In the Crow’s Nest

Chapter 13 – The Head of Heights

He started speaking to me once he got settled into the Crow‟s Nest. Perched in a seat just below mine, after folding the black plastic garbage bag in neat lines along his lap, the old man turned to face me. I was listening to music, and had to take out my earphones and ask him to repeat the question. 

“Would you like one?” he gave a smile and tugged proudly at the trash bag draped over his shoulders and chest. “I have extras.” 

“I‟m fine,” I assured him. 

“You know, it’ll be raining cats and dogs by tonight. They say about midnight, but that‟s really like nine o’clock.” He grinned. “That’s what ma’ bones are telling me.” 

I looked out the bus window. The skies were dark and gray, covering the heads of skyscrapers like a wet wool blanket. Pellets were seen sinking along the adjacent windows and diluted the finites of passing faces on the street.  

“Is that right?” I said, finally. “The forecast called for it to be a flip of the coin, whether it’ll pour.” 

“Oh, it’ll dump all right. I‟m sure of it. You don‟t need technology to tell you that. Don’t own a single piece of it. Once telephones got to be the size of bricks, I said no, thank you. We don’t need those to communicate. Because you can communicate telepathically with anyone. Like right now, my partner knows where I am. I can wave and say hi. That’s how we used to do it.” The man winked. Around his eyes were lines of time, sunken into the skin. 

“Now that’s something,” I replied. “You raise a good point, though. Things have become rather complicated these days, because of all the advanced technology.” 

“Yes, they have. And things started to really speed up right after I got back from the war. Nam, that is.” He took a deep breath. “Boy, I remember seeing the skies turn ice white. Like the color of that SUV over there.” He pointed out the window to the passing traffic and grinned. “It was so bright that you could read a book in the middle of the night. They were dropping all that Agent Orange from helicopters. It came pouring out of these cauldrons; big cauldrons that were suspended by chains. It covered everything like molasses, and then incinerated it all so that nothing would ever grow there again. We didn’t know what it was, we had no idea.” For a moment the fellow chuckled, but then his face grew serious. 

“There was a day after I got back when I was going about my business in the garden, and all of a sudden I fell flat on my face. A year and a half later I woke up, and I had to learn how to walk and talk all over again. Goo-goo ga-ga.” 

He chuckled again as he fumbled with his ensemble, carefully folding the plastic bag in neat creased lines. “My mother told me not to go,” he went on, looking up at me with a childish grin. “Like hell, I was going. But, see! I had to eat crow when I came back.” The old man laughed. “It’s not so bad, though, once you get through the first few bites.” 

Introducing Reyansh

CHAPTER 15

Stretches of weeks at a time would go by where Eddie’s phone was either without service or in-between carriers; his absence, however, coincided with my running into Reyansh Signh one day, while out delivering to one of the tech hubs downtown where he worked. Nico had introduced the two of us during my first few weeks upon The Plains; but, since then, Reyansh and I hadn’t crossed paths. Yet, in seeing me that day, he exuded a genuine interest in becoming friends. 

Reyansh was a handsome programmer whose disdain for a rigid, Middle-Eastern upbringing had sent him to the deep American-south for its comparable climate and friendly tax-laws. He was supposed to have gone back home with a degree, but was quickly compelled to keep with the Western ways and find somewhere to settle down. Something about The Plains had enticed Reyansh as a college graduate, so he made a brave, but calculated move to assimilate himself into the city without ever having stepped foot on its soil.

When we met that day, and seemingly every day after that, his search for a life-partner was as effusive as it was ongoing. Though, even after minor victories, I saw in his eyes an insoluble thirst that seemed to always keep them moving. Those eyes of his were dark and imploring, but his chestnut-brown complexion helped paint his innocuous smile as boyish and charming. This particular feature made a difference when the light was dim and most forgiving, which happened to be in the sort of places Reyansh frequented the most. Each weekend it was a new club or venue that he had heard about or wanted to try, and it didn’t take long for Reyansh to express his desire to take me under his wing, to show me the art of his approach, and perhaps bestow a useful tool for when the time came for me to navigate alone. There was much to learn, he insisted, about us and how we navigate, the differences between his people and mine, but also, what women really wanted.

Augmented Aura

Yet, in a strange way, the seething resentment toward Jared and Jason that Eddie and I had kept bottled up had, unwittingly, channeled itself into an earnest energy that we then put toward altering and modifying our share of the home into the inherently beautiful specimen it suggested to be in its bones. As the days went on, Eddie continued accruing more trinkets and small, quirky furnishings. Similarly, with the more space I was given, the more attention I felt that it deserved: something modest for the banister; a set of stockings for the large, ornate fireplace beside my bed, for when Christmas came; a few animal furs on the floor and textile tapestries to be tacked on the walls; and, eventually a small array of house-plants to be strung from the balcony’s banisters. As it was, our section of the wrap-around porch had already come furnished with a pair of twine chairs, which peered at perfect angles over the whispering treetops that sat as a buffer between us and the city. It felt, all so suddenly, as if Eddie and I had reached a pinnacle neither of us would have previously been able to imagine: this was the world at new heights, and the two of us took full advantage of extracting its worth. In turn, many mornings were spent chatting in those twine chairs over coffee; and, it was here, in his most spirited attempts, that Eddie would attempt to cajole me to uproot myself and focus on finding a nice girl – if nothing else, to add a little zest to the place.

“Isabella has changed my life, yo,” he exclaimed one evening, as the sun was beginning to set and we got comfortable with a couple of cigars. “If nothing else, she keeps me in check.”

“Yeah? She sounds strict,” I teased. “No. Good for you, man.”

