(Parousia) To Light a Candle (5 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Now, some people, thinking on these events, might come to the conclusion that there’ll be some kind of reason Max’ll be able to come back.

Like:

Death’ll gallop through the sky on the last of days and Sid will reach up and seize him by the arm and pull him from the horse and down to shatter on the island below.

Crunch! Death will say, or at least emote, and Sid’ll steal Max’s life from him.

Or:

Somebody’ll find Max’s skin, just floating free on the chaos, and—because you shouldn’t waste a good skin—fill it up with booze. Then Max’ll show up, lookin’ all like Max, only he’s an ale-man now.

Or:

Spattle’s still got its hooks in everyone who’s ever been there.

Max can’t actually die.

He’s lived in Spattle.

Or maybe even:

Sid’ll buy some new luggage one day, you know, for traveling, and he’ll open it up, and there Max’ll be.

“Hey,” Max’ll say.

Hey, Sid says. Thought you were dead.

“It’s a special.”

And Max’ll indicate the display with his head, and it’ll turn out that it does in fact say, “Free resurrection with every suitcase; and luggage $179.99”

And maybe it’s just the kind of thing that happens, you know, eventually. People coming back.

The world’s really old, and it’s got a long future ahead of it.

We wouldn’t necessarily know.

So you could be reading this, you know, and come to the conclusion that there’ll be some reason, like a suitcase sale or a Spattling or a bit of a double thing, and Max’ll come back.

But that ain’t so.

Not exactly, anyway.

See, it’s an epiphany. It’s a mystery. It’s one of those things that’s like a seething well.

There ain’t no reason.

He just comes back.

It’s June 6, 2004, and he just comes back.

It’s like a candle lights, and suddenly where things were invisible, they are visible; and where things were inaudible, they’re audible; and the world fills out with the glistening blue and silver of the sea and the wind as it roars in the sky and the cold refreshing spray that generates when the waves strike against the brown-black rocks.

And the scattering of points and colors becomes the beach.

And swaying patterns become the sun, and the shadows, and the trees.

And there’s Max, right there, with a hangdog look, like he’s never been away.

Maybe someday it’ll be a little more explained.

You can get close to the truth, sometimes, even when there’s no truth to be had.

So maybe we’ll get a bit of explanation here, a bit of explanation there.

But not a reason, not whole and entire.

Some things in this world ain’t ever really explained.

Like:
People always fight the things they love.

I would hug you, says Sid.

A mirrored shape flicks out to show him his own form, and the terrible perplexities and sharpness of it, and why that isn’t necessarily a very good idea. And he can see the darkness that weaves through him, too: for siggorts, like most things that aren’t Max, are terribly, terribly easy to cut.

Max looks up.

“You’re real,” he says.

Like Sid’s the one who shouldn’t be there. Like Sid’s the one who, last we checked, wasn’t in the world.

And there’s a drop of chaos on Max’s face, under the shadow of his hair, and his eyes are brown and deep.

Hesitantly, he says, “Did you—“

Sid cuts him.

Not much. Just a tiny bit, to get the blood he needs, to get a flake of flesh. And he can tell that Max is yielding it, not suffering it, because just this once Max isn’t hard to cut.

He should probably have asked.

But he didn’t; and Max lets it be.

“Did you—“

Sid begins to make the body of him, from flesh and blood and clay, and he says, Did I?

Max gropes for words.

“I figure,” Max says, “That Ii Ma said something like, ‘How can you live with somebody else’s guilt?'”

There is the rushing withdrawing of water and then the roaring of a wave.

“And ‘walk in like you own the place’ doesn’t quite work on that one.”

No, Sid agrees.

He’s almost got the body put together. They’re fast workers, siggorts. It’s the hundred hands.

“So—did you—“

Of course, Sid says.

Then he opens up the body of him and he pours himself into its core and he closes the hollow of the entrance with a hook of him, all Sid-like, snap.

And Max stands there for a long time looking at him, while Sid dresses himself with pants and socks and shirts and stuff that drift in from the sea.

“How?”

He means: Can we . . . fix things? Is it okay now? Is it okay, even though I’m not still dead?

Because he’s a sharp one, Max, and he knows that must’ve been an answer Sid was using for a while.

Is it okay?

Can broken things be remade?

And Sid can hear these questions in his voice; and they’re not the only questions Sid can hear.

How can you forgive him? whispers the voice of Ii Ma, like it always does.

How can you forgive him? Ii Ma asks.

And Sid gives this great big smile like the morning of the world, and he kicks away a cardboard box drifting upwards from the sea, and he says, “Because I’d like to.”

Nothing more; nothing less.

“Because I’d rather,” he explains.

Because we make our own judgments, light and dark, and they are our servants—

Not the other way around.

The Island of the Centipede
Fin.

