The Afterlife Hotel

by Edward Williams

leave a comment »

“What kind of a hotel is this? There’s a dining room, but half the people at the tables have nothing in front of them. They’re just sitting there like condemned. They bring you a menu and it only has one thing on it. Like, swordfish.”

“I wouldn’t even call that a menu. It’s more of an announcement.”

“It makes you wonder why there were so many choices at the restaurants of old. Back in life.”

“Well do I remember that dream in which the other woman was my wife. I was leading this double life, and I was married and had this other woman, and I woke up in a panic and actually checked to see that the woman I was with was the other woman—my wife in real life.”

“Who was the dream wife?”

“You had an affair with your wife? In a dream? What rubbish!”

“I remember once I woke up and I was lying on the bottom of a rowboat.”

“At least it isn’t waffles.”

“I can’t get a focus on her; as soon as I wake up she disintegrates so rapidly I have no information about her anymore.”

“Is this one of those repeating dreams.”

“Or artichoke hearts! God how I hated those! Hope there aren’t any of those around.”

“Let’s consider all dainty items of food.”

“Seems futile, though, doesn’t it? Hating something! Actually I only remember that I hated it, not actually hating it . . .”

“I was nibbling her ears!”

“Luckily it still had oars, and I was able to get out of the marsh and back onto the lake. Eventually my memory came back.”

“That sounds like it’s from a movie. You probably suffered a movie transfusion dream. You won’t be having any more of those now.”

“I hardly have any other type than repeating—all my dreams are episodes now from an already well established situation, which only happens in dreams—the only access I have. . .”

“Like the one in the old house. Where you eternally fitfully ramble between floors, and sometimes find that secret stairway? Sometimes that long room where there are experiments set out with . . . tinkertoys and stuff. That—”

“How did you know?”

“Because that is a stock dream. Everybody has it. Or most people. Or one small percentage of people chosen to be infiltrators because of their . . .”

“Don’t reveal too much! The anathestic might not be worn off.”

“One night I was at my computer, it was really late, early in the morning, and I had the ashtray on a chair next to me, I put my hat over the ashtray and, guess what, my hat caught on fire!”

“Fire when ready, Gridley!”

“Who is that old man walking in a stately swinging gate on the old country road in . . . it must be England?”

“Why Wordsworth of course.”

“He isn’t that old you know. And if it looks like he is talking to himself it is because he isn’t crazy but composing his poem. He gets the rythm from the walking, one imagines. He gets back to the cottage with quatrain after quatrain memorized.”

“My writing methods are very different. I’m more like a kid on a bicycle, who goes faster and faster and crashes in the driveway for lack of brakes.”

———

– TWO –

“You are frightening me.”

“Gridley was the gunner, you see, on the first ship about to attack the Phillipines, and my great grandfather Oscar, see, he was also on the deck with Admiral Dewey when Dewey said: Fire when ready—this is back in history. Whew! History? What is that?”

“We’ll get to that.”

“And I have all this stuff about the plumber and the electrician who were a double plague upon our house last summer. It was frightening and hilarious, even at the time I saw it was frought with absurdity and meaning, another classic right in our own house , which I don’t even have to leave—”

“What do you mean, you have all this stuff?”

“So, getting back to the main point, who are the witch women?”

“Ah yes. They spend all day dealing with damaging information about people, heard from other other people, and then redistributed, by the witch woman!— after she’s stirred it around in her stewing pot which might be a—”

“I wanted to know WHO they are; I can well imagine what they are.”

“Oh. So you want to know who they are.”

“Stuff, and more stuff! Never did get organized! Never did bring the paint cans from the basement out to the curb. Never did—”

“But if you know what they are, you would know who they are—they stand right out once you have the category.”

“So?”

“And if you don’t have the category, knowing who they are is just spurious. So I am obliged to not tell you who they are. Take that!”

“It is not, in itself, a bad thing to be a witch woman. In fact they think of their work as a positive force; they are busy all the time, and can’t help themselves. It’s up to us to . . .”

“Is this one of those things that only you understand?”

“How should I know?”

“And would you please resupply the lemonade, it’s life-like sweltering hot out here, the patio stones are burning my feet.”

“So much we will never know, pray tell, stranded here, at the Afterlife Hotel.”

“That almost rhymes.”

“Everything almost rhymes.”

“If they wanted to live, they could have. Of whom do I speak?”

“They can’t kill me as long I have all these other voices in my head. They can’t snuff out the whole lot of us in one fell swoop, I wager.”

————-

– THREE –

“He’s in a note-taking mood. He’ll sit staring into space, and presto! make a note. His hand obeys his brain. He’s a marvel to watch. Then some more pressurized time goes, and you betcha!—”

“Another note!”

“Wonder what it is. The brave soul reckons, and the evil genius replies: another observation which, still, does not reveal . . . “

“One note erases the last, and we are left with . . . “

“Chairs askew, and the moon rising unnoticed in the left-hand corner.”

“Sponse and response.”

“A sense of eternity.”

“I say, thinking is diving into intervals lately.”

“And from my great unfinished poem I quote:
In the disconsolate, air-conditioned coffeeshop
The random person at my left seems not harrassed—”

“Save it!”

“We are in a world nobody has envisioned.”

“I don’t think we are even in the world anymore. If there was a world. Could be . . . there never was a world.”

“It was provisional. Preparatory. Mind-boggling! And now—”

“Well now my wit is sharpened in isolation. My body is gone.”

“Those parts of the landscape, and the history, which were hypothetical remain . . . unfinished. Because . . .”

“It really was up to us to establish truth!”

“These are all viable statements. Anybody else got one?”

“Everything is best with cheese melted on it.”

“That will do.”

“Viable?”

“Most people that I ever knew aren’t in fact around anymore. When I think about it, damn it, hardly anyone made it through life. If we tally it up where did they go, Don Massell et. al.?”

“Don Massell? The name is familar.”

“Only a few are on record as dying, the rest seem to have snuck off. Maybe the world is just a temporary stopping place, not even the main map.”

“The main map! Jesus!”

