It's this tree. —14 June 2010, 02:43 by Suleiman Razumovsky
This road out of town many years ago was called the corpse road. It was nothing but a dirt trail and when some townsfolk brought out a kinsman to bury in the cemetery at the end of the valley their carriages tossed up clouds of dust so great you had to follow by sound, and the only way you knew you were getting close was the horses getting skittish and the sound of birds disappeared altogether.
The cemetery was probably emptied out by the flood of 498. Champignon said he saw three generations of his family float by in twenty minutes. Parts of the fence remained. A few headstones’ caps could still be seen poking out of the mud. But it was abandoned. Kids go out there to scare themselves even now but I’m not sure there’s a single body left out there. Graveyard for a graveyard.
The road is now paved and it goes all the way through the block of granite at the end of the valley to the next town. Just outside our limits, it passes by a willow that seems like it’s got no business standing there. Although clearly it’s been defying sense for hundreds and hundreds of years. The trunk is as far around as four men can reach. A hundred men or more could shelter under its canopy. Despite the dark and sorry nature of its bark, which seems always as poxy as our ancestors were, the tree is stiff and upright. Walking up to it you can feel the solidness of the roots underfoot, spreading dozens of yards in any direction. It’s as firmly rooted here as we are.
It’s this tree that scares me. Because’n it just stood there, lonely of other trees for at least a mile, and was right outside of town, this tree was used on every occasion we townsfolk needed a solid surface against which to kill a man.
Something so sweet. —26 May 2010, 04:28 by Suleiman Razumovsky
Being well-laid brings with it a suffusing, constant accompaniment of joy rather like a happy tune unregretfully stuck in one’s head. The garish buzz of the divorce faded in concert. Not even the harsh wolves, on this day and that, of claims and counterclaims, nor the obstinate out-of-temper horn-blow of my boss could not be cheerfully whistled over. There was scarcely any fade, nor forgetfulness of notes, when Kelly called me to have dinner with them once more.
We had spoken two days after, speaking like children who had just discovered ten new uses for their broken toys. Even jealous and quiet about them, and giggling in good fortune. I think that she was happiest to hear my spirits much improved; as for me, tingles of worry about her own marriage were salved by the sureness of her voice.
It was almost a week before we spoke again. She said that she had an offer for a new job. I told her how glad for her I was. But while she clearly revelled in my claims of relief at her quickly reanimating her career, I detected something additional. Mostly in the way she charged her sentences with increased energy the closer their end came—and how, at full-stop, the end was abrupt, and almost filled with the backdraft of the swiftness of her leaving-off. It was mischief. Gleaming-eye mischief.
“Keenan and I would love to have you back for dinner,” she finally said. If she had been holding back, I felt the spurt of feeling now jet across the phone.
“Dinner? Great! Yeah I’d love to.” And—just how long should it have taken me to mull over that request? It quickly occurred to me, as we exchanged dates, how big a deal this was. You can try anything once, and be excused, or excuse yourself anyway, on account of the wine, the times, the light, or being momentarily out of one’s wits. You cannot excuse wilfull repetition.
The past week had been remarkable. When I hurt at work the most was early afternoons—with paper inconceivably strewn, and the thought of one’s only comfort swaddled in ice cubes in a dirty tumbler in your quiet efficiency darkening the glinty edge of the bright sun out your window. The companion bequeathed me by our earlier dinner date sat next to me, knee to knee, forehead to forehead, and spoke to me in soft cooing tones which assuaged the bitterness of sun, scotch, and suite. This cure was too sweet, too pure—so I told myself—to contain a drop of any poison.
“I cannot wait to see you again,” I said.
“We’ll be expecting you,” she finished.
And in bed in the dark I did not fear to be alone with myself. Sleep came gentle as well every night thereafter until I walked upon the shifty pavers once more.
I had washed and shaved and still felt, especially in the wearable summer air, that I was under my clothes rather than in them. I heard the footsteps and masked my nervousness by examining the label on the wine bottle which I had to hold close by to the diffuse glow from the bay window curtains.
The door opened and I stood forward to smile and embrace. Except there was goofy Keenan, face like one scavenged, though skillfully, from a pile, eyes deep-set and projector-peering, and uncertain grin. “Ho. Hello,” I said to him. I fumbled with the wine to free my right hand for a shake. Although, could a handshake really be appropriate? I certainly would not hug him or kiss him on the cheek; yet to refuse at least a clasp of hands seemed like coshering.
He took my hand while saying nothing. “Well how are things?” I asked. Suddenly it seemed as if we were shaking hands for a very long time, and all the while I stood still on the short porch, not even my fingers having broken the threshold. “Anton!” I heard from inside. “Come in here, quick, dinner is ready.”
At that Keenan turned so slightly, so that if he were a valve-vane the water would be imperceptibly more speedily rushing through. But in so doing he broke my gaze on his goofy phiz, and let it stream right past into the golden rectangle of the door. Passing through which, some fifteen feet in, were two stacked curves of sublime proportions, swaying in a simple but entrancing rhythm. The last bit to leave was a flip of Kelly’s bare foot. “Well I suppose we should get to the feast,” I recall saying. I used Keenan’s grip as a handle to move him with me, as if he were a piece of freight on lubed wheels. Come on in, let’s put you where you belong.
Kelly was seated at table. I felt as if I were being wound up tight on a spool just beneath my skin. She wore a smile that was wide, generous, and tonic. Her arms coursed down her front, pressing in the borders of her breasts, and held her hands about her loins, hidden beneath the table.
I sat down across from her. “I wasn’t expecting something so sweet for dinner.”
“Becalm yourself,” she said, watching me with full force the entire time. “You must clean your plate before you can have dessert.” She breathed just a bit fast. She looked fast into my eyes and her smile never flagged. The audaciousness of it—it made my heart beat faster itself. As I wound tighter it got hotter and hotter. I was numb to the feel of the upholstered chair, the hardwood under my feet, even the distant porcelain chatter of Keenan, spooning us our portions.
