Jim Meirose's work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Calliope, Offbeat/Quirky (Journal of Exp. Fiction pub,), Permafrost, North Atlantic Review, Blueline, Witness, and Xavier Review, and has been nominated for several awards. Published books include: Understanding Franklin Thompson (Experimental novel - JEF pubs (Recent - deal being finalized)), Inferno (E-Chapbook - Underground Voices), Mount Everest and Eli the Rat (Literary Novels - Montag Press). Visit www.jimmeirose.com to know more.
Some Dream Washed Up onna Opium-Bed
In opium smoke, they sat, chatting.
You know, said Simon, smoke flowing from his mouth and nose along with the words. For some reason, I got this idea that the number five is very, very, important.
Really? said Parkie, taking the pipe from Simon. His drooping red eyes said, The number five? Why should that pop into your mind? Having asked the question, he brought the pipe to his lips, strongly but slowly inhaled, and as the smoke flowed down, smooth and hot, he watched Simon say, For one thing, there are five letters in my first name. I think it’s very important to think over why your name has the number of letters it has. It’s like there’s some message there that everybody goes through life and to their grave missing.
Huh, said Parkie, having removed the pipe and holding it out in the smoke cloud between them, for Simon to take. There’s six in my first name. Does that make six important and significant for me, too?
The pipe in his mouth and the smoke going down enveloped Simon, and words simmered in his lungs as the smoke did its work, and after the smoke had done its work, the pipe popped from his mouth and the exhalation came full of smoke twisting around more words said in a giddy voice as he handed the pipe back over.
—yes, it probably is, but sorry, I can’t think of anything but five right now. There’s five arms on a starfish you know. Ever seen a starfish, Parkie? I had a starfish, it was all dried out and dead, it was like something you’d put out in the table as kind of a knick-knack. When I looked at it while I still had it, it ought to have gave me a hint. About five, you know? I--
It’s not gave, Simon. The word is given.
What? Huh? Here, take the pipe—gave, given, what’s the difference?
Given is correct because it has five letters. You talk about five being so important, but then because of the opium, I bet, you stumble over a word that should have five letters when said properly, and peel a whole letter off the thing and drop it on the floor.
As Parkie took his hit of opium, Simon nodded, saying deeply, I—gee. I should have known better. I—I should have said it right. My God why didn’t I say it right? Give me the pipe—back here, give it.
As Parkie handed back the pipe, he said, Yeah, you should have known better. How do you think that poor word feels, just torn up like that—torn up just as bad as your finger would feel if somebody thoughtlessly peeled off the fingernail? Words do have feelings, you know.
Simon said nothing as the pipe was in his mouth, and he was drawing on the pipe mightily, so Parkie went on to say into the silence, Words are things, you know. Things. But you can’t hold a word in your hand. Why is that? Most other things, you can hold in your hand. Like the damned starfish that tried to give you a clue that you ignored—you felt that in your hand. But you can’t hold a word in your hand. They just get born, heard, and die into nothing in all the smoke around us. You know what I mean, man, you know what I mean--
The pipe went to Parkie’s snow white hand and with the pipe toward Parkie came words from Simon all confused and twisted saying, No, that’s not right. Words don’t die. Words come in people and make people do things; like, like--
Like the word became flesh?
The word became flesh and dwelt among us? How about that? It just flowed from the word and made a whole sentence one word came from the last and it ended up a sentence. But, the question becomes--
Let me guess. Is a sentence any more real than a word? Is that the next question?
The pipe got set on the small round table between them as Parkie answered, Yes, maybe, but damn it. Damn! This stuff is too damned strong! It’s making me crazy. Let’s go get some air. You know? I need some air—I feel damned crazy!
Yeah, me too, but wait!
Today is Friday! Fifth day of the work week! That’s important!
