Forgetting began on the Island of The Friendly Wanting.
Cormorant searches for a decent clearing and lands somewhere in the northeast
region of the smallest island in the chain. It is crammed with lush trees and brush,
and numerous pools of fresh water. There he gives a brusque recounting of what he
calls “the only true side of things”.
“I was quite
young, a hatchling then, living on the island that used to be here, The
Friendly Wanting. The favorable conditions here brought thousands of birds here
every year. And it came to be that they also brought a man, a Baron, a wound of
a man desperate for flight. We all assumed an escape, but he was after that
other kind of flight. You fly out of danger, but you fly into the unknown.
He wanted to
build a ship, but had forgotten how. He knew that no one else would remember,
but he also knew that we birds were the only free sojourners that inhabited the
Archipelago. With this held in his mind for as long as possible, he rode a
dirty plank of wood from his castle on Dimmer Ends to The Friendly Wanting, and
threw himself before the birds. Proud creatures that we are, we took pity on
him and agreed to show him all we knew of the building of ships. Stupid
creatures that we are, all we offered was a babble of rope, wood, canvas,
glass, stone, metal, eventually anything else we could think of, tossed
together, combined and brought into existence kicking and screaming. We even
pilfered the museum on The Atoll, bringing him scraps of dresses, spectacles,
and wax fruit, anything to fill a gap or patch a tear. The Vernaculus, The
Baron’s second wondership, was borne of the war between sadness, good
intentions, and the empire of false hope. It was a happy monstrosity,
impossibly buoyed by The Baron’s will, but lacking propulsion.
By this time
he had begun to suspect that we were not the experts we appeared to be (though
it must be clarified that we never claimed expertise in this arena). After days
of floating on that encyclopedia childhoods and vanity, revelatory rage
overtook him. He came back to us in the night. Not a single one of us awoke
while it happened. I remember being jostled into the day by my mother, who was
pushing me out of the nest and into the air. “Fly, go, go go!” she screeched. I
instinctively took wing, but had left so quickly that I was uncompassed and
stared blankly out at blue sky before me. I had to turn around to see where I
was headed, and expected her at my back, but when I turned I saw her receding,
flailing n the air and railing against the earth, anchored by a red thread tied
around her foot, which led straight to the main mast of the Vernaculus.
terminus I then caught sight of thousands more red threads, each stretching
from that deformed ship’s body out and up into the air, each attached to a single
webbed or unwebbed foot, each tethering a newly conscripted winged soldier into
The Baron’s army, the engine of his crusade. He was there, on the deck of the
ship, cackling and urging his flock forward, and waiting for the Vernaculus to
come to life.
had slowed me, and I feared that I would be caught too, but was more afraid of
being alone, lost, and adrift. So I stopped and listened for the sounds of my brothers
and sisters who may have escaped into the higher reaches. I heard nothing at
first except the plaintive cries of the captives below. Then something else,
soft but there. I looked down and realized that it was The Baron, waving his
hand, motioning for me to come down, to join him. His eyes held all the power
of a maelstrom, so I flew on. But my right wing tugged me backwards. He was
aghast at the thought of leaving my mother behind.
There was no
talking to him. I told him that if he wanted to stay behind, that was his
decision, but not mine. We said our goodbyes. That was that. From cliffs and
hidden edges I watch The Baron travel from island to island, the whole of the
Archipelago. Scores of people joined him on the Vernaculus. When one there were
so many that the great ship began to moan at the weight, he grasped his threads
and wove his birdsail across the sky and water, to what I don’t know.”
By now you
have forgotten all about the Baron, and The Broached Woman, and most of the
Archipelago. It is cold, so you ask the nice bird if he can take you someplace warmer,
and he looks very hurt and concerned by this remark, but his wing is very nice to
you and tells you to climb up. And you rise into the sky, which has begun its
turn to evening.
Forgetting is the fault of those who don’t save or spend time, but order it.
Exiting the museum, you mount The
Cormorant, who wanders a bit now, which is unlike him. He wishes to avoid your
next destination. You would let him, since you cannot remember what it is
yourself, but by now you have made the best of friends with his wing, who has
been paying attention this entire time, and tells you to dig down in your case.
