In enters big singin’ Natty Gumbo while me and the Witch sit on the livin room couch listenin to the Philosopher.
C’mon, says the Philosopher, feelings are important.
Feelings aren’t important at all, says the Witch, only logic.
Surely you can’t mean that, says the Philosopher. He sits on a stack of big books and drinks something from a brown paper bag.
I do, she says with much force, your feelings don’t matter.
Natty Gumbo sings a short verse of some Judy Garland and I tip my hat to his pitch.
Both philosopher and witch look at me, and I’m afraid to take a side. I don’t want the Witch to feel upset I think feelings matter, and I don’t feel the Philosopher is going to think my opinion that feelings aren’t a good guide to living is correct. I could just start singing with natty gumbo but what good would that do? He’s finished all the verses I know.
Not sure, I say, different lives breed warring views.
Oh come on, she says.
Oh come on, he says.
Oh somewhere over the rainbow, Natty Gumbo says.
Oh mercy, I mumble.
Oh meow, says the cat.
Oh woof, says the dog.
Oh darling, says the record from the next room.
Oh get on with it, says the reader.
Ohkay! okay! Sorry, it’s just too much fun. So anyway, I tell them I’m going to sleep on it and nobody’s happy with that, not even the dog, so I just stare out the cracked window and watch the stars form upon the night sky, like scars glowing on some wounded canvas. They’re ghosts, you know, stars. We see them alive but they’re long dead already. Sometimes I wonder if in love you get the same thing or the exact opposite.
Natty Gumbo sings another song:
I got me a horse
Gonna ride to Peru
Where there ain’t no reds
And there ain’t no blues
I got me a cow
Get milk for free
A little bottle for you
And a gallon for me
The Witch has black fingernail polish. The Philosopher strokes his beard. Studies have shown stroking your beard increases your external intelligence by 63 made-up IQ points. It’s true, read it in Scientific American.
I’m not good with magic or logic, philosophy or time. I am good at sitting on the couch. I love the couch. The contours are crafted by angels and the springs twisted from bad ideas. I want to be one with the couch. A furniture Buddhist. A transcendental cushion.
There’s a knock at the door but it’s just feigned courtesy ’cause next minute Richard Nixon’s in the living room dressed with a white apron. He isn’t Richard Nixon and doesn’t look like him but sometimes when he’s in a certain state his words tumble out like Tricky Dick, a jazz riff of mutters & mumbles.
What are you doin’ here? says the Witch, I told you to get out!
I’m not a crook! yells fake Richard Nixon, I’m here for my stuff?
Well, for one, says Nixon, that shirt!
He points to the philosopher, who is wearing a shirt that says, in big letters, “THIS SHIRT BELONGS TO RICHARD NIXON.”
Hey, the Philosopher says, how do you know this isn’t mine?
Oh chirp, says the cricket.
Richard Nixon grabs his stuff, including his shirt off the Philosopher, and we continue on with this discussion.
How’d I get here on this couch with these people? Simple mathematics. You spend one day too many in three right locations and before you can say, “jumping jack five,” you’ll bump into a gypsy woman. The Witch wandered up to me in a dark field and said, simply, You have the mark of Cain.
I said, huh, always wondered why I had bad complexion.
Bad sarcasm, she said, breeds bad skin.
And so on.
I don’t believe I have the Mark of Cain and know I got no MasterCard, I’m an out of work optometrist who can’t find a gig in a town this small with so many Charles Atlas types. Nobody wants to be seen with corrective lenses here, because the locals will hit a guy with glasses. And contact lenses. It’s that bad. Lots of squinting ’round these parts, and not just because everyone’s mad. No black eyes from getting punched but I’ve seen more than one unlucky sap talk up a lampshade at a party, thinking it was Lady Gaga.
The problem with life, says the Witch, is it runs so short but feels so long.
The stars are fully bloomed in the dark garden above. Twinkle twinkle. I wish I could climb a ladder above and pick a few stars, bunch them into a bouquet and give them to the girl from the North Country.
Life, says the Philosopher, is a cold, naked thing.
Are you cold? I ask.
Yes, he says, I’m gonna go get another shirt.
He gets up and stumbles to his room.
