Domenic Maltempi is a New York based writer, and a member of The Whispering Olympian Band. His latest story will be published by Hangman press in early May. You can already read it on our blog.
“Thus sailing with sealed orders, we ourselves are the repositories of the secret packet…. There are no mysteries out of ourselves.”
Herman Melville, White Jacket
I discovered the wallet just as Homeless Candle Eddie was approaching me from behind. I could see his red hair penetrating the square holes of his dark-green knitted wool cap, knees folded a bit. I placed the wallet in my pants. The wallet plummeted down into this new dark home, stopping at a delicate point. I quickly and nimbly pushed it along making a non-peak stop at the waist of my underwear where the elastic Air Force of the undergarment would prevent the found item from falling through my trousers, which were not tapered at the end, but had a 17inch opening.
What would Homeless Candle Eddie say to me if he saw it fall out of my pants? Maybe he would just say “you dropped your wallet Richard.”
And then what would I say?
“Oh goddamn, I’m having a day aren’t I.”
I might say that.
I had the strong and immediate sensation that this discovery would reveal something. I already knew but could never catch up with. It would serve as a dint, an agency, releasing me from the pincers of static glumdom that had fooled my sentries, and now needled upon shot nerves that rode 4th class on a great train of misfortune.
But wasn’t it just someone’s lost wallet? What was I talking about? Dinty-delusional dum-dum! I was slipping into some feathery shame pie of solipsismal cream. Why was I foraging into this gooey land of the imagination, spinning myself with the sticky crystals of this metaphysical dirty cotton candy? Dead was a path where I would easily reach a decision on what to do with the wallet that would be consistent with my past actions. I could feel something in me expire, even as my heart beat more strongly, filled with new blood traveling in the chambers within me, winning over those that lived there. There was no thought of trying to find out who the owner was, and returning it. Blocked instincts pounded on the face of me. I could smell Eddie’s unlit and lit candles nearing me.
I kept the talk minimal with Eddie. I bought a Second No-Coming Candle punched up with Anti-Rapture Sweet Verdigris (as Eddie put it) — and quickly left with the wallet flapping around my privates. I heard a cry of “Gonorrhea Jack-Jack Zumba,” which I thought was Homeless Candle Eddie’s description of the dance-like movements I was making to Cobra Park where my bicycle was locked on a woman who had insisted her body serve as the bike post. I did not turn back to address Eddie’s joke.
I trusted the woman wouldn’t leave. When she offered herself to be the bike-rack I felt obliged to tell her I was not interested in a relationship if this was her idea of a way to start one. I told her I didn’t need a woman to lock my bicycle onto; I wanted a woman to get to know, possibly fall in love with. We could fold tablecloths, and decrumb them into the cool purple punch bowl of autumn wind, looking through our porch at the dirt road and peculiar trees, and we could carpet-swim inside like God pretending to be a fish when he made some of them, and tell stories to each other. The contempt that sprang from the human bike lock dressed in spandex and sackcloth— made me reconsider leaving the bicycle in her charge, but I did. I was back to collect it.
The wallet was starting to irritate my privates. The woman unlocked my bike from her ankle, and I took out my wallet to give her something for her time. I eyed a twenty, and licked my finger to lift it. She shot me another look of contempt for doing so. I quickly thanked her as the bill dropped to the grass, falling as a body from a building no one could see.
At this point I was dying to get home with the new wallet. I wanted to go through it. Maybe there was something to learn.
The wallet was black-dyed pebble leather. It had been in use for three to four years, a dating I had confirmed by a wallet-ager whose services were incredibly easy to come across. The power of Skype! The power of online payments! A wallet geologist……? I was amusing myself. I was giddy with the sight of my home, where I could be alone with the pebbled wallet.
My girlfriend was going out. It was “none of my business” where she went. That’s what she told me when I asked her where she was going. She told me loudly in a red coat that stank of winter cigarettes that it was “none of my business.” My business! “It was none of my business.” As if I was the chamber of commerce of her decision making process branch. She became those words to me.
I was returning home expecting no one else. Exhilaration made its chemical rounds. What interesting dressers the messengers of exhilaration are! I ran the last few steps to the front door, pulling the wallet out of my pants. I wildly climbed up the old knotty steps. I heard the delicate squeaking of my girlfriend’s sister cleaning the wine glasses. Not alone!
