It is dark and a light drizzle falls on Paranoid Park, a small park stuck in the middle of North Beach. The name lingers on long after San Francisco's hippies took their last bad acid trip. Nowadays the park is living room and bedroom to many of the city's homeless. At the edge of the grass, next to the bench where he sleeps, a Shopping Cart Soldier dances wildly as if his feet were on fire. His name is Finn MacDonald. He is an Albanach, a sick Albanach, withdrawing from alcohol against his will. He grabs and pulls at his clothing, and beats himself violently about the face and head until blood trickles from his nose. He crouches behind his shopping cart hiding from demons he can see but cannot touch. He's familiar with the demons, knows them by name. They've visited him often over the last twenty-five years or so, ever since he left the war behind.
"Get away from me!" he screams. "Fuck off, ya bastards."
The fear in his voice makes me want to scream myself. I try to console him, but I just make him worse. After all, he still can't see me. I wonder if he ever will. All I can do is watch him suffer. When I'm about to despair, Arkansas, an old pal of his, now dead, comes running towards him. Arkansas's been sheltering in the nearby bushes, but when he hears Finn's cries he leaves his blanket beside his own shopping cart and runs to help his friend. Arkansas knows what's happening; he's seen it so many times before. He pins Finn's arms behind his back; he doesn't want his friend to hurt himself again.
"Is it the voices, Finn?" he asks. "Are the voices at it again?"
"Aye," says Finn. "It's that bastard Madman. I don't know what he wants wi' me. Do this, do that -- he's drivin' me outa my goddamn mind!"
Arkansas knows all about me too. Madman, that is!
"Here, have a swig at this," says Arkansas, offering Finn a half-empty bottle of vodka.
"Arkansas!" says Finn, "You're a darlin'! I didn't know yae were in there," he says, referring to the bushes.
Arkansas chuckles. "I'm always in there, you know that!"
Finn takes a long pull at the vodka bottle then sits down on the bench.
"I was nearly sleepin' myself," he says. "Then it started! That nigglin' voice tellin' me I'm killin' myself, tellin' me to get it together. Screw it, Arkansas, gimme another drink I'll drown that bastard yet!"
That's about as much credit as he ever gives me. All he seems to think about is how to drown me with his stinking booze. It breaks my heart, because I do everything I can to keep him alive. He should've been dead a million times, but I always manage to keep him holding on another day, just one more day. Because I do love him so.
Arkansas isn't the only one to hear Finn's cries of withdrawal. The police hear him too. They show up a few minutes later, flashlights flashing, nightsticks in hand, wondering what the hell's going on. Arkansas scarpers into the bushes again. They catch Finn, vodka bottle raised to his lips, chugging for all he's worth in a last desperate effort to get enough booze inside him to still the shakes. They handcuff him and, as they escort him to the patrol car, he shouts over his shoulder: "Take care of my shopping cart, Arkansas. Put it in the usual place." Finn is lucky; Arkansas's loyalty is beyond question; he stashes Finn's shopping cart safely in the usual place. But Arkansas's own luck ran out a few days later. A park attendant found him dead among the same bushes he slept under most nights, as rigid and stiff as a railroad tie. His killer had caved his head in, caved it in as if he hated Arkansas, and the contents of his shopping cart were scattered around on the ground beside him. The same miserable bastard stole his boots too. They were good boots, black boots with thick, leather soles. Arkansas was fond of his new boots.
On his way to jail Finn is in a panic. He doesn't have enough booze in his system. It'll be a long night in jail. The withdrawals will get to him. He'll have an alcoholic seizure! DT's!
"Fuck this bullshit," he mutters, straining against the too-tight handcuffs, sick and tired that it's happened again.
Some men aren't meant for war; their souls are far too old. They've seen it all before. The Albanach is just such a man. I knew it and he knew it the very first moment we stepped onto the red soil of Vietnam. I can say this with some certainty, with some impunity, for I am his soul, his spirit. I do know that much at least, though I don't know everything! But Vietnam's a million miles away now, and Finn's busy looking for his shopping cart.
