The pencil in the room before the light is on is different. It is different from the same pencil in the same room when the light is on. When I can just barely see the pencil, there in the dark, gleaming with its own darkness (even the eraser) then I believe in the pencil more. The pencil is one with the gleam of darkness. What it has to to say comes from a place of darkness, a place we intuitively know will last longer than light.
There was Abracadabradara.
She was known to be and held to be, when in the arms
or voices of those who loved her, just Abra.
And there was Jamal.
He was Jamal everywhere.
They were poor when it comes to money, but not everything
comes to money. So they were not poor.
The relationship of Abra and Jamal in the world was unspecified;
that is, the world didn’t know what to call it. But that was a problem
for the world and not for Abra and Jamal, who were often
just together. This is how people with unspecified relationships
often are. They are just together.
Sometimes, they liked to eat toast together and read books
together, sitting in a rainy window nook or the window
in the back that looked down on the trainyards.
And sometimes they liked to read books and eat toast
in the rainy nook or the trainyard window. They liked
to mix it up. They did not read toast and eat books,
as some people do. Doubtless, those people were around
Abra and Jamal at many different times, as they walked through
the city on their innocent travels, as they walked down the
sidewalk together, which is what sidewalk is about. Innocent travels.
I mean, If we examine the matter of sidewalks. So many people
seem to get it confused, what sidewalks are about. But sidewalks
are for that. The sidewalk is for innocent travels. Yet this gets
so twisted up everywhere. Maybe there should be a guide.
Doubtless it is true, that they were around them
as they walked. The readers of toast and the eaters of books. They were
not horrid people, they were just different. Probably they were
innocently different as all the flowers are. As flowers are in a field
which is all wild. Everything is wild. Wild doesn’t mean bad.
You know that and I know that but there are some people who pretend
horribly not to know that. What gives them the horrid idea to pretend?
Maybe they are not horrible people, maybe they only have horrible ideas.
I don’t know. You go and check. I will stay here. These people against
wildness are often the wildest people of all. They are the people
who want so often, so terribly, to bite.
You never know what is behind a wall until you get there, and then,
sometimes then, it’s much too much, much too late not to know. Then it is.
Probably you have learned this by going behind a wall and seeing
for yourself. This happens to everyone.
We walk around not knowing our composition. The funny part is that even if we saw our own intellectual and spiritual composition written out on paper, we would most likely not recognize it as our own constitution. We would most likely be oblivious that we were looking at our “formula” conveniently written down on paper, in case some industrious (and technologically advanced) scientist wanted to use this recipe to produce a good approximation of our being. This sci-fi scenario presumes that in the future there is such a thing as a “manufacturing psychiatrist,” a mind-maker who can produce (after the manner of Watson with his infamous boast) any sort of human being, once the constitutive elements are known. This is, of course, patently ridiculous. I hope it is clear that I am using a far-fetched metaphor to get at an everyday truth. To give an example: if I told you I was feeling weak and I lay down on some linseed oil, cork dust, tree resins, wood flour, pigments and ground limestone, you might wonder in what strange place I was. Was I in an art gallery or a museum? Was this strange mixture of substances a work of contemporary conceptualism, an artist attempting to reground us in the earth by placing it in a privileged space where seeing is deemed paramount? Well, no. That is actually just the formula for producing linoleum. So if I lay on those substances, I could have just been sinking to my own kitchen floor. The trick is in the way the substances are fused. Literature fuses. I think many use literature in an attempt to discover their own formulary constitution, and possibly, to change it. The gedankenexperiments which occur in the pages of a book, virtual or otherwise, are a safe place in which to assay our surprisingly ufamiliar composition and discover the strange, almost chemical alliances which form the compounds of our personality. After all, how often will a great (and often a disturbing) book make us say, “I didn’t realize _____ was in me, until I read that.”
