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by Joshua Sabatini


short fiction

Editors' note: this story contains descriptions of suicides.

The mid-winter sun hanging high, Joshua sat in Hank’s big hemp chair. The one in which Hank read the 1920 Doubleday Sun Dial editions of Joseph Conrad. The one with the wide white valley view. The one near a chestnut vertical support beam where an Eli Whitney revolver would hang on a copper nail by a sign written in buckthorn ink warning it was loaded.

He didn’t know where Hank went.

On Day 8, the voice of the lily came from out of the valley:

O! Kiss me.

A kiss to seal, to ardor intensify, to move the passion, to— A kiss.

Kiss me, O! OoooOoOooo!

August 24, 2019
Katama, Noepe

Dear you faded souls,

How could they leave the moon-faced Aquarian alone in the valley of midnight darkness? They couldn’t explain the forces beyond their control. They despaired. They were anxious for him to snap out of it. They feared he’d execute a drastic measure; there was no way to know the future. The psalms spoke with certainty on what was coming; they used the past tense. They wanted him to snap out of it. It overworked their hearts. The days’ purple flashes and thunder booms brought fear and trembling. They wanted their lives’ peace restored.

Woe to you decayed souls. The way of the way left him alone, yet always in the eye of the creator. But who’d stop him from cinching a hemp noose around his neck and saying fare-thee-well O damnable world and who cares cruel world anymore what you are and what you who fail to acknowledge the soul are and what will befall you? Suicide was part of the family history. To ward it off, survivors often repeated: observe the time and fly from suicide.

They asked ailing Hank to intervene and take him into the valley, far from the reaches of the world, into Thoreau’s bliss. If he could Emerson-transcend that would be grand. But what worked for those in the past may not have kept up with the changing times. The opportunity to do himself in there was much better than elsewhere but the will to do it there not so much?

Mother-of-Pearl Joy was responsible for the son of Nun name derived from Jesus for the sorrow that came to his soul. Of the ancestry’s Scrub Oak limbs, his was pointing alone boney outward and upward and there wasn’t a lick of storm lashings he couldn’t suffer only to burst forth more vibrant green blooms come the next spring.

For no conscious reason, they possessed this view of him; not even when they called Hank out of desperation – to have him off their hands was delightful – did they recognize the unique way they treated him. If they tried to understand, you’d shudder over their lack of imagination. What to do with them all, infinite wise persons swimming in philosophia, what to do to do to do…

What must he do? Overcome his disinclination to burn wood, walk from the modest cabin 31 feet to the triangular pile of logs, hug the logs back with him inside the cabin, place them in the square furnace mouth over the red coals, the way Hank showed him. There was no measuring second hand going like mad there. There was only the burning of the wood and the light of the day and the moon and the stars.

Better. How he felt. Alone in the Goshen cabin. Something new, despite the fall in the beginning. Hank told him to keep the fire going. He also told him to write. Hank’s grandson’s letters, sent in the traditional manner, were like flames – reader beware but not warned – and Hank hesitated before opening each envelope but he really needed to know what was “Dear Hank” each time.

Dear Hank.

Merry Xmas.

You say there’s no God because you can’t believe a father would put their son through all that. Grandpa, you fail to understand that was the highest possible honor, a glory and a victory for all eternity. You hug the tree before the cancer treatment; well, the tree gives you what you need because it’s a descendant of the rood-tree.

The letters would haunt him immeasurably. They’d remind him of all he had failed to perform in his long life nearing an end, but despite the terror he saw hope in the letters for the family of inherited sin.

Joshua couldn’t recall if he had even agreed to come to the cabin, if it was even discussed; it’s possible he was the victim of a kidnapping, followed by abandonment. Even still, he preferred this to the world, to having to do world stuff.

He sat in Hank’s chair by the furnace, keeping warm. He tried to think what Hank must think, but when he tried, he learned he hadn’t the foggiest idea. To learn about his own mind, he’d just have to let his thoughts bound around and around and he’d have the evidence of his personality.

He questioned how thoughts land upon new discoveries and from where those discoveries originate. Was it by some miracle, an outside influence impregnating them with the unthought-of-before, like a foreign substance dripped into a glass of liquid, changing its nature, or did they work with known materials to birth new stuff?

He sat there thinking, forced to live with his own thoughts in the valley, forced to learn about them; he deemed them miraculous bits of energy. When he considered the effect they could have on the world, not just within his own bag of flesh, not simply dictating when to do this or that, how they would extend into the cosmos, like pollinating agents germinating the flowers of the universe, like notes joining the cosmological symphony, he felt a responsibility. When he attempted to shake-shake-shake the responsibility off, it clung to him like an albatross.

