Well, I'll tell you what she did about it.
She went over to the shelf nearest the little cave in back of the warm metal thing and pulled down the biggest book she could get her paws on. She pulled it out and opened it, and holding a page down with her feet she tore it into confetti with her teeth. She did this with a second page, and a third. But here I detect a doubt. How, I hear you asking, do I know that she chose the biggest book? Well, as Jeeves likes to say, it is a question of the psychology of the individual, who in this case is Flo, my impending mother. "Rotund" was, I fear, too kind. She was disgustingly overweight, and just the daily grind of stoking all that fat had made her horribly edgy. Edgy and piggy. Urged on by the voracious clamor of millions of starving cells, she was always sure to grab the biggest slice of anything, even if she was already stuffed to the gills and could only nibble at the edges. Spoiled it for everyone else, of course. So rest assured, the biggest volume around is the one she went for.
Sometimes I like to think that the first moments of my struggle toward existence were accompanied, as by a triumphal march, by the shredding of Moby-Dick. That would account for the extreme adventurousness of my nature. At other times, when I am feeling particularly outcast and freakish, I am convinced that Don Quixote is the culprit. Just listen to this: "In short, he so immersed himself in those romances that he spent whole days and nights over his books; and thus with little sleeping and much reading, his brains dried up to such a degree that he lost the use of his reason. Having lost his wits completely, he stumbled upon the oddest fancy that had ever entered a madman's brain. He believed that it was necessary, both for his own honor and the service of the state, that he should become a knight-errant." Behold the Knight of Rueful Figure: fatuous, pigheaded, clownish, naive to the point of blindness, idealistic to the point of grotesqueness - and who is that if not me in a nutshell? The truth is, I have never been right in the head. Only I don't charge windmills. I do worse: I dream of charging windmills, I long to charge windmills, and sometimes even I imagine I have charged windmills. Windmills or the mills of culture or - let's say it - those most delectable of all unconquerable objects, those erotic grinders, lascivious little mills of lust, carnal factories of kinky joys, fantasylands of frustrated fornicators, my Lovelies' own bodies. And what difference does it make in the end? A hopeless cause is a hopeless cause. But I won't obsess about that now. I'll obsess about it later.
Mama had made a huge pile of paper and with great effort was dragging and shoving it back into that little dark cavern she had found. And here we must not allow ourselves to become so distracted by the doleful cacophony of her portly grunts and wheezes as to lose sight of the fundamental question: where did all that paper come from? Whose broken words and shattered sentences did Mama churn into the indecipherable melange that, moments later, would cushion my fall into existence? I am straining my eyes to see. It is very dark in that place where she has pushed the pile and where now she is busy stamping it down in the middle and humping it up at the edges, and I can see it clearly only by leaning over the precipice that is the moment I was born. I am looking down at it from a great height, screwing up my imagination into a kind of telescope. I think I see it. Yes, I recognize it now. Dear Flo has made confetti of Finnegans Wake. Joyce was a Big One, maybe the Biggest One. I was birthed, bedded, and suckled on the defoliated carcass of the world's most unread masterpiece.
Mine was a large family, and soon thirteen of us were cruddled in its struins, to speak like itself, "chippy young cuppinjars cluttering round, clottering for their creams." (And after all these years, here I am hard at it still - clottering, dottering, for my creams, my crumbs. O dreams!) All of us were soon fighting it out over twelve tits: Sweeny, Chucky, Luweena, Feenie, Mutt, Peewee, Shunt, Pudding, Elvis, Elvina, Humphrey, Honeychild, and Firmin (that's me, the thirteenth child). I remember them all so well. They were monsters. Even blind and naked, especially naked, their limbs bulged with sinew and muscle, or so it seemed to me at the time. I alone was born with my eyes wide open and clothed in a modest coat of soft gray fur. I was also puny. And take it from me, being puny is a terrible thing when you are little.
Excerpted from Firmin by Sam Savage Copyright © 2008 by Sam Savage. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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