He hurries to the van. Inside, a man with a cleft lip sits waiting for him. These two men hate each other. They have forgotten why. It is only natural, they feel, to detest the man you have to drive about with all day.
“Were you in there long?”
“And was she there?”
“She appeared to be.”
“Did you hurt her?”
“And were you at all successful?”
“She began to speak.”
“I said ‘she began to speak.’”
“I think so, yes.”
“And did you hurt her very badly?”
“I think so.”
“And the sack?”
“It was over her head.”
“Yes. But did you see her?”
“All red, splotchy.”
“And the sack?”
“Warm. Not dry.”
“Just the mouth and eyes.”
“And the others?”
“Did they speak?”
“All of them.”
“At the table.”
“Did they agree?”
“I told them to please not speak about the splotches.”
“Screamed at me. With her voice. I was not to have said anything.”
“And did you hurt her very badly?”
“And the splotches?”
“Did he mind?”
“He didn’t say. He seemed to.”
The man with the cleft lip starts the van. He turns towards the man dressed just like him and grimaces. Finally, the man with the cleft lip accelerates the van, and the two men are off.
Lump has many friends, all of whom he tries desperately to avoid. They too do everything in their power to avoid him. Occasionally, though, they will encounter one another. When this happens Lump always pretends to sneeze and the friend always pretends that she isn’t the type of person that says bless you when someone else sneezes. Thus they never say a thing to one another.
Once, Lump lost a shoe. This didn’t bother him much, and he went out and bought a new one. If Lump were offered a grapefruit, he would refuse it.
Lump very much enjoys shaking. He is not often in the presence of others, however, so he doesn’t get many opportunities to shake. Sometimes, though, just thinking about others will make him shake. He enjoys these moments.
When Lump was four years old, something significant happened to him. Since then, not much has happened to him.
Lump is tired of us talking about him. So we will stop.
For a fortnight now I have been sitting inside of this room looking through all the things I once left behind. In this time I have come across a number of curious relics, though none of them are curious enough, I am afraid, to warrant mention here.
She had returned. This worried him, for he knew that she would want to speak with him. He shut his door and hid in his room. Eventually, though, she’d knock. He didn’t know what he’d do then. Probably answer it.
Having only just lost her writing hand, Carole Lombard sat about thinking about how she might in the future compose her letters. Unable to think of anything on her own, she calls in her old pal William Powell. Her old pal Powell, however, proves incapable of coming up with an idea either. The two film stars sit about sullenly, not knowing quite what to do. Then a tall man enters the room. His name is Vincent Price. He walks to the fireplace and takes down the hunting rifle that is propped up above it. Pointing it at William Powell, both men begin to laugh. Then, in an act of utter caprice, Price shoots Powell through the head. This, naturally, kills the man. Carole is a bit stunned, but only a bit. She says, “That wasn’t very kind of you, you big brute,” and then laughs. Price laughs too. “Don’t know what came over me, Lumby,” he says. Then he takes the gun up again and points it at Carole. “Lumby,” he begins, “I know what it’s like to lose a hand.” Carole looks lazily at Price. “I know.” Then, in another act of utter caprice, Price shoots Lombard through the head. He then sets the gun down and walks over to the coffee table. He begins composing a letter. His letter reads: no more letters - vp. He exits the room, and so too do we.
Conrad Lung built shelves. His friend, James (surname unknown), wrote poetry. One of his poems, “Ode to a Builder,” sounded to Conrad as if it had been written for him, but in fact had not been. James never wrote his poetry for anyone, just as he never wrote his poems about anything. Reading through this ode, one cannot possibly hope to discern what it is Conrad thought he had discerned in the thing to suggest that it had been written for him. If the ode can be said to have any subjects at all, they are (in no particular order): a celery stalk, three unopened cans of hotdog chili, one sock (of unknown color and material), a small herd of widows, and a faint murmur. Conrad, or any builder, for that matter, most certainly does not enter into this poem.
James, like most people, has more than one friend. For instance, he is a friend of Carlyle Hip, a woman of no great mind or body but who, it must be admitted, is tolerable enough company. She owns a small factory that she has never visited, and she will only eat food that she can swallow without chewing. She doesn’t recall how she met James, but both recall having felt an immediate something for the other. The something they both felt, like the meeting, cannot be recalled either.
Conrad has never met Carlyle, but James is sure they would get along. Or, rather, James would be sure of this were he to ever think of the two of them meeting, which he hasn’t. So to say James is sure of such a thing is somewhat misleading. Let us instead say this: I am sure that James is sure they would get along were James to ever think of the two of them meeting.
