12 Days of Significance (1)
December 25, 2012
First in a holiday-season series of posts that will reprint short fiction written — by twelve HiLobrow contributors — for the collection Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, eds. Rob Walker and HILOBROW’s Joshua Glenn (Fantagraphics, August 2012).
The following story is by Matthew Battles. Enjoy!
You had passed him at the entrance to the subway station countless times before, not so much sitting as thrown into the corner, his plump bulk indistinct beneath the rags he wore. What was different about this day? What changed conditions made you take notice of him? Was it some look in his eye, a trick of the light? But no, you’ve learned that there was nothing random about such days, when the cards flip and the world changes color. Or everything is random, but the deck was shuffled long ago — the moves determined, the game already played.
You caught a glimpse of his eye; his smile bubbled forth from the foul hood. The sounds of the street receded. “Pick a color,” he said with a strangely rich voice, a voice less like the barker than the circus itself. “Any color!”
“What?” you asked.
“Choose your color!” he replied. “Doesn’t matter which. Your favorite color. Whatever color catches your… your fancy! It will be the right one, I’m sure.”
You shuddered — and then simply, with a shrug, you said, “red.” The man drew from his pockets the small plastic box, the prism mapped with colored blocks and candycanes. He shook it slowly in the plane of the earth’s surface. As if sifting for some artifact. A smile hung in the depths of his hood, and the smile grew. Tiny figures darted up and down the rainbow trail, until the hand — dry, you noted, but somehow shockingly soft — the hand froze when the red man came to rest at the end of the trail. And with a seeming gust of wind (though nothing rustled, nothing shifted), the world went red (though nothing changed).
And now the little box was in your hands; the plump and shapeless man was gone. How had he so quickly transferred it to you? How did he make his vast bulk so thoroughly disappear? Questions that disappeared in a purple mist that faded to red, leaving you with the little rattle-box labyrinth and a growing deadness that flowed down your limbs and into your heart.
The world of acts and things became a rosy shadow. People swept along the sidewalk borne by what currents you knew not; they flowed right through you. Trucks trundled by without a rumble; music rang out soundlessly; the chess players in the courtyard were reduced to calculating clouds. What was vivid and solid, what was real, was invisible to them: candycane fences, molasses swamps, plumdrop trees that sprang up wherever you went. They alone had the power to dazzle — yet they lacked any sweetness; they did not nourish you in your entranced despondency. And so the years streamed on from red to green to yellow to blue. The bright limits of the old life — goals, friends, loved ones — were crowded out by colors that had been present from the dawn of things, determined by a turning of cards that was simple in its unwavering instantiation. For you it was only the turning of the years; the sweets without succor; the endless hopeless shaking of the box.
Until your recent deliverance! That revelation of holy oblivion, it occurred not long ago: there you sat by the turnstiles shaking the little maze-box when reason flooded your mind. The figures — are trapped inside — and yet their movements are — random! Undetermined by past events, with no bearing on the future! And with a clap the colors merged again, great annuary blocks of diffraction colliding and conceding one to another. The misty figures of passers-by resolved, and the flood of consequence rolled like unredeemed refreshment. And the strange talisman, the map of your unbecoming, became all it had ever been: a silly plaything, a game for unconsidered moments, freedom in the swerve. And so, do pass it on; its curse is broken.
