I lately observe the prevalence of the uncomprehending gaze and wonder if it’s mine.
Back in the day, when you left school at fifteen and took a job in factory or went down the mine or into the steelworks or signed on for the merchant marine and worked your whole life through until you retired and then died, it was whispered, beneath knowing frowns, that retirement was itself death’s harbinger; that being separated from the purpose to which you had somehow, mysteriously, without thinking, devoted your life and thrust into a world suddenly devoid of structure or meaning was injurious to one’s health. So you’d try to fashion an existence of sorts in your shed or greenhouse and regale anyone within earshot with stories of your lost life until you realise that nobody is listening and you’ve been telling these stories to yourself for quite a while now. Not quite of this world but not quite departed from it either the suspicion nagged: that emptiness and loneliness prefigured the body’s failure and led us by the hand as we stumbled toward the grave.
It’s different today; we don’t put a price tag on our souls so early and thereafter can expect to be pitched on to the scrap heap at any time or many times. And we live longer as science enables our patched up bodies to carry us through decades of idleness, financial uncertainty, anxiety, addictions and withering mental decline. We can look forward to many years of living within our garbled memories. Maybe we will catch glimpses of the portal to that other place to which our personal hard disk will in the future be uploaded and where we will spend eternity exchanging memories in infinity of peer to peer connectivity. Perhaps there is a hierarchy of levels through which we will graduate, from frenzied garrulity at the bottom to networked serenity at the top. Perhaps we already inhabit the invisible city. Better that we are uploaded to this universal cloud when we are young and our creative faculties are in flower and before our minds are traumatised by vicissitude. Better, if memories are to replay in eternal recurrence, that they be agreeable.
As yet we are still, as far as we know, bound by the attrition of time and the degradation of the flesh. This constraint has the happy advantage of applying a limit to the endless repetitions of memory and might allow us, if we’re lucky, to listen, perhaps for the first time, to what our heart says, and without rancour or regret, peacefully, to cark it. Unless, that is, we’re already dead but don’t yet realise it or have forgotten it’s happened.
James Coffey lives in Coventry, England. He spent years working in a government office punching numbers on to a screen. Sometimes he sits in front of a screen and tried to make small fictions.
–Art by Marina Ćorić