The glass doors at Shepard Hall sat wide open. Emile and Lungsee walked through them and into the stark lobby and stopped. A pea green vinyl couch flanked by two burgundy vinyl chairs sat by a long wall. Above the sofa hung a crucified Jesus and on the coffee table sat an illustrated book of birds. On the other side of the lobby, the reception desk curved in a half moon shape and at the far end of it was a bucket with a mop in it. The mop handle leaned against the wood counter. A nurse sat behind the counter, only her head showing. She was looking down.
Emile and Lungsee looked at each other. Smells like chemicals, Emile said. He walked to the sofa and sat and picked up the book of birds and flipped through it. He put it down and leaned back and crossed his legs, as if testing the comfort of the furniture and himself. He clasped his hands behind his head. Casual.
Regard! bellowed Lungsee. The nurse half-stood and Emile fully stood and moved to Lungsee’s side and they stood above the nurse and looked down into her hollowed-out silly white hat because she had strangely gone back to her Stranger in the Mirror.
Her hair was clean and blonde and thick, and they both felt erections. A miniature Chattanooga Choo-Choo engine sat on the counter, and Lungsee popped its smokestack with the palm of his hand. It squirted out its whistle and the nurse jolted up in bogus surprise. Lungsee looked to Emile. Emile looked back. Well, ask her, Lungsee said.
Ask me what? she said with a nervous smile. Her teeth were tall and skinny and jammed together, like a well-built fence.
Um, yeah, we’re looking for my brother.
Your brother? He’s a patient?
Well, I’m sorry but visiting hours aren’t for another four hours. You can wait, if you’d like. Or come back.
Lungsee elbowed him. Emile continued, Four hours, huh? That’s a long… I don’t really have… Actually, I’m not even sure he’s still here. See, I was supposed to come and meet him when he got out, but I got kind of tied up, you know, things, life, and uh... His name’s Ty. You know him?
Well, sir, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you who’s here and who’s not. But if he’s your brother, then you should know, shouldn’t you? she said.
I know, I know, but can’t you just tell me…
Excuse me, said Lungsee. What is your name?
Harriet. Um, Nurse Harriet Whitby…
Emile looked up to a painting on the wall behind Harriet. It showed an old white man with a perfect flowing ivory beard sitting in long red robes upon a most comfortable looking rock. The man was holding in his lap a bible where upon a large-elbowed bug sat perched at the edge of the gilded page. The old man was looking at the bug, with maybe a touch of wanting, but the bug was looking away with peeved indifference. The cheap saturated print was titled, Ecce Locusta, written across its bottom. Ecce Locusta… Emile said. Lungsee and Nurse Harriet looked at him. Emile smiled, nodded to the painting.
See, Harriet… said Lungsee turning back to her, all we need is to get a little gander at the boy’s file, and I’m sure it will say he was released last week, on the 16th of our eighth month, in this, nineteen hundred and seventy-seven, annus of your lord, and then we will know the forwarding address and we’ll be on our way…
Oh, I simply cannot show you a file. That is strictly…
But it has been legislated, legislated, Harriet, for us to see any and all file work, because the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled, nine to nothing, nothing, mind you, that doctor-patient confidentiality does not exist, and the free flow of information must be preserved in order to accommodate any and all laws restraining to or in favor and of against any and all future prior constraint notions and convictions. I believe it was Beasley v Mississippi.
Oh, I haven’t heard of all that, but I’m sure my supervisor would have told me. We get pretty good training...
Your supervisor is Kitty, Kitty Blalock, if I’m not mistaken.
Why, yes, Harriet said with glee, as if progress had been made. Nurse Blalock is my…
Yes, I just said that, and if you would allow me to continue, I was merely stating that she would be none to pleased to see me, for I come armed with the law. Ethics, morality, horse sense and statute law! Regard!
