Home Page Photo

The Big Stupid Review

Archives

American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
01-01-2015
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
01-11-2014
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
01-04-2014
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2014
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
10-01-2013
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
07-01-2013
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
04-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
01-01-2013
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
10-01-2012
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-07-2012
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
01-04-2012
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
01-01-2012
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
01-10-2011
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
01-07-2011
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
01-04-2011
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
01-01-2011
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
10-01-2010
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
07-01-2010
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
04-01-2010
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
01-01-2010
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

The Perfect Knot

By Ernest Alanki

"If you can't tie a knot, you can't win a woman's heart," Ben says to his ten-year-old son. "If you can't spin the web of life," he says, "You can't succeed in anything."

How can success equate to tying knots? Joshua wonders.

Ben spits on the dusty ground and plants one knee into earth caked with sheep pooh. He faces the three metre high fence, held together by thousands of knots which he'd tied, enclosing his one quarter-hectare sheep farm.

"This is a granny knot," Ben says, twisting two ropes together so that by some magic they form two lines at both ends extending from a central ring.

The knot means nothing to Joshua, but the lines mean something. They remind him of the train tracks running through the forest, where he and his best friend, Morris, often skip school to go train-spotting.

They'd run down the tracks until they came to the blue river at the end of the stone hill. There the rail lines crossed each other and dispersed to various destinations. Joshua and Morris would stand at this junction of possibilities and dream of distant places.

On every occasion Joshua closed his eyes, the rails going past the dense forest and crossing arid lands burnt red by the sun, dotted with shrubs and swaying in the thirst of desert heat. The tracks rushed through hills reaching out to touch the sky, traversed valleys spiralling down to the bottom of the earth, and arrived at vast cities shimmering with delightful lights like the Milky Way at night.

"I see many people … plenty like the trees in the forest," Joshua says.

"I see many people … plenty like the leaves on the trees in the forest," Morris replies.

The furthest the boys have ever been away from their small village is the lonely river where they'd go for a long swim, just the two of them.

"I'll drive trains when I grow up," Joshua says.

"I'll fix trains when I grow up," Morris says.

"We'll travel the world together."

The boys laugh — a sound that rings through the quiet forest; the trees on guard, the hidden animals on watch bear witness to this solemn wish.

Joshua's little hands flap through the soothing cool sheet of water in which his body is a dimple and through which his head pokes a hole to face the sun.

The boys dive and take a look at the underwater, teeming with a variety of colours such that the water column radiates fireworks of life. They stay there, concealed from the treacherous world above in this paradise of quiet radiance, of silent happiness — until one of them gives up and breaks the surface to catch breath.

Ben dangles the thing he calls a granny knot before Joshua, distracting the boy from his reverie.

"A granny knot," Ben nods at Joshua.

"A granny knot," Joshua nods back at Ben.

"Some knots fasten objects to each other. Others constrict things. Some are knotted to produce decorative objects. A knot is the military man's best friend. The surgeon who stitches a wound, the climber who swings on a rope, the spider that weaves a web, the caver who tunnels down a black shaft on a thread and the fisherman who mends a broken net, all depend on the art of knotting." Ben pauses and gives the boy a steady stare until he squirms.

Like many previous occasions, Joshua can't help not wondering about the strange reason behind Ben's mania for knots. He doesn't want to know about knots or what they can do. He wants to know about trains. He wants to drive them.

"You are brainless." Ben spits again. "Do yourself a favour and at least remember the sheet bend, bowline and the clove hitch knots," he says. "Do you understand?"

"Yes, Ben."

The boy had long since stopped counting the number of times Ben tells him this — in this exact order and manner; probably as many as Ben's countless knots that hold the fence together.

Sweat oozes through the boy's pores, sticking his shirt to his body. The sun above seems to have sharpened in intensity, like the burn of frustration heaving his chest.

Ben loops the rope over the crossed sticks that bar the hole in the fence they've come to mend, through which three lambs had strayed from the flock. He pulls at the ropes and circles them over each other, again and again. He grunts and his arms and face tighten with each effort. His jaws stiffen, his mouth pauses in a dog's snarl. Ben's teeth are shiny like water. The fence repaired, a brown knot bulges at the point where the two twigs cross, like a boxer's glove.

"My old man says your pop can construct at least fifty different kinds of knots, from almost every part of the world," Morris says on a day down by the train tracks, down by the riverbank — their favourite place of peace.

The air smells of cedar, honey suckle and tropical pines. Butterflies and dragonflies dripping with colours, like a Van Gogh, flutter about deliriously. Grasshoppers hidden in the green grass on the riverbank chirp in short shrilling bursts. The soft waves of the silent air rush by and rustle the tall reeds and pink flowery swamp milkweeds on the other side of the river.

