Kerry Shawn Keys minibio

“I don’t know who I am, but I have many names and live in Vilnius,” says Kerry Shawn Keys, an American living in Lithuania of nineteen years now. He is a human orchestra: translator, poet, prose writer, author of children’s books, dramatist. Kerry has already become part of the Vilnius landscape and culture. The poet Sigitas Geda said about him, “by his presence and participation in the everyday life of Lithuanian poetry, he has made us stronger as well.” Kerry, though, calls himself an “outsider”, and outsiders are generally better at seeing certain things than locals or those ensconced in everyday life, in the “system”. A view from the side is always interesting, and with that in mind, the Vilnius Review has decided to begin publishing Kerry’s short, witty essays about Lithuania and Lithuanians. So, here, each month you will find "A Palmer's Chronicle".

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reflections on belonging

Graphic Novels

Photo by Dainius Dirgėla

By Kerry Shawn Keys


Well, I’ve been here longer than time itself. Shorter, if you get me, and that’s just the way it is, Lumen, the way it is, and in her voice you could feel something flaccid and afloat like a tidal pool of eviscerated eels.

My name’s not Lumen, but that’s what she called me or thought my name was. Doesn’t much matter to me. My name’s Lou, but I get Lewis and Louis and even Lois or plain Lo, and sometimes some lowlife limey gets a kick out of calling me Loo prolonging the oo’s. I first got wind of Rachel’s situation through a mutual friend, an amiga, Joan, though I call her Tootsie or Toots from some childhood memory of a lady-friend of my mother’s. Though Toots is young enough to be my daughter. They must have had something in common. I don’t know what. Sometimes even a mole on the neck or thigh will do it. Or red hair or a tilt of the head. She was the one who told me enough about Rachel to ring the old ding dong in my head and get me interested, and told me where I could find her. We were in her bed at the time and had just had rhythm-method safe sex so to speak and Toots was suddenly talking about some hormonal problem she had with irregular cycles and then she somehow conjured up her old friend, Rachel. At first I didn’t connect or know what she was getting at. Some things just bob to the surface – like a bloated body of someone you destest or a slimy creature from the lagoon of a dreadful dream.  

It wasn’t long before I went to see Rachel. She reminded me so much of someone that I was sure I knew, but I just couldn’t get it into focus.  She was living in a two storey drab building that looked like a gymnasium you might find at an older State University, trying to look nice and architecturally sound in the patches of sunlight that penetrated the oak and maple trees that circled it, but it was still drab. In a way, it corresponded to Rachel herself with her dabs of garish makeup that only accentuated her gray pallor and disheveled disposition…but sometimes she would saunter over to a chest of drawers and pull out a bright orange, almost fluorescent wig, and flop it on almost Halloween style. It was grotesque but hilarious at the same time, and something else because it kept me on edge.

How long’s it been, Rachel? I wanted right away to get a sense of her sense of time, what way she would phrase it, not my sense or the world’s, the Big Ben’s. She would look at her Timex and her answer would always draw out the same refrain… longer than time itself, sometimes adding shorter as an afterthought that might have contained some irony but was certainly no deeper than that. Rachel was neither deep nor not deep. I knew of course that she had been there about seven years. The place was called Weller Home, but it was just another lotus-feeder institution poorly disguised in a euphemism. It had been a Catholic Institution, once even a convent, but now it was run or shall I say rundown by the county.

You know, Lumen, it’s better here. Better. Often, she would pull a banana out of her bottomless handbag at the beginning of our talks, peel at bit of it, lay it on the table but never eat it. The trees, they’re red and gold every year, and when they’re not I can make them that way. “Better” than what, I tried to find out, but she remained reticent for a long time and maybe didn’t know herself. I seldom interrupted her. I just let her go on when she was on a roll and sometimes she would talk for half an hour non-stop, and I’d pick it all up on my recorder. And even if I had to recharge the recorder, I was good at remembering what she was saying, off the record so to speak. At least I now had better equipment than the crap I used to work with years before, and lots of experience as a journalist and amateur private eye.

