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all kinds of death.

"Still even wounded you do not see it. I can tell. I do not see it myself but I feel it a little."


Before the elderly man with the black and the brown eyes took his last step from the train for his stop he faltered silently and stiffly and he blinked twice quickly and hesitated and he turned his head towards the youth who sat close by. He turned his ragged body towards the youth who sat close by. The train was empty and fluorescent-lit, empty besides the youth who sat and a few other passengers and the elderly man who had gotten up to leave but now was staring at him. He hung his brown overfed eyes on the youth who sat who had eyes of perished blue not brown and the young eyes did not meet refused to meet his old gaze lingering lingering and the pretty blue eyes continued to trace the modest unassuming suburban country out the window and just within the youth’s peripheral vision, stood---though considerably obfuscated---the figure and presence of the elderly man hunching his frame against the train-rail and looking at the youth. The youth was a youth but his expression was that of someone older though not necessarily more mature. To anyone who bothered to observe he appeared not yet wholly disciplined by life nor yet wizened and made tough by the going-out of experience…was desperate to accomplish, and yet haunted by failure; was dominated by an infinite premonition of failure. Some odd fixation or permanent thought on this that loomed above his head and that was still to come and to bear and which would, if and when instigated, throw into question whatever meaning there might have been for his life.

Something oafish, something burly and oafish that stood in the way---

The old man continued to peer and wither and he knew all of these things and his movements were few and baffling and he swayed gently back and forth in a dull torpor as though drunk and he stared at the youth with an intensity both strange and familiar: unfocused and dull and yet a conscious urgency beneath it, however subtle, was there, and was quite piercing---as if the old man were trying to swallow the both of them up into his own nakedness---an intimate, purgatorial fugue. It pierced him, yes, if only because this old man seemed his other; seemed dedicated to only watching and waiting for the youth to watch him back.

From time to time however his eyes would suddenly widen and the old man would give a sharp twitch of the head as if making to stifle a manner of nervousness felt between them and which was unspoken and abstract. And the more he peered and withered and twicked the more the old man became instead an old, barnacled creature---a monster---in the eyes of the youth.

His eyes his blue eyes they continued more desperately now to trace the suburban country outside, disregarding the stare but widening their blueness slowly as the blue youth wondered why the train continued to stay at the same stop and and and he understood, promptly terrified, that the train and this particular slice of time had the feel of something disrupted; seemingly had stopped to wait for something to go on between the youth and this form of dreams---the elder to all the others for the blue youth suspected himself alone in his opinion of a man to all the others not but mere, and frail: his own seeing of it was not this way: the youth was afraid of him, of it: and all was a stillness, and it was the stillness of a World itself in pause for the sake of whatever discourse to follow vaguely between them. And the youth who sat put his knees together and he clenched the muscles in his thighs and the train did not move and the elder’s eyes were fire on him. The youth was sitting down in a seat five feet away from the elder and the elder stood inert against the train rail looking looking.

Sweat moved along the crevices of the two shiftless forms on the train, and something like fungus grew within the quiet between them. The quiet was bloated and pungent. It made green the things around it. The train doors closed vault-like at the old man’s stop. The train shrieked as it moved, as if in a cyclone, and the youth finally could take no more and looked into the ravaged eyes of the old man and saw him, the eyes like wet cinder, like slugs looked back into the youth, and the train was like a cyclone.

But neither of them spoke. The youth could not stop nor could the elder stop and their eyes were contrasts of each other and also their eyes were contrasts of their very souls because the youth’s were blue and peaceful and the sickles of his irises were defined yet he was angry and afraid and the elder’s eyes were like wet cinder and dirt and the Earth and they looked blind and without aim and yet the elder seemed to know more than the youth ever could at least to the youth.

Then the paranormal spoke to the youth and it was like the sound of the bray of a beast and it was wild and echoing in a trance outwards to breach the dark air and the sound was cloistered in the heart of the placeless wilderness of quiet that existed between them: and the youth listened closely, and the paranormal said:


…And that in a voice, a voice which Brian Softness would feel drifting into his thought whenever recalling the early, emptier days spent in the care of his mother and his father, days now to him as but an intrusive gap in time. The train stopped once again, and, without another word, the old man with eyes burnt to black ash and the Earth pushed his old bones through the stubborn doors towards a destination like a humble ghost.

Brian Softness was the sitting youth and as the train moved forward and away from the humble ghost Brian Softness slowly allowed his expression to lax into a soft frown---a frown that, like the pace of a clock, changed slowly, unrecognizable. After what seemed like eternity the train slowed down to his stop---and he, before getting off, as if to put emphasis on the change, said at almost a whisper:

“No. You don’t.” And that as though to defy whatever placeless sort of uneasiness the elder gave him. Something grey and infectious that still managed to trickle down; invading his character and ribs and drowning his heart with fluid. Something would be there, would be there and would come out, during this visit, he sensed; something cold, something vague and cold that made Brian Softness think that this would be a very bad day.

“!@#$, give them a chance. Turn on the charm willya?” Brian Softness smiled and and and the smile was abandoned.

. . . . . . . . . .

George got a pool installed. They had more money these days but were not as pushy as most old people were and did not complain when the drain was not put in right. Until today, George and Eleanor had busied themselves inside the house just to avoid that drain, which growled and crunched, terrifically, and seemed to shake the pool itself as though it were eating it.

Until today, when George got down to working his arthritic librarian hands (for he was the owner of a bookshop/for he had bad arthritis) and baggy muscles to rearrange one pipe after another until finally after four hours of work damning vain sweat: the whole vain thing was giving him a headache: the fatigue of his body and the soreness of his joints and the librarian hands barely able to move---all hilariously spent---and he finally preferring the suave and shady chaise lounge to the sun-pale concrete and the pungency of the chlorine.

George looked grim. In his old mind he felt something push. Some obscurity---some kind of obscure bubbling in the swamp. A last croak of testosterone withering out like an agate in marble. failure infiltrated his old mind like a gas. The pipe continued to roar.

“I took action though. That’s what counts.” This being the weak-kneed voice of George.

