Sunday, June 03, 2007


'If I designed my own people,' I think, 'I'd make all human-angles sharp and knife-like, and chins and elbows and knees and noses and fingers would end in points and people would only carefully touch and embrace one another at substantial risk to their health and well-being.' I'm in the bathroom. Six soft-white light-bulbs arc over the bathroom-mirror and light the bathroom-mirror which softly reflects the low white toilet and the fogged-glass shower-door. I touch the shower-door and the shower-door's cool and comfortable and I'm envious of the shower-door because my skin's always warm and uncomfortable and skin-like and human. 'I wish my skin were made from shower-door metal,' I think. 'I wish my face were glass.'

"Chutes and ladders," I say aloud to no one. "People."

There's a knock on the door. "Are you in there?" It's Merna.

I wonder who "you" is. "I'm me," I say, "and I'm here."

There's another knock.

"I'm sorry," I say to the door. I open the door. 'Shower-door knife-skin,' I think.

Merna's standing very still with her hands hanging loose at her side.

"I'm me," I say. "I'm sorry." My cell-phone ring-tone's playing a song. "Here." I hand my cell-phone to Merna. "Answer it."

Merna holds the cell-phone and looks at the cell-phone in her hand.

"It's a cellular-telephone," I say.

Merna pushes a button. "Hello," she says. I step into the hallway. "Oh hi," Merna says, "what do you want?"

"Who is it?" I say.

"Very funny…Aaron."

"What's funny?"

Merna hands me the cell-phone. "Just talk."

I hold the cell-phone against my face. "Hello," I say.

"I'm at the airport," Aaron says.

"Really?" I imagine Aaron at the airport and I picture his round wide body standing very still center-perfect on a narrow conveyor-belt and there are a dozen conveyor-belts and each conveyor-belt has thousand's of people and conveys these thousands of people very quickly and the conveyer-belts have no beginnings or ends and Aaron's always center-perfect and always moving away from one thing and toward another.

"Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing?"

"You're going somewhere for work or business probably. Acquire a small corporation or some real estate, slave-laborers. That's what I'd do."

Merna moves her head near my head so she can hear the cell-phone speaker.

"I think I love you or something." There's a long pause. "Come to the airport. Come meet me. Come to Wal-Mart. Meet at Wal-Mart. Buy you a ticket to somewhere. We'll go."

"I can't." There are one-million Wal-Marts with one-billion people and one-trillion products and each person must buy one-hundred assorted DVDs, CDs, toys, patent-leather shoes, Snickers-bars, plastic-trucks, or board-games so one-trillion new products can be manufactured for tomorrow and then again the next day, on a conveyor belt. I feel nervous and imagine the products moving in and out of Wal-Mart and people holding the products and people are the products and Aaron and Eric are holding their own choice products and selling products and becoming products near a huge red Denali, and Merna's standing with the twins and Noah and there's a wide parking-lot on a mountain-peak and ten-trillion people are parked in the parking-lot and standing next to their trillion cars which are steaming and solid and carefully aligned within the parking-lot's complex grid and the sky's cloudless and cold and blue. And there's an airplane and movie-cameras and I'm in front of the movie-cameras and the trillion people are watching but I'm no movie-star so I watch the cold pavement and carefully load my products into a nearby car which is not my car but everyone's car and I'm not crying because crying's embarrassing and not photogenic and my grandfather's somewhere on the other side of the parking-lot.

Aaron's talking.

"You're not Kevin Costner," I say.


"I'm trapped in a parking-lot or something." I turn off my cell-phone and sit quietly in the hallway. I lean against the wall. The wall's solid and cold. I'm cold. "Merna," I say. I tell Merna I'm cold. I tell Merna about parking-lots.

The basement's a cold damp place with old stained-couches, a dirty piano, and a large heavy television. I sit on one stained-couch. Merna sits on another. The television teaches us about steak-knives that never need sharpening.

"I wish I had those knives," I say. "I'd cut a watermelon in half and in half again, then again, until there was only watermelon pulp. I'd carve a cow. I'd chop a cement-block."

Merna doesn't answer. She pulls her long thin hair through her fingers and then back behind her shoulders and holds it solidly there. Merna knots her fingers in her hair and Merna's hair tangles and bends and the hairs twist around Merna's finger-joints like some vine-y plant.

"I'd pin baby-rabbits to the kitchen wall from fifty yards."

There are commercials.

On the television, a tall thin man walks slowly across a darkened bedroom and stands quietly in the corner with his thin hands placed flat against adjacent walls. His elliptical head rests in the corner. "Merna," I say. I'm pointing.

Merna's talking into her cell-phone. "Noah," she says. She says something else.

"Merna," I say. I'm pointing. I listen.

"…a few days and be with grandma. Just…okay…." Merna holds her cell-phone away from her face. "Dog died," she tells me. "Internal injuries bled through its stomach I guess. Nothing anyone could do."

The commercial changes and the tall man fades slowly away.

"…my sister. Watching television. Can't sleep now…too tired and too strange to sleep, unsettled…"

I call Erik's cell-phone with my cell-phone but go straight to voicemail. When the voice-mail message beeps, I record this: "I'm in this parking-lot on top of Mount Everest with five thousand SUVs and there are a million people filming me while I load groceries into my little car and I've been stabbed I think and am bleeding but am too scared to say anything and I feel a little embarrassed about the blood which is staining my new white-blouse."

I turn off my cell-phone.

Outside, it's still night, but the sky has changed from black to dark-gray and where there were clouds, there are now stars and somewhere the moon but from here on this stained-couch and through the low half-window that peeks just above the snow, I can't see the moon.

