by Fielding Goodfellow
There are some things that happen when you’re a kid and you just know that you’re never going to forget about them. Like jumping in the bushes with Maddie Grant to smoke a cigarette or cop a feel and then, if you were lucky enough to get a decent lead off of second base, to slide headfirst, safely into third. The thing about memories though is that you can’t really depend on them, I mean they’re just not trustworthy. I’m pretty sure though, that this is exactly how it happened.
Tate had been drinking at The Silver Dollar one night and found himself waking up to the sound of knocking on his door with one hell of a hangover, face down on his living room couch. He couldn’t remember how he got there, but there were government agents asking him all kinds of questions about Farberman. Tate knew something wasn’t right. Farberman had been recruited by some secret government research facility right after graduation. We were sure that he would wind up doing something like that, I mean he held advanced degrees in physics and biology, despite spending most of his junior year with a theatre major named Chloe. She was French, and had the most incredible smoky, gray eyes any of us had ever seen. She smoked Gitanes, drank strong, black coffee and had dreams of being the next Sarah Bernhardt or Claudette Colbert. She was wonderfully Parisian. Farberman was on her like a moth to a flame, often spending nights at her place, drinking absinthe and engaging in bouts of French sex which, while under the influence of the hallucinogen he described as an orgasm having an orgasm. He swore that in those throes of passion he had actually heard the voice of God. Tate and I, on the other hand spent most of our university years majoring in drugs and young women yet still managed to walk off of the campus with degrees in assorted liberal arts. Anyway, when the government agents said that Farberman had been missing for months, Tate was sure that he was up to something. If anybody knew what that was, it would be Chloe.
Chloe had done reasonably well in her career. She was a standout as Janet Weiss in a local production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and had just been cast as The Acid Queen in Tommy. Tate and I caught up with her after rehearsals at the Elgin Theatre. She still looked the same, I mean she was older and everything, but those eyes hadn’t changed one bit. She said that Farberman had been in touch with her recently, and had told her that there would be people after him. He didn’t say much more, but he did leave her an envelope that she was to keep hidden until she was to deliver it to a warehouse in the Portlands. All of the details were in the envelope. “Is he okay?” Tate asked.
“I suppose so” Chloe said, “but he looked tired and scared. You know he was never very strong.” She was right, I mean even as a kid Farberman was an anxious and nervous guy. We used to go down to The Rivoli to try our luck with the Fine Arts majors who despite being in the midst of discovering their inner bisexuality, always seemed to be willing to drop to their knees and take one for the team, if you could play anything by Peter Frampton. Farberman found them too aggressive and wanted nothing to do with it, leaving Tate and I to finish the set with a rousing rendition of ‘Shine On’.
Tate’s paranoia began to set in and he was convinced that he was being followed by agents and double agents, all hoping that he would led them straight to Farberman. Everywhere he went he saw espionage and subterfuge lurking in the back alleys and shadows. I suppose he could have been right, I mean he was carrying the envelope we managed to seduce from Chloe under his jacket, but Tate could usually find conspiracy in everything. By the time we got back to his place, he was close to hyperventilating. “Make sure the door’s locked.” he said as he tore open the envelope. Inside we found pages and pages of scientific formulas and mathematical equations that neither one of us understood. There were sketches and photographs of old paintings, and the instructions of when and where Farberman wanted the envelope delivered.
“He’s out of his fucking mind.” I said. “He can’t really think we’d go all the way down to The Portlands just to try to save his sorry ass.”
“No” Tate said, “But I think he thought Chloe would.”
I’m sure she would have. Chloe was like that. Life was funny though. I mean the good stuff like drug induced hallucinations, The Beatles, and sex always seemed to end far too quickly, while the stuff we face with dread, like dental appointments, meet the teacher nights, or attending a second cousin’s wedding, just seem to go on forever. Farberman’s relationship with Chloe was a lot like that, I mean in the two years they were together nothing really changed. Absolutely no progress was made, but Farberman never cared much for progress. He believed that it was nothing more than the advancement of the bank accounts of those who already have so much, at the expense of the bank accounts of those who have absolutely nothing. It sounded very Trotsky like, but it was all just a lot of Bolshevik bullshit.
It was raining when we got to The Portlands, and the old, abandoned warehouse that once stood proudly beside the concrete silos filled with grain to be used by the Goderham and Worts Distillery, looked eerily desolate. We walked towards it, with Tate holding the envelope inside his jacket. He thought that we might have been followed, and insisted that we stood behind a sign that once read ‘The Famous Portlands’, and now, through years of neglect and the elements, proudly declared ‘T AM PO N S’. We both thought it was pretty damn funny, and when he was convinced that we were alone out there, we made our way into the building, walking across the floor and up the stairs to where the executive offices used to be. We could see a light towards the back of the floor and walked towards it, until Farberman jumped out in front of us. “What the hell are you trying to do?” Tate asked him, grabbing him by the shirt. “You scared the shit out of us. I mean it Farberman, you’re such a asshole. ”
“I was expecting Chloe.” Farberman said. “What are you doing here?”