“Georgie, the pipe’ll stay broken no matter what. It doesn’t care what counts…elbow grease…know-how…now, I’ll call a professional, yes, I must call a professional, right now. Oh, dearie, poor dearie.” This being Eleanor, who sat down elegantly and lovingly next to her husband and stroked the patchy tuft of grey hairs atop his wide, blatant skull.

. . . . . . . . . .

Brian Softness’ senses sharpened too much and Brian Softness’ weight in step or body lifted suddenly and the sun seemed to protrude and boil his courage up but still he moved down the road and he popped and fumed in the heat.

On he walked though and the sun protruded further against Brian Softness’ tight-woven blazer and pressed pants---giving an edge to everything Brian Softness looked upon---giving an edge to even the asphalt Brian Softness walked on.

And he stopped and stood outside of his home, once again---for the first time, in a long time. There was a strong, solar heat swooping and burning him out and it swooped wildly up Brian Softness’ socks and evilly drifted about the clamp of Brian Softness’ collar and his tie was a noose.

And…it exposed as well those familiar and ignorant lilies, sitting blithe on the front step. The windows, he felt, and the door itself all positioned as one fantastic and ignorant face, waxing welcomes like those lilies. With lips white-washed and pollen-yellow tongues, they chanted, over and over chanted:

“Welcome, welcome, welcome.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Goddammit, that’s the door.”

George had let Eleanor get him a cup of tea but she always made it too hot and so it sat there on the living room table, sifting off its English Breakfast warmth in curlicue-tones. George sat upright on an old couch on which the cushions had begun to deflate and with his wasted spindles against an afghan cloth and white eyebrows curling like warmth from tea, George looked like a very wise, very blunt old cricket.

“George, don’t get up! I’ll get the door; rest your head; please, just rest.”

Eleanor walked from the kitchen to the door and had some swiftness, some orderly bounce about her that implied a certain list of expected ringers: Nancy Charles for her math homework help or Don Drieser for the polish back or that old war veteran George knew…what was his name…

“Nancy, I don’t know about today---” And Eleanor opened the door and saw, standing gaunt and fearful under the suburban summer,

Brian Softness.

. . . . . . . . . .

Looking upon him, George and Eleanor saw Brian Softness’ post-war form, which was not so different than before: Brian Softness was a short man, but his arms were long and when his arms bent, the intricacies of bone shifted mechanically under a timid layer of skin---but his hands were not timid. They were pale and a bit too hairy; they worked with a natural and studious grace that suggested someone more understanding and wise. When he stood, his arms hung languidly, and his hands both drooped downwards, like long snakes.

To describe the thick insecurities of this family one would have to look at what was not said. It is with silence that thoughts are procured, that people are measured---it is with silence that strategies are made. Eleanor Softness---then fixed upon her son, had little to say but: “oh.”

Now evidently there was much going on and much that wasn’t said. Eleanor had said what she had said while still hanging on to the belief that a general acquaintance was standing before her. As though too distracted by the mechanisms curiously at work in her head to change the tone of her voice.

So, she said---‘oh’---and,

upon witnessing for the first time in a long time the face of his son, George Softness quickly picked up his tea and gulped, burning both hands and lips in the process.

But Eleanor, then, seemed to suddenly realize Brian had been there; and Eleanor’s plasticity in smile and feature faded as quickly as George had burned his lips:

“Come in, Brian…”

“I’m---uh---going to get some more of that tea.”

George had then gotten up for a refill of that tea but his mug was already full. Eleanor did not seem to let Brian pass.

“Come in,” Eleanor said, still standing, meekly, in the way.

So Brian came in---

. . . . . . . . . .

The odor itself held in it something sickeningly familiar. The familiarity of home stank like rotten meat. It was the smell of an age: a violent age: a long-ago, long-dead sense in him. It cheapened with years, unlike wine it grew rotten.

But, it had a sort of revolting antiquity, sort of the inverse of wine, cloying and needy with apology: the smell apologized for itself: Brian Softness was angered by the smell because of that: the smell did not deserve to apologize. And the memories. Memories juicing in the humidity of the smell; memories amputated like an arm from Brian Softness’ mind. He held his breath when coming in out of some inchoateness that quickly lost meaning. Brian Softness laughed like a wretch but it came out like something warm. He wondered that he had been gone---for a long time he had been gone---

Looking outside then it seemed about twelve in the afternoon, as the light through the window had a vigor and acuteness only made to a sun in the middle of sky.

Brian Softness pulled up a wicker chair and dust erupted off it into the suffocating bay-window light. He felt suddenly very allergic to this place. Brian Softness sat down to approach George and Eleanor and his eyes were swelling. George and Eleanor sat before him. Their little faces peered at Brian Softness with concern.

Someone spoke but no one was sure who it was that spoke.

. . . . . . . . . .

“How are things, are things alright? It’s been alright here, I’ve started a few backyard projects. You know, I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who had a green thumb. Tell him what you have done, George...oh, he’s done some truly wonderful things, alright, truly, truly wonderful…George, tell him about the bookshop. George owns his own bookshop, now, Brian.”

“Oh really? Well---tell me about it, if you would. Of course it’s---” Brian paused and folded his arms pleasantly and did not finish the sentence because he was caught off guard and distracted by something in him that hated the posture of his own folded arms---because it was pleasant---and somehow subordinating.

“Well,” George’s hands felt themselves along the knuckles,

“I’ve worked on this particular project for over a year now; it's actually doing quite well.” His hands pressed forward conversationally.

“Oh really? That sounds great. I’m glad you found something that suits your tastes.” Brian Softness’ hands coiled around themselves:

George’s hands advanced further, then bailed out abruptly and swung around to scratch his chin, then clasped together, as well, secretly mocking Brian Softness’ own funnily coiled ones: “What tastes?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Meaningless. Disregard it.” Brian Softness wrote the thing off and the hands flapped awkwardly in George’s face:

“No, I want to know what you mean.” George smiled warmly; the hands perching like puffins on his upper thighs, retreating.

“And you, mother. How have you been?” Brian Softness pushed them together at the palm as if a slice of ham and lettuce and mayonnaise were scrunched in-between the two extremities:

“Oh,” She leaned and glowed and cast a fleeting eye on George, fingers tapping soundlessly on the soft couch. “I’ve just been helping George with his business---”

“And we’ve been getting business from people who’d rather shop in a simple bookstore than a mega-mart.” Said George.

