Playing with Cortazar’s Continuity of Parks & Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. Oh, and Mark Strand’s Keeping Things Whole.
by Gabriel Furmuzachi
Look at all these books. Run your delicate fingers over their spines, feel the tiny glue lumps underneath the surface, feel the knots of thread binding all those pages. Look at this desk. It still feels new, white as a sheet of paper, smooth as an eel’s skin. Now, look out the window, beyond the screen. You see yellowing trees scattering the feeble late afternoon light, and you see a couple of barren greenhouses, down to your left. Farther ahead there’s a retirement home, three rows of square windows on a long white wall. Some rooms have the lights on already but from where you are you can only discern thin, moving shadows. Try to imagine the odd old man smoking his cigarette by the window, the odd old woman chatting with her friend while perming her hair. Now come back here in the room with the books and the desk. There is something I want you to know.
“What is this? Who speaks here?”
Yes, I can hear you, dear reader. You are curious, you surely want to know what is going on and where will this story lead. But first, how are you? How was your day? Or is? Don’t worry, appearances don’t matter. You don’t have to straighten up your hair or check your breath just because I mention them here. I am the author, I’ve seen perhaps more than you can imagine. I make worlds, I handle people and their deeds. Just read ahead. Something is about to happen. The character does not yet know about it, but today might be his lucky day. Or maybe not. Do you remember that passage, right at the end of the Breakfast of Champions, where the author starts talking to Mr. Kilgore Trout? At first, Mr. Trout does not believe that the person talking to him is the author or that what he says makes any sense. Who could blame him? Any lunatic could tell us he is our creator, but that’s not enough reason to believe them, is it? Then, all of a sudden, the author transports poor Kilgore all the way to the Taj Mahal, then to Venice and to Dar es Saalam and even to the Sun (protecting him all the while from the blazing heat). When he’s back, he falls to his knees, wordless and shattered. He is then set free.
“Where is the character in this story? Why am I dragged into this? I’m just the reader”, you protest.
The character is here, with us, in the room with the white desk and the rows of books. He now hears the little bell of the graveyard church up the road letting visitors know that the gates will soon close. He stares at the screen, fingers hovering over the keyboard, ready to grab that thought, that idea and make words out of it. He starts typing, sharing with us the inner workings of his mildly intricate mind.
“I feel a little awkward writing about this”, he tells us. “Usually, I couldn’t care less about this kind of things, but now it is different. Since we moved into this apartment I tried to find my spot, a place where I could work without being disturbed, where I could just sit down and write. What’s strange about it is… Well, I feel as if I am constantly being watched. I feel, if I were to turn around suddenly, there will be a congregation of people behind me. I remember having the same kind of feeling almost a decade ago, in that cabin on the shore of Lake Superior. A huge body of water before me, frigid and murky, the thickness of a forest unraveling behind me, the night, black and bleak as a Munch etching. I was counting my days, brokenhearted, sure there is little left to live for. I could not see myself growing old or being loved again. And everywhere I turned I felt I did not belong. A poet used to say: “Wherever I am, I am what is missing.… I move to keep things whole”. I felt the opposite. Wherever I was, I was redundant. Whenever I moved, I shattered wonders. And all the while, I was being watched. The trees, the cormorants, the spirits of the land, whatever native gods happened to cut through around there, they would all assemble and partake in following me. Silent but determined. Each evening and every night. During the day, I wanted to disappear. At night, I would be afraid I really would.”
The character will go on writing, or trying to write, dreaming of becoming culturally significant, of earning a spot in the timeline of history. Through his writing, he would hope to free himself from his demons or free them onto the world, whichever brought him more satisfaction. This is where you come in, dear reader. Don’t worry, it has all been taken care of. Alibis, unforeseen hazards, possible mistakes, it’s all been carefully planned. He actually wanted to spend this weekend alone. It will be only a quiet little affair. The neighbors won’t hear a thing. After all, I am the author. But… yes, you will have to do it! Perhaps he’ll see your reflection in the window, by the desk. Perhaps he’ll turn to you in the last second. Don’t be afraid or sorry: he’s just a character. Just don’t look him in the eyes! Can you feel the dagger warming itself up against your chest? Can you feel relief pounding underneath it?