stratum d. echo
Somewhere within these depths a memory repeats. I think of his ears. The ears of a dog are a strange thing to remember. Their image—soft, pointed, frozen like those portraits of holy hands revoked of excess corporeality—awoke a dead past, urgent and intrusive. A dog in his verdant revolutions, chasing rabbits in a green clearing just off an office parking lot.
I have observed the happiness of dogs. How peculiarly invested they are in what we might call dogness. When lost in play a dog’s ears have a slight upward swing: more than the tail or the tongue, it is the ears that show you their contentment. Giacomo Balla’s ‘Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash’, with its dachshund mid-walk, captures this essence of action. It could be said to be truly in motion, participant in the world of its small desires. The rest of us are so often static, merely imagining ours.
In a world of excess knowledge, the safety of being is a turning away from the outside—the physical world as well as the concept of a self beyond the one in any given moment. Such a way of seeing can stop and repeat time until we are nothing but snapshots in a decaying album. Yet the contradiction of a life lived is that its meaning is both a reduction and an expansion. Safety and fear hand in hand like the harnessing of light and flame, always with the understanding that that which can be controlled must also, from time to time, be unleashed.
‘WHEN SHALL WE LIVE IF NOT NOW?’, proclaims the message on the hallway landing to a venal family and its hangers-on in Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial. Trapped in a loop, a warning from beyond declaring a possible end, black fire, and new beginnings: ‘Tell them, in the house, tell them, in the house […] Tell them in the house that in the house it is safe.’
My own echoing portent, bodyless hands, dog’s ears: Trust me. A dull intermittent flicker as anonymously judgemental as a Jenny Holzeresque statement. TRUST IS A LIE THAT HAS BEEN ALLOWED TO FLOWER. Vaguely, I remember that mercury vapour reacts with electricity in fluorescent bulbs. Another memory unearths itself. A thermometer snapped in my mouth in a fit of childish petulance, drops of mercury sliding into floorboard cracks, empty halves of glass falling from my lips.
stratum e. empathy
Father was an industrial designer. A job glamorous only for those who have the surroundings of vast and sparkling urbanity, the pedigree of a future planned in advance. He worked in a small fluorescent-lit cubicle, a windowless office space adjacent to a factory floor. Upon losing his job he was offered a lower-paying one repainting the premises with industrial paint, indelible and stinking. With the repeated layers arose heart trouble; a covering and a revealing. Our bathroom shelf held his prescription of Warfarin, mock-affectionately referred to as rat poison. What was used to exterminate was keeping him alive.
After that he could never quite shake his connection to vermin, the scrabbling of their tiny feet a constant aural hallucination. A symbol of the precarity of health and worth suddenly all too real, Anne Serre’s Fool coming into its own being: ‘You’re scared but, at the same time, it’s horribly exciting to find yourself faced with an event of this kind. At that moment, you cease to possess that survival instinct characteristic of all living organisms, it seems.’
During that period, we had an infestation of mice. He felt a kinship with them, regretful that he had to kill something that was only trying to survive. I would sometimes find him sitting alone in the kitchen at night awaiting their arrival. Envying and empathizing with their difficult freedom, a sigh emerged when he watched a solitary mouse venture into the cardboard box that held its death. ‘Here he is, I said to myself, don’t be too afraid. If you’re destined to meet like this, it’s because you’re able to face him.’
stratum f. impression
When I grew old enough, we would smoke together. He, his pipe, and I, a cigarette—on occasion, both cigars. I had interpreted the various things that pipe meant as pleasure, contemplation, distraction, solace, and often wondered what other lives and choices he conjured in his scented haze until I began to share it. The answer was nothing. Not the bleak nihilism of despair, but the clearing of a surface in order to refill it.
In The Red Scarf, Yves Bonnefoy contemplates the meaning his father’s silence: ‘[I]t was the sign he had given up communicating, or perhaps even thinking, about some question that was nevertheless essential to him.’ This causes an anxious search for explanation in both younger/older Yves. In contrast, it was silence that I understood as communication, thought, essence. It is not contradictory to say that nothing, whether absolute absence or clearance, does not deny these elements. Rather, it is a deliberate exercise in contextualising and confronting oneself.
I had two fathers in that sense, one who existed in silence, where this emptiness was anything but distancing; instead, welcoming and comforting without physicality. The other relayed parts of his life to me in passing: as if we were convivial strangers and not blood, these fragments as thrilling as the trilobite or ammonite fossils one occasionally saw in rock faces, the discovery and rebuilding of a past, an era studied via its striations. Both imparted their lessons to me.
Through smoke we see but a faint impression of what is or might be; upon its clearing, we see what is there. When there is haze, we create chimeras. When there is light, we choose which of these dreams to make real.
Tomoé Hill’s work has been featured in publications such as Socrates on the Beach, La Piccioletta Barca, Exacting Clam, The London Magazine, Music & Literature, Numeró Cinq and Lapsus Lima, as well as the anthologies We’ll Never Have Paris (Repeater Books) and Azimuth (Sonic Art Research Unit at Oxford Brookes University). Twitter @CuriosoTheGreat