The Animal of Existence

Jared Daniel Fagen

They ask about my life. The likelihood of my living on. With eyes that will not be met I say of their inquiry that it is no decision of my own. For the most part I struggle unknown. But the world, I am privy to it yet. My silence laments into night. They ask about my life, but for life I grieve deeply. Ordinarily I’m wasting away. Staring long enough to disappear where my eyes fall their gaze. I think, in particular, on what to read next. How effortlessly, with little known danger, I forfeit these moments. On a mantle opposite from where I am I fix my sight upon a volume, the contents of which have become bewildering. I cannot move to greet its thread, devour blindly the words it holds, but obtain only, from this great distance, the frayed linen of its spine. I have been bedridden for some time, for some time too long. When past noon arrives the shadows shrink enough for me to remember its title, if only loosely, but it is lost to me now that rain claims the sky. They do not offer to retrieve it for me, to read aloud selected passages. Instead they repeat that I will not be cured. The diagnosis drifts, means not to me regardless. My sole interest is the shapes in proximity fading in the absence of light. I would feel panic if I sought to gain recovery from my illness, fated, fashioned in slightness of breath. I recall a line, from somewhere else entirely, once skimmed over and over again, not having then intended to commit it to memory. In a language difficult for me now to comprehend, “I preferred the sharpest corner of this room to be alone in.” I say this aloud and am no stranger to the echoes. I bury inside, become gestures exhuming visible patterns of smoke. They ask about my life but I have my sight on tattered cloth, the stitching coming undone, the binding beneath. The hours pass this way, tracing outlines out of reach. I ask them will the shadows rise again, or will the days remain from me forever hidden? I knew a man once in a story. I regret not being able to recall the context that informed our conversation. But he spoke to me about decades, how to anatomize the emptiness, the spaces safe within a pause. I appeal to him now, as if beside me. Why chimneys and pillars? I ask. Before we met between the folds of lace I believed heaven an interval of stars. It is in another’s pages that I stir. Man I once knew in a story, pull the blanket up to my neck please. It grows cold in here, I am freezing. I forfeit the lexicon, for now at least. Turn my head in a different direction, down. Nothing moves. The blanket is made of fleece and it is crimson. I am able to sleep, often choosing to do so, but rather now feel with my left hand the material beneath the covers the way I would a water’s surface. Slowly studying, with precision, the imperfections with the tips of my fingers, pulling lint and balling it behind my nails until five are firmly in place. This is the sole sensation with which I am familiar. I met another voice once who liked to count the pebbles in his pockets and crawl about on his stomach. My legs have given way as his. That would be the story, no? The arc of which he forbade me to follow. Nevertheless I cherished his kinship. I would say to him now that it was in our distance that we were kept bound, the voice hemmed me to him, and he would reply as he always has, in a faint murmur, “Forget me, know me not, yes, that would be the wisest, none better able than you.” Here I am however finally destitute, collecting balls of lint into larger pellets I, once they harden, let fall to a floor not felt physically for some ages. An unexpected warmth prompts me to resign this habit. I pull my arms out from under the quilt. Unkempt and unprotected they have grown ashen, hairless. I lick them for the taste of salt tho my tongue has long ceased to salivate. Something like the sun emerges again and I return, instinctively, to the volume on the mantle. But at dawn it is yet too early to make out the letters. What dawn is it that descends on me? If I try hard enough I could make out the rubric that the words, one after the other, form to complete a phrase, but I wish not to exert any effort in this regard. All I’ve managed is a few hours passed, the news having long since reached me. I wait, wasting away, for some reunion, when so much of myself goes abandoned, bruised. The more I repeat myself, the more my origin is lost. One of the words comes back to me in vague recollection: Melancholy. If I had the will I would see it writ, but as such I can only feel it, sense it somewhere memorized. When I attend to sound I listen to the spring of a fountain. From the mouths of marble women are whispered the secrets of stillness. I say “melancholy” loud