Thursday, December 4, 2008

Justin Isis - Paperback Horror Anthologies Made My Pussy Wet

A soft pink ball of matter floated through the air, seeking attention. It had materialised at noon on a hot summer day, and as it hovered over the streets it vibrated gently, a soft patterning of light passing across its surface, so that it seemed to give off its own heat haze.

The ball gravitated towards a group of children playing by the river. They were building a dam and, utterly absorbed in their labour, they failed to notice the ball as it hovered above their heads. For several minutes it vibrated imploringly, tracing loops and figure-eights in the air, swooping into their line of sight. But if they noticed it at all they dismissed it as an insect, a trick of the light. The ball went on its way.

Mr. Carter was on his way home from work. He had just gotten off at the bus station, and as he stepped onto the sidewalk he loosened his collar and untied his tie. He wiped his brow, feeling the heat of the day. The ball floated in front of him, but Mr. Carter did not notice it, being preoccupied with his own thoughts. Though he had finished work he was already thinking of work again, and around this general concern there orbited thoughts of his family and his past, so that even as the ball whirled around him he paid it no mind.

Old Mrs. Wilson sat on her front porch smoking, listening to her fat sons and grandsons laughing in the living room behind her. The ball appeared and floated slowly towards her, its surface a vulnerable pink like a heart turned inside out. When Mrs. Wilson saw it she spat. In ninety-six years she had never wasted her time with trivial concerns.

The ball continued on its way. It appeared at a party, in an office building, at the Robinsons' dinner table. It hovered in front of televisions and computers, in front of children playing with a frisbee, in front of couples walking in the park. But the little apparition went unnoticed; everyone was too busy to give it any attention. It began to spin in desperate circles, emitting a high, flat sound like a dog whistle, waves of heat rising off its surface. As dusk fell it vanished with a pop, air rushing to fill the space of its absence.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Justin Isis - Violating Hitomi Shimatani In a Place Unknown to the Follies of Men, Etc.

I love freshly-baked profiteroles more than almost anything - more, in fact, than has been good for my well-being, and the well-being of my friends and family. You think this is a strange way to begin a novel of this length? You think, perhaps, that it will be a comedy of light oddness, desperate for applause and ashamed of its desperation? I can assure you it is nothing of the sort. In fact, my experiences in southern Italy of that year - but why do you think you deserve to hear my story at all? You don't. Fuck you.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Brent Peterson - Horror is a Dish Best Served by Moldavian Refugees

If all of the mental and physical representations of Kevin’s horror could be whittled down until a unifying principle might be identified, what would emerge would be an image, swathed in the numinous clarity of nightmare, of Carl’s jr. What Carl’s jr looked like, Kevin could only imagine: the teenage fry cooks suffused in oil, sweat, and hormones, hosts for grotesque archipelagoes of abrasions and acne; the Down’s Syndrome-afflicted cashiers with their lisping voices and indistinct features, bodies like trash bags filled with wet sand and minds imbued with a deranged elation that ignores both place and time; the middle-aged managers, balding and little more attractive than their teenage underlings, dull-eyed, yet sharply insistent on maintaining a certain arbitrary sense of order; the customers, blob-like automatons from whose mouths, extending like cilia in search of offal and lard, there comes a crackling and popping that signals an inward suction of the anticipatory release of saliva, a ritual of idiot desire; the miasmatic vapor of grease and dead flesh commingled that permeates the restaurant; the garish and illiterate promotional signs that serve as cynosures for the throng, now throbbing with hunger and transmuting themselves by blind need into writhing, tentacle-lined stomachs with pulsating, fleshy aperture. If these were only the feeble approximations of his agitated mind, Kevin could scarcely imagine the true, ineffable horror of Carl’s jr.

Throughout the day, Kevin would endeavor to calm his mind and consider the cavalcade of images offered up by his affairs. All too frequently, however, the image – or rather, his inadequate, envisaged facsimile thereof – of Carl’s jr. would roil the peaceful impressions that he tried to cultivate, insinuating itself into the mental processes that underlay even the most innocuous ritual. Or perhaps, Kevin considered, the subjective impression that he had of Carl’s jr. emerging from some hidden location in the depths of his psyche was a red herring; perhaps Carl’s jr. was not an excrescence that subsisted parasitically on his otherwise clear and pristine consciousness, but the substratum of his awareness, the turbid and frenetic canvas on which more pleasant thoughts were imposed.

Kevin could not carry this line of reasoning further lest he lose all sense of what it meant to be “Kevin.” If Carl’s jr. was not a phantasm superimposed on mental landscape that was intrinsically and inalienably his, then perhaps he, Kevin, was merely a minute extension of a topology both infinitely vast and infinitely callous, a tiny fragment of a horrifying whole whose misfortune lay in the accident of its sentience and its awareness of Carl’s jr.—the all-pervasive substance on which he, as well as all conscious beings, had been stamped. Upon banishing this thought from his mind, Kevin jogged home, stripped himself to the skin, and retrieved a few rolls of sandpaper from his toolbox. His skin felt as though, beneath its pale pink surface, it was one substance with the leering, uncanny façade of Carl’s jr. Upon climbing into his iridescent, claw foot bathtub, Kevin began to scrub his skin frantically with strip after strip of sandpaper, starting with his ankles and gradually inching his way up to his torso.

Useful Parasites, by Quentin S. Crisp

Useful Parasites

Some time on the 4th of July, 2008, poet and science fiction writer, Thomas M. Disch, put a gun to his head and shot himself. At 68 years of age, Disch had a long career behind him. Critically acclaimed for novels that extended the range of the science fiction genre, but perhaps best known to the public as the creator of The Brave Little Toaster, he had just finished a novel entitled The Word of God, written in the first person from the point of view of the titular hero.

This might sound like the profile of someone with abundant reasons to live, but it seems that the reasons for suicide, even without a note, are probably all too readily understandable. A fire in his apartment, the death of a partner of over 30 years, the flooding of his New York home, and then the threat of eviction on his return to that apartment – these appear to form the bones of the misfortune that overwhelmed him. Perhaps, however, the spirit of that misfortune, the way it might have felt to Disch himself, can be glimpsed in an event that took place two days before the suicide. This was an interview, apparently to promote his new book, on something called Radio Happy Hour. The interviewers, including one Dr. Blogstein, had not read the book, did not know who Disch was, and throughout, seemingly taking the title of the novel at face value, taunted Disch for believing himself to be God. Disch seemed to play along at first, but the mockery was as relentless as it was ill-informed, and at the end, Disch asked, “Is that it?” That, apparently, was it – fifteen minutes of schoolboy sniggering and abuse. Disch lost his composure (not with a raised voice, but only in diction) for the first time. His final words in the interview were, “Well, piss on your shoes.”

Though it would probably be wrong to hold the clueless ‘shock jockeys’ at Radio Happy Hour responsible for Disch’s death, they do provide us with a very specific example of the attitudes and conditions that can make society, for a writer, a depressingly hostile environment.

I learnt of these events from an article on a blog called His Vorpal Sword, to which the writer and para para dancer Justin Isis had sent me a link. The article in question was given the title, ‘Hypatia and the Burning Library’. Soon afterwards, I wrote my own blog entry on the same subject, under the title, ‘The Publisher Drinks Wine from the Author’s Skull’ (an aphorism associated with Ambrose Bierce used in ‘Hypatia and the Burning Library’, which brings to mind another quote, from Elias Canetti, about the ill-fated writer Robert Walser: “I ask myself whether, among those who build their leisurely, secure, dead regular academic life on that of a writer who had lived in misery and despair, there is one who is ashamed of himself”).

Something about Disch’s suicide and the circumstances surrounding it (given in admirable detail at His Vorpal Sword) seemed to have moved me. I don’t mean simply to sadness, but to fury, disgust, amazement. I wondered if others, who read my blog entry, would be similarly stirred up. I imagined hundreds or thousands of Internet users all Googling “Thomas Disch” to learn about the terrible thing that had happened. This prompted me to check the statistics for my blog and find how many hits the entry had received. I looked up and down the list. It was not there. All the entries I had recently written had received hits, even some I had written after the entry on Thomas Disch. The Disch entry alone had received none. I suddenly felt very cold. Could it be that no one actually cares?

I pictured to myself again Thomas Disch’s end, the personal loss, the overwhelming material setbacks, the ruthlessness of the landlords, who used the death of Disch’s partner, to whom the apartment was officially let, as leverage in suing for eviction, the humiliation from the representatives of a world of philistines, the suicide, and then… and then just nothing, it seemed. Bewilderment became anger, and I wrote my own comment beneath the blog entry I had written, where no one else had commented. I ended the comment with, “Piss on your shoes”, directed to everyone who was not there, which seemed to be the entire world.

I am someone who, like “the best” in Yeats’s poem, generally lacks all conviction. For once, however, my anger seemed deep and natural. Without wishing to sound pompous, for once I felt it almost a duty to express it.

Afterwards, of course, I did question that anger, and if I did not perhaps I would not be writing this. It could be that the lack of hits on that blog entry did not really indicate anything at all. Perhaps it was just ‘chance’, whatever that is. After all, it had not been very long since I had written the entry. It could be possible that I was overestimating the iciness of people’s apathy. At this remove from the event, I am still not sure. My impression is that if I was overestimating, then it was not greatly.

I would like to think that my indignation was not entirely selfish, but I’m sure that the reader will already have discerned that it was at least partly selfish (although I’m not sure how easy it is to separate selfishness from selflessness, in the sense that the latter perhaps involves feeling selfish on behalf of another) in that I am a writer, my particular area of fiction bordering on and even overlapping with that of Thomas Disch. Whether I was angry on behalf of Disch or myself, however, the question I was confronted with was did I have the right to be angry, generally or specifically, at how writers are treated by society?

This is not even a new question for me; in fact, it seems central to my life story.

After failing my A-levels (actually I received a U for ‘ungraded’ rather than an F for ‘fail’), it became clear to me that I would not be able to progress to university, and that I would therefore have to decide what it was I was going to do in the world. What I actually thought to myself, perhaps word for word, was, “I want to work with the mentally handicapped.” (I was soon to learn I should use the term “people with learning difficulties”.) I had one interview, and did not pass, because I had neglected to mention that I knew my duties would include helping people go to the toilet. However, about a week later, I received a ‘phone call from the careers office asking if I still wanted to do the same kind of work. This was the beginning of over five years of community theatre work with something called Wolf and Water Arts Company. For five years or more I signed on the dole, wrote poems, began and did not finish novels, recorded songs on a four-track in a band called The Dead Bell, and worked (on a voluntary basis) as actor, stage manager and general dogsbody in various Wolf and Water drama projects, including a film of Macbeth. How I managed to dodge work for five years, I cannot now say, except that I used the same lackadaisical slipperiness that I employed in dodging P.E. at school for a comparable period. To me, work meant the death of the independence I needed in order to create art. But could I be said to be truly independent if I was not earning my living? Was I not just a parasite? My own answer to this question, if anyone asked who was ready for such an answer – and none did – was that I considered the government handout pay for the contribution I was making to society with Wolf and Water. I suppose I still felt a little shaky over this explanation, my insecurity that expressed in the opening lines of Still Ill, by The Smiths: “I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving/England is mine/And it owes me a living/But ask me why and I’ll spit in your eye.” In any case, what was sure was that I could not tolerate having a boss, and signing my life over to a stranger for the sake of a merely financial arrangement.

I am now thirty-six, and my dilemma still has no ultimate solution. Over the years it has become clear that writing is a necessity to me in a way that is perhaps incomprehensible to those who do not write. Whilst being perfectly aware that writing is at very best an uncertain way to make a living, and more often, no way to make a living at all, I have been unable to tolerate, for any length of time, any other means of paying my way. This condition has kept me relatively poor (for someone in the United Kingdom), and, I fully believe, single. The social ladder of career, family and home, in other words, what is generally called a ‘future’, has remained as inaccessible to me as the outer planets of the Solar System, whether by my own choice or by some law of nature, I cannot tell. More than this, I have never yet achieved full financial independence, except for brief periods (teaching English in Taiwan, for instance), and have spent long periods relying on government handouts, scholarships, the generosity of those who know me, and so on. Why? Because my writing does not earn me anything resembling a wage (living or otherwise), and because, unlike some writers, I seem incapable of writing and doing the nine-to-five.

This state of affairs has been for me a source of alternating fury at the world and hatred of self. Where does the blame lie? Am I a parasite, or am I undervalued in a world of philistines? Surely, some might say, no one is obliged to think that any particular writer’s work is wonderful. One cannot legislate in favour of the right to have one’s dreams come true. In a sense, it’s sheer hard luck. Isn’t it?

In the early summer of 2007, I visited a friend in Paris and felt inspired to record the time in a literary diary, much-influenced by the Japanese zuihitsu form of discursive writing. It was, indeed, a very French and a very Japanese piece of writing, what the English-speaking world would probably give the rather dull term, ‘a slice of life’. I sent this to a publisher who had accepted some of my other work, and received a reply to the effect that it was good, but not commercial. Appropriately (as if the piece had decided its own fate), The Paris Notebooks, as I called it, contained a passage dealing very directly with the problem of the unsuccessful writer:

I envied, I said, those around me with careers, homes, life partners, but I knew that I was entirely incapable of sustaining such a lifestyle. When pressed, I managed to admit, “The only thing that comes close to giving my life purpose is writing. But that is something that’s not recognised.”

S--- indicated that she understood, though I felt I had not really expressed myself adequately.

“I mean,” I said, “there’s this attitude that as a writer you deserve nothing, that you should be content with poverty and obscurity. But imagine if people took the same attitude towards, say, doctors: ‘Well, being a doctor is what you want to do. It’s a privilege, so you shouldn’t expect any money or recognition from it. You should stack shelves during the day and practice medicine for nothing in the evenings.’”

It’s no one’s fault, exactly, except that if society at large had different values it would be easier for me to survive. In other words, an unfortunate difference of values between the majority of human beings and myself has rendered me ‘a parasite’ and not a very successful one, at that. They despise me (or would if they had heard of me); I despise them. There doesn’t seem to be much of right or wrong about it. I did not ask to be born. That is my final defence. Can I help it if I’m not exactly what society ordered?

I know a great many writers, and we have learned to be humble; that is, not to expect. It seems as if it is almost considered a duty to be a martyr, and at the same time to despise oneself. I am a parasite. Publishers are doing me a favour even to read anything I have written, and to expect payment is ludicrous. I must at all costs avoid the – legendary? mythical? – arrogance of the writer, and accept all the editor’s judgements and criticisms. The notion of artistic control resting with the artist is naïve. To want financial reward but refuse to write to order is perverse. And so on. Such are the attitudes that are perpetuated.

But imagine that we were demanding such attitudes of a friend. For instance, I have called this article ‘Useful Parasites’, but am I ready to say that Thomas Disch was a parasite (and incidentally, on hearing the news of his death, one pseudonymous Internet commenter, whilst commiserating unconvincingly, also said that his or her sympathy was less than it might have been, because Disch’s apartment was rent-controlled)? Am I ready to be self-deprecating on another’s behalf, self-loathing on another’s behalf, as I was angry on my own and another’s behalf? Under the circumstances, no.

Are there, then, other options, apart from considering writers (and other artists) as parasites? Perhaps, to answer this question, it might help to try and imagine a different world to the one in which Thomas Disch felt he had to put a gun to his head. What kind of world was it to which Disch fell victim? Were the values and mechanisms of that world universal? Inevitable? Overall, just and helpful? I am reminded now of a quote from The Hill of Dreams by Arthur Machen, a novel dealing with the torments of a doomed writer:

…Lucian was not only engaged in composition; he was plainly rapturous, enthusiastic; Mr. Taylor saw him throw up his hands, and bow his head with strange gesture. The parson began to fear that his son was like some of those mad Frenchmen of whom he had read, young fellows who had a sort of fury of literature, and gave their whole lives to it, spending days over a page, and years over a book, pursuing art as Englishmen pursue money, building up a romance as if it were a business.

Is it, possibly, the English-speaking world that considers writers parasites, and not the entire world? I’m afraid I have not marshalled any vast array of statistical evidence for this; I largely have anecdotal evidence, personal experience, and prejudice. (I do hear, for instance, that in France, any writer may claim money from the government as a kind of wage for one or two days a week to be spent “pursuing art”.) Ultimately, I doubt the division between the Anglosphere and the rest of the world in this matter is that clear, but sense there might be something in it, and, even if it is only relatively true, it would at least give us a sliding scale of attitudes to examine and, hopefully, choose from. At best, it might lead us to hitherto unrealised conclusions.

Let us try a little what if. What if the society that killed Thomas Disch (let us not mince words) underwent some kind of change and decided that there was some value in literature, in art, in dreams and imagination generally? Would that be a bad society? I suspect that most would think that, after all, that doesn’t sound so bad. Some might raise specific, ‘practical’ points, or even philosophical ones. Am I suggesting that artists should be state-funded? My immediate response is to say ‘no’. There’s a paradox here. If we recoil at the idea of state-funded writers, it is because we recognise that the writer must be an independent voice, an outsider, and must even be so perverse in his or her independence as to appear… a parasite. Can you rebel against your sponsor? Perhaps, though, there is something in the idea of state-funding for writers; after all, if it’s true that the government in France supports writers financially, then this does not seem to have done their literature any harm. Quite frankly, French literature pisses on the anaemic social realism of English literature, and the attitude of appreciation and support out of which such a government policy probably springs might have something to do with this. However, it is the attitude more than the policy that I would especially like to see change.

Until now any serious artist has been more-or-less forced to be subversive to some degree, simply because telling the truth (even an inner truth) in a society based on what David Korten, author of The Great Turning, might call ‘the hierarchies of Empire’, is intrinsically subversive. But a serious artist surely also knows that rebellion for its own sake is vacuous and boring. What if there were a world in which there was no need to rebel, in which children were not taught that they are all the same, but were seen to have their own individual qualities and abilities to offer the world, and were valued for them? Utopian? Perhaps.

What is the alternative? On the other side of the argument from this creative Utopia there is all that has been proclaimed sensible and respectable for centuries if not millennia. There is survival. Survival is making money by any means available. One must do this to become financially independent. It is necessary to be independent because no one can support anyone else. We are in competition. To be dependent is to be weak, a parasite, to fall from the grace of respectability and place a burden upon the survival of others. And yet, as we are discovering more and more, survival is not survival, but mass suicide. In order to achieve that respectable, competitive, financial independence, the respectable, sensible survivors are intent upon stripping the world of its resources, exploiting the poor, increasing social inequality, and making the planet generally uninhabitable, first spiritually (since this competitive society is an ugly hell), but ultimately in a very literal, physical sense.

It seems it really is true that we cannot live, cannot even survive, on bread alone.

I would personally like to suggest, therefore, that writing, as one medium through which human beings dream of things other than ‘bread’ and the suicidal survivalism of the nine-to-five, is actually useful in its uselessness, even a necessity.

