Fiction by Alexander Gradus


Before I was born I was a minuscule thing. I remember it as plants remember the soil. I heard the world as thrums in the earth. It was still a hum pulsing red with such intensity that it filled my whole being. In each beat I heard the ground shake under gargantuan feet.

It must be peculiar as a duck to observe a swan. Imagine it: an organism alike in form to you but an order of magnitude greater, composed of gentle parabolas and soft slopes and clad in purest white. You, a beast like a corkscrew twisting the world in minuscule ways diving slightly below and slightly above, next to a regal mating dance, their bodies locked in divine pathos. Or what is it like to be a shoot of grass next to a great oak? Again, alike in form it holds your essential structure but there brought to rapturous fruition, accomplished over eons with a heartbeat as slow. Geometric perfection achieved in the complexity of branches. There’s an infinity of synecdochal patterns at a height towards the sky. The wagon and the ladle and the great bear.

It is entirely different to observe such things when you yourself are born of them. The seed must look at the oak and wail in terror that he will have to stretch so far, that his work will never end and he cannot fail to accomplish it. The seed’s skin will break and what was once only potential will rip its way out and find itself twisting, branches dressed in leaves entirely out of the seed’s control, and those leaves will be dressed in a sunlight it doesn’t know yet, growing in intensity as its own growth reaches towards the sky. The vertigo of greatness - an ascent that conveniently only reveals its true difficulty as it is accomplished — the seed perhaps thinks it can catch up to the tree in a few short years, doesn’t know yet that its expansion is imprisoned by laws outside and within it. At first there is the vertigo of height, the inverse of gazing off a cliff, then the real paranoia of falling, knowing that your speed is already decided and you will hit the ground as a discovery of natural law. In the same way the seed’s terror changes from its shoot to the realisation of a centuries-long growth. I was born to giants a minuscule & frightened thing.

A male giant seems bestial by his eyes. Perhaps he is like any man but tall as he is rivalling castles and mountains: each vein of his eye and hair of his ear is magnified to the point of disgust. All the waste products that the body renders in miniature to safeguard the sanctity of its form are exploded and without changing its scale relative to the whole now the stick of mucus and the twinge of irritation alighting from the skin eclipse everything else and are enough to fell any impression of nobility. Unlike the mountains which keep still and quiet to save their beauty this beast moves and each move is an affront to balance.

Humans never really displace their animality. Instead, they sharpen it to such an extent that it becomes artificial, and the rough edges once removed can be noticed in everything else by sharp contrast. But even the sanded edge under the microscope is a whole topology of fractures higher and deeper than the earth. The semblance of a glossy exterior can only be achieved by staying small. So, man keeps himself underneath the beasts of burden and scrapes himself to perfection, like a gem, woven into its vertex, polished to reflect scenes of everything. But in the giant those sharpened gestures of the soul are as chasmal and erect as the earth’s craggy surface which a rounded model globe can only suggest — at such a size every awkward turn as when a man locks eyes with a woman and is self-conscious and diverts himself out of shame — is now animalic, beastly, like the living twitch that animates a flighty doe.

On the other hand, the female, more magnificent, moves with the grace of god. She lays children in their multitudes, already able to fend for themselves, as tiny eggs on any soft substrate. The remains are all around, half grown giant toddlers the size of mortal adolescents reduced to death by predation. Giants subsist on the air that flows into them and require no solid or liquid sustenance, so cannot die by starvation. She really moves like the mountain, like the revolution of the earth. She is accompanied by a slowness appropriate to her size that is not sluggish but imbued with the certainty that every deed will be accomplished in time. She is so far from beastly that she does not move with the pretence of humanity. This is her advantage, that her motions are the manifestations of divine principle. She plows the earth like an oil rig or some giant excavator on tread-feet. She hunches not out of human embarrassment but as a principle greater than the world fitting in between earth and sky with nobility, the visible phenomenon of heaven needing to find its home in our secular atmosphere. They are taller than the males, less common, and far more like abstract entities or angels.

I grew out of a recess in a dirty mattress like a shoot and tiny as I was the limits of that mattress were the limits of my world. Back then each seam running across the surface was a footpath and to my tiny eyes a mountain of bikes marked the outer edge of a great implacable fog. Scooped from some lake, they were all caught together in a pile, rusty and still. Then, the world was not a sphere strung up in heaven but a great border enclosing the depth of my sight. I didn’t know my bed was made to fit human men; it was an infinite extension into void which itself stretched on forever. My parents would pass by for days at a time. I sucked dew from the air like a cricket or aphid in great globules. A curl of their toes as they raised their feet took hours. I couldn’t yet see above their knees. It would take so long that I could only pass the time by looking away. If I watched, nothing would happen, like watching a clock tick. The longer I diverted my attention the more time would pass in the intermission. Great grey legs passed for days.

As I said, giants don’t give birth to young in great big labours struggling with the width of infant heads. Mothers lay thousands of eggs on any soft soil available. We start as little beans with pudgy arms and legs and become jointed in a matter of minutes. And our heads stay way too large for our bodies well into adolescence. Our heads at least must be big early on because like leaves they catch all the nutrients from the swamp air. They suck up absolutely everything. Our relation with things is not as complex as humans, the world flows into our fat heads and we are quite overwhelmed with everything at only a few days old. I was an ugly squealing thing twisting like an upturned pig, pink pudgy limbs pushing air about, legs and arms kicking back and forth reaching towards any kind of motion.

At that time, I had just learned to walk, and as soon as that to sit on the edge of my bed and look outwards. My legs couldn’t reach the bottom, but in a matter of hours, what for me at that time felt like years, my toes could just scratch the mud and brushes of grass. The few early minutes in which I couldn’t move felt like decades — a dilation of time owing to our tininess, and surely to our need in those early moments to observe with all the more precision, since our only mechanism of survival is to notice everything. It was at that time, surrounded by the eggs of my unborn siblings now like soft little marbles, that I gazed out into the distance, and saw something horrid approaching.

He came clad in the head of a stag which sat all stony and dead eyed, its snout poking out over his forehead, while from two holes stitched in the neck his blue eyes shone. It was strange being watched from the jugular. Looking far at me with big eyes set in fur and mumbling in his muffled sweaty voice he should have been diminutive, since he only came up to my parents’ ankles, but his whole body was stood staring at me like a naked statue. His voice rang out like a trapped echo. He first came out the shadows like an intervention upon the world: an incision marked by a slow tear singing in the woods when his face in a pile of furs expanded rapidly towards me.

A dashing descended on me too fast, too fleet of foot guiding a body that did not really move so much as glide as his form expanded before me. Where my parents’ knees could often be seen in the distance there was now right there his great hide-bound head after he approached in a matter of minutes, which was a terrible shock to my system. It was like how your ear pops when it reaches a higher pressure, except now after a pop the whole world moved with desperate rapidity. I was immediately full of sickness; acid rose from my stomach and my skin was wet with sweat. At that age day and night had no firm bounds and days were not yet like gems knitted onto a calendar in rows and columns, time’s coloured blouse. I didn’t know if he was from a nightmare with that speed, not up or down straight at me, a lateral movement that broke my concept of dimension, and all the things set along dimension like insignia on a flat topological map.

In my state of shock, a chain reaction appeared before me that left me stunned for what felt like years. It was the first time I had ever seen a moment instantaneous. The man’s voice — I now know it was a human — rang out like it was caught in a jar. The mail under his furs shimmered and clattered, he was luxurious and hard rolling through the world all weighed down and heavy in breath. And he shouted out, too quick for me to understand, Give me name!”, again, Give me name!”, I was only beginning to understand what he meant and I still don’t really grasp it, but thinking he wanted a name, I barely prepared my answer: you are the Deer God”, when my father’s great foot came out the dust like a celestial phenomenon and crushed him on the spot, the only reaction being the sharp squeal of released air, he was totally flattened under foot, and when my father raised his foot the Deer God was a flat disc of his features, everything compressed, that floated down to earth swinging back and forth like a leaf.

I was shocked into life, and it was only a few minutes that felt like arduous years before I could set foot on the swamp floor myself and investigate. I really waited years for that, to see what this assailant was and garner anything from that odd scene. But finally I stood on the ground, my gestation complete, and I sunk a bit into the swamp earth and now saw I was surrounded by great tall trees, great vines clinging onto everything making limp bridges, and there was the shrill cricket noise the hoot of owls and the chirp of birds hidden in the soil. When I saw the Deer God there crumpled below I was now the height he was when he was crushed, proud of my arms and vicious like an attack dog, club in hand. He was only ever large, I thought now, owing to my focus, I conveyed him stature by pouring myself into him through my eyes. He was a great big moving statue with gleaming antlers blue eyes and damp dead hide standing like some dread apparition.

I looked behind me and my bed was this tiny little pink sewn thing with images of ducks and knights in a kiddish tapestry. I looked back in front and the deer god was a squashed sheet. Like some garden gnome compressed down its vertical axis until it was totally flat. In the moment he was squashed all his blood and marrow congealed and it was now a resin seal impressed on the floor. His antlers were crushed into little bits around him and the diced fragments looked like salted peanuts. Interlaced with pitted cherries of gore. His chain mail and hide were now together a floppy disk bearing his skin and fur and face. I’d better not look at him anymore.

Alexander Gradus

Twitter: @alex_orlov_
Insta: @alex.p.gradus

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