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Thursday, 19 September 2013 14:59


So they were never especially clear, when they spoke of Narcissus; they called him beautiful, yes, but beautiful is a well so often drawn from that the waters are never still, and never clear, our reflections churning to the sound of buckets. We do not know what we look like in beauty, save that it would be different.

So it is with Narcissus; we know only that he looked different, out of reach, but – maddeningly – never out of sight. He was troubling. It’s been said that we could learn something from the water, and learn to grow still again once we have been troubled by stone, or fish, or beauty, but I’ve doubts there. Even if we could forget our hunger for one beauty, there’d be another to stir us up before too long. Shallow waters are never still.

The waters that Narcissus found were not still, though – found out in the woods, chasing deer or music or just taking a walk away from the city where he was stared at, whistled at, an indistinct blur that made even the old men and women of the city moan; let us not talk of what the youths did. No-one had yet touched him, wary, perhaps, of beauty’s cruel reputation, or of being rebuffed by that dulcet voice, or of succeeding - and finding thereafter that all the world was ash and bile that was not Narcissus. They wanted him, but wanted to live unchanged by him; we all ask for miracles, sometimes.

The gods are not usually kind.

I think that all Narcissus wanted was water, at first – a chance to let his neck dip unselfconsciously into some cool, unseen spring, and slurp at the stuff, gulping and belching happily, knees on the grass and hands on the muddy turf, without concern for sustaining the hyaline blur of beauty that was all he was known for back in the world; but before those lips that would efface your last love’s lips could break the cool surface, he opened his eyes, and was doomed. He knew himself.

Understand, he did not kneel there transfixed by his own beauty – a beautiful youth of sixteen in a small town full of plain people can not be surprised by such things; it was not the sudden apprehension of his bone structure that had him stuck there, ignoring the nymphs and dryads that wheeled around him, as if blown by the wind, begging for his esteem; it was the glimpse, in those still and cruel reflective waters, of something behind the shimmer of beauty – something that was Narcissus. The people had called Narcissus beautiful – what did Narcissus call himself? He looked deeper, trying to grasp the forever departing kernel of self – regarding not simply his own reflection in the pool, but the reflection of his eyes in the pool, and the reflection of the pool in the reflection of his eyes, and his own reflection, again, in the reflection of the pool, in the reflection of his eyes. It was a chase that went on forever, and who was he to know that he would never reach its end? Even if he did know – who among us has not, at times, longed for the futile, noble struggle in favour of that which is possible, and vulgar for it?

But perhaps we mistake beauty for nobility.

Xeno, we assume, did not think much of beauty, or of the self-knowledge his old rival carried around like a favourite wine – or else he would have found his batches of infinities far before he came by Achilles, or his arrows.

Though they say Achilles was beautiful; he was born by a nymph, like Narcissus. Achilles was struck by an arrow fired by a man who had received either Aphrodite’s curse, or her favour; Narcissus, some contend, was struck by an arrow fired by Aphrodite’s child.

The gods are not usually kind.

Their favours are ineluctable. It may be that it is better to love them than to hate them, because it is easier to love the shackles that we cannot break, to adore our afflictions, as the people of the desert make a religion of dryness – but it is hard, to have to love your master. It is hard to love; ask Achilles. Ask Narcissus.

When you see them.

[Q. The god of love fires an arrow. How many infinities must it cross before it pierces my heart?

Please show your working.]

And though the gods have different names now, nature and nurture and causality and macroeconomic concerns, and though they did not say for sure whether Narcissus sits paralyzed, regarding his condition in tense waters or through a glass, darkly, or in the window of a bus leaving his hick town for the city, the facts remain; they are, and he does.

The gifts have grown subtler; Narcissus knows not where his extended arm ends, and the gift begins, cannot limn the line between himself, and himself.

They say they found flowers where he was, but that is a different story, and about a murder.

Soundlessly, the corpse of something beautiful slid into deep waters, which rejoiced at their prize. The surface rocked, for a little while, as time goes for surfaces, and then resumed its mimicry of the sky. The flesh beneath it, once taught and supple, grow pale and bloated, began to rot, and once-shining tresses of hair floated away in clumps; fish fed themselves.

And the clear water, which looked upon no-one, and was not looked upon, was no less content.
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Liam Kruger

Liam Kruger has had stories, essays and poetry in numerous online and print journals, including The Rumpus, theNewerYorkPlayboyAerodromeMahala and PrufrockSome of that writing’s ended up in anthologies like AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers (Storytime Press) and Bloody Satisfied (Burnet Media). 

For the past little while he’s taught and written and studied in Cape Town, but now he’s living in Istanbul.

You can find some of his stories hereand you can watch his sanity visibly unravel here

Website: twitter.com/liamkruger
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