magic realism


   Pleased to meet you. I imagine shaking hands with an untold number of people, my arm stretched out through the looking glass of my computer screen and into your world and yours and even yours. It’s not that I’m running for office or trying to sell you a used lemon of a car, it’s just that I need to have a sense of my readership. I need to know that all my hours spent scribing away result in some kind of human touch. Or at least the idea of contact with another soul.

   I took almost two weeks off from my daily writing on this blog in order to reread Kafka on the Shore. I’ve published a number of books since then but it’s become one of my favorites (even though authors, like parents, aren’t really supposed to have favorites) and I wanted to return to this novel in English. Apart from this blog, all my writing is in Japanese and then translated into English by a number of superb translators that I’ve been lucky enough to work with. This blog, however, is my direct link to my English readers. Everyday for the past five months I’ve been writing a short-short story from a different point of view. An experiment in styles. A place for me to play with English. But today is Kafka’s birthday and it’s time to tell the truth. 

   Enjoy today’s whim of a short-short story…

 

Sounding the Curse

 

     It was a dangerous language to learn. That was the joke that Al kept making as his friend Abdi demonstrated the intricacies of a glottal stop. Abdi straightened his back, lifted his chin and made the sound, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. “Not alphabet, it’s a script. Alphabet comes from the Greek language. Arabic script,” Abdi said, remonstrating his friend once again. “Well, whatever you want to call it. It’s a deadly language to learn,” Al said and then tried to make the glottal stop but found himself choking on something in his throat. He coughed and coughed and took another sip of the bottled water he’d purchased for an arm and a leg at the coffee shop. 

     “It’s much simpler,” Abdi said, motioning a gentle wave with his hand, trying to tap into some hidden reserve of patience. “Think of the shortest sound that can be made and then locate it deep in your throat.” Abdi pointed at the middle of his throat and made the sound again. 

     Al tried but this time his coughing fit was worse. When he had first attempted the vowel he’d hammed it up a bit but now he found that he really couldn’t get past the sound without his throat going into convulsions. He took another sip from the expensive water. “This is a deadly language. Learn our language and die. It’s a terrorist language.”

    Abdi’s eyes widened. Al had crossed the line. In the five years that they’d known each other Abdi had put up with all sorts of blasphemy but this was going too far. Abdi slammed his “Teach Arabic Now” textbook firmly shut, stood up from the small table, and picked up his backpack.

   “I will not tolerate that sort of small-mindedness. Whatever you curse in life comes back as an enemy. You have made it so.” 

    And true enough the spirit in the sound behind Alif was offended (I mean wouldn’t you be?) and like a broken vial of gas something emerged slowly from the shattered sound that Al had made. You will never succeed in anything again, it whispered in his ear. You will be filled with optimism as you attempt the first step of the basics again and again. You will believe that you can do it but you will fail eternally. Your futile hope will live longer. 

    As far as curses go, Al didn’t mind. 

    It could’ve been much worse. 

    But he did lose a friend in Abdi who he tried to win back again and again for the rest of his life, never losing faith in his ability to fail and try again.

      Usually, I introduce myself each day with a different identity, saying I’m Osama Bin Laden, Mickey Mouse or James Joyce and welcome to my blog etc. etc. but this morning I logged onto my wordpress account and read this:

 

Warning: We have a concern about some of the content on your blog. Please contact us as soon as possible to resolve the issue and re-enable posting.

 

     I was horrified to see my freedom of speech yanked away from me like that. I sent out a mass email and lots of people came to my support (thank-you). Of course I also emailed WordPress and in the last hour my ability to post has come back to the dashboard. In the first fifteen minutes of the morning I wrote out this short-short story as a narrative experiment. I wasn’t intending on using it but as the rest of my morning was taken up dealing with the wordpress problem, this is all I have for today. 

 

     Here’s what came out of my head:

 

Walking Back

 

     He steps forward. The clouds swirl above like the pompoms of cheerleaders.  He takes another step. The ground is soft and uncertain beneath his massive weight. He keeps his gaze fixed on the distant mountains. Between him and the mountains is nothing but dry, soft ground that might cave in at any step. The wind picks up even more. He stops and takes a couple deep breaths through cavernous nostrils. His whole body wheezes as it lifts up and down. He takes another step but this time the soil gives a little and he sinks a foot under. He stares ahead at the mountains. How did he stray so far from his brothers and sisters? He will make it back and bury these legs beneath himself. These legs that have done nothing but take him away from a place in the horizon. He is a mountain after all.


