And so I ride my bike through the Bywater neighborhood at night, letting my mind ramble and roam around through my head like leaves swept up in a hurricane. The cool wet night air caresses my face, keeping my mind alert. The streets are dark in this part of New Orleans, street lights maybe every block or so, half of them flickering like a lightning bug on a live wire. The air and the streets breathe water off of them, and they smell of old knowledge, they’ve seen things. Every beautifully renovated old shotgun house on the block always has two crumbling ones flanking it, their warped wood frames twisting in silent silhouette against the night’s sky, all the more beautiful and timeless for their decay. The streets are quiet, every now and again a horn honks, an ambulance siren sings some blocks away, a defining moment in time for a stranger wailing out into the night. An old, rusty blue, Grand Marquis rumbles past me, a young punk in an old white t-shirt and a black and white checkered fedora exhales cigar smoke as he nods to me in passing. The world tumbles back and forth in my head like a fierce ocean hurricane contained inside a thick glass bottle, far from any land on which to release its fury, its potential…
Up ahead on the street is Vaughn’s, the legendary jazz club, it must be Thursday night because the regular party is rolling and bouncing inside. A swinging beacon in the middle of the cool, dark, welcoming night, their contrast as stark as water in the desert. I can feel Kermit Ruffin’s magic trumpet blowing out into the night sky, gloriously howling at an almost full moon. Hmmm… is it really Thursday already? I’m going to turn the corner before the club, ducking back into the liberating solitude of a lonely night in a dimly lit part of town, and like a moth to the light I’m pulled towards the sound and the noise. I stop in front of the bar, still sitting on my bike, watching the chaos unfold inside. It’s packed with people partying the way New Orleans parties just because it’s Thursday again. People drunk enough to finally leave all the things they are unhappy about behind and capture that youthful euphoria they once had and now long for. No worries, no reflections on a moment that isn’t right now, a few short moments looking back but all the same worth it. Somewhere in a different place, or no… a different time, my brother sits on the beach playing, happy to be himself and alive, all that exists is fun day of play and a beach that he perceives as the current eternity, oblivious to all that might be around him.
Maybe I should go in and have a drink, then have more drinks, feel the music moving in my body, dance the whole night away. There are always only so many times that you’ll ever do anything again. I think about the old days. The purity of drunken late night conversation, whiskey coursing through my veins. Everything seems relevant all the time when you’re a drunkard. I can smell the smoke and taste the drink. I can feel a new girls soft lips on mine. Humans want to be able to relate to the world around them. We grasp out into the darkness of the world looking for a connection, like a child looking for a light switch in the black night. Anything to make it all seem more real.
I look up at the stars, and they are beautiful, and you can see them so well in this part of town without all our artificial human light. One of them I focus on, straight above me, seems brighter than the most. I close my eyes, and let my brain take me the some thousand light years there. I didn’t realize from my pithy vantage point on Earth that it was so bright because it’s a binary star system. I almost apologize to the stars for my previous ignorance, and that I meant no disrespect, but that would have been silly of me, to personify a star, so I do not. Two charmingly exquisite stars, both roughly ten times our sun, one just a little taller than the other. Spinning around each other, exploding violently, radioactively, flares reaching out to each other as they endlessly dance together, the last couple on the dance floor as the brass band starts packing up. Atoms of matter converting themselves to energy, millions of times a minute, letting out the loudest hell scream of fire and destruction that our universe allows, from the most minute of its fibers. I marvel at the simple, unpretentious spectacle, that is the cosmos. Two fiery lovers, spinning together, for what we would perceive as an eternity. It is the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen in my life.
My thoughts drift back to Earth, and I wonder how anything we do can so easily be perceived by us as so important, when the cosmos stretches out so mightily in every dimension around us. And I think that I am a fool, or worse a fake, for pretentiously thinking that my pursuit of revenge, of justice, is somehow noble, or worse, significant. Everything in me will not let me turn the blind eye, will not me bend, and the universe couldn’t even begin to have a notion to notice. And what does moral absolutism matter then, when nothing will ever be anything more, than not even close to, a blip on a map, which is far too grand for anything as pithy as us to start to comprehend…
No. There is right and wrong in the world. There has to be. Perhaps it is subjective to the observer, though morality’s subjectivity should not make anyone treat their own sense of it as anything less than something scientifically absolute. What else do I have to base the world on than myself, then who I am as a man, my reality tunnel? Some things can never be ignored, never backed down from, not by a man. Perhaps in the inherent futile conceitedness that is the experience of human life, all that we are left to hold on to is our own moral fiber, the grit that we clench our teeth with. Men in my family face each day with their heads high, and live their lives on their own terms. Men in my family will not bend, or compromise, or beg, or shut their eyes to sleep at night regretting the way that they can now perceive themselves. Perhaps all one has is way we look at ourselves in the mirror, after a long night of dreaming of the things we’ve done, and the things left to do.