“You know what Louis Pasteur said right before he died: he said: “It’s not the organism, it’s the terrain,” Louis Pasteur said, right before he died.

“You mean maybe life is just an out-take, not the main movie?”

“The question about these people who say things right before they die is: how do they manage it?

– FOUR

“I was saying, the question about these people who say things right before they die is: how do they manage it?”

“Like: Reynolds! That is what Poe said, he said, “Reynolds!”

“Someone must whisper: that’s what Poe said. Poe said . . .”

“So the fatuous famous actor when he is interviewed on Charlie Rose always tells what acting part it was, to be sure, that was the Big Break, cuz when the RaRa Reviewer praised him like he did in The New York Times, well that led to the Phone Call, and then the offers started rolling in. It’s the way it happens.”

“It’s the way it happens, when it happens.”

“Now he is the enviable position of being able to pick the parts he wants to play.”

”Oh sure he is.”

“Even people in life can’t do that!”

“The call doesn’t come for everyone, just because they put in ten years working as a waiter or a call-girl. I mean a waitress or a doorman.”

“I have this terrible ringing sense of an . . . equilibrium.”

“Secretly though, he is undermined by the gnawing reality that he doesn’t really like any of the parts. None of them give him the chance to be—himself!”

“Balance. You mean you have this sense of balance?”

“Fish think everything else is in a fish tank, when they nose up to the side of the fish tank, see, they think: my, my, what is going on out there?”

“Actually, fish can’t look straight ahead. And they probably therefore and for other reasons can’t think rationally. Which, come to think of it, might not be the only way to think.”

“They thought I was just being funny, but it was more than that. And when they got the feeling it was more than that, they thought it wasn’t funny anymore. Like I had tricked them!”

“With me it was the other way around. I was trying to be profound, and it was lucky I was at least funny.”

“They never figured out who Reynolds was.”

“Ah so, we have alot of work to do.”

“Why is that? That we have, suddenly, so much work to do. Didn’t we keep up, or what?”

“And no way to do it.”

“It’s the kind of work that had to be done at the time.”

“At least we are relieved of the question of the public, the responsibility of the historical record, the pyrotechnics of publishing and promotion, and other ugly earthly duties!”

“It is the nature of life to compound itself, and get further and further behind in the main mission, it seems.”

“Still, though, one swift revelation and we might be out of here.”

“First, though, we have to figure out where we are.”

“Do we have to figure out where we are, first, to . . .”

“Getting out of here is equivalent to figuring out where we are.”

“Because . . .”

“If we knew where we were, we would be there! It’s not knowing where we are, that makes us wonder where we are.”

“Don’t everybody speak at once.”

“So how is this any different from being alive was? Well, I can answer that for myself. It is different because now it is the main topic. And there are only a few of us here, perhaps a few more coming in. A few more walking away.”

– FIVE-

“Okay folks. If this is the afterlife, there is no need to conform to former assumed requirements of making things interesting to an essentially disinterested human audience.”

“You can say that again! We certainly were naive to think everybody was interested in life.”

“Meanwhile over to the Tavern of Historical Personages—we find many former agitators. Staying up all night, though it isn’t night for that only happens on earth, as they strive to rig up a morning landscape —like a memory of life. Ah, life—what was it?”

“Ah, life—what was it. Not really a question, if you put it that way.”

“For awhile I thought I would know what it was before it ended, and then I thought at least for certain I would know afterwards. Who would have thought that, looking back I still don’t know what it was!”

“And over at this table, three famed literary giants, who are little guys, from the 1840’s. That would be Edgar Allen Poe, Soren Kierkegaard, and Thomas DeQuincey. Never met in life, I hear.”

“Meeting now for the first time. Though they were all in a soldiers’ row on someone’s bookshelf.”

“And what’s the name of the woman running the brothel? Where the gunslinger finds brief solace before the final shoot-out in the morning . . .”

“Kitty. Always, Kitty.”

“I have the feeling I’ve been here before.”

“There was a ferment, the oldest, the most remarkable of all, that was known to be an organic being—beer yeast. That’s Louie! Frock-coated Louie. Treat him to a frosty mug!“

“I can’t believe I don’t have to worry about my car anymore.”

“I’m going back.”

“You get this far and you want to go back?

“I can’t even think without music playing.”

“I can’t believe I am aware of the fact that three checks are going to bounce. Like I could do something about it now!”

“Why did we always have to hear the President’s reaction to everything.”

“Especially when we knew exactly what it is going to be.”

“I always like the parts about the President. The President is a real comic character; we just roll him out and put a microphone in front of him, and he gives the official emotion everytime.”

“That is because is he is so thoroughly deluded that he is President.”

“A real President would be able to divorce himself from the fact, I agree.”

“My plan is to hire the hecklers, and the insane flattering fans, to get rid of them in the audience. It’s the only way. Make them ushers, who aren’t allowed to express themselves.”

“And who exactly are these hecklers and insane fans?”

“How great is their number?”

“Don’t they have any rights?”

– SIX –

“This might be a good time to take the stage with my “Six Good People” monologue. Where is the stage? And what have they done with the audience?”

“Most pertinent now are issues and situations that arise and are unresolved between one person and another.”

“Like what?”

“I can’t think of anything at the moment.”

“Most pertinent now are . . . persons? What? What? How?”

“If it wasn’t resolved, look out for now it will be!”

“People could never just agree, and admit they gave that issue no thought. They have to infernally pretend that they have given everything ample thought, and give an opinion. Which requires ignoring what they just heard, which, it they admitted it, proves they never . . .”

“The reason she, or he, doesn’t readily agree with you is that would expose the fact she, or he, has never given the subject any thought. He, or she, verily has to pretend to have thought about it, and when confronted with conclusions, the very conclusions thought would of course have to reach, she, or he—-the whole lot of them! has to dispute them, to, as I said, preserve the—”

“I get it!”

“Does he or she know he is right?”

“If he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, in panic of being exposed she, or he, must risk flatly denying.“

“This becomes more important than anything else.”

“What was the subject?”

