“I do not like to be confined,
sir; and damned well won’t be!”
from The Drifter,
by William Alfred Petersunn
(first published 1837
University of Washington Press (1992)
Now a great roar erupted from the set and Chester saw that the blades of giant wind machines had begun to turn, first slowly and then quickly – a test of them seemed to be in progress – and evidently there was a complicated order to their speed variations that must match the exact gusts of wind that had already been photographed in other to-be-matched shots. As lights began to flicker on and the great doors rolled closed and he began to see the full scope of his brother’s imaginary world, Chester felt hair stand up on his body where he did not think hair had ever existed. He thought to himself that he should really sit down and think about what was happening to him. But then, he thought, he had been thinking that since he was a young man and there never seemed to be the time. What made him think that he would ever be able to do it? He had hoped that during the divorce proceedings, as he lay down and let Shirley Anne run roughshod over his lifeless corpse that, at least, his shattered life might now allow him some time to think, but it had not turned out that way. He must beat those people, he thought. He must have his parade, he thought. These imperatives were not really like him and for a second, Chester wondered what he was doing. Why was he here? What was the point? He had never been one for dogged determination. In fact, he thought, he had never had a dog because Shirley Anne didn’t like animals in the house. He had always seemed lazy, at best, to himself. If he thought about it, he was on a fool’s errand, pursuing the fulfillment of a parade that did not even exist, hunted by the law and the burdens of his past. He remembered that Annie Bob said he should have a dog.
A Mushroom Parade, he suddenly thought to himself, staring as the huge banks of lights began to bathe the giant fake mushrooms with the warmths of different shades and the effects of clouds scudding overhead. The Beaverteeth Mushroom Parade, he thought. Wow, he thought. That was good, even though it had the hated Name in it. The sound of the wind machines was as real wind to him and even though he had had a good idea, he began to fall apart again, into several pieces, or at least his head seemed to. He had stepped over the line again, he thought, although he did not know where the line was. Part of him was in the world he knew best. For instance, he could see the kids across the stage. Bela seemed to be waving to him but he was suddenly not sure but that she was Annie Bob. This is it, he thought and looked for a place to sit down. They’ll take me to a looney bin in a foreign land, he thought. Someone bumped into him. It was the creature with the bundle and it leaned into the wind and hunched its coiled burden toward the mushrooms. The fungi were real to Chester now and they breathed and every once in a while a three foot puffball would explode and a cloud of damp spores would burst into the thick air, each speck a dazzling pinpoint of hardened neon-colored glowing light.
“Thirty up!” shouted Annie Bob.
“Quiet! Please, people, work with me on this!” cried the white child floating in the copper basin.
“Marker!” shouted the hunched man.
“Speed!” yelled a puffball and exploded. Chester ran for safety. Jim Rook caught up with him and pulled him to a stop.
“Are you alright, Honeyacre?” asked the big man. He had his arm around Chester. “Why are you crying? Man, I got to thank you, Honeyacre. Your brother loves me, he’s promising me a starring role in his next picture and I’m going to fuck Rosie Everlasting till the cows come home – and if they come home before I’m through, then I’m going to fuck them too.” He slapped Chester cheerfully on the back and Chester sat down hard on a canvas folding chair. Next to him were two large ravens, also sitting on canvas chairs. On the back of one chair was the word “Come” and on the other the word “Back.” The ravens nodded pleasantly as he stared rudely at them. He noticed that they must not be real ravens because their bills were painted with flat blue and red colors and their eyes were a complicated winding of black and white and dark green painted lines. One of the ravens spoke to him, but he could hear no sound and in between the clacking bills where there should have been a raven tongue he could only stare at a little man or a little frog – he couldn’t be sure – which seemed to reside in the Raven’s larynx. Small beavers ran around his feet like children dressed for a game of Puss-and-Boots and a cobwebby mat of shining white filaments crept along the floor and began to massage his feet, which felt very good.
“I FEEL GREAT, THANK YOU!” he shouted. Heads snapped around all over the stage. A buzzer sounded, lights went on and off. A roar of words erupted from the crew.
“Who the hell was that? What the fuck was it!?” He could hear Mitchell’s voice. He knew where he was now. Had anyone seen that it was he who shouted? He looked around for Jim Rook but did not see him. Next to him were not ravens at all.
