Days in the Undertow | 13
...Nothing can be taken for granted. The world disappears if you don’t keep it up...
Been awhile! Sorry for the delay. I’ve been learning a new design software and it’s taken me longer to figure out how to get my doodles into it. I hope everyone had a good holiday. Mine was nice. Fell into an MCU wormhole, and couldn’t stop watching. Thanks for reading as always! ♡ Luke
P.S. The poem below probably works better reading on a computer or in wide-view on a smartphone.
The Timeline of Doug and Elaine
Age 35 - 2020 - Since the pandemic started, it’s not like anyone needs catering. A lot of the catering staff has been let go, a few seniority servers put on reserve. Everyone’s applied for unemployment, waiting on checks or other governmental relief. She’s higher up, which saves her. For the moment. Tonight there’s nothing to do, and she sits in isolation in her apartment. On television, they’ve already started showing ads for dating apps, already adapting to the changing times, pitching dating through video. Everything’s about video now. Everyone’s brushing off their video call skills, using programs that before the pandemic were the kind you used once a year to talk to family in obscure places, or for students studying abroad. A new normal, the whole world gone virtual in a matter of months.
Nothing of this pandemic had a reality to it until she saw the first masks at the store being sold by Hanes. That’s when she could tell it was real. Not real when the news declared a virus or a lockdown, but when the companies started selling accessories. At least Hanes sold a plain white mask, which said nothing. Now it’s a million different designs, some of them with political leanings, others with jokes and catch phrases, even ones with the wearer’s face on it. Some are bejeweled and sparkling, studded. Some are clear plastic, almost more terrifying. Masks unique as people, ones to match your brand. And that’s when it’s real, when who you are can fit into the pandemic. When tragedy guides the latest fashions. An endless variety of pant styles (because no one can quite dictate the leading look). And the acceptability of casual everywhere. Crocs in public and skinny joggers and baggy sweaters. Mix in face shields, blue medical masks, clear gloves. Hand-sani dangles from backpacks like earrings or off the side of belt loops. Casu-core meets hazard suit.
Her over-thinking arrives in the bitter moments, which have been happening more the more she’s alone. Solo in the apartment, thoughts clanking around in her head, life has become a faded dream, stuck in a few rooms with even fewer plans and friends. This internal sensation, felt in the very walls where she lives, the walls like the inside of her chest, her heart. The body becomes the building. And nowhere to go but work, just a few feet away from the bed.
It’s a hamster race. Her only pet as a kid was a hamster, who ran so hard all night on its big wheel that the contraption slid to the glass cage’s walls, the metal tapping on the glass. All night, keeping the entire family awake. It got so loud they had to put the cage in the basement, and the thing ran in the dark, unheeded. She’s her own hamster now, climbing the rungs of a metal wheel over and over. Never forward. Pure movement, empty stasis. Running in the dark. The tapping is from her fingers on a keyboard, keeping her up all night. She wished she had a pet during these times. Another presence, another energy to keep her going. A beating pulse outside of her, another’s movement to remind her of her own. She can’t send herself to the basement. In a way that would be a relief. If she had a basement. Because that would mean a destination and movement. It would mean more space. One more place to visit, a scenery to feel out. A dark cold basement to counteract the bright clean white of her apartment. In her chic modern abode, all day, all night, overwhelmed by its sameness and sterility. Almost like she needs the gross and disgusting, a heap of garbage somewhere to frolic in, to remind her of what this apartment means and is.
Work is a lifeless endeavor as the company reorganizes and reconsiders how to make money. A few plans are schemed, but it’s abstract. Right now they’re thinking about selling meals through DoorDash, a whole ghost kitchen situation. Another idea was to prepackage the meals and mail them to people. But these are elaborate ideas when she breaks it down. Money’s running out as the time is. No one’s going to invest in a company that doesn’t have a reworked and adaptable strategy for what this new era requires. And even when things return to some form of what they were, there’s no guarantee people will want catering the same way. She thinks bigger, bolder, outlandish, absorbing this tech so quickly. Absurdities that she can whittle to realities. She dreams about advanced 3D printers squeezing out dollops of food onto a plate that form a complete meal, ordered via app and air-flighted by a fleet of drones. She sees herself controlling a computer terminal, a joystick in each hand, looking out over a warehouse where she guides the various machinery in cooking and packaging food, and all she has to do is lead it out the door to the driverless vehicles she can follow on a screen with a big map of the tri-county area, little dots traversing their way to successful deliveries. Of course, her plan goes more like: they’ll downsize the catering company and ride out the pandemic wave on forgivable small business loans.
