Excerpts from Brian Kubarycz’s fiction manuscript, The Instruments I Used, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.
Fire stormed on ice that winter night. Down turned to coal inside my pillow. A sky above my ceiling and the Devil bright red in it, I ate God’s Holy Bible. One prophet at a time. Deep within my bowels, his mercies turned to sour meal. I tossed all night and thought a bottle of corn whiskey would restore me to the straight ways of the Lord, still his Word within me. It was a fist that punched me full of ulcers. Sore as old ancient Job, I felt God’s prying finger – it was like Thomas – touch me to the guts. Not to save me from my suffering, but to make me feel more keenly, make me a believer. He held me fast that way. Harpooned and dublooned to the mast, “Jesus, save us,” was my cry throughout the night, “for love or limb or money.”
Surely, “Surely,” spoke that finger deep within in me. Surely, “Surely,” finger spoke through finger bone. It was the feeling of a finger, tongue or teeth, or of all three. My liver told me so. It came reaching, and I suffered the hot finger to come in. How could mortal flesh forbid? How could mortal flesh not sear and bear God’s holy brand? “Hush,” the finger bid me, “and be glad.” I then lay still as finger found my heart.
We were wedded on that night, the Lord and I. And I was that night altered with his gift. He came to me again two further times before the sky turned bright. I woke suddenly, though I heard no trumpet horn. Bunched up about me were the sheets, like swaddling they seemed. I unwrapped myself with care, afraid of what might meet my altered eyes. I saw nothing at all. The skin of me intact, untouched, I was no longer man. Nor was I woman. I felt born to be his young and living creature. Smooth as flipper underneath my trembling hand, as if sealed his, my skin was petal pink. It was the color of a wound new healed, though it felt as if no stone was ever rolled away. It looked to me, though I was new still to the truth of it, that I had been restored to cherub form. God had spoken to me in his wrath, or in his love, I knew not which. My flesh his sacred text, his sermon to my soul, his will to read.
My wife called me God-crazy with the way I would not peel my hand away. The revelation, so I told her, had been sent only to me. If she only would believe there’d be no need to see the miracle, and if she didn’t she should still not dare to tempt the Lord. It is a wicked generation, I proclaimed to her, and an adulterous one. It is. One day he will show his hand above the prairies, woods and towns. Like a fox amongst the chickens, he shall come – one thief, one night. His voice a pointing finger cutting finger at the joint, this finger she would feel. She would feel all.
I rose up to draw a bath. Against my wishes, she refused to look away as I betook across the room. I heard her voice behind me, and I shut the door. I sat down in the water. Then, just as I laid my sponge upon my scar, I saw his face and light showered down on me. God was beyond full wonderful, when my wife walked in on us, burst into the room, walked up and stood above me, one pillar of solid wife in the midst of him. She was in the fire and yet she knew it not. Hell fire, be my witness.
She leaned over me, she peered, and as her hand stretched forth to snatch my sponge away, God struck her down. A single touch was all she felt, if she felt aught of God at all. I had never in my life felt his protection until then. I knelt quietly, beside her, called out the window, accepted his will, that it would be done. I wanted only to be his, an instrument. Then came the authorities, and a pair of medics with a flannel and a stretcher. They wrapped my hands behind me, led me, meek, away from the scene of the miracle. A duffle bag I was. The wagon all around me, bound tight and bouncing, I prayed I would not topple. I waited in the prison, stared at my praying hands, spoke to the rows of people. I sat with them, sang in the choir and with the congregation. God told me nothing on that night, though I lay awake and waiting, hand over hole where once the asp had been. Then it was daybreak.
I fully knew what she had felt, to have the finger touch her. There. God settled in my stomach through our contact, in the shape of his own baby child. Sleeping soundly where there had been tumult, he took his rest with prophets gone to pulp. There were no punches anymore. I had borne up under, twin fists in me, endured blows with humility. God claimed their smart away. But in their place there beat extended wings. A different batch of blood thrilled in my veins. Even to my nose there was a difference, sundering my old man away and making me stand fresher in my cell. Imagination made me see this feeling in the figure of a money sign. I could feel the wad within me. Plying into paper, into bills of what denominations I knew not.