“Tell us the subject, before that horrible vagueness begins, like some invisible poison pumped into the air through the radiators, floor vents, ceiing fans—”

“How to create characters in a play. Charlie Rose asks Tom Stoppard, you see, how he writes his plays. He says, what to you do, Tom, think of the character and then give them the lines?”

“Tom says, no Charlie, that is precisely wrong.”

“What I do Charlie, is think up the dialogue and once that gets going I know something about the character—by what he is already saying. Get it!”

“One: Thomas Jefferson did sire children from the slave Sally Hemmings. DNA tests have finally proved it, such tests not being in existence back when . . . Two: Daniel Wegman’s master thesis in college was titled: “The Future of Retail Food Marketing”. Today he is getting an award from the National Grocers Association or some god-damned group like that for, guess what? innovation! And three: the body of George Mallory at the top of Mt. Everest has been found and if the camera is found it might be determined whether he got to the top first. Frozen film on route to lab at Kodak.”

“These are your three themes?”

“With ramifications.”

“Examples involving complicated retroactiveness.”

“These are the three themes?”

“It will be the ramifications, that will transcend the initial theme, but we don’t know the ramifications until we bury ourselves in the themes. And with such faith we shall persevere.”

“With all the time in the world.

– SEVEN-

“Say you are paused at the drive-through at MacDonald’s, and you have to turn the radio down, so you can say “Quarter Pound with Cheese” to a dead-looking speaker set there. On the radio . . .”

“It is, once again, Science Friday. This Friday we are talking with people who have trained very large radio receivers on outer space in order to pick up signals from advanced civilizations out there.”

“That’s lunacy for you.”

“Say you meet someone at the chips and dip on an outside excursion, and exchange a remark or two. This person is quite enchanting. But your relationship in fact becomes strangely restricted . . . like you are embarrassed to be meeting in this way.”

“So you walk off holding the food and eat it facing a wall, which has framed prints of—what?”

“How many times do you see a person and think “I wish I were that person.””

“Never.”

“Once, recently.”

“I identify with very old people. I always want to step up to them and whisper in their ear: lucky it’s reversible! “

“Everybody is most comfortable being themselves; they are really the only person they can manage to be you know.”

“It’s a great truth that: Suffering makes people humble. They end up thanking God more than they did before. Which is a good thing, an opportunity you might say. Thanking God.”

“That is a great truth—if it is a truth at all. Ha!”

“I break into the same cold sweat over issues large and small.”

“This talk lacks direction. But of course . . .”

“With our sweep-around heads and searchlight eyes we comb back and forth picking up the . . . invisible energy fields, the pockets and black holes of fear and shapes of hopes, plus . . .”

“What happens when nothing you say isn’t something you said before, and then said before uncountable times.”

“A character in a play has their lines. They change the play, change the day, but the character only has the same lines. There’s hell for you.”

“The first time you notice that you are repeating yourself is not, unfortunately, the first time you have . . . repeated yourself. Which means—”

“Dreadful!”

“You might as well just not try to get back. I mean for awhile I though of trying to go back.”

“It’s closing in.”

“What is?”

“The state of non-negotiable finitude.”

“Remember that summer we played Hearts. Was that despair? Now are we playing with a, dare I say it?—full deck! Waiter! Some absinthe. That’s the memory-loss potion right? Ah, here comes the waiter. Death, it turns out, is not an event, but the place where events stop. The place where people get to after there is no more life for them. How simple!”’

“How terrifying.”

– EIGHT-

‘As a person alive I would be driven by every current situation. In gear. Engaged. To sleep engaged with the sixteen different situations that require my . . . engagement, the next day. Geared up. As alive I . . . very alive—don’t question it! A player, as a player, it was never me, but the others. All incredibly . . . engaging, involving, I mean I was aware of every circumstance pertaining to the next day when I was alive I was alive I say—”

“What happened to your vocabulary?”

“So how come you stopped? And ended up in this . . . hotel, if this is a hotel?”

“Sixteen situations? Come on. More like three, four at the most, problems preventing you on a given night from addressing the real problem.”

“Isn’t that more like it?”

“Anytime I want I can get out of here. I’m just waiting for the time. Waiter!”

“You know how this place operates?”

“Tell me please.”

“It operates on the principle that everything is provided for.”

“Huh?”

“Well no. Not everything is provided for; for in fact every-thing is not provided. What it is is: what is provided is provided. Which isn’t everything, by any means, but the thing is, what is provided for is at least provided.”

“You certainly made that clear.”

“This is very different from life. How long have you been here?”

“In life, we recollect, much imaginable is maybe possible, but little, or

maybe nothing, is provided for. Here, everything is provided. So you have no discrepancies, no worries, only . . .”

“You also have no freedom, and it is very boring. Would be intolerable except for the memory of life which is something you can at least mull over still.”

“This is a prison. But you don’t know what the crime is.”

“Apparently the crime is having lived.”

“Or not lived when you had the chance.”

“I lived, I took the chance. I was not recalcitrant. I saw early and late that I was supposed to live. I didn’t shirk. I didn’t go spiritual on everybody. I saw the situation. I was a player. They can’t say I didn’t live!”

“Tell me something.”

“Yes?”

“Tell me how many people you know are dead, and alive, when you die.. You know what I mean? Can you tally it up? Were you in a majority of the living or the dead, when—”

“Well let’s see. Interesting parlour game. My parents are dead, my older brother alive but, well he would be alive, still is—that’s interesting how the world must still go on; my wife, I think she dies right after I did, do, so I’m looking for her like she could walk right in.. My children very much alive with all their children. But my friends, a majority of them were killed in freak accidents, now that I think about it. This is crazy, running this tally sheet? Why do you ask that?”

– NINE-

“Do you remember dying?”

“Do most people?”

“Answer the question!”

“Well, actually . . .”

“You don’t, do you? You don’t know how it happened, do you?”

“Don’t you not know what has happened?”

“Who asked you?”

“It’s a cacophony!”

“It’s a brain collision!

“It’s very hot afternoon, around five o’clock in June when you start seeing backwards and forwards at the same time.”