Okay, you wanna play tether ball? I can play tether. She’s sitting back there right now, isn’t she? I know she is. Tell her to please come out. Lungsee popped his palm rapid-fire onto the Choo-Choo’s smoke stack and the little engine’s whistle tried to keep up with the relentless requests, but it could not and it broke.
Ecce locusta? I took Latin, but that makes no sense, said Emile.
Lungsee backhanded the Choo Choo and it zipped across the smooth counter and clean off its cliff. Please, Harriet, we haven’t all day. He turned to Emile and said, Literally, it means, hey dude, check out the big bug. It also means, biblically, savor your present station, let the mysterious ways of our unknowable cosmos emerge and blossom and be seen and known and show guidance, but I am finding that especially difficult to do now! he said turning back to Harriet. Its implication is that great things happen when you just sit back and let them, Scarriet Shitbee!
Harriet tensed and coiled and rolled her chair back from the desk. She got up and disappeared through a pair of swinging wood doors. She’s going to get the Kitty, Lungsee giggled. We’ll get this whole thing cleared up. I see smooth sailing…
Did you used to be a patient here? You did, didn’t you?
Pffft, Lungsee hissed.
Harriet battered her way back in through the doors and did not sit. Her right hand trembled as she rested in on the counter. Chief Nurse Blalock said I am to show no one any files and that the Tennessee High Court has eleven members, not nine.
Kitty! Get your pulchritudinous puffy ass out here, now! Lungsee pounded the counter. Harriet scampered back through the doors. She’s getting the file, he said.
An obese woman with galactic bosoms, bright ginger hair, fleshy red lips and paper white skin slinked through the swinging doors and stopped and posed like a pin up, hand akimbo and legs splayed below the knees. She held a manila folder to her gut, or what Lungsee once referred to as that bubble below your belly. Oh, Lungsee… she cooed. She tottered out to him, slapped the file on the counter and hugged him tight around the neck. They kissed passionately, switching their heads from side to side, like beastly, hairy, windshield wipers.
Emile opened the file and found three pieces of paper. Total. The first had thousands of words in tiny type; it looked very official, tedious. The second was a crayon drawing of a red chicken flying a kite in front of a green house. The sun was black. The third had DISCHARGE stamped in black across the top. Emile scrolled down this page with his finger and then read aloud what was written on the address line: Destination unknown.
They stopped kissing and came up for air and Kitty said, I love you! Don’t ever contact me again! She flung herself off Lungsee and fluttered and tottered back through the doors with the back of her left hand upon her forehead. Harriet the Nurse snatched the file from Emile and dashed after.
I come for the love, I come back for the administration, Lungsee said. Destination unknown? Who the fuck writes that?
I don’t know, but that’s what he wrote, right on the address line. In crayon. Destination unknown.
Hmm. Destination unknown… Lungsee mused as gasping sobs blubbered forth from behind the swinging doors.
Emile stared at the floor for a long moment. Destination Unknown. Sounds like a Jackson Browne song, he said.
Jackson Browne. Open-road prick. Overrated open-road, naturalist prick. Hmmm….
Well, fuck. Now what? Emile spun around and leaned on the counter so his elbows supported him from behind, as if he were at a bar surveying the crowd. He blew air out of his mouth and his lips made the childish flapping noise. Ecce locusta… he said with a smirk. Ecce cocktail’s more like it. What do you say, big guy, time for a…
You know what time it is… Lungsee lumbered off, muttering something about something being too close to home. Or something.
The cries from beyond the swinging doors trailed off. The Choo Choo sat on its side in the middle of the floor. The picture behind Harriet’s chair. Blessed are the accepters. Some Lord will see to something. Emile was alone. In an asylum. Where some kin had been. Lungsee was right. He knew what he had to do, so he left the counter, the lobby, the scene and walked down the only hall there was. The only way that led to the back. Where they are. Reaching a pair of security doors, he reached for the handle but the door buzzed, unlatching itself. He looked around. Nothing. Emile entered.
