the best of 52|250's fourth quarter

Week #46 – Another world

the light by Jennifer L. Tomaloff
Grand Island by John Riley  
Chained to the steamboat’s smokestack, Emperor watches his son limp down the Texas Deck. The morning’s first light is clearing the mist off Grand Island’s deepest cove.Vanity had driven him to make his progeny from mud and sticks, Emperor thinks. Now we’ll both come asunder by noon.

“The engine is ready,” Corporeal says. “Tell me, father, are you up for a boat ride?”

Delighted by his own wit, Corporeal dances a jig until his legs collapse with a mushy crack. Falling forward, he grabs Emperor’s sturdy legs hanging above his head. His face smears a trail of mud across his father’s woolen trousers.

“I made your legs from dry cypress limbs,” Emperor says.

Corporeal squints up at him. “Shoddy workmanship,” he mutters, “is the death of us both,” and sinks to the deck. His neck’s dried mud and straw wattle sways as he begins to drag himself toward the steamboat’s ornate staircase.

“You were able to knock me out. To chain me to this chimney.”

“And I’ll be here to see you smolder.”

Emperor watches the cracked soles of Corporeal’s useless feet slip down the staircase.

The silhouette of Grand Island looms. He’d once been content, alone on his boat, in that island’s shadow. Throughout the night, as a loon cried for its mate, he’d struggled to think of what he should have done differently. Only when the loon fell silent, did he relax in his chains.

Fragments by Karla Valenti  
It is raining today, that unforgiving wall of water, the kind that washes away one world and leaves you gazing out at the possibility of another.***

You wake into your dream, opening your eyes to a site that otherwise lies dormant within your daytime mind. Before you, another world begins to form while the threads of all you know unravel behind you.

***

She gazed at the painting on the wall, its colors evoking a memory she’d once had, many lifetimes ago. She couldn’t quite place it, this other world spinning before her, and yet her heart mourned at the recollection of a fall and the death that enveloped her as she sank.

***

They say he stood in the same spot for ten hours, didn’t move an inch. They asked him what was wrong, if he needed help. He just stared back, his face a blank washed out shadow of the great
man he once was… in another time, in another world.

***

For months I carried him around with me, everywhere I went. I talked to him, I thought of him, I shared with him my every hope and dream. Throughout this time, he was mine, sharing my body and my world. And then one day, there he was staring up at me, no longer simply my own, bringing with him another world, for now and evermore.

Beyond (Within) by Maude Larke  
In a gray land a magenta wall rose and traversed the waste and the gray folk lived away from it in fear: “Beyond that wall the wind lurks; it will sweep you through the crack between the sky and the earth,” they told their dappled children. One day a yellow boy was entranced by the color and dared to climb the magenta wall and stand against the sky. Beyond the wall were gardens of flowers and butterflies and trees that sprouted color and he knew that those who crossed the wall were swept into smiling rainbows for them to use as hammocks. He brought some of the beauties back to show the gray folk; but all they could see were wilted buds, a dead butterfly and an eccentric boy.
The Assistant by Stephen Hastings-King  
She walks quickly past the same series of four buildings again and again like there is in this place a single series of four buildings copied and pasted end to end.A Voiceover accompanies her:

The Assistant is lost again in a grid city. Again she feels disconnected from the world. Where she is the sound has been switched off.

She walks quickly arms folded around her midsection.

She likes being an assistant. She admires her employers for their belief in continuity. She seeks direction through imitating them. To be an assistant is to be a disciple.

Q. I want to believe but I cannot believe. What should I do?
A. Act like you believe: eventually you will forget you don’t.
It is knowing that gets in the way. She wishes she had never read that.

There is in this place a single series of four buildings.

She works with a mirror on the Employer’s comportments. She reflects on her new expressions in windows. She practices acquired speech while walking The Employer’s dog. With time, they will feel natural.

But as the months pass things begin to change. She realizes that the Employer has also been adapting to the Assistant. The comportments that were to guide her are imitations of her own.
Again, she feels betrayed.

1 2 3 4

One day she came home from school to find her father hanging in the kitchen. She would not want me to tell you. But specimens cannot hear.

This is not a Story by Martin Brick  
…because a story has conflict. David Mamet asks, Who wants what from Whom?Here our protagonist simply noticed a Facebook post. She commented on a friend’s status. An old mutual friend. One he never tried to find, because he knows it all. Distant city. Married. Kids. The mutual friend fills him in periodically.

Years ago they had a little thing. A thing that never blossomed. Back in college, where all things that make good memories come from.

If this were a story there would be conflict now. Her picture would lead him to dwell on some complicated drama that kept them apart. But in actuality, the story is dull. He was with a different girl for a while. And when they broke up, she was with someone. Kind of back and forth like that. The time was never right.

Or better, seeing her would lead him to dwell on the current state of his life. He’d be alone. Or with some shrew. The tiny profile picture would lead him to imagine another world, some immensely better parallel existence in which they lived like those sepia-toned couples who inhabit picture frames when you buy them.

But it didn’t. Our protagonist is fairly happy with his life. Sure he misses the girl. Sure he even pours a little whiskey after telling his own wife, I won’t be up too late. Lying. Sure, he does imagine the parallel world. He’s curious. A little melancholy. But not angry. Not really enough for a story.

Back to Wk #45 – Broken shells
Forward to Wk #47 – Blind spot
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