Sasha Fletcher - At that point the water will be right next to the clouds & they will be so close that they could kiss but they will not kiss

Sasha Fletcher, When All our Days Are Numbered Marching Bands Will Fill the Streets & We Will Not Hear Them Because We Will Be Upstairs in the Clouds, Mud Luscious Press, 2010.

"My advice: those who are to read Sasha Fletcher's delightful enjoinder WHEN ALL OUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED should go into an empty house of an afternoon, shut themselves in a backroom closet on a low shelf, & read straight through without stopping." - Jesse Ball

"Fletcher belongs to a new generation of writers who dare to risk language & imagination in equal measure. Every sharp line cuts & curls & the result is a world both familiar & exotic. This novella is part concept album, part epic poem, part twisted fable. A dream & a flood." - Robert Lopez

"Sasha Fletcher, with his dream catastrophes & immense loves, can wand us into a new world. Here is a story that glistens." - Deb Olin Unferth


"In the second chapter of Walden, the nineteenth-century naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau asserted that the ultimate creative act is, fundamentally, an act of self-creation, an act in which the artist shapes not objects in the world, but his own view of the world:
'It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. '
Sasha Fletcher’s first book When All our Days Are Numbered... takes this charge seriously. Its narrator constructs his own vision of the world, portraying it through a flexible lens of creative possibility. For Fletcher’s narrator, the line between imaginary and real is often a tenuous one – one that can be manipulated and crossed almost at will. He tells us, “I kept thinking about it until it was like I did it, which was great”. This is, after all, what the artist, and especially the creative writer, does.
With When All our Days Are Numbered, Fletcher celebrates the creative act and explores the nature of art, searching for the boundary at which the imagined completely – or almost completely – consumes our experience, searching for the ways that art allows us to share our lives with others, but also for the ways in which art can threaten our connection to others, to the world. He demonstrates an intoxicating creative power, magically reconstructing everyday experience through association and metaphor, but in doing so, he also demonstrates the risk inherent in the creative act: that of becoming disconnected from the world. He recognizes the power of language, and he uses it here to find (or, perhaps, to create) a sense of wonder in the world, but he also recognizes that the artist risks losing touch with what is real, risks mistaking the symbol for what it represents.
The book opens with a warning from its unnamed female character to the narrator: “Don’t get carried away out here”. And in fact, the narrator is carried away almost immediately (and quite literally) “by a string of balloons”. Throughout the novella, this pair strikes a balance between the creative possibilities of art and the practical realities of everyday life. When the narrator muses, “Few things are probably outside of the realm of possibility,” she tells him, “Stop thinking about the realm of possibility”. When he creates something, like a pair of trees that form a hammock, and offers it as something magical, she is quick to point out, “You just made that. . . Out of brown paper”. And early in the book, when she reminds him that “There is... A world outside what you can build”, he is not so certain: “I wrote the word waterfall on the wall. I hoped for the best”.
It might not be going too far, here, to say that he trusts the written word waterfall more than he would an actual waterfall–that he trusts the symbol of the thing more than he would trust the thing itself, if it were there.
The narrator of this book is driven by his desire to create, and by the desire to share that creation with another person. He envisions a whale, unloved, and tells his female companion, “If I were the whale I would have hanged myself from that old dead tree over there”, and it doesn’t matter that a whale can’t really hang himself. What matters is the reason he would kill himself: the “Infinite sadness” of being alone.
The creative act offers a possibility for companionship, for connection between people, at least in as much as art allows the artist’s view of the world to be shared with another person. And this narrator wants to share his artistic vision absolutely. Holding his companion’s hand, he thinks “about how if I move my fingers right then we will trade fingers”, and this is his desire, to enter completely into another: ”I wanted to wear you like a skin.”
What he longs for is intersubjectivity: not merely to tell her his vision of the world, or for her to tell him hers, but to enter each other entirely, literally to experience the world as the other.
She, however, is not so certain. In the novella’s conclusion, he calls for her to join him on the roof, to see the world from his perspective, and she pleads for him to join her in reality, to “Come down from there,” promising him, “We’ll just sit & we’ll eat & we’ll be so close that we’re touching”. But he refuses, and his insistence that she join him comes at a cost: in joining him from his artistic vantage point, a place in the sky, she is “covered in bruises”, and she has to admit, ultimately, that “we all of us got a little carried away”.
There is a line here, a space that keeps people separate, a space that keeps what is imagined separate from what is real, a space which is damaging to cross completely but which must be narrowed, if art is to do its work. Fletcher envisions our lives as the intermediary tension of this space, a narrow band between the isolation of water and the expansiveness of clouds, between the dark reality of water and the electrical creative potential of clouds:
'...& at that point the water will be right next to the clouds & they will be so close that they could kiss but they will not kiss, they will both just stand there looking at each other until forever.'
It is important, here, that clouds and water are, elementally, the same. But the form they take is very different, and it is on the tense boundary of these two forms, the edge of the real and the imagined, that Fletcher’s artist tries to balance.
Ultimately, this book strikes me as enamored with creation, its narrator (and, I presume, its writer) very much in love with art and the way that art allows us to see meaning in the world. He recognizes the power of the artist to re-create or re-envision the world, but he also knows that like a balloon, he needs an anchor to the world, to the real. As much as art offers a new, higher perspective, as much as art offers an escape from reality among the clouds, he fears being lost entirely in that vision, in a world where there will be “no one [to] tell me when I was getting carried away”." - Troy Urquhart

