BRANDON TEIGLAND is an emerging Canadian writer with a growing history of writing speculative and literary fiction. He studied Neuroscience, Contemporary Studies in Philosophy and Literature at Dalhousie University and King’s College in Halifax, NS. His forthcoming debut novel Under a Collapsing Sky will be released by AOS / Ace of Swords Publishing in Fall 2021. His fiction chapbook The Weight of Skin is on display at the University of Bern library. He has helped ghostwrite the book Tranquility for Level 4 Press under the fictitious persona Tori Quinn and worked as a Story Editor for an animated web series Monsterheads (comedy-fantasy). All of his online publications to date can be viewed on Linktree @brandon.teigland.
by B. W. Teigland
After pouring a full glass of mushroom wine, I set down the bottle on my writing desk and raise the glass to my lips. Sniffing the liquid, I wrinkle my nose. There’s the stink of ozone about it, and my first, hesitant sip is even more acrid than I expected. The seventy-proof mushroom blooms hot in my belly. But the taste isn’t nearly as disagreeable as I’d thought it would be. There’s a faint bitterness underneath the pine-needle and alcohol sting. The second sip is less of a shock, less nauseating.
The sun seems to be lighting up a crime, this bright, cold sun, shining through the late-November clouds. And as the sun shines in this deep dead of the shoulder season, I’m wasting away in semiactive idleness preparing an already postponed PhD defence that I may never actually give. Likely won’t give. And will never be able to give again because this is my last chance at obedience—my last chance to guarantee the survival of my thesis, according to the committee.
The dissertation committee, the faculty in front of which I’m supposed to stand in rigorous and sustained critical vigilance, comprises three or five incredulous and long-faced examiners, each of whom will have an opportunity to thoroughly scrutinize my completely inconceivable thesis on the illusion of language generated by language’s natural exercise for two or six incomprehensible hours that will feel something like days or weeks. But since I won’t be there to present it, the committee will simply move on to another PhD defence. And I’m sure the next thesis will be a much better thesis than my thesis or at least a less boring thesis than my thesis. Because nothing is more boring than your own thesis. Especially my own.
I take another, bolder swallow. The taste is becoming familiar now, somewhat, somewhat, pleasant.
The lights on the mountain are still glowing, which means the small hydroelectric generator’s battery bank hasn’t quite run out of power yet. Since the death of Naveen’s mother, I’ve taken over as full-time operator. I’m supposed to be constantly monitoring and adjusting the generator for the neighbouring community—people who pay vacancy tax for their houses to stay empty—using a personal-computer-based control system, a regrettably complicated interface, that Naveen rigged up himself so that everyone could live sustainably off-grid here in the Selkirk Mountains on the extreme West Arm of Kootenay Lake in the Southern Interior of British Columbia.
I’m sure a blackout will happen soon. When a microhydro setup has been in continuous operation since ’95, like this one has, well, that’s twenty-five-year-old turbines out in the field.
I glance out the window. Winter rain is falling now, and the glass is becoming more and more clouded. I inhale the scent of the glowing gas stove behind me: a melancholic, lonely odour, the sweet body odour of old wood burning.
It never occurs to me to remove myself completely from this guesthouse, what I’ve begun to call the khôra. The arrangement gives us some proper space during a formless interval of our relationship—I’ve been staying here, in abeyance, since the funeral. In fact, I haven’t been monitoring the generator, which is very close to the guesthouse, nearly enough. But I could always just go and check the meters in the powerhouse, simply go and check that the volume of available water and the turbine’s discharge rate are both being accurately measured by the generator’s automation process.
“During the autumn rainfall, the output power will need to be adjusted from minimum to maximum water flow,” Naveen told me, months and months ago. I was walking with him along a steep slope near a fast-moving stream. He explained to me precisely how a small-scale hydro system was the best solution, given the amount of energy everyone in the area needed, making sure to point out that these kinds of systems—which he sometimes called microhydro systems, other times run-of-stream hydro systems, and still other times low-impact hydro systems—usually consisted of an enclosed waterwheel or turbine, which are made to spin by jets of high-velocity water.
He went on to tell me precisely how the water was taken from the stream and moved downslope to the turbine through a long pipe called a penstock. How water flowing through the penstock picks up speed, and how it’s then directed at the turbine’s blades by nozzles.
“So,” he’d said, not turning his head to look at me, “the turbine spins continuously, as long as there’s water to drive it. The turbine is connected to an electrical generator, and the electricity is then available for running appliances or charging batteries. And the spent water is returned to the stream.”
The glass is empty, and the buzz in my head is gentle behind my eyes, so I pour myself some more. Eventually, I wrap myself in a warm blanket, step into my hiking boots with the worn-down heels, and make my round. Just to be done with it. Just to stop worrying that there might be a blackout. Because if there is a blackout, the people who are still around to check on the empty houses are sure to complain about it to Naveen—who has been too depressed to do anything whatsoever. And if that happens then Naveen, in his ill humour, is likely to tell me to leave the guesthouse, or if you like, the khôra, I’ve been staying in since we stopped speaking and I had to move out of the main house.