. . . . . . . . . .

You see, this old, repeated adage of most regular, level-minded folk who feared big business was the perfect stopgap to keep George from talking about how it felt when you walked into the store, the first time: the hoary musk of decomposing paper and print: the wealth of ownership in something: a great, goldeny sort of wealth that straightened George’s tired back, upright. These things were not so pleasant to Brian, thought George, he would not be interested; he would not understand. He’d just think I was talking about myself too much…well, damn it, I’m old! So what? I deserve to talk about myself---

---There was a spatial pause that breathed deeply.

“Well, it’s nice that you’re back now…” George smiled broadly and said this. The smile reeked of distance.

Brian Softness---pulled up his tie---to try to look nice---

“Well it’s nice to be back---you know, for a little while.” Brian Softness emphasized the last words. He felt a refreshing release of hatred when doing this but after that a sadness, and a disgust; like he would visit and then go away forever. Like he meant no harm. Hm.

. . . . . . . . . .

His hands seemed to balance themselves in the air and his thumb counted each smooth fingernail; George’s pounced back out at Brian and lightly tapped the bulb of Brian’s knee as George moved and shifted; Eleanor’s launched like firecrackers over everyone when Eleanor stretched her entire body and moved her arms straight up.

Then, everyone’s hands fell, furtively, to nowhere in particular.

. . . . . . . . . .

Eleanor Softness was stealing looks at her husband. And George stole looks at her: the eyes asking each other, nervously, relentlessly: “What does he want?” And, yet, Eleanor said, preening each vowel:

“Why don’t you stay for dinner, Brian? We’d love to have you stay for dinner.”

Eleanor Softness also reeked of distance smile-wise yet Brian noted a dip of the head---a subtle, subtle widening of the eyes---that suggested truth. George, though, looked at Eleanor, gripped his tea handle, and coughed gruffly:

“Yes. Yes. Why don’t you stay for dinner?” said George, wavering. And,

yet, George sharpened, and said: “And…and, make that tea cooler, next time, Eleanor?”

So Brian stayed for dinner---

. . . . . . . . . .

When George and Eleanor had a chance to leave the living room they hurried to the kitchen and stood, in silence. Turning over the situation.

“George…Brian’s back.” Eleanor had very wide blue eyes and when she said this they stuck out like vast, opulent pools, as if she were begging for something, and George could not tell whether she was afraid or confused. George thought: Eleanor usually always seemed so reserved, so willing to please George, so agreeable to him. Throughout the string of their lives together, Eleanor and George had always been close, always a team. But he could tell sometimes that her female clemency would push her away from any of George’s more vigorously brutal preferences. Eleanor would still be in her supporting way and and and yet George detected beneath the oddly imperial sand of her thought a foreknowledge that whatever brutal preference it was that George had at the time, it wouldn’t succeed. This applied to their plan to put their rival bookstore, ********, out of business; this applied to George buying a gun. These objectives settled relatively around the house---picked up off the floor, and dusted off, and put back down, sweetly. George still had no gun, did not know what type to buy, did not bother looking. And Eleanor continued to support the vacuum of these endeavors with a nod.

George’s eyes were muddled from age but were still a nice baby blue. Brian Softness always thought it strange how a cold man like him could have such soft, forgiving eyes.

But George was the old, stinking madman…the crotchety father…just wanting a little peace and some books to tide him over…and, even if his eyes were muddled he saw that Eleanor seemed more aloof than usual and that she probably realized Brian Softness wanted something out of them, something that was hard to draw out---money was tight, goddamit---and, as that day went on Brian Softness would look into his parents' eyes and would feel in them the same hot glare of the old man from the train.

“He wants something, I know that!” George tensed and thought of how to approach his son.

He’d always been angry, that Brian. Not angry, just difficult. What kind of difficulty? George couldn’t place it. Every instance he could think of had its own flavor of anxiety. They took him out, didn’t they? But Brian wouldn’t have it. So they let him stay home, and he became anxious. He complained all the time---that was Brian’s definitive accessory, his mouth. And he talked and George listened. And soon enough George got tired of listening; I mean, energy isn’t something you just snatch from a !@#$ tree, he thought. He needed time for himself, and Brian refused to accept that. Simply put. And

they talked, to an extent, George thought…but him, George…friends? That wasn’t how it was with his old man.

What really got George angry was the fact that he always meant well with Brian, loved him, to whatever extent he could. But Brian didn’t…well. He didn’t do something. It was more than a problem of acceptance, George knew that.

“Fah,” said George declaratively.

It was something similar to chess, this parenting business. The right words had to be said in order for things to turn out well, the right moves made across the board. But most of all it was a game and was nothing more than a game…or was it?

George felt his own dry pensiveness throbbing in his head like a wound. He thought of life; he thought of Brian. He thought about the dimensions of parenting, about how many layers there could be regarding this; what it meant to be a parent, to raise a child---while Eleanor spoke mostly through her big worried beautiful calming eyes.

. . . . . . . . . .

Brian Softness smiled insanely: his parents, retreating like startled deer to the kitchen: not sizing him up but more bleating out to themselves all the dumb anxieties and testimonies and contrite hosannas he had heard from them, before, at one time or another…expecting Brian to pick up on the reason for this, which he did, and see behind it a sort of validated importance regarding how very full of gravity, earth-shaking, life-changing his appearance at their front door was.

Why had he come back? he heard them whisper, just loud enough to imply their wanting him to hear.

And his father leaning against the counter, slouching: the sphere, the pooch of his old gut: speaking but with looks that whispered. And both, in Brian's blue eyes, metaphorically wringing sweaty, conspiratorial hands: devising yet another plan to get him out. Brian Softness smiled, chuckled, even sometimes barely able to control himself from letting out a sizable laugh. Yeah. That would have really scared them. Brian Softness he could not resist smiling could not do anything but that. The appearance of being happy was something that had become instinctual, almost an obsession, so that no time was left to actually feel that way.

