Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 19 • Fall 2006 • Fiction

The Possiblist

Jan Clausen

It rained all day yesterday. That foggy kind of saturation damp, reminding me Oregon really is an edge. Indigenous chill mounting a guerrilla offensive, oblique compared to the armies of Eastern cold. The closed-in kind of weather that makes me think about the ancient settlements -- who all was here 10,000 years ago, and how exposed they must have felt in their minuscule numbers. A peopled world maybe the size of the Organism.

I'd guess they felt cradled, too. Precarious and cradled.

Like I do, wrapped in the sorrow of Portland rain.

I withstood my shift at Baba Yaga's. Heard someone call me "the oriental chick" (to Deketria). Came home dripping. Sad beyond tears. Not because of chickdom, or the oriental crap, but because of the total absurdity of my life so far. Forced myself to make calls about possible video work, with predictable results. I can see it now, I'll never get the fry-smell out of my clothes, if and when I resume my so-called "career." Started a letter to Paula, couldn't think what to say.

I lay down on my mattress early, restless, worn out but with no ambitions for sleep, just stretched out under the covers in the dark like I used to do sometimes at 15, 16, trying to make movies behind my closed eyes. Movies of burning blue masks. The color blue. Derek Jarman made an entire film of nothing but the color blue when he was dying and going blind. Everything ends badly if you follow it out far enough. There's a drainpipe outside my window and I could hear the pock, pock, pock of the water, keeping time. I felt in sync with the world's futility, all right.

I thought I wasn't hoping for Lizz to come downstairs. As far as I knew, she was out in Beaverton, scouting sites for next week's Senseless Demo. Then around eleven, out of a doze, I heard her businesslike knock, and the hideous soft squeal of my flimsy door on its messed-up hinge.

No matter what sensible things I tell myself when I go to bed, that knock calls my bluff, proving to me I've secretly been waiting.

Lizz. You Lizzard woman.

Get some clothes on, she said, all cheerful. Come have a smoke.

I thought she was fooling. Haha, funny joke. Obviously no way any controlled substances should get within seven leagues of the Mothership but evidently some part of Our Lizz is still an Alienated Youth, no matter her powers. There's still that junior joy in taunting authority, and the happy bitterness of knowing that others are to blame for the blithering idiocies of a world your fine young self didn't make. So it turned out she'd arranged for a baggie to be left in a hollow in the trunk of a curbside maple, part way down the block. Placed there by someone (she hastened to assure me) totally unconnected with the Organism.

Aren't you asking to be set up? I pointed out. But what the hell, it's not my Organism. Who was I to counsel prudence when I could be with her, giggling under the big umbrella she'd brought, arms around each other's waists under the dark dripping trees. Passing the tight little joint back and forth -- so private like that. I never felt so ravishingly secluded.

What'll Paula say, I baited her, when you get your ass arrested?

Oh, Paula, fuck, how the fuck do I know! Make Reality Real! The only kick is consciousness! That sent us into hysterical laughter; it didn't take much -- howling and hooting and trying to quiet down, falling all over each other with amusement at poor Paula, wasting away with her face to the wall. Paula Our Mother, who's in a terrible slump. (Who'll be coming home to roost any month now.)

Paula, whose hand trembles when she lifts a beverage can. (No drinking straws allowed in the visiting room -- the Powers connect them to drug abuse.) Who has broken veins in her cheeks, which are hollow and blue. Whose chin is disappearing into the folds of ropy neck.

Our Mother who hath forgotten sex.

Paula, who suffers.

Under the budding silver birches, Lizzie locking her mouth on mine, laughingly imparting a delicious puff of smoke, I felt like we were abandoned by the world. Our dangerous hilarity only made it more private.

I inhaled sparingly, left Lizz the lion's share. More than four or five hits and paranoia strikes deep. But oh, the reek of it, mixed with sodden earth. I could eat that incense for my only food.

With the last of it I felt bold and reached for her face, cupping it to mine with both hands, my nothing lips on her full soft lovely ones. I need you tonight, I said. (Afraid she'd say she had work to do.)

So home and down the steep, damp, musty stairs. The basement miracle of access.

That rain the whole time -- only later I realized. Softer, harder, softer. But relentless.

