Before he disappeared

Before he disappeared Constance was told by the women in the coffee shop that M. J lived locally. He arrived at the hotel when he did on foot through its Courtland Street cloaca. She dreamt it a martyrs hike up from that abject dust bedeviled undercut. Nobody came from its murk without some cloudiness of vision lingering like clouds caught up in the eyelashes. He only appeared in the throngs of conventions on the floor of the atrium, surfacing in some key point on the first day of the proceedings at which the population, upon first encountering it, would provide him the greatest instantaneous burst of people, and would stay, infrequently floating around the hotel for the entire duration of a convention once wordlessly sleeping beneath an outcropping of stacked stacking furniture in a disused ballroom enfolded like a cramp around a frail Constance whom the train had left weary on the platform. Against the carpet her skin rose into barely a form upon a cloud of cigarette smoke and accidentally inhaled ashes. But he was typically seen leaving at a peak confluence in the evening and returning from down there for its diurnal equivalent in midmorning in order to be amidst the conventioneer tribes at their most swollen and agitated. He sat at a banquette without crossing his legs or stood against a pillar watching an opposite pillar. He and Constance talked in passing. On the final day of a convention or battery of conventions he spent the entire day sitting at the banquette with an unceasing and detached attention to the faces of the people pacing the lobby floor in preparation for departure. In the expiration of his first conventions he noted the pacing resembled folks who had just watched a man leap from a bridge and debated following him. He wanted to feel a nominal totality of the human population slip away, egress the hotel as if from an open landscape. He wanted to feel them disappearing over into something that wasn’t his, some other facet of life or its postscripts. It was only at a convention that he could be given the forum to take a throng’s pulse and to imprint it so deeply that faces became personalities and gestures became culture. He needed long exposure to the faint pulse so that he could feel when it died. He needed the faces and lives and traits and practices in his tissue in order to train himself to eradicate them. He sat awake as long as possible after the convention expired in the empty atrium and lobby struggling to force every face and trace it made on the air from his mind to see only the blank carpet, vacuuming the nap of the footprints out of his vision, seeing painted pillars clearly, seeing closed doors and assuring himself they sheltered empty rooms until the assurance seemed odd; they had never been populated. It was difficult early on. He didn’t believe it was possible to forcefully forget what with such bleary passion he had called himself to imprint. He taught himself tricks; each seemed magic or ritualistic but the brain has ancient components. “You can’t think everything away,” he recalled when Constance named a frown of his. But the most potent of talismans was the empty hotel itself. It was close to the vision of his own innards, a mysterious solid machine behind a drape of people. He arrived at the point where he could supplant a present reality for a past with infinite retroactive efficacy. Troubled at first and then consumed he watched the entirety of a Burger King franchisee convention vanish. Constance the housekeeper whom he had been watching from his banquette vanished. The carpet erosion righted, the light swelled, and the air conditioning roared. It lasted a span of five to ten minutes, as far as he could ascertain, if time could govern an existence lacking interpersonal relationships. Not only was it possible to eradicate the past by using the present it was possible for him to eradicate the present by using the past. However it was inherently selective. Without twinkle or sigh only the people are caught up. At very least it was a tuning of vision yet his maniacal panting and pacing across the carpet without obstruction carried the illusion to a tangible level. The people were gone; the atrium hummed. The throng emerged each time he returned to his banquette, not as if from freezing but in a streak. This he taught himself for a basic reason, to be alone, and not for crises, but for all. To be certain it was not a moral impulse he sat at tables with groups of conventioneers and did not judge them. He judged his own distance from their aspirations and occupations. At that distance there was not much further to go. The physicality of the isolation nonetheless terrified him. He took a room in the hotel in which to complete the ritual. Although the depopulation was his compulsion he couldn’t bear to be its witness or to be its benefactor. He languished in the room for weeks struggling to recapture scenes filled with people, scenes from his youth, an apartment he shared with his mother and her in her golden wing chair, views out of windows with vague forms in the street, but he could only see the room around him. It materialized all in daylight like a stageset when he closed his eyes sitting by the lamp in the room. A mess of ritual devices appeared around the room. A beige jelly that smelled like a breath filled the bathtub concocted from lotion bottles, his hair, and weeks of darkness. It was sweet and opaque. With all of the lights on in the bathroom he immersed himself in the tub and his eyes widened, filled with the light emptiness and order of a hotel room rising about him. When Constance came to clean and straighten at a different time the room was unoccupied, its tenant perhaps having checked out at some time during the previous night.

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