Number Twos

Two lovely sharpened pencils you have there: traditional yellow, hexagonal cross-section, good ol’ Number Twos, perfect for blue-lined three-holed notebook paper, perfect for filling in your multiple-choice selections on Scantron forms. Your brief dalliance with the mechanical versions lasted just long enough to discover you couldn’t handle not knowing how much lead you had left, but, more intensely than that, yet not considered consciously until now, how much you needed the occasional break of getting up to sharpen and the ritual feel of the spinning blades biting into wood then gradually caressing the point smooth.

And then there’s that eraser. Monstrous grubby white thing: the death of words, destroyer of decisions that are only permanent if they are eventually left to stand. Because you can’t stand the pink marks where a blank space ought to be, and God forbid you wear the pencil-top nubbin down to the metal band and it tears the paper.

You see it now, don’t you? Words and answers can come and go like flickering fish from the shallows, but it’s the paper that is precious.

Why is that?

Let’s see what else is precious. Turn that pencil around and look at the point. Look at it dead on. Hell, go ahead and push it into your eye. You have two, after all, and they don’t really track together anyway. Pick the one you’re tired of and see if you can draw on your retina.


Fair enough. You might have an eye to spare, but who wants that kind of pain, the emergency room doctors, the specialists, the endless stream of psychologists, the divorced parents blaming each other, but secretly blaming the crazy child for making their lives a special kind of hell.

It’s going to happen eventually though. You are crazy.


You’re hearing voices.


And you talk to yourself.


Oh, relax. I’m going to tell you a secret. Everyone hears voices. Or maybe just one voice. Well, that’s not entirely true. But just about everyone has that one voice: The narrator. The editor. The judge. The cajoler. The critic. The manipulator. The afterthought. The interpreter of one’s own actions to oneself. Without the voice you are an animal. With the voice you are still an animal, but an animal under rein and saddle and whip and spurs.

There’s a rabbit at the back of the classroom. Just follow the smell of used alfalfa pellets to that perpetual splinter-factory barnyard-smelling chicken-wire hutch. The rabbit has two eyes. Perhaps it needs only one. Get up. And bring a pencil.

I see you haven’t moved. But … projectile sweating. That’s a rare talent, though one of limited value.

You don’t have to freeze completely, you know. If you’re worried about what you might do to the poor widdle bunny, just stay in your seat. And feel free to wipe the perspiration off your lip.


Everyone has a voice except the people who are just animals — but animals are warm, beautiful, lovely defenseless things we should care for and protect, don’t you agree? It doesn’t diminish their rights in any way to be silent in the head, does it? Envy their peace.

There is another kind of silence, though. Another kind of quiet. When are you quiet? Speak.

“When … uh, when there is no one to talk to?”

Heh. Mostly correct. That was the answer I was looking for, in any case. But to clarify, there are those for whom the inner voice is silent because the animal it rides is so beaten down, so cowed, so absent in its own doings that the voice is completely in control and no longer needs to speak. Those people are nothing but voice, nothing but drive and whim and concept and goal and action, and that is the realm of angels and demons. In those people the animal is all but dead, and nothing is left but daemonia — pure motivating force, like the clockwork angels of hundreds of years ago that naturalists thought moved the planets and the stars.

That’s an interesting smell you are producing. Are you afraid? Of course you are. Understandable. Admirable, even.

Here’s another secret. If you ever want to get rid of this voice, all it will take is one of your pencils. You may have to sacrifice an eye, however. And it will speed things along if you pick which one in advance.

Keep your pencils sharp.


January 4, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in fiction  


2 Responses to “Number Twos”

  1. Rebecca Sherman on January 4th, 2012 11:44 am

    Exhilarating. Totally. :)

  2. xalieri on January 4th, 2012 1:43 pm

    I’m gratified this theme still seems to be working. :)


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