Like riding a bike; instinct. And when Brian Softness had first started smiling---recognizing early on the need to perpetually grin around his parents in his own house and in such and such a way of obsequious mania as to appear idiotic, nearly---in discovering this, Brian knew also of a drastic need to mature. Quickly. On his own---and he worked ever harder throughout his years spent living with his mother and his father to conceal the further indignation of having to camouflage his own discomfort in order to be accepted by these people---parents---and, so, yes, you see, he grinned, now---for that same sad reason---that is, in order to cover up a feeling of glob-like frustration now thumping out to him the memories of the old, stilted times between him and his mother and his father, times becoming unburied in his skull, like corpses, their definitions may putrefy but with a look at the teeth you can find that frustration, glob-like; glob-like because something of a fungus had been thriving for so long on these times, these corpses of memory once-lived. !@#$ times; times from the beginning rotten, born rotten; and they would only succeed in getting rottener. But Brian Softness had in him like an intimate gong something else that sounded out to him that childhood could be better than it was, for him. Forever he searched his parents for that something extra. But, if he had gone to the dentist, the talk at the dinner table would solely and in scrupulous detail involve his trip to the dentist…if the conversations grew in depth they would extend as always to the far reaches of what was on television; which neighbor or friend had done what to someone else; and, if Brian Softness pressed on, his parents would either grab any reason floating in the air to be angry with him or would plain change the subject back to dentistry. And then things would fall back into monotony. So it went for years, and wet, sloppy, glob-like time piled on him. And the want…morphed into frustration…

Brian Softness while still at home during the masque that was his childhood would have nightmares in which, upon leaving the table and going out of earshot, George & Eleanor would speak of their feelings and dreams in secrecy.

. . . . . . . . . .

The conversation did not range far. No talk of much else but the T.V. news, or the local news. In fact, the whole thing seemed a great slew of banter: a mighty brick wall of bullshit stood proudly on the coffee table between Brian and his mother and his father: George Softness built his bricks, built them readily:

Something happened:

Eleanor had just finished cooking, and the audible sizzling had stopped. In the background, one could faintly hear the busted pool pipe, straining,

making its strange gargles---

“I think there’s going to be a fireworks show next week,” George said. “That should be fun. I haven’t seen one of those in awhile.”

“Yes. Fireworks. Yes that should be great. I won’t be around though, unfortunately…I can’t come. I---have to go back---overseas---” They discharged him weeks ago. Hm.

Brian Softness thought glumly that the time had come to finish his visit. After dinner, he would leave. He would say goodbye, and leave. But none of it would matter. He forced himself to think that this entirely futile operation wouldn’t matter so it wouldn’t matter to him. Maybe I was too rough on that !@#$ and bastard thought Brian derogatorily.

Brian Softness smiled and clenched his bones. He was angry. Eleanor came out of the kitchen. George Softness looked at her expectantly; Brian Softness looked at her too, politely, but expecting something else,

some relief from the banter---

“Well…smells good.” Said George. And they all advanced towards the table and Eleanor Softness chuckled a bit---said, almost haphazardly---

“So Brian. How was that---war? Did you find it---an…experience? Must have---ahem---must have---been---quite---a---fight over there. Right?”

She chuckled, and her eyes looked with a sort of clumsy love at her son

. . . . . . . . . .

The woman with the thin scarf
Is like a groomed eagle: sans her age,
Which, like the winter solstice she now huddles in begins
With an end, and cycles into fathoms more than the age
Of any bird. She sits like that
On the metro seat spine standing straight as the stitching
Of her sallow blue coat, the upstanding curvature of her
Spinal column connecting to a prim shoulder blade, the
Mood of her collected, in the whitegloveway
She holds her bag. She has a farmer’s elegance, like
An ancient Parisian LOFT in Spring—an isolate
And carrion structure—perched on the edge of disused Parisian country.
An old, old, bygone LOFT she is, humbled by wear: rustic holes
Send light through the woodsy thatches of the roof at the same time she retains
A privileged sort of houseself: an intricate and crumbling cornice
Tucked into the wall:
Tucked all away from loafers, manics, tourists.
In the living room, one finds an AIR with her—in her—worn
For the young hoods, outside—
That ride lurk and hurt blaze and
Hide eyes inside/within her stomach, vultures
Scanning a corpse to graze on trains, buses—it is an AIR of
Clean and lazy grace—of expensive food
Thrown upon a slab.
Maybe a batch of flowers hang their heads
Over a vase, next to a descript pillar, on top of—
A furnace. A layer of gruyere
Naps on a cheeseboard nearby, and with flowers
The odor of local wine, it doesn’t matter what type—what matters
Is the feeling of the flower, the feeling transient,
Transient like a Ghoul, who with pretty pace haunts
These perfumes of Exhaust and sweat with
Something real, still heady, something still sweet,
Though the spring pall will run its short beat
To another season, and leave the Rose the Magnolia to shrink.
She will be content with her LOFT as long as the
Flourish the dapper and pink Rose white
Magnolia is real for at least a few moments, while the cars pass—
That the plasticene seat of the metro, or the city streets that tell her where to go
Will seem vacuous and cryptic things—like dreams to awaken
From—all with the passing of a flower shop, in winter . . .
That the humid smell of the Flora—arranged on the shelf, and that
The prime gush of healthy dirt beneath her fingers will stay
Beneath her fingers, even as our old Eagle now suffers on the street.
But for that moment—she takes in the smell and look of the shop
In the winter solstice she now huddles in, she
Braces for the wind and other things—
Removes the sulfurous sifting of the grate, and one sniff of the bouquet
Brings remembrances of the happinesses that may hide
From people, hide when there is no time
To gain it, or to gain it
Back—and she runs from the shop,
As if she had burgled the colors
From the petals

. . . . . . . . . .

When Brian had entered George & Eleanor’s house the mood had blackened between all so it would be hard for an outsider to discern that Eleanor’s comment came with it an eruption of deeper, stranger blackness. The conversation had become personal. Old questions and problems were brought back. Problems of who was to blame and and and for what reason.

