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Contrail

It flies

If you look closely you will notice that many contrails appear a fraction of a second before their planes. Or at least this is what the man, well-dressed and handsome, told me outside the liquor store. Hats are for taking off, he continued, which today’s youth do not realize. Tell me more about the planes, I insisted, uncomfortable with the number of hats I’ve owned and never wore. He removed a notebook from his inside coat pocket and cleared his throat:

The real and imagined distances between our terrestrial lives and those in economy class are rarely bridged; these gaps in sensibility often contribute to a general confusion of velocities. Within the space of this confusion one can see — with careful scrutiny – the small ways in which cause and effect choose to deviate from their norms (though the whole thing tends to break down the moment one reaches for their camera).

I did my best to look incredulous without offending. He returned his notebook to its pocket and proceeded, with excruciating slowness, to point his other hand toward the sky. Before orienting myself to the line of sight he suggested I took a moment to stare at the fingernail of his extended digit — a carefully manicured inversion of standard form. Its edges came up to separate points and its tip receded back toward the finger. His nail resembled a pair of tiny abstracted horns, and were he to trace a shape in the sand, its lines would be doubled.

By resting my chin on his shoulder I could more accurately observe that which he was indicating: Neither the plane or its contrail, but a negligible disorientation between. After I gasped in mild astonishment he stepped aside, tapped his finger to his nose, and returned to the warmth of the liquor store.

 

Ben Conley

Nets

Bit of net

As has become my unwilling habit, I paced about at dawn and prayed to the purple light that sleep would come. When the fisherman came my way, I waved to him and asked him several questions. He proceeded to speak at length about the mending of nets, or rather he spoke briefly and I embellished the rest with metaphor.

You hear and do not hear, he told me. I related that this was why I could not sleep. You waste your time, he scolded me. I again explained that this was why I could not sleep. When I asked him to show how one casts a net into the ocean, he threw his upon me. In that very instant I fell to the ground and was unable to move for fear of becoming further entangled. The fisherman lit his pipe and stooped down to where I lay. This is the sort of thing that happens, boy, when you forget to take things literally.

Ben Conley

Finding the Particular

An old map

He held several iPhones in hands, shuffling them idly while keeping his eyes fixed on my forehead. I asked him about the state of the economy. Depends on the phase, he told me. Allow me to demonstrate. He laid four iPhones face-up on the table. On three of the screens were displayed images of American folklore (one being Paul Bunyon). On the fourth was a rotating model of some distant planetoid. The goal, he said as he lowered his eyes, is to find the particular.

Having stated the objective he flipped each phone upside-down with the practiced grace of a professional sharp. At times during the course of this game your eyes will swear these devices move on their own. You are allowed to believe what your eyes tell you in such moments, but only on the condition that you have not forgotten my one true name. At other times you will sit in awe before the wonderful deftness of my fingers, marveling at an illusion of complete control. Be warned! You are allowed to believe this only so long as my one true name is absent from your mind. If at any point your belief catches up to–or passes– itself, you will suddenly discover that you are alone. Behind you there is a fading map which I will take with me. In its place I will leave a litter of napkins and broken pencils for you to work out the figures, but your faith in the figure will be lost.

You may stop the delightful movement of these devices whenever you so choose, but your selection must carry with it the force of a wager. If the device you select is not the particular, all four devices will once more take up their dancing. This process will not end until you find the particular or I am forced to leave you utterly alone.

We will begin at your word.

Ben Conley

That Man

Man in profile with machine

That man over there is stacking tables too high by far. That man over there has put our hats on all the wrong pegs. He is not to be trusted. Do not trust him even when he breaks for coffee; that is not coffee he drinks. Look at the way he holds his cup: Watch him closely. Right there, did you see that? Troubling, very troubling. I suggest you move on. That man over there has confused his paperwork with the changing of the seasons. That man is not to be trusted.

Ben Conley

Today

Yes, this here.

