Thursday, March 2, 2006

slow rot

I'd like to tell you about something before I forget - again. Just a little story I'd like to recount while I'm thinking about it. A story of a story, really. Uncontrollable, unexpected, fragments of thoughts like these float up from the murky depths of my memory like fat, bloated bodies rising to the surface of a placid lake. Legs tangled in weeds. Arms bound by cord. Eyes and genitals eaten by fish. As bodies decay, so, too, do memories, until all that is left are the words one remembers them by. Mere words, bleached white, skeletal. These memories, one day, shall be little more than bones.


La Vid public house, a number of years ago. Peeling wallpaper, bare floorboards, and a ceiling stained by four decades of bullshit. We were sitting at the same table we always sat at: a dark corner booth, nice and out of the way, but situated perfectly in the waitress's line of sight. It was the usual crowd that night. A row of bikes outside indicated a row of riders inside downing beer after beer at the bar. Tables of labourers sat drinking their troubles away in oil-stained coveralls and steel-toes. And the slot zombies, with their too much make-up and hair piled high, sat plugging a seemingly endless supply of quarters into machines. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Our own table was filled with pint glasses in various stages of emptiness and cigars burning in ashtrays. The Fucilla brothers, Adrian and Tony, had their dominoes spread out and were trying to sucker old Jozef into a game of Matador.

"I wouldn't even play catch with you two scoundrels," he said.

"It's just dominoes, Joe," Adrian said. "How can we cheat at dominoes?"

"You two would cheat your own mother out of rent money if you could find a way," Jozef said.

Adrian and Tony played at being hurt. "Joe," Tony said, "do you know us at all? We'd never cheat you."

At this point, an eager young kid appeared alongside our table, all big eyes and tousled hair.

"You look familiar, sir," he said to Jozef.

"I'm not, kid."

"But I swear I've seen you before. You look really familiar - like I know you from somewhere," the kid added.

"Listen kid, you don't. You understandin' me?"

The kid blanched. There was something about the way Jozef looked into the kid's eyes that made him understand, and he evaporated as quietly as he had appeared. Jozef turned his attention back to the brothers Fucilla.

"Now, as for you two. I can tell when I'm gonna be cheated even before I'm cheated," Jozef said. "You'll have to find someone else to toy with."

We all laughed.

"Listen," Jozef said, "did I ever tell you guys about that time in the desert?"

He had, but we were always willing to listen again.

"I was a little younger then," he went on, "so, as you can imagine, I was a little more, how do you say, hands on if you know what I mean."

The waitress came into view, and I signalled for another round.

"Nevada, a number of years ago," Jozef began.

We settled in.

"It sure was a different world back then - you gotta believe me."

You gotta believe me. Old Jozef always started out his stories with that line. Like maybe we wouldn't. Like maybe we had a choice. Like maybe it mattered.

We sat and listened, and were every bit as interested this time around as we were during the past countless tellings and retellings. His story floated up from the depths of the placid lake of his memory like a rotting corpse all pale, tattered flesh and exposed bone. It bobbed on the water's surface for a time, picked at by the fish below and by the birds above. Then, almost as quietly as it had appeared, the body slipped beneath the water's surface, and settled, yet again, into the soft sand below. Closer, still, to becoming mere words, closer, still to becoming a skeleton, this memory slipped away once more.

"Sorry," Jozef said. "Seems I can't remember, right now, what happens next."

He closed his eyes tightly for a few seconds while he rifled through his memory.

"Nope, sorry, it's gone," he said, shaking his head. "It'll come to me, though, when I'm least expecting it. I'll be sittin' on the can or something, and it'll just come to me out of the blue." He chuckled, and took a long pull off his cigar. "I'll remember when there's no-one around to tell."

Puff of thick, white smoke.

"And then, as suddenly as it came, it'll be gone again."

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