The Nothing on Which the Fire Depends

Friday 9 November 2009


The coffee is lukewarm, but she doesn’t mind to drink it this way. She speeds down the freeway; she has left the coast and the San Francisco Bay behind her, she has passed through the suburban towns of Hayward Dublin Livermore and travels inland toward the central highway of the state where there are no longer suburban towns and there is no longer heavy traffic and there is the city which lies at the southern end of the interstate, and so she moves quickly, presses the gas pedal down with her right foot to move the green car through space to in some five and half hours arrive to Los Angeles. And the music is loud in the car because she wants it to play loudly and she has set the volume of the music player close to its highest setting to hear Glenn Gould’s vocalisations as he plays ‘The Art of Fugue Contrapunctus XIV.’ She wants the companionship of his wide hums and refracted moans to accompany the yellow-dried fields of grasses passing by her, the hills roll down the highway, the California aqueduct winks bluely once and then again at her left like a wide blue eye and she wont see it again for two hundred miles, and her own persistent noises, the noisiness of bees of the motorised car of her thinking and of Gould’s golden mouth rising above the keyboard at his fingers’ edges and up into space and his dead articulations and the dead man playing the notes and humming along to the musical notations and the speed of the car and the fugue moves her forward towards the hour she will arrive hours from now to Los Angeles and she cannot stop this day moving forward moving towards her like a barricade, the black day continues apace and the sun running across the windshield of the car.

‘The service is at one o’clock at the Catholic church near her mother’s house on Pico Boulevard.’


‘It’s funny, Fyodor, it was the best sex I have ever had, but that’s not enough. This humming between us, at the level of our sexes, the feeling of it, how my cunt pulls the cock towards it from a distance, calls it, good and its strange undeniability, good, my sex and yours and I’ve never been wet like this before you with another lover and I don’t understand it but . . .’


Hello. Hello it’s me – you don’t think that I can do it like he does alongside the top of his music? Hello.hhmmm. That’s me doing it. Hear it? hello. Above your own noisiness like the noisiness of bees.  You didn’t think I’d go like that? or you didn’t know I was going but you felt something?  You thought about me for the first time in a while? (I crossed your mind?) Is your guilt this red-eyed (from crying) homunculus driving you to Los Angeles to my funeral? What of the story of the goats. Do you remember it? You told it to us once during a lecture: the goats on the clay roof of a village house by a lake in the East. The goat is a strange animal; I think of goats on the top of a roof in a village in the East, and of the boy who lived inside that house. Not only strange, but terrifying: do you know that I was terrified of something inside of that story of the goats on the roof. You said their noisiness awakened the boy at night from his sleep – their loud stepping on the roof in the old (and now abandoned) village in the old (and now abandoned) country. Was I not listening in class that day when you said what the goat story was about? hhmmm. Was Glenn Gould listening that day? Do you think he might listen from the other side of his dead recorded music? Do you? Listen from the silent riverbanks of speech? I know how you like to do it a lot – you’ve had your small share of lovers in the past few years, five. I know more than I used to, because I know without doubt that you like to fuck a lot and I know what Fyodor does to your sex. hhmmm. Or rather I now know what the living are blinded to, buried as they are beneath their specious logic of commerce and worries of bill paying and dying and teeth cleaning and the on and on and onness of their noisy sleep-walking chattery lives. Where did you put Fyodor? Is he in your back pocket?


‘Listen: give me something. A chance. Why now are you saying it’s finished between us, and no I don’t find it funny what you say. I waited to find you. I’m not a young man anymore or you a girl, you were married for more than ten years divorced now for four, and this wait . . .’


