Spot 051: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

by Bill Lapham

After the war, caution didn’t matter. Vigilance was not a guarantor of life. Luck mattered. Fate mattered. Norms that had previously kept a lid on man’s propensity to act violently, vanished, violently. A seething cauldron of hate spilled over and scalded the wary and the oblivious alike. It seemed like every idea mankind had ever devised to control his wicked twin had evaporated like a puddle on a hot day.

Anarchy reigned.

Armed men were powerless to protect themselves; the unarmed squealed like lambs trapped in the path of stampeding bison. Believing moral turpitude had been supplanted by a wave human kindness and generosity, some men had grown complacent. They believed a divine providence would protect and sustain them somehow. Those who assumed compassion, mercy and thoughtful prayer were sufficient to shield themselves from wonton belligerence were consumed by the fervor of their own misgivings.
             * * *
The unsuspecting vanguard of the lambs strode into a peaceful meadow when the leader of the ambush unleashed his attack. The attackers loosed an execrable display of brutality and ruthlessness. They showed no mercy, accepted no pleas. Primal instincts dictated their course. They killed every aspirating thing except the flies. Black clouds of them swarmed to the feast.

The warm stench of open mortal wounds wafted in the chill morning air like steam. Blades and bullets silenced the wounded one by one. Death lay everywhere, bleeding. Scalps. Heads. Viscera.

The attackers melted into the woods, the Kid with them.

by Bill Lapham

I don’t know why the absence of shackles should make the air sweeter to breathe, the water colder to drink, sleep deeper and darker, wakefulness clearer and less shot-through with fear, but it does.
Fuck equality. This system is not conducive to the attainment of equality. It’s an illusion, a word Jefferson stuck in there to make us all feel better, like if we thought we were all equal, we would be happy. Bullshit. We compete. There are winners and losers. There will always be somebody richer, stronger, smarter, more agile, luckier, more privileged, talented, and connected than we are. Even systems designed to impose equality — from each according to his means, to each according to his needs — failed.

Call me cynical.

Three boys grew up together, they were more than neighbors, they were brothers. They were kids, and young. They played games, sports, army. Built forts, climbed trees, ran through the woods. They played baseball and football; swam, ran and rode bikes, before triathlons.

Life intervened and split them up. One became a trial lawyer, one a civil engineer, and the third, a military leader. Life happened to them for decades without them ever talking to each other about any of it. They lived alone through times when being alone made things worse.

Then one day one of them figured out how to get them back together in the village of their childhood.

Forty years later they played like they hadn’t spent a day away.

See Authors page for Bill’s bio.

by Sandra Davies

‘Lie? I don’t lie to you. You should know that.’
‘I should know it, yes. Thought I did at one time … but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps I’ve been too trusting.’
She turned from the mirror to face him.
Immediately an escalation of danger, a fleshed and real man rather than a glass reflection. The heat of his skin flared in her nostrils, and she became aware of his breathing and much more of the anger and scathing contempt for her in his eyes.
She had to fight back.
‘If you didn’t think you could trust me why didn’t you say something, when you saw what your brother was doing? Why wait until now? Isn’t it more than a little dishonest of you to ignore it then and only complain now? I didn’t know you’d seen him. I don’t know whether or not he knew he’d been seen. But if he thought you knew but weren’t going to complain then he’d’ve been perfectly justified in thinking you didn’t mind.’
‘Perhaps I wanted to test you?’
‘You don’t ‘test’ people you trust! You either trust them or you don’t.’
‘I saw that you didn’t stop him. And that he continued to touch you, to put his hand in your knickers. That you hadn’t exactly slapped his hand away. I asked myself ‘why not’?’
‘And what did you answer yourself?’
‘I didn’t. I want you to tell me that, to tell me why not.’

See Authors page for Sandra’s bio.

by Paul de Denus

In the late 70’s, eager to leave the cold confines of Canada, I moved to San Francisco and immediately warmed up to the Californian pipe dream: a counterculture of peace, love and understanding. Wandering the steep straight streets and grid-shaped districts, I was set free, wide-open to the vibe. I observed and absorbed, listened and learned and reevaluated and rebuilt my previously sheltered life.

I made some friends, met my wife and found a job at a department store as a graphic artist. Rit and Richard. Jack and Rich. Tim and Daniel. Bud and Colin. Richard and Stephen. Roger and Gary. These were my associates, most from a place of work called Liberty House, theirs’ a fraternity of gay brotherhood in the world of visual display. Some I didn’t know too well. Others became good friends and working partners.

In the 80’s, the AIDS epidemic quietly swept San Francisco, insidiously infiltrating the gay community. Some friends suddenly showed symptoms. Some got sick. Dangerous concoctions of untested pills were taken. Some got sicker. Some died. It was devastating and frightening. But friendships survived.

