Matthew Jakubowski’s short stories have appeared in Corium Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, 3:AM Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Barrelhouse (online), and Apiary, and been broadcast on WXPN 88.5 in Philadelphia. He also writes literary criticism for various publications. He lives in West Philadelphia.
That winter a sudden agony gutted the king. The queen was not so moved but she kissed the skinny man’s bald head as he wept. The princess felt it proper to grieve alone far from daylight. Rhymed verse—the nation’s romantic voice—had perished in an electric fire; its printed music would be heard no more.
Stacks of birthday cards in wooden drawers would nevermore increase. Sentimental injuries would suffer slow healing without the salve of sonnets whispered from the doorway of a chapel or Laundromat. Only woodblock carvings would tell of embraces so desperate to bring hearts close that young lovers imagined their ribs interlocking.
The king, like so many others, could only stare at his empty bookshelves, remembering thin rectangles casting shadows on the wall.
Time yielded strange consequences. Novels were eventually banished worldwide; they left the cities to go rejoice in a woodsy haven with their brethren. Illnesses, grief, and revenge upon false soothsayers formed a nice, round middle to a few old stories, a paunch that pious readers rubbed for luck, then kissed their fingertips to consecrate the true desires hidden beneath each prayer. Transcendentalism held firm, exclamatory for a few months. Then it had an episode and wandered hatless across the icy western hills due to a contraindication with its medication that its doctor had overlooked; a common fate: every inch of the hemisphere’s clinics and prisons festered with humanity.
Rivers were re-routed to wash away libraries. All clothing had to include at least one screen. Families stayed indoors to dust and scour, devoted to chess-match arguments about housework, the pets blinking rapidly to absorb the bluish silence. The great absence spread its lies, but the faithful vowed never to see words as both tyrant and traitor.
The princess suffered the most, then died. She’d tried to recreate some of what the world had lost and found her talents lacking. Though she had been nearly forty, losing her felt to the king and queen as if a healthy infant had been slaughtered right in front of them. They had her life painted large in neon by a team of expensive, slovenly eunuchs. Across the capital’s largest freeway wall, millions of drivers passed those bright scenes and cried their princess’s name out their windows: M-O-L-L-Y-!
Nonsense phrases—experimental verse—marked the revolution’s peak, spoken across candle-lit parking garages. A few gestures from a demigoddess had stuck a dunce cap on the entire canon, as if a code prodigy had unsexed all of literature. Royal surveillance engineers tried to regulate small talk by performing surgeries on the region’s languages. Tragicomically, the server used to store their results overheated and the data were lost, along with half the world’s pension savings.
The novels kept rejoicing, oblivious to death. Their gladness was beyond all language, raucous and final, as their stories were explosively freed. Ash mixed with dew along the exiles’ spines as they danced in stacks around the fires, spinning white pixels from black ink into the dawn sky. They filled midnight’s canvas with motes of light, each star the soul of a dreamed word, surfacing like angelic larvae from the prison of the printed page.
Molly’s ghost filled the sky above the rebel fires, a choral borealis bridging the atmosphere, ringing anew the eternal sounds of farewell. The king and queen had abdicated to live nearer the clear, dark skies that softened their measureless grief. “More light!” they cried as they danced with the empty books. “More light upon all winter’s people!”