They say: disordered thinking is a sign you’ve gone off your nut. Yet: there exist finished novels, told in fragments, whose orderliness is not explicit. And these are not received as crazy. From time to time, the form is even seen as emblematic. They are tolerated, indulgently, like people one has known a long time, who are exactly predictable.
There is something about set type, though, on paper with the substance to withstand being squeezed in a press, between two conflicting narratives — paper that is just dense enough, just opaque enough to support them both, to carry them in tandem forward in time. There is something about such a sheet, especially when it is stacked with a finger’s-width of its fellows, and pressed between boards and stitched, or glued and wrapped on three sides with an illustration on cover stock. Such a book-like package is assumed to be — if not Art, right out of the chute — at least an intentional work of the mind. Efforts Will Be Made, at least until its content has been parsed. But
if you cannot name a thing, it will be dismissed every time. Its force will be discounted. It will be banished from sleeping inside with the rest of us. It will be consigned instead to the tempest; its assignment will be: to rage Outside. It will be added to the catalog of assaults, to the litany of Injurious Tendencies. It will be deleted from the inventory of defenses. It will be, thenceforward, treated as a Pariah Force. When, that is, it is seen at all. By laying low, however, the un-nameable can continue its influence, even (perhaps especially) indoors.
* * *
In a diner by a state highway that circumvents a minor country burgh, a salesman orders a cup of coffee and a piece of custard pie. Now, it doesn’t matter whether he has chosen his knit shirt today or his woven button-down. But it DOES matter that he is attired in one or the other of these, and not, let us say, in a green twill coverall with his nickname — Donny — embroidered in red script across the chest pocket. Don’t picture him in that coverall; it’s much too workmanlike. It implies too much familiarity with sharp items, with grease, with flame, with the sorts of dangers posed by man-made things. So: choose for him either the knit shirt (a polo shirt, perhaps, in a solid pique?) or the button-down (in white, say, with hair-line stripes — yarn-dyed — in black or navy). Choose either for him. But do NOT dress him in your mind’s eye in that dark green coverall. Not the coverall.
He takes up his fork and slides it edgewise down across the pointed tip of his piece of custard pie —
Wait! wait, I can’t picture him at all! What did you say he was wearing?
I said he was wearing anything but a green twill coverall with his name stitched on the pocket in red script. The twill is not dark green. Anything but.
And his name was ‘Don,’ did you say?
I know a Don.
So do I. Everyone does. This is not him.
* * *
Up the street, an old man is making a commotion at the entrance to the community care home. But he is not trying to get in. He is trying to get out. He is brandishing his aluminum cane at the pair of scrub-suited attendants who are closing in, presumably to subdue him. He wheels and bolts and strikes the bar that releases the door latch with all his puny, desiccated fury. He breaks out, awkwardly, tilting off balance because the soles of his slippered feet have grown insensible, and he no longer feels clearly the ground he stands upon. He is trailing the bed-clothes. His plaid robe hangs open, its sash dangling across his hips and down his flanks like a clergyman’s stole. He squints in direct sunlight, to which he has grown unaccustomed. He waves his weak arms like the blades of an ancient windmill; his antique, whirling limbs fend off care, restraint, admonishment. The attendants drop away, lower their arms, hold their open palms facing forward. One flexes his fingers ever so slightly further apart. Subtly signaling: see how empty? See how open? Come now.
The old man appears to be listening, but at this distance, we can’t be sure. Then he lurches down the walk as far as the curb. He does not look both ways. He heads directly for a bicycle that leans up against a tree across the road. He breaks for it. He seizes it. He climbs aboard, although it agonizes his arthritic hip to throw his elderly leg up high enough to clear the seat. But he does so, shrieking when it hurts. He gropes next for the pedal with that calcifying foot of his. He mounts the bike, wobbling. He has not the strength in his thigh to push that pedal down, to make the grand gear turn, or even to stand up and force it around by his own weight; he is, alas, too puny. He balances, wobbling hey! you never DO forget how!! but then he falls over it’s just that after a time you simply cannot do it anymore.
All this is seen at a distance. We can only imagine his dismay.
* * *
Meanwhile back at the diner, that salesman lifts that bite of pie to swallow. His mind is already registering the light, lightly-sweetened texture of the pale, tender custard, and the ruddy notes of its nutmegged top. His tongue pink, moist, lewd starts to poke out to receive it when he catches sight of a small, dark anomaly, a tiny, boomerang-shaped bit of limpid shadow in the soft opaque custard which just then breaks apart and falls in two pieces off either side of the lifted fork. On the stainless tines now there sits revealed: a jagged chunk of broken glass, flecked minutely with custard.
All this happened very quickly — in far less time than it has taken me to write it all down. In less time, even, than it has taken you to read it. In a fictive instant, that is, he is offered a bite of broken glass where he expected custard!
Imagine his agitation: how it must come on.
* * *
But I can’t tell you what to think. I can tell you what to think ABOUT. But that’s all. Even on a good day, the best I can do is focus your attention.