The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
2017: The Year of the Every-Day Magician
(link to main page of novel)
A Second-Hand Account of the Rise and Fall
of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry
David J. Keffer
September 1, 2017
On Friday while Oscar was at school and Zepha sat just inside the open doorway of his apartment, watching the rain descend, a stranger beneath a black umbrella approached Jacky's door. It was unclear whether they knew each other or, if they did, the extent of their familiarity. Certainly, Jacky's reception was not especially welcoming. He allowed the visitor to step inside the apartment, just far enough to get out of the rain, though he himself did not rise from his recliner. The visitor wore a neat, navy blue suit, purchased some years ago when he was ten pounds lighter. The starched shirt collar was tight around his neck. A tie of yellow, gray and white diagonal stripes completed the visitor's ensemble. He waited for the old man to mute the television. The batteries in the nearby remote control apparently had died for the old man shuffled from the chair to the television and back in order to manually lower the volume. The visitor complimented Jacky on his flag. While no one in the apartment complex understood Jacky's purpose in displaying the Confederate flag, the stranger seemed to intuitively understand. Their country, the stranger reminded Jacky, was in the midst of a war for its very soul. He wanted to know if he could count on Jacky to display the courage and values represented by the flag that hung proudly on his wall when the time came. He did not show any sign of his disappointment when Jacky mumbled that he was too old for all that nonsense. The visitor did not leave empty-handed, however, for Jacky, against his better judgment, suggested that he might have better luck with his son.
written while listening to: Chris Speed Trio - Platinum on Tap (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 294, 2017, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
September 2, 2017
Oscar's mother insisted that he wear a raincoat if he were going bicycling. It had been raining heavily on and off, and continued to drizzle at the moment. He rode along wet streets without any specific destination. One driver honked at him in irritation, though Oscar wasn't sure why. The rain began to pick up. Eventually, he gave up any pretense and headed directly to the apartment of Charlotte and Jacky's son.
Charlotte had only moments earlier returned from her daily visit to the outpatient clinic when Oscar knocked at the door. She had taken her daily dose in oral form at the clinic under the supervision of a nurse. The contentment and sedation that resulted from each dose was almost imperceptible since so much of the drug had accumulated in her system during the months in which she had undergone treatment. When she had returned to the apartment, Lee was gone. He had not told her that he was working today, but perhaps he was.
Inside, Oscar took off his raincoat.
"What's in your backpack?" Charlotte asked; she had once kept drugs in a similar pack.
"A book," Oscar answered and watched her expression fall. "I'll read to you." He read, "To judge from the lives that men lead, most men, and men of the most vulgar type, seem (not without some ground) to identify the good, or happiness, with pleasure; which is the reason why they love the life of enjoyment."* Later, he read, "The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else."* Oscar looked up. Charlotte seemed transfixed not by boredom but rather by utter indifference. Oscar closed the book. "Charlotte," he asked, "is it better to be kind than to be smart?"
At this question, Charlotte laughed and laughed, but refused, despite his repeated prodding, to provide Oscar with an answer.
*Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I, Part 5, ca. 350 BC, translated by W.D. Ross.
The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet - Air Supply (Erstwhile Records, erstwhile 059, 2010, United States, cd, discogs.com)
September 3, 2017
Jody's gentle remonstration with Oscar, which he had reformed as a question, had taken on a life of its own. In posing the question to Charlotte, Oscar had provided a new host from which to spread, as if the question were a contagion.
Lee didn't work on Sunday. He slept in late, as he was rarely allowed to do. He was still on the mattress when Charlotte returned from the clinic. She examined his supine form from the doorway to the bedroom. His face was too hard and angular, though he had done better at regaining weight than she had, in part because he had quit almost a year before she had and he had taken better to the methadone treatment. He was free of it. She represented his only remaining connection to that shared world of ecstasy and misery.
He lay bare-chested; his various tattoos were poorly executed. He was proud of none of them; they served merely as external markers that he was irrevocably bound to a part of the world, which would not benefit from any amount of amelioration.
No one would have described Lee as either kind or smart. It was an obscene question to be asked only among the indolent elite, entitled to muse about the relative ranking of virtues. In Lee, Charlotte found her own answer to this question, a world ungoverned by either compassion or intelligence.
She undressed and crawled onto the mattress beside him. She nuzzled her face into the crook of his neck. She kissed the ridges along his ribcage. Eventually, she roused him and found him willing, on a Sunday morning, to pretend they were somewhere else entirely, a treacherous place where hope endured.
written while listening to: Oren Ambarchi - Quixotism (Editions Mego, EDITIONS mego 202, 2015, Austria, lp, discogs.com)
September 4, 2017
The first Monday of September was established as Labor Day in the United States by the American Labor Movement in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In modern times, the holiday was unevenly applied. Some employees of private companies, like Oscar's mother, had to work, while government employees and other private employees, like Jody, had the day off.
Oscar took advantage of this situation to visit Jody and Oscar. When he arrived, he found them preparing to leave.
"We're going to walk around the nature center," Jody told him. "You should join us. I'm sure it's okay with your mom."
With no refusal prepared, Oscar did join them. Jody drove the three of them, with Oscar in the back seat. It was his first visit to the center since his move. "I used to bicycle here from my old house," he said to Jody.
They hiked along the wooded trails. A hint of autumn was in the cool air, though no leaves had begun to change color. The cicadas' call reached a crescendo in the forest until the trio of hikers could not resist the effects of their spell. The heart accepted an undeniable beauty in the natural world around them even as the brain observed its tenuous hold on an existence without ulterior motive.
Oscar was induced by the spell to ask, "Why is it better to be kind than to be smart?"
Jody was holding Zepha's hand as they walked. She looked around him to observe Oscar walking on this other side. "What a thing to ask!" she replied, as if the answer should have been obvious. Seeing that Oscar's question had been voiced in earnest, she added, "What's the good in being smart if you are living without kindness?"
With this reply, Oscar identified the cicadas' spell. It was none other than eudaemonia!
written while listening to: Otomo Yoshihide - Anode (Tzadik, TZ 7073, 2001, United States, cd, discogs.com)
September 5, 2017
The job ended early on Tuesday. Lee and his boss had spent a week replacing the pine flooring on a front porch. Lee was sorry to see the job end as the porch had been covered, keeping them out of the heat of the sun. In any case, he arrived home just after four o'clock. He did not recognize the bicycle leaning against the apartment next to the door, nor, when he entered, did he recognize the boy seated beside Charlotte on the sofa. They paused their conversation.
Oscar thought nothing of Lee's arrival, but he would not have been so relaxed had he more carefully detected the signs of nervousness in Charlotte, as she introduced the two.
In response to this introduction, Lee took two steps into the apartment and waved vaguely in Oscar's direction. He asked Charlotte in a tone of undisguised hostility, "Who is he?"
"He's your dad's neighbor," she replied.
"What's he doing here?" Lee demanded.
"We're just visiting. We were talking about..."
Lee interrupted her. His voice rose in volume as he declared, "I don't want no visitors here."
Oscar expected Charlotte to make the wholly reasonable suggestion that perhaps she was the one who had wanted a visitor, but, of course, she did not. Oscar was unfamiliar with the behavioral dynamics that governed the relationship between this couple. He had never observed a situation where the man would openly treat the woman as an object to be controlled. However, he now had the opportunity to witness this behavior and he whole-heartedly regretted it. Offering no argument, Charlotte cast her eyes to the ground.
Oscar rose to his feet. He had intended to say something along the lines of "I'll be going," but one glance at the suddenly furious expression on Lee's face prompted Oscar to quickly exit the apartment without a word. The door slammed shut behind him.
written while listening to: Elliott Sharp, Mary Halvorson & Marc Ribot - Err Guitar (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 281, 2017, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
September 6, 2017
Although no invitation had been extended, Charlotte came to visit Oscar after school on Wednesday. She stopped by Jacky's apartment and said a brief hello, before asking which unit belonged to Oscar.
Oscar stood in the half open door. His expression betrayed surprise and a measure of anxiety, both of which were readily apparent to Charlotte.
"Lee said he didn't want visitors, so I've come to visit you."
Reluctantly, Oscar invited Charlotte inside. They took seats at the kitchen table.
"I'm sorry about yesterday," Charlotte began. "Lee comes home worn out. Sometimes, he's in a bad mood." Her voice trailed off.
Oscar assured her that she had no reason to apologize to him. His nervousness had not abated.
Charlotte knew from their previous conversations that Oscar lived with his mother. She produced a wan smile. "I guess that your mom will be no happier to see me here than Lee was to see you at my place."
Oscar nodded, but he also reflected that this mother's reaction would be considerably more restrained than that of Lee. There seemed little else to say. From Charlotte's demeanor, it appeared that this meeting served as an unwelcome farewell. She asked to be read another passage from the meaningless book of Aristotle that Oscar carried around. He obliged her in this request.
Shortly afterward, he escorted her to the door. He quickly looked out at the parking lot. His mother would return any minute but, with a sigh of relief, he did not yet see her vehicle. Oscar walked Charlotte back down the stairs to the parking lot. He said good bye and hurriedly returned to his apartment, unaware that the exit of his strange, emaciated guest had coincided with the arrival of Zepha's sister, who had observed, from the parking lot, the pair with curiosity and dismay.
written while listening to: Taku Sugimoto & Kevin Drumm - Den (Sonoris, SON-13, 2000, France, cd, discogs.com)
September 7, 2017
Charlotte and Lee sat in the apartment after a humble meal, assembled largely from groceries that she had collected earlier in the day from the Thursday food pantry. They narrowly avoided an argument brought on by erroneous arithmetic when adding up the bills that Lee had brought home from work. The television remained unplugged on Charlotte's account. It served as a reminder of the poor reception that awaited and that would surely infuriate Lee as he tinkered futilely with the rabbit ears. Abandoning the television left the entirety of the evening at their disposal.
Charlotte coaxed Lee outside. They dragged over two rusting, metal chairs left at their neighbor's door. Cicadas still called from the trees generating a remarkable clamor. The texture of their drone provided a natural rhythm, which lulled the pair into a quiet calm. She leaned against his shoulder and he did not push her away. A flock of songbirds, which neither could identify, moved in synchronized flight against a sky caught in inexorable transition from day to night. As their apartment faced north and was free of any trees, the panorama of the firmament exposed itself in full. The sun set a few minutes before eight o'clock in accord with a schedule established long before the existence of man, though, in this day and age, reliably predicted by them. As darkness settled, a few wayward lightning bugs flashed in the yard across the street.
Another day had seemingly passed without either Charlotte or Lee succumbing to the ever-present temptation of instant euphoria. How such an incredible triumph of will could so easily be discounted was a mystery not revealed in the grand gestures of the natural world.
written while listening to: John Coltrane - Live at the Village Vanguard (Impulse!, A-10-S, 1962, United States, cd, discogs.com)
September 8, 2017
On Friday evening, Oscar was visiting with Zepha when Jody arrived home from work. She invited him to stay for dinner. She was making a kid-friendly meal, chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese. Once Oscar accepted, Jody told them that she was going to walk over to his apartment to see if his mother would join them.
"I don't know if she's home yet."
Jody checked anyway and, while no one answered her knock at the door, from the vantage point of the third-floor walkway, she saw the car of Oscar's mother pull into the parking lot. She went down to greet her.
"I invited Oscar to have dinner with us. You're welcome to join us. It's nothing special."
Oscar's mother seemed harried and looked as if she wanted just a moment at home to settle down at the end of the week. Despite these signals, Jody said, "I have to tell you something. For the past two days, I've been trying to catch you." The serious tone of her voice froze the other woman in her steps.
Jody then described to the mother how she had observed, two days earlier, a strange woman exit the apartment with her son. "She was clearly a drug addict," said Jody, who, as a nurse, had enough exposure to victims of addiction to reliably identify the characteristic signs. In the case of Charlotte, this diagnosis was virtually obvious. "I think Oscar may be getting drugs from her." There appeared such a terrible pain in the other woman's face that Jody instantly regretted having said anything at all.
Oscar's mother did not choose that moment to share with Jody the fact that her other son had died of a drug overdose. Instead, she walked steadily to Jody's apartment, collected Oscar without a word and led him home, where she sent him to bed without dinner. She too ate nothing that evening, sick as she was with worry, dread and an overwhelming sensation of helplessness.
written while listening to: Trio 3 & Vijay Iyer - Wiring (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 233, 2014, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
September 9, 2017
The first time the visitor arrived he found both Lee and Charlotte at home. His initial impression was such that he entertained momentarily the idea of pretending that he had come to the wrong address. However, he accepted that his movement needed support from many quarters. It was not unexpected that he would recruit from among the downtrodden. Much of the momentum of the movement that he represented originated with the recognition that the plight of his people had greatly deteriorated in recent decades. That his recruits should be found among drug addicts was only one symptom of a more general malaise.
"Are you Jacky's son?" he asked.
Lee nodded. Charlotte did not respond. She could not understand how someone who dressed like a banker or a lawyer from the 1990's had arrived at their door in the year 2017. Lee allowed the man inside.
The visitor did not speak directly of white nationalism. Instead he talked about current events. The tide had turned. The fortunes of their people were once again on the rise. Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, who rounded up Latinos and kept them in sweltering tent compounds that he referred to as "concentration camps", who had been convicted of contempt-of-court charges when he refused the Federal order to stop the racial profiling practices of his department, had received a presidential pardon within the past month. DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, implemented by Obama's executive order had been rescinded by the president on Tuesday. Eight hundred thousand immigrants, who had entered the country illegally as children, would be sent packing.
"The tide is turning," he concluded. "Can I count on you to help us regain what is rightfully ours?" He was not dismayed by Lee's ambiguous response. He understood persuasion of this sort was a gradual process. The visitor found it encouraging that he had been allowed to speak his piece in its entirety.
written while listening to: Oto-Asobi-No-Kai - Oto-no-shiro/Oto-no-umi (The Otoasobi Project, OTOCD 001/002, 2006, Japan, cdx2, discogs.com)
September 10, 2017
Yesterday, Oscar's mother had sat had down and told him plainly that she could not bear to lose him the way that she had lost his brother. She asked him directly if he was doing drugs. The son had told his mother honestly that he was not now nor had he ever used drugs of any kind, legal or illegal.
"Then who was that woman?" his mother had asked him.
She had found no comfort in the truth. She could not understand why her son had become friends with the old man who hung the giant rebel flag in his apartment, nor how that friendship had led her son to his son's apartment. Certainly, Oscar had conveyed to her the basic facts underlying the sequence in which the events had transpired, but none of this had helped her find what she was looking for.
On Sunday, she still had not found it. Of course, she searched for a schedule, some logistical arrangement or an alternative way of living in which she was better able to protect her son from the myriad of dangers to which he seemed to repeatedly and willingly expose himself.
She approached him in his bedroom. "You have to help me," she said.
"Don't let that woman back in our apartment. Don't go see her again. You can get the mail for the old man, if you have to."
Oscar did not explain to his mother that her very specific set of restrictions could not be extrapolated into a more general formula intended to help her. He simply stared at her.
"Will you do that?" she asked him.
Oscar shook his head. "I don't think I can."
Oscar glanced over at the space that White Tito occupied, then returned his gaze to his mother. While he would not lie, he could not bring himself to share the nature of the oath laid upon him on the first day of the year.
written while listening to: poire_z - + (Erstwhile Records, erstwhile 022, 2002, United States, cd, discogs.com)
September 11, 2017
No one at school knew that, when Oscar was young, his round pale face had prompted his mother to call him her little barn owl. Thus, no one could be expected to perceive the incorporeal owl, White Tito, hovering at the edge of Oscar's vision.
The great task of amelioration would require a concerted effort from practitioners of all eight schools of magic. Oscar himself practiced the school of Abjuration. Within his former neighborhood, Omar the Transmuter, Cybil the Diviner, and Agnes the Conjurer completed the first half of the schools. They had also recruited Amanita the Necromancer and Mr. Gardener the Enchanter to their cause. On his own, Oscar had convinced Zepha, master of sublime Evocation, to join the Renegades. That left only one school, that of Illusion. While Oscar was not certain how illusion would play a role in the task before them, he accepted that it was an essential ingredient to the recipe.
As a result Oscar knew that he must return to the forbidden apartment. It mattered not that Lee had ordered him from it, nor that Charlotte had borne the brunt of Lee's anger at his presence, nor that his mother had expressly banned him from that place. He was compelled to return because White Tito assured him the aura of illusion lay heavy upon that domicile. The residual presence or the intimation of a future visit of an accomplished illusionist at that apartment could not be denied.
When queried as to whether either of the residents or some other visitor should take the mantle of illusionist, White Tito could not specify. The aura was too thick, the nature of the illusion not so easily penetrated.
written while listening to: Paul Rutherford - Tetralogy (1978-82) (Emanem, 5202, 2009 (recorded 1978, 1981, 1982), United Kingdom, cdx2, discogs.com)
September 12, 2017
After devastating Caribbean islands and leaving millions in Florida without power, the remnants of hurricane Irma arrived in East Tennessee, bringing overcast skies, blustery winds and sporadic drizzle. Oscar judged the weather no deterrent to bicycling to Charlotte's apartment. He leaned his bike against the wall and knocked at the door.
With mussed hair and squinting eyes, Charlotte looked as if she had just awoken from an afternoon nap. "What are you doing here?" When Oscar did not immediately reply, she added, "You can't be here."
Standing outside the door, Oscar explained that he had committed himself to a task of amelioration. This task required that he travel along a path that proved, at times, difficult. Moreover, the sacrifice was not limited to him alone; he was charged with enlisting the aid of others who, too, would be called to endure hardships that might at first glance appear to be unnecessary.
Charlotte stared at the boy uncomprehendingly. She imagined Lee's fury directed at her should he return early and find Oscar here. This thought did not stop her from inviting Oscar inside. Rather, her fear that the boy might be exposed to some violence prompted her to say, "You should go."
Oscar remained standing before her. "I have helped to assemble a team of people, the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. This is the mechanism through which I am going to make the world a better place."
Oscar's stubbornness more than his pitch itself reminded Charlotte of door-to-door Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses. She became annoyed and closed the door to a narrow gap. "Go away," she whispered.
"The Renegades include powerful magic-users, who, in concert, will cast a great spell that will save the world from itself. I know there is one here who can help me."
Curiously, these words caused Charlotte to relent; she allowed Oscar inside, if only briefly. She knew something of magic and the high cost it exacted from those who succumbed to it.
written while listening to: Steve Lacy - Free for a Minute (1965-72) (Emanem, 5210, 2017 (recorded 1965-1967, 1972), Spain, cdx2, discogs.com)
September 13, 2017
From first-hand experience, Charlotte understood that the flow of time was not rigid. On the contrary, it displayed what rheologists--scientists who study the flow of fluids--describe as viscoelastic behavior, meaning that the flowing material, time in this instance, demonstrated both elastic and plastic properties. Almost certainly, all of us have experienced the elasticity of time, captured in the phrase, "Time flies when you're having fun." Time can be said to be elastic because once the fun is over, time returns to its former state. The same is true of events in which time crawls.
However, under certain conditions, the distortion of time is not fully reversible, if after the stress is removed, the material does not return to its former state. What brought these thoughts to Charlotte's mind were the socks gathered loosely around her bony ankles. The fabric had been stretched too far and now sagged in limp folds. Trauma or tragedy can modify the chemical balance and the neural network of an individual's brain, permanently altering their perception of time. For Charlotte, time had been stretched by the action of euphoria. What she now perceived as time was an irregular collection of loose loops of variable density bunched together along a singular, temporal axis.
This experience of time convinced her that Lee already knew that Oscar had returned and that he would return again many times. Charlotte suspected that Lee also knew that she had visited Oscar's apartment and that her visits had not yet come to an end.
When Lee came home from work, she gave him an hour to relax. Then she confessed all this to him. To be sure, Lee felt the impulse to explode in fury, but he was tired; the day had been long for him too. He only half-grasped her convoluted description of time and he intuited, without instruction, the teaching of Confucius, that it was best for him and for Charlotte to conceal nothing.
written while listening to: Phew - Phew (Les Disques Du Soleil Et De L'Acier, C-DSA 54016, 1991 (originally recorded & released 1981), France, cd, discogs.com)
September 14, 2017
Oscar stopped by Zepha's apartment after school. When Zepha suggested that they go to Oscar's apartment after checking the mail, he acquiesced. Consequently, both Oscar and Zepha were present when Charlotte knocked at the door. Oscar could not know what mental circumlocutions had delivered Charlotte to them but he welcomed her all the same. The trio sat at the kitchen table, where they discussed magic.
Oscar explained that, while the school of Evocation was famous for flashy and explosive spells like fireball, Zepha preferred spells like arcane ionization, which amplified the intrinsic magical capabilities of those with whom he came into contact. To this description, Zepha nodded in agreement.
Oscar further described his own study in the school of Abjuration. Charlotte was unfamiliar with the word. He explained that such spells as dispel magic, protection from evil and globe of invulnerability hailed from this school. He, however, eschewed those spells in favor of others of his own creation, such as globe of vulnerability, which turned Abjuration on its head, exchanging the target of the act from the caster to the external world.
"What school am I?" Charlotte asked.
"What spells go with illusion?"
"The very best known spell of the school of Illusion is invisibility."
"But I'm not invisible," Charlotte protested.
Oscar shook his head. "You must remain invisible from Zepha's sister and from my mother." On that note, Oscar and Zepha escorted Charlotte to the door. She was gone from the premises before either sister or mother returned home from work.
written while listening to: Jan Galega Brönnimann, Moussa Cissokho & Omri Hason - Al Nga Taa (CPL-Music, CPL012, 2016, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
September 15, 2017
There was no going out on Friday night for a variety of reasons. Charlotte and Lee had little discretionary income and Lee was exhausted from a week of manual labor. These two reasons alone might seem sufficient but, in fact, they were not the prevailing cause for the couple to remain seated outside their apartment on metal chairs, observing the sparse traffic on the streets, the evening call of birds and insects. Rather, Charlotte attempted to come to grips with the illusion that the words of Oscar had laid bare before her. If she was indeed an illusionist then there must be a great illusory spell, which she had cast. Once set upon this train of thought she arrived at the unenviable conclusion that the illusion she maintained was none other than the pretense that she was constructing a life preferable to the previous life in which she had experienced alternating bouts of euphoria and despondency. It wasn't clear at all to Charlotte that such was the case. To Lee she asked, "What are we doing?"
Lee felt very much constrained by the consequences of his past choices, though he saw no point in saying so. Each day provided sufficient money to make it to the next barring any unexpected problems. He glanced warily at his truck parked a few feet away. In its dilapidated state, it should have died a long time ago. That it had already defied the odds provided some small reassurance that it could continue to do so indefinitely into the future. There was some kind of stability but it was an awful stability, in which the prospect of improving his situation was much smaller than the likelihood of some accident disrupting it. Of course, he shared Charlotte's mistrust of the illusion that this sequence of days sufficed for life, if not rapture.
written while listening to: Ground Zero - Consume Red (Creativeman Disc, CMDD 00046, 1997, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
September 16, 2017
It seemed to Oscar's mother almost futile to attempt to keep an eye on Oscar on Saturday when he was left unsupervised every afternoon of the work week. She had made her case to him; if he chose to ignore her, there was little she could do. She watched him bicycle out of the parking lot and down the street, not knowing where he was going. Of course, she had asked and had received the curt response, "Just bicycling around. For exercise."
Oscar's mother put a load of laundry in the washing machine, then decided to visit Jody. While she was reluctant to burden another with her problems, Jody already knew of her fears.
She found Zepha sitting outside his door; the morning was still cool. When questioned, he grumpily informed her that Jody was out running an errand. Zepha had wanted to go but he had taken too long to get out of bed. "No breakfast," he said to Oscar's mother, as a way of explaining the magnitude of the hardship he had thus been forced to endure. Just as she was about to leave, he looked up at Oscar's mother and, hoping for a companion in suffering, asked, "You?"
"No, I haven't had breakfast either."
Zepha led her by the hand inside and performed an elaborate version of arcane ionization, the target of which was Oscar's mother. It involved many material components, including pancake mix. He placed the box in her arms. He showed her the skillet and the stove. His intentions were clear. As she mixed the batter, he retrieved butter and syrup from the refrigerator. As she cooked the pancakes, Zepha carefully poured two glasses of orange juice. As they sat together at the wooden table, Zepha facing a sizeable pile of pancakes and Oscar's mother less so, she unknowingly experienced the full impact of the spell. Jody found them like this, acting as if there was nothing more natural in all the world.
written while listening to: Núria Andorrà, Lê Quan Ninh & Tom Chant - Live At L'Ateneu Barcelonès (Discordian Records, Discordian 063, 2014, Spain, flac, discogs.com)
September 17, 2017
The visitor returned to the apartment of Lee and Charlotte in mid-afternoon on Sunday. He was dressed impeccably, save that his suit was perhaps a little too tight and some years out of fashion. Charlotte greeted him at the door with silence. He had not directed a single word toward her during his first visit, when he had described to Lee the progress the president was making in the interests of the white, working class. Nor this time did he make any attempt to persuade Charlotte to join his noble cause. There seemed an unspoken recognition between the two that they had no interest in the other.
The origin of this ambivalence was multifaceted. Most simply, Charlotte retained the appearance of a junkie, too haggard to be relied upon in any endeavor. At the same time, the ranks of the organization represented by the visitor were largely filled by men; it was the rare white woman who openly expressed her commitment to her race. As for Charlotte, she instinctively felt a distrust if not dislike of this man. She understood that, in his eyes, she was to be treated as chattel, and damaged chattel at that.
Consequently, the visitor's invitation extended only to Lee. A national convocation was to be held at an unannounced location in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park before the end of the month. Men of shared beliefs would come to together for a day to discuss strategy and to bolster their resolve. The visitor was organizing a van (perhaps a bus) to provide transportation for local attendees to and from the event. "Will you board the van if it stops outside your door?"
Lee did not want to immediately commit to anything. When he looked to Charlotte, the visitor snapped at him, "Don't look at her. Look at me!"
The visitor proved unable to extract a definite response from Lee. He sighed visibly and announced he would return again in a few days.
written while listening to: Michael Pisaro - A Wave and Waves (Cathnor Recordings, cath009, 2010, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
September 18, 2017
Oscar waited for Lee in the parking lot. Eventually, the old truck pulled up and shuddered to a halt in one of the vacant spots.
"Hi, Lee," Oscar said, still straddling his bicycle, when Lee emerged from the vehicle.
No anger arose within Lee. He did not understand why the boy had chosen to approach him outside the apartment, but it seemed to have avoided triggering a scene. "Did my dad send you to get another package? As far as I know, we don't have one."
"No," Oscar replied.
"Then what do you want?"
"I want to make the world a better place," Oscar admitted. He felt a little less foolish saying this each time he said it.
Lee looked to the window of his apartment. The blinds were lowered; there was no sign of Charlotte framed in the glass, as there later would be. "What are you bugging me for?"
"I need your help," Oscar said. Indeed, he did not yet know which of the two, Lee or Charlotte, was the illusionist who would complete the magical octet.
It proved impossible for Lee not to compare Oscar's plea with that of the visitor who had come to his apartment only the day before. Both claimed to want him in their camp; it was a strange sensation for someone who had never been wanted. Lee cleared his throat. He otherwise gave no indication that he found Oscar's laidback mannerisms preferable to the more forceful approach of his competitor.
When Lee looked again, sure enough, Charlotte was observing the pair of them through the window.
written while listening to: Nikos Veliotis, Taku Sugimoto, Kazushige Kinoshita & Taku Unami - Quartet (Hibari Music, hibari-06, 2004, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
September 19, 2017
Much of the recruiting performed by the visitor was conducted online, sometimes openly through social media but often in a more discrete manner through chatrooms that drew participants who shared certain values. Although they were in general less productive, he undertook personal visits when he was tired of staring overlong at the monitor, or when a summit drew near. For this occasion, he had made several visits to acquaintances known to him for some time. This could hardly be called recruiting; they were merely social calls with old friends, reminding them of the event and scheduling transportation as necessary. It had been a longshot to contact Jacky, who had never been especially active even as a younger man. However, it was his son whom the visitor regretted not being able to sway.
It was clear to the visitor that Lee was struggling to make ends meet. A high school graduate with a criminal record and a history of drug abuse had few prospects for improving his situation in the several decades of natural life remaining to him. That bleak future could wear on a man. That future could foment an anger, which, if managed correctly, could be translated into action. The visitor had thought Lee low-hanging fruit, but the man had proved stubbornly resistant. When the visitor contemplated the source of Lee's reluctance, he decided that it was, as often the case, a woman who held him back. The visitor pictured the emaciated woman in Lee's apartment, her shoulders like curtain rods from which hung a drab, pink tank top. The visitor imagined Lee to be more malleable were she removed from the picture. Such a thought gave him hope; her weakness was obvious.
written while listening to: Radu Malfatti - One Man And A Fly (Cathnor Recordings, cath016, 2015, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
September 20, 2017
Oscar intended to present his case to Lee in a different way than he had to Charlotte. For Lee, he had developed a three-stage plan, in which he staggered the release of information. On Monday he had revealed the goal of amelioration. Today, he would explain the role of magic. Some time later, he would describe the part that the Renegades played in his plan.
Lee did not offer him a chair. Oscar stood before Charlotte and Lee, seated on the couch, as if on an audition. He did not flinch from their scrutiny. With the television unplugged behind him, Oscar did not understand that he was providing a kind of substitute entertainment. Oscar again explained the eight schools of magic and that an aura of illusion was centered on this apartment. Although Charlotte had heard much of this before, she showed no signs of boredom. As unlikely as it may have seemed a week ago, the three shared laughter when Oscar described spells from the school of Illusion. Scintillating pattern was intended to stun observers with a kaleidoscope of color. The effect of subjective reality was self-explanatory, as was permanent hallucination.
Lee and Charlotte argued, good-naturedly at first, as to which of the two of them was the more powerful illusionist. When Lee began to tire of the game, Charlotte conceded the title to him, in order to avoid an outburst.
Oscar lost track of the time. He hurried home but his mother had already arrived. She asked where he had been and he told her, honestly, that he had gone to visit Charlotte and Lee, though he had been forbidden to do so. His mother said nothing but took away indefinitely the computer, which Amanita had given him, as a punishment for disobeying her. For the first time, Oscar's mother experienced a sensation of inevitability that he too would be taken from her.
written while listening to: Matthew Revert - Not You (Kye, Kye 32, 2014, United States, lp, discogs.com)
September 21, 2017
A curious incident occurred to Charlotte after her visit to the outpatient clinic on Thursday morning. While she waited at the bus stop, a man about her age approached and asked if she was looking to get high. He wore jeans and a hoodie advertising what appeared to be a brand of designer urban clothing unfamiliar to Charlotte. Perhaps her strength to reject this offer originated with the simple fact that, within the past half hour, she had taken her daily dose of methadone. Alternatively, perhaps Charlotte didn't like the attitude of the man, who stood too close and acted as if he had some control over her, a woman bereft of free will. Or, least likely, perhaps she had discovered some inner source of strength that had previously been inaccessible to her. In any case, she shook her head and stepped away, wordlessly declining the offer. Both stood at the bus stop in silence as they were joined by several others.
When Charlotte boarded the bus, the would-be drug dealer also boarded and, though over half the seats in the bus were unoccupied, chose to sit beside her. There he made his offer again. He briefly pulled from his pocket a handful of small clear bags, each containing one pill. He falsely described this to her as prescription-strength fentanyl, "fifty times more powerful than morphine". In fact, the fentanyl pills had been blended with heroin and reformulated for consumption on the street.
Uncomfortable, Charlotte got off the bus at the next exit, though it was nowhere near the Thursday food pantry. As she brushed past the man, she did not notice him drop one small bag in her open purse, as he had been instructed to do, in the event that he found her less than agreeable.
written while listening to: Otomo Yoshihide's New Jazz Orchestra - Out to Lunch (doubtmusic, dmf-108, 2005, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
September 22, 2017
In celebration of the autumnal equinox, Charlotte visited the outpatient clinic as she did every other day. There, the television in the waiting room was set to a news channel at an unnecessarily high volume. A series of quotes was being broadcast.
In particular, excerpts from the president's opening address at United Nations on Tuesday were replayed. "The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."*
Then the newscaster read sections of a response from Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, which had been issued on Thursday. "Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the D.P.R.K. [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history...I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire."†
Against a background of the unmistakable threat of nuclear holocaust, the personal calamity lying in store for Charlotte can hardly be considered a matter of consequence.
*"With Combative Style and Epithets, Trump Takes America First to the U.N.", Peter Baker and Rick Gladstone, New York Times, September 19, 2017.
full text: New York Times.
†"Full Text of Kim Jong-un's Response to President Trump", New York Times, September 22, 2017.
full text: New York Times.
written while listening to: Emiko Ota, Makoto Kawabata & Julien Omeyer - En'Ma-O (Earn Your Ears Records, EYE-17CD0101, 2017, France, cd, discogs.com)
September 23, 2017
On Saturday Oscar left to impart the third and final component of his plan to Lee. He met the gaze of his mother, who seemed to know his destination without asking. In her eyes, he found equal measures of disapproval and resignation. He hurried from the apartment.
He bicycled quickly. The temperature had returned to the eighties, causing Oscar to arrive at the home of Lee and Charlotte hot and sweaty. There, Charlotte opened the door for him, revealing that they already had a guest--a banker or a lawyer--seated in a metal chair brought in from the outside and placed beside the television. Both the visitor and Lee fixed Oscar with an unpleasant look. Although Oscar tried to excuse himself, Charlotte hoped his presence would cause the visitor to leave. She gently ushered him inside.
"What do you want?" Lee asked.
There had been but one reason for Oscar's visit. So, despite the presence of the unknown visitor, Oscar described the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. He spoke of its meandering origins with himself, Omar and Cybil. He became excited as he described how the Renegades had gained steam when Mr. Gardener, a newspaper columnist, had written about them, which encouraged many others to join.
The visitor fixed Oscar with a stern gaze, making no attempt to appear sociable. "And what is the purpose of your renegades?"
The words came easily to Oscar. "There are two purposes. The first is to undermine any registry of Muslims, as was suggested by the president during his campaign, by diluting it with people of many faiths. Second, it is an opportunity to form a community that more broadly fights persecution of vulnerable minorities of any kind."