CROSS-POSTED FROM SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: Matthew Battles on CANDYLAND | Patrick Cates on MEAT TENDERIZER | Matthew De Abaitua on PIGGY BANK | Mark Frauenfelder on JUG | Jason Grote on DOME DOLL | Mimi Lipson on HALSTON MUG | Annie Nocenti on JFK BUST | Gary Panter on DIVE MASK | James Parker on KITTY SAUCER | Greg Rowland on MUSHROOM SHAKER | Luc Sante on FLANNEL BALL | Douglas Wolk on PORTABLE HAIR DRYER | Annalee Newitz on COCONUT CUP | Cintra Wilson on TROPHY | Jen Collins on UNCOLA GLASS | Joanne McNeil on GRAIN THING | Jonathan Lethem on MISSOURI SHOTGLASS | Sarah Weinman on UNICORN FIGURINE | Shelley Jackson on CRUMB SWEEPER | Barbara Bogaev on JUST MARRIED CUP | Dan Reines on FRIDAY MUG | Jenny Offill on MINIATURE TURKEY DINNER | Katie Hennessey on WOODEN FIGURINE | James Hannaham on NAPKIN RING | Bruce Sterling on METAL BOOT | Colson Whitehead on WOODEN MALLET | Jenny Davidson on TOY HOT DOG | Kate Bernheimer on PINK HORSE | Lydia Millet on CHILI CAT | Matthew Sharpe on MULE FIGURINE | Meg Cabot on WOODEN ANIMAL | Sara Ryan on POPSICLE STICK CONSTRUCTION | Ed Park on COW VASE | Jessica Helfand on ELVIS CHOCOLATE TIN | Sheila Heti on CAPE COD SHOE | William Gibson on “HAWK” ASHTRAY | Ben Greenman on SMILING MUG | Dean Haspiel on KENTUCKY DISH | Doug Dorst on RUSSIAN FIGURE | Kurt Andersen on SANTA NUTCRACKER | Matt Brown on CRUMPTER | Chris Adrian on KANGAMOUSE | Nicholson Baker on MEAT THERMOMETER| Rachel Axler on FORTUNE TELLING DEVICE | Sean Howe on PABST BOTTLE OPENER | Susannah Breslin on NECKING TEAM BUTTON | Tim Carvell on ROUND BOX | Susanna Daniel on SHARK AND SEAL PENS | Curtis Sittenfeld on SPOTTED DOGS FIGURINE | Matthew Klam on DUCK VASE | Merrill Markoe on FLIP-FLOP FRAME | Blake Butler on UTAH SNOW GLOBE | Neil LaBute on RABBIT CANDLE | Rob Agredo on LIGHTER SHAPED LIKE SMALL POOL BALL | Rosecrans Baldwin on PRAYING HANDS | Rob Baedeker on FOPPISH FIGURINE | Scarlett Thomas on BIRTHDAY CANDLES | Wayne Koestenbaum on DUCK NUTCRACKER | Jeff Turrentine on “WOMEN & INFANTS” GLASS | Joe Lyons on LETTERS AND NUMBERS PLATE | Adam Davies on TROLL NUTCRACKER | Myla Goldberg on HAND-HELD BUBBLE BLOWER | Dan Chaon on COOKING FORK | Jenny Hayes on DOLPHIN BOX | Kevin Brockmeier on ROPE/WOOD MONKEY | Miranda Mellis on BRASS APPLE | Todd Pruzan on GOLF BALL BANK | Toni Schlesinger on 4-TILE | Stacey Levine on BAR MITZVAH BOOKENDS | Margot Livesey on CIGARETTE CASE | Joe Wenderoth on BALANCING BIRD THING | Charles Baxter on CERAMIC SHELL | Thomas Bartlett on DEVICE | Claire Zulkey on FLINTSTONE PEZ | Betsey Swardlick on DILBERT | Sung J. Woo on BIRD FIGURINE | Tom McNeely on CAT MUG | J. Robert Lennon on CHOIRBOY FIGURINE | Matthew J. Wells on BBQ SAUCE JAR | Maud Newton on CRACKER BARREL ORNAMENT | Stewart O’Nan on DUCK TRAY | Meghan O’Rourke on FELT MOUSE | Lauren Mechling on BLUE VASE | Mark Sarvas on AMACO YOYO | Andrew Ervin on IDOL | Rachel Berger on #1 MOM HOOKS | Nomi Kane on ALIEN TOY | Nick Asbury on CLOWN | Lucinda Rosenfeld on CREAMER COW | Ben Katchor on MAINE STATUTES DISH | Mark Doty on FISH SPOONS | Sarah Rainone on IRELAND COW PLATE | Stephen Elliott on HAWAIIAN UTENSILS | Ben Ehrenreich on JAR OF MARBLES | Glen David Gold on KNEELING MAN FIGURINE | Lizzie Skurnick on PEN STAND | R.K. Scher on INDIAN MAIDEN | Christopher Sorrentino on MR. PICKWICK COAT HOOK | David Shields’s MILITARY FIGURE | Josh Kramer’s FAKE BANANA | Laura Lippman’s MOTEL ROOM KEY | Jim Hanas’s WIRE BASKET | Stephanie Reents’s OCEAN SCENE GLOBE | Tom Vanderbilt on MARINES LOGO MUG | Adam Harrison Levy on STAR OF DAVID PLATE | Aimee Bender on SEAHORSE LIGHTER | Bruce Holland Rogers on UMBRELLA TRINKET | Bruno Maddox on THAI HOOKS.
ALSO SEE: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | POLITICAL OBJECTS (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 (4Q2017) | FLAIR (2Q2018) | FOSSILS (4Q2018) | FETISHES (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS (2Q2020) | SEMIO OBJECTS (2Q2021) | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (cross-posted from Significant Objects website). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | LOST OBJECTS (Hat & Beard Press, 2022) | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.
CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: RETRO VIRUS by Douglas Wolk | UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (cross-posted from Significant Objects website) | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators