The Final Journal of Paul Cross

Editor’s Preface

This work represents the only publication of Dr. Paul Cross’s journal as he wrote and edited each entry. The journal consists of 27 entries between October 16 and November 11, the date of Dr. Cross’s disappearance. In the original manuscript, each entry appears twice. The duplicates are not redactions, but meticulous reproductions. Cross’s replication of textual flaws was flawless. Why did he transcribe his writing if not to improve upon it?

Allred’s publication, Schitzo (Cornerstone, 2012), standardizes Cross’s edits. This work preserves them for the reader. By doing so, we hope to present a more faithful version of the text, as well a more authentic portrayal of an erudite scholar trying to alter fate even as the trajectory of his life angled out of control. Allred describes Cross’s duplicate entries as the “frustrated scribbling of a mad man.” We argue that the physical act of re-writing somehow transported Cross to a state of meaningful retrospection in a world increasingly bizarre to him.

We express our indebtedness to the Iowa Literary Scholarship Society (ILSS), whose generous grant gave us the means to compile this text for publication. Thanks also to Carl Magglby, our astute graphologist at Argon Publishing. We would be remiss to overlook the kindness of the staff at Iowa’s Library of Research where, along with his twenty-two essays on metaphorology and two unpublished works of science fiction, The Final Journal of Paul Cross now resides.

Ms. Offenstead: The coffee was always hot and delicious. Our nights of conversation about Professor Cross were well spent and your insight that Cross’s curly-ques did not always signify word replacements, indispensable.

Finally, love and gratitude to our spouses.

One million nows from now. A million million nows past.”


Des Moines, 2014 


Much has been made of Dr. Paul Cross’s mental instability. Although never diagnosed, the common consensus is that he suffered some adult onset mental malady. For those who subscribe to Professor Allred’s opinion, Cross’s suicide is also a foregone conclusion. On this point, we differ.

Although a close-circuit surveillance camera reveals Dr. Cross entering his room at The Camelot Boarding House on November 11, there is no video of his departure. Cross’s door was bolted from the inside and chain-fastened to a standard chrome plate. The windowless room’s only air duct, the size of a shoe box. Beneath the bed sat a pair of newly polished Wing Tips. A reading chair and lamp (light on) were in one corner. Against the opposing wall, a lidless laundry hamper made of two posts with a crossbar for hanging clothes and a basket at the base. Three suits and three pressed shirts, all wrapped in dry cleaner plastic, hung from the bar. Inside the basket: undershirts, black socks, briefs, and a notebook containing this journal. A half-eaten meat ball covered in ants was on his pillow. Otherwise, the room was empty.

Authorities involved in Cross’s case have interviewed all who knew him. As of the date of this publication, there have been no leads to Cross’s whereabouts. Although foul play is a possibility, most believe that Cross staged his disappearance before killing himself. This journal is a countdown to something. Suicide is the obvious answer. We subscribe to the idea that something else happened – something unknowable to us and perhaps even Cross himself.

After referring to Cross’s journal as “a keen artifact of hyperbolical metafiction,” Allred attacks the work’s historical accuracy by pointing out that none of the residents of “Lamecot” appear to actually exist. On the contrary, Cross’s ex-wife Charlotte confirms the accuracy of the entries about their relationship. Likewise, Dr. Brenner describes Cross’s retelling of his incident with the hose in the closet as “spot on.” As for the rest? 

We propose that the characters described in this journal are personifications of the dueling aspects of Cross’s embattled personality. He describes Morton as a raging drunk but was himself an alcoholic. Billy the Idiot’s drug use? A kind of confession: Cross was on two separate occasions arrested for illegal “self-medication.”

Our sense is that this journal is a faithful representation of Cross’s experience mingled with opposing interpretations of that experience. It’s a rendering of one man’s discontent, at once myopic and panoramic. Although the context for some of Cross’s stories may be spurious, we consider the intellectual subtext a reliable narrative of retrospect, insight, and disillusionment. 

As a protégé and longtime friend of German philosopher Hans Blumenberg, Cross once held the rank as our foremost expert on metaphorology. In his seminal work, Seeing, Cross laments the human condition as a “panorama of distant confusions and the half truths that lead us there.” Although he rejected the idea of absolutes, Cross also believed that through metaphor we achieve insight to the true nature of things, and therefore their potential for good.

“Our responsibility,” he concluded, “is to the pursuit of these potentials.”

About the text

As we stated at the outset, Allred standardizes Cross’s edits. In Schitzo, Entry #2 reads:
“Love is imperfect in the hearts of the lonely.”

