There was a notion he’d read in a bit of class reading during his undergrad, a small worm of cosmic speculation that he’d never properly shaken. ‘All life,’ the author had written, ‘here and elsewhere in the universe, is but a by-product of grander stellar designs.’
Accidental automata, all of it. From the barest bacterium to the entirety of human civilization. His mother and father, the dean of the college, the flint-eyed barista in the student center who smiled at him when she thought he wasn’t looking, all of it incidental and accidental. Microbursts of chemicals coming together and interacting in precision in the shadow of nebulae and star clusters. Germs nibbling at the crumbs spilt on God’s drafting table.
It calmed him, his immaterial presence. It calmed his pulse when loan collectors harried his voicemail or someone took his cab before he could reach it. ‘We’re all just bones that shouldn’t be,’ he reminded himself, breathing through the nose, the cosmic hum deep on the balls of his feet.
(Photo: Maurycy Gomulicki)
Brother told me that if anyone saw us, we were related to the elderly Bandy, who’d allowed us to hunt on his land, unless it were Bandy himself, then we were merely lost and trying to get back to our own property. And if anyone saw me with the rifle, I was sixteen and had a young face. And if I took down a deer, it was actually Brother who’d shot it, because he was old enough to buy a license. He hawked something yellow into the snow. ‘That about covers it,’ he said, never asking whether I wanted to be out there or not.
We stuck close to the powerlines until the path deviated onto the Bandy tract, the northeast corner where the creek crossed towards the lake. Brother had me on the left side of the clearing, himself sweeping the right. He likened our movements to armed military columns. When we spooked up crows he mimed shooting them and reported how many Charlie he’d napalmed into carbon dust. I kept my barrel pointed high as I’d been taught, my fingers worrying the safety.
It went hours like this, the snow seeping farther into my boots. I nibbled on Big League Chew until Brother caught me and told me to spit it out. ‘The deer can smell that, ya little shit.’ Slowly I started drifting back.
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I don’t know that I could be sicker of west Michigan if I tried. Living here for another year makes me want to disappear all the more.
Gabriel García Márquez, RIP
This whole thing is bumming me out. Márquez was one of three writers I credit with helping congeal my narrative voice in my malleable adolescent years. (Mark Z. Danielewski and Joseph Heller ranking as the other two; you’d never know it to actually read my writing, though, right?) I was vaguely aware of the form but One-Hundred Years of Solitude was my proper introduction to magical realism, and I read that at that sweet spot where I wanted only to read and write that. Reading about the South American town where preachers levitate after drinking hot cocoa and an endless year-long rain and trickles of blood that cross the market in search of the mother of the deceased, I was opened to a narrative tradition I possibly have conceived on my own.
The man wouldn’t live forever. I was originally shocked to learn Márquez was still alive in 2005, when I first read his masterpiece. Even so, this whole thing feels incorrect. Not overtly wrong, like in the wake of David Foster Wallace’s passing, but somehow off all the same.
He’d stapled the Patterson report improperly. This his boss tells him in a two-minute dressing down at his cubicle. It isn’t shouting but it isn’t been quiet either. He concedes that yes, it is his biggest client load, if there’s one client to pay attention to it’s that one. He promises never to slack again. One time he’d been a nineteen-year-old. ‘You’re damned right it won’t,’ his boss concludes, stray locks falling from her bob, fanning her forehead into slices. He’d been nineteen with a hundred dollars, or less, in his pocket. Ansell had promised to run away with him. His boss closes her door. She never closes her door unless incurably pissed.
He remembers Ansell as he works the staples out of their incorrect corners. Remembers the brine of his lips, the buckshot freckles between his shoulder blades. They’d make it to the city, they promised to one another. Starve as artists, live forever in the lines of poems and frames of short films. One midnight he parked down the road from where Ansell lived with his parents, as they’d arranged, only Ansell wasn’t there. All the lights off. ‘Eh, it coulda been worse,’ a co-worker confides over the cubicle wall. He’d thrown pebbles at Ansell’s window. ‘A lot worse.’ Tck tck tck. One after another, bounding off the glass. Ansell will open his window, he thought to himself, rooting for more stones in the wet grass. He’ll help me escape. In the break room the coffee pot refuses to turn on. A tightness blooms in his chest.
We’re all of us oceans, kaleidoscopic shells beneath our surface, our depths populated with blind terrors scrabbling over shipwrecks.