I don’t see why all this fuss is necessary, the holes in the walls, the drilling. The drilling! Nobody thinks about the pain this is causing. All day long drill and pull, drill and pull, cutting plaster, putting holes in my home. The only benefit is the light coming through the plate glass, the beams of sun shining on me.
Copper can only be properly appreciated in sunlight. Gold—who cares about gold! It’s soft and ornamental, but of what use is it? Copper is beautiful and its uses are beyond count. That made me nervous when I was young. Thieves love to steal copper. But that is not my anxiety now.
I am watching the giant hands approaching my home, tearing out wires to the left and wires to the right. What is wrong with them? Don’t they appreciate our steadfast work, our hum day and night? The burn and tickle of electricity has been my life, our lives, what will happen to me if they tear me out? Sold, even melted and re-formed into who knows what.
There are two pairs of hands, one smaller, and the voice that accompanies those hands is higher, I can just about hear the words. The other voice, with the hairy big hands, is too deep for me to understand. But what they say won’t change what they do, and I can well anticipate the tearing from the roots, the cutting of the branch, that is likely to be my fate. There are people on the other side of my home, in the cavernous vacancy. I don’t know how they can bear the expanse of space. No pipes. No plaster. No snug companions intertwined and connecting, hearing the bubble of water so close.
They just pulled out Aluminum. The smaller handed one said he’s burned at the tip. Of course he’s burned, he has done his service, and this is his reward. Discarded. As if he is ugly. I admit he’s not as handsome as Copper, but even so he shines, he carries, he does his work. He can’t even cry out as they take him away. Without electricity, we can’t communicate at all. We are dry, we are flat, we are dark. They may as well take me now.
What’s this? Something else is being threaded through the wall. I can’t see what it is at all, shrouded in some kind of white stuff. The big hands are threading it through, the smaller hands reaching for me. I am pulled, I am yanked, I am cut from my home, and tossed, as if I am nothing, onto the pile. Aluminum and Copper, together as we die.
Exercise 8: POV of an object in your house
This is my favourite way to spend a warm spring morning: lying naked in the hammock tied to the pair of maple trees, which were planted, fortuitously, exactly hammock distance apart by the previous owners of my house. They weren’t the ones that built the privacy fence. That was my addition, for obvious reasons. There is nothing like a spring sky when the air feels summer warm, as it does sometimes in Toronto, before air conditioning smudges the sky. In spring, a warm day is a gift, the memory of winter, especially this winter of the polar vortex, still fresh. I love the sun on my skin, I crave it, and indulge it on perfect days like this.
The hammock swung gently, I watched a fluffy white cloud and didn’t even imagine what the shape resembled because that would be too much effort. I didn’t have my Iphone plugged into my ears. All I heard was the gentle wind in the trees and the waterfall of cars beyond my privacy fence.
My eyes opened and closed, I drifted in and out of sleep, and had a pleasant dream about my boyfriend. The sparkling green shapes were moving leaves in the sun. Or so I thought until one of them spoke.
“What yer doing there all naked like that, lovely? Don’t you know it revs up the boys?”
I fell out of the hammock. The ground did not feel nice on my naked skin. I grabbed the first thing that came to hand, a sweatshirt left in the yard last night, and tried to cover up my chest and groin at the same time by crouching with knees to chest, the sweatshirt gripped between. “What? Who?”
The green thing settled down on the edge of the hammock and peered over the side at me. It? She? Had a wrinkled face. No pointed ears. They were round and fluted like a cabbage leaf, ovesized for the face. Which also had eyes, a nose, and mouth. She was not a human in miniature. The eyes were bulged and fishy, the nose was flat and barely raised, the mouth had sharp teeth both upper and lower. Her lips were red, from blood? Those teeth did not bespeak a grass eater. “I’m not gonna bite,” she said. Was she—were they, whatever they were—mind readers? “I’m not a mind reader. It’s every human’s reaction to us. You’d think they weren’t the bloody big hunkers, and us tiny people. Humans are timid.”
“What do you want?” I asked.
“Do you repeat everything a body says? I want lemonade for my grandson’s coming out party.”
“Sure,” I said. “Lemonade. Doesn’t every fairy…”
Something bit my naked knee. It hurt and it bled, but I hadn’t seen anything except a green flash like the sun bouncing off a leaf. I tried to swat the thing, but it flew out of reach. “You insult me, you pay!”
“Sorry.” I wondered if there was a terrible disease, like Black Death or something, carried by these verbal insects. “I’ll have to disinfect this. I can bring you lemons after. I’ll just go inside.”
There was a high pitched whistle.
Exercise 7: Fantasy
When I was three, my mother caved in to the pressures of vaccinators because my daycare threatened to excommunicate me if she didn’t get me immunized. Consequently, I found myself time and again in the doctor’s waiting room, aptly named, as I waited to get stung.
The first time I was eager, my experience of doctor’s appointments consisting of—as far as I remembered—the jelly beans I got at the end of the visit. After that, however, I was less eager. And I hid under my mother’s chair, thinking that if I couldn’t see the nurse who usually brought us into the inner horror chambers, neither could she.