This is what five was trying to tell me! Friday is day number five, the day the fucking big Roman bastards march this week’s condemned criminals out to the place where they get executed! Wanna go downtown and watch them go by? Today’s Friday--
Yeah! Sounds good! But is it over? Wait. What time is it, we might be too late--
Is what over? What--
The march, the last parade of the criminals. Are we too late? What time do they do that? Get up, get up. Leave the pipe, it’ll go out by itself. I need air. Let’s go downtown and see if we can catch the tail end of the parade. See? See? Word became flesh! The word five became a nice sunny walk downtown, to watch a parade. Word became flesh! On Friday, to boot! Last day of the work week! Come, let’s go become flesh, Simon.
Right! It all adds up! We should go there—let’s hurry!
They pulled on their shoes and popped in breath mints and hurried out, Simon pausing to uphale the last wisps of smoke from the ancient huge ashtray, and out the door they went. A parade! Nothing beats a loud crazy parade! Everybody loves a parade; especially when you’re going to see some people on their way to experience pain and suffering and death. Simon, and to a lesser extent, Parkie, was afflicted with this need to see them. New ones each week. These Romans are killers. They rushed down the lane and there was not a living soul to be found. The reached the main road to town, still no one. Everybody must be at the parade. Everybody always went to the Friday parade. In this ugly place they lived, there wasn’t much else to do. As Simon walked, he began feeling bone dry thirsty. They walked on a dusty road with the heat come up in waves from the dirty blacktop. Why is it, that places that are hot like this never have cold drinks handy? Why are there not any people dashing out to give Simon and Parkie little bitty cups of tepid water like they do along the course of your average garden-variety girls club 5K race for the fucking cure, or whatever she calls herself this week? And, in river towns, they stock no fish hooks. It’s a fact, and a similar thing—as they raced along Simon blew some residual smoke as he pitterpatterraced along behind Parkie and Lord, he wanted to strip and dive into the water under the bridge they were pattering over but when he looked there was no water and no bridge. It always turns out that way when you run too fast; all kinds of things that aren’t there pop up, it’s simply no good to run too fast; it’s just going to lead you to some mosquito infested place where they’re throwing a yard party but never heard of citronella. Simon pumped his arms and pumped. This run was almost as bad as the standing still had been bad when he worked at the fucking diving board factory. Resin, up to the elbows, God—every day layering on this fabric and that fabric dripping with stenchy resin—hell to wash off at the end of the day. The skin would tend to peel off with it, and--
Simon, keep up! Keep up, will you! I see the parade. It’s on the next block. It’s coming, it’s coming it’s coming thrust pump strain your legs and at last they came out into the thronging crowd and pushed between big men, saucily, and there it was; the parade, all flowing.
Simon stopped, eyes bugging. Thank God they had come here. There was the guy he had heard so much about, thank God he had come here. He wanted to see the guy; the holy guy his old pal turned in, ratted out on, finked over to the cops. This holy guy; at least his next door neighbor Fred had told him about the holy guy, and walking there, between the soldiers in their fancy dresses, there he was. Yes it was the holy guy he heard was around, but; the man was now all beaten and broken and soaked in blood, dragging this big wood thing he would die on. And, Simon’s opium flashed him back a while to when he had been smoking with his old pal, way before, when his pal was trying to get Simon to join the Sicarii back in Cyrene.
It’ll be fun, the old pal said into the smoke up between them. You join, they give you a dagger, and you go and find crowds to mix with and attack Romans or Roman sympathizers, blending into the crowd after the deed to escape detection—it’s great fun!
