It’s hard to remember a time when I haven’t been somewhere else, barely conscious of my immediate surroundings. With high-speed internet, high-definition TV, video games, iPod, cellphone, all the buzzing distractions of the latest flame war or celebrity gossip, sometimes I can go for half a minute without even remembering to draw a breath. If someone else were in the room with me, they’d probably notice the sudden, sharp intake of breath and assume it indicated surprise, or some other strong reaction. But the great thing about being entertained 24/7 is the way real surprises are kept to an absolute minimum. Surprises interfere with comfort.

But one day, I couldn’t ignore it any longer: something fungal and pustulent had flourished in my neglect. It was like something from a B-grade horror flick. At first it grew in a corner of the living room, and I thought I could simply ignore it and continue to focus on the screen, any screen. But then it drifted forward on an army of pseudopodia and colonized a small backpack I carried with me everywhere I went, because it had handy compartments for laptop, water bottle, cellphone, PDA, digicam and umbrella, not to mention a hidden pocket with three, 20-year-old tabs of LSD that I kept on hand as a hedge against apocalypse.

What the hell was it? I didn’t care; I just wanted rid of it. It swelled into a purplish brown pod or capsule some eighteen inches in diameter, and I began to get a little apprehensive. I went down to the fire station and got someone to blast it with a hose, which peeled off the outer, spongy layer and revealed something even more repulsive underneath — a kind of amorphous, yellow goo. I had seen this kind of thing before, I realized, but I couldn’t remember where. Perhaps in a blog?

I abandoned the pack, but the thing took human form and began to trail me. It turned into a quiet little girl with a runny nose and a head permanently bowed, as if mortified by shame. Quiet people scare me — it knew this. Quite people, and girls. But I began to feel responsible for her, and re-shouldered the pack with her in it. Fortunately, she hardly weighed a thing, being at some level still just a hollow capsule.

It was spring, and the trees in the park were just beginning to burst their buds. I went and looked at the fountain, which had been turned on for the first time that morning, and found that I liked the sound of the water better than any of the tunes in my iPod.

Passers-by began to notice the creature in the bag: Your daughter? they’d ask, and I answered Yes, because it was easier than telling the truth. My loathing had subsided, but not the feeling of dread. Finally, though, I stopped being a coward and spoke to her.

I had sat down on a park bench with the pack and its strange passenger resting beside me. I think you can go now, I said. She raised her head and I looked straight in her face. I saw she was a full-grown woman now, and not at all bad-looking. Her eyes focused on something beyond me, and she smiled the vaguest of smiles. Then she stood up, slung my pack over her shoulders, and joined the stream of pedestrian traffic. I lost sight of her in less than a half a minute. I took a deep breath. It was almost noon.

14 Replies to “Capsule”

  1. You put this piece in your “Stories” category… but it isn’t quite a story; perhaps a surreal allegorical fantasy, or simmering dream-fragments briefly recalled upon awakening but soon merging into an almost-narrative before slipping back beneath the surface.

  2. MB – Is that what it’s about? I wasn’t sure.

    Fred – I don’t know. I made that part up.

    Larry – It may not be a complete tale, but it’s certainly a story in the same way that a quadraplegic is still a human being.

  3. It’s a story, all right — textual composition, narrative structure, change to a protagonist, all check.

    If it isn’t realistic enough or detailed enough for Larry, that’s his problem — dreamlike reveries are perfectly fair game!

  4. Haha! Fair enough. Maybe that’s not what it’s about. This piece is adequately shifty and surreal that perhaps neither of us could say for sure what it’s about. But that is what I saw in it this morning, and isn’t part of the adventure of sharing one’s work learning what others see in what you’ve written? Work like this borders on a literary equivalent of Rorschach material, perhaps? (That, by the way, is in no way intended as any sort of slight, merely an analogy.)

  5. By the way, the font in your Smorgasblog column appears different today and in my browser (Mac Safari) is now nearly illegible. Thought you’d want to know.

  6. MB –

    isn’t part of the adventure of sharing one’s work learning what others see in what you’ve written?

    Oh, absolutely! I think the reactions to this piece are all straight from the gut, and therefore valuable.

    As for the Smorgasblog change, I don’t know what could have brought that on. Do you mean the sidebar version, or the page version linked to at the top? If the former, try reading the latter.

    I’m wondering if the change isn’t at your end. The sidebar text is small to begin with, and one slight change of the text size setting for your browser might well render it virtually illegible. (On a PC, one can alter text size by moving the wheel in the mouse while holding down the CTRL key; don’t know if that works for Macs.)

  7. As far as monkeys on your back, this girl/woman was pretty accomodating. I haven’t known many monkeys that will leave me alone just because I’m ready for them to go!

    Thanks for including my latest in your Smorgasblog.

  8. I haven’t known many monkeys that will leave me alone just because I’m ready for them to go!

    Yeah, good point. My original ending had a small ache appear in his chest after the pack disappeared, but I took that out.

    Thanks for including my latest in your Smorgasblog.

    Thanks for an interesting blog. Your perspective is really valuable, I think.

  9. Well, I saw some cool benches in downtown St. Louis, surrounding a plaza which opened onto a subterranean stream where the homeless camped out. You might try there.

  10. Enjoyed this, Dave, whatever it is. (The comments are pretty amusing, too.)

    The LSD thing reminds me of a guy I used to know who told me he got mugged at gunpoint by someone he got a ride from. The mugger took R out behind a barn and he figured he was going to be shot, but the mugger just took off with his stuff. Then R remembers he has a tab of LSD still in his pocket, so all’s not lost. His response to drop acid after a near-death experience you might understand better than I did.

  11. Whoa. Well, it’s not something I’d do, but I admire the hell out of your friend for doing it.

    O.K., maybe it is something I’d do. If I were ever to drop acid. Which of course I wouldn’t. Ever.

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