June 2, 2011
HILOBROW is proud to present the first installment of Karinne Keithley Syers’s novella and song cycle LINDA, a hollow earth retirement adventure, with illustrations by Rascal Jace Smith. New installments will appear every Thursday through the summer and fall.
I am sitting in a room imagining Linda.
I am imagining Linda lying against the refrigerator of a communal kitchen, dim light coming through covered windows, with a dog named dog-Linda by her side. As I found her she was not like this, she was a 60-year old woman sharing a room with me in a hostel in Knoxville, Tennessee. She was there to bury her father, and to take care of all the things his death entailed. In the night she would call things out in her sleep, like “eggshells, eggshells! Eggshells!” Startled awake, she’d mumble “oh shit” and go back to sleep. Her insides are like eggshells, I thought. Her dead father is like eggshells. In my mind I saw in her dream someone stepping on the opened organs of her father’s body, and she could only cry eggshells. Linda was fragile. Something was wrong with her stomach, like reflux but worse. She had to sleep sitting up, which bothered her a lot, and drank some kind of homeopathic tincture straight from the bottle, which also bothered her.
When I am away from Linda, which is all the time because I only met her once, I think of her in the kitchen of the hostel where we met, but in this image she is forced to stay only in the kitchen, leaning against the fridge in her sitting sleep. Sometimes lying near her is the dog called dog-Linda.
What happens in the kitchen is that the back door opens, and Linda takes the dog outside, and they go out walking into the globe. The globe is a globe of trees, very much like the regular earth but sealed, like one of those high-stakes games you might actually die in. When the door opens, out she goes, with the dog, or sometimes she walks out alone and the dog appears by a tree. The globe is very beautiful. Sometimes the trunks of the trees are wet and look black against the leaves, and behind it a sky the color of light, like a cyclorama in a theater, a perfect wash of color. Orange, teal, purpley-grey.
Linda, when I met her, was in a kind of free state. Her father was dead and no longer needed her. Her mother had gone before him. Linda was retired, a former math teacher, aging, but not yet in need of her own children, who were grown, and fine, and somewhat distant. She would leave her son obnoxious cell phone messages, awkwardly performing her boldness when she knew Al and I were listening, like she wanted to be funny and right and yet was so mad at him for not calling. The day I left Knoxville, Al, who ran the hostel and who sometimes when he was on night duty could be seen shuffling the hallway in baggy no longer tighty whities on the way to the bathroom, because he had to pee a lot — Al drove me to the airport in his van. Linda was in the van too, she and I each with our own bench seat, and they were dropping me at the airport on their way to the singing. What they meant by the singing was sacred harp singing, convening in a hollow somewhere up in the hills. Al called it “shape-note” because instead of regular notation on lines, the notes are indicated by triangles and squares. I don’t know yet how this counts, but I do feel it does.
When I imagine Linda and she is not in the kitchen waiting to walk out into the globe, I imagine her in that van, although I like to see her driving instead of sitting in the back. In that vision she is setting out across the country because she is retired, her parents are dead and her children are grown and she doesn’t need them yet and she feels like she just graduated from high school, like anything is possible. She wants to travel the country and take those free classes for seniors, and go to museums and get senior discounts. Maybe go to New York City or the Grand Canyon. I never suggest to anyone that they should go to New York City so in my mind I send her overland from Tennessee to the Grand Canyon and she’s in a van and on a small country highway with a divider of tall grasses down the middle and the trees whipping by on the side of the road have some yellow on them in the bright October light and the windows are down and Linda, in this vision, is exceedingly happy and completely content. When she is in the kitchen she is not content, but in the van, she is. I believe that. Seeing the country roll by you is strange and special, to know you are gliding over all of it while it just sits there.
If she is to drive across country then she will have to stop at libraries to use the internet to email her grandchildren in Nashville and Knoxville. When she does stop she will tell everyone, “I feel like I just graduated high school, like I could do anything,” and they will smile either condescendingly because she is starting on the “anything” she wants to do so late and so romantically, or for real, smile, because they sense what she senses: an opening in what has been real, a useful kind of non-belonging, the fruit of irrelevance.
When she walks out into the globe however, she belongs completely, because in that part of the story she is not just some retired math teacher with nothing keeping her particularly anywhere, she is like the hero. It’s not apparent right away, but eventually it will become clear that the globe is an experimental, separate, and very important place with real implications, and Linda is the only one who can walk out into it. And this counts too: the globe, and Linda being the only one who can walk in it, along with going to the singing in a hollow in the hills.
Al and Linda don’t really like each other. She has stayed there a lot, I hope not because her son won’t let her stay at his house, I hope for other reasons. The hostel, which is also the regular Knoxville home of a traveling oilman from Venezuela, and the usual Dutch backpackers, is only $15 a night, which is why I am staying there too. Linda and I are the only ones in the female dorm. We each get our own bunkbed, and we each take the bottom bunk. At night she sleeps sitting. They are not good nights.
In the future, in this story, Linda will climb down a ladder, having pulled back something like a manhole on the floor of the forest in the globe, and she will climb down, and emerge into the ceiling, essentially, of a massive underground hollow. She will see that there are hundreds of people in the half-light pasting what look like fish scales onto the walls, with tweezers and their own spit. Later, when it is ready, they will open tunnels that reach up to the surface, geometrically perfect tunnels threaded with mirrors, and light will come down from the surface and bounce across the room and the fish scales will glow, and the whole room will be a silvery green, and then they will lower down a ball into the center, threaded outwards and it will be like a sun in the middle of the earth. Instead of hanging above everything in the sky, it will hang in the center of the cavern that, reticulated with catwalks and crannies, has no up or down. People will move freely around the sun-like ball.
Linda is not engineer-smart, so she will not be assigned to mirror-tunnel making. But I’m a math teacher, she protests, and the man in charge says to her in a tone he means not to be condescending but is condescending, “Algebra,” and she says to him, just, please? (shakes head) and again, please? But this is not her role and she will not work on the tunnels, because she has to go out walking in the globe with dog-Linda, and find out about the eggshells. And to do that, to find out, I think she has to go to the singing, but not the singing in Tennessee in the van with Al from Knoxville, the most corrupt city in America that he could tell you all about. She has to go to the singing in the globe.
We are loyal to this vision, because it came to us.
And now give a listen to the first Linda song: In Knoxville Town
NEXT WEEK: Linda’s guts become a tuning apparatus; dust and panic cover the planet; there are voices underfoot. Stay tuned!
Karinne and HiLobrow thank this project’s Kickstarter backers.
READ HILOBROW’s previous serialized novel, James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox.
READ MORE original fiction published by HiLobrow.