Fiction

Brazen stats of empire

I am a dressmaker who does alterations to make a living. You might call me a tailor, but what would you know? How long would you spend down here in the heat, working 12-hour shifts? And this is better than when I worked in the shop with 30 others doing the same thing – making shirts where if one sleeve was slightly shorter than another, it made no difference. It’s impossible to plumb the depths of cultural and familial exploitation in this, to work around your presumptions, your impositions, your faux guilts and apologies. You read me as you choose to read me within the matrix of your expectations, the stereotypes of avoidance. And even the word “stereotype” becomes a trigger, a way through the labyrinth of concerns. My lover is a nurse who works in emergency and says she can switch trauma off long enough to make love in the small hours of the morning. She doesn’t ask what I do, but knows I work long hours and am nimble with my fingers.

 

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I am the enunciator of Laura Riding’s “The Quids” outside the preterite. I will run with this through the Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers... to the post-music exploits of inspiration that is the essence of refrain in anachronism. The new the new! And I celebrate gaucheness!

 

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I was here and there, but did not run from tech conference to ski resort to make antibodies. Love is making a few bucks while having a good time one and all and the bank account is more robust. I dally in esoterica and collect state-of-the-art tools. I watch a couple of other couples fresh out of gin sling territory enjoying their mulled wine and staging little performances in front of a flatscreen so big we had green-screen to edit out our imperfections. Stocks accumulate in intellectual capital and we rejoice in our conviviality, super-spreading to ensure sanctity of a chosen few. The deliverers of foods and special items, the conveyors and purveyors, owe us their employment, their connection with the global economy. As I said to the lucky few, Antibodies! Make hay! Enjoy while you can!

 

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The rich think they’re prudent but lack all prudency. They think they own the stockpiles of vocabulary. They think the rest of us are stuck with malapropisms. We value spoonerisms most of all and they just don’t get that – having their fissy hits. The family I saw – loaded with every white good – making nexus in the villas reminded me of the orgasms I have had that they can’t tap, can’t capture, can’t turn into an app, no matter how hard they try through unlisted companies or companies under other names. If I offered them my orgasms, they’d have me arrested. I wouldn’t – I am discreet – but the ironies are like night and day and it’s tough to take. I say to them, It’s all the same if we’re speaking basically the same language … just word choice and arrangement and inflection and tone. I coin words every speech I make, you know, lief. But we all have origins somewhere, as our mouths work, our bodies make. No?

 

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I don’t need to change to be the stick insect I am. But I lament that all my skills of camouflage, of going undetected, of biding my time, are contingent on the fate of the vegetal, on the wellbeing of ecologies the anti-stick-insect-people are killing off. I can’t expect Tom Waits to save me, can I?

 

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I was training to be a priest. I don’t know why. My family was not particularly religious and I did not go to a religious school. But one day something happened with either the light or the receptors at the back of my eye and I was sure I had been illuminated and that I had been given a vocation. Mostly I regret the process of “getting in”, although that year I was quite interested in the shoddy wiring of the seminary and did a little investigating and because of my diligence it was discovered that the whole place could have burst into flames at any moment. Cost the church tens of thousands to have it sorted. So I excused myself in the difficult booted-out kind of way one does, and left “the program” as a mate of mine used to call it, and went to TAFE and after all these years and an apprenticeship during which I won apprentice of the year twice, I am here wiring this installation having sworn never to reveal its location and even being willing to be hypnotised to ensure I can only tell you and no one else. Weird thing about this place is that they wanted it wired in series rather than parallel and I pointed out that such an act is insane, because if one thing blows the whole lot is without power, but they insisted, saying, have faith, we have our reasons, our own story and it’s all in a line… add bypasses because in parallel with our shadow stories a short circuit is inevitable. We had a dream, they said… we have actually had it many times together since we were children… it went V = V1 + V2 + V3… Okay, I said, but I recommend, if you want to ensure the circuitry, let’s combine series and parallel stories of faith and redemption, allowing for resistances (R = R1 + R2 + R3… but others, too) to belief, to denial, to illuminations without power sources. Strange, when I went home and found I couldn’t speak my ideas other than to you, I wondered how I could love my partner as I had loved him before. He was still a priest then, and although we were tolerated, we were not smiled on, and I wanted to share the good news with him. It would have helped him, but even the goodness of this secret locale of subterfuge could not reach out and help him, help us… what good is goodness if it is selective? But then, I guess there are stages of redress, aren’t there. Yes, that’s it. I did a good job – I really gave it my all and I do believe. I don’t have the zeal of my earlier days, but I think I am pretty reliable and get jobs done along the specs agreed upon. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 21, 2020 as "Brazen stats of empire".

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John Kinsella is a poet, novelist, critic, essayist and editor. His most recent books are his memoir Displaced: A Rural Life and his collaborative poetry work with Thurston Moore, The Weave.