out of the ashes

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dear Marvin,

It's been FOREVER, it seems, since I've posted. Was thinking today about dear Marvin, lol. So, I hate the cover of The Dance of the Spiral Virgins, but mainly because I used Picassa to add the text to Meli’s great pic (thanks, Meli). The spine and back cover are pure white as well. Yech. Worse, though, I dislike the title I gave to the book I slaved over for all those years. Originally it was titled The Redemption of Marvin Fuster. I mean, that was way back in 1998! During classes at school I changed it to The Geneticist, but no one seemed to like that at all, lol. So back it went to Marvin.
I communicated as much concerning the title to dear Chrisc over there in England this morning. She graciously bought a copy! She told me that after having read it, she, her husband, and their child suggested a few alternate titles. One of them knocked me out! “A Tramp Across Time”. It hit me that not only does the title refer to my beloved “tramp”, Marvin, but has a dual meaning; his tromp across time. Plus, it just has a nice ring to it.
I have to admit, the reason I changed from Marvin to The Dance of the Spiral Virgins was keywords. Virgins. I thought, in my weird way of reasoning, that that word probably would come up high on a search…like Dear Diary and Hell in my ebook short has (I thinkJ). One guy asked me at a forum, “What the hell does The Dance of the Spiral Virgins mean? I can’t picture it.” I’m sure he couldn’t. Neither could I, except for the “dance” and “spiral”, both referring to a vision Marvin has while standing in front of a storefront, looking in at the mannequins; genes swirling and dancing in front of his eyes there in the reflection of the glass. Whether they were virgins or not I have no idea, lol. Ah, who cares.
Soooo…I’d like opinions. I have the new version all up and ready to go once I get it past review at Createspace. I am positive I can go back and change the title before it goes live. Gotta’ get all those old versions off Amazon somehow at the same time.

“Marvin”, or “Dance”, or “Tramp” ain’t Hemingway or Steinbeck, but gosh, it’s good. If anyone else reads it, God knows they might fall in love with my tramp, my indigent dreamer and his friends in high and low places.

I think maybe (other than the Epilogue) the best thing I ever wrote was Marvin’s encounter with Esmeralda in the shower at the Mission (Chapter 9), and the aftermath, (Chapter 10). THAT is MarvinJ They’re below. Can’t give away the ending by putting up the Epilogue, but I will say that dear, dear Cherilyn said something to the effect of “Wow!” concerning the ending wrap up.


Marvin returned later that day with a new sense of purpose to the place he loathed more than the inside of any confessional. The Salvation Army Mission on Tenth Avenue and Bannock. It was only six blocks away from Civic Center Park, and had many years ago been a large private residence covering two full-sized city lots, plus another fifty feet on one side where lawn and flowerbeds and Weeping Willow trees grew in wild abandon. The Army had purchased it a dozen years ago after the eccentric widow—a certain Mrs. Maybelle Stump, who maintained it like a macabre Hollywood movie set—finally left the world for supernatural parts unknown.
An hour after sitting through the reading of the will, her smiling heirs promptly threw it into the hands of a real estate broker, who promptly threw it out to the public listed as “…one of Denver’s finest, charming old haunted houses, with a view of the Pacific.” He meant Rockies.
No one of the Army believed in ghosts, although they were certain, to a Major, that God existed, that He had a Son, and that the Son desired them to buy and renovate the ramshackle dwelling (the home of rats and spiders and cockroaches…and ghosts). They were intrigued, also, by the promise of a stunning ocean view from the west-facing balcony.
The overgrown lawn, the trees that bent their limbs clear to the ground, and the weed-infested flowerbeds disappeared soon after the new spiritual owners got their hands on the deed. The dilapidated wrought iron fence encircling the corner lot was ground up into a huge rusty ball and carted off to the dump.  Inside, moldy carpet was whisked away revealing solid oak floors beneath. A host of memory-laden doors with children’s names etched into the jamb edges and on the six inch-wide casings were treated to sledgehammers, and then lugged away in splinters. Lathe and plaster walls fell in storms of dust, and in their place a grand central dining/gospel room emerged, complete with speckled linoleum tiles that an army (so to speak) of indigents could not possibly damage. 
And an unornamented wooden pulpit.
The pulpit stood imperially, despite its plainness, dead center of the room at one end, between a pair of grand windows that had once belonged separately to two of the six bedrooms of the house, before the wall dividing them was unceremoniously removed. A King James Version of the Bible sat prominently on the top of the pulpit, and it was opened and read from by the major in charge of those souls whose bellies he and his staff had just filled—three times each day.  The same as any of the great preachers of old would have done in his stead.
The issue for Marvin: If you were here in the cafeteria you were obliged to listen to the word of God—and it sometimes included the dreaded book of…


