There is a city by the sea, under some sun and stars. Pavement meanders around buildings and birds perch themselves on water fountains, just like anywhere else. The invisible elements of climate, economy, religion and time are a constant, pulsing breeze. It is not very different than the places you or I would call home. The people walk around on the sidewalks and put gas in their cars like your friends and family. They wake up early and make breakfast and visit their in-laws when the time is right. They go shopping and check their wristwatches while humming songs they’ve heard in the past. But there is something a little odd about the folks in Wolynesia City. You see, their heads are different from yours and mine. Instead of flesh and nostrils, they have grainy wooden faces. Their eyes, noses and mouths contort and collapse into twisted, roughly carved ridges and lines.
Some might call their home a paradise. What with its little bursts of yellow and sherbet orange. The patterns of Hawaiian shirts come alive in a literal existence as a part of Wolynesia City’s visual landscape. The air swirls around in alternating weather patterns, but there is a constant bitter smell. These are all subtle differences that mesh seamlessly with this strange world. With its odd inhabitants who call it home. Take someone like Roy Rangoon. The legs of his pants swoosh when he walks and he says an inquisitive ‘hello’ when answering telephones.
On a morning in a day, he wakes up, tangled in sheets and a big, lumpy beige down comforter. He slides his feet into orthopedic slippers and makes his way into the harsh white light of his kitchen. The day is long for Mr. Rangoon. He brushes the slightly protruding squares of his teeth, scraping away corn flakes and plaque from the deep brown grain. He shaves away lose fibers. His briefcase is heavy with the weight of work that never lets up.
Roy listens to morning radio shows on his car stereo in stop-and-go lines of traffic that trickle to their destinations. Adjusting the tangible, plastic circle of the center console’s volume dial is more entertaining to Roy than the AM banter. He passes a billboard depicting a dog on a surfboard riding a big animated wave. He passes a billboard depicting a family on a lawn, raising the font of an insurance company logo. Roy has worked at this company’s central corporate office for eight years, but he has never met that family.
Roy uses a laminated parking pass in a big blue lot plastered with yellow grids. His right arm feels empty from holding the briefcase so he switches to the left, while he trumps upwards on carpeted stairs. The space where Roy’s head meets the flesh of his neck feels itchy, but it is time to clock in so he does not dwell upon it. Time to work ardently and burn the 9 AM oil. These are the kinds of things he tells his friend, Ned Sacramento.
10: 02 AM – Forward memo to the comptroller of accounting so that some people he (kind of) knows can find loose percentages. Watch computer cursor appear and reappear to rhythm of song from distant Adult contemporary FM radio station.
10: 30 – Make copies and shuffle papers. Dwell on the corners of perfectly shaped pieces of paper becoming one quarter inch square.
10: 35 – Contemplate what will be eaten at lunch. Make copies. Observe the grazing lime green laser. Maybe pizza bagels.
10 : 46 – Signatures. Concentrate on the nuances of the wet blue ink that bleeds from the stainless steel tip of the pen into the nearly microscopic fibers of the paper.
“Roy, its quittin time,” Ned Sacramento declares. He is peeking his head above the wall of the cubicle.
“I’ve told you that doesn’t make sense at lunch,” Roy tells him.
“I know, I know. I just like saying it.”
“I know you like saying it,” Roy says, rearranging papers. He pulls the staple out of a packet, only to recombine it with another staple. The force and reliable clapping down of the stapler is satisfying.
“Did you want to go to The French tonight, after that meeting? I heard they have some new hula girls,” Ned proposes.
“Pick one or the other. We’re not doing lunch and drinks after work. I got…stuff to do tonight.”
“No you don’t Roy. You say that every time.”
Roy discards a memo in his electronic waste basket on his computer’s desktop. He looks at the calendar. There is a picture of a green bird in mid flight. “I know.”
It’s happy hour and The French has Pina Cooladas on tap. The first sip is frosty and tart, thick. But the bottom of the giant glass mug is always milky and stagnant. Roy has his elbows on the bar and the enormous weight of his head is taxing on his shoulders. He bows it close to the reflective surface of the bar. He is among a line of various other, bowing, bulbous heads. Roy see’s himself in the shiny mahogany and kind of says hello to himself in his mind.
“I can’t wait till my CSA check comes in.” Ned boasts, lifting a big orange candle to his mouth. He wipes greasy, lukewarm wax from his teeth with the back of his hand. “Things are gonna change.”
