Well once there was a girl. And, like all the girls, there was a man who was in love with her. Her name was Diana. She lived in Louisiana, in the land without basements. And she was raised in the flat country where they sit on the porch to watch the hurricanes roll by, and where counties are called parishes and grandmothers and called grandmothers. Where the families are huge and the kids marry young and they think that fifty degrees is kind of cold.
He was named John Moses. He was a riverboat captain from Kentucky, and he carried a picture of her above his wheel. He made ports of call in Ohio and Missouri and Arkansas, but he was always drawn back to Louisiana again, pulled inevitably south by the magnetic currents of the Mississippi river. And to him she was the river mouth and the sea and it was his nature as a river man to sail through and float inside her presence. And when they would meet they would make love in barns and fields, and she would gleefully undress him, discovering for herself each new tattoo he had gotten while he was away, like Easter eggs hidden beneath his clothes. He would say dirty words and she would giggle, and she would steal his pocket-watch while he slept and watch the ticking go around the face, where she could see herself in the glass.
They would lie very still, hidden by the grass or the walls of the barn, her hair endless and wild and filled with hay. And she would always ask, “John, why can’t you just stay this time?”
And he would always say, “Diana, I don’t need to. Because I’ve always got you waiting for me when I come back,” when what he really should have been saying was all that pretty business about the sea and the river mouth.
And one day she laughed and said, “Maybe.” And he thought she was joking and tried to kiss her. And she let him, but she was only kind of joking.
It went like this for awhile. And they wrote letters to each other when John was away. And he always wished that the hookers were her. And she always wished that the men at the dances were him. But she was from Louisiana, and her father was a minister, and it would seem unusual if she got too old without being married. So one day, Captain Moses received a letter inviting him to her wedding. And as he read the letter in a tattoo shop in Illinois, he thought of where his love for her was going as it died, that very instant, as the tattoo gun chiseled his newest surprise for her into his forearm. It was a picture of an alligator, and he knew she would never see it, just as he knew he would never be at that wedding.
And it turned out that John Moses’ love did go somewhere. He began to realize that his life was a constant press towards doing. Towards charts and depth bearings, towards cargo manifests and map miles. Every day was a new obstacle field of numbers and details. And so John Moses fell in love with Zero. He couldnâ€™t get it out of his head. Everywhere he looked, there was something there to remind him. A table in need of cleaning. Dirt underneath his fingernails that needed to be removed. The hairs in his sink drain. The ice in his drink. Life was a constant push towards endless doings, cycling from year to year, season to season, week to week, day to day. No sooner was he completed with one thing, then did he find himself preparing for it all over again. A perpetual event machine. A constant cycle of life and birth.
So one day Captain Moses decided that he was tired of the machine called time.
He re-christened his boat The Easter Machine.
And Diana’s letters came. But he left them unopened. And he sent none back, until the letters stopped coming.
He fired his crew and docked the Easter Machine permanently in New Calgary Ohio, on the Ohio river looking into Kentucky. And inside he established a laboratory in which he could attempt to create true and ever lasting zero. Only the laboratory was not confined to a single room, but extended throughout every square inch of the ship. He was making himself into a tattoo. He called it his Difference Engine. And unlike most engines, it sought not to power the machine it was connected to, but to destroy it. With his Difference Engine, John Moses would destroy the Easter Machine. And with it, his own life. So he made it so that his life and the life of the ship were one in the same. He left a collection of his hair in one of the closets. All of his toe nails and finger nails, once clipped, arrived in a jar inside his cabin. He covered the walls in automatic writing, and wrote his dreams in knife marks on the ceilings. One day he made love inside the boat with a ham shaped prostitute, on loan from the Shire Motel.
One room he called his memory room, and inside he spent countless hours writing down every single memory he possessed, in non chronological order. He drew pictures from these memories, and plastered the walls in snap shots, Polaroidâ€™s, and tearings from his High School Year Books.
He was creating within the ship his own second shadow. A tattoo of himself.
Until, inevitably, came the day when Captain Moses would have to put his experiment to its completion. He would have to release the boatâ€™s energies. So, one sticky August night, he aimed the boat at a saw mill set against the river. He set the engines to full speed and made his way towards the stern. And the boat collided with the shore.
And all the people of New Calgary woke up in the middle of the night and went running down to the shore. And they never found John Moses. But some people say they saw a man with two shadows, buck naked and knuckle walking his way into the woods on the other side of the river. He was headed south, drawn towards the bijou by the inevitable pull of river gravity and epic revenge.