Vol. 1, Branded Souls, Chapter 2: The Beautiful, The Awkward

She pointed her thoughts towards the many visitors while she unwrapped her Italian hoagie sandwich from its white deli paper. Lest, she be absorbed in her own thoughts she mused for a time at the awkward ensemble of typical tourists ambling about; waist packs, visors, too much sun screen, brightly colored city shirts and aggressively styled hiking boots. It was drizzling outside but still, the sun shined. The light rain speckled the dusty foot lanes. The tourists walking here on the National Mall’s strip of turf and gravel lanes were prepared as such. Many paused for photographs, a few jogged by fresh from a business meeting across the bridge, several sat leisurely pointing and striking up conversations while children went on laughing and chasing about to the tune of dogs barking and pigeons softly pecking at crumbs.

To her left was the Capitol building and its reflection pool that had been drained for renovation and to the right was the National Monument, as white and phallic as ever. She gave little thought to her left and right for what she held in her hands was an excellent creation of man and it was lunch time. She looked down at the baguette; it was a freshly baked hard-roll and it was stuffed with all the traditional fixings that encompassed an Italian sub sandwich: Capicola ham, Genoa salami, Provolone, hot peppers, sun dried tomatoes and thinly sliced red onions- to her great satisfaction that little Sicilian sub shop in Cleveland Park always topped their creations with a healthy amount of virgin olive oil, barrel aged wine vinegar and oregano.

She had to restrain herself, she was famished. The Italian sub sandwich was halfway finished before she could even take her eyes off the thing. She paused and dabbed her mouth with a napkin and resumed the airs of that dainty beautiful thing that had not missed breakfast and lunch. The sun was sinking low and in the setting sun, the monuments glowed regally. “This is what spring is all about- the sunsets, the smells and tastes and equally the distractions.” She lovingly thought but a shadow darkened her brow. “It had been a long winter with little income and heaps of depression-all that is beyond me now and what lay ahead, I will greet with open arms.” Seeing so many bright, optimistic faces on a satisfied though very full stomach rejuvenated her.

She laughed to herself at a group of Segway motorist whirring by with guarded self-importance. “What a peculiar site.” She took the last bite of her sub and was pleased as always with the sheer brilliancy of her favorite meal. She smiled at herself through a pocket sized cosmetics mirror and touched up her foundation, checked her teeth and applied red lipstick. She glanced at her watch and snapped from a food induced daydream. It was just reaching 5:45 in the evening. “I’m late for the group meeting tonight.” She let out an audible breathe, stood, brushed some crumbs of her skirt and departed.  Pulling a cigarette from her purse, she pressed it to her lips, lit it with a match that was fired after a quick strike from a matchbook and walked across Constitution Avenue.

“What is wrong with me?”

“No, nothing…” He stopped himself. “…still, I cannot get a grip on my unorganized, scattered thoughts.” “They seem to come from everywhere…not to mention those urgent and pressing, flights of fancy.” He toyed with that peculiar word and thought about how much he wanted to prove himself, to show everybody- to be capable. He pushed along these self-deprecating thoughts that were picking at him like a cloud of gnats.

“The doctors said, that drugs would help, those calming blues, and perky reds but I doubt that likely.” Scowling, a mistrust of society and authority sat on his chest. He was running his hands through his hair, twirling black tight locks around his finger. “I’m not so different than any others in my grade, I’m sure of it.” He wasn’t sure of it. The skinny teenager paused his thought, than inwardly expelled the rest. “I believe that throughout the whole bleeding history of humanity, everybody who had once crawled then walked has felt the slights and vexations that come from, ‘having to conform’- to fit accordingly.” “I’m not alone and this is natural, right?” He sat shaking his head. Why have I always felt confused and uncertain? He began to shout at his reflection in an advertisement framed in glass under a bus shelter.

I can never explain myself-even to myself!”

A gray wolf spider moved across the carpet into a ventilation system that lined the Metro cabin. His eyes absently followed it. “It’s a shame, a damn shame that ease of mind cannot be found in the young, let alone me.” He drummed the backs of his long, boney fingers on the window and tried to still his ceaseless mind. “Alas, question marks dot my life, that’s just the nature of things, I suppose.” Pillon Rehavya continued but this time, voiced himself with the ink of a pen. He thumbed through a cloth journal that he retrieved from a cargo pocket in his shorts and began to write:

I am no exception. Within the cogs of time and the machinations of men and all that is esteemed of sex and desire- I am no exception.” “Desperation and confusion have played as a rule in my life.” He mumbled as he wrote. “Wouldn’t it be great to masquerade about with such a mask of opulent confidence!” He peered over at the seat to his left. “Look at that guy, look at his coiffed hair, his 5 o’clock shadow and look how comfortable that girl who sits with him is.” He sighed shallowly as the girl of 20 or so wrapped a caressing and affectionate arm around her intimate. Pillon’s rambling broke off into another tangent “Wishes seldom come true and success is subjective but who gives a shit about a wish?” He tried to reassure himself that this was a temporary reality. He ruffled his black curly hair with a loose hand and scratched at an itch on his nose with the open palm of the other. His blue clothed journal remained balanced on his lap and the ordinary black pen with a chewed end rested in the center of the binding.

He stretched his fingers and thought dejectedly of all the beautiful women that would be destined to pass him by if he could not find resolution within himself.

I’d love to be romantic, and heck, If I could just relax.” His hands began to shake and his heart grew tremulous at the mere suggestion he had made. “These notions wouldn’t have to just remain in dreams but wrapped in the silk of sheets.” He wrote that down and shut the journal and returned it to his backpack at his feet. He put the pen behind his ear.

His eyes darted around him; he could have sworn someone was looking over his shoulder and reading along but that some shadow had retreated.  He looked out the window breathing a momentary fog onto the pane. As he readjusted his glasses, he sat longingly anticipating his first girlfriend.

He leaned his head against the window and gazed out at the gray rainy day. “During my slumber and during late, listless evenings, I see a deep, life affirming truth.” He tried to describe this glowing vision to himself, to put it to pen but he failed. He reached for the journal once more but stopped himself. It weren’t a goal or a path but some shining golden thing akin to the warmth of the sun. “To find and have a single truth and depend on and toil all of my days in its peace, watching its growth; the sprouting of a stem, the unfurling of a new tender leaf…” “That is my desire…with this, I imagine, everything else would fall into place.” He was worried and weary. He glanced over his shoulder once more then slouched on the bench and extended his feet in front of him.

His feet had felt heavy, but now rested and near the end of his excursion, they felt much lighter. He wanted to go for a walk. Deliberately, his shoes crossed. The scuffed brown leather that canvassed his feet began to wag to an unheard tempo. They continued in this fashion intermittently.

Strangely, Pillon felt the carpet shrug. It drew his attention downwards. The thin covering of the Metro cabin floor was indifferent to the abuse it was subjected to and consequently, designed to handle. Through its dereliction it seemed to tell an interesting story, a hazy recollection of itself and all its abusers. The pink-orange, faded and striped floor was pretty beat up. There were spots of gum, the guts of a cheap cigar, half eaten animal crackers, black scuffs and a variety of strange and sordid stains. The floor, with all of its proof, had a sort of indemnity against those who have crushed its dubious youthful beauty. Pillon could’ve sworn he heard it sigh.

“It is decidedly odd to have this connection with an inanimate object.” Pillon agreed to himself as oft times he had when an object decided to reveal itself to him. He concentrated on looking out the window of the cabin though a black tunnel with service lights illuminating dirty subterranean tracks were all he could see. Details wanted to speak to him at times, like some strange fever that came on- an irrational fit or stress based anxiety he concluded, parroting the thoughts of his psychiatrist and mother. He had an oddity that he couldn’t quite understand or get his mind around. It felt more or less normal to him though he was used to fighting it with trained mental exercises. What resulted was a view of life from very peculiar perspectives. Descriptions came like narratives from all manner of inexpressible things at what could be guessed, random times. For Pillon, it was almost a normal occurrence, an occurrence that professionals had recommended a cocktail of strong pills.

He pushed the stories and tedious analysis that plagued his beleaguered mind past and into the back of his mind. Eventually, the clamor of what was around him died away. Pillon could almost forget the situation until he chanced the next fever and the next shouting park bench or down-and-out crumpled tin can would command his attention.

The train had stopped at Metro Center and the normal rush of people surged on board. He was still to himself and his thoughts and declared aloud,

If there were powers beyond mortal ability, then I was given the damnedest and most frustrating!

He drew glances from the stranger that just alighted and a passenger to his nearest left who, perturbed, shifted uncomfortably giving Pillon the sanity check, that is, eyeing him discreetly. His extreme youth was a saving grace. As the metro car lined up at the next platform it lurched forward, rattled a moment then stopped abruptly with a squealing sound of grinding brakes.

