I sometimes entertain the notion of compiling all my incomplete works into a volume titled Detritus. Detritus would have a top and a bottom: The top half would be excerpts from poetry, plays, and fiction that petered out over the years, tacked together in such a way as suggests deeper, unifying themes. The bottom half would be all one work–a long, stream-of-consciousness narrative dipping into and out of formal essay structures; falling into conspiracy theory and code; and above all else analyzing the very existence of the top half.
Sometimes I start writing that bottom narrative–but only ever in my head, while ruminating on old fragments of writing I’ve tripped over more recently. Fragments that first came upon me in a fever pitch, then lost all sense of purpose when that fever pitch had gone. My Kubla Khans, if you’ll forgive the arrogance of that association.
The following letter is one such example, which I found after triaging a slew of Incomplete Stories today into one of three places: my WIP folder, the trash, or back into the commons until my next cull. There is something immensely sinister about this little excerpt, and I do believe it was based on a real dream, but if I once knew where it was going, I have since forgotten. Into my newly created Detritus folder it therefore goes.
What do you do with your fragments of stories past?
I had a dream where Gogol’s Dead Souls became useful to me and my sense of the world: where servants brought Chichikov a frail, filthy Tartar who cried out “Not dead! Not dead!” while his captors splashed about in a lake filled to bursting with the baptized and drowned, singing “Not yet! Not yet!” until their kvass-laden laughter and bare, churning feet sank them all in a great, moonlit eddy of bodies and clothes, and soon all that remained was—nyet.
Yes, even a rube can translate that last.
But when I awoke I had already forgotten who amid that laughter was saying “Not yet! Not yet!” Was it the servants, or the dead? Mark that I allow for both—and why not, when we write from life? Some secrets are forever beyond our reach, little Sasha, and all for the best. But not yours, do you understand? For your sake I hope that you do.
Your name, for instance, is a marvel. I cut it sometimes from your articles, paste it on the mirror when I have one; on the walls when I do not. Read it aloud, sing it, let my eyes swim in the fine black ink of its lines. There is less Russian or Jew about you than even I may lay modest claim to, and yet it is you who bears such a crowning gem upon her head. Such luck! Do you realize how much, though? Do you?
A pity that your mother has no conception of such things. Your mother favouring the name more for its sound, the signifier over its significance, and of course for the figure skater she fancied at nationals the year you were born. How your mother would soon enough grow fat in ill-fitting shirts on worn out old chairs, shovelling pastas and cheeses and chocolate wafers down her gullet between cheers for technical performances she never could rightly parse.
Origins! A waste of precious time, my dear Sasha. And already we have so little left.