XIII — This guy works in a store
This guy works in a store. He has a bulging gut but his heart was in the right place. It really was. He thinks he got shot in the knee; for no clear reason. Late one night, maybe eleven; a cold night in late Spring. He was sat alone watching TV and drinking coffee from a dirty glass cup. There’s a tap tap tap at the door. The guy doesn’t register it; not sure whether it’s from this late night film he’s watching or what. Tap tap tap. He turns his head to the sound this time. Loud enough to take his attention. Makes his heart jump a little so he sits and waits now fully engaged to the sound. Waiting for it. Tap tap tap. A few scenario’s play through his head and he eases himself up off the dust-red sofa, grips the grimed up arm. One scenario is the police come to tell him there’s been an accident. Another scenario and there’s no one there. Just the empty street; the dirty yellow lamp across the way, throwing out a feeble glow. He stands in the door frame looking out into the dark trying to make out a movement or a shape. The last scenario and he is dragged away by people unknown and locked in a hole under the ground and dies slowly, losing his mind. Tap tap tap. He turns on the porch light and through the glass and through the screen door he can see a man stood there. But can’t see his face. What’s up? What do you want? Open the door. Well what do you want? Open the door; I need to tell you something. This guy opens the door with one hand, hitching up his pants with the other. He opens the screen door and feels a searing pain in his left knee. He gasps from the shock, consciously catches up with it and then shouts out the pain. The gunshot doesn’t register until much later when he’s crumpled on the floor, trying to crawl away at the same time as fumbling to shut the screen. Never knew why anyone would do that and found out nothing more. But the limp is there, and the fear. It defies sense.
Not everything does make sense; it’s only an effect. You have to work hard to make sense of even the mundane because, quite often, things aren’t that worldly at all. And for the unfortunate fellow: he could only try to make sense of it. So that’s what he did, all he did, from that point onwards was replay the moment again and again and again and again. The terror subsided after a while and left in its place a residue that stuck to everything; tainted the walls a dirty, greasy Yellow and the air was stagnant with it. The man couldn’t clean it off himself and he took on the jaundiced hew of an alcoholic in the last bloated rock-hard gut days just before the end.
For a long long time he lingered at this point. The first thing he woke with and the last thing he thought before falling into a restless sleep. Trying to make sense of something that wouldn’t. But eventually the remains stabilized itself into a shape where all the fat and muscle from all over his body liquefied and filled is belly. Harder and harder like a steel case. He stayed in that same house. Stayed sat on the same brown orange sofa listening and watching all day. And listening harder and harder until eleven o’clock came in the evening and went by day after day after day. The next day would be the just the same, but with his shirt slowly blending in with the color of his skin. He was caught in this endless loop of an ebb and flow of dread, of anticipation, of relief and watchful waiting for the opportunity to make sense of it all. And round again and so on. But the sense never came.
Dreams came every night. Sometime he thought he’d been given a clue on waking and he’d fumble for the notebook and pen kept by the bed on an old stool. A dozen or more thick note books piled up in the corner; all of them a record of anything he thought might hold the answer. Dreams and thoughts. Odd moments of insight that didn’t connect with any waking thought he was having. In other note books were recorded the themes he imagined. Threads pulling it all into the answer. It got so that he would flick through a book and would read a passage and was unable to tell if it was a dream or it had happened or it was a thought. Or something he watched on his TV that always had the sound turned down to a whisper.
The house around him changed a little each time he slept; resembled the houses in the dreams in the books more and more. The walls grew Yellower. The walls in his dreams were flaky, derelict. The houses had parts missing or rooms that didn’t connect up. You could stand in a first-floor bathroom and look out across the rubble-landscape as water trickled out of disconnected pipes and the plaster cracked and fell down in sheets. You could hurry past a grey formless library and shrink from the murk that seeped out to cover the ground in a layer of filth.
The people in the dreams he knew occasionally. He recognized a woman from the past and her daughter. But he couldn’t remember if he was asleep or awake. He could listen to the harmonica music coming from behind him as he walked up a familiar path and say to the man playing: you have to articulate into it. You have to pronounce different words to make it play. To make it talk. And he could bear to look at the other man with the ruddy face and a nose blown out by whiskey or maybe some disease. These men used to cause him anxiety. But now he didn’t know.
