Running the Whole Board

~~~~~~~~~~

For twenty years the fool's been coddled, pampered, protected, and then he meets Diana. She walks into the Rose garden. She drifts into memory. She wanders around inside the skull. Does she have blonde hair and blue eyes, or does she have brown eyes and black hair? Does she have freckled skin, pink skin, yellow skin, olive skin, brown skin, blue skin, black skin, white skin? Is she tall or short, skinny or fat, voluptuous or willowy, rich or poor, angelic or demonic? She's a Princess, a movie star, a high school drop-out, a waitress in a truck stop, a social worker, a nuclear physicist. Cheryl might drop in this afternoon, and the Fool is bewitched with desire. The Savior is bewildered with love.

He is tender, gentle, compassionate.

He is vicious, brutal, vindictive.

The Savior wants to purify Diana, but he still doesn't know how to martyr himself. Turning over in the rumpled bed, he leans over to the night table, checks the clock, and then quickly throws back the covers. She checks out of the motel and goes down to the coffee shop. She orders a coffee and a donut, takes out a pen and a sheet of paper, and writes a short letter. Then she tears up the letter. She orders a second cup of coffee, takes out another sheet of paper, and begins again. Should he get up now?

Time stopped last night at three in the morning. What day is it? On Sunday morning the Savior gets up at nine o'clock and brushes his teeth, but the Fool stays in bed.

The Savior takes Diana to church.

The Fool takes her to a country fair.

The Savior takes her to a cool mountain lake.

The Fool takes her to Coney Island.

The Savior reads her excerpts from the Upanishads, but it's time to get up, get something to eat, and then go outside and find something new. Diana is dead, and the telephone calls, the telegrams, the records, the tape recordings-they're all a waste of time. Conceived in luxury and raised in splendor, the Fool is rich in vices. Why allow them to waste away in indefinable stupor? His desire has given birth to indulgence, profanity, obscenity. He wants to possess, use, and corrupt Diana for pleasure, but she's no longer here.

Diana went away somewhere.

And the Fool never touched her.

He should have taken her away that last night. He should have locked her up in a cage. He should have tied her down on a golden bed and raped her and raped her until she gave in, and even Dr. Faust considers the desire a valid one. If there is no evil, how can evil be overthrown? The garden must be destroyed before it can be perfected. He must find Diana somewhere. She must be here in the garden, but where? Was she in one of those asylum rooms? It's time to get up, now.

Dr. Faust rolls out of bed.

The Fool pulls on a blue work shirt and Levis.

Dr. Faust leads the Fool into the bathroom.

Is she the Blue girl in the window?

The bathroom window is on the same level as the bedroom window of the house next door where the Blue girl, who always poses naked in front of the open, uncurtained window, smiles, waves, and then disappears. After the second letter is completed, she goes over to the cash register, hands the waitress a dollar bill, and receives $.74 in change. She walks outside. Her suitcase is heavy, and so she puts it down on the sidewalk. She looks at the clock in the insurance agency window: 12:06. The Fool rushes to the window, straining to see whether her pubic hair is really pink, but Dr. Faust restrains him. The garden is a labyrinth of strange colors, changing forms, twisting pathways, and the Fool almost falls into the bathtub. Dr. Faust pulls him away from the window, takes out a razor, lathers his beard, and shaves the Fool's idiotic face. And then he hears footsteps in the hallway. Is it Cheryl already?

"Who's there?" cries the Fool.

"Just me," says Harvey, coming into the bathroom. "You up already?"

The Savior nods his head very slowly.

"Had lunch yet?"

"I was just about to fry some eggs," Dr. Faust replies.

"I finished the eggs this morning," says Harvey, "but I'll fix you a grilled cheese if you feel like it.

The Fool shrugs his shoulders.

Harvey goes into the kitchen, but Diana breathes in some other world. There are no vehicles, no highways, no policemen of death. Telephone poles and billboards and stoplights exist somewhere else, somewhere far away from this green world of trees. The Fool wants to go there, and Dr. Faust sympathizes. There's a cave of bestiality at the very core of the garden, and it's not unlike this blue ghetto where everything, the buildings, the cars, the streets, even the people, are all enveloped in blue haze. Perhaps the Blue girl is there. And maybe Diana will come there. "Do you want American or Swiss?" Harvey yells from the kitchen.

