Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stumbling over semi-circular concrete edifices with pungent soil and ordinary flowers in the center of them, children throwing dice in the dark, we begin to rethink and replace even our most primeval desires. We locate them somewhere close to the gall bladder. But this is disingenuous on our part, a strategy we invent when we are between two locations, we are stranded like ducks frozen feet-first to the surface of a lake. Eulalie recommends visual illustration, the putting of pen and ink to paper and then wadding up the results because they remind you of something you saw on the isthmus. Chained mammals. Butterflies drinking at the corners of their eyes. I dispute every third claim she makes on principle, then turn my attention to the nearby sounds of thunder, of rainwater on the street. She knows my hands are growing steadily weaker. They can’t be trusted to hold tight to a rope. Just the sort of failing that can cause the forest floor to rush up at you like a predatory fish (assuming, of course, you are dangling for some reason above the forest floor on a rope). This doesn’t mean I’m planning to un-build what we have spent entire decades building. It doesn’t mean our time together is destined to become something legendary, something you put in a book when you can’t think of anything else to put in it, like the chemical composition of magma or the lineage of one noble Greek family or another. In a handwritten note, I discover what appears at first glance to be a secret code and I take it to the African up the road who has experience unraveling such things, who spent his formative years in the employ of cartographers and had to run for his life on more than one occasion when the building in which he worked was damaged by an earthquake. His fingernails are yellow or gray and have been chewed ragged and I wonder if maybe the ringing in his ears he complains of from the moment I arrive is the sort of thing that drives one crazy, literally crazy, if left untreated. But then, something is bound to drive one crazy at some point, isn’t it? Assuming one is a little unbalanced to begin with and susceptible to outside influences that the rest of us wouldn’t notice even if you made a special point of drawing our attention to them. Influenced by the African, Eulalie spends hours recalling events from a past with barely discernible labels on it, evoking rivers overhung with vines and toasters that belonged to historical personages of the first and second rank. You can make an entire workable ontological system, she contends, by casting about in the remnants left by those who have come to visit, those who endeavor to return transience to its original luster. By way of illustrating a not altogether separate point, she pulls out of her hat phrases she has written down ahead of time on small, ragged pieces of paper and placing them next to the objects they are intended to describe. The porcelain tortoise. The book ends with gaudy pirates standing astride them. She turns the fan on and starts over. This lasts for a good twenty minutes, interrupted only briefly when she unwraps a piece of caramel and eyes it suspiciously as if it were made of lint, before placing it on her tongue and closing her eyes. I am tempted to fear for her mind at times like these, but I know my fears are misplaced, as is my lust. These emotions more properly belong to that stage of our lives together when we saw one another as emblems rather than actual human beings, as stand-ins for ideas and attitudes we knew through our careful reading of Kierkegaard and our careless reading of Kant, and conversations with all the right people (read baristas and the occasional unemployed environmental engineer) we were expected to adopt. Ideas and attitudes we were then expected to alter, but only rarely. Only when they had ceased serving their original purpose and had begun instead to ossify, to lend an undeserved and undignified weight to any otherwise mediocre sentence that just happened to contain them.

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