Atlanta, 2.A, 2500 words

In a city house Jack takes an apartment with windows onto a narrow alleys lined by brick walls. Though he has no desire to leave, he cannot. Door after door, after door, after door, after door lead to other rooms. Never does only one life feed on the raw materials of an apartment. Jack listens for them all from an armchair in one room. In idle hours awake but closed-eyed his abandonment of Jacky illuminates cloudscapes and winds in the vermilion blood of his eyes. This oppressive nostalgia goads him to thinking of escape. In his entranced boredom a pencil scratches; leather soles coast. A man lost here could be summoned from the well of this apartment’s past to occupy his vacated living silhouette in the present, in the streets among people, to at least partner with Jacky’s absence in devotion, if not to find him. The brick window seduces iridescent tongues pressed against the threshold of teeth. Jack is always fully dressed. Without trousers a man is an animal. Without socks and laced shoes he is illiterate. In an undershirt he is a brute. With buttons undone words condense beyond his grasp. Without sweater a curtain is only a curtain; asphalt is asphalt. With hat, with glasses, combed, worn, alert, the world is transcendent. The apartment floor is obscure with columns of books on the occult, particularly the displacement of consciousness. Someone has been lost here before. Jack attempts to ignore the enigmatic volumes and lives with the furniture, occupying it delicately, with purpose, and with dedication to the lifestyle of modesty and simplicity it prefigured. He struggles to avoid characterizing his actions with words. Right at its brightest the light plays in the rooms as if through lace curtains, limp in an otherwise dark window, as if seen from without, the light passing the wrong direction. He develops a rhythm with borrowed colors lost by the sky. He eats the same portions of the same food in the same spot with the same poses daily. He prefers meals that cultivate the elegance of solitude, eating from cans with labels redacted by blooms of washed out ink, eating with improvised implements and considering from above with disdain, still half-full with the ragged circular top. He wishes he had beaten it open with a rock. Meals such as these are eaten after dark. He makes the same movements in the same temperature. Complex recollections decay quickly. Each new execution of the routine is the same as the first. It is the first. In executing these rituals Jack exhibits the confidence and purpose he could have only found in isolation. The longer he is isolated the stronger is his sense that he is capable of sorcery at some personal level. The pomp and satisfaction of the ritual acts soon become a concrete and indulgent charade. Jack eats what remains at the bottoms of cans or caked on the lids. After not long, mixed with his saliva, a pasty philter precipitates. This eaten cloaks him in feverish nausea. Keeping up, he fingers it into his mouth daily. Vistas appear in indistinguishable monotony, in fluorescent bulbs beyond the darkness, for wandering in growing stretches of widening eyes and nearly choked pupils, trees the color of imagined sand, hills of dust, dark wood sag undersky like a faded bandage. He reads. The books begin to creep out more each day. From the same texts from atop the same columns he elects a random spread in a book for a scheduled reading. The notes in the margins by his predecessor grip him. The texts themselves are hokum. He reads only the notes. Their author’s sometime disappearance grows to be a source of comfort. Jack grows accustomed to his own disappearance. Already in the world presumably still populated with curious souls he is gone. Annihilations flake a scab, a splinter from the rind of the earth. They leave a mess, a heap of odds and ends, perhaps whittled down to a small crateful but still recalling the cast away clothes of the entire life, wrappers, pencil butts, castles and watermarks, furniture, newspapers, photographs that wanted forgetting, luminous mysteries, maps and histories, great fires’ ashes, dishes broken in feebleness, bestiaries of inflected germs, changes of heart, unknown masterpieces, scribbles and taped-together mementos, vertiginous rhetoric, such places as all that cannot be proven as memory, open hands, then closed, a trail of derided blood under the footsteps and assprints of mediocrity. Here were just books, written by others. This room furnished by others, presumably. Here were just notes in books written by others. A string falls from a leafed-through book. He ceases eating. Endless sustenance is found in aged inanimate objects. Wear and decrepitude fortify their substance. Colored lights, colored shadows, mix on the floor. Oily streaks on the paint and worn down beads of base molding are haunted by people still stumbling through the