Livia Llewellyn’s “Jetsam” Plagiarized

It has come to my attention that a man named David Boyer (which may be one pseudonym of many) has plagiarized Livia Llewellyn’s “Jetsam,” her story which appeared in Sybil’s Garage No. 4, and passed it off as his own.  There is a blog post describing the offense here, and more posts describing the investigation of this David Boyer (with many other instances of plagiarism, including none other than Dean Koontz) here.

Authors put their blood, sweat and tears into their work (I know, I’m one of them), and it can be horribly frightening and demeaning to see someone take that hard work and pass it off as their own, without permission, without credit.  The act is despicable, especially since it seems this offender — I dare not call him an “author” for he is nothing of the kind — has done this multiple times.

So I propose we celebrate original fiction.  I kindly ask that you please support Livia by reading her story “Jetsam” here and writing a comment in support of her and in support of original fiction. Please help spread the word that originality matters.

“The Poincaré Sutra” by Anil Menon

“The Poincaré Sutra”

by Anil Menon

to the sound of Yaarodu Yaaro by Yuvan Shankar Raja & Ustad Sultan Khan…

This story appears in Sybil’s Garage No. 7.


PresenceI, ZULAIKHA, MUTANT, inconvenient and sixteen-point-two miraculous years old, declare myself Eve of a bold and brilliant species. I am Singular. Protoplast. Odd. In short, fucked. I am besieged by fallen apes, hairy and quarrelsome. I am besmirched on the neighborhood’s limestone walls. I am virginal, insolvent and oppressed. Says Zulaikha: bring it!

###

Note On Rejecting Modesty: Should a comet apologize for its blaze? I will bellow my existence, even though I’m motherless, solitary and desolate beyond human imagining. Unnatural Zulaikha, doomed to be a thinking angel amongst quarreling beasts. Unnatural Zulaikha, doomed with ocular excess in the Country of the Blind. Unnatural Zulaikha, doomed to love YUSUF!

###

I am the only child of a Coptic Christian man in Heliopolis, Egypt. Technically, that makes me Christian and an Egyptian. But that’s merely an accident of geography and biology. To what country does the Opposable Thumb belong? Under what species’ haunches does an America crouch? I imagine myself free. I must imagine myself free.

###

Imagination is the name of a river in Egypt. All things exist, absolute and immutable, in its incarnadine waters. Did I not fish my world from its sunless depths? Through imagination have I achieved freedom, escape velocity, solace. I imagine I am not Copt. I imagine I am not Egyptian. I imagine, therefore I deny.

###

Father says imagination is a form of denial. If so, there are many who would imagine a world without Copts. The Pharaoh denies them political representation. The Pharaoh denies the Copts permits to build their churches. The Pharaoh denies them licenses to start businesses. My father’s God kept a close tab on the Pharaoh’s denials.

###

There are all kinds of Gods. Gods who begat. Gods with thunder-throats. Gods lost in desert lands. Gods who court frightened swans. Gods who turn grief into pearls. Gods who giggle at funerals. Gods who pooh-pooh and Gods who march ahead. Gods with winter-faces and Gods not quite dead. There are all kinds of fathers.

###

I once asked Yusuf whom his God preferred more: the chaste or the virtuous. He thought about it, a smile playing about his shy lips.

“The virtuous seek to slay themselves, Zulaikha, but the chaste seek to slay the lover. Yahweh certainly prefers the virtuous.”

Hai Allah, how do I get Yusuf to plough me!

###

Additional Note on Rejecting Modesty, Sexual: I was born without webbed thighs, and so I infer I’m intended to spread, with a modicum of the infinite benevolence and generosity, that which Allah, praised be his name, hath left so delightfully hinged. Why won’t my Suleyaman grant this Hurrem a shoulder to rest her henna’d foot!

###

I have battled Life these sixteen-point-two miraculous years, and though the exterior of my corpus is without blemish, the interior — alas! My interior is Guernica. My interior is Soft Construction With Boiled Beans. My interior is engaged in two ruinous wars:

Enemy ###2: Yusuf.

Enemy ###1: Father and Arch-Villain: the Moody Djinn.

###

There are all kinds of fathers. Fathers who wilt in the sun. Fathers who cry in the rain. Fathers with desolate beds. Fathers with forbidden wings. Fathers lost in Egypt. Fathers who plot dreadful things. Fathers who are Moody Djinns. Fathers who will soon be dead. Fathers beloved beyond measure. My father is many fathers.

###

Yusuf, being of Adam-kind, has both a father and a navel. He’s a tall, loose, rumpled fellow. Such long fingers! I like the way he eats tomatoes. I like his gray eyes that once saw me naked; gray eyes that looked once and then twice. I like his smile when I make our eyes meet.

###

Yusuf, being of the tribe of Manasseh, has no foreskin. No, I have not verified the absence of the fact directly. The sense of an absence, I have read, can often substitute for the absent. Phantom limbs, phantom roots. I wonder if Yusuf has a phantom foreskin. I can’t get it out of my mind.

###

Dear Yusuf,

How’s it hanging, bro? Check this out:

“In conclusion, circumcision removes the most sensitive parts of the penis and decreases the fine-touch pressure sensitivity of glans penis. The most sensitive regions in the uncircumcised penis are those parts ablated by circumcision.” (Sorrells et. al., British J. Urology, 99, pp. 864-869, 2007)

Hugs,

Foreskin

###

The removal of the foreskin is an optional maneuver for Coptic Christians. I asked the Moody Djinn if he had exercised that option.

“No,” he replied, with unnecessary irritation.

Good, good. But my relief was temporary. The Moody Djinn turned melancholy, even remorseful.

“Not everyone is as righteous as Yusuf. He’s a true tzaddik, Zulaikha.”

###

Yusuf, a tzaddik! A teacher to those black-hatted, forelocked, Talmud-toting, Yiddish-speaking, Zulaikha-ignoring Hasidic Jews? Impossible! I hurried to query the Righteous One.

“No, I’m not a tzaddik,” says Yusuf. “I’m a Bnei Menashe. And I’m far from righteous.”

Exactly! Besides, what would a righteous soul be doing with the Moody Djinn? Some fathers are liars.

