A Belated History of the Future
—fiction by Rich Ives

     Jack lives in the land of magic waters. Yes, it’s true. He does. Echoes are not allowed. Everyone here knows the wind is a criminal. It's true.

     Still, people refuse to stop questioning.

     Success attracts undesirables and is to be avoided.

     An almost painful sharp twitch is how he describes the electricity the magic water provides running into a surprised muscle (how easily the body forgets). It rises slowly to the surface of the skin and itches, briefly, without any aftereffects, not even a slight redness.

     A state of rapture is achieved by sprinkling the magic water from a height of twelve feet or more. This affects not only the sprinkled upon but the sprinkler, even if the sprinkler is careful not to get wet, and the sprinkler must sometimes be assisted down from the heights or it’s possible he might remain for days in a trance in a tree.

     The slightest provocation sends Jack into great heaving sobs. Jack doesn’t know what to think of this but he thinks of it anyway.

     In this strange and wonderful land, a sick person is held to be unconscious and therefore in violation of his essential state of being. This is not the same as being asleep, which is considered to be merely an invitation to dream, an activity valued as much as prayer is elsewhere.

     One is either sick or well here. The progressive state of falling into illness or the mixed blessings of partial recovery are not recognized. A soft rubber mallet is often kept next to the broom to assist with distinctions when frustrations arise due to the similarities between dreaming and being sick, even though it is frowned upon to interrupt the state of sleep in this manner due to the damage to dreams that may occur if the mallet only partially serves its purpose. The higher state of dreaming should not be interrupted.

     A fever, therefore, can be especially frightening and confusing. The difference between hallucination and dreaming causes the greatest consternation and confusion. Charlatans have acquired great wealth claiming to be able to identify this difference.

     Although problematic, rebellion is viewed by most as a state much like walking backwards. Amusing and usually harmless, but potentially dangerous if done too fast or too carelessly. A citizen suffering from excess dissention is put to sleep with mild relaxants and locked in the same room with a weasel for three days and nights. Often, this reorients their thinking.

     Or perhaps this happens in a crappy little dive on Seattle's north side. Call it my apartment. I live on the edge of the closed earth, crusted like an immense dark eye, so white from the other side that a song of domesticated animals too burdened with habit to survive anything so unexpected only increases volume as I listen for my voice among them.

     My apartment is filled with books and darkness. It's a metaphorical owl empire. A gentle kind of humiliation. Neighbors might call me an intellectual, the strange estranged pity of it much like a flayed emotion, ragged in the temporal wind.

     An insistent dungeon of a woman visits from time to time like some myopic instrument of torture. The profits on the vending machine of her heart have been supporting a small group of emotional terrorists unable to detach themselves from her mouth.

     The hemorrhoid hammer has been pounding at my back door. You needed to know this.

     At lunch today I ate at a meat-haters convention known locally as Flowers. I got to watch some vegetarians righteously patting their neighbors with gentle words that seemed ready to leave home. I listened and listened. The words arrived unattached, innocent. I felt like a pimp.

     On the wall at Flowers, there was a little Van Gogh sun screaming in collapsing circles. I started thinking about a 60s science fiction movie, the scene in the therapist’s office at the asylum. He thinks he can uncover the symbolic meaning of the aliens you’ve been dreaming. There isn’t any. Sometimes an alien is just an alien.

     Outside the restaurant, cross-legged on the sidewalk, three beggars are selling mandalas to make it look like they aren’t begging, occasionally giving them away to feel righteous and encourage donations, poppy-colored popes

with eyes like the insects in the science fiction movie. The kind of intensity children have the first day at the lemonade stand. The second day they always disappear. There is no second day.

     For a moment, I thought I had felt a sharp pronouncement in wasp-speech. Then, just as suddenly, it was gone.

     It was a dream of insolent scavengers, large dark birds and feral dogs roving the canyons beneath canvas-backed birds shouldering the sky’s vision,

which cannot be seen from below.

     The red clouds over Butte were migrating north to spawn in Yellowknee, a potato-sack chevron flagging the isolated poplars.

     I had been wrestling with the sleep commander of the urban Taiga. No sound had ever been so small. The pain was huge.

     She woke me up. She did. She just woke me up.

     "My dear little buggie wipe," she says, she really says that, "I'm in favor of spawning a bevy of screaming nose-miners."

     This from a woman who used to wipe the toilet seat for fear of pregnancy.

     I looked hard, but my thoughts began pushing away even the few representative fragments of rude light my insulted eyes had allowed. I was distinctly underconversationalized. I was opting for camouflage.

     Out of the procreant increase of a fertile mind, out of a painful defiance of a chained one, out of the tug of a dollhouse sky and her mother's mouth, came the baby tears.

     At times like this you can't pay close enough attention.

     Not much later she’s a droopy green leopard with horn-rimmed eyeglasses back from the jogging jungle. Someone gave her the leotards and they're way too big, so she figures on getting them sweaty. She's in that don’t-have-to-impress-anyone stage. She's energized.

     Used to be she wasn't even fishing. Used to be Jill put a lot of energy into resting.  Betrothed to the slow room of a tantric wave.

     I answer the door and it's the minister, well a minister anyway, because I don’t know which one is my wife’s, his belly preceding him like a prize he’s offering for the right attitude. And yes, we got married, though we did it suddenly at the Water Goddess Wedding Chapel on what may be the only hill in Las Vegas. That’s why we refer to it as “went up the hill.” And this obsequious fat turd of a man thinks it gives him permission.  Why doesn't his congregation build him a home and pay him enough to feed himself and visit him so he doesn’t have to go out happy-mouthing the unpersuaded? How could they respect his stature if they witnessed it next to my humble, if more substantial, accumulation of deeply developed intellectual depravities?

