too many islands





Prison suited Smith. He felt at home. He felt persecuted. It was just as he always imagined.


Apart from the noise. It was noisy. And the bustle. And the temperature. And the smell. Smith had never imagined that smell. Nor the hunger. But of course he would be hungry. It was a punishment. And he hadn’t eaten since this morning. But Smith’s deeply ingrained sense that he was right was sharper than ever. He was right, and that was his great comfort in these trying times.


Not that there was anything particularly trying about sitting still in a concrete walled cell (There were three walls of concrete, the wall he faced was in fact a wall of metal bars, just as you’d expect to find in a police detention cell.). It could have been boring though. It would have been unbearable if you were the kind of person who couldn’t bear it. It could have been awful. It could have been too much. It could have been it. That’s it. No more. But Smith wasn’t unduly perturbed. As always, he had his thoughts to occupy him, so many thoughts: the shape of a fish, the size of a square mile, his mother’s wrists, the capital of Mexico, the colour and rhythmic movement of water in the ship canal, the eyes of a shark, the sound of a gun shot in the movies, the texture of freshly cut wood, the time it takes to walk to the city centre, the number of players on a rugby team, the way a penguin walks, the colour of her hair, the summer solstice, a table and six chairs, the longest river in the world, the number of dogs in the city, the colour yellow, baseball caps, the shape of newspaper articles, illuminated windows, plastic bags, Venetian blinds, the number of prepositions, medium wave signals, glass place mats, four yucca plants, digestive biscuits, magnolia paint, the amount of bubbles in a pint of larger, newspaper print, light bulbs, silver cars and the number forty-four.


Also there were his more abstract thoughts, which intermingled with these concrete thoughts: the essence of existence, the soul of a bird, the nature of morality, the good life, beauty, the square root of twenty four, the meaning of a word, truth, free will, fatalism, evil, determinism, survival of the fittest, perfection, time, nature, the universe, life, the beginning, god, zero, the peak of perfection, gravity, heterodoxy, electromagnetism, fundamentalism, longitude, singularity, monotheism, insight, twenty-three degrees, infinity, death, addiction and the ineluctable modality of the visible.


Did any of these thoughts, either concrete or abstracts, originate in his sensory experience of the jail cell? No.


The following were Smith’s sensory experiences over this time period: The clinking of something, the colour of naked concrete, the feeling of emptiness in his stomach, the indistinct shouting of a number of words, the manner in which the metal bars cut across his view of the fourth concrete wall running along the corridor, a series of loud bangs, the coldness of the air against his face, the sound of a door opening, it clanging shut, the eerie quality of the pale light, the flickering fluorescent light down the hallway, a faint mumbling from one or other of the cells to his right, an indistinct whispering from the left, the almost audible words now being whispered, the word “you”, the words “yes you”, the sight of a thin hand extended out from the where the bars at the front of his cell left a two inch gap with the concrete wall, the hand waving up and down, the sound of the words, harshly whispered: “Hey! What’s your name?” The thin hand turned upward as though lifting an invisible weight. The sound of a door opening and foot steps on the corridor. The hand disappearing. The appearance of a policeman, from the left, in profile. His disappearance, to the right. The sound of his footsteps continuing. Getting quieter. Getting louder. His reappearance, from the right. The sight of a policeman in profile. His disappearance to the right. The sound of his footsteps continuing. Getting quieter. The closing of the metal door with a bang. The appearance of a thin hand – its index finger pointing directly at him.


Twenty four metal bars, each two inches apart from the next, formed the furthest extent of his cell. Smith could look another six feet beyond them at the concrete wall at the other side of the corridor. The cell he was in was square, roughly six feet by six feet. There was a concrete shelf attached to the concrete wall opposite the bars. It wasn’t clear, from the distance Smith was looking, six feet, and because of the dim light, where the bars became the door he had been pushed through three hours before. Smith now doubted the existence of this door.


Just as Smith’s thoughts were acquiring this level of coherence, the thin hand appeared again and disrupted his thought process. The thin hand was accompanied by the whispered words “Get over here.” When accompanied by the idea of decay, the recollection of his phone number, the image of the back of his father’s neck and a faint feeling of jubilation, these sensory experiences failed to bed down into Smith’s understanding of the world. With the words “Quick.” and “I’ve got something for you.” also whispered, but with a greater sense of urgency, and with much more force, such that the words were no longer really whispered, but spat out exclamations, Smith reacted as though by reflex, stood up and approached the thin hand.


It was empty.


It was only when Oscar collected him from the police station early the next morning that Smith began to see how all of these seemingly unrelated memories, ideas, sensory impressions and feelings were related.


He told Oscar about the empty hand and the pointing finger.


“An empty hand, eh?” Oscar nodded. “And a pointing finger as well?”


“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Smith dared to ask.


“Yes,” Oscar dared to reply. “Yes,” he repeated with more certainty. “Yes. Yes I am. I’m thinking just that.”




“What you’re thinking… I’m thinking just what you’re thinking. You’re right. Whatever you’re thinking. Your idea. Your theory. I think you’re right. It couldn’t be anything else.”


Buoyed by having such confidence placed in him, at least buoyed to his normal levels of self-confidence, total confidence in his every idea, assumption and theory, his normal state of unconditional self-assurance, complete absence of self-doubt, absolute faith in his perception of the world, an inviolable picture which could never be tainted by misunderstanding or distortions borne of a faulty or incomplete perspective, so essentially buoyed, buoyed up, up high, crest of a wave, top of his game, up high looking down – Smith put into words the theory which had been coalescing in his mind over the last few hours:


“It’s him… the man with the… that man… he’s at the heart of this. It was his hand, his pointing finger, his voice whispering to me, trying to get to me, misdirecting me. The man who looks at clouds. The man who locked us in that room. Who escaped. It’s him. Of course it’s him. It has to be.”


“Yes,” Oscar almost shouted out. “It’s him.”


3 thoughts on “archipelago

  1. time to start rationing i think,,dont want you to get too excited,,this is the fourth comment in half an hour so i better stop until the next time,,

    this story has one of the best opening lines ever,,
    and some of the finest literary lists ever,,really
    really enjoyed that story,,thank you for sharing

    ps the lists are really excellent,,much more fun than milton,,my mother wrote grocery lists that were more fun than milton,,but i am not going to say that on carols thread,,thanks for the enema

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