Sterile cream hallway. He walked and tried to make no noise. He came to a large blank room with a TV and couches and easy chairs and bookshelves. He stood in the doorway. It was empty. He heard laughing. He moved further down the hall. Came to a closet that was open and saw inside a locked cage that spanned form wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. But behind the metal grate was nothing. Like an empty jail, and this gave Emile pause. An empty jail, he thought. That’s impossible. Absolutely impossible.
The laughing started again and then stopped. He continued on to an open door and stopped and looked inside and here were the eyes that he’d expected. Eyes of men beaten, lost. Scared, naked, like newly shorn sheep. Freaked out. Twelve men. Maybe. Some kind of jury. They were short and tall and round and rail and hale and not. A few wore shoes, sandals. Some wore robes, others wore jeans and one man a St. Louis Cardinals’ necktie.
They sat, stood, squatted, crouched and lounged. Some on metal folding chairs and some in ratty reclining loungers along with a rattier loveseat and orange bean bag chair and all these sitting structures formed an arc that faced a lone empty wood chair just to Emile’s left. He looked to the windows in the back of the room; he walked to them. They looked out to the back of the building that was behind Shepard Hall and it had a screen door and the screen door looked as if a huge spider was clinging to it.
Any you guys know a guy named Ty? Used to be here? Last week, said Emile.
They froze and stared and then one of them pointed. A tall man with gangling limbs. He was barely in control of his quivering digits as he pointed to the wall behind the lone empty wood chair. He stiffened his incredibly long index finger and wagged it and drew his mouth into a tightly clinched grimace and then placed his hand over his mouth as if to keep from shrieking. But he shrieked anyway.
Emile looked. The wall had a game on it. It was titled, Making Connections! and written in big colorful block construction board letters. Underneath the title were pictures of animals with problems. Simple problems. A lion with a thorn in his paw. He grimaced like a cute kitty. An owl in an eye-patch, the dialogue bubble by his face read, ‘owwwl’. A fish with a fin in a cast. A bedraggled dog in sunglasses and with a tin cup begging on the street corner. His bubble read, ‘Say sucka, spare a Scooby snack?’ Each of these pictures was followed by a plus symbol and then a spelled-out explanation of each animal’s plight. These explanations were then followed by an equals sign and then an underscore line for an answer to be written on.
The fish with the fin in a cast? Supply more chum was written neatly in marker as its solution. But this was followed by a nasty scrawl that read, ‘Bring apple juice’. The fish and the owl and the dog all had multiple answers which were all crossed out rewritten and unreadable. But one equation off to the side, far from the others, was drawn by a good artist with a sharp wit. It was a picture of man in a straight jacket and the problem after the plus sign read, ‘It’s ok, but do you have one in blue?’ referring to his jacket. After the equals sign was a picture of baboon riding a motorized unicycle.
Hey. Excuse me. Who are you? What’s going on here? She entered from behind and marched to the center of the room. Husky and blonde in a tight uniform, she could be a nurse in Scandinavian smut. She inspected all her men and then looked at Emile. Can I help you? Can I help you, sir?
Um… he said staring at her breasts.
You must leave now. There are no more visitors allowed in this unit. This is… and she looked behind her to the wall. Okay, who did that? Who did the man in the straight jacket? Mr. Einstein. Did you do that? You’re the only one here who can draw. Did you draw the man? Tell me. Did you draw the man who wants a blue straightjacket?
Ty did it! a tall man with a caved-in face said pointing at Emile.
The rest of the men began to murmur and talk and discuss and it got louder and louder and she was losing control and in the confused ado, a small round man with a friar’s haircut and a robe and sandals approached Emile and took him by the hand, ecumenically. They left the room and no one noticed.
The small round man said, Fucking bitch control freak. Veronica. She thinks control equals control, he said. What’s really interesting is what I want to do. What I want to do. I want to take the Noah Ark and push all the animals in the ocean then I can sail. Solo. All by myself, because I’m here the same as you. Lonely. Lonely. Three thousand people in the world and all those people and I’m lonely. She asks me that all the time and she can’t understand because she wants control. That’s why I stay, so I can see the look on her face when she gets it. She’s the Viking tit queen of boners, and that’ll be sweet, be sweet, yeah. And you know. You know. If the people disappeared. The city with no one. No stories. Cause they’re all the same. Tedious stories of assholes. Did you see Deep Throat? Oh yeah, baby! I could drive that bus. Ring the bell and stop at my stop and they would never, never know. My choice, and go to City hall and, and… go to the movies, all alone. No crinkling the wrapper like Lloyd does with the fucking Funyuns every fucking time in Harold and fucking Maude. Seen it twelve times. Twelve times. Harold and Maude. Old bitch. A cliffhanger for the department store, store. Get two pair. Pumps and loafers. Loafer. Then Danvers for roast lunch beef loaf with, more horse radish, horse radish. It steams like that, and a grape Nehi. Just for me. What a tedious world…
The small round man stopped and cried and mashed his fists into his head. Then he seemed okay.
Do you know Ty? Emile said.
Connections are stories. Made up. Don’t get confused. Go talk to Doctor Grayson, he said pointing at a door. Dr Grayson. He’s in there. The big hall. Dr. Grayson. I need to go back. Get in trouble. Need to go back. The small round man scurried away.
Emile watched him go and then pushed open the door and entered the big hall. It was wide with big square concrete columns and irregular, notched walls, as if a child designed it to include hiding places.
Emile walked into the middle. Silent on the dull lime green carpet. The walls were lined with portraits of stately old men, distinguished gentlemen. He slowly made his way down deeper into this vast corridor, the size of which he now likened to an airport concourse hallway. The ceiling was low and he seemed to hear something echo off it. Liquid. Water? Apple juice?
He thought of the men in their group and the small round man and his idea of stories and connections and connections can be made at airports and the liquid streaming sound grew louder and it streamed and sounded like someone pouring water on the floor. He peered around a column, saw nothing. It became louder and he peered around another column and that’s when he saw him.
There stood a man in one of the nooks pissing on the wall. The pissing man shot a quick surveying look over his shoulder and then looked back down to his crotch and the sound stopped and then the man grunted and the streaming sound came back once more and then he shook his right hand and jiggled and zipped and spun around.
Emile darted behind the nearest column. He knelt and fiddled with his shoe. You can’t tie a loafer, he thought, and he looked up and the pissing man stood over him with a big smile.
Dr. Grayson? Emile said standing.
That’s right. He stuck out his hand and Emile shook it. What can I do for you? Grayson asked.
Yeah, right, uh huh… Um, I was told, by Miss Kitty, out front, there, at the desk, to see you about Ty. Ty Fournier, a patient here. Former patient, but…
Oh sure, Ty. How do you know ole Ty?
Well, I think we’re brothers, he said.
Brothers? Never mentioned anything to me about a brother.
Well, he did to me.
He told you, huh? You sure he was being truthful?
No. Yes. Look, do you know where he went?
No. Yes. I can’t tell you that.
Cause I say so. That’s why. I am a doctor. I am the doctor.
They looked at each other for a long moment. He thought that Grayson had probably had much practice with staring at someone and not speaking. Like at a crazy person. Emile hated it. Like he was that crazy person. Patient. He scratched the corner of his mouth. He knew instantly this showed weakness and Grayson cracked a slight smile, as if he won. I saw you peeing, Emile said.
Excuse me? Grayson snuffed. Peeing? Uri… What on earth are you talking about?
I saw you. Right over there. On the wall.
You most certainly did not. Peeing? Is this some kind of a joke… Are you… You can’t be here. I’m going to call….