Brian had thought, vaguely, that those questions would be solved when he went off to war. It seemed at the time like a period of closure for him---a period in which he’d regained a stability long misplaced---

---this would seem sensible to anyone who saw Brian before he went off. It seemed as though he were struggling against the turnings---of the Earth---all the time---

George coughed awkwardly:

“We, we didn’t expect to see you…we thought you’d just run off…after the war.”

George chuckled but began as well to pluck feathers out of the couch---stiffly, in a stiffness gone quite unnoticed in all ways and yet permeating through George’s voice and felt in Brian’s mind, unconsciously. A history of stiffness had become instinctive to Brian; just as war had brought out…vicious and dogged…his instinct to survive---no.

No, it was a need to do so. To---survive. The neat doings of Brian’s tie---began to crease---

. . . . . . . . . .

How was that war. Brian thought, frantically, Aw,
!@#$. How the Hell should they know? Is that it?
Is that the extent of their sympathy? Or, is it pity? Either
way, it’s embarrassing, this disconnect. Always has
been. Theirs is not the work of adults, that’s for sure.
That’s for damn sure. Is that it? I…
pitiful. How would they even begin to respond to what I
could tell them? Even if I wanted to? How can they
think they know me like that, if at all, enough to ask
something like that? They---they don’t know me
like that, to ask that. Do they? Do they have the right?
It doesn’t seem so. It’s kind of like asking an infant to
grow up and quit crying. Or something. It is like asking an
insane person to quit acting nuts. And there’s Mom
there: smiling like she cares even though she’ll never
follow through with her caring and so yeah and so yeah soon
you know she will---she’ll---just start listening to Dad,
because she’s afraid of him. She always does what
he says. So predictable. They think they can still fool
me with this pseudo-cerebral veneer---this complicated
mutant---this face of caring, this cornfed !@#$
simpatico. This…this sympathy between us, slapped on like
a goddamned sticker. And I’m going along with it! Oh, God!
I’m too scared to call them out…I’m such a loser. Too
scared to pluck my own ghastly parents out of their comfort---
I mean, you know---but, really---is this how they plan to---handle---
me? Do they think asking, so…flippantly---so carelessly---about
'that war' is their grand !@#$ plan? So !@#$
callous. Bright
idea. Oh: they must have
thought, “what can make him uncomfortable, but us look like
good parents?" Yeah. Hah. Oh. Yeah. That’s what they thought.
Insensitive frauds! Jesus. Did they even think about how being
in the !@#$, stationed in *********…hell, being shot at
by little brown kids, !@#$ children; being in those
!@#$ ghettos day and night…no sleep…
grimness…experiencing inhumanity first-!@#$-hand…poverty…
mutilation…christ…might have, might have uhm
affected their own son? We all are at war with our SOULS. Do
they? Ah, look at them, frowning and analyzing and worrying
at me like they have always done; wishing, hoping that I had
a secret motive, if only; perpetually unhappy with me and
with their lives and so they
take it out on me and they forgive themselves and---worse---
pat themselves on the back; and I’m left in the dark to live
my life like this, and they’re fine with me as long as I stay
out of theirs. What am I supposed to say to that? To that
complete ignorance? Who am I? What am I supposed to say to my parents?

. . . . . . . . . .

Brian recalled proudly his years in the military. The places he’d seen in the infantry, the ‘one-sixteenth’. The people he’d met.

It was there he had changed; he had become his own man. He had held a gun; had wished more and more to become the gun he held; had fumed, and fumed; had learned to control his head and yet somehow did not attain peace from this and from this learned that peace was not a matter of control but of letting go.

And he did, eventually: he became his gun: accurate, quick, efficient. Such violent persistence…so sad. No bullets but a few strayed from whatever target. Life, claimed. And, so, he aimed himself at his family, in the confidence that he also would not stray.

But there were darker things---as well---things much more primal, more guttural: things that roiled out of Brian a distinctive anguish: a very private, specific overexposure that only he could know: though what he was exposed to he did not know.

A psychologist might have fastened him under the broad umbrella of what is known as shell-shock, where so many others are fastened---like shrapnel to thigh. But, Brian would’ve found that answer too false for his liking. In his mind and maybe or maybe not in all others, what he had wasn’t common enough for shell-shock. It was too horribly mutated for any sort of common pathology.

Too ugly to be swimming in the average psyche's pool; to be sucked all through a busted drain.

And there were busted things in his family that were unnamed and that were dark too because the more they were refused the more indignant they became and in the eyes of Brian what it was that was bad and numb about his life now had its roots planted in who his parents were and he looked at his parents then and his parents looked back at him with eyes of disgust and of horrible loathing---

All this Brian thought. He thought: My dear mother: my dear, dear mother: she wants to know all the little !@#$ details. All and every bit of the story---all the brutality---and, seemingly as extraneous, as wasteful---all this turmoil in my head about it. Ha! Ha.

Fine time to ask about my life now…!

Too late, Mom. Too late ha fine time to ask

. . . . . . . . . .

“Fine time to ask,” He murmured.

Anger sprang up from nothing it seemed to Brian because anger was always there but he never used it---even in combat---when killing he never used it, instead glazed himself over with that very impersonal, clinical virtuosity given him as inheritance by parents who for so long and in that same way of distance had attenuated his own resolve and had with the damage done weakened to nothing his own soul's sternness: to nothing: by now, probably to be observed by him as a gray and still-waning pallor in the chest: utterly faceless and so then unidentifiable; seemingly comprised of phlegm. And yet Brian withheld from lashing out at his mother. Poor woman. The damage was done too long ago---had always been there.

Blinded by anger and frustration, Brian promptly and without warning forgot his last two years spent in the military.

---Brian’s mouth opened slowly---

A trespassing numbness tip-toed over---and jimmied the figurative lock on the door---two years---a hunk of fat cut from him and left to die bizarrely and unrequited. It was a massive artery that had been redirected to where his mind did not toil. He could feel and hear the blood pump through the artery but could not see the fathoms to where the artery led and and and Brian closed his eyes and put his long hairy hands to his long hairless face the face of a deranged youth a youth of sweetness and obscene frailty.

. . . . . . . . . .

Why can’t I remember? He thought

. . . . . . . . . .

