October 27, 2011
HILOBROW is proud to present the nineteenth and penultimate installment of Karinne Keithley Syers’s novella and song cycle Linda, a hollow-earth retirement adventure with illustrations by Rascal Jace Smith. The final installment will appear next Thursday.
I am sitting in a room imagining Linda.
I am imagining Linda in a hollowed out cavern under the ground, a cavern illuminated by a combination of bioluminescent veins split and smeared across walls, and minutely directed pathways of light bounced down onto a gilding of fish scales, from a surface of a world no longer hospitable. In the vision, the surface of the world is slowly darkening as the dust displaced from the hollowing of the earth spews into the atmosphere and gradually blocks the sun along the gradient of a printer’s curve: more light, less light, no light. I have been following her here for a long time; I have known this was where she would come, but little else.
As I met her, Linda was not like this, she was 60-year old woman I shared a room in a hostel with for three nights, two years ago, a woman I can no longer properly remember for all the intrusions of my imagining on my recollection, a woman of whom all I can properly claim to remember is a tone about her presence, a kind of tense disappointment strung around a willfulness to experience her life as she wished it was, a willfulness not successfully transferred into a force, and so not successfully masking the precariousness of her body, or the intrusion of discomfort.
This room where I am sitting and imagining Linda is the same room I have sat in this whole time. This room is in a house in a canyon, surrounded by oaks and soon it will again be the season of acorns. Already they are beginning to crash onto the roof of our house in the middle of the night. They will fall, and it will rain, and then the shootlings will begin again, and I will pull them up again, acorns still attached, radicle reaching down through the gravel that covers our yard, seeking some hold and the possibility of growth. And I will leave the shootlings on a plate and imagine stringing them up as so much anathemata, in the very old sense of the word, to hang from the ceiling of the set of a small animated movie I am making. Probably I will leave them drying on a plate until one day I just throw them out, having not yet made the movie, and being in a mood to clean.
It was ten months ago that I sat in this room, watching a western scrub jay take up an acorn in its mouth, trying and unable to imagine Linda, worrying that I had lost Linda, that in the course of imagining her in the loose way that I do, I had let her slip out, and would not regain sight. At that point I didn’t know the jays ate the acorns. One day last summer a pigeon turned up in the corner of our yard, head and wing twisted violently around so dramatically I thought it was dead, but when my husband went to get it its dilated eye blinked, its lone remaining signal and request. I spooned water into its mouth which it drank even when sometimes I gave too much and it overflowed out small holes in its beak. I turned its head and wing, set it upright. It tried to walk but fell over toward the twisted wing. I thought at first the wing had broken, but when I held the pigeon I could feel through my garden gloves a weak return, a push against me on both sides, as it blinked, heart racing. After that it sat in the sun without moving for a full day, spent the night in a box in the garage, where it pooped on a towel. My mother in law, a great rescuer of creatures, told me the poop was a good sign, when I called her for advice. I returned the bird to the sun and the corner of the yard the next day, and it crawled to the leafy corner and sat there on the large rocks that line the fence, again unmoving. Then it took an acorn in its mouth and chugged it down. So I learned birds eat acorns.
The bird sat there for the rest of the day. Then it was gone. Slipped out, perhaps, or perhaps eaten by a hawk. Either way it left the intermediate space of my care, care it couldn’t fully receive for a wild fear that was fully palpable even in its complete stillness. Attachment to a giant garden gloved thumb stroking its wing, I wanted to offer shelter, a sense of protection, but I imagine all I did was compound its constriction, regardless of my instrumentality in its free return to either the life or death of a pigeon, but whichever way a departure from the fenced-in waiting room of our yard.
It is this trinity of options that keeps occurring to me as I try to understand Linda, and understand why I have been imagining her all this time and how to see her out, given that I am nearing the arbitrarily imposed end of these sessions, when I plan to leave Linda, to stop imagining her, to imagine something else, or perhaps not, perhaps just to look at what’s in front of me, because soon after that a small human that is right now kicking up at my ribs will make its appearance in the world, and there will be that, that huge new occupation, vocation, commitment.
