Sato dipped his brush in the water jar and watched the blue paint swirl like a squid dissolving into the sea.
It was cold. Sato could see his breath. He wondered how long it would take for his water jar to crust with ice if he stopped stirring it.
Sato experimented. He napped for 30 minutes and let the weather take the jar. He dreamt of what he might paint – blue waves, black waves. No body yet, just color.
He dreamt of Thelonious Monk playing a piano on a frozen ocean. Every time Monk stabbed at the keys a crack of thunder sounded.
Sato woke up. The water jar that he set by the doorway cracked. A frozen blue galaxy in the center of the ice.
Sato lit a cigarette and was filled with the desire to paint.
He took a fresh brush and spread blue over the canvas. He added in black, worked it to a thunderhead. He began to hear music as he sometimes did – snippets of melody. Next door the church bells rang the hour. His momentum broke, and he realized his cigarette had burned to the end, a precarious column of ash.
There were little splatters of blues and grays on his dead father’s shirt.
A little nerve spasm shot through Sato’s left hand and he rubbed it and tried to come back to life. Painting – it took him to another world. Away from this. Everything was motion and color and music.
He looked out the door. Watching the molecules of the street zooming. He picked up the cracked water jar and held it up and looked at the sun through it.
His father, the dead poet, wore this shirt to his job at the bank. Now it was art. Sea-gray-blue and white and little dabs of red and black and yellow. Music.
Sato thought he heard distant thunder. The sky was bright.
He pictured the blue galaxy in the water jar – dissolving. A nebulous painting called out to be made.
Every painting was a failure.
No matter how much the gallery owners promised him fame and money and women, Sato just laughed to himself at their sleek fox-faces or fat frog-faces. They had no idea about art. He didn’t care anyway.
Only the blue galaxy. And the distant music. Only the other world.
Sato, in his work shirt and shorts, went to the end of the small driveway and came back with the paper. No one saw him.
Every painting was a failure. The phrase repeated. Some days he was okay with it. And he admitted that some days it tortured him. His father’s work shirt was like armor those days, or maybe a straitjacket. He opened the paper and searched the obituaries, morbidly curious. Day in, day out, are we not just searching out our own deaths?
Sato opened his book of ocean photographs. He lit a cogarette. Smoked.
He made a sketch for a painting. A small black figure in a rice farmer’s hat banging at a piano on a dark blue ocean. Some orange somewhere too.
A wild sea. A cracking piano.
Every painting was a failure. Until he painted music. Actual music.
A cracking sea. A wild piano. Some orange somewhere.
Sato went upstairs. He went in the empty front room – empty except for a wooden chair facing the window. From the window he could see the sea. He sat on the wooden chair. He watched the water. He waited. He waited to be overcome by the desire to create. For an urge he could not control and had to release with color.
His vision was a moth in a crate of oranges in the hold of a clipper ship. The clipper ship was in the distance. It had pale piss-colored sails.
Sato couldn’t remember the last time he saw his cat.
It seemed too cold for it to be outside. Sato called for his cat. Sato looked at the waves which from this distance only appeared as the sparkle from the light falling across the uneven surface. Sato called his cat again. He called but his eyes didn’t leave the water.
Sato pictured his cat bobbing on the waves. The cat turned into a ship. The ship ran aground and the cargo boxes floated away. Oranges bobbing on the surface. Sato got up and ran down the stairs to his easel. He picked up a brush. Hands shaking. He worked.
When he finished he looked it his work.
Then he painted over it with white paint.
He poured a green tea and went out into the cold. To the wood pile under the maple. He selected some pieces of balsa. He took them to the garage.
In the garage, Sato sawed the pieces of wood, sanded them, stained them and lashed them together. He looked at the large raft and it looked done.
He went into his room and found a pair of jeans and his hunting coat – he picked up the toy piano from its spot on the window sill.
The water was burning cold when he launched the raft into the blue-gray sea.
He felt his body undulating with the waves as he played his little piano in the cold silver sun.
He thought about his masterpiece covered over with white paint and smiled.
He dropped the piano into the water and watched it float away. He closed his eyes on lay with his back on the raft and looked up at the sky until the raft washed ashore.
He went inside. Ate snow peas in his wet jeans by the space heater.
When he was dry he went to the bookshelf and pulled out his father’s one thin book.
He read the poem on page 45.
He read it twice.
He cried. The church bells struck their evening call.
Dull bells in the last light of the cold gray sky. A duck flew by. Then three more. Sato let the painting fly away with them. In his mind he already painted it.
Sato went to his room and changed into sweatpants and a sweatshirt. Then he went to the basement and picked up his gloves from the stool. He worked out with the punching bag until he could no longer move.
He lay on the cool basement floor. A moth bumped into the lightbulb twice.
Sweat from his workout fell across his face. It collected in his ears. Sato enjoyed the muted basement. Through the liquid it was as though the room was felted. Damped.
Sato remembered when he was young and he would hide from his family under the surface of the water. He would take giant breaths and wish he would never have to surface. The way each angry voice would disappear to the bubbles and jets that came from between blue tiles
He got up from the floor and took a hot shower.
He poured a small glass of whiskey and selected a record from the shelf.
He set the needle and listened to the delicate but chunky chords of Monk’s version of “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.”
Sato sipped his whiskey. He looked out the window. Noted the blue dark blue of the sky and the yellow moon.
He made a sketch for a painting.
A coffin in a night sky. But the coffin was also a helicopter.
A yellow moon with fangs.
Sato went to the garage. He picked up his three best paintings. Took them down to the sea. Tossed them in. Went home and canceled his flight to Los Angeles.
That night he dreamt in was standing in the middle of a herd of blue horses.
The sky was a pale green.
He dad was there too. Reading the poem from page 45.