“People! Quiet! Work with me on this!” shouted a voice. All over the huge stage, they searched for the cause of interruption. Chester giggled to himself. The Mushroom Parade, he thought. There you go. A parade of humus and of secrets and of flesh and of things unthought, things underfoot. Hah, he thought to himself. Chester Honeyacre, idiot and child of idiots, did not entirely know where he was. He did not care, particularly, because he was overcome with this wonderful idea. He felt as free as he had felt in thousands of years, as if his big body were made of fluff and air. A kind of dryness, a whistling-fresh-in-the-pine-boughs feeling was blowing through his mind. Under one of his dry and light and freshly stuffed-with-something arms he carried what must be his Other Head. He did not look down because when he was filled with his great Mushroom Parade idea he knew that it was imperative to look up. He felt sick for a moment and so he threw up and it was a wonderful one, clean and dry and as fresh as straw bedding before the cows come home. Chester Honeyacre had gone over the edge. He pulled himself back up onto the edge and he looked up at the sky above him and he saw the sun eclipsed by the moon except for a small part. He looked up at the mushroom, the fungus, the creature of dreams. It was a large fungus, and its flesh was soft and folded. Its stalk was something made up of latticed filaments strung around packed stalks of tubing. The mushroom breathed slowly, very slowly and he could hear the faint gurgling of the air as it passed in and out of the thing. A film of dew gathered in a pool where its silky cap draped down to the ground. It towered above him and seemed to bend over him, as if trying to hear what he might have to say. Suddenly Jim Rook hurtled past him, running full tilt, holding his own Other Head under his arm in the manner of a football player floating through a small crack in the defense, flying toward the goal. The big man stopped when he saw Chester.
“Honeyacre,” said Jim Rook. “Honeyacre, I don’t like being confined. You’re not telling me everything you know and that is restricting to me. Why don’t you and I take a little trip to the mental hospital?”
“Fuck you, Rook. Think about it. Why not have a Mushroom Parade and then I can gain some time and figure this out, see?
Jim Rook, barely breathing hard, stopped and he tossed his Other Head meditatively from hand to big hand.
“You’ll have plenty of time in the mental hospital,” he said carefully.
A flock of ravens flew by, their wooden wings creaking like ships under full sail. They seemed to Chester to be crying out to one another.
“Come back. Come back,” they seemed to cry.
A small beaver looked up at Chester. It had eyes full of regard and sympathy. It wore a blousy shirt and high, turned-down boots with heels and a big hat with a jaunty feather. For a moment Chester was aware of people bending over him, of a rush of heat, of a gabble of voices. But mercifully the feeling went away.
“Now look, Chester,” said the little beaver, “do you know about the Dog People? No? They like to curl up and sleep in their big lodge out on Monkey Flower Island. They dream and then they dream and then they forget it when they wake up, because they are forever hungry. Do you know about the Night Rabbit?”
“No, I don’t.”
”See? You know very little. The Dog People migrate like salmon. Did you know that the tracks of my people can be legitimately confused with the tracks of ravens? No? Would you like to meet the Night Rabbit?
“He sounds like a nice person.”
“He is a fearsome motherfucker,” said Jim Rook.
“I have to get out on the set,” said the little beaver. “It’s another stupid scene again. Bo-o-o-o-ring.”
Then the wind began to blow with tremendous strength and Jim Rook was blown away from him and Chester could not see much through a film of swirling moisture except for the dim towering fungal shapes as they moved past him in the mist at a kind of synchronous, clockwork speed. He thought he might be able to hear the feverish tickings of sprockets among the belts along which they seemed to move. The wind stopped.
Rosie Everlasting was rubbing his shoulders as he sat in a canvas chair. Now he was here, he thought. Why was he not more terrified of whatever it was that was happening to him?
“Chester, are you feeling better now? Do you want to see one of Mitchell’s doctors, honey?” she whispered in his ear.
She rubbed his shoulders with her instrumentalist’s hands. God, she was strong, thought Chester. He leaned his wet head back into her and breathed deeply.
“I’m OK, Rosie,” he whispered back in as convincing voice as he could muster. “I guess I’ve been running a little too hard on empty lately, you know.”
“I know. I heard that things with Shirley Anne got pretty vicious.”
“That’s right. But it’s not the end of the world. Not this one anyway. There’s another.” He laughed in what sounded to him an hysterical manner.
“Did you faint?”
“That’s right, I fainted.”
“Why were you giggling, do you suppose?”
“The Night Rabbit.”
“Nothing. I didn’t know I was giggling.”
