Chase Scenes, first half (2)

In the autumn you got an efficiency apartment, found the ditched car, and unpacked all of the contents, including a large, wise-eyed brown cat asleep on its roof. You hadn’t noticed how much had been left in the car. It seemed to be everything. Everything was just barely enough, for a long time.

You stayed inside during the day with no treatments on the windows watching people come and go. You saw a man beaten with a stick. You saw a single-engine plane fly into a distant tower and you watched the sky with suspicion from the fifth floor of the brick building. The cat sat in the window the whole time, watching the stacked windows across the far leg of the cruciform building for other cats or watching back into the room with her tail curled into a hook at the end. The sound of her blood filled the room. Tall buildings were erected and the forests were consumed by a sea of railroad tracks, all running parallel through a gulch from jamb to jamb of your window. A clammy motel grog whose pathology is the single room medicated the sunlight that happened into the apartment swelling your eye sockets like ice slowly splitting your skull open.

The changing moments passing by your skin didn’t hoist time across it with them, it was the passage of a still world over your moving body. You registered its changes against the index of yourself but it was recorded inside, where you began to decay, but the shell of you that touched the world stayed immutable. You found ways to register those changes in you onto the things around you, to crash into them with the hopes of injuring yourself, of breaking your skin with the schism you rent in the fabric of stillness.

You took a job you could walk to, on the housekeeping staff at the hollow hung whale of a hotel downtown. Each midmorning you are in a wide basement hallway lined with doors. One of the doors would have led outside, but not one at either end of the hallway which were both occupied by elevator doors, one of which had brought you down, the other would take you with your cart already stocked of soap, towels, sheets, newspapers, pens, and blank Marquis stationery, from a painted berth scuffed to a blur on the smooth floor. The elevator only fit one person and one cart. You were far behind women in line at the elevator door and waited for them to take their turns on the elevator before being taken up.

The double strings of doorways to the rooms on each floor are rent by a wide chasm described by the far arcs of slung circles that reaches all the way down through each floor. An entire wall of doors forty stories high is visible from every door on the opposing side. Women in grey chino dresses are stationed in degrees of foreshortening at their carts on several of the floors. It is impossible to see if there is anyone on your side. Echoes of groups in the lobby become the buried song of sand inherent in the air of the chasm. Glass elevators bedecked with clear spherical lights sail like driverless cars.

Housekeeping, tinkles in an amusical glossolaliac chorus that is followed by the opening of doors seen and unseen. You chime in and open a door.

You found the scattering of identical rooms through the day in variations on the disarray of their same contents. With the sheer curtains drawn the rooms weren’t differentiated by views and the sun filled each room like packed cotton, old and still around the abandoned crescendi of the life that had been concentrated there. Never righted by the occupants, this disarray is the only completed act in those lives. Your methodical struggle to return the rooms to a state of preoccupied emptiness erased the attempts of the occupants to register the entropy of their lives on the stability and efficiency of the hotel room with their disguise over its archetypal neutrality. But they never saw its ultimate loss. You found and recomposed points in the experiences of the inhabitants in each regressive pass, until the embalmed interruption as he turned to walk from the room is again the latent expectation and the giddiness of an untouched room.

These outlines of a person are reduced to the significant peaks of habit in their briefly staged lives. Each one of the accidental juxtapositions that you find is initially a tableau of mystery, at the end of the act but before its resolution, and you allow the narrative to unfold the chain of effects interrupted by the person’s departure as a sunlit hypothesis. But it is dust. As you work, traces and suites of actions are undone, finding the narrative in earlier undecided states, until the host of rescinded actions makes it impossible to unite cause with even the provisional end whence you had entered.

