If I Entered Hell

My Beatrice would be a monk with whom I would never confess I was in love with

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If I became the female self of Dante

I would hope that Hans Rookmaaker would be my Virgil.

Hell then would be a circular art gallery, a gradual, seven story spiral ending in an ice box.

And within the ice box perhaps Monet, paint brush in hand.

Frozen in the act of painting light, a perplexed look on his face.

“Where is the sensation?” — his eyes would ask; sensation being the only reality of life

for him.

I would ask my guide if I should tell him that he is dead — and my guild would shake his head,

no.

‘Monet lives at last, he feels the cold of his encased death.’

And my guide would pity me, and take me to my Beatrice — a monk who writes the classics and beautifies the deep well walls of knowledge.

There I would stay never saying I was deeply in love with him.

 

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

 

Accidents

he sat stony-eyed not acknowledging Carlos at all.  “Darla will have a glass of the house wine,” I said hastily fearing she would do something unconventional. 

“I have one question.” She looked at me with something between dread and vexation which merged and culminated in a purely “Darla-like” expression.

“I know, I know but really just one question,” I pleaded.  Darla leaned back and gave me a slight nod.  Taking that as permission I blurted it out, “What happened to men?”

Her pale skin blanched to a sudden milky gray and her beautiful sculptured lips turned a leaden color her smile conveyed a sort of evil satisfaction.  “Nothing, they’ve always been that way, you’ve just noticed.  That’s what I hate about optimists.”

Darla’s voice sounded as if she were down a deep echoing well.

Carlos, our usual waiter, was walking up to our table.  I could tell he was having a bad day because his usually pristine and pressed black trousers were splattered with something shiny from the knee down.  His small white apron had a washed out yellow looking blob almost dead center.  I felt myself turn red because the stain was dead center so I hoped whatever hit him hadn’t been painful.

“Stop blushing you idiot,” Darla whispered, “and stop looking at his crotch.”

Darla was never very nice.  I looked away and tried to compose myself.

Carlos came up to me and didn’t smile.  “How are you today?” he asked and I knew he didn’t care to know.

“I’ll just have a cup of coffee and whatever pie you have today,” I said squinting up at him.  He had managed to stand just where the sun was painful when looking up.  I though perhaps he should have been an international spy or an assassin rather than a waiter.  I looked over at Darla, blinking heavily.  She sat stony-eyed not acknowledging Carlos at all.  “Darla will have a glass of the house wine,” I said hastily fearing she would do something unconventional.

Carlos walked away not letting me know what sort of pie to expect.

“You see?” said Darla.  He’s a man and a typical one.  He has had a bad day, splattering grease on his pants…

“Trousers…”

“His pants when emptying the garbage at home before he came to work.  While at work some clumsy American tourist like you…

“Expatriate, I live here,”

“Tourist spills their orange juice in a projectile fashion because they saw a spider on the table so naturally, he’s a total shit to you.”

“Oh I know men are moody and take out all their frustrations on women, I was just wondering what happened to them physically.”

Darla lifted her eyebrows to me in question.

I looked about at the street, narrow hipped men with billowing shirts and long hair.  “They are all different colors and heights but all look the same.”

“Perhaps you are simply become cured of obsessing over them,” Darla said.

Carlos reappeared, his face looking like it was carved in oak.  He placed my coffee and blueberry pie in front of me and Darla’s wine in the center of the table. “Will that be all?” I could tell Carlos didn’t want to be standing next to the table. Darla stretched out her long gray hand and pulled the wine to her side of the table.  Carols blanched visibly.

“She is here today?” asked Carlos.

“She sees you, Carlos.  I’m sorry for that, truly.  I’m sorry too about the clumsy American tourist.”

I was sorry too, Darla was relentless and very good in causing accidents.

Caves

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations? 

The cave was deep and little was known about it.  That’s the thing with quiet little states like Indiana, nobody realizes the secrets it holds.  I knew simply because I was, for the most part, alone.  What else did I have to do than read books and listen in on conversations?

