a literary journal of the fictional persuasion

LIFE SENTENCES(page thirteen)

by Jim Maddocks

Words are the only thing that is left to me, all I have been allowed in here, or more appropriately, been permitted to keep or perhaps even—and here I suspect lurks the real truth—to have the use of because, and let us not prevaricate here, few ever make words their own and fewer still manage to imbue those words with any kind of meaning, even the greats among us, the Kafkas or Orwells, only ever succeed in secreting away a few choice items for when they have gone, whereas the rest of us struggle even to find appropriate words to utter the few things of any significance we ever have to say; nevertheless, I am content at least, no! at last, that is what I admit about myself, that I have discovered a form of contentment after all this soul-searching and yet, in reality—at least in this stripped-down reality which I now inhabit—my reality is that I have been forced by necessity to redefine the term, to cram how I truly am inside that word and make believe it fits, which it does not and I know it cannot, and yet I play the game of pretending that I do not know that it does not; or worse, I play the game of maintaining that it does in true stoic British fashion rather than giving in to the inevitable admission that what I am is resigned to my fate, and so I bide my time here in my head, which should be a haven, could be a haven, but isn’t and never has been, isn’t jammed full of happy memories for me to relive any time I damn well please, isn’t chock-a-block with emotions and sensations or perceptions for me to wallow in any time I think I need them or simply feel like indulging myself; no, all they left me were things to explain away, to justify or to excuse, perhaps even to come to understand, in time, the things I said or didn’t say, and you need words for that so that’s what they locked me in here with, my so-called-friends and family, a jigsaw a lifetime wide to fit together but no picture to guide me; no, in fact, every piece is a word: “lost”, “disappointment”, “alone”, pathetic”… words that refuse to come together to say anything meaningful, that threaten to, that suggest but never fully reveal their secrets, and I half-wonder why I persist with the puzzle, so sometimes I don’t, not consciously, but mostly it’s all I do because that’s all there is to do trapped within these four very white walls even if it’s pointless, and I’m sure the ultimate irony would be, if I ever got the blasted thing finished (which I realise deep down I never will and was never supposed to) there will still be one piece, one word missing, the key, the one that will make all the others intelligible, the one word that, if you like, negates all the others, that could replace all the others, the one perfect word that says it all, but I’ve not found it yet, or maybe I have and the penny hasn’t dropped which is why I go on and will go on, and who’s to say this will end if and when I die because this feels like hell to me and “hell” is not merely a word which is the real crux of the problem because nothing will just mean what it says without suggesting other definitions or connotations that cloud the issue; life is a sentence that goes on and on but never gets to the point because there is no point, only a full stop which arrives when you least expect it, when you least want it, and leaves you craving more, convinced there’s more, believing that if you only kept going that little bit longer it would be all right, and so you pile word after word, word upon word doing everything you can to body swerve that final cadence, the last Amen, to keep the words coming until finally you realise that the words themselves are no longer a means to an end, they have become the end, that the only thing that keeps them coming is the momentum of a lifetime’s worth of words because the sentence stopped going anywhere a long time ago; your life, my life ground to a halt a long time ago, the sentence as good as ended years ago and perhaps now is the time to finally let go, or it could simply be that you are deluding yourself that you are allowing the complexity of the sentence get on top of you because you’ve stopped believing that there’s an answer perhaps over the next clause or somewhere buried in that phrase up ahead, and it doesn’t matter how many words it’s taken to get here as long as it explains why they left and what they left and how on earth you kept going until now because that would be the ultimate sadness that, after all this time, after struggling on for so long that it would all come to an end simply and unexpectedly because you finally ran out of words and so you refuse to allow yourself to run out, you take all the old words, the ones you’ve used time and time again, gut them and stuff them with new meanings to see if the sentence will make any sense now once black is white and wrong becomes right and hate turns into love because that’s the only thing that would explain it all, that would clarify things, that would make what they did bearable; it has to be right because a sentence is like a sum when you get right down to the bone; everything has to add up; it all has to work out, no matter how many numbers or how many words, no matter how long it takes, and if it doesn’t add up then there must be something wrong with you, but if you’re sure there is nothing wrong with you—me—I’m not crazy you know—and so I can’t grasp exactly why they felt the need to leave me here unless I suppose there must have been something wrong with the words back then or I’d been using the wrong ones with them or they were filled with the wrong meanings—that must be it—and they’ve put me in here to work it all out, to find the right answer, here in this cell where it’s quiet and there’s no one else talking to get me confused; it’s an act of kindness, of love, it has to be.

© Jim Maddocks 2004

Jim Maddocks, a database administrator living in Glasgow, Scotland, is the character Beckett never got around to writing. His canon includes ~1000 poems, a novel length collection of short stories, a children's book, three novels and two plays.


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