“.SUMMONS.”: KILL CHRISTIAN novel excerpt & audio by Pablo D’Stair

kill Christian finds itself the happy owner of several (perhaps meaningless, but nevertheless) distinctions in my career, so-called. Perhaps most interesting (to me, anyway) is that it is the first and only time I had gone more-than-a-year between writing novels and is also the only book to have a gap of more-than-a-year after its composition before another got cranking (really, it is the first and only book written with more-than-half-a-year between its closest kin and, really really, with more than ninety days). There isn’t any fascinating reason for this having been the case (indeed, I wrote some half-dozen or ten plays and a solid volume of poetry in those interims) but regardless seemed a good curio to start an introduction with …

… it also was to be the first Real Novel I wrote – finally ready to grab the I-write-literature bull by its horns and hook-or-crook be one of those People-of-Letters who because I revered I figured so did everyone …

… All this really means, if I’m being honest, is unlike October People (which was still steeped heavily in influence from writing plays previous and which more attempted an evoking of cinematic tone and interplay for a reader more than reading-like-a-book) or Confidant (which, while diverging more than holding to any of them, proudly wore its genre influences and participation-in-tropes as a badge of pride) it was the first time I said to myself ‘It’s not only fine if it’s boring but it’s supposed to be boring’ …

… Funny, because I find it anything but – indeed, considering that was part of my avowed thrust of conception it is alarming-not-boring – a bone fide flop! …

… And funny how whenever I had thought back on it over the years I would sigh to myself ‘I suppose it was a book where all of my influences really showed pretty flagrantly’ and would therefore quite expect to, upon re-read, find some kinda existentialist fan-fic, a motley version of techniques and scenography cribbed from novels French, Norwegian, and Portuguese just tarted up with the earnest brush of the early-twenties white-boy wannabe – the reality in preparing the volume for re-issue was to be confronted by the fact that while, yes, some dottings of novels I had encountered (and even knew I thought I was meaning to emulate with the piece) are subtly present, the text presents much more as the first stab of my own voice full throated (a concept and execution voiced more ‘D’Starian’ stem-to-stern) than I was prepared for (I want to say it reads like I could write it today … but, sadly, I think I may have lost a step and even with the same concept would fall far shy of the mark I hit back then, nowadays) …

… And I suppose the last distinction worth noting is it was the most protozoic version of my (which would last well through my next twenty novels very potently and which, to this day stands) notion that Audience must be treated entirely as an abstract – my first modest advancing of the idea that a novel should be written as though it is a translation of a novel from another tongue whose ideal audience would not be born for another two hundred years … whatever that means (at the time I wrote kill Christian, I certainly wasn’t really sure … but it sure sounded good and fancy to bellow in dive bars and, ah youth, back then that was all it took to be off to the races) …

… Enjoy …

 

 

.SUMMONS.