He finds it, safe and intact, where Arkansas left it behind an abandoned building, a safe place they used whenever they needed to.
Finn lives in a small, compact world about ten city blocks or so in diameter. His world is centered at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Stockton Street. He stops to paint and panhandle there every day; it is his favorite spot, his moneymaker. Only rarely will he make a foray into the world beyond; it doesn't make much sense for him to wander anywhere else, because everything he needs exists within the perimeter of his circular world, a world so like the one he lived in while fighting the war. He doesn't have to guard the perimeter of his present world, but he doesn't venture beyond its boundaries either.
He likes to paint, but because he doesn't have a home, let alone a studio, he paints out of doors whenever he gets the chance. He simply ties a canvas or a piece of wood, or whatever other flat surface he might find, to the top of his shopping-cart, takes his brushes and paints in hand, and goes to work as if there were no tomorrow. Today he's working on a canvas given to him by a sympathetic student from the Art Institute. He rarely experiences such kind gestures in the harshness of his shopping cart world.
"Why, thank you, kind sir," he says, with such a condescending tone the student raises his eyebrows questioningly.
"Do you want it or not?" asks the student, his feelings hurt, his hand still gripping the stretcher bar.
"Oh, I do, I do indeed!"
"Then why are you being such a prick? I don't have much either, you know!"
Finn looks hard at the student, then smiles grimly, already regretting his condescension.
"Sorry, buddy," he says. "Maybe I just ain't used to such kindness. But at least yae acknowledged me, saw me; most of the time I'm invisible. People don't see me, y'know, an' they sure as hell don't see my shoppin' cart. I'm what you might call an Invisibility," he says with a throaty chuckle.
The student smiles too, and I burst out laughing myself when I hear Finn talking about being an Invisibility; it's an unusual term certainly, but an accurate term, though not usually applied to the still-alive.
Long ago Finn grew accustomed to the stares and the snide remarks of the commuters, and there are many snide remarks these days; his shopping cart home and his appearance, though threatening enough in themselves, are nothing compared to the intimidating images he paints. Everything he paints is bizarre and disturbingly unreal. He feels sure that most of the commuters are threatened by his presence on the corner, and when they tell him to "Fuck off!" or "Go back to where you come from!" he puts their bellicose barbs down to fear, fear that they themselves may be just a paycheck or two away from the same fate, then he'll shrug nonchalantly and go on about his painting.
He enjoys painting the people in his head, the Visitors he calls them. He's now busy painting a rather frightening image of me with chalk-white skin and a separation at the waist which looks both brutal and painful as if I'd been pulled apart, ripped in two by some awful force. Why the separation I don't know, but he seems to think it's important. He's got my body right though, for I am small, even my breasts, though they're plump and full. Blossoming, if you will, for I am young. He doesn't know who I am of course, since he hasn't seen me anywhere but in his mind; all he knows for certain is that I enter his mind, that my image keeps recurring in his dreams, and that he feels compelled to paint me.
He's putting the finishing touches to this latest painting when, out of the unusually overcast sky, another alcoholic seizure slams him to the ground without mercy, without even a nod or a tip of its hat in warning, his canvas and brushes flying wildly, his arms and legs askew, his head jackhammering against the cold concrete.
The commuters try to ignore Finn and walk around him as he lies on the hard pavement shuffling and shimmying around in his fit. A small pool of blood gathers under his head. When the convulsions subside he reaches out, shaking to his bones and, grabbing onto the end of his shopping cart, tries to pull himself up off the sidewalk. But he falls back exhausted, shattered. He feels as if he's just been stung with a cattle prod, for his body tingles head to toe, and a dull thumping pain pulses in the back of his head. He's pissed all over himself, and for a few long minutes he feels disoriented and confused, not knowing whether he's in San Francisco or lying on a sandy beach on the other side of the world.
"Are you okay, son?" an old woman asks. She stands before him wrapped in an old rag of a coat as worn as Finn's.
