Here we are again. In a fantasy book I haven’t published yet, these two young warriors are escaping an enemy, and they approach a bridge, and the leader yells out, “I’m gonna do it again!” The other one says, “You won’t be happy til you get us killed.” And then they both jump over the side of the bridge. Well, I’m gonna do it again. Here comes another blog blast. That’s what I’ve decided to call them. I’m gonna throw things around a little bit, put a kink in the chain. We’re gonna do the last five chapters of The Round Table, which was our last blog blast, and then we’re gonna start a series about the powerful women I’ve met who have had an effect on my life. It starts at 9:00 Friday night, and will be finished at 8:30 Sunday evening. I’ll release a blog every two and a half hours. So travel with me from Spanish swords, old lady gangsters, and red painted nails. Travel with me as I carry a bag of dice, watch a falling star, and end with Love.
Here we are at Mark again. He’s got just a few more things, two more things, maybe three, to do before he’s gone. So let’s get to it.
Rose moves out of the basement. She marries Mumble and lives in a nice place for maybe a year. I’m in kindergarten, my teacher dies. Cousin Gorgeous lives around the corner. Maybe you remember this area. Then they realize they couldn’t afford the neighborhood and I’m pretty sure Rose got ahold of Mark and asked what he had, if he had any more properties. She asked him if she could paint the entire place for a cut on the first month’s rent. And suddenly I’m playing marbles with Cage. Meek is asking my mom if she went to 76th Street high school, and me and Cage are running the streets of Crimson Blade country.
There’s a lot I could tell you here. I could drop back into the story of this neighborhood, where Tigress threatens to kick a gangster in the dick. That’s not the kind of bitch you break, the gangster said. She gives you bold sons. I could tell you about the time me and Cage fought three kids whose father was a Crimson Blade, the Crimson Blade, and the ramifications. But let’s talk about a pear tree, because Mark is locked up in a pear tree.
After he told my mom to clean up the wasteland of our backyard, after she had her barbecue and the fire engine red lawnmower slaughtered the grass, after all that, the storm of storms hit the neighborhood. And the tall pear tree in the back corner of the yard was struck. God loves Mark, so the entire tree fell into our yard instead of breaking the fence between me and Cage’s yard, or landing on Cage’s garage, or landing on Mark’s garage.
Next day I came out. There were actually charred pears. I picked up a pear and held it in my hand that had been burnt into a hard knot by a bolt of lightning. For a moment it was almost like I could feel that lightning. Anyway, Mark was already there with a chainsaw cutting that pear tree to pieces. I talked to him. He talked to me.
“Do you remember the car accident we got into?” he asks.
“Yeah, you and I got into a car accident.”
I could vaguely remember driving around town in Mark’s car, barely tall enough to see over the door through the window outside.
“Yeah, you and me went to the bank. We got in the seat and we started driving.”
I could see a very large 70s boat, maybe a Plymouth? If I could reach into my head, take a picture of this car and set it down in front of my son, Rayph could tell me, yeah, I know that kind of car. That’s a blada blada blah, 19-blada blah. So, let’s give it a try. Let’s see what he says when I read this to him today. It was big. It moved well, almost like it was hovering. It had a little fuck you in it, and it was fairly new and caramel colored. It looked like warm caramel. The interior was black. And that’s all I have. When I read the story to my son, I’ll let you know what his guesses are and I’ll tack them on the end of the chapter.
“Yeah, well, we got in the car and you started telling me a story about Batman and a dinosaur.”
I giggled. I was seven, eight years old now. Batman and dinosaur stories were long gone.
“You talked all the way to the bank. It was across town. We got out, we got in line, you talked all the way through the line, telling me all kinds of stories about a knight that had befriended a dragon and they had attacked Puff the Magic Dragon because Puff the Magic Dragon wasn’t cool.”
I did laugh then. I sat on the trunk of the pear tree and looked at him while he stood. Tall and lean, wide shoulders, dirty jeans. His flannel sleeves were rolled up past the elbow, open in front halfway down. It had to be hot.