Perhaps, to some, the idea of nurturing all talent wherever it might be found still smacks of Utopianism. Of course, to counter such a criticism, one might ask the question, is there anything wrong with Utopianism? It seems that, at the beginning of the 21st Century, we stand in need of Utopianism as never before. Competition, and its inevitable conclusion of war, involving an unprecedentedly vast population, and utilising technologies of such power that they might be likened to bazookas in the hands of infants, has surely now become an end game, and whether that end is merely of the game itself, or of a (relatively) stable civilisation and possibly the human race, is for us to decide. Perhaps, however, the less attractive, which is to say the latter, outcomes, are not to be avoided by Utopianism. Perhaps idealism will always fail. Life is messy, and perhaps remedies will be piecemeal and messy, also. With or without Utopia, I would suggest that the writer is a necessity. As a writer I am wary of such statements simply because they make writing sound ‘legitimate’, as if it should be part of an establishment, when the great power of writing, if it has any, seems to me to come from a kind of illegitimacy. Writers should not have the kind of power and authority that corrupts. They should question all things, and especially themselves. Perhaps, then (I say this tentatively), rather than asking for writers to be seen as noble and heroic, I should, after all, ask that we be seen as parasites, but as useful parasites, a necessarily messy part of this messy life.

Professor Weinstock at Tufts-New England Medical Center offers a view of parasites at variance with the orthodoxy. The obsession with hygiene that has taken hold of the world with the Twentieth Century has had unforeseen consequences. The industrialised world has seen an outstanding growth in diseases related to the immune system, including asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, in the past fifty years. During research in the 1990s, Professor Weinstock noted a correlation between the decline of parasite worms and the rise of irritable bowel syndrome. A theory is in place as to why worms might prevent diseases such as asthma (a condition, it seems, virtually unknown in worm-rich, sanitation-poor countries); the parasite stimulates certain “regulatory pathways” in the host in order to cover its own presence, and these pathways also stabilise the immune system. There is also some supporting evidence. In Brazil, for instance, cases have been observed of children taken from their worm-rich environment developing asthma, the condition being cured by their return to that environment. Moreover, Weinstock’s own experiments treating Crohn’s disease with whipworm have had considerable success.

I am not aware of a conclusion to this research as yet, but I mention it here because it provides me with an apt analogy. According to Weinstock, “The first law of parasitology says that the parasite must impart a survival advantage to the host.”

Perhaps Weinstock’s work will lead to people re-thinking their attitude to worms. My own wish is that people (writers included) would re-think their attitude to writers. When the hygienic Puritanism of the work-ethic has purged all writers from the system of human society, through disdain, starvation, apathy, envy, there may well be unforeseen consequences.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Iowa Writers Workshop Lacks Yuugen, by Sasa Zoric Combe and Quentin S. Crisp

To make the words come magically alive, by the power of dadaoism, please click here.

The Iowa Writers Workshop Lacks Yuugen.

The Iowa Writers Workshop lacks yuugen.
Arthur Miller, of course, lacks yuugen.
James Frey, he lacks yuugen, too.
None of these people will ever play the blues.

You win,
And so you lose.
You win,
And so you lose.
You win,
You’ll never play the blues.

Edmund Wilson lacks yuugen.
White Man Novels lack yuugen.
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harold Bloom.
None of them have even been in the same room
With yuugen.

You win,
And so you lose.
You win,
And so you lose.
Your words, our bombs, you say,
And so you lose.
You’ll never play the blues.

Justin Isis, lacks the exacts beauty he wants
And he has yuugen as a result.
Thomas Ligotti has a book deal with Virgin
And he has yuugen too.

We win,
You lose.
We win,
You lose.
We have yuugen,
And you only have ‘the rules’.

So many people have stood in my way,
But I am not afraid.
I brush my teeth each day
With new, improved yuugen.

We win,
You lose.
We win,
You lose.
We have yuugen,
And you only have ‘the rules’.

So many people have stood in my way,
But I am not afraid.
I brush my teeth each day
With new, improved yuugen.

33 Ways of Winning at Life

But we shall speak no further of these matters, for the time has come to tell how these adventures, glorified in song like the gilding that makes the passing kalpas splendid, came sadly to their end. Few are the balladeers who can sing the last song of the cycle without tears, and there are even those who say to do so is a failing in the art.

It happened that, weakened from the revels of victory on Traken, and anxious at the cosmic alarum of the cloister bell, Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp came to ancient Metebelis Three in search of the fabled blue crystals, by which they hoped to replenish their depleted dancing and business skills before the final reckoning with the Black Guardian. Alas, the reckoning never came. Destiny intervened with long and cruel fingernails, like those of Weng Chi'ang.

While yet foraging for crystals on the plain, vulnerable and sorrowfully unstylish, they were taken by a brutish band of the Eight-Legs' slaves, and brought before the Great One, most mighty and evil of all the Eight-Legs, whose business skills were unsurpassed in all that quadrant of reality. The judgement of the Great One was without mercy, and She rejoiced in her quivering, slimy heart that two talented opponents had thus fallen so low. By Her decree they were sent to the lowest of the larder caverns, where a loathsome agitation of menial Eight-Legs bound the two anti-life writers in a tensile silk stronger than steel, gloatingly hissing, and drooling and rubbing the while their spinnerets in semi-sexual excitement.

Fastened to opposite walls of the cheerless cave, and physically paralysed by the obscene juices with which the fangs of the Eight-Legs had injected them, they knew that their fate was fixed. When human slaves or Eight-Legs came to ensure they were yet alive enough to taunt, they demanded to know what was intended for them, but ever were greeted with laughter. "This is a larder, is it not?" hissed one nefarious arachnid, and declined to show the mercy of revealing how and when the Great One meant to dispose of them.

Low in spirits as they were, they determined to pass their last hours by composing a wonderful document under the title of '33 Ways of Winning at Life'. It was the last true classic of dadaoist literature to be bequeathed the universe, and afterwards it was declared that dadaoism had come to its decadent phase. To this day, writers of unselfconsciously experimental prose who hear the distant murmurings of yuugen and know the sparkling of the Gold of Inner Space, declare '33 Ways of Winning at Life' the most splendid treasure to be fashioned from that Gold since before the pacifying of Traken. For that we must thank the single human slave to show taste and mercy, who, though he dared not do more, smuggled the document from that cave, keeping it safe in his hovel until the Armada of the Ghost of Magibon came finally to liberate Metebelis Three from the arachnid tyranny. Chomu guards each of the 33 Ways with unyielding stubbornness and devotion, and rejoices in its duty of revealing them again, at intervals, in this humble quarter of reality.

The first of the Ways will be made known soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sea and Seagulls, By Kaneko Misuzu, Sasa Zoric Combe and Quentin S. Crisp

To make the words come eerily alive, please click this link.

Sea and Seagulls

I thought that the sea was blue.
I thought that the seagulls were white.

But now that I look at them, the sea
And the wings of the seagulls, too, are both grey.

I thought that everyone knew,
But it was all lies.

Everyone knows the sky is blue.
Everyone knows the snow is white.
Everyone sees. They know.
But maybe that's a lie, too.

Princess Kaguya, by Kaneko Misuzu, Sasa Zoric Combe and Quentin S. Crisp

Please click on this link to make the words come alive.

Princess Kaguya

The princess born
Out of the bamboo
Went back home
To the moon

The princess went back home
To the moon,
Looked down each night
From the moon and cried.

Sad for the house she grew up in,
She cried.
Sorry for the stupid people down there, down there,
She cried.

Night after night, each the same
She cried.
The world below
It swiftly changed.

The old man and woman who loved her,
They died.
The stupid people down there, down there,
They forgot all about her.

The Mask of Evil

The Mask Of Evil

On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,
The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe
The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating
What a strain it is to be evil.

Bertolt Brecht

Justin Isis - I Hunger for Flesh But This Cake Will Do

Friday, October 3, 2008

Tristan Disappointed

Each sickened moment of my life has been
A waiting lover's deathbed
To which comes always only
A ship with sails of black
That snap and rumble with the starving air
Like hollow cheeks.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Justin Isis - I Attain to the Level of Fucking Your Basic Hairdresser, Etc.

The man and woman had lived on the island for as long as they could remember. It was their job to tend the flowers in the garden of precious metals, to clean the rust from the iron orchids and fill the ceramic vases with brittle copper roses. The island was small, but the man and woman never went wanting for anything.

They had always known that they were not real people. No blood beat in their veins, and their glass eyes shone only with the reflected glow of the electric sun. The man's golden hair never wavered in the wind, and the woman's shining silver skin was perfectly cold. But they had always loved each other. When they finished their work for the day, they retreated to the edge of the island and sat on the cliff overlooking the beach, watching the waves of acid lapping the shore. Sometimes they sat in the shade of a gemstone tree, the ground beneath it scattered with sapphires. At night they slept in each other's arms in a field of steel lilies.

The man had taken to watching the sky, and had noticed that the sun was growing weaker. Usually it pulsed strongest at midday and dimmed at night to a soft luminosity. At noon, at its highest intensity, it cast high-contrast shadows over the brass tulips and a nacreous gleam upon the pearl-studded stalks of the platinum daffodils. But now the light dimmed even during the day. The man and woman knew the sun's routine by heart, and the recent changes disturbed them. They resolved to question the Hermit when he returned to them in midsummer.

Everything the man and woman knew about the world had been taught to them by the Hermit. He was an old man who came to them once a year, sailing across the sea of acid in his lacquered hardwood ship. The Hermit had showed them how to care for the flowers, how to arrange them to produce the greatest beauty, how to leave them on the beach as an offering to the gods. And he had told them of the other world, Heaven, with its green fields, and people of flesh and blood, and other mysteries.

