Between the Lines (Cain’s Alibi in E Minor)

It’s all the dead ants that add up to the reasons I kept out of it. The first order of business, though, is those damn righteous bastards who dwell on decomposition — burnt foot bottoms too, well, there’s that as well. And so, what’s been keeping my company, besides this array of dissatisfied-customer concerns, is an all-too-well-known busted-up Chrysler and some not-so-sensational sets of bearings. At least nobody is currently chucking any stones my way. But I’m not in the business of drying out, here.

You see those trails of ants coming at you from all directions. I’ve never been likely to see any of it coming, though, whatever you might deem “it” to be. In the midst of things, though, you don’t get a chance to look back to see what you might be missing out on, or falling into, as any grave digger might tell you. That clumsy thwack of remorse will lay you out every time. But for me, getting insulted is the least of my troubles.

Picking and poking. That’s about what it all seems to be about, all those missteps, all those times you made up for a bad time by having a better one, and then that time got too good, absolutely unnecessary to be vital anymore, that. The leaders turn into the followers, again and again, and the lines just go and go. But there doesn’t seem to be a reason to it, or for it, I guess. Just one after the other, hanging onto a scent, maybe, or a lost memory that keeps getting longer and longer no matter how close you come to making it keep. A real decent motive that stopped existing too many “long times” ago to count on.

Just me and my elbow bending, scummy in a thrashed homburg, waiting on better service to come on by and give me the old heave-ho, taking the casing from this worried head of mine. This damn Land of Nod is getting to be its own hassle. And the ants just keep moving, from each to each, as the cicadas sing chirps of electricity into the surroundings, nestled favorably into their favorite nook of a shade tree’s parts.

And now all of our memories are only mine to retrace and etch into the fold of my life. Life’s too long to not take advantage of, to stare back at and even give some CPR to the past of, if the need be. You take a crack at a beer can’s deliverance. You get made into a happenstance, happy as that, just as easy as prying into the worm’s domain. Let the restless get moaning. Let me yowl away about it, too. “Why not?” is such a stupid pose to strike, rifle in hand or not, and we can become settled to some sort of attack, at once’s twice over, at least. The banjo in my spine has lost its strings.

Lines of ants coming and going for as far as a sideways eye can see. Lying flat on my stomach. Dead drunk, at times. The scribbled nuisance of their lives always invading my personal space. My comfort zone is such a small thing. I don’t know where to put my abilities anymore. My garage is for sale, but not the junk inside. There are more questions in my whereabouts than in all the answers of the places I’ve never been. I just say stuff sometimes. Where it goes, hell, I never know. The ants just kept crawling. That’s all they ever do. I got wise to it. I made up some sense to go with it. Now I can just watch them slow down and die, baking in this infernal sun’s beating. Nonsense. I know it. But I can’t make it stop, for the death of me, which, by the way, is not far enough off for my liking.

Foraging for meaning in this slipshod hustle I call my life, I raise what little heaven I can. What’re you going to do or not do about it? I’ve been hiding away for so long now, I can’t rightly remember where it is I left who it was that I used to be. So, as far as hidden things go, I’ve got a shoulder of rye resting easy behind the baby grand’s scroll in the parlor. Times get so that an inkling sputters through me to play some Pentecostal licks on the thing before I offer up another glass sacrifice to the recycling bin — if and when I’ve still got it in me to parlay my guilt into some more boozy cadenced satisfaction with my undertakings here. But. But. But. My days are over all the hills and target practice for the angels anyway. Just another missed phone call. Just another avoided situation. Just another goodbye I’ll forget all about ever having said tomorrow, and tomorrow, and maybe another tomorrow too.

Well beyond anybody’s idea of redemption, that’s my lost art. Sweeter thoughts than none I’ll ever have — at least the ants keep at it, purposeful and duty-concerned. They’ll outlast me, of course, as my wallowing’s eventuality is lower than even any ditch digger or cross maker could take. So, I’ll just count and count and count the ants as they march on and on and on in their tiny snaking formations. I am here for a reason. I lay my head on the sun-scorched concrete and take it all in with a bleary nodding-off sort of casualness. The palm fronds shudder in the desert’s least formal attire like some discarded bunting from yesterday’s feast. I am not keeping anything together at all. I am without it.

The calm horror of the desert’s stillness, that scrappy quiescence that furls your least palpable moments into friezes of placated redundancy, it’s direct and it’s amorphous. You can save all of your prayers in the kitchen cupboard to grow dust instead of wings. The good it’ll do. Hell. We’ve still got cities of cathedrals dedicated to the shit. Keep you safe and insane as you’ve got be, I guess. I just follow along the rest, one after the other, in line and dependent on each other. The same price you get for staying tame and docile and working. The same suffering you never get around to paying enough for. So, go get kicking over those moneychanger’s tables already. Stiff the disciples for the bill. Make grapes out of grapefruit juice. We’re getting smaller and smaller down here, and haven’t we always been doing this damn job by rote for the whole lot of you? Follow and follow and follow. All along the threads that never break or mend. A little shake of the rear and I’m done for. Follow me? For once? Hell, I’m just a little blitzed; that’s all. It’s been a long time since I’ve smelled roadside fennel on anybody’s breath, and I’m all out of Luckies. Might as well take a chance and lead instead of being led. How do you spell the way that some girl makes your gut ache and whirl and somersault until it’s just a churning white-hot kiln in a basement of rot and mildew and mice? How do you see beyond the body ahead of you? Bend the elbow and dream in an upslope fog. I want to lie down. I want to put my head to the ground and just lie there, and just lie there, and just lie there, over and over and over and over and over and over again…

Just like that. Just exactly like that.

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