MIME FROM BIRTH
tom was 20 when i first became infatuated with him and 21 when they saw the last bubbles float to the surface beside the burning remains of his boat. in that short time, i felt that i had gotten a better sense for his character than any of his contemporaries. i first saw the article in the new york times magazine. it was a 300 word affair. a quick blurb peripherally mentioning him in the context of some hollywood flop, but something about the way they classified him caught me off guard. he was billed as a "mime from birth." as time went on i would come to realize he was merely a nihilist mute. i myself was one of two siamese twins joined wrist to back, but i'd always taken to labeling myself a ventriloquist.
"Look. I've been coming here a while, Pete. And I love your usual stuff. Really. But you're sure you don't have anything with a little more...kick?"
"'Keck,' heh?" he chortled. "Yer' Oi surpose Oi know whutcher arfter."
He rummaged around in the little shoebox full of glass canning jars and screw-top former shoe polish tins 'til his fingers flitted over something small made of blue glass and stoppered with a chapped looking bit of rubber. He took it up, as if to read the peeling label, and then instead of bringing it towards his mole-like face (and the smudgy lenses that magnified his pupil-less eyes into hazy hemispheres protruding softly from the clammy-looking folds of his ecsema-marred cheeks like scuffed-up doll buttons nestled in a pile of well-marbled, thin-sliced prosciutto) he shook it gently and seemed to listen for the response. When he finally spoke it came from deep within him. Almost like it wasn't him at all.
"...'mamber 'e yad thes red sturf. Callt 't 'JENN-jar.' Enny thot et wor hullarf. Sum koinder joib 'gainst meh'n haccounter Oi gottarla thes foin red 'air...'
(This sealed it, as he distinctly hadn't).
"...Lukt loik herazer durst. Oi 'mamber'r wor tooervussat wor hopen' t' go en honnet t'gather. Oi yaskt 'em hubbouter proice 'n 'e swurr Oi wudn' wannet. 'Whoizzat then?' Oi yarst'm. 'Wud'n the trep darnce? En surposing et ded, wud'n not Oi be hullong weth 't fer th'enjormant?' Well 'e thot hubbout et fer a mennit. Fext 'es ois onna florren got thes for arf luk. Thenny jurst koiner...."
The little jar fell back into the box. The noise drew me back into the room, but it was like waking out of one dream straight into another. We sat looking at each other. Or at least I sat looking at him. He seemed catatonic. Now and then his eyes darted, if you could really call it that, so penned in were they on all sides by the grand sweep of his mottled cheekbones; dwarfed in scale by contrast with with his massive spectacles. He looked no different in most regards I suppose than when I'd come in and found him, gazing rheumilly at a bare patch of the floor. Only now his tongue didn't dart out intermittently to reseat the cigarillo in the fizzure that masqueraded as his mouth. Now instead it smoked itself lazily in the little tin foil ashtray at his side.
"Having an acid flashback?" I laughed, nervously, not wanting to dredge him out too quickly lest he bring some violent hallucination back with him. Instead he seemed to simmer. I wouldn't have been surprised if he'd hissed and chattered a little like water in a kettle.
"Well, this is 85," I said, putting a tight roll of bills in the mouth of an old frog-shaped porcelain sugar dish by his arm. "If you want more for it, next time I'm here you can tell me. I'm going now." I grabbed the little blue jar. His eyes bulged a little and watered. Presently, he did seem to hiss a little. "You're a funny guy, Pete," I said, mostly to myself. After I got out onto the street I heard a soft thud, like a chair tipping over onto a rug. If he wanted me out so he could scoot furniture around, I thought, he could've said something instead of putting on that mummy act. I never saw the smoke curling out through the silk scarf curtains, past the sash and, building slowly at first, up along the fire escape. I was already around the corner and down the subway by the time neighbors ran to the deli across the street to call the fire trucks. And even now as I sit here, holding this curious blue bottle, considering by what means I shall coax it into my bloodstream to perform the alchemy about which it has been softly whispering to me, I don't know old Pete is dead and instead sit staring at a knot in the floorboard only wondering what ever happened to his friend, or the friend of whoever was speaking through him.