Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Short Story Unpublished

Unpublished, copyrighted short story: around 5000 words
Any magazine editor interested in publishing “Flower Stick” can contact the author 
(who has previously published six short stories in literary and art journals) 

copyright B. Kalivac Carroll 2014

Flower Stick
B. Kalivac Carroll

"All life comes from it."

Mitchell, squatting and gingerly rapping his knuckles against the side of the portable toilet, looked up into Paula's face. "Who the hell told you that?"

She bent over and touched the toes of her sandals, her hair falling into a blond curtain hanging just above the concrete floor. Mitchell waited while Paula swung up into an overhead stretch. My Roshi, he thought.

"My Roshi. It's ancient wisdom, baby."

"Ancient wisdom? All life comes from shit?"

"All the way from Japan, via China, and probably Tibet and India before. That's fundamental, organic matter in there. We're just so uptight about human waste, you know? So Roshi would always say the same thing when his students grumbled about emptying the outhouse hole. Just being Japanese gave him a different perspective, not to mention being a Zen Buddhist Master. Did you know the Japanese call it 'night soil' and spread it on their gardens?" She frowned. "I wonder now, though. I mean since AIDS and everything."

Mitchell breathed deeply, barely able to concentrate on Paula's explanation. Too much oxygen. Only the unique blend of special gases in cigarette smoke could correct this kind of oxygen imbalance. Too bad he flushed them all down the toilet last night in a fit of birthday resolution.

"Roshi also said Rinzai was once quoted as saying 'The Buddha is a shit stick.’”

Paula, he realized, was still talking. "Who? What?"

"Perplexing, right? I guess they used sticks before toilet paper was invented. Or maybe it's a mistranslation for stem or something, like leaves and stalks for wiping material."

Mitchell pictured himself as a Japanese monk with a stick in his hand peering into a bamboo outhouse. Did the Japanese even have outhouses? Possibly. "Or maybe they used a stick to level off the pile," he said. "Tell me again, now. Who was talking shit?"

"Rinzai Gigen--he was a great Chinese Zen Master. Ninth Century, heavy rep. A whole school of Zen is named after him--the Rinzai line. The Zen art usually shows him fiercely angry.”

Mitchell wondered if he had stashed some cigarettes out here in the garage from the last time he tried to quit. His brown eyes narrowed as they focused on boxes and piles of middle-class paraphernalia. The workbench stood in the corner almost completely covered by piles of tools, dirty coffee cups, and old magazines. Boxes of books, plastic bags of clothing, and miscellaneous camping gear lay scattered across the floor. Just remembering why they were cleaning the garage irritated Mitchell. He kicked at a broken rocking chair lying on its side.

“Yeah. Rinzai was apparently real fiery,” Paula said. “Kind of like you except he kicked spiritual ass instead of furniture."

Mitchell looked up. “Huh?”

“I said thanks for cleaning the garage before Mother gets here.”

“No problem,” he said, moving the rocker aside. Even though Elaine Kopf’s previous visits had left him constipated and angry, Mitchell was more concerned at the moment about locating a cigarette than dealing with the realities of his mother-in-law’s visit. Paula's own concern about her mother's visit had obsessively focused on emptying the portable toilet. She had even mentioned it at breakfast, describing how he should detach the tank from the bottom of the contraption and take it into the bathroom to flush down the contents.

"Anyway, Curtis, that camp toilet has two years of stuff in it, remember?"

Mitchell, now at the peak of his nicotine fit, took a deep, concentrated breath and held it, allowing his lungs to devour the oxygen, then starve. He continued to hold his breath as Paula spoke. He released his breath slowly, and reluctantly inhaled again. How long was she going to talk about this slosh box, anyway? He observed his mad dog temper stir, then settle. He actually smiled. "Must be pretty ripe, huh?"

"I have no problem with that. It's just good housekeeping to clean it up."

"Maybe you could do it, then."

