nightclubIn the following Midnight Zen D.L. Crumpton gives a reading from his piece Flirting with Chaos which first appeared on ZENINTHECAR.COM about a year ago. Not one for wasting a good story, he resurrects his recollection of living chaotically for the audience of Jaded.


14075_570689353068158_3331986514574927754_nJack had been sitting on a bench at the park near his house for the past few hours now with a beat up copy of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. At his feet was a messenger bag with a large bottle of water, some stones of sentimental value, some pens, some paper and the odd object or two he had picked up on his walk through the trail to the park. He had reread the current page nearly five times and still had yet to actually comprehend what was going on in the story. It wasn’t that he had poor reading skills; much the opposite actually. It was that his mind was elsewhere and while his eyes ran across the words the chamber of his imagination was playing a different movie altogether.
It frustrated him that simple things like reading a book was now to him such a task. Once upon a time he could run through a book like one watches a movie, but now it seemed like trying to run with cinderblocks tied to his ankles. The theatre of his mind was playing a different show altogether, and it did it all the time. From the moment he woke up until the moment he fell asleep; and that was only on the nights he could fall asleep which were far and few between. He had closed the book on his thumb for a while and just stared off into the park watching parents play with their kids or loved ones holding hands and stealing a kiss from time to time. On occasion such sights and sounds would bring a smile to his face and then the movie would replay in his head, bringing him back to his present moment.
He couldn’t really put an adjective on it like pain because he was well past that. He couldn’t say it could be described as being numb because he of all people knew he indeed did feel it. Jack figured the best word he could find to describe his current emotions as of late was that of displacement. He felt completely displaced, as if no matter where he was he could not make himself feel at home-especially in his own home.
He supposed that was why he found himself visiting the park down the street more and more each and every day. He wanted to remember what it felt like to be in a place called home. From time to time he could get a sense of it, but that feeling was fleeting. However fleeting, in those moments that sense came he was thankful. It was something he had not been able to feel since the separation. A separation from the woman he had known most of his life, most of his youth, and up until now most of his adulthood.
This life changing event had happened a handful of years prior but the effects of it still hovered around him like a radioactive cloud after the impact of an atomic bomb smashing into the ground. The explosion was long gone but the ruin of the aftermath was still all around him. The tragedy of the blast staring and screaming at him with demands of wanting to know why it had to come to such a thing. Like looking into the hollow eyes of skulls, the only answer Jack had for them was that he simply didn’t know. He had no answers to give those haunting voices, nor comfort to those eyeless eyes. Any answer he would attempt to give them would be nothing more than guesswork because the truth was that he was just as much a victim of the blast as they were.
Jack had loved Nichole more than anything. He even pushed such a love to the point of worship, which can be dangerous when such a love is at risk of coming to an end. What does one say when God walks away from you? How is one supposed to go on with life when there is no longer hope of salvation or comfort from Divinity? Jack had no way to answer that and perhaps that is why he had been in a steady state of limbo ever since. The two of them had been doing fine, better than fine in fact and all of a sudden a rapid series of events transpired that tore them apart and sent them into a whirlwind of confusion. A multitude of voices and poor opinions from people who had no business getting involved insured that the union they shared, no matter the potential it once had, would come crashing down in a heap of pride, hurt, lies, misunderstandings and miscommunications. Jack couldn’t help but to think that Nichole had been just as much as a victim of this hurricane as he himself.
The most painful thing for Jack was that the two of them had never really had the opportunity to work it out themselves. The chance for the two to sit alone together and anyilize the problems that had arisen was stripped from them by third parties and in that fault all hope was lost. Their fates were no longer in their own hands and in sacrificing that right both of them were subject to the dictations of others. Such a course lead them to separation and since then they had had little to no contact. For Jack this was probably the most painful of facts in the course of events that tore them apart because he knew they did not tear apart from each other but where torn apart by everyone else. As he pondered these things he could still see her ghost in the park from the corner of his eye.
