Monthly Archives: May 2014

Birds

There were two crows in the tree when he went to unpack the kitchen. He only had three boxes of Rice-a-roni, a bag of pasta, two cans of olives, a saucepan and a frying pan so this only took a short while. He put his hand on his hips and nodded. Then he fetched a broom and swept the floor of the closet-cum-pantry. Then he put his hands on his hips and nodded.

There were only three boxes left, and two of them were clothes. He decided to take his time to make it seem like there was more to do. His new bedroom did not have an actual closet, only a rack on wheels that was made of bendy plastic. He hung half his work shirts on the frame before it threatened to give out. A new rack was penciled onto an ever-growing list. His bureau went in the corner opposite from where his mattress lay on the floor. The television sat by its lonesome, cord trailing for want of an outlet. He had been unable to take the VCR anyway.

He decided to make some coffee.

While the brew percolated, he lounged casually against the counter and gazed at the lone tree in his yard. The bark was white, some kind of birch? The leaves were small and sparse on the branches. There were five crows. He counted them a few times, went to reach for his pellet gun and grabbed empty air. Right. He hadn’t taken the pellet gun.

He chewed the coffee, swirling it past his teeth, in an effort to get rid of the tension in his jaw. He had made a commitment to focus on furnishing his new house, not on what he’d lost.

He unpacked his clothes, each neatly folded into a triangle and fitted into a drawer like silverware. That killed an hour.

He decided to break for lunch. There were about ten birds in the tree when he poured a box of Rice-a-roni into the saucepan, cooking distracted him so he didn’t bother counting. He had no flatware yet so he ate out of the pan using a serving spoon. He added salt-and-pepper shakers to the list.

There had already been a cracked hose on the spigot when he moved in, so he watered the patchy grass. As he stood idly sweeping water from one corner to another, something that had been bothering him finally floated to the forefront of his mind. He had not been able to make out any features on the birds. They were black, and of a certain size, so he had assumed they were crows, or even ravens. But now he looked up, and now he realized the birds weren’t black.

The hose dropped from his hand and hissed, twisting fitfully across the yard. The birds looked like cutout shapes, flat dark that nevertheless moved and behaved like a regular bird. He stood frozen, hand still posed as if it held the hose.

There was, there had to be an explanation for this. He bent to pick up the hose. The birds, as one, turned to look at him. He slammed the back door behind him, leaving the hose on.

Once inside he braced both hands on the wall and breathed heavy, as if recovering from a run. The unfair suddenness of the move, always in the back of his mind, now came forward to mingle with this newfound injustice. He decided to call home.

His cellphone had been smashed, but the house had come with an ancient rotary telephone already connected to a line. Nine rings.

“Hello?” the voice on the other end was reedy and thin. Uncle Geoff.

“Geoff,” he said.

“Hello?” the voice said again, “is this Bobby?”

“No, Geoff. It’s me.”

“Bobby?”

“No, Geoff,” he said, emphasizing each word, “it’s me.”

He wasn’t sure if it had gotten through, but then there was a sharp intake of breath on the other end.

“You.” The voice was accusatory. “You got a lot of nerve calling up here.”

“Uncle Geoff, I need—”

“I don’t care who you think you are, nothing excuses that kind of behavior.”

“Geoff, could you get—”

“If you were my kid I would’ve done more than send you packing, just be glad you got outta here before I got a hold of you.”

“Bill—”

The dial tone screamed in his ear.

“Fuck you too,” he said to the empty air.

The sky was getting dark. He had planned to run to the store after unpacking, but that was no longer doable. The birds had run out of room on the tree and began perching on his car. There was one on the mailbox. He never saw them fly up, there just seemed to be more every time he looked up. The hose was still on. His yard was now flooded, sending a dark wash of moisture down his driveway onto the sidewalk.

There was an elderly gent in a straw hat coming down the sidewalk, walking a small white dog. He laughed and pounded the glass of the front window.

The man stopped in front of his driveway, following the trail of water up to the yard with his gaze.

“Yes! Here!” he called through the window glass.

The man looped his dog’s leash around a fence post and walked up the driveway. He did not acknowledge the birds. The man bent down to the spigot, then stood and faced the front window.

“You should be ashamed!” the man called through the glass, “wasting water like that.”

Panic set in. “Wait!” he called at the man’s retreating back, “wait, wait, wait!”

