By Grant Maierhofer - May 16, 2018
When she wakes up her feet stick and scrape against the sheet. He is gone, has gone for the day. The winter dried out her feet, created rifts of skin that lagged on carpets and made sleep a nuisance, waking this way. She felt pain, misery at finding herself that way. The gown she wore, to the knee, had twisted around her and as she rose it conflicted with her and pulled her back to be. She sat facing the wall, bedside table on the right. She opened her anti-anxiety medication and her antidepressant, took them. She had a bit of water from the night before and drank before standing up. She stood and drove her fist slowly into the wall, pushing but getting nowhere.
The night had made her sweat, she was chilled. She stood staring at his side of the bed scratching herself and making faces. They had no children, a cat. They were aging together.
She walked into the bathroom and stared at the mirror. She pulled up her hand near her face and waited. She slapped herself three times and continued to stare, the skin there reddening and a warmth of pain spreading then. She spit at the mirror and screamed out. This was an unhappy ordeal. She was an unhappy presence to stare at.
Somehow, what happened, she began to smirk. He could be so trying. He could be so empty-headed, staring there. She laughed aloud and gripped the sink handles taut, squeezing a moment and letting it pass, then gesturing in opposite directions, X-ing her body, pulling inward as the sink turned on. Awkwardly, she put her face beneath the nozzle and let the lukewarm water spread over her temple. Nights and days this way just made her crazy.
Showered, she pulled on jeans and T-shirt, shirking bra et cetera in favor of simple, workaday fabrics. Downstairs she petted the cat as it wended its way in figure-eight against her calves and shins, pulled on light tennis shoes and made for the car. This was a cumbersome day in a cumbersome year made of talking and television. Nights they’d do this. Nights they’d fuck and wash at fluids after. Nights he’d read of crime or something as she might lay perfectly still, scrolling through her phone and looking through the lives of friends and former lovers as she imagined their thumbs, jerkily playing over light and doing same. Nights she’d stand outside and pull at flecks of skin that wouldn’t sit right, just be fed on blood or oxygen or light but she would itch.
This was how people lived. She saw them. Driving she saw men and women and men and men and women and women and iterations of each in numerous hues unloading kids, pets, suitcases, purses, tents, paperwork, lunches, coats, all of these from cars parked in driveways like her own outside of schools like ones nearby, everything this slew of searching meat and plastic, cotton and rubber staving off a godly heave. She farted in the car and turned on music. She did smile. She unrolled her window and smelled the cold. She drove downtown to the university where she worked. She pulled a bag from her backseat on parking and lugged it into a tall brick building, very old.
On her shelves within her office were various works and images. Names of people in large part from Europe lined the spines of books and images were mostly from a simpler time wherein she didn’t dwell.
A student came in to discuss the work at hand.
“Well, I, uhh, is it there?” she felt a nod within, twiddled a bit at the button of her jeans and faced the student, a bulky male of athletic stature, ability.
“I want to talk to you about this work.” I want, to be sure, to scrape my teeth over the screen of this computer.
“And so, we will… What I tried to do here was merge the sense, uhh… This thing you talked about in class… To merge the concerns of the Frenchman, uhh…”
“Frenchie, yes, sure…”
“With bodies? To merge this with how, erm… With how I see my friends engaging with… The internet…”
“Correct. This is apparent, I assure you. I see you merging, and it is apt. To your former point, the thereness? It might never, never, be up to me.” What I envy, in my pittance that I’ve gathered here, the dust in front of my shoes which I’ve chosen to deem my stake, my life, what I’m due, what I envy are things like bleach. I envy the force of bleach. The desire of bleach. The ease with which it does what’s needed and drains itself, removing all traces beyond olfactory that it took up your space, your time.
“Yea uhh, well yea, definitely. I just, uhh, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t veering off, right? I feel myself veer off when writing. I try to sit and think, whatever… It just doesn’t happen so easy for me…”
“I would assure you, Mr., of your aptness. I would assure you of my confidence. I enjoy to see this work, this veering. Any we’ve read, their quests—to my mind—were not for certainty. Others will tell you otherwise, as is their wont. My wont is no such thing. I trust you. I want to see where the work takes you.” I want to fall apart, openly. I want to be screaming and dragged off, my entire unease made palpable and immediate. I want to be a little girl upon the family dog, commanding villages of plastic.
Within the university’s library after her office hours were complete she sought brief respite. Within this library there were shelves of materials and students at computers and students sleeping and students arguing or masturbating or inhaling drugs and there were bathrooms. Strewn like vertebra up the floors of the library were bathrooms that featured copious locks. She had taken in recent months to setting up a sort of second set of office hours therein, where real work was done.
“If you have a room which you do not want certain people to get into, put a lock on it for which they do not have the key. But there is no point in talking to them about it, unless of course you want them to admire the room from outside! The honorable thing to do is put a lock on the door which will be noticed only by those who can open it, not by the rest.” Ludwig says this and I hear him and I feel nauseated. I think of the boy who asked me simple questions. I feel comforted. I think of Ludwig leaving the world to build a home for his sister, was it. I think of Ludwig and the church, of prayer. I think of him returning later on. I have found no means to flee.
She reads this and other passages and blows her nose. She throws a book across the room and laughs. She empties her bag upon the floor and grabs at lipstick. She writes upon the floor ALL I WANTED WERE ALL COLLEGES TO EXIT ME then smears it. The result is a mess of red, greasy markings that won’t let up. She wets some paper towels and begins to sweat over the work of pulling up her etching.
After this she’s sitting on the toilet, variously scrolling through her phone or shitting. He calls her and his image comes up over the life she’d been mining of a professor she’d once fawned after until he’d asked what she once wore.
“Heyyy,” he says, a bit jovial.
“Hello hon. How are you today?” I wanted that professor to give me anything I might need. I wanted that professor to talk to me late over coffee and encourage me in all I hoped to do. I wanted that professor to help, help.
“I’m good. Slow day here. Mike asked if we’d go over for pool with him and Cynthia and I said nooo wayyy.” He was married. Another fucking cliché.
“My hero. Thank you. They’re nice, but…”
“People are terrible. You don’t need to tell me. These fuckers.” Aside from short blips at the sink or in the car, this was a deeply fulfilling laugh.
“You are perfect.”
“What’re you doing?”
“I’m in the bathroom. I hate this place.”
“You take your meds today?”
“I did. I. Hate. This. Place.”
“I hate this place too. Rubes abound.”
“My father said it. Never say it anymore. All the same, these rubes, they abound. I’m telling you.”
“I’ve got class soon. I need to wrap things up in here.”
“Sounds good. I’ll grab us something on my way home. I know you hate the place. I’m sorry for it. I know things haven’t been on our side. I know I ruined things last night. I promise we’ll figure it out though. I promise.”
“I know, hon. I’m not worried. Still. Hate. This. Place.”
“I love you sweetheart. I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Perhaps she hadn’t given him the key. Perhaps she hadn’t even locked the room. Perhaps she’d told the wrong people where it was and now would suffer for it.
Class that afternoon was an assemblage of various media, geared toward engaged consumption and resultant conversation with these faces.
“Today, before we get working, I wanted to talk to you about a simple matter. We’ve discussed what faces you in generating new ideas. Novel thoughts, right? Taking the humdrum material we all have and galvanizing it into something useful for mankind.” They know that I am medicated, weeping. They see through the thick of me, the facade, my useless fucking voice. I am so tired and I just want to curl up and die. Everything is fraudulent. I am a charlatan. I have nothing new to offer anyone. “What we haven’t talked about is balance. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about today, then.” My feet hurt, are scaled. My head hurts. I want pure evil. I do not want to return home tonight. I am simple. “Most before you have not found balance. Most choose either the life inside the head or the Norman Rockwell.”
My problem is I never readied myself for the monotony of this: a day of snowy city, a husband with what, a head, some forearms maybe, eyes, the nicety of grocery stores and maintenance workers, a life in the margins in the bathroom in the brick enclosures, whatever. I’ve never had keys and I’ve never known where locks go. These slackjawed children do not care. “I talked with a student today about a Frenchman, our Frenchman, monsieur Foucault, Mr. Redolent with Dead and Sex. It was brief, but I think Foucault in the street in the Night of the Barricades is what I’m getting at. Nietzsche and becoming what one is, right? I don’t want you to be students, watered down, upon your pages. I want you to let your messes through. I once worked with a teacher of mine who didn’t want this. He this teacher wanted our lives in here in brick separate from whatever dullard necessities we experience between. I think you should avoid this. I think you should seek fullness. This is my hope for you. This is where we’ll start.”
At night when she can think again she’s at the kitchen sink and he is sleeping. She showered after the two of them fucked shortly then argued about having a child far longer. Her hair is mostly dry and the raggedy bathrobe she’s had for a decade feels perfect against her, like muslin or a cold bedsheet lit by sun on waking up. The sink is filling. She’s tired of the sameness of her days and the sun has gone down and the night light is bluish and it all feels subpar. Her feet still hurt and it hurts to think about her body. They’d eaten dinner and laughed and talked and things had felt relaxed. She’d worked a bit while he watched television and the cat wended itself between her calves and shins. The sink is becoming too full, the water tinged with red from something, something. She thinks of her parents as she tended to and thinks of her students and school and the professor and the work and her bitten nails and an inability to function and her feet, her medicine, the skull that held the brain being pumped with various materials and none of it seeming to work. She stares off until the sink makes noise the water dripping and she stops. She reaches her hands down into the red muck of it and feels the slimed metal and closes her eyes. The water still dripping, her feet become wet, the floor is making sounds, expanding. She runs her hands through the darkness of it until a rubber bit presents itself, small and amorphous as a heart. She holds herself there and breathes, beginning to weep into the red-tinged water. She breathes in and pulls a deep yank until the rubber makes a slurp and gives way. The noise is overwhelming as she falls to the wet ground and pulls her robe about her. The room is lit unwelcomingly. Her feet are in such pain. She stares at the entry until the cat presents itself, begins to lick a bit at the edges of the slopped red water surrounding her.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GREGORY CREWDSON