Ptarmigan

a grouse with completely feathered feet

4/06/2004

Home of the (part 4 of 6; read part 1, part 2, and part 3 below)

Pepin's floating. He's floating about them. Their time is now, but his is not. He puts his finger into the marmalade sky and doesn't feel any wind. It's windy. He's a lighter-than-air aircraft. Of sorts. They're playing. They don't know the time. They don't know the proximity of adversaries. One chanced a glance at the other. Neither has touched the board. Which means it's white's turn. Soon they will meander. He's not sure what is sensory information and what is realism. On his farm, once, he milked cows and learned to like it. Hills were called mountains in his background. He hates chess even more, after what happened to him. He loves God! However, that is unimportant. His mother's name is Marguerite. She is still farming. She has farming stories that he will never hear. That is a long time ago. White moves finally. C4. The English Opening. White has made him laugh. Lieutenant Carve--that isn't his name, it has to be Carver--is close. Carver's floating, but in a boat. He will be woken. The English opening lends itself to positional play. Jockeying, and not swift tactics. At least at first. The English Opening can lead to brutal retributions eventually. Pepin sees Black's knife next to the board. Pepin's cold somehow. More than usual. To disavow knowledge of the game, he holds his breath. He came to New France because of a girl. The girl was sixteen. Somewhere she is. She died of smallpox on the Atlantic crossing. He can't hold his breath long enough to reach her. Holding breath is like holding court or serve. He's forgotten her face. They threw her into the Sargasso. Other women have resembled her all the same. He lets out his breath. A sulfur trace streaming over the peninsula. No one's living there. Time gives serve. Black king and white queen are dead. He didn't see their ashes deposited into Misery Bay. That's what the Commodore later calls it. But it fit. It fits. He's deposited too. Part of him. A safety deposit in a sand bank. He doesn't hate White with all of his heart. Pepin knows he is young. She was not. The young are interruptible. After what has happened to White and Black and the others, he came away easy. He's floating, after all. He hasn't found anyone else floating. The French fort is ephemeral. They who think they are more than footnotes. So Pepin and the French military share the same language. Big deal. Everyone is a footnote. Entrapment isn't so bad. It nourishes broken things and makes them grow big and strong. He would like, at some point, to see one of his loves again. Unlikely. The French fort passes. LeBouf lasts a little longer, though he can't see that. The factory has slid into the marshes. It's hard to talk about in the open. No one can see this, as no one can directly see a black hole. For a long time it couldn't be considered a factory, as much as a place where corpses were burned. Pepin can only see the absences around the factory. There are tricky currents and tidepools within the peninsula's many nooks and moors. It's a good place to hide and hide things. The factory begins its production unbeknownst to the Pennsylvanians. Underneath the duckweed. The state buys the lake port when he inhales again. The state needs access. A safe harbor. He sees odd speculative bubbles. America has plans. America, he wants to say, you are one clumsy girl. You are so obvious about your schemes and flirtations. Winters remind him of past frostbite. He lost a pinky tip on the farm. He was a hard worker in Quebec. He gutted fish. They mixed the fish with potatoes and put it in tins. Meal alchemy. The Cathars, he realizes, weren't quite so fearsome as he had feared or even hoped. Even after all they did to him. They weren't even really Cathars. They enjoyed thought costumes. They paid a heavy price. America would have done them good. A declaration of independence and constitution. The city arrives, sloping to the bay. Burghers want to build a profit fleet. War with the English makes this possible. Pepin thinks of the English Opening again. There is no American Opening. There ought to be. He's contemplated mating with clouds. Albino gulls dive. He has time for historiography. The American fleet sinks an English fleet. Niagara monster built in a cove. The remainders of the American fleet are sunk in Misery Bay. The landbridge floods. Recedes. He doesn't want to mewl over his predicament. The hardest part was when they opened his chest cavity. That's when he fled. That's when holding his breath became more than a way to conquer hiccups. Civil war brought actual factories. He had applied for a cabin boy position in Quebec city. He milled around the docks. He was hungry. He didn't know they only had canoes and no cabins for boys. He could read. He was the only applicant. He was on the canoe with the goat, who shit everywhere. No wonder they wanted to kill it when they landed. Once in awhile a chips wrapper swirls by, and that's it. He's grateful for litter and nutritional statements. Food pyramids printed on trash. Of course there is always the Eriez to consider. The skunk people. Maybe if they weren't eradicated by the Iroquois, things would have been different for him. Or a beheading on the spot, upon landing on the peninsula. Hard to say. Ironworks cast dies meanwhile. A long era when trains stopped in Erie. The depth's factory felt competition. This was no doubt natural. A kiss is a technology aimed to achieve a desired effect. A kiss is an opening. It's difficult to consider his belly button. He can't look. He first kissed the White Queen while gathering berries with her. Eventually she crushed the berries against her thighs. He kissed the berries off. The passage of their mutual seduction. She would wander through the nascent city nude. Poles, Germans, Irish homing pigeoned to the city. The gem city, it's called for awhile. No one finds gems limning the