"No, missus," he says. "But I'll be fine."
"Should I call an ambulance; you look like you need an ambulance."
"No thanks, missus; I'll be fine, I really will! It's a seizure! Just another damn seizure!"
He feels like weeping. He's been on the streets, homeless and miserable for more then twelve years now, ever since Mary Quinn, his wife, left him, her own heart nearly broken at her inability to help him. When Mary leaves she takes their son with her too. Many a time, in his dreams throughout the years, Finn sees Mary leaving their home with their son, Finn Johnny Quinn. She always carries the same heavy suitcase in her hand, her head bent low, tears streaming down her face as she trudges along the street, away from their home, away from him, the child hanging onto her sleeve, wondering what the hell's become of his quiet, safe life. The look on his son's face when he turns to see his father in the window of their home is etched upon Finn's heart forever. Not even in his wildest dreams could Finn imagine Mary leaving him. He is ultimately filled with wonder when she does, because his most far-out dreams of her have been so fantastic, so poignantly intimate they tell him only that they're meant for each other and that nothing in the world could ever come between them. Then the alcohol does, and so too does Finn's consequent withdrawal into himself.
"You're swallowing yourself whole," Mary tells him as she stands before him, hands on hips, her dark eyes ablaze with anger.
"Bit by bit, feet first, past your gut, and now you're up to your neck. One more swallow and you'll be gone. I don't want to see that, Finn," she told him. "I don't want to see you disappear inside yourself."
Then she left.
She was right too, because I saw the swallow coming myself. In truth, I do the best I can to help him allay the inevitable, to make the inevitable less destructive; it's a hard thing to watch a man swallow himself whole, feet first, all the way up past his stomach to his neck and the last fatal swallowing, gone forever into the hole of his retreat into himself.
He's lost all of his old friends too, and he hasn't been back to Alba since that first time after the war. He hasn't seen any of his family in over twenty years and none of his American friends can take his self-abuse any more either. Their love for him is so much they can't bear to see him continue to kill himself with booze. Not even for one more day. It's too painful by far, because they know that, ultimately, he's a decent fellow with a strong urge to live peacefully. It is too great a burden for his loved ones to witness his destruction. Nor can Mary and the child continue to watch him die so slowly, day after day. He finally leaves all of them behind. His struggle will have to be gone through alone. All that keeps him from swallowing himself whole is his need to paint those wild and bizarre images he loves so much. The painting seems to keep him rooted in something resembling life. He took up painting just after the war and it seems he must paint his life story on those flat surfaces. He knows intuitively that there's something beyond himself which compels him to paint, that there's a reason for his existence after all. He paints for his life, from the inside out, needing somehow to communicate. It's all that's left and he holds onto it with a quiet desperation.
Finn is tall and thick as an oak, yet, at the same time, he's nimble on his feet. He has coal-black hair gone grey, and blue Keltic eyes. At best, he looks ten years older than his forty-five years, though he feels older even than that.
As he picks up his brushes and paints, he wraps his tattered coat more tightly about him. He still has some pride left, and his incontinence embarrasses him. He stinks. Stinks of piss! Piss is a death smell. Dead bodies smell of piss. "I smell of death," he mumbles through a resolute grimace. He's been trying to stay away from the bottle, trying to quit drinking, but without medication a seizure is inevitable. Nowadays at least. He knows that to be true because it's happened so many times before, but he wants so much to quit drinking that he feels the risk worthwhile. Maybe now, he thinks, I'll be okay; I've had my seizure. Then he thinks back to the jail cell.
He remembers having one, probably two, seizures in jail. And he remembers the hallucinations and DT's setting in during withdrawals. Another seizure is certainly possible too, though he's never experienced a doubleheader before, let alone three in a row. He wonders whether his brain will remain intact if he has another seizure. Maybe this time he'll have a heart attack or a stroke, maybe his mind might snap.
