By SIMON COLLINGS.
Episode 38: Living dead
‘I’M A NOBODY’ Bill says to Frank. ‘What have I accomplished? Precisely nothing. When I’m dead, I’ll disappear without trace.’
‘Two caramel lattes,’ Frank says to the barista.
‘When I was a kid,’ Bill continues, ‘I used to think I’d be somebody one day, someone people would look up to and want to emulate.’
‘Do you want something to eat?’
‘Everything seems so pointless. I don’t have any motivation.’
‘What about a pecan and maple syrup muffin?’
‘Are you listening to me?’ Bill asks.
‘Of course I am. You don’t have any motivation.’
‘I’m never going to be anybody. That’s the honest truth.’
‘Didn’t you just get a part in that zombie film?’
‘Yeah, as a garage mechanic who gets his throat ripped out ten minutes into the story. I’ll have one of those chocolate chip cookies.’
‘But you have some lines don’t you?’
‘Sure, I get to say “Hey what is this” and “What the…”‘
They move down to the end of the counter to wait for their coffees. ‘Take it easy,’ Frank says. ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’
Es war alles ein Fehler
MY UNCLE WAS a leading authority on the nineteenth-century Austrian writer K, and his translations of several of K’s works won him considerable acclaim. By some strange coincidence he and K shared the same birthday, and my uncle’s middle name was K’s Christian name, though for reasons unconnected with the writer whose life would later become, in a sense, his own. So closely did my uncle identify with K that he increasingly chose to express himself by quoting from K’s writings, including his extensive correspondence, something he did from memory and with such facility it was impossible to tell when it was K speaking and when it was my uncle. He bought a house which was built in the year K was born, the date carved into the lintel of the front door, and acquired over the years all manner of memorabilia relating to K. He spent the last forty years of his life in that house, and it was there that I nursed him in his final illness. The night he died I was at his bedside. He was awake and seemed lucid, though troubled. His final words were: ‘I can’t remember’. At the time I thought this was the result of the natural confusion accompanying the last moments of consciousness. But later I realised that my uncle must have been searching his memory for K’s dying words, ‘Es war alles ein Fehler’.
A poem about elephants
EVERY WEEK I went to the zoo to see the elephants. After a while, I began to distinguish the individual animals, to recognise their features and ways of moving. But none of them seemed to recognise me. They clearly knew the keepers, and even appeared to greet some of the visitors like old friends, but they scarcely registered my presence. Given what people say about elephants’ memories I was puzzled, and mentioned my experience to one of the keepers. ‘Oh I’m sure they recognise you,’ she said. ‘Do you always carry a notebook and pen?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You’re not a poet by any chance?’ One of the elephants, I noticed, was eyeing me. I confirmed that I was. ‘That will be it then,’ the keeper said. ‘Elephants are pretty lukewarm about poetry, and they’re particularly averse to poems about elephants.’
Simon Collings lives in Oxford and has published poems, stories and critical essays in a range of journals including Stride, Journal of Poetics Research, Café Irreal,Tears in the Fence, Ink Sweat and Tears, Lighthouse and PN Review. Out West, his first chapbook, was published by Albion Beatnik in 2017, and a second chapbook, Stella Unframed, was released by The Red Ceilings Press in 2018. An archive of his work for The Fortnightly Review is here. His latest book, Why Are You Here?, a collection of ‘very brief fictions’, has just been published by Odd Volumes, our imprint.