You do, and capture a coral cameo bound in filigreed silver with a tiny bell
dangling from its base. When the bell rings in the wind of The Cormorant’s
wing, nothing else can be heard. The wing maneuvers you downward.
Dimmer Ends is the most inviting of
the islands of the Archipelago, with a rich, green and orange coastline,
scintillating and warm. You spot a tower, astride two shorter ones. You finally
recall The Baron’s Castle.
It was a letter in a bottle,
written by The Baron, and found by you, that told you his story. And it’s made
all the sadder as it is kindly excised from your mind by The Forgetting. The
author wishes he could help, but helping is its own form of forgetting.
“My first Wondership carried us to
the Archipelago in…I don’t know. It took somewhere between a day and ten years.
We thought we were leaving to forget. I wanted to erase all of the colors of
melancholy from her eyes and replace them with the hues of open ends. I wanted
to wash the tatters of her heart in my ocean.
When we arrived, I built a castle
for her, with rooms…I don’t know. It had somewhere between one hundred and ten
thousand. Each one was faceted, sharp-edged, shaped like her strange habits and
movements. Atop the highest tower I built an elongated pentagonal cupola, as
she always suspected it was the shape of her soul. And the castle was so vast,
and I was away and back and away so much, that I was afraid of losing her. So I
fashioned a brooch with a tiny silver bell. The cameo was a portrait of…someone
lost to her. It might have also been of her-I can’t remember.
I think she was happy. I also think she was never happy. You
can’t really ask about things like that. They will go away. So I went away.
Sailing away. Day after day after day. And she would stay, wandering from room
to room tracing the meetings of walls with her skirt ends.
took to things. Or the taking of her from me occurred. I would bring her
things-fabrics, jewels, and spices from all of the corners. There were sixteen
corners. That is one thing I can remember. With the bow of my Wondership I had
begun to shape the world into a nonahedron for her and thought that I could
give her a private geometry. She retreated into the reading of tealeaves and
Whenever I returned from sea, I
would open the great oak doors, close them behind me, and hold my breath. In…I
don’t know. It took somewhere in between a minute and six hours, but I would
hear ringing, and pick up a loose thread that would lead me to her.
These threads came from the end of
her skirts, which she would pick at all day. She would have looked so nice
otherwise, but the pick pick pick.. Feet, yards, miles of thread. She picked
because she said that she needed more loose ends in her life. I laughed at
that, like a lot of things that she said. I think it hurt her. It hurt me.
One day, when I cam back form a
particularly long voyage to the Mainland, I found her waiting for me at the
door. Warm surprise gave way to panic when I saw that she was without her
brooch. I cannot remember our conversation, but I will make something up for
‘What is the matter with you?’
‘You are away all the time. I hate being a lost and found.’
‘You’re never lost.’
‘Things are forgetting.’
‘I am as well. I am forgetting it all.’
‘Why don’t you come with me?’
‘No. I like the forgetting. I like the lost. I’d rather be
one half than a hole.’
Or something like that. I left the
next morning. When I returned, I entered knowing the silence and saw the brooch
laying on the table in the atrium. The next…I don’t know. It was somewhere
between a year and a century that was all a blur after that. I searched the
castle, room beyond room within room next to room above room. I looked for
threads, listened for the rustling of fabric or hair brushing forehead.
I searched and I forgot. My sturdy
shoulders withered. My eyes moved from shades of waves to those of stone, sun
lines faded to dust, my hands softened on the surface, but hardened underneath
with the clutching for her. It took an age for dawn to break inside of me. What
if she had left the castle altogether? Her wanderings could have taken her
anywhere.I was lost!
An exploration of the grounds and
Dimmer Ends yielded nothing. I had to find her. I had to get off of the island
is she was indeed gone. Was she? There was not way to tell, only to feel that
it was so.
By now nations had come and gone,
and I probably was not even a Baron anymore. But the searching kept me, and
kept me remembering while everything else embraced The Forgetting. The one
thing I did let go of was the one thing I needed. I had lost my marriage to the
sea and its ways.
