Etemenanki è un contenitore di storie senza sottotitoli. Lo abbiamo chiamato con il nome sumerico di una ziqqurat costruita quattromila anni fa. Oggi come allora vigono gli stessi limiti, le torri oscurano il cielo e la letteratura è rinchiusa nei confini di una lingua. Etemenanki proporrà racconti inediti in lingua originale. Questo è il secondo racconto, la seconda strofa della pietra angolare.
Author: John Claude Smith:
John Claude Smith è uno scrittore californiano di narrativa, poesia ed è anche un giornalista musicale. I suoi racconti sono stati pubblicati in diverse riviste ed antologie. La sua raccolta The Dark is Light Enough for Me (Ampichellis Books) è stata pubblicata nel 2011. Vive nella Bay Area ma aspira a trasferirsi a Roma.
Collabora a Etemenanki: Alessandra Bava (traduttrice e editor per la narrativa anglofona).
He's Got The Whole World In His Hands
The closest Aaron had ever come to touching the globe was when he was nine-years-old and he pressed his palms against the plastic cube that enveloped it. His father had banished him from the study, sending him to his room without supper. “Never touch it. Never dream of touching it!” he bellowed, with a ferocity that belied his lean, deceptively frail frame. It was the only time Aaron’s father had ever raised his voice toward him in anger. It prodded more than averted his curiosity. Aaron dreamed often of what the delicate lines would feel like against his fingers--the mountain ranges and smooth oceans--and of what stories, what mysteries, the mere touching would unveil.
On his deathbed, hacking up phlegm and wheezing like a broken teapot, having succumbed to the cancer that 39 years of finger-rolling the finest Columbian tobacco into unfiltered cylinders of charring, lung blackening death would promote, Aaron’s father emphatically pleaded with him not to touch the globe, not to trespass with his hands, only his eyes. He felt it necessary, on his last night alive, to drag a promise out of his only begotten son much as he would drag the nicotine rush out of a cigarette. He filed the results as ambiguous, but he knew better. Aaron lied, saying he would never touch the globe. Aaron’s father knew it was a lie, but after the ordeal of merely raising his voice for only the second time in their communiqués--that’s the way Aaron always thought of them; not conversations, not heart to hearts, nothing more than messages between strangers--he hadn’t the strength to worry further. He had done what he needed to do.
It was out of his hands.
Aaron neither loved nor hated the old man. Their relationship had always been a triumph of obligation over affection. Aaron’s father loved only one thing: money, and all the flashy accoutrements of having lots of money. Aaron’s father never played catch with a baseball with him; Aaron’s father never went fishing with him. Aaron’s father’s only acknowledgement of Aaron’s existence was during birthdays and holidays, never distributing gifts, per se, just money. As if that was an appropriate substitute.
Now, with the passing of his father, Aaron wandered through the large study, glancing everywhere for something tangible as memory, amidst the rotting leather and mildewed reek of the books, amidst the immaculate, polished sheen of the massive oak desk, amidst the paintings (Picasso, Monet), play things (multiple screens that slept silently within mahogany cabinets accentuated with intricately carved ivory—his father’s downtime consisting of up-to-the-minute stock reports and soft-core pornography), and souvenirs (the baseball that Barry Bonds had hit to break Mark McGuire’s single season home run record; a signed copy of the Beatles’ Yesterday…And Today LP with the Butcher cover, John Lennon’s humorous inquiry scribbled across slabs of meat: ‘Can you believe this bloody mess?’). There was nothing. But it didn’t matter at all to Aaron, because the only thing he wanted, the only thing he desired--they could sell everything else for all he cared, he’d rather have the money--was the globe. And now, it was his.
He hadn’t seen it in years, his infrequent visits met with little more than a, “How much do you need?” and the impassive transaction of funds. But every time he was in its vicinity, he felt it tug at him, drawing him to it. He knew this was just a psychological reaction that inspired a psychosomatic sensation manifested by one of the few memories from his youth, as exacerbated by the callous, insensitive nature of his life: despite the emotional distance he and his father always exhibited, he was very much his father’s son.
His life had been drab, insubstantial, marked by inquiries he designated as perverse: “Aren’t you Robert Rosewald’s son?” No, he had wanted to say: No, I am nobody’s son. But he did not care about this, either, because all that mattered now, as he stood mesmerized by its exquisite splendor, hands jammed deep in his pockets, fingers anxiously flexing into spider aerobics, was that the globe was his. And he could finally know it on a more intimate level.
Aaron peered over his shoulder: no hunched over, cadaverous, coughing apparitions appeared to curtail his conduct. The globe, origin unknown, gleamed at him alluringly, temptation tugging as he always thought it did. He gawked at the finely detailed cartography, the richly envisioned topography, the clarity of colors, the craftsmanship nonpareil; it perfectly captured the essence of the world, the Earth. This was definitely not a product of assembly lines and capitalistic priorities—quantity, not quality—this was something of a much deeper, more passionate endeavor. Whoever created this globe, created it with love, with care, with an affection that superseded anything Aaron had ever experienced. Aaron soaked this in like a parched sponge, eyes tracing the white-speckled crests of the Appalachians and sensing the chill and oppression of snowy peaks, before swimming in the crisp cerulean waters of the Caribbean Sea as prismatic coral designs exploded in his head, and tossed it aside as one would a soiled napkin, a chewed on toothpick, a deathbed promise that only made him smirk when he thought of it now.
Smiling broadly, he eagerly pulled his hands out of his pockets, inserting the key that held the lone lock that sat askew at the bottom of the plastic enclosure. Swiftly, he scooped the clear plexi-cube off of the table, unleashing impossible odors as he did—the moist, humid aroma of Brazilian rainforests; exotic spices from India; the muskiness of animals in the sun-scorched terrain of Africa; the sweet, ripe tanginess of grapes on the vines of Northern California’s wine country--a fruitiness that delightfully nuzzled yearning taste-buds as well--all tickled or trampled his nostrils. The flood of odors nearly floored him, before swirling around him, embracing him, enveloping him; pulling him closer. Tugging…
It was time. Aaron felt no reason to hesitate, no reason to delay the inevitable. He had to hold the globe in his hands, to fondle it with the precautious fingers of his youth, caress it with the inquisitive fingers of his maturity; loving fingers were not at his disposal. He had to hold it in his hands. It was time.
Lifting it from its simple wooden perch, he was immediately shocked by its weight or, rather, its lack of weight. Its mass seemed inconsequential as a feather, a dream, belying its vast circumference—it was wide as his shoulders; maybe not the best judge of girth as Aaron was not a big man, but considerable nonetheless, large and imposing and now, he felt, so very fragile. He hesitated, wondering if he should be handling the globe, wondering if his father’s warnings held merit, what with the inherent fragility of this wonderful object. But already his fingers had begun to explore the surface. He closed his eyes and traveled through the outback as fingers skimmed over Australia, shoving dingoes, kangaroos and other wildlife aside, the heat rippling up his arm and down his spine. That was just the beginning. As hours blossomed from spent minutes, Aaron traversed every iota of the surface of the Earth with a fervor he’d never revealed to any lover, an enthusiasm the mere touching not only stimulated, but encouraged. He pressed his face lovingly to the surface, indentations leaving wrinkled roadmaps along his cheek. He forgot about where he was, who he was: he was now the globe, the world, the Earth. He felt at peace for the first time in his life, as if his life had a purpose, and that purpose had led to this moment. Wherever it went from here, he did not care, because here, now, he felt alive.
When his cell phone rang, it abruptly broke the spell, startling him out of his illusory state. The globe teetered in his hands; he balanced it in his left hand as he reached for the cell phone with his right hand. This simple task threw the globe out of sync, its axis swaying forebodingly, the newfound mass practically leaping off his hand. Aaron swung his cell phone clutching right hand around, to stop the tumble, but the occupied fingers were unable to assist in gathering the globe back; it was too late. The immeasurable weight fell fast.
It made a sound like a cannon, a big bang that forced Aaron’s hands to his ears.
“No!” Aaron cried, thinking he had broken it. Kneeling down, though, he saw nothing was broken. It seemed whole. Until he rolled it over and noticed the searing light that sliced like a laser from the ragged seam off the eastern coast of Canada and North America.
It cracked like an egg shell and fell open.
Aaron covered his eyes first, to ward off the blinding intensity of the light, clenching his lids shut as he moved his hands to his ears, palms pressing hard, feeble deterrent to the voracious hiss that mounted a lethal attack on his tympanic membranes, piercing, brutal, and just as suddenly silenced. All sound, all light, was sucked into a hungry vacuum. Aaron opened his eyes to a patchy darkness and followed the echoing refrain to his feet, where the two hemispheres of the globe gently rocked. His breath hitched anxiously; his heart pounded warily. From below, he heard--in his ears, in his bones--a more insidious sound mount its harried approach, galloping from a distant unseen horizon within the Earth: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse--unleashed! An agitated, bitter rumbling surged toward him, louder, louder. Horns trumpeted, dissonant and feral: the squawk of reawakened pterodactyls, the howl of sentient winds. Then, the sound to drown out all other sounds: the world screamed, a billion nightmares released, but this one--this one--annihilated them all. It was an amplified screech like paper tearing, the caustic belch of the surging eons, the molten, gurgling bile that rose in rampant tides from the center of the Earth. Aaron knew this because it was for him and him alone to know. The world shook violently beneath him. A crack tore through the foundation, scissor slicing through the study.
Instantly, he was on the floor, initially jostled there, then cognizant of the only possible choice he had. He gathered the two hemispheres into his hands, just as the world was about to rip apart, and thrust them together.
The edges of the crack in his world kissed again; closed.
His head throbbed with a dull ache. Silence hurt, but was welcomed. The splitting of the Earth had ceased and sealed as instantly as it had commenced. His vice-like embrace of the severed halves held everything steady. He cried as he had never cried before. He rocked with the globe held in his arms, between his legs, wrapping himself around it, a firm, unrelenting grip. He knew he had come so close to obliterating everything, yet now, he knew that tomorrow would come. He had no intentions of letting it get away from him ever again. Not just the globe—Aaron would see to it that it would be mended, healed, secured somewhere where it would never be seen again--but his life. He would not allow this audacious knowledge to lead him down the same forlorn path as his father, an avaricious man who had allowed the burden to inhibit his humanity.
Tomorrow would be a better day, the best day. Tomorrow Aaron would choose living over simply existing…as long as he could hold on for dear life tonight.
John Claude Smith