In Which We Climb The Tower In The Substitute Castle

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Stoplight

by MARK ARTURO

This is the only way I can explain it. You’re on a long walk and the ground becomes unstable, vacillating from side to side. You have the option of jumping to more level ground beneath you. Once you’re there, it may take everything in you to rise.

She is the youngest child of a very old family. She braids her hair, always. I may as well address you directly, even though you are not here and will never be again. It was my choice, but it was also yours.

Your first boyfriend vanished without a trace. Later, you discovered he had emigrated to the Ukraine, where money stretched a lot further. This is the kind of world you lived in. As an American, I could claim to know nothing of it except for this: we place a different value on people. What value that is, whether it is truly better or worse, I don’t feel confident enough to say.

painting by chris ballantyne

In six months or thereabouts, she will be a citizen. Her children, if she ever has any, will be citizens. But I will just be Mark. It feels good to know it is possible to become something else; it does not necessarily mean I will become it. The further south I have been is Colombia, where I met a girl with long legs and a gruff way of deciding even the smallest problem. It took me some time to realize I was just another problem. The furthest north I have been is Nova Scotia, maybe.

I’ll look at a map, later, after I finish writing this. It is nearly morning where I am: rain and thunder lash at the brocades. Get an idea of the place you are in as a kind of jail and it never leaves you. Here, I never touch myself or offer absolution to others. I am not a monk, but I wish I was.

C.S. Lewis was strongly against masturbation. He never made himself come, which seems to me like a waste. Masturbation, he said, was just an expression of interiority. The point of life is to come out of ourselves, and masturbation – I’m paraphrasing – is a substitute for that which should be sought in the real world. “The danger is that of coming to love the prison,” he wrote.

Lately, on my garden walks or hikes I have been cataloguing scent. There are not many other human bodies around here, but thinking of what my nose found in them, it is easy to recall a variety of sweats, anxieties and garbage-type smells. Once, a woman queefed an odd scent. She stood by the window and a dog howled. She should have laughed, but only I did, and I know she felt wronged by that. We were both there, under the mountains.

Here the tiniest market imaginable provides my own sustenance. There is fresh fish always, and though I never liked the texture of the beasts before, I have grown to find certain varieties appetizing. The proprieter is a rough woman of sixty who would be quite unsettling if she was not clearly so happy with who she was. I told her that I envied her, and she nodded. “The old envy the young, and vice versa. If that wasn’t so, the young would never become old.” I was like what.

How long it will take me to get over this latest heartbreak, I’m not one hundred percent sure. It becomes a lot harder to trust people each time, even though I know it’s not them I ever put my faith in, but my own perceptions. I don’t want to think that I am incapable of certain things: commitment, prolonged desire, friendship. I think it is more that I don’t truly know what they mean until I am absorbed in them. Being conscious makes things so difficult.

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Christians are not the only reading material in this place. Hegel was not really a Christian although maybe he was. Reading him is no fun at all, and I disagree with what he is saying on almost every point except this one — there is no self-consciousness without another self. And you are not here.

When I take a trip someplace, the last moment of my departure inculcates a feeling of immense sadness for the person I have left behind. Not the last one I saw, or cared about, but you. That is how I know I loved you beyond any of the others. Women represent the limit of my conscious thought. They are a stop sign, a fevered pause. You are the word go at last.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Toronto. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Chris Ballantyne.

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painting by chris ballantyne

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