Monday, June 18, 2007

Twenty







There's a mini-van in Montana.

Montana's in Lisbon, somewhere.

There's a tall white house on the highway in Montana/Lisbon and in the tall white house there's a basement and in this basement are three stained-couches, a large wood-framed television, and a tall thin man standing quietly in the corner, his hands resting on perpendicular walls.

I am nowhere and not there but I say this anyway: "Who are you?"

"I am," the man says, "this." He turns his head slightly and his head's wide and pasty and expressionless.

"Why?"

"I'm hungry, maybe. That's all."

I consider this. I consider his mouth and his mouth's wide and toothy and there are too many teeth and the teeth are narrow and white and packed tightly together inside the mouth.

"I haven't eaten. Need to clip my fingernails." I watch the man's hands and the man's hands have no fingernails. "I need something probably."

"You need food?"

"I have to piss and shit for while. And my stomach hurts a little. I'm pale and weak and my hands don't work right anymore." He shows me his hands. He tries to make a fist. "They're vein-y and with tendonitis or inflammations, I think. I want my hands to do things but I can't control my hands and my hands do other things."

I sit softly on the old stained-couch and sink into the couch and my body's solid and wide and couch-like and I feel soft everywhere.

"Don't you understand?" the man says. "This." He shows me his hand and his hand's very thin with long thin fingers and a very narrow unlined palm.

I lay on the couch and the couch's a shopping-cart and I'm moving but I'm here on the stained-couch and very soft. I feel tired. I listen to the sounds but there are no sounds and I wonder where the sounds are.

"You're boring," I say.

The man strangles me for a while.

"Don't do that." I feel tired and calm.

The man stares in a sad way. His hands are thin and cold and I watch his hands as they encircle my neck. "I won't, okay," the man says. "Keep quiet for a while, okay?" He strangles me and I watch as he strangles me and behind him the television plays a bar-soap commercial. A woman with thin blonde hair lathers her pale body with thick white soap-foam and I imagine the bar-soap and the thick white soap-foam in my hands and what I'd do with the bar-soap and who I'd give the bar-soap to because I'd give the bar-soap to every person and every person would strangle me for a while until I wake and walk naked along the highway with handfuls and handfuls of knives.





I'm standing in the café. I'm standing near the wall and I touch the wall and the wall's dark and cold and somehow rough and I imagine feeling individual wall-atoms and I imagine the wall-atoms interacting with my fingers and moving and changing until the wall-atoms are different wall-atoms.

The barista says, "What was that about?" The barista's the only person in the café.

"I don't know."

"Cool."

The barista leans against the counter in a tired way and sighs through thin half-parted lips. The barista's face's lined and worn and as the barista leans against the counter each part of the barista's body hangs slackly and I feel suddenly like a barista-part might fall from the barista-body and lay motionless on the floor.

"Would you like some coffee or something or a croissant or blueberry-muffin? I have pastries you know." The barista gestures toward a glass-case. "You could have anything you wanted. Like coffee-cake or something. Sorry about before with that guy. He's always sort of dramatic but usually doesn't hurt people, and leaves good tips."

"Usually doesn't hurt people?"

"Yeah, usually." The barista smiles. "Only once. Anyway, I can give you free coffee and pastries. It's in my 'discretionary budget.'" The barista stands upright and is very tall. "Come here for awhile. What's your name and stuff? Don't you like coffee and pastries?"

"Who's the person who usually doesn't hurt people? What's its name?"

"You should try some milk-foam. Sit with me in back. I'm taking a break anyway." The barista edges past me and locks the front door. "Come with me, back here. I have these cheese-curds I got from a cheese-factory and they're very good, and free coffee. We'll share or something. I like you, I think."

I follow the barista down a narrow hallway. There are evenly spaced doors on the hallway-walls but we pass the doors and turn left at a fork and then right at the next fork. Here the hallway becomes very bright with exposed halogen-light-bulbs and along the ceiling are long gray pipes of varying diameter and shape. Sometimes a pipe disappears into the ceiling only to reappear a few feet further down the hallway. There are many knobs and levers and I want to turn the knobs and pull the levers but I hold my hands quietly at my side.

"Back here," the barista says. The barista pulls a thin curtain aside and steps into a dirty rectangular room. Centered in the room is a dirty card-table and a dirty refrigerator. There are no chairs. The ceiling's lined with pipes and valves and levers and knobs. The barista opens the refrigerator. The barista's holding a package of cheese-curds. "They're very good."

"This customer," I say, brushing the cheese-curds aside. "Who'd it hurt?"

"Some woman, it's not important."

"What happened?"

"I said it's not important." The barista puts the cheese-curds away and crosses its arms. "I'm trying to give you free coffee and stuff. Don't you want free things?"

"Did the customer use a knife or a gun? Or just fists or hands or feet, or something?"

