Fiction and Drama
The Joy of Edge Tools
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A young boy named Adkin narrates The Joy of Edge Tools. In the opening paragraph, Adkin’s mother uses sundry tools and ingredients to birth from his right shoulder brother Misha, a happy-go-lucky monster whose head tapers off into a fatty, fishlike tail. Adkin conceives a vast hatred for this sireniform neonate, but his ineptitude conspires with Misha’s sharp teeth to doom his murderous schemes.
Their mother sends Adkin on an errand to the root cellar, where he pockets a small silver case of frayer without knowing what it is. On his return, she grafts Misha back onto his shoulder. During this operation, Adkin experiences the aesthetic as the book’s first dream, an extended metaphor for and counterpoint to his movement toward his brother, with their actual meeting a sort of catechistic amniotic communion. Coming to again, Adkin inadvertently loses his right thumb to Misha’s teeth, and their mother installs a boxhook in its stead.
The two brothers now comprise a small society at war with itself, their two heads fighting for control of their single body. After a minor operation, which lets Adkin understand his brother’s curious mode of vocalization, and a storytelling game, Adkin resumes his attempts on Misha’s life; each time, by failing to understand the shared corporeal nature of their existence, he injures himself at least as much as he does his brother. Meanwhile, he slowly loses command of the right side to Misha. Since the boys are unable to coordinate their movements, they must now move about in a Bath chair.
Their mother then introduces them to the log and explains its use in the inscription and reading of dreams. The actual manufacture of dreams is illustrated by a tour of the root cellar. Here the mother mentions something that’s only been hinted at before—the existence and disappearance of the boys’ father. The lesson concludes with the concoction of a simple dream, in black and white. With the addition of some stain and delay, they are also able to see how one enters and leaves a dream: a red rope swings you over the abyss to the other side.
What would happen if you were to release the rope on the way to dream? Would you become instantly extinct? fall into a new fleshly shell? survive in suspended unknowing? Their mother cannot say. In any case, it is how, she thinks, their father decamped.
Their shared interest in dreaming only halts the boys’ warfare briefly. Frustrated, and hoping that some temporary experience of unity will pacify them and permit later collaboration, their mother gives them some yoke, which merges their consciousnesses and limits their body to symmetric movements. Their first united desire is to hear more about their father. So their mother channels him, and he relates a convolved and scarcely credible tale of how he obtained his third eye. The boys grow quickly impatient with his divagations and rouse their mother from her trance.
After a common dream, which naturally reflects their blended fears and desires, the boys are unyoked and restored to their separate awarenesses. Able to cooperate now, they soon discover how to pleasure themselves by toggling a certain bit on their lower fitting with Misha’s boxhook. Pressed on this manifestation of their carnal nature, their mother demurs and again channels the father, this time for advice. He responds to the boys’ questions with a skewy farrago of 19th-century scientific phrases concerning such things as how ice cream is made, what the corposant is, et cetera.
Despite the racy matter, the boys again tire of the recital and raise their mother, whose enthusiasm for their crackpated progenitor they refuse to share. Dispirited, she suggests as a diversion that they port their next dream—that is, use hatchways that will allow them access to a common area within dream. As the three of them concoct their mixes, Adkin slips some of the stashed frayer into his mixbowl.
In the ported dream, the two boys are about to leave the common area when they decide on a whim to try a port-and-switch, whereby they return each by the other’s rope. Waking up in Misha’s body, Adkin finds himself speaking his brother’s truncated syntax. But something is wrong: rather than rousing, the head beside him grows cold. His mother finds the frayer and deduces that the rope raveled on Misha’s way back from dream, plunging him into the void. However, she believes him to be Adkin, and she will not heed the real Adkin’s protests about his actual identity. Indeed, Adkin himself becomes progressively less certain about who he now is.
