Hello. Can you give me anything to think about right now?
In 1572, I was for a time kept in that great and wondrous Cabinet of the late Rudolf II of Prague, he of the Bohemian passions and Bohemian body odors (to which I was not privy, but was constantly apprised of by Rudolf's dwarf, the Venetian Giordano Penne, who was my co-prisoner in a heavily lacquered oak chest with delicate ivory inlays that described operative diagrams of an occult significance).
At that time, kept in a large cylinder of blown glass from Rotterdam whose water had been cleverly kept fresh by hydraulic pumps manufactured after antique Greek designs, I spent much of my time gazing out into the dimly lit and cavernous Cabinet of Wonder where I was a specimen for the enlightened edification of the great Rudolfine court.
I stared a great deal.
And was complained to by the aforesaid dwarf, who was in all ways a disagreeable man.
But one night I was approached by a Dutchman (so obviously presented as such by the cut of his gorget) who seemed taken by me. He placed his palm flat against the glass of my cylinder and he smiled to himself, as on occasion others had, including the illustrious John Dee, late of England.
"He does not speak at all," the dwarf said, by way of a warning to the Dutchman.
The dwarf was perched on a fine brass stool, his tiny booted feet pointing down.
The Dutchman smiled and nodded, and ran his finger tip again and again down the length of his nose. "Yes," he said absently to the dwarf, "I would not expect that he would."
Then he said directly to the dwarf, "Did you catch this creature?"
The dwarf grimaced. "First of all, I get seasick. Vomit like a Turkish whore in a candy store."
The Dutchman frowned.
"They put us together because I am so small, and he is so big," the dwarf continued, vaguely bored by the recitation. "And also, you know, because of the sea."
"I'm sorry?" The Dutchman leaned in, his arms tight across his chest.
"Well, you know, I'm from Venice, and this guy got caught off the coast of Cyprus. And it's funny, being seasick, I mean. Funny strange. Or maybe just cruel. But anyway, we're both from the sea, and we're both, as you know, the wrong size."
"I have a dwarf, too," said the Dutchman.
Giordano was bored, and he nodded.
"He can tell the future," the Dutchman said.
"I could if I wanted to," the dwarf replied, looking off into the shadows where he and I both knew was a tableau of the Twelve Apostles made entirely out of bats' wings and the shells of iridescent beetles from beneath the Equatorial Latitude.
"I've just discovered a new star," the Dutchman said after a few moments of silence. "It's brighter than Venus, and is in the thigh of vain Cassiopeia."
"It's an Age of 'Discovery'," the dwarf muttered, his own arms tight across his chest.
The Dutchman finally sighed and turned directly to me.
"He's very dour, don't you think?"
I wish I could have vocally agreed, but instead, I flushed a pleasant yellow, and fluttered my fins, though they were pressed back by the cylinder.
"I said he didn't talk," the dwarf sighed, not looking back.
I flickered pink, then yellow, then pink again, and the Dutchman smiled to me and nodded. "Yes, I see," he said. Then he said, "My Jepp would like you, benthic creature. He's a great lover of animals, my little Jepp. And a great believer in Pliny's ages for the animals, as that's much how Jepp is able to contextualize his visions, you see.
"He'll see, for example, a young buck in a contemporary context, yes? Say he'll see a young buck standing at the center of one of de Caus' garden labyrinths that he and I have just recently seen. And then he will see that same buck again when it is very, very old, the branching antlers so dense and heavy that the buck must bow its wearied crown, and he will see the buck die, and then the subsequent vision will present itself. And it is by this method that he is able to estimate the distance into the future of his respective visions, for we see that a stag might live as long as seven or even ten generations of man, and so if we see a great hoary old stag in a vision such as my Jepp might have, then we can rationally and with clear eyes estimate the time of the vision.
"This very point is supported by the great buck's head in this encyclopedic collection. The head has a gold circlet about the neck, and on it is inscribed the name of the illustrious Julius Caesar, and yet we know that this very ancient stag was killed not ten years in the past by our noble host, his Royal Highness Emperor Rudolf. And so we can see that though many, many generations of man have passed since the age of Caesar, yet the stag can bridge that gap of so many years and lend his and the great emperor's nobility to the weary head of our own good sovereign."
"It's a fine story, but wasted on the giant snail, friend," the dwarf shook his head.
The Dutchman pursed his lips.
"I had a moose once, you know. Like Jepp, I am great lover of animals. Ancient like a stag, the moose, and I hoped that, like Caesar, I could pass down through the generations of my family some tangible living thing with whom I and my distant offspring might share a connection. Unfortunately, the poor beast was a drunkard, supped too much beer at a dinner I had, and fell to his death down the stone stairs of my observatory, Jepp all the while sitting beneath the table telling fortunes and tickling the ankles of gleeful noble ladies."
He leaned against the glass, resting his cheek near my eye so that he could gaze into me. I dimmed, and withdrew instinctively.
"Ah, what are the ages of the benthic deep, I wonder. Pliny had no access to you wondrous beasts, had no measure of your lifespans. Were you once King Neptune's squid? What distant past, what divine truth, are you the inaccessible bridge to? What unsaid color might you reveal in the deepest night?"
"You're weirding me out," the dwarf said. And then he leaned in close so that I, the dwarf and the Dutchman were all within inches of one another. The dwarf squinted at the man's face. "Is that a fake nose?"
The dutchman withdrew, clutching his beak. It was indeed a subtle alloy of metal, forged to resemble flesh and coated in a thick cake of makeup.
Angrily, the man stalked out of the cabinet of wonder, leaving Giordano and myself in our own little chest.
I went black, and drew into a taut column.
"Relax," the dwarf said, "that guy was a freak."
I have long contemplated that meaning, and even now, in the year 2007, as I perch above the vast metropolis of Detroit, I wonder what bridge I am? I have crossed the distance of many years, but do I stitch anything together over that vastness? Am I only in this moment, and all other times are other instances of me, living only in the vestiges of my great and encyclopedic brain?
I met Tycho Brahe that night, but never knew him.
He wrote of the events that preceded our meeting:
On the 11th day of November in the evening after sunset, I was contemplating the stars in a clear sky. I noticed that a new and unusual star, surpassing the other stars in brilliancy, was shining almost directly above my head; and since I had, from boyhood, known all the stars of the heavens perfectly, it was quite evident to me that there had never been any star in that place of the sky, even the smallest, to say nothing of a star so conspicuous and bright as this. I was so astonished of this sight that I was not ashamed to doubt the trustworthiness of my own eyes. But when I observed that others, on having the place pointed out to them, could see that there was really a star there, I had no further doubts. A miracle indeed, one that has never been previously seen before our time, in any age since the beginning of the world.
The light of that dying star was 10,000 years old when it reached Brahe's tiny, optically imperfect eye, and like me it crossed a vast void of time to get there. Men could not write when the star died. They could not make simple clay pots, nor work metal, nor even dream of the horrors that awaited them in the benthic deep.
I sometimes feel the eyes of Jepp upon me, and I wonder, what do you truly see, Little Man?
All I can do for him is to fade into a persistent gray and stare back into his distant eyes.
There is nothing to see here, Little Man, but more matter and swirling confusion. Nothing at all but that.
Think on this.
I Am Yours,
The Giant Squid
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson