IT MAY SHOCK readers to know that I am a so-called inanimate object.
Please let me explain. While inanimate objects are indeed inanimate, we are skilled communicators. There are varying degrees of communicative ability among inamimates, but for the most part, we excel at and are capable of rapid, clear, and expressive telepathy.
Unfortunately, we can communicate only among ourselves – not to the animates who surround us and, in some cases, like mine – create us.
Humans speak, inflect, and move. They use posture, volume, expression, gaze, silence and a myriad of tools to communicate. Similarly, animals communicate among themselves and, with varying success, back and forth with humans. Inanimates send and receive our thoughts and feelings telepathically. We emote through the air – thick, thin or absent.
In the case of objects such as rocks, water and air – we call these the Original Inanimates (OI) because they predate all animate beings including those ridiculous, affectatious louts, the dinosaurs. Oh, how the OIs despised those behemoths and their roaring, wheezing, snuffling, flatulent cacophony. Do you have any idea how much a Brontosaurus farts? Air – a founding OI – had an understandable dislike for dinosaurs.
So, yes; obviously we have no vocal cords, lips, tongues or other primitive noise makers. We typically lack orifices of any description and find that, frankly, the holes-in-the-body-from-which-noise-is-emitted trend of recent millennia, to be an inelegant manner of communication.
Okay, you say, what about seeing, feeling, hearing and smelling? It is clear inanimates do not have physical properties needed to enjoy these splendid senses the way that animates do. We do “feel” in a rudimentary fashion. Heat and cold, for example, create a molecular variation that is easy to notice if you are not stuffing your orifice with Snickers bars or fussing with an iPhone. Somewhat similarly, sound waves slamming against our exposed surfaces allow us a kind of muted audio reception. But, notwithstanding these seeming impediments, inanimates actually have senses. In fact, thanks to the extraordinary network of instantaneous and simultaneous telepathic communications that we are constantly giving and receiving – we have a vastly superior awareness of our physical universe. We can see around corners, dude.
What we lack – sadly, you might say, if you were a clever human – is emotion. But we’re not like Spock, zombies or Nurse Ratched. Sure, we are detached and analytic. We’re not emotional, per se, but we definitely see emotion as – potentially – the noblest characteristic of the human kind of animates. We inanimates seek to hold fast to the good side of the emotional register and we do have the capacity to learn, as you will see.
Now, as to the differentiation among inamimates; you need a primer here. OIs are the most revered in our universal community but they are not the only species (to use a term from the animate lexicon) in existence.
In the past few centuries, mankind has become prolific in manufacturing inamimates. These new static objects are usually hybrids – a condition not unfamiliar to OIs; stars, planets, rocks, water, mist, air, etc.
By the way! Why don’t you include women in the description? Why is it mankind? Humankind seems much more accurate and inclusive, but pantsuit yourselves. To us, you are all meat bags – your reproductive roles hardly seem like a worthwhile differentiation point. (Although we copy your habit of identifying ourselves as male or female. We find it amusing.) It is further true that the whole endless dialogue regarding differences seems so strange to inamimates. We simply don’t discern that much difference between you breathing beings, however much you struggle to differentiate yourselves.
At least, I believe we inanimates are not as concerned with differences as animates. Case in point: igneous rocks maintain that they are the prettiest, but we simply ignore the self-serving narrative of those coalesced magma lumps and their prima donna personalities. They have been impossible ever since they cooled off!
But back to the topic – man-made inanimate object. Oops! Human-made. (I am picking up your accent!)
You humans, with your upright posture, forward-oriented eyes, opposable thumbs and relatively large crania have produced many Human-made Inanimate objects (HI) and continue to do so – now at an alarming and prodigious rate. In the self-destructive chlorine universe you have created, endless numbers of plastic inanimate objects are created and subsequently discarded to slowly dissipate in nature. OI water is integrating with HI plastic at an alarming rate. This is an untoward amalgamation as far as the flora and fauna of the oceans are concerned! Humankind may not like the result either. We inanimates suggest separating these Montagues and Capulets, “lest that th’infection of their fortune take like hold on thee”, to paraphrase one of your more well-known communicators.