EVERYTHING WHEN HE WOULD WAKE seemed to be one color. Whether the lights were on or off. Whether he lingered in the covers or stood and moved across the hallway to the restroom. Whether he splashed water in his face or neglected to brush his teeth. He formed no theory about this, because it was only in those moments of dubious concentration when first waking that the colors seemed to have vanished. By the time he had been moving around for an hour roses were white and the tap was silver, the sky was whatever color the sky was that day. And when it struck him how the colors had been absent he was too immersed in them to remember things without them. These memories of his early mornings seemed contrived. Thinking of them first upset him and then caused him to become bored.
The morning correspondence would be waiting on the floor by the front door and even before properly dressing it was his habit to take it up. In an open pajama-coat and in an old pair of pants which he only used now for sleeping, he would slide the bundle of letters (a bundle because his postwoman was fond of tying the correspondence together with some bit of string) an inch or two along the tile floor and then take it up. He would sit to the morning-table where there was always a small pitcher of water (filled the night before) and he would undo the string and sort out the various pieces of post, according to their designations.
All of this was long ago habitual for him and it would upset him were the motions to alter. The small piles of differing importance made him feel comfortable. And also the activity in those first moments of morning (not even properly dressed) gave him a sense of youthful motion, something like zest. Because boredom would certainly have settled on him sometime the previous evening and would have been over him while he resisted sleep resisting it. He’d wake cloaked in uncaring. This is not to suggest he is a man who felt removed or distanced, as a rule. Quite the opposite. It was that (old as he was) boredom was a mood not so vagrant and easily regrettable as it had been even ten years before. Boredom suggested to him a definite pattern to things. And too many things, he thought, could be recognized in patterns. Habit navigated patterns. Habit gave him control, made where he may (in truth) be stuck feel, instead, simply where he dwelt.
The correspondence would remind him of certain things he may have lost track of. A card from the Bakery wishing him a Good Birthday would remind him of his birthday. A notice that some Invoice was past due would remind him he needed to pay. A salutation at a letterhead would remind him of his friendship to someone with whom contact remained quite inconstant. And things which he never knew would be mentioned as well, ringing from the bold letters of the living community’s newsletter headlines and the small cards showcasing various clothing now on sale. And he would read over whatever correspondence was there (often his feet would start itching because he wore socks when he slept and his feet would perspire) pouring a glass or two of water from the small pitcher that had been filled the night before.
When this particular notice (this Summons) arrived, and after he had opened it, it did take several moments for the matter to strike him in any noticeable, let alone any affecting way. He had hardly thought of his mother in years. And in those years, in what thoughts he had actually had (as best as he could recall), he had not thought of her as dead. His mother had been dead far too long for him to think of her as dead.
Reading it over twice, the Summons was quite an official thing. He was to travel (and by the evidence of various dates given in the document he would have to take up that very day) abroad to give evidence. This is how the Summons put it: Give Evidence. This sounded, at first, too official a thing. He immediately thought he should find an International Extension in the telephone directory, might explain to someone how he ought not come. He had no evidence, really, to give. He could explain, perhaps. And he considered how this may be all that was meant by the expression Give Evidence (and also how he may not even have known what he may have said that to another man may seem to be Evidence) and so decided he would go. If not to give evidence then to explain.
The pitcher of water was upset when he went to set it back down after having refilled his glass. Its contents (it had just then been still halfway filled) fell roughly to the floor, splashing and then seeping and then trickling along until the puddle became stationary. He re-read the Summons (the thing now palpably taking some toll on him) and did not move until he felt a persistent dampening of his sock fabric. He was chilled by the idea of having wet feet at such an early hour and so set the Summons down to the side of the other correspondence, found the rag he used to dry the dishes, then went to his knees, laying the thing out full over the spilt water. It was not large enough to absorb the entirety of the mess, but he no longer felt any desire to have the floor dried, anyway. Nor really could he recall having had a desire to dry the floor, at all. He sat back to his chair, looked back at the Summons and at the other correspondence on the morning-table, back at the pitcher still upset and somewhat lulling over the table edge, and back over his shoulder at his sitting room windows, the curtains drawn, just as he had left them the evening previous. He began removing his socks, one damp one not, his each foot seeming precisely as wet and cold, as dry and cold, as the other was.

 


 

