David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
Old Man and the Bird

 THE OLD MAN AND THE BIRD

 

a novel

 

Harry Ricci was very rigid on a summer lawn chair.  His daughter Mary was just to his right and less rigid.  She was smoking a cigarette.  She had just said something.  Neither was very sure what she had said.  It seemed more important to observe the gravel at their feet.  When the cars negotiated the gravel there was a distinct sound.  There were other sounds in the street.  They were often made by cars, but the sounds of the cars there were different from the sounds the cars made on the gravel.  There were many particulars.  There was the particular of Mary's cigarette.  There was the particular of the gravel.  Mary and Harry Ricci were very tight in a glass cubicle, so to speak.  Mary said something.  Perhaps it was what she had said previously.  Perhaps it was a comment on the gravel.  Neither was certain.

     "How do you feel, daddy?  How is the pain?"

     "It's not the pain."

     "What is it then?"

     "It's the gravel.  It's very particular."

     "Yes."

     Harry Ricci was dying of an indeterminate illness.  Sometimes he had difficulty swallowing.  There were other symptoms but none as particular or compelling.  Harry Ricci could feel the granular texture of the armrests of the lawn chair.  It was very immediate.

     "What are we going to eat for dinner?"

     "I'm not certain."

     "Let's not have dinner.  It's very frightening."

     "Yes."

     The sunlight through the distant dead sycamore was very precise.  Harry and Mary Ricci observed the sunlight in a profound silence.  Mary said something.  Perhaps it was about the sunlight.

     "How do you feel, daddy?  How is the pain?"

     "The pain is everywhere, Mary.  I'm dying."

     "I know.  It's a difficult thing."

     "Could we watch the television tonight?"

     "Daddy.  We could do just about anything."

     "Will they care?"

     "Who are they?"

     "I'm not certain."

     "Perhaps it's better not to talk about it."

     "Yes."

     The dead sycamore was particularly compelling because it didn't look like anything.  It looked like a dead sycamore, but it didn't look like anything else.

     "Where are we going, daddy?"

     "I don't know.  It's very quiet."

     "What do you mean by that?"

     "I can't hear anything."

     "Let's give it up then."

     "What?"

     "I don't know."

     A very large car rumbled past.  It was painful to see for both Mary and Harry Ricci, who were of Italian extraction.  Neither of them liked large cars at that time of the evening.  Mary sometimes suffered greatly at such moments, but her pain was nothing compared to the torment of her father.  She sighed.

     "Winter's coming."

     "Yes.  It's dreadful."

     "Where are we going in the winter?"

     "In the winter?"

     "Yes."

     "I imagine the same place."

     "Will it be fun there?"

     "No."

     "That's what I thought."

     "We think alike, Mary."

     "Yes.  I have often entertained the same thought."

     "I'm choking.  Now it's all right."

     "Good."

     Another very large car rumbled past.  Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on his tongue.  He didn't know what to do with it.

     "It's all right, daddy."

     Harry Ricci spit it on the gravel.  It was very immediate there on the gravel, particular in the late slant of light.

     "I was just thinking."

     "Yes?"

     "Why don't we commit suicide?"

     "I'm having too much fun."

     Yesterday Harry Ricci had cut his finger.  The cut was very repulsive.  Mary and Harry Ricci looked at the cut.  Like everything else it was very immediate.

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were on the same lawn chairs.  It was earlier in the day.  It was a precise day, very pleasant.  There were birds.  The birds made a particular noise, which might have been considered singing or practically anything else.  Harry Ricci was in great pain from his indeterminate illness.  Nevertheless, it would appear that he enjoyed the birds and might well have considered the birds' noise to be singing at this particular moment.  In fact he was about to refer to this when Mary Ricci said something which he neither heard nor understood.  Mary said:

     "Listen to the birds.  The birds are singing."

     Mary Ricci lapsed into silence.  It would soon be time for the mail.  Mary Ricci enjoyed that part of the day, for it gave Harry Ricci a chance to get off the lawn chair.  It gave Harry Ricci a chance to do something purposeful.  It was a pleasant part of the day.

     "Notice the sunlight.  It is compelling."

      "Yes.  I was struck by that."

     "What time is it?"

     "You know I never carry a watch."

     "Yes.  That much is true."

     In the winter there was a wreck in the street.  It was unusual and interesting.

     "Remember the wreck in the street?"

     "No.  I have quite forgotten."

     "Well I suppose it doesn't matter."

     "What makes you think that?"

     "I don't know."

     "You know I like to watch you retrieve the mail."

     "Why's that?"

     "You bend over horribly and tremble."

     "Is that all?"

     "No.  Saliva forms on your chin."

     "And?"

     "And you don't swing your arms.  Your hands dangle from your arms like rubber gloves from wooden poles.  It's interesting."

     "I'm glad."

     "Why is that?"

     "I'm glad you find it interesting."

     "Why?"

     "I'm not sure."

     "What are we having for dinner?"

     "I'm not certain."

     "Well, then I guess we just won't eat."

     "Don't be piqued."

     Harry Ricci began sobbing, a gush of torment.  It was a painful spectacle for a little boy across the street, who was peeping from behind a tree.  The little boy was comely and possibly overly sensitive, considering his age.  His father was a foreman in a large construction company.  His father's name was Abraham, if the boy could be trusted to give his father's name.  The boy's name was indeterminate.

     "What are we going to do, daddy?"

     "Tomorrow?"

     "Yes."

     "Well I imagine we'll sit here."

     "And the day after that?"

     "I'm not sure.  Perhaps we'll sit here."

     "Can't we do something?  Something different?"

     Harry Ricci remained obstinately silent.  A breeze came up.  The grass blew in tufts like hair, so to speak.  Harry Ricci coughed up phlegm but managed with some difficulty to swallow it.  Mary Ricci winced.  The sound of Harry Ricci's swallowing gave her great pain.  A casual observer would have noticed this.  Summer was nearly over.

 

 

 

The pain was greater today.  It was hard to imagine that the pain could be greater than yesterday, but indeed it was greater by a small noticeable increment.  Harry Ricci sat in the lawn chair to the left of his daughter Mary and felt the pain.  It was interesting.  It was immediate and compelling.  It was as immediate and compelling as the gravel at his feet or the light through the distant dead sycamore.

     "Daddy.  I saw a rabbit."

     "Where?  When?"

     "It was a very long time ago.  Perhaps light years."

     "But then you can't remember it."

     "I can remember it very clearly.  It was gray."

     "Did you eat it?"

     "Who would want to eat a gray rabbit?"

     "Oh."

     Harry Ricci shifted nervously on the seat at great expense to his sense of well-being.  The summer was nearly over.  A flock of birds creased the sky, soundless and very tight.  Harry Ricci had trouble seeing the birds.  He saw them in jerks because he had trouble scanning, another symptom of his indeterminate illness.

     "Daddy.  When is Frederick coming home?"

     "Who is Frederick?"

     "I don't know."

     "Why did you bring it up then?"

     "I don't know."

     "Mary, you're a very peculiar girl."

     "Thank you."

     "Why do you say that?"

     "I'm not certain."

     "Neither am I."

     Across the street was the same small boy with the indeterminate name.  He was playing an indeterminate game.  Perhaps it was Mumble the Peg.  It involved a knife.  The knife smelled of earth.  From time to time the indeterminate boy, whose father's first name was perhaps Abraham but couldn't be reached for comment, looked up and across the street at Harry and Mary Ricci.  The little boy's smile was like water, so to speak.  Perhaps he wasn't smiling.  It was difficult to tell at that great distance.

     "He's watching us again, daddy."

     "Who's watching us?"

     "The little boy across the street."

     "I thought he was playing Mumble the Peg."

     "So did I but it's changed."

     "Perhaps he was never playing."

     "Perhaps it was an indeterminate game."

     "Perhaps it was an indeterminate smile."

     "I'm not certain."

     "Everything is indeterminate."

     "Yet everything is particular."

     "And compelling."

     "How was the dinner yesterday?"

     "I don't remember."

     "We ate it."

     "That's all I remember."

     Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into a profound silence.  The little boy across the street gave them the finger.  Perhaps he didn't.  It certainly appeared that way except that it wasn't consistent with the boy's character, and evidence would weigh in the boy's favor as to the part about the finger, particularly if a character witness could be summoned.  Harry and Mary Ricci were still not talking.  In all it was a pleasant day.

 

 

 

It was very interesting for Harry and Mary Ricci to watch the cars when there were cars.  They enjoyed the little boy across the street, but a difference lay in that sometimes Mary Ricci felt vaguely threatened by the boy across the street.  It was late afternoon as they observed the cars.  Harry Ricci said something.  He said:

     "I saw a small red car once."

     "It was Japanese, wasn't it?"

     "I'm not certain.  It might have been made in Japan."

     "I don't like Japan."

     "Why not?"

     "It's so far away."

     "Oh."

     The little boy was a little closer today, a small increment which they both noticed.  He was chewing on a length of string, seemingly ingesting it.  He had brown hair.  His hands were brown from the sun, perhaps from an artificial tanning lotion.  Perhaps they were not brown.  It was hard to tell at that distance.

     "He's watching us."

     "Yes.  The little bugger."

     "You shouldn't say that."

     "Yes.   I suppose I shouldn't."

     " I saw a large green car once."

     "It was Japanese, wasn't it?"

     "No.  Large green cars are made in Detroit."

     "I don't like Detroit."

     "Why not?"

     "It's so far away."

     It was very quiet.  There was a very large bird on the lawn.  The bird was chewing on a piece of string, perhaps a slender white worm.  The bird was partially bald.  It was very ugly.  Mary said:

     "Notice the bird.  It's very compelling."

     "Yes.  The bird is very compelling."

     "How do you feel, daddy?  How do you really feel?"

     "I feel very terrible."

     "But how's your mood?"

     "My mood is good."

     "How is the pain?"

     "The pain is everywhere.  I'm dying."

     "I don't understand."

     "You never understand."

     "That's not true."

     "Yes.  I suppose it isn't."

     The little boy across the street spit a large wad of moist string on the grass.  Harry Ricci swallowed with difficulty.  Suddenly a large quantity of birds descended on the dead sycamore.  They were very large and similar to the very large bird on the lawn.  They were partially bald.  They were particularly compelling and made a dissonant quantity of sound, which both Harry and Mary Ricci found abrasive.  Harry Ricci shifted on the lawn chair and felt the granular texture of the armrests.  He was about to comment on the birds when Mary Ricci spoke up, echoing his thoughts.  Mary said:

     "Listen to the birds.  The sound annoys me."

     "Yes, Mary.  I had the same thought."

     "Well winter is coming."

     "Yes.  They won't be there long.  Anyway, they're dying."

     "Yes.  That much is apparent."

     "It's time for my medicine.  For the pain."

     "What time is it?"

     "Mary.  I never carry a watch."

     "Well the mail will soon be here."

     "Yes."

     "Let's wait until after you retrieve the mail."

     "Yes.  That's the best part of the day."

 

 

 

It was earlier in the day.  Mary and Harry Ricci were seated on the lawn chairs.  The gravel at their feet was very immediate.  Perhaps it was gray.  It was certainly hard, for it was probably stone or some other hard material.  Harry Ricci was thinking about that.  He was thinking about how gravel was invariably hard when you tested it with your fingers.  On the other hand grass was soft.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard on this subject.  He shifted on the lawn chair and thought some more.  The shift was particularly difficult in terms of the injury it constituted to his sense of well-being.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard about the shift.

     "It's so immediate.  Each small stone is immediate."

     "Yes.  I was considering the same thing."

     "Is winter here yet?"

     "No, Mary.  It isn't here."

     "Why are we sitting on these lawn chairs?"

     "I'm not sure.  Perhaps there is nothing else to do."

     "Yes.  That could be the reason."

     "What will we do in the winter?"

     "I don't want to think about the winter."

     The little boy across the street was sitting on the porch of a large frame house.  He was stroking a kitten.  The kitten, of indeterminate origin, was likely female.  It was interesting even at the great distance.  Harry Ricci watched the kitten from the great distance.  He shifted on the lawn chair.

     "He's watching us."

     "Yes.  He's always watching us."

     "What does he want?"

     "I don't know.  Perhaps he wants money."

     "We have no money, Mary.  Very little money."

     "Perhaps he wants our lawn chairs."

     "Perhaps he wants to watch me retrieve the mail."

     "Yes.  But he'll have to wait."

     "Yes.  I only do that once a day."

     "When does the mail come?"

     "I'm not certain."

     "What do you mean you're not certain?  It's very important."

     Harry Ricci remained obstinately silent.  There was a large bird on the lawn.  It was partially bald.  The bird had been there for some time.  Neither remembered the bird's arrival.  Neither expected it to remain.  There were often birds on the lawn.  They seldom remained.  The dead sycamore remained, but the dead sycamore was ugly.  The birds did not remain, yet they were also ugly.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard on this problem.

     "It's all right, daddy."

     Harry Ricci spit on the gravel quietly.

     "I've never told you, daddy, but I like you to spit on the gravel."

     "Really?"

     "Yes.  It's almost as nice as the saliva on your chin."

     "Somehow I find that comforting."

     "Yes.  It's a good world."

     "Yes."

     "How's the pain?  Is it extreme?  Is it difficult?"

     "The pain is extreme, but it is not difficult."

     "For heaven's sake why, daddy?"

     "I'm not certain."

     They lapsed into silence.  The large partially bald bird was suddenly gone.  It had been absolutely still for 3-quarters of an hour and now it was gone irrevocably.  Strangely there was no sadness.  Tomorrow there would be another bird.

 

 

 

Harry Ricci was retrieving the mail.  Mary Ricci was watching intently from the lawn chair.  Harry Ricci's movements might have seemed peculiar to a casual observer.  He propelled himself in small short bursts by first leaning his body forward and then rapidly righting himself with short rapid steps.  His whole body trembled horribly in each increment of motion, in each interval of slumped posture.  His breath came in short taut spasms.  Saliva formed on his chin.

     "Good work.  Good show, daddy.  It's wonderful."

     Mary Ricci was rubbing her short plump thighs together.  She was wearing a rayon skirt.  She was wearing panty hose.  The sound of her thighs rubbing together was quite distinct in the intervals of quiet between the slush of gravel produced by Harry Ricci's scrabbling progress.  It was particular and compelling, a sort of clammy liquid rasp, which complemented the silence over the gravel and the silence over the yard.

     "Just 10 feet to go, daddy.  Be encouraged."

     Harry Ricci was very close to the mailbox.  It was an aluminum mailbox upon a dark green pole.  There was a little dark green plastic strip upon the rounded hinged door.  Harry Ricci could not see the little dark green plastic strip.  In white letters produced by a hand held stamping device were the words: Mr. Harry Ricci.  Harry Ricci made the last 10 feet in 4 short bursts of feverish scuttling.  His feet on the gravel made a sound not wholly unlike the sound of Mary Ricci's thighs rubbing together.  The absence of sound in the intervals of rest and the lapses between Mary Ricci's rubbing thighs was not wholly unlike the sound Mr. Ricci's feet made on the gravel.

     "You made it, daddy.  I'm so excited."

     A large bird appeared on the grass.  Mr. Ricci reached into the aluminum mailbox.  There were no letters.  He pivoted with great cost to his sense of well-being and propelled himself on the first increment of his return trip.  When Mr. Ricci was quite young his mother dropped him into a pail of scalding water.  The pain had been instantaneous and excruciating.  It had been prolonged.  The pain of the scalding water had not, however, penetrated to within his body.  The pain of Mr. Ricci's progress over the gravel was not unlike the pain of the scalding water, with one important exception.  It penetrated his body.  It penetrated thoroughly.  It filled his body.  Mr. Ricci scuttled alone with the pain.  Mary Ricci rubbed her thighs together and uttered small exclamations of indeterminate nature.  Somewhere very distant and remote was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel.

     A large bird ascended from the grass.  Its flight was unnatural, graceless.  It creased the sky in shudders.  Harry Ricci was on the lawn chair to the left of Mary Ricci.  The best part of the day was over.  The bird was gone.  The little boy was gone.  The gravel was present, as was the large dead sycamore.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard about the absence of the bird and the absence of the little boy and of the presence of the gravel and the presence of the large dead sycamore.  Harry Ricci said:

     "The bird is gone, Mary."

     "Yes.  That much is true.  But tomorrow there will be another bird."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were inside.  They were facing each other.  They could see each other.  Mary saw a balding man of perhaps 65, florid puffy features.  Harry saw a 35 year old woman, plump and pale with dark eye sockets.  Between Mary and Harry Ricci was a table.  On the table was their evening meal.  Their evening meal was a large roast beef on an aluminum platter.  There were 2 goblets of rich white milk and a bowl of mashed potatoes.  Harry said:

     "Mary.  We are both of Italian extraction.  Why aren't we eating lasagna?"

     "Daddy, it's simple.  Roast beef is more immediate."

     Harry Ricci had spoken with a full mouth.  Several shreds of minced flesh had adhered to his saliva coated chin.  Harry Ricci had been chewing the same bit of roast beef for perhaps 12 minutes.  He had tried several times to swallow, with no success.

     "Besides, daddy.  It's fun to watch you chew."

     "Why, Mary?  Why is it fun to watch me chew?"

     "I'm not certain."

     "But there must be a reason.  There is a reason for everything.  Jesus Christ told us that."

     "Well there is a reason.  The reason is that you look so absolutely ludicrous and pathetic.  There is invariably saliva on your chin and bits of mulched food.  Jesus Christ was right."

     Harry Ricci reached both trembling hands to his goblet of rich white milk and lifted, sloshing a large quantity of rich white milk over the rim as it jerked toward his mouth.  Harry Ricci tilted the goblet until the rim made contact with his chin.  He poured the milk down over his chin onto the table.  Some of the milk reached the interior of his mouth.  Harry Ricci swallowed.  Mary said:

     "I like to watch you swallow, daddy.  It's fun to watch you swallow."

     "Why, Mary?  Why is it fun to watch me swallow?"

     "I'm not certain."

     "I know.  You like to see the milk slosh on the table."

     "Yes.  Perhaps that is true.  You have made a good point."

     "Perhaps there is justification then for swallowing."

     "Perhaps there is justification then for eating."

     "Yes.  I am suddenly very happy."

     Mary Ricci reached across the table and took Harry Ricci's trembling moist hand.  They lapsed into a deep and profound silence.  Harry Ricci took a second bit of meat and began to chew.  Mary Ricci filled his goblet with rich white milk from a large frosted pitcher.  There was much to be thankful for.

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were inside.  They were in a dark room.  There was a statue of the Blessed Virgin in a niche.  It was lighted with a small florescent tube set in the hollow center.  There was no other light in the room.  There was no light from the television.  Mary and Harry Ricci were watching the television, but there was no light from the television.  It wasn't plugged in.  It hadn't been plugged in for 13 years.  Neither was certain why the television hadn't been plugged in, while both if interrogated might have furnished a satisfactory answer despite their uncertainty.  However, at this point in the lives of Harry and Mary Ricci neither had undergone such an interrogation.

     "Where is the TV Guide, Mary?"

     "I'm not certain.  Perhaps there is no TV Guide."

     "How are we supposed to tell then what we're missing?"

     "We can guess.  Let's guess."

     "Perhaps we're missing a variety show."

     "Perhaps we're missing a situation comedy."

     "No Mary.  I think we're missing a commercial."

     "What sort of commercial, daddy dear?"

     "Perhaps a commercial for Putrex."

     "Have you ever taken Putrex, daddy?"

     "Yes.  Once I took Putrex."

     "What was it like, daddy?"

     "It was like nothing.  Like nothing at all."

     Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into silence.  It was very dark outside.  It was usually dark outside at that late hour, in fact invariably dark at that hour.  It was so dark that had Mary and Harry Ricci been sitting on the lawn chairs they would not have been able to see the large partially bald bird, which was standing on the grass by the distant dead sycamore.  They would not have been able to see anything.

     "When are we going to plug it in, Mary?"

     "What's that, daddy?"

     "When are we going to plug in the television?"

     "I'm not sure."

     "Maybe after I'm dead, you mean."

     "Don't be piqued, daddy."

     Mary Ricci began sobbing, a gush of torment.  The large partially bald bird ascended from the grass.  No one saw the large partially bald bird ascend from the grass.  No one heard the large partially bald bird ascend from the grass.  Perhaps it didn't ascend.  Perhaps there was no bird.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard about this problem.  Harry said:

     "Couldn't I just have a peek?"

     "At what, daddy?"

     "At the TV Guide.  Couldn't I have a peek?"

     "Daddy, I don't want to say this.  But there isn't any TV Guide.  There hasn't been one for 13 years."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the bird.  He thought about the gravel.  He thought about the distant dead sycamore and the little boy with the indeterminate name.  He thought about the mailbox.  He said:

     "Maybe that's why there's never any mail."

 

 

 

Mary Ricci was in a lawn chair.  Harry Ricci was in a lawn chair.  Harry Ricci could feel the granular texture of the armrests.  The gravel was very immediate.  Harry Ricci was looking at the gravel.  Mary Ricci was looking at the gravel.  Neither was sure why they were looking at the gravel.  They both thought long and hard.  Harry said:

     "Why are we looking at the gravel, Mary?"

     "I'm not certain."

     "Perhaps there is nothing else to look at."

     "There is the bird.  Isn't there a bird?"

     Surely enough, there was a large partially bald bird on the lawn.  There were 3 partially bald birds on the distant dead sycamore.  Harry and Mary Ricci shifted their attention to the large partially bald bird on the lawn.  They thought long and hard.

     "Why is the bird there, Mary?  What does it want?"

     "I'm not certain.  Perhaps it wants our lawn chairs."

     Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on his tongue.  Mary said:

     "It's all right, daddy."

     Harry Ricci spit the large unsavory wad of phlegm on the gravel.  The bird on the lawn chair shifted slightly and came to rest in a quite similar attitude, perfectly still.  Mary Ricci shifted her attention from the phlegm on the gravel to the bird.  She had not seen the bird shift its position, and yet she was absolutely certain that there had been a change, however slight, in the bird's position, in the bird's attitude.  She said:

     "The bird has shifted."

     "Yes.  He shifted while you were watching the phlegm."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "Why is the bird bald, Mary?  Why are all the birds partially bald?"

     Mary Ricci considered this problem.  Harry Ricci shifted on the lawn chair at great expense to his sense of well-being.  The pain was an increment greater today, as it was in fact every day that he could remember, ever since they unplugged the television.  Mary said:

     "Partially bald birds are more immediate."

     "Partially bald birds are more particular."

     "Partially bald birds are more compelling."

     "Partially bald birds are more desirable."

     "I don't understand."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  His pain was extreme.  When he was very young his mother had dropped him into scalding water.  The pain of the scalding water was not unlike the pain Harry Ricci felt, ruminating over this difficult problem.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Mary dear.  I think I should like to have carnal knowledge of the bird.  The partially bald bird on the grass."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  The little boy with the indeterminate name was somewhat closer today.  He was playing Mumble the Peg.  Perhaps he was petting a kitten.  It was difficult to tell at that distance.  It was always difficult to tell.

     "This is a serious matter."

     "But first I'd have to catch him."

     "That would be fun, daddy."

     "Yes.  It would be a joy for both of us."

     Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into a deep and profound silence.  Suddenly the large partially bald bird on the grass ascended into the sky.  It was gone, perhaps irrevocably.  Mary and Harry Ricci shifted their attention to the distant dead sycamore.  Those birds were also gone.  There were no more birds.  Perhaps there would never be any birds anymore.  The little boy across the street seemed even closer, perhaps too close.  Life was becoming difficult.

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were on the lawn chairs.  Mary Ricci was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  She was smoking a cigarette.  She would take a bite and chew it thoroughly and swallow.  She would take a drag off the cigarette.  When she first started the cigarette had been very long and thin.  Now it was very short and thin.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwich was about gone at this point.  She offered the remnant to Harry Ricci.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Thank you, Mary.  I think I'll pass."

     Mary Ricci frowned.  She placed the remnant of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the pocket of her blouse.  She mulched the last of the cigarette on the gravel at her feet.  She picked up the filter tip and put it in her blouse together with the remnant of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  It was a red blouse.  It showed her nipples.  Mary Ricci's nipples were very large and ugly.  Mary Ricci didn't care.  She didn't care about anything.  She had given up caring a long time ago, ever since they had unplugged the television.

     "Mary, can I say something?"

     "Yes, daddy.  You may say anything.  You may even say the Lord's Prayer.  I don't mind.  You know me."

     "Mary, your nipples are showing.  They are very large and ugly."

