White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
Mark DeCarteret
Mark DeCarteret's fiction has appeared in Word Riot and Quick Fiction and took third place in a Gulfstream contest. His poetry has appeared in Agni, Boston Review, Chicago Review , Salamander, and previously appeared in Issue 1.3 of White Whale Review, as well as the anthologies American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon Press), Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader (Black Sparrow Press) and Under the Legislature of Stars—62 New Hampshire Poets (Oyster River Press) which he also co-edited. His fifth book Flap was published last year by Finishing Line Press. Tom Lux says that the “poems are laced with humor, irony, a splendid ear, a big wild heart.”

Featured Work
Subscribe to RSS     Share

The Stroll

Mark DeCarteret

The half-frozen sand had been carved into inner ear intricacy. Assorted worm holes and whorls. But now nothing minded the wind. Not even the banners from last autumn announcing another “Going out of Business Sale” or the usually game gulls. Thus this highly pitched whistle with its fantastical reach must have been thrust out from the recesses of Blaise’s brain. The sound of his usual derangement further aggrandized by that ergot-tainted grain Russell had served him. And his furnace restoked with these knot-ridden, arthritic images and gnawed at by Saint Anthony’s flame, the yellow of wolf’s teeth—this most provisional of infernos overseen by some cult leader donning clip tie, mirrored glasses, stirring up his verdict from a pile of ash. Blaise stretched wide his mouth as if the ocean air could infiltrate his psyche and bail him out, save him from his own thoughts.

Was that his soul he smelled burning? Saw rising in curlicues out over the sea? Surely Blaise, who’d now substituted a menagerie of woodland creatures for the Blessed Mary and had spent the morning

watching them being molested by these shadowy figures, wasn’t the best candidate to answer. Figures whose identity he tried to keep from himself by scrambling their features, hiding their eyes behind these little black caskets, friends and family, whose names he couldn’t tolerate or even have them put up with the touch of his tongue. Not even to raise towards its roof as some clumsy confession.

So how could Blaise save these animals? From his insults, defilements? The sickening whims of humankind? The squirrel he’d splayed as it squawked out its protests? Or the possum pinned down with its ineffectual fluff, disconcerted coil? And what the hell was up with the armadillo? Couldn’t someone have emailed the poor thing about the meeting on evolution? Though by being slinked into a primeval disco ball it was best able to fend off his advancements, behests for this sick-fuck of a dance.

And not that his partners were limited to fauna and their fuzziest of features. Or even these biblical fictions. For now he was beckoning the young woman whose body they’d found at the foot of the tower. Knowing not only that her bones had not been broken. And that her face bore a resemblance

to a bowl of canned dog food. But somehow that her fingers were slender like a harpist’s. That she was knock-kneed. And that she hadn’t been able to see all that well before her eyes had been seized from her. For soon after they’d discovered her body her spectacles were found in a patch of matted grass that the groundskeeper missed with his mower.

Ah yes, something had pursued her. From out of the trees where their shadows had screened it. Gave her chase with the grace and the decency of the boy at the dance, crucified to the wall, whose contact with the world had come mostly through those controls he manipulated on his lap, incessantly. Something that was so wicked and despicable it had to be blacked out or thought about only in metaphor.

The most ferocious of nauseas took hold of Blaise’s stomach. Falling back, he landed on the damp sand, fighting back bile. And what he could only hope was the fustiness of mold. Then at least there was a chance that this was a nightmare he’d come down or around from. But to what extent was always the question.

Blaise could just barely stand up. He looked out

at this other horizon, straining enough to birth planets, thinking he could squint the nastiest of these narratives into helixes, bundles of light like those grasshoppers, as his grandfather had called them, floating on the surface of his eyes petitioning the sun and then seeing to the world with their inflamed halos. But there was only so much he could blot out, make anonymous. And it often seemed like the majority of his strength was drained off generating these productions of his. As if the bland and innocuous required more to sustain them than the sublime.

“It’s one thing to think them. It’s another to act on them.” Russell told him, trying to persuade him some time back as he slid his armies into Kamchatka—the near glacial gateway to the East and Blaise’s last bastion, during a weekend-long game of Risk. “God help me, if anyone found out what went on in my head they’d pass laws with my name on them. And that would go for just about everybody else. There’s a reason that truth serum still remains illegal in this country.”

But what if Blaise’s thoughts doubled up on their efforts? And somehow managed to slip past his sentries? Finding their fill-ins, some surrogates,

somewhere out on the board and then launching an offensive? Dominating the game, not with cunning and a time-honored know-how but with insolence, predictability, these shifts and these blitzes—endless assaults so insipid and unobjectionable its enemies were not so much vanquished, outwitted, as overspread and dimmed, done in by mere numbers and the sheer dumbness of their routine. Like his Uncle Walt’s wisecracks, the voices he threw at family gatherings when he’d had a few. Did the material even matter. Or was it only the bit? Our mere appearance? That performance to end all performances? “Holy shit,” Blaise thought, “these are dangerous times to be reincarnated as a lamb.”