“You talked all the way through the bank. I actually had to shush you when I was talking to the teller. You talked all the way to the car. And as I’m backing out of the parking spot, I remember you sprung it on me that the dragon was able to become a man and he was a king, something about a dark army. I was so shocked by the story and the twist of the dragon being a person, as I was backing out of the parking spot I looked at you, and I said, ‘Really?’ And I crushed the back fender and side panel of a Mustang II behind me. That’s how you and me got into an accident. You were thrown back, you bounced, hit your head off the dashboard. You were curled up in the footboard of the car. I had a heart attack. You climbed up slowly, clawing your way back into the seat and you sat back down with a bruise forming on your forehead, and you smiled at me and said, ‘You should hear about his queen.’”
“Really? I did that? I said that?”
At this point I don’t know what alter Mark was talking to, what alter had told the story. There was no Smear Lord of Ire yet. All there was was a boy who loves stories. And there was no way that boy was going to let a little car accident get in the way of the dragon king’s queen. I’m pretty sure she was born with green scales on her skin. Don’t quote me on that.
He cut up the tree. He asked a lot of questions about Mumble. He asked, “Does he hug you? Does he laugh at the things you say? Does he tell you stories? Does he work hard? How does he treat your mom? Does she love him?” Questions that were weird for me to answer, but not weird for a friend of Bramble to ask. And then he left and that was the tree. Now let’s talk about the lock.
He rented the upstairs and he rented the downstairs. Duplex of sorts, and my family lived in the upstairs. Not fun on grocery day, when you’re carrying a grocery bag too heavy for you. Of course it’s brown paper. And you’re looking up at a tall, narrow staircase. Anyway, second floor. And like a lot of landlords, they keep the garage. Most of the time when you rent in these neighborhoods, the rent does not include the garage, and the garage belongs to the landlord. One day, I’m standing by the garage. It’s cold. Wisconsin, so it’s cold. Mumble is backing his Blazer out of the parking spot. (It was a powder blue Blazer with a white top, Rayph. We’ve talked about it before.) The parking spot was so small that you couldn’t slip in the passenger side, so me and my mom are standing by the garage as Mumble backs out to stop in front of us. I was preparing to climb in and I point to the garage, where the lock has been replaced and a bright, shiny brass lock now sits.
“Look, Mark put a new lock on the garage.”
Rose scoffed. “It’s probably the most expensive thing about this whole garage.”
That’s when I noticed that the white paint was peeling up everywhere. There were a lot of missing shingles from where I could see. The garage was not in great shape. Let’s everybody remember that. That’s important.
Let’s fast forward maybe four months. I’m in my backyard. I hear rattling in the garage, and maybe it’s Mark. I burst into a run. My sneakers barely hold onto the pavement as I make my turn, and I look and there in the garage stands the man himself. I’m sure there was an exclamation of his name. I was about eight years old, not too old to hug. It hadn’t become uncool yet to express emotion. He’s got a wrench in his hand. He’s covered in oil and grime, and behind him is the lifted hood of some red car. (Rayph, I hope you’re paying attention. They’re probably gonna want to know what kind of car it was.)
“Mark, what are you doing here?” I cursed myself instantly. It was obvious what he was doing here.
He said, “I’m giving up. That’s what I’m doing here, Jesse. I’m giving up.” He kicked the fender of the car and pulled back.
“Giving up on the car?” I said.
“Yeah, the only thing this heap is useful as is a paperweight.”
I really didn’t even know what a paperweight was, so I didn’t comment on it. It is for sure not okay to look dumb in front of Mark.
“You can’t fix it, you don’t think?” I said.
“I don’t think anybody could fix this car,” he said.
“You know, Mumble knows Tigress’s dad and he’s a mechanic.”
Mark nodded. “Yeah, I know that guy.”
“You know, I don’t know if Bramble ever fixed cars, but I bet he could. Bramble could do anything.”
