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  • ZiN Daily

Charlotte M. Porter




The Repair 


How to redeem spring, the sweet time of the world? Thomas doubting Thomas stands in the cold light of the Midnight Sun. No longer self-possessed, he straddles the Arctic Circle at latitude 75° and longitude 150°. The island is a penal colony, where, since czarist times, inmates in rags sew fine woolen uniforms. They keep the military in good repair. Their pins and needles are harmless weapons, but the strength of the seams counts for much in combat. Of necessity, the men who find themselves here—killers, dissidents, and guards—have established an unlikely brotherhood to survive the bitter cold. Their treasure, the gold standard, is warmth, a sparse commodity they share. Dissidents, like Thomas used to be, settle in, fall into line, or freeze to death.

About broken rules, most dissidents were once intellectuals. They honor grammar. Most were avid readers who needed glasses. No corrective lenses here, and none are needed without books, not even Bibles. The nearsighted sew with their faces to the cloth. Happy for the warmth of wool serge, they dream of lint—lint landscapes with lint clouds and fuzzy lint snowflakes falling on their tongues.

The killers, many hired hitmen, were mobsters who got caught. In penal speak, they are brutal fuck-ups, no different from dissidents. They don’t care about rules, let alone good grammar, and, as masters of cruelty, they easily ally with the guards. And, just as easily, turn on them like twisted threads. What a brotherhood of lint.

To pass the time, the men tell or, rather, retell stories—folk tales, long riddles, and varnished lies. The oft-told stories test and groom a captive audience. Listeners learn to posture, to take and defend positions in another man’s story. Was Cinderella’s horse-drawn coach really a proletariat pumpkin on wheels? Was Anna Karenina a romantic stuffed skirt standing on the wrong railroad track? Or, a pregnant Marxist progressive needing a state-funded abortion? What about Little Red Riding Hood? Was she a pearl of a girl or a peasant child too easily duped? You know what they say: Don’t walk in the forest if you don’t like wolves. Or, ailing grannies. And then there’s Gogol’s nasty nose, a snotty thing, heedless of nostril hairs or handkerchief.

The penal crowd doesn’t miss the company of women, whom they both fear and reject as incomplete men, deceitful, pliable, and unworthy of trust. In the caustic cold, the need for immediate warmth usurps nostalgia for soft arms, love, and even sex. Instead, the men argue about the number of cloves in pumpkin spice, Anna K’s hose and middle name, and the best fabric for a lint-free riding hood. 

The stories are welcome diversions, but the men all keep secrets. Secrets are the currency to buy a chance at freedom. They long to rat, to come in from the cold. No one is getting younger.

Time is pressure. Time is precious. But under the Midnight Sun, the hours are much the same. There are no shadows. In a white realm, white animals are hard to see, but for their tracks. Where are they going? Where can the rats go with their balls of lint? Scan the horizon, a near-perfect circle. The end is the beginning.

For Thomas, the idea of spring has replaced internal dissonance and drama. Buds, trees in leaf, and fledglings support the secret spring that sustains him. He worries he might forget the necessary elements, and, to keep things real, he recites critical details—noisy crane migrations overhead, hepaticas with hairy red stems and heart-shaped leaves, and mud, glorious mud. 

The other men elbow each other and snicker. They point at him. His moving lips suggest he is praying. 

No God here, they jest. No sweet chariot swinging low, coming to carry you home. Too cold to crank up the Pearly Gates. Angel Land stops at latitude 60o.

Thomas nods and smiles out of respect. They speak the truth. No blue heaven at this latitude, just stark skies above and stark ice below.

For body heat, at night, the men curl up head-to-head and fall asleep. Thomas worries about losing his mind. His thoughts and dreams, his ideals, might betray him, stray into another man’s skull, and incite a riot about springtime, rumors of rising sap and trees in leaf. Or, worse, another man’s secret might invade his brain and force him to betray himself. Their bodies, cold and shivering, count for little more than lint in the Arctic Circle.

The men are thin as sticks. Once fat men are now skinny men with baggy flesh. The gaunt student types are emaciated. Like them, Thomas is losing his hair in clumps. Ribs corrugate his chest, but his hairless body seems prepubescent. His teeth are loose, and he speaks with a whistle. He feels silly, like a freak regressing back to childhood—yes, back to the tooth fairy and springtime. 

And, like a child, he has an imaginary friend, a burly buddy with heavy fur. At night, the creature’s rhythmic snores offer body heat. Thomas knows he fantasizes. He has borrowed a hairy beast from another man’s head dream—a village fair with dancing Bruno.

Warmth. He reconfigures lint and tries to imagine wrap-around warmth—hearth, scarf, flannel bedclothes. He remembers pressing his face to the window glass of Mama’s farmhouse kitchen. He didn’t mind the drafts. He was impatient for signs of spring, flocks of golden grosbeaks feeding on pippins, old freeze-dried cores in Papa’s apple orchard.

But this, too, is another man’s dream, the haunting memory of the countryside, land ownership, and seasons. Thomas grew up in the concrete enclaves of the city. Signs of spring were slush on salted sidewalks, sooty ice floes moving downriver, and bunched radishes from the southern provinces. Ah, the peppery flavor and the ruddy color. And, ah, the honeybees braving the weedy medians of the urban park. They’ve buzzed in from another man’s brain to hive in his skull, to safeguard their queen, another secret.

He will learn to harvest the hive and wick the fragrant wax with a twisted thread. He can trade out the honey and the candles for liberty. The guards will relish the effects of bee pollen on prostate problems. They will blink. He’s so thin, he can slip under the gate into the linty whiteness. He will walk away a free man—not the same man with the same dream, but a human being no longer in doubt.



About the Author: Charlotte M. Porter lives and writes in an old citrus hamlet in Florida, U.S.A.



 

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The image of Quasimodo is by French artist Louis Steinheil, which appeared in  the 1844 edition of Victor Hugo's "Notre-Dame de Paris" published by Perrotin of Paris.

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