You know, Lumen…usually she’d preface her answers or her conversation with the “you know, Lumen”, though I didn’t notice this much until I’d play back the recording and then it sometimes got on my nerves. You know, Lumen, I was always quite the happy-go-lucky sort until the thing happened. She used the word “thing” with some lurking connotation, that much I could detect. We had been married six years, and I felt charmed, and so did Harry, I think. Except we really wanted a kid bad, and weren’t having any luck even after going to a doctor. Harry was 7-Up every time, and I felt myself fertile as any mountain momma. She always started out so clear and simple and concise, and then suddenly it was as if she clicked into some other world, and words and sounds would pour out like a dam, the gates of Hell, her aorta, and a spillway had all burst at the same time. The first time it happened I thought no I don’t want this, want to do this to her, and I closed the meeting down as best I could and went to consult with her attendants but they assured me that it wasn’t me, that it happened all the time, even when she was alone. Of course I had been worried about her, but I was as much worried about being guilty, though I always feel guilty about everything anyway. Fucking annoying character trait – feeling guilty even when you know you’re not. 

I’ll try to transcribe the verbiage the first time it happened. After a while the outbursts became for me even hilarious, the scramble of words and sounds, but my sympathy would overwhelm my sense of humor and I had no trouble in keeping a concerned but poker-face. Yet this first outburst was a shock. I was so grateful for the efficiency of a recorder since my Gregg’s shorthand was long gone despite my mother branding it into my skull, my right hand, and countless sheets of paper as a punishment I had to undergo every time I  transgressed her maternal care and possessiveness. I had just asked Rachel if she knew what had triggered her move to Weller Home. She jerkingly pulled another banana out of her handbag, this time squashing it on the table with her chin going up and down like a piston, and then the glossolalia gasped out from a face that looked more like a toxic spotted mushroom than the drab, listless features before me moments before: umutherfuckyoumanyesatushayesatyeserandhowfuckwhysevenmoonsIshouldhavebeen-sussusfuckususpishucomeheremydarlingstarIiaitestingthegroundplopfurrypieceofmemy-darlingvalentinemoclemantangerineschristmastimewhenholybetterabombinationsofthese-awholeracetothefinishhayesatticbornfuckmanusolikeImembernobuttnotfromybellybelieve-umesevenuppumplightupdiditdiditdiditdittohadittodittoIlikethatbutnotmydittomyclonemonk-caulallpleasantahtahsullivanshitfuckthatherevanvanguardoffuturehowwellwellhousedmaple-soaksRachelkillkillRachelrichrotblueyesblueseaseemedarlingforeveryoursGodmaidenyour-imageimagomagmushtubebutenemamomenemameeverywherenotintheworldIminnowso-slowgowayleaveswillfallsoonsoonermetoodarlingpiece (or maybe she said peace)

ofshitthismakingmakingIwantedtobebeequeengetmeandtriedtoohardarlingandyouweresoso-sadsosososososososososoooohyouranswersirminealsososoferriswheelwongwellfuckheu. A pain in the ass to transcribe this from the recorder, but I have done so as meticulously as a non-linguist can. I’m no Lomax taking down Haida Gwaii tall tales or yelping sharecroppers. Daisy-chain moans more my speed than chain-gangs or auctioneers. 

I went nearly every week to visit Rachel, but after the first few visits I realized I had lots of other things to do look into. At our last session for the time being, Rachel ended it with this – Someone like you came here and did something bad. Then I went to another world and came back. Really now, I thought, another world, give me a break. As for “bad”, Rachel often used these Sunday School terms…thank God she didn’t graduate into Church and “evil”. I had lots of time on my hands. There was a cluster-bomb of tiny bells tinkling in my skull. Living off of a small income from my uncle’s estate, gave me time. Money does buy time, sometimes. It became clear that something had happened to Rachel in Jordon – the city, not the foreign country with its King Hoosane or whatever his name – and I used to live in Jordon long before I moved to Halifax. I closed my eyes and tried to remember Jordon, my life there, the chronology down to the smallest cracks in the sidewalk. Tried to remember images, people, my habits, my friends, the streets. Jordon was a metropolis and I used to walk all over it whenever I just needed to think or relax. River to river, bridge to bridge, twat to twat, stopping for endless coffees, watching the drag queens and pigeons from a park bench, eyeing the garbs of the homeless and the small time drug dealers. Fashion shows for me – the latest garbage-pickings, the latest dope, stubs, fag-ends. It was really uplifting, I smirked, thinking of Rachel’s spiritual vocabulary.

So, I went back to Jordon, just to see what I could see. I had my suspicions. Going over her gibberish, there were a few words I remembered from the past….and one was Ferris. I used to do some part time work for them. The pay was real good for a loafer like myself, and the work was fun. Jacking off into a little ceramic dish that resembled an ashtray and then placing it on a shelf built into a wall with a removable partition in the wall. A gloved hand would protrude a bit, take the dish, and then close the tiny door. I’d wash my hands, put the Playboy mag back on the rack, and exit by the elevator. Simple, and I once calculated that my hourly wage would have been about 300 bucks. That’s 2400 an 8 hour day, and 12 thousand a week. Today, that would be triple that, so say 36 thou a week. Fifty weeks a year, since with such hard work one needed a two-week vacation, and it comes to about 2 million a year. I had put that on a job application a couple of times as my previous wage, but no one would hire me or even take me seriously. Mostly social-work jobs – you didn’t need a degree back then. Being a professional sperm donor is something akin to being a leper serving pork-rind chips and  Manischewitz in an airport business lounge. I quit trying, and decided to work for myself, become a private eye. Yeah, one can become one’s own private eye. I called my agency, Smurov, Inc., for the fun of it and to make it seem really clandestine. Later, I changed to just Eye & Co. when Smurov proved too difficult for my fellow countryman to catch and too many illiterates thought I was into the vodka business.  The hard stuff, which makes me think Private Dick, Inc. might have worked as well. Yes, Ferris Institute, located in a large apartment complex across the street from the local university, and across the street, I might add, from the Veterinarian School and Psychology Dept Lab. I knew the Lab because I had once worked as a janitor there, and I used to sneak into one of the off-limits rooms and watch the white rats run in their maze. Hungry, aggressive sons-of-bitches. Gave me a hard-on.

So, anyway, I started to sniff around Jordan, just going there to catch something in the air. The Ferris Institute never had a sign outside, though there was a listing in the white pages with no indication of what it was. I went to where it used to be but did not want to go in to check it out and be seen by some video recording camera or anyone coming in and out. So, I just had a coffee across the street, and watched. Off and on for several days. I wanted to see who might be going in and out. Fuckin’ shit, it was a dreary, drizzling day, and who did I see going into the building? A mist of red hair and blood-red high-heels. Toots. A big woman, not easy to miss. What the hell was she doing in Jordan, and why the hell in that building. When she came out, I followed. I followed her as if I were following myself back in time down a corridor the size of the alleyway back of Wyeth Street, as if I were following a walking gurney, a sailcloth splotched for and aft with an ensign of blood. Couldn’t figure out why she was there for the life of me…unless maybe she had some connection to my mom’s old friend, the one with the red hair, and I just wasn’t aware of it – maybe a missing link, a missing daughter, and was farmed out of Jordan when a baby. Or maybe she had been leading me on from the first mentioning of Rachel, and it wasn’t just some coincidence that she had started to tell me about her. Maybe she knew I was watching her. 

Anyway, Toots finally hopped a cab, and I hailed one right away, and tailed her across the bridge on the way back to Halifax. And I supposed to her flat, but I wanted to be sure. Already, I was planning on trysting with her there as soon as possible, hoping to trap her in some verbal confession of her doings in Jordon, an inadvertent spilling of the beans as it were – but to my surprise she exited the cab just down the way from the Weller Home. I did the same, some distance behind and out of sight. Why the hell was she going to the Weller Home before going back to her apartment. It was just then, I had a kind of vision, an apparition really. Like you know, sometimes when you look in the mirror and you see the mirror image of yourself on the glass, and then you touch your face, feeling yourself just to be sure you’re still yourself and haven’t been transported there on the mirror, or in the mirror as the phrase goes. Well, now I was remembering the first time it occurred to me that there must be something, some being, anyway something, between – in the air or ether if you will – my physical me tangere self and the mirror. Some thing between. Living, though I remember once taking a razor and slicing the space between me and the mirror, and being disappointed that there was no carnage. And now hanging before me in a kind of curtain of salt were Rachel and Toots together in one image, what you might call a Shroud of Turin affect, and somehow I knew I was behind them. It was really strange, and nearly knocked me over. The impression was really intense, and click as a camera how much they were inseparable after all, and the chagrin that I had never made the connection before. Toots went up the steps and entered Weller Home. I waited awhile but she didn’t come out. The matron must have left her in. I paid the taxi and walked home. 

