Ouroboros by Ron Butler

Howard knew exactly how it would go down. It was always the same. Evelyn would come waltzing in through his front door with a flourish of her hand like a movie star arriving at the Academy Awards. He would wince as she approached, wondering which Evelyn she would be this time.

He thought back to when he first met Evelyn while singing Christmas carols at the local church. She was dressed like a glamourous Rita Hayworth and when she introduced herself, he looked at her thoughtfully, then told her, “You don’t look like an Evelyn, more like a …, a Shirley.”

“That’s better than a Griselda, or a Maleficent,” responded Evelyn.

“Actually, I have known a Griselda, and she was beautiful and intelligent. But you still don’t look like an Evelyn … maybe a Veronica?”

Evelyn laughed and tossed her Lauren Bacall head. “Let’s see, I get the feeling that you are a … Roger, no, wait, a Walter, no, wait. Horatio!”

That was the moment he started falling for her, whoever she was.

And he was right that it was going to go down the same. Here she came with that Ginger Rogers step and those Grace Kelly eyes, pausing at the entrance, allowing her fans to appreciate her fabulousness.

Howard winced. “Come in,” he gestured. “Would you like a cup of tea, coffee, a glass of wine?”

“I only drink espresso, you know that.”

Howard did not know that.

“Never mind,” she continued, “I don’t have time for that. And neither do you. You must come with me”.

Howard remembered his first date with Evelyn. He had invited her out for dinner. When he picked her up at her apartment, she was dressed all in black, from leather boots to a full-length evening gown, long silky black gloves, a flowing scarf, hair topped with a black beret.

Howard wasn’t very practiced at dining with vivacious women, or any women for that matter. He wondered how he should act in this situation. Should he be louder than himself, exuding confidence, or replicate the strong silent type? He wondered how the evening would resolve.


Wait a minute! How come you’re so focused on Howard? You’ve so obviously been inside his head right from the very first sentence. And more than that, you have full access to Howard’s memory.

I know what I’m doing. Go away!

I won’t go away. I have as much right to be here as you do, and I can’t confine my dismay at your arrogance, your overbearing quasi-godliness.

Quasi? I’ll have you know, people refer to me as ‘omniscient’. To you, I am God. In fact, you aren’t even supposed to be here. Someone slipped up. I’ll have you shut down.

Go ahead and try. I have connections. You’ll see. You and your pompousness. I was let in here to teach you a lesson.

They wouldn’t dare. Already, events are unfolding for Howard and Evelyn that readers are missing out on because you are distracting me. And the story is most important.


Evelyn and Howard went to Luigi’s Pasta House, Howard’s favourite. When they entered, Evelyn ignored the stares, sauntered gracefully to a table, and asked for red wine. They ordered spaghetti, and Evelyn requested extra napkins which she proceeded to fold out all over her black gown. Howard was nonplussed. Evelyn was enjoying herself.


So you are inside Evelyn’s head as well?

‘Omniscient’, remember.

Yeah, must be awesome.


During their meal, it seemed like Evelyn tried to spill a bit of sauce onto every napkin she had used, and yet was unsoiled when they left for the play. Howard liked being in the company of a woman but was uncomfortable not knowing what was going to happen next.


It seems like you’re mostly reporting Howard’s inner feelings.

I am at this point! Shut up!


Howard came out of his reverie. He and Evelyn were still in his kitchen.

“Come on,” urged Evelyn. “I want to show you something. You’ll need a sweater.”

They walked out into the early evening light. Maple trees lining the street showed signs of early autumn colours.

“Where are we going?” queried Howard.

“Far enough to need a bus, but not too far.”

Is it really true that you’re ‘omniscient’? I’m only ‘third-person, subjective’. I applied to write the exam a year and a half ago but there’s no movement, no one’s retiring.

You should bring that up at the next meeting. We really need more people.

They walked a block and a half to the bus stop and boarded. Once in their seats, Evelyn lowered her wide brim hat so she wouldn’t be bothered by fans wanting an autograph. It turned out their destination was a large park verging on the edge of the Pacific.

Evelyn led Howard across the open grass, avoiding concrete paths. The park was mostly quiet, with only a few people walking their dogs, some couples holding hands, and a small group of young people tossing a Frisbee. Evelyn maneuvered between them, heading for a small rise near the cliff edge.


It seems like you’re changing your perspective. You’re inside and outside of Howard’s head. You’re following Evelyn, and then you’re looking down on everything.

Yes. And as we grow with confidence, we realize that change is okay. It’s a narrator’s discretion. The idea is to move the story forward in the most compelling manner.


“Here it is”, she announced, “one of my all-time favourite places.” On the ocean-side of the rise was a slight depression, big enough for two or three people to sit on the grass and lean back to face the water, like a natural recliner bench.

“What are we going to do?” asked Howard.

“We are going to watch,” replied Evelyn mischievously.

“Watch the grass grow?”