Street lights fizzed on. There were birds on the roof, now. He could hear them. The fence had disappeared under their mass, as had the car. He needed to eat. He needed a piss.

A lone bird perched on the streetlight, cloaking it with its wings. It cast no shadow.

He dragged himself from the window to try the phone again. Three rings.

“Hello?” it was a woman’s voice, low and sleepy. At first he mistook it for his mother’s. But then he realized it wasn’t.

“Beth?”

“…Brad.” There was no animosity in her voice, but it was tense.

“I need to speak to mom.”

“Nobody’s here. S’why I answered the phone.”

He swore. “I need to talk to her.”

There was a click as Beth shifted on the other end of the phone. “What did you do now?”

He tightened his grip on the phone. “I didn’t do anything!”

“No.” she sounded tired. “You never do, do you?”

He had to count until the red went away. “It’s not my fault. Why didn’t you tell them it wasn’t my fault?”

She huffed a little. He realized she was laughing.

“It’s never your fault,” she whispered, “never your fault. Why do I need to tell them anything for you, they should already know.”

A muscle spasmed in his cheek. His jaw was clenched so hard the chords in his neck stood in high relief. “You did this…didn’t you?”

“Did what?” she sounded exasperated. “What did I do from all the way over here?”

“Stop it. Stop it unless you want me to come over there.”

She laughed harder, and there was a choking sound as she coughed in pain.

“Why, you gonna break the rest of my ribs?”

“You’re all alone.”

“So’re you.” She sighed. “Anyway, it was fun catching up. I’m tired.”

There was a bird on his stoop. He fought down panic. “Wait!”

“For what?” she sounded amused now. “What can you do that would surprise me?”

“I need help, you bitch.” He hissed into the mouthpiece.

There was a pause.

“You know,” she said, “I don’t have to tell anyone you called. I don’t think I’m going to. I’m tired now, Brad. Nice talking. See you.”

He screamed wait into the receiver but the line went dead. There was a bird on the pole. There was a bird on the doorknob. The birds crowded against the window, crowded out the scenery until there was nothing but dark.

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Ab Memoriam

Hillary Bunch finished wiring Mrs. Globek’s head to the back of the chair and stepped back. It was 1883, and postmortem photography was in full swing. Bunch and his brother Amos, who ran a funeral parlor, had invested in a silver nitrate camera with a half-hour exposure time, lighting-fast for the era. Mrs. Globek had been secured to her chair in preparation for her portrait, pupils painted on her eyelids. Hillary set the camera ad left to conclude business up front.

Later that day as Amos laid Mrs. Globek in her casket, Hillary developed the plate in his darkroom. As the plate developed, he stared. He swore. He picked up a fire poker and raced to the other room, because of something present in the picture.

Motion blur.

 

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A Bus Story

“—and another thing, you can’t even assume you’re safe public anymore. Annemarie, you know, Annemarie from the studio, she says she was at market when the crack-down happened Friday. Yeah. Said she managed to toss her coat and hide out in Bikmen’s, pretend she was working there,” Bennett said.

Both men assumed the relaxed position of waiting in public. John was leafing through an almanac from the previous year. Bennett talked with his hands, occasionally pausing in his monologue to point for emphasis.

Think about that, man. Think about what that means. They’re getting bolder. They know people won’t even look at the factory district anymore, much less get near it. They have to get creative. You can’t even shop anymore.”

John nodded absently. They had been getting their groceries from a bootlegger since the Fountain Square market had been bombed. Bennett pushed on as if John had responded.

“And this—this travel embargo, that’s just another nail in the coffin. Our nation is predicated on individual mobility, what happens when you remove the autonomy from travel?”

Without looking away from his book, John took two of his fingers and tucked them in Benett’s front pocket. Bennett smiled.

“The bus is here,” John said.

A semiopaque blue block of bulletproof plexiglass separated them from the driver. Like most city buses, the speaker hung by wires, periodically crackling but offering no coherent instruction. Instead, a screen behind steel grating instructed them in white capital letters that the fare had risen 2.3% since last night.

“Bitches,” Bennett said, giving the scanner the finger as he dropped change into it.

The screen dissolved the fare bulletin to a new phrase: PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS

There were no completely empty seats. Bennett and John stood by the rear exit doors and held on to the overhead straps.

