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John Palcewski's Journal

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A Hollow Joke
forioscribe



Just yesterday a three-year accumulation of dust and other debris under the bed and behind the wardrobe and the couch set me sneezing in an allergic fit and, look! Today the tile floor and its four corners are shining clean.

I didn’t stop in the bedroom. I went to the kitchen, moved the refrigerator and mopped up the dark wet gritty scum that had covered the floor and wall. And then I scoured the table so that its surface now is virginal-bone-white, pure, and pleasing. Then I came in here and untangled all the computer wires, and arranged all my books on the shelves so they are lined up like a platoon ready for Saturday morning inspection, and even cleaned the glass on the framed pictures that hang on the wall.

Then I looked through the photos on my desk and decided to trim and paste one of Vittoria onto the cover of a new notebook. I scribble daily, which means I’ll see her image every time I reach for that book. Like my intense flurry of housecleaning, this project didn’t take too long and I was pleased with what I was able to do. See?

At least one small area of life is under my control. Everything else lumbers along inexorably, and I think of that Arab aphorism..."Dogs bark, but the caravan moves on."

I’ve always worked so hard to express my feelings, as if doing so is a positive thing. But now, in the middle of this leaden crisis, what I happen to feel is laughably unimportant. And whether or not I find language to convey it is utterly insignificant. I don’t give a damn what I feel anymore. I’m fully accustomed to pain. After so many years I’m now used to it.

But I sure as hell am not used to seeing the existential dread that has suddenly overtaken Vittoria. It's on and between her lines. She’s terrified. She said yesterday she overheard her adoptive father say that he had a dream last night, that he was eating grapes. A southern Italian omen that something really bad is about to happen. I told her it could be a good sign, because the grape harvest was bountiful last month. But I just made that up. I don't know a damned thing about the harvest.

Nothing can be said or done to change anything. Language—eloquent or otherwise—is a waste of time. A hollow joke. So I’ve stopped talking now.



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