The Sexagesimo. —21 May 2010, 00:46 by Suleiman Razumovsky
Witness the pluck of one Anton Bealofus, who growing up in Crocodilopolis was very well early acquainted with the Library there. And finding himself in his early thirties drummed out of orthodontics in disgrace, bumming around Solinon on the last few thousand of his severance, abandoned by friends and family, he thought again of the Library. There was none in Solinon, a small stevedore’s haven on the river Dooce. None until he plunked his whore and whiskey money down for a pee-soaked set of upstairs rooms in an old, seemingly unheated brick building in the town center.
It was valiant just doing that, and scrubbing out the vagrancy, and sitting down with hacksaw and biscuit glue to carpenter a couple hundred linear feet of shelving from the discarded pallets lying in public-hazard piles by the quay. Sanding so hard when he finally went to brush on the stain and lacquer his fingers still moved back and forth. But now to accession for it, and to add to the one card in his catalog, accession number 1, a pocketed sexagesimo of death poems from the holy knights of Marlagne, which like the pollen stuck in a bee’s pits had clung to him in his youthly peregrinations for purposes entirely alter to his own.
Up in a broad tree-lined row above the town-bustle and beyond the stevedores’ peculiar stink was a guano-splat of grand homes lived in by grandes hommes. As much a magnate as one could be in Solinon. And with teeth rotten through by sweet tidbits, made talkative by the gas, and eager to brag of the friendly competition in book-collecting, though none of them had the tongue to match the lovely caps he provided for them, and therefore seemed as literate as the avid newsreading fishmongers.
Up in that row were mounds of books, and just perhaps something of value for him.
In the Library of Crocodilopolis there were two books that might have been of great use to Anton at that time: one on the philosophy, and another, again as exhaustive, on the practicum of larceny. Fifteen chapters apiece on the proper subjects of caption and asportation. He had only the sexagesimo to guide him, an awful precedent.
Having loved her. —21 May 2010, 00:41 by Suleiman Razumovsky
Having loved her built for me a great manse by the lake, in which in winter a bright pure white light fell over me during the days, and a deep violet like the color of one’s eyes closing for the last time. And trudging upon the frozen waters in cap, coat, and boots, still stripped bare by the wind, making my way out to the buoy tipped on its side and cemented in ice, I let it all work through me, snow-chinkles, moaning gusts, chilling sweat of my exertion. Let it hollow me out so there was nothing left but snow-chinkles, moaning gusts, chilling sweat, the shell of myself animated by pure bright white winter light. And I like the love had sublimed. Vapor in the air, frost crystals on an old man’s beard, the spring rains from the highlands and in the mires of mud upon the road.
I'm not a thing. —21 May 2010, 00:35 by Suleiman Razumovsky
Suri stood against the wall, leaning into it, hands hidden, the mild embossed ridge of the concrete on his palm and on his shoulder blade. “Here they come,” said Cimetierre, looking through the door.
Three men—Coster, Blevy, and Rimshannon—manhandled a very large handcart through the door. Fettered onto it was a Talosian of gleaming yellow bronze. It said nothing as they strapped the handcart upright. But you could hear its pupils clacking around, looking every direction. And you could see the the minute plates making its eyelids and brows alternately shift up and down, as if it were hateful and fearful by odd and even clock-ticks.
“Have you seen a Khalkite before?” Cimetierre asked Suri. He shook his head. The embossing was keen. He had his left leg up with the sole upon the wall. If he should stay against it, it was tensed to keep him balanced, and if he should be called closer, it was tensed to send him off the wall with what would probably amount to clumsy alacrity.
“They are pretty amazing things,” Cimetierre mused.
The thing then spoke. “I am not a ‘thing,’ villain, captor.”
“It speaks Sardic!” exclaimed Cimetierre.
“A bit spittingly,” Coster offered.
“Suri, come here.” Having jogged over, seeing the scuff marks on the bright plates of the Khalkite’s legs and torso. Saw the smaller scales over the fingers rhythmically slide over one another as it flexed and extended its fingers. Still speaking Sardic. “It understands us, but that is fine. It’s imperative it understand our purposes for it to be useful. And whether it is a ’thing,‘ such as it says, is a sophistical question. But I will grant it something: it appears to have things like sensibility, horror, pain, and dread. This may be merely an appearance. So our experiment begins.”
First they brought a large pair of bolt cutters out and set them upon its big toe. Coster and Blevy took each handle and strained themselves to meet in the middle. They slowly yielded, and then clunked together over the sound of a profound crunch and screech. The Khalkite, not allowed more than a centimeter of slack in all its bindings, stretched them an extra five millimeters. A grimace of sublime pain arranged upon its brazen face. But it screamed not.
“One cannot count on outward appearances belying the same internal state,” Cimetierre said. “They could very well have been designed to emit the seeming of pain and despair, which could be as useful or more than to be completely unfazed by bodily injury, if it is not thrown into such internal turmoil as is a man.” Turning to the Khalkite: “How many of you comprise a unit?”
The brows slowly descended in clicks and the eyes opened with the sound of shutters. The rest of its face came to rest. It looked at Cimetierre. “I tell you nothing but that you are an aggressor, a destroyer, and fit for destruction yourself.”
The bolt cutters were not big enough for the calf. A clamp was brought in and bolted slapdash to the handcart. They crushed the right leg at the knee. The plates flew off like shrapnel. Underneath, a thin foil skin was crumpled beyond recognition. Within it twisted rods and cables.
Suri watched the Khalkite’s face throughout. Its face of pain was different each time in small ways. A brow not quite as high, or the frown deeper, the mouth open a little wider. But it was hard to think, watching the little plates and scales move about, slide about over a soft whir, but that some clockwork merely made them do so, as sure as the cuckoo peeked out for different songs at different times of day at Suri’s ancestral home, the big clock in the foyer that delighted him so when younger.
