Saturday, November 29, 2008

Collapsed Dependencies by Matt Douros

He was a tall, thin, rakish figure with a long face and nose, and skin almost pale as paper. Though young, there were a great many creases radiating down from the corners of his lips like cracks in mud. And he wore black. All black: shining black leather shoes, a black suit with a black shirt and tie. Hair? Black. Eyes? Well, they were a dark-chocolate sort of brown, but you may as well call that black, too.

The children, filthy and playing in the rusted hulks of a thousand broken cars that were scattered throughout most of the streets in the city adored the fellow. Children do tend to love the strangeness of anachronisms they don't recognize, after all.

None of the children knew his name, and there was a legend that he didn't know his name, either. As a representative of another time, they called him by names of things from the vast and growing linguistic tumor of antiquated vocabulary. "Lighthouse," they called him, for his height and the stark contrast of his skin and his garb. "Bard," they called him, for his habit of wandering and the ease with which he'd tell a tale.

He had many other names, and some were only whispered. There was also a legend that he was a ghost, because nobody, not even the adults, ever saw him eat, or sleep, or take a piss. Even the children were afraid to ask him if he truly was a ghost. These were very superstitious times.

Instead, the children took the role of paranormal investigators. They would ask him questions to see if they might imagine some his personal insights--reflections of the distant past. They might ask, "Bard, what happened when the net went down?"

He would look then into the child's eyes and something would change, almost imperceptibly. Those with keener perceptions would later say that, while his lips would always maintain that dour expression, in those moments his eyes would smile. His voice was clear, sharp, deep, and precise as he recited:

"The dark day the net went down,
It used its lips and tongue.
Only clergy wore fixed frowns,
As the whole world did moan and cu--"

"That has nothing to do with the Great Crash!" the child might cry. "Tell us of the old times! Of the net!"

"Mm. I just told you more about the net than you realize," he would look then to a shattered tower of rubble on the horizon, and add, mostly to himself, "It's lucky for me that my little poem is going to go over your head for a few years."

Faces bent under the pressure of confusion and changed subjects would follow, "Ma says I'm growing like a weed." The child would then pause and wrinkle up his face in the melodrama of his transparent manipulation as he would probe, "What's a weed?"

The man would reply, "It's a plant people may use to make themselves relaxed and stupid."

Incredulous responses, being the domain of children no matter what era you're living in tends to produce things like, "Why would people want to be stupid?"

With the eyes of a cat playing with a trapped mouse, the man would say, "Life is sometimes fun when it isn't clouded with questions."

"You sayin you want me to stop pestin you with questions?"

"Only if I run out of answers."

"Oh," the child would say, and the man's eyes would flicker and he would turn and walk away without a word. Depending on the size and nature of the crowd that would then be dispersing, there might be some further pondering of the mystery of the strange man from a time long gone. Or maybe children would launch themselves into playing in a shared fantasy prompted by such ancient recollections, as children sometimes do.