Look at those banisters.
I was gathered in a room, with other people. Our faces pressed against the walls, looking outside, making faces. Sizzling energy surrounded me—the unpleasant kind, because it wasn't the kind I wanted to share. A flock of paper cranes were tied to the ceiling; they flew, always facing forward, red eyes painted on both sides, stiff wings extended.
—When to begin, nearly the end of it.
From a glass opening, my eyes escaped into the hallway. No one else paid attention to it.
We gathered in the back of the room, rolling around on a big bed. A girl sat on top of me; another put her hand into my face.
Paper cranes flew.
—You're in my spot, the girl on top of me said.
—You're sitting on me.
The door opened.
A woman entered.
—Intercourse is bad, she said. You need to stop that.
—I can't, she won't let me.
I hardly remember you.
It was raining dust from the ceiling.
—Today, the woman said, we're going to talk about photocopying.
—That's a waste of time, I said. I already know how.
(—Today, the woman said, we're going to talk about bubonic plague.
—No one remembers it.
[—Today, the woman said, we're going to talk about bicycles.
—I never forgot how to ride.] )
—What do you do on your days off? I asked.
—I graze horses, cook lunch, and watch television.
—That's pitiful. You're pitiful. I pity you.
—I also sell refrigerators. Without me, the world couldn't keep itself cold.
She was blinder than something with no eyes, pretending she could see.
As if the world noticed her.
She asked me a question.
I didn't know the answer. I didn't know the answer. I didn't know (the answer) I didn't know the answer. I didn't know the answer. I didn't know the answer. I didn't know the answer. I didn't know the answer. I couldn't answer (the question).
Paper cranes flew. All the walls were dark red, like they'd been painted—but not with a brush, because certain things don't look like that.
This is so difficult. Nearly impossible.
There's nothing to convey
The girl on top of me wiggled.
—I've always loved you, she said.
—Touch my breast. It would make me happy. I belong to you.
I can't say if I remember; she was newer than the snow.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to hold a pencil.
—You in the back, the one I'm having difficulty seeing.
—I need you to do something. There's something waiting for you.
—What is it?
—Don't worry, you'll know when you see it.
—Where should I go?
—Wherever. Just make sure you find it.
I walked through the doorway feeling that I would never pass through it again. After a few steps, it was behind me.
I stood on a carpeted balcony, overlooking tiles, a fountain (exploding into sparks), and countless statues. A crystal chandelier hung from the dome above. Garland stretched over the walls, the banisters, the stairs themselves—almost like it was Christmas, but with no green, no green anywhere. Only red: banners, carpet, architecture.
I turned into a hallway shaped like a tunnel; its curving panels sloped into themselves. Other people passed me, but none knew where they were going. Like me, none of them knew where they were going. That made me happy, less distant from other things. Even if they glared at me.
I stopped when I met a girl inspecting a statue. It had a detachable penis, and she kept doing all kinds of strange things to it. Her clothes were still on, but that didn't make it less strange, it made it stranger. The statue had no idea: it stared in some other direction, never at her, fascinated by nothing, stuck in some ridiculous pose, pelvis thrust forward (minus the phallus, of course), almost blinking, duller than a dull rock, its eyesight.
—What are you doing? I asked.
—Playing it like a flute, she said, and demonstrated. See?
—I do, but why?
—I don't need a reason, she replied. If I did, I wouldn't be doing this.
Suddenly, shame became my face. She narrowed her eyes. Other people passed without stopping; I was invading her privacy, I was an invader.
—Do you understand?
She shuffled her feet and looked at them.
The marble penis, still clutched between her fingers, was unnecessarily long, thick, and laced with veins, almost to the point it looked like the trunk of a tree—except, obviously, without leaves—and might, possibly, have been used as a weapon. It did occur to me to wonder at the presence of the statue itself, but I decided, after a moment's deliberation, that there really wasn't much reason to ask.
I kept going, in the direction of my footsteps. Each was reluctant, because I didn't want to take it. In all my life, I've never had difficulty accepting things—but I'd like to think it wasn't me that had changed, only my surroundings. I still resembled that distant person, except I was in a birdcage. No one could hear me chirping.
As I went forward, the ceiling moved. A continuous light stretched way behind and in front of me, longer than its own direction, illuminating a carpet so thick I almost sank in it. If I didn't walk right, I might fall. That wouldn't be so bad, because the ground was cushioned—but still, I noticed.
To my right, a display case stuck out of the wall. It had pictures of people in it, except none of them had any faces. Instead, everyone had brass plaques (name, date, inscription) where their necks should be, each displaying some kind of sculpture: squares, triangles, abstract bits of geometry. A bunch of ribbons had fallen between the trophies. So many, but just one color.