He shook it and reopened his book to where he left off when an old man casually sat down beside him with a half-finished crossword puzzle. The old man sat with a huff, aching in his old bones and carefully placed his pen where he left off. The old man said nothing, yet pushed his glasses higher on his nose as he stared at the word he was currently working on. Though Jack pretended to continue reading, he couldn’t help but eye the old man from his peripheral vision. The old man was about five feet tall, button down shirt from the eighties, rolled up wrangler jeans revealing thin, black socks tucked into orthopedic shoes. On his right was a wooden cane placed neatly on the bench. Other than that the old man had nothing but a pack of Pall Mall full flavors with a Zippo lighter in his breast pocket.
Jack pretended not to be bothered as the old man lit one and coughed as he took the first drag from the cigarette and pressed his pen to the page without intent. He chose to simply jump into the current chapter of Cloud Atlas and ignore the fact that some old man had chosen his bench out of a dozen in the park to sit on so he could work on a puzzle. Now he was finally able to pay attention to what he was reading. However, as soon as the visual images began to formulate in his mind, Jack found himself interrupted.
“Damn puzzle.” The old man muttered.
Jack looked over at him with slight perplexity.
“I’m sorry?” he asked.
“Been working on this crossword for the past hour or so. This one has me stumped.” The old man said.
“Oh…I’m sorry.” Jack responded.
Jack broke off eye contact and went back to his book. He really wasn’t in the mood for a conversation. To such a reaction the old man laughed.
“No you aint.” The old man said.
“I’m sorry?”
“There you go again with that sorry shit. You aint sorry and because you aint sorry you say sorry and you think it’s supposed to actually supposed to do something.” The old man replied.
Jack was a little taken aback at the old man’s straightforwardness and didn’t know the polite way of replying. What he did know was that his late father always told him to pay attention to the silver head for wisdom and guidance and so he dog-eared his book in order to proceed with the interaction.
“Well I apologize then, that your puzzle is causing you such distress.” Jack said.
The old man laughed as he scribbled at the top of the page to make sure his pen was ship shape.
“Are you serious, son? Is that how you talk on a daily basis?” the old man mocked.
“No, not really.” Jack answered.
“Then stop blowing wind up my skirt like a whore with a navy man on shore leave.”
“I’m sorry, have I done something to offend you? I mean this was my bench you know, you’re the one that sat beside me.”
“Oh this is your bench?”
“Yeah, I was sitting here first.”
“And that makes it your bench? You plant your ass here before anyone else today and all of a sudden it becomes your bench? Is that how it works nowadays?” the old man questioned.
Jack thought the old man rude, crude and yet somehow the glimmer in the eye beneath the lenses of his glasses appealed to him. It brought a smirk to Jack’s face. This man was very much like his father.
“Maybe we started off on the wrong foot. I’m Jack.” He said as he put out his hand.
The old man laughed and slapped his large stubbly fingers into his with the firmest of grips.
“Just call me Sarge, done gone and forgot the name my parents gave me.” Sarge said.
This brought a laugh to Jack as his father had been the same in abandoning his Christian name. In the handshake Jack could feel that perhaps there was something he could learn from this uncouth old man.
“Jack.” He replied.
“Nice to meet you simple named Jack.” Sarge said.
“Simple named Jack? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, just a common name for such a young man that looks so uncommon, that’s all. One would think you could have done better by now but that’s a different thing altogether.” Sarge answered.
“Yeah, well who has time to change their name when there is so much else you have to take care of?” Jack asked.
“I was in two foreign wars and two marriages and still found the time simple name Jack, so what’s your excuse?” Sarge asked.
Jack thought for a moment with a half-smile still on his face. He appreciated the abrasiveness of the old man as he turned his attention back to the puzzle and fell silent for a moment. The silence allowed him to turn back to his book but he was no more than a paragraph in before Sarge interrupted him again.
“Goddamnit, what’s a nine letter word for metamorphoses’?” He asked.
“I’m sorry?” Jack asked
“Are we back there again? I said, what is a nine letter word for metamorphoses’, boy.” Sarge replied.
Jack thought for a moment and then glanced over at Sarge’s puzzle until the answer came to him.
“The answer is butterfly.” He said.
There was a moment of simple surprise on Sarge’s face as he contemplated the answer followed by a steady and confidant filling in of the word. Sure enough Jack had been correct. The answer was butterfly.
“I should have figured. Butterflies are the damndest creatures.” Sarge said.
“Are they now?”
“Oh yes. The most dangerous life forms on the planet in fact.”
