This was the third time he’d cut himself with the scissors and he could no longer call it an accident. More so a deliberate stabbing on his hands, gripping them with such roughness that the skin in his palms slit and blood leaked down onto his student desk. His room mate wasn’t home. Thankfully. And so he was allowed a moment of deliberation in front of the blood. He fixed his glasses and stared with absolute apathy to the pain or the scene. Watching everything of his notes to his book ‘The Genealogy of Dissent’†1 soak up the the pooling blood. He shook his head and moaned with sudden pain, as if by his own choosing Kevin Choi had decided that now he should feel pain. He ran to the sink and bandaged his hands. Forgetting the antiseptic spray and having to undo it all just to feel the burn.
A first aid kit never having seen use for the last one hundred years since Havenbrook University’s inception, all of a sudden running out of bandages. He’d have to request a new one.
Kevin fixed his glasses and looked at his notes. At the cut out pages. At the figures of the book and the words of wisdom alleged between the pages.
“I don’t understand any of this.” He sighed.
He returned to class with the wound. One he couldn’t hide anymore. Last week he’d gotten a cut in his thigh. The week before, on his wrists. And so he was accumulating little cuts here and there, small usually. This one was large. And upon seeing it, his professor stopped mid lecture and stared, before snapping out of his gawk and into the lecture once more. He knew something was up, had to be up.
At three thirty, the usual end of Philosophy A, the professor rose up from his chair as Kevin went up the steps of the auditorium.
“You, Mr. Choi, can we talk for a moment?” Professor Hughes said.
Kevin turned around, fixed his glasses up his nose bridge and lowered his head. He walked over to the center. Students turned back in a curiosity.
“Did I say this was any of your business?” Hughes said. The students turned and started jogging up and out the class. The last one left, the doors closed and a sudden silence filled the white room. The scent of chalk in the air, a draft of dust from a film projector never seeing use. Black earl tea smoking up from the professors’ duster.
“How are you doing, Mr. Choi?” He asked.
“Good. Thank you.” He said.
“How are you enjoying Christoff?”
“You should ready his post-war things. A real head spinner. That one.” Hughes sipped. “Philosophers could do well to learn from poets. I think Aristotle set the stage for none of them learning how to write, though. Shame.”
Kevin waddled in place, nodding his head. The professor cleared his throat.
“How are you doing at home? Do you dorm? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Yes.” He said. “I’m doing fine?”
“Not home sick? Not depressed, anything?”
“I hope I’m not prying.”
“I hope you realized it, but I’ve seen your cuts.” Hughes sat on the table. “And they’re accumulating on your body. As far as I know, you’re not a chef. So. This leads me to believe somethings wrong. Something you yourself are causing. Would you like to talk about it? I hope this isn’t confrontational.”
He hoped he would shut up. He hoped he could leave.
“I work with my dad sometimes. He’s a delivery man. The packages can cut.” He said.
“Is that right?”
Silence. Nothing could be heard but the run of a fan at the top of the classroom, the quiet buzz of the engine turning wind currents. Outside, perhaps a few sounds of sneakers streaking across polished floors and the dropping of books. Muffled laughter. But sounds so distant and foreign as if to be from remote lands. He stood in the quiet feeling cold down to his feet. He did not even notice he was sweating until it started drying off and his clothes were tacky against his skin.
“I’m here to talk. About anything, not even about your personal life if you’d like.” He said. “We can discuss Christoff. Discuss life. Philosophy is about asking the right questions, you know.”
“I know.” He said.
It was a terrible way to start the day and worse even to start lunch. He ran up the steps and out the door, papers came out of his plastic binder and he had to stop several times to catch them before they drifted away. People stared and he felt colder, still. He shoved them into his folder and they spurted out haywire. He ran out, bringing his sweater lower past his wrist and over his fingers, shelling himself in a striped red and black cotton carapace. He sunk his head and went to the mess hall, a new Burger Star having been added to the lunch area. Anthony having suggested it after having discovered the fact. Kevin waited out the front, not entering, being afraid to sit alone and look any stranger than he already had. He waited by the lunch room instead and got stared at. Nothing ever went the way he thought. Never has.
Someone yanked at his collar and pulled him leftward. He grabbed the wrist and shrugged the hand.
“You look like you’re waiting for trial, man.” Anthony said.
Boyish looking, bowl-cut still. A little taller and well built. Kevin always resented that about his friend. And resenting friends was something he knew to be normal. At least for him. Today he was sporting a varsity jacket, though he never played a sport. Not in highschool and sure as hell not in college. Havenbrook Hawks. Black and white went across his jacket.
Anthony ordered for both of them, Kevin sat and the meal plopped down before him. A large table for simple two but no one bothered to join them, or cared to ask them to go away. They laid their backpacks on the empty seats. Kevin went for the fries first, Anthony for the burger. He wiped the ketchup with his sleeve and shoved fries inside the burger. He was done in minutes.
“You eat like you’re about to go to war.” Kevin said.
