Pareidolia

Prose, including snippets (mini-memoirs).
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sasha
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Pareidolia

Post by sasha » February 23rd, 2018, 2:12 pm


 
It was in that gray, half-light of early morning, before the sun has begun painting the eastern horizon in a myriad Crayola shades of red – carmine, scarlet, crimson, vermillion – that Brad usually awakened. As he did most mornings, after yawning and stretching with a loud groan, he briefly opened his eyes for a quick glance around the bedroom, trying to gauge the time by the amount of ambient light. Probably about 5:30, he thought. He closed them again and wistfully began replaying what he could remember of the dream he’d just awakened from.

Cheryl was in it, Cheryl from Accounts Receivable. Cheryl of the sad eyes, and shoulder-length silky black hair, Cheryl of plump-but-not-too body, and of warm, inviting smile, and that uninhibited giggle that reminded one of a mountain brook on a sunny day. At least that’s what Brad was reminded of – the pure waters of a freshet trickling over moss-covered rocks. Cheryl was one of the few things that made going to work bearable for him, even if he could only admire her from afar.

Cheryl was in the dream, and so was Don, the Site Director. Don was at a podium holding forth to all the assembled employees in the caff, but it wasn’t one of their monthly Communications Meetings. It was some kind of story slam, and Don was telling a long, rambling story whose point Brad was already beginning to forget. The part Brad remembered – the part he wanted to remember – was how he and Cheryl were sitting beside one another in folding metal chairs, and how she was leaning ever so slightly against him so her upper arm pressed into his, and how every once in a while they’d look at one another and smile and share some whispered disparaging remark about the performance.

Brad sighed. If only.

He opened his eyes again and turned his head to look out the window immediately to his right. Here the woods surrounding his house pressed close, the looming treetops nearly obscuring the sky. Their foliage and tangled branches presented an almost random arrangement of shapes and colors; and if he looked long enough and let his imagination lead, he could mentally rearrange the picture into faces. There were two, in particular, he liked to invoke. A cluster of witch’s brooms at the top of a towering white pine would, in the dim eastern light, take on the aspect of a caricaturized Richard Nixon, complete with ski-slope nose. Nearby, where the canopy of a maple partly eclipsed his view of the pine, that same light painted a fanciful picture of a man with a van dyke beard and a full, ruffed collar. Elizabethan Man, Brad had come to call him. Other, smaller, faces came and went with the seasons: the somber woman with a pixie haircut, the mustachioed gentleman, and in winter, when the deciduous branches were plain black lines on white, a cartoonish stick figure with a foolish grin became apparent.

But this morning, Elizabethan Man was nowhere to be seen. It had been a blustery night, during which a gust of wind had apparently blown over a scraggly hemlock, which now leaned against Elizabethan Man’s maple, pressing upon and distorting its canopy. There was a new face there instead.

It was as primitive and brutish as Elizabethan Man was sophisticated and refined. It seemed to scowl with deep-set eyes above a broad nose and a grim, cruel mouth, above a thick, unkempt beard and below an unruly tangle of hair. A remnant of the night breeze still blew, animating the features into a ghastly caricature of life. This and the ferocity of its stare actually gave Brad a little chill.

“Morning, Brad,” New Face said. “Like your job?”

This was new. He had read enough to know that the perception of faces in the treetops was an artifact of our brains’ hardwiring for facial recognition, arising from the instinct to find pattern and order even where there was none.

But this was the first time any of them had spoken to him.

“Well,” New Face demanded. “Do you?”

Maybe he was still dreaming – he’d had lucid dreams before. “No,” he whispered. “I can’t stand it. It’s just a lousy job, a way to pay the bills. Barely.”

New Face said nothing at first, and when he finally replied, only said, “We’ll talk later, Brad.”

New Face then fell silent.

Baffled and little disturbed by this unexpected turn of events, Brad lay still, until the clock radio came to life promptly at 6:00, an open faucet pouring the foul waters of the world into his ears: a suicide bomber in Pakistan killing dozens at an open-air market, mostly women and children. Another confrontation between US and Russian warships in the eastern Mediterranean. Dire warnings that the previous day’s 400 point drop in the Dow was just the beginning. An unmanned payload ferrying supplies to the space station failed to reach orbit, fueling a bitter debate between the launch operations center and the rocket’s prime contractor over who was to blame.

With a sigh, Brad tossed the covers off and rolled out of bed to his feet. Time to get ready for work.

