Montana's hours were cut awhile back and can do little about it but find a second job. I am to open my availability all the way and accept an “official” full-time job, or keep accepting only twenty-hours a week, instead of the usual forty. The hours were cut due to “Obama Care,” says the manager.
“Do I agree as a manager that a person who is in a situation with a parent or kids who needs health insurance should therefore be given the full time slot as opposed to the person who earned it?” he says. “And now that person must scrape by on only twenty-eight hours? No. Do I feel for all those young people forced to have health insurance who now can't afford to see a doctor when they need one because the only health insurance they could afford was catastrophic? Very much so."
“You think God isn't doing what is best for your life?” he asks with that smile both mischievous and overconfident.
He looks the opposite of whom he truly is, so I never really met him until we realized we both knew Irby. Others here comment to Nerube that Seldom Seen lights up and acts completely different if I'm talking to him. Last week he was a passionate atheist interested in the exact structure of the universe. He always has big dreams, seems easily bored, lively, oddly impatient with the indecisive.
“The changes may be painful, worrisome, and a lot of trouble,” he says, his thin gold necklace twinkling streetlight. “But he is doing his best for you always.”
Brock always stands and moves and sleeps with a certain innocence. It's only when his voice is raised dealing with some situation in the main house that you pick up on the opposite. “Well someone saw something.”
“Some publisher of an anonymous author who isn't me.”
Guys workout to the point it's hard not to wonder a joke. Maybe guys like Brock had to get their confidence back up as quickly as possible for survival or great undertaking. Some guys can do it, I figure, because they're not competing with each other.
“Skits ... ” he says as statement.
Sometimes he accidentally inspires someone to handle things a similar way, thinking maybe they are as good, but they're never quite Brock. Outside, the air has turned cold and wet, as heavy, mist-like clouds descend across the spurs. We move to close the windows. In these mountains you could swear you experienced all four seasons in one day. Word is, Brock's “gullible.” I only picked up on it once. Several men above his rank seem to have sway over his moment-to-moment opinion, but Brock's character tends to outrank theirs. Once, I stepped into the house-manager's office to catch-a-ride and the female drivers were there, treating him well, while he threw back playful, verbal-barbs in a pleased, 'aw-shucks' manner. He doesn't understand I had no choice but to strike on my own. People thought the work had been accomplished by a human writing about a classically autistic who thought he was human. The set-up of the story alone is considered comedy gold. All the major American networks agree and want dibs while Hollywood insists on a film. Others find the concept of a classically autistic having been proven human so profound they consider it novel, though the work has no plot or climax.
"At most it'll be a terrible tragedy," I tell him.
“It doesn't even have a title,” he says.
But I don't think I should help anymore,” one genius alien – semi-human with blue skin – says to another genius alien – a slime covered semi-caterpillar, in the animated film, “Escape from Planet Earth,” 2013. They are about to attempt escape from Area 51 where they are being forced to invent things like the internet, high definition television, smart phones and the most powerful weapon in the universe. The non-geniuses have been frozen alive and are kept in storage.
“Are you getting paranoid?” replies the semi-caterpillar. “It happens to the best of us. You're really smart, then you start thinking too much, then you start getting paranoid.”
A group of teenage boys who work at the store seem over-concerned about my social status. Within the group, status changes constantly for a myriad of irrelevant reasons. I ignore them despite their offers of friendship because they are all actually in their twenties, so their voices and body language come across as bizarre and sad.
Finally, as Montana helps block dairy, one of their members accosts me, slyly talking locker-room while mentioning as many of my friends as possible. He looks like a tall, brunette elf, and has the reputation for saying “Word on the street is … “ as if he is the word on the street due to his gossiping and text-messaging.
I turn away from my work and tell him “I'm African-American, dyslexic, castrated, homosexual, and illiterate. 'You got some sort of problem with that?”
Apparently the last sentence is heard six aisles down by Brit, not to mention's Montana's laugh, so she splits us up. I cashier while Montana bags. He talks about the show “New Girl” due to Zooey Deschanel. He doesn't watch “The Mindy Project” though it comes on right after and the protagonists' attitudes and situations are similar. Each show airs on Fox, a network that has already sent their line: "At least someone's making money off of it."
“If I wanted to watch a gay-bashing feminist," I tell him. "I'd turn on 30Rock."
“Read your novel,” Larke says later, as I walk past Video.
Maybe he knows he was caught by Brit; maybe his opinion is so low he doesn't care.
“--It's like you told the truth so well you never had to tell the truth at all.”
"I FOUND you," he says in his quickly-walking rush throughout the empty, main rooms of the house. "Did I not find you? Tell me I didn't find you."