"I have to pick up the kids right now at school," she said, looking at her watch. "Please?"

Mitchell stared at his backpack, which lay on the floor near the camp toilet. He had been smoking last summer during their trip to Mount Rainier. Odds were that he had tucked some cigs away in the flap pocket of that pack. Hope surged through him. “OK. I'll handle it while you pick up the midgets."

"Thanks, love." She started for the driveway, paused. "The baby's sleeping, but if you need to pick her up be sure and wash your hands."

"Right." Mitchell mumbled, casually carrying the pack towards the workbench. As the station wagon pulled away, Mitchell slid a half-empty pack of Marlboro Lights from the pack. Shoving a whimper of guilt aside, he lit one up and stood there dizzily enjoying it, stale as it was. So? New Year's was only two months away. Persistence would eventually whip the habit.

He looked around. At least he could finish cleaning the garage, follow through with something. He'd start with the toilet. He put out his cigarette and unbuckled the folding snaps that held the self-contained tank. It had its own handle and sealed orifices. Lugging it towards the kitchen door, he suddenly changed his mind and walked around to the large backyard. Why not just bury it behind the garden? Night soil, right?

Mitchell grabbed a shovel, quickly dug a shallow hole, then cautiously unscrewed the cap of the tank. He allowed a very reserved sniff. It didn't smell too bad. They'd put chemicals in it, he remembered. The stuff he poured into the hole was a mixture of pasty, lumpy liquid, greenish and black. He turned on the hose and rinsed out the tank, dumping that into the hole as well. Then he covered the crap up, topping it with dirt and using the back of the shovel blade to tamp it off with professional finality. He washed his hands at the garden faucet and lit up another cigarette.

Better not to tell Paula right away he'd started smoking again--one night and half-a-day wasn't much of an effort. This is a good place to have an occasional, private smoke, he thought, looking at the row of corn stalks. The corn, as well as the trellises for the climbing pea vines, hid the area from the back porch of the house. He tossed the butt on the mound of fresh dirt and nudged it out of sight with the shovel before going back to work in the garage.


The Mitchells picked up Elaine at the airport the following morning. She immediately gave Paula and the boys hugs, kissed the baby's fingers, and finally offered Mitchell her cheek to kiss. He noticed she was wearing new glasses--calamine pink frames, thicker lenses. But the same small, blue eyes inspected Mitchell, as if he might be a bottle of outdated vitamins.

On the way home, Elaine handed out gifts--a new Nintendo game for Lenny, a box of baseball cards for J.N., a blouse for Paula. The baby got three sets of colorful mittens and booties. She reached over the front seat and placed a paperback book next to Mitchell. He glanced down. It looked used.

"Please keep your eyes on the road, Curtis," Elaine said. "Automobiles are nothing but deathtraps--steel boxes careening across the planet at ridiculous speeds. Don't murder your family, even if you are capable of homicide.”

"Mother, please," Paula said.

"A joke, dear. A joke."

Mitchell took a deep breath. Ox-tox was rising again. He looked down at the book anyway. The title--splashed across the silhouette of a male figure with both fists raised in a gesture of anger--read Men's Rage: Uncovering the Fear.

"I saw that book, Curtis, and I said to myself, that is what festers at the bottom of Curtis Mitchell's psyche." After a moment, she added, "You're welcome."

Mitchell remained silent, but slightly increased the vehicle's speed.

"Isn't this garage a mess," Elaine said, stepping out of the Plymouth and touching--with the toe of one expensive tan ladies oxford--a single scrap of paper on the concrete floor.

Mitchell looked around at the previous afternoon's four hours of work as Elaine followed Paula and the boys into the kitchen. Pulling her two suitcases out of the back of the station wagon, he paused to visualize himself dumping the bags' contents on the street, soaking them in gasoline, and dropping a match on whole mess. Possibly she might stumble into the fire as well?