At length they found the rivets and popped them off. The limbs merely came away. The actuator rods were snapped neatly with pliers. The Khalkite watched each limb come off with increasingly distressing looks. The right thigh and the left leg, then the left arm and the the right arm. They went after its tongue next, and wrenched it out. Cimetierre put it in Suri’s hands, dry except for a sheen of oil. The segments slid past each other with minimal effort.
While investigating the back they found the vein. Three nails held it closed. Prying them out, they first heard the thing moan. The vein opened and a yellowish, clear liquid ran out steady on the floor. The moaning had stopped. The neck went limp. There was no whirring, no clock-ticks anymore.
“Extraordinary,” Cimetierre said.
Matins Air —14 February 2010, 15:05 by Suleiman Razumovsky
The time arrives when years are mute and all
That is is recapitulated thoughts.
The ghosts of meaty patients on a screen
Though nowhere shining dense a scrap of soul.
Must seem a night-time in one’s own mind
Beglaréd by a screen much harsher than
The moon when shining on two lovers paired;
Throughout the night the innards of any one
Run by your probing eyes except those of
Yourself. Well but this gentle time that’s stopped
Will yet lurch on when night is spent and done,
Thy time for shining in the incidence
Of morn, the light out-come the brighter rival
To that peewee golden disc that over-peeks
The sharp horizon meek. The dawn again
And notes of larks, limbs stretched to feel the crisp
Of matins air; take thee a breath of red-gold,
Of possibility sublimed, of thoughts
Emerging from the sludge, all sensibilities
Returned, unblunted by the dark, unblot
By inky drops of colleagues’ fright, released
From sometimes friends’ misjudging mouths, unrent
By any pangs that in the dark seemed cutting keen,
Now lit by your all-glossing shine the like
Of scratches that were made by silken thorns,
Of bruises by the harmless aphid raised.
In such a glory as the cry of Sona waked
Find the phoenix-fire all the dark engulf,
The egg of new Sona hatched, and the day
Full twice as bright as long-lived night was dusk.
The Sixth Trip —28 November 2009, 23:08 by Suleiman Razumovsky
I had inchoate plans to go back after another two years. I went to work for a new place and it was good. I rented a house outside the city with a dark and tasy corner room on the third floor where I could listen to Bernsey and readings of Samarra Cain and sit among the crinkling lights of the iron-lined hearth. My neighbors were amiable people, an actuary with a sharp part and a public school administrator, who had me over for whist on alternate week-ends and once set me up with their niece whom I found charming and pretty and fulsomely shallow.
I took the train in and out of the city. One saw it growing from nothing more menacing than a distant grey line. Spiky towers and other nettles sprung up almost at once, and the sneaky arms of the thing were cast about you before you could realize it. I felt often like a great octopus were collecting me up and pulling me plainly toward its horrible beak, against which the meager carapace of the train would be nothing. And so to occupy myself I pretended to read the paper on the way into town, and some journal coming out. Though it should have relieved me, coming out always left me shaky with residual fears; plus I was otherwise free to think on going back in the next day. While I pretended to read, I said things to myself over and over, some of which I’d told myself at the Convention. They weren’t much on their own, but they had a power apart from their simple semantics. After awhile I felt at more ease.
At work I had an office and I had work. I had work in great piles of paper and large cups of pens. I had a file full up of persons who needed to meet with me in a given day. I had unspallable blocks of time across a desk from another person whose words and gesticulations toward papers tessellating my desktop were seldom congruous.
It seemed I was getting tired. Once a week I left early. If there was no earlier train I sat in one of the station’s long benches and watched the panhandlers ply. But some days of this and I thought that the sounds of all the people, all the clackety business soles on the marble floors, were oppressive. I spent inordinate time in the washroom until the same deal. Then I took in to a small chapel around the corner from the station scarcely wide enough for an aisle beside the singlet pews. In prayer I was stuck. I felt most ill and run-down in there but at least it was quieter and I could pass the time until the next train.
My boss had an assistant I think was fond of me. He had very short hair with a fluff of balding-hair on top and a half-leavened face. He told me when I looked ill and sent me home summarily. But as I took more and more partial-days, he sent me warnings. “Hombre’s tripping on accountability today; take a pill and rough it.” “Late start but lack of examples.” “Feel free but don’t be so.”
I needed a whole week off. The dregs of vacation, sick time, and personal days podged together. When I waked each day, the pallor of dawn tasted of sick and drainéd death. Retreating under covers, my own incessant thoughts terrified me, shouting in the black void. They were nothing but here-there lyrics, figures, shapes, slogans. I made toast slack in my robe and no underwear and ate over the sink dreading the table. Not knowing what I wanted, or could want, I slept as much as possible. I waked with headaches of too much sleep, too many disintegrating dreams, my back aching, the sheets smelling deeply of bedsoil.
The day to come back I was up all night and carefully washed, carefully dressed. I did up my tie seventy times, in greater or lesser steps of length too wide or too short, and then the knot wasn’t right, or the dent asymmetric or unround. I rode the train reading business articles out loud, moving on to stock quotes, commodities. The office was too white and bare and at once the slack walls were apulse with somethin malign behind them. I was there catching up. I put off meetings, I eschewed new work. Catching up, shifting piles to piles, one big Towers of Hanoi. Eventually the piles would be in perfect order and ergo the work would be done. I left for lunch ten minutes early smiling weakly at the boss’s assistant passing in the hall.