And the thing is, I couldn’t leave the guesthouse even if I needed to, not yet anyway, and enter what I’ve begun to call “the chaos.” I couldn’t leave Nelson even to attend my own dissertation defence because the ferry workers are on strike. Not only are these labourers preventing people from crossing Kootenay Bay but also the Pass. And since they’re blocking the only way into the city and the only way out of the city, I can’t expect to leave until the strike is over and done with, until the labourers are given their living wage and stop with this nonsense. So, until that happens, I’ll do what Naveen wants me to do.
Which is to say, I check to see if there’s anything obstructing the river system that’s supplying the turbine. This spot, just outside the engine room, where waterpower is transformed into the rotational force that drives the generator—into the blades of the runner, the heart of the turbine, which captures the most possible energy from the water—is relatively shallow and so has a lot of weeds. The trash racks, several grates, prevent these weeds and other debris from entering the turbine itself. But the trash racks are plugged and I can see that these weeds are restricting water from passing through to the turbines. Without pause, I uproot the weeds and let their bodies be carried downstream. I uproot the weeds that are plugging up the trash rack until there are no more weeds left to plug up anything.
Then I unlock the door to the small room housing the generator.
The most critical information the system requires is an accurate and constant indication of the powerhouse’s water level. The manual control system is simple enough: a motor used to adjust the gates, to control the flow of water that enters the turbine, but the additional components, the various electrically operated control devices, are beyond me. All I know is that the main generator breaker somehow synchronizes the generator with the rest of the grid. And that the limit switch, another component, prevents the control system from burning out the motor. The other device is a four-position switch used to determine the gates’ various critical locations. Naveen meticulously labeled these positions in writing: “gates fully closed,” “gates at speed no-load,” “gates at 70%,” and “gates fully open.”
I switch the gates to “fully open” and immediately head back to the guesthouse. On my way, I decide to peek inside Naveen’s mother’s tawdry little hovel by the stream. The place smells shut away. Like mildew and dust and time. It’s crammed from wall to wall with clutter. I have trouble imagining how she navigated it in her wheelchair.
I pause, feeling new and awkward in the place, and look at the floor—at the careless scatter of empty tin cans and empty bottles and makeshift altars and what look like shrines. She fervently devoted herself to the sewing of bags, and every corner of the house is filled with examples of her handicraft. She’d made them for the Love of Shiva Boutique until she started to lose her vision.
The house is entirely without a stair because it wasn’t until Naveen’s maternal grandparents passed away that his mother inherited their fortune. All through Naveen’s childhood they’d been poor. Day after day, his mother would pitifully drag herself up the stairs of whatever rundown house they could afford on disability assistance.
After I return to the guesthouse, having avoided the possibility of a blackout by unplugging the powerhouse’s weedy turbine, I realize I can’t stop myself from staring down at my hands. I haven’t paused to look at them closely for a long time. It’s as though I’m suddenly noticing them. I can’t recall the last time that I did.
I sit down, very still, in the broken-down armchair. All the springs are shot, and I sink several inches. The chair squeaks and pops angrily when I lean over to retrieve a document from my briefcase.
I’ve written a lot. Too much. I try to clear my head and focus. To decide what might steer me back on course. To turn my frame of mind into a firm resolve. And the more this resolve hardens in me, the more it resembles a kind of secret pleasure for my writing to go horribly awry.
I no longer know how to do anything with these documents of inert and sterile material. These documents that are more like monuments than text. Monuments of a language. Language has no other function but description, so goes my thesis on post-deconstructionism: it no longer has a constitutive function. We are all in language, in the sense that language exists in our mind and we are in our minds all our human lifespan, but what we say with language isn’t always real.
So causality is built into language, though only the left side of our brain can process this language. Because the right side can’t comprehend anything besides affects, we tend to become overly reliant on this interpreter as we age out of our child minds, i.e., the left hemisphere. This interpreter of language and so logic. Of the words that we say to each other. Of the language inventory we keep of ourselves. Our abnormalities. Our irregularities. Our, if you will, heteroclite accumulations. For instance, I frequently say “no matter what” about Naveen’s behaviour. I say “no matter what” again and again: No matter this, no matter that, no matter what, I’ll be here for you, it will get better, etc. And this has only ever proved useless and abusive—never really an intention, just supposedly real. No emotion, just words.
I am a delayed image of myself.
It’s at least preserved, I think, and shake my head in disbelief. Even if I don’t make it to my dissertation defence, my thesis is at least preserved in this or that description. In a sense, everything I’ve thought to describe and describe again is conserved in this or that description, now preserved in this thesis. All my decisions are still present in their complicated combinations, but they have turned inert and sterile and so have I. But the material isn’t simply inert, I think, and neither am I. In a sense, I am my own thesis. These descriptions are a necessary material requiring a certain labour, which also makes me necessary.
