Two supremely original stories. In "Wrecking Ball," Clay gets rich quick but can't seem to avoid getting hit just as quick as he protests a cruel plutocrat. There is mistaken identity, a perilous down escalator, and trains that literally overlap. And in "Excalibur Unum in Figure Eights," the magnificent Blue-for-sure, one of a handful of haiku dabblers, finds himself in a world of shifting realities and an Italian ice stand. There are nepenthes, a prophesy that could finally make it possible to settle down, and a quick trip into outer space. Another strange and surreal rocket by Pete O'Brien, acclaimed author of THE LOOSE PURPLE TIE: 3 NOVELLAS.
Inside this book...
The billionaire smiles and invites me in. Something about you, his eyes say. "Come on in! Have a seat. What can I do for you?"
I'm surprised and excited. This man is a dynamo. Generally when there's a precious gem to release I knock on doors a long time before someone gives me something like a minute on the doorstep. He calls me by name. "Harvey! Long time!" he says.
My name is not Harvey, but he doesn't get many visitors. He's usually in Peru or Japan, I decide by his slippers, robe, cinnamon-dashed coffee, and ornamented rooms. Nonetheless, he reached for my name and found it. Who am I to disagree? I'm Harvey. It's been far too long since I've seen this guy. I tell him, "It's been ages."
He smiles broader still, as if sucking on a punch line. "Oh yes! Is there something I can do for you!" I recognize what is happening. Mr. Sapphire has gone on in years. He yearns for company, he has a fortune to dispose of but isn't inclined to give it except to someone like me on a lark. I'm happy to take the money, but I don't need it. I have a fortune of my own. Still the offer is tempting. I pull the sapphire out of my vest pocket and place it in his hand. "I've been meaning to give this to you," I say. "I can't see anybody else having it. The thing's come from a Sudanese mountain. The heartbeat of the world. I'm sure you will take good care of it."
Mr. Sapphire's smile remains extended on his face. He is very happy. "Harvey. I can pay you for this wonder, I'm sure. But you know, I have a mind to give you much more than its worth, as I am in the twilight of my days, and the joy of giving consumes me today, as I have held on to everything so tightly for so long. You walked in as I was thinking about it, as I do every day. But nobody ever knocks on my door. They know I'm in Thailand or Jamaica, the house has the empty look. But today I'm here, you're here, the time is right, and I have heaps of cash in the house. I'm downsizing and could use the room. Will you take the dough in exchange for this thing? I'd like to massage this sapphire in my fingers as I walk down the street, as I would a ball bearing or a worry stone. It would be an excellent token of your appreciation for the fortune I'm passing on to you. After all, Harvey, after all these years. And I, in my days when the right thing is to let go! I know you would never say yes to stocks and bonds, that kind of thing, because that's not your style. But somehow it feels only right that a brilliant sapphire like this should receive in exchange a hoard of dollars so great that a thousand sapphires would never fetch as much! The triumph of humans over money. And let's do the transaction now, before I take some rest. You can roll the loot away in my wheelbarrow. Keep the wheelbarrow if you like, along with the twenty-some sacks bulging with 500 dollar bills that I put in it. Last pressed in 1945, but still legal tender. They'll make it so you don't have to sell sapphires, you know! Just pay for your needs in cash. It's the best way."
"Yes. I agree in every particular," I say.
It will astonish no one more than myself if I manage to get the money home without a problem, since I've been knocked on the head at night for nothing more than once. Fortunately it's only two p.m. That said, even were it the dead of night, I'd undertake the thing. And why not? It's quite a lot of bucks. And now my precious stones may stay with me for the rest of my life. When I thought I'd be selling them from time to time to pay my bills and buy food and such.
"Well," I go on, "I can see times are a changing with this tremendous gift of yours. I dare say that old distillery of yours has done well."
"Ah yes," says he. "And I never tasted the stuff either. I much prefer a good Burgundy."
I stay on, we admire the sapphire together at length from every angle and consider what shelf it would look best on. In the end, he's happy with setting it on the coffee table. "It's wonderful!" he says. "I believe I am a sapphire man!"
"Mr. Sapphire we'll have to call you!" I venture.
"Ah!" he says. "I like that. My friends shall call me that, not so much for the richness of the stone as for the fullness of the sound! Albert Wallace Smoldesto was never the name for me. From here on it's Sapphire! For everybody!"