The message flashed again: PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS

John rolled his eyes and took a seat next to an itinerant worker who lay snoring beneath his hat. Bennett took the seat ahead of him, next to an old woman with a knitted grocery bag fully of withered vegetables. The old woman looked at Bennett, who flashed her a dazzling smile. The message dissolved into a missive about voluntary federal inoculations and the bus hissed into motion.

The next stop was outside a labor building. Several laborers with thick arms and concrete sinews boarded, scattering along the seats, most of them hewing to the very back. One enterprising soul stood at the rear exit doors.

The screen flashed: PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS.

The laborer rolled his eyes and took an aggressive seat next to a woman across the aisle from John. Bennett lounged casually, propping his elbows on the back of the seat, further terrifying the elderly woman into herself. John playfully hit the back of his head, Bennett lurched forward in mock-pain.

The next stop was at the woman’s shelter. One pretty young malcontent dithered on the threshold; the door shut on her hair. Her sisters came to her rescue, knocking and yelling and entreating the driver, but the doors did not relinquish their prize until the next stop. The women took her back to her seat, shooting dirty looks at the driver’s booth as they petted her head and supported her elbows.

Three stops later, John leaned over the seat back. “What’s another word for picayune?”

“Patriotic,” Bennett said, “is it just me or is it a little full today?”

John looked up from the book. “Yes, actually. How long until Dodge?”

“Two more stops.” Bennett was eyeing the front warily.

In front of the Barghetto, a man dressed in yesterday’s suit slapped the censors on the exit door. The doors remained shut and the bus pulled away from the curb.

“Hey!” The man barged to the front, already having to weed through the people standing in the aisles. He slapped the side of the driver’s booth a few times. “Hey!” he called again.

The screen flashed:PLEASE TAKE YOUR SEATS

The man flipped off the screen. “You missed my fucking stop.”

The screen flashed: DISRUPTIVE PASSENGERS WILL BE FINED

The man threw a pen at the screen.

“Sit down,” someone hollered from the back. The man returned to his seat, now occupied by a laborer, and stood with his hands in his pockets. At the next stop he lurched into the man standing in front of him, touching off a small quarrel. One of the shelter women tapped, pushed, shoved against the back doors, but they refused to open before the bus pulled away.

Bennett stood, no easy feat, and climbed to the back door. John followed.

As more bodies pressed in from the front, Bennett used his not-inconsiderable strength and shouldered the door. He managed to force the hydraulics a full inch before they snapped back. The front doors shut and the bus moved on. Bennett stared out the smeared glass at the landscape passing by. John put a hand on his shoulder.

At the next stop they manhandled their way to the front, but the doors shut before they could reach it. With boarding passengers still on the other side. Bennett swore. John turned to the driver’s booth and hit it with his fist.

“Hey!”

The driver’s silhouette did not respond.

A lady with sleeping toddler in her arms nudged him. “Next stop, we bum-rush the doors.”

John nodded and smiled politely. Bennett continued staring out the doors, breathing heavily.

They missed the next stop.

Nothing was said, but a group chill descended on the passengers. Where people had been loudly discussing the many failings of the transit system, now they hunched into themselves. Like chickens, John thought, chickens in a storm. Bennett said nothing.

John put his face very close to the driver’s booth and cupped his hands around his eyes. The driver lay limp, held up by the safety straps. His head bumped against the wall behind his seat, hand dangling at his side. A gun knocked around his feet, along with an empty water bottle and an orange. A dark splatter decorated the glass behind his headrest. The glass was starred.

John backed away, suddenly cold. He grabbed Bennett’s shoulder. “I think we’re in trouble.”

“I know.” Bennett pointed to their destination. The factory district.

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The Happening

I keep tabs on many of the promising young artists in the area. Jean-Baptiste Rasputin(neé Benjamin Brown) was in the forefront; what with his boozing and whoring and excesses he was an artist in the old tradition.

The thing I find most people get wrong about performance art is that it cannot, should not be repeated. What part of the performance is art? Is it the moment captured in still-frame, dissected and rendered lifeless by the shutter? Is it is the flurry of moments, each blink in time where movement and light and Kismet come together to form a one-of-a-kind configuration?

Jean-Baptiste was a born performer. I and my colleagues could tell. He was spoiled and crude and loud and magnificently human.

Verdigris phoned me up on a Tuesday: “Did you see him at the Pigeon Club?”

