Linda (3)

By: Karinne Keithley Syers
June 16, 2011

HILOBROW is proud to present the third installment of Karinne Keithley Syers’s novella and song cycle Linda, a hollow-earth retirement adventure with illustrations by Rascal Jace Smith. New installments appear every Thursday.

The story so far: In the first installment, we met Linda, a retired math teacher from Tennessee hijacked for this story, who wakes up in the kitchen and is sent walking into the globe, along with her companion dog-Linda. In the last installment, when last they walked, they encountered a strange convention of cairns in a mid-forest field, heard echoes from below the ground, and then re-awoke in the kitchen to the same old gut problems now compounded by a weird allegiance of this problematic gut to an unseen radio. We tried to imagine what catastrophe had brought Linda into this game world, but no answer prevailed.



In the night again Linda cries out “eggshells, eggshells!” but this time I stay asleep. In my own dream I am floating over that field full of cairn people and I can see that they are not made of rocks, but of eggs, blown out and hollowed and dyed, and in the dream there’s a posse of dogs running in pack, wrestling, tumbling, playing hard, and I know they’re going to crash into the cairn people and destroy them and so I too cry out “eggshells!” but then I realize that I’m one of the cairn people and I don’t have a mouth at all, but just as I’m going to be crushed by tumbling dog bodies a helicopter comes spinning across the opening above the field and scares the dogs and they freeze. I am sure that I hear singing coming from below my egg feet. I look down and the snow turns to mud and the mud turns to frost and I can’t hear the singing anymore, so I get my legs back (how?) and walk away. In the middle of the night I get up to use the bathroom and realize Linda never went to sleep; she’s sewing something intricate with a little book light nestled under the comforter. I think she’s embroidering a tree on a handkerchief, but only because that’s what I would do, if I were up sewing in the night.

In the bathroom there are two spiders above me. The light, about five seconds after shutting it off, makes a bright flash, and this startles me as I stand in the hallway’s compromised dark, between the bathroom and the TV room which yields to the kitchen. If this had all happened when I was in Tennessee, before I knew anything about how Linda is trapped in the kitchen, or about the globe, then my dream of the cairn people would be out of place. But I am standing there in the hallway only as I imagine remembering it. Another flash and here comes Al, shuffling down the hallway in saggy underwear. I return to the room and crawl into bed. Linda is asleep now. I know because I hear the heavy whistle of her breathing lap around the sound of Al in the bathroom in all his indignity, may god let him retire.

I lie there until the dim morning shows up behind the felt curtains, until a kind of blue without grey takes the sky against the street lights that overlap the sky’s light, and I think about the paper I’m going to give at the conference, and I have no idea then, about the globe, or about Linda, and I’ve forgotten the cairn dream so it introduces no problem into the sequence of things. I’m only thinking of how there is no coffee at the hostel and how I will wake up at 7 and walk under the freeway and past the Greyhound station and the men lined up at the shelter and over train tracks into downtown to get coffee, and then up the hill to the hotel where the conference is, where all the participants but me are sleeping, but I do already know that Al and Linda are a great gift that a conference hotel could never give, and I am very glad to be there even apart from the money I save.


And then a hundred or more scenes of Linda walking in the globe: scenes of trees and the curving of hills and the bright light or dusk light and the softness underfoot and the dog’s companionship and disappearance. No fields, no mysteries, no intuitions of the hollow earth. This saving globe of trees, she mouths, her daily koan, and returns always to the same slumped kitchen sleep. It repeats. It becomes normal and our consciousness of its significance abandons us. Like walking or driving, it repeats, becomes a prehistory of Linda the retired math teacher from Nashville, Tennessee, who one day will walk out into the globe and deliver us from peril.

Imagine another scene of Linda waking to the kitchen. See her make toast, and grimacing take the bitter herb tincture straight. Wonder why she won’t dilute it. See that her stomach hurts and remember that she never lies down. She told me once that her chiropractor could move her stomach and give her relief. She showed me what he did: jerking it violently upward with a Heimlich-type maneuver. I worried she would train me to do this to her. I wonder if when she is in the globe her stomach problems recede, or if she walks with all that discomfort. But my toes have grown cold and I must stop imagining Linda. I return to the room I’m in. I restart the fire in the wood stove. I turn off the computer.

Comforted by the shape of trees, it is enough just to look at them.


