Charles Freeland


A Measure of Intrusive Memory

The contents of the envelope remain a secret because no one has looked inside it. Even those of us on the committee, those of us making  decisions because decisions have to be made, but there are no admirals in the building. Not to worry. An element of the made-up is expected in the telling of stories. So we will simply fall back on tradition even if it costs us our good names. And a dollar thirty eight in taxes. Sometimes where you wind up is determined not so much by where you began, but over which mountains you were required to proceed. These mountains might have been fairly young, in geological terms, and so decorated all over with sheer rock faces and un-scalable cliffs. With pine forests hanging on the rocks like toupees. And goats and other alpine creatures keeping a close eye out for intruders. This is why it’s usually best to attempt to parachute in, though the parachute itself can get tangled or torn in the packing of it beforehand, and that almost always results in something unpleasant occurring. When you read in the paper about someone who has been found by city workers on the banks of the river or on a flight of stairs, you wonder if maybe what you are reading is the same as what is actually out there. It’s possible we are misleading ourselves so as to postpone our own destruction. Because how else could you explain it? How else to make sense of our constant shuttling back and forth between houses? And lying half the night in a supine position just because it’s supposed to bolster our health? Really, we ought to be doing the opposite of what our instincts tell us. We ought to be throwing ourselves from the tops of the tallest trees, for instance, and seeing how far we might glide.



Where Language Suggests a Body and There is None

He throws the blanket over his shoulders and only then thinks to wonder where it might have come from. What might be hidden in its fibers. These are questions that occur the way insights materialize much too late for them to do him any good. After, for instance, she has begun her long-awaited vacation to Costa Rica. When she phones, her voice is tinny and far away. It reminds him of what she sounds like sometimes when he is dreaming and she refuses to be introduced into the actual body of the dream. She lingers at the periphery and comments upon it. She considers the jumps from one thing to another – the sudden transformation of pork rinds into locomotives, say  – much too logical. Her predictions come true even when she is fatigued and inclined to spend little time contemplating anything other than her own hands.
The tension in his lips starts to hurt, and he has never been good at hiding pain. He lets it bubble to the surface where it transforms itself into nervous tics and awkward expressions. They are all signs. Dead giveaways. And yet, she doesn’t jump on them immediately. She lets them simmer in a broth that, were she to make something similar  available to the people standing outside the department store windows, coveting and whispering to one another, recalling the terrible deprivations that have characterized their lives since childhood, she would become the great hero of the township. She might even have a building named after her. But only if the commission charged with such things has run out of names.





Planks with Holes in Them

She refuses to acknowledge any comment directed her way by strangers, friends of friends, detectives. Considers such rudeness a mark of good breeding. She writes about it in her journal, portions of which are published by the town’s literary club. This is an organization composed of people (no more than four or five) who like to get together every March in the middle school auditorium and have a festival, complete with guest readers and fried lake trout. And they never tire of congratulating themselves on having discovered undiscovered talent in the region the way you might bring earthworms to the surface not with a shovel, but by the time-honored method of sticking a piece of aluminum pipe in the soil and then hitting it with a hammer two or three hundred times. In response, he posts fliers on the light posts, draws attention to himself by tap dancing on a balcony overlooking the main thoroughfare. But she knows this is just a way to turn the tables yet again, to get her to implicate herself in three languages, when two would have been quite sufficient. It’s always like that – a going overboard. A feeling as if we ought to be doing more than what we’ve done thus far. A feeling that our lives are no more, really, than planks with holes in them. Gnawed out long ago by insects. Or put there on purpose by someone with an awl.




from Eucalyptus

The windows are made opaque by a process that has been described previously, so I won’t get into it. The author of that particular treatise warrants closer inspection, though, because he is a mythical figure in those parts of the world where they are chronically short on mythical figures. They unseat them almost as quickly as they’re made. And the citizens don’t so much wail for what it is they’re missing as cough a lot. As if respiratory ailments are directly attributable to the hole in the middle of the communal narrative. That hole almost always reminds me of an empty snail shell of the sort I find now more frequently in the backyard. The rain washes them off the trees and into the grass and they fill up with water and change colors because of the moisture, so that when I dry them, I am almost inevitably disappointed by what I’ve found. Eulalie suggests this says more about me than it does the shells; it says something about my inability to value that which doesn’t remain un-altered from morning until dusk, when we are all prone to suffering this same ailment. As a consequence, she tries to hide the slip of paper in her palm, but Immanuel knows immediately what this means and starts whistling and pointing and rolling his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. He makes such a racket, even I ask him to stop because there is something to be said for subtlety in discussing the conflicts of the heart. Besides, Immanuel’s eyesight seems to be going. Ever since he got into the habit of smoking hash with the woman who lives up the street. With the semi-emaciated frame and the startling green eyes. We wish sometimes to reverse the order of appearance, to resume where we left off when we weren’t aware that we had left off. When we still thought the seams were where we had touched them before. But such longing only leads to other, more concrete forms of longing, that themselves never manage to create even the illusion of consistency or satiety, of actually possessing what we lay our fingers on. Perhaps the yogis were right when they came through town on the lecture circuit and declared all lectures obsolete, all audiences full of the very people who ought to be speaking. Or maybe that too was just a ploy like the salesman’s feigning a history of heart trouble upon his first making your acquaintance. Or the child’s sudden, hysterical fear of caverns when there are no known caverns in the vicinity.     


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