What to Do

“What do you want to do?”

“Sit here.”

“You’re already doing that.”

“Mission accomplished, then.”

“Be serious.  What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?  C’mon, you have to have some idea.”

“Well, what do you want to do?”

“Go to the park? Go for a drive? A movie? Shopping? Something. I don’t know.”

“See, you don’t know either.”

“But I had some ideas. What are yours?”

“I already told you my idea. It wasn’t good enough. So I don’t know.”

“Sitting here isn’t an idea. What do you want to do?”

“This reminds me of…”

“Oh no you don’t. No story or funny quip. Don’t change the subject. I’m on to you.”

“What? I wasn’t trying to change the subject. I just thought it was funny.”

“Uh huh.”

“Fine.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I’ve told you. You don’t like it.”

“But you aren’t doing anything.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Sitting there isn’t doing anything.”

“Maybe not, but irritating you certainly is.”

 

I apologize for the lateness of this post. First time in a long time I haven’t gotten it up before midnight on Sunday.

Damage

I have resisted saying anything about the pieces I post here, letting them stand or fall on their own merits. But I feel I ought to say something this time.  I wrote this piece almost 20 years ago.  Lately I’ve been doing some research that brought me back to this, and I thought I should clean it up a bit and post it. I don’t think it’s pleasant, but it still seems important, at least to me.

*    *     *

He pulled the knife slowly down his forearm.  There was a breathless pause before the redness began welling up, starting towards the elbow and following the knife’s path to the wrist.  He turned a smile, full of conflict and pain, towards her.  “This is what it feels like.”

He paused for a moment’s thought, then continued.  “No, wait, this feels better.  This is manageable.  I can react to this.  I can watch the blood drip off my arm, entranced by gravity’s inexorable pull.  I could, if I desired, clean, disinfect, and bandage the cut.”  He brandished his arm at her.  “This I can fix.  I know how to deal with it!”  His voice was getting dangerous, hysterical.

She wanted to turn away, avert her eyes from a sight so distressing that she had no words for it.  But her eyes were transfixed.  The whole cut was oozing blood now, and it traced paths down his arm. He continued to glare at her, and she felt the heat of his stare burn into her forehead.  But the blood wouldn’t release her eyes.

“So what do you think?”  His voice was calmer now.  But the danger was still there, just deeper, more subtle. There was no response she could give.

“What are you, mute?”  Still calm.  “There is a perverse pleasure in watching this kind of mutilation, isn’t there?”  The question stung her, but still she could not speak, could not look away.  “It is mutilation.  I have no illusions about that.  I don’t pretend that it’s art.  Or a political or social statement.  It’s damage.  Inflicted on my body.  By me.  Damage.  Nothing more.  But nothing less.”

Finally, she broke the spell.  Her eyes met his, though they still burned with red hues.  He seemed to be melting away, dripping down like his own blood. Yet, he continued, almost as though he were delivering a lecture to a distant, passive audience.  His eyes didn’t even seem to see her.

“There are a lot of ways we damage ourselves.  So many varieties of mutilation, that it would be impossible to try to catalogue them all.  Each of us does violence to ourselves every day.  Most ways are unrecognizable.”  Even his voice grew distant.  Almost as if he were merely reporting some mundane facts discovered by someone else.  Facts he didn’t even fully comprehend.  She shuddered under the weight of his words.

He didn’t stop.  “Damage to the soul is easier for us to ignore.  We don’t see it as obviously.  As readily. Until it comes exploding up at us in some violent or crazed explosion.  Then we label the result of such damage evil.  Even then, we tend to ignore the actual evil.  The real damage.  The horrible price that has been paid.

“When we mutilate our bodies, it’s easy to recognize. We can heal the wounds. The injury itself is easy to notice, to treat.  When we mutilate other bodies, that, too, is easy to recognize and treat.  We understand those wounds.  They’re visible.  They’re tangible.  We label the mutilation ‘evil’, and the mutilated ‘victim’.

“Even then we still miss the real cause, the real damage. The mutilation of our souls.  We do it to ourselves, everyday.  We lie to ourselves.  Just to get through the day.  We tell ourselves that we matter.  That we are important.  That we can affect our lives.  That we don’t hurt ourselves in little ways all the time.”

She finally found words.  His speech demanded an answer, though he had asked for none.  “It doesn’t have to be that way.  Not everyone damages themselves like that.  We can be honest with ourselves.”  She believed it.  She needed to believe it.

His vision suddenly refocused on her.  “This is honesty!  This is what being honest leads to.  An even greater damage!”  He stood.  All the anger from his last words drained out of the air as soon as he turned away from her.  “No.  Better not to be honest with yourself.  Better to never think about the state of who you really are, what you really want.  Better to be ignorant.”  He left to go clean and bandage his arm.

Just A Dream

I killed someone last night. Again.

Sitting up in bed after turning off my alarm, I told myself it had just been a dream.  I wasn’t really a killer, just someone with an overactive imagination.  Dreams weren’t real.

But it was difficult to believe my own denials.  If it had just been a dream, why was there blood on my hands?

I got in the shower to wash off the sweat, the grime, the blood. This was the third night in a row I had had the dream.  Each night, it felt more real than the previous night. Though this was the first time there was blood.  I didn’t know how to explain that new detail.  After washing everything away, it was clear there were no cuts anywhere that might explain it.

A knock on my door as I was toweling off startled me. I quickly threw on jeans and a t-shirt before walking to answer it.  Through the peephole, I could see a cop on the other side.  I debated not opening the door, but he knocked again.

“Good morning, officer.  Can I help you?”

“Sorry to bother you, sir.”

“That’s okay. What can I do for you?” It took a lot of effort to act normal. I was certain I was failing.

“Are you alright, sir?”

“Oh fine. Just running a little late.” Was that believable? I couldn’t be sure.

“I won’t keep you. We are talking to everyone in the area. There have been several break-ins recently. Have you seen anything or anyone out of the ordinary recently?”

“Nothing comes to mind.”

“Well, keep an eye out and let us know if you do see something. Be sure to lock your doors.”

“Will do, officer. Thanks.”

He nodded and moved on to the next door in the hallway.

I waited until the door clicked shut before exhaling. They weren’t looking for me. Not yet.  Maybe it was just a dream.  A horrible dream. But how to be sure?

At the hardware store around the corner, I bought a padlock. As I installed it on the outside of my door, one of my neighbors walked by.  A nice guy, kind of serious.

“I was thinking about putting one of those on my door, too.  Especially after that cop came by this morning.  But wouldn’t it be better on the inside?”

“Yeah, but this lets me lock it while I’m out.”

“Good thinking.”

“Thanks. Hey, could you do me a favor?”

“Sure. What?”

“I got two keys with this. Would you mind taking one and locking this side tonight? Open it on your way to work in the morning?”

“Won’t you be stuck inside, then?”

“Yeah, but I’ll feel safer tonight.”

“That seems like overkill.”

“Probably. But still. Will you do it?”

He shrugged. “I guess. When do you want me to lock it?”

“Now. I’m going to turn in early. Just make sure you unlock it in the morning.”

“Okay. But call me if you need out.”

“I will.”

That settled, I went inside and closed the door. Locking it from the inside, I waited until I heard the padlock close. Now I couldn’t get out. If I had the dream again, I could be certain it was just a dream. That gave me some reassurance. Exhausted from the day and the restless night of sleep, it was easy to go to bed early.

A knock on my door woke me the next morning. It was my neighbor. “Hey. I’ve taken the padlock off. I’ll put it and they key in the usual place.” We had a spot where we hid packages for each other.

I had had the dream again. But the blood on my hands, and the new blood splattered on my pajamas, said it wasn’t a dream at all.