     "Daddy, I don't care.  I don't care about anything.  I gave up caring a long time ago."

     "When was that?"

     "When we unplugged the television."

     "That was a long time ago."

     Harry Ricci had something in his hands.  It was very immediate.  He had a butterfly net in his hands.  He could feel its granular texture.  Harry said:

     "Mary, there are no birds today."

     "Yes, daddy.  There are no birds.  That is a correct observation."

     "Mary.  We've been sitting here ever since I can remember, and there have always been birds, and the birds have always been large and partially bald.  Why are there suddenly no large partially bald birds?  Why in fact are there no birds of any particular description, any species or subspecies, any color, any size or aspect?"

     Mary Ricci considered this problem.  Harry Ricci shifted on the lawn chair at great expense to his sense of well-being.  He was experiencing grave misgivings about the wisdom of holding the butterfly net.  His hands were numb and partially paralyzed.  He had been holding the net for 5 ½ hours.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Why are there no eagles, no wrens, no starlings, no robins, no chickadees, no parrots, no Guinea hens, no ducks, no quail, no fowl of any designation or interpretation?"

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She said:

     "Perhaps they are frightened."

     "Perhaps they are frightened of the butterfly net."

     "Perhaps they are frightened of something vague and unknown."

     "Perhaps they are frightened of our lawn chairs."

     "Perhaps they are frightened of the little boy with the indeterminate name."

     "Perhaps they are frightened of the gravel."

     "Or the distant dead sycamore."

     "Perhaps they are frightened of my express intentions.  With one of them."

     "Maybe that's why they are partially bald."

     "I don't understand, Mary."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She thought about the many birds now come and gone.  She thought about the sycamore.  She thought about the gravel. She thought about the peanut butter and jelly sandwich all gone but the remnant in her pocket.  She said:

     "There are many old men with butterfly nets."

 

 

 

Mary Ricci and Harry Ricci were on their respective lawn chairs.  Both were in a contemplative mood.  They had been sitting there for 2 days waiting for the bird.  No bird had shown.  It was becoming ominous.  In fact the whole landscape in front of them was infused with a peculiar gloom and foreboding.  Harry said:

     "Notice the landscape.  It is infused with a peculiar gloom and foreboding."

     "Yes daddy, it is almost ominous.  I was thinking the same thing."

     "Do you think the bird will arrive?  Will it come today?"

     "How can we ever be certain?  I must confess I'm not sure anymore.  I could cry."

     Mary Ricci began sobbing, a gush of torment.  Harry Ricci shifted.  He shifted his grip on the butterfly net.  Both movements were negotiated at great cost to his sense of well-being.

     "Perhaps we could have a discussion."

     "What's that, daddy?"

     "Perhaps we could discuss the bird.  Its properties."

     "Perhaps we could discuss the little boy with the indeterminate name."

     "Perhaps we could discuss the gravel."

     "Or indeed the distant dead sycamore."

     Across the street the little boy appeared suddenly as if from nowhere.  Neither had noticed his sudden appearance, immediate and particular on the distant lawn.  Both noticed the white string.  He was chewing a white string, seemingly ingesting it.  He was undertaking this operation with unparalleled intensity.  Boy and string were immediate and particular.  Boy and string were compelling.  Harry Ricci said:

     "What about the boy?"

     "Perhaps he's in league with the bird."

     "Perhaps he is the bird."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  A large car rumbled past.  It was painful to see for both Mary and Harry Ricci, who were of Italian extraction.  Neither of them liked large cars at that time of the evening.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard.

     "Perhaps he is partially bald."

     "Mary, I don't want to discuss it."

     "But we must someday, daddy."

     "I'd rather discuss the gravel."

     "Yes.  The gravel is very immediate."

     "Perhaps he is the gravel."

     "I don't want to discuss it."

     From a very great distance came the sound of a large partially bald bird.  The sound was perhaps hostile, ominous.  It came from an indeterminate location, perhaps above the prophylactic factory.  Harry said:

     "Who built the prophylactic factory, Mary?"

     "I thought you knew."

     "No.  I have often wondered, but I have never known."

     "But I thought I told you."

     "Was it the bird?"

     "No daddy.  The boy's father built the prophylactic factory."

     "You mean the boy with the indeterminate name."

     "Yes.  That's why the boy's name is indeterminate."

 

 

 

Mary Ricci was in a lawn chair.  Harry Ricci to her immediate left was in a lawn chair.  They were both in lawn chairs.  They were both looking at the gravel.  Perhaps there was nothing else to look at.  Perhaps it was earlier in the day.  Perhaps it was 3 days later.  There was no bird.  Perhaps this was the reason they were looking at the gravel.  Perhaps it was a large wad of phlegm on the gravel which commanded their attention.  Mary and Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  Mary Ricci said:

     "Daddy.  I don't like the prophylactic factory."

     "For heaven's sake, why?"

     "It's so far away."

     Across the street a little boy appeared on the porch of a large frame house.  The boy's father's name was Abraham.  The boy's name was indeterminate.  Harry Ricci was the first to notice.  Harry said:

     "What does he want, Mary?"

     "Perhaps he wants my nipples."

     "Perhaps he wants the lawn chairs."

     "Perhaps he wants to see you lie with the bird."

     From a vast and impenetrable distance came the call of a large partially bald bird.  Harry Ricci raised his butterfly net in anticipation.  They both waited in a deep and profound silence for about 20 minutes.  Harry Ricci's arms were nearly paralyzed from holding the net.  Harry said:

     "The call was not repeated."

     "Yes daddy.  The call was not repeated."

     "The bird has not appeared."

     "Yes daddy.  The bird has not appeared."

     Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on his tongue.  He spit it on the gravel beside the earlier wad of phlegm.  Both wads were immediate and particular.  Both were compelling.  Harry Ricci said:

     "We can't wait forever.  We can't wait until the end of time."

     "Yes daddy.  We're much too impatient for that."

     The boy with the indeterminate name was closer, suddenly much closer.  He was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Perhaps he was clearing his throat.  It was impossible to tell at that distance.  From a vast and impenetrable distance came the second call of a large partially bald bird.  Perhaps it was the third.  Perhaps neither had heard the second.  It was a difficult problem.

     "Daddy, he's toying with us."

     "The boy?"

     "The bird.  He wants us to suffer horribly.  He wants us to stop living in the present.  He wants to rob everything of its immediacy.  The bird is plotting against us.  It is a conspiracy of great and ominous proportions."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  Suddenly the phlegm on the gravel was less immediate, both the earlier and the more recent wad.  The distant dead sycamore was less immediate.  Harry Ricci was suffused with immense and irrevocable fear.  Their little world was suddenly threatened.

     "What in heaven's name shall we do?"

     "Perhaps there is nothing we can do."

     "But there must be something."

     "We can commit suicide."

     "We can set fire to the prophylactic factory."

     "We can scatter seed."

     Mary Ricci went in for some seed.

 

 

 

Harry and Mary Ricci were on the lawn chairs.  They were infused with an intense awareness.  They were aware particularly of the seed.  There was nothing else on the grass.  There was no bird.  Mary and Harry Ricci were aware of the grass and seed and the distant dead sycamore.  The grass and seed didn't look like anything else.  The distant dead sycamore didn't look like anything else.  Nothing looked like anything else.  Everything was unto itself and immediate.  Mary and Harry Ricci knew this as truly as they had ever known anything.  Nothing could ever take it away, not even the bird.  Harry said:

     "Perhaps the bird does not exist."

     "Perhaps it never existed."

     "Perhaps there is only the grass and seed and the distant dead sycamore."

     Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on his tongue.  He spit it on the gravel.  Mary said:

     "There is the phlegm.  There is the gravel.  There is the phlegm on the gravel."

     Suddenly came a call of a large partially bald bird from an indeterminate direction.  Perhaps it came from above the prophylactic factory.  Perhaps it came from the compost heap on the other side of the prophylactic factory.  Perhaps it came from nowhere.  The sound was particular, immediate and abrasive.  It was compelling.

     "Who built the compost heap, Mary?"

     "Abraham.  The little boy's father.  Abraham built everything."

     "What is the bird doing on the compost heap?"

     "We'll never know.  We'll never know anything."

     Harry Ricci lowered the butterfly net.  He shifted on the chair.  He cleared his throat.

     "Where's the boy?"

     "Perhaps he's working in the factory."

     "Perhaps he's in league with the bird."

     "Perhaps he is the bird."

     "Perhaps he is the wad of phlegm."

     Harry Ricci spit carefully, but not carefully enough.  The second wad of phlegm was on his chin.  It was very immediate and compelling.  Harry said:

     "Which wad of phlegm?  The wad of phlegm on the gravel or the wad of phlegm on my chin?"

     "Perhaps he is all wads of phlegm."

     "But that would mean he is God."

     "No, daddy.  There is only one God."

     "Who is that, Mary?  Where is he?"

     Mary thought long and hard.  She said:

     "His name is indeterminate.  He works in the prophylactic factory."

     "Is he old?"

     "He is quite old."

     "Is he omnipotent?  Is he universal?  Is he all-knowing?  Is he friendly?  Is he in league with the bird?  Tell me quickly."

     "I thought you knew, daddy.  I thought everyone knew about him."

     "But the prophylactic factory is so far away."

     "Yes.  That's why no one likes it."

     "And the prophylactic factory's so hard to get to."

     "Yes.  That's why no one likes it."

     "Well then.  Tell me something about this God.  Anything will do.  Please, Mary."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She thought about the gravel.  She thought about the little boy with the indeterminate name.  She thought about the large unsavory wad of phlegm on Harry Ricci's chin and the large unsavory wad of phlegm on the gravel.  She pondered these things in her heart.  She said:

     "Well, there's one thing about him.  He's dying of an indeterminate illness."

 

 

 

Harry Ricci was stalking the bird.  It was there among the seed, large and partially bald.  It was absolutely still.  Harry Ricci, gripping the butterfly net, propelled himself in short rapid bursts at great cost to his sense of well-being.  He leaned forward and righted himself with short rapid steps.  He stood quivering for extended periods.  His chin was covered with saliva.  His breathing was irregular, short taut spasms.  His arms were nearly paralyzed from holding the net over his stooped body.  He could feel the granular texture of the butterfly net.  He could feel his pain.

     When Harry Ricci was quite young his mother had dropped him into scalding water.  The pain was excruciating.  It was instantaneous and prolonged.  The pain of the scalding water was not unlike the pain Harry Ricci felt stalking the bird.

     "Good show, daddy.  You're almost there."

     Mary Ricci was squirming on the lawn chair.  She was wearing panty house.  The sound of her thighs rubbing together was not wholly unlike the sound of Harry Ricci's breathing.  It was not wholly unlike the call of the large partially bald bird, perhaps many such birds aloft and distant, perhaps hovering over the prophylactic factory.  Mary Ricci was very excited.  She was having the time of her life.

     "You'll make it, daddy.  Just a few more steps."

     Harry Ricci steeled himself for the next burst.  His pain was external.  It was internal.  It was omnipresent.  Harry Ricci was dying.  He knew that this exercise would hasten that death.  Harry Ricci was determined.  Within moments he would be fulfilled.  His life would have meaning.  Death would have meaning.  The large partially bald bird would have meaning.  Soon he would lie with the bird.

     Harry Ricci leaned forward and regained his balance with short rapid steps.  The bird was very near.  It was immediate and particular.  It was smiling.  There was a large wad of phlegm on its breast.

     Mary Ricci was overcome with spasms of feverish excitement.  Her nylon panty hose were smoking.  She was clutching at herself, perhaps her throat, perhaps at hidden secret areas of her torso.  Across the street was a little boy.  He too was clutching at himself.  He too was overcome.  The little boy had an indeterminate name.  He was much closer.

     The sky was darkening.  The sky was ominous.

     "Hurry, daddy.  It's almost time to go in."

     Harry Ricci raised the butterfly net.  He could feel its granular texture.  He took 3 last short bursts of his pain-wracked body, shudders over the even grass.  He swung the net.

     There was a great rending explosion of light.  The sky was cleft.  Mary was touching her cleft.  The bird ascended with ominous dark wings into the darkening sky, shudders of light and dark dwarfing Harry Ricci and his useless butterfly net, dwarfing Mary Ricci thrashing on the lawn chair, dwarfing the gravel and the distant dead sycamore, dwarfing all but the little boy who had regained his composure and was petting a kitten.  Perhaps he was playing Mumble the Peg.  It was impossible to tell at that distance.

 

 

 

Harry and Mary Ricci were inside.  Harry Ricci was in a coma.  Harry Ricci awoke from his coma.  Harry Ricci saw his daughter Mary and he saw the doctor.  He saw the granular white wall of his bedroom.  He felt his pain.  His pain was excruciating.  It was instantaneous and prolonged.  It was not unlike the pain of the scalding water.  He saw the doctor's little black bag and the doctor's stethoscope.  Both were immediate.  Both were particular and compelling.  Mary Ricci said:

     "Daddy.  We almost lost you."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the little black bag and the stethoscope.  He thought about the white granular wall.  He thought about the butterfly net and the large partially bald bird.  He said:

     "Mary.  I think you have made a correct observation."

     "We should never desire to lie with birds, Daddy.  Jesus Christ told us that."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the stethoscope and the little black bag.  He thought about the doctor.  He thought about his pain.  He said:

     "Jesus Christ was right."

     The doctor knelt and examined Harry Ricci carefully.  He stood and nodded gravely.

     "What's the doctor's name, Mary?"

     "Why don't you ask him yourself?"

     "What is your name, Mr. Doctor?"

     "My name is indeterminate."

     "For heaven's sake, why?"

     "Because your illness is indeterminate."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "Can't you give me something for the pain?"

     "I've been giving you something for 13 years.  Ever since you unplugged the television."

     "I know.  The pills are large and brown.  Isn't there something else?  The large brown pills don't work."

     "There is nothing else."

     "Yes, daddy.  You'll have to make do with them."

     "But they don't work.  Nothing works for the pain."

     "Yes.  Nothing works for the pain."

     Harry Ricci's body trembled the covers.  His pillow was moist with saliva.  His pain was overwhelming.  It was instantaneous and prolonged.  It was not unlike the pain of the scalding water.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "But what do you call the large brown pills that don't work?  The large brown pills that never work."

     The doctor frowned.  He checked his watch.  He grinned a very ghastly grin.  The grin was immediate and particular.  It was compelling.  The doctor grinned for perhaps 15 minutes.  Harry Ricci shifted at great cost to his sense of well-being.  The doctor said:

     "These large brown pills are called placebos."

     "But where are they made?  Where do they come from?"

     "Why daddy.  I thought you knew."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "But I thought we discussed it."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She thought about the doctor.  She thought about the saliva on Harry Ricci's pillow.  She thought about the granular white wall.  She thought about the butterfly net and the large partially bald bird.  She said:

     "They come from a great distance.  They are made in the prophylactic factory."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were inside.  They were watching the television.  There was very little light in the room.  It reflected on the pale green picture tube.  Mary and Harry Ricci reflected on the pale green picture tube.  They were indistinct in the reflection, but a casual observer would have noticed that they were on a gray winged back sofa, that there was a pale green comforter covering their knees, that Mary Ricci's hair was in pin curls.  He would have noticed that they had the general aspect of two large partially bald birds.  He would have noticed all this from the light of the pale Blessed Virgin with the small florescent tube in the hollow center.  He would have observed:

     "Notice Harry and Mary Ricci.  Notice their reflection.  It looks like 2 partially bald birds."

     "Did you say something, Mary dear?"

     "No daddy.  That was the casual observer."

     "Who is the casual observer, Mary?"

     "Why daddy.  I thought you knew."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "But I thought we discussed it."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "The casual observer is nearly always with us.  He has an indeterminate name.  He is omnipotent.  He is universal.  He is all-knowing.  He is friendly.  He works in the prophylactic factory."

     "Then the casual observer makes the large brown pills."

     "It follows."

     "But there must be some ominous hidden meaning to all this.  There must be something which if unveiled would fill us with perfect understanding.  Perhaps at the end of time."

     "Well daddy.  You're finally onto something."

     Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into a deep and profound silence.  Their reflection on the pale green picture tube was deep and profoundly silent.  The Blessed Virgin with the florescent tube in its hollow center was deep and profoundly silent.  Everything was deep and profoundly silent.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Why did Abraham build the prophylactic factory?"

     "Why daddy.  I thought you knew."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "But I thought we discussed it."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     Mary Ricci remained obstinately silent.  It was very dark outside, so dark that had Mary and Harry Ricci been sitting on the lawn chairs they would not have been able to see the bird, the large partially bald bird standing on the lawn.  They would not have been able to see its smile.  They would not have been able to see it ascend from the lawn.  The sky was cleft.  May was touching her cleft.

     "Why did Abraham build the prophylactic factory?  Please, Mary."

     "Abraham built the prophylactic factory because the casual observer needed a place to work."

     "But who paid for the prophylactic factory?  Who financed it, Mary dear?"

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She said:

     "No one's really certain."

 

 

 

Mary Ricci was situated on a lawn chair.  Harry Ricci to her immediate left was situated on a lawn chair.  A large partially bald bird was situated on the lawn.  Several large partially bald birds were situated on the distant dead sycamore.  The boy with the indeterminate name was situated across the street.  Mary Ricci, Harry Ricci, bird, birds, and boy were particular, immediate and compelling.  Harry Ricci had just hawked a large unsavory wad of phlegm on the gravel.  Wad and gravel were particular, immediate and compelling.

     "Mary.  It's so good to be alive.  Even with the pain."

     "Even with the pain?"

     "Yes.  Even with the large partially bald bird."

     "Even with the large partially bald bird?"

     "Yes.  Even with the distant dead sycamore and the wad of phlegm on the gravel.  It's so good to be alive."

     "Is winter here yet, daddy?"

     "No.  Winter is not here yet."

     "When is Frederick coming home?"

     "Who is Frederick?"

     "I don't know."

     "Then why did you bring it up?"

     Mary Ricci remained obstinately silent.  The boy, who was now much closer, was petting a kitten.  Perhaps he was playing Mumble the Peg.  Perhaps he was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Perhaps he was giving the finger.  Perhaps he was ingesting string.  Perhaps he was clearing his throat.  It was impossible to tell at that distance.  Mary said:

     "Then there is nothing troubling you, daddy?  Absolutely nothing at all?"

     "Well.  I wouldn't say that exactly."

     "For heaven's sake, why?"

     "Perhaps it's the bird.  Perhaps it is troubling me."

     "I don't understand."

     "Mary.  I should like to end its life."

     "The partially bald bird on the lawn or the several partially bald birds on the distant dead sycamore?"

     "The partially bald bird on the lawn.  See, it's smiling.  You could even say it's grinning."

     Mary Ricci looked.  Surely enough the bird was grinning.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on its breast.  Both the wad on its breast and the wad on the gravel were immediate and compelling.  The grin of the bird was likewise immediate and compelling.  It was sinister.  Mary Ricci thought long and hard.

     "Daddy.  It would be fun to watch you end its life.  But perhaps you never will.  Perhaps the bird is immortal.  Perhaps it is omnipotent.  Perhaps it is universal.  Perhaps it is all-knowing.  There have been many old men who have wanted to end its life.  Many have tried.  None has succeeded.  Perhaps you never will.  Perhaps it was never given to you to succeed in this or any other endeavor.  Look what happened when you tried to catch it."

     "But Mary.  I can feel the hatred growing.  It's a small nugget of flame perhaps kindled by the grin.  It is cruel and biting.  It may spread to a conflagration.  It may consume me."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She thought about the wad of phlegm on the large bird's breast.  She thought about all wads of phlegm.  She thought about many things.  She pondered them in her heart.  She said:

     "Aim for the phlegm.  That's the weakest spot on its body."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were on the lawn chairs.  It was raining horribly.  The sky was cleft.  Mary was touching her cleft.  Neither was certain why they were out in such a torrent.   Perhaps it was the bird.  It would certainly appear that way, even to a casual observer.  At Harry Ricci's feet was a large drum.  It was filled with arrows.  It was filled with water from the downpour.  It was very immediate.  In Harry Ricci's hands was a large Fiberglas bow.  He could feel its granular texture.  There was no bird on the lawn.  The lawn was soupy from the rain, which came on relentlessly, which had been coming on relentlessly for 7 days and nights.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Mary.  Are large partially bald birds operative in the rain?"

     "I'm not sure.  Why don't we ask the casual observer?"

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the rain.  He thought about the drum of arrows and the Fiberglas bow.  He thought about the distant dead sycamore.  He thought about the little boy with the indeterminate name.  He said:

     "I have addressed many questions to the casual observer.  I have inquired of his opinion regarding many issues.  I have approached him with respect to many subjects of varying import and magnitude.  He has always failed to respond to these questions.  What makes you think he will display much interest regarding the properties of large partially bald birds in the rain?"

     "Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She said:

     "Perhaps he's in league with the bird."

     "Perhaps he IS the bird."

     "Perhaps he is the large unsavory wad of phlegm."

     "Perhaps he does not exist.  Perhaps he is a figment of our imagination, a phantasm or a hideous dream, a verbal construct, a metaphor with an undefined tenor, a simile without a smile, a vapidity, a nonentity, a nasty joke, a fabrication, a delusion.  Perhaps he is all these things and less, more or less nothing."

     "But he has to be something."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  The rain had soaked him thoroughly at great cost to his sense of well-being.  His arms were nearly paralyzed from holding the Fiberglas bow.  He could barely see the little boy across the street.  What was he doing out there in that downpour?  What were they doing out there in that downpour?  Perhaps it would last forever.  What was anyone doing out in that downpour?  The partially bald bird wasn't out there.  It probably knew better.  Harry Ricci said:

     "I don't want to discuss it.  I wish I hadn't brought it up.  I hate this rain.  I wish we had never come out in it.  It's so dark I can't even see the seed.  Perhaps it's washed away.  Perhaps we will have to scatter new seed in the morning."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She said:

     "Daddy.  There isn't any more seed.  There won't be any more seed until we plug in the television."

 

 

 

Mary Ricci was in a very wet lawn chair.  Harry Ricci was in a very wet lawn chair.  Neither could see much for the rain.  Neither could feel much for the rain.  Harry Ricci could feel the granular texture of the Fiberglas bow.  Neither could hear much for the rain.  Harry Ricci could hear the rain.  It sounded like a cow urinating on a flat rock, so to speak.  It battered the earth in great oozing thuds.  Visibility was exceedingly limited.  The distant dead sycamore remained only in their memory.  The distant little boy with the indeterminate name remained only in their memory.  They had only a stretch of lawn and the gravel and the drum of arrows brimming with water.  Visibility was exceedingly limited.

     "What are we going to do, Mary?  This rain might last forever.  The seed is gone."

     "Perhaps the seed was never there."

     "Mary.  You're a very peculiar girl."

     "Well why not?  Frederick was never there."

     "Who is Frederick?"

     "I don't know.  I don't know about anything."

     "Well then why did you bring it up?"

     Mary Ricci lapsed into a deep and profound silence punctuated by thuds of the torrent.  From a vast and impenetrable distance came the call of a large partially bald bird.  It was very faint among the great oozing thuds of the torrent.  It sounded not unlike Mary Ricci's thighs when they rubbed together, or Harry Ricci's feet on the gravel when he had retrieved the mail.  It sounded not unlike a cow urinating on a flat rock.  Harry Ricci gripped the Fiberglas bow in anticipation.  He said:

     "Listen to the bird.  It sounds like a cow urinating on a flat rock.  It sounds ominous."

     "The rain sounds ominous.  Everything sounds ominous."

     "Everything feels ominous.  It is an ominous day."

     "Yes.  I am moved to agree."

     "Where does the rain come from, Mary?  Who sends it?"

     "Why daddy.  I thought you knew."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "It is sent by the party that financed the prophylactic factory."

     "That's where the casual observer works."

     "Yes, daddy.  It was built by Abraham."

     "But who financed the prophylactic factory?"

     "No one is certain."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the rain.  He thought about the drum of arrows and the Fiberglas bow.  He thought about the wad of phlegm on the balding bird's breast.  He said:

     "Mary.  Do you think I could get a job in the prophylactic factory?"

     "For heaven's sake, why?"

     "I'm tired of sitting in this rain.  I'm tired of waiting for the bird.  I'm tired of this Fiberglas bow.  I'm tired of the distant dead sycamore.  I'm tired of my pain.  I'm tired of the gravel.  I'm tired of little red cars and large green cars.  I'm tired of the wad of phlegm on the partially bald bird's breast.  I'm tired of dying.  I'm utterly tired, Mary."

     "Well I'm afraid you'll have to wait for an opening."

     "Why's that, Mary?"

     "It's all tied up with the union.  Besides, they aren't hiring."

     "Perhaps I could talk to the casual observer."

     "Why you've said yourself.  The casual observer never listens."

 

 

 

Perhaps it was earlier in the day.  Perhaps it was later in the evening.  The sky was totally black.  Mary and Harry Ricci were sodden on the lawn chairs.  Harry Ricci was crying.  His tears would not have been visible to a casual observer.  They were indistinct, blurred by the rain.  The bird had not appeared.  It had not appeared for 13 days and nights.  There were no cars on the street.  There was no seed on the lawn.  There was only the drum of arrows brimming with water.  There was only Harry Ricci sobbing, a gush of torment.  Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She said:

     "Why are you crying, daddy?  I find it very abrasive.  Why it's worse than the rain."

     "Mary, my life's a bust.  I am overcome with futility.  I am overcome with consuming pain.  I am overcome with self-pity.  Mary, I'm a wretch."

     "You're not a wretch, daddy.  You're ludicrous.  You're pathetic.  That much is true.  But you're not a wretch. In fact you're very attractive.  Yes even comely.  Sensitive.  Almost refined.  Ludicrous.  Pathetic.  But not a wretch."

     "I hate the partially bald bird.  I hate the large partially bald bird with the large unsavory wad of phlegm on its breast.  I hate it utterly.  I hate it with my whole being.  It is as if my pain, all my burning terrible pain, were focused on the bird, on the weakest spot on its body, on the wad of phlegm, focused like a laser of enormous energy and power.  I am being crushed.  I am spurting like a laser, a thin spurt of utter intensity and malice.  I am being crushed."

     "Perhaps if you took Putrex.  Might it help?"

     "Nothing will ever help.  My life is tragic."

     "No daddy.  Perhaps ludicrous.  Perhaps pathetic.  Certainly not tragic.  Why there are countless old men just like you.  They survive on Social Security checks.  They survive on pensions from the prophylactic factory.  They sit on their lawn chairs in a great downpour and feel the granular texture of their butterfly nets.  And who cares a pennyweight?  Why should anyone care a pennyweight?  You don't.  The casual observer doesn't.  Why?  Because everyone's sick and tired of old men on lawn chairs with butterfly nets and Fiberglas bows and indeterminate illnesses, tired of them sitting there waiting for partially bald birds, and it doesn't change things if it's raining or not.  The whole thing's an abysmal bore.  The whole thing's tedious.  It's not a tragedy.  It's not even a comedy.  It's just a big bore, and you're going to have to face it."

     "Well what can we do about it?  We didn't ask for it.  We didn't make this world.  And what else is there?  I mean we can't dance.  We can't drive powerful automobiles.  We can't play volleyball.  What can we do about it?"

     "I don't know, daddy."

     "Well you brought it up."

     "I really don't know.  Maybe the bird will show up sooner or later."

     "Well until it does I'm going to consider my life tragic.  I don't care a pennyweight what all those people think.  Tragic yes.  Even heroic.  And don't give me anymore of your advice.  You're starting to sound just like the casual observer."

     Mary lapsed into a deep and profound silence.  She thought long and hard.  She said:

     "Maybe I AM the casual observer."

 

 

 

Mary Ricci was in a lawn chair.  Harry Ricci to her immediate left was sitting on the drum.  The rain came on relentlessly.  The sky was dark.  The lawn was soupy.  The distant dead sycamore was preternaturally bright.  It was not unlike the Blessed Virgin with the florescent tube in its hollow center.  A large heavy car rumbled past in the street.  Mary and Harry Ricci, who were of Italian extraction, did not like large heavy cars at that time of the evening.  They found the sound very abrasive.  Harry Ricci found the quills of the drum of arrows very abrasive.  Harry Ricci was about to comment on this when Mary Ricci broke his train of thought.  She said:

     "How do you feel today?  Tragic?"

     "I don't feel anything.  Well I feel the quills on the arrows.  The quills on the arrows are very abrasive."

     "Why don't you sit on the lawn chair?"

     "I'm tired of sitting on the lawn chair.  Besides, if I sit on the drum it might change our luck."

     "I never thought of that."

     "You never think about anything."

     Mary Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.  From a vast and impenetrable distance came the call of a large partially bald bird.  Harry Ricci shifted on the drum.  He raised the Fiberglas bow in anticipation.  They were 2 lonely creatures alone in the rain.  A casual observer would have found them ludicrous, pathetic.  From a vast and impenetrable distance came the second call of a large partially bald bird.  Perhaps it was the 3rd.  Perhaps neither had heard the second.  The distant dead sycamore was preternaturally bright.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Notice the distant dead sycamore.  It is preternaturally bright."

     "Yes.  The distant dead sycamore is a symbol.  Particularly when it's preternaturally bright.  Particularly when it's preternaturally bright in the rain."

     "I didn't think there were any symbols."

     "That's because you're sitting on the drum."

     Harry Ricci shifted to the lawn chair at great expense to his sense of well-being.  He could still feel the imprint of the quills on his partially bald buttocks.  He could feel the granular texture of the Fiberglas bow.  He thought long and hard.  He said:

     "I still don't think there are any symbols."

     "Daddy.  Everything is a symbol.  Why do you think we're sitting here?"

     "I thought we were sitting here because there wasn't anything else to do.  After all, we can't dance.  We can't drive a large powerful car.  We can't play volleyball.  There simply isn't anything else to do."

     "We could sit inside."

     "Yes, I know.  But it isn't winter yet."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She thought about the winter.  She thought about the preternaturally bright distant dead sycamore.  She thought about the bird.  She thought about the rain.  She thought about the wad of phlegm.  She pondered these things in her heart.  She said:

     "Everything's a symbol.  I don't care what you say."

     "Even the prophylactic factory?"

     "Yes.  Even the prophylactic factory.  Even the large unsavory wad of phlegm on the partially bald bird's breast.  Daddy, I thought you knew.  I thought we discussed it.  Life is symbolic.  It is filled with utterly profound and deep underlying meanings which are accessible only to the very wise."

     "Are you one of those people?  Are you one of the very wise?"

     "For heaven's sake, no.  The very wise are hard to find.  Like the casual observer, they work in the prophylactic factory."

     Harry Ricci lapsed into a deep and profound silence.  He thought long and hard.  He said:

     "I'm getting pretty goddamned tired of that prophylactic factory."

 

 

 

The rain had lifted.  The day was preternaturally bright.  There was a large partially bald bird on the grass.  There were 3 large partially bald birds on the distant dead sycamore.  All large partially bald birds were preternaturally bright.  Perhaps a hundred target arrows were imbedded in the lawn.  They surrounded the preternaturally bald bird on the grass.  The bird was motionless.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on its breast.

     Mary Ricci was squirming in her lawn chair.  She was rubbing her thighs together.  The sound was thoroughly abrasive.  Harry Ricci was sitting perfectly erect to her immediate left.  He was holding the Fiberglas bow.  He could feel its granular texture.  Both Mary and Harry Ricci were preternaturally bright.  Harry said:

     "Mary.  There is but one arrow left."

     Mary Ricci remained obstinately silent.  The only sound was her labored breathing and the liquid clammy rasp of her thighs.  Harry Ricci notched the last arrow.

     "That's it, daddy.  Aim for the phlegm."

     Harry Ricci was tired of symbols.  He was tired of the prophylactic factory.  He was tired of the little boy with the indeterminate name.  He was tired of the gravel.  He was tired of the distant dead sycamore.  He was tired of the casual observer.  He was tired of his pain.  He was tired of all these things, but he was tired beyond qualification of the large partially bald bird, tired of its smile, tired of its call from a vast and impenetrable distance.

     In Harry Ricci was a cold hard nugget of stifling indignation.  It was aching there, eating at his entire existence.  Harry Ricci raised the bow and pulled that last arrow back with the final increment of his fading strength, fired by stony hatred, goaded with fury, primed by primordial vindictiveness.

     The bow and arrow quivered horribly, ludicrously, pathetically.  They shuddered and leaped about in his feverish arms.  Mary Ricci was thrashing in the lawn chair.  There was the sound of her agitation and the agony of Harry Ricci's final desperate exertion.  The arrow flew—straight into the phlegm, and the bird fell dead, stone dead twitching on the lawn, stone dead and dark, for the light was gone, gone from the sycamore, gone from the lawn, gone from the imbedded arrows, from the birds aloft, from the whole fabric of existence.

     Harry Ricci collapsed weeping in an utterly dark world.

 

 

 

Mary Ricci was inside, as was Harry Ricci.  They faced each other across a laden table.  The table was laden with a large partially bald roast bird.   There was a brown arrow sticking from its breast.  The phlegm was gone.  It was basted in.  The bird was unlike anything else.  It was utterly immediate.  Harry said:

     "It seems a sacrilege.  I'm moved to tears."

     "Yes daddy.  It's so immediate."

     "The light is gone from the heavens, and we're sitting here eating partially bald bird."

     "Yes daddy.  It's ludicrous.  Almost absurd."

     "Don't say that.  Nothing's absurd.  Everything is filled with deep and irrevocable meaning.  You said so yourself.  The bird's symbolic."

     "It's not symbolic anymore.  It's cooked."

     "And soon it will be ingested.  But somehow I'm said.  I don't have the appetite, Mary.  I'm not hungry."

     "Well, you're the one that shot it."

     "Well, you're the one that rubbed your thighs."

     "Yes.  I guess we're in this together."

     They lapsed into silence.  Harry Ricci cut off a big drumstick and began gnawing horribly.  Saliva formed on his chin.  Harry Ricci gnawed for about 10 minutes and spit the mulched bird out, a brown moist wad on his plate.  The wad was very immediate and compelling.

     "How did it taste?  Was it succulent?"

     "It didn't taste like anything.  Besides, it's tough."

     "Well what are we going to do with it?  We can't just throw it out.  Not with the way prices are.  It would be a sacrilege."

     "Well, I'm not going to eat it.  And I'm getting pretty goddamned tired of looking at it.  It's ugly."

     "Nothing's ugly, daddy.  Nothing's ever ugly."

     "You're ugly.  Your nipples are ugly."

     "I never thought about that."

     "As a matter of fact you're the ugliest woman I've ever seen.  And you get uglier every day."

     "Well you get more ludicrous and pathetic every day.  And you shake more every day, and you drool, and you just shouldn't talk.  So there."

     Mary Ricci began sobbing, a gush of torment.  It just wasn't working out, and she had slaved over that bird.  She had slaved in the kitchen.  She had planned it all, even to the point where he would try to swallow.  It just wasn't fair.

     "It just isn't fair."

     "Nothing's fair, Mary.  I thought you knew."

     "It's just not fair.  You're being horrible."

     "I'll swallow for you, Mary.  Will that make it better?"

     "You really mean that?"

     "Of course I mean it."

     Harry Ricci picked up the wad of mulched bird and thrust it into his mouth with quivering fingers.  He reached out for a goblet of rich white milk and lifted it, propelled it in shudders toward his mouth.  The rich white milk sloshed horribly over his chin.  It drained down his arms.  Harry Ricci's eyes rolled back until she could see the whites.  She was thrashing in her chair, squirming her thighs, touching her cleft.  Harry Ricci's throat bobbed heroically as the wad went squirming down in a torrent of rich white milk.  Harry Ricci set the goblet down in shudders and grinned, grinned horribly with feverish pride.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Love conquers all.  Jesus Christ told us that."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were inside.  They were watching the television.  The room was dark.  There was only the Blessed Virgin in the niche, the light from its small florescent tube.  It was utterly silent, perhaps peaceful, perhaps ominous.  Mary and Harry Ricci had been watching the television for 3 hours.  They had seen the pale green picture tube and their reflections like two partially bald birds, or perhaps the murderers of two partially bald birds.  There was a wad of phlegm on Mary's breast.  It was immediate and particular.  It was compelling.  Harry said:

     "I don't know if you noticed, Mary.  There is a large unsavory wad of phlegm on your breast."

     "It's all your fault, daddy.  Remember the last time you cleared your throat?  Well, I was in the way."

     "Well I rather like it.  I rather like the large unsavory wad of phlegm on your breast."

     "Yes.  It is immediate and compelling.  It is not unlike the wad of mulched partially bald roast bird."

     "Both wads were unsavory."

     "Both wads were large and immediate."

     "Both were compelling."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the television.  He thought about the Blessed Virgin.  He thought about the wad of phlegm and the wad of mulched partially bald roast bird.  He said:

     "Mary.  The light is gone from the heavens.  The world is utterly dark.  Why are we sitting here watching the television?  It has been unplugged for 13 years."

     "The unplugged television is immediate and compelling.  Besides, it's fun to guess what we're missing.  Perhaps a variety show."

     "Perhaps a situation comedy."

     "Perhaps an advertisement for Putrex."

     "Have you ever taken Putrex, Mary?"

     "Once.  I took Putrex once."

     "What was it like?"

     "Perhaps like nothing.  To tell the truth, I've completely forgotten.  Perhaps less than nothing.  The whole subject is clothed in mystery.  Perhaps I'll never remember.  I'm sorry, daddy."

     "You could take it again.  To refresh your memory."

     "I don't know if we even have it."

     "Let's both take it.  Let's both take an overdose.  Let's end it all.  Mary, I feel so guilty.  I feel horrible.  I feel ludicrous and pathetic.  My pain is like the pain of the scalding water my mother dropped me in when I was very young.  It is exterior and interior.  It is omnipresent.  Let's take Putrex.  Please, Mary.  I've simply had it."

     "I've got a better idea.  Why don't we plug in the television?"

     Mary Ricci plugged in the television.  The picture fluttered.  It focused.  There were 2 people on the screen.  They were sitting on lawn chairs.  There was a distant dead sycamore.  There was a large partially bald bird.  One of the two people was holding a butterfly net.

     "Why that's us, daddy.  They've programmed our lives."

     "Yes.  Perhaps it's a variety show."

     "Perhaps it's a situation comedy."

     "Perhaps it's an advertisement for Putrex."

     "Perhaps it's an advertisement for the large partially bald bird."

     "Whatever it is it's interesting."

     "And immediate."

     "And compelling."

     "And particular."

     "And we can watch this every night and we'll know where we've been."

     "And we can watch this every night and we'll know where we're going."

     "Yes.  Even in the midst of darkness."

     "Yes.  There is no darkness as long as we can watch ourselves."

     On screen Harry Ricci was stalking the bird.

 

 

 

In the living room was a large bay window.  There were 2 lawn chairs facing the large bay window.  In the lawn chairs were Harry and Mary Ricci.  They were looking out the window in the direction of the distant dead sycamore.  They were looking out the window in the direction of the little boy with the indeterminate name.  They were looking out the window in the direction of the partially bald bird.  Harry and Mary Ricci could not see the distant dead sycamore.  They could not see the little boy with the indeterminate name.  They could not see the partially bald bird.  They could not see anything. It was utterly dark beyond the window.

     "Mary.  It is utterly dark beyond the window."

     "Yes daddy.  It is utterly dark."

     "Mary, I can't see anything."

     "Daddy, we can see the darkness.  The darkness is very immediate."

     "Yes Mary.  It is particular and compelling."

     Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into silence.  They thought long and hard.  They thought about the darkness.  They thought about all the things they had seen before the darkness.  They thought about the wad of mulched partially bald roasted bird.  They thought about the wad of phlegm on Mary's breast.  They thought long and hard.  Harry said:

     "We can't just sit here forever.  Maybe if we called the prophylactic factory."

     "Their line's out of order.  There's a bad connection.  I don't believe we can reach them."

     "Well we just can't sit here forever.  Without light there's nothing to see.  Nothing to discuss."

     "We can discuss the darkness."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "The darkness is immediate.  It is particular and compelling.  Goddamn it, Mary.  What else is there?"

     "Well it's rich.  And it's velvety.  And it's deep."

     "Come on.  Nobody ever describes darkness like that anymore."

     "Well how about sinister?  Or ominous?  Or threatening.  The darkness is sinister, ominous and threatening."

     "Next thing you'll be comparing it to a womb.  Or the inside of a dead man's belly."

     "Well that's better than despair or futility."

     "Mary, it's a hopeless cause.  We're getting absolutely nowhere.  Why don't you just go down to the basement and turn on the floodlights?"

     "I'm sorry.  That's simply out of the question."

     "I don't understand."

     "Why daddy.  I thought you knew."

     "I don't understand what you're talking about."

     "Daddy, I can't turn on the floodlights.  We're in the midst of an energy crisis."

     "An energy crisis?"

     "Why do you think we unplugged the television?  Why do you think there are so few cars in the street?  It's been going on for 13 years."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the darkness.  He thought about the large partially bald roast bird.  He thought about the wad of phlegm.  He thought about the energy crisis.  He said:

     "Give me that phone."

     "Who are you going to call?"

     "I'm going to give them another ring.  The prophylactic factory."

     "Well if you get through ask for the casual observer."

     Harry Ricci dialed horribly, a quiver of fingers over the utterly black receiver, a wriggle of fingers pale and luminous, glossy and moist.  He shuddered the receiver to his ear.  He listened.  The phone rang several times to a quiet cold click.  He listened intently.  Somewhere very distant and remote was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel.

 

 

 

Before the large bay window were 2 lawn chairs.  They were occupied by Harry and Mary Ricci.  Both were staring intently out of the large bay window.  Neither could see anything.  Beyond the large bay window was darkness.  It was utter darkness, deep and profound.  It was immediate.  It was particular and compelling.  Neither could exhaust the darkness.  Neither could turn away.  The darkness had been there as long as either could remember.  Neither could turn away.

     "Mary.  I can't seem to get enough of this darkness."

     "Yes.  It reminds me of when mother died."

     "Mary.  I'm glad you brought that up."

     "Yes.  And it reminds me of when Ginger, our pet tarantula, was run over by a large green car."

     "Mary.  I'm glad you brought that up."

     "Yes.  And it reminds me of when the sewer backed up and we found Pinky, our little pet pig, drowned in human excrement."

     "Mary.  I'm glad you brought that up."

     "Yes.  And it reminds me of when Whitney took an overdose of sleeping pills."

     "Mary.  I'm glad you brought that up."

     "Yes, daddy.  Darkness is very wholesome."

     "Darkness is very savory."

     "Darkness is tasty."

     "Darkness is delectable."

     "Remember when we found Whitney, what he looked like?  With his skin all gray and his eyes protruding.  Remember that, daddy?"

     "Mary.  I'm glad you brought that up."

     "Remember how Ginger looked?  The way he was mashed flat with all the green stuff oozing out and the hair bristling like quills on a scab or maybe something tasty made out of spinach."

     "Mary.  I'm glad you brought that up."

     "Or Pinky all gray and bloated with his little eyes covered with slime, all dead and unfeeling."

     "Mary.  I'm glad you brought that up."

     "Or how about mother?  Stone cold and rigid with her veined hands clutching her throat and her mouth open as if she was trying to say something and her eyes open and glazed."

     "Mary.  I remember that very well.  It was a moment to treasure forever.  I'm glad you brought it up."

     "There are so many pleasant memories."

     "Yes.  And darkness reminds us of them."

     "Because darkness is so incredibly friendly, so comforting.  So sweet and pleasant."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the darkness.  He swallowed.  He thought about the large partially bald bird.  He swallowed.  The sound of his swallowing was very abrasive to his daughter Mary.  It caused her great and irreconcilable pain.  He said:

     "Why did mother die, Mary?"

     "Why was Ginger run over by a large green car?"

     "Why did Whitney take an overdose of sleeping pills?"

     "Why did Pinky drown in human excrement?"

     "That's what I mean, Mary.  Why did all those lovely creatures perish so horribly?  It makes no sense."

     "I thought you knew, daddy."

     "Mary.  I have never known."

     "But I thought we discussed it."

     "Mary.  I have never known."

     "Everything dies, daddy.  Otherwise, there would be nothing to discuss.  While we're looking at the darkness.  While we're looking at the television.  Why life would be otherwise utterly empty, utterly meaningless.  Life would be a phantasm or a hideous dream."

     "Yes, I guess you're right.  I was quite happy when Pinky drowned.  It was fun.  Remember?  We talked about it for days on end.  And then we forgot about it like everything else.  I wonder what it's like to drown in excrement."

     "Yes.  That's what all the talk was about."

     "I wonder what it's like."

     "Yes.  It's too bad Pinky isn't here.  He could tell us.  He could clear the whole thing up."

     "Do you think it was right that we ate him?  That we ate poor Pinky?"

     "Daddy.  I don't want to discuss it."

     "I mean it doesn't seem right when you think of it."

     "Tell you what.  Call the prophylactic factory.  Ask for the casual observer.  Ask him yourself.  He'll tell you.  There wasn't ANYTHING wrong with it.  Go ahead call him."

     Harry Ricci dialed.  His fingers quivered horribly.  The receiver trembled on his ear.  The phone rang 3 times.  There was a quiet cold click.  Harry Ricci listened intently.  Somewhere very distant and remote was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel.

 

 

 

The two lawn chairs faced the large bay window.  Mary and Harry Ricci perched intently like 2 large partially bald birds and observed the outer darkness.  Perhaps it mirrored their minds.  Perhaps it mirrored their souls.  They had been sitting there for 7 days, and the darkness was unrelenting.  It was total and unqualified.  It was utter and overwhelming.  It was complete.  Harry said:

     "Mary.  The darkness is complete."

     "Yes, daddy.  The darkness is complete."

     "It is total and unqualified."

     "Yes, daddy.  It is total and unqualified."

     "How will I ever retrieve the mail?"

     "With the flashlight.  Remember the flashlight, daddy?"

     "Yes.  I remember it thoroughly.  I used it to make my way into the cellar to retrieve poor little Pinky."

     "You used it many times, daddy."

     "Yes.  It never failed me."

     "I'll watch from the window.  It will be such fun."

     "Yes.  But it's not time yet.  You'll have to wait for that.  You'll have to wait until the mail retrieving time."

     "When is that, daddy?"

     "I really don't know.  I've quite forgotten."

     Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into silence.  The silence was deep and profound.  It was not unlike the darkness.  Mary Ricci retrieved a large lace handkerchief from her blouse and employed it to remove the large unsavory wad of phlegm from her breast.  Harry Ricci shifted in the lawn chair at great expense to his sense of well-being.  He cleared his throat.

     "Where is Pinky now, Mary?  Where is little Ginger?  Where are all the lovely creatures who have passed beyond us?"

     "Why daddy.  I thought you knew."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "But I thought we discussed it."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "Daddy, they're out there.  Out there in the darkness.  They're out there with the distant dead sycamore.  With the little boy with the indeterminate name.  With the large partially bald bird."

     "But it's dark out there, Mary."

     Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.  Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  Harry Ricci spit a large unsavory wad of phlegm on her breast.  It was immediate and compelling beside the stain from the previous wad and not unlike the previous wad in texture and substance.

     "Thank you, daddy.  I needed that."

     "Mary.  They can't be out there.  Out there is darkness.  Out there is despair.  Out there is oblivion.  Out there is absence.  Damn it, Mary, there may be nothing out there.  We haven't had a look in 7 days."

     "I'm sorry, daddy, but that's where our little Pinky is."

     "And Ginger?"

     "And Ginger and Whitney and mother."

     "But they can't be out there.  If they're out there life is pointless.  Life is meaningless.  Life is absurd.  Life is a phantasm or a hideous dream."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She thought about the recent addition to her breast.  She thought about the prophylactic factory.  She thought about the butterfly net.  She thought about Pinky and Ginger.  She thought about Whitney and her mother.  She pondered these things in her heart.  She said:

     "Don't you see, daddy?  It's symbolic.  It's all a metaphor.  It is filled with deep and profound meaning.  Why they've got it all mapped out.  There's a big chart, a diagram that sets it all down for even the most humble to understand.  Even Pinky.  Even Ginger."

     "Who's that, Mary?  For heaven's sake, who's that?"

     "The people at the prophylactic factory."

     "I'm going to give them another ring.  Mary, I'm desperate."

     Harry Ricci dialed.  His fingers wriggled in oily spasms.  The receiver shuddered toward his ear.  The phone rang 3 times.  It clicked.  Harry Ricci listened intently.  Somewhere very distant and remote was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel.

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were sitting.  They were sitting on lawn chairs.  They were facing the large bay window.  They were facing the darkness.  The darkness was facing them.  Perhaps it had a personality.  Perhaps it was more than a metaphor.  Perhaps it was alive.  Perhaps it was holding little Pinky ransom.  Perhaps it was engaged in a vast and intricate conspiracy.  Perhaps it was being obstinate.  Mary and Harry Ricci sat quietly.  Perhaps they were victims.  There was no way of knowing.

