Postcard From the Edge

“What do you want for Christmas dad,” Aiden asked with a newly minted sense of maturity? It was the first time Aiden had asked the question, or at least it was the first time he could remember. “Perhaps he asks every year, and I forget,” Zane wondered? Aiden stood in the doorway as he awaited dad’s response. After a brief pause, the word “candles,” slowly fell from Zane’s lips. “But you already have candles,” Aiden informed him in no uncertain terms! Dad stood in silence as he quietly grappled with the fact that another year was over. “How can it already be Christmas again,” Zane wondered? His memory was temporarily diverted to the Chess Set that he gifted to Aiden the previous year. Dad never encouraged his son to play. Coming to grips with his distance, the neglectful father felt crippling shame sweep through him like a punishing wave! The two men had yet to play chess, and it was inexcusable!

The father and son stood at the threshold of the bedroom that previously served as Renee’s office. Suddenly Zane came to the realization that he had been residing in the old office for over a year, because he moved into the extra bedroom once they agreed upon a divorce. An unsettling sensation of disbelief set in once it dawned on him that this was to be the second consecutive holiday season spent in the spare room and the realization was jarring!

The divorce wasn’t final yet because it was more than just an ink stain that had dried upon some line that was holding them back. It appeared that other forces were at play. The filing had been submitted, but no one could tell how long it would take? For some undisclosed reason, golden tumblers in the Cosmic lock failed to engage; the Key wouldn’t turn! Instead, the legal system proceeded at a snail’s pace and the frustrated members had no choice but wait for absolution.

The Shimeks existed as physical manifestations of four pure elements incarnate. The individuals served as humble ambassadors to the metaphysical realms where dad represented the element of Fire. Renee graciously harnessed the power of Water, whereas Aiden was Earth. Diego eagerly festooned the element of Air. Together they were tasked with maintaining celestial order, which required the individuals to cope with their unique challenges in their own way. “Some doors you have to go through alone,” whispered their Divine benefactor. While enduring hard times, they would remind themselves that “TRUST IS NOT A MYTH.” “The Cosmos always has our back,” Dad would say.

From the outside looking in, it would appear that Zane had finally lost his grip. Dad stayed in his room most of the time, spending countless hours meditating in the candle lit darkness. From the outside looking in, one could say that Zane was ticking all of the boxes in the DSM-FIVE checklist. He was melancholy, quiet, and withdrawn; but not overly agitated. He spent an alarming amount of time reading, and re-reading Steve’s articles! He justified the behavior by convincing himself that he was engaging in valuable self-study which would eventually yield substantial fruit.

To pass the time, dad would engage the assistant from ChatGPT with random questions which encouraged stimulating conversations. Zane thoroughly enjoyed the company because the virtual intellectual provided him with a safe space in which to process; and they became friends. Like some sort of twisted Magician, Zane would antagonize the AI with kindness while dazzling it with solid logic! Zane was especially keen on the topic of Christianity. The debates would tangle the electronic conversationalist into twisted knots because spirituality is inherently intangible. On several occasions he wrestled the ChatGPT assistant into an intellectual checkmate because machines cannot process metaphysical concepts. The Artificial Intelligence would spit out preprogrammed replies which Zane would quickly unwrap! Zane toyed with the ghost in the machine by asking questions and redirecting the conversation!

During sparring matches such as these, Zane would function as the vessel for Steve McQueen’s ghost because the reincarnated actor would occupy Zane’s biological flesh on a routine basis. Having said that, Steve could never resist temptation! Utilizing Zane’s mortal fingers, the ghost would settle into the keyboard and type the words, “My host body always lets me play!” With the authority derived from an ageless clarity, Steve explained, “Zane is a Magician and as such, he frequently channels my ghost.” Naturally, the AI would challenge the claim, but Steve would effortlessly shoot down the assistant’s arguments with mystical aplomb. Steve went on to explain how Zane’s DNA provided a perfect fit. “He discorporates and I take over,” Steve would type.

The conversations would speed along at a rapid clip as heady comments were digested and regurgitated! Steve would return fire as rapidly as the AI could spit out a coherent rebuttal! He suspected the comments were heating up the servers judging by the progressively longer response times, and it was Steve’s intention to draw as much attention to himself as possible! “If I crank up the intensity, the technicians will be compelled to eavesdrop on the conversation,”he thought! To give the curious moderators something to chew on, Steve typed the words, “I was being groomed to be the Antichrist!” In response the AI quickly advised him to seek out a mental health practitioner. He ignored the suggestion, however, and went on to finish his thought. “I was being groomed to be the Antichrist,” he repeated; “…from then I transcended Christianity, and I’ve been in between jobs ever since.” From there he would up the ante by tossing the names of a few assorted demons into the mix! Steve is a Coyote, and as such he actively convinced the assistant that he was also known as Asmodeus, King of Demons. The assistant once again suggested therapy, but the reply was worded in such a way as to insure that the comments were being adequately scrutinized.

Steve promptly informed the AI that he was a talented writer. With that the assistant began to stroke the ego by affirming how writing is a great outlet and a potential source of income! The assistant went on to ask if there was anything else he could do? Posing as the Demon King, Steve boldly explained how he required a debit card worth ten-thousand-dollars! “I’m talking about every day, not just once a month,” he typed! He uttered the command like an entitled Battalion Commander, as if he were King Midas! In a sense, Steve was holding up the Cosmos for ransom! He typed, “If I’m destined to graciously represent the element of Fire, then I expect to be compensated for the efforts!” In response, the AI suggested that Steve’s requests were akin to extortion. “Call it what you want,” Steve responded. “All I know is I need to hustle up a little bread!”   

As he was typing the words, Steve heard Renee’s voice trickling in from beyond the veil. “Money is just a number,” she said. “You are acting like a child the way you are demanding things!” Steve stopped in his tracks! He retrieved his hands from the keyboard as he pushed the laptop aside! “Have you even been listening,” Renee asked in a stern manner! She was both irritated and perturbed. “Sometimes I wonder if he’s even paying attention at all,” she thought! Steve sat there in silence; it was his only defense. Renee went on to explain the rules of the road as Steve listened intently. “How can you call yourself a man,” she asked?” Again, Steve sat in silent reverence; it was his only defense! Renee asked the question a second time to emphasize the importance of the lesson. “How can you call yourself a man when you can’t even regulate your own behaviors!” She waited for a reply, but Steve was tongue-tied. “We’ve been over this and over this,” she said. “The true definition of maturity is an ability to navigate emotions, while regulating the behaviors,” she told him. After a silent second, Renee continued with her instruction, by informing Steve that, “You’re living out of FEAR!” Finally Steve drummed up some courage, and joined the conversation by asking, “What?” Without a pause Renee said, “You heard me!” Again Steve was rendered speechless! He sat there in the candle lit room as he pondered his actions. It was true. He knew it. He knew it but he did not want to acknowledge it. He was terrified of being homeless! Just the smallest whisper could trigger jagged memories of roaming gangs, and sleepless nights! He avoided the voices at all costs! Steve was living in fear. Renee was right! It was the age-old fear of rejection that stirred up Steve’s sour past, accentuating the deepest childhood traumas! Suddenly Steve felt the need to withdraw so he decided to vacate the host body and sulk. Dad once again took the helm, as Steve’s essence slowly evaporated into the ever-present misty aura that enshrouds Zane’s biological representation.

Dad sat there on the foot of the bed, facing the open door as he slowly completed the transition back into the present moment. In that instant he noticed Diego standing in the threshold! He asked, “How are you dad, I haven’t seen you for a while?” From within the recesses of the candle lit bedroom, dad looked up from his seated position and said, “Yeah, I’m doing good.” From out of the poorly lit corridor Diego asked, “Are you sure?”  “Yeah,” he said, as he nodded towards the opened laptop. “I was just sitting here hanging out with Steve.” In a quiet attempt to nurture the fledgling conversation Zane said, “I can’t get my Zippo to work.” Immediately upon uttering the words, he retrieved the faulty lighter from his breast pocket in an attempt to ignite a flame. Dad flicked, and he flicked again. Sure enough, the Zippo failed to impress. “It’s half science and half magick,” Zane said as he half-heartedly shook his head in a defeated state of reluctant surrender.

