“I stopped doing DMT for spiritual reasons last year, when it started getting boring. Now I just ride real fast to get close to that kind of thing.”
Simon’s face was smeared with soot from the old shingles on the roof and his hands were moving rapidly as he talked despite the large cast covering his arm. “Fast. You know, real speed, the kind of pull only bending wide open along a high mountain road can do like up the Malahat. That’s actually where this happened.”
“Oh, your arm? I figured you fell off the roof.”
“That’s funny, Dave. No, but I actually did fall off the roof a week ago.”
Simon bent to one side and lifted his khaki shirt up revealing a gash amid the furrowed lines his ribs made just under his sun-browned skin. The wound was bandaged but there was a blot of blood and tiny speckles of red that had come through the white pad. The bandage was wrapped around his torso, and around it there was deep bruising that turned from black and purple to yellow at the edges.
“I never would have guessed the way you went up that ladder.”
“The pain doesn’t affect me, it’s the healing that does. The time. I’m too impatient. I need to be on the roof. My crew is still too green – one guy lost a panel off the front gable of a place in Oak Bay. Do you know how much a 400-watt panel is?
“Well, I did buy a system from you and all.”
“I know, I know, Dave but you paid retail, and I cut you a deal for your system because I liked you. You were the first guy to call and actually compliment my work. I appreciate that kind of thing. Thank you, Dave. But too many people call, and it's just tax deduction this, rebate who—save the earth? Sheeeet. What a crock. I’m not trying to save the earth, Dave. It’s not even cost effective to put this shit up yet.” Simon got up from the picnic table and started pulling at the leaves of an apple tree. “The carbon footprint to build a system is by far greater than any energy you’re going to save. It just makes people feel good, plus it’s great curb appeal. Jones-ing, people are Jones-ing, all looking over their shoulders at their neighbors.”
Dave’s neighbors to both sides of him had put panels up last year. They did not use Simon’s company.
Past the trees and across the creek, a double level bus cruised down the long arm of a highway on-ramp. The dull roar of traffic was ubiquitous behind the calls of birds. A motorcycle revved its engine and then screamed ahead.
“I broke my arm riding with a group of guys out near Port Renfrew. I was taking a turn too hard and laid the bike down, skidded into the ditch. The bike was fine; it was me who was banged up. I had my suit on though so I was fine for rash.”
“I’m glad it was just your arm. Could have been worse. Have you fallen before?”
“I’ve fallen once before, but that was when I was in the air force. That was almost ten years ago now, and I was a dumb kid on a country road. I didn’t go so fast then, but lots of road-burn and a bruised ego.”
“I didn’t know you were in the air force. What did you do?”
“I worked in navigation during Afghanistan. Three tours. Those bomber planes you hear about have crews of guys up there guiding the planes. I wasn’t a pilot, I was one of the goons supporting them.”
He finished off the beer he was drinking and set the glass down hard on the old table. It settled firmly in to a thin layer of moss. “When I watch war movies I just fast forward through them. It’s phony. I’ve seen real shit, and it’s nothing like that. I figure, what the hell. They all die in the end, might as well move things along. I just fast forward to the part when the meathead in the bomber jacket gets the girl, and then I put on a Planet Earth documentary. I like watching the things in the oceans. Just beautiful.”
“I haven’t watched a film in years.”
The two remained in silence for a while. A herd of cars accelerated at the intersection just over the hill. The light must have turned green.
“You’ve ever read Hells Angels? By Thompson?” Simon asked.
“No, I haven’t. I don’t read much.”
“Sure. Well, these Angels got started after the Second World War. Some of ‘em were pilots, some not, but they’d been through it. Seen the real shit and felt the wide open, the real speed. When you see that, you can’t just go back to the wife and kids, go back to the job selling insurance. So these Angels just started riding around terrorizing people and themselves.”
“Yeah I’ve heard of them. But, they’re much more than just a biker gang now. I think they have their fingers in a lot of stuff.”
“Exactly, so they’re like me and you in that way. They have to have a hustle to live in this world. I peddle solar panels. We’re just hanging out on fast forward now aren’t we?”
“Not me. I work for my father-in-law. We sell cars.”
“But the thing is they got it wrong with all the aimless chaos, turning into criminals, and it’s almost cliché and a slap-in-the-face to humanity.”
“You ever just stop using the names of the week, Dave? The days—
like stop thinking tomorrow is Monday and just think of it as the sun rising and falling, the earth circling the planet. Night and day are illusions in some way, it’s just the positioning of the earth to the sun, turning as it does as it rotates. Seasons the same. And so each day is a brand new situation that the universe has never seen. No case of the Mondays. No weekends, just a new ever-coming, ever-presenting present happening now.”
