Summer 03


Mr. Ubekitwa




     One day in an extended, steamy shower while drawing faces on the fogged-up door, Kenneth Ubekitwa discovers the secret he had been keeping from himself since he was a child. Or rather, it discovers him in a
     How did he do without any to-do?
Flip flopping his drip drop, unnerving the spectator nebulas, Kenneth coasts in warp drive.

     Next door, gentle old people are looking. A whole gaggle of them. Searching. Most looking through eye glasses. Big lenses, some of them, as in large circumferences. Some thick, too. Tri-focals. Bug eyes behind trifocals. Curious bug eyes behind big trifocals. Searching for a black bitch of a water moccasin that just bit their friend Abe. Abe lies in the lawn chair across the yard on the patio. The mildewed lawn chair that no one really wants to sit in. On the lawn table next to the lawn chair that no one really wants to sit in sweats an extra dry martini with the garlic-stuffed olive in it. Abe’s white and navy blue and maroon striped golf shirt hugs Abe’s skin, moisture bleeding through the cotton. Abe’s chest rises and falls, heavy. By these movements you know Abe is fighting. Always was a fighter. Question is, how good a fighter? Precisely what Abe is asking himself right now.
     What makes Abe’s situation tragic. A failure. On the part of Abe’s mind and the minds of the members of the gaggle across the thick green Florida lawn with isolated clouds of gnats hovering above. A failure to recognize that Abe’s situation would improve dramatically if two other old persons, who both feel manly bonds to Abe, were to lead Abe with his arms draped over shoulders to the silver Ford Crown Victoria that blocks the rest of the old people’s cars in the driveway of the lakeside house; if, upon reaching the street yacht named Ford Crown Victoria, Abe sat in the front passenger seat and manipulated the electronic seat control so as to distance the passenger seat from the glove compartment to alleviate stress on his pale, veined legs exposed beneath his khaki Duck Head shorts and did not allow himself to get excited while one of the old persons over whose shoulder Abe had draped his arm turns on the ignition and puts the engine into drive and urges Abe in the most composed voice that he can muster to not get excited; if the friend of Abe’s who felt a manly bond to Abe and sat in the driver’s seat of the Ford Crown Victoria alternated foot pressure between two pedals and rotated a wheel in a coordinated operation to cause the street yacht named Ford Crown Victoria to accelerate and decelerate and turn in a precise way down Success Ave. to Lake Morton, around Lake Morton, up Massachusetts Ave., into the semi-circular drive leading under the concrete awning labeled ‘EMERGENCY’ in big red letters, and into the sanitized hollow of the red brick Lakeland Regional Memorial Hospital. The dramatic improvement being in the chances that Abe’s body, still recovering from a colon infection, will persist in its 75-year-old habit of pumping oxygen-enriched blood to Abe’s innumerable capillaries. A failure to recognize.
     How can this glaring failure be accounted for? Why is the gaggle of old people looking for the guilty black bitch of a water moccasin when the deed is done? Why is Abe, freshly bitten by a black bitch of a water moccasin, sitting alone all the way across the thick Florida lawn that needs to be mowed by Paul (the Haitian immigrant who comes every week, and who lost three fingers on his right hand to a Weed Eater) in the mildewed lawn chair that no other old person really wants to sit in next to a lawn table with an extra dry martini with the garlic-stuffed olive still in it sweating droplets onto the blue napkin left over from last New Year’s bash? Why is the gaggle over there, and Abe over there?

Meanwhile, scalding water coursing in rivulets down the dorsal,
Kenneth Ubekitwa, Reconquistador, or rather Reconquistado, lines up his personalities, which seem to be multiplying sometimes by meiosis, sometimes by spontaneous generation, to see if any could be his undoing. One personality, which he names Günter, preaches about swashbucklers destined to be diminished. Another personality, a Zimbabwean named Chilumbi, uses language, particularly French words like “vertigineux” and “insoupçonné,” to inseminate his guardian angel.      However, Borja

drives for PowerCar because it makes him feel like he’s going somewhere.
     “Where to?” he asks client. “Monotony Square Ruins? By what hour? 3:33? That’s minutes away, okay. Please fasten your seat belt, Sir. Thank you.”
     Borja himself never has anywhere to go. Goals are usually strange to him, but strangers give him little ones (it passes the time), like Monotony Square Ruins in minutes. Here we go! First gear, second gear, third gear, fourth gear, hyper gear, VROOM! VROOM! Tearing down Pussyfoot Lane! Kicking up tar, tires grabbing chunks of asphalt as row houses shudder by in the side window like an old silent film click-clicking its way through time. VROOM! The motor roars as he pulls back into fourth to round the bend into Lollygag Drive. He screeches around a corner into the main drag, and into traffic... two more minutes left. Making a quick calculation in his head, he grabs the red flasher light from under his seat, unrolls the window, and sticks it on the roof. He hits the switch and a loud wailing pervades the block. The cars ahead begin to part and forward he proceeds, first gear, second gear... to Monotony Square Ruins one minute ahead of time.
     “Thanks a lot pal!” says client.
     “Nothing,” says Borja.

