The Story of History and Literature

by Gerard Olson

In the days before history stunk on the horizon, I would stand in the bathroom and stare at the mirror and practice my writing until something with a nice consistency came out. Then, I would go lay out in the fields and look at the stars and feel that what I was doing was something that might stick, that maybe I had the right type of stuff inside of me.

In the evening, I would sit on the porch and fantasize about the day when history would roll through town. I anticipated the deep rolling moan and the fecund, sulfurous scent that would come on the wind with crows and fall leaves.

I used to go down to the swamps and ask the frogs where history was – I didn’t trust the television newscasts; A TV ate my sister when I was fifteen and whenever I see one now I think of the way her blood snuck out from behind the glass screen and conducted a solitary march down the redwood television stand to the thick puddle on the carpet below – and they would go down to the radio that I had smuggled to them and it would tell them that history was twenty thousand miles away, but was coming up fast and they would then relay that information to me and I would thank them and go home and dream about the way my body worked.

At night, I would practice writing out the window into the azalea bushes below.

During the day, when I wasn’t writing, I worked in a factory, inspecting the seal on bags of grain before we shipped them off to the grocery, to keep the bill-collecting beetle army from crawling beneath my door some night and eating the flesh off my toes.

Of course, I tried to surround myself with other people like me whose dream of writing was a constant burden, and I fell in love with one of them. Her name was Lily Stern and she had a wonderful viscous flavor and appearance to her writing and it was very visual and performative; I knew that even if what she produced didn’t stick, the sound from her lungs and stomach would echo loudly through the canyon when history rolled through.

I lived in a house near the canyon so I wouldn’t have to walk very far in the event that history rolled through unexpectedly. I had to be prepared to write for real at any moment. I began eating a special food that Lily had formulated for me. She was from another place, beyond the swamps, possibly Arizona and she knew a lot about biology. She taught me how to position my body. I brought her a hat that I had made from the left over grain at work and she would wear it while quickly rubbing against me in her linen closet. She rearranged my esophagus so that I would be able to write more directly. Sometimes we would sit on her roof and write over the side into the gutters and she would gently feel my vertebrae as the sun set and I would feel the soft skin on her stomach and we would talk about how exciting it would be when history rolled through.

She provided healthy criticism of the way I wrote and then at night we would get naked and roll around in her loft and make jokes about the hay in each other’s hair.

I wanted to write something for Lily and I wanted it to stick. I wanted people to see what I had produced and see what I thought of her and through seeing that, I wanted them to see what I thought of life and history and everything. She would act as a pivot around everything I produced.

I began to write on my break at work, in the bathroom, writing down into the sink and trying to subtly affect the texture of my writing and working on getting it out at different speeds. My co-workers began to exclude me from their conversations because they didn’t understand the desire to produce something that stuck to history. And I pitied them because I knew that someday history would roll through their children’s town and their children would look up and see my writing and understand what the world meant and would go home and dream and feel okay about everything and would never mourn their parent’s again. My co-workers began to lock me in the bathroom during the break and unleash wasps through the air-ducts.

I visited Lily one night in the summer where I could stand at the top of the canyon and see beyond the swamps to the open plain that would herald the coming of history and the back of my neck was covered in the red throb of wasp wounds. She took me into the kitchen and we sat writing into waste bins while spiders and beetles came in through the cracks in the mud walls and took notes on our activity. After we had been writing for a while I looked to see what she had produced. I felt cold for a moment and I imagined that I was trapped inside of a glass box that didn’t provide space for me to move my arms or bend my knees. Her writing was as beautiful as always; there was a vibrant glow to it that betrayed its creator’s constant elation at the prospect of being herself. But the consistency, the thickness was different and I wondered if she had been writing with someone else on the days that I wasn’t around and that thought implied too much about the fear of my biology’s inadequacy.

I went down to the swamps to talk to the frogs about where history was but they were too busy politically spawning and I felt disappointed. So, it wasn’t until the next day that I heard that history had stopped and was sitting desolate on the outskirts of a city in the flatlands. It just stopped, had lost momentum, it had no force to roll on anymore and the people in the city weren’t quite sure what to do because it was too far outside the city limits for them to do anything about it. The people tried to contact the government, but they were all in cocoons and could not be disturbed for another week or so, so it looked like history would sit in the sun and rot and smell for the time being.

I began to dream about trying to write, but having dust come out of my mouth instead. I started to fear that my writing was not the sort that would stick. I worried that history would rot in the sun forever and I would never get my chance. I feared that Lily didn’t love me and that her early admiration of my writing had been a charade.

I woke up one night to scorpions lining the foot of my bed and watching me sleep and calculating what my dreams meant. This was commonplace in those days. I asked them if they knew anything about history, if it had really stopped, if it would ever be arriving, were they able to divulge that type of information? They didn’t respond. They just clicked at me with their small beaks and wandered up to my stomach and left a circular ring of poison.

The next day, at Lily’s, I couldn’t produce anything. We were sitting in front of the barn, writing into her compost pile and everything that came out of me lacked any substance or direction. I told Lily about the scorpions as a way of warding away shame, but when I pulled up my shirt there were no sting marks, so Lily just gave me pitying eyes before producing some of the most sublime writing that has ever poured from her. She was writing with someone else. I was certain.

That night, I stared into the mirror at my drawn eyes, my fading hair, my skeletal structure and began to cry. There was no word on whether or not history was moving again. Instead of practicing my writing into the sink, I went to bed. There were several spiders taking notes that night and the scorpions were absent for the entire next week.

I began to rot inside and fall apart. I didn’t write at work anymore; during the break I would sit on the pile of mud and stare over the hills in the direction that history would have come and I would spit. I would think about Lily and wonder who else she was writing with and I would rot just a little bit more. I could feel everything drying inside.

I eventually stopped caring about history and bought a television with a muzzle to play with at night. My sink had not felt the warm flow of my writing for a week and a half. I no longer had dreams that frightened me; I no longer talked to Lily - she no longer called. I did purvey the great plains, but only with brief and lethargic glances.

An acquaintance called during a show about decapitation and disembowelment to let me know that Lily was seeing Ben Linhand, a writer we both knew from parties. He thinks they’ve been writing on each other: they’ve acquired a smell, he says. My acquaintance is a very honest and open individual; he does not spare his opinions no matter how low they make me feel. I had a hard time accepting that she would respect Ben’s writing to the point of letting him write on her. I was made to feel inadequate and then he turned the conversation to something banal and then we said goodbye; I spent the night watching my growling television.

I awoke one night to four frogs encircling my head. I wondered what had made them sacrifice their safety by leaving the swamps. They told me that the radio said history was coming, it was moving again, it would be there soon, two days maybe. The government had selected five million ants to push history to us until it got enough momentum to roll again. I asked the frogs what it meant that the government was directing history now; would they really let it roll on its own again? The frogs suggested that perhaps history just needed more weight, that if things kept sticking to it, it would eventually gain enough force to escape the ants and would once again roll on its own. They told me that they had faith in my writing and then left through the window.

I thought about Lily and knew that she would be standing at the edge of the canyon with Ben Linhand, both of them writing down onto history as it rolled by and I wondered if I would ever be able to produce anything again.

And the two days passed and I went out the front door on that day and I could smell history coming across the plains, the dank, gaseous burn. I could see history as a point on the horizon; it would roll through the canyon that evening. The joy began to rise in my gut. I felt less rotted. The vision of history approaching wetted deep down in my stomach.

Throughout the day, the stench intensified and the point in the distance gained detail. And inside of me I felt the old churn in my stomach. My esophagus widened with each passing glance towards the plains. I felt certain that I would write. I would write. It would stick. History approached the canyon.

The town filled with history’s stink, it reverberated through the windows. Everything was a part of the smell. People lined the canyon and the sky turned orange in the growing evening; the flying insects darted around in the vivid dusk watching us all prepare.

As history approached I saw the splotches and various dots of other’s writing, the writing that had stuck, the important writing, and I remembered the first time I had seen history roll through, when I was eleven, and how I felt that everything that needed to be said about life was right there.

Over on the other side of the canyon, I could see Lily and Ben writing on themselves and their confidence disgusted me. His writing covered her face and hair and she wiped it away from her eyes and laughed. My stomach churned; I could feel something building up inside of me and I thought about Lily and what we had done together and how, in the end, she didn’t seem to care and how she had used me to validate herself. I thought about her and I thought about Ben and I thought about the spiders that would crawl out of the cracks in the walls at night and take notes. The scorpions. I thought about how the frogs were stuck in the swamps and how history was being pushed by five million government workers and had no free way of moving by itself anymore. And my stomach kept churning and I knew, I could feel, the writing that would come out was going to be something, really something, the type of thing that sticks.

And then history was there.

I approached the edge. And history was directly below me, rolling, it’s smell thick and fecal. I leaned over the edge and everything that I felt, all my disgust just dug straight down into my gut and grabbed everything that was there. I could feel my throat stretch. I opened my mouth. And the writing began to pour out in warm liquid flows. I could feel its consistency as it slid across my tongue and over the edge of the canyon down onto history and it looked so beautiful and it began to stick. I couldn’t stop. A thought would grip me and a new heave would come and more writing would rise and fall to the rolling history below. Around me, other writers were writing down onto history and the sound was a cacophony of gagging chokes and thick splashes. Everyone was writing. And yet, nobody’s seemed to be sticking. Only mine. It left a long running streak, a consistency and color and vibrancy that couldn’t have been produced by me. And yet it was. And I continued to write; it continued to pour from me.

And as the sun reached the end of its descent, I finished writing and wiped my lips. I looked over at Lily and Ben and they appeared exhausted. Their writing didn’t even reach history; it was sliding down the canyon walls. I could see my writing stuck firmly to history and I felt triumphant. Spiders crawled around my feet with their notebooks making small noises at each other. The flying insects swooped over my writing and observed the sheer magnitude of my accomplishments.

History stopped. The ants had stopped pushing. The spiders around my feet scattered across the canyon walls. Something was happening.

I saw the wasps come and the beetles and ants climbing up the side of history with hungry mouths. And they surveyed my writing for a brief moment before beginning to feast on it. There wasn't anything I could do except shout at them. And I saw my writing begin to disappear under thousands of jaws.

And when they were done, they pushed history forward again, their bellies full and the sun dead on the horizon.