For now, she meets up with friends at hiking spots. Kayaks with a group she met online. She’s been on some dates. Some on video. Others at parks or out for walks. Every day before or after work, she runs. She’s made a schedule of chores, a schedule for when to read or think, a schedule for television, including the shows and movies she’ll work through. All of it on clean lined paper. Nothing on a computer or a phone. She’s sworn off the digital for as much as she can. A planner sits on her desk. A paper calendar dangles on a nail next to the fridge. For music, she found a box of her family’s cassette tapes. New Kids on the Block and Shania Twain mixed in with her father’s Eagles Greatest Hits and a whole collection of Led Zeppelin releases, Pink Floyd, thirty or so tapes of classic rock. A few classical tapes to boot, looking fresh in their packs, like her father got them as a present and never opened them. Those are the first tapes she clicks into her player, one of those old boombox devices that took chunky C batteries and feels like a hundred pounds to carry around. Chopin’s music set as high as it can go, the rollercoaster of his Nocturnes, the tape hissing behind it so loud she swears there’s a voice within the hiss itself, its own pattern of music, a shadow that follows what the piano does, always a second behind.
At the bottom of the box she discovers an unmarked tape lying flat, crushed under the plastic weight of musical history. It looks familiar. As a kid, she was fascinated by those blank tapes, their clean look, the strips of label stickers satisfyingly applied after recording, giving you a sense of progress, your mark on the world. She slides the tape into her tape player. The tape on its little wheels churns round and round inside the viewer window. Static erupts. Shuffling. Sound skips like drops of rain. Then she realizes it is rain, a soft pattering against what sounds like plants. A child’s voice hums some tune she can’t quite place, though familiar. Splashes hint at a puddle jumped in. The tape cuts out. Still reels. Returns again. Birds chirping. No pattering. She imagines it must be sunshine where the child is now. Heavy breathing, humid summer. She can’t remember recording this. She listens on. The tape runs twenty or so minutes. Different nature sounds, street sounds. A few scraps of talking that she’ll have to replay the tape to decipher. Was this someone else on the tape or a memory she’s blanked out? Where did her father get it, if it was?…
Doug enters in through the door, latched by a knotted piece of rope. He sits on a chair in the corner, backed up to the framing he’s proud to say he helped put up. It smells of fresh construction wood and a tinge of beer in here. It’s early summer and the place is starting to warm up. That’s what Chris expected after they hammered thick cedar board slabs to the frame outside. Never mind the coming heat. Doug’s impressed himself, setting up four walls and an angled roof with corrugated tin on top. It’s rudimentary, but done by his own hand. With Chris’s help, of course. But still. With his own hands means more to him now. Especially in a time when so few people can be touched or seen, the fact that he has something to hold in his hands and make a shape of it, a shack of sorts, that it reacts to him, bends to him, or he bends to it, listens to what it’s doing and it tells him what to build. The floor is still dirt, and that will need to be solved. For now, Chris has put down hay and old scrap wood around the perimeter of the upside-down pyramid at the shack’s center. They’re still not sure what to do with it, the pyramid. Chris thought about installing an old door on top to make a table where they can eat or play games. Doug thinks they should disassemble and remove it. After all, the structure they’ve built around it is more significant, holds more value because of its size and usability and because his hands helped assemble it. Pride in the thing. This pyramid is a strange artifact, pure randomness, albeit a joy of the mind improvising. The shack could be a functional tiny house if it wasn’t for this…this thing, whatever it is. Christ, it’s not even sitting up the right way. He could live here, he thinks, if it wasn’t for this structure clogging it up. Maybe get Chris to help him install some kind of bathroom, a shower. Hell, a loft bed. They could dig down the floor and pour concrete. Best friends for life, living in their houses next to each other.
