The Woman You Can’t Catch

The day passed like it never happened, despite my anticipation of seeing her, and when the hour came; it went. She wasn’t there and for some reason, I wasn’t disappointed. My life returned to normal, living with big ideas and every so often I tested them; not for thrill seeking, but to know I was sincere.

She must’ve dropped the class. All was well, except that I was exploring Freud’s Death Instinct and I felt compelled to act it out. Finding a way to almost die was pressing on my brain like an edema and I decided to rent a red Ferrari. My morning class was filled with pitiful souls who didn’t want to be there, but the hour came and went, and I stopped off at the corner cafe for my triple espresso and drove to pure success.

The October roads were awash with color. Red and yellow leaves glinted in the sunlight beaming through deep rain clouds. The gray haze and the hum of the V14 took me into a mystical world. Traffic was light and it felt doubly good to leave the hardworking industrial district and find tall roads overlooking the ocean.

Everything slowed down, despite my incredible speed. And right when I fell into a waking dream a bathtub Porsche honked behind me. The woman wore sunglasses, a scarf, and a red fedora, and even with her cosmetic camouflage, I knew it was Joy. She gunned her engine into oncoming traffic and cut me off, smiling in her rear-view mirror.

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Changing Lanes

Traffic washes around you

rain drops pelt your windshield

the radio man chatters

as you shift into next gear

checking your rearview mirror

and gunning the gas for the opening

Take life from here

one car at a time

down dark tunnels

across windy bridges

through gas-dry deserts

and into dead valleys

where you lie

in a soft bed

staring at blank walls

waiting for the endless sky

to unfold.

Midnight Morning Aftermath

People need to know they are not alone; what a foolish sentiment. Only originals embrace their loneliness. -Intellectual Shaman

I walked out of the water, naked, baptized in the moonlight. She was gone and I was left to collect my impulses. My lust for life made it all seem worthwhile, haunted by the memory of her body and dangerous laughter, but my armor was violated, my mind bypassed, and all ideas rendered worthless. Nature laughs at reason.

It was past midnight and I had to lecture in the morning. Whenever I taught my class tired, I always rambled into dangerous territory. I was honest, which made for lively discussion, but got me in trouble with the dean.

I hit my pillow at 2 AM, falling asleep to Chopin on an old record player. I dreamed the music stopped, my life had stopped, someone had to change the record, and I woke to a scratching needle playing empty noise. I had 15 minutes to make it to class; luckily, I slept in my clothes.

Nobody was awake at 7 AM and my students trickled in with tired eyes. I kept drinking coffee from the pot I installed last semester for mornings such as these. It was strong and bitter, the best elixir for reason.

“Most of you are searching for something you can’t identify; your parents told you what it is, but you don’t believe them. Some will find religion and others will fall in love; your life will be caught up with responsibility. You might ask, “Why?” on a lonely road, but you’ll be too busy to listen for the answer.”

Nobody was listening; it would take at least one more hour. My 7 AM class was my favorite; no interruptions. I could say anything and it was like talking to myself where the best conversations happened.

Listen to Me!

“Listen to me!” People say or don’t say, but they have nothing to say and the problem is these people make demands; they need to feel they are listened to, but they have nothing useful to say. They become powerful and they create scenarios where it’s your job to listen to them and nobody listens, despite their effort, despite everything they do. You must have something worth listening to and the noise in the world has reached an all-time high of people saying, “Listen to Me!” But they have nothing to say. The attention grabbers rule the roost and they’re shitting on everybody else, but somebody, somewhere has something to say, and more often than not, they say it to themselves, or occasionally they enjoy a quiet conversation with someone who also says things to themselves, and each person enjoys listening to the other, the way listening was meant to be.

Moonlight Romance

When I looked at Johnson, his face was like a mirror, reflecting everything I didn’t want to see. He had his own ethics; anybody could see that, and they weren’t flexible. His rules were his own and he wouldn’t play by anyone else’s. There was no arguing with him. I knew he was right about Joy and his truth spoke to me.

I shook his hand and felt better. “I needed to hear that,” I said.

“Don’t mention it.”