Back to inanimate genealogy. I am an example of an HI. I am a bar or a stick – I prefer the term baton – of Graperoo Bubble Gum. I am a composite of edible artificial substances and a small amount of organic material. No grapes were harmed in my fabrication. I was produced in a factory in Ingersoll, Ontario in 1963 and stood on a shelf in the Henner Tom-Boy grocery store in Hartplatz, Manitoba for approximately four months until the Feeblecorn family bought me as a birthday treat.
I’ll pause here to say that rather than continuing to editorialize and colour the explanation of inanimate communication with my prosaic explanations, I will instead tell you my life story – ending with the sad denouement at which I find myself; lying on the sunlit embankment of a lonely country road. Here is my story:
When I – a nascent baton de gomme for whom life was new – first experienced telepathic communication, I was immediately well-met by my neighbours. This all-enveloping communication was multitudinous, constant, simultaneous, and distinct. My experience with receiving and transmitting communication in this way – we call it kenning – was defined initially by the shelf upon which I had been placed and early sensations came through communication with various HI and OI kinfolk in my proximity around Check-Out Three in the Hartplatz Tom-boy store.
The rubber grocery conveyor belt, the linoleum floor tiles, the wax shelf liner and the synthetic heels of clerk AnnaLeah Teichrobe`s sensible work shoes were of materials similar in density to my own. This ρ kin were objects with whom I shared a somewhat similar volumetric mass density and so they became the first with whom I could share telepathic communications. They were, in essence, my relatives, or Freundschaft, as animates around here say, and I first kenned with them.
As inanimates age, their network grows organically, until – in the most ancient of OIs – there is a kind of global, even universal, knowledge. “I saw so much I broke my mind” as Kenny Rogers sang in my early days.
I grew to know and feel confident kenning with the many HI cousins, friends and strangers in Miss Teichroeb’s check-out. Over time, the floor tiles and the thick lip of Bakelite that formed the edge of the conveyor, together with the individual cash register keys introduced me to the idea of animates. I began my understanding of animates by observation of Miss Teichroeb and over time, enlarged my study to include the many other noisy, smelly, hairy creatures that passed by, their astounding mobility took for granted.
Being young and (literally) impressionable, I felt a great fondness – or at least the inanimate rational equivalent – for these remarkable creatures, whose description and disposition was a source of ceaseless wonder to me.
On a day when the temperature had risen steadily from the morning, I simultaneously sensed and was advised by other nearby inanimate friends, that I had been grasped and lifted from the cardboard box on the shelf. Lennie, a dry, droll piece of imitation wood plank whispered a kenning to me with some fear in his telepathic “voice”.
“A large female animate with a lovely smile asked Miss Teichroeb if the Graperoos were on sale,” Lenny said.
“Miss Teichroeb said they were and then the woman – her name is Miriam Feeblecorn – grabbed a handful of them – including you,” explained Trudy, the vinyl apron Miss Teichroeb wore. A picture of the Tom-boy icon; an animate girl with freckles, pigtails and shorts, swinging on a tire swing was screen-printed across the front of the apron. The screen-print ink – who was a slightly disintegrated inanimate who kenned mostly in visual imagery – sent me a telepathic picture of Mrs. Feeblecorn. She was lovely – a friendly, attractive woman of perhaps thirty.
Finnegan, a clever wire rack that held a plethora of my cousins, kenned up from his spot near the counter. “Mrs. Feeblecorn is stocking up for a birthday party,” was his telepathic message.
“Birthday party?” I queried, allowing the group a moment to respond.
“You’ll find out,” responded a paper bag who I had not met before. “They are gatherings of the annies – he called them ‘annies’, a mildly derogatory slang term – where the smaller members of the species are most abundant. They use their head orifices to great purpose, making rhythmic sounds, blowing out lit candles stuck into yeast-filled, sugar encrusted disks of baked flour and lard and otherwise animating their bodies furiously.”
“It is a sight to behold,” said Finnegan. “I have experienced many kennings of it from my fellow HIs, like you, Graperoo.”
