If I Had a Hammer (or Fight Club Revisited)
Now it's stopped raining and our exhilaration has become like dirty limp hair on a doll left in the mud. Watson Brooden stands there and smiles the smile of a nympho with an itch.
"This is it," he says. "You're gonna die tonight."
Enlightenment comes in such moments. A tick. A tock. One tick and you're clueless. One tock and there it is. The first snowflake touching the tip of your nose. The green sea flash on the horizon at dawn. The cracking of a tooth while eating tin roof ice cream. Finding no toy in a box of CrakerJacks.
Enlightenment comes in such moments. Or not.
He lifts the hammer and I know what comes next. We're at a nexus, he tells me. A singular point in time where everything comes together. This is it. Don't miss it. Don't fall asleep. Sleep. Morpheus' coverlet to shield the soul from the sharp corners of life. Sometimes I would sleep for days.
I have a lot of sharp corners in my life.
But it had gotten to the point where I could barely manage to stay awake at all. Not a good thing when you have to work, to earn a living, to go down to the damn store to buy toilet paper.
That's when I found bingo. First Methodist Church bingo. Jaycee bingo. Rotary Club bingo. VFW bingo . . . I'd go to them all. Sit there with my cards, my bingo marker, trading elbow space with blue-haired ladies who smelled of baby powder and linement. And there would be this bolt of chakric lightning along my spine as each number and letter was called.
Soon I was staying awake most of the day. Most of the week.
That's how I met Carla. Tangled-hair Carla with darkness lurking behind her eyes. With a slash of red for a smile. With skin the color of iced milk. I'd see her in the corner of every bingo site, never marking her cards, never talking with anyone. I knew she wasn't here to play. And one look from her told me she knew. That I was just like her. A fake. A bingo hag. A junkie holding onto sentience with slippery ink-covered fingers.
And I began to avoid her. I began to avoid all the bingo places. And, finally, I began to sleep more and more. And dream of horses. Horses running in the wind, their manes like the wild long hair of a young girl dancing in a slaughterhouse.
My father raised quarter-horses--fine, beautiful animals whose muscles rippled under coats of shiny dark skin. They were proud, strong beasts, but in the end they knew only the limitations of the pasture, the measured runs of a mock freedom. They served another purpose that was beyond their understanding--my father's purpose. To be so proud and strong and still be at the mercy of another's whim. Or pocketbook. And not to know any of this. And to wind up shivering in the dank dimness of a charnel house. To wind up in cans of dog food.
I dream of horses. I dream of dogs sitting by the pasture fence, waiting. I dream of the impatience of my own death.
Watson Brooden holds the hammer above the bridge my nose. It has dirt and grass caked on the flattened end. I know what he's about to do. It's like I'm living my life backwards. Future flowing into past. I'm Merlin with a heart breaking from sorrows that were and will be . . .
The symbol of surrender is not a white flag, Watson Brooden says. It's the scars on your soul bleeding white through your skin. You, my friend, don't have enough scars. You haven't surrendered. Without surrender, there is no eternity. A boat cannot float downstream until you give up trying to row it upstream.
I tell him I don't give a damn about surrender. I tell him that's all my life is about. I've surrendered to everything. The defeated have no rights. The defeated are at the mercy of the conqueror.
"Yes," Watson Brooden says, still smiling. "Exactly. But you have surrendered to the WRONG conqueror. The only rightful conqueror is--"
But I didn't get to hear the answer. Story of my life. Always at the edge of a revelation but never falling in. Just then the boys in the club started yelling that it was time.
"This is the beginning of the world," Watson Brooden says softly. "A brave new world without horizons, without time--there'll be no lock on the door, my friend, because we'll never close!"
Rules of the club: no one talks about it, no one knows about it, no one who knows talks about what they don't know, what you don't know is beyond explanation, so stop trying . . .
Okay boys, Watson Brooden says. Let's do it!
And they all begin to grab hammers. And they all begin to pound themselves in the head.
"Out with the garbage, in with the pure light! Crack that head, open up the spaces, let the crap ooze out, let the stars and moon and midnight air seep in!"
Watson Brooden grins with each bash of the hammer, his eyes like silver dollars as black blood courses through his scraggly hair, courses down his sunken cheeks.
And then there's Carla at his side and she looks adoringly at Watson Brooden, touches his blood as if it was a sacrament. I had introduced Carla to Watson Brooden and she had, for a time, taken him from me. Was I jealous? Perhaps. Watson Brooden had, with a simple blow to my head, stunned me into awakening--he had left me empty and hungering for more.
But it was never enough. He could never fill me. He only exposed me to more hunger.
Now I only wanted it to end. To sleep. Perchance never to dream.
* * *
Carla touches my arm. "You shouldn't be here alone."
I look around and there is only night and the sounds of a fading summer. I'm holding a hammer.
"Where's Watson Brooden?" I ask. Right here, she says, touching my chest, her eyes puzzled.
And then I know. Mirror images. Day and night. Sleep and awake. Ying and Yang. Mutt and Jeff. Me and Watson Brooden playing paddy-cakes with the world in the twilight of my consciousness.
"Am I dreaming?"
"Thank God," I say. There's not a horse in sight. "Can I stay asleep?"
"No. We all must awaken."
I shake my head. I lift the hammer. "Never again." And I hit my forehead with all of my might.
And you know something?
Heaven is all rubber rooms and whispers. A place where the sun always shines. A place where sometimes I think I hear screaming. A place where God looks like Mr. Dowley down at the drugstore.
And the kicker . . .
Horses don't run free in heaven either.