     "Mary.  What do you really think of the darkness?"

     "Daddy.  I think it's engaged in a vast and intricate conspiracy, which has already claimed the lives of Pinky, Ginger, Whitney and even mother herself.  I think the darkness plugged up the sewer that drowned poor Pinky in excrement.  I think the darkness gave mother her cardiac arrest.  I think the darkness lured poor Ginger into the path of the large green car.  I think the darkness teased Whitney into the overdose of sleeping pills.  I think many other things which are even more ominous.

     "Then darkness is a sinister force."

     "I didn't say that."

     "Then darkness is a sinister personality."

     "I didn't say that."

     "What did you say, Mary?"

     "I said that it is engaged in a vast and intricate conspiracy.  I think it is plotting against us.  I think it's in league with the large partially bald bird.  I think it's in league with the prophylactic factory.  I think it's in league with the casual observer.  Yes, perhaps with all these forces or agents to deprive us of our sanity."

     "Couldn't we turn on the floodlights?"

     "Not with the energy crisis."

     "Just for a minute perhaps.  To see if there's anything out there."

     "I'm sorry, daddy.  But we have to be realistic.  The cost is absolutely prohibitive."

     "But our little Pinky might be trapped eternally.  Looking on helplessly while we discuss him.  Deprived of our company, our fellowship, of light itself.  Damn it, Mary.  I can almost hear him.  Listen, Mary.  It's unreal."

     From a vast and impenetrable distance came 3 taut oily oinks.  They conveyed extreme helplessness and anguish.  They were ludicrous and pathetic.  They were immediate and compelling.  They were omnipresent.  Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.

     "All right, daddy.  Just for a minute.  I'll go down and turn them on, and you can have a good look and let me know what you saw when I come up."

     "Mary, you're a gem.  You're wonderful."

     Mary Ricci descended.  Harry Ricci was alone at the large bay window.  He was utterly alone.  He had never felt more alone.  Within seconds he would confront an illuminated world.  What lurked without in the darkness?  What lay in that deep and profound absence of redeeming light?  Was Pinky there, their little pet porker?  Was Ginger there, their little pet tarantula?  Were Whitney and mother there?  Were they rotting in an air-tight magnesium coffin?  Were they rotting?

     Suddenly light flared on the lawn.  Harry Ricci shrieked.  Every inch of illuminated space was covered with large partially bald birds.  There was nothing else to see.  There was only that dense vast clot of them crawling all over each other, pulsing, quivering, bristling their feathers.  The density was complete.  It was immediate and compelling.  It was particular.  It was total.  It was omnipresent.  Harry Ricci lurched from his chair to grovel on the carpet, shielding his eyes from that sight.

     Mary Ricci ascended.  The light was gone.  She helped her father to his lawn chair, and they sat quietly, shrouded in silence.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the darkness.  He thought about the writhing clot of birds.  He said:

     "Mary.  I'm going to try the prophylactic factory.  I'm going to try just one last time."

     "Well if you get through ask for the casual observer."

     Harry Ricci dialed.  His fingers were luminous and clammy.  They wriggled horribly.  The receiver shuddered to his ear.  The phone rang 3 times.  There was a quiet cold click.  Harry listened intently.

 

 

 

"Hello.  This is the prophylactic factory."

     "Why hello.  Hello."

     "Yes.  This is the prophylactic factory."

     "Why yes.  I'd like to speak to the casual observer."

     "This is the casual observer."

     "Why yes.  Why this is Harry Ricci.  We're having some trouble here.  With the light outside.  There's no light out there, and we turned on the floodlights, just for a minute because of the energy crisis.  I suppose you know about that.  And there were thousands of birds out there.  In fact we couldn't see anything else.  I live here alone with my daughter, you see.  What I'd like to know is whether you could do something about it.  Do I have the right party?"

     "Your name is Harry Ricci?"

     "Yes sir."

     "And your address?"

     "My address is indeterminate."

     "I see.  Oh yes here.  I have your card.  Well Mr. Ricci, you see we have a little problem here at the factory.  One of our birds is missing.  You probably saw the search party out there.  We're checking out all the indeterminate addresses.  Your house was on the list.  There's nothing to worry about."

     "But the darkness.  Can't you help us out there?"

     "Oh we'll have that cleared up shortly."

     "Then there's no conspiracy."

     "Not from our end, I assure you."

     "I see.  You know I've been having a terrible time here.  There's nothing to discuss, you see, with the darkness.  We thought maybe there was a conspiracy.  Maybe one of the birds.  Perhaps the little boy with the indeterminate name.  I suppose you have a file on him."

     "Of course.  His father built the factory."

     "Well he's been getting closer, you know."

     "Let me check the chart.  Here.  Let's see.  There's nothing to worry about, Mr. Ricci.  It's on the chart, you see.  It's all part of the plan."

     "What plan is that?"

     "Why Mr. Ricci, I thought you knew."

     "No sir.  I have never known."

     "Well, I guess the best way to explain it is simply to say that we have a card here on everybody.  And the chart here is indexed with the cards, and there's a plan for everyone.  There's a large plan, and there are countless small plans.  They all tie in, you see.  I guess you might call it salvation.  There are many terms.  The thing to remember is that nobody gets hurt.  According to the chart the little boy with the indeterminate name gets a little closer every day.  So don't worry about it."

     "Well what's he up to?"

     "Oh you'll find that out.  In fact I could give you a little hint, but I suppose it would just arouse your curiosity."

     "No please.  Give me a hint.  Give me anything."

     "Well I suppose you'll find this a little hard to believe, but pretty soon now you're going to get around to the same sort of notion you had with the bird.  The one that's missing.  You didn't shoot it, did you?"

     "No sir.  I swear I didn't."

     "You didn't roast it, did you?"

     "No sir.  Jesus Christ is my witness."

     "Well I was just asking.  The last time it happened we had the same problem with the lights, and it turned out to be an old man with an indeterminate illness, and there wasn't much we could do about it.  These things happen, you know.  We plan for everything, but there's always some crazy old son of a bitch that gets carried away."

     "I realize you're very busy.  I suppose you've been answering the phone for a long time."

     "Light years."

     "Well I'd like to know one more thing.  Every time I called you I got the same thing, and I've been trying for days.  You can ask my daughter Mary."

     "Yes.  We have a file on her too."

     "Well as I was saying, I got this quiet click, and then there was this sound of weeping, distant and remote, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel."

     "I can't give out any information on that."

     "But there must have been a reason."

     "You ate the bird, didn't you?"

     "No sir.  Jesus Christ is my witness."

     "Well, that sound.  That sound was our answering service.  That's all I can tell you."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were in the darkness.  They were sitting on the porch steps.  It was time to retrieve the mail.  It had been time to retrieve the mail for hours, but Harry Ricci was afraid.  He was afraid of the darkness.  Should a casual observer have had night vision he would have been able to detect the trembling of Harry Ricci's illness and a greater trembling, the trembling of his fear.  In fact Harry Ricci, had he not been constipated, another symptom of his indeterminate illness, would have been sitting on the porch steps with a large load in his pants.  In fact, he said:

     "Mary, were I not constipated I'd have a large load in my pants."

     "But I don't understand."

     "Mary, I'm terrified.  I may lose my way.  There may be birds."

     "You'll have the flashlight."

     "I thought it was dead."

     "I heated the batteries in the oven."

     "But you heated the bird in the oven.  Isn't that symbolic?"

     "Yes daddy.  Everything is symbolic."

     "Even the darkness?"

     "Even the load in your pants.  Even the lack of it."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "Well I better get started."

     "Daddy.  Just do me a small favor.  Will you?"

     "What's that?"

     "Make some noise.  After all, I can't see you in the darkness.  I can't see your pain.  I'll miss that part.  Express yourself.  Make some noises, just to give me an idea of what you're going through."

     "I'll try, Mary.  I'll try very hard."

     Mary Ricci handed over the flashlight.  Harry Ricci gathered up at great cost to his sense of well-being.  He trained the light on the gravel.  There were no large partially bald birds.  He leaned forward and righted himself with short rapid steps.  He moved in short rapid bursts.  His chin was covered with saliva.  His hands swung like rubber gloves below his rigid arms.  There was only the sound of the gravel and the sound of Mary Ricci's thighs rubbing together.

     "Make some noise, daddy.  Hurry, please."

     It was not difficult to make noise.  It was not particularly difficult.  Harry Ricci was in agony.  The nature of his pain surpassed the pain of the scalding water.  Harry Ricci was on fire.  The fire was internal and external.  The fire was omnipresent.  When the noise came it was of the pain, a hideous cacophony of wheezing, grunting, whining, snorting, moaning, gurgling goat cries.  It drowned the sound of the gravel.  It drowned his daughter's squirming.  It was utter and overwhelming, a torrent of anguish beyond human reason.  It was immediate and particular.  It was compelling.  It was omnipresent.

     Harry Ricci scuttled forward in a wall of sound.  The flashlight gleamed on the gravel.  It trembled and shuddered fitfully in his clammy fingers.  Harry Ricci knew beyond the nuance of a doubt he had to reach the mailbox.

     "Good show, daddy.  Don't give it up."

     Suddenly from the skies came the call of a large partially bald bird.  Suddenly from the skies came the calls of innumerable large partially bald birds.  The skies were filled with their screeching.  They were filled with the flutter of wings.  The situation was ominous and sinister.  It was immediate and compelling.  Harry Ricci began running in utter agony, in supreme pain and anguish.  He propelled himself despite his suffering, filled with consuming dread.  The sound of his labored steps, the sound of Mary's thighs, the sound of the descending birds, buffeted the heavens.  Harry Ricci slipped on a large partially bald bird patty and went crashing ahead full length on the gravel.

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were inside.  Harry Ricci was in a coma.  He awoke from his coma.  He saw Mary Ricci.  He saw the doctor with the indeterminate name.  He saw the doctor's stethoscope.  He saw his black bag.  He felt his own pain.  Harry Ricci's pain was the pain of death by fire.  It was the death of the immolated monk.  It was the death of the martyr.  It was profound.  It was deep and immediate.  It was so devastating and horrible that Harry Ricci shuddered out in a thousand directions on his saliva-coated bed, wishing to end it all.  For the first time Harry Ricci was painfully aware that he might not be able to tolerate his pain, that life might not be a joy anymore, that his life, Harry Ricci's life, might be an awful bust.  Harry Ricci said:

     "I need something.  I need something for the pain."

     "Yes.  We almost lost you, daddy."

     "The pills.  The large brown pills.  They don't work anymore.  Mary, I'm dying."

     "Maybe we should consult the doctor."

     The doctor leaned down and pressed Harry Ricci's chest.  He pressed it with the stethoscope.  His face was very close.  His breath smelled with garlic.  He was grinning horribly.  Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.

     "Don't cry, Mr. Ricci.  Be brave.  Be appropriate."

     "I need something stronger.  I need something more immediate."

     "There is nothing stronger than the brown pills."

     "But they don't work.  Why do you give them to me when they don't work?"

     "Compassion, Mr. Ricci.  I am filled with compassion.  In fact out of all the doctors listed in the directory of doctors with indeterminate names, I am the most compassionate."

     The doctor's grin was full of even perfect teeth.  It was immediate and compelling.  It was horrible.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard.

     "Is it dark out there?  Is it still dark out there?"

     "That's right, Mr. Ricci.  It took us forever to get here."

     "Us?"

     "Yes.  The casual observer came along for the ride.  You see, he's interested in your case."

     "Where is he?"

     "He's downstairs watching the television."

     "What does he look like?"

     "Nondescript."

     "What's he wearing?"

     "A large brown suit and penny loafers.  A pinstriped shirt.  A large brown tie.  Sunglasses."

     "Well what's he doing watching the television?"

     "He seldom gets a chance to watch the television.  He's always answering the telephone.  Once in a while he comes along for the ride.  He always sits downstairs and watches the television.  You see the casual observer never interferes.  With my work."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "When am I going to die?  When is the pain going to end?  What will it be like?  Will I suffer horribly?"

     The doctor grinned.  The grin widened horribly.  He said:

     "Well first of all you're going to die in the winter."

     "I see."

     "And secondly the pain will end with your death."

     "With my death."

     "Yes.  That's always when the pain ends.  Pain always ends with death.  Nearly always."

     "Nearly always?"

     "Well yes.  Once in a while we run into an exceptional case, particularly when the illness is indeterminate.  We had an old man last year that complicated things by eating one of our birds, and I guess he's still suffering.  Of course, it's his own fault.  That's one of the things they don't tolerate at the prophylactic factory.  In fact that's the only thing."

     Harry Ricci began sobbing, a gush of torment.

     "As for your suffering, that's something we can't do much about.  You're going to suffer horribly.  Everybody does.  Well just about everybody.  It's going to get worse and worse, and then you'll die, and it will be all over.  The pain will be over.  You won't need anymore of our brown pills.  You'll be in paradise.  I really mean that."

    "Paradise?"

    "Well there's always an exception, but I suppose you don't have to worry about that.  You'll be in paradise."

     "Well what's that like?"

     "It's rather pleasant.  Everybody sits around on lawn chairs and watches the street and whatever else there is, and a little boy with an indeterminate name gets closer, and once in a while they go for the mail, and just about every day there's a letter."

     "A letter?"

     "Yes.  That's why they call it paradise."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were inside.  They were watching the television.  The room was utterly dark.  The Blessed Virgin in the niche was utterly dark.  The television was utterly dark.  Harry Ricci, on screen, had just plunged the world into absolute darkness by skewering the large partially bald bird with a target arrow.  Somewhere very distant and remote was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He cleared his throat.  He said:

     "Mary.  I'm getting pretty goddamned tired of that weeping.  Can you change the channel?"

     "Why daddy.  I thought you knew.  All the channels are carrying our lives.  Even cable.."

     "The last time that happened there was an election.  I got so bored I went out and bought a newspaper.  And it was the same thing all over—the election."

     "Yes.  Hardly anyone voted that year."

     "Yes.  The candidates were indeterminate."

     "Yes.  The candidates were nondescript."

     "Yes.  The candidates were immediate and compelling."

     "Yes.  You might even say they were omnipresent the way things went.  Well I'd rather not discuss it."

     "Wasn't it about the time Ginger was run over?"

     "No.  I think it was the time Whitney took an overdose of sleeping pills.  Of course it was.  Ginger died an indeterminate time later."

     "And the year after that Pinky drowned in human excrement."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She said:

     "I guess you don't remember the issues."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the election.  He thought about poor Whitney.  He thought about the issues.  He said:

     "Didn't one of the parties want to shut it down?  The prophylactic factory, I mean."

     "Well yes.  That was what the discussion was all about."

     "And somebody wanted to get rid of the birds."

     "I remember that."

     "Yes.  They said that a large partially bald bird was not a proper symbol for the country.  They said it was ludicrous, pathetic."

     "Did we vote, daddy?"

     "I don't remember."

     "I must confess I don't either.  I don't even remember who won.  It must have been the conservatives, however."

     "Yes.  Nobody's done a blessed thing about the birds."

     "Well you shot one.  And I roasted it."

     "Yes.  And it just might keep me out of paradise."

     "Well I knew there'd be hell to pay."

     "For heaven's sake, why didn't you say something?"

     "I guess I was having too much fun."

     Suddenly there was light from the screen.  Harry and Mary Ricci were portrayed sitting across a table laden with large partially bald roasted bird.  There was conversation, ludicrous, pathetic.  Harry Ricci began gnawing on a drumstick.  He chewed for about 10 minutes and spit mulched bird out, a brown moist wad on his plate.  The wad was very immediate and compelling.  Harry Ricci, observing himself on the screen, thought long and hard.  Suddenly he was filled with terror.  He said:

     "I hope the casual observer isn't watching."

     "Daddy.  He's much too busy answering the telephone."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were at the large bay window, looking at the darkness.  There was nothing else to look at.  They hadn't turned on the floodlights.  They hadn't the benefit of the flashlight.  The flashlight was totally dead.  It had died when Harry fell headlong, slipping on the bird patty.  In fact it might have appeared to even the casual observer that Mary and Harry Ricci were dead, were it not for Harry Ricci's trembling.  They hadn't spoken for 3 hours.

     "Mary.  We haven spoken for 3 hours."

     "Well it's probably the darkness.  I feel so intense.  I feel drawn to it, perhaps moved.  Yes.  Moved to depths of understanding perhaps not privy to a person of my capacity."

     "Don't put yourself down, Mary.  Don't forget, you're my daughter.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, so to speak.  It may well be that you have inherited a queen size portion of my gift."

     Mary Ricci laughed.  It was the first time she had laughed in an indeterminate time.  It was the first time Harry Ricci could remember having heard her laugh in an indeterminate time.  It wasn't a pleasant laugh.  It was abrasive.  It was curdling.  It was shrill and gurgling.  It honked and wheezed.  It rattled and rasped.  It vibrated the window and the outer darkness.  It proceeded at great cost to Harry Ricci's sense of well-being.  Suddenly out there came a point of light quivering, nearing, extending into a milk white lance that stabbed fitfully in the void, so to speak.  Harry Ricci gathered up to press his face against the window.  He thought long and hard.  He said:

     "Mary.  Stop laughing.  There's someone out there."

     Mary was nearly paralyzed from her spasms.  She lay back, clutching her throat.  Her eyes protruded.

     "Mary.  It might be the search party.  It might be a sheriff.  It might be the grim reaper.  They might be coming for me.  Mary, I'm terrified."

     "I'll turn on the floodlights.  Just a minute.  There, I'm all right now.  I'll descend.  I'll turn on the floodlights.  We'll get to the bottom of this."

     Harry Ricci heard her feet on the cellar stairs.  He pressed his face to the glass.  The light was closer now, perhaps this side of the distant dead sycamore.  It was illuminating bird patties, shards of grass.  It was sinister and ominous.

     Suddenly the floodlights flared.  There in the center of the lawn was the little boy with the indeterminate name.  He was holding a sign.  He was startled.  There was a long inscription on the sign in rather small letters.  Harry Ricci could not read it, his eyesight impaired by the indeterminate illness and by the brevity of its appearance, for the little boy turned and bolted across the yard beyond the reach of the lights.  Harry Ricci did register one distinct impression.  The boy was very comely.

     Mary Ricci emerged from the basement with a very intense and concerned look on her face.  She was winded from climbing the steps, perhaps from her previous spasms.  She said:

     "What was it, daddy?  Who was it?  Was it animate?  Was it conscious?  Was it mortal?  Was it sensitive?  Was it refined?  Was it immediate and compelling?  Was it particular?  Was it friendly?  Was it a phantasm or a hideous dream?  Was it comely?"

     "Mary, it was the little boy with the indeterminate name.  He was carrying a sign.  I couldn't read the sign.  He was comely.  Mary, I'm ashamed."

     Mary Ricci looked down at Harry Ricci's groin.  She flushed.  Her face was very warm, very bright and red, beet red, so to speak.  She had never been so embarrassed.  She had never been so humiliated.  At his age.  In his condition.  She would never forget this moment should she live forever and ever, world without end.  She pondered these things in her heart.  She said:

     "Pretty soon you'll be after the casual observer."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were at the window, facing the darkness.  They had been facing the darkness for days.  The light had not returned.  They had not talked for days.  The light had not returned.  May said:

     "The light has not returned."

     "The boy has not returned."

     "Perhaps he has.  Perhaps we were not watching."

     "Perhaps he was operating without his flashlight."

     "Perhaps he came in the night."

     "Perhaps he is sitting out there on one of the bird patties."

     "Perhaps he is sitting."

     "Mary, I yearn for him.  I yearn for him horribly."

     "I'll go down and turn on the floodlights."

     "How about the energy crisis?"

     "How about the large partially bald bird?  How about the distant dead sycamore.  How about the gravel?"

     "How about the little boy with the indeterminate name?"

     "Yes daddy.  We'll see for ourselves in a minute."

     Mary Ricci descended.  Harry Ricci pressed his face to the glass.  The light flared.  There was a large sign on the lawn, hammered into the earth, perhaps a bird patty.  Harry Ricci trembled.  He strained to see.  He could not read the long inscription.  Mary Ricci ascended.  She took a seat on her lawn chair.  Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into a deep and profound silence.  Harry said:

     "The little boy is not on the lawn."

     "Yes.  But he left his handiwork."

     "Can you read it, Mary?  Can you read the long inscription?"

     "Yes.  But it could upset you.  It could entail great cost to your sense of well-being.  You see, it's not the sort of thing for an old man with an indeterminate illness, not the sort of thing he should read.  It's very cryptic, disturbing."

     Harry Ricci began sobbing, a gush of torment.

     "Please read it, Mary.  I must know."

     "All right.  Here goes."

     Mary Ricci read the sign.  The sign read:

     WHEN YOU MAKE THE TWO ONE, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE INNER AS THE OUTER AND THE OUTER AS THE INNER AND THE ABOVE AS THE BELOW, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE MALE AND THE FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, SO THAT THE MALE WILL NOT BE MALE AND THE FEMALE NOT BE FEMALE, WHEN YOU MAKE EYES IN THE PLACE OF AN EYE, AND A HAND IN THE PLACE OF A HAND, AND A FOOT IN THE PLACE OF A FOOT, AND AN IMAGE IN THE PLACE OF AN IMAGE, THEN SHALL YOU ENTER THE KINGDOM.

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "The little bugger."

     "You shouldn't say that."

     "Yes.  I guess I shouldn't.  But it's irritating.  It blocks our view of the distant dead sycamore.  I suppose it's BIBLICAL  It's from the BIBLE, isn't it, Mary?"

     "Why daddy, I thought you knew."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "It's from the GOSPEL OF THOMAS published by Harper and Row."

     "Do we have a copy?"

     "No, daddy.  It's out of print."

     "To tell the truth I wasn't sure if it might have been one of their directives.  From the prophylactic factory.  Maybe from the manager himself.  His name always escapes me."

     "John Condom.  No, I assure you.  It's the GOSPEL OF THOMAS."

     "Well whatever it is it's a pain in the rear end."

     "Well there's not much we can do about it.  If we tear it down he'll just put up another one."

     "It's a conspiracy, Mary."

     "Maybe he's trying to tell us something."

     "I know what I'd like to tell him."

     "Tell you what.  I'll go down and turn off the lights, and then we won't have to look at it."

     Mary descended.  Suddenly the world beyond was plunged into a deep and irrevocable darkness.  Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  He shifted on the lawn chair at great cost to his sense of well-being.  The darkness was immediate.  It was particular and compelling.  Perhaps it was final.  Somehow he liked the darkness.  Maybe it would last forever.  Maybe he'd have to kill another bird.

 

 

 

Mary Ricci sat stubbornly on a lawn chair.  Harry Ricci sat stubbornly on a lawn chair.  They faced the large bay window.  They faced it stubbornly.  They faced the outer darkness.  They faced it stubbornly.  Perhaps the darkness had a face.  Perhaps it was facing them.  Perhaps it had a personality.  Perhaps the personality was sinister.  Perhaps it was ominous.  Perhaps it was friendly.  Perhaps it was hiding the little boy with the indeterminate name.  Perhaps it was hiding the sign.  Perhaps there were several signs.  Perhaps there were several bird patties.  Perhaps the whole world was covered with signs.  Perhaps the whole universe was covered with large partially bald bird patties.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard on this problem.  He said:

     "Are the signs everywhere, Mary?  Are they omnipresent?  Are the bird patties everywhere, Mary?  Are they omnipresent?   Can one see them in a grain of sand?  Can one see them in a wildflower?  Can one see them in the gravel?  Are they omnipresent?  Are they immediate and particular?  Are they compelling?  Are they everywhere?"

     "Daddy, I have thought long and hard on this problem.  One can speculate that wherever the birds have been there are large partially bald bird patties.  One can speculate that wherever the little boy has been there are large indeterminate signs.  One can speculate that wherever you have been there are large unsavory wads of phlegm.  One can ponder these things in one's heart.  On the other hand, one can be more scientific, more immediate.  One can shed some light on the subject."

     Mary Ricci descended.  Suddenly the floodlights flared, illuminating a portion of the lawn and the distant dead sycamore obscured by the sign, which was still there, which seemed to have a personality, a face, to be sinister and ominous, immediate and particular, compelling.  Harry Ricci could not read the sign.

     Mary Ricci ascended.  She took a seat.  Utter silence prevailed for about 20 minutes.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He thought about the silence.  He thought about the butterfly net.  He thought about the wad of phlegm on Mary's breast.  He thought about the sign.  He said:

     "The sign is everywhere.  The bird patties are everywhere.  Such is the nature of existence.  Such is the nature of indeterminate reality.  Such is the nature of the sign.  Such is the nature of the little boy with the indeterminate name.  Life has meaning."