No point in following him around, no one else is in the house. If I follow, he'll check out the house and my expression. Used to be teenagers were slight and fleeting, a whole fresh culture in an instant. Then the pre-teens started being teenagers on purpose, then didn't know what to do as teenagers. Now they are unreadable, that fresh, that intelligent. So far his ideals seem awfully high, his philosophy more an addiction to true things.
"You know the woods are haunted all around here," he calls from a hallway of bedrooms; I can almost see him flicking his brown hair every so often like a teenage Justin Bieber. "Turn a bend and some Civil War soldier is standing there, looking at you. 'Never made it all the way to the house before. Got to take the last part by foot," he says louder now, reentering the parlor.
Whenever he acts this happy, he is likeable.
“Yeah, you must drive through the entrance.”
It also means something in his life has recently gone wrong.
With Montana standing looking-out into the shadows, I accept his dare and race into the woods north of the house where two hills meet and form a small, drying creek. With a too-big shovel, I quick, plant the corn kernels with a piece of salmon as the thunderstorm claps and strikes.
I see the woman standing there watching in a yellow-cloth coat and stop. She must have been on a walk from the female dormitories. The woods separating the house from the rest of Rustic swing, the treetops swaying above us as I stand up all the way. "It's only that a few multi-billion dollar conglomerates will come after me."
Her laughter splits the rain and wind; the storm lifts, only the tree tops above dripping water.
"It's all very serious actually."
As I help Nerube move into his new room, he tells of how when he called home his dad picked up instead. As he gives the tour of his new first-floor room, he talks abstractly of his mother and his childhood. His room has no bunks, but two regular beds instead, windows that open, and a door and porch at the end of the hall that sticks out the middle of a steep hill looking out onto the valley and peaks across with their icy clouds hovering. I want to tell him my mother was born autistic and does not know it. I wonder about her still carrying the cross of being bullied by her parents, then her siblings, then her daughters, as Dawn battled through cycles of depression while keeping her faith in God, despite others’ over-education on such matters.
“Jacob thinks you'll be President one day,” he says with the usual excited twinkle in bright, brown eyes.
I lean against his wall, then look away from him as he continues setting up his half of the room.
“I think Hollywood could make you famous,” he says. “'Cause the show goes on come hell or high-water.”
Outside his window, clouds move across the moon, maybe an hour after a bright red and orange sunset. Rain coming in.
“Brock thinks people are going to start walking up to you, trying to give you medals.”
“Nerube ... no one wants any of those things to happen.”
Sobriety seems a juxtaposition of three places: the healthy spirit of youth, the medication of my late twenties, and ... this. Each contains hints, instances of proof. Proving the medication, or rather the substance, is reminding and bringing back the health of long-gone youth. Sobriety also remains a series of instances-of proof, working the same as the recovery obtained, temporarily, from a dirty drug phase wrought with dirty side effects. Except this time, the instances-of-proof are each permanent, as more and more everything around me, including the horizon of trees, the sky with its glory, even the air between the buildings, all make it seem as if I'm standing in God's Country, looking around past the edges of the yard.
For days it's felt like church regardless of where: working at the grocery, buying cigarettes at the gas station across the street, stopping by the library down from it; I always feel just a-ways from the armory I’m just-away from. I catch myself asking myself questions and answering them truthfully, like what’s going to happen in the future, how does this work or that, as if it’s that night sneaking a cigarette out the window and looking out over the span of treetops. Invisibility remains the ultimate buck to the system, especially allowing the eternal awareness of June first, without the danger of God's Country, or the hypocrites and pharisees of corrupted American life, still circling, remaining the cannibals-after-fresh-meat they've always been.
Riding the bus after AA yields memories of my twenties that rarely happened, as young night-life in latest-fashions arrive, sit, and leave, self-absorbed while charmingly extroverted as if now they can do it right. At night downtown Ashe looks the same as Washington D.C., the place I always felt most scholastic: official concrete buildings with pillars and built-in lettering like Department of Health or City Council, empty and dark and lit outside by orange glow throwing shadows amidst the trees. Walking two blocks from the bus to where the van waits, I almost become used to strangers: reaching out hands for strong shakes before walking by; solo musicians singing louder and more passionate like they want me, specifically, to hear their souls; brown-hued men and women staring seriously from benches and tables with something bordering on thoughtful, if worried, respect.
"How was meeting?" River asks from the open driver's window in his coarse voice.
"They seemed overly into my business," I tell him.
"That happens sometimes."
“He's taller than me,” Dakota says.
