If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jill Chan: Doubt

I am picking up my pen at last. Somebody I didn’t know said to me once face to face. We were having lunch. He had just decided to be told something. I heard him say to me: You could write about your life and make a lot out of it. I didn’t write much after that. My life isn’t easily told being how silent everything is–I looked and looked at him, and he turned like a life about to be someone. And I turned again–as him and me–until both of us were nothing but the other, separate as two answers without a thinker.

Outside, there is a world attending to those who know they want. I am doubtful of everything lately: the colour of my eyes, now darkening. Then the light written by his eyes.


I am not going to put the date. Every year is similar in ordinary beauty. Something could break apart and it would still mean.

I met a man so gentle, he could kill me without his gentleness.

Last night, I was gentle in a night against which nothing could be put down, not even time with our restlessness between our toes. Something tried and we got away with that trying.

I went to the place he said he lived and we couldn’t be moved.


There was a man who I could recognise in any doorway. He waved his hand as any man with an entrance would. What a coincidence! Two people with hope on their faces.

One would not be hope to the other. I am that predictable at last. The stage of belief, like forgetfulness, is drawn to him.

There was a man who I could recognise and never regret.


He is so secretive now I hardly know myself.

He is the type who will tell you he is no one in particular. Then the next second, your years converge like childhood. And he is a child with the widest smile. His most defective purpose is his ability to charm.

Then you will look and look for him between your harm and the poise he carries in you.


I am suddenly worried. No reason.

He can be reason yet challenge nothing. I am not in my element today. As usual, confused though not without borders.

What happens slowly considering all who reside in us dim and darken, like a thought?

And even the gentle who surrenders to nobody, claims the rest. I am living and he is the part of me I can feel.


I feel funny today.

When he has been that way before me, falling like a glance that held sway. Who is there anyway but my indecision?

Both of me might meet in him. He'll perhaps recall how in a difficult time, I had no one, and he had no one he didn't already have.

Like something funny isn't really but today will be.


He doesn't show anger except when nothing is wrong.

Yesterday in a light moment, I made the mistake of smiling. He smiled back with all the back of a smile, like so.

Great things are made in such moments when expectation becomes someone's slight and another's revelation.

Well, at least and at last, someone is angry and nothing is going on.


He wants so much. Not me, of course. Not things either. Or anyone.

He loves so much to want I think it is quite reasonable for me to defer, to survive all this forwards and backwards, this thought that outlives striving.

He seems so cool in his self no one dares to feel, out of reverence, out of sheer love of difference. After all, how do we survive the dead inside us?


This is not fiction. Well, maybe it is.

I was told my father named me after my grandmother who was a famous actress and a saint.

What is a name anyway but something we live with after so little has left us? Nothing to trouble us.

A friend asked me what my middle name is. I said nothing. I don't attend to questions like that, failing to disturb even myself.


When he was very good, he would believe this of himself. During weeks with him like this, it was like being on top of everything, including himself which he was nice to, becoming fortunate and trusting.

The tests came continually though–The doubts that he was human, with a propensity to believe others, their praise, the secret that he was at best, unwilling to be fooled.

I didn’t know whether to be happy that he was, or to be happy that I was fooled by his strength.


I still couldn’t understand any of it. Of course, he was great–as great as he allowed himself to think so. I remember now how I didn’t have to look into his eyes to be blinded.

I heard you snapping your fingers in another part of the world. Someone as mesmerised by him as I was.

Each of us trying; each of you waiting. To be fooled by some idea of love, bewitched by nothing, which of course, he wasn’t at all.


As I've said, some things here are not fiction. As if anything is less so when it deals with fact.

Right now, my cheeks are cold–I've been dizzy at times these days like breath has been taken out of me.

I am alive–fact.

They decide which life to take–fact or fiction, you choose.

I've been bemoaning my fact, wanting it to be less than they impose.


He climbed and climbed, never reaching the top. He was much too ambitious. Concern and ambition like two directions he needed to gather into a point.

That which points cannot be the point, ever.

Somewhere else, someone knows only to follow. Nothingness like a space that surrounds and escapes to a breath. And height is but height. Something to attain and fall from.


I am still wondering about time, while he does not. Time is a line to be travelled, like a journey but never ends with having enough.

First, something, then nothing. Then something and nothing are unrecognisable to us. A danger, perhaps, or a way to be enough.

This is all in using up time. A rather than.


Today, I want to keep it short.

I told someone once that I don’t want to fall in love. It disrupts composure and promises nothing but texture, promise, corruption. Not to mention confidence without truth, passion without recourse.

I said I want to keep this short.

He is the only ample man I’ve met–enough for everyone. Sometimes he disappears simply so as not to admit his goodness.

In fact, I suspect he has no idea he is good.


I've always wondered about his names. I found nothing common about them, nothing in common with indecision.

Dare I say he is clever and cold with choosing?

Well, exactly mentionable. Perhaps, slightly nervous like I am with my one name, neither proper either.

Even I am unsure of a fullness in my name. Which middle? Is there a ground there or unjust generations up in the air?


It is all so normal, the state of his mind. When did he start to be this risky? No, not about danger. He's past that for now.

But the business of coming to his own body, listing his things among the missing, too far to be himself.