     "I told you that already.  Life is symbolic."

     "And maybe the key to life is that sign.  The key to my suffering.  The key to my indeterminate illness.  The key to the wad of phlegm.  The key to the distant dead sycamore.  The key to the prophylactic factory.  The key to the casual observer."

     "Shall I read it again, daddy?"

     "Yes, please.  Read it slowly and deliberately.  Read it immediately.  Read it compellingly.  Read it with a measure of dignity and passion.  I'll listen."

     Mary Ricci read the sign.  The sign read:

     WHEN YOU MAKE THE TWO ONE, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE INNER AS THE OUTER AND THE OUTER AS THE INNER AND THE ABOVE AS THE BELOW, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE MALE AND THE FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, SO THAT THE MALE WILL NOT BE MALE AND THE FEMALE NOT BE FEMALE, WHEN YOU MAKE EYES IN THE PLACE OF AN EYE, AND A HAND IN THE PLACE OF A HAND, AND A FOOT IN THE PLACE OF A FOOT, AND AN IMAGE IN THE PLACE OF AN IMAGE, THEN SHALL YOU ENTER THE KINGDOM.

     "Mary, I don't understand a damned word of it."

     "Maybe if we called the prophylactic factory.  Maybe if we asked for the casual observer."

     "Yes, Mary.  I'll give them another ring."

     Harry Ricci dialed.  His fingers quivered horribly, a wriggle luminous and moist.  He shuddered the receiver to his ear.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on the receiver.  It was immediate and compelling.  The phone rang several times.  There was a quiet cold click.  Harry Ricci listened intently.  Somewhere very distant and remote was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel.

 

 

 

Mary Ricci occupied a lawn chair.  To her immediate left was Harry Ricci.  He also occupied a lawn chair.  Both lawn chairs were occupied.  There were no further lawn chairs.  Should a casual observer have desired a seat, he would have been frustrated horribly.  Should a large partially bald bird have desired a seat, he would have been frustrated horribly.  Mary and Harry Ricci were frustrated horribly.  They were frustrated by the darkness.  Harry Ricci was about to express his sentiments upon this particular subject when Mary Ricci interrupted him.  She interrupted him horribly.

     "Daddy.  I am frustrated horribly.  I am frustrated by the darkness."

     "I thought you were happy.  I thought you were serene and content.  After all, you have a lawn chair.  We both have lawn chairs.  We are both very fortunate.  Even the casual observer doesn't have a lawn chair.  Neither does Pinky or Ginger.  Neither does Whitney or mother.  Mary, you should be grateful."

     Mary Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.

     "Admit it, daddy.  We're both frustrated horribly."

     "Maybe we should turn on the lights.  Maybe there's another sign.  Maybe the little boy's out there.  Maybe he took the sign down.  Maybe the large partially bald bird's out there.  Maybe it took the sign down.  Maybe we'll be able to see the sycamore.  The list of possibilities is endless, provided there is light.  Provided we can see.  Yes Mary, I'm tired of the darkness."

     Suddenly there was a distant point of light, which grew larger, which spread into a lance of light, so to speak, through the darkness.  It came on relentlessly, illuminating bird patties, wads of phlegm.  It was sinister.  It was ominous.  It was immediate and compelling.  Harry Ricci shuddered horribly, taut quivering spasms, which were painful to observe, which were ludicrous and pathetic.

     "Maybe it's the boy.  I'll turn on the lights."

     Mary Ricci descended.  Suddenly the lawn was illuminated by a watty flare of harsh light.  The little boy with the indeterminate name was transfixed.  He was carrying another sign.  Harry Ricci could not read the sign.  He could not read the previous sign.  The boy, who was comely, whose skin was tanned by the sun, perhaps by an artificial tanning lotion, juked back startled and bolted beyond the reach of the lights.

     Mary Ricci ascended.  She took a seat on her lawn chair.  She observed the lawn.  She observed her father.  She observed his agitation.  She thought long and hard.  She thought about her ascent.  She thought about her seat.  She thought about the lawn.  She thought about her father.  She thought about his agitation.  She pondered these things in her heart.  She said:

     "He's been here again.  The boy with the indeterminate name.  I can deduct this from your agitation.  He was carrying a sign.  I can deduct this from your eyes.  You strained to see the sign.  Your eyes are horrible looking.  They are agitated.  They are feverish.  You yourself are feverish.  Your eyes are like small glittering nuggets, so to speak, pissholes in the snow."

     "Is it snowing, Mary?  Is it snowing horribly?"

     "No daddy.  I merely used a simile."

     "Mary, you know I hate similes.  I've always hated them.  I hate metaphors.  I hate symbols.  I hate allegory.  I hate figurative language.  I hate these things with immense fever and agitation."

     "The boy's a symbol.  Do you hate him?"

     Harry Ricci remained obstinately silent.  Mary said:

     "Every time he shows up with one of those signs he's a symbol.  And the sign is the key.  It's the key to everything, daddy.  It's the only truth we'll ever know.  Without it, we are ciphers.  Without it our lives will be a bust."

     Harry Ricci trembled horribly.  He thought long and hard.  He thought about his pain.  He said:

     "Read the sign.  For heaven's sake read it again.  Just one more time or I'll perish."

     Mary Ricci read the sign in a clearly enunciated manner, with force and dignity.  The sign read:

     WHEN YOU MAKE THE TWO ONE, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE INNER AS THE OUTER AND THE OUTER AS THE INNER AND THE ABOVE AS THE BELOW, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE MALE AND THE FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, SO THAT THE MALE WILL NOT BE MALE AND THE FEMALE NOT BE FEMALE, WHEN YOU MAKE EYES IN THE PLACE OF AN EYE, AND A HAND IN THE PLACE OF A HAND, AND A FOOT IN THE PLACE OF A FOOT, AND AN IMAGE IN THE PLACE OF AN IMAGE, THEN SHALL YOU ENTER THE KINGDOM.

     "Mary, it doesn't mean a damned thing.  It doesn't mean a damned thing to me or to anyone else.  Mary, I'm frustrated.  Mary, I'm horribly frustrated, and it's not getting any better.  I'm going to relieve this frustration if it's the end of me.  I'm going to call the prophylactic factory.  And I'm going to call them knowing full well that there's not a soul there who can help me.  Mary, there's no limit to my desperation.  And you just watch.  I'll get the answering service."

     Harry Ricci dialed.  His fingers were luminous.  They quivered horribly.  The receiver shuddered toward his ear.  There was a fresh wad of phlegm on the receiver.  It was large and unsavory.  It was compelling.  The phone rang 3 times.  There was a quiet cold click.  Harry Ricci listened intently.

 

 

 

"Hello.  This is the prophylactic factory."

     "Why hello.  Why this is Harry Ricci."

     "Hello, Mr. Ricci.  What can we do for you?"

     "Well yes.  And is the casual observer in?"

     "I'm afraid he's on the pot right now."

     "I see.  And who are you?"

     "I'm John Condom, General Manager."

     "I suppose you have the chart there."

     "As a matter of face, I have.  And I have your card.  So we're all set.  We're all set, Mr, Ricci.  We're all set for anything.  You just fire away.  Let's have it, Mr. Ricci.  Straight from the shoulder."

     "All right.  Just what does this goddamned sign mean?"

     "You're referring to the sign on the lawn?"

     "That's right.  For all I know there might be 3 or 4 by now, the way things go.  But the last time there was just one.  And it doesn't make a lick of sense, Mr. Condom.  My daughter here, Mary.  You probably have her card.  Well she says it's the key to things.  Things like the gravel and the sycamore.  You see we have a sycamore on our lawn, and it's distant and dead.  And then there are those birds and my illness.  I'm dying, you see."

     "Mr. Ricci, I understand your concern, but we can't give out any information on the signs.  I will say this.  The signs are everywhere.  And every day just about there are more of them around, and it just takes a little patience, you see.  Enjoy them while they last.  Someday there won't be any signs."

     "What do you mean there won't be any signs?"

     "Well we won't need them anymore.  Yes, I guess you might say they'll have outlived their usefulness.  In fact, they never have been very useful, and I'll be the first to admit that.  I'd say only about one in maybe 3 million can make any sense out of them, and they're usually not the kind of people I think you'd like to associate with, Mr. Ricci."

     "I guess they work at the prophylactic factory."

     "Very good.  That's right, Mr. Ricci.  I'm impressed.  Yes, we very seldom have an opening here, you see, and reading the signs right is just one little way we have of screening our applicants."

     "Well, how about the little boy with the indeterminate name?  Where's he fit in?"

     "Well his father built the factory.  I thought you knew."

     "Well I mean why's he sneaking up in the dark all the time with the signs?  Is that his job?"

     "Well we'd like to think it's just a part-time occupation.  Like a paper route.  You see it doesn't amount to much, just a little pin money.  Most of the time he's busy elsewhere.  You see he's mostly doing his father's business.  And then pretty soon he'll be in school.  You see summer's nearly over.  I hate to say this but winter's just around the corner, Mr. Ricci.  I guess you know what happens in the winter."

     Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.

     "Now don't get emotional about it.  You simply have to keep in mind that there aren't very many old men that don't go through the same thing.  Call it a change of life.  Call it natural.  It's all part of the plan.  Keep your chin up, so to speak.  You've got a little time left.  Enjoy yourself.  Nothing lasts forever.  It wouldn't be any fun.  Give yourself a chance.  Take things easy.  Don't take it hard.  You know what they say.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  You can't just keep your nose to the grindstone.  Sit back and relax.  Enjoy the signs.  There's going to be a lot more where they came from.  It always happens that way.  Believe me.  Life isn't all that bad."

     "But Mr. Condom.  I'm suffering horribly.  I'm on fire.  I'm constipated.  My vision's shot.  I tremble.  I drool.  I'm dying, and I don't understand why.  I can't accept it.  It's a phantasm, a hideous dream.  I'm desperate.  I'm feverish.  I'm agitated.  I don't know if my mind will hold.  Mr. Condom, I'm in hell."

     "You're not in hell, Mr. Ricci, rest assured.  Hell's a very small place, I assure you.  Once in a while, once in a very great while, we hear about someone that's located in that spot.  Hell, it's not even on our chart.  You're all right, sir.  Just thank the casual observer you're not in hell."

     There was a quiet click.  Somewhere very distant and remote was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel.

 

 

 

Harry Ricci on the steps could see a distant point of light.  He could see nothing else.  He could feel nothing else.  Harry Ricci's total awareness was focused on the distant point of light.  It seemed so very far away, and yet it came on in shuddering increments that he could detect in his loneliness, his silent vigil on the steps.

     Harry Ricci raised the butterfly net in anticipation.  He cleared his throat.  He spit a large unsavory wad of phlegm into the darkness.  It took its place in the darkness with all the other wads of phlegm, took its place among the large partially bald bird patties.  The light came on in shuddering increments.

     Harry Ricci gathered up on the steps.  He cleared his throat.  He spit a large unsavory wad of phlegm into the darkness.  He hitched his trousers.  He stepped down onto the gravel, a brief feverish shuffle, and righted himself.  He felt the granular texture of the butterfly net.  The light came on in shuddering increments.

     The light spread into a lance somewhere very distant.  It undulated on phlegm and bird patties.  Harry Ricci gripped the butterfly net.  He leaned forward and righted himself with short rapid steps, an unsavory slush on the gravel.  He stood shuddering with the net and stilled his breathing.  The light came on in shuddering increments.

      Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  He spit a large unsavory wad of phlegm into the darkness.  He wiped his chin with his elbow.  He hitched his trousers.  He thought long and hard.  He leaned forward and righted himself with short rapid steps.  He reached the lawn.  He stood shuddering with the net and stilled his breathing.

     The light was still very distant.  Harry Ricci felt the granular texture of the butterfly net.  He leaned forward.  He righted himself.  He leaned forward.  He righted himself.  He stood trembling, shuddering horribly in the darkness.  It was very quiet in the darkness.  He thought long and hard.

     Somewhere deep within Harry Ricci came the first brief increment of felt pain.  It was as if he had never known it before.  The pain came on as a tiny pulse of indeterminate location, searing and intense.  It came with the light, shuddering on in increments.  The pain grew in shudders into a knot of fire that was so curiously intense that he nearly enjoyed its coming, curious as he was of its extent, of its growth, its shuddering growth now into tentacles from the knot skewering him with scalding fury.  And the light came on in shuddering increments.

     There within Harry Ricci was the light of the pain, probing, insisting into the inner substance and texture of his body, curiously intense, curiously unbearable, a shuddering pulse of agony that came on curiously like the light.

     Harry Ricci was poised, a stooped shuddering figure above a sea of darkness, ludicrous, pathetic, feet upon earth and grass, feeling the pain so curious shuddering into the untouched area, the area free of pain with the light coming on horribly like the pain, and he thought long and hard about the light coming on and thought about the pain.  And Harry Ricci wondered horribly, intensely, what sort of tormented notion in some malign brain somewhere very distant and remote had teased him out there into absolute darkness with a butterfly net among a scatter of bird patties and phlegm and an indeterminate sign for the express purpose of snaring a little boy with an indeterminate name, whose father built a prophylactic factory that manufactured placebos for an indeterminate illness that would take his life in the winter.  And the light came on in shuddering increments.

     And Harry Ricci cleared his throat and spit a large unsavory wad of phlegm into the darkness.

 

 

 

Harry Ricci was inside.  He was sitting in a sturdy rocker.  He was being examined by the physician with the indeterminate name.  He was being examined for his indeterminate illness.  The examination involved thumping at his bare torso and some work with the stethoscope.  The stethoscope was very cold.  The doctor's fingers were very cold.  Perhaps it was late afternoon.  Beyond the bedroom window was darkness.  Perhaps it was evening.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard on this problem.  He considered also other problems less immediate.  The physician grinned.

     "Well everything's in order, Mr. Ricci."

     "I'm still dying?"

     "Yes sir.  Everything's proceeding according to schedule.  Death in the winter, I guarantee you.  Why it's as certain as income tax."

     "I don't understand why you're here.  I'm not in a coma.  I haven't been in a coma for weeks."

     "Why Mr. Ricci, I thought you knew."

     "No Mr. Doctor.  I have never known."

     "Why this is your monthly checkup."

     "I see."

     "Yes Mr. Ricci, I'll be here like clockwork until you're on your way to that big wide land in the sky.  I'll see you through, you bet ya.  Mr. Ricci, I'm your doctor."

     "Well I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I think you're not much use to me.  I think what I need is a specialist.  You see if I'm going to pay out all this money I should see a specialist. What do you think of that?"

     "Mr. Ricci, I AM a specialist.  I specialize in indeterminate illnesses."

     "Well then what do you prescribe?"

     "The large brown pills, Mr. Ricci."

     "Well is that all?"

     "Mr. Ricci, I suggest sleep, plenty of liquids, and a lot of resignation."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "Look.  I'm fed up to here with resignation.  Last night I was outside till 3 in the morning, waiting for a little boy with an indeterminate name.  And I got to thinking the whole thing was ludicrous, pathetic.  The whole thing was a bust.  This whole damned business of dying is a bust.  I'm being victimized and I don't like it.  You see there's a sign out there, and it's supposed to be the key to things, and I can't even read it.  And when Mary reads it, I don't understand it.  And you come waltzing in here, so to speak, with that grin and prescribe more of those damned pills and some sleep and liquids and a lot of resignation.  How do you think I'm supposed to take all this?"

     "With resignation, Mr. Ricci.  With dignity.  You see all this is curiously ennobling.  You yourself are a noble figure, heroic.  It makes my heart beat small little flutters of warm emotion to see you transformed by this illness into a figure of august and epic proportions."

     "And how am I supposed to take all that?"

     "The same way you take your large brown pills, your placebos.  With resignation.  With dignity.  You yourself are utterly fortunate.  You are being transformed by indignity, redeemed by pain.  The pageant of your life would move even the casual observer to tears.  Go ahead, call him."

     "The last time I called him he was on the pot.  John Condom answered.  He sounded just like you."

     "Well come to think of it we did attend Parochial School together."

     "You mean he's a Catholic?"

     "Yes.  I guess that seems a little strange to you.  Everybody kids him too, believe me.  General Manager of a prophylactic factory.  And we thought for the longest time we were going out of business."

     "I find that hard to understand."

     "That's right.  There wasn't that much call for them when the pill came out.  I myself hadn't used one since I was a kid."

     "I didn't know Condom was a Catholic."

     "Very Catholic.  He's got a statue of the Blessed Virgin in his living room."

     "With a florescent tube in the hollow center?"

     The doctor grinned hideously and cleared his throat.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on his tongue.  He didn't know what to do with it.  He opened the window and spit it into the darkness.

 

 

 

Harry and Mary Ricci were inside.  They were watching the television.  There was no light from the television.  There was only the light from the Blessed Virgin with the florescent tube in its hollow center.  Harry said:

     "I think it's kind of nice that Condom has a Blessed Virgin in his living room."

     "Doesn't everybody?"

     "I'm not sure."

     Harry Ricci lapsed into silence.  At last he said:

     "What's the matter with the television?"

     "I unplugged it."

     "Again?"

     "They were programming our lives.  There was nothing but darkness.  It was right after you killed the bird."

     "I thought we already saw that."

     "It's a rerun."

     "Oh."

     "You know I sort of like it like this.  Dark.  Sinister.  Ominous.  Immediate.  Compelling."

     "Well there's not much we can do about it.  We may as WELL like it.  Condom likes it.  The casual observer likes it.  The partially bald bird likes it.  It's really all there is, you know."

     Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on his tongue.  He tried to swallow.  He had no success.  He spit.  A large unsavory wad of phlegm appeared on the television screen.  It was immediate and particular.  Harry Ricci said:

     "What are we going to do tomorrow?"

     "Well I imagine we'll sit on the lawn chairs."

     "And the day after that?"

     "Well I imagine we'll sit on the lawn chairs."

     "When does winter come?  When does it come, Mary?"

     "Soon.  Very soon, daddy."

     Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.

     "I don't like winter, Mary.  Everything dies in the winter.  Everything freezes.  Even the phlegm.  Even the bird patties.  The ground will be hard.  It will be frozen and rigid.  Everything dies in the winter.  The winter's a terrible bust.  My life's a terrible bust.  I'm angry, Mary.  I'm frustrated.  I'm in hideous pain.  I'm on fire.  I know it's symbolic.  The whole thing's symbolic, but I can't understand the symbols.  I can't understand anything.  I can't even understand the phlegm on the television, and it's immediate and particular, and what more can you want?  What more could anyone want?"

     "Well it's your own fault.  You killed the bird."

     "Don't remind me."

     "You killed the large partially bald bird with an arrow."

     "But I aimed for the phlegm."

     "The phlegm was on the bird's breast."

     "Don't remind me."

     Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into a deep and profound silence.  The light from the Blessed Virgin was utterly cold and cruel.  It was harsh and watty.  Mary and Harry Ricci were bathed in it, so to speak.  They could see nothing else.  Mary and Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  They thought about the phlegm on the screen.  They thought about their reflection.  Harry Ricci cleared his throat.

     "Daddy, when do you think there'll be light?"

     "Shortly."

     "But what will it be like?  When we have light."

     "We'll be able to see the distant dead sycamore.  We'll be able to see our pain."

     "How can you see pain, daddy?"

     "I was using figurative language, Mary.  I thought you knew."

     "Daddy, I hate figurative language."

     "But I thought you liked it.  I thought I was the one that hated figurative language."

     "I hate everything you hate, daddy."

     "Mary, you're a very peculiar girl."

     "Don't say that."

     Mary Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.  The telephone rang.  It rang 3 times.  Harry Ricci lifted the receiver.  There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on the receiver.  It was immediate and compelling.  Harry Ricci listened intently.

     "Hello, Mr. Ricci."

     "Yes.  This is Harry Ricci."

     "The same Harry Ricci that's dying of an indeterminate illness."

     "That's right.  I have a distant dead sycamore on my lawn."

     "Well this is the casual observer.  We're phoning simply everyone.  It's all cleared up, Mr. Ricci.  There will be light tomorrow morning."

     "I guess you didn't find the guy that shot the bird."

     "We're still working on that."

     "Well thanks for the information.  And good luck with your investigation."

     "Thank you.  Goodbye, Mr. Ricci."

     Harry Ricci shuddered the receiver down and leaned forward.  He spit a second unsavory wad of phlegm toward the television screen.  It dribbled on his chin.

     "I guess that was the casual observer."

     "That's right, Mary."

     "I guess there'll be light tomorrow."

     "That's right, Mary."

     "God said, LET THERE BE LIGHT."

     "I thought Jesus said that."

     "Daddy.  You can't blame him for everything."

     "Who said I was blaming him?"

     Suddenly the florescent tube in the hollow center of the Blessed Virgin flickered and went totally dead.  Mary Ricci cleared her throat and spit a large unsavory wad of phlegm into the darkness.

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were outside on the lawn chairs.  It was a clear bright day.  There were 2 signs on the lawn.  Harry Ricci could not read the signs.  They partially obscured the distant dead sycamore, but the little boy with the indeterminate name was clearly visible hanging from the distant dead sycamore, hanging from the branches.  Harry Ricci could see him.  He could see that he was comely.  He could see that his skin was tanned from the sun, perhaps from an artificial tanning lotion.  The little boy hanging from the distant dead sycamore was a source of irritation to Harry Ricci.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Mary, how symbolic can you get?"

     "Yes, it is disgusting.  It's flagrant."

     "Yes, if I only had my Fiberglas bow."

     "Perhaps there is a more direct approach."

     "How do you mean that?  How do you mean that, Mary?"

     "I could read the signs to you.  We could discuss them.  And then we could discuss the little boy.  We could discuss his indeterminate name.  We could discuss his presence on the sycamore."

     "Mary, I'm tired of discussions.  For weeks the light was gone, and all we did was discuss.  We discussed Pinky.  We discussed Ginger.  We discussed the darkness.  There must be more to life."

     "Daddy, time's running out.  I know it sounds very cruel, but I must remind you.  Winter's just around the corner, and you can't put that off.  Besides."

     "Besides what?"

     "We may just be able to wedge you into the union.  Find a position for you at the factory."

     Mary and Harry Ricci lapsed into a deep and profound silence.  Mary Ricci read the signs.  The first sign read:

     WHEN YOU MAKE THE TWO ONE, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE INNER AS THE OUTER AND THE OUTER AS THE INNER AND THE ABOVE AS THE BELOW, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE MALE AND THE FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, SO THAT THE MALE WILL NOT BE MALE AND THE FEMALE NOT BE FEMALE, WHEN YOU MAKE EYES IN THE PLACE OF AN EYE, AND A HAND IN THE PLACE OF A HAND, AND A FOOT IN THE PLACE OF A FOOT, AND AN IMAGE IN THE PLACE OF AN IMAGE, THEN SHALL YOU ENTER THE KINGDOM.

     The second sign read:

     IF YOU BRING FORTH THAT WITHIN YOURSELVES, THAT WHICH YOU HAVE WILL SAVE YOU.  IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THAT WITHIN YOURSELVES, THAT WHICH YOU DO NOT HAVE WITHIN YOU WILL KILL YOU.

     "Well daddy, what do you think?"

     "Do you want my honest opinion?"

     "Yes."

     "I think it's Condom's work.  I think he sent the bird.  I think he sent the boy.  I think he sent the signs.  I think he's trying to torture me."

     "But there's inner meaning.  You must reach for it."

     "Mary, I'm not an intellectual.  I'm horribly literal.  I like things immediate, particular, compelling.  I like the gravel.  I like the sycamore.  When I look at the gravel there is nothing else.  When I look at the sycamore there is nothing else.  Now I have the little boy to contend with.  He's hanging on the tree.  He's trying to be a symbol.  He hammered those signs out there in the lawn.  It's simply not fair."

     Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.

     "But daddy, what do they mean?  What does it all mean?  It has to mean something."

     "Damn it, it's the bird.  It's all the bird."

     "I don't understand."

     "Mary, it's all utterly profane.  There is no meaning.  I wanted to tell you this, but I couldn't.  The bird's going to wear a condom.  John Condom.  The prophylactic factory.  After all, what goes into the placebos?  Compost from the heap."

     "Daddy, you're not making sense."

     "That's the whole point.  Condom set this whole thing up as a plot.  He's trying to confuse me.  He wants us to believe there's a system.  He's trying to destroy our sanity.  He says it's all down on a chart.  He says there are file cards.  You know what I think?  Condom doesn't exist.  There's no such thing as the prophylactic factory.  It's a phantasm, a hideous dream."

