Des Moines, 3.A, 3000 words

Des Moines
The sort of boudoir crawlspace wedged in the crevice of sleep, tall enough to sit up, or even crouch up onto knees is heavily spiced with unctuous breath. This man and a woman are both are heaped on wiry carpet. Walls are lined with carpet. The ceiling is draped with carpet sagging under its weight and impinging further from its already low bearing. All are inglorious, narcotized purple. “Wake up, now, wake up.’’ The bouquet of sassafras, myrrh, and saliva from her skin is oppressive. Her face spreads across a damp stain on the carpet. “Wake up.” He kicks at her. At once she is fully awake and on an elbow as if in the midst of some overly familiar pillow talk. “Did you ever get to looking at a building you might see all the time, very common, and not be able to see it because it won’t stick to your eyes? It just keeps running down.” Small fittings are set in brass medallions, amidst square brass plates, smooth and without detail. “Men often stayed on past their times in the rooms on my manifests. They never responded to my knocks and lay in the bed, or on the floor, or crouched in the water closet. The possibility of grotesque messes in closed rooms filled me with panic, but, it was the disorder of the men sprawled in macabre reenactments or charades that haunted every click of every door. They waited poised for me behind each door. A hushed room absent tense breathing, absent hurried, bare footslides in carpet, was no respite. Though, once I knew the room was empty, I could shut the door and open it again with the sweaty shivers somewhat abated.” Still things in confined spaces shiver with potential. “They left a child’s fine hair dissolved in the sink. Pillows were bound into the bed like a small body.” They adopt the promise of windows on broad and decaying landscapes, under falling sun, infected with light breeze, lost breaths. “The rooms started peeling away. The perfect wallpaper and quilt and virginal carpet was diseased and threadbare. A current of disorder wore through the bald spots. Every room I went in was decaying, was tossed and needed my attentions. The beds got stripped and made down, the linens replenished and folded just the right way, the vacuum tracks chased me out to the door. I’d just about shut the door and stop to peek through the crack and the wallpaper would be slipping, the bed would blouse. Back in I’d go.” She tastes the air. Face down she goes. Sleep drags on as its own consuming purpose. The branches dry out. The rejection of progress takes possession. The body spreads out. The sparks in a pore, an aroused follicle, swell over in euphoric torrents. To cling to particulate sensations is to relent to sightless and breathless drowning. This man, Jack, and Connie are still. Where a hair might drift or muscles spasm rise to tap tap at the skin, mysteries buried deep in blood plot. He is close to sleep in the void of her nervous rambling. “The ladies working the shift got so behind they came looking room by room for me. I had straightened that room several times when they came upon me. And I was getting ready to start again.” All must be swaddled and incubated: several thin shirts, trousers and longhandles, fingerless gloves, a muffler, shoes, naturally. Any meager breeze will cool the fingertips and face, not the neck. Only a small coin of real surroundings can remain, out the length of the leg, above the toe. It doesn’t matter at all what is in that coin of surface and its details. “Air conditioning pushed warded breezes from the lobby.” Nothing therein must move of its own accord however. Breeze-inflected filaments or dry splitting open pelts subtly nurse the tonic hypnosis. The body must be positioned precisely: a question mark shape capturing its own breath. Roaring and fibrous noise, unceasing, finally fogs a cocoon of no sound, no feeling, and a just a monocular aperture out to the coin of surface. Then he is in possession of himself. Jellies cast and creak and burble in this man’s, Jack’s, viciously liquid gut, sinking deep, away from the muscles and back from skin to feel in the dark like a second hidden body double trapped within. The muffled cries of his digestion rouse Connie again. The two watch each other breathing, watching to see if they breathe. “Down in the office, a concrete room in one of the basements with a window to the storage room where all the linens were folded, and the light and the walls and even all of our skin was green, the ladies all told me I had lost it, or more like I had found it but I needed to lose it again. The job was a whirlpool if you’d let it catch you, just slowly taking you around like you were moving through different places and everything was changing until the world pulled in around you in one spot. It was gradual and seemed like the whole of everything though. Only someone else could see it or tell you. Even that is hard to see though. It takes someone else passing by that spot with you in it enough times to know you’re trapped, and that’s rare.” She halts and tastes the air. “It smells like the boy. The oil in his soft hair stained my chambray. He kissed wet for a boy and the spit dried sour by the time I was at work. Dried decay and enzymes fermented through the day. I smelled more like him the longer I was gone.” Intermittently and for varying durations the complex and turgid grate of a fan clatters about like a tumble of sighing junk, though it is not accompanied by the benefit of airflow. “It’s like knowing where the blood is stopped in your body.” Her voice desperately needles through the most densely packed of sound swaddles. With frail purchase it pries and tears like barbed insect legs. Her breathing slows into shallow exchanges under the blanket. Its mottled tortoiseshell coloring concealed and smoothed any movement it made against itself. “Wake up, now, wake up.” Russets, buttermilks, deep walnut tufts migrated and replaced one another though always in deceptive equilibrium. “Are you awake? Are you breathing?” Jack got to his knees against all the lashed down joints and stiffly drawn muscles, though could only maintain a pose similar to his curled tuck on the floor, bent forward and resting on his palms. His face was closer to her. She isn’t breathing. The lack of asphyxiation terrors and tension, indeed the ecstatic parted lips and raised eyebrows floating across her parchment forehead, lull Jack, recalling the unspoken shared temptation, somewhere is a tree with shade rattling like paper castanets in the breeze. Her lips and eye sockets deepened in their purple mottling goad his envy beyond the vicarious bliss of her expiration. Though already almost a mummy, not prone to rot further in this tomb, the idea of her corpse sealed up with him is terrifying. He lunges forward, hitting his head on the low, carpeted ceiling, and collapses across her and blanket. Black spangles, brown threads, dim needles, dreams awake of shadows and looming night spiders approaching the hubs of their webs, gasps of poison dust erupt from stale linens, from exploded mummy skins, hollowed out buildings creak, spaces behind walls muffle syncopic thuds, lost rooms above the ceiling echo back footsteps, the crawling knees of a tapped broom handle, a desperate fist on the wall; nowhere does peace dwell. One human brings another. The two of them collapse, he browned out and Connie, awake and panicked and pinned beneath him like the forgotten entombed of a cave-in. She is able to wriggle from beneath him, maintaining her occupation of the damp stain and rolling the dim man into a slump against the wall, or rather the side panel, tracing his arc of unconsciousness down the nap of the carpet. “Hey. Steady work requires psychosis.” Jack is awakened. “It needs a trance of silky anaesthetization so that the tasks become involuntary. Their meaning has to be dislocated. It was night at both ends of my shifts. I kissed the boy in bed at both ends. I got a groggy kiss back each beginning and sucking snores each end. It had to be that I left him more and more.” Both of them scan, daze away. She hisses in the damp stain. “Try to get up. Get out of that puddle.” “I shouldn’t. My chilblains. My feet.” “You can’t stand in here anyway. Roll away.” Across the little hollow she squats in place. Her attempt to straighten out is accompanied by the muffled fibrous crackling of a tree giving way. She stops in a sort of reclining pose back on her elbows. “I need to lie down again.” Again the fragrances of sassafras, myrrh, saliva, desiccated raisins, tooth decay, and webby, frail leather combined out from her wagging tongue on the carpet, absently folding open petals of clumped yarn and probing without delicacy. “The office was warmed by the steel heat of large green boilers. The unctuous and acrid fog myrrh traced lightly upon the edges of the light. My refrigerated body swelled. I sat in an upright chair and my feet burned terribly. I winced and tried to shrink. The women all focused knowing looks on me. That was some comfort. An older woman started me on a small phial the size and shape of our lotions. It was a sickening nutmeg tincture within a jellied lotion albumen that gushed but gummed in my mouth like warm sap thrumming and right away my teeth grew apart. The little drink spread out between my teeth like the sea into a cave and the liquid in my body spread out rippling like a salty, rolling pool, like thick blown sand. The green of the room seeped strangled through the blooming depths of a warm lake. Just as quickly all the humors all coiled back again but harder, like the shape of the office, like groaning sands chained under the sun. The women were gone and the office was dim. I visited all the empty rooms and filled a pillowcase with lotion bottles. My smock was loose. It billowed.” She watches Jack for some time, silent, her breathing faint yet audible, hushed under her and there by the sudden grace of the fan noise; her eyes blink slow behind the drape of her curled hand. “After that night my feet grew worse. My little boy rubbed them dutifully but they only grew worse. The lotion shrank my feet. It shrank my hands when they swelled. What’s wrong with you? You’re gray. Aren’t you listening?” Irritated, tired, and ill, his stomach is leaden with an amalgamated potage of inorganic bile. “Don’t you have to shit?” “No, I never do. I’m fine. Just stiff a bit. When I straighten out it feels like I have two spines going in different directions.” Uncomfortable though it is to retain, the alternative of continued transit through his body is far worse in this confined scenario. Constipation seemed a welcome characteristic. The fan blots out a much longer segment of sound then is absent again though in the imprecise midst of its hypnosis. “My little phials didn’t succeed at denuding the mysteries of my distraction or at crystallizing the processes of the day into easily navigable hazards. The gummy radiance more tightly adhered the decorated membrane around me. I choked just looking at wallpaper.” Audible breathing astride her voice recedes with the fan whir and the chamber is awash. The tortoiseshell colors weave stillness. “It had to be that I left the boy more and more. With each sheet of the manifest I leafed through he grew smaller.” A cold sweat leeches through his layers of light garments as the bilious potage begins to evacuate his stomach on its journey. Areas of shade in texture and dim