With his one black-eye and one spring-green Levis stands maybe 5',6” inches tall, bony-skinny, with a triangle chin, and if-shaven, looks maybe nineteen. He hails from a small, Christian town in the mountains, crippled by methe and legal. He always looks hopeful, if not haggard. If he's shaved and wearing his Deli cap, he looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell.
“His brother's a real mess,” Dakota says. “He's the one everyone's afraid of.”
The most famous story in Iraq, point-of-view, was of the four-man-squad who took a building. Three continue inside while one watches the door. “Glad to have Crazy-eyes,” they always said.
“The Ivy Leagues do not feed off the middle class,” I tell them. “Same as lions do not feed off limping gazelles, same as the educated do not feed off the uneducated, and the strong do not feed off the weak. Our civilization is 'ADVAnced,'”
“I don't believe you,” Levis says.
“It's a tabloid, right?” Montana says.
“It's The Wall Street Journal.”
“The guy who kept snapping pictures while Princess Diana bled out.”
“He bugged the nine-eleven families.”
“More like … he would have.”
“He's credited for the technique of encouraging low-self esteem right in time for commercials. It's why the fictional characters in the fictional worlds always have spectacular sex lives. It's how they sell their ideas.”
“Actually, it-girls had already begun doing that to their own gender.”
“We learned about it in high-school,” he says. “My teacher said he can probably get away with it as long as he never markets to adolescents.”
“Overall, he's right about Arabia, Persia, and the Middle East, though.”
During the trial run, Dakota drives while Levis watches the road.
“Maybe you're already in the habit of defending Clintons,” Levis says.
Levis knows history in an effortless, up-to-date way that never seems hard-earned – “highschool,” he tells me.
Through a slit in Dakota's dark, wool blanket, Ashe speeds by in pastel colors and twinkling lights. Levis never wears denim, but Dakota wears his Dad's old blue-jean jacket, a relic from before they went metro. The edge of its collar shows above his headrest.
“Do you think President Clinton's a genius?” says Dakota.
“Let's say both me and Mozart hear Bill Clinton utter the word 'genius.' We'd both receive the same information, even though I'm not a genius.”
"It was the government. Wasn't it? That changed the word in Elise from 'play' to 'screenplay," Nerube bluntly states to me, I suppose as proof, as we step into the shelter, lighting cigarettes as the trees towering above us twinkle with thousands of fireflies like Christmas trees. "Right?"
Among other things ... Sure, the totem pole of American civilization remains the same: at the bottom, grunts, then enlisted, then officers, then, at the top, civilians, the vast majority being working poor, busy with the war effort, the rest busy disproving the concept of capitalism to the rest of the world, while their present leader, having been caught censoring, attacks his people’s rights. I don't answer Nerube, hoping he'll let it go. The President deciding on his own that he was my editor remains a terrible mistake. He's proving why social media should not be censored. He's proving it self-evidently online for everyone to witness.
“I like how the reader can only defend your relatives,” Nerube says.
Sometimes I look Nerube in the eyes and it's like he relishes being in an intrigue, like he's excited about events to come. Yesterday in the chow hall I caught him looking at me from across the room with an expression like he was counting on me to remain. He looked away like he didn't want me to catch him in my peripheral.
"NeRUBIE -- this guy Robert taught me how to con: get the person to objectify you, catch the stereotype, and make sure never to accidentally disprove it," I insist to him as he gapes at me, his eyes searching my face with a part-smile because he's braced in case I'm joking. "If you can't do that, Nerube, you won't survive civilization. You get in trouble, you remember me telling you this."
He swallows carefully, straightens his neck and posture: "Have you ever done that with me?"
“I've been watching TV,” Montana says lowly as he cashiers and I bag.
“Careful not to rot your brain.”
"I watched the last season of 30Rock."
Usually, we talk girls. Most of the time when he turns a girl down, they try to call him gay, despite the obvious. The customers look at Montana like he's hope for the future. Their eyes light up when he engages them. They treat him like people treated preacher's kids in Wilton. There's a reason why everyone knows Montana, but he rarely talks about it.
“They're trying to hijack your soul,” he is saying.
His eyes should be blue, they're so piercing, but they're brown with flecks of hazel. I hand off a cart of bagged groceries to an elderly woman who goes to Montana's church.
“They’re only trying to exploit. That's what they do.”
“You've got to fight them,” he says.
“But I don't want to be a pirate.”
“It's better for my daughter here,” Lyndsay is saying, as Marcus sits back down beside her. She's still keeping long, straight blonde hair, and boy-crazy.
I'm not the best at the grill, so I have no future here. It's hilarious the ones who can handle thirty steaks at one time – one was a homeless-teenager type, lives the good life now, flipping steaks the only thing he'd had to offer at the time.