The hallway passed and so did I. We were like the same thing, only different, because only I had feet. I suppose it was jealous, but there was nothing I could do.
I don't think.
The wall beside me became a pane of glass, regularly divided, into planes and panels. Behind it, I saw a room like a laboratory, almost pure white, full of long rectangular tables. People walked between them, wearing white coats and white goggles. Each table was covered in multiple instruments, but I couldn't see them, I'm not sure why.
I stopped to look, and somebody came out through a clear space I hadn't realized was a door (there was no glass, but how could I tell, without touching it?). Her face sparkled. It was kind of annoying.
—Are you K? she asked.
—We've been waiting for you, she said. Wait right here for just a second. I'll be back soon.
A minute later she returned carrying something in both hands—it looked like a crate, except it was different, I couldn't see but it was different, and wiggly.
She handed me an octopus.
It latched onto my face; it latched around my arms; there were tentacles everywhere; it was gross, and had a funny smell; and heavy too; and when it moved it made a low, wet sound, like someone dragging their foot along the beach, when the sand was damp; and its eye faced the other direction, in front of me, but even though it could see, I couldn't, because there was tentacle in the way, and body.
—Alright, she said, be careful.
—What the fuck?
—I'm sure you've probably noticed, she continued, but there are walls everywhere here. There's a good chance you'll run into one of them, since, no matter where you go, unless you leave, one of them will be in front of you.
—Isn’t there anyone else to give this to? Anywhere?
—You'll know where to take it, she said, but if you forget, get there, and then ask someone.
They'll tell you everything you need to know.
—Get it off of me. It’s slimy.
—Its name is Gregory, by the way. Make sure to be polite.
—Alright, she said, that's about everything you need to know. Good luck.
I tried to give it back to her, but all I did was walk into the wall; and even though I couldn't see, I had the feeling that she was already gone.
I took a deep breath, feeling sorry for myself.
—Hello, said the octopus. My name is Gregory.
—So I've heard.
—I enjoy small fish and long walks on the beach. But I spend too many hours on the telephone. That can be tiresome, when you're tired.
—Could you be quiet for a minute? I'm not feeling very good.
—I'm also a painter, the octopus continued. My work has been described as a mix of Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dalí, and Jackson Pollock (sometimes), and lauded for its innovative technique.
—Can you really hold a paintbrush?
—Of course. Look!
—That's impressive, I said. Makes me wish I had eight arms.
—Jealousy is inevitable when dealing with one of my talents.
—Could you do me a favor (I hefted him, because he was about to fall) and move a little bit?
—Your tentacles are in my face. I can't see very well.
—But I'm comfortable.
—If you don't move, I said, we'll fall down the stairs and become splotches of blood on the ground. This has to be a collaborative effort.
I took a step, and another, until something solid got in our way. It was, undeniably, a wall. We bounced against it; teetered, and nearly fell. My legs wiggled and became rubber. Because of the carpet, I could hardly stand. Gregory didn’t understand that sometimes, octopuses should go on diets too.
—Ow! he said. Alright, I get it.
—Ick, I said.
—It's no fun to be back here.
—You don't know anything about octopus anatomy, he said. Just pretend it isn't there, and you won't see it.
—No, I mean, you're slimy.
—I can't help it. It happens.
—Don't you ever take showers?
—That's not the way it works.
—No, I replied, you're just afraid of soap.
When Gregory had adjusted himself, I walked down the hallway, bumping into things (protruding face, the body of a whale). Now, at least, people paid attention to me: they made faces, turned to go the other way. Golden things sparkled all around me—interesting stuff I didn't get any chance to look at.
The hall curved, went straight, and turned into other places, still hallways, that had paintings and people in them. By one door, holding a blowtorch in one hand and a cigar in the other, stood a man with a really big mustache. He wore his tie perfectly straight. It had little cartoons on it.
—Hey K, he said. You got something there?
—An octopus, I replied. Its name is Gregory.
—Maybe this just isn't the right angle, but it looks like it's probably bigger than you are.
—Isn't that uncomfortable.
—While you're walking past me, he said, beware of my foot.
A moment later, I fell down the stairs. I bumped, and rolled, and hit my head. Each impact felt extremely unpleasant. Later, I was sure to be covered in bruises, like a peach: a squished one.
Of course, I had dropped Gregory.
—Are you alright? I asked.
—Aren't you like, made of rubber or something? So you could bounce?
By this point, a crowd had formed around us: a bunch of kids, wearing uniforms, carrying backpacks. They mumbled. Somewhere in there, I heard a cry of
—We've got ourselves a wounded octopus!
and a moment later
—Somebody call a doctor!
The crowd parted, and an ambulance drove up. On top of it, a siren screamed, playing with her claws. Two people carrying a stretcher came out of the ambulance. They wore all white, even over their eyes, so I couldn't see them, except their bodies.