The man and woman felt certain that the Hermit would help them. But as the months went by, it became clear that the sun was dying. As they walked together in the garden they often felt the sky growing dark above them. Sometimes the light would fade entirely, leaving them stranded in darkness for hours. And the sun's decay spread to the flowers: when the man went to the orchids he found them furred with rust like a fungus, and the copper roses crumbled in his hand. After one long period without light, the orange frost spread even to the flowers in the garden of precious metals. The man and woman knew that gold and platinum were not supposed to rust, but it seemed to them that if the light could fade, anything was possible. Before the failing of the sun, they had known no change.

When darkness fell the woman rushed to the man's side, and they sat and waited for the light to return. At these times they were afraid, but as they drew close to each other they knew they could wait forever. If they stayed together, there was nothing to fear.

At the approach of midsummer the man and woman set out for the beach with a basket of flowers. They had spent the day gathering the last few untainted roses from the garden of precious metals and had arranged them in the fashion that signalled welcome. When they had laid them out on the beach, they walked along the shore and scanned the horizon for signs of the Hermit's ship. Towards noon the man sighted a dot moving towards them over the waves, and they moved closer to watch, careful not to tread too close to the acid tide. Eventually the ship pulled in and the Hermit debarked. He did not greet them at first, but moved to inspect the basket of flowers. Taking one of the copper roses in hand, he held it up to the sun and inspected the way the light reflected off its petals. Then he put it back in place, lifted up the basket and carried it out to shore. Gently he floated it onto the waves, letting them claim it. The flowers dissolved soundlessly. The Hermit turned back to look at the man and woman. They bowed, and he asked the question he always asked them.

-Are you happy here?

-Yes, they answered in unison.

The man thought how to broach the problem of the sun. He did not want the Hermit to think that it had resulted from anything they had done. As far as he knew, he and the woman had performed their duties to the best of their ability. But he did not have to say anything. As the three of them walked across the beach, they felt the light overhead fading. Before long darkness settled over the island, though it was just past noon.

-The sun is dying, the woman said.

The Hermit's expression remained neutral.

-Yes. I knew that it would when I built it. It's lasted longer than I expected.

-What will happen when the sun dies?

-I expect that the garden will die too. But you don't have to worry, I've prepared a ship to take you to Heaven. You can come and live with me there.

The woman came over and stood next to the Hermit.

-What is it like in Heaven? she asked.

-It's more beautiful than you can imagine. There are plants that grow from the earth and flower and die within a single season. There are men and women who live for a century or less, with coursing blood and warm skin. There is a different kind of sun that rises in the east and sets in the west.

The woman looked troubled.

-But isn't it frightening that everything dies so quickly?

-You might think so at first. But it's only because you've lived so long. In Heaven, everyone is used to a shorter life.

The woman nodded at the Hermit's words, but said nothing.

At length the Hermit announced that he was leaving the island for now, but would return tomorrow in his ship to carry the three of them across the sea of acid to the shores of Heaven. As he stepped aboard the ship and made ready to depart, the sun returned to its full intensity.

The man and woman watched the ship disappear over the horizon. When it had gone, they turned and walked back up to the garden. Just for a moment they felt the sun flicker, as if it had been struck by a sudden convulsion.

They spent the rest of the afternoon gathering untarnished flowers for the Hermit's arrival the next day. There were scarcely enough left to form an arrangement. The roses had all but rotted, and most of the orchids crumbled at the touch. Once the man found what he thought to be a perfect silver rose, but when he turned it over he saw a sickly greenish tint spreading across its petals. Its usual fragrance was gone; instead of the sharp scent of silver, there was only a dull metallic odor, the dull greenish stench of mineral decay.

With only a few flowers gathered in their baskets, they returned to the cliff overlooking the beach. The cliff face sloped down to a grouping of rocks that soon gave way to sand. The man and woman sat down next to each other and placed their baskets beside them. From here, they could make out the little cove where the Hermit's ship had landed.

The sun stuttered. The wind sang over the sands. For a long time the man could think of nothing to say. Eventually the woman broke the silence.

-I feel afraid, she said.

-What is there to fear? the man asked.

The woman took his hand, and her lovely unchanging glass eyes rolled towards him.

-The Hermit told us that the people of flesh and blood only live for a century. And what about the lovers in Heaven? Does their love only last for a season, like the flowers?

-Perhaps it fades as quickly.

-Then I don't want to go there.

The man lifted her hand up and examined it in the light of the electric sun. Her nails were chips of jade inset in slender silver fingers. He pressed them to his cheek as he stared out to the sea.

-I once thought that the Ideals were everything. I wanted to please the Hermit, and I spent hours talking with him, discussing the Ideals and the Greater Mysteries. But now I feel that I only want to keep living with you forever in the garden.

The woman's hand moved gently across his cheek and came to rest on his shoulder.

-I feel the same, she said.

They sat for a while in silence, and a resolution grew between them. They did not need to speak it aloud, but both of them knew they would not leave the island.

When dusk fell, the sun began its regular program of reduced intensity. But now its dimness was punctuated by flareups of light, sharp stabs like the last beats of a dying heart. The man and woman walked hand-in-hand down to the beach as the light broke around them. In its irregular flashes, they caught sudden frozen views of each other, of the man's golden hair and the woman's silver skin.

They crossed to the shore and saw before them the sterile surface of the waves, transparent like molten glass. The man turned to the woman and spoke.

-We will never bleed, or grow old, or attain any of the other Ideals. But we should not be afraid, because we can never remember having lived. What does it matter for us to die, if we no longer desire Heaven?

-I have no dreams, the woman said. I have never felt able to dream. And so I feel undeserving of everything, since I feel as if I can never repay my happiness.

The man looked at her, as if searching her features for some hidden meaning. Then he turned back to the sea, and as he looked at the movement of the waves, a sadness fell upon him. But when he looked at the woman again, he did not feel sad. He said:

-You remember the night a hundred years ago, when we sat speaking with the Hermit under the sapphire trees. At that time, I often dreamed of the Mysteries.

They came within range of the tide. When they felt the acid lapping at their feet, they stopped and turned to each other.

-I love you, the man said.

-I love you, the woman answered.

Still holding hands, they walked into the sea.

At first they felt only a rising warmth, as if they were stepping into a pool of liquid light. Slowly it spread from their feet up through their legs to the rest of their bodies, caressing their polished flesh. Only when it reached the line of their lips did they feel anything resembling pain, and even then it was only a higher intensity, an ecstasy, like looking at the sun. The sea rushed in through their mouths, their eyes, filling them from the inside, their hands still linked. As the warmth dissolved their other senses they were left with only touch, only the feel of each other's hands.

A strange sensation came over them. They felt as if, rather than the sea entering them, they were passing out of themselves and into it. They tried to focus on the feeling of their linked hands, but it was difficult to remember exactly where they linked, difficult to remember anything. Their awareness faded, lost in the greater warmth.

The man and woman's iron organs corroded slowly. Their polished flesh took longer; for hours afterward, two traceries of silver and gold lingered beneath the waves like sunken statues. Then they dissolved, first breaking into fragments. With their arms eaten away, their clasped hands floated together like a pair of glittering fish. As they drifted down to the sand, the sea picked them apart particle by particle.

The stillness of night settled over the waves. The last light faded, dimmed to black. But the sky did not stay black for long. A brownness like late autumn leaves spread from the dead sun, a color past death, as if the darkness were rusting. Slowly it filled the sky and crept over the island, until it covered the beach, and the cliff, and the garden of precious metals.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Justin Isis - Reasonably Satisfied with New Abdominal Definition + Successful Attempts to Fuck Girls Who Have Recently Vomited

The heart of the Amish girl was a wasp's nest; Utterson had caressed it carelessly and now found his hand crawling with the drones of her love, probing and militant, surveying him meticulously, almost gently, but ready to sting at any moment.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

After 2012 and the End of Capitalism-as-We-Know-It (A Prayer)

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it humanoids of all conceivable modes of reality will converge on Chomu like butterflies building a rainbow hive of myriad underwear and gussetry, and they will extend probisces and sip thereat and proclaim that the nectar has reached its time of sweetness. Chomu, they will say, was the pollen, and Chomu the seed. And they will design lingerie in the mode of Haeckel.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it Betty Boop will be ressurected upon a sunbed, borne on the shoulders of six executive suicides, and she will disembark thereform and the silken hair of her vulva will be as grapes upon the vine, bearding with wine the mouth of Krishna, where she shall ride as on a Babylonian bronco to the rhythm of "Shut the fuck up and make me come!" Having got her satisfaction in such manner, she will once more dismount and apologise for her forgotten racism.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it all I have ever done will become irrelevant, and will evaporate as waste. All I have ever done will be integrated as fulfilment.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it comedy duos who enjoyed their greatest success on television during the 1970s will perform one long round of live action saucy family entertainment, and will be welcomed, and no one will know any longer whether or not it is meant to be ironic.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it those with whom I have been mutually plotting a tragedy of silence will mutually decide upon a comedy of continual conversation, and will find that the projects we were invested in, which we had predicated upon tragedy, will work just as well under the management of comedy, if not better.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it the Galapagos Islands will be the new seat of government, and the parliament will be of tortoises.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it none shall be embarrassed, because none shall be committed to believe in anything that they do, be it aromatherapy or emo.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it everyone shall read Deja You by Lynda Sandoval.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it people will age in random order.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it all religion will be redundant except as a fashion statement, and people will therefore pursue art through a series of veils. Art will be the new food. It will taste like liquorice, Marmite and cinnamon.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it the U.S. will be the world's number one destination for sex tourism.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it there will still be a surprising amount of paranoia and melancholy.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it the grass will be silver, people will cry when I speak, and there will be omnipresent fame.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it Justin Isis will enter a recording studio and find Kingsley Amis kicking back with Sifow, whereupon he will challenge Kingsley to a duel, the winner of which gets to play golf with a golden Daoist egg, using Arthur Miller's head as a tee. When the egg is hit and enters the hole in the green, the ghost of M. R. James will be evoked, singing the songs of Nalle, and he shall erect a spectral temple made of disappointment, wherein shall be housed sad and holy things, such as Tori Amos's "pumpkin PJ's", an amputated smile from the face of Donald Rumsfeld, in which the teeth have not stopped growing since the rest of him was atomised, and from which there comes a noxious, witchy, hissing vapour, James Frey's weeping rectum, the strange, holographically paralysed lovechild of Momus and the Cheshire Cat, the nature of Monkey, an exact scale model of 109, with living simulacra, Dare Wright's doll, Edith, H. P. Lovecraft's prose style, Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures, the very first silverfish ever to crawl the earth, and Lalla Ward.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it publishers, editors and readers will treat writers with respect.