His morning routine was as ritualized as the Japanese tea ceremony, or a Catholic Mass, whose pre-ordained activities played themselves out with comforting familiarity and obviated the need for thought. First he’d regard himself in the bathroom mirror, hunting for and removing any rogue nose, ear, or eyebrow hairs. Floss, brush, shave, shower. By the time he returned to the bedroom to dress, he was fully recalibrated into Daily Bread mode. The woeful litany of the morning news was now unheard background noise, and memories of any dream had faded like an ancient Kodachrome print. He dressed – office casual – dried his hair, grabbed his lunch (prepared the night before), and headed out the door.

As usual, he arrived early, when the cubicles adjacent his own were still empty – he wasn’t keen on chatting up his coworkers this early in the morning. He hung up his jacket, grabbed his coffee mug, and hurried off to the caff, hoping to catch a glimpse of Cheryl and maybe even wish her good morning. But except for the cook and her helper, the only person in the caff was an overbearing mechanical engineer named Peter. Peter never passed up an opportunity to twit him for his unwelcome reassignment to Documentation. “Shit,” he muttered. The day was not off to an auspicious beginning.

It didn’t get any better. Just as he returned from the caff, a runner from Receiving delivered a package to him. It was from the company he’d ordered a replacement manual for a piece of equipment in the R&D lab; but when he opened it, he saw they’d sent the wrong one. He’d have to pull up the PO on his computer to see if the mistake was his or theirs; but for reasons no one could determine, his system login was periodically prone to corruption – and today was such a day. This necessitated a call to IT to have his password reset, but they wouldn’t begin trickling into the office for another 45 minutes or so. Then his manager, Mike, arrived, and before he’d even set down his briefcase and removed his jacket, told Brad “they needed to talk” a little later.

The day ground on as they always did. The “talk” was every bit as dispiriting as he’d suspected it would be, the IT tech joked how he was their steadiest customer, and while he discovered at least that he’d placed the requisition correctly, someone in Purchasing had transposed two digits in the part number. He spent the better part of the morning on the phone, trying to determine whose responsibility it was to correct the error and the proper procedure for doing so. By the end of the day, about all he’d accomplished was to box up the manual, deliver it to the mail room, and elicit vague promises from Purchasing that “we’ll take care of it.”

As soon as he got home he kicked off his shoes, poured himself a stiff drink and then another, scarfed a few cold leftovers from Tupperware, and after a third drink fell asleep in front of the TV by 9:30. He awoke a few hours later long enough to stumble off to bed.

He was jarred awake at 6:00 a.m. sharp by the morning news. A nine-car pileup on I-95 caused by a jackknifed tractor trailer. Another US Congressman accused of sexual misconduct. An enraged customer goes on a shooting rampage at a sporting-goods store in Montana – six confirmed dead so far.

“Rise and shine, Brad.” It was New Face.

Brad rolled onto his side and looked out the window. Now that the wind had died down, New Face appeared static and impassive. “How was your day yesterday, Brad?” New Face asked. “Ready for more of the same?”

“Fuck you,” Brad whispered.

“And the horse I rode in on?” New Face retorted. “I didn’t arrive by horseback, Brad. I came here on the wind. Along the westerlies, on the back of Aeolius... ”

I don’t need this, Brad thought, and threw back the covers.

“Have a nice day, Brad,” New Face said.

At least it was Friday. As if to apologize for Thursday, the morning got off to a milder start. Cheryl was even in the caff, waiting with two of her friends to fill her coffee mug. They glanced up at his approach. He took his place in line behind her, smiled, and said “Morning!”

She offered an obligatory smile in return. “Morning, uhh…” and her eyes briefly dropped to his nametag before returning to his face. “Morning, Bradley.”

Deflated, and having exhausted his repertoire of small talk, Brad resorted to platitudes celebrating the fact that it was Friday, how they were all there for their first cups of motivation, and how a rainy weekend was better than a fair-weather workday. She bade him a cheery good day, the sort of benediction a 2nd-grade teacher might give one of her charges. It couldn’t have felt less personal.

Despite the encounter, he felt no elation, and glumly trudged through the workday watching the glacially slow clock creep towards 4:00. When it had finally ticked off the final minutes of his daily sentence, he shut down his computer and made his way to the exit, actually hoping he wouldn’t accidentally run into her. He didn’t. He crossed the parking lot, slid into his car and sat for a few seconds before inserting the key in the ignition. She didn’t even know my name, he thought.