I hate the summer heat and to this day I lay low when summer is at its zenith.  I suspected that the small cave near the river was not just a small cave.  John Wilkie would take foolish girls there and so it began to have a reputation.  I suspect that John Wilkie, tall and good-looking as he was, really didn’t know what to do with a girl, so he took the doe-eyed ones to the small cave by the river just to get the girl to sit close to him and shudder.  There were a few fathers and elder brothers that didn’t weep at his memorial service but still, he has his name in bronze over at the courthouse square on the World War I memorial.

I digress.

John Wilkie, Salem Schultz, and Nathanial Barrow were the river rats of the town and on hot summer afternoons, they would take a raft up and down the river and spear carp and catfish.  Every once in awhile they would put a line in and pull up bluegill.  Salem’s father was a whiz at smoking fish and I even had the honor once or twice to try the delicacy as my father and Salem’s father were fairly good friends.  One such night, my hands greasy from smoked fish, my senses were deadened by the drowsy conversation between my father and his friend.  They spoke of their own fathers and their memories of the civil war, which to me, in 1914 seemed eons ago.  I was fourteen, wore wire-rimmed glasses and had grown at least two inches that year.  I stuck close to home, the library and anyplace relatively cool.

“Let’s go to the cave.”

“No, I don’t want to go to that stupid cave.”

“Why not?  It will be great at night.”

I spoke up, amongst the whispered conversation of the boys who never took any interest in a bookworm like me.  “You know, I think that cave is probably connected to a much larger cavern or cave system.”

There was a dead silence and I felt myself grow red.  The heat along my neck and face positively burned.  What had made me open my mouth?

“Who asked you worm?”  I couldn’t tell which one whispered that in my ear but all three chuckled as if the words were unique in the annals of slights and rudeness.  Perhaps that was what prompted my boldness, they were such dullards.

“Actually, I’m sure that cave is part of a larger cave.   There is even a possibility that an underground river is involved.”

I was practically drug to that cave with the words, “prove it, know-it-all, and smarty pants,” filling the air as we walked down the dirt road, and down the narrow path to the river.  The darkness was complete as the town’s lights disappeared behind the steep bank of the river.  We felt our way along the bank with the swift water just at our feet and the gleam of fast running river expanding out before us.  I was relieved when we all managed to crowd into the narrow cave opening.  To actually get into the cave we had to belly crawl.  I didn’t like it as I wasn’t fond of small places but the natural stone walls quickly gave way to a fairly large cavern.  Nathanial lit the lantern and the cave walls lit up with the spark of tiny quartz and dripping wet stone.

I had been in the cavern before and seen the impressive glitter.  There had even been some geologist down from Chicago to examine the cave.  It was from over hearing those men talk in my father’s store that they suspected the cave was part of a larger cave system.  The bought supplies from my father intent on exploring the cave in greater detail but were at the last minute called back to Chicago.

They never came back.

“It’s cold in here.”

“Hush, did you hear that?”

“Stop it, Salem, nobody wants to hear your ghost stories.”

“No, Nate, really, I think we should go.”

The cave did seem unusually cold.  I was delighted.  Perhaps this was where I could escape to occasionally from the heat.

“Hey, I think I heard it too.”

“What?”

“Like voices.”

I moved to the outer line of the light.  Nate had held up the lantern but his hand was shaking and the light shook with him.  Suddenly we were in complete darkness and what shattered me was that I heard nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  There was no sound from the boys, no teasing or angry words and I heard nothing hit the stony ground.

I am pretty good at keeping my bearings and I felt that if I followed my left hand straight ahead I could reach the small opening that led to the river.  I knew that I had been duped but still it was terrifying to be left alone in that cave.  I moved ahead swiftly and bumped into something soft and warm.  It bounced off of me and then seemed to swing back and forth a darker shadow than the blackness about me.

I fell to the ground.  The ground was wet and smelled of urine.  I scrambled forward and bumped into a soft lump that shuddered and cried softly.

“John?”

“Worm?”

I crawled over him and he grasped my foot following me forward.  I heard a soft scratching and some whispering overhead.  I moved faster and John Wilkie nearly crawled over me.  I felt the fresh air and so did John because he pushed me aside and pulled himself out.  As I crawled out I felt a stabbing pain in my right foot and I shouted out in agony.  I made it to the small cave at the river and found John standing at the edge weeping.