     Borja dumbfounds constantly, and dumbfounding idiots him so he blabbers, to himself mostly, “Forward motion does me quasi sufficiently. Forward motion as opposed to stationary. Greater distance from stationary betters. Candy dungeon. Thump! Statue racing. Thump! Air rubbing off inside? Close enough.”

     Borja dies again, and this time so well it’s as good as every other time. Homing at 5:00 AM from the night shift, Borja steps out of his PowerCar into the misty rain that glistens in the street lamp’s glow. Persons are nowhere, except when he turns in the direction of his building and runs into an eight year old boy, knocking him down, falling on top of him. The boy yells a high pitch, threatening, but all Borja hears is the deafening boom that is published and then echoes. Borja rolls himself off hurriedly into a puddle spiked with gasoline rainbows, spouting apologies to the boy, hoping the tike ain't hurt. He looks over and notices the handgun the boy is gripping and then shifts his regard to his own crotch which is leaking. “You’re making me piss blood,” Borja informs.
     The child pulls himself up, gun aimed at Borja’s head and says, “Give me your money,” with the sweet n light voice of a nice girl toddler. Borja, calm, takes a moment to collect himself and then directs his attention to the bulging wallet in his ass pocket.
     “I have none,” he responds. Boy blows his brains all over the pavement. Brains get their first shower ever. Boy, did they need it!
The child rolls Borja over face down in the puddle and takes wallet from pants. He counts the cash out loud in girl and disappears.
     Borja thirsties so he gulps rainbow water, sits up and wipes his mouth with his soaked sleeve and pulls himself to his feet. He heads towards the building, dripping, keeping in mind to take care mounting. One time yesterday he leaned on the creaky banister of the staircase from his sixth floor landing and it cracked off. He wheeled his arms round and round like a windmill in a hurricane, his stomach leaped out his mouth, and his body angled parallel with earth where it rested while plunging. The ground enraptured him while it swallowed.
     Borja awaits in earnest the grace of his very best death, a real one.

     Ever since he can remember or not remember, time passes for Borja as it does for a bronze statue, heavy, tarnishing, durable, a memorial to himself of himself, maybe even a reminder.
     Time passes itself up.

     Wiping the bathroom mirror, droplets lined in single file, Kenneth says to himself aloud . . .
     “Secrets are like music I don’t know how to play. All music. Music whose cadence slithers like a snake, a snake that just sank its fangs into an old man’s deliciously veiny legs and finds shelter in the reeds and cattails near the shore of Scott Lake. Reeds and Cattails. The same reeds and cattails that Paul, the Haitian immigrant who comes every week, was slicing with a Weed Eater just four weeks ago when some black bitch of a water moccasin swam its way through his legs and gave him a start, a start that went just so the thin wire of the Weed Eater, at untold RPMs, arched its way back and sent one index finger, one birdie finger, and one ring finger soaring out over the reeds and cattails, never to be seen by a human being again. Scream? No, Paul did not scream. But he dropped the Weed Eater into Scott Lake’s newly aerated water and grimaced like he had never grimaced before, biting his tongue so hard that it hurt worse than his hand. And the snake? Was it the same black bitch of a water moccasin that four weeks later bites Abe, causing a gaggle of old people to look for it while Abe sits across the thick green Florida lawn in some mildewed lawn chair that nobody else wants to sit on?”

     Which may tickle the curious, but personalities fresh out of their protective sacs crave attention and, to be perfectly frank, can be a tad pushy. Thus Kenji interrupts