In the evening you brought pillows into your windowless kitchen and wrote lists of the things and settings strung together into prose chasing your recent memory back through the day until you met that lost morning with the next. If you fell asleep you would take the bus out in the morning where you kept writing. The black characters were fastidiously small. You made a pile of string rather than a string of words. Each moment of the day had its analog here. You didn’t play them out in order but you captured them all. You had a visual gestalt mosaic of the day as thoughts, complete in your mind, but tenuous as a granted wish. Every bit, each day breaking into finer grains, was a free visual impression tiled together into a silent and tepid model of cavern networks you bored with your eyes. Specific nouns, usually in the floret of adjective spirals were spun together with the connective tissue of prepositions reaching out to define the edges of the day’s space, but lacking verbs or adverbs that would kiss them to life. It was still and solely visual. You could see into it, but not back out. Voiceless faces exchanged looks without context, meals without taste posed, nothing animated, shadows without shivers, stalled men forever in thought, finished structures on the horizon and landscapes immaculately conceived.

In the hotel, in the action of it, you were aware of your presence there in large increments defined more by the duration of an action than the passage of a character or the masonry of impressions. When you were released from duty like an awakening newborn it was a consciousness without antecedent. You knew that it was part of a continuum by the familiarity of your body and the familiarity of the lost feeling, a familiar amnesia, but you emerged from the blackout only long enough to find yourself again in your kitchen alone as the cat dreamed of running through clover in the black window.

In the basement passage a woman in a grey chino dress with her hair tightly pinned to the back of her head leaned with her palms flat against the block wall behind her. The fluorescent lights down the hallway were absorbed into the colorless paint like the still glow across an empty city highway where green things in the landscape appear more as the surface where the light, as a volume, ends, rather than where the solid begins. She watched you slowly pass as if she had been painted over and her flat eyes tracked you like those of a haunted portrait. An empty cart was stopped against the wall across from her and you pushed your cart between she and it. Several dishes in decreasing size were stacked on the floor by a dirty sheet which ran stiffly up the lower part of the wall. A wisp of air from the slot between the elevator doors fed out as the elevator shuttled past and was inhaled in the vacuum it left.

Babe, it whispered, are you starting or finishing?

Starting. The cart’s full.

Is that your cart back there.

You look back at the empty cart behind you. It’s been there for days.

Each room was different but the same, the same staged life with different human residue: a bed swirled in the vortex of a failed sleep aid insomnia, rafts of hair across the vanity counter into the sink from solitary dreams of woolen forest men, the smell of yellow skin and greasy cardboard, a bundle of furniture tracks to a toxoplasmotic bunker amassed against the immovable bedstead, the small turned back coverlet sheathing a sick child, and in the daylight and after the days all manners of black stains, perfectly beneath rutted furniture, still, flat and deep in an ashtray, and a sticky lamination awash across a bathroom floor in which you could see your face as you strigiled it into a bucket. It was pure and even and impossibly undisturbed, his footsteps in haemophiliac blood are flooded by the thin uncollectedness of it. A black bloodletting to make space in his body to feel himself move within himself, for solid thoughts to float between his skin and flesh to know his extremities and introduce them to the rest of him. That much blackness poured out of one man would leave no man, but a beautifully perfect shell that could receive any man and transport him beneath the sediment of ages he cannot attain through rotten deeds that coat the back of his skin like the inside of an oven. There was no trace of time after an act, no wallowing body, no lifeless eyes, no hurried nudity; those discoveries came under different titles.

The shift would end abruptly in the same way every afternoon, with an empty cart, partway through some floor of the tower after an interminable tour of some number of rooms. You left your cart on one of the middle floors and watched it duck below the guardrail as the elevator went down. There was no quantity to your efforts.

You made your notes on the hotel stationery you kept in the breast pocket of your chino coveralls while sitting in the vast gullet of the hotel. The writing process began creeping earlier into the day as the grain of the mosaics was refined. You preserved the waves of dust, of the cat’s fur shaking out of your clothes in the varying shades of light as it stalked the air and as you gesticulated slowly to watch yourself move, each in the precise but increasingly frenetic focus of your eyes. The avocation crept across the day fully. It replaced the experiences you had begun describing so completely that your writing became solely about its writing, what you saw in the movement of the pen, the distorted reflections in the polished silver ring you wore on your right hand, the shadows of the hair on your wrists like high grass interlaced, in less the physical calculus of life lived, of time passed through, than the thievery of that life.

