Ed Taylor

Five Pieces

We Are Stardust 

Emily balked, frown­ing, arms locked across her chest com­pact as a spaniel’s.  “Daddy, I’m tired of that book.”

She was dif­fi­cult, mer­cu­r­ial, like the 80s-era Qaddafi, Peter thought, his knees almost at his chest sit­ting on the edge of Emily’s small bed and his back begin­ning.

Peter’s day had stretched him thin as an eye­lid.  Senior part­ner in an artist man­age­ment firm, he flick­ered with tired­ness, falling across the fin­ish line of Friday night.  For an instant he allowed him­self release at the prospect of some unstruc­tured time, but not too much to lose focus.  Tomorrow ear­ly was his squash time.  He tried to keep it low key, using visu­al­iza­tions of the veg­etable, round, orange, emp­ty.  The mind is like water:  leave it undis­turbed and it will become clear, on his Starbuck’s cup that morn­ing.  However, it was the club pre­lims for senior sin­gles, and he could take it this time.  He’d been work­ing with a coach for the first time since Stanford, thir­ty-sev­en years ago.

A bounce of Emily:  “I want a new sto­ry.  Newest lat­est.  Tha bomb.”

Peter rubbed the apos­tro­phe between his closed eyes, imag­in­ing the new flat pan­el and Skyfall.  But he’d promised his wife Supersize Me that night:  Portia’s stepdaughter’s ther­a­pist assigned that as home­work for next ses­sion, when they’d work on diet issues for com­mence­ment week:  a dan­ger­ous time, warned the ther­a­pist.

Peter rubbed more, com­fort in the mid-eyes spot.  Then, he stood and strode to the Gehry rock­ing chair, in his tanned, dry hands a warm­ing mar­ti­ni in a water glass, and a thin book.  He low­ered him­self and drank half.  The room shiv­ered, and he swal­lowed the rest, waved the book in his oth­er hand like a rack­et once.  Twice.

Dad.  Hel-lo?”   She had that sit­com look, the sar­cas­tic one, like his clients.  And his part­ners.  And the valet park­er.  And the serv­er at lunch.  And the der­ma­tol­o­gist, and the dry clean­er.  And the Prius mechan­ic.  And the accoun­tant.  And his last dou­bles part­ner, and his first wife, and Portia, and God prob­a­bly, Peter decid­ed, drop­ping the book.

Fine.  Here’s a new sto­ry.  Brand new.  Mos def fresh.  Sickest.”  Peter stared into the blue cylin­der of his glass, blurred and dark­ened at the bot­tom.

In 1969 there was a huge con­cert, called Woodstock.  Many peo­ple came to the con­cert, so many that it was like a city.  The”—

Dad, we stud­ied Woodstock in Mrs. Willoughby’s class last year, I already know about it.  This isn’t a sto­ry.”

Yes it is.  Anyway, all the peo­ple gath­ered out in the coun­try in New York, at a farm, as many peo­ple as a city, except it wasn’t a city, there were no offices or park­ing garages, or con­ser­v­a­tive Latino politi­cians”—

Wha”—

Ignore that last part.  It was like a made-up city, but it was a beau­ti­ful city with no vio­lence, no one tried to hurt any­one else, it was peace­ful, all kinds of peo­ple were togeth­er just lis­ten­ing to music and enjoy­ing being with each oth­er, like a sto­ry, except it was real.”

Dad, I’m not”—

Let me tell it.  Woodstock became a mag­ic place.  That’s how mag­ic hap­pens, when enough peo­ple believ­ing in the same thing come togeth­er it can cre­ate mag­ic.”

What about when we went to the Angels game.  That wasn’t mag­ic and every­one there”—

That’s dif­fer­ent.  Not every­body there believed in the same things.  Will you let me tell the sto­ry, please?  Alright?  So it was like a city, peo­ple slept and ate togeth­er and there was a kind of hos­pi­tal where sick peo­ple went, and parts of it were like parks where peo­ple went and played, and there was the stage where there was music, any­where you went you could hear music.”

But Dad”—

Would you let me tell the freak­ing sto­ry please?”

What’s f”—

Would you let me tell the sto­ry, Emily?  Would you please?”

What do”—

So just like things hap­pen in a real city, this imag­i­nary city had a baby born, but just one baby.  Out of this mag­ic place, which only last­ed for three days, a baby was pro­duced.  That’s pret­ty mag­i­cal in itself.”  Peter’s face was warm.

And after the baby was born the par­ents took him through the crowd hold­ing him high over their heads and every­one began cheer­ing, and the cheer rose up like a wave sweep­ing through the crowd.  Then the musi­cians on the stage found out and waved their arms, say­ing, come on up here, bring that baby up here.  And the baby was smil­ing and every­one was laugh­ing at this mir­a­cle, this child born in the fan­tas­tic city, and the crowd cheered so loud­ly that peo­ple far away heard the cheer­ing and won­dered what it was about, all around the world.”

Peter flicked his eyes at his watch, asked him­self where he was going with this, thought about the new real estate bub­ble and mar­ket cor­rec­tions, then breasts, then some­thing else.

So it wasn’t sup­posed to go on for­ev­er, it was just a con­cert, but each per­son when they left, wher­ev­er they went, they each took a lit­tle piece of that place wher­ev­er they were, even if they were by them­selves.  Okay.  The end.  That’s it for now.”

