Sunday, August 28, 2016

Unpublishable 2: Lothar's Head (15+ Submissions)

It sat looking up at us with an air of surprised disappointment: blue eyes wide, slightly parted lips, tousled blonde curls.
“Oh,” said the princess.
“Oh?” I repeated.
One of the ladies-in-waiting sniggered. The princess glared at her.
“You asked for Lothar’s head, your Highness,” I said.
“Well, yes,” said the princess. “I suppose I did.”
“And here it is.”
“It certainly is,” said the princess.
The lady-in-waiting sniggered again.
“Miranda!” hissed the princess. “Shut up!”
 “So,” I cleared my throat.
“It’s just that…,” the princess trailed off.
“It’s just that what, your highness?” I said a little too loudly.
“I was kidding,” said the princess.
“You were kidding?”
“Well,” she said. “We’d just smoked that doobie, remember? And I was a little high.”
“It took over a year, your Highness,” I said, “just to cross the Mountains of the Moon.”
“Was it really very hard?” she asked.
“And when we got to the other side my men deserted me for harpies and succubi, my horse died of thirst in the Great Salt Flats, I had to eat my dogs, and I was ensorceled by a witch of the Hungry Forest into thinking I was a rutting boar. I spent three months rooting for mushrooms in the hot sun and the freezing rain.”
“It’s just that…,” began the princess and I interrupted her.
“Three months,” I said. “Naked. In the sun and the rain.”
“When you asked what you needed to do,” began the princess. “When you asked how you could win my hand, you seemed so sweet and vulnerable.”
I said nothing.
“Well, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings, but really,” she said. “I am a princess.”
“But you said…”
“I chose something impossible,” she said. “Something really, really hard that no one in their right mind would attempt. I was trying to let you down easy. I was trying to say no without saying no.”
“But it was not impossible,” I brushed a lock of golden hair out of Lothar’s eyes.
“I see that now,” she continued. “But I was trying to be ironic.”
“Yes,” said the princess and put her hand on mine. “Irony is when you say something for rhetorical effect which you don’t actually mean.”
“I know what irony means,” I said.
“I’m not sure you do,” the princess sighed.
I blinked away some tears.
“I just felt so awkward and sad,” said the princess. “We were having so much fun and then you went and asked about marriage and instead of two people simply enjoying each other’s company it was suddenly all about me being royalty and you a commoner.”
“I’m a knight, your highness,” I said.
“But that’s not the point,” she removed her hand from mine.
“What is the point?”
“The point is I’m very sorry if I misled you about my intentions.”
I felt my throat tightening.
She reached out and brushed my cheek with the back of her hand. The ladies-in-waiting all pretended to look away.
“It really is a very beautiful head,” said the princess.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Unpublishable 1: Hackney (25+ submissions)