Mark took a knee beside me as I stared at the car. He smoothed a dirty hand through my hair. “Yeah, kid, yeah, Bramble can do anything. But I don’t think even he can make this thing work.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“You see, the blath to the tath just can’t meet up with the liff to the jaff, so the blod, and I can’t replace the blod, you can’t find parts on these old cars anymore, the blod is just too, it’s just too corroded and this is an old car anyway. I’m done. I give up.” He dropped the wrench at his foot. He threw his hands in the air, let them clap down at his sides. “I give up.”
There was no Shadow yet. The master of the fuck you, the wild rebellion, had not surfaced yet. But still back there in the recess of my brain, way before the wasteland was created, before Ronin, but after Jack, something lifted its head. And when it did, it spoke through my mouth. “Can I have it?” I heard it say.
Mark turned to me, his blurry face, his ever changing face, stared for a moment. Treason and Harpo’s body spun to look at me, and dropped to its knee. I saw an eyebrow go up, though it’s changing colors from black to brunette to blond in my head as I sit here. “If I gave it to you,” such curiosity in that voice, “what would you do with it?”
I turned away from him and looked at the car. My eyes were burning and my lip trembling. I might have been crying. I might have been growling. “I would destroy it,” I said. “I would beat on it. I would break it. You don’t need it anymore.” There was a shift in there somewhere. “You don’t need it. I wouldn’t be breaking your stuff.”
“Jesse, I know. I know, Jesse.”
“I, I just wanna break it,” I said. I dared not look at him. Tempers were not allowed in my house. You couldn’t yell. You couldn’t throw anything. There was no punching a couch cushion or screaming into a pillow yet. All I could see was the engine, its hood open wide like a maw. It looked for a moment like a beast, like a dragon king. And I wanted to leap into its mouth and rip its insides to shreds.
“Break it. I would break it.”
“Okay, Jesse,” Mark said.
“I would break it, Mark,” and I looked up at him. Tears were streaming down my eyes now. “I would break it.”
“Okay. Okay, Jesse.” Mark dropped down to a knee and turned to me. He wiped my face. He grabbed me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes. Still when I think back on this, the face shifts and changes, sometimes Olsen, sometimes Savior. “Do you remember the painting?”
I nodded, and I did. This is not one of those instances where I’ve shifted and I nod even though the answer is no. As I sit here, I remember the question. So I am not Ronin. And I am not Artist. I might be Guardian, Servant, or Joe. I’m not Crow. I’m some child created long ago that has grown up into a thing that is dictating to his wife in a room covered in tapestries and two big slumbering dogs.
“I remember the painting.”
“Do you remember what I said about getting a group of friends?”
I couldn’t speak. I just nodded.
“I’ll give you this car. This can be your first car, Jesse. But you have to bring your poker players with you. You and your friends. I’ll leave the garage door unlocked.”
I don’t remember how it ended, maybe a hug. My mom might have called for me. We might have both slowly backed out of the garage with my car in it. After he closed its maw and pulled the garage door closed, he held a key ring in front of my face. I do remember that part. “The key to this garage is in my hand. I’m not going to use it. This garage is not locked. Come here as much as you can as often as you want. But bring your poker players with you. Your other dogs have to play with this car, too.”
So, the next day, I brought my dogs. And Cage on one side and Tigress on the other, I lifted that garage door and closed it behind us. All three of us knew what we were here to do.
“All the windows have to go,” Cage said.
“The driver’s door is mine,” I stated. Stated’s wrong, was I yelling? I hope I wasn’t yelling. But if I was, it doesn’t matter. They knew I wasn’t yelling at them. They knew I was yelling at my life, at theirs. All of us were here to express our anger at our life.
“Seats,” Tigress said. “I want the seats.”
Cage ran. He kicked off the fender and landed both feet on the windshield, and it didn’t budge. He landed on his back, he rolled, kicked his legs over his head. He was back on his feet.
“Everybody look around for something. We have no weapons,” I said.
