Sunday, November 23, 2008

Aldred Up a Tree

There's a frame of reference that would be useful to have here, Aldred imagines. Its absence is leaving perception a jumbled mess, like a Cornell box that has been given a good shake. He has a few facts to deal with:

He is up a tree, a gnarled and ancient affair.

He's holding on to a branch for dear life, but this seems to be unnecessary, as the afghan is still wrapped around him, now transformed into a sort of sling. The knotted ends are on top of the branch, and Aldred hangs beneath.

He is currently facing the sky. It's bright blue and calming, and part of him wants to relax and leave well enough alone. But another part of him can't resist a turn of the head to see what the whole situation is.

The branch sticks out over a cliff.

It appears to be a long way down.

It is morning and it is cold.

He pulls himself to the side a bit and looks down at the foot of the tree. Mercury and an old man (oh yes, Kliet, that was his name) are there. Mercury is wearing a bright red cloche hat with an ostrich feather pin. The hat and pin don't really go together, making her head a smaller jumble within the jumble.

Kliet is holding a large yellowing map of the continental United States, mounted on plywood.

Mercury has an old fashioned cheerleader's bullhorn to her mouth, and is slowly overpronouncing the names of American cities through it. Her accent is the sort that only comes from elocution classes at a young ladies finishing school. A disreputable one.


Aldred takes his hands away from the branch and rubs his face. A wind comes up and he starts to swing gently. Aldred glances at the knot. It looks solid and reassuring. He lets his arms flop back and now hangs in the sling, staring up into the sky.


There's something infuriating about that.


That's slightly better. The wind picks up and he begins to swing with more vigor. He resists the urge to wrap his arms tightly around the branch, ignores the screaming voice in his head, and concentrates on the sky, willing his eyes to stay open and take in the blue when all they want to do is clamp shut.


Oh for heaven's sake...


"FEEEEEEEENIIIIIIIIIIICKS-Yes, dear?" She gestures to Kliet, who adjusts the angle of the map.

"That's very irritating."


"You naming cities that aren't on that map."


"Really, it is."

"No dear, it isn't. It's annoying, not irritating. FEEERRRRRAAAAHHNKFOOOOOOHRT."

"The difference being?"

"Irritants just happen. Annoyances are there on purpose."

"I wasn't aware of that-"


"-particular distinction."

"Well, that's something for you to think about then, isn't it dear? But I wouldn't spend too much energy on it as-"

The sling swings to the right and he feels a sickening lurch. His eyes snap to the knot, the twists and turns of which are now in motion. Rapid motion. Aldred grabs the branch with his arms and as much of his legs as his gut will allow. The afghan falls away, and he hears Kliet mutter something about cavalier treatment of family heirlooms.


Aldred begins to inch his way down the branch, towards the trunk. He hasn't gotten very far when a definitive cracking noise tells him what the immediate future is going to hold. The branch is still partly connected to the trunk, and Aldred's weight causes it to swing in rather than simply fall off. The far end of the branch arcs towards the foot of the tree, carrying Aldred with it, gaining speed like a wrecking ball. At the last second Aldred lets go. The forward momentum hurtles him towards Kliet who seems to be expecting this. He takes a quick step to the side and swats Aldred with the mapboard, deflecting him into a conveniently placed (if dew dampened) haystack.

Aldred closes his eyes, and, though partially winded, breathes in as much of the smell of damp hay as he can. He is greedy for it, in love with all things that stay near to the ground. The impact has driven him halfway towards the center of the stack, and for a moment he considers burrowing in. Instead he pulls himself out and collapses onto the ground, his back resting against the hay. Mercury wanders over and points the bullhorn down at him. He can see up it, all the way to her pursed lips. He thinks he reads some satisfaction on them. They slowly part and one last name comes rolling down the cone of the bullhorn.


Aldred considers.

"That's not even a city."

"Does that annoy you?"

He shrugs.

"Right," says Mercury. "I think we've made a fair bit of progress here this morning."

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