Wednesday, October 4, 2017

On the Appearance of Trismegistus

     One schist-colored January morning in 1991, as Delilah ushered her son onto an EL car in the downtown loop, Yelmac clasped the doorway and began to hyperventilate. He was looking at the passengers and the brushed steel fixtures of the interior; he was looking at a neat squadron of holes in a plate screwed on over an intercom speaker in the ceiling. Upon his mother's hazy reproaches, he asked to an astonished audience of gap-toothed transients and careworn city workers:

     "What is that? Why can't I see what I'm looking at?"

     The red-faced boy then rushed into the car and began to approach the various riders with his violent stare. For a moment, he stooped over, scrutinizing a woman's withered hand; with the whites boiling over the edges of his eyelids, he drilled his gaze into the saturated papier-mâché overlaying her spindly finger bones, between which twisted a dozing congregation of lavender worms in a packed soil of connective tissues. In response to this image, the young Tobias suffered a muscular quake and shuffled backward until the lip of the opposing row of seats cut into the meat of his calves.

     Yelmac performed this routine several times while eluding his mother's lethargic attempts to reign him in. Delilah trailed him at a consistent distance of no less than five feet, and often stopped altogether to make a huffing gesticulation at the ceiling, where a parallel procession of beige cylindrical bulbs fluttered between minute gradations of brightness and less-brightness in a meaningless cipher. 

     Just then the boy came upon a certain rider at one end of the car by an exit door who seemed entirely aloof to the developing scenario. The man may have been in his late twenties. His complexion was similar in tone and irregularity to a syrup stain embedded in white cotton after two cold wash cycles. An eyewitness, interviewed in Tate Coery's The Weirdest and Most Mysterious Water (a precocious and obsessive account of Yelmac Tobias's systematized masturbation protocol), recalled the strange individual's "abundant cheeks, cavernous eyes, and rich suede blazer" (Coery 2021; p. 27). Others have gone on record to give identical, verbatim descriptions of him as "a fruity, gorgeous insect of a man."

     The child stood frozen to the machine-stamped floor, examining the person he had found. The electronics in the car revived with a voluptuous whimper, galvanized by some electromagnetic turbine or other. As the train set off from the station, the passengers' torsos rocked back toward the place where the unfamiliar man was sitting. Yelmac demanded to know his name, resisting the urge to blink or relax his horrific stare. The man, boring straight ahead with a meek, sleepy smile, said aloud that he was "Trismegistus":

     "And I am young; and I am going to marry quite soon; and I am Trismegistus...!"

     The young Tobias screwed up his eyes and withdrew three steps from Trismegistus. The boy seemed not to have heard the man's words, as he asked him yet again for his name. The elusive passenger made a sort of finger gesture through the top buttonhole in his jacket and ejected a squirt of spittle through the crevice in his top two incisors. But Yelmac only looked on in perpetuity, the point of his nose gyrating in a microscopic circle as his retinae clambered to collect the matter of the rider's appearance.

     Just a moment later, Yelmac's mother hooked her crustacean hands under her son's armpits and attempted to drag him away on his heels. The boy is said to have screeched:

     "But who is there? But who is there? But who is there?"

     The boy withdrew into a state of shock as the train was pulling up to the Harold-Washington platform. As the car doors parted, the boy collapsed and began thrashing between a colonnade of legs and chrome support structures. There was no trace left of the perturbing man at the end of the traincar by the time the paramedics entered with their kit and stretcher. Only the exit door by which the person had been sitting was left slightly ajar. On its handle there clung a hardened clod of black tar. This is an undoubtedly true statement. 

     Yelmac was eased onto the stretcher and then carefully inserted into an ambulance idling below the elevated station. The ambulance eventually drove off, to be sure, in order to guarantee that the boy's life was continued. But while it had waited for its allotted cargo - its ticket into this case history - a rope of phantasmagoric exhaust spilled up from its tailpipe and wreathed itself around the horns of a green owl which, although I cannot imagine why, adorned the nearest cornice of the Harold Washington Library.

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