"Merna," I say. "I'm sorry. I did it. I stabbed him one-thousand times for five years and drained his blood into little jars which I stored in the garage in the big freezer."

Merna's silent.

"I amputed fingers and toes and hands and feet and forearms and shins and kneecaps and elbows, and any other pieces I could imagine amputating and framed the pieces and showed the pieces at show-and-tell and when I went to glue them back together the pieces didn't fit, had changed." I close my eyes. 'What am I saying,' I think. 'I don't know what this is or what I'm doing or where I am.' I want something now. My chest hurts and my arms, and my hands feel as though they are reaching and closing and wanting and grasping and there's something somewhere that my hands want to hold and keep, to absorb and become. I'm watching my hands and my hands are opening and closing. I think, 'Anastasia.' I think something else. There's a boat but it's not a boat and I'm not on the boat because the boat's empty. 'There is a boat,' I think to myself. "I have to go upstairs," I say. "Come on. We'll go together. But we have to do something. We always have to do something." I feel as though I'm failing. 'I'm failing,' I think. "Upstairs," I say.


"Upstairs," I say again.

I wonder if I want to fail.

The stairs were thin and narrow and crumbled and between them tiny shoots of grass had grown so that from a distance the stairs appeared no different than the hill they climbed. The stairs were stone and ruined and old and each time I placed my foot on one stair I felt that it might suddenly crumble but no stair crumbled and slowly we made our way to the top of the hill where the land was flat and grassy.

"Parking-lot," my grandfather said.

My father was laughing.

"Are we there?" Anastasia asked. "Or somewhere, anyway?"

There was a blanket in my backpack and my grandfather removed the blanket and spread the blanket smooth and wide in a brown patch of grass at the top of the stairs. We sat cross-legged on the blanket and shared a bag of potato-chips.

There was wind.

"Where are we?" I asked.

"Lisbon." My grandfather held a handful of potato-chips. "Might be Wisconsin. Probably Lisbon and Wisconsin at the same time like a time/space-warp, but no way to test. Could build a little hut here and grow a garden with broccoli and carrots and apples and peas. Maybe eat leaves and grass. Climb trees. Or build huts in the trees. Hide rope/net traps. Kidnap all the pirates and free Lisbon-Wisconsin, once and for all from the pirate menace."

Anastasia and my father went for a walk.

My grandfather curled up on the blanket and fell asleep.

I stood over my grandfather and watched my grandfather's face which was worn and wrinkled and small and framed by the wide collar of his plain white dress-shirt and asleep my grandfather appeared eye-less and warm, plain and calm, and everywhere wrinkled so that his skin seemed worn and loose. I moved my face close to my grandfather's face so that I thought I could feel the microscopic edges of his stubble.

I sat cross-legged next to my grandfather's curled body until the sky darkened.

With wide-open eyes, I said, "You're a person."

Nothing answered.

I watched the stairs but there were no stairs and my brain told me the stairs were not stairs but people now old and dead and curled carefully against the side of the hill.

"How would you design people?" I ask Merna. "If you designed people?"

Merna doesn't answer.

We're in the hallway and there are many doors and some of the doors are open. The hallway's dark and gray and the doors and walls and carpet and light-fixtures are thin gray forms that move slowly at the edge of my eyes but not really the edge of my eyes because my eyes have no edge. We're standing in front of a closed door and Merna's hand is on the doorknob.

"I'd make people sharp," I say. "I'd make people very small and efficient so that each people-movement was energetic but only as energetic as necessary and people would be ant-size and efficient and always useful in some way and if people were so small it would be difficult to destroy things or whatever."

"Oh," Merna says. "I don't want to talk, okay?"

"People are supposed to talk."

"I don't want to talk."

"Okay," I say.

"Okay, then."

Merna opens the door.

I step into the room which is dark and gray and cold. "This room's cold," I say.

Merna doesn't answer. Merna moves next to the bed. The bed's wide and long and almost fills the room and as I move next to the bed I must walk sideways in a shuffling way and my knee brushes the side of the bed which feels very uncomfortable and soft and fleshy, so I hold my knees away from the bed and arc my body in a precarious and unbalanced way and brush the wall and lean against the wall which is rough and lined and cold. I touch the bed with my hand and remove my hand and hold my hands at my side.

"We're here," Merna says.

"I thought you didn't want to talk."

"Now I want to talk."

"Oh." I watch the bed. Centered on the bed is my grandfather's body and the sheets and blankets are gathered over the top of my grandfather's body and everything in the room is very still and cold. I reach with my hand and touch the blankets that are gathered over my grandfather's body and the blankets feel soft but beneath the blankets there's my grandfather's body which is solid and still. "This," I say. I stop. I watch my grandfather's face and my grandfather's face's cold and gray.

"We're here," Merna says. "What do you want to do?"

"I don't know."

"What're you thinking about?"

"I don't know."

"Aren't you thinking?"


"You should be thinking something," Merna says. "People should think things because being a person is thinking and you're a person."

"What're you thinking?" I ask. "What do you want?" I feel suddenly tired and I don't want to know what Merna wants and I don't want to know anything.

"Stop," Merna says.

"I don't want to know anything," I say. "I don't know anything anyway." I sit on the edge of the bed and the bed is cold and I am cold and I and the bed are cold together. "Miniature-people," I say, "are better." I feel suddenly that I want to kiss my grandfather's face and in my mind I see my face kissing my grandfather's face deeply and I'm nervous and cold and hug myself because I've never kissed my grandfather and I know I shouldn't now because it'd be inappropriate but the image is stuck in my brain even when I close my eyes.

"I have to go," Merna says. Merna goes.

I sit quietly for a while. I imagine kissing my grandfather.

No comments: