Friday, October 12, 2007

Kool-Aid Man

"Happiness is a tall glass of Kool-Aid." I laugh at my adolescent innocence. I found it in a box in my parent's attic, dog-eared, folded three times. It had lived the past ten years in obscurity, mingling with homework assignments that showed little effort and less imagination.

It's a picture of me, broad bulbous head, rosy cheeks, long haystack yellow hair, and spindly arms and legs. Back then I must have thought I didn't have a torso.

I know I have one now though, because despite the break in depression, I still feel as though my heart is going to beat out of my chest. In the distance, lacking any true sense of perspective, my parent's are drawn in next to our house.

There I am, standing next to Kool-Aid man, the bright red contents of his innards splashing seductively, ready to be consumed. He looks immortal, but it makes you wonder: If you took a straw to Kool-Aid man and drank him dry, would he die?

The thought makes me laugh. Mascots are lucky. They never die, the just reach their moratorium, their sell-by-date.

After staring at the picture for awhile I fold it and put it away, sandwiching it between a report on the lower intestine (graded: C), and a book report on "The Greening of Treehorn" (graded: B-).

I push the box into a corner of other stuff I plan to throw away. I stand up and realize that I've finished. Everything's been divided, some of it worth keeping and some not.

It's sad to see how small the keep pile is.

Part of me wants to save everything, as if a receipt that bears my father's signature somehow contains the life force that was once the man. Part of me wants to throw it all away, burn it all, because no matter what good memories I have about these things, no matter what I remember, they will always be tainted with the pain of my parent's death.

So it's an impasse, my sorrowed mind is balanced between destruction and salvation.

Unwilling to make a decision, I find the box with my school work and rifle through it, discarding paper left and right until I find it, that picture of me, with Kool-Aid man, my parents in the background.

I unfold it and take out my lighter, and set fire to one of the edges. I watch it burn until it's nearly up to my fingers, the fire feasting on the dry, aged construction paper.

When I can truly feel the heat on my hand I drop what's left to the floor, and stamp the fire out. Everything I drew is gone, me, my parents, the house, Kool-Aid man. The only thing that's left is a corner with one seared edge.

In the dim room the paper glows like the day it was brand new.

When the smoke clears, I leave the attic, and the house, saving the rest of it for another day.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Wall

We ran forever on the first day, our feet pounding the equatorial super-highway that split the Earth like a concrete ribbon. We started in Singapore, her and I, and broke west. The sky was open, gray, devoid of color. Beneath it, the highway stretches wide and out, filling the rest of our vision.

In the beginning, the crowds roared for us, chanting our names, holding banners. As we digest the miles, there is less passion, fewer people. They still cheer, though they do it from their homes, from shanties or lean-tos pushed up against the highway's walls like discarded driftwood. Lorry drivers honk their horns when they pass, giving us the thumbs up or shouts of encouragement.

I can feel the sweat soaking through my hair and shirt, lying heavy on my temples. It itches but I refuse to scratch, knowing that scratching will only make it worse.

My wife smiles at me in shared misery. The hair on the back of her neck is damp, and her ponytail sways free to the rhythm of each step. We spoke for the first couple of hours, but the conversation dried out, as civilization dwindled, as we focused on pushing out the miles, our shoes drinking in the pavement.

Seventy miles in, we make camp, resting our backs against one of the bridge's giant suspenders as we swallowed rough bites of cured meat and distilled water. The super-highway is not like most roads or bridges. Supported by the sky, it spans continents. The suspenders climb beyond the top of the world, beyond the eye's ability to see. Outside the atmosphere, invisible to us, counter-weight stations anchor each line.

We start out the next day, our bodies still sore.

We have 27,973 miles to go.

We hope to finish in 13 months.

We run a thousand feet above the South China Sea for the next six days, and eventually see land again. Borneo has grown in the past few generations. Where once it was an idle locale of dense jungles and empty beaches, it now looks like everything else, like a neon circuit board writ gigantic. We ignore its exit signs and push on, past the Celebes. The Pacific Ocean looms below us, an empty wasteland of harsh salt water. The highway is narrower here, just wide enough to handle six cars, side by side.

Out here there are fewer people, fewer travelers, fewer lorries, fewer cars. We see them rarely now, one every handful of hours. Each day looks the same, though rest stops punctuate the highway every 500 miles. We see them only once a week.

"Can we stop?" One of us asks 27 days in. "Maybe walk a few miles?" We glance at each other between each long stride. We can both feel the wall; that place, physically, where we can produce no more.

We both shake our heads in unison. We have another 26,153 miles to go.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Remember the Death of Alpin!

"Cumhnich Bas Alpin," my father gasped, his last words rattling dead in his throat. Remember the Death of Alpin!

I sat at the foot of my father's bed. His death was more relief than pain to me. He had been eighty years old, living a surprisingly long life for someone that relished the vices of war, drink, and whoring. Old age had done for him, though, beating out the others despite the long odds.

"The family words," Father Bede replied. He sat near my father's shoulder, his head bowed as if in prayer. He kissed his rosary and closed my father's good eye; an eye-patch covered the other. "No truer words have been spoken. Apt they are."

I rubbed my forehead with the heel of my palm. My father dead, and rather than saying something useful, he recalled an ancestor 300 years gone. "Yes, very helpful," I sighed. "You think he could have said something more appropriate, seeing as they were his last words. Maybe, I love you son, or, make me proud?"

"Is there anything better than the words of your clan? The words passed down from father to son? They should give you strength. Remember who you are."

"I know who I am." They were ludicrous words anyway, more a reminder of our hatred for clan Dunakin, and their long ago ancestor Bruch, who slew Alpin. "I wonder why we couldn't choose better words. We're not a small house. We have decent incomes, sizeable lands, old prestige."

But we were stuck with Remember the Death of Alpin, while other clans, such as clan Dougall from the East, had jarring words, like Victory or Death. Words like that inspired a man, made the heart beat faster, the loins stir.

"I think you mistake their meaning." Bede straightened from his stool and stretched my father's green blanket high to his chin. "While they do herald your ancestor's lifelong enmity, they provide other insight. Do you know how Alpin died?"

"No," I conceded.

"He was slain by Bruch," Bede began in an urbane air, "with his trousers round his ankles, and his rear planted in a privy. Remember the Death of Alpin may seem weak to you, but it's better than Don't Get Caught With Your Pants Down."