Brian thumbed through each artery in his mind and pulled out the very heart of his mind if only just to find a single recollection of any moment over the past two years. Any moment that existed between the time he went off to war and this afternoon. It were as if the things he did alone---that is, any experience not involving his parents, excluding his parents---in itself was excluded from his memory in an astonishingly terrifyingly swift fashion.

As if nothing without someone else mattered enough to remember---all of it so sickly trivial---

And then to his horror,
Brian saw erupting from
the opacity of his thought
and bursting forth through
an opening in the fog the
visage of that strange old
man, and the old man watching him---those eyes of pulp---and the old man, saying


Like he had on the train, and that---over and over. The words. That sentence, delivered coldly, simply; nonplussed.

It rang aloud in Brian’s head and the ring reminded him of grenades and the sounds and the feelings of war were there but the stories and the touch and the consummation of the identity of a soldier had gone---

And Brian was suddenly back on the train and the old man moved forward to Brian on the train and his eyes were black abstract whorls that popped and popped and popped and also they writhed nakedly like demons, vulgar in the old man’s hollow shriveled head and the black lines of lightning quickly flashing here and there, uncontrollably---eyes that widened---and the old man took Brian and shook him and spat out to his face that he had to go

GO GO, GO GO, GO GO, GO…!!!!!!!!!! And the old hands gripped his shoulders---wanting, wanting to grip the man---wanting to push Brian’s body into itself and crush him and and and Brian convulsed, and, seeing it clearly, and with a sensation of beauty so great as to suddenly know himself redeemed---this youth, with the blue eyes---he opened up his brain; he found gasping for air there another, frailer youth and he knew then and for the first time an agonized, insane craving

for a child!!!!!!!!!!! It was the only way---

He had to have a child…that came from him, and from no one else it would come. A voice distinctly his and yet independent of his and and and that wasn’t hocked with the phlegm of untouched, filmy life---never any visceral sense, any friction or bickering or that old brutal pursuant called love between him and his mother and his father---just some coagulated pieces of tissue laboring around the house, playing with flowers, books; graying every so often and more and more each time. He reached out for something fresh: a blue-eyed manic child: an infant born from the little scraps of beauty still raging around in Brian’s belly: and the infant with eyes so blue and clean, writhing deep in the white sheets: wanting everything, absolutely everything in the World and and and only concerned with the new! New!



And then he was red right there in the living room and a kind of ulcerous pain tried to jump up his throat and out and every part of him red and close to collapse however one looks and there ah ah ah there and wrenched horribly in Brian’s features---wrenched, woven deeply into his features---were the spiritual contortions---the metaphysical knots and disproportions---the hurt twists of blameless injustice or blames not taken---the carnages---and---at---the---same time the dusts of what perhaps was his true and very

Soul!!!!!!---he clutched that face, that heap of contortions: that possible soul. He clutched it with his hands and he cradled the odd thing like a child in arms with hands that had pulled triggers and the strings in his hands shot from his own fingers and went at him like whips. His body palpitated as though to a drum. The stitches in his neck projected outwards to their limits.

His soul would creep out when he opened his jaw and screamed. Blinded and wheezing and crying, barely alive and drowning in its own primordial ectoplasm---it would creep out.

The soul climbed, and climbed---the sweat inched down Brian, like slow insects---and, yet, it was overall the strange old paranormal from the train who said---that said:


He screamed, and all the breaths in the World went into his body as he screamed again

. . . . . . . . . .

George said loud and haggard to his son, shaking off the afghan cloth he had been wearing:

“What’s the matter with you, Brian? Did you---did you leave something here, Brian? I think you might’ve…I think you did.

“Is there some aspirin my wife can get you, Brian? Brian!---”

George said the name with an attempt at authority,

“---I, I won’t give you any money. No way, buddy. Ever since we have, you know---I’ve known---you were born---I said you’d be on your own when it came to that---stuff. Silliness. I won’t do it. And that’s the final straw. The final---straw.”

George didn’t know what to do:


George pointed a cantankerous finger to the door---

There was a tin of nuts on the table and as George got more flustered he ate more and more of them and they crunched and growled terrifically in his mouth. George seemed more frantic suddenly; more scared. His old eyes were those that were weary of surprises. From his son especially they were weary.

Eleanor had been watching quietly and sat closer to George when she came back from the kitchen. The moments went by. Brian looped himself over himself, on the wicker chair that he sat on. looping himself over himself, over and over and

and, George & Eleanor---watched him---

. . . . . . . . . .

And…then, Brian stopped; there was a calm among them; the calm hissed. The hiss carried and vegetated around them. It spoke fruitlessly into the minds of Eleanor & George.

Brian opened his eyes. Eleanor & George were staring intensely, at him---

“You’re right, Dad,”

Brian said---now knowing he had lost---

“I just came to pick something---up.”

Brian had not come to pick something up.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Come on now, everyone. Let's calm ourselves. Nothing's wrong---is anything, is anything wrong here, really, if we just look at it…use discretion…are careful? I don't see anything out of place, personally. Really, I mean really. I mean, wow…really(?) Let's all ask ourselves that. So come now. Let’s

go to the table,” Said Eleanor, hurriedly, and her hands shook as she set the table.

. . . . . . . . . .

It had to be around two in the afternoon. Brian Softness would be leaving soon.

Brian and George both stooped over their plates and cast long shadows across the table as they did so. The shadows themselves mixed together in a formless shade. Brian looked at what was on his plate---saw how unwelcoming it was---the carelessness of the meat---the meager helping of potatoes---the low-quality plate. All devoid of comfort. Brian loosened his tie. The time for change was over.

“This is a nice table. Good. Well-built. Is it cherrywood?” Brian Softness said this, and began performing surgery on his chicken.

“Oh---yes. Yes, we got it while you were ahem out.”

George said this as though Brian had been out at the grocery store, buying a jug of milk, eggs, for over two years---ahem---he glanced over at Brian, weighing him, waiting for a response, but, none came,

only a sigh, a sigh---soft and it is broken.

Brian said:

“I should get off then, shouldn’t I? I’ve already taken enough advantage of your hospitality. Ha ha. I’ll see you soon, I promise…really…love you.” Brian abruptly left his plate for the door. He was burning inside.

. . . . . . . . . .

“Good. Quit bothering us, right?”

