my sisters are indoors learning to swim. everyone must learn to swim, my mother tells us, because we are surrounded by rivers and ocean. indoors is a small body of water we’ve tamed. it’s disinfected. that’s where you go to learn.
but i am outdoors on the edge of the empty parking lot, hunting in a long ditch for red racers, which i catch and release like trout. sometimes, i catch the same snake twice. some bite, and i accept it, on my wrists and up my arms the pairs of pin-sized eyes of blood. the soft wind whispers in the knee-high weeds.
my father approaches with a fisherman, a friend of my father’s, a man soon to be lost at sea, his name soon to be among those on a metal plaque by a statue of a fisherman in the marina commemorating the dead. the fisherman statue wears a parka with the hood up and holds a heavy net. he seems forever about to die. but he doesn’t. he’s just a placeholder.
i want to show my father something.
i lead him to it.
here, in the hill, in a nest of twigs and grass, a small dark hole.
what lives in there?
a dragon, says my father.
i reach in. i feel something. it is cold and round and thick and scaly.
my father and the fisherman chat.
i work my hand up its body and to the base of its skull, and slowly, i pull it out.
i hold it up like a prize shark. its tail reaches to the ground.
it looks at me and flicks its tongue and imparts to me the power of thinking.
i stroke its head.
my father and the fisherman are pleased.
it’s time to go home.
i wonder how my father knew.
he says he didn’t.
it was just a thought.
he says maybe i made it come true.
and i am lost in thoughts — the gift of the snake — about wishes. if you don’t do something, it doesn’t come true. and the doing we do we do often under the influence of others. or everything that’s coming true is of our doing, and sometimes it’s done by or while wishing. like i’m wishing for you on a star while dreaming of you and reaching.
jim christopher was a small man.
maybe five-five, five-five and a half.
but he had gnarly biceps and bulging veins, a heavy mustache, and a deep, calming voice. he had no fat. and you could see the musculature just beneath the skin. he looked carved by someone. and he was. and when he spoke, it was about sailboats, and with intense and tireless interest. if he wasn’t talking about sailboats, he was a quiet man — deep in thought about sailboats.
my father was into sailboats, too. my father raced lasers. sometimes i raced with him on big lagoon or in humboldt bay. we raced on waters green and black, on breezy days with blue skies and calm waters, and in storms, the skies black and hammering, the winds strong and whipping, the waters fierce. i felt like a god on those stormy days, speeding headlong, the sails bowled like fists, across the choppity chop chopchop SMACK of the briny sea. the ways of the winds and the workings of the sails were beyond me, and so my father manned the sheets, and upon them he read the winds in the thrashings of little strings. that my father was on sails meant i was on rudder, which, technically, if you want to be technical about it, means i was the captain.
we drove across town one day in i don’t know which of the many rundown cars my father owned in a deteriorating sequence. turned left at the dairy queen with squeeze-out ice cream and shelves of model muscle cars.
towards the edge of town, the redwoods begin popping up like sentinels, solitary at first and then in stands. ahead or beyond are whole forests of them. but we stop at jim’s house, a small, yellow place tucked in a stand.
the garage door is open, and jim is in the garage in a white mask, like for keeping dust out of your mouth. he’s in a short-sleeved, white t-shirt — his forearms the deep color of chestnuts. when he sees us, he sets something down and takes off the mask and greets us with handshakes, and he and my father start talking about sailboats.
cars go by. the trees move in the wind. in jim’s driveway is his red banshee on a trailer. that’s what he races. banshees are smaller than lasers, with a cockpit barely large enough for one, because you aren’t expected to spend much time in it, you’ll be so busy hiking out, out over the raging waters in a harness, on a trapeze, roped to the mast, all your weight against the winds and keeping the boat on its edge like a knife without capsizing.
i wish my father had bought a banshee a couple months back rather than a wildflower. he bought a wildflower so the whole family could sail. it sat four comfortably. it was a dull color and, needless to say, it was a slowpoke. to me — in love as i was with lasers and banshees — it looked like a big log.
one day at the lagoon, we had the laser and the wildflower out together. i was nine. and asked if i could sail the laser alone. so my dad took the wildflower, and i took the laser, and there was a good wind, and she took off, and my father’s words, “stay close,” just faded away.
sailing the laser without the help of the hundred and seventy pounds of my father on board was like riding an unbroken horse. she had so much power, and the power came out of the sky, and it was invisible. she was up on edge, slicing, skipping along the water like a stone. i was hiking out. always, before, when sailing with my father, when hiking out over the waters, i was looking at my father in the cockpit — not like now, alone, looking at an empty cockpit, and the boat empty as a ghost ship and wild.
