Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Night of the Meteor Shower

A young woman sat in the high grass, working daisies between her toes. A broad woman sat in the upper balcony, shredding her paper program into purple pieces of prose. A narrow old man sat in his garden, studying the weeds.

A young woman sat in the high grass, working daisies between her toes. Holding up her phone, she checked the time. It was less than a minute until the big meteor shower. Why weren’t more people outside? She checked her phone again. Twenty seconds to go. Ten. This was going to be great. One of her neighbors, several houses down, had guests over. Out in his backyard, they waited to see the show. So few. Why didn’t more people care about stuff like this?

Flush with anticipation, she stared up at the nightly curtains drawn across heaven’s stage. Her breaths came tightly. She checked her phone. It was now fifteen seconds past the time. Still no meteor shower. Why did they always over-anticipate things like this?

At last, something happened: a small spray of sizzling trails erupted across the blue-black reaches. In the distance, her neighbor’s guests began to clap politely. One of them gave a token cheer. Why did non-religious people clap for natural phenomena?

Down came more weak celestial tracers. Cheering for meteors when you didn’t believe in any gods was like cheering a sporting event from your couch, or cheering for a movie when you weren’t sitting next to the director. Besides, these shows were never that interesting, anyway. You got yourself all worked up, and then nature let you down, again. True to form, the meteor shower continued to depress everyone, its effects cheaper than the cheapest firework show. Why were these things always so boring?

All of a sudden, a boom came from the sky. A jumbo jet spun wildly, its wing pierced by a shard of falling star. Caught in the meteoric downpour, the passenger plane turned dramatic circles through the upper atmosphere. Flame spewed from the winding wings. Figures jumped from the sides. Starfall shrapnel tore through the plane’s wings again; then, its torso, tail, and cockpit. The meteor shower had been all over the news! Why hadn’t anyone told the pilots not to fly through it?

Fire lit up the night. The guests of the young woman’s neighbor gasped and screamed. One of them gave an enthusiastic cheer. Why would anyone be so horribly macabre?

The plane, miles away, burned out of sight. A small fireball crested the horizon, followed by the rippling boom that must’ve been the crash. By now, the young woman could go inside to watch footage on television. They’d have interviews with the families of passengers. Men in suits would question other men in suits about the flight paths for this evening. News crews would show the smoking rubble. Music would be played over pictures of the victims. A hundred times a day, they would play close-up footage of the meteors punching holes in the plane, and sending it spinning to its doom. Wasn’t it strange, that if she went to turn on the TV a year from now, she’d get a better view of the tragedy than she’d had seeing it firsthand from her own backyard?

A young woman sat in the high grass, working daisies between her toes. Pulling the daisies out of her toes, she left her iced tea in the grass. She went to the patio, flicked a bug off the screen, and slipped inside. What was wrong with this world, anyway?

A broad woman sat in the upper balcony, shredding her paper program into purple pieces of prose. All at once the stage lights brightened. The curtains rose.

Out onto the stage came a boy, carrying a sign that read Act 1. As he disappeared backstage, the lights dimmed to violet. Unfinished wood panels covered the scenery. A large steel tub sat at center stage, filled to the brim with purple paint. Lavender mist spread like a moving carpet, concealing the floor, then cloaking the tub’s legs. The mist began to crawl higher, toward the lip of the tub. Down in the orchestra, the triangle sounded but once. Three heads, sopping with purple paint, raised from the tub. Three sets of shoulders followed these, then three masculine torsos. They were so covered in paint, and so synchronized in their movements, that they might have been mannequins, not actors.

Up they came, rising higher on unseen stageworks, until they stood upon the surface of the paint from which they had emerged. Clothed only in purple moisture, positioned dominatingly above the fog, they struck a series of rapid poses. Paint flung from their thrusting arms and writhing hips, but always there was more paint beneath, so that they never crossed the line from artistic indecency to abject vulgarity. Eyes clothed, they had no features other than their shifting purple limbs. The lavender mist rose above the lip of the tub, curling about the feet, then the moist legs, of the three men. Caught in a cycle of reflection between mist and paint, the men shone like faceless, eternal gods; like potent purple statues given life, who could have conquered the world instantly, had they ever wished to cease their dancing and descend from their podiums.

Abruptly, they froze. Arms and legs curled into macabre poses, they held themselves fast, dripping paint into the tub below.

The stage lights suddenly brightened. Fans whisked the smoke instantly from the stage. The paint now revealed itself to be white: a white pure and total, without a single hint of the lavendral shades that had embued the men, the tub, and the mist.

Two of the men stepped down from their tub-borne podiums, one kneeling, the other crouching, to provide a living staircase by which the third might descend. He did so, oozing fresh white paint from every spot of his concealed flesh. When he reached the floor, he raised his palms. There he stood, voiceless. Behind him, the other two raised a sign. In stark black capitals on a shade of white that matched its bearers’ painted hands, the sign read, COLOR IS ILLUSION.

The curtain descended. Vigorous applause, then cheers of joy, came from the theater seats, the lower balcony, and the upper balcony. The broad woman stood, wiping a tear from her eye, to applaud. Baskets opened above the curtain, shedding dried amaranth on the best seats.

Silence took hold, and everyone sat back down, when the curtain shot upward for a second time. A boy ran across the stage from left to right, carrying a sign that read Act 2.

Behind the course taken by the sign-bearer, a gray tank had replaced the tub. Three women in gray uniforms stood before the tank in triangular formation, staring outward at the audience. Their faces were harsh; their hair pulled into severe buns tucked behind their gray and black military caps. A few speckles of white paint still glimmered on the floor near stage-front.