Emily rolled over and raised one eye­brow, the pair bare­ly big­ger than paren­the­ses.  “That’s not a sto­ry, noth­ing hap­pens.  Were you a hip­py?”

Peter was sur­prised by the word, a bub­ble float­ing with nowhere to go, so he snort­ed and it van­ished.  “Time to get some rest.”

He loped out with her fling­ing bed­clothes around like an angry maid as she set­tled, refus­ing to set­tle.

Peter descend­ed the footlit stairs.  One of his clients per­formed at Woodstock, and recon­fig­ur­ing that estate’s tax posi­tion before a rights auc­tion had eat­en up too much of his week.  Taking the final step into the white liv­ing room he thought, as he did each time:  too white.  He stopped and touched his emp­ty, sweaty glass to the glossy, door-sized occa­sion­al table, leav­ing a smeary moon, then he wiped, prac­tic­ing a flat back­hand, and moved on; in his mind, fable, then table, then veg­etable.

PTSD

Batman land­ed on our street.

He swoops and dives: we jump, duck batarangs all day.  It’s just that he gets in the way, frown­ing.  We say, calm down, sip sweet tea, sit on this pic­nic bench and eat—you work too hard, the bat­tle flares else­where, oth­er sec­tors.  Here we are good and plen­ty ready to vote and vol­un­teer and give till it hurts.

You do not under­stand, he says, and keeps at it, creep­ing and leap­ing and stalk­ing the lit­tle league out­field, patrolling, patrolling with his cowled thou­sand-yard scowl.

We final­ly say, go sit with Billy the vet in deep shade, and they speak in low tones, bump fists, slump back in fold­ing chairs.

But now we do not like how togeth­er they stare at us, and smile, and smile.

Illuminated Manuscript
for Orhan Pamuk

The sto­ry: a Shah com­mands his hors­es to slaugh­ter as they look not like paint­ings, in which the per­fect stal­lion has no penis and gal­lops with­out touch­ing ground—then wait­ing Huns shag­gy and ragged on fecu­lent beasts with unmatched legs tram­ple his empire, their caked swords com­mon and dull with bone and blood, earth, invad­ing anoth­er page in the books they can­not read.

Adultery
for some­one

The sto­ry, a love­ly woman chokes down the lan­guage of ros­es.  The state of your mar­riage not a bang but a whim­per:  the way the world ends with a clang and a zip­per, the whis­per of falling silk, then it is din­ner time at the ken­nel, the hunger ugly but real, strays who have not eat­en in weeks clean the bones, they are fight­ing and bit­ing each oth­er, eager to please, so hun­gry, so angry, and after, the con­crete floor gone soft in their sleep­ing skulls.

Museum Piece

Exhibit A.   Death.

At the side of the brown con­vent a white pan­el truck and two black-suit­ed guys with a gray rub­ber bag almost flat, on a sil­ver gur­ney, each with one casu­al hand on the con­veyance, not wor­ried about spillage.  The sky not quite blue.

Exhibit B.  Death (II)

A guess­ing game. Animal, veg­etable, or min­er­al?

Exhibit C.  Art. 

A question―what hap­pened?  I see pages; they brown and curl, then whirl away like maple seeds.  All around, gray―floor, or ceil­ing, or sea?―fizzing and pop­ping.  Then, a burn­ing bush of cop­per and sil­i­cates, a blank screen crack­ling.  When I wake up, the dream dies with faint traces.  I can­not remem­ber more.  Only the sta­t­ic. 

Exhibit D.  History. 

100 American World War II vet­er­ans die dai­ly, and to have been eigh­teen in the orig­i­nal Woodstock mud makes you old­er today than the aver­age life expectan­cy of a cur­rent Zimbabwean, which equals that of a Saxon in the 8th cen­tu­ry.

The rule-of-thumb used by Web site design­ers to ensure site “stick­i­ness” is three minutes―if you haven’t made your case and sunk some hook into the view­er in that time, for you and your adver­tis­ers he or she will “be his­to­ry,” some­thing irre­triev­able, unreach­able, and val­ue­less.  If it’s off the screen, it’s his­to­ry.

Exhibit E.  Philosophy.

Build “Brand You”!

Exhibit F.  Religion.

An emp­ty aspirin bot­tle, cap with tooth marks.  An armored door.

Exhibit G.  Children’s Wing.

Pardon Our Construction!

Exhibit H.  Technology.

The 16th cen­tu­ry Catholic church viewed the pneu­mon­ic sys­tems of schol­ars such as the Jesuit mis­sion­ary Matteo Ricci as strate­gic weapons and dis­patched Ricci to India and China to daz­zle the infi­dels with his mem­o­ry feats and lure them to Christianity, the font of his pow­er.  This Samsung holds 10,000 names; it remem­bers, so you don’t have to.

Exhibit I.  Science

Drink it, and remem­ber, or for­get.

Ed Taylor is  author of the nov­el Theo and the poet­ry col­lec­tions Idiogest and The Rubaiyat of Hazmat. His fic­tion, poet­ry, and essays have appeared in a num­ber of U.S. and U.K. pub­li­ca­tions, most recent­ly in Southwest Review, North American Review, Willow Springs, Anemone Sidecar, Corium, Elimae, Louisville Review, Vestal Review, and Gargoyle.