I walked down the street toward the trendy arcade of cafés and tearooms. My belly was not unfull. In fact my whole body had a fullness-to-the-brim, a sense of tension at whatever failsafe membrane kept it all in during extremities. The street had a bus stop and the bus also stopped at the north end. Where, writing an uncomfortable check I got in the time machine and got back to Year A, very early Monday morning, thumps far away but otherwise only flaps and thwipples, dirt compacted by bare feet, titters, and the choir of starlight in one’s soul.
I forgot about this. Sunday night and the dreariness of setting up the party, exhaustion, the sound of fan breezes blowing over passed-out toga-wearers. I trod the grass, still very much fresh and unbent. I listened to cicadas begin to drone the way they would the entire week, like an incessant flashing warning light. The air was lightening of dew and carried the faintest smell of turned-up grass and moist, black soil.
A bazaari choked on his snore and woke. He saw me—he must have seen a sorry wreck. I had on my work polo and slacks and worn loafers becoming chequy with muck. Usually he says, “Welcome to the spectacular bubble of Elsewhen!” but that night he asked if I needed tent poles or condoms. One unfortunate consequence of the mixing of different times was a sore outbreak of Challenger super-syphilis.
I hoofed it for a good while. I saw a family running around stupid with sparklers. The boy was ashen-blonde with a cleft lip. The father had deep golden-gray hair and a smidge of a ghost of a hairlip scar poking from under his moustache. The woman held his hand and laughed. She was lank but with a big bottom and tangled dark brown hair. The girl was a picture of her and didn’t resemble him at all.
Such was the transformation of mood all about me, from the tempest I had felt myself a part of only an hour before, elsewhen, that I was starting to come down. I still felt my heart jag forcefully in my chest. I still felt with every step like a cryptic hand were waiting to shove me and topple me ass-over-teakettle. I felt in my pocket: the little mint-tin of barbiturates. Et in Arcadia, I thought. I popped two and walked far enough, four rings and five paths, among all the sleeping masses of forever and the sparklers and little muted trumpet-solos of the few, that I felt them try to topple me, and I let myself collapse on a tuft of cool clover, and watched the stars bleed into the night and the black of my own eyelids.
In the mornings those days I usually dreamt about stale haciendas and dancing in a courtyard with a warm lithe body enveloped in silk and tulle. The faces were those of women who had haunted me. I tried to dance as carefree as possible, I said to the women, “what élan I have!” but I felt revolution all about, as keenly as a reader of a history book feels momentary pity for the haves before the next orgiastic purge of class grievances. Afterward, in my bed surrounded by morning, my stomach clumped and rennetted, wires from my forehead to my shoulder blades slowly being tensioned.
Another such morning. I rolled over on my tuft. Trumpets and allophonors as bright as the sun. Under a flap of tent, two young eyes staring. I turned back around and grabbed my knees. I felt the throbbing of time all through me. The convention was all about me, I smelled the grilled meats and bitter-umami sauces of 23rd Century vogue, I felt camaraderie and tanning skin and oil in everything, deep-fry oil, sheeny pores, reddening slicked-up backs in the sun. Stews as loud as trumpets. The allophonors took up on the convention anthem, a startling pastiche of the Marseillaise and a gangster rap rhythem. Everything was as appropriately fashioned. Clutching my knees still harder I bent back inside myself. I was as a series of dank passages in a catacombs and every which way I sought the warm flambeaux that showed the way to a rich cache of stacked bottles and the warm ruby essence, and all I found was dusty niches and a profusion of crawling things.
The way was east. I walked with my head slung low. The convention was stretching now, people were about, the dirt paths were being trampled in, one had to step around naked people and unicycles, one had to continually acknowledge and decline a trade in some age’s special bead necklaces.
Everyone who passed I wondered about. I imagined them all filled with élan and gusto. I imagined the smiles flowing as inexorably from some inner state of peace and curiosity as a machine following its coded directives. What could I mount in this phalanx?
I slumped past the Cowloon Square. Scetirious Jackson himself stood in his founder’s rags and received homage from a host of future dignitaries. They must have been telling him about what was to happen the next day. It must have been odd for Jackson, who never went through the convention he founded but once, among people who knew every second of every day of that week, and had guessed at every thing but what was in his inaccessibility.
In fact, it had to be scary, so I thought. Jackson did a madman thing founding this convention. Appropriate for a former lunatic. But when it succeeded beyond any even unreasonable expectation, what room could there be even for a former madman in exultation when every day had to feel like it had been lived a hundred thousand times already? Like every thing you did, even contrary to your own judgment or being, was already known, expected, scripted, commented upon?
Thence past Cowloon Square, down ramifications and ramifications,, ultimately into a little corner of a seldom-used cul-de-sac down a rare path from an underpopulated side-branch of the main action of the whole convention. Here is where I had my tent.
There under the cover of motley another sixteen of me cowered in shadow. My earlier self sat at an empty cable spool with a seemingly older version of myself playing chess. Of course I recognized XVII immediately sitting in his wheelchair waiting for what comes. The rest looked up at me and collectively said, “Hey, good to see you, man.”
I said hi back. II made a blunder queenside and XII capitalized. “Should’ve known better than that!” he boomed. I, IV, and VIII were in a klatch at the back trading stories. X kept watch at the flap. XIII and XV were dressing for fronton.
My whole life sat in that tent. My first time sitting on the silk pillows and still overwhelmed with the fragrance of strange food and the apparitions of my future, I thought better, selves talking to me like my father never could. It hadn’t been so long before, a matter of years, a matter of a man’s youth not yet spent—so I hoped—just matured. If I were to look in a mirror, how similar we would appear. My nostrils were still too large and my philtrum too wide. My hair was still unruly. I still had a habit, when I laughed, of softly biting the tip of my tongue with my right canine. I watched myself do it, over and over, sitting indian-legged and rapt in front of himself like older brothers. But was his skin the same as my skin? Maybe never before did I bother touching another one of me at the convention, or never again. All of a sudden I couldn’t be sure. I wanted to remember reaching very gently, almost with the slightest cosmic trepidation, and then—oh but the frisson of an endlessly recursive self-touch! I should feel the crawliness of spider-legged ages, I should feel my own memories being frisked directly through the skin. But then I watched that first me again, younger, stronger, a smaller belly. If I touched his skin it would feel like another person. Any other person. Someone else’s skin, a little warm and soft and yielding and if any frisson than just a tiny little shudder of wanting.