“It’s a sense of reality breakdown, folks.”

“Well, actually . . .”

“These are the questions you get to ask yourself, because nobody else could be in this quandry, the exact quandary, unless it was their own similar quandry. But this is your quandry. Because you—”

“I?”

“Him.”

“You mean the one self-regarding?”

“That’s the one we are trying to isolate. The one regarded by the awareness
of himself. Not the one regarding, but the one regarded. Because—”

“That’s the one who dies! The other one gets to think about it, and this is the thinking station.”

“I saw my body lying on the ground, outside the crashed vehicle. I think it was a plane. I was wearing a red jacket, as was the one fallen. There was a man dressed in white, an attendent, and I looked at him—for an explanation. He said: we have to do it this way. Because we have to leave a body.”

“So it was your double on the ground.”

“So you did die.”

“No, that was a dream. They have a prototype dream. Then when it happens, it’s a, what do we call it, soft shock.”

“Ah a dream. A very important dream!”

“Death is punishment for a crime.”

“Well you certainly sound like you know what you are talking about.”

“But. . . everybody dies . . . do they not?”

“From any one person’s point of view, very few people die, if you think about it.”

“Only everybody is one of them. I get it.”

“That blanks me out.”

“Properly speaking, death is punishment for a crime. The crimes vary; apparently everybody commits one, and they are promptly dealt with.”

“Promptly?”

“Yes. Immediately! Your mistake, common, is thinking that death comes at the end of life. It doesn’t. It comes during life; the time between when one dies, while they are alive, and when they are actually physically done in, that represents a sort of last learning phase.”

“This is some theory!”

“Being finally dead, then, still doesn’t mean you are finished, by a long shot. It just means you can’t go back to life. It means you are excluded. Get to watch. Think, and watch. And watch yourself thinking.”

“Where? What? Watch what, where?”

“Been to the Cinema, lately?”

“Yes, I see it. People think death is what happens at the end of life. That’s too easy. Death occurs while you’re alive. Of course! I see it! And then what happens is . . . you go to the movies from that point on. Have you seen how the movies are increasing in their number and allure? It just indicates the number of dead, increasing in number and rapaciousness.”

“It’s what happens at the end of death that is really significant.”

“Are all the people in the cinema seats dead?”

“Not all of them.”

“This is impossibly elaborate! To think that all over the world, a percentage of people are—”

“Did I say this was universal? I can only be sure about what happens in my own neighborhood.”

“What neighborhood is that-?

-TEN-

“I get it. The final death is not the first death.”

“How’s that again?”

“Internally, he expires. Step one; it can happen while you are to all appearances, especially to yourself, still here—I mean still there.”

“Devilish!’

“Does he not notice anything?”

“It sometimes happens he thinks he has just been informed that he is not going to die.”

“Say what?”

“Twice devilish!”

“It’s the very devil of misinterpretation.”

“Say, does anyone receive this postal and not misinterpret it?”

“Hard to know that.”

“That’s why the phone stops ringing, and nobody comes over. Nobody gives him any information, or advice, anymore. Nobody criticises him the way they used to like to so much!”

“That’s bad, if nobody is criticising you.”

“They don’t carry him out until . . . years later. During which interval he maintains the illusion (to himself) that he has been still alive, even very alive. Like . . . accomplished.”

“Good story!”

“He was just left watching a basketball game, nobody on earth aware of his supposed existence, all those he had known died themselves or forgotten about him.”

“This is supreme. The ironies abound.”

“As ironies will!”

“Excuse me. Who are you talking about?”

“Sometimes you walk by the living room and there is no one there, but the television. He left it on, some basketball game is playing but no one is perched, or slouched, on the couch.”

“Apparently, he lost interest?”

“Or died. But we didn’t hear the ambulance this time.”

“Yes, ambulances are always taking people away and not bringing them back.”

“The question is: did he see the end of the game?”

“Well, obviously not. That would be too much like a story. When this is . . . truth!”

“Meanwhile, other people do actually exist.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well you spend all your thinking about death and what might happen afterwards on yourself. You never consider that you are also responsible for other people’s . . . afterlife.”

“You figure they are on their own at that point.”

“Not me. I’ve always thought I was being followed. On the one hand. My ancestors clawing at me. And more pertinent to a headlong consciousness, I was always considering who might be fellow travelers in the . . . great beyond!”

‘This is exciting. To consider, who might be fellow travelers? I had only, up to this point, equipped the others to last the one lifetime, I was snuffing them out at the finish line.”

“When no one is left, then the awareness gasps. The little man goes to the cupboard and finds it bare. He out-thought them all. Ha!”

“Could we get off that story?”

“Could we stay on the same subject for once?”

“Could we get another subject, and stay on that?”

“Got the jitters?”

“Got the Fritos!”

“Just being witty?”

“Even in such a grand funk, we are snack-wise.”

“Folks, this may be importantly the place to introduce my long-lost Leahy correspondence, which I’ll have to paraphase of course, since I brought no luggage., This is lead insensibly, I mean sensibly, to a pretext for introducing the Kierkegaard question, which I think I indicated would be coming up, surreptitiously of course, anyway. Though I’m not sure what I’ve said and not yet said, so if I repeat myself, slap me.”

“I’ll slap you anyway.”

“What does that word mean? Surreptitious? I swear, in all my long and exhaustive studies I have never focused on what that word, surreptitious, means.”

“His long and exhaustive studies.”

“His nights forestalling the dawn.”

“His legendary self.”

“I’ll get a dictionary.”

“While you’re at it . . .”

“The Kierkegaard question, right now being heard by petition, before the Judges at the courthouse, has fundamentally to do with the rights of interest of people who have died, as to what rightfully they might be able to learn of themselves, their leg-acy or the fate of their presence while alive, from the other-world vantage where they are—if you what I mean so far—”

“So there is a Courthouse?”