They tell him to stand up; he is past stubborn but still hands it to them. His ache now closed tight and delirious with peace.

What a day this is, uncompromising and sensuous with giving. There's something I adore. It's odd. He's generous and, for the first time, I am too. But not about that, not about that at all.


I keep thinking about how you cheapen everything I do. I mean it as a compliment, though you might not take it like that.

I look at my work and feel proud of it sometimes. Comparison is the least I could do when you (really you, not an indirect way of saying myself) are always above that.

Anyway, I am being absurd. That's something real talent does to me.


Well, I wanted to reply to your honesty but it was too late. Now, you are starting to show it. I am what is uncertain in that starting.

In spite of this, you are destined to become my truth, a house once lived in and memorised without a thing to place.

Your abstractions are my colour; your tenacity borders faith for what it can do.


Of course, I am allowed to think of someone else. Only there is no one else.

There was one who could only talk to me when he was someone else. The trouble began when I liked him for who he wasn't. Whose fault was it then? The person he wasn't? Or the person I was when he wasn't there?

That first meeting, I didn't see him for what he could be. That makes two of us. I, who am always myself, split into one who liked him for many.


You, though, are different. I could recognise you though you try so hard to elude similarity. The other day, for the last time, I was doubtful of how I've done that.

It's not fate–Too much of it kills enthusiasm and breeds worry.

It's not romantic love either. At least not only that. Certainly not up there with romance.

It's not love either. At least not only that. Certainly not up to love.

But soul? I am unsure of it beyond how it sounds to me.


How do we prevent from turning into our persecutors, our own perpetrators?

A friend—he is handsome and intelligent—said once, We do to others who have done unto us. That is not ideal or a backward look at compassion. It is a fight won by many.

And multiplies a thousand a day.

I cannot look at this and say nothing, or do anything.


One lesson I did not learn from you: To be satisfied with being. I could, but to that end, I'd miss everything.

Even then, teaching does not do to the heart what it learns.

A teacher hasn't much to teach but how he does it simply by his firsts and the features of his world which I, or anyone else, could never round.


I don't know, I am glad today. There is nothing to be glad about. Perhaps that is why.

I have saved reasons for another season (I know! This writing on paper is incredibly dull). Today, I am neither. You would laugh at my minor insurrection.

I am even a touch, a rhyme that discloses for all except you.

You know me today as when I was born.

Reason-Season-Reason. Whatever I am, I give to you.


I don't care that you reject me. I am willing. I am fevered with you. I am healthy with longing, as far as a soul can.

I don't think. My body is at rest with caring. No love or lust. Tenderness or rendering.

Dare I mention him again to you? He has taken all my belongings. Both of you with the benefit I don't own, I envy your mutuality as much as my soul can.


To describe the first time I saw you, let me bore you with this confession:

It was a sorrow so complete, I was left as before without my sorrow.

Time did not stand still. I hurried back to where I was foolish in my gladness.

And no future dared show itself. I wanted to be there though—I, who was always in the never, found a month in which to pull through.


Do you remember I asked you if you knew a few words in my native language?

You said you did and said a few.

I'm sure it was strange to speak with your tongue my language—one I hardly use these days having had days with none but the talk—inquisitive minds want to know but once, while devotion hears a command and follows, still devoted.


Don't stop. You don't need to but know to continue. Nothing else does it so aimlessly.

Beauty, delight, love, mercy. You made these without a thought for yourself.

We try to reach you, speaking your word though you are so patient to test our impatience.

We who cannot be taught—incorrigible!—without you.


You never appear. I suppose that is the point of it all. Someone who needs you like this should see that you are never meant to.

The trees stand there for you.

The rivers flow here for you.

And all matters because this is not waiting if what we do is wrapped up with you.


Some gods jump up and down when we don't notice them.

You, the Creator, are both hot and cold. You waste nothing of our time.

In winter, you pale into us because we regret too much; in a moment, uneven with us.

In summer, you desire the fire which you've freely given–for some of us to burn; for some of us to turn to you.


Another confusion? I could not face one again so soon after the last which made me lose nothing I already own.

This latest you—It is not a comment about you, exactly, but what I would diffuse—These explosions of forces neither of us needed.

I didn't think of you like that today. And I didn't try. Don't know if that's an improvement.

Perhaps faith should remain faith. And doubt, reserved for the love of the faithful.


You have spared me. Without my selfishness, I am the willingness you abandoned or think you took up.

All my life, people said they care.

And I care about the wrong people. Men who needed me to like them too much. Women friends who never disagreed.

That must be it. I don't need calmness, or the ability to look into nothing—Agreement of self with self is but blindness, if not pride.


I think I understand now. Though you are the understanding I could not seem to get to, or get over. I am always humbled by your equanimity, your ability to be at once radiant and dark. To mock and let the audience laugh at themselves.

Surely, you see me now as I am, like they say in the movies.

And all I can see of you is a wonderful person. Generations are too wrapped up in replicating themselves to catch a glimpse of someone who cannot rest, who cannot think of himself as others do.


What can I say, you are mean! See, even in meanness you are terribly wonderful.

But the one for which this is meant (you) will never see it. You have too much soul and gentleness to accept this gross comment.