But, no, it's just the drunk-tank again, arrested once more, dead-drunk in public, arms and legs shackled to the wall of the cell, his head hanging low, wondering why he can neither live nor die, wondering why he can't stop drinking, why he has to be arrested again and again, marriage broken, life a shambles, drunkdrunkdrunk! Overwhelmed with fear!
I'm there in the cell beside him, filled with grief at my inability to help him. Everything he experiences, I experience, though I see only the pictures, hear only the sounds; I never feel the pain he feels, though my breasts ache knowing what he's going through. I become angry with him at times. "Take me back, damn you, take me back!" And though there's a stirring of loss somewhere inside him, a feeling of something not quite right, he refuses to open up his thick, fat heart.
As I watch him, a cockroach moves across the floor, turning first this way then that, searching, searching as Finn is searching.
He looks up and, seeing a Grotesque walk into the cell, screams with all his might. He can't believe his eyes. She is tall and thin, a hag, as ugly as sin, whose single breast droops to her navel and drips an ugly, green putrescent liquid; her lipless mouth shows long, sharp teeth. Yet even though she's lipless, she can still smile in a chilling sort of way, which she now does as she walks over to Finn who has fallen silent, petrified beyond speech or even sound. The hag smiles her grotesque smile. It is a calm and determined sort of smile which makes it all the more chilling. Then he notices her eyes. They are red, malevolent red, and almondshaped.
She approaches him in a demonically sexual way, first sticking her dripping wet breast into his mouth trying to make him suckle and, failing that, kisses him passionately with her lipless mouth. Then she begins to rub his cock as if it were her own, slowly, softly, arousingly as Finn, screaming silently, stiff in his shackles, knows he is about to die or go to hell. The Grotesque loosens his shackles one by one and, terrorized, he finds his voice again and screams as loudly as his lungs will allow. As soon as she has untied the last shackle, the Grotesque picks the Albanach up in her long wiry arms and backs off toward the door of the cell.
Finn becomes even more rigid and screams harder than ever, but to no avail, for the Grotesque holds him ever more tightly, determined to take him from the cell; with each step backward she takes, he grows stiffer, struggling for his life. When the redeyed bitch Grotesque reaches the door of the cell, it flies open with a loud crash, but no matter how hard she tries to pull him through, he won't budge. He remains as stiff as a brick and the Grotesque pulls and pulls, battering him against the doorjamb. For long minutes she batters the brickstiff Finn against the doorjamb, growing angrier by the minute until, at last, in a complete rage, she throws the Albanach to the floor where he lies weeping and sore, thankful he's still in the Land of the Living, thankful that his will has somehow been stronger than that of the bitch Grotesque.
When Finn first notices the walls and floor of his cell moving he thinks it might be an earthquake; when he sees a number of Grotesques, both male and female, climbing out of the crevices created by the movements, he knows his mind is slipping or that it is indeed time to go to hell. He scuttles, crablike, into the middle of the cell floor, but these Grotesques are many, and they look just like the first Grotesque, red eyes and all; they grab every part of him they possibly can and, as he screams and kicks, they pull him down into the hole in the floor -- the magical Saigon City in the Maygone month of June long-gone as down and down he goes into the hole.
All I can do is go with him.
Many of these Grotesques are naked too, and of those that are naked, their genitals have been horribly mutilated. The rest of them wear silky black pajamas. They are strong, and they carry Finn high above them as they travel through the dark, dank places of the jungle until they reach an encampment of sorts, surrounded by trees, lit with bonfires. In the middle of the encampment sits a bier, upon which they place him. When they've tied him down they dance around him, chanting all the while.
I am helpless, unable to interfere directly, though as I always do, I try to go inside him, try to fill him up.
As an Empty who became so through no fault of his own, Finn has an opening through which he can still receive messages from that of which he is empty. But, though he's open, he is more closed than open. He trusts nothing; he trusts no one. He manages to receive just enough of my signals to save him from complete and utter destruction.
