Monday, October 16, 2017

Fiction #75: M.W. Miller

The Foundational Banquet of the Four Cousins

The original names of the four cousins were Fred, George, Dave and Leo. They hailed from the four intermediate points of the compass, the northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest, respectively. But understanding that every unraveling begins in the south they early on converted to a strictly southern direction and discipline, and at length found it natural to adopt new and more imposing southern names.

So Fred came to be called Acharya Sunya; George, Pandit Non-dual; Dave, Rabbi Einsof; and Leo, the Philosopher of One.

And each became expert in a dead or nearly dead language, mutually unintelligible with any other. For each is built around the core of not-any-thing, and each not-any-thing is uniquely itself, though this could make no sense.

Now as fully realized sages, each in his own tradition, they sit down together at a last banquet, in a manner of speaking.

They call it sitting at a banquet, though they might as easily call it standing, since their sitting is so precarious.

And they call it a last banquet, though it might easily be called a first. But to call it a first would only invite speculation on the next, or controversy over whether this indeed was a first and not the reflex of some prior event. What they surely want to avoid is unnecessary argument, for they are all devoted to the one necessary. So they are radical in that respect, though they are all conservative in dress, right out of the oldest bazaar or the newest catalog.

The robes of the four cousins are in contrasting colours: the Acharya in white, the Pandit in saffron, the Rabbi in red and the Philosopher in black. But they are identical in cut and in material of identical gauge.

In the end, they cannot be distinguished, one from the other. And even to say that they either can or cannot be distinguished is a terrible diminution of who they are not.

Yet the four cousins are all very distinguished in the sense of being dignified. Their dignity doesn’t consist in this or that quality (which can’t be distinguished) but in a remote clarity. Their opaque expressions and manners of speaking render them transparent and unobstructed.

They trust each other, complicitly, but they don’t trust themselves. Everything they say or think can and will be used against them. Every sentence leads by some circuitous route to a snag in the river. The river clogs and the fields are flooded out of season.

They sit teetering on rickety folding chairs at the corners of a square oaken table, delicately balancing paper plates on their laps. The table is scarred by knife cuts from repeated carving. It’s scorched by cigars and matches, and smudged with melted wax. But though they freely maintain that they sit at a last banquet, they hold none of these marks as evidence of any banquet prior. No evidence is truly evidence, they all agree. All evidence is sign, and all sign points elsewhere and nowhere.

For they think it cruel to bind evidence down along a single axis, chaining one exhibit to the next against some thudding wall of fact, without adequate air and sunlight. They would give all evidence the freest range possible. And so they would give evidence its just due.

The table is covered with a variety of crystal vessels, glasses, beakers and pitchers in green, gold and red, much like a table set in the tent of royal patrons before a tournament.

Banners and pennants fly over such a tent, which is pitched between a small wood and the list. Sunlight pierces the tent as easily as it pierces the wood, illuminating the vessels on the royal table, as it illuminates the vessels here.

But unlike the royal table, the table of the four cousins is set nowhere that can be named. Still, the vessels are filled, identically, with nectar and with soma, doubly filled and overflowing.

The four cousins pour for one another as they pose their self-canceling arguments with an air of distraction. This air of distraction is the perfect medium for their purposes, communicating over space and time with little loss of intent or meaning, in the utmost cool.

But their frail arms, making all signs and mudras as they lift, pour and pass along, badly negotiate the tangle of vessels, tipping some, chipping others, shattering a few and spilling soma and nectar across the table. Shards of glass glitter as they fall, sound like chimes, and from some nowhere two servants arrive to clean up and reestablish order.

The servants are a former lady and her knight, recently fallen from their higher stations, but still a fresh and handsome couple who wield their rags with dexterity. They sweep up the shards and reset the table, though they jumble the original arrangement of the vessels they replace.

The banquet temporarily and roughly reordered, they withdraw behind a screen at the foot of the table (which has no foot) and chastely undress. They produce a wicker throne. A peacock perches on its back. Intimately, they mount the throne, the lady astride the knight’s lap, fixing eyes to eyes and then lips to lips.

The knight’s profile is strong, honest, and noble. The lady’s generous lips and true-hearted eyes are even more beautiful in the candlelight, framed by a nebula of black hair.

Murmuring in the first language, or the last, they recall their long pilgrimage through a countryside of lakes, hills, heaths and unexpected deserts, through woods ruled by monkeys and bears, through villages of sly peasants and comical monks, through manor houses of masters, gurus, priests and holy courtesans.

Their path is uncanny but clear through the woods, across the landed estates, through the villages, the inns and tea houses, through the multiform streets and neighborhoods of the capitol. They lose each other across the fields, down the streets, in the crowds, down the hallways, and find each other in disorder and disaster, in happy encounters by temples broken in sunlight.

Wherever they come to stand or sit, in the woods, on the mountains, along the river, on the list beside the woods, a vast tent rises up unaccountably as a refuge, as now it rises over the table of the four cousins, next to the small wood by the enormous field, a tent secure against the rain but with openings all around for the peering in of sheep and cattle and, planted in support at each corner, a frailly-limbed willow tree.


M.W. Miller is a Vancouver writer. He lives inside a hat.

1 comment:

  1. very interesting story--seems like a cross between Kafka and Adi Da Samraj-!