Another Fight

The door slammed so hard it bounced open again, quivering, before it swayed back again and closed with a click. Rose was left sitting on the couch with tears clotting her eyes and her hands shaking. It always seemed to go like this – she would get upset, and somehow end up sitting alone after he wouldn’t accept her apology. She had been stammering sorries as he left, sniffling. This time, though, it was worse.

When she’d walked in at first they’d sprung up from the couch. Sure, they had gone through this so many times already, and from each of them, but they had just had this conversation. Just last week. They’d had a long conversation about trust and love and commitment and all those tired words, only for her to walk in on Helen squirming on top of them, right on their living room couch. She’d shrieked. Helen had twisted and leaped back, scrambled for her clothes and fled still clutching the bundle of sweater and jeans to her chest. John had just lain there, looking baleful at her. Then she’d started screaming at him.

It had gone like all the other fights. She’d yelled, shouted until her throat was scraped by the words, and he’d, well, mostly rolled his eyes at her. Then he’d started accusing – he’d say, “sweetheart, don’t you even trust me?” and “well it’s not like you’ve never done this, darling.” Sounding reasonable and affectionate as if she hadn’t walked in on it twenty minutes before. Then he’d switch tones – “my God though, Rose, you’re practically suffocating me. You just need to give me some space, you know that.” When she protested, he’d revert to “this relationship will never work if you can’t even trust me. Come on, baby, a little effort wouldn’t kill you.” She started to stutter and sob while he glared at her, contemptuous, and then he got louder and angrier until he stormed out. It was like a repeat of the fight they’d had so often. Except much louder, of course, and this time instead of staring bewildered at his retreating back, she was curled on the couch and sobbing as though her heart was breaking. Maybe it was.

She didn’t see John for another three days. She went to work and the grocery store, numb, until she came home and he was in the bedroom. He was seated on the bed, tossing clothes all tumbled into a cardboard box, humming. His head snapped up when she came in, to see her standing there in the doorway still hugging a paper bag of toilet paper and canned beans to her chest. They’d both started talking at once, and she had laughed a little when they stopped short. She stopped laughing after that.

He said, “Hey there, though, I’m getting my stuff. I’m going. I can’t take this anymore.”

“Take what?” Her voice was already weak. She hated herself in those moments.

“You, baby.” He smiled. “This relationship is a goddamn death trap. I should’ve done this ages ago. God, you should’ve done this ages ago. I just don’t even like you very much even. You do this to me – ”

“Me to you?” She interrupted. Often perhaps she had let him say this, tell her that his betrayals were all her fault, but it was too raw and she was too angry to let it twist that way before it reached her. “Me to you, John? I’m not doing anything to you, you asshole, you’re hurting me and I’m so done letting you. Jesus, I can’t believe you.”

He frowned now, and stood up. His arms came up and she flinched, so he paused. “You are just awful. I’m glad I’m finally leaving.”

She sprang forward at that, anger flashing up to her face like a wave of heat, her hands rising without her thought.
She slapped him across the face, and when he put his fingers to his cheek and looked at her, astonished, she hit him again. He brought his arms up and she just kept hitting him, hands curled into fists now and knocking into his face with a satisfying thwap each time. He backed up, turned around, and then he ran from the apartment bent forward. She chased him for a few steps before giving up.

The door swung shut and clicked closed just like the last time he’d run out of the apartment. Rose walked back into the bedroom and knocked his box of clothes off the bed, and sat heavily down. The sound of her breathing slowed and evened, and she closed her eyes. Her hands ached, but she stopped feeling them after a few minutes. Then there was nothing left but a small dry hurt in her chest, and nothing else.

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The Palace of Language

In the palace of language, there are winding hallways, labyrinths to get lost in. If you take a left turn and start down that long run-on endless sentence, you’ll be all dazed and bewildered by the time you find your way out. You’ll have forgotten where you started. However, you may stop in some lovely rooms along the way. There’s one just a bit in, lush and soft with pillows you can just sink into. Then farther on there’s a fountain, the words flowing like black ink that sprays and pools and rises again. They go over and over, into themselves and back out, tumbling end over end until they’ve been in every order and shape you can imagine. That’s even still within the fountain, not escaping from the neat stream that arcs into the air and plunks against the surface.

Saragossa. Court of the Infanta, Zaporta Palace

Photo credit: Cornell University Library

If you take the right turn, there’s a long and beautiful hallway lined with pillars. They’re spiraling and straight, plain and engraved with intricate designs. If you lean against one, the feel of it on your skin will near take your mind away. Sink against it, slump until your shoulders sag and your head droops, and close your eyes to the touch of it on your skin.