“Trying to help you.” Tate said.
“Did you bring the envelope?” Farberman asked.
“We did.” I said.
“Good.” Farberman said. “You can relax, now. No one can find us here. The entire building is pretty much invisible. Its completely off the grid” He took the envelope from Tate and starting walking into the brightly lit room. “Come along.” he said. “I want you to see this. No one else must ever know what you see here tonight. Do you understand?”
“Sure.” Tate replied. “Its a big secret.” Inside the room we had to shield our eyes, I mean the light was almost blinding. There were massive screens, all lined up in a row, and equipment we had never seen before that seemed to be generating enormous amounts of energy that was being stored in a series of massive, brightly lit tubes. The room was filled with the sounds of machinery running, with the whirs and groans echoing like a constant buzz in our ears. On one of the tables monitor sat the Superman action figure that Farberman had used as a good luck charm since fourth grade. Hanging on one of the walls was a massive painting that I knew I had seen before, but just couldn’t remember what it was. It was definitely French Impressionist. “What the hell is all of this.” I asked, I mean it was about time someone asked.
Farberman sat down and told the story of how he had discovered, in theory, a process of transporting three dimensional objects into a two dimensional existence. “We had made it possible to go in, and were working on getting people back.” he explained. “But the government was never really interested in bringing anyone back. They had planned on using it as a way to remove insurgents, criminals, and other undesirables, basically anyone who spoke out against the government, permanently. They saw it as a way to silence anti government rhetoric, and it smelled like Fascism. I knew I could never let the government get their hands on it. So, I took the plans, destroyed the working model, and have spent the last little while rebuilding it here.” The plan now was for Farberman to disappear into the painting that hung on the wall with all of his notes and reproduce his work with the hope of making it possible to travel back and forth through dimensions. He was convinced that there was life within that painting. It was hard to believe really, I mean I would have bet that he was either high or he had lost his mind.
“When I leave here” Farberman said, “I want you to take the big painting and get out of here. You have about fifteen minutes to get as far away as you can. I’ve set explosive charges all around the building. It will go up like giant Roman Candle. There will be nothing left.”
Farberman moved to the painting and stood facing it as an intense white light emanating from one of the machines shot out across the room, and seemed to go right through him. There was a flash and a whole lot of smoke, and when it cleared Farberman was gone, just like that. The machines began to power down, and although I couldn’t be sure, I swear I saw Farberman waving at us from inside that painting.
Tate and I carried that damn painting across the field that led from the warehouse in relative silence. It had to have weighed about fifty pounds. I suppose neither one of us knew what to say about what we had just seen. “Do you really think he sent himself into the painting?” Tate asked.
” I hope so.” I said. “If not, he’s out of his fucking mind. Joseph Conrad said that “only in man’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life. And if nothing else, Farberman’s got one hell of an imagination.”
“I hope so.” Tate said. “I think I might like to live in a world safely tucked inside a painting.”
“I’d prefer a book. Something like Kilgore Trout’s ‘Venus On The Half Shell’ would suit me.”
We had made it clear across the field and were just about to leave The Portlands when we heard the explosion. It was like thunder from Mt. Olympus. By the time we turned around all that was left were pieces of brick, wood and machinery scattered in heaps of rubble on the ground that was once home to an old, abandoned warehouse. It all seemed so very Hollywood, I mean it was epic. It couldn’t have had a better ending. Farberman would have stroked out if he had been around to see it, I mean he was also so sure that life was nothing more than a series of random events strung together through time and space. There wasn’t a poetic bone in his body. I was pretty sure that life was a blank page, or an empty canvas, and it was up to us to write or paint whatever the hell we wanted. It all lives in our minds really, a creative spark that takes on a life of its own. Its creativity that makes a life, not logic and reason. And out there at The Portlands, life was certainly imitating art.
News always seems to travel fast, I mean I went to see Chloe the following day and she already knew. She knew everything. There was even an article in the paper about the explosion, claiming that a natural gas leak had obliterated the old, abandoned warehouse at The Portlands and had taken the life of a renown, local physicist. I read it several times, but I couldn’t tell for sure if Farberman had arranged for the story to be published himself. I wouldn’t put it past him. It really didn’t matter though, I mean the government agents wouldn’t be bothering any of us again. We were all in the clear. Chloe had known all along what he was up to, but she had promised him that she wouldn’t say a word to anybody. She was good that way, I mean she never told him that she and I had tripped the light orgasmic sometime in our sophomore year. As for Farberman, I suppose he got what he wanted, a life inside a nineteenth century painting without the fear of having his invention fall into fascist hands. I was certain that he’d be back, I mean he was a pretty smart guy and all, and besides, Tate had pocketed the good luck Superman action figure just before Farberman disappeared. I’m sure he’s lost without it, but I’m also sure that Tate meant no harm, I mean he only took it to make sure Farberman came back.