:: Article

Inside

New fiction by Maddy Raskulinecz, with art by Sam Vernon.

Scan 11

Step one: abandon all value systems; disrupt continuity; achieve total ambiguity. I am alone a lot of the time here, which is preferable to how I was outside. Outside is what Alaskans call the rest of the United States, although the term is rarely used on the island of Unalaska, which is where I am, where even Alaskan turns of phrase tend to remain outside. I brought the term Outside in with me, which was my first mistake, see step one, in decontextualizing absolutely and Unmyselfing myself in Unalaska, Alaska.

When I arrived here I worked in the department of human resources of the city of Unalaska, screening anonymous grievances from employees of other departments about their superiors. They have work like that here; everywhere has work like that and that’s one reason I am able to travel. I am trying, however, to disrupt the continuity and pattern-making that creates a self over time, so it’s fortunate that I was fired after a few weeks for failing to do any work. Mainly I sat at a desk practicing my signature many times over in the margins of forms and memos while I spoke on the phone. At first it was unpracticed, childish, obliging cursive but as the phone calls established repetitive patterns I began to write it faster, a compulsive workout for the idle hand, and the lumpy particularities smoothed out into unintelligible loops and spikes. I sent in a grievance report with my name signed twenty-two times, a Richteresque procession from grand-to-petit-mal, and it was this last calm and undistinguished line that I drew across the bottom of my severance agreement before departing further inside.

Now I work in the department of culture and recreation of the city of Unalaska. This style of firing and adjacent rehiring is commonplace and unavoidable on an island of fewer than 2,000 people, almost none of whom don’t work in the fish processing plant. The white-collar workforce is shuffled around in synodic patterns and I see, in the quickly-memorized faces of the island, oblique facets of future selves as seasonal shift changes. I will work in every department the city of Unalaska has to offer. In my winter I will even ascend to city council member and take over the running of the place.

I have concealed this until now, though a cartographer will have anticipated it: following this island chain westward, I will reach the end of the world. Time is the highest tyrant, in my opinion, in how it creates a prisonesque continuity of self by shackling the future with the present, and worse, the past. There is one way to move from today to tomorrow without accepting passengership in time’s relentless and unidirectional movement, and that is to travel westward out of the least advanced time zone into the most advanced one, a break in continuity that is most satisfying, and this is why I invoked the cartographer-audience, when I imagine myself as a very tiny, leftward-moving dot on a world map, reaching the edge and disappearing, only to reappear, triumphant over my vast network of tyrants, see step one, on the furthest right, plunging unfettered into the future.

Scan 16

At the department of culture and recreation I oversee an afterschool daycare program for elementary-grades children to wait for their parents, who mainly work at the fish processing plant. Afterschool daycare programming has remained highly consistent with when I was a child, outside. The children, who total between twenty and thirty usually, color, read silently, and occasionally watch movies that were already ancient when I sat through them as a bored child.

There is one child who has the same name as me, B——, which is a common enough name; she isn’t my first B—— nor I hers. The connection has caused her to seek further connection. She touches my hair while I watch the other children and puts it in braids that instantly unravel. She asks me many questions about myself, which I hesitate to answer to her or to you, see step one, because most of the answers have to do with outside, which I am trying to abandon. She asks me a lot about outside, where she’s never been yet. She’s been to mainland Alaska but never beyond; the eastward airplane ride between here and the mainland is expensive, often cancelled due to inclement weather, and undertaken on a small propeller plane that frightens me very badly. It doesn’t frighten B——, who has only taken it twice, and who plans to abandon Unalaska forever once she has touched civilization.

She asks me about my love life and my family and when I don’t tell her she tells me about hers – both are vibrant and largely imaginary. She gestures to a boy throwing woodchips across the yard and says he is her boyfriend and they will likely marry. She tells me her father works at the fish processing plant and her mother takes care of her new brother, who doesn’t need much taking care of because he’s always asleep. She tells me all about her future, when she and her husband live together in New York City New York State, she a vegetarian, he a botanist, and the rest of her family living in a penthouse adjacent to theirs with a clothesline hanging between them for the passage of notes and small gifts.

I announce to the playgroup that it’s time to go outside for a little while and they are happy. It’s four in the afternoon and already nearing dark. For most of the day here it’s night and in the dark the continual gusts of wind sometimes seem like they might have a hidden color and shape, like boisterous shoving children among the rest. It isn’t so cold, though: the temperature is consistently between 40 and 60 degrees throughout the year. The seasons never move forward in their circle, the evergreens never molt and die and bloom again. Nature remains consistent, as if no time is passing at all.

