The Case of the Danish King Halfdene

Navigational skills are not required. Where you are going is the least of your concerns. Even when the night is something familiar. The stars ending their misery as quietly as possible. The sparrows settling on the eaves of houses where people are just beginning to realize they have no board games that solve anything. They have no sense of what might replace the cupboards. Perhaps we are too clever and the world, a simpleton, resents us the only way it knows how. Actively. And with tree limbs. But there are those who will insist whatever makes the decisions does so with intent. And they often cite with fascination the case of the Danish King Halfdene. Punished with madness. Afflicted by an odor that made his presence unendurable to others. He knew we are alone from start to finish and the finish is always yet to come. But suppose it isn’t. Suppose the crabs have already come ashore and the veins in the waitress’s legs are visible. What then? How would the calendar be any different? It doesn’t matter if the mirror is the length of the restaurant. If the pitcher is half-full of vinegar. What catches our attention when we are looking at ourselves is something that doesn’t belong there. Some quirk. The intermittent twitch of an eyelid, say, at the approach of a cold front. Or just before a plane crash. The prediction of calamity when those around us are convinced there is someone watching over them. Or at least paying enough attention to know they haven’t had eggplant since they were children. What we decide to do with such things—the tendency for the train to arrive before its sound, the water to climb the stairs like a lizard—depends on our view of signs in the first place. Whether we even think them possible. To doubt them, I suppose, is to wander the forest with a flashlight and several sets of batteries just in case. And a tent that folds up into a packet. It’s an approach I’d recommend for those who don’t care much for daylilies. For those afraid they may have stumbled, by accident, into the wrong existence. And will have to stay here. Will have to make do the way a fisherman must sometimes settle for skates.

Charles Freeland | Mudlark No. 35
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