CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
|Four Stories from Rune to Ruin
I can see the sky so white it’s leached of white and branches of winter trees like rude lace. However small it may seem, at least there is a window, a portal, and a portal is not a small thing. It’s everything, here in this room. I tilt my head up and that piece of world out there fills me with hope. My heart becomes a window, too, and I cry with happiness, my tears like slow raindrops down the panes of the warped thing that is my rippled, weary heart. It’s an imperfect window and I love it more for that.
But I hear his footfall so I wipe away my tears. When he pats my head, I am flooded with joy and relief, although sometimes my pride and worry won’t let me show it. Won’t let me because I don’t want him to think I rely upon him, that is my pride; won’t let me because I don’t want him to feel too relied upon, that is my shame.
Some may say I am reduced. That I have been reduced to this—reduced to loving my jailor—but it is not a reduction. I have known real love and I recognize it now. Desire, misunderstanding, ambivalence, need, evolving affection; it is all there. His enthusiasms, for example his encyclopedias and his love of Buddhist philosophy, sometimes tire me, though I am bound (so to speak) to show my interest because, after all, I get very little in the way of stimulus here. You might think I would find religious philosophy and encyclopedias of incredible interest in this context, but it is not my mind, not my thoughts that are hungry here—it is my heart: my heart longs for human intensities and human dramas. When he puts those books down and embraces me …
I have had a lot of time here to think, something I once thought I wanted. But I have discovered there is no purpose to thinking, at least not in here. The only problem to solve is the problem of myself. And when I have solved that, it will not be because I have thought it through, nor it will be more thinking that I’ll then require, but heightened sensation. Sensorium is one of the most beautiful words in the English language. The other great word is synesthesia.
Sometimes my guard wheels in a small cart atop which is a television and below which is a VCR and we watch movies, Notorious was our last one. Ingrid Bergman is a genius. The games those two love morons play is scandalous given the stakes; they should have been straightforward with one another all along, one can’t help but think, so much suffering is avoided when one speaks plainly. The time period the movie fictionalizes, or perhaps noir in general, looks like a kind of hell for lovers. Because speaking plainly in noir is anything but precise communication. Rather it is code for an overdetermined masculinity, which blocks light, the reinvestigation and rearticulation so crucial to vital relationships. But then again, had they really spoken plainly, we would have lost the suspenseful rapprochement at the very last minute, filled with danger and threat, the descent where the love morons inch down the stairs with the plotting mother-and-son Nazis—a rendition of the bride stripped bare by her bachelors, replete with figures, like echoes, descending in trembling vibrato to the professionals, i.e., the Nazis below. Just when it seems all is lost, it’s just a matter of having guts, having a car, and pulling away at the right moment. They drive off and the curtain falls, but one feels the trouble for her may begin anew in a few moments when, in her softness, she reaches, like a root tendril, for the nourishment of his and encounters instead reinforced walls of male certitude. So: she wins/she loses?
I know that to win is to lose. In love matches it’s best to lose. When you really lose, you lose so much. Love is a serial scathing, by degrees rough and soft, internal and external. There is the sensation of being mildly scathed by one’s own paranoid suppositions or projections of insufficiency, and there is the sensation of being awfully scathed by the other’s misbehaviors.
One always looks for the chance to return to the good, whatever it is, wherever it may be found, however circuitous the way.
The crowd. It would suddenly glitter and rear up, then fade into a void of tensely guarded indifference, then disperse like a tree losing all its leaves at once.
Dagmar was bemused. She said, I’m trying to choose whether to give up science or fiction. Why not keep both? I asked; they’re mutually compatible. Her hair was waxed and cut to dangle in a frozen wave arching over her forehead, winging down almost crouching at the tips, just shy of her tiny nostrils, the tip of her nose as small as a clitoris, disproportionate to that ornamental hood of hair. The difference, Dagmar said, with her immobile hair, is that in fiction one is not obliged to pretend one’s experiments are neutral, or even hygienic.
The lights flickered and it was time to go in. Most of us floated like tentative pollen into the dim theater, much too large for the event, though Dagmar moved both methodically and cautiously, like a reptile. After a polite pause, pretending nonchalance, I sat next to her. The curtain rose.
Later, her humid mouth, a walk at the ocean. She waded in. I remained with her footwear on the shore and then walked down where I saw several dead birds. She came back in a few minutes, dried off her feet. Finally she spoke; eventually she grew quiet.
I remarked with mild alarm how many dead birds I’d seen on the shoreline. She looked at me with surprise and asked me where I was from, tracing the whorl of my ear with her hand.
