dan (verbalkint) wrote,
dan
verbalkint

Abstractions

You would feel skittish. If you had been sitting at your window and watched the same car pass by four times in as many hours, slowing as it went, you would feel skittish. The man in the passenger seat had binoculars, it looked like. What could they be looking at? Would you go outside and look at your house to see if there was anything glaringly amiss? or would you be too scared to unlock that thick front door and venture out? Maybe you would decide to just keep sitting by that window, with your jelly sandwiches and vacuous Tom Clancy novel, in case they drove by again.
But they won't, and eventually you will get bored and fall asleep by the dull light of sitcom pratfalls. Don't be too startled when you are jerked awake at 4:21AM by an intense young man hawking the technological revolution of a new style of lawnmower. Just change the station and drift back to sleep.
The next day, driving to work, you will suspect you are being followed by a yellow cab. There is one trailing behind you, but it turns down a side street. Next thing you know, there in your rearview mirror, idling lazily in midday traffic, is a yellow cab. Is it the same one? Who can tell? A few blocks later, it stops to drop off a passenger, an old woman who threatens to be blown over and shatter on the sidewalk at any moment. Do you have the presence of mind to realize you have been studying the rearview too intently? Keep your eyes on the road. Don't watch the cab. Don't see a man sprint (gracefully) from the 7-11 parking lot to hop into the cab, which pulls back into traffic six cars behind you.
What sort of work do you do? Is it intellectually stimulating? Are you fulfilled? Do you sit behind the counter at a convenience store and read magazines? Is your boss an asshole who changes your schedule to suit his whims, and glowers when you can't (or won't) come in for your new shift. Perhaps you accomplish great things, cure diseases and untangle intractable philosophical problems. Most likely, you work to make money to buy food to eat to stay healthy to go to work. Do you watch a lot of TV?
The sprinting man who got into the cab was not in fact following you; he had been unsuccessfully trying to hail a cab for twenty minutes and was afraid he would be late to a romantic encounter with a tall woman he had met in a Taco Bell. He settled into the seat cushions with an exaggerated sigh of satisfaction, content in his having conquered city travel. He would arrive for his date three minutes early (they were meeting at a bar, both in the hopes that the other would drink more than they would), but the woman was seventeen minutes late. Six years later, they will have forgotten each other's faces.
The old woman who had exited the cab was following you, because she believes she loves you, but she had to stop for a more prosaic reason. She went into the gas station across from the 7-11 and asked to use the restroom. The clerk told her it was for employees. His voice had no inflection, and the scar on his left arm came from attacking a man attempting to mug a young couple in the alley beside his store (he saw them through a security camera).
When you decide to leave work early, two hours and 36 minutes after your lunch break, you do not stop to confer with your boss. Normally this would not bother him, as he is a genial man (with a wide grin and thinning hair), but he is having frequent fights with his boyfriend (his hair was not always thinning) which cause him to resent anyone he perceives as being more easy-going, and therefore happier, than he. He equates outward manner with inner mood, the irony being he will not express his displeasure with you or anyone else until six weeks later when he screams at an intern. The intern changes her major to Zoology shortly thereafter. She will never do anything noteworthy in this field, but is very happy with the work.
You drive home very slowly. There is no one following you, and nothing good on the radio.
Have you put up the new shutters yet? You really lucked out, finding them at the Home Depot on Railf St, in the exact same shade of blue as the rotted few you are replacing. Buy extra, the others won't last long now. The shingle that fell off your roof last month during the rainstorm is still sitting on your driveway. You should reapply it soon; in three days it will be taken as a relic. They are getting bolder. You don't yet notice that your trash is gone when you get home, but tomorrow you will. You will call the City Sanitation Dept, in case they maybe changed the day they come around. But no. You will be perplexed, and eventually, uneasily, chalk it up to hoodlums.
People are walking around the city with your refuse in their pockets, clutched as talismans. You don't know this yet.
Every Thursday around 7, you meet a few friends for pizza and beer, at Celita's On The Corner (not as highbrow as the name may imply). This is a tradition that started in high school, when your friend Malcolm's parents began going to motels every Thursday to "rekindle the magic." Of course, nothing so structured and orderly could emulate romance, and they eventually settled into their dusty lives, but by then you were all old enough to drink anyway, and needed no clandestine privacy.
Celita's is packed today with families, young children running and shouting. Your friends are annoyed, but you find it all charming. Are you still nostalgic for the vitality of youth? Allen has brought a friend, a woman who looks about 23. Her name is Elizabeth and she has looked about 23 for the past four years. She is distinctly aware that she is at a table with seven bachelors. Do you see how her eyes keep coming back to you?
Erik, as usual, is furious with his coworkers for all their slights and cruelties. They all take him at his word, but in truth he simply has an overabundance of dignity. When he is sated with listing his grievances, he lapses into silence as everyone else tells stories of the good old days, the mildly pleasant young days, and the neutral days as yet unborn. On nights like these, your future is as sharp as your past.
