Chapter 1—Sunday, 1977
How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted o’er,
In states unborn, and accents yet unknown!—Julius Caesar.
Mick didn’t want to open his eyes, but knew he would. The Churchbuilder had told him to plant marigolds. He looked at the LED alarm clock that had several blown diodes.
Henry Churchbuilder owned the cottage-not-quite-by-the-sea in the small but active ‘New Age’ town of Sanity Cruise, and planned to retire there some day. Gophers don’t like marigolds, he had said. Under the four-inch foam mattress, under the pine floor, about five inches below Mick’s left ear, a pair of them fought over God-knows-what. Every morning near daybreak, the two of them went off like The Honeymooners.
To the moon, Alice!
Mick wanted to kill them, then beat the shit out of both with marigolds.
Oh God, that dream… He was actually grateful to have been awakened. It was the suffocation nightmare again. This time he was under water, which was a change from the usual coffin in the dirt. He took a deep breath, waiting for a sign that he was glad to be alive. The dream of Lyle Waggoner detaining him at the airport was irritating, but only mildly uncomfortable compared to the suffocation dreams.
Tough row to hoe, what a way to go…
He sighed without moving, so as not to disturb the sleeping Veronica beside him. He wasn’t ready to face his quotidian wife yet—not at, he checked the clock again, h:16. At the moment, she was dreaming of the Tin Man and Dorothy. “Not now, robot!” she uttered in her sleep.
What he wanted was peace and quiet, to be left alone to flip at random through his multiple ‘mini-passions,’ as he referred to what were more like pastimes. Would he read today, perhaps that new Time/Life book on Rembrandt? Or linger in the aisles of the local bookstore, looking for new authors in the Bukowski section. What a find that was… General Tales of Ordinary Madness! Perhaps it would inspire him to pick up his journal again.
Mick lived vicariously, losing himself in vinyl record albums and a ‘cuppa joe.’ No longer living the tales of extraordinary madness himself, Mick was a domesticated java junkie now, docile and contained. He was pure, with simple and eclectic interests. In Mick’s mind, everything boiled down to one thing: whatever that was.
Things just am, Mick liked to say, very much the minimal-dadaist/metaphysical-existentialist. The trick was getting used to it. He believed in the Great Whatever, and spent time thinking about it while building small gliders out of balsa wood, or taking photographs of… whatever. Occasionally, he made notes in his journal under the heading ‘random literary doodles,’ which he planned to put to good literary use someday.
Twain’s writing may be overrated, but his witticisms are priceless, was such an entry—along with notes for a book with the working title: ‘TEAL BANANAS,’ written in caps. It was, as yet, an unstarted and loosely inconceived manuscript.
There was a lot of water in Sanity Cruise to take photographs of, most of it at the beach. It hadn’t rained in nearly a year, which the fleas seemed to enjoy very much—not so much the ants. Mick missed its womblike effect. When it rained, Mick went fetal. When it rained, he was protected. Rain soothed him, and he took to it like a taciturn donkey to apples. Mick was certain that on some future day of rain he would find the peace, fulfillment and tranquility he felt was his destiny. Until then, he was wandering through the fog gathering words to sling at some distant canvas.
One of the gophers took a body slam to the wooden floor.
n:18. Cottage-by-the-railroad tracks… still two hours before the morning train grumbled by.
Any minute now, the parrot would awaken and start screeching until Mick removed the towel over his cage. At dusk, he would Ack! Ack! for it to be replaced. Toulouse the dwarf parrot. Mick thought of the grouchy bird as Conure the Barbarian, with a penchant for wooden gliders and human fingers—one of which he chewed into a pile of balsa toothpicks, the other a bloody, unacceptable forefinger perch.
The two cats, siblings Fred and Flo, ignored the bird for the moment, preoccupied with the ants covering their food.
What with the two long-haired cats, the mold creeping up the walls where the house sat directly on the dirt, the drought and the dust, Mick would spontaneously bleed at the nose from time to time.
Fuckin’ clock… Time waits for no man, busted diodes notwithstanding.
None of these minor inconveniences were as much a part of Mick’s early morning immediate depression as the thought of what the day was: Sunday, the worst of all days. Mick faced the gavel every week on that day when time slowed to a crawl in his banal existence. Sunday was a solitary horse standing before the glue factory. It was a burial at sea, the dead cat on the side of the road, the slow natives between elephant’s toes…. Compared to the rest of the week, Sunday was the Gulag. If there is a purgatory, it’s Sunday. When you really fuck up there’s a place for you, staring into the hot maw of an eternity of Sundays—rife with angst. Sunday is Superman’s Phantom Zone wearing a necklace of kryptonite, and it gnawed on Mick like the mold under his mattress—thundering into his thoughts with each gopher blow.