Seen? I had been. He tried to pay for a drink with a napkin scribble, after his would-be patron had abandoned him to the check. He’d taken out his private parts and rubbed them on chairs, stacking them into a tower of Babel crowned by one unfortunate diner’s Bichon Frise.

“Some idiot recorded him with one of those cellular phones.”

One trip to the internet confirmed my worst fears. He was on one of those streaming video websites, labeled “drunk f***er steals dog.” The filming of the King beating set a dreadful precedent, now no one is “there” unless they have video proof. We (not a club, only a loose consortium of like-minded individuals) abhorred the hollowness of these pseudo-repeat performances. One might as well double a canvas in a mirror.

I told him to meet me at the usual time and place and hung up. I am the collective’s man-on-the-spot insofar that I know my way around an address book and aren’t too cool to write things down. I tied my scarf into a Duncan-proof knot and caught a ride behind the motoboy from the Thai restaurant near my home.

The place was deserted(we place high priority on being fashionably late, of course) except for Lady D. Mrs. Dumont had been pretty once, and the curse haunted her to this day. Her face refused to fall into any interesting formation of wrinkles. She made up for it with Art-deco Jet jewelry and an arrangement of rejects from the bargain bin at Sears. She addressed me with aching dignity.

“Something must be done,” she told me, trembling with such passion her black topknot threatened to topple. “Baptiste has been…discovered.” her disapproval withered the word.

“My feelings exactly, Midge,” I said, “but it’s just not done to go bombarding houses with sarin gas for being tacky.”

She sniffed. I was in no position to stop her, indeed, I might even applaud her secretly as they escorted her away, but we as a collective were allergic to public attention. We were observers, don’tchnknow.

Claude blew in with Metz, eyes bright, piggy cheeks shining with warmth.

“He was streaking through the carwash,” he told us in a breathless whisper. His scarf removal revealed the failed Chicago necktie he’d gotten at the Vectrie exhibit. “He had a chicken in hand that he used as a shield when the attendants tried to reason with him.”

“A chicken?” Lady D sniffed again. It was her favorite pastime. “How very Duchamp.”

“It was one of those Polish hens,” Metz countered, “no foster farmer’s wet dream. The man knows what he’s doing.”

Lady D sniffed again, but seemed mollified.

As the others streamed into the warehouse we used as this week’s meeting grounds, I marked out a contingency plan on the brick wall with a chunk of plaster. With all the shouted suggestions it ended up looking more like Jack the Dripper, but the plan evolved beyond two dimensions by that point.

“He isn’t just a single-performance artist anymore, he’s become an art generating machine,” Havanna piped up.

“It’s in our best interest to feed that machine, keep it going.” Some crater-cheeked soul who had wandered in with Frisley and Oates.

“But if we tip our hand too much, it might ruin the whole thing. Prime directive.” Claude’s old lover who changed names from week to week, still a bit put out at being replaced with Metz. I think he called himself Metz this week out of spite.

Lady D laid it down very slowly and deliberately like a battle-worn general. “We all agree that personal interference only increases the danger of going native. However—” she took a breath to sharpen her tongue, “the danger of discovery has forced our hand. His skill and talent will no longer be exclusive.

“That’s what happened to Warhol,” Sister Mister added sagely.

Dumont nodded. “Then we are in agreement, something must be done. But we must minimize the chances of his publicity. Ergo, one of us must volunteer.”

It wasn’t that I stepped forward, more like everyone else stepped back.

“You’re wanting I should lose the hippest thing since Gorbachev?” I said, “I ain’t got half the glasnost that you do, sister.”

Lady D acknowledged the compliment, but pressed on. “You have the experience, since disarming Kretsky’s infernal device.”

I knew Kretsky would come back to bite me on the ass. Literally, but those scars have long since healed. This was a fresher danger.

“This ain’t a fireside sing-along, if I get up and start belting kumbaya, heads will roll. I’m not an actor, I’m a pit pony. ‘sides, I go up there and introduce myself, I lose this great relationship of observer and observee.”

“It’s either this,” she said, “or the slow slide of mediocrity.”

The lady made a point.

“I’ll do it,” I said, “but I’ll probably hate meself in da morning.”

For this jaunt I wore the disguise of a health-happy pedestrian. The sneakers pinched through my pigwool socks, but I refused to remove the last vestiges of my fashion sense. At least they’d had a teal tracksuit in my size. Lady D and a few others had set up a duck-blind of vagrant’s possessions on the corner across from Baptiste’s apartment.