streets but at least there's work. Presque Isle is inaccessible except by boat. Mosquitoes show their displeasure to tourism. There is a lake-side lighthouse. A house is attached to it. Children live there. Coast guard. Pepin watches them get older. They build a trail cutting across the peninsula to the bay side. Dead fish are a language. They gather near the docks as a grammarian's convention. A sidewalk trail arrows past the marshes. Oh they tore that up. But not for a long time. The children use the trail to go to school, to the bay on the other side. A ferry to Erie. The trail seems straight. The children die. The factory's migrating, underwater. Sledging on the bottom, upturning mercury boots and nonrefundable cola bottles on the bay's bottom. He imagines cats in diving bells hauling the factory underwater. Nearly departed souls resemble cats. They skulk and hiss. He observes pesticides and tourist arrivals and bathhouses and children drowning in undertows. Or straying off the sidewalk trail. Deer shy away. Ticks pounce. Grandmasters joust thirty miles away in a tourney. In the early history of chess, the queen used to be a limited piece and could not move far. Anonymous Europeans made technological enchantments to accelerate the game. The queen became the most powerful piece. Aside from the king. Even that was questionable. The King's power rested in his vulnerability. His bones tremble. Ticks with lime disease and zebra mussels are cousins and arrive at the same time. Trains stop stopping as much as they used to. He sees her at last--and what he would become, reawakened--in the eighties. She's building a sand castle next to her mother. For a few seconds of slowness, he hears Cheap Trick chords on the trans-am distend. Her mother stares at the sand. They're both on a beach towel. Her mother cocks her head and starts digging. He's unsure of her dowsing--not of its accuracy but whether he wants to be found. Then he thinks, of course I want to be found. Who doesn't. She puts her hand flat on the sand. She tells her daughter to wade. The sand castle's spires remind him of home. Rain ruins and wolves skirting the crop edges. He never understood Cathars and never would. Wade? the daughter says. A pigeon flies past, out of its habitat. Practice your doggy paddle, Cleo. Don't swallow the water, it's filthy. Keep your chin up. This last command, even he can tell, is tactical advice and not encouragement. He enjoys the linear progression of time. Even though he knows it's kind of a farce. It turns out that the colonists on the Peninsula were kicked out of the Cathar establishment. Loose as it was. For violence and malfeasance. The White Queen told him this a few days before their separation. The girl is dutiful and splashes into the waves. The mother scoops up the bag. He mimics spitting sand out of his mouth. At that moment, the mother realizes she'll never play professional chess again. Her head's crowded. With the pieces in place above the sand, the factory comes ashore in a foggy night. Sets up shop in an abandoned warehouse, of which there are plenty. Close to the stucco house on the east side. Within striking distance. But the factory waits. Zebra mussels invade in its wake and win. In like fashion, Pepin floats above the stucco house and sees recalcitrant spires, gangplanks, chained vats inside the factory. He sees dimly. Tractor-sized photocopiers where the cats are penned. Inner ichors. The mother loses the Black Queen! Or rather, the Black Queen escapes. Maybe there isn't a Black Queen in the first place and never was. Hard to say what is true. He is over the house. A good view. The mother gives up chess in earnest after a legion of failures. Cleo senses she should never discuss this. House turned up top to bottom. Arguments over who lost the queen. Vast quarrels. It's useless, he hears. It's useless. I swear I had the queen, it was in my grasp. The remaining pieces are squirreled away in storage and the mother dies. And then everyone is filled with the Lord, and a few people design systems to save and consolidate other, less fortunate people. Much later, he whispers to the girl--now much older, and sadder--that he will give his breath and breadth, and that she will never have to be alone unless she wants to be, because her time is dire, because others want to ensure that. And it's not your fault, he continues, it's mine. It's all mine. But I need you to breathe with me, so that it may be rectified. She opens her mouth in the bath and then he's inside of her. And then everything is different. She doesn't move to open the door when she hears knocking. That's the factory representative, he tells her in a cortex whisper. He's offering you an eviction notice. Don't read it. That's why I'm here for you now. I'm hearing you. I have a better way to protect you. She doesn't read it. The factory is getting desparate, reckless. It doesn't dare raid the house with his protection. I love you, she says. He sees through the foreman's window the knife. He can shift back, at any time, to feeling Black's knees on his chest and the first fluttering cut across the neck. He doesn't. He has a self. She's fragile and warm, he thinks. The churches sadden the streets in bright crosses. Migratory species are shot down with antiaircraft guns. Icarus solutions means losing track of extinctions. Satan is a better chess player than God. It doesn't mean he wins. But he has nothing to lose. Operators on a abandoned blocks on 18th try to contact like minded psyches through telepathy and ham radio. Signals bounce off him because they don't reach anyone else. Pepin doesn't correct her love. A love that her betters would call wicked only because of its suddenness. He coaxes her out of the tub. Now go find the rest of me, he says. I'm in the attic, in a banker's box. Your mother painted it blue.


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(to be continued...)

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