enough to fill the room with a sound that just as soon becomes strange to me, and remember I had a name. They say it on occasion. I call out again, “melancholy!” “melancholy!” so I will not forget as soon. They ask about my life, I ask them what name was given. They say not until we have heard a response. I say again “melancholy,” which has been reclaimed on the volume across from me by an acute shadow, but the reason for my utterance is lost. I begin to describe to them a different fountain, bathed in fragments of light, its basin drained. Beneath the copper patina fade the figures of Wisdom and Felicity. I specify the stone in fall. Along the way they stop listening, or maybe I’ve stopped speaking, reminded of an image. A woman in silk, throwing torn pieces of paper over a balustrade, watching them float like falling snow, when there is no wind, down to the street below. Another line repeated, “One word is not enough to save the rest.” There is winter in my eyes, and a tempest in her breast. We have never met, not in flesh, but I revisit her at random standing on the balcony that way. Sometimes I am next to her, fixing my posture, apart from. She is gone now, and I beside her. Birth. Birthing. Birthed. Another part is forming now. Have I finally adjusted my vision to the darkness? Perhaps I get the title confused. My appearance is phantom, I read it in braille, administer feature to my ailments. Seldom do I move. A far cry from this body. I struggle to shake my feet free from beneath the blanket. They come loose, gnarled, a grotesque violet. Toes exposed cold. I am otherwise healthy, despite the coughing fits that sometimes seize me. Remaining in one position makes less severe my respiration. Have I mistaken Melancholy for Impossibility? Night falls. I remember all those tomorrows promised but never certain to me. Tomorrows will end over my eyelids. The night, at least, settles over me peacefully. They say my name and it is a siren. Include now ‘deaf’ in my diagnosis. I am aware of one window in my quarters, from where at times a draft comes in. I know of it when it is morning, that there is a curtain quaking in its frame. I am not well enough to be near it, tho I have never had urge to look outside, to know contest or pleasure, errands or engagements. All desires wane. I awake on a different day. The volume appears furthest yet away from me. I am restored to periphery, in the world, no? I am life enough, I think. It is likely enough. The borders, the balustrades. My mind talks for me, on my behalf, I recognize the accent, it’s company enough. More company than they, disappeared behind the drapes, come back only to amass what life I still manage, had hoarded before the sickness struck. The drinking-den of my head. Palms upon a cold steel railing, with hydrangeas hanging over a fire escape. Their leaves lean into me in the wind, touching me lightly. I caress the fabric to mimic the texture that for a minute seems exciting, and mock the imagined. The voice, in the story, doesn’t imagine. I wait for him when we are far again. I linger eternities. They refuse me still, fetch not the volume I am unable to procure alone. I fault them for their selfishness, a fault of my own. I’ve been known to mince and mingle words that theretofore had had no business with each other. Still instant, departed, is the condition of the volume, constant to me. The book too is faithful presence, just barely holding on, have nothing. They say my name and it is reverb, when the reflections continue, less readily. My name decays, and dies down. What to read now. The ceiling, maybe. I picture it in the dark ivory and damp, with its leaks like fault lines, cratered, a tactile map. Suddenly I am tired, so exhaustedly so, tired of the evening, the eves of dawn again. The issue unresolved, I have one, it is none. The last word, Toil it must be, with all my weariness a mirage. Where the rip of the spine ruptures the insignia, the structure, like a body behind a flame, a wave of heat. Never been, never restless, not so moved. The story emptied and never-ending and none of significance. I’ve wanted to say something for a while for a time but it would mean nothing to me now, to anyone, the mantle the coffin, to make haste with speech or impassioned remark or ardent motion or choke or grief of any kind. They go by several names themselves; all escape me, something else of mine ceases. The sinews show. I too am held together by shreds.

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Jared Daniel Fagen's prose and nonfiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Brooklyn Rail, Sleepingfish, Minor Literature[s], The Quarterly Conversation, and 3:AM Magazine. He is a founding editor of Black Sun Lit.