Short stories


For a second maybe less his mind is as busy as a Pieter Bruegel painting. He sits up. Puts down the book he was reading. Blaise Pascal could not sit in a room for long period of time. If he were forced to stay in a room for a long period of time a deep melancholy overwhelmed him. He can be on the sofa for days without the slightest hint of melancholy. He is not going for a walk. His shoes are in the other room. It could be raining. Kant walked all the time at the same time; his neighbors could set their watches by this ritual. He stands up. It was not hunger, it could have been hunger, but now the idea of food repels him. It is dark, but not the time for bed. He has been obsessed with cartography of late. On the coffee table, stacked high, are many books on the art and the history of cartography. The book on top of the stack is a book on Johannes Schnitze. A book is open on the coffee table. A page shows the wall painting of Çatalhöyük. The space between the coffee table and the sofa is sufficient for him to stand in. His back aches, pins and needles impel him to move and he marches on the spot until the pins and needles cease while looking at a painting of Canterbury Cathedral that is over the television. The painting is nothing special artistically, aesthetically, but it reminds him of his time spent at Canterbury. He sees Tybalt’s ball. There was a time when Tybalt would chase the ball around the front room for hours. Now Tybalt is bored of the ball. He is sure a cat can be bored. He too would be bored chasing a ball around the front room. He passes between Scylla and Charybdis and stops at the painting of John Mandeville that hangs on the wall. The traveler points toward the kitchen. Maybe he stood up to make himself a cup of tea.  He is addicted to tea. The book he was reading was by Xavier de Maistre.  Maybe if he were to have a cup of tea he could continue with his reading of Voyage autour de ma chamber.  He looks at the bookshelf behind the sofa. The books, if he were to read them, would change his views, Leon Battista Alberti, Euclid’s Optica, Nostradamus, Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture, John Pecham’s Perspectiva communis and Bacon’s Opus Majus. He squints and the room changes dramatically.  His wife hates the bookshelf. He must admit the bookshelf is in disarray and is very dusty. He got up to smoke. He picks up the cigarette packet and lights a cigarette and suddenly thoughts of Frigyes Karinthy impinges. He smokes and thinks so hard about Utazás a koponyám körül that his head starts to hurt. The pain is immeasurable. He can no longer smoke. He drops the cigarette in the ashtray, which is on the coffee table. With his thumb, he kills the coals. A last wisp of smoke ascends in gothic swirls. He watches as the pain wanes. He had no real intention of smoking. He walks to the window. He parts the curtains with a hand. He looks out of the window. It is now dark. The glow of the city looms over the darkness like an ignis fatuus. It is a very short distance to the television from the window. It might seem strange to compare this journey from the window to the television with that of Sir John Mandeville’s journey to the Holy Land, but I feel it can be justified. Say that the space between the window and the television is built up of small cubes of air containing small particles of dust. Say these small cubes are 1 to 3 cm along an edge, I am thinking of the common dice, well then I have no idea, and dare not conjecture the number of small cubes it would take to fill the space between the window and television. He places a hand on the television. His wife’s shoes are forlorn and incongruous at the foot of her chair. He can still see her indentation in the leather. She is upstairs, sleeping. He wonders what she is dreaming. He wants to believe she is in 9 Cities & the Sky.  It is his favorite structure of Italo Calvino’s Le città invisibili. He leaves the city and travels back to the coffee table. He stops and looks at the wall painting of Çatalhöyük. The rug he is standing on is mostly red. The rug was expensive. They bought the rug in Turkey. They were there for the Hagia Sophia. He remembers only that had to carry the rug for eight hours while they traipsed through the Hagia Sophia. They went to a café afterward and smoked some tobacco. He cannot remember the name of the café. He tries but futility is inevitable. His mind is more Swiss cheese than. It was a long time ago. Ballard’s drowned giant, Gargantua and Pantagruel supping, Tolstoy’s retreating French Army, no: the coffee table. A sigh loud reverberates. Fatigue weighs heavily upon his limbs. He picks up the dead cigarette. Still, no. He puts the dead cigarette back in the ashtray. Smoking can be boring. Talking can be boring. He was at a great party. It was Christmas Eve night. Everybody was so happy. He started a conversation with a writer. “Didn’t Mikhail Lermontov say that the British created boredom?” said the famous writer. He had to shrug. He had not read Lermontov. He keeps away from the Russians. Their books are always long and have too many characters. He told the writer this. The writer sighed softly, almost Shakespearean, maybe too Shakespearean, maybe a hint of the Sophoclean. He finally finds the energy to walk around the coffee table and again he finds himself in the space between Scylla and Charybdis. Evelyn Waugh took a delight in walking in the footsteps of Arthur Rimbaud. Evelyn Waugh even tried to emulate Martin Eden. I mean the swimming out to sea to end one’s life. Unlike Martin Eden, Evelyn Waugh turned back. I think a jellyfish stung him. He collapses onto the sofa. Marquis de Sade wrote The 120 Days of Sodom or the School of Licentiousness with his eyes closed and with only one hand free. Did he get up to turn on the television, to find a pornographic movie, to masturbate? He slips a hand down between his trousers and skin. He feels his soft penis. He strokes it. He closes his eyes and sees Scheherazade on the sand dunes. No, it was not to masturbate. There is no life down there. He sighs. He removes the hand. He laces the fingers behind his head. Sleep is far away, as far away as Quivira and Cíbola. He opens his eyes. Once again his head is as busy as a Pieter Bruegel painting. He sits up. Why did he get up in the first place? It was not to eat, to drink, to smoke, to travel, to masturbate.  The answer comes in a fulguration. All obfuscation is burnt away. It was to write this.

Paul Kavanagh

(first published in Black Sun Lit – Vestiges_02: Ennui)

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