Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
Aptly my earliest experience of a story coming to life, exerting its own will.
There he lay, the most pathetic scrap of a human being. Blood intermingled with mud as laughter fell down the hill, soon silence but for the rain. Soaked through he still weighed little more than a boy. Even put together he was hardly a respectable sight, a fool that sought escape his foolishness through more; as if the tool that got him there might yet get him out. Of course, it was not entirely his doing that brought all this; so what plan was this of God, why make him so? The Rabbi had nothing but platitudes in answer.
This was not so much a matter of theodicy, not the problem of evil but rather of weakness. What use could God have for this? Yes, He works in mysterious ways—but this? He could barely walk up a hill without growing tired, often sat down halfway up. If ever he stood too fast, he would quickly fall down; to counter this had become very good at crouching. He was good at crouching, he thought, but this could hardly be God’s plan for me; that night he still wrote it down, for he kept a small notebook in which he contemplated his manifold lack.
The boy found much in himself without worth. Thus he turned over each aspect of himself, taking a piece in hand—his health, temperament, complexion, apparently even the balance of his humours—all of this was first taken up, then inspected, and always each was ultimately found wanting. Of course, that he had something of a talent for such exercises was never noticed; or if ever it was, was surely also found wanting. All things were, in the end, found wanting. He would go weeks now between a new aspect of this worthlessness occurring to him; whereas once it buried him for weeks on end and came thereafter in varying waves. Then something would happen, he would say or do something; then he would note this down, add it to the collection of which he was sole curator.
None ever knew of this, of course. All recognised that he was physically pathetic and somehow lesser but still they did not think him worthless. His very weakness was their advantage here, as most things take very little; and while he was thought inept at complex tasks, he could be readily convinced to do quite a number of small but helpful things. Indeed, the people as a whole—perhaps but for they who all the while laughing had left him at the bottom of this hill—most people, in fact, quite liked him. They did not see the nature of the dynamic at all and merely thought of him as a somewhat touched fellow to whom they were doing a great favour by entrusting him with little bits of real life, you know, that he might have at least a taste of it all.
Few knew anything of what he did with himself, nor did they care; but had they asked, they would have realised he was an informal runaround for half the town and barely had any time for himself. And yet this suited him, as all he would otherwise do was continue his malevolent self-analysis or otherwise distract himself from this. These were the poles of his existence, and so the existence of another was a welcome place to be buried. There he was given a reason and continued comforted by the warmth of an encompassing purpose; it was not quite that he felt useful, as his analysis soon proved even this an illusion, but that this was at least a sound distraction. He knew that he was dreaming, at least rationally, and yet accepted this comfort nonetheless. He was weak here as well perhaps.
See, the problem was that this pathetic individual believed strongly in God; that he thought somehow this meant his life had purpose in a higher sense. Everywhere he saw the purposes of men; and the Rabbi had told him these were the purposes of God, for the Rabbi often had need of a messenger—yet he thought there must be something more. This foolish belief was his downfall and, indeed, was the obscure crown of his pathetic nature; it was that others sensed this in him, that thus they pitied him. This pity was the nail in his coffin, beyond everything else it was their response to perceiving this delusion which struck them most forcefully; that this was no man but a scrap. They did not hold him to their standards, instead lowered these to pity the touched boy—thus they doomed him. None would ever interact with him thereafter as an equal, hence cursed him to wallow but a pet below.
Of course, nobody knew anything of this in any abstract sense; it was apparent only to the audience. Each actor played their part appropriately and perhaps glimpsed a little. The Rabbi, for instance, knew much more than most—albeit was peculiarly blind to his own benefits in this scheme. For indeed he made the most use of the boy, or at least most regularly; sometimes others would borrow him for days and yet always he returned to the Rabbi. He came here and asked questions until he was asked to do something, then he would come back to ask more question; ad infinitum. The Rabbi found the best way to manage this was to keep him constantly busy. He discovered this quite unconsciously, merely tending towards it in spite of his concerted efforts to think kindly of the boy. Yet this merely obscured his motives and so, when he finally noticed the pattern of their interactions, he scrambled to understanding it in terms of some vague blend of student and assistant.
Indeed, the town understood the two thus; with it variously being said that the boy aspired to be a Rabbi himself or, among those who considered him more thoroughly touched, that the Rabbi had taken to kindly entertaining this notion in the boy, for he could not in good justice dash his dreams. Either way, the people did not perceive that the particular interest which motivated his pursuit, and it was a pursuit, of the Rabbi. He came incessantly to ask questions, to which the Rabbi mostly directed him to this book or that. Sometimes he would engage more seriously, for he was a scholarly sort; it was not any obvious lack that bred his reluctance but simply that he saw the boy as beneath him. The attitude he brought to their conversation was always masculine, never allowing himself to take the boy’s ideas as a seminal impulse and think in these terms; instead the boy was seen merely as a vessel to be filled.
