I know I have mentioned before that tourists are not permitted in the Republic of Cancer, which is a country locked down as tight as Albania ever was. In many ways, this is a pity, because there are sights here that would quickly become destinations for travelers from all over the world, and the money generated by such traffic could be put towards, you know, extra free saltines and apple juice for Cancerlanders, and even more of the fascinating pamphlets and flyers that are available free of charge here on almost every table: What You Need to Know about Cancer of the Kneecap, Dealing with Your Pet’s Cancer, Cancer in Story and Song, Sew Your Own Cancer-wear, all that sort of thing.
At any rate, the potential attractions are many. Take the ruins that are to be seen here at every turn. These are not the ruins of temples or viaducts or pyramids. These are human ruins, ambulatory statues, as it were, that come and go at a stately pace, themselves moving by the viewer rather than the viewer moving by them, as is the case in conventional museums. The whole process is much more interesting for this reason, if you ask me. Imagine sitting on a bench while the Venus de Milo ambles by, or one of Michelangelo’s unfinished slaves.
There is, to single out one of the most amazing of these moving statues, the Yablonsky ruin, so- called (by me, at any rate) because it responds to that name when a nurse calls it aloud in a waiting room we sometimes share.
The Yablonsky ruin has a face, certainly (all God’s chillun got faces) but it is invisible. Somewhere along the line, the chin of Yablonsky fell forward onto his chest, and he has not been able to lift it since. Thus he presents the top of his head to the world at all times, whether sitting, standing, or moving forward. The only way to see his face would be to get down on your back between his shoes to look up at him. This would be extraordinarily rude, even for Cancerland. And then anyone seen on his or her back hereabouts would immediately be surrounded by minders and carted off for some sort of treatment. All of which is to say that what your features are to you — your eyes, your nose, your mouth — Yablonsky’s cranium is to him. His wispy steel-wool-like hair and the mottled skin of his skull are how the world knows him.
It may very well be that Yablonsky was a colorful creature once — we know that the now severe Parthenon was as gaudy as a lawn-jockey in its heyday — but that mottling (very pale blue in some places, very pale gray in others) is all that’s left of his original paint. He is pale as old plaster otherwise.
The most animated thing about Yablonsky — indeed, for long periods of time the only animated thing about him — is his wonderful ivory-handled cane, which attends him at every moment like a faithful dog. Yablonsky’s hand is ever atop the head of the cane, which sits upright and alert at his side, turning smartly now left, now right, leaning in, leaning away, even sometimes making tail-tapping sounds by jumping slightly up and down in place. It is devoted, well-trained, eager to serve, but still sometimes seems about to dash off, out of pure enthusiasm, to go and sniff at someone else in the waiting room. And it responds first, when the Yablonsky name is called: It leaps toward the doorway in the which stands the nurse who has called out, and then, at the end of its leash (meaning the thin white arm of the ruin it serves) braces itself to take the weight it knows will follow, slowly and with difficulty, as its master rises and turns. At this point, it is not so much that the ruin walks as that the cane, still straining forward, somehow reels him in from behind until the slack of the man’s arm is gone, and the cane can leap forward again, to repeat this process. It takes a very long time for the cane finally to pull Yablonsky out of sight.
I believe many would come just to see this one amazing thing — and the Yablonsky ruin is very far from being the greatest oddity Cancerland has to offer.