White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
William Cordeiro
Will Cordeiro is currently a Ph.D. candidate completing his dissertation on 18th century British literature. His work appears or is forthcoming in many literary journals, including Crab Orchard Review, Fourteen Hills, Copper Nickel, Sentence, Harpur Palate, New Walk, and Memoir (and). He is grateful for residencies from Risley Residential College, Provincetown Community Compact, Ora Lerman Trust, ART 342, Blue Mountain Center, and Petrified Forest National Park. He lives in Tucson, Arizona where he volunteers at the Poetry Center.

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Leap Year

William Cordeiro

The clouds parted briefly behind the smudged panes; sunlight blanked the page. The provincial library retrenched under the weight of its silence, immensely forgotten. An elderly man, bald and drooling, slumped in a comfy chair, one arm a-dangle, his body jackknifed like an abandoned marionette. Yesterday’s newspaper perched at his feet. How many years had this old gork been coming here?

A Tuesday afternoon in deepest February, no one else around. The librarian had disappeared into her office; the children’s volunteer had gone on a smoke break and never returned. The blandness felt good after a house cloyed with flowers and visitors I had no kindness for.

A bead of spittle gleamed at the corner of the old man’s lips, a spidery thread. Each mouth cottons to its lies, as if in contempt of words. I thought about taking a pocket mirror, holding it under the old man’s nosehairs to see if his breath-marks fanned onto the surface, pulsed (re-pulsed) and vaporized.

I bowed my head. I stared at the cover, using my book like a mask: a facing-page translation of Petrarch’s Il Canzoniere. I enjoyed ignoring the awkward redundancy of English. I’d lost the street Spanish picked up from living in Tucson until I was ten. Also, I’d taken three years of Latin in high school with rich kids whose parents assumed it would help them score higher on their SATs. I passed the class by filling-in dittos but could never remember anything beyond the nominative case. A week-long ski trip to France last year completed my glancing acquaintance with the Romance family tree. At any rate, my languages, such as they were, felt useless. I just made up whatever I wanted the words to mean through dark hints and false cognates, which was probably the reason I liked the book ok enough.

Besides, I knew the basic story, if you could call it that: Petrarch’s pure devotion to the beautiful, married Laura, with whom he had fleeting personal contact. He recreated her through the mediation of the poems, which idealized his own loneliness; the inwardness of faith that clusters and exfoliates like a cabbage rose around a single image; the deification of the beloved into intangible fragments, which

results in the burlesque of the blazon by every subsequent picayune sonneteer. I mouthed each sound inside my mushy head. I’m certain I mispronounced them. I made myself scarce, as my mother used to say. The book’s devoted hours skated by on a thin, liquid surface of light that glowed around each gnomic cloud.

Of my grief, what is there to say, at all?

She unpinned her hair; its gloss fell darkly down. I never knew she entered. Ghost-white like the residue of dreams, her eyes had swallowed blindness to climb the frayed rope of late afternoons pouring down from heaven. Watching her was like being born, a trauma one was helpless to remember since every origin shrouds itself in myth, and distortion is our remainder of whatever myth’s been made from: the tilt of antipodes, ecliptic. She turned away and returned to her reading. An impulse took me. I walked over to her desk.


I had no idea where to go after this opening gambit. She looked up into my questioning silence. “Hey,” she said. Was there a mocking undertone to

her echo—or simply a thoughtless, casual indulgence?

“My name’s Coy,” I said.

“You’re playing with me.”

“ —It was my mother’s maiden name, way to keep the legacy going. Pretty quiet today, huh.”

“Yeah. I’m Harry.” She extended her hand for me to shake. “Short for Harriet, but no one calls me that… So what brings you here?”

I couldn’t say “nothing,” my usual evasive answer, since I initiated this encounter. “I’m just home from college for a bit,” I mumbled.


“You could say that, I guess. A break.” I had begun to falter; or maybe I began by faltering.

“Cool. So what do you do?”

I didn’t have a major, didn’t think I liked knowledge much. I wanted to be wrong, allowed to be wrong. I glanced down at the book she was reading, the gaudy cover’s sterile geometry of primary colors, entranced by its slick de Stijl austerity.

