Note: This is a bit of short fiction I first put together and published in my second ‘zine, COLORS MORE COLORS, back in 2015.
The University was on fire; was a matter of a series of squares (not circles) positioned with respect to their corresponding series of relationships and the overall picture that that painted, squares being circles with broken arms and legs, a tedium.
The Professor found himself wondering if he could not not continue to think like this, perched on the brink of something something-like-new and nestled in the workings of some verb that was poised to end the brink-like sensation of its own activity. Simile was bringing things closer together than it was ever before capable of doing: his two remaining research assistants fucked each other constantly behind the thin curtain in the corner of his laboratory, the right and acute angles of various limbs clamoring for circleness, the arcs of moans.
Armed guards stood outside the laboratory The stale scent of a tenuous agreement between warring factions— coupled with a cold and constant influx of cash in the direction of the rebel students— kept his space clear of the debris necessary to the conflict, but suggested that an inverted though yet still positive relationship existed between abundance and time. He felt himself swinging outward towards the apex of the logic of decay. They hadn’t left the laboratory in weeks.
Through the old window, from his sweaty cot, he could see the campanile burning like a torch in the night, hear the muffled pops of distant gunfire, taste the metal quality of the night air as it poured in through the three inches of open space between the sill and the sash.
He is an anachronism. The affect of the idea of the burning of pale limestone is of skin crawling.
The verb for the appearance of the existence of the first term was something like discover, or having been discovered. It seemed to have occurred quite by accident: a month ago he had been shuffling through smoke and fire, escorted by two armed students and clutching a hefty bundle of files that contained an assortment of necessary documents, when the retort of a single gunshot sounded the end of the first of the two students’ life. She fell silently. With a startled yell he remembered running, yells, more gunshots. Plunging through the gaping hole of the open door of the building in which his laboratory resided, he tripped and fell, his papers scattering in the foyer. With a kick he forced the door to, frantically swiveling his prostrate body around in order to push it completely closed, before managing to catch a glimpse of a police officer as he rummaged through the fallen students’ pockets, claimed their weapons, his own hot rifle lying nearby on the concrete. He could see the blood running in a curious fashion over the brickwork; it spelled the name of the first term.
The cries of orgasm were not present to him. Nor the sensation of sliding into sleep, exhausted. Relative quiet filled the tall-ceilinged room with its ancient windows through which the light of fires and police lights pulsed.
It was somehow embedded in the first term that there would be three, that there would be a second and then a third and that once the second had been articulated the third would emerge as some new form of inevitability, whose verb in regards to reality would be something akin to a series: to reveal, to unlock, to transfigure. The and-then, then, was not so pressing as the task that now presented itself to him: the articulation of the second term.
From behind the curtain a figure emerged, a shadow in the dim light. It approached him, stooped low in order to dig through the sounds of a plastic bag, stood again, illuminated its face with the small flame of a cigarette lighter, in front of which now bobbed the tiny orange glow of a cigarette, a body half illuminated by a general light from without, half undisclosed by a specific darkness within.
As far as he could tell, there would have to be a relationship between the first and second terms, a sort of second order kind of term. A pale body lay on the cot behind the curtains. The first second order term would be something like an articulation, the need to be articulated. Cigarette smoke hung in the air above him, static, having made shapes. Would the specific articulation of the second term make its relationship to the first immediately evident? Suddenly, the campanile collapsed under its own weight. Or should the articulation— would the articulation— itself lead him to the second term? Shouts and gunshots outside, nearby. How then would the third term emerge… ?
The sky seemed lighter. It must have been morning which means he must’ve fallen asleep.
He’d once had a dream wherein he’d woken up, shuffled to the bathroom and looked into the mirror. The moment he saw himself there he realized that he was dreaming, woke up, and opened his eyes- which beheld only the ceiling from his vantage on the cot. Rousing himself, he shuffled to the bathroom, turned on the light and looked into the mirror, only to be reminded that he was still asleep and transported immediately back to his bed, once again falsely awakened. Fearing that he was somehow caught in some sort of oneiric feedback loop, this time he lept off of the cot and ran into the bathroom, trying desperately not to remember what he’d just learned. But it was useless: before he could even reach the threshold of the door to the darkened bathroom he awoke again, still dreaming on his cot. He learned two important things while stuck in the feedback loop: first that he could tell it was a dream by the fact that each succeeding reboot presented a reality to him that was visually dimmed by some sort of filter, as though a thin piece of colored cellophane was held before his face— a different color for each episode— and one that deepened the darkness of the shadows of corners and the like. Secondly, he could tell that he was asleep by the muffled quality of the sound, as though an invisible pillow was wrapped around his head. He found that if he lay still he could hear the sound of his own, actual, breathing— still and trebly and far away. The greater the success he had in isolating the sound, the closer, he felt, he came to waking up. Interestingly, however, it wasn’t until he managed to make it to the faucet, turn it on, and splash a handful of water into his face that he was able to actually wake up.
It was an uncharacteristically sunny morning. He could see high white clouds travelling across a brilliant blue sky from where he lay. The massive double doors to the laboratory, he noticed, were slightly ajar. He moved quickly across the room, startled by the sure feeling that the adjacent room was vacant. Peeking through the crack he found that this was true— the guards must have left during the night. He stood still, as if doing so would help pierce through the ominous and growing silence. His research assistants were gone, their curtain pulled to, their cot still marked by the weight of their sleeping bodies. From window to window he moved, cautiously, but could see no sign of movement. Finally he emerged into the blinding morning light. There was no breeze, no sound of birds or distant traffic, no crackle of flame or of gunshots. The pale light fell on everything, everything was shiny.
Photograph: Students on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, on November 9th, 2011, during an Occupy demonstration. Photo by the author.