Repeaters of the String
It always starts with you in your bedroom. Crumpled tissues litter the floor, cup rings stain the bedside, and the bundle of socks and week-old clothes taunts you from the spot you always throw them: just short of the laundry basket. As you sit at the foot of your bed, you remember that yesterday you promised yourself and the world that you would clean this mess. You have the time now, but you will make time later. This is far too important, too urgent. Just like you promise every yesterday, you will clean the room tomorrow.
You make these promises because the world isn’t there to see you break them. When everybody left, they took the world with them; to the office, to the grocers, to the garage to get that crinkled wheel cap checked; everywhere but your room.
Even still, you always keep your door closed. As a precaution, you even prop it shut with your chair, cursing at the door with frantic breath for not having a lock. Of course, you could easily fit it with one now, but your time is valuable, so you make another promise.
They will be back, but you don’t know when, only that they won’t bother knocking when they do. They will barge in like always, with the world rolling at their feet and a hundred dull stories to kick it through the threshold. There’s always less time than you think there is. You begin to dread the sound of scraping keys.
A breeze sneaks in through your open window. It’s mild, but just strong enough to make tumble weeds out of your tissues. Approaching the glass, you look past your reflection and out over the street. A man and a woman are each walking their dogs. You see them pass each other every day, and when they do, they move like opposite ends of a compass. Dogs are magnets to one another, you say to yourself, while tangled leads and heavy panting overshadow every human command to stop. It all ceases when you shut the window, even the tissues stop rolling. You need the stillness. This doesn’t work unless your mind is alone.
Once again you sit on the edge of your bed, your laptop in front of you. As you pull it closer with legs apart, the screen glows with your favourite website. Adverts for miracle creams and free wisdom trail down its edges, but experience has taught you to ignore them. Your focus lies in front, on that centralised point in the now. Now is when you are alone, when you have nowhere to be, when promises to the world no longer apply. Nobody knows what happens now except you. This is your own personal history.
You document with unflinching eyes that dilate as they adjust to the screen’s light. As they bloom, you notice the room around you going darker, its life wilting from your periphery. Colours cry like rain on a painting. The flowers in the wallpaper haven’t been watered in years, and the muffled winds outside linger with their begging behind frosted glass. It is as though the world craves your eyes: desperate, jealous for just one morsel of a glance. But this only confirms what you already know. The world is too dull for you. It lacks the imagination that only shines through liquid crystal.
It is like a meditation. You fantasise on porcelain milk until it erupts from your palms in a spring of white. You glaze yourself in the stuff—on your shoulders, arms and hips—desperate to feel its smoothness, but a drip on your thigh is enough to send you in ripples, reminding you just how delicate your skin is. Where the waves meet, you splash in a fit of twitches that will only become ever more frequent: an irreversible chain reaction, creating friction.
Somehow, you have to expel this heat. Already it digs in the spaces between atoms. You imagine a wedge forcing them apart, your future years scattering into vapour. Before panic dissolves you, a thought tells you to breathe. In and out, it says. Give your throbbing body a tempo to ripple with. In: the chest expands. Out: the toes curl back. In: the muscles clench. Out: the cheeks deflate. In: the body filled. Out: the soul let go.
With the help of the rhythm you retain your shape, not that you will look down to check. By now you have forgotten all about your body. To you it is nothing but a jumble of senses, with a distant metronome holding them back of your mind. What matters now lies in front.
The glow that once bled like a fog through the edges of the screen now pulls itself inwards at your narrowed stare. With your engrossed loyalty comes a heightened perception, giving solidity to the new reality. You discover love in the perfection of four sides. Geometry becomes faith, and admiring it is an epiphany that splits your mind in a duality of sensations.
There is a downward feeling, a forbidden devotion to gravity’s lure. It turns feathers into sinking stone and makes doubt a diving board to conviction. Below lies a weakness without shame. The other feeling takes you high, high beyond the criticisms of worldly noise. Its gift is pleasure, offered in a crown of icicles that melt upwards. Your mind sloshes back and forth between these notions, till every beat, every revolution, fills you with the fear of spilling. You worry that the feeling will tear you apart, that it will rip something in you too innocent to cherish in tatters. When it finally does, the slit is cave-sized. It becomes an opening for the creature within: a thought of tendrils and maggot dreams.
Boils of grey ooze; its smell is like digested sweat. The air—so thick you can grab it—is strong enough to pry your jaw, forcing you to consume it in gulps. When the fragrance curls in the back of your throat, you feel guilty. To you, the taste is almost sweet.
You cling to the sheets as something large tries to wriggle out from under the bed. Every jolt of the mattress is a meter of cockroach skin and tentacles that coils in and out of itself onto the carpet. The pores in its flesh make you think of beehives and spider’s eggs. They resemble something you once saw in a nature documentary: a toad that carries its spawn in the holes of its back. You itch with shivering hairs when the word trypophobia enters your mind.
The nest of tapeworms gropes around your room, tearing petals from the walls and swallowing your tissues and socks through parasitic teeth. This always infuriates you, because the creature is never just aimless in its writhing. It wants to remind you that this is still your bedroom, you are still light years from the new reality promised inside the screen, and that you are still in your body. The realisation is more disgusting than the creature itself. It gnaws like termites in the bones.
