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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Back to Belly

I'm finally returning to my short story Belly, which I abandoned early this year after posting the first four chapters. I'm going to start anew with a revised prologue below, and I hope to post at least one chapter a week... but don't hold me to that.

Prologue: A Circular Journey

It starts and ends here: The heavy head of a man, who is perhaps too cleverly named, jumps skyward as if it were tugged by a puppeteer’s unmeaning and graceless twitch.

The man is called Jonas. That’s a variant of Jonah, and this is, after all, a tale of bellies.

The invisible hand behind the tugging is the jostling force of Jonas’s week-linked commuter train. The tethered box in which he’s nestled is the first belly of this narrative, and it carries him halfway along its circular journey. It’s a trek often punctuated by fits, false starts, and sudden stops, and one such regularly irregular interruption pulls Jonas from a dreamless sleep, punching up his ragdoll’s chin to bring him gasping back into its interior.

First to wake are his limpid blue irises, which struggle to emerge between black-lashed lids, straining against the flood of pallid light. His nicely rounded ears, more prominent for the lack of hair surrounding them, rouse next rudely reconnected to crashing waves of cartoonish sounds as the mechanical beast regains its stride. Last to stir are the nostrils of a rather plain nose, which flare to gulp some fueling air then spit back the pungent smell of perspiration, mixed with wet wool.

“What time is it?”

These whispered words, voiced as an aside, cue Jonas’s left arm to lift up, but, so long wedged against the steel wall, it misses its mark. A livelier right hand, eager to assist its fellow player, leaps their lapped divide and massages the deadened flesh. It’s a lovely and successful gesture, and the blood gradually returns, bringing with it pricks of tiny needles.

This first dramatic stumble gotten past, the action proceeds as scripted. The left arm rises dutifully and its opposing hand slides back a pale blue cotton cuff to reveal two silver strips spread like an open scissors attacking the white disk.

“Seven o’clock still, but that can’t be.”

If his eyes and memory don’t betray him, and after the arm-lifting mishap he can’t rule out their collusion, time’s usually steady gait had limped to a halt and then reversed path back to the moment icy winds ushered him onto this round-about. Or, it could be the watch. Jonas taps the glass crystal, but it offers no signs of life.

The rounded square of a window, backed by an early winter morning’s confounding darkness, gives him no clues either to his place in this oft-repeated story’s book.

“It doesn't matter.”

Suspended inanimate within these vibrating walls, Jonas lets the wash of artificial light and heat coax him back to unconsciousness. The troubling city sprawled out below him fades further into the black. His once-sharp calling recedes with it to the indistinct mumble of words spoken long ago, far away, and in a forgotten tongue.

Overcome by sleep’s welcome eraser, Jonas’s shoulders slump and his head nods, their controlling strings severed anew.
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