He woke up to a sound at the window. He went over and opened it. He picked up his cat and placed him on the bed and returned to the window and shut out the cold air.
“Hello Banana-leaf, you’re cold.”
Sato sat with the cat. He held it until the both fell asleep again.
Sato and his cat slept in the swirling blue galaxy.
He dreamt about a bank vault, a stairway that went down and down.
Sato woke. He hadn’t thought of the key and instructions in the safety deposit box in years. But there it was sitting in the brain like the sun.
He got out of bed. Banana-leaf was somewhere. Sato yawned and picked up a biography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from the floor and put it on the night table.
He heard the golden cold morning tone of the church bell.
He turned on the TV. Women were playing golf. Sato looked at a woman pick up a white ball and wave to the spectators. The camera moved to an overhead shot. Sato liked the bright green dotted with tan and blue.
He went into the kitchen.
He heard clapping and yelling from the TV.
He went in and looked at it. There was a bright golden yellow light in the middle of the fairway.
Outside the cold sun bounced off the waves. A sailboat made scooting switchbacks on the light.
He didn’t think of the paintings he tossed away. They didn’t matter. And the gallery owners didn’t understand real art anyway. They would have said who cares about trashed paintings – best to not flood the market. Less work meant higher prices. Rarity. Sato pictured squid flying through the sky.
Selling art for a living was stupid. But it was better than working at a bank or at a supermarket – most days. He was lucky to be in the galleries he supposed. Five or six good paintings a year was all he needed and he was thankful for them.
Most buyers knew nothing about art anyway – less than the gallery owners if it was possible. Except Miss X. She was his biggest collector.
He met her only once at an opening. She wore big sunglasses the entire time. “Making art is like trying to walk on the moon that is reflected on the sea,” she said to him. “Buying art is like swimming in the reflection of the moon in your own pool.”
Sato drank a coffee and didn’t really think about anything for a while.
Outside, on the beach, he could see a group of people. It looked like some kind of ceremony.
“Today must be Sunday,” Sato said. “Banana-leaf come eat your fish,” he yelled.
Soon the cat appeared in the kitchen. Sato watched him eat the dried fish. Outside on the beach the people held hands.
The waves shook hands with the shoreline. And left. A never-ending receiving line.
Sato looked at the wedding ceremony. He had never married. He never felt one way or another about that.
Sato would paint today.
Tomorrow he would see the frog-faced gallery owner.
Then maybe go to the bank and open his safety deposit box and read the instructions.
Banana-leaf was batting at a shimmering shadow in a patch of sunlight on the teakwood flooring
Sato wanted to paint the feeling of trying to hold shadow.
He went into his garage and found his biggest canvas.
He wouldn’t paint over this one.
This would be the one to set him free forever.
A painting of pure music and color and shadow and breath and joy and void.
* * *
Miss X gazed into the purple galaxy enclosed in the crystal on her home office desk.
She just finished a stock transaction netting her $250,000. She didn't feel anything.
She stood up and walked over to her teakwood bookshelf and selected a thin volume of poetry. She turned to page 45 and read the poem. She read it twice. She felt something. She cried.
From her window, she could see the edge of the ocean.
She decided to go for a swim in her heated pool.
She went into her basement and changed into her bathing suit. Dove into the warm water. Looking up from under the water the fluorescent lights shimmered. A half-dozen moons.
The swim relaxed her. She slipped out of the water and put on her robe. Her pool, her art collection, her money – it was fine. She enjoyed looking at the beautiful things – but still there was some indescribable pain underneath it all. Mostly she was bored.
There was only one painting that made her feel a feeling beyond what she could buy – an infinite feeling, a feeling from another world. Sato’s “Blue Galaxy 2.”
And the poem on page 45.
She remembered the first time she found the book. Sitting on her front step one morning. And she remembered the letter that fell out of it. Instructions for something that looked like a kind of rocket-helicopter with speakers on it.
It seemed crazy at the time. Blueprints from an insane mind. But she had saved them anyway. In the drawer of the teakwood desk upstairs.
Miss X went out on her balcony. She opened a $10,000 bottle of wine and drank half. Tossed the other half over the edge.
* * *
Sato made the last brush stroke on his canvas. The symphony in his head came to a flourishing finish. He’d worked for 18 straight hours. He put his brush in the water jar. He went to the couch and lay down. The blue galaxy dissolved even though Sato was not awake to see it.
He dreamt of a coffin flying in space but space was also underwater. There were six shaking moons and Banana-leaf was chewing on a fish head. There was Miss X. She was reading the poem on page 45 but her voice sounded robotic. She reached down and picked up a little moon from a green hole. She showed it to him and waved. The crowd cheered.
Sato woke up. He imagined the sound of waves crashing.
The dream felt part of a distant past dissolved and part of an unformed future.
“Dreams are echoes,” Sato thought. “Dreams are echoes,” Sato said out loud in a voice like a robot. Banana-leaf came up and licked Sato’s cheek. His breath smelled like dried fish.
Sato stood from the couch and walked into his studio and looked at his work.
It was perfect – except for one thing. He picked up a brush and dipped it into some pink paint. He made a motion like the conductor of an orchestra. Then he made two stabs like a master knife fighter and a loving caress like a dying grandmother seeing her grandchildren for the last time.
He stepped back and looked at it. The studio filled with a deafening roar of pure music.
It was done.
Flag down in Forlorn, Mississippi.
Sato gazed at the painting and felt the pull of another world. He stepped back. He felt good. He decided to go for a fancy dinner.
* * *
Banana-leaf eat dead fish. Banana-leaf go outside. Banana-leaf chase moth. Banana-leaf piss on nightflower. Banana-leaf screw orange cat. Banana-leaf communicate with shiny music.
* * *
Miss X woke up on the balcony. She had a hangover. The only cure was a thick Kobe steak. And more wine.