She was only supposed to be here on Thursdays when her mother’s bridge club was taking place. She hated each member of that bridge club like they were a pack of despots reincarnated into retired bridge players. When the sister was over my house, that’s all she seemed to do. She drank wine, but more often, she cleaned wine glasses. How long did it take to clean these glasses? She cleaned all of them, and then dried them, and then perhaps cleaned them again. But much more time was devoted to drying these wine glasses with some sort of fine, specially made cloth for wine glass cleaning. She looked like that cloth to me. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her anymore.
The upper rim wipe-squeak carried itself like an aural cluster bomb to my ear, and I nervously stopped walking up the stairs as if I didn’t live here anymore. Shutting my eyes with total concentration regained, I stepped carefully up to the third floor. There were three rooms on this top floor.
Opening the door to my study, I put the wallet on a pale blonde wooden coffee table, lighting a cigarette almost immediately after I patted the pebbly black object down. It sprang up with its cushiony skin expanding, breathing. It looked like an infant child, now surrounded by the yellow smoke coagulating around its folded black form, part of the billfold sticking up above the other parts, giving the appearance of legs, a mother giving birth, a swimmer teasing an irritated swimming coach.
I opened it up, and took out the driver’s license. I put it on the coffee table, blocking out the face with a large thick solid colored game board chip.
The first name was Flute. Flute? I wouldn’t look at the last name. Flute was enough for now. Was this a joke ID? Who intentionally walks around with such a fake name? How old was this Flute? But before I could wonder further about the first name; I felt my chest tightening when looking at the DOB. It was the same as mine. I back away, and feel the door, opening and closing it. Sitting back down again; I bring the DOB as close to my face as possible. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I need to do it.
I didn’t need to sink into everything I could know about this person, cheaply accumulating, and flatulently compiling bits of this and that about them till I rewarded myself like a good rat with chewing the slices of old fruit now exposed. I had no urge to hop on the internet to click on all the links now that I had this information. Why would I destroy what I thought I had, looking through Flute’s book reviews, or his comments on a page dealing with some recall for a car part, maybe his endorsement of a dermatologist he truly hated, gawking at pictures that were somehow related to him?
I am in control.
My breathing became labored, but then at ease. I strained my eyes as I held out the driver’s license far from me. I didn’t want to see too well. There was a face, his face; not an ordinary face as far as I could tell. It stood out. It was no composite of all the usual faces I would see around this place, this town. I could tell it was a legitimate driver’s license, at least deemed so by an untrained eye. I pulled out mine, placing more colored chips on certain parts of the license that I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to see an address. I didn’t want to know. I compared it with my license. It was legitimate. I was certain.
Returning the license back into its sleeve, I began to take each bill out, and segregate them into denominations. The window was open, and cold wind blew strongly, so I placed multiple chips on the piles of cash to keep them moored. It had been a long time since I felt as in control, but rewardingly outside of myself as I was now. There was more than $300 in bills. Was that strange?
No, it was not strange. The bills were not strange. The bills were in their coffin, with their serial numbers, and their dated watermarks. The coffin smelled of leather. I inhale a portion of the billfold, but then remember that it was on the street, and who knows where else, and stepped on by what, or touched by whom, and not to inhale too strongly. I was easily skeeved like that. There was nothing counterfeit about these bills. Flute’s bills were crisp. They smelled of a well printed Belgium book in soft Lebanese hands, the crema of the finger tips brushing against the hard of the bills. The hands are soft, the bills are crisp. The room is mine. The smoke from my cigarette has cleared. The songs within this coffin, the interstices of fortune, the living locks and dead keys, and the why I needed to isolate myself with this pebbled black wallet, that’s what’s keeping out any other noise, external or otherwise. It’s still quiet in the house.
I’m more than myself at the moment. There is a way to exit out of me, and not be lost. I am fully thrilled! Had I stumbled upon a gift from the universe that can’t be used in any store, that won’t be accepted as an offering to be allowed a seat at some glowing banquet where important— goodly shades have migrated to?
Flute, who are you? But the interest to know, to carry out the knowing, to get that semblance-fix and pretend to stand on some pieced together substance sated—- forget it! I forget it. Maybe I will just learn the notes that one mostly hears when they come across you Mr. Flute— before they see you, when they feel you. But I’ve never seen you. I don’t know if you’ve passed me by, and something was triggered off in each of us. I can’t call you Mr.! Your birth, my birth… Such things happen. Here is your wallet with me now. Inside, maybe a few notes from the score you came from, from the score you are.
