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C.T. Ballentine


PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

In part 2 of this serialized novella, Nietzsche despaired over the loss of the love of his life -- and finally lost her. Professor Crabtree, Fried's arch-nemesis, was mostly silent. Ballentine is the man behind the Aftercrossword Special zine and a frequent contributor to THE2NDHAND. For more of his work, see the THE2NDHAND archive.

Goddamn man, for Strimmer it had been a pretty rough go of it for the last few. Night's worth of sickly sweet Strawberry Mad Dog and then goddamn Loraine, wild hair going this way and that like stuck in some of those goddamn curlers they give to bitchy broads in old-time movies, yelling nonsense in his ear. Time for you to get gone bum, time for you to hit the road. Whatever, lady. This time of year, fella can do just fine for himself with a cup in his hand, even better without having to choke down a bitter plate full of goddamn nagging for every meal. Winter comes, I gotta cousin down south let me sleep out in the shed -- like those east-coast fellas say, I'll be wintering. Man like Strimmer don't need the finer things, woman. He is content. You hear me?

This chipper-looking bag of air came floating down the sidewalk, had himself a finely trimmed little mustache, brushing any- and everything out of the way for his precious little upturned mouth. Kind of guy with those pants, the nice striped ones, tailored just so -- they flow with the leg. Like he steps up and the pants don't barely move: you don't see his ugly ankles, just a hint of sock and they're always taught, never riding down, falling into the heel so it's a goddamn disaster trying to walk anywhere. Man looked like a million bucks and old Strimmer's hoping, maybe he'd be in the mood to share a few of 'em.

"Whoa boy, somebody's having himself a good day."

"Sure am."

"What's the good news, brother?"

"Just rid myself of a cumbersome little amulet dangling round my neck, shining with the diamonds of her sex, like they were anything to fret over."

"Come again?"

"I kicked my old lady out."

"Well, all right then! Old Strimmer, man, just left my lady too, good to be free, ain't it my man?"

"You know it."

"Wonder maybe, you could help me out with a few bucks, I go celebrate my freedom -- whoo-wee -- good to be free!"

Strimmer gave him his best smile.

Friedrich Nietzsche thought for a moment, puzzling with a hand at his baby jowls, tweaked from the wind and a slight razor burn.

"Go fuck yourself. I'm done supporting leeches, my friend."

Fried walked towards the train.

"Well ain't that a motherfucker! Man, you better walk away! And best fucking watch yourself tonight, buddy, I see you round here out in the darkness I'm liable to whoop the living shit from you, man, you ain't never felt a whipping like the one you gonna goddamn get from old Strimmer!"

The taste of freedom light as the morning air on his lips, Fried rose up the escalator, the station's wooden frame heavy with the putrid stench of years of aimless derelicts passing away the nights. Fried: grateful for the little stand by the door, the warm cup of coffee the only companion he would ever need.

Wondering at my freedom, today it is fresh like the cream, sweet like the danish, but I have eyes for that to come, when it is like the blackness of this drink, bitter with its responsibility. And yet I stand prepared. For weaker minds, perhaps, this morning would seem the aftermath to a terrible tragedy. But most souls will never seek the truth, content as they are with pleasantries and fables. Let them litter the world, provide the backdrop for the genius, but for too long I have dwelt among them. I will not schlock my place in the world.

A train whisked by on the opposite track, the blank faces containing universes of sorrow and wonder. Fried, mind ablaze on a wild carousel of sleepless nights, jittery caffeinated hands, oppressive gurgling from the deep cauldron of his stomach spinning the damn thing ever faster, opening his mind's eye caked in sleep boogers and bloodshot paranoia. Seeing things in faces, the ghosts behind friendly facades: a man secretly hoping his girlfriend might forget his birthday so he could seal himself comfortably in a bubble of self-pity; a young college student wondering how the world of anonymous online sex might damage or enlighten her, whether it would hurt much, feeling the wanton tingle in her legs all the same while across the aisle a frumpy grade-school teacher shut his mind from the hidden realization that the only thing keeping his fist from flying into his new wife's fragile face each night was his ineffectual cowardice, his fear of the beast within. Fried looked upon the rooftops, each containing more and more of these stories, the galaxy, universes, a veritable eternity just outside his own home.

He belched. It did not make him feel better. Of a sudden Fried felt quite ill-at-ease with his world.

The train banged through demands for the purchase of Pepsi-Cola, Merrill Lynch stock insurance presented as the ultimate happiness. This train, as well, smelled putrid. Everything, it seemed to Fried, smelled terrible.

Life smells of decay, lives lost without ever having been lived. I want to shovel their remnants like coal into a fire. See if we can get this world going anywhere, or at least warm ourselves just a bit.

Making his way through a tunnel, crumpled men holding dime store instruments and blustering through romantic progressions from their childhood, when a window was all that was between them and the world. Court jesters, failed aspirations on display for the pity of the workers.

But who is more in need of pity?

Another train on the opposite track -- it never seemed this long before. Life: pie chart made largely of waiting and sleeping. We'd be better off as dirt.

Oh melancholy! Flee from my head! But I am as weary of this working life as I was of the woman, her scattered things on the ground, half gone by the morning, some to vagabonds, no doubt, but for sure the message was clear enough -- be gone. To you, listless work, I say the same. Be gone! As if such a cartoon needs advertising! It is already locked solid into the fabric of a cultural tapestry. In fact, one could argue it is among its very seams. An essence as true now as it was when dinosaurs roamed the world. Even cavemen burst with joy at the day's end, sliding down a dinosaur back only to find more trepidation at home. Slogging on like tamed rats at the carnival, promised the great Elysian Fields upon our deaths after lives spent wandering parking lots of boredom.

Thinking of Crabtree, Fried composed e-mails in his mind filled with sincerities, putting aside the frolics of their longtime war, not so much apologizing as shifting on a dime. Truth needed to be told.

The time is upon us, Crabby my boy, let us not hesitate, the fog now is lifted and the world, we have found, is not yet built entirely. Let's throw on a few more bricks before its too late.

Was it too late? Fried wondered. Were they too old, Crabbtree and he, to head out on a road trip, take in the sights and feast on junk food, live again?

Now inside a taxi, all was silent, a driver not one to mince words.

Just as well. How often do we ever have anything honest to say? We find the cracks in our days and pour into them talk of the weather, spare jokes, tinker toys all of them, things for children. Before too long they stain us, they spread from our pants to our bed sheets, consuming everything. How nice to meet someone who treats the cracks for what they are. Nothing.

Overhead a plane trumpeted on to parts unknown sending Morse code in its tailwind. We're always going somewhere, it said. Fried sighed.

I am grasping.

The office door creaking closed, the carpet not as comfortable as it might once have been, the lights cold and dull, Fried longed to polish his prize, let it shine again.

No use, here is the bitterness of freedom, a eulogy earlier than expected. The removal of rose-colored glasses. Enough of this!

To Crabtree he wrote:

Dearest Crabtree,
Our walls of banter are clusters, members of a set. Taken as a sum, they have this to say: Time to move! Let's go! I have an idea! Too long we have schlepped the knowledge of others, hoisting it in bags strapped to our weary backs. Today we create our own. Today the Flintstones find themselves with a new crew of writers. A crew of two. You and I. Today, the übermensch finds himself in the Stone Age. The Yabadabadübermensch! Meet me at the Marriot at 5PM.

Your waiting accomplice,
Friedrich Nietzsche

Desperate measures, a serious world, nowhere to hide -- in short: desperate times. Almost as soon as he had arrived, Fried beat his way from the office on to more important things, sliding down the dinosaur's back, feeling the joy of little children.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

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