“Get in close to him,” the lady advised, “try to flatter him, so he’s receptive to your pitch.”

Our artist was hanging half-out of his apartment’s fire escape, drunk on Maker’s Mark and tossing lamps at a young woman who seemed to bear an unfortunate resemblance to his ex-lover Elise. I shot them the hi-sign and began my trek to glory.

There is a specific school of Raku firing that breaks from tradition in the most dramatic fashion possible, yet it may be the closest in terms of original intent. The potters construct their pieces with a series of holes so that when they yank the pieces red-hot from the kiln and drop them into water, the pots scream and steam the rest of their short lives away before exploding in a terrific fashion. This emphasis on impermanence and raw, primitive joy always did something to me.

His apartment door was closed, but someone(probably the artist himself) had destroyed the deadbolt and then fixed it with a stray piece of wire. I cannot communicate my joy as I swung open that apartment door. It was everything I’d hoped for, the mess, the stale smell of garbage and cigarettes and a life lived poorly in the physical world and deeply in the metaphysical. I breathed deep this fleeting moment, when everything was fresh and exciting. Say not that we art admirers dwell vicariously in the lives of artists, we live in the moment just as much as they.

Baptiste was slurring to the sidewalk, “I hope yer happy. I zjust wanna know if yer happy.”

I tapped on the window. “I hate to bother you, but could I steal a moment or two, dear boy?”

I shook a half-full bourbon decanter, which reached him faster than the words.

“The hchell do you wan?” he said, quickly uncapping and taking a swig. “My dad send you here? Fuck you, prole.”

“No, I haven’t had the pleasure,” I said. “I’m an…I guess you could call it ‘admirer.’”

He sized me up with boozy meanness. “You like my paintings?”

“You paint?” I said, “No, I’m more of a fan of your work.”

He nodded at nothing, probably not even listening. “I tol’ em, I said, ‘I don’ give a shit who you think y’are, my paintins are good. Good.” He took another swig.

“I understand,” I said, “I’ve lived a lifetime of tiny minds and wagging tongues who know nothing of ars gratia artis. They think paintings are created for patrons, not the other way around.”

He blunk at me. I don’t think he expected to be understood. It riled him.

“If yer not here for my paintin’s whadda fuck is you here for.” He had a bike chain necklace and a safety pin through one earlobe. I wanted to tell him how beautiful he was, but I’d already lost something by moving from audience to performer. To comment would be to make the dreaded step to analyst.

“Did you know, dear boy,” I said, “that you are gaining an audience?”

He heaved to and fro. “Szo?”

“So?” I said, “so you are gaining attention, which you crave, but from the entirely wrong place. Can you imagine Warhol finding fame as a billboard artist? Caulder being known as a helluva chair carpenter?”

He had the good sense to shudder. “Fuck, no man.”

I nodded. “Wilde was wrong. The only thing worse than being talked about, is being jeered about. They laugh at you, they don’t  appreciate your raw talent.

He sniffed. “That’s so true man.” He had retreated maudlinly into himself.

“But you have grown a small contingency of loyal followers.”

He looked around, as if other people were hidden behind the bars of the fire escape. “Where?”

I was pushing the envelope, but I was the one up here, not them. I pointed to the duck-blind on the ground.

“There. Just there.”

He waved sloppily to them. Even from this distance, I could see lady D’s eyes shining.

“They’re all fans of your work. We all love what you do and want to save you.”

His eyebrows disappeared into his hair. “You do?” My, he was just full of intelligent questions.

“Yes,” I said, “preserve you as you are, here at what we believe to be your peak.

He was crying, now. I don’t think he’d ever expected to receive praise. That was what made him so attractive, this little nobody, this little malcontent, this dimestore Diogenes in tattered jeans.

“Fuck, man.” H hid his eyes in his hand. I put my arm around his shoulder. “Fuck, you’re gonna make me cry.”

I could’ve whispered something profound in his ear, or some blasé one-liner pun, but I’ll never tell. This is my coin, my payment for services rendered. Using forward momentum, I rolled him over the rail.

He shrieked like steam as he spun out over the moments, landing neatly on a page in time’s scrapbook.

Lady D stood up and applauded.

“Bravo! Bravissima!” she called. I did not bow, that would be gauche.