”The guys who found you said you were. They said you threw up.”
He turned his sweaty head and looked up at her. She was as crisp and clean and carefully wrought as bone china. She brushed his lips with her hand, to make him quiet, as out on the set the action was renewed.
“Chester, honey, are you all right?” Her voice was whispered, they might as well have been alone. He realized suddenly that he did not really love her at all, not in the least little bit.
Chester was climbing higher and higher up across the head of a mushroom so large that its curvature was only slightly more exaggerated than that of the earth itself. Small beavers with swords and high boots stomped around his feet. One of the beavers used its saber to carve out a piece of mushroom from the floor beneath and offer it to him. Chester took the tiny piece – although to the beaver it was as big as a piece of cake – and put it into his mouth. He felt some pressure on his leg and he looked down and there was a dog who did not look up at him but who leaned against his leg and stared straight ahead. It was a medium-sized fireplug of a dog, nondescript and reddish with a face even its mother might wish to have cosmetically altered. Chester thought for a minute – or rather, the head under his arm thought – and he handed the piece of mushroom back to the little chap politely.
“No, thanks,” said Chester with a smile. “I’m not a complete idiot.”
“Completeness isn’t everything,” said the beaver. “Readiness is.”
The creature sneered at him and stuck the mushroom piece onto a dagger and then carved it into smaller slices with its saber as fast as a cartoon character slicing bread. Chester watched the pieces fan out hypnotically, like playing cards. The dog pressed against his leg again. He looked up from the dog and the beaver was gone and there was another mushroom, this one big and bulbous and stuffed full of some great mystery. It arched high above him and its underside was not gilled like many of the others, but was composed of tubes of some cartilaginous material, tightly packed, and inside one of these tubes was a mystery. As he watched, a woman slid down out of the tube, slid out slowly like something being born, her arms above her head, her hips writhing slowly to free herself and she squirmed out and hung by her fingers for a moment and then dropped easily to the spongy forest floor and she leaned against the stalk of the mushroom which was as wide as a one -ton truck is long. She smiled at Chester and she began to shake and so she shook another body out of her own frame. She shook like a snake shaking off a skin. A thin transparency, a wet veil, dropped away from her and for a moment it seemed to be another woman and she raised her arms above her head and caught the filmy hands of the other figure and they shook carefully together. For a moment he thought the two figures were kissing, their tongues twisted together, but then the one dropped away and in a stately manner tracked off into the distance and she who was left stared at him with her eyes full of the knowledge and concern that give meaning to life for a person like him, could he but remember that love should rule his life.
The dog nipped him gently on the ankle and grabbed his foot and pretended to bite him again. Chester had to look down but then was afraid he might throw up again and when he looked up the ground beneath his feet began to move. He felt panicky and the dog picked up a rock in its wet mouth and stood, staring straight ahead, its back legs bowed like a sailor’s. He did not know why he knew to do this, but Chester leaned down, keeping his head up, and took the rock from the dog and held it in his hand. The rock was wet from the dog’s slobber. The woman leaned back into the spongy stalk of the mushroom and settled. She looked at him.
“I’ll play you a game for your rock,” she smiled.
“Are you Rosie Everlasting?”
“Are you crazy? Rosie Everlasting is a buck-toothed blonde who sings folk music no matter what else you call it. Is that how I come across?”
“No, he said. “No, you don’t come across like that.”
She looked indistinct to Chester. He thought of what Annie Bob had told him about looking at things sideways and he tried that and the woman seemed to at least become corporeal when he looked not directly at her, but just off to the side. He tried to look at her edges.
“Do you know this game?” she said and in her filmy hands appeared several curved bonelike things, painted roughly with rings around them. She fanned them in front of him in a mesmerizing manner, as if she were about to deal them as cards. The dog pressed against his leg but he could not look away from the woman.
“We’ll play this game for sex,” she said in a kindly manner. “It’s easy. Everybody does it. Here are the pieces to the game. Here is a red beaver tooth. Do you see it?”
“That tooth is called The Conscious Thing. Get it?”
“Yes. Where am I?”
“That’s hard to explain, and anyway, you’re only seeing the edges.”
Chester thought. “The other me, is he alright?”
“Oh, my yes,” she replied. “That’s why you have the Other Head. Now this beaver tooth is white and black, and so is this and this and this. These are called The Brothers although their sex is of no consequence. You might as well call them The Sisters.” She laughed gaily, like a kid.
