The Cigarettes

My cigarettes taste good, the old man thought as he walked through a thousand pines to the warm, gray sea. This was not a good sign.

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The Logician

A logician spent years testing word problems, striving with paradoxes and studying all the arcana of mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Through various tests and formulas, he came to the conclusion that there were many logics—some which worked together well, some which contradicted others, and even some which contradicted themselves while remaining valid. There seemed to be no way to unify and map all the logics into one great logic.There were days when logic seemed to darken his mind like the desert sun; there were nights when logic lifted him on the wings of white birds to sail off to the stars. The poor man grew tired and ill. At last, he traveled one day and one night over the desert to an old weathered church, and confessed to his priest: I believe in the faith, I do not believe in logic, but I do not believe in an illogical faith. Worried for his health, the priest blessed him and sent him on a pilgrimage, giving him a map of the exact route to take. On the first segment of the journey, he encounteed the smallest oasis he had ever seen. On the second segment of the journey, he passed through the mountains and watched racing clouds and falling rain. On the third segment of the journey, he arrived at the shore and beheld the sand dunes and the immeasurable sea beyond. As an apostle once said, perhaps mystically or symbolically, everything was made of water and by water. There on the beautiful shore the logician wept, for a saint who weeps is analogous to a saint who walks on water.

[credit to Simone Weil for the last analogy]

The Bonesetter

The bonesetter worked in a shop not far from the radiant blue sea. The shop consisted of four rectangular chambers surrounding a courtyard lined with porticos and a pluvium at its center. The walls bore mosaics of animal and human skeletons in pale blue paint and square spirals at the tops and bottoms. The bonesetter had painted them himself. One chamber was dedicated to receiving visitors, the second to display various skeletons he had collected, the third to healing, and the fourth to his library and sleeping quarters. Whenever his assistants posed questions, he would remind them to read the bones first. In the evenings, the bonesetter sat down with his wife to a simple meal of bread, wine, and other things. They were happy, and the people loved them for the healing they brought. One day, a great earthquake killed his wife, destroyed his shop, burned his books, and crushed his collection of skeletons into rubble and dust. Most of the island and its towns lay in ruins. The bonesetter managed to dig up his savings and collect whatever else he had deposited at a local shrine. With a handful of other refugees, the bonesetter embarked on a longship for other islands and lands. He came to a small city on a remote shore. The politarchs, pleased that a healer and philosopher had come to their distant land, invited him to lecture in their court on the acropolis. When the bonesetter began to speak of anatomy, bone structures, and skeletons, the court laughed. They did not believe in bones. Confused, the bonesetter asked them to explain. Bones were just the fossils of old medicine, they said. Nobody believed in them anymore. The bonesetter suggested that they feel their own skulls, bodies and limbs. They instructed him that while indeed there were hardened portions of flesh in their bodies, these were not to be consideres bones. The bonesetter requested that a cadaver be brought. No cadavers were available, since the barbarians threw all dead bodies, weighted with stones, into the sea. The bonesetter asked that a convicted assassin, adulteress, or traitor be brought forward. They brought one who fit all three requirements. The bonesetter asked which arm she had used to strike down her victim. The right, she replied. Then bonesetter severed her left arm, and proceeded to strip it, cut it open and to reveal the humerus, radius, ulna, carpus and phalanges as the poor adulteress bled out on the ground. Straightaway, the court condemned him as a heretic, magician, and murderer. They chained him to the dead woman, weighted them with stones, and threw their bodies into the sea. One headsman secretly said to another that one day the sea would give up all of its dead and their skeletons. The other remarked that in the meantime the dead would have someone to set their bones.

The Sardines

The sardines, like ancient republics, are always in grave danger. The ocean is the color of their dreams, dark blue and filled with clouds of unspoken thoughts and aeolian winds trapped in bubbles passing back and forth through their gills. It is the secret life of piscatory rei naturali. Some vanish beyond the jaws of sharks and whales. Some fall sick, bloat and drift on their sides, rotting and bleeding slowly into the water. Most are lifted up, after wandering in the labyrinths of seines and weirs. Once caught and transported in brine, they continue to dream in the dark prussian blue of the other, earlier and wider sea. When they meet the air, their sense of danger evaporates like morning rain on the pavement, and their souls escape for a farewell party. They smoke cigarettes and drink sherry with the fishermen. They lay on newspapers in the good sun and listen to short wave fados and stare back at hungry gray cats. They bathe in boxes of icewater and ice cubes. The sardines swim down the cobblestone streets. There are whitewashed houses and tiled roofs. They look at porcelains with blue and white pictographs of sardines that also mirror sea and cloud. They find gentle palms and stone saints. They get lost in old cathedrals and wishing wells. Many have reported on their sidetrips through markets and restaurants, and have described frying in olive oil as something not unlike fireworks or pop candy for their scales. Being chewed has been compared to music for their skin and a massage for those parts of the body that are neither bone nor flesh. Being gutted by kitchen knives and slowly boned by forks is also therapeutic in inexplicable ways. Others have reported on the descent into digestive chemistry and the almost epicurean spaces of atomic collisions, which again are not unlike fireworks or pop candy for the mind. Invariably, their souls return to the moment of death to begin their interrupted ascent into the ether. Like lazy kites or montgolfiers, their little souls rise in elegance, not like careless flying fish, but like sardines, who are sleepy children of the gentle elements, caught up into silver nets of wind and cloud. The five oceans shrink into a black raindrop. The sky is intolerably blue.

