Nov 2, 2009

Red Scare of the soul

He sat at his desk, drinking. Thinking, drunk, he closed his eyes and felt it, reaching out and knowing, counting and marking in his mind the other desks, the hallway and hallways, the whole office and the other offices with other desks, all and each of them isolated in plots, counter plots and secret plans, the secrets and suspicions, files, office furniture and known and unknown missions a matrix in his half-sloshed mind. His toes were warm from the whiskey in his blood in circulation. He felt it.

He mentally made his way through files, fingering the tabs with names in block letters listing, last and first, suspects who to the service were servants, patriots and secret heroes, and who, to the world outside of normal and suburban mothers, children and lovers, wives, ex-wives and others, were mild and mid-level bureaucrats. He was, himself, if anyone asked, an under-appreciated analyst of the agricultural cycles and epicycles of, in particular, the Cynara cardunculus, or as it was vernacularly known and always said with an an article appended, the artichoke, specifically its production and consumption in the global market with attention to competition matrices, which was why, actually, no one asked except his mother, and she was the one who still called him Jimmy.

Most people and his mother would rather have it that way, this way, where they had their illusions, these hearty facades and friendly faces, innocuous offices in office parks and a confidence, casual and comfortable with contradictions and unexplained or explored connections. As long as they didn't know. But he had the files. He felt it. He had his suspicions of secrets and second motives, an intuition of movements and maneuvers in layers unseen, layers upon and within layers each more Byzantine, like a map in his mind of intelligence, intelligence, counter and counter-counter and counter intelligence again.

He said to his friend Ken, when they were drinking, as they did in the dark in the afternoon, "doesn't anyone realize, doesn't anyone fathom at least if not actually know how deep, how dark and deep and evil this goes?" But of course they didn't. The question, though, was not always asked as rhetorical, at least in the early years and when the snow seemed soft or the baseball game had been good on the radio. It was always answered as rhetorical, however, as every time Ken answered, "I know, I know, I know." He always ordered another for each of them and waited until again they were alone to say, like sighing, "I know. I know."

And of course he did. He very much did, though for him the conspiracy was not so dire, not so dark nor devoid of a certain pleasure. For Ken could conceive of the complex and apparently conflicting and fragmentary conspiracy his friend hypothesized and, more importantly, actually believed, as a kind of grammar game, like diagramming a nonsense sentence or writing whole Faulknerian paragraphs of completely correct and yet, paradoxically or perhaps not and actually unveiling something important or at least a point of undiscussed interest, sentences that had no meaning, such as "colorless green ideas sleeping furiously" or the one "did gyre and gimble in the wabe all mimsy were the borogoves" or, not to belabor but instead to appreciate the point being made, the other one once so popular in the Navy, when they served, with all the parts of speech constructed accurately with only alternate forms of one word, the versatile "fuck." So for him, for Ken, he knew, and was not lying to say so, but also he didn't understand.

He was too cavalier for the brutal singularity, the way that Ockham's razor could feel like the slice and slight squish of an eye. He didn't understand: the theory of conspiracy was desperate, the darkness and this falling feeling were better than the alternative simplicity, the Byzantine bizarreness better than the singular, obdurate, sole and soul-fucking truth James feared.

Because for James this was not an exercise of the mind. This was not intellectually entertaining and even if it had been that once it was no more. Now he felt it. It closed around him. It was a feeling of claustrophobic falling. It was a terror of forgetting. It was a thought he could not quite think, the kind one has upon waking or while wandering without a list in the supermarket, except accompanied by a choking terror, by this very real fear that forgetting meant death, or, not death, but like a ship sinking in the dark, the feeling of water already under the desk and rising up around the office chair and the stacks of paper there, and there, and there, and the room was already tilting, taking on too much, going down, dark and down, and the fear begat the panic and the panic more fear. He sat at his desk and closed his eyes and felt it. The horror rising, terror tilting. He tried to imagine in his mind the schema again of double-agents and deceptions, to connect the secrets betrayed and agents executed and map them all in another way, a way that worked, but instead he said, "how? how?" and he sat there. He sat there thinking, drunk (but now that was normal). He was the first, the first to have this Red Scare in his soul. It happened at his desk in an office park in Virginia.

The conspiracy was still better though, than the truth he'd been betrayed by Ken. He had one friend. There was one mole. He took another drink and tried to make a map, a matrix of traitor cycles and epicycles that would be another answer.