corners bloom white, overflow their sources, and wink delirious. “The boy had no demand, no imminent structure. He was too light, too acquiescent, too moony. He slept when I was awake. He had nothing on me, essentially. It was enough, little enough, that I could arrange him into the cracks and borders of work. My shifts stretched over days. It was a tacit agreement. He grew listless and more pale. He glowed at night. His smile was unconvincing. Those wonderments of childhood discovery slowed.” Her chest doesn’t rise or fall as she speaks. Her death would leave nothing but wisps, a spare smock somewhere, no next of kin that she knew of; the unmade beds are made by other women; the children are raised by those that can spare themselves to them. She would leave a shriveling rind. As she broke open and folded up that resinous, milky taste would draw into the carpet. The possibility that she might reach the child before this man, Jack, might reach his Jacky, would be ground into the carpet under the heel of his hand. Still his undignified bowels threaten. “Each night my bag was burdened by the phials I collected in the rooms, though I still was barely shadowing the pace of my consumption. New demands arose like toadstools. The air conditioning ducts were moist. They harbored the ailments of all the tenants and soon I harbored them one after another: neuralgia, catarrh, boils, bronchitis, doubling kidney failure, coffee-colored hematemesis, hemorrhoids, pleuritis, sciatica, ulcers, gout, salty mouth, gallstones, heartburn, lumbago, incessant hiccoughs, a goiter, delirium, convulsions, strangury, coffee-colored dysentery. Any of which would keep me from working but none of which couldn’t be quelled by the tincture. I needed an almost constant supply.” “Do you have any?” “I need it.” Each word echoed and each echo echoed. The bilious potage like hot oil flits about his large intestine. “Tell me about him.” Distract me. “He was young and we combed his hair back and he sang. He wore a little plaid shirt of feminine colors. His smile was unconvincing and fragile. The bedsheets were clammy. His smell was odd. His sleep was fitful. He walked in place against the sheets. The rooms were stale and filled always with that acrid smell.” This indeed was Jacky. His organs, via an exchange similar to petrifaction, though not nearly as stable or stoic, were replaced by a sputtering foam of shit. “I was almost relieved to walk into an empty apartment that night. That struck me first, the peace of the empty rooms. I slid into the evening ritual of putting my things away, putting his things away, righting the carpet, releasing its smell, running a rag over the apartment, all atop thick silence like dim cupped in my hand, like eraser dust. He was gone. Where would a child be? I locked him safely in each morning. He watched for me from the window. He knew my sound. His eyes panicked through the glass. He hadn’t learned to be alone, although that was all he ever was.” The distracted tension of this discovery seals him like a blessed wax suit, forcing every aspect of past and present, abduction and diarrhea, beneath its shallow sheen. The revelation commits him to silence and to clenching. “I cursed the little drinks but I rarely thought of him. Subterranean blurs coasted along beneath the rhythms of work. He seeped up, never flooded, into glistening echoes haunting the grout and the shadows between dresser drawers.” She drifts and tapers. The spaces between her inexorable words expand. He rolls to see her face disappearing in the stain. The fan hush, draped above him by the needles of her nattering, now precipitates over him in drifts. Although blissfully in his cocoon the radiating white-out of his digestion still overcomes him. He struggles to contain his consciousness, an abstract concept to man become bowel. “I bled when he disappeared. I continued to work. Rusty stains dried on my smock like lace down to the hem. I sat in everything I could, puddles of coffee, limey runoff in the basement, silty mud, to bury the stains. In rooms alone, if I had the chance, I would collect the blood in the sterilized mugs from my trolley. Is that horrible? It would come and come. With the bone mugs it was all but alive, a little fleshy structure lacking just skin. I couldn’t bear dumping them. I hid them in drawers or under beds. I drank one but threw it up instantly into a bathtub. How many times can a substance be born? A tenant or a housekeeper would inevitably find the vessels. It wasn’t me dumping them. I cried for each with my forehead against a pillar. The paint was cold. My head spread out into unfeeling particles. I took up the tincture again and the bleeding stopped.” Sky-light seems to show through piebald mats in the carpet. He dissects the spicy bouquet and tastes a boy, Jacky, again on his tongue slunk up from dried saliva on his skin. Its haunting enzymes tempt and awaken a ritual process. He salivates. “My heart bloated as my manifest dwindled. My blood dwindled. My hiding heart strangled itself to maintain even a meager blood pressure. My skin billowed and sunk. I never reported his disappearance. It wasn’t known that a child lived with me. It was hardly known that I lived in those rooms. I wore a head scarf to keep my mouth closed. I didn’t go home again.” Hot oil breaches in stinging beads. This man says, “I know where to find him. But I need your help.” He comes together forehead to forehead with Connie over the stain, choking against its emanations, wheezing on deep inhalations. Anthracite creaks against flash-fossilized entrails. The peace of great liquid paralysis forms about his involuntary functions.

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