Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Barington Encounter: Part Thirteen


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Once back inside 14 Juniper Mews Marlak directed his colleagues to bear their pall to the sofa and there deposit it before preparing the kitchen table (the King Arthur) - a vast and sturdy wooden brute which had somehow come out of a box the size of a biscuit tin, and which was misleadingly named besides, seeing as it wasn’t even remotely round. That having been accomplished, from out of one of the few organless pockets in his coveralls he withdrew what looked like a paperback book, since that’s what it was, at the sight of which they all gasped, even he who’d himself withdrawn it, although for effect (as much as by tradition and/or ego) he gasped the loudest.

He spoke, in Andromedan naturally, which dialogue is transcribed here in English because… Well, because their language like their national anthem is naturally enough also a series of slurps and gurgles, and many other sounds besides which are even more distressing, words and phrases composed of many letters not found on any computer keyboard in the entire quadrant, and besides which spattered with enough diacritical marks to make a Swede or even a Slav weep. It is a dialect so impenetrable not even Irvine Welsh would attempt to reproduce it, so neither am I.

‘Behold, The Encyclopedia Earthica,’ he intoned. Again, all assembled let out even more gasps as solemnly as cows let out methane, maybe even more so - who can tell with those inscrutable bovine bastards. These (like the first ones) were, in fact, genuine gasps, and not the Andromedan word for ‘vulva’, which merely sounds like a gasp.

The Encyclopedia Earthica is the sum total of our knowledge as Andromedans of this place they call Earth, which we call Earthica,’ he continued, according to established protocols. He was very good at this part of his job, since he’d begun devising and establishing these protocols himself - call and answer gasps and all - shortly after departing Andromeda. They might have been unnecessary for the extraction of knowledge from the book, but it had given him something to do on the long journey, especially since as hugely dull a travel game as ‘I Spy’ is to play in, say, the Midlands, in space it’s a crashing bore. Besides which, considering all the dangerous things there are in space one wouldn’t want to crash into - Saturn, say, or the small toe on God's left foot - designing protocols had the added benefit of also being the smartest option, health and safety-wise...

Again, this book is the size of a paperback novel - and not a Dickens either, but more like a Virginia Woolf, and one of the skinnier ones at that. Mrs. Dalloway, or To The Lighthouse, say, besides being profusely illustrated. In fact, it was just half as thick as the protocol manual describing how to use it. Marlak, understandably, had been a civil servant before leaving Andromeda, so he knew what he was doing.

The Encyclopedia Earthica did, however, contain a very thorough section on Human Death, drawing heavily on such diverse source material as How To Sit Shiva by Miriam Leibowitz (New York City, 1971 CE, out of print) and The Egyptian Book of the Dead (Cairo, 1971 BCE, way out of print). First he read the entire passage aloud, and when he was done the five of them proceeded to do everything the section had suggested, occasionally stopping to consult the book when they’d come to some bit they didn’t understand, like why it all seemed to involve so much cinnamon.

Once they’d stopped crying, eaten all the devilled eggs and kugel, taken the dark cloths off the mirrors, and put away the crates upon which they’d been sitting, they immediately set about to give ordinary constable Gary Carlisle currently set upon their settee, a burial fit for a king. Exactly why they did this we shall find out later; suffice it to say that this explanation, when it comes, will satisfy some of you and enrage the rest. Such is often the case with most of the outlandish explanations of improbable events in impertinent novels which, like their authors, try too hard to be funny due entirely to insecurity.

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