The Fool slithers into the cave of the skull.

"American...all-American," shouts the Fool.

"Better make it Swiss, though," Dr. Faust amends.

Diana picks up the suitcase and begins to walk the five blocks to the bus station. It's a hot day, but the breeze curling off the river is comforting. When the trailer trucks rush past, they stir up hot gusts of air that swirl around her, and the full skirt rides up her legs. She stops, "Make up your mind, Paul," Harvey calls from the kitchen.

Gleefully, Dr. Faust locks the Fool inside the cave.

"Swiss," he says, walking into the kitchen.

It's happening again, and the Fool's furious with rage. He can't see the Blue girl from here. She's waiting for him to get the binoculars so that she can play games in front of the window. She wants him to grow an erection across the space between the two buildings, but Dr. Faust, pushing him away from the idea, picks up the grilled cheese sandwich. The tips of her small blue breasts sparkle like jewels in afternoon sunshine; the Fool groans in agony.

"Something wrong?" Harvey wonders.

"Nothing's wrong," Dr. Faust replies.

The Fool jumps out of his own skull.

"Did you say something?" Harvey sits down across the table.

"Nothing's wrong," Dr. Faust repeats.

The Fool races down the steps, runs outside, dashes madly across the lawn, tears open the door of the house next door, rushes up the steps, tip-toes into the bedroom, walks behind the Blue girl, positions himself, and then makes contact. Frightened, the girl drops the suitcase, and smoothes down the skirt. Then she looks around to see if anyone noticed. A thousand miles away, up to her waist in the water of a nameless lake, Cheryl looks around in the same fashion. A fatman ten yards behind her waddles to a slow stop, backs up suddenly, forcing the Fool inside. Lunging furiously, he pushes in further, and when she almost falls out of the window, he grabs her around the hips and pulls himself all the way inside. Dr. Faust cradles his head in his hands as they fall into space. And the weightless Fool, plunging in and out of the blue, imagines that he's bringing light to the world. There will be no more races. "Is something wrong, Paul?" There will be no more blues, reds, pinks, yellows, greens, purples...there will be no more exclusion...just a new race of fools, all the same color, the same height, the same weight. "What's the matter, Paul?" The Fool is given mash and water, a place to roost and a place to prey, and then he erupts like the Fourth of July, the Blue girl turns pink, he turns purple, and the two bodies spatter down on the cement walk like over-ripe tomatoes. Blood gurgles into the grass.

"Are you sick or something?"

"Just a slight head-ache," the Victim complains.

"Want an aspirin?" Harvey asks, pushing back from the table.

Dr. Faust drags the Fool back to the cave, but the Victim is desperate. "That's okay, Harvey...it'll go away, now...do you know what day it is?" All he wants to do is make enough money to marry Diana. A good paying job, a house out in the country, a backyard, three children, two cats, and a dog. "It's Saturday...are you sure you're all right? Maybe I ought to call the doctor again."

"No, Harvey...I'm fine," but there's no one watching them. Cheryl slides out of her bikini bottoms, motions the young boy closer, reaches down, slides his trunks down to his ankles, and then, guiding him into place, she wraps her legs around his waist and begins to gently rock. Diana turns around quickly, picks up the suitcase, and begins to walk faster, and when she reaches the next corner, "Should I call Cheryl?"

"I'm okay, Harvey...how long has it been, now."

"Since you got out?"

"Yeah."

"Three days."

"That's all? Just three days?"

All the Victim wants to do is marry Diana, but he can sense mysterious forces in conspiracy against him. "Look, Paul," Harvey is staring intently into his eyes. "I know it's none of my business, but you shouldn't stay in your room all the time." He falls out of bed and cracks three ribs; he stubs his big toe on a chair and rips off the toe nail; he slips on a bar of soap and cracks his skull open. "I mean, I know you feel funny about seeing people again, but Christ, man, we all break down sooner or later... you were just doing too much, that's all. There's no need to feel embarrassed about it."

"I don't feel embarrassed," the Fool mutters.

"Yeah, I know, Paul..."

"I'm just getting myself back together," the Savior says softly.

"Of course, Paul...I'm sorry."

"You don't have to pity me," Dr. Faust replies.

"I don't pity you, Paul...I'm just trying to help you."