It was the same with them all. The smirking chess player making the pit and the pendulum motions over the other player’s queen. Thinner hair, some spectacles, looked a lot like me. Picked his ears like me. His is the carapace I was to inhabit in only ten years. Which was a cold and lonely thought, as if I were sentenced into an iron mask.
I walked out then. I felt their eyes on me. No one could say anything. They all started immediately talking about me. A few cracked jokes, a few made lamentable excuses. Masquerading as some memory, this picture.
Inward and then out again to a circle with a set of public showers. A lovely middle-aged woman with silky hair and no top handed out artisanal soaps embedded with the leaves of the northern shaggy quercus tree, which she said was extinct as of 2348. Her second, slightly droopier, incarnation collected used soaps for recycling.
Went looking for some new clothes when I wandered up-spoke. Every other circle there was a stage and there were young people picking and strumming at its edge, many lookking a bit hungover. I saw an art installation I hadn’t noticed before: a large fan, putatively facing east, which was supposed to exert a token effect of reversing the rotation of the earth. It wasn’t spinning but about 30 revolutions per minute.
Made my way into the central wheel. Here Pyrrhon had another sauskon station. When I met Pyrrhon on my first trip, it was a station nine circles away in a temperate climate. The little hunks of substance on his rack superficially resemble hot dogs but are a tremendous treat when wrapped and dressed in sauskon sauce. Apparently a fantastic delicacy in 2200.
This Pyrrhon looked a bit older, paternity inscribed in his forehead. Still the missing incisor and ludicrous tongue-thrusting smile. I liked him, though. “I’ll have one,” I said.
“I know this boy for sure,” he said. Tongue-thrusting. “Hey how you going?”
“Going okay. How’re you?”
“Super. I love these people, I love this place. Say, which one of you are you anyway?”
“Heehee! Guess what I am—no you’ll never get it. This virile creature standing before you is XXIX.”
“Real impressive.” My sauskon reached my hand and immediately began drizzling and drippling all over. Part of the charm, even if the sauce was blisteringly hot
“I say, when I first come here, and set up my station in Pollard’s Circle, I heard them say there were dozens of me everywhere. And I could never believe I’d come back so much. I didn’t want to come back for a long while, anyway. It was as much fun as my heart could handle, I think.”
“But you can’t stay away.” Blowing on my sauskon. I had neglected eating and anyway lately any kind of food seemed like perpetuating a nonsensical process. But I truly hadn’t had a sauskon in a few years and for its duration I had ignited in me a hunger.
“No, I come back finally, set up in Slasherville, this damn physician come by and inject me, says I’m cured. ‘I’m cured?’ I say. ‘Of what?’ ‘Of what ails you,’ he said, with the queerest smile I ever saw. So I’m still kicking. How’s the vittle?”
“Damn good,” I tell him. My mouth is full of scorching sauce and meat. “I got to go, see you man.”
The Omphalos is still full-up. I skirt round the well-wishers and acolytes. There’s too many pressing everywhere. I get pushed completely out of the circle and into the little lane that exists between all the paths from the Omphalos to every other circular plaza, and every other path from them. This the already worn turf in the back of every yahoo with a tent. Back-alley it? Fine with me, then.
There are piles of refuse. There are little dug-up-and-buried mounds that have a foul odor. As I walk I hear the goings-on one doesn’t from the main way. Mostly bickering, mostly completely boring conversation and sighs and clinks of drinking vessels, not a little fucking. There’s a guy with long moustaches and no shirt sitting out behind his tent and he watches me the whole time I come through. He has a scar across his belly the size of instant death, and insanity-betokening stubble rubbling his face.
It’s something at least to be eyed. To be suspected. Not to fly about in the same orbit in continuous time and no one ever bother anymore to mark your phases and eclipse. Someday the world, if she continues, will be so habituated she’ll forget to breathe. Somewhere in this place, too, in one of these tents or on the other side of one, is a person from just near that time. Not too near—they can’t bother to come back. But just near, and so disdainful of anything, so bored, that his entourage must be huge. And that person deserves—well, that person deserves her state.
There’s actually more than refuse and yellowing grass. There are small pot-stills and even little gardens just sown. There are little generators pulsing like a good headache, less than a foot square though you can feel the thrum from six yards away. About which, good. Good to feel one’s substance in motion once in a while. Oh to be a stew in a pot under crackling heat and have one’s insides roiling, frothing at the top, crusting at the potedge. Oh to be a stew and be stirred by a good cook. Everything settled, even just for a while, heat dispersed. After going a little further it opened up slightly and I sat in the grass.
You can’t escape the sound of the place. But there I sat and I watched the long grass between my bent legs and tried to listen to them. Over and yon was a band engaged in complex polyphonic dog-stomping; opposite was a chamber group of doorknob-squeakers. They told me when I first came, this is where people come to share what they have. They never share then but they always do now. What, on account of that lunatic founder they all mobbed about?
Ahead were two paths quite close, and one cornered off by a heavy red canvas tent. There was giggling inside, and ruckus. Hands and what else pressing on the walls. And then the prettiest little ass darts out the back just for a second before popping back in.
Naked people at JaxMoCon? There is no license for lowered inhibitions greater than not having yet been conceived, in the broader time line. But still. I had seen her buttocks and the small of her back, a heel and a short thigh. As I was pulling the long grass between my bent legs I noticed my woodie. Well, so an aperçu of a sightly ass got me excited. Still, it was like another day. It was like a really fine spring day and Lavinia Praetzkin made me go for a walk with her through a meadow they were about to burn to protect it from fires. But so I slowed up and when I looked up and saw her walking, wiggling, the way she wiggled after class sidling up to me to beg a hug I got a hardon just like this and sat in the long grass just like this, and hoped she would just come back.