Never mind the composer. Dead, alive, the laws, the judgement, the traitors, the substance, the trumpets, the desserts, the enemies that you were so built not to be, that defined you. In the room next to where I am, there is a piano, and I want to play with the pedals, and stare at the keys, but the wallet is where I’ve fixed myself as to a star that won’t return, that should go back sometime soon.
I’m readying myself to look through the slots and zippered rooms of this wallet. The score you were inserted in is seldom played anymore. Is that it? Maybe it has been reduced to some chamber music that still hasn’t been played. There is no one out there to hear. I’m ready. There was a brushing—a faint knock coming from the door. I will not be interrupted. I keep my eye on the wallet. I’m inside the unfolding. It’s my girlfriend’s sister knocking.
Here I am with what was more than some lost item, filled with what might have been mundane pieces of a puzzle that made nothing more discernable when put together. Could one put anything back together? Humpty dances, humping walls that weren’t there. You understand, please someone? I move around the room, now flapping the wallet around like an organ removed from a body. I wonder about the man who lost it, who left it, who… but more than just the man. My right hand touches my left hand, which is touching the wallet.
“Flute must be alive. Of course he is!”
I say it aloud. I surprised myself, and both hands come off the wallet. The wallet bulges a bit. I’ve mentioned the bills. I take out a twenty. I put it in my pocket. It is there, and I will know what not to do with it.
Is Flute anywhere? Then I no longer care if he is or not, but not coldly, merely soaking some essence of the owner of the wallet for all it’s not worth or worth, to move me out of me. I have retreated to this room with this wallet, and I will commune with more than just what comes out. I don’t wish this man to be dead in any way, or wonder about his afterwards (if he is not) as anything but a return to the return, and never mind rewinding the tape of Flute, or looking beyond.
I fish out a business card with a phone number on it. On the back of the card it reads Nulla L. That’s all I have for a name. Out comes my phone, taking a deep breathe in the room where I’m alone. Outside I hear my girlfriend’s sister with a glass of red wine. She says the name ‘Flute,’ gently, like a retarded witch in a Shakespeare production someone made up in someone else’s dream. She must be eavesdropping on me. Her voice is all heavy moth damaged, and the light it travels towards, lights up a cheap stage where a stammering comic sweats, imagining an audience. Let her wine-mill around. I’m with what anyone else could have found, and someone will again. That is not to say that it was planted by some bored non-carnal agent looking to fool an animal that thought it escaped itself enough, was miles ahead of the beast it was, or the garden bum that got fucked, ditched as things got gnarly, and no Homeless Candle Eddie to appear with a discounted candle, and some advice.
I will call Nulla L..? I trace a finger around the wallet, and think. It is so quiet now. I thank something quietly for the quiet, and am embarrassed for this thanking into the dark, but shirk it off. I put my fingers on the ink of the number under her name. I wait. She might have been nothing more than a tax advisor. Indeed, her name appeared on the back of a card that offered tax services. There was no name on the front of the card. There was an address under the business name.
Let me out of here. I can continue this elsewhere. I can walk to the address to see if Nulla L worked there, and see her face, watch her walk to her car, watch her walk out of everyone’s life. I could catch her on that day where she abandons herself. This is not in the cards. These are not the orders. There is no victory, or spiritual training, or fortune sculpting finishing school. The asteroid that misses the asteroid that hits this place, an egg to move, an egg to toss at a house, radical contingency, Halloweens that levitate your grief released. All of this fantasy is tightening too much for my body. All of whatever this is, making me stiff. I pull the number on the back of the tax card closer to my face. I begin to push the numbers to call her. I could tell her who I am, and how I got her number. I can skip the part about the wallet being down my pants earlier in the day, because who wants to scare poor Nulla L, who might have been in love with Flute at some point, or maybe she owes Flute money?
Yes, I’m the founder of some wallet, but why am I calling her? Rehearse a little please… I assume it’s a she. I dial, and wait. My girlfriend must be home. I hear noise downstairs. She’s screaming at her sister. They’re both sauced, or they’re having an argument. Their voices smash into mirrored buildings that can’t wake up. I ignore the screaming. The ringing is happening. I’ve dialed Nulla L! My heart quickens, and I put the rest of Flute’s money back in the wallet when I hear.