Then follow the scent of sandalwood and cinnamon until you get to the grand hall. Lean back until you feel your spine creaking, and stare up at the ceiling. Watch the candles cast warm yellow circles up the walls, let the tendrils of heat whisper on your cheeks. The paragraphs are crunched into bricks that climb until you can’t see the lines where they join, and the words sparkle in the leaving light. The texture of them on your fingers grates slightly, the curls of the letters rubbing with a hissing sound. If you trace the curving lines on the tiles you can spell out the words, and if you follow them for long enough you get to the end.

The Storyteller at the Market

The storyteller is wedged between the trinkets and the magazines, tucked between tables piled high with watch springs and tattered pages. You could walk right by him if it weren’t that you’d have to walk through his story. It’s hard to see until you’re in it – nothing glows or glitters or anything. There’s a queer feeling to it. It’s sort of a drop in the pit of your stomach, a stopping-suddenly that spreads over your skin. Otherwise it’s hard to tell it’s happened. You just edge past the gaudy tarnished frames and the drawings of cats, and suddenly you’re someplace else. Sometimes it’s the middle of a broad meadow, green curling grass laid out around you and a forest clustered against the horizon. Sometimes it’s dangling from a turret, spinning gently in the window as the castle looms below you and its grey stone juts against the cold air. Sometimes it’s just sitting in a living room, folded into a plush rocking chair with its weave rough against your cheek as the voice of a grandmother and the smell of a fire fill the air.

Usually it’s fine to just walk in. Just last week I stepped into a story that swooped and dove on the back of a dragon, scales burning my thighs and flames blistering the air. The storyteller nodded to me when I got there – we’re familiar by now, he’s seen me there so often – and went on, the dragon just pausing a moment in the air as he recollected his thoughts. He often doesn’t even notice. You get there and you’re just suddenly part of it, huddling in the corner of a great lofty cave as the dwarves hack into the ground with chisels and spades.

When I was there on the dragon, the story went on so long I started to notice my fingers going numb. It was very hot on the dragon, of course, but after long enough your body starts to notice the market just as much. When I left I was tingling with cold but flushed all over, blisters rising on my knees. We flew right into a storm, and there the dragon left us. Then there was a while being nestled into a cloud and talking to a man on a pegasus, buffeted by the sweep of wind from its wings. We never did find the treasure, but I had a very distinct feeling that it was gone entirely. Somehow destroyed – a tragedy, I suppose. Then again, it’s just a story – or so you tell yourself, anyway.

You haven’t been really, so you wouldn’t really understand. You ought to visit more often. The storyteller is welcoming of visitors. He’s really very friendly. That is, if you get a chance to talk to him, the man, outside of the story. It’s harder to do than it sounds. He wraps himself in tales and hides inside them, rubbing their softness against his cheek and showing their spines and bristles to outsiders. He’s a lovely man, though, and makes a fair living off his stories at the market. Well enough it serves him, even just once a week. The market doesn’t meet more often, and it shouldn’t. Perhaps it would be all fine if it were just for the baubles and chains, but it’s well enough that you can only visit the storyteller’s realm only so often. Otherwise people would crowd into his stories more often, they’d be there every day. He’d have to tell stories with every breath he drew and every thought he held. Once you’ve entered the stories and got used to being there, it’s hard to leave.

Windows

Dan sucked in his breath. Across the little courtyard – well, that’s sort of what it was if you leaned out and peered down to squint your eyes at the lonely potted plant in the corner and the broken shopping cart full of old clothes, almost a courtyard – through the window there on the other wall, the light was glowing through the curtains. She came over to pull them open, as she did nearly every afternoon. He imagined that she tried to catch the last dying light before the sun slipped away and evening crept chilly up to her door.

She was busying herself around the kitchen now, flashing into his sight and then away again behind the door. It looked like she was making cereal or something. It reminded Dan that it was nearly five and he needed to eat if he was going to get to Gloria’s by seven. It took an awfully long time to get there on the subway. He grabbed the macaroni out of the fridge and tossed it into the microwave, leaning against the windowsill to wait out the grating hum of it.

English: A wooden frame glass window in the wa...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The woman was sitting now – he called her Daisy in his head, but that probably wasn’t close to her name. He’d seen it on an envelope stuffed into his mailbox by accident, and hers was just above his. She’d been closing it as he got there once, and she’d smeared a smile onto her face and backed out of the room as he stood still and looked at her. He’d never seen her so close before that, and her hair was coming loose around her face in wisps.

Anyway, Daisy was sitting at her kitchen table and scooping the cereal into her mouth, reading something. He plucked the bowl from the microwave – the heat stung his fingers – and ate pressed against the window again. He only had an indistinct view of her, crammed between the bricks across the way, but that imperfect glimpse was so beautiful.

