a d j a m e s o n
Whisper, Current, Gust
She and he breathed today in many different ways, some of them unique, some of them more familiar, and in places they couldn’t have until then predicted; still, what good or ill can have come of it?
Earlier, she’d arrived at the place he’d arrived at earlier.
This place was bare. His possessions had not yet arrived.
Needing something to do she said, “Let’s you and I breathe in many different ways, some of them unique, some of them more familiar.”
He agreed. They had arrived at an agreement.
They tried her idea. For the next twenty minutes, they explored the ways that air could arrive inside their lungs.
Then the end of those twenty minutes arrived. They discussed how the breathing had made them feel.
They conferred. They arrived at the same conclusion. “Breathing is easy. Breathing is a breeze. It’s pieces of cake.”
Outside, a neon shop sign blinked, advertising a restaurant, or a diner, or a café.
Or a barbecue joint, or a Chinese bakery, or an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Or a greasy spoon, or a hole in the wall, or a hideaway, or a beanery.
Maybe even a down-at-the-heels bodega. Or any other type of popular eating place.
They felt the sudden need to go elsewhere, to find and eat some slices of cake, or maybe even to eat a whole cake. (He had no food in the apartment.)
(Besides, they all of a sudden wanted to be someplace else.)
Both now and earlier, he couldn’t explain why he’d moved. It was something he’d felt the need to do. He’d felt a compulsion deep within him, like an unstoppable need to cough, like a ceaseless tickle in his lungs.
Like asthma, an allergy, or a laughing fit turned painful.
A scraping sensation. He often woke up late at night, on the verge of a cough, but never coughing. Wheezing only, hacking away at a backsliding phlegm that wasn’t there, at a popcorn kernel, perhaps, that had long ago gone down the wrong way. A phantasmal seed.
The skin underneath his toenails itched. He propped his foot up on the sink and spread his toes, searching for signs of an allergy, algae or fungus. He saw nothing out of place, or in that place. “The algae or fungus is deep within me,” he thought. “It’s gone down, below my skin.”
He stopped having his friends and family over. He stopped inviting his lover to come and spend the night.
He needed to move, he thought, thought urgently. He needed a place that allowed breeze, contained more light. His apartment was too dark, too stifling, and too damp. The stuffy air was breeding microbes, was no good to breathe. Those foreign microbes, he was certain, despite his best efforts, were lodging inside him, were taking up residence in his lungs.
Without his knowing how, it grew later and later and later. He struggled by the door to come to some decision, distraught and nervous, unsure what to make of his dire urge to scamper out. To step out for a walk, to clear his head, before the evening got any later.
His impulse to move, his longing for change, grew only longer. He craved a new residence at once. He wanted to take up someplace else. This want struck a nerve. Once struck, it kept resonating inside him.
His lover, awake in her bed at her own place, felt forgotten, felt unloved. She felt unwanted. She didn’t understand why the man was obsessed with changing apartments. She thought that the air in his apartment was perfectly fine. She liked his apartment very much. She enjoyed how dark it was, how still, how cozy. When she stayed there overnight she would often wake up and have no idea how late at night it was. She enjoyed that. She liked sleeping over.
She hadn’t been there in several weeks. She turned the blinds and lay down on her bed and closed her eyes and tried to project his apartment around her. She imagined a darker, stuffier, cozier place. She pictured its shadows and drapes and suspended motes of dust, all hanging transfixed within the single pool of lamplight.
She turned and focused on a painting that she remembered, one that she’d never understood. The painting was abstract but looked like wood, like stippled bark, very soft, that someone had cut out and rolled flat and set in a frame. It was stained with thick horizontal stripes that looked like rot.
More than once she had asked her lover where the painting had come from. He didn’t know, he’d said; it had been hanging in the apartment when he’d arrived. It had predated his arrival. She thought this romantic, as though the painting had been waiting there for him, and thereby her. Who knew for how long? Hanging patiently. Patiently aging.
She strained to picture the painting in her own apartment, on the wall across from her bed. She had never touched it, but now she very much wanted to touch it, to feel how soft it really felt, to see if it really were decaying wood or something else, some kind of canvas, even softer.
She lost track of the time. When she got up, she saw that she’d missed a phone call. The red light was blinking on the machine, the message light, arranged in the two-part symmetrical shape of a digital one.
She knew before listening to the message who it was; she knew before listening what her lover had to say, what his message would say.
He’d said that he’d packed up all of his things, and that he’d moved to a new apartment. He’d said that he’d found a brighter space, a single room with massive windows on all four sides.
He’d said that he wanted her to come over, to meet him there, to arrive very quickly. He’d said that when she did, they could start their relationship over. The apartment was clean. It was unmarred by presence as of yet. It bore no trace of distrust or resentment. There was no dust in it as of yet. They could open the windows and let in the breeze, let the outside air blow across their bed. It would be a fresh start. It would be a new chapter in their lives. It would be like a breath of fresh air.
Lying back down, she pictured his new apartment.
It was sparse and unfurnished and bright. It was mostly an empty space. He’d taken hardly anything with him.
The windows were open, permitting the outside world to come in, to enter in. He invited its presence, its noises and lights. Its windy movements.
The warm summer breeze sifted in through the windows, across the new sheets. It came in in a stream, untouched by the blinking sign outside.
She turned and focused on the painting that she remembered, the one that she’d never understood.
It hung on the one stretch of wall that was neither a door nor a window.
It had been hanging in the apartment when she’d arrived. It had predated her arrival.
Her lover apologized. He said that he was sorry; he still didn’t know the surrounding streets. He didn’t know the surrounding neighborhood all too well, not its cafés or diners, which places were good, where they could eat, which ones were still open, which ones had cake.
She suggested, game, adventuresome, willing, that they walk until they saw a sign that advertized “We have soufflés.”
She thought about his message for a long time after that.
It was no word a lie; it was true; it occurred in exactly the way that I’ve described it.
She concluded that, no matter what he had said, it had been neither good nor bad.
What eventually came of it, she finally decided, would be neither good nor ill.
A D JAMESON is a writer, video artist, teacher, and performer. His novel Giant Slugs is forthcoming from Lawrence and Gibson later this year, and his prose collection Amazing Adult Fantasy is forthcoming from Mutable Sound, also later this year. In his spare time he contributes to the group literary blog Big Other.
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