She went indoors. She stopped and stared at “Blue Galaxy 2.” Looking at it made her feel like she’d just had a little toot of cocaine. She felt a strange pull. She went to upstairs to change into some fresh clothes for dinner.
The Blue Horse had the best beef in the city and was crowded most nights. Miss X sat at the bar. A little wine first then later a steak.
She politely brushed off two drunken businessmen offering shots of whiskey and sipped at her wine. She noticed a handsome man walk through the entrance with the calm confidence of an undefeated featherweight boxer. It was the artist Sato.
Miss X waved to Sato.
Sato remembered his dream. She had a steel purple and soft golden glow surrounding her. He walked over and sat down.
“Are you celebrating?” asked Miss X.
“No. I don’t know. I made a painting today. A good one. I was going to bring it to the frog-face.”
“Buson? He is not so bad.”
“He gets me the most money.”
“You didn’t go?”
“No,” said Sato. He motioned to the bartender for a whiskey.
“You don’t care about anything,” said Miss X.
“I have a cat named Banana-leaf.”
“It is a nice name.” Miss X looked at Sato and saw he was very sad inside.
“It is a good painting,” Sato said. “To sell it for money would diminish it. But I cannot paint over it. I cannot hide it away in my home either. I suppose I could give it to the monastery – but there too it would be wasted. A school perhaps....”
“I’d love to see it,” said Miss X. “Let me buy you dinner and then maybe you can show me this masterpiece.”
They ordered more drinks. They ordered salads. An appetizer of fried squid, steaks, snow peas and some champagne. There were tarts topped with truffles for dessert.
Sato held up his glass and looked through it at Miss X’s face. Her face was golden. She smiled.
It seemed as if they sat at a table that was raised 45 feet higher than the rest of the people at the restaurant.
They were careful to avoid the subject of art.
“I imagined that last sentence was narrated off screen by Alec Baldwin,” said Miss X.
“What?” said Sato.
“Nothing,” said Miss X.
They left the restaurant and, without discussing it, walked to Sato’s house, said Alec Baldwin.
* * *
In the cold water jar the blue galaxy swirled.
Banana-leaf communicated with the blue galaxy.
Between them they telepathically directed music language into Sato’s new painting.
* * *
Sato and Miss X stood in front of the painting.
“This,” said Miss X, “is somehow making me feel pleasantly funny. Like maybe a hit of hash. Like warm.”
“Hmmmmmm” hummed Sato “Like floating above a neon purple hot spring.”
“Maybe I drank too much,” said Miss X, “but do you hear something like faint music coming from....the painting somehow?”
“Maybe it was the wine,” Sato lied.
“I feel as though I can’t take my eyes away from it,” said Miss X. “I feel...something like happiness.”
“Do you want to read a poem?” asked Sato.
He went over to his book shelf and slid out his dead father’s thin volume. His life’s work. The only thing that seemed to make him shine out of his dull life as a banker. He turned to page 45.
Miss X began to recite the poem from memory.
Sato looked up like a fortune teller from a swirling purple crystal ball that held his future. Shocked – he said “You know this poem? This is my father.”
Miss X told Sato how she came to own the book. And the strange instructions that fell from its pages.
* * *
Banana-leaf send waves of music. Banana-leaf disappear completely for 16 minutes. Banana-leaf transform into pure color. Banana-leaf emit pure love.
* * *
Sato woke up. Miss X wasn’t in the bed.
He went into the studio and found Miss X staring into the painting.
“I feel peace, Sato,” she said. Her face lost its purple steel aura. She looked dreamy and stoned. “I will pay you $250,000 not to sell this.”
Sato smiled. “Would you name it for me?”
“Let’s name it for the last word of your father’s poem,” she said.
“Let’s name it for your real name,” said Sato.
“I have no real name Sato,” said Miss X. She turned and picked up Banana-leaf. “Let’s name it for little Banana-leaf,” laughed Miss X.
Banana-leaf licked her face. His breath smelled like dead fish and cellos.
* * *
Sato put the key to the safety deposit box into his pocket.
“Selling art to the rich makes me feel awful,” said Sato.
“I’m rich,” said Miss X.
“You’re different,” said Sato.
They were walking to the bank.
“I hate banks,” said Sato.
“Because your father wasted his life at one?”
“Because of everything.”
“Money makes people happy too,” said Miss X.
“It reminds me of a haiku,” Sato said. “By Kaneko Tōta:
bank clerks are fluorescent
from the morning’”
“That’s sad,” said Miss X.
“He died last week,” said Sato. “That is sad.”
Then they were at the bank. They went in.
* * *
Nansen waited until Sato and Miss X left the house. Then he snuck in.
If he could steal just one of the artist’s paintings he would sell it to Mark for a couple thousand.
And that pretty lady looked rich too. Maybe she left a purse behind.
Nansen slid the backdoor open. Stupid artists. So naive. Thinking art can save the world.
He saw a small painting that looked like it could be worth something. He searched some more. A gold watch. Some stray bills and coins. He pocketed anything that looked expensive.
In the kitchen he picked up a knife.
He went into the studio. He stopped.
The painting before him radiated a high like pure heroin.
He went over to it. Perhaps he could take this as well.
He might not even sell this one. He had such a good feeling looking at it. He picked it up.
Banana-leaf hissed and bared his fangs and grew three feet longer and lunged through the air.
Nansen flashed his knife and cut the cat in two pieces.
He ran out of the house. Taking the smaller painting, the watch and money. Leaving the other painting behind.
* * *
Banana-leaf become music. Banana-leaf floating ghost. Banana-leaf enter painting.
* * *
Sato and Miss X left the bank. Feeling happy.
In his pocket Sato had the instructions. And Miss X had an envelope in her pocket as well.