I like his eyes—for the way you are handsome. Your mind—for the way you are thinking but do not let it show. Real depth, real compassion. I leave this you to him and you.


I am saying once again: It started with faith, and will end with Faith. With so many titles in between.

Anyway, what has all this entailed?

As usual, we have been taught nothing but what we've learned.

True, it is a mess, as we all are in being, in guessing which portion of our lives is faithful, which retells it as if we don't dare.

I don't want to sound pretentious and insincere but again, I say to you and him; to him, especially: Go to each other. There will be chances but nothing like a faith held by the mutually faithful.


And oh! A note about pronouns: I referred to you as 'him' until you are familiar enough to be 'you' and 'he' became the you you were. But I couldn't be sure myself which is which sometimes. Am I I or not?

This is so dumb! I hear you laughing or not. It depends on you.

All I know—you as a beautiful person. I know you cringe at that.

I have cringed at everything some of the time.


There must be a limit to God's love. Or so, we think. We cannot think otherwise. Otherwise, we are not human, or are so filled with God it is difficult to escape Him.

Right now, I am sitting here writing this.

God must be somewhere busy. I'd like to think He loves the world so much, He cannot rest until we are truly human and believe He is helping us.


God is watching us all. If He were human, I'd be very afraid. Just think of the consequences of that. Then, He would use every bad and good thing He sees against us.

And not everything can be seen but He knows that too.

He would be powerful but not omnipotent. Omnipotence is not power but Godly power. From the True God. Infallible. Not a play at being God which human gods do so failingly while not knowing it.


Although I am quite sure so much of the time about God, something has made me doubt Him. I think it is a healthy sort of doubt. I would rather be doubtful than be blindly faithful.

Nothing like wanting to understand and failing. Is that a wish or a desperation?

I think it makes me vulnerable. And maybe we need more of that, I don't know.

I want to look and doubt myself in what I know. To doubt what I know.


Sometimes when I go outside, the sky dizzies me. I have been inside so long, I would be my depravity.

But God (really God) is the sky we have, no matter.

And I don't think anybody would doubt the sky? I could call it wanting, or you could call it place. Motion or action, both. It is there. He is there in our disagreement.


It is sometimes easy to find a quality in others. I think after we find that in enough people, and in ourselves, we look for it and either never stop looking, or we give in to its place. What a relief when that moment comes!

And the right mix in the right people. How rare and uncompromising that can be.

This sounds like complete nonsense. Anyway, just reminding myself of what I can't do. Or what people can't manage to build.

I'm not going to say anything about creation or evolution.


I come back always to utility. I think, perhaps, if we look into something so immense and feel helpless against it, against ourselves with it, then our smallness, weakness might be useful, finally.

Then, people would seem to us people, not their usefulness for us.

A teacher once told us, “Use things, not people.” Ignorant as I was then, it has remained with me. Wisdom has no use other than this.


He said, Who is it?

If only we could be as he is, old and alert to our uniqueness without our names. I think we would hold both freedom and love.

And perhaps try to love without the terrible selfishness of choosing.

He loves now and evens out love in forgetfulness.


I am undecided. The pull is strong, like a force, except I am not convinced of my worth. You know, at this moment, happiness is pushing me up.

Is it like this, being with you? I mean I wouldn't know.

And I won't be persuaded by your decision even if I am helpless, as we all are when we are.

Happiness, you are my mind, right now. But only that. Nothing else.


I thought of forsaking and writing this for later. So as not to be too lonely with myself. But, you know how it is, no waiting for heaven, and no asking for hell.

Proper to be nothing else but left alone, for now. Like now can be.

I am not me any more than the next me tomorrow, when it comes to you or me.


I'm sorry. I mean it this time. You have to understand: All my life, lies have evaded me, then truth. It is easy for faith to become doubt, and doubt, faith.

But I really understand you now, my brave one. I who am you.

Let us cool this iron into love. And touch ourselves.


It is easier for gods; we who are under you, cannot think without you listening. How can I think, or say, or write otherwise?

It is all open, as our brothers would say.

But, I will not write anymore.

As I said, you are the brave one. And I mean that.

I will give you all I’ve written and stop. All is survival here now. Hope you understand.

And if that happiness isn’t you, then I’m sorry. I have no way of telling, being here and surrounded by air. It is all guesswork.

And what was that poking around the moment before? Was that you? (A joke. I'm saying it straight so you won’t take it the wrong way.)

I don’t doubt you now, only the faith I misunderstood earlier today. For a life (mine) bereft of faith, and too much lately, doubt was all I had in those few minutes (earlier today). Understand that.

Be safe, my brave one. Sorry for the trouble.

And you were great! Says she, smiling. Don’t worry about me.


But now, a few hours later...

You are still great. But you know where I am.

But I hope it was you I was answering. Because I am never sure these days. We are controlled, alright, by everyone it seems.

Except, perhaps, you. The real you.


This is turning into fact, this figuring out.

Earlier today, I was thinking about poetry. And thought I’d write about the people across the street I hear crying some nights, distressed cries. Then I thought, if I write it as a poem, readers might think it is a metaphor. So I wrote it nonetheless and I worry about misrepresentation, meaning, truth, mortality, darkness, light, etc.