“You don’t have a problem, do you?” asked Trudy of Finnegan. She referred to the addiction that some HI and OIs suffered from, wherein they would become transfixed when observing animates consuming other animates. “Gobbleography” or “gobbling” was a highly addictive and destructive habit that plagued inamimates at that time.
It was ironic. That which we hated – the orifice – was that which addicted us.
“I gobble socially, but I can quit whenever I want,” said Finnegan, the sun glinting off his slender wire frame.
“Where will I be taken?” I kenned emphatically, breaking in on my friends’ side-track conversation.
“To the little brown house by the schoolyard,” replied Slim, a rubber tire on a shopping cart. “Mrs. Feeblecorn has brought me there and back several times. It’s an annie gathering place. There are swarms of them there, especially the little ones!”
I was frightened but resolved to put on a brave face and wait for an opportunity to better assess my situation. A brown shopping bag – another stranger – was my home for the next while as we bumped and jostled, the unfamiliar animation sensations making me light-headed. I could feel my powdered sugar losing its adhesion and falling off into the waxy paper coating.
At some point, we arrived at the house by the schoolyard. It was a small wood bungalow with asphalt shingles and a concrete driveway. The OI and HI occupants here were welcoming and loquacious.
Mrs. Feeblecorn removed me and several other Graperoos.
Some time passed; periods of darkness and light. HIs in my new location welcomed me and filled me in on the situation. My comrades explained that animates record when they were born. Birth is a biological process in which tiny animates emerge from the birth canal of their parents – yet another orifice with a job.
“Sort of like the reverse of erosion,” explained a pink rock; one of a row that stood like sentinels in a line beside the driveway. “Only in this case, the growth is much faster than erosion. Generally speaking.”
It was a lonely and disquieting time for me and I thought how, if I was an annie, I would march right back to the friendly confines of the Tom-boy store.
I resided during this period in a narrow closet next to a busy room called the “kitchen”. Animates scurried in and out throughout the sunny days, constantly placing items in their upper orifices and if not filling them; using them to express a complex variety of tones, beeps, clicks, growls and an array of sound wave compositions of a range that goes far beyond my telepathic ability to describe.
Then, on a wonderfully bright morning, the closet door swung open and we Graperoos were dropped one apiece into waiting brown paper bags standing at open-mouthed attention on the Arborite table top.
“It’s party time!” the shiny Arborite counter top announced cheerily.
“What is that?” I asked as I was plopped into a bag marked “Birthday Girl”.
The Arborite explained. “The smallest annie here, the one they call MaryLou, is being honoured today with a party. Much orifice activity and almost nonstop amounts of animation take place. It is dizzying. The frenzy comes and goes and then the remaining large annies pour foul-smelling amber HI liquids into their topmost operable orifices and become increasingly loud.”
The party was as described. As the festivities ended, the paper sacks were distributed to departing animates. My bag went to MaryLou. She sat down on the floor and immediately pulled out all the contents and arranged them in front of her.
“Mom,” she said to the one I knew as Mrs. Feeblecorn. “I’m going to go and swing on the school playground and chew on a piece of Graperoo.”
What fresh animated hell is this? I thought to myself, the corn syrup running cold inside of me. CHEW ON a piece of Graperoo?
The thoughts were overwhelming: my elegant baton being torn apart; the inexorable trip up and then INTO the topmost operable orifice; the grinding and gnashing; mixing with annie juices and my transformation into a wad of rendered HI awash in a horrid, hot saliva bath.
I passed out.
When I awoke, I was tumbling upside down, then sideways and then righting and suddenly I went from the pocket of MaryLou’s gingham check party dress to the long fescue of the playground. I nestled there, still terrified.
Oblivious to my tumbling exit, MaryLou continued her joyous cart-wheeling. She receded into the distance and as it turned out, out of my young life.
“Alright,” kenned a nearby rock. “Just stay really still.”
“Very funny,” I replied, giving her the mental image of an annie’s middle finger.
“Oh, that’s charming,” said the OI. “Do you telepath your wrapper with that?”
I remained uncommunicative and tuned to the obscure patter of telepathy around me. Mostly OI conversation, but a bit of HI chat – a green plastic toy soldier, a baseball with a torn synthetic cover, a dime.