…wherein, “…of the children of…” quickly lost all meaning, except for biblical scholars and genealogy sleuths, of which very, very few sat in the folding chairs in front of the Major. It did not seem to bother the Major during any of these readings that the snoring was often louder than the spoken word of the Almighty.
Marvin tactfully entered the front doors at 4:45 p.m. The Men’s shower would most likely be silent, and another hour would pass before the dinner bell rang.  All he needed to do was slide down the long hall to the admissions desk, wink at Ms. Garcia (who, he imagined, would be manning her post behind it until the Lord either returned, or said phooey to the whole Second Coming idea), and show her how filthy he was. That would be easy enough. Despite his feelings for the mission in general, he had always gotten on marvelously with the attractive little woman. A few times, too marvelously. Though he knew she was quite…no, somewhat religious (A Roman Catholic, of all things, he discovered during the second season of his stay), she sometimes let her tongue slip while working away at the desk behind the counter. He caught her muttering one day—a colorful expletive in four letters. F-Major. The bond between them was born at that instant, and in those leaden days, when fools roamed the halls expounding on every stupid thing under the sun, he visited her at her station frequently for reality checks. Duets of questionable grammatical taste that began andante, and when he was lucky, ended adagio sensuoso.
He liked her.
And so he tiptoed down the long, dark hall to the counter. A fluorescent glow flooded the open space and the dull formica surface—which Marvin always thought made it look like an eerie doorway into a frightening netherworld. Ms. Garcia was lost somewhere inside the bright haze, doing something that caused her to utter a string of F-Majors, soto voce, allegro appassionato. 
Precious thing.
He leaned forward with his hands on the countertop and gazed in at her. There she was, bent over, her trim posterior aimed high, directly at him. Ms. Garcia was tugging right and left, left and right, right and left, at a stubborn drawer stuck in an ancient wooden filing cabinet purchased at the local Goodwill. The motion, but not the swearing, made her appear to be doing a Latin dance step. A Mambo or a Rumba. Her brilliant Mexican Puebla dress, embroidered with stunningly beautiful florals, winding vines, stick people dancing, patterned needlework, and other colorful decoration, draped over her like a splash of moonlight over a garden of roses. Its hem ended just above her calves. All of this would have been ravishing today had there not been thorns on those petite stems.
Lovely thing.
He watched her for a moment or two, wincing at various notes, smiling at her down-to-earth saltiness and the rhythm of her movement. At last he interrupted her.
“Hello, Pumpkin!”
She started, leaving the drawer quarter-opened and cock-eyed, straightening like a balloon stretched over an erupting geyser. Ms. Garcia whirled around to face the voice that had finally caught her defiling the Mission, so close to the sanctuary. Her eyes were coals of dread set beneath almost masculine, thick eyebrows. Her mouth had dropped half-open, exposing the faint beginnings of snow-white, perfect teeth, but within a blink she regained her composure, sighed, and then made a quick sign of the cross. She smiled at Marvin.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God!  Marvin Fooster, you scared me half to death.”
“And you tickled my imagination!” he replied with a wink and a tiny twist of his head. He might stutter and stammer and stand pigeon-toed on his own feet in the presence of Amy whoever, but the older, thicker ice of Ms. Garcia had already been broken.  He was comfortable and at ease around her, like being inside an old pair of shoes—figuratively speaking.
“Essie, I need a shower.  I gotta’ go shoppin’.”
“Shopping? You?” Esmeralda Garcia, a year or maybe two younger than Marvin, stepped to the counter and put her arms on it, eyeing him impishly. “What for? And with what? You don’t look like you’ve come up very far from where you were last time I saw you, Marvin, mi diablo pobre.”