Like the ferry workers are necessary labourers because their labour is necessary. Even as a child, I could see the necessity the government chooses to overlook. Those people who worked the ferry when I used to make my annual trip from Nelson to Grey Creek—first to visit my estranged grandfather and his partner and then later to visit the grave that replaced him—they’re the same people working the ferry now.
So I remain content with simply reworking old descriptions in my thesis. It’s like pushing the food around on one’s plate. I’m content with placing myself between an unsatisfying first description and the second description that rectifies the first.
A decision exists. I sigh and give the micromuscles around my eyes and the cranial nerves of my face a pressure-point massage. In as much as you can judge these oceanic matters, something like a decision must exist. And because Voltaire smiled like a Voltaire when he wrote, so too must I smile like myself when I write.
The whole problem is choosing a particular decision to reformulate a particular language: the particular language of this thesis. This thesis that I am. What changes vastly from one description to another is only the language that is used to describe what’s supposed to be real—for example, to formulate in Heraclitean language the structure of a decision that appears more or less in the Heraclitean material. And in the Heraclitean material, thought completely holds to the worn-out Heraclitean type of decision, which says that for a given thing there corresponds one contrary thing and one alone.
And so my first error is obviously remaining unable to imagine something besides a Heraclitean relation to that one contrary thing and one thing alone, this correspondence being the most significant and noteworthy of all Heraclitean phenomena. Because this one contrary thing that we’re all supposed to have is just the infinite multiplication of circles. Circles of decision. More specifically, different kinds of decisions previously joined, brought into contact, like Naveen and me. Once brought into contact, we were not two people. We were one person—an enigma whose solution could be discovered only with each other’s help—before we completely abandoned that previous union, our previous intention to stay together not as two people but one person. We might possibly join together afresh later, but for now we are merely resistant. Suspended.
And it is in this relinquishment and seizing of one another, Naveen and I, that we can really believe we’re witnessing a real decision being made. Our sustained resistance will have to give way, and when we’ve been lowered from this state of suspension, from this region of inertness to that of attraction, it will be by yet another disturbance. So we must watch how we once again seek each other out: attract, seize, destroy, devour, consume, and then emerge from this intimate union in renewed, novel, and unexpected shapes.
Because, I think, no one will love him if I don’t. And no one will fuck him if I don’t.
I slip into a fever dream. I hear the burrowing of busy animals under the earth, where I imagine night and day are one. And whatever sensation was once in my hands seems to have moved to my teeth. Each tooth makes contact with every other tooth when I clench my jaw. A piece of calculus chips off and slides down my throat, which has become dry and constricted by my increased anxiety. I walk to the empty kitchen sink and almost frantically pull back my lips to see my swollen gums reflected back at me in the scraped-up stainless steel. They’ve receded, some portions more than others, some right down to the root bed; an irreversible change, like so many more to come.
I call my thesis advisor to tell her I can’t make it.
“Again?” I can hear her disappointment.
“Yes,” I say.
She keeps talking. Administrative nonsense, taking up a lot of my time. I stare at the receiver. “You can’t go back to school and become a—”
I miss this part because the line goes dead. I must have hung up on her. No, I think, it’s just that the blackout finally happened.
Sounds are ringing in my ears. Things are stirring and bustling. Things are glittering and dancing before my eyes. Things I’d long dreamed of are being conveyed to my mouth: “These are people—my thesis advisor and the whole damn dissertation committee—with whom I had nothing to do.”
I set the phone back on the receiver and realize that it’s one of those afternoons where I can’t write. I can’t think and I can’t write and I don’t feel much like getting drunk alone in the absolute dark on mushroom wine, either. Naveen and I found the mushroom during one of our hikes through the Doukhobor community. It supposedly cures mental illness, which, according to medieval belief, is caused by a fly entering people’s heads.
Naveen wanted me to eat the mushroom and then urinate into his mouth so he could experience just the hallucinogenic properties without the poison. I immediately suggested we parboil it, dry it out, pulverize it into a powder, and then distill it into an alcohol and so avoid drinking each other’s urine.
Instead of writing, I head into the city, where Naveen has been almost as obsessively rolling boulders to form small sitting circles as I have been preparing for a dissertation defence that I will never be able to make.
I follow the broad path that leads to the burial grounds. Here I encounter an animal, one stray dog. It smiles at me with all its keen and ruthless canine teeth. I feel its resentment as it slips into the rainy forest.
These alterations Naveen has been making—moving all the gravestones and levelling the ground—seem more in harmony with the nature of the land. Each time he moves and dispenses with yet another rough and rugged gravestone, he levels the ground right away and sows snow roses.
It has made a solemn impression on me. But these well-conceived, well-executed monuments of his, these sitting circles that Naveen has scattered about, do not show where people are buried. It doesn’t really matter where they’re buried, I suppose. After death, unlike in life, we are all one and all equal.
Not superior, not inferior.
When I find him, he’s nearly finished constructing another sitting circle, unable to break his superbly claustrophobic focus. And I realize that he doesn’t need to be put back on his feet: he remains what he is. It is I, on the other hand, and I alone, who needs to be placed back in myself.