Exceptional Excerpts: Steven Millhauser’s The Barnum Museum

From The Invention of Robert Herendeen

Have I discussed my headaches?

By headache I do not mean the sharp pain at the side or back of the head, or perhaps behind an eye, the banal consequence of conventional stress. No, I have in mind the headache that is a band of metal tightening around the bones of the skull. I have in mind the inner blossom of fire, leaving behind charred and smoking places. And let us not forget the ratlike nibbling headache that gnaws its way slowly through the soft white sweet matter of the brain until it presses its furred back against the inside of the cranium, nor the fabulous winged headache with brilliant red and green feathers and gold-black claws that clutch and squeeze while the heavy wings beat faster and faster, nor the many-branched headache, the thornbush headache that swells and swells to fill the entire skull, pushing its glistening thorns against the soft backs of the eyes until the branches burst through the bloody eye sockets – such are the headaches that must be distinguished from those others, for these are creation’s dark sisters, shadows of the brilliant dream. Shall we continue?


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