My thoughts drift to Monique somehow. I want to ask myself if I still love her, but I decide I don’t want to know the answer. So I don’t ask. The stars continues their show for me. Somewhere the Earth is still persisting in its rotation of the sun.
I sit there and watch the cosmos tango for what might be a year, and I pull my own sun out from the pocket that I keep it in. I stare into it, as I have so many times since the day I found it. I hold it up in front of the larger sun behind it, switching the focus of the eyes between the two. They’re the same in a way, I realize, though then I realize that maybe I already knew that, I just hadn’t… known I did? But there is no violence with my sun, no explosions and gamma rays powering itself in a never ending orgy of energy and matter, each single inconsequential mass being fully realized in a force that destroys the matter at will around it, and entropy grows, as it always seems to. Mine simply sits there and pulses softly, mine simply is, endlessly. Light. If I were to personify it, I would say that it is content with its phase of existence, matter… fully realized, but it would be silly to personify light, so I don’t.
And then… I am back at Vaughn’s, and the cosmos are now happening too long ago too still matter to me. Or perhaps too far away, Hmmm… I can’t tell for sure. These days I’ve been having trouble telling space and time apart again, remembering the difference, or remembering which one I’m talking about. I start out telling my brother when something happened and I end the sentence telling him how far away it happened. I know that there is not a difference at all between the two though. But as a human, I need to keep aware of the two when I’m, interacting, when I’m thinking, so I don’t… drift off down one or the other.
There’s a girl outside the bar smoking, and she is looking at me, and she is beautiful. Short black hair, spiked out in the back, as the rocker girls around here tend to do. She wears just a little makeup, a little dark shadow brings sharp contrast to her translucent blue eyes, and I feel myself falling inside of them as I, drowning, looking back up at the light of the sun cutting through the water. Her tight black pants show off her voluptuous curves, up her tight black Clash shirt, the sleeves cut off, her perfects breasts jut out, wagging middle fingers to every single man who walks by. Down her right arm stretches a black tattoo of an elongated clock, twisting around her elbow. Time itself twists down her arm, winding like the Mississippi River just a few short blocks away. She smiles at me, a warm smile, one you might give an old friend, and she puts out her cigarette, turns towards the entrance. At the door she looks back at me, still smiling, or perhaps an altogether different smile, and then she is swallowed into the humanity inside.
And that would be my cue, my invitation, to go and talk to her.
And maybe I’ll go inside, and I’ll have a scotch with her, a Johnny Walker Black, neat. Maybe I’ll dance with her, spin her around to Kermit’s trumpet, like our fiery tangoing counterparts so far ago. Maybe the liquor burns just a little, gloriously, and I remember the fire, the late nights, the back alley brawls, running from the sirens rolling in. Maybe I remember all the different women, especially the good ones, and waking up laughing with my mates about the lives we live over breakfast and mimosas. Maybe I’ll go for a walk with her after we leave, high on the fire and scotch. Maybe the conversation would come pouring out of us, the way it does when you finally meet someone that you can actually talk to about the things you think about, the one’s other people never bother to. Maybe we talk about life, the universe, social mechanics, and everything in between. Maybe her views are different, but she delivers them with such eloquence and brilliant clarity that I can actually believe her in a way, and I hang on her sentences, instead of just waiting for my chance to speak. Maybe we’d go back to her half of a double shotgun, maybe on Chartres Street, with the river’s levee just across the way. Maybe we smoke a joint on her porch, talking through the final hours of the night, as our bodies get closer and closer together on her small, white, wicker loveseat. Maybe her eyes would tell me to kiss her, and maybe we’d make out as the moon set, and the sun started to rise over the Mississippi River. Maybe we’d make love as the golden early morning sun crashed through her windows. I’d feel her come as I thrust deep inside of her, her nails digging into my back, as our tongues dance around each other, and our sweat mixes together. Maybe I’d wake up the next afternoon to the smell of good coffee, and she cooks breakfast nude, and we’d lie around in her bed, eating and talking, and she’d be even more wonderful, than I’d imagined the previous night. Maybe I’d keep seeing her. Maybe I’d end up moving in months later, something I said that I would not do with a woman again. Maybe we’d love each other, but really, actually, love each other, true love is an intimate understanding for the other person, something that previously I had thought not to exist. Maybe we’d have the type of love, where we never wanted to take the other person down, or vent our frustration toward the other, we only strove to make the other love themselves, as much as we loved them. Maybe every single, different time throughout the day we saw each other we would get a rush, that euphoria that humans spend so much of their time preoccupied with trying to harness. Maybe every time we made love it would have that simple passion of enjoyment that we had the first time. Maybe we’d get old together, without even noticing that the years had slipped away from