Below is Part 9 of 16 monthly installments for Visitant.
◄◄ Read the prologue / introduction
◄ Read Part 8: Holding Patterns: Dowries
Lateral dots et alia, I ditch anterior peruke, reconfigure dorsal ballast, and streamline for cultural pursuits as sleuth Dot Motley, Esq. Suited in dated sharkskin, I minimize drag and launch forward in full throttle after the man. Think percolator on high flame or predator pursuing prey up the ramped entrance—closing in for full-bleed, full-feed at the city aquarium.
Yep, dot accumulator turned private eye has-too seen the man before. Easy to follow, he of the two knotted neckties, today’s choice, a tame dotted grey on blue beside an olive paisley. Background fish-tank colors. Yin/yang appropriate.
I recognize limbic signals. He’s looking for a wife. Not among tan tourists in shorts, flip-flops, and Disney tees licking salt-and-sugar lips and ditto-flavored fingertips. Reserved, he does not chum svelte caretakers in tight diving suits or university students finishing advanced degrees about dolphin behavior.
This curious man of two ties fancies a different sort, one that can take a hook and willingly spew bubbles into water like wayward punctuation. Tricky.
The man pauses, juts his lower jaw and adjusts his ties. His neck tendons relax, and the ritual begins. I find a pleasant spot to watch. I’m stalking, but if you can’t see my dots in the ambient light nor can he.
Gazing at the grand tanks, he searches for a comely companion with discreet gill slits. Yes, a serene damsel fish or perky alewife or queen croaker. A midweek catch not too needy for oxygen between Saturday chores and Sunday apron. A content sort good with breakfast skills—waffles, frozen okay, dabbed with butter and Vermont maple syrup, amber grade.
I suspect he fantasizes about a place-marker wife with sufficient fin for granite counters. She and her lookalikes sport protective coloration evolved for gravel channels and opalescent eddies tinged pink at sunset…the way some silver screen stars re-hue, renew for comeback. Fish easily change gender as the scene requires. They swap out tail-spot for oviduct or visa-versa. Unlike human kith and kin, their mates, swap-outs themselves, don’t care.
The man becomes ultra-homogenized in possibilities. What with stunning glass walls, no-slip flooring, and acoustical tile ceiling. And the crowds. Almost knocked over, he suffers bump, jostle, wham. Not by rude adult hominids with small children. No, by the muscular spaces of missed opportunities, powerful as jumping sturgeon. Or 10-ft. nurse sharks in mangroves, presented here in murky artificial glory.
Oh dear! He’ll have to switch out his rods and cones or, at least, his eyeglasses to see and be seen, to avoid calamity in such company.
Slammed, the man leans as if in gastric distress—unusual stirrings within, acid reflux perhaps. Did he eat his breakfast eggs with spring onions? Witless, perhaps he has swallowed a school of gossamer minnows, baitfish now nibbling on his synapses, reminding him of what? Not love. No room inside.
We exist within a larger world of water. Water, H2O, the big aquarium sign reminds, comprises 78% of living cells.
That amazing fact leaves only 22% matter, thoughts as contaminants. Frightening to think only minerals and fat molecules separate the human brain from a glass of water. Or a fish tank.
Why do we think we are solid? Why use phrases such as firm understanding or solid views? I feel like a weak solution. Naughty thought dots splash, school, and spawn with abandon in my grotto-like cranium. Best to sprinkle an exit path to retrace in case I become too dilute to remember the way out.
The man mops his brow with his two ties. Is he weary of the vast quantity of water before him? No. The brute reality of wetness terrifies him. The squared-off tanks end like the ocean sea pictured on medieval maps with inked edges guarded by dreaded hydra, killer whale, giant squid. And fearsome Charybdis, mythic whirlpool of self, personhood refined as 100% water.
The man regains his composure and hastens from the aquarium. I regroup in pursuit. He heads north by northwest for the terra firma of the botanic garden, once the grand estate of a Gilded-Age dowager. Stealthy, I pull a leaf-green sweater over my sharkskin and stiffen as xylem and phloem.
Perhaps Cupid will widen his bow and better fortune will visit the man amongst stamens and sepals. Ah, the possibilities of loverly sequels among the blossoms.