When he entered the house, Mitchell heard Elaine inspecting their home room by room with loud commentary. Mitchell sat down and turned on the tube in the hopes of catching the second half of the Forty-niner game.

Soon Elaine came in, followed by Paula. "Your baby is trying to sleep, dear," she said, turning and looking at Paula. Acting as if Mitchell was not there, she turned the sound completely off, leaving him to watch a mute runback of the second half opening kickoff.

Elaine left the room, her voice crackling back from the hallway. "Now show me the boys' room, Paula."

Mitchell switched off the set and went out back, kicking an aluminum lawn chair off the porch before stomping through the garden. The cigarettes were hidden behind a box of bolts in the tool shed, a small metal utility shack at the rear of the property. He went over by the new night soil mound and lit one.

After a few minutes of puffing and sulking, he noticed a plant growing on the pile of dirt. Poised on the apex of the mound, a bulbous knot of tightly closed petals topped the single stalk. In two days it grew? Amazing. Mitchell squatted down for a closer look. He didn't recognize the species. The dark green stalk, as thick as his index finger, had was slightly bent from the weight of the latent blossom. He pushed the cigarette butt into the slope of the mound and reached over to the stalk, gently touching it with a fingertip.

"Curtis?" Paula was calling from the back porch.

"Out here." He stood and walked over to the porch.

"Are you all right?"


“Are you smoking out there?”

"No. Paula, she's acting the same as ever--like a goddam dictator. She treats me like shit in my own house."

"I don't think she's that bad, Curtis. She's used to running a home, you know?"

"But why our home? She's the visitor, not me." He held up his hand as Paula opened her mouth to reply. "Anyway, I could tolerate her being a little bossy if she'd just relate to me as if I'm a human being instead of acting like I’m an escaped mental patient. She's so damn condescending."

"If you feel upset, why not talk to her about it? She might not even know she's offending you."

"Sure. And Eichmann didn't know about Auschwitz."

Paula's eyes moistened. It was hard for her too, he knew, "Okay, babe. I'll talk to her tonight."


After dinner Mitchell brought a cup of decaf out to Elaine in the living room, where she sat in his favorite chair reading a book. Bending over to place the cup and saucer on the small table next to the chair, he glanced at her book. "What's that you're reading, Mom?" He hadn't called her that in years, but he intended to make a genuine effort for Paula's sake.

She peered at him and held up the book. Using Your Native Psychic Influence Creatively, by Starheart. Marking her place, she closed it and handed it to him.

He opened to the title page, looked over the table of contents. Bibliophilia--their one shared interest. "Who is Starheart?"

Elaine sipped her coffee, then sighed. "She's an astrologer and psychic adviser to many important people in this country--politicians, actors, business executives. They seek her advice. But you don't take this very seriously, do you, Curtis?"

"What? Psychism? Astrology? Not really. I live by what's in front of me."

The blue eyes hardened. "Do you take anything seriously? You never seem to change."

"Of course I take things seriously. And if change happens, I either go with it or create more change. Look Elaine, I want to say a couple of things. First, we need to get along for the sake of the family if for nothing else. And I can get along a lot better with you if you would just acknowledge my existence, the fact that I'm married to your daughter, have been for fourteen years. All right? And you need to stop using me like a doorman or something. What I'm saying is that I don't mind helping to make your visits congenial, but I do have feelings."

"Feelings? Do you understand those feelings, Curtis?"

Mitchell couldn't believe this. She was going to turn this back on him. "Damnit, Elaine. I don't go around analyzing what I'm feeling. I'm just talking about ordinary human relationship. I'm your son-in-law, for Christ sakes."

She adjusted her glasses. "Perhaps if you had the ability for more self-reflection, you wouldn't abuse me so much. As you're doing now, young man.”

"I'm not abusing you."

"Cursing at me is not abuse?"

"Look. Do you want to get along or not?"

