In the north, they eat golden ammonia fish, black creosote eels, and mercurial prawns. Clouds are chimercal; water and stone is chemical. They sleep on gravel, and bandage their own wounds. They mine the endless snow and rain, and sometimes summer butterflies. They smoke their straw. In the northern seas, the oarsmen tell the tale of the scrawny mackerel. The mackerel lost its friends and family at a young age, and found it difficult to survive in the black waters. It went to a distant shore and met a marlin. It asked the marlin some questions about sea life. The marlin explained that the world was always eating itself. One had to beware of lying flora and destructive minerals. One was forever caught between the two. The marlin began to talk and to talk, weaving tale after tale to illustrate his points until the mackerel fell asleep. Suddenly the marlin swallowed it whole. Inside the belly of the marlin, the scrawny mackerel woke up in a dark, rosy twilight of brine and acid. It was not the end though. It would have to eat its way out of the eating.
It was an ordinary lamp with a tall black stand of carved wood, an amber shade with tassels, and a long black electrical cord. And one evening, a confessor beat this lampstand to death. In the house where he was lodging, he had endured days of listening to the man and his wife argue over the item until he could bear it no more. Abandoning his books, he stormed out of his room into the living room, dragged the offensive thing outside onto the second floor terrace, and began to strike it against the cast iron balustrade. Exhausted from the attack, he jettisoned the lamp into garden below. Something had shattered—most likely the light bulb. The landlords laughed until they were in tears, but the confessor left that very night and went to live elsewhere. One evening, many years later, the confessor dropped by to visit the older couple, thank them for their hospitality, and give them some presents. As he spoke of his misadventures, he noticed the man and wife exchanging furtive, suspicious glances. And just as he began to recall his departure from their home long ago with a bitter laugh and apology, his words trailed off. For behind the old woman’s chair the tall, black lampstand with its golden shade burned in the corner, casting its warm glow on their explosive laughter. Long after, whenever he wandered alone through the night country of dark streets in ruined cities, the rare vision of lamps through windows filled his heart with their butterscotch glow and bitter sweetness.