Monday, May 21, 2012
Chapter Eighteen - There Are But Two Tragedies
There Are But Two Tragedies is the Eighteenth chapter in Alistair Sebastien Vogan's novel How To Lose Your Voice Without Screaming
Consciously, or not, Kingsley had not left the television on when he’d gone to bed. The next morning, he lay in bed like normal people usually do. The window was open, the blinds too, and the sounds and lights pushed him on to the awareness that he was in his bedroom and not on a large bejeweled and anointed elephant that was, despite his efforts, trampling upon the occupants of a Midwestern town as it traveled in a westerly direction. Gradually, coming to his senses, his faculties were activated.
Mrs. Filmon was not there.
He stared at the ceiling. He noted the brownish grey stain in the right corner his upstairs neighbor had created when he’d left the bathtub running years ago. Today it looked new. His eyes adjusted to the brightness of the room and he turned comfortably to face the window. With a spike of anxiety, he wondered if he’d opened Laundry Land the previous day. Was that possible that he hadn’t? He’d opened it everyday for the past two decades.
He also wondered what day it was. He walked through the past week mentally, took stock of the events of each day. Each day could be accounted for, yet, as he considered each, it seemed, somehow, a dream, or lifetime ago since he’d stepped into the Laundromat.
Something didn’t add up. Had he really opened up a Laundromat every single day, rain or shine, for twenty years? It seemed impossible, yet he couldn’t think of an alternative. He thought about it. It seemed like a foreign universe, or a fictional one. He considered the day ahead of him. It seemed, suddenly, like a chore. Would he even know what to do? It was as if he’d been disconnected from his own world and had discovered that all of the pieces of that universe had been ripped apart, like a jigsaw puzzle, and would need to be put back together to function properly.
The task seemed insurmountable.
He had a vague sense that this life he considered wasn’t really his life. It couldn’t be. But what else was there for him? He lied there and was stumped. After some time, he resolved to get out of the bed. Yes. He would get up. He could go through the day. He could make it work, but he knew suddenly, on some level, that he would be an imposter. He felt more certain as he thought about it. This wasn’t his life, no matter how long he’d lived it, he told himself. It simply belonged to someone else, a person he had known intimately, but he didn’t know who. …Where had this person gone?
He felt trapped, but hungry.
He had two choices: to never get out of bed again and starve to death, or to fake it. His stomach gurgled. He had to eat something. He could get up. He could put on this person’s underwear, socks, shirt and pants and continue in his absence… He could eat his breakfast. But, would the people he encountered during the day, the people he’d encountered everyday day over the past twenty odd years, recognize that something was amiss? He knew this man’s routine, his gestures, his habits. He could approximate him. He felt certain. Or, almost certain. But would it be found out? That he was… an imposter. Would he watch their agitation grew, as they sensed a deception occurring, but were unable to put their finger on exactly what it was? Would they stop him, suddenly unable to control themselves, suddenly righteous, pull him aside and whisper with eyes narrowed, “I know I know, but I don’t know how I do... You are not really Kingsley…”? Would they look into his eyes, searching? Where had he gone? He could feel their sense of betrayal. “Where is the real Kingsley?”
He took a shower. The bathtub was filthy. He washed himself with a fresh bar of soap and, as he turned off the water and got out, made an effort to not touch the shower curtain. He dressed in front of the mirror, feeling remotely repulsed. He could feel the material against his skin, his skin rebelling. He’d need to buy new clothing. He couldn’t go on like this. He’d pack the old clothing in a cardboard box. He’d leave it in the closet, for when the other guy returned.
He walked through the apartment as if for the first time. There was the kitchen. There was the hallway. There was the bedroom and the living room. In each room he saw the life of the man who’d lived there and felt himself saying, “In this room nothing happened...” He hadn’t lived here. There were no children growing up here. No affections shared with a lover. There were no plants, not even a pet. There was one male disintegrating from young man to old, all alone. That, and dust, falling on tables and windowsills, collecting behind a couch and a refrigerator, and on the tops of cabinets. Dust that was swept away or wiped up. The memories here weren’t worth the amount of energy required to save them.
Nothing happened here...
And then, that person simply disappeared.
Kingsley would throw out all the furniture. He’d clean the windows. He’d opened up the Laundromat down the street, then more across town. He’d open up a chain of them. What had he been thinking? Everyone needs their laundry cleaned. He’d open up a chain that would stretch across North America. Conquer. That’s what men who were truly alive did, didn’t they? He would have friends. Invite them over, for ‘the game”, or Thanksgiving. He’d get involved with the community, find someone to love, maybe even get married. He realized he could have it all. Feel really alive! He would be the master of his own universe. He’d always been, he realized, he’d just never known it.