"Curtis, in spite of what you've done to my daughter and grandchildren, in spite of your lack of ambition and unhealthy habits and other limitations, and even in spite of your discourteous and abusive behavior towards me, I always make a real effort to 'get along' with you. I admit I get frustrated, however, because the fact of the matter is that you need professional help."

"Professional help?"

"Yes, of course. Psychiatric help, and/or nutritional help. You see, I think you are chemically unbalanced." She hesitated, then pushed ahead. "I can possibly arrange some appointments for you. I have contacts everywhere. In fact, I might be able to get you in to see Martha Speer in Berkeley. She's both a certified psychologist and a nutritionist."

Mitchell stared at the carpet.

Elaine cleared her throat, a precursor to formality. "I can offer a loan if your budget is in its usual failed state. I would require modest interest on the loan, of course."

Mitchell worked his lower jaw sideways, trying to keep the muscles loose. "Interest," he said, almost whispering.

"To initiate a sense of responsibility in you. That's where your collapsed psyche manifests itself in physical terms, you see --the inability to be responsible, to handle the simple affairs of life." She made a sound--a sharp, hard-edged bark, which Mitchell assumed she intended to be a laugh. "Really," she continued, "I sometimes wonder if you remember to bathe and go to the toilet. You're like the third boy in the household."

Mitchell ignited. "You and your damn collapsed psyche stuff!" He snapped the cover of the book shut. "Why don't you take all these pretentious fucking asinine books of yours and stick them!" he yelled. "Stick them in your deaf ears." He dropped the book on her lap as he walked out.

"That's just what I mean, Curtis," she called out. "This terrible penchant for violence you demonstrate. You need professional help. I'm thinking of Paula and the children."

At the mound, he quickly inhaled the smoke of two consecutive cigarettes while mumbling to himself and pacing back and forth. "She wonders if I remember to go to the toilet. I wish I had loaded the bitch's coffee up with a laxative," he said aloud. "Let her go to the toilet."

He looked down at a huge white blossom on top of the mound. He squatted down, wonder displacing the anger. "A goddamn evening blossom," he said, touching the flower’s stalk. He hadn't known there was such a thing. He heard Paula calling him from inside the house.

She stuck her head out the back door. "Curtis? You out there?"
He was already on his way back, eager to tell her about the blossom. "What's up?" he called out.

"It's Mom, Curtis. She just got terrible diarrhea. How do you feel? I'm wondering if it's the dinner."

"I'm fine." True. He felt just as dandy as a bird out of a cage. "I wonder what it could be. Some bug, maybe."

"Well, to tell the truth, Curtis, she said you attacked her a few minutes ago. Struck her with a book or something."

"That's bullshit, Paula. I dropped it on her lap."

"I thought she probably exaggerated. Still, you have to remember, she’s not as tough as she acts. She really is a senior now."

Mitchell mistrusted the faint spasm of concern that arose. "I doubt that our little disagreement would bring on an attack of diarrhea."

"Also, she's my mother,” Paula said, stepping out onto the porch.

"Yeah. I've often marveled at that," he said, stepping closer and putting his arm around her waist. "How did the offspring of someone so contentious turn out so sweet?"


"A joke, Paula. A joke." Mitchell took in Paula's concerned expression. "All right, Elaine is ill. What can we do to help her?"

"I hate to ask you, but could you go over to Rite Aide and get something from the pharmacist there?"

"The pharmacy department closes at noon on Sundays."

"Maybe you could find some kind of over-the-counter remedy? Ask someone?"

Mitchell sighed. "Sure." He also remembered he had just smoked the last cig. Buying a pack meant a major step, but with Elaine around this week he needed reserves.


The Plymouth did its usual routine of running erratically for the first few minutes of driving. Probably the automatic choke sticking again, Mitchell mused. He took a new, longer route to the shopping center. Turning onto South Street, he punched the Plymouth to see if the engine would clear. It did. He kept accelerating, building up speed for a steep rise. Full dark now, and a misty rain had started, but the street looked deserted.

