Redaction is its own form of narrative. Consider that eighteen-minute gap in Nixon’s Whitehouse tapes–a text of absence at once tantalizing and indicting, a deletion that recasts everything around it, a hole that demands reinterpretation of the whole.
In this slim novella, Justin Sirois has tapped into just such a vein, creating a book out of deleted sections from his novel Falcons on the Floor, written with Haneen Alshujairy. Here, two refugees from the city of Fallujah wander through a landscape of desert and water and memories. The dreams of the displaced narrator mimic the method of the book itself, as he redacts, mentally:
Men milking sickles.
The unemployed barber, General, welder, masseur.
I’ll have deleted all of these entries before they have a chance to breathe.
In another scene, this man “uncooks” a meal, playing it all backwards, drying out rice, reassembling cut carrots, “stacking the slices in columns and blowing on their wet seams until they morph whole.” As in Vonnegut or Amis, this running of time in reverse is a response to horror, to catastrophe, to a world rendered strange. A burnt dog stumbles onward, carrion-feeding birds cluster on a wrecked car, and our narrator observes, “I’ve never noticed, until now, how sounds have transformed after the occupation began–how screams of pain have grown mundane, but simple banging doors jolt us from our chairs.”
Ubiquitous stress, constant threat, and necessary wariness, combined with the raging heat of the journey, turns the journey of these two Iraqis into something on the level of parable. One, starved for a cigarette, remains always without a light. The other, surveying the sparkle of the river from an elevated tier of land, wants “to say how beautiful it is,” but keeps quiet out of fear of ambushes and irritation at his companion’s constant talking. So, like the wounded dog, they journey on, outwardly and inwardly, and the narrator records some thoughts in a laptop, its battery depleting, itself already an artifact of some alien world, jarringly surreal. As he opens it up, he notes “The welcoming chime from the speakers is made to sound like a doorbell, like you’ve been invited in, but I’ve never had a doorbell and no one I’ve ever known has, either.”
The characters keep low to the ground, forging on, into an altered reality, keeping low to the ground through fragments forgotten from a novel, deleted scenes, self-censored snippets about a war or, more, about the people the war passes through, leaving behind in their own land. “Windless as an aquarium, the night stretches itself from rim to rim with no beginning or quit,” and this is more than mere night or mere desert, mere shoreline.
I can’t get thoughts of home out of my head. The Jolan hemorrhages with olives, oily bread, brake pads, shoes shined with butter and ink, chicken pens with chickens thrashing rabid–and hovering silver trays like spaceships, tea kettles, tea glasses, tea–motorbikes backfiring, cabbage choking tailpipes, Mountain Dew drizzling through gutters, and children, dozens of shoe-less children pitting dates. Their fingers look shit-stained, but it’s just date juice.
MLKNG SCKLS is a book characterized by contemplate urgency, a story and a project that reflects on the nature of life, war, and narrative itself. Sirois, through the presentation of hallucinatory consciousness, offers an undeniably human portrait:
I’m not hungry or full. The rugs of my guts finally unravel. They roll out, throwing plumes of dust in the mosques of my lungs. Men and women enter through my open ribs and kneel in neat rows, each of them kneeling with palms over their knees. I don’t think they pray for me. They pray for other people.