Tuesday, March 13, 2007

the stone (tove jansson)

It was lying between the coal dump and the goods wagons under some bits of wood and it was a miracle that no one had found it before me. The whole of one side shone with silver and if you rubbed away the coal dust you could see that the silver was there inside the stone too. It was a huge stone of nothing but silver, and no one had found it.
I didn't dare to hide it; somebody might see it and take it while I ran home. It had to be rolled away. If anyone came and tried to stop me I would sit down on the stone and yell my head off. I could bite them as they tried to lift it. I could do just about anything.
And so I began to roll it. It was very slow work. The stone just lay on its back quite still, and when I got to turn over it just lay on its tummy and rocked to and fro. The silver came of in thin flakes that stuck to the ground and broke into small pieces when I tried to pick them up.
I got down on my knees to roll it, which was much better. But the stone only moved half a turn at a time and it was terribly slow work. No one took any notice of me as long as I was rolling down in the harbour Then I managed to get the stone onto a pavement and things became more difficult. People stopped and tapped on the pavement with their umbrellas and said all sorts of things. I said nothing and just looked at their shoes. I pulled my woolly hat down over my eyes and just went on rolling and rolling and rolling and then the stone had to cross the road. By then I had been rolling it for hours and I hadn't looked up once and hadn't listened to anything anyone said to me. I just gazed at the silver underneath all the coal dust and other dirt and made a tiny little room for myself where nothing existed except the stone and me. But now it had to cross the road.
One car after another went past and sometimes a tram, and the longer I waited, the more difficult it was to roll the stone out into the road.
In the end I began to feel weak at the knees and then I knew that soon it would be too late, in a few seconds it would be too late, so I let it fall into the gutter and began rolling very quickly and without looking up. I kept my nose just above the top of the stone so that the room I had hidden us in would be as tiny as possible and I hear very clearly how all the cars stopped and were angry, but I drew a line between them and me and just went on rolling and rolling. You can close your mind to things if something is important enough. It works very well. You make yourself very small, shut your eyes tight and say a big word over and over again until you're save.
When I got to the tram-lines I felt tired, so I lay across the stone and held it tight. But the tram just rang and rang its bell so I had to start rolling again, but now I wasn't scared any longer, just angry and that felt much better. Anyway, the stone and I had such a tiny room for ourselves that it didn't matter a bit who shouted at us or what they shouted. We felt terribly strong. We had no trouble in getting onto the pavement again and we continued up the slope to Wharf Road, leaving behind us a narrow trail of silver. From time to time we stopped to rest together and then we went on again.
We came to the entrance of our house and got the door open. But then there were the stairs. You could manage by resting on your knees and taking a firm grip with both hands and waiting till you got your balance. Then you tightened your stomach and held your breath and pressed your wrists against your knees. Then quickly up and over the edge and you let your stomach go again and listened and waited, but the staircase was quite empty. And then the same thing all over again.
When the stairs narrowed and turned a corner, we had to move over to the wall side. We went on climbing slowly but no one came. Then I lay on top of the stone again and got my breath and looked at the silver, silver worth millions, and only four floors more and we would be there.
It happened when we got to the fourth floor. My hand slipped inside my mittens, I fell flat on my face and lay quite still and listened to the terrible noise of the stone falling. The noise got louder and louder, a noise like 'Crash, Crunch, Crack' all rolled into one, until the stone hit the Nieminens' door with a dull thud like doomsday.
It was the end of the world, and I covered my eyes with my mittens. Nothing happened. The echoes resounded up and down the stairs but nothing happened. No angry people opened their doors. Perhaps they we3re lying in wait inside.
I crept down on my hands and knees. Every step had a little semicircle bitten out of it. Further down they became big semicircles and the pieces lay everywhere and stared back at me. I rolled the stone away from the Nieminiens' door and started all over again. We climbed up steadily and without looking at the chipped steps. We got past the place where things had gone wrong and took a rest in front of the balcony door. It's a dark-brown door and has tiny square panes of glass.
Then I heard the outside door downstairs open and shut, and somebody coming up the stairs. he climbed up and up with very slow steps. I crept forward to the banisters and looked down. I could see right to the bottom, a long narrow rectangle closed in by the banisters all the way down, and up the banisters came a great big hand, round and round and nearer and nearer. There was a mark in the middle of it, so I knew it was the tattooed hand of the caretaker, who was probably on his way up to the attic.
I opened the door to the balcony as quietly as I could and began to roll the stone over the threshold. The threshold was high. I rolled without thinking. I was very scared and couldn't get a good grasp and the stone rolled into the chink of the door and got wedged there. There were some double doors with coiled iron springs at the top, which the caretaker had put there because women always forgot to shut the doors after them. I heard the springs contract and they sang softly to themselves as they squeezed me and the stone together between the doors and I put my legs together and took tight hold of the stone and tried to roll it but the space got narrower and narrower and I knew that the caretaker's hand was sliding up the banisters all the time.
I saw the silver of the stone quite close to my face and I gripped it and pushed and kicked with my legs and all of a sudden it tipped over and rolled several times and under the iron railing and into the air and disappeared.
Then I could see nothing but bits of fluff, light and airy as down, with small threads of colour here and there. I lay flat on my tummy and the door pinched my neck and everything was quiet until the stone reached the yard below. And there it exploded like a meteor; it covered the dustbins and the washing and all the steps and windows with silver! It made the whole of 4 Wharf Road look as if it was silver-plated and all the women ran to their windows thinking that war had broken out or doomsday had come! Every door opened and everybody ran up and down the stairs with the caretaker leading and saw how a wild animal had bitten bits out of every step and how a meteor had fallen out of a clear-blue sky.
But I lay squeezed in between the doors and said nothing. I didn't say anything afterwards, either. I never told anyone how close we had come to being rich.