     "Well, why don't you call him up and tell him?  Why don't you put it right on the line?"

     "Mary.  I've got a better idea.  I'm going to play his game."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were outside on the lawn chairs.  There were 3 signs on the lawn.  They partially obscured the distant dead sycamore.  They did not obscure the little boy with the indeterminate name who was hanging from the distant dead sycamore, who was wearing an athletic supporter, who was comely, whose skin was tanned from the sun, perhaps from an artificial tanning lotion.

     Mary Ricci to her father's immediate right was holding a spiral bound notebook and a ballpoint pen.  Harry Ricci to his daughter's immediate left was holding a pair of binoculars.  He was reading the signs.  He first sign read:

     WHEN YOU MAKE THE TWO ONE AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE INNER AS THE OUTER AND THE OUTER AS THE INNER AND THE ABOVE AS THE BELOW, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE MALE AND THE FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, SO THAT THE MALE WILL NOT BE MALE AND THE FEMALE NOT BE FEMALE, WHEN YOU MAKE EYES IN THE PLACE OF AN EYE, AND A HAND IN THE PLACE OF A HAND, AND A FOOT IN THE PLACE OF A FOOT, AND AN IMAGE IN THE PLACE OF AN IMAGE, THEN SHALL YOU ENTER THE KINGDOM.

     The second sign read:

     IF YOU BRING FORTH THAT WITHIN YOURSELVES, THAT WHICH YOU HAVE WILL SAVE YOU.  IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THAT WITHIN YOURSELVES, THAT WHICH YOU DO NOT HAVE WITHIN YOU WILL KILL YOU.

     The third sign read:

     WHOEVER HAS KNOWN THE WORLD HAS FOUND A CORPSE AND WHOEVER HAS FOUND A CORPSE OF HIM THE WORLD IS NOT WORTHY.

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "Well, Mary.  Are you ready to play Condom's game?"

     "Yes daddy."

     "Well take this down: KNOWLEDGE IS THE DOUGH OF BENT HANDS."

     Mary Ricci wrote furiously.  She said:

     "But that makes absolutely no sense."

     "Mary, we are confronting the non-discursive.  We confront the non-discursive with the non-discursive.  Mary, we are the victim of a malign plot.  Someone somewhere very distant and remote is trying to coerce us into viewing all this as an allegory.  Everything.  The distant dead sycamore, the little boy with the indeterminate name.  There is in fact no meaning, no interpretation.  I could just as well have said: KNOWLEDGE IS THE DOUGH OF BENT MINDS.  Are you taking this down?"

     "Daddy, you're so profound.  So immediate."

     "Then take this down: THIS NECTAR TASTES OF THE SIEVE."

     "But that makes absolutely no sense."

     "We confront the non-discursive with the non-discursive.  The signs make no sense.  Someone with a warped sense of humor has offered them up to us as the key to the allegory, the key to existence itself.  Mary, there is no key to existence.  Existence is totally abrasive, totally painful, totally meaningless.  You see, we're playing Condom's game.  He gives us these signs and puts the little boy up there on the sycamore wearing a jock strap.  Pretty soon his hands will be bleeding.  And Condom's doing this to torture me.  He says it's all part of the plan."

     "Condom's doing it?"

     "I think it's Condom.  It might be the awareness that created him, created the prophylactic factory, in fact all of existence."

     "But Abraham created the prophylactic factory."

     "Someone created Abraham.  Right?"

     "Yes, daddy.  I see your point."

     "Are you taking this all down?"

     "Yes, daddy."

     "Write furiously.  It's very important."

     "Yes daddy."

     "And take this down:  THERE'S A MULE IN THE SKY.  HE SHITS ON PARADISE."

     "Daddy, that's profane.  That's immediate."

     "Mary, it's the only language Condom understands.  It's the only language the awareness that created him understands.  We're dealing with a sick sense of humor, Mary.  He's teasing us.  He wants us to believe there's a solution to this riddle, and he gives us a hint, and it's another riddle.  Pretty soon we'll be getting around to despair.  And then we'll be broken.  And then the bird will show up wearing a prophylactic.  It's probably the last thing I'll see before I die.  God knows what other surprises he's cooked up."

     Mary Ricci took this all down and finally sat back spent, exhausted, ludicrous, pathetic.

     "That's enough, daddy.  My hand's cramped."

     "How do you think HE feels, hanging up there on the tree?"

 

 

 

Harry and Mary Ricci were on the lawn chairs.  There were 4 signs on the lawn.  The little boy was hanging from the sycamore.  His hands were bleeding.  The blood was immediate and compelling.  The signs were immediate and compelling.  Harry Ricci was reading them with a pair of binoculars.  Mary Ricci sat patiently with a spiral bound notebook and a ballpoint pen.  The first sign read:

     WHEN YOU MAKE THE TWO ONE AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE INNER AS THE OUTER AND THE OUTER AS THE INNER AND THE ABOVE AS THE BELOW, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE MALE AND FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, SO THAT THE MALE WILL NOT BE MALE AND THE FEMALE NOT BE FEMALE, WHEN YOU MAKE EYES IN THE PLACE OF AN EYES, AND A HAND IN THE PLACE OF A HAND, AND A FOOT IN THE PLACE OF A FOOT, AND AN IMAGE IN THE PLACE OF AN IMAGE, THEN SHALL YOU ENTER THE KINGDOM.

     The second sign read:

     IF YOU BRING FORTH THAT WITHIN YOURSELVES, THAT WHICH YOU HAVE WILL SAVE YOU.  IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THAT WITHIN YOURSELVES, THAT WHICH YOU DO NOT HAVE WITHIN YOU WILL KILL YOU.

     The third sign read:

     WHOEVER HAS KNOWN THE WORLD HAS FOUND A CORPSE AND WHOEVER HAS FOUND A CORPSE OF HIM THE WORLD IS NOT WORTY.

     The fourth sign read:

     YOU YOURSELVES, SEEK A PLACE FOR YOURSELVES IN REPOSE LEST YOU BECOME A CORPSE AND BE EATEN.

     "Well, Mary.  Are you ready to play Condom's game?"

     "Yes daddy.  I will write.  I will write furiously."

     "Then take this down: THE CANDLE GLOWS THROUGH THE DARKNESS THAT SURROUNDS ITS LACK OF LIGHT."

     "But that makes absolutely no sense."

     "We are confronting the non-discursive.  We confront the non-discursive with the non-discursive.  Notice the little boy.  His hands are bleeding.  One more notch in the tightening screw.  Reality is immediate.  It is compelling.  It is neither discursive nor non-discursive.  It is particular.  It has thing-ness, nothing more.  The boy's hands are bleeding.  Condom's luring us, torturing us.  He's asking for a non-discursive interpretation of a non-discursive given, the bleeding hands.  He wants us to be like him.  He wants us to be perplexed.  Condom is horribly perplexed.  Condom is horribly unhappy.  He is very distant and remote.  Some malign awareness created him and propelled him into our lives like a malevolent robot, so to speak.  Condom is the corpse.  Condom is life.  He is within us and without us.  He is the 2 as well as the one, the male as well as the female.  He's a sick one, Mary.  His sense of humor is twisted."

     "Daddy, you're so profound.  So immediate."

     "Then take this down: THIS IS THE INTEREST.  IT QUACKS WHEN YOU AWAKEN IT."

     "But that makes absolutely no sense."

     "We confront the non-discursive with the non-discursive.  You know what he's up to, Mary?  You know what Condom's up to?  He's trying to get the particular into paradise.  He's trying to get the particular in there, and the door's too tight.  He's trying to wedge the whole thing in, and it's causing a lot of suffering.  On this plane there is ONLY the particular.  On that plane there is only the non-discursive.  We call the particular non-discursive.  That's the first mistake.  We clothe it in the non-discursive, for all human interpretation is, of its nature and at its greatest reach, doomed to the non-discursive if it wills to achieve anything worthy of the name, and then we try to wedge it into paradise.  But there is no room for the particular in paradise, no room for the discursive, no room for Pinky and Ginger, no room for old men with indeterminate illnesses.  In fact, there may be no room for anything.  Not even Condom."

     "Not even Condom?"

     "That's right.  Are you getting this all down?"

     "Yes Daddy."

     "Write furiously.  It's very important."

     "Yes daddy."

     "And take this down:  PISSING IN YOUR MOUTH, I SAW THE EYE OF GOD."

     "Daddy, that's profane.  That's immediate."

     "And particular.  And compelling.  It's the only language Condom understands.  You see he wants to get it all in.  Condom or the malign awareness that created him, created the prophylactic factory, the gravel, the sycamore, the whole thing.  You see they're itching to get the whole thing into paradise.  Condom calls himself a Catholic.  He has a Blessed Virgin with a florescent tube in the hollow center.  It's probably burned out by now.  He's even trying to get THAT in.  Condom is utterly profane, Mary.  In fact, he's a low brow.  That last statement is the kind of thing he'd get his jollies from.  He's that kind of man."

     Mary Ricci took all this down and finally sat back spent, exhausted, ludicrous, pathetic.

     "That's enough, daddy.  My hand's cramped."

     "How do you think he feels, hanging up there on the tree?"

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were on the lawn chairs.  It was a clear bright day.  The little boy with the indeterminate name was hanging from the distant dead sycamore.  The blood was running down his arms.  His arms were tanned from the sun, perhaps from an artificial tanning lotion.  The blood on his arms was bright and clear, immediate, compelling.  Mary Ricci was sitting with a spiral bound notebook and a ballpoint pen.  Harry Ricci was sitting with a pair of binoculars.  He was reading the signs.  The first sign read:

     WHEN YOU MAKE THE TWO ONE AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE INNER AS THE OUTER AND THE OUTER AS THE INNER AND THE ABOVE AS THE BELOW, AND WHEN YOU MAKE THE MALE AND THE FEMALE INTO A SINGLE ONE, SO THAT THE MALE WILL NOT BE MALE AND THE FEMALE NOT BE FEMALE, WHEN YOU MAKE EYES IN THE PLACE OF AN EYE, AND A HAND IN THE PLACE OF A HAND, AND A FOOT IN THE PLACE OF A FOOT, AND AN IMAGE IN THE PLACE OF AN IMAGE, THEN SHALL YOU ENTER THE KINGDOM.

     The second sign read:

     IF YOU BRING FORTH THAT WITHIN YOURSELVES, THAT WHICH YOU HAVE WILL SAVE YOU.  IF YOU DO NOT HAVE THAT WITHIN YOURSELVES, THAT WHICH YOU DO NOT HAVE WITHIN YOU WILL KILL YOU.

     The third sign read:

     WHOEVER HAS KNOWN THE WORLD HAS FOUND A CORPSE AND WHOEVER HAS FOUND A CORPSE OF HIM THE WORLD IS NOT WORTHY.

     The fourth sign read:

     YOU YOURSELVES, SEEK A PLACE FOR YOURSELVES IN REPOSE LEST YOU BECOME A CORPSE AND BE EATEN.

     The fifth sign read:

     WHOEVER HAS IN HIS HAND, TO HIM SHALL BE GIVEN; AND WHOEVER DOES NOT HAVE, FROM HIM SHALL BE TAKEN EVEN THE LITTLE WHICH HE HAS.

     "Well Mary.  Are you ready to play Condom's game?"

     "Yes daddy.  I will write furiously.  I will write as if on fire."

     "Then take this down: KNOWLEDGE EATS WRENS FOR BREAKFAST."

     "But that makes absolutely no sense."

     "We are confronting the non-discursive.  We confront the non-discursive with the non-discursive.  I could just as well have said: KNOWLEDGE EATS PARTIALLY BALD BIRDS FOR BREAKFAST.  And that's the whole problem.  When you call the particular non-discursive, when you clothe the particular in the non-discursive, when you try to wedge it into paradise, you destroy it.  The particular is the particular.  It is the given, nothing else.  It is immediate, compelling.  It is thing-ness.  It is Tathata.  Such is its very nature, its virtue.  If it partakes of paradise it is only because it IS paradise.  Clothing it in either the discursive, to make it rational, or the non-discursive, to make it humanly poetic, is Condom's error, not mine.  But I know how to play his game."

     "Daddy, you're so profound.  So immediate."

     "Then take this down: SUFFERING IS THE HELPMATE OF CLOSED MINDS."

     "But that makes absolutely no sense."

     "We confront the non-discursive with the non-discursive.  That's what Condom's up to, you see.  It's just the sort of thing he gets his jollies from.  He wants us to believe that there's a purpose to suffering, that suffering has a human value.  He's really a very sinister figure, Mary.  That little boy out there's been hanging from a tree for so long his hands are bleeding, and just to satisfy Condom or the awareness that created him, the whole thing.  Suffering is particular.  It is immediate.  It is compelling.  It simply is.  It has no HUMAN value.  Are you getting this all down?"

     "Yes daddy.  I'm writing furiously.  I'm writing as if my whole life depended on it.  This whole THING is so utterly immediate, so particular.  My pen is moving on this sheet like a long legged fly on the water."

     "Then take this down: MY ASSHOLE ITCHES WHEN I THINK OF YOU."

     "Daddy, that's profane.  That's immediate."

     "And particular and compelling.  Above all, when you work on it, non-discursive.  Mary, it's the only language he understands.  Condom is just about the most profane and ominous entity in all of existence.  It's the kind of thing he gets his jollies from.  Little Pinky drowning in leavings.  Ginger squashed by the large green car.  The little boy's hands bleeding as he hangs from the tree.  My pain.  My incredible ludicrous pain.  My illness.  Pretty soon one of those birds will show up wearing a prophylactic, and I'll know it'll be over.  I'll die, Mary, and Condom will dig his fingers into another old man, and it'll be the same thing all over.  After all, there's a lot of old men out there.  They sit around on lawn chairs waiting for one of Condom's birds and trying to figure the whole thing out.  They're miserable, Mary.  They're particular.  They're pathetic.  They're compelling.  In fact, they're nothing at all.  On human terms, they're nothing at all.  Just human.  Just particular.  Just immediate.  Just compelling.  And really, it's all Condom's doing.  Condom and the malign awareness.  Mary, it's a vast and impenetrable conspiracy of ominous and frightening proportions.  And it's been going on for a very long time, all over this planet, all over this solar system, all over this galaxy, all over this universe, and God knows, so to speak, where else.  There might be old men like me somewhere we've never heard about.  Never imagined.  And birds and sycamores and bird patties and little boys hanging from trees and prophylactic factories."

     "Daddy, it's enough.  My hand is cramped."

     "Well, how do you think HE feels, hanging up there on the tree?"

     The little boy with the indeterminate name cleared his throat and spit a large unsavory wad of phlegm into the sunlight.

 

 

 

"Hello.  This is the prophylactic factory."

     "Hello.  This is Harry Ricci.  I would like to speak to John Condom."

     "Mr. Condom's on the pot."

     "Who's this?"

     "This is the casual observer."

     "Well I want to speak to Condom."

     "Well you can talk to me perfectly well, Mr. Ricci.  There are no secrets between me and Mr. Condom."

     "Well just tell Condom I'm onto him."

     "For heaven's sake, Mr. Ricci.  What on earth do you mean by that?"

     "I mean the conspiracy.  I have it all figured out.  The signs.  The prophylactic factory.  The whole thing.  Maybe you could take down a message.  Do you have a pencil and a piece of paper?"

     "I have a spiral bound notebook and a ballpoint pen.  You just go ahead, Mr. Ricci.  Fire away."

     "Then take this down: EVERY NOBLE VISION ENSLAVES ITS PREDECESSORS."

     "Hold on there.  Let me get it right.  EVERY NOBLE VISION?"

     "ENSLAVES ITS PREDECESSORS."

     "How do you spell that last word?"

     "P—R—E—D—E—C—E—S—S—O—R—S."

     "Mr. Ricci.  I hate to say this, but you're being terribly non-discursive.  That's Mr. Condom's department."

     "Well.  I'm playing his game, you see.  You just let him finish up in there, and then you deliver the message.  Tell him he's pretty good at it, but I got him figured out.  It took a while, but as they say: A BLIND HOG WILL FIND AN ACORN NOW AND THEN."

     "A BLIND HOG WILL FIND AN ACORN?"

     "That's right."

     "Mr. Ricci, you know it's a damned shame you're dying.  I think we could find a place for you here.  You never can tell when there might be an opening."

     "You really mean that?"

     "Yes.  I think I just might mail you an application.  Would you like that?"

     "To tell the truth I haven't gotten anything in the mail for so long I wonder what it would be like.  You really mean it?  You think there might be a place for me?"

     "Well I'd have to talk it over with Condom, you know.  After all, he's General Manager."

     "Well what exactly do you do there yourself?"

     "Well I guess you might say I work here."

     "Well what do you do?"

     "Well most of the time I answer the telephone.  And of course I keep tabs on our clients.  Right now I guess most of my time has been occupied with the investigation."

     "Are you having any luck?"

     "Not really.  A few leads.  I guess things will get worse before they get better.  If you understand what I mean."

     "I guess I do.  I guess I'm pretty much aware of what's going on, sir.  But I'd really like to talk to John Condom if I could."

     "Mr. Ricci, I just had one of my secretaries go in there and check.  He's still on the pot, I assure you.  You know he spends a lot of time on the pot.  As a matter of fact, so do I."

     "Diarrhea?"

     "Constipation."

     "You know I have the same problem.  Well you have my card.  I guess you should know.  It's just another symptom of my indeterminate illness."

     "Well it's an old man's problem, Mr. Ricci."

     "I didn't know you were old, sir."

     "Oh yes.  Very old."

     "How old?"

     "Oh I really couldn't say.  Condom and I go back a long way."

     "Light years."

     "Maybe."

     "Well you tell Mr. Condom one more thing.  Could you do that?  Could you take it down?"

     "Certainly.  I'll write furiously, Mr. Ricci.  Anything for a client.  Hell, you just might be on the team one of these mornings."

     "Well take this down:  MAKE THE MORNING COME AND YOU'LL FIND ONLY TOMORROW."

     "Mr. Ricci, I'm going to mail you that application.  I'm not even going to bring it up with Condom.  Hell, I know he'd rubber-stamp it anyway.  Mr. Ricci, we need men like you."

     Harry Ricci trembled with joy and anticipation.

     "Well how about my illness?  I guess then it's not too late."

     There was a quiet cold click.  Somewhere very distant and remote was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound on the gravel.

 

 

 

Mary Ricci was on a lawn chair.  It was toward late evening.  Harry Ricci was on a lawn chair.  The sun was low and dying over the distant large frame house, the little boy's house, Abraham, his father's house.  The little boy was indistinct in the late slant of sun.  He was hanging from the sycamore.  He was in terrible pain, apparent even to the most casual observer.  The blood was very dark down his arms, utterly crimson like an apple.  Harry Ricci on the lawn chair was tired of the little boy's blood.  He was tired of the indeterminate pain.  He was holding a Fiberglas bow.  He had notched an arrow.  The arrow was indeterminate.  It was non-discursive.  Harry Ricci was non-discursive.  He was tired of being non-discursive.  He was tired of being clothed in the non-discursive.  He was tired of being a symbol.  He was tired of the symbol on the tree.  The Fiberglas bow and the arrow were just one more notch in the tightening screw.  He said:

     "Mary, the Fiberglas bow and the arrow are just one more notch in the tightening screw."

     "Yes daddy, but we are helpless.  They have programmed our lives.  It's all in the script."

     "I thought it was the chart."

     "Chart, script, program, card, file, blog—what's the difference?"

     There was a large unsavory wad of phlegm on the little boy's side.  It was partially obscured by the last sign to appear on the lawn.  The sign read:

     WHOEVER HAS IN HIS HAND, TO HIM SHALL BE GIVEN; AND WHOEVER DOES NOT HAVE, FROM HIM SHALL BE TAKEN EVEN THE LITTLE WHICH HE HAS.

     "Aim for the phlegm, daddy.  I'll rub my thighs together and grunt and writhe and touch my cleft, and the sky will be cleft, and it will be just like the old days."

     "Mary, I can hardly SEE the phlegm.  It is partially obscured by the last sign to appear on the lawn."

     "Yes daddy.  It's a terribly cruel sign, terribly cruel of it to obscure the phlegm.  But I think if you stand you will be afforded a clear view of the little boy's side and the phlegm itself.  Besides, you're not a very good shot anyway.  It took you a whole drum of arrows to kill the bird."

     "Mary, I was very rusty.  I don't think I could have hit the broad side of a barn door, even the barn itself.  I don't think I could have even hit the prophylactic factory the way I was shaking.  Even if the prophylactic factory was very close, as you know it isn't."

     "Yes, that's why no one likes it.  It's so far away."

     "Well the phlegm is close, and I'm going to aim for it."

     Harry Ricci stood at great cost to his sense of well-being.  The little boy was suffering horribly on the tree.  The tree was lifeless.  Harry Ricci raised the bow and drew back the notched arrow.  He drew it back at great cost to his sense of well-being.  Harry Ricci was on fire.  Harry Ricci was consumed with pain.  His pain was not unlike the little boy's pain with the indeterminate name.  It was not unlike the little boy with the indeterminate name's pain.  It was not unlike any pain, any suffering.  It was immediate and compelling.  Harry Ricci stood stooped horribly with the bow, quivering, shuddering his whole body into the final effort.  If he could not end his own pain at least he could end the little boy's pain.  After all, what good was it anyway?  Even Condom himself couldn't wedge it into paradise.  What good was pain to anyone?  Harry Ricci thought long and hard, quivering with the bow.

     Mary Ricci was writhing on the lawn chair.  Her thighs rubbed abrasively.  She grunted and moaned and licked her lips.  Her eyes rolled back into her head.  She was touching her cleft.  The arrow flew.  The sky was cleft.  The arrow struck home, so to speak, and the boy fell, mortally wounded.  He lay quivering for a few seconds and then sprang to his feet and ran horribly with the arrow jutting from his side, perhaps in the direction of the large frame house, perhaps in the direction of the prophylactic factory, perhaps in the direction of paradise, perhaps toward hell itself.  Mary Ricci sprawled writhing on her seat.  She pondered these things in her heart.  She said:

     "Well daddy.  The little bugger's gone."

     "You shouldn't say that."

     "Yes, I guess I shouldn't.  Why don't we gather up his signs and take them inside?  They'll make good kindling for the fireplace."

     "I didn't know we had a fireplace."

     "You didn't even know we had an energy crisis.  Hell, it's downstairs in the basement."

     Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  He said:

     "Well at least we got him off the tree."

 

 

 

Harry Ricci was inside.  He was sitting on a sturdy rocker.  He was quite alone.  He was sitting in his bedroom.  He was reading the GOSPEL OF THOMAS.  He had found it under his pillow.  He was reading with great difficulty, for he had trouble scanning, a symptom of his indeterminate illness.  He was looking for the passages which had been on the signs.  The book was covered with saliva from the pillow, from the bed itself, which was covered with saliva.  He was boning up for when the application might come.  He would beat Condom at his own game.

     A knock came at the door.  Harry Ricci read on with great difficulty.  He would ignore the knock.  The knock came again.  It was immediate and compelling.  Harry Ricci set aside the book.  He set aside his binoculars.  He glanced into a mirror over the vanity.  He primped.  He adjusted his collar.  He settled back.  He said:

     "Come in, dear.  I'm ready for anything."

     Harry Ricci was not ready for the policeman, who entered with Mary Ricci.  He was very large, ominously large and bulky.  He was wearing a very black uniform with a bright badge that glistened in the uncertain light.  His large pale hand was clasped to the butt of a very large revolver.  There were thousands of little bullets in his belt.  There were thousands of little creases in his face, which was chalk white and sinister, foreboding.  The policeman who was very large, ominously large and bulky, said:

     "Is this your father, Miss Ricci?"

     "Yes sir."

     "Why's he shaking like that?  Why is there saliva on his chin?  His eyes are out of focus.  There's saliva on the bed.  It's all over the bed.  It's all over that brown book.  What's going on here?"

     "My father is dying, sir.  He's dying from an indeterminate illness.  Isn't that right, daddy?"

     Harry Ricci nodded at great cost to his sense of well-being.  He cleared his throat.  He spit.  A large unsavory wad of phlegm dribbled from his chin.

     "Why's he spit like that?  What's going on here?"

     "My father's dying, sir."

     "Well tell him from me that I don't like the looks of this.  I don't like it a whole lot.  Where's he keep the big bow and the arrows?"

     "They're downstairs in the basement."

     "How about the signs?"