“I like the structure here,” she says. “My daughter will still be raised within a cautionary tale, sure ...”
My cooking is preferred, otherwise, and Tango's kitchen never stresses that I am one of the few who does not speak Spanish. Late at night I work as a bartender, helping with downtown Ashe's after-show crowd.
“Father's farther away, plus mine, but everything's better.”
Jacob and Brock sit in the round booth in a corner of the dark restaurant. I felt it best to ask forgiveness instead of permission. They must've left a meeting; there are several regular ones downtown due to Church St., an old landmark-of-a-street nearby.
“Marco asks about you,” Marcus says.
Back then, concerning Marco, it was like I stole Marcus's best friend, his comedy and curiosity was so sharp, vibrant, and genuine. It was only when I left Wilton that Marco leaned toward the majority again. He once called me his marriage counselor, his best friend and confidant.
“In Washington D.C., we were all best friends,” Lyndsay is saying. “How's it ever going to be like that again?”
Long ago, in Lyndsay's trailer, I tried to explain to them in some drunken, disjointed, tangent-filled stream, of what it was like, my sisters referencing the man in the red sports car as proof I was gay, my father's same expression: guilt, indignation, fury. Only in my old age do I see they were playing a game based in love for me.
Outside, on a cigarette break, as the usual college crowd hoops and hollers their way through the front door around the corner, there's Brock smiling as he exhales smoke. “Skits ... ”
He looks at me half-curious.
“Brock, I thought it would last forever.”
An unexpected crowd forms due to a local baseball game. Ashe hasn't won like this in several years. The restaurant is trashed, music blasts, and young girls with little work-force experience run around in drama.
“Come on ...” she says in her smooth auto, pulling my hand, leading me through the crowd. “Dance with me ...”
“Noll ... I'm working.”
Billie Holiday sings the blues slow and soft for a long time, her emotions symbolic, her point of view infusing.
“I'm dating again,” she whispers nonchalantly.
On the van ride back to Rustic, Brock drives, due to River being on his two-day monthly pass. He doesn't mention the restaurant, even though he picks me up from the grocery, my having freshly changed into the appropriate uniform. Once the van clears of passengers, and Brock heads for the interstate, we sit in silence.
“Their technique is to say something intelligent, then something locker room, then intelligent, then locker-room,” I tell him as streetlights along the way sweep over us. “I wake up one morning and out of nowhere the whole industry is threatening me. They want the writings, or else.”
“Play back,” he says.
“It would degrade the work,” I tell him. “Anyway, when the opponent plays the bully card, it means it’s the last card they have left.”
The night sky remains heavy with clouds, hunkering in against the mountain tops, then spreading out, like paintbrush strokes of grays and blues sliced and illuminated by lightning strikes. Light rain begins as signs appear, approaching Rustic. After ramping off the interstate, Brock navigates the bumpy mountain roads in silence. Pulling into Rustic, Nerube waits in the make-shift parking lot. “It's like the Bible's yelling at me,” I tell him but he seems lost in thought. “Psalm ninety-one, Romans twelve, one through three. James two, seven through nine. Yelling.”
“You made the world a better place,” Brock says as if to no one, parking. “They're never going to let you get away with that.”
After slammed doors and commotion in the front of the house, Brock finds me sitting Indian-style on my bunk, the Sunday New York Times spread out across the bed, its Bookends page in my hand.
“What's wrong?” he asks with his easy smile. In his church baseball uniform he looks like one of those teammates in old Joe DiMaggio photographs.
“I still don't know what they want ...”
He raises his right brow inquisitively. Outside the window behind his head rain pours, hitting the tin roof above us like tiny hail.
“Someone should hand them an Oscar,” says Nerube.
“You're sure they weren't trying to make the novel worse on purpose?” Brock asks.
“If you look at what went down,” I tell him. “It's a distinct possibility.”
Nerube steps back and forth from the open door and hallway back to us, then repeats.
“And there's no way it could've been mistaken for an audition," Brock asks.
“Commercialized media works against the victim. Or anyone susceptible. That's it's design, Brock. They KNOW that."
Meanwhile Dakota and Levis have seemed stressed concerning my future. (“There are bribes around,” someone said, as if to the other.
“When something valuable's around,” Dakota then said, over wind blasting and Levis rolling up his passenger window against the rain. “It attracts the worst people.”
“You should have found a woman before this happened,” Levis said turning toward the backseat, “Now what are you going to do?”)