“Yeah, butterflies. Deadly beasts they are.” Sarge said.
Jack found it amusing that there was this surety in the old man’s voice that he had to follow the rabbit trail of his logic. Though he knew it would probably upend him from finishing his chapter he felt it was worth the price. So he closed the book and put it safely in his bag in order to give Sarge his full attention.
“Okay, I’m all ears. Please explain to me how butterflies are the most dangerous life forms on the planet, I am dying to hear this.” He said as he propped his chin up with the forearm on the bench.
Sarge shook his head and placed his pen on the puzzle page as he took off his glasses and put them in a protective covering which afterwards was placed in his pocket. The old man cleared his throat and mimicked Jack’s posture.
“You see that young man over there on the horse, the one all dressed in black that’s just trotting through the park?” Sarge asked.
Jack looked over his shoulder to see then returned his gaze and nodded with the affirmative.
“Well you see that young man is calmly riding his horse on a fine and sunny, calm day with no care in the world. It is probably something he does on a regular basis if you really pay attention to how he and the horse seem to have an understanding. Chances are he will be doing that exact same thing this time next year, wouldn’t you say?” Sarge asked.
“Well people tend to be creatures of habit.” Jack answered.
“That they are. The thing is, creatures may be habitual but nature isn’t necessarily so.”
“What do you mean?”
“Did you know there is a difference in climate and weather?” Sarge asked.
“No I didn’t. Explain.”
“Climate is constant, for the most part. It only changes after perhaps a millennia of so. Think of it as the overall condition of what we call earth. There are ice ages, there are warm ages, there are tropical ages, yet within those ages we have slight changes in weather.” Sarge explained.
“Okay, I don’t know if I follow.” Jack said.
“Well for the most part things are warm overall, however tomorrow there could come a cold front from seemingly out of nowhere. That is weather. It is the variable in the constant. Changes from day to day and most of us never stop to ask what causes such sudden changes.”
Jack thought for a moment on this trying to find some answer from high school or the last forecast from his local weather station. The old man had a point; changes are reported but the cause never is. This intrigued him.
“Alright, so what causes weather to change?” Jack asked.
“Goddamn butterflies, boy. Goddamn butterflies.” Sarge answered with a hint of anger.
Jack let a laugh out as he opened up a bottle of water and took a swig. He wiped the excess from his goatee and returned to serious.
“Okay, please enlighten me. How do Goddamn butterflies change the weather?” Jack asked.
“Right now, let’s imagine a butterfly is in Africa somewhere learning to flap its wings, as in for the first time. The flapping of those wings sends out a current of air and as small as we may think it is that single current of air travels through the jungle. It’s shaped and formed and strengthened by the trees and the flapping of other butterfly wings, or the wings of birds or the thudding of a gorilla on a tree. That gust of wind gains strength as it travels to the ocean where it meets the current of another gust of wind of equal strength. That gust of wind came from India where there a butterfly had done the same. Once the two currents meet over the ocean with the pervading winds they start to form a whirlwind. At first it’s small and fragile but as the tides of the ocean sway beneath it that current gains strength. Before long you have a raging hurricane.” Sarge answered.
“And then what?” Jack asked.
butterfly“And then the hurricane heads towards the eastern coast and dies somewhere in the ocean, but before it does it sends out winds to form tornadoes or snow storms or what have you. They might be weak at first, but once they hit land a dying current might come in contact with the virgin flapping of wings from a new born butterfly. And that subtle flapping of air gives it strength enough to propel the dying tornado back into a thriving one. So a year from now let’s say that boy all dressed in black is on his horse in this very park, on this very day and some damned tornado sweeps through and takes him off his saddle.” Sarge says.
“All because of a butterfly flapping its wings?” Jack asks.
The old man nods with assurance.
“Yeah, all because of Goddamn butterflies. Vicious creatures they are.” He says.
Jack thought about that for a moment. There really wasn’t too much he could argue with, having studied physics and all. He looked up at the sun for a moment only to return his gaze to the old man who was responding to the ring of an old cell phone and rising to his cane.
“Well, I got to be on my way. The old lady is calling and when the old lady calls you have to come a running. But you know about that being married and all.” Sarge said.
“Do I?” Jack asked.