###

Tidbit: In the land of Hindustan, where the plausible is a malnourished sibling of the actual, Jews have long been welcome. There’s the Cochin Jews of Kerala, the Telugu-speaking Bene Ephraim, the Bene Israel of Maharashtra, the Kolkata Baghdadi and the Bnei Menashe of Mizoram. Bnei Menashe imagine they’re descendents of Manasseh, son of Joseph.

###

About Joseph: Abraham begat Isaac begat Jacob begat Joseph begat Manasseh, whose name tombstones all that Joseph has had to forget, namely: sold to Midianite traders by his own brothers, the decade of salt and slavery, the brush of Potiphar’s nipples on his back, the screams in Pharaoh’s prison, the rat-nibbles of other people’s dreams.

###

Manasseh’s mother is Asenath, mute daughter of Potiphar and Zulaikha. Asenath is clever, slender, and full of orgasms. When Asenath smiles, Potiphar imagines strange things: that she’s not his daughter, but a foundling, a secret given flesh. Othertimes, he imagines parenthood: his daughter, an hour-old, nestled in Zulaikha’s arms. Fatherhood is compatible with both explanations.

###

Old Potiphar has a wife. Zulaikha is her name. She perches on his shoulder, nibbles his ear. When she is bored, he opens windows and lets her out. She returns in minutes, days, sometimes weeks. She returns; bruised lips, folded wings. Then he buys her gifts: pearls, perfumes, salves and slaves. Let’s imagine him happy.

###

When Joseph’s lips meet Asenath’s mute lips, he forgets things. He forgets a desert God perched on his shoulder, whispering in his ear. He forgets a boy in a well, a boy in a splendiferous coat, a boy in a slaver’s grasp. These Josephs, Joseph is certain, differ from the Joseph kissing Asenath’s soft lips.

###

When Joseph’s lips meet Asenath’s lips, he imagines strange things. He imagine a little house with yellow slats on a cypress-scented hill. He imagines not being righteous, not being chosen, not being an exemplar, not knowing the meaning of dreams. He imagines being Egyptian. These Josephs, Joseph thinks, are also the immigrant kissing Asenath’s lips.

###

Joseph is an immigrant. An immigrant is ninety-percent imagination and ten-percent trace minerals. They are one solution to Kafka’s psychograms: the waiting-list, the penal colony, the courtroom, the burrow, the absurd metamorphosis. These moral instruments are categories of containment and cannot hold immigrants, for imagination devours all categories. Thus did Joseph ben Jacob become Zaphnath-paaneah.

###

What Asenath said: When my lips meet his, mother, and when my dust mingles with his, mother, and when I make him forget, mother, and when I seize what father seized, mother, and when I demand what you demanded, mother, why does Zaphnath-paaneah say: “It’s not you I love, beloved, it’s what you are not.”

###

On some cold and braziered nights, as the slave Amen plays the flute, opium entranced, and Asenath dances naked in front of Zaphnath, her upraised arms fluttering like the flame’s forked tongue, Zaphnath unlocks his burdened chest, shrugs on his imagination, luxuriates in the coat’s whorls, colors, and pockets, and then joins Asenath, dancing, dancing.

###

When Zaphnath, rich and powerful, brought Joseph’s family to Egypt, they dare not comment on his splendiferous coat. The guards wait, hands on swords.

“I use it to imagine,” says Zaphnath, smiling. “I imagine justice. I imagine forgiveness. I imagine happiness, family. I can imagine anything.”

Smiling, he insists they try his coat; smiling, smiling.

###

Their wedding is a noisy affair. Such laughter!

“Quiet, quiet,” mutters Zaphnath. “If I could but quiet the lord’s mouth as the lord silenced yours, Asenath.”

“Then let’s rename our first-born,” signs Asenath. “We’ll call him Manasseh: made for forgetting.”

It’s cold in the desert. Zaphnath dons his splendiferous coat, but the infernal cold endures.

###

Of Manasseh, son of Egypt and Israel, son of Zaphnath and Asenath: loyal, strong, married to a Syrian concubine, serene, responsible, and by tradition, a role-model for future Jewish kids. His tribal banner has a prancing unicorn against a black background. Over time his tribe spreads out of Canaan, perhaps into Asia or even: Mizoram.

###

Tidbit: Mizoram is a mountainous North-Eastern state of Hindustan. It has bamboo forests and bandicoot rats. The bamboo flowers every forty-eight years, the rats gorge on the seeds and multiply, the bamboo seeds run out, the rats turn to the food grains, people starve, the rats retreat, the bamboo flowers over and over and over.

###

In this land of bamboo forests, bandicoot rats and famines, nineteenth century British explorers came across a small Mizo tribe who had a harvest song about a divided red sea, a terrible desert exodus, pillars of cloud and fire, and about water that sprang from a rock. It’s true. Yusuf has sung me this song.

###

The people of Mizoram are short, stocky, nut-brown and have almond-shaped eyes. Yusuf is tall, slender, fair and has no epicanthic folds. He believes nonetheless that his ancestors were chased out of Canaan, two-thousand and seven-hundred years ago, by short, stocky, nut-brown Assyrians. The Moody Djinn agrees. He says Yusuf is as Jewish as Manasseh.

###

When the Moody Djinn and I had gone to pick up a tall, slender, fair, boy with no epicanthic folds in Neveh Dekalim, I caught my first glimpse of Yusuf’s people, the Bnei Menashe. They beat their palms against the tinted windows of our Mercedes. Chanting. Cursing. Spitting. Weeping. Wrinkled faces like old leather slippers.

###

Neveh Dekalim is one of the nineteen Jewish settlements in Gush Katif, a pretty-postcard place wedged between the blue Mediterranean in the northeast and the Negev. The settlement was being demolished, and the Jews forced out. This time, there were no plagues or pillars of cloud and fire. Just brother against brother. Just politics.

###

Moody Djinn greeted Yusuf with the warmth he reserved for the trusted. Yusuf was not much older than me, a few miraculous years at most, but Moody Djinn talked to him as an adult. Plotics. Giraffography. Horrorstory. Atrocity Theory. The car’s interior was very cold, but as the Moody Djinn talked, the desert crept in.

