s t o r i e s b
d a r r a n a n d e r s o n
i will have my revenge
bastard tree that broke the neck
of albert camus
life after godhood
the old man & the
the last man
i w i
l l h a v e r e v e n g e
o n t h e b a s t a r d t r e
t h a t b r o k e t h e n e c
o f a l b e r t c a m u s
b y d a r r a n a n d e r s o n
Albert Camus died today. Or maybe it was yesterday.
The newspaper couldn’t be sure.
I stared blankly in disbelief rereading the words, words that lacked
the umbilical cord connection to their meaning like some autopilot mantra
people mumble in Mass. That’s how I found out he was dead, found
out that for him time had stopped and he’d always be 46 years of
age. Always look the way he looked in those photographs on the sleeve
of cheap novels hidden away in second hand bookstores. I had expected
to see him ferment into an old guru, his eyebrows and a beard growing
outward like wild briars, his bones creaking like pipes in the attic,
as he drunkenly and violently disgraced himself at state banquets in
his honor. But here he was dead, departed twenty years before I was born.
And that was how I found out. Not by telegram, nor smoke signal, nor
delivered by an amphetamine-fuelled galloping Spartan who had traveled
countless miles and would drop dead from exhaustion upon delivery. I
didn’t hear it through the grapevine, or from a shoe-shining snitch
or happily floating in my mother’s womb with my ear against her
belly button, like a hearing bugle, straining with clenched tooth to
hear the muffled words outside. His stories, his books knew nothing of
his passing. Instead I read it in the fading ink of a forty two-year-old
obituary, forty two years that, from the newspaper, smelt as if they
were filled with nothing but snuffboxes, the bottom of birdcages and
the unique aroma of the inside of an old man’s pocket. There was
no doubt about it; Camus was dead.
My existential Humphrey Bogart, the prophet of sun and sea, the Algerian
Pied Noir, the ladies’ man, the TB lunger, the Stranger, the mistaken
Outsider, the "Trotskyite", the rebel, the guest, the moral
journalist, the day to day historian, the exile, the Nobel Prize Winner,
neither the victim nor the oppressor, the French resistance partisan,
editor of Combat and the goalkeeper for Algiers FC. Here was someone
you could put your faith in, who would not break or bend. A man that
you listened to and stood behind when faced with his…our enemies.
He was our nuclear deterrent, a man made out of the elements, his atoms
were the same as those of neutronium, with the weight of a thousand collapsed
stars whilst the rest of us were made of crumbling carbon or some weak
dispersed form of gas. A man that gravity struggled so intensely to control,
to push him towards the ground that it forgot about the rest of us, the
people constructed out of matchsticks and straw, and we’d have
to invent elaborate systems of magnets and pulleys just to keep our feet
on the ground. We’d be protected and inspired and incited by the
existence of such a man. But now…now he was as dead as Adam.
Angrily confused, I suddenly became aware of my breathing through my
nose, like a bull confronted with the crowds of Pamplona, an army equipped
with a million rolled up newspapers. With an attempt at renewed calm,
quite consciously now filling and emptying my lungs slowly through my
mouth, I dissected the obituary with the express intention of finding
out which fucker was responsible.
Perhaps an SS war criminal, who failing to assassinate De Gaulle or Gils-Roble
from a church belfry chose this hero of the resistance?
Perhaps a scorned, star-crossed, femme fatale mistress?
Perhaps an Arab on a beach?
Perhaps a Jean Paul Sartre?
Then I found it. The Tree. It was the bastard tree that had dared to
step into his path and had shattered the dashboard clock upon impact
and scattered the First Man to the four winds. It was too absurdly suspicious
to have been an accident. I smelt conspiracies like cut grass or cinnamon
or the smell of bon-bons in the air. He died having said that an automobile
crash would be an imbecilic end and with an unused train ticket to the
destination he had been traveling to in his pocket. It was clear to even
the most demented of minds that for reasons I know not the tree had premeditated
it, lurking like Hamlet in the shadows of the roadside.
I sat up that whole night with one thought revolving in my head like
a boiled sweet, until it was clear what was to be done.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
I’d locate the tree and I’d cut it down with my axe, pulverize
it into pencils or firewood or chopsticks, hack it into a library of
Dead Sea Scrolls or a thousand dentures so that proud but toothless donkeys
may again feast on toffee apples or beat it into twelve guitars each
carved with the words; this machine kills fascists.
I had debts to settle, debts that sent my mind spinning like furious
clockwork and burned incandescent within me, until I felt like a human
Hindenburg. So with stealth and cunning I made my way to France, off
on my mission with only my axe and my pipe. Punch drunk and throwing
up overboard on the swaying ferry, so much so I worried I’d turn
myself inside out, I was considering an exit in the style patented by
Hart Crane when finally, at long last, the boat mercifully pulled into
harbor. From there with nothing to declare but burning revenge I smuggled
myself through customs and onto the soil of France.
