Sleepingfish infinite

sample from CHARØGNARDS by Stéphane Vanderhaeghe




They’re usually to be found in fields, on the edges of roads, in woods. They usually flee, wary of anyone who comes close. Soon there’ll be some role reversal.

One night and it seems a hell of a lot colder now, as though winter were claiming some of its rights back, refusing to give in to spring, so far so mild. Early buds have been burnt by frost, shoots chilled by winds, all green turned to dull.

No one anymore can afford to doubt what’s happening. Home from work yesterday evening, C. asked me to tell her more, to tell her about my qualms. It’s nothing, I said. Had to say it several times. Roles had been reversed.


There are more of them today—dozens of them on rooftops, hedges, swingsets. C. and I looked at each other. Feeling numb. Saying nothing.


Outside, the birds loosen tongues. On the streets, people stop and improvise amused conversations, refuse to believe what they see, tell a few jokes that they realize are not so funny. Seems like something in a movie. All the while, they look up at the electric cables, then at the choreographies that stir up the sky, far less gracious or poetical than the murmuration of starlings. I watched online videos of the phenomenon last weekend before my connection broke down. Turns out whole network’s down now—cell phone signal has never been strong; is now completely lost. Only landline phones still seem to be working.



I could read fear in C.’s eyes this morning. Anxiety distorted her face. How can I set her mind at ease, unbelieving as she was?


Took a walk in mid-afternoon. Waited until our boy woke from his nap, all the while belaboring this scene I can’t seem to complete—not long now until the assassin’s found out, so he has to manoeuvre his girlfriend on the sly, for she appears to be nagged at by suspicion and the onset of guilt: I’m adapting a bland thriller for TV, same ropes, same cues as ever.

Fed the baby his snack, biscuit & apple purée, baby-talked to him as I should but my heart wasn’t in it. That impossible scene, C., the carrion birds outside—their anarchic battalions, fearless and unheeding of the dogs’ convulsive barking. Our pets driven mad. A sign.

Then we went out. Taking shelter behind the pram’s erected hood while my son looked on innocently, almost amusedly, I ploughed the gooey leaden air around me, rendered palpable and ponderous, nearly poisonous by the ambient fear, contained though it still somehow was.

Ran across a couple of hurried housewives. In their eyes already a lack of understanding verging on terror. They immediately looked down at the ground, their gazes sweeping up the streets in all directions as they fought hard to resist, knowing they wouldn’t, the temptation of looking back up.

Up where, somewhere, staccato caws lashed up the air. Thick and thicker with each step they—we took.

On street corners or shop thresholds, I sometimes merge with clusters of people. Something is going on, people feel it now, the birds are here to stay, even if some still won’t believe it.

                         not normal               messed up everything
        the pesticides I keep telling you                       it all looks like we
                                        such funny times we live in!
                    if things go on this way                       old wives tales you mean!

The odd car now and then tries the skein of our streets, driving magpies & crows away; in an instant the birds are right back to perch not even a few yards away.

I didn’t risk it very far, there was a nip in the air. Bought some bread at the baker’s. Pastry shelf almost empty, shop nearly plundered or so it looked. Wasn’t that late in the day though. The baker’s wife, withered smile on, shuns my gaze. I wish I could have set her mind at ease, passed on to her a couple of benign words, pathetic in their comforting banality; I could have said something about the assistant who didn’t show up this morning, or about the weather, that usually does the trick, only I’m quite incapable of telling what the weather’s like except that it’s getting colder—those damned birds, I thought to myself then, are slowly unweathering their way to us; which made me smile I guess a sick smile while I grabbed my change, a smile that I also guess had in the end very little, if any, soothing influence on the poor helpless woman. With pursed lips as contrite goodbye, I walked out and stood there a while, in the doorway to this empty shop, bread under arm behind the pram—just the time it took me to jingle my loose change into my leather wallet and slide it back into my jacket’s inside pocket, eyes fastened on them, resting opposite. More and more of them each day in the shattered sky.

I can now picture the whole scene from across the street—perfect close-up, unavoidable in its efficiency, my face carefully framed by the door behind me, my gaze slowly invading the screen as the camera’s angle is narrowing down. And in those eyes, some opaque distress.

Went back home under their close surveillance—an army of them in close obedient order, roosting on electric cables, branches of naked trees, rooftops, chimneypots. Hurried my steps under their frayed croaks as though suddenly beset by fright.

No: not as though.

Process News

Stéphane Vanderhaeghe is the living embodiment of a stale cliché, that of the critic desperately trying to turn writer. He thus writes two hours a day, spending the rest of his time reading, analyzing, teaching, misunderstanding and commenting upon the works of others. Author of Robert Coover & the Generosity of the Page (Dalkey Archive Press, 2013), he published Charøgnards, his first novel in French with Quidam éditeur in September 2015.


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