by Jeremy Ravdin
A cloudy tickle pushes its way along my membrane, mushing my pseudopod into a humble nubbin. I let the pressure move along my unassuming body without resisting. It’s pleasant, actually. Warm. The balmy fluid force massages my food vacuole, compressing tender innards. Rotating from the anterior, the steady wave nudges along my walls. Greedy to taste the juicy intrusion, I slurp in from my vacuole.
My membrane crumples with the weight of ingestion, and the tepid sensation slides away as quickly as it first appeared. A chilly wave of moisture pushes along my shriveled membrane. My pseudopod reforms, slowly. I reach out, searching for alternate comfort, but none is present. The soup shifts in a new direction. All I can sense are bland-seeming specks nearby. Figments of mush, but no heat.
There is a new pressure in the soup. Something longer than me, like six pseudopods in a curvy line. It’s curling back and forth, making little waves that pulse against my anatomy. A flick from the anterior shifts me closer to the new neighbor. I rustle my membrane. Look how big I can get! Not as big as you, but you can’t ignore me now. My neighbor leans in, almost pressing its walls against mine. Will you be my friend?
A fluttering disruption in the soup pushes me out of the way. Friend!?! Another long form storms in to our proximity. It’s so big! Eleven pseudopods-long at least! I can feel its mass lifting and sloshing the soup. I think it’s taken my friend. Should I go back? My membrane shudders, curving in on itself. No, returning might be bad. I don’t want to be absorbed and made food. I feel smaller now. And cold.
The shifting waves lift my tender bulk into a spin. Passing through the blurry brume, a strange-flavored chunky speck lands on my side. I’ve never tasted this speck before. Its tang sends shudders through me, membrane fluttering from the weird newness. I pull the speck close with my pseudopod, welcoming it inside my walls, pushing its gritty form into my food vacuole.
The waves die down, letting my body come to a gradual halt. I meditate on the exotic speck inside of me, pushing cytoplasm inwards and savoring the digestion.
One minute I can still feel the speck, and the next, it dissolves in my anatomy. I flick my pseudopod back and forth, hoping to reignite the feeling of its uniqueness in my food vacuole. But there is nothing. I bob in the soup for a minute, shuddering in throes of withdrawal.
Something inside me fizzes and pops. There is a burbling and building in my nucleus. A form erupts outward from the center of me, breaching my membrane to crowd along my side. It wiggles against me. I sense its center mirrors my own.
We sit together in the soup, and then I realize it: this expanded wiggle is me! I flex my new half, feeling its tensile strength pressed against my more familiar proto-form. Another moment passes before vigor pours through my original body, equalizing each half with confidence and potential. I am no longer alone. I am two. New. I am myself.
Jeremy Ravdin welcomes your comments on “Gary Larson’s Wet Dream” at jeremyravdin[at]yahoo.com.
photo by euthman
by Alka Joshi
In 1966, a race riot occurred in the Bayview district in San Francisco. It lasted 128 hours and subsequently led to “white flight” from the area.
In 2011, Alka Joshi interviewed three of her African American neighbors to learn more about the lingering emotional and economic scars that stem from the riot.
Note: audio begins at 00:30.
Alka Joshi was born and raised in India till the age of nine, when her family immigrated to America. She graduated from Stanford with a BA in Art History and worked for the next 25 years in the advertising/marketing industry before enrolling in the MFA program at CCA. You can reach her at creativewiz[at]earthlink.net.
by David Mitchell
The Heart twitched nervously from where he sat at the table. Most of his hair had fallen out again, and his pupils were more dilated than before. He’d lost much of the weight he gained back, and his complexion, too, had regressed. His left arm sported a hideous septic discoloration, with spidery trails dissipating from a raised blackened center. His right hand twitched involuntarily, his fingers grasping a syringe he was not holding.
“In case you’ve forgotten,” said the Brain from the other side of the table, “here’s what you did three days ago. You got up, in a burst of energy neither of us could have foreseen, and ripped my cord out from the CPU along with three others, which blinded me and disabled some of my systems, then you punched him—”
The Brain indicated the Penis, sitting a far distance away from the table. He was leaning against a plaster section of the wall, his muscular arms crossed, and a sour expression on his face. His one good eye was now black.
“—in the face when he tried to restrain you, jumped up onto the highest cabinet, somehow activated the intercom, and spoke into it directly. You told Losang about us, which is not exactly a violation of our rules, but not particularly helpful for our cause either . . .”
“I’m really, really, sorry, guys,” the Heart whimpered. “I didn’t know what I was thinking . . .”
“We should kick him out,” said the Penis, “I’m sick of his shit.”
“We don’t have that option,” said the Brain.
“What do we really need him for, anyway? We’re so much better off without him.”
The heart hung his head in shame, tears silently trailing down his face. “I have . . . one question, though,” he asked.
“Go ahead,” said the Brain.
“When Losang told David that he was ‘always in her heart and prayers’, what did she mean?”
“That’s your call,” said the Brain.
“I know, but is that her way of pussy-footing around the three-word incantation, something she says to all of her friends, or something in between? A statement like that sort of straddles the line between Agape and Eros, doesn’t it?”
“Or bounces merrily astride it,” mumbled the Penis.
“More like Agape and Karuna,” said the Brain.
“I’ve just been wondering,” the Heart continued, “could it be that I’ve been looking at this whole thing the wrong way? My feelings for her weren’t invalid or inappropriate, I don’t think, but maybe there was no need to summon the knight. The absence of commitment doesn’t indicate the absence of love, does it?”
“Not my area, but no, it doesn’t logically follow,” said the Brain.
“And sex in that case isn’t necessarily meaningless, is it?” said the Heart.
“Right,” said the Penis. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“Why do we want a relationship, anyway?” said the Heart.
“I don’t really care about sex. I’m just a brain. I’m just here to help you two.”
“Well you know what I want,” said the Penis.
“Love?” said the Heart, “Intimacy? Friendship? Sex? What if it’s possible to have all of those things without commitment? If that’s the case, then who needs it, anyway?”
“Where are you headed with this?” said the Brain.
“Well, no sooner did we click out of there than I found myself missing her. Should we call her again? Would she be up for it?”
“Sounds good to me,” said the Penis. “I’m up for whatever, guys.”
“In the hopes that we can still win her over?” said the Brain, “I think she gave us the answer the last time we saw her. In fact, I think she gave us the answer when we were sitting in the diesel café.”
“I-I don’t know, alright?” pleaded the Heart, “I just want to be with her again. Any way I can. It doesn’t matter anymore. Even without commitment, even if we just try our best to live in the moment instead of looking to the past or the future . . . might this even help us let go of some of that attachment? Shouldn’t we at least try?”
His right hand continued to tremble. The Brain looked to the Penis, who merely shrugged. Then he looked at the intercom lights and the control panel and saw that it still seemed in perfect working order.
“So be it.”
During the weeks that followed, I had difficulty contacting Losang. I was occupied with many other concerns, including constructing a unit plan for Macbeth for teaching class in which I took it upon myself to re-learn the play as closely as possible. I ran into Serissa—the real Serissa and not her ghost—on campus at least once during this time. I’d seen her more often in the computer lab a semester earlier, when I had more coursework to do. Seeing her from a distance wasn’t so bad, but not noticing her until I happened to walk past her was terrifying. I wondered if she still thought I was stalking her.
The courses were beginning to trouble me, too, as this marked the second time a professor told me that I didn’t seem like a teacher, that there was a distance between me and the craft I was attempting to learn. But learn it or not, Losang was never far from my mind, so I sought the opinions of some of the people I trusted most. I attempted to call the Oracle, but didn’t get a hold of her, so I left a brief message. She didn’t call me back, but I received an email from her a week later:
Got your message last week. Haven’t gotten back to you for several reasons. 1st, you didn’t leave your phone # and I can’t always retrieve it from my missed calls log because I sometimes have a fair amount of missed calls. 2nd, my dog is dying (very suddenly) though she is 14. I know it sounds silly and that I probably should have expected it but she’s been healthy up until about 2 weeks ago — I thought she had a cold. The vet was surprised she’s still alive. Anyway, it truly is like losing my best friend so it’s been a rough few weeks. Drop me your phone #. I hope you’re o.k.
Hmmmmmm, though you haven’t said anything, I feel it’s always the woman thing with you David. I went thru that for years with men and just felt that if I didn’t have the love of a man, I had nothing. Not true but it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re going thru it. Unfortunately for some of us this suffering becomes part of our growing experience. Do yourself a favor and look back to where you were a year ago. Are you any further ahead emotionally? spiritually? If so, then you are on the right path. You don’t have to repeat past mistakes over and over in order to learn the lesson (take it from someone who did it the hard way). Sometimes we just have to let things “be” and unfold on their own thru divine timing. It is difficult at times to trust in ourselves, to trust in spirit (God, Buddha…) it is one in the same you know.
One of my favorite quotes:
I am in the Light.
The Light is in me
I AM the Light!
If I can help please let me know. I just want you to be confident in yourself, know that you have a beautiful, kind, loving spirit and truly, that’s all that counts in life. That we love ourselves (first) and we radiate love out to others. You do both of those things (though you need a little work on the 1st half) just by nature of who you are. Sooooooo, really, trust in yourself AND in your judgment and don’t settle for less than you deserve.
You may want to check out www.whatsuponplanetearth.com to find out if there’s been a recent shift also. In any event, be well and we’ll touch base soon. Please bear with me if I don’t get back to you right away. I have an appt. to have my dog put to sleep on Monday — soooooo sad.
Love & Light to you David…
With only her words to contemplate, I visited the Borders in North Attelboro in hopes of finding more insight. It was there that I came across a copy of The Book of Ostensible Truth (The Book of Transcendent Truth has currently fallen into disfavor, though The Book of Postmodern Truth is inexplicably popular, and The Book of Absolute Truth has been out-of-print for far too long). This is a wonderful tome which that you need only ask a single question to, and then open to a random page, and there will be your answer with nothing else.
The first question I asked the damned thing was the first concern that always on my mind: “What is my place in this world?” On the page to which I opened there were only three words printed: There isn’t one. Next, I asked it: “How will I find love?” to which the book improved upon the power of brevity by supplying only two: You won’t. Lastly, I asked, “What am I supposed to do with myself?” To this, the book supplied its most concise answer yet: Suicide? Dear God, this was Serissa’s book!
“Don’t look at that,” said the Angel from where he stood next to me. I shelved the book.
“Why not try something a little more wholesome?” he said, “Here’s The Good Heart by none other than His Holiness, who clearly knows at least some of the truths of your Lord. Or how about Finding God’s Will For You, by Saint Francis of Sales, who was mentioned to you by the people in your parish?”
I was distracted by other books still. In particular, there were the books on Tarot symbolism, few of which elucidated any of the cards I’d drawn in the spread I made a month ago. One slim tome, entitled Tarot Basics, discussed each card in sophisticated, but less practical means. Nonetheless, I was fascinated by interpretations I didn’t even know existed. The Knight of Cups, subtitled “Wings for the Soul” caught my attention in particular:
When feelings, spiritual needs, and spiritual desires take on extraordinary powers, it is impossible to confirm or disprove them on the basis of previous experiences.
“This isn’t love, Dave, it’s joy,” my buddy Eric said to me over the phone. “You hung out with her how many times? Twice? See, this is all over someone you don’t even really know.”
Powerful feelings are always a matter of belief.
“It was as if the combined strength of Christ and Buddha banished the ghost of my ex back into hell . . .”
Who was I talking to now? I think her name was Stephanie. She was probably an undergrad. We had a mutual friend in the writing studio, but one evening she came across me sitting listlessly in one of the lounge seats on the lower level of the campus library.
“Do you write these things down ahead of time or do you just say them?” she asked.
“Sometimes. I usually play them over again in my mind and then write them, if I can get any writing done at all, so I’d say usually the reverse.”
After a beat, Stephanie shrugged.
“I just think of sex as something that relieves an urge,” she said.
Sensible or conscious beliefs go hand in hand with knowledge and awareness.
“Hey, at least she’s honest,” Ben said to me as he pulled his chair out from under the cafeteria table.
Ben and I ran into each other on campus, but infrequently. This was one of those rare moments where we could actually have lunch together. I put my tray on the table and put my backpack on the empty chair next to me.
“It is kind of funny how a one-night stand can sometimes mean more than an entire relationship, huh?” he said.
“But that’s not really what this amounted to . . .”
“And sometimes you can ruin it by trying to make it something more, too. I know I’ve done that before.”
“Have you ever been in an open relationship or anything like that? I’m starting to wonder if it’s worth it.”
Ben shook his head as he liberated a fork from a plastic bag.
“Would you be OK knowing she’s with other guys?”
“I don’t know.”
Beliefs begin where knowledge reaches its absolute limit.
“David!” Dr. Walker said to me, “How goes it?”
We were standing in the college’s art building, in the middle of a crowded studio temporarily converted into a hall for an award ceremony. The Bridge volume 5 had just been unveiled, and I was carrying my copy underneath my arm already. Tara was there, too, along with many other editors who were former classmates of mine. I guess they were all pursuing their Masters’ now. I’d served as editor for volumes 1 and 2, but now I was almost completely out of the loop. Every time I saw Walker, I felt ashamed that I didn’t have much in the way of writing to show him.
“I’m sorry,” I said “I’ve been busy with classes and some other concerns. I have another memoir in the works, and it’s a pretty intense one, but it’d be too long to submit to The Bridge, and well . . . I’m not finished writing it simply because the situation isn’t even resolved yet. I don’t know how it’s going to end. But when I finish it I’ll be sure to send it your way.”
“Why don’t you work on it when you go for your MFA? Make it your thesis.”
The task now is to test your beliefs and then to trust them.
“Honestly Dave . . .” Tommy said to me over the phone, choosing his words carefully, “I would say that her cons are just as pronounced as her pros. It wasn’t an accident that you met her, though.”
“I really hate to admit it,” I said, “but I think the two years I spent with my ex were the happiest I’ve ever been. I had even less of an idea of what I was going to be doing, but at least I wasn’t going to be doing it alone anymore. I had someone else to build a new world with.”
“Sounds like you liked the security,” said Tommy. “The only advice I can give you is just this: do your thing.”
“What is my thing, exactly?”
“Just find out what it is, Dave. Seriously, I’ve talked to the man upstairs, and I think you’re going to be alright. I honestly think you’ll be saving lives someday.”
“How do you hear God’s voice?” I asked. “How do you know it’s God?”
It was a perfectly valid question, and I was asking as a believer and not as a skeptic. That was not to say that the alternate view wasn’t also worth considering, but it was too barren for me, and too alienating from my better nature. When I asked questions like this, what I really wanted to hear were the answers of a believer who was smart and honest enough to understand.
This is the sort of question a cynical nonbeliever could use to goad you mercilessly by replying something along the lines of, “See? That’s why religion’s bullshit.” I suppose a gentler atheist might ask, “Why not accept what your own experience and analysis is telling you? Why not use your reason, rather than blind faith in an unknowable god? Is the world not telling you something crucially important?” And to this I can think of nothing except Serissa, when her experience, analysis, and indeed, reason told her it was objectively obvious she was a worthless human being who didn’t deserve to live. Trust in the world alone, and it will fail you. So will yourreason. And ultimately, you will fail and betray yourself, in which case “Do what thou wilt” will not ring as true as “Let Thy will be done”.
“It’s . . . hard to explain, Dave,” said Tommy, “When you hear it, you’ll know. You won’t necessarily hear it in words, though. Just trust me on this when I say that you’re going to be alright.”
Your present questions require you to have the courage to acknowledge your feelings and to be disciplined when you act on them.
I finally succeeded in contacting Losang about a month later. I’d been busy finishing my class and taking the GRE tests, and she’d been busy job hunting. Talking to her on the phone again was refreshing. It felt as if no time had passed at all. She was happy to hear from me, and missed me. I even explained the decision the Attraction Council arrived at, though not in those terms, and she was looking forward to meeting me again.
We talked fairly often during that week, and planned to meet, except Losang was on painkillers and needed to have two root canals. A filling of hers had fallen out long ago, and it was now catching up with her. She was in too much pain to talk over the phone so we communicated via Instant Messenger instead.
I told Losang I would pray for her. She thanked me and reminded me that she was praying for me as well. Though I knew her world didn’t include a creator god in the manner that mine did, she believed in the power of prayer enough to believe that my prayers would be helping her. I had to stop for a moment to consider that if my prayers had any efficacy at all, I might as well do them correctly. To this end I began making frequent trips to the chapel by myself. I prayed for her well being and the rest of the people I cared about.
I also prayed that I accept whatever the outcome would be. This was the most realistic prayer I could make; not to change God’s mind, but that God would change my mind. Of course I still wanted to be with Losang in earnest, if possible, but maybe it was time to hit up Saint Jude.
There are very few occasions in my life when I have felt blood draining from my face. The first one occurred when I tripped over my chair in Chemistry class when I was 17, and hit my head against a desk. I was bleeding profusely, and nearly passed out. The scar remains on my forehead to this day. The second time occurred when I checked my email and received a message from the girl I referred to as Maria in Half-Born (at least, in the version that was published in The Bridge). She chose to respond to me as if I were a stalker and I realized the depth to which I’d sunken. The third time occurred when I received Serissa’s email sometime in early September of 2007, which came as a slap in the face. The fourth time occurred when I logged into OKCupid one day and saw that Losang had indeed changed her status to “seeing someone.” Given that I hadn’t received a reply from her for a few days after I told her when I was going to be available the following week, I was certain this someone was not me.
“You asked God to give you a sign on the matter,” said the Angel from where he stood behind the chair I was seated in, “I don’t know if it could be any clearer than this.”
Ah, well, good to know that, finally. Good for her. She will always have a special place in my heart. Sarva Mangalam to her and all that. I logged out, turned the computer off, pushed the chair in, went into my room, and wept.
I lay back on the massage table while the Oracle adjusted the position of my head and made sweeping motions with her arms above me, as if clearing something away. I was somewhere in the middle of my story. I had to be quick in the telling, since I’d only booked one hour of her time.
“She ‘apparently didn’t need to breathe very often’?” the Oracle laughed, “You’re too funny, David . . .”
Her gentle laugh warmed me. Last week, I attempted to schedule this meeting, since I found myself in a particularly low place. The Oracle was attending her step-daughter’s graduation, I was told, so I had to wait until today. Though I’d known the Oracle was either divorced or separated, I had no idea she had a step-daughter. I would have asked her more about that, but when she sashayed across the lobby and greeted me with her warm and toothy grin, she made me forget to ask anything about her at all.
“I feel like this is exactly the same story as Half-Born,” I said, “only on a grander scale. I feel like I’m in the same place as before.”
The Oracle only smiled and shook her head.
“You are so much further ahead than you think, spiritually. I think what you felt for your ex was love. It feels to me as if you were in love with the idea of being in love here.”
I nearly bit my tongue. I didn’t want to ask the Oracle what truly qualified the difference; I just decided to trust her insight for now.
“And yet I was willing to dive in head first anyway . . .”
‘That’s a good thing! Sometimes Spirit spares us the pain of being in situations or relationships that wouldn’t be good for us. You were willing to compromise the sort of love you needed. It sounds to me like she just didn’t want to commit.”
“Not to me. To someone else now, apparently,” I grumbled.
“You just need to keep building your confidence. Listen to the voices of dissent, if some part of you has reservations . . .”
I lay there in silence for some time, listening only to the soothing music in the background. As I was wearing my Nile t-shirt that day, it should have been apparent that this sort of music was nothing I would listen to by myself, but here it seemed to work well. As the Oracle placed healing crystals on me and cleared the energy flow in the chakras of my system, I tried to imagine myself sinking into the table. I didn’t feel any unusual sensations this time, but that was not why I came. I felt the Oracle’s warm and invigorating touch on my head, arms, chest, and stomach, but none of the odd sensations I felt the first time I had a Reiki six years ago. Each time, it almost seemed as if the experience became less mystical and more practical. That was just as well. What’s the use of mysticism if it doesn’t prepare you for action elsewhere? So what if this was my excuse to talk to her again?
I heard the minute ring of the bell and awoke again, prepared to re-create myself. When she’d asked me earlier if I had any special intentions for this Reiki, I only found myself talking about Losang. I regretted that I hadn’t thought to bring up the other issues that had been eating away at me for a while; namely that I didn’t even know if I was pursuing the right path in my life at this time.
“I wish I knew what to do,” I said. “I’m still thinking about Losang. I just wish I knew what the right course of action would be right now . . .”
The Oracle smiled when she saw how incredulous I looked. It was as if I saw my own light clearly by standing in hers. I didn’t wish it to be that way, but that’s what it felt like, regardless.
“It’s whatever you feel like doing,” said the Oracle, “Keep building yourself.”
“I’m not really sure how.”
“Feeling like the turd in the punch bowl?” she chuckled.
“Sorry, you haven’t heard that expression. Involve yourself with something. Doesn’t matter what it is.”
“Ah, yeah. My mom’s always been egging me to volunteer with activities the church is doing.”
“Does that appeal to you?”
The people at my church were nice people, and good people too. But they weren’t my crowd. Of course, I didn’t have a crowd. I never did. Not the role-players, metal heads, movie buffs, paleontologists, or even other writers. Conservatives thought I was liberal, and liberals thought I was conservative. I could disappear into their presence, but I was too weird for any of them.
“You could try joining an interest group. There’s tons of them online. You know, the same place you go to meet women? You can find a group dedicated to anything. That’s how I met the guy I’m seeing. Dirt bike racing for women, knitting for men, you name it, there’s a group for it.”
“Well, I’ve been having a bit of concern lately,” I said, “about the student teaching practicum I would have to complete next semester . . .”
The Oracle nodded. She didn’t have a whole lot of time left to listen, so I tried to be quick in explaining my uncertainty.
“They tell me that teaching is craft, not art, and that anyone can learn to do it. Monica says I should at least give student teaching one semester a try, and then I’ll know.”
“I think you should go for it, then,” said the Oracle, “Well, I have another client coming in, so I can’t talk much longer, but do keep in touch . . .”
We headed out into the lobby, where the Oracle could chat and joke with the other employees with as much ease as she could hear me talk about my passions or discuss the secrets of the universe. I would make my payment arrangements at the front desk. Last week, the secretary mentioned that the Oracle only does Reiki two days during the week, and that she had a full-time job. Until that point, I’d almost imagined that she just sat underneath a Bodhi tree somewhere assuming the lotus position. When I asked her what the Oracle did, the secretary blinked for a moment and said she never thought to ask.
“Always a pleasure, David . . .”
The Oracle smiled and put her arms around me before I left. She hugged everyone so far as I knew. Ordinarily, I became rather attentive, even aroused, if a woman touched me for any reason. But I liked to think I was beyond that, now. Besides, the Attraction Council was acutely aware, despite what any of them might have personally felt, that the Oracle was a vastly inappropriate subject.
“Can I ask you a question?” said the cougar.
She’d exited her cave some time ago and the two of us were relaxing in a grassy meadow, underneath the shade of a large tree. Looking the other way, I could see the shoreline quite clearly. My horse was tethered a good distance away, and I’d left my sword, lance, gauntlets, and sallet by his side. I was leaning against the tree, twirling the cup in my hands and staring at it. The cougar was reclining on a low, heavy branch with the comfortable poise only a cat could have.
“Sure,” I said, “ask.”
“While I’m extremely pleased and excited that you chose to contact me again, I have to ask . . . why?”
“Uh . . . maybe I just needed someone to talk to?”
“Oh well certainly!” said the cougar, licking her lips. Perhaps the next question she asked was inevitable: “Do you still feel the same way about commitment?”
“I don’t know . . .” I said, “In some circumstances I guess an open relationship is alright, provided the terms are made clear from the start.”
“Indeed. It’s important to be on the same page from the beginning. You don’t want to break any hearts.”
“Did something like this ever happen to you?”
“Yes. Long ago . . . but yes. It helped shape my current beliefs.”
“How would you describe your beliefs?”
“I no longer believe you need monogamy to have a meaningful relationship with someone.”
I stared at the empty cup in my hands, reflecting with disgust that it was no good if it couldn’t quench anyone’s thirst. I began to contemplate the distance from where I stood to the shore. I felt the weight of the goblet in my hands, and felt that although it was solid, it wasn’t too heavy. I stood away from the tree, leaned back, and hurled the cup as far as I could. So far as I could see, it landed beyond the bushes, probably somewhere along the beach.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that, though,” said the cougar, though she wasn’t looking at me, “But perhaps it was good if you learned something about yourself, yeah?”
“I guess,” I said, “I might get a good memoir out of it. It’d be a strange one, though. I might have to include a few scenes with the Attraction Council and stuff.”
“Attraction Council,” chuckled the cougar. “I like that term.”
David Mitchell welcomes your comments on “The Attraction Council” at barlowe2003[at]yahoo.com.
photo by Studioeddies