The air was odd. The salt sea, that algal tinge which seeps in upon early evening breezes was there but something more was woven within. Or perhaps, it was something absent. I noticed it when I first stepped out but unlike certain scents that melt into the normals as the nose turns accustomed, this one remained. Whatever it was, or was not, that anomaly was still there.
I walked on, along the sidewalks, around the corners, passed the other wondering art & culture searchers, sidestepping the peculiarity dawdling along just this side of my perception. A flitter caught my eye. The still-life mural towering overhead, the four-story brick façade of the theater center, its canvas, took a breath. The ballerina, the pinnacle of the painting spun into her pirouette. I stood fixated on her yet my eyes strained their peripherals, is anyone else seeing this? Passerbys, continued on, dodging my still-form, unconcerned by my haunted attention.
No one, no one else sees.
Am I alone?
Is this a thing within the usual?
Don’t any of you see?
The conductor’s hands took flight, his baton urging the orchestra to join. The trumpeter raised his horn and began to play as the bassist leaned into the hourglass form of his instrument working its cords.
I’m moving away before I realized it, my mind trying to catch my body. Ahead, doors stand open, a crowd presses inside. The quickening of my steps betrays a hope for reprieve from what was just seen. My arms pressed together as if in a prayer, shoulders rolled into my chest attempting to ooze through the crowd struggling through the narrow entry, polite grins were exchanged as en mass we all burst forth and spread out among hangings of art and sculpted freestanding forms.
Spun about by the gyre of the masses, the reprieve proved not to be, for I’ve caught the attention of something, something in collusion with that loitering peculiarity. I felt the thing before I saw it, felt it peering into me. I met its eyes, glinting in the waning sunlight streaming through the windows. A sow, a pig in the guise of a rusted, iron puffer fish. The thing gawked and, yes, even puffed at me. But, wait, was it at me?
Something gurgled and spat behind me. A cloud of stench followed, drawing tears from my eyes. A tap to my shoulder, I turn hoping it was someone else bearing witness to these oddities. Yet it was not to be, for I found myself confronting a gaping maw filled to grotesque absurdity with curved blades of teeth. Beyond the mouth, seemingly created as an afterthought, the body stretched tight around a head formed for the sole purpose of housing those teeth. Sprouts of fins and a tail were it’s only appendages save for one, a lure – hammered into a iron heart – germinated straight from its forehead bobbing like a carrot before a plow mule. It reached out and tapped me atop my head in a gesture begging my pardon to move aside so it may engage its counterpart. Engage in what I was unsure of but clearly refuge from these eccentricities was not in this place.
Beyond the open doors, down two blocks and along another my body carried me into Old Town. Sidewalks lay awash with people. People smiling, pointing to new shops, walking through and out of old ones, first dates walking hand in hand, people through windows sitting and sipping at the new wine bar. Security of the crowd.
Music just ahead, through the masses, across from the next corner. A band, a three-personer, strumming a cord strung on a staff set into a washbasin, a wafting saw its blade played by a viola bow next to the fluttering keys of an accordion. It brought a smile, temporary whimsy as a change set in. My vision shifted, a color cascade writhing according to the tune, with each pluck of the washboard cord, with each slide of the waving saw blade. To my right, across the street in the plaza where the pigeons gather, a juggler wavered between clarity and the blur of the background on a six foot tall unicycle. Amidst the off color cadence, set into a static moment in time I caught a sight of Gene Simons draped in leather and spikes guarding the ground upon which he stood. His painted face turned and stared into me, the rakes of black around his eyes bursting forth. I found myself fleeing on ungainly legs, shoehorning through the crowds, around the nearest corner and into an alleyway so as to catch an unstifled breath.
Hands on hips, pacing in meandering circles, pulling in full-barreled breaths my mind frantically rummaged through its clutter for what conjured these hallucinations. A clatter to my side, an old metal trashcan lid tottering to the ground. But there was no can, none but the one painted into the alley wall. A small coo of a meow then a hiss as the first one stepped from behind the trashcan, a cartoon cat, bedraggled and grinning. Another poked its head over the rim of the overflowing can, a stripped bowler cap propped between its ears. The two others appeared – one with an eye-patch and another smaller demure in white, a paw in a sling – as a fifth rose out of a cardboard box and propped itself upon a casual elbow.
A guttural growl drew me to the opposing wall, unbelieving there could possibly be more. Three dogs – pulled only from a Kricfalusi-esque animated world – poised themselves on hindquarters and stared across the alley, 3 pairs of lazy, goggly eyes trained on the street cats readying for another fight.
I’m running, seeking a way away from it, from the them, the oddities. My feet stumbled over and upon those of others filling the sidewalk, moving against me, in the wrong direction, not in my direction.
What must I look like?
Wide-eyed and running from nothing,
nothing anyone else can,
Then I fall, I’m falling through an opening in the crowd. Catching myself, I land on open palms, on something soft and cushioned. The space in the crowd, an opening covered with an oriental rug. Up onto my knees, a hand, not mine, its wrist wrapped in threads of yellow and green and red and black, palm up, a gesture of help. I take hold and rise up. The crowd swirled around us, skirting the carpet. A smiling face before me studying my eyes before dropping to a frown. Palms grasp my head, pressing my cheeks together. The other’s eyes peer deep into mine, “You’ve seen them too” it’s voice says. It smiles again. “So have we. Have some tea,” he says, with a step back, an outstretched arm inviting entry into a sanctuary, a short, white school bus parked at the curb, a sign at its door “Free Tea Bus”.
Inside, I sit with five others, all veterans of the strangeness. I’m served tea under the comforting soft glow of silk draped lamps.
Will this help?
It will relax you, I’m told.
But will I stop seeing them?
Nope, another says.
They tell me I noticed something different when I left my house tonight. They did, too. Something different, there or not there. They were unsure as well. They’ve become accustomed to the sign when it is there. They know on those evenings the strange things will come out. The oddities of the walk, they call them. Mia, the one reclined in the plush driver’s seat feet up on the dash, was the one who named them. They provided no answers just comfort knowing I was not the only one yet I concealed an anxiety that lingered realizing I was but one of the very few.
I stepped down out of the bus, the sanctuary of the seers – Mia claimed no credit for that one. Darkness had crept while I sipped tea and eased my distresses. The sidewalks had cleared, the crowd had slipped away to their homes or off to a place for late evening dining or drinks. I walked with apprehension, persistent despite the comfort of not being the only one. Under street lamps’ soft glow, across the way, through the windows immersed in the cool light, crowded into small tables, cups of coffee before them, the puffer pig sat across from the ballerina rolling to and fro laughing at her jokes. The bowler capped cat and his disheveled partner with the eye-patch talked between sips from their mugs. A google-eyed dog with a gold earring sat across from them along side the all-teethed iron angler fish absently dipping his heart-shaped lure into his cup.
A grin creased across my face at the sight before me. Laughter sparked from somewhere. I lifted my head to the sound before it faded away. I glanced once more through the windows into golden light of the oddities filled coffeehouse before turning back towards home.
A shifty, surrealist view of my hometown’s monthly Arts Alive! festivities.