Skip Tangents

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By Richard Rutherford

After a summer rain, the brush sends out scents. There is no wafting vapor, no subtle suggestion. These fragrances are sharp like long needles that pierce the inside of my nose. The combination of rain and desert chaparral creates an aroma that is hard to resist. I watch the cattle, watch them wade into it, eating sage tips and the new growth of chemise. Tails switching, they leave the safety of open pastures as if it’s not a choice. They go.

Cows like something bitter. That’s what an old man told me once. I always tasted everything the cows ate, including the brush. The old man was right. The sage burned an alarm on the tip of my tongue; it said this isn’t good for you.

But even after I spit it out, I continued tasting, assessing the tang.

Now, after a hard rain I step outside, inhaling flavor slicing down the arroyos. The lure is bitter. I follow.

We cannot control what we dream. Mine are the product of whimsy, created by a rarely sane man: my dream wizard. I can only conjure him when I daydream, but I do see him, behind a large, messy desk—rumpled papers, take-out boxes, mementos, a computer screen and keyboard, coffee stains and spilled sugar. He sits at the top of my brain, just off-center. The ceiling is low. He wears wizard clothes: conical hat—bent at the top, a filthy satin robe with moons and stars. He cackles and has no teeth. His fingers are chicken feet.

Dream Wizard will reference anything. He has my old baseball glove and once used two fingers on that mitt as a connection to a pair of labia I experienced in high school. He Googles regularly and loves to cut and paste. When he gets enough disparate material cobbled together, he highlights all, hits the sublime button, shrieks, and keys send.

I dream I have a bathroom scale that an alien has turned into a pressure-sensitive ray gun (only a light squeeze is required). We are robbing a bank and I’m an overweight homeless woman out of chances. The teller won’t give us money, so I put the scale on the floor and threaten to weigh myself.

My dream wizard makes me dream that I’m sucking a dick—I don’t suck dicks, but that fucker puts one in front of me. Always the same dick. For forty years I hated that dream. Finally, I realized it’s my dick.

Now that I’m older, I can appreciate the skip-tangents. Now, I understand better the lack of volition.  Now, when I wake in the middle of the night, puzzled or mellow or frightened or grief-stricken, I am more likely to accept infinite possibility as a shower of sparks held up and examined, one by one. I’m less likely to feel somehow victimized, more likely to appreciate the insight. The cackle and shriek doesn’t bother me as much anymore.

A decade after finding the Martian Runes, colonists deciphered the new paradigm, understood why Mars was dry and barren. Deep in the catacombs, inscriptions provided the formulas and blueprints that, unfortunately, predicted an extinction. Everything on Earth: fuel. Temptation of this magnitude dwarfed what Eden offered. Everything: just a stage in an evolution where survival goes to the opportunist.

The lure was travel through dimensions—requiring a rare concentration of energy, the kind available on a planetary scale: an explosion that can be determined, harnessed, and ridden. The rules of power applied.

The colonists guarded the secret and sent for genomes.

Traps are effective because they catch the oblivious—not oblivious to what a trap looks like, but ignorant to the need for a trap in the first place. We sign a petition and end up getting junk mail. How can we look out for what we don’t know is there? When we trap a small creature, we take the position of omnipotence. But we are often trapped ourselves in webs we can’t see. We have the illusion of self-awareness. But we don’t have answers for our mysteries.

I wonder if god is hidden as one of the life forms on this planet. Not all life, like so many beliefs declare, but just one species, like crickets or cows or sage; maybe a fungus—a mushroom variety connected by frail underground tentacles. I wonder if god is vulnerable to something as simple as a formula. I wonder if an inscription lies hidden.

We have the idea that god is an extension of us. Certainly my dream wizard sees me as an extension of him. My instinct is to maintain vigilance because niggling at the edge of my fears is the idea that I am fodder for intent beyond my comprehension. Maybe hillsides smell me, regardless of the season, vaporous and wafting.


Richard C Rutherford pastured cattle on the edge of the desert for thirty-seven years. Fixing fence got old, the ocean is cool and moist, so he moved to the beach. He is currently reading Kevin Barry, Julia Whitty, DeLillo, and Traci Foust. He learned storytelling from coon hunters and supports independent bookstores.

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