Patrick Ryan: “Which Way To the Osterling Cloud?” from Tin House, Summer 2011

Art by Ove Tøpfer

Art by Ove Tøpfer

Of this much I’m sure: the Subject doesn’t like being told what he is or how he should live. He’s never understood nor desired to understand this world.

Another story that snuck up on me. I was all ready to dismiss it as a cutesy stylistic near-future spec-fic romp – a report (complete with footnotes) from an alien observer (guardian angel?) reporting to his/her superior, The Elected, on The Subject, an aged artist, in that defamiliarizing sense of “look how these humans live”. Yeah, yeah, been there, done that. A few chuckles over the footnotes about earlier reports, about interpretations of the phrase “pack rat”… Except – not so fast. What makes humans cry? “My theory is that, in a more immediate sense, accumulated frustration makes him cry. Recently, I’ve observed the Subject trying to draw – for the first time in many years – a self-portrait, and the undertaking hasn’t been going well. In one effort, he has the appearance of a wire spring in motion. In another. He looks like a question mark.” What prevents them from crying? “…[H]e’s somehow managed to maintain his belief that We’ll facilitate his departure.”

Then the pilgrims come. A couple of teenage kids have located The Adherent, as the artist was known in his heydey. They already have his painting, “Which Way To The Osterling Cloud?” purchased at a garage sale and they just want to talk to him, perhaps in the belief that blogging about the encounter will increase the value of the painting. Their chat reveals more about The Adherent and the near-future world in which they all live, and he gives them the portrait he painted of his mother. This is the reason for this Report to The Elected:

I submit to the Elected that we may have made a mistake in waiting so long. The Subject’s belief seems to be slipping, yielding to the accumulation of so many years, so much loss. As mentioned in several earlier transmissions, the portraits – of his mother, his father, his three siblings, and the rest – all were created so that when We finally arrived, we would see the state of things and correct all wrongs by carrying these people away. But I think we may have gotten off track. We may have become too preoccupied with collecting information and pondering over reports that, if compiled, would roughly equal the size of the Subject’s diary. Meanwhile, his stripping the walls of the house and either packing or giving away nearly all of his possessions suggests to me that he is no longer certain We will arrive at all.

Ok, I’m a sap, but it was quite a moving Report. I’m hoping the Elected gets his ass in gear.

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2 responses to “Patrick Ryan: “Which Way To the Osterling Cloud?” from Tin House, Summer 2011

    • Hi Shelly – gee, I hope not, since it isn’t mine. i probably got it from another blog. I’ve become a lot more careful about crediting photos, so I’m not sure why I didn’t fix this one, I should replace it with something I can credit properly, thanks for bringing it to my attention. [There... that's better]

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