Aphasic World Syndrome

The cats had climbed onto the outside of the house again. Alex stopped to count them--he didn't understand how he could know this, but he believed their numbers were a more precise indication of his condition than any of the multitude of tests his doctors had performed. He stopped at 127, too depressed to continue. They made an exact accounting difficult anyway--they were in constant movement, digging their claws into the weathered planks with each step, sending slivers and chunks of house raining down onto the lawn below. When they howled--usually singly or in pairs, but occasionally gathering together for a chorus of group complaint--they irritated his own fragile ductwork, so that he was forced to conduct his daily chores in tears.

He made his way down the runway to mail the prayers he had gathered into his arms: sad, orphaned prayers he had sung to during spare moments, now ready to sail into other households where they would torture the sleeping inhabitants with paper cuts. Sadness turned to anger quickly in this day and age, so who was he to tell his prayers their indiscriminate violence was wrong? At least he would soon have them safely out of the house.

At the end of the runway waited the eager bird house. He rolled up each prayer tightly and stuffed it into the tiny round hole, increasingly excited as the displaced birds flew out and peeked into his ears. There the yellow candles burned, filling his head with smoke.

Once all his prayers were safely inside the bird house Alex raised the small white flag of surrender so that the mail carrier would know he had been thoroughly defeated, and his prayers were ready to be picked up and sent on to their eventual assassinations.

All the cats had come down from the house and now gathered at the base of the bird house waiting to capitalize on any avian mistakes. The howling winds on their grand bicycles regaled him with tails of mice and men.

It suddenly occurred to him that in all his doctors' speeches not once had aphasia been mentioned as a possible symptom of his favorite, sweet disease. But he was on a diet in any case and had no time for demise.

Besides, he had never been good with words. Chopping each one down had been such hard work he'd finally switched his giant screaming baby to coal.

But what if the problem wasn't his? Perhaps it was the world itself that had captured illness, and instead of constantly speaking the wrong word (for the world is largely mute, no matter how much you flatter it), the glory of its aphasia was that it kept bringing forth out of its nervous womb the wrong object, the incorrect animal, the mistaken human being desperate with amnesia.

But Alex was certainly no mathematician, or rogue milkman of the dreamlands. He was hovel born, his mother a cello falling down a forgotten staircase, his father an unemployed cigarette embalmer.

He was no vacuum cleaner to refinish the world--he could hardly polish his own toes.

But something had to be done. The cats had stretched out his tongue and were now playing it with their tiny bows, making a music so apologetic he might cry himself awake.

About the author:

Steve Rasnic Tem has published over 200 short stories in a variety of venues. His new novel, a collaboration with his wife Melanie Tem and an expansion of their award-winning novella, The Man on the Ceiling, is due out in March, 2008.