It’s a quarter past two when I get the news that someone has died from consuming too much Fizz Fresh. In a sense, I knew this day would come. Fizz Fresh is the latest and greatest carbonated beverage on the market (with a taste somewhere between Coke and Fanta, if you can even stomach that) and our newest client. Considering its 250-calorie count and the 80 milligrams of caffeine per can, I figured some people out there would become addicted enough for there to be long-term health consequences. I didn’t figure that someone would try to see what happens if you drink fifty cans in one day. But here we are. One dead thirty-two-year-old later.
He could recall years before, when he was working down south, there had been this exhausted and exhausting expressway, the Togo-Badagry A1. As you curve out of the greater Lagos conurbation you eventually hit the track, a cheerless concrete, four lane highway which if you stayed on long enough took you clear out of Nigeria and would allow you to proceed along the coast road, looking out at the Bite of Benin, to Togo, Ghana and beyond. He remembered one occasion when he got so far as the Benin border, but it was not a good time to travel. He was young, mid 30s, and Nigeria was plagued by bad politicians, bad policies and bad law enforcement. Not a helpful combination if you are a young professional man from upstate, travelling alone.
On our third date we did some petting. She said she didn’t mind my nose that drooped like burnt wax and was porous with puss. She coiled her hands into my chest hair which was whitening with the withering days. I couldn’t afford to pay her much, hence she only gave half-assed blowies. Out of pity she called this encounter a date. She knew I was dying, and I knew I needed to put that pity where my pennies weren’t.
Television News Items:
“Disturbing news out of South America. Columbian authorities are investigating reports of multiple public stonings. An unknown amount of ‘seer-children’ have allegedly been stoned to death at outlying villages in the Columbian countryside…These events are similar to those alleged to have occurred throughout the world in this past year–including one such occurrence in the United States…”
“NASA confirms that a six-kilometer wide asteroid named Tourmorlaine B will indeed pass between the Earth and Moon in 2027. However, NASA officials repudiate the findings of a group of independent astronomers who claim that the planetoid has a high probability of striking Earth on its return pass in 2029…”
“A panel of psychiatrists will gather next week at NYU to discuss the phenomena of ‘Animisitic Empathy’ as well as possible telepathy in autistic persons… This is seen as an abrupt about face on a subject which has been steadily gaining traction on social media…”
The day’d gone over hill, but light still remained, cut with a gray edge, catching rice paddy corners. In battle’s blue brilliance they’d become comrades, friends, Walko and Williamson and Sheehan, at night drinking beer cooled by Imjin River in August of ‘51 in Korea. Three men clad in rags of war. Stars hung pensive neon. Mountain-cool silences were earned, hungers absolved, ponderous God talked to. Above silence, that God’s weighty as clouds, elusive as windy soot, yields promises. They used church keys to tap cans, lapped up silence rich as missing salt, fused their backbones to good earth in rituals old as labor itself, men clad in rags of war. Such August night gives itself away, tells tales, slays the rose in reeling carnage, murders sleep, sucks moisture out of Mother Earth, fires hardpan, does not die before dawn, makes strangers in one’s selves, those caught wearing rags of war. They’d been strangers beside each other, caught in the crush of tracer nights and starred flanks, accidents of men drinking beer cooled by bloody waters where brothers roam, warriors come to that place by fantastic voyages, by generations of the persecuted or the adventurous, carried in sperm bodies, dropped in the spawning, fruiting womb of America, caught wearing rags of war.
I had just sprayed some swastikas on my father’s shiny new headstone, and was two letters into a nice double-underlined “BURN IN HELL, NAZI” when I saw her.
Her flowing white dress fairly glowed in the full moon’s light. Her skin and hair were so dark, the way she walked so light and graceful, that my first thought was “ghost”. But disembodied spirits don’t usually carry duffel bags, or pause their spectral wanderings to shift the straps awkwardly. Having more to fear from the living than the dead, I swung behind dad’s elaborate (now slightly moreso) stone, and hid.
Oil running amber along a thin white line. In another time, in a different kind of world it would have its own strange grace. But here the amber turns to a sickly yellow green that rubs out the world.