Selling Illusion

Saturday, May 07, 2005

[Epilogue: Second Act]

He became mesmerised in the a small sliver of whisky that drifted it’s way slowly and sedately down his glass, before softly kissing the cold metal of the singular ring that marked the border between index finger and knuckle. It slipped quietly out of sight into the dark recess of his curved palm. He patiently twisted his hand, whilst tilting it slightly backwards, an old drinker’s habit unconsciously freezing both the holder and held, freezing that scant millimetre before the imprisoned liquid residing in the tumbler would spill golden tears, cascading in long waterfalls down the cliff face of his arm. He stared for just a few fleeting moments at that space that marked the ending of his palm, seemingly holding his breath for the arrival of this escapee.

A small smile pulls at the corner of his mouth, his shoulders sag slightly, as a slight sigh exited the confines of body. He raises the tumbler higher, bows his head lower, somewhere in between forehead and frosted glass meet, the hand moving the ice cold feeling in small circles just above furrowed eyebrows. As his right arm disengages from its objective, the left moves in, hand wiping the newly formed droplets across weathered skin, sliding down face, slowing steadily as the course skin of fingers meets roughened stubble, bending inwardly as torn and uneven nails scratch across cheek, into chin, and plummeting onto neck. The hand turns on itself, reversing its direction and paralleling its original course back up to supporting the head.

His eyes flit right, taking the figure beside into consideration, not staying long enough for it to come into focus, back to the glass, along to its twin sitting dry on the bar.

“Drink?” His eyelids slide closer together, small lines form around the sides, above, and below. He stares resolutely at the middle shelves on the other side of the bar. Even so, he sees a hand slide into view, catches the motion by the sudden sharp light emitted from the silver watch banded around his companion’s wrist, the metal catching the low lights of the room and strengthening them through the polished silver. The hand reaches for the other tumbler, grasps it, spins it upside down, and softly touches it back down onto the wood, the message clear.

For the first time, a voice floats into existence from the figure, several bars lighter than the drinker. “Why do you always ask if I am to drink? You know the answer.”

The hint of a snarl presses along the lips of the drinker. “It’s a test.”

“A test?” The voice queries, light, with a drop of humour, having being carefully instilled on top of a foundation of strength.

“That one of these days I manage to get you off that higher level that you exist on. Fact that I keep trying means I still don’t believe that you are fucking infallible. That’s why.” His voice held no malice within its creation, but a weight behind it that touched upon a great weariness.
.
There was a split second of laboured silence. Then: “You were saying…?”

A frown broke upon his face. His left hand left his face, waving the surrounding smoke away, as if seeking through the mists of memory. There was the notion of things, ideas, reminiscence flitting across the eyes. One swooped back, perching on the present and staring into the past, connecting the two. Fingers clicked in recognition. His mouth opened, and the barriers of time broke down and flowed into the present, overriding recent past. Past and present surged into one and passed into oral language.

“Three years later. Teenage years hit, and I go through all the usual garbage that youngsters are supposed to go through. The growing, the adapting, the realisation that the world ain’t the nice, warm comfortable place you thought it was. Heh. The pain, the bullshit and torture, more like. My childish whims have been mostly stamped out, pure thoughts now given the impure edge of a puberty stricken male. Not that I’ve forgotten the past, but I’m looking forward, not back, you know?” His eyes roll heavenwards with the practise of one bereft of common sense in days gone by. “Idiot. So, dallying about, then there’s this one day. I watch this documentary about a fighter pilot, talking about his experiences, of half a life spent up in the skies, coasting along clouds and stretching his plane, and himself, to the absolute limit. He’s known for his reckless behaviour, and his disregard for protocol. But his disregard for safety, now, now that gets him commendations and the respect of his superiors. There’s stock footage of planes arching through the sky, similar to those he would fly. But the piece that interested me was the segment of this guy taking himself on board one of those flight simulators. You know the ones I’m talking about? Get yourself inside this metal box, which is attached to a long metallic crane. Within there’s a mock up of the innards of a fighter plane, and the display screen in front of you carries a virtual landscape, initially of a runway, but whenever you ‘take off’, it flows and shifts as if you were looking out into the real world.” With this he folded his left hand flat and twisted it about, parodying a small plane dancing across an imaginary sky. “Real life simulator, you see? You move the control stick, this metal coffin moves in sync.”

“So, the producers attach a small camera within the cockpit, just behind this ex-service man. What he’s seeing must be more exciting than a tin box swivelling in space with all the grace of a pregnant elephant. So, I see him go through the flight procedures for taking off, and then he’s away. There’s this split screen shot, one side showing this awkward bitch of a bucket awkwardly nosing up into the air, like submarine breaching the surface of the ocean, but inside, shit. Inside its all blue skies and a smooth exit off earth and into the heavens. It looks so damn real. Now,” with this he shot his finger forward, index focusing in at some distant point in his mind, “Thing is, the camera is equipped with a microphone, and its picking up all sorts of sounds from in there. Don’t know whether it was fully intentional or not, because I’m guessing they wanted to concentrate on the creaking of the metal, the crack and twist of the seat as the weight strapped into it, the pilot, is thrown this way and that, reacting to the simulated flight pattern. Give this piece a bit of tension, excuse the pun. But as the film keeps rolling, as I keep seeing the replay, I think I hear something, just on the edges of sound, prolonged, persistent.”

His eyes become questioning, his face mirroring some long past memory that slowly ebbs behind black nothingness. His head turns with measured slowness, his eyes fixated forward, the mind behind them focusing elsewhere, and he combs his long locks from one ear. He is listening. “I strain to hear, coming closer and closer to the screen, until I reach over the slowly turn the volume knob up. I hear it clearer. It’s a litany. Repeated, over and over. The voice, it’s the pilot’s. I see from the corner of my eye the speed ratio on the clock on the screen. He’s pushing this virtual plane to its very threshold. I’m surprised, for a second, that the plane isn’t falling apart seam by seam. Its then that I see what he sees, forget that this isn’t real. He’s pushing himself, he doesn’t see the cockpit, doesn’t see the rest of the readouts.”

“Even without seeing his face, I know what he’s looking at. What his mind is focusing on, what he seeks out in the vast ocean of blue, as the speed increases, as the wind whips and rips at the surface of the plane, shooting past at unbelievable speed. He sees that place, just ahead, out of reach, so close he can almost touch it. His voice enters my mind, touches something forgotten for three years, cloying, reaches behind my soul and caresses that something else, between his voice and that infinite blue, my eyes take in what he sees, my ears take in what he says, over and over, more persistent with each breath, more desperate with each gasp of air.” His eyes are wide now, his breath coming hard, he is caught up in the memory, his left hand now reaching out, shaking as it does so, trying to grasp something beyond thought, beyond memory. “‘It’s there, I can see it…I can almost touch it…it’s there…I can see it…I can almost taste it…it’s there, there in front of me…almost…almost…’”

He sits motionless for long, silent moments. The smoke drifts through the air, curling its way around his form, sliding smoothly over the outstretched arm. It is a pose he holds for over thirty seconds. Then the eyes dim, the hand falls to bar, then immediately up again to grasp and rub eyes that squeeze shut, trying to shut the memory out, trying to hold the feeling in. The other hand clutches the glass, the arm trembles with repressed emotion, and briefly his companion waits for the glass to crack. Its contents shake violently, swishing inside in accordance with the heavy breathing that shudders through him, echoes of an intense struggle surging within. The eyes blaze open suddenly, a moist film covering the pupils, a single fierce blink cuts them loose from their lofty position. They leap over the boundaries of eye lash and run loose down into the thick trenches of facial hair.

His voice is thick with emotion, more a cry than a question. “What is it? What the fuck is it? Why can’t I just touch it?”

His glass drops to the bar, shattering on the hard wood, fragments and liquid spreading out over the surrounding area. He ignores the damage. His hand launches out, grips at the person next to him, pulling them un-mercilessly off their seat, drawing them to him. Tear stained eyes turn to the face now beside his, blinking away moisture so it will come into focus. The voice rasps, the teeth grinding together, a symphony of pain as the question is repeated.

“You fucking infallible bastard. Why can’t I find that feeling and you can? I can feel it radiating off you, even now. It disgusts me. Why you, and not me? Answer me.”

The voice crawls into a near whisper, pleading and angry at the same time. The eyes move from their fierce glare of his fist clawing at a black shirt, up into eyes that matched his own, as the tears disappeared, his vision comes into focus once more.

The eyes that look calmly into his are tinted somewhat by a pair of dark glasses, the head bald save for the slight marking of recently shaved hair. But they are the only notable differences between the two men. He stares into the mirror of his own face, stares at his companion’s eyes, eyes that hold behind them something different, something more, strength long lost to him. The mouth tugs at a small smile, a perfect copy of that which he had performed only a short time ago.

The voice which responds is firm, calm.

“You are the only one that can answer that question. That is why we are here, this one last time. Before the end.”

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