Rolling his eyes, Eddie retorted, with an edge, “Well. Let’s just put it this way, I spend less time wasting time, watching TV, scrolling the Internet. I’ve actually started to outline a few of those projects I’ve talked about.” Just then, he began fumbling through his pockets for a few blueprints of dioramas and paper pinwheels to show me. 

Outside of the art, that stuff Eddie talked about was still elusive and otherwise unclassified; but, inferred in its prowess was an invigorating – perhaps even infinite – property, which could only be obtained from great attention to detail. Sometimes his hands shook when he spoke of it; other times, the dark brown pits of his pupils would vanish and then glaze over as he became mesmerized by the substance. At last, one night it happened: a close encounter with God; the inevitable (sort-of-accidental) result of tilting the scale on his stratosphere until the world melted into a single, linear passage of energy. In the weeks following, and for the first time in our friendship, I felt the aura that Eddie maintained shift from an imposing, fiery red to a supple, yet vulnerable, shade of blue.

Looming Embattlement

Fueling the fascination with such incongruence was the tangible distance she was known to keep; on various occasions, but most often when the hour ran well into the night, and any uncertainty of our feelings had been resolved, Alix’s deliberate measures to maintain a strong, focused mind for the early hours of the morning became increasingly common.

“I really should get some sleep. Tomorrow is a big day,” she said one night, retreating from her closet with a folded business wardrobe in hand. The room was completely dark; yet, the peak of physical attraction still clung to the walls, and could be felt hanging with indifference on bare hooks as Alix maneuvered the space. “You can stay, if you want,” she quickly added. “Or, I can take you home. Let me drive you home.”

“Don’t worry about it. I should probably get some sleep myself. I do have to work…tomorrow night,” I replied, before gathering my belongings from her nightstand. “Busses are still running, don’t trouble yourself.”

Alix was insistent as she went to grab her keys from the dresser. “Are you sure? It’s nothing, really.”

“No problem at all. Get some rest. I’ll see you this weekend?”

“Sure, that would be nice,” she said, and then with a kiss I was sent out the door.

Riding the bus alone at night through the city’s varying neighborhoods had a way of washing the senses; the pretense of an isolated paradise in which Alix resided would halt suddenly in favor of the stark, downtrodden extension of the city I called home. A cross of the interstate and one could see how the rag had been wrung out, leaving behind only a drip of dirty water. The latter was well-defined, first by the flickering neon of refurbished food trucks, and then by regional fast-food chains and mega-lot grocery stores, at last dotted with doleful discount bins found in abundance: all fodder for the fray. As it went for the former – Alix’s hood – boutique shopping centers had been adroitly inserted into the lobbies of pristine, newly constructed apartment complexes, further adding to the air of affluence that was slowly making its way into other parts of the city.

Such a sudden split of lifestyles seemed uncanny – a marvel, an outsider might say – if only it had occurred without compromise. And yet, more than ever, embattlement loomed on the horizon, for my lay of land was a glaring prospect for wide-eyed developers and adulated entrepreneurs affixed on their reflection in the burgeoning lagoon. I often wondered, then, of the day that thirst would become sated, and the metropolis would sink accordingly.

Lightning in a Bottle

Eddie was stocking a filterless cigarette with freshly ground herb while we sat near the back of the bus, alone with nothing but the wheel bearings and screeching brakes beneath our feet. Passive, aggressive, and all together agitated over being out so early, he remained silent, tuned into his tedium until it was through, and then promptly dove into his black notebook with a flurry of frantic scribbling, pausing suddenly at each surge of inspiration, and finishing a few with an exclamation point. Once or twice I saw him smile, but Eddie would quickly subdue the expression so as to maintain his edge over the situation. Without saying it, Eddie seemed to understand my reluctance to stay cooped up in the apartment, dwelling on the eventful weekend as if it were a sort of climax I might not ever reach again. The empty bus, the sterile air of another lecture hall, and each playful post-it note were hopeful attempts to distract the mind from wandering too far in one direction. For almost a week had gone by, and I still hadn’t heard from Alix. But to this, Eddie simply scolded me for not following the first rule: Don’t leave anything up to chance. Now, I was just a number, and the odds seemed quite unfavorable for such lightning to strike in the same place twice.

Eddie

As I leaned against the stone barricade next to him, I smiled at certain points of emphasis while he rambled on, nodding only on occasion. Windows for interjections were sparse and seldom seized, but I was comfortable that way. Rather, Eddie made a person feel comfortable because it never was inferred that they had to do any of the talking. He would chomp away, running on about the heat, or how his underwear was bunching up around his crotch but he was dealing with it. The latter, I presumed, was why swimsuits were a staple to his wardrobe, along with a few large-billed hats and shirts with flimsy fabric. The white shirt he was wearing that day was made of thin cotton. It clung to him from the heat, and by the time he stopped moving, it was entirely transparent and stuck to his slim torso. Without doing a single sit-up or crunch, Eddie boasted of his inexplicably well-kept six-pack, and would smile at the irony while sipping from his poison.

Giardini Naxos

Soon it is apparent why this dot on the radar is revered by the French, Dutch, and Germans as an ideal slice of the slow life. Its sea is laden with cascading colors of sapphire blue and white ivory, each embedded in the rhythm of the tide; its knockout moons hold strong as guiding forces of the rotational tilt, as if it all began and ended here. Yet, no greater force is the contemplation that occurs at the skirts of a cosmic wonder such as Mt. Etna, where the discards of cataclysm pit questions of life against death. This is where man comes to quantify small decisions and conquer his ghosts; a realm of complete isolation seeming all but romantic with the right view.