Tingling with exhilaration and imagining himself to be Steve McQueen in Bullitt, he roared over the crest and back into reality.

Lights--red, orange, yellow--erupted in front of him. A huge truck had jackknifed across the road partway down the other side, and a line of red lights along the edge of an empty flatbed trailer seemed to rush forward to meet Mitchell, hypnotizing him momentarily until he yelled and jammed both feet on the brake pedal. The station wagon slid past the truck driver, who stood some thirty feet in front of the rig preparing to set a flare.

The impact popped the hood and folded it back over the windshield even as the trailer's steel edge sliced into the Plymouth's top, peeling it off with a metallic scream. Mitchell instinctively threw his upper body over onto the passenger seat, covered his head with one hand, and--with a mistaken impulse to maintain steering--left his other hand locked on the steering wheel. These responses saved him from decapitation, but permitted the arm on the steering wheel to be wrenched, crushed, and almost sheared just off below his left shoulder. At the same time, the trailer's massive frame and axle system shoved the Plymouth's engine back in a flash against the firewall and dash. This twisting metallic mass came to rest against Mitchell's legs. Like a witch's pestle grinding a mix of earth and root, the collision had twisted his legs, snapping and splintering the bones.

Even after the dynamics of the crash ended, the noise continued to slid through Mitchell's broken body. He had heard every nuance of sound within the crash--bolts popping with explosive thuds, the groan of the automobile's frame twisting, the rip into the radiator core with the steamy splashing of hot liquid. They call it “coolant,” he thought, and he thought that is absurd for some reason.
He felt, rather than saw, the numb, ragged remains of his left arm mashed between metal. He felt his heart pumping more warm liquid--his blood, he slowly understood--into the twisted metal and broken glass.

Locked inside the wreck, Mitchell cradled his head on his good arm and stared at the floorboard. He knew he should feel panicked at the possibility of dying, but instead felt remarkably at ease and unconcerned. Shock, he thought. Well, someone would have to rescue him now.

The shine of lights and flares threw enough reddish gleam onto the wreck for Mitchell to see the bottom of the floorboard beneath the crushed glove compartment. Lenny's sneakers were down there. He had been complaining, Mitchell remembered, that they were getting too tight. Within one of the sneakers, where the boy's heel had erased the brand name of the insole and worn the area smooth, was a scene, an accident, he realized. A car lodged beneath a tractor-trailer. Flares on the highway. A man, apparently the truck driver, running up the road towards the truck.

Though he could not see the man at all, Mitchell heard and felt and somehow nonetheless saw him, a large fellow with a coiled snake tattooed on his left forearm. The man kept saying "Oh God, shit...Oh God, shit." He spoke with a southern accent, and Mitchell knew the driver came from the Appalachia originally.

Mitchell looked upwards. The panorama above the accident was interesting. No, it was beautiful. Stars shone through widening breaks in the clouds. The rain had ended and all of Belford lay tilted and spread below him. He'd grown up in this small city. The accident reminded him of the day his bike had plunged down the ditch by Mrs. Carlson's house and he'd broken his arm.

And the receding rain--that was like the first time he made it. He was seventeen and at the Hillside drive-in Theater with Jenny Mailer. Another rainy night. They wanted to try it a second time after a while, so he'd gone outside the car in the downpour to find the used Trojan thrown outside earlier. It hadn't occurred to him to bring more than one condom. Buck naked in his eagerness, and on all fours, he searched the dark ground for the used condom. Jenny, likewise nude, lay across the back seat on her stomach, holding the rear door of the Chevy open a crack and encouraging him, telling him to hurry up. Spartacus was showing on the screen, not that they had watched any of it.

