Early in my youth I found I had a certain predilection which, to me, felt quite natural and even wonderful, but to others – my father, mother, brothers, friends, teachers, clergy, grandparents – my predilection did not seem natural or wonderful at all, but perverse and shameful, and hence I suffered: must I deny my predilection, and marry, and doom myself to a certain, shall we say, dearth of fulfillment? I wished to be happy (as I believe all wish to be happy), and so undertook an innocent – well, a rather innocent – friendship with a fellow in my school. But we soon saw that there was no hope for us, and so (to race past a few details, and stops-and-starts, and fresh beginnings, and heartfelt resolutions, and betrayals of those resolutions, there, in one corner of the, ah, carriage house, and so on), one afternoon, a day or so after a particularly frank talk, in which Gilbert stated his intention to henceforth ‘live correctly’, I took a butcher knife to my room and, after writing a note to my parents (I am sorry, was the gist), and another to him (I have loved, and therefore depart fulfilled), I slit my wrists rather savagely over a porcelain tub.

Feeling nauseous at the quantity of blood and its sudden percussive redness against the whiteness of the tub, I settled myself woozily down on the floor, at which time I – well, it is a little embarrassing, but let me just say it: I changed my mind. Only then (nearly out the door, so to speak) did I realize how unspeakably beautiful all of this was, how precisely engineered for our pleasure, and saw that I was on the brink of squandering a wondrous gift, the gift of being allowed, every day, to wander this vast sensual paradise, this grand marketplace lovingly stocked with every sublime thing: swarms of insects dancing in slant-rays of August sun; a trio of black horses standing hock-deep and head-to-head in a field of snow; a waft of beef broth arriving breeze-borne from an orange-hued window on a chill autumn—

roger bevins iii

 

Sir. Friend.

hans vollman

 

Am I – am I doing it again?

roger bevins iii

 

You are.

Take a breath. All is well.

I believe you are somewhat alarming our new arrival.

hans vollman

 

Many apologies, young sir. I only meant, in my way, to welcome you.

roger bevins iii

 

Feeling ‘nauseous at the quantity of blood’, you ‘settled yourself woozily down on the floor’ and ‘changed your mind’.

hans vollman

 

Yes.

Feeling nauseous at the quantity of blood and its sudden percussive redness against the whiteness of the tub, I settled myself woozily down on the floor. At which time I changed my mind.

Knowing that my only hope was to be found by one of the servants, I stumbled to the stairs and threw myself down. From there, I managed to crawl into the kitchen—

Which is where I remain.

I am waiting to be discovered (having come to rest on the floor, head against the stove, upended chair nearby, sliver of an orange peel against my cheek), so that I may be revived, and rise, and clean up the awful mess I have made (Mother will not be pleased), and go outside, into that beautiful world, a new and more courageous man, and begin to live! Will I follow my predilection? I will! With gusto! Having come so close to losing everything, I am freed now of all fear, hesitation, and timidity, and, once revived, intend to devoutly wander the earth, imbibing, smelling, sampling, loving whomever I please; touching, tasting, standing very still among the beautiful things of this world, such as, for example: a sleeping dog dream-kicking in a tree-shade triangle; a sugar pyramid upon a blackwood tabletop being rearranged grain-by-grain by an indiscernible draft; a cloud passing ship-like above a rounded green hill, atop which a line of colored shirts energetically dance in the wind, while down below in town, a purple-blue day unfolds (the muse of spring incarnate), each moist-grassed, flower-pierced yard gone positively mad with—

roger bevins iii

 

Friend.

Bevins.

hans vollman

 

‘Bevins’ had several sets of eyes  All darting to and fro  Several noses  All sniffing  His hands (he had multiple sets of hands, or else his hands were so quick they seemed to be many) struck this way and that, picking things up, bringing them to his face with a most inquisitive

Little bit scary

In telling his story he had grown so many extra eyes and noses and hands that his body all but vanished  Eyes like grapes on a vine  Hands feeling the eyes  Noses smelling the hands

Slashes on every one of the wrists.

willie lincoln

 

The newcomer sat on the roof of his sick-house, staring down in wonder at Mr Bevins.

hans vollman

 

Occasionally stealing an amazed glance over at you, sir. At your considerable—

roger bevins iii

 

Come now, no need to speak of—


hans vollman

 

The other man (the one hit by a beam)  Quite naked  Member swollen to the size of  Could not take my eyes off

It bounced as he

Body like a dumpling  Broad flat nose like a sheep’s

Quite naked indeed

Awful dent in the head  How could he walk around and talk with such a nasty—

willie lincoln

 

Presently we found ourselves joined by the Reverend Everly Thomas.

hans vollman

 

Who arrived, as he always arrives, at a hobbling sprint, eyebrows arched high, looking behind himself anxiously, hair sticking straight up, mouth in a perfect O of terror. And yet spoke, as he always speaks, with the utmost calmness and good sense.

roger bevins iii

 

A newcomer? said the Reverend.

I believe we have the honor of addressing a Mr Carroll, Mr Bevins said.

The lad only looked at us blankly.

hans vollman

 

The newcomer was a boy of some ten or eleven years. A handsome little fellow, blinking and gazing cautiously about him.

the reverend everly thomas

 

Resembling a fish who, having washed ashore, lies immobile and alert, acutely aware of its vulnerability.

hans vollman

 

Putting me in mind of a nephew of mine who had once fallen through the ice of the river and come home chilled to the bone. Fearful of his punishment, he had not the nerve to step inside; I found him leaning against the door for what warmth he could gain in that way, stunned, guilty, nearly insensate with cold.

roger bevins iii

 

No doubt you are feeling a certain pull? Mr Vollman said. An urge? To go? Somewhere? More comfortable?

I feel I am to wait, the boy said.

It speaks! said Mr Bevins.

the reverend everly thomas

 

Wait for what? Mr Sheep-Dumpling said.

My mother, I said. My father. They will come shortly. To collect me  Mr Sheep-Dumpling shook his head sadly  His member also shook  Sadly

They may come, said the many-eyed man. But I doubt they will collect you.

Then all three laughed  With much clapping of the many-eyed man’s many hands  And waggling of Mr Sheep-Dumpling’s swollen member  Even the Reverend laughed  Though, laughing, he still looked frightened

In any event, they will not stay long, said Mr Sheep-Dumpling.

All the while wishing themselves elsewhere, said the many-eyed man.

Thinking only of lunch, said the Reverend.

It is soon to be spring  The Christmas toys barely played with  I have a glass soldier whose head can turn  The epaulettes interchangeable  Soon flowers will bloom  Lawrence from the garden shed will give us each a cup of seeds

I am to wait  I said

willie lincoln

 


George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo

The above is an excerpt from Lincoln in the Bardo, published by Bloomsbury UK and Audible UK. Available to buy now from Audible, Bloomsbury and Amazon.

Photograph © Des D. Mona

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