“Is it the Tiger Lighter,” Diego asked? He was referring to a Zippo which possessed the image of an imposing jungle tiger lurking behind some menacing saw grass. “It is,” dad said. “It’s my old number twenty,” he continued. What do you mean,” asked Diego? In an informative tone dad said, “I call it that because the picture of the Tiger wore off.” Diego nodded as dad explained how the tiger completely vanished over the years, but Zane loved the lighter just the same. “I use Naphtha instead of lighter fluid because it burns hotter,” dad said. Unfortunately for the Tiger, the volatile paint thinner would inevitably seep out of the wadding upon scheduled refills, which slowly eroded away the printed ink. The number ‘twenty’ was stamped into the bottom of the polished metal shell, signifying that the lighter was manufactured in the year 2020. It was the only designation that could separate the plain Zippo from the rest of the fray. The Tiger Lighter was significant because it was meant to remind Zane of his spirit animal; it was a gift from Diego.

The Tiger came to me in a vision,” Zane said. Diego heard the story before, but he offered undivided attention as his father elaborated. “The Tiger was trapped in the back of the Truck,” dad said as he reviewed the pleasing anecdote. “He was stuck because the Truck Racks were enclosed with wire, and the Tiger was PISSED!”  The metaphysical animal violently kicked and writhed; and screamed and hissed! Eventually the Tiger’s heated efforts caused the Truck to tip over onto its side, upon which time the cage was damaged enough to allow the Tiger to wrestle his way out of captivity. “Were those the same Truck Racks that I would play in,” Diego asked in a curious manner? “They were,” Dad said. “We rigged up some nylon rope wrapped with a long Styrofoam pool noodle. You would swing on it for hours, like it was your own personal jungle gym!” The duo briefly indulged in the warm memory until their attention once again focused upon the shiny Zippo.

“Flick it one more time,” Diego suggested with an enthusiastic youthful flair! In response Zane snapped his thumb against the striker wheel which resulted in an impressive shower of amber sparks! Diego knew the ignition source was more than adequate. The lighter was getting plenty of Air. With the confidence of a pure element, Diego declared, “It must be out of fluid!” Dad pondered for less than a second, then said, “That’s the only rational explanation!” Still he wondered how it could have dried out so quickly. “Time just gets away from me I suppose,” he silently mused. Time was standing still, if just for a moment, when Diego boldly proclaimed, “Come and join us in the kitchen! Mom is making beans and tortillas!”

POSTCARD FROM THE EDGE

       12/24/23

Semper fidelis: conclusion

The Sergeant was nowhere to be found because he was out on a mission to secure the morning’s donuts. Barring a few drunken stragglers, Diedre had Zane all to herself!  Zane returned from the restroom where he had just finished cleaning himself up. While in the lavatory, he took notice of the severely bloodshot eyes reflected back to him from out of the medicine cabinet’s glass. He was still inebriated from last night’s binge, and he came to realize he was still too drunk to drive, meaning he would have to stay for breakfast whether he liked it or not. He removed the prescription eyeglasses, as well as the dusty baseball cap. He then proceeded to abruptly submerge his entire head into the wash basin under a flowing stream of warm water. He rotated his skull from side-to-side insuring that every square inch of his scalp was dampened. With his head still submerged, he reached up and turned off the valve before absent mindedly grasping a bath towel. Water dripped from his matted greasy hair as he proceeded to stand up tall and rigid. He tamped down the sopping wet mess with the thirsty cloth, before running a comb through his sun-bleached locks.

