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The entire novel Table 41 is available on this Web page.
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Gott versprach sich, als er den Menschen schuf.
God misspoke when he created the human being.
Je edler ein Ding in seiner Vollkommenheit, desto grässlicher in seiner Verwesung.
The nobler a thing in its perfection, the more hideous it will be in its decomposition.
—Moses Mendelssohn, quoting a ‘Hebraic writer’
Dedicated to Joseph Suglia
Thanks to Friedrich Nietzsche, D.H. Lawrence, and J.G. Ballard.
Reference is made to “Mussel Hunter at Rock Harbor” by Sylvia Plath, “Der Panther” by Rainer Maria Rilke, Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Ulysses by James Joyce, “Decorative Art in America” by Oscar Wilde, and the Natural History of Pliny the Elder.
Copyright 2014 by Joseph Suglia
You are on the beach, watching the swaying of the waves. The waves sweep across the steeps like a flock of stampeding sheep speeding over the steppes, the snaking waves hissing over the driftwood steeped in the sandy wrack.
A squadron of gulls lifts uneasily into the air and then dissipates against the grey sky. You look meaningly at the gulls. They hover, the flurry of gulls. The gulls lull heavily in the air, squealing their dull squeals.
You incline your head downward and stare at the inrushing waves, each one a hungry-mouthed sheep, coming toward you ravenously. The water is deliquescent twenty feet from the shore. Beyond the shoal the surface seems lacquered, solid, unbreachable, enameled, brackish, thick, as if it were a spreading mass of viscous aquatic jelly. From the shore you cannot fathom, through the spume lid, the pelagic fathoms. The lake’s lid is swarming with wavelets, each one undulant and alive—afroth, the lake’s lip, frosting wisps.
You listen to the shifting of the water and the sifting of the silt. You watch the interleaving waves and the tempest of gulls.
The shadows of the gulls couple and uncouple, dancing on the drowning deluge, dancing on the shallows.
When the water rushes, it whishes; when it draws back, it seethes. The waves comb; the water-spasm draws close, then subsides, receding into the lush foam.
A woman, around thirty, is thirty feet to your right, recumbent on her beach blanket. She is violently shy and teething a toothsome nectarine. She has with her a nectarine grinder and a bag of nectarines. She grinds the fruit to pulp, pulping to the beat of a soundless music.
The water sluices into torrents. They rush to your feet.
You raise yourself and shake off the sand. You walk along the shore, looking at the water as you walk. A beard of kelp dances beneath the thin film, the eiderdown of sea-grass. A crab scuttles over the slickenside of a sea-rock.
You see a gull on a bulkhead, devouring a fleshless mollusk. The gull pulls out the gut and swallows the unchewed meat.
The gull squawks.
You see loping teenagers in the distance. A hipster is strumming his guitar on a beach blanket. Beside him is his skintart girlfriend who is chewing chewing gum with her mouth open. Her head resembles the head of a grouper.
There, an old man eating his soup. He looks like a duck dunking its bill into a bucket of muck.
You are drifting toward the pier. You hear the crackling of shells and the cackling of gulls. Combers comb the surface of the lake and strike the shore.
Spreading frostiness. The frothing is spreading over the sand.
See the motorboat sharking through the waves. The boat splits the foam, leaving a frothy trail in its wake. Tire tracks furrow the sand. There, bottle caps and crabs’ claws. A mass of striped shells, an exotic tapestry.
You step into the blue water. The water is cool. Tendrils of kelp envelop your feet.
Flows come in from the hazy juncture of water and sky, fluxes of light and spume. It becomes easy to imagine that the white waves are manitous, coming to claim your soul. Spangles scintillate on the surface of the beach, light refracted from the fragments of beached beer bottles. Bespangled beach-desert.
A feather is dancing in the air. It arcs, spirals, and whirls, sailing around in an anxiety of movement. The feather is confused.
It cannot decide if it wants to move upward or downward or to waft away, buffeted by the breeze.
A pair of gulls trots across the sand, strutting in zigzagging formations, traversing your meandering shadows. In the aquatic waste, a thin gull roosts, propped on a buoy. Above you flutters a hurricane of gulls, screeching and cawing.
The platoon of gulls hovers, then dissipates.
The lake is blackening. You step out of the water.
Shaped like ovaries, shaped like melting hippopotami, black clouds unfurl across the sky, trained by ethereal forces, at supersonic speeds. One flocculent mass after another, they flop about on the aerial stage; the autodynamism of clouds, self-moving vehicles, entrances you. They are weighty with the pendency of rain.
