Savour and Stone

Posted: May 6, 2009 in Braak, Short Fiction

[A short fiction fragment.  Is it a preview of an unwritten novel or story?  The germ of an idea for an essay?  No one can say for sure.]

I took a bus to get there.  I remember thinking that this was the strangest part, though my sense of strangeness gradually fell away as I grew more acclimated to a world in which natural law did not apply.  No doubt the last stages of my journey were the strangest, but with the even ebb and flow of ordinary life long-gone by then, I did not notice it.  I took a rusty, clattering, rickety bus that looked like it had been in service since the beginning of time.

The bus driver asked me for fare and I found silver in my hand and passed it to him.  Out loud I said, “I meant it when I said it.”  I don’t know why I thought of her at that moment, or why I should tell the driver this, only her ravaged face and ruined heart came into my mind just then, and the words bubbled up and free from where I’d kept them, close and secret, locked away in my heart.  I had loved her, I know that much.

The bus drove out west, and it was crowded.  Passengers sat around me with hollow eyes and hollow cheeks, gaunt and haunted faces staring out the windows, as city gave way to trees, and trees and mountains gave way to vast oceans of corn and wheat.  Every time I looked up there were fewer people.  One less empty face, one less pale, clutching hand.  By the time we’d passed the last crops, and begun driving out into the vast plains of fallow fields, I found myself alone with the driver.  He did not speak, and I did not speak to him.

We drove to a crossroads, with a tall, crooked, wooden sign, worn by time and weather so as to be unreadable.  The driver opened the door, and I got out, and stood there among scrubby weeds, on soil waiting to be reclaimed by corn.  Feathery white clouds decorated the horizon; a pale sun gleamed in a sky so light it was almost transparent, almost clear enough to see stars dancing in a mad, widening gyre beyond.

The bus was gone as soon as I left, and this didn’t surprise me.  It was quiet, there; there were no birds, no small rodents scrabbling in the brush.  There was no wind, either.  This spot in the center of the country–of the world?–where the roads met.  It was a universal doldrum, where strong winds went to die.

It was no struggle to find the door.  An iron trap, four feet on a side, set a few inches into the dusty soil.  The handle was prominent, and there was no lock.  It was heavy to lift, but there was nowhere else to go.  Beneath the door were rough, stone stairs, and a dim, white luminescence, that seemed unable to gain the strength to pass the threshold.  I took the stairs.  There was nothing else to do.

The stairs sloped downward, and curved around in a tightening arc.  They were long, endlessly long, and the arc was so broad that I did not notice it at first.  Beside me were galleries of stone statues, rough semblances of granite; some wept, some clawed at their faces, some simply slouched as though they could not carry the weight of their own stone forms.  Each was a frozen moment of desperation, and they grew more numerous as I descended.

As I walked, I became aware of a great exhaustion, an almost metaphysical weariness that clung to my heart and lungs.  I felt heavy, and grew heavier; the deeper I went, the more I seemed to carry of the earth above me, until I thought each footstep must land with the sound of thunder, and avalanche of density behind it.  Still, despite the monstrous weight I felt bearing down on me, there was no sound.  The stone figures had become a thicket, a forest.  Still.  Downward.

The light grew brighter, and somehow thick, as though it was drawn back into the earth by whatever source had emitted it.  I felt it across my face, gossamer cobwebs of phosphorescence, glittering crystals suspended in the air.  I was drawn down with it, yearned for by that awful gravity, deep down the gallery of statues where what should be darkness was thick with congealing light.

I neared the bottom of the stairs, and could see the plain onto which they emptied.  The ground was rough and slightly curved, as though I stood at the bottom of a crater over which the world had been hastily plastered.  The light made distant objects clear, and so I could see every detail of every statue in the gallery opposite me, and yet somehow I knew that we were separated by  a mercilessly incalculable distance.

In the center of that plain was the figure of a person.  Neither male nor female, beautifully slender and smooth, with unblemished, pearl-colored skin, it crouched low, with it’s back to me, bent over as though weeping.  Its frame was wracked with grief, as though it would fold itself in half and disappear.  Light poured from it, but swirled, trapped in endless eddies.  In my life, I had never seen anything as real as this, and the force of its certain existence made me want to look away.

I could not, still drawn by the grim gravity of its despair.  The figure turned to me, a beautiful, anonymous face (not anonymous, it’s her face, I can see her face) wrecked, ruined by grief (her face when she wept, when I told her) hurt beyond measure (I meant it when I said it, I swear I did).  There were no eyes in that face, only black pits from which oozed blood so red and vivid that I gasped when I saw it.  I can not imagine any sight more painful that to see that savage despair etched onto that beautiful, perfect face (I can, I’ve seen it, I saw her face).

The figure spoke to me, with a voice heavy with the leaden weight of prophecy, with words that did not strike fitfully towards the truth, but made what is, and left truth behind in their wake.

“I looked too long on light that vision was not meant to bear,” it said.  “I thought it was meant for my eyes alone.  It broke my heart to turn away.”

My heart ached in sympathy (I’m sorry, please I’m sorry) and I felt an effervescence boil off from my skin.  The meat on my bones grew cold and still and calcified, my vision blurred, and I felt the weight of the earth above me sink in and change me, leaving stone where once was quick flesh. (Please.)  I opened my mouth to speak, but found my lungs were ash.  Some indescribable lightness left me then, evaporated from my throat were should have been words.

In that moment, I understood.  I saw the world two ways, and saw that they were both true, and saw that the world I had lived in was not one defined by cosmic forces but defined by the single choice I was now about to make.

Am I the savour that floats away?  Or the stone it leaves behind?

  1. Moff says:

    GODDAMMIT. I was so happy with the writing I did this morning, and then I had to come here and read this, and now I feel stupid for even trying. This is really (thoroughly annoyingly) gorgeous, man, and I would happily read a whole storyful or novelful of it.

    (P.S. The figure’s line of dialogue reminded me of something, which I thought might have been e.e. cummings, but after a moment with Google turned out to be Edna St. Vincent Millay.)

  2. threatqualitypress says:

    Hahah, that is a good poem.

    I am probably going to tinker with the last paragraphs in this piece. And then, done; I don’t think I could write a whole book like this.

  3. V.I.P. Referee says:

    This is so, so good. We need more.

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