A wind swept across the street and Miss X saw a vision from the near future.
They stopped at a bar and had a beer. Sato spilled some of his on his shirt.
“I’m sorry Sato,” said Miss X.
“It’s nothing,” he said.
“Not that. I’m sorry for what happens next.”
“What?” said Sato.
“Nothing,” said Miss X.
They finished their beers. And walked out into the chill of the street. Sato wanted to sit for a moment by the ocean. Miss X agreed. He deserved a little peace before he went home.
They sat as the waves breathed in and out. Miss X ran her hand through Sato’s hair.
“I feel,” Sato said, “like a man about to set off for a new world.”
Sato picked up a pink seashell and followed its spiral until it disappeared.
Finally they returned to Sato’s house. Before they went inside Miss X stopped him. And hugged him.
“I love you,” she whispered “in this galaxy and the others.”
Sato went in first. He thought he heard the low moan of a mournful cello.
His house was ransacked. The little black and blue and purple painting was gone. His big knife was missing. His watch. Books were on the floor. Sato checked and was relieved to find his father’s book was still there. He went into the studio.
There was a golden hum coming from the painting. Blood on the floor.
There was little Banana-leaf in two pieces. Poor gone life.
Miss X saw another world beyond.
* * *
Sato slept for three days. Miss X fed him green tea and stroked his head and hummed to him. She read his father’s poem to him. She told him about her dreams. She held him and let him be silent.
Then Sato got out of bed and went and found the envelope with the instructions. He told Miss X to go home and get the other half of the blueprints and return.
* * *
For a week they worked together in the studio. Barely sleeping. Only stopping to eat, drink tea, make love and shower.
When they finished they slept for three days. When they woke they felt rested. Like explorers about to set off on a long journey.
Sato went to the basement to box.
Miss X planted flowers in the yard. It was the beginning of spring.
* * *
Sato and Miss X meditated. They made love. Miss X performed a crystal ceremony.
The painting emitted a golden hum.
They looked at the machine. There was one last thing for them to do.
“I think we need to hook the painting into the machine,” said Miss X. “The painting needs to be connected to the speakers above the wings.”
It wasn’t that easy.
Sato and Miss X tried a few different configurations.
Finally they needed to sleep.
That night Banana-leaf came to each of them in their dreams. Telling them parts of what needed to be done to complete the machine.
They woke. Their breath smelled like dead fish and crystals.
* * *
Nansen nodded out. His head jerked up and he rubbed his eyes until they burned red.
His body ached and his stomach was cramping up. And his pockets – and veins – were empty.
He still had the artist’s knife though.
A sound: ruptured gold. Peace made hand holding. Jargon infinite. Can you feel the waves of it? It is a glory. It is a morose picture of grotesque mold in our ventricles. If ever there was a God, it lives in there. Breeds itself with itself. You grow because of it. You shape your muscles and bones to fit its frame. To be able to carry it.
Nansen felt a nerve spasm shoot through his arm.
His mind had seemed to transmit strange thoughts since the artist’s cat bit him and he killed it.
He was able to fence the painting and watch and that kept him high for a while.
He decided to see if he could make another score there.
* * *
Banana-leaf-ghost-painting radiate benevolence. Banana-leaf-painting-ghost emit peace and forgiveness to all hungry ghost-men.
* * *
Mark gave Nansen two hits on credit and Nansen told him he would return with more paintings.
Nansen went back to his small apartment on the roof. Far away in the distance he could see the water. He loaded his spike and let pure peace and warmth flow into his veins. Oceans of warmth rising and falling.
He felt no need to rob the artist and woman now. But he knew it would all pass again and he would be back to the hateful grip of bigger need.
He relaxed and drifting through the purple ocean. He dreamed of the cat. Floating in space. Huge and soft. A moon with fangs. Blue horses. The humming painting.
He jerked out of his golden dream. And was back in his apartment. City sounds and screaming and burning. He had a vision he was living on the roof of hell.
He missed his wife and his son. He saw their faces floating by. They were gone forever now. And only the drugs could ease his hurt. But they would also bring a pain beyond pain. But it was a different kind of pain. One he could accept.
He felt himself thinking too much. He got out of bed. And decided to do the robbery now before he felt sick.
* * *
Sato looked at Miss X.
“You’re a genius,” he said. He hugged here. “I love you.”
They were nearly ready.
They stepped back and looked at the machine. It looked like a helicopter-coffin with wings and speakers on the wings and a space for the painting like a giant screen.
They wondered if it would actually fly.
They attached the painting like a sail. A coffin and a clipper ship. They felt like explorers. They toasted with whiskey.
Miss X gazed into her purple crystal for an auspicious time to launch the vessel. The next morning looked good.
Sato and Miss X got stoned from staring at the painting and turned up the speakers and felt the joy from the music emanating from the colors.
They toasted to Banana-leaf. They cried. They made love and laughed. They read the poem on page 45. And neither one acknowledged the feeling that this was probably their last night in this world.
* * *
Nansen watched the lovers through the window. He stood in the flower bed – crushing the newly-planted bulbs.
He gripped his knife. And felt the tug in his stomach from the withdrawal symptoms that were coming.
He would wait until they fell asleep and sneak in.
He waited an hour. When it was time he went to the back door again, slid it open again. He crept through the house a second time, listening, and pausing for a moment at the spot where the cat had attacked him. Where he’d cut it cleanly in two.
No blood. It was like it had never been. How miserable, Nansen thought.
He wasn’t sick yet. Not yet. But it was there just at the edge of him, a plague ship. The spot on the floor where he’d ended the poor cat hollowed out a place in him for the sickness to drop anchor.
He looked at the strange machine with the painting attached to it like a sail and heard it buzzing and felt a pleasant sensation creeping down his spine.
He broke away from its hypnotic sound and searched the house for something to steal.
He went up the stairs knife in hand.
Sato awoke to a sound on the stairs.
* * *
Banana-leaf follow with purring. Banana-leaf ghost quiet. Banana-leaf exit painting.
* * *
He leapt out of bed and saw Nansen standing there.
“You killed Banana-leaf!” Sato threw a punch and connected with Nansen’s jaw. Nansen fell and jumped up from the floor and slid the knife between Sato’s ribs.
Sato bled out on the floor. He felt his life dissolving like the blue paint in the water jar.
Miss X screamed.
Banana-leaf appeared like a giant moon with fangs.
The ghost-cat leapt upon Nansen and bit his head off.
Then Banana-leaf moved over to Sato’s body.
Sato looked up at his cat, and then down at his chest, at his father’s shirt drenched now with his own blood.
Miss X ran over to him.
Together they trembled. She pressed down on his wound, not knowing if it would help, muttering his name again and again. The cat turned away, walking back toward a sound she only now noticed – a slow-rising throb. Coming from the machine?
“Sato can you hear me? Can you walk? Let’s go to the painting. I think somehow it will help,” she said.
“Banana-leaf...Am I dead?” Sato muttered. He looked helplessly at Miss X. “Read me the poem please...”
He moaned and lay still. She remained by him.
“Sato, you have to get up. Come with me. A short walk. I promise. Then I’ll read to you.”
“I only wanted to make the world more beautiful,” Sato said. “I can’t....”
“Please Sato,” she pleaded.
Sato saw squid flying into a fluorescent light.
The church bell sounded the hour. The throb had grown loud enough almost to drown it out.
The squid began to circle over his head as if being sucked into a whirlpool.
* * *
The snow moving sideways
out of the corner of my eyes
make me think there's birds
but there are no birds
I cannot remember birds
The snow has made all quiver to nothing
The air is dehydrated
shriveling to rind
* * *
From the vortex Banana-leaf appeared.
“Get up,” Banana-leaf said.
* * *
Banana-leaf carry Sato. Banana-leaf go to color world. Banana-leaf take Sato to machine. Sato let go.
* * *
Nansen’s head was still watching. It had rolled to the spot where he’d taken the cat’s life. A few musical flares left to fire off in his brain – he was disconnected from the sick now, safe forever, and it was all sound, sound, sound, a bleeding man getting to his feet. The red was beautiful for what it was worth.
* * *
Everything was unraveling in beautiful colors and music.
Sato found himself in front of the machine gazing up at the painting as it hummed a golden electronic symphony.
Miss X opened the studio door and pushed the machine out into the new morning light.
“Banana-leaf carry machine to beach” the ghost-cat said telepathically to Miss X. “Take Sato with you and meet me.”
Miss X contemplated the cat for a moment, trying to identify why its voice seemed familiar – Alec Baldwin? It didn’t matter. She regarded the machine. Too big for her alone. She studied it for a moment, then began to tear it down into as few components as were necessary for transport – breakers, switches, speakers, relays, connectors, motor, power supply. She tucked the central painting under one arm and grabbed the instructions, hoping she could assemble it again without issue.
Even after the machine was broken down, the golden hum remained.
“Poem...” Sato groaned.
“Hurry,” said Banana-leaf.
An invisible team of blue horses charged into Miss X’s body and gave her the strength to carry the machine parts to the beach.
She thought of the words in Sato’s father’s poem as she hurriedly reassembled the machine as the waves crashed.
Nansen’s head floated over the sky cutting through the clouds and blessing the earth with a light sorrowful rain. The world seemed dangerous and beautiful to Miss X.
Miss X felt in her pocket to see if she had any pills. There was the envelope containing all her money – but even all her money couldn’t help Sato right now.
Only the golden hum could help him.
She worked at the machine quickly.
The rain wetted the instructions as she worked. Banana-leaf waited patiently nearby as Nansen’s head circled above like a drone, at turns seen and obscured, seeding the clouds.
“I was happy,” Sato moaned. His shirt bloody-black in the rainlight. “I was happy just then. At the restaurant. In bed with you. I was happy.”
Miss X had the machine assembled. She put Sato into one of the seats and she sat in the driver’s seat. She pressed the button. The machine lifted into the air blasting a glorious golden hum and projecting the beautiful painting across the sky.
They went higher and higher. Over the poor part of the city, Miss X dropped her money over the roofs.
They rose up. Like a flower blooming into space.
The people below felt happiness.
Six shaking moons surrounded them.
Nansen’s floating head became Banana-leaf’s head
Dead squid danced.
Art and music filled the poor beating hearts below – and much-needed money filled their pockets. Because this is still real life you know.
Said Alec Baldwin.
Sato fell into a golden humming trance.
The machine rose higher and higher breaking through the atmosphere like a glass jar cracking.
He looked over at her.
“How did you finish the machine?” He asked.
“I think you needed to be dead,” she answered. “To let go. It was the only way.”
The crack spread, widened.
Golden light and music filled the world.
Sato and Miss X went into space.
The earth below them was insignificant.
They entered into a dimension of pure music.
* * *
ALTERNATE TOTAL DOOM ENDING
Sato bled out on the floor
Nansen stared at Miss X with blood dripping from his knife.
“Stay back. I’m taking the painting and leaving.”
Banana-leaf turned into a pure white tiger.
His face was like a yellow moon with fangs.
Banana-leaf growled and bit into Nansen's face.
Sato's body bloomed with deathflowers.
Nansen stabbed the cat and ran out clutching his bloody face.
Miss X sat there stunned. She took the money out of her envelope and tried to soak up Sato's blood.
Nansen ran down the street bleeding. His blood-stained hands marking the golden painting.
He dripped blood on the street flowers.
