Tag Archives: short story

The Chronicle of Mr. Cogito

Señor C had made an informed judgement on every part of his body. He had in his possession a number of journals, encyclopaedias and compendia on the subject of anatomy and from these sources and others, he considered himself to be informed. He had judged his thighs, he had judged his kneecaps. He had judged his thighs and the kneecaps at their ends and found them not deficient, deficient as others, others whose judgements were not invested with the same accuracy of his own, not to speak of the textbooks from which they were derived, may perceive them as being. They were different, certainly. Striking? Of course. Unusual? Oh, there could be no doubt. But deformed?

One of the books Señor C had read was entitled On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). Well, not the whole thing, in truth, but a good heft of’t. His failure in completing the text was pathological, and not attributable to a lapse in his academic diligence. Señor C would be overcome by fits of giggling when he reached a section, just some yards wide of the half-way point. A noble vista, if only it could be reached! The unyielding paragraph described how a combination of selective breeding on the part of the tribes of sub-Saharan Africa and just a bit of individual ingenuity on behalf of each beast, could cause the neck of a giraffe to become elongated. Señor C would laugh, and his entire body would begin to curl up into itself. His backside leaned dangerously over the edge of, and then off the edge of, his chair, leaving Señor C to keel over and curl yet further, onto the floor. His resemblance to tape turning about a spool was most uncanny. There, he would endure what remained of his laughing fit, until the memory of the Serengeti, the giraffes and tribes all had passed from his mind. After havong regained his composure, Señor C would ask himself, was that truly that funny? Was it really? Señor C was a curious sort, and no less curious on the subject of himself.

All the same, by this stage in the text, Señor C had gained some familiarity with Darwin’s thesis and thusly it was possible for regard his kneecaps as an adaptation, of potential benefit to future generations. Not that Señor C was likely to ever viviparate. Though sometimes he cultivated daydreams of producing a stolon. Stretching, in order to quell an incipience in one of his arms, there would be another Señor C, moustachioed and sodden in afterbirth, just as mystified as he, the initial incarnation of Señor C, was, at the terminus of an adnexa that had them conjoined.

Señor C’s kneecaps were reversed. His knees looked to what was behind him. Señor C intermittently regretted that there was no one else in his home to witness his adaptation. He often longed for someone to collaborate with in the combing over the finer details. In order to resolve the dilemma of his solitude, Señor C apprenticed himself, with the diligence of the isolated obsessive, in the art of naively witnessing his own life. He placed himself in rooms before he arrived in them, and watched himself enter. It was, like all skills in the making, a real slippery bastard. The key was to prevent himself from forcing his efforts, lest he jump the mark and his imagination fill the gap. This is what had happened when Señor C experienced a deceptive breakthrough which had seemed at first, reliable, as far as perceptions go. There he was, maladroitly astride the doorframe, surely himself, all angular imprecision, testing the strength of his tendons by leaning in incorrect and frankly performative ways. But then, reproducing the image subsequently, he supplanted what he truly did look like with what he thought he looked like. Perhaps it had since worked, perhaps on other occasions it had not. It is difficult to say, and more difficult still to describe what it is like to see with the eyes of an empty room.

Señor C thought often about his attic. Such a strange room. A strange room in that it was valued for its capacity to take objects, from rooms where they were not wanted. Could

the attic be regarded as existing in the same category as other rooms? If the attic was a non-room, did it feel left out? If it did feel left out, did this cause jealousy, resentment? Correlatively, is it possible the other rooms felt bloated, stuffed to their fetters with objects, desperate to unload their contents somewhere, resentful in turn of the myriadminded creature that moved in them? Could the attic conspire with the other rooms, to offload their wastage? Or would the attic conspire to distribute its space within other rooms? If such a transaction of room between rooms, would they be mindful of his position at the time of transfer? Would it be possible that a corner of a room would materialise within his body as he passed through his home? Señor C began to formulate a more deliberate gait, as if ready to fend off a part of his attic that might produce itself in the middle of his chest cavity.

Señor C found himself less capable of plying the familiar in-roads of his thoughts of pursuing his regular hobbies, becoming uncertain as to whether ‘phthisic’ should indeed follow on from ‘phthirophagus’ in the dictionary. Verifying that words in his edition of the Oxford English Dictionary did indeed appear in alphabetical order was one such pastime.

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered am I

It was a mannered song. It was in the old style. The notes were embraced and theatrically uncoupled, by a vocalist who performed beneath the rasp of a big band. These symptoms of its disingenuity and more irked him, but he acclimatised. Once, it roused him from sleep to half-doze and he would lie there on his back, being confused, but it now relaxed him. He drifted off while grinding his teeth in rhythm with the drummer’s bemsha- plodding. He was content to allow matters stand as they were, until the song started to leave a sugary crust on the walls, which he picked at like a neurotic.