You were peeing on the fucking wall, dude, and if you don’t admit it, then I will go and find someone and…
The doctor held up his palm as if to say, enough, okay, stop, that’s enough. Come, let’s take a walk, Grayson said warmly with a knowing grin. It’s a beautiful day. He stepped aside and held out his hand to show Emile the way.
They walked in professional psychiatric silence over the pea green carpet, which Grayson seemed to contemplate. They arrived at a security door. Grayson pushed on the bar that read ‘alarm’ and the alarm sounded and it bothered him not. Emile looked around and then walked out of the building followed by the doctor.
A nice garden. Benches and tress. Flower beds. A lily pond. They walked side-by-side on the gravel path for a short while. Pebbles. Fifty shades of brown. Grayson stopped and said, Look around. Realism is tyrannical. For Ty, realism is tyrannical. He needs to see past it. Past things. He can’t help but see past it. Whatever it is. Around it. Through it. See, what we have here, and Grayson dragged his arm through the air to indicate all of the world, what we have here is, we know what it is, but we really have no idea what it is. Or what it means. We’ve created this, whatever it is. And to Ty, this is a sphere of potential. Of performance. And since performance is inherently inclusive of an audience, there are expectations. And with expectation, there is power. For example. I am standing in the International House of Pancakes. In blue pants and white shirt. I wear a nametag and I walk to a table, smile and pull out a little notebook. What am I?
Waiter? Emile guessed.
Obviously. But Ty would say I was an offended and telepathic proctological avenger. It’s all in what the nametag doesn’t say, but hints at. Contexts. Other possible realties. Let me tell you a story. A story I saw with my own eyes, and heard with my own ears. We had an elderly man up on ward six, Ty’s ward. This elderly man was in grave shape. Near death, as near to death as I’ve seen, but he had no family, nowhere to go and wanted to die here. We can accommodate that. Now, Ty had been in ward six for a nine-month stint, and he liked to bake cookies in the little kitchenette up there. And this elderly man loved Ty’s cookies. So, one day, the man is in his bed, dying, miserable, waiting. Then, he smells cookies baking. Ty’s cookies. Life’s been restored. A last cookie before dying. He’s ecstatic. And he’s going act. A last gasp of agency. He falls out of his bed, breaks a hip. He crawls down the hall, snaps two fingers backwards. Rolls down the granite stairs, collapses a lung. Drags himself into the kitchenette, reaches up to the warm tin to take the last delicious bite of his life, and Ty whacks his hand with the spatula. Whap! Grayson slaps his hands. Why, Ty, why? the old man cries. Why did you do that? They’re for your funeral, Ty said.
Huh? said Emile.
Okay, this is how Ty lives, Grayson continued. For us, people like you and me, there exists a frighteningly narrow spectrum of contexts with which to navigate our daily lives. For Ty, the spectrum is robust. Hearty. Pregnant. Ever expansive. And as strong and as valid as any oak in the woods. But he can’t approximate which context is correct or assumed or most readily agreed upon. You and me? We know. Ty? He knows, believes, feels something else. For example, he knows exactly what to expect from a policeman or a prostitute. But what he can’t control are all the resonances that all the values inherent in a policeman or prostitute constitute. A vague delineation of potential can be best dealt with by Ty by being subsumed, in a completely metaphysical manner, if I may, by all the constituent resonances that strum and hum and vibrate with life that is not determined to be of his own interpretation.
Huh? Emile shifted his weight.
But make no mistake, Ty is a sick fuck. Because you know what? You want to know what I think? What I really feel? Deep down, in my most professional opinion as a doctor and a human being. And as a father of four?
What? Yeah. Tell me. What?
Doctor Grayson tilted his head a bit to his right and narrowed his eyes.
You sure you’re Ty’s brother?
Yes, I’m.. I think. I think so. Yes.
I don’t know. I’ve never met anyone like Ty, and this theory I have from working with him… I call it Ganser by Inverse Proxy… Gip. You know what? I don’t believe you. Let me se some ID. Come on… he said snapping his fingers.