“Yes sir! Dying may put an end to one’s life, or earth-duty as someone just said, for sure, for you don’t wander down to the cafe anymore and discuss over a cappacino the transcendental essence of existence, for sure; but it surely doesn’t end the person in question, who might have rights. Which is the point. What are the rights of these who were so life-involved, as few are but, in this case, lest I lose the thread—if, if I say, if we simply posit them before some higher tribunal making the request to know what happened. See what I mean anybody?”

“It’s the Trial of Soren Kierkegaard, in the afterlife. on the marquee, outside the courthouse, it says: Today: Or no, it says: Ongoing! The Trial of SK.”

“The gallery is full.”

“He has petitioned! He wants to know what happened to himself, historically. And not because, so much, he wants to actually know that—but because he wants to know whether he has rights to know that. That is, he is calling the question of the connection between the dead and the living—but only in this one polite regard, so as to get it on the table, the big table!, but not to upset any realities you know.”

“Isn’t that just so Kierkegaardian of him!”

– ELEVEN –

“It’s something that was said before about . . . fellow travelers, I’m still thinking about that. Can you really imagine traversing into . . . another world with the ones so dearly traveled with here. I mean . . . there. I have to keep remind-ing myself where I am. I mean where I am not! Damn it!”

“When does the luggage arrive? If there is any luggage.”

“Listen to that.”

“Life the adventure is which all parties are slain. One on the veranda, one running, one in bed with one eye on the clock, one standing bravely with the wind in his face as the report comes in. The manner of each death . . .”

“I used to hear train whistles at night, and I never saw where the train-tracks were.”

“Okay, I ‘m only taking one other person with me.“

“I think I hear music now.”

“It’s accompanying him. On his post-romantic journey to the other world.”

“Excuse me, but isn’t it too late for that plan?”

“You don’t look for someone who is right to escape life with. You look for someone who is right to live with. You would and she would be perfect for all-time life-time, every dotting the i’s so to speak . . . every sentiment and every . . . what should we choose for an example? . . . every decision shared stamped into the memory of God!”

“Leave God out of this. If we can’t talk without reference to God, we’re getting nowhere. God knows that, if He knows anything.”

“What is the origin of music?”

“Horses clomping on the road to the merry old tavern.”

“Rhythms akin to speech, but not forming into speech? Maybe?”

“A discovery of sound while spinning the linen . . .”

“And the loom is transformed into the harp. Maybe.”

“Say what you like.”

“Of course if you wake up every day with the big mystery
pressing on you, you have no time or inclination for a regular job. I did everything I could to believe they were all in it with me. But they just kept hauling out their golf clubs and serving up those meals. Now I’m really in trouble, because I’m an old man, and still have the heart of a disssenter. The only one who believed in the profound. I’ll crack this- yet.”

“We do get some lunatics, who are on the whole not prone to violence, but rather self-immolation.”

“What did you say was the origin of music?”

“Music is rather the origin of something, rather than a thing one needs to question. I mean, nothing proceeeds it, as I see it.”

“Maybe we are glorifying everything.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Because it’s all we’ve got.”

“I like to be alone with my thoughts. My thoughts are so big, they are like twelve television sets. I can sit there and react. It’s incredible.”

“The trouble, the thing with life is, it is interesting. So you have a question about it, like when you are five years old, the question is soon overwhelmed by the interesting. The yard is a big screen mystery, the very setting for truth! In fact, it occurs to you that this interesting aspect may be the answer to this question. Life will answer to life. So you pursue this theory and are inveilged with a whole life, while yet—”

“It actually isn’t the case. The mystery stubbornly remains!”

“The music. The candlelight.”

“What is the origin of candlelight?”

“Yellow leaves . . . strewn along the path where they walk by the river.“

“This must inevitably turn into an exchange of two, a lovers’ obscure talk, as the fate of the universe surely depends upon them.”

“Make it up as you go along!”

“I think if it’s two, they aren’t lovers.”

“Right, because there has to be some—how should I put it, slack!”

“Right. Lover’s exhaust each other in life. Consume each other right in each other’s presence. God!”

“I still think life is the thing . . .”

“Where is God anyway?”

“They say God took a long, and no doubt purposeful, vacation.”

“That’s the rumor. And around here, rumors are . . . pandemic. And if you don’t know what pandemic is, I’ll tell you.”

– TWELVE –

“Then we have this fellow who insists he is on some inter-planetary adventure—when he ought to be able to perceive, for one thing, that this isn’t even a planet.”

“It’s so . . . unfinished. As worlds go.”

“As the world . . . went.”

“Maybe they flubbed the exit in his case, or maybe he is right. After all, what do we know, being excused from life and put in this hotel, what do we know?”

“I could always talk. Even as a baby, I was talking before I was thinking. I’d start in talking and make up for it, the lack of knowledge you might say, by keeping up the talking—”

“All the while with amazement on their faces. Look at this talking baby!”

“Then, in the life story, I sought refuge from this burning ability, daily a torture on my brethren, in secretively writing, which somehow also I was able to do most fluidly. Though. . .-”

“Not with surefire confidence, eh?”

“Yes, I was a most awkward and intermittently inspired author, and not given to worldly ambition in that way so prevalent among the provincials.”

“So why? Why did you keep stumbling forward, and frothing at the mouth?”

“Flattery. The flattery got me. Flattery gets you, me, any little guy. You make a remark, people laugh, you keep it up. You get so you are compelled to cheer up the clerk at the store with some diffident tossing off . . . ”

“Diffident? What does that mean? Did I ever know what that word meant?”

“It means shy. I think he just used it very expertly.”

“Let’s go over to the zoo. And watch the hybrids.”

“Let’s go to the All-Hours Cinema. You know what’s playing?’

“Why, Life, of course. The great unfinished movie Life, of course.”

“I could understand going to see Hot Air Balloons once. But year after year? I can’t understand that. If you seen them once, I would think seeing them year after year would be just a chore, wouldn’t it?”

“What brought that in?”

“Change of topic.”

“Then your perceptive relatives, one after the other give like this hot air balloon lampshade, for Christmas, then a hot air balloon T-shirt! It’s a theme. You go back year after year. Someone gives you a Hot Air Balloon set of earrings—-for Gods sake. There is no escaping it now.”

