Sunday, July 13, 2008

Aldred and the Pond

Aldred can't decide if it's somehow respectful or utterly tasteless that they've turned the bomb crater into a koi pond. Given, it's the perfect shape and saves the effort of digging a separate hole, but still. He's been feeling superstitious for a few weeks now, actively trying to avoid bad omens or anything that could conceivably turn into one. For an imaginative person like Aldred this is a difficult proposition. The day before he left America he passed a pile of new phone books that had been left outside a condemned apartment building, apparently in error. They were already fading and warping, the plastic wrap proving ineffective at keeping out light or moisture. Aldred's scrying mind was compelled to read signs of a fractured future, perhaps involving an injury to the leg (his?) before he forced himself to look away. It didn't help matters that he almost immediately afterwards barked his shins on a badly placed planter. In his experience it isn't usually this simple to connect the dots.

He's finding it irritating that the unseen is proving rather visible lately. Besides the perilous situations it ends up putting him in, it's boring. And cheap. Aldred wants to be teased by the universe, led on with tantalizing glimpses from behind a twitching veil, lifted up by spikes of intuition and buffeted by the unexpected, caressed by tendrils of mystery while he tumbles through that which is sensed and that which is known in other ways...

Good lord, he's getting an erection. That's no way to behave at a garden party, even in one of the more decadent corners of Montenegro. Ill-advised as it may be, he'd best focus his attention on the pond.

The crater is a relic of WWII. There's some debate as to which side brought it into the world, but the Countess prefers to blame Mussolini. Aldred pictures the dictator striding into the garden, kneeling on the lawn, and cracking the earth with his proud and powerful head. More conventional munitions were probably responsible in reality. The perfect circle of the pond makes the image hard to shake though: he keeps seeing Il Duce's giant skull displacing the earth, over and over. The pond water pours from his eyes and koi spawn drips from his mouth, growing to full size carp before hitting the surface. They swim off in tightly organized schools, the aquatic equivalent of the fascist ideal: opulent and regimented and fast, so fast.

It's hardly fair to the koi to indict them with the man's ideology like this, but fairness isn't at the top of Aldred's mind at the moment. All in all, he's not thrilled to be here. The estate, the garden, the pond, his hosts: it's not the atmosphere he wants and needs at the moment. It's all too 20th century. While he's currently terrified of omens, he's also obsessed with the future. It's an untenable position, but it's one he can't come to grips with in a place so mired in the past. he was hoping to find a forward flow to grab onto, here in one of the world's newest republics. Instead it's imported titles, gossip about who did what for Milošević, and wreckage from the 1940s. His disappointment is in turn making him feel childish and paternalistic. He's being an ungracious guest and an ugly American.

He decides to concentrate on the fish. There's a couple dozen of them. They're beautiful as they swim around, but they keep breaking his contemplation, by coming to the surface flapping their lips and making him think of Mussolini again. Two dozen bald dictators, declaiming from the pond, urging him to go faster, go forward. They want him to march into the 20th century, modernizing everything he touches. It's a completely irrational responsibility to place on one man. At any rate their notion of modernity is already hopelessly antiquated: Aldred hears them burbling about tail fins and six lane highways and the need for long distance air travel. History has passed these fish by and they don't even know it. They don't even to know what year it is. He wants to pity them, but he finds himself getting angry instead.

When the Countess wanders down to receive his compliments on the pond, she's rather surprised to find Aldred hopping up and down, shouting about the dead ends represented by futurism and fascism, and occasionally giving the finger to her koi. She thinks he's rather crossed the line from colorful to garish. Once Aldred calms down, he'll agree with her, but by then he'll be back in the states, boldly walking under ladders and daring black cats to cross his path. Omens be damned: he wants the future now.

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