There’s absolutely no changing what happens. VIII gives us all a great lecture on it on Thursday, I recollect. So what so invests everyone here, so many thousands here I’ve never even seen the whole encampment, just what makes every imperfect-lived person long to come back?
There are more sounds so I focus on the grass. The hardon passes. I take the way to the left.
The sun is higher. Another beautiful day. It’s always a beautiful day here and now. The grass is lively under my feet. I’ve decided to wander aimlessly, to go as far between the spokes as I can. To the end, maybe some dozen miles away, among who knows what kind of people, at least to see once the limn of this great place. And what is the world like outside the eternal bubble, what host this parasite.
But I have not gotten far when I hear a ruckus that jars me from my thoughts. Several tents have been thrown down, there is splintered and tossed-around everything, wicker shards everywhere, and people standing by in shock. The tent just to my right comes down in a mighty pull. A jagged-face brawn of a man rises with his own effort-whoop on the other side grasping fistfuls of canvas. Two young men emerging from the fallen tent confront him and are pushed down.
Well what the fuck is this. Stomping through the middle of the common way is a column of jagged-faced blond men and women wearing charcoal trousers and gray-bendy shirts. Big men of the same physiognomy are tearing things down and throwing people left and right. They’re all chanting something, “Cibu! Cibu!” One of them is enthusiastically sawing a leg off one of the wooden communications towers.
There are about twenty of them. I can hear more chants much further behind them. It is the Takeover Plot, 14.25 local time on Monday. And how they have fouled my mood.
At the head is a man chanting less stridently than the others. His hair curlicues above a set of eyes setting on every thing as if they shot lasers. He never once looks back upon his posse.
I steal back into the interstitial space and jog back toward the center fifty yards. I come back into the common way next to a cycling stand. This gray and platinum phalanx marches on and every blob of color in its way is pushed to the side, knocked down. Some people around me have stopped where they are, they are assessing the sudden threaat. I hear grips tighten around long cylinders, I hear feet uncertain brushing the grass. I hear the same realization creep into every throat.
Standing in the center of the way, the man at the head quickly marches up to me. He stares at me, but I’ve had stares enough. He quickens his step, but at least this time I see the thing right in front of me. He stops just in front of me and snarls a threat. One big guy is lumbering from behind. The frontman’s face is moving discordantly and strange sounds are coming out and that hair, that fucking blond curlicue is just too much.
I hadn’t time to wind up. I popped him a quick jab in his face. It snapped backwards and then upright like a sprung trap. Eyes crossed, a fist-sized blanch in planted in the center of his apoplectic face. That fucking curlicue bobbing. I pop him again. And then I run for my life.
Just as I turn a hand lands on my shoulder that I brush off. Then I hear heavy steps. My lungs are already burning—I’m completely out of shape—but I keep going. The rhythm of the steps grows erratic and I feel the whoosh of a large mass going down and the brusque scrape of hard fingertips on my calves. I grab a bicycle from the rack and I ride off toward the Omphalos. Turning onto the eighth circle I’m washed over by a wave of angry, chanting conventioneers. They are going back for the blonds. Once they’ve passed, I let the bike coast to a stop and fall over.
Sweat and burning breath and a splintery pain from my knuckles to my elbow. My breaths feel like they’re suffusing my entire body, they’re traveling the interstices all the way to my fingertips, to my toes, to the apices of every hair. I am hollowed out and twitchy.
After awhile, I get up. I turn the bike back down the interstitial way and pedal softly. I go down another way but I can hear the yells and whoops and hoorays clearly enough. Can’t think about what happened. Everyone who’s ever been here knows the Takeover Plot is Monday, half past two. A krewe from the Omphalos goes out to meet them and beats them to a pulp before shooting them backwhen. The Convention is always safe. Nobody ever dies. I just forgot and got excited.
The ride takes hours. I take water and leave it by the common way. Twilight brings dew and slipping tires. The people here make cuzhnos which are like a flatbread filled with something lumpy, creamy, and savory. Take and leave more water. The Moon having risen grandly above plains. Firelights and night-temblors of bands and masquerades. Open smoky tent-halls in orange and ruddy face. I’m going so leisurely my legs are doing fine. Watch the tents go by, open circular plazas, wooden thrown-up stages, dark circles with people ranging around a tall, rickety telescope. I cannot be any more tired than I already am, so I pedal on.
By daybreak, the plots are thinning and the people are passed out on the grass. A low ridge runs crosswise my path, either direction, endless, curving. Now my legs have given out. The gears on the bike sprocket like a dying little something as I lay it down. Climbing up the ridge, bluing sky beyond. Climbing up the ridge and at the top, look down on a vast, unimaginable plain of wild buckwheat with sparse oak sentries bent over by age. And teeming terribly at the edge is an enormous crowd of people pressed up against the buckwheat. They are but figures and pale heads, standing in woods, standing knee-high in streams, standing in muck and thorn. I am so exhausted it must all be a hallucination. Sit down, steady myself. Pressed up tight against the buckwheat but no further, not a step of incursion. I look at them and they look at me.
The Workday —27 November 2009, 21:33 by Suleiman Razumovsky
Baruch brought his child to the manufactory to see how they were all made, how Baruch and even little Elisha were made. Other parents took their children to their jobs; Amnon was going on a beat with his parent, a fast-rising detective. Isaac had a hellion’s time at a meeting of business executives, diving under the table and clinking on the hoity-toits’ feet. Elisha’s parent was one of the few working here, making more persons every day so they would never be outbred.
