I believed something. And that distinguished me. I believed that someone was going to wake up one morning with a settled agenda: they were going to target the movie theatres. Everything after that was going to be tragedy and hand-wringing, the burnt rubber smell of recrimination and guilt hanging in the air.
Of course, it didn’t matter what I believed. It didn’t matter than an obvious warning had been unfurled for those who cared to watch such things. Long before sifting ideas became shaped possibilities, before those gelled into idiosyncratic notions which themselves were then set into event, by the angle of the morning sun in through some particular set of window blinds, by a dream cut short, a broken sleep.
Read for yourself what I had read. Dare to judge, an impulse we set aside some years ago, perhaps thinking we would use it later, then lost in the jumble of things on our cultural desk. Read: They’ll be weakest in their theatres,
In the suspension of their disbelief.
They’ll be weakest in the places
where their children gather.
When the bright light flashes
Then the screen will fall silent and dark.
And in the darkness can the faithful work,
So that the light might be once more restored.
It was posted where such a thing would be posted. I’ve read the boards for so many years they seem now entirely appropriate to their content. Hate will find its place. And here, we had some, poised for replication. Made available to be opened, swiped, downloaded, pasted, burnt, emailed. A hate particle. And very much a functioning element within contemporary matter, a cultural isotope of discernible characteristic. It did its work in seconds. By which I mean it did its work on you. It was read. Then it either failed or succeeded in opening itself, swiping, downloading, pasting, burning. It either did or did not email itself into the shaping, itching, nervous, unsettled part of your convictions.
Which is precisely where you didn’t want it. Because once software found its hardware, things unfolded as if by science. They unfolded against the dictates of inviolable law. And measured against that scenario, flakery of almost any stripe was a less formidable opponent.
But there he is, ingesting this very bit of nourishment. And in the darkness can the faithful work… Reingesting it, because it had been chewed over many times before, swallowed and brought up. Cowed over and cowed down. Processed cowfully, which is why I named him Ella the first moment he entered my awareness.
His real name, sad to say, was Walter Walker Winchell III. His friends called him Wally, until he asked them to call him Ali. At which point, for most of them, he became Wali.
So we will use Ella. You’ll have to imagine him here with me as your guide, accepting that I never actually laid eyes on him. My triumph and tragedy is that I’m one of those people hidden in the spooky, watchful machinery of our era. A person for whom data has to do, although I make no complaints as I’m in receipt of especially good data. I have access to documents. I have access to film. I get briefs and reports, calls from officials some I can acknowledge by name and others I cannot. I have access to notes that were originally scribbled into secure PDAs which scrubbed themselves clean and auto-dumped their content every fifteen seconds up through secure frequencies to secure satellites where, as far as it’s ever been explained to me, those retinal images still remain, in the coldest storage of all. I have access to drive-bys and over-flights. I have access to space. They call me Griffon, at my work. And I, Griffon, have access to the words prisoners give up during torture.
Ella, I can pull back just as often as I want. I can replay his scenes, or at least the fragments as they were conveyed to me and I have assembled into scenes. Here I can see a young man, dark peach fuzz on the jaw line. Softness in the lips which opened to a round aperture when, as was generally the case, he was not smiling. There is a crease downward at the outer rim of his brown eyes, each normal in overall size although with irises slightly constricted, pupils closed down as if they were straining to make some connection between the world observed and an elusive feeling within.
Ella is sitting now, sipping lemonade at a café on Lincoln Place, watching the front of the Montross Cineplex. It’s the 6th of July 2007, the day before the sudden season of the events in question. The day before the sudden pollination and mad flowering and exotic going-to-seed of this normally slow-swaying field of flowers, this the most perfectly connected small big city on the continent. “Midway Between Everywhere Else” was the official motto, which played in the local key, blended pragmatism and irony. That being the legacy of Dutch, Irish, Norwegian, Pakistani and Korean settlement, who arrived in roughly that order and whose communities could now be ranked on that ascending basis in terms of their significance to the shape and tone of taxi service in the area.
Ella had ordered his lemonade inside from a blonde girl, a typically fantastic local contraption. She was not so much a pinnacle expression of evolution (in which Ella no longer believed) but of human design and cunning and the longing of the generations. She was blonde and dark tanned, open eyed and unselfconscious, clear of voice, amply percentiled of SAT and modestly traveled already. She had a straight nose, shining teeth and a coin-bounce flat tummy with the usual adornment: navel hooks and belly ladders and colourful hand-etched flutes and chutes which disappeared down behind her low waistband. While she squeezed his lemonade, fruit by fruit, Ella watched in mounting agony, forced to reckon again with how much more distraught he grew as his gaze pendulumed slowly, inexorably downward along the length of that perfect American figure. Piqued by pretty faces, ruffled by the smooth drop of shoulders, disoriented by the faintest nipple shadow, agitated in full by the carriage of wide hips, and at the point of outrage by the time he encountered evidence of additional tattoos caressing an ankle or snaking upwards around a calf.
“Thank you!” she said, and she bathed him with a smile only slightly choked at the end when Ella did not respond in kind, but clamped shut his soft lips and lowered his eyes. As he slunk away from her and out onto the sidewalk to a front table, near enough to tap the wireless router, but mercifully beyond the range of the twin speakers that provided the rolling musical soundscape inside the café: trance, jazz, world. There might have been no soundtrack Ella detested more than that: world.
The world was doomed, Ella thought, barely cheered to think that what he was about to do might prove instrumental in the process.
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