Thursday, June 5, 2014

A World That Isn't This One

She sat beside him and she did not speak and she did not fidget and she did not ask him to leave. She was quiet when he ordered the drink and it sat in front of him and he caressed the lip of the glass with his finger like a genie was going to pop out of the shallow pool of whiskey in the bottom and give him some sort of answer. And she didn't look at him too much because she knew that made him uncomfortable. She sat beside him and the glass sat in front of him. She did not envy the look in his eyes for whatever demon was receiving it in the depths of the drink.

"You need anything, darlin," the bartender asked. She only shook her head no, and the bartender looked over at him again and she felt sorry because of the look in his eyes.

She thought about getting up and walking out and walking the long stretch home where the cold air and the roar of traffic would numb her. It could be done with. It could all be over and she would have the dark of night to keep her hidden from the world. She could have time and space that wouldn't include this sadness. This struggle that even the experts admit has no end. Oh, these men and their hearts.

What she did was she remembered a story he told her. A story about when he was a kid in the world that wasn't this one. It was a simple story about a vacation his family took up to Nashville to Opryland and the Zoo. What she liked was the details. The way he squirmed and screamed and giggled with his sister in the back seat when his folks broke the surprise of where they were going once they were on the highway. His chubby little legs running up and down the paths in the zoo from one exhibit to another. The look in his eyes when he saw the polar bears, "The Dancing Polar Bears," shuffling back and forth on their hind legs in unison. And him, his black hair all full of the sunlight, thick and wavy, his pale skin getting red, and he is shuffling back and forth with the polar bears, scootching along the pavement as they did along the rocks of their inclosure. How he roared when they broke off and dove into the pool of water. How he giggled when they came up for air and began doggy-paddling in circles. Back out. Shake off the water. And they began to dance again.

It was all a picture in her mind. A picture of him. Him smiling. Him running. Him, cast over the now. With the drink and with that terrible look down into the depths.

What she did was she thought about the sunlight. The streaks of blue and green he remembered rushing by him. The darkening of the freckles on his cheeks. His smiles making them even redder. The alien world of the amusement park where everything was bright and alive and larger than life.

What she did was she imagined him sleeping on the way home. Exhausted by living. By just being himself.

What she did was she saw him outside the world where she knew him. Where all that imagining seemed to be gone and was only a glimmer in his cheek. The way he smiled. The way his eyes were when he told a story, when he was somewhere between just getting started and too much. The imagining helped. She stayed seated next to him. She kept quiet. She didn't fidget and she didn't look at him too much.

"Its psychosis, you know," he had said after telling the story.

"What do you mean?"

"The polar bears."



"How's that?"

"The dancing, or what they said was dancing. What all those people staring at them from outside the cage called dancing. It's really psychosis. Not dancing at all."

"How is it psychosis?"

He had leaned in close and looked up at her with lidded eyes and chopped at the table with his pudgy hand that wasn't holding a drink .

"You take an animal from a place its always lived. Where it's family has lived back generation after generation so far back into the past that just living there and how to survive and exist and whatnot is ingrained in its DNA. That environment, the nearly endless space to move around and hunt and find shelter and raise little cubs and shit, thats a part of its DNA. The space and the environment and whatnot, its a part of this beast's genetic makeup. And then you take that animal and you put it in a cage and it is forced to spend its life in the same hundred feet of space. In Nashville Fucking Tennessee! It can't even hunt. Its only option is to take the raw dead meat from a tin platter shoved under the door."

"I guess I never thought of it that way," she said.

"And the "Dancing," he said in one-handed air quotes, "its psychosis. Brainlock. An animal like that trapped in a place that defies and subverts even the genetic response its supposed to have with its environment? It can't deal with it. It can't comprehend anything in this place its trapped in. So the brain just shuts down. It dials back the motor functions and whatnot to these simple actions it just repeats over and over and over and over again.

"These sweet cuddly polar bears and look how cute they are doing a little dance up there."

He mocks the memory of it by shuffling his hips in his seat and waving his arms around sloshing dapples of beerfoam across the table.

"The mind," he said, "reduced to the lowest level of survival. Eat, sleep, move. Real fucking cute."

What she did was she remembered the story he told her. A story about when he was a kid in a world that wasn't this one.

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