"With When All Our Days Are Numbered... Sasha Fletcher has distinguished himself as a writer of great imagination, a careful craftsman of sentences, one attentive to tone and rhythm, to the visual dynamics of the page, to a profluence not beholden to the unbreakable chain of this-follows-that, a profluence sensitive to the reader’s inherent capacity to fill in the mortar between the bricks of text. The novella’s unnamed narrator, a bemused creator who, traveling to and from a kind of dreamland, performs many magical acts like walking into telephone lines and out of phones, like “building” a garden, steamboat, window, river, meadow, fridge, table, stove, sink, and even a well on the roof. At one point, he even tries “so hard to make lightning come spilling out of the clouds.” And that “so” is one signal of the narrator’s earnestness. If there is any single theme to Fletcher’s novella it is acceptance, not a bored resignation but a surrendering to life’s absurdity, its whimsy, even its flimsiness. The narrator, after disbelieving that his “stories are getting sadder & sadder every day”, asserts: “There are lots of things on this earth not worth questioning.” And toward the end of the novella says, “There are some things we know & there are some things we don’t & for everything else just close your eyes and go to sleep. Tomorrow is another day.”
The narrator is also a promethean figure of sorts:
'I had some fire in a bowl. Where did you get that fire she asked. I can show you if you want. Whatever she said. She said You probably just poured lighter-fluid in the bowl & set it on fire. I shook the bowl & the flame fell up into the air & right back into the bowl. Where did you get that fire she asked. I set the bowl down & I showed her.'
After hiding lunch “inside a special pocket” kept “for things to forget about”, the narrator says, “Few things are probably outside the realm of possibility.” That adverbial modifier gives the sentence an even greater degree of uncertainty in a world where everything seems possible. Though certainly whimsical, this world is not as innocent as it first, on the surface, appears. At one point, the narrator hides from “the vast encroaching unknowing.” he gets his head “popped” off and then “stitched” back on again. He also threatens to grind a cop into a beach if he doesn’t build him an ocean. Cops split open the heads of garbage men with billy clubs, “seagulls & seashells & little baby ducks & a giant wind that made enormous waves and sunshine & hot dog carts & you” flying out of their opened skulls. A fireman cuts his own throat with an axe and a bird flies out of his neck. A sex-deprived whale inadvertently jumps into a ship’s propellers and is “chopped into a million pieces.” The narrator, suffering from “infinite sadness”, wants to hang himself from an “old dead tree.” You’ll also find a great deal of shooting at the wind. Later, in one of the book’s most engaging passages (of which I speak more about below), the narrator shares: “I was thinking about being lonely.” And one of the creepiest exchanges occurs toward the end of the book:
'I decided to shoot sleep until it was dead.
You cannot kill sleep she told me.
I decided to kill waking up until it was dead.
Why don’t you just kill yourself she said.
One of these days I will go to bed & I will wake up & everything will feel the way it’s supposed to feel.'

Because they’re embedded in such a strange context, the few references to pop culture pop out from the text and seem even stranger than the very strange world that Fletcher creates:
'I put a picture of Clint Eastwood’s face over my own so you could be more comfortable around me.
[….]
We were watching The Weather Channel. It seemed to show the future. It was as though it was raining inside the TV. We watched a thunderstorm eat the sky. The TV was a window.
[….]
No I saw it in Pinocchio. [It’s the Disney film that’s being referred to here.]
[….]
How do you know the chimney will not get us home she said. I said because I am not Dick Van Dyke & you are not Mary Poppins & neither of us have any umbrellas.
[….]
and there are wild salmon that when you cut them open they are redder than kool-aid…'
Another thing I enjoyed about When All Our Days Are Numbered... are the incantatory repetitions, especially the anaphoric cascades:
'I wanted apples to grow. I wanted flowers to grow. I wanted balloons to grow. I wanted very tall trees to grow & for balloons to grow from them. I wanted something incredible to rise up out of the ground & straight into the clouds & for it to devour us all.'
The intensification of emotion reaches fever pitch in the following passage:
'I was thinking about being lonely. I was thinking about feeling lonely. I was thinking about worrying about loneliness. I was worrying about loneliness. I was worrying about worry. I was worried. I was worried the thunder would wake her up & she would not go back to sleep & she would be cranky & I would have to deal with that. I was thinking about how I could always walk away when things got hard but I would end up walking really far down the road & suddenly every house I walked into was mine & all my teeth were gathered on the walls all nailed up like my mouth and smiling.'
The shifts between the repetitions are artfully handled here. Notice how the first three sentences, the first anaphoric sequence, transitions to the next four sentences; how the last sentence of the second anaphoric sequence is tweaked to take the last word, “worried,” as the kernel of its repetitive clause; and, lastly, how the last sentence in the passage acts as a kind of voluble coda that once again cycles back to the first anaphoric sequence.
There’s also an awkwardness to some of the phrasing in the narrative that would not be smoothed out with punctuation:
'I am I said Listening.
[….]
Did you she said See my bird last night?
[….]
There is she told me A world outside what you can build.
[….]
We are they said Building you a beach.
[….]
What I asked Did he think of that?'