25 thoughts on “(Parousia) To Light a Candle (5 of 5)

  1. Now the long version:

    In one sense, it’s a mystery as to why Max returns when he does; in another, it’s not. It’s like Kairos instead of Chronos time. One thing I hadn’t realized until just now is that all three classic terms for literary emotional effects — kairosis, kenosis, catharsis — also have associated religious meanings.

    For the last entry, the one where Max is floating in universal joy, with no one to talk to — I started writing a comment in which I was trying to phrase, without being mean, how this seemed wrong as the appropriate happy end for Max. Not because lovers aren’t sometimes seperated by sudden ends — that happens all the time. But because Max’s previous “happy end” was the antithesis of love, which antithesis I take to be not suffering, but disconnection. That’s where most of the “people fight what they love” is from; once people start to have an actual relationship with their loved one, they experience stubborn disagreements. If love is a transforming force, and if two entities love each other, that can look a lot like a fight. That’s why Nirvana never quite appealed to me; compassion isn’t love (well, Buddism includes loving-kindess, but not relatedness of the sort in which two actually different entities affect each other).

    But, I thought, I trust that the last 5 of 5 entry will hold something else; I should wait until I see what that is. So I did, and so I don’t have to write that comment after all, for which I am glad. (Or rather, I can sort-of-write it in summary, on the way towards saying Yay! for this temporary end.)

    It’s interesting that so much of this turns out to have been a story about judgement, when I saw it as a story about love. Max did do something that I would judge to be very wrong, but his motives did not seem really abusive. When I criticized Max’s depicted actions in setting out to “cure” Sid in the same terms as those in which he set out to “harm” him — criticizing both in terms of not first asking Sid what he wanted, rather than acting for what Max thought that Sid should want — there was a reply, in Letters, envisioning a doctor who must amputate a wounded limb on a battlefield and their patient waking up afterwards and asking how doctors are different than soldiers. If intention matters, then judgement that Max’s action was bad is fully compatible with forgiveness, because his intention wasn’t that bad. Of course, even if Max’s intentions had been bad, Sid could have chosen to forgive him if he’d rather. But then there’s the question of why he’d rather. The general answer to that has to do with Sid not crippling himself. But that doesn’t lead to love for the forgiven person, just a needed seperation.

  2. Now the long version:

    In one sense, it’s a mystery as to why Max returns when he does; in another, it’s not. It’s like Kairos instead of Chronos time. One thing I hadn’t realized until just now is that all three classic terms for literary emotional effects — kairosis, kenosis, catharsis — also have associated religious meanings.

    For the last entry, the one where Max is floating in universal joy, with no one to talk to — I started writing a comment in which I was trying to phrase, without being mean, how this seemed wrong as the appropriate happy end for Max. Not because lovers aren’t sometimes seperated by sudden ends — that happens all the time. But because Max’s previous “happy end” was the antithesis of love, which antithesis I take to be not suffering, but disconnection. That’s where most of the “people fight what they love” is from; once people start to have an actual relationship with their loved one, they experience stubborn disagreements. If love is a transforming force, and if two entities love each other, that can look a lot like a fight. That’s why Nirvana never quite appealed to me; compassion isn’t love (well, Buddism includes loving-kindess, but not relatedness of the sort in which two actually different entities affect each other).

    But, I thought, I trust that the last 5 of 5 entry will hold something else; I should wait until I see what that is. So I did, and so I don’t have to write that comment after all, for which I am glad. (Or rather, I can sort-of-write it in summary, on the way towards saying Yay! for this temporary end.)

    It’s interesting that so much of this turns out to have been a story about judgement, when I saw it as a story about love. Max did do something that I would judge to be very wrong, but his motives did not seem really abusive. When I criticized Max’s depicted actions in setting out to “cure” Sid in the same terms as those in which he set out to “harm” him — criticizing both in terms of not first asking Sid what he wanted, rather than acting for what Max thought that Sid should want — there was a reply, in Letters, envisioning a doctor who must amputate a wounded limb on a battlefield and their patient waking up afterwards and asking how doctors are different than soldiers. If intention matters, then judgement that Max’s action was bad is fully compatible with forgiveness, because his intention wasn’t that bad. Of course, even if Max’s intentions had been bad, Sid could have chosen to forgive him if he’d rather. But then there’s the question of why he’d rather. The general answer to that has to do with Sid not crippling himself. But that doesn’t lead to love for the forgiven person, just a needed seperation.

  3. Oh, and getting back to what’s important, Max’s next line is clearly “Hey Sid, why did you wait to put on all those clothes before you hugged me?” :)

  4. I find it interesting, to say the least, that Death and Sid both talk in boldface without quote marks.

  5. Having just registered in order to post a response to this part of the story, I’m now left trying to decide what exactly to post.

    In the absence of divinely inspired words, how about I just settle for “That was really, really cool”?

  6. It’s interesting how the answers to Il Ma’s questions seem to be rather simple, and obscured primarily by perspective.

    I think that the questions of Ii Ma trap people by redefining them; Just as demons teach acceptance and footsoldiers question pie, people within the place with no recourse fail to answer the question.

    I’m not sure that any of the answers we’ve seen have been answers in the sense that “What is 2+2” can be answered by “4”. Instead, they are dismissals. The way out of Ii Ma’s domain appears to be to deny that the question needs to be answered.

    Given this, I think it is unsurprising that so few people escape Ii Ma. The questions are well chosen, and it’s hard to change your priorities to end the trap.

    Places without recourse really do suck.

  7. I think Micheal’s right.

    This is really the answer I thought of, and I thought “Max is Dead” was a good enough reason to forgive someone too.

    But if li Ma’s question prevents you from doing the right thing, then that makes the whole story more palatable.

    so often whe I am being creative, there is an idea that skirts the edges of my mind… i immediately decide that it is wrong and even an instant later, before the idae was even expressed consciously and i want to know why it’s wrong, the idea is already there.

    I find that the same thing can happen when people tell me things… sometimes ideas just seem so wrong you can’t even think them.

    If li Ma’s question can do that… that’s pretty scary.

  8. Ii Ma’s questions, it seems to me, prevent you from being you. The answer, it seems to me, always involve being yourself anyway.

  9. I don’t quite agree, bv728. For example, Max pushed someone out of the way who was about to be asked a question, and heard their question instead. That question was “How could you betray your wife?”. If that person was the kind of person who wouldn’t feel guilty about betraying his wife in the first place, he would have been easily able to answer the question with “Because I felt like it” or some such. Ii Ma’s questions only have force because of the person being questioned’s own value system, negative feelings, etc., which are as much a part of them as anything else is.

    Ii Ma’s questions seem to turn self-judgements against the people who make them. That’s the point of the conclusion “we make our own judgments, light and dark, and they are our servants— Not the other way around.” But it’s still a struggle to reevaluate the self-judgement, or, it seems to me, that that is an unavoidable part of not being a sociopath.

  10. Keep in mind Ii Ma himself isn’t, which lends further support to rpuchalsky’s interpretation. Ii Ma works to trap people by revealing their self-contradictions; the way to free yourself is to resolve the contradiction in a satisfactory way. (And the Buddhist way has been called a way to resolve these contradictions, which shows you where Tara comes in at.)

    Sid wanted to forgive Max of something he felt was unforgivable. Sid’s resolution of the matter was that anything is forgivable if you wish to forgive.

  11. Point. Ii Ma being an isn’t would mean that it can’t create the questions, only point out a situation that already exists.

    Which would imply that all of the people trapped in the place with no recourse are trapped by their own choices.

    Which fits with Ii Ma being a dark mirror of Martin, but I still find it incredibly unsettling.

    I’m not sure that I want to find out what happens if Ii Ma becomes an is.

    On a happier note, this entire arc was very good, but much as I like the long story arcs, I am looking foward to the resumption of individual legends.

    Also, I can’t help but think that this:

    siggorts, like most things that aren’t Max, are terribly, terribly easy to cut.

    would go some way to explaining siggorts, if I was thinking more.

  12. “I’m not sure that I want to find out what happens if Ii Ma becomes an is.”

    I think that we’ve been told what happens, actually, or we have a good idea. To quote the monster from “The Fable of the Lamb (1 of 2)”, talking about what Martin can do:

    “This is what Jane has. She has a creature that can breach the boundary and make gods real. He can manifest dharma. If he sends to us a killing god, there are none of us safe. Conversely, should he manifest Ii Ma, then we may imprison any man we choose, without recourse, without jurisdiction, without protection. We would simply speak a man’s name, and Ii Ma would take him away.”

    The monster could be wrong, of course — I imagine that monsters usually are wrong — but there is the implication that if Ii Ma became real, self-contradictions would no longer be necessary for imprisonment. The Place Without Recourse would become much more like the actual prison of a totalitarian state; it wouldn’t matter what you had or hadn’t done. And there would be no chance of an answer that you could give that would get you out, unless the controllers of the prison decided to let you out.

  13. I don’t have much to add here, except – Wow! That is lovely, and awe inspiring.

    Don’t mind me, I’ll be over here applauding for a while.

  14. Also, I can’t help but think that this:

    siggorts, like most things that aren’t Max, are terribly, terribly easy to cut.

    would go some way to explaining siggorts, if I was thinking more.

    It seems as if introspection might be a very dangerous pastime for siggorts to engage in…

  15. Pingback: Upside Down | Locke Murray

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