Nerube sits down beside me as Brock sits on the opposite bunk as we continue, Brock looking at us in that way he has of being consistent and regular to the point you might catch yourself thinking you could see through him, while giving up accidental expressions as he looks back and forth between Nerube's eyes and mine.
“Brock," I hear Nerube say. "They stole from charity and left huge digital footprints.”
Supposedly The Wall Street Journal said I had 'grit,' The New York Times' literary section considered me a colleague, not a subordinate, the BBC said the work was "well managed," and SportsCenter said “He's Toouugh! That's for sure.” Journalists have left my relatives alone, despite vetting them all and finding each “Particularly clean, especially Grace,” but still attempt to reach bigger fish through me. Amazingly, no one exposed the underground railroad, even when not doing so went against all their previous behavior.
“They went after some guy on an online support group,” Nerube is saying. “There are no rules now.”
Isaac walks quickly in front, guiding us lugging our swim gear through his reservation as he tells of how it is his family owns a mountain. Somewhere there is a watering hole that marks the spot of a bootlegger's stash.
“How you know how to do that?” he asks, turning to face us.
“What … “ Ashley says casual, mean, slowly trailing her bare toes against the forest floor of colored leaves as Daniel leans against a tree trunk, flushed.
“No. Not you,” Isaac says to Ashley while looking and pointing at me. “Someone's steps aren't making noise.”
In a shack-of-a-juke joint are all cedar walls and cabinetry, pinewood chairs and pool tables played under different clouds of cigarette smoke.
“Bootleggin' somethin', ain't it ...” Isaac is saying as we find a spot and Ashley nods hello to minglers as several ask of her sisters and brother.
“No, no,” Ashley keeps laughing as I speak to her friends. “No, no.”
After sneaking back, Montana's way, Nerube is waiting with a worried look and a cell phone he's not supposed to have. Soberly, he dials it, then hands it to me. “I have contacts, see?” he says, slow and quiet.
“They're vetting you,” Irby says through the phone, as Nerube leans against the wall by the door, in his usual spot as lookout. He looks back and forth from the hallway to me.
“Who...” I say, cupping my hand around the receiver end and turning away from Nerube.
“Remember how you could hear a lie, even though the hodgie was speaking a foreign language? You could even point out people on television.”
“No wonder you had skills no one had ever seen before."
Turning from the buffet toward the open counter of the kitchen, I wait for Rustic's real-world-powerful chef to add cobbler to my tray. I notice his tears as he looks at me.
“I don't understand,” I say to him.
“Only it's the extraordinary change,” he replies. “It's like mourning.”
“Yes,” I tell him, turning my head to look out the windows. “It's the mornings that are so great.”
"They said Jake Gyllenhaal laughed when he found out you never had any intention of selling," Nerube says in the gazebo as we share a cigarette before work. "He said: 'Let the HUnt begin!'"
"... yeah," I tell him. "On Charlie Rose. Wait till you see the one with Mindy Kaling."
He looks at his feet as he takes a drag. "It's like you brought pure evil to our State," he says, looking up again. "New York. D.C., L.A." He hands me the cigarette. "Good thing you're from Carolina and know about branding. 'Cause they got the hot iron ready."
“In the military,” Larke says over the video counter. “You never noticed a connection? Forty years isn't much compared to American culture.”
“At this point their only impact would be negative. And at best fleeting.”
Larke's brother was quarterback of a small high school where only all-stars in the local sports paper had much of a future. Larke's argument sounds as generalized and abstract as the idea that women decide the vote because they are the majority.
“The institution of football is beloved,” he says, adjusting his spectacles, then taking them off to wipe the lenses. “Why do you think sportswriters drop names?”
“It can't be forced into manipulating gubernatorial elections.”
"And what about you?”
The three dairy old-timers exchange enough notes to realize: it's the new-hire, working most shifts alone, causing the department to fall behind. He's leaving the work for us.
After the senior lets management know, then the second-senior, it becomes my turn.
Management laughs, then says they'll take care of it.
"Personally, I don't believe you have any intention of doing anything out of your way," I say to Carlin, the assistant manager. "We can't work any harder, especially now that we know we're being screwed."
The store manager turns in his chair, glances at Carlin, and both laugh.
"You don't know what's going to happen in the next few months," he says. "You have no idea."
About to exit the latrine and enter the hallway, I pause with the door cracked.
"Don't you want to meet the President?" Brit is saying to a gaggle of employees. They look at her as if excited to be receiving attention from the cool-girl manager. "Don't you want to tell people he came to Ashe only to visit your workplace?"
There's a back-and-forth I can't catch.
Then Brit says: "When you walk past him, just ask him what it was like to be a baby-killer. Anything like that. If he complains, we'll back you."