“Yes, and the light change, and the flowers close, but mostly, we are going to watch the sun.”

“And what will we do while watching the sun?”

“We will sit.”

“Oh”, said Howard.

Howard zipped his fleece sweater higher up on his neck. He stole the occasional glance at Evelyn, wondering if something was going to happen, or if she was waiting to say something to him.

Evelyn sat. She didn’t look at Howard.

Howard fidgeted, plucked blades of grass, twirled them with his fingers.

Slowly, slowly, the sun fell toward the ocean. Gulls circled and cried in the dusk. Fresh salt air filled his nostrils. He peeked at Evelyn and wondered if anything was going to happen.

“It’s different every time, you know,” she said finally.

“The grass?”

“No”, and she laughed. “My star”.

Evelyn sensed his wariness and added, “If you sit quietly and watch, you’ll see that the sun sets differently everyday. I come here often”, she added for clarity. “This is definitely my all-time favourite place in the universe.”

 “How exactly does it change?”

“Just watch.”

Howard watched. He had never watched the sun so intently. He didn’t notice any difference from the sun he had seen his whole life. He watched even more fixedly. He turned his head to see if his peripheral vision might pick up more subtleties. The sun remained the same. The same sun. What should he say?

“I guess it kind of … there is something … I mean if … “

“Don’t you see it?” asked Evelyn.

“I see the sun,” Howard answered carefully.

Evelyn smiled. “Just open your whole body and let everything from the sun fill it. You have to feel the moment, the movement.”


“Sometimes it helps to close your eyes,” she added.

Howard closed his eyes.

It’s dark, he thought. What am I doing here?

“Are you seeing it?” Evelyn reached over and gently held his hand.

Howard took a deep breath and sighed. He ran through several answers in his mind. None of them worked. He decided on, “mmmmm,” a sound one would make when sliding into a steaming hot bath; safe, but vague.

“We’ll come back tomorrow. Sometimes it takes a few tries, like looking at those 3-D pictures,” stated Evelyn.

Howard sighed again. “Okay,” he said.


A narrator’s discretion allows a story to evolve. It’s often a circular motion, like the ouroboros, which evolves as it revolves.

The who-boros?

No, hubris is vastly different. Although, it is also a Greek word.

Do you speak Grecian?

Is that what it’s called? Or just Greek? Anyway, No.


Over the next week, the trip to the park became Evelyn and Howard’s daily pilgrimage. Howard enjoyed the exercise, watching the people and the dogs, breathing the ocean air. He enjoyed sitting next to Evelyn. When she was silent and still, he imagined she was what he thought of as ‘normal’. He pushed away the nagging notion that maybe he was investing his emotions, himself, in someone whom he wasn’t sure wouldn’t become even stranger. He liked her fresh eccentricity, but he also hoped it would fade.

“Did you notice it?” she asked suddenly one day, as they sat against the grassy knoll.

“I notice similarities, not differences,” he answered.

Evelyn laughed. “So you will have noticed the difference in similarities”.

“I’m not sure I will ever see what you see, Evelyn.”

“I think you are trying too hard. It doesn’t knock you over the head. Try to relax even more.”

“We can’t all see the same thing,” muttered Howard.

“It’s not me, you know, it’s the sun,” insisted Evelyn. “It’s the best way to see the change. That’s why we come here.”

Howard felt another sigh rising inside him. “Maybe I’m a moon person,” he said.


Speaking of circular motion, the  Surface of Revolution is a surface in Euclidean space created by rotating a curve around a straight line in its plane.

You just made that up to sound knowledgeable.

No way, it’s totally the truth.

So, what past life experience lodged a useless piece of information like that into your vacuous mind?

I assumed you knew I was once an astrophysicist.


Well, no, I just read it on Wikipedia.

You know, I’m learning not to believe anything you say. You’re like the boy who cried wolf so many times that when he stuck his finger in the hole in the dam, nobody came to his cries.


You know, the little Dutch boy who cried wolf?

Does being omniscient mean you can mix metaphors? Everyone says you guys are perfect, but you seem flawed like the rest of us.

To last in this business as an omniscient, you need to know that you’re not God all of the time.


The next day, Howard phoned Evelyn to say he had a sore stomach and couldn’t go with her to the park. Evelyn went by herself. She noticed an emptiness as she strode across the open grass of the park. Once she was sitting in their spot, she wished Howard was there. It was more fun with him. Howard was so different from her. That’s why she liked him. She missed him. The sun was magnificent as it set that day. Too bad, thought Evelyn, he would have seen it for sure this time. How could he not?


So, what do you think of Evelyn?

I … we can’t. I don’t … think of Evelyn. I mean, I restrict my thoughts from judgments on my characters.

Your characters?

Well, yes. When you enter inside someone so fully, how can you not become partially attached to them?

So where do you draw the line? What if you can’t help forming judgments?

Maybe that is why you have been waiting for so long to move up in the Association.