The Grotesques continue their ritual of dancing and chanting around him. He has now calmed down somewhat, resigned perhaps to whatever fate might befall him. Wide-eyed, he watches a small group of his adversaries dance towards him, wide grins on their faces, their red almondshaped eyes bright and malevolent. He feels sure he knows those eyes the Grotesques all have in common. He's seen them before. Images of the dead soldiergirl in the jungle come back to him. He sees again her head being lopped off by Romeo Robinson's cleansweeping machete, and he sees again the bewildered look on her face as the life leaves her. But he knows those eyes from another place too, from somewhere in his far and distant past. Another life perhaps. He knows intuitively that those red, malevolent eyes belong to He Who Walks Only At Night, and that these Grotesques now surrounding him are the disciples of that very same Redeyes. Finn has seen Redeyes before. He knows him! And when he notices the mutilated genitals of the naked Grotesques he knows he's seen them before too.
Tied down as he is to the bier, he is a prisoner. They've caught up with him at last. Payback time has come for sure! Ivy league, Johnny Quinn, Frankie Chen, Tommy-up-front, Romeo Robinson and all the rest of the youngdead soldierboys he knew in Vietnam will forgive him at last; he is about to join them. Perhaps now he can rest, find some sort of peace.
He stares up through the treetops at the vast, unfamiliar sky with its countless unfamiliar stars, and he's afraid. The treetops frighten him. That's where snipers live. Maybe they're still up there in those treetops, he thinks. Maybe they've been up there all this time, waiting for me. "Help me. Oh, God, help me," he whispers through half-closed lips. He hopes the Grotesques won't hear him, won't see him looking so terrified, won't hear him beseeching his God. But they don't seem to be too concerned with what he feels or that he is afraid. They just do things to him. They take off all of his clothing and smear him with a foulsmelling oil. The oil smells like piss, like the smell of a newlydead corpse. And they touch him. They run their hands all over his body. All of them touch him. Over every inch of his piss-smelling body, all the while chanting their strange incantations. Perhaps they rub him with their oil because he too will soon be dead. Perhaps that's why they touch him.
They touch the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands; they run their tongues over his belly and his balls and down the inside of his thighs. A female Grotesque takes his cock into her mouth and Finn becomes aroused as his enemies make love to him underneath the countless unfamiliar stars. I'm making love to the enemy, he thinks. "They're fucking me," he murmurs. "They're raping me, for chrissake!" Then the youngdead soldiergirl with the lopped off head walks over to the bier and holds her head just above Finn's face. She lowers the head, and her cold lips, smiling faintly, find his and kisses them, her now-red almond eyes burning with a fierce passion. She kisses him, kisses him passionately, lovingly, then slides her tongue deep down into Finn's throat. Tears fall from the Albanach's eyes and the huge heaviness of impending doom wraps itself around his insides. He closes his eyes and waits. Nothing happens. On and on goes the droning sound of the unintelligible chants, hypnotic and spellbinding. On and on go the mesmerizing dances. Finn can smell the fires now, can smell them now more than ever. What's that? he wonders, then realizes it's diesel fuel. I can smell diesel fuel. They're gonnae burn me. They're gonnae burn me like a lamb. Then he shouts as loudly as he can: "I AM INNOCENT!"
The youngdead soldiergirl, now busy licking Finn's balls, looks up, momentarily startled, then her disembodied head smiles. A number of the Grotesques gather around Finn and untie the ropes around his limbs. Soldiergirl barks a few loud commands to the Grotesques who then grab Finn more tightly, more violently than before. At Soldiergirl's command they drag him over to a huge boulder lying near the funeral pyre. His fear is all-consuming, suffocating and terrible, like childhood fear, but he daren't make a sound lest he anger his captors, lest he goad them to worse violence. The Grotesques each take a separate limb and pull Finn's naked body across the rock, belly down. That done, they tie his arms to stakes hammered into the ground, then do the same with his legs.