B—— sticks close to me on the playground, but she is the only one. The other children obey my instructions and seek my help when needed but otherwise find more interest in each other. They become difficult for me to see as the day becomes completely dark, but there are very few places for them to go on such a small island.

The children’s parents begin to arrive en masse from the fish processing plant where everyone on this island works except me. B——’s father calls B—— and we both turn at our name, and she and the other children return to their homes, and I return to mine.

Scan 14

When I leave Unalaska westward the next island I will land on will be Adak Island. Adak will be 444 miles from Unalaska, and will have a population of 326 people. There will be nearly as many bald eagles as people on Adak; there will be bald eagles like rats on Adak. It will be the most patriotic place in the United States going on bald eagle count per capita.

There will be no radio stations on or within 200 miles of Adak; Unalaska will be far outside. Adak is Aleut for father. I will have no father on Adak; he will be far outside. To resist consistency and selfhood I will not work at the afterschool daycare program for the island’s school, which serves 21 children grades K through 12.

There will be a plant that grows nowhere in the world but on Adak called the Aleutian shield fern. It will be an ugly plant but I will covet my time with it nonetheless. At six inches tall it will be challenging to spot, emerging from the inhospitable spaces between stones. It will be hardy in one sense, as we all are who live in this place, but pathetic in another, never thriving and in fact chronically endangered. Despite its isolation it will bear strong resemblance to plants on islands nearby; yet despite its context among Aleutian flora it will remain distinct and distinguished, which will make it a satisfying symbolic presence for the midpoint of my westward course, and my goal of complete depersonalization (see step one).

My house on Unalaska is brightly lit with punishing fluorescent bulbs. When it’s dark outside, as it is when I return home from overseeing aftercare, the light renders the outside pitch black and depthless, as if my house resides on an island by itself, is itself an island. The darkness goes on for many hours. Outside, an overcast sky meant a light night, a beautiful and calm dimness tracing the lines of every object. I told someone once how much I liked it and he said it was, of course, an effect of pollution, and that I was one of many children who would never know true blackness.

The early dark invites early sleep, but I try to sleep as much as possible for my own reasons. It is one of my preferred modes of living. Often it is called death’s brother, but they have very little in common, I explain in a dream to my own brother. The mind thrives, the imagination explores, yet the body rests comfortably, and all problems solved poorly or discovered unsolvable are reset upon waking; continuity is disrupted. Doesn’t that mean the pleasures of sleeping depend on waking up? asks my brother, and if I wake up and return to sleep he is gone without extracting his answer from me.

It’s difficult to wake up in the morning when the darkness doesn’t crack for hours yet. The only way to tell from nature when night becomes day is when the moon sets. The moon setting is the only thing about Unalaska that I have allowed myself to categorize as a favorite. It’s a rare sight due to persistent cloud cover and that helps its case, that it’s a favorite in opposition to routine. Mountains loom over the flat dock town of Unalaska, and the moon looms over the mountains. It seems to grow in size as it sets, an illusion caused by atmosphere and pollution, and it’s so large as it approaches that I think it will land on the tip of a mountain and roll down into town. But instead it dips behind, of course, and the morning begins in blackness.

This black morning I leave my home and there is a bald eagle sitting on the roof of my car. It is a huge bird and a patriotic symbol for the nation and so it is unwise to try and shoo it away myself.

I go back into my house and retrieve the only thing in it that a bird of prey might like to eat, a foot-long pollock that sits whole in my freezer. My neighbor gave it to me when I moved into my house. He presented it to me in a gesture of welcome, like a pie, hanging by its mouth on a line. I don’t know how to prepare a fish and so I’ve left it in the freezer, where ice crystals have crawled over its scales and open eyes.

I take the fish outside and throw it down on the driveway for the eagle. There is a cracking noise when it hits the pavement; it has cracked in half. The eagle, startled or repulsed, flies away. I will have to clean the fish off the driveway before my neighbor sees his frozen housewarming gift so desecrated but it’s dark when we each leave our homes and dark when we each return so it isn’t an urgent matter.

When I leave Adak westward the next island I will land on will be Hawadax Island. Hawadax will be 214 miles from Adak. Hawadax is Aleut for welcome. The island will welcome me because no one else will be there to do it; there will be no human population on Hawadax. Previously it will have been called Rat Island because of its thousandfold rat population. A ship will have wrecked on Rat Island hundreds of years before and left an unchecked population of rats. Outsiders will have dropped pesticides onto the island from airplanes and killed all the rats and changed the name. It will be believed to be rat-free but no one will have returned to check. I will go to Hawadax and learn if there are rats still or not but I won’t report my findings because I will be going westward, not back, and must push on.

There will be frequent, powerful earthquakes on Hawadax, as it will be located on a tectonic fault line which will shift continually and unpredictably. If you have ever wondered what an earthquake feels like when no one is there to feel it, I will be no one, and I will be there to learn.

Scan 17

B—— gets lost. I told you it could happen in the dark that creeps on so early in the day. It would be my fault regardless but it’s compounded by the fact that I am her only friend. Her supposed boyfriend hasn’t played with her all afternoon and is one of the last to express any urgency about her disappearance.

My strategy is to create a game-like group effort to find her. This is immediately disastrous because it scatters the children all around the yard and the far corners of the school building, out of my sight, bellowing B——’s name. The wind carries some of their calls directly to me and eats up some others and I try to count the heads and voices that I can. My count becomes imprecise and I have to begin again and again.

I think of a time in my own childhood when I became lost, outside. I did it purposefully to punish the adults around me. I walked halfway down the no-outlet street where I lived and sat underneath a tree, fantasizing about the moment when everyone would drive down the street with their heads stretched out of each window of the car like dogs and cry in relief that I hadn’t gone anywhere really. I don’t know how long I waited but of course I became bored and walked back to my house before anyone noticed my absence.

Parents begin to arrive from the fish processing plant and I have to tell them what has happened. B—— is lost, I say, and crack a smile with regard to the fact that I’m saying my own name. None of them return the smile. Maybe the joke is too buried for the smile to bring it across, or maybe the situation isn’t funny, or maybe they don’t remember what my name is. They all know who B—— is because everyone on the island knows everyone else’s children.

B——’s father arrives and the other parents tell him what’s happened before I can do it. He knows her patterns well and reaches into the heather where she’s crouched as if simply following a beacon signal. It’s effortless for him and humiliating for me. In front of the group I tell B—— we were all looking for her, thinking to administer some satisfying combination of flattery and guilt, but she’s nonplussed and spacey as usual. She was playing an imagination game and didn’t notice she was lost. Ultimately, I think, we are not similar.

The parents look at me with a changed expression as they take their children away.     B——’s father doesn’t look at me at all. I think I am going to lose my job in the department of culture and recreation.

One of the many problematic elements of everything is that it reminds me of everything else. Maybe it’s just the same thing that makes the moon seem closer than outside but from where I’m standing, forward motion invites more past than future no matter how close I come to completing one step.

When I leave Hawadax westward the final island I will land on will be Attu Island. Attu will be 241 miles from Hawadax. I don’t know what Attu means in Aleut and there will be no one there to ask.

I’ve concealed this until now: when I arrive on the final island, the end of the world will have already passed. It will have been hundreds of miles before, between Amatignak and Semisopochnoi, and you won’t have felt anything. A continuity of nation and archipelago will have disrupted my frantic leap futurewards. Attu is the westernmost island of a group called the Near Islands, so named because although they are furthest from outside, they are nearest to the previous outside, czarist Russia. Any cartographer, indeed anyone at all had I not left them all outside, could have told me that there is no end to a spherical spinning world, that Unme within Me is a paradoxical, stupid goal, that even if I had the boat and experienced crew I would need to transport me to these impossible futures, there are forces in the world which can tell you no and enforce it absolutely, one of which is selfhood, but another of which is the United States Coast Guard, which has not permitted anyone, not even world-champion competitive bird-watchers, to land on the island of Attu in several years.

Anyway it will be much too dark this season for me to go. The light won’t last long enough for half a day’s travel. If I wait until summer the weather will be the same, and I will be the same, but the days will last all day and all night and the sun will loom over the west and wait for me to take my time.

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maddy Raskulinecz lives in Baltimore, where she’s a fiction MFA candidate at Johns Hopkins. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, Everyday Genius, Spork, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter.

ABOUT THE ARTIST
Sam Vernon earned her MFA in Painting/Printmaking from Yale University in 2015 and her BFA from The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 2009. Her installations combine xeroxed drawings, photographs, paintings and sculptural components in an exploration of personal narrative and identity. She uses installation and performance to honor the past while revising historical memory. Vernon has most recently exhibited with the Seattle Art Museum, Ewing Gallery of Art & Architecture at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the Emery Community Arts Center at the University of Maine, Farmington, MoCADA, or the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, January 14th, 2016.