While the inside of me is built like a river, Adam is a contained machine with the purpose of carrying out one function: to circulate the blood. I wonder sometimes if it’s the blood of me; my origins and destinations all contingent on his existence and it’s throbbing reminders of our natures and our names. That he will let me loose into the world and accept me home again when I’ve finished with being lost.
The 4 chambers of him serve the fragile tenterhooks of his mind that he stretches thin as wires to find within all things the place where they meet all others. Each are lit with the dim fascination of flickering bulbs and flashing televisions. But only one room is dark.
The dark inside Adam is full of hot rain, oppressively scented like the molding of clothes in a jungle. From here, fears steam out from the cracks in the broad planks of ramshackle walls, and he swats away the sting of them ineffectively. He sits with his head against his knees, tears in his jeans around the cuffs, his boots untied. His hair would hang in his eyes, if he had any strength of will to show them to me.
Around him are the rusting iron shells of hulking war machines, into which the relics of his childhood have been stuffed. Rolled up science fiction magazines, a clean and unused baseball, his mother’s lotion that he used to stroke his cock the first time, an indigo brocade silk scarf he came into just after, and the oceans of broken strings and guitar picks in a rainbow of plastic colors that would surely by now shingle the massive gingerbread house he no longer believes exists.
This is the place of Adam’s memory.
A place too little used, where any crossing into it’s casement renders him a facet named Saul, renders him a small and fitful light named Evelyn, renders him a boy and one of forgotten grace and temperamental beauty such that has never been repeated in another man. It’s this force within Adam that makes him Adam; that makes him first, before all others. Where the power in him lies. A well of innocence that has gone to battle and never once transformed into the war machine all mothers fear their sons will be hammered into. He sits before me now, his head against his knees, and he remembers a Great War.
While Saul is Adam’s most vulnerable facet, it’s Evelyn, a boy, that powers the vulnerability. Evelyn shares my name because within Adam, he’s an idea that to be raw and open to the world is to be truly oneself, without apology.
In this moment, I’d never be his wife or his lover. Because he’s a boy, and because that boy is a dragon, and because we have been made through a process of reconciliation into something closer to angels, I could only ever watch him remember and be his mother. Even though our mother lives, and lives within the structure of our blood, I hold him while he cries and says nothing at all to me, his head in my lap, and I touch his wet and clinging hair until his tears wash rivers that cut clean lines down his dingy face.
“Let me hold you, Adam,” might be the only words we speak before he loosens his white fingers, shocked into the thighs of our embrace, and lets himself dream into me, memories floating down the river inside me for some kind of absolution of the world’s sins. If one could be a martyr of speciality, I want so desperately to be one who carries the pain of others.
Sometimes, when I believe I collect the nightmares of others, and keep people safe from them, I think it must come from this same imperative. To never leave anyone alone in the very long night. Not even the angels, who will eventually all come to know my name.
Adam’s dreams. Under a blue-black sky fraught with lightning, the red sands of his memories blow in a constant and high wind. A square building made of brick with high and arching windows that rattle rises from the haze and horizon. Adam’s heart spills out fast and bloody the truth he’s known inside it for his whole life.
There’s a place called the Watchtower, and it’s a prison.
Memories; they seep in through the warped and rotting wood, up from the swamp beneath us and the piles of packing pallets. Cicadas play a song of a single note and the air is thick and wet in my throat and such a far cry from the descending winter. Memories, like dreams.
Skinny and no older than 8, he holds a guitar on his lap, awkward and bent elbows over the fat body of it on a green tweed sofa with his uncle Jim in a living room that is dark with cigarette smoke and low-flying afternoon clouds. He pulls the strings with his long and uncalloused fingers into the first chords of All Along the Watchtower. Jim’s whine of harmonica slices through the thickness like a green alarm. Neither of them sing the words, but Adam thinks them and the lightning flashes somewhere in a wasteland drenched in rain and caked in reddish dust. A man crosses the wastes and Adam knows his fate.