Blue light flashed. The woman on the left drew her gun, pointed it at the audience, and gave a silent shout of command.

Green light flashed. The woman on the right drew her gun, pointed it at the audience, and gave a silent shout of command.

White light flashed, so powerfully that everyone in the theater blinked. When they looked again, only one of the soldiers remained. Hand to her hip, she faced them with proud defiance. The light flashed again. Everyone blinked. When they looked a second time, the sole remaining soldier had mounted the tank. She adjusted her boots, patted something on top of the tank, then turned to face the audience.

Violet light flashed. The remaining woman drew her gun, pointed it at the audience, and gave a silent shout of command.

Everything went dark. Everything lit up. The other two women reappeared. Moving outward from stage right, they carried an unfolding sign. In stark black capitals on bright white, the sign read, TOMORROW IS PROMISE.

The curtain descended. Vigorous applause, and a single man’s hoot, came from the theater seats, the lower balcony, and the upper balcony. The broad woman stood, wiping a tear from her eye, to put her hands together.

From behind the curtain emerged a man in a shirt and tie. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “We can’t finish tonight. There’s been an accident, a terrible accident, from the meteor shower that was scheduled for tonight.” He adjusted his headset. “I’m so sorry, but it wouldn’t be appropriate. If you’d all please leave, go home to your loved ones, watch the news…I’m sorry.”

Confused questions came from the first several rows. Everyone reached for their phones. The people nearest the exit doors began to move out. An old woman in a blue dress complained loudly.

“I’m so sorry,” continued the man with the tie and headset. “Everyone here tonight will receive free admission to a showing at a later date.”

A broad woman sat in the upper balcony, shredding her paper program into purple pieces of prose. Why bother going out, anyway, if this was how it was going to turn out?

A narrow old man sat in his garden, studying the weeds. The garden was a dying city that had seen better times. The weeds were the thugs and the lowlifes, and the flowers were the last few decent people trying to make their way in this crazy world.

A grizzled old tulip was a private detective, and a sweet little daisy had been strangled out back of a nightclub near Oak Street. It was a damn shame and a sickening sight and proof that the city had gone to pot. The police weren’t doing anything, so the daisy’s mother came to the tulip in search of help. Caught in the breeze, they embraced unexpectedly.

The tulip had a glass of scotch and left. It had been a mistake. Don’t get too involved in a client’s life. He went to talk to an old friend, a weed with a good streak, and found out that the word on the street was there was a new cat in town. A tough cat, cat who took no prisoners, cat who wouldn’t blink at the chance to strangle some sweet young thing. The tulip asked around some more, and everything he heard made him sick. This new cat was real tough. Had connections. Paws in every corner of the garden.

Questions came with a price. The tulip found himself alone in a back alley and got roughed up. Barely made it away with his life. The message was clear: don’t mess with the new cat.

He went back to the office to get his weed killer. It was industrial strength—the kind they’d used back in his father’s day. If his father hadn’t been killed by that corrupt senator twenty years ago, this town might be different, now. The grizzled tulip had another glass of scotch. He pulled on his old brown coat and the battered fedora that went with it. Before he could leave, the daisy’s mother came by again. She was crying. Men had broken into her apartment; put the fear of cat into her. She was scared, shaking, needy. He took her on the couch in the reception area, then left her asleep alone with an empty bottle of scotch and a worn carton of cigarettes. She was a good broad, really. A little stupid, a lot of trouble, but what broad wasn’t? Now this case was personal.

Around back of the oak, the tulip, battered and beaten, tracked down the big cat who’d started the whole thing. His ambush went wrong—the cat’s weeds got him in a headlock. They beat him up, gagged him, dragged him to the rusty lawnmower inside an abandoned factory in the old industrial neighborhood. While they got ready to throw him into the blades, the big cat started talking. He laughed. He told the tulip that cats like me are realists, while tulips like you are idealists. You don’t know the way the world really works. You should’ve just taken your money, dumped the broad in the compost, and got on with your life. You don’t know when to learn a lesson. You’re just like your father. He never learned, neither, so that’s why I killed him for Senator Rose. Men like you can't handle this garden. It chews you up and spits you out.

The big cat’s men finally get the lawnmower started. A surge of anger, seasoned with filial obligation, hits the tulip. He breaks free of the weeds, gets hold of a gun, and plugs everybody in the room.

Out into the darkness of night limps the big cat, leaning on the arms of one of his bodyguards. Tires peel on the pavement. The private eye punches out one weed who just won’t go down, and throws him into the lawnmower blades. Windows burst. Girders snap. The factory explodes. At the last second, the grizzled old tulip staggers clear of the wreckage, his empty revolver clicking futilely at the back of the big cat’s black limo. No. It’s not fair. He can’t get away. You killed my father, you bastard. This ain’t over.

The meteor shower threw burning light across the tops of the shadowed weeds, like a factory fire sporadically revealing the faces of the furtive onlookers there to watch an old factory burn down. A dead tulip caught the breeze, flying over the fence into the next yard.

A narrow old man sat in his garden, studying the weeds. They were getting nasty this time of year. Had to work hard to keep things in order. Thoughtfully tired, he drained his scotch, leaned back in his hammock, and drifted off to sleep.

A young woman sat in the high grass, working daisies between her toes. A broad woman sat in the upper balcony, shredding her paper program into purple pieces of prose. A narrow old man sat in his garden, studying the weeds.

No comments:

Post a Comment