Geological disasters. Cracks in the world. Flood and fire and everything turned on its head. Rain pours from the sky.
Harper turns her face into it, feels the water trickle down her neck, soak into her clothes, run down her skin like the touch of sensual fingers. Cleansing and somehow dirty, all at the same time.
Heaven and Hell are supposed to be distinct, aren’t they? Harper knows better. The lines between are thinner than the line between madness and sanity. Thinner than the skin which is supposed to separate you from the world, but doesn’t, because the rain still gets in. Through the pores, until you’re drowning in it; and into your mind, where it turns everything bright and dancing and liquid, where it washes away sense.
Thinner than your sense of self, worn thread-bare by other people’s expectations, by the looks in their eyes.
The floods are coming.
Hell is supposed to be hot. That’s what a good Mormon girl is supposed to believe. Hot like the burn of alcohol down the back of your throat is supposed to be – only she’s never drunk alcohol, only read the pamphlets. Hot like sex, making you sweaty and sticky and awkward. Plastering down your hair, making you ugly.
But there’s a thin line. Harper remembers. Hell, like the sex that sends you there, can be cold, and silent, and absent.
Heat drives away the cold. There are better things to burn than Central Park pines, she knows that now. Still she craves it. The escape of madness. Hellfire heat; the flush of your skin when the pills kick in, and the sweat springs up and the bedsheets are too close and his contact is stifling. Mormons aren’t supposed to be addicted. Do they mark out the path to hell? Paving it like a blue brick road, or scattered like the crumbs that the lost children follow home?
There are cracks in everything. Rain pours down from the sky, and washes everything away. Runs down Harper’s arms, as she raises them in agony or exultation.
And then – threshold of revelation...
...when your sense of self is so thin-spread that you cannot tell where you end and Hell begins – then you, yourself, can be anything.
Geological disasters. Cracks in the world. Flood and fire and everything turned on its head.
Harper turns her head to one side and squints. And...
...because of my astonishing power to see such things...
I can make something of this...
It’s scary. But kind of good scary. Better than Eskimos.
Not so cold.
Get lost, Joe. Go exploring.
They burn a hole in his pocket for days, after that. Through the crying jags, and the numbness, and the self hatred, he is always aware that they are there. Much as before, when things were normal, he had always been aware of... of...
He doesn’t want to get lost. He wants to get found. Fucking cliché, isn’t it? Don’t use profanities, Joe.
But it is. A cliché. A fucking cliché.
Roy would find it funny. Probably. Roy would be disappointed.
Joe is tired of disappointing people.
And he is aware of them in his pocket, a malevolent presence, like the men in the park - I watch, I only watch, the excuse worn thin with time and eventually done away with altogether. A malevolent presence that he knows, one of these days he will make a part of himself, just as he did with the men. And it will kill the self that came before. Just as the men did.
Just as Louis did.
Lowest of the low. A homosexual without the fucking sex. A republican lawyer with his politics and his patronage both in tatters around his feet.
With a big glass of water, she told him. And he is aware of the possibilities. Much as before, when things were normal, he was aware of the possibilities of his body. Aware but unable to act on that awareness.
And as before, the day comes. Inevitable seeming; a part of himself all along. And he does; he loses himself to it, with a big glass of water.
He finds himself – he loses himself – wandering an echoing corridor. Some metaphor, perhaps, for the halls of justice. For the corporate corruption of his soul.
There’s a man. He is not surprised. A flaming queer in bright get-up, all out of place.
Joe lets his mind wander, half expecting sex – it is, after all, his hallucination. Perhaps that is the missing part after all. The thing he has been searching for. That closeness. Go exploring. The safe way. No messy bodies, no complicated emotions, no other people...
He comes to, hot and uncomfortable, untouched and unloved, with of a great sense of the unfairness of it all. Much as before, when things were normal, when he was a lawyer with a dream of Washington before him, when he was writing those papers for Roy... he was aware of... of...
Still the words slip away from him. He wonders, though he cannot express the wondering, if his heart is not yet stretched wide enough to hold them. He wonders, though perhaps he will never acknowledge the wondering, if it ever will be, before it is broken beyond repair.
Belize knows Heaven. Belize has wandered the streets, seen the beauty of it. Not that he’d ever tell anyone. Shit like that, they stop letting you work as a nurse, even night shift. Shit like that gets you locked up. Bad enough being a faggot, but a crazy faggot’s got no hope.
He’s seen it in his minds eye. As real as the world he can reach out and touch. And he trusts in it, again and again and again.
In this world, men like Prior don’t respect men like Belize. Not really. They use them, for sex or solidarity or friendship. Or whatever.
But Belize has seen a city where they dance together. Not like Martin Luther King, not all holding hands and hallelujah and all that shit. No lions lying down with the lambs. Just... Belize has seen a city where pleasure has overcome prejudice.
And so, he dares to love Prior. He dares to hope that this time he’ll be proved wrong, that this white man can learn him beneath his skin.
In this world, men like Louis are irredeemable. Unforgiven. Louis cannot forgive himself, and every time Belize gets close to it, faggot goes and opens his mouth and out pops something else offensive. Like he just can’t help it. Like he’s got too much garbage inside of him to keep it all in.
But Belize has seen a city where the garbage sparkles like designer jewellery, campy and glorious, and valued. The ultimate in urban recycling. The dreck of humanity redeemed and reclaimed, and all mixed up together.
Men don’t learn to mix, how they going to create the world to come? Belize is not naive enough to think some deity’s gonna do it. Not white skinned Jesus, not any creole river-mouth god of his dreams.
But this crazy faggot’s seen heaven. This crazy faggot’s got hope.
The internet is a strange and wonderful thing. There are people there! What people! And they talk about this, and they talk about that. And they organise. Of course, they do not call it organise. Solidarity is a word almost unheard, and communism a ghost mostly laid to rest, at least in public imagination. The language of politics has moved on. But Ethel has always been multilingual.
It doesn’t matter to be invisible, on the internet. Ideas can still be shared. She can put a little picture in the corner of her screen, a picture of herself, grainy and tiny, and call her name Ethel Rosenburg, and the young people on the internet will talk to her and never think they talk to the dead. It makes her laugh, a little. They speak ideas of pacifism as if they are inventing the idea for the first time.
The dead speak their stories, she types, and they do not think she means it literally. Unjust government kills, she types, and hopes that that part, they believe.
I I I I
Am your Angel
Phosphor Fluor Lumen Candle
Here, now, for you, oh children who read these words
Once upon a time, books were a metaphor for angels. Or perhaps the other way around. Repositories of knowledge, of meaning. God's other children.
The metaphor has become mixed. The book is forgotten.
Words are not as they once were. They live, fly through the air, become created out of tiny points of light. They exist in space which is not space; a little like heaven. They move freely between continents.
The boundaries are breaking down
You break them
We mourned it once
Proud and sharp-winged and bright eyed
The continental principalities sat separate
And bade you STOP MOVING or else destroy us all
And you chose your own future. MORE LIFE.
The great work begins in you
In your words, the pixels of light that make up your words and spread them from continent to continent.
Even angels learn.
Once, we moved every leaf, stirred every blade of grass, watched every sparrow fall. But things change, children. There is more than one way to understand abandonment. The child grows up, the bird flies the nest, the scrawl of infant writing becomes a novel in potentia, or becomes, perhaps, nothing.
Emptiness is space to grow in.