Now the waves are bursting violently against the shoreline, and a thickening layer of water is covering the expanse of sand.
Towering above you now, their crests are white with angry foam. They are ramming the shore, spraying your eyes. The sand is invisible, only the waves leaping into the air and colliding. Like tentacles, like lampreys, they embrace each other, seething liquid tubes. It seems as if you were encased in a glass tank slowly filling with bubbling gelatin. The black waves are engulfing everything.
The maw of the lake surging toward you, you step backwards.
The sky darkens soundlessly. You are watching the broken sky, walking backwards, crab-like, across the sandy waste. You feel a chill and shiver at the emergence of something terrible foaming in the firmament.
Above is madness. A whorl of clouds, a raging maelstrom, the flashings of a celestial chandelier. The clouds are black and oily and spreading apart; they are floating over you, wagging their cilia menacingly.
The sand is spongy and moist. You are sinking, your clothes heavy with rain.
You fall to the sand, curbing your knees.
From the waves comes a sea-child with kelp in his golden hair. It is a boy. You can see his shape in the lunar semidarkness.
He is coming out of the water. What does the boy look like? Is it even a boy? Yes, it is a boy or something like a boy, something or someone that looks like a boy.
Who is this nautical angel who comes from the lake? Who or what is this aquatic messenger? A shiny white boy, his nacreous skin glistening.
The boy has no eyes. You can see this as he walks slowly toward you through the gusts and the thrashes. He has no eyes and is gazing at you eyelessly. No, he has eyes, but his eyes have no pupils. Oviform pupil-less eye-globes.
His eyes are wholly white, and he is gazing at you whitely. Or is he sightlessly unaware of your presence? He wafts past you now.
The storm grows ever-more truculent and is pounding you with its violence. You are alone. The sea-boy vanishes into the city of Chicago.
Copyright 2014 by Joseph Suglia
And now you slowly awaken.
You are awake. But where are you?
You are not yet alive. Or rather, you are alive. But you have no idea where you are.
The day’s eye closes and then uncloses again. The morning robs the room of its deep shadows, pressing the dead night more deeply into the darkness. Drawing the curtains of your eyes shut, you can feel the light closing in around you.
Rocking your head back and forth in refusal, you are only dimly aware of where you are.
You are in a hotel. That is where you must be.
You are steeped in the swirling sheets of a rent-a-bed at the Lincoln Park Inn, 601 West Diversey Parkway.
Why are you in a hotel?
Bursting into the world of consciousness with the elegance of a rabid muskox, you no longer remember who you used to be.
The dawn undarkening splatters against the window in a plasmatic rainbow.
The matutinal glow is reflected on the plasma-wettened streets.
The matutinal glow drawing fuzzy halos around you, you have only a vague post-awareness of your usual self. Now, as if reborn, your existence slopes into a question mark.
Raising your head, you uncover yourself with uncertain fingers.
You remove the blanket from the bed. The blanket falls to the floor.
Your eyes wrinkled with fatigue, you survey the ghost room.
A sepiatone photograph of a ghostly cadaverous bride on her wedding day hangs above the bed.
Staring at the mirrored ceiling, you avoid the questions that you are too afraid to pose.
Even while you were sleeping, you had silently asked yourself the questions that are now insistently buzzing in your mind, buttery questions that are churning in the butter-churner of your brain. Lying in the deep bed, you corral the unstable words that, like horses, threaten to bolt from the stable of your mouth.
You had a dream last night. Did you dream of a boy? Did you dream of a boy coming from the lake? Was that even a dream? Did you dream of a boy with blank eyes emerging from the water?
If you could choose where you will die, you would die near the water.
If you could choose the place of your own death, it would be a beach.
Imagine lying on the beach. You are reclining on that beach. You are watching the merchildren coming from the waves. They are disappearing into the city. You are watching the children come from the sea and disappear into the city.
You are lying on the beach, in your imagination, and you are staring at the sky above you.
The sky is growing foamy black. You imagine the waves rising.
You imagine that the tide is rushing in and bearing your body into the water.
Into the water you go. You are joining the children of the deeps.
Enough of these dreams. You are alert now.
You flow into wakefulness, voiding your mind of cloudy thoughts.
You raise yourself and walk across the room and into the lavatory. You feel as if you were levitating. It is time to take your morning shower.
A mirage of flesh and tufty pubescence fills the shower cube. Loose and wet, your flesh is blasted by a blast of effervescence. A haze of mist surrounding you, you stretch unsleepily, stretching out and open. Then unstretch. Shivering with bliss, you stand high over the wavelets that are forming around the drain.
