by j.a. tyler

(an excerpt from the novella to be released by Aqueous Books in 2011)

This will be the story of a man who dies. This will be the story of a man who is dying. This will be the story of a girl. A girl floating in the clouds. Watching the clouds as if she is on them, riding them, a breeze. She will be a wind, motioned. And the man will be a coughing spastic body, old, dying. He will be dust. And as the girl flies above him in unspecific circles he will cough and sputter and pull death from out of his mouth. The man will become a story of death and birthing. He will be a boy who puts his finger in the plug of a drain and drowns. Finds the stuck fast buckle of skin and pipe while the water keeps coming and eventually, passing over his ears and mouth and nose and eyes, becomes the story of a lake. This will be the story of a lake, a man, a boy, death and a girl flying, spinning oars above them, churning in clouds.


There is a girl with oars, for now, flying.


There is a man in a bed, dying.

He is.

He does.

And he births another. An Other. With his last breath. A way to death, to die, an event, unknown.

A breath, breathed, with him inhaling the sickly pockets of himself. No air left in the room, even with the storms running through, his body scattered in a bed dredging bile. The careless now world of him. A fragile broken breaking. An invisible unbecoming.

His mouth flaps a dangling lace. He spits and grips it, pulls, ripping the thin muscles in his arms. A thick exhalation and the tread of a boot, its black canvas ankle. So that out of his mouth comes the Other. Came the Other. Ridged with leather and dripping, barely breathable before, inside his insides.

And near his bed it stands, staring into the darkness of his eyes in the pitch of the room. The walls pressing. The wind in choral slices of air. And this Other, watching him. Himself and the Other, watching each other.

He breathed out a boot, night colored laces and metal flourishes. Ankle high, threads crossed arm over arm, pinned to the edges, lashing. A boot bottom up to shadow legs, a waist gleaming in colorlessness. The rainbow antithesis. A spooning tankard of asphalt, paving his stare.

Prone on a mattress, he dreams of dreaming, dreams of dreams. And instead watches growling black dislodge itself in borders and trips. The unmasked Other. Standing facing him now, no longer inside his insides. An Other looking into his spaces, the deft heavy swing of tracing lines, veils that structure him. The Other, composing himself as his bearer lacks breath. Gasps of no air for the first time.

He is dying, this man. This man in a bed. Dying. Him, and now an Other.

Here, unbreathing.

He has no breath. Has never felt the feel of no breath. Not before.

Choking, sputtering, mumbling.

No sound, no sound, no sound.

His body, in rejection, unmoving. Legs locked in unforeseeable boundaries, spreading lightly into themselves, he is a pooling of skin. Gliding long and down, downwards, draping the sheets, curtaining the bed, rows and ribbons and seams. Joints dusty and rigid underneath the layers, the drowning weight of uselessness. His body now in cold ungrowing.


This girl with oars is flying. Her, spinning clouds in waves, in wakes. A gentle girl with oars.


Crows drip black into his head, daylong, weeping the naked dark of new moons. The skein of skies. Tangled and untangling in the square of leafless trees and winter sun. A window out. Crows moving and removing in blinks, the stutter of his tongue. Thatching his face in new screens, shades, the unpiloted movements of black and birds.

Slates in the fencing give way to endless unsolved ground, fruited in grey limbs and endings. Nautical clouds revealing and replacing, covering and uncovering in grasps. His sheets stained and white, the bed a collection of hymns, corners dull and spilling. Dusk forever hanging in the peaks of walls meeting walls. And the feel of an unseen measure centering on his chest. The heft of the Other. His hand, this Other’s hand on this Other’s leg. Waiting.

And he holds his fingers out to the bedside, attempting touch, him disappearing into the Other. His fingers and their bones dropping into the Other, doubling and imitating, dissipating. Him pushing up, up, until his arm is consumed in the depth of the Other. Holding steady and then pulling it slowly and out again, to re-reveal himself and his veins. Him, retuned into the grey of in-between fencing, the skies in spaces of blackened wings.

Him, this man, unmoving in a bed, near a window, where winter is.

Winter. Before frost. The dim cold of no leaves, of dogs barking, the rustle of drying grasses.

This man, dying. Watching an Other, this Other he birthed, he pulled from out his mouth, from inside his insides. This Other. That Other. Scrambling up the sides of his face, out into the open, sitting on a chair near his bed, his Other hands on his Other legs, his Other head a seeming pedestal towards a dying man and a square of grey landscape.

A man, dying.


Four walls and one with a door. Four walls and a flex of glass, two panes uncovering the flailing strains of light. A ceiling holding itself up. Above him in a peck and turn of rafters, raining down in particles and dust, in swimming winds. His face, the stone and capture of a universe built on rags and timbers. The trailing of fingers through rows, staffs and lines, seeding. Sow and reap, sow and reap.