I was getting my period, which makes it more intense. We get into these states where we go and go for hours, then fall asleep like wrecked things. Planks and splinters and gnarled driftwood stumps tossed up on the beach of each other. It might have been 2:30 or 3:00 when I came out of a doze and we were shifting, hip against hip, on the prowl for a new way in. (Like we hadn't got enough except I think we really had. Like we were worried it might not be there if we wanted it later, except I'm never sure Lizz feels this like I do.)

What I crave in these strange, super-saturated moments is the fact, the reality, of her tender solidness. Feeling her all there. Every part I can touch. Our size difference is only 20 pounds, and two or three inches of height -- yet she seems like the sturdy, substantial one to me. I feel like a leaf sometimes, wind-driven against a wall.

We were lying there whispering, and I surprised myself. I hadn't planned to bring up anything touchy. But after that weird argument we had (the one about the word "inchoate"), I thought more about how we're connected through Our Prophet. How dicey that is, though not entirely a bad thing.

Then, too, there's Paula herself. Though we make stupid jokes to cut the anxiety, I can't forget how rattled and raked-over she looked. Reminds me of a crabby tiger cat B. adopted in Flushing, whose fur stood on end in perpetual indignation. That cat refused to accept all the wrongness in this world.

It just came out. So what happens next, I said.

Her toe tapping my instep, fingers starting to play.

With what.

With you. Ms. Lizzie. What exactly are your plans?

I kept it vague, open-ended. And wouldn't be derailed, though she said, charmingly, pussy.

You're grown, I reminded her. Remember you told me that. You're your own person now. So just what do you have in mind.

I felt her go still a second: I was halfway dangerous. She recovered, quoted Paula, cleverly -- You don't know what will happen. I'd turned to the wall and she held me from behind, pressing into me with her soft breasts and the sweet rough hair below, the heel of her hand rocking oh so lightly just above my pubic bone. Sweet and soft to lure me far away from sensitive topics.

Lizz. You are up to something. Don't you know I've been watching you?

And what could that be? For a minute she sounded smug. As if she knew what I meant and was ready to admit it. So I spoke about the recent shift I've noticed, the different energy of the Senseless Demos. Journal Keepers revved up and glad. Eager to go somewhere.

You think I'm screwing up? Her body tensed. We still held each other, but forgot about the heat.

Screwing up? What makes you say that? I'm simply pointing out that you and Our Prophet ...are two very different people. You've got to make a dent in the shape of things. Paula, Reality bless her, truly believes in uselessness. That it offends against the Is to have a plan, to try to...change the world for the better.

I'd gone too far, I thought. It felt like any second now we would sit up and glare at each other across a scarred table with a forty-watt bulb dangling between us.

Change the world for the better, she mimicked, bitterly. That's fucking optimistic.

But you do have a plan?

I have...a couple ideas.

Big ideas?

Massive. Genius.

Tell me, I pressed, utterly recklessly. (Was it smart to insist on being the very first to hear? And -- this is sordid -- bring her down a notch or two where her precious special connection to Paula was concerned?)

What a strange triumvirate we make! Paula, Lizzie, Sonja -- females in the know. A tripod -- supporting what? An ill-assorted trinity.

But she was silent, no longer dispensing those quick little intakes of breath to reassure me she was on the verge of speech if I could just wait her out. I knew I couldn't drag it out of her, so I forced myself to feel indifferent. And just when I was deciding to kiss the edge of her armpit, bury myself in her smell of cloves and sweat, she gave it up. (Predictably, I guess. What outlaw can resist telling that special someone about her genius crime-plan?)

I mean, she said, ideas is a stretch. I've really only ever had the one. But it involves the whole world, so it has these different parts.

I shudder-twitched, unable to control it -- someone must be walking over your grave, she said -- I disliked that she read my body like that, the way I hate hearing "bless you" when I sneeze. (But think of all the people who are graveless, bodies burned and vaporized; they, too, must have shuddered for no reason at some time or other.) I'd been half-dozing; now I was wide awake. And had to admit that a thrashing sort of din like a monster garbage disposal in the sky had been parked above the house for a very long time. How could it sound so loud way down here in the basement? It wasn't going away.

