Sunday, October 30, 2005

Something October Part One

The thing in the studio is drying, tomorrow will be painting and photographing. In the meantime, since this is the last breath of October, I thought to post the story I wrote for the Strange Attraction anthology. It's not a new story, but I'd bet not many of you have read it. I've shortened it just a bit and divided it into parts for posting.

Something October

October doesn’t come here. It starts in Wisconsin, with good intentions, but turns tail somewhere north of Pueblo before its first taste of desert , a long haul from Blythe, California. I missed it. October wasn’t just a month for me; it was a state of mind. Today though, my mind was in the state of here and now, driving home from the foundry with a new bronze on the back seat. It was a jester dangling a tiny dead angel from a noose. I’d given the jester only a vague hint at facial features and star-shaped hollows for eyes.
I’d always loved October. The wind felt like promises. Growing up, I turned each year with the leaves. It was time for new discoveries. Some got filed with fodder, some made me a little wiser, but some would empty my pockets of all I believed, leaving room for things I didn’t want to. I closed the windows quickly against a curtain of blowing sand just ahead. My windshield was finely pitted; signatures of other sandstorms. It was nearly Halloween. As I ticked off Joshua trees to the beat of Stranger than Fiction, I relented. October was a no-show. Still, of all that mattered and all that didn’t, October always brought one particular magic: Carnival.

I was eight when I saw the contortionist. It had been a damp-chilly Carolina day and my dad and I walked about the county fair. There were calliopes and ghost houses, cows and jars of pickles with prize ribbons, Joey’s hawking their crooked games, vinegar fries in greasy cones and the Ferris wheel with its view of the river. A tent at the end of the midway held a wooden stage with a rusty tin skirt. A tattooed man stood by a sandwich board that said ‘Strange Attractions’ would appear. He tore our tickets in half with stained fingers and we stepped solemnly through the flap to stand near the stage. We listened to the vagabond arrangement of some murdered waltz. A spotlight washed over the stage and something burst spider-like from the folds of musty velvet. It was a man, long and wiry, in a black leotard and a paper mache mask. He curled around backwards so that his head and arms came right through his shins. When he skittered to the edge of the stage a yard from where I stood, I slipped my hand into Dad’s, suddenly regretting that last candy apple. Something felt very, very wrong. The contortionist’s eyes surveyed the audience and then a terrible thing happened. The eyes settled on me. The moment stretched and thinned. I looked up at my dad. His head bobbed to the music, his cigarette glowed red.
The mask was suddenly inches from my face. “Hello, Sara.” An eye winked and the contortionist skittered away, disappearing into the blackness. For a moment there was no air, then time snapped back to normal. The music played. Two clowns and an ancient poodle were exiting through the velvet. We walked back through the flap with the other patrons. I put my head down and followed my dad through the carnival’s arched gate.

I hadn’t thought about that in ages. I wasn’t even sure how much of it was real anymore, and which part was dream. Mostly that depended on whether I considered it during the bright light of day, or late, when everything was quiet but the breathing of the walls. I’d had nightmares since I could remember. I’d been in therapy, taken a prescription, tried smoking dope. Nothing helped. Finally, I’d learned to live with them. I sculpted and painted them, building a successful career. Now I was beginning the project of a lifetime, a full sized carnival to be constructed right here in the desert. Rides that employed the latest computer technology, but were built to look like they ran on magic older than the wood I’d carve their facades from.
I’d turned lemons to lemonade. But recently, the dreams had grown more disturbing, more tiring.

When I got home, the house was quiet. I was pouring myself a cup of coffee when I noticed my little hand puppet on the counter. I wondered who would have taken it from the studio, but was too tired to pursue it. I put it back in its case, then plopped down in the ugly but infinitely comfortable chair between my work tables. With the strange clarity that exhaustion sometimes brings, images began filtering back in.
It was cold and very dark. I smelled alcohol, antiseptic. I sat on a confessional stool of carved wood, smoothed by years of use. Oddly, my feet didn’t touch the floor. A single lamp illuminated only the chessboard before me. I played black. The knights had broken rank and several pawns were face-to-face at the front line.
My opponent sat in shadow, only his hands visible. The one resting on the table was veined marble. The other, hovering over our silent battle, was carved of some exotic wood. I waited.
No walls were visible in the darkness, but I became aware of a slow, steady drip somewhere to my right. Its echo told me the room was large and empty. I turned my attention back to the game. I’d seen masterfully carved sets before, but not like this. The kings were as long as my hand. Except for the rooks, the pieces had intricately carved faces round as moons and upturned in grotesque parodies of children. I thought of the sunflowers by the river. My opponent’s hand moved to his queen, touching her crown with one polished finger. I watched in horror as the little faces turned in unison. The hand paused, then chose the bishop instead, whose tiny eyes widened as he was lifted delicately and moved two squares diagonally, next to my knight, whose face now followed the hand as it retreated.
My move.


No comments: