“Jesters” by Marianne Villanueva

The house is moist and warm.  When you close your eyes, you could almost be enclosed in a womb.  Outside the window, trees are swaying. It is cold.  Unseasonably cold for September.

A strange morning. You woke to a new light, grayish and cool. No longer the intense white glare of the past weeks. Blue mountains now hazy in the distance. Someone told you what they were called, but you immediately forgot.


There is so much weight here: the house, the barn, the chestnut horses in the field, the Chinese elms, the white porch, the brick path, the flowering oregano bushes, the Steinway grand, the porcelain vases, the shelves and shelves of books:  Culture & Anarchy, Multilingual Lexicon of Linguistics and Philology, Cassell’s Italian Dictionary, The World and the Text. You run your hands over the dusty spines. You finger the books. You feel yourself melting, slowly.

Make it a game. Can you? A for Articulation. What they are always telling you at meetings.  Something to do with “requirements.” These are somewhat rigid.  Why can’t you follow?

B for Because. Because you feel different. No, are. You are different. Because there are built-in redundancies.

C is for crumbling. They all say it means nothing. C for courage, they say. C for courage. But you think, more like a cawing. They are cawing. And C also for cosmos. Cosmos gone to pieces.

D for demiworlds of eyes, fates, heaven, hell, illusions, knots (your insides tied up in), labels, the labels. What is this world? You ask: Do I dare, do I dare, do I dare?

E for Eye, Eyes. Eyes of the examiner. The way the others look at you:  make-believe, primeval, glittering, ogres, they are all ogres, how telling, their silences, how they vanquish you.

F for fate, heaven and hell again, jesters, knots, again the make-believe, the freak, the eye of the freak, the show, the zeitgeist, what zeitgeist, the lessons, the lessons, the lessons, the first. The first lesson is always the hardest, they repeat:  always the hardest.

G for grace, G for good. Good heavens, and then heaven again, how good her sister was, how much you wanted, yes, amazing how you always return to that:  jesters, knots, labels again, labels of Splendor, mirth, people nodding, heads nodding, where?

H for hell, heaven, either of which leads to jeers, make-believe, ogres, always ogres, falling, black space –- how frightened you were of Mrs. A – Mrs. A hated, hated. Hello! There is always someone new coming. Hello and hello and hello!  Please be seated, please be quiet, how the hell, how the hell are you expected to know?

Illusions, you say everything is this, one must yield, always yield. Yield to the I.  The I most precious. Without the I everything is illusion, fiction, de-lusion.

Jesters’ knots, make-believe, primeval, ogres, ogres are primeval, silence most telling, sleights of hand, snarled wisdom, sprinkled like pepper, sprinkled like salt, filled with shades, the past is elusive – oh!

Knots, knots, always more knots:  primeval, quivering, rhymes, quivering rhymes, knowledge, ignorance, all knotted up, how can she — ? Knowledge and ignorance: knowledge kills, kills, has always killed, and now you know this, now you know this, you can’t, you can’t not step on the crack.

Labels, language, language is the skin, the skin of reason, without language we are all make-believe, noises, quavering, language, language is quavering. Lying is also language. And being late, late for everything. For mass, for instance, Dearest Mum’s face, you’re last again.  You’re lost again.  Labia, you were 12. What is labia, you ask your mother. In answer, your mother shouts, Will you just listen to the mouth on that girl? Now you know: Labia means lips.

Make-believe: noise, ogres, primeval, shades, rhymes, silence vanquished, let us vanquish, oh! Am I mad? Tell me, am I?

Noise: ogres, primeval, quavering, shades, telling, slightly, yield, careful, measure, carefully measure, thoughts between and around, through, behind, between, beside, laughter, bark, nothing and nothing and nothing and nothing.

Ogres: primeval, quivering, shades, another, risk, reward, once-upon-a-time, probable, improbable? Observe, said your biology teacher. Observe the twitching of the cell, observe the twitching of the frog, observe the twitching of the fetus, the pig, the fish, the snake. Observe, ogre, oatmeal. You hate. Oatmeal.

Prelude. Prelude to the primeval: quavering, shades, silence, vanquish, punctuation, place, prayer, oh Ave Maria, oh father oh mother oh –

Quavering silences, Queen, what queen? Questions, disguises, quiet, quiet, shhh –

Rhymes, rivers, shades, vanquished, wishes, rain. Rain, go away. Go away.  Round. Rogue. You rogue. Get thee gone, you rogue. Remember. And remember.

Shades. Vanquished. Wishes vanquished. Twenty. Twenty is a series.  Twenty your age when suddenly your mother lost it, when your father lost it, when your family lost it. Serious. Why are you always so serious, the boys ask. Laugh a little!

Telling, silence. Tell, tell. What happened when you were twenty-two. You always knew, you always knew. Intuitively. Terror, this is what terror feels like. You are in the dark somewhere. And you are with someone you don’t know. Tears, tears. Tears run down your face. Down your face.

Until… until vanquished. Yield. Until. Retribution. Recall. Recall what happened. War. War becomes extinct. Must become extinct.

What can she say? V is for voice. Or violin. Whatever. You choose. Whatever you like.

Wishes. Wishes yield. Yield to Zeitgeist. Wish it wasn’t… so hot. So bitter, so bitter. So white, so black. So orange. So red. So black.

X = the experiment. X’s and O’s. Some series are tens. Others twenty-four.  Some series are scarecrows.


Z is a nice letter. So pointed, so angular. The sound is sharp. Za Za Za. Sing it. Sing the song. Sing for the last time.

More fiction at Used Furniture.


  1. L. Howan says:

    Villanueva is truly the Mistress/Master of the unimaginable and the sublime.

  2. Lillian, Thank you for the sublime compliment!
    I also wanted to thank David for publishing “Jesters”: I read this piece today, in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, where I and six other writers were invited to participate in the Edgar P. Richardson symposium on the current exhibit, “Asian American Portraits of Encounter” . .

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