[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]
The horizon divides the sea from the sky. In Sid’s tactical judgment, this is the world’s mistake. He skates a long chain-blade of him along its length and severs them, so that the sea and sky sag apart and show through them a great gap in the world.
He can feel the heat of the Good fluttering against the heart of him.
It is gummy; it is heavy; it slows the rotation of that one element of him, and speeds others, and binds that portion of him into the world.
It becomes hot where Sid is cold and cold where Sid is hot; actual where he is contemplative; metaphorical where he is real.
The gaze of the Good twists that part of him through the axis of accessibility of space.
He cuts it from himself.
He huddles in around the pain of it. It is a fragment, he tells himself: nothing more.
The way that the sea air tastes one way on one morning and a different way on another: a tactical weakness. A rusty, hooked, and sensitive knife of him cuts along it.
The eye of the Good turns to that gap.
It stares into the emptiness; and a portion of it is lost.
He sees something.
He is starting to see something. It flickers at the edge of his consciousness: the heart of the Good, tilted ninety degrees from the rest of it at the end of an infinite sequence of approximations to the real.
He cleans his flensing blades and lets rust drift down onto the surface of the sea.
It is capable of an error, he calculates: a tactical weakness.
There is room between the truth of the thing and its image in the eyes of the Good to insert the thinnest of his blades; and to cut in a great fractal arc along the length of that gap until he reaches its heart.
But first there’s a man.
There’s a man, standing on a boat, in the middle of the surging sea.
There’s a man staggering in the icy wind and waving a knife of melomid skin and shouting up at Sid, “You wanna go?”
He tastes like Max.
Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.
There is a darkness between the pieces of this man.
The Buddha put it thus: anatman.
A man is not the hand and a man is not the eye. A man is not the torso or the limbs. A man is none of these various parts. So when we say that we see a man, such as Max, in the world, we do not describe the physical existence of a thing. We describe instead a particular and contingent assemblage of parts.
What does this description mean?
It is, argues the Buddha, a filter created by our own mind and imposed upon the world, which we then confuse for real. It is an aggregate of misconceptions. It is not possible that in composing our idea of a man, such as Max, that we are accurate even in the moment.
It is not accurate even in the moment; and with the passage of time, its accuracy inevitably degrades.
That is why Sid sees not the man but his gaps. That is why it is practical to see not the man but his gaps.
For the most part that which one might think of as “Max” is not really there.
There is a darkness between the pieces of the man. There is an emptiness. There is no observer who can see more in Max than an aggregate of misconceptions paired with a function of surprisal that is in all practical respects computationally random.
For some time, Sid has refrained from chopping Max into little pieces, but that’s not because it’s difficult.
Red Mary’s proven it.
So has Ii Ma.
So, in the long run, has life itself.
Chopping Max into little pieces is actually pretty easy.
The miracle, really, is that it doesn’t happen more often.
It is the Latter Days of the Law
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.
Max is dead.
It is a fragile line of truth in a universe of confusion. It is the knowledge that keeps Sid sane.
How can you forgive him? Ii Ma had asked.
He is dead. He is dead. And for another thing, Sid says, flaring with the fire of his dharma, Max is dead.
Max is dead, torn apart, severed from the pieces of himself and scattered through the sea.
And with Head Island so near—
Head Island, teeming with angry skandhas, most terribly easily mistaken for a man—
He cannot rely on evidence to the contrary.
Max is shouting, but Max is dead, and the particular conglomeration of circumstances that produced him in this world will not recur.
And so Sid is angry, not happy, to hear the voice of the man. He is angry and he is hurt and he knows the most marvelous anodyne for that pain.
A black thorned wire of Sid comes down to cut through the darkness inside of Max.
The history of Mr. Kong shifts in Max’s hand; it turns the wire aside.
The knives of Sid burst forth from the sea like the tendrils of a beast; and the history cuts sideways and blocks two, three, four, but not the fifth.
He cuts through the man.
He hooks into the man.
He seizes up the man and stares into him and the world beats with the tempo of his angry breath.
Max’s left hand closes around the point of a curved and rusty knife. He shifts his right arm over a wire of Sid for leverage; and by chance or planning, he catches a leaf of Good between his shoulder and the wire, so that for a moment it does not cut.
He twists the knife sharply, as if it were Sid’s kneecap.
The sound from Sid is like the shriek of startled birds.
Through the space occupied by Max’s torso, a sleeting of sharp edges flies.
The grip of Sid releases.
For a lingering moment, Sid is quite still.
Then he sunders the air, he cuts the sky, he makes a thunder with his wings, he falls on Max like vultures, like lightning, like the rain. A rumble builds in him, like a purr, like a roar, like the blast of an engine, to shudder the world apart.
A drop of blood floats free.
But it is as if Sid has cut the air between two lovers, or the space between two/words.
In that place, in that moment, under the eyes of Good and drawn together by Red Mary when once scattered far apart, the pieces that make up Max are holding together not by assertion but by choice.
He is not the blood and he is not the bone; not the hand and not the eye; not the flowering rain of red but the dharma: Max.
He holds himself together.
He seizes a bundle of wires of Sid.
Without looking at the hideous gap of the horizon or the burning eye of the Good, he vents a great-voiced shout and he twists the siggort in his grip and he drags the siggort down into the sea.