You’re working for someone, aren’t you? Yep. I knew it. Jean Luc Michelle over at St Francis put you up to this, didn’t he? I knew it. That French fucking charlatan! Merde! Fucking frog terd! Grayson flinched his fists at his waist, hunched over and scrunched his face.
Jean Luc…? Whoa, Mr Grayson, I am not working… look, I have the letter Ty wrote me. Here… Emile pulled out the folded paper and shoved it at him. I’m not working for anyone, honest.
Grayson snatched the letter, took out his glasses and inspected it. He took Doctor Proctor’s stationary, he said inspecting the backside and then looking up to Emile. Didn’t choose mine. I see. Well, Ty is a fucking asshole, and I have zero pity for him. Shit! But know this, and know it good, my friend. I am going to make my name, my career and my fortune off him and his god damned horseshit condition! No pity for the carcerally fated! Grayson flung the letter up in the air and stalked off, disappearing back inside Shepard Hall.
Emile spotted Grayson where the pissing took place and increased his trot to keep up. Doctor Grayson, Doctor Grayson, please tell me what you think! I need to know! Ty really is my brother! Hold up, doc!
As Emile caught up, Grayson and he rounded a column and there stood, dour and solemn, a senescent cluster of Shepard Hall psychiatrists. Five of them. Sweet looking old men. Explosive dandruff. Hair-sprouting ears. Trousers hiked. The old guard. Tradition. Grayson stopped dead. Emile absorbed the waves of concern.
Doctor Grayson… the gang’s leader said, Well, Sam, if I may, the janitor alerted us to another, occurrence... He pointed to the wall to his left. There was a wet stain on it, the shape of an upside down ice cream cone, its bottom tip meeting the ceiling. We just want you, that, well, want you to know that we’re now in your corner. Had no idea what you were dealing with on this one. Looks pretty bad.
Looks bad? It is bad, blurted another. Smells bad, too.
The oldest of the men butted in with authority he only imagined, Well, hell, Sam, had we known what your were actually up against on this one, we would’ve.. well, I feel horrible. A crazed urinator… I mean, water, er, liquid damage is expensive. I sure don’t want to be the one who tells the claims agent, I tell you that.
Grayson smiled. Yes, sir. I just…
Another chimed in: So, Sam, we decided, that, well, to make it up to you because we didn’t believe you, on all this unprecented behavior…, well, we’re making available the funds you requested. The funds you need. I reread your proposal paper the other day and I found it plum outstanding. A bit neo for me and my colleagues, but potentially groundbreaking nonetheless. Gip! And, and, that’s not all. We want you to submit your paper in Albuquerque next month.
Correcto-mundo, Sam, said another. This is bad. Just plain bad. I was going to say it was shit, but that would be off the mark by one. Right fellas? Eh, fellas?
Oh, hush it, Floyd. Sam, listen to me. The obstacles you’ve faced in formulating and implementing your, unorthodox, prognosis have been, well, let me just say good…
Always had faith in you, said yet another. You’re an idea man to the core, and you will crack this baffling, well, hell, I don’t know what the hell to call it. Besides Gip! Had we, and I mean the royal we here, had we faced circumstances like this, in our day, Lord help us, we’d a cracked long, long ago….
They all shook Grayson’s hand and the proud but ashamed cluster of coots shuffled off murmuring about how the afflictions these days must come from the kids and their dope. Grayson watched them for a minute and then turned to Emile and said, I believe that speaks for itself.
Grayson sat behind his desk and sighed like a put-out genius. Look, at the end of the day, all we can really hope for is for someone to be there, right? No matter… what it takes. Look, even though I may have some side projects, I am serious about what I do and I cannot give you any hard factual information on Ty. Honestly, I wish I could, but we had a falling out, and… The best I can I do is this… Grayson opened a side drawer and rummaged and pulled out a Polaroid. He handed it to Emile and said, That’s him. That’s Ty. You do look alike, and I’m sorry I questioned you. I’m sorry. He’s out there, so, good luck. Good luck is all I can say…
But you never told me what you thought. Of Ty. Your professional opinion. Back out there in the garden.