He climbed the stairs to the attic and there found a stack of clockwork phonographs, inert, corner into corner into corner, perfectly. Not one side of any phonograph was infringed upon by contact with any other side; they were all pristine hexagons in terrible sequences. Señor C saw himself in his dreams, running at them and being impaled in eighteen places, each point of incision exactly twelve inches from any other.

It was inconceivable to disturb even one of the phonographs, for fear of bringing an end to the geometry, the beauty of which would have brought tears to Señor C’s eyes if the affecting ballad had not in his mind, run the diapason entire from affecting to saccharine, to bothersome, to sickly to nauseating.

So he let it be for now, and allowed the crust to swell yet further.

Though, sometimes he did not let it be, and would return, full of the failure’s vigour for the resumed task, and found that on some quantum plane, the phonographs had begun to disembroil themselves from one another. In doing so, they excreted from themselves the colour brown, which was not brown, in truth, but a boiled brown.

This ooze was making its way across the attic floorboards. Though Señor C could not be certain that this melting, 0 wherefore melting, was not a discolouration of a more pedestrian sort, a mere stain in the attic’s floor, one that he had never before noticed. So he marked in the eye of his mind how far the stain halted before a particular grike in the floorboards and resolved to leave the room for a cluster of days, so that where the stain had progressed to could be contrasted with the stain as it is now.

In his dreams, he watched himself, inchoate with a rage he had been ignorant of in his real life, smash the phonographs to bits with a brass ear trumpet.

When the day finally came to trace the stain’s progression, Señor C pretended to have forgotten. He completed his morning ritual with a broadcast nonchalance, before allowing himself to remember to check the stain.

It had indeed advanced by a small, but indisputable margin. The gramophones from which the ooze emanated were increasingly reduced. Señor C knelt and asked the stain a question.

— What in the name of Christ is this?

They were not interested in his platitudes.

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered am I…

Today, Señor C was overly attendant to the process of preparing his breakfast, in order to distract himself from the man floating in his kitchen.

It was a man of ordinary height and appearance, some seven feet from the floor, and some two feet three inches from the ceiling. Apart from the general ‘wrongness’ of his manifestation (levitation, etc.), his orientation was skewed or incorrect. His front was too oriented; he looked neither upwards nor downwards, but in some 65 degree direction.

Señor C did not wish to touch the man or to address him. Or, to look at him, really. Señor C’s coping mechanism in this instance was, altogether different from the one he adopted when confronted with the loosening gramophones. Rather than generously apportioning himself periods of time during which he would pretend not to care, Señor C restrained himself from looking at the man altogether and only when in the midst of a cough, did he allow his eyes to look upwards at some glancing light off of the man’s shoe, for instance.

In spite of this austerity of glimpses, Señor C came to see that the man was slowly, slowly turning through the air, as considered and balletic as any circus acrobat. His display was far more impressive however, as he did so without the supports usually granted to the performer. One could appreciate this if one were capable of considering such things without being made to feel deeply uncomfortable, and Señor C could not.

Señor C began to wonder if there was an empirical means of verifying the man’s rotation. He supposed that the best option was to plot the angle in which his shoes were pointing at the current moment, and where they were pointing five, six days hence. He could use a measuring tape to chart this point from the shoe itself to one of the walls and mark it in pencil.

But he didn’t bother, and used the man as a clothes horse, despite the unsettling vision the man gave, swaddled in white sheets, hovering about his kitchen table like a profane and somnolent Virgin Mary, ascending body and soul to heaven, albeit at an unbearably torpid rate.

Mirrors stopped reflecting Señor C and Señor C began to reflect mirrors.

Climbing the stairs one evening, he put his foot through one of the steps.

Things that Señor C put down would disappear. Not in the quaint way that this befalls all of us, when something else confronts us as task and, oh, where did that thing I had get to, Señor C watched them, watched them, dissolve.

Señor C had placed great dependence on the constancy of the rules which governed the basic tenets of his life and did not know why they were being razed so frequently of late. He did not know why he had not left his home in many, many years. He did not know why he hadn’t seen another person in an even longer span of time. He longed to take an iron to things, to straighten out the world’s bunching wrinkles.

