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Whatnot by Rob Stephenson
Recital by Author

'To An End' © 2007 Alice EgoyanTo An End


Sometimes, after a Diet Coke, or a cup of coffee, he would find himself staring out of the window, down at the traffic. Not seeing anything, but letting all the movement register through his eyes, along with the disembodied voices of whatever music was piped through the round speakers in the ceiling. The pleasant chaotic clash of sensations massaged his thoughts, made them supple, amorphous, as much someone else’s as his own. But inevitably, after a few minutes he would snap back to reviewing the ever growing list of things to do that day and make his way outside, softly merging with the movement he’d just been captivated by as he watched from above the street.

He did this every day. An unobtrusive ritual. This transition into and out of trance. This daily pilgrimage to McDonalds. And over time, little bits of overheard conversation, news stories, inaccurate lines of remembered poetry, and stray filaments of his dreams would blend and twist into little stories that never seemed to make much sense. At least at the beginning…


One boy was stabbed by another soldier who came from behind. His body sent messages they couldn’t control.

The destroyer brings with him a world of secrets, both elegant and alarming. He moves up soft stairways littered with the hollowed-out cadavers of men who waited for favors to be returned. Carefully considered cruelties at the beginning and the end of his words. Letters scribbled on a cigarette paper stuck in his right palm. While poking at the wound, an old generation had been disgraced.

He kept his eyes on the ceiling. The roosters were screaming. His white hair everywhere. His practiced smile. The blood running on the tiles. The taste of garlic and tattoos in my mouth. He couldn’t look at me as his half-story landed on my face. There was no broken skin, but something else had crept into him. Colder and purer than the blade. Into his childhood. Unaware of itself. Redefining its destiny. An order imposed on passion and burned alive. The first shoots of vital crops standing in the black ash. A variety of roses. Intervening centuries. Pulsating at me. A bruise sneaking up after hiding in the streets below. Not one tree growing in the fields.

I began to look back across the huge space. The rooms were paintings of some kind. Miscommunications. Cracked tiles. Sentences in the tongue of weakening walls.

I wrote in a stone circle. Against the soft part of his palm. Constellations I hadn’t seen except on paper charts. The remaining pieces rearranging in a swollen river.

I brought him back so you could speak to each other.

A fluid that thins and fades over the course of a song.

You had his eyes.

This fool wasted the most precious jewel of his body in a bed of bitterness: a lottery of amulets, half-twists for making gold out of stones. A robust geometry of sharp points underlines the mystery of the city. Echoes of each location create a network of dappled shadows that would otherwise lull the mind. With each wrong guess, he sputtered his ingenious deceptions to amaze me. I longed to make an exact reproduction, a drawing of what he described to me: a hypothetical machine that mimicked the majestic rotation of lush and hospitable sand-colored faces.

The eclipse of the full moon was silent and indifferent. A blackened sundial traced hours across the curved hollows and cavities of his body. Rocks and boulders of yellow metal remained as still as punctuation. Marks he will never see in himself again. The most stunning collection of rooms, brushed pure, saw the impending catastrophe. Time cut windows that stared uselessly into the wind.

The directions were in his best handwriting. But even so, I had to guess at some of the information. I didn’t want to follow him, to be a traveler who counts the number of performers, entertainers, and scoundrels who force their way inside. These old arrivals haunt the days. Their possible motions, so confused. They are governed by hidden processes. Difficult to undo.

I fumbled to grasp my pen on the edge of the carpet. It was full of animals and artifacts from previous journeys. Remote areas. I remembered the way he made thoughts without speaking. Less than a warm gesture on his part.

As he lost the fight, a carved and articulated world emerged and slid across me to the sound of grinding ice. A little lantern in the dome unfurled its strange, cold spangles. Ridiculous needles glittering with reflected light flew into each other. They entered the cuts in his feet, ravenous hyenas slinking up the inner trails of his body, and came to rest in the pitch-black points of his unmoving eyes. Fiery halos bound by ancient promises. Stuck in the chalk circles of a children’s game. Balls rolling behind the screen. Spherical journals of shade and shadow. Each one endowed with its own memories.

The animals were not as I had expected. Night after night in their camps, after a long sequence of near captures, they paced on the damp red earth. Foul play. They visited one another eventually, sleeping like a mound of smoked monkeys. One dark figure slipped out slowly. He carried an ugly worn-out struggle, the last vestige of the most desperate pleasure. With crimson paint and wilting feathers, he enchanted the apertures of smoldering buildings, denuding the corridors of the world.

I heard him hit the ground, the other soldier riding off. His blade wet. His pierced body made the sound of a drum and masked the intermittent cracking of incantations. I knew how to look past those words, to push them away in order to uncover even more elusive patterns. My examinations revealed twenty-nine needles inside his head. It became impossible to discover which wound was the fatal wound. Perhaps his mania for gambling. Yet he was reaching towards something better. He built things. But what does the shape of an architect have to do with his house? His paintings saw through windows with bars. And his voice was reduced to one song, the silent line on a chalkboard, erased by a meticulous forging of the original.

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last update: June 25, 2007