We've got helicopteritis, I volunteered.

Oh, so you finally noticed.

Think they're surveilling us?

They watch everyone.

Okay, I said. Tell me.

It's so hard to put in words. I've tried with Paula....Have you ever noticed how your ideas can sort of wilt when the other person's not on the same page? Paula's so fantastic, but she's deep in her space. It's like she can see her stuff and that's it.

It hit me full force: I'd rather not hear this after all. Because once I did, it'd be too late to unhear it.

It was too late already. She was talking.

I'll put it this way. Just: How? That's all I care about. How, how, and how. How for breakfast. How for dinner. I feel like a baby, teething. This one sharp awful little thing is just burning to erupt. How. How. There's got to be a way.

Lizz, quit talking riddles. I'm not that bright.

And she: Well, okay: How are we going to take it down?

I lay there making myself breathe evenly, hoping she hadn't felt it on my skin -- the tingly nerve-dead feeling.

She has no dream of building.

I mean, she said after a while, there's other things of course. Personal business. Like having kids. I know I want that. I wouldn't mind adopting two or three, but I'm gonna push at least a couple out myself.

We lay there talking while the gray light leaked in, banishing the blackness, though down in the basement it never quite amounts to full day. She talked, mostly. Some things I think I've already forgotten. I know I must have been feeling weirded out, because I kept telling myself that this was only talk. That's all we were doing. Speculating. Lying semi-comfortably on my bony mattress, while the rain made spangly curtains under the street lamps out in the desolation where the world began. It's cozy--isn't it always? Even better than popcorn nights. Picturing how the unformed, possible tomorrows branch out -- proliferate -- from our privileged point in time. Treating those forking roads as entertainment. (Just suppose--) Not really taking in that anything we do could make the difference. (Between what and what?)

I made her name her target. We're talking governments here? She said it was way bigger than chingado governments. Said she's talking the whole fucking shit--You want to crash the world?--They're doing that. As we speak.--But "taking it down."--I know. But it hit me at some point, there's this massive difference between an out-and-out crash and...sort of a guided crash landing....

I made the mistake of using the word violence. She asked do I agree that this planet could be described as basically a huge torture chamber. I told her I'm deeply suspicious of sweeping statements like that, even when they're applied to smaller things, let alone the planet. (But I know what she means.) She accused me of being too comfortable with my doubts, my ifs buts and maybes, as she termed them, brutal with disdain. My artsy-fartsy gray areas. So you don't have to get down in all the dirt and shit. That's where you're totally different from Paula, because she might not do anything either, but with her it's what she believes, not just what makes it easier.

I thought we were on the verge of our second big couple fight. But abruptly she was sobbing -- tough General Lizz, whose tears I've never witnessed before. (Tears that were worth a lot to me.) I love this chingado world. I fucking love it so much.

She reasons like this: For us to have a species chance, "The Construct" has to go. We can't just wait and see if it collapses. We've got to force the end.

You don't know, she said, you're from a safer generation. Imagine being just this little kid and hearing all the things they plan to do, how no nook or cranny is safe anymore, there'll come a day when we'll keep you in school, everyone will have to stay in one place, tape up your windows and doors, eat powdered gunk because the real food's been poisoned, expect masked men with big guns and cruel hearts to burst into your classroom, expect a surface to air missile to take out your plane on the hop from Wenatchee to SeaTac. Expect to watch a mushroom cloud erupting on your screen, and a man in a suit reciting how it was them or us.

And you can tell, from everything you see, it's not like these predictions are only possible. They're things that are going to happen. It's a question of when.

Enjoy snorkeling in this lovely coral reef because coral reefs are dying. Pity this tender-eyed child who stepped on a land mine. You think that's bad? Take a look at this darling boy who got his arms and legs shredded by a bomb. They had to amputate. But they'd run out of anesthetic.

Feel safe because we're orbiting a cruise vehicle that can re-enter the atmosphere at any time and launch attacks anywhere.

Enjoy your genes because we've got them patented. Enjoy your cunt because we could be renting it.

