Stories

Papier Mâché Volcanos Erupting in the Hearts of His Homemade Stars – Nicholas Clemente

…but her advice still doesn’t tell him how to start, or where; endless walks in the warming weather to find some kind of inspiration; but that doesn’t help either, no matter how far south or north he goes; south to watch the ferries shuttle through the harbor, drawing green and white marbled wakes behind them, eerily smooth like scars on the face of the water; north until he hits Central Park; and straight through the park, all the way to the north end; until he can’t see any city anymore, until it’s all wilderness in front of him, until it feels like he can’t go any further because he would never find his way back again; over the Williamsburg Bridge and wandering a while the quiet waterfront precincts of Brooklyn; but feeling claustrophobic in the quiet, as if it is only a matter of time before he’s recognized, as if he won’t have anywhere to hide when he is; trudging up the bridge’s incline, pausing in the middle to watch the city lights flicker icily in the gathering darkness; waiting there a long time, until the twilight blue has faded to black; because why bother going in either direction, back home or back to the streets; because what’s the point of writing a book or not writing a book; because what’s the point of writing a book unless it contains the entire world, and why bother when the world already contains itself; unless it were somehow bigger than the world, a book big enough to swallow the sun and stars;  or if not bigger then exactly as big; creation repeated again, neither better or worse, indistinguishable from what came before; because who is he to think he could improve upon what already is; but he could repeat it, reproduce it, he’s almost sure of it; so that it’s simultaneously the same and different; a new iteration of something older than time; but that doesn’t help him either; because it tells him why but still doesn’t tell him how; how to build a scale model of the universe; what materials to use, what foundation to set it upon; and even if he did, by some accident or miracle of engineering; papier mâché volcanos erupting in the hearts of his homemade stars; rubber band engines wound up inside each of his creatures’ homemade limbs; he still doesn’t know how he’d set it in motion, or keep it going for more than thirty seconds; and he knows he doesn’t have enough time to figure it out; and maybe that’s the real problem; because he’s young but he’s already lost so much time, and so many of his memories have already been blasted from his brain;  all the others evaporating naturally, entire years already erased; some small part of him hoping for whatever reason that he’ll get it back one day, that he’ll see those years again; but there’s nothing he can do until that happens, if it ever happens; only mourn the passing of his life while he’s still living it; thinking about death for the first time in years; remembering it as a possibility; which is yet another reason to never begin; because he’d always be racing against time, in constant competition with the clock; extracting hours from his days like foreign objects lodged painfully in the body; and as long as he doesn’t start he’ll never have to deal with it; though he doesn’t tell her this, naturally; even when she asks him directly what the problem is; and the real answer comes readily to mind but he gives her only the simplified version, so dumbed down it becomes something completely different; the guilt of it impelling him to continue to pick up his notebook and pen every afternoon and flee the apartment; the implements sitting on a table near the door like an accusation, like a dog that wants to be walked; constant evidence of his continual failure; because you can tell without even opening the cover; the way the pages lie perfectly flat, one on top of the other, undisturbed by the creasing of a pen; his unwillingness to deface the page; yet another reason not to start; as if writing is something by nature harmful and destructive; and when he finally does he’s shocked by the violence of it; startled as if a firework has gone off in his hand; the starkness of the black ink on the white page, the permanence of it; like what’s written can never be unwritten, even if no one ever reads it; afraid to see the handwriting in front of him, unmistakably his; instantly incriminating, evidence of an offense committed; afraid because there was nothing in front of him and now there’s something; because he doesn’t even know what he’s going to write yet but he knows that it’s something he’ll have to take seriously; and because as soon as he starts he won’t be able to stop; long disjointed confessions to his mother and brother; without any beginning or end, without any purpose besides saying I was born to do these things, I never had a chance; saying that’s the meaning of my life, that’s the only thing I’ve learned so far, that I never had any choice; no way to reassure them because he isn’t entirely certain that he’s doing better, or that he won’t soon be doing worse; and he can’t say he’s coming soon because