"Maybe more," Joshua replies, and gazes at his reflection glistening in the water.

His brown eyes are bright and his lips are full. His face looks like a heart; his short hair is stark, dark against his chestnut skin.

Joshua tells Morris, "I don't think I look anything like Ben. I'm not big and my arms are too skinny and have no big blue veins on them."

"If you looked anything like him we wouldn't be here having this chat," Morris says.

"What do you mean?"

"You'd be home tying knots, I suppose."

"Right! I'm glad I don't," Joshua says.

He tells Morris people keep telling him he's very good-looking, but that he wonders how that is possible. Ben says he's weak and that if he doesn't do something about this, he sees disaster looming far into his future.

"I don't quite understand what sort of disaster Ben sees or how he can predict the future," Joshua says.

"He should stick to tying knots," Morris says. "That's the only thing the sucker is good at doing."

"You know, Ben has even invented a few knots of his own. He calls them The Ben Magic Knots."

"Your old man is crazy," Morris says and throws a stone into the sluggish water.

The boys sit down on the cushion of sedge grass on the riverbank and dangle their legs into the blue river. On the other side a duck and four ducklings wobble aimlessly about.

Joshua and Morris reflect on the idea of whether the water birds share the same kind of love and understanding humans sometimes claim to have for each other.

"Maybe they're just there for the sake of being here," Joshua says. He doesn't tell Morris that this is how he feels about himself most of the time, except when he's with him.

"How do they know they're here for the sake of being here?" Morris wonders.

"I don't know."

The boys go silent for a long while. The only sounds they hear are from the ducks and the gentle whoosh of the river in the background and the chirping crickets. Joshua tells Morris he often wonders how it felt for his mother when she died of breast cancer. He was only three. He has no recollection of her except in pictures.

There's one he shows Morris which he always carries in his shirt pocket. In the picture, his mother is smiling down at him as if he's her prince. His eyes are big and clear like a bright day. His jaws are puffy as though he is hiding round nuts in his cheeks.

"You look very happy," Morris says.

Joshua says, "I wish I could remember that moment."

"How old were you?" Morris says.

"Two."

"Two year olds are dumb. They remember nothing."

"Yeah."

Silence.

"It must have been really painful for her … don't you think?" Joshua says.

"I don't think we feel anything when we're about to die. It's like going to sleep, but then you don't wake up ever again. It's like … a deep peaceful sleep that we never want to wake up from. Maybe it's a nice sleep, where you dream about beautiful things."

"How do you know these things?"

Morris shrugs. "I just think so."

Joshua studies Morris who smiles wisely at his own distorted image glittering in the mildly choppy water. His friend's eyes are set wide apart, his square face dotted with freckles. Joshua ripples the water with his feet, fragmenting their reflections into shapeless ogres.

Morris's wholehearted smile widens and melts away Joshua's worries. He's always going to have Morris. He'll drive trains and Morris will fix trains. A fierce happiness swells within him with the thought. He puts his mother's picture back in his pocket, takes off his shirt and stops thinking of her.

"My old man says no one knows for sure if your pop invented those knots," Morris spills the silence and looks up from the shiny water surface.

"Why not?"

Morris shrugs and says, "No one here understands knots enough to confirm your pop's claims. My old man says it's the kind of thing that people in a small village like ours just don't bother with."

"Of course not," Joshua says. "Why should they? There's the farm to till, sheep to shepherd … not enough hands. Besides, I don't think people in small villages take themselves too seriously, like Ben does."

Morris shakes his head, "Perhaps not … well," he shrugs again.

Joshua informs Morris that Ben is always sort of angry and stressed. He is constantly running around like a hamster, trying to do too many things at the same time. He suspects Ben is mad.

He tells Morris that while at the grocery store, he overheard the butcher's wife telling the beadle's wife Ben is bipolar, which is why no woman wants to be with him. They say Ben is interested in Jessie, the beadle's wife's younger sister. She swears not to let it happen.

The duck and ducklings round a bend and disappear down the river. Joshua can still hear their duck sounds rising above the background of the softly flowing river.

Morris takes off his clothes and leaps into the sparkling water. He vanishes like a rocket inside blue clouds.

"I'm the man with the good hands."

Ben shows Joshua his hands as they walk back home from mending the fence.

"I can build a horse out of a rope, a house from fibers. Like me, you'll be nothing less — you'll be the pride of this village. Understand?"

"Yes, Ben."

"I'll make the perfect knot someday," twelve-year-old Joshua tells Morris, another day, down by the train tracks, down by the river. "It'll make him proud of me. Maybe he'll let me become a train driver when I grow up."

"My old man says that if I want to be a train mechanic, then I have to study hard and get into an engineering school in one of the big cities," Morris says. "Pop is cool as long as I'm happy."

"I wish I had a dad like yours." Joshua's voice is sad.

"Don't be fooled. Pop can be very boring sometimes," Morris says, "Especially when the walking fever catches up with him. He probably walks around this village five times a week. Isn't that crazy?"

"Why does he do that?" Joshua asks.

"He says he likes to listen to his heart beating fast when he walks; to his brain working strange problems."

"Very odd," Joshua says.

"I told you. He can be quite foolish."

A year later, "That's no perfect knot," Ben says, blows his nose violently, and throws the knot the boy had come to show him into the open fireplace. They watch the ropes coil up and smoulder to ashes.

A few months later, "Your hands are no good. That's the worst knot ever made. I never want to hear you talk about driving trains again," Ben tells his son.

"Why not?" Joshua says. His lips shake as he speaks.

"You're not cut out for such rubbish."

"But I want to drive trains, I don't care about knots," the boy insists, kicking the ground.

"Shut up! You'll have to respect my orders. No more talks about trains. Understand?"

Silence.

"Do you understand?"

"Yes, Ben."

The summer Joshua turns fourteen, one evening in September Ben discovers a knot in his sheep barn when he brings in the herd. The make of the knot is such that he's never seen anything more replete with purpose. His excited eyes and trembling fingers trace the knot's silky contours as he marvels at its maker's ingenuity. He maps out the intricate details of each turn and twist until he begins to feel sick with joy.

When he's about to vomit, out of wonder, Ben steps back, takes one last envious look at the knot and then at the weight dangling on it to show its strength. He goes out of the barn and closes the door quietly.

In the kitchen he makes himself strong coffee, carries it to the desk in his small office facing the field littered with brown bales of hay. He sits down, calm and focused, like he hasn't been for a long time. He begins to write on a blue notepad, about the perfect knot in his barn. He ends the note with:

I've been in constant fight with too many imperfections of life and in myself. The more I've searched for perfection, the more I've become imperfect.

Later Ben takes a long shower, brushes his teeth and wears the black suit he wore at his wedding. He ties the laces of his only ceremonial shoes, the charcoal-grey ones he bought for his wife's funeral, straightens up and examines himself in the mirror. Within the depths of the mirror, he sees his wife. She's dressed as she was at their wedding. A white silk dress, her sparkling black hair held high above her head. The sky in the background, behind her, is blazing in rainbow showers of flowery confetti.

She smiles. He smiles back before she fades.

Ben goes out of the house, locks the door and puts the key in his pocket. It's night and it smells like soot and there are no stars. Ben stops in front of the barn for a while and then disappears into the pitch darkness, into the interior of the wooden building, and shuts the door behind him.

The next day, when Joshua doesn't show up for their rendezvous down by the riverbank, Morris goes looking for him. Ben is well dressed when Morris finds him and Joshua hanging close to each other, on two knots, from a beam in the barn's ceiling.

Morris recognizes the knot that has bitten into the flesh around his friend's neck. The day before, Joshua had showed him the knot and said, "I've worked on this knot for years. I'm sure Ben will burn it when I show him."

Four years later, when Morris turns eighteen, he visits his friend's grave at the town cemetery. He places the lone shocking-red rose he brings with him on the small patch of cold cement and says, "Time has come, we have to go buddy."

On his way back he stops at the small, stone train station and buys two train tickets.

"Print one in the name Joshua," he says to the young woman behind the glass cubicle, "And the second for Morris."

His pop bids Morris farewell at the same train station the next day and tells him that he's proud of him. Morris tells his pop he's been a wonderful pop before boarding the train.

"You need just one ticket," the train conductor says to Morris.

"Stamp both tickets, please," he tells the bewildered man. The boy's eyes are fixed at the countryside rushing by outside the window. The seat beside him is empty.

The train goes past the forest and the river to which Morris had never returned since the day he found Joshua. For the first time, Morris cries for his friend, for his love he missed, for all the lost dreams. His whole body shakes so violently he thinks his soul is about to fall apart as the train crosses the arid lands and hills and valleys he and Joshua had dreamt about.

He ignores the curious stares around him and passes cities with skyscrapers mottled with pockets of lights. Fireflies buried in the depths of the dark skies at night, just as he and Joshua had imagined.

Much later in his life, Morris names his first son Joshua. He tells his three children that for twenty years, his friend Joshua has driven the trains on which he works as a train mechanic. Memories of Joshua keep him on the train tracks.

Morris shows his children the two tickets he bought for himself and Joshua. They hang on two silver frames over the hearth in his home. Their names are printed over a light blue background on the tickets in which are embedded green fields and a blue river.

© Ernest Alanki 2011