I turned to walk away, but Joy was standing there. “Take a walk with me,” she said.

“If you say so.”

We walked behind the party, into the greenbelt where the wild woods made faces at us from the shadows. It was a warm evening. It had been hot and cold depending on the wind and my heart was starting to beat faster. It was getting very hot. She was leading me to the lake, with confidence.

“You think you can say ‘no’ to me, but nobody says ‘no’ to me,” she said. There was no argument in her. Her brown eyes were bigger in the moonlight, feral and full of life. My mind couldn’t think; all it could do was wait for her to speak again. I was hanging from my tail while she played with my mind gently, tempting my desire with her voice.

We were at the water’s edge when she grabbed the back of my neck with her claws and pulled me in. She kissed me until I lost my breath; then she pushed me away. “Take off your shirt,” she demanded. Joy removed her blouse and spaghetti strap top. I stripped and then she was gone, like a silent fish. I looked at the black water, waiting to see her form, but she had vanished. Then her face broke the surface at the center of the lake. “Come in; what are you waiting for?”

I swam towards her, but she went under again. In the moonlight, I realized how vulnerable I was. She was gone, but suddenly I felt her warm body against mine. She grabbed my chest, turning me around, and kissed my neck. We were intertwined above the deep, until I felt my energy waning. I motioned for the shore and she laughed, pushed me under. Terror seized my insides when I swallowed a mouthful of water and my imagination went to the bottom where several cold men lay, unable to warn me. Her laughter was like a siren as her mermaid form swam to shore.

I took my time coming back; not sure what to think. Her nakedness glimmered in the moonlight; her enticing curves wanted me, but then I saw her face, full of pride; she had defeated another man who could not be conquered.

Fleeting and Forgotten

There’s a place

not quite my own

where observing eyes

realize

wondrous things not so wonderful

as many pass on by

A row of books

older than I

or a leaf floating

in blustery winds

blown down to cracked pavement

no longer visited

I walk on past

into a past

not appreciated

A place more than just a place

a future of falling helicopter seeds

that will never grow

in the asphalt earth.

Hours spent there

wasted or waiting

worshiping the wind

in the nonexistent

wondrous moment.

A Conversation with a Psychologist

As we walked away from the party, I realized everyone was getting high except Joy. She was sober, shockingly sober. She was watching everyone, like a feral cat, searching for an incoherent mouse. I felt these thoughts like electricity at the back of my brain and the hairs on my neck stood up, tingling with high voltage.

What do you think of that girl?” I asked.

“Dangerous,” Johnson said.

“Are we out of earshot?”

“Yes.”

“Your name frequently comes up over professorial chitchat. Teachers have restless minds. They want to know what is happening in other departments; who is sleeping with whom; useless information that will get them through their day.”

“I wouldn’t think philosophy professors to be the type,” Johnson said.

“Philosophers are desperate people who have trouble believing in anything. That’s why they think you are intriguing.”

“Really?” Johnson asked.

“Yes; they heard that you aren’t married at 45, despite being financially well-off and independent. You don’t believe in anything, at least that is what they say. And your wealth is tied up in assets that can’t be managed by the state or repossessed by the banks.”

You hear a lot; it’s mostly true, I admit,” Johnson said. “I try to keep to myself, but I have become the big man on campus. Strange how that works.” He said this like it wasn’t strange; like he had come to expect all things not to make sense.

“Then, if you don’t mind me asking, why are you the way you are?”

“Life is filled with countless traps. Money can trap you. Marriage can trap you. Beliefs can trap you. I make freedom the focal point of my life.”

“But isn’t your life empty?”

“It is, but not in the way you think. Most people fill their lives with things to make them feel better. They adopt new ideas, new hobbies, new relationships…I’ve come to realize all of these are a waste of time.”

“But aren’t you depressed?”

“No. I have all the money, time, and energy in the world. The best part of dreams is they transcend our self-imposed limitations. I am living in a dream.”

“What do you think about that girl back there?”

“She’s a killer. Maybe not in the literal sense, but she’s capable of destroying what a man holds dear. She’s already getting to you.”

“How do you know?”