Smoking a cigarette in a bright kitchen, Adam is writing the lyrics of Watchtower for the first time on a yellow notepad stained with coffee. His hair is dark and loosely curled and he is made of thoughtful brow and condescension. He wears a black jacket with a high collar against the chill in the air. He stares at the seat across from him as if he’s expecting me to appear before him, but I’m somewhere lost in time while the world descends into the first publicised war. The news crackles optimism at him from a mint green radio on the counter. He writes quickly, knowing his time in Big Pink will be short and then the ghost of him will blow out of another man like a strong scent in the breeze.
Burning monks and images of swarming helicopters turn to the bodies of dragons and flights of angels in his memories. Every flat and tuneless song beats out the same resignation to understanding his own powerlessness. The times, they are a-changin. I can’t get no satisfaction. His thoughts drag him down to the swamps of repetition where men of his own design recreate the same horrors he fled a world to escape. Prisons are erected and destroyed in his mind daily, prisons for the ugly and the beautiful alike, where love is taught and famine understood.
I wouldn’t meet Adam until 1973, when he would become my best friend in a life we reserved for simplicity. When my name was Tracy and his was Saul.
Because his brother, Saul’s brother the Sadist, died in Vietnam, Saul wore his service jacket high on his thin shoulders in some effigy I never understood. The night I died, he wrapped it around his thin self and sat on the ground outside our home as ash or snow fell and he didn’t care to note the difference. Evelyn, buried deep, didn’t cry.
Even if the war ends, the Watchtower stands.
I do nothing, but stroke his hair. Saul’s hair. Evelyn’s hair. I feel inside him the perverse comfort he finds in the images, reddened, of napalm burning orange through the dense green of the jungle and smoking black through oily wet glossy leaves that don’t burn so much as char into small ringlets that fall crusted to the ground.
Ash, or snow. Both accomplish the effect of enclosing the universe in an envelope for all sounds, a place where nothing carries, even music. A place where the flat, slapped, heavily picked guitar of Neil Young’s Ohio makes the same lump in his throat that makes a dragon ready to swallow anything. Adam lays in the wet earth and lets it cover him with ash and snow. Our voices get heavy and close, and the room is airless, and the ceiling is low. Maybe bars descend over the doorways and we trap ourselves here, within a Christmas made of angels, for Adam to find his memories.
I told him once there was a world without prisons, but maybe I frightened him, then. Maybe Adam needs a prison, to remember. Even bars, a finite number of bricks, a space inside which he can pace against what’s true and what’s becoming true. Small and needy things that disappear against a limitless sky are found in the box he puts himself inside, touching all the corners with his small and sooty fingers until what’s known is lost again to a relentless and certain uncertainty.
I don’t say anything, but I don’t leave. Evelyn is a thing that can’t understand a promise. He doesn’t talk about swords, but he has one. I don’t promise to stay, I just stay. I hide that I’m crying because I know that Evelyn is a dragon and I wonder if they’re all something like children. I want to ask him what happened there, in the place of red earth, that makes his heart bleed. I want to ask him for the secret he’s keeping, but I don’t. I just wait.
Adam finds his thoughts by pressing his fingers into corners and looking for the light switches. He counts the bricks along the walls to the switch plates, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, no. Eleven, twelve, that flickers. Three, four, five, yes. I watch him do it, behind his eyes, which close and open slowly in the falling ash around us. He looks exhausted. The rims of his eyes are sugared pink and glossy and they droop against the waves of light and darkness. I named him Severance, once. I didn’t know it then, but I named him that because he hadn’t yet become Harbinger; the man who gives us the warning of what’s to come.
There must be some kind of way out of here…
The thought begins within Adam confused, under his circuitry, and I write a letter in my mind, to the angel of my invention.
In the hallways of Bonnie's soul, there's an angel named Gabriel. Addicted to heroin, lost at the bottom of the world.
Turning quickly a thin veil in the water which here run gold and messy with garbage, I am reminded of life as a movie. An awkward cast, painfully self-aware rebels that revolted against bad writing and bad lighting for a sense of purity in the lie heaven afforded us.
Can you imagine? Eden as a nightclub? The green letters, a place to transport us from the veneer, slipping thin on my hands so fast I can’t quite shake your shoulder as we drive and ask you.
“Did you see that?”
It’s gone too fast, and the green persists as it ever does, in thin neon script. Eden. Eden. The embellishment of the E, sweeping gently as my signature, and the long trail of the N like a comet disappearing into the brick night such a sickly shade, it would only be created in the variations someone like God would insist on.
