The Spill

Elliot Gallion

4.

The President’s declaration of the End of Fun did not inspire mass protest or violent demonstration, even from the most extreme of fringe elements. This was contrary to the President’s assumption, shared by his advisors and most law-enforcement and intelligence arms, that such a statement would inspire a long-running internal conflict. The air was ripe with discontent, certainly, but no more than usual.

The nation, having suffered the burden of chaos in the wake of the Spill—a time of great change and cultural upheaval—seemed to settle: calm and unprovoked. There began a period of quiet contemplation. High-ranking thinkers attempted to formulate theories to explain the quiet, but their efforts were abandoned: even they possessed little desire for an answer. Meanwhile, the culture, including the Literary Scene, was silent. Poets and Fictionists, once swollen with Post-Spill Inspiration, appeared starved and weary with Post-Fun Malaise; their work addressed irrelevant subjects and lacked cohesion; they were boring like old things are boring when old things are boring. Those Poets and Fictionists who in their heyday had been hailed as wunderkind gatekeepers of something once so rich and so new seemed ready to return to a time more simple: each infrequent attempt at new-fangled innovation of form or content failed, and was uninteresting in its failure. The television news industry stopped giving up-to-date accounts of events and instead filled airtime with re-runs of “breaking news” stories—an anthology of “thrilling” and “you gotta see this” reports representing “all the best news”—but even they were ignored, eventually. Motion pictures of a certain kind were abandoned without lament or fanfare, replaced by reels of bright colors and loud sounds played in continuous, repeating loops and endured for no better reason than momentary distraction; but they, too, were only temporarily consumed.

Geopolitically the world was of a demure countenance; international legislative bodies ceased to convene; diplomacy was without cause; agreements waxed and waned absent of purpose. Economies grew passive and sluggish. Science preoccupied itself with itself. Education was either abandoned or embraced the way an obsolescent farmer overworks or burns his fallow fields. Holidays became redundant. Most professionals sought their way out. Rather than risking the possibility of abject wordlessness, many Fictionists and Poets put down their pens in favor of a pre-emptive and self-imposed silence: a refusal.

For a short period of long years, there was little to discuss. There was no dominant feeling. The End of Fun meant the inability to see beyond tragedy: an acute paralysis of the once-prevalent inclination to cross the river. It was a dark time, as time must always be for the blind.

Then: death!

At an early-morning hour, or at least much earlier than they had grown accustomed to rising, former television news anchors were rustled from their beds by telephone calls from producers with whom they hadn’t spoken for months (live anchors having been done away with), and with still-sleepy ears pressed to plastic receivers the oh-so-tired news anchors who’d had so little to do but hold tight to the ground heard their producer friends say there was an emergency and the old crew was assembling at the old office and driving non-stop to a rural town somewhere in the middle of the country. When the anchors asked why, they were told it didn’t matter and that it didn’t make any difference because it was a real story, after all—but since you asked someone important stopped existing, and there wasn’t any time to waste.

Hours later, as the rest of the nation along both coasts and in the middle climbed from empty beds to address the day, they were shocked to see and hear sights and sounds that weren’t already familiar—something new was happening, was it, you said?—and they were afflicted with a strange-but-familiar feeling that they didn’t remember but was most certainly excitement: an anticipation, the kind that focuses minds and strains stomachs but keeps the wayward vessel afloat. In their homes the nation’s people crowded around their televisions and listened and watched. In public places they stood and did the same, occasionally turning to look at one another with confused looks, a confusion not as much with what they were being told had happened but with the realization that it had been a very long time since they’d taken the time to look at one another with anything but anger or despair. News reports—live breaking news reports, they were!—came screaming across the sky with news of death!

Gilda Sopht—the nation’s poet laureate—was dead. She’d been found in her home in a storied region of the country: a victim of that same “advanced age” for which she had once been criticized. The cameras captured images of her body as it had been found: curled on a small bed on the floor and beneath heavy maroon blankets, her face calm and gray and settled in an expression of quiet release befitting a peaceful passing, and yet—there was, undeniably, as many of the nation’s people whispered, something else in her face, something like small inflections at the corners of her mouth curled upwards at both ends: a smile! Gilda Sopht, it was reported, had died silently, and with a smile.

Like the flood of some ancient or gestating text the culture erupted. Fictionists and Poets sent words to one another, asking what they or others believed had happened and what they were feeling, and if those were the same, or different, and if different: why? Speculation, rumors, whispers among groups that gathered and dispersed, framed by freshly clean kitchens and low-lit living rooms and crowded banquet hall corners. Amidst all the talking there was a sound, too—soft but distinct—as pencils scratched across paper and fingers tapped at mechanical keyboards and word processors hummed a familiar tune—and then, finally: pages! And eyes, roaming the new pages in search of the reservoir of meaning in which they, the pages, had been conceived, however unconsciously, and lurked, somewhere between the lines, near the surface, but just perfectly hidden!

At the corner of two familiar streets a pair of newly-familiar Fictionists met to exchange manuscripts: each read the other’s before the day was over and exchanged further pages of notes and suggestions, both swollen with the pleasure of a common goal. By the morning following reports of Gilda’s death, one thousand copies of a single sheet of paper with the words LAUREATE FOUND DEAD printed across the top were placed at the corner of two familiar streets and subsequently found their way into the hands of one thousand different people, many of whom transformed the single sheet into a digital object and unceremoniously dropped it into the digital realm from no great height to a place where many more thousands of individuals throughout the nation could read what could only be described as a fact-based account of a real-life event. Within a week, a little-read-but-fashionable-to-read Eastern arts magazine published an issue filled with brand-spankin’-new-never-before-seen Poetry and Fiction; no submission, the editors announced, had been turned away.

