Short Stories Written By An Epileptic On The Bus

Most found in an old notebook, c. early ‘80’s, and many indeed written on the bus heading, generally, to and from work. The others are small pieces, various and ill-hewn, found on scattered pages, bits of this and scraps of that. Generally late 70’s through the mid 80’s, it seems. None were titled, so those were added for this. In any case, if you’re hip to epileptics at all you’ll recognize some of the classic subject matter: a lot of God (and I’m a life long atheist!), the meaning of the universe, the void, vast spans of time…. The brevity of each piece is just the fact the seizure—a simple partial seizure, to be specific, i.e. no loss of consciousness—had ended and with it the inspiration for the story and even the urge to write. I added the titles putting together this collection. There were others, but I’ve gone and made some of them separate posts. And of course who knows how many were lost.

 

Petit Mal

Standing there, alone, in the middle of the living room, John suddenly felt dizzy, queasy.  Everything seemed to be moving—a sickening spinning sensation—like it had all been jarred loose from its foundations and was rolling about…

[This was no doubt written while actually having a seizure. I used to attempt to describe them (all but the grand mals, obviously) and they happened.]

 

Little Richard is God

There was the time he thought Little Richard was God.  Don’t laugh—I know it sounds silly, but to him it was perfectly logical—or perfectly natural anyway, to assume that Little Richard was God.  Who else seemed so inhuman—or un-, or non-human?  So distinctly other than human.  Sure, they said that Paganini was in league with the Devil—but that’s different.  To be in league with El Diablo, that is bad.  But it is not like being God.  Paganini—a real weirdo all tall and thin and decked in black and playing like, well, the devil.  It was inhuman, so fast and fierce and flawless.  But still, that was only being in league with the devil.  Faust did that too—and anyway, Europeans were all superstitious and mystical and steeped in that hate/love relationship with the Devil.  So Paganini was great, no doubt, and he might have been in league with the Devil—who knows—but he was not God.  He did not think that anyone would have made that claim.  Paganini, friend of the Devil, could not have been God.  It was simply impossible.

Why?

Because Little Richard is God.

And that is what he would tell people who asked him if he was an atheist, or an agnostic.  They would ask him that because he never seemed very religious, in the way people expect you to be religious—Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or fire worshipper or whatever.  Rituals, prayer, cowering, all that stuff.  He wasn’t into that, and never was, never talked about it, and whenever people got around to the subject—which they always do, on Good Friday and Easter, or when someone dies—they would ask him what church he went to and he’d say he didn’t and they’d ask him if he were an atheist or agnostic and he would answer uh uh, he believed in God.  Then they would ask him if it was the same God as everyone else’s and he’d say I don’t think so—Little Richard is God.

Sometimes they would laugh, sometimes just stare.  Often they did both, in that order, when they realized he was not joking.  He thought it kind of strange, the way they would walk away, whispering to themselves.

God.  Little Richard.  What was the difference?  And what was the big deal?  I mean really….

 

Jesus on the Bus

He wondered at the powers of Jesus and the weaknesses of humankind.  How can a voice, a stare, a presence transform the murderous mob into a passive herd.  After all, Christ was not a physically impressive man, not exceedingly large or fantastically strong.  Nor was he wealthy, or at least raised in the good part of town.  And his looks—the Book never described him as handsome, or smartly attired.  And neither, thought our man, was he.  So what power Christ had was something undefinable, a kind of pull, a presence.  Jesus simply saw the pitiable state of men about him, and told them so.  So this fellow too looked about himself and saw the pathetic state of the race—vicious, pushing and shoving, never happy in the unending struggle to get ahead, to push their way to the front.  Perhaps he too had power, that Christ-like presence to persuade people, to move them, to turn this beastly pack into passive, loving sheep.  Perhaps he too was chosen.  And up he went, rising majestically from his seat, calling everyone’s attention to himself with great sweeping motions of his arms, calling out to his children to cease their endless fighting and pushing and shoving, and would you believe they stopped?  They looked at him, frozen mid-scuffle and turned to him, looking, listening.  He felt the power now, felt it welling up and flowing into his gestating arms and inspired tongue.  He was making his presence felt, making a scene, in fact such a scene that we finally had to throw him off the bus.  I mean, a nut is a nut.

