Late November 2018
By Arnold Serapilio
I the undersigned, I. E. Fielding, being of sound mind, do hereby bequeath to Beatrice—my radiant, long-suffering wife, forever my center and my guiding light—my estate, my modest life’s savings, and not least, remnants of my ever-spiraling thoughts.
So began the last will and testament of Ingram Ellsworth Fielding, who at 66 years departed the material plane on July 7 1944. His widow Beatrice Fielding delivered his eulogy while those he had left behind wept into each other’s shoulders, but she did not speak for their comfort, she spoke for her own. “Ingram is singing with the angels now,” she said. The air about her thinned and she knew he was there with her. She felt him. Somehow, he was simultaneously behind and above and all around her. How was he doing that? He sang into her ear, his voice reedy, piercing, just as when he was alive. She scanned the faces in the congregation and wondered if they too could hear him threatening the integrity of the stained glass windows surrounding.
The bereaved paused on their way out the church to clasp Mrs. Fielding’s trembling hands in their own and murmur their reassurances. Mrs. Fielding knew they were sincere and yet she could not make room for them in her heart, not in this moment, not on this day. This day, she had decided, was for herself and for dear Ingram. And so, alone, she approached her car while the others scattered: there was Ingram’s grade school friend Bingo, head always in the clouds, and there was Henry Long from the Athenæum (a man of stature within the community although also the man who forgot to put on pants before he left the house one day, so the legend goes), and Bingo was at the Athenæum too of course, and so was Mrs. Miriam Audrey, the librarian, they were all from the Athenæum, their noses always in books and each other’s business…but oh dear, where were the keys? Ingram was always misplacing the keys, and in the strangest of places. This morning as she lay in bed staring at the ceiling trying to get her breathing in order, he had admonished her to Be sure to keep hold of his keys!—they were her keys, now. And where were the cursed things? Not in her purse. Not in the ignition. Not on the seat of the car. Not at her feet. “Ingram, if you are messing with me, I swear…” she said. What if she never found the keys? How was she going to get home? What would she do for food? What was she supposed to do, live off of the church’s goodwill indefinitely? And what would happen to the car? Ingram hadn’t had many assets to leave behind, that car was crucial. What would they do to the car, sell it off piece by piece? What was she going to do? Her feet were taking her back towards the front steps of the church, back inside, where might she find her keys laying in the center of the altar, where might she hear Ingram’s voice resounding through God’s house, where might she find her words still hanging in the air, suspended in light as dust?
To my dear old friend Bingo I leave the entirety of my collection of the Articulations of the American Pataphysical Society, meticulously organized and wholly unblemished despite my unconscious’s intermittent efforts to have me shift them into the circular file. But alas, I always come to my senses just in the nick of time. Bingo, you are the only one who ever really understood my fascination with American Pataphysical, and while I know your love of same does not even approach mine, I humbly request you attend to this collection, which is to say you preserve and augment it, that its circulation may well surpass my own. There is an ulterior motive here. As I have expressed to you previously, I have long been concerned with your tendency to fall inward and remain stuck. It is a tendency I understand quite well.
Having no need for them himself, Bingo Weald had turned over Fielding’s voluminous stacks of the Articulations of the American Pataphysical Society to the Athenæum, an organization whose curatorial tendencies ranged from the esoteric to the bizarre. Bingo figured that at ten stories high, there certainly was no premium on space at the Athenæum and there never would be. Bingo’s abode was cavernous, but he could barely stand to hold onto his own possessions, let alone hundreds of feet worth of someone else’s obscure musings. He liked to be alone with his thoughts and clutter was suffocating.
On a dreary late November afternoon, not three weeks after Fielding’s passing, Bingo dozed in the newspaper room, the New York Times draped across his lap. The only sound was the tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock of his watch, until tick-tock tick-tock—his watch stopped on 4:37. The hour hand rearranged itself to the 6 and the minute hand to 26. Had Bingo been awake, he would have detected the smell of petrichor in the air, looming thick and unexplained. And then a flash of electrical current originating from the watch homed in on Bingo’s eyebrow and zapped him back into waking life.