They had laughed and laughed but of course, when the time came to join up Simon finked out on his pal and never went to the signup meeting. His old pal did though; and his old pal never ever spoke to him again, he was so pissed—and Simon never knew if he ever actually stabbed anybody because they never met or smoked or pissed into the bushes again after that, and, oh yes, his pals name was, what? The tip of his tongue spit the name. Right. The old pal’s name was Judas, and the paper said the other day he had turned in the holy guy that was wandering all around doing his thing, hurting nobody, but that right now was carrying that big heavy black wooden thing down the cobbles, going with a couple other thugs with the Romans to where they’d be hung up to dry out to death all naked, in the sun. Simon’s redeyes bugged; funny how everything seems connected somehow. Funny how things come and pull you in and suck the paying attention out of you while you are stopped dead in your tracks. Parkie and Simon buzzed up to the curb, and the rude Roman soldiers passed right in front, their garlic and olive oily stinking greasy faces scanning the crowd; and, this fat one, this gross one, this one with the filthy uniform who never heard of hygiene, locked his eyes on the gawking sky-high Simon’s ice cold face, and pointed crying out loud to the huge gaping Romans trudging all around.
Hey, look here guys! Look—this guy by the road here—look at his God-damned eyes! This is an opium guy! Hey! Hey, look! Two opium guys--
Simon heard nothing, he was watching the skinny holy man stumbling along under the great weight almost collapsing and being helped along by the soldiers to keep moving, he was beat up really bad, blood all over, he was beat up real bad and weak as could be—you could tell it. He’s on his way to nothingness, thought Simon—he’s going down, down, down--
That guy! There! He’s stoned out of his mind! Hey guys, how ‘bout we spoil his trip a little. Hey guy, there you—we are gonna spoil your trip a little here and now--
Simon always secretly fantasized about becoming the fifth horseman, or the fifth truth, which was death and nothingness, when he used to smoke with his old estranged pal Judas, and God, God damned him, he had gone and made all this shit happen--
The Romans converged and pulled at Simon’s sleeve but he was away, lights out, all turned looking inside at the past, and didn’t know.
—yeah something about there really needing to be a fifth horseman of the apocalypse—his pal knew a guy was writing up some big novel draft called Revelation that he couldn’t get published in this life, but he knew would hit it big when the time was right, but not in his lifetime, no never in his lifetime; but there was this flaw, you see. One missing horseman--
You! You stoner! Come, come—we got a job for you! The trip of your life! Like opium, do you? Hey you were with a pal—hey, where’d your big blonde California pal go--
Parkie had melted back into the crowd when he saw the Romans come plucking at Simon’s sleeve; he saw them coming, he got away. He went back to the hut and crashed. Too much he had had. His day was over. But, now, Simon was alone; they pulled him off the curb and a filthy soldierface came so close it actually merged with his and it yelled inside him, it was that close—You! Come out here! Come on out, join the fucking show! exploded in Simon’s head.
Woken up, and yanked off the curb, he stumbled and turned into the Roman, pulling and shouting and stinking of garlic, who said, You want a trip? We’ll show you a trip, we will—come on out in the street, asshole, and join our parade!
It was then Simon saw the window, above, open in the sky, shouting down, shouting down, shouting down; the cry of a woman, way,way, up—opium she was, yes, was. Sure. Opium lady. Totally from the back of his mind came her words, must be so, because windows don’t float in the sky. She whispered to him not to worry or be afraid, because he was really home in bed. This was all the opium. All no more than a dream which will in time, fade. So he decided to relax and flow downstream. The crying of the woman poured down on the throng all dissolving in the shouting of the Romans and the buzz of the crowd lining the road seven deep on both sides, all buzzing buzzing, with the woman crying, My son! Lord! Please help me find my son! Please let me know I really have a son! Please help me know! Help me as you are about to be helped through your suffering! My son’s name is--
Over here! shouted the Roman, pulling Simon up off the bed with a set of huge rough filthy fingers, but somehow, he remained safe lying down as at the same time he was pulled out into the street directly below the old woman’s shouting.
—please let me know I really have a son, or if I am all alone here waiting for someone who will never come--
Simon rolled in the soft silken opium-bed as the Roman shoved him up to the blood-soaked skinny weakening condemned holy man walking the bedfoot, and the Roman pulled out Simon’s hand and ran the palm down the great rough wooden side of the huge beam the weakening holy man was nearly collapsing under. In that one powerful swipe down the woody mass of prickles and splinters and stabbing sharpness Simon’s hand filled with masses of brown splinters covering the whole of his palm. The pain came. The pain was coming so to stop the pain he pulled the bedcovers up higher and shut his bloody eyes tighter as he was shoved by the Romans under the great beam, pushing aside and replacing the holy man who had been carrying it, and he was told by the Roman, Now keep moving! Carry this to the end! He is too weak, and we need to go faster. No more stopping! We need to get there today—so carry the damned thing!
