Friday, June 21, 2013

That World Beyond the Windowpane

The scholar puts down his pen and considers the sheets of paper lined up on the polished oak of his desk. The words are flowing; he feels confident that his examination of motifs common to Nora May French, George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith and Robinson Jeffers will spark a new interest in their poetry. Not bad work for a Saturday afternoon.

He stretches in his chair, then stands to change the CD in its player. Ligeti's first quartet has run its course, and now he switches to the Szymanowski second. As the music fills the room, he considers the tone of the strings, the filigree of the counterpoint; then he turns to the window and draws the curtain aside for a glimpse of his neighborhood.

He sees a rain of blood-red gristle tumbling from the sky and bathing the people next door as they wallow in the viscera-bespattered muck.  They rake their fingers through the rotting membranes, and whenever they pull up a jawbone, a skull, or a coil of intestinal tissue, they drool with the amplitude of komodo dragons.

Suddenly, a whirling, globular mass of gripping human fingers rolls like a mutant tumble-weed into their midst; they hurl pitchforks, shriek with victory when it collapses like a writhing pin-cushion into a sanguinary pool. As they rush forward to seize it, a shadow blots the land... and a vast pterosaurian corpse plummets from the wrinkled black clouds, splashes like a giant squid into the brimming creeks. The neighbours howl, hurl themselves upon it, strip it to the bone with their carious teeth until nothing remains upon the red flood but a towering, cathedral-sized ribcage.

The final chord of the Szymanowski fades away. The scholar lets the curtain fall; he returns to his chair, then begins to note the correspondences between "Desert Dweller" by Smith, and "Summer Holiday" by Jeffers.

Yes, the words are flowing. Not bad work for a Saturday afternoon.

For James Rockhill.
Monday, February 18, 2013.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Great Interior Fields

And now, a John Sladek memorial moment.

A mixture of Castle of Otranto and Turn of the Screw, at first. There are two secretive children and some mysterious (not always gigantic) manifestations: Someone in the house reaches into a cupboard to pick up something, and a giant hand reaches in the window and snatches someone away, or almost. The giant hand is that of the children’s dead brother. Once a peculiar rocket-plane zooms in. It is painted in childish toy colours: red/white striped wings, yellow wheels, blue fuselage. Flapping its wings (in imitation of a visible gull) it skims low over the great interior fields.

Of the children’s whispered conversations, the only words which can be distinguished are ‘jelly days'....

An Italian political quarrel: One man is to be put to death in the restaurant kitchen, in this way: His body has been marked with horizontal lines into ten zones. He is to be shot in one zone, allowed to heal, then shot in the next zone (head, then neck, then chest…). The waiters deny this plot, and even the victim tries to cover it up.

I discover that I am dead. I do not know how I came to die, or how I know I’m dead. Perhaps I am talking to someone and realize they are not listening.

Deathland is very pleasant and ordinary. Everyone has to work at their former job, more or less. Sociologists are very much in demand, the place seems like a kibbutz, very jolly and industrious, equipped with many wall charts.

It seems one can only communicate with the living through accidents and imitation. At last I understand what ‘jelly day’ means. It is of course just the day one leaves one’s mortal jelly.

We gather in the cafeteria in the evening to watch a TV play about the end of the world. In the play, the actors tune in to Radio 4 to catch the end-of-the-world news.

On a hunch, I tune in to Radio 4 myself. But there is nothing unusual on, just the same bouncy Muzak tunes I expected.

Then I realize that this is the news -- ordinary, palling life goes right on, up to the last moment. As I realize it, I hear thousands of footsteps coming downstairs into the cafeteria. The new crowds are arriving. It is everyone’s jelly day.

From "The Commentaries," by John Sladek, 1969.