He is known for being known and for that we must hate him. We must find his twice-tied white shoes distasteful and his distending belly the latest nonsense. We say, I'm sorry to say it but. We say, Who would think. When we begin to suppose we made him up, he arrives without gifts, his restrained handshake maddening all who would have it.
We wait for permission in the now shimmering, now darkening room. Outside, the Ferris wheel halts with one couple in the skymost seat. Some of us write songs, some of us turn our backs to the room's one door. First the girl will glance down for a sign. Perhaps if Nurse Ratchet stood on the other side, we could keep a better grip on indignation. The girl begins a new topic with relish. Nudging the autocrat, turning the axle: we lean into words, and we wait.
The light rain that leaves lines of unconnected dots on the pane, the wind that hastens the clouds and throttles the trees, they cease on this side of double glazing. Perhaps a glance registers the need for another cup of tea. Perhaps the neighbour's son wears camouflage in another climate. The woman in administration explained the scroll of BBC headlines across her computer screen. "The news is always bad," she said. "That's all the news I can take."
The waterfall is the last thing I see before I wake. Behind the cascade there lies a small, presumably damp cave, and I must go inside it. I drink excessive port, I swallow herbal and chemical pills, I stay awake for forty-nine hours, I lie down in the blackest, most barren of rooms. Singly, these methods bring me close enough to feel the water's spray on my face. When taken in combination, I wake with the smallest of eyes, the thickest of teeth, and no memory of my travels, though I know I have seen the waterfall nightly for nearly a year. Walking through daylight, noticing my lips are moist, I am no longer sure that my own errant tongue is responsible.
A GOOD DAY'S WORK
The accomplice works while the principal sleeps. The assignment, the certain work is done, but the accomplice contemplates hypothetical tasks, a nightly study to quicken his sluggish mind. How might he raze an acre of cornflowers in a single, omnipotent movement? How might he traipse unheard through a fallow field of dead husks and stumps of stalks? After meticulous deliberation, he answers three such questions before finding his own sleep. He does not envy the principal his wife or house, his tailor or son. He envies the quality of the principal's sleep, evident in his posture: a sleep better than that which children know, rest without remorse while ever aware of it.
© Carrie Etter 2006