Helium Man sent us a message yesterday. It was overloaded with the words “you” and “therefore.” It wasn’t the happiest of messages. Spring came with it. That made us sad. But spring wasn’t the only thing that swept in on Helium Man’s titanium coattails. We had aluminum-lined conversations. A boat ushered in Up-All-Nights and Can’t-Live-Withouts from a tidy swale. Names changed. People’s hair got erased and then added back with graphite mechanical pencils. Helium Man was urgent in his request. We all felt the urgency like an updraft from the subway train in our hair. Backpacks were tossed into heaps. Reds colored June. Essay questions were jumbled while cross-country skiers were cross-examined. It was flyswatter weather, and we were the flies. Helium Man put us out of our pleasure. Cooled to superfluidity, Helium Man made spontaneous plans to escape the rub of potential energy for good.
Nobody had juggled with Take-It-For-Granted. Rifles expired. Then a moon of Last-Thing-To-Do-Before-Leaving-The-House went on a coffee break. Trapping what was left of our courage in quail eggs made any kind of Go-Against-The-Underdog impossible. Went-Out-With-The-Trash stumbled into Bad-To-See-You. Helium Man took a blade from his sock and rubbed it against the Half-Dollar dispenser, which was painted with wine-white and burgundy stripes. Second-Least-Reactive answers came and went, solidly, for what seemed to us about less than an hour.
Helium Man has a good left hook. He wears matching silver gloves. A certain tin-foil lambency imbues their livelihood-making. They are not boxing gloves, but have a similar fist-like dynamic. The sound his lips make when he breathes is like tiny wooden elephants being whittled out of discarded desktops. He is not too heavy, Helium Man. When he walks in his partridge-feather boots it is like desert sand is beneath him.
At times Helium Man will show some compassion. Other times he will be serious and sad only. It is told that a power-tool salesman confronted him one cloudless muggy forenoon, spilling his motor-oil-scented wares with a choked deliberateness. Helium Man told him, “If I were a possibility, river rafted through White-Russian rapids, I’d shake the bread crumbs from the tablecloth and move on. Again, we’ve got to lose our faith in the minor things, the events like ice in a urinal: slowly melting and reeking away. Irregularities in the manner of composition? Take time. Lend a stiff lower lip to a truer means of being you. Roll without it. I’m canted with fumble-fingered joy. Airships on the horizon, notes of exotic isotopes in my wisdom teeth. I have a booming voice when it’s called for. You bet. In the meantime I’m just bopping and bobbing down another street that’s not named after me. And it’s quite miraculous that I’m still here, really. Like getting dust off crown molding. The things that nobody ever notices. And I’m still here. I am still here.”
Right-After-Finishing-The-Crossword-Puzzle happened only sporadically, so we weren’t able to have any Leave-It-On-The-Doorsteps for a while, though Helium Man confirmed we had a few Steak-And-Eggs-Mornings leftover to use as we saw fit. There was a period there when all we did was cuss and use pronouns as verbs. It all came out the same, and Helium Man float-hopped around hording the shadows, so we didn’t have anywhere to cool off or hide anyway.
We knew it would be quite the occasion when Helium Man met Oxygen Woman. We were all waiting for the event to occur, as we knew it one day would. Things would be sinopia tinged. We had sussed out that much. Random deceit would be dished out cold for restless legs. An Oreo plague would leave things filling-less and crumbled.
Helium Man is not fussy about his sartorial state. When people ask him about his sheet-metal vest or his heliotrope velvet pants he is likely to say, “Nobody knows the charade of days like this one here. Put two legs forward. Blast off tasseled with grape vines. Let other people dangle like snot from bamboo. I can rumba better than you can remember.” Then he might drift up a bit and do a nifty jig for a few minutes.
Sounding like a coward — and this was a long time in the past — a whispering moron claimed to have grounded Helium Man for 43 hours in a row. Nobody believed it. We were all primed for Times-Of-Wandering-Streets-Alone-With-Nothing-To-Do-Except-Worry. There was a ball-bearing-tap kind of knocking in the town square for a few hours, but that was about it. We all knew that Helium Man was past all control.
