Everyone was talking into their handheld devices, except those whose devices did not require hands, who were just talking. Alive to every permutation, I’d had a good day, I’d had a bad day, I’d had a so-so day. At intervals everyone stood except those who were already standing. I would be home shortly, I would not be home until later, I would not be home at all. At the crossroads we all crossed our legs, except those whose legs were already crossed. We have to talk about it now, can’t we talk about it later, do we have to talk about it at all?

Then came the tunnel and everyone held their breath. In the dark I felt cradled in the palm of God, but when we came into the light I found myself sitting in a fat man’s lap. At a sign everyone uncrossed their legs and I was tumbled to the floor, or rather the assemblage of shoes that covered the floor between a forest of legs, variously trousered and hosed. Except for getting kicked in the face it was not uncomfortable.

A ticking sound came from under the fat man’s seat. I was about to become alarmed when I realized that the ticking was not regular, and therefore not so alarming. The fat man shifted his foot, causing the beach towel that draped the ticking object to slide off. It was a cage containing a small monkey in a red vest and a fez. The monkey sat at a desk equipped with an old-fashioned Olivetti typewriter and a ream of paper, all proportioned to monkey size. Here, I speculated, might be the proverbial organ-grinder’s second fiddle, except that the fat man lacked an organ.

The monkey was a two-finger typist but none the slower for it, and over his shoulder I could read the results of his staccato flurries: I had a good day, I had a bad day, I had a so-so day. I will be home shortly, I will be home later, I will not be home at all… Merely taking dictation, it seemed, of all that was being talked into the handheld devices, as well as those that did not require hands.

During a lull the monkey read over the pages and scratched his head. Then, as if sensing my modest estimation of his efforts, he turned to me and lectured: “The old idea of ‘talent’ must of course be abandoned here, along with hero worship and the legend – so beloved of those prone to such admiration – of the creative ‘fecundity’ of the artist who lays three eggs today, one tomorrow, and none on Sunday. As we all know, every ‘normal’ person, and not just the artist, possesses an inexhaustible store of buried images within the unconscious. All that is required is the courage and a liberating method, a voyage of discovery into the unconscious that will unearth found objects—,” here the monkey waved the pages in his paw, “—in an unfalsified state, uncontaminated by conscious control. And now,” the monkey concluded, placing the pages back on the table, “I’m going out for an aperitif.”

He opened the door of his cage and disappeared into the forest of legs, variously trousered and hosed. Perhaps he was indeed going for an aperitif (he did sound a little dry), or perhaps he was only due to fetch one for the fat man but had wanted to rescue his dignity in front of a stranger (although he’d behaved as though he’d seen me before).

In the monkey’s absence the words on the pages of typescript began to tremble and swim apart, until the separate letters spelled only gibberish – not literally the word “gibberish,” of course, but rather the concept those letters happened to denote, which is nonsense. “Ah ha!” I thought, “an autocritique!” But then the letters themselves began to quake: the serifs broke off first and the ascenders toppled to pieces after them, crashing into the generous bowls of the vowels (for it was indeed the venerable Courier font) to smash them like fragile vessels.

The fragments swirled across the page, and swirled, and kept swirling, until I realized that these motes were in fact tiny bugs, like mites, or perhaps fleas. Yes, fleas – for they hopped onto the backs of their fellows like eager circus performers, balancing themselves into a symmetrically branching figure that I soon recognized as the letter Y (this time, however, in Times New Roman). Collapsing again into a swirling heap, the little entertainers next leaped, hoisted, and bridged themselves into the letter O. They continued in this fashion – U, A, R… – until a sentence had been formed:


Edmond Caldwell