Saturday, May 5, 2012

The refugees file past in disordered rows. They seem to be fleeing something specific, like an army or one of those enormous pterodactyls that menace people in B movies but almost never materialize in real life. When we show up at the village they have abandoned, nothing menacing can be found. There’s not so much as a burned cornfield. Nary a poster with the image of a bearded man on it. I sneak off by myself come twilight and practice my card tricks with a pack that reminds me of someone, but I can’t quite remember her name. I can’t figure out either what the connection might be, why the cards generate the image of her eyes in particular, which are large and pinched in at the corners and the color of bird plumage when the sun hits it an angle. Pain accompanies the association, but it is so vague and dull and otherworldly, it might not really be pain at all anymore, but a kind of ecstasy in the making. An opportunity to alter all things for the better through a kind of alchemy involving the memory and the hammers we strike the memory with so as to shape it a certain way (and, by extension, to punish it). After an hour of practice, during which I succeed only in losing the ten of clubs, misplacing it entirely (though I will find another, almost identical one but for the color on the back of the card, in the mud a mile away on my trek home), I realize someone is watching me from a window close by. I’m not sure how I come to this realization, and I can’t verify it, as all the windows prove to be empty as soon as I raise my head to scan them. But I am certain just the same that someone is watching me and I begin speaking to whoever it is who has been left behind in this otherwise abandoned village. Or who has chosen to remain behind for reasons it’s almost impossible to imagine if you haven’t chosen to remain behind yourself in the past when a group of people has made its difficult decision to leave. My words are kind and reassuring, and, I realize, a little condescending, but this can’t be helped. When you don’t know who exactly you are speaking to, you must assume that person is likely a child given the numbers of children wandering about aimless and alone on our disgraceful planet. When I look back down at my cards, I can hear scratching as if someone is trying to carve his initials into a window frame, and a few inaudible words drift in my direction. I try to make sense of them, I try to transform them into a definite message by amplifying each separate sound in my mind and then matching it to known sounds in the alphabet, but after twenty minutes of such effort, all I wind up with is a threat that makes no sense. A promise to turn the miniscule bones inside my ears inside out. Or to gallop by on a war pony, I’m not sure exactly which. Either way I am intrigued and decide to make my big finish precisely where I am standing – to turn the Ace of Spades into a ball of flame and then back again into itself – in full view of my spectral friend or tormentor so that he or she will know that I have some talent, some ability to alter the course of events, if need be, in my favor. I am not entirely at the mercy of the unknown.            

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