A fog had settled on Seatown again. And the air smelled like a service bay. Or how oil would smell if it spoiled. Blaise hobbled up the beach like he’d just emerged from a peat bog. Another area of his back had begun to convulse. Different from yesterday’s pain, that sensation which had coursed along his pant line before draining down into his buttocks, a system of canals distributing a series of twitching and throbs to the delta of his ass and making it impossible for him to sit for extended periods of

time without rising up again and attempting to reestablish his last attained position on the evolutionary chart. This was stiffness, a slight paralysis in his shoulder blades, evolving from out two perceptible knobs as if foreshadowing flight. These stubs that throbbed like the start of wings and that he feared had been brought on by his infected breakfast. Earlier, Russell had looked in on him after he complained of blurred vision and chills and caught Blaise laying on top of his bed, kneading the right cheek of his ass, his face thoughtfully obstructed by the legs he’d swung up over his head. “So,” he said, “the circus was hiring after all.”

Then Blaise saw the actual source of the smell. An unwell whale hung up, marooned, on the mostly unoccupied beach. As much an anomaly as it was monumental and massive. He’d been hearing the aerosolled bursts of its blowhole for some time thinking it an air compressor. Someone filling up tires or balloons. Now he could discern the actual nostril, noticing how it was sputtering and laboring to breathe. Its eye, which gazed at Blaise with what could only be described as disorientation, was similar to a licorice drop someone had sucked and thus polished up till it shined. And its skin color was negotiable—the non-tint of a new-moon.

Someone had soaked several blankets and draped them over the creature’s back. The fake velvet kind. These here were all Hank Williams Jr., peddled on that vacant lot adjacent to the Wax-n-Wicks Candle Shoppe. Which would somewhat explain the shrine assembled up near the curve of its forehead—a dozen or so votives that flickered disturbingly with the whims of the wind, along with four or five holographic Christs and a felt Celtics hat.

As Blaise sidled around the miserable mammal he was moved to put his hands to its hide, try to still its trembling, comfort it, or maybe even mend it, minister to it—extracting whatever spirit had invaded it and heaving it out towards the sea, but just the notion alone seemed insidious, disrespectful, given over to a most falsified of faiths. For the whale had no interest in miracles, the fanciful. That state of mind that relied so heavily on both some fluke of nature and the future. If it wished for anything it only was the familiar. That world that weighed in and pressed up against it with its assuredness and resolve. That constancy completely absent once above.

On the other side of the whale, an old man in white coveralls and baseball cap pulled backwards was parked in a golf cart. A rifle was square to his plywood frame, a piss jar placed between his Nikes. He let a brownish string linger at his lips before spitting it recklessly off to the side. What Blaise guessed was once a section of the old man’s lung. Or Hank Williams Jr.’s. At that instant the sun intervened for the first time that morning, dispensing a dismal light that still brought about a summery, almost God damn celestial shimmer, considering the circumstances. “I just paged my boys,” the old man said. “With this fella’s size, you got to figure there’s a lot of good eating there.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only one. Whales overran Seatown that day. From Fort Dixon to the Portly Pig Iron Works. These leviathans, despite being seasoned with salt, toughened up, were now rotting under a suddenly punishing sun, their forms shamelessly blessed, sanctified with an accursed sand, their bulk reduced to mere mass and earmarked for some landfill. Blaise couldn’t help thinking it this most unimaginative and unimaginable miniature golf course. For that’s what he did. It always seeming simpler to embellish or

tamper with reality. To falsify with his eye. And in the end this picture was more easily managed with tears. So he cried some. Collecting himself just shy of weeping.

Now the pain in Blaise’s left shoulder had crept down his arm. He hunched over but trudged on, never quite repelling this suspicion he was being pulled, less towards the earth but towards Hell. The terrain made the most unearthly demands on his steps. The sand, a cement-like sediment, more accommodating to the artifact of cigarette filters and obsolete game tokens than his skeptical steps and more susceptible to the imprint of our soles, evidence we had been here in our slaved-over shoes. For the earth had become both betrayed by and indebted to the corporate logos enforced on it. Suffering the burden of our hi-tech toys and performance gear. Those athletes our country had forever genuflected and sought out their products, had abandoned the arena and ring and now assailed hill and river with their Gore-tex tights and their logo-branded armor, their sweat, phosphorescent and ghoulish, oozing out of their pores like engine coolant as they pounded out more trails, pummeled mountains into the most generic of dusts, their tiny

stereos always at the ready—that corporate-sanctioned soundtrack, backdrop to their exploits, supplying their soul with its inspired verse, the most paltry of mantras from America’s board rooms.

We are taking on water, Blaise thought. And the last time I checked all our stances and posturing still depended on the rationale of land.

