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Copyright © 2005 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2005.
sometimes even better than sex
may 1, 2005
Years ago, I forget when, I forget where, I was walking past the windows of a fast food restaurant, towards the front entrance, and noticed, on the flat glass of one large, sun-sparkled pane, what looked like an unusual insect. I stepped off the path to take a closer squint. The ghostly orange tables on the other side of the window were empty, so I wasn't intruding on anyone's Big Mac. Standing on pebble stone, leaning closer, I realized the insect was, in fact, quite common. What made it seem uncommon was that it was two common insects, joined. Two flies, fucking.
The method of intercourse was so recognizably a form of sex, a position so popular among humans, it made me wonder if the flies were feeling any emotion. Was the male fly, holding the female below him in place, legs locked around her thorax, demanding, in a series of buzzes, answers to the usual questions? Was there, at the moist end of the female's proboscis, a grateful formation of ooh's and aah's?
The knee-jerk response of course is, "They're just insects. They don't feel."
But I don't know.
Spring has come back to north Texas, brown grass along the highways turning green, then blue, as the bluebonnets bloom, then pink, as the Missouri primroses follow, thank you, Lady Bird Johnson; edible strawberries in the supermarkets again, heavy, soft, the color of raw hearts; huge, crawling orange piles of live crawfish in the seafood departments.
Our backyard garden, full of trees, flowers, weeds and mysteries has again turned wonderfully claustrophobic, to where you don't know what's around the next brick-bordered corner, hundreds of birds singing and gliding overhead from branch to branch.
We have a lot of birdbaths and bird feeders in our garden. Mary suggested we put a table under one of our bedroom windows, sprinkle seed across its top. Which we did.
The first day, as always, nothing happened. But the next morning, when we raised the mini-blinds, little finches were dipping forward from the stilts of their short legs, pecking up all the seed. The cats were fascinated, tails switching. Because our bedroom is darker than outdoors, the birds couldn't see us on the other side of the glass, so we could get right up against the window, observing their head swerves, patterns on their feathers, from only inches away, as if our window were the wall of an aquarium. Mid-afternoon a squirrel arrived, rippling its tail, looking around, scooping up seed in both black paws, nibbling. We could see right into its dark, innocent eye. The next morning, the table was tilted over. We contorted our bodies in our pajamas to see if there were anything out there, and sure enough, a baby possum, elongated white snout, black body, was rooting in the grass path, cupping up seeds in its long claws.
Mary and I sit outside now almost every night, drinking a beer, looking around at the life in our garden while the occasional ant, losing its grip thirty feet up, on one of the tree boughs, spirals down, landing on our pants.
We planted an herb garden outside our living room windows, by a fountain. (I've had to learn to be careful, looking down at my sneakers, while I walk like Godzilla through that patch.) Marjoram, oregano, two types of thyme, Italian and curly parsley, two types of basil, dill, chervil, garlic chives, etc.
Since they were new plantings, we watered them every evening.
And each evening, as we turned on the small, square green sprinkler, a brilliantly-red cardinal would flutter and land on the springy branches of a nearby crepe myrtle, so that the silver downwards fall of the water doused it, the cardinal hopping happily from branch to lowering branch, puffing out its feathers, shaking its head. It's hard not to think it was feeling joy.
(One evening while we were sitting outside, at the rear of our property, watching the birds zoom back and forth, listening to their songs (I think it was Konrad Lorenz who said, Bird song is more beautiful than it needs to be), Mary asked, Why have we never seen a dead bird in our yard? I didn't have an answer. The question had never occurred to me. We have literally hundreds of birds living in the trees and hedges of our garden. Where are the dead bodies?)
We've seen bunnies amble along a back path, eating weed tops, then once full, suddenly sprinting across the garden, back and forth, stopping abruptly, rolling on their brown backs in the dirt, little legs kicking up in the air. Do the sudden bursts of energy serve any purpose other than play, other than sheer delight in being alive?
What do two flies feel while they fuck? Is it really absolutely nothing? Just mechanical instinct? You're sure?
One of the most haunting observations, to me, is when we see a wild animal in our garden just sitting by itself, quietly looking around. Taking it all in. What is it feeling, in those moments? What is it thinking? Does it believe in God?
About a week ago, Mary's HP Photosmart 7660 printer suddenly stopped working.
Print jobs she sent to the printer just stayed in the queue.
We tried unplugging the printer, plugging it back in. Ran a diagnostic through Windows XP. Nothing.
The printer has a small LCD screen, which had gone blank. The little beaded light on the top of the printer was blinking red, which meant, according to the manual's trouble-shooting guide, there was a serious problem.
I called HP support.
A woman asked a lot of details about us, our street address, e-mail address, phone number, etc., then told us our HP printer only had a warranty of one year, and since we bought the printer two years ago, HP did not provide free telephone technical support. We would have to pay with a credit card to speak to a technician.
"I can understand HP wouldn't replace a printer after the one-year warranty period, but are you saying HP refuses to offer technical assistance after one year?"
"That is true, but you can get free on-line real-time chat support, or, as we recommend, you can turn in your old printer for a new printer through us, and pay the difference."
"Why would I want a new printer from a company that doesn't support its product after the first year?"
"Well, I do not know, sir, but that is an option."
So I tried the on-line, real-time chat.
First of all, she gave me a non-existent URL.
After searching through the HP site, I found a way to chat on-line.
In order to access on-line support, I had to download a program that allegedly would perform a diagnosis on our specific pc. During my on-line chat with the "experienced HP technician" (HP's terminology), whose name was Robert, no mention was made of this diagnostic test. I doubt it was even performed.. Here's an excerpt from the chat (the excerpt is reproduced verbatim):
And so on and so forth. None of the technician's "help" went beyond the most basic of all possible solutions (Is your printer plugged in? seemed to be the extent of his expertise). I remember when HP used to be the gold standard. No more. If I wanted to, I probably could still be chatting to this "experienced HP technician", with occasional bathroom breaks.
Mary and I finally made the last monthly payment on our car. A few weeks later, we received a "release of lien" from the loan company.
I called the local Texas Motor Vehicle Department office. In order to get a title for the car issued in our name, meaning a title that showed us as the owners, without any lien from the loan company, we had to go to the local office.
"When's the best time to go to avoid crowds?"
"First thing in the morning."
The office opens at eight. We were there about ten minutes after eight.
There was a line already, albeit a fairly short one. As usual, there were eight windows at the wide counter, but half were clerkless, and behind two of the other windows, the clerks were away from their stations, looking at computer screens.
I noticed that signs over the queue only referenced new car registrations.
I raised my voice, speaking politely to one of the women at a window, a middle-aged woman with a fifties hairstyle. "Excuse me, but is this the right line for a title transfer?"
She ignored me, continuing to talk to her customer.
"Excuse me, is this--"
She shot me a resentful look. "You have to take a number."
I saw one of those red H. R. Giger alien head machines that spit out black numbers. I tore one off. 65.
Mary and I sat on a wooden bench behind the lines. A green digital display on one wall said, 63.
The fifties woman talked to the young woman at her window for about ten minutes about restaurants. Sample dialog, the fifties woman talking, dialog not altered: "Is it the type of Mexican restaurant that only serves Mexican food?"
I'm sitting on the bench, little paper tag in my hand with the number 65 on it, thinking, No, actually, even though the restaurant is called Pedro's Mexican Food, and there's a strolling band of mariachi singers, and there are sombreros hung all over the walls, it mostly serves Hungarian food. Isn't that weird? Isn't that really, really, fucking weird?
Finally, the fifties woman finished with her customer, looked up at the green digital display.
I looked down at my little paper tag. 65.
Everyone else was obviously already being helped. The place was otherwise deserted.
And the restaurant owner's name is Hans, he has a handlebar moustache, he drinks beer from a stein covered with carved wolves, he keeps talking bitterly about how Soviet tanks overran his country in the sixties. Isn't that weird? Hans isn't a Mexican name, is it? Is it short for Jose?
We went up to her window. "Hi. We just paid off our car loan, the loan company has sent us a release of lien, and we'd like to have the title reissued in our name." I handed her the envelope with the release of lien inside.
She pulled the paperwork out of the envelope. Saw a cover letter. "This isn't a release of lien. I can't help you if you don't have a release of lien."
"It's right there in that envelope, M'am."
She flipped the cover letter over. Release of Lien. Sniffed. "Oh. Okay."
A minute later, bringing up our account on her computer, she sat up in her cheap, hand-me-down swivel chair. "Your car isn't registered. The registration isn't current."
"We renewed the registration about a month ago."
She stared a little longer at her screen, tapping keys. "Oh." Sniffed. "I was thinking this is 2006."
Mary and I exchanged a sideways glance. That sideways glance, between lovers, is sometimes even better than sex.
Darkness Rising 2005, the hardcover anthology that includes my seven thousand word story, The Woman in the Walls, is now available from Prime Books.
The reviews have been fantastic.
Mario Guslandi, writing for the Agony Column, the on-line site that reviews new fiction and non-fiction releases, says of the collection, "…once again the editors have confirmed their extraordinary literary taste and excellent editorial instinct by selecting twenty stories which, for the most part, are up to the high expectations of 'Darkness Rising' aficionados…In some instances, I suspect, the stories are so good as to surpass even the best from the previous volumes, much to the delight of everyone fond of solid, compelling short fiction."
He then goes on to single out four stories from the anthology, calling them "really outstanding", mine being one of the four: "The Woman in the Walls by Ralph Robert Moore is quite amazing. Despite the tell-tale title (believe it or not, that's the core of the plot!) the story is so original and full of surprising twists it remains absolutely memorable."
A paperback edition of the anthology will be published later this year.
The latest issue of Trevor Denyer's great U.K. magazine Midnight Street features my story, The Machine of a Religious Man, with an illustration by American artist Russell Dickerson, who was nominated in the "Best Artist" category for the 2004 British Fantasy Society Awards.