“Alaia”: Bleakness

Posted on May 7, 2007 by Jenna

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Now before you may understand the bleakness that flirts with the goddess and with Hank, you must refresh yourself on those events that led them here; so

here their story begins, and
here Hank cleans the gums, and
here Hank clarifies the map, and
here Hank makes Ms. Tate’s first tooth, and
here the bleakness is in sight.

They have seen the error in Hank’s crafting; but they do not know the answer to it, and thus they have chosen to laugh in the face of failure and proceed… .


As if to mock them both for their concern the error’s influence recedes. A limning of possibility sets in around the unfinished teeth, a flickering foxfire potential that might almost get a person from one place to another. Hank judges it as he works; it is a portion of what he needs, but it is not enough.

One evening, as he leans back against an anchor and stares out at the vistas of the gums, beauty and truth suddenly become new to him again. Rapt at the world, and driven by a bubbling sensation in his heart, he says, “How wonderful.”

She answers: curiosity.

“I miss her,” he says. “Sometimes. My master. And I think, every day that I am alive and I am a smith, ‘she made me. She found this in me, this—this Hank.’ And suddenly I feel so incredibly lucky— that I could be here, that I could be making a road where she made a road, that I could be doing what she’d done— and for a girl named Kell, no less.”

He can feel the truth of his words slipping out into the gums; swirling through the paths of them; coming back to him, resonant, openness for openness, until the world is charged with the awe at the ordinary that characterizes observations such as these.

She says, “You are shining.”

“Sometimes,” he says.


“That’s what a person does, isn’t it?” he says. “We grind, and we shine.”

There is a shift in the world, visible to him much like a hopping bird seen from the corner of one’s eye.

Then the black wave of his error sweeps across him.

Hank’s error catches him in the shadow of it. Breath flies from him and pain rasps in his lungs. His perceptions occupy a strange mode and everything seems to fill with pink and purple rain.

content! Content?

name! name! inquiry!

The goddess speaks but he cannot understand it. It is not until the weight of error on him shifts aside that he hears it:


His senses normalize. He orients. The wilderness sprawls before him and slowly his mind and body calm.

“Don’t be afraid,” he says. “But please—if you can, be still for a moment, that I might see.”

She stills.

She holds herself immobile against the stresses in herself, supplanted by the stays and ropes, and he watches; and then, at last, he relaxes into understanding.

“I’ve taught you to grind,” he says, “and not of shining, haven’t I.”

“And not of shining?”

“We grind,” Hank says, “to define things, don’t we? We take the great undifferentiated field of truth and polish it down to the bits we need.”


“But we also shine,” Hank says, “the knowledge of our purpose. The being of us is a beacon that organizes that truth into a road.”

She hesitates. He can feel the disorganized churning of her thoughts.

“The road is its purpose,” Hank says. “Not just its truth.”

“I don’t want to shine,” she says.

“It’s hard,” Hank says.

“No,” she says, to emphasize her denial.

But he has his hands up and open, as if in surrender, and she does not carry her protest further.

He says, “I never explained. And it must have seemed like everything I did to make a road was just the grinding. And I never told you that it mattered so very much, that it mattered that I did these things to make the toothway to New Jerusalem; that I was not simply here, but here, with you, working together on its construction. So you could not have known.”

Pangs of unexpiated sorrow shift within her.

“It’s terrifying,” he says.


He waits.

“Why is it terrifying, when I scarcely understand it?” she says.

“It’s a very great threat to your concept of yourself,” he says.


“Do you understand,” he says, “that whatever it is that you choose to do, I shall help you?”

Concepts rise, short-circuit, and fade away.

confirmation, she says.

Hank smiles.

Tentatively, she adds, confusion and uncertainty, in the matter of the threat.

“To define oneself is to grind away all that is not oneself,” Hank says. “To make it pap for our digestion. And when a person then looks at themselves, they see that grinding, and say, ‘Ah, I am grinding, I am the process that reduces myself to the truth.'”

“Yes,” she says.

“One then begins to grind away at all that is self that is not grinding; and where does the process stop?”

“It does not.”

“Thus to shine is to pose the uttermost threat to the soul; for it says, ‘enough.'”

“I am flawed,” she says.


“So I must grind that away.”

“Or trust that you are beautiful,” he says, like a hammer on some piton in the gum. And another: “And that I will treasure that beauty, as will those who in the future use these teeth to drive.”

Bleakness in the gums gives rise to a queer and empty mirth.

She says, “You expect too much of me. How can you expect so much of me, Hank Makeway, when you must know that I don’t have it to give?”

and there we stop, that you may meditate on the darkness before the dawn; we shall take up and conclude the story on the morrow.