- American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
- Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
- Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
- Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
- Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
- Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
- Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
- Nonviolence by Jim Courter
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
- The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
- The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
- DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
- RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
- Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
- Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
- TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
- Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
- Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
- Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
- Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
- Patience by Ward Webb
- The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
- The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
- Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
- Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
- When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
- Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
- The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
- The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
- Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
- The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
- The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
- Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
- Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
- The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
- Someday Man by John Grochalski
- I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
- Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
- Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
- The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
- Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
- Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
- The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
- How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
- Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
- Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
- Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
- Invisible by Anjoli Roy
- One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
- Storyteller by Alan McCormick
- Idolatry by Robert Smith
- P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
- They Do! by Al Po
- Full TEX Archive
The Invisible World: René Magritte
By Nick Bertelson
They peel the tarp off their pool expecting to find the water an algal green with dark leaves floating about and, at worst, a dead toad or two bloated on the bottom. They do not expect to find the reason Fred has been barking outside since Christmas.
In the early morning of a late winter day after drinking six bottles of Listerine and going three nights without sleep, the man who lived under a viaduct three miles from their house had stumbled into their backyard, climbed under the pool tarp, and drowned in the waters beneath it. No bulge has formed in the tarp, and no smell permeates through the yard to warn them. His wife screams when she sees his eyes wide open, as white as cue balls, his gaping mouth, the black lips and yellow teeth, his skin burned by the cold. Her husband, out of habit, puts his thumbnail under his front tooth and turns away.
Her husband finds out from a friend in the police department that the only thing the man left behind under the viaduct is a photograph of himself and a series of abstract paintings he had done on large pieces of cardboard. He used an old brush and expensive paints that he managed to buy with what he made playing the harmonica on the street.
"It's a way to cope," his wife tells him. "I learned it in grad school…"
"I know. I know," her husband interrupts. "Personification."
"If he has a personality then…"
"Then we feel more human about it. Yeah, okay. Darg. Sure, Darg. Jesus Christ."
"If you don't want to do it, we won't do it."
"No, let's do it. That's what I'm saying. Darg."
She repeats him: "Darg."
"What's Darg anyway?"
"Henry Darger—from the documentary we watched. He was the painter, remember? The janitor with schizo…"
"The religious guy."
"Sure," she says. "The religious guy."
Summer passes, then half of autumn. They do not swim. They check the pH, they skim off bugs, and they let Scooter, the robot that vacuums the pool's floor, run his wavering course all summer long. But they do not swim. They re-cover the pool before an eager snow falls. Winter comes quickly, striking his wife with another strong want for children, but for him that means a reverse vasectomy. So he pays to remodel their kitchen, which means four months of grating power-tools, plastic sheeting, grout, caulk, tape measures, drywall, men in Carhartts, and Mountain Dew bottles everywhere, whitened with dust. It keeps them so preoccupied that neither mentions Darg for weeks. In the humdrum of picking new linoleums, countertops, and types of wood, they don't even show much emotion when the vet sticks a tumor-ridden Fred with the last needle he will ever feel.
They go for the cordovan cherry cabinets.
Now, all his wife wants is a glass of water from the dispenser built into the fridge door, not the tap, the dispenser. She pushes her cup against the paddle, but it only dribbles out. She does it again, and again, and again, until she has maybe enough water to fill her mouth. She walks to the sink and sighs, turning on the tap. It sighs too.
Her husband takes out their new Labrador and smokes a cigarette in the corner of the yard so his wife won't see him. The dog doesn't yet have a name. Her husband prefers Hannah, his wife likes Bell, and neither wants to name it Hannah-Bell. The dog bolts to her usual spot along the fence-line, tunneling into the base of a pine tree where the rabbits hide, shivering. Her husband looks at the side of his expensive home now made more expensive with its new kitchen. He looks at the natural gas grill, and the lawn that he pays a service to mow, and the sprinkler system with the heads that disappear into the grass. In the suburbs, the sun hums.