When he got too carried away, he scoffed at himself. Of course he was being unrealistic, and silly, and more than a bit odd. He warred between being severe with himself and relenting, as if scolding the bashful child that was really himself. He would sigh and tell himself that it wasn’t as if he’d done anything wrong, after all. He was only nursing an infatuation with a woman in his apartment building. He’d barely ever spoken to her. But she was very pretty, he would admit to himself. And the bits he could see of her apartment were messy and colorful, and he longed with a deep dark ache to see the designs of the posters on her wall.

Eventually he finished and left the bowl and fork sitting in cloudy water in his sink. One last look out the window told him she was still there, bent over the newspaper – magazine? book? – on the table before her. He blew a kiss out the window and rolled his eyes at his own theatricality, and the door slammed shut behind him. He would be early to Gloria’s.

***

Daisy let her eyes turn outside, and sighed to see the light vanish from the window. The darkness pressed against the glass, and she couldn’t see anything. Probably that man had gone. He’d been leaning against his window again, eyes fixed. She always wondered what he was looking at. He was nice looking, she thought – not that he was so handsome, though he was okay – but there was a kindness in the lines of his face. Daisy fancied she saw it, anyway. She was always too nervous to actually talk to him, never mind follow a daydream and knock at his door. She wished she knew his name. Anyway, it was really just silly. The sky was beginning to darken outside. She turned from the dimming window, shrugged against the ache in her shoulders, and bent forward again over her book. She was just getting to the best part.

The Dream Factory

The machines are always humming, and the conveyer belts move so slowly you can barely tell, unless you’re still and staring. The workers scurry across the linoleum like ants, heads nodding in time to the rustle of their stiff gleaming uniforms. Every once in a while you will see one of them yawn, swiping a wrist across a mouth and looking embarrassed, checking to make sure that nobody saw.

There are different stations in the factory. Over in the northwest corner, the worker’s uniforms are made of lace and mesh, and the floor squelches slightly as they step over it. The conveyer belts rise and fall over the hills of the machine, undulating with a faint glimmer. The manager of this section leans against the wall, one leg crossed over the other, fingers curling and uncurling on the handle of a whip that trails in whorls on the tile. The workers steal glances at the manager, but mostly they pay attention to what they’re doing – some of them caressing the products, fingers slipping into the crevices, checking for flaws. Some of them fold hands around the dreams that pass before them, pressing with firm attentive care to mold the packaging to their contours.

In the southwest corner, the ceiling rises and lowers like a melting cave. The shape of the room slopes so low that the workers there have to stoop their heads and huddle past, until they get to the part where it suddenly opens into a vast cavern of darkness again. Then they duck their heads yet lower, trying their best to avoid turning stray glances above. They’re afraid to see what’s there. If you wander too far into this quadrant of the factory, you will start to hear the shrieks and rumbles that emanate from the corners. The conveyer belts slant down, in a straight line toward a dark hole that fits neatly into the edge of wall and floor. The belt sinks into it and is lost in a few feet, draped in shadow until you can barely see the dreams at all. It’s better that way – everyone tries to avoid staring at the dreams as they writhe and flop on the surface of the belt. The workers handle them delicately, fingers dancing over the edges and shapes, fluttering away from the surfaces sticky with slime or sharp with needles and razor edges. They transfer from the southwest corner as quickly as possible. It’s mostly an assignment given to new hires, or those who’ve made some mistake in another section. It doesn’t matter so much what they do with the nightmares, even if they’ve let dreams slip by upside-down in the other parts of the factory.

The southeast quadrant of the factory is more varied than these other two. Some of the dreams that glide by on the conveyer belt are beautiful, crafted of shimmering glass that unfurls in splendid lacy spirals. Some of them are absolutely plain, perfect and tiny crafted shapes like models of Mrs. Dashwood’s day at the office. If you peer closely, you can see the coffee stain on her skirt and the bald spot on her boss’s head. Some dreams are ugly, flat things, marked with the shapes of missing clothes and missed trains. One or two of them even smells like old cheese – though, of course, the smell will be mostly stamped out by the time they’re packaged and sent off. The workers go about their jobs somewhat mindlessly here, plodding from one station to the next, fingering the dreams carelessly. The monotony of a day filled with the utterly ordinary is broken now and again by the beauty of a dream that stops them. They turn then, lean in and gaze at it as their fingers work smooth and sure on its surface. Their eyes widen and lips part, and their hands linger on the edges of the dream until the conveyer belt pulls it away. They will return then to the rote routine of their work until another lovely dream draws their attention. Go on and look at one – you might hear the music drifting from it and the notes falling aimlessly through the air. Touch it, even, for some of them have a warmth that spreads up your arm or a soft and aching sweetness that reaches your bones. Some of those dreams smell of vanilla and cinnamon, or bread baking, or wildflowers. Don’t touch too long, though.