By preserving Cross’s marks, we engage readers with a process of how questions sometimes become statements: Is there anything perfect about lLove is imperfect in the hearts of the lonely.?

A single line through text denotes deletion. Underlined copy is replacement text that Dr. Cross most often wrote (and rewrote) lengthwise in the margin. His original shorthand (as illustrated in Entry #6 below) incorporates arrows that point from deleted passages to copy replacement. We use italics to indicate words that Cross underlined for ostensible emphasis – most often his word for the day.

                        #6: 15 days before the day

A final matter we wish to address is that of Cross’s journal title, which is scrawled across the notebook cover in black marker. Initially, it simply read My Final Journal Entries. At some point, he renamed the work in the third person. We consider this remarkable for a man who spent a lifetime writing without much care for publication.

“I write for the drawer,” he’d say whenever the topic arose, “which is a perfect fit for my pages.”

The Final Journal of Paul Cross reads as a title written for an audience of readers.

Now, so is the case.  


#1: 26 days before the day

(Word for the day: sobriety gratitude.)
They must know these walls are flypaper thin. They must know, mustn’t they? Mustn’t they have some goddamn sense for how loud they’re being?
A still, small voice inside my trunk grinds against the head of an axe.
Retaliate, bleeds greens the tree. 

#2: 25 days before the day

(Word for the day: sobriety.)

I concentrate in an anagram west of the old taffy factory. Lamecot: A boarding house with cots for sots. Other undesirables. Me. My resident neighbors are slack shadows that weak bodies cling to. Once, after Morton ran out of booze, he caught me exiting the common bathroom. Begged me for money to shake off the rage. Having sacrificed a fair sum to his petulant addiction in the past, I patently refused.

He advanced with those hard eyes set deep in his long face, pale and promising reprisal. He bore his teeth. Muscled me into a corner. There, he extracted a Dopp kit from beneath my frail frame. I weighed myself upon it to forestall the inevitable but hHe knocked me aside, rifled through my emollients, and liberated me of my aftershave. I crawled to safety. Pled with him to stop. But men in such pain are akin to beasts – incapable of consideration. He disposed of the blue liquid with a single jerk of his head.

Morton gagged. He buckled over his pool ball size knees. He clung to the floor as if being pulled by the nape. I scurried forward to help my final friend. He broke into a brown-speckled rash and writhed between discharges of bile. I sat with his desiccated body in my uncompromising lap. I wept for his suffering. And for mine.

Is there anything perfect about lLove is imperfect in the hearts of the lonely?.

#3: 24 days before the day

(Word for the day: isolation.)

Our contrivance is a two-story building on a blighted cul-de-sac beneath an overpass that circles a city of dots. A faux entablature encases the front entry. Two hands reach for one another from opposite directions. Outstretched fingers touch to signify a connection. The symbolic mind is extinct. 

The future is debris from the past. Cobbled steps rise to a porch where Morton sits. He wears corduroy pants. His tennis shoes are full of holes. A black tattoo spans the length of his rawboned arm. MCMLXXX, it reads.







“How can you forget about a date that’s tattooed to you?” I ask again.

He pulls on a dented beer can while staring into the violets of early morning.

#4: 23 days before the day

(Word for the day: forgiveness.)

A dull metal sign hangs from the Westside fascia. It advertises clean rooms. The accommodations, like their residents inhabitants, are filthy. I transcribe the Hebraic Bible on surfaces of dust. Its meaning remains the same.

A chain link fence encloses the property. There’s a narrow path on either side that connects the front and back. I walk circles in the morning, which I reverse every evening. There’s a footpath from my habitual rounds.

I ambulate for hours, imprinting my legacy in weeds. Evening pits the city maroon. Silver coruscates from windows. Immovable structures cascade in the flamboyant light of anything goes. A flock of nightbirds ascends to somewhere wild. I ’m adept at following myself when the cage is closed. But if the gate is open?  

#5: 22 days before the day

(Word for the day: family.)

Princess Beth lives in Room #1. She has a broad, masculine neck with veins that quiver as if marionette strings were tied to the extremities of her pocked face. She wears a cream-colored nightgown with lace at the edges and, low on her forehead, a glitter-dusted tiara.

There’s a moldy cutting board on her bed. Its edges are blackened green like the back of a water moccasin. She minces onion while watching the walls. She cracks an egg, knuckles the dull yolk into a pound of white beef. She adds exotic spices from St. Louis or India. Ants crawl on specks of meat. She shapes balls in the cups of her arthritic hands and places each formation on a plate. They move until she microwaves them.

Every afternoon, Princess Beth sets charred balls out front her door and waits for me or Morton or Billy the Idiot to pass, which at some point someone must to use the lavatory or exit the building. I tip-toe down up the hallway. She hears me creak.


“Good morning, Princess.”


“I had muffins with my coffee so I’m not… ”

“What about Morton?”

“Morton’ll take a plate.”

“Don’t forget the tangy sauce,” she uses a wooden spoon to wedge open her door. “It’s there on top of my laundry.”

I finger two of the brown balls and enter her lightless room. The smell of carrion and sour eggs makes me dizzy. I breathe through my nose. This exacerbates the problem.

Princess Beth’s bed, like every bed in this riddle, is immediately right of the door. She is sprawled out on dirty sheets like a deranged maternity goddess. For a moment, hHer sheer voluptuousness shames me.

A photograph tilts in a frame. A trim-looking man stands aside a boy with one arm over his shoulder. The boy wears an over-sized suit. They smile beneath a cherry blossom tree. The man is erect, either proud or defiant. I presume him to be the father. I presume Princess Beth to be the mother. I also presume her to have taken the photo, but she refuses to speak of it so I ask:

“What kind of tree is that, Princess Beth?”

“A mythical one,” she says.

Princess Beth sweeps an ant off her bed with the back of her hand. I squirt sauce onto the balls. I look at the balls and realize that their curled edges must be the asses of ants. Heads pop free of the overcooked meat. Insects slop through the sauce, ascend my arm. The meatballs grow, become too heavy to hold. I drop the plate and punch myself in the head to dislodge the invaders from my mind. Blackheads pop from pores in my face. The floor moves like an organism. I sicken from vertigo, vomit in my mouth, but swallow to protect Princess Beth from such unsightliness.

Breathe, I think. Focus on the emptiness of Princess Beth’s eyes. The ants begin to dissolve into those things around them. I regain my balance so kneel to retrieve a meatball that rolled under her bed. It came to rest against a mummified mouse.

“Morton is starving,” I gag again before exiting.

#6: 21 days before the day

(Word for the day: kindness.)

The only mindful discourse is a kind heart’s true endeavor purpose. One million nows from now. A million million nows past.

The poem knows, so why not the poet?
The poem knows, so why not the poet?  

#7: 20 days before the day

(Word for the day: courage.)

There are others. They loaf in the yard. Swing through the gate. Disappear in vapor between cars in the street. Billy the Idiot spends his unemployment check on crack at the park. He smokes from a tire pressure gauge in the stairwell. I pass him while circling the building.  

Grandpa Jack, our resident septuagenarian, presides over all of us from the second floor. He drapes an old army jacket over his shoulders. He never puts his arms through the sleeves, which act would require him to put down his cigarette. I’ve never seen him without one. Sometimes he smokes two – one from the scarred knuckles of each hand.

Ash curls between his yellow fingers and falls wherever he stands. He has more important things to think about than ashing. Troublesome things like Morton’s drinking, Billy the Idiot’s drugs, Princess Beth’s meatballs, my meandering, yellow grass, the general disrepair of this dump and poor caliber of folk that dumps like this attract. Neither does he appreciate railroads, daylight, the outdoor shopping center, traffic on the overpass, the overpass itself, or, as far as I can tell, the destination of the freeway in either direction.  

Grandpa Jack’s head looks like a helmet. His owlish ears are overgrown with hair. His nose begins high on his face. These physical characteristics emphasize his imperious attitude. He wears a patch over one eye. His other eye is lazy, which gives him a villainous quality. of which he is quite aware.

He tightens his face muscles to keep the lazy eye open. It’s an annoying tick and doesn’t work. He strains his face to widen his droop, but the slit just quivers as if to taunt him with a half-measure of what he should be seeing. He stomps around and shouts at people. He mostly shouts at us but once I watched him handle a cop who threatened to cite him for jaywalking. Grandpa Jack called him Sonny and railed on about the difference between minor man-made laws and the order of natural authority. After an animated monologue, he used his cigarette to light another. Then, with one cigarette in each hand, he extended his arms with downturned wrists, taunting the officer to cuff him. The policeman shook his head and shooed Grandpa Jack onto the sidewalk.

A crowning moment of glory. Grandpa Jack faced Lamecot with fists high in the air and defied any among us to ever question his supremacy. Morton burped. Princess Beth straightened her tiara. Billy the Idiot frowned before engaging us with a most defaming story about how patch or no patch, Grandpa Jack can see fine with both eyes.  

They first met at the farmer’s market across the street from the Salvation Army when Billy the Idiot was just Billy and Grandpa Jack was just Jack. Prior to the big divorce, Billy and his wife sold homemade hot sauce out of a station wagon. In the late afternoon, Billy would watch Bocce ball tournaments at the end of a row of Porta-Pottys. Among the best shots was Jack – who doesn’t deny giving Billy the Idiot a few tactical lessons in the art of bowling but insists that he lost his eye decades ago in some famous dispute with a drill sergeant. Billy says he’s a liar.

Grandpa Jack seizes any opportunity to attack Billy and Billy, being an idiot, looks for ways to taunt him. Earlier today Grandpa Jack leaned out his window with a deer rifle and threatened to shoot if Billy didn’t drop the tire pressure gauge. Billy squinted at Grandpa Jack with the incredulous glare of an addict before giving him the middle finger. Grandpa Jack took aim but Morton defused the situation by dragging Billy from the stairwell.

Princess Beth, who openly despises Grandpa Jack for his ridicule of her culinary ineptitude, suggested that he settle the dispute by showing everyone his eye. Grandpa Jack refused to satisfy such an unworthy audience’s curiosity but did compare his mangled socket to one of her “antballs.” She shook her finger at him in the dusk. Cars sped onto the overpass. They divided in two directions beneath a half-polluted moon.

“You are far worse than crack, Grandpa Jack. Far, far worse than crack.”

#8: 19 days before the day

(Word for the day: tranquility)

I was naked when the police escorted me off campus. I was not, as one sorrowfully obtuse virago put it, speaking in tongues. I was reading aloud from Blumenberg’s Metaphorology, lecturing a cluster of trees. Aspens, I think. Deciduous delights in and of themselves, but when subjected to the pedantic meanderings of a trouserless madman? They too become suspicious.

During interrogation I could not explain how I came to be naked on the lawn. Neither could I account for my time prior to arrest. The police asked if I remembered anything.

“Tranquility,” I said without thinking.

Which is quite unusual because I’ve never been tranquil.

#9: 18 days before the day

(Word for the day: absence)

Tranquility =      Calmness





I am the most unique example of the universal concept, Paul Cross. If I climb inside a shell will you listen to me on this shore? My name is an Names are absolute metaphors for isolation. I sit inside the conch in your hand and echo from the dark.

#10: 17 days before the day    

(Word for the day: love. marriage. divorce.)

How to describe a state defined by the absence of my perception? The nullification of everything I associate with myself? The very idea of me bundled into nothing but not nothingness.

The pronoun of non-existence

Paul Cross = me,

and to you, I = he

but to the inanimate,

we  = nothing.

My disappearances became regular occurrences. My incredulous wife Charlotte begged me to seek help. Psychiatrists prescribed medication, but why would I drug myself to forestall that feeling of completion that consciousness prohibits?

My expulsion from the university was inevitable. I could neither control my disappearances nor the classes I failed to teach nor what might occur during the classes I attended. I was let go by the Department Chair after missing my third lecture in a row. Dr. Brenner and I were the best of friends but his duty was to protect the university from scandal and I, scandalous. What else was he to do upon discovering me in the janitor’s closet, wrapped in a hose and whimpering about original sin?

Far from tranquility, I know. The state to which I return is inconsistent with my emotional recollection of absence. I come to consciousness naked in public places and with strangers in strange situations. Once I was awakened by a Halal butcher while gnawing on one of his raw chickens. His cleaver, the edge of my dream. 

My returns are accompanied by great physical pain. A black eye. Bleeding teeth. Circuitous slashes on my arms. A hole in my leg. Stress on my internal organs. My head numb from ache, which evokes a primal fear for my future of thought. 

Despite these and a myriad of other warning signs, despite episodes of progressive personal injury, every painful return fuels in me a compulsion to go there again. Even the taste of raw meat is an insufficient deterrent; and what hope is there for a pica that drives one to eat anything… and then eat it again?

Charlotte tried to reason with me. I tried to listen. I adopted an unconscious sense of false sorrow. I tricked myself into believing the sincerity I feigned. I would apologize. I’d promise to do anything to prevent “it” from happening again. During these sober moments of fake determination, I made appointments with doctors and committed myself to medication until sufficiently distanced from the violent shenanigans of my last disappearance. 

False sorrow leads to false truth. Stronger, I would begin to romanticize my oblivious life in the ether. Ensorcelled by the merits of mental disenfranchisement, I would vanish. This, the vicious cycle that Charlotte finally rejected: my process of re-living past mistakes without any sense for how to avoid them.

When I look backward, I empathize with Charlotte’s distress. But the moment I face the future of my life, unrepentant repetition in its finest form: the reoccurrence of actions for which I’ve ostensible control.

Charlotte plead: Get help.

Instead, I’d self-isolate. There, I’d develop a keen disinterest in myself. I’d sit and long for that tranquil obscurity where the intelligence of language is reversed to some name for which there is no word.

Charlotte was beside herself. Why was I so despondent? Distant? Unapproachable? Why didn’t I heed the advice of mental health care professionals? Did I care nothing for her? Our life? My career?  

My periods of absence took on greater significance than my periodic struggles against them. Life, fragmented by dark fluctuations and whatever dim light enfolded my shadow during the day. Then one evening, I suffered a most enlightening curiosity: Could I learn to master my loss of control? Fascinated by this possibility, I developed a process of immoveable mental stillness. I began a regimen of intense concentration on place and time. I’d sit, fix my sight, and stare. With single-minded attentiveness, my presence (Or the present?) was unbreachable.

“I love you so much,” Charlotte said after listening to me explain the situation.

“I love you too,” I said.  

“Concentrate harder to control your blackouts.” 

“It’s impossible for me to think like this forever,” I admitted.


“Because this kind of concentration inhibits all other thought.”

“Even the idea of me?”

#11: 16 days before the day

(Word for the day: grace.)

I’m unaware of how long I’d been in control of the moment when Charlotte broke my concentration to say goodbye.


It was late evening. An ice storm stenciled our city in the obtruding blues of an arctic light. I will not forget how her black skirt caught the front door when she tried to hurry through it or how, just as she unhinged her snag, a converter box exploded on the corner. The block surged. Our house of bright color was pitched into a starless sky, her fleeting form transposed to shapelessness.

The last time I saw my wife was a kind of failure to see. She, indistinguishable to me and I to her from phantom forms in the night.

I always thought we’d hold hands in the dark.

Blindness divides lovers in ways the heart fails to perceive.

#12: 15 days before the day

(Word for the day: battle.)

Following yesterday’s journal entry I concentrated on remaining present for three hours, during which time I also engaged a new thought process that I base upon the concept of irretrievability: I must be able to control the unknown and prevent what’s known from controlling me. This morning’s meditation went so deep into the surface of things that, quite conscious, I had an out of body a transcendental experience. I watched myself from a height above Lamecot, a height that towered over the towering towers of this oblong city of dots.

I, being my physical body, was sitting in a reading chair in the middle of my room. Earlier, Princess Beth had insisted I take meatballs and tangy sauce. I’d intended to give them to Morton but forgot about the plate, which I’d set on my pillow before beginning my concentration.

I was in deep rhythmic alignment with the earth’s rotation. All motion was reliant upon my breathing: birth, death, music and other in-between activities. Through metaphysics, I’d tapped into the universal core of being – which, consequently, presented itself as a benign state of ignorance. An impulse more than intelligence. A thump, perhaps. Or thud.

Satisfied with my discovery, I was about to re-enter ‘me’ when a multitude of army ants streamed out of my room’s only air duct. Soon, the red legion had covered the floor. I became dizzy from watching their bulbous bodies warble over one another. I lost my focus so plunged into myself with a force that knocked me off the chair.

Ants covered me, thick and crenelate as locusts enfolding an ear of corn. They lashed my arms. Legs. Helpless, I watched black antennae hatch from Princess Beth’s meatballs. I felt myself becoming smaller until all physical forms were reversed. I, the size of an ant to an ant and the ceiling, an awful kind of sky.

The two Formicidae tribes met in the middle of my bed. Everything killed everything in a blur of blood. More uncomfortable than that gruesome sight was the sound of dying ants. The noise of suffering. was unmistakably similar to the sound of a child stripped from its mother or a mother pulled away from her husband in a burning village in the Congo or any mean death in America. The sound of ants dying in battle is the sound of all suffering. I awoke to realize that size is no measure for the potential of anguish. I awoke to a rap at my door.

Did I or did I not have money, Morton wanted to know.

#13: 14 days before the day

(Word for the day: retrospection)

Charlotte and I shared a romance so elemental that to be around us was to participate in experience the feelings we shared. To be around us was to love. Be loved. And who, in love, cares to judge its circumstance? Which is to say my colleagues forgave the fact that I eloped with a student twenty years my junior.  

Charlotte wanted the life of a scholar, or the life of a scholar’s wife. I was smitten so set to enamoring her with my profound sense of the ordinary. We dined on blankets in the park. We read on the porch. We talked our way through romantic comedies. How love begs for itself.

Her uneven bob seemed to me an extraordinary gesture of defiance for a young woman who wore skirts, slips, stockings. She always wore three quarter-inch heels so stood exactly five foot six. Her shoulders were as square as a hangar and that which they held forward, a physical solution for almost any philosophical puzzle.

Until my first episode, we always held hands. I don’t recall a time together in four years that our fingers weren’t entwined. We even held hands while eating. Whenever the two of us dined, the seat across the table was empty. I fed her with my free hand and she me with hers.

She stayed with me for months after I began to disappear. She advocated for therapy and for drugs, which I promised to pursue but did not pursue. My episodes became increasingly provocative. Dr. Brenner called to inform her that I’d been arrested for nudity on campus grounds.

“Where were you, Paul?”

“I disappeared.” 

“Two hundred students saw you naked on the university lawn.”

“As if to disappear requires that one must cease to exist for others instead of merely from oneself,” I said in a meager attempt to defend myself.

I reached for her hand.

Charlotte’s distance toward me developed in phases. We stopped holding hands. She ate across the table. My reflection in her eyes morphed degenerated flattened to a state of sadness and more sadness without reprieve. I became a blur atop a dune gazing back at my distortion. Charlotte said my actions were a clear indication that I was unwilling to save our marriage. (As if what one does is any indication of how one feels. The fate of weak men is fated. And the strong are fated too.)

One morning I departed for the university but remember nothing after my coffee. I awoke that evening next to a soused clown with smeared lips. A blue star was painted around my left eye. We were huddled in an underground parking lot next to a set of elevators.

I returned home and committed myself to the wholesale swap of everything for the grace of a nothing I’ll never know. No longer would I leave myself for others alone to see. My ultimate disappearance would rid myself of you everyone it them her not her me.  

I was concentrating.

She said, “Goodbye.”

A converter box exploded.

And the sky.

#14: 13 days before the day

(Word for the day: time)

The clock ticks before it tocks.

Why do clocks tick before they tock?

#14 #15: 12 days before the day

(Word for the day:       )

The glass hawk scalps a fossil.
        (The bird dives.)
Sand rains on the rubber lake.
        (There is no water.)
Pale carbuncles obscure the white of hostile eyes.
        (I am surrounded.)
Monkeys prance in a confetti sun.
        (There is no hope.)
The fisher boils bones for broth.
        (Much abundance.)
He orders me to slurp.
        (The fisher takes a sip.)

#16: 11 days before the day

(Word for the day: travel)

My first awareness was the gummy film on my teeth. I hadn’t showered in days. My pants were ripped. A smart gash in my knee colored the fringes red. My shirt was missing three buttons. There were five to begin with. Or six.  

Morton doesn’t remember if it was Wednesday or Thursday that he last saw me circling the yard, my eyes searching for fixed on messages in the dirt. I remember seeing the open gate. Then nothing until this morning when I came to on Lamecot’s porch.

Morton was sitting next to me with a half empty bottle of mouthwash in one hand and its white plastic cap in the other. He thanked me for the $50 scratch card but expressed concern over how to redeem the out-of-state fortune. Although conceivable that I crossed into South Dakota, the implications are confounding. Have I developed such control that I can move interstate without knowing so? If it weren’t for the other clues, I’d presume Morton’s gift some unfortunate person’s litter that I found closer to home.

I limped to my room and spread the evidence on my bed in an effort to reconstruct my journey. The earliest record was a round trip bus ticket from the downtown depot to Sioux Falls. Next to it I placed a receipt from a truck stop south of the state line on I-35. On Thursday at 8:30 p.m. I purchased a bologna sandwich, carton of chocolate milk and pack of cigarettes. (I don’t smoke.) I had one hotel room key from the Nations Casino in Sioux Falls and a motel folio from Watertown. Where is Watertown?

The remaining contents of my pockets included fourteen worthless scratch-cards, miscellaneous receipts equaling $386, two keno slips and one feather; its quill stitched in a tube of colorful beads. 

#17: 10 days before the day

(Word for the day: transparency)

What clarity of detail in forgetfulness. Some thoughtless sense of it all. I awoke to the bounce of my seat at the back of the bus. Why do I describe my seat being at the back of the bus? Because I could smell the lavatory in my dream. I could hear the door swing open and closed as tired men exchanged places to rock between the walls. I had a phlegmatic attack. The cough, deep in my chest. I cleared my throat. Smoked.

Although I can’t visualize the surroundings, I’m still tense from the anxious moodiness of nocturnal gamblers. My most predominant sense memory: the exhilaration a wild thing feels upon being set free. This is not tranquil. What I really feel is power. Loss. Love. Abandonment. Misfortune. Determination. Strength. Acquittal. Desire.

What I feel is passion. Emptiness. Fulfillment. Grief. Much grief.  Shame and through shame, humility. Vanity. Faith. I mean its opposite.

#18: 9 days before the day

(Word for the day: celestial)

The dead Indian was in a chief’s headdress of catgut, turquoise, bone. I exited the depot to walk among his braves in that cold country. I crossed his path in silence out of respect for his lack of life. A dog, limp in the street.

“Your name is Paul Cross,” chanted the braves.  

The dog howled as if a different kind of animal was in its body.


#19: 8 days before the day

(Word for the day: complicity)

Morton announced his BYOB Birthday Party in Lamecot’s common area. Everyone is invited to come as early as possible. Even Grandpa Jack because Morton knows that he’ll bring a fifth of something. Morton knows that we’ll all give him a bottle for his birthday, excluding Princess Beth who will make meatballs with tangy sauce and cheese squirt on salt crackers.

When Carl, Lamecot’s proprietor, expressed apprehension about a party, Morton described the affair as a civil social gathering of responsible adults. Carl must know that his tenants smoke crack, drink aftershave, microwave insects, wield shotguns, and disappear at regular intervals. 

Carl is a squishy man with lines in his forehead that discharge sweat in a continuous stream of droplets. He is short and overweight and poorly spoken and almost bald and quite conscious of his inferiority among men. I’ve never seen him without a yellow-stained hanky, which he keeps in his back pocket to wipe his forehead or blow his nose.

There is something between Morton and Carl that I’ve yet to don’t understand. They are complicit in some way. Morton must hold a secret over Carl. Some unforgiveable larceny of spirit or moral trespass of unforgivable dimension. Morton has been three or more months late on rent since I moved in. Still, he drinks with impunity in front of the cameras that Carl installed to discourage drinking.

Morton says nothing. Carl obeys him. There exists something grave between Carl and Morton.

#20: One week before the day

(Word for the day: dialogue)

I’ve spokentoo much about Charlotte, but she continues to haunt me. Where is she while talking to me? What is she doing now, while still telling me what to do? I lay awake, thinking of her to keep myself with her. Banished, I concentrate to remain banished.

Her voice is everywhere. I, in the center, want to be obedient but am unable to obey.

Yes, I will meet with doctors.

No, I can’t meet them.

Yes, I will take meds.

No, I don’t take them.

Yes, I love her.

But does she love me?

I did, she promised.


#21: 6 days before the day

(Word for the day: honesty)

Morton was inebriated when I arrived. I handed him Morton a fifth of Jameson wrapped in a birthday bow. He cried. How happy my gift made him. He took a deep pull. Then he shuffled me into the common kitchen where Princess Beth was arranging her birthday appetizers.

She handed me a can of cheese squirt and returned to rolling meatballs in a slick of tangy sauce that she’d poured onto wax paper. After rolling a ball in the sauce, she set it on a salt cracker, licked her fingers, and moved on to the next.

Must she lick her fingers before handling the meat? I thought. 

“My fingers are clean, Paul. Now hurry up,” she pushed a plate toward me. I squirted cheese on top of each cracker and gagged at the idea of eating one.

Billy the Idiot arrived with a case of beer. Some of Morton’s park friends came with pints of gin. Even Carl showed with a bottle of red wine, which, after ostensibly corking for Morton, he drank by himself, all the while self-conscious of the fact that he was drinking in front of the cameras he’d installed to prohibit the act of drinking.

It was an intimate gathering of vulgar obsoletes but we were behaving ourselves. Although Princess Beth was delighted by the reception of her meatballs, she glared at me every time I let the plate pass. Soon, they were gone. I was relieved to escape a situation that would have required me to eat one. Had the park drunks not devoured them with such zeal, Princess Beth would have forced her meat upon me.

Drunk, I recalled how Charlotte and I would share a magnum on Friday nights. I would follow the lines of her palm with my finger, thinking that they lead to our mutual  future. But that was long ago, when we held hands so wanted to know each other. That was a long time ago, before the ice storm and darkness, before my blindness, before my itinerant consciousness.

Just as I was preparing to go to my room to concentrate myself into silhouette, Grandpa Jack stumbled onto the scene. Morton was upset because Grandpa Jack was drunk and empty-handed. He pointed his finger, demanding an explanation of this first-rate faux pas. Who in their right mind would arrive to a birthday party at once intoxicated and presentless?

Grandpa Jack pushed Morton’s finger away before lighting a cigarette. Morton seethed: Grandpa Jack was the basest, lowest, least decent and unworthiest kind of human being. He supported these accusations with numerous cautionary tales: How Grandpa Jack smokes where he shouldn’t smoke and points guns at good residents like Billy the Idiot and bullies Princess Beth’s delicious meatballs and now, on top of everything else, he abuses the guest of honor!