“I can’t tell ya’.” Marvin leaned forward and placed his own arms onto the countertop close to Esmeralda’s, his nose close enough to hers to catch her rising, warm exhalations.
“Tell me why,” she cooed, “or I won’t let you in. You will have to go back to the gutter you crawled out of and wash up there. What is it you’re up to, you rascal?”
“Essie, my delectable pumpkin…” He glanced at a stick figure on her shoulder, dancing across the fabric of her dress. The strange little boxy head and starred eyes made of stitching. The enigmatic little smile on its thread mouth. “…My little Mexican dancer, I can’t give ya’ all the details. You’d croak. I just gotta’ clean up, that’s all. Can I use the shower? Please, sweet-cakes?”
Esmeralda giggled. “My. I am pumpkins and ballerina…and what else? Well, I suppose so. Clean up…Madre de Dios. What next?” She leaned across the counter and checked the hall in both directions, biting the edge of her small lip. Ten feet away the entry doors to the cafeteria stood closed. Across the hall lit by the afternoon sun squeaking through the small glass panel of the rear exit door, the men’s bath lay. Beyond that, the women’s, and nearest the rear of the building, the office of Major Jeremiah Forsythe.
“What’s the matter, plum lips?”
Esmeralda withdrew her face into the room and looked at Marvin. “He’s gone. Hurry, then. Go take your shower.”
“What does it matter if he’s here or gone?” Marvin asked.
Esmeralda scurried out of the room, grabbed his elbow, and tugged him toward the bath.
“None at all, Caramelo. None at all. I’ll get you a fresh towel. Hurry. Go, go now!” She shooed him to the door and then left for the linen dispensary, a wide, deep cabinet set into the hall wall between the men’s and women’s baths. 
Marvin stood for a moment at the door and watched her. He shrugged, then opened it inward with a squeak of the hinges.
Nothing much had changed, he noticed. The sofa with a tear in the fabric to his left just inside the door was still there. A plain, rectangular table between two slip-covered, overstuffed chairs against the wall opposite the door and the sofa. Atop the table a clear plastic rack containing a wealth of brochures and tracts reminded those who used the facility why they were using this bathroom and shower, and not the one they might have had in a home or apartment of their own. Above the table the venetian blinds covering the lone window had been drawn closed three-quarters so that a narrow sheet of light with gently moving specks of dust lit the room in a somber glow.
Marvin closed the door behind him and walked to the room adjacent, a long narrow space where three stalls stood. Their plastic curtains were drawn open, tucked inside the smooth, painted cement curbs. On either side of the framed opening, two rows of industrial-d├ęcor sinks stood supported by thick, scratched chrome legs. Behind each sink a long mirror with a narrow shelf beneath it provided a starkly functional shaving station for the transient boarders. 
He peeled off his coat and shirt and tossed them onto the edge of the sink to his right. The pants, cinched close to his hips by the wire, went next, followed by his ratty boxers. He left them on the floor, moving white and naked to the middle stall, thinking how nice it would feel to be clean again. It had been a long time—three months, soon—since his last sojourn into this room. But back in April he had shared the pleasure of a hot shower with Simon the opera singer, and cringed at each flat note. The other shower had been occupied by someone he had never met, who was dispelling bursts of noisy gas in a consistent way, maybe a metronomic accompaniment to Simon’s serenade. Outside in the anteroom there had been scattered clips of conversation among the men who anxiously, or not, waited their turns.
This afternoon they were elsewhere, gone from the building to do what they were best or worst at. The opera singer, he hoped, had found a choral group of like-voiced crooners—the impresario of oom-pah maybe a bottle of Beano, somewhere far away.
The only sounds came from the showerhead whistling the pleasant notes of steamy-hot water, and the gurgling of the drain beneath his feet. Standing with his arms crossed over his chest, his hands resting on his shoulders, his head leaning backward to catch the water splattering the grime from his face, he began to wonder about the woman whose name was Amy for the hundredth time today. What would she think of him dressed in a brand new suit, with shiny black shoes, and a clean-shaven face? Would it make much difference? In reality? No. But then, what?
I’m gonna’ reverse my age.  Did I say that?  Yeah, I think I did.
And pigs are going to fly to the moon.
He finished the job. The water went silent, save the final elongated whoosh down the drain, and Marvin stepped out, clean and ready to shave the gray stubble away. He lathered at the sink, contemplating the striking image staring out at him from the cloudy mirror, hollow-eyed, with skin like baked leather.
He stopped for a moment, holding the razor an inch from his cheek.
But…what if I could do it?
           He laughed.
           Insane.  Just go steal that new…but, what if?
Marvin felt as though he was suddenly drifting off into a dreamscape. His vision glazed. The face in the mirror smiled out at him, but it wasn’t exactly the one he knew as himself. The features were close, he could see, but the face was that of a fifty year-old gentleman. The line of a white collar and neat knot of a tie shimmered in the misty surface at the bottom edge of the reflection. The hair was light brown—but brown it was, indeed—with salt and pepper at the temples. The eyes sparkled instead of lolling lifelessly, like those of a dead fish floating at the top of a stagnant pool. As he stood there staring at the image statue-like, a thread jiggled in his brain. A thread, that is what it felt like, he thought. Uncomfortable and squirming through the ruffles and folds inside his head. The image in the mirror vanished behind a series of numbers and symbols as the thread coiled and then uncoiled, slithering about. He recognized what had appeared in front of him as a formula, or a theory of some sort written on a blackboard, but what it meant or signified he had no idea. But then again, it hit him, he did; something to do with genetic structure.
Genetic structure? I’ve never even heard of the term before…
A noise from the doorway caused Marvin to blink, once, twice, three times in quick succession. The Marvin he knew so well had returned by the last flutter. He shook his sopping head of hair, sending an afternoon flurry of showers in all directions, and turned full-face in the direction of the sound. Esmeralda stood five feet away, holding a white towel that draped over her arm with her mouth wide open. He was not Errol Flynn, not even Karl Malden, and he was naked. Esmeralda’s round brown eyes shifted downward, and a faint smile crept upward, replacing the first reaction of surprise.
“Oh my goodness.”
Esmeralda Garcia did not turn away. Marvin followed the laser line of her sight, then covered himself with his hands. He looked back up at her and smiled sheepishly.
“I forgot about the towel. Stupid me,” he explained.
“How did you think you’d dry yourself, silly boy? You did not know I would return with this?” she said holding the towel up. “I think you did.” Her Latin smile grew.
“No…I mean, I don’t know. I was thinking of more important things. I guess.”
“Than drying off?  You are playing with me, you devil, you.”
Marvin began to back up, in the narrow lane between the showers and the sinks, toward the wall abutting the central hall. Esmeralda stepped forward, matching his tentative steps with two of her own.
“No, no I’m not. Honest Injun’.”
Esmeralda had closed the gap and was preparing to lasso him with the towel. “Then you would like to, wouldn’t you Marvin Fooster?” She emphasized the word wouldn’t. Another step. She was within striking distance, now. The towel went up; a set of barbells, two castanets linked by fluffy, white lust, the arms and hands of a referee signaling, “TOUCHDOWN!”
Marvin closed his eyes and prayed.  
“Ms. Garcia! Where are you?” a booming voice demanded from the hallway.
He shot them back open.
“Madre de Dios!” Esmeralda whispered in shock.
No, just Major Jeremiah Forsythe, returned from his meeting with Madre de Dios’ son. Dios el mismo.
“Queeck, Marvin,” she said. “The window!”
           Marvin glanced over her shoulder to the far end of the shower room.
           “I’m naked!”


