Fiction is a reconstruction of reality, duplicitous by nature because it forestalls the recognition of what exists, what changes, what constitutes the real nature of reality. Easing into narrative is a delicate series of steps, the task of memory and imagination putting flesh to bone, clay to hearth, shape to shapelessness. Night becomes day, for the man sitting still inside the house is like so much firewood waiting to burn, like leaves gathering and recircling, collecting and dispersing in a fierce wind, taking the dead to their last place of refuge. You want him living, breathing, thinking, but imagination is depth and breadth. There is too much to remember, like the broadness of the sea when it rises and collapses.
Disappearing into a fog, he is actually a straight line of prose, a newspaper article that conjectures over his last days in stark lines charted from point A to point B, kitchen to living room, bedroom to back porch where a dog used to gaze out a window or sit on a slip of patio outside the back door. When did everything disappear, except time leading back to one point of departure? What happened to the measurement of depth and height, width and breadth? Even water running slightly warm over the hands eventually evaporates, even when a corpse is in a house for years, neighbors thinking the property abandoned.
One day a neighbor says hello from across the fence. The man greets him with no more than a grunt. “And I never saw him again,” the neighbor said afterwards. It takes weeks for the medical examiner’s office to identify the body, particularly when there’s so little left, only skeleton and teeth. More than 51,000 pieces of property are put up for auction every year. “It’s not our business to see who’s inside each one,” they say at the treasurer’s office. “All we can do is feel sorry for the man.”
Work crews shut off the water, gas, and electricity, mailmen bypass the house thinking it’s vacant, once and a while a neighbor mows the lawn when the grass reaches 2 feet high. No one ever answers the door when you knock. Developers buy the house at auction for unpaid taxes and force the front door open three years later. “It was a pitiful sight,” they said, “everything decaying, everything rotting,” the man sitting in his living room chair mummified, a calendar and a newspaper from February, 1997 at his side.
How beautifully picturesque the newspaper from February, 1997 sitting by his side, barely touching his fingertips. It is not so much dead news, but the measuring of the world’s circumference from the vantage point of silence. Going without sleep for thirty-three days, time is rapid and snow is harsh and white skies grow in intensity. Death occurs in more profounder ways than what can be determined merely by the scientific method. The dust on the end table settles quickly and turns glutinous over time, though his fingers register a dry tactility that slowly fades. Time writes itself across the hours no one sees, because knowing and unknowing one’s future, said Epictetus, “is learning what to seek and what to shun.”
The neighbors construct their own story, describing Adolph as a man they think they know. Each in their own fictive moment recreates his existence in dreary shades of chiaroscuro. They note how sunlight shifts each season, cold, then warm, then cold again, questioning anyone who stops in front of the house, quizzical and dazed, searching for the same answers. They wonder where Adolph was born, whose life he made difficult, what disturbed his sleep, or if he ever ran with the same desires as other human beings.
The evanescence of human flesh cannot really be imagined because we have settled on irreality, so much so that Adolph is no more real than a phenomena of the imagination. This is a true fictive moment, like a bull taking aim at a red cape tossed over its eyes. There is only an approximation of reality behind the cape where, waiting in silence, the matador’s hand quivers in readiness. When the red cape falls away, the sky blazes light and rushes into the brain. The tip of the matador’s sword finds its mark. Enlightenment is short-circuited as the beast staggers and falls to its knees.
Adolph’s crimped index finger on his left hand is the true line of projectory, but whether the 2nd, the 8th, the 16th or the 23rd ofthe month, no one can tell. Each day comes back into focus out of a nebulous return, then disappearing without substance. Adolph knew exactly what day it was in February, 1997, but no one ever took notes or knew how many days were left, for in the end, Adolph is no better than an abstraction born strictly out of the endless wandering of the imagination.
4 thoughts on “Paper Flowers by Thomas Sanfilip”
I enjoyed the dispassionate narrative. It enhanced the feeling and gave the piece tremendous depth.
A thoughtful piece that touches life, death, and loneliness in an original style. Very good.
I always find it interesting when there is a ‘lonely’ death that folks go out there way to pass comment on character and more ironically state ‘The last time I spoke to them was…’
Unconsciously I don’t think our own conscience can deal with gaps but that then gives us the question, why let them happen?
Just a few thoughts that your story prodded free.