Attrib. and Other Stories
by Eley Williams (2017)
Influx Press (2017)
The plot of this is not and will not be obvious.
Influx Press is another of the UK’s small, independent presses, source of much of the really exciting development in literary fiction. Their specific mission: “publishing innovative and challenging fiction and creative non-fiction [. . .] stories from the margins of culture, specific geographical spaces and sites of resistance that remain under explored in mainstream literature.”
Attrib. and Other Stories is Eley Williams debut collection, although some of the pieces have featured elsewhere notably in The White Review and 3:am magazine.
It is a beautiful collection, which stands out for its love of, and use of, language, itself often associated with the love of a (sometimes departed) partner.
In “The Alphabet” the narrator is suffering from progressive Aphasia (“the world’s yours for the mistaking” she tells herself), and her partner has left her (never said, but given her partner’s love for puns and language, the frustrations of the narrator’s condition may have been a trigger). As she searches for her glasses she also searches for words, and explores her love of language:
I completely lost it (the plot — not the glasses, they’re only mislaid) about two weeks ago around the same time as a mislaid you. If you were here you would make a filthy joke about my use of that word, about you being miss laid.
I have swept so many words under my tongue and out of the porches of my ear, out of sight and out of mind. Over the years your ears must have become spoked and fairly bristling with my Xs and Ks and Ts and teasing.
And she recalls how on their very first date, she was asked what was her favorite letter, although when she asks the reverse question she receives the reply:
‘I consider favourite letters to be a better indicator of personality than star signs’ you had said, and I had thought, oh great, this person’s a massive weirdo and is going to try to inculcate me into a reiki-practising cheese-cloth wearing bewhiskered cult or sect, because I use words like inculcate without thinking twice even though I knew at the time that it was unadvised. Inadvised. But by God you were charming, said the other half of my brain. Cult leaders often are, replied the first half. GO ATROPHY ON A STALK, said the second half and it did, I think. Thank goodness. You had evaded my question, I couldn’t help but notice.
A is a snapped Eiffel Tower. The shape of it. If you were interested in Aas a letter I’d assume that you were only interested in half-finishing projects, you said.
Now, on her own she goes through her own mental alphabet, including:
The letter P is cuckoo-spit on the length of a chive, cooling in the dew dawn. Q is a monocle discarded. We always had time for eccentricity – we watched a battered VHS of My Fair Lady and drama whenever a word game presented itself. R is a thrown magnifying glass, embedded in a wall.
In “Synaesthete, Would Like To Meet,” the narrator suffers from Neurological Synaesthesia. Wikipedia defines it as “a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway” but the story defines it more eloquently as:
Dawn’s light through my curtain stinks, my cup of tea is an orchestra tuning up and the sound of birdsong outside my window tastes of rosewater and is scalding.
Pick up any paperback that uses too many mixed metaphors and that is my day-to-day, with all attempts at clarity squandered by confusing, muddled leaps of imagery.
“Alight at the Next” has the narrator attempting to leave a train with her partner, only to find a man committing one of the deadly sins of commuting, perhaps 2nd only to standing on the left, namely entering the carriage before passengers have alighted, and she finds herself, against her usual behavior, confronting him:
and I make a boiled sound, because I am the first to admit that my spirit animal is probably a buttered roll, that I create characters and situations where I am brave for the same reasons some people love the stuffing of caught birds. Pigeons get caught on the carriages sometimes: I’ve seen it, Oyster in my pocket, spring in my steptoes. I forget, sometimes, what preclude and nascent mean. It has been a long day for everybody, even for pigeons, and it is forgetfulness that makes me brave to the sound of this gamelan of joists and hot-steamed-grit-zoom pulling into stations, braver than before, when the pre-you afternoon got jumbled with you-evening at rush hour, where throats squirmed with the old smoke and stream of tunnels: a world pinstriped by eyelashes, uproarious with the need for a Friday, downroarius with lost cards —
there are earphones trailing from this man’s neck and they squeak
with chords that have the obtuse delicacy of a dove retching —
the thought of you unscrews my head
and if you record the rip of glacier through ice and modulate its frequency it sounds of whale-song, and we often have cause to think of glaciers and their place and pace on the District Line —
“chords that have the obtuse delicacy of a dove retching” — what a wonderful image!
As one story comments: “What’s a sentence, really, if not time spent alone?” These are sentences with which it is worth spending time alone.