R. A. Lafferty, The Flame is Green (1971), p. 224
Almost finished with this sometimes incredible, sometimes baffling, novel, the first in the Coscuin Chronicles. (Pseudo) review forthcoming!
Have a happy Christmas Eve.
"The world is a kaleidoscope, ever-changing, ever-enchanting, did you know that, My Reflection? And one best strides happily laughing and singing through it. And the fact that one is striding through the hot ashes of Hell every step of the way is no reason to be less merry. If one looks down and sees that he is no more than ankle-deep in Hell, let him continue with a happy heart. But if he sees that he is more than knee-deep in Hell, then he must, then he must, what must he do then, pale reflection of me?"
"I don't know," said the creature with its paler face of Duffey.
"Maybe that's when he should leave the land for a while and walk on the water," Melchisedech declared. "Remember, Reflection, that man in his original nature was able to walk on water. He is still able to do it, but sometimes he forgets that he is." Then Melchisedech Duffey turned and ran to the city singing happily.
"I lied to him and I lied to myself," said the unhappy Angel who wore Duffey's face. "No, no, I'm not certain at all which one of them I serve. I'm afraid to be certain or even to think about it. Is it God or the Devil that I serve in my confusion and darkness?"
But Melchisedech Duffey, singing happily, was into the city in the bright morning. And he didn't hear the creature at all. (Argo, pp. 133-134)
It is established that the human race is made up entirely of glowing geniuses. That's something. And it's pretty well established that the begeniused human race is totally ghostly in all the meanings of the word, that it is overflowing so that very often persons cannot be contained in a single body, that it runs pretty much on multiple and parallel tracks. It's agreed that every human person is really two or three different persons when in an overflowing mood. [...] In all meaningful moments a human may be seen in his multiplicity. [...] The people of the world are none of them common, are all of them geniuses, are all of them wonderful. So the power is always there, and the great overspilling of the multiplicity and the power. All the people are ghostly, and all of them are split or exploding people. They have rapport with all their fellows in time and in space, with all of them now in the world, with all of them who have been or will be in the world. (Argo, pp. 143-145)
This is the way they tell it.
A Skokie heard a Shelni jug flute jugging one night.
‘That is the voice of my wife,’ the Skokie said. ‘I'd know it anywhere.’
The Skokie came over the moors to find his wife. He went down into the hole in the ground that his wife's voice was coming from. But all he found there was a Shelni playing a jug flute.
‘I am looking for my poor lost wife,’ the Skokie said. ‘I have heard her voice just now coming out of this hole. Where is she?’
‘There is nobody here but myself,’ the Shelni said. ‘I am sitting here alone playing my flute to the moons whose light runs down the walls of my hole.’
‘But I heard her here,’ said the Skokie, ‘and I want her back.’
‘How did she sound?’ asked the Shelni. ‘Like this?’ And he jugged some jug music on his flute.
‘Yes, that is my wife,’ said the Skokie. ‘Where have you hidden her? That is her very voice.’
‘That is nobody's wife,’ the Shelni told the Skokie. ‘That is just a little tune that I made up.’
‘You play with my wife's voice, so you must have swallowed my wife,’ the Skokie said. ‘I will have to take you apart and see.’
‘If I swallowed anybody's wife I'm sorry,’ said the Shelni. ‘Go ahead then.’
So the Skokie took the Shelni apart and scattered the pieces all over the hole and some of them on the grass outside. But he could not find any part of his wife.
‘I have made a mistake,’ said the Skokie. ‘Who would have thought that one who had not swallowed my wife could make her voice on the flute!’
‘It is all right,’ said the Shelni, ‘so long as you put me together again. I remember part of the way I go. If you remember the rest of the way, then you can put me together again.’
But neither of them remembered very well the way the Shelni was before he was taken apart. The Skokie put him together all wrong. There were not enough pieces for some parts and too many for others.
‘Let me help,’ said a Frog who was there. ‘I remember where some of the parts go. Besides, I believe it was my own wife he swallowed. That was her voice on the flute. It was not a Skokie voice.’
The frog helped, and they all remembered what they could, but it did not work. Parts of the Shelni could not be found again, and some of the parts would not go into him at all. When they had him finished, the Shelni was in great pain and could hardly move, and he didn't look much like a Shelni.
