Genre: pre-series/post-series, character study, lol eschatology, weird
Characters: Claire Novak, Pamela, Amelia, Jimmy
Word Count: ~1850
Warnings: Pretentious Heaven fic. Futurism.
Summary: Claire Novak sits in a chair.
Notes: Written for canadian_plant during spn_jimmynovak's Novakfest 2011 for the prompts, Claire, future!fic AU, time travel, side effects of being a vessel, shenanigans. Also, switchbladesis's photographer!Claire inspired photographer!Claire in this story, as well as my participation in this exchange, so many, many thanks to her! <3
ENTER STAGE LEFT Novak, Claire, a storyteller of her time. It is now some time after her time, in most places but here. It's confusing, but that's Heaven for you. She sits in a chair and reads a magazine--Atlanta Monthly. Her first feature. It hit the newsstands twelve years ago. It hit them twelve minutes ago. (Will hit them in ten seconds. Give or take two.)
There is a figure, leaning over her shoulders. Leaning over her reading. "Impressive," says the figure. Her name is Pamela, and she's been here before. She's always walking into other peoples Heres--occupational hazard.
"Old news," says Claire.
"It's a paper in Georgia, not Heaven. They have time there." She slides a receipt from the centerfold. "And sales tax."
Claire Novak aims a Polaroid at an ant and watches as a blur bleeds through the red gray.
"Where's the ant?" says her father. Claire frowns.
"It used to be right there," says her father. Sometimes he likes to pretend she is a little girl, just a little girl. Then he'll turn around and ask her how pre-calculus is going, even though she's not big enough for that yet. It's an annoying game he plays that she doesn't miss, even when he's gone. (They'll have almost four more years together.)
"It used to be right there, Claire."
He always rhymes when he plays this game.
Claire looks at the Polaroid's murky surface. With the ballpoint in her father's breast pocket, she writes, "This is a picture of an ant." below the frame. And it is.
"You're not much fun, you know that?"
She's been told. She and her mother both; they're different from the others, now. They were different. In Heaven, she suspects they're all the same again, Paradise of Equality and all that. But there are too many angels in the air here, crowding out the oxygen like a silent, tasteless killer. Sometimes, she thinks that Paradise is tranquil because it is tranquilizing: Barbiturate needles waiting like cross-hairs in back alleys. Gaseous angels turning tongues and blinding eyes. Everything's equal and everyone's happy because of a trick of refracting light, the bending of sound waves. The surveillance kills Claire's notion of 'paradise'; she's not much for angels, and she's not much for Heaven.
She knows Pamela disagrees.
"You treat me like a twelve-year old," she says, because even angels can't argue fact. "That's why I'm not much fun."
Heaven treats her like a twelve-year old, too. (Play with these old, familiar memories, darling. Be happy, don't think too much. You are a child of God, not a peer.)
"That's because you look like one," Pamela says. Claire knows. She was nineteen when the Atlanta published her photograph. When Pamela sees here in this place, in this time, she is nineteen.
And Claire rolls her eyes, the full-breasted and thirty-something thickened the day she died. "Heaven's lying to you. You can't believe everything you see."
"Heaven's always lying to someone, Claire."
Her father has an ant crawling up the back of his calf. It's black against a pale white that hasn't seen the sun this summer. Jimmy, engrossed in the pyramidal altar of charcoal he and Auntie Jackie made, doesn't notice.
Claire watches from the shade of the picnic table, and draws circles in the fine dust beneath it. When she looks up, there's another, and another. Then they're pouring out of the ground like the black smoke that rises up from the charcoal and Auntie Jackie's overdose of lighter fluid.
Her father's leg disappears in a cloud of ants.
When she's fifteen (and thirty-something, let's not forget. When she is all ages, with Heaven focusing on one), Claire falls in love with Shaena Vu. She's older, not quite eighteen, one of Amelia's classmates at the night school. An accounting student who is actually a photographer.
"My mother's a photography student," Claire tells her, when they are all waiting for the bus together. "Who's actually an accountant." (Which is not entirely true. Amelia is an accountant who finds sulfur under her nails some days, when the storms are bad. She doesn't like the look of her eyes in the dark, when her pupils dilate. She hates when the lights flicker, and the electricity goes out. She takes photos because she likes to remember that in 24mm, kittens are kittens and bubblegum is bubblegum. She's grown to tolerate the dime store aesthetic. The real art these days--abstract, post-modern--seems all too real.)
"Angels see in still frame," Claire explains, both to Shaena and to Pamela. "Demons see in fractals." Her own eyes are shut. She breathes like she's straddling time zones, a syncopated beat that begins in Atlanta, Georgia and ends three hours over. She leans back in her chair, knocks back into Pamela's chest, which gives softly.
Shaena is sitting across from her--religiously skeptical, but kind about it.
"You probably won't see that day here," says Claire. She shrugs away Pamela's fingers, and looks away from Shaena. "The day Castiel came home, and my mother was possessed by a demon. Obviously. This is Heaven. But even in Heaven I can't--not see that. Ever--"
"How do you know about the angels?" Pamela interjects. "About what they see."
"I've been one."
That day does not feature in anyone's Heaven.
"They must've gotten drowned out when your cousins tipped the kiddie pool over," Jimmy says when Claire will not come back out of the house. She's huddled by the screen door, reading a book. She does not look at him. (The screen makes him look black, like ants.)
Claire shakes her head.
"They're ants, baby girl. They're cute, and they taste like blackberries. You like ants."
"God made them," says Jimmy. "They live in the ground like families of tiny angels."
He opens the screen door, and with a pale, unblackened hand, places one ant on her knee.
"What did you think it was?" ask Pamela and Shaena. They are decades apart and miles separate, but their cadences are the same. They harmonize.
"The doctor said focal epilepsy. My mother said, Thank God."
"But you knew what really caused it," says Pamela. Her lips twist coyly. Conspiratorial smile. Shaena says nothing, is lost. (This is probably the day Claire falls out of love with Shaena; they stop understanding each other.)
"We both knew. The difference between reality and Heaven is in reality, we were just lying to ourselves."
"Misleading name, then."
Claire doesn't turn to face her. She wonders, if she did, if she'd see Pamela's eyes whole or not. She's seen futures or pasts and she knows the things that have happened to her. Claire sees Shaena sitting across form her, watches her bleed into Pamela like a zoetrope spinning. Pamela: sitting on a barstool with a man in her lap. Hands around his ass. His are down her shirt. She watches in still-frame as what is not a romance unfolds.
And Claire, This is focal epilepsy as God himself has never seen it. If that is what they think it is.
This is a picture of an ant.
She told the Atlanta Monthly in an interview once. What inspired her--what she saw in her craft. It amounted to two sentences in an anniversary-issue editorial column no one read.
But what she said was this:
Angels see in still-frame. God exists outside of time, and so is omniscient and omnipresent, but angels are not. If they can see everything, it's only in stills that suggest movement in multiple places and multiple times that even an angel--especially an angel--cannot conceive of. ("Think about Balla," says Claire, when the editor doesn't follow. The editor doesn't know Balla. When she asks if he knows his dog, he laughs, and tells her she is a funny girl, Miss Claire Novak. She knows how to let a man keep his dignity. And what veterinarian does Balla take his dog to?
Claire can think of no response that would dignify his answer.)
This is a copy of a picture of an ant.
"I get you," Pamela says. "The whole still-frame deal. I get you."
"Do you know Balla?" Claire asks. (Shaena did.)
"He a whiskey distributor?" says Pamela. She doesn't give a fuck who Balla is.
"He had a dog with nine legs."
"I saw an ant with six legs once," says Pamela. You can't surprise me with Weird, kiddo, she says. See how silly it sounds to me? she says. "But the last thing I saw on Earth was you."
"I burned your eyes out."
"I saw you, I saw your father walking away, and I saw Castiel."
This is a picture of a camera that has just taken a photo of an ant.
"When did you die?"
"After you were born, if that's what you're asking. I was always more a seance kind of girl than a tarot one. The future's just too predictable."
"It's not what I'm asking. I know you saw me. You have to have lived that long."
Pamela clicks her tongue. "Angels this, Heaven that, and you still thing chronology means a damn thing?"
Claire shrugs. Touché.
2009, says Pamela. Because linearity is convenient, if limiting. Early 2009. She was waiting for 2012, as all psychics do, but she's doesn't think she missed that much. Claire doesn't remember much of 2012, and so agrees.
"You missed the end of the world," she says.
"No; I know the boys who saved it."
You missed the end of the world, Claire repeats. "But it came back, is what I'm saying. It was just this constant string of explosions and decimations, small wars and big economic waves Years and years of small apocalypses layered on top of one another."
"I'm not really into New Age stuff." Pamela throws her curls over her shoulder, fingers sliding between denim and stitches, hooking into tiny pockets. "Tacky lies."
Claire stands up. "Lies are the closest we'll ever get to describing what the world is really like."
There's a black smear across Claire's Epson Ultra Premium Luster.
"What is that, Claire?" asks her professor. It's her senior year at Emory. Honors program.
"A picture of an ant," she says.
"The assignment was realism."
And Claire says, "I know." She says, "I didn't want to lie anymore."
Claire blinks, protracted fluttering motions taking Heaven in long exposure. Pamela trails behind herself when she moves to take Claire's hand.
"I can show you where that ant went. You know the one."
Pamela points to her left, where there is sometimes a door. "Yes, you do."
Heaven is memory--the selective memory of angels. There are no new answers there. No answered questions. You remain as you entered, and you never leave. (And eventually, you forget you ever came. The angels whisper eternity in your lungs, and one day all days, you believe them.)
Claire closes her eyes and watches the fringe of her father's bargain coat slip from her field of vision. She smiles.
This is an ant.
Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, Giacomo Balla (1912)