“I’ve never thought of it that way. I look forward to the weekends so I can relax with Stacey. Go out on the boat on my days off.”
“Sure, Dave, you’re not seeing the big picture. See, you’re tethered to it, this idea that’s been conditioned in you since childhood. Reinforced through education.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Dave, do you think that the person who invented the Frenched fry was tethered? Or did that chef think of something entirely new?”
Dave shrugged his shoulders. His arms had drifted up to his chest and folded.
Simon rubbed his face and scratched his nose. He started talking real slow. “War, like a lot of things, can free your mind because it breaks you free from the conditioning of society and the hang-ups of civilization. It’s the horror, the horror of it and the dramatic shift from the civil modality and what you’ve come to expect of reality. Unstructured chaos. No civility. The maiming and killing of innocent people for the sake of dominion over land, resources and geographical positioning. A rational, decent person cannot process the injustice, the brute archaic logic of it, the indignation of it all.”
“Ok,” Dave said softly, the dread starting to come over him like when his father started in over Christmas about Trump and some swamp.
“They had a gift, those Angels. It’s just so anthropocentric and typical of them to do what they did. Turn into monsters. Almost like children retaliating against their mother after learning that Santa isn’t real. Their scope was so simple, predictable. They were wounded so they wounded other people. They wanted to wound God. They lost their innocence, and so they took the innocence from others.”
“Ok, Simon, I’ve heard enough. Thanks for—“
“The Angels could have elevated themselves to The Great Art, all of them a moving average—to be the Creators. To walk in love. They could have realized themselves as the gods they already were before the war. They c-could—? Dave, Dave?”
“Yeah, I’m listening to you.” Dave stood up and walked a few yards away and bent down over a grape vine.
“Do you hear me though, Dave, I mean really hear me?”
“I hear you, Simon, it’s just that I’ve been suffering from this awful tinnitus since Covid.”
“Yeah, ringing in my ears. I can’t hear some things, other things it hurts to hear.”
“Mine were like that when I got back from my tours, but I heard everything.”
Dave grabbed at a cypress tree and kicked some mulch. “Say Simon, what’s that DMT you were talking about? Is that some kind of drug?”
“It’s a business man’s lunch,” said Simon.
“It’s a food?”
“Listen Dave, I have to meet another client, and I’m late. Your system is pulling now. I can email you the diagnostic report. About that leak, well we weren’t on that side of the roof, so I’m afraid we cannot claim responsibility.”
“Okay, Simon. I appreciate it, thanks.”
Simon turned to go but then hesitated and turned around. “Hey listen, Dave, I’m going to leave you with something, Dave, something that stuck with me when I first started thinking about things. It’s a koan, Dave. You know what a koan is? It's a device Buddhist monks have used to attain enlightenment. This is the koan, Dave.” Simon paused for a second, composed his tone. “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
“You need two hands to clap, Simon. Otherwise, it’s not a clap at all,” Dave yelled to him, but Simon was already in his truck.
* * *
After mowing the lawn Dave sits in the fresh grass and drinks a few Coors lights. It’s nice to see the wind move in the willow tree and the branches of the apple tree. He doesn’t mind the highway behind it all. The traffic and the whine of the motorcycles are just a thrumming in the distance. He can’t hear the screams of the motorcycles out there climbing the dark roads following some direction to distant places he’s never seen. It’s a good calm ringing now. The grass is cool. The house will be warm and Stacey is making dinner. Tomorrow is Monday. John Sanders and Matthew McPherson will be at the car lot. On Mondays they wash the cars. Carol Larson will have his messages and client list ready on his desk.
* * *
“Dave, what are you doing? Didn’t you hear me?”
He sees Stacey. His ears are ringing louder than they ever have before.
“Oh Stace, I must have dozed off.”
“Well it’s dark, Dave. Come up to the house.”
“I was having this strange dream.”
“Of what? Grass clippings in my laundry?”
“No, it was of this woman or a man, both at once – someone, something standing over a garden with all these arms, and in some arms she was tearing out all the vegetables and flowers, and in the other arms she was planting them and watering them.”
“What woman now, Dave?”
“But she was also a man, too, and they were singing a song, but it was too much to hear. I didn’t understand it.”
“Come on, Dave.”
“They looked right at me, and it wasn’t a song or sound at all, but she pushed it at me, and I knew it couldn’t be one without the other – the birthing and killing. It was like she had always been at the far back of everything. And it’s all just, just happening.”
“Let’s make it happen inside.”
Stacey shushes him and grabs his arm, and they walk to the house. Behind them is the thrumming of the highway, motorcycles moving in the darkness.