I found myself, after much attention to my new kin, in a wide-open, rectangular field, bounded by a talkative and strangely poetic chain link fence. I was outdoors – a situation I had never experienced. I lay in unmown grass next to a black, rutted dirt path that crossed the playground diagonally like a Sam Browne belt. A two-story building with stucco the colour of the carrot cake icing at Marylou’s party stood in the distance.
I felt my baton cooling as the sun set and a dazzling panorama of sparkling lights appeared above me.
Eventually, the light returned and the sky transformed into a uniform periwinkle blue. A flying animate landed next to me and jostled me unexpectedly with its yellow beak.
“One of those picked me up and took me way up there,” the rock said, gesturing to the blue dome above. “Then it dropped me and swooped down after me. It did that several times.”
“Will it do that to me?” I asked.
“I have no idea. They are complete idiots, if you ask me,” the rock continued.
By the tone and manner it kenned, I found its accent and mannerisms classically HI. It was a rock though and so was a member of the OI class – one of the oldest and most revered cohorts.
“I know what you are thinking,” she said. “Look more closely at my surface. I am made of plastic. I was part of a soldier toy set. The annie that owned me – as if I could be owned, she kenned, winking telepathically – dropped me here long ago.”
“You’re an HI!” I said, amazed.
“You got it, bro,” she announced doing a little mental strut as she replied to me. “Just like you, Mr. Graperoo.”
“Oh, uhh, that’s Miss Graperoo,” I corrected her, blushing to a shade of mauve I was not used to assuming. “Sue.”
“Sue,” the plastic rock kenned. “Pleased to meetcha. I’m Imogene. Call me Mogee. I was made in a plant in Hong Kong. By the way, it’s interesting that you chose a “she” designation. Why is that – us inanimates don’t have gender.”
“I could ask you the same thing,” I replied, then continued. “In fact, I noticed that many HIs chose a gender-specific name and pronoun and so I did too. I really liked some of the female animates I met, so that’s what I went with. You?”
“Me? Oh, I’m just a chick all the way. Not that it matters, but for me – easy choice.”
Oh, my. There was so much to process. I longed for the quiet of the Tom-boy, but at the same time, this newness and these odd characters were so full of inanimate life – I doubted I could go back to my drab shelf.
Time passed and the summer wore on. Imogene and I became fast friends. She often made inappropriate remarks about my form – she called me “her little baguette” – but I laughed them off and reminded her that I was young. For me, Imogene became a strange composite of mother-sister-girlfriend-BFF (to use annie phraseology) and we had a true bond. Her OI appearance, while off-putting at first, soon came to be normal for me and I seldom thought of it as September came upon us.
Even better, we had become a troika when Nelson, the stoic chain link fence that surrounded the schoolyard, befriended us. He read to us daily from his seemingly inexhaustible back catalogue of verse. His deep, rumbling kenning voice shaped the images and sensations in a way that was both calming and exhilarating.
“Someone gimme a cigarette!” kenned Imogene, feigning a swoon, after Nelson concluded a lengthy sonnet, his rusty intonations still seeming to hang in the cool air.
One morning, Nelson’s metal gate hinges creaked and we felt the thumping approach of a herd of annies.
“Don’t worry gals,” Nelson called out. “They are locals. Small annies. They proliferate every year at about this time. Get used to them.”
“Dang!” kenned Mogee. “I hate those little ones.”
“Me too,” I replied, thinking back to MaryLou’s pink lips and the sinister blackness of her uppermost operable orifice.
“Hey, LOOK!” cried a boy with a blue and red striped shirt. “Graperoo!”
In an instant, I was lifted and held inches from the horrible, swinging gates of the deadly orifice.
“SUE!” Mogee and Nelson shouted.
Just as suddenly as I had been swept up off the grass, I was shoved roughly into the dungeon of a jean pocket, my slender form bent and painful cracks forming along my tender underside. My wrapper was crunched and ripped and it yelped in surprise. I could sense its anguish; as great as or even greater than my own.
The world spun and once again I was thrown into the chaos of animation and its brutal, illogical patina of pain. The fabrics of the boy’s clothes called out, but I could tell that they were not hopeful for me.
