The Exemplar – Nick Norton 

Inevitable change! Evolution? Are not these the topics of youth? they scoff.

The council gathers. Its members harangue one another. Voices rise, fingers wag, and small amounts of granular accident tumble over shoulders. This powder accumulation hits the tiled floor and becomes a noticeable drift: dust and dandruff, cobwebs, the emptied shells of woodlice. It is said that this personal detritus is why the chamber is tiled in such an elegant fashion.

The council gathers but rarely, and when gathered it is inevitable that disagreements ensue. The council members do not take great pleasure in being winkled out of their chambers. One may suppose that the tiled floor of the chamber is an ancestral memory of discomfort. They are pushed toward one another with visible disdain smeared about their faces.

These are the topics of youth. An interminable change, it is a bodily thing. The brain itself may want the upmost stability and yet sweat and… Fluids, let us say that.

Fluids? Must we say that?

It has been recorded. It has been duly noted. Fluids are now in the record.

A body dominated by fluids.

Oh! You go too far!

Such a body cannot wait upon the thought of stasis, despite the gratifications of staying; such a body will be in a state of continual swimming.

And that is exactly the point. Evolution is mutation, mutation is fluid; therefore the body swims. Youth is mutation. Mutating; this is the topic of youth. A childishness in culture which is coming back as a popular product. This is the underlying stupidity which makes all products popular.

You are against swimming?

Most surely.

Hmm, then we may be in accord.

We are both wizened and desiccated accretions of dry fibre. Therefore, we are stable. Therefore, there shall be no swimming for, naturally, we float atop of the surface.


The council pauses for a round of righteous coughing and this dissolves into an extended moment of unconditional spluttering. The dreck of personal hygiene is shook down. A storm is generated by this collected quivering, such a storm that piles of sand-like substance covers their feet. Fleshy dust is creeping up toward shin height. Still the council rally around. They gather into their musty odour, and still they persist in speaking.

Stress begets change yet the stressed system believes only in no change.

Inevitable change, and that this change is inevitable; we must acknowledge how difficult such a moment is. A moment of difficultly beyond comprehension.

Com-pre–hensile? What?

The man spoken to is spitting. Another old chap is crying. A servant of the chamber has appeared, and she is beginning to sweep up.

By and by, one laughed, it appears a fluid still stirs within me!

There is a rustling of movement akin to a rodent scuttling through autumnal undergrowth. The servant spots the danger sign and discretely escapes. The coughing and spitting continues so that the muck remnants on the floor begin to resemble porridge. Next; their smoking pipes are called for. Different lackeys, different uniform. The pipe smoking is accounted a thing of ritual. The smoking heralds a conclusion, end of business. There is always a sense of gratification and even a mustering of comradely feeling. Obviously every last one of these council members delight in the prospect of retiring to their chambers. The stunk pot is wheeled out. The stunk pot is a finely crafted example of the old way. It has big red plastic boots which skirt over its wheels. From either side extend two hands; one hand is said to represent friendship and largesse; the other hand indicates just judgement and thus points toward exile. The mask hung on the front of this stunk pot is a complex glyph of humanity; the smile is a sigil of hope, the eyes are portals into all seeing, beyond seeing, and the nose is a seal of right judgement, the tool of a connoisseur, and hence it is justifiably bulbous.

One by one the servants of the people approach this ancient receptacle and, lifting the lid, they fill their pipes. This weed is said to have many beneficial properties. No one has noticed any one member of the council dying for many a year. Decade after decade they persist, their discussions are recorded, their good sense is transferred into the law of the land. And now, as tradition demands, they will smoke together before retiring to the hermetic tasks of their privacy. A match is ignited, a tallow is lit, and the flame is passed between them. Sparks from the puffing and wallowing, from the sucking and sighing; sparks rise into the chambers and then drift down onto the emulsified mush of shed skin, hair, snot, sperm and spit. In amongst the mellowing of the council, a new sound is heard. It is a secondary burp, swallowing itself in a tiny rush of bubbles. From the muck of the tiled floor, and no one notices this, a homunculus rues its existence. This tiny figure shakes itself free, not quite able to comprehend the enormity of its tiny existence. And yet, it realises, the sudden terror of life is nonetheless good. It makes a break for the chamber’s doors as they open: Light is pouring into the smoky brew, a vertical shaft of brilliance. The council’s old men are staggering onto uncertain feet, demanding assistance from the footmen. A singular new life dodges in between legs. The cleaner alone sees the creature, and as it struggles through the offensive mounds of filth, she offers it refuge in her dustpan.

And thus it is recorded. This is the first and last time an exemplar of new life came forth from the council. What was small, as we now know, grows. The growing continues, and it said that council members have all sealed themselves inside their chambers with wax, vowing never again to touch the tiled flooring of the chamber.


Nick Norton’s prose can be found in Bird’s Thumb, Zeno Press, The Fiction Pool, Storgy, The Happy Hypocrite, The Cabinet of Heed, Shooter, Epoque Press, Idle Ink, Adjacent Pineapple, Fictive Dream, The Honest Ulsterman, and elsewhere.
His book “AKA: A Genealogy of the Saddle” is described by Patrick Keiller: A joy to read…brings a headlong, associative sensibility to the literature of landscape.   @NMNorton2


Image via Pixabay


cabinet of heed contents issue 16

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