Chapter 5, Part C
This is a train
They climbed back up to the tracks as Vic balanced on the left rail and walked heel to toe, spread his arms like a peregrine falcon, dragged out his lungs and sang to the heavens.
You check up on your brother one night
and find a skeleton falling down the stairs
roses in his teeth, a glow in his eyes
you ask him if hes alone
or if he really cares
He trades you his knife
not to say what youve seen
when the reporters come after you
Theyll rope off his room
draw in the dragon
and nobody else will memorize it but you
You hide it softly underneath your bed
but the reflection glows just above your head
and when youre called
to your brothers grave
beneath your feet
he knows what you gave
and hes thankful
Estrelica stood up on the right rail, balanced herself, kept up with Vics pace, and took over.
You check up on your sister, too
a blaze of darkness, a sympathy ring
the keys to her father, and a wrist full of clues
She caught the eye of gentlemen
and had them all brought to her door
and let them believe her delicate words
until she realized she wanted more
And he just looked into her eyes
until she didnt see him anymore
but some forgotten reflection
of who she could never impress
as she lay there on the floor
Vic continued where Estrelica had left off.
And I couldnt give you
what was stolen before
the best I could offer
I placed on the floor
and watched your Spanish hat dance
as you edged toward the door
Estrelica kept the song going
And I never thought Id see the day
when youd look right through me
and find the things you love to hate
that you could never set free
Blindness had occurred to me
vengeance winked its eye at me
deaf and dumb was the only option I could see
when you were with me
Now youre light years away
five hundred roads gone
approaching from the east
landlocked in the dawn
and you were never half so strange
as all your yesterdays
that I could never change
You and me and darkness made three
When you were with me.
Vic stepped down from the left rail as Estrelica stepped down from the right rail and continued walking.
"You know, this morning I woke up to the sound of an injured bee trying to get out of the window he hit himself on when he flew in. Story of his life." he said.
"And whats the story of his life?" she asked.
"Poor godforsaken bee always thought he was a raven. One day a porcupine said to him "How is it you fly? How is it you stay up in the sky?" Bee looked at his wings, realizing they werent big enough to fly to all the places hed been and never flew again. Just kept thinking about it for the rest of his days. His kids hung his picture on the wall, asked him to tell all his tales until they knew them by heart, then flew to all the places their father had missed. and they always stayed away from porcupines."
"Your brother...did he leave you anything? Anything material?"
"Well, he left a note saying that in China if youre executed they make your parents pay for the bullet. He left me enough to pay for the bullet."
"How heavy is the world?" she asked.
"Ninety thousand tons. My grandmother is 90 years old and I asked her once what every year means to her and she said a thousand tons. She just had a slight stroke from missing my mother because she flew back to where she was born for a few weeks without her, so now the weight must be unbearable. There was a song shed sing to me really slow that went:
We watched the end of you and yours
We watched you stand as you were slain
There were women fathomless
There were men who were betrayed
You trusted them even then
Your pleading was all for nought
Years of hell, still you sang your song
and I, still alive, are what you sought
Shed sing it to me when my folks werent home."
"What do you like?" Estrelica asked.
"What do I like? I like the way the strings shoot by each other pumping up and down before the end of Ode to Joy, and the burning smell of trains that tastes like youve just sunk you teeth into the live rail. The whisper of a mosquito by your ear and the bite of mescal and how it brings a tear to your eye one minute and shoves your throat up through your neck the next. The kiss of a Lucky Strike on your lips, the waltzes of a bleeding fool, the shimmer of heat rising up from the road, the side of a hill studded with trees at dusk when the ghosts return and open up the bets that youll never make it across to the riverbed on the other side. The hum of the refrigerator at three in the morning. The way a woman bends down to pick up a horse chestnut, the last sigh before you drag your carcass out of bed to drive until dawn on your way to the airport for a grilled ham and cheese sandwich before her plane gets in. Sheets whipping in the wind. One last low candle by the side of the bath and the tip of a shovel on the neck of a garter snake. The expression of someone when they trip over themselves. The light under the door going out. The things you forget. The shrug of an old person. The shoulders of a swimmer. The way you rest your head against the wall when youre sitting up in bed and the feel of a hum in your throat as you gaze up at the patterns on the ceiling that last night made caverns and tonight they make the cloak of a picador getting gored from behind. A drop-leaf table with a spider web stretching to a roll-top desk, and a grapefruit with a piece taken out of it right in the middle of the table."
Estrelica gazed ahead at the railroad tracks. Vic looked at her and spoke.
"Who are you now, who were you then, and who will you be?"