Alec Baldwin was still Alec Baldwin.
The world was hell. But you knew that already.
* * *
ALTERNATE TOTAL BLISS-OUT ENDING
It wasn’t until they’d reached Mars that the machine’s telemetry unit picked up an approaching craft –Sato had fully recovered from his wound at this point with the help of another of Miss X’s crystal ceremonies – and a voice crackled over the onboard communications array.
“Sato?” the voice said. “Sato, it’s me. Your father. I’m alive.”
The painting pulsed erratically.
"Sweet!" Said Sato.
"We should totally have a huge rave on Mars," said Miss X.
"Did you know Mars is made up entirely of MDMA?" said Banana-leaf. "Lick the surface. Try it!"
A playful hologram of Banana-leaf appeared on the HUD as Miss X commenced landing protocol for Mars decent.
"Dad you should totally read your poem at the rave!" said Miss X "Can I call you Dad?"
"Later Rose – by the way that was your real name this whole time," said Sato's father.
"Hey," said Sato, feeling the effects of the MDMA from licking the surface of Mars, "DJ Banana-leaf get on the turntables with the painting as the background and kick this party off."
Mars bloomed with flowers everywhere.
The music was sick.
Sato was doing like a live painting thing too.
Foam cannons doused them as Banana-leaf scratched.
"Maybe later we can actually write out parts of my poem?" said Sato's father. "Like in a different section of this."
Sure. That might be cool.
Alec Baldwin was not invited.
“Yeah Dad,” Sato said. “That would be cool. Also, can we play catch? For old time’s sake?”
Miss X and Sato made out like at the end of an 80's movie as Banana-leaf scratched and Sato's father danced. And even Nansen was actually kind of cool in the end. He brought more drugs. Like they really needed them.
"Sure son. Remember how besides being a poet and a banker I was also Nolan Ryan? The famous pitcher! Isn't life crazy?"
"What about my mom?" said Sato. "We never even mentioned her."
"Oh, she was awesome. Like too awesome to even mention." said Sato's dad.
"This party fucking kick ass! Banana-leaf turn up" yelled Banana-leaf into the mic.
"You're name was Rose, because of the flower haiku at the beginning and you were like the savior of the story – but we never said that in the story because it seemed too obvious and we wanted to keep you mysterious."
"Haha, okay dad, whatever," said Rose. "Have a drink!"
Sato beamed. His life of making art led to a beauty and pure joy beyond his expectations. Anyway, TLDR, making art is worth all the hell.
* * *
EXCLUSIVE BEHIND THE SCENES COMMENTARY WITH THE NEUTRAL SPACES STREAM WRITERS
Pretentious Anonymous NS Writer 1: I decided to name the main character Sato because I read somewhere that Issa's son's name was Sato. Pretty interesting huh?
NS Writer 2: And Nansen is from a Japanese Zen koan. He is the one that cuts the cat in half because the monks couldn't say a good word about it. What a dick huh? I remember hearing that story once then I googled it and found it on a site called sacred-texts.com. Here's the story:
“Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: "If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat."
No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.
That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.
Nansen said: "If you had been there, you could have saved the cat."
Mumon's comment: Why did Joshu put his sandals on his head? If anyone answers this question, he will understand exactly how Nansen enforced the edict. If not, he should watch his own head.
Had Joshu been there,
He would have enforced the edict oppositely.
Joshu snatches the sword
And Nansen begs for his life.”
NS Writer 3: Shout out to Giacomo! What's up my guy? Also did you see that shout out to the haiku poet Buson? He was the frog-faced gallery owner.
NS Writer 1 again. Still a pretentious loon: Banana-leaf takes his name for the poet Basho. Whose name means something like "Banana tree." Also I like cats. And bananas. So it was a natural fit.
Sato's Dad: Can we do my poem now?
NS Writer 2: Chill man. We'll get to it if we get to it. Gotta leave some mystery. It's like the end of Lost In Translation. Do you really want to know what Bill Murray said?
Bill Murray: I gave her my burner phone number at the end.
Alec Baldwin: Why am I here?
NS Writer 4: Because the story was starting to sound a little Wes Anderson-y.
Alec Baldwin: No, I mean like why am I here on Earth?
NS Writer 1 (windbag douche): It's really the existential question for the ages isn't it my good man. Hmmph hmmph hmmph.
Alec Baldwin: How did Miss X get the instructions? You guys never explained that.
NS Writer 3: Fuck off man. We're just winging it here.
Sato's Dad: I gave it to her. Can we please do my poem now?
NS Writer 2: Yo man! This isn't about you. This is our time to talk about our process. We're writers. We like to talk about process.
* * *
DELETED SCENES + GAGS
Sato stood on the shore as the cold wind shook his skeleton. He lit a cogarette (which had been willed into existence by one of the Neutral Stream writer’s terrible spelling and typing ability – the one who is typing this sentence -and was basically a kind of cigarette) and looked over the ocean. He took out his brush and painted white over the horizon and the sky and the early-rising moon and the polluted city skyline and the breaching whale and his own heart and brain.
Sato, bleeding out on the beach as Miss X attempts to reassemble the machine, rolls onto his side, at which point all of the cogarettes fall out of his pants pockets – Miss X begins to laugh uncontrollably and trips and falls in his blood.
Nansen’s head is stolen from the prop department. A cantaloupe had to be used as a stand-in during the climactic ascent into space.
WES ANDERSON: “I tried to get Alec Baldwin to wear a green smock and we’d later remove his body in Chroma key, but he was supposed to be in civil claims court and couldn’t do the scene. So we went to a Food Lion and got a cantaloupe. It worked okay.”
Banana-leaf slips on a banana peel on the floor of Sato’s bedroom during the big fight scene. “Is that irony?” says Nansen. “Banana-leaf think is not quite definition,” says the cat.