There is a plant in that front room which some would call a living room. But I don’t do much living in there. It’s kept dark during the day. I have hung heavy blankets over the curtains. This darkness is in case I decide to watch movies or television. But I have largely lost interest in that. There is a plant in there in a large plastic pot by the shrouded bay window at the front of the room, which is the house’s front which faces the street. It is an areca palm, which I have sentenced to eternal darkness like some villain in a Superman movie. It was once tall and flourishing. When I was in my last relationship all those years ago, I lived in a large apartment complex of many buildings. It was pretty landscaping. There were rolling hills. Only infrequently would terrifying things happen there. I remember an escaped convict with a gun. I remember a hurricane. There was an apple orchard behind us. A gym was included in the deal. It was right across the street from my building’s parking lot. I’d take my old boombox over there and exercise at three in the morning when no one else was around. I liked looking at the exercise equipment when no one was using it. I could see them in my mind’s eye on display in museums of the future as curious relics. There was also a community swimming pool in summer where I would go to lie in that one ridiculously floral chaise that hid under the shadows of a tree whose large trunk was just outside the pool’s fence. I’d lie there and read Nabokov in the shadows. Sometimes I’d study people. I’d wonder. But I was a different person then. I’m much more about darkness now. The areca palm is still alive. It is tortured, but it began dying long before I darkened this room. There is still a central shoot of green coming up with new leaves, still wrapped up, like an unopened umbrella, that seems to survive only on the light that glows within those dark curtains and their coverings. Can you take nourishment from the light that lives inside another? I think you can. Nourishment moves in strange, mysterious ways. Am I somehow nourishing you right now, or will you immediately spit these words out? Sorry. The curtains covered by heavy blankets look like Rothko paintings when it is sunny outside. But even darker. The light seems to nest in the curtains and does not really penetrate into the room, but a little gets through. So I water this plant for no real reason. It’s like religion. It’s kindness with no real explanation behind it. But it is alive. A little bit. It’s behind the big screen t.v. that looks more like a Rauschenberg glossy black painting than a Rothko. It’s quoting the same period, anyway. The same school of alcoholic painters. So the dark room has a weird consistency. It’s trapped in the middle of the last century. I fill a Garfield coffee mug from the seventies (is Garfield dead?) from my kitchen tap, and I walk into the dark room to water the palm that refuses to die. When I step into the room, it’s like walking into a dark painting, not looking at one, but entering one, where the possibility of form and the doubt of form are having a strange conversation. It’s like stumbling around in a movie theater when you come in late for a show, that weird excitement and fear that there might be a killer or a lover only a few inches away from your one and only body, the only one you will ever truly possess, as you look for a place to settle your adrenaline. I always think someone might stab me or kiss me in those moments. I do know I feel very alive then. I think about the pointlessness of what I’m doing, being life support for a largely dead plant. Maybe this is one of those romances with the past. We all have those. I can’t even get behind the television to prune back all the dead parts it still carries. There are weird little beads that form on it and then turn white or some off-color like white. The dead fronds fall behind the television set. I think of Beckett and his ideas about pointlessness and his clear love of the rituals of pointless existence. I feel a certain fondness towards the dead man. So maybe I am paying homage to Beckett by watering this dead plant. But it is a little alive. Just a little. I think I also like walking in the darkness.Walking into the darkness. Don’t underestimate the importance of the little thrills in your life. I think I like that feeling of not knowing form which the dark room gives me. It’s like beginning a sentence. If you stop and examine the phenomenon, you will see the greatest thrill of a sentence (if you are the one speaking or writing it) is the moment before the sentence unfolds, when you feel the compression of form and energy that is bidding you to unfold it, to speak it. It’s like the chrysalis of a butterfly the moment before that final deshicence. The white cracked shell of yourself lies on the floor of your mind. The sentence is birthed, flies off. You are generative. Yes, I like walking into that dark room where form is negotiable. The word is nescience. I think nescience brings something good to our lives. Nescience can be almost erotic. I feel my body’s tiniest hairs hearkening to the darkness when I walk into that room. It’s the cat inside of me. It’s quite possible the dead plant will outlive me. But I know it will die immediately after I do. Because nobody will invest time into it who doesn’t know the plant’s backstory. I can’t write anyone on earth and ask him or her to save the largely dead plant. I know we are inextricably tied together in this pointless bond. But we all have people we carry like this too. We all carry some dying things on our backs. When I see someone who isn’t carrying anything like this on his or her back, I realize that person is either very lucky or very sad. It could really just go either way.
The amoeba’s sense of self is keeping me up at night. How can he just lie like that (I use “he” as a convention) and ooze all those pseudopodia out into the world fluid, as if to say, “Here I am. This is me!” on the right side, while over on the left side of this microscopic, supercilious, clear snot being another pseudopodium is greeting bacteria it wants to ingest with all the insincere warmth, the hot come on, of a used car salesman. A used car salesman who is trying too damn hard and who you just know owns only one pair of sneakers, which are really way too bright for his age. If you’re dying, don’t wear neon. That pseudopodium on the left is trying to shake protoplasmic hands too, saying “Why, Howdy! Glad to meetcha!” to any animalcule that gets anywhere near it. And so it is at the north pole of the amoeba. And so at the south pole of the amoeba. But here’s the thing. Probably every single one of us has dated that amoeba at one point in our lives, slept beside that amoeba for a night, or a few nights or more than a few years. Or maybe you’ve been him. The amoeba doesn’t really have a bad life. He doesn’t really even have to keep his stories straight. When he’s found out, he can just split. If you walk into a bar at night, there are amoebas everywhere.
