Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Two stories by J.J. Steinfeld

Two stories
by J.J. Steinfeld


It is very important to be philosophical with oneself, at least on occasion. To pose a large philosophical question. To do an assessment of one's underpinnings and values and sense of the here and now along with the unknown. Socrates sure had it right when he said that an unexamined life isn’t worth living. Here is my question, formulated after a particularly restless night, the phone having rung twice and both times wrong numbers: What would you do if one bright autumn morning a large, exquisitely wrapped package was delivered to your front door? That is the question, but it must be qualified with details and more questions, smaller but equally philosophical questions.

The delivery, nothing mystical or magical, is through ordinary channels by properly uniformed postal officials. The package is huge, two-thirds the size of the tall, mature spruce tree shading your house, the wrapping exquisite, like fancy carpeting, the return address a flourished scrawl in a foreign language you cannot translate. You think some reclusive, holy scribe had written the words. There, the huge package, inviting yet ominous, you having no idea of its contents or place of origin—that’s pretty much all you need to know, the basic scenario. So, would you open the package, regale in the surprise, or let it sit there, perhaps call the authorities and have experts in large unsolicited packages surround the huge-packaged mystery, follow all the necessary procedures? What would you do? Would you pray for guidance? Would you hire a crane to move the package to your backyard and hide it there, awaiting a time of more courage to satisfy your curiosity and placate your fear?

Days, weeks, months the package would sit there, season after season, years a line in your well-thought-out will to your children and your children's children, until a future day when science and technology have reshaped the world, one mad fearless inheritor of the package in a mad insane outburst rips off the exquisite wrapping, places a light-weight ladder against the box, and climbs, climbs like an explorer determined not to allow the stories of an inhospitable land to hinder the quest, and upon reaching the top rung of the ladder, shouts in premature jubilation and pushes off the lid.

There, in the box, before the very eyes of one of your descendants, are bones, a package half full of bones, and the madness-glazed descendant climbs down and writes a very official note, a heartfelt request to rewrap the package and asking that it be sent to a far-off relative, returns to the ladder, makes the now familiar climb, and jumps into the family mystery, then curls up inside the huge box, lost in philosophical thoughts.



I used to live on the street, but it's difficult for me to say how long. Years, perhaps. It's not that I'm ashamed of that period of my life, but I don't know how to explain or justify it. Now I'm clean at least, a not too wrinkled suit of clothes, and I'm sitting here in one of the nicer parks in the city. And a half-decent day. I can think, I can remember, I can look around me, and I have someone nearby—a long-time companion, even though he's reluctant to reveal his name. I am more talkative, but he is just as observant as I am. I’ve made an attempt at a writer’s life; at least I have the memory of having been a writer.

We sit together on this park bench, interfering with no one, knowing only each other and what chances before our bench-confined view. What loyal partners we have become, old melancholy colleagues passing time, combing each other's hair as it falls out in unsightly protest, befouling our personal museums.

No new topics today, revising the old ones. We fight with imaginary gods as the real One shuns us so, save for the occasional pinch or jab or slap to make us pay for our fantasies, for our indefensibly lovely days; we still welcome our random punishments, gawking at the loveliness.

Soon it will be morning. We argue over the month but accept the tottering minute too enchanting to contest; we never have nor never will comprehend the need for godliness. An unknown stray dog passes, depositing its indifference. We spit and pray without even budging the earth; we resort to lies to rearrange our sprawling futility—nearly victorious with our language.

If only we had the dog’s courage instead of our landlocked stupidity, we could flee the park bench, float through the world we only hear of from rumours formed by the lips of mischievous winds.

We exchange the vast for the wasted, wasteful with our dreams, raising eyebrows to restore movement, praising oldness to restyle agedness. You and I have no laudable repute, no manner worthy of public presentation or a young woman’s earnest sigh.

So long we have thought what refuses to exist; we are linked to ludicrousness, wondering what we have to hide, hiding what we wonder about. No comely answer, no shape sufficient, to save our dissolving histories—only the unknown is adequate.

In your boredom, I cut my wrists to test my hidden blood. You park-bench partner, bloodless and curious beyond compassion, question why I don't prick a finger to seek the ravishing colour. I laugh and continue to bleed—what sordid sense of victory, what maniac's fluttering haughtiness as I hide in artfulness, preparing my reddened memories.

Soon you will be alone, your amusement thwarted, dying unaccompanied. You say nothing to that, you only act as I act—damn you, my darker glow, my haunting essence, my mocking beloved shadow.

Editor's note: Philosophical Thoughts was first published in the short-fiction chapbook Curiosity to Satisfy and Fear to Placate(Mercutio Press, Montreal, 2003). Our Dissolving Histories was first published in the short-fiction chapbook Curiosity to Satisfy and Fear to Placate (Mercutio Press, Montreal, 2003).

Author bio:

Fiction writer, poet, and playwright J. J. Steinfeld lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. He has published a novel, Our Hero in the Cradle of Confederation (Pottersfield Press), nine short story collections, the previous three by Gaspereau Press — Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized?, Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown, and Would You Hide Me? — and a poetry collection, An Affection for Precipices (Serengeti Press). His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals internationally, and over thirty of his one-act and full-length plays have been performed in Canada and the United States.

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