Scene where Thelonious Monk spins in a slow circle on top of a dark purple ocean.
Turns out Monk died in 1982.
It would have been beautiful.
WES ANDERSON: We had this great dramatic scene where Sato’s dad comes to him in a beautiful dream – backlit by the sunset– and reads his entire poem. It was going to be a real key moment but we had to cut it for time.
Sato’s dad: Hey! What the hell man?
Pretensions-ass Neutral Space Writer 1: Did you notice how the appearance of the Tōta haiku was foreshadowed in the opening paragraph? I thought it was a particularly brilliant touch.
*Nansen throws a banana cream pie in NS Writer 1’s face
Neutral Space Writer 1 (wiping pie from face): Ahem. Quite. Juvenile hijinks. I expect nothing less from a Zen delinquent such as yourself.
Three hours of discarded footage of feeding Sato’s Dad’s poetry into a paper shredder
Banana-leaf on drums, Miss X on sax and Thelonious Monk on piano play an hour-long jam session.
Sato’s dad tries to do some free-form beat poetry but is drowned out by a crazy Banana-leaf drum solo as Thelonious slowly spins in circles.
Seven-minute scene of Buson — the frog-faced gallery owner eating frog legs. In a very grotesque manner. Sloppily, but slowly. Lots of slurping sounds. A cello solo plays in the background. He is waiting for Sato to show up and present him with a painting, but Sato has decided to stand him up as a kind of “fuck you” to the Art World Establishment.
Miss X watching Jeopardy. With a special cameo from Hexagon-Trebek.
WES ANDERSON: The whole thing was originally going to done in stop-motion animation, but then it was like nah.
(as he is saying this Nansen is shaving Wes Anderson’s head – and Anderson doesn’t even realize because he is so absorbed in talking about the story.)
Joshu and Nansen tie off with lengths of rubber and inject themselves with heroin. Joshu takes his sandals off and places them on his head.
He says: Why did the crane stand on one leg?
Nansen replies: Because the river has dried up.
Joshu says: If I am hungry why do I throw away my rice bowl?
Nansen replies: Because your hands are tied.
Joshu says: The raccoon is taller than the mountain. The mountain is taller than the owl. What is taller than the raccoon?
Nansen replies: Yo this dope is fire.
The orange cat tilts her head to rest against Banana-leaf’s head. For an instant we can see the inside of their skeletons and their beating hearts. Banana-leaf chews on a dried piece of fish and vomits it up and the orange cat licks it tenderly.
NS writer 1 (windbag loon): We wanted to develop a love story between Banana-leaf and the orange cat that paralleled the Sato and Miss X (Rose) storyline but we thought it would be too heavy handed and obvious and ...[gets hit in the face with another pie]
Nansen and Joshu do a high five.
Nansen to Joshu: Bro they should totally do a separate stream about us! Like maybe a buddy cop comedy thing! You in?
Joshu to Nansen: The sun is an Iguana but only after it has set in the Western sky. ...and also... I’m totally down brah!
Mumon’s comment: Joshu took Nansen’s sword and cut his head off. It floated away and became cream of broccoli soup.
Three-hour montage of Sato boxing, painting, smoking cigarettes with an intense look on his face and intensely showering.
Candid footage of the whole cast playing beach volleyball.
Sato’s dad’s poem:
Sato’s dad steps forward. He is somber and his hair is gray (also somber, for hair). He clears his throat...
Scene cuts away to a rerun of “Seinfeld.” The one where Jerry sleeps in Kramer’s apartment because of the bright red light from the chicken restaurant.
[Seinfeld theme plays]
George/Nansen: Why is there no haggling in this country?
Jerry/Joshu: I guess we like to think we've progressed beyond a knife fight for a citrus drink.
George/Nansen: Not me. Everything should be negotiable.
Jerry/Joshu: Restaurants too?
George/Nansen: Absolutely. You're telling me there's no room to move on pasta. All starches are a scam.
Jerry/Joshu: Yea especially ziti, with that big hole.
[George/Nansen asks the store worker a question]
George/Nansen: Excuse me, how much is this?
Worker/Buson: Dollar nineteen.
George/Nansen: I'll give you a quarter.
Worker/Buson: Get the hell out of here.
Jerry/Joshu: Tell him forty and no fork.
Worker/Buson: That's it you leave and never come back!
Jerry/Joshu: How about we leave and come back in a week?
George/Nansen: Alright see? We got something there.
[Kramer/Mumon and Jerry/Joshu on the side of the street talking about the new chicken shack.
Jerry/Joshu: Look at the size of that neon light.
Kramer/Mumon: Roger's can't sell chicken around here, we got chicken places on every block.
Jerry/Joshu: He is the gambler.
Kramer/Mumon: Well, I gotta meet Newman at the pet store. Helping him pick out a turtle.
Jerry/Joshu: Why is the turtle the slowest of all animals?
Kramer/Mumon: Because the sun has gone down.
Jerry/Joshu: If the sky is red why is the thunder blue?
Kramer/Mumon: The fifth Buddha is made of straw.
Jerry/Joshu: What’s the deal with enlightenment?
Kramer/Mumon: It’s the same old thing.
* * *
DAVID CARUSO: (removes sunglasses) “Yeah so my agent got me this audition for the part of Joshu in this CBS thing. He’s a detective expatriated in Japan, wrapped up in some international intrigue stuff. He has a partner named Nansen, hasn’t been cast yet. They start off adversarial but warm to each other, learn to trust each other, even rely on each other. Real excited for the opportunity and to work in the region.”