He had not planned to submerge himself in suburban life. Like a melting glacier, it imperceptibly happened right before him. But he uses the private nostalgia of grad school (all the terrible concerts, trite poetry, and bad acid trips) to justify these later years, all while maintaining the air of someone who used to be funny, when in reality he simply thinks too much about how to be funny. For the last twenty years he's been detaching himself from human emotion so he can make all his money psychologically analyzing children who do things like set their dog on fire. He calls his own new dog his "baby girl" since the true naming of things seems such a problem. He hollers at their private chef when she thwacks his baby girl on the nose for standing up at the counter to see what she's cooking.
"That's my baby girl!" he says, shying her away from the chef.
He coos to the pool sometimes too. Like now, it's covered with a new trampoline-like tarp held tight by straps bolted into the concrete. The man at the pool store told him that not even a stray leaf could slip under it. He saunters over, having hid his cigarette butt in the neighbor's bushes. He says, "Come spring we'll get that ugly thing off you again and Scooter will clean you all up."
In the dark deep-end of the covered waters a drowned tomcat in the shape of a watermelon will, come Spring, test the assertions of the man who sold them that pool tarp as well as Scooter's infallibility.
His wife sees him staring at the pool. She imagines Darg alive and painting. What did he use for an easel? She tries turning on the TV with a remote meant for the fireplace. When a fire sparks in the hearth, she makes a panicked noise, pokes the power button, but the fire stays. So she leaves it burning. She hears the dog's claws clacking in their newly-tiled kitchen. Her husband thunks in behind the dog. He hears his wife's socked feet pad to the bedroom.
In her walk-in closet, she shuts the door behind her and takes off her clothes. A storage bin off the top shelf and she digs out an Under Armour suit from it, as well as a headband, an iPod, and headphones. She puts the suit on along with a loose pair of short shorts. She also fits the iPod to a case strapped around her arm. With her clothes back on over the suit, she rolls up the Under Armour at her wrists and ankles so it doesn't peak out from her turtleneck and jeans. She pockets the headphones.
In the kitchen, her husband unwraps a piece of gum.
He sees his wife and says, "Are you showering before we go?"
"I have a patient. The hoarder. It's an emergency apparently. She just called."
"Jesus Christ. If you don't want to go, we won't go."
"I told you," she pauses. "I'll go."
"How can you not want to go?" he asks. "Every morning you ask about my dreams."
"We're not talking about this now. It's just that…"
"I'm calling the dog Hannah while you're gone," he says.
"Please don't do that. Please. Listen, I have to see this lady. I'll only be an hour." She looks at the broken water dispenser on the fridge and sees a drop of water fall from the plastic tube dangling down. She takes the phallic tube, the dribbling fluid, the mess left on the tile, as depicting male ineptitude. After finding the field of dream-interpretation unprofitable, she turned to simply treating patients psychologically, but soon began to relate everything in their lives back to them as symbols, making her new field familiar. This led her to mistake events in her own life as symbolistic, and now, since discovering Darg, anything is susceptible to interpretation.
"We'll go when I get back," she says.
They kiss each other's face.
"Did you start a fire?" her husband asks as she's leaving.
"I can't turn it off."
Driving away from the house, she looks in the rearview at the cul-de-sac she lives in. There is her brown garage. She passes the empty middle school, a YMCA with fogged windows and screaming children inside. She gets on the interstate and exits after only a few miles where the suburbs give way to corn fields. She has a parking spot near the frolf course that heavy trees help hide from the road in case her husband decides, for some reason, to drive out that way.
At work, she often tells her secretary that her husband is the healthy one. He tortures himself on Bowflexes and treadmills. He bends around inflatable balls. In college, he swam, ran track, and seemed naturally able to play any sport. She remembers the day she first saw him effortlessly dribble a basketball between his legs without looking. He called her his "little slacker" and, in her mind, that implied she balanced him. If she ever planned on keeping such a man, she should always be eating Jet Puff Marshmallow with a spoon, sucking down 52 oz. fountain sodas, and letting a layer of fat gather between her and her skin.
