By Robert Russell
Lining the gray walls of the garret, across creaking floorboards with edges of splintering wood, below the sloping dormers, their shadows dissolving under the soft lights lining the eaves are rows of windows, thousands lined in tandem, packed tightly together, arranged in order, each with panes through which other worlds beckon. To peer into one is to release the cast of stars it contains that pushes through the muteness, the dead of this space, and fills the gray monotony of the ceiling. The many stars move and collect, converging into one great mass whose light is blinding. But lo, crosswinds blow billowing clouds in from the horizon, thick tufts vetting the rays before finally blotting out the sun. Lightning flashes, thunder rumbles, and thick sheets of rain descend. But I stay dry. Rivulets pool near my feet and sink into the crevices of the floorboards which begin sprouting stems, bulbs blooming on their ascending heads, thousands of them, the room filling with their elegant pungence. Fauna frolic through the forestry, multiplying and growing larger and larger before masses of herds have made it their home. In the multitudes of species, people arrive in droves, first alongside the animals, then atop them, and from the ground burgeon metal and skeletal structures, foundations of industry. From iron beams and rafters, construction and innovation, paved streets, dammed rivers and canals, form civilizations borne of my splintering wood of the floorboards. In the midst of the mayhem, the plentitudes of people, the bevies of bystanders, hordes and throngs, the masses, stands a familiar figure, a still reflection of myself. My counterpart, whose words I say, thoughts I think, heart I feel beating in my chest, emotions I am afflicted by, lives the lives that I live, lives that I vicariously experience, lives filled with love and sorrow, hope and despair, triumph and loss. It is through him that I navigate seas, traverse deserts, explore space. It is on his mental musings, streams of consciousness that I dwell, on his Joycean peregrinations through Dublin that I embark, in his Proustian remembrances that I am elevated, in his Orwellian dystopia that I fall. It is through him that I journey to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, though I haven’t moved a foot. It is through him that I dance above a hardwood floor with a beautiful partner, Elizabeth Bennett, Emma Bovary, Daisy Buchanan, adorned in a ball gown, the flounces of her dress trailing our every move, as the ¾ Brindisi lightly echoes against the walls of the hall, and yet my shoes remain un-scuffed, my suit still hangs in the closet. It is through him that I am wrecked by hunger, wrought by the forceful hands of Hamsun, and yet my belly remains full. It is through him that I slash my face with broken glass, as per Knausgaard’s drunkenly impulses, and yet my cheeks bare no scars. It is through him that I venture to the frontlines, atop my steed, sword in hand, anticipating the cavalry charge in suspense, thousands of men majestically lined next to me, peering towards the other side, some praying, some holding steadfast, and when the signal is finally given at what feels like eternity, it is through him that I spur my horse launching into full gallop, sword raised high, armor flinging about, my body bouncing up and down as the wind tousles my hair, until I meet the mayhem of the melee, the blood splaying about dyeing the air red, the bellows of my comrades clamoring against the sounds of swords clashing and the shrieks of the stallions before I meet my untimely demise, and all the while, I am fine, not even breaking a sweat. It is through him that I farcast between a plethora of planetary systems, and travel the stars by faster-than-light Hawking Drive, fighting the elusive Shrike in the efforts to preserve the TechnoCore, an endless journey of peril and determination, and all the while I remain in the comfort of my chair. For it is in these thousands of window panes that the days are seconds, weeks minutes, months mornings, years afternoons, where seasons begin and end within a day, as do the multitudes of lives I am able to live, realities to which I am granted existence, all within the very confines of this tiny garret. And it is not a greenhouse, but a library.