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Impossible Objects

by Norman Lock


Perhaps it was an imperfection in the glass, or it might have been that the hand of the optician, ordinarily so confident, shook at the grinding wheel after a night of excess; for whatever reason, the lens was spoiled and had to be laid aside. That evening after the room had been emptied of vital energies with only the remains of a sandwich left to disturb the dustless atmosphere, a slant of weary light fell through the blinds and (having crossed the room at a speed well below light’s absolute) passed through the lens—bringing into focus the first of the dead to appear among us.  



None could imagine a reason other than malice why the coat hanger had been formed from a strand of wire whose metal had been previously fatigued by bending it back and forth to the limit of its tolerance, so that the hanger would (at night, usually, when all were asleep in the quiet house) noisily shrug off its coat and chime.



It needed no more than to recognize that the watch he wore on his wrist was, like a compass for the navigation of space, an instrument with which he could move about in time. Not that the watch was extraordinary – no, this was not the case; but by the violent derangement of its hands, he would be persuaded that he had broken time’s habit and (like a man freed from gravity’s tyrannical sway) leave the temporal axis to ramble among its byways.



The box was empty, but to close its lid and press one’s ear to it was to hear—murmured by a voice, distant and dispassionate—the recitation of an old story (quite likely a ghost story, by Le Fanu perhaps) as if from a radio (one with tubes weakly glowing); only it was not a radio and the box, as already has been said, was empty.



From the wooden handle of that instrument of gross anatomy, which had sawn off arms and legs in the Wilderness, at Manassas, Chickamauga, Antietam, and Gettysburg, grew—in soil rich with pain and sorrow—flowers of rare delicacy and ethereal hue (tending toward that gold which will invade a summer evening’s sky), defended by salients too like a child’s rosy fingernails to be called thorns.



A video- and audio-compressor (much like that used to convert the external world into a digital one) could flatten nearby streets into ribbons of data and, having spooled them onto that familiar fluorescent-orange rubber cone (so like a bobbin wound with thread), untangle—for the fortunate owner of this convenience—city traffic, always infuriating at this hour.



To pass one’s fingers over the rods of this particular abacus (in shape and construction so like a harp), unearthed in a ruined bazaar in Samarkand, was to hear again the music of Persian dates and pistachios, Somali aloes and frankincense, Indian sandalwood, Chinese teas and lacquerware—recorded in wooden beads flying through a merchant’s deft fingers a thousand years or more ago, on the northern Silk Road.

© 2014 Norman Lock

Norman Lock is the author of The Boy in His Winter and Love Among the Particles. He has also written short fiction, poetry, stage plays, dramas for German radio, a film for The American Film Institute, and scenarios for video-art installations. His work has been translated into Dutch, German, Spanish, Turkish, Polish, Greek, and Japanese. This piece comes from his chapbook Impossible Objects (Ravenna Press, 2010).

He received the Aga Kahn Prize, given by The Paris Review, the Literary Fiction Prize, given by The Dactyl Foundation of the Arts & Humanities, fellowships from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and from the National Endowment for the Arts. Find Norman’s website here:


Like this story? Check out another great short from Issue 100.