“Is this what you’re looking for?”
“Excuse me? Who are you trying to reach?”
“Who is this?”
“You dialed me. You dialed. This is N____.”
Her voice sounded like she had a few of these out of the blue calls in the recent past. Her voice sounded personal, scared, not distant or angry. I hear her say her name so full, the ‘L’s’ are tall, and sunning themselves. She goes on, but I simply say ‘I’m sorry,’ and end the call.
I don’t care if this was Flute’s lover. I’ve heard enough. I went through another dark little circle of where I am going with all this as I sit here with the wallet. Her voice was a bit of fuel that allowed the ride of the wallet now found— fuel of the wallet. Have I found anything? There is another way to get out of this room. I don’t want to walk out of the door, and go down the stairs. I look at one of the windows.
Seated again, I’m flipping through pictures in the wallet sheathed in plastic. I dare slip none out of a sleeve, except one. I can’t resist taking it out. It’s a photo of a young girl, maybe eight years of age, dressed as a character from a play I wasn’t familiar with. She was beautiful, making a soft theatrical face, looking into space. Her mouth made an ‘O’, and I wonder what she was bringing to life on that stage. The wallet started to take on the glow of her stilled promise, effulgent spirit shown in repose of a moment. It did not make me mindful of Flute as a father. I could only think about what her line might have been at that moment of her play, what mine was now. I wanted to converse with this wallet as a retired doctor to a sick woman asleep under papers in a park– checking for a pulse where an old headline covered a wrist.
Shaking the wallet, out came a luggage key, a small knurl of thin silver. I smiled, as this is where I keep my luggage key, slammed in an inner compartment, to be fished out when needed. There was no insurance card to be found. I looked very carefully, because I didn’t want to see certain details on whatever miscellaneous things might be discovered. Here were all the typical credit cards. They were all expired, most of them from not more than a year ago. Here was another folded piece of paper, carefully folded, as I remember girls folding secrets in classrooms before the era of the phones we know today. Perhaps secrets wrapped in paper are still with us today for all I know. The paper was of a heavier stock, carefully folded and colored. One side was colored the yellow of a duck’s bill, the other a blue. I loosened the paper, and opening it up felt so pleasing. It made me feel high to take it apart carefully, press the folds of the paper smooth with my hand. It was a letter. One line read “take me, but not again.” I didn’t want to learn the context yet, if there was one to be learned. Maybe all the lines would feel like apothegms to me, incomplete, or in need of more traveling, or maybe like a lost kiss from a now married woman teaching at an experimental math school in Illinois.
More noise downstairs. I unbutton a button from my shirt, and feel for sweat. There is, and I appreciate this sweat. A song about ‘time-traveler sweat’ stuck in an old medicine bottle, absorbed by cotton, comes back to me. I played piano for a band in college, and I wander back there now, because here is Flute’s College ID. I had to look at his face now. But strange! I see the side of his head. This Flute might have been a bit of a joker. He wore thick long sideburns as I did then. Profile, safe….I inspect more. He went to Tulane, and I wondered about attending college in Louisiana, and the day of the photograph as he decides to give his profile to the camera man. Was there an argument? Was the cameraman sauced with afternoon drinking, sauced like the girls downstairs? Tulane doesn’t mind. I don’t mind. I like Flute for this, or I’m simply thankful that I’m not punched out of this wiry place of contemplation where I sit now, as I sit now.
More items to take out of the wallet, but first I feel for the $20 dollar bill in my front pant pocket. Items to splay across the pale blonde coffee table: A car wash punch card, 10th wash free, a classically ‘U’ shaped magnet the size of a guppy, a Eubie Blake stamp in mint condition. I cut myself on something from within the wallet. It stings me. It feels like glass, and I’m staring at my finger with a bubble of blood forming, an actual tiny bubble with that stretched weak red glassy surface small and tense. I scrape away the lint and wallet debris that had settled at the bottom of the world of the wallet from my fingertips. There are more things to unpack. I hear steps being climbed. Is it four legs, the legs of sisters?
