a table of contents, inter alia
They lay next to each other beneath her down comforter, sharing the softness of their skin, getting high on the subtle vibrations that sound as fingers pluck and run along the ribs, bellies, hipbones, legs.
Thomas hadn't realized how much he has to let go of; how much is left over when he's let go of everything. They both have gooseflesh and it feels like right before a thunderstorm only it's October not August and the leaves on the trees outside sound delicious rubbing dry beneath the heaving rain.
The two of them feel the tiny hairs across their skins stand erect as they trace each other's shapes through the darkness. And even though they're moving slow the static mounts around them and when Thomas glances down he sees the comforter irrupt in a spectra of opalescent splashes. He tugs Kate down into the sheets and tells her to watch and then he pulls and kneads the blankets and for a moment he becomes the master and the lightning is his marionette.
This is it, he thinks. Here it is again. I'm getting closer to it all the time. I wonder if it's something I can keep or if I'll loose it soon. Who knows.
Tell me a story, she whispers.
Once upon a time, he begins. …there was the Builder.
What did he build?
People and places and things, I suppose. But in the end, the only thing that lasted was his story. …I guess you could say he built himself.
But at first, he just wanted to build. So he looked around, found a teacher, and learned how to build.
Like sculpture or something?
Exactly. He learned how to sculpt. But then one day, he found out that he could sculpt better than anyone else. And rather than making him self-satisfied, knowing this made him deeply unsatisfied. He could not be content with being the best.
What’s the use of being the best if everyone else doesn’t even know how good you are?
They didn’t know he was the best?
Of course they knew he was better than them, but he was so good that nobody in the world could evaluate him. He was better than anyone could expect or measure. He was too good.
So what did he do?
He decided to do only impossible things.
Oh, like build Ethrvs, for one.
What’s an Eitherverse?
It’s the place where everybody goes, when they dream.
The astral plane?
No. There is a place between here and the astral plane. It’s called the Liminal World, or the Betweening. You know, between The Dreaming and The Awake, where you can kinda direct the rambling of your mind, you know, do fun things. Basically, lucid dreams, right?
I like that place.
It’s something else, isn’t it? Well, that place has always been, ever since people of intelligence started dreaming, but before the Builder built Ethrvs, the place was a mess. Very disorderly. People could dream in other languages, and see around corners, and generally experience way too much of the true nature of reality.
So he blocked it off?
No, not exactly. He dimmed it some. He built Ethrvs as a sort of filter, to deafen the clarity of that place, just enough for it to give the illusion that what’s happening, while you dream, is happening to you, not of you.
Why did he do that?
It’s what people wanted him to do. His original idea was to make all dreams lucid, but people didn’t want to have that much control over their selves all. They liked repose, liked to take it easy. But the Builder, himself, he couldn’t understand repose, taking it easy was the hardest thing in the world for him to do.
So why did he do what the people wanted if that’s not what he wanted?
Well, this story takes place in a time and place where fantastic things like this can take place. And the reason why things like this can happen is because, in those places, people do things together. Otherwise, the reality could not sustain the… intensity to support what's going on. You know, like in Peter Pan. If a child says that he doesn't believe in fairies, one dies. That’s an analogy for all sorts of miraculous occasions. In fact, though nobody can understand this, all of mythology is based on true events. It's just that now, now we need to think of theses stories differently, that is, materialistically, historically, so that's the way we interpret them.
And it's the Builder's fault that that's the way it is now?
You can't blame him. It's what everyone wanted.
Oh. So what else did he do?
He had many other adventures, of course. Many labors, as they’re called. For one, he created an alphabet specifically for emotions and thoughts. He actually created a city where all ideas live and breathe and reproduce. The ideas are called Inklings and they live in the city of Fairgane. And he did the same with feelings, but that's something secret that I haven't been able to discover quite yet. But the story I'm going to tell you is the major labor of his life.
What’s the title of the story called?
It’s called… Well, it’s told in The Book of Volition, but its name is something like The Builder and the Sea of Melody.
Sounds like a fairy tale.
Yeah, I know. But
On with the story.
Right. So one day, the Builder looks around himself, and he surveys all he's done, such as mapping out the constellations, and creating the Major Arcana, and learning the true names of the Hours and the Gods, and he decides that he can almost be happy with himself. But only almost. He still had this itch inside him. Something he can’t quite reach. Something beyond his own power to fix. It was this itch that drove him his whole life, and he still didn’t realize that nothing he could do with the outside world could satisfy it. He didn’t know it, but this itch was a Flaw. This itch was a thing called Imperfection, which is what Adam contracted from the forbidden fruit, and passed on to all his kids. The Builder didn’t know what the itch was, really. He thought that he hadn’t fulfilled his destiny or some other such nonsense.,
So he looked around, and he searched through all the worlds (for he had also devised keys to take him wherever he wanted to go, besides Heaven and Hell proper, which he didn’t believe in anyhow). And after traveling through the worlds for a few years, he came upon a sea. This sea was the granddaughter of Chaos, and her name was Melody. He fell in love with her right away, and he took off all his clothes, and he dove right into her, and because to him making love meant dominating something, he wrestled her, trying to make her do what he wanted.
How’d he get the idea that he could beat her into submission? Why would he even want to?
Well, you have to understand the psychology of a Builder, especially a masculine builder. See, to build is to have mastery over things, to be able to make them do precicely what you think they should. And this doesn’t mean beating them into submission, exactly, but it does require that you figure out how they operate, and then you manipulate them along those lines. But he couldn’t figure out how the Sea of Melody operated. She had this quality, which we would call freedom or chaos or vicissitude, which he couldn’t nail down. She was living too much for him to control her, so he ended up almost drowning. But just in the nick of time a fisherman saved him, and brought him to shore.,
And here’s the funny thing that happened. When the Builder wrestled with the Sea of Melody, and lost, he became young again, and all of his memory and his skill was erased. He lost everything, even his ability to talk. Everything except for his itch. But the fisherman – who really wasn’t a fisherman, who was really a composer – he was kind to this boy he found, and taught him how to play the piano, and eventually he taught the boy how to play music. The boy never relearned how to speak, but he didn’t need to. Such was the excellence of his music that everybody understood exactly what he was meaning.
And let me guess, she says, her voice tickling his ear so that gooseflesh breaks out and oozes down his back and the sides of his arms. He became the best musician ever.
Well, he was the best player ever, but he was not the best composer. Not by far. How far, nobody knew, but it was certain that although this dumb boy was incredibly gifted, he was not as gifted as his teacher. Because his teacher, who taught him all he knew about music, did not teach him one small thing.
How to love the Sea, which is something that can’t be taught anyhow, but still, the teacher didn’t even mention this. He didn’t really think to. He supposed the boy would figure it out for himself.
He did and he didn’t.
How come? Why not?
How can you learn to love? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I know how to really love. I know how to feel bliss, and I know how to share happiness, but how to love… I have a feeling it takes more than joy and laughter…
Yes. Anyhow… the composer had a daughter. Her name was
How did you know? Is it that obvious?
I can hear you making it up as you go along. It’s coming out of your belly and your throat. I can hear it.
Should I stop telling it then?
Alright. So the composer had a daughter, and her name was Harmony, and her mother was Melody, and one day the dumb boy – who was now a young man – he put a spell on Harmony, and he put her into a sleep that could not be broken. Not even by the master composer, who was better than his student in all ways but one.
Being in control.
Yes. The composer was never fully in control of what he was doing. He didn’t need to be. Excuse the cheese, but the truth is that love guided him, in all of his actions. But the student, the Builder, it was Volition that guided everything he did. Everything he did was guided by his own Will, and so he was able to control the will of others. Because he had the best Will in the world. So to speak.,
So he put the girl to sleep, and then he did something very weird.
He took her to Ethervs.
But I thought he forgot everything.
He forgot who he was, but he learned about Ethervs just by going to bed at night, and he found that he could go in and out of Ethervs, into all of its nooks and crannies, without hardly trying. He never knew why, but he didn’t care why. He never cared about why. Why wasn’t his thing. He knew How. He didn’t need a Why.
What did he do to Harmony?
He cut her up into twentyfour pieces.
And he did the same to himself. He turned himself and her into twenty-four different people, into twenty-four different stories, and he put these stories all together into a song, into what I think is called a modality, a musical progression. And when this progression was played, it went throughout the entirety of Ethrvs, through all the dreamers that were coming and going through that place, and it got louder and louder so that Melody, herself, began to dance to it. So powerful was the song that Melody forgot all other songs but for it, and that’s how the Builder trapped her. He directed her from where she was, from where she lay, into the Mounts Austere, the highest and coldest place in the worlds. And when she was there completely, he reached into the song, and he tied it into a knot. A knot that would never end. And he said to the Sea of Melody, he said,
'I no longer need to understand you, for I overstand you now.' And he tied in the knot another knot, and that is how he damned the Sea.,
But doing that broke something in him. It broke his volition. It broke his will, and he plum snapped apart. And his pain, his pain carried him down the mountains. He fumbled down the mountains, and when he woke up, he found himself in a desert. A bleak, dry, horrid place. And his pain told him that this dessert was where the Sea used to be, before he damned her.,
And his pain told him to build one last thing. So he reached deep inside himself, and he pulled out of himself his itch, his imperfection. And he spat on it, and added dirt to it, and shaped and molded it into a tower. A tower in a dessert. And over this tower he scrawled many designs. Designs that weren’t beautiful or grand or noble. No. These designs were just good enough.,
And when the last mark was made on that tower in the dessert, the builder fell down, and he died.
But that’s not the end. Because, when he fell down dead, from out of his chest crawled a great black beast. A serpentine wolverine. And this beast, his pain, it split open the Builder’s head, and it took out his brains, and it fashioned these brains into books. And this beast set the books one by one into the tower, so that it became a library. A library of secrets. And when this work was finished, the beast curled around the tower, set its head upon its tail, and fell asleep.,
And what about Harmony?
You don’t know, do you.
…Not yet. Fuck, Kate. I’m only twenty-two. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
She gets up, pads around her studio in her bare feet and black leggings and beige cotton t-shirt. She passes through the lines of shadow and the boxes of light coming from the window.
Will you marry me?
I don’t know, Tommy…
She pours herself a cup of water, comes and sits on the foot of the bed. When she’s done with the cup she hands it to him and moves closer, so she doesn’t have to speak any louder than she has to. He sits up. Sips. Stares at her.
I’m nineteen, she says. You’re twenty-two.
How about in ten years then.
It’s four in the morning. And we have to be up in three hours. And I want to sleep next to you before tomorrow begins to happen.
They lay out, side by side. He feels empty as she drifts past him, into sleep. He counts all the thousands of things he has to do, has to fix, has to put together, put right. When he dreams, he dreams he’s falling. When he lands he knows it’s just too soon. Far too soon. For a lot of things. This knowledge almost crushes him. He puts one foot in front of the other, certain only of the necessity of doing so.