Two simultaneous revelations emerged from this exchange. The visitor recognized Oscar as an impediment to his work at least as significant as Charlotte, and Oscar, unable to penetrate the visitor's intentions, identified him as the greatest source of Illusion in this apartment.
written while listening to: Luc Ferrari - Danses Organiques (Elica, MPO-3340, 1999, Italy, cd, discogs.com)
September 24, 2017
The visitor spent a fair portion of Sunday at the computer, discovering what could be found related to the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. It appeared that there were two primary pieces of relevant content on the internet, both of which had generated a trail of subsequent comments. The first item was, as the boy had claimed yesterday, a column in the local newspaper published three months earlier on June 24, 2017. He read the article and perused the several hundred comments. The visitor was not especially moved by the call to embrace so-called American values. He was well acquainted with articulate foes, who could describe crimes against some in the most floral of terms, while wholly ignoring the crimes of others. He too sought to use language to convince others that the descendants of white Europeans, responsible for making America great, were being ruthlessly exploited by an elite political and corporate class, who privately accumulated great wealth by extracting fees from the management of the government apparatus that shifted revenue to minority populations.
The second item discovered by the visitor was a photograph of a list of names, supposedly the original registry, posted on several social media sites. At the top, the list contained the first and last names of the boy and the two accomplices whom he had mentioned. From there it was relatively straightforward to determine the addresses of their respective homes. The visitor discovered with no surprise that the parents of the boy named Omar were professors at the local university. He also found pictures from a recent family vacation of the girl named Cybil on the same social media account where the photo of the registry appeared. Smiling, she posed in a swimming suit, while standing knee deep in the surf.
Later in the day, the visitor drove by himself through their neighborhood, admiring the fine houses distributed among mature trees, not yet begun to lose their leaves.
written while listening to: Hans Reichel - Wichlinghauser Blues (Free Music Production, FMP 0150, 1973, Germany, lp, discogs.com)
September 25, 2017
Charlotte stopped by Oscar's apartment shortly after school let out. On her way, she paused for a minute to say hello to Jacky. Since the appearance of the visitor in their apartment, she now saw the Confederate flag on Jacky's wall in a different light. She wondered correctly if the father had led the visitor to his son.
Two flights up, she found no one at home. Passing Jacky's door again, he called out to her. "If you're looking for the boy, I saw him a few minutes ago." He added that Oscar had been in the company of Zepha, whom he casually described with a term no longer used in polite society to refer to someone with Trisomy 21. Certainly, it did not fall to Charlotte to correct the old man. Jacky added, "He lives on the second floor of building B." Jacky didn't know the apartment number, but Charlotte found the door open. Despite the heat, the air conditioner was not running.
She heard Zepha explaining in abstract terms the plot of a movie that he had recently seen, or at least seen the trailer for--it wasn't clear to Charlotte. Oscar waved her inside.
"I want to join the Renegades," Charlotte said, stepping into the apartment.
"Then you're in. Welcome," said Oscar, who steadfastly believed that he retained the right to invite whomever he pleased.
Zepha shook his head and asked, "Have you signed the paper?"
Charlotte looked to Oscar for explanation.
"There's a registry with a list of names," Oscar said.
"You have to sign the paper," Zepha insisted.
"Where's the paper?"
Oscar explained that any old piece of paper could be added to Omar's folder, but Zepha disagreed. He wanted Charlotte to sign a piece of paper already in the folder.
Charlotte's official inclusion as a signatory member of the Renegades was postponed until another day as none of them had access to a vehicle to get to Oscar's old neighborhood.
written while listening to: The September Band - The Vandœuvre Concert (Free Music Production, FMP CD 72, 1995, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
September 26, 2017
There was at best a small window for the signing of the registry, between the time that Lee got home from work and the time that Oscar's mother would. Oscar waited with Charlotte at her apartment. She was too ashamed to confide to Oscar that she had been afraid to ask Lee beforehand if he would drive them over there. Thus, when Lee stepped in the door and saw Oscar seated on the couch, all he said was, "You again?"
"Let's go," Oscar said, in a hurry to get this errand done and be home before his mother. At this point, it became clear that Lee did not know of their plan. "Aren't you going to sign the registry?" Oscar asked.
"Hell, no," Lee replied. His gaze met that of Charlotte. He continued in a nominally softer tone, "That kind of stuff ain't for me." Under the force of the combined stares of Oscar and Charlotte, Lee added, "I'm just a working man. I ain't trying to save the world."
Oscar said only the same words that he had already said to himself many times. "If you are going to spend your life doing meaningless stuff, you might as well have some of it make the world a better place."
"Why?" asked Lee in a defiant tone.
"What's the alternative?" asked Oscar.
"To make it worse," said Lee, stating the obvious.
"Why would you want to do that?"
"So that everybody else can see how I have it."
"Oh, I see, as a means of expressing your unhappiness."
"There are other, more productive ways to do that."
"Like the way Martin Luther King did it--by pointing out what you're unhappy about, forcing other people to stop ignoring it and doing something about it."
"You know how to twist words," said Lee, more unhappy than ever.
In any case, Lee refused to drive them anywhere that night. Oscar arrived home just before his mother.
written while listening to: Susan Alcorn & LaDonna Smith - Ambient Visage (Trans Museq, no catalog #, 2007, United States, cd, discogs.com)
September 27, 2017
Charlotte cajoled Lee into agreeing to drive her to sign the Registry on Wednesday afternoon. Because she did not know where to go, they needed Oscar. Lee did not leave the vehicle to greet his father when Charlotte ran up the flight of stairs and collected the boy. Oscar sat between them in the dilapidated pick-up truck; there was no seat belt.
A few minutes later, the sputtering vehicle arrived at Omar's house. To his delight, Oscar spotted Cybil and Omar chatting on the front porch. He climbed over Charlotte in his haste to greet his friends. They exchanged warm hugs but the expressions on the faces of Cybil and Omar fell as they observed the emaciated woman and her tattooed partner, wearing jeans splashed with cement, ascending the stairs.