Last week on our morning walk my dog and I passed a dead garter snake half raised off the ground, curving up and back and mid-way through an apparent bite of an ivy leaf, jaws open, exposed throat become ant highway. It has since disappeared. In the last months I have heard the death screams of a parrot, have spent time visiting wings of hospitals no one wants to find themselves in, spent time on the phone trying to momentarily cheer my last living grandparent out of her deep and lasting boredom and the bad mood generated by the insults of management failures that accumulate into a snowball of oppressive entrapment and idealized dreams of other buildings. It transgresses privacy to address it, except that the problem of where to go in our retirement, how to live and in what space, is our collective trouble, inadequately answered by a mounting industry whose good I cannot bring myself to believe in, structured as it is by liabilities and cost effectiveness but also by our collective willingness to accept this shunting off as a byproduct of our mobility, our age freed from obligations to a familial soil. If there was another way, another space, another kind of exit? If I could make this space and give this place to Linda?
She enters on condition of abandonment. The place itself needs only be real enough for a short time. We raise our voices. What remains unclear is the time or date of entry. Even for an imagined Linda I cannot be so bold as to keep such a clock.
Once I imagined that alongside this story would be a stream of sentences, sentences not linked to each other except by virtue of their streaming in succession, and that each of these sentences would distill a paragraph composed of the documents of a free and mobile attention, like a sifted cluster of things that could be strung out and separated but could also just come in a heap, a heap we could call a sentence, or maybe just a line. Gertrude Stein says that sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are, and I think I know why she thinks that, because it is the neighboring of stuff and the serial bouncing of light and the way one thing falls into the next, whether explained or not, that creates a kind of room tone or surface tension or whatever you want to call it, an atmosphere for and of our feeling. But then again, I am quite convinced that a sentence can be emotional, and that a paragraph can be enervated, especially a paragraph written in one of the acceptable ways, which of course Gertrude Stein did not worry about, because reading a paragraph of her writing is like touring a little period of looking-time, her paragraphs are neither nested holding places for information subordinated to more general statements of information, nor pointers to conclusions that create new statements of information, nor a sub sectional offerings of proof for why someone else’s information is wrong and the paragraph is right. I had imagined this stream of sentences as a kind of fourth column in the story of Linda, a drone, almost like a bodily rhythm that goes unrecognized, or the sound of normal weather unnoticed beyond the room, but in the story sometimes Linda and so all of us following Linda would stop and listen to it and find it was beautiful, and this would be one of the ways that the story would glow, a transposition of sound to image, a sound surround as a kind of emergent light, in the Greek a “rosy fingered dawn” which paired daily with the “wine-dark sea.” In the story it would always be dawn; it would never be noon. Sound would stand for light, a non-accumulating but always ongoing stream of sentences giving glow.
There is Bessad. He entered in a vision by climbing down from a scaffold seen from deep under the ground. He was appointed to transport a small object lodged in Linda’s mouth, a radio part. He was appointed too to bring her eggshells. No one knew why the eggshells, but she had called for them. It was Linda that had imagined Bessad, conjured him to suit the sensation of adventure she had when she told me, I feel like I just graduated from high school, like I could do anything I want. Once Linda began imagining Bessad, like anything imagined he began to possess himself slowly, gain a degree of autonomy, an autonomy however he has never fully realized and certainly not taken advantage of. She first imagined him in flickering tones recollected from an old jewel heist movie, tones moving darkly into the Topkapi palace, cat burgling its prizes with delicate suction cups and climbing claws and pulleys that allow their lithe bodies to lower without tripping wires or lasers or any other alarm rigging. It is this Bessad who listened underground to her transmission, on the now functioning radio, its tooth-lodged object now diamond-set in its coils, while she also lay sleeping, or perhaps escaping, down the tunnel from the radio room, and it was this Bessad who walked up from an underground lake to ask when the comet would come, and this Bessad whom she left in the room with Al and a woman we now know as Francoise, when she walked out of the globe and into a dust covered continent to go traveling. Somewhere along the way she traded the young and androgynous image of Bessad, and when she finally reached that hut from where he had first tuned her in, and spoke into the microphone and sent the news of her renunciation of eggshells and all that eggshells entail, along waves reaching deep underground, he had taken the costume of a kind of partisan, and Linda had chosen the affect of prophet, although this would not endure.