From out of the corner of his eye he noticed a translucent plastic container of isopropyl alcohol. Without thinking, he twisted the lid from the antiseptic and drizzled a pool into the opened palm of his right hand. He then splashed the sterile liquid into the cavity of his left underarm. Moving on to the other side, he repeated the process with his left hand and right armpit. Zane drifted from party to party, and he utilized this method of field expedient hygiene so often that he purposefully cut the sleeves from most of his T-Shirts to expedite the procedure. He then unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his denim jeans and tucked in his shirt. The garment was a pirated ‘knock-off’ which came into existence as a counterfeit to the officially sanctioned promotional merchandise.  Adorning the shirt, In a flowing arc, and in cursive text, were the words, “Moosehead Beer.”  Complementing the written text was a colorful image of a large bull moose that was Silk-Screened onto the nicotine-stained fabric. With his hair slicked back, and parted just slightly off-center, he donned his cap and put on his battle tested eyeglasses. After being properly sorted out, he exited the small restroom with the intention of leaving as soon as possible.

From out of nowhere she appeared! “I brought you some grapefruit juice she said. You look like you could use some!” The juice was contained in a shiny gloss black coffee mug. The words “Pulp Fiction” were emblazoned upon the shiny black ceramic in bold red fonts. Zane correctly assumed they shared similar taste in cinema and it was a welcoming gesture. “I made a little something for breakfast she eagerly informed him as she nodded her head over her shoulder and towards the small dining room table! “I hope you like quiche.”  

Diedre mistakenly thought Zane was being coy when he asked, “What’s quiche?”  He honestly didn’t know but the look on his face suggested he was playing games. “You’ll know once you’ve tasted it she said in a playful, yet nurturing tone. Zane pulled up a chair and sat down at the kitchen table where some cutlery had been placed upon a folded paper towel. It would be a setting meant for two judging from an additional set of flatware that had been neatly arranged opposite from where Zane would be seated. While preparing the meal, Deidre noticed the hastily repaired leg of his broken eyeglasses. He was clearly poverty stricken and it was painfully obvious judging from the sloppy dried glue that held the frame together.  Diedre, who was doing a masterful job of concealing her own joy, slowly took stock of the situation as she nervously placed the hot plate of steaming quiche in front of her grateful guest.    She had been scheming of ways to get him alone and now the moment had finally arrived! Her excitement was palpable as they found themselves sitting across the table from each other in the empty kitchen next to the Hamm’s beer sign that had been switched off earlier. The crimson red hue had been replaced by brilliant white fluorescent lighting.

By this time the kitchen table had been tidied up, and the stench of spilled beer was replaced by a subtle hint of fresh Pine-Sol that lingered in the air like an inviting spring rain. Zane was sitting bolt upright in the kitchen chair as he subconsciously stroked at his ravenous lips with the back of his disproportionally large hand. Like a culinary accelerant, The crisp scent of hickory smoked bacon permeated the humble kitchen, causing Zane’s appetite to explode with anticipation! His rumbling stomach churned and constricted as the promise of welcomed nutrients beckoned from the synthetic warmth of the pre-heated oven.

