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C.T. Ballentine

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

Join Ballentine and others July 7 and 11 in Chicago for celebrations of THE END -- yes! -- of this the final installment of Ballentine's opus. See the events page for more. And what an end it is.

The banging branch rattled the window, fingering the sill with capillary twigs and ever-increasing regularity -- metronome tightening, loud, much too loud.

"Riddles, riddles, riddles," said the red office chair.

"Riddles?" Friedrich Nietzsche, in no mood for games, demanded clarification from the chair, who posed this nonsensical rambling in time with the goddamn branch banging against the window like an irritating hyper-modernist symphony, one for which Fried, whose head throbbed, had absolutely no time.

"What's yellow and holds every thought you were too afraid to speak?"

"I don't know."

"Umm, yeah, me neither."

Enough, foolish chair! I grow tired of your needlessly obtuse shenanigans. Supporter of my ass in times of great boredom, but now the time is urgent, spilling through unseen hourglasses whilst outside some hideous beast demands entrance, a wicked and ugly thing tap, tap, tapping on the still of my soul! Quiet with your silly games, your foolish riddles!

Grimacing sternly, with hands at his hips, Fried's shadow spilled like a clumsy pine tree, its needles reaching out for the eternal end of half-measures.

Busy spinning circles about the office, the chair did not notice Fried's foul looks. The branch continued its symphony, despite everything -- or anything for that matter.

"I'm through fucking around," Fried told his chair.

"You're no fun."

The chair dropped and sat still, low to the ground.

"So I've been told."

"The answer is post-it notes."

"That's a shitty riddle."

"I know, I know, I know. But it's your fault."

"How so?"

The office chair exposed its undercarriage to its master. All riddles and the quality contained herein are the sole responsibility of the chair's owner and proprietor, who is probably a humorless fuck with an emerging belly and a jaundiced face plate.

"See. Your fault, fucko!" Not long ago, I do recall, I loved you like no other, chair. We sat in the valley of lowered stakes and wasted the passing moments, imagining ourselves the champions of peaks we would never even see, let alone scale. It is true what they say of love's bonds, that they mature willy-nilly and find purchase in the nearest hand with a loose wallet tucked away in its adjoining trousers. Chair, you teach my great lessons of love. I would make kindling for a bonfire out of you as just reward were your composition not a plastic sure melt one's nose with its fumes.

"So," the chair asked Fried, "would you like a loaf?"


A post-it note appeared in Fried's hand. < Found love. Gone to California. Loaf in the fridge. >

Looking up, Fried found himself alone, trapped in an empty room. No office chair. No fridge.

< No loaf, either. No love, not even in California. Not for you. >

These were hostile post-it notes, it seemed to Fried, but given the blankness of the room around him, what could he do but tear off another?

< You have forgotten your life, it lost you a wife. >

< ...and a chair. >

Will I miss the chair? One day, perhaps, maybe already. Regret, sorrow, love, a useless trinity of romantic notions. Bless me in the saline holy water of tears.

< Now you are lonely. >

< That must suck. >

Fried interjected.

Surely there must be some happiness here in this lonesome cubicle, squeezing ever tighter, spewing hope out my eyelids as it rolls me into the shape of a spent tube of toothpaste. Some camaraderie, no? Some love. There is no room without love. I will not ever believe that.

< You will. You do. You have lived your life as a testament to such. >

I have not.

< You have. >


It was a scream that woke Fried.

Such a mournful wail. Perhaps it pours from the insides of my soul, perhaps every disappointment and failure has ejected from my body once and for all, leaving nothing but an ashen husk, which will crumble presently and blend with the dust from which it was born. I will become the backdrop, the plywood of the cosmos, stage setting where future plays might unfold.

No. All was gone but for the godforsaken branch tapping the window. The real, living world: Friedrich Nietzsche would see another day. Leather beneath him, a leather sofa, loveseat maybe; the smell of pipe tobacco, tweed, and academic pretense -- all in all just like...


"Ghaaaawaaaaawaaaawaaaaa!!!" went the sad scream of Crabtree, who sat before Fried on the matching leather ottoman, his head bald as ever, though the liver spots had spread like an invading army.

"My friend! I knew you would find me out in my hour of need! You have pulled me from the street, then, where I have collapsed drunkenly. It was a terrible trial, my good friend, but we will sit up late in the night and sort out these matters. See what this jumbled mess really means. "Ghaaaawaaaaawaaaawaaaaa!!!" screamed Crabtree, facing Fried now, his eyes red like turnips left out in the sun to rot, dirt and decrepitude circling about his face like eager flies waiting for the finale, the kill, the ultimate feast for the all that waits for death with a smile. But then this screaming. Fried certainly missed the chair now, whose riddles proved quite preferable to this high-decibel assault. And still, the branch.

"Right. Well, listen. That's loud. Plus there's that damn branch. Isn't that irritating to you? Go to the association or something. Get it removed. You'll not be surprised to find that I'm quite hungover. I could use some coffee maybe. You got anything in the fridge, perhaps?"

Crabtree's wails doubled both in intensity and duration.


"Is there a point you're trying to make here?


"Oh, right! I understand, sound and fury, signifying nothing! Yes, that's very true!"


What a brilliant mind. Where for most, maybe the conciliatory pat on the shoulder, the harsh love perhaps, stern father figure, all fetishized costumes for fools. Oh Crabtree! You comfort me in allegory! I have found my home."


"Ghaaaawaaaaawaaaawaaaaa!!!" Fried smiled and clapped, echoing his balding mentor.



The two men wailed to each other, lost in the haze of pure sound, random fluctuations of voice, barely audible, yet containing the blueprint for a cumulative 113 years of disappointments. Crabtree flailed his arms like an insolent child; Fried fell to the ground, pounding at the floor with fisted hands. A yellow wad of paper fell from Crabtree's grip and bounced off Fried's head.

"Funny, I was dreaming of these earlier."

Crabtree looked relieved, the post-it no longer crumpled in his hand, like he'd rid himself of a heavy amulet, a cumbersome burden.

< Found love. Gone to California. Loaf in the fridge. >

"What? Is this from your wife?"


Fried noticed the gold band on Crabtree's hand, snapping his own fingers in understanding.

"Hot damn. I never knew you were married. I never knew you were ever even dating anyone. I sort of assumed you were a closet homosexual."


"Right, yes. It's very hard to have loved and lost."

This man is no rock for my refuge after all. My ship would float away, anchored to this, yes, only dragged down, scraping bottom, flooding the hull. The bitter fruit of a last resort. Bah. Deadweight. We are all broken driftwood, floating about. Willy-nilly, willy-nilly, willy-nilly.


"OK, Crabbie. Listen, I seem to have lost my socks. Think I might be able to borrow yours?"

Crabtree buried his head in his lap, wetting the ottoman with salty tears. Fried sought out socks as Crabtree began his wailing anew.


Fried found a nice thick pair in the top drawer, charcoal gray with vertical ivy threads. His toes danced about inside. Heading back toward the living room, he eyed the refrigerator, wondering how much loaf Crabtree's departed love might have left behind. He walked past his sorrowful friend and opened the window with a great heave, looking down at an insignificant sidewalk three stories below.

He took hold of the branch and snapped it cleanly.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

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