“Attack! On guard!” he exclaimed as he bolted up out of his chair and into a fighting stance (though in a real brawl he hadn’t a fighting chance), a corner piece of the Times tearing underfoot in the process. His eyebrow felt like it was aflame and from his scorched forehead plumed smoke on an inevitable ascent to the ceiling’s sprinkler system. He scanned the room for the source of the errant energy—he noted some painting or other on the wall, a sturdy antique table, a bust of some haughty-looking character, another painting or two—but paintings decidedly did not emit lightning. Skies emitted lightning. And here in this room there were barriers between Bingo and the sky, which was the story of his life now that he thought about it. “Holy moly, look at the time,” he grumbled. The time was 6:26…the Athenæum didn’t stay open past 5… they had bloody closed without him! He was locked in. Hadn’t anybody noticed him dozing? Surely there had never been a time in all of Athenæum history when a member had gotten himself locked in after hours? Odder: Fielding’s birthday was June 26.
I cannot relate here how enamored I am of the rain, for there are more pressing matters at hand. Suffice it to say that the kick some get from gambling, drinking, dancing, I get from walking through a thunderstorm until I am soaked to the bone. Which leads me to dear Mrs. Miriam Audrey, a brooding, nourishing thunderstorm unto herself. Mrs. Audrey, you withstood the velocity of my bottomless curiosity and for that I am forever in your debt. And so I leave to you this promise: I shall endeavor to reciprocate from beyond, however that may manifest.
“We are not closed, which is why I am standing here speaking to you right now,” Mrs. Audrey said. “But we will in fact be closing very shortly, so you would do well to begin gathering your belongings.” Mrs. Audrey continued to shift stacks of interlibrary loans on the reference desk.
Bingo raised an eyebrow—the singed one. “But it’s 6:30.”
“In point of fact it is only a quarter to 5.”
Bingo showed Mrs. Audrey his watch, which now read 7:05.
That was curious; Mrs. Audrey’s birthday was July 5.
“Wretched thing,” Bingo said. “Not five minutes ago this read 6:26. I walked directly here and it did not take me 30 minutes to do so.”
Mrs. Audrey nodded. She knew better than to press Bingo on why, if he had thought it was time to go, he’d opted to head to the reference desk rather than the exit. She would also refrain from asking why his left eyebrow was smoking and why he was soaking wet. Some questions were better left unposed. The man needed a new watch, undoubtedly, and perhaps a new brain to match. But to be fair, people had their questions. Fielding certainly had had more than his fair share over the years. She had liked Fielding well enough, he was not a bad person, but in all honesty she had felt more than a modicum of relief knowing that the days were over of serving as Fielding’s dedicated human encyclopedia. What was life, after all, if not a continuous assault of questions with which you were forever contending? It was time for her to focus on her own problems. She cradled a stack of books that rose all the way to her chin, which kept the items from spilling. As she turned to her office she saw the door, which she had prior closed and locked behind her, swing open, and the smell of petrichor filled her nostrils. She felt a light pressure lift her chin, and then the top book slowly floated up into the air and drifted into her office. One by one her stack whisked away, until there was only one book left in her hands, titled How May I Help You, Midge? It was written by I.E. Fielding.
Mrs. Audrey gasped. The book fell to the floor. She knew the Athenæum owned a copy of Fielding’s only book, but it wasn’t called How May I Help You, Midge?, it was called The Aforementioned. Fielding’s book bounced off the floor and back into her shaking hands, opened itself to a page with BE NOT AFRAID AND PLEASE READ printed at the top.
“What the…” said Bingo.
Mrs. Audrey shrugged and began reading out loud.
“I apologize profusely for frightening you, Midge. But it is extremely challenging to communicate with people these days (though, what is a day these days?) given my…condition, as it were.”
Mrs. Audrey paused, seeking Bingo’s reaction, but he was nowhere in sight.
Bingo had taken one look at the levitating books and decided no, not today. He dashed into the drum to hide while he collected his thoughts. He leaned against the door to catch his breath. He loosened his tie. He inhaled the crisp, dry smell of aged books—oh, how he loved that smell—and when he exhaled he felt the fear leave him along with the carbon dioxide. Oxygen in, fear and CO2 out, but you wouldn’t get that in the science textbooks. But there was empirical evidence to suggest that fear was always present, substantive, and everywhere where there was air. But by gum did he love the smell of old books.
Someone knocked on the door.
“Mrs. Audrey?” His voice cracked. He held his breath so he could hear better.