apartment. Jack awakens late in light and puts on the clothes slung over the arm chair. He tries not to treat himself even to an unscheduled glance to the window. Meager delights destroy ruts. Each deviation from routine begins a new life and does not overwrite the former. These counterparts cannot leave. He wants to leave but he cannot. The apartment grows crowded with sounds of cans opening. Rain would fall in between the window and the opposite wall. The multitudes of man distrust the singular. When Jack sleeps he is adrift and powerless over his routines. He forgets himself and wanders the rooms at night. He sleeps then in a harness system, a very tightly-made bed fortified with elastic cords and topped with oppressively heavy quilts, several of them. Once slid into the bed like a magician’s card into the deck he is incapacitated. He is conscious of being buried. Layers of inanimate sheets, ties, and quilts become properties of his body in the slender way that a sick man becomes the universe and everything but his sickness. The living counterparts he has left in the discarded routines of fitful sleep still at various times of the night slip out to drink tea, pretend to chat in rigorously composed moments of conversation with no one, cry in the bathroom, timed poses he vaguely recalls. From his immobilized state he sees strange counterparts, not his, in various poses and activities, with vistas and consciousnesses familiar but slanted in odd manners by tingles and odors. Burning food floats on smoke visible in the dark. A man in a room like a study with books all about walls disappearing and a gold upholstered armchair wrote and copied from nested stacks of open books. He infrequently awakens out of sequence and sets his alarm clock to ring every thirty minutes. He wakes correctly but cannot return to sleep when his arm shakes loose in the tourniquet bed, as does his leg, both on the left side. Across the obscure, sweat wet sheets they dip into the cold wetness of the empty territory. He footfirst hits another man in bed with him, then his fingers. He is paralyzed again, foot to foot and fingers to fingers, the second set freezing and still, then his own freezing and still, he falls back to sleep next to his peacefully slumbering counterpart. Jack excavates dust, presses fingernails and hair scribbles in the clamp of book pages. He begins to rewrite the marginalia of his predecessor on a cache of small pads from motels with motel stick pens. It is just enough to do. He longs for a band of men to assemble in one of the rooms and beat him with their fists. In mediocrity it is easier to urge life to go on separately. Since encountering his sleeping double the routines have disintegrated. As night and sleep approach he breaches reluctantly from the established form. It will transpire nonetheless via the counterpart he had sloughed off into bound slumber from his insomnia. He falls asleep too early sitting up, the darkening moonset just passing over him. A hollow forms around bubbles in his esophagus humming like a city around an empty void across which every citizen can see every other but could not reach them across its gulf. The stained door jamb materializes. No people look out from the closet door. Let it pass. Make it pass. Make it alone. Make it crisp. Make it reproducible so that this particular night coils around every day. Embers shimmer down. Jack cuts off each light in the rooms save the lamp on an articulating arm reaching over the arm chair. Transcribing marginalia in the tent of warm light decomposes the tissue of the rooms, erodes the vertices of their forms. Simple understandings of larger figures cloaked in new life, frail and impulsive assumptions, most words loiter alone appearing to exchange meaning with one another as if by silken cords, each sparking far at their edges yet never igniting, the words faintly writ astride voices etched by consensus into rigid dictations of the mass perspective of our own souls. These are words added to others whose only beauty is their silence. The loose sands form blinds and protect new territories. Arithmetic of text is a private exercise of control. Something is growing from the manuscript transfers. The simple nature of baseboards, pullcords on drapes, oily spots above toilets, gutters and bits of paper dried in gutters, all the shadows, all walls, all lines, cuffed pants, and cut hair strewn become absurd, disrobed of their intrinsic repetition. Solitary occupation in solitary rooms buffs away that pith of agreement, by which people conspire to not be driven mad by the perpetuity of everything beyond their flesh. He sits up at night in a room. Breathing is audible some time later in slurping hums. He sits in the gold upholstered armchair with an array of accessories around the armchair in preparation for his efforts. Reading the words aloud disrupts the air around a reliquary of