"I dont think I can really answer that because Im always thinking that either my life is over or that itll be a while before it begins. It gives me a sense of stillness, though. I spend my time making time implode. Like when you wake up too early and get dressed anyway and just sit at the table where the light comes in, traveling through your thoughts until the sun rises high enough in the sky so that you know its time to get things done. I take on the lives of places that call me, like the room above the saloon with lace curtains with a gentleman down below shouting "Its true! Wait for the telegraph in the morning--see if I care." Lying down on a marble porch with pillars on either side as your niece leans over and sighs "Hes not coming, but, Im here." Sitting upstairs in your aunts room with your parents as they dress to go to the beach in your uncles black car with the top down. When you ride the train from Dublin to Bray and you see houses after middle class houses and then just after Sydney Parade, just after your eyes have gotten used to the retaining wall, suddenly it falls away and THERES THE IRISH SEA, and Sandymount stretching all the way to Martello Tower.
"Its the disappearing I cherish most. I wouldnt be happy to have no one around. No circuses to go to or the old woman at the dry cleaner whose son has a testicle that still hasnt fallen. Thats what I need. But I also need to be able to disappear. Its the only time I can explain everything to myself.
"I guess Ive just never understood why two people cant be by themselves when theyre alone together."
"Dont you find--" Vic interjected.
"I find people I want to meet all the time just walking the streets when our eyes lock and you just know you will never see them again. Theyd probably have a cardiac arrest anyway if you just went up to them.
"I get sick and tired of people taking things so damn personally, like when you go out with your friends and they all have their "others" and you dont have one with you that night, so you start flirting with all of theirs. Then the next morning youve lost all of your friends," she laughed.
Vic blindly opened Estrelicas case of cassette tapes, randomly picked out one to play and gave it to Estrelica who took it out of its shell and popped it in her blaster. A song echoed against the bottom of the sky and ricocheted between their scuff-marks on the railroad ties and the occasional rush of automobiles flashing by on the road parallel to them. Vic started to open his mouth as Estrelica turned the volume of the music down low.
"You know," Vic began, "when I was little, probably about the first time I was ever put through the shredder, I thought to myself: Thats it. Im only going to live until life proves me wrong."
"I would have quit a long time ago if that were the case."
"Well, I mean, other people have always tried to prove me wrong, but life never has...at least not yet. It seems like it gets to the point where those who can recognize your smile are so happy to find it, and those who dont recognize it, they insist youre the type of person who would just walk into a supermarket with an Uzi. And it would take so much time to try and spell it our for some people, but you figure that if you stay out of their way, theyll come around in time. That must be the price you pay when you get your ticket here: That a lot of people are going to try and photograph you in the nude just so they can show you what you look like naked."
"Do you remember why you wanted to be here in the first place?" Estrelica asked.
"Probably for the whisky, I guess. Maybe the swans." Vic replied.
"I mean, they drive by graveyards all the time. Their friends die. Their family dies. Youd figure theyd realize how much time they have. But if you speak to them on their own terms, theres enough logic in what they do to keep you guessing for a while. I guess my only weakness is that if I listen to someones story, they make perfect sense. But, thats not a weakness. I mean, if thats a weakness, than what is strength?" Estrelica asked.
"Strength is being able to look down the barrel of your executioners gun and know why hes killing you." Vic replied.
"Well, if thats strength, than who is Jesus?"
"Jesus is the only one who will give you his last cigarette."
Estrelica nodded, paused and asked "So, what do you ask of life?"
"Oh, not much. Just that every day be completely different from all the others, for better or worse. And if its for worse, Id just as soon not see it coming." he replied.
"Is that why you spoke to me?"
"No. I spoke to you because from where I was sitting I couldnt make out if you were a boy or a girl."
"What difference does that make?"
"Girls scare me."
"Girls scare you?"
"Oh, yeah. Girls can kill you. Guys can only do bodily harm, but a woman can kill you, just like that."
"Have I killed you yet?"
"Well, if I hadnt thought that you could kill me, I would have left you alone."
"Do you ever think of beauty as a scar?"
"I find that with a few of my friends who are just too beautiful, everyone leaves them alone. They actually go through life feeling ugly because everyone is too afraid to even try and talk to someone so beautiful."
"But the ones who recognize beauty always come up to you."
"Well, Ive got a lot of friends who have waited so long that theyre dying on the vine."
"Well, I have this address book...." Vic said.
"No, I dont mean that, I just mean...."
"Horses mouths, is that what were talking about?"
"I think the subject was scars." Estrelica replied.
"Behold: A scar."
Vic lifted up his shirt to show her a gash that looked like a tattoo deeply embedded upon his heart.
"How did you get that?"
"From some punk in the Bay Area."
"Oh, I just read him his cards. That was the last time I read anyone their cards."
"Their cards? Just reading their cards?"
"Yeah, after that I figured Id let everyone just find out on their own. Theres only so much you can do for people before they just start to hate you for what they could never face in themselves."
"I cheated myself a few times," Estrelica said. "So many times you end up in a game of strip poker pleading with everybody else to lend you some more clothes."
"Ah, but thats the best thing about strip poker, is that theres a point where youve lost. Some games you just keep losing and losing until you keep thinking just one more hand, just one more hand..."
"Leap of faith or a leap of doubt."
"You never really make a leap, though. Youre always just in the corner up against the wall before you realize you have to dance around the bullets until the magazine just runs out."
"Then you hot-foot it to the pawn shop and pick yourself up a piece." Vic obliged.
"No, you dont head for the pawn shop."
"Then what do you do?" Vic asked.
"No, you learn how to keep your cards a little closer to your chest. and you always count the cards."
"And after youve counted the cards, and broken the bank and you walk out with your pockets full..."
"Well, what do you say about risk? Some risks are natural and some risks arent, but you just have to take them, regardless of what you think about them, just to see what youre made of."
"So, if I came up to you and asked if you could take me back home, what would you do?"
"I dont know. Id probably give you a map. A very vague map."
"And what about love?" Vic asked.
"I was in love once. With myself. I just happened to be at a very impressionable age at the time and I believed what everybody else said about me. It took me years to be able to live with myself again. Thats what can happen when your concentration gets broken."
"How badly was it broken?" Vic asked.
"There was too much of a sense of risk for me to deal with, and you know that when the odds are so astronomical that they cant help but be in your favor. Me being a girl, or everyone thinks Im a girl, that can mess with your mind quite a bit. Dont even tell me what year it is because it doesnt, and it never has, made a difference. Saying things are better now is like saying that Argentineans are now getting ten cents a day when they used to get six cents a day. Im not trying to argue or anything, but, you know, plumbing: Thats where its at."
Vic didnt know how to respond, so he didnt.
"Youre male, youre white. Youve got it all."
"Oh, come on now."
"Well, you know what I mean. I dont mean you, but others like you."
"Chains are chains. Your chains are female; my chains might not be female, but theyre chains nonetheless."
"And what type of chains do you have?"
"The chains that men have made for me are the chains of competition. And the chains that women have made for me are the chains of simply not being a woman."
"Then the chains that women have made for me are the chains of never being able to stand alone. And the chains that men have made for me are chains that negate me because I am not a man."
"And what it youre a queen? A queen who was kidnapped at birth and raised amongst those who knew no better. And what if one day, as you slept beneath a tree by the side of the road, someone from the court rode by and recognized your birthmark and said You are the queen who was kidnapped at birth, and all this, all that you see, all this is yours. And they returned you to your castle?"
Estrelica sighed and murmured "Id throw one hell of a party."
They walked a little way before either of them spoke. Estrelica broke the silence.
"I keep thinking about this guy. The Pedestal Guy, as you put it, and its like, come back after youve seen through all of this gender stuff, you know?"
"Yeah. Stay away from men. They will mess you up."
"Just as much. I just like to hang around with anyone who can kneel down in front of anything thats larger than they are."
Estrelica and Vic listened to each other and plunged headlong into words neither of them had ever had the chance to string together for someone elses consumption. Minutes stretched into years, history did handsprings, obsession ran laps around may-poles, tales of the brave and the meek that both of them knew lined up one after another like an abandoned hall-of-fame of local heroes.
The more she heard of his tales, the more she held back in her amazement, wanting so much to believe he was still unwinding war stories and not fish stories. Such things only happen in books or in films, she thought to herself. But when she opened her mouth and began to relate stories just as surreal and incredulous, she realized that Vic may just be listening out of politeness as well. She thought of J. Dove and the letters he had written her whilst on his travels relaying adventures as if he must have scribbled them straight off of the television late at night in a drunken fit of rage.
She looked over at Vic and admired his immersion in the fabric of existence. Such a hearty laugh he still harbored despite the tangled depths and heights his words illustrated.
Vic pretended to be completely oblivious in the telling of his tales, but couldnt help but notice her warming her hands by the flames that spilled out of his words. He sensed admiration in the same way he used to admire sword-swallowers when he was a kid, so he altered his delivery dramatically striving to emphasize if he could that the stages he had crossed and the dark dramas hed endured may be the most volatile of fuels for conversation, the crystallization of such adventures toxic enough to leave anyone thirsting for the neglected fields of romance, but that the low moan of the road is a gamble like anything else. Perhaps the shiniest, most tempting gamble anyone could ever ante up for, but only the simple of heart and the sturdy of stock could crawl through the brambles and the briers and find themselves scuffing roads theyd built themselves leading to pastures that have waited ages for such foolishly brave eyes to appreciate their pleasure, their shelter, their magic and their glory.
Vic laid out his life like a checkerboard hoping to one day show his children that there is no such things as a straight line. So many traveling buddies hed met abhorred the notion of wearing slippers, but Vic packed along his slippers wherever he went so he always felt at home. And just when he was about to be drawn into the quicksand of local politics and incestuous liaisons, hed recall the old flight path that had always served him well.
He didnt so much disappear as just retreat into a world he knew so well of lazy mornings and ecstatic evenings and cherished the few seconds after hed wake up wherever he was, just before hed think to himself Okay, where am I? What am I doing? and how do I get the hell out of here? He knew the blues as being a good woman on his mind, and despite his smile that protected him, his dice that betrayed him, and the legend that surrounded him, all he wanted to do was ride his bike and not be hassled by the man.
Estrelica & Vic, Chapter 5, Part D
This is a train