“You tell ‘em, Ned,” Roy says. “Any day now.” A hula girl is draping a lei over the shoulders of some white colored shirt. The mirrors reflect this in four different panels. Doo wop music remixed with up-tempo, electronic percussion blares out of every dusty speaker within the old brick building.
“Another one.” Roy nods to the bartender.
“How we doin, Neddy?” A hula girl suddenly appears behind Ned. It is clear that her skirt is not made out of real grass. The girls at Mala Mala Mala have real grass skirts, but drinking there is not in the humble budgets of our stories heroes.
“Mercury!” Ned calls her. All of the hula girls at The French are named after planets. All of the planets were named after Greek Gods. All of the Greek Gods were named after islands in the Mediterranean. The islands were named after animals. The animals were named after adjectives that described spontaneous noises Mesopotamian farmers made when they were inebriated. The hula girls at The French were named after the drunken outbursts of Babylonians, but they do not know this.
1: 03 AM – Drop wrinkled currency on bar counter. Cleaning solvent and a manufactured coconut odor are the smell-track to bar stools being put up on the counter.
The weekend is long for Roy Rangoon. His work suit sloshes around in a washing machine that constantly unplugs itself from the wall by its persistent shaking and galloping. He sits on his couch and watches sports on a blurry TV, however, the possibility exists that it is just his blurry eyes. They drift to a picture frame on the mantle. Here there is a photograph of him cradling his daughter. He always notices the photographic quality first. The matted paper it’s printed on isn’t very glossy. The imagery is out of focus and fuzzy around the edges. The late afternoon lighting of the hospital room is completely unrecognizable because of the camera’s blinding flash. His smiling face beams back at him, with his mustache and rolled up sleeves crunched up on slender arms. The pink, fuzzy blanket. His daughter’s dark brown face and eyes, shut tightly. She has her mother’s nose bridge and her father’s frown. Roy wonders if she still looks the same after six years. In his mind, he says he is going to make an effort to make things right with them. Roy looks back at the game on TV.
6: 45 – Find stamps to mail wife’s , ex-wife’s child support check.
8: 01 PM – It is around eight PM on a Sunday and Roy drinks alone. The nature of such nights have remained linear for the past few years. They are another facet to a routine that involves ironing his work pants. This Sunday night is a particularly pleasant one because there is an infomercial advertising songwriters of the 70s and 80s. It is a nonstop reel of clips that depict the melodic choruses of songs. Each swig of his Pina Coolada fills the emptiness in Roy’s stomach. Each song reminds his heart of a better time. A song that played in the restaurant during his wedding rehearsal. A song that played in the background on his car radio.
Roy remembers his daughter in the car seat, and him driving around the neighborhood so she could fall asleep. His guard completely and utterly down. Only to go back up when he was around his wife, scrutinizing the pronouns and adjectives that were never the correct ones to say. The alert politeness he initially had at the office that has now mutated into bored, passiveness. The joy he feigns at The French when he is with what passes for a friend. The complete numbness that takes over on his couch, in his home after the workday is over. His troubles coagulate inside his head, and it’s the only head he’s got. For the head is not something that can be removed.
At night he has dreams that he does not recall. Within them, Roy usually finds himself at a News Years Eve party with a banana man. Lines of cocaine neatly spill out from his mouth, and constantly re-arrange themselves like animated scrubbing bath tub bubbles. The banana man watches him, and invites Roy to guess which regurgitated granule is concealing the prize. Roy frantically tries to guess, but the distance recedes faster and faster, until he realizes that it is all happening on the face of some giant face. He wakes up in the stillness of the morning, sunk down in his couch like a shipwreck. TV still on, playing commercials about breakfast choices and switching banks. The workday goes by slowly and the static firmness of plastic chair cushions do not agree with his back.
1: 38 PM – Look at clock, and avidly wait for the eight to become a nine. Shuffle stack of expense reports that need reviewing. Pound base of papers against desk until they are like one cubic shape.
“Hey Roy, I got a new one for ya. You ever hear the one about the catholic oyster on the helicopter?”
“You told me it last week.” Roy says. But Ned tells him again, anyways. “This paper is made out of our faces.”
“Sure, sure.” Ned says, returning to his desk.
