Published: HIKA 1977
Revisions 1994, 2002
It hit him again as he took the box of cornflakes off the shelf. With a cry he jumped off the stepstool and raced out of the kitchen. Halfway to the den, just past the living room, it struck a third time.
He was there.
But the feeling sensed the pen was in his hand. It flew quickly, fearfully away.
There was a sullen expression on his face as he returned to the kitchen where his cornflakes awaited him.
The cornflakes box promised him a miniature model of the Lusitania if he sent in three boxtops and two dollars. Made of one hundred percent high-quality plastic. Red plastic. He turned the box around. Gaudy advertisements. He read them and smiled. He had read them before, in the store, before he bought the cereal. The company put a picture of a boy on the front of the box. The boy was fishing and smiling in the picture. He smiled when he looked at the box.
They crunch in your mouth. But then they get soggy. Yech. A mouthful of sugar at the end. You spit it out.
Too much sugar is no good for you.
As the toothbrush shoonshed over his teeth, he looked in the mirror. Dark circles under his eyes, hair in disarray, needs a shave. White foam in mouth. Foam looks like ocean foam, spewed out hundreds of times daily, with tides ebbing, every day the same.
It hit the fourth time and he swallowed a little. He felt it going down, but he was already at the desk, scribbling funny marks on a page. Wiping a blob of ocean foam off, when it dropped on.
- What are you doing?
He spluttered on the page.
- Are you writing again?
He swallowed three dixie cups of water. It was cold and fell down on his cornflakes, chilled his stomach.
- It’s five o’clock in the morning, for Chrissake!
Into the kitchen, put the bowl into the dishwasher. Clean up the mess before she sees it.
- Look at this kitchen!
Mumble. You don’t know why. Just mumble.
He scratched his stomach and burped loudly. “Like a frog,” they used to say in school. He was the living national treasure of the second grade class a long time ago. He could burp real loud. They even got him to do it in Emily Markowitt’s face, just for spite. He was a standup guy. He did it.
Like a frog.
With a death grip on his kleenex, he blew his nose. Threw the kleenex away, into the trashcan. Garbage. Maybe the whole world will be covered with garbage.
- Honey, answer me…
She was coming into the room. He heard the thunkbathunk of her spike heels on the linoleum. Then the sound became muted, turning to thudbathud. She was on the carpet. It came closer.
She was in the doorway behind him!
- Honey, hurry up. We should be at the Pirelli’s by seven-thirty.
- We’ll miss the crudite.
Pants pulled on the usual way. Shirt slipped into. Tie tied.
Wash the nasty bacteria off your face. Swish. Shoonsh. Shoonsh. Now you’re clean.
- I said, do you believe in God?
Why? Why do you want to know?
- I was just interested, that’s all.
The man in the brown suit with the blonde hair and a bloody mary in his hand turned on his heel and started a conversation with a passing redhead in a yellow suit holding a mint julep. The two walked away.
He ran his hand through his brown hair, threw his eyes wifeward. She was in the midst of a crowd of people, discussing the availability of summer tickets to the People’s Republic of China. She was a travel agent.
Find a chair. Legs feel like rubber.
He heard a karunch as he sat down. He stood up and brushed the potato chips off the seat of his pants. He looked around. No one had seen him.
Get up, get up.
He was outside in the cold. His teeth chattered, the stars twinkled in rhythm. His legs, his feet beat the concrete out of rhythm. Syncopated.
He looked down at his feet.
How ridiculous they look. Two things I call feet. Pretty flimsy looking. Perhaps I’ll topple.
He walked toward the corner, doubts notwithstanding.
There was a traffic light, green, waiting for a car to come. It turned yellow, red. He stood, watching.
Now it’s green again.
Doesn’t it care
no one’s there to see it change?
He breathed a goodbye to the traffic light. The words turned into wispy smoke and rose. He watched as they rose, vanished in the air.
The stars were there, beating.
Why are they there? he asked himself.
Maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re dead, all dead, just little bits of beating light.
Now a pattern of blue and red, pulsing across the little beating dots. A plane, carrying people to Fort Lauderdale for the winter.
His back fell against the lamp-post, cold lamp-post. The cold went through his silk shirt, on into his back.
Across the street, a man carrying groceries out of the Associated Supermarket, his cane making steady toktok noises on the concrete.
Now a blue convertible sails toward the red light, stops. The driver of the convertible and the man with the cane speak to each other, a few quick words, then the man opens the rear door and sits down, closing the door as the light turns green and the convertible slides into the night, swallowed whole, leaving only the wisps of breath, rising and fading.
He smiled. The cold lamp-post had numbed his back.
This is the place.
He reached into his right rear trouser pocket, removed a piece of paper. Without reading it, without looking at it, he walked over to the cracked concrete wall, slipped the paper into a crack.
He turned his head to the right, then the left. No one had seen him.
He turned his heel, his ridiculous fragile feet walked so syncopated back to the Pirelli’s house. Once there, he looked in the window, warm people standing sipping Bloody Marys and Mint Juleps.
Perhaps no one finds it. It will stay in the wall forever, the rain will sog it and blur the ink.
Perhaps someone finds it.
On the corner of Mace Avenue and Eastchester Road, imbedded in the concrete, I found a piece of paper. On it were these words:
GOD IS HERE
GOD IS THERE
GOD IS NOT.
THE STARS BEAT ON.
I LOVE YOU.