quinta-feira, 3 de março de 2011
Just Before the Black, by James Franco
Author (and actor) James Franco offers this story about how it's only right before you die that you know you're living
Esquire, March 24, 2010
I sit in the driver's seat of my grandfather's old DeVille. It is night out and cool. Me and Joe, we just sit.
We're out in front of the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course pro shop. It's a tan building with white trim. It's where Joe and I work during the day.
We sit here because it's dark here, and there are no lights outside this building. We're stopped for no reason except that the night is still going and we're drunk, and who wants to go home, ever, and this spot is as good as any to just sit in the shadows and let life slow.
My window is cracked, just a bit, and the air plays on my forehead like a cold whisper.
I often think about driving off the side of freeway overpasses, just plunge Grandpa's old blue boat through the cement guardrail: The sculpted barrier crumbling about me and Grandpa's blue machine; a great moment of metallic explosion and heavy ripping and jerking and then release; a soft, slow dive of arcing color through the windshield, into a hard second of impact, just before the black. What an adventure lies behind one quick turn of the steering wheel. A great screaming, and then, slip away.
Joe and I sit and stare at the wall of the building. The building is beige, but the shadows make it shadow-color.
Joe smokes. His window is all the way down, and he breathes his smoke out the black gaping gap.
There is not much to talk about with Joe because he's such a moron. I don't know what he thinks he is, or why he thinks he exists. I guess in some lives lived, no one tells you what to be, and so you be nothing. In the olden days you were born into it, all decisions made, and you farmed until you died, or cleaned the royal toilets.
I guess they didn't have toilets. Just stuck their asses out and shat in the moat. But someone had to wash out the hole.
"If you lived in the olden times, what would you do?" I ask Joe.
Joe has to think about it. He is large, and his weight spreads from his belly across the seat, like it was a plastic sack full of liquid, rolling in layers upon itself.
"Which olden times?" he asks, and it's like a boar's grunt, a deep thing, from the thick part of his throat.
"Like, King Arthur, with knights and horses."
Fatass thinks. I can hear it, rust-worn gears flaking and groaning slowly into motion, even smell it, yellow smoke emanating from his skull.
"I'd be the king," he says.
"You can't be the king," I say. "No one is king. That's like winning the lottery."
"If I went back, I'd be king. And I'd fuck every virgin in the kingdom."
"You can't be king, asshole. You can't even be duke. The fact that you even said that shows you're not royalty. You're a peasant."
"Whenever people time-travel, they go back and they are friends with the king, or they are the king."
"Because those are stories. When people tell stories, they're always about the king, it's Aristotle crap. But it's not real."
"Neither is time travel."
"There are very few kings, and you certainly wouldn't be one of them."
"Fuck you, Joe, you're an idiot."
"You're an idiot."
"I know," I say. And I am. I am friends with a slug, and my other friends are pigs and wolves. I never make friends with nice things, just the shit.
"If you were king, I'd kill myself," I say.
Joe sucks off his cigarette. It looks like the point of a golf tee in his fat, clenched paw.
He looks at me and the blue shadow-smoke drifts over the gate of his teeth like fog over a graveyard.
"Then you better die, mofucker, cuz I'm the king round these parts."
He smiles with rotten teeth like busted shingles, all climbing over each other, and yellowing gray teeth next to shit-colored gums just don't go together, and I think, Why don't you get some braces motherfucker and brush those dang things, but I don't really think about that too much because I'm thinking about something else, or at least getting ready to do something else, or already doing ...
And before I even know it, or can enjoy the new look on Joe's face, like a blubbery peekaboo face, so surprised, because I'm driving us right toward the vague beige shadow-filled wall, and I can only see and hear Joe for a second, a high-pitched thing that cracks for just a second, and for that second I'm with Joe's voice on a plateau in the black of space, wherever it is that noise cracks like that and decibels live, and then it's gone because there's the metal sound so loud and it's how I had always planned it to be, crunching, and a jerk and the front of my head is filled with the cold hollow sinus pain, the surprise punch in the nose that takes you back to childhood and there's an immediate link to every other time you ever had your nose hit, by a ball, by a head, by your own knee, and after the surprise it doesn't go away; but I'm still there and the tires behind me are screeching because my foot is still on the gas, and the car has gone a ways into the wall but it ain't going any farther, and I look over at fat shit, and there is blood rolling out of a slice in his forehead, and some blood coming out of his mouth, and I think that it's from the head gash until I see one of those teeth is now a black gap and he looks like a fat something-awful: hockey-player-pumpkin-cartoon-shithead, and he says,
"Why the fuck did you do that, Manuel?"
I laugh like crazy, a laughter that bubbles out like popcorn, because he looks so fucking silly, and because my name isn't even close to Manuel, that's his brother's name, his equally stupid older brother.
Joe just looks at me with that stupid look, covered in flowing blood, going onto his shirt like ketchup randomness, so much messier and more random than I could ever plan.
But I did paint those swirls, because I drove Grandpa's car into the wall.
For six months I drove around town with that busted car. The front was smashed. I replaced the lights, but they were crooked and looked in different directions, like Peter Falk's glass eye and real eye. I didn't care, and they, the cops or anyone, didn't catch me or pull me over. For a while.
I'm at work when I pass Joe on the way to the driving range. "Hey, Jack-O', we doing this thing tonight?" I say. We're friends again.
"Yeah," he says. "Hector has the good shit."
Everyone calls Joe Jack-O' now because he didn't get a replacement tooth. He kept the hole because he thought it made him unique, and he stopped being mad at me after he figured out he wanted the gap, and then we would laugh about me being so crazy driving into the wall, and I smiled when people would bring it up, but really it was a failure. If only I had driven right through into some other reality, but the DeVille was sturdy, and yes it was busted in the front, but not really as much as it could have been, and not so much that my parents got too suspicious when I said that another car backed into me.
Now me and Jack-O' are driving down the dark 280 freeway. Me and fat boy cruising. And I think about that missing tooth, and that gap, and how there was never a gap in that place before, and about three dimensions, and how the gap was on the inside of his mouth unless he opened his mouth and how things, shapes, folded in on themselves, and four dimensions, and if time is variable, then how do I vary it, and why do I want to? Because everything just focuses in on me and I hate it.
"If you were an Egyptian, what would you do?" I ask Joe.
"Don't start this shit again, Michael."
"Remember when you called me Manuel?"
"I never called you Manuel, idiot. I would be pharaoh."
"No, you're too fat. Pharaohs are skinny," I say.
"I don't want to be an Egyptian: pyramids and mummies and shit, and sand, and all that, fuck it, it's boring, man. I would be an Aztec, or a Mayan, like my peeps, and I'd cut your fucking heart out, homes."
Joe is Mexican. His skin is an ashy light brown and his lashes are heavier than mine, and he has short fat eyebrows and shit-brown eyes, and thick hair that flops about his fat pumpkin head.
I wish I was Mexican, or Hebrew, I mean Jewish, I mean Israeli, or Mexican Jewish, or Mexican Jewish gay, because it can be so boring being you sometimes, and if you were the most special thing like that, it could be really great, but maybe some people say the same thing about you, and you want to tell those people: "No, you're stupid, it's no fun being me."
"Maybe we should try it," I say.
"Michael, I'm serious, don't do something crazy just because we're talking about your olden-time things again, just let me the fuck out if that's what you're thinking."
"No, man, I'm just saying that maybe those Mayans were on to something. Maybe if we take someone's heart out and sacrifice it, then something special will happen."
I can tell that Joe is looking at me like he is trying to figure me out, and I know that he can't figure me out because he isn't laughing and he isn't arguing, he is just staring.
"Maybe we could take Hector's heart," I say.
We are going to see Hector over at Foothill, the junior college where I go to night school. He lives near there and sells us shit, and we're supposed to meet him in the corner of the parking lot. Hector isn't a scary guy, he has a nice-guy face, but he could probably fuck somebody up if he wanted to.
"Hector would fuck you up," says Joe.
"Not if I stabbed him in the stomach," I say, and I'm reaching under my seat with my left hand as I say this, and I pull out a foot-long kitchen knife and then I point it at Joe while I'm still driving.
"Fuck you Michael, fuck you Mike-al!" he screams and I laugh because he has funny inflections when he gets excited.
"Why do you have to be like this?" he says. "Why do you have to be Jack-the-Ripper psycho? Why do you have to be so crazy? I just want to buy some weed, I don't want to kill anyone, and I don't want to take their heart!"
"You said you wanted to, puta, so I'm just saying, then let's do it!"
"Don't call me puta, bitch! And put that fucking knife down! And watch the road!"
I poke the knife at him, at his fat stomach, lightly poking it with the tip, but he's wearing a puffy North Face jacket, so it doesn't stab him.
I love driving down an empty dark freeway, lit up intermittently by the lights at the side of the road, and when I see the lights, I think of all the little worlds out there, all the little animals living in their habitats out there, and how we could pull over and have an adventure at any one of these forgotten pockets of the world, just nothing zones, backwash refuse property in the wake of the great freeways, and I like passing all of them, racing down the freeway, like a tunnel into the night, and racing but still being able to carry on a whole action scene with Joe, and I think it is like life, because I am racing, and time is pushing me forward and it's not going to stop and I will have a few passengers in the vehicle with me, and it's either enjoy the scenery together, or listen to some music we both like, or maybe just have a little poking knife game because you want to know if the other person is really there.
We smoke with Hector and get so high. Finally he sold us some good shit. We smoke out of his mini dragon bong, out in the lightless corner of the Foothill parking lot. It's a pretty great spot, you just walk up the hill a little ways and it's under some weeping willows, and there is a small stream and brick edifices on the sides of that, and a faux altar constructed out of stones.
We smoke more and we cough every time. I think about the little dragon that the bong is and I so wish that dragons were real, because it would mean that none of this shit was the end of everything, because even if you were high, this world only let you escape a little bit, it let you escape enough that you knew that there could be something better, but it wouldn't let you into that place; like standing on the cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warmy-womby-feeling but not being able to enter, just feeling the heat a little on your face, and you want to cry and smile, but instead you just stare and you can't do anything.
"Hector," I say. I am lying on the altar thing and staring up through one of the willows, whose drooping, arcing branches are like jagged fissures in the sky. Hector is sitting against the base of the willow's trunk. "Would you rather be the pope or Pablo Escobar?"
Hector doesn't think long.
"Escobar, bitch, he gets to have all the fun."
"Pope gets to live in the Vatican, see Michelangelo all the time," I say.
"Escobar," says Joe. He is superhigh. He hogged more of the weed than Hector and I and he is hunched like a pile of trash against the base of the altar. His head hangs forward like a sleeping mule.
"Shut up, Joe," I say. "We know what you want. You want the knife."
"What knife?" says Hector.
"This puta wanted to cut out your heart with this knife," I say and hold up the knife for Hector to see. It reflects a little in the dark.
"If you try, I will fucking kill you, homes," Hector says to Joe. It seems like he's angry, but he's too tired and high to get really angry.
"I didn't say I wanted to ..." says Joe, but he doesn't finish.
"Fuck you, lardass," says Hector, and Hector and I laugh, and Joe shifts a little because he is angry, but he is too lazy to get up, so he just shifts around. He's still looking at the ground, but he says,
"No, Hector, this fucker is always asking me stupid questions and trying to kill me. He wanted to cut out your heart, homes. That's how I lost my tooth."
"No," says Hector. "You lost that because you are Jack-O' the jackoff."
Then we sit for a while not saying anything. I can feel their mind-killing slime thought rubbing on me and corroding me and killing me.
"Hector," I say.
"Yes," he says without looking up.
"Would you rather be gay or be a girl?"
He chuckles a little. Hector can be cool sometimes. Sometimes he is wise.
"Neither," he says.
"Just saying," I say. "If you had to choose because the genie said so, what would you choose?"
Joe, still looking at the dark dirt, says, "Both of 'em still have to suck dick."
"Exactly," says Hector. And Joe laughs a little, a chuckling pile of trash below me.
"Would that be so bad?" I say. "Don't you ever get jealous of those girls in pornos that get to be on their knees in the middle of all those dicks?"
"Are you fucking serious?" says Hector.
"Don't," says Joe. "This faggot is always asking stupid questions and giving stupid answers, he don't mean it."
"No," says Hector. "This faggot is serious." He's looking at me now, I can tell.
"Yeah," I say. "Don't you like the idea of an around-the-world blowbang?"
"I like to have a girl suck my dick, but I don't want to do it," says Hector.
"Me neither," says Joe, but he is mumbling.
"Why not?" I say. "What's the difference?"
"What's the difference?" says Hector. "Because I am going in, and she is being got inside of."
"And why is one better? Why does going inside make you better? Aren't you like on her turf inside her, isn't she in control of you? Like a mommy with her little baby making him feel good?"
"Because," says Hector. But he doesn't say anything else.
On the way home Joe and I are driving down the empty freeway. It's like two-thirty in the morning and we're still pretty high, and if I look up, directly at the road lights above us, I can see kaleidoscopic rainbows building and turning on top of each other in the core of the bulbs.
And I feel like I'm remembering all this from somewhere, but I'm not sure where, and everything is a little hazy, and I remember that there is an angel named Michael, and he had a flaming sword, and ...
I say to Joe,
"Let's drive the wrong way down the other side of the freeway."
Joe is almost asleep, but he says,
"Wha'?" and I can see the black gap just to the left of the center of his mouth.
"I'm going to go over on that side," I say.
And I think of the olden times, when knights would aim huge lances at each other and you would feel that when it hit you, feel that force of the momentum of the horses' pumping channeled into the lance, and for a second you might know that you were really alive. And a little ways down the freeway there is a gap in the center barrier, and I calmly turn the wheel and cross over.
James Franco's first story collection, Palo Alto, will be published by Scribner in October.
Posted by Francisco Augusto Vaz Brasil at 19:56