by Louie Clay
I hope that I stay asleep, if that is not true. The plastic airplane which fetched me matched one I played with when I was 4 years old. Now my parents’ house has turned to metal, with heavy bright coats of paint–red on every eave, green on the sashes, and white on the metal tree that grows on the orange metal lawn. Each part connects to the next with one metal lip, like an interlocking piece on a jigsaw puzzle. Forty-four. I know I’m 44.
I walk to the house through a stovepipe. An uncle I thought long dead capers beside me, his cane in one hand, his cigar in the other. I hear Mother greet him for tea. Her wheelchair squeaks. She tells me that her wispy gray hair is real–not paint, not dye, not steel wool. I hope that her skin also is real, and look down to check my own. I see instead the dark orange in the alarm clock on the dresser. Only 3:30 a.m. We’re not due for breakfast until 6:15.
No one camps by the lake. One lone moccasin swims the middle, his head high, a thin jet line behind. I nearly stepped on this same one when I frog-gigged with Dad 35 years ago and got out of the boat to come at the frog from behind. The long snake slithered away, and I peed very hot steam down my leg.
Now the snake leads to a lily pond, and the long pipe from my parents’ metal house shimmies out of space like a stovepipe rainbow. I hear angels singing, I think, until it’s just the car radio playing Christmas carols. Someone left the driver’s door open, the seat empty, the light flashing to turn left.
Mother hums as Dad eats his cereal for supper. Dad sucks his teeth. She has complained about his bad manners for fifty years. He orders her to get him some more milk. She leaves her wheelchair and pulls her paralyzed body across the slimy floor to the old ice box, hoists herself, uses her straw to suck up buttermilk from the bottle, turns and sprays a whole strawful at him across the two yards where he sits saying, “Thata good girl. Thata good girl. Now give me some more.”
Jerry Falwell arrives via satellite after the PTL club. On his forehead he has tattooed “666” the bottom to each “6” shaped like a penis head bloated and dripping with sperm.
“In the year that King Sadat died,” Jerry intones, raising his white Bible high above his flaming forehead. The camera almost catches a choir about to pick his nose. The singer scratches instead, and chews his Wrigley’s. “I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, on his throne, and around him were six-winged pornographers, hiding the heads behind their feathers to laugh.”
Mother starts to turn off the television, but instead chooses an evangelist she trusts as “safer,” the pastor of a First Presbyterian Church which has a red carpet, air-conditioning, and a less obvious political agenda.
Someone else approaches her house through the stovepipe walk. He greases the pipe and rides it like a banister. A firecracker rockets him against the gravity. Mother cries, “He collects bills for the doctor who took out your Dad’s second testicle. He claims that Medicare will no longer pay for sex change operations, even though it was inflamed.”
The bill-collector offers to pray with us, a new chant from his mosque. Twilight approaches. We each kneel on one of those paper toilet seat covers which drug stores sell for travelers to use in foul stations. The guest sings Anglican evensong, facing Mecca. Mother falls over asleep within only a minute. Dad’s teeth drop on the floor and he can’t stop laughing, but the guest sings on, as if he does not notice.
A tiny metal red bird flies through the window. I recognize it as the dove which told Noah that some olive branches had just tipped above water, the same dove. Its little motor goes bad all at once and it falls to the floor, dropping a turquoise olive leaf which breaks as it hits the base of the lamp by Dad’s reading chair.
Twelve males holding their guide ropes between their knees, ski in group formation on single skis. The twelve, nude, race past the startled moccasin.
Twelve more males, all gay, appear in Gloria Vanderbilt trunks, skiing behind a faster boat. Each rides a single water ski, with the guide ropes connected to bright metal hoops pierced each nipple.
The first twelve in fear swoop into shore at the base of the stovepipe to my parents’ house. The gay men walk on water, wear clothes the instant the step on the bank, and ask the other twelve if the need a lift into New Delhi. Those twelve, now hiding in the bushes, call to the gay men, asking them to find them some underwear. Brooke Shields arrives with the crowd from Fruit-of-the-Loom and together they fit the nudes right in the bushes. Shields have a bad case of acne. The men don’t get erections.
A Cadillac school bus arrives. Westminster’s chimes sound as its door opens. The gay men deposit their new friends inside and then sprout wings for themselves and fly away.
Mother sneaks some Fritos when the prayer man leaves. Then Dad counts out her 27 pills, signing the cross after each third pill, nine times with a meditation at each swallowing: “Goddess of the universe, I inhale your nurture in minerals. Transform them into spiritual food to be for me an everlasting covenant with the plastic of this generation. Bless this frame. Amen.”
Dad falls asleep. The TV blasts full. Neighbors bang above, below, and on each side. My parents suddenly live in an apartment, not their house. Metal disappears, reappears, disappears again. The Baptist preacher says: “From dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return. Remember, oh person, the Lord is merciful and will not judge us according to our sins, because God knows that we are but dust.”
Tiny flakes of red, green, blue, and orange as thick paint lie at my feet as I step out of bed to the alarm.
Louie Clay (né Louie Crew) is an emeritus professor at Rutgers. Editors have published 2,335 of his manuscripts, including four poetry volumes. You can follow his work here.