December 07, 2010

Small Relevant Details

She is sifting through the detritus, trying to find what is relevant. Her mind cannot rest. As the dentist tells her to sink back into the chair and relax she tries, but cannot focus her thoughts. The memories of it consume her. She tries to make sense of it all, to compartmentalise the details; the wintry branch scratching at one side of the window, the white flowers in the vase rising to meet it on the other. Details separated by glass, examined individually. The cat lolloping, stretching out in the winter sun. Which side of the branch? Where did the cat fit into the picture? Had it watched the whole thing through the window? She remembers seeing its eyes, staring. And behind it, the car. The passing car, red, a sedan, a family car, a bumper sticker. Ordinary people living their lives in the daytime.

She rinses with mouthwash and spits into the small white basin as the dentist instructs her. She recalls the toothpaste smeared down the tube and crusted up at the end, how his hair smelt minty because of the conditioner he used. She hears the small clinking of the glass on the tap, remembers reading the small print on the backs of their shampoo bottles. The mess in the bathroom. The privacy she felt in being near his skin. She sees the face he made when he put his contacts in, sees her underwear reflecting in the bathroom mirror, riding up just a little higher than it should. She feels a vacuum.

Harsh yellow light shines into her eyes as the dentist leans over to examine the inside of her mouth. The flowers, the cat, the window. She pulls out the details from the air, like pulling loose threads from her pajamas. The toothpaste, the glass, the mirror. These were the raw materials of their love, enough for a thousand novels, epics hidden in the minutiae of their lives.

The dentist moves the drill into her mouth and she remembers his fingers pressing into the small of her back, the surprise of his cold hands on her skin, remembers the glass being knocked, the arm involuntarily sweeping out over the bedside table, remembers the thud on the carpet and the clink on the side of the bed like a bell. She feels his body on hers. The memory of his weight pressing down on her makes her suddenly feel the space floating above, stark and negative, like she is making love to a ghost, there in the dentist’s chair.

The memories fall apart, unravel like tied-up hair let loose. They scatter and multiply, bouncing light into a hundred other bathroom mirrors, reflecting, refracting, expanding. It was not yet night, it was evening, it was morning. The sun was moving. It was autumn, or spring. The room was a certain colour and the sheets were a certain colour and his belt was a certain colour. All this to wade through. Could it not all stick? Or else all simply disappear?

She does not see him anymore. His days and hers are filled with separate necessary details, unshared, as she pulls apart the love that they made and tries to find the small relevant details that made it all worthwhile.

The dentist scrapes metal in the gap between her teeth. He presses his fingers against the roof of her mouth. Her tongue quivers as it tries to avoid touching the fingers. All her attention is held for a moment. Her guard is down. A single detail flies like a black bird and smashes against the window – it is the shape of his eyes, his pupils bending back beyond themselves, like holes in arctic ice, like black stars burning, and it is suddenly all she can see, his eyes burning there still, shot through with pain like a phantom that cries as a black bird smashes into his eyes, his shapely eyes burning like ice that smashes like a bird a ghost a phantom stars slipping eyes into ice into eyes as she jerks breathless sputtering ice as birds smash into eyes face black eyes dead face birds black eyes ice face eyes face face face...


The Barn

He had rented the barn from a friend of a friend, a farmer who owned six acres of land out in the heart of the country. The arrangements had been made: he could live for the summer in the barn on the outskirts of the farm and would have to be out by the time of the harvest. They had hauled an old mattress up from the farmhouse for him, dragged it to the dead centre of the barn, where it was driest. The farmer had provided him with a small stove to cook on and enough gasoline to last him until the end of the summer.

The barn was a simple timber construction, built to fulfil a function. It was empty except for the mattress and a ladder resting in the corner. The floors were matted with years of hay and dark dry mud. Failures in the beams revealed the odd patch of sky, though the tin roof was sufficient to keep out the most of the rain. The wood was old and it creaked in the wind.

As well as the mattress and the gasoline, he had asked the farmer to load up the truck with reels of old tape. On his first day, he used the ladder in the barn to set up four reel to reel tape recorders in each of the four corners of the barn, resting high up on the wooden beams. For all the time he was there he kept them recording; noises of birds, rats scurrying along the beams, rain rattling on the tin roof. Each documented the summer from its own angle, reacting to the sounds as they echoed through the barn, emphasising those closest to them, offering their own perspective on the weeks that passed. Together they covered the whole space.

The man slept and ate and lived in the barn with the tapes recording for the whole summer. He took only the occasional walk and never strayed far from the barn. Some mornings, the farmer who owned the barn would bring up a few fresh items, milk, bread, sometimes cheese, and they would chat for a little while. He would ask after the farm and the farmer would tell him stories of the crops and the livestock. The farmer never mentioned the tape recorders, or how the gas canisters never seemed to deplete, or how the stove seemed unused.

Other than the farmer he saw no-one. As the summer stretched on, he tried to live as simply as he could in the space that the barn created. He rarely spoke aloud; he sat for hours just listening, absorbed in the very quiet noises around him. He was aware of his own presence in the barn altering the space. At times he exploited this, clapping his hands or tapping on the beams to see how the space reacted. But for the most part he listened passively, attentively, taking in the exact timbres, the depths and nuances in what he could hear. He felt most deeply content when he could hear no sound at all, when he could sit perfectly still on his mattress in the dead centre of the barn and hear nothing but silence, when the rain had stopped and the rats were sleeping and the birds had flown away, and there was nothing but the deep, empty, aching silence around him. He knew in his heart that the tapes recording from the corners would never be listened to, that at the end of the summer he would pile them up on the mattress and soak them in gasoline, that he would drop a match into the pile and fall back onto the tapes as they erupted in flames, that the silence on the tapes would burn and the barn would burn and he would burn with them, that the walls would fall down and the space inside would be opened up to the air and the space would no longer exist and the silence would no longer exist and the tapes would no longer exist. But as he sat in the silence it was nonetheless a comfort to know they were there, recording every moment, waiting.


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