The Victim nods his head, shoves back from the table, and stands up. All he wants to do is marry Diana, but now she's somewhere else. He asked her to marry him, and then she ran off with someone else. He waited for three days, and then he slit his wrists, but Harvey found Cheryl, in a moment of pure experimentation, lets go of the young boy's neck and allows her body to fall back underwater. Diana turns around, but Cheryl's face sinks underwater. The fatman is right behind her. She crosses the street; Cheryl wraps her legs tightly around the young boy's waist. And straining, grasping, gasping, him bleeding to death. An ambulance came, they saved his life, and then they put him in an asylum. Two weeks later Cheryl gets him out, brings him back here, and for the last three days, he's been dreaming of catastrophe. Someone is after him. The Fool cowers deep inside a corner of the skull, his eyes closed, his face pressed against the cool glass; but the Victim keeps his eyes wide open. He can see it coming. As soon he steps outside, a madman will shoot him with a shotgun. A policeman will beat him to death because he crossed the street against the light. He sits at the counter in a Howard Johnson's restaurant, and the waitress will poison him because he has long hair and a mustache. And when he tries to find a job, his application will be rejected because he refused to serve in the Army. And then, on a rainy April morning, he'll get a statement from the Bank informing him that his bank account is overdrawn. The Fool nurses his wounds in silence but the Victim gasps for breath.

He is losing Diana.

"Take it easy, Paul...sit down a minute," Harvey grabs his elbow.

"A little dizzy spell," the Victim apologizes.

"Is there any milk?" the Fool wonders.

"Just beer," says Harvey, opening the refrigerator. "Want some?"

"Yeah," says the Fool, reaching for the beer can.

He drags himself out of his corner, pops open the top, and takes a long drink, and immediately, the cool liquid clears away the confusion. The Victim suffocates, but the Fool is alive, above water, she pulls her body almost out of the water, grabs the young boy's hands, and then sinks back again, splashing back in the water, catching the rebound and pulling up into his arms, jerking into him and then falling back into the water until he picks up the rhythm so that it seems as if he's dunking her or baptizing her, up and down, splish, splash, almost there, and the old man is still following her. And then she notices the employment agency sign. She walks up three flights of stairs, opens the door, and walks up to the secretary's desk; but as soon as Cheryl begins to feel the first rush, the young boy, too nervous and too healthy, safe. Somewhere in a dark alley the Victim is smothered underneath the weight of garbage thrown out of windows, but in this particular place, the Fool is safe. Large and airy, clean and well-lighted, the cage protects him from rain, snow, and fire. "Do you feel like going out today?" Harvey wonders, clearing off the table. Why should he ever leave? Diana will be here soon.

"I don't think so."

"Do you think you'll go back to classes on Monday?"

"Maybe," the Fool replies, finishing the beer. "Did the mail come?"

"Yeah...there's a letter for you...I put it on your dresser."

"Thanks..."

"And there's a party at Lynda's place tonight...feel like going?"

"I don't know...maybe...who's going to be there?"

"The usual, I guess...Jon, Phyllis, Sonya, Nancy...they all want to see you again..."

"Yeah...I know..."

"They keep asking about you..."

"Is Leefurd still asleep?"

"No...he got up for a change and went to class."

"Is he coming home this afternoon?" the Fool wonders as Death creeps around outside the skull.

"You don't have to worry, Paul."

"What do you mean by that?" Dr. Faust wakes up suddenly.

The letter is on the dresser, but Death is meeting old friends excited by too much friction, explodes into sighs. She fills out all the forms, finds out about a cheap room in a cheap hotel just across the street, promises to return the next day, walks back down the three flights of stairs, and when she gets down to the street, she notices the fatman on the street corner, eyeing her. Cheryl is still not satisfied after a long absence. Is it from Diana? Another vision of Death. "You don't have to cover up anything," Harvey grins, taking out a cigarette. "Leefurd and I won't mess up a good thing...as a matter of fact. we're both thinking of having a breakdown...how did you ever manage it with Cheryl?" Inside the warm skull the Fool grins idiotically, but Death observes impassively.

"Manage what?" "Death wonders.

"You don't have to put me on."

Death is getting up in the morning.

"But what's the good thing, Harvey?"

