Lazy Lie-Abed’s Wild Ride

The black sedan rockets down the road. There is a monkey at the wheel. He has on a chauffeur’s cap, and a little jacket and no pants. He jabbers and points at the road, and yanks the steering wheel back and forth. Lazy Lie-Abed is sprawled on the back seat. “Oh my delicate constitution!” he says, his pink bulk tossed side to side in the car. “Oh, my liver! My digestion!”

The car speeds on over dusty lanes, into a village of gray stone houses with window boxes full of red and pink geraniums. The monkey pilots the squealing car around the village square, knocking into tables heaped with produce, scattering oranges and chickens in his wake. At the corner café, the coffee drinkers observe the flight of the car, cups frozen halfway between table and lip, their heads swiveling silently. “Oh, my paws and whiskers!” cries Lazy Lie-Abed from the back seat. He licks the backs of his wrists and passes them over his eyebrows.

Lazy Lie-Abed plucks crumbs of Cheez-it crackers off his chest. He peers into the empty box, then out the car window. “Ooh! Oooh! Look, it’s a drive through. We’re out of Cheez-its. Oh, stop here, you must!” The monkey wrenches the wheel over and the car screeches sideways into the Dairy Barn driveway. The reflection of the red silo slides across the windshield. The monkey leaps halfway out the window, only his bright red ass visible, his tail wrapped around the steering post. Boxes of foodstuffs come hurtling in through window: Cheez-its, Ho-Ho’s, Ring Dings. A can of Poppycock sails all the way to the back seat and bangs off Lazy Lie-Abed’s head. He is momentarily cross as he rubs the point of impact. But than he sighs philosophically, pries open the lid, and stuffs a handful in his mouth. “Drive on!” he says through a mouthful, and small pieces of the popcorn spray out and stick to the back of the monkey’s neck.

Down a hill into a small valley. The hillside is flecked with snow banks and dark green pines. There is an A-frame chalet with a goat perched on the very peak. Across the second story of the chalet there is a wide balcony, with a row of whirligig flowers all along the wooden railing. The flowers spin around as the car flies past. The monkey tosses a red sweater with white snowflakes on it over the seat back to Lazy Lie-Abed. “No time to ski!” moans Lazy Lie-Abed and the car skids around the corner into the flat and dusty desert. A cloud of dust spews out from under the car, and the horizon leans back away from the car in all directions. “Oh for my couch! Oh for my books. Fetch me the book about the car ride.”

The monkey tosses back maps. Lazy Lie-Abed examines a map closely. “Am I here?” he asks the monkey, pointing at a place in the map. The monkey turns over and grasps the steering wheel with his feet. He leans far over the seat, grunting whenever a bump forces the backrest into his belly. He looks at the map upside down. The car runs off the road, knocking aside cacti, roaring in and out of gullies. Small rocks flick out from under the wheels, and lizards skitter away.

The car plunges over the side of a cliff and tumbles down, down, down. “Or am I here?’ asks Lazy Lie-Abed, pointing at another place on the map. The car drifts down slowly now, suspended by a large parachute. It swings back and forth like a pendulum. The rocking car descends past a cloud that is supported by four balloons, each tied to whatever passes for the corner of a cloud. There is an angel on a barstool playing the harp. The monkey bounces on the seat. He scoops up a handful of his own feces and flings them in the direction of the angel. But the window is only partly open and most of the handful sticks to the inside of the pane.

The descending car is framed in the window of a kitchen where a Bored Child asks, “What is there to do?” leans over the kitchen table and contemplates an empty afternoon. The kitchen table is covered with linoleum imprinted with a faux-marble pattern. It doesn’t look much like marble; it looks more like chunks of snow or ice, floating in a violet gray sea, or like yogurt parting to reveal a fruit filling on the bottom. The Bored Child doesn’t examine the table very closely. If he did, he would notice that there is a two-dimensional car tearing across it, no bigger than an ant.

The monkey is wearing a tall Russian hat and a long trailing scarf. The car bounces over the ice floes, airborne half the time. On each jolt, the monkey is lifted clear of the seat, but still clings to the steering wheel. He pivots as if he were hinged there. The window is still open, and the breeze blows the scarf straight back, into Lazy Lie-Abed’s face. Between brushing the scarf out of the way, and being jounced around the back of the car, Lazy Lie-Abed is having difficulty concentrating on his game of solitaire. “Red Queen!” he says, “Where is the Red Queen?”

The Red Queen rears up over the horizon, enormous. Her mouth is pulled down in a great frown, like a mailbox. When she speaks her whole lower lip flops down to reveal white teeth, like letters. She plucks the car up and plunges it into her pocket. Darkness envelops the interior of the car. The monkey shuts off the engine. Lazy Lie-Abed turns on the reading light and settles back into the seat, turning the pages of an action novel. He turns to the section where the lean and chiseled hero is climbing up the boulder strewn mountains. It’s the part right after the lean-and-chiseled one swims the raging torrent, and right before he slides down the cable of the ski lift, his rock hard biceps straining. Lazy Lie-Abed sighs contentedly and settles back against the seat. He props his head up with the sweater and a box of Cheez-its. His lips move as he reads.

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Brother Solitaire

Brother Solitaire walks through the garden of his cloister. The vigorous morning sun has climbed up into the sky and heated the clipped rosemary hedges. The fragrance of the rosemary drifts into the walkway. Small bees swarm ceaselessly around the light blue flowers of the rosemary, the sound of their activity an indolent drone. The light is clear and golden; it warms the patient stone of the benches. It would be pleasant to sit here, if only there were time.

Brother Solitaire wears a coarse brown robe that rebuffs the caress of the day. The cowl hangs on either side of his face, like blinders on a horse. He fixes his gaze on the worn stones of the pavement before him. Brother Solitaire could have worn a more pleasant garment, but this was the one that fell to hand when he awoke. Now it seems a little late to change. Somehow the day fills up.

There is a fountain that murmurs in the center of the garden. The fountain throws moisture into the air; a cool, fine mist that drifts up like the languid exhalation of a newly-beloved. There are fruit trees in the garden, figs pendulous and heavy, apricots, mangoes and avocados. There is a lovely arcaded walkway that circumambulates the garden and embraces it. There are four gates that open from the arcade to the outside. The first gateway leads to the clamor of the marketplace. The second gateway leads to the quarter of the dance halls and ballrooms. The third leads to the ancient university. The last leads to a beautiful, unsullied forest. Every day scholars and dancers and merchants and woodsmen come and gather at the gates calling to Brother Solitaire. Sometimes Brother Solitaire leaves the cloister and joins them. It is then that he remembers that he is not a monk. He is a wealthy man of noble lineage, and the place he lives is not a cloister, it is a palace. After each foray he returns invigorated, and for a time he notices the beauty of his garden. But then, inevitably, he falls back into his familiar ways and gradually drifts again into forgetfulness.

Brother Solitaire paces the garden of his palace, and his feet find the depressions worn in the flagstones by his regular comings and goings. The grooves lead him on past the gates and toward the center of the garden.

He passes the first gate, and the merchants call out. “Come to our marketplace. There are beautiful soft clothes for you to wear and clever devices for your diversion. We have spices and wines and candies. The roasts are on the spit; they are brown and dripping. There is a feast ready and your cleverest companions await with their wits sharpened.” And brother Solitaire says, “I will come and sample your wares on Friday from 3:00 until 8:00. I have put aside an adequate amount from my budget.”

He passes the second gate and the dancers call out. “Come dance with us. Come abandon yourself to the banked curves of movement. Put your arms around us and we’ll dive together into the crystalline blue depths of the music. The currents will whirl us by creatures with needle teeth and iridescent fins, safe in the bathysphere of each other’s arms.” And brother Solitaire says “I will dance with you on Tuesday night from 9:00 until 2:00. I have good dancing shoes and a change of shirts.”

The scholars call out. “Come and study with us. We have stored up arcane secrets and uncovered truths so large that they are overlooked. Come wander through the streets of societies that do not yet exist, and those that are already dust. We have preserved the laments of the bereaved like insects in amber. Come quickly. We have letters for you. They are a thousand years old.” And Brother Solitaire says “I have signed up for your seminar on Monday mornings. I will be early for class, and I will bring a notebook and three pens.”

The woodsmen call out. “Come with us to the forest. The seasons are turning and as they turn they grind out gold. Perhaps today the daffodils will push their fingers out of the thawing earth. Perhaps the birds will arrive to sing their songs older than man. Perhaps the brittle leaves will waltz with the breeze. Watch them describe the contours of the air, and meander to the ground. The woods are breathing out a perfume, and each day it is a new one.” And Brother Solitaire says “We will walk together this weekend from 10:00 until 3:00. I have bought sunscreen and a hat.”

Brother Solitaire always gives each group its due. He is unfailingly polite, if a bit distant. He wishes he could spend more time with them, but there doesn’t seem to be enough time. Where does the day go? Brother Solitaire proceeds to the center of the garden. He does not want to miss his meeting.

He arrives early, as usual. He sits down on the bench, but does not notice its warmth. He does not smell the fragrance of the fruits around him. He does not hear the birds that sing in the trees, nor does he see the figures they draw in the air with their flight. He leans forward and looks down and his cowl falls forward and blocks off the view to the sides. He sees his shadow on the ground before him. He speaks to it:

“How about today? Will you show me the way today? If you would only make the first small movement, I would follow you.” He leans forward and the shadow leans forward, too. He grows still and the shadow grows still. He watches and watches, and then it seems to him that perhaps one of the shadow’s hands is beginning to move. Is it gesturing, or is it just the shadow of a bird overlaid upon his own? As he tries to decide, a cloud drifts in front of the sun. The sharp golden light becomes gray and flat, and the shadow fades away. When it reappears, the shadow is in the same position as he. It does not move. He sighs and the shadow sighs. He leans back and the shadow follows. He recommences his vigil. Brother Solitaire waits.