Emma was distressed because God had been by that afternoon and killed all the fairies.
“Well,” Charles said, “they were rather a nuisance.”
“What they were,” replied Emma, “was beautiful.”
“Always flying into the windows,” Charles was reading the Times, “and getting into the sugar and the tobacco and the good sherry. And such terrible language whenever one suggested they might restrict themselves to the garden.”
“It was an awful surprise,” Emma said. “I looked up from cutting some azaleas for the dinner table and there he was. He nearly blinded me, hovering like a miniature sun over the hydrangea, so burnished and brassy and naked.”
Charles frowned.
“The fairies all came rushing out to see him,” Emma continued. “Thousands of them!”
Charles raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, thousands!” she said.
“Really, Emma, a garden such as ours can barely support a dozen of the things.”
“Then they must have come from all the other gardens in the neighborhood as well, Charles, because there really were thousands.”
“What happened next?” Charles returned to the paper.
“They perambulated about him as they do, in a lovely, glittering cascade of ruby and emerald and sapphire, singing their sweet hymns, glorifying his name, and then he said: “Enough!””
““Enough?”” asked Charles.
“Yes,” said Emma and she remembered being a child and watching the men from Grandfather’s cotton mill fishing a suicide from the canal, and she thought of the cheerful sewing room upstairs that had once been a nursery, and noticed how thin and white the skin on Charles’s hands was, how tightly it was drawn over the gnarled blue of his veins, and she could hear again the fairies singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!”  
“He said: “Enough!”” she repeated. “And they all fluttered down to the lawn and were dead.”
Charles folded up the paper and laid it on the table beside the vase with the cut flowers.
“Then he looked at me and said: “All a mistake,”” Emma began to cry.
“Oh, darling,” said Charles and came over to hold her. “It was just the garden fairies; there will be more coming along soon enough. Like after the killing frost, remember? Poor little beggars. In a few years they were back, weren’t they? In even greater numbers, and they’ll be back this time too.”
“I don’t think so, Charles,” sobbed Emma. “I think he killed them all: all over the world, in every garden, every meadow, every wood, and every forest. I think he killed them all.”
“But why would he do such a thing?” asked Charles.
“Why does he do anything?” wailed Emma: “Because he’s a beast!”
“Hush,” said Charles and stroked her hair. “We don’t want him to hear you, do we?”
“Oh, he’s long gone,” sniffed Emma. “He rose up into the air and flew south towards Hackney.”
“Towards Hackney?” Charles glanced out into the garden and cleared his throat. “Where are they now? The fairies?”
“I had Martins rake them up and throw them on the fire.”
“A mistake, he said?”
“Yes,” said Emma. “He rubbed his forehead and sighed and said it was all a mistake and then off he flew.”
“Towards Hackney?”
“Yes,” said Emma and took a deep breath. “But enough of my silly hysterics, Charles, how was your day? How was the City? Did you see anyone interesting at the club?”
“Not so interesting as God,” laughed Charles. “But I did bump into your cousin Roderick.”
“Oh!” said Emma. “Lovely! And how is dear Ricky?”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle at the same time as I’ve been reading Mary Norton’s The Borrowers to my daughter and struck by a handful of similarities: both set in houses outside the village; both quirky (revisionist?) haunting stories; both saturated with nostalgia for a pre-war world of fixed class relations; private or interior space as female and safe/public or exterior as male and dangerous (etcetera etcetera) with a girl who moves between; nature as a sanctuary or site for reconstructing social relations; the same domestic nucleus: aging male-maternal female-juvenile female; a younger, seductive, threatening male figure who disrupts routine and challenges property rights; much more I’m sure. But what most interests me is that they share an intense, obsessive thinginess. In The Borrowers it is most obvious, the constant scavenging and repurposing of manufactured objects is the conceptual kernel of the whole project after all, remove the plot and it would be a list of correspondences: acorn caps-cups, postage stamps-portraits, cog wheels-fire places. It is a fun game as far as it goes but there is sometimes something a little stifling about it; about replicating in miniature the unimaginable wealth of powerful property holders. No wonder Arriety wants to break free of it and flee into the wilds. Contrast the cheerfully banal bricolage of The Borrowers with the hallucinatory reinvention of objects by Merricat in Castle: books and watches hanging from trees, silver dollars buried in fields, the father's bedroom as shrine, the ritual management of the household and ascetic doling out of intense material pleasure – if ever a story was written for a Deleuzean schizoanalysis this is it. What offends the intrusive cousin so much is the strange repurposing of wealth, it is hidden away not for safekeeping but to keep the sisters safe. Norton reduces objects to functionality, to abstract purposes, to amusing equivalences; Jackson inflates them beyond all recognition, imbuing them with a frightening power, they are no longer things we possess but horrifying forces which possess us -- made me think of Van Gogh's chairs, are they even still chairs?

Anyways, there is something in all of this that recalls Marx and commodity fetishism (“In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands.”), but really, I’ve got better things to do than pursue such ghosts.