The Other sits in a chair, that chair. Humming a silence, listening to the miss of unbreathing.

The rocking chair was his mother’s, his grandmother’s, his great grandmother’s. Bleating with its curved legs the crush of skies, the blue, the lullabies. His mother’s, his grandmother’s, his great grandmother’s, their collective hands holding his forehead, a static blaze underneath and unhidden. His eyes the trim and gauze of stars, black and moonless night.

And those hands, these collective hands of women, crusted in earth, turned the verses as pages, the roots and rhythms. The book his father’s, his grandfather’s, his great grandfather’s. The steady bleed of them, his father, his grandfather, his great grandfather, falling into unsteady rungs, repeats, roles. The pages roaming through in dribbling breezes, turning towards themselves, overlapping and obscured in the lack of everything now.

Those pages ruffling in the colorless wind from the unscreened opening, the window, the outside.

Where things continue.

And him, uncontinuing and inside, paned in missing air.

The hymns, turning, humming. The verses. The pages. The wind of winter. The barely perceptible rock of an Other in this chair.

This Other. His hands. Not a father’s or a grandfather’s or a great grandfather’s. Not a mother’s or a grandmother’s or a great grandmother’s. Not one of these but only itself, himself, an Other. Watching a man die. Waiting. Vented from himself, skinned from his skin and not hollowly or passed down. The Other, this Other, moving crookedly on a seat, pacing the time of his soles, the exchange of him for another, this Other. The Other bleeding shivers of unease, draining into and out of him, an open sea, a drip of crows, black, dark.


Above, in ribbons of blue, she flies, a girl with curved smiles and eyes. Oars. A girl with a way of looking. A girl seeing the world, upside down or finally righted, no longer spinning, still on its axis, the romance of the ground, parceled and pinned, squared and trim, undisguised.

A girl with oars, flying.


The Other sits, contented in waiting, in listening to the silence, to the groundless rhythm, to the crows, calling from the rafters, the limbs, the dying man’s shoulders.

And the man, still unmoving, still unbreathing, attempting speech.

Trying to talk.

This Other, listening.

Words and words, slipping, bringing and brought out. Dirt. He comes to the Other with mouths, waterfalls and phrasing, this Other, his Other. Lips moving in belts and jabs, stick-moves, leaning into the middle of things, his brain, his melting frown of a head. Eyes closed, unable to see the Other lurching down and near him. The gums and his teeth, the Other and his nothingness, dipping and turning in the water of words. Words. The churning. The words, words.

It changes then. Words to singing. To hymns.

The Other, this Other, still sitting, creaking a mother grandmother great grandmother rocker. Him, this Other, with Other hands on Other legs, patient.

And the man, dying, bursting out in silence.

He sings to him, to the Other, reading and kneeling and adjusting the room, unpressing the walls with his fingertips, the dark fingerprints on the trains of his hands. Bouncing them out, the walls of this room, away from his bearer, his own lighter way of being or once was. His dying or his way of being in reverse.

In his head, all of it though, in his head. Nothing happening.

The Other controlling this world in easy reams and reels, strangling life in and out of his peppered black figure, his hands, his fingers that trigger struggle, applauding the choking gasps.

The Other, plucking a ripe cloud from the dim grey, through the square corners of the window, through the clear glass, pulling it to his chest and opening it. Tumbles tumbling out. Greasing in the air. Harboring their dirt in the nothingness of a room. Guitar picking, singing. Harmonies and the subtle perched variations of tones on tones, the Other reading him, listening to his hymnals, his sound of no air.

And the man, dying, he pours down into his sheets. His feet in unmovable and unmoving shovelfuls. The Other, reading the word dirt and burying him in it, in grey, in shrouds.


Inside of her, the girl, the girl with the oars, is a collection, a ream of futures. She holds them to her chest, to her girl bones and the rib of her meat. The hold of her frank and honest mouth.

Even in devastation, she is beautiful.

Flying with oars.

Rowing in clouds.


The man is dying. Full in a bed of death.



The grey outside the windows, lingering. Days passing, threading.

Him, this dying man, dreaming and undreaming out of himself. Into himself. The churn of his heart in a wave, a stubborn beating wake.

This man, dying.

A needle and the eye, busting. Fistful and trickling thread. The opening space, unspaced, mounted in stitching and heart. His heart. The Other sewing his heart wide, in and out of him. The Other holding a thread in a needle, the hole painted in single string, buttoning and unbuttoning his chest, the cavity of where his heart should be or was until.

The man, dying, dreaming.

The man, still unbreathing on a bed, quiet and stagnant.

And the Other, a vision in his head doubling and re-doubling, slivers of black combed and combined, making an Other that envisions him. His Other, the one he birthed, the one who watches him from his bedside, sitting waiting in the dim grey of a world.

The Other seeing him linger in sweat, ringed in suffocation.

In a dream or in the midst of a spilling rocking chair, the man, his heart opened to the air.

The split of his chest uncomfortable shredding, him already pinned, already assuming the knives, the sewing and the needle and the thread. So the Other has an ease, a rest mostly of going in and out, heart in, heart out. A suitable kind of sewing, relaxing into the stitches, each one calling out differently, evenly. The man’s heart brought in and out of the light, in and out of his chest.

The Other has no hands to bloody. It is all done in shadows and shades, in unrecognizable sizes. The Other, doctoring him with precision and muted delay, watching what he has in his invisible hands, beneath his cloaked chest without heart.

This Other. Thinking into himself, as if he could, or should. He does. Thinks in like the dying man’s heart comes out. Wanders down into his own cavities, a reckoning. But this Other has no Other. He can cough, sputter, spit, but no bootlaces are expelled, no Other’s legs climb clamber out of his mouth.

He has no mouth, this Other. No lungs with which to blare, blast. To scream.

Neither breathe, this Other and the dying man. And for a moment, neither move. Motionless. Crows and breezes in the grey and black. Dry air and branches without leaves. Reckless, through a window.


A final weave of wandering in out up down and the Other is done. His heart blackened in the black of the Other, by now, so much time here there, in the sewing and unsewing of his chest, in the echoing chamber of him, heartless, sewn and re-sewn as the sun punches out.


In the peak of this girl, flying and rowing, she reflects the world. Her eyes, her mouth, her upturned and smiling lips. She is the sun, this girl, even in the clouds.

Beneath her the world in squares, the men with chests opening and closing, the strain of useless doors. She smiles at them opening closing. She relaxes at their notions. She listens to their whimpering.

This girl, she holds her hands around the shaft of oars, two of them, one on either side, rowing her way through the sky. Fishing her way through and across landscapes, untangled in environments.

This girl, just like the sun, chariot and bright, spilling with days.


The man sits up and coughs, sitting up coughing, lungs welling or torn, gutted in rotten screaming. The arc of another night, the crickets skimming hooks or barbs, their legs, constructing sound from themselves, filtering the dusk in rounded noise. The sun unpegged from its hook and sifted to the floor, crumpled in a shell or a train, worn from another day. The night a pool of crickets. The room blending in color, grays entrenching, light going gone.

Sitting up he coughs, sat up and coughing, raking spit on the back of his hand, a nothing stomach made of non-muscle and carpentry tricks, bending in on itself. The crush of a ribbed balcony. The sun outside gone.

And the Other there, watching the moon un-rising. The cricket sounds, the constructed noise. The Other listening. Coughing. A shot of breath and no moon.

Sitting and coughing, sat up and coughing, expelling throated calls, predictions of the futureless. A wail or a cry or a pleading.

But instead, out of his mouth, the yoked threats and the hooves, trampling, the leather strips and the mane of each, the Other full of darkness, portioned from the brim full top, ladle gorging. And out of his mouth, this dying man, there is drool spinning webs, lining the unmanned cities of his crumpled sheets, a cavernous and mistakable dying. Burbling boiling, a thousand unsaid things from the lips of his mouth.

And the Other, watching from a corner or from behind the man’s eyes, seeing and not listening. A cough but not a recovery. A dream of sewing and unsewing his heart, but not a blackening, not yet. The mouth just a trajectory or a fall, stooping out of itself in a cough. Him sitting, coughing.


This girl, she is vented from the clouds, trailing her fingers in them, the way clouds dream, thoughts of things softer than themselves, less violent, less vindictive. Without rain or thunder. Without lightning. Without the leap and course of shadows, the covering of sun, the movement, the unending feel of waves.

She has hands. She holds oars. She mouths the words to a song. No one sees. Her lips are too near the sun, too pursed in sky, too flooded in light. She drifts. Clouds.

Her breath is a relaxation, moments without stumbling, the reverse of life, an unmoving, the oars spinning in her palms.


A breath cannot be defined. Must be resolved in an exhale. And in hale. How the lungs collapse out and then recede, leaving the marks of veins and chemical triggers like the half washed footsteps of a god on the shore. The sand covering and uncovering, always another, always different, the inability of constancy. The way things maneuver.


The Other is a figure who sits and watches a man die. This will still be the story of a man dying. This will still be the story of a lake and that boy who drowns himself, accidentally, with the hairline fracture of thinking, of making choices, of sticking fingers in holes and unable to pull them back, to relinquish ideas.


The girl with oars, she is making her way. She is steady, constant, flying. She is graceful and ballet with oars, flying. Clouds on clouds on clouds.

by j.a. tyler

February 16, 2011 | Posted in: Fiction | Comments Closed

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