Chester thought for a moment more. “Is this dog the Night Rabbit?”
“No. That’s my dog. His name is Rudolph. Good dog.”
Rudolph wagged his gnarled tail and smiled a big doggie smile.
“Believe me, you don’t want to meet the Night Rabbit. Let’s forget this bullshit,” she said, with an edge to her voice. “Just give me the god-damned rock.”
“You can have the rock,” he said, but he did not give it up. “Are you Annie Bob?”
“Of course not. Annie Bob is dead anyway, doesn’t anyone tell you anything? That’s in the past, that’s dream stuff now. Ask the giant beavers that. This is the present. This is really happening.” She took off her filmy blouse and he felt a rush of air sweep through him and take his heart away. Her breasts were every bit the mystery that they are to all men and perhaps all women, too. There they were and they made him desirous of her whereas before he had been just falling in love with her obtuse regard for him. Now he wanted her and he wanted to feel her and he wanted to suck on her and penetrate her and become wet with her and be overcome with her.
“Forget it, pal,” she said. “I’ll play for your rock and you’ll play for my tits and believe me, you’re getting the best of the deal. If you win.”
“I’ll give you the rock.” But his hand did not thrust it forward.
“Gorgons,” she said. “Ibises, eyeballs, torches, swords and maces.”
“These other tooths,” she said and leaned closer to him. Her breasts might have breathed as did the mushroom. Their nipples were extended and dark and folded as if into gills.
“Chester, pay attention to something besides my nipples for a minute. You have come here. There is no turning back. You are special. You are being given your … strength and your medical degree and your philosophy degree and your Presidential citations, do you understand?”
“Not quite,” said Chester. “Hardly at all.”
“I may not be getting some of that right, but I’m sure you get the point. In other words, this is the game, Chester. Get it? This is it. The other thing, your other self, that is not The Game, get it? This is The Game. This is where it all happens, where … the action is. Did I get that right?”
“You’re saying that this is real and the other is illusory?”
“Not illusory, just inconsequential. Why people like you travel back and forth and what specific business you are on is of no interest to people like me. Unless there’s some obligation involved. I have a kind of family obligation, you understand, which has to do with the track of this mushroom and its closeness to certain magnetic fields and the history of my father’s side of the family and a kind of noblesse oblige that extends well back in time. Or forward. You know.”
“Your family position obligates you to talk to me?”
“Or whatever. Whatever it is we wind up doing.”
She stared him dead in the eyes and all he saw was her eyes and he felt his penis spring out from between his legs like a python and coil up his body and slide into a big sack that lay on his shoulder and then the sack weighed so much he was bent right over to the ground. He tried with all his strength to lift up his burden and when he did, it felt good, much too good.
”Don’t drift off on me, Chester,” said the woman. “You will meet the Night Rabbit, I suppose, but now that I have given you some of the lay of the land, now that you know something, you can begin to achieve some control over your situation. I am not sure of your situation and frankly, don’t give a damn. Give me the rock, then perhaps you’ll see the Night Rabbit. He’s a great guy.”
“I want to think about it,” said Chester. “You know, I am so sorry about the death of Annie Bob that you wouldn’t believe it.”
“I believe it.”
“If this is your dog, why did he give me the rock? What is the meaning of this? Why is the dog sitting with me if he’s your dog? Why does the rock feel so good and natural in my hand if it is your rock?”
“I didn’t say it was my rock.”
“Does Jim Rook see the Night Rabbit?”
She looked at him carefully.
“Jim Rook?” she said. “Do you know Jim Rook? He’s meant a whole lot to me, I’m not kidding.”
Although this amazing second day of Chester’s vision days was entirely unique – it was, after all, the day in which he met the woman of his dreams in person, the day in which he was nearly killed and the day in which light appeared at the end of a tunnel he did not yet know he was in – it was also the day when he realized dimly that this was not the first time that the two giant beavers had come to him in a dream. Once before he had dreamed them, sometime past, he couldn’t remember exactly when. In that first dream, he had been confronted with the very startling and ringing idea that he was a jealous human being, that he was very slim in moral vitality, that he was flawed in a way that one might expect of a San Francisco or European intellectual, rather than a robust (albeit aging) specimen of the Pacific Northwestern shore of the great American Continent.
“Chester. Babe,” had said one of the giant beavers in this previous dream. “Face the facts. How could you not be jealous of your brother? He’s rich and you arenít and what’s more, he is wrapt in the cloak of love called celebrity, which in our modern age might be equated with the pure love of God; that is, a noble love, demographically neutral, as is God, presumably.”
”Yes,” said the second of the giant beavers. “You should look upon your brother as you would a saint, Chester. A god-damn saint.”
This giant beaver – the one wearing the hat of dangling human skulls – was at the same time flipping rapidly through his rolodex.
“What comes after ‘S’?,” asked the second giant beaver.
“‘T’, ” replied the first giant beaver, the one who was hatless. Each of the beavers’ large, square chisel-teeth seemed to be impressed, as if with a watermark, but Chester – in the comforting and familiar manner of dreams – could not quite make it out.
“Jealousy is a lousy emotion, Chester. It’s a damning and enervating waste of a man’s time. In a woman it is worse, because women are finer creatures and capable of much more good than the flawed male of any species. Look at the big picture. You used to work in Hollywood in a job that most people outside the business would consider lowly and vaguely funny but which inside the business was known as the sure way to the top, to the big money. You left Hollywood known as someone who could not get it together. You were so concerned with your own safety. You left the unsafe world and took your crazy wife out of L.A. and returned to the comfortable womb of Beaverteeth …”
“I love that town!” interrrupted the other giant beaver.
“… in order that you might build a more dignified life far away from the crashings of the confusing waters of ambition and self-display onto the shores of doubt and ambiguity.”
“Well said,” the other beaver commented. “Ah,” it said. “Here it is. It was under the ‘T”s.”
“You’re lying, Chester. You try to hide it but you’re jealous of Mitchell. And when your wife left you, that was the end. You had failed to build anything solid to cover up the fact that two brothers had gone to Hollywood and only one came back home with what passes among your species for a tail between his legs.”
“Tail,” said the other giant beaver. “See? It starts with a ‘T.’”
When Chester thought about it, the giant beavers certainly had a couple of things right, one being that he had never faced squarely the mixed feelings he held for his little brother. He had, indeed, watched Mitchell and Charlie Christianstein and all his Hollywood friends of the past leap upward in the world of entertainment while he had become just one more fearful and sweaty minor leaguer, afraid of the vast bullshit that was – of necessity – the burden of a man who was to rise up on the publicity and marketing side of the film business. He had also become fearful that his wife, Shirley Anne (the whore) Honeyacre, was getting the idea that she could just sleep with other people, in those days of a sexual permissiveness we will not see again. Worse, she had begun taking acting classes, and that was the sure death-knell for any marriage, as Chester knew. Shirley Anne had as well been attracted to the world of the Occult and the Dawn of Some New Age as well as the more conventional Groovy Free Love Institutes and attendant practices practically from the minute she got a job in Hollywood at the phone company, while Chester found work in publicity at The Studio. He had tried to take the moral high road when they moved back to Beaverteeth, extolling the better air and better life and better everything of a small town, and for a while, it had seemed to work. He and Shirley Anne had even planned for kids and while Mitchell and their Hollywood friends had clucked and ooohed with admiration, they had gotten the hell out and for a while, had even felt good about it; he and Shirley Anne and the kids they never had.
Chester thought that – if he were to be entirely honest with himself -he had been jealous of Mitchell his entire life because he was the first one to see what a genius Mitchell was and that the kid had an imagination, which is the thing that sends someone flying out of places like Beaverteeth to take real chances in the big cities and not just practice the sort of wise-guy wisdom that passes for Art in a small town. But his jealousy of Mitchell was not the kind that made him dislike his brother. It was quite the opposite. He loved Mitchell and he had made himself into the kind of big brother who would always take the little genius fishing or hiking or boating after whatever successful athletic season he, Chester, had just concluded. There was a hole to be filled in this area because their father, Bud Honeyacre, was not around enough to fulfill that function (now they knew why) and so Chester took it over. The two brothers, the big one and the little one, would climb with each other up into the high mountains and around their campfires, in the gathering dusks of their respective youths, Chester would listen enthralled to the brilliant meanderings and dreamings of his little brother. He certainly didn’t hate Mitchell, and that was for sure. Some things Chester knew with certainty, and this was one of them.
He was jealous, though. And envious. And filled with hurt and upset. And he and Mitchell had drifted far apart, these last few years, like rafts parting in a divided current. When Shirley Anne finally left him, and crushed him, Mitchell had never even called, much less thought to ask Chester to come back to Hollywood and work with him.