She didn't start secretly running for health reasons, though. She started after she told her husband she had RLS.
"RLS?" he said.
"Restless Leg Syndrome."
He laughed. "Restless Leg Syndrome?" he said. "You think you have that? You think you have a little tingle in your legs? Jesus, do you know what people in wheelchairs think of that commercial? They'd kill for a little tingle in their legs."
Soon after their conversation, she saw Darg face-up in the pool, and her RLS spread to her chest.
The sliding-glass doors that led from their bedroom to the pool deck used to open automatically every morning around seven-o-clock. Now they're turned off. The room stays dark because she told her husband she doesn't want to see the pool first thing anymore. He grumblingly agreed. Even then, she started waking up with a tingling that throbbed in her chest. Each morning around eight, usually during her shower, she feels it settling in permanently.
She doesn't tell her husband what she's been doing because he'll either want to run with her or get angry because he wasn't told to begin with, as if she had been secretly talking to another man this whole time. Or he may laugh the laugh he lets bellow from himself when his friends tell stories. That is the real laugh, not the fake thing he forces out for her.
"Jogging?" he'll say. "You?"
She sees her tarred running track leading into a hallway of trees. She takes off her normal clothes, stopping whenever cars move behind her. She waits until they exit the lot. When she gets out of her car, she looks futuristic, like someone from Tron. She stretches her legs against a tree, then takes off down the path. The only thing she hears over the heavy metal in her ears is the mantra of her breath.
Sometimes it feels like clawless cats pawing at her legs, and other times it feels like someone scrubbing her skin with steel wool, but it's never anything that running from nothing won't fix.
Her shadow bends in the trees. As other runners pass, she watches their breaths rise into the air. The tingling escapes her. She heaves it from her body when she exhales. Without missing a step, she turns and bolts into the woods where she rips her headphones from her ears and crouches by a birch tree, watching the path. A man wearing sunglasses and a suit similar to hers runs past at a much faster pace than hers. She spots his body between the trees. It's the man who lives two houses down from them.
She's always afraid of this—that she'll see people she knows, people from her community, Chestnut Court, who will ask her when she started running or how far she runs, in what time, wearing what insoles. They'll want advice on their stride. And perhaps her husband will hear and perhaps he won't, but the idea of someone knowing she does all this (the spandex suit, the heavy metal music, the sweatband around her head). It's detrimental enough.
She waits in her car for the redness to fade from her face while gagging into a plastic bag. Sweaty strands of hair stick to her forehead. She peels her headband off, puts the iPod away, covers her running suit with her regular clothes, and drives back to the interstate, past the YMCA, past the empty middle school. There is the existential circle she lives in. There is the territory she has marked.
When her husband hears the garage open, he drains a gin and tonic, puts the glass in the sink and walks downstairs. The new dog has given him a new energy that had faded as Fred aged. He knows that she'll be standing down there, tail wagging, ready to be chased about the skeletal two-by-fours and bare concrete. The unfinished basement, like the kitchen before it, will be the next endeavor: a group of tool-burdened men, the comforting din of their toiling, a distraction. When her husband hears his wife shout his name, he freezes in place and stops chasing the dog. He does not answer. He listens to her walk through the kitchen, the hallway, the dining room, to the bedroom, and finally the bathroom. When he hears a rush of water rise through the walls, he goes back upstairs and retrieves the glass from the kitchen sink. He makes another gin and tonic and walks into his office, closing the door behind him.
With the same inattentive tenacity that he refuses to have children, his wife refuses him sex. She sleeps with her back to him. She can go days speaking in monosyllables. She makes exasperated noises, and when he asks what's wrong she says, "Nothing." His only defense against most of it is to put his thumb to his front tooth.
