Chapter I

Life is a fuck.  In and out, in and out, over and over again.  Like a sine wave.  Like a wave good-bye.  It feels good to push it in, but the feeling doesn’t last.  It fades like the sound of a plucked guitar string, or a train whistle breezing by the station.  Good-bye!  You have to pull it out just so you can push it back in, just so the feeling will be intense again.  And there you are again as the feeling fades, and you want it to last forever, so you pull it out again.  Your rear end is bobbing in the air, and to what end?  The feeling that fades and keeps you bobbing?  Is this what forgetting history is like?  What about your own personal history?  In and out, in and out, over and over again.

 

I want to forget, but I can’t.  The blood, the fire.  Was it right?  Even if it was, should I have done it?  There is no right or wrong, remember?  There is no good or evil.  Ida forgot, because she couldn’t forget.  It drove her crazy, what the two of us did.  It cost her the baby.  It woke her up at night crying.  She wanted to talk about it but she couldn’t, because talking about it meant jail or worse.  The tears she cried were drops of her soul.  Each time she cried, a little piece of herself spilled out and got wiped away.  Eventually, there was nothing left.  She stopped crying, and she was all gone.  Mopped away in countless tissues and handkerchiefs.  Evaporated into the air.  Blown from her nose in one quick burst, hocked up and spit on the ground, leaving only the salty shell, skinny, hollow-eyed, staring into space.  In and out, in and out, over and over again.  Fuck it.

“Are you the one?” he asks.

I answer, “What turns on the answer?  Am I the one what?”

“Are you the one?” he asks again.  Staring him in the eye, I turn my head to the left, then to the right.  I nod it up and down.  Left and right, up and down. Left and right, up and down.  Does he know who I am?  Or is he just hoping and guessing?

* * *

My body and I are distinct, much as a CD and the music that is on it, or this book and the story that is in it.  My body has characteristics that are similar to those of many other male bodies.  It is tall and narrow across the shoulders, and it has a thin neck.  Muscles protrude and roll under the russet brown skin like mice stuffed in a leather pouch. The face is long with shallow cheek bones and lean as if a minimum of flesh and skin were used to construct it.  The hair is short and black and kinky and rough to the touch.  The eyes are light brown, and have an asynchronous blink.

I, on the other hand, simply am.  And I always have been.  I live in my body.  Living in it is like living in a computerized robot.  The computer itself is in the robot’s head, and it makes the robot function.  The computer gets information about the robot and the robot’s environment from a network running through it. The computer tells the machine what to do.  And to give you an example of how complete the robot is, it can even feel and express emotion.  It expresses emotion so well that I sometimes think it thinks it is me.  I rarely have to tell the computer anything.  It functions independently of me if I let it.  And most of the time, I do.  It talks to people, smiles, eats, cleans itself, makes love, everything.  Sometimes I am in it, and sometimes I am gone.  I enter and leave by way of the spaces between the molecules at the crown of its head.  Right now, I am in it sitting under a cottonwood tree in Rainbow Park on Chicago’s south side.

A bronze plaque at the park’s entrance states that it was “named to commemorate the famous 42nd Rainbow Division of the United States Army by order of the Chicago City Council April 22, 1918.”  The division was led by a young Douglas MacArthur in some 13 battles in Europe from February 22, 1918, to April 1, 1919.  The plaque goes on to say that its “accomplishments are a living part of the glorious heritage of the American people.”  I used to wonder sometimes whether or not my grandmother’s brother, Uncle Buddy, ever served in that division.  But then I thought about it.  A black man?  In MacArthur’s division?  Hardly.

I spend a lot of time in this park now that it is nearly summer.  In fact, I have been here for days, lots of days, just waiting.  People think I’m just a bum or a street person or something, just because I don’t have a place to live.  I don’t spend any time on the beach as a rule, unless I want to get clean.  Then I just dive in the water with my clothes on.  That way everything gets clean at once.  But usually I just sit in the grass under a tree and look.  Usually, it is the same tree, a big cottonwood with a thick, black, rutted bark and countless little green heart-shaped leaves about the size of the palm of my hand.

