Atlas’ Daughter Inherits His Round Shoulders

His hand snaked up to the shutter’s bulbous handle. In doing so his jacket sleeve retracted like a cobra’s hood and shot his shirt cufflink into my vision. Blinking at me like a gold tooth in a skull. Who wears cufflinks in this day and age? Especially as he didn’t tally it with the formality of any tie. He gestured with a sweep of his arm that resheathed his glinting fang. I noticed that it had borne his monogram, in florid tendrils of script. Now he was inviting me to deduce the name of another man beyond. This one ensnared in briars, swathed in poison ivy.

I approached the glass aperture. It was ideally poised for my height. Which must mean that it was nearly always mothers and wives undertaking this task. Unlike in the asylums. Where they were forever having to fetch me a crate to mount in order to peer through slots, ordinarily admitting cursory views by doctors and orderlies. Why is it always Atlas, a musclebound male, depicted bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders? We’re the round shouldered ones. Hugging ourselves in slumped hope against hope.

My eyes were aligned with the glass, but they weren’t conducting me through its parallelism as yet. Instead I traced the faint swirls of the striations in the glass.  The spiral of life or something. This was a most curious sort of peepshow. Already timed out. For whatever lay beyond the glass, certainly wasn’t moving. No writhing, be they drug-induced or grand-mal episodes. A stillness always yearned for, albeit one ideally primed with breath.

I gather my flailing rods and cones. I’m losing a bit of heart for the devoir. I try and compose my thoughts. Wrangle my emotions, but I just feel blank. Here goes nothing. And everything. My whole world. I try and inhale, but my throat and nose have temporarily forgotten how to receive air. Ah, that will be the lump that comes to the throat.

I gaze down at the corpse. He doesn’t look real. His skin pallor offers itself more plastic than flesh. Blood of my blood? He has venesected his, while mine only now begins to be leeched. I concentrate on the face. The deep lined fissures, the pinched stress leather in which I ran my fingers down day after day, have vanished. That face, a death mask turned inside out in life, now unrecognisably smooth. Stilled tectonics. All tension gone. Even his egg shaped head now lies as a uniform oval. No longer contending against gravity. The weight of the world lifted from his frame. His release, signals my incarceration in the penumbral world of the ‘what if?’ A hostage exchange.

No more treading on eggshells. No more french polishing fragile self-esteem. Varnishing madcap logic, apologising for his strangeness in the company of actual strangers. If only he had been inside a proper eggshell rather than directly transfused at the end of my womb, then perhaps he would have had some protection from my toxicity. But no, in all probability the egg would have rolled off my bowed shoulders and shattered on the floor.

I nodded at the man. His snake eye beneath the sleeve winked goadingly at me as he sealed the shutter. He placed his arm above my shoulders, but left it hovering in the space above them. They began to rock and heave like a roiling sea as the sobs came.

~ by yearzerowriters on November 24, 2009.

4 Responses to “Atlas’ Daughter Inherits His Round Shoulders”

  1. Very understated piece for you, Marc. Very fitting for the subject matter. I can’t get the image of Barnum out of my head – or some pre-surrealist master unveiling his daguerrotypes. Or even Chien Andalou. That’s what really comes over – the showmanship of the macabre, its implied voyeurism, and the desperate attempt to maintain dignity in the face of it.

    • I can do litotes you know! It kind of returns to our debate about stillness – plenty of inner turmoil and conflict derived from it in this case. And yet there is no motion, no movement at all. Just a lump of flesh marinaded in, well pain.


  2. beautiful piece. Heartbreaking

  3. As Hamlet said, “Words, words, words.”

    But unlike the ones he read, these stir the emotions.

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