After 2012 and the end of capitalism-as-we-know-it I will have a relationship with a human being.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Justin Isis - Fuck Off, Dad

You started reading a new story on Chomu, only to discover that it was written in the second person. You resented the writer's attempts to narrate your actions, and soon stopped reading.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Scramble City (Part II)

[This one took a turn that I didn't really plan for, so it wound up shorter than I'd planned - we'll be back sooner with the next one to compensate, I think. Simulcast at Patchwork Earth!]



It is said, at the time of the founding of the Capitalized Lands, that there were two great figures, The Author and The Architect. One would weave the story, and the other would bring it to life. The buildings would rise from the mire as though birthed; utopia with a fare, sliding along the surface of a set of catacombs, and adrift from the dying world.

Rocky, Nick, Naomi, and others, they were children born to the Capitalized Lands, taught at the Camps, and knew only the roles they'd been chosen to play, the only history was the history of their city: The Cola Wars, the First Ride of the Monorail.

But The Author no longer spoke, and without him The Architect had no balance. Great works rose and never finished, entertainments no longer drew from the old myths, and shadows were cast by the structures where before the sun had lit every work evenly. It was as in the story that Rocky knew best, when a lasso of chain was wound about the sun and tied to a place, a lone mortal, below: brilliant, but static, and so thus unable to grow. For without the passing of the sun, time stopped and the ages ended.
It was, perhaps, the drugs that came first. Nick had taken to them all too easily. But it was not that sin that drove them apart, but rather Naomi: the discovery of her royalty.

For an instant, as Rocky's fingers trailed along the borderground's walls and fences, catching on thorns and chain link, he thought he glimpsed her torn gown through a portal, but it was gone too fast, as it ever was. Even as he passed through a vault into the tunnels, he could hear the voice of the lawman growing louder.


“No! Benton! I don't want to hear about debts! Benton, listen – I want you to explain it to them very, very slowly, so they understand it. Yes, we're aware. Yes, we'll be closing the old cases. No, I didn't lose the evidence, I stored it. Because! Because, Benton, when you're called to the... to here, you don't really argue, do you? No. No. Benton, listen to me. I'm about to meet with somebody, okay. No, I don't really... no. You know how this stuff works. All but brought here in a duffel bag. A pizza box. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, buddy. You, too. Don't get captured.”

Max Mann, le détective terrible, put the talkcard away, looked over at the plinth in the center of the plaza. It was old, older than most of the things here in the center of the C.L. A child was sitting on it earlier, until a security man came from – where? Behind a bush? - and dragged him of by his ear. Now somebody had left an empty cup there, where it was being explored by a bird. He could still, however, make out the inscription.

“To all those who once passed through.
To all those who built what once was.
To all those who still stand atop our shoulders.”

He rubbed at his nose a little and headed for the magic shop down the path, where Little Lyons met Dreamworld. Where the avenue split, an old green sign was rusted and curled around, which would take the strength of too many not to be noticed. Someone had hung a fresh map sleeve on the knotted steel with something approaching irony, which was in short supply here. He slipped a map free and into his pocket, next to what he believed was the only firearm on the grounds.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Who Would Have Thought That a Girl Like Me Would Double as a Superstar? - By Quentin Isis and Justin S. Crisp

In the glowing lozenge of blue were inscribed the words, “Singing with the Stars”. The invisible consciousness of the camera, soulless, nameless, all-knowing, benevolent, pulled back, as if with purpose both mystical and specific. Two human figures emerged from a background of coloured squares, like the environment of a neon planet. The arm of one of these figures was around the shoulder of the other, and between them was apparent an uncommon camaraderie, as if they were intoxicated without ingesting anything more than the colours of the lights around them, hyperactive with the fizz of pink, yellow, harlequin, cyan.

“Well, there you have it America.” It was a voice accustomed to addressing America, from one who knew what it meant to live by the microphone. “Tonight we saw Ethan Williams sing his heart out with Shakira!”

Here he elbowed Ethan teasingly. Ethan, wordless, grinned. It was true. He had sung his heart out, and now, it was almost as if his heart had been dribbled down the front of his clothes like food down a baby’s bib, but he was happy, as happy as a baby. He could hear laughter, like a thousand rising helium balloons.

“…and win his own recording contract,” concluded the host of the show. “Give him a hand.”

The collective hand was forthcoming, and in its shattering thunder, Ethan was lifted up. He had come directly, at that time of youth when hairstyles are at their most vulnerable and most precious, like the full bloom of cherry blossoms before they scatter, into the land of dreams, by what, it seemed to him, was the only route possible – the direct route, without the detour of disappointment in which so many lost their entire lives. For the detour of disappointment was a permanent detour. Ethan was a little giddy as if realising for the first time that things might have been different. He might not have made it. But he had. He had sung his heart out. With Shakira.

“Congratulations, Ethan!”

The giddy dream was formalised as Brian, the host of the microphone and beige jacket, shook Ethan’s hand.

“I’ll see you after the show.” And here the words that Ethan had heard Brian speak before to others, took on special significance, spoken, as they were, almost in an undertone, an aside not to the audience, but to the insider that Ethan had become.

In anticipation of “after the show”, Ethan made his exit. Before him was the real show, of his own life, behind him was the world that wished it could come with him.

Still with business to clear up, still on camera, Brian continued:

“Which means we have to say goodbye to these two adorable kids who really have a fine career ahead of them…”

The camera, for an instant, allowed all witnessing consciousness to access that limbo in which there stood the two runners-up, a black youth dressed in green, who seemed smarting with the reality in which he had been brought up short, and a thin white girl, eyes downcast, struggling for dignity in failure.

“…as long as it doesn’t involve singing.”

The sentence had been handed down, and it was for life. There was nothing to be done; they had come to the final authority on singing and on future, and there was no higher authority to whom they might appeal. All that was left to them was to be imprisoned in themselves, till the end of their days, without song.

“And I mean it, guys. Not even ‘Happy Birthday’.” Here Brian made a dismissive gesture towards them, as if to brush them away.

The girl was beginning to cry, but there could be no mercy now. The boy, beside her, seemed to know this, but his steadfastness would no more save him than her tears would save her. Both knew that they must turn and go, as Ethan before them had gone; unlike Ethan, however, they would go not into some greater show that was their own life, but only into their own lives, a show to no one, not even themselves. They would go, and be gone forever, and yet, for themselves, they would forever, in the dolour that comes when dread’s promise is fulfilled, remain.

This was their exit.

But Brian swung immediately back to the camera with a pointing forefinger, as used to such decisions as some arbiter of souls, necessarily consigning the dead to heaven or to hell. Was there somewhere, in the very speed of his swing, a suggestion that he knew of the weight of the hammer he let fall in judgement, knew, and thought it hypocritical to excuse himself, and kept close always to the dignity of mere role, the dignity of consistent vulgarity, making appeals to no one?

“Next week on Singing with the Stars, three new hopefuls…”

Yes, next week, always new hopefuls. Next week.

“…get their shot at a record deal… and a chance to sing with this teen pop SENSATION!”

In the weird hinterland of coloured squares from which Brian and Ethan had emerged, a silhouette was thrown upon the semi-opacity of a screen. One arm of the silhouette was upraised heroically, and the other held a microphone to the shadow that was a head.

“Who is she?”

The silhouette itself seemed to ask the question, as if it were the question mark at the heart of all humanity, ready to be answered in a moment.

Brian raised his eyebrow with a narrator’s sense of drama, seeming to know that the narrator is the true hero – a hero in his very knowing. He made a gesture of speed, dynamism and introduction towards the screen, which was a door, and the door began to rise as a voice also rose, a voice like that of a hundred valkyries about to storm the hearts of humankind with a joy so thunderous it bordered upon terror. Revealed, the question mark became its own answer. Its clear, blue eyes were open, and its voice at last spoke:

“Me! Hannah Montana!”

No emphasis, no art was needed now to elevate the one who had appeared, the one who had called herself, ‘Hannah Montana’. Her presence was lightning itself, slicing through the hearts of all who witnessed. The lightning strode forward, as lightning strides, and took her place next to Brian.

“See y’all next week! And your reality will be like a hopped-up hog at a party.”

Something in this avatar of electricity seemed to leap always into the exhilaration of inspiration, so that she chose words at once simple and elusive, puzzling and understood. Her words served to remind those who heard that they possessed faculties of understanding that were beyond their understanding, and illuminated the far skies of their souls, so that, even if they tried not to, they could not help but understand.

And then the lightning was dancing, with Brian dancing at her side, dancing as if he had been struck by lightning, and was frazzled. Before long he was nudging Hannah Montana rhythmically from the centre of the stage with his posterior, the teasing spirit of this rhythm the same he had used in elbowing Ethan moments before.


