(Excerpted from the forthcoming Balloon Heart, by Tom Andrews.)
"A quest is only a quest if you know where you are going. Take that as a fixed rule, and put down that glazed doughnut, you cock-eyed sorrow-smith. Sit down. I want to talk to you."
Those were the words that Finny spoke to me after the war ended. There was more than enough sorrow to go around, but he saw me as just adding to the pot, and if he had his way that was all going to change. Finny liked change, but only the good kind.
When my dad died, I went to work on The Project. Finny knew all about that, but he only saw fit to criticize it, speaking in dramatic tones whenever it came up. "The Project," he would saw with great flourish, puffing out his chest and holding his head erect with his chin drawn in. "The Project keeping you company? How is The Project today? Would The Project like to try a little lemon curd on its toast this morning, a**hole?"
I tried to ignore old Finny as best I could until the morning that I saw him standing naked before the open field just outside the entrance to The Project. He was doing some kind of yoga position, I think it was - maybe a "sun salutation" or a "whooping largo" or a "vascular dung-clamp." Finny stood erect (no pun intended) and then spun around in a circle. Faster and faster he went, spinning so fast that certain parts of his anatomy lofted away from his body at right angles due to the centrifugal force (or is it centripetal force? I can never remember) . No, I am speaking about the large burrito-shaped growth that he had on his abdomen - get your mind out of the gutter, please.
All at once he collapsed and laid there, laughing and laughing with his big old belly and its burrito-shaped growth just heaving up and down. I had to avert my gaze as I approached, as the sight was not too pretty and I had great concern for Finny's modesty. I looked around for a blanket or an animal skin to throw over his naked form, but could find only clods of earth and a few morels. These I plucked up and tossed over his midsection, covering his naughty bits with the fresh fungal morsels. Finny groaned and smiled.
Just as I was tossing the last few morels over his groin, Finny stopped smiling and then crumbled away to dust. A dung beetle crawled from a nearby hole and started rolling into a ball something that used to be a burrito-shaped growth. I just shook my head, wiped the morel dirt from my hands and headed on into The Project.
That was a long time ago, after the war and after my dad died. I think about Finny every now and again, in particular those words he spoke to me, "a quest is only a quest if you know where you are going."
Ain't no lie, Finny. Ain't no lie.