George whispered this just as Brian left. He turned to Eleanor for a supportive nod yet received none. He laughed. Eleanor instead looked quite sad. George continued eating and believed that the visit had gone quite well. He had maintained the situation and been friendly to Brian. He looked upon the whole day as a success. He did not measure the situation frame by frame because each frame was bad but equaled out to something good because Brian had gone but would probably come back wanting something else.

Everything went perfectly. Except for the end part, of course---an irksome hiccup in George’s life that he would never quite understand.

But George found himself suddenly trapped in reminding himself of the hiccup and more hiccups throughout the day became visible and then suddenly these uplift feelings of his plummeted into the ugly fencing of his old and present life and it was like something thrown in the air and coming down. The cosmos of his own before and ever after coming down. The psychic residue of the before: things strange enough to remember: like jaunts into emotions unrelated to the event: like some leathery depression slinking into him while on vacation sharing beach chairs with his wife on some anonymous isthmus by the sea. Or, bizarre happiness while driving to the pharmacy to fill his prescriptions, which he hated doing. Or even nausea and disgust at the chipper, repetitive greeting to him by his neighbor across the way. The chipper wave of Mike’s hand that came surely with the day as would all other natures of the diurnal World---and it irritated George because Mike was not diurnal like the World was and so then speaking practically, well, yeah---!@#$---the man he should not try to be with his greeting, and whatnot; and all of it mysterious like that and lacking form: the bookstore and getting angry at bookmarks in the antiques, ruining the page---I paid a fortune for this. And Eleanor with one tooth in her mouth now dark with cavities and general rot. And George seeing the whorls on his knuckles developing like wee caverns of flesh and age.

George said and his eyes were looking at blurs


Gravity. The short buoyancy of it. The small annuity of an object to be afloat in the air as though supported firmly---then, down to the ground it goes---descending without meaning or specificity and meeting the cogent argument of that ground: which is greenery, and sunken pelts and the excrement of all things made same. Were these random blots of feeling nothing more than the chemical omens of a long-been mind? Were they not this? Were they, instead, the ludicrous discord of something welled in George’s head? The argots of a hidden canker in George’s life, given speech to their shadow by sometimes pulling apart the platelets of his ego…to get him to feel a difference in his son or wife or soul?

At that point Brian had gone and Eleanor was washing the dishes and was in a trance of thought in which she thought keenly, and she realized this:

That boy came from me.

. . . . . . . . . .

Brian Softness would not try again with his mother and father.

He was on a train from his parents and he thought about why he had gone back to see his parents in the first place. Thinking of it carefully for over an hour gave him nothing, and Brian realized that maybe it didn’t have an answer. At first, it seemed like it had to be done; but nothing had come of the trip, and Brian felt fine. Besides of course the mysterious/baffling/terrifying disappearance of the last two years from Brian’s memory. He racked his brains to recollect any of boot camp---any army buddies---any violence; nothing. There were no faces to remember---no tragedies to linger on---just the pungent feeling of all kinds of death---

Brian believed, however, that it was better to not dwell on these things, death; to not know one’s parents was relatively normal in this society, however fucked that may be. Parents did not really matter when it came to those big things: the relationship he had with his mother and his father did not end up gnarling, worsening Brian’s sensibility; relationships do not, should not really be able to break apart that necessitous probity, that reasoning will of his brain---the thoughts, the figurings, the memories, the feelings, instinct---should all really be able to stay in their own ganglion of nerves and fat without altering themselves, deviating to ugliness. Brian’s mind, to him, was never anything more or less than what he made of it; and as for parents, well…it was just a hard bump that everyone passed over just fine, as long as they tried…

And, I’m sure my parent’s are just---doing just fine right now---completely relaxed. As though I had never been there---to begin with---Brian thought distantly. They’ll---go on without me.

In fact, there was something endearing about his parents fear of him, endearing because it was the one defining example of who they were; it was the one characteristic, the one reaction to him that appeared and reappeared without fail; something they shared, together, in his presence---something that they shared---

And, yet, Brian did, and would, feel himself grow older, and wearier, as he grew farther away from his parents, George & Eleanor. And---maybe I’ll be just like that old guy from the train, whatever it was he wanted…Brian first thought this a joke.

But the more it stayed in his mind the more he ruminated on what it was exactly that the old man had wanted. Did he not even want anything; what was it he had wanted, thought Brian. Brian wished passionately to know---to at least understand someone besides himself---to connect however blindly to other wayward selves. Then, he started relating himself to that stranger, and the old man, too, seemed to share something like a secret with him: the way he had mistaken him for someone obviously close: he obviously was able to see something positive like that in Brian: some friendly cosmetic in Brian’s face that made him one of the World. But Brian caught himself. This did not suit him, no, not very well at all---no matter what else he said or he thought. So, instead, he dismissed it---and watched the upstate country pass before him. He thought of the times to come. The unction of the train chugged off on the tracks like a martyr. Sunlight wimpled out across the windows of the train and made Brian squint. The sunlight eventually disintegrated like crumbs into the chaff of the evening.

He looked out at the fugitive corners of light against the trees and as night came the cars on the highway shone like traveling eyes through the darkness and Brian closed his eyes to sleep and found no sleep and found and saw only the old man from the train. The old man stood like a magi on the planks of his head. Brian made the old man’s eyes green because it was more pleasant that way; more pleasant than the brown eyes---the brownness of vague reflection and as though concealing some inner judgment or doubt. The green eyes brewed knowingly in the old man’s head. Brian craved an answer from the old man---an answer to rebuke. Brian made the old man say something with Brian’s own words. And his image merely a vessel to speak the sane, caged eloquence of the blue youth and the venerable greatness in him finally dusting itself off and the words less embarrassed in their saying and the old green eyes penetrating nonetheless and the elder said:

. . . . . . . . . .

