Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Belly, part nine

[This is another passage from my short story Belly. To start from the beginning, click here.]

He still doesn’t know us.

He can’t. It’s not the way it works.

It affects how he takes what we say.

It can’t be helped, and we’re learning from it. We’ll make adjustments.

We’re on to variations of a theme now.

What’s the theme?

Time, and it’s relevance to how he sees the world. Or it’s irrelevance to how he will.

What if he doesn’t want to?

We always come back to choice, don’t we?

It’s pretty important.

We only give him the sparks of an idea. He has to choose how to react to them. And we’re overdue for another reaction, so ask another question.

Jonas, what if what happens, doesn’t happen for one reason, and it doesn’t happen only one way?


He hates the way the newspaper pages keep spilling on his thigh. He can’t stand the sound of them turning, and so constantly, with its crinkle and swish. And when he hears the sound of their voices come back to him again, he hates it all even more.

No one taught this man how to read a newspaper on a train. Some one taught Jonas. Brother Joe, in high school, while waiting for the morning bell to ring. He showed Jonas, and the other kids, how you fold it, vertically, length-wise down the center, and then peel the pages back. Jonas was impressed by the ease of it, the grace of folding the pages back, then opening it up at that reduced center, then moving on to fold more back.

It’s as if the man wants him to read along. Or they do. So he does, glancing down at the headlines there on page A15. But the words don’t want to stand still for him. They keep hopping around to different places, rearranging themselves, and sometimes changing shape to new words. “Killed” becomes “survived”, “won” wants to be “lost”, names and genders switch places.

And it’s not just the bolded words in the headlines. The smaller words in the blocky paragraphs below move too, their letters fall away like grains of sand sliding through glass, and new words take their place.

And it’s not just the words on the page, it’s the photos too. Someone bloodied becomes the same person unsmudged and smiling, or a different person altogether finds themselves in an altogether different place, or maybe the same but in much different circumstances. Their uniform and weapon have been swapped for a t-shirt and sign. Wartime is peace, angry protests are cheerful gatherings, a flag-draped coffin becomes a cradle meant to display the new year’s first newborn.

And it makes no sense. And it’s all too much. And Jonas closes his eyes to shut it all out. And just then, as the blackness takes him, he hears another voice pipe in through his ear buds. A different voice.
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