Carlyle has a servant named Jip. Jip had a daughter named Loop. Loop once saw Conrad building something, and she immediately fell in love with him. Two days later she was struck with a severe fever, and six days later she was dead. Neither Carlyle nor Jip could make the funeral, and Conrad had no idea who Loop was, so it was an unattended event.
One of James’s poems is called “On a Dull Lip.” Of all his poems, this poem comes closest to having been written for someone. When James was writing it, he was thinking of an old schoolmate of his named Donald Dull. Donald Dull had grown a moustache at a remarkably young age, and this had always distinguished him in James’s mind. This poem then, though not dealing directly with Donald Dull, was in some small way indebted to him.
Conrad Lung preferred eating lunch alone. One day James phoned Conrad just before he was about to sit down to his lunch and invited him over for a sandwich. Conrad hated sandwiches, so made a sort of spitting sound into the phone. James hung up, disgusted, and did not take any lunch at all that day. Conrad was able to put his down in perfect solitude.
It is only natural for a mother to dislike her daughter’s murderer, thus Jip very much resented Conrad. She went to Carlyle one morning and asked, “Who is Conrad?”
“Never heard of him.”
“But I’ve often heard James speak of him.”
“I doubt that”
And that was the end of their exchange.
The man who lives across the street from Conrad’s shop is named Herman Mulch. He has watched Conrad at work many times, though this has never induced either love or fever. Mulch is a dull man, not the sort one includes in stories. But in order to create some sort of contrast, I suppose, it is acceptable to grant him entry here.
It is supposed that, in the future, Conrad and James will have a bitter falling out, Carlyle will fire Jip, and Mulch will perish, like Loop, in virtual anonymity. Though none of that, of course, is at all certain.
He had been sitting. What prompted this decision is unknown. Many people have weighed in on the issue, but a consensus has not yet been reached. We will keep you posted if any more details on the matter surface.
One man I know likes very much to play his piano. He inherited the machine from an aunt – a woman I never knew but whom he describes as bitter and cruel – and he plays it in her honor every morning. Of all the various qualities in the world, cruelty and bitterness, according to this man, are the only two that have ever inspired anything at all musical (or, for that matter, anything at all of any value). Those things he considers of any value being: music (all), novels (some), paintings (all), bridges (all), poems (few), and movies (none). His tastes are not exactly in line with mine, but in general we agree on such things. My list would run something like this: music (none), novels (few), paintings (some), bridges (none), poems (none), and movies (some). Our lists, or rather the lists of things we value, betray certain things about both of us, no doubt, though I cannot say for certain what these certain things may be. In any case, the man I know who plays the piano thinks that all things of any value are a result of either bitterness or cruelty. I would not be so prejudicial. Other qualities, too, precipitate things of value. Discomfort, for instance, is often a wellspring of valuable things, as is shame. Shame may in fact be the true wellspring of all these things. But that may be going too far, and this is not the place for a conversation such as this. I am not interested in the origins of things, and particularly not in speculations regarding origins, but I am interested in the man I know who plays the piano. He inherited the thing from a bitter, cruel aunt, and he plays it very nearly all the time. As a result, he believes all things of value to be descended from cruelty and bitterness, which I suppose is understandable, or if not understandable, then at least excusable, which is as much as any of us can ask for: that we be perceived as, if not entirely understandable, at least excusable, though I’m afraid this is only very rarely the case.
A young man approached me recently and told me this: that his friend had, more or less, betrayed him. Not knowing his friend or the circumstances surrounding this (more or less) betrayal, I had very little advice to give this young man. I am not certain, however, that he was actually seeking my advice. I think it is more probable, in fact, that he merely wanted to tell someone, myself, for instance, that his friend had, more or less, betrayed him. I do not feel at all privileged to have been the someone that he chose, but I must admit that I was somewhat flattered.
In order to drag this out a bit, I will mention that the man was dragging a long stick along the ground as he walked down the street. I will also mention that this man, Conroy Lipstill, has never before been the hero of a story. Neither of these facts should be of much inherent interest but, since you’re here, I thought I’d mention them. The rest of the story, though, I’d prefer you provide yourself, for I myself have lost all interest in Conroy Lipstill.
Then, bored with his own thoughts, he began staring at a woman across the room. She had short hair and wore a long dress. He thought:
I think I’ve thought of her before.
A man approached him. He wasn’t wearing a hat, so his head was gleaming. The man smiled, then asked him:
Do you really think so?
He had no idea how to respond to this. He thought for a moment, then said:
The bald man seemed to accept this response, so left him alone.
Now he stood thinking such things as:
I shouldn’t have said that.
There’s a pebble on the floor.
An odd look, that.
Be still, be still.