The Grotesques begin a hypnotic dance around the rock. They begin again their strange chants, but this time the chants have more of a musical quality to them. Some of the Grotesques hold candles; some hold hollow pieces of wood with which they beat out a dance beat. Finn watches them, too terrified to move. Then suddenly the dancing and chanting stop. He is certain his end has come. Quietly, the Grotesques sit in a circle around him. They sit there for a long time whispering to one another, pointing from time to time to the wide-eyed Finn. A hush falls over the clearing so suddenly he can hear even the insects in the grass nearby. Then a loud, throaty, gurgling scream rips the night apart, followed at once by a choir of nightmare voices mumbling unintelligible sounds. The Grotesques directly in front of him break the circle and part to either side of a small path leading out of the thick trees.
The ropes around Finn's wrists and ankles are so tight he thinks he might rip apart at the waist. Struggling is out of the question. It occurs to him that the image he often paints of the splitapart woman is similar to the way he now feels about splitting apart himself. He wishes the Grotesques would just let him go, let him go back to his jail cell. Anything would be better than lying here trussed up like an unholy offering. He feels helpless and, naked as he is with his bare arse sticking up in the air, more vulnerable than he's ever felt in his entire life. Why are they doin' this to me? he wonders.
In a moment, more hair-raising screams. It's an animal, he thinks. It sounds like an animal screaming. Then out of the jungle steps the female Grotesque who came to him in the cell. She is naked still and her single breast continues to drip its horrible putrescent liquid. But this time her whole body is adorned with golden chainwork, and in her hand she holds a golden cord. Three feet behind her, attached to the other end of the golden cord, walks the biggest Billy goat Finn has ever seen. His coat is shiny and jet black and he stands fully three feet high. The horns upon his head are nearly a foot long. The Billy goat has been brushed so that his coat has a beautiful sheen to it, and his horns and cloven hoofs have been manicured until they shine like polished ivory. The billy goat's eyes are red.
The Grotesque walks over to Finn and lets the Billy goat stand there looking at him. Then the Billy goat licks his face, almost making him collapse with fear. The billygoat's foul breath reminds him again of piss and some kind of hellish decay. The stench is so bad it conjures up images of pus, open sores and feasting maggots, as if he's stumbled upon a week-old battle scene in Vietnam. He heaves, but nothing comes up, except more horrible memories, each heave bearing with it another grisly picture.
The female Grotesque kneels beside the Billy goat and rubs its cock arousingly. The Billy goat snorts and grunts with pleasure and the Grotesque drools dementedly. Some of the other Grotesques become agitated and excited while moving toward Finn. They massage him with more of their pissoil until he is covered with it and dripping once more. Then they spread the cheeks of his arse wide and apply the oil there too, all the while chanting and moaning to the hypnotic beat of the drums and the sounds from the other Grotesques. Finn stiffens when he feels objects enter him. He begs his lord God in heaven to please help him and don't let this happen. He continues to heave up memories, and as the remainder of the Grotesques dance in front of him, holding onto their mutilated genitals, Finn's mind roams somewhere up in the trees of a Vietnamese jungle twenty-odd years before, It is all so familiar.
At last, the female Grotesque leads the Billy goat away. Finn feels a sense of relief wash over him, and he is thankful. He is so afraid, so exhausted, he can't scream any more. Then he hears the snortings and gruntings of the Billy goat louder than ever. He can hear the drooling of the bitch grotesque too, and he becomes terrified all over again. What are they doing back there? he wonders. What the fuck are they doin' back there? The grunts and snorts of the Billy goat grow louder still. Finn hears and feels the Billy goat clamber up onto the boulder, its forelegs resting on the rock on either side of him. He knows then what they're up to back there. He struggles, but to no avail. His greatest fear is realized when he feels the Billy goat force itself into him. Finn is sure his insides are burning, and he can feel the Billy goat all the way up in his stomach as it rips and tears into him, filling him with its vile, demonic expulsion. At long last he is able to let out a long, heartripping scream, and all the birds in the jungle for miles around rise into the air all at once and beat their way frantically away from the hellish clearing in the jungle. Finn, mercifully, gasps and collapses into unconsciousness.