     "We burned them.  They're all gone now."

     "Where'd he get that book?"

     "He found it under his pillow."

     "Come on.  He found it under his pillow?"

     "That's right, sir.  Will you need it as evidence?"

     The policeman took another look at the book and grinned horribly.

     "No, I guess he can keep it.  You say he's dying?"

     "That's right, sir.  He's been dying for 13 years.  Ever since we unplugged the television."

     "Ever since you unplugged the television?"

     "That's right, sir.  Isn't that right, daddy?"

     Harry Ricci nodded at great cost to his sense of well-being.  He cleared his throat.  He spit.  A large unsavory wad of phlegm dribbled from his chin.

     "I don't like the looks of this, Miss Ricci."

     "He's dying, sir."

     "Well the boy's father isn't going to press charges.  I thought you'd like to know that."

     "How kind.  How forgiving."

     "And he said you could keep the signs.  In fact, he didn't care what you did with them, so I guess it's all right, the part about burning them."

     "I'm sure daddy's relieved about that.  He didn't mean any harm, you know.  I'm glad to know the boy's all right, sir.  We're both glad about that."

     "The boy?  The boy's dead."

     Mary and Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.  The large policeman with the chalk white face and the large pale hands, with the utterly black uniform and the bright badge and the revolver and the thousands of tiny bullets, began weeping, a gush of torment.  He said:

     "Yeah.  We all thought there'd be hell to pay, but the boy's father took it like a man."

     "How kind.  How forgiving."

     "Yeah.  But you just tell the old man there on the rocker the next time he gets around to using that bow again he's going to have his ass in a sling for certain."

     "Why's that, sir?"

     "From what I hear old Abraham's got a second son."

 

 

 

Harry and Mary Ricci were inside.  They were watching the television.  There was no light from the television.  There was no light from the Blessed Virgin in the niche.  There was no light in the room.  They were sitting in a deep and profound silence, total and omnipresent.  A casual observer would have not in fact seen Harry and Mary Ricci.  He would have not seen anything.  He would have sensed bitterness, perhaps despair.  He would have made the following remark:

     "There is no light in this room.  This room is utterly dark.  There is no light from the television.  There is no light from the Blessed Virgin in the niche."

     "Did you say something, daddy?"

     "Of course not.  That was the casual observer."

     "Perhaps you could ask him why we're sitting in here in the darkness."

     "Mary, you know he never listens.  He never answers."

     The casual observer thought long and hard.  He said:

     "You're sitting in the darkness because there's nothing else to do.  After all, you killed the boy."

     "Did you say something, daddy?"

     "Of course not.  That was the casual observer."

     "Ask him what we're going to do tomorrow."

     "All right.  What are we going to do tomorrow?"

     The casual observer remained obstinately silent.

     "See what I mean?  He never listens."

     "I think he's listening, daddy.  I think he knows very well what we're going to be doing tomorrow."

     "I don't want to think about it."

     Mary Ricci thought long and hard.  She said:

     "You're not thinking the same thing I'm thinking?"

     Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.  Mary Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.  The casual observer grinned horribly and left the room.  It was suddenly very lonely in the room, very quiet.  Mary and Harry Ricci were weeping quietly.  No one could hear their weeping, not even the casual observer.  Perhaps he had grown tired of the darkness.  Perhaps he had grown tired of their conversation.  Perhaps he had grown tired of their weeping.  Perhaps he was bored.  After all, there were many old men weeping in dark rooms.  They survived on Social Security checks.  They survived on pensions from the prophylactic factory.  They were hideously immediate, hideously compelling.  They had literal minds.  They were always trying to find employment.  They were always trying to beat Condom at his own game.  All of them invariably irrevocably died in the winter.  Mary Ricci said:

     "You're not thinking the same thing I'm thinking?"

     "I'm hideously afraid I am, Mary dear."

     "Have you checked the calendar?"

     "Mary, I haven't checked the calendar in 13 years."

     "Well you'd better check it, daddy."

     "Where is it, Mary?"

     "Why daddy, I thought you knew."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "It's in the basement in the large black chest.  You'll have to feel your way.  I guess you still have the keys."

     "I think so."

     Harry Ricci pulled out a ring of rusty keys.  He could feel their granular texture.  He could not see the keys.  He could not see anything.

     "Here's a candle, daddy.  I'll light it for you."

     Mary Ricci lit the candle with a disposable lighter encased in a metal sheath.  She had kept the lighter for this occasion.  When she had finished lighting the candle she threw the lighter into the darkness.  It struck the television screen a terrible blow.  The screen shattered.  She said:

     "Well there goes the television screen."

     "Well it wasn't that much good to us anyway."

     Harry Ricci descended with the candle.  The candle wasn't that much good to him in the darkness.  It didn't seem to even exist.  Harry Ricci descended at great cost to his sense of well-being.  He lurched down the stairs, trembling, shuddering horribly.  It was utterly quiet and dark.  He crossed the floor and set the candle on the lid of the large black chest.  He searched for the keys.  He tried the first lock.  It gave.  He tried the second lock.  It gave.  Harry Ricci's fingers were luminous.  They wriggled horribly in the light of the candle, in the absence of the candle's light.  He tried the third lock.  It gave.  Miraculously, it gave.  Harry Ricci gripped the candle, which was very long but horribly inadequate, in his teeth.  He lifted the lid of the chest.  There was a horrible creak.  There at the base of the chest was the calendar.  The year was indeterminate.  The months were indeterminate.  The days were indeterminate.  The calendar was indeterminate.  It was THE calendar.  It was the only calendar they had ever had since Harry Ricci could remember.  Harry Ricci held it to the light.  There was a large X in the approximate center of the calendar.  It was immediate and compelling.  It was final.

     Harry Ricci set fire to the calendar.  He wouldn't need it anymore.  He ascended the stairs.  He crossed to Mary Ricci, holding the candle in his teeth.  He snuffed it with a large unsavory wad of phlegm.  He settled back ominously.  Mary and Harry Ricci thought long and hard.  They said:

     "I guess we know what we're going to do tomorrow."

 

 

 

Harry Ricci was inside.  Harry Ricci was in his bed.  Harry Ricci was dying.  Harry Ricci was lying on the good last bed, covered with his own saliva, perhaps the bird's had the bird been present.  The bird was not present.  Mary Ricci was present.  She had just taken his indeterminate temperature.  She had just taken his indeterminate pulse.  She was sitting on the good rocker, knitting, checking her wrist now and then for the indeterminate time.  She hadn't worn her watch for 13 years.  But then Harry Ricci, her indeterminate father, hadn't been dying so utterly and completely for 13 years.  Harry Ricci, dying, said:

     "Mary dear.  Why aren't we outside?  Why aren't we on the lawn chairs?"

     "Why daddy.  I thought you knew."

     "No Mary.  I have never known."

     "Daddy, it's winter.  You're dying.  The time has come.  Very soon now you're going to be joining little Pinky.  You're going to be with Pinky and Ginger in paradise."

     Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.  No one could have detected the tears, however.  They were lost in the saliva.  The bed shuddered horribly from Harry Ricci's tremors.  Mary Ricci checked her wrist.

     "What's it like beyond the window?  What's it like, Mary?  Is it dark, Mary?"

     Mary Ricci checked out the window.  She turned slightly and craned her neck.  It was a clear bright day beyond the window.  She said:

     "Daddy.  It's a clear bright day beyond the window."

     "What's it like beyond the window?  What's it like beyond the window, Mary?  Is there hope, Mary?"

     Mary Ricci checked out the window.  She checked her wrist.  She checked out the window.  She turned around slightly and craned her neck.  She said:

     "HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL IN THE HUMAN BREAST.  Jesus Christ told us that."

     Harry Ricci coughed horribly and cleared his throat.  He spit.  A large unsavory wad of phlegm dribbled from his chin.  No one would have detected the phlegm, however.  It was lost in the saliva.  The bed shuddered horribly, ludicrously.  Harry Ricci lay in his own ruined spasms, lay coated with saliva, lay broken, wishing for death.  He said:

     "Perhaps Jesus was right."

     "I know what you were thinking, daddy.  I know what you were wishing.  You were wishing to join little Pinky.  You were wishing to join little Ginger in paradise."

     "Mary, I don't give a damn for little Pinky.  I don't give a pennyweight.  I hope he rots.  Do you think we ever gave a damn for little Pinky?  Do you think we ever gave a damn for Ginger and all the rest?  Be candid, Mary."

     "Daddy, you're so profane.  So immediate."

     "Damn it, Mary.  I'm dying."

     "Well you could be a little more appropriate.  You could wish for death.  You WERE wishing for death, weren't you?  Be candid, daddy."

     "All right.  All right, I was."

     "And you were wishing to join little Pinky."

     "Mary, when did little Pinky ever really give a damn for me?  All he ever did was root around in that basement.  Hell, he had the calendar half chewed up before I locked in the chest."

     "Daddy.  Pinky was an insensitive brute.  He was an animal.  You can't blame him for that."

     "Well let's not discuss him.  What's it like beyond the window?  What's it like, Mary?"

     Mary Ricci checked out the window.  She turned slightly and craned her neck.  She checked her wrist.  She grinned horribly and cleared her throat.  She swallowed abrasively.  The sound of her swallowing caused Harry Ricci great pain.  She said:

     "Well daddy dear, I can see the prophylactic factory."

     "The prophylactic factory?"

     "That's right.  You can always see it from this window on a clear bright day, particularly since we cut down the sycamore."

     "You can see the prophylactic factory?  We cut down the sycamore?"

     "Yes, I ordered it cut down.  After all, we didn't need it anymore."

     "What did you do with it, Mary?"

     "Why I burned it in the basement.  In the fireplace."

     "I'm choking.  Now it's all right."

     "Good.  I'm very glad for you, daddy."

     "I thought maybe you might have packed it up and sent it off to the factory.  Or to the little boy's father across the street, to Abraham."

     "Abraham's gone, daddy."

     "Abraham's gone?"

     "Yes.  He's packed up and left for an indeterminate location.  No one seems to have an idea where Abraham packed off to.  They say he was very close mouthed."

     "Then there's no one out there.  No one at all."

     Mary Ricci checked out the window.  She turned slightly and craned her neck.  She checked her wrist.  She said:

     "Well there's the second son.  You should see him.  He's the splitting image of the first.  He's sitting down there right now on the stump."

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci were inside.  They were totally inside.  Harry Ricci was totally in bed.  He lay in his own saliva, in his tremors, in his pain.  He could not have described his condition.  His condition was indeterminate, perhaps ludicrous, even pathetic.  He was dying horribly, distastefully, and every increment of death brought an increment of heightened pain like a great screw tightening, so to speak, over his prostrate shuddering body, pulverizing his sense of well-being, his dignity, like an unsavory wad of mulched partially bald bird, like an unsavory wad of phlegm pulsing its last tremors into utter paralysis and indignity under the tightening screw.  Harry Ricci's voice came at last from beneath the screw like a spurt of thin anguish along a tunnel, a thin pathetic intermittent tunnel through a dense mesh of suffering and indignation.  It said:

     "Mary, my voice is like a spurt of thin anguish along a tunnel, a thin pathetic intermittent tunnel through a dense mesh of suffering and indignation."

     "Daddy, you're so utterly articulate.  I'm very proud of you."

     "Mary, don't make fun of me.  I'm dying."

     "Well I wish you'd get it over with.  I've been sitting here by your bedside for 3 days.  I've become cramped.  I've become horribly bored.  Daddy, I'm just a little pulsing nugget of misery.  So to speak."

     Harry Ricci rolled over on his back at great and irrevocable cost to his sense of well-being.  He was covered totally with saliva.  He was viscous, perhaps embryonic.  His tremors shuddered the blankets, taut hideous spasms of monstrous agonized indignity.

     "Mary, I am viscous, perhaps embryonic."

     "Yes daddy.  Your tremors shudder the blanket, taut hideous spasms of monstrous agonized indignity."

     Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  He spit vertically.  A large unsavory wad of phlegm erupted from his mucid lips and hovered in the fetid air.  It came to rest on Harry Ricci's chin, where it dribbled down to mingle with the saliva.  Harry Ricci, still dying, said:

     "What's it like beyond the window, Mary dear?"

     Mary Ricci stared fascinated at the phlegm.  She cleared her throat.  She swallowed abrasively.  She turned slightly and craned her neck.  She checked out the window.  She said:

     "The little boy is there.  The second son."

     "What's he doing, Mary?  What's the little boy doing?"

     "Why he's standing very majestically on the stump.  He's addressing a large flock of large partially bald birds."

     "There are birds on the lawn?"

     "Yes daddy.  At least 12."

     Harry Ricci cleared his throat.  He launched a second unsavory wad of phlegm into the fetid air.  It hovered and came to rest on his chin to dribble horribly and mingle with the saliva.  Harry Ricci shuddered in an utterly unseemly fashion and emitted painful little yelps much like a canine flogged or like a large fish skewered with a barbed spear.  Harry Ricci said:

     "Mary, my yelps are like a canine flogged."

     "Yes daddy.  Or like a large fish skewered with a barbed spear."

     "What's it like beyond the window?  What's it like beyond the window, Mary dear?"

     "There is smoke rising from the prophylactic factory.  There is a large gold zeppelin hovering in the sky.  On the large gold zeppelin are red letters in an antique script.  They emblazon one word.  The word is REPENT."

     "Could you spell that, Mary?"

     "R—E—P—E—N—T."

     "I'm not sure I understand, Mary.  That's a BIBLICAL word.  Do you think Condom knows it's up there?"

     "Daddy, it's Condom's zeppelin."

     "It's Condom's zeppelin?"

     "Yes.  It's made of the same latex that goes into the condoms.  Into all the condoms, daddy."

     "But that's sinister.  That's ominous."

     "Daddy, it's the factory slogan.  It adorns every single carton of prophylactics which is produced by the prophylactic factory.  It adorns every single packet.  It adorns every single prophylactic."

     "Every single prophylactic?"

     "Why of course it is translated for the foreign countries.  Japan, Detroit."

     "Detroit?"

     "That's where they make the large green cars, daddy."

     "I see.  Like the one that ran over Ginger.  I didn't know Detroit was a country.  I thought it was a city."

     "Daddy, you're so very literal."

     Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.  Mary said:

     "Don't be piqued."

     "But I've tried so hard.  Mary, I'm dying.  I'm suffering horribly."

     Mary Ricci grinned horribly.  She cleared her throat and swallowed abrasively.  She checked her wrist.  She turned slightly and craned her neck.  She said something in a very low tone, which no one could hear.  It was something very terrible.  It was something very cruel.  It was something so vicious that had the casual observer overheard it, so cruel, so terrible, so vicious, he would have struck Mary Ricci stone dead, so to speak, in an instant and confined her to eternal punishment.  But the casual observer was busy.  He was busy answering the telephone.

 

 

 

Harry Ricci waiting for death absurdly, horribly, cleared his throat.  He lay on his back and launched a large unsavory wad of phlegm.  The phlegm like truth dribbled on his chin.  He launched another.  It dribbled on his chin.  He launched another.  It dribbled on his chin.  Harry Ricci was like a fountain, a desperate fountain spewing phlegm, spewing his own secretions.  He lay in a pool of phlegm, in a sea of saliva, shuddering the blankets.  He quivered horribly.  Perhaps he was embryonic.  He would not have known the word.  Perhaps the phlegm itself was placenta.  He would not have known the word.  He would have known only his suffering like the phlegm itself, spasms of death, small increments that brought him closer to the absence of himself, his suffering, his ludicrous pathetic pain, the indignity of his dying ticking on like a small clock in an enormous empty room, or a heartbeat in interstellar space, ticking ludicrously, pathetically, into the absence of its own sound.

     "Daddy, you've launched enough.  Your phlegm will never hover.  It will never orbit in the fetid air.  Your efforts are hopeless.  They are ludicrous and pathetic.  Daddy, we are both of Italian extraction.  The Italians have never had a space program."

     Mary Ricci examined her father.  She saw a saliva coated, phlegm coated, heap, a viscous quivering mound on the sheet.  She checked her wrist.  She heard her father's emphysematous rattle, going for his last air in repulsive spasms, wheezing, shuddering, prolonging the agony of his death, the agony of his birth.  She checked her wrist.  She said:

     "Father, you are going for your last air in repulsive spasms, wheezing, shuddering, prolonging the agony of your death, prolonging the agony of your birth."

     "It's not my fault, Mary.  It's not anybody's fault.  I am waiting for death.  I am waiting for birth."

     "But the whole process is so ludicrous.  You should wrap your blanket around you and lie down to pleasant dreams.  Jesus Christ told us that."

     Harry Ricci launched a long unsavory rope of phlegm into the fetid air.  It came to rest on his chin.

     "Yes Mary.  Jesus Christ was right.  But didn't he also tell us not to go gentle into that good night?"

     "He also told us that we are the captains of our soul, but this is ridiculous.  Daddy, you're absolutely repulsive.  I can't stand to go near you.  That rope of phlegm you launched.  It's so utterly sickening.  I didn't mind the wads, but the ropes are beyond bearing."

     Harry Ricci cleared his throat and launched another rope.  It was dark and sinister, a shade of green, a touch of the grotesque.  Mary said:

     "Perhaps it's because they're so dark and sinister, a shade of green, a touch of the grotesque.  Daddy, you yourself are grotesque, repulsive.  You yourself are a mighty embolism of mucus.  Why you're a big wad of snot."

     "Mary, you're so profane.  You're so immediate."

     "I mean it, daddy.  I'm up to here with you."

     "Well it won't be long now.  Perhaps days, perhaps hours.  I couldn't bear it any longer."

     Mary Ricci turned slightly and craned her neck.

     "What's it like out there?  What's it like beyond the window?"

     "Well there are more birds.  The little boy is gone.  There are 12 flocks of birds on the lawn."

     "12 flocks of birds?"

     "That's right, daddy.  12 flocks of 12."

     "Are they wearing prophylactics?  Are they wearing prophylactics, Mary dear?"

     "I can't see from this height.  Their undersides are obscured by plumage."

     "Where did the little boy go?"

     "Well I imagine he's in school.  Perhaps doing his father's business.  You know they're renovating the prophylactic factory."

     "They're renovating the prophylactic factory?"

     "That's right, daddy.  It's almost finished."

     "What's it look like?"

     "Well the wall is built of diamond."

     "The wall is built of diamond?"

     "Yes daddy.  And the factory itself of pure gold like polished glass.  And the foundations of the wall are faced with all kinds of precious stone.  It's really a marvelous sight.  Why don't you get out of bed and have a look?"

     "Mary, I'm dying.  I'm nearly paralyzed.  I am shuddering with frightful distasteful spasms.  My pain is unbearable."

     "Unbearable?"

     "That's right, Mary.  U—N—B—E—A—R—A—B—L—E."

     "I can spell, daddy.  I'm not the casual observer."

     "Where is the casual observer, Mary?  I thought he might drop in to see me die."

     "Daddy, he's much too busy with the new renovations.  There will be visitors from many foreign countries, delegations.  From Japan, Detroit.  You see they're applying for a government grant."

     "A government grant?"

     "Yes daddy.  But right now it's all up in the air."

     "Why that's sinister, ominous."

     "Just be glad you're out of it."

     Harry Ricci launched another rope of phlegm.

 

 

 

Harry Ricci was no longer conscious of time.  He was rather conscious of a great wall of pain.  The wall was constructed of pure diamond.  He had to ascend the wall, but the wall was very smooth and impervious to his attempts, his ludicrous pathetic attempts to insert his fingernails into that smooth diamond surface and make his way bitterly, desperately toward the top, for on the other side was the prophylactic factory, was paradise, was the end of the bitter ascent, the end of his pain.  Harry Ricci, climbing perhaps forever, and the wall miraculously extending forever into the fetid air, the air of his death and suffering, the air of utter and irrevocable contempt for his efforts, so prolonged, so ineffectual, so terribly doomed.

     Harry Ricci on his back in a suit of phlegm, stared vaguely at the wall, pulsed vaguely at the base, stared at the white granular texture of the ceiling, over at the Blessed Virgin on his vanity, so thoughtfully transferred by Mary Ricci from the niche, with a brand new tube in its hollow center, so thoughtfully provided by Mary Ricci, so curious there pulsing its own light, perhaps its own agony in the face of that vast high wall an old man so ludicrously had to face, Harry Ricci in his suit of phlegm, strangling in uterine secretions toward death.

     "Mary.  What time is it, dear?"

     "I thought you were unconscious of the time.  I thought you were rather conscious, lying there in uterine darkness toward death, of a great wall of pain."

     "Mary, please.  What time is it, dear?"

     "It is 6:32.  Now it's 6:53.  Now it's 6:34."

     "Then it's evening.  The mail must be here.  You haven't been checking for the mail.  You should check it, dear."

     "You know we never receive any mail."

     "But there may be an application, a form from the prophylactic factory.  The casual observer led me to believe he just might send one out."

     "There won't be any form, daddy."

     "But there might be.  It's never too late."

     "There won't be any form, daddy.  Do you know what it's like outside?"

     "No, Mary.  What's it like outside?"

     Mary Ricci turned slightly and craned her neck.

     "Well the little boy is still not evident.  But there are 144 flocks of birds, all partially bald, all wearing prophylactics.  I checked just a minute ago, at 6:31.  It was very dark, but they glistened in the moonlight."

     "But Mary, 144 flocks of birds?  Partially bald birds?  Partially bald birds wearing prophylactics?"

     "Yes daddy.  And 12 in each flock.  They're conspiring on the lawn.  And by tomorrow there will be 1,728 flocks of birds and 12 in each flock.  And the day after that, 20,736 flocks and 12 in each flock, indeed as certain as income tax, and do you know where this is all leading to, daddy?  It's leading to 248,732 flocks on the following day and 2,986,024 on the day after that, and I could go on like this, and it's all happening on our lawn, daddy, and there's not a damned thing we can do about it.  It's utterly hopeless, daddy.  It's a nightmare.  It's a conspiracy of boundless proportions.  Do you know that fairly soon there will be 5,160,329,472 flocks of birds on the lawn?  And just in a matter of a few days.  Daddy, it's sinister, it's ominous.  It's a phantasm, a hideous dream.  Within a few weeks there will be trillions, quadrillions, septillions of birds out there, and there's not a damned thing we can do about it.  Daddy, I'm worried."

     Harry Ricci launched a large unsavory rope of dark green sinister phlegm into the fetid air above his writhing sinister dark green phlegm coated body.  It hovered for an instant and came to rest over the bridge of his nose to swell the already considerable sinister dark green layer.  Harry Ricci thought long and hard in his agony.  He said:

     "You say they're wearing prophylactics?"

     "Yes daddy.  With the factory slogan."

     "Well then the crisis may be averted.  They might be unable to reproduce themselves."

     Mary Ricci cleared her throat and leaned back.  She launched a large unsavory rope of phlegm of her own into the fetid air.  It hovered.  It went into orbit.  She stared fascinated.  She said:

     "How about the flaws, daddy?  How about the flaws?"

     Harry Ricci stared fascinated at his daughter's achievement with the phlegm.  He couldn't believe his senses.  He said:

     "I'd better call them.  I'd better give them one last ring."

     Harry Ricci reached for the bedside phone.  The receiver was very slick in his hands.  His fingers shuddered luminously over the dial.  They wriggled like fat severed insects, centipedes, worms.  They quivered in spasms of hideous agony as if seeking to insert themselves into the telephone, the wires themselves, the ganglia connecting with the distant factory, the switchboard, the great brain, the neurons, the cellular tissue, so to speak, the creases and folds of malign intellect poised to intercept this last call from a lonely dying man.  The phone rang 3 times.  There was a quiet cold click.

 

 

 

"Hello, this is John Condom.  There is no other John Condom but John Condom.  There is only Condom.  There is the above and the below, but there is only one John Condom, and you are speaking to him.  I am John Condom at your service."

     "Mr. Condom, are you well?"

     "Not well, sir, but optimistic.  You see the renovations are nearly completed, at hand, so to speak.  The grant has been awarded.  The best minds have been delegated to quality control.  There will be a full-length inquiry, I assure you.  Of course, there are other problems, but what is a day without problems, I ask you."

     "Mr. Condom, you don't sound well."

     "Not well sir, but optimistic.  A stitch in time saves 9.  And it's been going on for 10 billion years.  Nothing's going to stop us.  You can depend on that, sir."

     "Well I'm calling about the birds."

     "Birds?"

     "The partially bald birds.  They're congregating on my lawn.  The situation may be desperate."

     "Mr. Ricci, life is like that.  A little down, a little up.  The ups and downs, you see.  A little patience, a little insight.  Just how many are there, sir?"

