Chapter 3 Excerpts, Part Two, “Mental” by Marie K Johnston






…We are civilized savages.  The freeway is near her house, and homelessness sometimes hovers at the intersection.  One afternoon she and Jacob planned a Friday picnic, and rushed home to don the shorts and sandals that are customary when wooing newborn spring.  A new beggar stood with them and waited at the red light, displaying a cardboard sign intoning, “Everyone needs help sometime in life.”  She felt compelled to buy him a sandwich, so they hurried from the house to a nearby deli; rushing back to the intersection with their offering, they found he had gone.

After that day she watched for him, expected to see him faithfully displaying his eloquent misfortune, and was disappointed for weeks until finally she pushed him out of her short-term memory.  Then as mysteriously as he had gone, he reappeared.  Renewed with her foolish need to “save” him, she sped home and this time decided to make him a lunch lest he vanish once more.  She walked her lunch across the eight-lane overpass, locating him on the weedy bank of the freeway.  He counted money feverishly, absorbed, her voice powerless against the roar of eighteen-wheelers and Ford trucks.

“Sir…sir?” she had faltered, silently rehearsing the speech she’d planned during her frantic walk.  Her heart pounded in her head, her ears pulsed.  Sensing her, he quickly hid his money, explaining that he lacked only thirty more dollars for a motel room.  

She cleared her throat, thrust her paper sack offering across the white cement barrier and entreated, “Your sign really got to me.  I wanted to give you this, to encourage you to keep trying and not to lose hope…” she trailed off, losing the meaning of her words as his eyes pierced through her face.  She imagined that he could see the tight muscles beneath her skin, could see the blood throbbing through her temples.

He grabbed the food, tearing the carefully folded paper to size up its contents.   He couldn’t be more than thirty, she guessed, but the deep creases in his oiled leathery skin spoke of wasted youth.  She could tell he was young only because of his eyes—the richest blue, more cobalt than cerulean, an almost divine shade.  They glowed out from his ruined toothless grin like Mayan lapis, as if in protest of our civilization.  



She was taken aback when he gesticulated with the bag, spilling its contents obliviously in order to get his point across to her.

Trance-like, he moaned,” it’s all in the in-flec-tion, really, when you come right DOWN to it…isn’t that disappointing?  It doesn’t reeeaally mat-ter what we sssayyy, huh?” he hissed, “The im-port-tant thing is the say-yingh of the say-yingh, and can never simply beeeee the buzzzzzingh of the beeeees, but their honey that weeeee craaaave.  It is time to forget what you have learned because—it wasn’t right.  NO!” he shouted,” No!”  

She stood stock-still like an animal, incredulous and dumb.  

“Awh…” he tilted his head and the two tiny oceans in his sockets swayed, “you look disappointed.  I’m sorry that you took it so seriously,” he mocked her, chuckling out the syllables.

“We should all have fun, right?  Lots of fun, with…with a cherry on top.  We shouldn’t need to be so serious, so grave, now, should we?  Why do you think we are so grave?  Mortality.  Sleep.  Peace and fear.”  He paused to cackle, allowing his glee to wash over him completely.  She started backing away like an automaton, not looking behind her.  He pursued her, leaning now over the wall which tax-paying citizens had erected between them, a wall neither one had helped pay for.

“Oh, come on, don’t tell me you people still believe in fear?  Even though you think you’re the only intelligent beings in the entire universe?  How archaic.”  He lifted his eyes to the sky, as if to direct his ranting to the remote and unsympathetic clouds.  “Beam.  Light.  Silence.  Lust,” he chanted, sarcastically.  

She turned and lifted her American-fed thigh to flee, looking back to see him fly over the waist-high wall like a true Olympian.  “What are you looking at?” he demanded of her.  




“What do you see when you look with your lookers at that thing you look at?”  He fumed, walking toward her as if in one of her excruciatingly slow-motioned dreams, and she ran but got nowhere nearer home just like in one of those reoccurring childhood nightmares.  

With deliberate emphasis, relish, he doled out his tirade: “Do you see beauty, or yourself?  Do you see solace, solace in the way the light reflects off the mirror and pretends to cast your reflection in its warm glow?”  

From beyond the intersection, she heard him howl, “I must be blind!  I see nothing.  Where is it?  How are you supposed to look at it?”  

And then, as she rejoiced at actually feeling her feet smacking the pavement, she caught his last words—“Relax your eyes!”—as she pressed toward freedom.


Thank you, dear readers, for joining me in reading some of my work! I hope you liked it!

Stay tuned for more! I’m going through “Mental” today!




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