This time of year, many plants have heavenly b.o.—that pungent odor that butterflies crave and humans borrow for perfumes and milled soaps. Yes, indeed, a fragrant spouse with quartet of seasonal attire might suit the man. Flitting about, he seeks nectar.
See how he glances up, re-knots both neckties, and checks his pant pockets like pollen sacks. Is he worried about pickpockets? Or, does he fear his creases are alive with lint, a fire hazard should lust flare? He places something small and flat in the squirrel-proof trash basket. A calling card or matchbook or motel fob I am unable to retrieve with dignity.
Someone awaits him. See, on reconnoiter, he tilts, ready to raise an arm in greeting. To whom, the man strolling in white tennis sweats? Or, the woman hastening in mauve muffler? In the crosshairs of my binoculars, I pretend to watch bobbing ducks of vesper hues—olive, russet, slate-blue.
Sad beside the grass-like sedges, the man shows no affinity for aquatic species. He walks right by the bricked lily ponds with their flat pads and robust flower stalks. He also shows no interest in xeric plants with tough drought-resistant desert skin and spines.
As for me, I might as well be a cactus. He’s not one to seek solace under a spiky Joshua tree or cuddle in gladness with a big-armed saguaro. No, no, too many needles to snag his double ties. In sun-parched lands, the man wouldn’t be caught dead in a sombrero.
After a long day’s roam, the man checks his ties and departs the botanic garden for the nearby public commons, formerly enclosed by an elegant 19th-century cast-iron fence. Only the signature gates remain, minders of an obsolete closing time, gas lights, and hackney cabs.
Kids squeal with delight. He saunters over, his molecules drawn like metal filings to a magnet. Is he a pedophile, the most despicable of men?
Motley dots to the rescue. I ready a scream to curdle blood.
Dodging from lamp post to tree trunk, I lend a well-tended girth to the urban bower. In our different ways, we arrive—I, slightly puffing; he, cucumber cool. We stare at the metal swing sets and jungle gym painted harsh primary colors young readers can pronounce and spell.
Self-assigned sentry, I ponder the recreational possibilities of gamboge and orpiment. The man gazes, then winces—he, too, seemingly repelled by the glossy red, yellow, and blue. Thank goodness, he won’t let himself consider a child bride.
In his crepuscular quest, he shoos away pigeons. He doesn’t care for coo—adult birds feeding their chicks crop milk. At this hour, I, too, hate city birds. Too much crumble and flutter with legs of dirty madder. Let the day end well. Pigeons should keep to the turrets. And seagulls retreat to some county landfill.
A frisky breeze has blown one tie over the man’s shoulder, but he appears gratified. And why not? He, in truth, we have spent the day together at the city’s finest—the aquarium, botanic garden, public commons. The man has taken no liberties. He never shuffles or scuffs his shoes. He does not eat on the street, litter or spit.
He arrives at his walk-up flat as the sun sets. I refocus the binoculars. Am I violating his Bill of Rights to satisfy my Pursuit of Happiness? I give him time to climb the stairs, then hone in on the window facing the street.
The man sits down to sup. Faithful spouse that he is, he man adjusts both ties and unfolds his napkin in his lap. Sameness has bored him to death. But, no, he’s not ready to wife that final fish.
Although tired after a day about town, I wait up for the predicted blood around the moon, the russet eclipse starting at 11:58 p.m. EST. On public radio, scientists debate the return of the southern red wolf. Outside, the sky seems a thief’s paradise, a mattress filled with diamonds. On my side of the globe, I watch Earth’s cumber block Sun. My brain can’t fathom light 92.96 million miles away or prowling wolves snarling in alleys over garbage.
Do life forms mark Deep Time?
In Space, is Justice blind?
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day. Not sure my legs are up for the downtown march. Weatherman says arctic vortex—cold air, my excuse to count sheep, cry wolf, stay in bed.
No, tomorrow is not the day for a case of in-house lazies. During the Great Depression, my grandmother Meemo told me she set out day-old bread and curdled milk in a tin pan for the black hobos who hopped trains. Hoping for a better life in Canada, they always left the empty pan at the back gate for the next guy.
So who’s leaving a pan for me?
No more waiting on the sidelines. Bright and early, I’ll bundle up and march my dots for the power of a dead man’s dream, now a nation’s dream.
We the People.
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