Inside an office building that is actually an old mansion, her office looks like a living room with three large windows, a wooden desk in the corner, pastel yellow walls, a tan couch, and lavender pillows. I've gotten off work so am still in uniform.
She hands me a cup of coffee.
"What if I accidentally proved to the White House there is no such thing as journalism in America."
She stares at me, then says softly, "Maybe Obama is not corrupt."
"What of the White House after that," I tell her from the couch. “And the one after that.”
She sips from her navy blue coffee mug, some kind of insurance agency Christmas party. Maybe it wasn't kosher to underhandedly interrogate your therapist upon the first session. She didn't know that once sexually assaulted, macho-talk and locker-room-talk physically sound like jibberish, having fallen away from the English language. Nor did she know women will choose men over women, even their own children, no matter men. She wondered aloud about women assaulted back when macho-vernacular was blatantly sexist, and what it must've been like for those lone women in Egypt, Greece, and Rome to witness whole sentences and conversations disappearing into useless sounds.
"How serious are you …" she exhales.
"Precedents could be set."
As Ashe's spring slowly moves up the mountains, its downtown blooms colors against a wind wisping pollen. I walk a short cut behind the art-deco, downtown-storefronts where old, abandoned houses stand claim to overgrown yards with crumbling barns.
The first set of doors is incorrect, so with surprise I fling the next set open and rush into a small, beige waiting room with displays of pamphlets and posters on the walls encouraging consumer self-protection. The receptionists' window is bullet proof but they can still hear through the slit at the bottom.
"... It's a posting on an online support group," I tell them. "I promised to keep it there and have protected it over the years. They're threatening to slander my name if I don't write a particular scene. Tina Fey's lawyer called my dad to threaten my parents. NPR threatens me each morning. State television threatens me every evening and Charlie Rose does the same each night. Sportscenter has a crowd waiting at the library all day to harass me whenever I sit down at a computer. The librarians have to walk over and tell them to shut up. CBS made a show called Scorpions, then got caught, then sent The Good Wife after me. The government keeps trying to delete things and add things to it so I have to check it everyday. I know I'm in the civilian world and am not considered human--"
"Hmmmph!" exclaims the receptionist on the left, implying her brown-hued skin.
"I've survived more almost-lynchings than you and two of them were by all blacks. You wanna compare notes?"
"State television ..." asks the receptionist on the right, a small, petite thirty-something.
"Government television," the other answers her. "PBS."
"All because you won't write the scene," asks the one on the right as she takes down names and numbers to confirm. Her worried countenance keeps a look as if all remains hopeless.
"Two different assaults from the same guy in a red sports car who was apparently in-good with the local cops," I tell them. "... somehow they found out I could see through man-made things--"
"--Surprised you aren't dead already," the woman on the left deadpans, raising an eyebrow at my expression. She wears a pastel-yellow suit with a necklace of small pearls. She slowly takes her glasses off and folds them in front of her so as to look up at me squarely. "The wealthy have to learn to read and write, then go to school, then college, to even have the ability to wrap their brains around such a concept as seeing through all man-made things. Whenever they're reminded that the illiterate, working-poor always had that ability -- nothing frightens them more."
By the time back from legal-aid, the passages are adjusted. I had tried once before to keep readers from self-satisfying themselves to it, but they found the passage Egon Schiele. Maybe President Obama thought it fair, him censoring at-will years after my writing such a purposefully-vulgar passage. I had arrived back from deployment and wanted no readership for a long while, so the passage worked particularly murderously.
In the therapist's office, using her laptop, I place them, then tell her of the weeping willow and the pond at its base, and how the white crane flew, indifferent above the violence as the back of my head hit road. For some reason I thought of Grandma Morris as the wings slowly flapped, like she was saying, "THIS is the world."
"You understand..." the therapist begins from where she sits upright on her tan couch, her legs crossed, one over the other, a lavender pillow behind her. Her eyes look up and away as if she's trying to find the words. "You're having survived--"
"Thank you for your trouble," I mutter, grabbing my bag.
She follows to her office door. "LISten to me," she calls as she follows out her shop's main door and out into the stairwell. "It can only make you that much MORE American," she continues, her heels clicking rapidly from behind and above as I bound flights. "You do understand ..."
