Romona, 3.D.1, 600 words

Two low buildings bake at a fork on a dusty and wide path beaten into cracked and packed dirt and salt. Doors are boarded and windows opaque and flat and do not reflect. A man fights through the stillness down into the rocky swale beside the path. He emerges carrying a bindle across the blank expanse. Breezes cling to the sky high overhead. The bindle pats to the sun-burnished concrete in the arcade of one of the buildings. It eases itself out fold by fold to spread with a low sigh. The man rolls himself into a slender whip in the crook of the building meeting the concrete pad with his nose in the intersection and his brows each against one of the planes. Red marble migrating veins and figures simmer to surface against his dry skin between the gates of his collarbones and what is visible, through beard brambles, of his throat. Hot blood expands and searches for unconventional routes. He sweats through his clothes. Thickening dust is not a passing time. It is not happening. A polygon of light leaks from a room in the midst of a long phalanx of others. Its edges are indistinct. Jack creeps to his knees clutching the heavy drooping, bulging bindle. A curtain is drawn over the window. The light instead sifts onto the concrete from an open portal where the air conditioner was ripped out of the wall. The light is warm as if from home. The layers in the wall are exposed. Jack presses his thumbs against the stucco and his fingertips on the painted wall inside crumbling away in chalky crumbs. The dry wood gives under his palms like ash. He pushes the bindle through into the room. He pulls himself through the portal. As moments end, detritus sneaks into them. Debris from the wall dusts the carpet. Moving around the room is a struggle. The medium of the air is dense like sand. The portal draws hot air into the room, not as a draft, but a full body of breath, like someone in the room. The dark heat is a substance. Sparse lamplight fumes through broad stretches obscure in shade. He takes in the stations of the room. It bears no resemblance to what its appearance through the portal. The bed is made, tight. A few hollow flies stand out on the thin pillow. Breath from across the room can rock them from side to side. The sound of breeze outside blows over the open mouth of a jar. A void exists where the sound and cadence of the air conditioner would sprawl. Because it is nothing, it is able to enter the body and there, although still seeming to lack matter, it seems to have dimension, it exerts pressure. Jack pulls the chair to the built-in desk. It is very long and unadorned. The hem of a striped curtain is still just above its backsplash. It conceals a taupe shadow within which, after sitting for some time, an animate marbling of light becomes apparent. He sits with his chest pulled hard against its flat front and elbows and forearms on the desk with palms flat. He sits, waits, fidgets, fights the urge to rise. Behind the curtain is a mirror. Jack is in the mirror, a face wandering over the brown chafe of a shadow behind him. Lines spread from the nacreous downturn of his aged eyes. The small window in the side wall, high up, next to the desk, does not have a curtain. Its insect screen is ragged and draped with wind-borne gray fuzz.

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