I say this to myself mostly or to other people.


I said some things to you earlier today. Don't know if you heard it. I believe in miracles these days but am afraid. You know how sometimes we don't think enough. On other days, too much to much. But always of the same things, of different weight.

Notice how I am lightening this up! Or else I'd be down low again.

But truly, I am very mean. I talk of the future as if it wets the present. And nothing of appetite. The past? I've never left it. You are still here.

I meant what I said. I felt what I said before and earlier, today and yesterday.

But tell me plainly: Is there still a you? Can I still fill your name with anything I say from here on?


Right, I am certainly near death. I practically had to sit very still and turn my head every few minutes, look out the room to see if they are coming! To get me, that is.

Anyway, I will continue to keep watch today.

But it's my father's birthday. Or my grandfather's, I can't remember. Yes, I am that confused.

But, I still have my head, at least. Hope to be more satisfied later with my own depravity, or is it deprivation? I always get the two mixed up. As usual.


I’m still a bit exhausted. But better now.

So, have not been reading much. Nor writing.

Now this sounds like a real, boring diary, finally!

To all my friends. Yes, you. Forgive me if I haven’t been figuring out your things. My flesh is tired and the Spirit follows in tiredness.

I repeat though. You have my faith.


I don't think this is a good sign. Now I think about you more often than I do anything else. I've never been like this before. I have but everyone is you so that doesn't really count, does it?

Let me go back to you undoing every me. Nothing physical.

Just a gentle uncovering of myself in such absence, or a presence that makes one submit.


I guess I just had to test my own Faith. And nothing could make me change that. Not even you, the many marvelous dangers, each gaining for me much of what I’ve lost for myself.

But I understand. But Faith is stronger than understanding–ours or yours or mine.

I know if Faith or material were not in the way, it will all be different as far as any difference can still be bridged even in this dark that doubles as light.


I imagine you—that's all I have of you now—they are loud again.

Whenever I do this, it is as if there is some negative aspect of myself I throw away. Somehow a newness not unlike a sense of mystery. A soundness to the sense of remembering.

And there you are, silent in my own wonder of you.

I want to remind you though—this is all in the spirit of thinking, and everything thought which can still be held.


I must be succeeding. After a lifetime of saying what I mean, as much as I can, I am learning to pretend. In order to survive mostly. You must know that.

But this is not one of my new masks. My mind is full of so many songs. Don't get me wrong.

Ten years ago, even the music was pretending. Now I get past that quickly, without much anger, maybe with a little bit of sadness still. Can anybody get past that, being sad?

And try hard to focus on real people. People around me, or people who really are.


I lay down on my brother's bed because my own was hard and uncomfortable. His bed smells so nice. I nearly slept like a baby but remembered not to, just in time.

God must be like a nice brother or a nice bed. Comfortable to some, and hard and sleeping to others.

Now I go back to any bed, just to remember to sleep.


I get excited when some things we've given away—like a satisfaction or a desperation, or even something as mundane as a poem, a failing, or as sick as a habit—come, not running, but are slowly revealed to us.

We think—Wasn't I the one who said that to him? Or, that should be credited to me, or some such nonsense.

But then we are just so glad we've rediscovered them in their excitement, not for us—not that at all, but for our happy forgetfulness, our generosity, or more appropriately, theirs.


I marvel at the clothes you wear and the body that goes with them. How could I have been so blind without blindness!

Handsome, dark with me always. I would rather you'd shown me your blindness—to my mind or body, and dress. It didn't matter to you but it would to a future me.

We must all ask God for His charity.

And the Grace to be apart from Him yet still be His, like a beloved or a lover.

Instead, we ponder this: What do You want?

And mean it terribly. Tired from a tiredness not of spirit but of time and the things we have to do like keeping a body, or waiting for it to be beautiful.


I knew H who liked walking with me. One day I noticed that he nearly shivered when he looked at my bare feet.

I found that quite touching. In fact, I still find that so adorable! Not childlike but odd. And quite a sexiness to it I can't describe.

Anyway, enough about this, though I am glad.

He would sometimes get angry for no reason (as far as I could tell). And being dumb and unpoetic then, I just let it go. Not sure if I regret anything. Maybe not.


Before I read any poetry, L made an artwork about a poem, and D made another artwork about the same poem.

I liked both of their art. But the poem which inspired it eluded me for as long as I was indignant and secure with words. That is strange to me. Being a writer of poems now (if you could call what I write that) has made me ever more ambiguous and uncertain.

And to think about most of the teachers, how they keep telling us poetry will tell us something; I humbly prefer to be perplexed when reading poetry, to be required into substance, to disappear toward, whatever—a weakness, a love not of words, etc. Even to let someone unfeel is sometimes a worthy goal in poetry. The point, if there is any, is that nothing is poetry until a reader makes it into one. I'm not talking of audience, as such, but of a subtle understanding of the work. And I don't think this process will ever end. With a poet, a poem, a reader, an age, a life. Great poetry defeats the reader in every moment, whether it is read, or whether it is kept somewhere to be later recalled or not.


If only God would show Himself, we say this so confidently, forgetting we are the creatures!