[credit for piscatory rei naturali goes to Romanus Cessario]

The Gondola

One can get tired of the lapping waves and the stroking oars. It turns out that there are a limited number of canals and bridges in the town, and the town itself is a limited island in a finite pond. One cannot even make a word problem in topology with this state of affairs. Monotony and despair are inevitable but lethal to the trade of the oarsman. The first is a spiritual problem, the second a practical problem. One can count passing birds, but this distraction only lasts for so long. An older oarsman once related a legend, saying that every time a gondola brushes against the shores of the pond, the coast erodes a little bit more, and the ringed sea expands. Some day, the pond and the gondolas will break through the rocky isthmus and reach the open sea. In the meantime, there is monotony and emptiness. It was already difficult when there were fewer stops, fewer coins, and fewer dinners, and yet the boat keeps moving, and the oarsman keeps punting and stroking the wet sea. These days, there are no real passengers, but they have left behind their seductive fragrances and phantom weights. Only ghosts ride, and rich or poor, they will not pay a single obol, drachma, hyperpyron, zecchino or florin, nor will the guild allow an oarsman to quit or retire. The ghosts are infuriating, but one can not accomplish anything with ghosts. They are notoriously inept at the art of conversation or navigation, incompetent at seduction, and will not help with the punting or steering despite riding for free. They have no appreciation for the coffin-black paint of the gondola, the physics of the forcola, or the laws of tracing cloud constellations. The unthought forcola especially bothers the oarsman, for it is a miracle of nature and engineering. The phantom weight of past passengers and the uncanny presence of ghosts and their intangible, almost irrelevant deaths only grows as the world drifts by. Other gondolas appear in the mists of distance, but no vessel ever catches up to another. A hideous silence laps at the lone wandering gondola.

The Girl Who Whispered

Once upon a time, there was a quiet girl. Her heart was filled with good and beautiful things. She was not mute, but she was always afraid to talk. She would want to whisper words about white birds, sweet rabbits, cotton candy clouds, byzantiums, the pegasus, and the migrant butterflies who clothe the naked saints. Instead of birds and byzantiums, however, her words only slithered forth in a wet tar of centipedes, caterpillars, cockroaches, black snakes, blue bottles and silverfish pouring from her mouth. The locals ran from her screaming. I am a curse, she thought, and all whom I speak to are damned. Some locals threatened to sew her mouth shut and banished her to the marsh–the only suitable place for filth. One day, as she was wading in the thick water of the mists over the marsh, she spied a youth with a boat full of glass amphorae. Please, she said to the youth, help me. You must drain my body of its filth. I will speak into your amphorae. Perhaps they will be enough to contain the curse and the filth of my insides. The youth was suspicious but kind, and as the amphorae were empty anyway, he allowed her to place her lips to each opening and speak into them. She would not be watched, so he wandered off to see if he could find something interesting in the reeds. One by one, she filled them, shuddering as the legions of eels, snakes, silverfish, blue bottles and centipedes streamed from her mouth like a dark diarrhea. When she had nearly finished filling the last amphora, the boat began to sink under the weight of her insides which she had vomitted out. Returning empty-handed, the youth was shocked to see the boat sinking under the weight of the glowing amphorae. Who on earth would drown a pegasus or a byzantium? the youth wailed. The girl was holding onto the last bit of boat that had not yet sunk. Only now, she too could see the gold and silver sparkle of all the beautiful things sinking into the blackwater of the marsh. Without thinking twice, the youth grabbed her and hauled her up onto a sandbar. The boat and the glass amphorae full of wonders had vanished below. You have been bewitched, the youth sighed. I will take you away from here, and we shall never return. Because she was too weak from speech, from emptiness, from treading water, he carried her on his back, making his way towards the sandy shores of the sea. Perhaps there he would find some driftwood to build a raft for their escape.

The Swimmers

The swimmers stretch their limbs into the warm water, blades between their teeth, racing for the thrashing quarry. On the beaches, the locals pass coins and notes from palm to palm. Those who are drowning thrash with great violence, the violence of the unknown. The origins of the game are wrapped in the mists of time, but it is clear that it originated in missions sent to welcome shipwrecked sailors. This is why the coast guard still takes part; the game differs very little from the manner in which the coastal marines greet those who wash upon the fatal blue shores today. The number of swimmers and victims depends upon the season, the crime rate, migration patterns and the intake of captives. One of the worst things for the spectators to witness is the way one or all of the victims might cease their thrashing and surrender to the waves, the algae and the green ocean below, long before the swimmers arrive. Thankfully, this is not a common thing. For swimmers, the unknown also plays a great role in the joys of pursuit. There are only two possibilities for a swimmer upon reaching the drowning person. One can bring the head of the victim out of the water or push the head down into spasms of foam. Until the last second, the swimmer rarely knows which path to take. Once in a while, and it does happen, a victim may have a moment of clarity and start swimming for the shore or the deep. The swimmer stops this escape with a knife to the throat or lungs. Should the victim outswim him and head for the shore, the spearmen of the coast guard, wading in the surf and shallows, dispatch him one quick thrust after another, as if they are nonchalantly fishing. Whenever the victims are spared by the swimmers, they are brought back to shore with shouts of jubilation from the colorful crowds standing on the rocks, bluffs and dunes. Time has taught the swimmers to spare only the able bodied, who may one day become swimmers themselves or give their bodies to the heroes for an indefinite season of pleasure. It is also a custom for the spectators to give a percentage of their winnings to the swimmers as a gift. Now and then, when the beaches are deserted, bloated bodies wash up on the shore. Children come down to the surfline, braving the reek of death, to decorate the naked corpses with shells and seaweed until they are driven away by the coast guard, although this is also rare. This caused a very strange superstition to arise among the children, one which the officials and locals have attempted to stamp out. Some of the children believe that the drowned captives are swallowed whole by gigantic fish, magic sharks or enchanted turtles, who bear the still warm bodies to safety in a heaven far below the waves. One wouldn’t want to ruin the horror of the game. The horror is the drug.