Oscar introduced them, though handshakes were not exchanged. Omar obediently retrieved the registry while Cybil coolly surveyed Charlotte. For her part, the older woman was not unaware of the scrutiny. Still, she pushed aside her misgivings in joining an organization where she would be sorely judged.
When Omar returned, Charlotte signed on the same sheet as Oscar, just below Zepha's scrawled signature. She turned to Lee, "Your turn."
Lee hesitated. It was an understatement to claim that he had no great desire to join the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. Yet, Charlotte gently pleaded with him. Oscar too voiced an encouraging word. Notably, Omar and Cybil watched without intervening. To be done with it, Lee signed below Charlotte's name.
Cybil and Omar did not understand Oscar's abrupt parting words, "I've got to get home before my mother!" They nevertheless perceived the joy in his stride as he bounded down the stairs to the truck. For a moment it seemed as if they would soon be reunited for the truck refused to start. However, Lee was able to get the engine to catch and, ejecting a cloud of exhaust, the truck belched and lurched forward down the street.
written while listening to: Evan Parker & Patrick Scheyder - untitled (Leo Records, CD LR 326, 2001, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
September 28, 2017
Intending to express her thanks to Oscar, Charlotte leisurely walked to his apartment complex on Thursday. The afternoon was hot and she drank from a bottle of water to keep hydrated. She could not know that Oscar had stayed late at school for a group project. Thus, she found him neither at his own apartment nor at Zepha's. She asked Zepha if she could use his bathroom and he readily agreed.
Seated on the toilet, Charlotte idly looked through her purse. There she discovered at the bottom, much to her surprise, a small plastic bag with a white pill inside. It had apparently been there for some time because the edges of the pill were crushed and the interior of the bag coated with a fine white powder. She immediately remembered the pushy man in the bus from a week earlier and knew just what she held in her hands.
The life of a junkie, even a former junkie, is not predicated on the continuous exercise of good judgment. Charlotte opened the bag and swallowed the pill. She then tore open the plastic and licked the powder from the interior. She sat for a while until she lost her balance and fell from the toilet onto the floor.
Zepha heard the thump of her fall. At the door, he called for her several times. When she did not answer, he opened the door to discover Charlotte lying on her side, her underwear and shorts at her knees, her lips and fingertips a pale blue. Zepha touched her shoulder but Charlotte was unresponsive. Since he spent most days by himself at home, Jody had instructed him on how to call 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency. He correctly deemed this situation an emergency and called. "Charlotte fell down in the bathroom," he said to the operator.
Zepha waited nervously beside Charlotte's limp form until a flood of sirens from several squad cars and an ambulance arrived to take her away.
written while listening to: John Zorn - Filmworks III: 1990-1995 (EVVA, EVVA 33006, 1995, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
September 29, 2017
A relapse is not uncommon among recovering addicts. On the contrary, a recovery free of missteps is the exception rather than the rule. The emergency medics had administered naloxone, to counter the immediate effects of the overdose, and the hospital had kept her overnight. Once Charlotte was able to communicate that she was participating in a recovery program, the hospital scheduled a meeting with a counselor on the following morning.
The counselor, an older woman sensitive to the needs of addicts but forthright in her manner due to routine exposure to them, questioned Charlotte directly on the causes of her relapse. "How did you get the drugs?"
"I don't know," Charlotte admitted. "I just found it in my purse."
The woman shook her head at the familiar story. "If you don't take responsibility for your actions, I can't recommend that you continue in the methadone program."
Thus, Charlotte falsely confessed that she had purchased the pill in a moment of weakness. Consulting her file, the counselor noted that it had been her first relapse. Satisfied, she approved her continuation in the program, allowing Charlotte to return to the clinic that same morning in order to receive her daily dose. There, the nurse asked if she had enough money to take a bus to the homeless shelter, for that is where they assumed she would go. She had, of course, provided no permanent address to the hospital, as she did not want to connect the bill for this visit in any way to Lee, who could have paid for none of it. Charlotte showed them the bus pass in her purse and left the clinic much as if it were any other morning.
Since neither she nor Lee owned a cellphone there had been no way to contact him, even if she had been in a state to do so. She wondered what he imagined had happened to her. On the bus ride home, she wondered what had happened to Zepha.
written while listening to: Die like a Dog - Fragments of Music, Life and Death of Albert Ayler (Free Music Production, FMP CD 64, 1994 , Germany, cd, discogs.com)
September 30, 2017
Lee allowed her to remain in the apartment, though he did not tell her of his worry during the night when she had been missing. She clung to him from behind and wrapped her arms around his chest in a wordless apology. He accepted her overtures and led her to the mattress. Later, in darkness, she described what had happened as best she remembered. Lee did not reproach her for he too knew the temptation to which she had succumbed.
On Saturday morning, a persistent knock woke them. Charlotte refused to budge but Lee pulled away and stumbled out of bed. She feared it was Oscar but, at the door, the visitor scrutinized Lee, shirtless and bleary-eyed. He stepped uninvited into the apartment. From the front room, he observed Charlotte partially covered by sheets until Lee closed the bedroom door.
Charlotte heard heated words exchanged. She could not know that Lee begged out of attending the white nationalist summit today by claiming that he had to tend to Charlotte, who had recently suffered a relapse. She could not hear the visitor's aggressive reply. She did hear Oscar mentioned by name for the visitor described the results of his internet research into the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. Lee was forced to admit that he had visited Omar's house, seen Omar and Cybil together, and signed the registry himself.
The visitor was aghast. He demanded to know the details of Charlotte's relapse. When he learned that the episode had occurred at Oscar's apartment complex, he nodded knowingly. The visitor explained to Lee the conspiracy. "You saw the white girl and Arab boy together. Now, somehow, someone attempts to take your woman from you when she is with another member of the registry. Don't you see what they are doing? They want to break you two up any way they can. This is part of their goal to dilute the race. They want a brown seed in every white woman."
written while listening to: Lustmørd - Heresy (Soleilmoon Recordings, SOL-9-CD, 1990, United States, cd, discogs.com)
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