Was that rain he smelled?
“Midge? Is that you?”
“Better just stay put for the moment,” he decided. “I’ve already lost an eyebrow today, that’s enough action for me.”
The door swung open and he tumbled backward into the long room, righting himself just in time to see about a dozen books, in horseshoe formation, hovering before him. “Attack! On guard!” he cried, and went into his fighting stance.
“To be clear, I am not as ’dead’ as you might think,” read Mrs. Audrey. “I have merely been displaced metaphysically, transfigured into a higher mode of being by way of a network of subatomic channels so convoluted and complex I will not pretend to even begin to comprehend their gestalt.”
“Amen to that,” Mrs. Audrey said, but she was drowned out by shouting. She tore her eyes away from Fielding’s note to behold poor Bingo. He was being hoisted toward the ceiling by an array of VEFs and if his thrashing legs were any indication, he seemed to be resisting the conveyance. “Never a dull moment here,” she muttered.
“Mr. Weald! There is something really odd at play here…this book is changing before my very eyes, and…now what on earth are you doing up there with all those books?”
“Despite how this may look,” Bingo grunted, “I am not actually in control of the situation.” The books had a hold of his head, his arms, and his torso. His legs were (relatively) unrestrained. All he could readily do was wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, and struggle, struggle, struggle.
“I’m coming for you, my boy, hang tight,” Mrs. Audrey said as she ran to the spiral staircase, Fielding’s book still in hand.
“Any help would be greatly appreciated,” Bingo said. “Though rest assured my masculinity is very much intact.”
Fielding’s book flew out of Mrs. Audrey’s hands and smacked Bingo across the forehead.
“I’ve never been much of a reader,” said Bingo, “and all this nonsense is enough to put me off the entire enterprise for the rest of my natural life.”
Mrs. Audrey tried not to dwell on all the re-shelving she would have to do on Monday, surely that was nothing compared to what she was up against right now, so why was she even thinking of it? She edged along the catwalk until she was just a few feet behind Bingo, who continued to hang precariously, much closer to the ceiling than the ground. “I am right behind you,” said Mrs. Audrey, “can you reach out your leg and I can grab hold?”
Bingo’s head stung from where The Aforementioned had made contact and his vision was blurring. He was able to make out The Aforementioned floating in front of him. The book kept opening, fanning its pages, and closing, over and over. Was he delirious or was the book getting bigger? Or else was he shrinking? Was he insane or were all the pages, once full of words so carefully selected years ago by his dear departed friend, were all the pages now completely blank? And was the book closing in on him? He first felt Mrs. Audrey clamp down on his flailing leg, then he felt The Aforementioned wrench him up until his head hit the ceiling and he shrieked in pain.
With a death grip on Bingo’s leg Mrs. Audrey lurched forward, felt her feet drifting away from the mezzanine. “I know there are more immediate concerns,” she said, “but do you smell rain, by any chance?”
Bingo didn’t register Mrs. Audrey’s question. He watched The Aforementioned closing in. Was that—did he detect—a mouth? Fearsome beast, gaping maw—
“Salivating, enveloping maw,” said Mrs. Audrey. She was reminded of things she had always wanted to accomplish. “That thing looks [gulp] awfully hungry.”
“I was hoping I was hallucinating that,” said Bingo. “Is this, um, the end?”
I have merely been transfigured into a higher mode of being
“If it is,” said Mrs. Audrey, “I am full of wishes and regrets.”
“Me too,” said Bingo.
The Aforementioned was behind and above and all around Miriam Audrey and Bingo Weald, and then their dimensions were reprioritized. It didn’t feel good or bad. It just was. They couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t move, couldn’t think. What was thinking? Just think—
The books dropped to the floor. Out went the lights and here came the rain. On top of the pile was I.E. Fielding’s only book. It was titled Midge and Bingo’s Journey Into___.
My affairs in order, I leave you with this. When I was much younger I felt less like a person—which is to say animated, mindful, inhabiting a moral universe, teeming with ideas and thirsts—and rather more like a walking collection of habits, patterns, and anxieties. What a deeply tedious and unsatisfying way to live. But as I grew older I summoned the strength to jettison those behaviors and the fears informing them, and now I am free to wander. Dear friends, won’t you come along with me?