familiarity to recall into being their author. Jack indulges in incantatory from the wood chair at his desk whose creaking spring startles him out of stuporous oration. Again and again its yawning groan pulls apart the words, intruding unnecessary vocalizations. He relies on the rigorous schedule of reading to construct the reliquary of conditions reconstructing those under which the initial notes were made. It is not until, in a state of distraction poured by the creaks themselves, while still uttering the passages absently, does he sense a life from them. All day shifting and rustling haunts the apartment of rooms. Only the shadows of surrounding buildings blot from the windows into the rooms. The pad is askew swirling wood grain against the order of all at rest compositions. It is a tiny window fogged over. His eye jitters, lashes mix; the walls blur; the books blotch. Jack camps in the armchair facing the wall of books, crossing his legs as the hip grows sore, feels twisted off. The torsion wracks up and down his bones, into his knee, the midst of the femur, the resting ankle, his back like an gritted investment. He breathes little as it distracts from the crystal pain. A man sits at the desk. Projecting out from the syrup warmth in his blood the dust-filled air is lustrous. Perceptions are golden paste cast into the hollows. The shape of a man diffused at the edges, hairy in dim. He reaches from the swiveling seat to a nearby book and softens the spine by opening at various depths into the text to warm the mastic, scaling deeper then rising again lovingly until the always faint fractures cease to sift sighs from the leaves. Jack touches his neck warmed by canny networks spreading into his hair. The intruder’s movements foster sensitivity to the book and nerves prickle on Jack’s forearm as if it were he being lovingly plied. His stomach soaked in steam of thick spasmolytic potions and of waxy hypnotic smokes. When the man begins to speak aloud in fragments each word hangs in tangible, insulated quasars. Their tones and legs and tails linger still when jack summons the sense to begin condensing them into ink forms on his blank stationery and as they condense the hum and click of each falls from the air. Burning leaves, saltspray, sickened stomped juniper berries, decaying cedar dust shaken into fine hair combed out and lifted on breeze, venereal pear blossom, balsam, dirt, hieroglyphs of drying worms, old rain, a crew cut, the oily sheen of a man gray and drawn into a warm fog geostationary within it, a malodorous alluring diffused handprint on glass, halcyon odors of the out of doors, upon the medium of lipid sunlight, phosphorescent undercloud day, a rent into the dark isolation of the room twirled about the odd alto whirring of his voice. Jack is transfixed upon all that was lost in the dissipation of each word spoken, both in the matter of each and in the particular bouquet that gathers amongst them, those of the useless world outside the apartment which he is again tantalized by. The evocations build on his pad. The words and phrases belonging to neither of them spin etheric forms as the ink quickly dries. It is pointless to read back over them, even antithetical to the frantic conjuration converging. Leaves decay. The fever is the beauty of illness. They two appear as wizened, old husks sagging between each syllable like collapsed blood vessels, like a final drowning exhalation awaiting the new medium of water. The orator’s voice sings in tones so otherworldly they can barely form words. Its texture is more of a whir, a sparkling, singing, little spinning top. The sound of a brittle page creaks shut the oppressive dim and detail of the room around the odd voice. Out from the disrupted trance of the moment the two of them then in the cramped room together panic, both simply existing, fog lifted, sobered, fully aware of each others’ antagonistic contours. Jack flees, toppling his heavy armchair. On the bed in the backmost room, two sides windows, open at least to the passage of air across the planet, the immediate silence after the commotion subdues him in almost subterranean shadow restraints. With clarity he is reflected in both windows, one at a time. He focuses on the profile view in his peripheral vision. The beard weakens his chin into a melted despondency, the disconsolate muttering lips of Jacky, wandering somewhere himself, diffused himself into the pathways they had both once trod. The man is folding clothes in the other room. Soft rustles slink. Jack’s deliberate distance from him twines into balance a living oblivion. One’s will is the other’s will. One forgets oneself while the other recalls. Making its way into the dead end room, each coming to numb Jack like a hollow needle, are the sounds of a door opening, and a door opening, and a door opening, and a door opening, and a door opening.

Critical Response:

« | »