Nearby, a girl was crying. She petted Gregory on the head as she cried.
—You know, he said, if you give me a kiss, I'll become a human prince.
—Really? she asked.
...It didn't work.
When Gregory was gone, the crowd left pretty quickly.
The room itself looked like an antechamber. It had a gigantic red ceiling, except no chandelier. Fresh tire-tracks circled the statue of a scowling old lady wearing a frilly dress and a hat with a feather in it. Footprints covered the floor. The far wall broke into an arch, a gateway. Vibrations spilled out of it.
Where I went.
Beneath the high ceiling—made of metal, like the inside of a supermarket—spread wooden tiles, with full cushioned chairs, some so large you had to climb them, arranged all around it. The walls were like shelves, divided into layers, except each platform was its own space, a separate room.
Hanging off one of the edges, something shined.
—E, I said, is that you?
She turned, looked down, and it was.
I climbed to sit beside her. She had a bunch of papers in her hands, like a manuscript.
—Hey, I said. What are you doing?
—Working on my thesis, she replied. I'm not sure why I'm here, though.
—How's it going?
—Not well. I was sleeping.
—What's your topic, again?
—Something to do with idealism and string theory. I'm not sure anymore.
—Should I let you get back to that?
—Yeah, she replied, I was having a good dream. You were in it.
—What were we doing?
—I don't remember. But I guarantee we weren't flying an airplane, climbing a mountain, or baking cupcakes.
—That's good, I said. Cupcakes can be lame, sometimes.
Instead of climbing, I jumped into one of the chairs. It was really soft; I bounced.
Below me, a girl was playing the violin. Close-eyed, her hands moved; she concentrated. A thin scarf hung around her neck. Her hat had something European about it. I've never been to Europe.
—Hello, she said. Do I know you?
—I think we live on the same street. Probably.
—I saw you one day, she said, with your flamethrower. You looked tired.
—That was an unpleasant time in my life. I'm trying to forget it.
—Oh, she said. I understand.
I slid down from the chair. My feet remembered the ground. Her strings vibrated, a choir, all together, with a single conductor. Her song was beautifully wordless. It could only be felt, not understood. Like other things—simultaneity, unity of properties, timeless.
I wanted to talk to her some more, but her eyes closed again. I don't think she could hear me over the music—but as I left, I thought I felt her speaking into my ear, almost like she was using her voice.
I returned to the antechamber. At the base of the statue, a line of small children, wearing robes, hands tucked behind their backs, sang.
Considering the multiple exits, I took the first. Its ceiling, unlike the others, stood at proper angles; the floor, congruent to itself, was all white tile. Sterility infected the walls. A mass of janitors cleaned them, scrubbing with long cottony brushes. Just like before, all the light came from a continuous strip along the ceiling.
I passed a short person, wearing glasses, and a tall person, wearing glasses. I went by a person carrying a suitcase, wearing glasses. In one of the rooms, through glasses, people stared into a big TV. In the glass, images transmogrified to resemble thought-patterns. Some occupants drooled. One was sucking his thumb. Another, off in the corner, was eating a hamburger.
An older man in a suit, hair slicked back so I could still see the grease, came to the door. The lenses magnified his eyes. He straightened his collar. His nose was oily.
—Hello, he said. Would you like to join us?
—Are you sure you won't stay? he asked. We have pizza every Friday, and we eat syrup in the morning.
—I can't. I'm going somewhere.
—Come inside, just for moment. I'll introduce you to everyone.
—I'll stay here.
—That (he pointed), is Rudolph. He likes birthday parties. The girl sitting beside him is named Angela; she's our newest member. The one with red hair (picking his nose), is Sylvester—our tech guy. My job is to wear a suit and slick back my hair in order to look professional. I teach people things, if they're willing to learn.
All along the walls, in gravitational clusters, papers stuck tacked together. The hall smelled of antiseptic. No one talked. Instead, like insects that had been stepped on, they curled, clasping their knees, laughed, cried. Impossible lights gleamed in their eyes.
—Have you been here before? one asked.
—Never. I need to get out.
—We have our fun. Except for the bad days. Sometimes they bring us pictures of coral fish or asparagus. I ate a mastodon whole. The tusks got stuck in my stomach, and now I need to have surgery, because my insides bleed. It's impossible to feel the butterflies. I'm stuck in a cocoon but I can't break out, I'm stuck in a cocoon but I'm not a butterfly. There must be something better than that.
—Do you know the way out?
—There's a door with the sky in it. When you open it, you can see the sky for real. That's how you'll know you're outside.
—Thanks, I said. Before I go, do you need anything?
—You could untie me.
—There's no rope.
—It's just invisible. If you look hard enough, you'll find it—I warn you though, letting me out might be a really big mistake.