My wondership gone, all knowledge
of it working and construction vanished like her, like my Broached Woman.”
You know there is more to
the…letter. Yes, that’s the name for it. A letter. You know that, what do you
know? You know that it is time to go. The Cormorant is ancy and his…that
word…wing…is asking to leave as well. But instinctively, deeply, you know there
is another stop. Before you leave Dimmer Ends, you say this aloud and absently,
but The Cormorant agrees in his own way: “A stop is in order. Now we stop so
that we can start again.”
The Forgetting is the
fault of those who think invisibility makes room for love.
Going north and west now back over
Arches, The Cormorant directs your attention down to a giant moue on the face
of the Archipelago.
“I’ll take you no farther than the
shore as I am completely famished and cannot fly a moment longer without
nourishment, and my rudeness in mentioning this is superceded only by your
rudeness in not asking after my well-being.”Your ebony companion, after a weak protest from his wing
(who, only has your interests at heart) lands in the water twenty yards from
A few minutes later, you slog
yourself up onto shore, (your documents miraculously dry after a moment of
quick thinking and the long arms of your father). But you are already
forgetting why you are here. Things are getting hazy, and a mouthful of panic
is even drier than the papers you hurriedly pull out of your portfolio.
Memory is triggered, the gun goes
off floods you, moistening your mouth and setting you to rights…for now. It is
a brochure and a map for a museum somewhere on this island. It reads:
Come One, Come All,
HALL OF ALWAYS WAS
Open Day And Night!
Beneath this is the crude etching of a glowing triangle.
No one (of note) has ever resided
on The Atoll. And yet, and still, this broken mouth, just shy of being a
perfect circle, is home to more of the stuff of the Archipelago’s memory than
the other five (six) islands combined.
The Atoll had been an occasional
conduit for trade, talk, and turgidity. This function was reliably
inconsistent. No one was lastingly interested in connecting the dots. But isn’t
it always the way that after we fall and falter in the storm, we search for a
sympathetic eye? Or at least search for none? In droves they came tripping
towards the coral loop, stranding themselves like pearls on the string.
And they brought all of their
treasures. Letters, toys, grandmother’s slippers, father’s gloves, Auntie’s
saucer, Brother’s pant legs, and other trinkets that link the world were all
donated in an effort to archive, catalogue, and crystallize domestic history.
The Broached Woman reluctantly led
the effort to build the museum. It was her idea to construct a tetrahedron
whose points faced southeast, southwest, and due north.
After a few minutes of searching
you find the entrance all but buried in dune sand. You crawl inside and enter a
cavernous room, with vaulted glass ceilings and a disorienting planar
topography. On pedestals and walls, in cases and on shelves, you see objects
accompanied by small brass placards. It was The Broached Woman’s idea to
caption each time traveler/memento with the last words spoken in its presence.
*A candle, sallow and half-dead, the wick long-since
The card underneath reads: “I am just stuffed. I always cook
too much. Too much!”
*Two identical red buttons, stitched with and without care
to a scrap of turquoise fabric.
The card, affixed to the wall above them: “One is a number
for the drawer of omission, but two could be something, you know?”
*A stubby green/brown stem, an inch or so long, derived from
some variety of stone fruit.
The card, tied to it with a short and tender length of white
string: “This is the last time that I will trust you, darling. After that,
you’ll be free.”
*A black and gold steamer trunk etched with the to and fro
of a wandering life. It is full of tiny glass beads of all shapes, sizes,
colors, and styles.
The card is hung from the ceiling of the museum and floats a
few feet above it: “No, but it weighs the same as gold. And we all know the
value of weighting.”
*A smoking pipe, gently used, with cautiously carved brown
bowl and curved stem. The card is propped up at its side: “This is the memory
of a pipe.”
*A little girl of seven or eight, encased in a room made of
amber, holding a melon, or a green ball. It’s hard to pierce the orange haze.
