blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



The Shower Wall

Beyond it there must be a face I have not seen, a crisp indifferent smile, teeth as white as tile, and in the hands, a great deal of blue fruit. It is not the same today, where I wait in my bedroom, the air conditioner cracking and the closet still between, still, the still which separates me from the shower wall. And inside the closet there is a rack of fifty shoes, some without mates, and a full rod of coats and winter dresses. Even beyond the rod there is dark space, an uneven, crooked place of pattern and texture, a space seen only by the shoulders and sleeves of clothes hardly ever worn. The pipes have their own small closet, a latched door that can be opened next to plastic boxes of miscellaneous hosiery. These are where I find my loose ends, where the cat sleeps when she's hiding, and where the balls she plays with always roll. The cat's away, in the white hallway, licking her white fur.

Lucy, the woman from upstairs, with her seven-year-old son, is outside the apartment door, flipping through her mail. It's easy to see where he gets his bad behavior, a spanking every morning before going to school. Lucy is the last person inside the house each night. Just above my apartment is a young girl who works at a children's home. I've never seen her. I just know this by the employee mail she gets.

Beyond the wall there must be a lantern, a glass globe glowing yellow light. Beyond that there must be darkness. I reach up and shut the door to my bedroom. Up out of the darkness comes the widest hand, perhaps from just beneath the shower wall. And we are always seeing, I think to myself, not beyond but on the surface. Easing in through the curtain just after the faintest motion of the air, a secondary movement now, too lively to be just the wind from the cracks in the windowsill.

Lucy herself, the woman upstairs, has left for work again after a few minutes going up and down the stairs to get something, and I know she was with her son. She was just going up and down the stairs after getting something, I don't know what, from her apartment. I sometimes peep, though it really isn't peeping, from the peephole in my hallway. She passes always quickly like a shadow past the peephole's vision, past my front door, passing through the foyer, and out of the main door to the house. Now she is gone, gone for the day.

These are what worry me, the lines, the edges, the shapes of corners in every direction, the split and change of light, shifting as daylight enters in fragments, as in a photograph.

Lucy doesn't know who I am. That is, she doesn't know where I work or what I do. She knows I get a check from somewhere because she sometimes slides it under the door, when she knows it's important, when she knows I must not be home or at least that I haven't checked the mail in a while. It's evening now, sixish, and dark, and the mail still has not been delivered.

The tiles in there are white as white can be, the white of new stoves all in a row, gleaming with their black eyes. The tiles are terrible in summer, when the mildew is uncontrollable and it seems all I do is clean. The shoes need polishing now, too. In my sleep (dream?), it is all easy, the illuminated dial on the table, turning like an egg timer, turning slowly on its own. All of this seems meaningless each day I wake into the morning.

The flecked obscure light here is bothersome. I am wearing sunglasses to shield myself from it and the full and steady hum of the dryer downstairs. Who dries clothes this many times in a day? Who shakes the weatherboards? Who shuffles up the small path leading from the sidewalk to the porch each day? Who are they? But I am alone, it seems, apart from others. And so it is that the gray creeps into the room every day even grayer. The mice, too, must be grayer than before. My headache has gone away, or did I imagine even having one? We are, after all, what we imagine ourselves to be, someone told me while I was riding in a car the other day. This is what she said someone told her.

The wall is what it is, a set of boards nailed together to form a frame for sheet rock, plaster maybe, to cover. But what is always behind the wall, behind that which hides anything? The shaggy dogs are wagging their shaggy tails maybe. The girl painted on the cup held by a customer sitting at a café in Paris. The side of a car moving slowly past, slowly, without stopping, just moving. The wind of late winter whistling by. The shadow of ten thousand paper lanterns swaying outside of a temple in Korea. Crayons scribbling. The bowl of blue fruit. We wake to something that must be there every day and think it isn't. We step carefully past it, hoping not to wake someone sleeping, hoping not to wake someone. The tiles discover what multiplies. The tiles, eyes, squarish only in shape, see. The wall of tiles tells me where to look, where I may be headed. Underneath them is under it all. The wind wraps itself like a thin sheet even more tightly around the house. It is never the same.

Three years ago before Lucy moved in, there was a noisy woman who lived in the apartment that Lucy lives in now. She wore men's jeans and stood outside my door for a half hour sometimes before leaving our building. She worked at the Dairy Queen, as a manager, I think. We never spoke. Lucy is not so much noisy upstairs as she is noisy coming and going. She forgets I'm here or else doesn't seem to care that I may be sleeping or busy doing something that requires silence. The wall must hear her coming. The shower wall shakes just a bit each time she comes down the stairs, its white tile teeth chattering, the hollows of the house humming in agreement. I am forgetting everything I ever knew, the sound of the doors closing, what the reflection of light looks like. I am losing track of the exact color of white because there is no other white and the slipping memory of white is no longer the white I need to know. The sidecar is riding away on its own. I cannot always find the names for colors when describing them. They are true to whatever it is that depicts them. Like the wave slowly moving across the ceiling in its blue-gray motion. In this it is horrifying. The room's four corners are never as sharp as they seem, never the last to dissolve, always tricky, always feared by the one who lives within them. And we breathe like dissolved figures until the end, until the last week comes and we are able to call out someone's name.

In a minute the wall will disappear, happening then in a second, the water folding itself deep within the surface. The crowds outside are loosening like the beads. They are crawling farther away and I can barely see them. Why did I shower yesterday? Why did I gain the courage to lose myself there? The rain like points of light streaming over my back. The small girls waving their silver flags across the skin. The painful reminder of anyone lost. These are the parallel lines I fear most. The lines that never cross and go on forever.

The room is unlike any other in the house and so I don't go into it very often. The placement of it, too, is all wrong. I have never not thought of it since I moved into this house. It is the room with the shower. The raking of leaves in fall always finds its sound just outside the shower room's window. There is a paler kind of light always coming in from that window. And sometimes it grows paler in the morning. We must always remind ourselves of what something looked like just before, just a day before. I have never felt the dazed look of anyone, and this must figure, if anything must figure, into any transgression I am capable of. The headache disappears for a second, for just a second.

I must ease myself into the situation of knowing either that this situation has not changed or that it has. The reversible face on the door has reversed again and is brave as ever. The features I come to recognize are ever-changing, the oval shape disappearing more slowly. The face does not stop looking straight ahead, dark hair, a nose slightly crooked, hair back, the gaze as unreadable as any I've seen. With the closing of the door, the face is made larger, as if seen now through a lens.

The wall is not new to any of this and waits just as anything waits, silent and without control. But remains occupied with others. There has been a knock at the door. The stylized head around the face floats now like a goddess and I turn over immediately. I do not know what keeps the sectional dreams ahead of the non-sectional dreams in the memory of all of this. The blue fruit eases itself in again while the wedged head doesn't place itself accurately into the order of things. The crept white shadow lingers now in front of my bed. I have tasted milk this thin.

Any or all whips around the room now like ribbons attached to sticks I cannot see. These part and wake the side of me that I thought had been sleeping. What worries me is the cry apart from the face. This wailing of some mouth. This that is focused on something, but what? The carved figure, thick and stone, now blocks the entrance to the wall and shivers in the waning light.

In the first week I'd had a constant desire to go in there, to lean against the squares. The bright side of truth would distinguish the present from the past. This suggestion of wall was more appealing than the wall itself or the balance that might be achieved by entering the room. The figure, the face, these things kept me from going on. Now the cat even spends her time near the bottom of the bed, waiting. Already the dial has marked the time taken more than a handful of rounds.

I haven't gotten up in days, save for the times I've reached out into the air for something that has been reaching for me. The streetlights shine into the room.

If I reach again, I will spread the sand across the lip of the horizon, see the streetlights covering the wide street. If I don't reach again, the blanket around this house will smother all that is left. The markings will be seen as more severe, more defined. The throat cannot speak words. And I do not know when the epoch will arrive, changing all this.

A new knock at the door. There was a sound of Lucy's truck gliding down the street. Is there a snow now? The focus of the wall has now shifted to someone, something, inside the closet where the clothes are kept. This ordering of hanging clothes, this hanging. And what is it that stands behind that door? Behind the door, behind it? Always a question that seems asked just to be asked. Lucy and her son may be home.

Without an instant of rest, I now hear even sharper sounds coming from the over-anticipated second knock. The space between the knocks is so long I lose track of the minutes. I suppose it is the delivery man, buttoned up in his jacket. Buttoned up too much to speak. He carries a box with a string tied tight around it. But the raking of leaves again leaves the knock as a soft hint. The covered motion is too slight to repeat, too lifeless.

We begin again, this time with the possibility of what might not exist beyond the wall, on the other side. The absence of what exists, so that the people beyond it are not there. The light shifting on the bare sky rather than their faces. The blankest screen possible shows an image of mere absence. Breath on the glass disappearing.

The telephone is ringing again. I will put my ear to the wall when I am ready for that, to listen to whatever sound must be made behind it. If what is there is just behind, or, not beyond, then everything has been spent. And what follows is always what matters, what is most important. What follows? The raking takes a certain silence to generate sound. It will not do, then, to block it out by some other method. Soon I will be telling myself, I admit, that the sounds must be blocked out.

These are heard clear as a bell from this side of the shower wall: the spinning of a top, a pond's small splash, chiseling, two girls laughing, the constant flap of an awning, a willow switch.

These are not heard: talk rambling on, water running over stones, blood singing in veins, measured sips.

The water of the shower is unlike any sound. It buries itself in the far pockets of memory and waits there. The spray is open. It leaves a shadow like an expanse of a skirt across the yellow wall opposite the shower. It moves. I am worthy of it when I wake. I shift my weight on the bed a bit more while the wall is still. We situate ourselves once more. I seem to never know what comes next, the brake causing all this to halt, the wind dying.

Corners are light. They angle and unangle, invisible protractors, slight grins on the officers' mouths. What is it that keeps me from just walking in? From just opening the door and going right in? The white cat doesn't seem to think anything of it, just walking in. I imagine that's where she's gone when she returns from somewhere, having just been somewhere, her fur ruffled up. She looks at me each time.

Ten o'clock and the clock reads nine. I cross my arms in a shield and breathe slowly. I am troubled now by the curtain, not the wall, its shape a veil I have seen worn before. The one tarnished tooth in the set of white ones. The dial now turning like a top, unstoppable.  

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