Cataloguing Counteractuals

Revisiting the Flânerie 8 excerpts, I’m trying to identify specific indicators in the texts where the narrative veers away from the actual material present in which the story takes place into nonactual alternate realities: the past, the future, the possible, the conditional, the interpretations of meaning, expectations and deviations therefrom, memories, intentions, fantasies, transpositions into parallel realities. In other words, I’m trying to document where fictions become fictional. I don’t mean fictional in the way a story describes imaginary characters participating in imaginary events unfolding in imaginary worlds: together those characters, events, and worlds comprise the actual reality in which the story takes place. I’m referring to situations when the story departs from its own actuality into the realms of the counteractual.

*   *   *

He passes the carousel, the inflatables, the Fun House. When the base of the Ferris wheel comes into view, he’s surprised at the sight of unfamiliar men by one of the tower supports, starting to break it down with their own equipment. He jolts into an unsteady run. Ferris wheel thieves are something he’s never considered. (from Tom Gresham, “The Heir”)

…he’s surprised at… The character harbors a mental framework of expectation, from which some aspect of the actual present deviates.

…unfamiliar men… This is an elaboration of the character’s surprise: the men and their actions deviate from the familiar, built up from repeated past experiences.

…Ferris wheel thieves… The subject has constructed an interpretation, imposing it as an explanatory framework as to the reasons and motivations for the unexpected actions of

…something he’s never considered… Not only are the men and their actions unfamiliar; his explanation too is unfamiliar, unprecedented by past considerations.

*   *   *

They summit the clear plastic cup that holds the remnants of my milk tea, steadily growing in numbers and alarm. More and more keep coming — I cannot possibly guess from where — they seem to be produced by the very grass. Several willful ants stray from the cup and try to obtain me for the colony. They are crawling on my bare feet, up my pant legs, through the wild reeds of my hair, some even cross the path of my pen on these pages — they are trying to keep me from writing this. (from Megan Jacobs, “The Ants”)

…and alarm… This seems like an interpretation as to the cause of or motivation for the ants’ actions — they’re alarmed — though it’s presented as an observation of fact.

…I cannot possibly guess… Another interpretation of cause or source is attempted, though this time it fails.

…they seem to be produced… Another interpretation of cause, though the “seem” is an acknowledgment that the interpretation is impossible, relying on circumstances that don’t occur in the actual world.

…Several willful ants… Presumption of intentionality.

…try to obtain me… Interpretation of motive.

…the wild reeds of my hair… Metaphorical transposition of an actual substance into an alternative reality.

…they are trying to keep me from…. Interpretation of motive.

*   *   *

Close-ups were replaced by Closer-ups: single feature shots. Photographers trained cameras on feet, knees, noses, shoulders, and hands. They dismantled babies frame by frame and then gave the pieces back to mothers who studied the remarkable detail. “Look! Her third toe is the longest of the bunch!” a mother pointed out. Upon hearing such exclamations, photographers wondered if mothers looked at their children at all except in photographs.
Then came the Even Closer-ups: eyelashes, a dimple, a mole, nostril shadows. Again, mothers and photographers lost babies in the pictures. This time they were right in front of the lens but completely absent in the final JPEG files of veins and hair follicles. (from Lindsey Harding, “A Brief History of Baby Pictures)

…They dismantled babies… This is metaphor, serving to transport the actual situation of photographs dismantling whole images into a parallel imaginary situation of dismantling whole physical beings.

…photographers wondered… The photographers construct an interpretation of behavior, an interpretation that’s tentative, speculative.

…lost babies in the pictures… It’s the same metaphorical transport as the “dismantled babies” phrase.

*   *   *

The priest lifted the silver cross from my forehead and touched it to his lips. He said the demon was gone but a monster remained. I spat blood in his face, accusing him of fake news, of failure to move on. He said if I loved my family, I’d get as far away from them as possible.
Afterwards, I tried to act normal but my wife refused to leave me alone with our daughters. A fortnight passed before I was allowed back in our bedroom and even then she wouldn’t let me see her naked, saying the way I looked at her made her uncomfortable. While she slept, I kissed the back of her neck where it curves into her shoulder and remembered the promises we made to each other on our wedding day. Then I licked my lips to savour the salty-sweet taste of her skin.
The night I bit her she said I had to go. (from Christopher Stanley, “Oymyakon”)

…accusing him of fake news… Interpretation the news as a counterfactual representation of the actual situation.

…if I loved my family… Conditional: in actuality he might not love his family.

…I tried to act normal… Intentional behavior, attempting to conform to an internalized image of societal expectations.

…made her uncomfortable… Interpretation of the cause of an affect.

…remembered the promises… Promises were made in the no-longer-existent past, expressing intent toward the not-yet-existent future.

*   *   *

But the stage down in theatre’s heart was a sea-pool and the failing light made distances fluid so that Zoe thought she only had to reach out a hand, for her fingers to dip beneath mysteries, to decant shadows and show her … what? Faces? The curve of a cheek or an unbending arm? Stones and bones and sorrow, or perhaps an imprint left by old joy?
Her fingers wrapped themselves into mazes in her lap and Zoe breathed in time with the wind. It was not so much fear holding her in its grip, as a sense of falling.
‘You came back.’ (from Lorraine Wilson, “We Have Always Been Here”)

…for her fingers to dip beneath mysteries… to obtain access to a realm where the meanings of actual things are made manifest.

…to decant shadows… Metaphorically, to precipitate out the substance from the appearances of actual existence.

…an imprint left by old joy… A trace made in the present by a no-longer-extant past emotion.

...Her fingers wrapped themselves into mazes…Metaphorical transformation of an actuality into an imagined alternate reality.

…a sense of falling…The falling isn’t actual; it’s a sensation, an illusion, perhaps a decanting, a precipitating downward from actuality.

*   *   *

Townie boys with bamboo rakes scraped Hawthorne’s grassy common clean. Working for someone’s Uncle Ricco, saving up for a used Mustang to drag race till Uncle Sam dragged them off to fight in bamboo jungles. They’d whistle as you crossed their path, precisely because you were unattainable in the way that girls at a private boarding school were unattainable, like fur coats, soft and desirable but costing too much. (Judith Kessler, “Falling Season”)

…saving up for a used Mustang… Expression of intent: actions taken in the present so as to achieve a desired but not-yet-existent future.

…dragged them off to fight… Intent: action in the present in order to achieve a desired future.

…precisely because you were unattainable… Interpretation of the cause or motivation for present actions.

…like fur coats… Transposition of the actual situation with an imagined parallel reality.

*   *   *

Though I’d never been more than passable as a clarinetist, I did have one skill: I can take in an entire score at once, visually, and hear the piece in my head. During undergrad, my friends would come to me the night before projects were due because I could tell with one glance whether a note was off in their counterpoint or whether there was too much going on in the brass. (Kelly Luce, “Two of Swords Counterpoint”)

…and hear the piece in my head… Transpose from the actual reality into an imagined one.

…During undergrad… Remembrance of a no-longer-extant past time.

…because I could tell… Interpreting the friends’ motivation for actual behaviors.


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