Nathan King CC
The drugs have changed him. The word might be fried, he’s heard that before, though that is a metaphor and he eschews figures of speech. He eschews speech in general. Words are human and in this haze, this muddled confusion of his day to day reality, he prefers to think of himself as a wolf, an ape, a hyper-evolved human returning to more primitive animal-vegetable roots. It’s not altogether unpleasant, the uncertainty of whether he’s living in a dream or reality; the oneiric nature of his waking hours and the realism of his reveries bleed almost indistinguishably into each other.
It is dusk, and a veneer of pollution hangs over the sky. He sits in a white plastic chair at a white plastic table. A wasp floats over an ashtray. He lights a cigarette and wordlessly begins to think, to remember—past and future—in images that come to him in a blur of temporalities that stretch across millennia.
A carnival tent, red and yellow striped—the first circus he witnessed—a ringleader snapping his whip near a lion’s snarl, his red shirt with brass buttons and matching cap, white pants, black boots. The hot pinks and bright oranges of carnival games, children’s squeals, the watergun squirting into a plastic clown’s mouth. The man who handed him the small teddy bear, his thin biceps under a pack of cigarettes rolled into the left t-shirt sleeve, the long greasy mullet—such underworld beauty, that was not the phrase he thought, none of these are the words he thinks, he avoids thinking in words, but that was how it registered on him, admiration-inducing, a blatant disregard for social norms, the gypsy life, so that when he left home to escape his father’s brown belt, to avoid any more keloids on his back, his thighs, at sixteen he went to the state fair to inquire about work, and he sat with Cynthia, whose black-gray hair, compressed by her violet head wrap, surrounded her cheeks like cotton candy, it was instinctively clear, which Cynthia confirmed for him when she looked into his gray, wolflike eyes—he was a gypsy once, and was again, a butterfly in a past life, a caravan in an empty field, aunts, uncles, stringy children squatting with sticks, nomads sitting in tallgrass, a fire crackling—the same posture struck by these carnies, his male ancestors leaning against a wooden exterior, trees, huts, caravans, hands in pockets—unconsciously he floats between the conscious reality of Joseph leaning against his double-wide and the subconscious reality of his male ancestors on the steppe, somewhere between dreams and death, he follows these threads of reality, oneiric, chthonic, sensuous, instinctive, to understand that’s he’s been living this life for centuries, one bleeds indistinguishably into another, eight centuries ago in the foothills of the Caucasus impossible to distinguish from an afternoon setting up tents near an abandoned farm in Florence, South Carolina.
He and Cynthia knew each other then, when their band paused near the Caspian—but now the scent of corn dogs and cotton candy brings him fully into the present and he drags again on his cigarette to fight off the gentle movement of his stomach that indicates hunger. The cigarette has burned down and he crushes it out. The ashtray wasp hovers, floats, lands on his hand, crawls, time suspends as the wasp’s legs flicker across his knuckle—the wasp departs.
His existence will go on for centuries more, thousands of lunar months, decades, his essence will float nomadically, oneirically, chthonically, across space and time, with hardly any will of its own. It’s not unpleasant, this vegetable existence, animal when his instincts kick in, though it’s been a while since even those have moved him to action—Joseph supplies him with enough drugs to mute those in exchange for three quarters of his paltry salary. Distinguishing between quality is irrelevant and unimportant, he simply takes what is given, takes and uses and sleeps and wakes and drifts through the monotony of existence, not unpleasant. A crow caws, perched on Joseph’s trailer for what might as well be a thousand years—his mind, muddled and confused, is better able to endure the banality of these comedowns, the false desire for more through the power of his subconscious, which manifests so strongly while awake that he no longer dreams at night, or if he does, he cannot remember how or what. His body, mind, is wasting away, although that means little, he’s been wasting away for years, he won’t living into his fifties, his type is such that he’s rarely hungry and when he eats an ear of corn it’s enough to get him through an entire day.
As far as actual responsibilities, he’s long contented himself with being assistant to Joseph, who runs the Water Gun Game. He collects cash from the peds, as they’re called, and watches as they race each other to fill up the colorful balloons that rarely burst, now and then he hands over a stuffed pink elephant upon exhortation from Joseph, mostly he smokes and stares into the sky. The movement of their nomadic troupe, the drugs, the syndicates Joseph and the others know around the country, their network and knowledge allow him to live this way, squirreling away cash in a bag, a few hundred leftover after buying the heroin or meth, enough savings for any disaster he’d have to weather before finding himself another carnival. But that would never happen, they are a family, Cynthia the fortune-teller, Joseph, the others whose names he’s forgotten—they’ve been working here under Shep, the man who runs the show from above, they’d never let anything happen to him, not after twelve years.
A murder of crows croak across the sky, the same way it was twenty thousand years ago, when he lived in South Asia, when his traveling band lived like animals, searching for roots and berries, sleeping under the cover of broad leaves in tropical warmth—over eons like this, crows squawked across the sky, searching for carrion, and he entertained the others with a ball and stick game. The machinery today is different but his efforts are the same, the intensity of his existence oscillates more greatly, is more dependent on the drugs, whereas it used to be dependent on the seasons. It will continue like this, even after the natural disasters and plagues that Cynthia prophesies toward the end of their lifetimes, they will be reborn into another version of this, to roam the taiga or the mountain plateaus of Mexico. Right now, all he is certain of is the crows cawing across the sky, the passing of lunar months, of decades and quarter centuries, of his position as he leans against a wooden exterior, that ancient stance of hands in his pockets or—before and after pockets—akimbo.
Daniel R. Adler was born in Brooklyn, NY, and has lived in Portland, Oregon. He studied literature and philosophy at NYU and creative writing at Edinburgh University. He is finishing an MFA in Fiction at University of South Carolina. His work is forthcoming from Eastern Iowa Review, The Broadkill Review, and has appeared in Entropy, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Five2One, The Opiate and elsewhere.
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