Does a man who owns the whole building build and construct just to let people see it is still being built?

I know it is not Faith that I need to see! It is Faith I need to have.

But on a day like this, even Faith eludes me. I see the trees and remember them as trees only, nothing behind their standing or their life. But I know it is my failing, not of the trees or the God who made them.


Someone I know always likes to come in and out. When I am writing, like I am now, he stands up, leaves the room; I can't bear to see him this way not bearing me.

Why is it, we miss someone when they are not here? That is silly, more than us pitying our loss or their uncaring. I'd like to whisper to him, or wait for his assurance—Come to me like you would to something you cannot attract yet rely on; go to one who would miss you yet push you to yourself.

If God were here, He would be the mercy we both lack; He would be the love for all who doubt and have no strength to believe.


You forget I am not as brilliant as you. I am very lazy even for a poet!

Also all my poems are for you, as I keep telling you. Perhaps I am misreading and we are confusing our antecedents.

Mine is always you.

Right now, I think I might be out like a light. The weekend is becoming dark. I will write in the dark for you if it ever comes to that, if I ever miss you more than now.

Ah, so that was you all over me today. My sad invisibility.


We had a good meal yesterday, remember?

I was very still. You were steely, full of cold stare—like I told you to be.

Did you know we never once sat down? A meal of the devotion to setting. A table, an atmosphere, perhaps a failing to be.

But it was, for me, like a resting. But after that a succeeding into our real warmth. That awful description nonetheless succeeding.


You're forever giving me a dictionary. I am repetitive as all who are sad and decorative are.

Life in the prodigal. Happy chance of being read unreasonably. How spared I could be!


I'm a bit under the weather. These idiomatic expressions I never get right.

What if I'm under a name instead of a weather?

That would be epic. I am attracted to a lot of things.

I wouldn't say so of poetry. I think I have to feel the poet is either a virtuoso or is never going to be. Either he's trying so hard and doesn't mind failing, or doesn't need to try or does it so well it doesn't show.

Maybe I'm exaggerating but a combination of these qualities probably would result in amazing work.

Of course, all this is just talk in your absence. Make me be sick of your absence, really sick.


I smile at how quickly they misunderstand. They are so unmetaphorical.

It doesn't harm me, for now. I get another view without a window, though sometimes memory never forgets.

You, however, are not my remembrance but my current memory—We have much and dare to need less.

Metaphor and the slow understanding—the world requires it.

Jill Chan writes poems and fiction. Her work has been published in various New Zealand literary magazines (and anthologies) both in print and online; in websites in the US, UK, Italy, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia; and in the New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive.

She is the author of six collections: The Art of It: Three Novellas (2011), published as an ebook; On Love: a poem sequence (2011); Early Work: Poems 2000-2007 (2011); These Hands Are Not Ours (ESAW,2009), winner of the Earl of Seacliff Poetry Prize; Becoming Someone Who Isn’t (ESAW, 2007); and The Smell of Oranges (ESAW, 2003).

Saturday, January 7, 2012


Real life does occur in Vegas. Normal people live here. Sam is one. He truly is a well adjusted, thriving resident religiously on time with the rent, current with his credit cards--mostly. He keeps a regular non-gaming job, grills steaks and dogs on weekends, saves for his kids college funds, stays on level terms with his ex-wife, watches football on TV ignorant of the spread, listens to classical music on internet radio. To locals like Sam, the novelty of the Las Vegas Strip is not an attraction, destination or detour; it is an obstacle to avoid along the serious highway of life toward the prosperous normal parts of town. That is not to say the touristy, subtly sinful Strip is not wondrous, tempting, unequaled entertainment. The casinos and mega-resorts on Las Vegas Boulevard are surreal adult playpens…for visitors. There is a darker side to Vegas vacationers never visit. City-wide skid rows; transient, transparent, as dysfunctional in their fluid cosmopolitan makeup than definably unstable, flourish nightly on countless dim lit Vegas streets. Thorson moved in next door to Sam. Thank a flaw somewhere in his ancestral gene pool as Thorson’s contribution to the dysfunctional side of Vegas.

Sam was cordial to his new neighbor that first week in August. He approached Thorson and his friends as they perched on the diamond plate Tommy Gate of the rented U-Haul. They were on break from lugging Thorson‘s stuff in the apartment next door. A full cooler of iced beer sat on the ground below them.

Before Sam could form up a greeting Thorson chirped, “How you doin’?” Sam’s new neighbor reached out to shake his hand, “Thor, short for Thorson. I prefer Thor. Wanna a beer?” Thorson’s voice was a garish shriek, as if a wood tongue depressor had been deliberately broken off in his throat.