You squeeze a jet of clear plasma into your palms. Beautiful shampoo ejaculates into your palms. “Tangerine-Guacamole Surprise,” you muse to yourself in a mumbling mutter. You rub your hands together until the shampoo lathers into froth. You slather your hair with the viscous sap.
Translucent ooze ripples over your forehead, dew dangling from your eyebrows.
You recall silently to yourself that it is a faux pas to soap one’s body with shampoo. You smile bemusedly to yourself, content with your knowledge of showering etiquette.
You place the shampoo bottle gently upon the soap-encrusted balcony.
You unravel a serpentine shower hose and spray yourself with a heavy, frosty spray. The folds of your skin shiver and then settle back into place.
You exit the steamy shower capsule.
You place the towel in your hands. The towel is pink.
You dry yourself off. You get dressed. You unclose and close the door of the hotel room and tread down the corridor.
Watch the white cat sidling against the wall, a sliding sidler. Its tail high in the air, the white cat mighews as you step forward.
You walk toward the elevator. You push the DOWN button.
Walk into the elevator.
Walk out of the building.
You walk through the courtyard. You walk across the parking lot.
Out on to the street you amble.
The day is cascading incandescence.
You insinuate into the Starbucks at 617 West Diversey Parkway.
There is only one client waiting to order: a man of twenty-six winters, wearing a maroon sweater, cosmetically faded grey jeans, and black-framed goggles. His boots are brown; his hair is gelatinized into stalactites. He orders a Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuchino. His sinuous lips worm over his puckered face as if they were telling a joke that only they could understand.
You stare at the back of the maroon man’s head as his head bobbles. He turns around furtively and goggles your eyes with a googly-eyed look. He slinks and slouches away.
You swing toward the counter. There, a clerk adorned in a green apron. She is waiting for you to speak. Beneath her green apron is a multi-creased cream-colored chiffon blouse. Her hair is chignoned; her skin is pallid. Behind her is a mounted photograph of coffee beans aswirl in a grinding coffee grinder.
You ask the clerk for a Vanilla Bean Crème Frappuchino.
Behind you, there is someone. Behind you a dumpy woman is groping toward the counter, bellowing and barking. She is wearing pink slippers and a pink jumpsuit. She claws the air with her hands as if she were clawing her way through ectoplasmic coils.
She yells at no one in particular:
—Can I have some sugar? No more sugar!
The clerk looks at you.
The clerk conspiratorially fingers a table in the seating area and intones sotto voce:
—You can sit there. She’s not supposed to be here. There’s a mental home a few blocks down the street.
The deranged woman is clawing at the air.
—SUGAR! SUGAR! WHERE IS THE SUGAR? NO MORE SUGAR!
You gambol to the vacant table—bonum vacans. The clerk places a transparent cup on the green balcony of the ordering area. You take the cup in your hands. The cup is gorged with thick white liquid and plumed with crests of thick white foam. A straw impales the aerosol cushion. You think of ravens nesting in the White Cliffs of Dover.
Walk to the table. Sit down at the table.
A young woman is folded up beside you, her knees against her chest. She is nestling in the nest of a brown leather armchair, her apricot-shaped face impending over her Blackberry. Sunglasses rest on flaxen hair. She is wearing a white sweatshirt, blue jeans, and brown boots.
At the counter, perched on a stool, is a man of thirty-five summers; he has sideburns and is donning black sneakers and a large watch. He is circling his finger on the mouse of his laptop, squinting at the screen.
There is an old man, deflating in his brown leather armchair. His forehead is corrugated; his skeletal form is draped in a grey sweater and loose blue jeans. His eyes are plunging deeply into a photograph that he has extracted from his wallet. He loses interest in the photograph and pulls out a wad of twenty-dollar bills. He is counting his twenty-dollar bills. Look at his orbiting orbits.
Scanning the walls up and down, his lidless eyes trace outlines.
A young woman, long black hair enveloping her head like a blank manta, opens the door. She shifts into the Starbucks space. She is gripping a black Armani purse and is swathed in a black suit jacket. Grey yoga pants mold her thick thighs.
She speaks masklessly toward her friend—a dwarfish version of her—while surveying the flatscapes of her Blackberry. The taller woman says:
—I was, like, you are my entertainment. Do you know what I mean? I want a tall coffee. The ‘tall’ is the small one. My hair is crazy.
