Westwind

The Mini Bar

Albert Crost

“The Edge. There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.”

—Hunter S. Thompson

“No one has ever asked what we do, but if someone did, I would say, ‘We litter the floor with pins that once held together the great tin skull of mankind.’”

—Fitzgerald Sawtelle

On days when the sirens call us all outside, I walk to the park, stand out by the railing, and listen to the old people complain. I hear them say that the in-between time is shrinking, that children stay young for longer and longer, but as soon as they cross over into adulthood they become old. “They don’t have a clue what it means to live,” they say, hating their children. They ramble about how adventure is absent from the world, how the rights of passage have dried up and blown away.

They know less than nothing, these old people.

I have met the ancients, the Roman and Greek and Mesopotamian gods, and I have shared ambrosia with them and spilled onto their pale earth to slash down a thousand soldiers with my eyes. I have slept with the cold spark at the heart of glaciers. I have seen the galaxy coiled in a child’s shoelace and held the inversed universe in a splinter of glass. Fitz Sawtelle meets us at the mini bar, produces a bag of neon collagen tubes from his coat, and the magic happens.

On Tuesday nights we gather around the mini bar—the disgraced, the unstoppable, the one-eyed piss-buckets that stalk the kingdom of blindness—to shed our fear. Wes, Hempley, Jules, Marrissa, Clarissa, and I meet at Ms. Bogart’s backyard at midnight and exchange looks. Then Fitz Sawtelle arrives late and we feel like a family. He jumps and howls at the stars. “Ice!” he screams. “Iyyycce! Together at last!” He grabs one of us, presses our cheek to his, and points upwards into the abyss. “Look there, that one! We land there tonight boy, Iyyce!”

Fitz is the only one who claims to see stars. The rest of us see warm darkness—an orange-brown pastel smear, every night.

This is the sky over Ms. Bogart’s backyard, a half-block from the corner of Nash and Peabody, in Callabaas, Connecticut. Ms. Bogart is a 60-ish widow who none of us have ever met, and her whirlpool is our mini bar. Here, we can scream as loud as we want, and no one will hear, because very few people in America sleep anymore. After the Panstarrs comet passed, everyone started having trouble with that sort of thing. According to the old people, mass insomnia led to riots and crime sprees until the chemical design facilities opened for experimentation. Now at bedtime, those who remember sleep swallow little beaded genies that blossom into colorful mutations and fill the holes that once caught dreams.

Each of our parents lay paralyzed until the brink of morning, when the dew beads on the windowsills and the sun hangs grey in the sky; by that time, each one of us is back in bed, staring at the ceiling for the lessons engraved there.

One thing the old people say is almost true. “Everyone’s heads are so full these days that there is no room for friendship.” They say this and other things and think of their dead friends and wish they could cry, but they can’t remember what made their friends true friends, and I know that’s why their tear ducts remain placid and dry.

Most of my peers are not real. They come out of comic books and wall-mounted screens. But Fitz is a true friend. He looks you in the eye and speaks through his soul, and you can feel how heavy and wise it is with your lungs.

At the mini bar, Fitz faces me and grabs my shoulders and says, “Brother, You need to escape.” He taps my forehead twice with his knuckles. “You need to dissolve the bars of rapturous imprisonment and abandon this naïve belief that if you make enough kiddy shows the world will remember you and just move! Writhe like the worms!” He drops onto Ms. Bogart’s bricks and has mock seizures. I laugh. Then he kicks my feet out and catches me, pulling my ear to his lips. “It’s all these cartoons you burden yourself with,” he whispers. “How can you pass through the big Fear if you spend 12 hours a day painting shadows onto pixels and making digital mouths talk? Breathe, brother! Fill those eyes with the message carved into the living earth, not a digital scuff desk. Scrape the shingles from your nerves, brother. Until you do…” he touches a finger to my eyelid, closing it. “I have a special designer for you tonight, one that taught me to escape my never-ending mop dance and breathe.” He shows me a collagen tube, bright red like a vial of blood. “Shed your fear,” he says, and hands it to me.

Over dinner, parents tell and retell stories about youths in California going crazy. They look at their children, and we look back at them. It is the same everywhere. The television runs a story; parents listen, absorb key words, and paraphrase between mouthfuls of mash. Most of the time, their warnings are trivialities; rust on hinges. But when the big Fear tugs on your gut and you see the chain, they can stretch into walls and crater into oblivion. At least that’s what Fitz says. The rest of us have never encountered the big Fear.

Fitz works as a janitor at the Callabaas pharmaceutical design university. He is young, and befriends the students. They pack rejected Nano-packet powders into collagen tubes—yellow orange green red—and sell them to Fitz. Each is a unique sculpture waiting to unpack itself onto the stage of consciousness. We swallow the tubes with cranberry juice (for the vitamins) and float in the hot water because you want your muscles relaxed and you don’t want your body temperature to drop, which happens. Then Fitz tells us about the walls and tunnels he has passed through. They, like the stars, are invisible to everyone but Fitz. The rest of us see rain and blizzards and the hanging ebony crown of the sun as it balances like a pendulum over our orchestral visions. We see gyrating reflections, and feel the mad dripping of wax onto our teeth; but we have never met the big Fear. Fitz says that we must pass through the tunnels or we will be abandoned. He never elaborates. He doesn’t need to. We know he is crazy, and love him for it.

Cut across to Tuesday at midnight: The Mini Bar.

The seven of us are floating in the water, and there’s this kid on the bricks describing some live sex show he saw, voice like a puppy. I want to ask why he is here, but I don’t. It seems obvious that Fitz brought him along, although I’ve been so shaky this afternoon that I can’t remember exactly. The kid starts describing the mask the man wore, in the show, and how the girls all had raspberry bruises on their thighs and butts afterwards. I look to Fitz, but Fitz is smiling patiently with teeth like piano keys and eyes like window shutters, just hundreds of slits.

The kid goes on and on about how enormous this cock looked in the show, how it was probably genetically modified, which happens. He talks about how there was this fat girl whose face looked like a freshly glazed Crispy Cream doughnut after this enormous cock sprayed all over her.

Wes and Hempley are staring at each other in silence. Marrissa, Clarissa, Jules, and Fitz are sitting numb with their heads reclining on the lip of the whirlpool. Their torsos bob in the water as their breath quickens. Their eyes are shaking, scanning for stars or UFOs, or for streaks of light that they can call UFOs, or for blotches in their eyes that they can confuse with stars. “Stars!” Fitz says.

Fitz Sawtelle is really smiling now. His teeth are breaking out of his mouth like icicles. It hasn’t taken hold of me yet. Just a blur in my vision and a tremor in the voice of this young skriff, who is now describing the veins on the cock, using words like “impossibly” and “tree roots.” He makes thrusting motions with his fist. I want out. Wes and Hempley are taking turns licking each other’s eyes. Marrissa and Clarissa’s breasts pop from and dunk under the water as their breath accelerates into jotty gasps.

The skriff begins making sloshing noises. “Ka-splash!” he says. “Ejaculate everywhere!” and reaches his hands in the whirlpool to fling water at us.

I have heard enough; I take a breath and sink my head under. The water is warm and turbulent, and the air jets sound like gravel crunching under heel. I begin counting: one one-thousand, two one-thousand, and so on. Then it feels like I am wearing a blizzard. I open my eyes, and see my reflection flash and dissolve into bubbles. It has begun. Rays of light fan out from the disk at the bottom of the whirlpool and the bubbles become crystals and explode into pixie dust with thousands of ‘plink’ sounds.

Eight one-thousand, nine one-thousand. “Plink!”

Ten one-thousand…eleven, “Plink! Plink! Plink!”

Eightonethousandnineonethousandtenonethousandelevenonethou—they explode, then implode, then explode again. I observe from every angle at once. I release a mouthful of air, and it erupts into diamonds and yawning blackness. I can see the fissures coursing through each bubble before it bursts. My lungs grow heavy, and I need air, but before standing, I look through the water to where the young skriff is sitting. His mouth is like a fish gurgling in cold darkness. “Plink!”

I break the surface of the water and know at once that something is terribly wrong. My skin is icy cold, and I am standing on a savanna of cracked cement. The sky is a dark clotted brown with a wide red streak down the middle, glowing dim like a sunset. The air smells like burning plastic. I hear a tearing sound behind me and turn. I don’t believe what I see. An old man in rags is crouching and chewing on what appears to be an enormous rodent. He looks up over the matted hair and our eyes meet. His are deep and black and open wide so that the rest of his face looks stretched out like a scroll. He delicately places the rodent down and sniffs, nostrils flaring. His lips peel back in a half-grin and he lifts a burlap sack from the ground. It is only large enough to fit over my head. He hooks the air with four bony arthritic fingers, staring at me with that frigid expression, glass in time.

I step away but his eyes seem to grow. I take another step back. His pupils are swelling like ticks.

I am dripping mud, and teeth are growing from my skin. The wind flecks me with pins.

Then I am back at the mini bar. The stars are out and the air jets have stopped and everything is okay. Fitz and the others are sitting still and no one is talking. The kid on the bricks has left.

Fourteen one-thousand. “Plink!”

“What the hell was that?” I say to Fitz, but he doesn’t respond. He’s still smiling like a ceramic clown. “Fitz!” I say. “Fizz! Fist! Flist!” I cannot remember his name. It’s gone.

I try to shake him, and my hands pass through his shoulders. Now I can see how transparent he looks; an image superimposed on my retinas. I look at the others and see sandstone-colored ghosts without names. Everything is still and silent and dim.

“Plink!” I turn to face the water.

There is an old man lying at the bottom with bubbles rolling out of his nostrils. He is staring at me, holding a bag. It ripples and swoons alongside strands of hair. I run.

Nineteen one-thousand.

Eighteen one-thousand.

Seventeen one-thousand. “Plink!”

I am at the park, leaning against a pine. I try to remember how I arrived here. No names, no images, no threads of voice. The history of the world and everything up until this moment is a dark funnel. I try to remember and vomit.

Fifteen one-thousand. “Plink!”

Fourteen one-thousand. “Plink! Plink!”

I think back, trying to remember. Further into the tunnel.

Ten one-thousand.

I demand that my mind remember and grow smaller and smaller.

Four one-thousand.

Seventeen one-thousand.

One one-thousand.

I am not…, I tell myself, as the world and everything around it knots into a bubble like a diamond, cords of pink flesh; a lidless gel focused eternally upon the ink of the vaulted sky. I am not…“Plink!”

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