     He wants to know if my "wife" would "in future" wear a bra though he refers to it as a “foundation garment.” Has someone complained? Or appreciated too much? I feel like a soap opera refugee. He's serious, he really is, but of course I want to laugh.

     That’s because of what I want, which is not what I think I want. Which is equally true of the minister.

     I send him home with some fruitcake.

     A few years later my wife gets more fully dressed and moves to Cleveland. The idea of our children seems to have followed her.

     As the history of the future has been informing us, every angry mouthful of sorrow must be chewed carefully and finally swallowed.

     But I was smart. I knew I didn't know that yet.

     These aren't my lives. They really aren’t. They’re gifts from the stranger who lives in my soul.

     You probably couldn't have guessed I would say that. Kind of melodramatic. Reeking of ironic self-pity. Unpredictable.

     God that’s predictable.

     Hansel expresses a heartfelt interest in Jill and Jack begins wooing Gretel. But you know how it ends.

     The ceiling is composed of your breath’s restrained clouds. If you breathe harder, we might even escape heaven.

     The calmed water denser than the calmed stone.

     An x-ray showing the ribs of the girdle and not the woman enclosed inside as it dances, dances away.

     Huckleberry-flavored insects.

     A nest of foxes in the blackthorn thicket.

     Ideas drifting like stalled motorboats.

     Meanwhile in another part of the story, Jack remembered saying, “Save the water for what, you sadistic mother-in-law? Turn on the damn faucet.”

     So she tries it on him. The mother-in-law. She says, “Jack, Jack, Jack.”

     Shame for this and shame for that.

     “Jack, Jack, Jack.”

     Cleaning the clean counter that Jack just finished cleaning.

     “Jack, Jack, Jack.”

     And, and, and.

     Not as good as the kick in the head she thought she might receive, but maybe her daughter maybe could have gotten killed too in the bargain, to say nothing of herself, if Jack wasn’t such a peaceful kind of guy, Mrs. Smartypants-Not-Decadent-Western- Money-Sex-Violence-Lover.

     How could a woman like that have a Catholic daughter?

     Yachts white as anchored heavens.

     A 123 pound turnip in the Ukraine.

     The sable caress of her mother’s Chinese silk.

     A village of thumbs, the spiked field bristling with tulip bulbs like an earthen beard.

     Autumn’s fallen peace, nervous and wren-like.

     The old woman humming to the rose bush.

     And one morning the projectile bile. Oatmeal chunks of something like brain matter.

     The cat’s tongue collecting them.

     I could hear someone crying and I tried to catch up.

     The lantern flickered as the flames tossed about. A moonless night with shadows melding one into the other and shifting just enough to suggest multiple arms to the great dark monster of the night. Yes, frightening in its way, but childlike in its approach.  Should we fear or embrace its innocence, for innocent it was, having had no part in the selection of its irritating attributes.

     Like April’s cold wet fur.

     Or the fecundity of the forest’s relentless vowels.

     So that Jack thinks he’s thinking about thinking, and he is, but what Jack’s thinking that he’s thinking about isn’t much. It’s only the novelty of thinking about it, thinking that is, that’s got him thinking he’s thinking deeply about something he seems to have forgotten.

     Jack’s like that. Jill’s mother spotted it instantly.

     Not to be confused with that other Jack and that stupid Christian parable about the devil disguised as God and the evils of folklore.

     So Jack decided to go outside, and he liked it out there, so he decided to go back inside because it was expected of him, even though once he would have stayed out there and maybe planted something.

     “So listen, Jack, you got a long-lost brother you haven’t told me about or a lonely uncle for Jill’s ugly sister?”

     So finally Jack says to his mother-in-law, Jack says, “Not even if you were the last virgin on earth, I wouldn’t give in to you. And how come you never told Jill about the adoption. And what if she found out on her own? What if she found out? Do you really expect me to help you keep lying?”

     So Jack tells Jill and his crown remains intact, not even an ejaculation of “Idiot” or something upside the head or an intensely sincere castration parable in Jill’s you-better-listen voice. Seems Jill’s known all along. Hates her evil pseudo-mother.  Can’t believe Jack’s so nice to her.

     “Couldn’t you see she’s a witch? Do you really think I look Chinese? What do you think all that cleaning was about? She used to make me do it.”

     So after the contracts are signed, Hansel and Gretel hit the old girl with a big stick, and she’s squirting blood at the knees and too heavy to carry across the moor to the suicide cliff. The cameras continue rolling.

    “First thing we better find a bucket,” says Gretel, staring at the pool of blood, turning on the oven absentmindedly.

     Hansel says to Gretel, he says, “If I push, will you push?” And Gretel says to Hansel, she says, “I’ll push if you’ll push.”

     Jack starts thinking about thinking again. And then he can’t do it anymore, thinks that anyway, so he starts thinking about not thinking. It’s more difficult, but it does have a future. That’s what he was thinking.

Rich Ives lives on Camano Island in Puget Sound. He has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Dublin Quarterly, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. In 2013 he has received nominations for The Pushcart Prize (2), The Best of the Net and Story South. He is the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. Both Tunneling to the Moon, which is being serialized with a new story each day on the Silenced Press website for 2014, and Light from a Small Brown Bird (poetry––Bitter Oleander Press) are scheduled for paperback release in 2014.