us, we’d simply wake up, further down the stream of space time, than we had been that night at Vaughn’s. Maybe sometimes we would tell people about the story of that night we met, and I would always tell people that I hadn’t even planned on going to the bar that night. Maybe it wouldn’t matter that our bodies had wasted away to frail reflections of what we were that night, or what we once thought we were. And then, at this very moment right now, I am an old man. We are warmly embracing, sitting together on the silk sheets of our old wooden four post bed that we have spent so many nights spooned together in. I am slowly, ponderously, running my feeble fingers down the river of time that runs along her arm, just like I have done so many times in the past. Her clock is marked now with its own wrinkles of time, a lifetime of them, and she smiles at me… that same warm smile she had the first time I met her. And I feel euphoric inside. And maybe…
And then I got back on my bike, and I rode to the end of the Bywater, and I followed the curve of the road around into the train yards, which run in between the levee and the river. I rode through the night, the river on my left, with the French Quarter and downtown stretching out past its curve. The trains were to my other side, silent travelers who have been seen this country time and again, they know its secrets, though you have to really stop and listen closely. I stopped and I climbed up on one of the cars, a black, gas tanker looking one. Someone had spray painted a white anarchy symbol on the right side of the ladder, what looked like a very long time ago. I sat on the train staring at the river, thinking about my life, and thinking about all the events in it that had led up to this moment right now. I thought about the men that my brother and I had killed in the last two weeks, about the repercussions that were going to come, as sure as a storm flooding the rivers past their levees.
Time, it moves forward like a river, but like a river viewed from space, it exists all at once. A river can be slowed or sped up, by great outside forces acting on it, maybe even stopped with the right amount of force, like a man in a black hole, watching the universe speed by in front of him, stars pop out like dying fireflies, until only a pitch black night sky remains. But time would always move in the forward direction, cause and effect always happening in that order, a process as irreversible as entropy, or as death. Moving forward toward its inevitable conclusion, past, present and future existing all at once, perception depending only on what part of the space time river that you perceive, that you are experiencing it from. The Law of Entropy was when it was first observed, that some processes are irreversible, they will always only move in only one direction, for the duration of the existence of what we perceive to be the universe. Time is one of those processes, and if it can only move forward, but the future has already existed the way that it is about to, right after, right now. Since the first collisions of matter and atoms at the beginning of what we perceive as time, cause and effect predicating more collisions, and more cause and effect, and so on logically and linearly developing into the clock that we perceive as the universe, which spawned one blue inconsequential glob of matter, which we existed on, fascinated by our own ideas and movements, cause and effect powering our species, until the inevitable end, when we blink away as was always going to happen, matter and time having fallen down in a straight line like an unfathomable number of dominos, all since those first few collisions. A river always has a beginning, end, and middle, always existing at the same time.
Anything that I am going to do, I have already done, and will always have already done.
I think about my brother, and I remember the first time that I was big enough, and he was still small enough to ride on my shoulders, maybe I was eight or nine years old. And we paraded around the sunny campground, him on my shoulders as the families chuckled and clapped for us, and the men sucked down Abita beers. He laughed and giggled, a smile was plastered on my young face.
And I think about tomorrow night, and the men, hopefully the last, that my brother and I are going to kill. And I wonder what space time will look like from that point in the river, maybe just three days from what I think is right now. I think about the men that we have killed, since I came back to New Orleans two weeks ago, perhaps they were always going to die like that, two brothers’ justice. And I do not feel bad about what I’ve done, not because of its inevitability, but because every action has had reaction, since those first collisions of atoms, and those men knew damn well that they should have been more careful about the actions they took in regards to the lives of my brother and I.
And I sat there on the train, and I watched the sun come up over the river.
Then I went and had breakfast at the little diner near my apartment. Scrambled eggs with onions, tomatoes, and havarti cheese, a side of smoked salmon, and a fresh biscuit. It was delicious. The waitress gave me a wink as I paid my bill. I smiled.
Writing is binding an idea to a fixed point in space time.
Alex Willson is a travelling documentary film maker and freelance writer. He is based in between New Orleans, Phnom Penh, Melbourne, and any airport he finds himself in, though originally from the Chicago area. To find out more about his or watch some of his work visit www.wanderingcameras.com. This story is a chapter in a longer piece, which someday he is going to finish, if he lives long enough.
–Art by Jan Rockar
–Art by Plamen Stoev
–Art by Joel Hohner