he isn’t and he can’t say he misses them because he doesn’t; and if he was destined to do these things then why say that either; why say anything; his pages a warzone of crossouts and interpolations; torn between the desire to say something and the suspicion that there is nothing to say; that he’s doing a sort of harm by writing anything at all; even if no one ever sees it, even if he tears it into illegible fragments; because the act of writing is something that can never be taken back; as if the world is built the same way as a marble composition notebook; perfectly smooth sheets of paper lying perfectly flat and undisturbed between the cardboard covers; but as soon as someone begins to write in it the pages begin to bubble with deformities; and whether it was intended to cause good or evil it doesn’t matter because the pages are defaced forever; you could cross out every line but the paper will never be smooth again; and then that becomes the point, the rules of the game altered, scratching out each word individually instead of tearing out the pages; providing him a sense of power that compels him more than anything else; more than any statement he might want to make, more than anything he might or might not have to say to his mother and his brother; really it could be anyone, really he just needs someone to say it to; as if aiming at an invisible target, and the only way to hit it is by substituting a visible one in the same path; tracking his progress by looking at the unbound side of the notebook and marking the ratio of disturbed to undisturbed to pages; hurrying through until they are all warped and uneven; taking pleasure in the physical mastery involved, the speed of his pen as it draws characters across the face of the page, the violence with which he strikes out every word he enters, scribbling until every letter is completely illegible, so no trace is left of its meaning; racing to cover the last page, disappointed when he finally reaches it; because besides the fact that the journal is spent he hasn’t really accomplished anything; besides proving to himself what he already knew, that it would be a waste of time, that he wouldn’t actually produce anything, that he would find a way to turn it into an act of destruction; and he planned on being at the café for a couple hours that day but he gets to the end of the notebook in about forty-five minutes; and after meticulously scratching out every word of his latest effort there isn’t anything left to do; except maybe leaf through each page and admire his accomplishment; a whole notebook of words scratched out to nothing, the perfume of ballpoint ink rising up to him, the pages opposite raised like braille, marked with a ghostly imprint of each facing word, the ink of which still shines in the light; because it’s impossible for him not to think of them as words even if they no longer function as such; because it’s impossible for him not to think of it as a book even if it can’t be read anymore; impossible for him not to think of it as something finished and complete just because the conceit is sustained from one cover to another; something completely worthless, yet something he couldn’t ever throw out; each scratched-out word like a portal to another possible constellation of meaning, its black surface slightly mirrored from the volume of ink bled upon it; and yet it’s not something he could ever repeat; not something that would ever be worth repeating; because he’s already proved whatever point he was trying to prove; to himself or to her or to the world or to whoever; and if he tried to do it again it would dilute whatever point he was trying to make; it would make him look desperate, like he doesn’t really believe he proved it the first time; and he doesn’t know what there is to do next, so he doesn’t do anything; staring out the window, steering the last few cold drops of coffee past the foam gathered at the bottom of his paper cup; and when they’re gone there’s really nothing; to such an extent that it makes him realize that there was never the possibility of encountering something; yet in a way that’s more triumphant than defeated; or maybe both at the same time, neither one nor the other; because there isn’t any need for him to write anything down; to externalize, to fabricate; because why should he; and why should he be the one who has to; because he already lived it all, he’s already seen it, it’s all already inside of him, already complete; so why should he elaborate on it, why should he involve anyone else in it; why can’t they do the legwork for themselves if they want to know so badly; and why can’t it be enough for him to have just lived it; why should anyone else have to know; his whole life like the notebook held in his sweating palms; every era, every day, every hour scratched completely out as soon as he’s through with it; because why should anyone else ever know; and what good would he derive from ever rereading it; preserved from the landfill yet never revisited; something which, even when balanced unopened on his lap, seems to justify his continued existence in the coffee shop…