    I have to come out from under the cover of all the characters I’ve made these past five months. I’m moving to Toronto this week and as I type this on the couch in the living room there’s a wall of boxes where there once was a view onto the street. This computer will go into the last empty box and then you won’t hear from me for a couple days. My family will be sailing across Canada. (Okay this is the part where I just make shit up…) Yeah, there’s a large tank of water that is hauled behind the caboose of the CN and we’ve rented a small boat which will be floating in that tank. It’s a tiny sailing boat but it’s sea-worthy… tank-worthy. We’re told. I got insurance just in case it sinks. I hope it’s okay if there are any problems I can swim and I’ll be sure to wrap my children up in life-jackets at all times. (Okay that’s the end of the line of the lie.)

    Yeah, so you won’t hear from me for a couple days so enjoy some of the previous stories…

 

A Strangeness Sings

 

  He plops himself into the half empty tub with a splash that reaches a foot up the wall. He closes his eyes and lets the touch of the water line take over. It inches up his torso and legs. It tickles with warmth. The rush of the water into the tub drowns out his neighbors’ bathrooms upstairs and downstairs. Everybody in the building is cleaning themselves this Sunday afternoon. A community event.

   The water line tickles his neck like a chinstrap. How high can it climb? He shimmies his body back and forth in a stationary position, enjoying the warmth. The water is now up to his lip but it won’t overflow because of the drain. The rushing sound continues to pour in. 

    Upstairs he hears feet race out of the bathroom and then back into the bathroom. A game? Downstairs, no sound. His body starts to float and he paddles a little to keep his lips above water. He opens his eyes but the water is still a good six inches below the top of the tub. He watches the rush of water falling into the tub but as the water level doesn’t seem to be climbing anymore it looks more like a tower. A frozen and fluctuating tower. He wonders if his tub is broken as his body starts to slide into a vertical position until he’s standing with his lip just above the water. There’s no relaxation in standing in a tub, this is like taking a full body shower. This is like Monday morning. He considers getting out but then he starts to float and is lulled into relaxation again. 

    His arms and legs reach out wider than the tub. It feels good to stretch but his right leg bumps into something below. The bath bubbles conceal the depths. He takes a deep breath and then submerges. He reverses himself top to bottom and then swims down to investigate. There’s a round object on the bottom of the tub and other vague colored images. He pulls the water back with both arms and arrives at the bottom in seconds but there’s nothing. It’s transparent though and he can see his neighbor in her tub, clothed behind bubbles. He looks side to side but there’s no one else in his tub. Of course there’s no one. He blushes but stays. 

   She opens her mouth to sing while a fin flaps out from the bottom of her tub. It’s true. He’s never seen her legs before. Her lower body is always wrapped in blankets to the bottom of her wheelchair. So there’s a giant fin down there. The water and the warmth recede as her voice takes over.  Her eyes remain closed. The bottom of his tub descends like an elevator. How will he explain this to her if she opens her eyes? He feels a pinch at his toe and he releases the oxygen in his mouth. He swims up while he pulls a crab-toy from his toe. His head emerges from the tub and he turns off the water. He hears the singing downstairs while he examines the ragged claws of the crab. 

   Some line from a poem is on the tip of his tongue.

 


 

   My name is Finn Harvor and I’m a writer and artist, living in South Korea.  The past five months of writing on this blog has been an experiment in layering meta-fiction around a ball of simple and bizarre narratives.

  I hope you’ve enjoyed them.

 


 

Getting the Witch to Cough it up

 

   Joey Kim pushed his yellow bicycle along the stone walkway in front of the small house. The newspaper rack on the handlebars caught the ledge of a window and tore off a splinter of wood. Joey stopped, shook his black bangs from his eyes and looked around. The shack of a house was in ruins already and a heavy curtain was drawn inside. It wouldn’t be noticed, he told himself.  He continued pushing his bike faster but the front door still receded in the distance. It was a small house. Why was it taking so long?

   When he did finally reach the front door he was exhausted and rested his weight onto the U-shaped handlebars of his banana-seated bike. He stretched one arm out to knock on the door but it creaked open and out of reach. 

   “Hello?” His voice seemed to echo within the darkness of the house. “I deliver the paper. I’m here to get money for the paper. The newspaper.”

    Joey was new to the job. At ten, he was still new to the world but it was collecting money for his paper route that had proved to put him at a constant loss for words. He’d spent the evening stuttering and stammering out various requests for money.

    An elderly woman appeared at the door. Her eyebrows were midway up her forehead as if fleeing from her face and her long black hair also rushed back in shock from her shriveled head. Her nose pointed straight at Joey.

   “Money? I don’t have money. I don’t donate money for charities. Get money somewhere else for your legless orphans.”

   “No I’m the newspaper boy… carrier. I’m deliver… I deliver the Vancouver Sun.”

    She looked him up and down with eyes that narrowed into green slits.

   “Here’s your paper,” Joey said and reached into the delivery bag resting in the rack. The old woman at the door stared at him even harder as he held out Friday’s paper.  She mumbled something as she went back inside the darkness of her home. The door remained open.

   With a jerk of his head, Joey shook his black bangs from his eyes. He looked around and noticed how far the stone sidewalk snaked around the house. He wanted to go home to eat. He could imagine his mom in the kitchen putting kim chi in a bowl. 

   “Didn’t I pay you yesterday?”

    “You paid me a month ago.”

    “Oh yes. Oh yes. Time flies when you’re having fun,” she said and laughed a toothless grin. “I mean flies have fun when your time’s expired.”

   Joey nodded blank understanding.

   “I mean when you’re dead the flies come out to play around your corpse.”

    Joey breathed in deep.

   “That’s a joke. A joke. A play on words.”

    “I’m here to pick up your monthly payment,” Joey said.

   “Alright here’s your money,” the old woman shouted and held out a ten-dollar bill. Joey felt a jolt when he took the bill from her. He hated collecting. 

    On the front page of the paper students in Korea were clashing with riot police. Somewhere in the scene was one of Joey’s older cousins. Almost everyday his parents talked about life back in Korea. Most of the time Joey tuned them out. All he knew was that things were tough all over.

 

(for the first part of this story refer to May 27th)

 

    “What are you talking about?”

    “You heard me. Make someone laugh and you live. This is just the way it is. I’m not threatening you with anything. In fact, this is the last you’ll ever see of me.” The woman collapsed into a murder of crows that flew out in scattered directions. Roswell stood up and walked to where she had been standing. Nothing. She had turned entirely into crows. He looked around to see if there were any other witnesses. The one street was busy with commuters zooming home from work and the other street was empty. The square frame of the building under construction was also empty. 

    If the prediction was true, Roswell was in no mood to make people laugh. He sometimes made his students laugh but they were already on buses or trains on their way home.  Were there any amateur comedy nights that he could crash later in the evening? No that would be too challenging. Expectations held up under a spotlight. Not his forte. Roswell climbed the fence of the vacant lot and resumed his route home.

    He waited for the bus on Hastings near Carroll. Not an obvious place for laughs. There were no other commuters waiting for the bus and the only pedestrians passing were in their own worlds of hunger or addiction. One woman doing a junkie-shuffle walked out into traffic while her arms did random stabs into the air as if in a dance choreographed by an epileptic. Cars honked. Roswell studied the scene carefully half-heartedly hoping to find levity in misery. The bus arrived and Roswell felt a stab of guilt as he stepped onto the 135. 

   “Nice day for a shot of heroine,” he said to the driver as he deposited his change.

     “Stand behind the yellow line, please,” the driver said as he drove off from the stop. Sunglasses and a Tilley hat hid the driver from the world. Roswell made a cursory glance of the people around him: sunglasses, headphones, magazines, vacant stares, cell phones. All various walls.

     What if the bus got into an accident and they were stuck in a ditch until midnight? What if it were one of the people on the bus that he had to make laugh? He briefly imagined an impromptu comedy night set up on the bus to pass the time while they waited to be rescued. He saw the 80-year old Chinese man next to him getting up to a makeshift mic set up at the front of the bus. “The funny thing about buses,” he could imagine him saying.  

   Roswell laughed to himself out loud and felt his soul lighten.

   As if a curse had been rescinded.

