Saturday, August 26, 2006

airport dreams

Woke to dreams of political intrigue played out in the discothèques of a post-war Russia. Dreams of conspiracy and subtle manoeuvring, a crafty wrenching of one man’s life into the lives of others. Not so much a wrenching as it was a tinkering, gentle coercing, a tender coaxing. The difference between working with a tiny set of jeweller’s tools rather than the mammoth wrenches of an airplane mechanic. All of this action set to the vacuous beat of some nameless DJ’s uninspired soundtrack. Little more than Muzak. That background noise transmitted over the telephone to the ears of the on-hold. That filler to take the place of the dead silence of an elevator. That gormless tune played over the inferior speakers of an airport waiting area.

Dear god. I had drifted off, only to awake, once more, to find myself still curled into the tiny, unforgiving, plastic chair of an airport waiting area. Same insipid song playing. Same faceless waitees beside me. Same ache in my back. What is there to say about airports? Nothing that hasn’t been said before, I’m sure. Cold and utilitarian. Sterile, but not. Everything built with functionality in mind while creativity was left by the wayside. Shrines to the uninventive. More a sepulchre, perhaps, for the staleness of one architect’s unimaginings.

An already draining experience is made only more draining by the soul sucking environment one is steeped in while resting in stasis within the purgatory of the airport. Boredom is bloated. Anxiety is augmented. Loneliness amplified. I took a sip of substandard coffee from a cheap paper cup. Leafed through some pages of notes I had been taking before the collapse. Soon found myself out of my chair, clinging desperately to the plastic handset of a payphone. Dialled the number of an ex just for the hell of it.

Two hours more, and I had explored every explorable deplorable inch of that colourless structure. Spelunked through the yawning caverns of the souvenir shops. Reconnoitred the vast stretches of the duty-free stores. Traversed the wilds of the food courts. I was ready to board. And I was ready to be bored on a whole other level - for the wan surroundings of an airport do not even begin to compare with the totally bland interior of an airplane. There, once past the invasive searches and accusing eyes of security, I would be subjected to a higher plane of boredom. Films of yesteryear, screened for our mental safety. Tasteless gin. Poor company.

There, hunched into that polyester clad, stain resistant seat, I would fall asleep to troubling dreams of cursors blinking and untyped pages. Unwritten stories and things I have yet to check off on my ever lengthening to-do list. Subjected to horrifying nightmares of demonic robots giving chase, all glowing, red eyes and sooty, black breath. Forever running and getting caught. No leg room. Screaming babies.

Eyes will open to headache inducing yellow light. Panicked lungs filled with fake, opaque air. The grotesquery of a stewardess’s counterfeit smile. Somewhere, my ears will pick up the soothing manufactured melody of a piece of piped-in Muzak. On the wings of these artificial notes, consciousness will give way to unconsciousness, and the adventure of a clandestine cybernetics smuggling operation played out in the glittering future world of a pre-disaster France. All will be well for awhile. Packed into a steel tube. Hurtling through the blue, blue sky. Going elsewhere. Always elsewhere.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

anamnesis in minor (canada, and memories of)

Who was she, then, sunbathing on that southern beach beneath a hungry, orange sun? Lying tummy down, top untied with bronze back glistening, hair piled up. Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker lay open before her, nearly forgotten, pages absently flipping on the fingers of a warm breeze. And what was it the breeze searched for over her shoulder? Which Walk did it seek? Just as Rousseau was able to find a haven in nature from the fickle, if not outright nasty, human world, so, too, did she on that day. Fingers trailing in soft white sand, sun hot on the back of her neck, mind a mere 93 million miles away.

“We don’t have to leave, you know.”

I heard her, barely, but there was no response to be offered.

“We can stay right here,” she said, her words little more than a mumble lost in the crashing of the Great Lake’s waves.

I pressed my feet further into the hot sand, jaw clenching. NK could do that to me.

“No-one to bother us,” she continued, “no-one to get in our way.”

I opened my mouth to speak, only to close it again. Mind change. I pushed the sunglasses further up onto the bridge of my nose, just for something to do.

Who was she, then, walking across campus in the inspiring cool of autumn? Great, felt coat wrapped around her, plaid scarf warming neck, furry, black hat pulled down low onto ears. I carried her books for her, just like the boys did so long ago. That scarf, I thought. Nuzzled up to creamy white, strawberry scented skin. Embracing her. Protecting her. That lucky, lucky scarf. JE could do that to me. Drive me right out of mind, right out of my senses. We walked, warm shoes clicking on old cobblestones, past the engineering building, past the annex, past the library. Cool breeze nearly breaching the upturned collar of my loden coat.

“We could leave, you know.” I said this, knowing full well that she really couldn’t.

“Right now?” she laughed. “And where would we go?”

“We’ll dump these books and head north to T______. Find a little cafĂ© with a nice stone fireplace. Sit reading to each other from the new journals until they kick us out—”

“You’re being silly.”