There’s always coughing somewhere in this house. You hear it through the walls. It could be another person, a heating pipe, or just the way the doors slam shut. I wonder if the house is not just alive, but rapidly dying. Its soul is tarnished by the legacy of its inhabitants. We are all a different disease for the old blue house. It decays from our insistence to go on living inside its walls.
Blue House, sad home, depressed box and creaky one-story concoction.
Ah but there’s flickers of lit grace and holy glimmers beneath this down and low river I’m wading through. The Witch made black coffee and it ain’t decaf. Natty Gumbo sings another song:
She wears her grandmother’s rings
She carries herself with power
She waltzes past auroras
In the midnight hour
Her favorite number’s 42
She lives in the high tower
Watching ships and city toil
In the midnight hour
She got a past beyond the pines
And a future past the flowers
But her present’s only perfect
In the midnight hour
I once fixed the eyes of an old bag lady named Matilda. She told me Jesus would be back any minute. No man knew the time. She told me she was the Lady of Guadalupe. She said as the Lady of Guadalupe it was important her eyes were clean 20/20 vision, or else she wouldn’t be able to do her miracles right. She’d end up healing a loaf of bread instead of a baby, or protecting a lake from the rain. I nodded and said, don’t worry, Matilda-
-Lady, she said.
-Don’t worry, lady, I said, we’ll get you all patched up.
I never saw Matilda again, but her words she repeated over and over wouldn’t go away from my quicker memory: the midnight hour, the midnight hour…
The Philosopher returns wearing a white shirt that says, in black magic marker, THIS DOES NOT BELONG TO RICHARD NIXON.
Nice shirt, I say.
Did you just write that? asks the Witch.
Yes, he says, you can’t be too careful.
I know, says Natty Gumbo from the kitchen, you can’t be too careful with Richard Nixon.
Anyway, says the Philosopher, while I was in my room I realized something: every moment we make creates another new series of infinite universes, and whatever path we’re on is where our consciousness, for one reason or another, has decided to follow down.
That’s all supposition, says the Witch, because you don’t know any of that. You’re going on faith.
Perhaps, he says.
I say, You think Richard Nixon will respect what your shirt says?
I mean, says the philosopher, he should. He’s not really Richard Nixon.
But he’s becoming him, says the witch.
Only when he’s unhappy, says Natty Gumbo.
Which is all the time, I say.
Outside the sky is black coffee and the stars are swirling creamy lumps. Or maybe I just want some caffeine. Everything is related to whatever you’re craving. I’m sure Real Richard Nixon looked for wiretaps in mom and pop diners.
The hour is getting late, the Philosopher says.
Are you staying here?
No, says the Philosopher, I live here but hate sleeping here.
Natty Gumbo says, I gotta go too.
Where you headed?
Uh, things, he says.
The Philosopher goes into his room. Natty Gumbo climbs a small ladder in the living room to a high window, opens it, grabs the handles attached to a zipline, and looks back at us on the couch.
To the dazzle, he says.
To the dazzle, I say.
To the dazzle, she says.
He nods, then disappears.
The witch and I sit in the blue house.
Look at the stars, she says.
What about them, I say.
They’re sharper up here.
The Philosopher comes out wearing a beanie hat. On the side, in small magic marker lettering, are the words, “RICHARD NIXON OR NOT, DON’T STEAL THIS HAT.”
Off to save the world? I say.
One conversation at a time, he grins.
Shalom, I say.
Ciao, she says.
Later, he says. And he’s gone.
We are alone.
You ever, she says, notice how this house makes weird noises?
All the time.
Yeah, it’s like…what is with all these cough sounds? It’s possessed or something.
I don’t tell her about my theories of what makes the house tick. I don’t say anything at all. And when she says nothing either, I don’t feel the need to fill the air with words, to cut off the percieved agony of the silences. We just sit.
It becomes apparent to me then the true magic, the real spell being cast, is nothing more than being completely in each and every bit of this present reality. Regardless the situation,
to be fully immersed.
There is no dream I wish to have, or thing to manipulate. We can just sit at a wall of nothing and look through a cheap single pane window, at a darkened tree and a shattered sky. We can see though blind, we can be special though mundane. All falls together for that five seconds till there is no more time, just us misfit creatures watching the soaring infinite from a broken perch, happy all the same.