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
Fuckin’ Sunday..! Mick held his face like a punching bag, peeking at the clock again through his fingers like they were the iron bars of a self-made prison. Somewhere buried deeper than the Titanic, Mick grieved for the murder he committed of his own soul. One day he would have to confess that sin and take his penance.
Flo, the female, speckled cat, gently pulled against the bedroom door and let go.
Start the samovar, Raskolnikov. It’s time for more crime and punishment…
With no doorknob, a string was looped through the hole a knob should have occupied and tied to a bent nail in the door frame, which allowed for some play in its near-uselessness. All the doors in the cottage were knobless and string-tied, which is to say all five of them. The front door had a knob but it was wobbly; and the door itself was outgrowing its frame.
“Go away, goddammit,” Mick whispered harshly, waiting for the next sound. With one claw, the cat hooked the door and let go.
The door was so askew it wouldn’t shut—not even with a crowbar, had Mick been in possession of such a luxury item. The banging was almost slight enough to mentally brush off, but not at that hour of the morning, when he could hear the dew forming in the driveway.
He ripped off the covers. “God fucking dammit! God-damn-fucking-loud-ass cats! What the hell’s wrong with you!? There better be a good reason for this, not just some dumbshit ‘made you look’ cat prank…” He was pissed. At n:2h, he wanted to doze at least until Toulouse went off.
He fumbled to his feet, yanked the string loop to open the door, and found both cats sitting in the five-foot square hallway that held the litter box and separated the bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen. “What the fuck do you want from me?” he asked them both. Sitting calmly, the two cats watched him. “What is it, Lassie, you want me to follow you?”
Toulouse went off, sounding like a pterodactyl on a megaphone in an empty ampitheatre, finally fed up with being under the towel. Ack! Ack! Get up! Ack! Ack!
Alright alright! He rushed as if there were a colicky baby in the next room. Veronica didn’t stir.
Just one day,
I wish to say,
was a fun day.
Never a gay day,
What a wasted day is Sunday, when you hate your job. Carefully avoiding Flo and the litter box, he turned the corner into the bathroom and concentrated on his depression while relieving himself. First you wake up to a family of angry gophers under your floor at b:14 in the morning, then—
Christ. He pushed the final squirt under high pressure. Careful to not flush the toilet, which was a dare to overflow, he fumbled with the drawstring on his pants and headed…
…to uncover his bird. Veronica can take her chances with the toilet. Innately stepping over a thick line of ants converging on the cat food in the kitchen, Mick yawned and scratched himself into the small living room. “Good morning, Toulouse,” he said to the bird, rearranging the towel so it only covered the side facing the bookshelf—where the cats liked to impersonate vultures. “Shut the fuck up now, willya?” The dwarf parrot backed up on his perch, eyed Mick nervously, and seemed to be snarling.
Mick moved to the window and tugged on the dingy shade, making it longer, then a little longer, before it went up a bit and stopped. Fred, the large male sealpoint, watched disinterestedly from his place at the other window—his paws disappearing under a lion’s mane of blue-gray fur. Mick tugged again and the shade got longer, then longer, until he wrapped the bottom over the top, where it remained half open to the chilly gray fog of another nondescript morning. The morning dew collected in a small mud puddle next to his car door, making inconvenient and inexplicable moisture under drought conditions.
Mick and Veronica’s cottage-nearer-to-the-railroad-tracks-than-the-sea was a steal at twice the rent—a price they paid for in every conceivable way. Two bedrooms, one of which housed Mick’s balsa gliders; a narrow, green kitchen to house the ants; and a tiny living room to fill with books, record albums, cat fur and a small, nervous parrot wearing an orange target for a crown.
The walls were covered with Veronica’s paintings—acrylic landscapes in an Impressionistic style. A weed grew out of a seam in one wall, which they kept trimmed. There was no television within five years of the happy but discontented couple, well on their way to… whatever. They were struggling, and it didn’t smell too good either—especially when the offshore breeze brought the nauseating malodor of the nearby mushroom factory the wrong way. Mick turned and automatically stepped over the thick gray line of ants on his way to brush his teeth, carefully avoiding the litter box again.
The bathroom was a mini-microcosm of the rest of the cottage-sans-le-mer—equally inconvenient, yet tinier. After flipping the light on, Mick flipped it off with his elbow while brushing his teeth.
He flipped it on again and stared at himself in the mirror. His hazel eyes looked murky, and his prematurely graying hair stuck out in tufts. His mouth foamed with soap and dripped into the small, standalone sink.
Haven’t lost my charm… he thought, and spit into the drain.
There was no shower, but a giant claw-footed tub reserved for evening baths. “Nice bathtub,” the couple had agreed upon seeing it for the first time. “One could lie down in it,” the six-foot-one Mick had mentioned. If necessary, he could stand in the tub while whizzing in the john, but he didn’t say so.
“One would have to lie down in order to wash their long hair,” Veronica told him. She had thick hair that grew more than halfway down her back. More often than not, she wore it in a bun, which Mick didn’t care for. Veronica had that ‘artist’ look—broken in, but comfortable. She was tall and broad, like a Victorian house in the south. Her smile, like a porch, was bright and welcoming, if not taken as wholly insincere.
Jamming a baseball cap on his head, it was time to officially start the day.
To say “ants” would undermine the significance of their numbers. Mick followed the trail in the kitchen to the cat food, which was in a different location every other day—and served to trick the ants for one day at a time. They sometimes found the bowls of dry cat food before the cats did, which was particularly annoying to the cats. With eyes adjusted to the dim, morning haze, he regarded the gray stripe on the floor. To the uninitiated, it might appear to be a shadow, but on closer inspection you’d find it was a line of ants as big across as a business card, walking off with the cat food piece by piece.
“Gimme a break…” Cat food? The cats couldn’t get near the stuff. The ants figured out how to get around the various moats of water Mick concocted to keep them away. Fred and Flo were messy eaters, for one thing, throwing food around so that bits and pieces were scattered nearby. The ants waited, biding their time, then pounced on it. It was no use fighting them. The dried food bloated up in water like a sponge, creating a raft to the dry nuggets Mick and Veronica asked the cats to thrive on.
At times, the ants came in relentless and insatiable waves from under the refrigerator and down the roof. Mick had to get in there and make it right or it would just get worse. Once other ant armies got ahold of intelligence like this, it wouldn’t be long before they sent more legions to the feedbag Mick and Veronica called their cottage-by-the-creatures.
If Veronica got up and saw the ants she’d have to spray the crap out of them and then would remain cranky all day. They’d have to take in four, maybe five movies to escape the mental muck the couple had about where they lived. Turning the light on only made it worse. Mick could tell, even in the silhouetted, desaturated morning flatness, the plate was solid with the buggers.
That particular morning, the food was on the dinette table opposite the very modest green refrigerator that couldn’t quite make ice, but did manage to impact the flip-door freezer in a bowling ball-sized snowball. Somewhere inside its snowcone of crystals lay a partially frozen lasagna.
The easy fix, of course, was to put the table legs in pails of water, but Veronica would hear none of that.
“We don’t even eat here,” Mick had argued. It was too small. When two people sat at the table there wasn’t enough room to open the refrigerator. “It’s claustrophobic.” That argument passed unnoticed.
“What if someone comes over?” Veronica’s response was absolute, if completely senseless—considering the overall impression the cottage made on visitors. But, she was the voice of God and it was now inscribed on a stone tablet as truth of the almightiest… whatever. “Besides, we can’t let our distributors see us like that.” Veronica referred to their budding soap business, the one that would free them of ever having to work again. They would sail the seven seas trailing a soapy wake after a few short years selling The Bubble Plan to potential distributors—and lots and lots of concentrated, ecologically sound laundry soap.
“But we don’t have any distributors,” Mick argued.
Thus spake Gawd. So be it, then. Let them find it on top the frigidaire! Fuckers…
Mick grabbed the litter scoop, wedged it under the plate undulating with black ants, and headed for the front door. This was the part he dreaded the most—yanking the door past its own frame while balancing a bowl of ants in a litter scoop and not letting either of the two cats outside. It was another command from Gawd that ‘cats shalt not go outside,’ lest they be smitten under radial tires before Mick and Veronica could get their money’s worth out of them.