Before going to see Toots, I decided to visit Rachel first. Something was gnawing inside me and I needed to resolve it. But when I got there, the matron told me that she was no longer there, that she had checked out. She was a voluntary inmate, I knew that. Never involuntarily committed, according to her and according to the records that I had confirmed right after I started to see her. I remember checking it out not out of idle curiosity or my sense of professionalism, but I didn’t like the feeling that she might just follow me down the steps one day. But I had to live with that. Anyway, she wasn’t there, but I went back every day for a week, hoping she just might reappear. No luck. Or maybe luck. Well, I needed to see Toots again to see if I could covertly lead her on to letting something slip out about Jordan, and to tell her about Rachel having gone AWOL to see how she might react. Besides, I was horny. So, I went to the Weller Home just out of habit, and then decided to walk from there directly to Toots’. All the time, I kept looking over my shoulder because it seemed like someone was following me. That kind of zen instinct you get from working the streets. And there was some guy that looked a bit like Hitchcock, and that made me laugh after he got into a trolley heading the opposite way. Maybe I was in a film and I didn’t even know it.

I should have guessed something was going to be a bit awry. A bit of paranoia can be beneficial, but in this case I didn’t pay attention. Rachel answered the door, not Toots. “Lumen, what a surprise!”  And I foolishly went in, though I had the feeling the surprise was meant to be mine. Lumen darling, sit down, sit down. Can I get you something. My stomach felt more like it wanted to get rid of something. And it got worse, because suddenly somebody was knocking on the door. Not to my surprise, it was Rachel. Toots let her in, and then quickly locked the door, plopping the key in her mouth like a goldfish at a frat house hazing. But of course I knew there must be a copy somewhere, but that wasn’t going to do me any good at that moment in Eternity. Yes, that’s what it felt like, like how it must feel to be in one of those time-capsules buried into the granite cornerstone of a building somewhere. Or a sorry, little sperm about to be kept in cold storage. Of course, Eternity is a relative term here. I remember how we used to say “ O I was waiting an eternity for you.” 

Well, Toots’s no welterweight, and Rachel looked transformed, all fire, like a phoenix sprung out of the ashes of a  Weller Home. I weighed the situation, and sat down at the kitchen table even before being asked to, thinking, yeah, can I get you something. And lo and behold, Rachel came over from the stove with some fried oysters, remarking how her daddy used to like them, and so she thought I might. Like all men are the same, or daddies. Like I said, she wasn’t the quickest, but she was trying to be nice, and I do love oysters. And that’s how I ended up there. It’s been a year. Took some time getting used to. Not bad, though. Like being on the dole. And Rachel’s as good in bed as Toots, or even better – likes it up the ass. Usually, all three of us together, but sometimes just them. Never me and just one of them except when one of them’s gone for a while. I don’t know why, but that’s house rules. Toots and Rachel are talking about getting married and adopting me. Maybe the three of us can get married somehow, Utah-style and we can also adopt each other. No wilderness left and everyone cramped, it’s all legal game now. Reminds me of that Cole Porter song, ‘Anything’… I can’t seem to remember the name. ‘Goes’ maybe? Anything Goes.  As they say, we’re all one big family on MacDonald’s farm. And they also want to have a couple of their own babies, both of them. Mostly Rachel. Me, as the donor. Shit, I’m good at that. But at the same time, a bit afraid of some squashed Amish disorder since I suspect there’s some kind of connection from back in Jordon. 

No lock and key anymore, not even after the first week. No one pregnant yet that I know of. Not even me. Ha. And Weller’s is still operating. Open admission. Free chow, but pretty God-awful unhealthy. So, I usually pack some greenish bananas, and kiwis from the fridge – they keep a long time. Chocolate. Miss my yoghurt. They serve pudding and jello. Some money man behind them, Gates maybe. Who knows. Yes, you got it, when I need a little r & r, I commit myself for a couple of weeks. Kind of a lark. Or so it seems. Toots and Rachel take turns doing the same, but not as much as me. Then, when one of us is in, the other two take turns coming to visit and even bring my recorder. I like to put on the orange wig, even when I’m alone. Like now. Well, Lumen, that’s just the way it is. It’s better here. How long’s it been. You know, Rachel, I just don’t know. I just know I can’t get over these bananas. They’re the best fuckin’ bananas.  Peels as slippery as eels. They keep forever. Unless you eat them.

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