The Imagined Congestion of Hell
At the dinner party, long past the unrhythmic discussions of family, films, books, world events, politics, investments, infidelities, sexual fantasies, a guidance counsellor at a local high school who had earlier revealed a twenty-year-ago nervous breakdown and a proclivity for blindfolded sexual experimentation, asks everyone left if they were to die in a room alone, bare except for a single painting from the history of painting, cave drawings to the most modern, including postmodern splashes of concept, he describes like an almost-drunk art historian, “What would you like that painting to be?” Then as he begins to sip another drink, now fully drunk, and the answers from those remaining leap forth, a romp through the history of art, until an elegant woman who had spoken little all night points to a kitchen wall with an oversized clock and says with the confidence of a person who has vanquished both boredom and trepidation in a single breath: “Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, the panel dealing with the imagined congestion of Hell,” and a man who has the most colourful tattoo anyone at the party has ever seen, a tattoo that two of the people at the dinner party had earlier called a work of art, asks the woman why that painting of all paintings. “Because I wanted to see what awaits me,” she says with measured words bereft of irony and he falls painfully in love.
“The Imagined Congestion of Hell” was first published in The Toucan. Used with permission of the author.
Fiction writer, poet, and playwright J. J. Steinfeld lives on Prince Edward Island, where he is patiently waiting for Godot’s arrival and a phone call from Kafka. While waiting, he has published fifteen books, including Our Hero in the Cradle of Confederation (Novel, Pottersfield Press), Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Would You Hide Me? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), An Affection for Precipices (Poetry, Serengeti Press), Misshapenness (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), A Glass Shard and Memory (Stories, Recliner Books), and Identity Dreams and Memory Sounds (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions). A new short story collection, Madhouses in Heaven, Castles in Hell, is forthcoming from Ekstasis Editions.
pictured: Hell, third panel from The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, 1480-1505.
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