The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Sixteen

Long November by Michael Farrell
Houses in Their Backs by Sean Ferrell
Warnings Accompanying Your Inflatable Universe by Justin Kahn
They Are Translucifying by Susan Lantz
Carolina in the Morning by M.E. McMullen
Broomsticks by Mari Ness
The Girl with Glass Skin & Combustion by Michael Obilade
At the Cafe by rovesciato
Cellular by Girija Tropp
Rose Red by Andrew Wille


irreal (re)views


Houses in Their Backs
by Sean Ferrell

I remember — shouted Qua, which may be incorrect, as this is a translation — when everyone I knew, and I knew everyone, lived in houses that they carried in their backs. This was back in the days when there wasn't much of anything, so little of anything that no one had need of anything but themselves. No one had hairpins or spatulas, or even carpeting, soup, picture frames or bookshelves. No one had these things, but they were coming, and so it was necessary for everyone to find a place to live, someplace to call "home," though we didn't call it "home" for we didn't have that word yet.

I knew the first to carry his home in his back, I had always known him. I would not call him a friend necessarily, for we did not have the word "friend" yet, but I knew him, had always known him and expected I would continue to. He had always lived next to the pebble, though then it was known just as "p" for we hadn't yet recognized the necessity of words, having only recently discovered the necessity for the parts of words since we had so few things for which to need words. So, he was known as "P" for he was near to "p" and I was not "P" for I never was near "p" but when I was with "P." This was enough to differentiate us.

On one dark afternoon, for we had no sun yet, its gases not yet coalesced into its fiery orb, P said, "I am moving." Of course it did not sound like that for there were fewer sounds, and no words, but his meaning was clear. I asked him where he thought himself moving to, for there was only "p" and "not-p" and I was already living where the "not-p" was, and so there was little room for him there.

"I am moving into the place in my back," he said. I considered this a minute, which was much longer then, measuring out over thousands of years because time was heavier then, and said that was reasonable enough, except that I could see no such space available.

"Nonetheless, it is there. I am sure," he said, no expression on his face for we had barely any need for them, or even the faces. "I have found the door, let me show you." With that he proceeded to bend over and pull himself between his legs, facing now his own behind. Then, with his wriggles and wiggles, he entered a small door I had not seen before. In a matter of moments he was inside this doorway, and within the house that was in his back. All that I could see of him was from the waist down, standing there next to "p." I called to him. How is it in there, I asked. There was some muffled reply, a gurgle and gasp like the sound a bad food causes me in my old age. After several hours of standing next to "P" in his new home, with night upon us and boredom settling around me like a scarf, I left and returned to "not-p." I was unsettled however.

I was astonished that "P" should so clearly find a home where one wasn't, and so be at 'p' and "not-p" at the same time. He was now "P" and "Not-P" at once. He was "P and Not-P". A few days later he visited me, which was unusual for he had always been "P" near "p", but now that he was "P and Not-P" he could go where he liked.

"I understand that others have begun to move into their backs," said 'P-and-Not-P.' I agreed, for how could I not, I had seen the twisted trunks of the others everywhere I went, and in my amazement had not thought that any of these were other than "P-and-Not-P" himself, but now it occurred to me that they were in fact "Not-(P-and-Not-P)" and they were certainly not me, so they were others.

"So, why do you not move into your house in your back?" "P-and-Not-P" asked.

I explained that I preferred not to because I had grown accustomed to being merely what I was, and did not want a "Not-" in front of me. Being Qua took up enough of my time. And so, that is how I have stayed all this time. So much time that it is now measured lengthwise instead of merely weighed. So much time that time was first measured by something smaller than seconds, and then by seconds which became minutes and so on. And I have seen those around me live in the houses they carried in their backs, and move out of them again. I have seen them build the things to build houses and then build the houses. And in all this time all I could do was watch and build the parts of the words and then the words themselves and then put the words to use; which is not to say that they are useful, but only that they are used, as are all things which are named.

Sean Ferrell's work has appeared at Uber, Words, and Bossa Nova Ink. He currently lives and works, in that order, in New York City.

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