—Lord, lord, that pious man has stepped forward to help you, see? So, now look up at me since your burden has been lifted and help me please, please, in the same way--
I—I don’t think I can do it, Simon choked out from under the covers. I can’t hold this it’s too big and too heavy and--
A Roman whip from nowhere came across Simon’s back, slashing him up under the beam and so he began to obey, yes he better obey, so he walked. He kicked at the bed covers all warm underneath and tucked in tighter to the dream to hang on and be able to obey the Roman, with no pain. Must always obey the Romans, everybody knew—they all have license to kill anyone on the spot if they are disobeyed. Every day it happens in this town. Right out in the open. In front of little kids, and all. He walked, the beam bumping along dragging over the rough cobbles. Eyes shut tight, he followed the sound of dragging he was making happen behind him. The old woman high above prayed and prayed on.
My lord, my lord! Please give me a sign that I do indeed have a son! I need it, I need it. His memory is getting too hazy, almost gone—if he never was than I have spent am spending and will spend all of my life totally alone!
Simon walked. The covers were warm. Head down, he opened his eyes and the cobbles flowed by, that’s all he really needed to see. The cobbles flowing by were everything that was and the bed grew too comfortable and the mists in his mind began to solidify into the words from above and the Roman’s and the people lining the streets, intertwining around him.
—alone, my Lord, I cannot bear a life of loneliness--
—move fast! Faster now! We have to get there someday, you ass--
The bed wrapped all around him, saying from the sides of the road, words; there he is! Yes, it is the one! We have heard of him! Why have they condemned him? Why him? Why?
Why him, my God, he is a good man. No.
The bed. The cobbles.
Why is he condemned—he healed people, he helped people, he asked nothing--
Simon relaxed down easier into the bed of cobbles with the cover pulled up to his chin, as they told him at last what they really thought of him. Really, really—Simon was a good man.
My Lord, my lord and my God, cut through the heart of the good man’s dream. It felt good to know this was just a dream; like when you dream at night totally paralyzed terrified by God know what and it suddenly dawns, yes, this is a dream. The dark room begins to appear around the sleeper. The sleeper’s in a half-dream now. Pain flowed up vibrating the wood, from the rough cobbles. Pain forced up from the rough sheets. The sheets and the cobbles and the half-dream and the walking and—the mud and the blood and the beer--
Music, yes! Let all things turn to music.
Lord help me as he is helping you--
—the mud and the blood and the beer--
Lord—what—where is Parkie? We were sitting here smoking and here has now become this, whatever it is; all of walking and cobbles and whipping and shouting. Where on earth has Parkie gone? I need to smoke. A new dream is coming and I need to do more dreaming-smoke or this terror will become real, and—that will never do! Parkie!
You, shut up! Keep walking!
No, that will never do. So I’ll just roll over in bed here.
—the mud and the blood and the beer--
Keep walking! was the only voice. The slash of the whip, and, Keep walking!
This terror becoming real no will not ever do I’ll just roll over in bed here until sunrise.
Every dream has an end and the ends stop at sunrise.
The sun rose in him, as the wonderful shining dream set beneath the edge of the sweet engulfing but quickly dissolving, opium dreaming bed that drifted toward the end of the road with everything else that was seeking to get there. The sun came up shining over the now-empty street; the whole procession and following throng had moved on. So the window drifting far above went away also, away with the rest of the long night that was over, and, the old alone woman turned moving to the next in the series of windows on her wall, that she had put there to to see through, pray from, and hope into. This sort of thing seems to happen every day.