 

 7th and Hope

There was an old lady who stood every waking day at the corner of 7th and Hope, shrieking and yelling and howling the Word at the rest of us.  She wore placards and carried signs proclaiming Jesus is coming, or that we must repent, or to help her get her children back from whatever conspiratorial forces took them—little snippets of a life of tragedy.  He felt pity for her—an automatic pity, one he never thought about, as one always pities street people.  But he was down there a lot, and he took to watching her rather than avoiding her as did most of the people.  Sad so sad he would say—but doubt arose.  For one thing—she did not look sad—she was not trying to evoke pity.  He just automatically granted it to her.  But she was yelling, screaming, stomping her feet, waving her big Repent sign up and down—nothing sad about it.  In fact—she seemed to be having a hell of a good time.

 

First Communication

She walked toward the door.  A moment’s hesitation, whether to knock or first call out his name.  Aw hell, she thought, let him make the first move.  The first communication.  He started it.  The bastard.  The last word rolled harshly cross her mind.  She reached down and turned the knob, slowly, quietly.  Now.  She flung the door open, and it bounced off the jam with a crash.

Startled, he spun around.  He’d been staring out the window watching the rain play on the leaves, thinking mean thoughts.  The drops plashed against the pane and rolled, herky jerky, to the sill.  Something was amiss.  She stood there, hands on her hips, trying to look fierce.  Her lips quivered.  He bounded across the room, swept her up and smothered her with kisses.  She tried to speak, but the words were jumbled and unintelligible.  They did not matter now.  Hands clasped bodies clinging tightly, they laughed at the same time.

 

1919

The train shuddered to a stop, belching steam and ash.  Sigmund woke.  Cinders fluttered in through the broken window, lighting on his seat, his hat, his baggage.  Sleepily, he brushed them away.  He gazed outside.  The view was of grey, of a spectrum of grey:  dark grey earth below faded grey sky and the greyish human forms wandering between, fading away.

Melancholia overcame him, radiating subtly outward from the guts till, still seated in the battered and emptying car, every movement of his was a struggle against insuperable difficulties.  To simply rise from his seat would use up the strength of ten men, as if gravity was increased a hundred fold.  To imagine family and friends, the rejoining of contacts long ago sundered was beyond the endurance of he, mere mortal that he was.  And the future, to plan the future was not even conceivable.  So he sat.

The car was empty, save one.  He looked again at its interior, his home these past three days.  The wood was shattered and fading.  The seats that remained had lost their stuffing long before.  But the vandals had been selective, or vain, and along one wall stood a mirror unscathed, and in it Sigmund observed the remaining passenger.

His greyness surprised him.  It was a shroud, a delicate layer of soot that had covered his every surface as the car had been pulled along through the locomotive exhaust the length of the country.  It accentuated the feldgrau of his jacket and trousers, the premature grey in his hair, and the pallid, sunless and powder-streaked skin.  Shadows filled the hollows round the eyes, color indeterminate, black underlined his fingernails.  The ill-fitting cap atop his head was the inevitable grey.  Everything was grey.  That most mediocre of shades, the most emotionless of colors.  How grey hints at the end, but without the finality of black.  An interesting notion slipped into his mind—just how could Germany have expected to win such a war when it chose grey as a national color?  He looked into the mirror again.  How could Germany have expected to win a war with men like me?  He looked away.  Torpor returned.  The fact that he had once not looked like that never occurred to him.

He was left alone in the car for a long time.

 

 Dreams

There were dreams.  Extraordinarily vivid dreams, too, that shook him deeply and warmed him all over, and he groaned and moaned and rocked his head back and forth—“No!”

“Mom?”

“OK…”

There were dreams, too, but he couldn’t tell you about them.  Deep, too deep they spun their yarns and were forgotten.  The blackness stood complete, and a headache came slowly as he breather in his own bad air.

He woke once, thinking of bears.  Sleeping bears, warm, drowsy, sharing.  Fat and full of food.  The notion rolled him over and sent him back to sleep.  More dreams, more unrecorded images[…]

The blast lifted him and hurled him against the wall.  The blackness vanished.  Light rushed in.  Dirt showered down like rain.  He curled up fetally, covering his face in his hands.  The hot blasted air dissipated and the cold rushed in, chilling him, bringing goosebumps and chills.

 

Birth

I was a long and powerful birth, and brought my bearer close to death.  She told me, when she first went in, the trees along the roads were green.  But later, lighter, she and me were wheeled home under leaves aflame that the wind would carry, like embers.  Or that’s what she chose to remember.

 

Horizonless and Terrifying.

Empty.  Not the faintest illumination appeared in his mind.  He had no ideas.  No images.  He feared that an EEG, taken just then, would reveal nothing but page after page of straight, parallel lines.

Then there was a flash, tiny at first, but growing, like a match lit in slow motion, and in its blue light he saw this, far back:

a boy, tiny, fragile—of clean skin and fine hair, a boy and his worls which stretched about him horizonless and terrifying.

And there was his father—God, distantly knowing all, a friend of his mother, who was more than God.

His mother was beautiful; no, she was Beauty, and he clung to her, she was the World:  the warm pat of her hand and her sharp scoldings were Heaven and Hell, with he in between.  And as the flame grew into white heat he saw her, felt her, needed her as only a little boy could, and it pained him to be there again—all since poisoned and dirtied with growing up and life.  He squinted, squirmed, clutched his belly with his hands—but it cooled and the memory faded, darkened as the years flooded back into his memory, extinguishing the flame and the fine little boy under time’s sands.

 

Power and Mass in Motion

 (Note:  conceptual type—he tended to make very broad generalizations about people that often irritated people because of their simplicity and one-sidedness.)

So, he decided it was time to start looking at things.  Really looking—staring even, polite or not.  Anyway, he figured, most of the things he was going to be staring at wouldn’t really care anyway, and if the people who saw him staring thought him weird, well…he was weird.  It’s a free country….

So the next morning, after rush hour, he hopped a bus downSanta Monica Blvd.and went down to the beach.  It was early, and low foggy clouds hung about, obscuring the more distant trees and homes, casting grey.

The beach surprised him.  It was his first time, and his impressions heretofore had been of seascapes—frozen instants, splashing and foaming white.  Or of novels, and lonely walks on the sand, by dawn or by dusk, spindly legged birds dashing from the spray.  A trail of footprints that follow the solitary windbreakered figure into the gloom.  Squealing gulls, and the muffled blasts of a foghorn.

But that wasn’t it at all.  Those things were present, to be sure, but were so insignificant next to the oceanic vastness.  It was positively, ah…he could not find a word to represent just how big the sea was—just how much water was there.  He looked out, and it went on and on right over the horizon.  And it kept going from there, he felt sure.  Surging, eating at the contours of continents, washing over dead ones, dashing against reefs, melting ice shelfs, and sucking down the occasional flimsy little boat.  All its power and mass in motion.  None of Winslow Homer’s paintings, nor the accounts of self-pitying lovers had ever hinted at the power of its motion.

 

That’s all that’s left.

 At times he was awash in history, and not even his own, or his country’s, or that of his race or civilization.  He had a terrible need to touch things, to talk to them, to gaze at them from different angles, in different shades of light.  And when he realized that people had lived before, long before, had been born and lived and died, it bothered him.  For he would never meet them.  Not a chance.  They were the past, the dead past.  (He scoffed at time machines and other such fanciful notions—he thought them childish.)  You see, as long as people were alive, there was a chance he’d get to meet them.  Mostly a negligible chance, true, but nonetheless a possibility.  And as long as these people were alive and did things, he might be able to watch and/or participate in their goings on.  But history—it was gone; there was no way he could ever participate in it.  It hurt to think so.  So we read the eyewitness accounts, or interpretations of, or just go and stare at the ruins—the shiny white skeletons that outline what a person was.  Connect the dots.  That’s all that’s left.

 

Oversoaking

The farm sat high on one of the hills, soaking in the sun’s warm bright light.  Perhaps oversoaking, for the land was getting a bit dusty—here and there, on bare ground, a fine layer of dust accumulated.  But not for long, it would rain soon.  It always had.  You could tell that from the rows and rows of ripening corn, from the sturdy foundations and well kept appearance of the house.

 

Spring

 It seemed like spring would take forever to arrive.

The snow hugged the ground like no snow had ever hugged it before, hung on so tight that it smothered the soil and squeezed the life from the trees, and all you could see poking through the endless white were their bark-clad skeletons that threw weak shadows behind them and creaked in the icy wind.

 

Neon

“Hungry?”

A neon sign flashed bright red in the night.

“Hungry?” it flashed again, to no one in particular.

Jeremy was cruising along the highway, and coming round the bend the red flashing sign caught his attention.  “Hungry?” it asked again.

“Hungry?”  Jeremy watched the sign flash.  His mouth, unconsciously, began to water, just a little.  “Hungry?”  Jeremy pulled closer.  The sign flashed and flashed.  Its light stood out alone in the gloomy nighttime countryside.  He pulled over, suddenly hungry.  He hadn’t realize how hungry.  How little to eat he’s had that day.  The sign flashed again.  Yeah—some dinner would hit just right right now.