The card is worn around the girl’s neck on a silver chain:
“The only time for us is sleep, my girl. Sleep and silence. Those are the two
best gifts in the sack. Don’t even bother to try to look at the others. Well,
you can if you really want to.”
There are other things. Most of
them have been removed and used as the raw material for the construction of The
Vernaculus, the Baron’s second wondership. Vast sections of the museum are
vacant and in disrepair, while others still house keepsakes and remember whens,
and are kept as pristine as the day the tetrahedron’s last face was put in
place. This tells us that someone will always remember.
After the Cormorant has had his
fill (for you return to the beach soon after discovering the museum, but are
left waiting and watching his diving searches for fish), he makes his way out
of the water and announces that he is ready to depart.
You have forgotten to scold him for
making you wait. You have forgotten to put your wet boots on again. You have
forgotten why you are crying, but the Cormorant’s wing remembers to wipe the
“Forgetting is not an easy thing, I
imagine.” And he cries a bit too.
“There’s no such thing as tears and
travelers! You can’t have one and the other.” In his special way, The Cormorant
is getting everyone situated. He takes off and moves so swiftly that tears are
cast into sky and sea.
He was right. There is no such
thing as travelers and tears.
The Forgetting is the
fault of those who strive to out-side memory.
billowing smoke mars the horizon ahead and The
Cormorant takes the long route around Terse, circling once more in a clockwise
direction, before heading southeast. “We shan’t go here”. The
Cormorant’s voice is firm, but his long sturdy neck quivers and heartbeats
tremor his soot-feather chest. “Oh no”. His wing agrees in thought and in
action, taking them sharply north, back towards and over Arches. Thankfully,
you’ve no interest in hearing your worn boots clack against the departed stones
of Perambulinium. It is worse than you think. It is not a house of the dead as
many assume. It is a house of the lived.
You can barely stand the stench
that permeates the air above it, where zephyrs fight to move it along, but it
is heavy, thick, and a tenacious adherent. Your portfolio does not contain any
clues or comforting trinkets for this place. It holds no key to the terrible
secrets that hide here. But there is something written along the inner leather
panels. The Story is written inside of your portfolio, but you have forgotten.
It is a convenient loss, and a surefire sign of the beginning of The Forgetting
for you, and a stroke of luck. The Story has dire consequences. The author
feels compelled to include it. He will assume the risk and responsibility to do
Nothing has ever lived on
Perambulinium except seven serpents of the sea. The smallest could swallow a
man whole, and the largest has never been seen, but The Baron claims sight of
an eye as large as the Vernaculus. Their scales glitter like rare gems, and
their words kill anything with ears to hear them.
They do not forget because they
have nothing to forget. Their existence is that of the circle. They are the
Council of The Story. Before, during, and after the sweeping forgetfulness that
struck the Archipelago, was The One Day. And in The One Day was The Story, told
by each, by which each told time, one line at a time. The smallest serpent goes
first, and is consumed by the next smallest in line, and so on. It is told like
You have to turn around to know where you’re headed.
Turning around demands the slow.
Slow to stop is two sounds away.
The first sound is a waving hand.
The second sound can’t be heard when turned around.
Trying to hear the second sound and you’ve lost where you’re
By the time the last serpent utters
the last line, he eats himself again, until-
The Cormorant’s wing reminds you
not to stare too long at the glittering shores of Perambulinium, and flutters
faster and away.
The Forgetting is the
fault of lines forced into circles.
Arches and eastward you fly, beyond Dimmer Ends where an ugly gray column of
rock stands (volcanic? you’re not an expert on the subject) haunted by a
previous life. It declares and comes clear of the water like an exclamation
point without its “!”. There is contraction in the cracks and crags, a misering
of borders, like a thick coat drawn to the throat. Terse is fending off the
know if we’ll be welcome here, but I can circle above for as long as I like.”
You don’t fail to catch The Cormorant’s pronoun slap. You cannot be sure, but
his wing might have snickered at this. Regardless, he keeps you and The
Cormorant steady enough for you to retrieve your binoculorgnette from your
the site of a convent. Every woman/sister on the island has thin lips, flat ash
hair, eyes of dirty jade, and crooked front teeth. Each wears a simple shift,
no shoes, and a heavy shawl to keep intruders from riding in on the trade
Tersian convent was a house of benign wickedness. Tender ladies working in
silent secret, on the Great Unfinished Work, a notion couched in vague
references and hushed tones to guard its nascence from the prying mouths of the
According to The Cormorant:
“According to the Baron: ‘According to The Broached Woman, who lies only in the
interest of interest, shortly after she and I discovered the Archipelago (she
merely pointed to the map while I did the physicalizing), all fashion of
‘seekers and escape artists’ sniffed their way from the mainland.’ Usually
after saying this she’d clutch her chest and quickly add: ‘’Don’t misread me, I
have nothing against the sisters of Terse. They were ever the courteous
neighbor, building their fence of disdain piece by annual piece out of baskets
of flowers and draughts of sweet nectars left on our doorstep. Respect cannot
be denied them. They are the preeminent artisans of silent judgment.’”
recall something akin to this from the Baron’s journal. The Baron is not given
to idle speculation except in matters as grave as the activity of neighbors.
His journal also recounts a circumnavigation of the Archipelago on the
Vernaculus (as a test of its seaworthiness): “Exhausted by two bows without a
stern tugging the war, my ship finally buckled.I made for Terse, and there saw not the most peculiar thing,
but something not unremarkable. Before me was that petrified log of land,
termited with nun-riddled caves. I looked up towards the top of the Tersian
column. I could alternately see and not see slithering silver threads toying
with sea breezes that writhed and caressed the air with an intimacy that…well,
I just can’t imagine what nuns could
be doing with such…material.”
moot now. It is mute now. When the Forgetting washed over the women of Terse,
the problem was apparent, the solution even more so. It happened at the
dinner hour. A simple meal of root vegetables, sheep’s milk, bread, and
preserves was interrupted by a sharp but immediately apologetic gasp form one
of the fold who had suddenly forgotten what she was to do the next day to
continue The Great Unfinished Work. Omissions, subtractions of this kind were
unheard of. Shock spread through delicate porcelain plates and ignited napkin
laps. Oil lamps fainted at the news, and the long wooden table shuddered.
degree that it was possible amongst these women of measure, chaos ensued and
flowing fabrics, hair, and whispers made its way to the place of meeting. There
it was revealed by some of the elder nuns that they had foreseen The Forgetting
in subtle and sinister mistakes found in The Great Unfinished Work. They
then and also revealed The Great Plan. Full details are contained in a
letter(penned, incidentally, the
young woman whose dinner gasp had launched the investigation) sent to the
mainland. This is a rare document, as communication of this kind was strictly
forbidden, and now impossible:
This will be my last message to
you. Something has embraced Terse, and steps must be taken. Though no one has
said it, I am confident that The Cormorant and his cohorts will no longer be
allowed to alight on our shores, and we are not allowed the floating bottles or
the hopes they contain to send our missives to those we adore. Besides, after
what I have learned, I am too fearful of committing thought and caress and tear
to paper. Expression is the thief of us.
course to defeat the taking of all that we are is to lock it away, a true treasuring
of what came before. We have been instructed to close the boundaries that lie
at our lips, fingertips, eyes and feet. The wares of our hearts must stay
there, all of the names of love unspoken. The sharing makes us forget.
again will a single word be uttered, nor a thing made, pointed out, or perhaps
even felt on the island. We are cutting all of our ships loose into the ocean.
This will become our Great Incomplete Work.
I don’t know if this emptiness has
reached your castle…or her…yet. I hope so. It is not a small mercy to be
stripped of longing and knowing what we cannot have. I wish-”
remainder of the letter is lost. Whether undone by the elements (the sheaf you
read from is battered and scrapped) or never done by the writer, it is not for
you to know.
been silent for generations. The nuns drift to and fro day to day, slowly
making due with less and less. Time has slowed for them as well, stasis being
their only child. Each and every woman is fifty-five years, five months, five
weeks, five days, five hours, five minutes, and five seconds old. Once every
few years, they amass at the meeting place, and are allowed to let go of one
piece of their looking backwards. It is not pain that they usually choose to
share and forget, nor sadness. Happy memories are unmoored and given up.