His eyes were now open. He saw what lay before him: his future. He felt taller, leaner, stronger. He opened his ears. The apartment was silent. He could hear the motor on the refrigerator humming. He’d never noticed it.
He opened all the windows and stood in the draft in the living room and a smile spread over his face. He could hear the traffic below, street sounds, a door opening somewhere below, a shop bell, and voices: life. Two pigeons landed on his windowsill and cooed. It amazed him. He approached the window and gradually became aware of the rumbling. A rumbling sound emanated from a distant location. He stopped without realizing, and listened. The pigeons watched, agitated, and moved back and forth over the mound on the windowsill. The fetid smell entered his nostrils but he barely noticed, because the rumbling had grown louder. He took a step towards the window and sensed it grow. One of the birds flew off, leaving the other to its fate, frozen like a statue. The bird was between him and It. He took another step, then another and stood next to the bird. Suddenly, the bird rose into the air and frantically attempted to fly through the windowpane. He watched understood that it was not trying to escape from him, but from the It below. The rumbling was powerful now. Wings slapped together violently, sending gray feathers into the air and the bird disappeared overhead.
Kingsley leaned against the window. He looked up. No bird. All that was visible was a blue sky and the window frame, out of focus and just inches from his cornea. He swallowed hard and glanced down, to where the road was supposed to be, had once been.
East 7th Street, that is, the asphalt and sidewalk, were no longer there.
It took a moment for him to understand what it was that he saw below. The cause of the rumbling. Beneath him, seven floors down, hundreds of heads and shoulders were pushing against one another, all seemingly competing to get a piece of something. It was like larvae. Kingsley could make out faces on heads. Some had hands held up, cupped around the eyes, squinting. They were searching for something, up in the sky. What was it? Kingsley looked up again and searched for a zeppelin, or a space ship. All that remained was the sky, a flat blue ceiling covering the city. He pressed his face against the window and looked down. There were no fire-trucks. No ambulances. Outside the building, parked in front of the stairs, at the curb, was a large black limousine. Someone important had arrived, he decided. Why would he be in Kingsley’s neighborhood? Was the president buying milk across the street at the confectionary? He’d seen that kind of thing in a newspaper once, had been surprise to realize that the president too drank milk. Would the president of the United States of America saunter out of that store and shake the hands of a startled working class couple, then kiss their infant and disappear into that car. Perhaps it would be on the news later today. Who would he call to tell about that? He couldn’t think of anyone. The person he had been hadn’t known anyone he would call up for this kind of thing. This made him feel empty.
He looked down, his face disfiguring against the glass. The faces were not turned towards the convenience store, he noted. The president would not appear on his sidewalk with a bottle of milk.
A man was waving. He was leaning on the hood of the big black car, looking up at Kingsley’s building. The man waved and waved trying to get someone’s attention. “Was someone on the roof?” Kingsley asked himself. Then, Kingsley recognized the man. It was Zzyzzer! Kingsley could make out most of Zzyzzer’s teeth. Zzyzzer was outside his apartment, leaning on his car, smiling and waving up to him! Without realizing it, Kingsley’s right arm betrayed him and he saw that it was waving back to Zzyzzer on the other side of the glass. He could see the liver spots on the back of his hand. It felt vaguely like he was at the zoo, looking at an arm in an exhibit. Below, several of the faces with the hands cupped around the eyes responded frantically and pointed up, then tiny mouths opened wide like those of baby birds and screams rose up to Kingsley’s apartment. Was his building on fire? More and more hands pointed and began to wave and the mass of people pushed towards the entrance of Kingsley’s apartment. Kingsley’s nostrils flared as he inhaled. He couldn't smell smoke… He then saw the patrolmen standing in before the front entrance of his apartment building trying to block of the mass of people. He noticed, too, the banner held up. There were several banners, all hand-painted. One banner was suddenly pulled taut and Kingsley read the writing on it. He stopped waving and pulled his hand slowly in through the open window as if he was retracting the SpaceArm. He stepped back into the safety of the apartment, waited a moment, then peered over the window ledge again. They were still there. Amongst the rumbling, he could make out his name being chanted, KINGSLEY’s name, preceded by the word Cowboy, as if it were a preposition. “CowboyKingsley! CowboyKingsley! CowboyKingsley! CowboyKingsley! CowboyKingsley CowboyKingsley! CowboyKingsley!” Kingsley saw the swarm of heads, arms and hands, and realized, finally, what they had come for. He closed his eyes and wondered on some level where in the apartment he’d found himself the washroom was.
A large Xylophone chimed cheerfully somewhere near his head. It was time to turn the page…
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Sir William Newman
editors and story consultants at The Ivan Von Noshrilgram Foundation, Antarctica.)
Copyright 2000 (Alistair Avery Vogan / the Von Noshrilgram Foundation)