The Book of Ash (Excerpt)

Category: 
Fiction
Monday, August 8, 2011

Chapter 1 - Bed Board Baldwin Wallace turned the page. It was late into the night and he was alone in bed, reading from The Book of Ash. He was also waiting, anxiously so, for Nadine, his wife of six years, to come home. A snapping sound brought his attention to the candle on the nightstand. The flame was faltering, eating up the last bit of wick. To compensate for the diminishing illumination, Baldwin brought the book closer to his face, so that the tip of his nose brushed up against the paper. Once his optic nerves hit on the correct focus, he was able to resume his reading:

Encouragement 44 – Cultivate Rejection Strive for success and you strive for failure. While this may seem illogical, if you take time to contemplate instances from your life when you either succeeded or failed, you will find the axiom has merit. If you get hired for a job, for example, most likely you have beaten out someone else, even many people, for the position. In sum: you have won, they have lost. While victory is always pleasing to the victor, the feeling holds no lasting value. The process of competition for reward isolates the spirit, encourages selfishness, and gives rise to narcissism. And once an inner-focused mindset takes hold, it is difficult to see beyond the boundaries of your own flesh. With each passing day your ability to experience the world narrows, and your quest for individual satisfaction overwhelms any other desire. Losing the ability to be empathic, you grow paranoid and suspicious of others, experiencing them only in the negative, seeing them as the reason for your problems. In the end you devolve into a bitter, angry, untrusting person – in other words, a failure. To avoid this fate we must face success as if it is the enemy, treat it with pariah-like venom and excise it from our conscious minds. A simple and effective way to accomplish this is to cultivate rejection. For instance, never engage in a romantic union with someone you desire or who desires you. Better to find someone who finds you unappealing, and who you find unappealing. This is the person best suited for you, as your mutual distaste for each other will evolve into a relationship based on interests outside your relationship. Because you do not like each other, you will work hard to find outside activities to occupy your time. In doing so, you will become a more complete person, more autonomous, someone whose emotional health is not tethered to the whims of their partner. Thus, what might be perceived as failure – spending your life with someone you dislike – will ultimately lead you to a rich and fulfilling life. You will become a success. Contemplation Exercise: Recall the last compliment you received. Visualize yourself rebuking the person who gave you this praise, explain to them why you don't deserve it, and how their words threaten your attainment of a balanced and enlightened spirit. Then criticize them.

Baldwin closed his eyes, recalled the last compliment he received. It came from Harold, his life counselor, who during a recent session commented on the comeliness of Baldwin's hair. Usually curly and misshapen, that day it held tight and neat against his scalp, the result of being caught in an early morning hail storm, peppering him with ice pellets that melted into a sticky flattening gel. Going further into the contemplation, Baldwin visualized he and Harold in session, facing each other in his conversation room, a silent tension mounting between them. "Harold," he envisioned himself saying, "I don't think it's helpful to our work to focus on my exterior being, my hair, when my internal self is suffering. In fact..." The hollow clopping sound of someone climbing the outside cement stairwell interrupted Baldwin's fantasy. Thinking it Nadine, he spread a stiff smile across his face. He was determined to act nonchalant, to not inquire on her whereabouts, to act utterly disinterested. Basically, he did not want to start an argument. He had made that mistake the night before, pressing her on her lateness and demanding to know exactly where she had been. It resulted in her calling him controlling and throwing her clogs at his head. When they missed, she ripped off her shirt and twisted it tight around her neck, falling to the floor where she writhed and cried out that he was “suffocating her emotional growth.” He was determined to avoid a similar scene. No matter what he really felt, his plan was to welcome her to bed with a smile and empathic shrug of shared fatigue. But it was not Nadine. The steps emerged into the hallway and continued, ending with the opening and closing of his neighbor's door. The letdown drained Baldwin of any desire to resume the contemplation. He returned the book to the nightstand and eyed the candle. The flame was now almost an ember, and when it finally gave off its last tendril of light, he closed his eyes for sleep, comforted, at least for the moment, in the knowledge that he felt thoroughly, if not completely, rejected.