After the Billy goat has had its way with him, and after the Grotesques are done with him, they untie the Albanach and throw him down onto the ground where they clean him and attend to his wounds. They are most gentle, and treat him with respect as if he were a prince or a god, or even one of them. The Billy goat is nowhere to be seen, although his smell permeates the clearing.
When the cleaning is completed the Grotesques help Finn dress, then they hoist him once more above their heads as if he were indeed being carried along, alert and alive, on top of a funeral pyre, his own funeral pyre. They walk back through the dark places of the jungle. They continue to chant their mad sounds as they enter the pitchblack places again, and when they reemerge once more back in Finn's cell they throw him into a corner, done with him. Waving cheerfully, the Grotesques disappear back down into the crevice just as quickly and as suddenly as they came. When the last Grotesque jumps into the crevice, the floor closes up and becomes as solid and flat as before. Finn sits in the corner shaking and crying, and knows he has lost his mind, that it has slipped down that very same crack in the flatagain floor.
He remembers every detail of the experience, from the Grotesques and their chantings and ravings to the clawing and sucking of his genitals, to the Billy goat buggering him. All of it. Even the smell of the diesel fuel and, worst of all, the smell of piss -- a sure sign that a newlydead corpse is close at hand. He is wet too. He reaches down and feels the wetness at his crotch. I've pissed myself, he thinks. Goddamit, I've pissed myself. Maybe it's blood. Nah, I've had a seizure. He feels numb, exhausted, his mind fuzzy. He wonders how long he's been lying there in the drunk tank. There are no windows; he can't be sure. Must be hours, though, if I've had a seizure. He hears the sound of wood being pulled across the bars of the cells, accompanied by a loud, brash, official voice, dripping with sarcasm.
"Rise and shine, gentlemen. Time to go home to your nice cozy beds!"
Finn smiles, thinking of his home. He wonders whether his shopping cart is safe. He remembers telling Arkansas to hide it in the usual place, just a few hours before, when they were taking him to jail.
Dragging himself up off the floor, he stands by the cell door, shaking and trembling for want of a drink. He waits until the jailer lets him go, lets him go out into another day of shopping cart madness, in search of his ever-elusive bottle of peace and tranquility.
Still trembling for want of that same drink, he holds his shopping cart tightly lest he fall and crack his skull again. He trudges along Columbus Avenue toward Paranoid Park. As far as he's concerned, it's the safest park in San Francisco. "For a no-hoper like me," he once said, his voice thick with irony, and a strangely rebellious smile, childlike, creasing his face. He repeats his dictum as he walks, pushing his shopping cart, all the while noticing the distasteful and sometimes menacing expressions on the faces of the people who pass him on their way to work.
"The hell with them," he mumbles. "They don't know a god-damned thing about life anyway."
And so he truly believes, for Vietnam taught him, in a twisted sort of way, everything he'll ever need to know about life, about living. It's funny, he thinks, how death and killing can teach us about living, even about how the hell we ought to live. It has made him more honest with others, less able to hurt another human being. But at the same time, the war did something to his very being, something inexplicable and mean.
He came back from Vietnam feeling empty, unable to smile, unable to mix with people for very long. Crowds of people in particular. Mary stuck by his side for as long as she could. Far longer, perhaps, than any other woman might have done, but she burned out too; she couldn't take it anymore either. Not even Mary who was always staunch and strong. It didn't matter that he'd known her more intimately than he'd ever known anyone. Or that he'd known her for such a long time too. She left him because she had to.
Shortly after leaving her in Hawaii, Finn saw Mary in a dream and, as soon as he wakened, wrote her a letter describing the dream. When he was sure Mary had read the letter, Finn called her in Boston where she lived with her family and asked her to marry him. She accepted immediately, as if she'd been expecting his call and his consequent proposal.
Ever since their first meeting, Finn had felt as if there had been some sort of inevitability to their relationship, and his dream had confirmed this. They were meant to be together in a strange and inexplicable sort of way. But the dream had been beautiful after all, and the resulting letter equally so.
