harry mathews




Jeremy knew at once that he need go no further north than the Isle of Skye. He embarked for Portree and sailed across violet waters under a mizzling rain, with only an occasional maw screeching aft and, far off, a few shearwaters in flight so exquisite as to nullify any notion of assault. He landed in a place of dreams. (It did not seem magical, even less metaphysical.) He felt he had been inscribed willy- nilly in an unfamiliar hierarchy of rites.

How he came to where he next found himself he jokingly ascribed to these rites, since he couldn’t remember a step he’d taken. He found himself facing north, with Mcleod’s Tables far to his left, under a sky of golden haze and in front of him an appealingly metaphysical fork in the road. He knew he could go either way and, later, on a path joining the two roads, encounter a violet-eyed, red- haired woman seated by the wayside. She would show no fear of assault in her bone-pinned woolens, as if expecting him, waiting to thrust him into the maw of history, his history. Jeremy was enchanted and terrified. What was this maw that would devour him?

She handed him an inscribed stone and said he should tell a story in accordance with her rites. He looked at the stone, closed his eyes, and spoke, yielding unhesitatingly to the assault of the runes.

“I, Wiwar, wrote this.

“One day as I was wandering north a beautiful woman took me by the hand and led me to the shore, and there I became a seal, and entered the violet waters, unsure whether my doom was mythical or magical or merely metaphysical.

“Offshore a shark lay in wait for me, and I prayed that he at least might be purely metaphysical—he was small but so fast I had to tail-skip over the waves to stay clear of his toothy maw; but he tired, and I tired and lay down to sleep on his rough-skinned violet back. Soon, following some uncharted itinerary of subma- rine rites, he led me to a blue whale by whose side he left me, the whale surging hard away from the north towards waters, he told me, that flowed warmly among debonair lands worthy of our assault and conquest. But my heart was calm, ban- ished all thought of assault and battle.

“I was then visited by a great sea-turtle (looking as metaphysical as any turtle) who drew me down to the bed of the sea where, pointed north, a burnt ship lay, burned bones and artifacts piled in its maw, from which arose in the splendor of youth my father and mother, smiling at my submission to rites that had reunited us after so long a time in these dark violet depths. Then the huge turtle turned and drove me up, up to the surface of the violet waters. From the start I knew I was not the victim of an assault on his part, rather the beneficiary of a necessary obligation to bring these rites to an end. I had never in my life felt any experience to be less metaphysical, drenched as I was in real brine when I emerged from the friendly maw of the sea. I was sitting on the shore, in my own body, facing north.”

From my side a seal slipped away into the water, swimming north. The head turned to reveal her violet eyes, a slender maw that could no longer smile, and (so I felt) a fearful vulnerability to assault. I had longed to fuck her—a metaphysical desire, as it turned out, since this was clearly not one of her rites.