My foot and leg were never the same.  I wasn’t fit for active duty when the war came.  My parents spoke in whispers near my sick bed and to me, they were always a little distant from that time on.  I was ill for a very long time.  I even had to complete my first few weeks of school at home.

I was never a popular boy so I can’t say I was bothered by the solitude.  The whispers were what bothered me the most.

“He’s poisoned.  What got Salem and Nate got a piece of him too.  He can see in the dark and his eyes flash red.”

You see, it’s important now that I stay incognito, I’m not so changed I need a cave to hunt in.

It’s Not Difficult

You can enter my mind through my heart

Just so you know, staying up late is not good for me, I’m a morning person.

Weary, I’ve stepped out on to my high tower ledge and found the big dipper just overhead;

Close but not touchable.

So, I point the momentum North and ride the will to survive into the icy cold.

The bay is rocky smooth, Superior ice blue and now I feel safe away from you.

Odd, I don’t fear the scythe-man and am terrified of you.

A vulnerability is impossible to live with.

The levitation is sudden, the atmosphere heavy, ripping down my body as I move up

No nest is a temptation from this lofty spot where I see the seas spin deep frothing white.

The ghosts step along the streets their staffs diamond willows that no one but a few knows exists.

Sit down across from me and answer my questions

Answer me

Love is what you’re best at, that is obvious while I ponder the ideology of believing in death

And not God.  So answer me, what has the world come to?

To each their own, to each their own.

To the west, to the east what was once frozen has dropped upon my front door and taken

The Limberlost

No, no she has simply gone deep as the stars have gone just out of reach

Don’t be afraid, I won’t ask any questions you can answer

You can get into my mind through my heart.

Please answer my question.  It’s not difficult.

 

Photo by Alfonso Ninguno on Unsplash

Hollow

She knew that going wasn’t necessarily allowed.

She could not stand another moment in her small apartment – not with the carnival going on.  The carnival had been in town for three days – tonight would be its last.  She thought, with regret, of the workers waking up on a Sunday as she walked to church, silently unhinging their mechanical rides and sweeping up the small pieces of litter that escaped the trash receptacles.  She did not want to hear the squeak and rub of peopleless rides before she had a chance to enjoy a Saturday night at the carnival.

The town welcomed the carnival every year but she could never attend – the carnival was too worldly for her family – still was, but her family need not know she found the lights, the noise, the smells so fascinating. Besides she was on her own – she needed to make decisions on her own. She would be up early in the morning and get to church early, but tonight she had to know what the carnival was all about

She hesitated at the gate, five dollars was a lot of money to walk around a carnival.

“Half price, half price now until we close down.”

A sign she felt and so put her money down.

She would simply be careful with her milk and eggs – they could last the entire week.

She ducked her head shyly as a gust of wind pulled and fluttered the canopy at the entrance and the ticket taker gave her, what she thought was a wicked grin.

She hurried along the carnival grounds and listened to the sounds of young children shouting with delight as the mechanical rides twirled black against the red-orange sunset sky.  A small family of four walked ahead of her laughing and sharing pink cotton candy. She smiled at their compact and secret ways of knowing each other; the dip and sway of the candy making its way to sticky fingers all, in turn, the smiles upon each face.

She was careful to stay away from the rides but watched the Ferris-Wheel glided several times around against the then darkened sky.  The last of the summer warmth curled about her in a soft breeze that lifted her hair in a gently swaying lift that seemed to keep rhythm with the music being played.

“Do you want to ride?”

His voice was deep and directly behind her. She jumped and turned, then stepped back.  He was tall and slender and she was sure he had some sort of makeup on his face. His eyes were startling brown, golden flecked and when he smiled at her and tilted his head she thought for a moment that they turned red.

“You’ve been watching that wheel for some time. I own this little place – I’ll make sure you have a ride.”

“No thank-you.”

“Why not? This is our last night.  We’ve done very well – I don’t think we will miss the price of one Ferris-Wheel ticket.”

He glided her past smiling and paying customers and walked her up the back stairs, where weary workers, not much older than she, dressed in black and white shirts, stepped aside as they walked by. “She’s next,” and she went inside a small cage seat that swung precariously back and forth and she was lifted up into the summer night sky.

She came back down and he was still there and laughing at her frightened face. “Look straight out, not down, child.”