Did I ever tell you the story of how I met my husband? We met each other in New York City at a meeting for sex addicts. I had sworn off men at that time because of a bad divorce and many bad lovers and so at that time I was celibate, and for two years in New York City I didn’t open my legs and my mouth only for speaking eating and drinking. And for those years I went to the love and sex addiction meetings and Charles and I were friends but I wouldn’t fuck him, I thought: fuck men, but not with my cunt. You remember me, how I was when you knew me as your graduate student: the hair greyed, the belly fat and potted, the breasts cut-off and abandoned in some medical doctor’s garbage bin for the diseased to help fight the cancers. And I had been very attractive when I met Charles in New York City, and when I knew you: greyed and fat and potted. And I said to you one day in that class you taught – the one which I think about, even now, when you told us the story of the goats on the roof of a house in an Armenian village in the East, and you remember my father was born and raised in a small village on the Mediterranean Sea, in southern Lebanon, only one hour from Beirut where your mother was born and raised and so we both of us, in our fashion, half Eastern half American – from my corner of the long wooden table where I sat, I said how I knew what it was at forty-five to die. I was dying at that time during the class you called Literature and the Dead and I didn’t know it (for there had been a remission of the cancers) and was I your class’ blood sacrifice? And when Charles and I started fucking after two years of being friends we didn’t stop it for a good long while because it was good when we did it–and when you haven’t had cock in a while my god it is good and it was love and so we married and moved to Oakland and then the children were born, the tall girl, the shy quiet boy, and I played the piano when I was young, and by that I mean somewhat assiduously, I studied at the conservatory in my twenties and I tried in fact to play like him, I played in that physical manner my face close to the keys and my torso at times waving like a flag with its passions. But I was ridiculous, not a virtuoso after all, and I was always ridiculous, you remember it four years ago when I was completing my master’s degree with my big dying body, my empty breastplate, the grey hair and sallow skin and always from the corner of those long wooden tables in the small seminar rooms of the English Department and me screaming I want to learn I could be dying, and I wanted to be a virtuoso to be very accomplished at something in life, very good at it like an ecstatic and make it all worth it, life worth it, the suffering the long years of exile (from Father’s village, Lebanon’s sixteen-year civil war kept us from returning and forced the extended family to emigrate to America) and the cancer was growing and I was dying and I didn’t know it then. Hello.hhmmm. He does it while he plays because Gould fucks the piano to play it, merges with the instrument, his ear the sounds he is making, he has gone out of himself, he and wood and steel wires and the sounds and his bones and flesh in accordance, like this: hhmmm. And I wanted to fuck everything the world from the beginning, from when I begin to remember feeling this desire to fuck everything and my mother punished me for it, of course, not saying so but in her best American Lutheran costume, her best Anglo-Saxon demeanor and theatrical staging of the Good and Proper, shoving down the half-Oriental girl who wanted to fuck it all with wide open pubic haired sexual arousal and Mother saying her Protestant no no nos to my desires from the very beginning of my life. But hear him, Gould only saying yes; only everything, with his Protestant manners.


‘Listen I love you why don’t you give me something another chance won’t you to show you how much that I do. I’m sorry that I raised my voice when I was angry and then you were frightened.’


The green has been gone from the earth since May, and it’s the yellow greys of the annual grasses of the inland terrain of the state on the drive, the bright blue sky above everything. Speed is comforting and she is driving one hundred miles per hour to feel the comfort in it in her indestructibility and her prestige, the steel of the car its combustion engine its transformative powers making her into a demigod, she moves faster than any other land animal now, she careens across the earth, and it was she who had the land covered in tar and stones so that this vehicle could travel at the speed she now pursues across mountains and down the valley and approaching the Interstate which careens toward her as she does toward it, she has seen the sign for it, Los Angeles 5 south, and there is nothing in her way to inhibit her movement to hinder her flow and she flees what is in her rearview mirror and it follows her assiduously, the mirror taped to the back of her head, looking out as a fourth eye at the past she has not wanted to return, it returns, driving towards Los Angeles towards her former home (the family has long since left LA or died) and Mariam the barrage the constant unstoppable driving rail of this dark day’s theatre and a talking corpse inside of the car.

Fyodor is a good lover. That feeling you have when he puts it in to you, something more than cock and cunt and the moans you make you don’t look into his eyes because the radical fear of your radical mortality the time you bled onto him and wiped your sex as if a towel along his sternum neck and face – painted him savagely into himself from your fat bleeding cunt. How did he get the Russian name? Did you meet him at the supermarket? You always were a little tight-lipped when it came to your lovers. There I was with my cut off breasts bared for you in your classroom and the books I piled on the top of my chest, the sentences winding through my long scars and the scars the books the talks you gave to us to listen to the great books, how they are the guides, the vibrations of the word, and my absent breasts humming along to your sentences to the books you assigned and then that day you told us the story of the goats on the clay roof of the village house and how they symbolised . . . Hello.hhmmm – inside the hhmmm is the knowledge of all the world. These empty tits have haunted me like small animals on this drive home of yours, seeking their return also, and I’m not sure where they’ve gone, into which hospital pile of refuse they were discarded.


