the Remembered Saints: My Life and Subsequent Death
Execution of the Sun"
Among the Jellyfish"
of the Manfestation"
Cake and Double Talk"
of the Sun
note: This work is an experiment in which each
and every word used in the story also appears in William
Shakespeare's "The Two Gentlemen of Verona,"
barring some modification of the original elision. The
words of the play have been individually restructured
into a new narrative. In effect, the language of Shakespeare
has been fragmented and then recast, drawing on certain
conceptual themes of Nietzsche, Sade, and Bataille in
was eating his youth, so with little more than a nod Speed
parted from his wife... slender, forlorn, fingering her
gold ring. The train moved forward impatiently, ignorant
of loss. Travel vanquished their marriage like so many
before. There was engine noise. A whirlwind. The departure
of faces. The wife suffered away, a jewel worth nothing.
Sullen and undone at the window, Speed tried to weep but
his eyes were dully dry. Heavy with shame. Sleep, a remorseful
drift inward, delivered him from the day, and the night
descended as a slow twinkling death.
Morning seized open. The sky came out
naked and unwelcome. Deeply uncertain of his journey,
Speed tried to nurse his fears with liquor and talk. A
breakfast of vices. The other passengers, a sea of couples,
read the disgrace on his cheeks and soon shunned him as
a traitor to love. Closest to him were a dignified man
and a girl of about twenty. A proud waxen figure and a
fresh young ornament, a companion with the stature of
a mistress and not a daughter. After hours of silent exile,
Speed entreated the man for the time.
"Thank you, sir... Your name?"
Speed forced a friendly smile.
"Not the publisher?"
"Precisely the publisher."
"Fantastic! I write..."
Valentine laughed bitterly. "I
know. You have the mark." His nose was like a spur
and his face was bankrupt of blood.
"Yes. Engraved on you. The ragged
integrity... well nourished on melancholy, of course...
The false nobleness. You wish for words of raging honey,
but, in the end, the page abhors you..."
Speed gingerly held his anger, "So,
is that what writers are to you? Worthless pricks? Disloyal
thoughts from a publisher, I would think..."
Valentine laughed again, but less coldly.
"Very good! Some revolt! You might do well to press
some of that hate into your ink, boy! There is good reason
why ink is the blackest substance on earth... it is intended
to extol the rewards of infamy."
"That must be why I am a stranger
to print. Also, my name is Speed, not boy."
"So you think. Speed, this is Julia."
"How do you do?"
Julia gave little more than a nod and
turned back to the window. In its frame, the wilderness
stood free from the plagues of industry and the train
discovered western frontiers, wheels hammering the steel
lines on the ground. The plain was fading behind in an
endless jade. As the crystal murmur of a river made music
with its weeds, there was a motion of geese, exquisite
against the desolate sky.
The men spoke to each other for awhile
about art and letters, but it was the stubborn silence
of Julia that especially beguiled Speed. Sad and disobedient,
as if banished to be a witness, the girl observed them
with an indifferent yet watchful eye. Her bare leg had
the whiteness of milk. So pale it was some sweet deformity,
so tender Speed felt he was bruising her with his gaze.
The girl was without words and he thought her deaf and
dumb, yet even her breath had a remnant of eloquence,
as if hope had died there wailing like a dog. Buried in
her moist eyes were secrets, the unsounded perplexity
of virtue, as well as some ruinous concord like the essence
of a dead puppy, a gentle and miserable solemnity. Her
scalp shed a tangle of auburn whips, unstaid against the
lean, ungartered presence of her body. As he regarded
her, a sudden blush painted Julia's face and said more
than her silence, speaking movingly to his glances. She
seduced Speed then. He was determined to have her, to
bite her hair and kiss her heels, to exchange groans and
flood her with nectar, to clothe his cock in her being
and pluck the sighs from her mouth. There were a million
names for the sum of his desires.
Valentine had seen the treachery of
these blushes and turned to Julia with scorn. Knowing
that he was now a rival, Speed quickly looked away to
disguise his lascivious thoughts. Shame and fear, the
horns of love, cut into his heart. He was ashamed at this
birth of feeling within him, which stabbed at the memory
of his wife and the remission of their love. Speed despised
this new passion, fearing a sequel of his broken marriage.