“I’m, um… I’m an artist.”

“Really, you’re an artist? Wow.”

“Just saying that, boy—don’t I sound pretentious?”

“No, no. Not at all. What’s your, y’know, media?”

“I’m more of a conceptual artist, kinda. I used to be really into the, the Factualists. My work is sort of neo-Factualist. It’s about the process, the encounter with inspiration. Living to be taken by the moment; willfully forgetting the self. Well, not really ‘willfully’ since that’s the part we’re trying to forget: the ego, the will, the conscious imposition of grids and signs and systems. Once you accept everything… everything is already quotation, then—”

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s way cool.”


“Yeah, what project are you working on now?”

I surprised myself with this patter I was making up on the spot.

“I’ve been thinking about… well, that’s why I wanted to talk to you. You think you’d want to help me?”

“Sure, I guess. Whatcha have in mind?”

“I’ll show you. Here, come with me.” I took her hand again. I led her past the stacks of history and social sciences, around the Romance Readers Club display case and the grizzled fragments on the neighborhood notice board, down the steps into the basement where I flicked the switch on a single halogen bulb. The basement was cluttered with a few dollies that held items to be re-shelved, a bin of remaindered and damaged books, and a cardboard box full of mildewed paperbacks for the biannual fundraiser. The wooden hulk of the old card catalog, a pair of copy machines, and a few beat-up stuffed toys donated to the children’s corner loomed along the wall opposite. “—Would you want to be a model?”

“How? Really? Me?”

I had no answer. I was about to say I’d memorize her, and then reproduce her image later; that the decay of memory was part of our design,

the neo-Factualists. I hesitated, though, realizing that I did want to preserve her image somehow, enraptured past my ordinary reticence. I looked around. “The photocopiers, over there. —Do you have any change?”

She rummaged in her jeans. “Some,” she said, pulling up a bright handful. I touched the old machine, and it vibrated, hiccupped. I rattled a coin down its chute.

“Good. Just press your face against the glass and close your eyes.” I gently leaned the lid over her head. I fiddled to adjust the margins. By some miracle, it worked: a green iridescent line bathed her in its aquarium light. A grainy black-and-white paper rolled out the side compartment. The eerie image looked as if it had been created by radiation blurs, electron wisps; freckled with flaws and beauty marks. The copier only took half her face. “That came out perfect. Ok, turn around and do the left side now.” After repeating the process, I edged the papers together, suturing the lip, the overlap between them: her serene expression and hollow, eyeless gaze made the image resemble the shroud of Turin.

“Let’s do the rest.”

I helped her take off her cardigan, her blouse, her bra. These things were happening. Cold blue veins swam like tiny rivers below the thin skin of her breasts. The whole ritual took maybe twenty-thirty minutes, tops. We created a small book, a life-size facsimile. Proportionately, she was the Renaissance archetype, seven heads tall. The Xerox bleached-out her skin and caused her features to darken by contrast. Knots of hair turned up solid black. The same blot and smudges on the glass showed on every page.

“Hey, thanks,” I said.

“Yeah.” She put her clothes back on and walked upstairs. By the time I followed her up, no one was there, not even the old drooling gork.

Two days later, after my mother’s funeral, I returned to the library. I stole down into the basement with my little copy-book. I slid each paper in the machine and Xeroxed it again, then the copy of the copy. The toner started to run out. With each iteration, the pages faded until they went blank. Only the specks and flaws along the glass still printed on the bare paper.

That winter, I moved back home. I wallpapered the copies across my old room, arranged so that as I turned my head while lying in bed, her body grew fainter until it was unrecognizable. I stared so long that her flesh burned in my eyeballs and I could see an afterimage, a negative, on the plain white wall. I must have wasted a year like that, on my bed, scanning from side to side as if slowly shaking my head no. I thought of myself as imperceptibly vanishing from the edges, becoming transparent: too much contrast, mothers and fathers, mothers and fathers, backwards to some primal error.









Copyright© William Cordeiro. White Whale Review, issue 4.2

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