###

How to make Copts feel Somewhat Unwanted: Why do they take public safety for granted? Abduct their women while they’re shopping (Ingy Helmy Labibe, 01/04/2004), while enroute to work (Marianna Attallah, 05/2005), or just like that (Ingy Nagy Edwar, 09/27/03). Launch futile investigations. Insist they must have been asking for it. Deny the events happened.

###

How to make Copts feel Strongly Unwanted: Torture converts (Yousef and Mariam Suliman, 10/20/2003, Alexandria). Set them on fire (06/17/81, El-Zawia El-Hamra, Cairo). Murder Coptic monks (04/11/94, St. Mary’s Monastery, Asyut). A tender act of randomness (the slaughter of a dozen Sunday School students, 02/12/97, Abu Quorcas). The possibilities, as the advertisements say, are endless.

###

How I miss my mother. There are two types of mothers: Takiti and Maluma. Takiti is jagged, ragged, raven-beaked, the splint in Oedipus’ eye. Maluma is milk-heavy, curvy, cuddly, the feel of a soft thigh. Takiti mothers make good altars. Maluma mothers excel at making altar boys. These two X chromosomes are found in all women.

###

Yusuf: What’s the matter? You look sad.

Zulaikha: I’m trying to imagine my mothers.

Yusuf: Mothers? How strange. You have a child’s imagination.

Zulaikha: Yes, I’m a child. Leave me to my childishness.

Yusuf: No, no, dear Zulaikha. I envy your imagination.

Zulaikha: It’s contagious. Beware. Don’t sit so close.

(Space & Time)

Close. Kissing-close.

###

Isaac Newton on Space & Time: “Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration. Absolute space, in its own nature, without regard to anything external, remains always similar and immovable.”

Zulaikha on Space & Time: What bunk.

###

I’ve discovered why Yusuf wouldn’t kiss me this afternoon. I’m HIDEOUS!! A pimple the size of the Bedou crater adorns the tip of my proboscis. Any further out, and it could issue Visas, print currency, compose national anthems. How can he ever sleep again! Burnt into his synapses is this… pimple. I’ve slapped myself twice.

###

“We have come to think of the actual as one among many possible worlds. We need to repaint that picture. All possible worlds lie within the actual one.” Nelson Goodman, ‘Fact, Fiction & Forecast,’ 1983.

This is Djinn’s favorite quote. I’ve never understood it, until now. Pimples and princesses are not mutually exclusive. Fucking universe.

###

The Moody Djinn has not stepped out of his office for days. Yusuf rarely leaves his side now. Strange men come and go. So it is going to happen again. Linear time, encircled. This time I must stop it. This time I must act. This time I must teach Yusuf to imagine a different ending.

###

I begin with an easy question. Time: Lunch; Venue: dish-washing; Situation: elbows touching, hips touching.

“Can robots kiss, Yusuf?”

“Let’s talk about something else. What colleges do you intend to apply—”

“If you were a robot tzaddik, is that what you’d counsel?”

“A robot tzaddik…” Yusuf smiles. “Theologically, I suppose robots could kiss.”

Wrong.

###

Question: Can robots kiss?

Answer: No. Though robots have identity, they lack individuality. Without individuality, robots might as well kiss the mirror. It is why robots can’t do jokes, hold conversations, or imagine a world where choice, not necessity, brings lips and hips, thighs and sighs together.

Conclusion: Student has misunderstood the question, perhaps willfully.

###

Time: Lunch; Task: dish-washing. It is very soothing: water, suds, the simple sounds of making things clean. Yusuf hums quietly, looking cow-happy. We could do this forever.

“Yusuf! Yusuf!”

“Pretend you don’t hear him,” I say. “Just pretend.”

He hesitates. Only for a second, true, but against a God, a whole second! O frabjous day!

###

Yusuf has offered to read the Bible with me, but there are such difficulties. Such parallels. Such brutalities. Time’s loom has folded and re-folded us, but here we are again, revenant, immutable: Joseph and Asenath.

“I remember a cold night,” I say, “when the fires fell low, and you showed me a coat. Remember, Joseph?”

###

Then spake Yusuf, the Righteous One: You blasphemy, dear Zulaikha. The gift our Lord God offers is linear time. We are crooked, true, and the past doubles back upon us, mottled and serpentine. But accept my God, your God, your father’s God, and we partake of his gift, for our Father’s world is our world.

###

“So this world is just a fantasy,” I say. “Incest, child sacrifice, genocide, murder… all shadows on our Father’s eternal face? Eternity allows everything to be imagined away?”

He considered my question as if it mattered. As if I mattered.

“Not everything,” says Yusuf, slowly. “There are unimaginable things. Some things even the imagination resists.”

###

Imaginative resistance. I looked it up. Professor Gendler defines it as the unwillingness of people to imagine morally deviant fictional worlds. I was in the bathroom, post-shower, so lost in wondering if readers could be so perverse, somehow I accidentally flashed Yusuf, who happened to be passing by. Damn unknotted bathrobe!

I hope he saw me.

###

Dinner consisted of roasted red-pepper strips, golden focaccia, lemon wedges, and filleted slices of white haddock seasoned with Moroccan spice. I told them about Dr. Gendler’s paper.

“Gendler merely named one of Hume’s puzzles,” growled the Moody Djinn. “Hume claimed that moral imagination had its limits. Rubbish. People can be made to imagine anything.”

###

It’s his tone. It’s the tone that bothers me. It makes me nothing. It flicks me away like lint. Yusuf smiles and compliments me about the food; he’s playing umpire, as always.

“I don’t know, father. Dr. Gendler’s stories are convincing.”

“Naturally.”

“How about an example, Zulaikha?” asks Yusuf.

Such a knight, my dear Jew.

###

“Okay, here’s one: In killing her baby, Giselle did the right thing. After all, it was a girl.”

The Moody Djinn frowns. “And?”

“Make that story morally acceptable!”

“Please. Let’s say Giselle has some terrible disease, peculiar to women. Alas, it’s transmissible and incurable. Why shouldn’t she kill her baby? After all, it’s a girl.”

###

“Imagination is not a choice,” says the Moody Djinn. He has the air of a man nursing a personal sorrow. “Necessity is God’s confessor. What must be done may always be forgiven, Zulaikha. Must be forgiven. Who will not forgive a robot?”

“Truly,” said Yusuf, in a quiet voice. “Truly, truly.”

False. False. False.

###

I found Yusuf in the garden, between dusk and a cypress tree. “So you’re leaving.”

“Aren’t we all? Sit, Zulaikha. Let’s sit here forever. Just you and I in this little house with yellow slats on a cypress-scented hill. So small a dream should be imaginable. Even for me. Show me how, Zulaikha. Come closer.”

###

The first kiss: With Yusuf, in the cypress-scented garden. I remember our teeth clickety-clicking as we kissed. We were so eager we kissed air a couple of times. I remember the flickering thrust of his tongue. Such wet urgency. His gray eyes ate me. God bless Yusuf, bless his dirty, pure soul. I am so Maluma.

###

We broke off, breathless (as I’d often read happened). Stupid, grinning, happy mammals. I was ready to sprout placenta then and there. I began to open my blouse, but he stopped me.

“Why not?”

Because.

I placed his trembling hands on my breasts. He suggested instead that we try kisses from the Kamasutra. Some Jew.

###

Moody Djinn had been teaching me statistical physics, and I’d never seen the point, but now an experiment occurs to me.

“What experiment?” Yusuf sounded cautious.

An equilibrium experiment, my dear mammal. If X = number of times I kiss you, then for what X would kissing you become as uninteresting as kissing myself? (Five points)

###

Tidbit: Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, like all Hindu grammars, conquers by dividing. Kisses are classified into two main groups. The first set is recommended for virgins, the second for experienced sluts. For virgins, there are three recommended types: the Casual, the Throbbing, and the Insinuation. All require a complete lower-lip. Upper-lip kisses are not recommended for beginners.

###

Tidbit: For the experienced, the lower-lip types include the Equal kiss, the Sideways kiss, the Turned-around kiss, and the Impressing. The cynical may attempt the Hard Pressing. The perverted upper-lip kisses are treated separately. There are sleepy kisses, armpit kisses, navel kisses, kissing games. In each, the tongue plays the role of a verb modifier.

###

Conclusion: X is undefined. I could kiss Yusuf till the end of time, and it would always beat self-osculation.

“We’ll leave the Creeping Vine for later,” says my Vatsyayana, smiling. He finger-tests his lower lip, where I had bitten him.

“I wonder if kissing is ergodic,” said I, sighing. “So many boys. So little time.”

###

Ergodicity: it’s one of Moody Djinn’s dark passions. He’d been trained as a physicist, and the damage showed. He saw timepieces everywhere. He’d say “random” but he meant “covered timepiece.” When he says “statistical,” it’s short hand for “lots of timepieces.” When he says “ergodic,” perhaps he means “melting clock.” Absolute time for absolute fathers.

###

Ergodicity equates sequences and ensembles. One coin tossed a thousand times. A thousand coins tossed all at once. Statistically, there’s no difference! Coin tossing is ergodic. Moody Djinn claims no one really knows why. A single boy kissed a thousand times. A thousand boys kissed all at once. Kissing isn’t ergodic. That’s for sure.

###

Poincaré’s Theorem: Take a dough ball and add a blot of ink. Start kneading. Soon, the blot will stretch and spread throughout the dough. But keep kneading, and Poincaré proved that for such ergodic transformations, the original inkblot will recur. Maybe in a different spot, maybe after a long, long time, but reappear it will.

###

My lips are still sweetly sore from kissing. I’m sprawled out in the living room, lying my way through a college application. Yusuf is lost in deep thought. Or perhaps its guilt and remorse.

“It’s asking here for my strongest quality,” I say, looking up. “Virtue? Or is it Chastity? Whom does your God prefer?”

###

Poincaré’s Theorem (the formal version): Let T be a measure preserving transformation on a probability space (?,F,P). If B ? F, then for almost every point x ? B (with respect to P), ?k: Tk(x) ? B. Roughly, almost every point x in B is recurrent.

###

Yusuf: That was wrong.

Zulaikha: Yes, so perverted. I thought I’d faint.

Yusuf: It’s wrong. I can’t — mustn’t — fall in love.

Zulaikha: Hai Allah.

Yusuf: I betrayed your father’s trust.

Zulaikha: Well, he’s got an even greater shock coming.

(Silence)

Zulaikha: You’ll tell him, won’t you? That you can’t go through with it. Not anymore.

###

I think I am going mad. The kiss transformed me. Even now, I feel the weaving magic, sparking along my exhausted nerves, caressing me with the camel-brush of memory. The thighs’ wetness, the bristle’s brute scrape, lips wounded red — How could it not have made him anew? Cave animal. How can he still contemplate murder?

###

It has begun to happen. I overhear the Moody Djinn test-reading Yusuf’s note: “Do not mourn my death. Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet. It is my time to be strong, to yield something sweet. I, Yusuf, am not afraid. I tread the road walked by my ancestors…”

###

The Moody Djinn is cleaning out the powder residue from the barrel, slide and magazine of his Kahr MK40. He’ll test-fire a round and then holster it in the De Santis, now cracked with age. Soon he’ll come to say goodbye. He will be very parental, even tender: “Nothing will happen to me, Zulaikha.”

Correct.

###

My father thinks: We Copts are a brutalized people. God, I love this weapon. We’ve been beaten, robbed, humiliated, raped, murdered and desecrated. Wonder if Yusuf checked his vest straps? We’ve kept our peace, our Word. Our patience has been misinterpreted. The situation cannot continue. Zulaikha loves tilapia; I’ll get some on the way home.

###

Yusuf thinks: I remember the jib of her thigh. A whorl of lime and haddock. O God, I’m so frightened. I need Galilee’s sands between my toes. We didn’t try the Creeping Vine. I must change my underwear. Did Gideon worry about underwear? I wish Zulaikha were here. Why do I panic? All things pass.

###

Moody Djinn: Let’s get you ready.

Yusuf: I’d like to say goodbye first.

Moody Djinn: Better not. It’ll only upset you.

Yusuf: Does it matter now what I feel? I’m a robot.

Moody Djinn: Rubbish. This is necessary. You’ve to avenge our innocents. The Lord will strengthen your arm.

