Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Children of Saturn

"Naevius was a major poet with original ideas and a strongly Roman personality. . . . But unfortunately only fragments of his poetry survive, and from his Satura we have no more than a single quotation: 'Why, pray, have you beaten the children of Saturn?'

     When he spoke to her, he used a rueful, humble voice, although the purr and rumble of the immensely self-satisfied predator hummed within him, as if to give away the machinery that animated him:
     "Everyone knows I stole my story, but there's also another story about how I stole it that I haven't told, and now that I'm serving time for my crime, I can't stop myself from dreaming of redeeming myself, financially and as a storyteller, at least a little bit, at least enough, by telling that other story straight, the procedural of the storytelling crime itself. A man can dream. Some dreamers can write. I was just never very good at knitting together the insanity of my dreaming with the inanity I knew I could write. That's what storytelling does, and that's why I was so desperate to find the right story to deliver me from distress. When I thought I had found it, I had no morals whatsoever about taking it for myself and selling it. How I managed to do that, well, that's this story, not such a good one, of course, but truer."
     She watched his mouth, carefully, and although it moved very little as he spoke, she thought she detected something darker than usual inside of it, and not only in contrast to the perfect white teeth. The dirty look of deep red wine in the spit of her own mouth when brushing before bed after a night at a bar had always appalled and attracted her, as if it said something about living that her formulae never could capture, but the same shade glimpsed in his confession seemed more matter of fact, anyhow less relevant as to recent behavior, more to do with some innate trait that he possessed or possessed him.
     "Go on. Tell me, then."
     "The usual way to go about such pilfery is forgery of course, either by pretending to have found authentic documents or memoirs of someone known or wished-to-be-known, or by making up some nonsense falsifying one's own life. Does the name Ossian ring a bell? Never mind. Slightly rarer and more daring is the narrative equivalent of an art forgery, putting forward a piece of one's own writing as a lost work by some master. Rarer, because anyone capable of masterful forgery of story is, by definition, a master storyteller. Everyone steals plots, but the teller of tales is already genius enough. That's why the common fibbers are bad novelists masquerading as memoirists."
     "What? Is the truth itself such a bad story that we're more willing to accept a bad story as true?"
     "Absolutely, and what's more, all humans know it. Verisimilitude, the 'you can't make this stuff up' cliches are only valuable for adding grit to the gist. Even dreams tell terrible stories, which is why the excuse that it was all a dream is a favorite dodge of shoddy fiction."
     His deep ribcage rumbled with a chuckle of self-pleasure, giving her a sense of odd unease to hear it. He smiled, for a moment forgetting the confessional pretense of chastened humility, and she saw the wine-dark sea move again inside his mouth.  He was in his element, and she was out of hers. A poet should be silent, she thought, silently bending her head to tune her strings, as if she hadn't noticed the Saturnine stirring of the arrogance in him.
     As if, as if, as if, she hummed under her breath, as she waited for the calming effects of her verse to return her to her. As if, as if, as if anyone could beat time, could make time in conversation with such beasts who have eaten the children of Saturn.
     "It is a great freedom to be able to be bad," she heard him rumble, the words coming from the air around her, but she did not lift her head.
     "Do you mean lacking in morals or skill?" She asked, attempting to tease his intentions from his own ambiguity.
     "Both, of course. To be able to be bad is the only freedom one can have. It's what freedom is and all that freedom is."
      She tried a chord, but was careful, this time, not being free, not to respond.

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