Posing as a sunglassed wide smiled exchange student, I approached the
first house I came to, armed with a guide book and a forged teenage voice,
full of squeaks and bass rumbles like a rusted bicycle. When the father
of the family told me in broken English that they had not agreed to fostering
a student and I must be mistaken, I broke down and wept, a performance
worthy of an Oscar acceptance speech. I wept as men with two glass eyes
can only dream of weeping. And each tear diluted his mistrust until he
was ushering me into the house with his arm around my shoulders and the
air was filled with reassuring words, which I translated as "Don’t
cry, sil vous plait!" "Papa, Is he the bad man?" "Non…non
mons petits pois, he is not le bad man."
Behind my tears and their turned backs I rubbed my hands and cackled
under my breath. Armed with my natural charm and a feigned interest in
the sights and sounds of Paris, I infiltrated that family like a grey
blur or a dose of the clap amongst Bolsheviks.
I baked them cakes, that to their taste buds may just as well have been,
for the briefest of moments, the greatest cakes in all of Europe, I amused
the children by clenching their father’s nostrils as he snored
in front of the television, I flirted with the over-sexed, under-serviced
mother, commenting on her magnifique derriere and taking great care to
brush past her giggling shapely form on every possible opportunity. I
gained their trust. I made myself indispensable so that they thought
of the time before my arrival the way men think of the time before the
wheel or electricity.
In exchange I was treated to all the sights. I hid behind an appreciative
grin and nodded my way from the Centre Pompidou, the graves of Oscar
Wilde and Jim Morrison and Baudelaire, the Moulin Rouge, the Catacombs,
through constellations of tourists where I’d be captured as a stranger
in the background of a thousand holiday photographs. And I thought of
Camus, back when the world was black and white, driving deliberately
slowly through those very streets hoping that admiring ladies would recognize
him, Camus the writer, and their hearts would swoon and he’d take
them in and resting his hand, like a poised spider drunk on testosterone,
on their stockinged knees and whispering sweet existentialisms into their
ears he’d slowly move his hand gracefully upwards like a man stroking… the
bark of a bastard tree.
That evening, just as outside the street lights were clicking and humming
pink against the fading blue sky and shadows stretched into different
time zones from their origin, under the pretext of making them a delicious
meal I added a light seasoning of rhyhypnol to my new family’s
stew and left with the contents of their sleeping wallets and piggy banks
and sellotaped to the door, with letters carefully cut out of Le Figaro’s
Friday edition headlines; an apology note in nursery school French.
From the doorway I could see the Eiffel Tower take root and sprout branches
so high and wide they seemed to be holding up the sky and as night came
in deepening tides, from the Champs Elysee traffic island, my trusty
pipe in mouth and my trusty axe in pocket, I could see it still, as all
of Paris could, taunting me as it disguised itself, lit up like the world’s
largest Christmas tree.
From there I hitchhiked the length and breadth of the country, traveled
lost as the drunken boat, accidentally passing across borders into Germany
and Switzerland where I’d be chased back by men with beards. Traveling
the hedgerows, with only my axe and pipe for company, I’d be pursued
by men in bowler hats and old ladies eager to meet their gentlemen callers
on time, who’d mistaken my smoke-plume-emitting-head for a steam
train. And I’d have to hide in ditches as they ran past complaining
about the price of tickets and how disgracefully late the train was and
how they had missed their meeting and they’d most definitely put
in a formal complaint with the superiors…
I searched and searched, down many a lonesome country road I ran convinced
I was being followed by the heavy breaths of a serial killer or an asthmatic
or an asthmatic serial killer, but still I could not find it and felt
like a man whose mind is unhinged by the car keys that have hid themselves
from him, like a bunch of stainless steel Anne Franks. But despite all
my efforts, showing people on street corners a photograph of the tree
after which they’d slap my face and lament psychiatric ward closures,
it still remained hidden as thoroughly as gold teeth in Swiss bank accounts,
hidden like elements in the air.
It shames me to admit on occasions I got the wrong trees. In my frustration
I murdered birches, slaughtered elms, uprooted them shrieking, laughing
like a lunatic, turned whole orchards into graveyards, to the trees I
was a Nazi, climbing into gardens to set fire to saplings and punch the
older trees where I’d be chased by rich old women, outraged at
my contemptuous disregard for private property (that most sacred of their
rights), who’d turn their army of mercenary cats onto me. I did
things…terrible things…things that men shouldn’t have
And yet in a sense I had succeeded; hustling them with great violence
to force them to spread the word, tapping through their root systems
like Morse code; "Wherever you are, you’re not safe. Your
roots keep you in the earth and I will find you."
