Entertainingly Evil


“It might be meaningful,” says the bright-faced girl with the chai tea latte. “But it’s not art.”

Her sweater is striped in green and white. Her jeans are artfully ripped. (Pale knees sticking out from fraying holes as she sits with legs curled under her in an easy chair in the museum café.)

“It’s more like a thought experiment—”

Outside, the sleet quietly whispers against the windows, cold splotches of grey and white that dribble down the panes.

“But does that matter?” asks the boy with the iced green tea.

His hair is too long, shocked and fuzzy. His eyes are dark and serious. (An old orange sweatshirt stretched with familiarity, the sleeves pulled over his hands, curled into private fists.)

“Why can’t art sometimes just be an idea—?”

Unnoticed, I sit at their elbows. A disheveled bundle in a shapeless cloak, an old book with dusty pages raised mask-like before my face. But not reading— Listening, with both ears cocked to the students—

Ah, what is art! What is it? Like every one of their kind before them, they sit across from each other, questing for the ineffable— Just as two others sat once on either side of a fire, gesticulating and hooting at scratchings on a cave wall—

I was there too, in those shadows—

And I could tell everything, if I chose. Everything I know. Everything said on the subject, from then until now.

But there are rules that govern how I divulge the information I possess. Not laws of Heaven— Not laws imposed upon me from above—

“You’ve got the wrong end of the question,” says the middle-aged man with the tan sports coat and no tie.

He leans close over the easy chair, pushing the girl half across her seat. He looks down severely at the boy, a knowing smirk on his face. (Knowing? Yes, knowing—of the insides of books, of the insides of museums, of the insides of foreign countries—all surveyed from the same two eyes, each datum slotted reliably into the same one mind.)

“I’ve been coming here the past twenty years, and perhaps I can correct some of your errors—”

I still the hiss on my lips, the rattle in my throat. Almost unwillingly, I uncoil from my chair. The spell is broken now, and quotations and names begin to buzz in the air.

Yet, I was there too.

I was there when the words were new—when Aquinas and Abhinavagupta first tested their theories in the crucibles of talk! When Diderot and Duchamp molded their thoughts! When Kant and Schiller burned pages and pages of false starts!

Yet, still I would rather hear them from new lips, fumbling and half-formed, uncertain and unstudied— Not these arid quotations, memorized from books, century after century, as if engraved in stone.

Speak! Reason! Commit the errors again and again, each one anew!

But the man drones on, satisfied with the scope of his learning, smug in the accumulation of his facts. He doesn’t see me stand and move to his elbow, my cloak sweeping around me, swirled around the imperfect facsimiles of my bones, my skin, my eyes—

In thousands of years, I have never cut a perfect human figure.

But I am aware of it.

Aware, too, how icy my hand must feel as it closes around his shoulder. How frigid and fetid my breath must be against his cheek and ear, as I bend down to whisper in his ear—

He flinches! (Who can blame him?) He pulls away, but I pull him back— An equal and opposite force—

But not equal—not really. I am eternal. All-knowing. Yet still I would sit at the feet of a mayfly (alive for one day only!) if ever one appeared to have something to say—

Yes, eternal! All-knowing!

But still I wish to know more!

The students see me as nothing more than a smudge—nothing more than a passing stranger, who blinks across their awareness. They don’t see me grasp the man by his arm. Don’t see me bend down and put my lips to his ear.

What could I have to tell this man?

What could one such as I have to say to him?

There are rules that govern how I divulge the information I possess. (Information about every man, every woman, every sparrow, every spider! Every grain of sand, every mote of dust!)

They are not the laws of Heaven— Not laws that have been imposed upon me, from above—

But laws that I have written myself—

For the care and safe handling of inquisitive dust motes— Curious sparrows— Questing students— The authors of the echoes and reflections of my own Creation—

What I put into his ear is merely a puff. Merely the lightest dandelion seed of Revelation. But he falls away, stunned and pale, waves of my whisper reverberating in his ears. Deafened at last—

He falls away— He falls away—

There are rules that govern how I divulge the information I possess.

I do not break them often—

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