by Jesse S. Mitchell
Albert has had his share of adventure. Walking along the crowded commercial street, he began to catch sight of his reflection in the shop windows. He grimaced. He turned his head quickly. He allowed his mind to completely and utterly indulge itself to distract his attention away from the ghastly mirrored manifestations. All distorted lines and exaggerated motions. They reminded him of his mortality. He could clearly see himself dead in them, his corpse, he could envision it by the reflections he saw. Storefront glass windows are hideous things.
Go Bold! Blaze trails! Venture where no feet have ever before tread!
He could still hear those words echoing in his ears from so many many years ago. The speaker had so much force, so much passion. Albert cannot recall his name or image; in truth he was paying precious little attention. It was the commencement speech at his university graduation. It was after the war, after the army.
He had endured the worst horrors of battle. He had lived through college. He had survived. It was springtime and fat buds were fit to explode flowery on the tips of all the long spindly grey-brown elbow- bent tree limbs. It smelled like rain always, humidity-drenched breezes, a great thick cloud of life trickling along the surface of the ground.
After the speech and after all the ceremony, he and several of his classmates gathered together for a last time in the back garden of the old Daniels house. There was no electricity and the day was becoming just another contusion stain upon a long line of deep-bruised days. The night was rolling in and the light was slinking away shy from the accumulating abuse. The whole crowd of them milled about, heads down, not more than twenty words said between them. The atmosphere was glooming and Albert, wise even then, watched on with a growing sense of obligation. He couldn’t let the last time he saw any of these people be so very dour. It would ruin the memories and sensibilities of every single person involved. One has to paint the picture one wants seen.
He watched as they bought out a few small gas lantern lights and placed them around them in a safe semi-circle. They trimmed the wicks and lit them and turned the shades all the way around. The oscillating yellow glow grew into a wide ring and enclosed them, a little flicker flame, a quick shake-like breath, punctuated every word they uttered after that, every move they made. They brought out some single-malt whisky and slowly began to drink, Albert quicker than the others. He soon found himself more lubricated than was his habit. The war sprang into his mind, then as a drunk young man loitering and now a grown man struggling to purpose, and before long he was entertaining the whole group with extravagant but mostly true stories of far off places, rice fields and Nagaland, the Burma trail, Japanese and Germans. Most of the other lads present were younger than he, by at least four or five years and to them. He sounded like an elder statesman. He suddenly had gained their respect and rapt attention. He poured liquor down his throat. He pulled a white tablecloth from someplace and in a flash of inebriated genius wrapped it around himself and stretched out his legs and sat half-laying on the ground beneath a tall and wide majestic tree and continued deep into the night. Wild tales, one more wild than the next. Drunken screaming and sometimes singing, chanting long stories, they acquired an almost musical quality. He spoke more in one night then he had in ten years before, probably. Talked so much that his throat hurt for a week and he could barely speak at all for two full days afterward.
And soon all the young men began to drink more eagerly. And soon they all began to tell tales. And the lantern light spilled everywhere and the moonlight and starlight beamed down everywhere and specks and flecks of light filled every space and collected in the margins of the night. Everywhere was intense illumination. All things blurred. And what was dreary before was now raucous and loud, everything was revelry and Albert was their god that night, the center of all attention. And the great Aristophanes of Fife preached on. A congregation of trespassers, not only trespassers on the Daniels estate but also on the face of the Earth. For most of the young men present found themselves confused to their even existence after the brutal events of the first part of the twentieth century and everything before. If the wages of sin were truly death, then the whole of humanity had no right to set foot on ground but…there they were, the greatest of trespassers vainly wasting their time. Growling and howling with self-approval, mad from youth. And the night before they all went out blazing like unwieldy flames, roaring over all the verdant and healthy expanse they were stuck-stopped caught within the spell of a thin self-conscious deep terrified young Albert Cavers.
Albert was quite the storyteller when he got going. Albert was also a very good soldier, once he got the hang of it. Albert has always been a ’good’ anything once he waded out into the middle of it, but as always, timidity of the currents and waves had hindered him in unfathomable ways. Few people are born with a greater chance to immensity and magnitude than Albert Cavers, a wealthy family of education and means and him with a talent and curiosity spilling out from each and every endeavor.
But things had ruined him.
Seeing Europe in flames. Running his fingers through the bloody underbellies of Empire’s finest. All those Indian jungles. Malayan emergencies. Whole world of troubles. Somewhere a Bren Light ejaculated steel bullets. Somewhere a steel-wrapped solid-bodied death machine exploded, incendiary.
But things had ruined him.
It wasn’t until he was jarred–a passing lady absent-mindedly knocked into his shoulder–that he realized he had stopped. He was standing stationary on the street, white-knuckle clutching his briefcase. Steady stream of human transfer breaking and splitting around him, merging again after him. He was a crag, a rock, an obtrusion. Imposing.
He was caught staring face to face with himself in a shop window, smoke-stained and frosted around the edges. A reflection. He shivered. Mortality. Ghosts everywhere.
Albert could find no solace in this world. No peace.