The swelling of my insides out, the source of it and what the swelling knelled, gave ever-richer mystery to my keepers. They watched me measure my new bounty, spanning the bushel I’d become. I bore my gravid body expert, sat down with ever-greater care. I was glass pitcher brimming with red tea. I sought what light my cell could render, stood upright in it – God’s currency in me – steeping me ever richer. I did not lie. I slept less then, taking naps betimes in weepingwillow light. Out the window, beyond my bars, I could see the street unfold below me, could see the shiny lips of beaver brims, could hear the tap of canes and click of heels. But a face was something I could never find. It was a press of thumbs, at best, that I could see. I would look until the sun had disappeared behind the tree and draw back into prison, feeling the gathering continue within me, though I never took a scrap of prison food.
What men gave me to eat was to me of no interest. I don’t recall what I was daily brought. Not touching it with hands, I pushed it to the corner of the room, shoe for a glove. Trays and dishes, both were taken away, and each day the same meal set before me, though I would not savor. The water I would drink, though pass I would no water of my own. My self-reliance – as if living off mere light – was a source of wonder for my jailers. They thought it my conceit. But with time they lost their wonder at my gift, God’s lesson from the lips which I held tight, dead to the sermons which I preached to them each day through chastity of food.
True, some of them received it as a provocation, bringing me three meals each day and swearing not to take my dish away – rats be my life’s companions – until my plate was bare. But eat was worship I refused to do. Food was their golden idol, meat and drink. They defied me nightly, bringing bigger meals. Each dish something different, and better – why suspect? – than what was giving to the others in the prison. Though I bore this temptation as I bore all others, laughingly, never giving thought to it, never lending death a care. Soon enough they taunted me no more.
I waited out the days of my confinement. Bigger in the belly, and broader in the yawning of my ribs. I was very skin itself, wine’s outer body, God volatile within me.
What ended these my prison days was prison fire, how fierce the flames the untried can’t imagine. I held my place, I stilled myself, even when the doors were thrown wide open. I felt no urge to leave the place where God had shown his wealth through me. I knelt down, awaiting indication. Gentle fire, my God, burn turned to tickle. I was pulled straight from the oven. I put up no resistance. I wanted now merely to pass my time, to let God season me. It was a New Year’s morning.
That same night I stretched out on my old bed, hearing the creak of the rafters, feeling the creep of the skin over my ribs. I was already making milk. You don’t believe, but I could hear it, liquid light, pour in me. I spoke to him, my Maker, recalled to him the life he gave me one dark night.
Then my water boiled, stormed, broke in an instant. I saw a blinding light. Down fell my belly, flattened out before my eyes, collapsed beneath my hands. A cry rose out of me, up to skies. It hit the ceiling. The Devil bright red in me, I cursed God’s Holy cross. One splinter at a time. Dark in my bowels, his mercies turned to sour barley meal. I lost that night my Lord, his Word born still. I made one fist and bit my reading finger, clean free of the knuckle. Like I was taking a chug. I thought of God’s first touch of me, of the girl he made me, of the hour of my trial, and then of the mother. I pulled my sheets way, held finger in my fist, just for a minute. “Jesus, save us,” was my prayer. I pushed the finger in.
[“In Situ” originally appeared in Unsaid 5. Vol. 1. It is one story from an unpublished collection called The Instruments I Used.]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brian Kubarycz lives in Salt Lake City, where he teaches Intellectual Traditions for the Honors College of the University of Utah. His work has appeared in The Quarterly, Puerto Del Sol, Black Warrior Review, The Collagist, Fiddleblack, and other literary periodicals.
ABOUT THE MANUSCRIPT
The Instruments I Used is a collection of short fiction which tests the extent to which the narrating voice (as opposed to plot, character, or concept) can function as the generative force behind imaginative literature. The result is a heterogeneous mix of writings whose common feature my be little more than a fundamental enunciatiatory drive, one which produces each new sentence not as mere unit of description but rather as a singular act of legislation.