I wanted to live in the world of Looney Tunes; where being looney is a virtue, love is a spell and death is victoriously comedic.
Sadly, at the age of about eight-years-old, I came to realise that the Road Runner does not exist, rabbits can’t talk and kissing boo-boos away does not, actually, make them any better. It was a sadder realisation than when I learned Santa Claus was all but another glittery fictitious lullaby meant to shield our infant minds from consumerist sentiments (Much like the lunar landing, yells the conspiracists!). But I also believed that most children already knew he was a fat red ruse anyway. My favourite cartoon though – how painful a blow.
As I grew older, I was reminded of that feeling from time to time. Mostly, when reruns screamed on the television set and plunged me back into the glorious world of smoking guns, lonely mars, and wicked canaries. During these instalments, I’d turn to my friends, who were usually hung-over and collapsed on the carpet at my feet, and I’d mindlessly ask them things like:
“Can you imagine that...a hunter crying over your death?”
They’d erm and ah in response, someone always saying: “I’m gonna puke.”
It comes as no surprise then, that the world of Looney Tunes was seemingly always on my mind — if not at the forefront — it was always playing in the background, muted but nonetheless memorable. I think I yearned for the episodic rebirths of each character. One could think them gone and buried, but then they’d resurrect on the screen like old friends, horribly missed during the few seconds we thought them lost forever. An episodic life, with unending resurrections, seemed to be the very thing I’d always wanted.
Drinking was the obvious, more realistic, alternative. And so, I remember I found myself one night at some after-hours college party in a dusty, cavernous library; the student pres had the key, and the space was trans-formed into a slightly lame disco with what looked like a dangerously bubbling punch on the loans-counter. I was sitting on the floor, between two bookshelves, next to a pouty girl drinking a suspiciously blue cosmo. Her name was Kittie, or was it Katie, or Kelly, and she talked endlessly about the end of the world. I asked if she’d believed in the moon landing, to which she replied, with slurred consonants:
“I’m no hippie.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant but I nodded along, wondering if she realised that her fringe suede jacket and scarf-tied pony was giving the opposite impression.
On the shelf in front of me were children’s books, which now seems weird for a college library, and I read each spine in great suspense (Heart of a Cowboy, Fairy Kingdom, Dog Tails). By resisting the urge to pick one up and leaf through the coloured pages, I settled for asking Kittie if she knew any good stories. I expected no response, or maybe another long-winder about how we’re all walking atomic bombs, but to my surprise she said:
“Have you heard of the magic powder?”
I looked at her, incredulously, thinking that the cosmos had finally taken her way out to outer-freaking-space. But she looked dead-eyed serious, sober as a skunk (that sounds incorrect), and entirely too interested in what I had to say next. I responded dumbly, feeling like I was talking to a child I was a little afraid of,
“Never heard of it.”
“Not everyone has, it’s a secret.”
“Can you tell me?”
“Fine, cause you’re sweet, but you have to pinky-promise not to tell another soul.”
“Ok. Well...” she elaborately swished her drink and it splashed onto my jeans, “they say — who I’m not sure — but they say that there’s a magic powder in the records room of the library.”
“Why is it magic?”
“It’ll make your dreams come true.”
“Well, I don’t know, do I? It’s magic, I s‘pose.”
Her words stayed with me as I watched her tenderly sip the rest of her drink, lips stained a sherbet violet, violet sherbet. She seemed back to her boring self, googly-eyed, looking around the room like a paranoid socialite thinking the cameras are watching...the cameras are watching.
Magic powder sounded very Witch Hazel. I couldn’t say for sure if the story she told me had any truth to it, but I was also finished with my drink and itching for anything, something to get me up and onto my feet. I asked if she knew where the records room was I had wanted to go alone but Kittie, or Katie, or Kelly, had seized a fistful of my shirt and bounced along attached, unable to be shaken off despite my best attempts.
I discovered the records room, much larger than I imagined, located at the bottom of several dimly lit stairwells that I never knew existed. It was really more of a storage room, with old desks, boxes of books, unarranged files; all piled atop each other in clandestine mounds. There was some cabinetry, an attempt at record-keeping, but over the years it had become disorganised. It seemed like no one had been there for decades.
