from the collection of: d. heidel
How do I tell you this story about the writing of a story that isn’t quite a story but still exists in a space set aside for the storying of life?
Crum wrote the story – that’s his pet name: Crum – but he didn’t really intend to do much with it. There was just an opening there in the Register of Things that needed to be filled. The usual cadre of writers was not filling it. Crum had a piece of something – a morsel of an idea that fell out of his brain – and so put it there in the Register of Things.
(Don’t ask me what Crum thinks of this – I have no idea. He has squirreled himself away in his hole-of-a-home like a mouse fidgeting with a good find: flitting here-and-there about this find like a bird with a fresh worm and squirming as if he was that worm with a gutful of earth that was oh-so-delicious and he just couldn’t wait to defecate out of his back end in a stream of thick, rich earth.)
So Crum is squirreled away.
But I know he’s not dead. I know because that piece of something (that morsel of an idea that fell out of his brain) keeps changing.
Who could be changing it?
It could be O., the man (woman?) who runs the Register of Things. It could be (s)him(er). It could be. But (s)he just doesn’t do that kind of thing. O. is the type that provides a space and then invites the writers to fill that space. O. doesn’t judge (well, at least not beyond the initial application required to join the cadre). O. just allows existence.
But this story, this figment of the imagination, this clutter of words keeps changing.
I didn’t notice it at first.
At first, I just saw the entry in the Register of Things (dated 1/5/21 or 1/7/21 or somewhere around there) and I read what amounted to a couple pages’ worth of reflection given by this person – Crum – on the state of dilapidation of a public library in St. John, New Brunswick. Or outside of St. John, New Brunswick. Or maybe a hundred miles away from St. John, New Brunswick, but close enough to that settlement of humanity that, amidst the otherwise vast nothingness of Canadian wilderness, had nowhere else upon which to anchor its existence except for that one singularity of St. John, New Brunswick.
There is a library stuck at the end of a road, built atop an ornery outcropping of limestone. Its foundation was set back from the edge of the outcropping and carved right into the layers of rock. Inside that natural basement, Crum wrote about the layers of petrified sediment. Grit and fractured layers of what used to be sea-bottom detritus. There are the impressions of shattered shells and molds of forgotten creatures (disappeared, dust-to-dust, and filled with the chemistry of rock).
Crum talked about siting on a wobbly, three-legged stool toward the back corner of the basement, near where the stacks still held some books on cherry tree pruning and shrub identification, and there in the wall was the petrified relic of some thumbnail-sized snail. It had creeped and eaten at one point in the history of things and here was its memory now, made forever crepuscular beneath the smokey, burnt-out bulbs that stared blindly down from the rafters.
Upstairs, the shelves were still full. Rows and rows of books. But, because of a hole in the northernmost corner of the roof, there was a blanket of moss that had settled over all of the fiction from Kafka to Kerouac. Here and there was a frontier of green nodules protruding from the works of Keats, but those nodes of slowgrowth seemed to wither and fall quickly from the soft pages of the poet.
Crum went on about this place, lingering on its smells and secret footprint and whispers of rodentine residents as if it was a temple set in the lush forests of some distant land. Or maybe he saw it as a kind of Terabithia where dreams rose and fell like a restless tide from the sleep of the dead.
I visited the Bay of Fundy once and there, at the edge of a cliff, I was mesmerized by the sound of the rush of each wave as it pummeled up from far below through an ancient mouthlike cave. With each roll of the surf, there was a fierce gargle and sploosh as salt spray coughed itself up from the earth’s craggy throat. That was a long time ago.
I don’t know what had drawn Crum to that library. I can’t say for sure. But I liked the read. And so, after moving on to the next entry in the Register of Things, I found myself checking back on that entry by Crum every so often. Every few days, while I had a moment, I would check. And scan. And taste. And I was there.
And I found that the words began changing. At first imperceptibly. As if maybe I hadn’t read this paragraph or that line quite slowly enough the first time and maybe I hadn’t quite caught the drift of what the thing seemed to be saying now. But no, as I came back again and again, there were changes. Words came up that hadn’t been there before – words I would have noted for their novelty like slowgrowth and rodentine. And other words disappeared. Words like —– and —– just vanished (the whispers of such words even escaping my memory now as if, once the passage released those words from the necessity of the prose, my mind released the words from the slavery of existence itself).
Anyway, today is a slowish day. A day of breath that comes in sips and drams. (The air is sweet here for now – shadow and light play for a while in the midwinter sky and the illusions of clouds and naked branches sift through the high window of this wall of my basement.) I will sit and perchance dream of the time (was I 3? or 4?) when I stood along the edge of the Northern Atlantic and smelled the saltbreath of the earth as it came up from a churning ocean of bowls.
And I will wait for Crum to come back for a minute. He is quiet. Quiet as mousebreath snickering alongside a limestone wall, reading the history of seasquid and ammonite and trilobite. The wall of that St. John library has tiny arcing indentations left by the teeth of the mice when, in the bite of winter, there is nothing left to gnaw and they feel the press of their incisors growing, growing, growing. Tooth to brain and mind back to tooth. The story lay set in stone and the stone can not be changed. Until it is, even if by the soft tissue of the smallest of animals. I will sit and wait and maybe, maybe (no more yielding than a dream) I will catch another shadow of Crum, another weak or idle theme. Maybe. Maybe.