You really want to know?
I really want to know, because the more you explained, the more you talked about him and the more I leaned about him, the more I saw myself in him. You know? It was nice. Nice to feel, you know, connected to someone. A family member I’m not sure I ever even knew I… I mean, I hate to gush, but I’ve always wanted a…
Grayson leaned back in his chair and blurted, He’s faking. He’s faking it all. Faker. Fay-kerr. Faker. What I call a buttfucker. Industry parlance for a…
Yes. A buttfucker. A true honest-to-god anti-person who intentionally fucks things in the butt to cause chaos, wreak havoc, instigate travesties. He is a butt fucker of unlimited potential. Dig it, I can find zero substantive evidence that his symptoms are real. Zero. Zee-row. And I’m smart. I know what I’m doing. You see me get those funds out there? In the hall? Huh? Ty, see, his insistence on his sad little stupid imaginative, fantasy, substitute and interchangeable worlds, what he calls The Rumbullion, is, just, so, so, so pseudo. It’s a sham. A scam. He’s a scam. A walking talking scam. Not even a scam artist. A scam artist is at least an artist. But not Ty. Just a scam. See? Look. Look, he claims he can write stories, create characters, give them dreams and then those dreams will affect… The little twerp fully believes that there is, is… zero distinction between reality and…! God! That little buttfucker! I hate him! Hate hate hate him! Biggest pile of garbage of a life I’ve ever… He’s a little buttfucker. That’s all there is to it. Grayson sprang forward in his chair, grabbed a file, opened it and pretended to get to work, frantically.
Emile stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do. Not knowing what just happened. He scratched his mouth. Scanned Grayson’s degrees and accolades on the wall. Looked at the cluttered desk. A framed family picture. Severe wife. Ugly kids. But how can you know? Emile said.
What? Know what? How can I know what? Grayson said looking up through crazed eyeballs.
That he’s faking. Or not. Couldn’t the faking be a disorder? Can’t that be his illness?
That’s the Inverse Proxy. The ip of the Gip! It’s right there in my file. He’s a buttfucker! Want to see it?
No. That’s okay. Emile walked out and stood in the hall. He considered taking a shit on the floor and asking for a Nobel, but he didn’t.
He looked down at the Polaroid. Ty looked back. He was grinning under his shaved head. Early twenties, standing atilt in his white cottony gown, arms falling out of the gown’s holes and he looked like a child’s drawing of a stick man in a mini-dress.
Emile imagined a physical resemblance but felt a psychogenic one and he remembered a phone call he overheard at his granny Gran Ma’am’s when he was small and on the wood floor in the big house doing what kids do in big houses and the phone on that round and head-high table in the hall at the foot of the stairs rang with its clanging high rattle and the nefarious black shoes of Gran Ma’am stomped to it like the hardware store was calling back with bad news. She took off an earring with such ease that Emile on the spot learned of clip-ons and then she hefted up the matte black receiver and spoke little. Her body stiffened and then sagged and then spasmed in places to look down at Emile with her old cold blue eye and then she must have thought better and turned her back fully and took the one step the cord allowed and murmured and all this while Emile looked up and listened and felt and believed life was full of secret calls and codes and adults who make and take them. Sustain them. Perpetuate them. And he now realized, standing in the hall outside Dr Grayson’s office, that that call was her first knowledge of Ty. And now his.
Lungsee sat on the bench with his legs crossed and leaned back like a kid trying to cheat off his classmate. The sun dotted the side of his face through the breaks in the leaves. Emile let the Polaroid fall to his lap and he looked around. Emile handed the Polaroid to Lungsee and said, What is life?
A losing proposition, answered Lungsee. He took the Polaroid.
