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4 Stories by Evelyn Hampton

05/17/2009

An Adventure Story

A point begins moving in a direction, trailing a line behind it. The line is a record and describes: Here is, was, and will be again, in time.
     If a good adventure story is a trajectory, and a measure of the heroism extolled within it a function of how far and through how difficult a landscape the trajectory travels from the point where the trajectory begins, then by this measure, this adventure story is not a good one: it doubles back around the middle, then doubles back again, and stays there, circling an indistinct figure.
     The figure is standing knee-deep in snow, or the figure is drowning.
     In order to reach this figure and save it, the story casts off its unnecessary weight. It casts off its characters, who are weak, pale, and heavy, a family of four. It casts off its narrator, who is prone to exaggeration. It casts off details that do not add to its forward momentum, but in doing this, it has made an error: because the story is circling, forward momentum only increases the sensation of centrifugal force, which pushes the story away from its object.
     In its haste to save the figure, the story has furthered the distance between the figure and itself, and continues spinning in ever-widening circles, powerless to stop in this fictitious, frictionless landscape.
     Meanwhile, the narrator, who feels disillusioned with the story and everything the story does, goes on a long walk by herself, and becomes lost.


The Pheasant and the Fungus1

Each time the door is opened, a wedge of orange light overlaps the faint circle of yellow cast by the streetlight. Inside, diners are seated at two long tables that extend back past the kitchen to the other end of the restaurant, which lies in a far quadrant of the night. Diners are dressed beautifully, in hats and dresses and suits and scarves, and sit waiting with extreme patience, for they have an extreme zeal for patience. Perhaps it is this zeal that brings them night after night to the restaurant, with its simple wooden tables and benches, its plain though expensive meals, and a view of the kitchen where the cook works. The cook wears a red stocking cap and looks like someone who was once shipwrecked, lost at sea, and navigated home by the stars, and she can be seen tirelessly preparing in tall copper pots and cast iron skillets what once lived blithe and uncaring in the forest.
     Along the benches, couples seated across from one another lean forward in order to hold conversations about beekeeping, ship building, and the mechanical genius of the astrolabe. Yes, we have to divide up our time like this. The whole visible world is perhaps nothing other than a motivation of our wish to rest for a moment.
     Before the meal is served, the cook comes out of the kitchen, and standing on a chair, says, “I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do. I do not believe that man is a useless passion. The quest for the marvelous does not end, for being itself is this quest.” The cook returns to the kitchen, and the diners soon find their plates full, their minds empty.


Ideas About Them2

Fatigue comes from them. The wearing out of the clothes of scholars is due to their rubbing against them. The opaqueness in the eyes of the blind is their reflection. Each mirror is one hallway of their chamber. When you shiver, it is because they are behind you. A sigh is their minor accompaniment. A scream is their primary abode. A cloud to them is just as loud. A malady their four-leafed clover. When the door's hinges wail, it is because they have been through. The bruising of the feet comes from them. One who paces walks beside them. In hesitation they live their entire lives.
     If one wants to discover them, or to speak of them among a crowd, let him come to harm. Let him, however prayed-for, arrive at harm, and be removed to one of harm's wards. Let the children of harm cobble him shoes with which to walk through harm. Let him, one afternoon when he believes he has escaped harm, fall to his knees, and die. Then he will see them, and he will speak with them of nothing, for that is all they speak of.
     We welcome them. We go through them like light through film, and they watch us, offering no help.


An Example of Single-Mindedness
When he was a boy, his influence on the world seemed calculable: there was the island, and it took X number of strokes of a paddle of X length to reach it. There were enough hours in the part of the day he was allowed to inhabit—the part that began with the sound of a dish in the kitchen, a woman calling his name, and ended with the sound of a dish in the kitchen, the woman calling a man’s name—for him to make X number of trips to the island, each trip ferrying a squirrel he had trapped in his father’s trap. His intelligence was circumscribed only by wonder, and by the number of hours he was allowed to inhabit each day. From his bed before he slept, before the light had completely faded, he watched the island through binoculars, believing, It won’t be long now, it won’t be long now, it won’t be long now.
     Now, when I look out my window at a certain time of day, I see him pass by on his bicycle, riding up the hill with something like dogged fascination. He has a silly grin on his thin face and in the leathery pouch affixed to his handlebars he carries something for the one who waits at the top of the hill. My house is only halfway.

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1 “The Pheasant and the Fungus” makes use of the following sources:
Einstein, Albert. “Yes, we have to divide up our time like that, between our politics and our equations.”
Kafka, Franz. “The whole visible world is perhaps nothing more than the rationalization of a man who wants to find peace for a moment.” http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Franz_Kafka.
Michau, Michael R. “On Escape.” Other Voices: the (e)Journal of Cultural Criticism, v. 2., no. 3 (January 2005).
Rilke, Rainier Marie. Letters to a Young Poet. “I want to thank you for the great confidence you have placed in me. That is all I can do.”

2 The first two lines of “Ideas About Them” are from a folktale about Mazikin, a kind of demon thought to inhabit a realm just beyond the visible. Found in The Hebrew Folktale by Eli Yassif (author), Jacquiline S. Teitelbaum (translator). page 145-146.

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Evelyn lives in Seattle and co-edits Dewclaw. Her website is lispservice.com.

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