Both survivors, mother and son, are disconsolate. The narrator asks if there’s any way to follow his brother into the unknown. The mother won’t say much, except that to follow would be almost certainly fatal. She decides that, in their grief, their best course is to seal themselves up in two deprivation pods to embrace some welcome oblivion. But as the pods begin to harden, the boy elects to bail. In a long final paragraph that mirrors the book’s opening, he shows himself finally ept as he uses his mother’s implementa to slough off the dead head from his shoulder and grind it up with the log and a version of the toolbox, forming in the sandbox one grand transportive jambalaya, one doomsday slumgullion that he hopes will, at the same time as it necessarily destroys the world around him, bring him to his brother. And into the soup he jumps.
In which the mother reads a sample page from the log
My sister and I swim, our seafloor limbs harmonic. Draw water up from beneath and push it to our fore, propel ourselves backward. The same silver ring round the same right toe. We gaze below to our shadow marks on the scrim of obscurity, thick and cold; we suspend outselves as nested zeds. Wise exes double us, the steep valley in vaccuum.
A placidity we float in: warm fetal oil. Hang, drift, tugged by offshore current toward the heated flanks of some third. We shall stand on the plain. The rain fall. Our faces wet, and darkness bloom. Fingers will touch our faces and someone stand over us, her hands cup our outer cheeks so water pools, spills, rills over the ribs of her fingers. Won’t take long to fill. How we shall wish to drink there slaking forever. Electric warmth in our mouths, surging touch and go. Touch will sluice the surplus juice from isle to isle, three fleshes circulant; go stir achey longing. Our small seas will brim, the fish aleap with vimmy silver flashing. The spangle of living money.
We are that currency. Reversing motion, we swim through soft coral, a brisk scrub it is, we wriggle together to a cavern well shelved, with further stock and staples heaped in steep piles on the floor. All props and disguises lie there, and the tanks with their various airs. We valve some silver soprano from one, mouth tincted mezzo from a second, and cast about before gulping at last a percussive baritone from a tap in back. From there we wriggle into a wing of the theater behind, metallic trout, undulant bass. The cave’s choral pulse rakes across us in soft waves of compression, and the boards creak with the yaw as we swim over, fitting ourselves for the stage en route: adornment and arms; tendril probes; some cordial against ill. And a few hard bits we pick up from the deck as they saltate past in the current.
We find our submarine legs and stride along the boards. Sister Times and Sister Plus: The Reckoning. Axeheads, broadcore and bitted double, we carry in pocket, running thumbs over burred blades. We tattoo a gamelan in crosstime. Our deltoids sport inkedin inch rules, to the eighth on the right, the tenth on the left. Then our breasts unbulb simultaneous, unswell to bud, to itch, to flush flesh.
Applause. We run offstage in tandem, as if wasped together at the waist. To our hideaway in the wings. A kneehigh sunflower grows there from a hummock in the grass, merrily abuzz. We circle our arms and lean in to tent bangs over its nodding head, the buzz rising to conjoin us. As our brows touch, a needle of pain sutures our foreheads together, squelching the sound: a bee! Seedy evil plant. . . . With more effort than genius we push each other away and slowly, burningly, painfully, we force a gap wide enough to see what it is binds us: a bloody fibrous cord, its base rasping prickly from a bulging mound in each other’s brow.
Burning? We can do burning, we can fight with fire. Hundreds of flames gossip at our calves; thick orange fire tongues gorgeous hot and huge about our loins; alcohol flames lick our skin coolly where the heat damply dews us. The sunflower arches ablaze between us, seeds bursting from its face, it goes cinder, ash, paper petaled ghost. The calefaction makes the cord come a bit easier as we pull it laboriously from our heads, backing away from each other, hand over hand. But the connection’s still cored with pain. This won’t do. A bedslength blade rises from the floor on cue and we kneel to meet it, bending down. The scission is instant and effortless, and we each tumble gently onto the pillowed fire at our feet. A shimmery clear wall pops up between us, webbing blade and tackle, coil and cable, up to stalactic uvula far above, a surface transparent but for the reflex of fervent fire curving from the slow spiring of combusted gas. Then the membrane films and thickens, it smudges, and the ardent flames around my sister dim. She is laughing, and with laughter contrapunto the film crepitates as it skins over, and darkens, and draws her delicately aspin into diminishment. A point. Puff nil.