ELJAY’S EXILE | Gregory Ariail
⇒I’m a big fan of DIAGRAM, the nerdy-cool lit journal that publishes a variety of prose, poetry, and images on the internet and has done so for over a decade. What I really appreciate about DIAGRAM is its variety: the journal publishes something for everyone, whether you’re into complex, outside-the-box fiction (which I am) or abstruse, minimalist poetry (which I’m not, usually). My suggestion to you is to check out the latest issue of DIAGRAM and explore its contents until you find something that’s up your alley: if you’re an avid reader, I promise you will find something that you’re in to, even if it’s one of the journal’s obscure visuals (which include baffling diagrams, palimpsests, flow charts, damaged pictures, commercial supply chain graphs, and other geeky miscellany).
My only gripe against DIAGRAM is that they keep rejecting my stuff.
Today’s featured piece, “Eljay’s Exile” by Gregory Ariail, is more on the mainstream side, but still dapples in enough magic realism and otherworldliness that it fits well in DIAGRAM’s digital pages. The story takes place in a cold, punishing landscape like one might find in any of Brian Evenson’s short stories. Eljay, the story’s titular protagonist, has been “exiled” from society (we infer that it is a somewhat self-imposed exile), and is living off the land in a shoddy lean-to he’s constructed. While in exile, he discovers on the edge of a cliff a trapped goat. Well, sort of: the goat is ensconced in a cliff about forty feet above the ground, unable to move whatsoever. For all intents and purposes, it is not a goat at all, but a goat’s head rooted into the rocky facade. Make no mistake, this is not a story about a man and a goat, but about a man and a goat’s head–which weirdness is what makes the story especially dark and compelling, however grotesque.
The protagonist and the goat head strike up an odd relationship wherein Eljay attempts to nourish the animal and the animal comes to depend on and look forward to the hero’s visits to the cliff. Weird, huh? And then a roaming trapper named Olmsted shows up and he and Eljay attempt to extricate the “goat” from its rock prison, albeit for very different reasons. The story goes on from there, plummeting the reader into an increasingly inhospitable world as winter comes and the hero struggles to survive.
This story is marvelous for a variety of reasons. On the one hand, it is the story of a young hermit attempting to create and sustain a meaningful relationship with his environment, embodied (poor choice of words) by the goat-in-the-rock. More than that, it is a portrait of a desolate, brutal landscape, one that’s both evocative of real-world wildernesses and the inner landscape of its human protagonist (and, perhaps, the reader’s own psyche). This is a story about isolation and desolation and the search for connection, among other things.
However weird it may be, however dark, it’s also laced with things like hope and the will to survive. Read this story: you won’t regret it.