Alex Van Ness in Jail
By James W. Hritz
The storm: the cold wind carrying piercing rain, the tree brushing against itself, the rich odor of compost, the night glinted in dark blue.
He stood at the front door, Alex Van Ness, his musty clothes soaked and streaming from the shoulders, dripping steadily at the cusps, falling taps on the dry concrete landing beneath the crimson awning.
The door absorbed his knuckles and barely a sound was borne. He tried, then, the brass knocker, whose inscription read not the name of Alex’s obsession focus, but that of the previous resident, Irish and terse. The rap of the brass cried sharply its declaration through the thick wood. Alex stood back a step and waited, his eyes ardently planted on the knob.
When it turned and receded, Alex’s eyes lingered, anticipating a shrill, feminine voice which exclaimed: “Alex, oh my god, what are you doing here? You…you know you should not have come here. Not tonight, especially not tonight!”
“I’m all wet, do you mind if I come in for a minute?” Alex replied flatly.
“You know I don’t buy that bait-and-switch bullshit. Besides, you aren’t going to be here but a minute, so there’s no need for innuendos. That’s not why you’re here, to get dry…HA! So let’s have it then! Say what you came here to say, right now, not one step closer, not one second longer. You absolutely will not be getting in this house! Not tonight, not ever again! So say it, Alex, say it!”
“I’ve come to…”
“I told you that I will never…so don’t start with…”
Alex reached behind him, threading his hand through the layers of his overcoat and shirts, grasped firmly the cold, black butt of his gun, pulled it out quietly, and placed it firmly to his temple.
Through a stern mask of calm Alex looked skyward, exhaled deeply, and pulled the trigger. The cock landed like a sharp finger snap against an unsuspecting ear. The violent recoil brought the gun down to waist-level while still hanging from Alex’s hand.
“Oh my god!” the woman screamed and stood momentarily gazing at the still mass before her, wholly seized by fear.
But the gun had not discharged, however, and Alex drew his eyes down now to view the locked pistol.
“Oh my god!” the woman again screamed and slammed the door. She ran to the kitchen, retrieved the cordless phone from the tiled counter and dialed 911.
Alex stood still looking disjointedly at the black weight in his hand for several moments before skulking down upon the landing and bursting into tears. There he stayed, sobbing consistently with his knees to his chest, until the police arrived and ducked him into the squad car.
At the station, Alex was processed, fingerprinted digitally, photographed, interviewed, led to a holding area, and sat next to a long row of payphones with instructions on how to dial collect.
The series of stalls that encompassed the phones were colored pink, and indeed the whole room was painted a similar shade of dirty pink except for the green cardboard tiles of the drop ceiling lined with several installations of soft-humming florescent lights, as well as the two restroom placards which were royal blue.
Alex looked around this room after finally coming out of himself—taking mental notes of the speckled carpet, the wrought ergonomic chairs, and the foot-high stage to which all the chairs were facing. Half a dozen other individuals of both sexes were smattered among the six rows, all of them staring at the stage except for a woman sitting next to Alex, whom he had just noticed.
“What are you in here for?” the gangly woman asked when Alex met her adolescent gaze.
“Aggravated Harassment, you?”
“What’d you blow?”
“Enough to get me here. Jackass!”
“Right, sorry, I didn’t mean… Nevermind.”
“Who do you think you are, asking me that?! How would you have liked it if I had asked you who you were stalking? Please!”
“I wasn’t stalking any… Nevermind, you’re right, I just…”
“I mean, this is some personal information that I don’t have to share with anyone, you know? But you, you go right out there and ask it! I bet you’re some sort of assassin guy, stalking the governor so you can learn enough about his daily regiments so that you can shoot him while he’s in line at Starbucks in order to impress some high school English teacher that you had the hots for back in the late nineties!”
“I’m sorry, miss, I…”
“You didn’t even ask me my name! You could have at least asked me my name before prying away at the inner workings of my misspent youth, still currently in progress. I mean, we may be in jail, but that doesn’t mean that we have to forego all semblances to honor and civility and manners.”
“You’re right, I’m…”
“You are a jackass, man! I don’t think I want to talk to you anymore. No, I’m going to go sit by the bathrooms and talk to myself.”
The woman stormed off and sat across the room, next to restrooms as she had promised, and in watching her, Alex had the curious feeling that he had lost an ally, though he could not account for such a notion.
Fortunately, Alex did not have long to dwell upon the strange rawness he felt as one of the guards was taking the stage and calling everyone to pay attention.
