Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Gallery

In the spirit of posting things you'll not have seen before, I'm going to post "The Gallery." This is one which might get me in trouble with particular friends if they read it... to those friends, who never read my blog but there's always a first, none of the characters are supposed to represent actual people. Except one, but that person really isn't going to be reading this.
It was written for a creative writing class last year. I was experimenting with form a bit back then. Still am, really, but less overtly.
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The Gallery

      He once had a dream where he walked through the winding passages of a carnival freak show. In it, the gallery’s denizens were sitting in chairs or on stools, each in a separate niche or room, posing without obvious chains, but he could tell behind their eyes that they were not here by free will in the strictest sense of the word. It was more a case of
      not having anywhere else to go, so we sat around our living room and talked about stuff. I was feeling tired and out of it from cleaning the house all day, so I listened more than talked.
      Rafe and Carol were arguing about religion from either end of the futon while Julie watched TV. It was really Joe who had started it, of course. He’d asked if Rafe believed Muslims were all going to Hell. Rafe made some sort of diplomatic answer that said, “Yes, I believe that all Muslims are going to Hell, but I don’t want to say it out loud.” Carol, as usual, got mad about it.
      “I’m not saying that I think there is a heaven or a hell,” she said. “I honestly don’t think there is. But I don’t see how you can be so closed-minded about the afterlife to say that all people who have different religions than you are going to hell.”
      I didn’t want to get involved and I certainly didn’t enjoy the argument, but I saw Joe that was grinning and his eyes
      were a little more mischievous than the usual person’s were. The man wearing a stained work-shirt and last week’s grime clearly enjoyed this exhibit: The Four-Legged Girl, sixteen or so, who had two pairs of legs. All four appendages lined up in a row next to each other, left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Above the waist, the girl was normal, as far as he could tell. She used all four legs in an odd pattern as she waltzed to the sound of an old gramophone, seemingly for her own amusement rather than theirs. The other viewer was noticeably relishing the thought of what someone could do with a girl who was double below the navel, but all he wanted to do was ask if it felt odd to have extra feet, or if the rest of the world just looked top-heavy. He did wonder about things along the same line as the man next to him, but it was not
      something you talk about if you want to avoid insulting someone,” Julie said from the floor in front of the TV.
      “Exactly.” Rafe nodded. “I had a Muslim friend when I was a kid in summer camp, once. We just didn’t go there.”
      “Think about it,” Julie went on. “Muslim people likely think all Christians are going to hell. Christians likely think all Muslim people are going to hell. Muslims and Christians likely think all Buddhists are going to hell. So they probably don’t want to talk about it because it wouldn’t help social situations any.”
      “But that’s exactly what I’m trying to say,” Carol said. She flapped her arms quite a bit as she spoke. “If everyone thinks everyone else is damned, then society falls apart, unless they’re open-minded enough to realize that other religions are just as right as they are.”
      “No one of any religion will think that other religions are just as right,” Rafe muttered. When Carol shot a look at him, he spoke up. “It’s part of religion to believe only in one God. As a Christian, I am bound to say that other religions are wrong.”
      Julie looked like she might disagree with this, but first Carol went red in the ears and said, “I just wish that being a Christian wasn’t the same as being
      a Pinhead. That was what the sign called him, anyway. It also said he was The Missing Link between humanity and animals. A young gentleman, probably educated from both university and newspapers, had a young woman clinging to his arm and was displaying the exhibit’s varying points of interest to her. The display looked dolefully at the observers, sitting on the stump placed in front of his tent, which was so small and open that he had no privacy. His head was small, and hence the name. More specifically, it sloped back radically from the eyebrows and ears and came to a clear, rounded tip at the top. His head, but not his chin, was shaved, giving him a Neanderthalic appearance. The dreamer wondered whether the man could read, and then thought, just for a moment, that when the gentlemen examined various points of phrenology, that man on display was thinking ‘I know
      exactly what you mean,” Rafe interrupted. “You think that religious people can’t be very smart or else they wouldn’t be religious at all. Dawkins’ book, and all that.”
      “I just don’t see how an intelligent person can believe in God,” Carol said. She’d now turned on the futon and crossed her legs so that she was facing Rafe directly.
      Julie had swiveled back from the TV to say something, but Rafe cut her off before she could start. I could see his hands tremble a little. “Perhaps intelligent people have figured out that reason isn’t everything, and atheists could learn something from that.”
      “He’s right,” Julie said.
      “There’s emotion, intuition—which studies show is more reliable than calculation—there’s faith, authority…”
      “Oh, come on,” Carol said. “Those are logical fallacies. You learn that in grade ten.”
      “Logical fallacies,” Rafe said. “There’s your logic again. Thinking like your typical doctor…”
      Joe’s amusement aside, I wasn’t feeling very comfortable with all the tension, as from either side of the futon the two heads