He began whispering this last thought aloud. Something was moving that he’d rather have remained still. It kept moving, however, and he nearly began to scream: Be still! Be still! He didn’t scream this, though. He merely stood there, occasionally thinking a thought, occasionally speaking, occasionally mutely staring on, but really not doing much more than this. Finally he went home.
There were twelve types of sewers in this city. Each neighbor knew what sort the other neighbors had. There were arguments over the different sorts of sewers. For instance, over which one was the finest sort.
Julip Jules grew up in this city. When she was an old woman she reflected upon her childhood there. This is a common thing to do in old age.
There are no streets in this city. People walk everywhere, and they walk over everything. The people are not tall though, if that’s what you’re thinking, even though it most likely isn’t.
Congested. My chest is congested. This was the complaint Doctor Jules came to Madame Julip with. She cured him of it, somehow.
Amongst tall sorts of people certain subjects are discussed. Those subjects are not discussed here, obviously.
Inside of the barn (there is a barn in this city too) a row of eggs is placed atop a loft. Nobody can see it from the ground, so nobody knows about this row of eggs but us. Last spring two birds flew over the city and, like the eggs, not a single person saw either one. The birds, for their part, did not mind, but if the people were informed of their oversight, they would no doubt mind.
A forest exists just outside the city.
Inside of an ice tray that is inside of the city sit tiny red cubes of frozen cranberry juice. If anyone knew about them they would demand to try one. But nobody knows about them, so nobody longs for them.
Regrets are discussed between the city’s pastor and his wife, aged 96, looking less old than that but feeling older, criminal but not mean, dirty but not quiet, solemn but not grinning, a chord in a long string of chords, done up to be done up, gotten for the price of a lemon, two chords, each taut, relying on a self-made man in a manmade stand, looking aghast, smelling, always thinking with toes and chins, never feeling quite right, lurking, sniffing, hurting, healing, thinking again of a smell, forgetting, thinking again of a job, a place anyway, or a curtsy, a gentleman, taller than you but not tall, just taller than you, unless you’re particularly tall, in which case, &c.
A moviehouse inside of this city sells beans and turquoise. People eat both, but they shouldn’t. People ought really to know better.
In a span of I don’t know how long an earlier era is recalled, revered, forgotten, and then recalled again. A span. People call all sorts of things time. But none of them know a thing about a time. Not one thing. Or another. Or just that. Time. Or not.
And for fish they chirp. Chirp says Jules Julip. Chirp chirp. And inside of her mouth, only moments later, sits a fat walleye. A fat two-tooth-walleye. Straight off the wall. Straight from a sling to a crow. A manager of sorts. This walleye. He keeps his two teeth busy at all times. He reads with them, swallows, even jerks off with his two teeth. A two-tooth-walleye is a good friend to have, don’t I know.
Fish then are in this city. Turquoise and pearls and canned beets. Beets are best bland. Otherwise they turn green and make your teeth feel cold. Chilled rather. Or stewed. Green beets stew your teeth. And inside of this? Of your teeth? Or chilled beets? Sits a toad. A leper. A forgotten something that might, upon reflection, sit upright. I looked once. But forgot.
In a city somewhere else. But then we wouldn’t have time. So instead there are things to be said for this city. Or place. There are always things to be said for things. Like goats. A man could say a great many things about a goat. But not everything. For instance you could not say that a goat was a bull. And for that matter you couldn’t say that riding a bull is similar to eating a straw. You just couldn’t.
He held a small string in his hand. Attached to the string was a pitiful purple balloon. Having lost whatever helium it had once contained, it dangled down near the ground. The man stood staring at it, but he wasn’t thinking about it. He was thinking of a woman he had once known. She had won some slight acclaim lately, and this had greatly upset him. He is probably going to stand like this for some time, thinking all the while of the woman he once knew and the slight acclaim she only recently received.
Instead of stepping over the string, Clump tripped. Now he is on the ground, smiling. A woman approaches him. “Why are you smiling?” she asks. He looks at her but does not respond. “Oh,” she says, “I see.” And she says this with sincerity. “Well see you then,” she says. And Clump just keeps smiling up at her as she begins to walk away.
The small caravan came to a stop. They had been traveling for days. The leader of the caravan, a small man with a dearth of teeth, had stopped them. He climbed up to the top of his small vehicle and looked out over all the others. Opening his mouth, it looked for a moment as if he were about to speak. He didn’t say anything, however, and quickly shut his mouth. He climbed down from atop his vehicle and got back inside of it. The caravan started slowly back up.
Pinch was practically a genius, or so certain people said. They would approach him and whisper, “Hey Pinch, Pinch, you’re practically a genius.” Pinch would look at them and say, “Yes, I know, you and certain others have told me so.” Pinch played his role very well.