Vol. 2, Issue #23 December 7th - December 20th, 2007

The Magic City
By: H. Barry Zimmerman

I meet a man, a stranger, really, every afternoon at around 2 o’clock after my lunch has settled. I have no idea what the man’s name is, no idea of his political affiliations, no idea if he has hobbies or lovers or pets or how he takes his tea, or any of the defining statistics that he might posses which make up the whole of a man. We have never once spoken to one another or even acknowledged each other’s presence or our half-cocked relationship which we have silently cultivated for fifteen years. We meet in the city park on a bench near the Petersburg Bridge. We sit in silence and smoke cigarettes--three feet from each other without a single nod or gesture that might indicate a human connection. He is exactly the type of friend that I need; this silent man is the best friend that I have ever had. We are kin souls digging the world at large together like family, disconnected with no malice.

The silent man is tall, his legs stretch out at full capacity and cross at the ankles. He smells of musk and wears a full beard of white and gray, and he wears the same black suit with a dull gray tie loosened at the collar every day. I have no idea if he is balding or has a full head of hair because he wears a worn short-brimmed hat which for all I know is a family relic. I have no idea what the silent man thinks about as he sits there beside me taking especially long drags on his Kents. I know that he closes his eyes when he does inhale and he opens them only to watch (I suppose) the smoke exiting his mouth. The silent man is a familiar mystery.

I, on the other hand, think about my dead children who are presently buried at Saint Michael’s Cemetery on Acres Street across town near the University. My children retired to the earth along with their mother 46 years ago in a fiery car crash. They were going up-state visiting a war monument that my son, Ridgeway had read up on and was very interested in seeing. He never did see the damn thing.

My wife, The Princess, rests peacefully 300 miles away in Morganfield, next to her parents whom I never met--they too had died in an automobile accident when my wife was in grammar school, and she never forgave them for leaving her. Now she lays there beside them, and they still don’t talk to one another. It’s a sad deal all around.

My wife’s plot (and therefore my wife) is so far away, in the warm earth of another county that she has slipped away from my memory over the course of experience. If it were not for snapshots of her which I keep in my desk drawer I would not be able to recall her lovely face—I despise the thought of her features dissolving into goo, her bones floating in her rotten form, so I simply stopped thinking about her. It was just too painful. I think that she would understand if anyone would; she was most rational.

My three children, on the other hand, I keep close to me--like a beautiful tattoo.

Like I said, I sit next to my only friend, the silent man, and I watch the weather dancing with the landscape and greenery and I think of my children. I do not think of them dissolving in their metal boxes or in their metal boxes at all, I think of them dancing in the living room (of all places—irony) to my treasured Sun Ra records in our home which is where I still sleep and eat and I will more than likely die there myself, unless I succumb on my way to the park or sitting here beside the silent man, smoking my last Kool.

I cannot listen to my Sun Ra records anymore without my little dancers there to make the music make sense, it all sounds like horrible noise now without their laughing faces. Back in those sweet days, Sun Ra was my very favorite artist. He got tied up in my children’s stories, I love that…and I hate it. I lost my Sun Ra.

I listen to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring or Milt Jackson’s Sunflower or Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way but never Sun Ra, never again.

One day, while making my way through the park to my daily appointment, I got lost in watching the couples laughing, sharing a picnic on the banks of Idea Pond, watching the ducks waddle around hoping for crumbs, watching the clouds move like slow buses, listening to the bustle of business life beyond the trees; in town, the sounds of traffic always remind me of a running river of metal and clay. The trees are raining leaves down onto the earth, highly cinematic, indeed; October is the sweetest plum.

I spied my bench, our bench--me and the silent man’s office and it was empty, nothing but planks and black metal framework. How odd; he was always there ahead of me and for that matter he always left a minute or two before me, but today there was only the bench.

I sat on our bench and smoked my Kools and thought of my children dancing in the living room of my mind, the long gone room, my daughter the grinning, glowing child Majestic spinning like a mad top, my oldest boy Ridgeway doing summersaults and cartwheels, and the youngest, the miracle child Haworth jerking and leaping to the odd atonal jive.

But there was something missing: my friend, the silent man that I had sat beside for years and thought these things beside and among his presence and now…he was gone.

I could feel something there between us, our humanness intermingling, extending connections while I sat there smoking and thinking my life.

The silent man was gone and his absence made pondering my dancing children less meaningful. I hate how that works.

So, I thought about him, the silent man--wondering if he was dead or if had he a visitor or an appointment that he couldn’t cancel? I hoped for the latter.

The next day the bench was empty.

I sat alone again and smoked my Kools and thought about the silent man.

Empty for a week, the bench had become a reminder of my isolation, pointing out the fact that I am a “one” alone in the best game going, but still I have a dark side. The absence of the silent man has cast shadows of forlornness on my world view. Still, I go to the bench every day at two.