Let’s talk exceptions and the standard rule of measure. We have our orders; we’ve checked the sequence. This day (yes, this very one) is ours for to give and take. From any window you can clearly see there is much to be deployed as we circle the planet. Our course is exceptional (so too, all our team-members) and we have calculated the correct lines of deviation. We see that future, so carefully scried in every sphere. We know what we must do (for the memo is already on your desk). This alteration calls for the most exacting precision one can find in a bespoke universe. Yes, there will be celebration, but for the love of God please ignore the interns. They know not what they do.

Ben Conley

Heat

 

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A child’s touch which brings to mind the dim wonderment of those early screens, but also a cactus whose thin needles guide you toward a thoughtful caress, releasing their private melody. It’s hot out. Too hot to brighten my phone any further. Too bright to have forgotten those knockoffs in my car. The hazy sight of your touch flits between a mirage and augmented reality. The unconscious squeeze of an empty Gatorade bottle serves to stimulate memory but also to aggravate my thirst. A padlock on the nearby pump does not move in the wind that does not blow. Twelve minutes down the road by car is where they have water and Mountain Dew in vending machines.

While driving I fail to remember how track five skips in the middle and that seven is an order of magnitude louder than six. I picture a thousand CDs scattered across the rocks of a petrified forest, or rather the trace of something 250 million years away. Will they crack the way a microwave can? My exit is Rainbow-something, which I miss. I drive in the wrong way but there is only one other car, windows tinted, Alaska plates. Vending machine is cheaper than I would’ve thought. Two bottles of water and a Mountain Dew. On a whim I open all three bottles and prepare to examine my sense of taste. Bottle one, bottle two, bottle one, bottle three, bottle two. Must’ve lost one of the caps. My car is still running, the A/C works well enough, and I wave bye to the man from Alaska even though I cannot see his face.

With my arm over the back of the passenger seat and my head turned to reverse out of the parking lot, I take a picture of myself looking away from the rear-view mirror and send it to you.

 

Ben Conley

Consultation

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Resting his head on a book of puns he asks me, What is the worth of a word?

I double check the figures on my napkin and give him my initial estimate excluding contingencies. His face tells me he can afford it, set in gold and ticking off the time in a strangely syncopated fashion. Opening a jar of jam he winks at our waitress, Excuse me M’am, but when is a door not a door?

Ben Conley

The Sometimes Sea

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The boy holds a can of coke and applies just enough pressure to be gifted the pleasure of crinkling. He pours the drink into a bowl and sets afloat a ship of folded paper. He sends away the cat and with sweet breath gives the ship to spinning. The little paper crew unfold their hands and brace against the fury. A light comes to life in the kitchen and whispers thoughts of lunch. The boy lifts the bubbling sea and stows away its maritime dream. Thinning galleymen forget themselves and fall away to sleep.

Ben Conley

At the Agency

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Yes sir, this fire works. I have it on high authority from the farthest lands that of course you may. Take hold and approach with me the center of the blaze. Here you will find the earth is warm, coaxed into being by all our brave initiatives. We offer quite the special for inquisitive and financially secure participants, that of course you may. It is quite simply the making of an allowance, of a unique privilege for one and only. Yes sir, this is you. This thing for you have cleared the directives and have found the proper implement. We deal in guarantees and the unquestioning. We can enable great turnings of gears and grease, but choose instead to lightly char the earth with concentric circles. You must see it is better this way. Come closer so you may see that of course you may. Please do not forget to breathe and this experience will soon belong to you and you alone. Yes sir, of course.

Bob Gatson

A Pile of Rocks

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Rocks in a pile gather in density, bind themselves to each other with borrowed gravity. They float a few feet above the ground. One by one an elderly gentleman removes rocks from the cluster. As each rock is removed the mass gradually takes on height. At the end of the day he will sell them for $4.99 a piece and the discerning shopper will recognize excellent opportunities for future investment.

Ben Conley

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