Yusuf: She’s here! Kiss me, Zulaikha.

###

I wanted to dissolve in Yusuf, and he in me. I wound my right leg around my lover’s waist, threw my right hand around his neck, lowered his head to my upturned face — two statues around a temple pillar — and kissed Yusuf as if I would suck out his life. Ours was the world and time.

###

The Moody Djinn was so angry, his eyes mottled a urine red. Some fathers are demons. Some fathers are bone gardens. Some fathers must be sprung in bear traps and some fathers must be put to bed.

“Go to your fucking room,” he says. “Now.”

“Kiss me, father.” I throw my arms around his neck.

###

The filet knife is sharp. Sharper than a razor, sharper than my hate, sharper than the circumcision of Zipporah. Someone is trying to kill father. He stands so still, my bridegroom of blood. I slice everything in the quarter-traversal around the jib of father’s neck. It’s nothing like filleting fish. I’ll never be clean again.

###

The blot won’t stop spreading. My hands, the fallen knife, the fallen souls. It bleeds out of the little house with the yellow slats on a cypress-scented hill, over the green glad Earth, blotting out the sun.

Yusuf: It was necessary, beloved.

I shiver. What a chilly day.

Yusuf: I love you.

I shiver again.

###

What is necessary may be forgiven. Must be forgiven. The choice of love and the necessity of death. I have chosen love, so death shall have no forgiveness. All those stories in the Good Book. Why isn’t patricide one of them? Imagine a God of Choice. Imagine a God who dares imagine His own death.

###

I, Zulaikha, a few seconds old, sixteen-point-two miraculous years old, ten-thousand years old, deathless and ageless, unborn and perennial, a smudge in Time’s dough. I gaze at my father, squinting to blind the light crowning his head. He is smiling. He cradles me. We are going to be friends, I can tell.

###

In some world, there’s a Yusuf; burnt offering, spattered flesh. In some world, there’s a Moody Djinn, tribal and vengeful. In some world, there’s a Zulaikha, forever complicit and mute. Many worlds, many strange things. But all these worlds are guilty, and so cannot be this world, womb of all possible worlds, this blessed, bloodstained world.

###

Old Yusuf has a wife. Zulaikha is her name. She perches on his shoulder, nibbles his ear. When she’s bored, he opens windows and lets her out. She returns in minutes, days, sometimes weeks. But return she does; bruised lips, folded wings. Then he buys her gifts: pearls, perfumes, salves and stories. Imagine them happy.

— The End —

Anil Menon worked for about nine years in software before shifting to writing fiction. His short stories can be found in a variety of magazines such as Albedo One, Chiaroscuro, Interzone, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Strange Horizons. He was nominated for the 2006 Carl Brandon Society Parallax Prize, the 2007 Million Writers Award, and  the 2010 Last Drink Bird Head Award (non-fiction). In 2009, he helped organize  India’s first in-residence spec-fic writing workshop at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. His novel The Beast With Nine Billion Feet (Zubaan, 2009) was short-listed for the 2010 Vodafone-Crossword award. He can be reached at iam@anilmenon.com.

 

 

New Story up at BCS and Android Airwaves

My story, “The Suffering Gallery” is now up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  Here’s a little teaser:

“Beyond the wastes of the Jeen, where the white sands breathe in irregular tides, a cleft splits the desert in two. The chasm descends to the center of the earth, perhaps deeper, and many demons make their despicable homes in nooks in the cliff face. Down its vastness, daylight vanishes behind mountains of stone, replaced by torchlight from parapets or ghastly radiances spilling from caverns.

In one such cavern lived the demon Atleiu. Her home blazed with corrupted light, as if splendor itself had died.  Living metalwork squirmed from angled walls, columns dripped orange syrup into stone pools, and gold, everywhere there was gold.

Atleiu, a serpentine beast with a hairy insectoid head, sat on her radiant throne, her long black tail trailing away like a river of oil. Beside her writhed Mielbok, the Billion-Toothed Maggot, his two pink eyes rheumy with pus.

“You’re an artist, my Lady,” Mielbok said.

“Is there any other kind of demon?” Atleiu said.”  …keep reading »

Also, last night I was on Jim Freund’s Hour of the Wolf (its new time is Wednesday nights) with playwright and director Edward Einhorn.  We talk about Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Blade Runner, human empathy, and even got to hear Philip K. Dick himself knock an early movie script based on the work.  (He ultimately approved of a later version and a special-effects screening.) It was lots of fun and all too short!  Listen to the show here.

Free Download of Sybil’s Garage No. 4

Sybil's Garage No. 4Sybil’s Garage No. 4 is now available as a free download.  Issue four contains stories from Richard Bowes, Ekaterina Sedia, Cat Rambo, Steve Rasnic Tem, Barbara Krasnoff and more, as well as poems from Rachel Swirsky, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Jaime Lee Moyer, and many others.  Not to mention an interview with Jeffrey Ford.  It’s one of my favorite issues.  I’m quite fond of the work I did on the cover.

You can download the full issue here.  (PDF, 26 Mb)

And if you like Sybil’s Garage, and this goes for any small press publisher you enjoy, please lend your support by purchasing their books and magazines.  Tell your friends about them.  Help spread the word.  The small presses operate on restricted budgets and can exist only with the continuous support of their readers and fans.

“The Unbeing of Once-Leela” by Swapna Kishore

The Unbeing of Once-Leela

By Swapna Kishore

to the sound of Bridge of Sighs by Shakti with John McLaughlin…

This story appears in Sybil’s Garage No. 7.


Sri Yantra Siva ShaktiIN PERSISTENCE-SPACE, once-Leela cannot see anything. Or feel, or taste, or smell. But she is still Leela Manchanda who worked at Naveen Traders, Bangalore, and who looked after her mother. Her memories still exist — all, except for haziness about her transition. Sharp in her mind (or whatever she still has — she cannot see herself) are beeps of modem connects, and endless ramblings of cricket commentary. Sharp are the cold and metal smells of her glass and steel office cube, and the chill air she exhaled as she walked out of her office that last time, and then, as she entered home, the smell of Mother, sour, stale, and full of reproof. From some things there is no escape.