You listen to the rustlings of the packets of artificial sweetener and lapse into an early-morning reverie. Through the ten-foot plate-glass panel windows, the sky is turning a refulgent yellow. The yellowing sky calls to mind the fulguratings and effulgences of your dream. You imagine yourself slipping gently into the oceanic flow.
You are sliding into the mysteries of last night’s dream.
Of what did you dream last night? You pause and muse.
You seldom dream. Or you seldom remember your dreams. Psychologists have told you that every human being dreams.
But is this the case? You have not remembered a dream in ten years. Does this mean that you have not dreamt for a decade?
Yes, you dreamt last night.
Last night, you dreamt and dreamt vividly of a sea-boy emerging from the waves of Lake Michigan. The question is not “What does the dream mean?” but rather “What did you dream in the first place?”
Last night’s dream surfaces in flashes, as most dreams do. Your dream lights up.
You remember the boy’s white shape rushing across the sands of the beach. He ran so quickly that he seemed to be hovering, suspended over the frozen sand.
Soon he vanished into the city of Chicago. He danced into the shadow-zones of the city of Chicago. Something happened immediately afterwards, something succeeded his vanishing.
In your thought-vision you see the boy galloping across the pavilions of the night. You visualize the boy’s journey from the lakeshore, concentrating the faculty of your imagination on his flight through the nocturnal streets. He traverses the park, whisking between the wispy trees in the park and the sleeping presence of gantries and traffic lights, sentries of nothing.
You remember the sea-boy running down Fullerton Parkway toward Clark Street and then south on Clark Street, his white shape scudding down the roadway and into a convenience store, as if propelled by a violent gale, the boy’s white form juddering as he seized a bottle of fluoride-freshened water, pressing it to his sea-mouth, glugging as the water gurgled from the bottle, an elemental memory of his nativity, and down his throat, water wettening the boy’s neck as the effluence flowed into and on to his body. The clerk wheeled around the counter, keeping a reverent distance from this exotic creature, a silky seal that sinuated into his store.
The boy ran away. The boy ran out of the store. The boy was gone, out the door and into the street, across the walkway, into the careenings and the careerings and the circlings of the traffic, a spiraling volute.
Now there is a gap in your memory at this point. It is difficult to suture the holes of memory, to bridge the ravines that form between one’s consciousness and one’s dreaming vision.
You strain the muscles of your memory.
In a flash of remembrance, you recall the young boy lying face-down at the joining of two streets, his body encircled by a pool of water. Water spouted from his mouth in spurts.
Palpitating like a dying fish, the boy gradually expired and no one and nothing sighted him, except for the roving, roaming, unblinking glare of a security camera, a mechanical eye less observant than the boy’s absent eyes, null yet charily and everlastingly perceiving.
Where is the boy? You must find the boy. Find the sea-boy.
The objective now is to find the illumined juncture, the crossing of two roads illuminated in your dream, and to see if there is a dead boy lying, a boy lying dead on the tarmac. Your voyage begins at the Starbucks on Diversey Parkway.
Copyright 2014 by Joseph Suglia
You burst out of the Starbucks. You see a red Hyundai. There, against the curb, a red Hyundai. A Hyundai tangled in vines.
And the vines are moving. Festooning, coiling, winding vines.
You assume this is an art-school project—performed by an attention-seeking student of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—and forge ahead, down Clark Street.
You sojourn southward. You drift down Clark Street, drifting spectrally. Padding the sidewalk. Toward the Clark/Fullerton intersection.
It is a breezy, balmy day, and the sun is bobbing into your vision like an overripe plum.
Sunlight spreads across the sky like a piña colada spilling across a grey table cloth, the cream of coconut and pineapple juice mingling together in a yellowish-white swirl.
You pass a shop window. On the window, the word HARMONY is painted in blue. The word HARMONY is bisected into two planes—HARM and ONY—and you recognize, for the first time, that the letters H, A, R, and M are contained in the word “harmony.”
Walking toward you is a man with shoe-polish skin and white hair. His expression, vacant, is one of an entranced mystic. He is wearing a bright-red button-down shirt and black trousers.
Avoid. The man with shoe-polish skin and white hair passes on your right. He tongues the air as he walks.
A twentyish woman passes on your left. She is wearing a white halter top and blue jeans shorts. She says to her smartphone:
—I literally closed my mouth when we were making out.
The wind is swelling up. You stare ahead of you as you walk. The telephone wires are shivering. The trees are vibrating madly. You look at the trees, moving back and forth.
It is the violently swinging branches that you cannot stop staring at. They seem animated by something other than wind.
Keep on walking south on Clark Street.
Copyright 2014 by Joseph Suglia