Saturday, June 13, 2009

BODY PARTS:Chapter 6

Ducks and Rain (The Sodden Foot)

His first observation of the day, as in “I’ve just made this striking observation” was this: Ducks love the rain. As observations went it was nothing remarkable but it somehow denoted the start of his workday. He’d already had coffee and toast. He’d even organized his paperwork before putting it in his briefcase. He’d showered and brushed his teeth and then he had even found time to be in the thick of his family. He’d laughed heartily at his daughter’s unformed joke, had shared an article in the newspaper with his wife, and had told his son how proud he was of the grades he’d earned in school (even though he never liked to hear it), and how it just went to prove that hard work always paid off. In short he’d had a rich morning already. Somehow though the ducks underlined the passage he was on. They were stand ins for the moment when everything poured out, leaving him empty and vulnerable, though he didn’t know it then. His elf would tell him later, in some subliminal way. His object self—his elf—was watching with the usual wry detachment, a pixie in the rain, holding a waterproof pad upon which to record his observations. Someone had to see what happened next.
The subject climbed out of his car to join the ducks by the pond. Having locked the car he jabbed impatiently at the button on his umbrella hoping it would unfurl without the usual exertion. Might it have been then perhaps that he first noticed the missing shoe? You’d think the feeling of the soggy ground water seeping into his sock and between his toes would be a notable occurrence but he later insisted he had no such memory. Some days passed before he began to slowly reconstruct the events that lead him to being briefly cuffed by an especially zealous cop who momentarily had feared for the public safety. His reconstruction memory lead him back to the car but still left him uncertain that was where it had all begun. Never mind the pixie, the ducks, and the rain. After all was said and done he’d still headed in to work with one missing shoe. More worrying still he suspected that he’d driven down the hill like that pushing on the gas with a shoeless foot.
He’d stood on the platform with one sopping foot and had not thought twice about it. He took out a magazine and read about Bruno Schulz. He took out his notebook and wrote down a couple of things that, in retrospect, offered up no answers. For example he noted people staring but did not for a moment wonder why. His sodden foot was, apparently, in another world. He noted instead the rich smell of someone’s coffee and how, if he’d only had the time, he might’ve bought himself a cup.
On the train the conductor gave him a long hard look before accepting the ticket he’d presented. Then he took it and moved on up the carriage. Obviously he’d seen it all. The man with the sodden foot remained oblivious though he knew enough to get off at his stop and make his connecting subway train as all the while people stared, some startled, some not a little bit concerned. His very normalcy despite the fact that he was walking about shoeless made it all the more worrying. Was he quite possibly psychotic? A huge homeless man who seemed to think so did, with great dexterity, maneuvere his shopping cart through the dense crowd of rush hour commuters to get to the other side of the street and away from the madman with the wet foot. The madman as it happens did observe the homeless man’s massive curly grey beard, draped as it was over all his worldly possessions. That crowd of commuters spewing in to the city as they did every day was more agitated than usual and all because of him. He meanwhile walked the walk he walked every day with his usual demeanor which, on average, was calm. The hot dog man recognized him and tried in vain to get his attention. The newspaper boy simply shoved the Times at him as he always did and the man automatically took it, presented his change and thanked the boy as always. People were not witnessing the onset of Parkinson’s. He wasn’t ill in the least. He was pretty much his usual self…but for the shoe.
Later on many witnesses would describe the sense of being in the presence of an oracle, or a hermit as they recalled such things from the Greek Myths they’d read as kids. Some brought up words like “existential” or “Beckettian” but none were able to satisfactorily put their finger on why it was they felt so completely uncomfortable that their prime objective became to remove themselves from his presence as fast as they could.
The normal man continued on his way to work his head now deep in his paper. There he read of the terrible things that man perpetrates on man and pondered on the nature of dignity in the face of such cruelty and viciousness. He could hardly handle his own indignation for wasn’t that indignation the seed bed of righteousness and so from whence the wrongs in the world were born? Could indignation even encompass empathy? Then he read of a school superintendent wrestling a gunman to the ground, and of an old lady who rescued a cat from a tree and he felt the onset of a little smile, that something he looked for each and every day and, given his disposition, usually found.
Upon arriving at has workplace he was immediately taken aside by front desk security. Unlike the commuters they had no qualms about pointing out to him the fact of his missing shoe. The man, not surprisingly, or surprisingly, was stunned. A candy wrapper was stuck to the big toe of his by now filthy, ragged sock. The offices of Cullen and Mullen stared down at him as he stared down at his foot and tried in vain to recall his morning. The security men were firm but gentle as they lead him to their office, behind the public bathrooms on the ground floor. There he waited, staring at his foot, as phone calls were made. He declined the offer of tea but accepted a small paper cup of water. He sipped and pondered and his mind took him back to ducks and rain. He felt a radiant tranquility which apparently was noted by the guards who mentioned their perception of it later when questioned.
“I had the weirdest thought that if I asked him a question, anything, he might have the answer, would have the answer. Bit ridiculous really now that I think about it.”
The questioning officer called in to summarize the whole unusual episode recalled feeling “very respectful of this character. He wasn’t a threat as far as we could see and had done nothing wrong-although walking around wearing only one shoe is definitely not right.” A psychiatric evaluation was recommended but no charges were pressed. The psychiatrist, albeit one who’d spent the best part of his career at one job in the prosecutor’s department and had thus mostly avoided the hard work of analysis as his jaded views on the criminal mind had long since been set in stone, had this to say: “After speaking with Mr.— I felt sobered up, admonished, even a little ashamed of myself. But I really couldn’t tell you why.” He had few words to describe this “phenomena of the normalest of men”.
“Not that he had anything interesting to say,” the questioning officer later added when interviewed by the one small town paper that covered the incident. The reporter was the first to mention ducks and rain, and it was perhaps this same reporter’s plodding questions that got closest to helping the man recall his strangest of days.
“His mistake perhaps was that he opened the astounding imagination of his daughter over breakfast. He listened to her dream, a dream that she spun with such glorious clarity, as she sat on his lap stirring and stirring his coffee, that he saw himself, briefly, underwater swimming with the fishes.
He would never know for sure but he did recollect the small explosion of his umbrella erupting in to fullness as the rain came down, and a duck quacking loudly, and thoughts of Neptune and mermaid buried treasure.
“I never went near the water but I think my shoe is at the bottom of that pond.” He couldn’t prove it though and had little wish to do so. He had no more to say on the matter. His son, intrigued by the tale, did later investigate by lazily prodding a stick into the water near where his dad usually parked his car. Though the stick was probably about four feet long it didn’t touch bottom and most of it sunk into the thick muck of goose guano and leaf burdened silt that layered the pond.
Some weeks later the man dreamed of a mermaid in a business suit and wearing one shoe, which seemed about right, going to work in her underwater kingdom, briefcase at her side. When she arrived at the offices of Cullen and Mullen security was alerted, the cops were called, and she was arrested for public indecency. He met her in a jail that was dark and full of sorry tales. The old lady was there with her cat attempting to cheer everybody up and on a cot in the corner lay an afghan child covered in dirty blankets. A doctor was attending to her suppurating, amputated arm.
For the final draught of his story the man was paid a handsome sum. His colleagues never gave him a hard time, never mocked him. Lawyers and financiers shared drinks with him in bars and poured out stories of their own, stories they imagined he alone would comprehend. He never did but still was kind enough to listen.


Stephen said...

this is thoughtful - I like it.

Bruxist said...

Thank you, Steve. As always I am amazed that anyone ever takes the time to read these things. You give me confidence that I am not simply spitting in to the wind.

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Doing Lines

Asemic writing