"Why not?" I say. "You might make your first name Paulo. Paulo Sapphire with no middle name suits you best."
"Mmmmmmmm," says he. "I like that! And now let's get your dollars!"
ANGER! RAGE! UNDERNEATH THE FALSE NARRATIVE a tongue curls in and out of sense. The plutocrat of Nata frowns, smiles, and does the gymnastics of a mime show. But we throw him under the rug to return to the jewels.
After my interlude with Mr. Sapphire, I have no more need to peddle gems to the rich, and because I am more of a regular Joe, I stick to my own neighborhood so. And why not? I live here.
Is it time for another walk? I expect not, because if I do nothing but walk in my history, the reader will be sick of anything by way of a casual perambulation faster than a jack-o-lantern loses candlelight.
We move on from October, to a dark and stormy night on the first of May. Nobody expects the foul weather. My cousin Jane uses it to run away from home and is never seen or heard from again until the day she reappears and is made famous by her astounding success abroad.
Yea, on an ebony night in May, Jane skedaddles, her feet briefly lit by electric lights.
"The doctor will see you now." Those are never the words, because the doctor himself fetches me. It's a small practice, no nurse. No one weighs you, takes your temperature and blood pressure, or smiles through heavy makeup and thick hand lotion. With the small practice, the doctor boots out the last person, and then at the same time, or after a pause for decency's sake, at least in the supposition that a pause confers decency, respect, decorum, and meets his or her needs as well as yours, he or she reappears and calls you in. Perhaps he was writing up a few notes on the last patient's chart. My former doctor, before she moved out West, called for me by my last name as she appeared at the door. This one prefers a more casual nomenclature.
Once Dr. Justin Blocklift appeared from around a corner and called on me to accompany him, but I can't say when that was. I have memory gaps. Certain friends have told me they're going out and where to: I frequently forget where they're off to straight away. Or I flip things around. So there are conversations I had or had not, because I have a memory of a conversation having occurred that runs the exact opposite of my other memory of what passed. Yes, I flip some things and lose others. Otherwise, I'm as fuzzy or clear as the next person.
At twenty-two, I'm not supposed to have the mind of a sixty year old. The doctor says I might take a pill for it, but said pill may make me irritable and paranoid. I forget the other hazards. For some people, the pill is the way to go. For me, I guess I decided that while it may be nice to run at maximum cognitive capacity with a patch over the hole, I'd rather be organic.
My friend Christopher's been taking that pill for twenty years. We talk after my doctor's visit. I say, "Should I forgo it even at the cost of having an uncertain grasp on the facts sometimes? I mean if the flipped and the forgotten only increase, perhaps I shall start."
"Once you're on," says he, "you may have to stay on, or your brain might split in two."
"Wouldn't you know it and just like a drug to make you addicted!"
"You might be able to stop if you taper off slow, but I don't know that," he says.
I'm tired as hell today. I must be fifty years old. I was so sure I'd hold on to my fortune, but I'm not sure I have. Oh, I didn't spend it. And nobody stole it. It's just I'm not sure money has value anymore. Why that's it exactly! Dollars are worthless. Money is a thing of the past. Today it's about something else.
One time I wrote a story in which I did nothing but get in the way of myself. Mainly it's best to drop out of the frame. Art is for invisible presence. But if I have to speak out, I should, because if I hold my tongue then, I do more than miss a writing opportunity, I crush my spirit.
Have you let your mind wander today? Have you eased into nothing? Have you daydreamed from a place of bliss and indeterminacy? Have you found a great treasure in a forest? Have thoughts and ideas disappeared on a wind? And were they replaced by faeries, coming round looking for acorns? They don’t see you. How could they? You don’t exist. You are far away, the universe can’t catch you. Your absence is reported in all the newspapers. Upon your demise, everyone considers you famous and legendary. You float on your back or your stomach from place to place, like a cloud. You peer down into the lives of the people you brushed up against. They speak of you. You dream, you live. Even now in your faery state, you are a person. Dead. Alive. A ghost. Yonder man walks fast, head down. He looks up, his face in the world. On his way.
Very Important Cat
Camped on a roof,
a cat of great importance.
Her lofty disdain
gets a mutt on a
walk to ignore her complete
and have fun instead
Make a mistake. Correct things as you go with fresh mistakes.
An excerpt from TWO NOVELLAS.
Copyright 2020 by Pete O'Brien. All Rights Reserved.