     "At least 12 flocks of 12."

     "And tomorrow?"

     "144 flocks of 12."

     "Mr. Ricci, this world isn't going to listen to that kind of nihilism.  Why it's a brand new day.  It's a brand new era.  We have it all cleared up, sir, spic and span.  Life goes on.  Mr. Ricci, do you know what an allegory is?  Would you recognize one if you saw one?  Mr. Ricci, what you're talking about has no place in the allegory.  It's not in the chart, Mr. Ricci.  How many the day after that?"

     "20,736 flocks of 12."

     "Mr. Ricci, you're really a very desperate individual.  You're so shortsighted you can't see the forest for the trees.  Life goes on, Mr. Ricci.  There's a big future for us.  Mr. Ricci, I've mailed you that application.  We're going to be doing great things with quality control.  The future's bright ahead.  How many the day after that?"

     "248,832 flocks of 12."

     "Mr. Ricci, it's not in the chart.  Mr. Ricci, you're a victim of despair.  You're a nihilist.  Do you realize how many birds that is, sir?"

     "2,986,024 birds, sir."

     "Mr. Ricci, where in God's name are you going to get that many birds?  Where will they come from?  There aren't that many birds in the whole universe.  Mr. Ricci, you are a disciple of defeat.  You are a very negative creature.  This world's turning, sir.  Tomorrow you'll look out that window, and you'll see grass, perhaps snow.  Perhaps a few birds, maybe a dozen, but not 144.  Not 144 flocks of 12.  It will be a bright brand new day, and maybe, just maybe, your form will be in the mail."

     "In the mail, sir?"

     "Yes indeed.  I posted it just this morning."

     "And the birds?"

     "The birds are a phantasm, a hideous dream.  They're not in the chart.  Oh we keep several hundred around, maybe even a thousand to spread the slogan, but I assure you not 2,986,024.  And not 35,832,288 and not 429,988,456 and not 5,160,329,472 and not anything like that, damn it, not ever in the wildest stretch of the imagination, not in the most ludicrous, maddened, poisoned and profane vision of a misbegotten universe.  No, not at all, goddamn it, and I mean it."

     "Mr. Condom, you're not well."

     "Not well sir, but optimistic."

     "Just the same, sir.  I think you should see a doctor.  Perhaps Putrex, sir.  Have you taken Putrex?"

     "I'm not going to be taking Putrex, Mr. Ricci, and that's final."

     "Well don't rely on the large brown pills, sir.  I hate to say this, but they've never done me a bit of good."

     There was a long pause.  There was the abrasive sound of swallowing.  There was hideous fearful laughter, ghastly emphysematous rattlings and wheezings pitching toward utter hysteria.  There was maniacal cackling, great hoarse bellows, strained and fearsome.  There were titters, mute and desperate.  There was the sound of swallowing.  There was the sound of swallowing.  There was the sound of swallowing.

 

 

 

Harry Ricci tried for a grip on the bed.  He wedged himself partially erect and fell back a harsh moist slap on the sheet.  He wriggled and squirmed toward the edge, grunting like a pig.  He peered down at the saliva-coated floor.  He kicked and thrashed himself over to flop full length on the hardwood.  He felt its granular texture.  He lay there mute and quivering, listening to the sound of Mary's thighs.  He slithered toward the carpet like a spastic crocodile.  He wriggled and pulsed his way to the edge and up and over onto the wiry tufts, trailing a rope of slime.  He lay there gasping and shuddering, yelping and gurgling, marshaling his strength.  He scrabbled toward the bedroom door.

     Mary Ricci lay sprawled on the rocker, thrashing her soft snug calves, her plump fit thighs, a rasp of rayon and tug of meat in the lapse of her father's progress.  She moaned and cackled and gripped her buttocks.  She lolled her head hideously, pooling saliva at the base of her neck.  She rolled her eyes back into the cranial cavity and shorted like a cow in heat.  She chattered, bleated, crowed, roared, trilled, and warbled maniacally.  She gripped her mammae and bellowed.  She lost her balance and plummeted to the floor to writhe about like great fat worms on a heated griddle.  She doubled fetal clasping her cleft.

     Harry Ricci clawed the door ajar.  In his path was a rubber mat.  He gripped it in his teeth and lolled his head aside, snapped prostrate, and full length against the lacquered corridor, doubled and flopped and thrashed like a monstrous inch-worm on a bed of coals.  Harry Ricci inched on inch-worm-like, a glistening pale blob of pulsing fury.

     Mary Ricci bolted erect.  She tripped out along the slimy trail to record the progress.  Emitting goat cries of utter verve and resilience, she hopped forward modestly like a blighted chickadee and vaulted over Harry Ricci.  She egged him on like a cheerleader, coaxed him with shrill excited admonishments pitching toward hysteria.  She bolted on and out of sight, bounding down the stairs.

     Harry Ricci was alone.  He was utterly alone in his desperate progress.  He snaked and clawed his viscous way like a dinosaur crippled and maimed, so to speak, like a drunken paraplegic.  He scrabbled and oozed his way like a mighty wad of protoplasm or leucorrhea toward the distant flight of stairs.  He squirmed and butted his way like a scorched centipede, like a scalded roach, like a severed reptile, like a mashed hippo, down the trail of glistening lacquer, a quivering bloated corpse, a spastic inflated cadaver, a heap of misery beyond human understanding, a mound of suffering and indignity beyond mortal reckoning, an embolism of agony and defeat beyond cosmic comprehension, ever on slimy and repugnant toward the flight of stairs.

     Harry Ricci was totally alone in a vast sea of indifference, an ocean of boundless disregard.  He was flotsam in outer space, a pulse of fitful sensibility in sidereal immensity dwarfing his pitiful outcry, his ludicrous need to reach that flight of stairs.  Like a candle held to the all-engulfing maw of eternity, so vast, so immense as to render it less than insignificant, infinitely less than futile, pitiful, wretched, pathetic, hopeless, doomed, yes in fact doomed to oblivion and absence in the face of absolute unqualified immensity, boundless and utter totality, that great wash of space and galaxies and voids beyond voids beyond reach or aspiration, inching toward the stairs.

     And once there, pushing himself over with one last thrust of his agonized frame, rushing downward a series of bonks and thrashes like knuckles on a washboard amplified horribly, hideously, to the bottom, where in his last painful increment of despair, Harry Ricci lay beaten on his back and stared upward to Mary's soft snug calves, her plump fit thighs, her cleft.  And she read:

     "It reads as follows:

 

            'Dear Mr. Ricci:

 

              Enclosed you find the standard application

              form.  Instruct your daughter Mary to

              complete it and return same  to the

              prophylactic factory, care of Mr. John Condom,

              General Manager, immediately following

              your death.

                                

                                             Yours very truly,

                                                                                       

                                              Rance Fervod, Jr.

                                                                                      

                                              Search Committee.'"

 

 

 

Harry Ricci was in a coma.  He awoke from the coma.  He was in his bed.  There was a large indeterminate man leaning over with a sinister compelling grin, with a sinister compelling stethoscope, probing Harry Ricci's sinister viscous chest, thumping with the fingers, going erect immensely distant, flashing the sinister grin, nodding toward Mary Ricci on the good rocker.  And Harry Ricci felt the pain returning, a great blight of mute and inarticulate agony, to flood him just at the gaining impression it was gone.  And with the pain the tremors shuddering the blankets, alone in a slimy sea of his own spasms, waiting for the doctor's verdict, which came like this:

     "Mr. Ricci, you're a very lucky man.  I've seen cases like this.  Whatever made you get out of bed?  You're lucky to be alive."

     "Yes daddy, we almost lost you."

     "Why I was retrieving the mail.  You egged me on.  You put it there.  At the bottom of the steps.  Mary, you encouraged me."

     "This is not the place for domestic squabbles, Mr. Ricci.  Suffice it to say, you're very lucky to be alive.  Mr. Ricci, you're almost totally paralyzed.  Your blood pressure is indeterminate.  Your pulse is diffuse, weak and pathetic, pitiable.  Mr. Ricci, you're a big blob of snot."

     "Yes daddy.  The doctor's right again as always.  Perhaps a pinch profane but always right.  And immediate. And he brought some more of the large brown pills."

     "Yes, Mr. Ricci.  Enough to last a lifetime."

     The doctor grinned hideously and juked his head toward the door.  There on a large magnesium dolly was a massive translucent bottle with a white safety cap.  It was filled with the placebos.  It bore the factory slogan.  It glistened in the uncertain light cast by the florescent tube in the center of the Blessed Virgin on Harry Ricci's vanity.  Harry Ricci rolled over on his side and launched a rope of phlegm.  He hacked abrasively and lapsed into silence.

     "What's it like outside?  What's it like beyond the window, Mary dear?"

     "It's absolutely dark."

     "What's that noise I hear?  That cacophony, that hideous din?"

     "It's the birds, daddy dear."

     "That's right, Mr. Ricci.  Look at my overcoat."

     Harry Ricci examined the doctor's overcoat on the big clothes tree.  It hung sodden, bristling with feathers and fragments of feathers.  He examined the doctor's hair.  It was similarly encrusted.  He turned slightly and craned his neck.  The doctor's cordovan wingtips were massive embolisms of excrement.  There were feathers and excrement halfway up his legs.  The doctor's total appearance was that of a monstrous bird patty, hideously defiled and repulsive, hideously ominous.

     "What's it like out there?  What's it like beyond the window?"

     "Birds upon birds, Mr. Ricci.  A sea of birds, a veritable ocean, a deluge of cackling feathered friends, and they're all partially bald, all shedding their plumage, all boisterous and maniacal, all utterly disrespectful, all rambunctious and ill bred, all copulating furiously and laying eggs filled with more birds, utterly inconceivably greater and more massive frightening numbers, all wearing prophylactics, all unkempt, disorderly, slovenly, repulsive, and horribly immediate, compelling to a degree of sheer intensity and wanton callousness I can't bear to describe."

     The doctor with the indeterminate name began weeping, a gush of torment.  Mary Ricci averted her head painfully and observed the granular wall.  Harry Ricci launched a wide column of bifurcated phlegm utterly vertical and massive, which seemed to be within a hair's breadth of orbit when it came gushing downward to inundate his chin.

    "Well what are they going to do about it, sir?  The people at the prophylactic factory.  What's Condom got in mind?  You can't just leave them to their own devices.  Why they'll breed their way into primordial density, a mesh and wad of pulsing patties and avarice, a plasma of protoplasm boundless and deformed, an impacted mass beyond the wildest scheme of deranged fancy.  Why it may be too late."

     The doctor pulled a large embroidered handkerchief from his pocket.  It kept coming in billows that threatened to fill the room.  It was emblazoned with the factory slogan.  He dabbed his eyes and blew his nose a terse melodic honk and wiped his wire-rimmed spectacles.  He grinned massively, fearfully, and darted his tongue about the fiercely sharp perfection of his incisors.  He cleared his throat.

     "Mr. Ricci, when you're down and out, when you're on the brink of despair, when you haven't got a sou, when it looks utterly bleak, when you've come to the end of your tether, where do you look?  Why upward, man.  If there's hope, it will come from the sky.  Jesus Christ told us that."

     Somewhere very distant and remote came the thrumming sound of a motor.

 

 

 

Mary and Harry Ricci occupied the bedroom.  It was very late at night.  It was quite late, perhaps toward morning.  It was very quiet.  It was utterly quiet, just the rasp of the old man's breathing, the tick of his arteries in utter darkness uterine and total, the prison and confinement that held him pressed tight stone and quiet like the darkness and the senseless void surrounding, absence itself, mute and insensate, quiet in despair.

     Here and there, now and again, came the rustle of wings, a creaking ascent beyond the window, but the birds were mostly silent.  Perhaps they were waiting like the old man, waiting for release from the aberration of given expectation concerning an indeterminate reality which had brought them there to massively reproduce in heightened density toward no express purpose, toward no given design in the poise of monstrous intellect feeding on its own creation.  Harry Ricci coughed.

     "Daddy, I thought you were asleep.  You SHOULD sleep.  Sleep will strengthen you.  It is sore labor's bath.  It is chief nourisher in life's feast."

     "Yes Mary.  Jesus Christ told us that."

     "Yes.  Jesus Christ told us many things.  Sleep, daddy.  Please, I implore you.  Go to sleep."

     "Mary.  I haven't slept in 13 years."

     "Daddy, that's what I'm getting at.  That's what I'm trying to tell you.  You need your sleep.  This room is perfectly dark.  This room is perfectly quiet.  The time has come to slip quietly into slumber, blissful repose, balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course."

     "Methought I heard a voice cry sleep no more."

     "That was a mere phantasm, an aberration of your senses.  Daddy, you're not Macbeth.  You're Harry Ricci, and you used to own a grocery, and you put your pennies aside and bought this house.  You bought the very lawn chairs, the gravel.  You planted the sycamore.  You seeded the earth.  You fitted and fretted your life into small increments, a tedious wanton monotone, edging ever more pathetically closer toward this very moment here in a dark room with your suffering, your lonely pain.  You are Harry Ricci, and you're dying of an indeterminate illness, and it's another silly syllable in the chord of trivial urgencies, tepid preoccupations toward nothing, daddy, nothing but a mindless insensate flock of birds presently mute, perhaps benign, perhaps hostile, certainly brooding mindlessly, silent and absurdly birdlike toward their own tomorrow and that thrumming sound now silent in the sky."

     "Mary, I DIDN'T plant the sycamore.  It was always there."

     "See what I mean?  You're literal.  You're hopelessly literal.  Even your death.  Your death is literal.  You haven't learned a thing.  It's just one last click in the eternal proboscis, a small neat shudder toward obscurity.  Daddy, your name is written on the water."

     Harry Ricci began weeping, a gush of torment.

     "Turn on the Blessed Virgin, Mary.  Light the small florescent tube in the hollow center."

     "Daddy, the Virgin is burnt out.  I think there is a short circuit in the wiring.  I'm out of tubes, and there's nothing we can do about it."

     "Well turn on the overhead fixture.  There must be at least a hundred watts up there."

     "Daddy, the overhead fixture is burnt out.  It's null and void.  It's another casualty.  There must be another short circuit."

     "But I saw you put another bulb in this morning.  Damn it, Mary, there must be some light."

     Mary Ricci lit a candle.  It flickered very tiny on Harry Ricci's vanity as if drawing heat and sustenance from the worn surface, the tiny threads and remnants of the lacquer.  It glowed feebly, persistently, as Harry Ricci lapsed into a silence so total and irrevocable as to stir even the slightest flutter of pity from malign intellect, from the birds beyond, from Abraham's second son, from John Condom himself.  At last there was the slightest, most pitiable nuance of a sound.  It was Harry Ricci's voice.  It said:

     "Are you a virgin, Mary?"

     Mary Ricci cleared her throat.  She launched a long rope of phlegm into the feeble candlelight.  It remained obstinately transfixed, suspended upon its own verity, its own truth, its own ludicrous substance, its own fierce texture so indeterminate, yet real and compelling in candlelight.  Mary Ricci said:

     "What do YOU think, daddy.  You've kept me busy for 13 years."

 

 

 

"What's it like beyond the window?  What's it like beyond the window, Mary dear?"

     "It's a radiant egg shell sky.  It's a radiant egg shell blue.  The sun is brilliant gold and clean."

     "What's it like beyond the window?  What's it like beyond the window, Mary dear?

     "The air is sumptuous, crisp and clear.  The winter winds are blistery, clean and sharp."

     "What's it like beyond the window?  What's it like beyond the window, Mary dear?"

     "The trees are bare and most serene.  The distant factory gleams in the brilliant sun.  The factory zeppelin thrums in the blistery air."

     "The factory zeppelin?  The factory zeppelin thrums in the winter sun?"

     "It thrums in the winter air.  It thrums so utterly golden like the sun.  It hovers above the yard, my daddy dear."

     "It hovers above the yard?  It hovers above the yard, my Mary dear?"

     "It hovers above the birds.  It hovers above a sea of birds so utterly desperate in the sun.  It hovers above a writhing mass so picturesque, so brilliant, so sharp in the blistery air, so feathered and fine and plump in the winter sun."

     "And what is it like beyond the window, beyond the window, dear?  Are there birds upon birds beyond the window, dear?"

     "Birds upon birds upon birds upon birds beyond the window, dear."

     Mary Ricci turned slightly and craned her neck.  She checked out the window.  She gripped her throat.  She breathed in taut spasms.

     "Just how many birds, Mary dear?"

     "1,728 flocks of 12.  Now 20,736 flocks of 12.  Now 248,832 flocks of 12.  Now 2,986,486 flocks of 12.  Now 35,832,288 flocks of 12.  Now 419,988,486 flocks of 12.  Now 5,160,329,472 flocks of 12.  Must I go on?  Daddy, it's horrible."

     "And the zeppelin?"

     "The zeppelin, the winter sun, the blistery air, the trees themselves bare and serene, all obscured by the birds, a writhing impacted mass.  The zeppelin thrumming fitfully among the cacophony.  Utter madness, hysteria.  Alone on the stump Abraham's second son standing majestically, attempting to restore order.  Along on the stump Abraham's second son with a megaphone, adorned in a fine silk robe and a velvet loin cloth, utterly majestic, utterly serene and spiritual, a nugget of calm in utter pathos, in a churning wad of voracious greed and appetite, a kernel of calm in a sea of plasmic energy doubling and redoubling  with force and hostile power every second, every fraction of a second, ever denser, ever more invidious, ever more frightening, awesome and malignant, a pulsing vortex sucking at all creation, pulling the blistery air, the trees, the factory itself, inward, ever increasingly inward, toward the core of the maelstrom, the calm center, the placid eye of the inferno, Abraham's second son."

     "And the zeppelin?"

     "Holding its own in the holocaust.  Hovering above like a chip of surviving sanity upon a lake of primordial fire.  Thrumming desperately with its brave slogan so hideously duplicated to utter distraction and insanity upon the 5,160,329,472 prophylactics and gaining, all below.  Wait.  Hold it, daddy.  It's coming.  Condom's playing his trump."

     "Playing his trump?  Condom's playing his trump?"

     "A poisonous cloud descending from a great pumper in the zeppelin belly, a cloud of poisonous gas sucked into the swirling currents of the maelstrom, into the dragon's teeth.  A trump.  No twice.  Hear it, daddy?  And coming on ever thicker, blotting out the sun, infinitesimal droplets, each deadly, each hideous and profane, billions upon billions into the ensuing Armageddon, so to speak, the writhing mass on the lawn.  Pathos, daddy.  Thrashing guts and feathers.  Eater and eaten.  The birds are eating themselves, sucking into each other the pitch of their avarice, their greed to BE at any cost, to survive.  To consume, daddy.  The birds are consuming each other by the billions, and it's all happening on our lawn."

     "And the little  boy?  Abraham's second son?"

     "Calmly weeping at the center.  Beatific tears.  A great halo of light about his head.  The rapture, daddy.  The little boy suffused with the clear bright awesome and eternal light of divinity, of primordial radiance at the core of the storm, the vortex of the devastation.  And he's holding one bird, a solitary bird among the carnage, and his smile, daddy, is beyond human understanding, beyond divine reckoning, beyond cosmic comprehension."

     "The boy's, Mary?"

     "No.  The bird's.  The large partially bald bird's."

     Harry Ricci wedged himself partially erect and fell back a great moist slap, utterly perplexed.

 

 

 

Harry Ricci pulsed fetal and thrashed full length along the viscous ruined sheets.  He doubled fetal and thrashed.  He clutched his stone-hard belly, feeling the cords of his knotted muscles.  He tensed his thighs and doubled into a small hard knot of tempered steel, coiled and cramped to spring again full length across the dampened throne of his dying.  For the end was very hard, difficult coming, desperate to pursue, a bed of coals feeding on his dignity, scorching out the last juices of recognizable humanity here in the small taut chamber so alone, so utterly alone with his agony, trying so very hard to die.

     "Daddy, I feel so terrible.  I wish there was something I could do.  I can't bear to watch you thrashing like that.  It seems so hard, so utterly difficult, so desperate to pursue, the dampened throne of your dying.  I could almost sit down and write a poem."

     "Maybe it would be better if you didn't watch, if you sat out there in the hallway on the rubber mat.  You've called the doctor?"

     "Yes.  I got the answering service.  I called a dozen times, and there was no response.  They said something about a party.  Everybody's celebrating.  They screamed the drinks are on Condom and laughed horribly and hung up.  And I don't know any other doctor, daddy.  Besides, they're so expensive."

     "What's it like outside?  What's it like beyond the window?"

     "There's a marble monolith on the lawn.  It is seated at the base of the now defunct sycamore.  There's a smooth polished likeness of an old man on the side facing our house.  I suppose it's Condom.  He seems very benevolent.  The zeppelin is gone.  They say it was packed off and shipped C.O.D. to the Smithsonian Institute together with several unspent capsules of poison gas."

     "The Smithsonian Institute?  Isn't that in Detroit?"

     "No.  It's in Washington.  Washington is a part of the District of Columbia.  No one seems to like it.  Everyone says it's so far away.  We could take a trip there when you recover.  I could arrange for the passports.  They say there's a medical museum there at the Institute, there in Washington of the District of Columbia."

     "Mary.  Maybe they will put me to rest there in the Institute.  Maybe they will inter my body in one of the large specimen bottles.  Why I may be enshrined forever for the curious.  After all, it happened on my lawn."

     "Our lawn, daddy."

     "All right.  I didn't mean to be selfish.  It's just this pain.  There.  I'm choking.  Now it's all right.  It's just this pain, Mary.  I didn't mean to be selfish.  Why when you die they could inter you in another of the big specimen bottles.  We could float side by side eternally for the curious.  We could float as one beyond the ravages of time and space.  We could always be together.  Mary, there's someone at the door."

     A great rattle and thrashing had erupted below at great cost to Harry Ricci's sense of well-being.  It came on thundering again like the last knell of doom.  Mary Ricci disappeared through the corridor, leaving Harry Ricci alone in utter perplexity.  Perhaps it was a delegation from the Institute.  Perhaps it was the doctor with the indeterminate name.  Perhaps they had reached him.  After all, Condom's party couldn't last forever.  As awesome and unimpeachable as his staff might be, they were certainly not immortal.  Perhaps it was Condom himself.  Perhaps it was the casual observer.  It would certainly be a nice gesture for them to show up for his final minutes.  Harry Ricci pulsed fetal and held tense.  He erupted full length and viscous on the ruined linen.

     An infinitely long time later Mary appeared in the doorway.  She was smiling radiantly, a light of affirmation creasing her sullen face, a shade of joy, a cast of hope transforming her from the very plain creature he had always endured to an endearing creation of soft delicate beauty and repose.  She led in behind her a very small boy, utterly comely and sensitive, graceful of limb, seraphic of aspect, a being of utter grace and tranquility suffused with a gentle harmonic delicacy and quiet grandeur that moved Harry Ricci, dying in his own secretions, to tears.  The boy, who was utterly young and innocent, was marred hideously by a large gaping gangrenous sulfurous hole in his slender torso.  His hands, so fine and carefully wrought, were encrusted with open scabs imperfectly covering additional holes which gaped distastefully in the light from a rewired Virgin on Harry Ricci's vanity.  The little boy was holding cupped in his elbows an extremely large utterly bald bird with an additional gaping hole in its naked breast, imperfectly obscured by a large unsavory wad of phlegm.  Both bird and boy were appealing with upraised limbs as if for divine sanction and beneficence from a perfectly loving, perfectly feeling, perfectly empathetic and divinely understanding creator.  Both bird and boy were wearing prophylactics emblazoned with the factory slogan.  Harry Ricci, dying now terribly, utterly, hopelessly broken and perplexed, dying absurdly with his eyes so imperfect riveted on the factory slogans so hideously emblazoned in an antique script, uttered a very small sound so tiny and remote that only Mary picked it up.  She said:

     "He wants to know your name, little boy."

     "I thought he knew."

     "No, little boy, he has never known."

     "Well.  Well my name is Jesus.  Jesus of Nazareth."

     And Harry Ricci, an increment louder, dying in his own overwhelming and everlasting bewilderment, snapping full length and viscous, pulsing the last tremor of his curious and unsatisfying life, said:

     "Who's responsible for all this?"

     Mary smiled.  The little boy smiled and knelt with the bald bird to kiss Harry Ricci's corpse.  John Condom in a very distant festive room had his 13th Scotch and soda.  There was a quiet cold click.  There was the sound of weeping, a lonely absent sound like the sound of the gravel.

 

 

                           THE END