      argued with each other. That the Two-Headed Woman’s two heads would bicker did seem somewhat caricatured to him. It was generally understood that couples who argued and resolved their differences had healthier relationships, so he hoped that was the case here. They sat on a stool in the centre of their niche, wearing a sleek black dress reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn. There was no fabric between their young necks, so the viewers could see that this was no hoax. A flurry of boys, entering adolescent awkwardness and clearly not old enough to be there, clustered and gaped at the women. One of them shouted out at them and asked if they had the same boyfriend. The woman on the left stopped the hushed debate to ask the boy if he thought he was man enough to satisfy both of them. Her sister scolded her and they fell back to arguing. Suddenly, the spat seemed to flare, but then fell into laughter. He then wished he could get to know them over coffee, or as life-long friends; asking personal questions from a distance like the hassling rabble would not bring him any
      understanding of the situation or of the people involved,” Julie continued. “Look, unless you genuinely try to see things from the other person’s point of view, you won’t get anywhere.”
      “But,” Carol objected, “none of the religious people I’ve met have ever tried to do that. And that includes my parents, who are very liberal for missionaries.”
      “Not that you seem to be trying all that hard yourself,” said Rafe.
      “It’s different,” Carol went on. “By definition, if you believe in a religion, you have to discount other points of view. I at least examine them objectively.”
      I somehow doubted that, but still felt too uncomfortable to say anything.
      “I don’t mean that you have to believe what the other person is saying.” Julie had pivoted entirely at this point. “I’m just saying that you have to respect that the other person has reasons for believing what they do. I mean, you two arguing on the couch is maybe a step forward in dialogue, or whatever, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re simply trying to convince the other person of your point of view.”
      Both Rafe and Carol began to glower, but Joe cut in, saying, “What’s really happening is that they both want to screw each other, but they can’t because Rafe’s Christian and Carol isn’t, so they’re trying to convert each other. Really, it’s their unresolved sexual attraction that’s causing all the arguments.”
      Julie raised her eyebrows at me and started to laugh, but then she noticed how embarrassed Rafe and Carol seemed, like Joe’s comment
      had exposed something private. The middle-aged woman watching vocalized her shock at his public display, saying how terrible it is to show yourself in such a way. The dreamer watched as the man crawled about his living quarters on all fours. His knees, according to the sign and visual testament, bent backwards. The middle-aged woman said that he should be employed in something useful and out of sight—perhaps as a beast of burden on a farm in the country, where none could see him. Horse-Man was trying to ignore her, but his head was consistently drawn in her direction when she hectored. Eventually, he surrendered and sat in a modified lotus position on the floor. It made his limbs less shocking, but
      it still doesn’t obscure what they really are,” Carol said, though less passionately than before Joe’s comment. “Religions just fulfill some psychological desire.”
      Julie, now frustrated with the argument, had returned to watching TV.
      Joe said, “With so many people believing in religion, there has to be something behind it, yeah, but I agree it isn’t necessarily logical.”
      “Once again, logic isn’t everything,” Rafe argued. “There’s also—”
      I was about to leave the room to go to the kitchen and make a sandwich or something, but Julie spun around and shut the argument up for good.
      “Just talk about something else, OK? You’re clearly not going anywhere and there’s no point getting everyone upset over this. You know each other well enough to know that you aren’t the stereotypes that you’re talking about. Rafe is perfectly intelligent and isn’t anti-Semitic, Carol, you know that, and Carol’s not immoral and, I don’t know, an abortionist or something. So, if you’re done taking this out on the rest of us, let’s talk about something else.”
      Carol looked like she was still willing to argue, but Rafe said, “Yeah, alright.” With some reluctance, Carol mumbled, “I’m sorry, Julie.”
      “You’re a Christian, Julie. Do you think all Muslims go to hell?” Joe asked, and all four of us laughed
      shakily as she lay on her bed. The sign called her Snake-Woman, but he thought it was a misnomer. She lacked any bones beneath her ribcage, and so the rest of her lay draped like animal skins. Other than her toned arms and thick neck, she lacked any muscle-tone at all. They were alone together in this room, and she spoke to him between her wheezing giggles.
      “Don’t feel sorry for me.”
      “I—” he said, and didn’t know whether he wanted to say ‘don’t’ or ‘can’t help it.’
      “I am happy with my life.”
      “I can’t see how you could be.”
      “You don’t have to.”

2 comments:

Jon Wong said...

Yo! This is excellent! Did you get the idea from Stephen King's IT? I'm pretty sure it does something of this sort, particularly near the end. I would check my copy to verify this but...

ZOMG! I just remembered! Julia still has my copy of IT! And she's moving out tomorrow! And I'm at home for Easter! I want my book back!

Anyhow, back to you. I like the mixing of two stories into one another. I always thought it was very clever but I didn't think I could do it well.

Christian H said...

I did get the form idea from It. King does do this sometimes, just not as much as I did in this particular piece.

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