High in the Middle of the Air
Douglas Cole

Lance went down through the static, through the gullies choked with Scotchbroom. He was trying to quit smoking, but all he could think of was death in its various forms, like the news crowding his head of a man who was paralyzed and left to die in his apartment, the windows sealed with blankets, the phone pulled out of the wall. Another was burned to death, a victim of a series of arson fires, another was shot, another withered away under the pall of cancer, and another with Alzheimer's was left wandering in a race track parking lot until he stepped before a moving bus. Death and evil messages moved behind the curtain of every window.

He looked through the lenses of his glasses, then adjusted them over his eyes. He went down toward Lake City Way, toward the real unreal three dimensional doors and windows that were painted on the Medieval Storage building. Through the tress he saw a house and a man in the yard leaning over a black car engine that was propped up on a wooden bench. Tools lay scattered in the dirt. An old man was talking to an Indian boy and drawing a map in the dirt. A beautiful woman came out of the center of the street carrying a potted rose. The sky was full of pearl grey, corpus callosum clouds drifting across a filigree of fir trees. A thin fog lay along the hillside. The sun was low in the south. The short days are here. Black pools of water shimmered in the street and the reflection of his face looking down looked up at him.

He was trying to quit magic, or at least magical thought, the kind of thought that would not let him rise at 6:17, only at 6:18 when the first number was divisible into the second. This would be himself, moving, this would mark his day, cutting like a dividing number through the gambits of chance and fate. Fate? A prime number is a kind of fate. And he would encounter those numbers in groups of people, the number of seconds it took a clerk to hand him a newspaper, the number of deaths on the funeral page.

In another world at another time, he was a child, and he had a knife. He was not supposed to have it, so he took it out into the woods and buried it. But it was not gone. He knew it was there, and from time to time he touched it with his thoughts. And he wondered, now, aren't all sacrifices this way?

A light rain began to fall. He took off his glasses and put them into his pocket. The world shuddered into different softer forms and colors. Two lines, he wondered, beholding the stacks of Redwood boards in the hardware store parking lot, how can two lines be parallel? He knew that, mathematically speaking, the definition of parallel included the fact that two lines remain equally distant, a constant, an absolute. But it seemed too permanent, too Platonic, too much of a pure form to be rendered into real space, let alone created by human hands.

Two lines would have to be, mathematically, absolutely constant, that was the problem. Finite lines could appear to be parallel, but to prove it, they would have to be extended infinitely. They would have to be infinite for the definition to remain true. Only then could they be shone to be truly parallel. But if in hanging two pictures he tried to align them so that they were 'parallel', (even with the most precise instruments) why did his doubt tell him that the lines of their frames if extended far enough would eventually cross? Human beings cannot form parallel lines. They can only form intersections and points.

What is the point? The rain was coming down in a crackle of voices. He looked up and saw a crow standing on the limb of a Fir tree. For a moment, their visions met. The crow had black wings with two white stripes across them. But their eyes remained locked. Somehow, it was a mathematical problem, a paradox even, wrapped closely in the concept that the distance between a ball and a wall can be perpetually halved, and therefore the ball would never reach the wall at all. Now if a ball thrown at a wall can be said never to reach that wall, then perhaps it was equally impossible for two people to ever really meet. But then again, the constant that mathematically dictates that the ball shall never reach the wall may also be the infinite medium in which two lines may run parallel forever. And in that crow's eye he saw it, hovering around a point of light, a circle of dark passage on the left of infancy becoming the rocky tunnel from which the soul sails at the end of its time in Thomas Cole's "Voyage of Life."

Cars swept by him. He walked past the auto shop, the dirty stones in the driveway glistening in the colors whirling through the grease in the water. Walking had formed his thought and brought him around himself, never reaching the wall. Yet he managed to feel that he was ahead of the wave that propelled events around him. He had two children, though he had not known them as children. They were adults with lives and minds of their own that crossed and recrossed his life in seasonal patterns. They did not insinuate themselves too directly into his life, nor did he into theirs. Perhaps it was a loss. At least from some perspective it could be perceived that way. But he loved them, as much as he sometimes felt that the present could envelope him, as the labyrinth of his own thoughts revolved, so that places and people seemed far away but were really close, as if a mile were a century or a dream. How could he make two things parallel meet if they didn't really exist at all?

While crossing the street, he stopped moving and heard the river. He stood on the round manhole cover, and he could hear the river. Around the cover was a concrete circle. It was meant to slow down traffic, but he saw that it was really a pedestal, a temple for the sound of the river. And he knew that he had to be walking, not driving, to enter the temple and hear the sermon of the river. Revelations come this way, he thought, with the sacrifice of a machine or a tool and in a sacred place. How many sacred places are masked by a human structure, the mind, the senses? He heard the tin song of an ice cream van.

The bank on 30th street was weaving its spell, the malevolent red key, as he crossed over to the gravel lot in front of the Pentecostal church. The warble of tongues came snake like through the glass doors. Against the sky, a red neon cross burned over the peak of the building. An couple emerged, bickering, from a van as he walked along the low slung chain in the front of the used car lot. A young man pulled up in a car and stopped. He got out of the car and stood on the curb with his hands on his waist, looking at the car. As Lance came nearer, the young man turned to him and said, "How much would you pay for this car?"

Lance stopped and looked at it. It was a white Maverick with light blue stripes down the sides. It was old with rust showing through the paint around the fenders, and the back bumper was dented so that the hatch did not close completely. "Knowing what I know about Mavericks," he said, "five hundred bucks."

