Sous Rature


Charles Freeland


Essential Protocols

The candles line the shelf like soldiers, change the atmosphere of the room by increments until I no longer recognize it. I no longer even wish to be alive. Eulalie says this is typical and warns that she will listen to only three-fourths of a lament before she starts whistling something under her breath. But I know this is just the sort of thing she will not do because she is afraid of hurting other people’s feelings. At least she is known for possessing this quality among those who have never met her, who have only heard rumors while patrolling the taverns downtown where rumors turn up in unheard of numbers. They breed like pestilence and follow their own instincts until there are several different versions vying for the same space, trying to supplant one another using every conceivable device. Including asbestos-lined gloves. And portable washstands. Tickets to the tram that no longer runs. Eulalie speculates out loud that I have spent too much of my time in contemplation, as if there is something wrong with ignoring the houseplants at your elbows, refusing to pick Styrofoam cups off the ground. We get involved at our own peril, and when the mind re-evaluates its surroundings, there is a sense of having accomplished something without ever having to get out of your chair. This is why Eulalie runs her teeth around the outside of my ear whenever she catches me off guard, whenever she has finished whatever it is she does in her studio. She wishes to remind me that my body has made its own declarations and will probably continue to do so despite what I have to say in the matter. In fact, as far as it’s concerned, the mind and the mouth attached to it (on occasion) are not members in good standing. They don’t have the same rights, aren’t allowed to follow the same essential protocols, as say the ankles, which are completely trustworthy. They know a good thing when they stumble on it. Eulalie blows each candle out one by one as if it were a ceremony and those of us fated to observe it must remain satisfied with the aroma of the smoke that wafts by, that reminds us of times from the past when we too were part of a cult. And those who wished to liberate us seemed dense as mules. They had no pupils through which to see, nor tongue fit for the proper lapping up of the manna.


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