Swift like the wind, flowing, descending, whistling through hallways and caves and alleyways, passing over dogs and cats and paperclips and winding its way through an infinity of moments into the mind of Mr. Phillips. He feels the passage of time through the ideas that arrive in his mind, notices the ticks of the clock, feels the subdivisions upon subdivisions that render those arbitrary demarkations by which we organize the world utterly meaningless. Then out, passing through the window, over the garden, down the path into the forest, striking birds and rats and armadillos, blue rivers and green trees and brown earth, zephyrs and gusts and billows and a lonely jazz musician who wanders alone. He stops. Listens. Feels. Wonders. Wonders why, and what, and who, and when, and whence? He knows everything but himself, and in this instant is most alone. And then, the flames leap from one limb to the next, spreading the forest and leaving, entering the fields and meadows, startling cows and sheep and whipping through the thoughts of farmhands who raise their eyebrows and exhale slowly, no longer waiting for dinner. Continuing into their homes, into the sinks and bathtubs, sinking through plumbing meant to channel only the most physical of ingredients, and down, and out, and into the oceans where puzzled octopi cease their daily maneuverings to think — and then, bursting like fireworks, nay, dolphins! out of the ocean, into the sky, through the clouds, and past the furthest reaches of atmosphere into the depths of space. And then, silence.
He draws the hand-rolled cigarette from his lips, slowly exhaling a curling cloud towards the rafters of a small but bustling café. He is sharp, and his mind is quickened not only by nicotine and caffeine, but also by the philosophy he reads and the ambience of the coffee shop. Ideas float through the air amidst a haze of smoke and sound, and seep into the woodwork, nurturing the building’s ancient architecture. He finishes his coffee, finishes his book, smiles at the barista, and stands.
He steps through the low doorframe of the café and bounds onto the path of Seward Park, Seattle, Washington. It’s 2008 and raining lightly. The moisture returns to the atmosphere in the form of steam, which seeps from the overheated skin of the athletes all around him. Like a herd of wild animals they charge through the evergreen trees, and he is both encouraged and intimidated by the other runners.
He realizes that he’s wearing the only green uniform upon this portion of the trail. Is he leading his teammates, or are they pulling away into the distance? He doesn’t know. He can’t remember. The surroundings blur, and all he can focus on is putting one foot in front of the other, inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, passing opponent after opponent until-
Snap. His spikes catch a root and he tumbles forward, head turning to the left, shoulder leaning in, spine curving over, ready to roll through the fall. He hits the mat cleanly, and his inertia carries him through, landing him on his bare feet, ready for the next attack. The instructor steps back, satisfied. They bow to each other, and recite a few lines of ritual prose.
In the dressing room, he unties his belt, removes his robe, runs fingers through his shoulder-length hair. Taekwondo is a kind of meditation for him, a well-rehearsed set of moves which are compiled into an ever-adapting dance with danger. “Blowing off steam”, his mother used to call it, but he prefers to imagine absorbing the positive rather than emitting the negative.
He has been attacked before, outside of the studio, by real people with real weapons. He has never fought back.
The walls of the dressing room fall away, clattering onto cold concrete, and are instantly obscured by a mass of chanting demonstrators. He’s immersed, lightheaded with a near-constant rush of adrenaline, and he thinks that he could die like this. Some have, and he knows it wouldn’t be so bad. But it’s easier to die for a reason than live for one.
He hears the distinctive thunk-hissss and observes a white cloud lifting over the crowd. The shouts of the dissidents become less coordinated, and are soon laced with screams. Gas masks can be seen atop dark figures, the unwatched watchmen. They bury their black truncheons into willing bodies that fall into their path. They do not realize they’re only helping to prove the point.
He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He can’t decide which way to turn.
The smoke spreads from the hissing canisters, past the masked officers with bloody hands and the protestors with bloody clothing, and across the coffee table. It’s raining again, but the air is warm and the roof of the porch shields the friends from the downpour. He passes the joint to his left, and then pensively sips his second beer. Leffe, a Belgian wheat beer, sweet and light. He savors the taste, and is momentarily caught up in a fleeting melody wafting from the open door. People are dancing, drinking, reveling in youth and the freedom of summer.
He too is young. He too revels, in his own, quiet way. He believes that the universe has a tendency to work itself out for the better, but doesn’t know why he worries so much. His thoughts intermingle as he contemplates the passage of time, wondering where it will take him next.
The smoke, unperturbed by the rain, drifts away from the porch and into the night.