Serialized Short Story, Part 1: “Loose leaves fell together and scattered apart.”

Autumn fell into winter alongside the leaves, each shaken from their limbs, of time and trees, by a seasonable urgency few in these parts could recall. Winds that had upturned collars and hiked skirts outside shops soon broke branches in the park as a bully might twiggy arms. A pop overhead, and you had time to run for cover; a crack, but a moment to curse. Earth and leaf chased each other in circles, until they mounded in exhausted heaps along walls and fences. Office windows shut fast rattled erratically in their frames, sounding unscored compositions unfit for dance. But the city, from top to toe, it swayed; and the homes, they moaned and creaked, like a honeymoon suite.

The wind had the effect of making a jumble of things. Sixes toppled into nines, nines resigned to sixes, zeroes always the same. Addresses were renumbered or reduced to Cyrillic-seeming gibberish. What to do when numbers fail us? When jotted notes don’t match the present, scribbled memorials become inscrutable memories? Because we write these things down for a reason, and this reason is thought to survive the breath of thought more readily than it does the gusts of a gale. The page, though, turns out to be of sturdier stuff than we often imagine. It endures even when its sense is that of scattered letters, such as those blown from a desk to the floor: correspondence wind-swept and signed into the address of characters.

A wind-blown breathy sigh through the open window had toppled the totemic stack of papers. Its collapse as hushed as a secret kept, sudden as one told. Loose leaves fell together and scattered apart. Paragraphs were torn: their topics decapitated, bodies chopped, conclusions either too soon or never at all. So many page ones exiled from twos, now strangers unrecognizable to threes, and fours neighborly to them all. Editorial arrows without their tips or quivers. Handwritten, tonguey loops lapped up the blanks below and licked down everything above, bent forward, suffering legibility like a mule its load but unable to bear a breeze, the letters spread across the floor like languages at the razed foot of Babel. The infidelity of salutations unsigned, Dears divorced of Sincerely, and promiscuous signatures, Yours, without addresses. The tower, when felled by the wind, crashed, mixing meanings like metaphors. “I want you” . . . to do what? The page underneath, now a different letter entirely, offered no clue. It spoke the same language but with a foreign tongue. This is how simple requests became amorous declarations. The characters of this correspondence, sensibly in extremis, contextually exhausted, collapsed. What sense could be made of this mess?

* * *

Dearest Ramsey,

It’s complex, isn’t it? Because one shares work, as I do with you in these letters, out of a desire for self-assertion, rather than the dull simplicity of affirmation. Desires like this are ungainly, and spill over what we imagined for ourselves (or others of us), and often are as much an impediment as they are prize. There is perhaps a time & a place for either, though it would be unwise to anticipate where & when. Better, in this case, inept than assassin, lest the self-indulgence that maintains us turns into the self-consumption that ends . . .

* * *

anx·i·ety

noun \aŋ-ˈzī-ə-tē\

Origin: 1515–25;  < Latin anxietās,  equivalent to anxi ( us ) anxious + -etās,  variant of -itās  before a vowel

1.    a : painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill b : fearful concern or interest

2.    feeling as though one is standing in a strong ocean current — being pulled in a direction one, either for reasons of perceived personal safety or the vagaries of personal taste, does not wish to go; whereupon, at times like this, every sensation is heightened — or, more accurately, one’s awareness of every sensation is heightened, to the point one will sit in a cafe and hear everything — every laugh an imposition & hiss of machines an assault; or one might lie in bed and become hyper-aware of even the touch of bedlinen — at times like this, focusing on the breathing of the dog is strangely soothing; all this ofttimes less a matter of feeling guilty for not have done something (at all or enough), but more simply of feeling out of place — perhaps even one of not having (& subsequently failing to live up to the demands of) a “something to do” regarded as proper to one’s aspired-to social standing; in any event, guilty or not, a psychic phenomenon that will bend and squeeze itself into all existing cracks of consciousness, widening them into vulgar existential chasms — a mockery of consciousness, of that previously noble intent to “know thyself”; though not so much because she doesn’t like what she finds, but because what she finds has been spending its time looking for her; unseemly solipsistic like that, this tottering into the current, wavering like a drunk, suspecting that if she could just “go with the flow,” wherever it went, it might take her to the immediacy of others; thus posing one with at once a choice & a consolation — at least it’s not night terrors.

* * *

It’s all a kind of butchery, this investment in a language composed of words and grammar, in all their beautiful and awful savagery, but not confined by them. There is an experience of language itself that is possible within language use—and this experience, if it does not wholly defy our words and grammar it is always something, somehow, slightly, grotesquely, more. Something more within the something confined, if we can think of such. I was told today Carl Jung once said: “Loneliness does not come from having people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself.” You once said something along these lines about sex. But, oh, there is, there has to be, I think, something being said in those groans. More than adequate their inadequacy.

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