by Salvatore Difalco
You’re a good driver, a careful driver, and in general I trust you. And, admittedly, we could not have anticipated the density and severity of the fog. No weather reports mentioned fog. No one at the service station mentioned fog. Nevertheless I have the feeling that—innocently enough—you took a wrong turn somewhere along the way and never admitted it. This was the magical event you’d been talking up for weeks? Really?
“Tell me why I feel so dreadful,” I say.
“You’re layering flesh onto skeletons,” you say and I don’t know what you mean by that. Truth is I don’t know you as well as I thought I did. You wear green satin. Your hair is high. Your arms and legs are bare. Moreover, I don’t know where we are, exactly, and I am entirely unaware of my own body — what I am wearing, how I am feeling, if my shoes are loose or tight. Am I warm? Perhaps I am warm. Your face doesn’t come in completely. Part of it does—partially pixelated, or crosshatched from certain angles—for instance, if I lean left. So, despite the overriding impression of disembodiment, I can sense the leaning of my form to the left and experience a disruption of your face’s wholeness that disconcerts me only so much in the bizarrerie of this experience as a whole. I will never remember all these details when I’m asked for an accurate recollection of them once we return to civilization.
“Where are we, really?” I ask.
“A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds,” you say, impish. “Ever heard that?”
“Can’t say I have.”
You sip a smooth green drink from a slender cocktail glass and laugh to yourself.
Green lanterns burn. A jazz ensemble plays quietly on a small dark podium backdropped by pine trees enveloped in mist, the players wearing masks with eyeholes and holes for mouths. A woman in red with long red gloves sings and sways, arms serpentine, face sphinxlike. She looks familiar, and yet I cannot pinpoint the essence of this familiarity. The scene continues, in harsh quick flashes and cuts. I try to locate my hands to ground myself as I would in a dream, but I cannot train my eyes on them with the surrounding distractions. Sketchy men and women chatter and laugh and dance to the music. Small beasts skulk and scurry by us; insects whir. At any moment I expect a man with a donkey head to amble by—such is the ambience.
“Do you know anyone here?” I ask, my voice detached from me, and yet someone like me sits there conducting the interrogation and experiencing the moment.
“Only the man on stilts.”
This causes me pause and I attempt to locate my hands again.
“What are you looking for?” you ask.
“Nevermind. Is this man on stilts a circus performer?”
“He wishes. He’s just eccentric. His name is Chase. He lives in the forest.”
“Chase? Chase? What do you mean he lives in the forest?”
“We are surrounded by the forest.”
I listen and breathe. Yes, it is there, suspiring, alive, encompassing.
“You look puzzled.”
“Puzzled? Me? Come on. I just feel a bit weird. This isn’t what I was expecting.”
“You don’t like surprises?”
“That depends, but on the whole, no.”
A tray of glasses shatters and a server in black crepe throws up her arms, opens her mouth, and screams.
“She’ll get docked for that,” you say.
I don’t know what to say. I am perspiring heavily. Sweat drips off my ears. My clothes are damp; everything feels damp. The barely audible music adds another layer of strangeness and discomfort.
“Have a drink,” you say. “You look thirsty.”
“What are you drinking?”
“A Grasshopper? Really? I’ve never seen you drink a Grasshopper.”
“Have you ever seen me drink anything?”
“Are you sure this is where we’re supposed to be?”
“Of course it is.”
“Whatever possessed you to come here?”
“I wanted something different, something refreshing.”
“Does that mean you’re dissatisfied or bored with the status quo?”
“Quite the ontological stretch, I dare say.”
“When I smile, do you see me smiling?”
“I see a smile, is what I see. And you do not smile freely.”
“Why are you saying this to me?”
“Why do you say to me the things you say to me?”
Before I can answer Chase fails at a spin and topples over on his stilts like a small sawn tree, slowly. People screech and scatter; no one rushes to assist him; no one offers a hand. It’s a cold scene. I try to locate my hands again, but this is futile. My dread intensifies.
“Trying to find your hands?” you say with a droll laugh. “Don’t believe the yogis; don’t believe the hype.”
Chatter and the howling of distant wolves drown out Chase’s screams. The band strikes up a jolly number, danceable by all but the legless. I gather from your bobbing head you wish to join the dancers under the green lanterns.
“I’m not a dancer,” I say.
“Yes, you’ve made that clear,” you say, sipping green, your eyes rolling back.
“What are the cocktail’s ingredients?”
“Crème de cacao, crème de menthe and whipping cream, I believe.”
“Looks like some folks are trying to get Chase back on his stilts,” I say.
We watch this excruciating process, and after several minutes the people abandon their efforts and leave Chase floundering.
You gesture for the black-clad waitress.
“You’re having another Grasshopper?” I ask.
“Will you be able to drive?”
I take a deep breath. “I’m not going to lie. The fog concerns me. Doesn’t look like it’s lifting soon.”
“You’re a weak man, aren’t you?”
“I’m out of sorts this evening.”
You smile and slowly blink. Your eyes are green; your teeth are green. Your tongue has compound eyes and tiny veiny wings.
I try to locate my hands again. No luck.
Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto, Canada. His recent work appears in The Fictional Cafe and Right Hand Pointing.
Featured image by HANSON, Wikimedia Commons (altered)