Pushing the rattling old shopping cart in front of him, he thought back to the day he sent Mary her letter, a wry smile creasing his face as he remembered the dream. He stayed up most of the night trying to make some sense of the craziness he experienced in the dream. And it was craziness, but a craziness of such beauty and wonderment it shook him to the core. How could he have known they once loved each other in such a far away place, and in such a distant time? Later in life he would laugh at how ridiculous his dream had been, and how hopelessly romantic they were to believe it, to fall for it.
"I saw you in my sleep," he wrote. "You were beautiful then too. We stood inside an old, old cottage with a thatched roof. Perhaps it was in ancient Ireland, or in the Highlands of Alba long ago. I'm not sure. We stood at a long table covered almost completely with herbs and potions of various sorts. We mixed and measured them as if we were apothecaries. The people of our village came to us and gave us things we needed in exchange for the potions they needed. We were healers or we were wizards; I'm not sure which. Every time I looked up at you as we worked, you would smile knowingly at me and I would burst out laughing. I remember in my dream wondering what it was you knew, what wonderful knowledge you had, that made me laugh so much. We were happy, Mary. I do remember that much at least."
But that was the crazy part of the dream. He actually felt he knew her in some other life. He keeps a beautiful picture of Mary in his head, and an overwhelming feeling of love for her in the pit of his gut. Still, to this very day. After meeting her in the world of his dreams, he came to feel for her a love reserved only for impossible stories and poems too good to be true. He now knows differently, knows that loving Mary is possible because, in the dream, he experienced Mary's passion, her passion for living, and for him. He felt her love for him, so strong back then when they were young.
That's all he thinks about now as he trudges along Columbus Avenue pushing his damned shopping cart ahead of him. And that's how it's been for the dozen years they've been separated. Hell, he thinks, I don't even know if we're divorced. His hands, unclean from days without a decent wash, tremble and shake as he grips the plastic handle of his cart, and tears roll down his bewhiskered face. "Fuck off," he mumbles to the world about. "I'll cry when I need to. I'm cryin' because I'm thankful, thankful that I'm still alive in some sort of way at least."
"I even love you!" he screams, scaring the daylights out of a Bureaucrat hurrying along on his way to work.
"Oh, Mary," he says. "Where are you, because I miss you oh, so much!"
He stops and leans against the wall of a shop. From his shopping cart he pulls out a small package, neatly tied with a thin red ribbon, wrapped in a covering of soft purple velvet. The picture, the picture of his darling Mary within. He kisses it and looks briefly at the letter inside, all worn and stained from much reading. But he knows it, word for word, by heart. And he remembers mailing it to her, after making love to her in Hawaii, knowing that his love for her is his to keep forever. His first love letter to Mary, naive and true as all first love letters must be, full of such high sentiments. Do you remember, Mary? he wonders.
But there's no need to ask; Mary remembers the letter too, though more vaguely than he. More comes back to her the longer she lives with Finn, the Albanach; more comes back to her as the years pass by. She loves him for being such a dreamer. But he lives less and less the more he drinks his awful potion, his awful anesthesia. Mary gives the letter back to him when she leaves.
In spite of everything, Finn won't die. He refuses to die. Some kind of hope, some kind of faith, holds onto him and refuses to let him go. He knows this, he knows there is some reason for his continuing to walk the face of the earth, even if he is homeless and mostly drunk. But he truly believes he can kick the alcohol and return to life. There is something about his past, something about his Keltic ancestry, that nags at him constantly, unfailingly, and keeps him from completely destroying himself.
The grass is dewdamp in the park, for it is still early morning. Various groups of Chinese people are up and about as usual, practicing their taichi exercises. Groggily, Finn looks around the park and, finding a quiet corner, pulls his sleeping bag out of his shopping cart. His old, filthy sleeping bag. Kinda like a bodybag, he muses. Just jump into it and zip it up. Simple! He calls it his hotel room. But with a suddenness that astounds him, he feels another electric shock hit him as if he's been whacked across