Parents, family…they are a part of the same glue. And they know that they are a part of the same glue. The same genetics are there, there, in each and every sly individual---out of a whole family unit---but that is not what the glue is. The glue is not a uniform gene it is that idea of family. That external statue of regal, celebrated togetherness. Something that all families must have. It is a glue that never dries yet sticks forever to each hesitant limb. Tying into a family's motions like a marionette. Each hushed action---a daughter’s rapping of the fingers during a father’s tirade; a wife’s turn of the page of a book, reading in bed next to her husband. The American family has blessed these instances with the vague thought that it was done for the benefit of a family: that external statue, that regal squadron of blood. And from this vast over-statement of family objectives, from this puffed dogma concerning the tiniest of actions, a communal dependency matures. There is no ambivalence towards the question of a family’s caring for one another---oh, no, not at all---but one thus feels more obliged to care for their squadron in order to reciprocate and be reciprocated. Do unto others what others would do unto you.

In the unconscious it is a different story. In the unconscious, any action---perturbed and outward or serenely vague---holds in it thousands of goals which might have nothing to do with a preservation of the family-squadron. At least to the member who happens to notice: a slight itching of the ear could be doubt. Pulling up one’s tie could convey unabashed entitlement. The fluid gesticulation of a hand limply twirling on the balls of the wrist to an arching of the head to an angle in accordance with the neck and shoulder to be 46 degrees could mean things that there is luckily no name for. It is because of a family’s constant close quarters that this happens; meanings breed like hamsters and immediately rot when it comes to any and every familial event or decision because one has had time to examine each trivial mote of feeling and all in order to make sense of whatever emotion communicated through the behaviors of mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers. This obviously complicates things---if the unsaid physical movement, stance of a family member were to be cut up into differently defined frames, how would one be able to find a sole definition for the whole movement? And so one comes to the seed of the matter: the idea that families are an anomaly of human behavior. It is natural, after all, for humans to classify everything into straight, unyielding terms and to not puncture even one clean term into a gradation of sub-terms, each one more diminutive than the last. There are no such terms in the little universe that is the family. Why must we be so muddled, when it comes to those we love? Why must an answer be so expository, when the rest of anything else is written off with concrete facts?

An answer can be found in this example: a rock is a rock---a concrete fact, to the common mind---is something else to the geologist. A fountain is a fountain to the common mind, something more to the aesthete or architect. Yet geologists, architects, are specialists to special things; we are each a specialist regarding this thing of commonness called family. And this, ah, is why it is something more than concrete. And yet, specialists run rampant in this World. Everywhere is more information to whet the blade of the brain. Nothing is concrete, really. What it comes down to is that there is nothing of substance to rely on; merely an edgeless reasoning bobbing up and down on a sea of additional aspects: all visible only beneath the surface: aspects known only to the people who wish to dive infinitely into them.

The old man then darkened himself:

One learns that the concrete facts come later---ironically, with the death of a family member comes the requirement for a simpler answer to manifest itself out of the grief of those who cared for him. A sudden necessity for reassuring order and finite means and ends. At the funeral, the anecdotes are told as though they were the man: the neat and acceptable subject matter and endearingly sad stories of closeness altogether pull the past---the past of the deceased---into a dramaturgy. Even the faults are hilariously overblown; which, before, had been scrutinized past the point of obsession and argued over many a time. Overblown to make the negative seem piddling, seem charming and okay. It is a way to sum all the multitudinous reels of sub-terms into one sensible and orderly explanation for death.

But that earlier-mentioned glue. The glue was not always there, though; parents were children looking up once, just as their children will be aging men looking down, free of their parents' ghost. Leaving them behind. At their death…

Brian thought of his Father’s death.

Brian felt the sensation of death creep across his body once more when the train he was on jarred and maybe derailed as it hit a red car that had been idling on the tracks.

Last edited by satanicdoctor, Mar/17/2012, 12:03 pm
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Re: all kinds of death.

Hi SD,

I've read through about half of this story now and decided weigh in on what I've read so far. I'm still grappling with the first section and want to wait until I finish the whole piece before commenting on it. The story really picks up for me here:

Looking upon him, George and Eleanor saw Brian Softness’ post-war form, which was not so different than before: Brian Softness was a short man, but his arms were long and when his arms bent, the intricacies of bone shifted mechanically under a timid layer of skin---but his hands were not timid. They were pale and a bit too hairy; they worked with a natural and studious grace that suggested someone more understanding and wise. When he stood, his arms hung languidly, and his hands both drooped downwards, like long snakes.

To describe the thick insecurities of this family one would have to look at what was not said. It is with silence that thoughts are procured, that people are measured---it is with silence that strategies are made. Eleanor Softness---then fixed upon her son, had little to say but: “oh.”

Now evidently there was much going on and much that wasn’t said. Eleanor had said what she had said while still hanging on to the belief that a general acquaintance was standing before her. As though too distracted by the mechanisms curiously at work in her head to change the tone of her voice.

So, she said---‘oh’---and,

upon witnessing for the first time in a long time the face of his son, George Softness quickly picked up his tea and gulped, burning both hands and lips in the process.

But Eleanor, then, seemed to suddenly realize Brian had been there; and Eleanor’s plasticity in smile and feature faded as quickly as George had burned his lips:

“Come in, Brian…”

“I’m---uh---going to get some more of that tea.”

George had then gotten up for a refill of that tea but his mug was already full. Eleanor did not seem to let Brian pass.

“Come in,” Eleanor said, still standing, meekly, in the way.

So Brian came in--

Good stuff. I really like:

To describe the thick insecurities of this family one would have to look at what was not said. It is with silence that thoughts are procured, that people are measured---it is with silence that strategies are made. Eleanor Softness---then fixed upon her son, had little to say but: “oh.”

Now evidently there was much going on and much that wasn’t said. Eleanor had said what she had said while still hanging on to the belief that a general acquaintance was standing before her. As though too distracted by the mechanisms curiously at work in her head to change the tone of her voice.

So, she said---‘oh’---and,

These paragraphs tell me that the N has observed deeply and knows something about human nature.

There are a few places where I think you can tinker and edit a bit, but my overall sense is that you have a storyteller's eye for detail and motivation as well a storyteller's way of unspooling a narrative. You have a good ear for dialogue, inner and outer, and a strong prose style. I'll come back to finish commenting when I'm done reading, but for now I just want to say I think you have a lot going for you as a fiction writer.


Last edited by Katlin, Mar/19/2012, 2:38 pm
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