Sam paused a moment, holding back a chuckle before he spoke, “Yes… Well… I’m Sam. I‘ll pass on the beer,” Sam smirked. The name ‘Thor’ just did not fit. That handle had too many masculine connotations Thorson lacked. Numerous chrome-plated metal decorations stabbed his face. Sam hesitated to guess what other covered parts of Thorson might be pierced. He was Baby Huey fat. He kept his Cleveland Cavaliers sleeveless basketball jersey tucked in, revealing flabby upper arms. The olive drab military belt looped round his wrinkled desert camouflage cargo pants cinched his mid-section a notch too narrow, revealing a bull nose cliff of flab all ‘round. His pant waist fit well above his hip. The crotch appeared to sport too high a rise, perhaps affecting that part of the anatomy that can change a man’s voice from normal to a high-pitched, pig-like squeal similar to the deformed tones gurgling from Thorson’s larynx. His puffy, cherubic cheeks betrayed a drinking problem with a wild guess at what else he consumed. His eyes appeared as bloodshot as rotting egg yokes. Sparse, fine blond stubble sprouted in splotchy patches across his face; not enough to sport a beard, but rather an indication he was too lazy to shave the islands of thin soft fuzz blooming between his metallic facial adornments. Thorson’s manner, appearance, limited vocabulary, hissing voice struck Sam as that of a grown man still suffering prepubescent metabolic chaos.

“Well, we gotta get goin’” Thorson rasped. “Only half way moved in and it’s gettin hotter by the minute.”

“It’s 110 degrees out now. Just looked,” Sam said.

“I didn’t know the heat gets this bad here,” Thorson whined.

“You could have picked a better time of year to move,” Sam advised. “Doesn’t start cooling down in Vegas ’till mid-October, beginning of November. Good luck.”

“Hey! Later me and these guys are goin’ to a tit bar off the Strip. Why don’cha come with us? We’ll hoot at the dancers’n stick dollar bills in their g-strings.”

“Can’t do it,” Sam said. “Want to finish up a book, see the news, get to bed early.” Thorson’s face expressed blank-eyed shock Sam would skip a good time in Vegas.

“Alright dude, but your goin’ to miss some fun,” Thorson said, disappointed Sam refused.

“Thanks though,” Sam said. Sam quit the high-end tit bars years ago when he realized paying for a peek excluded touching the product too.

All his stuff moved in, the first priority, Thorson’s new X-Box, quickly wired in and set up, came to life. Thunder, explosions, passionate yelps of victory, and grunts of defeat rang out through Sam’s wall. Thorson and his helpers lounged on his pristine soon to be violated Cool Deck coated porch. They drank beer mixed with Red Bull to stay drunk longer without passing out. They loudly flattened empty beer cans on the porch floor and tossed them like Frisbees at passing traffic on the street beyond the parking lot wall. One broke out pot, another produced a bag of yellowish, speedy rocks and glass pipe. They butted their cigarettes on the quickly blackened surface of his porch floor; hurled empty beer cans across the parking lot competing to be the first to land one on top the corrugated steel roof of the covered parking structure. They waxed drunker, higher, noisier; sprung well past the ionosphere from the jumping board of ‘go fast’ rock cocaine. They left for the strip tease circuit near midnight, defective mufflers roaring, tires spinning, hurling mocking insults at each other as they thumped over speed bumps that failed to slow them. Then silence.

Sam caught Thorson in the parking lot next evening, “Kinda loud late last night. Won’t be a habit will it?”

“Naa. Just wanted to show my buddies that helped me move a good time. Sorry. Were we too loud?”

Sam let it go.

Toward the end of August, Sam up late past midnight on a Saturday lit a cigarette on his porch. Just off swing shift, Thorson waddled along the curb edge of the complex parking lot toward his front door. He wore a starchy, well pressed police blue permanently creased uniform shirt with “Thor” stitched in flaring gold Mistral Script above his left breast pocket. A shield shaped shoulder patch advertised a local armored truck outfit that saw fit to employ him. His verdant jungle camo pants looked soiled wrinkled, unwashed in the dim night-lights. He slung his pistol belt over his shoulder, as if fatigued from a rough day sitting on top all those bags of cash at fifteen dollars an hour. He walked hunched over in a slow, heal dragging shuffle as if he were an overworked Egyptian slave struggling to haul another chiseled granite block to the top of the ruling Pharaoh’s tomb.

“What caliber pistol is that?” Sam asked.

Thorson stopped, stood up straight, his hollow eyes turned bright, enthusiastic. He proudly blurted, “A Beretta nine. Fourteen rounds. Fifteen with one in the chamber.” Thorson slickly slipped a hollow point bullet from his belt as if it were a precious nugget of gold plucked from a miner’s sluice, handed it to Sam and lectured, “With this, you aim at the asshole’s head, you take his fuckin’ shoulder with it. It’s like a mini-bomb; explodes on impact.” Sam shook his head up and down as if enlightened.

“Yeah. I never had ta use my piece. Ya never know though, the day might come,” Thorson eagerly implied.

“Damned impressive,” Sam sarcastically exclaimed. Thorson oozed of instability. Add a gun to that affliction and a formula for disaster brewed.

Thorson had toured enough tit clubs, bars, ‘Rub and Tug’ massage parlors to blaze a nightly round trip trail from and to his apartment each night after work. By October, he became an honored regular at the pricier spots along his route. The multi-colored neon glitz of Vegas nightlife gripped Thorson past mere short time tourist fascination. It gnawed at him, chewed, swallowed, digested bits of him as if he were the favorite tray on a local’s only buffet. This sleepless twenty-four hour adult Disneyland had Thorson hypnotized. As if it were the first euphoric high off a rock that eludes you each hit after, Vegas became an instant addiction, a high Thorson ineptly chased ceaselessly, carelessly.