“And now we would like to bring up a special guest to the stage to perform for everybody. He is from the YMCA over on Broadway, and he’s someone who has become a regular part of the facilities here which we like to refer to as a family, although he’s not really considered a family member so much as someone like a member of the maintenance staff whom you only know by name while having little regard for their personal lives outside of this place. Anyways… Please let’s give a hand, all of you, for Mr. Widget, The Galloping Clown!”
Alex cringed bemused as he witnessed a Picasso-esque harlequin bound onto the stage. Mr. Widget was dressed in a checkered blue and rose-colored jumpsuit; the suit had exaggerated shoulders coming to isosceles points; his jowly face bore paint also in blue and rose, divided asymmetrically by a lightning bolt of naked flesh; his head was shaved on the rose-colored half of the sphere while on the blue-colored half his hair was dyed yellow and gelled stiff like a checkmark. The man behind the clown get-up was portly and his belly protruded at least a foot past the confines of his chest, Alex estimated. His bare feet were marked with varicose throbbing veins beneath the short ankles.
“Mr. Widget thanks you,” the officer said, acknowledging the harlequin’s bows. “Now, our friend, Mr. Widget, does not have many words that have been given to him, so I will be granting him some of mine. Please don’t be too harsh, my commentary is minimal, but it means a lot to our friend, Mr. Widget, here. So now, let’s get on with the show!”
The wiry, adolescent drunk driver began clapping and hollering—she was the only one. Alex sat back and tried to focus on something else, but all he could find were the collect dialing instructions, which he tried reading two dozen times but was too distracted by the peculiar scene he was now witness to.
“Mr. Widget will start by doing impressions of the creatures of the wild. Would anybody like to see him do an orangutan?”
“Me, me, me,” cried the woman from near the bathrooms.
The clown sunk down on his haunches, crooked his back, puffed out his lips, and unbuttoned a trap door to his costume to reveal his red-painted ass cheeks. Within seconds he had assumed the mannerism and demeanor of a placated ape.
“Beat your chest,” hollered the woman and the clown acquiesced. “Now grunt.”
“Throw your feces,” shouted the odorous man directly in front of Alex. He was promptly taken from the room by two officers whom were waiting off to the sides of the stage. “Good, I want to go, you’re doing me a favor!”
“Sorry about that folks, there’s always one who has to try and ruin things for everyone else. Now, let’s see who Mr. Widget will imitate next.”
The clown accepted the officer’s reparations and, taking two carrots from his pocket, laid on the ground and started braying like a walrus.
“There’s a seal, there’s a seal, play with him,” said the woman whom Alex thought now was seeing the animals in actuality.
“Alright, that was fantastic. Now, does anybody else have any suggestions?”
“I wanna see a giraffe, mommy,” the woman meekly pleaded.
“Um… I’m not sure if that can be done… Can you do a giraffe, Mr. Widget? Okay, apparently he can! This should be good.”
Mr. Widget, on all fours, stuck his head up haughtily.
“I don’t know, that doesn’t really look like a…”
But before the officer could finish, the clown dislocated both of his shoulders which freed up an extra foot to resemble an elongated neck.
“Whoa, he did it, look at that…a giraffe! Oh what a treat, I’ve never seen that before! Amazing. Simply amazing!”
Alex could not stand the farce any longer and he began shouting for someone to take him away.
The officer in charged answered, but he didn’t have anything good to offer:
“Get him out of here! What? We don’t have any cells left? Well put a muzzle on him then, will ya?”
Forced to watch now, Alex tried to pummel his brain with every available image he had repressed over the years: his grandmother’s frequent nipple slips, walking in on his parents in fermented throes, the slipped guts of his teenage compatriot impaled upon a fence post after they were running away from a love-in gone wrong when herpes was discovered. Horrible, horrible things.
“What will you do next? What’s that…a bull? So now…a bull.”
Alex, gave up, he decided he’d have enough of life—a life that involved mimic harlequins, apathetic counselors, rainy days, jammed pistols, everything extraneous. He rose and made for the restroom.
“Hey, where do you think you’re going?”
“Baño, sir,” he managed though now muffled.
The officer waved the guards off and Alex nodded condescendingly, knowing that he would never have to look at another totalitarian asshole in a uniform.
With the door closed safely behind, Alex squirmed his mouth loose from the muzzle with a great strain but also quickly. Next, he started looking around for an implement of self-destruction. But the bathroom was prepared for such despair, having nothing jagged, blunt or loose. There was nothing; Alex had to improvise.
A urinal cake of royal blue became a mouthful of breath mints and promised to restrict the airflow more than enough. Alex removed the toilet paper roll, shoving it into the open spaces of the muzzle. Finally, he pulled off his shirt and tied it tightly around his mandible then held his head between his legs until his brain started to tingle and he couldn’t even see fuzzy.
Alex regressed into a pastoral meadow beside two rounded hills which perfectly resembled enhanced breasts topped with tufts of areola rose brush. Beneath his feet and spreading across acres were blades of verdant Styrofoam which rebounded and resisted the bare-shodden feet. The fields reached far, pulling in birds from the descending sky, until they dead-ended into a wall postered over with scenes of the Pacific Ocean near Big Sur.
On his hands and knees prone, Alex searched through the polymer lawn for something to inflict immense damage on his skull. The field, after several hours, however, yielded nothing. Frustrated, Alex sat and clinched his eyes tight. He focused on materializing an object: “A gun would be nice, but a rock will do.”
When he opened his eyes before him was a stack of spherical rocks three feet high of descending circumference, pebbles at the top and foot-round stones at the bottom.
The stack, he thought, was too perfect. And so, in order to preserve the integrity of the imaginary gifts bestowed upon him, Alex started swallowing the smaller ones, one by one, in search of that perfect rock which would inflict the seismic strike to end the phantasm. Finally, he had gotten to where he needed. He palmed the appropriate rock, which was about the size of a grapefruit, measured its inertia, and slammed it against his temple, dislodging a major burden from within himself as a genus of singular-chromatic butterflies spilt out, borne on the synaptic waves of unlimited romanticism.
Disjointed, Alex watched for as long as he could as the fluttering splotches of color dove and dipped, trailing out like brushfire smoke, off into the distance. And yet, the stone had loosed not only the winged beauty within the morose Alex but also the man from himself. No longer was he to be bound to that desire to destroy his bodily inheritance—whether he had done it in a dream or standing in front of his therapist, his Solomonic mind registered the deed as if his brains were actually losing fluids fast enough to shut down for good. Thus, freed from his bodily girth, Alex caught up with and then hitched a ride with the lepidopteran jet-stream, following the billowing rabble of hue. He was able soon to look back and see himself sitting motionless, slunk, agape, a Polaroid picture film pressed upon a textured backdrop.
It was like staring at himself through a foggy window, wisps of breath clouding the glass, making the flowers fade in luminance. We have all been desensitized to the pressure and sharpened lances of the world. Swinging maces and funny faces, children are bred to ignore all that stings: to make comedy of tragedy, comedy of the mundane, comedy of what is already and has long been scripted. Against this, Alex was nurturing his own fiat words of the mind hallucinating freely, immersed in images which are beyond dreams, in conversation with his self, allowing words that had to come out, usually in song, to strike shrill, like a crash of glass and anxiety of ruinous dead shattering, and leave behind: a perfect, serene moment.
At times he was overtly aware of himself and felt futility in merely floating there, but these moments were in passing. He was certain that, though his present would garner no immediate results, he would eventually—like a fetus, whose prone position his hollowed out former body had assumed—ascend to great deeds in a rush of blood and viscera and breaking daylight. This he could accept. And he rapidly found the courage to bring himself to stand again on the Styrofoam Earth his mind had created in protection of itself, unsatisfied but serene. He brushed off the butterfly flakes from his chest, dried his tears with his palms, straightened his genitals, patted down his hair, arched his back, cracked his pre-rheumatic knuckles and breathed. Alex approached his wasted body, scooped a drink from a puddle near the opened cranium and once more took in the vista. He wished later that he could say that everything looked anew, the artificial greens more vibrant, the crashing distant Pacific louder, the winds and the birds more sonorous—but he did not experience these revelations. Instead, he recognized and saluted the old him for its steadfastness when he was drifting anchorless.
Before he was ready to leave, he thought he’d try to create some more creatures to populate his subconscious fields. Alex called back to the minutes before his hallucination and tried to seize upon the impressions Mr. Widget had wiggled out on stage. Alex closed his eyes and imagined baboons trudging along the farthest foothills. When he looked up, sure enough, a troop of red asses could be witnessed sunning on some cliffs while others approach them. He closed his lids again and soon saw giraffes striding toward him around the bend coming out from behind the other mountain. And thereafter, walruses could be heard off in the distance near the photo crags at Bixby Creek.
Then, a notion occurred at which Alex laughed wickedly, and, after quickly reflecting upon it further, he suddenly believed he had had his calling thrust upon him by circumstance as the idea of animal parody seemed like the only reliable option left to him.
Thus, after forcing himself to wake up, dragging his blood-rushed body out from the mucked up restroom without wiping his faint-blue mouth, sitting heavily in the nearest chair, ignoring the interrogation of the guards, and disregarding the stares of the curious inmates, he turned his attention again to the contorting harlequin on stage—to study his methods.