Forgive the Form
by Christina Rauh Fishburne
You were correct to ruin everything. It was right and merciful to crack the chest, poke around with different tools you knew nothing about, and sew it back up again badly. Perhaps next time you will do a little bit more internet research. Maybe read up on procedure, theory, and be a bit more hands-off. You’re not panicking now, are you? You didn’t want to read the directions, but instead to use some kind of map or compass like the people of old. To do it purely and instinctively by sight or by a sucked finger held up to the wind. The people of old were brave and true. They had ancestral knowledge. They had longstanding wisdom. The people of old would know what invisible rain smelled like. The people of old knew which berries would kill them.
You want to be brave and true. You want to smell water before it drops. It’s admirable.
The problem, as you see it, lies in your nail beds. What sort of person are you to survive in this harsh plane, this strange land, with the sort of cuticles you’ve been given? The inexplicable no-man’s-land of skin that is not skin, of cells that conglomerate into something so pitiful and useless that it is pushed back and removed with miniature scythes? That it has the audacity to encroach, to invade the half-moon with its unwanted no longer necessary protection is proof enough that you would not last long in the wild. You have nothing to offer nature in the way of fitness. You will indeed be eaten alive and that is why it is correct to destroy your creation.
The manner in which you remember things troubles you, doesn’t it? The scene that touched you so deeply in your youth, the string of words and feelings that fastened so neatly together seemed an ornament meant to be shared. Bollocks.
Was that out loud?
The room is narrow and white. Blocks of rough marble, grooved and chipped, uneven and strange, line the walls. Some have a smooth white hand jutting out near the edge, trapped inside the stone and reaching for something. Others have part of a shoulder, a neck, sliding out from the gray nicks and cuts. The stone looks almost porous, but it is only the countless chisel marks across the surface, only the immeasurable rescue attempts.
Your fingers rub against each other at your side. You peer at the name plate beside the escaping hand, but the letters goad you. They arrange themselves in ways that show you that you are very certainly on the outside, apart, and not at all in communion with what is being liberated from the rocks. The surly, acne-plagued youth near you, smelling of dissatisfaction, entitlement, and the most enviable hope and expectation, is more intimate with the figures reaching from the earth bones. The tumult of unintelligible and melodic language you do not comprehend begins to settle into you. You find that you do not mind.
Moving down the row you stop abruptly as if a sheet of glass, a guillotine edge, has been dropped before you. Here is a man, melting into the marble slab. Being raised from it. His face is turned to the side, the muscles in his neck are taut. He leads with one shoulder and that arm is most clearly defined on the edge. The hand remains submerged in the block. One knee and thigh come forward. He has no eyes. He is halted in full stride. Confined. Stuck. He has turned away from something and is now trapped in an eternal writhe. He is drowning. He is lifted from sand.
“Check it out—it’s Han Solo!” the youth says to his friend beside him.
You blink. You want to slap them.
People push by with headphones on their ears and translations in their hands. You are all flowing like cells through the narrow vein of a room into a much larger one, pushed into the broad place painted in whites and light grays. There is a rush of freedom, of diaspora, into the light. Your hair moves.
But back to what’s important: how wrong you are. The conquerors of this land all have one thing in common. They are nothing like you. You don’t like mathematics or reckonings of any kind, but surely, you’ve assessed this. You aren’t the conquering type. Watch your step here, pay attention. You are what they refer to as, and please don’t be offended, predictable. And also, try not to take this the wrong way, lackluster. Now, the wonderful thing about knowing this about yourself is: You can change! Reinvent yourself! Yes! Just be better, that’s all you have to do. It’s not your cuticles! Isn’t that a comfort?
This place just isn’t somewhere you will thrive. Try over there, with the plumbing and the drying paint, and the Wi-Fi.
You were tricked, as a child, into camping. You liked the idea of being outside but not being unconscious in the physical wild. The tent, they said, would keep out the rain. The animals, they said, were harmless. The dangers you imagined quite powerfully were, they said, not real. It was on the first day that you were lost. Five minutes or five hours, there was an amount of time in which you did not know where you were or how you had gotten there or when you would be safe again. During those minute-hours you discovered how extremely loud your lungs were. Louder than the trees. Louder than the birds. Louder than your father’s voice which you were certain you heard one moment and certain you would never hear again in the next. Your solution was to hold your breath, control the deafening panic, silence the disorienting wrongness. You made your hands fists, clamped your mouth shut, and squeezed your eyes closed. You brought everything inside and clicked the lock.
You would live in the forest now. You would eat plant life and clothe yourself in skins. Your fingernails would revert to the claws they had not been allowed to be. You would learn to kill and run fast. This is how it is now, you thought. Your heels planted deep and your knees established foundations for this new existence.
Your father’s voice sounded unafraid as it reached your ear. It sounded uneventful and rather like a Tuesday sort of voice. You followed it to the open place where you saw tents and pots and plastic bags. Your lungs quieted. Your foundations folded up and stood by. The soft spot of ground you stood on was marked by your weight. You thought of the word malleable.
You are better suited to appreciation. You have a discerning eye. You are skilled in small things. Stay away from the construction, from the conception. Only discomfiture waits here. It isn’t what you want to hear but it is what you should be told. You should be encouraged by this. It will do you good. Nobody should go on such an ambitious over-reaching adventure with such delusions of adequacy. You’re welcome. It’s quite understandable that you would misunderstand the course. There should really be more warning signs, more cones, some tape. Here’s your coat. Do come again.
No, please put that down. It’s very valuable. Stop. Stop it! You are not supposed to pick that up anymore! It’s a display piece. An oversight on your part, yes, but it is no longer yours. It’s rather charming, isn’t it, rather endearing and innocently clever? It must be left alone now. Gloves are required. Attention to climate… There should be a glass case somewhere… It seems to be missing. It seems to be stolen. It seems the protection has failed. This is all very embarrassing but would you be so kind as to stand over there and just place your body around it, yes, enfold it. There. This is all very awkward, obviously. If you could please just remain in that way until the charm fades, until something cleverer comes along—or, naturally, until the glass case is recovered, whichever comes first.
The sun is going down out there. The shadows lengthen. Do you smell rain?
Christina Rauh Fishburne is a writer, army wife, and mother of three currently living in England. She has self-published two novels, to the wide acclaim of her immediate family, and is at work on her third. She blogs at smilewhenyousaythat.wordpress.com.