So she did and gasped at the sight.  Her small town was all alight. She saw the church steeple, the town square and felt she was level with the flag on the courthouse tundra. She twisted around carefully not wanting the seat on which she sat to swing too precariously – yes, just there but barely, the small farm where she was sure her family sat upon the screened in porch.

She swung down and felt her heart lift, she was sure that she could fly forward to whatever direction she chose.

He was standing there again, now smiling and she was lifted away gazing at his countenance.  This time she stopped at the very top.  She tried not to think of the small summer breeze slowly pushing the wheel backward and forward.  She closed her eyes the rest of the ride until she felt herself arrive within the well-lit exit.  A tired young man opened the gate and allowed her to step away unaided.

He was at the bottom of the steps. “Are you glad you went?”

“Yes,” she gasped and felt herself turn red to the tips of her ears and down her neck.

“Come I’ll buy you some cotton candy, looks like you could use some.”

“No, no please, I don’t really care for it. We had a cotton candy machine at church and I thought the stuff too sweet.”

He laughed aloud and she jumped, then smiled not comfortable but liking his laugh all the while.

“What’s your name,” he asked.

“Laurel,” she whispered feeling ashamed – this was no proper introduction.

“Well, Laurel, would you like to see the two-headed chickens or the trapeze act in the big top?”

She looked down and whispered no thank you and hoped he would believe her.

“Well then,” he said soft and low, “why don’t you let me make sure no one follows you home.”

She looked up into his face, somehow kind, somehow not.  He seemed without age and her heart pounded in her ears and her hands clenched around her waist.  She liked his stare and was very afraid.

“But you would be following me home.”

His face softened in the green, then yellow, then red glowing lights.  Touching his fingertip to her soft cheek, she felt a shiver deep down. He had found a hollow place within her brief existence.  She knew he would take and keep it.

Clever Girl

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you. Just keep working and focus on that.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it.  Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what.  Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.  Just keep working and focus on that.

That’s what I wanted to tell her but I didn’t.  I told her that she was welcome to the coffee in the pot (just brewed), and I showed her the location of the bathroom.  I then left her to become acclimated to working with me and working within my haunted rooms.  When she shivered, I looked up from my manuscript.

“You okay?”

“Yes, felt like someone just walked over my grave.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, that’s something my grandmother used to say.  When she felt a cold shiver run down her back or shoulders, she always said that.”

I nodded and smiled while letting my eyes drop back to my manuscript.  It was rude but these Indiana girls had to keep their back-water statements to themselves.  She got right back to work without any sniffs or huffs.  The girls from outside the city were usually very conscientious and she was no exception.  When we broke for lunch I asked her how long she had been living in Chicago.

“About 12 weeks.  I was ready to give it up, I felt so overwhelmed.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t.” I was sincere as I passed her the salt.  I needed her help and, well, I needed someone around.  The cold spots were getting worse, the sounds of footsteps and God help me I thought I had heard a few sighs.  I needed someone who would come every morning, work hard and make human noises, human movement, human scents, and human residue.

“So this used to be an old warehouse, huh?  It makes a beautiful apartment.”

“It is nice,” I said  “I like the view all around.  I think the realtor thought I should be here because she found out I was a writer.”

She laughed slightly and nodded as if she understood that as a writer I must also be a Bohemian by nature.  I wasn’t, I was just a writer.  The apartment suited me for other reasons, one it was isolated for Chicago and two, the noise of the city didn’t crowd in upon my work.

We worked together for 13 glorious weeks and the manuscript began to take shape.  We even managed one night to make a timeline of the plot and conclusion.  She stayed until 11 P.M. we became so consumed with the work she lost track of the time.  Her hair began to fall out of its pins and curl down around her neck.  Her freckles began to glow through her smudged makeup.  She almost looked 12.  She definitely looked beautiful.  But this was business, all business and I couldn’t mix business with pleasure.

One Wednesday morning she was standing, looking out toward Lake Michigan.  The city was clear and gleamed before her, like some promising city.  I admired her body as she studied the scene before her.  Her straight, sky-blue, skirt was too large but still looked enticing around her rather bony hips and her soft, buff colored sweater cascaded around her narrow shoulders and folded softly around her thin waist.  Her clothes always seemed a size too large but she wore it well, oddly enough.