FOR BREAKFAST THAT MORNING HE cooked several links of sausage he had bought nearly a week before, purchased with the thought in his head how, even then, the meat may have already gone off and the thought, also, that the heat from cooking it, whenever he cooked it, would do away with whichever health hazard there may be. He had dressed without showering and had shaved without also combing his hair.
It was long ago, but he had once so cultivated the desire to study words. He knew the etymology of the word breakfast (same as most everyone did). He knew how because he had eaten not only a meal the previous night but half-a-sandwich just before going to sleep (the other half discarded into the small trash-basin by the bed-table) it was a rather silly act, using the word, this morning. Other cultures had different expressions for the first meal of the day. But in spite of this desire he had once cultivated to know words and to wield them with a haughty propriety, he put the sausage between some bread and drank from a mug of warm tea, all the while thinking that like any other day he was Breakfasting.
He would not be reimbursed for the cost of travel. Though as this was at its base a familial obligation he should perhaps not be thinking in such terms. The cost of an airline ticket was not so much. The thing could also be made to appear a small holiday. There was a somber aspect to it which (he was no naïve when it came to the patterns of human thought in facing down certain unwelcome events) would strike at him more and more as the event grew nearer, but there was no reason to dress all in black and to walk around as though made of wormwood. It had been years (it had also been decades) since he had been to his home country. His destination was in a town he had never frequented but one which he knew from a surprisingly keen recollection of train schedules was only an hour’s jaunt from several places that took up the bulk of his youth. Even were the trains to have changed their schedules (though they would not have, he thought, standing and going to the counter for another slice of bread which he ate unadorned by sausage) a taxi-car could be hired, no bother to it. He could lump himself in a corner and watch the countryside of his childhood which would now have grown as old as he had but which would (he could imagine it no other way) remain unchanged.
The tea had a taste to it suggesting he had not rinsed the mug out very thoroughly. Only tea had ever been poured into this particular mug and so he did not, as he would have on other similar occasions involving different beverages, pour out the contents into the sink drain. Nor did he even stop drinking. And there were spots where the tea had stained the mug and where residue remained (chalky, the appearance of old puddles on the sidewalk drains) which he scratched at with his thumbnail. He looked to the teabag set to one side (near the now piled correspondence) drying out on a paper napkin. He picked it up (this he always enjoyed, the lukewarm feeling, the softness-with-weight of a dampened teabag) and licked the outside once. The taste was much stronger than the tea in his mug and he thought how he may just not have left the bag in for long enough. Or else may have added too much water. He set the teabag back to the spot he had lifted it from. He did not feel like standing just then or he would have crossed through the sitting room to draw open the curtains.
He finished off one of the sausages-in-bread left to his plate and occupied several moments with rubbing his eyes. As his fingers were greasy the action would never satisfy the itch, but the sensation was just pleasant enough and of no consequence, really, that he indulged in it and smiled as he did so. And then used the butt of his palms to finally rid himself of the feeling of grime, of residue, and turned his attention to a genuinely bothersome itch which had developed on his thigh.
He was letting this morning elongate itself. He was not at all the sort, not typically, to sit about his home for hours on end, avoiding thoughts, gluttoning over whatever base sensations his waking body might produce. Other people (what strange things some people intimate in random conversation) had told him how they loved to spend the whole morning just waiting for their bodies to void themselves of whatever materials had been left over from the previous day. Life did not begin for these people with the dawn, but with the luxuriant ease of standing from a satisfactory bowel movement they had furthermore sat atop of while finishing a crossword or some magazine article. They (one had told him) liked to watch the roils of the flushing toilet take away their waste while they idly turned open the faucet tap to wash their hands, their face, and to run over the paste on their toothbrush bristles.
His schedule for the day, though, had obviously been interrupted. He would not have his shoes shined, or if he did it would be anonymously done in an airport waiting lounge and without the genial conversation he’d enjoy at the news-stand, three blocks down. He would not attend a matinee of the municipal theatre’s presentation of a local man’s bedroom farce in four Acts. He would not enter shops only to walk back out having purchased nothing. He would not find pleasant surprise at unexpected conversations which may arise in elevators or at street-crossings. He would not belabor the memory of some joke he would think to tell to passingly amuse a young shop-woman, testing his courage in an approach she would really quite welcome and find innocent and something worth bringing up when she returned home in the evening and telephoned her niece. And so he would let his breakfast sit a long time, half-eaten, while he decided whether or not to eat any more of it. And he would leave the blinds drawn because he could indulge in the feeling of not wanting to stand.

 


 

IT WAS EASIEST TO PACK his socks. He chose these even before he had chosen what luggage he would utilize. He whisked them out of the drawer (he kept, as a habit, only two varieties of sock, these ones he lifted being a pair of the brown-and-argyle) where he kept his underthings, socks folded left-one into the right-one and balled. He took out seven pair at first and then added three more pair, piling them in no particular way on the unmade bedspread. There may have been some reason (official or otherwise) for him to stay on for awhile and so rather than go through the difficulty of having to wash out his socks each night he should think ahead, have plenty at the ready. He took these ten pair only though, as opposed to the fourteen pair that had been the original intention when thinking of taking more, because he decided that were he to stay on for more than ten days it would be better to wash out some socks than to have an accumulation of dirty ones.
When it came to his underclothes, he took only three pair of briefs and five undershirts. He could picture himself arranging these items in the bureau of whatever hotel he arrived at. The thought, the image, he felt, was somehow discouraging. The socks would need only be dropped into then closed into the drawers. His briefs he would have to fold and lay out as though they deserved some ceremony. And he would not really change them so very often, as he felt they scarcely became soiled after even several days of wear.
Everything would fit inside of two modest suitcases. The one had a latch which he had mended himself (in a rather impromptu way, if he recalled correctly) when it had unfastened and deposited a collection of souvenirs along streets grey with melted snow some time long ago. The other was rounded at its corners and black, textured and with a slight shimmer. This he had acquired on a trip (not on purpose) from an old acquaintance. Events had caused them to be parted from each other’s company several days early. He had wound up with the responsibility of keeping track of all of the luggage. When the two of them had met up again, this particular suitcase had been somehow set aside from the other and never returned.
He packed shirts and shirt-collars and shirt-cuffs. He packed one nice suit and then unpacked it as the thought had been somehow vaguely connected with the idea of appearing well at a funeral when this would certainly not be necessary. He packed a small sewing-kit to mend tears to pant-cuffs and buttons that may have fallen from the ends of unkempt threads. He did not pack a razor or shaving powder as these he had always enjoyed purchasing at a druggist or a tobacco-shop or else in the lobby-store of a hotel. He took also a pair of rather weather-beaten boots meant for hiking which (and before doing so he had serious doubts on the matter) he tried on and found still kept to his feet snuggly. The rains could become torrential, he knew. Roads could become impassable. Students would abandon their cars and play rugby in the soaking fields on the roadsides.
Though he could usually find conversation while traveling, he went through the labor of choosing from out of his collection some paperback volume he may have to resort to for entertainment or at the very least for distraction. And like he often found, this rather arbitrary decision took on a tiring proportion. He should merely have grabbed off any of the books, whichever he touched first, but a weight seemed attached to the choice, a duty which bored him and so he sat down in a chair a moment and put his face into his hands. He felt he certainly could have cried just then if he had honestly wanted to. He peeked from through some of his fingers at the books set to the shelf one up from the lowest. Three of these he had never read but had never been able to part with. They were yellowed with age. And he had only purchased them because a woman he had been intimate with had mentioned them in conversation (even then only obliquely). He had made love to her once and then she abruptly ended their liaison, for weeks leaving him confused, wanting to touch any item that had a familiarity or association to her. Her name had been the same as one of the authors, he seemed to recall. Or else her first name was the same as one of their surnames. Or her name may have been the same as the author of one of the books he had never found. And how he had wanted to die when one day without her had become two and two had become three and weeks had been months and he had slept in other lover’s beds and thought of her.
He took what he thought was the oldest (that is, the first he had purchased) of these books and set it in the black suitcase with the rounded corners. And he packed neckties and cufflinks. He packed an old deck of playing cards and a small notepad he had no desire to ever use. He never wrote when he traveled. Writing always seemed like stopping. When he traveled, he despised his handwriting and very nearly despised the written word. Though he loved to read signs and the slogans printed on business cards posted to bulletin-boards near faded restaurant menus. And he relished seeing some book by a writer he had never heard of in this or that store when he was away from home. As though it was only in that one shop in that one town such a book could be come across. He would often stare at covers and already feel haunted by the ghosts of not purchasing them, the thoughts that would travel away with him, the storylines he would concoct based on mere titles and cover illustrations.
He packed a dictionary (returning to the bookshelf but finding this volume easy to remove) abridged to a size allowing it could fall gently into one’s pant pocket. He packed some cord to use as extra shoelace in case there was a need. He packed a compass just because it had fallen out of the suitcase with the mended lock when he had first opened it.

 


 

THE WEATHER THAT MORNING (HE had not seen it through the drawn sitting-room curtains nor the bedroom window he had paid no attention to) was mild with a sky promising wind if not rain. There were clouds that would only, it seemed to him, drift when one’s attention wandered from them. The building windows did not reflect the sky but the scenes of the streets below them. This was something he had noted on other occasions and never investigated the physics of. For on some days when the sky had to it an imperceptible threat or beauty, it would be imprinted with a deep sense of permanence onto these windows. It would swallow up everything and the movement of clouds would lead only to the movement of clouds-in-reflection. On these days, thinking was inescapable and reminiscences would subjugate the present moment with violent longing. On these days, one would want only to touch the hand of a neighbor’s wife from thirteen years ago, one would want only to be sitting in a parlor café eating ice cream from some bowl four decades old. But this morning, as he set out with the Summons in coat pocket and his two suitcases, one to either hand, he wanted to remember nothing. Nor could he, save that the bus to the airport (a bus he had never taken but the station for which he knew all about from the yellow sign with green letters set across the street from a private dentist’s house-front) would be bound to arrive sometime within the hour. And if not that hour, then definitely within the next after.
The streets were relatively empty because he had stayed so much of the morning in his rooms. The people who did walk the street, this time of morning, he could not recognize by either their motions, their pauses, or the urgencies to their manners. They may have been the same people whose names he did not know, the individuals he would see on mornings when he did leave his rooms in a more timely fashion and for more civilized reason. He thought about a time when many more birds than there were now must have nested in the trees lining the road. That time may not have been, may have been something which would occur yet in the future. And he had not used the restroom before stepping out of his door and needed (though not urgently) to do so. He would tend to it in one of the large, pristine facilities at the airport. An attendant would brush his shoulders with a sort of unease while he washed his face, careful not to wet his shirt-cuffs. No matter how many times the attendant approached a man to brush his shoulders, there must always be some hesitation, a feeling how ‘This Man will be the one who takes offense to this, at last, the one who is somehow not at all familiar with the custom and so will go stiff at my bristles attention to his coat fabric.’
A wind did develop, then, and a woman who had been bent forward slightly to see into a window stood straight and pressed her hands once or twice over the material of her dress where it had billowed but still in no way threatened to reveal the shape of even the outside of her legs. She turned and saw him looking at her, seemed to pause, perhaps half-alarmed and half-amused by the few strands of his greyed hair being held upright and then swaying to his scalp as the wind, for a moment, died away.
He saw what he thought was the bus he had been waiting for turn a corner and then another and he listened to the report of its brakes and the start of its motor, knowing it had stopped completely and was starting again only with some bother. He stood up but did not grip his suitcases. The bus could be another quarter-of-an-hour in arriving to judge by the street it had turned down. He wanted to walk, though, and so circled the bench, straightening his hair to his scalp (somewhat moist from the perspiration of waiting) every time the wind issued and faded out. If it did not rain, the air would grow damp and the temperature warmer. Too warm. Oppressive. This was the way such matters worked. And there would be a persistent heat from a bleating sun hidden by the clouds moving overhead to the fancy of the wind. And the clouds would grow as white as they could while still maintaining their grey and the grey its uncomfortable silver due to the heat of the suppressed light.
And now the idea that they may actually want some specific evidence occupied him. It might not be just a general going-over of events they would require. They had not really insisted he come down in person, the more he turned over the language of the Summons. Though such a thing was, from their point-of-view (taking into consideration the weight of the matter and its particulars), a thing which went really without saying. They would want him to have a look at the man. They would want him to hear the man’s voice. To corroborate things the man had said to them or which they would have him say to him. Though he could corroborate these, could have corroborated anything it was possible for him to corroborate, without seeing the man and without speaking to him. And why had he even been playing with the idea it may not be the man himself? Who would take it into their minds to play at such a thing? To make claim they had committed a murder done thirty years ago? Though this murder would now be more than forty years old. Why had he thought thirty? Maybe he had thought of it for some reason nearly ten years ago. Perhaps it had come to his mind then and so the word thirty clung to it as though it should have some part with it, a kinship, a camaraderie. Ten years ago was not so long and it would make sense for him to have thought of this then. He would have thought of it while laying in the bedsheets of the last lover he had ever taken, thought of it while becoming saddened by the fact that her aging skin, this lover’s, where it was exposed from the violet sheets, warm but cold and slowly cooling further, had held no fascination to him.
And it was then the bus pulled into the stop and he took up his suitcases, then took a seat in the center of the Passenger-Compartment across from a family. The parents seemed to give him no notice (the father stared out the window, the mother at the shoes of the daughter) and the children all looked at him from their heads turned sideways.

kill Christian is available for purchase at Amazon.

 

 

 

***

Pablo D’Stair was born in 1981. At the age of 19 he composed his first novel (October People) for the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest sponsored by Anvil Press. The novel did not win the competition but was published in the subsequent year – along with his second novel (Confidant) – by the infamous and now defunct vanity book-mill Publish America. In the mid-2000’s, D’Stair co-founded the art-house press Brown Paper Publishing with his colleague, the novelist, musician, and painter Goodloe Byron. Through this press and its literary journal Predicate, he released the work of more than fifty of his peers along with editions of two dozen of his own books. Eventually shuttering BPP, D’Stair founded (KUOBA) press, continuing to publish work by his contemporaries. During this era, his own literary output remained prolific but largely unreleased, though several works were made available as limited-edition print projects and in various electronic mediums. D’Stair spent several years as a cinema critic – primarily for the UK site Battle Royale with Cheese – and as an essayist/interviewer for the national newspaper of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer (through which periodical several of his novella and a story collection were serialized). Also during this period, D’Stair began working as an underground filmmaker in the capacities of writer, director, cinematographer, editor, and performer – the cinematography of his first feature (A Public Ransom) earned an award in international competition at the XIX Internacionlni TV Festival (Bar, Montenegro 2014). D’Stair has also written several volumes of poetry, more than four dozen pieces of theatre, written and directed music videos, written and illustrated graphic novels and comic-book series, and produced audio essays. His work across all mediums has often been released pseudonymously.

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