No one knew. No one seemed to realise, but suddenly two capital letters, H and M, the former pale yellow and the latter pale lavender blue, zoomed out of some corner of nowhere and blotted all from consciousness. Then they were gone.


Consciousness now occupied an aerial view of a school, where a number of pupils were making their way across the bland, sandy-grey of the playground to the school building. Whether now this was the consciousness of camera or not, perhaps even the consciousness itself could not know. In moments, however, that consciousness became so inconspicuous as to be invisible. There was a school cafeteria, and in this place, thick with individual consciousnesses, the consciousness of panorama was as if drowned out in din.

Two girls entered through the double, open doors, carrying trays holding the food they had chosen – yoghurt, fruit, muesli bars, and other such specimens, which serve to make the experience of eating an embarrassment, as if one were eating hand-me-downs. The girls were Lilly Truscott and Miley Stewart, best of friends, and two of the very few people on Earth who knew the truth of Hannah Montana’s secret identity. How was it possible that an unassuming schoolgirl like Miley (special, it seemed, only in the calm and wise adult eyes of her father, her uncles, and her aunt), and her vulnerable, sidekicky friend with the pink baseball hat, could know such a secret? The answer is easily told, though not so easily believed. Miley Stewart and Hannah Montana were one. The lightning that danced with a mane of gold at night, was by day a gentle breeze that merely shook the heads of the violets in the secret, shady dell of girlhood.

Turning towards the object of her untold adoration so that she seemed to back into the area as she spoke, Lilly expressed herself with a voice full of shuddering excitement.

“I can’t believe you’re going to be the celebrity singer on Singing with the Stars. That makes Hannah Montana just about the coolest person ever.”

As they placed their trays upon a table and slid themselves into the green plastic seats, the other occupants of that table, their movements synchronised as if through long rehearsal, slid out of their seats and swiftly departed. Seeming to catch this infection of synchronised movement from those who had so lately been here, almost sharing the table for a second, both Miley and Lilly raised one arm and then the other, sniffing beneath them diagnostically, then putting palms to their mouths, breathing upon them and again sniffing the deflected breath. Seeming to discover in armpits and in mouths no cause for the sudden exodus, the two friends turned to each other, pointed, and in unison said, “Must be you!”

Then their hands moved towards the food upon their trays.

At this moment the floppy-haired Oliver Oscar Oken (“Triple O” to his friends) came sidling up to the table, a document of some kind in his grasp, and, checking furtively to left and right, addressed the girls in an undertone.

“Guys, bad news. Amber and Ashley’s annual ‘Cool List’ is out again.”

Lilly gave an exasperated huff and snatched the sheets from Oliver’s hands.

“Well, that explains it,” said Miley, lifting her palms up in a shrug of helplessness. Hierarchies, it seems, were always to be enforced, and those who were at their apex would not let life grow into a sweet tangle of flowering weeds. Order would not be forgotten, and blooming heads that had grown too high would be snipped.

“How far down have they put us this year?” asked Lilly, her voice sinking to a querulous whine. She turned the first page.

“Keep going,” Oliver instructed, laconically. “Keep going. Keep—just skip to the last page.”

The expressions on the faces of the girls were masks of disappointment and dismay as they finally located their names.

“Oh, we’re tying for dead last with Dandruff Danny.” Miley’s voice had already taken on the suffering tone of resignation that comes from knowledge of inescapable slavery and hard labour.

By the vending machine, close at hand, a diminutive figure in a blue, short-sleeved shirt, turned, revealing a freckled face with rodent-bright eyes. His hair was dark and shiny with youth, and yet there appeared to be a streak of premature grey along the right side of his scalp. As he turned, his right hand worked incessantly at the back of his skull, as if he were long unconscious in his habit of antagonising a chronic itch. He tottered forward, dazedly and searchingly, a look of unearthly optimism upon his face, amidst the bodies of those to whom he was as the dead walking… and speaking:

“Is someone actually talking to me?”

None but Lilly and Miley seemed to hear. Miley turned her head, and Lilly, as if to caution against laying eyes upon a ghost, gently and repeatedly tapped her on the upper arm. Softly she spoke:

“Look away! Look away!”

“Okay, see you later,” said the owlish Oliver.

“Where are you going?” Miley held out supplicating arms, caught his wrist, brought him back from his escape.

Oliver bent forward as if in conspiracy.

“Look, I finally cracked the top one hundred and… and…” He seemed to take fright at their proximity and stood up straight again, looking around himself. He raised his voice the better to be heard by passers-by. “And there’s no way I’m talking to people from the last page. Stop begging!”

He gestured to Lilly and Miley derisively with his thumb, for his new, oblivious audience. Lilly and Miley recoiled, expressions of disgust upon their faces. Oliver turned to them one last time, his voice lowered again, “I’ll see you after dark.” And with that he was gone.

The disgust on her face curdling into something wry, penetrating, and yet quizzical, Miley spoke again.

“That boy flip-flops more than a catfish in a moon-bouncer.”

Just then, through the open double doors, there entered two girls at the head of a small, mixed-gender gang of pupils. On the left, in a pink top, was Ashley, and on the right, in a blue top, was Amber. The latter, seeing Miley and Lilly at their table, spoke:

“Hey look, everyone, it’s a couple of last-page losers… in their native habitat.”

Her voice was syrup-thick with sarcastic sympathy.

“Ah, so sad,” Ashley took up the same tone, clasping her hands to her chest, “still eating, as if they had a reason to live.”

“Oooh,” came Amber’s mock-sympathy once more.

Ashley being ethnically Asian, and Amber being black, from the perspective of a parallel universe, they might have been regarded, at this school, as members of minorities. But such was not the case in the present universe. The almost preternatural popularity of this pair, and the fear which they commanded throughout the school as a result, had been achieved neither because of minority status nor in the teeth of it. In short, their ethnicity was invisible. Had anyone at the school been asked to guess the ethnicity of either Ashley or Amber, they would have scratched their heads, unable to understand the question. There was, in this sense, something peculiarly noble in their bullying; it signified the irrelevance of race. However, this noble quality was itself puzzling to any who stopped for a moment to examine it, since it relied precisely on what it eliminated. It relied on that parallel universe in which ethnicity was, sadly, relevant.

Lilly and Miley swapped the long-suffering glances of the oppressed. Unable to endure the role of victim any longer, Miley reached over to the Cool List, which still lay upon the table, next to Lilly’s tray.

“Okay, that’s it,” she said, picking up the coloured sheets. “Listen, this list is as bogus as the people who wrote it.”

Miley stood now, with the momentum of her defiance.

“Come on, everyone! Let’s show Amber and Ashley that they can’t tell us who’s cool and who’s not! Let’s rip up these lists, right now!”

And now the same momentum had carried her upwards so that she was standing on her chair. Here on her dizzy perch, she began to tear the sheets of paper into shreds. So intent was she, the pent-up emotions of months and even years of frustration showing upon her face in curious, tic-like expressions, that she did not notice an uncanny thing; the entire room emptied swiftly, with only a ghostly, shuffling stir, as if it had been inhabited by phantoms. This was how confrontation was dealt with here.

“Errr… Miley!” It was Lilly. She tugged at Miley’s skirt.

Still looking down at the scrunched mass of paper, Miley said, “I’m the only one doing it, aren’t I?”

Slowly, she turned to look at the room. Only one other person remained. Sitting at a table in the corner, was the rodent-eyed Dandruff Danny. He raised an arm, and his voice echoed across the room with the same hollow optimism as before.

“I’m with ya, sister!”

He took up the pages of the Cool List from the table at which he sat, and, his face a mask of deformed but heroic effort, growling with the strain of it, he set his fists to the task of tearing them in twain. It was hard to believe that there was not something in this performance intended for comic effect, and yet, if so, then all of Dandruff Danny’s life must have been intended similarly, since there was something in his manner entirely consistent with his behaviour at all other times. Still, the incredible fact remained that, try as he might, he was unable to tear that slender list of perhaps a dozen sheets.

In a shrug of amazement, Miley turned to Lilly.

“How is he not below us?”

She threw the shreds of her own list on the table. Lilly’s face took on an expression of miserable resignation, as it sank to rest upon her hand.

It was at this moment of despair and ennui that an extraordinary thing happened. Miley had known this thing before. It had come upon her like a dream that swallowed her waking life, but at any time of the day, she might remember it. A certain strain of music might remind her, or the sight of a familiar street corner, coming to which she seems to hear laughter, as if there were unknown souls watching her life and joining in with the wondrous adventure of it. At such times she would remember the great revolving door, as she thought of it. This revolving door, in its spinning, was a kind of whirlwind. It lifted her up to heights that made her heart quiver. And with each flash of the glass in its revolving panes, there were images from her life, either from the past, or the future, she could hardly tell. She fully believed that it was this revolving door that allowed her that astounding double identity which defined her life. She was Miley Stewart, and she was also Hannah Montana. And there was a sense, too, of another, greater identity, encompassing both, perhaps an identity that was the axis on which the door revolved.

As the shreds of paper fell on the surface of the table beneath Lilly’s sickened eyes, Miley felt that spinning come again. She felt thin, and faint, and nauseas, but at the same time, was stirred by the intimation of something wonderful. She could hear a familiar song, and familiar, thrilling images seemed blowing her way on some god-wind. Yes, it was the revolving door. She remembered clearly now. This was the centre of it all. It had happened before, and it would happen again. She wondered if, this time, when she was shunted out of the spinning and back into some single moment of her life, she would keep a firm grasp on the memory of the door. She must try to remember. Must try. But it didn’t matter. Didn’t matter. Now, all she had to do was surrender to the great, golden, sugary fountain of the upsurging song. She could see lights. She could hear drums. The drums were a joyous concussion, and the lights dazzled to blindness, but now she could read a name that they spelt: “Hannah Montana”.