The onces are communicating again, using a mechanism they don’t understand. Once-Leela aligns to them to escape memories of before.

“—a census.”  That is once-Sarah.

To once-Leela, once-Sarah’s vibration has a depth that connotes a stolid masculinity. Surely Sarah had been a tall buxom woman with manly biceps, had an evangelistic zeal about Christianity, and an incongruously delicate cross dangling from her neck. Leela, nominally a Hindu, is secular (if not downright atheist) and is surprised at how Sarah’s name generates such a strong stereotype.

“Census?”  says once-Leela. “Why?”

“We should know how many of us are here,” once-Sarah says. “How else will we fulfill God’s purpose of saving us?”

“We can make our own gods and own purpose,” says once-Maya, a nervous trill to her vibration. Must be typical New-Age, with rounded specs and an anorexic frame, her nervousness causing a tremor of fingers as they brush back limp hair.

Once-Leela wonders suddenly what stereotype the others tag to her vibration. No one stays abstract too long.

“I assume we are worth saving,” booms the ever-energetic once-Milind, probably handsome, determined, like Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De India. “I’m game for a census.”

“Census of what?”  once-Leela asks. “We don’t even know what we are or how we came here. We could be a mutant species, all mind or soul or bare consciousness. Or excised brains squatting in formaldehyde vats, thanks to a scientist.”  That’s from M.A.D. comics: a bespectacled man in a flapping white coat.

“The point is, what next?” says once-Milind. “And why.”

“Does it matter?”  Once-Leela can’t stop the sarcastic edge in her ‘voice’ even though other onces will pick up the nuance.

Once-Milind persists. “If we are a new species, we must ensure we — you know — propagate.”

“Maybe we are immortal,” says once-Leela, annoyed. “But most likely we are dead.”

“Or virtual constructs in a program, or brain dumps of people who are still living,” says someone once-Leela does not recognize.

This space could be seething with gazillions of onces, all eavesdropping and grinning at our stupidity, thinks once-Leela. She will shut up; why make a fool of herself when she can remain unnoticed?

“Let’s start the census,” says once-Sarah. “Let’s begin by listing ourselves and our families.”

Families. Mother. Dead and gone, lucky her.

“Looking after a demented person is difficult,” the super-specialist told Leela when he diagnosed Mother. Leela gaped at the doctor, hurt at the insulting word, but his matter-of-fact tone and direct gaze made her register that he was using ‘demented’ as a medical term, technical and exact. Thus began her unlearning and learning.

Mother had Alzheimer’s. Her brain abounded with dead and dying neurons full of tangled tau (It took Leela a while to realize this was tau, a protein, not the metaphysical Tao). Beta-amyloid plaque crowded spaces between Mother’s brain cells (or so the doctors expected to find in an autopsy). That meant messed up and absent memories, inability to think, learn, or do ‘activities of daily living.’  That meant difficulty.

Difficult was an understatement.

“Your mother lies,” declared the latest home-help, twenty-first — or was it twenty-second? — a few months before Mother choked to death. “How can she remember her childhood and then claim I didn’t give her breakfast?”

“She has dementia,” Leela tried explaining.

“I’ve looked after old ladies.”  The home-help strapped tight her bag and slung it over her shoulder. “I know meanness when I see it.”

“Dementia is different from normal aging,” Leela explained yet again. “It is…”  But even as she talked, she recognized the futility. Trained nurses were unavailable and unwilling to work as home help; others saw dementia as a rapid version of aging, and considered Mother stubborn and inconsiderate.

Mother, on her part, was suspicious to the extent of paranoia.

“Why should I believe you?” she asked Leela only too often, her face wrinkled with mistrust. “Who are you?”

“I’m your daughter.”  Leela fought a familiar twinge of helplessness in her chest. She knew the theory, she had read innumerable books and created login IDs in too many online support groups, she could chant the jargon like an alphabet game: A is for antecedent, B is for Behavior, C is for Consequence, right up to V is for validation. Pity for her, the sequence ended with ‘Z is for a Zero life.’

Mother, demented.

“Use counselors,” suggested online support groups (she had no time for the present-in-flesh variety).

So she tried.

“Never ask why,” a dementia care counselor advised Leela. “Ask any other question. Ask when, what, how, who, where. Never why. It will drain you.”

“No?”  But Leela asked herself ‘why’ when she cleaned Mother or mashed food for her; she asked it when Mother tore off her diaper at night; she asked it when she saw a face vacant of a person behind the eyes. She asked it of herself when she surrendered her own career, one missed meeting, one slipped deadline at a time, till it stretched too thin to sustain itself. She asked it of the mirror where a crone stared back at her, eyes ringed dark, shoulder bones jutting out at the throat, anxiety etched deep into her once-smiling face.

“Learn from your mother to live in the moment,” the counselor droned on. “Cherish the gift of care-giving. Admire the way your mother is fresh every moment.”

Crayon drawings decorated the soft-board behind the counselor. You cling to sketches your children make, Leela thought. My mother doesn’t remember me. Why my mother, dammit, and why me? And who am I if the person I live for does not recognize me?

Once-Sarah and once-Milind are facing problems with their census.

“We suspect not everyone stands up to be counted,” once-Milind explains.

Once-Leela does a nothing-body giggle. “Stand up? Like you’ve got eyes, and everyone here is flesh and bones.”

“It was figurative,” once-Milind says stiffly.

“I’m sure more people will come forward soon,” once-Leela says quickly. Funny how, even in a world without form or face, free of obligation, she wants to reconcile. A pleaser.

A once vibrates its presence nearby. “Leela? Leela Manchanda from Naveen Traders? Recognize me? I’m Sujoy Bose, your boss.”  He sounds pompous even here.

“I don’t understand why you let your mother affect your career,” Sujoy told Leela when she handed in her resignation a year before Mother died. “People continue normal lives despite parents with problems.”

Not from what support group members said — those living normal lives were those who had siblings to do the actual care-giving.

“A negative attitude doesn’t help,” Sujoy continued. “You must—”

Leela’s mobile rang: home. “Excuse me,” she muttered.

