Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dense Like Me

He awoke, of his own, natural, accord, to the sunshine and the glow coming off of the snow. Not having a watch or a clock, he didn’t know the time; he didn’t have either of these things for as long as he could remember, and for as long as he could remember he didn’t know the time. Jackson had been in this cabin, one he built for himself, in the green, thriving woods of northern Michigan for what seemed like a very long time.

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It might have been such, he just couldn’t know for sure, as he stopped keeping track of the days long ago. Then again, what makes a long time is wholly subjective when time is essentially obsolete. Whether it was half past 2 in the afternoon or a quarter to 6 in the morning…it does not matter, because among the tall trees everything seems to stop as if the cold has frozen the gears of time together. Jackson felt like he could empathize with such an idea as he got out of bed and stretched his creaking limbs and smoothed over his beard with the back of his hand.
The cabin was very small and subdued. It was the only structure for miles around, yet it did not stand out in any particular way, in such a way that some might call it bland, and others, cozy or traditional. It consisted of a small bedroom with a window facing the direction of the river, a window which always let the sunlight through in uncomfortable patches when the blinds were down but open.
There was also a small kitchen with a beaten old stove and a stainless steel sink with little pieces of rusted metal which had peeled off various pots and pans. There was no immediate need for him to clean that sink up, so the little pieces always continued to float around like flotsam and jetsam in the lukewarm water.
Finally, there was a small table with a flimsy-looking wooden chair tucked underneath it. The chair looked very old. Jackson often thought how he would not be surprised to know that there were termites in the limbs of that old chair. He had lots of time to think about things like this.
The table had a few things on it: some books and a few empty notebooks. Jackson always hoped that the books would say something to him, personally and directly, that would inspire something of his own worth committing to paper, an inspiration pushing him towards a new direction and perhaps even reform. However, as mentioned, all the notebooks he had brought with him, back when he had decided to stay out here for good, remained empty. He liked to think that something would be there before all was said and done; hopefully long before that.
That was the cabin. It was certainly not much to look at, but who was looking anyways? One can always find a way to rationalize anything away.
Jackson walked to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of black coffee (he had no sugar) and took it with him as he walked out the door in his rough denim pants and a thin white shirt. The sun was out and it was very bright. As he stood there, his steel-toe boots sunken in the snow half a foot down, the cold air and the bright light emanating from above and reflecting from underneath him, he felt that peculiar crispness that made him feel alright despite the fact that he was outside in a t-shirt. The crispness of that time of day and that time of year, which he had come to know over time, was one time when he felt there was something inside him worth looking at. He was not too sure. The cold air cycled through him, from nostrils to lungs and elsewhere, cold and pure oxygen temporarily quenching an uneasy sense of frustration radiating from his stomach, a visceral dilemma which often drove him to reassessment. He watched the steam rise up from his mug in the light.
He had not been here forever; no, not forever, of course, although it might as well have been. It was not worth thinking about, Jackson felt, because he was there and what’s done is done. But, yet, he could not help it, as is nature, the human nature.
The coffee was very bitter, but its warmth gave him strength as it matriculated through his body, down his throat and into his stomach, all the while giving him a kick to the brain. It felt fine to be out there in the sun with the white snow, alert but apathetic, not bound to anything in particular. If it wasn’t for the cabin, he might as well have been driftwood.
Jackson felt obligated to do something with the momentary rush of intracranial stimulation. He went inside and put a coat on after setting down his mug on the table with the books. His hands and his cheeks were red from the cold, he just noticed.
He walked out through the snow and into the woods down towards the river. The snow on the tree branches fell as he tapped them, falling down in clumps and the remainder fluttering down like so much dust suspended in the air. The sunlight shot between the trees and illuminated this downpour, threatening to melt it in midair, cutting it’s marvelous descent short. A rabbit dashed across the snowy patch before him, perhaps in pursuit but more probably in flight. It’s ears were pinned back like wings, and before long he lost it in the great white.
His small wooden vessel was standing up against a tall fern tree trunk that seemed to defend it from nothing, but just in case…
With great vigor, Jackson moved the small canoe away from the tree trunk, setting it with the keel down on the tightly-packed snow. He could see his breath before his face as he labored, picking it up from one end, dragging it through the snow towards the river, about thirty feet away from the tree. He was breathing heavily but kept it up until he reached the very edge of the cool water. He set the end which he had been dragging down into the water and went around the other way to push the back end into the river. Slowly, the canoe edged into the water with his help, and he jumped in before it got too far so that he didn’t get his boots wet. Drifting, he took the oars back down underneath his feet with the intention of simply sitting for a while.
Jackson sat out there in the cold. He couldn’t imagine how it might be if he, by chance, fell in that water, in that river out there amongst the emptiness. The thought made him tremble slightly, making him wish he had another cup of coffee to wrap his stiff fingers around.
Chunks of ice floated about the river, some seemingly as big as him, as if he could lay across them and get back to land if the need arose. They were like little islands, once much bigger that they were now, beaten on by time, the Sun, and the cyclical nature of the seasons. In this way, you could say the river was Pangea, over and over again. In a funny way, Jackson felt like one of those icy islands sitting out there, floating around aimlessly, roasting. He was so cold, the air piercing through him and his clothes as if they were made of some sort of sieve-like paper, that he felt like he might as well have been an iceberg, even just a small one. Yeah, an iceberg. That’s the way to be. Jackson laughed loudly to himself. He laughed even louder a second time because he knew nobody could hear him.
An iceberg…yes. An iceberg. A part of a larger sheet of ice, maybe even the whole river. Then it, the larger sheet, breaks off into smaller pieces. They drift and they drift, not knowing where they go, and eventually, they get tired and melt away, becoming a part of the water they perched on for so long in a token of reciprocity of the basest kind. It is a graceful disappearance, an exit by dissolution into its maker, a necessity in order to give birth unto itself another time. The whole thing was so noble if you really thought about it right. Jackson wanted to say things were not so basic, but truly, they were and are. Jackson thought about this, and hard. None of it warmed him, but it reminded him of where he was, sometimes literally but other times not. He fought the urge to jump out of the boat. The Sun shone down on him, reflecting off a piece of ice in such a manner that he had to look away. He looked back after the light’s intensity had declined like the tides of the ocean. For a moment, he saw a face in the ice, a face from long ago of someone who might have been anywhere. The Sun disappeared behind a cloud.
Jackson sat in the boat, stretching his legs out onto the empty seat on the other end of the boat. The vessel floated on straight and true, past the ice with a fleeting, beautiful face, a visage comprised of the elements, elements that had long left Jackson. The retrospective view was his fate. Jackson thought about grace and exits, and how he said no to it all; all this as he floated to the edge of the world or the end of the river, whichever came first.
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