PRISM, Volume 1, Part 1
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PRISM, Volume 1, Part 1
Dangerous Dwarf Proudly Presents
George C. Chesbro's
PRISM: A Memoir as Fiction
Volume One: "Dark Engine"

Published by Apache Beach Publications

Click here to purchase Prism

Copyright © 2001 by George C. Chesbro. All rights reserved.
Reprinted here with by permission of the author.

Chapter One
Fugue At Bay

He finds the image of mad Ahab chasing his bloated, metaphoric whale appealing, even heroic; he suspects it would read well in the all-important opening sentence and that he could log a lot of knots with sailing similes, but the truth of the matter is that he feels more akin to an aging pop songwriter who, with all the catchy tunes emptied out of him, is desperately, if not hopelessly and perhaps even comically, trying to compose a classical piece.

On the day after his 58th birthday Garth Fugue will abruptly quit working on his paper symphony, unable to continue. The flow of words, for weeks only a trickle even on his best days, will finally be stopped up and soured by green-tasting memories rising and freshening like errant winds threatening to blow his ship of thought off course to founder on reefs of regret, guilt and sadness. These winds, memories summoning words summoning deeper memories, will sting his eyes and blur his vision. These winds will have sharp teeth, and he will stop writing because he will no longer be able to bear their bite. The first draft, intended only as a kind of crude map, will grow to 222 pages written in his tiny, crabbed scrawl before he turns away, his heart ambushed and squeezed, drowning in the very maelstrom of emotion he had hoped, at last, to plumb and chart after four decades of being tossed about on a tormented, neurotic sea of anxiety, pain, guilt and confusion, floating precariously on a flimsy, ephemeral raft of words that had to be painstakingly rewoven every day if he was to survive. This initial probe into discovery, joy and nightmare will end after 10 months, much too short an investment of time in the project he suspects will be the last thing he ever writes for publication and which he hopes will sustain him as an artist for the rest of his life. He had begun the journey into his past believing age had calmed the tempestuous waters he has crossed, but the passions he believed had died or atrophied over 20 years had only been lying dormant, bursting into flower when breathed on by a woman he'd known since she was a child of seven who will say to him, "When I was growing up, you seemed to shine so brightly I could hardly look at you."

Not long after beginning he will be struck by how much of his life and work has been defined by mental illness; his fascination with the chronically murderous antics and bizarrely aberrant belief systems of the general patient population living in the insane asylum of the planet, what he has observed in the behavior of the dangerous children with broken minds he has worked with when he needed money, and his own madness, kept in abeyance only by the medication of writing. He will begin with the belief that his storm passage is over and that he has finally found safe harbor behind a sea wall of 23 novels and upwards of a hundred short stories. He will believe that he no longer needs to write in order to feel whole, and can thus choose to record this account of his life in the hope that others making similar voyages might find the charts of value.

He has always wanted, but been unable, to write what he thinks of as "freeing" literature, work painted in fresh language that will make a reader, despite never having seen this particular palette of colors before, gasp with an eerie sense of familiarity and suddenly perceive new solutions to old problems, possibilities never considered before. He will believe that he is ready to do this work for he feels at peace for the first time in forty years, since the time when he was eighteen years old and his damaged spirit had imploded into a trembling ball of dark, dense matter that would form the new soul of a writer of fiction; he will believe that the war in him is over, the thunder in his heart stilled and the wounds healed. But the woman will change everything. Once more he will feel lost at sea, but the difference this time will be that the bubbling foam in the wake of his life that had once churned up the flotsam of stories and the words to tell them will serve only to choke him with tears. The turbulence that had been the fountainhead of his art will become its enemy.

will conceive the first vague outlines of the project and envision a means to approach and shape it during his eight-month teaching stint at Arkmount Children's Psychiatric Center, with the challenge growing increasingly compelling and the vision clearer during the summer months when he will be in charge of ASP, the Alternate School Program, a small lock-up unit within the larger lock-up facility of the hospital itself where the medical and educational staffs attempt to meet the desperate, howling needs of the most violent and unpredictable children in the institution. Here it will occur to him that this latest teaching experience, an occasion precipitated once again by a need for money, carefully recorded in a journal, could serve as a kind of prism collecting the fractured, multi-colored rays of his past and focusing them into a pure white beam of words that will illuminate the dark spaces of his heart at the same time as it examines the relationship of suffering to art and the act of writing fiction as redemption.