The brain of Helium Man is made up of tiny iridescent sacs. Thousands of them, like gems of jelly, span and flutter across the cerebellum. How do we know this? Well, there was that incident a few years ago when the slice of This-Is-Going-To-Be-Trouble swiped in a bit too close, leaving Helium Man grounded, lacerated, and feeling rather deflated. We all saw the gooey substance of his brain running Wrong-Of-Way in drips while he was gurney-strapped, though through the bandages it was a bit nebulous. We saw enough. It was ichorous. We know what we saw. It was piceous and tarry. An inert elasticity was apparent. Afterwards, when he was healed and hale again, Helium Man said, “My valence is zero, so don’t expect a reaction, here. And my gas is the noblest gas around. Well, isn’t it quirky to be etched in steel before you’ve begun?”
Every last hurrah became another Last-Cup-Of-Coffee-Of-The-Day, as the time approached for Oxygen Woman to plunder on in. Helium Man’s Head-In-The-Exosphere famulus was becoming concerned. There didn’t seem to be enough seriousness in Helium Man’s demeanor. A proxy of Up-To-The-Challenge was not enough. We all felt a real staunch effort would be needed too, but we didn’t show it in our visages. Our One-More-For-The-Road confidence was not lacking.
“Hypocorism is a shabby way to distance yourself from blame and guilt,” said Helium Man on a Flip-Through-The-Channels day under the rust-blurred sun. We were all ears. His Muted-Commercials wisdom was prone to fits of inflation. “Nothing Nuts-And-Bolts about getting your ass in gear, my purring Tracers-Of-Hands-On-Place-Mats. I breathe paint fumes for breakfast.” Something singular was wafting our way. The spatula in his hand was corroborating his witticisms. “Take a whiff, inhale. Your voices shall rise high — transmogrified in timbre and in pitch and in quality — together, at last; and we shall sing fractional distillation’s praise.” We sang in the span of Bite-Your-Tongue and Hang-Ups-From-Wrong-Numbers. Most of us ended up with an annoying form of torticollis from loafing around in Craning-To-See-What-Happens-Next. Everything seemed higgledy-piggledy, and it was in the steric layout of things in general that we found our Clipping-Of-The-First-Toenail moment — without getting tetchy at all, of course. Moments like this are generally hard to come by. We take what we can get.
There was a knoll. Substance was upon it which could prick conscience and stick it to the novations of promises to cut lawns. It was enhanced like super-sized larvae, which attenuated Helium Man’s drift; and so he, with caustic fury, faded from the horizon’s wink. We listened attentively as he hectored the idea of Oxygen Woman from afar. “Let’s not prod with numinous riddle, nor move past the twinkling bezel of our rival’s streak with a mako shark’s celerity. Take time. Be beset with purpose. Grill cheese. These are rash constructs of a loopy mind. Set aside some scrambled eggs for the terriers. Insensate times call for drastic cuts in union dues. One should not be asked to pay for one’s own demise. Screams will find generous ears to fill, while we live insulated in foggy bell jars, lost delirious in scrupulous mentation, going between, headed only towards nimble deracination. Take me out with the trash.”
Atrophy struck at a bad time. We were boosting our mischievous side. Air thinned. Things were not limited by the bounds of the rational. Some of us could not stand up to leave. We sat with clenched fists, polishing our milled-rice grins. Last-Gas-For-Forty-Miles made the rounds. We were as unhappy as sandals without feet to wear them.
In the wake of Leaping-Before-Looking Oxygen Woman mad her steady clamor versus the airy plight of Helium Man. It was a gadarene scrape into No-Holds-Barred, and punches were not pulled. Sensory overload extinguished any righteousness that might have been seeping into our Half-Watched-Movie attitudes. The match was to be played in propria persona, and we were thankful for this. A pigeon-pie maker had comforting enchiridions of Never-Married-Or-Anything-Like-That dropped on the crowd. Nothing would stand in the way of fair sport.
When the noesis of Too-Tired-To-Sleep was launched over contentment’s walls, we were pleased by the moans of lawns, and what ensued upon the entrance of oxygen into our particular tent was more than the playful banter of We’ve-Had-Enough-Of-This-Waiting-Around.
Helium Man sought a clear view. The trance of oxygen’s curse had left him linty and blurred, but he made up for it with some magniloquent elocution.
