Friday, November 21, 2014

Fiction #56: M.W. Miller

Round

In the middle of the last century Leland spoke in a way that smoothed North Avenue down to a plain field and rolling prairie under a rounded sky in the pastel spirits of pink and grey. He held the magisterium of speech over pastels and rolling stock and over everything round. His speech couldn’t produce anything that wasn’t round and smooth and that wouldn’t in some respect roll away.

He spoke of sleek and festive cars with weighty but rounded fenders made for the maharathathas, the chariot warriors of the neighborhood. They drove their grand cars into martial lines, like the chariots on Kurukshetra, and they rolled away. He spoke of the wheels and balls of games of chance, of rounded figures and full chords, of the always round faces of gods and goddesses, whether open or concealed, of the rolling motion of every proceeding and of the cloverleaves of the distributive round on round, on which the chariot warriors drove.

Yet while everything Leland spoke of in the middle of the last century was smooth and round and rolled away and was gone Leland himself was never round or smooth but statically thin, angular and pockmarked. He smoked harsh and reeky foreign cigarettes. Even in the summer, he never wore pastels, but black shirts and slacks that were torn and shiny with wear.

He sank, repeatedly, onto a bench in a corner of the poolroom reserved for everyone living under a curse. All of his friends slumped there with him, dressed in black, and they all lived under a curse. They gathered at the back of the poolroom like a colloquy of embalmers. Sunlight in streaks flowed through the skylight and turned their faces to stone.

All of his friends were driven by the greatest anxiety and had been for uncounted days. They had discovered that they had no story and therefore no self. That was the nursery rhyme of their curse. They once had a story. Now they had none, and they had no immunity to this lack of story, which rolled through their minds like moonshine and left them sour and hung-over in the morning. Their anxiety made them calculating, mean, cold and sour.

It was that simple, but it was their business to make it appear less so.

Maybe it would have been better if they had never had a story, for now they kept re-casting the old story, which they no longer altogether knew or even cared for, into ever more violent, calculating and sour colors, flavors and scents, inciting disturbances and disasters up and down the Avenue.

Remote and middle kingdoms along the Avenue had never known the old story when it was fresh, and so had no hope of resisting the effects of these sour re-castings, which acted on them like moonshine at a strange remove. It sent their people raving and slaughtering with iron machetes through the woods and fields. They rampaged along North Avenue, shattering storefronts and house fronts along the way, encumbering the sidewalks and doorways with fragments of stone, splinters of wood and broken glass.

The shopkeepers and householders were squat and round as Inuit. They had no use for anything splintered or broken or for anything that wasn’t in some sense round. They made very good lentil soup.

The Avenue was thus encumbered, but Leland walked freely among the householders and shopkeepers, unencumbered. All of the others stumbled over their own ruptures and fragments, exchanging curses and gambling for their own cloaks. But everything Leland said rolled away, and his view was left undamaged and unobstructed.

But it was hard to say why he was immune to the disarray and debris of the old story, the jagged but rugged old story and its endless knock-offs, parodies and plagiarisms, which had all the virtues of not making sense, like a mirror to North Avenue but translated to a glowing sphere. Maybe he was just lucky.

Jane lived in an old house on a modest street up the hill from North Avenue, on an upper floor with a balcony made of timber encumbered with bicycles and folding chairs, shielded by a bamboo screen and looking out over the gulf.

Further hills rose higher behind and each had a kind of temple at the top in the form of a track house, service station or burger franchise, with singular clouds overhead. The hills were green and demanded temples, so however ugly the building or method nothing else could be built.

On an island in the gulf, Ravana brooded his next move. His brooding introduced iridescence and choppy waves over the surface of the water.

Jane had just moved into the neighborhood from some yet more remote kingdom alien to the old story and its sour re-castings, but she did keep a representative collection of all the epics, and could cite the appropriate passages. She moved about securely behind her bamboo screen.

Looking for sunshine, Italians, maybe Romans, had cleared the way of trees, and lined the sidewalks with stone cherubim and stone artichokes. Sunshine built up the street, brick by brick, up the hill to Jane’s house. Whitely, the summer heat ballooned the two narrow lanes into a wide boulevard. There was nothing rounder than the white light rolling down and up the hill.

Still, up the hill Leland’s walk was herky-jerky and uncertain. His hands were empty of gifts. His gaunt frame and fractured gait were no help. He smoked one of his reeky foreign cigarettes in the sunlight. One rounded sentence, and then another, was all he had to offer.

*

M.W. Miller is old enough to have devolved into an article of clothing, a talking hat. At present, hats are more sold than worn, so that few people even know how to wear them. Even worn badly they may help in the rain.

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