Opening to “Man in Landscape”

There are no chapters; only life.

If you need to know my name, you can call me Isaac. But, at this point in time, we are beyond names. Attaching a name to anything is the same as attaching death. Death is what stalks the country, taking you and you and you. You who read this, depending on when you read it, may court death. It’s assumed in any endeavor in these latter days. It didn’t have to be thus; but indifference breeds not more indifference: it instead breeds evil; indifference is the soil evil needs to sprout its broad, heavy leaves. And the roots take hold and dig deeply, more firmly than a rosebush.

My room is cold. It’s a warm day, or should be, if my calculation of time is correct. Time is something else that suffers, hijacked for purposes that are better left unconsidered. Although, why shouldn’t I consider them? I’m an old man, and dying. There’s little that can be done to me which wouldn’t hasten a welcomed end. But, whether warm or cold, the world outside is gray, when it’s not violent with horror. No, gray. The world is gray. It’s what they always wanted, to create a world that sapped the energy of most of us, leaving them able to enjoy their power untrammeled. How long will the clouds last? Oh, I don’t ask that question expecting an answer. Not from you, and certainly not from me. I long ago eschewed prognostication or prescience. Both are dangerous activities. No; smile, scrape, bow, and do what is expected. The life of a lackey isn’t much, but it’s better than the alternative. It’s at least allowed me to last this long, and write this, leaving it to… Whom? I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. It is my last testament. It is my history. I have no plan now. But by the end? Smile, bow, scrape—and keep the dagger close to you, just in case, just in case there’s a weakness, just to take someone with you before the final quietus.

 ***

I’m a teller of stories and singer of songs. The stories I tell extol what is to be extolled, what keeps the State functioning in its orderly way. The stories I tell must always have an approved ending, an ending which advances the interests of the State. (Even now it’s the “State”, not the “state”. Even now, as I write this, in the dark, on scraps of paper, I cannot escape it.) Or, I should say, the stories I used to tell. I’ve grown silent, as my health has failed me. My health has failed me because of the stories I’ve told. All lies. A pack of damned lies. Not a single instance of truth in them. But life is life, such as it is, and is precious. Not to them, but certainly to me. Maintaining life—breathing one more breath for one more day—is a middle finger to them, even though they do not see it. They do not see it because they are as giants to us who are merely human. Their concerns are not our concerns. It matters not to them whether we live or die, serve or not serve. But to us, here, down below, one more day of life, in spite of its price, is a special victory. That’s all that matters some times.

If I may say so, the stories I’ve told in my time—oh, that word again, “time”, as if it has any meaning—were quite good. They served their purpose. They made those who read them laugh, or cry, or sing out in joy. There was some flexibility in my craft, even if only that of mechanics. The themes were prescribed; the method was left to my hand—within reason.

That was, in the end, what kept me somewhat sane. I had no grand illusions that I was an artist. I was a craftsman, a mechanic, a tinkerer. An artist soon finds herself in a fine pickle, one from which she could often not extricate herself. An artist often found herself in gulag, or merely dead. Again, I say, life is precious. The most precious gift given to humans. The taking of another breath is worth—what? What is it worth? The world entire? Yes, the world entire. That has been my lodestar since these latter days began. Just live long enough, just survive, and then… Well, now we’ll see. We’ll see what then. As long as breath is drawn, hope lingers, however fitfully.

 ***

Who stares at me from the mirror? I don’t look often. I can’t bear the face reflected back. Someone who has forgotten much. No, not forgotten. No, rather someone who remembers everything, but ignored everything, stuffed everything deep down in the memory hole, locking it away in a place inaccessible. It wasn’t merely safer; it was essential to living that life, to breathing that one breath more. Even this miserable life, this grey death, is preferable to the real death, the final exit. Does that make me a coward? If so, I join the multitude.

Oh, the things I’ve seen. I shall show them to you, unknown reader. If anyone will still read once all is said and done.

This may be the last futile gasp of a dying old man. So be it. If it doesn’t free me, it may make me human again. What else can one ask for, now? As I write, I plot. As I plot, I live. The mathematics are quite simple.

I’ve been a man of plots. Plots for my stories, and plots in my mind, the brave stratagems I devised for freedom. I still remember freedom, even if it was at the tail end of its reign. It’s a sweet, aching memory, more painful than liberating. I wish I could forget it. But the things that stick in the mind are not to be denied, only accommodated, made peace with, so that the present can be tolerated.

I remember it all. My only gift, the only one with which I was blessed, is to tell. Whether anyone listens is beyond my control. But I will exert control over this one small thing. This will be the story leaking out, fragments, for a fragmented world. This will be the truth, the only truth I know—or, at least, the only real truth, not the truth they parrot. Their truth is as death. Life is what I seek.

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7 thoughts on “Opening to “Man in Landscape”

  1. Ah, Liberal Librarian. There is such beauty here. I don’t know how else to describe he effect.

    I saw myself in the last one, and then also in the first. These are simply lovely.

  2. These are simply lovely. In case you did not receive the last post, I connected with both characters. There was something nostalgic in them for me, not for the same reasons, but there was emotional recognition.

    You are a wonderful writer, and this format is wonderful. I look forward to reading more.

    P.S. You have inspired me, in my old-age, not to fear, just write.

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