The Marriage Of Crowbar And Flower
Chapter 1 — Restart
Bosun Elk, a giant of a man though somehow fragile, always quite well dressed considering the clothes available at the time, sits in a stiff dining room chair in a large, once fine living room. The rich oak wainscoting is a bit dull from time and not having been tended to in a good while. The chandelier has two bulbs with six others burned out and grey from dust. The Persian carpet’s a little less clean than you would expect for such finery. In the dim light, Bosun is surrounded by what appears to be a three generation family, all seated in the same, once fine, stiff dining room chairs.
The Burnaby family is quite excited because today is the first day of a long, thrilling journey. They know the thrill, as they’ve seen it many times before, but each telling brings new information, new twists to the story, as a jazz master in the old days would have reinvented each song every time he performed it. And Bosun is considered the very best of the ‘improvisational’ Mind Sinks. A reputation well earned. He delivers the thunder on demand. And can rain when the mood is dry. He can hold an audience like a wounded sparrow in the palm of his hand, stroking it back to life from the slow drip depression, or grinding malaise that takes out so many fine souls these days.
Each Bosun performance is tailored to the mood of the night, the mood of the audience, the barometric pressure and what I.M. called ‘The Hummingbird,” that elusive beautiful thing in Art that cannot be caught, bottled or tamed and appears at your windowsill unannounced – and can vanish at the speed of light. Especially if you try to control or catch it.
The master, Bosun, tilts his head back, softly whistles like he’s calling a dog (some think it could be an angel) cups his ear as though listening, though we know he’s remembering, and begins to speak. He speaks in his own, matter of fact but friendly ‘announcer’ voice, “Sounds of people outdoors, milling around, anxious, agitated, cars going by.” His voice instantly shifts to the trained, somewhat anxious but quite British voice of Thomas Knight, BBC radio announcer, “It’s chaos here outside the Asterisk Theatre. It’s been in the news so much I doubt there’s a soul on earth that’s not aware of the frenzy surrounding ‘The Marriage of Crowbar and Flower’, a dangerously popular play, too popular really. The crowds that can’t get in to see the play are definitely not happy.” Bosun squeezes his eyes shut, scrunches his face, tilts his head as if searching the ceiling, makes his mouth into an odd oval and crowd sounds, voices chanting ‘We want in! We want in!’ come out. It sounds exactly like a recording. In truth, it’s like you’re there listening to live sound from a radio which, in a way, you are. Without missing a beat, Bosun shifts back to Thomas Knight’s voice, eyes still closed while crowd sounds strangely continue under the voice, “To avoid disaster, the creators kindly decided to let us broadcast “Crowbar” live from the theater this evening, thank you, and they’ve provided outdoor loudspeakers to appease the crowd.” Bosun squints, makes his mouth an oval again and replays the sound of tapping on microphone, catching a woman’s voice saying, ‘Test one two’, with the soft background sounds of an orchestra tuning up, an audience settling in. Tom Knight speaks over the sound, “Okay… looks like we’re going live now so… thank you for tuning in… and..” Bosun’s eyes open wide, roll up in his head as ‘the oval’ makes sounds of a remote location going live. It continues under his voice as Thomas says, “OK, yes, in a moment we will be live from the Asterisk Theatre, from the front row, in the perfect seat, on the perfect night…bringing you “The Marriage of Crowbar and…” Tom Knight’s voice is cut off by the rising, chaotic sounds of a live theater feed, people rustling in seats, applause. The sound of applause seems to calm Bosun, as if they were applauding for him – which they always end up doing.
