Man Chained to the Sky
My last client was a retired astronaut. He said he was looking for space, so I gave him a model ship in a glass bottle. It did the trick. Before him was a woman who missed the 50s. She was born in ’78. Nostalgia for a decade in which client didn’t exist? Easy. I got her a Lichtenstein print and a photo of a street lamp. The client before her was an old rich lady with Alzheimer’s. She said she wanted to be reminded of five minutes ago. I gave her a jar of colored sand and a broken watch. She liked it so much she gives my card out, though she never knows why.
I own and operate a business based entirely off my sixth sense. The part of my brain that produces nostalgia is three times the normal size. I have the ability to know what produces nostalgia for anyone I meet - strangers, clients, et cetera. They tell me what they’re looking to be nostalgic for and I find them something that represents it. Something that without fail triggers the thing within them that makes them remember, giving them the special feeling that maybe they’ve found a grip on something that’s been lost for so long. It’s a real gift. I do a service for people that genuinely improves their quality of life. Humans have a fascination with nostalgia. A fascination with their past or a past they wish they had. That’s why they call me.
A few days ago I got an anonymous call about a new client. The voice on the other end said there was a man who needed something, a service that I provide. He gave an address: Ory Tower, Roof. The next morning I met my new client there, on the roof. He was a Man Chained to the Sky, the first one I’ve seen in years. Ten years ago we used to get them all around the city. It seemed like there was a new one everyday. The papers would report each one; give their location and approximate height. They captivated people. It was a cultural phenomenon.
These Men Chained to the Sky all kind of looked the same. Their arms outstretched, their wrists in iron braces, chains extending that wrapped around the world. Sometimes the chains would overlap, creating a network of iron. The Men Chained to the Sky would appear from nowhere with long hair and bleak faces. They would mumble and twitch, grow their hair long and bleed from their eyes. Those that went high enough to hear them said their mumbles were more like whispers, like the quiet sounds of moving stones in water. After a while the papers lost track of them. People stopped wondering and stopped caring. The Men Chained to the Sky began to disappear too. Eventually they stopped appearing altogether. No one noticed.
My client looks like the other ones: naked with long black hair that falls thickly before his eyes. Cuts populate his body. Dried blood runs from his eyes to his chin, a pair of desiccated streams. This particular Man Chained to the Sky is different in one major respect, though: he speaks. Not much, but it’s intelligible. He tells me he needs to experience nostalgia. He says he doesn’t know what it feels like to be nostalgic and he needs to know. He says I have five days. Five days. How do you make a man feel nostalgic who has no memory, a man who just appeared out of nowhere a fully developed adult? How do you remind a man of something who has had no previous experience? How do you remind a man of remembering itself?
It’s been three days now and nothing I’ve tried has worked. A quiet dove, the smell of leather, a telescope pointed to the stars. The only response is a blank face. The Man Chained to the Sky breathes heavier. His speech slows, his muscles twitch less. When he cries there isn’t as much blood. He is beginning to die.
The part of my brain that’s three times the normal size isn’t helping. It’s only good for someone who misses something, not for someone with nothing to miss. I’m cycling through objects and images, scents and sensations that have helped my clients. None of these work. What is the essence of nostalgia? Time began with this Man Chained to the Sky. Time will cease for him when he dies. He will disappear like the rest of them: gods in captivity - timeless prisoners in their own historical void, living outside the river, just a puddle, an incidental splash on the bank. Nostalgia has no essence. Its only beneficiary is time.
My client died today, on the fifth day. I couldn’t understand him on the fifth day, he could barely speak. His hair had grown down to his chest and his eyes had become glossy. The roof was covered in things I had brought to him, things I’d hoped could birth nostalgia. Things pregnant with memory. How naïve. Nothing worked. Nothing could work.
Ten years after my last client died, I started accepting work again. My first client back wanted to feel nostalgic for the Men Chained to the Sky. Some coincidence. The guy was nice so I took the job, though I admit I was a bit apprehensive. I brought him to the roof of the Ory Tower, where my last client had died. My Man Chained to the Sky never made the papers. No one knew about him but me. Either way it did the trick. The guy fell silent and tears welled in his eyes.
Zachary Solomon lives in Miami, Florida where is he currently melted to the tarmac, waiting for the cool coastal breezes to unstick him. He attends University in Worcester, Massachusetts and is trying to be a real person.
Poetry in Aldeburgh 2017
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