Finishing a major story today--hopefully--called "Girls of the Nimbus." I've worked on it for a long time--weeks. A long time for me. Part of the working on it, true, has been leaving it to sit there. I have had a blinding migraine for four days running now, I lost more money, I don't know, honestly, how to carry on. It's hard to imagine that I won't die this way. I am up against so much. So alone, and up against huge forces, realities of the world as it stands right now, the blackballing. I am convinced if I cured cancer in the form of a prose work right now, I'd become more hate, sell not a single book, acquire not two Twitter followers to rub together. The world does not want what I do. It wants mediocrity, baseness, cheap poses, one-note people, speakers, writers. As Thoreau said, it does not want greatness. Nor, as he qualified, absolute greatness, which is worst of all. I spend most of my life writing letters to bigots. And then I still write more for work than fifty of these people would write over the course of fifty years if you added them all together, and that's over two weeks. And it gets worse. It only ever gets worse.
This is the first section of "Girls of the Nimbus." The story moves through various points in time, coming back to this episode, which we think is in the present tense of the story. A woman named Henrietta--Hank--is in a minefield. She has made a decision to do something that is contrary to her official orders. The story is about why she made this decision--which is in the past--as we also see how this decision plays out. The scenes in the minefield are italicized. We start there, and we will end there.
This is tour-de-force writing. It's also the start of a story that no one in publishing would allow the world to see right now.
The girls—if I had to guess—are ten-years-old. Both. Sisters. Or plausibly sisters. You look at certain people you know are siblings—even at a remove of fifty yards—and you wonder if it is possible for them not to be twins. Could there have been sufficient separation between pregnancy, birth, pregnancy, and birth again, for those two children to have emerged separately and still look the same age, or must they have shared time and space within someone else’s body? I have also guessed they are twins. There is more guessing than you might believe in a minefield. Computations are involved. Technology provides certain readings, spouts data, but readings and data help only in deduction—which is very different from knowing. I was not supposed to have gone, but I have gone. Protocol is to continue with the mission, to leave people to their fate, even children, but the unit will wait. Instructions sound in my ear, despite what I have done with the orders I was given. The girls push close to each other. The day blazes, but they are obviously cold, standing in the middle of terrain that you sense would like nothing more than to be vomited skyward and then rain down rock, soil, mangled roots of plants long gone, bone, skin, hair, tooth. If you’re the earth, maybe it’s like popping a pimple. Getting a fresh buzz of the clippers for that start-of-summer haircut. The girls shiver. Fear lowers the body temperature. It makes even the sun, on the hottest days, irrelevant. The sun might say, “I doff my cap to you, fear,” but my conception of its nature is that the sun is too large-heated—though it can also act sans mercy, an orb of wrath—to side with anything that produces what these girls—sisters—feel. They huddle into each other, as if trying to hide their forms beneath their rags—they are scarcely more than naked—from what they know. In my head, as I, too, feel the cold, even as I see the air shimmering before me, I play a game. I play it to try and settle my nerves, so that I can move to where I need to move with maximum balance, make my way across a certain amount of earth with my feet touching as little of it as possible. My game takes the form of someone interviewing me. So it is after. In the temporal run of things. Chronology as we understand it. But I also understand that there are very few instances in our life when we understand time well. Or at all. I am asked the question: “Hank, at which point did you know that you would go?” I answer, “Well, let me tell you.” And I will begin.