My brother goes in. I lie on the couch.
He’s in there with his psychiatrist. He’s talking about his problems, some probably involve me. I go into a grateful doze.
Lady comes out from behind glass and says, “Will you sit up, please?” I can hear in her voice that it’s been building.
Is it my feet? My feet are not on the couch, I was careful about that. She says, “You’re disturbing clients.”
“No one’s here,” I say.
She says there won’t be room when they come.
“I’ll get up if they come,” I say, but there’s no use, I’ve already lost. I pick out one thing from many options relating to her appearance to scoff at silently. I draw a parallel between two kinds of one-sided conversations. Then I think of a couple more. I picture my brother in the next room trying to come up with the truth. I picture all the people in our lives piling up in the room with him and his psychiatrist. People with real problems. If I said one more thing the lady would invoke policy. So I sit up. Do we feel better now?
REVIEW These people in the photo of the war and their babies look like dirt and rags in dirt. All fell, but especially the babies, who fell into the earth the way they had always fallen into shoulders, into sleep, with small, complete weight. You understand that the bodies are dead because of angles elucidated by the photograph. You are not convinced that the stillness is not the stillness of a photograph. As the photo suggests, you conflate what is rag, what is dirt, what is body. You put yourself in there, even in babies, and you know the angles your body can’t do, even with yoga. The other reason you know they’re dead is it says as much on a little card next to the photograph. You have come to an exhibit of photographs that has been praised for breathing. The reviewer stopped short of announcing that the pictures make the war come to life. He’d composed the review after visiting an ex-lover, a sculptor in the hospital who “remained in a vegetative state.” In the hospital, he tried to concentrate on the sheet veiling her and not the memory of her body. She had been a sculptor on her way to revitalizing classicism. They lived in an apartment with her resin figures. He had been a photographer losing faith in his own artistic promise. Her stillness was hard to take. He remembered the camera he loved, a Nikon he saved up for in 1965 and still brought out sometimes, usually alone in his apartment, usually after several drinks. Once he’d found a mysterious roll of film among the pieces of fruit in the bowl on his countertop and had it developed. On it, objects in his life had been rendered monumental. He had not had children. He had not gone to war. He had not made good art, but when he looked at the photograph of his kettle he found it difficult to breathe.
COMING TO LIFE When the Circuit City really did go under in a pile of full-priced cables everyone was yelling about on the Internet, it was like what happened to the banks was happening for real, instead of getting a letter in the mail about where your account was and sitting in your stupid kitchen trying to picture an account. When Ely went on over to check out Circuit City directly from being laid off, he hadn’t even been there since prom 1988 but he wanted to see if everyone was acting insane or buying something for the first time since when they got a stereo put into their El Camino with savings from their job at the P.D. Quix, which is what Ely did right before prom. I didn’t get a stereo. I didn’t have a car until after mom lost her eyesight and then my dad died and I inherited his so I could drive her around. Ely went there as if to meet an old friend he’d drifted apart from through the years. I’m thinking of a friend of mine whose brother went schizophrenic when we were in school and I didn’t get why we weren’t connecting anymore, and then a few years later when my brother went schizophrenic it was “holy shit now I get it” and we were friends again. But this example seems to me funnier because one of the friends is an enormous red electronics store near a mall that everyone’s hated since 1995. Everyone I know always hated it including those of us who went mad. But Ely felt the cord of kinship. On the way—he drove imagining his car bursting with loot—he was thinking about the end of the movie of Fight Club, the skyline of corporate headquarters collapsing. The first time he saw the movie, in the multiplex, it felt so shocking, impressive, exhilarating, like the multiplex might collapse around them, everyone in it together. The next time he saw the movie, showing it on video to a girl he was dating, on his couch at home, which suddenly seemed so crappy the second it was clear to him that she was not impressed with the movie, yeah whatever, corporations suck, crappy couch forever sinking in crappy apartment. But now, approaching the Circuit City, speeding within a tangle of highways called The Maze, city skyline across the water, he was feeling epic, high on something like the not-yet-reality of losing his job, like the movie was coming to life. He engaged a little fantasy of bumping into that girl and having it come up—the prophetic movie ending from that lousy date—she’d have to be the one to bring it up, though—and she’d say something like “You know, Ely, now I get why you were into that movie—it’s so interesting when an image falls in and out of relevance through time like that, it really makes the nature of reality come alive,” and he’d say something about yeah and sources of power, plug, plugging, plug you.
When he got to the store, there was one tight clump of cars in the humongous parking lot as close as possible to the doors and he found a space in the clump to pull into. He was not in the long-gone El Camino, he was in a Pontiac Bonneville that had been a gift from his in-laws before his divorce. He’d been treating it badly since the split and the whole thing was pilled and damp. He got out and leaned against it, taking in the view. The Circuit City was not 100% red like the one from his youth, it was camel with red markings. He was unsure whether this classed it up or down. He tried to remember the inside of the Circuit City he had pictured revisiting, moody and dark-lit, shopping for his car stereo in the best shape of his life, a guy buying a stereo for his car, irreproachable as coming of age throughout history, in this place that looked a lot like nightclubs on soap operas, invisible walls and neon. He remembered walking down the path of linoleum between carpeted regions, enormous console systems to the East and household appliances to the West. He remembered a pudgy lady with the tightly curled hair of the time and a face lit like a radish who looked at him and then looked into the depths of a clothes washing machine, exactly like a person looking into a toilet, wanting so badly to throw up and not quite able to do it. He remembered the money in his pocket for the stereo for the car. Then he felt it in his brain, a microscopic electronic switch spasm going: dated, dated her, dated movie, car, store, dated, and even though he could feel the hands of time pushing him from behind, he could not make himself go into that store with all that coded, inorganic, and somehow still expiring material, but then if he didn’t go in he was trapped, just standing there in the parking lot with his severance.
But what do I know. Since my dad died no one here has had a job, no one here has health insurance. I’m in the kitchen with my mother who is now going deaf. My brother keeps us in sight but just out of reach, too afraid to relax in the house and too afraid to leave it, and I can see his point because this place is falling the fuck apart.
CONJUGATIONS The perpetrators arrived to offer statements for the record.
Nature looked amazing in a cloak. “Because I know better. Because of what you did to the good and the beautiful.” God assented from a cloud.
The human looked desperate and unfashionable. “Because my power made me evil. I mean, I saw God in a beaker, and clearly he’s in a cloud. I mean my troubled childhood. I mean my charisma or insanity.”
The alien phased in and out of view and the voice in waves of particles came through. “I am from the sea, or the stars, the past, the future, your silly hands, your body microscopically against you…When I am sentient, when I am animal…When I am phenomena… So honestly, fuck you.”
But when pressed, each eventually confessed: I was in class. In class I was often lost and did not know what to do. But one day the teacher called on me, and, astonished, I knew. Apocalypto. Apocalypteis. Apocalyptei. Apocalytomen. Apocalytete. Apocalyptousi. At last I had something to offer.