Bucky hadn’t been the same since something mysterious happened to him when he was about fourteen years old. He and I had been in high school together until grade nine, when he was removed by social services and remained unseen until his eighteenth birthday. Now he was twenty-five, and sat at the same coffee shop table everyday reading conspiracy newsletters over wi-fi, while people bought him cups of coffee that he couldn’t afford on his own. (Recently, they’d been leaving him wrapped Christmas presents also.)
It was out of a sense of obligation that I occasionally sat with him, mostly pretending to listen as he read in a whispery, card shuffle voice from whatever site he’d fallen on that day.
“Says here,” he said that Christmas Eve, reading from a Reddit page, as I sat and placed an eggnog latte and chocolate croissant in front of him, “that someone at SETI has leaked classified files the information contained proves the existence of at least seven advanced alien civilizations in our galaxy alone.”
“Oh?” I said, knowing that by doing so, I’d just committed myself to a vertical conversation without a ceiling or landing pad. I stirred my coffee and looked longingly at my unopened Raymond Chandler novel.
“I’ve known it all along,” said Bucky. He bit down and tore off a bite of the croissant, spraying flaky crumbs everywhere. “When they came to our house it was on a Christmas Eve like this deep snow dark the cars huge shapeless lumps blue parked along the avenue beneath the mercury streetlamps they didn’t bother to knock.”
This was how he spoke, a fresh unpunctuated word sauté, a marathon mixture of misplaced word emphasis, concept fragments and idea run-ons, all of it headed toward an abyss of post traumatic psychosis that lay in the centre of a shadowy flatland of memories swirling like manhole steam beneath a dim lamppost. I tried to keep up, but frequently failed, always wondering what it all might look like written down on a page.
Placing his ball cap on the table, he sat back to say more. On his forehead, his bizarre tattoo, a thin blue prime number sequence, 2—3—5—7, looking like something done with a needle, India ink and a wad of toilet paper, only backward. He’d done it himself, in the mirror.
“It was Christmas card apocalypse,” he began again, “from the dead-industry rot of an abandoned city you couldn’t tell a Chevy from a Ford it’d piled so high the snow that kept falling no wind it came down soft and smothering like the old country tales of forced asphyxiation and cannibalism my father told me at bedtime whenever he could until he disappeared one graveyard shift into a massive vat of boiling industrial kitchen waste and condemned animals cadavers at the reduction plant where he worked what choice did they have they made him into soap I think of him whenever I wash I say a small soapy prayer for him and the boozy carrion ashtray stink and the way he hid in a room down the hall and my mother mostly looking afraid.”
It might have been a stand-up routine, but it wasn’t.
“I think I’ll go,” I said, hoping to cut myself free. It was an old and well told story, and I’d made my offering of croissant at the altar of his insanity. I could move on; my sins were forgiven.
Grabbing my arm too tightly as I rose, however, he pulled me back down. The chair made a loud scraping noise when my ass hit the seat, and he said, “Please don’t go.”
“That was the Christmas Eve they took my mother and sister,” said Bucky.
“What?” This was new.
“The grenade popping Christmas lights tearing the furniture to shreds my father already gone and a nightmare and now the last people I’d ever loved were taken up in a violet beam of light into the spaceship like 70s cable TV stacked lined resolution twenty-four hours a day of scifi reruns dense with code and insinuation cathode ray Coca-Cola war spelled backward like a belly wound I’d been misinformed about aliens expressionless spacemen the egg-hatched big-brained animals with hovercraft hands and evangelical eyes Hollywood had been wrong about them and I’d been betrayed by television.”
He seemed desperate now, seeming to want to snatch up something skirting round his craggy terrain. “Did I ever tell you,” he said, “that I saw the spaceship fly away that I watched the craft that ferried away what was left of my family I remember its size and shape the direction it took its colour I know the trajectory and speed latitudes and longitudes did I ever tell you that?”
Actually, he never had. Like the rest of the regular coffee shop patrons, I’d believed that all of his peculiarities and befuddlements arose out of a serious dissociative disorder of nameless origins. Now, I thought this might be it—that he’d never wanted to relive some horrible moment, that he was certain had taken place, until now.
“I looked out the window,” he said, with a new clarity, “and watched that spaceship streak across the black Christmas Eve sky.”
Then he paused as though he’d made a decision, and went on.
“It flew over the venting mile-off yellow lighted reduction plant where the ghost of my father lurked like Nosferatu then it seemed to stop and set slowly like a star on the horizon and I watched it disappear it was temporarily finished with our world the fentanyl neighborhoods and foreign no-fly zones the unceded lands and occupied territories the corporations and open-carry Christians it was moving at light speed now out of sight having flown through the tar of our slaughtered environment and above the starving and the homeless where it had shone once brightly like a Bethlehem star and out of place while all of us looked up at it like it was a star to wish upon but it really wasn’t so that when the Dylan Thomas dawn came once more the world just continued to fissure beneath the weight of its own disgrace ensuring that One Christmas was so much like another forever more.”
“You okay, Bucky?” I said. “You don’t sound like yourself. I mean you do, you really do, more than I’ve ever heard you sound like yourself before, but you really don’t.”
Leaning across the table then, he said, “They’re colonising us get it a centimetre a second 604,800 seconds a week they throw us a trinket now and then like quantum physics and while we kill each other trying to monetise it they take more and more of what we are that’s their plan but it’s never enough they always want more so from time to time when they go home to visit they take a trophy something extra a sliver of what they’ve left behind in escrow that was Rebecca and my mother.”
“Ah.” What else was there to say, except, “But why are you telling me this now, here in this crappy coffee shop, with your hat off so everyone can see that fucked up tattoo? How am I supposed to believe you, looking the way you do? Why should I?”
“Yeah,” he said, “the tatty is a bit fucked up.”
“Well you just laid a burden on me, dude. So, answer my question.”
“I guess I trust you that’s all as far as believing me goes you will because you’re a geek a skinny awkward white boy open to anything in pursuit of any goddamn reality other than what’s so depressingly obvious.”
Ouch. “There’s a lot of this shit on the internet,” I stuttered.
“Yeah well I ain’t virtual I’m for real you can still smell last night’s bottle of cooking wine on my breath.”
He was right, I could.
“And I’m telling you,” he said, “because sometimes it seems like that window I told you about—the one I looked out of that Christmas Eve—it gets a little more brittle every day it’s all that’s stood between me and them all this time and I can’t maintain my belief in this alias I’m living forever one day that window’s gonna bust and you’ll find what’s left of me in a culvert.”
“Stop talking like that. I don’t believe it.”
He shrugged, and said, “So now someone else knows and I guess I feel lighter for it maybe that puts you in the doghouse somehow because there are villains out there who want a piece of me but I don’t think so if anyone asks you can just tell them that the retard with the forehead tattoo was just talking shit.” He grinned, and took another bite of his croissant.
He was there Boxing Day morning. No one had beamed Bucky up, or whacked him. His hollow cheeks seemed a little greyer, though, and based on his mutterings, his thoughts appeared to have returned to their earlier disorganised state. His lips moved as he read his conspiracies and sipped his charity cappuccino. But he looked up at me and winked as I passed him by with my Americano, out the door and on my way to work.