Over the years, having moved away, we lost touch with the community. Then out of the blue, we received an email from a friend telling us of an interview he had done for a documentary about AIDS. It was good to hear from Daniel again but the documentary was a devastating reminder of those dark days, the friends lost.

The link to the movie trailer is here. See Authors page for Paul’s bio.

by Michael D. Brown

The lake lies flat, unmoving, not as glass, but in its grayness promising comfort like an expansive bed, a matrimonial bed, although here he has no partner, only friends, and the freedom to be whatever he wants. For the long weekend, he will sleep alone and, awake, drift through moments undefined. Too often there is an agenda, a to-do list, must needs, and pronto, but not here, not now. Sitting arched to avoid the recurrence of lower back pain, coffee cup to one side, cigarette tamped, and staring contentedly at the opposite shore, he could understand a Virginia Woolf-like wading into oblivion, not to say a suicidal desperation to escape madness would drive him; rather a slipping away into the soft haze of making this instance of total freedom last forever—never again to respond to obligation, merely to pass the time in the company of like-minded mates under a creative impetus and to be one with the subsuming water. These sentiments arrive in retrospect simply because he is remiss in promptly stating his case, and hindsight provides perspective to which he is neither entitled nor begrudged. He was free of restraints, seized a viewpoint, and situated it in place. Were he to wander, that freedom would chain him to an unmanageable trepidation, but in this place the unknown is not a consideration. Some of us are slaves to our emotions. Some lead. Some follow. No one is left behind. Dreams of deliverance from earthbound responsibilities generate a static tide.

by Michael D. Brown

In the cabin, cooled by forced air, all are on equal footing, a little unsteady. Prompted, a back story presents itself, but chance rules. Will they appreciate him? It is a fair question after spending twelve months in the company of strangers to whom he is mortally attached. He fears he may waver, but poise and dignity are easily maintained until he nods off and someone attempts to snap a photograph. Inactivity is out of the question. Inside versus outside may be considered a balanced equation—the relaxing drift apposite to hive-like business but always personal. This is not industry though there is industriousness in evidence. Ghost brothers and sisters walk among us, some having already been assigned roles while others wait to be placed. All are of equal value. Some will supply the romance of mystery and the science of speculation while others act the victim or the perpetrator. It is often hard to tell the actual from the imagined, difficult to remark spaces between, and nearly impossible to separate what coalesces. To be sure, there are moments of what the uninitiated would refer to as real life, but here they serve as connecting fibers; real is unreal, and unreal is actual. Stepping out to gaze at stars gives one pause to reflect on how much of either is required. A speck is a speck regardless of size. We are all specks in the universe, relatively speaking. Does he have a right to yearn for greatness? He thinks not.

by Michael D. Brown

The brotherhood discusses women, and he has it on good authority the sisterhood talks about men in regard to similar attributes differentiated merely by gender.
He often thought they were related—siblings from different parents, but the highlight of this sighting was when they provoked his memory with tales of activities in which he never dreamt of participating and boosted him with tokens of esteem.
“We love you,” a brother said fraternally, frankly. Although those words come easily to many, they did not feel insincere, yet surprisingly facile to one who has to wrench sentiment from a cynical heart.
An untwinned sister told him she did not want him to leave, but managed goodbye on the verge of tears, and he had to focus on a detail of the landscape to avoid following suit, a finger snap away from complying.
In a yellow shirt, he was about to enter a yellowed building serving as a transition between what mattered most and what pays the bills. He could but watch them drive away, segueing into the year that would fall among all of them, wondering if his name would be mentioned, and felt it might, but could not imagine in what regard.
He has brothers and sisters in far-flung locales, and if truth be told, he manufactured the distance long ago while searching for a sweet spot. Absence is the substance, or lack thereof, which constitutes an awareness of the need for proximity. They are under his skin, brushing his soul.

See Authors page for Michael’s bio.


Illustrations for Spot 051 adapted from various sources.

6 Comments to “Spot 051: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”

  1. Jesus, these are good. They rip into my mind like seven chainsaws, evoking fear, dread, sadness, love, longing, arousal and happiness — not necessarily in that order.

  2. I can only repeat what I said elsewhere over the past few days. NEVER doubt your own talent. Yes, YOU.
    Untwinned Sister

  3. Never doubt your talent. Yes, you.

  4. Read, even wept a little in recognition (Yes MDJB, you are loved, admired and currently much-missed), and I will be back to comment more fully when time permits.

  5. These were all quite good, deep brothers and sisters- I understood Michael’s scenario immediately –

  6. If one had to pick one week for special notice amongst lo these many weeks, this would be the one. The themes sparked like flint and the rest burned. Awesome work, Sandra, Paul, And Michael. I bow, deeply.

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