“I’m always at war,” Anthony narrowed his eyes and leaned back. “At war with myself.”
“It’s for drama, what do you think?”
“Terrible. I’ve never heard anyone say that.”
“But I just did, didn’t I?” Anthony tapped his temple and smiled.
“I’m glad things are going well for you. You’re gonna be an actor, right?” Kevin asked.
“Mayhaps, methinks.” Anthony took a fry from the opposite tray. “I don’t know. I’m still discovering myself, you know?”
“Discovering yourself, what’s that mean?”
“It means I don’t want to dedicate myself doing something I’m going to hate for the rest of my life.”
“Oh. So you’re just wasting your parents money then?”
“No. No…” Anthony said. “If I decide on something I hate doing, and I end up doing that for years, then I’d be wasting my money. And time. Among other things, I think discovery is a great opportunity to test the waters, you know? What about you. Still going into accounting?”
“Yes.” He said. “And I hate how they fill my life with useless stuff I’ll never do. There’s a guy in Philosophy named Christoff, and I have to read his book. And I don’t get any of it.”
“Philosophy would go over your head.” He said. “It’s not really a subject for the uh, analytic, science-y types.”
“Because it’s stupid.” He said.
“Really? I think the sciences are stupid. I mean, they all deal with surface level stuff, right? Action, reaction, record.” Anthony said. “You don’t really answer any big questions, you just make observations and record.”
“That’s the problem. We’re not answering any big questions. Christoff just goes off and off about the will to power, and how we need to kill ourselves to reincarnate. How we’re bound to parents and lineage and I just can’t – I don’t know how people live like that.”
“Like without the threads, you know. Without the history. How can anyone live and pretend their history doesn’t exist? That it’s not there.” Kevin said.
“Do you think the monkeys and cave men wandering around the earth gave a shit about their history? No. They just cared about food, water, and sex. The simple life.” Anthony said.
“Eventually they did. That’s why they started those cave paintings. See?”
Anthony mulled it over with a fry pointing over his lips that he rolled around his mouth until he ate. He shook his head and nodded.
“Good luck on your mid terms.” Anthony said. A sort of quietness came over them that not even the surrounding tables could stop. Anthony stared at Kevin, wordless. Kevin looked down to his food.
“Thanks. They’re not a big deal.” He said. “I don’t even study for them most of the time, and I still pass.”
“Right. Things have always been like that.”
“Yeah.” He said. “I’m gonna go to sleep, spent all day reading.”
He left his food sitting on the table, knowing full well his friend would eat it all the minute he turned back. Which he’d already began when Kevin turned around to wave good bye. Back at his dorm he sighed and settled into his dorm bed. His room mate not home again, his side of the room looked a little sterile, clean, as if no one was even there to begin with. The bed was neat and nothing showed life having lived save for a six pack of beers underneath the bed. Kevin thought it was strange, to have a drunkard for a room mate be this clean.
He chuckled and threw his books down to the floor, they fell but he didn’t bother to pick them up. He crawled himself up to bed and stared at the ceiling with nothing but an urgency for Christoff and Physics and Calculus II. He laid there staring. Sometime – and he did not know when – he fell asleep, hours after.
He dreamed of a shoreline.
Come next month he had failed most of his finals. Philosophy, Physics, Calculus in order of worst grade. All he had to his name was Art History with a beautiful C. He laid there with the report in his hand, each test marked up red on his desk. The first one was the one that hurt the most. By the second he’d realized, and it was almost a pleasure to receive that C come by the end of the week. He sat crooked on his bed, his neck craned, rubbing the necks that rose as he held the reports in his hand. His roommate was not here anymore. Four beers were missing from the plastic. He felt like taking the remaining two but thought otherwise. Instead, Kevin fanned himself with the reports and stretched his neck. After a while he started laughing, he went over to his deck where the Genealogy of Dissent sat and turned a few pages.
II. And we must accept that any first act of transgression against institutions of power will and should be the destruction of the individual agent. For only in self-destruction, in that great mutilation, do we find ourselves in prime objection over the world that is for the world that can be.
Kevin read it over and over until his eyes looked like they would roll up to his skulls. His eyes were blackened, a pale pigment had formed around the edges of his lips and the tip of his cheekbones. He rubbed his eyes and took out the pair of scissors. Just a little incision, just to help him through the day. No where special. He chose his thigh and started the line cut. A smile, a crescent moon, across his upper thigh. He opened the scissors and placed one edge along one end of his thigh and cut.
He bled and put his palm over it and shook his head and threw the scissors back on the table where the blood spotted his philosophy paper.
“Oh. How’d that happen?” He asked. And went for the first aid kit in the kitchen.
He left for philosophy class early in the morning to start the week with the same thing that’d caused him so much contempt. First to class. He went for his seat in the room. And looked out to the teacher with a glazed look upon him, every now and then during class his professor would look back at him and put down his face. Both in the understanding of one another. Kevin left without so much as raising his hand or voice and made his way to the library, which was to him a kind of sanctuary for silence. He went up the wooden steps, to carpeted boarding and down to the third floor deep into basement of the thing. The philosophy section was down below in the reclusion of the school, far away from the other professions and trees of knowledge.
