Precepts for the Atavist
A fuzz on the land, gauze gone sloppy and thick with scabs—only rain, filling every corner sodden, no basement safe, no treasured untouched by the stomach of eels loosed upon the neighborhood as the fens turned into lakes, and the lakes overcame the towns. The roads for bilge, and foul-smoking boats to ferry the last of the peasants to shore.
When Ernst came aboard he had a knapsack in hand and blood poisoning just beneath his heart. The first rains stuck in his memory like that—the Band-Aid curling back to reveal a sore festering above his shinbone, the tinny meningitis-whine of a fever to accompany the rash. He had swam past two pigs bloated belly-up, snagged on a traffic light, floating, the gasses boiling inside of them. The pigs were fizzing, and Ernst, in his furious dog paddling past, found this remarkable.
Now his clothes held his body in a shivery-wet demur; the body held a hot infection, and in the heat of his delirium he fully comprehended what held his soul: his laptop computer. In a stuttering fit of sizzling batteries and misconnected internet did the machine contain an infinity of rainless projects, a desert to keep dry in three scrunched-tight plastic baggies. The whole world. (The worlds he kept in his leather wallet had turned to sludge.)
Ideas will not keep sane in such humidity. That’s why the equator belts to it so many savages, with its seas and jungles, so many little shrunken heads. The curious madness in the tropics’ heat and rain. What was monsoon but a time for cholera and dysentery, for the hard living in torrential winds? Cars past their axels in the soup. Ernst believed tidal waves and tsunamis were the province of undisciplined minds, minds warped in the trough the way wallpaper bubbles and then slicks away, falling from the wall in tendril slabs. If the house stayed wet enough. He thought: the only reason Bristol hasn’t met with cannibals is the cold. The chilled damp doesn’t send us stark raving, no, it calmly bores us to death. The tap tap tap. The sploop, sploop, sploop. Leaking down from light fixtures, down cheap brass that greened up like houseplants, where the gardens below suffocated in quick marshlands. Ernst was losing his teeth. “Bloody teef,” he groaned.
Counterfactual, Ernst reckoned, the claims of great art springing from suffering. The postdiluvial wisdom, certainly, was safely intact—as the bloody fuckin rain woan let go, he repeated and repeated and repeated until it seemed like he could let it go. He hated the idea of bolting down the River M4 but saw no faster way of making it to South Bank with his bombs. Kedging every last sucker bitter and with child, ashore on the concrete medians. Saint Ernst, with his pocketknives and extra socks, and when the good ladies ask him, “What’re you facing this end?” and looking east—answering themselves. “Why, an I’m goan to Londun,” he replies curtly, Saint Ernt, his nose snotting and slicking the stubble of his chin. When the good ladies with-child make to stow away with him, he bats them offboard, sobbing. He remembers the picturebooks (fetid, of course) and the deluge ages past and Ernst and his saintliness is neither humbled nor chastened because nowhere nowhere nowhere nowhere—his fever has made him hum softly to himself, and to repeat words.
When doctors on the ferry got at him, they thought his appendix had burst. When he was lucid enough, he explained he was fine for now he just needed sleep. They let him sleep. When he awoke he was in an infirmary in London. His horror subsided when he realized his bag was right there with him, its zipper scraping his hand.
Bloodborn information. Hospitals are wonderful places for abstraction because they’re so sad, and because they’re chock-a-bloc with pain killers. “Ello, dahling,” he mumbled as he plugged in his power cord. The lights on his laptop blinked softly, as if through snowy lashes. The interface was a bit runny—LCD with its sinuses infected. Ernst’s sniffles were comparable. He ran his hands down the length of the cords attached to his own body and other computers, machines telling anyone this man’s heart still beats, his brain still thinks. With so many cords so sensually integrated with his flesh and psyche, dry warm cords, Ernst came to understand the general miasma of his selfhood: interface as pathogen. The frequency modulation program running through his laptop gave him an erection as it began to collate low-decibel vibrations and warmed. The fillings in his teeth chittered. An image of crows overtook his laptop screen, their wings beating back the rains. The hoarse-sweet sounds of cawing filled his earbuds and set his eyes to tear.
