And so it came to pass that the one who sought isolation was to be made a circus sideshow, and such were the times that sideshows were to be made the main act. Side shows were nearly all anyone had anymore. Light flooded into the woods in a fashion much brighter than the moon had intended for the nightscape, meant as much to illuminate every grain of so-seen rustic dirt and stone as to illuminate the story of the recluse, the beast, the illuminated himself. The dirt and stone were mere symbols of the unbearable withdrawal that was meant to be called to the minds of the soon-to-form throngs of viewers, the coagulating masses—“How could someone live like this?” they would question in unison. And it was by choice? But surely no one could choose such a thing for himself: the legends must be true; the fool had gone crazy after the war, that half-wit-or-less; this isn’t a man at all, but an animal; no, lower than an animal, because he could have chosen differently. Opinion was being formed even as the cameras had yet to cross the arc of the hill.
Perhaps what will be missed in their minds is the reversion, this man’s use of a cave as a fig leaf. He had eaten the fruit long ago and had begun to see the Eye of God upon his nakedness—but shame and embarrassment at his nakedness were not his, rather an indignation that he should be looked upon at all in such a way without invitation. The Eye compelled him to cover himself, yes, but he had seen what the wind, thick with messages, endless and seemingly incoherent messages, had blown upon those who didn’t seek shelter, an air itself so heavily clothed in messages that everyone could not help but wear them themselves. Oh, it wasn’t nakedness he was fearful of, it was the wrong wardrobe being thrust upon him, clothes that did not fit and were not his; it was the lack of awareness of being clothed and with what clothes and from where simply because they were convenient and would shield one’s flesh from the wind—this is what he feared. Of course no one saw the fig leaf in the cave, or the cave in the fig leaf. It took me until now to see it myself.
He preferred the stale air of his cave to the turbulence outside, his cave the physical manifestation of his awareness of the turbulence, as if he had willed the cave into existence; he preferred the air that he alone had been inhaling and exhaling for years. Somehow it was never exhausted or unbreathable, as a mountain spring draws its source from some great unseen depth within the stone without running dry, and indeed makes the gulfs and oceans jealous with its purity. He breathed this air deeply now as the rabble approached, as if to intoxicate himself with its richness, to become so sedated so as to ruin whatever grand moment of discovery the cameras were craving.
The lights penetrated yet more deeply the trees and undergrowth, surging forward as a wave and blazing paths through the forest, paths quickly swarming with the cameras, microphones, wires and their affixed hands, feet and mouths with ears oddly small. It was a surreal and unnatural sight amongst an unfamiliar backdrop. Such places were meant to be manufactured for film; the untouched was not meant to exist today except for as a stage. But maybe by the mere presence of this swarm it became manufactured, a transformation thrust upon all things within the Eye. These foreign hills, undeveloped and living in the past, lived underneath a sky teeming with passing signals, and had the whirling images and sounds not penetrated the foliage? Surely it had all been absorbed, the trees succumbing to a photosynthesis that has folded like the flock to incorporate the images and sounds into their very fibers so that the trees would sprout leaves of proportions too perfect to have been formed by nature herself. Yes, that’s how it would work. Subtly. Trees sway with the wind, too; the winds blow through them. Why should they remain unaffected? But the place, like the person it housed, resisted change and resisted the flood of lights and of the excited rabble of the surging reporters, each vying for the most favorable position from which to capture—and indeed it was to capture—something as yet uncaptured in as majestic or dejected a vision as possible to create the desired storyline; an angle chosen for the story dictating an angle for the cameras, for the lights, for the glitz and glamour or fritz and horror, whatever was decided; it’s all to become the template for everyone’s reality at the expense of the recluse—a nightmare for him, and for me.
At least, I’d like to believe that the trees lifted their roots to protect the man, tried to trip the reporters and smash their cameras, to strangle the advancing pseudopodia of the Great Amoeba. But the trees were unchanged by the always-growing buzz in the air; neither did they try to stop the invaders nor did they bow to their advances. They could neither be pulled into the fold nor could they rebel against it. They simply stood by, idle and complacent spectators to an assault, bearing dumb witness to this new onslaught as they had to the occasional blast of dynamite in the search for coal and again to the staccato cracks of gunfire during the Civil War many years before: yet another ring, not unlike any of the others in their trunks, unrecognizing and mute, unconsciously gained. The trees could offer no defense; only the cave remained, and it had already been compromised by loose lips. I would say that the man will soon be discovered, but he had already been discovered with the first words confirming his very existence in a plane more tangible than legend. Even as I hoped and tried to fool myself into believing that he would be spared the embarrassment—that I would be spared the shame of his embarrassment—I knew that headlines and articles were being written, that graphics were being designed, that endless monikers were being contrived in order to bring this recluse into the fold, for no one could be allowed out. Someone who had so consciously and devoutly resisted his integration could not simply be made an object like the rest of us, but rather a centerpiece so that he could not once again withdraw: a spectacle. He would be followed, stalked endlessly into tirade and resignation, into ebb and flow, through every turn into obscurity, into death and beyond. The record would not disappear. The Eye would move cicadically unto its next repast but it never forgets; what it sees is digested into Zeitgeist and transformed into archetype, into the foreknowledge of the next generation and every generation to come, the recluse’s own reality being contorted further with each retelling, each retelling a reformulation because the old must become new again to be resold. And so I had become his original purveyor. A slip of the tongue turned to a lashing of the tongue, a whip toward subjugation into the Great Circus of sideshows.