The northeast section of the factory is closed off. There’s a tall forbidding wall around it, reaching into the center of the factory, studded with locked doors. Workers rarely go in and out of doors, and when you see one walking out of the northeast it is with a solemn expression and downcast eyes. Generally everyone has a hidden and secret desire to work in the northeast part, even if just for a day. Just to know, for the secret is enticing, seductive. When the workers whisper amongst themselves, that is often what they speak of. They gossip in lowered voices during their breaks, turning to one another and flicking glances at the managers.

They don’t talk for long, though. They don’t get a lot of breaks. Their work is more interesting than anything else they could be doing, even the dull unending hours in the southeast on a quiet day or the heart-thudding work in the nightmare section. The workers look at dreams as their life’s purpose. It’s intricate and important work that they shape and check and send along. They talk about it, think about it, and if they could dream they would dream about it too. The workers at the dream factory don’t dream, of course. They only work at dreams, smoothing the edges and twisting the corners. They work hard at their jobs, take pride in what they make, and they never sleep at all.

Writer’s Block

The idea was barely tickling the corners of her mind. Penny was searching, reaching, but it wasn’t there. She turned and grabbed, and it ducked away. When she lunged, it retreated, sucking itself into a corner where she couldn’t even see the shape of it. It would return and then again she could feel it, feel the long flat side and nubby corners, and she would lean – but as soon as she moved toward it, it just whisked out of sight again.

Penny had been reaching for the idea all day. She’d had it just that morning – held it in her hands, felt it curl around her neck and sprawl over her shoulders. The softness of it – but was it fuzzy or smooth? – had rubbed against her cheek, and the trailing thoughts had wrapped around her like a long furling tail. It had seemed so obvious. The warmth of it resting on her skin was so natural. She had assumed that she could turn, wash the dishes and fold the laundry. She’d even taken a quick trip to the grocery store.

writer's block - crushed and crumpled paper on...

Photo credit: photosteve101

The water had been so warm, bubbling over her hands, and she’d lost herself in the smell of dish detergent. Then in the softness of her favorite sweatshirt, and the flimsy lace that crumpled under her fingers. The taste of iron lingering in her mouth and the glare of flourescent lights. The shine of apples as she debated over fruit prices. The swinging flare of sound as the scanner passed over her purchases. The line on the road leading her home.

When she’d finished putting the groceries away, she remembered to look for the idea. She turned, whirled, bent and stretched, but it was gone. She hadn’t even noticed the weight lifting from her shoulders – though had it been heavy? Now she couldn’t remember. Sometime in the day it must have flickered away, slithered down her body and scurried across the floor. After half an hour of looking she gave up, sitting on the couch and putting down the useless notebook and pencil.

Just then Penny felt it, brushing at her elbow, and she turned. Her idea flashed across the floor like a frightened cat, curling resentfully against the wall and staring at her. It lost itself in shadow, so she could only strain to see the tip of it flapping against the floor. She turned away with a sigh, just to feel it slinking up to her again and pulling itself against her back. She reached for her pencil and it disappeared again, so she settled back against the couch. This was the time she recognized, the moment that foretold the rest of her night. She would do something else, distract herself, and spend the next few hours cringing the feel the touch of an idea she couldn’t hold.

They know things we aren’t allowed to show them

They know things we aren’t allowed to show them. We sneak them in, back-alley ways, through the door they never check, the one they leave unlocked. They come up the stairs, feet pounding. We know she can hear their feet pounding. The walls are thin, and they echo with the reverberations of everything in this house. When they bound up the stairs, she can hear that they are coming, and we can feel her fear even from all the way downstairs.

She cringes, on her pallet bed in the corner of the floor with the long grey planks, wood that stretches until we see her at the other side, huddled against the wall. We stand in the doorway and whisper, and her eyes are wide as she stares back. We aren’t close enough to see the reflection of our own selves, silhouetted against the light of the hallway as we peer into the room, grey and painted but darker with shadows, lightless and grey with gloom. After a moment, we swing the door closed. We can almost hear her sigh of relief as it rustles from her, shaking the frail body we have just hidden from view, but we move on. We pull them down the hall, toward a room cheery and bright, with light streaming from a lamp in the ceiling, and we enter that room and sit. Once we are there, we can forget the things forbidden and unspoken, we can pretend that all the rooms in the house are this colorful.