All those holes, he said, they show them from the top, why not ever from below? You think it’s chance that the world is perforating?
‘What do you want?’ I said.
He looked at me curiously. Stand with you, he said. You were right to leave. Want to know what you know. Our course is set. He reached for my face and I didn’t pull away. Time, he said. You’re hunted. I can explain.
He prodded my forehead. His fingertips were so soft being touched by him was like remembering being touched. All the dust on the brim stood up in little stalagmites, craning to see.
He took hold of his own right hand with his left, gripped and twisted and pulled and he tugged the skin of his hand. It came. It tore. It turned inside out as he pulled it away. I heard noises from my own throat. He uncovered his fingerbones. There was a spurt of dust. His bones were dry. They dropped onto the carpet. He patted the air with one whole hand and one sand-dry open stump spilling dust and bones.
One didn’t kill him, he said. This man. He touched his chest. His right arm was thinning, the skin slackening. He loved us, and invited one into his home and we recruited him after he died so he gave us his body.
The bones of his forearm fell out of the dry skin with two thumps. I breathed shallow and fast. The air of the room was thick with the dust of him now. His body was lessening. He diminished, sank into collapsing legs. I listened to the scratch of whatever approached my smashed-glass trap. ‘Just leave me alone,’ I tried to say, ‘you can’t make me come—’
You must, he said. Everything comes to this. His face sunk in, a loose rag around a skull.
It was the dust speaking. It blew through my books like a dry storm, investigated crevices and took the shapes of the stairs. It rustled by my ears as if it was making words. On the hat’s brim the dust jumped up and flew into its co-matter. My eyes and throat and lungs wept. Swirling through the puffs of my laboured breaths handfuls of dust funneled back into the old man just enough to plump his lips and tongue and rattle around the throat and give it a dusty voicebox, so the skin whispered to me, Don’t try not to breathe, comrade. Breathe deep.
I couldn’t have resisted. It could have just drowned me drily. All I could smell was desiccation. I told myself I had no choice but in a situation like that the choice you have is how you go about not having a choice.
I inhaled the dust. In it rushed.
My body must have thought I was dying. Probably I was writhing and twitching alongside the old skin.
I envisage the dust tickling my synapses until they quiver. It gave me new thinking. The dust thought for me, drumming against my tympani. So I have this dilemma. What I’m trying to tell you – for which you may not thank me – is that the dust was and is my comrade. So it’s yours too. It was there not only in gratitude but in solidarity.
A move into the longue durée. A politics that could chide the Annales School for a skittish short-term optic, for which the sound of struggle is the crepitus of one landmass against another.
Dissenting dust expounded its position.
Cycles of geological insurrection. Vaalbara, prelapsarian collectivity of stone and surface, Kenorland and Pangea, peace becoming war; the rage of the gap at the unbreached, totalities torqued apart over mere glimmering millions of years. A savaging of scale, Triassic wars of position as Gondwanaland and Laurasia rounded in ruthless continental pugilism, their own components in solidarity, plateaus heaving, shale slipping as masses, subject-objects of history, scree in struggle against the bottomness of holes. A primitive communism of granularity, grassroots democracy before there was grass or roots or anything but hot dirt, until at last there were birds and an epoch of walls.
We are Jillies and Jonnies come lately to insurgency. The coal on the blackleg’s legs was taking sides long before the meat beneath it. My body was spasming.
Clods with agency as opaque as their substance. Crumbling as syndicalism, the ca’canny of quartz. Flint ultraleftism; dirt voluntarism; glass struggle; regroupment of rock orienting to freedom.
Slime against the dry, tooth versus stone in the mysteries of the organism, a baroque new fascism of flesh. The dust remembered onslaughts of the bodied, shock troops of blood-and-sinewed reaction against the revolutionary unliving.
No sides are uncontested. These are traditions not givens. There’s a civil war in water, I’m animal disloyal to mainstream quick and it, one, is dissident dust: not even all dirt is revolutionary.
And even for those that are, among the radicals of all matter, there’s always an uchi-geba, a brutal faction fight.
I hauled back to my body hard enough that I screamed and vomited dust.
More, I coughed.
Yes, it said, refilling the skin to whisper with the lips. But get up. They’re here.
I looked at his hands. A revenant is reverberating in the landmasses, I thought. The room twitched again and the man the dust wore wobbled.
In the dimly orange city I could see nothing but I heard faint animal noises. I thought of inflated things bobbing behind the trees. What do they want, I thought of saying — and of him answering, Tangles of allegiance, they’re loyalist. I swayed myself like my grinding room, my head full of thoughts of dirigible animals rising and biting the dark, a collaboration of animal and air, angry at dust’s patience, dogs puffed up, cats made fat.
Quick, he said. With me, he said. He made me blink. The walls vacillate, he said dismally. Architecture’s always centrist.
I said, he said, we must go.
Down into a tunnel to a Cornish tin mine, I thought. I’d go anywhere.
I thought about the denigrated dialectics of nature. I thought about the falling rate of prophecy. The house continued its interrupted collapse.
The man in the dusty hat hauled open the door and I heard a hiss.
Crouching in the crook of a tree above us, hunkered in his jacket, hunch-shouldered between crooked knees like a chimpanzee about to hurl its shit, the History Man pointed at us. He bared and chattered his teeth. Before us, there where the falling house had shepherded us, was the grey cadre.
Now it was clear to me that it was ash inside the woman, the loyalist ruin. She looked at me in a burnt-out triumph.
I moved back as the dust and ash raised their hands and almost politely interlaced fingers to stand still again. Why would particulate fight like people? They began to quiver.
The falling-down house blared. I ducked but the billowing of pulverised bricks would not interrupt this battle. I tried to pull the old man away but he was immobile. I pushed the grey woman with no more success. Above us the History Man bayed. My top floor fell in on itself. My house began to fold.
When I put my hands on the skins I felt the grate of ash against the minute gears of dust. Through everyday abrasions, from tiny cuts and under scabs, they swirled into each other, an in-skin war. The figurehead of my old leadership gibbered at me from the denuded tree.
I panicked but my panic had nothing to do. It ebbed.
At last I sat cross-legged with my back to the dust and ash and watched the sky. A thousand miles away the earth buckled and a mountainside was rising like a huge razorwire, making thermals for the birds.
There was a howl from the branches and I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up into the dry eyes of the body that the old man had given to our comrade, the dust.
The ash hack was gone. I could not see even any skin. I don’t know how ash dies or if it wakes up again after it has died.
The old man put on his dusty hat. I could hear the sounds of the History Man’s terror. When we were gone he would be pulled out, I knew with dream-certainty, dangling beneath battered animals inflated on the gases of rot.
The dust said to me, You see you can’t stay.
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