“You know,” she said, “I know this apartment is haunted.  I heard her crying in the bathroom.”

I stopped what I was doing.  My pen was in mid stride as she said those words.  She turned at my silence looking a little perplexed.  “What do you think happened?  Do you think she died in an accident while this place was still a factory?”

“No,” I said, slightly relieved she was forming conclusions that didn’t include me.

She looked slightly pouty and my heart beat hard.  “Are you sure?  How do you know?” she asked.

“Because the sounds and the cold spots started after I started living here.  I’ve never heard her cry before though.”

The dear girl actually frowned and sat down next to me as if to try and comfort me or dissuade me from my idea.  “You don’t know that.  The former owners probably wanted you to buy the place so they could leave.”  She looked so sincere and concerned.  I grasped her tiny hips and pulled her under me, wanting that one kiss, that wouldn’t be tainted with fear.  The kiss was sweet, and moist and lingering.  I would regret this one, I remembered thinking.

“I know you killed her actually,” she whispered softly in my ear.  “I know you did.”

I felt her pull the trigger, felt the bullet rip through my shirt, my skin, my heart my back.  My weight muffled the sound; just what she needed to leave me here to sigh, chill the air and press down upon the old floor boards.  No one stays for long.

She was a clever girl, whoever she was, a very clever girl.

 

I See In All

The angry are better off. The weak and frightened cling to me. To see the soft weeping, the gratitude for my listening and understanding ear does move me. They don’t see it coming, the price they pay for believing without faith but rather naiveté. It is just the right type of absorption I need that keeps me craving but not without pity for the terror that at the end I see in all.

The angry are better off. The weak and frightened cling to me. To see the soft weeping, the gratitude for my listening and understanding ear does move me. They don’t see it coming, the price they pay for believing without faith but rather naiveté. It is just the right type of absorption I need that keeps me craving but not without pity for the terror that at the end I see in all.

I regret none of my interactions with those of whom I have shared the gloom of tombs, dark empty spaces, sounds of voices from beyond the grave and the sudden awareness of being two in the room. Ghosts are subtle, and after years of exposing their secret places, I must conclude they are nothing to encourage, nothing to hope for and nothing for the living to live pursuing.

I see the young writers making heroes of those that exist beyond the grave. The more modern and exalted flimflam showmen flutter to the call that the dead have some vague romantic goal to reunite with the ones they love. The dead are just that, and if there is any ambition, it is to have more join them in the aching spiritual icebox they inhabit.

So, there we have the dead but it is the living that is the greatest heartache of all. They become involved in seeking their fairytale within the realms of the supernatural; especially those who crave touch and forgetfulness most of all.

I met a young man once, his eyes a deep, dark, blue who became angry with me at the end of his story. He was the hero, the gallant who would save his beloved from the shadowlands of death. Too there was the young girl with deep black eyes who thinks to this day that I bewitched her in some way. These escape my attempt at the soft sound of reason and comfort I try to convey.

It’s obvious to me that those who crave the unknown to quash the loneliness of existence live shallow little lives and those who have seen something they cannot explain wish for memories of the urbane but one-dimensional type in an attempt to reclaim their lonely little lives. Such quests never end well.

Corner of the eye movements. Reversals. Pictures that fly not drop from the walls. Anger. Fear. Sleeplessness. Tears. Some will escape, others will confide in me, especially after an alcoholic drink.
I draw large crowds, you know, of all sorts. I am not bragging, just well known. I am surrounded by actors and directors and glamorous dancers of every type. Inevitably someone will ask me if I believe in ghosts because, they will say, I certainly write as if I do. What is interesting or perhaps comforting is that the beautiful crowd reacts the same as those within the supermarket or the brown shoe beauties I meet in some obscure bookstore signing that I adore. Their eyes become large and luminous but after the hubbub of my first ‘yes,’ I follow those who walk away upset.

These I know are the failures who overstepped a living person’s boundary and challenged the notion of making good evil and a fatal habit of thinking evil good. These struggle less when my eyes turn red and explain that justice has nothing to do with me and getting away with my appetite falls at the feet of their determination to see the best in me.