Sarge winked at him before shuffling off.
“Sure you do, son.”
Jack watched as the old man disappeared into the forest along the trail. He sat for a few moments and tried to absorb what the conversation had meant to him and perhaps why it had happened to him at this particular moment in his life. When the old man was out of sight he thought perhaps that he would continue reading his book but found that such a thing would be too difficult. So he just sat there until the damndest thing happened. A butterfly landed on his knee without a single flap of the wings. The words of the old man permeated his thoughts and he had to fight the smile on his face. It was then that another idea occurred to him. If a butterfly were able to cause destruction on a massive scale by a simple flapping of wings, could it bring something else?
He closed his eyes and thought of Nichole’s face. He thought of when he met her, he thought of when he courted her, he thought of all the happy years they had been together and could see them in his mind just as vivid as the moments they had happened. He took in several deep breaths with those feelings in his heart and then finally held the last one in. When he was ready he opened his eyes. The butterfly was still there, unmoving. With a slow and low pressure he blew all of those thoughts and feelings onto the butterfly until his lungs were empty. It wasn’t until he was finished that the butterfly began to beat its wings over and over again until it finally lifted itself up and flew off into the trees.
“God speed vicious creature, God speed.” Jack uttered.



484937_10200709910256290_884434542_nNichole was grabbing her wobbly shopping cart and entering into the local mom and pop grocery store of the town she had moved to, hundreds of miles away from where she once called home. For once in a long time she wasn’t in dirty jeans covered in mud and animal feed. This day she chose to wear clothes that reminded her of her old life. She didn’t know why she had done that, but when she had awoken that morning it just felt right. She was going to go grocery shopping in the clothes of her old life. She had showered and covered herself in strawberry lotion, then fitted herself in dress pants and a button down from some time ago, complete with old scuffed up grey heels.
She hadn’t felt like this woman in a long time, but today she would. Today she would be the old Nichole as she shopped for a nice vegetarian salad at the local mart. As she pushed the cart into produce she carefully chose organic lettuce from the other stuff that gets delivered. Afterwards she went down all the aisles looking for the ingredients to her salad that would fit the lifestyle she had adopted since she and Jack had separated. It was a discipline she didn’t want to give up. Her world had been broken apart when she broke away from him and though she had done all she could to break herself from thinking of him, it seemed that everything she did reminded her of him and she hated it so.
Her cart was nearly full when an old woman smashed her cart into hers and gave a sudden apology.
“Sorry young lady, I was lost in thoughts of a life long ago. I didn’t mean to bump into you.” She said.
Nichole took her forefinger and traced her hair behind her ear with a smile.
“Oh no. youre fine, maam.” She said.
The old woman paused and tilted her head as if she knew something Nichole did not.
“I am, are you?” She asked.
Nichole shook her head for a moment wondering what the old woman meant. It took her by complete surprise and she didn’t really know how to respond.
“Yes, I’m just getting dinner tonight. I’m fine.” Nichole said.
“Is that dinner for one or dinner for two?” The old woman asked.
Nichole smiled and looked at her cart which was meager with ingredients.
“It’s just for me maam. Just for me.” Nichole answered.
The old woman shook her head and pushed her cart ahead as she muttered the words “…aint that a shame. Aint that a crying shame.”
Nichole ignored it as she threw the rest of her salad in the cart. She didn’t have time to pick apart the words of an old woman in a grocery store while she had things to do. As she went up and down the aisles she finally found a houseplant on sale for less than three dollars. It saddened her that this plant only cost three dollars and she wanted to give it a home. So into her cart it went, for she knew she would give it a home to be loved despite the price set on it by the manager of the local piggly wiggly.
When Nichole had finally finished shopping for her salad, ingredients far away from the lamas and sheep she had fed at the commune she once lived at, a dinner fit for a two bedroom apartment in a country town she didn’t wish to be in, she made her way to the checkouts.
She waited patiently as the family before her ran their things across the conveyer belt. All of a sudden she felt a bump which forced her to look up. She saw a young red haired girl, complete with freckles, reading a comic book.
“Sorry about that, I was just really into the story.” The girl said.