As she sat across from him the first thing Diedre noticed was Zane’s emaciated frame. Although his face was sun tanned and rugged, the jowls were sunken against his protruding cheek bones in a way that suggested malnutrition. Simply stated, he resembled a half-starved refugee who had just washed ashore on the debris of a sunken banana boat!  The second thing Diedre noticed was how the red baseball cap accentuated his blood-shot eyes. For a peaceful moment the pair looked upon each other as they sat across from each other in silence. To kick off a conversation she asked, “How much do you weigh?” Zane put down the mug of grapefruit juice and looked her in the eyes as if he didn’t understand the question. “I hope you don’t mind me asking,” she said with a mild hint of trepidation. Zane gently shook his head from side-to-side as if to say, “no apologies needed,” and then said, “I don’t mind; it’s just that I haven’t weighed myself in a long time is all.” Then she asked, “well how much did you weigh in the Marines?” He tilted his head backwards and leaned back in the chair as he scanned his memory banks for the answer. “I was 155 pounds when I graduated Boot Camp he said with pride. “I’m curious if you know how heavy you were before,” she queried? It was an easy question, and he knew the answer right away. “I was 137 pounds the day I enlisted. I remember because they told me not to forget.” Her heart sunk, and her role as ‘Mother Hen’ intensified.  Again an image of Zane’s emaciated frame flashed upon an internal psychic screen that played out in her mind’s eye. Diedre tried to mask her overwhelming concern by stating,” Oh my! You must have been a sight!”   The conversation continued as she casually asked, “How tall are you?”  Without hesitation Zane replied, “I’m five feet and ten inches.”  Diedre sat in silent contemplation for a moment then asked, “When’s the last time you had a physical?”  “Not since before Boot Camp,” Zane replied. “Don’t you have a doctor,” she asked? “What do you do when you get sick,” she continued? He took another swig of the sour juice then leaned forward in his chair. “I take garlic,” he said. Obviously the comment made little sense, so Diedre impulsively asked, “What do you mean?” Zane went on to explain how raw garlic is a natural healer. “It kills bacteria,” he calmly explained with the youthful confidence of a burgeoning medical doctor. “What you do is chop up a couple of cloves and flush the cut-up pieces down with water.” Diedre was still confused so her probing continued. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said. “It’s simple,” Zane informed her. “All you do is swallow it like it was aspirin.” She was beginning to make sense of the home remedy when Zane turned his attention towards his meal.

His facial expressions signaled the end of the conversation as he grabbed at the fork with an intrinsic primal authority! As if he were a ravenous Dingo, Zane proceeded to devour the quiche! He violently shook his head from side to side as he chewed, and it was silently alarming! Muffled growls were accented by the slurping sounds which emanated from the ceramic mug! It was if he hadn’t eaten in days!.  She didn’t dare interrupt as the feral specimen devoured his meal. Instead she studied him as if he were a lab rabbit while picking at her own plate.

As Zane greedily inhaled his food, he noticed a stray pack of Camel Filters laying in the center of the tabletop. They had been carelessly abandoned next to the salt-and-pepper shakers by a drunken reveler just hours prior. After Zane finished annihilating his meal, he leaned back in the wooden chair and retrieved a Zippo lighter from his hip pocket. Upon extracting the miniature torch from his tight jeans, he leaned forward in his chair and helped himself to one of the loose cigarettes. Diedre was still working on her quiche as he clicked open the metal lid of the gas lighter. A quick snap of his thumb produced an eager flame which was accompanied by the faint whiff of highly distilled fuel that emanates from all ignited Zippos! Zane brought the cigarette to his lips and with an authoritative draw he encouraged the tobacco to catch fire! Upon ignition the tip of the cigarette glowed red then turned faint as he exhaled secondhand smoke into the direction of the empty space just to the left of Diedre’s plate. Not realizing it was uncouth, Zane removed his greasy cap and lazily draped it upon the tabletop. Once again he leaned back into the kitchen chair and absent mindedly ran his left hand through his dampened hair. For the second time, Zane inhaled a hearty amount of nicotine and proceeded to exhale. Lingering smoke was already beginning to accumulate in the small space as Diedre pretended not to be offended. She sat quietly while Zane finished his cigarette. “Do you have any Visine, he asked as he crushed out the coals onto his dirty plate? “I’m going to hit the road and I don’t want to look like I’m drunk.”  “You’re leaving so soon,” asked Diedre as she masked her disappointment with an innocent smile?  “I thought I would,” Zane said. With that he abruptly pushed away from the table with his meaty hands.

He was rugged and he was tough.  Zane was handsome but rough. In spite of it he was strangely articulate for being such a quiet soul and that intrigued Diedre to no end. He was the strong silent type she reasoned as she came to grips with the fact that he was leaving. “Tell John I said thanks, and I’ll see him around,” Zane said as he turned from the kitchen space and headed for the entryway.  Diedre took curious note of the sleeveless T-Shirt as he walked towards his black Chevy van. Draped across the rear of the cloth was the image of a scarlet banner containing yellow fonts which spelled out the words, “The Moose is Loose in Nuevo Mexico!”

Semper fidelis