Say octupi, octopuses, or a group of octopus, in real time and space, slooped beneath the shallower depth of the Gulf of Mexico, and natant beyond squid and cuddle fish at twenty-five miles an hour, their destination exotic and unknown, they are incognito. A pair of trout, mystified to watch, seem mystified by everything; they roll dulled eyes. Life is aimless, and it is as it’s supposed to be, for trout, but the octupi simply won’t abide. They blink in a line of this great buffet, at a coral reef of a Florida cay west of Largo. The sandbar sharks greet them, like automobile salesmen, – they provide a single warning, a knowing wink. The word is abide. Octopuses are annoying, and rather unpopular in the deep; the predators eschew them; trout and other sea mollusks see octupi as boastful, to a point of nobility, bid to blue-blood in the light of three hearts, and nine brains. A rainbow trout, the elder, darts to one side to avoid an octopus, then below him, and under his trout mate, plainly inconvenienced, winnows in a watery row, and frustratingly issues another remark: The trout says, “You know what else. You can’t pick a fight with them, either.”
The second trout ponders this statement, quavers and mulls it some more, and bows his nose. He agrees, “Yeah well, they have two legs, and six arms,” and the trout ponders, quizzically, alternately, whether it might be six legs, and two arms, and what may be the difference.
He had hoped to see dolphins in the early ocean waters in Florida, maybe feeding sharks. The dawn is dinner time for them. He’d flown to Florida to inspect, and survey his property, and clapped his cell phone, upon viewing a familiar icon, signaling a new message. He was most inclined to delete it, and almost did; it was a fretful day of flight, airborne compression, and fretting about the sundry details of a heart condition. He wanted to delete it, that and the entire sequence of time, like a film clip. It wasn’t a New York number. He didn’t have to Google it, though. He fumbled with the phone. The number, +375-17, was a number in Russia, a number in Minsk, obviously Kapitolina, possibly from Belarus. His heart waned from pro to con. He tapped the screen finally. It wasn’t a message. A text. He resolutely tapped it again to view the green bubble, and two, cryptic words. He re-imagined Kapitolina in a general way, gazing at the vast, villain cloud forms just before the sunrise, and he had been that way before; he had been dressed-down, and dapper, he’d flexed his arms modestly, and summarily closed the outside doors to one’s private space, alone, and solitary, and actually, a new person without a past, fresh in the new day; in this dimension of life where one visits more frequently, and can choose to live, everything else is extraneous, and somehow not real, half-hour episodes of a fictional, prime time television show. She could live in a new moment, and include only the essential. The text said, “Fourteen years.” Kapitolina had spelled it out, – fourteen, not 14, – to imply more dismay. He commented, “unfair.” She was including Mariya, who was deceased; their courtship had lasted “four, or so” years. The awful possibility had throbbing in the winces of his mind, although he was ready, he had risen with the notion of dispensing with his terminal disease, but now, in the day’s new sunlight, it waited only for him in the queue to become real. Kapitolina was gone.
He frowned, put the cell in a case, and his hands in his pockets, walking less steadily along the coast. He remembered a conversation with Pearl in Greece; she was wistful, imbibing the vitae salts of the Aegean Sea. She strew a strand of her hair with a finger. “If I ever have to go back to Minsk, I won’t return. It’ll be your fault, of course. I’d have to be exhumed – it’s not a place you can leave.” He called her Pearl occasionally, and now softly repeated her name. She had mastered English, but had still not learned it. Her words were actually clearer; they were phonetic. New York was not a place to trade.