The concept itself will be enough to allow him to begin. But the prism will soon grow cloudy and tear-stained. The light and heat generated by the woman who had once seen him shine so brightly will mean that, unless he can find a way to forge a most unusual relationship that will comfortably fit three, another woman, his cherished friend and companion for eight years, must inevitably recede into shadow as he respects his needs and obeys the stronger of the conflicting dictates of his heart. The prospect of doing what he must will fill him with a terrible sadness and make him cry.

This woman who had seen him shine, whose suffering has most definitely been inflicted by others, will herself become a prism. In the weathered light of the late afternoon of his life he will peer into the brave heart of this younger woman and glimpse places inside himself that had always been shrouded in shadow and he will not see what he had always assumed was there. This will threaten to shatter the very foundation of his great project, for it will shake his confidence in the truth of what he plans to write. Through her he will come to understand just how much of his own pain has been self-generated. He will see that her fledgling art is an attempt to make herself whole after having had holes punched in her soul by her parents, and her mother in particular. On the other hand his work has all along been a frantic exercise intended to protect himself from himself. She had been spiritually and emotionally mauled as a child, but he suspects his damage may have been planted in his genes, growing a mind that has served as its own inquisitor and rack.

In her attempts at self-healing the woman has undergone two great metamorphoses, and when they meet she will be emerging from her second chrysalis a creature powerful enough to change him. The emotional resurrection she engenders will fill him with wonder but also threaten his art, as it will stir at his bottom a deep, thick sludge of guilt, making him even more aware of his own failings as a father.

The irregular, dangerous throb of his son's clotted, blighted life haunts him, and his work at the children's hospital will aggravate his tortured memories. As he peers into his prism and feels it failing to offer him anything but pain he will know for certain that if he had certain things to do over he would never again strike Alan or any other child, not anywhere on the body, not for any reason. Consequences, good and bad, mold behavior, but when a consequence of bad behavior is a slap, spanking, punch or kick, what is being shaped, blow-by-blow, is an aggressive, violent adolescent and adult.

The gravely wounded, drowning children who have been netted by courts, teachers or social workers and ferried to Arkmount Children's Psychiatric Center are the lucky ones. But for every one of these patients whose stunted, bruised lives have been abruptly arrested while attempts are made to heal them there are a thousand others on the streets or in brutally dysfunctional homes, children whose minds and bodies are being twisted and mauled beyond repair. The bodies of these boys and girls, some only infants, are penetrated and their souls shredded by swollen penises jammed into their delicate mouths, vaginas, and anuses. They are punched and kicked, whipped with electrical cords, their hands held on glowing stoves or thrust into pots of boiling water, or they are simply ignored, emotionally as well as physically starved. The odds are overwhelming that when these victims grow older they will do unto others what has been done unto them, or they will try to kill themselves. At the same time they will fill an important economic niche in this savage, dysfunctional nation, damaged produce bearing fruit for others, providing gainful employment for restless, hungry armies of psychotherapists, teachers, nurses, physicians, social workers, therapy aides, prison guards, executioners, and the ancillary personnel who service all these people. These children whose minds and bodies have been torn apart will in turn rend us; they will kill and terrorize us, steal our possessions, rape us or our sons and daughters, fill our welfare rolls, pack our bursting prisons.

Read the next installment.


Copyright © 2011, Hunter Goatley. All rights reserved.
Last updated 25-JUL-2011 19:14:31.73.