Dog-Linda is at the door, looking in, but today Linda does not want to go walking. The dog, at the threshold, waits patiently. When Linda looks directly at her, her ears lift, forming a line across her head and she tilts her head to acknowledge the contact and just in that moment expects something more to happen. But Linda, today, resists. Dog-Linda will not bark, will not call out. Patience, says Linda to the dog, patience. Something is happening in Linda’s head. It is not that she is suddenly developing a resistance to this walking but that she has a sensation in her mind of something dawning, like an approaching sound emerging out of a very long silence, and she is working hard to tune it in. Her eyes fill and shutter, her hands slightly engage, the bones in her fingers lightly articulating along their length the subtle variations in the way fingers might curve toward a table. Her sense is that her fingertips and finger bones are, like her belly before, some part of the tuning apparatus, and she is trying to find the position in which this approaching sound will become lucid, present, the position in which she becomes a radio. Dog-Linda sits at the door and looks away, at the birds over the freeway and at the atmosphere itself. Then again, sitting, looking, staring at Linda, who will not walk out into the globe, who awaits this approaching sound.

The temperature is dropping fast and Linda hears the rush of the propane heater countering the cold air flowing in from the open door. She gets onto her feet to go to the door to coax the dog in but as she nears the threshold the sound becomes precipitately intense, almost a shrieking howl, and she staggers back and collapses. Dog-Linda now, charged by responsibility for Linda’s welfare, runs into the kitchen like a dog out of a movie from my childhood and grabs Linda by the collar, dragging her across the doorway and out on the lawn, down the concrete path toward the sidewalk. Linda can see the freeway’s concrete pillars and hears the rush of wings as hundreds of birds — are they sparrows? starlings? — flock up in panic from the cool damp shade into the sky and then, plunging toward the freeway, dive-bomb the cars which now screech to violent stops and then silence and the soft floor of the globe and dog-Linda licking her hands which still work along delicate bone curves seeking the shape that can receive the approaching transmission.

The globe is hushed. The light is shifting over Linda, now spilling sun onto her body in slim arrays, now draping a kind of amber glow onto the leaves around her, now opening little vistas above the canopy which come to her in pieces cut from the template of leaves above her, now slowly transitions into a deep grey then night blue she has never seen. The tree trunks turn to warm brown and purple creeps up them while a small iridescence visible under roots appears and then vanishes as Linda lies draped on the cusp of consciousness and dog-Linda lies pressing against her giving warmth. The deepest night blue pulls across the dome of the globe and a luminous moon shines on an empty field that lies stretched over an enormous hollow while Linda and dog-Linda, on the forest floor lie belly to back, asleep.


Now sing.

Your mouth opens with other mouths and the sound coming out is the sound of several hollows: the cavities in your body and the cavity in the hills and the inevitable drift and the now-emptied spaces once filled by how you envisioned your life unfolding. Come morning you always forget how you could have held something in focus. The mind after all is adrift in all this. You allowed so much emptying into screens. You let your life pour out into inertial chambers that don’t move but blunder forward until they forget themselves in a stream more violent and more beautiful. Your only reward is now this empty, opening sound. Sing a failed unwavering. Mouth like a reed, on hard repeat. The sun somehow already downcoming, the hollow already darkening and all of you huddling, sing. You could do work for others but this is Sunday and you have come to the hollow, all of you, and none of you are laboring, no road construction, no shops. Only mouths will open. Past your throats stream sounds I can’t speak, sounds canceled and remade by contact with other sounds. Alone you emit something terrible but together the waves cancel, increase, transform-oceanic, making the metallic voice of a penitent Hydra. The sound of this whole singing is so much of the belly, of lung gasps. You divide into parts and increase the noise.

Afterward you eat and all look up at the sky. You see a plane overhead. I am in it. I am not with you. I will not sing. Do not send me emails. I will not sing.


And now, listen to the third song in the Linda song cycle, Freeway:


NEXT WEEK: Linda’s mind is invaded by something that seems like instructions, and a disappearing lady sticks a radio part into her mouth. Afterward we dream of dancing an eyeballed demon terribleness display, and promise to do it. Stay tuned!


Karinne and HiLobrow thank this project’s Kickstarter backers.

READ our previous serialized novel, James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox.

READ MORE original fiction published by HiLobrow.

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