“This is where new little persons are technically born,” he said. Elisha still agog at the manufactory floor. Huge expanses of concrete he and his friends could play independent games of murderball on. Great lights that hung so high in the ceiling they were like quiet-buzzing suns. And down the center of this enormous expanse the line itself. Looking down he saw dead-looking little children with missing pieces always moving toward him. A grating buzz sounded and they moved up with a whoosh. As soon as they stopped a team of persons who looked no different from his father rushed around them and in the clink of hands and parts some new limb was on the child, or he got a brass skin, or new eyelids. At the end, before Elisha’s still gaping mouth, they poured in the ichor and gave the children a hard slap on the back, which roused them up to their feet and put gloss in their once-dead eyes.
“I came out of here like all these kids?”
“Yes you did. I was down there eight stations. I put on each one of those fingers you love to chew up at sport, mister.” They were walking aside the line now. The crash of everything, huge numbers of new children being put together all at once, was unparseable. Soon they walked by the station with the fingers. Elisha had thought there would just be barrels of fingers, five huge heaping barrels—“No, ten,” he corrected himself—out of which the worker would scoop out handsful, some clattering to the floor, and plug them on the little stubby palms of the child. But this person, who only passingly looked like his parent, held a broad wooden pallet with little iron hoops and channels stapled onto it, into which he carefully put a finger from each of a handful of wide basins.
“That was my job not too long ago,” Baruch said. He nodded at the person who now had his job and motioned toward Elisha. “But Barnard is doing better at it than I ever could.”
“Did you really put on my own fingers?” Elisha was looking at the filling jig and all the shiny new digits. He itched hard to look at his own but felt them fing in place instead. The scratches and ruination of the ball pitch was in the very grit of the movements, which he at once relished and regretted without knowing fully why.
“Indeed I did. And I knew at that moment that this little person I was helping to make was to be my son, and I took extra special care and gave him extra special fingers.”
“Nuh uh,” Elisha answered. His smile was at once uncontrollable and unnoticeable.
“Yes huh.” They began to walk back further.
To young Elisha, the machinery, the flatness of the walk, the just-barely-hittable recession of the walls, though they stayed delightful, waned less daunting. Upon each stop at a new station, he wandered further from his father’s hunting words scamping hands and head up above each worktable. The conveyor moved with an affected mechanicality, sudden fluid bursts and sudden inelastic stops. He might put a scuffed finger so close to it, the violent spastic rollers, the oiled iron slats, without mingling it with the unbuilt persons.
The line made two narrow turns as it anfracted up and down the manufactory. Midway across the middle leg the very skeletons of the persons were laid out on a jig. Elisha managed a liberal tap on a thigh fitting on the unruly fagot-pile of the person. Tin and iron! The thought of rapping on his own members and drawing the same dull clink gave him a delightful grue.
“O father, are these young persons dead?”
Baruch had been explaining keenly about rivets. The workpersons here were a bit grimier but still performed with the smooth-rolling grace of their kind. One of them, fitting an arm, smirked.
“Well, no, they are not really dead.” Baruch then looking on the skeleton. Bones dark and whorly with patina. The mannikin jangled a bit and even jumped in its jig as new bits were socketed in. The head sans its works was a hollow stamp of metal, with nothing but the dull slats of the conveyor shining out its eyes.
“That’s actually a very philosophical question,” he restarted. “Although by our own definitions, they could not be dead, still an analogy is likely.” Baruch had seen some battle, and had seen a little of the insides of persons once by definition alive. Dark and whorly with scorch. Works smashed out and grass jutting through the eyes. Though it belonged to all to share the burden equally, still he thought a little of his child coming into his personal allotment, and let his own soul ooze a little for it.
He then caught Elisha again reaching to tap a bone, and scurried away with him, chiding his “grubby fingers.”
All along the rest of the middle line there were only parts. There were nets of stringy pipes sagging under their own weight. There were little clockwork widgets of exquisite brittleness, whose miniscule parts Baruch shielded against the expirations of his son. Around the last turn and along the final stretch of line the parts had even less familiarity. They seemed but a random assortment of rods, gears, plates, axles, chains, bars, levers, and worms.
Baruch tired even of hearing himself. They walked the last hundred yards without talking, without almost even looking askance at the line. He led his son up to his office, whose long, perilous staircase Elisha might have enjoyed if he were less bored, and they luncheoned at his desk turned away from the window that looked down upon the whole floor.
“Does your parent work in a neat place?”
“Yes. Really neat. I especially liked seeing the new person come off the line. But they could not say much to me.”
“No, child, they come built with very limited knowledge.”
“So if you don’t actually build the little persons anymore, what do you do here?”
“You know how at school, even if everyone’s well behaved and does their work, you still need the teacher there to make sure everything goes well, and to help out if any problems come up?”
“So you’re like the teacher?”
“How many new persons do they make per day?”
“Nearly a thousand.”
“So—how many of our persons are defunct each day?”
“That’s a good question. It obviously changes day by day. But probably only about five or six hundred.”
”So why do we make so many more?” Food in rivulets, eyes on nothing in particular. Baruch watched the little squeaking rivet-holes and saw the grown Elisha in shiny plates. What kind of decisions would Elisha make? If he looked out on the sea whether he saw steel and bombast forever hidden just beyond the farthern limb.
“We need more persons every year. As the economy grows, as our country grows, we need more.”
“Who decides we need more?”
“A group of very smart people—”
“I can hope someday,“ Baruch says, gently dislodging his son from the stool, “but there are much smarter people there now.” Out the door.
Near the beginning of the line. Wires and crooks of metal, L-plates and rivets, all the working persons working even more swiftly, more interlockedly, without the visitors butting in. “Hey I bet I could be one of those smart persons.” Around the bend and the finished young persons booted off the line. A tall bin off to the side they hadn’t stopped to see before. Baruch walks Elisha past it without looking. “Back to academy now, got my speech to give. Yeah, you could be one of those smart persons. I would vote for you definitely.”