One day a woman handed him a piece of paper and he knew it was an interpretation. She wanted to help him with an answer. He looked at it and knew as much; even though she hadn’t spoken. On one side were many eyes all looking at him; patterned together like fish scales. He thought it meant she could see into him. He thought it meant the repetition of things. On the other side were random symbols. One of them stood out and he said to the woman that it was a symbol from his past. She asked which one, but when he tried to point it out he couldn’t see it. So she gave him a pencil and he tried to draw it for her. The symbol was too faint so he pressed hard to make the faint pencil work harder. But he knew she wouldn’t see it. So he spoke about it instead and explained how the symbol was from his childhood. She asked him what it meant and he explained that he’d been afraid of death. But this symbol now told him otherwise. Then what are you afraid of? The man sat and stared at nothing. After a while he answered.
The house was Yellow all over now. The cupboards were empty, save for the tin of polish with the rusted rim and some gloves. You couldn’t tell where the house began and the man ended in their mutual, blended dereliction and you could barely see through the windows painted cigarette-tar Yellow with intent. I ask the man how he gets from here to the store. He starts up with his mouth hung open; just hanging there for what must seem to him like a long time. But in reality it isn’t.
I watch him edge away round the sofa and tell him to sit down. Which he does. With his mouth still open. How do you get from here…….to the store? I don’t know. Blink a couple of times. With his left hand and with the palm of his left hand brushing the surface of the sofa across the cushion and up the arm he reaches for a small notebook. When his fingers make the brown cover he snatches it to himself and frenzies through the pages; looking for this dream. I let him murmur to himself and watch a yellow finger race up and down the lines from page to page. Which page are you on? When was it? I’m not in that book. Nor any of the books. I’m here in front of you. How did you get here? I came in through your front door. You let me in. What time did I let you in? Just now, around midday. Did you shoot me? No. Will you shoot me? No. What do you want? His yellow skin glistens. I want to help you, but to help you I need to know how you get from here to the store. I don’t work in a store. The man looks confused, but softens a little; relaxes very slightly. No. You don’t work in a store. But you will do. You’re gonna work in the home-furnishings department, mainly. You’re gonna re-stock the shelves, make sure the displays are square, do what the man tells you and you’re gonna help customers around the shop. Showing ‘em where things are. You are here to help me? Yes I am. Can you show me where the towels are? Yes I can. Come this way. That’s the kind of thing you’ll be saying to the customers. The man blinks and says nothing. Who shot me? Nobody shot you. You weren’t shot. The man blinks. He grips the fabric of the sofa with his right hand. I wasn’t shot? I wasn’t shot. No. I wasn’t; you’re right. How did you know that? Because of my friend: Rescue Me. Who are you? I’m gonna help you. I said that already. Now, you tell me about that store. Just close your eyes and picture how to get there.
The man closes his eyes and sits back into the sofa. Its red color shows through just a little. The muscles around the eyes slowly relax. The muscles around his mouth smooth out and the color fades back into his dirty blue stained shirt. But the Yellow is fading. It’s on Tenth Street, he says. Tenth Street? Yes, Tenth Street. I get there at eight o’clock and if I don’t want that driver on my back I have to be first at the stop. The bus stop? What does the store have? He’s in the trance now. He blows out of his nose. We got what you need. We got more than you need. I guarantee you will leave with something. We won’t sell you crap. It’s something I guarantee you will need. He’s smiling to himself with his eyes still closed and all the wrinkles gone from his face. And barely yellow now and his belly, whilst still round, gives just a little under his belt. I work on the third floor. No, the second floor. His face is round and his hair receded right back across the top of his head. Now look. I lean towards to him. Look. I want you to remember something of this but not all of it. I’ll leave you a token that you can wonder about. It’s about how you felt before, how you felt during and how you feel now. And from here on: it’s better for you when your eyes open. I hold out the cane and his eyes open; fixed first on me and then on the cane. Did I own this already? No. I brought it with me. I think I already had one like this. He takes the cane and stands up leaning off his left leg. I stand up and say: don’t fly too high. You will get shot.
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