We went to your father’s opening.
The pink guest book lay open on the table.
You made no move. I signed for both of us.
I asked if you wanted to leave, you wagged your red head.
You were depressed, Galen, for many reasons.
Most of all because your car was disappearing.
Everyday, a different part of your car would disappear.
There was more …
I looked in your journal.
You left it by the tub. You took a bath after the opening. I read it.
Sudden sinking feeling. The many fissures like black mirrors. People look like they’ve promised somebody to disappear. One gives up, waiting for that. Tried to talk to him. Felt foolish and bored. He mentions things I don’t remember, or maybe they didn’t happen. Infestation of false memories cause confusion. Everything must remain on the surface, at all costs. I see that my reactions are needless and their source imaginary. Fearful struggles last night … Sudafed … antibiotics … I stay up until dawn watching Hitchcock movies. Marlene Dietrich plays herself in Stage Fright. In this movie, the actress who plays an actress is real; the actress who plays a character is unreal. The sun rises and I try to recall myself to life. I try to remember the real. But all I remember is the hot dog football Styrofoam mitten man. I remember the red head gets got.
In the days before the spent dream we used to listen, respectfully, to the still-viable individual describe her plans all the while suppressing the burgeoning horror of the individual’s obsolescence. People thought if they asked the individual enough questions …
Even then, Joany Anne did not bother to clap, let alone reply. She was suspicious of the documentarians and their innocent-seeming questions like, “What brings you here? What is this place? Did you ever want to cause somebody harm?” Joany Anne refused to speak. What would they do with our answers? She wanted to know. She was suspicious. I wasn’t; I answered. “I saw the sign out in the street and just thought, what a nice venue for harpsichord on the bicentennial, yes, I’ve wanted to harm America.” Joany Anne gave me the fish eye. Even the most friendly or innocuous of statements could be twisted and used against you, Joany Anne felt. She antagonized the videographers out in the open—it’s not hard to scare people with cameras (because, being machined, they’re already unsteady).
The bank representative at the bicentennial, he made no sense. Didn’t he want the community to have confidence in our sponsor? At the end he said, “Human capital is our friend.” Next came the entertainers. We closed our eyes as the recorder player began—allegro, andante, sonata—his literal pink chemise open in a v revealing his virtuosic chest and his muscular torso was in evidence, a Pan-god of the moment, tamed for church.
Black skirts and colorful shawls were de rigeur but Joany Anne wore disheveled ungainly trousers and a stained ill-hanging shirt, her long uncombed gray hair as like to a weedy lot as her distracted, drained imagination. “What do you do for money?” the publicist asked, his pen at the ready. Surveys were de rigeur.
First they’ll ask where you buy your food and then why you came, with their placid, wide young faces, and then it’ll be, “Who beat you?” Joany Anne predicted. What to make of all the surveys they passed out? If arts, culture, or anything else was to be consumed there had to be a simple explanation, they felt. The surveys would help them deduce it.
The sponsors take turns speaking both unintelligibly and falsely and their children are, fortunately, too young to be humiliated on their behalves. The sensuous joy of family love has muddled the sponsors’ minds. Their genre is to-do, their activity: extinguishing to-do items with slash marks.
Joany Anne, so real, so intolerant. You weigh as much as a magnet at the bottom of a gray and impassable sea, you live like a mirror among vapors, you are mean and sad and that’s what draws everyone’s minds into your reality. You are as true as a name and less temporary. Your suspicions teach me that amiable pleasantries can be as fatal as paranoia or ice picks. You disappear, incapable of tolerating recorder music in a church.
I find you staring at the deacon who is fixed to his spot, recalling the frightening vampire in his bathroom.
There is no meaning here except in the ghostly figure of Joany Anne whose discontentment has meaning. But only inside of a complicated dream may her discontentment become legible: there must be a large, kangaroo-shaped alien fox with one garnet eye staring; there must be an instinct for stillness; there must be two friends who become statues and evade predation by showing their doubt and slowing their heart rates.
And towards the non-end when the crowd succumbs there must be those strangers who go the other way.
Miranda Mellis is the author of The Revisionist (Calamari Press) and the chapbook Materialisms (Portable Press at Yo Yo Labs). The Revisionist has been translated into Italian and Croatian, and is the basis for a ninety-foot-long drawing by Megan Vossler on display at Franklin Art Works in Minneapolis. Her writing has appeared in various publications, including Harper’s, Tin House, the Believer and Modern Painters. She lives in San Francisco, and teaches at California College of the Arts and Mills College.