Things Abstract and Invisible

originally featured in the DFW Art & Words Show

Driving for one of the top car services in the city you see your share of celebrities. Normally I keep my cool, play the “they-take-a-shit-like-everybody-else” card, but sometimes I look in my backseat and I see a face and can’t help but react. It’s human nature; you walk through the world bombarded by someone’s image, their triumphs, their conquests, and then suddenly there they are in front of you breathing the same air and shorter than you expected.

This guy I recognized before the door was even closed.

“East 37th and Clarkson,” he said casually.

Now, most celebs’ll wear a dark hoodie because they’re trying to not be recognized, but on this guy it was a dead give-away, if you’ll pardon my pun. He kept his hood resting on the crown of his sidewalk colored skull, and absent-mindedly fumbled with the zipper using the fleshless fingers of his left hand.

I hated myself for asking, and even more for asking in such an obvious way, but it was the first thing that came to my mouth.

“Hey, ain’t you–”

“Yes,” he said. “But don’t worry; I’m not here for you.”

A joke! I was so relieved he wasn’t annoyed. I’d expected his voice to be all bass and violence, but he spoke with a pleasant intelligence, and a charm my pipes could never produce. Plus he’d made a joke, and a gesture like that from a guy like him toward a guy like me was a hell-of-a-lot friendlier than you expect. Maybe he was one of the good-ones; maybe he wanted to talk.

So we chatted the small chit – weather, weekend plans, that stuff – he participated in the conversation, but only gave it half his attention while his sockets stared out the window and he kept flicking his damn zipper. When he confessed to not really following sports, I found myself out of safe topics, but by now I was feeling comfortable and every question so far had gone over ok, so I decided to dare another: “Say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you without your…y’know…” I drew a line in the air straight up-and-down and a connecting one with a slight curve coming off the top.

“My scythe?” he said.

“Yeah, that.”

“I had to get rid of it.”

“How come?”

His fiddling with the zipper picked up pace, and he took a long breath before answering. As soon as he spoke I knew I’d fucked up and annoyed my passenger.

“Because when was the last time you saw somebody use a fucking scythe? Believe me, nobody fought harder than I did to keep them relevant, but you all moved on and left scythes to rot. So what am I to do now, get with the times and grab a fucking lawnmower? How would that look? I’m coming to harvest the souls of the living… just as soon as I un-flood the engine!”
I sat silently wishing the drive was over so I could start kicking myself. I knew too well how the rest of the ride would go: awkward silence until we reached his destination, then a rude tip and a complaint to management. So I was surprised when he spoke again.

“You’re all going to leave me too,” he said softly. “Each generation you make me wait a little longer. It’s only a matter of time before you figure out a way to keep me waiting indefinitely. Then you’ll learn how to keep the planet from boiling over, how to keep the sun from burning out, how to keep the universe from stretching itself thin.” I wondered how a mouth without lips could droop at the sides. “And then what happens to me? None of you care. Sure, you pretend, you pay respects, you wax-poetic about how meaningless life would be without me, but it’s all bullshit. You’re all counting the days until, what? I pay a visit on myself? Every book, every building, every relationship, every break-through, everything you’ve ever built you’ve built in an attempt to destroy me.”

Believe it or not, this little lecture of his actually made me feel better. Sure he was still annoyed, but now that annoyance had moved past me. It was a bigger annoyance at the “the’s” of the world, at the unknowns, at all the things abstract and invisible. I was putting the car in park when he spoke again.

“I’m just being negative.” His hand finally left his zipper alone.

“The one I’m taking here.” He thumbed at his destination.

“He’s only seven years old. These are the things I need to focus on. Try as you might, you’ve not buried me yet!” He paid the fare plus a good tip and climbed out of the car. I put it back in drive, but before I could pull away he leaned into my window. “I wonder why God allows such things.”

I didn’t know if he meant what was happening to the boy or to him. So I said, “I don’t know. I’ll ask if he’s ever in my car,” even though I still didn’t know what the question was.

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