Esmeralda reacted first, moving in place like the vibration of a perfectly tuned and taut violin string until she snapped, which sent her flying in four directions at once. Her delicate arms and hands were a blur as they snatched the trousers, the boxers, the tee shirt and trench coat in a singular movement that would have made an electron blush with envy.
Marvin stood galvanized momentarily—in reality only a half second. He had no real fear of the Major, in fact, a disdain for him, but on the other hand he saw nothing pleasant in greeting a uniformed man six inches taller than himself, dressed like a newborn baby.  How would he shake his hand?
Esmeralda was at the narrow window by the time Marvin forgot his nakedness, raised his arms into the sprinters position, and dashed forward. She had the sash raised and the clothes and towel thrown out long before Marvin arrived shaking his head ferociously.
“No!” as softly as he could scream.
“Yes!” This uttered in a whisper, but with an emphatic movement of her lips that projected it as powerfully as a diva’s leap to the highest note. All the while her arms and hands were that locomotive blur, urging him on, and her face as stony-terrified as a statue on a sepulcher. The tension was infectious—even the little stick men’s faces on her gown were etched in terror.
The open window was little wider than a mouse door. God knows what lay outside. It could be dirt. It could be weeds. It could be a pile of broken liquor bottles. If that were not enough, the windowsill was four feet off the floor. Even at eighteen years old, a clean exit at full stride would have required months of training and a hundred stitches along the way. He stutter-stepped at three feet away.
Hail Mary, full of…
And then he leapt.
Marvin cleared the sill in an Olympic diver’s pose; head lowered, arms outstretched and pointing, eyes closed tight at the last second.  He cleared the sill, with the half of him that ended at his stomach, that is. Physics demanded a higher velocity, a body knifing straight and level at mach 1. When he hit, there was a loud sound.  Air escaping from a punctured tire. A Phooomph! And a frightening paralysis as his lungs tried helplessly to obey the frantic messages from his brain to re-inflate.
Esmeralda reacted to Marvin’s tragic miscalculations as though she’d swallowed the mouse. The unexpected, the unthinkable, her Marvin laid out like a slab of uncooked bacon there on the edge of the frying pan. She quickly regained her composure and took hold of his ankles. With a grunt, she heaved upward and tossed him out, into the fire.
The window slid back down before he landed. 
He prepared himself in that split second as he tumbled head under heels and breathless, for impact. Jagged glass awaited him, at best. The remains of a weed, at worst, the thick stem hacked off six inches above the ground, ready to enter his back and pierce his heart.  Goodbye, cruel world.
Something quite unexpected happened instead.
He slowed, the gentle press of something that felt like fingers on his buttocks and back acting as a brake. More than the sensation of slowing, the electric-like tingling from whatever it was on his bare skin stunned him as surely as if he had fallen onto live wires. He opened his eyes, glancing to his right where the appendages and the jolt seemed to originate. What he saw shook him even more. For a fleeting instant the run of trees fifteen or twenty feet away at the property line melted into the emerging outline of a shimmering body, a mirage of luminescence shot through with gold. Marvin saw a face—the face of the creature who had visited him in the hospital— and in the face a myriad of eyes; sapphire and emerald and ebony, moving at random, independent. They danced and eddied as they peered down at Marvin, like dyes sprinkled in water, dissipating in ribbons swirling in its swift current. He might have mistaken them for a simple illusion of fright except for the length of sparkling dark hair falling down in the forward leaning of the creature’s torso. It was the same creature; there was no doubt in his mind, something ethereally real; the definitions of a face, the hair, the shoulders and broad, ivory-colored chest. But the most astonishing of all of it, this apparition, this—thing—had those enormous white wings that suddenly rose and spread as he lay Marvin down in the grass. It was him—or maybe her.
Oh Jesus, sweet Christ, it’s the angel again! I’m goin’ nuts!
He lay for a moment in the soft green, straining to make some sense of it, to comprehend the impossible, feeling the nerves in his body still racing from the touch of it. His eyes were locked on the angel, on Anselm, though he could know nothing of who this creature actually was, or what was really happening to him. 
The wings! Like those of a Peregrine or a Golden eagle.  Extended now. Perhaps this feature, this fluctuating, menacing possibility of power, mesmerized the naked man lying on his back in the grass most thoroughly.
Anselm shifted and spread them fully as he began to raise his head slowly away from Marvin. Marvin’s mouth fell open at the sight of the wings, and he drew in a deep convulsive breath as though it was the first of his life. He could see clearly, perfectly, in that second that lasted infinitely—the lights of Anselm’s eyes twinkling like bulbs on a Christmas tree, his lips forming words without sound.
The threads inside Marvin’s brain came alive as he stared.
Anselm at length began to back away, speaking through rushes of air between the two of them, speaking in threads, smiling. He rose upward as he left, a mist congealed into awe-filled form that passed through the branches of the trees and caused them to rustle and glow. And then he disappeared.
Marvin continued staring in a trance, that state of bewilderment of primeval man visited by gods in shadowy forests, or late at night in showers of meteors. The thread inside him began to squirm and coil relentlessly, and posit possibilities.  He felt its movement, eliciting a growing discomfort. Not exactly pain, more like an invasion of tiny, foreign insects. Ants crawling. Bees tracking busily inside the hive. 
These frantic little footsteps—the voice of the angel; the words he had spoken that had no sound, confusing, drawn from a vocabulary of a different universe.

            Marvin Fuster, what if…? 
            This is what you are to do... 
           Marvin Fuster, you will go...
           She is here, and we are watching her.
           Desire.  Imagination.  Faith.
Compressed, confusing but emphatic in their coiling, pricklingly intense grip.
Amy’s angelic face was intertwined in the lilting melody of prodding questions and instructions, wrapped by a dress of figures and motifs, something like Esmeralda’s, but colored instead with impossibly long and complex numbers, square roots, to-the-hundredth-powers, symbols…genetic code. Her image was there, walking in a black dress along a street in a far and distant land, orbited by the numbers, the words, helixes and light. Amy, the woman of a dream, was dressed in his youth, extending her hand toward him clearly now.
Through the window above him Marvin heard an exchange of indistinct words, and the threads vanished. He peered down at his naked body, and then rolled over. He gathered his clothes, such as they were, and slipped along the wall of the Mission to the alley to dress. As he pulled the foul-smelling trousers on, tugged the spotted tee shirt over his head, the creature’s words echoed. 
Here is what you will do. Here is where you will go…
Marvin took the first steps into his future, down the alley, in the direction of a neighborhood close by.

(c) Patrick Sean Lee 2012