Mitchell finally saw the condom by the rear tire and picked it up, dangling it in front of his face in neon light. What oozed out didn't bother him, he had touched that many times. But as he let the rain cleanse it, he examined it more closely. Amazingly, he saw pinpoints of lights in the stuff. Hundreds, no thousands, of lights. All life comes from it. Who said that? He was about to end his investigation and crawl back to Jenny when one of the tiny lights expanded from a microscopic white point to a kaleidoscopic mass that shaped a structure. Rite Aide’s reddish-orange neon letters burst into view on the front of the building.

Mitchell entered the store. No one was around. Odd, but not alarmingly so. A distinct, tacit sense of urgency arose. He had a very short time to pick up what he needed, so he hurried back to the drug section, his wet feet slapping the tile floor. Still naked, but no longer a teenage boy. Seemed right. Still had a left arm, no injuries. Yeah, all right.

Where were the diarrhea curatives? He found the area and looked at the different brands, wondering which was best.

A man stood on the other side of the row from him. Mitchell could just see the top of his balding head. Raising himself on his toes, Mitchell tried to see over the rack. The man looked at least a foot shorter than Mitchell.

"Excuse me, sir. Do you work here?"

A face--elderly, Asian, with a faint scowl--appeared in an opening between stacks of cough syrup and cold tablets. "Maybe."

Maybe? What the hell does that mean? "Well, I need some help. Can you help me?"

"Depends. What you want?"

Mitchell shifted to get a better look at the guy. The face had a close, grey beard and wrinkles above his eyebrows from what appeared to be a permanent frown. Striking eyes--penetrating and unblinking, yet soft in their depths. "I need something that will stop diarrhea, something good."

"Good or bad, it won’t stop your problem.”

"Huh? Maybe good is not what I mean. Something real."

"You’re hunting what is real?"

That's right grandpa, he thought. "Yeah."

The old man actually sneered. "That's your problem, punk. And by the way, forget the shiny packaging."

"What? Do you work here or not, mister?"

"Yeah, I'm working here."

"Then what's the best over-the-counter cure for diarrhea?"

"Whatever's real. And that’s right front of you, stupid."

Had the senile old fart had just called him stupid? "What did you say, Gramps?"

"Aren't you the mushbrain who's always bragging about accepting what's in front of him?"

"You mean this one?" Mitchell irritably tried to pick up one of the packages but couldn't. Startled, he barely had time to register the surprise before the old clerk doubled the volume of his voice.

"If you're that kind of fool, any of these will suit you. Since none of them are real anyway, they will all not help you equally.”

This observation apparently struck the old man as comical. He laughed, and Mitchell was sure he had heard that laugh before. Yes, it was exactly like his mother-in-law’s hard-edged bark.

“You are weird, you are beyond grumpy, and who the fuck are you, anyway?”

Ignoring the question, the old man said, “Fact is, you already have what you need."

"It's for my mother-in-law, not me."

To Mitchell's surprise, the weird old man started laughing again. Not chuckles, either. In seconds, he was howling like a madman, like a wild beast. Suddenly he stopped and gave Mitchell a blistering stare. What he said, and the way he screeched it--with no accent, with a voice like a knife thrust--froze Mitchell's chest. And stopped his mind.

"There is no cure, idiot! What is real is the shit stick!"

The old man's outburst rocked Mitchell back on his barefoot heels. He looked down at the package of untouchable medicine. The printing on the package looked unintelligible, alien. He tried again to pick up the package, failed again, then finally read the phrase "Protective Coating Action!" on the label.

I should have that old bastard canned, he thought, looking up. No one there. Mitchell walked to the end of the row and looked up the other aisle. Empty. As he moved toward the front of the store, he glimpsed a figure in a black robe headed out the front door. A nut case. Some old man wandering around in his bathrobe babbling to strangers.

Mitchell bolted past the checkout counter. No clerk around, but had he bought anything? Shit, Rite Aide had already made a hell of a lot of money off of him over the years. Consider it a farewell gesture only--no purchase. He stopped. Farewell. He had to find the crazy old man, and what about Paula? Outside, he looked around the parking lot of the shopping center. No bathrobe. Nobody. And Paula?

Paula stood next to the television weeping and putting on her coat. The boys barely held back their own tears. Elaine sat in Mitchell's chair babytalking to the baby and talking soothingly to the boys as well. A cop--a tall, serious, young black man--stood beside the open door waiting for Paula. Mitchell knew this would be the last time he would see her.

"I love you, lady," he said aloud: aloud to himself. The sorrow that rose with his voice felt a bit false. No, not false. He did love her. Just unnecessary. She'd recover, he saw that. He looked at the children. Who would provide? At least he'd maintained that fucking life insurance through drought and high water. A little help.

He looked at Elaine again, looked closely. She would take care of everyone for a while. She had money, plenty of money. What was coming up in him? Jealousy? Sorrow? All that. But Elaine—he could see her clearly for once. She was just covering her loneliness up with a thin layer of imperious stubbornness that lay across her like transparent gauze. Elaine could take charge of the family for a while. She needed something like this, and the family needed her for a while, needed her in the family. Things would be all right. At least he wasn't dying of lung cancer, which would have pissed Paula off.

Mitchell watched Paula go out the door. "Thank you." The right thing to say, maybe, instead of goodbye, the thought of which only made him tighten with a surge of grief.


In the back, the wet garden shone in the starlight. Mitchell gazed up at the sky, the source of light. He gazed a long time. Very attractive, but he resisted. One more thing. What was it? He moved effortlessly over to the mound, dimly visible in the starlight. No blossom. Only the stalk remained, and it looked stiff, dead. Mitchell reached down and touched it. It fell over. No roots even, he thought, picking it up. He grinned. He could pick up this flower stalk, but not the package of medicine at the drugstore. Just a dead flower now, a flower stick.

With that thought, something stirred, shifted, within the mound and simultaneously within his chest. He stepped back, the stick in his hand and watched the mound. Something alive in there? Is that a noise? Some kind of animal living in that mound? He looked over his shoulder, his panic easing up when he saw the old man moving through the starlit garden, stopping off here and there to touch or smell this or that plant and flower.

Mitchell felt the old man and felt himself simultaneously. He heard the old man's breath, or was it breath? Mitchell felt a dry, distinct click in his upper spine at the base of his brain. Click, click, click. Mitchell's brain blossomed. He still held the flower stick, and as he became aware again of the dead stalk, the old man looked over and scowled at him. The old man's eyes, within the still mask of the scowl, seemed to emit an endless ooze like the toilet shit poured out onto the ground. Except it was bright with light. It ran down the old man's chest and onto the ground, this illuminated ooze.

Someone could happily disappear in that Ooze, that Brightness, Mitchell thought calmly. I know that Brightness, he thought.

Instantly the old man said, “See?”

Then he said something else to Mitchell. A sentence in Chinese. Whatever he said, it was perfect in its humor, perfect in its unknown meaning, perfect in its meaninglessness. Perfect words fell across Mitchell’s face like a hot vine of bliss across his eyes. With no sense of volition, Mitchell moved towards the figure.

"See?" the old man repeated, motioning Mitchell towards him and turning away from the mound. “There’s just a pile of shit here.”

That says it all, Mitchell thought.

“Follow me if you want to,” the old man said, barking out a laugh.

Moving outward above the garden, the old man looked back at him and said, in a voice that Mitchell suddenly found kind, though the old man had not changed his tone or manner of speaking, “You are stuck with that dead flower stick, Mitchell, until you decide to drop it.”

B. Kalivac Carroll (Bob to family and friends) is a doctoral candidate currently working on his dissertation entitled Abstraction and the Numinous: A philosophico-phenomenological Study of Image Consciousness in Modern and Contemporary Art. He is also nearing completion of a novel, Yogini Keturah's Other Dream.