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The Essay
Show #125
The Day of Atonalment
David Gunn
Beoluk slowly trudges across the desert, his legs wobbly from hours of negotiating the hot sand. He has been on foot ever since his camel, which carried all of his provisions, was spooked by a sand witch and ran off. Tired and parched, he stops, opens his canteen, and licks the last drops of condensation from the cap. Above him a flock of vultures slowly circles, patiently awaiting his impending transformation into carrion. Annoyed, he starts off again, following the fading track of the camelprints on the sand. He stumbles more frequently now, but is determined to make it to the top of the sand dune in front of him. The vultures are closer now, and he can hear them keening in parallel fifths on the wind. But miraculously, as he crests the dune, his energy spent, his lungs afire, he beholds an oasis of buildings in the distance. And beyond the buildings, the end of the desert and the beginning of scrub shrubbery. Nearly delirious with relief, Beoluk charges down the dune and scurries towards the village. He tries to call out, but his throat is too dry to make a sound. The vultures, however, squawk loudly, perturbed that their supper plans are changing before their suppurating eyes. The desert sand extends right up to the gated stone wall which surrounds the village, and Beoluk staggers through the doorway and collapses in the shade of a gnarled old oak tree. Catching his breath, he studies his surroundings. A dozen structures -- including a minaret, a mosque, a temple, and several smaller dwellings -- encircle a grassy square. In the center of the square sits a well, from which he can clearly hear the musical drip-drip-drip of water. Next to the well lurks the skeleton of a 1989 Buick coupe. Once the color of cartilaginous sea foam, it has since been bleached white by the relentless sun. Oddly, no inhabitants can be seen, although Beoluk can hear snatches of conversation in a dialect reminiscent of hot wax. He gets to his feet, scuttles over to the well, and drinks deeply from the cool, clear water. A kippered herring mysteriously materializes on the well wall, and he eagerly gobbles it down. Glancing up, he is shocked to find his camel beside him, chewing on another herring and anxiously eyeing the water. He moves aside, allowing the beast to drink its fill. Another kippered fish, this one a salmon, lands at his feet, and he glances around to see whence it came. Suddenly, the air is full of smoked fish, all apparently having been flung from inside the temple. He is beaned by at least four more fish, and scores more litter the ground around him. The door to the temple opens then, and a wizened old man in a navy brown cossack appears carrying a goat. He marches towards Beoluk, passes him without comment, then puts the goat in the Buick and clambers in behind him. The car starts -- another miracle -- and the odd couple drives through the gate and out into the desert. A dozen people clad in costumes more suited to a Texas barbecue emerge from the temple brandishing kippered fishes, which they hurl into the air with great glee, rhythmically chanting "yum yum yum" in a singsong manner that mocks tonality, though the camel seems to enjoy the vocal cacophony. Abruptly, hundreds of thousands of shrews rush into the courtyard, their yellow bodies turning the grassy square into a squirming carpet of jaundiced fur. This elicits hearty cheers from the people of the temple, and they scurry around, scooping up as many of the sharply snouted critters as they can before disappearing back into the temple. All is again quiet, except for the camel, which begins to mimic the keening of the vultures.

Perplexed, Beoluk searches for clues as to what it all means. His quest eventually takes him to one of the camel's panniers, from which he withdraws a minature high band digital radio. Uplinking to the TELSAT communications satellite overhead, he dials in 91.1 FM, home of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar ... specifically this very 125th episode, where he hopes to learn the significance of his journey through the desert.

So as not to disappoint anyone who has traveled so far under such extraordinary conditions, we do have an answer. Perhaps not the answer, but an answer nonetheless. The goat, the desert, the kippers, the old man, the atonality, the rampaging shrews, even the ululating of "yum" -- they all add up to the fact that Beoluk has unwittingly been party to the ritual of Yum Kippers, the Shrewish Day of Atonalment where a high priest drives the symbolic scapegoat of the kol nidre -- or le flambeau oriange -- into the desert. The singing camel and the vultures, on the other hand, probably mean that he's late on a mortgage payment and will likely face eviction from his flat when he gets home.

And home is the best place from which to view the next two hours of alchemical radiophony, and who better to ply the ingredients than our own wondering chew, Kalvos.

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