An End, for Today, of the Impossible

If you like this, you should tweet about it:

I'm pretty sure this is the only actual fiction piece I've ever written which survives. The whole thing is a total fabrication except for the "records on ribs" which I read about somewhere. I saved the story primarily for the Musée des X-rays, which I really wish were a real place… Click the entended entry to read the story.

The city was burning. Flames rose like new forms of architecture that danced in one place for only as long as it fascinated them. Smoke blackened the morning sky into a night in which wild streaming constellations of sparks spun in endless minute cycles and seasons.

There was nothing to be done, and in fact, nothing to do. Everything was closed. Merchants seemed to feel business would be bad on the day of a catastrophe. It would have to wait until the smoke cleared. Then the economy would boom, as ragged, ash strewn citizens rushed to replace the lost items of their lives at bargain prices, scouring the smoke damaged goods sales clean. Looters were busy running back and forth, but looters are always running.

Pierre and Moulon shrugged. They were embarrassed for themselves, each concealing the excitement and dread they felt at having nothing to do. They overlooked the opportunity for leisure in the loss of their accustomed pleasures, and while the fire itself was a novelty, they were unsure, actually, of how best to experience its ferocity. They wanted to impress the event on memory indelibly. They knew though that the very enormity of miracles and cataclysms is precisely what makes them so slippery to recall. What they really wanted were postcards and souvenirs, ticket stubs, receipts, something that fit in the pocket and assured the historical reality of the moment. That, Pierre asserted, was the difference between cinema and dreams. One woke from a dream uneasy, perhaps saddened by the inability to bring its treasures back in any but the most insubstantial forms of memory and suspicion. But films could be visited more than once, and mementos were conveniently arrayed at the portal leading back to waking life. Cinema was more substantial than the unconscious, more real, more a part of life.

They walked the quay, feeling safe near water. The fire was magnificent as it pullulated smoke through the waterfront opposite them, steam ululating through burst and gasping water mains. Windows exploded, throwing shards of shattered glass through the smoke. The fire reflected on the glass in its flight and the image it presented was like a thunderstorm hammering an army who shot burning arrows at the sea. Moulon remarked that he preferred the waterfront this way. Pierre agreed that it had “un certain je’ne sais quois”.

Aimlessly they agreed to visit the sculptor Antoine. If he was unable to come up with a suitable distraction, then certainly they would be forced to pay attention.

Antoine’s latest project was the artificial breeding of impossible horses. His studio had become a riot of abbey and abattoir as he religiously, impassionedly sawed horses apart and reconstructed them in a montage of process whose goal receded further every moment. Antoine was frustrated by the fact that no matter how unworldly his assemblages became, they were all possible by the simple act of having been created. He had been tearing out his hair for weeks, denuding his entire body but for his mustache, which was his greatest pride. He feared its loss as he feared the loss of his life. They were indistinguishable symbols for him, and he slept with his hands tied behind his back in the knowledge that both were extinguishable. Last time they had visited him, he sat intensely vibrating in his one chair, begging them to help, crying out “gentlemen! It is a crime, the suffering I have caused myself! I must solve this problem before it destroys me. Soon, without an outlet for my frustration I will be biting my nails, and that, at the rate I am disintegrating, we know where that will lead! Without my hands, how will I stitch or saw?”.

Before they could knock, Antoine’s door burst open and he collided with them as he took joyous flight. His mustache was singed, but he seemed to have shed all the anguish which they had known to shackle him. “Gone!” he shouted, “All gone! The impossible horse is here! It has arrived! All my materials, I have condemned to be consumed by flame. The impossible horse is the horse destroyed, which can never be produced or reproduced again! Join me, gentlemen, in a repast of barbecued Arabian and dray!”. Pierre and Moulon were as happy as Antoine. They were always glad to see a meal and gladder still to eat one.

After finishing the last of the horse, they gathered the bones into black satchels and set off at Moulon’s insistence to take one last look at the Musée des X-rays. It was their favorite exhibit and would be sorely missed if the fire were to raze the building.