She was there, in front of those lights, upon some phantasmagorical stage. Full of an unearthly confidence, striding forward in pale denim jeans, pumping the air downwards with arms encased in the black sleeves of a tight jacket, she smiled a bursting smile to remember the song that made the doors revolve:

Come on!

You get the limo out front.
Hottest styles! Every shoe! Every colour!
Yeah, when you’re famous it can be kinda fun.
It’s really you, but no one ever discovers.

Who would have thought that a girl like me would double as a superstar?

You get the best of both worlds.
Chillin’ out, take it slow.
Then you rock out the show.
You get the best of both worlds.

Mix it all together and you know that it’s the best of both worlds.

While these words whirled around her, she felt herself kaleidoscoped with the flurry of images in a Montana montage. There was Lilly, her smiling face emerging from a cake in which it had just been buried. There was Oliver, dancing wildly, and her brother Jackson. An unknown hand slapped her upon the forehead, and she made a stunned face. She was coughing, pleadingly, with unconvincing spots of illness upon her cheeks. She was high-fiving with friends. Her father took sliding dance steps across the golden sands of a beach in comfortable jogging clothes. Someone was giving her a piggyback. Someone else threw flowers at her through the window of the limousine in which she rode. And she was twirling, twirling, the skirt of Miley transforming itself into the jeans of Hannah Montana. And she was singing to thousands of upraised hands.

Names came to her, too. Strange names, with the flavour of dream about them: Emily Osment. Mitchel Musso. Jason Earles. Billy Ray Cyrus.

Finally, full up with the bubbling secret of it all, she put her finger to her lips as if jokingly to hush that glory that never could be hushed, though it escaped the notice of all those it enfolded in its tender, golden embrace. Weak with the joy of it, she let some bubbles of laughter escape her, and stumbled away drunkenly. Stumbled away…


Consciousness lingered awhile outside the school entrance, timelessly.


What had happened? Miley found herself outside the cafeteria talking persuadingly to Lilly.

“So maybe some people care about the list, but there are plenty of other decent people strong enough to think for themselves. And those are the people I want for my friends anyways… Like Sarah!” And she gestured towards a rather slight girl putting something in her locker nearby.

Miley and Lilly instinctively rushed over to her.

“Hey Sarah!” said Miley, standing tall with the brightness of her salutations.

Bespectacled Sarah turned. She was a rosy-cheeked girl with long, wavy hair, and an overall manner of bookish sensitivity.

“Oh, er, hi guys.”

For some reason she seemed uncomfortable, and it was not simply the habitual self-consciousness that, torturing Sarah, so grew to torture her more, though her friends silently loved her for this tender self-torture. No, there was a different kind of unease here – an unease that had about it a tinge of shame that made the usual sadness an almost tearful thing.

“Listen, Miley, I’m really sorry, but I can’t be your lab partner.”

Her hands were gesturing with an excess of awkwardness.

“Today after school,” she continued, “I have to read to the blind, er, serve punch at the blood drive, and… hose down cages at the animal shelter.”

She suddenly made as if to escape, but Miley slid across the slippery floor in time and blocked her way, Lilly cutting off the rear escape in the same manner.

“Wait a minute,” said Miley, her arms folded in obvious suspicion, “you read to the blind yesterday.”

“I… er… took an extra shift.”

And once again she tried to slip away, and once again Miley and Lilly blocked her.

With the same, cross-armed scepticism, Miley spoke again:

“Extra shift, my Aunt Petunia! You’re just bailing on me because I’m last on Amber and Ashley’s list, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m not,” said Sarah, pleadingly. Suddenly she seemed to catch sight of something that alarmed her. “Oh no, here comes Amber! Sorry,” her tone now that of pity, “I’m charitable, not stupid!” And now her tone brightened into shrill superficiality: “Okay, bye!” And she fled.

Lilly looked after her in amazement, and turned to Miley.

“Great! Even Saint Sarah’s freezing us out.”


Friday, August 15, 2008

Justin Isis - Cockblocked By H.P. Lovecraft

Look, Philip! It's Jeon Ji-Hyun and Kim Hee Sun! Let's try to impress them with our abstruse mathematical knowledge!


Do you guys have Nobel Prizes? Or the Fields Medal?


Well, not yet, but

We've written a number of papers on topology.

And we played a significant role in the 1950's British poetry scene known as "The Movement."

"The Movement"? I just had a "Movement" a few hours ago. But then I flushed the toilet!


H.P. Lovecraft, you're making my pussy wet.

Come on girls, let's go look at historical buildings in the Providence area.

You had me at "Come."

Damn that H.P. Lovecraft.

Damn him to HELL.

I bet he can't even factor quadratic equations without recourse to a digital calculator!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Justin Isis - Residual Bourgeois Manners Were the Only Thing That Saved Me From Total Ruin

It was raining that morning, and still very dark. When the boy reached the streetcar café he had almost finished his route and he went in for a cup of coffee. The place was an all-night café owned by a bitter and stingy man called Wong. After the raw, empty street, the café seemed friendly and bright: along the counter there were a couple of actors, three spinners from the cotton mill, and in a corner a man who sat hunched over with his nose and half his face down in a beer mug. The boy wore a helmet such as aviators wear. When he went into the café he unbuckled the chin strap and raised the right flap up over his pink little ear; often as he drank his coffee someone would speak to him in a friendly way. But this morning Wong did not look into his face and none of the men were talking. He paid and was leaving the café when a voice called out to him:

"Son! Hey Son!"

He turned back and the man in the corner was crooking his finger and nodding to him. He had brought his face out of the beer mug and he seemed suddenly very happy. The man was long and pale, with a big nose and faded black hair.

"Hey Son!"

The boy went toward him. He was an undersized boy of about twelve, with one shoulder drawn higher than the other because of the weight of the paper sack. His face was shallow, freckled, and his eyes were round child eyes.

"Yeah Mister?"

The man laid one hand on the paper boy's shoulders, then grasped the boy's chin and turned his face slowly from one side to the other. The boy shrank back uneasily.

"Say! What's the big idea?"

The boy's voice was shrill; inside the café it was suddenly very quiet.

The man said slowly: "I can't stop thinking about vaginas."

All along the counter the men laughed. The boy, who had scowled and sidled away, did not know what to do. He looked over the counter at Wong, and Wong watched him with a weary, brittle jeer. The boy tried to laugh also. But the man was serious and sad.

"I did not mean to tease you, Son," he said. "Sit down and have a beer with me. There is something I have to explain."

Cautiously, out of the corner of his eye, the paper boy questioned the men along the counter to see what he should do. But they had gone back to their beer or their breakfast and did not notice him. Wong put a cup of coffee on the counter and a little jug of cream.

"He is a minor," Wong said.

The paper boy slid himself up onto the stool. His ear beneath the upturned flap of the helmet was very small and red. The man was nodding at him soberly. "It is important," he said. Then he reached in his hip pocket and brought out something which he held up in the palm of his hand for the boy to see.

"Look very carefully," he said.

The boy stared, but there was nothing to look at very carefully. The man held in his big, grimy palm a photograph. It was a desert landscape, and in the air, suspended by itself, was a soft pink vulva, its labial lips emitting a steady radiance.

"See?" the man asked.

The boy nodded and the man placed another picture in his palm. The vulva was floating above a beach now, and its glow seemed stronger, causing the picture to look overexposed.

"Got a good look?" He leaned over closer and finally asked: "You ever seen that before?"

The boy sat motionless, staring slantwise at the man. "Not so I know of."

"Very well." The man blew on the photographs and put them back into his pocket. "That was a vulva."

"Your wife's?" the boy asked.

Slowly the man shook his head. He pursed his lips as though about to whistle and answered in a long-drawn way: "Nuuu -" he said. "I will explain."

The beer on the counter before the man was in a large brown mug. He did not pick it up to drink. Instead he bent down and, putting his face over the rim, he rested there for a moment. Then with both hands he tilted the mug and sipped.

"Some night you'll go to sleep with your big nose in a mug and drown," said Wong. "Prominent transient drowns in beer. That would be a nice death."

The paper boy tried to signal to Wong. While the man was not looking he screwed up his face and worked his mouth to question soundlessly: "Drunk?" But Wong only raised his eyebrows and turned away to put some pink strips of bacon on the grill.

The man pushed the mug away from him, straightened himself, and folded his loose crooked hands on the counter. His face was sad as he looked at the paper boy. He did not blink, but from time to time the lids closed down with delicate gravity over his dark brown eyes. It was nearing dawn and the boy shifted the weight of the paper sack.

"I am talking about vaginas," the man said. "With me they are a science."

The boy half slid down from the stool. But the man raised his forefinger, and there was something about him that held the boy and would not let him go away.

"Twelve years ago, I was travelling in outer Mongolia. At that time I was a DJ at one of China's hottest nightclubs, but my life wasn't satisfying. I had everything you're supposed to want: money, women, influence. But it wasn't enough. Spiritually, I was empty. There was a hole, an absence in me, which craved God. Are you listening to me, Son? Without God, we are nothing. But at that time I knew nothing, only that something was wrong. So I retreated to the desert. For days I walked alone, wandering with no destination in mind, hoping that the universe would take care of me. As my supplies dwindled, I faced the sun and prayed to God for enlightenment. When I looked down again, a vulva was floating in the air above me, the same one you saw in the picture, emitting waves of calm. I asked it what was the meaning of my life. And then a voice sounded from within the labia. 'All time and space is slowly moving towards the Absolute,' the vulva told me, 'In the name of thrice-great Hermes, I proclaim the Aquarian Age...'"

