Dear Mr. O’Neil,
All of us at Image Photo Processing Center would like to thank you for submitting your roll of 24 Exp. Fuji Superia 400 for development. Unfortunately, we will be unable to print it as we are currently inundated with images to which we’ve already committed. Also, we did not feel your images were quite what we are after. We have returned your film undeveloped, in its original canister, as it is not necessary for us to ‘develop’ your film in order to view it. Instead, our crack staff of Image Photo Empaths have viewed your exposures using a form of ‘resonance imaging’ common in antiquity when first determining the functions of the internal organs. Tapping your film against the counter, we then held it against the fin-like cartilages at the base of the ear where your film resonated at frequencies we apprehended as ‘not so good,’ ‘disappointing,’ and ‘not at all sui generis.’ It is likely that the interior of your home is darker than you can perceive, the clutter in your home more pervasive than you’d like to admit and the faces of your friends and loved-ones not quite as comforting or familiar as you presently think. We suggest entering other people’s homes and viewing the images they’ve bound in photo albums and hung on walls in ornate wood and gilt-metal frames to get a clearer idea of what we’re after.
As always, thank you for thinking of us. We hope to see more from you in the future.
Dr. Albin’s first mistake was cleverly holding Mr. Abelard’s brain over his hand before weighing it, making like it was a puppet. Being new and only observing, I looked to Dr. Joyce for a sign before I laughed.
Dr. Joyce’s English was limited and he only nodded, saying Ja! Ja! The brain does the speaking, no?
Dr. Joyce was up to his elbows in viscera. Neither paid much attention as it was fairly obvious by the marks on Abelard’s neck and the broken blood vessels in his eyes and face that he’d died of strangulation. Still, everything had to come out to be weighed and each weight recorded. The brain Dr. Albin puppeted was strangely small, gray and bulbous and Abelard’s face had been peeled away, sagging down from his bare skull like a rubber mask. His skullcap had been sawn off and the brain gently lifted out.
So, what do you think, Mr. Abelard? Dr.Albin asked. How did it transpire?
Then he wobbled the brain, speaking in a puppeteer’s falsetto from the side of his mouth; I’m not sure. It happened so fast.
What did the perpetrator look like?
I can’t say. It appears he came at us from behind.
He set the brain down on the scales and read the weight into his handheld recorder. Then he picked it up again and looked at it a good long time, like he was trying to find some kind of face on it.
Mr. Abelard had hung himself. In his file were the photos of the scene. He’d been suffering for years from a degenerative condition that had caused the various connective tissues in his body to disintegrate. Obviously, someone had given him some help.
My Father’s Darkroom
Somehow, he’d been alerted to the fact that he had been dreaming, that the arms grasping him had not in fact sprouted from powerful unseen forces emanating from the couch, but that he was actually waking in the midst of REM sleep, as he had so many times before, waking into a temporary state of paralysis, a transitory inability to operate one’s body. The fact that he soon fell from the couch where he’d fallen asleep seemed to confirm this. Had he struggled so hard beneath the weight of the dream that, to compensate, he’d over-exerted himself? He picked himself up with some difficulty, disoriented and still a bit confused, and reeled toward the door needing a bit of fresh night air. But the door itself appeared a bit too complex to operate in this state, being the type that wore all its bolts, tumblers and other mechanisms on the outside of the knob, the knob itself or casing reduced to a kind of shiny gold kernel or screw, obscured and functionless within the morass of bolts, tubes and couplings that meshed perfectly with the available cross-section of wall. It was such a simple thing, so instinctive, this opening of doors, that once forced to think about it his mind became all screwed with figuring and deciphering, trying his damnedest each time he jerked a bolt or crank to follow the line of force as it was transmitted from the interface throughout the manifest workings. Of course, force being largely invisible, especially once passed along through various points of absorption, through a series of necessary reductions, he soon became frustrated and began working his hands in among the gears and tumblers until, suddenly, inexplicably, everything began to turn.
But it was not he who enacted so drastic a change in circumstances, but rather the line of visitors he encountered upon the door opening that began to file in past him. He thought at first of saying something, of questioning them, until at the back of the line and apparently in charge, he saw his father and began to be able to place provisional names with the faces and towering bodies of these apparent strangers who’d begun to move beyond the living room, down the hall to where his wife and daughter slept. Grateful, he waddled gracelessly up to his father and fell into an embrace with him. Their unshaven cheeks came together like sandpaper and rock, each so abrasive they seemed to cancel one another out. "Thank you, Dad," he said, "I love you. I really do." When they came apart, his father appeared stunned but pleased, and tilted his head the way a dog will when staring at a rawhide bone poised inaccessibly high before being tossed.