“Same thing happened to my mother with red robins.”

“In the file called “Fixing the Lamps” you’ll find all that stuff about the lecherous plumber, and the paranoid electrician. The stuff about the basement, the ruminations given to a man who is painting the baseboard, etc. etc.”

“That’s what I say: Etc. Etc.”

“The garbage trucks, very loud, come on Thursday. Everybody has those blue recycling boxes, in our neighborhood, now. We’re very civilized, and guess what?—there is no generation gaps anymore between the generations!”

“I’m not sure we are actually dead.”

“Oh well that’s a great idea. Now you say we aren’t actually dead? Then, where are we exactly?”

“We’re drugged. We’re part of an experiment. Or one of us is dreaming.”

“Wake up, would you. You know perfectly well what has happened. You just can’t face it.”

“No, really, I don’t even remember dying. Shouldn’t I remember?”

“It would help me if I could remember how long I’ve been here. But it’s like I should have been making marks on the wall next to my cot. I have no sense of time!”

“Time apparently has been abolished.”

“Time only matters when something is happening. That’s funny!”

“I’m still not sure we have this right. I think it might be a conspiracy. In my own case, for instance, I don’t remember what happened. Though I do remember imagining . . .”

“This? You imagined this?”

“Let’s take a vote.”

“Made no reservation, huh?”

“It’s very simple. It’s a switch. When we were alive, we kept up the talk against a barricade, a mystery seemingly defined by the barricade. Death was our incessant topic.”

“Your incessant topic.”

“Okay my obsessant topic. Now that we are dead, we are only slightly astonished after all to see that we are still around, and now we have a different topic.”

“This is the beginning of the true discussion of life!”

“I’m still not sure. Maybe we were drugged, and like spliced in to this other story. This is too much like life, really. I didn’t really pay attention to the cross-over.”

“In what sense is this like life? Look outside, if you can bear it. It looks like

the site of an old World’s Fair for God’s sake.”

“As I recall, they were just putting up another God-damned Rite-Aid Pharmacy, across from Wegman’s, in that prairie-land of Monroe Avenue. That’s what was going on. I used to day after day go to the huge Barnes & Noble, buy some soup—they had really excellent broccoli and cheese soup, and I’d sit there feeling like, you know, I was getting away with something, reading the newspaper! and hoping to jag some thoughts for my play I was writing. Lord, it’s like coming back. It’s like yesterday—”

“Ask yourself a question. Are you not feeling rather calm. Morbidly calm. Disattached, and yet rallying with fervent emotions? Like they are setting up the circus at the edge of town. Like the night before a holiday. Are you not beyond the pale, past the worries, are you not utterly relaxed? Ask yourself—”

“Oh, look! They are putting up the moon! Just for us. Can anybody remember what they have planned for tomorrow?”

“Not me.”

“That’s it, you see. They take you right when your affairs are wrapped up, and tomorrow was not planned. They can’t take a man or a woman with anticipations. Only those who were finally dwelling totally within their thoughts.”

“Well that’s it! That explains it. You make your big mistake, are internally killed, and you begin to deal with those anticipations differently. Instead of expanding upon them, you set about dismantling them. This might take a year, or three decades. When you are done, then, and in plain site of no one, you do the final breathing—so to speak.”

“When I was alive I died every night. That’s how I stayed alive. Setting up one eternity after another. Which is why I suspect this other guy over here (what’s your name?) might be correct.”

“People get this way at parties—-this may be a seemingly endless party, but soon the sirens will sound, and we’ll be back to the drab business of the next business day. Or maybe it is Saturday.”

“Saturdays are the worst!”

“What is that drawing on the napkin?”

“It’s the Polar Configuration.”

“What is that olive in my drink?”

“The planet Saturn.”

“Like I always said, you don’t need a universe to start a world. And, descending in this logic, you don’t need a world to start a city; nor a city for a neighborhood, nor a street for a house. You hardly need a house for a room, a window, a slice of moon, a darkly lit stairway, nor the emotion that keeps the mystery of life going. I’m sure everyone has brought their belongings.”

“Precious little. After all.”

– THIRTEEN –

“Well maybe you don’t have much, but I have boxes of stuff in my hotel suite, which furthermore is rigged up in a slap dash imitation of my office, kitchen, and bedroom at home. I don’t know how they did it, normally these things remain as poignant reminders of the absence of the former clumsy sentimental owner, this paperweight, that inkstand—though it isn’t an inkstand these days of course at all, but a computer.”

“They brought your computer? Your own actual computer is in your hotel room here? That’s very extraordinary. When I arrived there was only a cot in the corner of an empty room and a lightbulb swinging from the ceiling. Very existential!”

“But does this not support my contention that I am not dead, but on a transplanetary adventure. In fact I think I know what happened exactly; it starts out like this . . .”

“Should we arrange our chairs in a circle?”

“I see! You are the lone survivor, who tells the tale.”

“Sarcasm should be left on earth, like . . . other clothing.”

“I”ve felt like that right along, you know, a lone survivor, who survives to tell the tale—-for no other reason it occurs to him.”

“And not because of any special ability to tell tales?”

“No, but maybe because of a moral fiber, a loyalty strain in him, which we can’t trace because we don’t know where he was, or from when he came originally, to have invested in him this sense of duty to the others lost—”

“He means to represent the others. Argue their case. Argue that all their sins were most forgivable when you realised that, really, in their hearts they were . . . and so on.”

“People! What I didn’t like was to watch people exuding personality, that

was very embarrassing to me. There were some natural personalities, but most people were obviously trying them on for size. Especially at picnics.”

“What?”

“I said I hated to watch the way people behaved at picnics.”

“Walking around with plates of food. Having fun.”

“In Rochester all you had to do was set up tents with food and call it a Festival, and thousands of people would show up. It was frightening.”

“I used to be relieved when I woke up and it was raining. Then we didn’t have to go trying to have fun all day.”

“How old were you?”

“In some areas one is always the same age.”

“Fourteen?”