There’s a touch of the ascetic in it, but mostly the way of trying to turn away
from the sun.
The Forgetting is the fault of those who want to be more by
making the world less.
pier, The Cormorant flies east, bypasses The Atoll and Dimmer Ends and brings
you near the center of the Archipelago itself, where his webbed feet find
purchase amidst a crop of stone ghosts; the ruins of twenty foot high arches
abutting the western shore.
stiff disembarkation from The Cormorant’s back, you take a few awkward steps.
The air is silent, distant, and surprisingly thin. You turn away from the
abandoned lives set into the rubble dotting the beach and look out to sea at a
vast forest of trees swaying in the surf. From your portfolio you procure The Ways of Arches, a slim volume of red
leather, find the earmarked passage and read aloud to no one (the Cormorant is
most assuredly not listening):
gatherers, competent with seafaring but dismissive of too wide a ken. They are
generally described as a butter-skinned race, prodigious in their selfishness
and able to use a broad smile and deep laughter like a surgeon’s scalpel.”
goes to great lengths to stress the “perversely long legs” of Arches’ people.
Unabashedly long, by any standards, even yours. They were apparently three or
four times the size of “civilized” legs.
morning a retinue of sticks would pour from the domed archways of stone towers
and vault out to sea. Low tide was the time for calamus limbs to stilt across
sopping mud bearing gargantuan baskets of shellfish, mollusks, and delicate
seaweeds. High tide meant wading out to small boats and lying with
cloth-wrapped legs in the air, to harvest the winds and drift the day away. Odd
traveling feet left deep vase tracks in the sand, used by shorebirds until
volume goes on. The people of Arches do not. What happened happens now for you.
The Forgetting made life non-life. It was a slow and broken forgetting, pieces
falling off as long legs traveled back and forth through one and many days. The
shorebirds saw it, turned to one another and said, “Are you seeing this? How
bustled and skittered out onto the beach and into the marshes, loosened by a
‘What is this? Why are we here? Who are you?’ The bundle came untied. What
seemed sturdy and strong together was now exposed and frail. They wandered
wider a-field, or rather ashore, or rather offshore, until they could not find
their way back.
The Cormorant claims that he tried
to steer them back to their stone archways but gave up after a generation. By
this time something else had started to take hold.
atrophied, skin thickened in the salt and sun, blood slowed to a sappy crawl,
and it was not long, (a century or less) Arches forgot Arches.At the end, arms reached and spawned
arms of arms-a final biological plea for freedom. Legs rooted. Smiles barked.
you see the empty Arches, ringed once by the tumbling stones of people who
forgot themselves, and again by a copse that can’t remember what it was. The
Cormorant draws your attention to a noteworthy addendum:
the shorebirds left the Archipelago because it was unbearable witness. Some
lingered –(compassion and laziness always sit together at the theatre) and
settled in foot holes, now protected from the tides by an amnesia forest.
Eventually, feathers took root and bills went limp and green, filled the
marshes with nitid sea grass that chirps and squawks.”
he lets out a gaudy croaking guff(c)aw. He interrupts your burgeoning disdain
for him. “The Broached Woman told it well once while reading my tea leaves.”
His voice rises to the occasion of mimicry. ”’They ring the entire landmass,
and are surprisingly thin and meager looking for all that they endure. And one
gets the feeling of their being bent low, a lowness not borne of fatigue like
yours, or cowardice, like mine, my friend, but a searching bow, still purposeful,
still hopeful, still smiling and ultimately selfish in its naiveté.’”
You want so much to meet the Broached Woman, don’t you?Everything in its time.
Cormorant’s beckons you to his back, and as you settle into his warmth his wing
whispers to you, as if having heard your thoughts:
things not as they were, or as they are, or as they should be, but as they wish
they could become.” You brush the wing lightly in agreement, feeling a kinship
as you take flight.
The Forgetting is the fault of those who make time for it.