far behind me, a speck on the water, was the log with my father in it.
again and again, the laser capsized, throwing me out of the harness and flying through the air and plunging into the cold water, buoyed up by my life jacket, the taste of salt in my nostrils, the water bobbing eye-level in every direction, and lifeless on the water on her side, the laser, the sail stuck like cellophane to the waves.
to pull her up, you stand on the centerboard, and as the boat comes up, you leap backwards so as not to end up below her. then you haul your ass in sopping wet and wag the rudder, turning the boat slowly, the sails slowly filling up. and as they fill up, you draw them tight and close, and soon you are tearing through the water like through thin fabric, and the freezing wind on your wet skin awakens your every pinpoint.
i wonder what jim christopher and my dad are talking about, and circling around the rear of the banshee, i look into the garage where they are standing at a workbench handling long, slender strips white as bones. they are sail bones. they are of fiberglass. you slide them into sheathes in the sails, and they are its skeleton. they hold its shape.
check this out, d———, says my father. look what jim is doing here.
i say to jim, that’s a cool banshee.
well, i like it.
he’s working on making it faster, says my father.
jim gestures to a stack of sail bones. there must be twenty sails or more worth of bones in the stack. they are grouped in bundles and bound like firewood.
each of these bundles, says my father, is a different sail.
i’m sanding the batts in slightly different ways, says jim, so they flex at different points. i believe i know which batts will be the fastest. but i’m testing it. there are so many factors. i may be missing something.
but he’s not. deep within those sunburned eye sockets, far beyond the balls, he’s figured it out. the tests are merely for the thrill of affirmation.
it’s so exciting.
you’re so excited.
out there, is nothing.
nothing but water and wind, sky above and ocean floor below. and there are fairies. small as particles and on the wind in zillions. out there, you breathe them. they rush into your lungs and dance. and they rush out of your lungs and ride the tiger again. or they ride the tubes of your veins like skateboarders in your face. it’s for the fairies you jump off the edge of the continent. i’m your mother too, say the waters. and together, the fairies and the waters say, it’s new; it’s new; it’s new. and it matters not the land has turned to smoke.
it was snowing heavily, and so i got up earlier than planned. getting to the airport was going to take longer. i needed more time. i rolled my blanket and folded my cot, took a shower, skipped breakfast, layered up, warm and waterproof, and walked in the dark in the snow with my suitcase to the bus stop.
i stood for an hour. the snow was so deep, the bus must be late.
soon, a woman came out of her house on the corner and approached me and said, the bus isn’t coming. they can’t make it up the hill in the snow. but i’m taking my nephew to school in my subaru. if you help us dig it out of the driveway, i’ll give you a ride.
the roads were empty of cars and the snow was falling so heavily you couldn’t see far ahead. she dropped me at the station, and i thanked her.
all of the buses were delayed. after an hour of delays, a man in a security uniform approached all the waiting people and said, if you haven’t guessed it, the buses won’t be running.
i went upstairs to twigs and ordered a vodka.
through the fourth-story window of the restaurant, i could see on occasion a big four-by-four pickup and such go by on the distant highway.
i ordered another vodka, drank it, and headed for the road.
i hadn’t gone far when a truck pulled over and the guy in it offered me a ride. he was a doctor. he said he would take me halfway to the airport. but when we got halfway there, he said, what the hell, and took me the rest of the way and dropped me off.
but the planes weren’t flying. too much snow.
i began to wander the airport.
i ran into mark. he was with his wife. he said they were headed for portland. he says, we’re driving. i don’t need a plane. he offered me a ride.
some friends of his picked us up in a hummer. we were going to mark’s house.
his friend says, you’re not going to be able to drive in this with a two-wheel-drive vehicle.
o yes i can, said mark.
the snow had piled so high on the branches of trees it was falling in clumps, and there was a pile of snow in the road ahead tall as a man. mark’s friend punches it and we explode through the pile careening.
you won’t be able to do that, says his friend.
it’s just a matter of momentum, says mark.
at mark’s house, we load our luggage into a honda sedan.
as we are backing out of the garage, mark’s friend approaches on foot.
mark rolls down the window.
take my car, he says. i’ll trade you. i can’t let you go in this. you’ll die. take the hummer.
the snow is eighteen inches high. but in the hummer, mark sees no reason to be cautious. that visibility is zero doesn’t matter either. mark used to operate radios for the military. he was a master of morse code. he used to listen for hours to intercepted messages sent in morse code. as we speed ahead with zero visibility, mark seems to be listening closely to a distant and faint clicking. morse code is like handwriting, he says. everybody does it differently. it’s like a fingerprint. everybody has a style.
where are you going? i ask.
to a funeral.
a man in LA had had to shoot his son. mark knows the man. he knew the son.
you? he says.
jaydn is my real brother. you’re my real bro.
he lives in the sunset in a tiny studio with an electric bass, a record player, tons of tattoos and his wife kali. he’s a poet. he tells me on the phone i might not recognize him. but i do. cause with a huge beard, he looks just like jesus christ.
the end of the world is in three days. a reverend or cult leader, a preacher in oakland, has announced it and advertised it widely. it’s on billboards. on the radio. on TV. in an interview, when asked, what will you do if you wake up and the world is still here? the preacher says, it won’t be. i don’t even think about it. the world is going to end.
he’s read the bible and done the math.
in jaydn and kali’s studio, we listen to jazz. through the open window floats a chainsaw in the distance whining. and we listen to judas priest.
for the end of the world, we will be joined by bullrat, who is somewhere south of us, or north, at tribal fest, learning belly dance with rachel brice, who also says humanity won’t survive, but that this doesn’t relieve us of responsibility.
when bullrat comes, we are joined as well by cole and b.
for lunch, we eat burritos in the mission.
and for dinner, we go to a place kali says has the best sushi in the world.
in every bite, she tells us, you taste every flavor of the ocean’s rainbow.
cole says he has always been interested in fashion. it’s something about decorating your shape to look like who you are.
for the end of the world, i wear a grenade that’s actually an ashtray made by a japanese designer.
the world will end at six pm, and we’re on our way to zeitgeist. the beginning of the end will be marked by earthquakes. they will be small at first, but go on and on, getting bigger and bigger, getting insanely big, bigger than any earthquakes hitherto known to man. the news will spread. the damned be filled with horror. and following the giant earthquakes will be giant tidal waves, taller than our tallest buildings, heavier than the pyramids. and trumpets will sound, and in the thunder will be heard the devil’s cheering.
we are approached on the sidewalk by a crippled elderly lady with a blue kerchief on her head like a maid. jaydn stops. the rest of us keep walking. the woman has a story to tell, and jaydn is listening attentively, bowed forward, nodding his big jesus beard. we wait on the corner for him. the story is a long one, and it ends with a plea for help, and jaydn nods and puts his hand gently on the woman’s shoulder, and with his other hand takes out his wallet and out of it takes a twenty.
zeitgeist is packed.
they search us at the door.
it’s muggy and smells of men and women, liquor and cologne and perfume and hormones and smoking meat. it’s loud.
we squeeze in at a couple of the picnic tables on the gravel of the patio out back. hundreds of voices slosh like beer, and the doors of the porta-potties clap with traffic like flags in the wind slapping. the high wood fences that surround the patio are topped with barbed wire. the only way out is through the front door. guards in black t-shirts stand conspicuously about, arms folded, watching.
a guy next to us says, can i ask you all a question?
i’m a photographer. and these matchbooks are to advertise my business. which do you think is a better advertisement?
on the cover of one matchbook is a picture of a beach. on the cover of the other is a picture of a fashionably clad sexy girl.
of the matchbook with the beach kali says, this one looks like a brochure for travelocity.
i agree, says someone else.
you just like the one with a whore on it, says the guy.
it’s more exciting, says kali.
they like whores, he says.
and everybody laughs.
considering the end is nigh, he is bold to be judging.
we are but minutes away.
barmaids in low-cut t-shirts and musclemen with their short sleeves rolled up are busy carrying platters of pitchers of beer, gold and brown and black as night.
under the table, i hold bullrat’s hand.
she smiles. she has glitter on her eyelids, and it sparkles in the corpse-like yellow of the dying incandescents. she says, what if it really does end?
then he was right, and we were wrong, and he’ll go to heaven, and the world is ours.
as the hour approaches, pints are rising, people shouting, and a countdown spreading, 19 … 18 … 17. soon we reach zero, and for a moment defiantly brief, we murmur, and then we cheer.
our natural nurturing nature blooms. we have money to blow on feeling better. the healing parties on. strangers to each other, like threads in different sweaters. electricity racing through wires overhead.
bullrat flashes me the metal sign.
metal is from hell. that’s why it is unstoppable.
in the palace of the virgin lies the chalice of the soul. and it’s likely you might find the answer there.
bullrat tells me some believe the end of the world marks the addition to our reality of a new dimension.
people ready for it will go there.
everyone left behind will think the people in the new dimension died. or they won’t remember those people at all. they’ll just go on in the old dimension like nothing ever happened.
the new dimension is for higher beings. it will be place like this. where people go on feeling.
For further immersion: “a place 4 higher beings” has been reimagined as music by Cole Cuchna.