Nichole looked and noticed this store was different than most. She was so used to commercial stores that she forgot the spindles of comic books at the registers that mom and pops offered. The young girl had been enthralled with one near the checkouts and had become so involved that she forgot where she was at. Such a displacement caused her to bump into Nichole’s cart.
“Oh don’t be sorry sweetheart. What are you reading?” Nichole asked.
“A Spiderman comic. Sorry.” She answered.
“Well that doesn’t ask for apology sweetheart.” Nichole said.
Nichole had a flash of her childhood and knew that the young girl had offended nothing. It took her back for a second but there was no way she could correct the young girl, rather take note of any lesson the girl could give her.
The girl eyed her.
“You know comics huh?” the girl asked.
Nichole thought for a moment. She had been in love with someone that did indeed and in fact they would not have married had it not been for comic books. A sense of pride came over her and she answered.
“Yeah, I know a little.” Nichole said.
“Then you should be able to spot it.” The girl said.
Nichole flipped though the book but found nothing. She did the best she could but still nothing popped up.
“Maybe it’s not for you to see right now, maybe you need to read it in your own time. I gotta go now, my mom is calling me.” The girl said.
Nichole nodded and threw her things on the conveyer belt.
It wasn’t until she got home that she placed the veggies on the counter and took the plant she had purchased out on the back porch of the grubby two bed room apartment she had leased. One bedroom held her bed, the other her vanity and artwork. It was the back yard where she could plant her independence and the plant she had purchased was ready to find its home. After Nichole had placed it carefully she sat down on the only chair she had and opened up the last bag of her groceries. After placing them in their given position she found that the last thing remaining was the comic book the little red headed freckle face had suggested.
In her sense of innocent guilt she made a glass of wine, grabbed the comic and the plant then waltzed to the back door. She put the plant down in her make shift garden and gave it a sprinkle or two of water. She went back inside and poured a glass of wine. She came back outside and sat down in front of her garden with the new, disregarded plant. With a huff she opened up the comic book the girl had suggested. She read the story from cover to cover; it was a Spider-Man story. As she made her way half way through she realized the artist was J. Scott Cantrell. Jack had always told her that J. Scott Cantrell always hid a single butterfly in all of his artwork, yet she had not seen it so far. Perhaps that is because she hadn’t looked for it up until now. As she turned the page she saw Mary Jane walking away from Peter Parker and there it was…in the smallest panel of the whole book. Mary Jane had a butterfly tattooed on the small of her back. It was so small no normal reader would have ever picked it up. But she did.
Jack had proposed to her with a Spider-Man comic. It was cheap and it was sudden but it was hers. It was that one moment in time where she finally felt like a princess and she didn’t give a shit that the ring was hanging from wax and dental floss. He had asked her to marry him and in that moment she was the luckiest woman on the face of the earth. And now she was seeing for the first time that Mary Jane was sporting a butterfly tattoo on the small of her back.
Nichole slammed the comic shut. She didn’t want to read anymore. For the first time in a long time she realized that perhaps Jack knew something she did not. She sat there and sipped on her wine staring at the tiny garden she had made in order to escape it all, when all of the sudden the strangest thing happened. A butterfly landed on the plant she had bought.
She had thought of going in before that happened, but now she was compelled to stay. Especially when more than a dozen came after it and landed in her tiny garden. Nichole sat there as a swarm of butterflies landed in her garden and slowly fluttered their wings, threatening to end the world with the flutter of their wings.
She wanted to cry because she knew what the butterflies could do. She fought the lump in her throat and it took another sip of wine before she did what the butterflies demanded. She tossed it back and forth for a moment but the inevitable was the inevitable. If there was one thing she had learned in her time alone it was that when the Universe speaks you best answer it. So she ran inside and grabbed her phone, for a moment she stared at it. After a moment she took it outside with her where the butterflies had congregated and sipped more of her wine. She watched the butterflies flap their wings and that gave her the courage she needed.
It was courage she didn’t have before nor any kind she had ever pulled out of the ether before.
She ran inside and grabbed her phone. Without thinking she looked up Jack’s number and without thinking she typed “I Love You”…and that was it. No explanation, no reason, no prerequisite. She simply text to him that she loved him. As she stared at it she wondered what would happen if she were to hit send.
Much like butterflies, who knows what the beating of small wings will bring?