‘Listen: I need to clean up. Clean up my house my office. Start another book, and I’ve got to focus, on my career at the college and my daughter and the house which needs paint gardening there are rats in the basement which require killing and I put blue poison into black boxes and the rats are eating the poison and dying in my basement and my house is filling up with invisible rat corpses because I can’t see them only smell them in the walls and under floorboards and hear them at night on the tops of the walls walking and scratching and the black flies are filling up my living room, I am killing them, Fyodor, killing these motherfuckers all of the time and I don’t see them also because I wont look, wont any longer enter into the basement where I deposited the black boxes with the blue poison, I don’t want to look death in the eye in the corpses of the black rotten rats who are eating my house from the inside out (which I must clean and notlooking clean them out) and I need more time to kill and poison and start a new critical book (for the advancement of my career at the college) so I have to work, clean up, kill the rats from up on high with the blue poison patties I took from the neighbour who gave them to me said the rats love the blue patties and the flies are flying throughout the house all of the time and I am running after them with a magazine rolled into a cylindrical shape like a carnival clown with his happy face mask and big happy truncheon for hitting things with and when you used to come to my house I’d put the mask of vile happiness onto my face and the smiling mask the clown wears at carnival when he is saddest with all of my teeth showing and like a chimpanzee I show my teeth not when I am happy but when I am angry and below that sadness and you thought She is happy! And I am now cleaning my office, paying the bills I refuse to pay which pile up also like rat corpses and I think if I don’t look they’ll disappear go away like the invisible feelings of anxiety which plague me at all hours (like flies like telephone calls from collectors I would not like to receive Ma’am you are late you have not paid when do you when will you?) and I’m busy too busy for love and you are not right for me, I’ll call you when I have more time when I am free and when I am free the rats will not exist will preexist for I’ll not remember them or their descendants the black flies the bald bill collectors pounding like happy clowns with unhappy clown masks at my front door screaming out singing Ma’am, Ma’am you have not paid pay now pay late pay fees but don’t pay too late or we will arrive with our laws our angry demeanor our justice (our company is a man in America, he gets his corporate right of the people on our side) and we will take your house your car your things.’


I am I could already be filled with rat and fly shit, but it’s the fire, the change it makes to the chest and brow; why do you deceive yourself about Fyodor? Hello.hhmmm. Did you ever wonder about my chest and how the removal of the breasts, those ugly flesh wounds, appall the eye which wants breasts on a woman’s form, the nipple the flesh and the life in it, the maternal possibility, or at the least the eye accustomed to the breasts of a woman as it is to a grey or blue sky, the green then yellow then brown fescue grasses; the round fleshy sacks of tit fat on a woman’s chest for the tender anticipation of the eye are like home. You remember seeing your paternal grandmother’s wound in Santa Monica when you were nine? How she said to you Look at it I’ll show it to you do you want to see it and she didn’t wait for your reply and you did not want that wound’s image and the chubby half-blonde girl standing before the aged grandmother bosom and how your grandmother removed her shirt her brassiere and the gelatin of the prosthetic tit she had put inside of the brassiere fell out and onto the carpet and the slash across the left area of her chest where her mamma had been pushed up out of itself into its own nothingness upon the plane of the chest, the scar making the body repugnant and marking absence by the line of nothing the doctors left behind, the form of the scar-letter showing you how what is-not is sometimes as palpable as is: the bent where her tit had been, the inanimate gelatin tit fat on the carpet. The violent absence of your grandmother’s breast, of my two beautiful tits: they can’t burn the tits with me today, they burn me without them, and the oven where my body is to be burned is so hot the mortician can’t put dead children inside of it because, he says, nothing would remain of them and although no one wants too much of their beloved, they do want something, a small tangible pile in lieu of what is or was the case of the body, and the outside cosmos careens away as you drive in your dilapidated car with its run-down interior, the overly happy and pathetically optimistic Kelly green of its exterior (wasn’t Kelly green your favourite colour as a girl, if only they’d named you Kelly and not the awkward foreign name your foreign mother gave to you here in America). You head toward your childhood city which is no longer your home and your family has left or died (your paternal grandmother of cancer, your maternal grandfather of a heart attack and his grief) and you wanting in the careening in the unwild green metal hulk of car to not think of Fyodor and your family and of me (burning up) the nothing things which ride on the top of your head like a halo or the millstone around your neck, the same feeling of heaviness and unabated unhappy black flies buzzing and flitting around your head, cutting your vision blurring your hearing, hear them? Hello.hhmmm. This beauty inside of the invisible notes made from wood wire bone playing in your car, and my bones unboning while your footbones with their weight held forward by muscles tendons the ineffable energy source of the body and all of it following your will (my bones undone by fire) push the gas pedal farther to the floor of the Kelly green car travelling at high human-made speed and that invisible blind homunculus to whom you’ve given the residence of your grief and for whom you avowed this retirement from love.


This is an excerpt — the third chapter — from The Nothing on Which the Fire Depends a forthcoming novel by Micheline Aharonian Marcom.


Micheline Aharoninan Marcom was born in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and raised in Los Angeles. She has published five novels and received fellowships and awards from the Lannan Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the US Artists’ Foundation. Her books include The New American (Simon & Schuster) and The Brick House (City Lights).



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