with his toothpick form quivering high in the atmosphere. He hangs by a thread that’s slicing into his fingers and sweat trickles inside to sting. Gagging on the thin air, Kenji looses his grip. He plummets through the sky’s layers of blue, limbs waving for attention from below. Below grins its withheld knowledge. The wind rips icy howls but Kenji screams back until his ears ping into crystal silence. He falls, he falls, the inscrutable surface racing toward him. Flash! Contact. Kenji plunges through, finds himself suspended in a quicksand of déjà vu, sticky and translucent like honey. But unlike honey, this quicksand sure ain’t sweet. At rest, a thumping starts, light and rhythmic, a metronome, coming in on him from all sides, but how is that possible? What is causing it? No time to analyze, ‘cause it’s gaining momentum, beating, feeding on itself, gaining energy. What should he do? What can he do? Now it’s pounding, really pounding, a butcher tenderizing Kenji’s succulent flesh. Kenji flails, starts striving downward, digs deeper and deeper into the déjà vu quicksand’s bouts of the appalling present, for the millionth time over and over. But he seems to get nowhere, the same motions, the same moments, the same outcome: sappiness pounding in, Kenji on the point of caving in. He presses onward, muscles burning furiously, until suddenly against his skin he feels a membrane, slimy and taut. Surging forward, he punches himself through and splatters onto a shale bedrock. Exhausted utterly, he yields to placidity, soaked in cool sweat. He breathes deeply, the air fresh and brisk, re-enriching, re-edifying. By and by, convalesced, he seizes the déjà vu nightmare by its throat, suffocates it to a purple prune, and buries it in his innermost chambers. He poises himself on the balls of his feet, priming himself anew for engagement.
     For Kenji needs to engage.
     Every summer-solstice week, the citizens of Orchester (Kenji’s hometown) halt their daily labors for Edificatory Carnival. It is during this jubilant feast that they celebrate the building of one’s own home, a process which, for the Orchestrians, embodies the sacred principles of personal growth and cultivation.
     Over the course of the year, young, coming-of-age Orchestrians pour themselves into the cauldron of domicile creation for the intensive brewing of Maturity following the recipe from The Orchestrian Guide. The ritual culminates in the Edificatory Carnival exhibition, during which the ripening adults display their projects, showering Orchester in the juices of creation.
     Throughout the week young exhibitors radiate pride, their bright eyes testimony to a heady future. Mothers look on the fruit of their womb unable to contain joyous tears (“Where has the time gone?” they muse). Adults and elders alike twinkle knowing smiles, an irrepressible fingerprint of selfsame identification. Throughout the merry feasts and gay festivities, a mirthful aura pervades Orchester.
     But in order to participate in Edificatory Carnival, one must be ready, and Kenji has not yet begun to prepare.

     This morning, feeling obliged as would any proper Orchestrian, Mildred confronts her son with wisdom before their morning’s milk. “Will you go see your Orchestration advisor today?”
     The question sends Kenji’s gaze careening through his Edificatory future. On one hand, it is clear: he must stride towards growth, for the Carnival brandishes seething orchestral fangs only an idiot would challenge. He must see his advisor as soon as possible.
     On the other hand, he reflects, “This sappy déjà vu quicksand is sapping me. I keep falling into it and it leaves me without energy for growth and cultivation. I must face it down.”
To Mildred’s sugarplummy progress visions Kenji replies, “Not today.”
Mildred strafes Kenji with her black-hole-pupil bullets, shouts, “Shoots and double shoots,” a serpent’s hiss slithering off the delicate tip of each serif.
     But it doesn’t matter anymore. By the grace of déjà vu tenderization, Kenji’s bosom is already a gushing bloodball.

     Absolved, Kenji sits in his Design room, the table, the paper, the walls all bare. He forges his will into armor (which feels rather thump-proof) and tosses his plume in the ink tub, brimming with blue. The ink ripples, rolls up and down, up and down ????? hypnotizing. Hypnotizing.
     He allows his fingers to surrender their grip.
     When the déjà vu quicksand furies him, Kenji forces himself to not dig deeper but it feels like gouging out his toenails with a nail one would use in building a house. He straddles the frontier dividing awareness and shock, the quicksand flushing his nostrils, his mouth, his lungs, his stomach, his intestines, filling him with its bitter taste and then packing in more, pounding. Amid the mayhem, he fires glimpses through the present. A flash, and it reveals itself a comedian cackling inescapability. HEE-HEE. HA-HA. Its mirth invades his veins, his arteries, contaminating the blood and then consuming it for refreshment. Panic seizes. Time to abort. Dive!
      But sappiness saturates his brain and smirches all thought, spatters capillaries and blood vessels, fills his throat and suffocates, buries him in innermost chambers, Kenji’s dead eyes, now a ravenous ebony, powering insipid stares out of a purple prune.

     In the mirror, a fresh blade to coarse stubble draws blood
as Kenneth Ubekitwa meditates lasciviously on androgynous Yanks and Frenchies holding an orgy on the mid-Atlantic rift’s highest peak. Who else woulda thunk it but him?
     “Imagine the possibilities!” hollers Kenneth. “And the lack thereof!”
As Kenneth proceeds to follow these orders, given to himself by himself, he decides that Ubekitwa blood sure is good for drawing faces on mirrors.


Having spent most of his life bouncing around places as varied as New Orleans, Maine, Madrid, and Paris, Thad Fowler is enjoying settling down in the city by the Bay. He is working on his MFA at San Francisco State University.

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