They took the Sapphire Line Bus. The seats were plentiful. Baruch jumped through a civics manual trying to connect up disparate sections. Elisha watched the city pass. It’s not enough to have an interior life. He had this image: wretched thousands of young persons just off the line in a long array, but by some mistake they all had the same clockwork. They all had drops of the same batch of ichor in their vein. And so when the first one tried to move his right arm, two hundred others raised an arm, or kicked out their leg, or even slipped out their brassy tongues. And when any one tried to walk the whole group collapsed and in the pile there was nothing but limbs flailing in the air. And when any one tried to think—even as Elisha was thinking now—the thoughts were lost among a hundred disparate images, a hundred blaring sounds, a hundred tastes of vanilla and barley and boiled moss.
And his father had built him, but he’d built so many others. He spent years making little persons like him. He knew they were all made alike but persons end up all different. Compare his Dad to Isaac’s drab father. How could he have known how Elisha was to come out? Elisha didn’t know, even. His father had told him, “You’ll never hurt for opportunity”; he hoped his son would be an engineer. Elisha loved bridges and big works and the guts of buildings being thrust in the air, but he also still liked the little park by their apartment, and going to the sea, and scuffing himself up with the other schoolchildren in the afternoons at the plaza just out of schoolmaster’s sight. And how could he know he’d be an engineer, when all signs pointed pretty clearly to professional play-companion? “Ne’er-do-wells,” as Baruch was prone to call the few corroded hulks that wandered about the neighborhood. It would be so easy to be a failure, if he only tried.
School where Baruch felt far too big, the corridors just above his height, just beyond his span. It was a new school but he remembered his own, in this and other ways very similar. But in his former instar the halls were sized just fine and he found it a skosh difficult to imagine the adults as ungainly, marching among them with so much authority, with what looked like scroogeful economies of movement and little squeaking.
Waiting by his child’s desk for his turn to speak, practicing his words. Joshua’s parent clearly losing the children. He was a city counselor, the law was his great organizing thought, his only good metaphor, his proud product. Was that so complicated as a new person, or a manufactory for making them? Conscious of Elisha’s constant fidgeting, but then of every child’s constant fidgeting. An overflow. When Baruch had worked up to the spot of pouring in the ichor, he never scrooged a drop. Fill them to the very top, give each one the capacity. As each would have to shoulder his allotment let him have his full ration. Swinging his legs, rapping his fingers, exercising with inaudible clacks his jaw. Certainly compared with the children he had an economy of movement. Still he felt compelled during the last obsequy on the duties of law-givers and -receivers to examine on his own hand the slick operation of the little plates around the joints. To move his fingers in a wave. To think of its power nonetheless, the lubricated action on something meaty instead of tin and brass.
At their block of flats Elisha came in only long enough to hastily write some impressions of his day down so that he could write and re-write his report the next day. Then he was out such that there was a corridor of cool, disturbed air through the flat and just by Baruch’s tarnishing flank. The parent cutting tubers, slicing bread, putting out the bowl of oil. Fall having come on quickly and the two persons being busy with sitting in chairs and doing sums in falsely-lit workrooms, now the sun faded it seemed prematurely and even the leaves stripped from the trees couldn’t preserve enough to save the sky from having a lustre of fading gravity. The same window looked out on the common field where Elisha and the others were horsing around glintless.
Their spontaneous assemblies and then riotous degenerations were repeated erratically. Baruch imagined they would be talking about their days at their parents’ respective employments. Who knew with young persons though. Having his hand in their very building gave him no more special expertise, any more than a person, having set a bird in flight in one direction, could know a day later its peregrinations. Once free of the ground swept along by whim and wind alike. It hardly seemed to matter even to direct in the first place, but what a grievous negligence it seemed not to! Some other persons were more rambunctious than Elisha, but in the little muddy scrums he squirmed from the bottom of any piling. This Baruch admired.
After a bit twilight would endanger play although they would still all protest as their parents bade them in to the big block of flats on the river. Settle in to a supper and studies and night’s rest, then see the young ones back to their schools in the morning. It was one thing they could give them.
The Rushing Lemmata —23 November 2009, 01:51 by Suleiman Razumovsky
3772.3 By the vestiges of corporeal virtue (qv §2299) and according to the example of the upbraiding of the messengers (qv §194) there is a skein of truth to everything, and a thread of falsehood which makes it weak.
3772.4 No larder is complete (qv §3838, §3311) unless its betrothal (qv §22) is signified.
Oneiros —23 November 2009, 01:23 by Suleiman Razumovsky
A man dreams of a better life than he has and then wakes. Zhuang Zi at least comforted himself with the thought that he could be a butterfly or a philosopher. This man looks at his life and its course and wishes only to dream for the rest of his life. This of course is impossible but he retires from public life to a hovel and spends his days scribbling about his dream life, he hangs portraits and maps all about the place, he writes detailed concordances of his loved ones, his conquered enemies, his lavish wealth, and he does this all with such a fever that he retires soon after sundown and lives for hours at a time. He becomes neglectful of himself and the bedsores appear but still he carries on dreaming. As he dies, the dreams are more vivid, the experience ever more euphoric. He is convinced he will die in his sleep and while his body is interred he will remain in the realm of his dream, ever triumphant and joyful. His friends pound upon the door. Vermin crawl about him. This is his last night—they find him dead, his eyes immobile. But dream-time is so dilatory, his friends wonder: could he live forever in that last instant of life? Though it’s over, they mourn him not, for they talk about the infinitude of his dream life approaching death, the lifetimes more he gained just before dying, all in the bliss he chased for years in this rank apartment among thieves, wrapped tightly under torn quilt and shuttered eyelids, and the calm pall of his own sleeping mind.