Soon, his father followed after the others down the hall to where his wife and daughter slept and he took a first tentative step jerking himself out onto the stoop. Peering down, he felt unable to judge the duration of the stoop, how long a stiff, lateral stride he should take to communicate himself down to the footpath, and toeing the distance as one might test May lake water, fell down the steps end over end until he found himself embroiled in the shrubbery. It was overgrown and dense, these shrubs, neglected for years by then, grown in irregular but repeating patterns that seemed very much like arms. Beyond the shrubs the night was grainy, as if exposed wrong, but the graininess wasn’t static, which is to say it moved like static, and this quality, or lack thereof, could possibly account for his difficulty wading through it. It was dense, like a heavy syrup, as if dark matter or mud were accumulating on his shoes, constricting his limbs, confining him only to the most belabored, puppet-like movements. The more cumbersome his body, the less able was he to think about anything else, until, like the knob, the use of any limb, organ or extremity required an absurd concentration upon the lines of force exerted upon that entity, until, to say, walk, he’d actually have to think lift thigh at hip joint, bend knee, flex ankle and so on until he could no longer name all the steps nor work them all simultaneously. Finally, all he could manage was look. And upon the ground he noticed tiny specks of what he thought to be phosphorus and, first noticing only one, watched as the ground began to light up with them. It was as if the night had become inverted, as if the fixed stars had fallen to or had burned up through the floor of this world. It made him want to look heavenward to see if he could see the ground up there, but he could not move, nor any longer think since having to name each step of each and every operation of his body soon became naming the steps he took to allow himself to even generate a body, and for these operations he had no words.
So, once I had a friend from Glens Falls who was very taken with the city of Saratoga Springs, who liked to walk about and talk things over with me in the way friends often do. Sometimes we’d go to the used bookstore on Phila Street, the Lyrical Ballad, or just to the cafe, the Uncommon Grounds, on Caroline Street I believe, and in the summer we’d go to Mabou to ’assess’ the imported furniture. We’d worked together for several years through a series of short, dead-end jobs, he leaving each first and coaxing me gently into following him, until, at the last one, the last job, I had a bad experience and ended up quitting shortly after he did to resume a former job at a lower wage to the surprise of just about everyone who knew me.
Of course, he went another way this time, and things seemed to go very well for him, except the union to which he now belonged went on strike one day and three months later he found himself without a job. After living separately for several months and hearing nothing from him, one night he called and set up a time to pick me up for one of our walks. It was winter and too cold really to be out walking, so we ended up, as it was evening and the Lyrical Ballad was closed, at a large chain bookstore right on the main drag, drinking strong coffee and leafing through several books neither of us intended to buy. He seemed agitated, fidgety, and after about two hours of sitting there saying basically nothing, they paged that the store was about to close and for shoppers to bring their ‘final selections’ to the front to be rung out. We each took this as a cue to use the men’s room and followed each other through a labyrinth of neatly faced bestsellers to the back of the store and finally into the gray walled stalls of the urinals.
Somehow, one of us commented on the fact that it was nice that these urinals were stalled-up, each recounting experiences in which we’d gone to urinals in the plain sight of others who themselves were pissing, often so close as to brush shoulders. I was reminded of how, in the boys locker room in high school the shower had been all open, while the girls showers, I’d learned (from my wife), had been curtained and properly stalled such that no one could possibly see them as they bent or knelt to clean their most intimate of areas. The course of this conversation remained true and steady as we headed out of the store, passing through loss prevention devices and into the cold airlock and ultimately into the parking lot.
"Now," he began, "how about those urinals that are really nothing more than a trough?" He unlocked the doors of his car by remote control and waited, speaking to me over the roof of his car, as I finished my cigarette. "You can’t help but brush shoulders with the guy right next to you, urine--god knows whose--sploshing up all over you from the tin basin. It’s like--now don’t get me wrong--I mean, you know my limited sexual experience--but it’s like brushing up against the couple fucking right next to you."
There was no way, in my mind, pissing next to a stranger was anything like fucking next to a strange couple, but as we pulled out, suddenly jolted into what, perhaps, he’d been trying to tell me all evening, having found an inlet, a current, into these thoughts, he let them out as we joined traffic, telling me all about his recent experiences as a so-called ‘swinger,’ or ‘wife-swapper.’ Apparently, he’d been toying with the idea for some time but felt his wife would need a great deal of coaxing. To his surprise, she jumped right in and now it appeared that he was jealous of the man he’d been swapping wives with over the past few months (the months I had neither seen nor heard from him) and couldn’t understand why. These were, of course, experienced ‘swingers,’ whose house was set up for the purpose and enjoyed it best in the same room with one another, by candle light, watching each other faintly lit, in a gloaming, twilight atmosphere.
Now, when we’d worked together, I’d always had the impression by the way he spoke, by the way he never failed to mention how his wife, if she were to ever cheat on him, if there was one man she’d ever chance it with, wanted it with me, from me, that he was in fact trying to set up a threesome or some other such encounter in which I fucked his wife in his very presence. And now, as he went on, he seemed in some way, even as he pulled into my drive, even as we both saw my wife peering out the brightly lit window--my wife who he’d never in any way found attractive--to be coaxing, gently of course, coaxing me along, as if I should mention this all to her, my wife, somehow, weave it into some conversation, gently coaxing me to shadow him again, maybe.
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