Even without the alarm he awoke the next morning a little before 6:00. New Face leered down at him through a rain-streaked window. “So tell me Brad, how are things with you and Shirley?”

Cheryl, Brad thought. It’s Cheryl.

“Oh, right. I forgot – Bradley.” New Face paused. “You know, Bradley – maybe that guy in Montana had the right idea.”

Brad didn’t respond. But he listened.

“He took out eight people in all before the cops took him out. Wouldn’t that be a grand way to go, Bradley? I’ll bet Shirley – I mean Cheryl – would notice you then.” New Face almost seemed to wink. “You could find at least eight people there to cap, couldn’t you, Bradley? Your boss, Mike; you’re good buddy, Peter…” Again, New Face paused. “… your girlfriend, Cheryl…”

This reminded Brad that he still had his father’s .38 service revolver and a few boxes of ammunition stashed somewhere up in the attic.

“Oh, no, Bradley,” New Face went on. “Nothing as pedestrian as that. Don’t you think that bitch deserves – special treatment? Something a bit more – rococo?”

Brad rolled onto his back, his forearm across his eyes. Yes, he thought. This has gone on long enough. The mocking, the needling – time for something special. Something rococo.

He rose, dressed, and ventured out into the morning drizzle. He crossed the backyard to his garden shed and entered. The usual assortment of tools leaned haphazardly against the walls – shovels, spades, a pitchfork; a few variety of rakes; axes and saws; and in a far corner, the one item he sought.

His dad’s Husqvarna chain saw, the one with the 30-inch bar.

“It’s showtime,” he muttered. “Bradley is coming to get you.”

He hefted the saw off its shelf, checked the oil, and poured a little gasoline into its tank from a small jerry can. Then he carried the saw outside to the side of the house He stood in front of his bedroom window looking up into the trees. Neither Elizabethan Man nor New Face were visible from this angle, but he knew they were there.

“Is this what you had in mind?” he asked aloud.

There was no answer. He hadn’t expected one.

He strode to the edge of the lot, to where a partially uprooted hemlock leaned against an old maple. He tugged a few times at the starter cord until the Husqvarna roared into life. Squinting against the cloud of wood chips flying from the bar, he bit into the hemlock’s trunk from below, until the cut began to widen on its own; then he killed the motor and kicked at the tree just above the cut. It parted with a snap, and the hemlock fell to the ground with a brittle clatter of branches and a crash.

“Fuck you, New Face,” he said. “And the horse you rode in on.”

To which Elizabethan Man said, “Good sir, my heart doth ascend like the meadowlark that your visage and mine can once again behold the morn together, and fain partake each of the other! No longer shall we be vexed by that offal-swilling blackguard! My gratitude to you knows no bounds!”

Brad smiled. “Thanks, Elizabethan Man,” he said. “Good to see you again, too.”



2/23/2018
.
I'm not an outlier. I just haven't found my distribution yet.

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mnaz
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Joined: August 15th, 2004, 10:02 pm
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Re: Pareidolia

Post by mnaz » March 3rd, 2018, 3:40 pm

Wow. You have quite an eye. And a good sense of shifting time, place, space and face as well! I'm still dealing with an office 5 days a week, and yes, there is a Cheryl there, and the newsnoise bracketing the whole experience ain't gonna get any better..

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sasha
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Joined: April 12th, 2016, 12:01 pm
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Re: Pareidolia

Post by sasha » March 3rd, 2018, 6:03 pm

Thanks, MN - Richard Nixon and Elizabethan Man actually dwelt outside my bedroom window until a few years ago after a storm knocked several branches out of the trees forming them. One morning on a whim I tried invoking a New Face, and didn't like the one that emerged - but thought it might work as the nucleus for a weird story.

"Cheryl" was an amalgam of various workplace women from my past - a pleasingly plump Michelle, a sad-eyed Patti, and a Peggy and Jeanine whose giggles alone could make me melt. The 1st girl I ever kissed was a next-door neighbor when I was 6 - and her name was Cheryl. I like the name.

Thanks again for the comments!
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I'm not an outlier. I just haven't found my distribution yet.

User avatar
mnaz
Posts: 6968
Joined: August 15th, 2004, 10:02 pm
Location: north of south

Re: Pareidolia

Post by mnaz » March 3rd, 2018, 6:12 pm

I love that name, the curve of it. Curved space... An old buddy of mine had a knack for seeing faces in things- saw an ogre-like face in a red rock spire on the Navajo Rez I photographed (two horses were running circles around it)...

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