Sunday, November 7, 2010

things that ooze back in

I'm thinking about Ronnie Bannister and his family. Back in 1962. Mrs. Bannister was my 5th-grade teacher. In class, she would read us a chapter a day from A Wrinkle in Time (which had come out that year). After school, she would secretly slip me books on Communism. Mr. Bannister was an acerbic, taciturn atheist, a pipe fitter at the refinery who also read strange foreign literature. Mr. Bannister did not like me for some reason. They were socialists or something in our south Arkansas reactionary town. Very odd situation.

And Ronnie himself -- odd. Neighborhood kids picked on him. When we played Army, he always wanted to be the medic. Unheard of! Ronnie was into science stuff, strange theories about outer space and electrons and what-not.

They lived two houses to the east. The east, where I lived, always had something unusual about it. I'll not veer off here and tell you about the east of our town. Except to say that it moved toward and into a slightly different dimension, different from the one in which our west, north, and south existed. The terrain sloped down from our house to the Bannister's. Their yard always filled up with water when it rained. I was enthralled by the rain back then. It rained existentially or spiritually. The rainfall came down like shredded pieces from a sad old abyss.

One late afternoon in my backyard with Ronnie. I was swinging like a monkey on the tire-rope swing, which was suspended from the branch of a large hickory tree. I'll never forget it. Out of the blue, Ronnie announced: "One day you are going to be an important man." He said it with such an oracular tone that I was nonplussed. Every now and then, it pops back into my head. He seemed so certain, like he was seeing into the future. But he was wrong. I never became important. I think he jinxed me. If he hadn't said that, who knows? If he had just kept it to himself, I might have actually turned into someone important. Like Churchill or a professor.

Going over Ronnie's house to play and hang out.

Mr. Bannister was usually unseen but always a brooding, threatening presence. Like some kind of coiled-spring, erudite psychopath. I imagined him in another room and with his nose buried in some god-knows-what book of European literature. The kind of book that if put in the hands of all the other dads in our rather coarse neighborhood would have made them quiver and spazz until they almost exploded with perplexity.

I loved Mrs. Bannister. But lets shift away from that before I get moody.

Ronnie's bedroom. It felt funny. Had a strange atmosphere. Like all the atoms in it were from an alien universe. I'm not kidding. It felt like I had entered the ambiance of one of those reruns from the TV show "Science Fiction Theatre," which aired early on Saturday mornings and which made me feel very uncomfortable, put me on edge.
[Science Fiction Theatre]

By all appearances, it was a normal, well-lit bedroom. The odds-and-ends and toys and books weren't that bizarre. But from a very early age, I've had a sense about the uncanny. I knew what was normal, what was not normal, and how even normal stuff was moving through an unsuspected-by-others haze of weirdness. I was an expert in detecting changes in barometric pressure between this world and the possible oozings from other dimensions.

While in his bedroom especially, Ronnie would talk a lot about science and theories and things no one would expect from the brain of a boy. Maybe his room wasn't really weird. Maybe it was something the room absorbed from Ronnie's soul that made it seem not-quite-right. I really liked Ronnie.

I think the Bannisters might have been genuine aliens. From far, far away. And what better place to go mostly undetected than El Dorado, Arkansas?

Years later, they moved to somewhere in Louisiana. Mr. Bannister died of a stroke or heart attack. I've tried to look Ronnie and his mother up on Google, but no luck. I hope they are okay.

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