The Lumping by Darrin Doyle
PN's Jason Teal on today's bonus story: Darrin Doyle’s “The Lumping” is a cautionary allegory that thrillingly brandishes the first-person plural to dramatize a public assembly: “[The man] held our discontent within himself even as we tried to deny it,” the collective reports, and we struggle alongside the speaker(s) to grasp the elusive, visceral ideology that promises “the strange and tantalizing plateau of achievement that until this moment had not been conceivable.” Utterly consumed by the fiction’s true-to-life applications, we laugh guiltily as the lump runs unopposed for whatever office, placing a bombastic operator onstage to demonstrate technique.
By lumping, he said, we will become. Not by lumping on occasion, only when it is convenient, but with discipline and devotion, passionate at all times, with disregard for lesser obligations (clearly implying that every earthly obligation fell into this category). If everyone lumped three times a day, he stammered and sweated, ours would be a world of transcendence and joy. To lump is to live; to live, lump.
Naturally it would be difficult to make room in our lives for lumping. This he admitted as a wave of sadness passed over his face. Daily food shopping, arguments with husbands and wives, project reports due at the office, church gatherings, Tee ball games: such a plethora of distractions to be accounted for, to be superceded. Here he removed a towel from his back pocket, dabbed his glistening brow, and thanked us for our courage in joining him on this fine evening when we had thousands of other non-lumping activities competing for our attentions.
Our culture, he said (and we were quietly thankful he included himself as a member) would love nothing more than to leave us all unlumped. The lump had gotten a bad rap. It was misunderstood, villainized, mocked in the media. Bad press all around. Was this a mere coincidence, or could there be – he hesitated before uttering the word – a conspiracy? Uneasy chuckles passed through the crowd, but his face remained stoic, suggesting that he found the possibility quite feasible.
He said our modern bodies longed to be lumped. The natural order demanded it, in fact, but time had made us forget. Thousands of years ago we had lumped without thought, with scarcely any conscious effort, with as much ease as we now slid on a pair of pants. Once upon a time life consisted solely of lumped people going about their business wearing blissful expressions of satisfaction. Our intrinsic need and ability to lump had been bred out of us, through no fault of our own, across the generations.
But the situation wasn’t hopeless. His face lit with a mesmerizing smile, his eyes gleaming like polished stones. It would take diligence and dedication, he said, to retrain our primal instincts. We were soft, fragile beasts, spoiled and unchallenged by daily routine. Lumping, however, remained alive deep within us; what we needed was to simply tap into our recesses and let nature recapture the area where the daily grind had staked a bully’s claim.
By lumping, he panted, stepping delicately along the length of the wooden stage as we tried to keep our eyes on him while furiously lumping (a difficult task), not only would our bodies sweeten and tone, but our hearts would follow suit. We would, in effect, lumpify our souls. With lumping, all of the desperation we felt, all of the disappointments in life – the failed promotions, the bad hair days, the parking citations, the unhappy marriages – these trivialities would cease to matter. Transcendence for all. A lump is invincible, he exclaimed, because a lump is legion.
A crowd had massed steadily around the stage. The wind no longer stirred. Our hot breath poured from our mouths. Had it only been hours since we’d arrived? It seemed much longer. We tried to recall our homes, our families, our obligations, but the memories were gone. Our attentions were set upon reaching this goal – his goal – the strange and tantalizing plateau of achievement that until this moment had not been conceivable.
A gauze of darkness pressed upon us as twilight fell. All around, people pushed for purchase, trying to get as near as they could in order to hear the lumping instructions. Throughout the crowd the lumping became more elaborate, more desperate, as our proficiency increased while we sensed an encroaching end. Was the stage equipped with lights? What would happen when nighttime was total? What if nobody achieved full lumpness?
The space was cramped, neighbors knocking elbows and treading toes. The air hung ripe with the bouquet of sweat. Everyone studied the man, seeking whatever key movement would complete the lumping process. But we all still looked the same, just like ourselves: pale, unfit, and frightened. Surely we had not lumped, were not even close. What were we doing wrong? Were we even capable of full lump? Did we lack the proper passion, the devotion?
On stage the man had been silent for some time, merely lumping to himself and observing the gathering disorder with a watchful gaze. At first glance he appeared tranquil, but in the waning light his face resembled the dark skin of a pond. Beneath its reposed surface swirled life, containing multitudes, bearing each one of us: our concerns, our failures, our secret regrets. He held our discontent within himself even as we tried to deny it.
Perhaps, we thought, this was the true meaning of lumping: to finally lay bare our most private selves, to unite through the world of the hidden, the inner place where heretofore none could live but the architects themselves. A playground where lumps could frolic: no names, no identities, no bodily trappings.
His lumped body finally came to rest. The cage of his chest swelled and shrank like the pulse of the world. Yes, he said. Now you understand.
The darkness grew quietly across our eyes as the cold chill of night swept into our bones, and together we raised our hand to the sky.
Darrin Doyle's most recent book is the story collection, The Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books). He is the author of the novels The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin's Press) and Revenge of the Teacher's Pet: A Love Story (LSU Press). He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and teaches at Central Michigan University.