He smiles, shifts to a more relaxed face and switches to a woman’s voice, with a purring, authoritative upper class British accent, “Yes, okay. Thank you Tom. And welcome to “The Marriage of Crowbar and Flower”. I am Lyra Teasdale, proud director of what we call ‘Crowbar.’ Again, the show is quite sold out tonight, so for those crowded in the lobby, or standing outside, or even further adrift, we thought it might be good to give you a visual description of what the audience sees. Straight away we see a dimly lit stage with two floors, on the upper floor there’s a garden with a Zeus looking fellow sleeping in a canoe, surrounded by a Greek Chorus. The lower floor is divided by curtains into three sections, or cubicles, where the players can’t see or hear each other.” The oval plays sounds of an audience settling down. As it fades, accordingly, Lyra’s voice drops in volume, like an announcer at Wimbledon caught up in the tension of the moment. “In the left cubicle we see a powerful warrior in a dark, smoking battlefield, holding a spear that’s buried in the chest of a corpse at his feet. In the right cubicle there’s a handsome, well-groomed man on lush farmland with a large, sick ram at his feet. He holds a shepherd’s staff. In the center cubicle the spotlight’s rising on a barren, desolate desert hilltop with a dusty, abandoned well. Standing at the well is Ashlah, who could be sixty or sixteen – she’s so weathered and broken it’s hard to guess her age, but it’s quite evident she was, and certainly is, very beautiful. She speaks as she’s slowly lowering the bucket into the well. Bosun squints and ‘ovals’ the sound of a bucket handle cranking, squealing with a soft wind blowing in the background. His voice shifts to a husky American woman’s voice that sounds mournful, broken, and ravaged by hot sand:
“The splash used to come sooner, back when it was crowded here.
“Oh we would laugh, swap stories of babies and breast milk, songs of bodies and men only the women could share. Our granaries overflowed then; our men strong from the labor, their rough leather hands fierce with an axe, strong with the javelin, gentle as feathering rain on our tenderest flesh. The path, once worn by skipping small feet and all walks of women is now overgrown. Only a few come for the brown water that lately has tasted of salt.”
Bosun’s eyes roll wildly, the women in the Greek choir begin softly chanting ‘Ah Ah Ah Ah’ Carmina Burana style in a marching beat that continues quietly under the husky American voice, “The men evaporated at the same rate as the water, drawn off by stories of game in abundance, rolling fields of untrammeled wild grain, the call of fresh water and weal. One by one, two by two, sometimes in groups they left our crumbling village, carried off on an imaginary river down to the mythological ocean. Yes, that was a good while ago.” Lyra’s voice interrupts, “The men in the left and right cubicles begin gently pounding their spear, or staff, in time with the Greek Choir’s chanting.”
Ashlah’s voice continues, her sore, yet noble voice now burning now from the salt of tears, “The last of us now talk of their hopeful farewell kisses overflowing with strength, that innocent, masculine hope and confidence. I bite my lips to remember, to taste and relive the upwelling knot inside me, to daydream of mead and gardenias, but i swallow and remember the dusty futility – of thirst.”
Bosun sweats, now in a trance squinting, rolling his head left and right to tempo as the chorus operatically chants “Futility — of thirst” with Ashlah, in a deathly, solemn march time. The Cubicle men pound their staves in rhythm, and add chain gang moans & yelps with the eerie timbre of men talking in their sleep. The music slowly intensifies and suddenly stops, sounding like someone just put their finger on the vinyl record and slowed it to a halt.
Bosun begins to shake violently and starts chewing his knuckles frantically while at the same time trying to open his hand as if to cover his mouth. The Burnaby family knows what’s going on. It’s expected, a known glitch in the quantum grey matter of Bosun. It’s not uncommon. Mind Sinks occasionally do this when tired or overwhelmed by, what Bosun calls ‘brain volcanos’ or sometimes ‘information orgasms.’ The intensity of the tale, and the general chaos of being a Mind Sink requires tremendous energy. This evening, it seems, has already taken its toll on Bosun. He’s slumps over in his chair and starts mumbling, then yelling nonsense as if he had Turret’s, then making strange electronic sounds. His face becomes quite confused, a collision of agony mixed with some weird Twilight Zone happiness. He looks out the window hard, like a man on strong drugs trying to see something straight. He’s trying to focus and begins mumbling in an accent no one’s heard yet, but the voice has the tone, the innocence of humans before The Heating. Like he’s channeling some spirit from the aether, he begins, almost yelling, “Bob Told A Good Joke.” It’s like he’s announcing something, which the Burnaby’s seem to just graciously accept, and proceeds in a snarling, angry yet weary voice, “The building’s on fire but there’s a party on the 25th floor. The band is too loud to hear the sirens, the people too drunk to get up and look out the window, the stories are loud like hard rain on a metal roof, stories of conquest and I did this and then I did that, she said you’re hired and he said your hot.” Bosun leaps up, cups his ears like he’s listening, starts sweating huge beads of sweat, he crouches almost in a standing fetus, like a guitarist squeezing out an impeccable lick, as his voice gets urgent, his tone harder, urgent, shouting now, “No time to pull back the curtain and see the red tongue ready to burst through the window and eat the party hats and whistles in a hot flash boom. No time for that now. The stories are too good. We’re binging on nursery rhymes of heroes and heroin so strong we can’t wake up. History says we’ll live through it.”
His voice relaxes like a man suddenly released from a seizure, he returns to his Bosun voice, “But oh! Bob told a fabulous joke.”
The Burnaby’s are calm, not a bit alarmed, still sitting back in their stiff chairs, legs calmly crossed, engrossed in the moment. This happens. In fact, it’s one of the highlights of a Mind Sink performance – and it’s one of Bosun’s specialties. He’s a master of it. The Normals call them “Easter Eggs,” reminiscent of the cleverly hidden games, surprises and tricks that would sometimes be discovered in software.
Some days, Mind Sinks can only recall for so long before they short out, and it can be quite bad. Some call it a ‘thermal runaway’ where the brain ‘circuits’ reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit, reminding them of the intense agony of The Heating. When this happens, memories and thoughts from the tens of thousands of people who witnessed an event, tonight’s being “The Marriage Of Crowbar and Flower,” can crowd into their Mind and be quite disorienting. Bosun has an added quirk where he sometimes starts spouting odd poetry, like “Bob Told A Fabulous Joke.” Sometimes it’s nonsense word salads, sometimes glorious, what seems to be off the cuff masterpieces – out of the blue. Is that what happened just now? Was this poem written by some prescient pre Heating soul who sensed what was coming? Or was this a random explosion by the Infinite Monkey program which Bosun’s wife, Magdalena, accidentally downloaded in the early days after The Heating?
The Infinite Monkey theory proposed that if you put an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters in a room, and they have infinite time, they will eventually write “The Complete Works of Shakespeare.” Toward the end of The Arrogant Empire, a man named Jesse Anderson created The Infinite Monkey program that did just that. To her dismay, Magdalena downloaded it accidentally. At their wedding, when they kissed after the, “I now pronounce you” bit, he ‘absorbed’ the Infinite Monkey program from her breath.
It’s possible no one will ever know the story behind “Bob Told A Good Joke.” If it’s an Infinite Monkey event, it will be gone as soon as the last word is spoken. Probably the last thing that could be called ‘disposable’ in Last Earth was the spontaneous Infinite Monkey poems, songs, word salads and stories. Bosun’s audiences saw them as lovely towns and villages seen from a fast moving passenger train.
Of course disposable paper cups, plastic packaging – for that matter paper or plastic anything was pretty much gone now. Melted, burned or looted in The Heating.
Everything past now seemed like an Infinite Monkey event. To the Burnabys, as they sat in their once elegant dinner chairs watching Bosun recite “Bob Told A Fabulous Joke,” with him walking in circles while curled over in an upright fetus, face in rock star agony, it was just a part of a new package with an old familiar name – but with a whole new, much stranger meaning: Art. Or is it ‘Life?’
The very good news was they were all indeed alive. A miracle every living Normal in Last Earth appreciated in a way folks in The Arrogant Empire, before the Heating, couldn’t have imagined.