“I know when the feminine influence falls on a man; he stops being rational.”

The Party

The party is what I expected. Smoke billowed under a circus tent that looked as if it was on fire. It could’ve been Dante’s inferno, except that drug-induced laughter kept erupting inside like an active volcano bubbling up with disrepute. A young man exited the haze, having escaped Dante’s deepest circle of hell.

“This is Julius,” said the girl.

“I see that you’ve met Joy or that Joy has met you. It’s probably the latter,” he said.

I could tell the boy was obsessed with her and I knew she was more dangerous than a loaded gun. Joy would never pull the trigger, but she could convince any man to do it.

“I didn’t even know her name, until you said it.”

“Names are a formality and a waste of time,” Joy said. “They signify who we used to be and keep us locked in the past.”

“Oh, I don’t know… people love their names more than any word in the English language. Psychologists have proven it. To give up your name may be akin to self-hate or instability,” Dr. Johnson said. He walked over from the bar.

“Who invited you?” Joy asked.

I knew Johnson only by reputation and I had always wanted to meet him. “Can I plunder your brain?”

“Sure, but you might only find empty space there.”

We walked to the bar. “Odd for a student to talk that way to a professor.”

“It’s happening more often these days. I was terrified of my teachers when I was in school. They were high and mighty and terrible.”

The Laughter of Philosopher Kings

I was the professor, but every time I looked into her eyes, she was testing me.

“Everything can’t be philosophy,” she said.

“Everything is philosophy and it will set you free.”

“People say that.”

“They’re mostly liars,” I said. “Brokers pedal financial freedom, but they want you to invest. Religionists claim to free your soul, but they want your servitude. Society believes loneliness can be cured with marriage, but freedom can’t be bought from anyone.”

“Slaves are bought.”

“It’s true that freedom comes at a price, but real freedom is a transaction in your own mind.”

“Are you free?” She asked.

“I’m freer than I was five minutes ago.”

“Would you like to come to a party?”

“I’m afraid I’m far too gone to add any value to it.”

“That’s not true!”

I was becoming her project. Why do women always want to save a man who doesn’t want to be saved?

“There’s an open bar and Julius has a smoking tent.”

She spoke my language. How did she know?

“I’ll go,” I said.

And she smiled between cruel lips, exposing her sharp teeth. And all the reasons I could think of not to go were overridden by something I didn’t understand. Free will? At this very moment, philosopher kings were laughing at me. And after our goodbyes, her voice kept floating through my brain like sweet poison.

Chapter 1 Shadow Man

There’s a shadow in my neighborhood and sometimes it walks behind me. I can hear footsteps, but when I turn around, there’s nobody there. I don’t know why I’m being followed, but I know I am and if I tell anyone, they think I’m crazy. I haven’t seen the shadow for a couple days, which bums me out. My parents have me on these meds; they’re supposed to treat hallucinations. Why does everyone think reality can be solved with a pill?

At the end of Henderson’s driveway, a sign says: Estate Sale—Everything Must Go.

“Do you read?” Henderson asked. “I’ve got some books you might be interested in.”

“I can get what I need on my Kindle.”

“Oh, but a book is different. “It’s ancient Egypt; there’s magic between the pages.”

“Only content matters.”

“That’s what they teach you in school, but not all knowledge is on the internet.”

“Of course it is.”

“Selfish knowledge is kept to one’s self.”

“Then why are you willing to share it with me?”

“You’re a sharp young man; I bet you get in trouble for that. Your parents think you’re mentally ill.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m a shadow and I’ve been hoping to pass my knowledge on to you. I have less than a week to live.”

“Did a doctor tell you that?”

“I just know.”

“You’re crazy.”

“A doctor told you that and do you believe him? I’ll tell you what. I’ll box up what you need and if I die, you’ll know I’m telling the truth.”

“Whatever man.”

He smiled at me, like he knew what I didn’t.

And the next week, his lawyer was standing at the end of his driveway.

“Is your name Andy?”

“Yes.”

“Henderson wanted you to have these. He died yesterday.”

The boxes were full of books, a note, and a long overcoat.