Grandpa Jack, patient throughout Morton’s diatribe, snorted before responding. “I was gunna give yuh the bottle fer yer birthday, Mort. Only cracked it to freshen my breath. You know about freshenin’ yer breath, don’t yuh? I was sippin’n think’n bout how you invited every bum in town just to get more booze. Got to think’n how you only invited me to make me buy you a damn bottle. That was so selfish of yuh that I decided to drink it myself.”

Grandpa Jack anticipated Morton’s attack and straight-armed him before stepping out of the way. Drunk and disoriented, Morton staggered into a cabinet.

“Leave my brother alone!” yelled Carl before leaping at Captain Jack and I leaping to help my final friend. Grandpa Jack shoved Carl to the side and stepped in with a punch. He missed Morton but connected with the back of my head. I crumpled to my knees.

Morton regained his balance, got his long arms around Grandpa Jack, and pulled him to the floor. Billy the Idiot didn’t hesitate to kick Grandpa Jack in the ribs. Princess Beth batted him over the head with the tray she used to serve meatballs. Finally, Grandpa Jack quit flailing and submitted by curling into a ball to protect himself. During the ruckus, he lost his eye patch. Princess Beth picked it up off the floor. We all stood anxiously over the old man, waiting to see his whole face and know the truth about his eye.

Suddenly, with an agility uncommon to his age, Grandpa Jack bounced to a stand and thrust his neck toward the light like some newly awakened bird. His eye socket resembled one of Princess Beth’s meatballs. Grandpa Jack had been telling the truth.

#23: 4 days before the day

(Word for the day: confusion)

Morton and Carl are brothers. Why didn’t my final friend tell me? Why does he refuse to talk about his tattoo? Why won’t Princess Beth confide in me about her photograph? Is it her son and husband beneath the mythical tree or not? Who was behind the camera!

A still, small voice inside my trunk grinds against the head of an axe.
A still, small voice inside my trunk grinds against the head of an axe.
A still, small voice inside my trunk grinds against the head of an axe.





#24: 3 days before the day

(Word for the day: rebellion) 

Radiant blur of an uncontrollable beginning. A torment of weather awoke me after days in a sky of ash. My pants, stained with the exotic liquor from someone else’s glass. Morton, hunched low on Lamecot’s porch. He disappears. Reappears. I can no longer control him or his other relationships. 

Stronger and alone, I microwave an egg and eat it on toast that I smother in grape jelly. I drink water from the faucet. I recite passages from the wreck. Self-abandonment is a perfection that existence prohibits. I will assume my place in the wax museum.

#25: 2 days before the day

(Word for the day: flux)

#26: A day before the day

(Word for the day: lull) 

The glabrous leaf burns to the stem. A bald tree reveals night between branches. I see pieces of her. Me. If I could find some way to go back to Charlotte before the explosion, I would concentrate on remaining forever in the past. Why wasn’t I present back then?

Where ever it is I go, it remains the interminable moment of my making. I can leave but I cannot escape. My life, unsolvable answers. So many questions with periods. I no longer grasp the metaphor. The problem involves action: whether or not we’ve caused others to live well or to suffer in the moment. Although my gut knows, I prefer amnesia so prepare to embark on my back.

Ant poison powders a crack along the wall where the floorboard runs. The bottle is for outdoor use only. I flick red and black corpses off my pillow.

Princess Beth makes meatballs. Billy the Idiot smokes crack from a tire pressure gauge like some great artist who will never make anything. Morton is drunk on the porch with visions of his grand inheritance. Grandpa Jack is blind in his room. Paul Cross disappears beneath the underpass at Camelot. Lamecot. City of dots – where darkness is the brightest flickering. 

#27: The day

(Word for the day: desert dessert

It’s approaching the end of…

I will save the pudding from my last meal to eat at a later date.

About the Editors

Suzanne Lawrence, Ph.D.
Dr. Lawrence teaches contemporary literature at Sarah Lawrence. In 2008, she received the prestigious National Professor of the Year Award. She lives with her husband, three cats, and one overly complacent dog.  

Joshua Clark, Ph.D.
Dr. Clark is a world-leading authority in the field of linguistics. His book,
The Other Side of Chomsky, received the Yale University Critic’s Award. He teaches at Berkeley and lives in Oakland.

Alison Scarpulla

Calvin Haul’s creative work has appeared in MAYDAY Magazine (New American Press), Context South, and Caveat Lector. His nonfiction bylines include American Book Review and 15 Bytes—Utah’s Art Magazine.

Copyright © 2018, Otis Nebula Press. All rights reserved.