Your hair was black enough for me to know you were a boy from the South. Hunched low, made a predator by the music, made a comedian by the slow air, made visible by the rotations of people opening and closing and opening again the bathroom door. Each widening ribbon of white light in the darkness that embraced you underscored your pessimism. Piss it. Just fucking piss it. You were dropped heavy like lava into the cold water of the black room, every surface painted some inferior shade to the raven’s wing you wore long against your neck.
I knew without us was a ruined city. I could see that much in your eyes when they saw mine. That we’d come to the last good place; the last livable place, only so because cheap vodka and skin in stretched silver velour still existed in blissful reunion with the sky. The city on the hill.
Gabriel, todos tienen ojos, debajo de nosotros.
Dirty sneakers, the shoes of boys, hit gravel spattered sparsely on the single paved road, around which ran the late train. The whistle low in the night mocked your sigh. Any building could be ours because they all stood empty, great cities lost and won and lost again.
Your eyes shielded something like panic from me, some wild thought you held in your throat and coughed around. We could have taken the train, we could have hotwired a car. We could have driven to somewhere on the highway we’ve only heard of in rumors spoken low among others who’ve lost their wings. A place of dust where our sleeping bags would have coated in silt while we slept in a high wind, clutching tight our hands together while animals pounded by to other worlds; pounded heavy feet past our wild beating hearts and faces still with caution.
In your apartment hidden on the thousandth floor of a palace made of all the bricks of men, I held you. The couch was as green as I knew any fact of you was, and sagging low as your eyes past an hour in a place that may have kept the time once. Here, the only time was the end. Are we so old, Gabriel?
Under a failing light the color of some false sunset, your face turned to mine and I caught your mouth by one lip between mine, soft and cool as a dry handshake. I should have looked for your surprise or lack of it, your expression begging me not to fall in love, but I ignored what I was sure of in a slow process of make-believe. Your hand fell to your side, and your knuckles hit the thin carpet with the gentle pattering, a single rain of surrender. Angels are made this way. On old sofas, in cities without a name, while sunsets burn holes into the television.
Outside, far below, a thousand stories down, bottles broke in drunken screams of the tearing night, and your skin rose in goosebumps across your chest.
“What was that?” A whisper.
“Make a wish.” An answer.
The tender flesh of your stomach raised in your ragged breaths under my tongue to a gently waving flag in the dimness. There are places in you that blood never reaches the surface; the tenderness of your stomach and the wrecked and abandoned capillaries lacing your eyelids. The tips of your fingers. The blade of your shoulder. The taste of them all, hollow and sweet like a memory.
I touched the warm drawn skin tight from blood and pressure with the edge of my tongue, their colors matching in the red light, the similar flushing shades of faith. I caught you between my lips like a joke I used to know. Resting there, your bloodless fingers in my knots of hair worked to a conclusion that left you mouthing surprise as you came into my mouth.
The sun was rising with you inside me, your hot breath mixing tears on the hollow bones of my shoulders. When the light hit us, we disappeared before it could gain in heat, levity, or justice.
Adam grasps onto the tail of my letter and repeats the words I used to close. Heat, levity, justice. Heat, levity, justice. They jingle in his mind along with the Zombies. Those are the three prizes behind every door in heaven; fire, laughter, and judgment.
The single word singes the edges of our single mind. He dislikes my sarcasm. I dislike his veneration. We smoulder for a moment around the edges like a paper burning, slowly.
Justice lives inside Bonnie and Dean, as both sides of a set of scales. As guards of the Watchtower, they would have been the ones who determined door number one, door number two, and door number three for all it’s occupants. Were we made to bear witness against one another? I wonder if God believes in spousal privilege. And for the privilege of being your wife, Adam, I wouldn’t have said a word against you.
The words bear witness roll around us in a fog of glitter the color of the floors of every European discoteque. Witness, as it’s own entity, and not as the person who bears it. To bear witness, as something put upon you, as a duty, as a brother or a sister, to be present in every notable event, even from a distance. Your witness. I bear it. I feel Adam’s muscles tense in his stomach as the word flutters by us, and I see his cock get hard in his jeans.
That’s what I did, Evie. I bore witness. There must be some kind of way out of here….