Those still moments in which your focus trained on an object, heated by circumstance, were the morsels of a past that you couldn’t cling to, once they were transcribed and discarded from memory, they sat forever in the present. The words eliminated you in the moments, with feelings on your skin, and retained only the things as if they contained all of the secrets and causes of the trauma or pleasure of banality found in the digestion of life. But there come moments, when all that has been invested in the object, or the setting, or the person, all of the power is unraveled, when it does not reproduce its charms at your request, or the anguish to which it was meant to be the cure persists even in its presence, and the bottom drops out of your past.

You have coffee again for the first time since the edge of the desert. You stop writing. The lists repeated themselves and you began falling asleep before completing them and in the morning believing it was the same day as the last. When you stopped writing things started happening. The list was ink in a chrysalis. Somewhere in it, not in its meaningless parts but in it as a heap, was the mantra that removed you from time.

You stay in the hotel lobby a year. Clouds of visitors part around you where you find spots to linger. They watch the distant edges of the lobby with the same incurious thrown gaze that made you strangers to youth. It was a look that didn’t see anything but merely acknowledged that eyes can see. The flow of people rang the passage of time, not as they moved, but as they became new people. A face would shimmer out of the undulating groups and drift away on its own. A man with black spots in the corner of his eyes. Until you meet him, a man’s face is a talisman. It shone like a projection from a group of matching faces swirling from the dim scalloped light to bind into consistent and familiar patterns over their short hotel lifespans. The carpet wore smooth between ballrooms, interstitial gathering spaces with tables, to small coffee smelling meeting rooms, to elevators and tapering up in laces to the room doors. In their intermittent absence the ghost of the trail would linger in the stain of white shirts in the air. After a final confluence into a broad low ceilinged panorama, they, as a singularity, would tick out of the register followed by what felt like the low breathing of concrete and the emptiness of light falling alone on carpet. Then followed another increment.

Faces would emerge out of only some of the groups. The eyes would light up once and then never again. Yet, when someone came alive enough for you to hear their voice you would move to a different vantage point. When someone caught your eye you looked away. You passed through time like melting fat in the sand, less your initial form each day, but cooling into intermediate attempts at recognizability. The air was so cool and moist that a small splash of water on a wood table stood inert for days.

From no point in the continuum of chambers and halls could you see the sunlight. Several hotels were connected by interior passageways and bridges that drew a pattern just above the city but unrelated to it. The public elevators smelled of lotion. It was a warren of moments. Its geography as a whole was baffling and you could only visualize it in the constellation of these moments. Paths that felt straight teased you by veering unquantifiably. You learned how to get from one to another strategically coordinating a suite of paths between them. You were conspicuous in your familiarity, but after the wandering allowed you to sequence the experiences it let them feel as though they were happening to you, lost in habit, but never in geographic confidence. You drew a map and located all of the places you could be, weaving a net of connections tracing routes from one to another, relationships suspicious already by the trickery of the passages, but floating groundless and slung over bold solid marks illustrating the churning openness of the lobbies. The imperceptible deviations in transit were lost in the drawing and you found spots in your world separated by only short distances, although you knew of no way to get from one to the other without retreating to a far earlier landmark. The empty stretches of the map, although certainly a continuation of the constructed terrain, and possibly populated, had no geographic presence to you; you didn’t know how to reach them at all. You stayed in the network of rooms and threads like the hands of a clock, never occupying positions but always still in relation to the pulses of people. They drew you through the passing days.

You followed the faces that wandered from their groups through the bowels of the buildings until your double-backs brought you face to face with them too many times or until you came to a spot or moment in which you knew they would be but weren’t. You felt the loss of familiar faces materially, but only within, and when the face that had shown through to you was gone its void was clogged with others that you supposed might be feeling that same loss, as though it was the air you both breathed, and you couldn’t understand how they were living as you thought you might have lived had you been able to find your way out of the interior a sickness.

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