Later that evening, the two of them drink beer in the shack, and eye the dying rays of summery light slip through the cracks in the cedar boards. They’ve wired a bulb to dangle from the ceiling, plugged in through the kitchen. They eat a whole tray of hotdogs Chris cooked over a Sterno. Neither of them speaks much. One of those nights where they’re both tired. Chris from too much work. Doug’s weary from boredom. He tries reading a book during the long days. Every time he gets a few sentences in he puts it down, paces around, then picks it up and finds himself right back at the same paragraph, stuck in a loop. He can’t get past a page or two before he falls asleep on Chris’s couch. Most days he’s out of his parents’ place since they treat him like a faint shadow passing their periphery. It helps being at Chris’s, but better when Chris is there. Especially for reading. He always liked when Elaine was in the house somewhere while he read.
Good to have someone else, though, other than his folks who are their own drifting shadows and non-entities. When he’s around them, he feels as alone as much as he does here when Chris isn’t around. The familiar becomes invisible, he thinks. Or becomes nothing. He wonders about past friends, people he hasn’t spoken to in years, who have lived in the same city as him and yet he hasn’t contacted, for no begging reason in particular. They haven’t contacted him, either, so it’s mutual, whatever this stalemate is. What takes two people away from each other when it has no reason or sense? Just a melting away, a lost forgotten thing. No hate or ignoring. Passing through the mind and out the other side. This bland non-drama. This no-plot in a story that isn’t a story. Like water through the hands. Everyone will always say they’re busy, their schedules full: the reigning excuse of adulthood. Momentum matters, though. Presence matters. Being in someone’s orbit long enough to latch on and be latched onto. Nothing can be taken for granted. The world disappears if you don’t keep it up.
That’s why he’s here. Latching onto something. This shack, his friend. He’s back in his old world again. Not like it was, but like it should be. All the momentum here has died down, settled to that sweet softness of quiet lonely suburban lives. He’s here to get its momentum going again, with what’s left of this dying world he escaped for college and the city. This shack speaks but he knows not what. And here’s Chris and they’re eating hotdogs. In the presence of someone he never thought he’d see again. Embrace it, he tells himself. The hotdogs, the beer, this shack. Even this goofy upside-down pyramid that has to be propped up by PVC to keep its balance and that’s in his way. It’s here. Let it be as it is. Let it all unfold.
After four hotdogs each and a few beers, they’re both feeling gross. Chris stands up and runs in place. Can you feel that? he asks Doug. Doug doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Feel what? Hotdog energy. Doug laughs. Explain to me what hotdog energy is? Chris tells him that it’s the energy from those salts and preservatives mixed in with protein, compressed into a tube. It’s the shape that holds this explosive energy together, and when you eat it, it’s the shape as much as what the shape contains that gives you superhuman strength. Doug laughs again. Why not, what the hell. He stands and lifts his feet in place, back and forth, slowly until he’s got a good rhythm, chugging it, huffing. He’s warming up. Then Chris runs out the door, down the side yard to the street. The race is on. Down the street, off the block, out into the dead night of suburban quiet. No one around, they keep running. Up the hill and then through the park at the corner, a few runs around the baseball diamond, past the playground. They hit the pavement again. Rows of houses, mostly quiet but for the lone lawnmower roaring down its final lane of grass, laughter from a group of middle-aged folks on a porch smoking cigarettes, drinking out of plasticware. Turn left, past the silent cozy stretch of houses with bug zappers and golden porch light washing out the green of manicured lawns. Then beyond the fire station, down the narrow flight of stairs to the small plaza on the main drag where they used to get ice cream and snacks from the Dairy Queen and the Cogo’s. They sit in one of the plaza’s archways. The ice cream store is now a travel agency, but no one’s traveling now. The Cogo’s is a 7-ll, closed due to the pandemic.
The parking lot lights buzz. Few cars on the road. The night is a quiet nothing. Falling sunlight, disarrayed, spread thin across the horizon’s edges. Beyond the road, through the trees, Doug can spot a clean horizon, the smallest sliver, without one building, plaza, gas station, hospital, or house obstructing it. Like looking through a portal, this one natural slice, one small segment of a previous world no longer in existence. He extends his arm, places his hand over where the spot is, wants to stretch himself through it. He thinks if he gets up and runs toward it, he’ll somehow make it there, beyond the place where there is no time, no structures, nothing that will keep him locked in. We operate on being locked away, he thinks. Look at concrete blocks, look at bricks, look at our cars, our containing to keep us away from the elements or ourselves. We construct our own isolation. Better we lived in an open world, better we lived under open sky. All this construction, centuries of edifice to get us to shopping centers and office parks. How long ago was it that someone could claim reality, or did that vanish with the first spoken word? All that natural horizon thousands of years ago, obstructed in an instant with the first sign of campfire smoke.
For the first time in some months, he wonders what Elaine has been doing. She sent him the divorce papers to sign in late 2019, but told him to take his time, even a year if he had to. They didn’t need to be done right away, and she worked it out with her lawyer that way. He’s not on social media, so he doesn’t know anything about her life. And he’s not about to start investigating it. Useless to analyze her situation too much. Where she is now has nothing to do with him. What threads of their previous life together are old coals, cold to the touch, scarred remnants of intense heat ashed gray across their surfaces. By wonder, he’s motivated. To what exactly he’s not sure yet. Just that he feels a silent and invisible hand on his back pushing him, strides into the dark knowing dark’s contours, vague outlines of imagined shapes. ▨
Gospel of Rendlesham
The Rendlesham UFO Incident—a series of reported UFO sightings by U.S. Air Force near Rendlesham Forest in Suffolk, England.
December 26, 1980 / Sergeant Jim Penniston
lights land down through trees
graceful, eloquent, angels falling from their grace
must it be the calling of observers, spectral visitors
or the Russians playing their tricks
voices in my head not my own, say come
they speak in a brilliant, garbled pattern
light feasts upon my brain
everything is the inverse of time
time has a mouth eating up itself
through woods we go to investigate
blue and yellow glow beaming
as if the thousand eyes of cherubim
I go on ahead
the shine bright
my skull melts back to brain
brain melts away to soul
black triangle, shark tooth
quiet and at peace
swirling ink of light infused
metal anchor weighing down another world here
electrical charge buzzes air
through a space I walk, my legs hobble
a sphere of influence, our radios won’t work, silence crashes
find metal side etched with symbols
warm and rough to touch
surely there is something here that saves us
up it goes, flies off, speed impossible
dream later, all in code
find our future pulls us forward, wants us closer
through dream, coordinates provided
where it’s been is what I become
December 28, 1980 / Lieutenant Colonel Charles Halt
the return, they tell me
I do not in my mind believe the story
but my heart crushes faithful
pious believer, disciple seeker
what must it be but Russians, downed satellite
hoaxes put on by clownish men who will find military justice
still, I rush to the call, bring the recorder
the original site remains averse to cold
Geigered, we find spots warm as insides of guts
then through dark trees lit as bone fire
logic empties, lost circuits
my mouth breathes electric air
scent of stilted lightning, burnt pine
a light approaches, red red eye
finding its dimension, feeling out the world
mime in a box, trapped inside our limits
reality is not the zenith
nothing here discovered without
there being somewhere else alone from us
holy tongue of fire
floating this way comes
weird, weird, wyrd
as words themselves design the world
is my sight the splinter underneath the nail
are my hands the entrails of sense forced out of me
what to be when this exists
all my living goes to this
a tremor brings me home
barn animals make noises, go silent
what we see is not universal, perhaps personal
projections speak to us, relative
another life reaches in
slivers our world like gills
we are under its water now
our moments marked upon us
who press our bruises to birthmarks
I bear no false testimony
as Moses in cleft of rock
sees God’s body bared
what skin was it
what thunderous lightning to spook belief
what color as it is here
like red fire that now divides
splays across as five points of light, fizzles out
then to see above me blue, yellow elliptical
moving in right angles
carnival of the night, animal chorus strikes
one thin light glows direct down
dividing the world into category
what you know and what to unknow
volley truth at the speed of unexplained lights
that depart in silence
my men are left to wonder and
I’ve been talking to my recorder
what are they searching for
when will they show us their canvas
these artists of the sky
my heart is the loose ground I fall through
will they undress, hold nothing
still shadow where they roam
what is it of light that carries our eyes
yet keeps us from seeing the dark
Next Release: End of January (hopefully)
As always: If you missed anything or can’t find an email, just visit the website to read through the archives.