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Donald Barthelme in Surrey Quays

April 18, 2012



Barthelme died a long time ago. On the edge of the pit of nothingness, he made a pact with something pretending to be the devil but really an alien from the Daba Daba system that he would return to life nineteen years later in the same body he had when he was twenty-eight years old.


He really didn’t want to die.

Surrey Quays.

I awoke early the first day of my second life. I stretched, sat up and looked out of the window. There was a man outside looking at a wall. I thought of him for a while.

Two hours later and the thought was complete. This man, he was neither desperate enough to be a criminal nor motivated enough to be a decent human being. He was something in between.

I am also something in between. Neither in luxury nor in slum.

How can I write in such conditions?

I learnt from a street cleaner that Millwall football stadium is a ten minute walk from my house.

I feel a little better about things now.

It has been a week. The sky has been grey five out of seven days. The man no longer looks at the wall. Some children are loud, some are well-behaved. None have tried to attack me.

I walk around most days looking for something. Trouble? Slovenians? I’m not sure.

I walked to Millwall football stadium but there was no one there.

I write a little each day, but only out of routine, not desire. What is there left to write? Everything I did years ago has been copied and aped and eaten up, and now there is nothing to do but do it all over again. What exactly is there to respond to? Nothing. Even this thought is copied.

Help me, the devil.

It’s been three months. I have written ten lines each week and nothing more. I go to the shops and feel like…I do not know. It was not like this in New York.

I have analysed my writing and come to the realisation that it is modern and pathetic. Each line is the same – an action and a single feeling. Or an action and no feeling.

Example: I went to the supermarket and saw lots of food. I didn’t know what to think of this.

I’m not sure how this has happened. I used to decorate my lines, swish them around and…

The Devil returned to me last night. He asked me how things were going. I told him I was in Surrey Quays. He didn’t understand. He said, ‘I know where you are, baba baba, but how do you feel?’

I didn’t answer. But then I thought about it and felt that not answering was a device of modern writing so I said as much as I could think of. I told him everything about Surrey Quays and every possible thing I had felt since he’d brought me back.

He said, ‘I knew this would happen.’
‘You’re fighting against fighting against fighting, baba baba.’
‘I am?’

‘You are. This kind of thing happens all the time back in the Daba Daba system…’
I sat back against the wall and stared at his fake horns, his stupid plastic tail.

It’s been a year. Things are better. Or not better, different. It’s strange, I haven’t written in English for a long time. Now I only write in Daba Daba.
Daba daba is an interesting language. They don’t write from thought, they write from chaos.
I should explain that, I suppose.
I mean, they pick up a pen and write on the pages whatever comes into their head. There is no stopping, no breaks. They write until they’ve filled every page.

The only choice they need to make is the number of pages to write, and that is a choice made in advance.

It’s a Tuesday. I’m aware I used to chronicle time passed, but now I see no need. On Daba Daba Five they do not do this. They simply say what it is now.

I gave my work to a prick at one of the big publishers. He didn’t understand a word.

The whole book is being published next month.
It’s called Daba daba daba. I promised the devil who wasn’t really a devil that I would add an extra ‘Daba’ to protect his homeworld. I think it’s worked.

My work has been hailed. Again.

It is a Sunday.

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