The new day left him with a penchant veganism, his thoughts, and the worrisome salt air. Salt was restricted for him, and the sea nearby caused him to crow ironically. He didn’t want heart failure any more, and what’s more, no one wanted to hear about it. The worst was Milt, who didn’t like hospitals, for any purpose or vogue, and once, in the miskey wild, advocated a possibility of humane firing squads, until reminded about the Nazish implications. Aji was frustrating, too. The seemed to be a score of everlasting answers to rather alluring matters, but all without a relevant question, and none applied especially to his timely demise. He commented, “Life,” and left it be. Milt certainly had claimed to know everything about heart disease, and about everything else, as well, including the exact cause, and a liquid remedy; his mordant streak equated “ambulatory” to “going for a ride.” He was not a willing friend to the medical industry. He lamented, “Heart disease is the way of life in America, a yearning to breathe free,” and then cradled his head in his arms, a well-known sign, usually directed at students who overwhelmed him with information; with friends, it was the point where Milt usually added something crude about women, helpless to change the subject. The matter was exhausted, as was Milt’s Ozish visage. He felt weary of hoisting all present knowledge into the air like Atlas, for his friend. Milt ogled two women in bikinis, probably teenagers, with their boyfriends; they were struggling with a sail boat five sites away down the hill. “Look at them,” he said.
Joe observed, “I thought you didn’t like kids.”
Milt said, “It’s nothing personal. I was just imagining what it would be like if I was twenty. Today, I mean, right now. What would I do?”
Joe interjected, “You’d go — jump in the lake.”
“He’d probably ask them about Kerouac.”
Joe groaned loudly, and in psychic pain. “Nah, he’d lift the boat into the water with his bare hands.”
“You miss the point, boys,” Milt observed. “A pity.”
He ambled to the kitchen in Florida to steam vegetables, and thoroughly washed the variegated mass in a new colander, set to keep a promise to Aji to create an “Omster.” It was his classic version of an omelet, given in return for a ride home to New York in the LifeRaft®. He was renowned in his Coney building as the master of the “Monster-Omelet,” – the “Omster,” a portmanteau. He governed vegetables, enduring recovery, and the wisdom of Guy Fieri, and Gordon Ramsey, as culinary mischief was one of his new passions; certainly the Omster was a “gangster.” He skillfully prepared for Aji a filling, a perfected combination of mushrooms, chilies, red, green peppers, and onions, steamed delicately to willows, with spicy Italian sausage, hot sauce, and a dab of salsa, Panglossianly spread in a merry blanket of melting cheddar.
He checked his cell phone, again. “Nothing.”
The mundane could be callous. He longed for the challenging tension of the day before, in the late morning in Florida, waited tepidly with Aji for the LifeRaft® to fire up, and an “errand” to the dijective orbit of İo, and the lost planet, Ale. Aji learned to ignore his anxious churn, chiding him, “Ale is right on the way to New York.” She had nothing, but time, and his veganism was a curiosity. Aji told him “animal protein” was “a pretty foreign, hostile practice to us,” that their “markets gradually transitioned to making the same gobs, and and gobs of dough on alternate, synthetic foods, protein, and ‘fast food pills,’” and announced their arrival at Ale, a hash-brown orb, close to Antlia. The LifeRaft® glided into a perfect, narrow stop in a huff of heavy brown dust, amidst the partial “sunlight.”
“This is one I wanted you to see,” Aji said. “It’s your kind of answer to veganism.”
“I said vegan, not Vulcan,” he replied. He was sheepish, his eyes wide, but endemically interested in Ale, like a similar vale comprised of apple trees.
Aji said, “There’s no people left here, which is kind of surprising, really. It’s a reflexive age, I’d say, after The Ponds, what happened there. It’s funny, The archaeologists have spent more time on Ale, here on this dusty, brown place, than anywhere else, more than any in the realm of Sombrero. No jokes, like, ‘the way to a man’s heart.”
“O-kay,” he responded, and they disembarked to strolled the surface of Ale in their bio-gear. “Maybe we can find a saloon.”
Aji smiled, and lectured, “There is some extraordinary evidence here, but so far it doesn’t make sense.”
“Really?” he answered, concealing a grin.
“There was a substantial population that used to live here,” said Aji. “There is clear fossil evidence of man on Ale.”
“Man, mammals, er whatever we are?”
“Right. There’s no history of them, no accounts, or oral histories, just what science can surmise. They lived on half of the surface, not all of it, plainly the warmer side. One estimate pegs the population at more than a million people at one time, possibly tens of millions. Just like us. Homo sapiens.”
“Were they hunter-gatherers, or what?”
“They were very intelligent,” Aji said, shuffling her boot in, and over the dust. “You can’t see them, but there are still wide, agricultural tracks, clear farming cuts, fencing, and purposeful divisions in the land which indicate alternating fields. The climate isn’t hospitable to agriculture today, which is probably more of an answer than we’ve allowed, but it was probably once conducive to vegetation, very Goldilocks, – and a surprise to all of us.”
She mentioned the whole grain, barley, and explained it possessed very high contents of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, with “a rich flavor, like nuts, and berries of wheat. It took no time at all for archaeologists to study the obvious!”
“To study ale,” he said.
“Yes, barley could mean ale,” Aji laughed. “The lager, a light beer. Obviously, how the planet got its name. The conventional wisdom is the humans who lived here consumed very little but ale, and it was all they knew., until one day they vanished from the faces of Antlia.”
“I’ve had weekends like that,” he jested.
“A-yes,” Aji said, hesitantly. “Barley is actually chewy, like a pasta, it wasn’t all Ale. It’s actually an outstanding source of dietary fiber. It contains selenium, tryptophan, niacin, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and it has few calories; barley is one of the oldest edible grains. It was actually a staple food of farmers on Earth in the Middle Ages. The hidden benefits of barley, – especially when, quote unquote, ‘combined with water,’ are a close rival to honey, which was also found on Ale in very high concentrations. It may have to have been a barley-wine. Ale requires a malt. They didn’t find any malt or hops, but lots of gruit. No beer.”
“Did they find any bees, or honey?”
“Good question, and yes,” Aji said. “The digs did reveal evidence of honey, honey bees, and colonies. There was no indication of any other nutrients, other than barley, and honey. The honey was apparently used for just medicinal purposes.”
“It’s what you wanted to know!” Aji “Barley was actually enough. Nobody today would really agree, but there are always theories, theories like barley, and water, – ale, – could sustain the body for a period of time. The devils in the details, of course. Maybe it was, and then it wasn’t. Barely is also good for digestion, it can guard against bacteria, gallstones, cancer. Who knows? It also helps people lose weight, prevent asthma, heart disease, slows atherosclerosis. It contains lignans, which reduce inflammation, and combat aging, one, 7-hydroxymatairesinol, metabolizes bacteria. Diabetes, pregnancy, the immune system, all could be impacted; it’s interesting, just that. Then, of course, there’s the honey. Those medicinal benefits are somewhat well-known.”
Aji said, “Raw honey also contains things that fight disease, flavonoids, propolis, bee pollen; it is said to help control allergies, perhaps diabetes, sleep problems, cough, promotes healing of wounds. But on the other hand, – and there’s always two sides, if there’s any side – some say honey can cause abnormalities, even in the heart. Always two sides. We have the benefit of knowing that. Maybe they didn’t here.”
Their conversation induced a memory of Central Park some years ago, as he carefully eased the Omster to flip it in the pan, and sunlight blared through the kitchen window of the double wide. He had been reading the Sunday Times when a bee, a hornet, seemed angry at his choice of a bench, and zipped past his ear, circled his head, and landed, climbing, or claiming the bench. It seemed almost like communication. He was more courageous than usual, and decided to mess with the hornet. The bee stopped climbing the bench suddenly, anticipating it, and whisked past his ear again, apparently trying to buzz him away. He made round motions with his forefinger, instinctively made a twirling motion, with each circle further outward towards the park; the bee spun around him, ovaled, and circled him again. He repeated the twirl. The bee whisked near his nose, sidled to the park, and then flew higher, and further away, obliging his twisting course, as if he had given the hornet directions. He cackled, at the stove, “Bee-talk. What a dumb thing to do.”
He asked her, “When did they vanish, the people of Ale?”
Aji said, “The last of them perished a million years ago., no one has pinned it down. But – they didn’t accidentally stumble off in a stupor, as the saying goes, no.”
“We can only wonder,” he said.
Aji said, “It’s a good reason for us to finish Ultra Terris, U.T., finish T2, or True Time. Then we would know. It gets — emotional, irrational. Too much so.”
She said True Time was the effort to clarify the Age of the Universe, an ontological vast of the deep vast, to study a cosmos in less fundamental disarray; theories of a multiverse, strings, and other dimensions were undertaken with certain presumptions, – those were “hardest part,” – and the greater precision of mathematics; but it was destined to become, as the erstwhile Bud Adorjan, once drolly observed, “like trying to study a live fish.” Time was separate from space, space separate from time, and space-time too empirical. “What they needed a map of time, instead of space, a Real Time view of Laniakea,” said Aji. They eschewed the lore of Orison, they stopped wondering about creating, or destroying mass, and created a new Rose Line, a new, universal median for time, which Hydra, the largest colony, was only too happy to put in the midst of their settlement.
Aji entertained his looming academic dread. “Of course, the bitterness, and in-fighting has consumed the effort, like it was the early railroads. Winners. Losers. Civil acts. And then they wanted it to go to Orison, the great fabled place, to heaven. Some, – some started saying we were treading on their ancestors, who were part of the dust of the planets. Or – they wanted to know if they were all attending some ballgame in Bootes Void.”
“No surprise,” he exacted. “It inspires some of the worst brawls in history. Once there was nearly a war, — 1896, I believe — between Great Britain and the Ashanti Empire in Africa about a gold stool. And the Battle of Karansebes, in 1788. Austrians were fighting with Turkey, and they took a night of liberty, drank too much, and started shooting each other. Some of them thought the shots were coming from the Turks, that they were surrounding them. They ordered an artillery strike on their own camp. It seems amusing, until you hear 10,000 soldiers died in the attack. Quite a few.”
The spring air in Florida, near Cape Canaveral, breezing in through an open window, was the finest of the great weather, like April, the best month, he thought. He watched a scare of black crows depart branches of oak trees towering over the frontage of a state route before a Winn-Dixie supermarket. Three dozen crows had ported from hidden sconces in the leaf grouped for an orderly flight feet above it, in a bask of the sunlight, spaced apart, and swooning into perfect, soaring rows. They evinced fresh blue air, like a congregation, in the freedom of flight, dropped in array, rose in array, apparently a dense celebration the blessings of the sun. The crows retaining the altitude, and repeated the air show several times, utterly content, yet somehow longing.
He rustled between pillows and a cover sheet at night, awake at three-thirty in Florida, used to it. He straightened in the bed, eased his arms beneath his head, and thought peaceably of Central Park. He could grow dumbstruck just watching the green, and empty branches. A holly leaf was not acquainted with ontology, or physics, or night or “U.T.,” or even Africa, or if it taxied in a tropical gale from Canada, or İo or New Hampshire. The leaf bloomed regardless; it was carbon, like everything else, like the Ilex shivering in the Park, where it was “born,” nevertheless of whence it came. He imagined the holly floating to induce sleep, — the leaf floating to anywhere, suddenly inhabiting Saturn, or the Galilean moons, gently landing on any of these grounds, whether earth or hya-light or Orison, indifferent, from dust in the gusto of air.
He dreamt about fish in emerald waters of Largo Key, the beginnings of life on Earth, or perhaps; in a part of the dream, one sequence, the older fish, with stark eyes, bellowed on about an important subject, but he couldn’t hear it; the younger fish’s mouth and lips were moving; they were loud, smothered sounds. He knew he was finally asleep, at least. He glowered in the dream, playfully engaging the two fish; and they wavered in their path towards him. He did hear the elder fish command the younger one. “Just remember one thing, son. Never forget it: You are a Trout!” ◊
¤ Juke Box ¤
Theme: “Building a Mystery,” Sarah McLachlan | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 1-50,” a myopic vaile (No. 37)
“The Echo By Seas” is one of three works by SODA TOM.
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Created by Soda Tom