Present

Miles Klee
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readAug 12, 2013

I can’t believe it’s now.

Now. I can’t believe in the present. Now. Every moment is part of a future, the past, and never part of a now. Right now I’m twenty-eight years old, on a couch, looking up from my laptop and out of east-facing windows at evening clouds both white and gray. Sunlight is touching the nearby housing projects in a way it does just once each day, igniting the brick in a bloom of aching, phosphorescent orange.

No, I don’t believe that. Not at all. How could I? I’m already dead. I haven’t been born. There’s nothing for me to believe. I can’t believe in not believing, either — so what am I writing about? The now, which is not a convincing proposition. Who came up with the lie of the present? Is it rude to ask? Do we not have quite the words to answer?

I’m the ghost of unremembered someone, tangled up with a breathing nobody. What would make more sense. There’s an inside-outness here. You’re can’t squeeze down the rabbit hole, it’s not for you, just stick some fingers in and feel around. Clairce Lispector, in Água Viva: “I stopped to drink cool water: the glass at this instant-now is of thick faceted crystal and with thousands of glints of instants. Are objects halted time?”

Now it is a different now, some billion instants apart from the last. It’s late morning and I am in the country and it is a clear blue day; my brother is in New Jersey, my sister some mountainous region of California, my parents touring castles on the west coast of Ireland but about to make their journey home. Buenos Aires exists, and so does Tokyo. Everyone alive is alive. How can all of that be? Simultaneity is witchcraft.

My mother took a trip long ago, to visit a friend in Arizona. This friend had, till then, survived her cancer for years with fruit diets and other natural treatments. Weeks later, I opened our family camera and exposed unfinished film — ruining, as I found out, my mother’s last photographs with her childhood friend, destroying the proof of something already painfully slight. I’ve rarely hated myself as I did then, the useless roll of film in my palm, and able still to imagine the orange Arizona cliffs at sunset, the ignited color of the building I described the other day, or at the beginning of this essay.

Death is a perfect now, it must be. My mother-in-law tells me that lying in a hospital bed, her sister turned and said: “Why am I dying today?” She awaited no real tomorrow. In Hansjörg Schertenleib’s novella A Happy Man, the protagonist, a jazz trumpeter whose talent is to make each moment infinite and true, knows bliss until the moment he’s killed by a streetcar — no suffering, just the end. The story of him doesn’t flash before his eyes. There is no space in the present for embellishment.

When can I be said to inhabit the present, I wonder. It’s only when recognizing that I have forgotten myself that I’m sure I’ve been to the world of the present, but by then it is too late, I am in the next frame, I had not the subtle knack to notice the place I’d been — I apprehend it, and by then it has withdrawn, collapsed. When I am politely told to quit my annoying whistling, or annoy myself with the same idle noise, I have been to the present but come back empty-handed, alone.

There was the afternoon a neighbor’s house burned down. Nothing to do but watch. A woman with long black tangled hair, as if she’d been asleep, was distraught as smoke poured from the windows and the white walls buckled and warped behind the heat. There was hardly any flame, the house looked as though it was melting, not burning, and more and more neighbors gathered at the curb to watch. The house was burning, it burned, and then suddenly it was burned. Firefighters arrived and put out the fire, but they had missed the whole thing.

Presence requires an absence, we can admit that much. I swam in a pool after dusk last week — last month? Who cares. The surface steamed. The underwater glow was up inside the trees. Now and then a form darted out and was briefly visible over the pool, then gone. Little brown bats on the hunt. They couldn’t be held in your sight, and it was how they disappeared that made you sure you’d seen them: they glided into a seamless dark.

A few tomorrows and I was chest-deep in the ocean, diving into gentle waves, when two helicopters passed overhead, bellies bright. Unlike the bats, they chopped up the air, insisting on their presence. I greatly doubted them. I stared and stared, and they shrank to dots of paint above the blinding beach, and I doubted them all the way.

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