I don’t remember which kid saw it first. I know within seconds we were all staring wide-eyed at the tool bench. In the movie Pulp Fiction, Marsellus Wallace doesn’t like to be fucked by anybody but Mrs. Wallace, this scene. “Oh I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?” “Check out the big brain on Brett.” It wasn’t until I was a teenager and watching that scene did I understand the looks on our faces, because John Travolta opens a briefcase that belongs to Marsellus Wallace. And whatever’s inside is glowing gold. Some say yellow. It’s glowing gold.
“We happy?” Samuel L. Jackson pauses for any response from Travolta. “Vincent, we happy?”
John Travolta trembles a bit and closes the briefcase. “Yeah, we happy.”
I want you to think about that scene right there, that glowing gold. That stunned look on John Travolta’s face. Stop thinking about the kid in the bathroom with the hand cannon. We’re not talking about roaming around like Caine from Kung Fu. We’re just looking at the stunned look on John Travolta’s face and the golden glow when the three of us looked at what Mark had left behind.
There was a two-and-a-half-pound sledge, a baseball bat, three various sized screwdrivers, one crow bar. There were six bottles of white out. There was a chisel, and there were three hammers.
Before we get to the bedlam, there were three hammers. Three, not four. Three, not two. Three, not one. There were three hammers. Mark knew how many dogs were sitting around that table. Mark knew how many dogs were sitting around that table. Unless Mark is the benevolent eye in the sky, he never could have known how many dogs were sitting around that table.
First were the hammers. It was a red car. It was small. This was a car that was created after the gas crisis. This was about 83, 84. I could check, I was probably eight. I don’t have time to check right now. I’m doing a thing. The car was red with a black interior. It had a pretty pronounced trunk that Cage could stand on as he took that crowbar to that back window. (That’s all I’m gonna give you, Rayph. That’s all I have for you.)
Rayph said it had to be foreign, maybe a British sports car. He spent a lot of time thinking about the pronounced trunk. The backseats had him stymied for a while, but with a shrug and what I think is a self-disappointed smirk, he said it had to be a British sports car. That’s all I can give you. Now Rayph is worried about his reputation. He’s worried about his reputation as a car guy. There’s a few things in Reality that I’ve mentioned about him and cars that he is concerned about. But here’s the stone cold truth. When Cage was taking out that back window, he was standing on the trunk of a foreign sports car. I’m sure of it. Rayph is sure of it. And he’s my car guy. I never question him.
For Cage it was all about the windows. He took that crowbar down on those windows so many times. You gotta remember, we’re eight. He might’ve been nine. There’s not a lot of muscle. There’s muscle enough for a street kid, which is not to be scoffed at, and he’s dealing with a full-sized crowbar, but still, those windows were not easy for him to break.
I grabbed the two-and-a-half-pound sledge and in one solid hit knocked the handle off the door. As it clinked and hit the floor and bounced away and clattered, it started to rise, the thing. The thing back there in the darkness before the wasteland, maybe it broke up from the ground. Maybe it walked out from behind a curtain. But when that handle snapped right off that door, something woke up. I couldn’t open the door. So with my two-and-a-half-pound sledge, I shattered everything about the window. Tigress was already in the back seat. She had something she had found and she was slicing the back seat to ribbons. Yellow foam was flying in every direction. There was madness in her face and fire in her eyes. None of the dogs around that table were sane. I shattered the window with my two-and-a-half-pound sledge, reached in, and opened the door. Me and this door had business.
I threw the door open wide as Tigress, done with the back seats, hit the front. She opened the glove box and with four hits of one of the three hammers, that glove box door exploded from its place on the dashboard. I slammed my weight against the opening of the door again and again. I just wanted to rip this door off this car.
Char took me and Jovi to White Creek one day for Fourth of July. It was his red van, and he had accidentally locked it with the keys inside. I fit through the back tiny window and he shoved me in. There were firecrackers in there to light, and me and Jovi were excited about the firecrackers. I remember I went to the driver’s side door. I pulled the keys out of the ignition, threw the door open, and tossed them to Char. I climbed out the driver’s side door and he wrapped an arm around my head and said, “Good job, kid. I’ll give you a reward later.”
