Fragment #205 – 1 November 2018

This particular piece was a flash I tried to have published in various places, but alas!  No bites, no interest.  And so, here it is.

A-and this is the story of, well, he doesn’t want to big-note himself, but it’s about him.  Me. Needless to say in recent times – and, I don’t want to complain here folks, but – he has the certain feeling of being watched, monitored.  Recorded. Catches glimpses of people staring at him out of the corner of his eye. Just yesterday, while walking in the city, he noticed that out of the forty or so people eating lunch, only thirty-eight appeared to be legit, above-the-line, cool.  And two were not. They had intentions and motives. And he’s not stupid, he knows-

-He’s not stupid, he knows.  Kids figure this stuff out early, far quicker than we think.  Gee, your son says, smiling brightly, holding up a plastic knock-off that is distinctly not the whizz-bang gaming console he has been angling for, pleading for, doing chores and extra jobs for, Gee, he says, Dad, this is exactly what I wanted!  And then you, you’re just dumb enough to believe him when he adds, This could be the best Christmas ever!, but after a little while you think: don’t push your luck, Chuck. Bad actors overdo it. Imposters. The kid pushed it too far and now they’ll have to replace him.  Overhead there’s nothing – no helicopters. In the water, nothing. On the tee-vee, nothing. No cameras, no microphones. You didn’t notice anyone swapping out your real son, but they must have. Actors are so good these days. Cheap, too. It’s a career like any other. Why, all you have to do is take up your chosen path and follow it, and-

-Take up your chosen path and follow it, is Dr. Capgras’ motto.  The doctor, lymphatic, coughs wetly and says that the more successful one is at thinking, the greater the rewards available compared to those who do not.  If Archimedes could balance the world on a pivot, he wheezes, then you can annihilate the universe with those thoughts of yours. Just find out what you are best at <wheezing> and do it.  Direct your attention away from paranoia and be productive for god’s sake. You nod, smile, and ignore the burning fires all around you both. What’s so funny, Dr. Capgras asks, and you say, If I’m laughing now it’s because I’ve a gentle heart-

-I’ve a gentle heart, it’s true, a-and I ain’t talking.  It’s too late.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

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Fragment #204 – 10 September 2018

Two days ago the obituaries editor came round and asked if I would like to write about someone who had done something important to do with platelets.  I said yes; I need the money, and I am not afraid to learn on the job. Science and medicine have never really been to my interest or taste, but a thousand word obituary pays well enough, and everyone deserves some kind of memorialisation in death, right?

Most obituaries are written well in advance, and then touched up or modified throughout the years as their achievements and notoriety grow.  All of the newspapers in the world have an obituary ready and waiting for the Queen to die, and I don’t doubt that they’ve had some variation since she was at least in her twenties.  Maybe from the day she was born, I don’t know. Pity the writer who has to say something cheerful about a little dead baby in six or seven paragraphs. A big, important newspaper like the New York Times will have thousands of tributes written to mourn the living dead, and while I won’t go so far as to say it’s a ghoulish practice, there is, among obituary writers (we unhappy few) a certain sense of heightened mortality, and the uncomfortable awareness of the limitations of youth and time which comes from knowing that, at best, unless you are truly epochal, you’ll only make page B4.

I move on the edges, spend time with the mildly famous dead.  I write about those people who haven’t been looked at in a while and who, on balance, probably need a full rewrite.  Gustave Hinkler, who specialised in the methods by which platelets travel through the body, had an obituary that hadn’t been touched in twenty years.  Platelets, I learned, are disc-shaped cell fragments which exist in blood and help with clotting, and as I wrote I was uncomfortably aware of my blood coursing through my veins, and for a time I developed the habit of pressing my hand to my chest to feel my heart beat.  Still going – no obituary for me!

Portions of Hinkler’s obituary were still in German, a relic of the enthusiastic science buff who had written the first pass-through and neither him nor anybody else had bothered to translate his own notes upon his resignation.  

Who can blame him?  

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #203 – 6 September 2018

This particular piece was a flash I tried to have published in various places, but alas!  No bites, no interest.  And so, here it is.

And praise God, the priest said, his arms raised.  Gloria a Dios.  His throat was dry, and he wanted a drink.  An old woman, her ankles swollen, pressed his hand and said something in a dialect he couldn’t understand.  She spoke too fast. He was thirsty. The sun was already too hot, and it was only mid-morning. He lowered his arms, his skin loose and creping.  Vanity. I was handsome when I first came here, he thought. But what use are good looks for a clergyman? It mattered for donations, he still remembered fondly the young women who would touch his arm as their husbands filled the collection plate.  Gracias a tí, he would say as their eyes shone.  Warm fingers, light cotton clothing, sunlight.  But decades had past and the women were old and ugly now, like him, and their husbands were dead, and their children lived in Mexico City or America, where there were jobs, and money.  The old woman was the last to leave, and then he was alone in the small church. His eyes fell on the bottle tucked at the feet of the lectern. No. No. I won’t –

Time slipped.  He came abruptly awake in his chair in the living area attached to the church, the fans overhead rotating slowly, the blades low and white, with grime crusting the edges.  He had no idea how he got there until his eyes alighted on the glass, the bottle, the ruined lime quarters. Again, he thought. Again. De nuevo.  I thought I was done with all of this.

He had never really wanted anything, not even when young, virile, untethered to responsibility, unchained to the church.  Just the bottle, and God was supposed to help with that. He had buried his teacher here, an old, fat, kindly man who had taught him Spanish and admonished him to become embedded within the community.  We are people of the land, Padre Paco said, not just of Heaven. We must know them in order to show them the way. But neither man had known what to do as the town had dried up and people moved away. Paco had died, and he had.  Well. Estoy crudo.  Todos los días.  

Another bottle.  He was disappointed in himself, and the day was ruined, and his eyes ached, and it was only noon, but all of this was normal by now, and God was known to forgive even the most wretched of men.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #95 – 25 January 2015

Before he went in, he knocked at the neighbour’s door.  She opened it immediately, as though she had been waiting there behind the door for him, and then she ushered him inside with a wave.  They walked down the hallway saying nothing, though at some point she took his hand and didn’t let go.  They sat down at the kitchen table, which was bare except for a hammered metal fruit bowl which held letters, bills from the looks of them, and a couple of postcards.  And an old watch face, which for some reason seemed familiar.

She asked him if he wanted to eat and he said no, but almost immediately he realised that he was not only hungry enough to eat but was actually ravenous.  He counted the hours back since he had received the call and considered that he likely hadn’t eaten in two days.  But the thought of sitting and eating without having visited his parent’s home first revolted him, and after a while he rose and, mumbling something, he stood up and left.

He stood outside his parent’s house for some time, occasionally approaching the door, but he didn’t open it.  He had a feeling that he was being watched, but none of the blinds were up in any of the neighbour’s windows.

He opened the door.  Inside everything was the same as he had remembered, more or less.  Some books were in different places, and he thought, but wasn’t sure, that the vase of plastic flowers by the dining table was new, or at least the flowers were.

Nothing’s different, he said out loud, and his voice sounded shriller than normal in his ears.  Nothing at all is different.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #101 – 14 February 2015

Were they making any progress on the highway?  Lautrec had the impression that weeks had gone by and nothing had changed, but he was told that this was normal and that he shouldn’t become too discouraged.  The routine was virtually identical each day, and this accompanied with the monotony of the Australian outback gave the impression that whatever had been done was of such inconsequence as to be imperceptible.

Mr. Jerry, the paymaster, liked to tell the men each Friday how many kilometres they had completed that week, and how many were left to go, as invariably the numbers involved caused such a drop in spirits for the workers that they saw no alternative other than to use up their wages in the company store, which served also to ensure that they were unlikely to leave and unable to go home.

Lautrec hated Jerry as much as the next man, but he refused to show it, instead nodding when he received his pay, and ignoring, as best he could, the horrifying amount of work that was still to be done.  But the job provided him an avenue to be away from the city for a while, and so overall he felt himself satisfied.

The day went like this: up at six a.m., and on the job by six thirty.  The ground was flattened by another group pushing enormous metal rollers and clearing trees and scrub, and then his group’s job was to spread the tar with wide broom-like implements.  By midday he was dizzy and coughing from the fumes, and was relieved for the rest of the day by the first group.  Afternoons he liked best because that involved ripping up bushes and weeds, and kicking away rocks.  Sometimes he was unlucky and found himself pushing the rollers, which he hated, but generally the afternoon was better.