"Really? The guy selling it isn't asking that much."

"How does it run?"

"Fine, I guess," he said, sounding almost surprised.

"How much does he want?"

"Three ninety nine."

"Take it," said Lance. The young man turned, and the serpent tattoo on his arm coiled back to strike. The young man smiled coolly, "Thanks," he said.

Five strides on, a man in an electric wheelchair passed appeared, the electric motor whining at a high pitch as his head lolled forward. The man did not look up, and Lance stood and watched him as he passed, watched him glide in his machine over the sidewalk squares. He became aware of his own motion, then, his limbs swinging forward and back, his lungs swelling, his heart pulsing.

He crossed the street at 125th and Lake City Way. And as he walked down the main street, strange aluminum wings rose up out of a huge rock on the meridian, the art of the community, a symbol. And then everything seemed to speed up as he was passing the barber pole and barber shop chairs, the shoe repair, the dance studio, the bar, the fabric store, the thrift shop, another bar. The wind blows us and we think, I will go here, I will go there. He came to the intersection. It was considered a bad place for accidents, a good place or 'hot spot' to the personal injury lawyers. Because lawyers know the law and operate by the law and siphon wealth away from individuals and insurance companies through the law, they fall under the category of economic decomposers.

Trace elements, seeds of motion hovered in the air. Ghosts that left visual and verbal shadows that were not picked up by the senses but by the mind moved around him as he crossed beneath the municipal arch facing east. A woman sat on the wall by the post office, a radio in her lap, and a small boy climbed through the ivy. They were playing a private game, singing along with the music. When the boy looked up, Lance saw his white, agate eyes. Parallel.

The cool white walls of the post office advertised nothing but the outlaws. Lance put some coins into the stamp machine. Three stamps slid out through the slot, and he separated them each from their perforated attachments. He took the letters from his coat pocket and licked the backs of the stamps and fixed them to the corners of his letters. Then he dropped the letters into the mail box, a painted eagle soaring on the side

He wanted a smoke right about now. He recrossed Lake City Way. On the hillside to the west was a line of Poplar trees full of the last light. He thought of smoke, but he was past the critical third day, and he felt that he had accomplished something. Now, if he smoked, he would feel defeated. Strange, he thought, how his ability to quit smoking was supported by a desire to win. He was already in the process of cleansing. He had sweated it out for the first three days, smelling it flushing through his skin. Now they were on equal footing, and it was only a matter of wills.

He went east up 125th and over the crest of the hill and then down into the grove of trees as the rain stopped. Light returned, and he could make out the peaks of the Cascades under the huge dome clouds rippling overhead in a strong wind. The lake blazed below, and the sound of the cars faded away. The ground rippled. The field of salal flowed, and he moved forward through the currents. How could he communicate this? He had tried through invention, painting, sculpture, had participated, had in fact several patents for easels and desks which the university had bought from him. He had even woven himself into the city through design work on several buildings: the geometry of windows. And yet his own son had as a child told his friends that his father was dead.

Another movement caught his attention. He looked down the street and saw a black dog running toward him with its jaws wide, growling, tongue white with saliva. Lance slowed his pace. The dog was approaching fast, all limbs firing. Lance had a brief flash of thought, run, into a gully on his right next to a stand of Alder trees. Run? He clenched his fists, prepared, then sent out a jolt. The dog reigned up before him, stopping a few feet away from him. Then it snorted, sniffed the air around Lance's fists, and circled back as Lance continued walking.

The wind took up residence in one lone Maple tree, and he looked up through its branches as the rain began to fall again in symphonic patterns on the leaves, layer upon layer of light and shadow. The fir trees bowed to the north. Thomas Cole's circle: exit is entry, the darkness of life before birth is the darkness of death. And the fear is the same thing. Although that wasn't it, either. How could he communicate it?

He gazed a long time down at the lake, ancient, sad lake full of voices. And here he had made an offering years ago. It was a small, hidden ceremony. An offering of the golden pipe, a pledge perhaps, one with a specific desire which was the opposite of the desire, for as long as it appeared to have no effect (which up to this point it had not), the world did not operate by magic, was not a malleable dream, and incantations and possessions and souls were simply myths. But silence was also a response. The story was real. The stillness of the ground, the denial of the contract, that was the answer, that was the whirlwind. How could he communicate that? Once spoken, it would not be true. It would be another dream all together.

Walking down the switch-back road, he passed through a band of shadows and crossed under the furious gestures of a three limb tree. A quality of dream guides us, he thought, and I have looked into people and have seen exactly what they were, their whole lives unfolding. Just so, he passed a house that had burned a few years before, and now in its place was a new home. He saw the flickering in the columns of smoke that flew up from the rooftop. Half of the house was in flames. One wall was stripped to its beams, wavering like a red wing. Several people stood among the trees and on the road, watching. Someone was crying. He heard the voice of the fire, saw the hands rising up along the shingles. He heard the siren.

He heard a high, sharp ping, then a second ping. He saw a small white dot coming down toward him, and he lifted his hand slowly as the ball fell gently onto his palm. He looked down and found a Maxfli tour LTD. MD #3 golf ball in his hand. He looked up. A man stood at the top of the hill, waving a golf club. Lance laughed, holding the golf ball up for the other to see, then he put it in his pocket and continued on his way.

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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