NEUTRAL SPACES WRITER 1 (windbag ): (removes outlandish oversized sunglasses) “After the stream I was looking to parlay my success into something for TV and my agent (lying) pitched me this Joshu and Nansen thing. I heard Caruso signed on as Joshu. I think he’s marvelous — understated, but tough. I’m excited to develop the characters. The way I see it Joshu represent nihilism and Nansen represents like also nihilism but in a Zen way, know what I mean? But also like Abbott and Costello, I really dig the philosophical implications of slapstick. Anyway like I was saying (lights outlandishly long cigarette)...
Scene with Nansen and Joshu doing reaction videos to Eminem diss tracks on YouTube
Alternate version of the Sato vs. Nansen fight scene but floor is covered in two inches of maple syrup. And Sato and Nansen are dressed like NBA referees. Miss X beats a slow ominous rhythm on a tambourine. She says “hang on guys, wait, this will look much cooler with a strobe light on.” Sato and Nansen agree. They wait while a strobe light is installed. Nansen asks Sato why there’s syrup all over the floor and Sato mutters something about the pipes. The lighting woman finishes installing the strobe. The fight resumes. Nansen stabs Sato. Then looks at Miss X and says “Is this like a movie or something?” Miss X says “What is enlightenment?” Nansen says nothing. Then blows his referee whistle.
Alternate version of Sato's entire life – his father standing on a Mount Takao the day before his wedding, taking a photo of himself looking out, trying to catch the horizon but only getting himself, smiling, the dumb optimism in his eyes, just a moment alone before a new life begins, a moment of being, his wife-to-be at an appointment with the Tokyo Pregnancy Group; a ceremony the next afternoon, his father's bride, Sato's mother, so radiant, his bride a poem to be written; fast forward six months, baby Sato opens his eyes at 3:45 AM in Hiroo to loving parents who will absolutely not wound or abandon him. His memories of this time, this brightness and peace, are to be strong. His parents will instill in him a respect for himself and others, an optimism that cannot be replicated in any abstraction, cannot be reduced, transferred, minimized in any way, cannot be translated into any other medium.
Alternate version of your own life where everything feels beautiful and there is no pain. You have what you want and you are safe and loved. And you spin around under a waterfall with some chill R&B emanating from a tropical rain forest (if that sounds appealing to you and if not just substitute something else).
DAVID CARUSO: “I’ve been really getting into Kraftwerk lately.”
Neutral Spaces Writer 1 (windbag and also coffee snob guy who wears turtlenecks): I like them as a concept and Autobahn and the Tour de France album were good. But I don’t know. Did I play you my music? I have a link for you to check out. I think you’ll really like it. I wrote all the lyrics and did the beats and production. (Lights even longer cigarette than before and takes sip from very tiny espresso cup, looks satisfied) ahhhh. Now then about my music...Did I tell you I’m also a musician besides my writing...
Scene of audience of laughing ghosts watching a live-taping of the “Seinfeld” episode.
Jerry/Joshu: What did the fourth Buddha say when he attained enlightenment?
George/Nansen: (giggling uncontrollably)
David Caruso watches the snowfall
David Caruso expires
A little decomposition
In the springtime daffodils bloom in his rib cage
Just a bit of gut music
Pay it no mind
In the end
the flowers continue to bloom.
Sato, Miss X (Rose), Buson, Nansen, Joshu, Mumon, Banana-leaf, David Caruso, Jerry/Joshu, George/Nansen, Kramer/Mumon, Worker/Buson, the members of Kraftwerk, all the Neutral Spaces stream writers, Wes Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, Thelonious Monk, Sato's mother, the orange cat, the fox-faced gallery owner, Mark and the entire wedding party from the beach all share a last supper-style dinner together in front of the calming vibe of the golden painting. It is a joyous occasion. The wine flows. Bread is broken. Jokes are shared. Everyone celebrates a successful stream. Banana-leaf peels a banana and throws the peel on the floor. The dining room door flies open. Sato's father enters the room holding a machine gun.
"Listen up, motherfuckers," he says snarling. "I'm reading this poem. And you're going to sit here while I recite. And you're going to appreciate the subtle nuances of artful beauty or I'm going to pump you all full of hollow-point bullets. I'm sorry it has to go down this way. But, honestly, nobody appreciates poets anymore and it's a damn shame."
Sato's dad, seizing the drama of the moment, finally steps to the front of the room, brandishing his machine gun and a copy of his chapbook.
He clears his throat. Steps forward (somber gray hair, etc.) Begins: "Above a misty glade the ghost hovers..."
He takes another step. Slips on the discarded banana peel. Falls into an endless void.
[giggling, uncontrollable, enlightening motherfucking laughter]
[Kraftwerk's Morgenspaziergang plays]
Sato - himself
Miss X (Rose) - Rose Kobayoshi
Buson - Mario from Super Mario Bros.
Nansen - David Caruso
Joshu - Jerry Seinfeld
Mumon - guy who plays Newman from Seinfeld - hang on I gotta google it. Oh yeah: Wayne Knight
Banana-leaf - Grumpy Cat
David Caruso - himself
Jerry/Joshu - Andrew Dice Clay
George/Nansen - Jordan Peele
Kramer/Mumon - Wayne Knight
Worker/Buson - Jason Alexander
The members of Kraftwerk - themselves
All the Neutral Spaces stream writers - Anonymous
Wes Anderson - Bill Murray
Alec Baldwin - himself
Bill Murray - Bill Murray
Thelonious Monk - ghost of Thelonious Monk
Sato's mother - Kim Basinger,
The orange cat - Garfield in a wig
The fox-faced gallery owner - a frog
Mark - Wayne Knight
The entire wedding party - the starting lineup of the New York Knicks, the Swiss women's soccer club and Wayne Knight
* * *
Oh yeah and Sato's dad - George Clooney
Mumon’s comment: The ones who try to gain enlightenment by writing words are all playing with ghosts. Tell me now what are you going to do?