Four pizzas and many drinks later, you are suddenly disturbed. Elizabeth, giggling absurdly at Matt's punch line to Larry's joke ("You're an asshole, Matt." "You shoulda told it faster; I was getting bored."), let's out an "oh lord!" and then falls silent, blushing and intently looking at not you. You look at her, wondering-- what? She is crying now, trembling, and runs off in a blind panic to the restroom. You look around the table, imploring your friends to explain this spasm. They are all surprised; only you are shocked. Your eyes don't cut the uncomfortable silence fast enough to see, in the reflection on Larry's glasses, the man at a nearby table get up and sullenly follow Elizabeth into the bathroom. Her mother would receive a letter months later, saying she had joined the Hare Krishnas and would no longer acknowledge her family. It was written in her handwriting, but not by her.
That night, in bed with your questions, you can't remember who said what. The information all comes from an amalgamation of friend: "She wanted to... she begged me to come, man... when she heard... I mean, that we KNOW you, cuz... lord she said, is why... you don't know?... of course he doesn't... so yeah, she asked to be... more than asked... worships you... they do..."
Of course it is absurd. Do you think you know the half of it? There are rituals, and they will only grow more complex after your death. You sputter out "Why? I'm nothing special" in a tone Jesus would have recognized.
This part you remember. Erik, looking at the window, watching faceless people on the street walk through his watery reflection, says, "I think it's your art, man."
You follow his gaze to the window, see the small pocks and scars in the glass, and how your reflection bends around them. You tell them you gave up art. You tell them you'd stopped painting.
"But they didn't stop looking." Was it Matt who spoke? Perhaps.
Walking home that night, no one on the street will meet your gaze. Pigeons will disperse at your approach. Children will point, only to be quickly snatched up by their parents (and in one case, by a brooding man in a hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with your high school's symbol). You have every reason to feel alone, and alien.
The chalky red bricks and eggshell siding of your home has been defaced. A leering violent mishmash of image and color and jagged line. There is too much pain(t) and too little detail, you can't take it all in. Are you enraged? Terrified? Will you run down the street to the Denali's home, the only neighbors you have met in your five years on this street? You know Molly will welcome you in, tend to your needs, smile desperately, while her daughter watches with dark glossy eyes. Maybe you should stay, timidly enter your home and see that it is vacant. Walk through your drab rooms, step over the can of paint you have left in front of the sofa, clumsily pick up the phone's shapeless plastic receiver. The dial tone is warm and insistent. And loud. And new. Hang up the phone.
You are feeling very frightened, and not at all godlike.
Is that the patter of feet on your rooftop? Don't be silly, you've lived through enough rainstorms. Don't get too jumpy now. Calm down and look out your window. The darkness and rain obscures the man behind that tree, but he's there. Can you discern the faint halo of light spilling out from his candle? Keep watching, peering through the slats of your window blinds. Of course, from this vantage you can't see the rain washing your house clean. In the morning, the only sign of it will be a strip of paint-choked grass. You have been putting off mowing that lawn, you know.
Eventually, you will have to sleep. Don't bother setting your alarm; you will wake up on time.
At work the next day (the boss is out on a sick day), on your lunch break (some sort of minor surgery; no one knows the details), you call Allen. Ring. Ring ring. Ring ring. Ri-- "Mmmyeh?"
"Allen?"
"Shwannt? Woke me up."
"Shit, man, it's 2:30! ...look, I need to know. About Elizabeth, all of that. What's going on?"
There is a shuffling sound and his voice clears. "No. Look, ignore it. They'll leave you alone."
"Like hell! Someone painted up my house yesterday."
"Not-- did they? Painted what?"
"Fucking weird shit. I don't know. Tell me this is a prank, Allen."
He will laugh at your desperation. "You didn't complain when people started buying up your crap messianic art; don't complain when they want to make their own." If you are thoughtful, you will know two things now: Allen is not a believer, nor is he a friend.
"My house is not their canvas." You are hissing. Restrain yourself. Hang up in frustration upon his response -- "Of course not. You are." Fume. The break room is just off from the center of the building, and you do not hear the creaking moan of gale-force winds tickling the edges and windows. They whip up small stones and insects, slam screen doors, knock down a child's play fort, and die down. Have another cup of coffee.
Three days later Allen will be dead. Hunting accident. (Have you ever been truly angry against a clear sky? The backdrop to your rage is always thunder and violence. It borders on solipsism to ask which came first, and stupidity to dismiss it). It is time to think, now. Your aunt told you, when you were young enough to ask questions, that your father left after mom died. No details, no pictures, no memories. All you can recall of your early life is bright sounds and loud light. Sometimes, to amuse yourself, you would put dirt in your aunt's coffee grinds. When she switched to tea, you switched to stealing candy from grocery stores. Do not think that because you were never confronted you were never seen. Behind your back, thick old women would nod to the clerks, who went to stock shelves. Yours was the only neighborhood where wine sold faster than beer.
A child's life is dreary dull, and you filled your diary with fantasy. You thought no more of that book when your house burned down (a homeless cat chewed through an insulated cable), but it had been stolen two days earlier. It resides now in a shrine in a basement in a building in the city where you live. People watch you in awe when you turn your head. There is no hypocrisy in this; it does not perturb us to rub elbows with a deity. You are a manifestation, a variable. Do you feel that itching in the back of your skull? Possibility.
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