   Of course, he was someone and making himself laugh was all it took.

    Well I know St. Nicholas hasn’t published since 1941 – the year in which Virginia Woolf filled her pockets and pants and jacket with copies of the magazine that she grew up with and then stepped into the river to drown forever as well as the year that James Joyce slammed a copy of St Nicholas onto the kitchen table, stood up on it and did an Irish jig (a gangly spider-dance version) only to fall off and onto his very last gasp of a good-bye.  I know that much history but I also know the future must be infused with optimism. I’m editing a new St. Nicholas Magazine which will go beyond the death of modernism and turn words into wonder once again for children of all ages. Even 83-year old children will laugh their toothless smiles (smile their toothless laughs?) and happiness will be on the agenda of childhood once again. 

  I’ve been writing this blog where I’ve claimed to be somebody different everyday in order to take stabs at articles that might appear in the new St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls. I hope to be the new editor. I’m trying to find the old editors and ask them. Action breeds confidence, n’est pas?

  If you have any suggestions of articles you’d like to see please contact me at your latest inconvenience. 

  Today’s story is not for children.

 

Enamored of Idiots

 

     After work, Roswell walked his usually three blocks to the bus. His ears were ringing with the words: idiot, idiot, idiot. His students – ten Koreans in their 20’s – had just learned the word and were using it gratuitously, pronouncing it “I-DE-OAT”. They were studying marketing so Roswell didn’t feel it was his job to correct their pronunciation of that word. He hoped they would get sick of it soon.

     Half a block before the bus-stop Roswell noticed a cairn piled high in the middle of a vacant lot held behind a metal fence. Across the street was the new Woodward’s development that was piling up in perfectly square blocks. Next to this, the cairn seemed like an omen of a memory.  It hadn’t been there in the morning.

    A haggard woman in early old-age approached Roswell and he decided that instead of saying no to a request for change, he’d hot foot it to the bus. The woman, however, was fast.

    “Could you get my wallet? It’s over the fence,” she said and pointed to a black something next to the cairn.

     Roswell gestured to the fence with an upturned hand by way of apology.

     “You’re a climber. You could climb over that fence no problemo.”

      She was right. Roswell loved to climb anything from trees to climbing walls to rock faces. He looked at his shoes and then at the fence. He nodded a yes.

     “Thank-you. Thank-you so much,” she said in a shrill voice. Her lips were held back in a permanent, open grin but her eyes radiated worry. “Everything I have is in there.”

    He climbed the fence and jumped over to the other side with no difficulties. He took a couple steps towards the wallet but when he knelt down he saw that it was nothing but a dead crow. A baby crow. 

    “That’s not my wallet,” the woman yelled and he turned to see her standing right behind him. At what point did this normal commute turn strange, Roswell wondered to himself.

    “But you tried and for that I’m going to reward you with a prediction for your evening. If you make someone laugh today you’ll make them happy if you don’t you’re gonna die.”  

 

               [TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW]

    If you’re like me, you’re floored by the number of times that people get taken in by fake memoirs, autobiographies and other grocery lists of the soul. How many more times do we need to be told, “Don’t believe everything that you read”? And what does the veracity of a memoir, a “this-really-happened” feeling, add to our reading experience anyway?  Can’t we just leave things at amusing, memorable or thought-provoking?  For the past four months I’ve been writing everyday under completely different names; a series of traps towards credulity. 

   Here’s my story for today.

 

The Marriage Contraption

 

“What a thing to behold,” the husband kept telling his wife, morning, noon and night. One morning she asked him to get up from the couch and leave. “Would you kindly leave,” she implored. He gestured towards the marriage contraption which he’d built to woo her senseless. “I’ve come to my senses,” she flat out stated, “You’re nothing but smoke and mirrors and you don’t lift a finger around here. You don’t even have a job.” He claimed that he needed to maintain the marriage contraption. She opened the door and pointed something at him. Three months later, she passed him on the street where he sat on the sidewalk with his hand pillowing his face. He had an upturned hat in front of the marriage contraption. She threw several quarters into the hat where they clinked into other change. He looked up and smiled, an act that lifted all the features of his face, a ploy that won her heart once upon a time. His fingertips reached out for the marriage contraption. She reached into her purse and pulled out the divorce device and continued walking.

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