He sat down on the first table he could find. Wooden and sturdy, laid all his belongings on it and put his head down. No more tears left to cry, nothing left to do but enjoy the failure that was his school life. He slept. He enjoyed the silence of the room without any students. For it was philosophy and who would be there?
“Hello, Mr. Choi.” Someone said.
He woke up from his rest. He rubbed the crusts off his eyes and looked around. He was just waiting in front of him.
“Who are you?”
“The Librarian.” The Librarian smiled.
A tall man with gaunt cheeks, a receding hairline like a crows beak. He wore a black turtle neck, a small gold chain around his neck that he couldn’t quite understand what was. It was a symbol, somehow religious, but certainly not a faith he’d ever seen. The Librarian extended his hand and reached into Kevin’s backpack. To which he did not protest. The Librarian took out the already bulging book and narrowed his eyes.
“The Genealogy of Dissent.” He said. “Are you a student of philosophy?”
“No.” Kevin said.
“Of course you are. Why else would you have this book?”
“It’s just a class.” Kevin said.
“It never is just anything.” The Librarian said. “Have you read his other books?”
“I can’t even read that one, let alone -” Kevin stopped and looked around. “Am I not supposed to be here? Who are you again?”
“The Librarian.” He said. “You’re in the library.”
Which wasn’t wrong. As a matter of fact, all of that seemed factual. The man did have a badge over his breast, with a scratched name tag that could never quite get past a glean of light from the spinning fan lights above. That being said, he was in library and this was the bottom floor and there was a haunting silence of books all around him. Layers and layers, rows and rows, half bulging out or laid flat on the floor, rolling trays with tomes that pressed into the floor.
“I’m sorry, I’m just a little confused. I was napping.” Kevin said. “What time is it?”
“I believe it’s a little past eight.” The Librarian said.
“I guess that means I missed physics.” Kevin chuckled. “Ah fuck it.”
“Mr. Choi.” The Librarian said. “As a student of Havenbrook I can not quite allow you to blunder about so aimlessly. May I make a reading suggestion?”
“Walk with me.” The Librarian went without warning. Kevin groaned, grabbed his stuff and chased after. A carelessness about him. Apathy beyond anything he’d felt before. His thigh was still in pain, he was still failing, and he was dedicated to skipping everything until he’d flunk out. Perhaps school wasn’t for him. Perhaps being a doctor wasn’t in his fate.
He thought as he walked behind the tall man. All fate and history rolling over his glaze eyes, eyes passing by the blurry letters on the spines of textured books. He fixed his glasses. Both of them went around a corner (which? They all looked the same). And stopped at the C section of the books. Books of multi-colors, all blending into a seeming brown wall.
They came to no one particular spot. Nothing peculiar about it, a few frills on the spines of the books. A few ribbons draping the edge of the book cases. And amongst that giant wall of brown and occasional red and orange, the Librarian took out a black book. Melancholia it said, by Walt Cristoff. The Librarian looked it over, opened it, shuffled through the pages and turned it over to Kevin.
“Here you go.” He said. “Something to help you.”
“What? Help me? In what way?”
“In all the ways you need help, no?” The Librarian said. “You’re failing everything. Aren’t you?”
Kevin stopped and looked at him.
“How would you know that?”
“Knowing the students of this elevated institution of education is half my job, young man.” He smiled. “It is the job of every octogenarian to propagate the next wave of wisemen.”
A smile like none other, thin. A little crackly given the giant wrinkles upon the Librarian’s face. The giant spots rose and bent and scrunched along his forehead, where his hairline once was many decades ago. A giant brown stain like a snake bite never truly healed.
Kevin took the book. His hands shook for whatever reason. Perhaps it was the temperature of the room, though it was a moderate, controlled one. Perhaps it was the ambiance, though there wasn’t anything strange about the basement room save for it being a little red on the spectrum. Warm toned. Kevin looked down to the book, to the title and to the author. This was Cristoff, though different. A moody looking thing, unlike the republished and reprinted jovial covers of past. This one was blank. Oppressive[Melancholia was the first of Cristoff’s Post-War books. Written about two years after his service in Vietnam, many scholars credit it as his most moody. Few copies remain, if any and each is valued at about a few thousand dollars.]. The weight in his hands buckled his shoulder some, he tucked the book close to his chest and looked back up.
The Librarian was gone. Kevin rubbed his eyes and looked both ways of the alley. A few books were jostled out of place, there was a shuffling of people. Readers from aisles across were repeating the phonetics of difficult words. Kevin shook his head. He slapped his face. He looked around again. Nothing changed. Then he looked down to his chest, to the book. Maybe he’d read it, after dinner.
|↑1||The first of Christoff’s pentalogy. Starting with two pre-war books. Genealogy of Dissent, Will to power. Then post-vietnam, Melancholia, the Bricked Road and Glamoria.’|