Some get tricked quick, hooked, burned up, fried crisp on the Vegas grill of thrills. Thorson was about to be served up charbroiled.

Through November, Thorson cultivated a coterie of loud, pinch faced, hollow minded, imitation Thorson clones. Three weekends that month a steady stream of tattoo coated characters draped in stainless steel lip, ear and nose rings, clumpy black boots, jangling silver chains strung from belt loops and hip pockets steadily slinked in and out of Thorson’s apartment from Friday night to early Sunday morning. All were welcome, stranger or not. Excessive body piercing was not a requirement as long as they brought alcohol or pot, or rocks. Thorson kept the volume of his CD player well up above normal. ‘Kill the dog, shoot the kids, beat the wife’ music rattled pictures on Sam’s side of their shared communal wall. The gang smoked, drank, pissed on the bushes outside Thorson’s apartment past dawn. Some settled on Thorson’s porch, flicked still lit cigarette butts near Sam’s front door betting on who would light up his outdoor wicker chair first. A few roamed the parking lot spotting hot selling rims they conspired to steal later, sat on hoods of cars they didn’t own drinking and smoking. Thorson was the noisiest of them all, his laughter blasted loud as a yodel heard three buildings down. He and his buds invaded, terrorized the complex. Monday mornings, when Sam left for work, Thorson’s porch landing lay littered with beer cans, paraphernalia and an occasional overnight visitor sprawled out on a cheap vinyl beach chair.

After a month of Thorson’s weekend parties, Sam caught his neighbor leaving for his shift, wrinkled camo cargo pants cinched too tight around his mid-drift, stiff work shirt on this back, the Beretta strapped to his hip.

“Your weekend sprees are gettin’ out-a-hand Thorson. “

“Call me Thor,” he said, as if the conversation would not continue until Sam got his name right.

“No…. you go to Hell Thorson. Quit this shit. Give me peace.”

“No! Fuck you Sam. I’ll do what I want,” Thorson grasped his pistol grip.

Sam knew better than to argue with a man who wears a gun. He abruptly turned his back to Thorson, left for his apartment. Sam retrieved his .45 revolver from a tattered shoebox, cleaned and loaded it, placed it in the drawer of his bed stand.

A light snow coated the desert floor Thanksgiving Day. Sam watched football and read three Bukowski novels in three days. Quiet, solemn, alone on Christmas Day. Sam read Plath, Stallings, Justice, emailed his folks back east the usual platitudinous holiday greetings, called his ex in Reno; spoke briefly with the kids. They thanked him for the toys he sent then they ran off to unwrap more. Later Sam had dinner alone at the Fiesta Casino buffet on Lone Mountain and Rancho.

New Years Eve in Vegas tops New Orleans Mardi Gras, Rio Carnival for unruliness, debauchery, mob rule. It’s commonly regarded by local Vegas residents as ’Amateur Night;” an annual reason for tourists from around the world to inundate the Strip, drink too much, coke up, shoot up, smoke up, pretend the law does not apply to them while the locals stay inside. Sam stayed in. The party at Thorson’s apartment peaked near midnight. Thorson drunkenly waded through the crowd, his Beretta cocked in hand. He stepped out on his porch and popped three caps off in the air the last three seconds of the old year. After midnight, Thorson and his band headed for the Strip. Peace ensued. Sam slept.

Near noon, New Years Day, an under-age girl, probably dressed slutty at first, now in ragged slept in clothes, just awake, bra-less, her ratty, tangled blond hair a nest, stained mini skirt smelling of alcohol and too much sex knocked on Sam’s door.

“Can I use your phone?” the still drunk bimbo asked. “I woke up alone. There’s no one at your neighbor’s apartment.”

“Do you even know my neighbor’s name?

“No. Some one else I don’t know brought me here. I don‘t remember much else.” Sam let her in and handed her his cell.

Five calls later, after every recipient of her calls refused to rescue her, she asked Sam to drive her home. He wiped his phone with Lysol and led her to his car. Her house was only a few blocks away, near Cheyenne and Craig. The drive was much longer than Sam’s frazzled patience.

Sam got the collect call later that afternoon, “I accept the charges,” Sam agreed. He wondered why Thorson didn‘t have a quarter for a local call.

“Sam? …. Thor here,” Thorson slurred.

“Yeah, I know. What is it Thorson?”

“They stole my car, my cell phone, my wallet. They kyped my gun. Can you come get me?”

“Who are they Thorson?”

“My buddies at the party at my house last night. Come get me,” Thorson empirically demanded.

“Where are you?

“I don’t know.”

“You’re at a pay phone?


“Damn Thorson. Shoot me a flare. Describe some land marks idiot!”

“I’m a block from a titty bar called Loose Babes.”

Sam was familiar with that part of town. It was near Valley View and Desert Inn; a ghetto the locals dub ‘Naked City.’ Topless bars, hookers, criminals, cops, panhandlers, homeless reign in this part of town. It sets the standard for the bottom end of life Vegas breeds.

“Alright asshole. This shit stops now,” Sam growled.

