The Chemical and the Chemist

The Chemical gets a call from his wife, the Chemist.
How old were you when your grandmother spilled (what did she spill? Boiling water?) on your foot? 7 or 8?
Boiling oil. I was 12. 11 or 12. Although, maybe 10 or 11 come to think of it.
So just a year or two before she died?
The Chemist is researching family history. She knows more about the Chemical than the Chemical does. The Carboxyl family, the Hydroxyls, the rest.
So my brother was 8 or 9, he says.
And how old was he when he ate her thyroid pills?
Younger. 5?
And that was after the mental hospital?
I guess? I was a little kid.
So was her thyroid problem diagnosed after the mental hospital?
I don’t know.
Maybe the thing with Amino…
And Sulfhydryl…
Was enough stress to trigger a thyroid storm or some other crisis… and she was hospitalized and got the electroshocks… and eventually a thyroid diagnosis?
I don’t know the chronology. And anyone who knows is dead, except one or two who were directly involved in the whole scandal themselves so you can’t ask them, and their kids are all younger than I was so they probably don’t know either unless their parents told them later, which is entirely possible, everyone’s parents told them more than mine told me. Everything was a secret and now they’re dead.
Maybe ask Phosphate or Methyl, he says.
They finish their conversation and hang up.
The Chemical gazes out the window. It is a crisp fall day but warmish, the colors are bright (chlorophyll breaks down revealing yellows and oranges, any trapped sugars might turn into anthocyanins for the reds) and crows are arguing over the borders of their territories.
Mellow music is playing on his computer. The YouTube algorithm has decided to serve him mellow ambient music today, which irritatingly is just what he needs. He is wired, as if he had drunk a lot of coffee this morning, which he has but not that much, not any more than usual.
When he leaves the office in two hours he will walk to the subway, past various things including the attacking crow. He thought she had mellowed out, she stopped attacking him for a while, swooping only, but yesterday she whacked him in the head with her wing again.
Boiling fat, actually. His parents had a broiler pan in the oven, a flat pan to collect bacon drippings etc and when his grandmother forgot about it and it started to smoke, he drew her attention to it and stood there next to her and told her to use the oven mitts, so she wouldn’t burn herself. Careful, Grandma.
And she put on the mitts and took it by one end and as soon as it was free of the oven it tipped and emptied the boiling grease onto his right foot.
She felt terrible and he felt terrible that she felt terrible.
When he finished screaming every obscenity he knew, he tried to comfort her.
In the hospital where he got a skin graft he had rubber joke vomit and tricked a nurse with it, who then tricked another nurse with it.
Sometimes you’re awake and feel alive. Sometimes you’re tired and feel dead.
Anyone who thinks they understand this world raise your hand.


I don’t know if you do this.
Maybe you do this. Maybe it’s universal:
measure all other memories by this one memory you have.
Not necessarily a dramatic or rambunctious one.
For me it is the time I sat in the bamboo patch next to my uncle’s junk pile.
The main quality is one of peace. I was about 3-4 years old, so not in school yet.
No obligations. Summer. Warm – I had a beagle pal cuddling and watching out for me.
I was wearing bib overalls and a felt hat.
Watching chickens, those nourishing animals, scratch in the dirt.
Watching their shadows, and the shadows of the bamboo, playing in the light.
Listening to the sounds the chickens made.
No other humans to make happy or proud or otherwise perform for.
Just the peace. Lots of time. Animals. Plants. Smells. Interesting light.

The least-flappable person I know

Cast: Man, in his fifties, white hair (mad-scientist-style), beard, wearing paint-spatteredĀ  pants, white dress shirt stained with silver nitrate solution, rubber gloves (also stained), protective goggles over glasses, and a head lamp (LED with red filter). Woman, in her twenties, whom man has known since she went to school with his daughter, wearing whatever women in their twenties wear.

Woman: (rings doorbell) [Insert doorbell sound effect here]

Man: (comes around corner from back yard) Oh hi. Beta’s out for a walk with her mom. Dunno when they’re going to be back. You can wait for them if you want, or I can give her a message.

Woman: Hi! She was going to loan me a backpack. I can come back later.

Man: Ok. I’ll tell her you stopped by. See you. (goes back to messing around with antique camera in back yard)

Woman: Ok. Bye. (leaves)

The parking lot of lost souls

As usual, the shaman was riding his drum in search of a lost soul-fragment.

Riding it like a fine little pony through the underworld.

He was wearing a suit of sage, covering every inch of his body. Even his glasses were made of sage, with tiny little slits to look out of. To get to the underworld you have to pass through astral planes, and the shaman had stuck his head into the astral plane a while back unprotected (he had awakened and without thinking, still in a hypnopompic state, he had taken a look) and evil spirits had attached themselves to him like flying leeches, and getting rid of them had taken forever, and he didn’t want to chance that again.

The shaman was riding his drum down the street in the underworld in his sage suit and arrived at where the house should be, except it was a parking lot.

He had been warned this might happen. The original, historical, worldly house he was in search of had been torn down and the area turned into a shopping center. From the maps he had studied, the house ought to be right about there, in the parking lot between the office supplies store and the power transformer. The shaman remained calm and began beating his drum double time, with both ends of his stick.

Back in his yurt, the people surrounding him, keeping the small fire burning, watching his breathing, ready to bring him back should he stop, gasped.

What’s wrong? asked one.

Bodhran solo, whispered another.

The shaman rode his drum around the parking lot in a circle. Gradually, the outlines of the shopping center dissolved and an old house appeared. He went inside. The fire in the woodstove had gone out and the house was cold. It smelled of dust, old furniture and cooking grease. He found the soul-fragment standing in the corner of the living room downstairs.

Light fell through the window panes in angles that made no sense, and motes of dust swam in the beams of light.

Hello, said the shaman.

The soul-fragment was a small, black-haired boy with bright green eyes. He regarded the shaman briefly, then turned back to face the corner of the room, hugging himself.

Would you come with me? asked the shaman.

Why should I? asked the boy.

He sent me. He wants you back.

He doesn’t want me back. He left me here. For a real long time.

He wants you back, said the shaman.

Go to heck, said the boy.

I come from there, I believe, said the shaman.

The green eyes regarded the shaman. Are you the devil? Or a demon or something? said the boy.

I am a shaman, said the shaman.

That’s what the devil would say. He wouldn’t say he was the devil, would he?

Look at me, said the shaman. You see clearly. You are awake. Do I look like the devil?

The devil doesn’t look like the devil either. He looks like the angel of light. He looks like, I dunno, a pretty girl.

So am I him, said the shaman.

The boy looked hard. No, you’re not. You’re a guy. What’s a shaman?

Like a doctor, said the shaman. He wants you back.

He doesn’t want me back.

He wants you back. He sent me to get you. He wants to wake up. He wants to see.

I don’t believe you.

Back in the yurt, those watching grew concerned when the shaman’s breathing slowed down so much it was nearly imperceptible. They stoked the fire.

May I take your hand? said the shaman. He stood closer to the boy, and the boy did not shrink away so he took his hand. It was small and light and warm, despite the unheated house.

I promise you he wants you back. He regrets leaving you here and he wants to wake up, but he sees that he needs you to do that.

He said that? said the boy.

The shaman nodded.

I have stood here a long time. A heck of a long time. But you are telling the truth, said the boy.

Back in the yurt, the watchers sighed with relief when the shaman’s breathing picked up, and the drumming slowed back down.

The fire had burned down to glowing embers, so it was not immediately clear when his eyes opened.

Still motionless, the shaman looked around. He was awake, for the first time in a heck of a long time.