Sometimes Montana speaks to me in the back where he'll catch me smoking a cigarette. “... So they have him step up to the mike, to ask his question toward the stage,” he whispers in the dark behind the dumpster. “He turns to the audience of the civic center, looks to the highest balcony down to the bull pen, then points to the stage and asks loud: 'Why do we not believe him?' And the entire audience – one-thousand and seventy-three people all stand up and say 'Because he is a politician.' And the guy then points to the back wall where the cameras and reporters are and he asks loud: 'And why do we not believe them?' and the people says: 'Because they are journalists.' Even with the police, security, and secret service, the people refused to yield where they stood until all the politicians, business-people and reporters had been escorted off the property … ”
In the grocery some know, some do not. No one says anything but for dirty looks and laced comments to each other. Every morning Cooke silently prepares and hands me her three dollar breakfast plate with her right eye wet with the same tear – something to do with me. Butcher has no lewd-ish jokes or otherwise, nor any Vietnam anecdotes, nor comments on women. He looks me in the face wide-eyed and distant. Gardner, in produce, looks at his feet a lot, like he's trying to shuffle away.
Average, ten customers a day aren't real customers. They lean in as they pull merchandise and whisper, "Nig__," or "Bitc_" or "Cun_." Many get their small children to hiss the words instead. At least once a day, it will be an old man in a veteran's cap. Other times it's regular older men saying they've seen me here and there around town, trying to imply they are pervs. Had no time to be literary about standing up for the existence of written word so co-workers keep a supply of critical comments.
Sometimes Dakota speaks to me while cleaning the latrines because we will suddenly find ourselves alone. "The creepy guy with the glasses watching you all morning and writing in that notebook while he sat at Starbucks," he says. "That was a guy working for the radio stations. Daniel and Issac both took bribes from Comedy Central. They told me if you didn't sell to the industry, the industry would destroy your reputation same as they did Dave Chappelle. That's how it works--"
"It's a guild."
"Yeah, I thought the French Revolution already happened."
"They want their payoffs, Dakota. I want to get them for extortion--"
"--Listen. They also said if the government decides to, they'll have you committed. If you imply there is a such thing as freedom, the novel will immediately be banned. If you allude to some idea that writing has some other purpose than making money, the conglomerates will lobby the government to ban the novel. I know they've already sicked the tabloids on you, mainly The View and The Talk." He makes a move with the hose he's using so as to not have to touch any of the commodes. "Mine's WAAAY better," he says, smiling innocent mischief. "Hey, and when you walk by a government plant you involuntarily cut and roll your eyes -- you gotta stop doing that. And Montana -- now that might really be government."
Whenever I step through the library all the kids' names are 'ben,' even the girls. Any storybook reader changes the protagonist's name to 'ben,' even when the main character is a girl. The librarians look worried and confused but not as if they need explanation from me. They watch from their counters as I use one of their computers, making comments on any paragraphs or sentences I might be working on. All use a tone as if they're rolling their eyes, only doing it with their voices instead. They never comment on watching me CTRL-F "a play" in Elise each day, then open other chapters, making similar checks. Between metadata and the witness stand, all remains self-evident.
“ ... They buy all the magazines with celebrities on the cover, all in one crowd,” Montana whispers later in the otherwise-empty latrine. “As another group buys all the newspapers inside and outside all the shops. As still another group buys all the magazines with any business-people on the covers. Then walk to the drum circle where the three fires have been lit. The police arrive telling them they cannot have bonfires here in the middle of downtown. They lock their elbows and form three wide circles around each fire as the ones inside throw the newspapers on one fire and the magazines on the other two while yelling over and over that the journalists were never journalists, the writers were never writers, the celebrities and the president only made-up people all along, while the business-people were criminals and all are to blame for what has happened--“
"--I know about the workplace petition, Montana," I tell him.
He says nothing for a long time, looking at my face, his always-fierce eyes leaning to kindness, then to anger, then kindness, as seconds tick.
"But you're non-human," he protests angrily. "And you learned how to read and write--Just because you didn't know you were classically autistic doesn't mean -- Whatever it was about you that tempted someone to sexually assault you -- that's on you--"
"--Montana, I can't undo learning how to read and write, even if learning how WAS illegal--"
"--that you were sexually assaulted should've been proof to YOU that you weren't human--"
"Montana, I know your name isn't on it."
"The journalists knew you were going to prove their trade secret," Dakota says as he cleans the employees-only latrines. I lean against the wall in between the two doors, each propped open by a metal trash can. "That's why when you turned down payoffs they called you anti-American. Then when you turned down bribes they called you a terrorist."