Thorson teetered, wavered, bounced against the glass in the urine stained phone booth, red faced, pants and shirt soiled and torn, nodding, sick, on the verge of alcohol poisoning. “I’m fucked,” Thorson wailed. “My mom and dad’l sling me from my balls for this.”

“Do they live here, in town?” Sam was surprised.

“Yeah. Two blocks away.”

“Call them!”

“They’ll be pissed, hold back my allowance, ground me.”

“Your allowance! Goddamn Thorson. I don’t care. You’re a grown man with a twelve-year old mentality. Call your parents Thorson. I’m not daddy.” Sam hung up and continued watching the Rose Bowl game.

Thorson’s parents brought him home a few hours later. They stayed with Thorson two days straight to clean him up. Thorson’s father knocked on Sam’s door before he and his wife went back home.

“I’m Thorson’s father. Thorson thinks very highly of you. He respects you. He believes you are peaceful, honorable, straightforward.”

“I’ve tried to deceive him otherwise,” Sam angrily retorted. “I’d rather he fear me than think of me in any other capacity than peaceful, honorable, straightforward.” Sam grew angrier, “Thorson is a drunk, a drug fiend. He’s obtuse, inconsiderate. I’m not fond of him as a neighbor. He belongs in rehab for a month… longer. Why don‘t you see to it. He has the mentality of a Wall Mart greeter. He’ll be harmless to himself and others near him in that environment if given simpler tasks assigned to him like gathering shopping carts from the parking lot or greeting customers at the door. Oh yah, and don‘t let the asshole get another gun either; he couldn’t keep track of the one he had.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way. It’s the truth, every word. When we retired here from Cleveland, he came with us. We rented this apartment for him. His job sends his paychecks directly to us. We control his finances because he‘s incapable of such a task. We give him a weekly allowance from it and pay all his bills. Sometimes we supplement his pocket money if he wants a new video game or other necessity. Truth is we aren’t able to manage him when he lives with us. This is his first experience living alone.”

“Christ! The separation isn’t working well...Is it? He’s thirty-years old. What’s his phobia?” Sam blurted.

“Immaturity mostly. He just never grew up.” Guilt ridden, Thorson’s father stared down at his spotless wing tip shoes.

“Lucky you,” Sam’s sarcasm again. “You control his money but can’t control your son. Classic enablers; that’s you and ‘ma.’ Thorson isn’t intellectually capable of progressing past childhood. He’s emotionally crippled, shallow in ways a shrink would diagnose as too psychologically damaged to repair. Even you realize that. Don’t you! Most of all he’s a nuisance to me.”

“We’re aware of his condition, but there‘s no helping it. He’s aware of his condition. We just can’t take him living with us anymore. We keep him close instead. I apologize for his behavior.”

“No need to apologize,” Sam growled, “I hear that crap from Thorson every day he screws up. His behavior doesn’t change--apology or no.”

Thorson’s father backed away, sensing Sam’s impatience was struggling at the tethered end of anger. “Please help us?”

“So, essentially you want him to be any one else’s problem but yours. I am the fortunate surrogate you want to take your place. Does that sum it up?”

“Not in so many words. But, we could use your help.”

“I’m not pop or mom. If Thorson does not calm down, I won’t call the cops, although I should. I’ll just take matters into my own hands. You won’t like it. He’ll like it less.”

“Maybe that reaction is exactly what he needs,” Thorson’s father meekly encouraged with regret, “We don’t know what else to do.”

“Man, you must be desperate if you want me to discipline your little boy. Commit the fuck!” Sam threw the door shut.

For a week, Sam brooded. “I’m too blessed with decency, compassion,” Sam moaned aloud. “Why me?” he grieved. “God damn… I’ll regret this. I know I will.”

Sam caught Thorson on his porch hunched over, head covered in a black hooded sweater, dripping beads of perspiration, chain smoking, cowering, hiding from the stark emptiness of another alcohol free day. Sam approached him, gently laid a hand on Thorson’s shoulder and asked sympathetically “How’s it going Thorson?”

“I got fired last week,” he almost whimpered. “Missed too much work, they said. Cops are still looking for my car. They took my gun permit too. Couldn’t find my keys so Mom and dad paid to have the locks changed. They aren’t giving me any money. I’ve been sober seven days though. Dad told me he’d get me new video games if I stay clean a month.” Thorson moped, stared at the stained porch floor cow eyed, shaking uncontrollably with the DT’s as if struck with malaria. Thorson resembled a tail tucked, gun-shy pup running rear end first from a rifle blast.

“Real hard task masters--your parents,” Sam mocked. “If there’s anything you need just let me know, I’ll help you get through this if I can.” Thorson was mute. Instead, he lit another cigarette from the cherry of the last, continued staring at the floor as if it held an antidote for his condition.

Sam took the pistol from his bed stand drawer unloaded it and placed the piece back in its shoe box, broke out his checkbook, paid bills, replayed Schubert‘s “Unfinished“ Symphony.

Thorson managed to stay sober, a month and one day. He got his new video games.

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


As of June 25, 2015, The Bactrian Room is closed to submissions.


Search This Blog

Notice of Copyrights

Original material on this site is copyrighted by the authors and artists. No material may be copied or reused without the permission of the respective author or artist.