The Musée was an ancient warehouse that had been re-fabricated into a darkened cave of halls and tunnels; mazelike, splendid and horrifying. The only lighting seeped milk-like into the murk through thousands of backlit x-ray photographs of people and animals, machines and plants arrayed into a vast land of the glowing, bony dead. There were arrangements displaying circus and stage, factories and farms, the deep sea and the unsettling worlds understood only by the mad curator who had died of radiation poisoning before he could reveal the source of these strange skeletal images.

Moulon’s favorite was the Horatio scene from Hamlet, while Pierre most loved the raccoons caught in the grip of sex, the penis bone clearly visible as it pierced the grotto of his conquest’s pelvis. There was love, anger, murder and birth, all the passions known and only dimly understood, all easily read in the oracle of historical moments these bones portrayed.

The cave was filled with a Delphic murmur of recorded voices. In each room, a scratchy phonograph endlessly ground its needle into one of the musee’s collection of ‘records on ribs’. The curator had become aware of this technique of recording sound on used X-ray film during a tour of the Soviet Union and brought it back with him. He spent many evenings with a parabolic mic in the lower end of the city where conspirators and criminals congregated, and adulterers consecrated acts of no contrition. Songs of the insane played backwards and forwards simultaneously, the one underscoring the other in an eerie fugue of lost memories and unrecognizable selves. These recordings were meant to be a symbolic X-ray of the mind, and many felt that the recordings were his best work.

As our trio passed through an x-ray taken from within the belly of a whale, a cathedral of ribs which surrounded them entirely, they were absorbed in a taped argument between two thieves planning to steal paintings but unable to agree on an artist they both admired.

Where windows had been when the building was constructed, now x-rays covered the glass. These were some of the best works because as the weather shifted and changed so did the lighting behind them, making them the most moving and moody of those displayed. The fluctuating light usually gave them the aspect of cinematic still lives, but today the fire convulsed them in writhing hues of pink, yellow, red and orange as though the skeletons were pulling their flesh back on in layers and preparing to enter again into life.

“No!” Antoine cried, perhaps envisioning the return of his horses to torment and taunt him with their possibility. “No! The dead must stay dead. The city is burning and must lay down its head, for today at least, before rising in a new light to be whatever the future makes of it!”

They fell to savaging the windows with equine femurs pulled from their satchels, chanting “Live by the bone, die by the bone! Let skeletons remain in the closets!” As the glass gave way, the musee was lit for the first time since it had been finished and the glare of the blaze lent a carnival aspect to the entire. Because they had not taken the time to clean the bones, these glistened in the new light with a slightly different but harmonizing red.

Moulon paused, watching in fascination as the fire entered the musee and began shriveling and deforming the celluloid. He imagined himself the ghost of a midget looking into a funhouse mirror to see how he would look in his own heaven, where he would play an unending performance as the tall man on stilts. They were hypnotized by the Dia de los Muertos dance of the mutating and wildly contorting bones until Antoine felt half his mustache go up in a crackling gust of hot wind and barked “okay men! Our work here is done! Onward”.

As they passed the fish market, the once-live fish boiled in their tanks and an octopus hung from the frame of an awning where his tendril had seared to the steel as he attempted escape. His beak clicked a tattoo of agonized rhythm as his tentacles flailed in the wind like myriad tails on a strange Oriental kite. When Antoine saw the octopus his eyes began to light up and Pierre and Moulon had to hurry him away, sensing the dawn of a new series of impossibilities which might consume him. Besides, horse was tasty if a bit tough but neither of them cared for octopus.

« Sold My Soul for Rock 'n Roll | Main | Peter the Crow, a Children's Story »

Add your thoughts or questions here

John T. Unger poet

I'm best known as an artist and designer. Relaxing makes me tense, so I tend to put in a lot of hours on diverse projects.

Before becoming a visual artist, I spent 15 years as a poet. I studied poetry at Interlochen Arts Academy, Naropa, Stone Circle and on the streets. I performed my work for years at Stone Circle, solo shows, poetry readings, and at Lollapalooza in 1996.

I still write poems, but only if I can make them fit the constraints ofTwitter.

Mobile: 231.584.2710 (9 to 5 PST only) | Email me

Art IS my day job

Popular Pages + Entries

  • All content © 1992-2013, John T Unger.