That door had to come off. I slammed my weight against it and heard a loud creak. Cage is jumping on the hood. He’s screaming, he’s screaming a name, and I don’t know the name. There’s no recognizing it. Do you understand? There’s no recognizing it. Me and my dogs don’t know why we want to shred this car to bits as much as we do. We can’t recognize it. We don’t know the face. We can’t say the name. There’s no way to explain for me why the driver’s door of this car has to come off.
I yelled for my dogs. I told them what I had to do, and the three of us ran side by side and collided with that door shoulders first. I had my arms around Tigress. I would keep her. I have her today. Cage wrapped his arms around me. I don’t have him, but I hope he remembers this day. As one, the three of us dealt this door a card from the bottom of the deck and we collided with it, and it folded back completely.
“Done,” Tigress looked at me and snapped.
“I’ll take it from here,” I said.
“Good, I have the windshield, the headlights, the back window, and the passenger window to go,” Cage said. “I can’t be fucking around with doors.”
You’ll notice he used that word perfectly. We are street kids. We knew how to cuss.
Tigress is snarling and spitting and slashing at the passenger seat, I’m staring at the overextended hinges and I look in my hand at my two-and-a-half-pound sledge. How it got there, I don’t remember. The last I remember I had been holding Tigress. I don’t remember reaching down, but I have my sledge now, and I’m pounding at the hinges. I’m pounding at the hinges. I’m grunting at the hinges. I’m screaming at the hinges. The thing back there in the darkness of my mind is howling at the hinges, because we are a generation starving hysterical, even though we’re not beatniks. And the thing inside of me has to destroy this door. I’m pounding and metal is whining. The most dramatic parts of me, Adam, Artist, they speak of sparks flying. I don’t know if I believe them. All I know is that as I pounded on the hinges of that door, I saw the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by madness. See, Alan Ginsberg knew. He was talking about his, but he was speaking to mine. A generation of latchkey kids. A generation that knew the back of the hand. A generation that had to clean its plate. Here is a generation cursed at. Insulted. Ignored. And now in their hands is a two-and-a-half-pound sledge.
Me and my dogs stood back and we looked at our work. There was no glass. There were no lights. The seats were shreds of what they had been. During the fight of our lives, Cage and Tigress had ripped the passenger seat right out of that car. And that driver’s side door sat on the floor in front of that vehicle. None of us but Tigress knew what the white out was for. And she had painted on the hood, “Fear Tigress, Cage, and Jesse. We’re coming back for more.”
We lifted the garage door, and we closed it. Tigress went home with plans. So did Cage. Everyone had cuts and bruises, but I don’t think it was the cuts and bruises. The generation ahead of us didn’t care about cuts and bruises. It was the heaving of our chests. It was the blackness in our eyes, the curl of our fingers. The three mothers and the three fathers knew something savage had gripped hold of us. It had hung off our backs, thrown its throat back and yowled in madness. Because here sat the best minds of my generation. I’m Jesse Teller, the fantasy writer. Cage was the smartest kid I knew. Tigress, if she reaches into her chest, pulls her heart out and holds it before you, you will see a burning ember, a fistful of lava. And that thing on our backs when we came into the house after the street lights, it was howling.
They did not chastise Mark. They knew they couldn’t. After conversation, after conversation, parents pulling their spouses into corners and whispering, the word came down. It wasn’t that we couldn’t destroy the car that all six parents had stood around that night, eyes wide, mouths gaping, as they stared in the beam of their flashlights at what we had done. When my mom called Mark, she didn’t say we couldn’t destroy the car. She said she didn’t trust the roof of the garage, and what if it collapsed?
We were not allowed to go into the garage. But we wanted to climb it. To claw at its shingles. To punch at its clapboards. We wanted to take rocks and chip away at the brass lock. We wanted back in. There was more howling to be done.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.