The man paused.

"There is no time, every instant is proof of divinity. We are all parts of God - capillaries, perhaps. I realized that was what the vulva was trying to tell me."

He tightened his blurred, rambling voice and said:

"I took care of that vulva. I loved it. Yes...I loved it. I thought also that it loved me. It had all home comforts and luxuries. It never crept into my brain that it was not satisfied. But do you know what happened?"

"Mgneeow!" said Wong.

The man did not take his eyes from the boy's face. "The vulva disappeared. I came in one night and the house was empty and it was gone. It left me."

"With a fellow?" the boy asked.

Gently the man placed his palm down on the counter. "Why naturally, Son. A vulva does not vanish like that alone."

The café was quiet, the soft rain black and endless in the street outside. Wong pressed down the frying bacon with the prongs of his long fork. "So you have been chasing the vulva for eleven years. You frazzled old rascal!"

For the first time the man glanced at Wong. "Please don't be vulgar. Besides, I was not speaking to you." He turned back to the boy and said in a trusting and secretive undertone: "Let's not pay any attention to him. O.K.?"

The paper boy nodded doubtfully.

"It was like this," the man continued. "I am a person who feels many things. All my life one thing after another has impressed me. Moonlight. Sausages. The leg of a pretty girl. One thing after another. But the point is that when I had enjoyed anything there was a peculiar sensation as though it was laying around loose in me. Nothing seemed to finish itself up or fit in with the other things. Women? I had my portion of them. The same. Afterwards laying around loose in me. I was a man who had never loved."

Very slowly he closed his eyelids, and the gesture was like a curtain drawn at the end of a scene in a play. When he spoke again his voice was excited and the words came fast - the lobes of his large, loose ears seemed to tremble.

"Then I found the vulva. And you know what it was like? I just can't tell you. All I had ever felt was gathered together around this vulva. Nothing lay around loose in me any more but was finished up by it, by the vaginal canal."

The man stopped suddenly and stroked his long nose. His voice sank down to a steady and reproachful under-tone: "I'm not explaining this right. What happened was this. There were these beautiful feelings and loose little pleasures inside me. And this vagina was something like an assembly line for my soul. I run these little pieces of myself through it and I come out complete. Now do you follow me?"

"Did you try to make it come back?"

The man did not seem to hear. "Under the circumstances you can imagine how I felt when it left me."

Wong took the bacon from the grill and folded two strips of it between a bun. He had a gray face with a pinched nose saddled by faint blue shadows. One of the mill workers signaled for more coffee and Wong poured it. He did not give refills on coffee free. The spinner ate breakfast there every morning, but the better Wong knew his customers the stingier he treated them. He nibbled his own bun as though he grudged it to himself.

"And you never got hold of it again?"

The boy did not know what to think of the man, and his child's face was uncertain with mingled curiosity and doubt. He was new on the paper route; it was still strange to him to be out in the town in the black, queer early morning.

"Yes," the man said. "I took a number of steps to get it back. I went around trying to locate it. I went back to outer Mongolia. I went to every province it had ever mentioned to me, and I hunted down every man it had formerly been connected with. Sichuan, Shanxi, Hunan, Gansu, Fujian.. .. For the better part of two years I chased around the country trying to lay hold of it."

"But the vulva had vanished from the face of the earth!" said Wong.

"Don't listen to him," the man said confidentially. "And also just forget those two years. They are not important. What matters is that around the third year a curious thing begun to happen to me."

"What?" the boy asked.

The man leaned down and tilted his mug to take a sip of beer. But as he hovered over the mug his nostrils fluttered slightly; he sniffed the staleness of the beer and did not drink. "Love is a curious thing to begin with. At first I thought only of getting the vulva back. It was a kind of mania. But then as time went on I tried to remember it. But do you know what happened?"

"No," the boy said.

"When I laid myself down on a bed and tried to think about the vulva, my mind became a blank. I couldn't see it. I would take out its pictures and look. No good. Nothing doing. A blank. Can you imagine it?"

"Say Mac!" Wong called down the counter. "Can you imagine this bozo's mind a blank!"

Slowly, as though fanning away flies, the man waved his hand. His brown eyes were concentrated and fixed on the shallow little face of the paper boy.

"But a sudden piece of glass on a sidewalk. Or a nickel tune in a music box. A shadow on a wall at night. And I would remember. It might happen in a street and I would cry or bang my head against a lamppost. You follow me?"

"A piece of glass . . ." the boy said.

"Anything. I would walk around and I had no power of how and when to remember the vulva. You think you can put up a kind of shield. But remembering don't come to a man face forward - it corners around sideways. I was at the mercy of everything I saw and heard. Suddenly instead of me combing the countryside to find it, it begun to chase me around in my very soul. The vulva begun chasing me mind you! And in my soul."

The boy asked finally: "What part of the country were you in then?"

"Shanxi," the man groaned. "I was a sick mortal. It was like smallpox. I confess, Son, that I boozed. I fornicated. I committed any sin that suddenly appealed to me. I am loath to confess it but I will do so. When I recall that period it is all curdled in my mind, it was so terrible."

The man leaned his head down and tapped his forehead on the counter. For a few seconds he stayed bowed over in this position, his hands with their long warped fingers held palm to palm in an attitude of prayer. Then the man straightened himself; he was smiling and suddenly his face was bright and tremulous and old.

"It was in the fifth year that it happened," he said. "And with it I started my science."

Wong's mouth jerked with a pale, quick grin. "Well none of we boys are getting any younger," he said. Then with sudden anger he balled up a dishcloth he was holding and threw it down hard on the floor. "You draggletailed old Romeo!"

"What happened?" the boy asked.

The old man's voice was high and clear: "Peace," he answered.


"It is hard to explain scientifically, Son," he said. "I guess the logical explanation is that I had chased the vulva for so long that finally I just lay down and quit. Peace. A queer and beautiful blankness. It was spring in Sichuan and the rain came every afternoon. All evening I just stayed there on my bed in the dark. And that is how the science come to me."

The windows in the streetcar were pale blue with light. The two actors paid for their beers and opened the door - one of the actors combed his hair and wiped off his muddy puttees before they went outside. The three mill workers bent silently over their breakfasts. Wong's clock was ticking on the wall.

"It is this. And listen carefully. I meditated on love and reasoned it out. I realized what is wrong with us. Men fall in love for the first time. And what do they fall in love with?"

The boy's soft mouth was partly open and he did not answer.

"Vaginas," the old man said. "Without science, with nothing to go by, they undertake the most dangerous and sacred experience in God's earth. They can't stop thinking about vaginas. Is that correct, Son?"

"Yeah," the boy said faintly.

"They start at the wrong end of love. They begin at the climax. Can you wonder it is so miserable? Do you know how men should love?"

The old man reached over and grasped the boy by the collar of his leather jacket. He gave him a gentle little shake and his brown eyes gazed down unblinking and grave.

"Son, do you know how love should be begun?"

The boy sat small and listening and still. Slowly he shook his head. The old man leaned closer and whispered:

"Vaginas. Vaginas. Vaginas."

It was still raining outside in the street: a mild, gray, endless rain. The mill whistle blew for the six o'clock shift and the three spinners paid and went away. There was no one in the café but Wong, the old man, and the little paper boy.

"The weather was like this in Sichuan," he said. "At the time my science was begun. I meditated and I started very cautious. I would pick up something from the street and take it home with me. I bought a foam rubber vagina and I concentrated on the foam rubber vagina and I loved it. I graduated from one thing to another. Day by day I was getting this technique. On the road from Sichuan to Fujian-"

"Aw shut up!" screamed Wong suddenly. "Shut up! Shut up!"

The old man still held the collar of the boy's jacket; he was trembling and his face was earnest and bright and wild. "For six years now I have gone around by myself and built up my science. And now I am a master. Son. I can't stop thinking about vaginas. No longer do I have to think about it even. I see a street full of people and a beautiful light comes in me. I watch a bird in the sky. Or I meet a traveler on the road. Everything, Son. And anybody. Do you realize what a science like mine can mean?"

The boy held himself stiffly, his hands curled tight around the counter edge. Finally he asked: "Did you ever really find that vulva?"

"What? What say, Son?"

"I mean," the boy asked timidly. "Did you make your peace with God?"

The old man loosened his grasp on the boy's collar. He turned away and for the first time his brown eyes had a vague and scattered look. He lifted the mug from the counter, drank down the yellow beer. His head was shaking slowly from side to side. Then finally he answered: "No, Son. You see that is the last step in my science. I go cautious. And I am not quite ready yet."

"Well!" said Wong. "Well well well!"

The old man stood in the open doorway. "Remember," he said. Framed there in the gray damp light of the early morning he looked shrunken and seedy and frail. But his smile was bright. "Remember the vulva," he said with a last nod. And the door closed quietly behind him.

The boy did not speak for a long time. He pulled down the bangs on his forehead and slid his grimy little forefinger around the rim of his empty cup. Then without looking at Wong he finally asked:

"Was he drunk?"

"No," said Wong shortly.

The boy raised his clear voice higher. "Then was he a dope fiend?"


The boy looked up at Wong, and his flat little face was desperate, his voice urgent and shrill. "Was he crazy? Do you think he was a lunatic?" The paper boy's voice dropped suddenly with doubt. "Wong? Or not?"

But Wong would not answer him. Wong had run a night café for fourteen years, and he held himself to be a critic of craziness. There were the town characters and also the transients who roamed in from the night. He knew the manias of all of them. But he did not want to satisfy the questions of the waiting child. He tightened his pale face and was silent.