At the same time, the creature strokes itself with its free tentacles, lathering its hide with the pus, spit and secretions of its warts. The tufts of black hairs in its folds shine with a glossy finish. Every move beneath the sounds of sliding meat is made with sensual patience. You find the whole display tragically familiar, and the creature knows it, snorting hysterically through the phlegm clogging its snout.
It quickens its dance with every piece of your room it engulfs—folds of fat trembling at your essence—until finally the meditation erupts in a fountain of translucent slime. Droplets pepper your face and although you try to scrub them off with the sheets, you still feel their warmth. Disgusted and patronised by its favour, you wonder if your skin really is smooth like milk, and not just smooth like a maggot’s back.
You think of escaping. You could if you’re quick; bolt for the door while the creature still deflates with its own ecstasy. Springing from the bed, you’re like a ninja as you kick away the chair and lunge for the doorknob. Every time you’ve tried to escape, a looming shadow traps you, and every time, your fingers stop inches from the door. Coils writhe above your head as you slowly turn back; you’re foolish to think it had forgotten you. A piggish shriek scrapes in your ears, loud and stubborn. You know what it means. It’s telling you to get back on the bed, and you obey with trembling knees.
It joins you on the mattress, its feelers reaching as high as the ceiling to shelter your puny frame. This thing has always been bigger than you. Since you were little it has lived in your periphery, watching you change. At first you thought it was the world, and perhaps it is. Perhaps the hunger was unbearable, and now it can’t help but swallow you whole. It has developed a craving for your essence. It wants to nourish on your sweat and suckle the fluids from your eyes. The obsession reminds you of your own body, that in truth, it has always been a thing to be devoured.
A limb pushes you onto your back and begins the full body search. Erupted warts lap against your skin, but you wrestle the urge to flinch into a foetal position. The creature screams when you don’t keep still, you’ve learnt that the hard way.
Four more limbs fasten you to the bed. They wrap around your ankles and wrists with asphyxiating pressure. You’re now trapped with its throbbing trunk of a body eager to slides up against you. In your mind, you feel parts of yourself slipping away. Your tears are wiped and replaced with drool. Your lungs crumble then fill with steam. Your cries are drowned in growls of pleasure. Every transformation is fuelled by the voice of the creature. It tells you that hunger is the perfect disease.
And so, you accept your fate in that sea of limbs. Deeper and deeper it weighs you down with the truth of your own unquenchable hunger. You are truly starving, for air, for light, for feeling. You accept the cost of your naive meditations. It surrounds you now, the price is self-harming. It is the tapeworm eating itself, the hunger consuming you.
And yet something shines through the gaps; not a glow exactly, but a feeling that cleaves through the forbidden worms. It calls to you, replenishing the mind with resolve. Curiosity is like a seed in the soul that lifts you when it sprouts. Minutes fizzle into a daydream, and the you in your body trickles and becomes the you in your soul. It is a severing. The higher you float, the more your superficial skin peels away with gravity. You don’t even look down to watch it sink, to watch it decompose in blotches of filth. Not all sensations can be felt in the flesh, and so you abandon it. You are left translucent and floating, enamoured by questions. Is it death? Truth? Something more profound? They are what carry you upward, promising with all their sincerity that something awaits you at the surface.
When you emerge, you find the surface has vanished. You are drifting in perpetual space, without worms or rippling skin to insulate you with worry. Though you no longer have eyes, your sight has never been more vivid. At last you can see what has always been there, the thing you have sought after all this time. It unfurls in every direction, in row upon row of faceless figures. These are the repeaters, and they too have been watching you.
This is the part you always forget.
At first you feel vulnerable at what they know. They have seen you at your highs and lows, in your attractions and repulsions, your meditations and confusions. And yet the sight of you makes them vibrate with excitement. You want to greet them back, but without a body or a face, you do the only thing you know how. Watching the repeaters, you realise that each holds a piece of string in their fingers. They play with it in a cat’s cradle of increasing complexity. The shapes that unfurl are like notes to an instrument, changing and folding and reforming by the second. Time moves so fast that it seems as though the string is shaping itself. Every modulation is an unconscious notion; decoded, defined with flexing precision. These images are overwhelmingly intense. They transport you in a wave tunnel of inspiration, washing over all the false idols of perfection that were ever conceived in the gaze of your mind’s eye, until finally there is no doubt, no wavering conviction in your being, that what you are experiencing is the definition of beauty.
In that moment, part of you wishes you still had a body; cheeks that could run with tears and hands to catch them with. But the string will never let you cry, because it wants more than just your attention. The string has spiritual intelligence. You are here to learn its message: to remember and repeat. And so you continue to watch these shapes, these objects of meaning condensed by the string. You devote yourself to the impossible love that grows from every transformation. You call it “heaven”, you call it “truth”, but you know it’s something more profound. It is something that never ends, for every new shape is a revelation to the last—each contorting, each morphing in continuous self-improvement—to convey the unspeakable in ways louder than earthly words. The failures of your reasoning are revealed in the stretching of string. The fractal essence of your life is embodied by the folding of string. The inoculation of the world’s misgivings is designed by the changing of string. Singing string, living string, a meditation… of the string.
You open your eyes. You are in your bedroom. The floor is still covered in used tissue and your old clothes haven’t moved since you last time you looked their way. You take short breaths. By remaining still, you hope to preserve the last moments of your experience, the last shape you saw. It fades beyond a second. You sigh of course, but not in defeat. Though there is sadness in never remembering, there is always redemption in the act of repeating.
Perhaps you will try again tomorrow, starting as always with a promise.