“All right, then,” I said, wrapping my coat tighter around me. “We’ll take a little drive south until we find a suitable honky-tonk. Drink cheap draught until we’re walking all crooked. You can teach me how to two-step—”

“Really now, that’s even more ridiculous! I’ve a class in twenty minutes – my students are likely showing up already.”

“Keeners, eh? Just throwing some options out there,” I quipped. “How long have you been stuck on this campus, anyway? Between student life and—”

“A decade, at least. A lifetime? I don’t know,” she shrugged.

“What did Bacon say of studies?” I asked, arching an eyebrow with some dramatics.

“I don’t know – what?”

“To spend too much time in studies, is sloth.”

JE smirked. “I’d have to read the work to understand the context.”

I laughed. “You’re hopeless – but I love you anyway.”

Who were they, then, these women, these indefatigable memories? Little more than reminiscences cut from the satiny, star flecked cloth of experience. Pasted on the gossamer paper of mind. Bound between the worn covers of this illusory scrapbook. Strong women, obviously, for who else could so easily traverse the wilds of time? Independent women, apparently, for what other type could make such a deadly lonesome journey from past to present seem so effortless? And they would keep coming. Lying in my bed at night, I would often be visited by their spectral visages, their haunting, lingering voices.

“You could leave, you know.” Her voice, a whisper in the dark.

“I can’t,” I said. “I’ve responsibilities now – anchored, like.”

“No-one to bother us,” she continued, “no-one to get in our way—”

“Oh,” I interjected, “I can think of a few people who would get in our way.”

“We’ll take a little drive south until we find—”

“No!” I shouted angrily through the dark. “Responsibility aside, there’s accountability! Answerability! Liability, even!”

“Liability? Really?”

“Well,” I blushed, “it just sounded good.”

“You haven’t changed have you.”

“No,” I mumbled, rolling over and pulling my blankets up over my head. “I guess some things never do.”

Friday, August 4, 2006

the old man's promise (russia, and memories of)

Time yawned, stretching its weary arms from the comfort of a hammock strung between the crinkles in an old man's aged eyes. We had met the old man, the inn's proprietor, in the inn's tavern on that first wintry night in Moscow. The tavern empty but for DB and I, the greyish old man invited us to sit with him at an elderly table in a forgotten corner of the bar. Being guests to his country, we could find no easy way to decline; so, the old man set down a bottle before us, along with four smudged glasses.

"I promise," he said, sitting down, staring at us intently across the table from behind his grizzled beard. He roughly opened the bottle of vodka to make his point. "I am a man of my word."

DB and I looked at each other sceptically.

The old man went on. "SK, my granddaughter, she has a way of knowing," he said, carelessly tossing the bottle cap across the room. "She has a way of knowing the future."

DB smirked, and snorted, "Impossible," while the old man set up our drinks.

"Oh, quite the opposite," the old man rejoined, his dark eyes stealing through the lamplight. "Very possible, in fact. My grandfather, her great-great, was chased out of Hungary by a fearful lot after he was found to be in possession of divining paraphernalia. His son, my father, SK's great-grandfather, bought his life and freedom from the concentration camps by secretly reading the futures of his Nazi captors. After the war, he fled to Russia where he met my mother, the daughter of a cobbler."

"And you?" DB asked. "Are you in cahoots with the future, as well?"

"Me? Not so much, no," the old man said with a dismissive wave of his wrinkled, liver-spotted hand. "Weak blood, you know how it is."

I fidgeted in my chair, made suddenly uncomfortable by all that talk of prognostication. The freezing wind pushed against the small, rattling windowpanes beside us, sending flurries of oversized snowflakes whipping chaotically at the glass.

"And where might one find Savka?" I asked, taking a nervous sip of strong vodka.

"There are some things you wish to know, yes?" The old man asked, smiling.

"Who doesn't wish to know what the future has in store for them?" I snipped, defensive.

"Not me," DB replied. "I'm more than happy to wait out the storm."

"Your friend here is not a very good liar," the old man joked, thumbing towards DB. "Anyway, to answer your question, my friend – SK and her good-for-nothing husband keep a penthouse in the Sadovoye Koltso. She's done quite well for herself, you know."

"Well, how can you not do well for yourself when you can see the future?" I said. "Talk about your safe bets."

"I suppose, hey?" the old man shrugged, gulping back half his glass. "So, where's the third?"

I looked confusedly to DB and then back to the old man. "The third what?" I asked, perplexed.

"My daughter told me I would be visited by a group of three foreigners on this night," he said, clinking his glass to the extra one he had earlier set on the table, "yet I see only two sitting before me."

DB laughed. "I'm telling you—"

At that moment, the front door opened, and SA tramped in with a blast of cold air and a whirl of snow.

"Right miserable out there!" he exclaimed, stomping towards us across the worn floorboards.

The old man smiled, and set up another drink. "Welcome to Russia!" he cried out, genially.