What matters? What we do? What we think?
What we think we do... Lungsee wheezed in deep contemplation over the photo. Regard!
The likeness. The crossed eye.
I don’t have a crossed eye.
Lungsee pointed to the photo. See how that one is a bit crossed?
I don’t do that.
That picture in the newspaper says otherwise.
I was looking down her dress, man. Of course one is going to look...
Interesting. You insist to dwell on the trivial.
Know what this is? Lungsee waved the Polaroid between them. This is a snapshot of a person in trouble. Big T.
Big what? What are you…?
See it in his eyes. Jesus, you should have been on time, man. I hope it’s not too late.
What? Whoa. Hang on, man. Don’t, don’t, don’t make me feel guilty.
I can’t make you feel guilty.
You just did.
You feel guilty because you want to. Your choice. Lungsee re-crossed his legs and his canteen bounced and joggled and eventually found its new place, nestled under his pointy left breast. I’m thinking he’s down by the river.
Down by the river? Why? What’s down by the river?
Encampments. They got encampments down there. Little villages. Constables. Courts. Women of the night. Wagons.
Really? Wagons? You mean like gypsies?
That’s exactly what I mean. That’s where I’d go if were abandoned by Brother Abandoner.
Brother Abandoner? What… the fuck are you talking about, man?
Brother Abandoner. The mother nurturer of Destination Unknown. That’s you.
Bullshit. I know where I’m going. I don’t have a crossed eye. And he’s not a fucking gypsy, man.
Look at him! He’s in a nightgown, in a nuthouse where doctors pee on walls and get funded, man! He keeps say Gip!
Sam. Huh. I see… Lungsee muttered to himself. He sank into the bench and stared out at the world, as if some button had been pushed, some lever yanked by a teasing hand from another world. Well, I’m looking at him, and I see a gypsy abandonee.
He’s not a gypsy abandonee…
How do you know?
I just do, alright? I don’t, but I do, okay? Understand? Can you wrap your bulbous, bulging melon head around that? Some things are just clear, man, and this is one of them…
Clear? You say you do, you say you don’t. How can I understand that? No one can understand that. He either is a gypsy abandonee, or he is not. By definition, he has to one or the…
Okay! Fuck it, Lungsee! I don’t know!
Exactly. You don’t know. That is the point. Lungsee clasped his hands behind his head and exhaled as if from a good meal. He beamed up at the trees. Okay, so, just to be clear. This brother Ty of yours… he is, or is not, the queen of Nubia?
Oh, Jesus fucking Christ. You’re such an asshole, man. Who fucking cares if he’s a gypsy abandonee? Huh? I don’t. I mean, look, am I my brother’s keeper? Huh? Huh? I ask thee?
Thee? Thee? Geeth, I don’t knoweth, squireth, Lungsee lisped.
Give me that, said Emile as he snatched back the Polaroid. He looked at the picture and noticed a purple smudge mark on the white strip across the bottom. Man, you got a stain on it…
That’s your problem, right there, said Lungsee. Right there.
Right there! That’s your problem.
What?! You mean the stain?!
I mean the truth! Lungsee roared as he shot a fist into the air. The trees above emptied themselves of their birds and they formed a black snaky river and disappeared over the brownstones across the avenue. Emile threw up his hands and let them fall and slap on his lap. Even his limbs had had enough. Alright, let’s go downtown, check out those encampments, he said.
The traffic hummed. Some new birds picked up the slack and sang. The wind rattled the leaves. Lungsee pitched his head treeward as if he heard something. He spun on his ass, looked at a Cherry variety back by the nuthouse pond and then nodded to the tree. Some sort of agreement. Lungsee turned back to Emile. Fuck that shit. He’s not at the river, he said.
Emile looked at him. I need a drink. You got any more of that rum?
Emile got up and stretched and yawned. He looked across the side street and saw something. Hey, that’s my car. Fucking perfect!