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Wastepaper Basket Part II: Les Mortes

***Health warning: I’m putting this here because I realised it’s unpublishable, and I’ve recycled the good parts into a different thing***

Les Mortes

There’s a football match on tomorrow. Or a rugby match the day after. There is a sporting event of some kind to be staged in the near future, of this I am certain. The occasion itself is unimportant though; the result is that the pub is empty. The yuppies are conserving their testosterone in their settlements on the commuter belt, rather than crowding the place, by their stances making even standing, or holding a drink, seem like contrived things to be doing. The bartender is leaning easy, either against the bar, watching the newsreader’s mouth flap, or against a wall behind him, polishing a glass. I sit at the bar and I order a coffee. Drinking coffee after five is what writers do, in lieu of getting drunk and going mad.  

I spend forty minutes being dissatisfied with what I’m writing, watch my ideal gather itself into existence, maybe just for a moment, before slipping again into just a crust of ink left on a page, over which I gibber in apologetics. I scribble, doodle idly, rage against the feckless muse stewing herself in some lake. I can see her now in a hushed glade blasted by yellow light. I wonder what she’s waiting for.

Eager for distraction, I watch the threshold of the public house; I feel its presence to be tinged with an accusation, like a blank page setting its mute face in mine. I wonder who will be the next person to walk through that door.  Whoever it is, perhaps they can redeem me, redeem all this, the differengenera in ink into a fluent jaunt. I wait with the bartender, my unwitting accomplice in the itch of expectancy, for ten minutes, before a young-ish woman walks in.

If she is older than me it is not by a wide margin. Some inferior novelist might refer to her as ‘willowy,’ ‘lithe’ or ‘svelte.’ She makes an enquiry of the barman before sitting or ordering: have you a socket around that I could use? He says that he does and after settling herself in the corner, she orders a glass of red wine. I watch all this happen while giving the impression that I am absorbed in the first volume of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. In the original French of course. Have I neglected to mention that I’m reading Proust in the original? I rarely do.

The woman types intermittently, leaning into the screen and then sitting back to consider. The screen’s light illuminates her face bluely and makes her expression of placid disinterest seem improbable. She has disturbed the library air of the pub; it smells like outside now. With a sadness that breaks inside me, tectonically, I realise that she is quite beautiful. I would attribute it to the light from her screen, it is autumnally – no, wait, it is, soothing, perhaps oceanic in ways. But this impressionistic crossword of description is tedious, I’ll confess that I noticed her attractiveness already, when she first came in, I just didn’t mention it at the time, it would’ve been uncouth. Courtships are much more admirable before they’ve happened, before all the dithering starts.

I get excited for a moment, realising that my sadness might yield something worth recording, something that could be wrung out. The pen is ready, but the feeling doesn’t give anything up, it just sort of, sits there in the chest, obstinate and fat. I order a beer.

Unreason, or the rude stupidity of jumping the gap into action, is something that has to be done. One cannot think one’s way into doing. This is because the mind is a catastrophiser, an enemy of acts. It is a poor compatriot. It is in tribute to this turncoat, thought, that of my doing, I will remain silent.

The conversation is in its moderate, early stages. Where she works, what her name is, these sorts of things. Noticing my book, she produces her own, a slim novel. But I am not deceived, it is one that I have read, one of my favourites.

—Do you like it?

—Yeah, I love it. It’s so good.

She places it, cover down on the table.

—It is a little grim though.

—Grim?

—Yeah, just, a bit too close to the bone sometimes.

These are astute enough, not incorrect observations. Seeing this line of enquiry reach its natural end, I point to her computer.

—What are you working on at the minute?

—I thought you’d never ask. Breakthrough stuff.

She turns the laptop around so that I can see the spreadsheet that she’s authoring. I look at it without reading, for as long as I assume it is polite to look at a spreadsheet.  

—Looks heavy. I can’t deal with that stuff myself.

—Oh, it’s not too complicated, there’s no functions or anything.

—Doesn’t look that way. These cells here are overflowing.

She laughs.

–No, really, look, they’re just long because they’re full addresses.  It is a list of the constituency offices of sitting TD’s.

—That is exciting. Why would you be working on something like that?

—Because I am competent enough for my boss to trust me with the most important job in the whole company, to verify the addresses that we send our branded calendars out to at the end of the financial year.

—Must be complicated to keep track of that many, I say, letting her go out of focus as I take a drink. The liquid has reached a point a little past the glass’ half-way bulge.

—Yes and no. It’s all on Google after all. The only thing is I have to make sure that I have their old addresses in there.

I make my face register puzzlement, just a dash.

—Old addresses? Why’s that?

—Well, I’m, dead, and that makes it a bit more…difficult.

—Oh.

She looks at me.

—Is that a problem?

—No. Course not, why would it be?

—Because of the way you said ‘Oh’ like that. Like you thought I was…weird or  defective or something.

