With 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) 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 Marching Bands Will Fill the Streets & We Will Not Hear Them Because We Will Be Upstairs in the Clouds 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 Marching Bands Will Fill the Streets & We Will Not Hear Them Because We Will Be Upstairs in the Clouds 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's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.