The window … I move to it, but not before returning the items to the wallet. Flute, you are not here. Flute you’re still alive aren’t you buddy? The questions come softly into mind, as I find myself popping the screen out of a window in this room. I place one foot on a chair, and sit on the window. It is almost 30 feet down to the grass. Gray and red bricks compose the face of my home, with the gray ones protruding out, enough so where one may get a decent footing on it. My father always gave me a hard time about that when I bought the house, robbers and such. But now I could use the gray steps to carefully get out of the house just like this. There was some sort of old metal piping that ran along the same length of my home that I stepped out into. Dizziness mingled with adrenaline, and I sucked in mucus that I wanted to spit out, but was afraid to expel, as I was now fully outside the window, about to climb down. I put the bulging wallet down my shirt after I had tucked it in. It couldn’t stay in my pockets. My girlfriend and her sister were both knocking on the door now, four hands knocking, and my legs and arms carefully moving, feet landing on gray bricks.
Well-made bricks you are! But I’m not as well made, or feel weak as voices get louder from in the house. Autumn wind spikes up, but the sun is still warm on my back moving slowly down the wall of home. I didn’t need to go out this way. I could have faced them, walk right the hell by them, and explain later maybe. I wouldn’t scowl, or look them in the eye. I would smile a little, and be off. I didn’t have orders given to me, but it felt as such sometimes, and the white of my fingers tips gripping the bricks were the white seen in the fat of a slab of ____.
I fall after scaling most of the distance, and screw up my ankle enough to suddenly anger me. With a ginger right ankle; I slowly move as fast as I can down Habeen Court with the wallet in my chest. I would catch a bus, or walk all the way to Cobra Park.
I felt invested with a peculiar mission, something felt as relieving as cold sand dug for, depositing ones feet within it, so much chatter on the shore about how the tide isn’t giving up today. I’m hearing such voices to keep me light. A retreat of blankets, and alarmed sunbathers lay down in my mind as I struggle to get to Cobra Park. I walk it. My new mission is to leave the wallet in a place where it might be found, and I’m not sure who will find it, and I don’t think anything mystical will lead me to the right place to drop it, to plant it.
There is a tiny magnet. There is a last name. There is a full face I’ve seen in profile.
The dates of birth, the dates of leaving the world, or just a wallet…just a wallet, remember.
There are expired cards. There was a woman who acted as a human bike post. I trusted her. She came through. She didn’t like me. It didn’t matter. She came through. Will I come through? There is no mission. There is a theme of sorts, trailing you, then you trail it, there are accomplices in the blind orders taken, and maybe not given.
I wondered why now, as I walked along. Why hadn’t I taken my bike? I blow off the question. I have my orders. I don’t know what they are quite yet. It feels good to laugh seriously as this notion runs through my body, bad ankle and all. Here is a place to deposit the black pebbled wallet. I reach into my shirt, a heavier fabric for the fall weather. There is not much foot traffic here in this zone of the park, with the water fountain that hasn’t worked for years and the one carving of lover names on a poorly drawn heart that moves me emotionally to see from far away. I’m coming closer.
Discovery—no discovery—- shall I make it easy or hard while planting this? Planting, like a bug as a spy—wrong word. This is no stupid game, but yeah, it feels like it sometimes. I don’t know the answer. I’m no mere peaceful solider being sent on an errant non-mission for the benefit of a universe that might have left me down its pants or shirt, walking itself into some coiling black unknown place that is itself, that is also me stuck in its slots, not lost, not to be reported stolen.
Before I answer my own question; I see a number of people moving towards me. Who were they looking for? Was this a peaceful mob? I see teeming people. They walk in unison. I can’t see their heads yet, down in this declivity where I have my hand in my… Flute’s wallet is already gone. My shirt untucked. I just untucked it as I was looking. I look down briefly where it is— mycological fencing hides it somewhat. The mushrooms are tall and wild, like the ‘L’s’ in Nulla L’s name, as I remember them standing up in my thinking, as I need to move on. Move on then. Was there a tree near the drop spot?
I move away as quickly as my bum ankle can take me, not because I’m fearful of being seen dropping this wallet that doesn’t belong to me. I knew it belonged to someone. The noise of the crowd is not pleasant though. They are nearing me. I walk slower, as the pain becomes more intense. I feel peace, and it’s alive. It’s not letting go, and I must sit down here for a spell.
Domenic Maltempi is a writer, and a member of The Whispering Olympian Band.
His latest story will be published by Hangman press in early May, and will be found here: http://www.h-ngm-n.com/cur_ent-i_sue