I can’t do this anymore, I say, and say, and say. I say it to my soon-to-be ex. I say it to my soon-to-wed son. I say it to the moon.
This? the moon says.
This, I say.
It’s the presumption of something, that there is something, somewhere, anywhere. If it were 1 – 1 = 0 then OK, cool, that’d be nothing, and I’m all in on nothing, nothing as in nightlessness, nothing as in no one. But it’s never a zero-sum game. It’s always 1 + 1 = something, or 1 – 2 or 3 or 4 or x = something, something like an integer, something like the next one in line, something like a carnival-barked cloud inside an anvil of a cartoon talk bubble.
Excuse me? my soon-to-be-ex says.
This, I say.
I’ve been falling to one side, always, of the if, as if words weren’t wishes. As if a heart weren’t. As if anything weren’t. Possibility? Again, we’d be talking something. So.
Uhh … Dad? my soon-to-wed son says.
OK. In the 1960s, a chemical company developed a polymer (a goo or something) that was supposed to help cops control demonstrators they deemed unruly or riotous or dangerous or whatever, and the thinking, I think, was that said “goo” would turn the streets into ice rinks, and the unruly would stop their unruliness and slip-slide away, and there would be peace in the valley of the demonstrating dolls. Instant Banana Peel, they called it. Turned streets into rinks, all right. Cops and cop cars became slip-sliders, too. So: Be careful not only what you wish for, but what you dream, design, develop and deploy (yes, that fucking word) as a result of said wishing. On the positive side of the ledger, wishing can be a resignation shtick. It can be slapstick! An if is a wish. Like a word is a wish. Like a heart is. Like deployment is. Slip-sliding, even, is. So is away. Away, even, is something.
And I can’t. Just can’t. Anymore.
This: When someone’s talking to me about how things used to be, how cold, for example, the winds were back in whatever day, they talk about it almost reverently, as if it were a better kind of cold, that it was better then when time was, so they’re really talking about time, about what a time it was (it was), how they felt better about things when it was, when they were, how it was better then, how so many things (maybe everything) was. Then. I try to listen, I really do, I try to feel and I try to look, look back back back with them, but I can’t see then as then, I see then as now, because it is now, that looking, any looking, it’s always now, never then, I mean if you time travel it’s now, not then, time being what it is, and I can’t, just can’t, look back with reverence. I could give two shits about nostalgia. Oh, how we use dark and light and time to make up for lost opportunities. For reference, stream the docuseries “What Time It Izzzzzz,” (six episodes on most of these NBC stations in February-March 2022, 43rd in the Nielsens, no Q score available at press time).
I can’t. Just can’t. Anymore. Not even with now.
This: When a cartographer gives you a lake dead zone map and the face of someone to whom you no longer exist appears on the map’s legend with the words you no longer exist to the right of their looking-past-you face and the cartographer says don’t know how that got on here but it is what it is and you look up the word is in your Merriam-Webster.
The future? Next?
I can’t do this anymore, I say.
My soon-to-be ex, soon-to-wed son and the moon look at me, they look at each other. The sky is impossibly high, with Wile E. Coyote clouds.
You don’t have to do ‘this,’ the moon says. What you can do is, I don’t know, not whine?
Excuse me? I say.
It’s always a zero-sum game, my soon-to-be ex says.
And nothing is something, my soon-to-wed son says. No matter what time it is.
While I’m processing this, a homing pigeon approaches, flitting in from out of the dark, out of the dark and into the light, a florid banner flowing from its tail feathers. In electric banana yellow letters, the banner reads: What They Said.
From manicured claws, the homing pigeon releases a banana peel, the splat of the peel-hitting-street eliciting giggles from members of the Society for the Preservation of Now & Then & Next & Other Things We Luv Because What We Luv is All We Need. From can to can’t, they’ve been demonstrating and practicing pratfalls, the homing pigeon tells me, demonstrating peacefully, practicing dutifully, accompanied by an oompah band playing timeless favorites from the swingin’ ‘60s through the hindsighted 2020s.
This? I say.
This, the moon says.
On the best of days, Pat Foran is a cartoon character in the dimensional messaging space. His work has been published in various places, including Pithead Chapel, Tahoma Literary Review and The Disappointed Housewife. He also received the 2021 Mythic Picnic Prize in Fiction. Find him at neutralspaces.co/patforan/ and on Twitter at @pdforan.