The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Houses of Flesh and Bone (1)

June 23rd, 2008 · No Comments

(We have a serial for you this week: a short story by Paul Vibert, carved into three portions, so you won’t get sick by eating it all at once.

I know almost nothing about Vibert, except that he wrote stories in the 1890’s, often based on scientific fantasy. His curious tales can sometimes be found in anthologies; which is, you guessed it, where I found this one.

I’ve tried to render his digressive style in suitable English, and fought the itch to nip and tuck. And I don’t suggest you acually follow his suggestions, but offer them only as feats of a disgusting imagination.)


Jonah’s whale and the elephant on the Place de la Bastille.

On the effect of violet rays upon fauna. A new and curious application.

Even the stupidest legends of all theogonies originally had some purpose; so I must confess that, in my youth, the unpleasant ordeal undergone by Jonah, one of the twelve lesser Jewish prophets, if I am not mistaken, held quite a lively interest for me.

For I, with the vivid imagination of a child, thought that this more or less legendary tale, which dates to the ninth century BC, or so I am told, had happened only yesterday; and I liked to close my eyes and relive in my mind the time that fine man had spent in the stomach — for the belly seemed an impossibility — of that great marine mammal: the whale, to give it its proper name. But enough; I proceed.

Was he comfortable, could he sit down, didn’t it smell bad, could he breathe and see clearly at times through the tunnel of the esophagus? So many questions of vital interest to me!

Of course, deep down, it was all speculation, and a bit just for fun; for I had been too well educated to believe such foolishness. But fun it was, for my young imagination — a fit subject for a cerebral pastime, and not devoid of charm.

In later years, I regretted having entered the world too late to see the great white elephant (!) of the Place de la Bastille. When it was demolished, millions of rats escaped and spread throughout Paris, thus proving that it too had been inhabited in its interior, just like Jonah’s whale.

All of these ideas had long chased about my brain, a bit muddled and muted by the passage of time — that tall thin gentleman, to quote Émile de Girardin, if I am not mistaken — when a series of discoveries, events, and newspaper articles came to my attention, and galvanized those old memories; leading me to hope that I might find a solution, and finally possess a house of flesh and bone.

The idea is audacious; is it possible?

I am beginning to believe, quite seriously, that it is; although obviously much remains to be done in this order of ideas.

(Posted by Doug Skinner. To be continued.)

Tags: Animals · Literature

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