The Picture Plane : a new short story I’m working on

November 23, 2009

posted/written by caroline picard

Woody Allen Woody Allen Woody Allen

An older gentleman, he came upon a fallen Redwood, collapsed and soundless in the yellow grass. The sun was hot, it stole the sound and smell from the air, except sometimes the man heard a buzzing fly land and when it landed everything was more silent than it had been before. The man studied the log, imagined its figure wearing away with rot, woodmites and termites and peculiar worms, until it wore down into dust—the shit of insects—and fed the dull earth.

Instead, the man took a cast of the tree:

He hired a team of employees and together they gathered around its stupendous girth. They raised the dead log on pedestals—sweating, the whine of the chainsaw—cutting the trunk into eight three foot cross-sections. They took elaborate photographs of each of the tree’s parts. Like a murder scene, quadrants of the surrounding area were taped off. Surrounding tree trunks bore neon pink symbols of work on their bases. Everything was documented.  Everyone wore rubber gloves.

They took a cast of its massive breadth, width, length in sections:

sealing the tree in soap, they poured wax around its parts just before nightfall and in the night the wax hardened and in the morning they cut the wax off in clean, re-sealable pieces. They sent those pieces to Japan in a very cool box.

What came back:

The tree—a new one, it resembled the original—came back without the wax, for the wax had been burned to make the new tree. The tree came in parts, the same eight three-foot cross-sections. Its parts made of wood, not Redwood but Hinoki. Its surface had been carved in a myriad of patterns, different borring strokes; the surface of the replica was carved to look like the surface of the old. This new wood blonder and clean looking, though with the self-same hollowed core of its dead predecessor.

There was a note attached to the mid-section.

Someone was asked to translate:

Once put together, this tree will last 400 years, before hitting a crisis of 100 years, during which it will crack. Thereafter it will last another 400 years before it begins to decompose.


*

Manhattan, New York, 2009: Mr. Allen finds himself sat in the corner window of a high-rise apartment—his own, (he can tell by the family photographs, framed and standing on the bookshelves, and the side table too).  He recognizes the pattern on the carpet; it looks to be Persian, red and black interlaced geometries. He remembers the smell of the place—the smell is both familiar and difficult to perceive; it must be a smell belonging to him.

Soon-yi sounds to be making coffee in the adjacent kitchen and he can hear the clattering of domestic objects as she opens and closes kitchen drawers, cabinets, the dish washer; he can hear utensils bump up against interior wooden walls. Mr. Allen conjures a flash of light pouncing on the landscape of things, sprung suddenly from the dark. He wonders if objects possess a sense of being.

It is as if I am in a dream, he thinks assuming a moment of adolescent existentialism. My actions are not entirely my own but I am more or less comfortable. He looks at his hands clasped in his lap and feels, for a moment, the texture of the corduroy underneath. Past his hands, legs, he looks at his feet in brown, waspy loafers. He isn’t wearing socks. For a moment he imagines his actors feel this way in a set and, going against better judgment, makes the disquieting attempt to peer over the bounds of his imagined consciousness—

into the dark, a mottled grey behind his eyes, either the color of his brain or simply the color of what he’ll never know—

His eyes glassy, he looks at you without seeing. “Talk to me, shout at me, so that I’ll wake up and know that I’m here with you and that certain things really are just dreams.” He is merely talking to himself, a recitation.

Truth be told, he cannot remember living in any other place. At the same time he does not remember how he came to be here.

He lifts a hand to feel his upper lip, relieved to find the moustache still in place.

*

The first opera singer ever recorded had past her prime when she was recorded. By then an old woman in her career, her voice wove through the aria like burning paper. Upon listening to the record, people of then recalled how remarkable she’d been before, as a young woman. “The best,” they told their children, smitten by nostalgia.

Children, when grown, repeated the rumor to respective children. And everyone, ever since, has believed the first opera singer recorded to be the best singer there ever was, for their memories make her so and there is no evidence to the contrary.

*

The young people aren’t any good in his movies. Terrible actors. They don’t understand. They try too much to be like him; they aren’t like him enough. They don’t listen to his direction. They impersonate rather than become. Scarlet Johansson. Jason Briggs. Christina Ricci.

Mr. Allen crosses one leg over the other, relishing contempt. Doughy and plump and taut. Ripe. Budding.

The aroma of coffee wafts into the living room.

*

The dream is one of paradise. In the dream men and women live forever, a glistening surface projected by the whirring of gears and oil and machinations run by invisible, grease-stained hands. The dream is one of desire.

*

Mr. Allen has a hand on his temple. His eyes are closed and therefore he does not see the grey day so much as he feels it. Or, discovers the feeling of it. He can picture it in his mind. The leaves are turning in the park below, across the street; he does not see these either. He knows only they are there. For a moment he imagines that the changing leaves are expressed in the sound of loose interior cutlery. He thinks of the sun as something that pounces.

And then he concentrates:

Music comes from a computer on the desk in the opposite corner of the room. It sounds like it comes from a phonograph. Concentrating on static, the overarching fuzz and pop, as bad as any radio station, he imagines the music to be broadcast from the past.

Mr. Allen presses his fingers into his eyes, pinching the lids together almost, feeling a dull pressure in the back of his head. In the darkness behind his eyes; trying desperately to imagine what she might have sounded like—this siren—when she was young. Feeling through the static, for the traces of her youth. Straining back into the past, her voice the bridge.

In a record, he believes, there is the promise of eternity.

*

Someone said LA was like a Dream Factory. He said working in the Dream Factory was pretty tiring; he was pretty tired of making dreams. He complained about the silt he was always breathing—dream silt. He hoped one day to unionize the workers.

*

In a club in Brooklyn with Soon-yi: Mr. Allen has come to the conclusion that Soon-yi’s friends, boys mostly, hide their sexuality from him. He is conscious of the shadows in the basement barroom—no windows, barely any light. Drums clatter and dash and bang as Mr. Allen is jostled occasionally by flanking, shiny strangers.

“One time in Romania I went to a bar we drank in bars that used to be dungeons they used to torture people in those bars. No I’m serious you could still see the burn marks on the sides of the brick where they used to keep lit torches while they tortured people.” Soon-yi can’t hear him and she smiles in a dreamy way watching the young boys on stage, watching the people at the club, hiding her mouth behind her hand; hiding her mouth from her friends across the room. Mr. Allen feels the shadows like a blanket. “I’ve been feeling so odd lately. I can’t explain. I don’t feel myself,” he says. “I must be getting sick. You can have my whole fortune.” Stuttering. “Did you hear? They finally arrested Polanski.” But Soon-yi does not hear because she’s dancing also, jostling up and down against the others in the room and Mr. Allen feels like an old man wearing socks.

It occurs to him that he will die childless, save for those things that he made in discrete instances; things starring himself in scenes he could control.

*

When Charles Darwin’s turtle, Harriet, died in 2006, they discovered her organs had not aged at all. It was believed that, barring disease or accident, turtles could live forever for evidence of time was not apparent on any of her interior organs.

In Hollywood there is a single mother selling serums of Harriet’s DNA on e-bay. It was manufactured abroad. Black market. It has not been tested. Some of her clients: Ashley Olson, Elizabeth Taylor, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson etc.

*

The next band comes on stage, just after Mr. Allen looks at his watch, notes the time and wonders what time he might be able to go home—

Soon-yi talks to some of her male friends at the bar.

Mr. Allen looks around at everyone in the room and shakes his head. He looks again on stage.

The keyboardist looks exactly like him. Only younger. And shorter. Should the keyboardist step off the stage, he might stand a head shorter than Mr. Allen. Everything else about the fellow is spot on. He hears Soon-yi giggling across the room. He imagines her covering her mouth.

“I have a proposition for you,” Mr. Allen says after the show. There are candles on the bar and they cast an irregular but welcome light. “I would like to hire you. Assume my life.” They sit at the bar. His doppelganger drinks a whisky Mr. Allen has bought. “I’ll pay you very well.” Mr. Allen’s hands dance around for emphasis. He finds himself regularly touching the young man, occasionally going so far as to pinch the fellow’s shoulders now and again, testing the fellow’s firmness. The sensation is exhilarating. Mr. Allen wonders, abstractly, if he was himself the same density once.

“Why should I do that?” the young man asks. He looks amused. He wears a plaid cowboy shirt with opalescent, buttons—snaps. Tight black jeans on and converse. Sideburns and Buddy Holly glasses. He smokes. His hands are smaller than Mr. Allen’s.

“Only, you’d have to cut down your sideburns.” Mr. Allen says, worried suddenly, brow knit. He studies the youth, looking for other discrepancies. “And maybe get just a slightly different haircut. I understand the times are different, but at least for the transition period, you’ll need to adopt a little more of my style.” With a sudden clarity of thought, Mr. Allen smiles, relived. “Oh! I know. You’ll have to go away for a while. I’ll send out a press release. I’ll say I’m going abroad. You go abroad too. We can meet in another part of the world, somewhere where no one will know who we are. Then I can teach you how to be me. Then you can come back to America. It’s very simple, really. We could even make movies abroad. When you, ‘I’” he smiles and winks, “come back, no one will ever know the difference.” The young man shakes his head. He seems not to understand. “This has to be good.” Mr. Allen continues. “I’ll pay you an exorbitant amount of money—where do you work? Retail?”

“Record store.”

“Right. Good. Well. You’re rich. Did you think it would be this easy?”

*

In the end:

After the first recording of the opera singer, but before the death of Harriet, an anthropologist and a sociologist made a movie with a cameraman and they traipsed around Paris and Saint-Tropez playing tag with a camera. The interviewee became the interviewer, each time asking, “Are you happy?”

No one was famous.

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