I remember the feet. I remember the smell of the feet. It isn’t necessarily as one would think, that the nicer the shoes, the nicer the odour. There was one pair in particular, high heeled and strappy—it must have been spring or summer—that smelled of a particular odour that I’d be hard pressed to identify except that at floor level it had great potency. Another pair, entirely odourless, was torn. I could see the sock inside it, grey. The shoes were nondescript runners, also grey, probably from age, rain, and mud. But no smell emanated from them. So surprised I was that I crept out from under my chair to sniff closer. The owner of the runners crossed legs and I scurried back. The nicest, I thought, were a pair of pink running shoes that lit up when the shoes started moving, induced, I’d guess, by the nurse. Those shoes were not going to be happy that the owner obeyed, I thought.
The most interesting was the shoe next to the cast, not only because of the pairing. The cast had drawings on it that continued onto the shoe, so you had to look at the shoe and the cast together to follow the story. The shoe was as large as the cast, which didn’t at the time seem to me in any way strange. It had an extended floppy toe, so there was plenty of room on which to draw the pictures. From above this odd couple, came an occasional honk, and I was tempted to come out to see where that came from, but I held my ground.
My mother’s shoes were delicate. She didn’t like heels, but she liked beauty, and her shoes were intricate concoctions of straps and bijoux. She was a tiny woman. Her feet didn’t reach the ground, and she would swing them back and forth. You wouldn’t think she was the kind of woman who would be stubborn, and she resisted the vaccination cult as long as she could. But she had to work and support us, and so she had to have daycare.
The vaccination changed me, she said. I had never had an obsession with shoes before it. Afterward, I drew pictures of shoes, I talked about shoes, and I played with shoes instead of my dolls. For hours, I would stay in my mother’s closet and created a whole society with her shoes, of which she had many. From the days when my father also had a stake in the closet, she had high heeled shoes, and from the days not long after he vacated it, she had construction boots. Mother never gave any shoes away, though she threatened to if I didn’t stop playing with the shoes. It was the shoes, however, that made her realize I was colour blind, as my society of shoes was initially organized by colour, and all the red and green shoes—as she claimed—were together.
If there was a shot for that, I’d take it, but as there isn’t, I organize my three hundred pairs of shoes by date, and all I need is sixty-five more. Then my closet will be a place of real equality.
Exercise 6: Write about Shoes
He would rather do anything else than play cards. He would rather get drunk, he would rather get stoned, he would rather dive off the CN tower in a parachute or without one. He hadn’t bet a penny in fifty years, ever since his first wife left him. He hadn’t even had the dignity to be homeless and make her sorry for him. Instead, he’d served his time for embezzlement, and when he got out, educated and suited (even if the suit was borrowed from his twin brother), he got a decent enough job, then a better one, and finally he’d become president of the company.
Frank didn’t much care about that now. At eighty, his accomplishments felt less relevant than his blood pressure. His wife, his second wife, a spry seventy-one year old, was inside the cabin, preparing snacks, while he sat at the camp fire with his grandson’s friends.
They wanted to play for money. He didn’t want to play for match sticks. But he couldn’t resist looking cool for his grandson. When he shuffled, the cards danced in his hands, they flew in the air and came back to him like birds, they spread and reassembled, the way they always had, as if his hands weren’t old hands, as if his kunckles weren’t swollen, as if his fingers had no twist in them. Oh, yes, the cards loved him. But would his grandson?
He played the way he always had, he couldn’t play any other way, with an intensity that made him feel more alive than when he survived the bank robbery. Frank dealt, the boys—they were hardly boys at thirty, Elena would have said—admiring the way the cards fell into their laps. They joked, they smoked, they said they’d take it easy on the old man. But Frank knew, to his shame, that he wouldn’t take it easy on them. He would take them for everything they had because they were boys, because he was serious when he played, because he hadn’t played for fifty years and as soon as the cards were in his hands, all the old feelings came back.
They stopped joking. Frank knew he ought to say it was just a game, the bets weren’t real bets, he’d forgive them all, but he couldn’t. They kept playing, trying to recoup their losses, throwing in their iphones, their motorbikes, even a car. And they lost. Frank knew that they would lose. It was in the nature of cards to seduce you with a big win. There was nothing the cards would like better than to get him back in bed, to make him pay for his long absence. And the cards were so beautiful. They shone in the light of the fire. They winked at him. He’d always had a soft spot for spades. He loved the shape, he loved the pure colour, the no colour, of black ink. And today spades loved him back. He’d never been one for three of a kind, not even four of a kind. A flush, a royal flush, that had always been his hand, even when it buried him.
The night was clear. It was late in the season. The leaves were starting to turn, the nights cool. The sky was an inverted starry bowl. Frank loved the smell at this time of year, the burning wood, the pines and cedars. Leaves would fall soon. Then the earth would smell of mulch.