—I'll do it if you want me to. Should I?
—I might never come back.
—That's alright with me, if you want to go.
I untied him and he ran away. He had really curly red hair. Every few steps he would reach down to grab his feet. Once he fell, and nearly caught himself. But not quite.
At the end of the corridor, I found a door. I opened it, and an image of the sky flooded my mind. The ground was a plane of concrete, like a parking lot, except with no marks on it. It extended not quite to the horizon, but nearly. Tall fences surrounded the perimeter.
A small garage crouched nearby. Time had peeled the color from its sides.
On the roof: a sundial, marking time, cast a shadow.
Around the other side, I met a little kid bouncing a ball. Snot leaked out of his nose. The red ball he clutched—proverbial, an icon. He made me sad, for some reason. Possibly because he was crying.
Next to him was a bright orange car; beneath it, a painting, about ten feet wide; on top of that, holding two paintbrushes, kneeling down, an attractive woman with her dark hair tied back. She flung paint. It made streaks, forming lines and waves: burgundy wings upon the canopy of a forest; hanging flowers, burning rain.
—Hello, she said. Have you come to see my masterpiece?
—Isn't it magnificent? And aren't I, for painting it?
—Tell me, she said, what do you see?
I never responded. I wonder if she noticed.
She cocked her hip. Her boots were really tall, with pointy heels. I felt almost like she was going to attack me. She had the fullest lips I've seen.
—Are you free? she asked. I have something to tell you.
—Look over there (she gestured to the horizon, somewhat resembling her picture; all movement, in gusts). Do you see my husband?
—He's so far away! she cried. Beyond reach, passing out of memory!
—Is that him? I asked.
A few miles away, someone was flying one of those old style planes. It had spinning propellers on the front, and an open cockpit—except it was tied, by string, to the ground. A big banner trailed from the back of the plane. It read “SOS” in attention catching letters.
—He's left me, she wailed, for the sky, to go on a great journey!
—Don't worry (she fixed her posture, straightened her hair), I'm alright.
—Oh, I said. That's good.
—Would you like to get in the car? she asked. There's enough room in there for two.
—Isn't that your son, right there?
—No, she said. I'm not really sure what he's doing here. It has nothing to do with me.
—Alright, I said. I don't believe you but alright.
She got really close—her breasts jutted my face—dragged me by the wrist, opened the door, and threw me in so hard I hit my head on the other side.
She was all boob.
They were heavy, like planets. When she kissed me, I thought she was going to swallow my face; her fingernails made my neck bleed. Whenever I moved, she would put her hands on my shoulders and push so hard I became part of the chair. She hit me with a hammer, except the hammer was her body. She ran her hands across her chests and thighs. She put her head back. She screamed. She was a quaking tower with gigantic breasts, flinging the earth: goddess of the volcano, exonerating plasticized vision. The lightning ran across her, cast a cloak about her shoulders; the thunder shook. I was reminded of the earth. Pieces of the sky fell, casting columnar plumes into the air, dust and soot, generations of ash: a heat more unforgiving than any summer. Her core shook, like an earthquake. Nothing could be salvaged, no nothing could be salvaged, she laid buildings and cities and waste, removed the leaves from the trees, shook entire continents. Pulsating strongly, a shift. For miles, people dodged collapsing houses. Her energy was of the earth, in it, outside it. To some extent, she shared that with me, but rather than becoming, I partook, seeming to observe from an impossible distance, the collapsing horizon, its rupturing space....
Sometimes I wonder if "sex" is the right word for what we did. It was only partially sexual, but ultimately geographic; visceral in the sense that being shot with a cannon is visceral. When we finished, I wasn't sure, but I thought I might have experienced what it felt like to get raped.
—How was it? she asked.
—Intense, I replied.
I got out of the car about twenty minutes later, feeling exhausted, and began to walk towards the edge of the asphalt. I'd managed to keep her from tearing up all my clothes, just nearly. The sun was setting darker now, in a blazing pit of color. I could barely lift my feet. For some reason, I heard strange sounds up ahead. They grew louder: metallic crashing and what I thought was probably shouts. When I reached the end of the stone platform, I discovered it was the edge of a cliff, overlooking a spreading plain of rocks. Down there, surrounded by cliffs on their own platform (above a maelstrom of energy—a black swirl, a vortex, consuming all physical space) there was a battle going on, complete with armor and swords, and gouts of fire, and bursts of electricity; a perpetual energy I can't describe, it might have been begun, long ago, in eternity, and would end only when nothingness returned. Overlooking the field, much as I had seen from further away, there was a large, dark tower.
is the author of Voices
experimental novel published by Enigmatic Ink
in 2010, as well as Sunshine In
, which will be released in January of 2011 by Civil Coping Mechanisms
He is interested in the literature of aesthetic and ideas.