He masturbates often, during times, for instance, when his wife showers, sleeps, or sunbathes outside, but never when she leaves the house completely because he likes the risk of getting caught. He feels fifteen years old.
Now, he watches an amateur video of a woman pleasuring herself while he listens to the sound of his wife's shower. Even when she gets out, she'll spend at least twenty minutes looking in the mirror, and he knows this, yet still he listens. He keeps going. He finds a new video.
In the shower, his wife tries pulling a mat of pubic hair off her soap bar one strand at a time. She fails, puts the soap back on the ledge, and squirts a wad of body wash into her palm from a blue bottle. She can't get her hair wet because a critical amount falls out in the drying process.
She shuts the shower off with her foot as she always does, pushing in the hot-cold dial. A valve in the wall thunks and the pressure fades fast. She takes the plastic bag off her hair and walks into a separate room where a pristine mirror reflects a pristine sink. She shuts the door to the bathroom, letting the fan clear out the steam, and begins a post-shower routine (moisturizer, toothpaste, toner, prescription creams) that will give her husband enough time to finish the gin and tonic she thinks he tries hiding from her.
Her husband looks at the office door, frightened by the sound of her shower stopping. He listens wide-eyed like an animal standing over the food it has found. His attention turns back to the computer screen. He finds another video: "Ass to Mouth." He ejaculates into a piece of paper he has spread out on the carpet. Afterward, he checks his email, then puts the paper through the shredder, his semen slubbing on the blades.
Her husband walks into the bathroom where his wife looks at her own eye in the mirror.
"Like I said," her husband says. "We don't have to go."
For the last month, her husband has talked incessantly about a Surrealist painting and sculpture exhibit devoted to depicting dreamscapes, but the idea of seeing the dreams of famous painters has her anxious. She'll recognize the imagery, the signs and symbols, and know that, in the paintings at least, those things serve no other purpose than to look pretty.
"Like I said," his wife says. "Don't worry about me."
His wife is the co-editor of a later chapter in a book on the psychoanalysis of dreams; he wrote a dissertation on the tendency of prescription sleep aids to induce nightmares. They have exclusive insight and knowledge. But he cannot understand why his wife refuses to go.
She walks into the kitchen fully-clothed where a puddle of water has amassed on the kitchen tile. She can see the water snaking down the refrigerator's stainless steal door. She knows the "meaning" of this—a sort of foreshadowing of things getting worse—but doesn't know what to do.
"Put a towel down," her husband says. "We'll get it when we get back." Hannah/Bell walks into the kitchen and licks the puddle. "See, no problem. Nothing to worry about," her husband jokes. "It's like having a Scooter for the house." He drags the dog to the basement and sets the alarm on his way to the car.
The built-in GPS navigation system in his Mercedes takes them over the viaduct where Darg lived, but neither of them know this. Legally drunk, he drives his wife to the cultural center downtown, complaining the entire time how his car's navigation system needs updated even though they make it there without trouble.
The first painting is called Le Monde Invisible. It's of a stone standing near a porch that overlooks a horizon-less expanse of water.
"I love Magritte," her husband says. "I don't know what it is about it. I just love his work." He feels heat in his cheeks.
They stand with the stone in front of them for a minute. The painting is also on the postcard his wife picked up at the receptionist's desk. His wife looks from it to the painting, seeing how well they match up. She also has a laminated piece of paper showing the paintings and the paintings' names.
"Lece n'est pas une pipe," her husband says.
"Ce n'est pas prétentieux," his wife says.
He sighs and walks down a large hallway, leaving her. One of the hallway's walls is a window and out the window sits a shallow pool of water overlooking the city. A fake stone rests just outside the window, not as decor, but as a permanent installment. Like finding a wallet on the street with nothing in it, her husband has an epiphany, a connection of some sort but doesn't know what he's realized afterward except that he hasn't realized anything.
