Here are voices

*

 

I’ve never been much of one for books. You might think that odd, what with me being a professor of literature and all, but, then, professors of literature generally are quite odd. And everybody has to have their niche; their little cultivated patch of oddness. It’s part of the job.

 

*

 

We spent three days in San Antonio with an evangelical preacher and his eldest son, whom was a death metal enthusiast. Sarah kept on reaching out her hand and tugging – ever so gently, but also ever so firmly – at the cuff of my shirt. I’d look at her and she’d give me that look – the look every woman has, at one point, given a man. The universal look that asks, simply, why. After perhaps the fiftieth time she did this, the preacher clocked it. But he didn’t understand it. He seemed to become overwhelmed with emotion and started talking about the touch of Jesus and the tears of the virgin mother. Sarah turned her head away and ducked it into my shoulder, trying to hide her laughter. I kept on looking in the preacher’s direction, focusing a great deal of energy on keeping the corners of my mouth perfectly balanced and straight. Then I caught sight of the preacher’s son standing on top of their campervan, completely nude except for his socks. In one clenched fist he held a small music player, from which ran a thin black wire up to his large headphones. He was rocking back and forth so violently his long hair flailed in the air and you could hear the pop-pop-popping of the campervan’s metal roof bending beneath his heavy footsteps. A small crowd of other campers gathered round to stare, and several elderly women looked utterly aggrieved by the situation. I tried to keep my mouth straight but it was no use. I lost it – we both did – and, like that, we were finished.

 

*

 

They found six small skeletons in the cave. A family, most likely. There was one skull without any other bones to go with it. A Yorick skull, is how the archaeologist with the PR experience described it. This skull was much smaller than the others – it belonged to an infant, probably less than a year old at the time of death. Everyone seemed quite perturbed that there were no signs of its bones anywhere – especially since the other family members were all so complete. In hushed voices, magnified and distorted by the twisting geology of the cave system, other members of the dig spoke about feeling quite unnerved by it all. Where were the bones? And then something stranger still – the discovery of dozens of tiny, ochre-painted hand prints all along the cave walls. And in the quiet damp stillness of the caverns, the light sound of what seemed to be laughter.

 

*

 

Voices repeat. On and on, the same words and thoughts again and again. Ceaseless through history and utterly depressing in their unoriginality.

 

*

 

I discovered her ring quite by accident. The dog was scratching around in the dirt by the begonias, and suddenly the sun caught the platinum and there it was, revealed. I knew it was hers when I asked Robert about it. He shoved his hands into his pockets, then withdrew them and started turning them over frantically in the air. He mumbled about it being one of mine, but I told him, no – it wasn’t mine. But he was insistent, so I showed him. I took it and tried to place it on each of my fingers; and it was far too big, it just slid off whenever I held my fingers at a slight downward angle. He coughed and told me I must have lost some weight before grabbing the car keys and leaving for work. Once the sound of car wheels on the drive dissipated, I went upstairs, took out all his signed baseball cards from our bedroom closet and buried them beneath the begonias. They were worth a small fortune on the internet, I’ve since been told. But it doesn’t matter. He never found them, because he never went into the garden – except with her. And she has fat fingers.

 

*

 

You have kept me like a fish long enough.

 

*

 

There is a chronic problem with higher education: the students. Each year the same patterns, the same characters, bubbling along to the same rhythms and cycles, discovering and espousing the same ideas at the same time. Utterly predictable. Sometimes the hairstyles change for half a decade before they come back with a vengeance. But nothing else does. The most depressing fact of course is that this unoriginality is never acknowledged. I once had two students one year apart from the other. They took exactly the same modules, wore the same shirts, sat in the same seats. They both had those awful one-syllable names that scream out ‘married at thirty-one with a retriever and an office job’. And every new book we read was like déjà vu. The same ideas and opinions, articulated almost verbatim. ‘Don’t you think it’s there’s such a clear sexualised undertone to Kafka’s Metamorphosis’; ‘Can we just please accept the fact that Garcia Marquez is using symbolism to represent the phallus of mankind’; ‘I just think it’s so clever how Coetzee uses the euthanisation of dogs as a way of explaining why we need to start euthanizing human beings – it’s overpopulation, man.’

 

And then you have the worst ones of all: those catch on that everything that can be said or done has been said and done before, and who think at last that they have discovered something new. So they blow around calling out everyone, including themselves, for being totally unoriginal carbon copies of everything and everyone that has come before them. And then they cast their eyes to the side and catch their reflections in the glass of a window and tell themselves that, because they’ve broken this wall down, they are, in fact, originals. They think that realising how clone-like they are makes them unique. They watch Blade runner and think they see themselves in Harrison Ford. But they don’t realise: everyone sees themselves in Harrison Ford.

 

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