Despite the sun’s surprise appearance, gray and its medley of shades prevailed. Even Blaise’s projections and woes were prone to the mono-chromatic. He worked a slip of paper from out back of his chinos. Earlier Walter had jotted down several of his sure-fire exercises for back pain, a claim seemingly called into question just by their quantity. The trick, as Walter had explained, a scorecard-sized pencil banished into the chamber of his fingers, was to match up the remedy with the muscle. And Walter, God knows, had plenty of back to contend with. An endless stretch of skin bemused by his prominent spine. Shoulders, for the most part, these afterthoughts, purely decorative. And his butt speculative, theoretical in nature—a geometrical proof even suspect while sitting.

He then substituted the pencil with his single ration of cigarette he allowed himself every morning, a procedure that possessed the gear-toothed volition of a drill bit being swapped, before delving deep into a repertoire of stylized gestures and pantomimes— hand cupping it to his mouth as if he was taking himself hostage; sliding it open-palmed across the top of his head and further infuriating the solder of his hair; sculpting its ash along the sides of an ashtray; shelling out his best soldier-squint. Halfway through his histrionics Walter’s war-damaged body, now nothing more than a systematic bagging of organs worn down to just the basics, looked ready to give way, tumble out onto the table. All of these discharged memories, remnants of an honorable life emptied out to the few who once knew him. It was as if all the bluster and show was all that kept him from expiring, being invaded by some alien force. That the cigarette waved like a wand or poked up at the heavens as if at the chest of the creator was all that separated him from the shrug and the wheeze of some specter.

Blaise read down the list—apply a frozen cube steak the first two or three days followed by peas;

channel each side of the spine with a tennis ball; bear down on a door knob, lay on the floor with a telephone book jimmied under the swell; crank one’s buttocks in a vice and tap gently with a tack hammer, not so much to find answers, resolutions, but to lure out the spirits that graced the list’s voids, a sampling of the anima that roamed the vast space of his uncle’s tough and resolute soul. Walter whacked the back of the list lustily, the mermaid on his right bicep (the other bore a black and blue heart served up on a bed of wings) bucking up her hips and tussling her hair. “Look at this will you,” Walter said, “she’s trying to boogie along to that dumb-assed ditty for Viagra on the television.”

When a jogger swished by, her head clamped between head phones, Blaise wondered if an aboriginal beat or an angelicized chorus wouldn’t help, if not bludgeon or blare out his mind’s fretful wanderings, at least maybe hypnotize or remaster them. And if not a meaty chord air-delivered by a hobbling sixties guitarist or some diva-sung notes tortured and wrung of all rarity, then maybe the perfect prescription as yet to be solved by his tongue, the corporate embellishment oft-wedded to his skin, could help standardize his brain waves and

marshal his musings, insure these insurgent associations, images, the rebooting they warranted.

But coming clean with Blaise always mandated siding with a brand name of soap (or water, he joked, that’d been trucked West in vials direct from the Vatican) and facing off against the contaminants. First, hand-heeling the faucet. And then washing his hands in these slow, almost clinical circles, the suds and the swirls silently servicing him, seeing to everything that sickened him inside. Then, preferring paper towel, so he could use it to shut off the water which had been running the entire time with the well-wishing woosh of its steadiest stream forgiving him his eccentricities, word-play, and sweeping him up into an unceasing dream. Before transporting it to the door to manage its handle. And once finished, tossing it as far away from himself as he could. And strangely, what Blaise noticed when leaving most of the bathrooms was the infusion of light from outside. How it almost welcomed him. Came closest to penetrating his skin. And his skull. How for that instant it made the edges less distinct, less demanding. And how he’d often let his lids fall on this picture as if trying to stow it away, preserve

some of its damaged promise, and let it leak out over time and over everything that had once stood in his way.

Even padlocked and hosed out, Blaise sensed enough residual malice from the bathhouse to alter his route, going so far as to sidestep its shadow. Pigeons lined its eaves, mass-trembling. Bluish ice belying their most cordial of murmurs. In the summer the buildings would be pulsating and throbbing with slummy activity. Children’s wails pin balling off the walls of the stalls, their bodies deactivating as they approached this mope status. Women squishing their reserves into swimsuits, moaning as one. And men aligned at the urinals, shin-deep in a broth of salt water and piss, accomplishing shoeless, a feat that Blaise couldn’t pull off with waders. Not even if afterwards he stubbed his feet into the sand till they bled, additionally stigmatizing him. Or submerged them. Heading out into the ocean. Without ever ceasing.

Ah Seatown, ain’t no place to be sound, Blaise thought. So he pulled his arms in closer to his body. As if bundling what little warmth there was to himself. As if preparing to be launched into sky. Suddenly, a solitary cloud issued five or six

snowflakes towards the earth. Each one fucking identical. Blaise worked his eyes into a burn. A watery blinking that a stranger passing by him might read as some taciturn code.














Copyright© Mark DeCarteret. White Whale Review, issue 4.2

Previous Author Prev Next Author