I sit and look and write.  My hand moves evenly.  The words flow from the pencil tip like pictures in a Peter Max cartoon.  Occasionally, I sit back and look around me to let my mind gather more images, then I go back to it.  I sit back and see the brilliant yellow of the sun burning like a giant torch in the middle of a perfectly crystal clear deep blue sky.  Then I write a few more lines. I sit back and see a honey-colored sister in a yellow bikini, her skin smooth and brown and shining in the sun as if she has just oiled it.  Then I write some more. I see a bee hovering over a blade of kelly green grass like a tiny yellow and brown striped spaceship, then dart out of sight.  And I write.  I see the sister again, her close-cut yet full-bodied natural black and lustrous, her gold treble clef earrings shining.  I write. I see a tiny red sailboat out on the lake bobbing like a toy as it drifts north.  I write.  I see the light of the sun flickering through the leaves of a maple tree as the hot wind stirs.  The leaves glitter as if they were tinsel. I see clusters of tiny purple flowers on a bush like pearls placed in a young sister’s hair. I see a little brown sparrow drinking from the puddle at the base of the drinking fountain.  It throws its head back as though gargling, then hops onto the fountain itself.  It hops around up there thrusting its chest forward like some of the strong men out on the beach. It flies away.  After each of these, I write.  I write my life, and I must write fast before it is gone.

 

Go in and out the window;

Go in and out the window;

Go in and out the window;

Sweet Mary came today.

 

Across the way in the parking lot, I see some boys spinning tops, and one of the boys is me. We’ve drawn a large chalk circle on the tar pavement. A black chalk circle? And as one of us spins his top in the circle, the others try one at a time to spike it.

Eddie Bunton is short and skinny with sandy colored hair. He spins his top first. It’s metal with holes in it, and it whistles as it whirls, suspended in one spot like a gyroscope.

My top is new and fat and bright yellow. I just bought it this morning. I wrap the string around it, grasp it firmly between my first two fingers and my thumb with the point up and the button tight behind my fingers, and throw it down hard at Eddie’s top sitting there like a duck. I turn my hand over as I throw it so the sharp metal point comes down first like a lightning spike. I hit Eddie’s top and his top goes rolling under a parked Buick, one of the ones with the dynaflow holes. My top moves around the circle as it spins and will be hard to hit.

Eddie’s twin brother, Richard, has a thin red top with lots of nicks in it. He rears back and flings his top point first at mine. He hits it right in the middle, and splits my beautiful yellow top into two ugly pieces. He and Eddie laugh. I try to smile. But water wells up in my eyes as I turn to leave. And though the world looks distorted through my tears, I see the twins’ big sister spinning a Diabolo on a string. She pulls each end of the string alternately up and down to make the Diabolo spin while balanced on the string. Then she yanks the string taut. The Diabolo sails about ten feet into the air, and she catches it again on the string. And in one fluid motion, she bends forward with her tightly curled fists together, then yanks herself over backwards as she raises up on her toes and snatches the string tight again. The Diabolo zooms into the air and disappears in the perfectly crystal clear deep blue sky. The girl stuffs the string into her pocket and walks away.

 

One kiss before you leave me;

One kiss before you leave me;

One kiss before you leave me;

Sweet Mary came today.

 

I notice a little fat boy walking towards me. He is wearing a full length, black silk cape, one like a magician might wear. I am reminded of the way Ruby imitated magicians that day in Germany shortly before she was killed. How did she get out of that dress so damn fast? The little boy appears to be bald, and I am reminded of Tank, muscle-bound Tank.

As the little fat boy draws closer, I see that he isn’t a little boy at all, but a dwarf. I smile. It is the dwarf who rifled our apartment five– fifteen– I don’t know– forty years ago. He looks older now.  There are deep crows’ feet at the corners of his eyes, and the skin on his cheeks and brow and neck is crepe.  Was he the one in the hospital as well?  He sees me and approaches.  “Hi,” I say.

“Mighty Red sent me,” he answers.  “I’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

I recognize his voice as that of the man who rummaged through Red’s kitchen the day I bolted for Spain.

“I know,” I say.  “I’ve been waiting a long time.”

The man pulls a gun from beneath his cape. The silencer is as long as the gun itself. He holds his cape in such a way that the gun is hidden from the view of all except us.  “What kept you?” I ask as I seep out of the robot’s pores, and hover above its head.

The man steps closer, close enough so that the robot could easily kick the gun from his hand.  “Are you the one?” he asks.  “Lillian is spreading the rumor that you are not he.”

“I thought Lillian was in jail.”

“Are you the one?”