Saturday, December 8, 2007

Narrative Voice: Ari Figue's Cat: Sunday Salon

I can never complete a work until I am sure of the voice. I've been so close for so long with this novel--gone from 3rd person to 1st to close third and back; alternated the voice chapter to chapter. Nothing that quite works. Here, at last, I think I've found the middle ground, a voice that speaks from the interstitial space between the reader and the fictive world it evokes, participant in both, belonging to neither. The first person plural, "we" opened the door.

Ari Figue's Cat

Book IV: Ch. 30

Missing Persons

At first we couldn't find the light--greeted by a long tunnel of a room, open stairway to a loft-like second floor--watery green the sun that filtered through a skylight draped with a sagging batik sheet; milky blue the light rippling through the glass bricks. The door left open the better to see. Inspected the shadowy forms stacked shoulder high along the walls. In rows, forming corridors, branching passageways, dead ends--a maze of boxes, transfer files, chairs and tables piled high with books.

You’ll have to pull the switch at the box, she says. I think it’s under the stairs.

Particles of dust stirred to life by our entrance dance in narrow shafts of sun penetrating the spaces in the flooring from the loft above.

What is all this stuff? Gazing in amazement--lost in a reverie of shadows--his voice gives Naomi a little start.

What do you see? I haven’t been here in quite some time.

Boxes. Lots of boxes. He stands there, this letter in his hand from Sorrel. My mind is anyplace but here in this room, like someone swimming under water, starved for breath, I long to break surface, to face the sun of living day.

Yours? he asks.

By default. The burden of possession without ownership. Left to me without will or testament.

Someone who died?

Someone I know--or thought I did. Not well, it turned out.

A friend?

An acquaintance.

There were no relatives? No one to claim her things?

Her? I don’t recall that I made reference to sex.

He must have Wren in mind... or is it Sorrel, whose letters are in his back pocket?

I’m sorry.

Don’t be. It was a long time ago. The cause for sorrow has long since passed. It’s an odd thing, isn’t it? He might well have died. After almost twenty years. One would have been justified to have accepted the possibility.

He... the owner of these things, he's not dead?

No. Missing...

Something in our nature that does not believe in death--or endings--unless in stories. Not even there. A story has an ending only to let you go back to the beginning--to start over again. Naomi runs her hand over the surface of a stack of boxes, feels the grit of dust, turns her palm. Slowly brushes the one hand clean with the other.

A son or husband goes to a faraway land, never to be heard from again. It takes a long time for the distinction to fade--between missing and dead. She pauses. Breathes deeply of the musty air, as though savoring the aroma of time. Sooner or later, it comes to the same thing. The dead never leave us; the missing never return.

I no longer see him; but I feel his presence. I find this difficult--and difficult to account for, as years have passed since I felt anything for him... either longing or regret.

I can't help but think of Sorrel. How in his mind she must still be as she once was, though she would be... No. He would not be able to picture her. Those who die young will never age. Not that such a thing would cross his mind--that anything might have happened to her, but her life, because it did not follow his, is beyond change, as though she had in fact died. This letter... it must have come as a shock, to suddenly... be compelled to imagine her as real... as someone our own age.

They slip away, out of reach, the missing... and unlike the dead, who, given time enough, release us--the missing never do.

Surrounded by shadows, we are equally lost in our own reveries. Behind on the rehab, living off the advance for three months, he must have anticipated a very different reception. Relieved that she had no inclination to pressure him.

For Sorrell, there would be no residua of desire. His infatuation, if he remembers it all, the reality, not what it has become--will come back to him as one recalls a childhood malady, a story that has happened to someone else. He can have no wish to renew their relationship, or revisit it. Having come to prefer the phantom, I think he must fear her return, that she will sweep all that aside, fancy and memory alike. Why then, when there have been other women, women he has known better, longer, why had those few weeks retained such a hold on him?

What haunts us, she said, turning to him as though she could see in the dark, what haunts us--isn’t death. It’s the blurring of boundaries. That somehow, when we weren't paying attention, they left, and when they return, we will see, only then, in a flash--all that we have lost in their absence.

* * *

He sits at his desk, pen in hand. The moment he opened the door to the apartment, even as he was climbing the stairs, I could see it in the way he moved, in his very breath--the old fear--the voice pressing under the surface, stretching its limbs like a beast waking from long hibernation. The cause, I think, or one of them--for this paralyzing inertia that’s held him in its lock-grip, trapping him in his solitary cell.

To act--moves us forward, when what we want is to go back--to recapture a lost moment﷓﷓or undo it. Procrastination feeds on itself. The more you fall behind, the more convinced you are that the task is impossible. One moment you are standing there, dust pan and broom in hand, gazing at a little pile of sand on the floor. You give a great sigh, thinking of all the other duties and petty tasks yet undone. You close your eyes, take a deep breath--and when you open them again, you're holding a teaspoon and staring at Mt. Anapurna.

I keep going over the scene in my head: the night he woke up and saw Wren--or whoever it was, playing her childish game in the snow. Under his window--as though for his benefit, a performance--as though she knew. From the moment he set foot on that icy floor, before he reached the window--he was caught. By the time he reached down to pick up that snapshot, the script had been written. It's not enough to daydream about it, spin out stories--first you have to know. Only then do you have the power to erase and forget.

The script.

Figue's word.

Or mine?

He looks at the glass and sees in the reflection a phantom peering back at him--a ghost of his own accumulation, scraps and clippings gathered over a lifetime, an eidolon, an absence staring at a space left in the snow by a girl no longer there. He lied to himself, pretending he wanted to strip away the fiction, peel it off like a bad skin, but what has he accomplished? More lies to pack the wound. What is to be done, but wrap it in yet another layer--bandage flayed reality till it stalks you like a mummy in a B movie?


  1. As far as I can tell, you haven't been cut off from the Sunday Salon RSS feed. I just came over from there!

  2. That's good to know. Thanks for your reply.

  3. Yes, it's working fine. Not sure why you think you're cut off!

  4. One way traffic. When I click on my Sunday Salon RSS button, I get (empty), so it's hard to follow what other's are writing unless I systematically visit each blog on the list one after another.

  5. I have the same problem, which I reported to Debra last week. Today I got a whole lump of updates (100+) including the ones from today. Is anyone's RSS feed of SS working properly in a reader?

  6. Mine works fine. Are you sure you're subscribed to the right feed, viz., ? Also, if the feed is too delayed for you, you can also go to the Pipes page to follow recent posts:

  7. It worked for a couple of weeks. Then last week, it didn't.

    I'll try reinstalling the feed.


  8. ... it works now. Too many back messages to catch up on for today... another week.