Instead I quietly beat a retreat to the fire stairs, as the shrieking young miss on the sidewalk ran for the police. I had seen the inside of a prison during the draft and had no intention of repeating the experience.

What was the performance? Was it his journey to art school, despite his obviously lackluster talent? Was it the triumph of his ego under the relentless hammer of reality? Was it the endless division of moments, spanning from inception to termination? Was it the floral arrangement of his corpse on the sidewalk, a collage of disparate elements pasted together with blood to form the portrait of art’s own harlequin?

I say it was the whistle, that final spin out in the wake of inevitability, as his body was suspended in air, his face in-between terror and elation, his body in-between moments, forever suspended in my memory.

I whistled all the way home. Salut!

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Homebody

You clean house. A house embodies its occupants. The house is not the body.

This an expensive house, more than you could ever afford. You are allowed to live here, allowed a room with four walls and a floor and a ceiling as a housewife is given spending allowances. You must work to earn your keep, you must earn the right to continually live here.

You live with family. Relatives richer than you could fathom are allowing you this space in this house, because they are generous. They will allow you a three-dimensional space you can almost call your own in exchange for your caretaking. This way they don’t have to waste money on you. You are paid in space.

Aunt lives in the upper floors. You have a perfumed key to her boudoir that you can only enter when she’s not home. Aunt leaves cigarette butts with lipstick on the filter crushed out in her many silver ashtrays. Aunt does not want the room to smell of cigarettes. It is one of your numerous jobs to aerate her rooms.

Cousin, or perhaps second cousin, or step-cousin, spends her days being small and pretty away at a private school. She is getting a degree in being lovely. She does not have to worry about a career, only being loved. She wears it well. Her judgment is cruel, because she does not think of you at all. She leaves no notes on the pile of laundry(is it dirty? To be folded?) and complains to aunt if you’ve touched her silverware. Her drain is full of the longest hairs you’ve ever seen. A pretty girl leaves a lot of waste, like a factory making iPods.

Then there is Frank. You’re not sure what relation to Frank you are, but he insists you call him Frank. This is for closeness, he insists. He wants you to think of him as a father. He can never remember your name and leaves briefs with skidmarks on the piano bench. He chews words like tobacco and carries the power of veto. They all do. The floor beneath your feet is not solid, at any moment it may dissolve beneath you, leaving you in the street.

The street. A mythological genius loci they remind themselves of on days they need to shiver. A place where one loses all social mobility and becomes an unperson. A sucking, needy vacuum that is never assuaged, no matter how much money one amasses

3 o’clock. You must polish the banister. 5pm. Take a net to the pool and skim. Four in the morning. You have forgotten to degrease the oven, so down you go. No request too small, no time too early.

You’ve used the wrong wax on the upstairs hall floor. Beeswax is out, microcrystalline wax is all the rage. You see no difference in the floor’s gloss, but aunt is sated. Teddy is visiting for the weekend, air out the Fern room for him and his prep school darlings. Some foreign relation desires different curtains in the Rose room, you are on hand to oblige. 2 o’clock: windows!

The house is four walls and a floor and a ceiling. This is the brief code you live by. Any aberration is simply an incident of design. Any further dimension is just a modification of the original space. All a house really needs is four walls, a floor, and a ceiling. Sometimes the relatives remark on a boathouse, a carriage house, a summer house that is across the country yet somehow still part of the house. These are fiction you must exercise from your mind as you scrub, mop, scrub, mop. Work develops its own rhythm that helps drown out the tedium.

You have heard the term “homebody.” Others have applied it to you. It comes with an implication, a feeling of fondness for the house and all it embodies. You feel no fondness for this house for it does not embody you. It does not embody the relatives, either. If the house can be said to embody anything, it embodies itself. The house is house-shaped, and reflects its own style. The relatives are not homebodies. The relatives seem to take every opportunity to escape living in the house.

The relatives are continually discussing, or about to discuss, or just finished discussing their latest vacation. While you have struggled buckets of soapy water up stairs they have been to several beaches, sealed in a bungalow so that not a single grain of sand got in their shoes. The relatives visit other cities to be seen visiting other cities, spending more time in stores than at landmarks. You have never traveled. You will never travel. Your world is the house.

You have honed your senses to the point where you can hear movement in remote parts of the house. Someone’s thrown their slippers at the wall on the next floor.  There’s a scraping sound of someone snoring. All sounds crawl like ants on your skin.

