Plugs

Esme only speaks once every ten years, on the first sunny day in October, usually in the middle of the morning when the light’s still gentle. At other times she’ll smile or shake her head or point or make a disapproving noise or even sing wordlessly, but only on those rare October mornings does she speak.

It’s traditional for the family to gather for these times, piling into the old house Esme shares with her daughter Julia and Julia’s girlfriend, Mish: all six of her children with their spouses or lovers, their children and dogs, sleeping in every available space in sleeping bags or on cots from the old hunting cabin. Mish makes Austrian pancakes in the mornings, and they have barbeques and softball games and they play canasta whenever it isn’t morning and sunny.

Most years a family or two is missing, but this time everyone is there, and even by-the-book Marshall has pulled his kids out of school, because Esme is dying. They all know it. This will be the last time.

It has rained for three mornings in a row, but today came up crisp and bright, and frost silvers the brilliant leaves on the maple outside the kitchen window. They make their way into Esme’s room early, bringing their plates of Austrian pancakes with confectioner’s sugar and preserves, their coffee and grapes and cranberry juice and scrambled eggs with paprika. When the room is full, more of the family settles down just outside, in the hallway.

Esme sleeps for a long time this morning, restlessly. When she finally opens her eyes and hush spreads across the room and out the door, she smiles so joyfully that the room seems to get brighter.

It’s Jackie she motions to, her youngest grandbaby, only eight years old. Jackie squeezes through to Esme’s bed and climbs up to lie down next to grandmama.

When Esme speaks, her voice is so soft and cracked, no one can make out the words except for Jackie.

Esme says: “You always ask me why, but it’s just that nobody used to listen. You see?”

And Jackie nods seriously. She does see.

The buildings, people, trash cans, everything, collapsing like the Twin Towers had, only instead of clouds of smoke and debris, these transformed into architectural outlines on pavement that became a smooth hard flat surface. Arnold was unchanged, but everything else had become diagrammatic, somehow embedded in the surface of the plane. Crap! He was in that dream again.

He looked down. He stood on a long row of squares about 6 feet on a side, a wide black ribbon to his left and on his right large rectangles and other polyhedra. Inside each were smaller rectangles (desks), brackets of various sizes that must be chairs and couches, and colorful moving ovoids. He stepped over the wall of the nearest building and approached one. It backed away, or at least he presumed that the surface facing him, fraught with invaginations and small protrusions, was the front. He backed it into a corner, then cautiously reached down and touched its middle. It rippled violently and darted past him, spun around a few times in the center of the room, and came to rest in the doorway. Arnold looked at his fingertip, where a damp red spot was drying.

*

Arnold glided through the doorway. He could see Saunders and The Chief in front of the conference table. Suddenly, their shapes ballooned and wavered like threads in a fast wind. Saunders had split into two… and so had The Chief. One of the two Saunders’s disappeared and reappeared so close to Arnold he could smell shoe polish. Arnold shied away in alarm and slammed into the coat rack. F*ck! That dream again!
The chief disappeared: first one chief and then the other one. Saunders did the same a moment later. Arnold’s pants were wet.

*

Arnold inhaled her scent, caressed the delicious mound of Charlene’s belly as she slept. He pressed down slightly. His hand blurred, sank in; her skin closed around his wrist, a tight ring of flesh that rolled warmly up his arm as his hand passed through her muscles, her womb, their son’s tiny skull… his arm snapped back into focus.

Arnold convulsed backwards out of bed, across the tiny bedroom, and through the shattering window, but he could clearly see:

Charlene jerking up off the bed,

her red fountain,

the scream distorting her face.

He plunging toward the street,

naked, his red

and dripping hand.

In 1905, a retired Civil War veteran named Samuel Dinsmoor began to build a sculpture garden out of concrete in Lucas, Kansas. Incorporating both religious and political motifs, his labors continued until his death in 1933, at which point his body was prepared and placed inside of a glass-sided coffin within a limestone mausoleum on the garden grounds. Today, thousands of tourists visit the gardens each year, ending their trip with a viewing of it’s creator’s corpse, which even 74 years after death, remains remarkably well preserved. It was this preservation that first drew my suspicions.

Few locals visit the garden, and even fewer tourists return more than once to view the monochrome spectacle. This accounts for why few have noticed that construction within the sculpture garden continues. New pieces representing Lot and his wife have appeared in the northwest corner within the last year, fashioned in Dinsmoor’s characteristically crude style. The non-profit group responsible for the upkeep of the site claims they are the product of local pranksters, but if that were so, would they not remove them? They have thus far refused to answer any further questions on the matter, and I suspect they have blocked my email address, as so many do when my lines of query draw close to the truth!

Twice, I snuck within Dinsmoor’s crypt to take samples only to find his body missing. And I have heard the rumble of a cement mixer outside, somewhere among the statues, but always the sound vanishes if I approach.

The third and final time I attempted to sneak within the garden, I climbed over a fence at the perimeter. Arriving within, I felt a fear that I could not explain. I glanced up and saw the silhouette of a thin figure standing among the statues built atop a concrete tree, a figure that had not been there in the day. It was as motionless as the sculptures, but I could feel it watching me. I departed with haste, and I have never returned, not even in the day. When I pass the gardens occasionally on business, the statues seem to gaze out at me in hostility. I leave the gardens’ mystery for some other researcher to uncover.

All the hollow men were walking, walking up the gently sloping grassy spire.  We followed them, the hollow men, climbing, climbing higher up the wildflower slopes, but they saw not the purple poppy and deep blue cornflower, knee-high grasses stirring in the breeze.  We observed, we knew, we were aware.

At the top the spire ended in a cliff, and there the hollow men would topple, legs scissoring the air as if they still moved up.  They hit with various resonant clangs like struck bells.  We stopped, patting ourselves on the back for averting the danger.  But then, weeks or months passed, the same men returned, climbing, climbing.  Again they fell and hit with the clangs of a clock striking midnight.  Half of us–the bravest and the strong–volunteered to follow, for we the aware should learn more in the fall than these fools.  The strong and the brave landed with a shower, a choir of tiny bells.

A year later one volunteer returned–perhaps the least insightful of the lot we sent forth–his form mangled almost beyond recognition.  The others, he said, shattered while he alone remained.  We, he suggested, were also hollow, just of different stuffing and stuff.

This we could not swallow:  We were the aware, we the observant, we the knowing.

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