Here we go, one smooth move…
Like a plate spinner, Mick didn’t dare drop the bowl—especially inside. He had broken a forgotten amount of bowls on the cement patio, but only one inside—which caused a fair amount of panic, a lot of base, personal epithets at the ants themselves, and some actual jig dancing before S:14 a.m. However, once Fred caught Mick’s anklebone in the forehead as he made his break for freedom one morning, both cats were shying away. Poor Fred; he walked off like a dazed rhinoceros after having rammed the Great Wall of China—with an instant migraine. Putting his foot down to block a speeding feline from escaping was an unpurposeful reaction on Mick’s part, but it kept Fred, at least, at bay.
Mission accomplished, the bowl of tiny ants was tossed in the tiny front yard where nothing but two malformed and inconveniently placed juniper bushes grew under the forbidding shade of a tall, opaque pine tree. Mick flicked the scoop free of stragglers toward the ice plants on the street and went back inside, sliding sideways through the door so as not to accidentally break the Cat Commandment. In return for this unnatural treatment, one, or possibly both cats, crapped, or perhaps just pissed, in the cottage’s lone gas heater.
The current source of heat for Mick and Veronica’s ‘quaint’ love nest was the doll-like gas stove, upon which coffee was made—warm milk with instant coffee crystals, the poor man’s latté. A legion of ants marched double-time in a battalion-wide path from an indeterminate source toward the dinette, passing in front of the Hasbro® stove. No matter how small and unworthy the prize, which was more often than not dried cat food, for little else was eaten in that place, they sent the whole team to get it.
Mick’s philosophy was simple: remove the offending food and stay out of their way. He watched absently as they began their empty-handed walkabout. The ants on point hesitated and talked about it between themselves, looking confused and pissed off, each blaming the other for having lost sight of the day’s eats.
Mick believed this was the manly way to rid oneself of ants.
The womanly way is to spray Lysol on them—following the shadowy, crawling line to its insidious, microscopic source and spraying the whole length of the way until they’re swimming or drowning in a river of the stuff. Mick thought his way was cleaner than Veronica’s, who had to wipe them up and wash them down the sink, picking individual ants out of the sponge like so many chocolate sprinkles.
Do ants eat flea eggs? he wondered, while his milk began to rise. Marigolds my ass…. Pouring the milk into his coveted cuppa joe and stirring at least twenty-five times, he walked to the terminally painted-shut front window and watched the indoor moisture mock the outdoor drought.
Such is Sunday. The rest of the morning, afternoon, evening and night would be spent dreading having to go to work the next day, unless he could be preoccupied otherwise.
Mick took a sip of faux latté and unfocused his eyes—his window gradually looking inside himself. The whole hemisphere is depressed on Sunday.
Even on holidays when Monday was a day off, Sunday was always the same. Three-day weekends had two Sundays, in Mick’s hemispheres. Sunday was typically Mexican food followed by a double bill at one of the local art theatres. What started on Sunday evenings soon encompassed Sunday afternoon, in the form of a matinee. It was as much to escape the inevitable Monday that always followed as it was to flee from the maddening sterility of the weather: fog-sun-fog, chilly-warm-chilly, fog-sun-fog… day after night after day.
Mick and Veronica would invariably go to the Mexican place with the great guacamole and hot sauce just two blocks over the railroad tracks. The small, family run restaurant appeared to be sufficiently beyond olfactory range of the Manure Factory. There was a prevailing crosswind between it and the donut shop where the two normally ate breakfast. It was easier not to eat or entertain themselves in the faux-quaint-cottage anymore—not with the ants, the condensation, the perpetual cat fur rolling like tumbleweeds across the floor, the weed growing out of the wall, the toilet from hell, and a kitchen for pre-schoolers.
Coffee in hand, Mick stared at the condensed water dripping down the window of his cottage-almost-near-the-sea. Outside, it was depressingly white—what passed for weather in Sanity Cruise, the brunch capitol of the surfing world. With a pass/fail University and a well-respected junior college, the small, coastal town was also a Fine Arts community with socialist tendencies, a large lesbian population, and had a great variety of excellent food. Between the students and the surfers, a sure sign of status was receiving unemployment checks throughout the late summer and fall, the best seasons. At the time, getting a latté meant driving clear across town and hoping the guy who made the good ones was on duty that day. Good coffee houses were on the rise, but you could count them on six or eight digits—before digits were popular. The only Starbucks anyone outside of Seattle had heard of in 1977 was Daddy.
Mick wondered, Is it ever going to rain again?
Copyright © 2009 Mitchell Geller