(cigarette by lanier67 | Flickr – Photo Sharing!)
My father was so damned specific about where and how he wanted his ashes spread, but it wasn’t just one location. As he wrote in his will: “allow equal measure of my ashes released to the winds, at ten of my most favored spots in the universe.” This included a list of ten places, most of which he had never even visited himself. I’m not sure why I felt so compelled to complete this ridiculous list of wishes he left for me in his will. That was literally all he left me–his bucket list. And, not to mention, he was dead. Who would complain if I skimped a little or missed a few? Who would even notice? My father, that’s who.
Even though he was dead, I felt certain that somehow my father would know. He was such a perfectionist I didn’t for a second doubt that he could somehow return from the precipice of death to haunt and criticize me for eternity should I not follow through on these last wishes. Even now his voice still clouds my head. I was never good enough. I will fail. That’s what the voice is telling me now.
I divided up his ashes into ten equal and easily carried packets, and transported these to the various locations he requested, whenever I found myself in position to visit them. Some were less involved than others. One portion of his ashes was poured into the wind from the center of the Golden Gate Bridge, and another dumped into the headwaters of the Truckee River, each of which was a day trip. The portion of ashes released at Bad Water Basin in Death Valley was also a day trip, but a little more involved since it included chartering a private plane, and a near death landing experience at the sad little patch of dust known as the Furnace Springs Airport. But past these spots located in state, it got more complicated.
His list almost read like a list of the world’s wonders. There was Table Mountain in South Africa, the Kilauea crater in Hawaii, and the summit of Mount Everest. There was Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, and the Statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio.
I hiked the Machu Picchu, the Great Wall, and the Christo Redentor trails. A giraffe stole my sandwich in South Africa, my shoes caught on fire from lava in Hawaii, and I paid a sherpa a whole lot of money to take my father’s ashes to the summit of Everest. Please don’t ask how much it cost. Over all it had been a series of expensive, exhausting adventures, and now all that remained was number ten.
Number ten was the one I at first disregarded as impossible and absurd. Impossibly impossible and absurd. But still I carry the equal and evenly divided packet number ten, still I wait for one last chance to finally deliver this last packet. Just to prove I am not a failure and I am good enough. Just to get my father’s voice out of my head once and for all.
And on a night like this when the moon shines off the water so clearly, it almost seems like number ten might be closer than I realize, like maybe I could walk there on a trail of light. Then I hear my father’s voice in my head, and I realize number ten is actually much further away than I think.
It is further away than I can even imagine.
Mångata – Swedish (noun) – the road like reflection of the moon in the water
Number 4 of the Lost in Translation series
She had big aspirations in regards to books. There were so many books she wanted to read, but the problem was not enough time to read them. Even if it was her full time job to just read books, like someone decided to give her a generous salary and health insurance and a 401K just to read, there would never be enough time. Even if she never slept or ate, and spent every second of every day reading, there would not be enough time to read all the books she wanted to read, let alone all the books she might want to read, not even counting all the books she had no interest in reading at all. And what about all the great books that hadn’t been written yet? This desire to read became the seed for her obsession.
Despite the fact that some people considered the printed book irrelevant or obsolete in the digital age, and even if there was never another printing of another book ever again, there were just so many great books already. And while she didn’t necessarily want to read all of them, she did want to read many of them. So she made a habit of going into used book stores and buying books that she thought she might like to read. In this way she ended up buying way more books than she could ever possibly devour, no matter how many hours per day she spent, but she couldn’t stop herself from buying more. Eventually she conceded that she just liked having books more than actually reading them, and this realization caused her book purchasing to accelerate.
She began stacking them in her bedroom and guest room, and soon stacks lined the walls of the hallways. She started grouping them by subject and by spine color, and arranged the piles like some elaborate Tetris-inspired art installation. Then, after the stacks covered all the walls and stretched from floor to ceiling like paperback pillars, she started stacking her books in the shape of furniture. She made a reading chair out of books, and stacked books to make a little side table. She put a book and a reading lamp on her table made of books. She even made a bookshelf out of books, where she placed books that she still entertained the fantasy of reading, on shelves that allowed easy access instead of locked away in the literary architecture of her design. When the book towers in the hallway tumbled like dominoes and blocked access to the bathroom, the urgency of her bladder helped her recognize her own absurdity, triggering an epiphany. She decided then and there she had get all these books our of her house, and just like that the perfect idea appeared in her mind.
She carried the books outside and began stacking them, weaving the covers and pages of the books together to give the piles more stability. She constructed one wall, and then another, making eight walls altogether and forming a rough approximation of an octagon. She tapered the walls toward each other as they grew taller, so that eventually they met in the middle, forming an acute and precarious-looking roof, surprisingly stable despite using only gravity and the interlocking of the book pages to stay fastened together. She borrowed a ladder from her neighbor and stacked higher than seemed prudent, but the more books she plugged into her structure the more stable it became. Some called it a shrine, or a temple, or a library, or a fortress, or an eyesore. It was all these things to her, except for the eyesore part. She thought it was beautiful, a monument to books built out of books.
When she finally finished her structure to her liking she could think of nothing better to do than to sit down with one of her books and actually read it. And when she finished reading each subsequent book she added it the structure with pride, and once again felt inspired by just how wonderful books could be.
Tsundoku – Japanese (noun) – Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.
Number 3 of the Lost in Translation series
It started the moment he learned how to walk. Off he went in whatever direction he happened to be pointing, wearing nothing but diapers and a smile, and sometimes not even the diapers. It made no difference where he was going, just so long as he was going somewhere. Had his parents not started keeping him tethered on a modified leash he surely would have wandered away and ended up kidnapped or roadkilled or on the back of milk carton. This wanderlusting continued into childhood and beyond.
When he started school teachers called him energetic or a nomad or threatened to get out the duct tape when patience ran thin. Many made claims of ADHD. The truth was trying to stay seated was totally impossible for him, which made school equally impossible. He just wasn’t cut out for it, because he just couldn’t sit still. He grew tired of being a square peg in a world of round holes. When he turned fifteen he decided he couldn’t take it anymore, and he just started walking toward the south.
When folks saw him walking they had questions. Where was he going? And why? He didn’t know the answers to these questions. He was on a quest, a quest that he didn’t know where or why of. He felt like he would know where he was going when he got there, and as soon as he figured out the where he would know the why. Until then he kept walking.
People started feeding him and bringing him gifts. He garnered a reputation as the walking saint and his reputation preceded his path. He always had a dry place to stay and home cooked food to eat. He walked all the way through Mexico and into Central America. He crossed the Panama canal and kept going south. He eventually reached the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, and he looked off the end of South America, over the icy waters stretching to Antarctica. It was breathtaking yes, but even this was not the where he imagined would stop him in his tracks. So he turned around and kept walking, to the North.
Almost two years after leaving he finally returned home, having walked thousands of miles and met thousands of people. He learned to speak Spanish and a bit of Portuguese. He wanted to imagine that when he made it back home it would be a relief, that somehow the urge to walk would disappear and he could finally settle into a normal life. He wanted home to be the where he was looking for, but actually returning home made him feel more lost than ever. So he kept going.
Through Oregon and Washington, into British Columbia. He couldn’t stop, not until he got to the place he couldn’t picture but would know nonetheless. Someday he would make it to wherever he was going, and then it would all make sense. He would finally understand why he had walked so far and never been able to stop.
Until then, the walking saint kept walking.
Vacilando – Spanish (verb) – Traveling when the experience itself is more important than the destination.
Number 2 of the Lost in Translation series
Check out my new flash fiction on Cease, Cows.
Scientists had first observed the asteroid months ago, but most people didn’t comprehend the magnitude of the consequences. For the first few months after the discovery people suspected some sort of impossible scientific conspiracy, like the big bang, the Higgs Boson, or global warming. Many researchers and pundits were accused of conspiratorial motivations involving a far left or far right agenda. Christian theologians began preaching the coming of the Apocalypse, as if Jesus were somehow riding into town on the asteroid like a holy space cowboy, which in turn led to a dramatic increase in prayer and salacious requests of salvation. Most assumed that between the United Nations, the global industrial military think tank, and brainy scientific literati, some sort of solution would be proposed and executed before the impending strike. Blow it up with nuclear warheads, use rockets to alter its path, blast it to smithereens by lasering into its icy core, construct some sort of giant space blockade out of plastic bags and styrofoam. Human kinds brightest minds would undoubtedly surmise some sort of solution to this impending disaster. For most life went on in a predictable and routine manner, unfazed, despite the fact that asteroid P-52637 was hurtling toward Earth at 280,000 miles per hour, and though there was a level of unpredictability in its trajectory, most models and calculations seemed to indicate it would make a direct impact somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere on December the thirtieth.
After the brainiest engineers’ plans and calculations had proven inadequate in abating the large chunk of space dust’s path, the impending impact grew closer and more unavoidable. Some people became frantic, attempting to live an entire life in the course of a couple days. Others rioted in the streets trying to seize control of their destinies while they still had destinies to seize, looting things like high end liquor, big screen TVs, and surround sound systems, so they could watch the doom and gloom footage in 1080p while they got drunk and tried to forget about it. Not that the shop owners or police cared. Some of them were looting too.
Some people tried to frantically build catastrophe shelters or spaceships in hopes of avoiding the carnage altogether. Others grew despondent and fell depressed into a sort of paralysis, a state prevalent enough to be termed the comet coma. The whole of humanity seemed to be reaching a sort of emotional apex covering the spectrum of possible responses. Anger, sadness, denial, elation, regret, apathy, forgiveness. Most, it seemed, suffered from a strange combination of all these, inducing even more instances of comet coma as the impending impact approached with its promise of blasting life as we knew into the the nether regions of space.
While some became agitated and lashed out at the cruel absurdity of it, more and more fell into their comet comas, still alive on the outside, but lifeless and empty on the inside as if they were already dead. It was an inescapable and vacuous feeling of having everything we had worked for and dreamt of and aspired to accomplish in our lives suddenly taken. Sure we all die, but this felt so much more permanent than death. Most of us hoped that even though our time on Earth was limited to this one life, some small piece of us—a memory, a child, a resume of accomplishments, an obituary in the local paper—would live on past our temporal existence.
Knowing that there would be no tomorrow for any of us somehow made today so much more valuable. I lamented the fact that it had to take this impending catastrophe to trigger this realization. I did my best to avoid the coma and the comatose pacing the streets in despair like zombies. I tried to embrace the sanctity of this moment—of every moment—before these moments spiraled to their cataclysmic end. And as that fiery ball filled the sky and reminded us all of our impending mortality, I climbed onto my roof, popped my best bottle of wine, and lifted a glass to the heavens. It had been a good run.
Posted for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Countdown
I had tried to grow a mustache many times, but my attempts had never proven successful. I could muster no more than a sparse collection of fuzz that resembled a teenager’s sad attempts at cultivating a crumb catcher. I had grown lambchops, soul patches, chin straps, and amish beards, but for some reason the skin between my mouth and nose was a barren wasteland when it came to facial hair. At some point I had relinquished hope, and all my sad attempts were forgotten and my future prospects abandoned. It was years later that I finally tried again, despite the vehement protests of my wife. She claimed she was allergic to mustaches, but I had already resigned myself to conquer this mustache barrier. I wanted to cross this off my list of lifely accomplishments, and scratch one more item off my bucket list.
I let the little patch of skin above my upper lip go unshaven for a week, and to my surprise a mustache began to form, regal, full, bushier than a wombat doused in rogaine. No more would I be labeled a failure of testosterone or male maturity. No more would I be mistaken for a grey haired teenager with a beer belly. My manly lip turf would prove my worth to society and assuage at least one of my childish insecurities.
It didn’t take long to notice that people treated me differently with a mustache. Older women and men began calling me sir. Children respected and feared me. People showered me with looks of reverence when before they had looked at me with a combination of disdain and pity, and sometimes disgust. My mustache made me feel more important, more manly, and more relevant than ever. My posture improved, my self esteem blossomed, and my head felt inflated with helium. I floated through my errands as if gravity no longer concerned me. The men either looked at me with envy, or if they had a mustache they stroked their stache and gave me a knowing nod of approval.
The cashier at the grocery store, a bald man with a nattily trimmed mustache gave me a wink and a nod, and touched his mustache. Then he called the manager over, a man with a bushy mustache that could have easily put Magnum P.I. to shame. He placed his right finger on his nose and then stroked it across his mustache much like every other mustachioed man had done, and then looked at me expectantly. Not knowing what else to do I mimicked his gesture. He smiled and proceeded to use his manager code to take twenty five percent off my grocery bill.
On the way home from the store I was so perplexed by what happened at the grocery store that I blasted through a red light and was pulled over by a police officer. The man had a mustache of special effects proportions, like some sort of computer generated super-stache. It seemed to command the entire lower portion of his face, covering up his mouth and wiggling back and forth when he spoke. He approached my car, and upon seeing my mustache repeated the same gesture as the grocery store manager, a finger to his nose and then a quick stroke of the mustache. I responded in kind and he laughed and told me to be more careful. We members of the order must be cautious, he told me. We must not abuse our privilege. Then he asked if I wanted a donut. Sure I told him. He brought me one with rainbow sprinkles.
When I got home my wife noticed the rainbow sprinkles littering my mustache. Yet one more reason why mustaches are disgusting, she told me. How in the world did I get rainbow sprinkles in my mustache, she asked, crossing her arms and glaring at me.
I just stroked my mustache and told her she would never believe it.