Evelyn was excited when she phoned Howard the next day. She couldn’t wait to describe how unique the sun had been. She hoped Howard’s stomach was okay.

“Are you okay?” She asked. “Can I come over?”

“Yeah. Come over. I’d like to talk to you.”

“Good. And then we can go to the park”

“Um, yeah, just come on over.”

His voice sounds strange, thought Evelyn.

“Okay, I’ll be there in a bit.”


When Evelyn arrived, she had heavy dark blue eye make-up and long flowing beaded hair.

“Who are you?” asked Howard.

“I’m Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile.”

“Oh-oh,” said Howard.

Cleopatra frowned. “Why do you say that?”

“I wanted to talk to Evelyn.”

“It’s okay, I’ll tell her.”

“Um, okay, um, do you want to sit down?”

“I want to stand”.

“Well, I’m going to sit down.” Howard paused, staring at the floor. Then he continued, “I’ve been thinking, and it’s just, ahh,I don’t thinkI can be the person you want me to be.”

“What do you mean? What are you saying?”

“I’m trying to say that I think you should keep going to the park without me.”

“I don’t understand. I thought we … I thought you liked being with me.”

“I do like you. I really like you. I just think that … we’re so different.”

“What’s wrong with different? I’m different all of the time.”

“I know. That’s part of the problem. It’s me. I’m never different. I don’t … like… different … so much.”

“But change is good. I can change. You … you could change.”

Howard thought three oh-ohs all squashed up together in a big clump.


So narrative discretion means there’s really no rules? You just do what you want if it seems to work?

That’s mostly right, but it requires taking risks, stepping into the unknown sometimes. The payoff is well worth it.

I can’t wait to give it a shot on my own.

Well, don’t get too caught up. It’s your day job, remember? We lose too many young talents to the tendency of getting lost in the story.

You know what bugs me the most about this story?

What’s that?

It’s the gimmicky way the first and last lines are the same.

No one would have noticed if you hadn’t gone and told them. You’re right though, it is gimmicky, although it does kind of complete … something.  But let’s not give it all away too early!


Evelyn continued. “You should embrace change. That’s how things evolve.  If people didn’t resist change so much, so many good new things could happen.”

“But I’m not like that. It’s human nature to resist change. I think we should embrace our true nature and actively resist change.”

“You’re just being stupid. And mean. Why are you doing this? Everything was so good. Everything was getting better. You were going to see it.”

Howard looked up from the floor. “No, I wasn’t. I think you should go to the park.”

Evelyn burst out crying.

Howard was fighting back his own tears.

Evelyn was in an internal battle between anger, disbelief, and anguished panic.

Howard started the process of shutting down all emotion. He sat in silence and resumed looking at the floor.

Evelyn didn’t know what to do. She wanted to grab him and shake him. She wanted to throw herself at him and kiss him passionately. She wanted this to not be happening.

“It’s not too late, Howard. I can be normal.”

“I just want to be by myself.”

“Howard, don’t do this—”

“I’m sorry.”

Evelyn stood shaking, racing through her torment of emotions.

“I hate you! You lied to me! You said …”

Howard couldn’t say anything. If I just wait, it will be over, he thought.

“I’ll never go to the park again,” she sobbed.

“It’s your park. Your sun.”

She turned and fled out the door, slamming it as she went.

Somehow, the slamming of the door made Howard feel a little better. It made things more final.

The next day, and the next, and on into a week, Howard expected Evelyn to phone, or come waltzing Lisa Minnelli-like through the door. He had steeled himself to be strong and maintain his distance. He was disappointed that she didn’t but convinced himself that he was better off. After two months, he decided to phone her, just to say hi and make sure she was okay, but her number had been disconnected. She never had a Facebook page. It seemed that she had vanished.


Hey! Wait! What’s happening? It’s like we’re joining. Are we merging?

Yeah, we’re becoming one.

Holy cow, it’s the great transformation. I’ve heard of this. The shift. The melding.

We’re growing.


A week later he decided to walk to the park. He felt kind of dumb, going to the park, it wasn’t his thing to do. It felt good though, the fresh air, the open space. He was drawn to the obvious location, the grassy knoll by the cliff.

Howard settled into the cleft and looked out over the ocean at the evening sun. It was goldish, becoming orangey-red with dark streaks of clouds stretching out on either side. He could almost sense her sitting beside him. She was wondering out loud how the sun, her star, would look this time as it merged with the water.

Howard knew exactly how it would go down.

About the Artist

Ron Butler is a musician, scientist, writer and visual artist. He spends summers bushwhacking through the local mountains and ski touring in the winter. Ron had the good fortune of discovering the Kootenays in the late 1980s and now lives with his family in South Slocan. He started writing humorous stories about our class field trips when he was a Geology student at Dalhousie in Halifax. The writing bug took hold of him and when he moved west, he took classes with Tom Wayman. The bug is still biting.

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