The Eternal Recurrence of an Other Event


A contented, pulsing consciousness harbored behind quiescent eyes. Parted lips and a relaxed jaw betrayed the spiritually passive state of one exposed to an advertisement or the evening news. The thermal glow of a rusty unit heater warmed pink flesh on his left profile, while casting a grey pallor and subtle chill on the right. A slow exchange of effortless, methodical breathing was the only commerce with the outside world in which he felt comfortable. Long retired from the quickened pulses of social intercourse, his mind had erected an imaginary sphere of glass between "here" and "there"--a protective cell inside which he could anonymously spend a life; who would care to look in?


"What are you staring at?! Mr. Ward! Mr. Ward, stop staring at me!" The glass was shattered, exposing Stanton Ward to a hostile world that he had once again offended. And Molly Alexander, a prominent department chief, was not one to play the role of a submissive victim.

A woman renowned for incisive maneuvers, Ms. Alexander commanded those in her employ with the abbreviated, pointed style of a canine's master: "Speak! Well, go on: speak! Explain yourself!" Like every natural leader, Chief Alexander had the gift of radiating attention on her subordinates, concealing her self as effectively as the blinding incandescent that illuminated the storage room in which this scene took place. The interrogation continued in silence, the culprit's apprehensive movements probed through condemning eyes.

Awkwardly transferring his broom from hand to hand, Stanton's only reply was the panic-stricken expression of one discovered; breathing paused as eyes darted about in search of an answer in any thing nearby.

"I'm sorry, but you've transgressed one too many times. Miss Walker!" Ms. Alexander's personal secretary appeared at her side. "Memo to Mr. Delabranche: The Concerns Committee is to convene tomorrow afternoon. The case of Mr. Ward will be attended to at that time."

As Miss Walker transcribed these remarks, the ever-vigilant department chief stooped to examine the mechanically suspect unit heater, experimentally warming her palms in its glow. "Memo complete, Ms. Alexander." Molly abruptly seized the dial on the unit between the fore- and middle-fingers of her right hand.


The heater extinguished, Ms. Alexander returned to her feet. The two women exited, stranding Stanton among the populous, disjointed thoughts of a mind acutely conscious--a mind longing to wander.

Standing still, abandoned in a room deserted of warmth, Stanton's torso began to develop gooseflesh, while the discomfort of a facial chill traversed the bridge of his nose en route to an invasion of his left profile. Next, an itch came to life on the tip of our hero's snout--the kind of superficial, nagging irritation that would normally be obliterated without thought. But this particular specimen fell under its host's curiosity before such a demise; focusing attention on the itch, Stanton refused to rub it out, maintaining tolerance by flaring his nostrils. Once the muscular action of this nasal-flaring had become automatic, Stanton's thoughts returned to the chill dominating his face; with quiet, internal self-satisfaction, he obstinately refused to bathe his uncomfortable and pleading skin in the warm, circulating breath of cupped hands. And while gooseflesh continued to overrun his torso, a subtle look of contentment broke on Stanton's face; for shivering wasn't absolutely necessary as long as a continuous, barely perceptible muscular gyration was maintained somewhere in his body.

Can one aspire to inanimacy? Or is aspiration the exclusive domain of the animate?

* * * * * * * * * *

Daddy, stage left, is reading his newspaper. Two preschool-aged boys, obediently quiet yet animated, struggle to stay awake by scurrying about in stage right. Yawns, an occasional refolding of the sports page, etc.

Enter mama: "Where would you like it?"

Attention. Cease scurrying. Sit.

"Over there--on the mantelpiece," indicates daddy, setting the paper aside.

Mama dutifully makes her way to center stage, then carefully places Stanton's severed head upon a lazy Susan the family keeps on the fireplace mantel. Our decapitated hero's eyes and lips are sealed in rest, yet his face betrays none of the finality of life passed away; to the contrary, Stanton's grey, bloodless complexion brings to mind the inanimate resolve of a weathered park statue. Mama, as an aesthetic experiment, rotates the lazy Susan first right, then left, finally directing Stanton's lackadaisical expression precisely at daddy. She attentively combs the ornament's hair, then matter-of-factly seizes his nose between the fore- and middle-fingers of her right hand.


A flushed, freeze-burned color flows into Stanton's cheeks as he startles to life, panic-stricken eyes darting about in search of recognizable landmarks in any thing nearby.