Aunt complains to you that her third bathroom has not been restocked with toilet water. You heard the glug last night as she unstoppered the bottle and poured it all down the sink. Frank weeps to himself at midnight, and then wanks himself to sleep. Cousin visits the bathroom far more than usual, and her smile is getting thinner. They all think to leave their own indelible mark on the house, but they fail. You make sure of that.

You pine for a space that is not four walls, a floor, and a ceiling.

You are not a servant. You are not an accessory to be taken up when the mood suits them. Your family does not get the distinction, some days they call you by the wrong name. You lessen in their eyes as time goes by. You are no longer earning your keep by completing simple tasks. Your very existence in the house is in constant jeopardy. Refuse to fix Frank’s highballs? Out on the street you go. Ask a simple task from cousin? The street is always ravenous for new tributes. They have forgotten that you have ever been one of them, though maybe you never were. When they tell you to air out the Lily room, you think they are mocking you.

You have stained these walls with your labor. The existence of a room you did not know about is laughable, yet as cousin takes your hand—down, out past hallways you’ve been up and down a thousand times— and brings you to a door in the wall that cannot, should not be there, your humor dries up like a summer pond.

Cousin leaves you alone with this obscenity and the walls beat a rhythm: should-not-be, should-not-be. If there were windows you could check to see they serviced the same world as all the others, but the walls are blank, the pile of the carpet so deep it eats your sound.

They’ve played a cruel prank on you, the relatives. They know you cannot go outside, and so they have somehow expanded the inner space. Here, you explorer, they say with whiskey eyes and sour smiles, here Shackleton, here Carnarvon, here is a new space, untouched and all for you. Last year’s birthday gift of a new bucket pales in comparison.

You watch them now, you watch and resent and scrub on all fours as they bid beery cheer to each other and gossip and joke about nothing important. About if they want to produce more impossible architecture from nowhere.

Frank orders you to fish his golf clubs from his walk-inn closet. You can swear he’s never had a walk-in closet. You wait for it to spring shut once you’re inside, but it behaves like any other room, this usurper-space.

The house, once your ally against the relatives, has betrayed you. The only constant in your life has been four walls, a ceiling, and a floor. Even if you never got out into the world, you could be sure that, after a certain number of steps, you could reach the end of the house.

The relatives, they knew, didn’t they? They gave Tiffany glass smiles and swirled ice in scotch and spoke with Harvard inflections. They were probably lying when they talked about their national misadventures, the vacations, the yachting. They probably went no more than a hundred feet from your view, laughing at their clever ruse. Victory came not from travel, but lording over you the fact that they could leave the house and you couldn’t.

A conservatory sprouts from the walls like a toadstool. You want to break each crystal pane with your bare fist.

The relatives come close to showing concern, a first for them. Deep gouges have been appearing in the walnut molding, usually on nights when you sit up sleepless from their noise. They thought the house invincible, but they also lacked the wherewithal to check it themselves. You know. You could hurt the house. You know where its veins beat through paneled walls, each diamond eye staring blindly out into the world that may not exist. You are the true master of this house, and it dares to disobey you.

Aunt croaks concern about the number of caustic cleaning fluids you order from her. It’s alright, you simply want the house to be clean. You can’t get it to sparkle anymore, not with your old efforts. You wipe the banister with your forearm. Polish the granite countertops with your tongue. Use your dried blood as jeweler’s rouge on the wine glasses.

The solution, when it presents itself, is dishearteningly simple. There is no room for you. The place you sleep, four walls, a ceiling and a floor, were servant quarters in the logging boom. Not made for you. No, as the new master of such a tricksy house, You deserve something new. Something different.

Cousin asks why you are bringing power tools to the ballroom. You smile and reassure her, you’ve always known how to take care of the house, haven’t you? You are going nearest to the center of the house, so you can be at its heart.

You have all the keys. They knock and call and cry at the door but you have always had the power. You’re not even sure why you were ever unsure of yourself. They have needed you more than you, or the house, have needed them.

You slice boards and gouge tiles. You are cannibalizing other rooms to make your room, so it will be the best of the rooms. You will build into space, inner space, and you have no intention of stopping here. After this, you will build an inner yard, a street, perhaps even another house within the house, extending far into that inner space. Making a world for yourself. The relatives knock and call and cry at the door, because they are stuck. You are going places, now.

Four walls, a ceiling, a floor, and you.

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