The Imperatives of the Ancient Mask by RW Spryszak

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I wait at the appointed place with flower pots and last fall’s leaves. I don’t know why they haven’t been raked up yet. My briefcase is brown, like you said. My shined shoes are together under my knees and I wait. A good soul. And people are going by. Not the one I am waiting for. I don’t know why he is late. These people are happy and warm. Simple. I sometimes imagine a writhing, wet, red demon squirming out of my chest and attacking them. And there we are, panic in the city. Blood. This horrible creature would also eat children and be somewhat photogenic in a saliva slimy kind of way.

This is an urge I have from time to time. It’s been harmless, but it is embarrassing. The world is a harsh enough little miasma without a dead shit fantasy like this coming on of itself when I am in public. It never happens when I’m alone. But how close are we to violence at all times? If a man sitting at the appointed place can summon the imagination to see a monster bursting from his body in a rage, briefcase or not, what is stopping someone who is waiting for no one and in the wrong place from going mad? Going berserk for no reason at all? Someone not as calm and normal as I am. Sitting in this spot quietly watching. Watching.

And then, as if the conversation in my head was being held with a judge somewhere in the clouds, comes a man in a long gray coat. He is dragging a cardboard box half his size, held together with spare tape and plastic, on a two-wheeled cart he stole from the factory. He stops in front of the green mailbox on the corner and raises a dirty hand, pleading in the air.

“Officer. It’s cold out. And she doesn’t have a coat.”

Of course, there is no officer. There is only a mailbox. And this ragged man smells of old clothes and oil. Part of me wishes he would be swept off the streets. His grimy coat makes my tie superfluous and silly. I am somehow overdressed when near him. I wish he was dead. And yet I feel sorry for him. I never know what to think in these situations.

But, you see, there he is. A homeless madman. And if he exploded just now, with a red venom-seeking creature ripping him open, or there was some glistening brown worm churning out of his skull – it would be strange, but not as strange as if it burst out of my head. You see how it is.

I watched this man continue on until he turned a far corner and left me in my appointed place. He never bothered me. Never approached me. Never threatened me. I had nothing to do with him but I wanted him dead. Sometimes I disgust myself. It’s loathsome. I am often embarrassed by my first reactions, but content that I did not act on my original, intuitive feelings.

And I wonder, once he is gone, what would happen if I jumped up and said the same words to the older woman approaching. I wait for her to be three feet away so she can’t get away with ease. Then I jump at her with my hands out like claws and my eyes half-closed and yell “Officer. It’s cold out and she doesn’t have a coat.” The woman might scream. Maybe she would faint. Maybe both. Then again, she might push me aside and I would have to fight her. It would be wonderful though, I think, to spit in her face. To see what would happen. Of course, if she had a heart attack I would feel terrible and have to send flowers to the funeral. So, I do nothing out of concern for the needless expense of sending a gift to her wake.

It was a good thing I didn’t act on that compulsion. Coming out of my reverie I saw the man I was waiting for get out of a cab and enter the park, head on a swivel, looking for me. It wouldn’t have been advantageous to have him see me frightening that woman to death. She walked on, oblivious. I remember imagining him tripping on the curb as the cab pulled away. Tripping on the curb and falling like a tree, smashing his face against the concrete which refused to forgive him. Crashing so hard his head would split open and his blue brains and blood would stain the concrete an organic marvel. Then people would gather around and some would call for an ambulance. But his head would be cracked open and out would fly three yellow finches, escaping into the city.


RW Spryszak wrote for alternative and mail art zines in the 1980s and 90s, the bulk of which has been archived at the Ohio State University Libraries. His most recent work has appeared in Novelty (UK), in the surrealist journal Peculiar Mormyrid and will be forthcoming in City Brink, a publication of Chicago City Colleges. He edited “So What If It’s True,” a collection of writing from the late slam poet, Lorri Jackson. He is completing the editing of an anthology of international surrealists and outsiders to be released this Fall of 2018 and has been Managing Editor of Thrice Fiction Magazine since 2011.

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