Monday, March 12, 2007

extremely loud and incredibly close (jonathan safran foer)

To my unborn child: I haven't always been silent, I used to talk and talk and talk and talk, I couldn't keep my mouth shut, the silence overtook me like a cancer, it was one of my first meals in America, I tried to tell the waiter, "The way you just handed me that knife, that reminds me of -" but I couldn't finish the sentence, her name wouldn't come, I tried again, it wouldn't come, she was locked inside me, how strange, I thought, how frustrating, how pathetic, how sad, I took a pen from my pocket and wrote "Anna" on my napkin, it happened again only two days later, and then again the following day, she was the only thing I wanted to talk about, it kept happening, when I didn't have a pen, I'd write Anna in the air - backward and right to left - so that the person I was speaking with could see, and when I was on the phone I'd dial the numbers -2, 6, 6, 2 - so that the person could hear what I couldn't, myself, say. "And" was the next word I lost, probably because it was so close to her name, what a simple word to say, what a profound word to lose, I had to say "ampersand," which sounded ridiculous, but there it is, "I'd like a coffee ampersand something sweet," nobody would choose to be like that. "Want" was a word I lost early on, which is not to say that I stopped wanting things -I wanted things more - I just stopped being able to express the want, so instead I said "desire", "I desire two rolls," I would tell the baker, but that wasn't quite right, the meaning of my thoughts started to float away from me, like leaves that fall from a tree into a river, I was the tree, the world was the river. I lost "come" one afternoon with the dogs in the park, I lost "fine" as the barber turned me towards the mirror, I lost "shame" - the verb and the noun in the same moment, it was a shame. I lost "carry", I lost the things I carried - "daybook," "pencil," "pocket change," "wallet" - I even lost "loss." After a time, I had only a handful of words left, if someone did something nice for me, I would tell him, "The thing that comes before 'you're welcome,'" if I was hungry, I'd point at my stomach and say, "I am the opposite of full," I'd lost "yes," but I still had "no," so if someone asked me, "Are you Thomas?" I would answer, "Not no," but then I lost "no," I went to a tattoo parlor and had YES written onto the palm of my left hand, and NO onto my right palm, what can I say, it hasn't made life wonderful, it's made life possible, when I rub my hands against each other in the middle of winter I am warming myself with the friction of YES and NO, when I clap my hands I am showing my appreciation through the uniting and parting of YES and NO, I signify "book" by peeling open my clapped hands, every book, for me, is the balance of YES and NO, even this one, my last one, especially this one. Does it break my heart, of course, every moment of every day, into more and more pieces than my heart was made of, I never thought of myself as quiet, much less silent. I never thought about things at all, everything changed, the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn't the world, it wasn't the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, the cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don't know, but it's so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I've thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it. "I" was the last word I was able to speak out aloud, which is a terrible thing, but there it is, I would walk round the neighbourhood saying "I I I I." "You want a cup of coffee, Thomas?" "I." "And maybe something sweet?" "I." "How's about this weather?" "I." "You look upset. Is anything wrong?" I wanted to say, "Of course," I wanted to ask, "Is anything right?" I wanted to pull the thread, unravel the scarf of my silence and start again from the beginning, but instead I said, "I." I know I'm not alone in this disease, you hear the old people in the street and some of them are moaning, "Ay yay yay," but some of them are clinging to their last word, "I," they're saying, because they're desperate, it's not a complaint it's a prayer, and then I lost "I" and my silence was complete.

last words (joolz denby)

If I should die, think only this of me......

I didn't snuff it from an infected midge bite in some corner of a foreign field, but from having my lights punctured by a starving knifeman in Rio who spilt my claret for the sake of a pearlised silver plastic mugger trap wallet and a pair of gold sleepers from Ratners. Dead, dead, and only the cat ever called me Mother.
As my lily-draped catafalque sways down Leeds Road bearing its tragic burden, the air rent by the howling cries of the grieving throng, dwell momentarily on my sterling qualities: those shining attributes that stood me head and shoulders (literally) above the heaving, sweating melee of the common herd, that pustulant excrescence that we laughingly dub 'humanity'.... think of my all-encompassing guilt, my savage megalomania, the ready tears, the readier sarcasm, that whip-like tongue ever happy to lash the unfortunate and insufferable fool and last, but by no means least, the temper... ah! Remember its super nova flare, a bright flash searing all in its path then burning out in a millisecond leaving only a crumpled me sobbing over the ashy remains.
Yes, think of me, oh horseman riding by; rein up your malevolent, wall-eyed lump of equine devilmeat and cogitate upon this scarlet haired witch queen, this tattooed termagant, this five-year-old teddy bear with an attitude problem....
Remember me, the monster of my own creation, the phantom at the feast; the grey-eyed looker-on, soft, warm, cuddly with muscle and woman fat, fragrant with fresh sweat and expensive soap, snotty, tired and spotty, the farting, coughing hag grasping at the fleeing years with iron claws, no better and no worse than the worst and the best.
I had beautiful hands and feet. I breathed the air that you breathe now, you are breathing my last exhaled breath; I will never die because I will never be forgotten entirely.
I loved you with all the fierce and savage love of the unwanted child. I loved you as I stared in your lighted windows from the cold streets. I loved you and wrote about you with some skill and a great deal of passion. I drew your faces, wizened, beautiful, taut-skinned or fleshy. I died as you will, a testament to mortality..... and for the sake of my ghost, don't bury me in Bradford....