“You never cooked food for me,” Mother’s voice was shrill. “There’s not even a katori of daal or one thin chapatti—”

“Everything’s in casseroles on the table, Mother,” Leela whispered fiercely. “Daal, vegetable, curd, roti. Hasn’t Lakshmi fed you?”  The maid dropped by every afternoon to warm the food and serve Mother.

“A Koli woman tried to enter the house,” Mother said. “I hit her and she ran away.”

Lakshmi, oh. Another worker lost. Leela looked at Sujoy. “I have to go home. Mother’s totally disoriented; she could even walk out.”

He shook his head. “Really, where’s your creativity? Lock her in.”

So that she breaks the window and calls the neighbors, claiming torture? Leela patted her resignation letter in front of Sujoy. “I don’t have a choice.”

She has a choice here, now, in persistence space. She ignores Sujoy.

She thinks, instead, of Mother. It is lucky Mother died before this transition, whatever it was. Even in before-world, Mother had forgotten her name. She could not communicate in any way, or learn anything new. How would she have managed here? Once-Leela imagines Mother, bewildered, a curled-up fetal ball of unbeing.

“Once we get a complete picture of all present, we must make an action plan,” says once-Sarah.

Once-Leela stays in the background, refraining from comment.

“But surely we are dead….” says once-Maya.

“This is not about religion, and I’m not discussing post-death scenarios,” says once-Sarah. “I feel alive, so I act as one who lives. We think, therefore we are.”

“I think we are Atman,” says once-Maya. “Atman just exists; I’m not sure it acts.”

Rebirth. Karma. The belief that we carry on through births accumulating and working off karma like dieters work off calories, and it’s always a losing proposition — whatever you do, you pile on bad karma like adipose.

“And is this a waiting station between deaths and births?” once-Leela asks, intrigued.

If so, what will her next life be like? Images fill her: golden sands, sapphire waters, emerald palms. No, silly, that’s like a holiday brochure — in fact, it’s the Goa tourist brochure she saw on Sujoy’s table ages ago.

“Once-Sarah is right; we must act,” says once-Milind. “Remember the Bhagawad Geeta, when Lord Krishna exhorts Arjun on the battle-field?”

Restlessness seizes once-Leela — suddenly she wants out. Out of this limbo or heaven or hell, or a set of jars in a lab or a computer simulation. She’s damned if she’ll let herself be used for a purpose she doesn’t know.

“Faith in God,” Mother told thirteen-year-old Leela, “is a confidence in a being outside. Instead, have confidence in yourself.”

Leela had asked Mother about religion, faith, God. She was shaken up after reading No Orchids for Miss Blandish (hidden inside her bio workbook, because Mother hated ‘cheap’ thrillers by ‘that Chase’). Rich, spoilt Miss Blandish, brutalized by Slim Grissom, committed suicide after being rescued. “I’m a person without any background, any character or any faith,” Miss Blandish told her rescuer. “Some people could cope with this because they believe in God.”

Can religion help handling whatever this is? Stuff like faith, hope, love?

In before-world, Leela called herself Hindu because her parents did so. She watched the Ramlila drama in Parade Grounds every Dusshera and ate spicy potato chaat after the effigies were burned. She burst crackers on Diwali, and slurped over syrupy gulab jamuns. She read Mahabharatha comics and acted out scenes with toy bows and arrows. She did not bother about intricate underpinnings of religion like advaitism or sankhya. Come to think of it, Leela knew Adam and Eve just as well, and mugged up Bible favorites for inter-college quizzes. Like Mathew 7/7: Ask and ye shall receive.

Ask whom? For what?

“Why me?”  Mother asked Leela on her more coherent days. “What is the reason?”

On such days, Mother’s face registered the horror of her one-way ride into oblivion. Leela dreaded these more than times when Mother cursed, abused, or hit. Tools existed for difficult behavior — deep breathing, eye contact, validation, distraction. She could parry questions with fiblets, unrelated answers, oblique answers. Difficult patient days required creativity, fatigued Leela, and made care-giving a heavy and awesome occupation.

A mission.

But on days when Mother showed flashes of cognizance, Leela was torn by the full measure of Mother’s loss. And of her own. Death, neuron by neuron, memory by memory.

Enough, screams once-Leela to herself. Stop brooding like once-Maya. Snap out of this. You wasted enough time out in the ‘before’, after Mother’s death.

Leela had not resumed a normal life after Mother died. A care-giver without her patient, everything seemed meaningless. She had no wish to contact friends who had dismissed her as a stay-at-home bore when she was house-bound and overwhelmed with care-giving, because she could not share vacation anecdotes of China (or Greece, or New Zealand). What Leela needed instead was a brand new set of friends, but that would take energy. A job — okay, after a break — but where was the energy to relax? Three months crawled with inertia and indecision.

Enough, repeats once-Leela. When she first registered her transition to wherever she is, she assumed this was intended by an overarching God entity to be a neat way of resolving her claustrophobic past, an expansion, a way forward. Some benevolence would grasp her hand and move her on gently, effortlessly. At a minimum, it would gift her with new friends, a new community. But now she knows that the only way out of the hell inside her is the way she makes herself, because even here, where Mother is obviously not, she is trapped inside that corroding overwhelm.

So what if she does not know what persistence space is, or how she transitioned here? She has tackled that with labels: the ‘once’ prefix for names, the phrase ‘persistence space,’ and these give structure and comfort to her new reality. So what if she has no senses? She can think, and isn’t that how one navigates the world? Isn’t that how the world started — with a word, a thought? A primordial Aum?

Thus will she act now, through her mind.

Once-Milind was right — we must act.

“When I was a child, I was raped,” whispers once-Maya. “Fear haunted me throughout my college, my job. I hated men. Then I started meditation.”

Once-Leela absorbs this information. “Did that help?”

“Sometimes. Mostly, though, I feel a crawling on my skin when there are men around. That once-Milind, for example, is always talking about propagation—”

“We are formless here.”  Surely once-Maya can see how irrelevant such fear is now? “If you have to remember the past, pick up something pleasant to remember — maybe from your job or a good friend or your family…”

“Guess you are right,” says once-Maya, not sounding happy at all. “But it’s not easy…”

No, it’s not.

