The record skips

It struck me the other day, as I was wrestling with a story that eventually I concluded thus:

I swing the wheel a last time, old Hermes' wheel, but it's Daedalus who peels out of the tornado. Pushing his pedal to the floor, I carry him sailing over the perimeter. We'll swoop and soar in the unknown until his motor gives out, or mine.

...that I have been writing the same story, with only slight differences in character and pitch, for over a decade.

In 1995, on his first outing, the adolescent x strode a gaffer-taped stage before a roaring bonfire and a crowd of some six billion, to whom he told a bedtime story. The audience didn't appreciate the story (x suspected that it was insufficiently raunchy, but in fact it was just excessively vicious — and too short), so they lynched him. The entire world lynched the poor kid. x somehow escaped, but the casualties on the other side were enormous. At least one person died after injuries sustained from a blow inflicted by x's adam's apple.

It was a good story, so in 1996 I retold it on x's final outing. Whereupon he now bestrode a highway that darted through black clouds and whipping winds down into the dark city of Dream's End, which was how I referred to Sydney at the time. The soliloquy was purer on this occasion, and somewhat less, well, disastrous; x sang his song of melancholy to a growing cavalcade of ghosts by the side of the road. The poem began at dusk and by midnight I could take it no further; for the record I had intended to have his final madness coincide with the rising sun.

Perhaps if I had finished that poem I might have moved on to another story. x was eventually crushed beneath the solemn weight of his own name, which is a strangely similar fate to that of his successor. Two stories of Thilfil Stipp are still extant, the orphan goofball of the City of the Dead. In the first he is newborn, so it fell upon a garrulous narrator to tell a crowd of curious phantoms about the omens and auguries surrounding his birth. In the second he preached a sermon regarding the likelihood that God was a pro-wrestler to an audience of urchins and strays in the Chapel of St Alpais. Both were pontifications, lacking the earnestness and finality of other variations. But Thilfil was the closest I think I ever got to writing a novel, and his revelatory hour was scheduled to occur upon a spire above the City of the Dead, to which he would cling and exhort unideological revolution, viscerally shaking the masses from their meagre contentment.

Thilfil Stipp died at the age of thirty-six when a house fell on his head.

That was between 1999 and 2001. In 2002, I took the voice of a poet Arab, who ended his languid, yearning qasida with:

When the sun flames vast I will sing once more, wordless and tuneless, the weeping of this valley's ghosts / When it only smoulders I will rebuild it in this pit, and dance again with my djinn and embers / Taunting the hairless moon and the cursed squinting stars / I'll call upon these black and weary cliffs to retire, this fortress to sunder and admit the invading sands.

Somewhere in there I had a woman's voice, as the whore-historian Eulalie, who recounts a life begun with the splintering of a mirror into six shards, which then fell from the wall and smashed again, condemning her to forty-nine years of bad luck, of which there is only an autumn left. She, like all the rest, sings a poignant, pointless goodbye.

Then there was the unintelligible Drogo Loone, so ugly that none could look upon him except a quiet little girl who sneaked into his suburban cave and offered him the audience he craved. Petulantly, greedily, he drip-feeds her the story of his life and his misanthropic last stand.

2003, and I deigned to descend from these whimsical flights to tell the endlessly rewritten story of Hymn and Hur. At last, Hur, drunk and on the losing end of a life he can blame no-one else for, screams at the stars while Hymn sleeps, then blows up their car in the middle of the Australian desert.

So as I was writing this most recent tale, an old mechanic narrating a story in which he builds an aircraft from his old warhorse at the perimeter motor show, and then uses a mile-high bonfire fanned by the roaring cars of every other attendee to gain flight — to escape the confines of his world for a likely short and suicidal venture into the deserted unknown — as I was writing this story it dawned on me that although the configuration of the words was new, the story was nothing I had not written before. I knew it by heart.

It's a good story, and outside of my immediate stunted oeuvre, it's probably rare enough not to be a cliché. A man or woman is faced with their own past or future as an immovable object, somehow finds epiphanic release in vain inaction, and as a final gesture tells the world about it. The happy soliloquy of futility. The last stand.

It's a good enough story I guess, but if I don't find a new one, it'll be the story of my life.

Joseph | 19 Jul 2005

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