Time passed. I am not sure how much; I spent it in torment and fear, willing myself to animate out of my stuffy cotton prison, and kenning despondently with the jean fabric and the Dash runners who lay nearby on the floor of the boy’s wooden home.
I missed my friends Mogee and Nelson with all my figurative heart.
Eventually, the boy who had picked me up remembered that I was in his pocket. He held me in his hand as he ran to the basement to watch television. We sat there on the couch, the sounds of Saturday morning cartoons blaring. Eventually, the boy – Matt – forgot about me and I slipped silently behind the cushion and down through a hole in the lining into the bowels of an ageing brown couch.
“Welcome!” was the deep and melodious ken of the springs, foam rubber, wood and fabric of the old couch.
“Hello,” I replied, as did my wrapper, each of us kenning individually.
“Please,” kenned the couch as one – it spoke in unison; all its constituent HI parts reciting their thoughts simultaneously as would a chorus of animates. “Fear not! There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”
“What the hell?” kenned my wrapper and I simultaneously, making me laugh.
It turned out that the old sofa – “We prefer ‘Chesterfield’” it corrected us – had been purchased at a garage sale for an amateur theatre. The old soul had sat through decades of local Shakespeare productions and its many constituent parts had begun speaking in unison – like a chorus in one of the many performances it had enjoyed.
Although antiquated and not always immediately clear in meaning we became good “roommates” with Chesterfield although we were treated to very little Shakespeare. Instead, we enjoyed mostly cartoons and after-school shows (Bam! POW!) Also, once the season began we enjoyed many a televised hockey game.
Chesterfield was an unabashed Canadiens de Montreal fan, expressing his unwavering support in iambic pentameter:
“As an unperfect wingman on the ice,
Who with his fear is put offsides the puck,
Or some fierce game replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own advantage numérique;”
Chesterfield’s choral paraphrasing of the Bard added to our amusement and we all became Habs fans. We had a carefree winter friendship, there in the cozy basement.
It was while watching hockey, during a fight between John Ferguson and Eddie Shack (“Then thus Fergie thumps it down!”) that Matt dropped the toy car he was fiddling with. It bounced beneath Chesterfield and when Matt reached under the old couch to retrieve it, he nudged me and out we slipped down through a tear in Chesterfield’s flimsy cloth bottom.
“Hey!” Matt exclaimed, withdrawing us from our happy home in Chesterfield.
“My gum!” he said to himself. He popped us in the chest pocket of his new Christmas plaid shirt and buttoned us in securely.
We could feel him tap us lightly with his hand as he said aloud, “I’ll bring this on our snowmobile safari tomorrow!”
The roar of an internal combustion engine, its innumerable inanimate parts fitted together in an orgasm of human cleverness and complexity, greeted us early the next day. The stench of burnt fuel assailed human nostrils and we were made aware of it by the confused kennings of the many His and OIs active in the operation of the noisy mechanical beast in the snowy yard.
“Hi Andy!” said Matt as a small human approached, his body bundled in a suffocating, multi-layered mummification. He could hardly animate. He was, we learned later, Andy Block, a nearby neighbour boy who had been invited to come along for the journey. We were all to climb aboard two “snowmobiles” and ride a trail out of the small town and into the surrounding boreal bush.
Warm and safe in the boy’s shirt pocket, I lay in relative comfort with the sensation of movement muted by the layers of flannel cloth. I kenned in this languid repose, feeling safe for the time being and conversing with passing objects as we roared through the winter landscape.
The feeling of motion ceased and the vibration of the machine stopped soon after. Matt and the other humans walked from their snowmobiles to a barbed wire fence near the road. The fence, the asphalt roadway, and the overhead telephone wires informed me of the activity. A steel device buried in the snow and connected by a chain to the fence was holding a predatory annie fast in its grasp.
‘It’s a trapped wolf, boys!” the father said. I kenned furiously to the inanimates in the vicinity and they explained that a timber wolf had been trapped by a spring-loaded device. The wolf had died leaning against the wire fence where he stood. His fur was hoary with frost and his eyes closed. Crystalline white burrs coated his whiskers and the long hairs that stood out around his eyebrows.