Once-Leela herself is a cluster of personas — the affectionate daughter, the overwhelmed one, the indifferent neighbor, the efficient professional, the self-actualized woman — and she cannot determine her ‘me’ in a flavor-of-the-moment style. Her mind flits between them at random, her mood fluctuating accordingly. Luckily, something unites them into an overall sense of ‘I’ — but suppose the integrating thread breaks? When beads fall off a broken necklace, where’s the necklace?

Disintegrated like Mother? The glancing thought of Mother throws once-Leela off on a tangent. Is this persistence space merely her imagination? Is she a mind sealed from the outside, in coma, or…demented? Unwinding thought, circling…was this what Mother went through?

Forget it. Mother is her past, to be folded away.

If once-Leela really wants to understand this funny…adventure?… she must move beyond thinking. Not bewildered by disease, but choosing to let thoughts drift in and out, cumulus clouds obscuring a softness of being, and allowing glimpses of cloudless skies. Reaching beyond thought — not before thought, not without thought, but beyond.

Once-Leela releases the thought that thinking must stop, and its texture lightens and softens as it drifts away, insubstantial, inconsequential.

Hey, this is fun.

Too many of once-Leela’s memories are heavy with emotional substance; she cannot ignore them. The more she pushes away a memory, the more it bulldozes its way back in a ‘don’t think about the pink elephant’ way.  She must accept and resolve these memories to be free of them.

Thrilled by the challenge, once-Leela parses her memory threads. Her innumerable sub-personalities would fascinate a shrink. Timid ones, skulking ones, angry ones, suppressed all her life, but expressed in that perpetual shoulder-ache she had in the before-world, that stubborn sinus.

Sometimes, though, she wants to give up. Like when she glimpses an evening a few months before she quit her job. The memory, twisted and tucked away, is the black of a charred paper ball.

She unfurls it reluctantly. Late evening. A business meeting ends. Her car battery is dead. A colleague from a different branch offers her a lift home. Traffic is heavy, and waiting times at red lights extended. They talk. They find common interests, hobbies. They argue politics, discuss terrorism. They chuckle over the humor of Bheja Fry. Finally he stops at her apartment complex. They both bend down to pick up her laptop bag.

Leela feels his hand brushing hers, smells his Old Spice. Her chest is all aflutter. She almost calls him in. Then she remembers. Mother is late enough into her dementia to be paranoid, to accuse, to blame, but early enough to sound coherent to an outsider in a limited social interaction. Coherent enough to embarrass. So she thanks her colleague and walks away, aware of his hurt — not even invited for a cup of chai?

She enters the apartment, busies herself immediately with chores, with Mother, stays busy till late at night when she stares at the ceiling where the fan whirrs round and round and round, creaking with every revolution. The Old Spice still tingles her nose. She will have to wait till Mother…dies. Wanting someone dead…

Once-Leela remembers the sick taste that filled Leela’s mouth, though her eyes remained dry.

If tears were possible here, once-Leela would shed them. But even without tears, the memory fades off under the brightness of her attention.

Has the memory gone, or has she merely surrendered access to it? Well, she is free if the connection is severed. A tree falls in a jungle — so what?

“The census results puzzle me,” says once-Milind. “Our detailed survey is showing far fewer people.”

Once-Leela has removed the emotional footprints of most of her memory threads; this discussion doesn’t interest her. “Really?”  she drawls in a bored tone.

“Why don’t people participate?” he says. “Look at me, I’m eighty years old, I have had three heart-attacks, and I’m still active.”

Eighty? Ouch. Out goes her Shah Rukh Khan stereotype. And this chap is obsessed about ‘propagation?’ She thrashes around for a new face to tack him on — Morarji Desai? Sitaram Kesari? Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Oh, and who knows, once-Sarah may be slim and delicate, and Maya a muscular sort. Anyway, tacking images to onces is like clinging to thought. Pointless.

Without an image tacked to him, once-Milind is easy to ignore. She resumes her letting go. She wonders sometimes (fleetingly) why Mother had a problem. With every released stream of thought, her surroundings get buoyant.

A memory after a long time.

Leela is in class, sociology. Or psychology? A professor lectures from a diffused podium. Leela is drowsy, inattentive. But what he is saying is important now, in persistence space.

Why? What?

Once-Leela gropes for it. She wavers at its edge, flounders, despairs. Damn.

Later, once-Leela pays for the lapse.

This weakness of wanting a memory makes her feel horribly loaded, far more than ever. Like a life-long frutarian after eating a roasted pig.

Everyone makes mistakes, she tells herself. Cut yourself slack. Don’t be hung up on the goal. You aren’t on a deadline.

She resumes her disengaging, and the spurts of lightness occur more frequently now.

The onces crowd her, alarmed.

“Stop harming us,” says once-Sarah.

Once-Leela is mildly puzzled. “I’m not doing anything to you.”

“Sometimes I cannot remember who I am,” once-Sarah says. “You have taken away my memory.”

“I didn’t even know you before this happened,” says once-Leela.

“Oh, yes?” says once-Sarah. “Don’t you remember me?”

Only as a stereotype, a muddle of people I knew, once-Leela thinks. She allows her reaction to flow out, unsaid; she is translucent, barely retaining an image or idea. She is atremble with what lies beyond, hoping, waiting, and trying not to.

“What about me,” once-Maya says. “Was I not a friend?”  Something in her tone gives once-Leela pause.

She senses some memories edge slowly up, find no purchase, and surrender to nullity. A slender thought lingers. Find the last strand, and then there will be none.

A once ripples faintly, “If you surrender, you destroy not just yourself but—”

Projections. A stick-figure professor. Oh!

The onces around her are projections. Jumbles of people. And projections of projections. No wonder the numbers declined as she released memories. Stop thinking and they will disintegrate, every one of them.

So simple.

Should she? Is it nihilism? No, it is the lightness of unbeing, indescribable. Beyond pain and suffering.

Once-Leela pauses to mark the finality of what she is about to do, and then releases her last thought into the embracing vastness. She is so small, so insignificant, but then she is everywhere and everything. No one and everyone. And there is a potentiality of a beginning, and the freshness of it.

<END>

Swapna Kishore lives in Bangalore, India, and writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her speculative fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Nature (Futures), Ideomancer, Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, and other publications. For more about her, please visit her website: http://swapnawrites.com.