At the stump

At the stump of a routine severed, a pliable waxy consciousness forms. But out of the homogenous pillar below not a repeat percolates. He had left the Nite Lite too abruptly. The numb choreography and scene of the room that fashioned its own dull story was now apocryphal, yet so was the drama of his evacuation. The routine of that room had not been allowed to dissolve into the more fluid uselessness of his flight. Thus he was listless in his freedom. For its excruciating opacity, routine is at least a project. It bundles experience. Even flight at its most inhuman and ruthless, in the palette of the furnished room, soon stacks into insidious routine. The sedimentary reclamation of the Nite Lite emerges through the changing light and patterns of fabric of rotating motel rooms, shadow, and sleep, as a constant. However constant, it never crystallizes to describe in detail what it lacks, or what he cannot remember. He notes in some appellations the connoted belief that he has fled the Nite Lite so abruptly simply so he could construct its memory from scratch incorrectly, or more simply, to forget it correctly.

Each room he leaves is the most cluttered emptiness. In their initial states they are too full of distractions to dematerialize. At dawn before the sun hits his window Jack slips from the night’s room with his sack. Although adding to his repertoire of evidence he also adds a hole that the answer to the apocryphal question fueling his dull picaresque will never match. Less than that he finds not even the form of his question. He considers that it was posed by someone prior to him or was overheard, that he had not forgotten it but that he had never embodied the longing that perhaps spawned it.

Each room and beyond it, like an embrace, the adulterated night, is irreducible. Yet each is for want of some concrete participant in its theater. Even sorting them as he does, finding the specific lack and plugging it in by name, each night so that he sleeps in almost a house and knows how almost it is, always a further thing, an irritant from without the perfect domesticity sets the flawed equation off balance. He is kept awake by a throbbing that isn’t part of him. That pathogen of decorating who tonight is a sheer curtain with a bowed plastic wand beyond the standard issue oilcloth is the hidden source of a concussive thump obeisant to none of his mind’s rhythms, as if someone watching him, measuring his waves of muscular tension pounds on the wall at his most wound. He notes that the percussion is a transmission to that thing which is missing from the room, tonight a second tumbler, and pointless though they are for nothing can summon the mistakenly absent or know its name in its absence, he cannot suffer to sleep. A dawn comes early when the timed lights of the court arise oddly deep in the night. He sleeps then tentatively as though in silent day. True dawn washes through without his notice.

A storm unfurls over the piedmont like a black register tape. The land remains marble white. Jack starts too late from the Snug Bug. A full day of desert sun is stranded beneath the thunder sheet. The front tucks in across the opposite range and begins to hang low across the valley but does not open. Jack’s ears pop. Ink washes down the bajada tailings and the horizon such that only the desert parchment remains. The blue of Jack’s get-up is a small sky, a conduit between drained opposites.

Jack sees an operating theater in the luminous floor. It is empty and bright. The lights hum. A sheeted table is bare. He picks up the sheet to look at the table, perhaps recognizing it. A thin white mattress is covered by another sheet, fitted. He doesn’t recognize it. At the far horizon, before the black dome meets the floor, light swells from the windows of another low building. Rain has not yet begun its attempts to wash him from the valley. The air is dry and not electric. It still is hot so that cool oil slakes his skin as he runs to the building. The chalk road falls away to a great broad bowl hooked in by the funeral mountains on one side. The Atlanta Motel sits at the precipice back from which the storm retreats.

Adrift in the soft shoebeaten chalk court the pad foundation of a scraped outbuilding wavers as a tethered raft might emptied of bathers. Two steel chairs, one for want of seat, stand side by side facing in opposite direction in what spot of earth dreams of a former parlor. A bled, bland mosaic and territories of melanomatous linoleum foster the uneasiness of a shipwreck. So loosed from their trappings of reason floor treatments haunted by the delineation of their purpose are never to be found at rest. They shift as if part of the sands. Jack touches his nose to see if it is in shadow and runs the two fingers across his cheek to his ear with relish. Lengths of baked steel pipe zag out of the bare concrete to breach the absent partitions. Jack eases the leg of a chair into the tail of the most jagged and wavering pipe and watch it list like seagrass against the sky. He pulls the poised chair against the tired elasticity of the pipe and releases it tumbling into the white air, to the white chalk with an assumed puff.

The dust brings quickly a chill and a wash of color to the landscape that the chalk train of a man walking across the court toward the office is visible. He is presumably the motelier and does not wear blues. Jack slides for the other chair, the bareback and still standing, which he threads similarly into the pipe awag. “Ahoy,” he musters vaguely toward the shuffling motelier. “What are you doing there?” barely reaches back to him with the floating, tossed chalk itself, into both of which Jack launches the cocked chair.

The motelier changes course toward the pad, retrieves both chairs and scrapes them back to their original tête-à-tête upon the apocryphal parlor before speaking again. “Get off my house.” “This is no house!” “It was. Back then,” pointing with his maroon watchcap toward the chairs. “Do you have any real rooms?” “Of course I do. Meet me at the office.” Jack leaves him in the dust and leans against a post in front of the building watching the night swallow the motelier’s path and then he himself. After a lengthy blackout several lights come up in the arcade and the motelier is upon him. “I’m the night manager.” “Might I take a room?” “Of course you can.”

Released back down the arcade with a key marked 2 Jack opens the door tenderly, as he might the moist flap of a wound, with two fingers. Murky plumes of darkness soil the arcade sidewalk for just a smudge outside the door. Without waiting for his eyes to adjust from the lithic fluorescence of the chalk court he drops his sack inside the door to where a table belongs; it falls to a table. He steps flatfooted through the valley that would separate credenza from beds; his feet spirit across carpet. At the immemorial T in that arrangement he cuts right quickly a few more steps on carpet and reaches his hand through ink as if through shadowless, brilliant dusk toward the perfection of a lamp’s location; he turns the thumbscrew there. It is brass. The entire wall over the beds is paneled in mirror squares that meet at milky rosettes. A man is standing in the room. His chambray uniform is loose as they are worn. A warm beard, though not quite cut to code, covers his lips from above and is bare beneath. He is still. The eyes, first inhuman in the gibbous lamplight, grow narrow and empathetic as Jack recognizes his black and less black irises. The room flattens in the mirror wall. He surveys the ideal relationships, chairs at table below lamp by beds facing credenza leading to water closet, so ideal that they cannot be occupied, like a an archetype. The room itself, full in space, scattered away with the opposite level of precision. He sits on the bed against a heap of all pillows. Instead of a flat convergence of all rooms this is the end of a divergent tendril. It is somewhere definite in space, something definite in name, yet he could be anyone in it.

The rim of one eye is chafed and pink with orange crust. It is raw and he shuts it like a hatch. The other eye draws everything toward it like a geographic magnet or a dark room. When he walks he kicks bases and legs so he sits and from one spot surveys the terrain. It is perfect.

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