On the ninth day I went looking for a new bench; change breeds change, I say. I walked along the sidewalk through the playground area full of happy screaming children—that’s the sweetest sound on earth, that sound--ecstatic children in congregated glee. I love that music in the air. I walked beside the amphitheater, admiring all of those empty seats. I walked through the woods, it was raining leaves harder than before and the wind played the forest like a free flow jam.

I saw many empty benches but none of them suited me.

I found myself looking for the silent man as I walked along, checking faces, sniffing for his scent, looking for a man in a hat. I thought that maybe he had changed benches.

Why on earth would he have changed benches at this point in the game?

I sat on a perfectly good bench under an enormous tree near the stream--not out of choosing it, but out of exhaustion. I leaned back against the planks and let my body relax down upon itself and lit a Kool, my body throbbing slightly from exertion.

I thought about the silent man, seeing him in my mind’s eye; his beard’s hairs flapping like tethered streamers in a gale, his shiny black shoes and white socks at the ends of his skinny legs, his ash hanging at the end of his cigarette like a hungry worm.

(Will this missing man be my final mystery?)

I took a drag and felt a funk move in under my tobacco swirls, wondering how soon it might be before I didn’t make my appointments either. I felt defeated.

I was sure that the silent man was dead; he was old and he smoked too much.

I was petrified and felt as though I had turned to stone.

I took a drag.

A patch of wind moved in and over me, the hard dead landscape, and cooled my pain as the nicotine spun my crown, running down my arms and playing with my fingers like a shot of baby morphine, and a thought of my wife came to me like the magic of a childhood surprise.

We, (I and she) had a bench, which was under an enormous oak that leaned down over us like a magnificent awning, full of life, just like the tree over me now.

We would watch the sunset every evening, sitting close with my hand on her shoulder, and the greatest thing always happened in the limbs above us as the sun disappeared. As the sun drifts down, the birds in the tree would fight and raise hell, and then there would be that moment when the sun was disappearing toward Tokyo and we could feel the birds above us calming down and letting it go, getting Zen and ready for sleep; you could feel it above us just like I could feel the silent man, warm blood emissions. For me, every time the birds chilled out above us, my wife leaning on me in my grasp, I felt like a Buddhist.

Those were beautiful pure moments when my wife and I were young lovers, before the children.

Sitting there on the strange new bench, the bench that chose me, I could feel my wife’s hip on my hip, her leg running the distance, leaning against my leg, her hand on my thigh. It was a spellbound moment.

I could literally feel her sweater and the muscles of her freckled shoulder underneath with my fingers, my engineers playing beautiful tricks on me, the sweetest mirage.

On the walk back to my little house my brain fed me an endless montage of my wife’s smiling face, lovely as the world gets, an amazing spray of joy upon my consciousness that I haven’t allowed myself to embrace since this life “alone again” began, a million thoughts ago.

The experience, “my mental wife show” was religious like a vision of God in the burning bush at Moses’ feet. My body swarmed with old bliss in the form of new magnificent bliss and my blood flowed warmer than it had since that awful summer day when I got the news of my family’s demise. My eyes were moist and I was energized with positive lights going off in every corner of my being.

Striding up the porch steps that I painted “bird egg blue” 45 years ago (at my wife’s request), stepping like a younger man, leaping to the porch, I was sweating, breathing hard, alive like the weather. Something was going on that I liked, it was the power of love’s baptism filling my cranium, and I was high as a jazz star.

Inside I poured myself a scotch and sat in the silence and sipped at my drink.

“This is the damndest life,” I fidgeted with excitement.

I finished my scotch and poured another, I drank the second one down in a few long healthy gulps and swills and I felt festive, aware of my head feeling the effects of the hooch and a vibrant stream of optimism beyond my normal attempts at happiness.

“Delicious.” I looked down into the glass at the ice rotating around in the base of the tumbler. “Why not?” and I fixed myself a third.

I sat my scotch down on the coffee table and lit a Kool, posing dramatic and silly as the flame hit the tobacco, having the strangest good time.

I moved with light feet and less balance than before across the living room floor over to my old record player (I bought the thing before I met my wife). I thumbed along the discs of my collection looking for the perfect sides to go along with my state of mind.

“Who? Who? Who? Who’s it going to be…?”

I pulled out my favorite old record, casual as the wind through the tall grasses of spring: Sun Ra’s “The Magic City.” I dropped the needle down into the groove and the record started with a blast of piano and drums, and I bobbed my head and moved my shoulders to the beat that followed.

“That’s some sweet sides.”

The thought of my sweet dancing children crossed my mind like a happy wave of sedation and I smiled with my Kool pointing towards Saturn, tasting the scotch as I did my old step with my eyes closed imagining my precious children dancing all around me—spinning all around me.

“Welcome home babies, welcome home.”

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