THE CARCASSESby Raymond Federman
from As You Were Saying (American Writers Respond to Their French Contemporaries) just published by Dalkey Archive Raymond Federman
Yesterday I bought a new tape recorder—and today I recorded a story on my new recorder—this is the story—I call it
I am sitting in my study—that’s how the story I recorded begins—I am sitting in my study—in San Diego California—close to the sun—where I moved four years ago to be with myself and finish my work—I am sitting in my study looking out of the window at the splendid view before me—incredible—the valley the mountains the trees the sky the birds—beautiful—I’m having a good day—I feel great—I am working on My Body in Nine Parts—the English version—I am working on my nose today—I take a break to smoke a joint and look up at the view before me—incredible—a thought comes to me—when you die all this gets extinguished—nothing more to see—it’s like plunging into a big black hole—everything becomes dark—but then it occurs to me that to think that—to plunge into the darkness implies the possibility of an after . . .—another life in the darkness—the possibility of some kind of existence after you disappear into that blackness—could I have been wrong all my life—no—no—I’m not going to fall for that meta-pata-physical crap—no magic trick—no divine intervention—I am human—I am conscious of being human and mortal—but let’s assume for a moment that you are dead—and there is the possibility of an after-life in the darkness—so here you are among all the dead carcasses in the zone of carcasses—yes that’s what this story is about—the carcasses—here they are—the old ones that have been here for a long time—and the new ones that have just arrived—all piled on top of one another waiting for their turn to be transmuted—to be given another life—transmutation does not happen all at once—does not happen instantly the moment you become a carcass—carcasses are not reincarnated the moment they become carcasses—there is a waiting period—a kind of incubation—if I dare say—so here you are waiting your turn—no magic trick as I said—just that you have to wait for the authorities to decide—yes let’s call them that—the authorities—only the authorities have the power to decide when it’s your turn to be transmuted—they call you—hey you over there come here—you scramble your way out of the pile of carcasses and report to the authorities and they tell you we’re sending you back—doesn’t have to be on the planet Earth—carcasses come from all sorts of places in the universe—the place where the carcasses are piled up is a separate zone in the great void of the universe—nobody knows where it is—it’s like a huge department store—like Walmart—and there carcasses of all sizes of all types all shapes all forms all colors—all of them formless—wait to be transmuted—carcasses cannot demand of the authorities under what form they want to be sent back—they have no voice—they have to accept the authorities’ decision—so your turn comes and you are told that you are going back as an insect—yes—as a fly—imagine yourself now living the life of a fly—ok it’s a short life—une vie éphémère—but still—what is your main purpose in life—your raison d’être—to buzz around—to bug the shit out of the other species—buzz around the eyes of cows who try to smack you with their tails—buzz around humans—shit on their window panes or TV screens—still it’s a life—but one day you land on the arm or the top of the head of a human and—bang—he slaps you with his hand—crushes you—splashes you—and you’re dead—what kind of a life was that—so here you are back among the carcasses—oh you’re back already the others say to you—I mean those carcasses who are still waiting to be transmuted—and again you wait your turn—well this time your turn comes quick—no reason given—you come back as a flower—a lovely red rose in the suburban garden of some nouveau riche on the coast of California—and you’re proud because you know you’re beautiful and you smell good—the ladies who come to play bridge look at you and say—oh what a beautiful rose—but then one day the lady of the house tells the maid to get flowers in the garden and put them on the dining room table—so here comes the maid with her clippers and she cuts you off and sticks you in a vase full of water—and soon the water starts smelling foul and it’s unbearable—and you begin to wither—and the lady of the house says to the maid get rid of that dead flower—and the maid throws you into the garbage and empties the smelly water into the toilet—but still it was a life—and now you are back among the carcasses—what kind of life was that—and now you wait again—this time a very long time—maybe a couple of centuries—even more—but you don’t know how long because time does not exist in the carcass zone—or rather carcasses have no sense of time—finally the authorities call you and tell you that you are needed among the lions of Africa—there is a shortage of virile male lions on planet Earth—and so they are sending you back to be a lion in Kenya with three sexy lionesses and a bunch of cubs—and it’s a good life—every fifteen minutes—this has been carefully observed by expert lion observers—every fifteen minutes one of the lionesses comes over licks you and begs for a little humping—so you rise from your dreamy slumber in the shade of a tree—hump the lioness and go back to the shadow of the tree where