is busy trying to picture it. She cannot separate the word 'picture' from 'sight'.
If Caryn had been able to hear the ebb and flow of the ocean, she also would be able to hear the distant thrum of the test bombs way out in the Pacific; almost to Hawaii, but further south. Enough nothing in between the ocean, the ocean, the ocean, the ocean, and the California coast to carry the vibrations back. Caryn can sometimes feel the indistinct tremor, and says nothing, because she believes that what is an indistinct tremor to her must be a roaring rollercoaster quake to everyone else. She fully believes vibrations are equal to sound, just muted. When the tremors come, she covers her head; she half believes things will tumble down from the wall... picture frames, Bugs Bunny teacups, Japanese paper lanterns.
'What is this man making you think about, Caryn?' Patty asks, turning Caryn's soft palm inward.
'Bugs Bunny teacups,' Caryn responds, laughing openly because Patty cannot see her and her laugh is silent. 'Picture frames.'
'Picture....'
'Japanese paper lanterns,' she finishes.
Isaac watches, fascinated but ignorant. 'Can you hear his intentions in his voice?' Caryn asks Patty, as Patty asks, 'Can you see his intentions in his face?'
Both of them believe it is something exceedingly obvious to the other, like the equivalent of a hairy spider crawling out of his ear in Caryn's world or a round of machine gun fire from his hip in Patty's: that obvious; that obvious to react to; a clear-cut action-reaction-knowledge.
Each thinks the other so enlightened, so immersed in nirvana. They remain in awe of each other without saying so, for fear the awe would be painted in chocolate letters across their faces; that distinctive of a taste. That distinctive of a sentiment.
Above, across, and back down town, girls' red-rimmed fire-blue eyes tell their boys that, defined by black eyeliner and hyped from the moonlight, they are ready for anything. That distinctive of a signal, picked up in a subtle flick of the wrist and the not-so-subtle flick of the hand across her shoulderblades, possessive. Red mixed with blue and quickly overcome.
Stiletto heels and hair extensions: 60 bucks in a motel with hourly rates. If you're wrong, bloody nose and a splitting headache, which in turn means delinquent. Lying in the street after hours.
Rapid pops means run in the other direction, zigzag like they taught in the movies. Dive under cars, in behind screen doors, like that's going to do a whole lot of good.
The shifting of the earth means get in the doorway, hands over your head. Or, on a deck chair by a pool on the property of a four story clay-based building, it means the same thing. Earthquakes. Sound, and shaking. Either buildings tumbling or the drifting down of Japanese paper lanterns. It doesn't really make a difference. The collapsing in like dominoes of floors, the V-shape of a bridge afterwards. Broken picture frames.
It is as clear as day, as music, as a sunburn. Tremors, at least.
Caryn and Patty think everything must be as clear as tremors.
Isaac's skin is a sort of tremor. A ripple, more like, as he stares into the faces of the two young girls, awe painted like chocolate on their faces. Isaac cannot taste the chocolate; he can only see it as confusion, beauty in innocence. He sees it as something he covets but somehow still wants to change.
He wants to give these girls a chance at understanding something they never will, but he won't try to understand the loss it will be if he succeeds.
It may be as simple as he wants them to be indebted to him forever and throw their young untainted bodies at him as a sign of gratitude. At the thought, unbidden but more true than anything else he has said, his skin ripples again, quiverings all the way down his spine.
Isaac hopes neither of them can feel it, sense it. He knows that nothing is as clear as tremors.

 

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