2: 20 – Highlight various words on meaningless spread sheet. Outline vibrant yellow splotches with red pen. Avert eyes back and forth.
“Ned I made an optical illusion,” Roy says. Ned is on the phone. The phone reminds Roy of calling his ex-wife and correcting everything that must be corrected. Telling her all the right verbs and conjunctions, until she forgives him. There is some combination of words in the universe that would completely and utterly galvanize her. He decides now is not the right time for such a conversation. It’s Thursday, and she’s probably not even home.
Later that evening within the temple like walls of the The French, Roy is swirling the sediment in his Pina Coolada. His back aches from his top heaviness as well as his sadness. The synthetic beverage tastes like pineapple flavored hard candy, whole milk and white sneaker leather. Nearby, laughter erupts like a volcano. In his head, he wonders what a real Pina Coolada would taste like, before some company started compressing the idea of them into a keg or a can. The pineapples and the coconut. Fresh off the vine, with some high quality rum. Something in a fancy bottle, dusty, because it was in the wine cellar of a financially established individual. Knowing that Roy will never actually taste this makes him frown on the inside, but he smiles politely at Ned.
“Hahaha, as soon my CSA clears, we’re going north for the holidays,” Ned says to a hula girl . Venus, or Jupiter or Mercury. Earth? He does not know. Roy is distracted from his itchy neck by these little moments. He starts to fall asleep while a girl presses her skin against his pants. The alcohol arranges its claws slowly around his brain like a killer in the suburbs. Throbbing music trails off and eventually disappears. The banana man slaps him on the back, and demands more. More, more. More what?! Roy cries. More, the banana man whispers. The banana smells like tanning lotion. The banana asks Roy if he’s asleep, curses, and storms off.
Outside, the Wolynesia City night is subtropical, and the humidity makes his face feel like its swelling. He cranes his head to get a better look at the stars, but it is with immense difficulty that he lifts it. Upon clambering into his car and resting in the stiff seat, he looks forward to couch cushions that might alleviate his back pain, if only for a little while. Musty cushions that cradle him and take away his responsibilities. That take away his dreams.
1: 36 AM – Force car down dark city streets and under swinging traffic lamps. Focus on feeling of the brake pedal. The ability to stop whenever he wants.
Inside Roy’s home it smells stagnant and all too familiar. His keys make an obnoxiously loud clang when he drops them on the counter. He stretches his body out on the length of the couch and pushes the side cushions off with his feet. Shoes half off. The telephone beckons him from a side table, but it is not in reach. Even with the time difference in hemispheres, it is too late to call.
The couch becomes a bed, again, when Roy sleeps on it for two days. He drinks slushy Pina Coolada out of a blender for breakfast. Every single time he gets up to use the bathroom or change the laundry over, his feet crash into empty Pina Coolada cans. They shriek at him in tinny, callous jangles. The itching under his chin that initially bothered has shifted from bother to worry. Roy tells himself
“You should have kept up with your Doctor, and watched your health. It’s really all you have left.” He looks at himself in the mirror, tilts his head. A pause that lasts far longer than Roy allows. Something occurs to him, and for some reason, he tries to push his own head. To push it up. It moves, and Roy topples to the ground in terror-stricken bewilderment.
No, No, that’s impossible. The mirror of the bathroom becomes the reflective screen of his computer monitor.
“My CSA check’s being held up by the boys in city hall, but by this time next week…” Ned nods in slow motion and makes obscene movements with his hips.
“You ever look at the ocean?”
“Yeah Roy, I’ve looked at the ocean. I’ve told you I was in the coast guard for three years.”
“There’s something wrong with it. The ocean, I mean. That’s not how sea’s are supposed to look. At least I don’t think that’s how.” Ned lets out a lower intestine laugh that rolls his shoulders like some kind of puppet imitating dance move.
“I think that the ocean out there looks how oceans are supposed to-
-Look!” Ned says, pointing across The French. “They never do that.” Two hula girls grope and kiss each other, their faces making gradual clunking noises. “Hoo boy I betcha they don’t do that at Mala Mala Mala. Hoo boy.”
There is a medium crowd at The French, and Roy hides in it. He tips the bottom of his Pina Coolada glass all the way to the ceiling. Notices the smoke cloud that never rains, all the while, getting thicker and thicker. He wonders if there is a god above the smoke, that watches all the drunk men in suits and girls who pretend to know them. The yellow slush rolls down Roy’s throat, and when the glass sits back down on the table, his mind is a buzz with weird feelings.
