There has been a progressive depopulating of the cosmos since our original hatchet-holding maniac ancestors wandered out of Africa looking for species to drive to extinction. Back then, everything was alive with spirits of the wild. Then there was the pantheon of gods, then just the one God, now not even that, at least in the big, developed, homosexual-tolerating cities of the world. And where once the populated Earth and the swarming heavens constituted the universe, now it’s just one mysteriously populated drop in a big black wasteland. And where existence used to be immortal for the soul, now it’s only a fleeting moment of life, a rather large percentage of which is wasted thinking up usernames. And not even the human body and spirit is granted uniform aliveness any more. Now it appears to be virtually all mineral solutes washing around in water, perhaps imbued with animation in some way between the action of a salt shaker and a particle accelerator.
Whenever she accompanied someone to a closed space and left them there she always felt like she was entombing them, laying them to rest in a place from there was no surety they would come out again. And so she consorted widely with hobos and pitched her blanket frequently amongst heathens. She didn’t give up her home only because it’s hard to seduce an industrialist and dispossess him of his lucre from a pup-tent. Then too whenever a mysterious and motiveless crime arises from the depths, the person passing windy nights out on the heath is never not a suspect.
She had had her living quarters redesigned so that the hallways were too narrow for two people to pass each other. If one person saw another coming the other way one of them would have walk out in front of the other the long around to wherever they were going. She had taken up permanent residence in the realms of theory, strategy and premeditation. She wanted only to talk to people she had advanced upon by design, not that she chanced upon in passing. In reality this made her every interaction with guests in the hallway longer and more battle-like. This might appear tactical failure. But as she saw it, the material part that she could control conformed beautifully to her will. The human element that she had no control over did as it pleased and perpetrated its debilitating anarchy upon the world.
Her netted factory owner, William, had told her one day that all her furniture was disheveled and uncouth-looking, so she made sure to hang some neckties from the dusty sofas and tables before the next time he came by. He came bearing mostly excuses, also a pendant (come by who knows how) and the grotesque visages of some flowers that he’d had freshly murdered for her benefit. He was evidently operating under the false impression that an excuse accepted is an excuse successfully employed, instead of the acceptance being, as is frequently the case, a concession to fatigue or dying interest, which would not have its last embers of vitality consumed in beating a true confession out of the deceiver through blows with a spatula about the head and shoulders.
Not that she was really concerned that he was cheating on her. Which didn’t mean that she believed he wasn’t. But she didn’t concern herself much with the politics and intrigue of people’s bilateral arrangements. Plus, she believed that everyone in the world that she didn’t like was secretly related. If he was fooling around with someone else, she wouldn’t like either one of them, which would mean they were kin, and it would take a very particular kind of weirdo to want to commit not just an affair but an incestuous affair. And if what she couldn’t provide him was what a sister or a cousin could, who cared about the whole mess?
She didn’t trust the air particles between too people to all vibrate properly and carry her words unchanged across a distance of more than three feet, so she mostly only consented to talk to people by whispering in their ears. Of course whispers are very much liable to be misheard, and the gesture of making them to be misinterpreted, and this had led to quite a few unexpected dalliances. Still, she was not abandoning this strategy either. Unlooked-for love was better than unintended feuding, which was the kind of misunderstanding that seemed to happen more often when people faced each other at a distance.
She didn’t want to say that she was running a scam on William. She didn’t like to think of her wholesale desire for him in that way. But it wasn’t what they had arranged or what he probably imagined. It was like dragging a deer fawn into the bull-fighting ring. And the further down the path of loyalty he didn’t go, the more dissolute and vacillating he proved himself, the more he didn’t deserve at all and at the same time totally deserved to be burned to death by her fire.
Maybe she would go back to writing sometime. She had stopped because she felt like a dupe having to provide the same product at the same price to everyone. She should be able to sell a higher quality of writing and better endings for the right price. If someone had the money, there was no end to the number of miracles she was prepared to wreak: reviving dead characters, bringing home lost orphans, opening up a seismic rift underneath a fictional sweatshop. Wreak a miracle. She liked the sound of that. In the past the Lord hath wrought, but in the present only seems to perform miracles. She had one or two she would like to wreak on the world.
She walked out of her home onto the street and began a walk of purposely deceptive direction. She saw a pack of hounds malingering in the shade. She didn’t trust the intentions of dogs because they seemed to have a hereditary dislike for persecuted minorities, prisoners and political demonstrators of every stripe. At least she assumed that was why police were always using the former to threaten the latter. Nobody ever seemed to round them up in this city. In the absence of agile demonstrators they often turned their attentions to savaging grocery shoppers, mailmen and the elderly.
She continued down the murkily sunny street. A sign warned “Keep Right,” so she crossed over to the left side where the right side fell away into a neatly bordered chasm. The street outside her house only went two directions unfortunately. So it was difficult to make a really unconventional feint. Sometimes it was a matter of passing and re-passing in front of her house many times, not letting it be guessed which time she would make a break for it. Today, on her 9.4th circuit she dived down an alley and ran to the next avenue. She turned right, brushed her way through a row of cat carcasses strung on a line hung across the sidewalk, and veered into an office lobby. Just as she entered a man in front of her holding his cup to a coffee dispenser got shot in his open left eye by a well-aimed high-pressure stream of coffee.
She made a move towards him but he ran out the door and onto the street, where an approaching car careened left to avoid him and hit an oncoming truck. The man ran off down the street, and a couple of minutes later some police arrived, along with a road crew, who set up a road block around the accident and a sign with a digital display that read: “Public Front and Side Impact Crash Testing in Progress. Please Seek Alternate Route.” She had not heard the sound of any approaching ambulances by the time she left the scene.
At that moment she was very irritated to see the person she had been going to talk to standing on the sidewalk in front of her. This person had his face averted so that she could not see it, and was wearing a full-length black coat that she had ever seen before. As he turned slightly, his coat swung open slightly to reveal a red skirt and heels. He was talking into his phone with a soft and high voice and shaking his head full of long blond hair. This was the exterminator that she had hired to get rid of the rodents and insects in her house, but his employment became problematic when she tried to hire him to take care of the neighbors’ dogs that pooped in her garden. With the ferocious canine army currently prosecuting its war against the flow of commerce and communication on the city streets, she again had a use for his services. She walked up to him and addressed him in this manner:
“Excuse me sir.”
She tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me sir.”
A smooth and lipsticked face with a confused expression on it turned to face her.
“Who are you talking to?”
“Yeah, I got that. Why? You’re not supposed to talk to me in public at all. Our association is supposed to be covert.”
“It’s ok, I’ve disguised you as a man.”
“No you haven’t.”
“I addressed you as a man, didn’t I? And as a stranger. I even gave you a disguise persona in my thoughts to make the ruse complete.”
“Why did you give me a persona if you’re going to address me as a stranger?”
“You should never stick to just one story. If you do, they’ll know who you are, even if they don’t know who you are.”
“Do you know why I came to stand here to wait for you to come see me? I need to confide. I know a secret that I have to unburden myself of.”
“I don’t want a secret. I’m not an avaricious person.”
“I don’t care. Listen…” And thus began to tell her the secret.
* * *
As she walked away from the exterminator she reflected that he had probably intended not to make her his trusted confidante but simply to off-load a dangerous burden onto her. It was the kind of deceit that could create a family. Fortunately she had turned around and left the instant he had said “listen…”, and thus saved herself from hearing whatever dangerous nonsense he had in store for her. They might still come after her though, if they knew that she had met with the exterminator and that he had told a secret, for they might not catch the nuance that he didn’t tell it to her.
The way in front of her was blocked by hordes of depraved personages, like breakfast cereal except more sinister and not food. She would have to hurry in order to make it in time to see her daughters. Finally, as she strolled into view of the café she saw them outside it, barking at a pack of hounds that been locked in. Evidently she was not late enough. Actually she was sort of touched though. Disharmony too is a form of togetherness, and doing something together is doing something together.
They did not have but a moment on the street before a group of the abusive instigators in the recycling trade lurked into view. These were the gangs that put people’s things to a secondary use by making off with them. It was hard to challenge them when the law stated that the greatest value to society came from putting goods to the use of the greatest number of people. Or at least that is what they said the law said, and nobody had really gained the necessary tactical superiority to challenge this. And they even honored the spirit of reciprocity implicit in this legal principle by leaving their garbage behind when they left. They wore uniforms, though no one really knew where they came from. Not that that stopped anyone from claiming to know, but the order of that knowledge was what one might perhaps call bardic.
She was not going to stand for this today, when she finally had a chance to see her daughters. She took the two of them by the hand, drew herself up to her full height and faced the approaching mob with a serene expression, then turned her back on it, and ran off down the street, dragging both of them along with her. Dodging, hiding and seeking shelter, a spirit of wild rationality seemed to roam the streets in their bodies. Though she didn’t believe that those thieves would have meddled with her. They never had in the past, and they had been well warned to stay away from her kind. They didn’t have any reason, actually, to be pursuing her and her girls, and they probably wouldn’t have if she hadn’t fled, but if they continued long enough they would probably come up with one.
She sought comfort in the hands of the Lord at times like this. Not to save her from danger, but to assure her that she was not merely engaged in some debased scramble for survival. The girls on each arm were like anchors that let her fly up into a greater realm beyond herself, until she remembered that it was she that had gotten them into this situation. But it is strange, she thought, that people see someone running along and they think a desire is being revealed or enacted. But she had sacrificed all that. She might not want to put her daughters in harm’s way like this, but she was a mother and she couldn’t put her own wants first anymore. Their desire might be the same as hers, but thinking that would be totally going the wrong way. Obviously by this point she had stopped running.
As they took a side street, emerged onto an avenue and tried to blend in with the crowd, she hesitated to say anything to the girls. She had heard that there were agents that spoke the same language as the citizens, so that they could actually listen in on what people said to each other. Well, there was nothing for it. Gesture language could be read from even farther away.
“Well girls, shall we take a trip somewhere?”
“Where could we go? Let’s just get away from those bandits,” said the older one, who she also believed to be the shorter one.
“I don’t mean to actually get somewhere, the important thing is not to cease being on the way somewhere. The best hole to hide in is a busy public street.”
Well, maybe not. But if they were somewhere they might not necessarily choose to pass the time with her. As long as they were nowhere she had a chance.
“Can’t we just go home?” the younger one, who when she was born she had called Seraphine (though she hadn’t planned on calling her it again), asked her.
“What? No. I moved out of there, and I’m not moving back. You have so many rules that you would order me to force you to abide by.”
“Come on, you could cut me some slack.” She had exhausted her daughter’s rebelliousness to the point of death in trying to get out in front of her intentions and stand against them.
If there was not such a horde of her it might be easier for the girl. Of course if there were not so many of her, her pursuers might have caught up to her a long time ago. Did they understand that she had never run away from anyone that was following her? She had only run away when she was alone. Avoid someone and they’ll know who you are: the one that’s not there, that evades them. But run towards them and crowd around them like a heathen throng and they won’t know who they’re after.