Just then through the glass, the verdure held an unruly
horse trampling a flower, pale as paper and beautiful,
a solitary lily loitering on the pasture.
"Let us dine," Valentine thrust
a glove at the passengers. "Their babble stings my
ears." In the supper car, the three became more acquainted
over liquor and were soon senseless as angels, which spurred
a lively, if peevish, talk. The liquor masked but hardly
mended the spite between the men, and the air was coloured
with trouble. Full of harsh words on every subject, Valentine's
wit was injurious, and he became rude towards the other
two. Losing his patience, Speed observed, "Your success
has only made you bitter, but you are not as hard as you
are desperate. And to think I admired you because of your
reputation... My god!"
"Your god, your god... Let me teach
you about your god... Let me remedy that schoolboy faith
of yours and show you the perjury of heaven! This Christian
malady has made man an intruder on this earth, wishing
for the grave, jealous of the dead. You base Christian
sheep have profaned the present with your tedious prayers,
complaining that the earth is fodder for our contempt,
worthy only of disdain. To you, the world is perceived
as just one more cell in the unseen prison called heaven.
Like all reasonless wretches you desire discipline, a
corrupted god to feed you torment. You are prisoners devoted
to the whip and are quickly lost without it. Enemies of
pleasure, you have fasted too long from reason only to
feast on pity. This holy plot of yours is always unjust,
Speed, for it spurns life!"
"Old age has drawn you into dream.
You are mad."
The publisher pretended to take offence.
"Correction, sir, I am not old!
You are most unmannerly for a sheep..."
After dinner, Valentine willingly enjoined
the discourse towards the meaning of love, pulling at
the strings that laced them together. To impress Julia,
Speed gave his opinion and trusted that she would interpret
"I think love is a heavenly power
carried by a stranger."
"Is that what you learned in your
universities? Boy, you have the poets' cowardice when
"Then what is love?"
"Love is a ripe, worthless word...
and friendship is but a mutual vexation."
"You are both wrong. Love is a
silent villain," Julia delivered a whisper to them,
with a coy, dangerous wink at Speed, "journeying
to newer crimes."
Although pleased, Speed had no reply
to these, her first words of the day. Brow knit with wrath,
Valentine plotted revenge. In a quick salute, the publisher
brought up his glass and spoke with a counterfeit mirth
both peremptory and hateful, "To our threefold doom..."
He left and was soon asleep aboard the other car.
With Valentine away and lustily forgotten,
longing chafed their heart-strings. Speed chased Julia
to his bed chamber, where a hungry touch waxed into excess.
Her white went wild and Speed was unrivalled until morn,
when Valentine knocked with an imperious hand and said,
"Good morning, deceitful lovers." His voice
punished their forgetfulness and revenged their mutual
favours. In a fury, the train cleft the root of a mountain.
The engine tried to scale the tower, a nameless mount
anchoring the world. The high stone steeple fostered its
own winter, lightly pinched with ice the colour of teeth.
Crusts of snow crept over the shadowy forest, which wound
in ink garlands over the rocks.
For some reason neither enraged nor
humbled by the circumstance, Valentine had the smile of
a hangman when the lovers came to the table. Reading the
paper, he spoke with no apparent jealousy, "What
is wrong, Speed? You look ill enough to heave up your
soul! Where is your love, your 'heavenly power', now?
Lost in the infancy of guilt?"
Speed composed himself before he spoke,
"Although you repulse me, Valentine, I intended no
ingratitude to you. Who can quell the onset of such passionate
affairs? It may have been wrongful, but I feel somewhat
blessed, as if it were destined to take place. These are
no random knots in my heart! I think we love each other."
Julia said nothing to this and paid no mind to either
"Is this a confession, boy? Save
such a conceit for your truant god. I should tutor you
in a lesson in power..."
"You always speak as if I were
a Christian, Valentine, but I am not. I do not believe..."
"Yet you have recourse to words
like 'blessed' and 'destined', employed in every Christian
anthem! You are like a linguist that does not believe
in the tongue! Like most trusting fools, you are the perfect
Christian, ignorant that you employ its practices and
adore its spirit. Your faith is a general one and thus
all the more dangerous."
"I may claim these faults, but
they seem unworthy of the penitence you have resolved
for me! Cruel-hearted judge, are you passing penance on
me because I desire a soul?"
"Boy, your soul is a trifle, the
legacy of a clownish god who could only fail at sovereignty.
A dead king, a sovereign fraud, a petty god stuffed with
pestilence, worshipped by those who rehearse death and
forget life! Yes, this degenerate ancestry has quite a
story... with the father, an invisible beast, hammering
his immaculate wench, who then bore a bastard son... an
adored figure of peace who has fostered nought but war.
A lout reputed as a lord, who wandered deserts to brag
to sheep. A shepherd of man, a treacherous saint who enforced
the fealty of lambs, a messenger of a god who taught only
the merit of chains, who taught men to aspire to be servants.
He dazzled the illiterate with every silly proverb, that
sour Jew! That slave to parable! That beggar on a nail!
How quaintly did his foul blood soften the cross! It entertained
the world for a time, that most vile of pageants. Many
are still fawning over his death, frozen with grief until
his return. Their minds are still affected by the charity
of his lies, still yoked by falsehood after two thousand
years! Vain idolatry! Creatures so starved for answers
that they would pray to nothing!"
"And what should give meaning to
the life of man... his doubt? You give such import to
slander, Valentine! Would you cancel all the triumphs
of man and his god?"
"I desire man to exceed himself,
but he esteems only safe, illumined thoughts. If man need
worship, why not worship, say, Phaeton? Daring to endanger
the world, he resolved to lawlessly tame the sun! Mad,
mad Phaeton who died in true glory as he parted from transgression
and descended in a coil of fire, unheedful of the possible,
tempted by the most extreme sacrifice... the offering
of the sun. If man offered up the sun, what a sacrifice
that would be! If man would dare to penetrate the timeless
and dispatch the infinite! To rend the sun and fly in
its place would be the most valiant undertaking of all!
Do you understand what that would signify, boy? No? Then
I will convey it to you! And this earth... no, this train!
... shall be the altar upon which we dispose of this celestial
enemy. Once our grudge is appeased we may then rejoice!"
He took Speed aside and they crossed
to the chamber of the publisher. Locked in with Valentine's
possessions, a heap of clothes and money, Speed saw a
rifle stock. Near the bed, Valentine held a step ladder
that gave access to an upper seal.
"The sun is but a sick pebble,
the stars so much malignant dust. All those swoons of
matter in their endless flight... I would wipe the sky
of them all." He took the rifle and went up the ladder.
"Come, boy, we will outrun idleness for awhile."
The wind came howling down the hole.
"Pure folly," said Speed, but an urge persuaded
him to climb. Valentine stood waiting on the far end of
the car, indifferent to the rough motion of the train.
Speed could not endure the reckless tilts and a stumble
left him flat on his stomach. On his knees he tried to
creep near Valentine, who had the rifle aimed at the sun.
The desert wound its golden scorn around them, hot frowns
of sand enammelled with the shine of some deformed palace.
A whisper came from Valentine, "Here,
even reason burns away. Killed by the light." A shot
took flight into the impossible, yet the wounded sun did
"Awful star, how many crimes will
you commit? You spin there, flourishing yellow outrages
at man, burning in your cloak of blood. Undeserving idol,
you are not sacred! You have blinded man in so many ways,
and without eyes we can only see god. Blindness has scoured
us of reason. Unseeing, we seek truth in a fancy and love
in a divine blot. You are a curse masked as a gift, and
you wreathe the earth in dolour. I detest your deliberate,
orderly lies! Your god is an absence, a trick of the light!
See how you have hindered man with the error you conceal
in your light! Enough! I'll have the day drowned in shadow!"
"Valentine, only a fool hunts the
sun! See, you flatter it with your volley!"
"It is not flattery, but a censure!"
The most unholy oaths came from him
and the rifle kept blasting through the air into the monstrous
mouth of fire, which graced its height patiently waiting
to kindle every mortal thing. Great wings of dust washed
down the train and away. Speed shut his eyes and closed
his ears with his hands, wishing that the threats would
cease. Despairing of the noise of the kill, he tried to
plead for silence, yet his body could only shake.
It was not to be the swiftest execution,
and the length of day could not quench Valentine's zeal
as he railed against the object of his rage. After a period,
Speed could hear Valentine wilt with a moan of thwarted
vengeance. His face was a mask of meat and the rifle was
out of shot. Still, he held his hands aloft and scratched
at the light, as if to tear at the eyes of god.
Valentine chose to break the rifle in
two and cast it away. He lay down with a sigh, "You
are hers now, Speed. Go to your muse. You are a pawn and
she needs that now. You are youthful and shallow and dull,
and she needs that too. Love is feeble by nature, and
I no longer care for it. For too many years, I have been
an old emperor wringing beauty from a pearl. But treasure
now gives me no delight. Now beauty is wearisome to me.
I am enthralled by a new beloved... Time. I would like
to prove her necessity, Speed, yet I am unwilling to yield
to the pillory of her form. I will woo death, homely as
she is... but I will not wed her."
"I did not mean to steal Julia..."
"Should an heir talk of thievery?
You have a boy's mind. It is she who will be robbing you...
of your future. She has learned much from me. Go."
A fat, swarthy evening killed the sun
contemptuously and without a word. With no light, the
desert became only an embrace of shapeless heat. Weary
and alone in repose upon the car, Valentine kissed at
the black perversely with his tongue.
The train stopped at the ocean with
every cloud in grey turmoil. Water descended like tears
without a head. Travellers charged the doors to disembark
for the city, a huge urinal peopled with sorrow. Bold
and crooked as a statue, the paragon of blackest judgment,
Valentine overlooked the stream of hapless passengers.
"Come here, Speed, hear my last
counsel." His mood suggested danger and conclusion.
"This journey may vex you, but it is best that you
are ignorant now. It will take time to understand your
pilgrimage into vice. You promised Julia love, but she
has no interest in it. She is your master not your prize.
You mistook her prodigious silence for a disability, but
it was only a woman's disguise concealing the hazard of
The advice angered Speed, "Is this
your cunning requital, Valentine? This talk of Julia?
You waste your protestations..."
"See, she has possessed you and
made you her play thing. She will force you to your knees
and govern your rashness for awhile, until you too are
lacking all loyalty. For you see, Speed, we thrive only
when we break bonds. Strength thrives in neglect not love,
it is a vantage not derived from small pains. In you and
me, in Julia and even your wife, there is a surfeit of
broken vows... and in this adversity reigns our most conceitless
pride. Some day Julia will forsake you, but this banishment
will temper you into one of us. It will dignify you and
make you more worldly. You will inherit much from the
exhibition of her hate, once you have refused the influence
of love." Valentine's voice became milder yet more
earnest, "Even toys can become as lions if they overtake
the master that loathes them..." Then he too vanished
into the night and its pissing sky.
The wanton hooks of Julia's arms
held Speed severely as she took him down the weeping street.
The chameleon of a girl had now aged into an obdurate
queen, and the cloister of her bosom disclosed the skill
of its treachery. With an empress' grace and the sly voice
of a wife, she spoke of duty. Marriage. She persuaded
him to conspire with her, to bind each other to neglect
as if it were some grievous form of wealth, sufficient
ransom for his pride. He would lose a fortune in love
for the privilege of her company, but if he prevailed
it would be a bargain. Julia would fashion him into a
man who would shrink from nothing. He had cherished the
muse in her but that soon died, melting like pills in
the tide. Sadly drenched in his mistake, now betrothed
to the unknown, Speed walked like a puppet or a hanged
man as he considered Valentine's inscrutable words and
what they could mean. Already altered by his experience
with Julia, he was reformed into a lamentable state, yet
Speed felt some how bolder. Sojourned in his concern was
the presence of a new integrity. In the wreck of his heart
he felt the fear again, but in stead of shame, an outlaw
desire...the urge to ascend and feel his boot mar the
perfection of the sun.
is an editor in Madison, Wisconsin. His work has appeared
or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Quarterly
West, WAG, Rosebud, Stand, Other
Voices, Clackamas Literary Review, Mississippi
Review, The Barcelona Review, The Wisconsin
Review, CrossConnect, Pindeldyboz,
Eleven Bulls, The American Journal of Print,
The Paumanok Review, Suspect Thoughts,
Exquisite Corpse and The Absinthe Literary
Review. At the moment, he is working on Stupor,
his debut novel.