Mama turns to her loved ones: "Would you like anything else before I settle down?"

"Yes," replies daddy. "Would you please bring in a snack? We're awfully hungry!"

Exit mama.

Daddy and the children soberly focus their attention on Stanton, who by now is irate--harmlessly mouthing a silent tirade against his entire field of vision. Yet this is not the silence of laryngitis, from which anxious gasps or smacking lips might emanate, but the absolute silence of a television with the volume turned down--the safe, clinical aura of a being not genuinely present. The family continues to assimilate their entertainment--absorbed, yet ultimately as apathetic as an audience tuned in to the evening news.

Enter mama once again, this time shouldering a forty foot oak tree. Rising to lend a hand, daddy turns Stanton's face toward mama, by now center stage. "Now take your time, boys," cautions daddy. "Remember what happened the last time you ate too fast."

The tree's trunk is directed into Stanton's mouth, then mama leans forward and forces the once majestic oak down her victim's throat. The children's attention is riveted on Stanton; they summon the energy for a final act of the day. Young mouths drool while tummies are rubbed in delight: "mmmmm," "fresh oak!" "mmmmm."

As mama continues to work the tree into Stanton, splitting logs fuel the flames, which are soon threatening the room proper--roaring with the kind of pounding, deafening aggression that only confinement can build. The heat and roar of the fire overflows the stage and fills the entire theater, assaulting the patrons from front, rear, and flank; yet the inattentive audience is struggling to stay awake, as oblivious to the din as to the uniform air pressure their bodies withstand every day.

Within the fire, disintegrating branches and collapsing timbers erect random images, then are promptly consumed by the hungry flames. This interplay gives birth to faint, transient icons of a forgotten past, each glimpse of which condemns the legacy of an entire life to the hell of a single, momentary flicker.

Stanton, mouth impossibly crammed with oak, breaks into a draining sweat as he fights to maintain consciousness. Out of focus eyes roll back into their sockets, bobbing once or twice like children's balls coming to rest. Daddy and the boys--now calmly intent on the fire rather than Stanton--are impervious to the heat, just as they had emerged unscathed from their victim's tirade. The fire tones down to a localized disturbance while the boys curl up on the floor and drift off to sleep.

Mama nears completion; as the final limbs are directed down Stanton's now-lifeless throat, the fire begins to wane. Serving as punctuation, a single leaf escapes, wandering its way through the air to Mother Earth.

Daddy rises from his chair, stoops, and picks up the brittle specimen for examination--channeling the couple's concern onto the fragile, already decomposing object. The warm, dying light of the embers plays off the side of daddy's face, casting a playful, flickering shadow on the opposite side of his nose. An expectant shroud of night descends on the remainder of the stage. Daddy stands and recites, gesturing in an exaggerated, melodramatic fashion with his free hand:

"So simple, the way freed oak leaves fall:
Lofty, lazy--
So simple, the way she makes me feel:
Lively, crazy--

Mama's adoring eyes peer out of the shadows. Emerging half a step into the fading light, she kisses daddy on the cheek, plunging the entire company into Black.


The slow exchange of the boys' unconscious, exhausted breathing can be heard on stage. Through gradual electronic amplification, the sound sweeps through the pitch-black theater, encircling every seat with the intimacy of a sleeping partner.


The theater is empty; the children's breathing is the metronomic duty of a janitor's broom backstage.

* * * * * * * * * *

Gazing blankly at a pile of documents, head resting in hand, Mr. Delabranche appeared at home seated at the head of a bulky oak conference table. Succumbing to a yawn, his posture degenerated into a slouch, while his face maintained the disinterested expression of comfortable, hence sympathetic, authority. Seated alongside the table--three to Delabranche's left and three to his right--the balance of the Concerns Committee concentrated on their leader and followed suit, but in a less commanding way since they were, after all, merely following.

Molly Alexander entered: "Where would you like it?"


"Over there--on the other end of the table," indicated Mr. Delabranche, summoning the energy to stiffen his torso and draw himself up to an erect, more formal posture; the committee rustled in confusion, echoing Delabranche's movements in a helter-skelter flurry of mimicry.

Ms. Alexander moved to the end of the room opposite Mr. Delabranche, then placed a crystal ball on the table. The oblong sphere displayed weightless, smoke-colored clouds; in accompaniment, a slightly rough texture and subtle vibration rendered its surface reminiscent of shivering flesh.