At nighttime I’d sleep under bridges, in bus shelters, in subway
tunnels, under scaffolding, in arched doorways where I’d be woken
up by being struck on the head by artillery bombardments of loose change
and I’d have to belatedly, but strategically, knock the last tooth
out of the heads of street bums who’d insist I’d hand over
my trusted axe, claiming that it was theirs. But wherever I rested my
head, whatever I saw before I closed my eyes, the dreams were always
the same. Dreams of approaching the gigantic murderous tree and being
wrapped up in a headlock of branches, its twigs gripping my nostrils,
pulling them back, trying to snap my neck like it did his.
And I’d awake each morning, shake the sleep from my head and rise
slowly, like Darwin’s stages of evolution, dusting myself down
to begin my endless search again for my holy grail, that elusive tree
that someone, some higher power, was hiding from me, the way Trotsky,
having crossed the palm of a gypsy with silver, attempted to bury every
ice pick the length and breadth of Mexico.
Traveling like an ant does over a discarded roadside map of France I
had days of profound and fragile beauty, I had days when I was as sad
as an old man staring at a park bench after the rain and I had days when
revenge burned within me like one thousand suns, when you could have
sliced my bone and you’d read the word revenge through the marrow
of my being like the word Bundoran through a stick of rock. On occasion
I’ll admit, due to the demands of hunger and sobriety, I was forced
to feast on untransubstantiated communion wafers and wine in midnight
chapels, having raided the holy of holies and the next morning would
be discovered by the startled congregation in their Sunday best (as sure
as Columbus discovered the Americas) drunkenly wrestling the local priest
as he desperately reached for his scattered heart tablets. And I’d
flee from rooftop to rooftop, tangled up in aerials and chimneypots,
an antichrist Mary Poppins, as witnesses gave their accounts of my appearance
each so vastly different that the police could only (and quite rationally),
construct a photo fit of a many headed hydra-like man-beast that was
terrorizing the churches and they would, with the help of a clinical
psychologist, predict that synagogues and mosques would be the next targets.
Finally I gave up and exhausted I collapsed onto a bench with the old
dogs and the stray men, who spluttered behind newspapers like flak riddled
Luftwaffe and shuffled after impatient buses, momentarily forgetting
the limp they employed for sympathy, shuffling in a curiously rhythmic
manner as if they were finally dancing on all the graves they had sworn
to dance upon.
Time crept as slowly as the shadow on a sundial and my precious dreams
were jigsawed around me.
I prayed to gods whom I didn’t believe in, made them promises I’d
never keep, if only they’d send me a star, a sign, a burning bush.
And then I saw, in what other lesser men might call a miracle, the tree
right in front of me all along.
From my distance as high as three apples.
I knew it was it. It had to be. It had written across it the backwards
hieroglyphics of a registration number. Embedded deep into it. Embedded
by the force of an automobile traveling at the speed of approximately
sixty miles per hour.
That was it. I approached it whistling, avoiding eye contact but the
other trees warned it, rustling in the wind like a flurry of hands, waving
and pointing. Swiftly I raised my axe like a Godless Abraham and, with
a cry of an actor being paid to pretend to be King Lear on the heath,
charged and swung and swung and swung and I beat a fucking blitzkrieg
into it until I forgot myself and succeeding in hammering the breath
out of my own lungs.
I know not why I paused but pause I did and took a deep breath and, with
the sound of what a poet might call a cricket orchestra in the nearby
fields hypnotizing me, I stopped and stared at the tree, feeling curiously
as if I were being watched. I bent over exhausted expelling enough air
out of my lungs to fill the Reichstag. The tree was battered, wounded,
beaten out of shape, unrecognizable, groaning in low decibels that only
dogs could hear (who’d began to bark in response from twelve thousand
kennels) but admirably it had stood its ground. In my soul I felt stirrings
of mercy, as only men with a great power can, and besides the handle
of my axe was broken. I thought of the words of a carpenter, who died
long long ago, concerning revenge and a burden lifted from my soul and
I heard other tasks making themselves known to me.
To locate the old carthorse that had driven Nietzsche mad and crown it
King of Bavaria.
To bake cookies in Sylvia Plath’s oven.
To make a hammock from Isadora Duncan’s scarf.
To open beer bottle tops with the trigger of Richard Brautigan’s
revolver, with my head numbed with alcohol, with sadness and joy mingling
at their disputed border, whilst quietly staring out upon the fathomless
In the nearby grass the crickets, who were performing symphonies, national
anthems with tiny clarinets, tubas, oboes intricately carved out of full
stops, called for an intermission and crowded around to stare at the
new sight of a carved oak figure, with cigarette in mouth and his collars
up against the chill of the night air, 46 rings wide and deep, where
a tree had once stood.
copyright © 2005 darran anderson, all rights