David Rylance

Third Plane

No thing is nothing as nothing is never itself. For always and still, the is wavers backwards and forwards as the is not of what is, which is itself an is not on the inside of some other thing else.

Yesterday, as I sliced the thumbs from my hands, I said to the stumps that a new circumference awaited them, a sort of titanium zeppelin of the most impossible dreams they could never imagine, given, of course, they were stumps.

Within this inconceivable fantasy of the stumps, there drifted in sacs not only the lighter than air flotilla of hydrogen gas, awaiting the spark, but, in glowing cells cocooned in the airship’s cavernous centre, the isotopic ratios of the xenon that is imagination itself, ringed round, serenely, by the intestines of cows.

The thumbs, obviously, were not nearly enough. The toes and metatarsus were forced to go too. I was at war, you see, with each of my extremities, all the ends and reaches of me. My body was an attrition between the ulterior and the in. There was no exterior empty enough not to contain a VIP section, revolving like a restaurant on the tip of a tower within it. And every instant I went on living was an elimination of the inevitable. I was a plateau at odds with the plains.

One of the paradoxes of my pruning was that the fingers of my right hand – the hand I happen to use – would have to be the last thing to go, if I wished to see the task through with lethal success. To become an amputee, I knew, would only aggravate the condition. And yet the fingers themselves were the hub of the problem – these deft manipulators of items and everything, from wiping my ass to signing my signature, yet also the dropper of plates and slapper of faces, a klutz collective of the soul.

To think that I needed them yet! - to cut away lips and nose, nipples and dick (for I am a man), to scrounge out the anus and to scissor the eyelids, to razor the chin and the ears, to barber the tongue. These little piggies were the first to go to market; they were the invisible hand, the providential forces; and they stood like tiny, bloody totems, bringing home the bacon til the end.

By this juncture, as you may gather, I was in terrible pain. My mouth geysered with blood, which welled from the root of my tongue, and which I spat up in screams around me. I did not try to carry out this deconstruction with stoicism or gravity – to die, as they say, ‘with dignity’. It would be a slap in the face of the process, I believe, to pretend to stomach it. Rather, one must slowly remove oneself from the picture in the most painted possible way.

Then, when at last all that was left were the four standing digits of my red right hand, my Archimedean claw, I climbed into the bathtub and hulked the palm of my fingerless left around the handle of a cleaver, taping it shut. I next positioned my remaining flanges on the tub’s chipped rim, aligned the shaking blade, levered it up and took a deep breath. Then let my cutting edge drop. The blade slammed down unevenly along the ridge of my knuckles, shattering bone, mulching marrow, launching my digits like tiny toy NASA rockets thrown up into the air, their sputtering red stream running out of fuel in mid-flight, tumbling them down to watery graves, in the already bloody, human-sized basin below. After that, I slumped back against the enamel and huffed out a shriek. I had never experienced an agony that could compare to anything like it. The only ethics ever are rouge.

My work thus complete, I settled. I looked up at the ceiling as best I could through the red curtain drawn down by the removal of my eyelids. I could feel myself ebbing away into the liquid around me, becoming a situation, an environment, a time and a place. I had learnt at a young age to think of suffering as a kind of exquisite refinement of the educational faculty, though now I couldn’t think much at all. Had I been able to reflect, I may have weighed the merits of the hydrogen theory against the incendiary paint theory in deciding what set off the immolation of the Hindenburg. Or perhaps I would have recalled that xenon was first discovered as the left-over dregs of an experimental evaporation of the elements of liquid air, by scientists that hadn’t been looking for it.

But I was too dispersed by now to do much else but convulse. I drifted away in the tub of my refusing. I looked deep into my mind and saw nothing repairing.

You get as far as the third plane but you go no farther.

You come as far as you come.

David Rylance is a graduate in literary studies – which is to say, free of all the qualities that make for a compelling biography. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

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