—No, no, I don’t think that.

Her gaze is still on me. If I couldn’t see it, I’d be able to feel it. It might be time to concede.

—Really, I don’t. I was a bit surprised. …this’ll sound bad, but you are the first dead person I’ve ever spoken to.

She raises her glass,

—Well you could start by maybe not using the word ‘dead,’ thanks.

downs it.

—I’m sorry, I don’t mean to offend. ‘Person of post-living’ isn’t it?

—Yes. It, is.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a person-of-post-living. There was a PPL society around campus when I was in college, running mixers and balls and such. And I’ve read a take about how Goths who wear pale make-up are appropriating necro-culture for its cachet, without having to deal themselves with any of the structural oppression that comes of being a person-of-post-living. Is there something in that for a conversation? I don’t really want to find out – I’d rather get us away from all this in truth.

—How, how is it?

—Being dead?

—Well, yes.

She sighs, looks tired and past me, regarding the empty glass and the news beyond it.

—You don’t have to, and it must get annoying to have idiots like me ask, but I’d like to know. What do you do all the time? You don’t sleep, right?

—We can. We just don’t really need to.

The conversation is bereft now, it’d almost make you wish the match was on, to have some man screaming advice at an athlete, maybe have the edges taken off the silence.

—Since I am still here, rather than somewhere else, wherever somewhere else is, I must have made some sort of mistake while I was alive. Since I spent so much of my time in the office, I think it must’ve been some oversight in work, somewhere. So I go in every day, take care of a couple of new things, then, after closing my boss lets me use the place to go over old paperwork, spreadsheets, adjusting the gutters in some of the documents on my old computer, scan old paperwork to adjust my spelling, grammar and,

She taps her laptop.

—checking addresses.

As she runs over her tedious itinerary, counting them off on her fingers, she over-enacts how her surplus of tasks outnumbers the fingers she can count them off on, with a jollity that mocks me slightly. I like it.

Another article I read broached the idea that persons of post-living exist in order to right a wrong during their lives was morally toxic and propagated the idea that the post-living must be in servitude to the living and to their prior selves. I decide not to tell her this, no lifesplainer I.

—It must be hard to keep track of everything that you could have made a mistake in. Do you have some kind of system of rotation?

—No…I just have a feeling about this spreadsheet. It was the first thing I did when I got the job. It used to be for the interns but my boss had me do it every year as a sort of, in-joke.  

—Lucky you.

She smiles in acknowledgement.   

—What if, what if your mistake isn’t around anymore?

—Pardon?

—Well, you said you’re looking at paperwork going back. Isn’t some of that stuff shredded by now, or, haven’t the computers been replaced since you were there?  

She thumbs the table’s edge.  

—I guess, I try not to think about that sort of thing.

—Would you like another drink?

I pull out my wallet and we both look at it. There’s something obscene about it in my hand, it looks like something that should be sheathed out of decency.

—No. No, I better be…getting off soon. Thanks anyway.

But she doesn’t move, and we sit there for a while, roasting in the quiet. I start to panic, and make the promise to help her with her spreadsheet, send it along. Sure I know my way around Excel. She laughs and says that she will, but she isn’t sure whether someone else rectifying her mistake would work. So I say, with a lack of tact that I blame on the beer, that the history of literature has many examples of the dead enlisting others’ help to correct their mistakes. Hamlet was one. She thought about it and agreed that I was right. She would send me the file. My phone gave an obedient ping. (Ping!)

This little exchange was the last one of note and I began to gather my affairs about my person. She began shutting down her PC. I, jacketed (Ping!), sort of hovered at the table, at the door, outside, depending on her progress. She wore a thick box-coat, belted at the waist with a furred hood. I kept noticing these details, because I was quite out of my mind in panic over what to do next.

Whoever moved first, we were kissing. I’d wondered what it would be like to kiss a person of post-living, to kiss her, whether her mouth would feel differently from someone who was alive. So I was too reflective, more in interior monologue than the physical, trying to quantify the difference. But there was none to be detected. I allowed my mind to numb, and waited for it to be over.

I left her, she walking out of town, me having to go back through. I opened the email while rounding Merrion Square’s first corner, and appreciated the tree branches that crowded through and over the black railings, protruding over the gutters in my sight into the park. Because I did not stop to take my glances, I allowed myself to enjoy the filmic intermittence with which the foliage parted, the way it swam past, or turned into itself, like tar being churned. The emptied square seemed grand in the dark. The spreadsheet looked in order, but I wouldn’t be able to check the back-end till I get to a desktop. I probably won’t, I realised. Male desire is a tragic thing.