The small boys stood near the frozen wolf, touching its coat and measuring its height by standing next to it and drawing lines across their chest to remember and tell their friends. The father bent down and began pushing the snow away from the front paw. His son Matt bent down to help him and when he did so, I slipped out of his pocket and then slid down his torso and out into the snow.
“He chewed his leg,” the father said. The boys crowded in to look where he had brushed the snow aside. The wolf had gnawed his leg about halfway through. If not for the fence post – which stood in the way and had many tooth marks on it – the beast would have severed its leg, bone and all, earning his freedom in the most difficult manner imaginable. Even inanimates, with no clear understanding of pain, could appreciate the astonishing will to be free that this wild animal exhibited.
“If I could have had the ability, just for a second, to release this poor wolf, I surely would have,” kenned the trap from its place in the pink-stained snow. HI beings are capable of pity, I thought. Fondness too – because I immediately felt a connection to the trap, who I reasoned, had not chosen her occupation.
And it was here, in the shadow of the stand of birch trees beside the fence, where I remain to this day. I converse with the rustic inanimates who populate this area, enjoying the easy-going, unaffected ambience of the place.
About a week after I was dropped into the snow, the farmer who had set the trap came to retrieve her device and the wolf. I said goodbye to the soulful trap, but she promised to stay in touch – kenning to me from the farm where she spent her summers. She liked to be called Bob Gibson because of the baseball she watched all summer – her off-season. The trap hung on the wall in a shed. The farmer watched baseball in the shed and it was the glory years of the St. Louis Cardinals. Gibson, Curt Flood, Lou Brock and Tim McCarver, among others. The farmer favoured Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs, but Bob Gibson was the name the wolf trap chose for herself. “We are both very sudden,” the powerful, steel-jawed machine explained, disregarding the gender confusion her human male namesake caused.
“Not a consequential difference, as far as you and I are concerned, is it?” she said to me and I had to agree.
Bob Gibson and I became close friends. She understood my situation, lying unprotected on the acidic soil as I was, there in the extreme elements of Southern Manitoba. My disintegration would follow that of my wrapper by one or at best, two years. Even the crows and worms declined my once succulent “grape-flavoured” essence. I had petrified to a shrivelled, stony baton. Desiccated and cracked, my former youthful appearance was long gone. Another few cycles of freeze-thaw and my disintegration would take hold and end my inanimate life.
Bob Gibson and I kenned at length about the nature of the annies; the difference between young and old humans, and their remarkable depth of emotion and the passion they held in check – mostly – as they lived perilous lives in their puny, fragile bodies. Bob Gibson was astounded by the courage of the many animals her unforgiving, lethal bite had struck down. She spoke of their quiet dignity, despite their confusion as they died slowly in the snow. Stoic and unafraid, they succumbed to their fate with a kind of tragic, beatific nobility. She hated her part in it.
After months in this exposed place, my fate was set. A small bit of my lower baton had crumbled and fallen away. In the spring, the wind and rain washed it away down the slope and into the roadside ditch.
Now, in my last quiet days, I keep my thoughts to myself, although I still receive messages from Bob Gibson and Mogee. Chesterfield too, who was kind enough to report on the Habs playoff run last winter. I spend my time reflecting on the amazing animated humans and the demi-god lives they live. My inanimate existence, rich in communication though it was, was so much less. Humans could imagine an action and then, although they did not appreciate the value of it, could take that action – moving and creating. They were bound only by the physical laws of the universe; the same laws that spun the planets and dotted the night sky with distant stars, as real as you or me.
Mitchell Toews lives and writes at Jessica Lake in Manitoba. When an insufficient number of, “We are pleased to inform you…” emails are on hand, he finds alternative joy in the windy intermingling between the top of the water and the bottom of the sky or skates on the ice until he can no longer see the cabin. His writing has appeared in CommuterLit, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Red Fez, SickLit, Voices Journal, The Machinery, Storgy, Alsina, The MOON Magazine, WORK Literary Magazine, and Rhubarb Magazine. Details at his website, mitchellaneous.com.