A beautiful woman grabbed Pillon’s attention as she stepped from the grey marbled platform into the cabin. Her presence just socked him in the face and his mind reeled from the concussive force of the strike. Her stunning presence crossed the threshold of the two sliding doors and moved towards him and the open seat adjacent to him. She seemed to float over the filth of the floor that seemed all together silenced. She calmly sat down in the seat next to his.

Pillon’s mind raced. He could feel himself sweating like an awkward Robert Crumb sketch but a black and white cartoon this was not. The Metro cab jerked forward and began to speed along towards the next stop. He felt his heart beating like a hammer and was convinced that everyone could hear it. Perspiration built on his forehead and his cheeks turned red. “It feels like bombs are going off inside me, this is way too much!” He was frozen in anxiety.

As does a person who is on fire, Pillon jumped from one place to another, in his mind that is. “She doesn’t notice or doesn’t care; is it relief that she doesn’t notice or is it dread to think that I’m not even a blip on her radar!” He turned his head mechanically towards her and flashed a toothy smile but he couldn’t sustain anything more than that. Before she could reward the gesture with the brilliance of her own pearls, the dimples on her cheeks and the gold of her sparkling eyes, Pillon shot his eyes towards the floor. It laughed at him. That piteous carpet with such a sardonic attitude lay as smirking witness to his frustrations. Pillon drove the heel of his foot into the floor.

I’m drowning on land!” He yelled inside his head.

After practiced breathing exercises a strange quietness came over him. He took several more deep breathes to control himself; to wash away this biting and harassing anxiety. He managed to get his heart rate down from an Allegro to Moderato; Damned if it didn’t feel like thunder and damned if ol’ John Henry weren’t tearing up a mountain with a hammer inside his chest.

She was wearing a silk and cotton sundress that seemed to shimmer about her. Her black hair hung loosely about her shoulders, it radiated and filled the air with the aroma of honey and oranges. Her waist was slim and her legs were long dressed in black stockings. Pillon gawked as he hadn’t an inkling of subtlety; obviously she noticed. Smiling to herself she scanned the current issue of the Gazette newspaper. She flipped open the style section with a routine precision. Her skin was of fine alabaster, not in paleness but of a pure, blue-veined whiteness. She appeared as the ivory statue of Pygmalion but keen, modern and chic.

In his naiveté and hot-blooded excitement, Pillon gave birth to a half-baked epiphany:

“This woman is a walking testament that real beauty is truth!” He brightly concluded this idea in his head that, “It’s alive, wild and loose in the women who pass alongside mortals.” He divined her goddess of truth and love-insomuch as Pillon had ever known. He suddenly knew what he needed to do in order to battle and contest his dramatic and youthful outpourings. His ramblings formed new meanings and clarity came to him as if amidst a natural clearing. What he had to do was simply to speak but alas, his courage skittered in retreated back into the woods.

Doors opening, this is Farragut North” a tired, heavily colloquial voice buzzed in from a speaker above him. He drew his eyes away from the hypnotic trance of the woman. He gathered his coat and stood quickly but he lost his footing. The snickering floor broke his fall. He jumped to his feet once more before the train stopped and it threw him violently again but this time, against the metal bracing pole. “Fuck!” He grabbed his face in pain and his eyes darted around the train.

To Pillon time had completely stopped and for him the worst thing that could have happened came to pass: everyone was staring at him. After what had felt like a lifetime of embarrassment and pain the car halted. The doors slid open and he hurled himself of the train and onto the platform, cursing himself all the while.

His heart was about to leap out of his throat and blood was streaming out of his nose. He sat down on a gray stone step, removed a handkerchief from his coat and held it to his face. Onlookers smirked or shook their head as they remarked to one another. He muttered profanely to himself for a few minutes before standing upright on the platform. He collected himself and exited the underground station. A sad inspiration came to him and he pulled a scrap of paper from his journal and jotted down his thoughts:

“Emerging from that dark tunnel,
To be defeated by this evening mist,
The clouds are too heavy
The clouds are too low,
Moving upwards,
Slowly forwards,
The escalator screams nonsense,
Car exhaust meets burning rubber,
Crisp and clean as it may seem,
That while these people beam,
I stand here and bleed,
…Bloody obscene.”

“Oh, you never cease to amaze me…” He sighed dejectedly. Unsatisfied, he folded the paper into his pocket and stepped off the escalator.


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