The Proper Tool

“Concentrate.  Focus your mind.”  Master Rhe’s voice came in irregular intervals, making it nearly impossible to follow her directions.  Of course, that was probably the point.

Marai continued to stare at the ball in front of him.  No matter how hard he tried, it would not move.  Frustration began to well up inside, distracting him further.  He tried to push it down, to no avail.  Master Rhe was sure to notice.

“What is wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing, Master.”

She hit his upper arm with her staff.  “Do not lie to me.”

“I am sorry, Master.  I am getting frustrated with my inability to do it.  I know that I should not give in to that feeling.”

Her staff connected again, in the exact same spot.

“What was that one for?”

“Why do you think you ought to avoid frustration?”

“Such emotions lead to the negative side of the world.”

Another rap on the arm.  This time he held his tongue and tried to discover his mistake.

After a long silence, Master Rhe sighed.  Her sigh always indicated disappointment, and she always made sure that her students would not miss it.  Marai had heard it more than he liked.

“Negative.  Positive.  These are constructions.  The world just is.  There are no good or bad emotions anymore than there are good and bad forces.  What we do is important.  The tools we use serve purposes, they do not define the actions they are made to perform.

“The so-called negative emotions provide a great deal of power, but they are blunt.  They can accomplish much, but when precision is called for, they are a hindrance.  When dealing with narrow margins, calmness of mind is more appropriate.  But it is a mistake to identify parts of yourself as negative and shut them out.

“Be mindful of that which brings you frustration.  Learn from it, do not shun the feeling.  Now try again.”

The lecture over, Marai turned back to the ball.  The frustration he had felt returned, but rather than try to force it away, he accepted it.  This exercise was frustrating.  Now that he admitted that, he could sense the power behind it.  Could he use that?  He let the power flow freely and began to focus it on the ball.  It immediately rose into the air before it exploded into tiny fragments.  A piece stung his eye, blinding him temporarily.  At least he hoped it was temporary.

Another loud sigh.  “Just because you can do something, does not mean you should.  It is important to know the proper tool.  You would not send a bull to do a job meant for a cat.  Emotions are not bad, but that does not mean they do not deserve caution and respect.

“Go.  Attend to your eye.  When you are ready, we will try again.”  Master Rhe turned and left the room.

Silence and Sound

Today the world started out quiet, just as it had been the day before.  And the day before that.  Indeed, I had lost track of when I last heard a sound not created by me.  Outside, no animals chittered, no birds chirped.  The air was still, and there was no water to run.  Even going outside was to risk becoming part of the silence.

Inside, I had everything I needed.  Except for something to occupy my ears.  For some time, I tried talking to myself.  That worked for awhile, but eventually my own voice began to grate.  I felt like a monk who had taken a vow, not just of silence, but of deafness.

I ran water in the sink now and then, just to break up the monotony.  The recycling system insured that none of it went to waste.  I was more careful with the hum of electricity.  The solar panels were still functioning, but I didn’t want to risk running out of power.  I found other ways of making noise, but I had never developed any musical talent, and what I could create was limited in its variety.  Over time, I just went through most of my days in silence.  I still noticed it, but it became more tolerable as the days went by.

Today, however, there was a noise.  A roar and then something slamming into the ground, shaking my tiny world.  I had not used the monitoring system in a long time; the scene outside never changed, so it seemed pointless.  But it flickered to life as soon as I turned it on, as though it had been in use just the day before.

After a few minutes of adjusting the camera, I found the cause of the commotion.  A crater, maybe fifty yards from where I was.  In the middle of it, still smoking from its descent, a metal object of some sort.  A capsule, perhaps?  It looked too small to be a ship.  Nothing stirred from it.

I sat for a long time staring at the screen and wondering what to make of this development.  Had someone found me?  Or was this mere coincidence?  Going outside to investigate meant entering into the heart of silence’s realm.  But there was a chance that I might discover something to break its hold.  In the end, the decision was easier than it might have appeared.  I had to venture out once again.  It seemed I had not begun to tolerate silence after all.