At first, I found the clunky placement of dialogue tags annoying, but I slowly began to read it as an intentional reflection of the novella’s refractive narration.
There is one wrong note here, however. I’d call it a minor quibble if it weren’t for the overall pristine quality of attention to the crafting of the text, a text where any misplaced jot or tittle will stick out like a blemish on newborn. Considering the narrative’s forgoing of most punctuation save periods, apostrophes, and occasional question marks, Fletcher’s intermittent use of commas (e.g., “This is, I decided, the big deal about heaven,”), especially after having been trained from the outset that they weren’t necessary to convey sense, jarred my reading of the text. And there are some usage consistency issues with question marks (e.g., “Are you listening she said?”; “Who she said Were you talking about earlier.”) Perhaps Fletcher would have benefited from another look at one of his blurber’s books, namely, Robert Lopez who, in his most recent novel, dropped commas, colons, semicolons—actually all punctuation save the period, hyphen, and apostrophe—and produced a text marked by its eccentric rhythm, its collision of thoughts, produced a spigot pouring out thoughts, shutting itself on and off. With a quote from Frank Stanford used as an epigraph (“it wasn’t a dream it was a flood”) to adorn his novella, it’s possible that Fletcher was influenced by Stanford’s epic poem The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You which is devoid of punctuation (not to mention its absence of stanza breaks).
Sharing an affinity with such writers as Jesse Ball, Aaron Burch, Lily Hoang, and Shane Jones, Fletcher’s When All Our Days Are Numbered... bubbles with a fabulist sensibility and glows with light; and there is a pervasive lightness and a glassine quality to its prose; and with its use of anaphora sometimes achieves a kind of prophetic, almost invocatory voice:
'One of these days she said You will stand on a roof & not come down.
[….]
One of these days she said I will break all of your bones & use them as a tent & you will always be there.
One of these days marching bands will fill the streets & they will be far off & then they will not be anymore at all & they will be upon us like so many things have been visited upon so many other things over the course of history, which is a vast & varied course, with all sorts of openings & closings & things going in & things going out, much like the tide, but also things other than water
." - John Madera


An excerpt :

"I heard a cop come through the faucet this morning. I sent him on outside to grow me an ocean. I told him that when he did I would grind him into a beach.

There was a cop in the back yard again. He was building us a deck. But he didn’t have any wood. I had no idea what he was trying to hammer together back there. HEY I said. SCOOT.

Failing that I told him to grow me an ocean. I told him I HEARD YOU WERE BUILDING US A BEACH. What I asked Did he think of that?

*

I buried the bathtub today. She went to go run a bath, & a cop came out of the spigot & into the tub. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO SAY FOR YOURSELF she managed to finally ask. Out of his mouth tumbled little pink seashells.

*

WHAT’S UP WITH THAT the cop asked. He meant the yard. The mound of dirt where the bathtub was buried. I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT I said. & WHAT ABOUT THIS BEACH BUSINESS. YOU CAN’T HAVE A BEACH WITHOUT AN OCEAN he said.

I am going to grow an ocean in my heart. I am going to drown in it.

DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO GROW AN OCEAN IN MY BACKYARD I said. The cop said NO. He said THAT WAS ANOTHER COP. YOU WERE GOING TO GRIND HIM UP INTO A BEACH WHEN HE WAS FINISHED. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HIM I asked. He told me THAT COP RAN AROUND & HE RAN AROUND. HE DRESSED HIS GUN UP LIKE A BIRD & IT ATE ALL THE TEETH RIGHT OUT OF HIS MOUTH. HE RAN AROUND & WHEN HE RAN AROUND HE RAN AROUND YELLING. HE BUILT A TENT IN THE STREET & IN IT HE MADE A HOLE IN THE GROUND. I DON’T KNOW WHAT HE WAS DOING. HE KEPT ON EATING SEASHELLS. OR PUTTING THEM IN HIS MOUTH. WHATEVER.

LISTEN I told the cop I NEED YOU TO FIND OUT ABOUT THIS BEACH FOR ME. I NEED TO KNOW IF THIS IS REAL HERE. PLEASE I said.

*

THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE GARDEN she said. OTHER THAN PLANTS I said. OTHER THAN THE DRAWINGS OF PLANTS YOU CUT OUT & PUT ON STICKS & PLACED IN THE GARDEN. & THAT OTHER THING. RIGHT I said THAT OTHER THING. YEAH she said. She said I DON’T UNDERSTAND THE THINGS THAT HAPPEN AROUND YOU ANYMORE."

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