you continue dreaming what a good life this is—plenty to eat—the lionesses see to that—lots of gazelle meat—and it’s fun to hump the lionesses and play with the little cubs—but one day a bunch of humans of different colors come to hunt you—the black ones are half naked and dance around—the white ones wear funny colonial hats and have rifles and they drink a lot—but they are not here to make a carcass out of you—they want you alive—they want to capture you—and they do with a big net—then they stick you in a box and ship you to what they call the civilized world—lucky for you—they don’t put you in the Buffalo zoo where you would have to spend the rest of your temporary earthly life in a cage wallowing in your own shit—freezing your balls in the snows of Buffalo—and with no sexy lioness to hump because now—for lack of exercise in the wilderness—you’re incapable of getting it up—but lucky for you—they put you in the San Diego zoo—and build for you what they call a natural environment—of course it’s fake—this is California—there is nothing natural about this environment they build for you—it’s pure Hollywood decor—you know that—you know it’s fake—but you pretend it’s really nice—and to make the humans feel good and happy so they don’t send you to the Buffalo zoo once in a while you roar and show your teeth—but you’re bored in this phony Walt Disney environment—most of the time you sleep—or pretend to be asleep—especially when they bring their little kids to look at you in fear—they would like you to look and act ferocious—so once in a while a human pokes you in the ass so you can roar—what kind of a life is that—okay they bring you these big chunks of meat—lots of beef—but one day one of the pieces of meat they give you comes from a sick cow and you die—you die of the mad cow disease—still it was a life—and you’re back among the carcasses—well I won’t go into all the possible animal or human or vegetable forms you could come back as—but imagine yourself as a radish—what kind of a life that would be—or an artichoke—okay a tree—a big majestic tree—that would be okay for a while—but then all the other trees around become jealous because you’re taller—or because your trunk is bigger than theirs—or your leaves greener—but still it’s a life—then one day some humans come with a big saw and cut you down to pieces and burn you—what kind of a life was that—and here you are back in the zone of carcasses—and while waiting for your turn to come again you think—well I know carcasses are not supposed to be able to think—but for the commodity of this story let’s just say that they are capable of a certain mental cogitation—so you cogitate—why can’t I have a voice in the decision of what I want to become next—why can’t I make up my own . . .—well I was going to say mind—let’s just say my own carcassness—on this matter—and since you were once a writer in a previous transmutation—and have not forgotten the art of writing you compose a very stylish message addressed to the authorities asking if maybe the carcasses couldn’t have a say in the process of their transmutation—this stirs up things in the carcass zone—there are discussions—debates—polls—demonstrations—and all sorts of things like that—and finally the authorities agree—the carcasses can have a say in what they want to be when transmuted—so now the carcasses have a chance to come in front of the authorities to discuss what they would like to become—it’s a very complex and lengthy process but eventually you decide for yourself what you want to become—for instance me I often said that if I were to come back I would want to come back as a gladiator so that I could lead a revolt against the Roman emperor—or come back as a musketeer—like the Duke of Nevers who invented la botte de Nevers—or as a Italian lover—like Casanova—or as—as—as—damn it’s not easy to decide for oneself what one wants to come back as—so many possibilities—good ones—bad ones—unbearable ones—dumb ones—some so short it doesn’t even pay to be transmuted—this is why I think the best thing to do here—I mean here in this story—is to let readers decide themselves what they would like to come back as when they become carcasses—and when this story is published—I will insist that the last page of the story be blank so that readers can write what they want to become in their next life and in so doing contribute to this story—of course someday in the near future—the way science is making progress—carcasses may be able to come back as objects—it may not be a great life—but still a life—imagine coming back as a stove or an electric razor—or a toilet seat—just thinking about that horrifies me—or better yet—as a golf club—that would be an interesting life—here you are a brand new Taylor Made Titanium 360 driver with a graphite shaft—not a bad life—well at least until the golfer decides that you’re driving him crazy with the way you slice the ball and buys another carcass reincarnated as a King Cobra 560 driver with an anti-slice shaft—and throws you in the garbage—imagine what a life that would be—still a life—by the time I finished recording this story it was dark outside my window and the splendid view had vanished into the night—
Bilingual novelist and poet Raymond Federman was bornin 1928 in France, but resides in the US. He recently published My Body in Nine Parts (Starcherone Books 2005) and Return to Manure (FC 2006).