They were all silent when they went back inside. The boys had nothing left to give. Jason stayed back, not saying much, just “Hey gramps, good game.” He was waiting for Frank, even now, to say he didn’t care about the bets. But he couldn’t. Not even when Elena looked at him questioningly. The boys weren’t hungry. They grabbed their sleeping bags and their air mattresses, and headed outside to sleep under the stars. Frank was ravenous. He ate everything on the table, his portion, the boys’ portion, even Elena’s.
“I never told you about my first marriage,” he said to her.
“No, you didn’t.”
“Maybe I should.”
Exercise 5: Gambling
The Buried Giant is a different book from Ishiguro’s previous ones, and that’s something I admired before I read it. But it was an interview I saw with him that made me pick it up. By that time, I’d already forgotten what The Buried Giant was about, but I was touched and impressed by what he said about taking 10 years to write it: that there are enough books in the world already, and he wants to be sure that everything he writes is a contribution, however small, to the existing body of literature. This book is that.
It’s not The Remains of The Day. It’s an allegory, a fable. Ishiguro wanted to write about memory and devastating ethnic conflicts, and had considered writing about something within his own memory, but decided against that approach because he didn’t want the conversation to be about the particulars of Yugoslavia or Rwanda. So instead he set the story in the historical gap between Roman and early medieval Britain, in the echo of Arthur’s days.
It’s the story of an elderly couple searching for their son and their past after decades of a mysterious mist that has softened and erased memory. They encounter knights, monks, warriors, orphans and an elderly dragon who has saved and seared the mental landscape.
I loved this book. It’s not showy but it’s loving, honest, gentle and unflinching about the best and worst of being human, of passion, of what memory gives us, how it drives us.
“Not like that,” Ellie said. “Let me do it. We have to be sure about the timer. I don’t want to get caught in the blast. Now don’t give me that look. I’m only doing this for the money. I don’t know how else I’d put Ingrid through college. If you didn’t piss away…Well, I won’t get into that. You know I’ve never liked conflict.”
He knew what she liked and didn’t like very well. They had been married for twenty years and even though divorced for three, they always talked when he picked up and dropped off Ingrid. He liked these talks, and didn’t mind if she used them as an opportunity to point out his faults. He still loved her, that was the truth of it, he thought. She’d always been better at the planning aspect of their business. He knew, when they split up, that he wouldn’t make a go of it on his own, and he had tried importing fruit and, when that failed, selling books, and when that failed…well there was no sense rehashing it all again.
One of their old clients had contacted him, and he had appealed to Ellie to go in on this one with him, secretly hoping that working together, which had always been their best times, would rekindle her feeling for him. He thought it might be working. The problem was that he hadn’t been able to figure out how to get the bomb in place without blowing one of them up. The question was, which one?
Ingrid needed Ellie more, he had to admit that to himself, but he also had to admit that he wasn’t really all that selfless. And she was going off to college, so she was embarking on her own life, and really didn’t need either of her parents in the way she had as a child. And he was very fond of Ellie, and really hoped that they’d have one last blast together.
If it was successful, and he lived, he could take up one of the offers he’d had for either conducting training operations in the Middle East or as an operative in Russia. His language skills were a bit rusty. It just wouldn’t be the same without her, but he’d survived the first divorce. He’d just have to make it through this one, too.
Exercise #4: Divorced couple having an argument
She’d fought against it for so long. She hadn’t thought that this day would ever come. She’d dreaded it, longed for it, prayed against it, prayed for it, wept over it, laughed about it, and yet here it was. Everything she knew was about to change. Everything unfamiliar for which she had prepared was about to begin. It would be arduous, she knew, and from what she’d been told, she knew nothing. There would be much to do there, and she had been advised to expect that she wouldn’t accomplish most of what she set out to do, but that, if she remembered who she was, she would achieve what mattered most. Nor she should she grieve over that when her term was over. Too many had too great expectations, and on their return, it was painful and effortful to shed them.
No regrets, she was told. At least hold onto that, even if you can’t remember anything else. She wondered why they regarded her the way they did. Sadness, she understood. It was a difficult journey. And encouragement—because it was a worthy one. But the envy? What was there to envy about the strange heaviness she was about to encounter, the helplessness, the complexity. Yet, there it was. They all had been there. Some of them would go back when envy—as mysterious as it was to her—outweighed resistance. She would understand, they said. Afterward, she would know why the envy. It was nothing they could explain. It would mean nothing to her even if they said the words. They had tried to explain it to her before, but they might as well have described weightlessness to someone bound by gravity. She listened, she nodded, she understood nothing though she thought she did. Someone like her ought to understand everything. She would, they said, afterward. Every answer was always afterward. She had to accept it. She had to ready herself.
She slipped inside. Don’t forget me, she said. And then all was forgotten. All was unknown. She swam in darkness. She floated in heaven. If she had remembered before, she would have said to them that she understood at last that this delicious warm dark floating was indescribable, and afterward she wouldn’t be able to describe it either. If she had remembered, she would have been delighted over it, and angry that she had waited for so long for this. But even if she had remembered, she wouldn’t know that she was about to be expelled into the cold brightness. She would cry over it. And then she would suckle.
Exercise #3: “It was time”…with a hat tip to Isaac Bashevis Singer. #ministory