‘I've done all I can,’ the Skokie said. ‘That's the way you'll have to be. Where is Frog?’
‘I'm inside,’ said Frog.
‘That's where you will have to stay,’ the Skokie said. ‘I've had enough of both of you. Enough, and these pieces left over. I will just take them with me. Maybe I can make someone else out of them.’
That is the way the Shelni still is, put together all wrong. In his wrong form he walks the country by night, being ashamed to go by day. Some folks are startled when they meet him, not knowing this story. He still plays his jug flute with the lost Skokie Wife's voice and with Frog's voice. Listen, you can hear it now! The Shelni goes in sorrow and pain because nobody knows how to put him together right.
The Skokie never did find his lost wife.
This is how it is told.
Hans was in love. He was in love with Marie Monaghan. This had come swiftly to him who usually made up his mind slowly on important things.
Marie might not have seemed exceptional to anyone else. She had regular, nice features, but her hair was too red and her face was too freckled. She was chubby by contemporary standards, though divine by classical. Hans’ feelings were classical. Marie's eyes were green, but were green eyes classical? Were any of the goddesses green-eyed? You couldn't trust Homer with colors.
“—my uncle Homer Hochheimer,” it was Marie speaking in Hans’ mind, “he had a fortune but he missed it because he was color-blind. He had a purple cow and he thought she was black. He kept her till she was fourteen years old and then sold her to the butcher. ‘Man, you're throwing away a fortune,’ the butcher told him when the sale was consummated. ‘You've the only purple cow in the world and you've sold her for a pittance. I'll have a million pounds for her,’ and he did.”
But to the green eyes, this would have to be solved. The paint is gone these two thousand years from the Greek statues that were colored in their prime, but they were still painted when Pausanes had seen them. Did he call any of them green-eyed? How would he call them green-eyed? Not chloros surely. Chloros was light yellow-green. Nobody would have eyes that were chloros. Prasino was a nice green, but was it classical? What was the Greek word for eyes the color of Marie's? In Romany it was sheleno, Gypsy green. And once in French vair, the green they sang:
Nicolette had eyes of vair,Something, something, yellow hair—
But vair had become vert with the disintegration of the French soul, and it was no longer the green of the Troubadors: ignorant wise men even said that vair was a shade of gray.
The Blessed Virgin was red-headed and green-eyed in early Flemish Annunciations. Witches were green-eyed. Lilith who was before Eve was a witch and therefore green-eyed. This would give primogeniture to the green-eyed women of the world.
Belloc wrote the only stanza to green eyes, this little bit out of all the game-legged verses that have walked on anapest and pentameter on all the lesser subjects.
“—Belloc? I mean my uncle Biloxi Brannagan. They called him that because he went ashore then. From his window he could see the top of an old piling and he thought it was the mast of his ship. ‘There's no hurry, she's still there,’ he would say. My aunt Gertrude, she's a Biloxi girl, never did tell him any different. He's still there. He never did catch his ship.’ Marie talked so in Hans’ mind as he waited for her at the Lotus Eaters. Then she came in person and sat down with him.
“What are you doing, little Hans?” she asked.
“I'm writing a poem about you. You can't see it. You won't scan and you won't rime; that's the trouble with you.”
“Shakespeare had the same trouble, Hans dear.”
“He did not.”
“My uncle Shakes Pearson had the same trouble. We called him that because he always had them. He entered a jingle contest once. It was put on by a chewing tobacco company and he had to write a limerick. He drank pop-skull whisky and he shook all the time. His verse would go like this:—‘There was an old lady from Gacko—Who doted on chewing tobacco—’, then Shakes would get the shakes after so much effort and have to go after more pop-skull. When he got back the squirrels would have eaten what he had written. They lived so far back in the boondocks that they didn't have any paper and he wrote on bark with oak-ball juice.”
In the company of Shakes Pearson, Hans did not feel so incompetent, so he let go with one of the stanzas he had written:
“The muses sang when Eve was small,And they were but diurnal;But you were long before them all,For you're at least eternal.”
“You make me seem old,” said Marie. “Am I the eternal one? Well, Shakes would get another piece of bark and start again: ‘There was an old farmer who grew it—And never had leisure to chew it—’, then Shakes would get them again and go off for more pop-skull. And when he came back it would be as before: the squirrels would have eaten his epic.”
So Hans read again:
“I dreamed of you before we met,I never was without you;And all the masters praise you yet,For they all wrote about you.”
“I thought they were referring to me, Hans, but I didn't know that anyone else knew. Well, Shakes would start another one (all our family are very persevering): ‘There was an old farmer named Glugg—who was always cutting a plug—He'd whittle and whittle—till it was too little—’, then Shakes would go off for more of the same before he got to the last line.”
So Hans read more boldly:
“But here the brighter pearls are strungAnd rings for all your fingers:I'll sing you as you ne’er were sungBy all the Minnesingers.”
“That's nice, Hans. So Shakes would start another one: ‘When I was a cocky young Jacko—we made our own chewing tobacco—We chopped up old sacks—and boots and boot-jacks—’, then he'd go off for more of it, and what do you think the squirrels did to his opus while he was gone?”
“Ate it up. We poets have a hard time.” He continued:
“And though the globe become a shellYou still will be the leaven,And I'll remember you in HellWhen you forget in Heaven.”
“That's Swinburnish, which is the next thing to swinish, and untrue, dear,” said Marie. “We shall be together: I have decided that. Well, Shakes killed himself. His is the only blot on our escutcheon. And the only note he left said ‘Miriam’ (I'm name after her), ‘You've got to do something about those damned squirrels.’ She never did know what he was talking about or why he killed himself. I'm the only one in our family who understands these things.”
“Why didn't the squirrels eat that last note too?”
“Naturally when they read it they were frightened and ran away.”
“Are there squirrels in Australia, Marie?”
“Not that I know of. Are you trying to trap me? If I'd said wallabies I'd have had to explain what a wallaby was. And besides, wallabies can't read, so there goes the story. I have a letter from Loy to Finnegan. I stopped by the house to kiss the boys good morning. They weren't up yet so I brought their mail to them.” This was the letter:
Cambeltown, New South WalesThursday, February 11, 1943
John Solli:Dear Finnegan:
Margaret and I will be in town tomorrow. If you haven't any more girls, we'll see you and have a big picnic. And if you do have some more girls, bring them, and we'll get two more boys and join you and Marie and Hans. And bring the other Dirty Fiver that we didn't meet and we'll get him a girl too. No news. The garden I planted in November is all weeds. Papa wouldn't hoe the damned thing. But he killed the fatted calf for his prodigal daughter yesterday.
Meet us at the train at 7:45 AM (yes, I said AM). I know that you think it's decadent to get up in the morning and I know that you're right. But it isn't necessary that you be wide awake; I like you better the way you are.
Margie says to tell you that she loves you too. She wants you too now. She switched to you just because I did. But tell Vincent we both still love him also. We love Hans, we love Marie, we love your friend Casey whom we haven't yet met. Meet us tomorrow.
Love— Loy LarkinMe too— Margaret Murphey
Feast of Laughter has to be one of the most extraordinary fannish feats of recent years. It's a full-length book/zine containing new and reprint essays, appreciations, letters, whatevers pertaining to the man who was easily the most original science fiction writer of the Twentieth Century --Raphael Aloysius Lafferty.
R. A. Lafferty, "Ray" as his friends called him, was, during his lifetime, recognized as one of the giants of the field. Now, alas, he's close to forgotten.
But not quite! Some of the great man's friends and admirers have been working hard to reignite Lafferty's reputation. This volume of Feast of Laughter is the third collection of Laffertiana and it is a must for all serious Lafferty fans.
All this begins in a southern city and at nine o’clock in the morning, the same hour at which the world was made. It was a Thursday when originally man was not.
Indeed, in these latter days there were few people in the streets and not many in the pubs. But beer was available (barley and hops had been made on the third day), and the morning had a freshness as in the earliest weeks of the world, as the older people remember them. A fast wind was driving the clearing clouds, and the pavements were wet. (When the world was first made it was as though it had just rained.)
The first man in the world was drinking the first beer. He was Finnegan (not in name, but in self), and he looked at himself in the bar mirror. He saw for the first time that first face, and this was his appearance: he had a banana nose, long jumpy muscles along cheek and tempora, and a mouth in motion. He was dark and lean, like a yearling bull. His eyes had a redness that suggested a series of stormy days and nights, were not previous days and nights impossible. He was a little more than half Italian and a little more than half Irish, as was Adam his counterpart in a variant account.
His mind was clear but not of a pattern. He was rootless and renegade. A moment before this, he had been in the Garden. Then he raised his eyes from the drink. The Garden was gone, and he was in the middle of the World. Finnegan looked at the World with new-made eyes, and he doubted that he would ever find a place in it.
But he was not alone. He had a companion named Vincent. Vincent, however, was neither rootless nor renegade. His mind, not so clear not so deep as that of Finnegan, did have a pattern. He had not known the Garden. He was born in the World, and he would always have a place in it.
“In principio,” said Finnegan, “creavit Deus masculum et feminam, that is to say, God made the first pair a man and a woman.”
“But the earliest stories always begin ‘There were these two guys in a bar,’ ” Vincent contradicted. “I'd say it in Latin if I knew how.”
“The two versions cannot be reconciled, and I worry about it,” Finnegan said. “But, every time the world begins, it does begin with two young men in a pub. All things else are subsequent to this.”
Beer before breakfast, and you'll have sudden luck all day. Toohey's, Tooth's, K. B. Lager, the same beers they had in Paradise: it hadn't all been a dream. The boys left the pub but they didn't leave the pubs; there were many of them to visit.
Dr. Velikof Vonk twinkled his deep eyes in their orbital caves: perhaps he cogitated his massive brain behind his massive orbital ridges: and he arrived, by sheer mentality, at the next step.
“Have you a menu, young lady?” he asked.
“No,” she answered simply, but it wasn't simple at all. Her voice didn't go with her prettiness. It was much more intricate than her appearance, even in that one syllable. It was powerful, not really harsh, deep and resonant as caverns, full and timeless. The girl was big-boned beneath her prettiness, with heavy brindled hair and complex eyes.
“We would like something to eat,” Arpad Arkabaranan ventured. “What do you have?”
“They're fixing it for you now,” the girl said. “I'll bring it after a while.”
There was a rich river smell about the whole place, and the room was badly lit.
“Her voice is an odd one,” Arpad whispered in curious admiration. “Like rocks rolled around by water, but it also has a touch of springtime in it, springtime of a very peculiar quality.”
“Not just a springtime; it's an interstadial time,” Willy McGilly stated accurately. “I've noticed that about them in other places. It's old green season in their voices, green season between the ice.”
The room was lit only by hanging lamps. They had a flicker to them. They were not electric.
“There's a lot of the gas-light era in this place,” Arpad gave the opinion, “but the lights aren't gas lights either.”
“No, they're hanging oil lamps,” Velikof said. “An amusing fancy just went through my head that they might be old whale-oil lamps.”
“Girl, what do you burn in the hanging lamps?” Willy McGilly asked her.
“Catfish oil,” she said in the resonant voice that had a touch of the green interstadial time in it. And catfish oil burns with a clay-colored flame.
“Can you bring us drinks while we wait?” Velikof of the massive head asked.
“They're fixing them for you now,” the girl said. “I'll bring them after a while.”
Meanwhile on the old pool table the Comet was beating the hairy man at rotation. Nobody could beat the Comet at rotation.
“We came here looking for strange creatures,” Arpad said in the direction of the girl. “Do you know anything about strange creatures or people, or where they can be found?”
“You are the only strange people who have come here lately,” she told them. Then she brought their drinks to them, three great sloshing clay cups or bulbous stems that smelled strongly of river, perhaps of interstadial river. She set them in front of the eminents with something like a twinkle in her eyes; something like, but much more. It was laughing lightning flashing from under the ridges of that pretty head. She was awaiting their reaction.
Velikof cocked a big deep eye at his drink. This itself was a feat. Other men hadn't such eyes, or such brows above them, as had Velikof Vonk. They took a bit of cocking, and it wasn't done lightly. And Velikof grinned out of deep folk memory as he began to drink.
~R. A. Lafferty, 'Boomer Flats' (1971)