We were glad, adjusted to the death of our ambitions easily.
But our emperor stopped smiling one day. He put aside his green feathered hat.
He ran his fingers through his hair and began a devilish howl.
In the royal chamber, the emperor had had a cage of straw that stood five feet high.
In this cage was a wild canary that an explorer had brought from a distant archipelago.
It had died this morning, inexplicably.
He brought the small grey body to the court doctors. It had begun to stiffen and he
had smoothed down the feathers, licked them straight with his tongue.
He looked at us sorrowfully and asked us to fix it. He offered us his signet ring,
a ruby the size of a pigeon's egg. How can we fix death? We cannot even retard it.
We only provide ease on the journey, scents to ward off the smell of putrefaction.
We can measure the stars; we have no leash on aging. I think the bird was old.
I think it choked on a rather large seed. He would not listen to us, shook the feathers
in our face.
He himself has postulated that there are three things that we cannot do: We cannot
force someone to love us. We cannot put our faith in others and then demand that it
be returned. Lastly, we cannot bring the dead back to life, no matter how bewitchingly
simple the organism. It shall be different in different times. Perhaps, in the dark and
unforgivable future, we shall shed light on the workings of our minds. As of now,
we are circumscribed by chalk terror and superstition, the linear brevity of our lives,
our own incessant fear of acknowledgement, the dangerous proximity of the stars
that swing and singe our fields black.
I do not see why he cannot send the hunters out into the forest. Surely they can find
another bird like this. Perhaps even better. It is only a dun colored bird that sings
at dusk. The melody soothes the soul but the harp is infinitely more witty, vibrant,
a woman's voice truly more sensuous. I think the Emperor pines for particularities
rather than concepts.
It is the loss of that specific bird that hurts him. This is despite all the unlearning
he has acquired over the years; ephemerality has been the primary lesson taught
by his teachers so why is it he still retains his hold upon the fragile material of this
earth? Where does his weakness stem from?
Is it that the royal blood is increasingly thinning?
Is it true that his mother was knocked up by a gunner?
What are we to do? How are we to fix a dead thing?
I often dream we are in a deep coal mine, digging the soot that shall eventually fill
our own lungs.
He grows irrational. We and the palace staff and the soldiers ---all
of us are awoken
at five each morning.
Our emperor decrees that we are to stamp upon mounds of coal under they turn
into diamonds beneath our feet.
An absurd notion.
No earthly force can compress these soft black mounds into stones.
Beneath pressure, they collapse into a thin greasy smut.
Our emperor insists.
Our batallion has spent the entire month stamping down the same spot.
It is unbearably cold.
Many of the soldiers have reverted to eating, shitting and propagating.
They climb on each other like cats.
I, myself, stripped myself bare, dirtied myself and uttered a prayer.
We become primitive, discouraged.
Whence the glorious freedom that he promised us?
He stands at the palace window each morning, shirtless, bewildered. I think of how
we found him in the madhouse, clutching his green cap. We had thought him the
perfect anti-king. Now we were not so sure. He was beginning to show too much
sense, a sinister amount of regret. And yet he is the invisible hand that grasps all of
our disparity and moves us in a common motion. He is the master of our intricate
dance. It is he who moves our feet, he who mouths our desires. Just as we are about
to hatch plots to kill him, to usurp and start again, we hear stories from intimate staff
members that seep into our innermost heart, sweeten and harden into a honey.
For instance, his hair dresser told us that, a week ago, upon lifting off the green
coronal hat, he saw with a sudden pang that all the hair on the Emperor's head was
now white; the emperor ordered him to crop it like a common criminal.
The royal candlelighter told us that the king had made a small bed of cardboard and
that in his bed, he had, with toilet paper and cotton balls, made sheets and a pillow.
On this small bed lay his pet bird. On hearing these small bits of information, our
hearts cease to starve, we love him all over again with the giddiness of first love,
sent anonymous cards for his recovery. We are hoping for a miracle of sorts.
We also cannot---even the most restless or disgruntled--imagine another man as king. He would be too sharp, too conniving. He would want power, wealth. On the other hand, if a man were more
incapacitated than our king, he would not have the sufficient sense or humour to
create mock-laws or reinstate confusion instead of chaos. You see now how we were
in a delicate situation, blown about by the roughest of winds.
Finally, we decided to send a ship to the original archipelago to catch a bird identical
to the one that had just died.
Two months later, the men arrived with a large cage filled with various sorts of birds.
Spies and artists were sent into the inner chamber and a detailed portrait of the bird
It was a dull brown on top.
It had yellow flecks on its belly.
Its beak was an ordinary beak with a growth on the left side.
A double was duly found and released in the royal chambers.
We heard a chirping. It began singing. We had forgotten---the song---perhaps it had
sung a different song---an intense sour fear gripped us all. We heard a shuffling and
the doors were locked. They remained locked for several days. The Emperor did not
appear on the balcony. In the morning, we heard the bird sing its small trill.
At dusk, it repeated the same melody.
Thirteen days later, a dazed emperor unlocked the doors. He looked at us with the look
of a man who has not seen light.
On his shoulder was perched the living bird. In his hand, was the dead bird.
He began trembling. Servants ran to support him. In the confusion, the bird fluttered
off his shoulder, out the window and away.
He looked at it growing smaller and smaller in the distance.
That evening he rescinded the decree, the throne and all.
He waved at us from the balcony, threw his crown like a bridal bouquet and
accidentally killed a small boy. Confetti came out of the sky, sourceless, white.