“Somebody loved you too, once. Maybe you were playing croquet. The grass was viridian enough. Trees happened like bookworm thoughts. Bells cachinnated praise in lumpy heaps, but you only dowsed for dreariness. Then, being the true underdog you were, you retaliated, not unlike fish without tails would, and there was an imbrication of your playful desires mapped out on the worn curtains of your emotions, each new lark somewhat superimposed over the previous one, leaking out perhaps, staining the hand that dyes. A sash was undone. People fled, and mendicants held out their calloused hands for rewards. Wickets were torn from the russet earth, and you stood ball-in-hand awaiting the procurement of what you’d come to believe was fate’s reward. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here just yet.”
“I am not a quisling of your thoughts. Procure an advertisement for cheap Pilsner, and I will grant that your copyright law is defunct. By the way, your helium seems low.”
“Dropped a few pounds this summer.”
Relationships between species of loss became perceptibly severed. Manifold theories of Hair-Still-Wet-From-The-Shower were all accepted at once. We caught wind of dropped semiotics over the hillocks of Hawthorne-effect limited qualitative mechanics, and things we saw were colored either slightly grullo or with a dab of roan. Helium man sucked in his gut.
“Fill’er up. I choose my own internment. But, in the midst of ruin, I find pleasure in short bursts of your company.”
There was a tumbling sound. It was quite a racket. We thought of a piano rumbling down many flights of stairs. Oxygen Woman’s petrous shield, made of adamant and steel twist ties, was decently deflecting blows, but the force of these thrusts at her person were enough to stumble the way she was keeping upright, barely, until Helium Man pulled back for a minute’s revaluation of the current situation.
“You are not wan.” He strutted upon fresh marble. “Let your face fall upon the mercy of my resilient nature.”
Oxygen Woman was gasping for breath. “I…do…not care…fo….for….you at all!”
“Ha. Your struggles are meager and in vain. I will mow you down with kindness.”
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle was put to the test. A few of us cawed with a wonder that was almost shock but not quite awe. Lessons in selfishness were learned by all.
Glissandos of rage reappeared momentarily, and swallows gaped, and the adipose bulk of our disenchantment weighed heavily on the rundles of the dissatisfaction permeating the Boxers-With-Plush-backed-Waistbands atmosphere. Something smelled of Bengay.
In sotto voce, Helium man outlined some proprieties concerning matters of the heart: “Love is something that should be trusting. It should give and never take. It makes its own rules and doesn’t need any help following them. And you must ask yourself, at some tranquil and opportune moment, is that what it is that I am feeling…really?”
Volcanic-Ash-In-The-Eye was left undefended, out in the open, for all to feel really bad for. Somehow an obsession seemed to be tugging at a compulsion’s eyelash, or it was something from Opening-A-Jar-Left-Handed.
“The power you wield over me is petty,” whispered a now rosy jowled Oxygen Woman. “I am not an object to be admired for taste alone, as if I were a fashion or the latest mode of aesthetic pleasure on some fixed docket of ephemeral lust. Let’s be honest. I’ve got a hell-of-a-lot more to offer here than just hot air.”
“Ah. I picked you up for a song. What good did your tune ever do me? Prickled games. Silly games.”
Helium Man fixed his gaze over the garbage-can monuments, which stood tall and gleaming in Mutually-Agreed-To-Beforehand-Unkempt-Conditions. Don’t-Tell-A-Soul bothered us some, but we had high hopes for Abandoned-At-A-Bus-Stop. There were preachers of The-Transience-of-Unique-Conditions to keep us company. The sky spun Coke-can red.
“Mozart, fried chicken, pickles, and a girl who cannot for the life of her pronounce my name correctly. Is this what I am left with? Here in the frozen tundra of my mischief, where ghouls ply their salacious trade, lies the base of our conception of what ‘us’ means. Dinner is not served.”
Oxygen Woman snickered. “Ha! I ain’t gonna fall for that old one.”
Pleases meshed with No-Thanks-For-Nothing. Thunder whimpered. Woke-Up-Too-Early-And-Couldn’t-Fall-Back-Asleep held on a little tighter to Shed-His-Grace-On-Thee’s pervasive mood. But, after all was started and silent, it was I-Hope-By-This-Time-Next-Year that won out in the end.