Now Linda is studying his face, contemplating changing it, maybe to a gypsy woman. (Linda is of an age to have digested such images unproblematically.) Bessad is walking Linda through the kitchen. He shows her the old bunker where they set up the tent, under which sits the kitchen, unattached to the rest of the hostel but perfect in its replicated detail. He shows her the lights on the outside of the fogged glass window and the slowly rotating set of gels that change the color from orange to crimson to opalescent eggshell blue. He introduces her to the light and wind operators, who greet her with mouths half stuffed with sandwiches, as they are on break. He shows her the mechanism that opens the kitchen door, and the mock lawn with cracking concrete path.
Where’s the freeway? Asks Linda. There was a freeway just beyond the yard.
There was. Yes. Well it’s this. Bessad leads her to the perimeter of the yard, where the yard gives way to the concrete floor of the bunker. He whistles, and then walks out of sight, returning with two folding fabric chairs and a small box. The box contains a tiny model of Knoxville. There is the freeway. There is the Greyhound station and the coffee shop that has only coffee, not even bagels or muffins or other things. There is the overpriced thrift store and the university and the terrible bar and the good pizzeria and the carpet shop there is the bungalow Linda where Linda grew up. They are all tiny. Here’s the freeway, says Bessad, pointing to it with a pencil.
Herman and Wallace show up.
I’d like to show Linda the freeway, says Bessad. Herman and Wallace walk up the concrete path to the door, stand on either side of it, facing out. What is happening is that they are seeing the freeway, investing themselves in its presence. The sound of the cars as they pass over the divisions between concrete portions is like the sound of bats in the massive bunker. Linda can see the freeway. Bessad can see the freeway. We all unfurl this to meet its logical possibilities. A proliferation. Bessad takes Linda’s hand. She turns to look at him and the sound of Prokofiev lurches up and fades out. There is wind and the sound of someone maybe approaching, snapping branches, horns. The sound of a fire, of sirens, of breath coming through congested nostrils. The sound of typing and the faint hum of the refrigerator. Al can be heard telling someone about Knoxville, a town so corrupt that Chicago sends its politicians to learn the ropes. The sound of a rope fraying and breaking, the sound of the hum of your own circulatory system. The clock as it ticks, and crickets in an oscillating blanket faintly outside. The sound of new mail and old mail and the sound of the mailwoman driving up to the mailbox. The barking of the neighborhood dogs in a chain of alarum. What Tokyo sounds like, what a box sounds like as the cardboard flaps pop out of the position. The sound of a band aid coming off, of a burp that flounders and finishes only half way up the throat, a groan, the sound of breathing through the acid that comes up while sleeping, the sound of peeing in the night. The sound of turning over and and the sound of a mind providing endless lists of what should be done. The sound of a hand on a shoulder which is a very tiny sound, but is a sound. The sound that announces the computer is on and the sound that says the power is failing. The fire alarm above the smoking stove, the sound of a pan whose contents are burning. The car radio cut by static as it rounds the hill not penetrated by radio waves and the sound of heat. The sound of sleeping next to someone and the sound of a gut rumbling in the quiet part of a movie. The sound of voices singing and the sound of a single voice singing a lullaby only just learned and not quite remembered to a not quite sleeping child. The sound of hair against the couch cushion and brushing teeth and the click of the button that saves it all, preserves it. Wind again. The hand again. Bessad takes Linda’s hand more forcefully and she turns again to look at him and he says Linda. Linda he says, but you can only choose one.
And now, listen to the next song in the Linda song cycle, Fader:
NEXT WEEK: For the last act, a dream ballet, the eggshells, and at last, the singing.Stay tuned!
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READ our previous serialized novel, James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox.
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