The President seems to have gotten away with the censorship of social media, but history will prove him criminal: in the future, the reader can watch his twenty-fifteen State of the Union, any press statement by Secretary of State John Kerry from now til then, and think about it. Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit moves me whether I want to be or not. The most obvious censorship remains the ten dots that were at the end of this chapter, I guess implying the writings' end. I'll never know why the rich and powerful went after a regular joe, or why the mainstream would approve, but have yet to lose faith in the American spirit. The federal coercive torture campaign will last two years. All I'll do is mess with them. Charlie Rose will continue sending lying women, even mentioning it on his show, while Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill continue their bullying act on the PBS Newshour, remaining in-sync with the liberal government. Not to mention David Brooks, or The New York Times' writers, frothing at the mouth, still taken by the idea of one day getting to rip apart someone's life and loved ones, by way of literary snobbery.
Dakota sprays Lysol inside through the cracked door of one bathroom, making a face and smiling with a shake of his head, before moving on with his work. "According to them it's easy for them to make the case because for you to have survived them you must have become violent and a terrorist -- had to have -- because if they had survived themselves they would've become terrorists ... At least, that's how it was explained to me--"
"--Another thing that doesn't makes any sense is that you were put under government surveillance because on Halloween night you proved to yourself that you were under government surveillance--"
"--it's not about the novel," I tell him. "It's about what I've witnessed."
"Yeah!" he says quick. "That does make more sense 'cause I read that novel. It wasn't that good."
He pauses in his movements, setting his paper towel on a nearby stack of boxes, looking as if he wants to acknowledge the intimacy between us all. The federal operations have a lot to do with a researched childhood. Whatever designated as "the worst" is zeroed-in-on, replicated. Mostly it is my sisters, lines of theirs from the last millennium, while female librarians try playing the decrepit, mother-hag role, trying to insult my mother, while all use that same roll-of-the-eyes done vocally instead: a throwback to God's Country and the moments and days and months and years post sexual assault. Another dehumanization tactic is molestation. As the customer grabs the item, she passes her hand upward over my buttocks. "You can never tEEELLLllle," she says, turning her disastrously-overweight, thirty-something form toward the chip aisle and flicking her long blonde hair. "That's straight from President Obama," she calls out. "Who IS god. Proven in written word online, self-evidently, with the entire world as witness." Then she laughed, turning her hanging-skin-face back toward me: "Can't you read your own journalized short stories?"
"You realize you're being systematically tortured by the American people," Dakota says, his blue eyes going wide.
I nod return.
"One day you'll forgive us."
Last night, after explaining to her Montana's way, then predicting the right time, I waited in the room until I heard a certain branch against window. “Nicer place than before ...” she commented quietly, trailing her fingertips against the enormous dresser, then the foot-board of the sleigh bed, then along the glass doors of the shower-tub, the surface of the Bombay desk, then sat on the beige couch as if for test. She rose and stepped up to me standing in the door of the latrine, ran her finger down my forehead, then my nose. (“Maybe you've been Cleopatra's offspring all along,” she said to me once.) Somewhere in the violence of nature's throbs she knows me again before later slipping away as I slept.
“I've never met anyone in more trouble than you, Skits,” Brock said this morning at my door, seeming surprised to see me standing covered in morning spring snow as if I'd just arrived. He wears a black beanie, his short brown hair showing behind the ears. He slips his hands in the pockets of the Carhartt he likes, the movement sounding like sand-paper. He moves heavy and slow, his work-boots silent against carpet, stepping into the latrine then stepping out, handing me a towel so as to dry the melting snow.
“Jacob seems to be on to you,” he says. “How'd you steal away?”
Outside the windows, downhill from us, the old man sings of brick and mortar, tapping his foot in the corner of the gazebo. Cold weather settles in for the night.
“Some list of crimes,” Nerube whispered in the gazebo. He passes me his cigarette in the dark. “What happens when they find out you're only the guy who built the church--“
“-- had to go bush on them. Lean toward the history books.”
"Promise me you'll write another chapter," his suddenly sober voice exclaimed, his neck bent down, him looking at his feet. "Promise."
“Thing is,” I say to Brock, sitting in the house manager's office, across from his desk, turning one of Gardner's apples over and over in my hand.
“... I'm thirty-one … ” he has said, after having performed a series of drug tests. “Don't you know by now how you ended up here?”
“It was the right thing to do,” I say suddenly official.
He is speechless, his sage eyes wide, while I stare at him like one of Montana's Civil War ghosts who happened upon him, wondering how it is Brock's blocking my line of sight.
“I don't understand how it was you were honorably dis--”
“--There were no acts of cowardice. Holy sh_t, Brock."
“What about school--Thing about today. Your strategy.”
“Thing about history,” I tell Brock. “The idea of a good son.”
“Only there is no way to prove it,” he replies slowly, looking at the test cup. “And nothing is to be done.”
“Brock ... that's their spin on it.”
“I'm sure it's for,“ he says, his eyes returning. “Traditional reasons.”