“DeQuincey writes: ‘You will think, perhaps, that I am too confidential and communicative of my own private history. It may be so. But my way of writing is rather to think aloud, and follow my own humours, than much to inquire who is listening to me; for, if once I stop to consider what is proper to be said, I shall soon come to doubt whether any part at all is proper.”

“I thought I was invisible, but I was vivid. That my thoughts being secret made me invisible, but it was written all over me.”

“What?”

“I think I was about thirty-five before I realised that I was the major presence. People were spinning around me. I had a gravitational force. Or maybe an electronic field around me.”

“And now?”

“I thought I was a receiver, but I was a rebroadcaster as well. I knew what other people were thinking better than they did. I myself had no thoughts.”

“Oh, come on!”

“Edgar Allen wrote, as an apostrophe for I forget what work: ‘Surely now no man can say I have not done an original thing!”

“Vanity supreme?”

“There is no vanity in a thought if the thought is true.”

“Could you repeat that?”

“There is no vanity in a thought if the thought is true.”

“That will stop the parade!”

“What does apostrophe mean? I never learned that.”

“Not the punctuation mark. It’s a salvo aimed at another quarter from the main address.”

“It’s a what?”

“What’s a salvo?”

“Don’t you know anything?”

“Oh my God, what if it all comes back?”

“So tell us again how they do with the body doubles. How all the graves are filled with body doubles and the people themselves literally transported.”

– FOURTEEN –

“Shopping for food again seems impossible.”

“I put a copy of my novel, which I have upstairs, Black Forest, on every bedside table in every furniture store bedroom display in Burlington, Vt. One bed I actually laid down on and took a nap. Well I mean pretending to take a nap, with one eye open, until—”

“I fell asleep during a job interview. It’s true. Put my head down on the desk right in front of me. At least I remember doing that”

“ But! Does anyone actually remember dying? Because if no one does then maybe—”

“Did you notice there weren’t any flies at the buffet? Is it possible there are no flies, in the afterlife?”

“Frankly, I’m surprised there is anything in the afterlife.”

“A buffet! Truly I find it difficult to spread the mustard and take a bite out of a hot dog, in this situation. It seems to me eating—”

“Is something only mortal beings relish, or reluctantly partake of.”

“Relish! At the Country Club big picnic on Memorial Day, why the flies would have been all over the relish. And at the beach, why—”

“I can’t understand how there can be some things, and not others. Is this meant to suggest that what is missing is . . . or was, trivial. Or that what is missing is, or was . . . most important after all?”

“After all is said and done.”

“Me too. I thought it would be totally different.”

“I still feel very . . . mortal. Frankly.”

“Insofar as you really gave it any thought.”

“This is what gets me, always got me, about people. They’re in their life and they don’t even notice that it’s a totality. That was my first motivating profound observation about life. That it was not for lack of imagination that I couldn’t imagine anything else.”

“Which is why there still isn’t anything else.”

“Exactly.”

“If there were flies they would have been all over the corn, the relish they left right out in the open, the potato salad.”

“They always said about Bertha: She makes a mean potato salad!”

“Where did that outburst come from?”

“This beer is not cold enough.”

“What do you expect?”

“You never made your demands known. If you had stood on the point, and demanded that the beer be cold, it would be. This is the afterlife, and you get just what you deserve, chump!”

“Holy cow. You mean there was more then, than now?”

“Looks that way.”

“Maybe no flies, but there is a Rite Aid Pharmacy. I’ve done some wandering. I don’t just stay in all day, but I scour the landscape. Good word that: scour. A brand new Rite Aid Pharmacy, over on Lot 51, right next to a McDonald’s. A god-damned McDonalds! Right next to a —”

“Who cares? My soul is on trial.”

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray my soul the Lord to take.”

“You mock?”

“So what? It’s the indifferent times now, fool.”

“These are prototypes, obviously. It’s the model for the new installation, obviously. Not actually in use, except by the model employees and model customers, obviously, who are either doubles awaiting their final orders or people in purgatory.”

“Damn! There’s a summary.”

“How come you know so much?”

“Because this is exactly, or for the most part, just like I imagined it would be.”

“Ah, the prophet sits amongst us!”

“A prophet is one who knows the past, Which is threatening. I only have pitiful information about the future, which is easy to get.”

“You just have to drive down Monroe Avenue.”

“Exactly.”

“Rite Aid is not just a pharmacy, we know. One out of a hundred people who go into a Rite Aid doesn’t come out. It is one of the exit points, where people are taken.”

“Do you want to expand on that idea?”

“Did you find that out since, or before?”

“I suppose you even made a draft of this hunch, or maybe a bunch of hunches while you were . . . thus employed.”

“Sometimes the person goes in and just doesn’t come out—this would happen with people who no one would miss (sad as that seems), but if you look at the people in Rite Aid alot of them do seem to be on their last legs. As if hoping to be taken, right about as they stand despondently before all the types of mouthwash! Or wire-bound notebooks in the latest sizes, if you prefer. And sometimes a perfect replica of the person who went in comes out, and then of course is run over in the parking lot, or dies in some other sudden way within the hour.”

“Before coming into contact with anyone they know, who might detect something subtly wrong with them?”

“Exactly.”

“This really is the way. People exit in most unusual modes. People do die. You hardly ever see it, but they escape. Not always willingly, but if you think back on it you can understand now that many of those strangers did have the aspect of one waiting to be taken. Like—”

“Trying to find where to stand so as to be in the line of fire.”

“Exactly.”

“Painlessly!”

“It is life that is painful, not death, dummy.”

“Well pardon me.”

“I will eat, if they serve me. Though not whatever they . . .”

– FIFTEEN –

“Well, I am certainly glad I said all that I did, and I did say things, didn’t I?”

“I heard that you did, but I of course didn’t hear them myself. I only heard that others heard . . .”

“While the others who did hear, we haven’t heard from them!”

“Echoes grow louder in the outer universe. Did you know that?”

“How convenient.”

“Who convenient, what convenient?”

“Leonardo deVinci knew that. He also had the image that if the sun came hurtling toward the earth, it would grow smaller and smaller as it came.”

