Out of Egypt
by Brent Powers
I keep hearing that dumb old song all over town... at the retro burger joint tries for a ’50s feel, who can remember? Who wants to? Demons reach out of the song. My old tutor, Kleinmar, draped over a parking meter with a butt dangling out of his mouth. Now that’s wrong. That’s a wrong version of him. This was a guy taught at a squeaky parochial school with the buildings all white and Spanish tile roofs, chapel and bell tower got an actual bell in it... nothing about all this in the song, which is about a robin. Why? What did the robin do? What did he ever do to deserve such treatment?
Back in the ’50s the whole school yard smelled like orange peels. Everywhere else smelled like smoke. I mean outside the school, in cars, down at the show, the barber shop, even the post office. They’re playing the song there, too.
A woman in a cocktail dress stands in the long line. She looks at me and holds up an orange with one hand then slowly dive bombs it with a long pin she’s holding in her other, sticking the pin in deep and smiling and licking her candyapple red lips, as if this is all supposed to be so damned significant or something. I’d like to ask her about that, about the symbolism; wanna hear all about it.
She reads my mind. “Symbolism!” she brays. “Awwwwll abowdit!” and giggles like she’s loaded.
I head on out. It seems to me I had a package to mail but I lost it or something. It’s that stupid song. About the robin. With a pin stuck through him.
Yes, in the night, I hear someone next to me saying, “You take it as long as you can. And then you die.” I look over and see her furiously turning the pages of a little paperback book. She has it right up against her face, turning page after page. The robin song is playing, or she has just heard it somewhere and it has turned her thoughts towards death.
But it really isn’t the ’50s, is it? Tell me it’s not. I’d hate that. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, except maybe for Kleinmar. He was happier then. Until he got into it with the femme back at the post office. She told him, “All we gotta do is take a little of this...” (holding up a vial) “...suck it up into the nice syringe like so...” (she demonstrates) “... and Bob’s your uncle. Heh. Roberta, I mean.”
“Uncle Roberta,” Kleinmar says stupidly.
She laughs her crazy laugh. “That’s it, baby. Now you’re getting it. Let’s rock.”
Roberta is Mrs. Kleinmar, of course. A nice homey gingham chick... She does have nice legs, though, I always look at the legs, and she never seems to wear anything but shorts. Why is that? Is she trying to tempt me? How innocent can I be that she’d want to do that? I am a young man who can barely do his math. I am a young man who cannot see the path. She will die. This sweet sexy lady. She gives me cookies when I leave. Once I almost asked her for a kiss. Just a little one. With the tongue out: so.
Kleinmar stood in the background in the study where we worked, observing one of his old Egyptian artifacts. He had some. They were thousands of years old. He wanted to talk with me about Egypt. All his demons came out of Egypt, he said. I didn’t understand. He was in some rare state. “Egypt,” he said heavily, and tapped the little god on the table top. This was earlier, before I left for the last time. I’m sure I didn’t see him after that. Maybe that’s why I wanted one last shot at Roberta. Kiss me, Roberta. Kiss me on the tongue.
They never got him on anything. Heart failure. That’s all. No history of it in her family. Healthy as a horse. Even so: heart failure. You take it as long as you can, and then you die. It’s in the song. The one about the robin.
Certain Gnostics believed that all evil came out of Egypt. Understandable. Black, obsidian gods with the heads of cats and jackals, guarding the blind gates, the gates that were mute, that kept a secret too horrible to know. Only sometimes a magus would come and utter some spell and they would open, releasing all the evil into the west. Kleinmar said things like that, comically blowing smoke rings when he came to the last part, releasing evil into the west in the form of smoke rings.
“What an asshole!” I said. I was scared. That’s why I said that. He glared at me and told me to curb my Yankee tongue. I have no idea what he meant. He was as much of a Yank as me except for his oddly shaped head, his pale skin with mismatching black hair and black eyes. Was he passing? Was he really an Egyptian, a spy out of Egypt bringing evil into the west? Dunno. Never asked him. I never asked him that. So many lost opportunities. His secret knowledge, his wife’s fatal kiss. Lost, all lost.
I know I heard that song, though. The robin song. But where? I didn’t go near the retro joint. I was across the street buying overpriced food that isn’t any better than the food you can get at a convenience store, and they don’t play old ’50s songs. They play songs from the ’60s that sound all squeaky now, all clean and combed out and cream rinsed and steaming from the hot tub. That’s how the checker looked. Steam came out of her. She flirted and put a mystic mark on my palm. Why didn’t she kiss me? She could have kissed me.
Copyright © 2006 by Brent Powers