Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Holes in the soles of our shoes

By A.W.Whitford

Yesterday I was listening to an audio book, “Crusaders Cross,” by one of my favorite authors, James Lee Burke. In the book the protagonist, Dave Robicheaux asks himself, is it possible that hell is just a place you step into on any given day. The question struck me like a car running through a stop sign. I felt myself take a step sideways, physically moved by the underlying logic hidden in the question. I ran through the question again, allowing it to submerge, maybe soften up a bit around the edges. I turned off the audio book and I thought about that for a while as I worked. I thought about the different definitions of the noun, and setting aside the obvious netherworld connotation, I settled on a more simple meaning. The inescapable and extremely unpleasant situations we find ourselves thrust into on a daily basis, and I do mean thrust into,(more like jammed into, like that last bit of dirty laundry on the floor around the already overstuffed hamper, smelling of mildewed towels and socks,) could be considered hell.
Therefore, using that as frame of reference, the answer—was yes. Not only could we step into hell, it seemed as though we could also live there for an extended period, and if we're lucky, leave again.  An extended leave of absence from our normal life and a temporary residence in hell was completely possible for most, and more than we would like to admit it, actually happening for many.
Consider the man at the intersection holding the cardboard sign, his eyes dejected, his face unshaven, and his clothes wrinkled and worn. I think it would be safe to say that he probably came from a normal life. (Insert your own form of normality here.) Maybe he lived in a three-bedroom ranch, drove a nice truck and held down a good job at a shipyard. And maybe one day as life was slowly chipping away at his dreams, he realized that he could no longer live in the realm of the angels—but instead was cast out into the land behind our lives, the backend of the world, so to speak, the place where hell begins.
Was it John Steinbeck that said, “We have come to fear the man with holes in his shoes?” if you were to look at it from his perspective, wouldn’t we be the monsters that he sees in his dreams? Do the people that leave the parking lot at Applebee’s satiated and clean, filled with an inner light from the friendly conversation and alcohol buzzing in their blood, look like demons to him? Can he hear what they say as they wait for the light to change to green?
“Why doesn’t he get a job?”
“I really wish those people wouldn’t stand right here where we have to look at them.”
Why do we avert our eyes, trying with all of our might not to look at him, finding something suddenly interesting to look at on the dashboard, or the console between the seats, knowing that he’s right outside the window of our transportation back to the Elysian fields.
Why are we afraid of them? What is it that they represent that makes us turn away? I believe that he’s just about as close to hell, without being on fire, that you could possibly be. And I believe that scares the hell out of the rest of us.
So yeah, stepping into hell looks like a distinct possibility, war, hunger, watching your loved ones die, physical pain, broken hearts and mental anguish, all of that may be the hell we heard so much about as we struggled to shake off the cocoon of childhood and grow into adults, spreading our wings in the cold morning air. Each of us has a demon living within us. Each of us has an angel as well. Which one we choose to be is entirely up to us. Fate certainly has a way of knocking at the most inopportune time. You never know when you might take that step.
Let’s try to remember not to put holes in the souls of hearts, while we’re trying to not to be the ones—with the holes in the soles of our shoes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Last Night

Last Night
By A.W.Whitford

Last night I dreamt that I was lying on a cot in a small room behind a grocery store used for storing empty pallets. I could smell the tannic odor of the damp oak in the pallets and the litter of the field mice piled in the corner; their small bodies nestled in the shredded remains of cereal boxes and granola bar wrappers. I could hear the plastic wrap stapled to a pallet next to my
head shaking in the draft blowing in under the door. The shadow of a broom cast at a crooked angle from the light struggling under the door loomed above me, questioning my presence in the room, admonishing me.

In the dream, I thought that maybe you were there, just outside the door, your hand poised above the stainless steel handle, your breath coming out in short bursts and hanging in the cold January air, falling to the grease stained cement and gathering around your feet.

I pulled my blanket up to my chin and watched the light shift under the door as you moved away. I remember wondering why you did not open the door. I closed my eyes and dreamed within the dream. I saw myself standing on a boulder in the middle of a river, a fishing rod in my hand, the sun warm on my bare chest and face, the water filled with light. I could hear the water moving around me, trying to tell me the answers to all of the questions clogging up my mind, the voice of the water strong and true, flowing around the rocks.

I cast my spinner bait upstream watching the line play out like a silver spider web, looping in the air before falling to the surface. I watched as the line floated downstream, sinking now, feeling the urgent tension of the water pulling the monofilament, like a lovers hands drawing me into her secret place. I could feel the line pull tight as the spinner bait paused in the lee of a rock that seemed to call out to me, as though it wanted me to know that within its shadow lay the green and gold muscular shape of a Smallmouth Bass, watching the whorls of water above it.

You opened the door and the cold air rushed in as if there was something in the room it desperately needed to be a part of or see. The dream fell away, the dreamer awoke, and dust blew across the floor beneath the cot where I lay, filling the air with the stale smell of lonely places. The clatter and hammer of a diesel engine, its headlights spilling around you like the river around the rocks, brought me to my feet, wiping the sleep from my eyes, my heart racing from the rush of the dream, and the new day began.