“Does this mean that at the edge of the universe your poems, barely rippling here, are huge and unavoidable.”

“I guess it does. They are probably huge and unavoidable, billboard size.”

“Yes! The sun! Until it shoots like a bullet with the density of all the universe into the heart of a single citizen standing on the avenue, sensing his execution.”

“That could be happening all the time. They just have to bring in another large sun to replace the one that hurtled through time, another sun and another sun, else the tapestry woulds’t alarm the sun-bathers and sun-gazers.”

“By wheelbarrow, right?”

“My, what things can be imagined!”

“The sun is an assassin! The killer with a million precisely aimed darts of deadly light! I like it.”

“There is nothing that cannot be imagined. And everything that is imagined also is, as least as imagined, if not then promptly installed by the congratulating worker gods.”

“Go speak the truth.”

“In the ancient world the gods were not discreet, like of late, but visible lumbering giants!”

“With names like . . .”

“Or speedy little demons!”

“What do we actually know for sure?”

“Or, better yet, who are we?”

“What do we surely actually know—is the song, if you know it.”

“When you find people frowning at you, it means they don’t understand why you can’t make yourself more clear.”

“Get it?”

“It’s all true. Some thought truth was an essence, a precious metal, a stock portfolio! But truth is a novelty. The contents of a flea market! As a child -the prophet most liked to roam the five and dime store. As an adult he listened to your five and dime store ramblings.”

“He amuses himself. While others scowl. Yet others snore. Yet he laughs at the images in his funhouse mind. And then, to one day find so much confirmed . . .”

“The prophet deigns to rub elbows with others, the cut-offs of humankind. Well and good and we should be honored.”

“I thought he said he wasn’t a prophet.”

“And yet we only mock. We show our jealous selves, and mock the only man among us who is clothed in royal robes—or are those rags?”

“I said I hate it when people keep exuding their winning personalities. Some stranger haplessly happens into their midst and with their friends, who know this is a sham, watching,, start exuding, dripping all over, face glowing, eyes swarming with delusional fervor, etc. And why?”

“It’s disgraceful.”

“Why do friends allow their friends to carry on with that false personality, especially at parties.”

“After a certain number of parties, one hates parties—that’s for certain.”

“One prefers quiet card games with reliable honest friends for life.”

“With a fistful of corn chips in arm’s reach of all, so that without looking up even—”

“It’s always too late; one is caught thinking—there she goes again. And talking about it afterwards does no good. People can never be forewarned to thwart their eccentricities.”

“What, they have to be swatted down right in the act?”

“Like I say, they never are. They just get worse and worse—like . . . “

“Again, for lack of an example my attention grows weary, my sense of a great vagueness surrounding like humidity—”

“Did I mention that the shower in my hotel suite has no hot water. Nor cold water. But only tepid, temperature-less water.”

‘”Maybe this is the first stages of a nightmare. Going relatively easy on us for a start.”

“This analyzing the way people are or used to be, this flaunting of our little accumulated understanding of human psychology, what is the point of it?”

“It’s inevitable. So embrace it.”

“Do I assume that—I can hardly say it: once taken does a person stop, you

know, aging and the like?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see! Ha!”

“Time is not passing here. They just change the background scenery to give a sense of time passing, or a verisimilitude (there is another word I wanted to ban!), and they don’t do it very convincingly, I must say. In fact—”

“It’s laughable. Apparently some of the scenery artists have never seen reality.”

“Not even soothing, or reminiscent. Just clumsy. But not even funny. You know, maybe you are right—”

“This is a nightmare.”

“And it’s stepping up, of course—with the realization.”

“Panic begets worse panic, we all know that from experience, I must say! Oh yes, there is one thing we all know for sure!”

“Why do you shout at the end of every sentence you speak. You start talking in a low rumble and end with a god-damned cannon in my face.”

“Was that thunder? That sounded like real godlike thunder.”

– SIXTEEN-

“The thing about hearing is, though, you can never be sure you are hearing correctly. Whereas with other senses we have or used to have . . .”

“Or thought we had.”

“The simple fact is, if you weren’t dead you wouldn’t be here. Because there is no other access to here. So be a sport, be deferential to the waiter too.”

“When all we had was thought.”

“Don’t appear to be staring.”

“At what?”

“Are we being watched?”

“We’re being watched alright. What do you think is going on anyway?”

“Use the corner of your eye. If you are the slightest bit suspicious. I like that. I saw most of my life out of the corner of my eye.”

“The way they have the lights, I feel like I’m not even here.”

“Dim go the lights. I am but a shadow of my former self.”

“I thought we were in the dining room, now I see, if I see clearly, which I don’t, we are back on the ruins of that patio again. God this is interminable. Not knowing where you are and what is going to happen next. I’m almost ready to give in and play golf!”

“The thing about listening is, as I’ve said before, you can’t be sure you are hearing things right. How can you be sure? It’s gone as soon as you hear it. Whereas seeing, it’s pretty clear you are seeing that those trees are walking.”

“You mean like you can doublecheck it?”

“And that the clouds being horseheads are figments of speech. For real clouds are made of such transitory stuff as no artist could . . . configure.”

“Martinis have olives, sunken like a war-torn planet in the mix. Mint-julips, on the other hand, have a floating mint in them. And on the stereo, it’s Bobby Cole singing . . . “

“You’ll get it reassembled.”

“Bo Jangles! He could dance!”

“What bothered me about the theater was, it was more like life than life itself. Which put the audience in a position of—”

“Observers.”

“Exactly.”

“Weird!”

“So like you’re saying the people in the audience are watching the play like the play was life, which would put them in . . .”

“Some kind of afterlife.”

“Unless the play was the afterlife. Then they could breathe a sigh of relief. After it was over.”

“But they don’t want it to be over.”

“Alright, so let’s tell them more about what we know. Get loose. Call for an intermission. See how many come back. I’ll tell you, if someone tries to wander out, they’ll die. Ha!”

Written by Edward Williams

December 1, 2008 at 2:31 am

Posted in Uncategorized