While this was the aim, or its underlying form as only vaguely sensed by the Rabbi, and perhaps an admirable enough one at that; still the Rabbi was a busy man, or rather, he valued his time and preferred to keep his own company or that of those considered peers. He was warm towards the boy and yet unconsciously tended away from him, understanding this as only natural in light of their working relationship as it was still vaguely conceived. Nevertheless, the Rabbi was always willing to palm the boy off on a book or otherwise send him to the library—which had the further and fortunate effect of buying time between these lessons. Yet the boy was not frustrated by this, at least not at first, but rather relished in his reading and, indeed, began to venture beyond what he was suggested.
Here he tended to keep at first to the lines he was provided, but in his discussions he soon came to see that these paths were slow-moving and seemed very likely without end. This became more obvious as he read around the works which his Rabbi suggested, venturing further and further with time and as his interest grew. At a certain point his lines firmly diverged in several directions and he started to ask different questions in their discussions. The Rabbi was learned and soon began to think the boy more touched even than he had imagined. At this, assuming also that the boy truly understood nothing of his inquiries but for the stories, then he thought little of it and began to tell obscure tales rather than even attempting to engage in conversation. He would use any response to segue between stories based sometimes only ever so vaguely on cues provided by the boy.
Thus he came to tell the boy of the Rabbi of Prague, that is, the tale of the golem; of a power wrought from mud. This the boy had not heard, for his studies thus far had been almost entirely exoteric; what esoteric aspects he had investigated were nevertheless along lines determined by the direction in which he had begun. He had come to a certain understanding one way, but had never thought of it from the other side. The story he heard here gave him new ideas. They say the Rabbi left town some weeks later, that shortly the boy left also and grew to manhood in Paris—further where, it is said, he somehow made an outrageous fortune. At his wealth the town acted precisely as before, albeit now with far more platitudes and efforts towards politeness. Nevertheless still they wanted much the same and, indeed, expected it; yet he rarely returned and when he did, hardly contributed but for public purposes and the arts. The people were, of course, quietly irritated by this boy they felt themselves to have raised.
One man in particular had often borrowed the Rabbi’s boy, as he thought of him, for various tasks. He ran a small business and was then doing well, so sent the boy hurrying about with scraps of paper to make orders, pass on messages, and so on. All this our businessman had considered quite the kind deed to this boy, for he was always warm to him upon completing a task; indeed, he had conceived of these interactions as an education in manhood for the boy, that he might thus inculcate a strong work ethic and overcome his apparent incapacity, whatever it was—of which the man was never precise, but for sensing somehow he was a boy and ought be something more. Our businessman nonetheless came to think himself having done quite the good turn by this boy in his youth and, indeed, when drinking often boasted he had taught him everything he knew.
Of course, the boy had learnt nothing from this bumbling fool. The man was not so much a businessman as a man who had inherited a business and while a friendly enough fellow, behind his corpulent red face was a mind entirely incompetent to manage his own finances—let alone also those of a company. Thus it had long fallen to his wife to cover these, albeit quietly, while trying to contain his more expensive habits and keep the ship afloat. She was limited in this to the extent that he still thought himself its captain, though by now the whole town but him knew he was not, and when others gestured to this so as to taunt him he would often feel the need to make brash business decisions simply to announce his legal authority. These would regularly rock the boat, but still she was a good captain and nevertheless managed to keep a steady course.
Sadly for all, she had since the boy’s last visit fallen sick and just as suddenly died. The man had mourned her a while, though at first he did not know how much he had to mourn; and indeed, he never understood the depth of her contribution. Without his wife’s careful steersmanship, he was quickly overwhelmed and the whole enterprise drifted dangerously into the red. He had so long been reduced to his simple acts of rebellion that these were all he knew to do, thus blindly he made brash moves hither and thither. The whole thing seemed to resemble the last shakes of a dying body corporate; and so it was—at which the boy returned to town.
The man was already a drinker, and he had been drinking when this news arrived. He remembered then that he had taught the boy everything he knew, and he thought of such ingratitude. What was this that he had been treated thus? He had taught this boy everything and never does even check in on him, that he hasn’t even asked after his wife! In fact, the boy knew the wife and thought more kindly of her than most. He had felt in her a kinship, as each lived within a world which belonged to others; each served and recognised this in the other. She had died while he was away, and he was at that very moment searching for our businessman to pass on his condolences; having heard in one of the many letters he received from townspeople sending regards and hinting at financial difficulties or public works. The mayor in particular kept up frequent contact, having also considered himself a father figure to this poor orphan.
Thus it was that the boy was to enter the inn precisely when our businessman was ruminating upon him, and at first he was so deep in dark thoughts about the boy that he did not even notice his arrival though he sat himself facing the door. Yet the boy saw him there and at the look on his face was overcome for the man. He thought how altogether useless here his money had been, that he could do nothing faced with death. Somewhere below the surface a sense of his own worthlessness returned, a voice whose throat had long been choked by wealth. Here he saw despite all yet still he was but a boy before the Lord.