Narcissus and Echo

By Tom Whalen

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     — …falling through space, planetary or interplanetary, it didn’t matter.

     —I know, you told me. “Where are you going? Stay, don’t leave me.” All that.

     —No, I mean something different, something I take as a reward for my gullibility.

     —This voice?

     —The same. In this dream I am walking down a white corridor that branches off into other white corridors.

     —Motif of whiteness, I get it. And then you dissolve into white atoms, like Poe’s Pym?

     —Not how he went.

     —I know how he went.

     —So do I.

     —Then keep on. Narcissus and Echo

     —All day yesterday from Hegel to Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein back to Hegel, all day, first Hegel, then Wittgenstein and then back again to Hegel, until I flung down the books and went for a walk in the park. It was dark, the lagoon reflected no stars. Joggers, their earphones leaking insect chatter, passed by as I walked on the path beside the road. For a moment I stood at the edge of the lagoon and listened to the herons settling in on their island, rumpling the branches of the cypress. A wind tainted with the Gulf kicked in, foretelling storm. I thought, The only error is the fear of erring itself. I thought, Duck rabbit, rabbit duck, again unable to pinpoint the dawning. First Hegel, then Wittgenstein, over and over. “Damn,” I shouted and rammed my cane into the soft muck at my feet.

     —And then?

     —Then you flew down from the trees in the guise of a gray heron and began to speak.

     —Fairy tales, friend. Sheer fairy tales. After you left, a string of monikers and lovers, cages, stones.

     —And what of me? What of me?

     —You mean your mirror in hell?

     —Yes!

     —Those also serve who stay at home.

     —I’ve heard that before.

     —As have I. We were walking down the Kaiserallee in Baden-Baden watching the ducks bobbing along the Oosbach when I heard a voice behind me and it was myself speaking to myself speaking to myself speaking.

     —Ah, that’s what you mean.

     —Yes.

     —Well.

     —I could talk about Albertine.

     —Awful Albertine? Don’t get me started.

     —O.K. Today we are complacent, tomorrow we will be happy, yesterday we were dead. Better?

     —Much.

     —Huge yellow machines making their way across the horizon…

     —I see them.

     — …churning up the earth like construction paper.

     —I get the message, if there is one.

     —”Most disquieting reflection of all, was it not bad form to think about good form?”

     —I get the message.

     —Most won’t.

     —Saw a man in half and what do you have, one man sawed in half or two half men? By the way, should I stay over? How many nights in a row will this have been? A thousand? More than a thousand?

     —Better not to have looked down at all.

     —Well, beauty is its own attractant, you know, and remember the offers I had, I mean, gads, oodles of them.

     —I remember.

     —Therefore…

     — …nothing. Or were you about to drag in the flower, the fifty foot one you’ve been welding in the factory at night when you thought I wouldn’t notice your absence?

     —Some other long-eared fellow you must have in mind. I can’t have been the first or the last.

     —Three dead yesterday, four the day before, eighteen tomorrow.

     —Is that a record?

     —Not yet.

     —Having been obliged to marry a native princess, I spent my days and nights in the forest, a savage amongst savages, and in this way delayed the terrible fate I had planned for myself.

     —Why hide this old advertisement?

     —Because it doesn’t belong to me.

     —A likely excuse.

     —I can think of no better.

     —Captains Courageous, The Princess of Cleves, Kuprin’s The Duel…

     —”Finally, after nine years, without having waited for the dissolution of his first marriage, he married her.”

     —My favorite part.

     —For me it’s what came after.

     —The beheading?

     —Of course. Oh god, I didn’t know it was me I loved!

     —Caught in reflexivity’s web how could you not?

     —It’s not as hard as it looks.

     —I’m grateful for that. I hope the reader is, too.

     —”O, then conclude, / Minds swayed by eyes are full of turpitude.”

     —I see what you mean.

     —And yet even here hawks stalk the sky.

     —By here you mean hell?

     —Or Boise or Lake Balbeck or wherever the hell hell is today. Hello today, gone tomorrow. And so on.

     —I went to your father’s house, then back to the store, then back to your father’s house, then back to the store, never imagining you would be at the lake. In one story this is where you drown the twins, in others it’s after dinner in the bathtub after you had what your mother said must have been a brainstorm or something. I vote for keeping the twins alive at least a little longer, longer, that is, than six weeks. What’s the point otherwise of having introduced them at all?

     —I think I see what you mean. We must delay disillusionment as long as possible, within reason.

     —Something like that.

     —Are we ourselves also slaves to such restrictions?

     —Pas du tout! Pas du tout!

     —Thank goodness for that.

     —Our restrictions are far worse.

     —Ah.

     —Can’t be helped.

     —I suppose not.

     —Who was it tore up my bed, slaughtered my donkey, set fire to my garderobe?

     —Me?

     —Or a damn good facsimile.

     —He who has climbed up the rungs of logic…

     — …must throw away the ladder if he is to see the world aright. I remember. But who among the logical-positivists did? I mean, not even Wittgenstein…

     —There were others.

     —There always are.

     —”If he never comes to know himself. If he never comes to know himself.” O Cephisus, O Mother already deceived by water, why couldn’t you interpret these simple words for your son? I mean I was what, only nineteen, if that. I mean, like, you know, the deck was stacked, the fix in, the night already tricking itself for me to encounter the trick who looked just like me. I’ve read the same story hundreds of times, seen it in the movies, and still I lean over and am amazed again by the reflection in the water, the hair, the smile, the lips, the cheek. Whoever it is, I think, it can’t be me. But before that I came upon you in the forest and it was your language tricks that entrapped me.

     —They might have saved you.

     —Not in the version I remember.

     —I said might like hypothetical, you know, like possible if you hadn’t screwed up and fallen into your echo instead of mine.

     —And so with men.

     —As the saying goes.

     —”Ah, so you, too, crave pear bread from the Glarner region?”

     —I hear them, as well, the voices, I just can’t keep up with them as fast as you. Never could, even when we were kids. Couldn’t understand it either, I mean I was a girl and all, but still. We raced to the store and you beat me hands down every time. One day when we were younger than the law in some countries allows, you took me behind the barn. We’d spent most of that winter afternoon killing flies for a penny a fly. Can’t remember who groped whom first either, like that duck-rabbit pictogram to which you alluded earlier.

     —Was that you? I thought that was Abelard?

     —Abelard? That juicehead? How could you not know the difference? I mean one of us is from one sex and the other is from the other. I mean, get out of here. I mean, like, really?

     —Not a clue, or clew.

     —Time was passing. The morning was wearing away. That kind of clue?

     —No.

     —Whose honor is most at stake here?

     —We’re both thieves, so what does it matter?

     —After what you did you can say that? I mean it wasn’t I who walked down the hallways with the girls and boys in awe of my beauty. It wasn’t me born into such wealth. Nor did I ever shoot a deer, much less drive them into nets and stick spears in their throats, never felt I needed to.

     —If I remember rightly Pym’s demise resists explanation.

     —Go ahead, change the subject. Why not? I’d do the same if I didn’t suffer from echolalia.

     —Torches poured red light over the bushes announcing dinner. What an inopportune interruption, the king observed, then strolled back across the lawn like Nerval with his pet lobster.

     —Nerval? You have the nerve to bring up Nerval after it was you who introduced me to his “Pandora”? Does your ego know no bounds?

     —Apparently not.

     —”‘Here you are again, enchantress,’ I cried. ‘And the fatal box     —what have you done with it?'” Anthony Bonner’s translation.

     —I was standing in front of Tiepolo’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” in the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart when a child of no more than ten spat on my pants. I’ve yet to forget the sensation of wanting to throttle the brat. Of course I didn’t, but still…

     —Yes, you’d see that as your reward, but why am I not the one who stole the heavenly fire?

     —But you are. Why else would we still be here?

     —On this dais?

     —In these streets.

     —If not for etc.?

     —You can say that.

     —So I delayed Juno a few times so Jove could finish off some nymph in the mountain. I mean was that any reason to…

     —No use complaining. Things are what they are.

     —The Stygian waters. The white flower.

     —Am I staying over?

     —And I, your last chance, like an ass able only to bray back what she hears.

Tom Whalen’s The Birth of Death and Other Comedies: The Novels of Russell H. Greenan is forthcoming from Dalkey in 2011.

This story is included in issue #43: Walls. Copyright © 2010 by Fiction International. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in Fiction International. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.

Posted on: September 2nd, 2013 by admin No Comments
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