After/Word – A Short Story by Richard Oyama

A Dash of Whimsy Series –

Start your day off with the amusing story by Richard Oyama! Take a look at his gripping work below!


AFTER/WORD

The Book first came into our hands as a typewritten manuscript on 20 lb. bond paper. It was composed on an IBM Selectric electric typewriter as there were occasional misspellings fixed with correction tape. The footnotes were laboriously lettered in a meticulous hand with a Cross ballpoint pen. Though the date of composition is inexact, the end date is consistent with its method. If the period is accurate, it was a serendipitous disaster, following upon Ronald Reagan’s ascendance and in the same month as John Lennon’s assassination.

The reproduction of the Mark Rothko painting at the end of the novel was cut and pasted from a catalogue of the painter’s work published by Yale University Press. A search of the 42nd Street Public Library’s holdings disclosed that an image of the painting was removed from that volume; formerly stored in a spherical reading room; the defaced book was withdrawn from circulation.

There is no official record that shows this book’s author checked out the Rothko book; however, a marginal note in the library volume reads, “Use this,” in the cut-out page that a handwriting analyst said matches the tiny lettering in the manuscript’s footnotes.

Little is known about the author. This biographical note was included at the end of the manuscript:

David Shimamura was born in Brooklyn before it was “Brooklyn.” His parents, aunts and uncles are deceased that allows him an impossible liberty. He attended neither Harvard nor Iowa Writers Workshop. His college transcript has been redacted. He prefers the company of roofers, engineers and grips to other writers. He has been a private investigator, an undertaker, confidence-man and cutlery salesman. He has walked a country mile on a moonless night and urinated on a red maple, making jagged striations like a Clyfford Still painting, and on backstreets where the shadows are thin knives. His fiction has not been published in The New Yorker or Paris Review but in Yellow Peril, Irascibles, Mumbo Jumbo, Insurrections, Sound Dada, Lonelyhearts, Red Armies, Intersectionalities and Hybridities. He knows nothing about Schrödinger’s cat or deconstruction. He notes that dogs romp and are still. It’s all in the letting go. He does not live in the academy but clings to the gutter, looking at the stars. Secrecy, exile and cunning; abstention, renunciation and withdrawal. No model no doctrine no exemplar. He would be Urashima Taro the Fisherman who rides a five-colored turtle to the Eternal Mountain on an island of jeweled palaces beneath a sea of green. The gods sing and dance like the waves. Urashima and his maiden make whoopy. He rows his boat and returns to Tsutsugawa. It’s 300 years in the future. Everything solid melts into air. He intends to save himself from drowning in the image-world. The American century ended around 1974 but in our innocence we prefer the myth of the city on the hill. This is the coda. “Birth of a Nation” established the country’s narrative practices, the black body is to be feared and happiness is, after all, a warm gun. He sees the devil’s compact of technology and capital. He has no wife, no children and no significant other. He is a monster of the imagination, a phantom, a ninja, somewhere you will not find him, nowhere and everywhere—in the subway, the park, the library, the basement, the encampment by the river as polar caps melt and the sea-level rises—waiting for a false dawn.

The book was delivered in a certified manuscript box with no return address. Rumors persist that a mimeographed, samizdat edition of the novel circulated underground among a coterie of fanatical readers in New York and San Francisco, primarily poor, neo-bohemian metropolitans—yes, such people live amongst us—and that excerpts were published in multiethnic small presses and literary anthologies like Mazes and Dark Fire in the ‘70s under the pseudonyms D. Shim or Divad M. Ashiruma, implying that the author wanted to bypass essentialist notions of race,  gender and identity, to be known simply as an American writer, Brooklyn-born, riffing jazz-like.

    “Scribes take a secret oath,” Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “to omit, interpolate, vary.”

    Three months after receipt of the manuscript, I took a phone call from an

unidentified caller. Our conversation proceeded as follows. He asked whether I had

received the book. What book is that? A Riot Goin’ On. I had. “And?” the voice said.

With whom I was speaking? “The dead author,” he said.

    Since the novel was unpublished, I asked the caller to verify specific details and incidents from the book in order to establish his authorship. He did so, citing in its particulars the water tower scene. Having identified the caller as David Shimamura, I told him our house planned to publish the novel. “Fine,” he said.

As for the novel’s composition, the voice on the phone said that it consisted of “five years of very intense work and multiple revisions—perhaps twenty or so?—and thirty years of pain, repression, psychic and linguistic blockage, incoherence, dreams of murder and suicidal ideation, magic, bridge-burning, malediction and love, duende, brainstorms, priapic convulsions, hallucinations, a tricked-up ebullience and a grim determination to amuse myself, come hell or high water. Think of the book as a graphic novel, a dimestore pulp, a cable mini-series, a critique of representations. It’s a post-revolutionary, hybrid work. It was written under extreme duress. I’m just a regular cuppa joe.”

There has been some dispute about Shimamura’s origins. A microfilm birth certificate exists at Brooklyn Hospital, but the birth name David is penciled in, whereas two other names, Cal and Stephen, were typewritten, then X’d out.

Next to the box marked RACE, “American of Japanese descent” is written on that line, although a genetic mapping based on a sample of Shimamura’s DNA obtained from a hair follicle, thick and unruly, in the manuscript box showed traces of Senegalese, Navajo, Irish, Thai, Cuban and Ashkenazi Jew. The test results also detected lineage with Otzi, The Iceman (not to be confused with soul singer Jerry Butler), a mummified, 5,000 year-old man discovered in the Italian Alps in 1991 and, further, an association with a “ghost population,” the genetic link between Europeans and Native Americans.

As for the premonitory gifts of the character “David Shimamura,” one can only speculate what in the novel is quasi-autobiographical and what fabrication, imposture and misdirection. Responding to our house’s Twitter solicitation asking for biographical facts about the author, an email from a correspondent in Tegucigalpa recounted a conversation with a Sensei Shimamura in a Nicaraguan bar. The author is said to have told him about his ability to move playing cards with his mind, read the secret emotions of animals and of his belief in Vico’s cyclical notion of history in Scienza nuova (New Science, 1725), but this testimony is suspect.

As to Shimamura’s present whereabouts, sightings have been reported by correspondents in Baltimore, Paris, Gaza, Prague, Havana, Hanoi, Tlön and Athens. These reports are sketchy and fugitive. The only known author photograph is a medium profile shot of a slim man, slightly balding, outfitted in black—black hat, black shirt, black pants—with a studded Western belt and hand-stitched cowboy boots in a hall of mirrors, but the endlessly receding images grow smaller and more indistinct as they approach the infinite. An art critic once wrote of Mark Rothko: “It is true that to enjoy [his] paintings seems less a thinking than a feeling process . . . One tends to enter into his canvases—not merely look at them.” Perhaps the same can be said for this book. As for the author himself, one may well begin to question whether the shadow-chaser David Shimamura exists at all.

—The Publisher


Artist:

Richard Oyama’s work has appeared in Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry, The Nuyorasian Anthology, Breaking Silence, Dissident Song, A Gift of Tongues, Malpais Review, Mas Tequila Review and other literary journals. The Country They Know (Neuma Books 2005) is his first collection of poetry. He has a M.A. in English: Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Oyama taught at California College of Arts in Oakland, University of California at Berkeley and University of New Mexico. His first novel in a trilogy, A Riot Goin’ On, is forthcoming.

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