I sifted through some of the documents, nothing exciting, and heard Kittie in the background stub her toe and curse. This didn’t look like the kind of place where anything magical would be kept — it was as forgotten as the old classics — and I internally chastised myself for being swept away by the incoherent story of a fruity college girl in the middle of what seemed to be her identity crisis. Still, with nothing better to do, I rummaged through the entire room, looking in chests and drawers and discarded library bags.
My efforts were in vain, there was nothing but mold, rat droppings, yellowed pages. I’d just about given up when I saw Kittie looking at something on the wall in the far-left corner. Feeling self-conscious that I’d missed something, I walked over and looked over her shoulder; there was a large glass cabinet suspended on the wall, locked, with the words printed in bold black letters: BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY. Inside was a rather strange-looking bottle, like a bauble or a hand grenade.
“This is it,” Kittie proclaimed, holding her hands over her mouth.
“I’m not sure.”
“It is! I just know it.”
I still wasn’t convinced but it did look odd. I couldn’t tell if the bottle was filled because of its opaque pink glass, but it certainly could hold something like powder. I wondered for a moment about how the glass case seemed so out of place; it wasn’t like it contained an alarm button or something to put out fires. Maybe, it was a joke. Maybe, it wasn’t up to me to break open. After all, it had remained so untouched over the years.
But maybe, there just hadn’t been an emergency to warrant its use. I felt that was a justifiable deduction. Looking around under the stomping feet of a lawless college rave, crowded in by dusty meaningless relics, it felt like, yes, I was definitely in such an emergency.
I picked up a hefty looking paper weight on a desk nearby and, holding it in my fist, carefully smashed it against the glass, which broke instantly into a thousand tiny pieces, like sugar candy, falling onto the floor below. Kittie gasped behind me, again holding my shirt. I grabbed the bottle out of the box and held it up to the light. It really was a pretty bottle; shimmery bubble-gum glass, and reminded me of that girly perfume that smells like cake. There didn’t appear to be anything inside of it, though it was hard to tell.
I asked out loud, to no one in particular, “What now?”, I wasn’t sure how the powder worked and, in any case, there was no obvious way to open the bottle and get to its contents. Feeling potent frustration, I played with the bottle in my hands trying to make sense of something so senseless. Suddenly, I heard a muffled “Let me try”, and Kittie’s hand was stretching over to grab it out of mine. I held it away from her, but she lost her balance and ended up bumping into the back of me. In heart-stopping inertia, the bottle slipped out of my grasp and shattered at my feet. I whipped around in anger but no sooner did a pink cloud overtake my vision, rising from the broken bottle, swirling thickly around the entire room.
At first, I was wonderstruck, and then I had the horrible sick feeling that I’d just let off noxious gas on campus and I was probably about to die of asphyxiation, or mania. I waved about blindly, knocking into who knows what, trying to find my way out of there. Just when I thought I was stuck in a pretty serious predicament, cursing in multiple languages, the cloud dissipated, and I could see clearly again.
Looking around, I could tell I made quite a mess in my panic. Encircled by messy piles of splayed books, I called out to Kittie, but she was gone, seemingly vanished into thin air: poof. I gathered she must have escaped upstairs, or else was playing an untimely game of hide and seek, which wouldn’t have been a surprise.
To my great disappointment, the magic powder did nothing; nothing had changed. The records room was the same as it was, and I hadn’t been transformed into someone entirely new; I was my old self in the old world. How foolish, I thought, to believe in something like magic. With a final cursory glance, I headed over to the stairwell to return to the sickening splendour that awaited me: of plastic cups, dizzying karaoke, frozen pizza on tables. Yet, weirdly, as I reached the bottom of the stairs, I realised I couldn’t hear anything of the partygoers. Surely, they hadn’t burnt out already? In fact, there was a strange spectral light streaming down from above.
I reached into the glow and felt a vibrant embracing warmth, like sunlight. In this light, as if seeing in technicolour for the first time, my hand didn’t look quite like my hand, more like a painting, a sketch, a cartoon. I took a step upwards, then another, rising
out of the messed darkness of the records room.
Faintly, I could hear the beginnings of a familiar tune, a melodic crashing, a welcoming overture, that reminded me of when I was young.