Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Seven Lives of Blanka

The street scene décor looks wooden. A few niggling cries of inauthenticity ring out, blackening the air with contrarian glee. Cleanly varnished surfaces reflect the light, a setting fresh at the touch, objects chopped and chiselled at little remove from the present.

‘But nonetheless!’ chant the chorus.

And so the street opens up. Cars and pedestrians, shops and eateries, blue-hued skies and matt-finished roads. Homey and homeless gouge the street, earning third-person glances and deferred interest. Careerists zip past the elderly. Mothers living the infant frenzy stomp the pavement, nudging street soldiers – always bolting ahead, always late.

‘Enough of the general!’ chant the chorus.

The mid-street café – a colourless fragment of the terrace, anonymous to all non-locals – coolly eases through the day. A quiet hideaway, sufficiently close to the bustle to maintain one’s grasp on the social nexus. Sun shines but the out-front seating, straddling gum-encrusted pavement, stands primarily empty. Only one seat taken – one table in use. A body fills the space, sipping tea and tapping a nervous hand on a newspaper.

‘Why, it’s he! Our hero!’ chant the chorus.

The smell of burgers and vomit is perceptible, noise of the bus lane audible. A couple stroll past walking a dog they named Hegel. Motor fumes course through the air. A woman madly bemoans “all that there NASA shit” to a silent telephone interlocutor. A toddler trips, suited men run for the bus, a kebab merchant discards his junk mail.

Green is reflected off the table steel as Blanka lowers his cup. Fatigue shows upon his eyes – fatigue or age? Frenetic happenings unravel behind him, a patchwork blur of technicolour ebb and flow. Little distracted by the environment, long-accustomed to the droning daytime, Blanka looks piercingly at the table. Someone has scribbled the word ‘Yeltsin’ on it.

Who be damned – where and why?’ chant the chorus.

Jutting out from below the newspaper is the cherished item of Blanka’s rumination: the latest draft of his memoirs – the myriad sheets of white, lathered in words and drenched in history’s reckoning advances, that have preoccupied his life these past months. He sighs, scratching a lump on his arm, dark green ever darkening. The newspaper he pushes to the other side of the table. The papers are revealed, bundled together in a rush. Blanka twists his neck away, yawning in tormented tiredness. Irksome tasks to do and their terrible completion rage behind his eyes.

‘Pay distraction no heed!’ chant the chorus.

Throwing no look to a nearby cyclist as she reproaches a van driver, Blanka lifts the pages and begins to sift through them. Every numbing memory of the writing process assails him, from the cutting of cherished passages, ones that took days to assemble, to hours lost through needless meditation on whether the word beatdown ought to be hyphenated. Fingers flick through the stack, eyes catching on headings. A nod intermittently ruptures the stillness of the air. A pen emerges from a shirt pocket, moving in rhythm to a baritone splutter gurgling its way up Blanka’s throat. Cough now free, the critical scribbling commences.

‘Soundless reading take flight!’ chant the chorus.

Chapter 6: The failed playwright

…I did not have the sense to start at the bottom. Things would have gone better that way, I am sure of it. A year or two making props, time arranging rehearsals, maybe a tour as Shylock – all would have been good preparation. But by that time my ego was too large. I demanded instant recognition. I could not wait for theatrical fame. And so I called myself Playwright and began to write…

…Some called Piss Piss, Mother Gods crass. Many reviewers tore it apart, writing at length about the unpleasant feeling it engendered in them. I was appalled. I did not expect such a backlash. I knew it was provocative; I was not naïve. But I believe it was misjudged. What they saw as misogynistic trash, I saw as a challenging metonymic critique of society. The scene in which Hank and Vera’s marriage is on the rocks is a perfect example. They argue over having children: Hank wanting them, Vera not wanting them. Tempers flare and voices are raised. After a minute of furious argument, Hank goes to retreat, but teary eyed Vera continues to harangue him. Hank turns back and shouts, “I will beat off in my hand and slap it in your fanny if you don’t shut up!” One reviewer centred his entire review around this scene, listing everything he saw wrong with it. Sometimes it confuses me. But I just assume they are ignorant…

Recollection of a dream spent talking to an ocelot returns to Blanka. Reading ceases as an intake of breath lightens the mood. Cheap ink stains his fingers, orphan biro lines running over his knuckles. Sputum interrupts his breath, a wad of opalescent gunk in ascension – now dislodged. The dreams involving the ocelot stopped a few months ago. Those twilight terrors ravaged Blanka’s sanity for years, hindering every new career, every new relationship. But now they appear absent, silent and invisible, enabling the byways of harmless slumber to be trod sans agony. Untouched anodyne sleep and myriad mind freedoms were the catalysts for the memoir, encouraging Blanka to finally chronicle his eventful life – now allowing him to do it.

‘Enter readerly delectation!’ chant the chorus.

Chapter 9: The fallen scholar

…I never knew him well. My cohorts spoke about him a lot. He was always held in high esteem. I considered it hyperbole. Our casual conversations never implied genius. We would exchange pleasantries on the odd occasion, that is it. He seemed to know much about the weather, but so did I. Then one day he comes up to me with a book. It was Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida. He insisted I read it, guaranteeing the enrichment of my mind. I said I would take a look. He ended by inviting me to a seminar he was organising. Yes, E. Honda was a Deconstructionist. I could not have guessed it. Appearances are deceptive. Who would see a philosophical mind in a man who hand slaps cars into scrap metal? His flying headbutt was using his head, but a head certifiably Derridean? After the shock subsided a new inspiration took hold…

…I had been teaching the dynamic of différance for three months. I thought I was doing well. A list of my career goals was pinned to the wall of my shared office. I would not forget them. My energies were focused, perhaps for the first time ever. Yet all was not to be. Complaints started to come in, mainly from angry parents. I had been illustrating the play of signifiers, the core of différance. I did this by throwing students at each another. Accusations of physical abuse grew in number and I was sacked. I thought it was a great way to show how signifiers jostle in a constant movement of deference. I do not understand the controversy. I threw the students with the lowest essay marks first…

Bone joints click as Blanka leans back in his seat. A fly pretending to be a wasp flies by. Lines of disenchanted workers roam across the backlit horizon. More coughing. Breathing only has further obstacles to surmount; it edges closer to the terminal spot. Some identifier will be there: the letter X, a skull, a picture of Guile winking, something to let us know. Blanka plays indifference but even he feels the hollow rush of mortality. A local tobacconist walks past, a copy of Minima Moralia protruding from his bag of groceries.

‘The else must have legs!’ chant the chorus.

Eyes glide over hasty records of a past lived quickly. Excursions into carpentry, yachting, rolling full stops for authors too famous to roll their own – the printed word slices easily through time. Notable understatement of the glories derived from Street Fighter, feelings of guilt at a fame bought cheaply. Hurried passages segue into elaborate exegeses on declined career paths. A sigh hovers over the mishmash of first book problems: lack of cohesion, unevenness, indelicate use of punctuation. But the yawns multiply with firm resolve, unable to be stifled by the calling of late authoring prowess. Blanka is buoyed by a desired success, but a success uncertain. He takes a tapering journey on words chipped away from the lived and the experienced, stolen from a monopoly of the past tense, crammed into paper repositories in the hope of beating Time’s advance. Another cough, this time wet and wholly penultimate. A page is turned, flipped by creaky fingers. There’s no more, only table steel. And the final sheet slides away finished.

‘The else has no legs...’ chant the chorus.


Blogger Mary K. Williams said...

You have the coolest take on things Aaron. Reminds me a bit of Garrison Keillor.

5:19 am  

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