Bad enough Venice all gone, sunk miserably by eco-terrorists tired of saving medieval fabrics. China rumoured—fabulously—to have consolidated economic frontiers with Russia, even human capitol, but that ended half-decade back with the landslides and the earthquakes that stole an entire province. Ernst could not make the facts any more cogent than this. Than science-fiction. His laptop was not sleek enough to hide up his arse although if he wanted to get-off there was still a lot of porn. Nobody teleported to Mars. Super-flus had ravaged the places the first and second world had consolidated into their undeveloped third. Counterfacts were more reliable anyway! The record of the West was kept safe in impenetrable prefabs protected by eunuchs who wore rococo vestments. —An example of counterfact. Saint Ernst smiled. He found some clothes. He walked back into his miserable life, trembling goodbyes to haggard orderlies and mop-faced nurses.
The future is so troubling because we prepare it through sublime interpolations. The moon-landing—bleeding American twats salting the plate in the sky with their flaggy shit and soaking pads. But his great-great-grandfather had danced that night, so his great-grandmother had said. Now everyone lived so long! Ernst in his ecstasy saw old men’s knees knocking, faun-wobbly and creaking under the pale disk. Used to be you could see the moon! There were no rejoinders now—nothing to demarcate. Between the modern and postmodern, between the Second Awakening and the Enlightenment; great barbarian hordes bothered not to menace the civilizations to the north and west. Time had folded back into itself projecting inwards. Ernst was hapless to blame television. The things through cathode-ray tubes stuck. There was war after the Second World War because of TV. When everything went digital there were still wars but nobody noticed such a simple and elegant conclusion to war-as-such. War-as-such-war-as-such-war-as-such. Destruction as aesthetic compulsion: this was done. This-was-done-and-done.
The full and discreet integration of the televisual and telecommincative in all matters civic and economic rendered war axioms and art axioms interchangeable.
More of Ernst’s teeth fell out in the tubes. Fishees sped by and he pointed at them and his teeth and at a child who grimaced but was unafraid to look away. The slate-sludgey water and the carp fattened on ratkings gnashed safely on the other side of the acrylic font. The child—a girl of four or seven, stunted, surely—pointed at things she found interesting, too. She pointed at an especially beautiful lady, a dry lady with a wondrous beige briefcase and stoles of ermine crossed doubly about her wrists. The child pointed at a dark-skinned teenager, his mouth full of shining diodes. Ernst pointed at the intricately lain footprints on the floor of the car and followed a trail with his finger until he spied a cat, far under a bench down the row. The child followed along. A cat. A secret.
The last of Ernst, his own remainder. His laptop in its low decibel death throws. The fillings in his teeth flicked out as his jaw flipped off his face. The acoustic weapon and all the statuary gone in a gold-glowing shake of firelight and vibrating stones crashing in the pavilion. The scattered other deaths, the bottomless wealth of treasures liquidated. The bricks and concrete blown bite-size in the crumbling blast, the glass showering in dirty streamers of confetti. The tendrilled ogee of rain-culled ash collapsing again, matching the curls of the child’s hair as she stood far off, under a tarp on the bridge, holding the cat, uncomprehending and alert. The vestibule was open and the water slithered in.
Conversely, Saint Ernst regretted everything. Curious, that, in an afterlife, at the dry edge of a desert expanse, willing the endless sands to some other monument.
In the afterlife, Saint Ernst built a dam in the desert. He added turbines and floodgates and shaped a reservoir, dynamited channels and dropped locks for freights he knew may come to ferry the other dead. A town below thirsted for power and light. No rain ever came.
When rain finally came, Saint Ernst was all gone again. Somewhere else.