In the Dollar Tree located right across the small street from the rather deadly housing projects, there is an interesting cashier.
She is young enough to be a natural artist. She is old enough to feel death crowning in her. In other words, she’s an aging kid.
Whenever she gets a customer all by himself or herself, young or old, when there’s no one else in line, no one else in the store, she pauses before handing them their merchandise in those depressingly bright cellophane bags with the store’s name printed on them.
She clears her throat in an almost undetectable way, and then she launches into this fantasia: “You are standing in your grave. This is as good as it’s going to get. The happiest days, all the most oblivious ones, are well behind you. It will not get better. It will get worse. At first, it will be like a record skipping. It will happen subtly, it will happen slowly. You’ll have little dips, little trips to the emergency room, little jaunts to the psychiatrists. Then it will increase. The aftershocks will outdo the earthquake. You will spurn friendships as nothing more than shared miseries. You won’t even possess the imagination or willpower to cheat on your spouse. Parts of you will begin to turn to Playdoh and other parts to steel. Your pubic hair will look like a dead ferret. And then you will realize, near the end, self-stripped of all friends and family, that someone is standing on your head. Someone is standing on your head as you stand in your grave and you begin to sink. You can’t even tell who it is. You can’t look up. But they’re there for sure, and you have the pain of those constantly shifting shoes on the top of your skull to prove it. Because the floor of your grave is wet mud, it’s quicksand, and you’re just going down into it. Like dogshit. Inch by inch. And your hands are tied up. Your hands are holding these cellophane bags full of shit from the dollar store. Your cat food and batteries and off-brand pudding boxes are causing you to sink deeper into the final quagmire, which will probably be a struggle for breath and a prayer to a nonexistent deity, beseeching him for merciful help in stabilizing your skipping heart, which is now like a stone sent skittering over a rain pond in an auto graveyard. Your fate is ricocheting off other’s people’s faces, they’re talking behind your back in your hospital room, and your sinking blood pressure won’t let you even argue with them. You will no longer be able to even do the basic things a body must do to remain a viable blood balloon floating around this planet. That’s it. The earth like a too-thick chocolate milkshake closes over your head and then the top of your head, which is bald anyway, already showing your skull through its skin, and you begin drinking that milkshake of death through all the holes in your face and skull. You sink down into nothingness It’s the best day you ever had. The End.”
And she always ends with “Thank You. Have a nice day.”
The respectable thing is that she delivers this in a really dead monotone. It’s like she doesn’t even care whether you’re listening.
Most of the people just say, “Thank You” back like being dead is no big deal. Probably most of them already knew all this shit. She did cause a few to go into deep depressions. But probably she thinks that is good for them. Maybe she’s right. Who knows.
One day, she will be gone from that Dollar Tree. In her place will be a man who has all the spirit of a broken calculator on a card table at a yard sale.
And that cashier will attempt to smile, and it will feel as though someone has just stapled your body. It will feel as though someone has just stapled your body somewhere very unpleasant to be stapled.
This story is 5002 words.
I have just thought it into your brain using extrasensory perceptual push.
(It saved me so much typing!)
Please let me know what you think. I appreciate critical feedback.
Some young men are playing pool and watching as the sails of a small boat become pure distance out on the bay. When the sun gets low enough, it breaks up their syntax. Their young women are holding their babies in hard chairs, in dark corners of this room. The young women are going deep inside themselves and watching, jogging their babies on their knees as young printers will do with sheaves of paper. The room’s high ceiling is covered with a ridiculously ornate, white boiserie that fell from a high style so long ago that nobody can even remember. It looks like swallows should nest in it. Drinks move at an agreed-upon level in space, and space is agreed upon too, except where certain emotions flare up like sunspots or the fringes of a corona. A handful of hours later, after night puts a bandage to this scene, the thing mistakenly called silence plays like the faintest old record in there. The smoky bay is the last to leave this room (and, really, not until morning). The bay turns the blue walls of this room even bluer, gives out many somnolent shades that percolate in drizzled dark, and when the light finally comes around like a headache, it collects all these synonyms for the night and leaves.