His wife takes two steps in his direction and sees him standing in a huge triangle of sunlight. She walks toward a different painting and disappears from her husband's line of sight in case he looks over. He doesn't. Instead, he turns to enter the main gallery. Unlike the others walking bird-like about the museum floor, he's without a laminated piece of paper. He watches them approach paintings like people approaching fires. His epiphany takes on the urge to piss. He turns to walk into the bathroom past a piece by Katharina Fritsch. It's an enlarged newspaper drawing from the 1800's, depicting a man in an antique diving suit standing over a drowned woman. The woman lies peacefully on her back as if napping.
In the bathroom, he finds two empty urinals and walks to one, unzipping quickly. As soon as he does, the shadow of another man sidles behind him. He smells the man walk up to the other urinal. The man unzips, faces the wall. There is no noise, not even a dribble. Neither squeezes a drop from himself. A rock-like weight gathers in their abdomens, bulging. The other man makes a noise with his throat. Nothing happens. It becomes a game of chicken: who will back out first? Who will pack themselves back into their briefs, wash his hands without soup, and leave the other actually expelling the discomfort from his stomach?
Sometimes he dreams of a bathtub full of water with two or three babies in the bottom, the water filling their lungs with heat. He never knows if his hands are trying to save the babies or keep them from rising to the top. He only knows that his arms are submerged and flailing weirdly in the water. The dreams sometimes make him anxious in bathrooms, but this isn't why he has trouble urinating next to strange men. Sometimes, when his bladder has painfully filled itself with piss and someone takes the urinal next to him, he'll move to a bathroom stall and sit down. He has no trouble peeing while sitting down because it's only him in there with no sound. No one near him can hear the trickle. That's really what frightens him—knowing the other men in the bathroom know he's not peeing. He sometimes plays it safe when his bladder is past capacity and pees sitting down even when the bathroom is empty. During those times, if he hears a distant drip of water or a baby somewhere, he thinks of those dreams, how he keeps from telling anyone about them, not even his wife, especially not his wife.
His wife finds herself walking toward a red room where a nylon staircase leads up through a red, nylon ceiling. A blush color falls over her face. From some undergraduate psyche class she remembers the color red makes time seem slower. This is why bars and casinos are predominantly red. When she looks up through the stairs, she sees a detailed banister, a light switch, an outlet, and an extension cord running umbilically down the steps. All of it is made of nylon and stitching. The bottom three steps are missing. When she stands at the bottom of the staircase, the first step is level with her chest.
She knows that those who dream of walking up stairs have recently allowed things in their consciousness to surface, or that they're financially or socially achieving upward mobility, and to walk down stairs means they fear they're subconscious and the thoughts that lurk there. In other words, they're submerging things. She takes this staircase, though, to represent stagnancy in one's life since the bottom three steps are missing. Mobility of any sort seems unattainable. She looks to the sheet and reads the installment's caption, finding that, in most installments, this piece does have three bottom steps, but due to spatial limitations they were unable to include them.
In the main gallery, the sunlight angling in from the window disappears. Shadows crawl across the tile. But there were no shadows to begin with in the lipstick-hued, staircase room, where his wife stands with her mouth unconsciously open.
Red-cheeked from embarrassment and residual drunkenness, her husband coughs into one hand and zips up with the other. He leaves the bathroom in search of a crowd to hide in because he doesn't want the man from the bathroom to see his face ever again. When he walks into the main gallery, he finds the place abandoned. The paintings hang alone on the walls, as if he's been gone so long the gallery has closed. He walks forward, watching for any movement in the hallways. Nothing. He puts his thumbnail to his tooth and begins searching like a boy separated from his parents.
At the bottom of a long staircase, he finds a crowd standing around an old woman writhing on her back in pain. She squints through blood at the ceiling. Her white hair sticks to the blood and her fingers are red with it. She keeps trying to touch the wound and another woman keeps stopping her. He realizes this old woman, whoever she is, has just fallen down the stairs. A careless janitor probably left a stair-step sopping wet. He stares down at the crowd and takes the first step toward them, hoping it is dry. He walks halfway down the staircase where a sculpture sits. It's another of the exhibit installations called "Pee Body" of a woman kneeling over a yellow rope strewn about the tiles in wavy lines, as if she's just pissed all over the floor.
He spots his wife. He walks toward her but keeps watching the woman on the floor. She moves stiffly. Parts of her body are lax and others shake with pain. His wife has not seen him.
"My husband!" the woman cries. "Where's my husband?"
"Your husband isn't here, Margaret," another woman says. "Remember?"
"Where is she?"
"Where is who, Margaret?"
"I mean where is he?" she says, delirious with pain. "Where is he?"
When he grabs his wife by the shoulder, she turns to him startled, as if she's been grabbed by a stranger. Her eyes are swollen. She clears her throat and puts a hand to her chest. He understands from the way she grabs his arm that they must leave now. They walk up the stairs not talking, past the pee sculpture and the long hall of famous dreams. He, of course, sees the man who stood next to him at the urinal. He's discussing with his own wife whether or not they should leave.
In the car, his wife sobs. She can't stop. The tingling has spread to her face. He shuffles through the places he has stored on his GPS, suggesting ice cream, Target, coffee, martinis. He says her name. But the sobbing only turns to wails. She screams at the dashboard, refusing to answer him except with violent head shakes. She keeps her head below the window so the people she thinks are on the street won't see her, but no one is downtown. She forgets how suburbanites now brag about the time they've spent boycotting the city for no apparent reason. At stop lights, she hides her face in her purse so the people in the cars next to them don't glare. Her husband silently drives her home. His bladder feels like there's a stick stuck sideways in it. The winter sun burns cold above them and has, for some time, been on its way to the western horizon.
"She's dead," his wife says quietly. Then a fresh bout of sobs bursts from her. "I watched her fall. She's too old to live through that."
"She's not dead," her husband said. "Don't even say that. You don't know that. You don't even know who she was."
"I didn't know who Darg was either."
"Then you shouldn't have given him a name," he says.
A defeated noise escapes her. She looks at the Magritte postcard: the rock, the porch, the black railing, the blue clouds, blue water.
"What's Darg have to do with it anyway, huh?" His bladder throbs. It's on the brink of escaping his control. "Why is everything always about Darg?"
Her throat whines. These are not the questions to ask now.
"I'm sorry," he says. "Tell me about it. What happened anyway? She just fell? Was the floor wet? Had they mopped or something?"
"I don't know. She fell down the whole staircase, head over heels." She finds a handkerchief in her purse and puts it to her face and begins to cry at the thought of it. "I hate it. You know that. I hate seeing that stuff. Don't you remember the time in London when that woman fell from the bus?"
In his mind he sees the London woman falling. He reached out to the woman as if there had been the slightest possibility he'd make it across the street in time to save her from hitting the concrete. He even tipped over his chair as he stood up in the coffee shop. But there was no need.
The reverie soon fills with water. The bus doors open and the woman's body, instead of smacking to the sidewalk, slowly floats upward off the bus steps. He sees the passengers rising out of their seats through the windows. The driver tries keeping hold of the wheel. Water Biblically covers the world. She has not fallen. Everyone will drown.
Her husband says nothing more. He feels as though any exertion will cause his bladder to give. They pass mailboxes, trees, and other cars, parked and moving.
"You're right," his wife finally says. "Darg has nothing to do with anything."
There is the cul-de-sac she lives in. There is her brown garage.
They pull up to the garage door as it rises. Her husband rushes inside and paces to the bathroom without turning the alarm off. He leaves the bathroom door open and listens to the house alarm beeping on the wall. They have thirty seconds to deactivate it before the alarm sounds. He hears his wife walk in, sniffling.
"Can you get that?" he shouts, staring at the rippling toilet water. He hears her punch in the numbers over the sound of his piss, each button beeping: 0-3-0-7. It's the date they got the new dog from the breeder, March of 2007. They change the code with each new dog.
Fred was 0-5-9-8. When they first switched the numbers after Fred died, her husband forgot the code one night when his wife walked onto the back porch in her sleep. He awoke when he felt her get out of bed, but thought nothing of it. He didn't hear her unlock the back door and walk outside in her nightie, where she would have walked into the pool that neither of them set foot in all summer had the house alarm not filled the suburban night with panic, stopping her.
The sound of it jolted him out of bed. He rushed through the house, searching for her in every room, grabbing walls, knocking vacation pictures to the carpet. The new dog barked from her kennel in the basement. Her husband tried the old number five times on the keypad, remembering the day they got Fred, before he remembered Fred was dead, cremated, and spread along the fence line where the rabbits hid. Not long after he punched in the right code, the phone rang. It was the alarm company.
Was everything okay?
Yes, he was sure. His wife had set off the alarm on accident.
He turned on the porch light and, since it was summer, the light in the pool came on too, making the quivering water glow. He found her outside kneeling on the ground with her hands on her neck. She was inches from the pool's edge. In sleep, the alarm had made her take the position she'd taken many times throughout childhood. She dropped to her knees as if in prayer, but protected her neck with her hands, as she'd done over and over while hiding under desks during grade-school bomb scares. He helped her up, took her back to their bedroom, a hand on each of her shoulders, and in the morning she refused to believe him at first. She only remembered dreams of Darg. He played the harmonica for her, but he looked the same as the day she had found him: his skin pink, dead eyes, his black lips wrapped around a silver harmonica.
He flushes the toilet and hears his wife walk down the basement steps to let out the dog. The dog powers up the stairs and runs rampant through the living room, dining room, kitchen, and back through the living room, again and again and again, the sound of her claws changing on the tile, then the hardwood, then the carpet. Her husband finds himself in the kitchen standing over a puddle of water from the refrigerator's water dispenser. The dog sees him standing there, stops running, and paws up behind him, sniffing at the puddle of water. She laps up as much as her attention span will allow. Her husband shakes the dispenser paddle back and forth to keep more water from dripping out. The dog sniffs at his pant leg, runs through the dining room, and finds his wife.
"Hello, darling," his wife says to the dog. Her voice soft from crying. "Did you miss mama?"
She walks into the bathroom and turns on the light. She sees herself in the mirror and moans. Hands of mascara reach out from the bottom of her eyes, splaying down her cheeks. She leaves the door open behind her, plugs the sink, and turns the tap on. The dog walks away to find her husband again.
The door to the shower is still closed. She has left the exhaust fan on. She does not know that when she pushed in the hot-water dial with her foot, she didn't shut the water off all the way, and that the shower head has been dripping this whole time, slowly filling the tub while they've been gone. The stopper, as it's apt to sometimes do, has found its way into the drain. The tub will startle her to tears tomorrow morning when she showers before work. It will be so full that when she sticks in her arm to pull out the stopper, water will spill over the side. She will sit on the toilet next to the tub naked, interpreting what it means for this water to disappear.
In bed later that night she watches sleep change the way her husband breathes. She slips out of bed without waking him and gets a glass of water from the tap. She doesn't take a single sip, only puts it on the nightstand. When her husband begins to snore, she nudges him awake.
"Talk to me," she says. "I can't sleep." The tingle has returned.
He moans and rolls over. The sheets crackle. He says something about men and women sleeping with men and women who aren't the men and women they married. For a moment, the two of them listen to the air duct breathing the hot air that falls between them. And soon they both fall asleep on their backs together, mouths gaping, breathing, breathing.
© Nick Bertelson 2011