Howling with laughter, the Fool sinks to the floor, his sides aching, his guts writhing with glee. The Savior is choking him to death, Dr. Faust tears at the Savior's fingers, the Victim is holding on to Dr. Faust, and Death falls on top on him. He stumbles forward, catches hold of a chair, and leans over until his head touches the table, and Death leaps on top of him like a black cat. He screams when Harvey's hand touches his shoulder, and wrenching free from the touch, he lunges up erect, fists clenched, eyes glazed, and mouth distorted with the Fool's grin. Harvey backs away, but the cat claws dig into the soft flesh of his back. He shakes it off, and Death crawls out of the room, slinks outside, and then seeps into the old corners of his life, surfacing in political theory class listening to Dr. Westra lecture on the Hobbesian Leviathan.

Diana sits just in front of him but the young boy is finished, he struggles to get away, and when Diana reaches the corner, the fatman walks over to the other side of the street. She follows him across the street, but Cheryl, locking her ankles behind him, won't let the young boy escape. The fatman walks inside the lobby of the cheap hotel, and Diana follows him inside. Suddenly, the young boy jerks away.

The Fool waves his hand madly for attention.

Death watches Diana.

The professor nods, and the Fool says: "But what's the good thing, Harvey?" The professor holds up his hands in mock surrender, the Fool lowers his hand, and Death leans forward. The Fool sinks back into his own skull, Harvey says: "I didn't mean it," and Death whispers something in Diana's ear. She turns around, and sometimes the Fool looks out through the meshed wire and wonders at the world, but her face is nothing but white bone. The flesh has rotted away, the eyes are empty sockets, and a greenish liquid trickles out of the corners of her mouth. The Fool begins to whimper, but Death kisses her on the lips. And then Harvey says: "I've got to go now...going out to the lake," and the Avenger smiles slightly.

"Want to take my car?" he wonders.

"That's okay, Paul...I'll borrow Jon's."

"No...take it, Harvey," the Avenger smiles again. "I won't be needing it for a while."

The Fool hands over the car keys.

"Thanks a lot, Paul"

"Sure...enjoy yourself."

Harvey backs out of the kitchen, walks down the hallway, and runs down the steps, and the Fool giggles when the front door slams. And then the Avenger rips the skull off the Fool's body, cradles it under his arm like a football, and runs down the hallway. He races down the steps, yanks the door to the hotel bar is open; when she peers into the gloom, she notices the fatman at the bar. Cheryl falls under water, but the young boy pulls up his trunks and swims away. The fat man sits down at the bar and orders a Budweiser. She walks up to the bar, orders a seven-up, and then sits down beside the fatman. Brushing the door open, and then stops suddenly. The daylight is blinding. He can see nothing but the head in his arms. He drops the knife on the floor, turns around, and goes back upstairs. The Fool leans against the wall in the hallway, the Savior wraps himself up in his own arms, Dr. Faust mumbles something about the Grand Millennium over and over again, the Victim gasps dry aching sobs, Death whispers his own name over and over again, but the Avenger listens to the soft voice. It comes from the garden. She must be in the garden. And the Blue girl. The letter is on the dresser, and Cheryl is supposed to come sometime this afternoon. He must reach the garden before she gets here. A thousand years is a long time. Must he burn his way into the garden, or must he begin in the garden and burn his way out? Is it rescue or escape? Absent-mindedly, he walks into the bedroom, picks up the letter, lies down on the bed, and looks at it. He's got to find an island. He's got to write to the seven churches. And then he's got to throw the beast into the pit. Obsessed with the idea of the Grand Millennium, the Avenger spends twelve years looking for a starting point, and then he finds the cave. Is the beast still in chains? It must be Diana. He's got to loosen the seals, open the letter, burn down the house, destroy the city. Burn and keep burning back the strands of hair that have fallen across her right eye, she waits until the waitress brings back the seven-up, and then she turns to the fatman and asks him if he would like to buy her a seven-up. Cheryl still can't find the bikini bottoms. She dives down again and again, but still no luck. The fatman tells the waitress to put it on his tab. And then Cheryl notices a small child playing with a piece of cloth at the edge of the beach. The fat man and Diana introduce each other, and keeping underwater, Cheryl swims slowly in toward the small child. Hours drift by in conversation with the fat man, and like a slow moving shark, Cheryl drifts up behind the small girl, reaches out, and grabs away the small piece of cloth. The fat man tells her that he lives in the hotel, and she's welcome to stay with him until she finds a place of her own.

The child screams.

 

published by Panache 
and winner of 1970 Experimental Fiction Prize