I can't help it, she went on, the words pouring out with all the force of her dammed-up thinking, that I want us to find some simple justice before we're through. As a species, I mean. This might sound stupid, but to me it's almost like, there's just been too much suffering already for it to feel okay to go quietly. If we could have gone extinct before the twentieth century...I mean maybe the senseless deaths before that point -- you could live with it, you know? They had progress back then.

But now it's too late. This is not acceptable! We've got to keep going till we make something better. Something okay, you know? Not perfect, just okay. Because then it won't have seemed like such a fucking chingado nightmare. Am I making any sense?

She kept asking that -- am I making sense?

I can't decide if her thinking is desperately bleak or crazily optimistic. (Re-reading this: of course I was reminded of B.'s crazy hope.)

She agrees with me that North America is fucked -- the last place on earth for real improvements to emerge from. (She quoted Paula: America is a thought-screen.) And yet, because we're here, we have this crucial role to play. We can't "crash the Construct" by ourselves, but we can apply pressure. Help create a tipping point.

Lizzard Woman in the cockpit, I teased. She said I hadn't understood. It's not about the individual. It's all about we. We have a shot. One chance to get this jumbo motherfucker on the ground, and let's hope the folks in the emergency exit rows have studied the important safety information in the seat pocket in front of them.

We're in a new situation, she kept saying. While I kept trying to focus her on the hard part: When you talk about collapsing the whole fucking shit, what happens to the millions who are right underneath? Won't they get crushed?

You think that's on us? she bristled. Then: It's billions, probably. They're dying anyway, or haven't you noticed? Dying faster and faster, more and more horrifically. Do you think we're happy killers? It's not about that. What I'm looking at mainly is we have to put in place a mass reality stoppage. I mean, like a sitdown strike of consciousness. Go on the offensive and capture people's thoughts. Use them to flip the Construct over on its back, so it lies there like a science fiction insect with a zillion disgusting legs waving helplessly in the air.

Imagine that!--you're a Possiblist, I told her. This is a term Paula came up with on one of our popcorn nights. Eventually we turned it into a game. Any group you can think of -- writers, martyrs, dentists, security guards, counter girls at Baba Yaga's Chik n Shak, and especially Organism members -- can be divided into Possiblists and Impossiblists. And then the categories can be broken down further: for example, within the category of writers, prose writers are Possiblists and poets Impossiblists, but among poets, Walt Whitman is a Possiblist, Emily Dickinson an Impossiblist.

Possiblists fail miserably in the wooing uselessness department.

L. didn't seem to care that I'd called her a Possiblist, so I rephrased my accusation: Has Paula noticed you're trying to hijack the Organism?

She snorted. Paula isn't noticing things right now.

But she'll perk up when she gets out. Or that's what you keep saying. When she's back here Burning, with...consciousness supports. What do you plan to tell her when she does catch on?

I think it'll be okay. (But she sounded tentative.)

Suddenly I was dying for sleep. I'd have to get up really soon. I saw, in my mind's eye, the platters of crispy fried meat drying under the hot lights; I heard, in my mind's ear, Deketria's tireless narration of her ever-surprising love life, relieved by anecdotes about the misdeeds of entertainers and plot summaries of "reality" shows.

Lizz threw back the covers, sprang naked out of bed, and began doing her morning stretching exercises. (I adore watching her do them but seldom get the chance, given that she so rarely spends the whole night.) I thought she was finished talking, but she wasn't.

It's so clear to me, Sonja. It's so crystal fucking clear. We've just got to be willing to go all the way. To lose it all. And then the world can live. But it'll take multitudes.

Why will multitudes of people be willing to lose it all?

You know, she muttered, from the depths of a hamstring stretch.

Sorry, afraid I don't.

Because they're trying to drive our planet off a cliff.

Jan Clausen's nine published books include two novels and a memoir, Apples and Oranges: My Journey Through Sexual Identity. In autumn 2006, Ikon Books is expected to publish From a Glass House, a new poetry collection. Her novel The Company of Cannibals, from which "The Possiblist" was excerpted, is in search of a publisher. Another selection from the novel appeared in the online journal Tarpaulin Sky. Clausen teaches writing at The New School and in the Goddard College MFA Writing Program. Her literary blog and archived creative work are available at www.ablationsite.org.

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