Upo
n consulting with his advisors and amassing as much knowledge as possible on Gilda’s death, the former President—who had not been seen in public since his declaration of the End of Fun—emerged from his private home in the Pacific Northwest and offered a brief eulogy to the same poet laureate who, so many years before, had declined his request that she redeem the nation and its people through the power and guidance of her verse as they faced the dark horizon of an uncommonly awful epoch.

“History,” the president said, “is that through which we must pass, and cannot avoid, together.”

Following Her Death and for several months Gilda was honored and remembered on a frequent basis. She was given dozens of posthumous tributes, all heartfelt, from all sectors a-brimming with the same sincerity and grace that had characterized her own life and body of work. The Literary Scene, as Gilda’s once-upon-a-time professional family, stood quietly by as the kind words came in, happy to sponsor each ceremony, more-than-willing to oversee the construction of memorial statues and the christenings of new buildings and the re-naming of old boulevards that would, from Her Death on, keep Gilda’s name and work forever alive. Volumes of her poetry filled bookshelves, only to be quickly bought.

Thinkers of the highest rank entered into a widespread critical re-appraisal and discovered that, in the years since her refusal to versify, especially, but perhaps all along—they’d been wrong, overcritical, oversensitive, misguided, led astray: there were to be found in her verse no fascist undertones, no cold admonitions or unfair biases, no dogmatic declarations. Gilda, they decided, had been right all along, and she was, as they’d always secretly thought—irrespective to what they wrote in journals or whispered in corners—the best and only practitioner of verse they had ever really needed.

As the nation and the literary scene were preoccupied with remembering, however, Gilda Sopht’s personal effects had to be gathered, gone through and inventoried per the instructions of her appointed executor: a single unknown figure who kept her mysterious distance and hired high-ranking attorneys as her legal handymen. It was she—the nameless executor—who was responsible for the installation of Gilda’s papers at a well-known university in the middle of the country. The university was chosen for two reasons: first for its elite status as an archive for many of the nation’s well-known voices, and second its location: Gilda Sopht’s papers are housed in a building that stands not thirty miles from where once the nation kept its lonely eyes, and where its government has plans to erect a memorial to commemorate the long-lasting and irrevocable effects of the Spill.

But even as plans for the archive were formulated, there were some lingering questions repeatedly voiced about Gilda’s final days and her many Post-Spill years spent out to pasture. She left no will. She died childless and alone. Her closest friends lived far away. All three of her well-known romantic affairs had long since passed. There were only two people, one living and one dead, who could offer any fact-based perspective or insight to answer the nation’s questions. The living person was, to no original credit on Gilda’s part, her gardener: an elderly and partially blind woman whose fingers, it was said, could barely make a fist for the pain they gave her, and who wept unattractively whenever a television camera was shoved in her face. The only other person capable of giving any sort of information as to Gilda’s Post-Spill years was, as it happened, Gilda herself, whose diaries, kept life-long, were known for their rigorous specificity and detail. Reports at the time, however, indicated that what would have been her final diary—encompassing all her life’s details Post-Spill, Post-Clean-Up and Post-Fun—simply did not exist, in defiance of the nation’s best hopes.

The faceless executor claimed the final diary found among Gilda’s effects took its readers only to a point in time three weeks before the Spill. That final diary was published under the title Before the Spill to mostly universal acclaim, but not without a few skeptical members of the Literary Scene calling its veracity as Gilda’s final diary into question. It was suggested that the publication of Gilda’s final diary was a calculated action designed to distract the nation and the Literary Scene from the possibility of a missing or suppressed diary, which would have presumably covered in great detail Gilda’s Post-Spill life, and therefore answered all the many questions that had in the wake of her refusal so captivated the Post-Spill nation.

Three weeks ago, a discovery was made at The Gilda Sopht Archive. The source of the discovery is an undergraduate student of English who has, since his discovery, taken it upon himself to investigate the nation’s history as it relates to the Spill, the Clean-Up, the End of Fun and Gilda Sopht. Whatever the merits of the undergraduate’s investigation—or his qualifications to have undertaken it absence of faculty guidance—the fact remains that he did not report his discovery to the university-appointed Archive Curator, nor did he follow browsing protocol in his many return visits to the Archive. The well-known university has publicly announced neither the undergraduate’s discovery nor their discovery of that discovery. The undergraduate has been threatened with not-insignificant charges that will adversely affect his academic future.

The undergraduate’s discovery consists of an untitled, single-stanza poem found in Gilda’s archived papers: specifically, between an old newspaper and a battered copy of Arin Joy’s heretical collection of aborted accounts. The university’s English faculty, with the assistance of two high-ranking thinkers, have determined that the poem exhibits stylistic inclinations of both form and content that are consistent with that of her previous and much-analyzed work, and is, at this point in the process, undeniably the work of Gilda Sopht. It is believed that the poem was never published and was, contrary to assumptions of her abject wordlessness, a work composed by Gilda sometime after the Spill. The English faculty and its consults have been debating for months the implications of this discovery and what purpose its release to the public would serve. They are certain it would raise unnecessary questions. Others agree, and point out that discussions of Gilda’s refusal have shortened over the years.

Elsewhere, a war is being fought; they say a child has been heard whistling.

About the Work

Elliot Gallion

Elliot Gallion will graduate from Stetson University in May 2011 with a degree in English. He lives in Gumbo Flats, MO.

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