Some purple guy seated near Roy says something about the game on TV. Roy glances over at the screen that yells images and sounds at everybody. He feels like the trail of his head is leaving a blurred path.
“It’s yelling images and sounds at everybody,” Roy responds. The bartender gives Roy a fresh Pina Coolada but does not bother pouring it in a glass. The purple guy gives small talk a try with someone else. A commercial on the TV shows a dancing banana. It shakes Roy to his core. He sobers up for a moment, and tries to hold still. His surrounding habitat spins into focus and everything feels all too familiar, or more familiar than usual. A coconut bra cuts through the smoke and lands in a fit of hollering and inebriated laughter.
For the first time in years, Roy looks down at his hands. They were there all along, clapping staplers and moving slippers closer to him and pushing blankets away and moving computer mouse’s closer. Holding the slippery torso’s of women with terrifying faces. His palms are an even tone of peach, and his sleeves are white like composition paper. His pants are the same color as his face, and look as if they’ve been drawn on.
“Hey. Hey Ned.” Ned isn’t drunk enough to drink a candle but he is drunk enough to think Pluto will go home with him.“ Our pants are drawn on,” Roy whispers.
“How’s that?!” Ned is screaming through the music. Kind of dancing too.
12: 55 AM – “Look around you man,” he calls Ned man. “It’s not just the ocean, it’s everything. It’s all around us.” Ned walks away, and Roy composes himself. “Our skin is scribbled, the clothes. The bar, those plants. It’s like we’re all made of..of..some kind of fake, distinguished set of colors. All against this omnipresent nothingness. This white that just envelopes us.” The bartender eyes Roy suspiciously, and slides him a tab.
“It’s like we’re all just being drawn by someone,” Roy breaths. “It’s like we’re all drawings in some predetermined story.” No one listens. A false reality on the screens fill the gap between the false breasts and imitation pineapple flavoring. Roy lets it all sooth his itchy brain.
1: 39 AM – He is back in the bathroom, with the door wide open. Roy closes it, even though he is alone, and turns towards the mirror. He cocks his head back, scanning for some sort of rash or abrasion. Roy’s lower back and shoulders ache. The mysterious fan inside the light roars louder, suspense-fully, like a lightly grazed synthesize key. The couch beckons him from the living room. It tells Roy to sit down and ignore the signs. But Roy tells the couch to hold on a second. His pockets are full of receipts.
He carefully examines the itchy space. He holds on to the bottom of his head and tries to shift the bulbous, wooden pendedecagon. It budges. A pause, and a deep breath of muggy oxygen. He moves it upward and it budges even further. The fan is almost deafening. Sweet smelling air starts to rush into his nostrils. New nostrils. Nostrils that he did not know he had. Roy takes a deep breath and pries his fingers under the wood, lifting up with all of his strength. He pulls his head off.
“Gaaahhhh!!!” Roy screams, probably startling the nearby couch. He feels his head in his hands and asks what in god’s name is going on. Who did this? What is the meaning of this? He looks back into his own wooden sockets. At the big toothy grin. The mask is heavy, and slowly he realizes that the mirror is still in front of him.
Roy feels the lightness of a different head. An ulterior, much less wooden face anxiously looks back at him in the mirror. The flesh on his gaunt cheeks is pale. Dark circles under his eyes, the likes of which he has only seen in a dream. On a banana. Hair. Soft, curly locks grow from his head and nose. On his chin. Roy nods at himself. Akin to a polite nod to an old friend. Says hello to himself. The itchiness on his neck is gone, but he doesn’t notice. However, he does notice an absence of an itch that seemed to originate inside his mind. He lowers the misshapen, wooden mask back down over his face. Turns it a little, so that it won’t bother his neck. Roy does not want to terrify his friends, couches and neighbors. He can keep it on for a while. Roy decides it is a fine hour to call his ex-wife.
Monday, 3: 21 pm southeastern standard time – Receive call from daughter after she gets back from school. Notice the subtle lisp she is starting to get and her perfectly chosen combination of simple words. Hear ex-wife in the background, laughing and probably emptying grocery bags for the evening’s dinner.
Monday, 4:45 pm – Swivel in chair. Enjoy the shifting of perspective, but not too much, as to avoid dizziness.