Molly seated herself at the table, evidently exhausted as she gazed into the clouds with a look of resignation. Her arms, heavy with sleep, reluctantly rose from the comfort of their chair to the ball, where the chief's slender fingers gently explored and caressed its chilled surface. The orb responded by calming its shivering, and a dim light came to life within its clouds. Molly seized a switch at the base of the ball between the fore- and middle-fingers of her right hand.


Mr. Delabranche absent-mindedly rubbed an itch from his nose. Ever-perceptive of their leader's conduct, the committee members exhibited a renewed vitality, rustling in their chairs and vigorously rubbing their noses.

After this second flurry of mimicry settled down, attention returned to Ms. Alexander's demonstration. The fluorescent light in the conference room gradually dimmed, its radiation evidently drawn into the crystal ball. This light in turn burned away the clouds to expose a storage room lit with a warm, burning radiation emanating from a single incandescent. The committee focused on the scene in silence, faces illuminated in profile, triangular shadows flickering on the far sides of their noses.

Within the ball, an image of Stanton Ward, obediently quiet yet animated, manifested itself beneath the light. Head bowed, absorbed in his work, Stanton scurried about with an apparently aimless method of sweeping, striking haphazardly at the floor as one would attack a fleeing rodent. This duty persisted for a full two minutes until the refuse and dirt, evidently through random accumulation, found itself herded together near the entry to the room. Pausing to take a breath, our hero leaned on his broom, wiped his brow, then absent-mindedly looked up. Stanton's eyes met those of the committee.


* * * * * * * * * *


Floating dreamily in a dimly lit vacuum--in absolutely vacant, Newtonian space--the committee members sleep, each curled up in the fetal position. Stanton's severed head, conscious yet perfectly content, drifts toward a sleeper and suffers a slow-motion, elastic collision. The member stirs angrily, mouths a silent invective into the vacuum of space, then derisively bats away Stanton's head as he returns immediately and irresistibly back to sleep.

With a casual, disinterested expression, the head assumes a trajectory toward another sleeper, and the entire process is repeated. Several such episodes take place, each member suffering multiple awakenings. And with each volley--at each point where Stanton's head is returned--a Newtonian reaction causes the awakening member to drift further from his comrades. Back and forth like a Cosmic game of Ball, a piecemeal explosion of the Concerns Committee leaves each beyond the visual horizon of the others, while Stanton's head is finally lost on an errant trajectory.

* * * * * * * * * *

Around the conference table, the committee members' bodies had transformed into a state of semi-conscious quiescence. Heads--facing skyward--bobbed slowly, like children's balls coming to rest; limp jaws drooled and gelatinous eyes bulged as the ensemble stumbled into inanimate presence.

The huff and puff of methodical inflation emerged from the swelling crystal ball. As the pace of expansion accelerated, the light inside was gradually extinguished. The huffing and puffing grew into a constant, deafening roar. Responding in kind, the members' growling abdomens inflated until flesh over-tested clothes. Heads and limbs lost distinction. The all-seeing orb and several flabby masses merged into One Tremendous Belly.

It continued to grow. Within minutes, the room exploded, then the entire building. Nightfall witnessed devastation on a planetary scale. Solar systems and nebulae were consumed; galaxies were assimilated. At last, the whole universe fell prey, abandoning One incredibly taut Belly full of Nothing to contemplate its Center.

Nothing exerts greater pressure than Void, if only because where there's Nothing, Nothing Is. Thus did the voracious, expanding Belly continue to encroach upon Void.

Then, one Sunday morning, a sleepy god rolled over and seized a barely perceptible point of loose skin on the Belly between the fore- and middle-fingers of his right hand.


Performing the physically impossible in the wink of an eye, the wrist of the semi-conscious god rotated his hand round and round dozens of times, mercilessly building up a cosmic tension at One increasingly vulnerable Point.


* * * * * * * * * *

"You'd think the Belly would have blinked out of existence. But don't you see? It couldn't! For blinking would have left Nothing, not Void. And that's why it randomly dashed into oblivion, like a freed balloon sputtering air. I can even recall its eternally dying gasp: 'Shhh.'" Pause. "Honey, are you awake? Sweetheart?"


"I'm sorry; I must have drifted off during your story. Would you please turn out the light and go to sleep?"





Two full minutes of exhausted, restorative breathing.

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