"I told you it's not important." The barista walks back into the hallway. "Come on. You have to leave now."

"What about the cheese-curds? Coffee?" I sit carefully on the edge of the dirty card-table. I feel strange and warm and I want terribly to know everything about this customer because my brain's confused and concerned and in my brain everything I know is suddenly interrelated. The customer, Merna, my grandfather, the tall dark man, Anastasia, my parents, me, my grandfather and we're sitting cross-legged on a blanket and picnicking and sharing grapes and bread and water. A dog's barking and a boat's floating somewhere in the distance and there's a tall hill or mountain and we're there, in the parking lot and a little fire's burning quietly. I want to explain this to the barista but the barista's in the hallway and slowly tapping its foot. "Sit with me for a moment so I can think of something to say."

"My break's over." The barista moves a little down the hallway. "Come with me. You can't stay here."

"Why?"

"Safety and insurance. Law-suits."

"I don't understand." I move toward the door. There are many shadows in the room and the shadows are long and angular.

"Just come with me, now." The barista leads me through a network of hallways. We turn left, then right, then right, then right again. The doors aren't so evenly spaced here and as we walk the barista mutters quietly to itself in what sounds like a foreign language. I shiver a little and focus my brain on containing my shivering and holding it solidly inside. There are no pipes here. "Go," the barista says. It points to a door at the end of the hallway.

I start to go. "Thanks," I say. "I mean that customer thing." I watch the barista over my shoulder. "Where's this door go?"

"I have to go back to work now. Please go, okay?"

I open the door.

I step outside.

There's a narrow street and low dirty cars and clusters of slow-moving people. I'm on a sidewalk.

My cell-phone ring-tone plays a little song. "Hello," I say.





"Don't you want something? Isn't that why you called? Money or something?" my grandfather said.

I was at college. I pulled my blankets tightly as I thought about the question. "No." My bedroom was dark and cold and a thin breeze filtered through the open window. Outside was dark and clear.

"No? Called for no reason then?"

The voice's thin and static-y and each word, I knew, was a series of beginnings and endings with interruptions and what was missing were the middle-sounds and these middle-sounds were the sounds I wanted to here and why I listened so carefully then. 'A voice is a something,' I thought but the thought wouldn't go anywhere and I abandoned it. I wanted suddenly to touch and hold the voice and choke the voice for a while until the voice became something else. "You're wrong," I said.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be," I said. "Talk about something."

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"Are you eating healthy?" There's a short pause. "Have you rescued any squirrels?"

"No and No. I eat squirrels. I roast them after I catch them with thin little strings."

"You tie them down?"

"Of course," I said. "That's how I torture them."

"With toothpicks?"

"For the eyes. And with salt and old razor-blades. You know, like in grade-school."

"Of course."

I chuckled a little and my grandfather chuckled and we chuckled together. "Thanks," I said.

"Go to the grocery-store."

"What?"

"Tomorrow morning," my grandfather said. "Go to the grocery-store, for groceries. It's important."

"What? Why?"

"Toothpicks. You'll need more of them. And charcoal."

"Oh." I laughed.

"Sometimes toothpicks are the only way to survive. Trust me. I lived off them, in Borneo. I manufactured them in Lisbon. There were squirrels everywhere."

"Pin the eyes back?" I asked.

"Pin them back properly," he answered. "Light the little fuckers on fire."





"Hello," I say into my cell-phone.

"Where are you?" It's Merna.

"Somewhere?"

"I need you. Planning. There's a wake and a funeral and stuff and how can we plan these things without you?"

"I don't understand." I begin to walk. My feet slide a little in the snow and ice.

"I need your help, right now. Grandma's not helping. She's crying and napping and won't leave the bedroom or anything. I don't know what to do. Noah's working so I need you here and the wake has to be today, or the funeral. I don't know about these things."

"Okay."

"So you're coming?"

I think about the question and imagine my body moving and imagine my moving body from above as a map with highlighted routes and with dark red lines and little gray shortcuts and I follow the lines and shortcuts but the lines don't connect or progress and instead move only in curves and at angles. "I'll try," I say.

"Please come. Please come now."

I put my cell-phone away. I'm walking. 'I'm here,' I think. I think it again. The sky's gray and very nearby so that I can imagine my head piercing the sky if were walking on a tall hill or mountain or even camped on a parking-lot on a mountain-peak with a little round fire and blankets. I try to imagine Merna's face but Merna's face's not a face.

"Watch where you're going," a person says. The person's face's long and wide and mostly an open mouth that's moving.

"Sorry."

"Aren't we all?"

"Yes," I say.

There's a low gray car. "Do you need a ride?" a voice says.

"Okay," I say.

There's a body and the body's wide and fat. "Get in," the voice says.

A door opens.

I step in.

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