The driveway was short but od dirt and very potholed; the beams from his headlights hannced crazily as he pulled in.  A little restaurant squatted at the end of the driveway.  It was brightly lit but concealed from the road by a clump of trees.

 

A Soggy Mat of Dead Needles

 The highway wrapped up and around the hill, glistening after the light rain.  It was still overcast and dark, but the cloud cover was breaking up and in places bright blue poked through.  It was going to be a beautiful day once this cleared up; warm too.  No more of these cold rainy days.

Alongside the road the trees hung drearily, leaves sagging with the rain, even the pines.  Needles on the ground would be all soggy and clinging; the trees themselves sagging damp and ugly.  Sometimes the rain can make a forest just that much more beautiful, like right after a summer shower, when the drops on the needles sparkle in the sunlight.  But not like this, not after days and days of rain and dampness and fog; just sit indoors all the time, bored and getting on each other’s nerves, or else wander outside to get your feet wet trampling through the soggy mat of dead needles, and the wind going right through you.

Of course, it was snug in the car—as far as cars go—nice and warm as long as the heater blasted.  But it was cramped, too, and noisy—the roar of the heater, the hiss of the tires on the wet road, the radio fading in and out, tuned to a station too far away.  The windshield seemed to fog up no matter how hard the defroster blew.

 

 Naked

The food was greasy and overpriced, and the fellow ate it listlessly, chewing slowly.  Between mouthfuls, he scraped his fork across his plate and tapped it rhythmically on the table.  He gazed blankly at the wall before him.  The waitress brought more coffee.  He nodded.  She wiped off the counter and reorganized silverware.  The fellow chewed away.  He sipped his coffee, absentmindedly wiped his fingers on his pants, thoughts a thousands miles away.  The waitress disappeared into the kitchen.  He was alone and it suited just fine.  Somewhere a radio was switched on and the wheedling notes of a country song drifted into the room.  The fellow put down his fork, chewed, swallowed, and then pushed the half-empty plate away.  That was enough.  Behind him he heard the door open and someone stepping inside.  He had a brief impulse to turn around and eye the visitor, but his general apathy overruled it.  Steps, soft, padded, came across the room and approached the counter where he sat.  A seat nearby swiveled around with a squeak and was sat upon.  The tapping of fingernails on linoleum.  The man raised his head and looked over.  He took a sharp, short breath and dropped his breath with a clatter onto the counter.

There was a naked lady sitting next to him.

 

In His Mother’s Womb, Awash

Then there was his strange obsession withIstanbul.  He’d been there, but never actually seen it, being all scrunched up in his mother’s womb, awash in embryonic fluid and sucking sustenance through a tube.  His mother had had all kinds of adventures in Istanbul, Ankara and the sheep-filled roads in between—she had thought nothing and sitting herself and tiny Fetus behind the wheel of a four-on-the-floor army jeep and roaring off, one hand on the wheel, the other on the gearshift, down an ancient dirt road swarming with goats and sheep being herded to market, the doomed animals scattered bleating before the jeep while the shepherds struck the pokey ones with their staffs in the age old way.

 

My wife is the lady in waiting in the south of Ireland

 There was a crazy man on the bus today, twitching and jerking, rocking back and forth, singing, talking to everybody about the Royal Army and Lord Mountbatten and that he himself was the ambassador to somewhere. He scared everybody with his broken brain. “My wife is the lady in waiting in the south ofIreland” he said, chain smoking cigarettes, lighting the next one from the butt of the last. He muttered about the Royal Army, and counted off British sounding names, and then sat there forgetting his cigarette until; something set him off again, drumming his fingers on the seat, clutching his bag, tapping his foot to some long lost march.

 

August in Paris.  

August inParis.  The big hump-backed 747 circled the city endlessly, round and round Notre Dame, till at last it made a bumpy landing at Orly.  His was the only plane actually in motion; a few others, little ones and great big ones, sat stiff-winged and still between the runways.  The airport was empty.  Last time he had been here it was busy as a hive, flying machines lighting and alighting, swarming about, disgorging their contents into the honeycombs of buildings.  Now—nothing.

 

Egypt before the Pharoahs

It was Egypt before the Pharoahs.  Synchronized floods.  Clear night sky.  Terrible fear.

But before even that:

swirling gasses.

A hint of something solid in the void.  Bathed in the light of a young sun, vapors spin and spin and centrifugally collapse inward, becoming more and more dense, congealing into a gooey rotating mass which (finally!) begins to outwardly cool and harden, making land:  a planet.

It’s boiling guts raise mountains, send land masses careening into one another or rip them asunder, but it cannot stop what is happening out there, on it’s scabby crust, in the vast bodies of water formed of condensed steam thrown out in its hotter days:

For there, water shot through with chemicals that fell with the cooling steam, and warmed by the steady light of the sun, now a little older, a little larger and alittle less white, is making strange compounds, which, somehow, can grow and regenerate.  They are, in a tiny, fragile, short and most essential way—

Alive.

Atop our cooling, hardening, shrinking but still, deep down inside, dangerous planet, life happened.  Maybe justlikethat, or maybe in long slow transformations.  Maybe in jerks and spurts.

But it happened.

And look what happened since then:

The seas filled up with these little things (even if they didn’t know they were alive)—some, most even, stayed little and many, [end]

 

Red Banners

He grew obsessed with revolution.  He needed its mobs and instant armies, the clatter of wooden peasant clogs on plaza cobblestones; red banners draped from the shattered, smoke-stained windows.  Iron-muscled slaves hacking the Master’s daughters to pieces by the light of the burning manor.

Change wrought from fire and blood—what more could a pimply kid want?

 

Possum Trot

The possum trundled slowly, stupidly down the path. Armed men watched. With an unsteady possum gait it sniffed its way, stopping to listen, peering with dim possum eyes. Rustled through the bushes and was gone. Once again.  Like a dream. No one fired. It was the tenth day.

 Possum Trot.

 

River

River running high here and the jetty nearly awash in brown foam making for unsure footing. Road behind it all mud and corduroy, big logs splintered and mashed by the weight of carriage and team. Riverboat pulls nigh, draws only a spoonful but a feller’s a sounding anyway, laying out line and calling in a sing song the receding depths. A torch appears, worrying over snags. Flames sparkle refracted above the bottom ooze.

Dog bark, voice bark and a crew stumbles out in boozy greeting. Lines thrown (some hit, some miss) and the little vessel is held snug. Slivery silver moonlight gleams on the barrels of guns hub to hub on deck. Cursing men push and pull and wheel them up and over gunwales onto the creaking gangway and the shuddering jetty and into the mud. Teams be here in the morning someone says. Got any grub on that tub? A deck of cards? A bottle? Caked boots clomp on hollowed decks. Laughter and chatter buckshot over darkened waters and a lantern flickers into life.

Duck calls.  Loon cry. The river laps quietly round the jetty and nudges the boat softly at its moorings.

Heavy heads wake in fog as old wounds twinge on hardwood beds.

 

Scattered Fragments from an epileptic’s notebook

Each was a separate entry…culled from notebooks, cocktail napkins, scattered pieces of paper….just a single scrawled line or two, or even just a phrase, just hanging there, alone, its context lost forever.

 Silent, featureless, still—like the giant shadows thrown against the walls at dusk …. They returned to the cloak room and went through the wrapping ritual—cloak, scarves, gloves, hat—but still the change from the steaming interior to the bone-cracking cold outside was almost unbearable …. John sat alone in the darkness, thinking of light …. The emperor stood tall in the saddle, peering …. The phone buzzed …. Layers of sediment hardened to stone:  all the wasted and refuse and effluvia of Past Life, of the things that lived and died, like today:  the life of a diatom (how could he care about the life of a diatom?) …. Swirling gasses:  a hint of something solid in the void.  Bathed in the light of a young sun …. And his dreams, which shine so brilliant as he stares into the dark of his room, fade away with the light of day …. He sat there with a buddha’s smile on his face, looking fatly into a corner ….Harveytook his little cup of water and backed away.  She took her’s.  The bubbler bubbled …. There was a bitterness between some people.  He could sense it.  In their eyes—the way they looked at each other.  Or in their fingers—how they clutched things and wouldn’t let go.  Perhaps it was in the air between …. The globe turned slowly beneath him.  The globe turned slowly ….

 

No end in sight

The equations on the board, a jumble of x’s and q’s and symbols from the Greek—and it is beautiful in its abstract way, and if we could turn the letters and numbers and funny squiggly lines into solid stone and steel, before us would soar a mighty arching cathedral, floating in air, buttresses falling away like the leaves from a flower.  Only a hole where the ceiling should be, and it is raining and raining with no end in sight.

One thought on “Short Stories Written By An Epileptic On The Bus

  1. Pingback: Analog | Brick Wahl

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