The Happiness Cure

A red light drew her attention, and she called over one of her colleagues.

“What’s going on, Cass?”

“This one is fading.  We need to intervene.”

Kushiel looked closer at the board.  “Who’s on?”

“Maal.  Which is perfect.”

“Agreed.  Get a couple of the lesser host down to his stage, and let him know what is going on.  I’ll go retrieve our patient.”

Cassiel nodded and began typing out the orders to be sent out.  Kushiel went from the control room to one of the adjacent antechambers.  The identity of their patient popped up on a screen, and he entered a few commands.  Almost immediately, the man he had summoned appeared in the chamber.

There was a question on his face as he looked at Kushiel.  “You asked to see me?  I hope it won’t take long; I was at choir.”

Kushiel smiled.  “We will get you back as soon as possible.  As you know, this place is for your benefit, a reward for your life of service and faithfulness.  As such, your happiness, as well as that of your brothers and sisters, is of paramount importance to us.”

The man nodded.  “Yes, I know.”

“Your happiness, however, has begun to wane.”

“I suppose it has, but singing helps.”

“Yes, but it is still below acceptable levels.  That is why I’ve asked you here.  You may recall from your life that happiness requires suffering.  Thus we find it important to occasionally remind our residents of what suffering is so that they can rejoice once more in the benevolence of Our Father.”

“You mean to torture me?”

“Goodness, no!  No, we simply show you the suffering of the damned.  We find it is very uplifting.”

“Oh.  Okay.”

“Good.  Have a seat on the couch.  Past this curtain, a screen will show you a vision of their suffering.  Would you like anything while you watch?”

“Actually, I haven’t had popcorn in forever.”

“Very well.”  A tup of popcorn appeared in front of him.  “I will leave you to your viewing.”

The curtain opened.  Two men were tied to posts as flames from the rocky ground beneath them licked their feet.  A demon, horrifying in appearance, walked into view.  His smile dripped evil as he sharpened a wicked looking blade.

Kushiel left and reentered the control room.

“How is it going?” Cassiel asked.

“Fine.  He was already engrossed.  Any effect yet?”

“Starting to tick up.  Probably won’t take long.”

“Good.”

After nearly half an hour, the red light turned yellow and then green.  Cassiel nodded to Kushiel, who went back into the antechamber.  Cass threw a few switches, and the lights in Maal’s theatre turned from red to green.

Maal immediately shed the appearance of a demon to return to his normal robes.  The two principalities stepped down off the posts.

“I’m glad that’s finally over,” one said.  The other agreed.

“You both did well.  Another soul uplifted,” Maal said.  “Please return to your other duties.”

They left, and Maalik began cleaning up the stage.

83.7 Percent

“Well, that’s most of them.”

“How is that most of them?  There are still a bunch of boxes on the truck.”

“Yeah, but this is more than half of them.”

“Most isn’t just more than half.”

“Yes it is.  What do you think it is?”

“It’s…  I don’t know…  Most.  Like, nearly all?  Certainly more than just more than half.”

“So is 60 percent most?”

“No.”

“70 percent?”

“Look, I don’t know.  75 percent maybe?  Or 90 percent?  It’s not a hard and fast number.  I just know that it’s more than 51 percent.”

“You’re crazy.”

“No I’m not.  Ask anybody.  They’ll tell you that most is more than just 51 percent.”

“Talked to everyone, have you?”

“Of course not; it’s just common knowledge.”

“How is it common knowledge if I don’t know it?”

“Well, maybe you just missed that day in school.”

“I repeat, you’re crazy.”

“Well, then, if most of the boxes have already been moved, you shouldn’t mind getting the rest yourself.”

“Ha, ha.  Nice try.  Let’s get back to it.”

“That’s what I thought.”