Thinking in the valley was a necessity: there was nothing here but the mind. What to do with it, the mind and all its thoughts. Forget everything else. First the mind, first the thinking. First master these. How could anything stand a chance in the face of the thinking mind? All else is but a shadow of the main source, Joshua’s personality; the mind, the thoughts generated in the skull, were a communication not just with himself, but with the external world and the internal world of the external world, and the pre-birth and the post-birth, and the vast undiscovered subconscious, containing all the experiences of the entire Scrub Oak ancestral bloodline.

All he needed was his mind, and there was no privilege or advantage anybody could ever have over him. The thoughts of his mind can humble the authoritarian, slay the tyrant, distribute the wealth equitably, feed the hungry. Thoughts can feed the hungry? Joshua was thinking of the religious teaching that a true believer never died of hunger. He, too, was thinking about how good thoughts were able to solve the challenges of the time.

His chair-thinking was interrupted by a 360-degree vision of the valley. The valley’s trees were bones, bare bones. Accompanying this visual was information from his other senses. He heard the creaking of bones, sweeping and cascading choruses pronouncing and echoing themselves throughout the valley. Whose bones? Bones of trees, bones of creatures, bones of dead people? Bones in a boneyard, speaking only of the dead. He wasn’t disturbed by these bones; he maintained the equilibrium of an outside observer executing holy curiosity.

Hank must have known about the boneyard. Joshua assumed that was the point of bringing him here. He questioned if there was truly anything more than the sterile environment full of nothingness, a vacuous boneyard from out of which he could derive nothing. He passed from the vision of the boneyard back into the cabin with relative ease. To gauge his abilities, he returned to the boneyard and then returned to the cabin. He rested: the boneyard was going nowhere.

But the boneyard was supposed to go somewhere. The lily, didn’t she call to him for that purpose? The vision itself was pregnant with that supposition. But a change to the conditions would require an epic advancement to another age, some evolution of ideation within the nothingness.

From out of the valley came a thunderclap. Joshua was able to track down its origins. First by moving in the direction from where it had issued and later by following the footprints he discovered, left behind by Hank. He found Hank’s body slouched over a rock, a bullet hole in his head from the revolver dropped nearby.

Bury my bones in the boneyard.

Hank’s last will and testament would rank among the family’s last, presided over by Judge Theodore W. The judge soon joined Hank. Among his papers were found a preoccupation with the family; in particular, Hank’s father, Captain Bartleby M., who routinely appeared before the judge.

The moon taunts me on Bartleby eve. So many Bartleby days. It has become absurd. I have become a madman but I have discovered the predictive moon coordinates of his appearances. How can that be mad? Lunar Mansion 24 5:51, Lunar Day 11 9:47, moon in Aquarius. Bartleby will appear tomorrow. He will behave decently enough. He never disrupts my court proceedings. But he frustrates me in my chambers by refusing to answer my questions. No one among the living would dare refuse! I must develop the right strategy. He has a lot to tell. He must. Otherwise why does he keep appearing? For the record, I have never crossed the captain. This isn’t a case of revenge, no Erinyes. He repeats like a dumb parrot an epithet: Life’s voyage is over, my white sails furled, I moored my bark in the spirit world. How much more of this can I take?

The judge theorized why so many of them committed suicide: they didn’t desire to exterminate themselves but instead believed in the immortality of the soul and desired to achieve through the misguided approach a greater form of their spirit after they felt they had exhausted all other options and had grown bored.

Good old Hank. True to his boneyard, bringing to its threshold the next sacrifice in the bloodline with the acumen to perceive. A self-aware sacrifice is more valuable.

O! Kiss me.

Not spoken, heard despite that, from the lily, there in the space of the bones. A kiss to seal, to ardor intensify, to move the passion, to enliven. A kiss.

Kiss me, O! OoooOoOooo!

August 31, 2019
Land Beneath the Hill

Dear people of the first light,

For the summer, you brought Joshua from out of the valley to the dry land amid the waters.

The clay woman sought him out by the sea and said her grandmother spent the past year beading mannequins: there’s an art opening reception of her work at Kara’s gallery. You know the place; do come.

He visited the eternal clown’s tombstone. He read aloud to him a passage from the great Danish philosopher from an edition he had begun reading outside a library in the Pagoda’s shade.

“… one had to smile at this rich man who did not know how to use his riches, but also tragic, because he could not use them. Then woman was created. She was in no quandary, knew at once how one should take hold of the situation …”

He joined the clown’s somersaulting laughter, letting out a final guffaw while using the edge of a knife left behind among the tokens of respect; his life dripped into the boneyard as the island excursions van rolled down the gravelly road, faces with white crowns pressed up against the darkly-tinted glass.

At 6:02 pm, by the shore’s ancient blood of the whales:

Gretchen: Your face is the sun.

Colleen: Did you see the green flash?

Alexandra: (walks from out of the West carrying a drum upon her head, held in place by the palm of her hands.)

Gretchen: Thanks for sharing the sunset with me.

Colleen: Likewise.