Tuesday, January 15, 2008


A cylinder is a text in which the author arranges linguistic units so that the reader can begin at any of several different points in the text, read to the end, and come back around to where she started without any lapse into incoherence. This example from the Oulipo Compendium works at the level of letters:

Emit, mite, item, emit.

Below find the first part of a cylinder composed of three micro-narratives (the second and third parts will follow shortly):

1. It was a film of a fluffy Maine Coon cat approaching a human hand. Autumn leaves scuttling downwind over the gnarled roots of an oak tree. As the cat sniffed at the can of tuna in the upturned palm, another hand appeared suddenly with a box cutter and slit its throat, blood gurgling out of the wound and spreading in an ellipse over the withered grass. An impassive voice off screen: "Consider this a warning." Then the DVD stopped.

Standing in front of the TV in his bedroom, Dr. Charles Silvering sighed the sigh of a man too exhausted to feel fear. He could only think that it was disgusting and unfair of them to kill poor Clive, and even counterproductive, since Charles had long ago come to terms with the prospect of personal injury or death. They had misread him and completely botched the threat. All parties (and Clive most of all) would have been better served if they had sent him a film of his cat being held in captivity; then he would have felt compelled to meet their demands in a bid to save the one creature in the world he still loved. As it stood, they had recklessly cast their only bargaining chip to the wind.

He walked to the bay windows opening out on the overcast January afternoon, gray as Athena’s eyes, and dialed a number on his cell phone. Now the truth had to come out, if only to spite them for killing Clive.

“Yes,” said a female voice on the other end of the line. The greeting was more a statement than a question.

“Madeleine. I’m coming over.”

“Charles? Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“I’ll see you in ten.”

It was a short drive along the lake from Charles’s suburban stronghold to Madeleine’s building on the far north side of the city. She had left instructions with the doorman to show her guest to the elevators, and soon Charles was standing in the living room of her 30th floor condo, unsettled as always by the ivory-white carpeting and crystalline furniture. She was reclining on a sofa and, in her husky British drawl, offering him a drink.

“Not now, thanks,” he said, wearily unwinding the black scarf from his neck. “Tell me you still have the records.”

“From the hospital? Of course, but–,”

“We’re going public,” he said, turning on her television and DVD player and inserting the disc he had been clutching in his right hand.

“Going public! Why, Charles,” she said, eyebrows raised nearly off her forehead, “this sudden change of heart–it’s baffling. I think you owe me an explanation.”

“You’ll see.” He crumpled down beside her on the sofa and pressed ‘play’ on the remote control. “Just look what they did to poor Clive.”

“Clive? Who’s Clive?” said Madeleine.

But Charles must have taken the wrong DVD from his player at home, because when the screen came to life, it showed an image that the two of them had seen, and despaired over, many times:

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