As dusk fell, the company store opened its shutters and for a day’s wages a man could buy enough hot food and alcohol to ease away their aching limbs and dry throats.  Barely.

At night, surrounded by snoring men, Lautrec read Moby Dick by the light of the very bright moon and the stars, and when he slept he dreamed of the sea.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #108 – 1 March 2015

For the last few weeks I have been trying to avoid people who might ask me what I do for a living.  I have become scarce at parties and I have avoided my girlfriend’s father for the entire month.  I can shake his hand, I can look him in the eye, but I don’t want to answer the questions about my day.  I never liked it before, either, because such questions reveal, I think, a smallness of ambition, of scope, of capacity of thought and capaciousness of spirit, but now, with my current occupation, it is different.  I cannot talk about what I do.

It’s a simple job.  Anyone could do it, but nobody does.  There are very few of us.  Unfortunately the pay isn’t all that good, but it is enough for me to be able to put a little aside each week, and to pay off any debts that accrue.  I am, incorrigibly, bourgeoisie, and I admit that I count my money twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, like a character from Balzac’s novels.  But I like it that way.

I cry.  Generally at funerals, although sometimes at weddings, and rarely at movie premiers or political speeches.  I have a knack for weeping in such a manner that other people are inspired to join me.  It’s a wonderful feeling to cry in a room with other people, and it’s better again to be the person who instigated it all.  I have wept at speeches about child welfare, abused families, economic hardship, declarations of war, declarations of peace, and at each of these occasions my weeping has added the necessary gravitas to the situation.  It’s real if someone is reacting emotionally, and I can, always, always, always, on command.  Later, behind closed doors, politicians have shaken my hand, clasped me firmly and looked me in the eye and said, Damian, really, just before, when you cried, I had them.  I had them!  They were convinced of the rightness of what I do.  What we do.  What we are all trying to achieve.  You turned the tide, my friend.  You turned the tide.

I spread my net wider.  I have started others crying at the funerals of grandfathers, aunts, mothers, sons, friends, colleagues.  I never knew any of them, but of course that doesn’t matter.  Later, again, pinched faces, white faces, clasping my hand, thanking me, talking with low voices, recognising that it wouldn’t have been the same without my tears.

I find the way to cry by thinking of summer days.  I don’t mean that in a sad way.  I love summer days.  But there’s something about a summer day that makes me cry.  It starts from the bottom of my stomach and feels at first like indigestion.  I don’t feel it from my eyes, no.  Just my stomach.  It swells and expands and enters my chest.  My hearts feels odd, like it’s pulsing, like it might burst, and then I wail.  I beat my breast.  I sob.  I tear at my hair.  I crouch, I bend, I threaten to break.  It’s a release.  I love the sunshine of an afternoon.  I love meadows.  Butterflies.  I don’t know.  It’s a good job, and I am good at what I do.

I don’t cry at home, no.  Just when others are around.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.

Fragment #15 – 7 July 2014

Roberto had said that while he was away only the slightest of commissions should be accepted, items akin to piece-work only, nothing major, nothing large, but that because the workshop was only young, merely two years established, should an important commission appear, should by chance a rich client make himself or herself known, that instead of informing them that Roberto had left for some time, that his preternaturally skilled hands would not be available until the new year, then they should, as a method for buying time, assume the mantle of the master craftsman, and do what they could to stall and hinder completion of any large project until Roberto could return, in order to ensure that the reputation of the workshop, such as it was, would remain intact.

And so it was that when the Countess herself entered the warm waiting room and asked to speak with Robert that she instead found herself talking with a smiling fifteen year old boy who assured her that the brooch she wanted would not only be ready within the exceedingly tight timeframe that she had stipulated, but that she could expect a level of artistry far more sophisticated and elegant than any she had experienced before.  As was only right, said the smiling calm boy, and as befits a lady of such stature.  The Countess, herself young and at times secretly timid around those individuals who possessed a practical, monetisable skill, agreed with the boy and, after asking for his name, made sure to mention him as the great Roberto’s heir and perhaps, if the truth were to be told, the true artist behind the old man’s contemporary work, which all agreed had taken a turn for the considerably better in the last two years, since he had struck out on his own, and since, more tellingly, he had taken on this new apprentice.

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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website.  I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.